Sunday, December 16, 2012

Video: President Obama's Newtown speech

Indian expat's book on Malala a hit in Dubai

Indian expatriate community in the UAE is praying for the quick recovery of the 15-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousuf - a victim of a terrorist attack. The teenager from Swat area of Pakistan is currently undergoing treatment at a London hospital. A leading Indian radio jockey in Dubai has expressed his solidarity with Malala Yousuf, by writing and publishing a book dedicated to her. The 100-page book in Malayalam titled Vediyundakalkku Munnilolru Shalabham [Malala- a Butterfly In Front of Bullets] narrates the young Pakistani girl’s plight and ideology. About 1,000 copies of the book, released last Friday by Kerala Finance Minister KM Mani in Dubai are already sold and the author is planning the second edition with additional inputs. Achu Ommen, daughter of Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, received the first copy. “I used to write about Malala Yousuf in Indian newspapers and later decided to publish a book about her because there was space limit in a newspaper. Malala is a representative of about 61 million children all over the world, especially in the conflict-hit regions, who cannot attend school due to a number of reasons. In Swat area of Pakistan alone, nearly 100,000 children cannot attend school due to violence and war,” says Baiju Bhaskar, News Editor, Asianet Radio, Dubai. He was earlier with Ras Al Khaimah Radio and Oxygen FM Radio Stations. The book comprises extracts from her diary and website, her interviews and speeches. “I am a Muslim and Islam allows maximum freedom to women. We start with Iqra, reading and learning and many students could not attend school due to many reasons. Even in India many girl students cannot attend school because of financial constraints. Education is crucial for development, “said Punnakkan Mohammed Ali, President, Chiranthana, a socio-political organisation that published the book. “With this book, we have expressed our solidarity with young girls. We stand against terrorism and support girls’ education,” he added. This is the 17th book published by the socio-cultural organisation. All over the world, there is a sympathy wave for the injured girl, struggling for life in the hospital bed. Malala was airlifted to the Queen Elizebath hospital in London after she was attacked on October 9 for promoting girls education. The book in Malayalam language reflects his dedication and admiration for the teenage girl, who is currently undergoing treatment in London. All over the world including India, support groups have sprung up to praise the young bold girl and if newspaper reports are to be believed, a Hindi movie is going to be made about her life. Malala has been identified as a symbol of courageous fight against militancy that stood for the rights of female education. The United Nations Organisation declared November 10, 2012 as Malala Day, as symbolic gesture to highlight the importance of female education “This book highlights our dedication to education of the female students and in our own country girls cannot attend school due to lack of fund,” he said. Punnakkan Mohammed Ali, President of Chiranthana, a socio political organization that published the book said: “The book is based on the diary entries of Malala Yousuf, who has been outspoken through her television programmes, blogs and other community activities. “In India, various political parties and youth groups like the Indian Students Unions and Democratic Youth Fronts have organized Malala solidarity meets and Malala Days on November 10, 2012. “I have finished the book on November 10, 2012. About 1000 copies of the book are already sold and only fifty copies are left,” Biju Bhaskar said. The gun attack victim is reportedly recovering from the severe bullet wounds. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari recently visited her in the hospital bed and her father Ziauddin Yusufzai, has been named the UN Education Ambassador for Global Education.

