Friday, November 30, 2012

Khyal Mohammad - Mong Yu De Kheyber Zalmi

US presses Palestinian Authority to return to talks after 'unhelpful' UN bid

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
presents 4 US policy goals: Preventing Iranian nuclear weapon, ensuring Israel-Gaza cease-fire, negotiating with PA, supporting "Arab Spring";US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday pressed the Palestinian Authority to return to direct negotiations, saying the process represents "not just the best but the only path" to peace. "We have to convince Palestinians that negotiations with Israel represent not just the best but the only path" to peace, Clinton said at the Saban Forum in Washington, DC. "Israel needs to help those committed to peace deliver to their people."The remarks came just a day after the Palestinians were granted non-member status at the United Nations General Assembly. Clinton presented four main US policy goals pertaining to Israel and the Middle East. First, Clinton emphasized the need to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. "Iranian-made missiles and rockets launched from Gaza at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem drove hold what we already know," she said. The International community must prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon." She added: "The Iranian regime already exports terrorism. Not only to Israel's doorstep, but across the world... We do not have a policy of containment. We have a policy of prevention." Clinton left room for negotiations over Iran's illicit nuclear program, but said the "window for negotiation will not stay home forever." Clinton's second goal was to ensure the the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza remains intact. "America and Israel have to work together... to turn the cease-fire into a lasting calm," she said, reiterating her support for Israel's right to self-defense. Third, Clinton said Israel must work to promote Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, despite his unilateral moves at the UN. "Abbas took a step in the wrong direction this week," she said. "We opposed his resolution. But we need to see that the PA in the Wesk Bank offers the" best chance for achieving a two-state solution. Her remarks contradicted comments made at the same conference by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who took sharp aim Abbas for his unilateral moves for statehood at the UN. "Hamas is more effective and has more political will and determination than Abbas," Liberman said, after accusing him of trying to divert attention from domestic policy failures. Clinton's fourth policy goal was that the US and Israel should support movements for democratic change in the Arab world. Clinton devoted a significant part of her speech to touting the US-Israel relationship, both in peacetime and in wartime. "For years we have told you, our Israeli friends, that America has Israel's back," she said. "When Israel responded to a rain of rockets... America's next move was never in question. The fragile ceasefire is holding. The skies above Israel are clear. And we are beginning to see the efforts to rebuild and resume daily life. But the world knows, and always will know, that whenever Israel is threatened the United States will be there."

In Gaza, surge of support for Hamas starts to fade

By Scott Wilson
Strung across chaotic streets and through mazes of yard-wide alleys, the iconic green flags of the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas, festoon the gray acres of cement-block buildings.
Here in the streets where Hamas was born a quarter- century ago, the public trappings of ascendant Islamist power are impossible to miss. After prayers, men old enough to remember the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which began a decades-long occupation of Gaza, say Hamas has finally won a fight with Israel and should march on Tel Aviv. But as the nervous ecstasy of conflict gives way to a grim status quo, there are signs, even here, that any power Hamas has derived from its recent confrontation with Israel is fading. The change in popular sentiment is occurring gradually, along generational and gender lines, and suggests a limit to any political benefits for Hamas gained through armed conflict. As older men speak of an imminent return to lost family land inside Israel, many younger men, who grew up in the bitter decades after the first Palestinian uprising, ask what precisely Hamas accomplished during the eight-day confrontation last month. So, too, do some of this refu­gee camp’s women. “What kind of victory?” asked Um Ram Abu Rokba, covered in traditional Islamic attire as she walked home from afternoon prayer. “They are lying to the people. It is a kind of blackmail.” As groups of children gathered around her, Abu Rokba, who would give only her nickname, said, “The Jews are hurt, we are hurt. If they lose a child, they cry. If we lose a child, we cry. It is the same. My own wish is only peace and security.” It is not the message of the Hamas leadership, as it prepares for an expansive celebration in December to mark the 25th anniversary of a movement classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel. Facing an increasingly restless population in Gaza before the recent conflict, Hamas has emerged more popular after it, but whether the support will endure remains to be seen. Since taking full control of the enclave after a brief but brutal fight with the secular Fatah movement five years ago, Hamas has imposed, bit by bit, a form of Islamist rule at which many Gazans chafe. New mosques, already plentiful here, are being built across the strip at a time when many Gazans need houses. Bikinis, once permitted in semi-private oceanfront clubs, have been banned from Gaza’s beaches, where women wade into the clear Mediterranean waters in heavy ankle-length tunics. Men and women socializing together at night are often asked by Hamas police for proof of marriage. But the recent wartime display of Hamas’s new arsenal — with rockets that reached Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem — has boosted morale among some Gazans. Alongside the fading billboards marking the deaths of Palestinians in past conflicts with Israel are posters memorializing those killed in the latest one. Children pick through ruins of newly bombed houses, green banners marking the sites. Morale-boosting arsenal To Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas founder and the movement’s foreign minister, Hamas’s performance proved decisively that only military action against Israel, rather than the negotiations favored by Fatah and the United States, will secure a Palestinian state. “The most important fact that has emerged from this is Hamas’s ability to convince all Palestinians of our way,” Zahar said in an interview. “We gave Fatah a full opportunity to implement its way, and it failed.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah leader, favors a two-state solution to the long-standing conflict that envisions a Palestinian state emerging in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — territories that Israel occupied in the 1967 war. On Thursday, Abbas, in defiance of American and Israeli wishes, received United Nations approval for upgraded diplomatic status that, in effect, recognizes a Palestinian state in concept alongside Israel. “This brings nothing to us except disadvantages,” said Zahar, whose home along a sandy street in Gaza City is pocked from what he called “Fatah bullets” from the 2007 fighting. “First, our land is not just the West Bank and Gaza, and that is important. It is all of Palestine.” The rockets that reached farthest in the recent clash are called M-75s, the number denoting their range in kilometers. Zahar, a doctor by training, said that “they are entirely a Palestinian creation,” rather than something imported from Iran. There are many more, he said, and more will be made. But Hamas is also hailing its patrons in Iran, a tactic that appears designed to shame Arab states into providing fresh support. Iran provides the movement with money, training and, according to Israeli officials, other kinds of rockets. Two new billboards have been put up along Salahuddin Road, the strip’s main north-south highway, thanking Iran in four languages for its support in the recent conflict. In the background, the Palestinian and Iranian flags are shown blending. Visions of victory, loss Kamal Ajrami, a 54-year-old police officer, said he believes that a military victory over Israel is possible. “As much as the Jews did to us, it is different now,” Ajrami said as he left a mosque here. “We have now reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We are strong, and as they hit us in our houses, they will feel the same now in theirs.” The lingering dreams of an older generation, though, draw a skeptical response from the younger one. A poster of Abdullah Muzannar hangs in the window of his family’s sweet shop here. In it, an image of his smiling face is superimposed on a likeness of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, the central icon in all “martyr” montages. Muzannar was 19, a university student who wanted to be a chemistry teacher, when he was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the home of a neighbor aligned with Hamas. Inside the shop, Sami Badawi, 26, works behind a counter crowded with sticky pastries and cakes. On the night before he died, Muzannar rushed to the hospital when he heard that Badawi’s 7-month-old son had been taken there with a fever, staying throughout the night and offering to pay any bills. “He loved my son,” said Badawi, a tall, rail-thin man with dark circles under his eyes. He continued, “Victory for what? For the people who died in this war? Abdullah was my best friend, and this was all just losses.”

