Friday, May 4, 2012

President Obama: "Your Voice Makes a Difference"

Shahbaz 'king of liars'

Continuing his diatribe against Sharif brothers, Interior Minister Rehman Malik accused Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif of being the 'emperor of liars' who along with his elder brother, Nawaz Sharif has robbed the country of billions of rupees. He said this during a brief media chat outside National Assembly ahead of joining the session on Thursday, adding that he never said that Sharif brethren have written off their loans, but said that they looted money and 'I have solid evidences in this regard'. Malik has said that they should be held accountable for siphoning off millions of rupees from national banks, adding that Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary should be requested to take suo moto notice of $ 32 million corruption for which all evidences would be provided. Commenting on PML-N long march to unseat Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, he said that 'we will see PML-N baby march'. He said that it seemed that Nawaz extremely impressed by ex-dictator Pervez Musharif's idealogy for the reason the former welcomed into his party the later one time blue eyes associates such as Marvi Memon and Amir Muqam. Malik said that officer has been appointed to probe into contempt of court case against Nzwaz Sharif, which was held in abeyance since long, adding that Commissioner and IG asked to implement SC attack case. Malik warned gangsters of Lyari in strongest word that 'your days are numbered', hoping that peace to be restored in the restive city within few days.

PML-N’s rowdiness threat to democracy
Federal Law Minister Farooq H. Naek Friday warned third power may get benefit if the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) maintains its negative attitude then there would be a threat of derailing of democracy. Talking to media outside the Parliament House Naek said Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) would soon table a resolution in the Punjab Assembly for creating Seraiki province with the help of coalition parties. He termed PML-N current style of politics as negative that would be devastating for the country and resolution passed in the National Assembly for forming Seraiki province is as per the aspiration of the people of that region. Answering a query, he said the Supreme Court has not disqualified the Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani so far and opposition should wait for the detail judgment of SC, adding that SC will explain causes behind the conviction of the PM in detail decision and after that PM will file an appeal regarding the contempt of court case. Earlier addressing the NA, Law Minister Farooq H Naek told the House that the opposition’s attitude violated the National Assembly’s code of conduct. Naek warned the PML-N that its “rowdiness would create anarchy in the country and derail democracy”. “Rowdiness is against democratic norms and rules of procedure. It would lead to anarchy and if democracy is derailed, the PML-N would be responsible for it,” he said. The law minister said that the Supreme Court had not disqualified the prime minister. “Even today, Gilani is member of this House and the prime minister,” he added. The minister said the government also wanted to create the Hazara province but the measure required the consensus of the coalition partners. “Once we evolve consensus with the coalition partners, we shall bring a resolution in the House about creating the Hazara province,” he added.

Where to find world's cheapest gas

Escort in Secret Service scandal says her life is 'ruined by this'

The woman at the center of the U.S. Secret Service prostitution scandal embraced her notoriety and spilled colorful details Friday about alcohol flowing like water and Secret Service agents dancing on a bar. Dania Londono Suarez is the escort who unwittingly sparked investigations that have ensnared roughly two dozen members of the Secret Service and U.S. military over reported use of prostitutes in Colombia in the days before President Barack Obama visited last month. She gave a lengthy, wide-ranging interview to Colombia's W Radio on Friday. It attracted international attention, with reporters from as far away as Europe calling in to press for more details. She retold the story of the disagreement in the hallway of the Hotel Caribe, of her fear after the fallout and what she envisions for herself in the future.Her days of selling her body are over, she said, but she is open to appearing nude in men's magazines. "My life is already ruined by this," she said. Suarez said she considers her reputation shattered but is looking for opportunity by voluntarily stepping fully into the limelight that has been chasing her. If a magazine offered the "right price," she would pose nude, she said. The fallout of the scandal has "left me cured" of being an escort, she said. "That part of my life is dead." In the interview, she also presented a more nuanced view of herself. Amid her fears that the U.S. government might retaliate and do her harm, she is also nervous about what her crush thinks about this. She doesn't have a boyfriend, she said, but "I'm interested in someone. I don't know how he's taken all this. I wish I could go inside his head." She also said that she would not have told police about the incident if she had known the men were agents, and that their behavior hypothetically could have put the agency's work at risk. She didn't see any schedules or plans regarding Obama, she said, but if she had been someone wanting to do harm, "while I was with them, I could have done a thousand things." Given such an opportunity, a terrorist could have wreaked havoc, she said. Concerns about a security breach, as well as outrage over the salacious nature of the scandal, have motivated multiple investigations by the Secret Service, the military, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general and several congressional committees. On Friday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-New York, said he had more questions about the agency's internal review after meeting with Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan. In particular, King noted the Secret Service said it interviewed 10 of the 12 women involved but had been unable to find the other two, including Suarez. Citing the radio interview by Suarez that "details information vital to the investigation," King said he asked the Secret Service "for an explanation of how they have failed to find this woman when the news media seems to have no trouble doing so." Nine of 12 Secret Service agents implicated in the scandal have resigned or are being forced out, while three others were cleared of serious misconduct. A separate military investigation of 12 U.S. military members is continuing. Details of what happened on the night Suarez met the Secret Service agent had surfaced before Friday, and she confirmed the narrative in her interview with W Radio. A friend at the bar introduced her to a man who was interested in her, Suarez said. She watched as the man and his friends ordered bottles of vodka. "They were buying alcohol like it was water," she said. She saw them dance on the bar. The man she was with liked to dance in a "disorderly" manner in which "he lifted his shirt to show off his six-pack." They didn't speak the same language, but when the man mentioned "sex," she answered in her basic English, "Baby, cash money." They agreed on $800, she said, and went to his hotel. The next morning, she was awakened by a call from the front desk alerting her that it was time for overnight visitors to leave the hotel, she said. She woke the man up, and he refused to pay, telling her "just go, bitch." It was a completely different personality than the night before, when he was very loving, she said. "When he was drunk, he was a different person than when he had his wits about him," Suarez said. The escort walked across the hall to the room of another man, who had brought her friend to the hotel. That couple came out and tried to sort things out with the first man, but he refused to open the door. Now it is known that the two men were Secret Service agents, though at the time she had no idea. The only hint that the man was some sort of official was a uniform inside his room, which led Suarez to presume that he was in the military. Sources with knowledge of the investigation have told CNN that the Secret Service agent at the center of the scandal is Arthur Huntington. Huntington, of Severna Park, Maryland, has now left the Secret Service, but it was not clear under what circumstances. Suarez says she does not recall what name, if any, Huntington gave her that night. But she would recognize him if their paths crossed again. "I remember his face as if I saw him yesterday," she said. Suarez said she spent hours trying to persuade the agent to open the door and pay her, but she finally gave up around 10 a.m. As she was leaving, however, she came across a local police officer who encouraged her to share what was bothering her. More agents wandered into the hallway and pleaded, "please, please, no police, no police," Suarez said. Three agents pooled their resources and gave her $250, she said. She took the money and left the hotel. It was two days before Suarez learned what scandal had been ignited that day. Today, Suarez says she would have let the man off the hook if she had known he was Secret Service. But that sentiment is not out of respect. "They are idiots," she said. "They were protecting President Obama, and they didn't see the magnitude of the problem."

