Monday, May 14, 2012
France’s outgoing President Nicolas SarkozyOutgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy is leaving office as one of the most unpopular presidents in France’s history and with the unwelcome distinction of being only the second French head of state to fail to win re-election since World War Two. Sarkozy, who has suggested he will quit politics when he steps down on May 15, has kept a low profile and avoided encounters with the media in the last days of his five-year mandate. The subdued finale has contrasted sharply with the boisterous presence that people have grown to expect – and to dislike. “Sarkozy’s approval rating went through several different phases, but it was often under 30% and taken as a whole was the lowest we’ve recorded for any [French] president,” said Eric Bonnet, head of opinion surveys for the French polling firm BVA. Sarkozy’s “bling-bling” style was not the only thing the French loved to loathe. Many disillusioned voters felt Sarkozy had failed to deliver on campaign promises and that several of the reforms he championed, such as pushing the retirement age from 60 to 62 years and offering tax breaks to France’s wealthy, were unjust.The outgoing president also failed to deliver on his twin promises to clean up corruption from government and to get people back to work. “Unemployment has gone up to 10% and the Bettencourt affair eventually blew up in his face,” said RFI journalist Philippe Turle, referring to a sprawling scandal involving allegations of illegal payments by L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt to members of the French government. Roller coaster ride Sarkozy started his mandate in May 2007 with an approval rating of around 60%, but he took a dive in early 2008 and never fully recovered. “He was elected on his capacity to change things and obtain results,” BVA’s Bonnet said. “It was during a press conference in January 2008 that he made it clear he couldn’t solve every problem. That’s when things changed.” During the two-hour press conference Sarkozy notoriously told hundreds of journalists gathered at the Elysée Palace in Paris that he had other concerns besides raising the minimum wage and “emptying the state’s coffers, which incidentally have already been emptied”. It was at the same meeting that Sarkozy told reporters that his relationship with model and singer Carla Bruni was “serious”. Sarkozy and Bruni were married a month later, but his whirlwind romance with the celebrity failed to impress French voters. France’s “hyper-president” rebounded in opinion polls later that year thanks to his foreign policy, a field he obviously enjoyed more than any other. He earned plaudits for his role in ending a brief war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, as well as for his activism in dealing with the financial meltdown that followed the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers soon after.However, those successes failed to make up for his failures on the one issue that really mattered to the French: the economy. “French people rediscovered the image of the conquering Sarkozy who wanted to fight on every front,” said Bonnet. “But they progressively found a president who couldn’t do much in response to the country’s problems.” Sarkozy’s approval rating hit rock bottom in October 2010, slumping to an abysmal 28%. A different kind of president Sarkozy helped reinvent certain aspects of French political life, but not in a way that endeared him to voters. His closeness to wealthy French industrialists and a handful of unforgettable outbursts in public were widely perceived as unbecoming of a French president. Perhaps the most infamous moment came at the 2008 agriculture show in Paris, when Sarkozy told a heckling farmer to “get lost, you loser”. Caught on camera, the insult hounded the president throughout his tenure. Three years later, as Socialist rival François Hollande launched his campaign for the presidency with a pledge to restore “normality” to France’s highest office, Sarkozy sought to make amends for past slips. During an increasingly desperate campaign for re-election, the “bling-bling” president expressed regret for the exchange at the agriculture show as well as other unpopular moves. While the eleventh-hour repentance was not enough to win him a second term, analysts say the outgoing president may yet find the popularity he craved for throughout his five years in office. “One year ago we asked people to qualify Sarkozy’s mandate as either good or bad. At the time 63% of people said it was bad. The same survey last week found that only half of all people thought it was negative,” said Bonnet, adding that it was “typical” for outgoing French presidents to rise in popularity after they handed over power. RFI’s Turle agreed: “French people are extremely nostalgic of the past. President [François] Mitterand and [Jacques] Chirac were unpopular when they left office, but then became very popular. Sarkozy is next in line for that phenomenon, but it’s still too early.”
Greece's euro membership was as much the German elite's fault as anyone's. Can it find the leadership to resolve the crisis?
Sometimes, just sometimes, economics and politics are like physics – one can recognize immutable forces. One of those times is now, as Greece is inexorably pushed out of the euro. It took no particular talent to have seen this coming, just the recognition that it has always been a fantasy to believe that the Greeks would democratically choose to destroy their economy for the better part of a decade in order to pay foreign creditors.
