Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Pakistan ready to act against safe havens: US

Pakistan has signalled its readiness to deal with terrorists operating within its borders as well as with those who cross over to Afghanistan, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday. The statement followed a clarification by officials of the Defence and State Departments of a Pentagon report that tended to create an impression that Pakistan was still allowing terrorist safe havens in Fata to operate. The officials said the report was old and since then Pakistan had carried out several “complementary operations” with Afghan and Nato forces against the terrorists. “We are more encouraged with the fact that they want to take steps to try to limit the terrorist threat within their own country and obviously the threat that goes across the border” to Afghanistan, Mr Panetta told reporters travelling with him to Kuwait. He said that army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had “indicated a willingness to try to put more pressure on safe havens”. While “actions have to speak louder than words, I do believe they’re in a better place because they understand the kind of threats they should deal with,” Mr Panetta added. A Pentagon report, released to the media on Monday but sent to Congress three months ago, had alleged that terrorist safe havens in Fata were preventing US and allied forces from dealing a “decisive defeat” to militants inside Afghanistan. “The Taliban-led insurgency and its al Qaeda affiliates still operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan,” the report claimed. “The insurgency’s safe havens in Pakistan, the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government and endemic corruption remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security in Afghanistan.” The Pakistan Embassy in Washington drew the Pentagon’s attention to the report, widely publicised by the media, pointing out that it did not reflect the improvements that have occurred since July this year. In July, the United States had apologised to Pakistan over an air raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year and Islamabad reopened the supply routes to Afghanistan it had closed after the attack. Since then the two countries have taken a number of steps to improve ties and this month they held a series of working group meetings to restart the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue after more than a year. Secretary Panetta also acknowledged that Pakistan was helping Afghanistan in talking to the Taliban for seeking a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict. But reconciliation with the Taliban, he said, was not easy because of the number of factions involved in the conflict. “We have to at least make the effort to develop some kind of political solution as well as the military effort we are engaged in.” PENTAGON REPORT CLARIFIED: At the Pentagon, two senior Defence and State Department officialsbriefed the media on the report sent to Congress, explaining that relations with Pakistan had improved considerably since the reporting period. The report was apparently prepared before July, when the two countries took several significant steps to improve ties. “We’re very encouraged by the dialogue that’s taking place between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And an important and essential part of that dialogue is the cross-border situation,” said a senior State Department official. “So we hope that dialogue will continue. We hope and expect to see confidence-building measures from both the Afghans, and the Pakistanis.” The United States wants to encourage that dialogue is in the interest of peace and stability “to the extent that can be helpful”, he said. “Cooperation with Pakistan has improved during this reporting period. Pakistan agreed to reopen the ground lines of communication, which were closed in November of last year,” observed a senior Defence Department official. Meetings with Pakistan, both bilaterally between Isaf forces, and Pakistani military forces, and trilaterally with Afghan military forces, were also going well, he added. The official noted that Nato forces were now conducting “a growing number of complementary operations” with Pakistan, which in the last reporting had virtually ceased. “At the same time, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we think everything is working well, because the safe havens do continue to exist,” the official warned.

What You Can Learn From Investors in Pakistan

Dan Solin
Pakistan is often in the news and usually in unflattering terms. The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is troubled, characterized by deep mutual distrust and conflicting goals. The economy of Pakistan is equally troubled. According to the Heritage Foundation, its economy has been plagued by "political instability and violence." Much needed economic reform has been stalled by bureaucratic delays and lack of political will. Property rights in Pakistan are "compromised." The rule of law is "fragile." Taxation is "poorly administered." Its public debt is over 50 percent of total domestic output. Foreign investment is declining. Its overall ranking on economic freedom is below the world and even regional averages, placing it in the category of "mostly unfree" economies. To put this in perspective, there is more economic freedom in Yemen, Senegal and Nigeria than in Pakistan. Its unemployment rate is a staggering 15 percent. Its inflation rate is 11.7 percent. Does this country seem like a good place to invest to you? Now for the shocker: Year-to-date returns for the stock market of Pakistan were 46.73 percent. That's not a typo. Year-to-date returns for the U.S. during the same period were 11.90 percent. Here are some other interesting facts. The stock markets in Nigeria and Kenya were 27.26 percent and 26.56 percent, respectively. What about the returns in fast-growing economies like Brazil and China? Brazil was an anemic 1.43 percent. China was a loss of 10.20 percent. If you are a typical investor, you believe paying attention to the financial news is important to your investing success. You read the financial media. You watch CNBC and pay special attention to the fund managers who "explain" the stock markets to you and encourage you to follow their advice (often by investing with their firms). Maybe you follow the stock picks served up by Jim Cramer, who appears to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things financial. Let me ask you this question. Did any source of financial news advise you to invest in the stock markets of Pakistan, Nigeria or Kenya? Or Turkey, which topped the list with returns of 47.31 percent? How about your broker or financial adviser? They make it appear they have special insight into the financial markets. Did they advise you to invest in any of the countries reporting returns higher than the U.S.? The average returns of the 77 countries is a positive return of 8.47 percent. In 2011, the average was a negative 14.15 percent and the list of top performers was markedly different, with Venezuela, Jamaica and Botswana turning in stellar results, along with Pakistan which came in second. Trying to predict which country will perform best in 2013 is a crapshoot. So is trying to pick stocks that are mispriced, or betting on which asset class will outperform. Yet the securities industry continues to thrive by persuading you to pay its members fat fees for dispensing precisely this kind of "advice." The next time your broker peers into his crystal ball and makes a recommendation, ask this question: Did you predict stellar returns in Pakistan, Nigeria or Kenya for 2012? When you get the deer-in-the-headlights look in response, pull your account and buy a globally diversified portfolio of low management fee index funds in an asset allocation appropriate for your risk tolerance. I tell you exactly how to implement this strategy in The Smartest Investment Book You'll Ever Read and The Smartest Portfolio You'll Ever Own.