Obama consoles Connecticut town hit by school massacre

President Barack Obama
on Sunday consoled the Connecticut town shattered by the massacre of 20 young schoolchildren, lauding residents' courage in the face of tragedy and saying the United States was not doing enough to protect its children. "Surely we can do better than this," Obama told a packed high school auditorium. The emotional prayer vigil capped a day when worshippers sought solace in churches to mourn the victims of Friday's slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman used a military-style assault rifle to kill six adults and 20 first-graders before committing suicide. All the dead children were either 6 or 7 years old, feeding more emotion into a revived debate about whether stricter gun laws could prevent future mass shootings in the United States. "Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of the nation," Obama said. "I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts." Obama spoke the names of the Sandy Hook school staff members who died on Friday and lauded their courage. "They responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances. With courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care," Obama said. Parents and children filled the Newtown High School auditorium for the evening vigil. Some of the children clutched stuffed animals and Red Cross blankets issued to ward off the cold. "I think it's a good thing. I think it'll help this town begin to heal," Curt Brantl, 47, said of Obama's visit before the president spoke. "It's a sign of hope that the leader of our country comes here and shows support," said Brantl, whose daughter, Tess, 9, was at Sandy Hook during the shooting. "We're turning the corner, and there's a lot of hope now." A more detailed picture of Adam Lanza's stunning attack emerged on Sunday. Police said the shooter was armed with hundreds of bullets in high-capacity magazines of about 30 rounds each for the Bushmaster AR 15 rifle and two handguns he carried into the school, and had a fourth weapon, a shotgun, in his car outside. While townspeople grieved, investigators examined forensic evidence and scoured the crime scene in a process likely to extend for weeks. Some of the bodies have been turned over to families, state police Lieutenant Paul Vance said. "We have the best of the best working on this case. ... Our goal is to paint a complete picture so that we all know and the public knows exactly what happened here," Vance said. Painting part of that picture, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said the gunman shot his way through a school door "using several rounds" before beginning to kill adults and children inside, then killed himself as police closed in. "He discharged to make an opening and then went through it, went to the first classroom ... went to the second classroom. We surmise that it was during the second classroom episode that he heard responders coming and apparently at that, decided to take his own life," Malloy said on the ABC show "This Week."

Newtown Holds Memorial for School Shooting Victims

President Obama was greeted with a standing ovation tonight as he entered the Newtown High School auditorium for an interfaith service for the victims of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The memorial service had been delayed nearly an hour as Obama met with families of the victims -- 20 first graders and six adults -- in classrooms of the high school, but the audience sat patiently awaiting the service. The president walked in shortly before 8 p.m., gave a brief wave to the room full of parents, friends and neighbors, before taking a seat in the first row. "We needed this. We needed to be together, here in this room, in the gymnasium, outside the doors of this school, in living rooms around the world, we needed to be together to show that we are together and united," said Rev. Matt Crebbin, senior minister of the Newtown Congregational Church, who opened the ceremony. "We gather in such a moment of heartbreak for all of us in Newtown," he said. "We gather esp mindful of family and friends and neighbors among us who have lost loved ones by an act of unfathomable violence and destruction. "These darkest days of our community shall not be the final word heard from us," he said
Tragedy struck the small town Friday when Adam Lanza broke into the elementary school with a semiautomatic rifle and two handguns, and then killed 20 first graders and six school staff members before committing suicide as police arrived on the scene. The audience showed no signs of impatience, despite the delayed start. They sat quietly until a group of state police arrived at the already packed high school auditorium, but then stood to give the police a standing ovation and hugs.A short time later more police arrived, and were also greeted with applause and hugs. Assuming a consoling role that has become all too familiar for this presidency, Obama will also privately meet with some of the families affected by the tragic shooting, as well as local first responders.
The president has witnessed five mass shootings since assuming office in 2009, his reaction to this most recent tragedy in New England being his most publicly emotional. On Friday, tears collected in his eyes as he addressed the nation after the tragedy. "The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old," the president said, pausing to collect himself. "They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own." But the president has also been more directly political in the immediate aftermath of these killings, as national discussions simmer over how to move forward and what, if any, policy is needed to prevent future violence. The president said it was time for "meaningful action" to prevent such tragedies, "regardless of the politics." "We have been through this too many times, whether it's an elementary school in Newtown or a shopping mall in Oregon or a temple in Wisconsin or a movie theater in Aurora or a street corner in Chicago," he said of the other mass shootings in the past year alone. "These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children." It is a subtle but noticeable shift for Obama, who has not actively pursued stricter gun control during his four years in office despite pledges to do so during his 2008 candidacy. Although the White House says it needs support from Congress to move forward with strong legislation, it is also known that many politicians shied away to such reforms during the 2012 campaign season out of fear of alienating potential voters. In reality the Obama administration has loosened federal restrictions on Second Amendment rights in some areas, including possession in national parks and on Amtrak. But during the second presidential debate in October the president signaled that he is ready to take new action on gun control, including reintroduction of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