US needs to manage its ties with India, China: Clinton
United States needs to successfully manage its relationship with emerging powers like India and China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
has said and insisted that the Obama administration's shift of military, diplomatic and commercial assets to Asia is not to "contain" Beijing. "We need to successfully manage our relationships with emerging powers like China and India," Clinton said in her address to the Foreign Policy Group's 'Transformational Trends 2013' Forum. "China's peaceful rise as a global power is reaching a crossroads. Its future course will be determined by how it manages new economic challenges, differences with its neighbours, and strains in its political and economic system," said the secretary of state in her speech on foreign policy. Beijing has repeatedly expressed concerns about Washington's so-called Asia Pivot. Clinton told a Washington foreign policy forum on Thursday that the pivot is not a threat to China. "None of this is about containment. It's all aimed at advancing a rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific (region) that will drive peace and prosperity for decades to come," she said. Clinton said navigating the US-China relationship is uniquely important but also uniquely challenging. "Because, as I have said on many occasions, and as I have heard Chinese leaders quote my words back to me, we are trying to write a new answer to the old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet," she said. She said the US is moving economics to the centre of its foreign policy. "In response to the trends I mentioned earlier and that you have been discussing, countries that are gaining influence more because of economic prowess than military power, and market forces shaping the strategic landscapes, are clearly driving change. We can either watch it or shape it." According to the secretary of state, economics are increasingly shaping international affairs alongside more traditional forms of national power. "Emerging powers like India and Brazil are gaining clout because of their size, of course, but more the size of their economies than of their militaries, more about the potential of their markets than their projection of what we used to think of as power," she said. Clinton said the US have to engage with a set of emerging democratic powers like Brazil and Mexico, India and Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, that are exercising greater influence in their regions and on the world stage. "The strategic fundamentals of these relationships -- shared democratic values, common economic and security priorities -- are pushing our interests into closer convergence. This is reflected in the broad strategic dialogues we have launched with these emerging powers. "The key going forward will be to encourage them to leave behind the outdated politics of the past and take up the responsibilities that come with global influence, including defending our shared democratic values beyond their borders," she said. Referring to the China's boundary dispute with its neighbours in particular that of the South China Sea, Clinton said the US supports the efforts by the ASEAN nations to work toward a code of conduct with China over the South China Sea. "We are not involved in it. We're not doing it. It is something that they are doing for themselves. But it is important because you can't, in the 21st century, permit anyone's claims to territory that creates instability, tensions, and potentially conflict to be unanswered if you're going to try to maintain peace and security," she said. "So we've explained this to the Chinese. Their response is: What we claim is ours. And our response is that's why we have processes and mechanisms, and what you're claiming is also being claimed by others. "We have not just the South China Sea but the East China Sea, with the dispute between China and Japan , because for the United States being a global power, we could see the same thing happening in the Arctic, in the Mediterranean. I mean, it is not just about the South China Sea," Clinton said.

Egypt: Mohammed Morsi criticised by UN
Outrage at Egypt's mounting constitutional crisis spread abroad, with the United Nations human rights chief and international bodies joining the opposition in criticising its restrictions on basic freedoms.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square for the third time in a week to protest President Mohammed Morsi's new constitutional declarations. At the front were a new coalition of opposition leaders, including Mohammed ElBaradei, the former UN atomic energy agency head, who has now become the liberal and secular movement's unofficial spokesman. "The president and his constituent assembly are currently staging a coup against democracy," he tweeted. "Regime legitimacy fast eroding." But Mr Morsi may be most worried by the comments from Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights who has led international condemnation of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Her spokesman confirmed she had written to Mr Morsi warning him that pushing through a constitution in the current circumstances "could be deeply divisive". In particular she questioned his decision to put his constitutional pronouncements above judicial scrutiny until after the constitution is approved in a referendum. "In my view, this provision contravenes the fundamental notion of the rule of law," she wrote. The constitution was finally approved at 6.30 on Friday morning after the assembly's 85 members spent all night voting through its 234 clauses one by one. The assembly was dominated by Islamists: all the Christians and most liberal and secular representatives boycotted it. There were just four women, all from Islamist parties. The resulting document guarantees a parliamentary democracy, supposedly with basic freedoms for all citizens. But guaranteed freedom of speech was curtailed by a clause banning "insults against a person", freedom of religious practice limited to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and while equality of all citizens was stressed, so was the "genuine character of the Egyptian family" and its "moral values". Amnesty International said the document and the manner in which it had been approved would come as a "great disappointment" to many Egyptians and fell "well short of protecting human rights". Human Rights Watch said it protected some rights but undermined others. "The decision of constituent assembly leaders to move a flawed and contradictory draft to a vote is not the right way to guarantee fundamental rights," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said. The Muslim Brotherhood believes only a minority of Egyptians are concerned enough to vote against the referendum, and are planning their own rally on Saturday. Although the Tahrir Square protesters have attempted to renew the spirit of last year's revolt against ex-President Hosni Mubarak, they have yet to sustain the same passion – in part because the new authorities have not tried to stop them. Instead, the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood reiterated "our complete support of peaceful protesting and right to free speech".