Pakistan a fertile ground for grassroots Islamist causes – and conflicts

There is an angry silent protest under way at the International Islamic University in the Pakistani capital these days, and it takes the form of hair: shiny, long, black hair, defiantly visible, as female students refuse to hide it under voluminous burkas. The new president of the university recently ordered the nearly 9,000 students in its female college to cover up, and male students to grow out their beards and wear their trousers at ankle-bone level, a practice believed to be “more Islamic” by some conservative theologians.The new president, Ahmad Yousif Al-Draiweesh, is from Saudi Arabia, and his interactions with students and faculty to date suggest he subscribes to the deeply conservative Saudi Wahabist school of Islam, says Ayesha Salim, a professor of Arabic in the women’s college. His student body would appear not to share his politics – defiant girls in brightly coloured shalwar kameez fill the halls. Mr. Al-Draiweesh might seem an odd appointment for the university: He was not one of the 10 candidates interviewed or short-listed by the search committee. Nor did he even apply. But the Saudis offered money, with the condition that this president be installed, according to Prof. Salim. In this small transaction – conservative scholar in exchange for financial bailout – lies one important clue to much of what is happening in Pakistan today. Players in transnational conservative Islamist movements, such as the Saudis, see unstable Pakistan as an arena in which to advance their own agenda. At the same time, there is a long history in Pakistan of accommodation of Islamists by both government and the public, a sense of mutual interests nurtured over decades, and very little public will to oppose them, defiantly unveiled undergraduates notwithstanding. The shooting by a Taliban gunmen in early October of 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai, a campaigner for girls’ education, told the world – and Pakistanis – that Islamist militancy is alive and well. A lower-profile but savage campaign of violence targeting the country’s Shiite minority – at least 350 Shias have been killed this year, including 50 people who died in five separate bomb attacks during the mourning festival of Muharram late last month – is another sign, as Wahabi fundamentalists consider them heretics. Because there have been few attacks in Pakistan’s main cities in the past 18 months, many people had developed a comforting but false belief that the level of violence had fallen. But, in fact, the Taliban and al Qaeda affiliates carry out attacks on civilians and the Pakistani military almost daily, in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan and in the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunwa, and with increasing frequency in Shiite communities. In the furious debate that followed the attempt to kill Malala, there has been intense focus on whether the army will or should carry out an operation aimed at eliminating militants in the territory of North Waziristan and how effective a campaign would be. But the larger question is the perennial one: Is the military and intelligence establishment, a patron of Islamic militants, really interested in wiping them out? And who are the deep-pocketed players behind the scenes, encouraging the alliances? The militant groups were created and financed by the intelligence agencies to serve first as a proxy against India; the Taliban were cultivated in Afghanistan as a “strategic asset,” in the words of retired security officials. Even now, the military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has said openly that the Taliban will be a significant power in Afghanistan, even if not the government, after the U.S. withdrawal, and that Pakistan must cultivate its relationship with them. He draws a distinction between the Afghan Taliban and his country’s own militants, a distinction that most security analysts say is specious. “The army is divided,” said I. A. Rehman, who chairs the Pakistan Human Rights Commission and is a veteran analyst of national politics. “There is a very strong element which is sympathetic [to the Taliban.] This army is a religious one, religion is an instrument of indoctrination – there is no other national ideology.” General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, the former president who ruled for 11 years, made sure only devout and conservative Muslims like him were promoted in the army. The effects are still felt today, Mr. Rehman said in an interview in his office in Lahore. And even less religious officers find themselves conflicted. “Our constitution says this is an Islamic state and the Taliban also want that, so why should we fight them?” he characterized that argument. The obvious answer to that might be – because they are killing you. The Taliban does not share the military’s ambivalence, and has killed some 8,000 military personnel in the past six years, as well as 45,000 civilians. “There ought to be a limit on stupidity,” Mr. Rehman said. But to many ordinary Pakistanis, he added, the Taliban are considered “legitimate claimants to power. Most mainstream political parties, with a few exceptions including the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, do not seem to have much of a problem with the Taliban. Only two politicians actually identified them as Malala’s shooters, despite the Taliban itself having claimed the act. The leading opposition figure Imran Khan talks about bringing them into government; his political movement, in turn, is widely believed to be bankrolled by the intelligence agencies. The relationship remains, at a minimum, opaque. There have been no arrests in any of the Shiite murders, for example, even though the killers’ identities are widely known in the community; the bombings at Muharram took place despite the government ostensibly taking elaborate security measures. “We are basically a society held hostage,” said Ghazalah Minallah, a prominent human rights activist in Islamabad. “The civilian government are puppets, the army is in partial control. It boils down to that invisible power lurking in the background that’s been there since Zia’s time if not before. The Taliban are not just bearded men running around in the mountains – they’re in every institution in the country.” The Taliban have also been able to cultivate a romanticized image to a population with limited access to education and lacking a critical media. “The Taliban are associated with certain myths, of having stood against the British in the 18 th century,” said General Talat Masood, a retired army commander. “It’s romantic, and people find an identity with them.”

Obama, Boehner talk and exchange new offers on "fiscal cliff"

President Barack Obama and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner spoke by phone on Tuesday after exchanging new proposals to avert the "fiscal cliff" as negotiations intensified ahead of the end-of-year deadline. The conversation and exchange of counteroffers over the last two days are the latest sign of possible progress in efforts to avert the automatic steep tax hikes and spending cuts set for January 1 unless Congress intervenes. White House and congressional aides confirmed that Obama sent Boehner a revised offer in the talks on Monday, and Boehner responded with a counterproposal on Tuesday. But neither side offered any details. After getting the new offer, Boehner took to the House floor on Tuesday to urge Obama to give more details on the spending cuts the White House would accept in any final deal. "We're still waiting for the White House to identify what spending cuts the president is willing to make as part of the balanced approach that he promised the American people," Boehner said. The White House fired back that the administration had submitted extensive proposals to reduce spending but Republicans had not offered specifics on increasing revenues. "There is a deal out there that's possible," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. It could include reduced spending, more revenues and tax reform as long as Republicans accepted higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, he said. "We do believe the parameters of a compromise are pretty clear," Carney said. Obama and Boehner have each proposed cutting deficits by more than $4 trillion over the next 10 years, but they differ on how to get there. Economists have warned that failure to strike a deal could send the economy back into a recession. Obama and Democrats demand that tax rates rise for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Republicans want existing lower rates continued for all brackets and prefer to raise more revenue by eliminating tax loopholes and reducing deductions. Republicans also want deeper spending cuts than those sought by Obama and fellow Democrats, particularly on social entitlement programs like the government-funded Medicare and Medicaid healthcare plans. "I'm an optimist. I'm hopeful we can reach an agreement," Boehner said during his speech on the House floor. But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said it would be difficult to reach an agreement before Christmas. "Until we hear something from Republicans, there's nothing to draft," Reid told reporters, referring to writing legislation based on a deal. "It's going to be extremely difficult to get it done before Christmas." Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the counteroffer from Boehner would achieve tax and entitlement reforms that would solve the looming debt crisis, but he offered no more details.

Family of Malala's friend decides to leave Swat

The family of a girl who was injured in the Taliban attack on teenage rights activist Malala Yousufzai has decided to leave the restive Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan and move to Punjab province for security reasons. Shazia Ramzan was injured when two Taliban fighters attacked Malala near their school in Swat on October 9. Her father Muhammad Ramzan was quoted by the Dawn newspaper on Tuesday as saying that he planned to settle in his hometown of Muzaffargarh in Punjab for security reasons. Ramzan said he had been living in Swat for 20 years and was running sweet shops there. Though the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government had offered him security, a bomb exploded near his home in Swat two weeks ago, he said. He claimed the bombing was a "warning" to his family. The blast had panicked him and the family and he had decided to move to Muzaffargarh, he said. Ramzan further claimed that the family of Kainat Ahmed, another girl who was injured in the attack on Malala, too was planning to shift from Swat to some other city. The Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attack on Malala, saying she was targeted for backing secularism and Western values. Malala is currently being treated in a hospital at Birmingham in Britain. Her father Ziauddin Yousufzai has been appointed a special UN adviser on Global Education. Ramzan said he was happy that Malala's father was invited to a conference in Paris on Monday to honour Malala. However, he added that Shazia too should have been called to the conference. Shazia was in hospital for two months and returned to her school in Swat four days ago, he said. Malala had contacted Shazia four days ago and inquired about her health, he added.

Drones violate sovereignty, but so do militants using Pakistani soil: Haqqani

Former Pakistan ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani on Tuesday said that while his country was a victim of terror, it was also to blame for not using full force of the state to crush militant groups. Speaking at the launch of the Asia Society’s report on the US and South Asia after Afghanistan, the former Pakistani ambassador emphasised that Pakistan has to cut all ties with the militant groups. The former diplomat added that Pakistan’s sovereignty was being violated, not just by the US drone strikes, but also by militant groups that use the country as a base to carry out attacks. The event’s speakers included former US ambassadors to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin and Cameron Munter, former US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Karl Inderfurth and the report’s author and Asia Society fellow Alexander Evans. Pakistan’s ties with US In the panel discussion, former US Ambassador Cameron Munter said that while he always disagreed with Haqqani’s remarks about a ‘divorce’ between US and Pakistan, he said there was a need to move away from the bilateralisation of US-Pakistan ties. “We can have a relationship based on agreed principles, not as defined by labels,” said Munter, adding that they should deal in areas which both countries had in common. Haqqani said that the US has made an error by having solely military to military and intelligence to intelligence relationship with Pakistan. Those close links, Haqqani said, have led to skewed decision making in Pakistan. “We need to continue military and intelligence relationship, but not make it the centrepiece of the relationship.” In response to a question, the former Pakistani Ambassador jokingly remarked that he has gotten in trouble in the past for making remarks about the Pakistani Army and the ISI. Asked about the unilateral drone strikes, Haqqani said that drones as an element of policy was understandable, and they have been effective. However, if they are to be the only policy, then they would not be successful. Education must take priority in Pakistan In response to a question, Haqqani said that Pakistan’s education crisis needs to become a priority. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin echoed Haqqani’s comments and said that Pakistan government’s investment in education was minuscule, adding that it was then interesting that Pakistan had pledged $10 million to a UNESCO fund for education. Adopting a fresh approach to South Asia The Asia Society report calls for the US to adopt a fresh approach to its South Asia policy. The reports recommendations include a structured US approach to the India-US bilateral relationship, development of a realistic, medium-term strategy for Pakistan and an “enhanced approach to regional strategy that incorporates South and East Asia.”