President Obama comes to comfort Newtown

As a community and the world awaited a vigil at Newtown High School on Sunday, President Barack Obama headed toward the epicenter of Friday morning's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six women were killed. The president, wearing a dark suit, walked down the steps of Air Force One under a light drizzle and darkening skies at Bradley Air Force Base just outside Hartford at 3:53 p.m. He then stepped into a sport utility vehicle for the motorcade to Newtown. A White House official said the president is the primary author of his speech at the 7 p.m. vigil. He was working on edits with speech writer Cody Keenan on the brief flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Connecticut.
The president purposefully boarded Air Force One just after 3 p.m. at Andrews Air Force Base. The president was followed shortly afterward by Valerie Jarrett, David Plouffe and Keenan. Also on the plane were John Larson and Rosa DeLauro, two members of Connecticut's Congressional delegation.

Has life in America gone insane?

By:CNN contributor Bob Greene
Taking attendance. That is the phrase used by the parent of a Sandy Hook Elementary School student, describing to a reporter what went on in the firehouse near the school as terrified mothers and fathers arrived in the minutes and hours after the shootings. The mothers and fathers looked anxiously for children who had lived through the shootings and had been brought into the firehouse. The surviving children and their parents found each other. But the other parents waited and waited. Their sons and daughters did not appear. And as the mothers and fathers who had been reunited with their children left the firehouse to go to their homes, a list began to be compiled. On it were the names of the boys and girls who were not accounted for.The most heart-shattering and unbearable list that can be imagined. Those 20 children, as they had left home for school earlier that day, were boys and girls who had favorite television shows, and Christmas wish lists, and jokes that only they and their families understood, and brothers and sisters they knew they'd be having dinner with.
And parents, who now waited in the rapidly emptying Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue station. There are days when it seems fair to ask if part of American life has gone irretrievably insane. A description of the scene inside the elementary school, from a law enforcement official who spoke to a reporter, was that it resembled "a killing field."That is a term of warfare, even of genocide, yet it seems not at all out of place in the context of contemporary domestic news. "We have lockdown drills," said Mary Ann Jacob, a library clerk at the school. She was explaining to reporters that the teachers, children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary, like teachers, children and staff at elementary schools all across the United States, were well versed in the advisability of preparing for a day like Friday. Lockdown drills. More than half-a-century ago, children in elementary schools were trained in so-called duck-and-cover drills: the practice of diving under desks in case of nuclear attack by foreign enemies. Even at the time, it felt kind of comical; few boys and girls really believed that enemy aircraft were going to materialize over Midwestern or Southern or West Coast skies, bearing atomic payloads -- and a schoolroom desk, even in children's eyes, didn't promise much of a shelter against a bomb. American children tended to laugh and kid through the drills. Today's enemies seem considerably more real, and the children are taught to understand that. "The kids knew the routine," the librarian said. Thus, with the gunman in the school, she led the boys and girls to the lockdown-drill location: "between some bookcases and a wall, where you can't be seen from any windows."And, because they were children, and not soldiers trained in responding to heavy weaponry, when she and her colleagues then led the children to a storeroom and locked the door, she did the only thing she could to calm them as shots rang through the school: Passed out crayons and paper. We tend to talk about terrorism in terms of potential attacks from foreign shores, but on weekends like this one we have to acknowledge that the specter of terror seems to have become a part of the very atmosphere of American life. At a movie theater in Colorado, a shopping mall in Oregon, a school in a quiet Connecticut town ... the places change, the news media gather after the bloodshed, the police piece together the sequence of events, the grief counselors mobilize. And somehow it all feels like flailing. At the end of a weekend like this one, do we feel at all secure that, having learned what we can about what has happened, the knowledge will help to prevent the next day and place of carnage? Of course not. There is an old movie that is often played on television during the holiday season; its very title bears a message of warmth and safety and affectionate December memories. "Christmas in Connecticut," the movie is called, and the words are meant to comfort and cheer. It was broadcast again nationally late last week as America settled in for what is supposed to be a season of kindness and gentle spirit. By the weekend in Connecticut, a law enforcement official, preparing to release the identities of the children who died, said that his colleagues were carefully compiling "a formal list of names, birthdates and information." A resident of Newtown told a television reporter: "Things like this just aren't supposed to happen here." No, they aren't. And "here" means not just Newtown, not just Connecticut, but this country we all share. It's not supposed to happen here. Yet it does, again and again. And, in a season of peace, a strong, no-longer-young nation, blessed with so many people of compassion and wisdom and good will, finds itself in a bleak and familiar place -- unable to answer the most basic question of all: Why?