Yemenis hold demo against US, Saudi interference in Sa’ada

Yemenis have staged a demonstration in Sa’ada to condemn US and Saudi meddling in their country, Press TV reports.
Large crowds of people took to the streets in the northern city of Sa'ada on Friday to protest against what they call "the interference of Saudi Arabia and the United States" in Yemen’s internal affairs. The demonstrators also carried banners reading "Down with Israel." On the same day, a massive demonstration was held in the capital Sana'a, where tens of thousands of people called for the purging of ex-regime remnants loyal to former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh from top military posts. Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, stepped down in February under a US-backed power transfer deal in return for immunity, after a year of mass street demonstrations demanding his ouster. His vice president, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, replaced him on February 25 following a single-candidate presidential election backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. On April 6, Hadi dismissed nearly 20 high-ranking officers, including the commander of the country's air force, but several of Saleh's loyalists and relatives, including his son, are still hanging on to key military posts in the government.A nephew of Saleh, General Tariq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, recently resigned as commander of the Presidential Guard, an elite army unit, following mass protests calling for his dismissal, according to a UN envoy to the country.

Women's rights in the Middle East

Curfew around Egypt's defence ministry after soldiers clash with protesters

Egypt's army imposed an overnight curfew around the defence ministry in Cairo on Friday after fierce clashes between the military and protesters. Soldiers and military police fired live rounds and teargas. The Guardian witnessed people with head injuries being taken to hospital after a crowd of protesters, some throwing rocks, had surged towards the defence ministry, where 11 were killed in clashes on Wednesday. Other reporters caught up in the melee reported heavy shooting in places. It was the latest in a series of protests by Egyptian revolutionaries and Islamists who fear that the interim military leadership are subverting presidential elections due to start on 23 May. Earlier on Friday, thousands of demonstrators massed in Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis and leftist movements, to warn of vote-rigging and demand the generals hand over power to civilians. In the afternoon, they marched to the defence ministry, several miles away across Cairo in the district of Abbasiyah. The clashes erupted when protesters in Abbasiyah tried to cut through barbed wire between them and troops blocking access to the ministry. Live footage on state TV showed troops snatching one protester, beating him with metal rods, tearing his clothes and leaving his back bloody. The troops fired water cannons at protesters and hurled stones at them to keep them from advancing. The protesters took shelter behind metal sheets snatched from a nearby construction site and hurled back stones. Others climbed the roof of a nearby university and showered soldiers with rocks from above. The troops then opened up with heavy volleys of teargas that pushed the demonstrators back. The violence has thrown the first presidential election since last year's ousting of President Hosni Mubarak into turmoil, with several candidates suspending their campaigns in protest at the military's handling of the situation. On Thursday, members of the military council repeated their pledge to hand over power once one of the 13 presidential candidates wins, an apparent attempt to assuage concerns that they would use the violence as an excuse to stay on. But they also warned demonstrators against holding Friday protests near the defence ministry and said soldiers have the right to defend their positions, sparking fears of renewal of violence. The circumstances of the deadly clashes that took place in Abbasiyah on Wednesday remain unclear. Protesters believe the assailants were hired thugs or plainclothes police and troops, similar to past attacks on protests. They say the military allowed Wednesday's attack to take place, noting troops nearby did nothing to stop fighting for hours. But the Abbasiyah protests appear also to have drawn in local residents, angry at the week-long sit-in that has shut down their neighbourhood. Locals complained that the Islamists sealed off streets.