Shots fired at mall in Portland, Oregon; multiple dead and wounded

A shooting at a mall in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday afternoon left multiple people dead and wounded, a sheriff's spokesman said, but he said he could not confirm a number.The gunman was neutralized, said Lt. James Rhodes of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, but he said he could not say if the person was dead or arrested. He said police do not believe there was a second shooter, although they are investigating witness reports of more than one gunman. A woman who answered the phone at Chipotle in the mall told NBC News that someone ran in and yelled, “It’s a shooting, it’s a shooting.”She said employees shut the restaurant doors. She said the mall was crawling with police. Rhodes said some people had hidden in break rooms and bathrooms in the mall and that teams of police were working their way through the mall to bring them out. A spokeswoman at Legacy Emanuel Hospital, one of two level-one trauma centers in the Portland area, told NBC News that no patients had been admitted as of 5:15 p.m. local time (8:15 p.m. ET) but that the hospital had been alerted that one victim could arrive by Life Flight. The Oregonian newspaper said that one of its sports columnists was in the mall and reported that dozens of shots were fired in the food court near the Macy's at the Clackamas Town Center around 3:20 p.m. KGW.com reported that the shooter was wearing a hockey mask, but it did not cite a source for the information. Witness Amber Tate told KATU of Portland that she was standing in the parking lot when she spotted a gunman wearing a camouflage shirt and what looked like a bulletproof vest. Tate said he looked like a teenager. Pedro Garcia, 24, told the Oregonian that he was headed to Panera Bread Co. to buy sandwiches when he heard at least six shots. "I could smell the gunpowder," Garcia said. "That's what pretty much what made me run."

Several people shot as gunman opens fire at Oregon mall

A gunman is actively firing at the Clackamas Town Center mall in Clackamas, Oregon, authorities said Tuesday. "Multiple victims" have been shot, says Public Safety Director Steve Campbell of the city of Happy Valley. The two-story mall is about 11 miles southeast of downtown Portland and is anchored with such stores as Sears, JC Penney and Macy's, according to its website.

Angry Turkish Secularists Plant Their Flag at Trial

The protesters converge each day on the village of little tents dotting the landscape here outside a sprawling prison and courthouse. They go about their business of tending a garden of fruits and vegetables, but their primary mission is to denounce the Islamist-inspired government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. One man, Riza Yaman, traveled from Germany to spend some time at the camp. “The republican traditions are being compromised and replaced with religious traditions,” he said. Mr. Yaman is one of dozens of men and women who have been coming here for a little more than a year, angry secularists protesting outside a trial of hundreds of military officers charged with plotting to overthrow the Islamic-rooted government. The case, which has also ensnared journalists, academics and others, has come to symbolize Turkey’s attempt to come to terms with its history of military coups and state-sponsored assassinations. With its harsh judicial tactics and an ever-widening net of suspects, the trial has also illuminated concerns about the accrual of power by Mr. Erdogan and questions about his commitment to democracy. This is supposed to be Turkey’s time. The country is a rare haven of economic growth and political stability in a region in turmoil. It has been hailed by many across the Arab world as a model for blending faith and democracy. Elected 10 years ago, Mr. Erdogan is poised to become the longest-serving prime minister in the history of the Turkish republic and is planning a 2014 run for the presidency, which he hopes to refashion from a largely ceremonial post to one with strong executive powers along the lines of the United States system. But Turkey is facing a reckoning of its own. It is wrestling with an identity defined by both a history of iron-fisted secular rule and the promise of Islamist-infused democracy. It has a population that is deeply divided between Islamists and secularists, and its charismatic leader is facing challenges on multiple fronts. He has been criticized for his Syria policy, taken to task for a widening crackdown on free expression and mired in an escalating fight with Kurdish militants that recently prompted him to suggest reinstituting the death penalty, which was abolished in 2002 as part of Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union. “Turkey is going through this period of psychological questioning,” said Haluk Sahin, a former columnist and a journalism professor at Istanbul Bilgi University. The court case, named Ergenekon for a mythic valley that is the moniker of the clandestine terrorist organization to which the defendants are accused of belonging, is at the center of Turkey’s many fissures. Mr. Erdogan came to office promising to advance democracy and face Turkey’s past by expanding rights for Kurds and women and relaxing restrictions on the news media. He allayed the fears of the old guard that he had a hidden Islamist agenda by embracing the prospect of membership in the European Union, which was central to Turkey’s democratic ambitions but now seems more distant than ever. “Not only did a new party come to power, but a new mentality took place,” Mr. Erdogan said in a recent speech, looking back a decade to when his party won its first election. Yet the recent sight of security forces clashing with thousands of secularist protesters who were celebrating Turkey’s Republic Day in violation of a government ban belied the government’s democratic credentials. Turkey’s reputation has also been rattled by reports from the European Union and the Committee to Protect Journalists, an advocacy group based in New York, that have undermined Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to portray Turkey as a rising democracy for the region to emulate. The European Union said the Ergenekon case, and other criminal cases, raise “real concerns about their wide scope and the shortcomings in judicial proceedings.” The C.P.J. said Turkey is “waging one of the world’s biggest anti-press campaigns in recent history.” More journalists are in jail in Turkey than in any other country, the C.P.J. report said. The government’s response to the criticism has been largely to ignore it. “By turning a blind eye to the report made by the E.U. and the Committee to Protect Journalists, one can deceive oneself and pretend to be living in a very democratic country,” wrote Ozgur Mumcu, a columnist for the newspaper Radikal. “But not everyone shares these same hallucinations.” The court proceedings are at the heart of how Turkey manages to face an authoritarian past and chart a democratic future. Initially many Turks viewed the trial, which began in 2008, as a necessary reckoning with a painful past, but as it has dragged on there is rising sentiment that it is just another chapter in a long history of rule by authoritarian elites, this time with an Islamic bent. Turkey is endlessly fixated with the past. Its competing interpretations play out each day in the newspapers. From one edition of a local paper this week came these stories: Was the reformist president, Turgut Ozal, who died suddenly in 1993, actually poisoned by his enemies? Did Adnan Menderes, the prime minister in the 1950s who was hanged after a military coup, give orders for a pogrom in 1955 against non-Muslims? And who, exactly, was behind the coups of 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997? The courthouse in which the Ergenekon defendants are facing trial is in Silivri, a town on the Sea of Marmara an hour’s drive west of Istanbul. The caretakers of the tent encampment are dissidents, nationalists, secularists, the family and friends of the accused, and even some defendants. The tents, set up as a permanent base of protest, call to mind a refugee camp. And in a sense, the men and women who visit, sometimes for a day but often for longer, are exiles from Turkey’s past. They are a political minority in today’s Turkey and, as loyalists to the secular and nationalist traditions of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded modern Turkey in 1923, they are fearful that Mr. Erdogan has decisively banished them from the center of power. Yet as they offer their complaints, they express a worldview that seems rooted in Turkey’s undemocratic past. Some deny that a massacre of the Armenians occurred in 1915, in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, in a tragedy that Turkey has still not confronted. Most believe that the Central Intelligence Agency secretly runs Turkey’s affairs. And they regard multiculturalism and the expansion of rights for Turkey’s Kurds as a step toward a partition of the country. On a recent day, after a lunch of rice and beans and watermelon, the camp’s visitors drank tea and smoked cigarettes before returning to the court for afternoon testimony. Hidir Hokka, the camp’s overseer, views modern Turkey and Mr. Erdogan’s rise as a plot by the United States and Europe to exact revenge for Ataturk’s rebellion after World War I that thwarted the Allies’ plans to control much of present-day Turkey. In a recent speech to his party, Mr. Erdogan evoked a different history: the decades of rule by an unelected secular elite — dominated by the military — whose power has been destroyed by cases like Ergenekon. “It might be possible to rule the country under the control of a handful of elites,” he said. “But in a democratic republic, you must take your strength from the people.”