The fact is that Greece never was a suitable member of the eurozone. That the Greek economy was extremely inefficient, that corruption was rife, that the government budgets were perpetually out of control, and that the official statistics were not to be believed were widely known. But, as in many marriages, Greece's entry into the euro was a triumph of sentimentality and wilful blindness over realism.
The pity – in addition to the actual damage already inflicted on millions of Greeks – of this debacle is that it was never clear, and still isn't clear, that other countries, like Spain, will also be inexorably forced out. For the adjustment that Spain needs to make in order to stay in the euro was never as drastic as it was for Greece. While undoubtedly painful, it is probably still do-able.
But what has become unavoidably clear is that Germany, the linchpin of the eurozone, has been hopelessly stuck in an attitude that makes the break-up of the eurozone almost unavoidable. If Germany cannot pull itself together to keep Spain in the euro, then the markets can no longer ignore the fact that the lack of leadership and governance is a fatal flaw in the system.
What accounts for this? I would argue that the heart of the problem lies in the political culture of Germany and the mindset of its political and economic elites, which have never been willing to admit to their own voters the sacrifices that must be undertaken in order to be the leader of Europe. Instead, they have led Germans to believe that they can have it both ways: enjoying the fruits of the eurozone while times were good, and lobbing the burden of adjustment onto others when times got bad.
By doing this, the German elites set a trap for themselves with their own voters from which they cannot easily escape. Greece has been the perfect storm for the flaws of the eurozone and the vacuum of German leadership. Early in the crisis, the best course of action – the one I believe most likely to have preserved the core of the eurozone – would have been to admit the mistake of admitting Greece into the euro. From that recognition, Greece should have been eased out of the euro, while the German and French banks that were on the hook for losses could have been recapitalized. Finally, a massive firewall of monetary and fiscal support for Spain would have been announced.
But to achieve all this would have required a huge loss of face to the German voters – and a willingness to assume the burdens of leadership.
Instead, in the German mindset, Greece became a convenient but bogus template for assigning blame to other periphery countries – particularly, Ireland and Spain. Rather than acknowledging that these countries suffered from the bursting of a property bubble, greatly inflated by German and French lending, German elites pilloried them alike for having out-of-control budgets and inefficient workers. In the end, it was easier to blame and to moralize than to admit the truth.
Now that the elections in Greece, France and the Netherlands have smashed any illusion that all of the adjustment necessary to make the eurozone work can be foisted on other countries, will Germany step up to the plate? Will it advocate for a higher inflation rate, for a common fund for bank recapitalization, and a policy of direct government bond-purchases by the ECB? In other words, will it finally be truthful with its voters about what must be done in order to save the euro?
Sunday's regional German elections offer a small ray of hope. Merkel's party received a thrashing in North Rhine-Westphalia, home to nearly one in five Germans. Rejecting the conservatives' hard-line platform of more austerity and finger-pointing, German voters instead voted for the Social Democrats, for a platform of more spending and, shockingly, for more debt. This caps a series of defeats in state elections for Merkel and makes it increasingly clear that her government is in serious jeopardy.
Perhaps, just perhaps, German voters are waking up. And therein lies the possibility that the euro can be saved.
But it's a race against time at this point. Precious time, credibility and resources have been lost. Lives have been up-ended and shattered, voters are angry and restive, markets are in a hostile and unforgiving mood. It is said that leaders are born of great crises. It is now or never for Germany.
Shahin Najafi accused of denigrating imams as clerics call him an 'apostate' and religious website puts bounty on his head
An Iranian rapper has become "the Salman Rushdie of music" after clerics in the Islamic republic issued fatwas calling him an apostate, which is considered punishable by death under the country's sharia law.
Shahin Najafi, a Germany-based Iranian singer, recently released a song with references to Ali al-Hadi al-Naqi, the tenth of the 12 Shia Muslim Imams, a religious figure highly respected by millions in Iran.
The controversial clip posted on Youtube, watched by hundreds of thousands online, has divided opinions in the country with many finding it offensive and insulting to their beliefs and others defending the song, saying it broke taboos especially in regards to expressing views about religious personalities.
When asked for a religious ruling on the fate of Najafi and his "blasphemous music", clerics unanimously declared that such a person must be considered an apostate.
According to the semi-official Mehr news agency, Ayatollah Naser Makareme Shirazi, a pro-Iranian regime cleric based in the holy city of Qom with a great deal of influence among Muslims in the country, was the latest person to issue a fatwa in regards to Najafi.
"Any outrage against the infallible imams ... and obvious insult against them would make a Muslim an apostate," he said. Makareme Shirazi has in the past issued other controversial rulings, including those against women attending football matches, keeping pets and the Holocaust.