U.S. doesn't expect Pakistan to reopen Afghan war supply routes soon

As the Taliban kicks off its spring fighting season in Afghanistan, an agreement with Pakistan that would help NATO supply its troops there could be weeks or months away, forcing military leaders to spend two-and-a-half times as much to ship some supplies through Central Asia. The Obama administration remains locked in negotiations with Pakistan to reopen the key supply routes into Afghanistan, and officials do not expect talks bogged down over proposed tariffs and U.S. military assistance to reach resolution anytime soon. The continued closure of ground routes, which Islamabad shut after two dozen of its soldiers were killed by NATO aircraft in November, poses one more challenge to U.S. President Barack Obama's already troubled campaign in Afghanistan. A deal is almost certainly impossible before May 20-21, when Obama will host NATO leaders in his hometown of Chicago. There, Western leaders will define plans for moving out of Afghanistan and for funding local troops they hope can contain a resilient insurgency when NATO withdraws. A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that talks in Islamabad between Pakistani and U.S. officials on supply routes, were continuing this week, but "no decisions are imminent." "There's value in continuing to have those discussions, but there's no sense those talks are going to turn into decisions" shortly, the official said. A deal would require agreement on Pakistan's proposal to impose tariffs on NATO supplies, including how tariffs would be formulated, where that money would go, and how the West would ensure those funds were being used appropriately. Another issue stalling the talks is disagreement over how much the United States should reimburse Pakistan for counter-terrorism activity by Pakistani forces. The United States believes it owes Pakistan about $1 billion in arrears for that program, called Coalition Support Funds, while Pakistan contends the figure is much higher, perhaps over three times as much. The Pentagon has approved over $8.8 billion in military reimbursements for Pakistan since 2002. NEW ARRANGEMENT Once those arrears have been paid, both countries appear to want to set up a new arrangement for providing U.S. financial support for Pakistan's anti-militant activities. Pakistan's supply routes have been closed since the November 26 cross-border NATO air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and plunged already tumultuous ties between the two uneasy allies to their lowest point in years. Before their closure, the two land supply routes through Pakistan accounted for just under a third of all cargo that the NATO-led force in Afghanistan shipped there. The closure has held up thousands of tons of equipment. Pakistan has said it will impose tariffs on ports and roads used by NATO, in part to express Pakistani outrage over the border deaths and in part to shore up funding for its fight against militants that target the Pakistani state. The Pentagon says the route closure has not yet had a real impact on the fight in Afghanistan. "Obviously it gets more challenging as we get closer to 2014," the U.S. official said, when most foreign combat troops will make their way home. In a report released this week, the Defense Department warned that a prolonged closure of the supply routes could "significantly degrade" withdrawal operations as NATO nations try to establish a modicum of stability in Afghanistan before most of their troops are pulled out at the end of 2014. While the Taliban has been pushed out of some areas since 2009, when Obama began a troop surge designed to turn around a long-neglected war, the insurgency remains resilient. The talks come as the Obama administration tries to repair ties with Pakistan also damaged by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistani tribal areas and the U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year. They also come at a sensitive moment in Pakistan, where the parliament has approved recommendations from its national security committee on ties with the United States, including a demand to end drone strikes and an apology for the soldiers' deaths. "Certainly the domestic situation in Pakistan has a role to play" in the negotiations, the U.S. official said.

Top Addictions Doctor: Don't Treat Smokers Like Animals

Amid a state crackdown on smoking, the country's top addictions doctor said Friday that long-time smokers cannot be cured and should not be "treated like animals" as they indulge in their habit. Yevgeny Bryun, the chief narcologist at the Heath and Social Development Ministry, told reporters that smokers "pay for their sin" through tobacco taxes, so the government has an obligation to provide "civilized, humane conditions" where smokers can "fulfill their painful needs." Designated smoking areas should be reasonably comfortable with good ventilation, but many do not meet this standard, he said.
"Airports are now setting aside places to smoke, [but] these places are impossible to enter," he said, Interfax reported. "This is an outrage. This is treating man like an animal, because he has paid for his sin." Bryun urged the state to show compassion toward smokers. "You cannot change the habit of a person who has smoked from childhood," he said. "He will never give up tobacco. But he is a living, breathing human being, and he needs to be provided with a place where he can smoke freely." The Health and Social Development Ministry is considering a raft of bills aimed at convincing Russians to give up smoking, including raising excise taxes on cigarettes, banning smoking on all public transportation by 2014 and eliminating smoking in cafes, bars and restaurants by 2015. Displaying cigarettes at stores and other points of sale could also be outlawed. Smoke breaks in stairwells, between cars on commuter trains and just about everywhere else are a common sight all over the country, which has more smokers per capita than any other country on the planet. Nearly 40 percent of Russians, or 43.9 million people, smoke, according to research by the World Health Organization and Euromonitor International. More than 60 percent of all men smoke, as well as more than 20 percent of women. A quarter of all youth aged 13 to 15 smoke — 27 percent of boys and 24 percent of girls.