Best of 2012: The Year in Politics

From US, with conditions: Russia gets Syrian crisis plan - newspaper

A US-created plan to resolve the Syrian conflict contains some conditions that Moscow says will be unacceptable to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Washington is calling on Moscow to persuade President Assad, who is in the midst of a fierce struggle to maintain his grip on power in the face of a protracted militant challenge, to step down voluntarily, Kommersant daily newspaper reported on Tuesday. According to the American plan both the opposition and supporters of the President should agree to a ceasefire and form a transitional government. It was presented to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at their meetings in Phnom Penh and Dublin. The transitional government would be representative of all faiths and groups, which would help prevent clashes along religious lines. The US plan proclaims to “minimize the risk of pro-government forces using chemical weapons and the possibility of such weapons falling into the hands of uncontrolled forces,” Kommersant reported, quoting the document. Earlier, President Assad excluded the possibility of his government resorting to the use of chemical weapons, calling such a move “suicidal.” Meanwhile, not only Moscow, but also the Syrian government is practically guaranteed to give a tepid response to the reported US plan, which the American side says will be “feasible if Bashar al-Assad is not present in the transitional government,” according to Kommersant. Although Russia supports the idea of forming a transitional government in Syria, it has no intention of trying to persuade Assad to resign his post. Russia is certain that President Assad will never agree to step down voluntarily, and the Syrian leader reiterated this point on several occasions, Kommersant said. Moreover, Moscow believes it would be more appropriate for countries posing a threat to Assad – for example the United States – should try to persuade him to resign, it said. "All decisions to reform the political system of Syria should be made by Syrians themselves without any foreign intervention and attempts to impose ready-made recipes on them," Kommersant quoted Russian Foreign Ministry officials as saying.

Michigan lawmakers pass bills weakening union power

As protesters descended on the Michigan Statehouse Tuesday, legislators passed a controversial "right-to-work" measure that would weaken unions' power. The House approved two bills, which the Senate already passed last week. Both chambers are dominated by Republicans.Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has said he will sign the legislation, which would allow workers at union-represented employers to forgo paying dues. Thousands of people, many of them union workers, gathered outside the statehouse, chanting and holding signs as snow fell. At least three schools were closed as teachers traveled to Lansing to protest. There are 23 states which have right-to-work laws, mostly in the South and western plains states, where union membership is relatively weak. Nationwide, union membership stands at 11.8%. Michigan, the birthplace of the United Auto Workers where 17.5% of employees are represented by unions, would be by far the most heavily unionized state to pass such legislation. It would join neighboring Indiana in converting to right-to-work this year. "It would devastate the workers," UAW President Bob King told CNN Tuesday morning. "We're worried about all workers in the state of Michigan." Advocates of the bill say it will help attract businesses to the state, but critics say that it would weaken labor's bargaining strength by cutting union financial resources without doing anything to bring in more jobs. Employees in right-to-work states have lower wages, on average, than their counterparts elsewhere, according to Richard Hurd, professor of labor studies at the ILR School at Cornell University. That's because the unions are weaker in those states and aren't as effective in bargaining for higher wages. Only two-thirds of workers join unions in right-to-work states, on average. The average full-time, full-year worker in a right-to-work state makes about $1,500 less annually, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning organization. The rate of workers covered by employer-sponsored health insurance is 2.6 percentage points lower, while pension coverage is 4.8 percentage points lower. Right-to-work states have done better in terms of growing jobs, according to State Budget Solutions, an advocacy group that supported the measure. Right-to-work states saw employment expand by 8.2% between 2001 and 2010, while those without the law experienced a 0.5% decrease, according to the group's analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. The measure's passage would symbolize the declining fortunes of the nation's once powerful union movement. Only four states have passed right-to-work laws since the 1960s. "If right-to-work passes in Michigan, it demonstrates the weakness of the labor movement," Hurd said. "If it can happen in Michigan, there's a feeling it can happen anywhere."

Health care: Afghans swarm to Peshawar for medical attention

The Express Tribune
Hospitals in Peshawar remain an attractive destination for Afghan patients because of their technological superiority and better-trained medical staff and doctors. Despite higher costs, accommodation problems and a language barrier, patients from across the border continue to trickle in. Most Afghan patients enter Pakistan through the porous Torkham border without any legal documentation or visa, since the process can be lengthy and nerve-wracking. They are limited to two hospitals, the Rehman Medical Institute (RMI) and the North West General Hospital (NWGH) – both minutes away from Khyber Agency. “Certain diseases require advanced technology and qualified doctors, which are not available in many hospitals of Afghanistan. That’s why I decided to come to Peshawar for leg surgery,” said Rohullah, a resident of Jalalabad currently receiving treatment at RMI. Foreign patients are allegedly charged more compared to Pakistanis. In addition to lack of proper accommodation, Afghans say that they are harassed by the police for not carrying legal documents. Rohullah said he borrowed Rs200,000 for treatment and doctors have already charged him Rs60,000 for the surgery. He does not know how much the medicines will cost. Data from the two hospitals shows that 77,000 Afghan patients visited RMI, while over 60,000 visited NWGH in the last ten months. Residents of Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz, among other areas in Afghanistan, come to general physicians, cardiology, gynecology and gastroenterology departments. A resident of Mazar-e-Sharif, Faqir Muhamad is accompanying a patient at NWGH. “While the quality of treatment is good, it is very expensive. We are sleeping on the floor and there are no sheds in the waiting area,” he said. “Charges for the guest houses are so high that we do not leave the hospital premises. Also, police in the surrounding areas recognise us because of our dress and bother us for legal documents,” added Muhammad. Saqib Agha from Kabul fears the police will arrest them for interrogation because he and his relative have no visa or travel documents either. “We have become a source of income for the police as well as for doctors in Peshawar, because we are neither familiar with the language nor the law. Doctors extract large sums of money through laboratory tests, surgery, accommodation and medicines,” complained Agha. He said even translators at NWGH ask for money when they come across patients who speak Persian. RMI’s Manager for Marketing and Panel Affairs, Tanveer Ahmand Sethi said the number of days spent by patients at the hospital depends on the treatment they are receiving. Cardiac procedures can take up to seven days, while some ailments take up to two weeks to treat. “Getting a visa for treatment in Pakistan is a tedious process and takes very long. India, on the other hand has a same-day-visa policy for patients and attendants who wish to visit the country for medical attention,” Sethi said. The hospital cannot provide decent accommodation to attendants of all Afghan patients, clarified Sethi. “Most of them are afraid of the police and so don’t go to guesthouses. In some cases, attendants are fleeced of all the money they have, leaving them penniless in a foreign country,” he added. A marketing official from NWGH said they receive more Afghan patients than Pakistanis. Upon arrival, we charge them fees for two days which can range from Rs30,000 to Rs50,000. When that amount is spent, we ask attendants to pay more for further treatment,” he added.

Lahore: Clinical waste being recycled into household items

Risking a serious biohazard, the clinical waste of private as well as government hospitals is being sold openly to be recycled into household items here in Lahore, Geo News reported.
Geo News correspondents were shocked to find heaps of clinical waste like blood bags, dextrose empties, disposable syringes, used medicine containers, cannulas, dialysis tubes, surgical masks, gloves etc up for the grabs for anyone. The owner of the scrap shop told Geo News that hospital officials sell this waste to dealers like us. He added that moulders buy this scrap and recycle the plastic into various items of daily usage like straws, utensils, toys, baby feeder nipples etc. “The moulding factories thoroughly wash this waste before they melt it at high temperature to turn it into plastic granules, which is then moulded into different items of human use”, said the scrap seller. He argued that no germ could survive after a high-temperature treatment. The story, after Geo News aired it, also shook the sleeping regulators out of their slumber. Jumping into action the Environment Department sealed two godowns and two factories where clinical waste was sold and recycled respectively. The news broken by Geo also moved the Punjab government into forming a committee to investigate the violations stated above. The committee formed has been tasked to come up with a report within five days.

Indian college bans girls from wearing short dresses

College in India's Haryana state to fine students Rs100 for breaking the dress code
An Indian college announced on Monday it had banned girls from wearing jeans, short dresses and T-shirts to crack down on sexual harassment, sparking outrage from pupils and rights campaigners. The Adarsh Women’s College in Haryana state, west of New Delhi, said that students would be fined 100 rupees ($1.8) each time they broke the dress code. “We have imposed a ban on jeans and T-shirts because these are completely Westernised and (so) are short dresses,” school head Alaka Sharma told the NDTV news channel. “The small dresses don’t cover students and that is the reason why they have to face eve-teasing.”