President Obama's Weekly Address: Nation Grieves for Those Killed in Tragic Shooting in Newtown, CT

Newtown shooting: when it comes to guns and violence, America is like a failed state

Observer editorial
The Newtown shooting has inspired a rare moment of national self-reflection about the second amendment
In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness the character of Kurtz, at his life's end, has a moment of profound lucidity, which prompts his last words: "The horror." This weekend in the wake of the latest terrible mass shooting in the US, at a primary school in Connecticut, which claimed the lives of 27 innocent people including 20 children, a similar public mood appears to have taken hold, given its most powerful expression in the moving speech by a President Barack Obama on the edge of tears. It is early days yet but the first indications are that the Newtown massacre has inspired a rare moment of national self-reflection over what is obvious to outside observers: that gun control in the US has failed with horrific consequences. In a single year – as Obama articulated – the US has also seen mass killings at a Sikh temple, a shopping mall and a cinema. In America in the past 40 years, a right-driven agenda has argued for the privatisation of the individual's right to own the means of the use of lethal force and driven an extraordinary proliferation of small arms. While it is clear that the US cannot be described as a failed state, in this one crucial aspect, however, it does demonstrate the traits of one. Indeed, Americans own twice as many guns per head as unstable Yemen, the country that has the second highest rate of firearm ownership on the planet. At the heart of the issue has been a deliberate effort by the gun lobby and the US right, beginning in earnest in the mid-1970s, to redefine the second amendment of the US constitution and recast a provision designed to provide collective defence in the shape of "well-regulated" militias as a modern and absolute individual right. That process reached its conclusion when a conservative-dominated supreme court passed two recent rulings affirming this meaning. What is paradoxical about all this, as the historian Jill Lepore made clear in her excellent examination of gun control for the New Yorker earlier this year, is that the proportion of Americans owning guns has been in a steady and significant decline. Indeed, between 1985 and 2010 the prevalence of gun ownership has declined from roughly a third of Americans owning a gun to barely 20%. Yet despite that, the US, by number of guns, remains the most heavily armed in the world with one weapon for almost every citizen, not least because those who do own guns now tend to have multiple weapons. In other words, gun ownership, in political terms, has for long been a minority issue in the US, with those who do own firearms – by and large being white, older and male – monopolising a national debate. All of which suggests that Obama has been presented with a historic opportunity, should he choose to grasp it. In the outpouring of anguish and horror over the Newtown shooting one is reminded of the public reaction in the UK to Hungerford and Dunblane, which saw two significant and incremental changes to gun laws in the UK, the first banning semi-automatic weapons and the second widespread ownership of handguns. For most outside observers the answer to America's gun problem appears self-evident. It needs to begin with a reinstatement of the ban on ownership of military assault weapons that have no business being in private hands. A proper federal system of regulation, including background checks registration, and limits on the type and number of weapons an individual can own, would bring the US belatedly into line with other civilised countries, as would a determined push back against state legislation allowing the carrying of concealed weapons in public. The rate of death from firearm injuries in the US, put very crudely, at more than 30,000 a year exceeds the annual death rate in the present war in Syria. Until the US confronts the reality of its failed policies regarding ownership of firearms it will live in a recurrent nightmare where it is condemned to confront the same horror as it did on Friday at Sandy Hook elementary school.