Najafi's song, called Naqi, is a chronology of events in the past year. Najafi, 31, has rejected claims that he meant to insult people's religious beliefs, though the song criticises Iranian society.
"I thought there would be some ramifications. But I didn't think I would upset the regime that much. Now they are taking advantage of the situation and making it look like I was trying to criticise religion and put down believers," he told the Germany broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
"For me it is more of an excuse to talk about completely different things. I also criticise Iranian society in the song. It seems as though people are just concentrating on the word 'imam'."
Meanwhile, an Iranian religion website which runs on the regime-controlled .ir domain, Shia-Online.ir, has offered a $100,000 (£62,000) reward for anyone who kills Najafi.
"A (website) founder who lives in one of the Gulf Arab states has promised to pay the ($100,000) bounty on behalf of Shia-Online.ir to the killer of this abusive singer," the site said.
The fury surrounding Najafi and his work is reminiscent of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie whose novel, The Satanic Verses, brought him a death sentence by the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran.
The Dalai Lama recently revealed his fear to the Western media that Chinese agents have trained female devotees to kill him with poison while seeking blessings. He said he was not sure about the claims to assassinate him, since there was no reliable source.
Why did the Dalai Lama decide to openly speak of this unconfirmed information? He spread the information of this kind at his pleasure, even more enthusiastically than the other ordinary Tibetan monks in exile. In fact, some of the rumors related to Tibet originated from the Dalai Lama.
Let's put it simply: If the central government wanted to "eliminate" the Dalai Lama, why has it waited for such a long time? Isn't it foolish to take action against Dalai at such an old age?
The assassination plot told by the Dalai is more like something you would find in a martial arts novel. Revealing such unreliable information, the Dalai appears to have become mixed up in his old age.
But some believe he is playing an insidious trick. He could use his claims as an excuse for any diseases he has in the future. Even if he dies of a normal illness, the speculation would be that he was poisoned.
This claim by the Dalai Lama have no credibility, not only because there is no benefit for Chinese agents to poison him, but also because of the fact that since the establishment of the PRC, the country has never assassinated its political opponents in exile. China won't change its practice and principles for the Dalai.
The Dalai has been rather active after betraying his country. He travels safely around the world and doesn't receive any punishment for instigating violent activities in the Tibetan region. This is a result of China's stable political culture. If his country was the US, Israel, Russia or Turkey, he wouldn't have lived such a stable life.
The Dalai claimed he supports non-violent protest, but he gave his support to riots like the March 14 incident in 2008, which was clearly violent activity. Now the Dalai has accused the Chinese government of plotting to assassinate him, but this time, he seems to be weakening about his lie in a way that reveals his murky psychology. The Dalai is not a noble religious man as he pretends to be in front of the Western public.
Let the Dalai live his life. His existence is not a crisis for China. He is a problem, but one that China can well afford to ignore.
Protests against load shedding continued on Monday in various cities of Punjab amidst political wrangling between the Punjab and the federal governments and their allies.
Protests demonstrations were organised in Lahore, Multan and Sahiwal. The Pakistan Muslim league-Nawaz leaders led most of the protests.
Last week, the Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO) announced a power shortfall of 3,500 megawatts. The issue took a political turn on Thursday when Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif joined hands with the protesters on Ferozepur Road. The CM spoke against the federal government and announced to continue protest demonstrations. Other PML-N leaders also arranged and led such demonstrations.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Babar Khan Ghauri claimed that the government lacked a political will to resolve the crisis, adding that the government had a capacity to end load shedding from the country within one hour. Ghauri’s statement astonished the PPP leadership. The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) also blamed the federal government for its failure to resolve the energy crisis. The PML-Q also threatened to withdraw its support for the government.
PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi blamed the Punjab CM for load shedding in Punjab. Elahi, also the federal senior minister, said Shahbaz was responsible for electricity load shedding in the province, as the latter did not endorse the formula suggested by PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to end load shedding in the country.
The Express Tribune
Shabnam, whose trip to Pakistan came to an end yesterday, had a busy schedule for her last two days in Karachi. From shopping trips, events and dinners, the actor made sure this trip — which she is making after a span of 14 years — was a memorable one.
Meet the Stars.
On Saturday evening, the legendary actor was invited to attend an event organised by the Pakistan Film and TV Journalists Association, ‘Meet the Stars’, held at Zaver Hall, Pearl Continental Hotel. Known for her punctuality, the actor left the audience shocked as she arrived almost two-and-a-half hours late. “I went out for shopping and got stuck in traffic jams, hence the delay. Please accept my apologies,” she said humbly.