Susan Rice: the sharp UN ambassador fighting for her political future

The woman in line to become the face of America abroad has been hit with strong opposition from Republicans, but her many defenders see a principled, engaged and highly intelligent force
It is a remark that has come back to haunt Susan Rice. At the height of the 2008 election cycle, the then foreign policy adviser to Democratic candidate Barack Obama took a swipe at Republican opponent John McCain who had once donned body armor to visit a Baghdad market on a visit to Iraq. Rice, who is now battling for a nomination to be America's next secretary of state, did not hide her scorn at McCain as she spoke about Obama's upcoming trip to the Middle East: "I don't think he'll be strolling around the market in a flak jacket," she said. It was the sort of blunt, insulting language common during a hotly contested election and also fairly common with Rice. But it is hardly the sort of sentiment suited for the position of America's top diplomat. Now, McCain is making Rice pay. The Arizona senator is leading a fierce charge against Rice, using her public comments over who was behind a September terrorist attack in Libya that killed a US ambassador to beat back her hopes of replacing Hillary Clinton. While the attack on the Benghazi consulate is the nominal reason for McCain vowing to "do everything" to block Rice, there are some who see personal motivations rooted in an aspect of Rice's personality that has reared its head repeatedly throughout her career: her bluntness. "The fact that Susan ridiculed him for wearing body armor walking in a market really stuck in McCain's craw. That made it very personal. He got called a sissy by a woman who has never served in the military," said one close Washington observer of the spat. McCain and the Republicans are not alone in picking up on Rice's temperament when it comes to being the next face of America abroad. Influential Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote a scathing piece in which he concluded Obama needed someone with more sensitivity. "Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice," he wrote. The Russians too have been grumbling with anonymous leaks declaring Rice "too ambitious and aggressive". Yet Obama has doubled down on Rice. He warned, in a rare western gunslinger kind of way, that if McCain and others "… want to go after somebody, they should go after me". Obama has put his presidential authority on the line to get his way. That might be because Rice is far more than just someone known to speak bluntly. At her current job as US ambassador to the United Nations she is seen as a savvy and tough operator who has done much to repair America's status there after the willful neglect of the George W Bush years. She has had a glittering career in foreign affairs via senior roles on the National Security Council, being America's top diplomat in Africa and numerous engagements in wonkish think-tank circles. Her many defenders see her as principled, engaged and highly intelligent. "She is a sharp woman. She's Type A. She likes to achieve her goals and she is tireless," said Michael Williams, co-editor of Power in World Politics and who worked with Rice on the 2008 Obama campaign. Indeed Rice has been a high-flying achiever since high school, racking up an enviable CV in academia and practical diplomacy all over the world. But, in the vipers' nest of Washington DC, she has now made enemies. Nor do they seem likely to be placated. Rice earlier this week held private meetings with McCain and other Republican senators, but some came out even more critical afterwards, including moderate Maine senator Susan Collins. Again, a few observers see Rice's perceived prickly personality at work. "Maybe she rubs them up the wrong way when she's trying for a love in," speculated one. No 'sharp elbows' But what sort of woman is Rice? She does not have a hard luck origin story. Unlike her President, there is no tale of a struggling single mom. Nor, like her famous Republican namesake Condoleezza Rice, did she grow up in a racially divided South. Instead Rice is a child of privilege and wealth among the Washington DC establishment. Rice's father, Emmett J. Rice, was a governor of the Federal Reserve, and her mother, Lois Dickson Rice, is an education expert at the famed Brookings Institution – an august body Rice herself would eventually join. Rice, 48, attended the city's famous National Cathedral School, where generations of Washington's elite offspring have been educated. She stood out in that heady crowd, becoming president of the student council and class valedictorian. She also showed a tough streak being known for her physical play on the basketball court (something appreciated by the hoops-loving Obama) and earning the nickname "Spo" which was short for "Sportin". She left an impression. After Milbank penned his critical piece one of Rice's former teachers, John Wood wrote in to fiercely defend his ex-pupil. "I saw no 'sharp elbows' whatsoever. In a very demanding school she was laid back and funny, but also focused and hard-working," Wood wrote, pointing out the school still used the revised honor code that Rice drew up three decades earlier. Rice has often been good at getting people to step up for her. The most important being Bill Clinton's secretary of state, Madeline Albright, who has long acted as a mentor. The Rice and Albright families knew each other socially as Rice grew up. Albright helped her get her first job at State in 1997, when she catapulted in as head of the Africa desk to the reported annoyance of older Africa hands and the African press. When she was sworn in, as one of the youngest assistant secretaries of state ever, Albright was reported to have told Rice's mother: "I feel like I'm swearing in family." But Rice shone in the role which saw her deal with major crises like the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Dar es Salaam and bloody conflicts in Congo, Eritrea and Ethiopia. "She was a wonderful ambassador for Africa policy. She knows her dossiers; she is hard and she is sharp," said Professor William Zartman, an Africa expert at John Hopkins University who worked with her on African policy. Indeed Africa has long been Rice's expertise. The transition from white rule to black rule in Zimbabwe was the subject of her prize-winning doctoral thesis. She worked for five years for Bill Clinton at the National Security Council, specialising in peacekeeping and Africa and increasingly working as an advocate for a more interventionist policy. That belief sprang out of a failure to prevent the 1994 Rwandan genocide and was cemented on a visit to the benighted country where Rice saw piles of bodies in the streets. She told one reporter of the experience: "I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required." That explains, many say, much of Rice's tough-minded stances on issues like the intervention in Libya, taking a hardline on Sudan and her open criticism of China and Russia when they blocked a UN resolution condemning brutality in Syria (she called it "disgusting"). "The part that people miss in all of this is that she is a believer. She really does care," said John Norris, a director at the Center for American Progress. That passion is coupled with a ferocious work ethic. While pregnant with her first child Rice did not take any time off until the day before the birth. It also comes with a keen intellect and a breadth of knowledge that few match. While working with Rice when she was a foreign policy adviser to Obama, Williams remembers her briefing foreign ambassadors at the Denver Democratic convention in 2008. He was stunned at her mastery of issues far outside what he had understood to be her specialty. "I had not expected her to be so clued in," Williams said. But that work ethic – unlike the famously single Condoleezza Rice – has not prevented her from a suburban family life. Rice met her husband, Canadian television journalist Ian Cameron, while at college at Stanford. The pair have two children and live in Washington with Rice commuting to New York for UN duties. That has sparked a few complaints that she has missed important meetings, but most analysts see Rice as having done well at the UN – the brusque treatment of Russia and China aside. "At the UN she has put a bunch of savvy political professionals in there who know the UN pretty well," said Norris. She has also developed a good working relationship with Hillary Clinton, which was not always guaranteed. When Rice – who served so long in the Clinton White House – plumped for Obama in 2008 it was seen by some around Hillary as a betrayal. But, it seems, the wounds have healed. Nor is that the first time. 'She is a sharpie. But she follows orders' For all those who say she has a reputation as a bare-knuckle fighter, there are others who say it is just the nature of her work and professional passions. Michael O'Hanlon, a fellow at Brookings, clashed repeatedly with Rice when he worked for Clinton's 2008 campaign. "We battled hard yet parted as close friends despite it all. She is very likeable and appealing," O'Hanlon said. Indeed some believe the current sniping around Rice has a lot to do with sexism. Few male political figures are critiqued for their aggression. There is also serious politics at play. Almost 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives have come out against Rice now, but that might be simple party strategy. If Rice fails to make it through the nomination process, then the next choice is likely to be Massachusetts senator John Kerry, which will open up his Senate seat for a fresh election. But that sort of cynical politics is the world Rice has lived in for a long time. Nor has Obama exactly carried out a US foreign policy in his first term defined by morality, rather than Realpolitik. Obama surged troops in Afghanistan, escalated drone attacks all over the globe and failed to close Guantánamo Bay. "Barack Obama became a less ideological but more effective version of George W Bush," said Professor Aaron Miller, a vice-president at the Woodrow Wilson Centre. That is a philosophy that almost no one thinks Rice will change. Clinton has her own vast power base and has been seen as an effective global ambassador for America, yet her fundamental foreign policy is seen as still emanating from the White House. But Rice is far closer to Obama than Clinton and thus far less likely to be able to push back. Her recent career has been tied closely to Obama's and she is a member of his inner circle. "She is tough. She is a sharpie. But she follows orders," said Zartman. That last characteristic – one rarely mentioned in most profiles – may end up being the most important personality trait of all if Rice does indeed ascend to America's diplomatic hot seat. "Will American foreign policy change? That is not a question up to Rice. That is a question driven by Barack Obama," said Miller.

Kuwait to vote amid mass protests

Kuwaitis will cast their vote for the second time this year as they head to the polls on Saturday to choose a new parliament amid growing unrest.
On the eve of the election, tens of thousands of protesters in Kuwait City called for a boycott over changes made to the voting rules last month. Opposition MPs say the amendment manipulates the ballot in favour of pro-government candidates. Kuwait has had months of confrontations between the opposition and government. The main opposition grievance was a 19 October decree ordered by the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah, whose family dominates Kuwait's government. The crisis was sparked in June, when the Constitutional Court annulled parliamentary elections held in February, in which the Islamist-led opposition made significant gains. The court also reinstated the previous assembly, allied to the ruling family. After months of protests, Kuwait's emir ordered the dissolution of that parliament and announced new elections. His decree last month cut the number of candidates a voter can elect from four to one, saying it would ensure a fairer representation of people in the parliament. Defiant mood But critics of the amendment say it gives the government greater influence over the outcome of the ballot. Opposition MPs say the changes breaches the Gulf state's constitution. As a result they decided not to participate in the election. Friday's protesters were angry at what they say is a unilateral decision by the emir to skew the election, which will not create a parliament representing the people, says the BBC's Shaimaa Khalil in Kuwait City.Carrying banners reading "absolute power corrupts", demonstrators marched through Kuwait City chanting, "we are boycotting" and "the people want to bring down the decree". The rally was led by former Islamist MPs, by liberals and by young people, our correspondent says, adding that the mood was jubilant but defiant. Unlike recent unauthorised protests, which ended in clashes between protesters and police, authorities had issued a permit for Friday's peaceful march. Former MP Falah Al Sawagh told our correspondent the rally was not just about an electoral law, but about a long-term plan for real reform in Kuwait. "This is just the beginning," he said. Demonstrator Rana Abdel Razak said the march would continue even after the election was held. "We want real democracy, having elections doesn't mean we have democracy," she added. Kuwait's parliament has the most powers of any elected body in the Gulf and opposition MPs openly criticise the ruling Sabah family. However, the Sabahs retain full control over key government and executive posts. The emir has dissolved parliament four times since 2006.

Michael Jackson and Britney Spears

Islamists Lose Ground in Turkish Election

Turkey's Islamist-leaning AK Party won local elections yesterday, but fell short of the overwhelming victory leaders had hoped for, reports the Los Angeles Times. With most of the votes counted, the party of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan won 39% of the vote, but lost ground to secularists in Istanbul and other big cities. "This is a message from the people, and we will take the necessary lessons," said a disappointed prime minister. This is the first poll setback for the popular Erdogan since coming to power in 2002. Observers said that the struggling economy may have contributed to his fall in support, an 8-point decline from the last election. The election was marred by violence as clashes broke out in various sites across Turkey, killing five people and injuring dozens.