Newtown shootings: Democrats Malloy and Feinstein seek gun controls

Two senior US Democrats have called for stricter gun control following the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children and six women died in Friday's assault on Sandy Hook school by a lone gunman who then turned his weapon on himself. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said he wanted stronger national limits. And Senator Dianne Feinstein said she would introduce a bill to ban assault weapons as soon as Congress convened. A nationwide ban on certain semi-automatic rifles in the US expired in 2004.
Bushmaster .223 rifle Identified as the semi-automatic weapon used by the Newtown gunman Allows rapid repetitive fire without the frequent need to reload Lightweight bullets fired from it reportedly travel at 3,000ft (914m) per second Rounds fired "in such a fashion that the energy is deposited in the tissue, so the bullet stays in" - Connecticut chief medical examiner H Wayne Carver Suitable "for those who want the general feel of a military weapon" - retired US Army sergeant major Eric Haney
President Barack Obama - who shortly after the school attack urged "meaningful action" against gun crime in the US - is to visit Newtown on Sunday.He will meet families and emergency service workers, and speak at an interfaith vigil at the town's high school. Ahead of his visit, a service for the victims at St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church was abandoned and the church evacuated because of an unspecified threat. Reports from Newtown now say police have given the all-clear. The gunman behind Friday's shootings has been named in media reports as Adam Lanza, who is said to have killed his mother before driving to the school, opening fire and then killing himself. The state's chief medical examiner said the gunman used a semi-automatic rifle as his main weapon, and all the victims appeared to have been shot several times, some of them at close range. Speaking on Sunday, Governor Malloy said Connecticut had an existing ban on assault weapons, but the lack of a similar law at federal level made it difficult to keep them out of the state. "These are assault weapons. You don't hunt deer with these things," he told CNN. "One can only hope that we'll find a way to limit these weapons that really only have one purpose." Governor Malloy had to break the news to most of the victim's families on Friday."You can never be prepared for that - to tell 18 to 20 families that their loved one would not be returning to them that day or in the future," he said. Senator Feinstein, who represents California in the upper house of Congress and is a long-term supporter of stricter gun control, told US TV network NBC: "I'm going to introduce in the Senate, and the same bill will be introduced in the House (of Representatives), a bill to ban assault weapons." Asked if President Obama would support her measure, she said: "I believe he will." New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another strong gun control advocate, has urged President Obama to act. "We have heard all the rhetoric before," he said. "What we have not seen is leadership - not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today." All 20 children who died in the shootings - eight boys and 12 girls - were aged between six and seven, according to an official list of the dead. were killed. The youngest, Noah Pozner, had celebrated his birthday only last month. The head teacher at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Dawn Hochsprung, was among the dead, along with adults Rachel DaVino, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Russo, Mary Sherlach and Victoria Soto. A woman who worked at the school was the only person to be shot and survive. Scores of people have left tributes at a memorial outside the school, while a minute's silence is being held before National Football League games across the US on Sunday. Connecticut State Police say the process of releasing the victims' bodies to their families is under way, and have condemned what they term "misinformation" being published on social media about the tragedy - including people wrongly claiming to be the gunman.
Hid in cupboards
The authorities now say the gunman forced his way into the school, contradicting first reports that he was been let in voluntarily.Investigators say they have gathered "good evidence" in the search for a motive, but have not given any details. The gunman is said to have shot dead his mother at their home before driving to the school in her car and opening fire on the victims. Reports say the guns found at the scene were registered to her. Education officials say they have found no link between the gunman's mother and the school, contrary to earlier reports that said she was a teacher there, the Associated Press news agency reports. Investigators said they believe Adam Lanza attended Sandy Hook many years ago. The killings took place in two rooms and a hallway within a single section of the school, police have said. The shooting lasted just a few minutes. As they heard the shots, teachers in other parts of the building tried to protect children by locking doors and ushering them into closets. Police say that children are unlikely to return to the classrooms where the shootings took place. Surviving pupils will be taught at other schools in the area while a final decision about the Sandy Hook's future is made, though one official said it was unlikely to re-open. The suspected gunman's father, Peter Lanza, said his family was "struggling to make sense of what has transpired". "Our family is grieving along with all those who have been affected by this enormous tragedy," he said in a statement. Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to the victims and their families in his weekly address at the Vatican, saying he was "deeply saddened by Friday's senseless violence". The attack at Newtown is the second deadliest shooting attack at a US school or university, after the Virginia Tech killings of 2007, which left 32 people dead and many injured.