Bahrain court keeps two Shiite minors in custody

A Bahraini juvenile court decided on Thursday to keep two minors in custody for seven more days after they were arrested last week for assaulting police and taking part in protests, their lawyers said. Yasin Abduljalil Sheber, 13, and Abdulkarim Hasan, also 13, appeared before a judge for the second time since their arrest on Friday, according to a statement by their lawyers. On Sunday, a juvenile judge ordered the detention of the two Shiites for five days, and on Thursday, they were ordered to remain behind bars for seven more days, the statement said. Both face charges of taking part in "assembly and riots," with Sheber also accused of "assaulting police and tearing military uniform," and Hasan charged with "carrying a petrol bomb." The lawyers said Sheber, who was arrested in Hamad Town during a protest, was beaten by police and that beating marks showed on his body. Hasan, who was arrested in the village of Shahrakkan, told his defence lawyer he was "beaten with batons" by police who arrested him, and that he was called during questioning a "son of Iran," which is accused of backing co-religionist Shiites in the Sunni-ruled kingdom. The judge rejected defence requests to release the two minors. Tensions are running high in Bahrain where a month-long Shiite-led uprising was crushed in March 2011. Demonstrations have intensified in recent months as protesters sporadically clash with the police. Amnesty International says 60 people have been killed since the protests first erupted in February last year.

Pakistan: Acid for sale, no questions asked ....

Published in The Express Tribune
As coverage of acid victim Fakhra Younus dies down in the media, the chemical market in Karachi continues to thrive on the same street, Napier Road, where she once lived. In response to the easy availability of the product, human rights activists have called for much tougher controls on how it is bought and sold. Dozens of shops filled with acid drums line the narrow streets of the chemical market. Anyone can buy any amount of acid for a few hundred rupees without being asked the purpose for purchasing the potentially lethal substance. Baqir, an acid dealer at the market, was mixing a strange concoction in an open drum, without protective gear such as gloves or a mask, in a muddy lane. The toxic fumes emitted fused with the polluted air, inhaled by dozens of people walking by. When approached for the ‘best’ acid in his stock, he proudly took out a large container and said, “This can melt even the strongest steel. You can have it for only Rs500.” In December 2011, the Pakistan Penal Code’s Criminal Procedure was amended under the Acid Control and Crime Prevention Act. Although it listed severe punishments for the perpetrators of the crime, calling for life imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs500,000, it did not list any measures against the suppliers of the lethal substance. National Commission on the Status of Women’s chairperson Anisa Haroon said that acid control measures had been suggested in the initial draft of the act, but they were removed. “At the moment, the act pertains to only those who commit the crime of throwing acid on people,” she said. She agreed that the battle was only half-won. “The problem we faced back then was that the ministry of industries had to be involved to regulate the acid suppliers. So it was decided that in the first step we’ll take measures against the criminals and later on take steps to regulate the supply.” According to the Pakistan Chemicals and Dyes Merchants Association (PCDMA) Secretary General Syed Shakil Ahmed, there are 1,300 companies throughout Pakistan that are associated with the business of making these products and are registered with the association.Out of these, about 1,000 are in Karachi. A large number of these companies are in the business of supplying chemicals and dyes to the multi-million dollar textile industry of the country. The PCDMA chairman Nasiruddin Fateh Kukda put the entire blame of the misuse of acid on the retailers. “The wholesaler sells his wares to the retailer, who then sell it to any customer on the street. We can take measures against the wholesaler, but there is no retailers association where this issue can be taken up.” However, when told about how wholesalers were also selling the acid openly in the chemical market, Kukda admitted it was possible that ‘some people’ were doing it. “At the moment, the business community is facing greater problems. We are facing threats by the extortion mafia on a daily basis and we want to sort this out first,” he said. Kukda added that he was open to all suggestions to curb the misuse. Human rights activists such as the Aurat Foundation’s Mahnaz Rehman call for a strict regulation of acid and other lethal substances being openly sold in the markets. They say that firstly only those companies and shops should be allowed to sell acid that have a valid licence. Secondly, they say that any customer who asks for the substance should first submit a photo ID and fill out a form stating his intention. Also, they call for a complete ban of selling the sulphuric acid in its undiluted form in the open market. They point out that acid is being used not only in crimes against women, but serial killers have also been known to use the substance to dispose of bodies, citing the case of Javed Iqbal, who confessed to killing at least 100 children in Lahore and dumping their bodies in acid drums. Beautician turned human rights activist Musarrat Misbah, who also dealt with Fakhra’s case, said it took the country more than 60 years to enact a law against people who commit the heinous crime of acid throwing on women. “I just hope it doesn’t take us another 60 years to make a law to regulate the acid suppliers,” she said.