Arrests made after Bangladesh factory blaze

Three mid-level managers held for preventing workers from leaving factory premises after fire alarm went offf.
Police in Bangladesh have arrested three managers of a factory where a fire killed at least 110 people. The managers arrested overnight on Tuesday were accused of stopping workers from leaving the plant, saying an alarm was just a routine fire drill. "All three are mid-level managers of Tazreen. Survivors told us that they did not allow the workers to escape the fire, saying that it was a routine fire drill. There are also allegations that they even padlocked doors," Habibur Rahman, head of police in the capital Dhaka, told the AFP news agency on Wednesday. Dulal Uddin, an administrative officer, Hamidul Islam, store room head, and Al Amin, a security officer in charge at the time of the Saturday evening blaze, apparently told workers of Tazreen Fashion that they had nothing to worry about when the fire started. Survivors and witnesses told AFP that workers, most of them women, tried to escape the burning factory, which supplied clothes to international brands including Walmart, European chain C&A and the Hong Kong-based Li & Fung company. Order books and clothing found at the site show the company was also making clothing for Disney Pixar, Sears and other Western brands. The Associated Press news agency reports that blue and off-white shorts from ENYCE, the label now owned by Hip Hop mogul Sean 'Diddy' Combs, were piled and stacked in cartons on the floor. Rahman said police also questioned Delwar Hossain, owner of Tazreen, about alleged violations of building rules after inspectors found the nine-storey factory only had permission for three floors. Around 700 garment workers have been killed in dozens of fires since 2006, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, an Amsterdam-based textile rights group. But none of the owners have been prosecuted over previous blazes. Campaigners say Western firms whose clothes are made in Bangladesh hide behind inadequate safety audits in an effort to shave costs. After European chain C&A and Hong Kong-based Li & Fung confirmed they had orders at Tazreen, the US retail giant Walmart also acknowledged some of its products were made there and said it had terminated ties with the supplier.


President Barack Obama could name his next defense secretary in December, far sooner than expected and perhaps in a high-powered package announcement with his choice for secretary of state, several senior administration officials tell The Associated Press. The personnel moves, coupled with Obama's coming choice for a new leader of the Central Intelligence Agency, will be viewed by U.S. allies and enemies alike as signal of how he will pursue national security in a second term. All of his choices will be subject to Senate confirmation, which itself is a significant factor in his decisions. The top names under consideration for defense secretary are former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, former top Pentagon official Michele Flournoy, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Among those, Kerry is seen as desiring the secretary of state's job more. While Obama has made no final decisions on Cabinet vacancies, announcements could come as soon as next week. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has made clear he did not intend to stay for a second term but he has never publicly discussed the timing of his departure, widely thought to be down the road in 2013. Yet Obama's thinking on Panetta's replacement has quietly advanced, aided by a strong list of candidates, officials said. One senior U.S. official said Panetta is expected to stay on the job at least through the Jan 21 inauguration ceremony for Obama, another sign that the president is close to naming a new defense chief. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss internal White House thinking. Far more political attention has centered on the chief diplomatic job of secretary of state. Obama is believed almost certain to pick Kerry or U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, with Obama's considerations of his choice so closely held that even members of his innermost circle are asking each other which way he may go. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has long announced her plans to leave and hopes to do so soon. The White House is considering packaging the state and defense choices with the flourish of a unified announcement, if the pieces come together. The president wants to choose nominees not just on their merits, the officials said, but on how well their styles and philosophy mesh with other members of the Cabinet who will hold overlapping portfolios. That is particularly true for the leaders of state and defense. They are the top faces of his security apparatus, the leaders who bracket Obama at Cabinet meetings, the ones central to an integrated approach toward coping with international crises. Officials close to Obama said a joint announcement could present a stronger message. For the State job, Obama has strong ties to both candidates. Rice is a close friend, and aides say the two are in lockstep on foreign policy. Kerry was an early backer of Obama during his 2008 presidential bid, a valuable envoy abroad, a help in his re-election bid and a contender to be his first secretary of state. A big factor in Obama's decision is how much early capital he would have to spend on a confirmation fight. While Kerry has the backing of his longtime Senate colleagues, Rice is facing withering criticism from some Republicans for her initial account of the deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in September. A contentious confirmation fight could send Rice into the job with weakened support and use up some of the tough votes he may need from allies in the Senate later. Still, Obama has already set a tone that he may choose Rice regardless. A decision on new leadership for the CIA is not as urgent. That's partly because Acting Director Michael Morell is still dealing with the fallout of David Petraeus' resignation over an extramarital affair and the battles with lawmakers over the events that led to the death of four Americans in Libya. Morell is highly respected within the administration and seen as a top contender. Other candidates are the White House's top counterterrorism and homeland security advisor, John Brennan, and the Pentagon's top intelligence official, Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence Michael Vickers, a former CIA officer and Green Beret. Also possible is the former senator Hagel, should he miss out for the top Pentagon job. Hagel co-chairs Obama's intelligence advisory board and held senior positions on the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees. A near-term shakeup at the Defense Department would come as the Pentagon faces a flurry of decisions on troop levels in Afghanistan and budgets. The looming end-of-the year spending cuts the White House and Congress are seeking to avert would hit the Pentagon particularly hard. At Defense, Hagel would give Obama a whiff of bipartisanship, and could be the only Republican in the Cabinet if Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood leaves, as expected. Flournoy would be the first woman to lead the Defense Department. She served in the Pentagon under Panetta as undersecretary of defense for policy, resigning early this year. She served as a foreign policy adviser to Obama during his re-election campaign. Carter, who has served as deputy defense secretary for the past year, is a protege of former Defense Secretary William Perry.

U.S. to have "enduring presence" in Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday the United States will have an "enduring presence" in Afghanistan even after the 2014 drawdown of combat forces, and troops will stay in that country to conduct counterterrorism missions. In a press briefing with visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Panetta said the "fundamental mission in Afghanistan" is to establish an Afghan government that stands on its own and ensure that al-Qaeda never again finds "a safe haven within Afghanistan from which to conduct attacks on the United States or any other country." He said the U.S. side will be stationing troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to combat remnants of al-Qaeda, train and assist the Afghan Army, and provide "enabling capability." Panetta said the U.S. side and the Afghans are discussing the post-2014 troops level. The U.S. side is scheduled to withdraw all its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but according to agreements between Afghanistan and the United States, the U.S. side can have a presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

Qatar poet gets life in prison after 'insulting' emir

A poet will face life in prison in Qatar after penning verses that state officials deemed insulting to the nation's emir and an incitement to topple the government, his attorney told news agencies Thursday. Rights activists say Mohammed Ajami was arrested over his “Jasmine Poem,” which skewered governments across the region, at one point declaring, “We are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite.” He had previously recited a poem criticizing the emir, according to free speech groups. His attorney Najib Nuaimi told the Associated Press that a state security court sentenced Ajami to life in prison Thursday. The stiff sentence infuriated Amnesty International and other human rights groups, which argued Qatar has cheered “Arab Spring” uprisings elsewhere while hypocritically cracking down on criticism of its government at home. “It is deplorable that Qatar, which likes to paint itself internationally as a country that promotes freedom of expression, is indulging in what appears to be such a flagrant abuse of that right,” Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther, said in a statement Thursday. The Persian Gulf nation has championed Syrian rebels and is home to Al Jazeera, a government-subsidized TV station that has won awards for its extensive coverage of Arab unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab Spring hotbeds. In an article last year, the Qatar Tribune quoted a U.S. ambassador praising the nation's leadership for backing reform and speaking its mind on the uprisings. The country hosts U.S. military facilities and is a Western ally. But free speech groups say peaceful criticism of the wealthy monarchy can still land Qataris in prison. Al Jazeera itself has faced accusations of underplaying concerns about Qatar and its allies, particularly Bahrain, where protests have simmered more than a year and a half. Ajami underscored the inconsistency in remarks to Reuters. “You can't have Al Jazeera in this country and put me in jail for being a poet,” Ajami told the news agency in the presence of prison guards. He called the emir a “good man” who must not know of his plight. "If he knew, I would be freed,” he told Reuters.

Video: Thousands rally in Cairo against constitution

Unrest continues in Tahrir Square after assembly rushes through vote on controversial draft constitution for Egypt.