U.S., Afghan officials discuss troops' post-2014 legal jurisdiction

In a second round of negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan here on the presence of U.S. forces beyond 2014, the two sides have held preliminary talks on legal jurisdiction over American troops, the lead American negotiator said Saturday. The U.S. has insisted that any troops serving in Afghanistan after combat forces withdraw at the end of 2014 be subject to the American, not Afghan, legal justice system, said James B. Warlick, the U.S. deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The contentious question of legal jurisdiction wrecked similar security negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq last year after Iraqi officials insisted that American troops be subject to Iraqi law. The issue is expected to be a central element in the Kabul negotiations. “I can assure you that we will require the protections necessary for our men and women in uniform and our civilian component,” Warlick said in comments to a handful of reporters from American publications at the U.S. Embassy here. “The Afghans understand that this is important.” Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has criticized the conduct of U.S. troops here and previously spoke of subjecting them to Afghan justice after 2014, recently softened his position. In comments Dec. 8, Karzai said U.S. troops might remain under American legal jurisdiction if the U.S. recognizes Afghanistan’s sovereignty and respects Afghan laws. “Once those conditions are fulfilled by the United States with us, Afghanistan is willing to consider [legal] immunity for them,” Karzai said of U.S. troops. Warlick said the bilateral security agreement under negotiation will recognize Afghanistan’s sovereignty, and the U.S. will respect Afghan laws. The negotiations, following a first round Nov. 15 and facing a deadline of Nov. 15, 2013, will determine the scope and role of any U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan after combat troops are withdrawn by the end of 2014. Warlick described the first two rounds of talks as “very collegial and in the spirit of partnership.” The second round was conducted Friday in Kabul, with the next round expected to be held early next year. The Afghan delegation is led by Eklil Hakimi, the Afghan ambassador to Washington. The U.S. envisions a “train, advise and assist” mission for its troops after 2014 in an attempt to strengthen Afghan security forces. Washington is determined to keep Al Qaeda and other militant groups from using Afghanistan to plan and launch attacks against U.S. interests. Warlick said the U.S. has negotiated status of forces agreements with more than 100 countries in which U.S. troops remain under American legal jurisdiction. U.S. officials say the Afghans have carefully studied those agreements. Warlick said U.S. service members who commit crimes in Afghanistan face prosecution in the U.S. military justice system. “It’s not a question of someone ‘getting off,’” he said. “The discussion will be one of jurisdiction.” Warlick said the negotiations will involve much more than legal jurisdiction, which will be negotiated in detail in later rounds. The talks will determine “not only a troop presence but the entire U.S. footprint in Afghanistan post-2014,” Warlick said. The U.S. seeks a defense cooperation agreement that reassures the Afghan people and is mutually beneficial, he said. President Obama will decide the number of troops and the nature of their missions, Warlick said. The White House also will determine whether the U.S. military continues to operate armed drones and drone ground control stations in Afghanistan, and whether to deploy special operations forces for counterterrorism missions. Negotiations will cover U.S. military use of Afghan airspace and military bases, Warlick said. The bases, including major military airfields at Bagram and Kandahar, will be owned by Afghanistan after 2014. U.S. and coalition forces have already turned over 330 bases and outposts to Afghan security forces as the U.S. combat mission winds down. Karzai will meet with Obama in Washington the week of Jan. 7. They are expected to discuss details of the security agreement. Asked about Afghan concerns that Pakistan is harboring and supporting Taliban insurgents who cross into Afghanistan to attack Afghan and coalition forces, Warlick said the U.S. will address those issues in the talks. “We are concerned about the sovereignty of Afghanistan and we are concerned about any threats to the security of Afghanistan’s borders,” he said. “We share the goal with Afghanistan to see a secure and stable country well beyond 2014.” The U.S. wants the final agreement to be made public, Warlick said. “There are no secrets in it,” he said.