Regarding her trip to Pakistan, the actor said, “I left for Bangladesh in 1999 and it’s my first visit to Pakistan since then. I wasn’t expecting such a warm welcome and reception from the public. When I return to Bangladesh, I’ll take with me the love and generosity of the people of Pakistan.”
The following day, the veteran was invited to a farewell dinner reception hosted by Sindh Senior Minister Pir Mazharul Haq.
Commending Shabnam’s efforts, Haq said, “The industry requires people like Shabnam and Ghosh for its revival. Your arrival here in Pakistan shows that you are great ambassadors of the country and want to strenghthen ties between Pakistan and Bangladesh.”
Meanwhile, when one of the journalists from the audience asked Shabnam — who has starred in more than 300 movies — whether she would consider acting in a local drama serial, the actor replied, “Why not? An artist knows no boundaries of nation or religion.”
In her brief conversation with The Express Tribune, Shabnam claimed that her stay in Pakistan had been “very nice” and she thoroughly enjoyed the visit. Her husband added that he loved Karachi more than any other place he visited in Pakistan.
Shabnam and Ghosh left for Bangladesh yesterday [Monday] afternoon. The couple came to Pakistan on April 23 on a trip sponsored by state-run television channel PTV.
Thousands of PPP activists from Lahore and other districts of the central Punjab staged a rally on Sunday in support of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani besides and vowed to foil any conspiracy against democracy. The rally started from The Mall, near the Lahore Museum and concluded outside the Data Darbar. It had a massive participation of the PPP workers who chanted slogans in support of the party leadership. The rally was led by PPP Central Punjab President Imtiaz Safdar Warraich Holding banners, placards and PPP flags, the party workers kept on chanting slogans in favour of President Zardari and against the PML-N leadership. Sources stated all the allied wings of the PPP were allowed to ensure massive attendance in the rally to give a strong message to the PML-N leadership which had already taken to street and ready to go for a long march against Zardari-Gilani government following the conviction of the PM by the Supreme Court. Addressing the participants of the rally, PPP Central Punjab President Imtiaz Safdar Warraich said Lahore belonged to Bhutto loyalists in the past and it was still a city of PPP Jiyalas. He said the party Jiyalas, by staging a historic rally, had once again shown the true picture to the PML-N leadership. He said Sharif brothers had no interest in the people of the country which was evident from the fact that they had signed a deal with a dictator and ran away from the country in the hour of need.
The Express TribuneAn outbreak of measles in North Waziristan has killed 12 children in three weeks and is spreading due to a shortage of medicines, doctors said Monday. Doctor Mohammad Ali Shah, chief of the main hospital in Miranshah, the biggest town in North Waziristan, told AFP that military operations, power cuts and curfews meant there was a shortage of medicines. “For the past three weeks we are daily receiving five to 10 children suffering from measles,” Shah said, adding that he would normally see only one or two deaths from the disease in a year. “We do not have proper storage for measles vaccination because of long power outages and curfews and most of our stock expires due to these reasons.” He urged the government to send mobile vaccination teams to the area and warned of a possible typhoid outbreak if action was not taken promptly. “Inoculation teams have not visited the area for a long time and that is the reason for the spread of such diseases,” he said. Measles is highly contagious and spread by a virus that is easily prevented by proper immunisation but can be fatal. It caused nearly 140,000 deaths worldwide in 2010, according to the World Health Organisation – 95% in low income countries with poor health infrastructure. Another doctor, Mohammad Sadiq, said 12 children and a man had died from measles, and that there were up to 70 confirmed cases in hospital. Local government officials were not available to comment.