Jordan protesters want regime reform, reject price hike

Former premier and intelligence chief Ahmad Obeidat joined thousands of Jordanians on Friday to protest fuel price hikes, demanding regime reform and the resignation of Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur.
"The people want to reform the regime. We demand reform and change. Nsur, out before the people revolt," chanted the protesters led by Obeidat's National Reform Front which includes opposition Islamists. "The people want the downfall of the (fuel) prices. Together, let's reject the decision to raise the prices," read a banner carried by the demonstrators, gathered near Gamal Abdel Nasser Circle, close to the city centre. Police said 3,000 people took part in the protest, while Islamists put the number at around 20,000. According to an AFP estimate, the demonstrators numbered around 10,000. Demonstrators gave police flowers, but a limited number called for "the fall of regime," which is punishable by imprisonment under Jordanian law. Obeidat however stopped them. "We did not come here today to flex muscle. We came here to defend our constitutional rights. We will stick to our demand of reforming the regime," he told the crowds. "We want comprehensive reform. We insist on rejecting the general election and any polls under this current bad electoral law." The National Reform Front and Muslim Brotherhood have said they will boycott Jordan's January 23 vote. Earlier in November, the government raised fuel prices by up to 53 percent, sparking a series of nationwide protests, rioting and clashes that killed one person and wounded dozens. Nsur, who formed his government on October 11, has defended the price hike as "unavoidable" given Jordan's $5-billion (3.9-billion-euro) budget deficit and said the measures would save $42 million by year end. Jordanians have held Arab Spring-inspired protests since last year, demanding reforms and a tough anti-corruption fight.

Amnesty calls on Bahrain to free 13 jailed activists
Amnesty International calls Manama to release 12 jailed political activists who were involved in anti-regime protests last year
Amnesty International urged Bahrain on Friday to release 13 jailed opposition activists, saying doing so would prove the Gulf monarchy is "genuinely committed" to reform and respecting human rights. Amnesty said the men, who were involved in anti-government protests last year and convicted by a military tribunal on charges that included "setting up terror groups to topple the regime," were prisoners of conscience who should be freed immediately. All of them maintain their innocence.
The Court of Cassation in Manama is due to decide on Monday whether or not to grant the men's request to be released on bail, with a "small possibility" that their sentences will be quashed, Amnesty said. "Monday's decision will be a real test for the Bahraini authorities and their allies, if they want to prove once and for all that they are genuinely committed to respecting and protecting human rights," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's deputy director for the region. "These men must be immediately and unconditionally released. Their sentences and convictions must be quashed," she added. Sahraoui urged Bahrain's allies to put pressure on the authorities "to drop the pretence of reform and immediately back up their words with real actions." In September, an appeals court upheld life sentences for seven of the activists, all Shiite, including leading figure Abdulhadi Khawaja, and jail terms ranging from five to 15 years for the others. The defendants, who had played leading roles in month-long protests last year demanding democratic reforms, were being retried in a civil court after they were convicted by a special semi-military court of plotting to topple the Sunni ruling family. Bahrain came under strong criticism from international human rights organisations over last year's crackdown on the Shiite-led protests. An international panel commissioned by King Hamad to probe the government's clampdown found out that excessive force and torture had been used against protesters and detainees.

Zardari pledges to pursue reconciliation policy

President Asif Ali Zardari has said that the reconciliation policy is better than politics of confrontation. He was addressing a function held in Karachi on Friday to mark 46th founding day of Pakistan People’s Party. President Zardari urged political parties to concentrate more on issues faced by people than doing just politics. The president said the policy of reconciliation conceived by Shaheed Benazir Bhutto has now become a buzzword not only in Pakistan but also in regional and global politics. He said even the powers that came to this region are now talking of reconciliation and peace. President Zardari said it was dire need of hour to conceive and implementation infrastructure projects to promote Pakistan s connectivity with rest of the world. He said PPP and MQM successfully have been maintaining their cooperative relationship for the last four and a half years despite attempts made to create rifts between them. He said both the parties understand that their confrontation could harm not only economic interests of Karachi but also the entire Pakistan. The President said that resumption of work on Lyari Expressway project had been initiated with complete cooperation of MQM.

Terrorists kill six more Shias in Pakistan

Six people have been killed in Pakistan over the past 24 hours in the latest round of continued terrorist attacks against the country’s Shia Muslims, Press TV reports. Terrorists killed a medical couple on Thursday in their hospital in the port city of Karachi, shortly after a father and his daughter were also targeted in the city. The man was instantly killed and his 14-year-old girl was in critical condition after sustaining bullet wounds in the abdomen. Three others also lost their lives in similar acts of violence in Karachi. The latest spate of violence against the Muslim community has triggered mass protests in the city, which is the capital of Sindh Province and the country's main commercial hub. Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in mosques across Karachi on Friday to condemn the ongoing terrorist attacks against Pakistan’s Shia minority, who make up an estimated 30 million of the country’s 180 million-strong population. Pakistan's top court earlier ordered security authorities to take immediate action against nearly 7,000 pro-Taliban militants who have reportedly made their way into the country's largest city. Violence has escalated against Shia Muslims in different parts of Pakistan in recent months. Since the beginning of 2012, hundreds of Shias have been killed in the country. Pakistani Shia leaders have called on the government to form a judicial commission to investigate the bloodshed. Thousands of people have also lost their lives in bombings and other militant attacks since 2001 when Pakistan entered an alliance with the US on the so-called war on terror, according to local media. Thousands more have been displaced by the wave of violence and militancy sweeping the country.

Obama warns of 'Scrooge' Christmas without tax-cut extension

After touring a Pennsylvania toy factory that's churning out would-be holiday gifts, President Barack Obama warned Friday of a "Scrooge" Christmas if Congress does not pass legislation extending tax cuts for 98% of Americans. The visit and speech was part of Obama's campaign-like push to curry public support for his plan to avert the so-called fiscal cliff and the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that would come with it. "Let's get that done," Obama said of approving tax cuts for most Americans, while letting rates for the top 2% go up. "Let's go ahead and take the fear out for the vast majority of American families so they don't have to worry about $2,000 coming out of their pockets next year."

Bhutto gave voice to poor, down-trodden

Minister for Kashmir Affair and Gilgit Baltistan and President PPP Punjab Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo has said that Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gave voice to the poor and down-trodden segments of the society.He said this while addressing a worker’s convention in Islamabad organized by PPP Islamabad and Rawalpindi Division on the occasion of 46th anniversary of PPP.Wattoo said that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of PPP, first time sensed the miseries of the poor people of Pakistan and formed the PPP to provide the poor a platform. He said that the daughter of the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, had scarified her life in struggle for the right of the poor people and to accomplish the mission of her father. President Asif Ali Zardari and co-chairman PPP with his political wisdom and policy of reconciliation provided a great strength to the country and the people of Pakistan. “When there was a complete uncertainty and lawlessness throughout the country after the assassination of our great leader Benazir Bhutto, he not only brought the country back to stability, but invited all political parties to join hands He put the country successfully back on the track of democracy and prosperity. By the grace of Allah Almighty, the parliament is going to complete its constitutional terms first time in the history of Pakistan”. He said that Asif Ali Zardari is a man of great wisdom and open heart and mind who himself fortified his own power in favour of the parliament of Pakistan and kept himself busy strengthening democracy in the country. Wattoo said that he was a worker himself who had started his politics from the Union Council level and he basically was a worker and was well aware of the problem of the workers. He assured that he had no desire for any post. He joined PPP for the service of the people of Pakistan and the PPP. He said that he joined PPP after winning election as an independent candidate alongwith his children and will remain loyal to the party and its leadership. Wattoo said that Rawalpindi and Islamabad had been the fortress of PPP and today the worker of PPP in this worker’s convention have proved, that again the twin cities will be the fortress of the PPP. Wattoo said that it was my history that I defeated PML(N) twice in Punjab and recently in AJK election. He said that his track record proves that we will once again defeat PML(N) in Punjab and PPP this time from the government in Punjab alongwith the centre and other provinces. He stated that PML(N) has no standing against PPP and its leadership.