France set to choose: Sarkozy or Hollande

Source:Deutsche Welle
Author: Daphne Grathwohl / jc
On Sunday, May 6, voters in France will vote in the run-off presidential election. Incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande are campaigning furiously, but experts say the latter looks like a good bet to win. Polls put socialist Francois Hollande around seven percentage points ahead of conservative Nicolas Sarkozy who faces a difficult, and perhaps impossible, task to close that gap. In order to win a majority of the popular vote, Sarkozy will have to attract support from those who cast their ballots for the far-right Front National in the first round of the election on April 22. The party, led by Marine Le Pen, took 18 percent of that vote. The Front National is looking forward to parliamentary elections in June and is in no mind to do the incumbent any favors. On Tuesday, Le Pen, the daughter of party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, encouraged her supporters to cast blank ballots as a form of protest. The far right in France has eaten into Sarkozy's support to a much greater extent than the far left has hurt Hollande. And that, say experts, comes despite the fact that only The Front National's rhetoric has changed, not its xenophobic outlook. "The vocabulary has changed, but the basic goals remain the same," Etienne Francois, Professor Emeritus at the France Center of the Free University of Berlin, told DW. "Nontheless, the change in the choice of words has made the party seem increasingly normal." Tight rope walk Sarkozy probably needs to win over around two-thirds of the Front National voters to prevail in the run-off. And while he has ruled out cooperating with Le Pen's party, he has been appropriating some of the issues and the vocabulary associated with the far right. The incumbent has promised to tighten France's immigration policies and threatened to pull out of the Schengen agreement, if controls between EU member states are not stepped up. "Our system of integration doesn't work," Sarkozy said on French radio on Tuesday. "Before we were able to integrate those who were received on our territory, others arrived. Having taken in too many people, we paralyzed our system of integration." Experts say statements like these are aimed at exploiting deep-seated fears within the French electorate. "Many French people are afraid of globalization and open borders," Claire Demesmay, Director of the French program at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, told DW.The problem for Sarkozy, Demesmay added, is that he is also trying to appeal to the supporters of the moderate politician François Bayrou, who won 9.1 percent in the first round of presidential voting in April. "These are people who are interested in larger European questions and favor more immigration," Demesmay said. "Sarkozy has to square the circle." Sarkozy's conservative UMP has offered to work together with Bayrou, and in late April Sarkozy came out in favor of a Europe-wide stimulus package. But the divergent nature of his campaign statements has led some to say the French President is flip-flopping. The leftist newspaper Libération has even accused Sarkozy of "a complete lack of ideological orientation." Hollande as new broom? In his late campaigning Hollande has been stressing economic topics, in particular sluggish EU growth and the debt crisis of some EU member states. "What's important for Hollande are policies to bring debt under control as well as joint efforts by EU member states on economic questions," Jacques-Pierre Gougeon - a Socialist Party advisor and the director of the Institute of International Relations and Strategies in Paris - told DW. Gougeon added that debt reduction would not be enough, saying "Europe also has to have measures for growth, employment and innovation - that's lacking right now." But some experts believe that even if elected, Hollande will be unable to put promises of a new approach to the debt crisis into practice. "[German Chancellor] Angela Merkel won't accept that, and she's not the only one" Demesmay said. "Lots of countries are against new negotiations." And Hollande's hand could be weakened by increasing international skepticism about France's own economic future, which could lead to a downward revision in estimations of the country's credit-worthiness. "The ratings agencies are lying in wait, and France's Triple-A status is at stake," Isabelle Bourgeois, an economics expert at the CIRAC Institute at the University of Cergy-Pontoise told DW. Whatever the outcome of Sunday's run-off election, it's clear that the French political landscape is shifting. "If Sarkozy loses the election, the parliamentary elections that immediately follow will probably yield lots of seats for the Front National and could lead to a tacit arrangement between mainstram conservatives at the far right," Etienne Francois said. "And a strong Front National in the French parliament isn't going to make things any easier."

France prepares for election runoff

U.S.Hiring slows, spells trouble for economy, Obama

Employers cut back on hiring in April and more people stopped looking for work, troubling signs for President Barack Obama whose re-election prospects could hinge on his handling of the economy. Employers added 115,000 workers to payrolls last month, the Labor Department said on Friday. It was the third straight month in which hiring had slowed, intensifying fears the U.S. recovery is losing momentum. Even a slight drop in the unemployment rate to 8.1 percent had a dark tone because the fall was due entirely to people dropping out of the workforce. "The bottom line is you don't have evidence that this economy has reached escape velocity," said Robert Tipp, an investment strategist at Prudential Fixed Income. Analysts had expected 170,000 new jobs in April, and the shortfall could open the door a bit wider for the Federal Reserve to step up efforts to help the economy. Major U.S. stock indexes tumbled more than 1 percent and yields on U.S. government bonds declined. Still, the report was not all negative. The government revised upward earlier estimates for payroll growth in February and March by a combined 53,000 jobs. POLITICAL ECONOMY The report could rattle nerves at the White House. Weak U.S. growth and high unemployment create a formidable headwind for Obama, who entered office during the darkest days of the 2007-09 recession. Obama, who will hold his first campaign rallies on Saturday, said he would urge Congress next week to implement "common-sense ideas" to accelerate job growth. "We've got to do more if we're going to recover all the jobs lost in the recession," he told a group of students in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia. His Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, repeated accusations that Obama has not done enough to help Americans get back to work. "We seem to be slowing down, not speeding up. This is not progress. This is very, very disappointing," he told Fox News. The unemployment rate, which soared to as high as 10 percent during Obama's first year in office, held near 9 percent for most of last year before falling sharply over the winter. The decline had raised hopes that the economy had turned a corner. Those hopes dimmed on Friday. Even with the latest decline, the jobless rate remains about 2 percentage points higher than its average over the last 50 years, and the Fed thinks the labor market probably won't be at full health until at least after 2014. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said last month the U.S. central bank is providing enough support for the economy but kept open the possibility of a fresh round of bond purchases to lower borrowing costs should the economy weaken. "They obviously are going to be on guard now that employment growth is not picking up," said Sean Incremona, an economist at 4Cast. UNDER PRESSURE Many economists think the weakness evident in the labor market over the last few months is largely payback for stronger hiring during a mild winter. That would temper fears the economy is losing steam. Still, the employment report included several ominous numbers. The participation rate, a measure of how many Americans are looking for work, fell to a 30-year low at 63.6 percent of the population. The retirement of baby boomers has helped push that rate lower but many people also have stopped looking for work because they are discouraged by a sour jobs market. People must be actively seeking work to count as part of the labor force. The report also showed government payrolls contracted by 15,000, the biggest loss since November. Public payrolls have been under pressure as politicians worry about heavy debt loads and lackluster tax revenues. The private sector added 130,000 new positions, with manufacturing adding a strong 16,000 jobs. Jobs in transportation and warehousing shrank by almost 17,000.