The Express TribuneThe Sharif family, including former premier Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and 13 other relatives have failed to return loans worth over Rs2.3 billion despite a lapse of 18 years, a report prepared by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) revealed. The case brief, available with The Express Tribune, revealed that during the year 1994-95, the Ittefaq Group of Industries (one of the Sharifs’ family businesses) obtained loans from various banks amounting to almost Rs3.1 billion in total. In return, the Ittefaq Group pledged the companies’ mortgaged fixed assets, stocks, raw materials, finished goods, stock charges and personal guarantees by the companies’ directors as collateral. The mortgaged assets (including industrial property), according to sources, are now worth far more than the Rs2.3 billion liabilities. A breakdown of the loans obtained shows that Rs1.545 billion was obtained from the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), Rs340 million from United Bank Limited (UBL), Rs239 million from Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB), Rs110 million from First Punjab Modarba, Rs61 million from the Bank of Punjab, Rs58 million from the Agriculture Development Bank of Pakistan, Rs 17 million from Pakistan Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation (PICIC) and Rs8 million from the Investment Corporation of Pakistan. The outstanding liabilities of the Ittefaq Group of Industries lie at over Rs2.3 billion, including the principal amount, mark-up, and cost of funds. As per the recovery suits, the names of directors of the Ittefaq Industries include Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Nusrat Shahbaz. In 1998, the directors of the Ittefaq Group voluntarily offered to surrender the assets of the group to the Lahore High Court (LHC), to settle claims of all the creditor banks. Upon this offer, all the banks unanimously agreed to get a court order and as per legal advice, an application was filed by the banks before the LHC. While hearing this application, the LHC constituted a Committee on July 8, 1998 to take possession and to protect, preserve and dispose of the assets of the companies belonging to the Ittefaq Group. Sources familiar with the matter, however, say that one director of the group or another would file a petition every time the court came close to allowing bidding on the assets, thereby delaying the process. The committee has convened a number of meetings since its constitution, and bids were called through the publication of notices in newspapers .The last and highest bidding was received in 2005, amounting to Rs2.48 billion. The bidding was jointly endorsed and submitted to the committee by all creditor banks, after which the committee further submitted it to the LHC for an order to accept the said bid for an auction of the units. However, the court order has not been issued yet due to various legal complications, the FIA report stated.
It is clear that Pakistan is struggling somewhat in its relations with the United States. Congress is starting to argue about military aid budgets and Democrat Jesse Jackson has recently referred to the lack of harmony between Islamabad and Washington as a bad marriage. Tensions have intensified since a US Drone strike killed more than 20 people in November last year, followed by Pakistan's boycott of Nato traffic in and out of Afghanistan, and Hillary Clinton's repeated assertion that al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri is currently in Pakistan.In an interview with Sky News, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said he wanted to improve relations with the US following the killing of Osama bin Laden on its soil last year. "There have been lots of ups and downs in our relationship," said Mr Gilani. "We know the importance of the United States. We really want to improve our relations. We are in the middle of discussions and I am sure that better things will come out." He also described the relationship between the CIA and ISI, respectively the US and Pakistani intelligence agencies, as "good". "All high-value targets of al Qaeda - they have been achieved with the support and with the help of the ISI, with the CIA," he said. "Therefore, when we are working together so closely, I think there should be no hesitation in sharing information with Pakistan." What is interesting is Mr Gilani's view on the murdered Red Cross worker Khalil Dale, who was kidnapped at gunpoint in Pakistan in January and found dead last month.He entered I don't know from which country, and his visa was expired. According to the laws and rules of my country, no foreigners can move without the permission of the interior ministry. I heard he entered from Iran, and he did not follow the advice of travelling to Baluchistan," said the PM. "We condemn this incident... we are sorry for the family. But at the same time, one should follow the rules within the country." Political tensions in Pakistan of course are a matter of record. President Asif Ali Zardari's party is under constant attack from the opposition and the judiciary, much of it is said to be well-deserved, but Mr Gilani remains sanguine on the subject of the turbulent Pakistani scene. He believes his country often feels misunderstood - that America's war on terror is a matter of real choices for the people of Pakistan, and where the US complains and pressurises, his people actually ride the blows. All that of course is fair enough, but there is still some justification to western fears that the job will always only be half done. Pakistan is unlikely to have representation at the upcoming Nato summit in Chicago. It is also still vascillating over whether or not to charge Nato per truck when it reopens the roads for Isaf vehicles - the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) - back into Afghanistan. Imran Khan, the cricket sensation turned politician is expected to challenge Mr Gilani for the premiership at next year's elections. In Mr Gilani's opinion, Mr Khan is "a good cricketer", but "politics is another ball game".
Radio Free EuropeThe United States says it has been holding intense negotiations with Pakistan to get the country to reopen its border to convoys carrying supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan. Discussions were scheduled to resume this week, U.S. Embassy spokesman Mark Stroh said. Pakistani Cabinet members and senior military officials were expected to meet on May 15 to discuss whether to allow the supplies to resume. On May 13, the commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, U.S. General John Allen, met with Pakistani and Afghan army chiefs General Ashfaq Kayani and General Sher Muhammad Karimi for talks on border security. Those talks were held in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. It has been almost six months since Pakistan blocked the supply line in retaliation for U.S. air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.