PPP as relevant today as it was 45 years ago

Daily Times
At 45, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is the only political party that has continued to sustain its prevailing presence in all parts of the country and is in power for the fourth time at a critical juncture of the country’s chequered political history where it can help the nation assume a path of protracting the democracy.
Born in Lahore on November 30, 1967, at the residence of one of party’s leading lights of the time, Dr Mubashar Hasan, and in the presence of couple of hundred delegates from all across the country, the party began its tireless journey with the slogan of bringing a real change in society. The party championed the cause of the poor with the ever-lasting slogan of ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan’ and rose to power in record four years of political struggle and that too sans the support of the all powerful security establishment.
The party’s incredible rise to power was made possible by its supporting the cause of peasants and trade union movements with student unions all across the country coming to its side for the dispensation of a message modern in nature and offering equal opportunities to all. In its three years’ campaign for brining a real change in society, the PPP actually became the only representative party of the oppressed and suppressed classes of society. It helped change the deep-rooted political culture of politics and power being the favourite pastime of rich and influential that mostly hail from families of landlords in Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The PPP’s first government (1971-77) with founder chairman Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto underwent tumults happenings. The term began after the dismemberment of the country following defeat in 1971 war at the hands of India. However, afterward until 1977 when the party ended its term prematurely and called in fresh elections, the PPP took numerous decisions that helped the country to get back on its legs, although few of those decisions ultimately proved disastrous. The party helped the economy grow at a greater pace besides improving the plight of the poor, but its decisions such as nationalisation of the economy and educational institutions proved counterproductive. The PPP government did help the nation get its first unanimously approved and democratically evolved constitution in 1973 but the decision aimed at Islamisation of society such as declaring Ahmedis as non-Muslims, weekly holiday on Friday and closing down bars all across the country to appease the hot-blooded religious parties still being seen as the initial move on which military dictator Ziaul Haq (1977-1988) later on converted society of hate-mongers as it continues to thrive even today. It was the first government of the PPP which helped evolved a consensus constitution voted for by all from conservative right to the ultra-left. The PPP introduced land reforms, launched the nuclear programme, built the first and still the only steel mill in the country besides undertaking numerous high quality industrial projects. It was the PPP government which helped bring in the country petrodollars and helped poor feel the good factor for the first time by sending manpower to the developing Gulf countries. Of all the big happenings for the first time was also the hanging of the first democratically elected prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1977 through the most controversial judicial verdict. The PPP is also the first and only political party that resisted the tyranny of one of the most cunning military dictator for eleven long years from 1977-1988. The PPP became the only political party that helped the election of first woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, in 1988 through a resilient democratic struggle against not any political party but an entrenched-to-the-core powerful military establishment of the country. The PPP is the only political party whose workers rendered unprecedented sacrifices for the cause of democracy and oppressed classes and can still be found in the same terrain though with a varying degree of intensity to the initial programme of the party that still holds its important in a society reeling far more destabilised internally and externally. The party tried to learn the art of living with the monster of military establishment in its second, third and presently the fourth stint in power in a polity that has a equilibrium of power still heavily tilted towards the powerful security and intelligence establishment. Looking at the two stints in power of the PPP under Benazir Bhutto during 90s, called as the era of controlled democracy, it appears that the party has done far better after her heroic sacrifice in December 2007 for the cause of democracy as far as the question of negotiating its stay in power with the power security establishment is concerned. Benazir Bhutto died at the hands of terrorists, the monster that Ziaul Haq created in 1979 and bred by the security establishment after him until 2001 in the misconceived quest of strategic depth in Afghanistan. In fact the two Afghan wars (1979-1987 and 2001 until date) that Pakistan fought with military establishment at the helm of affairs and the PPP on the receiving end, have telling lessons for all. With no remorse in sight from the security establishment as well as those from their so-called political cahoots for fighting a war to ruin society, the PPP has a task before it, though it appears not as politically strong as it was during the era of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. The PPP, at 45, appears to have been leaning more towards the cause of status quo being presented to it by said to be far more weak and wounded security establishment due to its over two-decade-long involvement in Afghanistan, than before. The challenges the PPP is facing at the moment are being considered far more intense in nature than before. The PPP is at the helm of affairs of a country facing all sorts of challenges. The PPP is faced with a security establishment as challenging as before at a moment when both are reeling under the credibility matter – the later on the security front and the former on the political front. The PPP with the help of sustained reconciliatory efforts has created a political environment where a government led by it is threatened more by state institutions – the military and the judiciary – than the political opposition. The PPP is said to have mastered the art of overpowering and taming the opposition thanks to the ‘crafty’ leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also co-chairman of the party with Bilawal Bhutto Zaradri –the fourth generation of Bhutto family – as its chairman. The PPP is delicately poised at the moment after 45 successful years in popular and power politics to steer the nation out of the morass the military rule has put it in by helping the polity to secure a rare democratic transition in the country. Keep the polity on the path of democracy and undo the existential threat being faced by the country is perhaps the cause for which the PPP was created 45 years ago by the hapless people of the time. The same hapless people wanted it to help them change their fate, which is not to be permanently poor and backward as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto once told them in 1974 in Lahore at the time of Islamic Summit Conference.

Malika Taranum Noor Jehan: "Sanu Nair Wale Pul"

More Secular, Green Turkey Wanted: Poll

An overwhelming majority of Turkish people want secularism to be included in the country’s new charter, a recent survey conducted by KONDA for the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) has revealed.
Almost 90 percent of survey participants said the country should be defined as secular in the new Constitution. Some 50.6 percent said the definition of secularism should be kept as it is, and 40.7 percent said secularism should be “redefined to keep an equal distance from all religions.” Secularism demanded Only 8.7 percent of the participants said the new charter should not include secularism, with 18.9 percent of the participants defining themselves as “Islamists” when asked about their political orientation. The survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews with 2,699 people of various ages and social groups across 29 provinces on Sept. 22 and 23. The new Constitution should also be in line with the principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, a majority of those surveyed said. Some 82 percent agreed that the charter must include “Atatürk’s principles and revolutions and Atatürk nationalism,” as it currently does. However, the number drops to 68.8 percent when asked if Ankara should be kept as the capital city, with almost 30 percent saying it is not a must. When asked about the official language and language of education, 70.9 percent of participants said both the official language and the language of education should be Turkish. Just over 14 percent said the official language must be Turkish but other languages could be used in education, while 14.9 percent said different languages could be both official and used in schools. The participants also said the Religious Affairs Directorate should remain as a constitutional institution to regulate religion, however, 84.1 percent believe that the directorate, which has been under constant criticism for catering to the needs of Sunni Muslims, should be of service to all religions and sects. Turkish people are almost equally divided on the issue of compulsory religious lessons in schools. Half of the participants said the classes should be mandatory, while 46.3 percent said they should be elective and 3.6 percent said religion classes should be completely abolished. Consistent with previously conducted surveys, the top issues that Turkish people want the new Constitution to emphasize are “justice” and “equality.”

Dutch parliament to abolish blasphemy law

The Dutch parliament will approve a motion to abolish a law that criminalizes blasphemy, mainly due to strong support by the Liberal Party (VVD). On Wednesday, a majority of parties in the Netherlands stated that the blasphemy law was no longer relevant in the 21st century. The VVD party had refused to support efforts to annul the law during the tenure of the previous government in order not to upset the fundamentalist Christian party SGP, whose support was necessary in the upper house of parliament. According to the SGP, the decision to lift the ban on blasphemy is a “painful loss of a moral anchor and a symptom of a spiritual crisis.” The law, introduced in the 1930s, has not been invoked over the past half century. However, it is still off-limits under the Dutch law to insult police officers or the country’s monarch, Queen Beatrix. The move to decriminalize blasphemy gained strength in 2011 during the trial of the far-right anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, when a Dutch court ruled that he had the right to criticize Islam even if his opinions were insulting to many Muslims.