Turkish Websites and Newspapers say Armed Groups and Spies enjoy AKP Government's Support

The Turkish Sol Haber website stressed that the Syrian-Turkish border area has been transferred into a center for armed terrorist groups and foreign spies with the support of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government which ignore the infiltration of terrorist gunmen to Syria across the borders. The website stressed that there are evidence on that the AKP government is ignoring the terrorist infiltration attempts to Syria across the Turkish borders since the beginning of the events. It added that the AKP government turned the border with Syria into a center for those who call themselves armed Syrian opposition members, foreign spies and other various groups. The website supported its evidence with the interview made by the CNN Turk TV with gunmen from the mercenary terrorist groups which call themselves "the Free Army" in the bordering town of Akcakale, as one of the gunmen stressed that he was going to cross the border in the next ten minutes to participate in armed operations in Syria. It also cited another violation committed by the governor of Kilis city, Yusuf Odabas, and Head of Gaziantep municipality, Asim Guzelbey, who crossed the borders and met the armed terrorist groups. It highlighted the statements of members of the Republican People's Party about the presence of gunmen inside Apaydin Camp on the border with Syria. The website referred to an article published by journalist Fehim Tastekin in the Turkish Radikal newspaper on August 27th stressing that there is not any form of monitoring on the Syrian-Turkish borders and that arms smuggling operations are conducted through three villages in Yayladağı city and the cities of Rehanli and Altinozu. The journalist added that smuggling heavy weapons and terrorists to Syria is carried out via buses and ambulances through Kozan and Oncupinar crossings in Kilis. Turkish Yurt Newspaper: US-backed Foreign Jihadists Carry out Terrorist Bombings in Syria The Turkish Yurt Newspaper stressed that the US-backed foreign jihadists have been carrying out suicide and terrorist bombings in Syria after their failure in the war waged against the Syrian people and government. In a report about the events in Syria, the newspaper reporter in Damascus, Omer Odemis said that what is taking place in Syria stresses the existence of terrorist jihadists who launch a war against the Syrian people, government and the public and private properties, a fact that has been recognized by all foreigners who have seen the events and met the citizens, despite some western countries attempts to depict what is happening is Syria as a popular revolt. The reporter added that these armed terrorist groups attack the Syrian people and the law-enforcement forces in rural areas which make the living conditions there very difficult due to the terrorist practices forcing citizens to leave their houses and villages. Turkish Journalist: Those Who Think They Can Topple Syria Easily are Mistaken The Turkish Journalist Metin Munir said that the Turkish government is unable to implement its threat of waging a military aggression against Syria because of the economic situation in the country since any such probable war would lead to a great economic crisis in Turkey. In an article published by the Turkish Milliyet Newspaper, Munir said that whoever thinks that he is able to topple Syria easily is mistaken, scoffing at Turkish officials who talked about the ability of the Turkish army to launch attack against Damascus in few hours to convince the Turkish people that as if this war is just a picnic. "We have to ask those geniuses that if you entered in few hours, would you be able to return in few hours and would you find Turkey as you left it?" he asked mockingly. Munir said that any possible war might result in halting foreign funds to Turkey, especially that the Turkish economy's inability to ensure foreign currency has weakened the economy, adding that the economic growth in Turkey started to slow due to procedures adopted by the AKP government. He added that deploying military forces on the Syrian borders requires high expenses and additional funds to purchase military equipment, while the economic situation in Turkey is suffering in light of the price rise.

What about the partnership between (Turkey's Erdogan) and al-Qaida!!

Must not seem Title strange, so that Erdogan is said (32) once it works on the implementation of the Greater Middle East, and its subsequent amendments, certainly one of the main tools of the project is money Gulf, and misinformation, and a series parties freedom, justice, and development bearded The operational tool for this project are satanic al Qaeda, and its derivatives. So, let's ask ourselves together - What's the secret to make new prosecutor religiosity appear correlated with the parties of political Islam in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, and finally Syria ... They want to govern civilized people on the way Al Saud, and every second through replacement of women fingerprint, mind living being fit for everything but be a man, and the transfer of experience Taliban in education, research, media freedom, human rights and democracy, to countries belonging civilizations to tens of thousands of years. ■ Yes, Erdogan and al-Qaeda - Address is true, accurate, but we have to read more depth things, and their implications, and published information, and order me to share this information with readers home, I refer here to the group of key points to receive more light on the title This article: 1 - Turkish speaking researcher d. Mustafa Beykoz in his study titled (AKP hand in hand with the Salafists) that the presence of al Qaeda and Salafist groups in Turkey goes back for many years, and with financial support from the Gulf states, where it was established associations, publishing houses, and training schools (Mujahideen) for wars abroad. ■ The important thing here is to support the Justice and Development Party with Saudi Arabia to organize these groups in Turkey, in preparation for the project, which was planned against Syria. ■ The study suggests that knowledge of Turkey thought Salafi dating back to the sixties, especially after receiving a lot of students to teach them religious in Egypt, and the Kingdom of Saud, as has been organizing the first movement Salafism in Turkey with the establishment (Club Malatya intellectual) in the province of Malatya. ■ The rise of Salafi in the eighties by sending young people to Afghanistan and Pakistan to receive religious education, military training, you know where those on al Qaeda, and established close ties with bin Laden, and had to go Turkish youth to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Tajikistan as Islam reason to give these social force, but the start of al-Qaeda activity clearly in Turkey. 2 - One of the most important points that have not overlooked a is that al-Qaeda and the Salafi movement seemed to become a social force in Turkey, and is divided Qaeda into two main, are distinguished from each other with regard to ways of jihad as believes part of the armed action, whilst The other part that must support systems Almtaslma to install itself, but both groups have the same strategic direction, and both shall receive support from Saudi Arabia primarily, but wing who agrees system Erdogan receives more money than that which supports armed action, and finds that regulations heresy. ■ regulates Salafis themselves extensively, primarily in the Kurdish provinces, and in the provinces of Izmir, Istanbul, Konya, Ankara, Adana, Mersin, Antalya, Hatay, Manisa, Bursa, Kugela, and Trabzon. 3 - The author of the study (d. Mustafa Beykoz) to well-known names from the Salafi trend, and excommunicating them (PHY God the Berishk) known in Malatya, which has ties with al-Qaeda, and with the Justice and Development Party. ■ In Izmir there the group's leader (Abdullah Juljo), a Turkmen born in Kirkuk, which speaks publicly that he came to Turkey with the task of the Salafi movement for Islamization of society, and has publishing houses, and organizes conferences, panel discussions, and prints books that call for jihad, It finances of Saudi Arabia generously, and printed books usually in Arabic and distributed to pilgrims in the Hajj period, and also enjoys close ties with the ruling Justice and Development, and is supported by, and for the stated organizational ties with al Qaeda militants of ethnic Kurdish, and said to him an important role in sending and the recruitment of terrorists towards Syria. ■ leader of the Salafist Group in Antalya (Mohammed بالجي Ihsanoglu, known as Abu Said Alaarboza), which accused him of the Turkish State Security Court previously possession of weapons and explosives, and the establishment of an armed organization to overthrow the state. ■ Add to these insert name (Mohammed Amin Akin), who was jailed for a long time, and he found in his home a receipt amounts sent by the King of Saudi Arabia, and now school was built in the area (Alaarboza) in Antalya, there are nearly a thousand students only who is studying in this small town . ■ Akin, and Alaarboza have close relations with the Justice and Development Party. ■ Turning to Adana near the Syrian border highlights the name of a person named (Mullah Omar) who was deported from Germany, said working on line Adana, and Iskenderun intensively, and one who organize send militants to Syria, and some say (according to researcher Turkish) that exists in Syria and has said close ties with Erdogan's party. ■ official Salafist groups in Gaziantep near Aleppo is Obaidullah Arslan, which has already educated in Peshawar, and publicly supports the election of representatives of the Justice and Development Party. 4 - The study highlights mentioned other names of the extreme wing of the Salafi them (Murad Gxinlar), who runs the House wrote in Konya, and stopped in 2002, but was released later to go to Syria Viatql on April 16, 2009 by Syrian security authorities, and interesting is mediated (Ahmet Davutoglu) and Turkish Foreign Minister for his release, which indicates that mentioned he was assigned to a particular job by the regime of Erdogan - Davutoglu. ■ What is more, the system Erdogan has released members of al-Qaeda them (Halis Baianjok - alias Abu cartoonist) who declared that in order to do jihad must fight in Syria and (Halis Baianjok) is the son of (Haji Baianjok) which life sentence case Al-Qaeda then was released with many other elements in order to recruit mercenaries in Syria. 5 - It seems clear from the above information that the story of fleeing al Qaeda prisoners from the prisons of Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, indicating a close relationship to al-Qaeda operational tool in the New Middle East Project, which offers Islam a front, and several of the monument and fraud, and manipulation the feelings of the people in order to change the geopolitical reality in the interest of the American project - western - Zionist his tools الأعرابية, and its alliances with Erdogan and threaded a secret all this with the Zionist entity. ■ The intersection between the United States and al-Qaeda won twice in the first Date during the fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and now the second by fighting the Syrians, and the destruction of their homeland, and their history and their culture, so that the mere use of al-Qaeda as a tool in the implementation of each of the above indicates that democracy, freedoms and human rights are the latest concerns, it can not be that consistent two words at all, namely: (base) and (Democratic), understanding words that Kalkhtin parallel do not meet, although they met P (authorization of the Almighty) as taught Al Saud mathematics to their students. ■ In short: These are some of the secrets of relations in this infernal project against Syria, and the role of Erdogan and his alliances with al-Qaeda, which clearly haunted parties of the so-called political Islam along the map of the region, so they have to read, and نتعمق to know how to face.