Afghan asylum seekers on hunger strike in Indonesia

More than 160 Afghan asylum seekers held in Indonesia have been on hunger strike for almost four days demanding transfer to Australia, with some needing hospital treatment, an official said Friday. "They started the hunger strike on Monday evening," Muhammad Yunus Junaid, head of the detention centre on Bintan island near Singapore, told AFP, adding there were 169 asylum seekers, all male and aged 17 to 40. "They said they could not stand staying in the centre any longer. They want to go to Australia and live a normal life there," he said. Forty of the asylum seekers detained at the Tanjung Pinang city detention centre were sent to hospital Thursday and put on drips, some suffering from anaemia and others losing consciousness, Junaid said. Thirty-five have since been released and are back on hunger strike. Some of the asylum seekers had been locked up for two years before striking to pressure the United Nations High Commission for Refugees into granting them refugee status, which would let them apply to go to Australia, Junaid said. Junaid said that about 50 migrants from Myanmar at the same centre also went on a hunger strike last week for three days but they were not granted refugee status. Indonesia is a common transit point for asylum seekers trying to reach Australia, but many of the overloaded, rickety boats do not make it. In December, a boat carrying around 250 mostly Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers sank in Indonesian waters on its way to Christmas Island, with only 47 surviving.

Sharifs devoured over Rs3.9 billion of banks

Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Thursday said the Sharif brothers have devoured a sum of over Rs 3.9 billion of various banks and did not even bother to formally arrange the waiver of the amount. Talking to media persons outside Parliament House, he said the nation demands return of the looted money from former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif. He said both brothers also allegedly committed money laundering of $32 million. He called for taking suo moto notice of this money laundering.

Malik wants Sharifs quizzed in SC attack case

Amid intensifying political acrimony between the government and PML-N, the interior ministry instructed Islamabad police on Thursday to reopen investigations against Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif over the storming of the Supreme Court building in 1997. According to sources, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has directed police to reopen the inquiry and interrogate the PML-N chief and the Punjab chief minister. The sources said Senior Superintendent of Police Mohammad Yousuf Malik, who hails from the prime minister’s constituency and has served as SSP in Multan, had been asked to interrogate the Sharif brothers and submit a report as soon as possible. The minister asked the city administration to hold an inquiry, fix responsibility and also address the matter of non-completion of the police probe in 1999. Acting on the minister’s order, Chief Commissioner Tariq Mehmood Pirzada asked Deputy Commissioner Amir Ahmed Ali to conduct inquiry, the sources said. The sources said that one Shahid Orakazi had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking action against people involved in the attack. A police superintendent named Tamour Ali Khan had investigated the matter but could not complete it because the Sharif brothers were in custody at the time and ‘out of his reach’. The SP submitted an incomplete investigation report to the interior ministry.

PML-N has no mass base to mobilise long march

PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has said that Nawaz Sharif has no power to mobilize long march. Talking to media persons outside the parliament house on Friday, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said contempt of court case could be filed against PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif in Supreme Court assault incident. He added that still the apex court has not announced disqualification of the PM. He said that the PM disqualification issue would be resolved after the detail judgment of the Supreme Court.While clarifying the COAS Ashfaq Pervez Kayani statement, Shujaat Hussain said that the COAS insisted no one could be permitted to derail the democratic government from the course of democracy. He said that the army wanted continuity of current democratic system in the country, adding that the COAS emphasized in his statement to run the system according to the constitution. “The current month is May and March passed away so the Nawaz Sharif lost his long march power”, Shujaat Hussain said. Responding to a question regarding the resolution moved by the PML-N in the parliament for the creation of four new provinces, Shujaat Hussain commented that Nawaz Sharif might ask to create Raiwind as a new province. He said that he is in favor of FATA province creation but mutual consensus could be needed for it, adding that the PML-Q would not participate in any dispute during the proceeding of the parliament. Advising the PML-N to wait for their turn till next elections, he said that the general election would be held on its fixed time.“The southern Punjab’s masses sense of deprivation would end, if Seraiki province would be created”, he said. He said that the PML-Q had initiated the issue of Hazara province in the parliament.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to double education budget