Qatari Poet Sentenced to Life in Prison for a Verse

A Qatari poet was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for a verse inspired by the Arab Spring that officials claim insulted Qatar’s emir and encouraged the overthrow of the nation’s ruling system, the poet’s lawyer said. The poet, Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, was jailed in November 2011, months after an Internet video was posted of him reciting “Tunisian Jasmine,” a poem lauding Tunisia’s uprising, which touched off the Arab Spring rebellions across the region. In the poem, he said, “We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive” authorities, and the piece criticized Arab governments that restrict freedoms. Qatari officials charged him with insulting Qatar’s ruler, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and “inciting to overthrow the ruling system.”

Conflict continues to displace Afghans, study finds

The number of people forced to flee their homes in Afghanistan is increasing and the conditions for the displaced are falling well below international standards, a new study by the Norwegian Refugee Council found. In 2012 alone, spreading conflict in Afghanistan has forced more than 166,000 Afghans to flee their homes, bringing the total number of people internally displaced by conflict to at least 460,000 since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, according to the council's report.
The numbers alone don't tell the full story, it says. Most of the internally displaced people "are living in appalling conditions and in situations of extreme poverty," Dan Tyler, protection and advocacy manager at NRC Afghanistan, told CNN. Lack of employment, insufficient food and water supplies, and poor quality housing or shelters -- typically tents or unsubstantial mud homes -- are among the problems internally displaced people are facing, especially during the winter, when their shelters can not offer enough protection against the cold, the report says. Last winter brought Afghanistan's displacement crisis into sharp focus, and revealed the scale of suffering facing displaced people, with reports of "at least 100 confirmed deaths, mostly of children, who died from the cold or illness in Kabul alone," Tyler said. One of the displaced people, Mohammad Ibrahim, 42, fled his home in Greshk district of southern Helmand province almost three years ago with his wife and five children. Now he lives under a mud hut in a makeshift camp in the eastern part of Kabul, the capital city. "I am really worried about what will happen to our children this winter," Ibrahim told CNN. "Last winter more than 10 children died just in our makeshift camp due to cold, and I don't know how many more would die this winter, which has already started." Ibrahim added that last year he thought that he would be in a better situation by this year's winter, "but I was wrong." The study also says that displaced families report facing obstacles to find health services and to access education for their children, with over a third of the displaced children lacking access to schools. According to Tyler, very few provinces are immune from either receiving or creating internally displace people, but the southern and southeastern regions are the main origination areas, and the majority of people go to big cities, especially Kabul, where security and livelihood opportunities, as well as access to services, is perceived to be greater. The report adds that more than half of the people surveyed identified the Taliban and other anti-government groups as the key causes of insecurity in their homes communities and the primary drivers of their displacement. The Norwegian Refugee Council's study reveals worrying gaps in protection and assistance because of the challenges of collecting information and coordinating responses amid increasing insecurity. Many humanitarian actors tasked with collecting data on displacement have limited access to those most in need, it says. The Afghan government's response to the displacement crisis has also been inadequate, the report says. Insufficient funding, capacity and lack of expertise on the part of central and local authorities means conditions for the displaced, both during the period of their displacement and during the course of their return have fallen well below international standards, according to the study. "There is also concern that, as international troops withdraw from Afghanistan (by 2014), there will be less funding available to meet the humanitarian needs" of internally displaced people, Tyler said. There is growing awareness that during and beyond the security transition, more would need to be done to profile the needs of displaced people. "But whether the humanitarian community will have time to prepare (for), or the funding to respond to a deepening displacement crisis is far from certain," he warned.

US to raise Afridi hunger strike with Pakistan

US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland has said that US is concerned about the safety of Dr Shakil Afridi who should never have been locked up in the first place and the issue of his hunger strike would be raised at series of forth coming meetings with Pakistan. Briefing the newsmen on Thursday, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that we believe and have believed all along that the prosecution and conviction of Dr Shakeel Afridi sends absolutely the wrong message, particularly with regard to our shared interest in taking down one of the world’s most notorious terrorists. Responding to questions on reports that Dr Afridi had gone on a hunger strike to protest against prison conditions as he serves a 33 year sentence at the Peshawar jail for aiding the militant organisation Lashkar-e-Islam, Nuland said that as the Secretary of State stated on previous occasions that the prosecution and conviction of Dr Afridi sends the wrong message, especially in light of the shared interest in taking down a terrorist. She added that the US is having a series of working group meetings with Pakistan, which will give the US a chance to raise their concerns over the matter. “We want to see Dr Shakil Afridi released and safe,” said Nuland, “Dr Shakil Afridi should never have been locked up to begin with.” US has consistently called for the release of Dr Afridi, who is believed to have helped the CIA in pinpointing Osama bin Laden’s hideout in the garrison town of Abbottabad and faces a treason charge. Recently the US Senate allowed a proposed bill to be placed on its calendar for hearing which subjects payment of millions of dollars in counterinsurgency funds for Pakistan to the release of Dr Afridi among other conditions.

360,000 Afghan refugees want to return: survey

The Population Profiling, Verification and Response (PPVR) survey has revealed that some 360,000 out of 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees want to return to their country.
The survey report was launched by the Ministry of States and Frontier Region (SAFRON) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) here on Friday. The PPVR survey examined the specific needs of Afghans in Pakistan, and generated an accurate and detailed description of the refugee population, including information about their intention to return to Afghanistan, livelihoods, socio-economic and legal conditions. The PPVR exercise ended in December 2011 after survey teams had interviewed almost 1 million refugees, about 65 per cent of the total Afgan refugee population in Pakistan. The voluntary repatriation, which has seen more than 3.8 million Afghans return home in the past ten years, remains at the center of the solution strategy for Afghan refugees that was endorsed at an international conference in May this year in Geneva. Those refugees, who said that they were not yet ready to return to Afghanistan, cited insecurity, unemployment, and lack of shelter as some of the remaining impediments. The PPVR report indicates that the majority, 70 per cent of Afghan population are under the age of 18, and that most were born and raised in Pakistan. Pashtoons constitute the majority of the population (82 per cent) followed by Tajiks (five per cent), Uzbeks (four per cent) and others. A total of 22.53 per cent of the Afghan refugees were found to be economically active, of which males account for 85.59 per cent of the total work force. The Afghan work force mostly comprises adults (age 25 to 59), while 31.3 per cent is made up of youth (age 15 to 24). According to the study, 70 per cent of the Afghan population has one earning family member, while 6 per cent of the households have no bread-winner. It also indicates that around 20 per cent of the working Afghans have collectively invested over Rs. 18 billion in their business in Pakistan. Neill Wright, Representative UNHCR in Pakistan, said "the PPVR provides us with rich and extremely detailed comprehensive data on socio-economic issues, migration patterns, investor potential and other needs for nearly one million individual Afghan refugees. "We now have reliable information on the opportunities and skills that the population in Pakistan will bring to their home country of Afghanistan when they do decide to return." In the education sector, the report highlights that 43 per cent of boys and 67 percent of girls of school-age were never enrolled in schools. High level drop-out rates also prevent most children from completing their primary education. Joint Secretary SAFRON, Dr. Imran Zeb acknowledged that "The Government of Pakistan's new plans for the future voluntary repatriation and management of Afghan refugees are awaiting Prime ministerial and subsequent cabinet approval." The survey will serve the information needs of many stakeholders dealing with the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the Government of Pakistan, UNHCR, the Government of Afghanistan and humanitarian and development actors in both countries.