Egypt judges to boycott referendum

Egypt’s judges will not oversee the referendum on the draft constitution scheduled for Saturday, the national Judges’ Club said Tuesday. “Over 90 per cent of judges will boycott the referendum. Our independence has been tampered with and we cannot perform our duties,” said national Judges’ Club Chairman Ahmed El-Zend. Judges from 18 local Judges’ Clubs, in addition to over 500 judges from Cairo, announced their intention to boycott the referendum in a Tuesday press conference held at the headquarters of the national club. Most clubs reported a vote of over 90 per cent in favour of the boycott, with the lowest being 88 per cent in Mahala. El-Zend said that the nationwide court strike was the response to President Mohamed Morsy’s 22 November constitutional decree granting him sweeping new powers, not the referendum boycott. He added that boycotting the referendum came in response to the Constituent Assembly producing an unbalanced constitution that does not represent the Egyptian people, as such the decision to boycott is not affected by Morsy’s decision to rescind the decree. He said the second constitutional decree of 8 December was just as unacceptable as the first one. “Both constitutional decrees limit judicial independence. In fact, the second one is even worse since it allows for retrials even if the Cassation Court [Egypt’s highest court] makes a ruling on the matter, thus making a mockery out of court rulings.

Egyptians arrested by army during referendum to face civil courts

Anyone arrested by the military during Egypt’s referendum on a new constitution will face civil rather than military courts, the presidency said on Tuesday after the army was given powers of arrest during the vote period.
“Individuals arrested under these powers must be remanded to the office of the prosecutor and are tried before civilian courts, if the prosecutor recommends trial,” Reuters reported the presidency as saying in a statement after rights groups criticized the arrest powers granted by President Mohammed Mursi. “Rumors have circulated that the law allows for civilians to be referred to military courts and this law does not, in any way, allow for civilians to be tried before military courts,” it said in a note explaining the army’s role that will last until results are declared after Saturday’s referendum.
Tomorrow’s unity talks
Meanwhile, Mursi approved an army call for holding national unity talks in a bid to end a political crisis, a presidency official said on Tuesday. However, Egypt’s army chief said that Wednesday’s national unity talks would not be about politics or a referendum on a constitution that liberals want scrapped but would be to bring Egyptians together, speaking in comments broadcast on state television. “We will not speak about politics nor about the referendum. Tomorrow we will sit together as Egyptians,” armed forces chief and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said at a joint gathering of army and police officials. Protesters opposed to Mursi on Tuesday breached concrete barricades built outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Tuesday, forcing back the soldiers manning it. There was no violent confrontation. The protesters pulled apart a high metal gate bar by bar and toppled concrete blocks with chains. Soldiers, who had erected the barrier on the weekend to block access roads following violent clashes in the area last week, fell back closer to the palace, which is surrounded by a high brick wall. Six tanks were stationed close to the compound. The protesters were part of a crowd expected to swell to tens of thousands through Tuesday night to denounce a referendum proposed by President Mursi on a draft new constitution written up by his Islamist allies. Earlier, nine people were hurt when gunmen fired at protesters camping in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, according to witnesses and Egyptian media. Supporters of the Islamist leader, who want the vote to go ahead as planned on Saturday, were also gathering in the capital, setting the stage for further street confrontations in a political crisis that has divided the Arab world’s most populous nation. Police cars surrounded Tahrir Square in central Cairo, the first time they had appeared in the area since Nov. 23, shortly after a decree by Mursi awarding himself sweeping temporary powers that touched off widespread protests. The upheaval following the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year is causing concern in the West, in particular the United States, which has given Cairo billions of dollars in military and other aid since Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979. The Tahrir Square attackers, some masked, also threw petrol bombs which started a small fire, witnesses said. “The masked men came suddenly and attacked the protesters in Tahrir. The attack was meant to deter us and prevent us from protesting today. We oppose these terror tactics and will stage the biggest protest possible today,” said John Gerges, a Christian Egyptian who described himself as a socialist. The latest bout of unrest has so far claimed seven lives in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and opponents who are also besieging Mursi’s presidential palace.
Police powers
The elite Republican Guard which protects the palace has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the graffiti-daubed building, now ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades. The army has told all sides to resolve their differences through dialogue, saying it would not allow Egypt to enter a “dark tunnel”. For the period of the referendum, the army has been granted police powers by Mursi, allowing it to arrest civilians. The army has portrayed itself as the guarantor of the nation’s security but so far it has shown no appetite for a return to the bruising front-line political role it played after the fall of Mubarak, which severely damaged its standing. Leftists, liberals and other opposition groups have called for marches to the presidential palace later on Tuesday to protest against the hastily arranged constitutional referendum planned for Dec 15, which they say is polarizing the country and could put it in a religious straightjacket. Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent opposition leader and Nobel prize winner, called for dialogue with Mursi and said the referendum should be postponed for a couple of months due to the chaotic situation. “This revolution was not staged to replace one dictator with another,” he said in an interview with CNN. Outside the presidential palace, anti-Mursi protesters huddled together in front of their tents, warming themselves beside a bonfire in the winter air. “The referendum must not take place. The constitution came after blood was spilt. This is not how a country should be run,” said Ali Hassan, a man in his 20s. Opposition leaders want the referendum to be delayed and hope they can get sufficiently large numbers of protesters on the streets to change Mursi’s mind. Islamists, who dominated the body that drew up the constitution, have urged their followers to turn out “in millions” in a show of support for the president and for a referendum they feel sure of winning.
Opponents angered
Leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahy, one of the most prominent members of the National Salvation Front opposition coalition, said Mursi was driving a wedge between Egyptians and destroying prospects for consensus. As well as pushing the early referendum, Mursi has angered opponents by taking extra powers he said were necessary to secure the transition to stability after the uprising that overthrew Mubarak 22 months ago. “The road Mohamed Mursi is taking now does not create the possibility for national consensus,” said Sabahy. He forecast polarization if constitution were passed. The National Salvation Front also includes ElBaradei and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa. The opposition says the draft constitution fails to embrace the diversity of 83 million Egyptians, a tenth of whom are Christians, and invites Muslim clerics to influence lawmaking. But debate over the details has largely given way to street protests and megaphone politics, keeping Egypt off balance and ill-equipped to deal with a looming economic crisis. Mahmoud Ghozlan, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spokesman, said the opposition could stage protests, but should keep the peace. “They are free to boycott, participate or say no; they can do what they want. The important thing is that it remains in a peaceful context to preserve the country’s safety and security.” The disruption is also casting doubts on the government’s ability to push through economic reforms that form part of a proposed $4.8 billion IMF loan agreement.

Inside the Afghan Special Forces

Producers Erin Lyall and Nick Turner went on a patrol with the Afghan Special Forces. They interviewed an American advisor and Afghan Sergeant Major who are tasked with building a Special Forces unit in a country where none existed.

Newt Gingrich: If Hillary Clinton Runs In 2016, Republicans 'Incapable Of Competing'

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regularly brushes off the idea of a 2016 presidential bid. But if she were to run, at least one prominent Republican thinks his party would be completely outmatched. "The Republican party is incapable of competing at that level," Gingrich said during an appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press." "First of all, she's very formidable as a person," he said. "She's a very competent person. She's married to the most popular Democrat in the country; they both think [it] would be good for her to be president. It makes it virtually impossible to stop her for the nomination." In addition to having Bill Clinton's support, Hillary Clinton would also have the backing of President Barack Obama, who will still be a "relatively popular president," Gingrich added. "Trying to win that will be truly the Super Bowl." Most people agree with Gingrich's assessment. A recent Washington Post poll found that 57 percent of people would support Clinton as a 2016 presidential candidate.