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has decided to enhance its budget for education sector from two per cent to four per cent of the gross domestic product in the next financial year. The decision was made during a meeting of the provincial cabinet here on Thursday with Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti in the chair. During a media briefing afterwards, information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain declared the proposed increase in education budget a landmark in the province’s history and said the government would allocate Rs64 billion for education in the 2012-13 budget. “The government is fulfilling its commitment to spending four per cent of GDP on education. Many countries in the world are already doing so,” he said, adding that his government was committed to achieving targets set in the UN Millennium Development Goals towards universal primary education by 2015. The minister said illiteracy was the root cause of extremism and poverty in the society and these issues could be resolved through putting in place solid educational network. He added that his government had already focused on education and developed linkages among universities, colleges and schools in the province. According to him, the cabinet approved establishment of Institute of Peace and Conflict Management Sciences on a proposal floated in July 2009. Mr Iftikhar said initially, the institute would offer bachelor’s and master’s courses to encourage and attract researchers into peace and conflict management sciences and later, it would introduce M Phil and PhD courses. He said donors would be approached for funding the project. The minister said the cabinet discussed recommendations of the special committee tasked with proposing reforms for religious seminaries. He said the committee set up in March 2010 was to formulate recommendations on whether a separate department was needed to be established for registration, monitoring and provision of grant-in-aid for seminaries. Mr Iftikhar said the government had already discussed the committee’s recommendations with scholars and ulema of all schools of thought and got their consent to them. He said the cabinet also approved the proposed amendment to Sarhad Hydro Development Organisation Act, 1993, and its tabling in the provincial assembly today (Friday) in the shape of Pakhtunkhwa Hydel Development Organisation (Amendment) Act, 2012. The amendment, he said, proposed induction of six more members to the SHDO board of directors whose current strength was seven and that an executive committee work under it and the energy minister head it as chairman. The minister said the cabinet also approved budget strategy for 2012-13 in which it was highlighted that despite serious monetary challenges and insurgency, the government spent Rs200 billion on development projects in the province over the last four years. According to him, the cabinet also decided that all line departments would receive ‘output-based budget’, which was to improve services delivery in health and education at district level. “Decision of the committee, which proposed that 20 per cent of the total revenue generated from forests, will be spent on development of forests in the province. The environment department will discuss management system of forest development fund,” he said. Mr Iftikhar said participants also discussed the government employees’ group insurance scheme and the relevant committee’s recommendations in this respect. He said the meeting was informed that the scheme was being drafted and would be submitted to the cabinet for approval after the next budget.

20 killed in suicide blast in Bajaur Agency

A bombing in a market close to the Afghan border killed 20 people Friday in Bajaur Agency. The blast hit the area a day after the U.S. released letters seized from Osama bin Laden s compound that criticized Pakistani militants for killing too many civilians. Five of the dead in the Bajur region blast were local members of the security forces, including one who had received an award for bravery in fighting militants, government administrator Abdul Haseeb said. The others were passers-by. At least 40 people have also been wounded in the blast. Bodies and the injured people have been taken to the nearby hospital. Meawhile, security forces cordoned off the area soon after the incident and an initial investigation has also been started in this regard. The bomb hit the main market early morning Friday when the traders opened their shops. A government school is also located in this area.

Balochistan still burns

There seems to be no end in sight for the ongoing miseries of Balochistan. As has become gruesomely routine now, another bullet-riddled body was found dumped in the Mastung area on Wednesday. As is also the case with most of the corpses discovered in this fashion, evidence of torture was all too visible. This is in spite of the fact that the Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is currently holding regular hearings on the situation of missing persons in Balochistan and has not only condemned the atrocities being perpetrated against the Baloch but has also demanded that law enforcement agencies guarantee the life and property of every citizen in the province. The CJ has expressed his serious concern over the deteriorating law and order in the province. It is actually quite amazing the stubborn disregard with which the Supreme Court’s (SC) orders are being met by the powers that be in Balochistan. It is also tragic. Courts exist to take into account any breaking of the law. Their judgements and orders are to be upheld. Those who are behind the forced disappearances and massive human rights violations in the largest province are essentially thumbing their noses at the highest court in the land. And, it seems, there is nothing the SC can do about this beyond a certain point. The provincial and federal governments are following a syndrome of apathy where their lacklustre efforts at following through on serious political dialogue to address the real grievances of the Baloch have seemed little more than a joke. It is largely acknowledged that the security forces and Frontier Corps (FC) are running amok in the province, accused by the Baloch as being behind the kidnappings and murders that have now made their presence felt in the media and political circles, especially after the US Congress took notice of these crimes against humanity. The SC took seriously the missing persons’ case earlier also when Musharraf was president and that, amongst other reasons, got the CJ ousted. Considering this chequered history, it is heartening to see that the SC is once again making it clear that things have gone too far; the SC bench is said to have worked 15 hours straight for this latest hearing. However, no amount of umbrage and dogged pursuit by the SC will be enough to make up for the utter helplessness of the police and government where guaranteeing the safety and security of the Baloch people is concerned. The military/security agencies are unwilling to open themselves up to inquiry. The Balochistan Chief Secretary, Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad, informed the court that the ISI, MI and FC were not ready to cooperate when provided with a list of 62 missing persons. This is just a small reminder of how the people actually in charge in Balochistan care little for ‘small’ issues such as human rights and the welfare of the people. A very real challenge has been thrown up for the SC to rein in and hold accountable those belonging to the security agencies, which after all are answerable to the courts — a point noted by the CJ himself. Balochistan is burning and has been for a long time. The struggle is escalating, with even the country’s highest court railing against cruel injustices. It is time those responsible for causing grief to the Baloch change their policies and end their murderous spree.