Pakistan: Chinese experts being ‘harassed’ in Badin

Chinese experts carrying out a seismic survey to locate hydrocarbon deposits in Badin district to overcome the country’s energy crisis are being harassed, their costly equipment have been damaged and obstacles are being created to stop them from carrying out their work. A Chinese team led by Chinese commercial counsellor Yan Jianming conveyed this information to Sindh chief secretary Raja Mohammad Abbas in a meeting on Thursday. The Chinese team coordinator and country manager of the Chinese state-owned enterprise Sincope (Henan Petroleum Exploration Bureau-Pakistan branch), Wang Jindang, informed the chief secretary that their company had been working on the project on a war footing since April 2012, but now hurdles were being created for them by unscrupulous elements to stop them from carrying out the survey. He said that their costly equipment, including cables and geophones, which were highly sophisticated and costly seismic instrument and not available in Pakistan, were badly damaged in large quantities, resulting in slowdown of the pace of work on the project. The Chinese official further said that some locals were also using extortion and blackmailing tactics by not allowing them to work, although all those people whose land or whose crops had been damaged during the seismic survey were being paid compensation at the highest rate. He said that this alarming situation had caused a colossal material and financial damage to them and sought early intervention of authorities. The chief secretary assured the Chinese team that the authorities concerned were being directed to take all necessary measures to ensure their safety and security.

Who will bail out Karachi?

By Ali K Chishti
This year has been the most violent in Karachi's history, with more than 2,000 people killed in political, sectarian and gang violence. After the MQM and ANP - seen as rivals in Karachi but both part of the ruling coalition led by the PPP - boycotted the recent Senate session in protest against the increasing violence in the city, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf visited Karachi and chaired meetings with the administration and law enforcement agencies. "Enemies of the state want to destabilize the state's efforts in the war against terrorism through deterioration of law and order situation in Karachi," the president said in statement. MQM Senator Syed Mustafa Kamal, the former mayor of Karachi, said the prime minister should take immediate action on law and order in Karachi. He demanded the imposition of emergency in the city. "Peace cannot be restored in Karachi without an army operation," ANP Senator Ilyas Bilour said. "But the action should be across-the-board."But the traders are not ready to wait for that. Siraj Kassem Teli, a representative of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told reporters that businessmen had decided to carry guns to protect themselves. "The extortionists simply want us to go bankrupt, lock down our businesses, and go home. We just cannot let this happen. We will not submit to their blackjacking," he said. "If we will have to carry firearms to save our businesses, then so be it." "Our traders have lost more than Rs 20 billion in business, and our industrialists have lost at least Rs 45 billion," said Atiq Meer, the chairman of the Karachi Markets Alliance. Sharfuddin Memon, spokesman for the home department of Sindh, admitted there were not enough policemen in the city but said they punch above their weight in foiling crime and attacks. The total number of policemen in Karachi is 40,000, of which only 8,000 are deployed at police stations. Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, who is heading the five-member Supreme Court bench hearing a case on violence in Karachi, remarked during a hearing that there was hardly any trader in Karachi who wasn't paying extortion money or was safe. He said turf wars had risen to the extent that political workers of one group could not go into the territory of another. When the Rangers chief told the court his paramilitary troops had deployed additional force and took immediate action on information about crime, Justice Amir Hani Muslim intervened and said the Rangers could only hand people over to the police, who were supposed to charge and prosecute them. On another occasion, the Sindh police chief told the court some officers had political affiliations and their backing was so strong they did not obey orders. Justice Jamali asked him how many police officers misused political influence. The inspector general said he was making a list of such policemen. Police is also among the major terrorist targets. Of the 2,014 people that have been killed in Karachi this year, more than 74 were policemen. According to police data, two intelligence agents have also been killed. According to the Sindh Law Ministry, not a single suspect has been successfully prosecuted in Sindh over the last three years for target killing. Although political violence in the city had seen a decline, Taliban attacks and sectarian violence have been increasing rapidly, with the Shia community especially vulnerable. But tensions de-escalated after Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad held a meeting with key religious leaders. "Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is only one fourth of the problem," said senior police officer Raja Umar Khattab. "The real problem is the fighting between various groups for more resources." Sindh chief minister Qaim Ali Shah said the police were doing their best and had controlled violence to a large extent. He said police had arrested and charged criminals but they were freed by courts. CID supercop Chaudhry Aslam, who has been at the forefront of anti-terror activities, said the solution to Karachi's problems was more policing, backed by speedy justice. MQM leader Faisal Sabzwari agrees. "The solution is simple," he says. "Local policing backed by solid prosecution, along with better coordination is the way to go."

Afghan FM to press Pakistan on Taliban releases

Afghanistan on Friday sent a second high-level delegation in weeks to Islamabad to press for the release of Taliban prisoners in a bid to kickstart peace efforts, officials said.
Talks this month between Pakistan and Afghanistan's High Peace Council resulted in the release of nine Taliban, but not the militia's former deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was captured in 2010. Afghan officials believe senior Taliban leaders held in Pakistan could help bring militants to the negotiating table, if released from jail, to end over a decade of war ahead of the 2014 pull-out of US-led NATO troops. Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul on Friday arrived in Islamabad for one day of talks with his counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar and other Pakistani officials, an AFP photographer said. "We expect further concrete steps on the peace process and we see the recent release by Pakistan of a number of Taliban leaders as a positive first step," said an Afghan official ahead of Friday's talks. "The foreign minister will ask for the release of further Taliban detainees in Pakistan and we have always asked for Mullah Baradar's release," he added. In Pakistan, a senior security official told AFP that "no decision" has so far been taken on whether to release Baradar. "We have to ascertain how important he can be. Pakistan believes Baradar may not be enjoying the same clout which he used to have before being arrested in Karachi two years ago," the official said. Preliminary contacts between the US and the Taliban in Doha were broken off in March when the militants failed to secure the release of five of their comrades held at the Guantanamo Bay prison on the US base in Cuba. Support from Pakistan, which backed the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul, is seen as crucial to peace in Afghanistan after the departure of NATO forces.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa:Conflict and natural disasters have left KP poorer’

Conflict and crisis in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had inflicted heavy damages to public and private infrastructure, reduced local economic activity with limited households’ livelihood opportunities and destruction of social fabric. This was the gist of a stakeholder consultative meeting titled “Mapping Strategies for livelihood, Basic Services and Social Services in Post Conflict Areas” organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on Thursday. The consultation was held to share SDPI research work with the stakeholders and also to seek expert opinion to refine research output in ongoing mapping study. Participants were informed that SDPI is conducting research study with Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium to map livelihood options, social protection and basic service delivery in conflict affected areas of northwest Pakistan. The research study would also analyze aid effectiveness to know that whether such interventions are appropriate to the needs, activities and aspirations of people. Anam Khan, Research Associate, SDPI presented research methodology of the study and informing that a special technique, ‘Mixed Methods Research (MMR)’, was employed in the research, which was essential while studying topics such as violence and conflict. Giving a background, she said that combination of conflict and natural disasters has left KP with levels of poverty and food insecurity significantly higher than the national average. It was important to generate evidence that will help to inform livelihoods policy and response in KP, and other affected regions. Earlier, Akbar Ali of SDPI briefed participants on the findings of study and presented ‘Country Evidence Paper’ based on the finding of first year of research. He said that that war has led to destruction of agriculture, markets and transport infrastructure, including shops, storage space, transport vehicles and roads leading to reduced economic activity. Citing different coping strategies adopted by the local people, he said that, people resorted to migration to big cities, compromising on nutritious food intake, borrowing money and seeking non-natural resource-based livelihood strategies. Talking of impacts on basic services, he said that education sector, and particularly the female education, is one of the most severely affected sectors by conflict in the region. He lamented that social safety nets in conflict areas are influenced by elites and are least accessible by the less powerful or less well-connected people in crisis-affected areas. He also suggested policy action including rebuilding of households in KP and FATA, restocking of livestock, short-term cash transfers to reduce debt and maintain household consumption and provision of agricultural tools and seeds to the needful. There was lively debate among participants during question answer session producing some very important suggestions. The participants argued that while mapping the impacts of conflicts, the ‘Host Communities” must also be studied along with ‘Affected’ population as influx of IDPs imprint a heavy toll on their resources, food security, service delivery and law and order situation. They also urged to study impact on tourism industry which was one of the main sources of livelihood in Swat and northern areas. Discussing the effectiveness of aid, the participant urged for greater public accountability and transparency by involving local people in mechanism. They also stressed on diversifying livelihood options for local people and further research studies having greater emphasis on domestic and informal sector. They also urged for greater synergies between development organizations on data and knowledge base, and suggested further integration of UN cluster system with development organisations.