US blacklists Syria's al-Nusra Front as terrorist group

The Obama administration has declared one of the Syrian resistance groups an al-Qaida front, as part of a gradual move by the US towards recognition of more moderate elements of the opposition. The State Department said the al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant, which is taking part in the fight on the ground against president Bashar al-Assad, is an alias for al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), and designated it as a "foreign terrorist organisation". The Obama administration said that AQI has been supplying money, weapons and manpower to the al-Nusra Front. Sanctions imposed as a result of the declaration against the al-Nusra Front will have almost no practical impact, other than to make travel for senior members of the group more difficult. The move is primarily diplomatic, aimed at isolating the group from what the Obama administration views as the more tolerant parts of the Syrian resistance. The move comes the day before an international conference in Morocco at which the US is expected to take further steps towards the eventual recognition of the Syrian opposition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, as other countries have done. The Obama administration has faced criticism from Republicans and from foreign affairs specialists in Washington that it risks helping extremist groups inside the resistance that are hostile to the US. An Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the transition to a post-Assad government in Syria is gathering speed, and the US did not want extremists dictating the shape of the transition. He said the al-Nusra Front rejected the vision of the mainstream Syrian opposition groups of a tolerant society and free elections. "It is an extremist organisation that has to be isolated," the official said in a telephone conference call with reporters. He said the aim was to expose the role of a-Nusra amid concern that its influence was expanding. The official hoped that countries in the region supporting the fighters would take note. In a statement issued Tuesday morning, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "Since November 2011, the al-Nusra Front has claimed nearly 600 attacks – ranging from more than 40 suicide attacks to small arms and improvised explosive device operations – in major city centres including Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Dara'a, Homs, Idlib, and Deir al-Zor. During these attacks numerous innocent Syrians have been killed. "Through these attacks, al-Nusra has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by AQI to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes. AQI emir Abu Dua is in control of both AQI and al-Nusra." Additional sanctions were also imposed against senior figures and groups inside the Assad government accused of being involved in repression.

U.S: Forget the fiscal cliff, the economy is rebounding

The fiscal cliff may be unresolved, but Americans are still upbeat about the economy, according to a TD Ameritrade survey.
In fact, 43% of Americans surveyed by the brokerage firm about their New Year's resolutions and outlook for next year said they are optimistic about 2013 and believe the economy is rebounding. That's nearly twice as many as last year.And only a third said they were uncertain about which direction the economy is headed, down from 50% a year ago. "I think people are sensing that the worst is over, especially in terms of the job and housing markets," said J.J. Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade. Among those surveyed, 45% are hopeful about their own finances as well. That's a strong show of optimism as Congress continues to wrangle over the fiscal cliff. If Washington lawmakers fail to strike a deal before the end of the year to avoid the $500 billion of scheduled tax increases and spending cuts, they risk pushing the U.S. economy into recession."Americans are hopeful that the problems in Washington will be solved by the end of the year one way or another," said Kinahan. "They've accepted that they'll see higher tax rates but are willing to find a way to make that work. On an individual basis, people are much better at managing their finances coming out of the recession." Those surveyed are also feeling positive because they are likely to get more clarity in 2013 on legislation, such as President Obama's Affordable Care Act."This year, we didn't know the rules, but over the next year, lawmakers will spell out the rules of the game," said Kinahan. "The mitigation of uncertainty presents so much opportunity." As lawmakers in Washington continue to make decisions, confidence will build among investors, and those who have remained on the sidelines waiting for clarity will make their way back into the market, said Tom Bradley, president of retail distribution at TD

Egypt crisis: Cairo crowds gather for rallies

Crowds are marching through the Egyptian capital Cairo for rival rallies as emotions run high ahead of a referendum planned for Saturday. The opposition have breached a barrier outside the presidential palace but there has been no violence. Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who called the vote to ratify a new constitution, has asked the army to maintain security. Egypt has asked the IMF to delay a loan because of political turmoil. Egypt requested the delay to the $4.8bn (£3.6bn) loan after President Morsi suspended a programme to increase taxes, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil told a news conference. The International Monetary Fund says it "stands ready to continue supporting Egypt during the ongoing transition and to consult with the authorities on the resumption of discussions regarding the [loan]. The Egyptian economy has been hard hit by nearly two years of political upheaval since the protests which toppled ex-President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Tanks and soldiers
Four separate opposition protest marches are due to converge on the presidential palace, which has been walled off with concrete blocks and ringed with tanks. Hundreds of soldiers are guarding the palace perimeter. Opposition protesters breached the temporary wall, but the BBC's George Alagiah, who is at the scene, says the Republican Guard allowed the demonstrators through. Several hundred are now in the palace compound. The military is allowed to arrest civilians but has clearly decided not to use those powers, our correspondent says. Islamist protesters who support President Morsi and the draft constitution are gathering around Tahrir Square. Protests have also been planned in the cities of Alexandria and Assiut. Public anger At least nine people were hurt early on Tuesday when shots were fired at opposition protesters in central Cairo. The opposition wants the referendum scrapped, arguing that the constitution was drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly, weakens human rights and fails to guarantee women's rights.The president has tried to calm public anger by annulling a 22 November decree boosting his powers, but has given the army powers to arrest civilians over the next few days. However, some rulings of his controversial decree - which stripped the judiciary of any right to challenge his decisions - will stand. The general prosecutor, who was dismissed, will not be reinstated, and the retrial of former regime officials will go ahead. Petrol bombs were thrown and shots fired at opposition demonstrators camping in Tahrir Square in the early hours of Tuesday. Ten people were injured, the Al-Misri al-Yawm newspaper reported. Pro-Morsi demonstrators from an umbrella group calling itself the Alliance of Islamist Forces - made of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups - were also said to be gathering at two mosques in Nasser City, a suburb of Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood was reportedly hoping for two "million-man" marches to converge in support of the referendum and the president, under the slogan: "Yes to legitimacy." Although their route was unclear, spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan told the state-owned al-Ahram newspaper that there was no plan to head for the presidential palace. Hundreds of Islamist demonstrators were also staging a sit-in outside a Cairo media complex that hosts the studios of several private TV channels, which pro-Morsi protesters accuse of bias. Seven people died and hundreds more were wounded in clashes between rival protesters outside the palace last Wednesday night.President Morsi granted the army powers of arrest on Sunday until the results of Saturday's referendum were announced, calling on the military to co-ordinate with the police in maintaining security.The police, seen as a weakened force since the fall of ex-President Hosni Mubarak, failed to intervene when anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters ransacked the Islamist movement's Cairo headquarters last week. By pressing ahead with a referendum on the constitution, the president says he is trying to safeguard the revolution that overthrew the former president last year. However, critics calling for large turnouts at Tuesday's protest accuse him of acting like a dictator. The opposition National Salvation Front has said it will not recognise the draft constitution, as it was drafted by an assembly dominated by Mr Morsi's Islamist allies. Meanwhile, Mohamed Soudan, foreign relations secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, said Mr Morsi was constitutionally bound to go ahead with Saturday's vote because the date had been announced by the constituent assembly.

Turkey 'world's worst jailer' of journalists

Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country, followed by Iran and China, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Tuesday.The number of journalists in prison reached a record high this year, as critical reporters and editors were charged with "terrorism" and other crimes against the state, the New York-based group said."We are living in an age when anti-state charges and 'terrorist' labels have become the preferred means that governments use to intimidate, detain, and imprison journalists," CPJ executive director Joel Simon said in a statement.
"Criminalizing probing coverage of inconvenient topics violates not only international law, but impedes the right of people around the world to gather, disseminate, and receive independent information." Turkey had jailed at least 49 journalists as of December 1, including dozens of Kurdish reporters held on terrorism-related charges and other journalists accused of plotting against the government, the group said. Iran had jailed at least 45 journalists by the start of this month, followed by China with 32, the report said. In all, the group identified 232 writers, editors and photojournalists imprisoned as of December 1, a "snapshot" that does not include many journalists imprisoned and released over the course of the year, it said. The total marked an increase of 53 from the same day in 2011 and the highest since the organization began its survey in 1990. The previous record of 185 journalists imprisoned worldwide was set in 1996. Rounding out the top five jailers of journalists were Eritrea, with 28 reporters behind bars, and Syria, with 15. They were followed by Vietnam (14), Azerbaijan (9), Ethiopia (6), Saudi Arabia (4) and Uzbekistan (4). The group identified a total of 27 countries as imprisoning journalists.