PML-N has become politically isolated

Daily Times
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has said the PML-N adopted a stance in his contempt case in haste, as it took a decision without waiting for the detailed verdict, and said the party was isolated in the present political arena with no one on their side because of their attitude. With the baking of a parliamentary resolution reposing confidence in him, a confident Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Thursday said the PML-N had lost the game following the passage of the resolution in parliament on southern Punjab. Talking to media at the Prime Minister’s House, Gilani looked much more composed after the passage of a resolution in his favour and lashed out at the PML-N leadership, which he believed had been exposed through its behaviour in parliament. The PM categorically stated he doesn’t accept “Sharif Courts” who declared him disqualified when the detailed judgement of the contempt of court case against him was still pending. Regarding PML-N’s plan to move a resolution for new provinces in parliament, Gilani said if the party was sincere then it should move a resolution in Punjab Assembly following the approval of a resolution from parliament. Speaking on his conviction from court, Gilani said it was not a criminal case neither had he committed any moral or financial corruption, on the basis of which he should be disqualified. He said his was not the only case that was in court, as many cases of the opposition, such as the Mehran Bank scandal, were also in the courts, and questioned whether it was justified the PML-N leadership was taking out a procession in favour of the judiciary, which was hearing their cases. When asked why NATO supply routes were not being opened since parliament had passed unanimous recommendations on reengagements with the US, the premier said the US had been conveyed parliament’s recommendations and different groups were working between the two countries to discuss the new terms of engagements. On whether he was hopeful of the opening of NATO supply routes, Gilani responded in affirmative and said the talks were heading towards a positive direction.

PPP to counter PML-N movement with rallies

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has announced that they would hold rallies as a counter to the PML-N protest movement which is scheduled to begin from Saturday.
During a meeting of the top brass of the PPP held under the chair of President Asif Zardari, it was decided not to give the PML-N a free hand. The PML-N has announced that it will hold a protest movement in an effort to pressure Yousuf Raza Gilani to resign as the prime minister and implement the orders of the Supreme Court. Prime Minister Gilani was convicted in the contempt of court case following which opposition parties including the PML-N started calling for his resignation. The PML-N on Friday continued to protest inside the National Assembly chanting slogans and calling for the resignation of Gilani. Law Minister Farooque Naik said the PML-N protest was against rules and Yousuf Raza Gilani was still a member of the National Assembly and the prime minister. The court or the Election Commission has not disqualified Gilani, he said.

Nearly 750,000 preterm babies born in Pakistan annually

Each year, some 15 million babies in the world are born too early. Preterm births account for more than one in 10 of the world’s live births, and 60% of them occur in South Asia & sub-Saharan Africa. Pakistan with 748,100 preterm births annually has fourth highest number after India at 3,519,100; China at 1,172,300, Nigeria at 773,600, Tanzania number 12 on list followed by Uganda at 14, and Kenya at 15, says The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth, authored by 45 international multi-disciplinary experts from 26 organisations including Aga Khan University, Karachi and 11 countries with over 40 organisations in support. Worse, Pakistan is eighth of top 10 countries with highest rates of preterm births: 15.8 for every 100 births along, again, with countries from sub-Saharan Africa: Malawi, 18.1 per 100; Comoros and Congo, 16.7; Zimbabwe, 16.6; Equatorial Guinea, 16.5; Mozambique, 16.4; Gabon, 16.3; Indonesia, 15.5; and Mauritania, 15.4. Rate for East African countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are at 13.6, 12.3, and 11.4 respectively “For too long prematurity has been regarded as synonymous with a limited chance of survival. Our studies suggest that several low cost solutions are possible for care of women before and during pregnancy and importantly after preterm birth. These have huge potential for saving lives and improving pregnancy outcomes,” says Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, Founding Chair of Women & Child Health at Aga Khan University, and one of authors of report. Basic measures such as antenatal steroid injections for mothers in premature labour; ‘kangaroo care’ where infant is held skin-to-skin on mother's chest for warmth and ease of breastfeeding; antiseptic cream to prevent birth cord infection; antibiotics to prevent and fight infection, important cause of neonatal death, are all inexpensive, proven forms of care for premature babies that could dramatically improve the chances of survival.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly all set to pass resolution in favour of PM today

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly will pass a resolution in support of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in the government-convened session today following his conviction by the Supreme Court in a contempt of court case. The ruling alliance of Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have finalised all arrangements to ensure passage of the resolution. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which has announced phase-wise protest movement against the convicted prime minister and in support of the Supreme Court, would resist and oppose the government move. PML-N MPA Shazia Aurangzeb said though some of their members were busy in making arrangements for their scheduled protest meeting at Swabi, the party legislators would resist the government resolution in the assembly. She said her party considered the convicted premier had no right to remain in power. She said the Prime Minister’s elder sons were accused of corruption. She said the prime minister was protecting the loot and plunder of President Asif Ali Zardari for the last four years. The prime minister, she maintained, had proved that he had no respect for the Supreme Court but was loyal to the president. Shazia Aurangzeb said the PML-N leaders would educate the people by organising protest meetings and processions on the roads and oppose the government’s resolutions in the assembly. She observed that the opposition legislators from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) may remain neutral like they did in the National Assembly. PML-Quaid (PML-Q) deputy parliamentary leader Nighat Orakzai said her party would support the resolution. She said the government could not be changed through long and short marches and suggested to the PML-N chief to wait for his turn for coming into power. She said both the PML-N and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chiefs should sit together before launching protest movement against the government. “If the opposition parties did not wait for their turn, other forces could take benefit of the situation,” she cautioned. Sikandar Sherpao, parliamentary leader of the Pakistan People’s Party-Sherpao (PPP-S), expressed ignorance about any such resolution, saying no one had contacted his party. He said the opposition should have contacted his party if it had any plan against the government-sponsored resolution in favour of the prime minister. However, he said his party would take decision on supporting or opposing the resolution after reading its wording. The ruling alliance may also pass the resolution for holding the upcoming local government elections. The assembly session will be held at 4pm instead of the morning to avoid traffic congestion. Strict security arrangements have been made in and around the assembly hall for the session.