Turkey, Iran, China top list as record number of journalists imprisoned globally, group says

More journalists than ever are languishing in prisons across the world as countries like Turkey, Iran and China step up terror and other anti-state charges to silence critical press, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday. The group said it identified 232 writers, editors, and photojournalists behind bars as of Dec. 1, an increase of 53 from 2011 figures and a record number since the group began counting in 1990. “We are living in an age when anti-state charges and ‘terrorist’ labels have become the preferred means that governments use to intimidate, detain, and imprison journalists,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement. “Criminalizing probing coverage of inconvenient topics violates not only international law, but impedes the right of people around the world to gather, disseminate, and receive independent information,” Simon said. Turkey currently holds more journalists — 49 — than any other country, the group said. Dozens of those imprisoned are Kurdish reporters and editors held on terror-related charges and anti-government plots. The watchdog said broadly worded anti-terror and penal code statutes allow Turkish authorities “to conflate the coverage of banned groups and the investigation of sensitive topics with outright terrorism or other anti-state activity.” Iran is the second-worst jailer, with 45 journalists behind bars, the watchdog said. China is the third worst. The ruling Communist Party made “extensive use of anti-state charges to jail online writers expressing dissident political views and journalists covering ethnic minority groups.” Nineteen of the 32 journalists held in China are from the Muslim Uighur minority and ethnic Tibetan groups. The Red Sea nation of Eritrea, which faces multiple U.N.-imposed sanctions over allegations it supports al-Qaida-linked militants in neighboring Somalia, holds 28 journalists in jail, the group said. None of the journalists have ever been publicly charged or appeared before court, it said. Syria, where a bloody civil war has been ravaging for months, holds 15 journalists in jail. Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan complete the top 10 countries holding the most journalists behind bars. One journalist behind bars in Ethiopia is Eskinder Nega, who was named a winner of PEN America’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in May. He was convicted on terror charges. The Committee to Project Journalists also highlighted an improvement in Myanmar, which over the last year has pardoned a dozen journalists.

The Power In Pushtunstan

Turkey will host talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The two countries never got along as Pakistan always thought the less wealthy, less developed and less populated Afghanistan should be subordinate to Pakistan. The Afghans disagreed, even though the more powerful Pakistanis have often had their way in Afghanistan. Talking may calm things down, but won’t change the fact that the Pakistanis are much more powerful. In one area, however, Pakistani power has declined in the last decade. Afghanistan has long been the poorest nation in Eurasia and wealthier Pakistan could always get a lot done by spreading a little cash around. But since 2001 Afghanistan has been awash in foreign aid and drug gang money. These are the two largest sources of wealth in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot realty compete in that area as long as there’s so much aid and drug money in play. Instead Pakistan uses its Pushtun card, manipulating Pushtun politics to irritate and foil Afghan politicians. While Pushtuns are 40 percent of all Afghans, most Pushtuns are in Pakistan, where they are a small minority. "Pushtunstan" is a disorganized “nation” of 30 million Pushtuns caught between Pakistan (still over 150 million people) and northern Afghanistan (with about 18 million non-Pushtuns) Without Pushtuns, Afghanistan would become yet another Central Asian country with a small population (neighboring Tajikistan has 7.7 million). But Pushtunstan is never going to happen because the Pushtuns have long been divided by tribal politics and cultural differences. When the Pushtun aren't fighting outsiders, they fight each other. The violent and fractious Pushtuns are a core problem in the region, and have been for centuries. There is no easy solution to this and Pakistan likes it that way. Afghan security forces continue to take over from foreign troops and most of the foreign soldiers will be gone by end of 2014. Currently about 76 percent of Afghans are protected by Afghan security forces. This year Taliban/drug gang violence was up one percent during the warm weather (the April-September “campaigning season”) but is down three percent for the year (all compared to last year.) One noticeable difference with last year is how much less active the Taliban are in the cities. The more active Afghan police and military have driven the Taliban to use for bribes and infiltration of the security forces and more attacks on senior officials. These assassination attacks hide what is not reported. The Taliban and drug gangs are constantly using bribes or threats (whichever works best) to get cooperation from government officials, especially those commanding police or army units. NATO intelligence is constantly picking up evidence of this and trying to thwart it. But according to the latest international survey, Afghanistan is the most corrupt country on the planet (actually, it’s a tie with North Korea and Somalia). The corruption is the cause of most of the cultural, economic and political problems in Afghanistan and the corruption is not going away anytime soon. Most Afghans accept that the corruption is part of the culture and either accepts it or try to emigrate. Turning over more of the country to Afghan security forces works pretty well in the non-Pushtun north where the main antagonists are bandits and other criminal riffraff. But in the south, especially Helmand and Kandahar provinces (where most of the world heroin supply comes from) the drug gangs will pay off the cops, and even the soldiers. These bribes can be very lucrative, although it’s easier to buy the police (who are recruited locally) than the soldiers (who tend to be from the non-Pushtun north and are more hostile to the opium and heroin produced in the south and to Pushtuns in general.) The drug gangs, and all the cash they generate, are a greater threat to the government than the Taliban, who are actually a small religious movement that has been magnified by drug money. The Taliban have always used drug money, even though they officially condemn the drugs. Back in the early 1990s, when the Taliban first appeared, they were willing to let the drug gangs keep operating, for a large fee. After September 11, 2001, and the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the Taliban became employees of the drug gangs. December 10, 2012: For the second time in six months the acting as head of women's affairs in Laghman Province in eastern Afghanistan was assassinated. This was hit was carried out by two men on a motorcycle who shot the woman as she was on her way to her office in the morning. Her predecessor was killed by a bomb under her car. The Taliban took credit for this killing and warned women to stay out of school and jobs outside the home. In the west (Nimroz province) the provincial police chief was killed by a roadside bomb. Most of the terrorist violence is in the south, giving that place a murder rate similar that found in many urban parts of Africa, or American cities like New Orleans or Detroit. December 9, 2012: American and Afghan commandos freed a U.S. aid worker (an MD) who had been kidnapped on December 3rd. Negotiations were not going well and there were fears that the American captive would be killed by his kidnappers. One American commando (a member of the SEAL team that had killed Osama bin Laden) was killed during the operation. The captive had been working in the area around Kabul for the last three years, setting up and operating medical clinics. This was a popular program with most Afghans, but foreigners have long been seen in Afghanistan as a source of loot or ransom. December 8, 2012: Afghanistan accused Pakistani based terrorists of organizing the recent assassination attempt against Asadullah Khalid (Afghanistan’s head of intelligence). This was the fifth attempt on Khalid’s life in the last five years. December 7, 2012: The government is trying to get rid of a UN run independent election tribunal and replace it with one that would be easier for Afghan politicians to control. December 6, 2012: A suicide bomber, using explosives hidden in his underpants, attacked and wounded Asadullah Khalid, Afghanistan’s head of intelligence. The Taliban took credit for the attack. December 2, 2012: In the east (Jalalabad) the Taliban made a major assault on an American base (FOB Fenty) and failed. The attackers used three suicide car bombers and six other armed attackers. All nine Taliban were killed along with three Afghan security personnel outside the FOB and two civilian bystanders. December 1, 2012: In the east (Kapisa province) a young (an orphan in her early 20s) medical volunteer was murdered by a Taliban death squad. The young woman was administering polio vaccinations. Most Taliban believe women should not work outside the home and many Taliban believe the polio vaccination program is really a Western plot to poison Moslems.

US report says Kabul airport not using its currency counters to track cash leaving Afghanistan

The Washington Post
A U.S. watchdog agency says Afghan customs officials are resisting U.S. efforts to help track billions of dollars being flown out of Kabul airport every year. The United States and other nations have long expressed concern about the amount of cash being sent out of the country — an estimated $4.5 billion last year, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service. To help Afghanistan track cash moving through the airport, the U.S. purchased more than $100,000 worth of bulk currency counting equipment. In its report released on Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that its staff visited the airport in September and November but never saw the cash counters being used. Moreover, the report says VIPs — some carrying cash — continue to bypass controls.