President Karzai Assure World About Afghanistan’s Situation After 2014
Addressing the Afghan ambassadors and General Consuls President Karzai said that you are representing the culture and favor of the thousands of year’s ancient Afghanistan. The president who was talking to the ambassadors and general consuls of Afghanistan yesterday at the Foreign Ministry added that you as diplomats in your relations with foreign countries should introduce your country the same as it is. Touching on the progress of diplomacy the president stressed that the best success of the country that is praised by the people is its political and diplomatic position, while this has been attained with great costs and that is the sacrifices of the Afghan nation. While we are appreciating the world assistance in the past ten years, you should recall this to the world that they should also be appreciable to Afghanistan, because every day the Afghans are also as per the demand of the world community are giving sacrifices in the struggle against terrorism. He emphasized that it is our mission to hoist the Afghan flag in the world, keep it honorably and it is also our million the world should not forget our sacrifices, while we owes the world cooperation, the world too owe our sacrifices and this will be realized when we recall and not forget this. Touching on Afghanistan’s relations after 2014, the president said that after that year when foreign troops leave Afghanistan and the security responsibility completes, I can say with certainty that not only no hurdle will arise in our security, but this will also lead to improvement of our lives as well. He added that as the owner of our homeland, we should show our ownership to the world with all meanings, so it demanded from you that in your relations and while meeting the world media assure them of the state of situation in Afghanistan after 2014. As regards foreign policy of the country he said that Afghanistan’s foreign policy is based on multi-political dimensions, we have very good relations with the neighboring and regional countries and we tried with all costs to keep these ties strong and keep our cooperation through membership with the regional organizations. Touching on Afghanistan’s relations with the West and the US he said that both sides have tried to preserve consolidation of ties, however in our ties with the East like Russia, China, Iran, India and other countries is based on our initiatives and we want to continue this relations and we have designed our foreign relations in such a manner that both sides interests are preserved and be strong. Touching on the singing of strategic agreements with a number of countries the president added that our strategic agreements and cooperation with the world is vital for Afghanistan and undoubtedly this relation is to the interest of the people of Afghanistan, but this amicable relation can never become a threat to the national sovereignty of Afghanistan. He added that while Afghanistan is an ally of the USA, wants to have relations with Russia as well, Afghanistan wants to be a strategic ally of India and we want to have friendship with Pakistan and ties of brotherhood, but such relations should not be one-sided and we want that the friendly Pakistan based on our expectations have realistic ties with us. Foreign Minister Dr. Zalmai Rassoul also addressed the conference and described the foreign policy of Afghanistan to the participants. The conference of the ambassadors and general consuls will continue for five days.

Opinion: Women in Libya are in a state of denial regarding women’s rights in Libya

BY:Magdulien Abaida
The first thing women’s rights activists in Libya mention about women’s rights in Libya now, is that having 33 women in the parliament is somehow a measure of the “positive steps” towards women rights in Libya and should be judged as a big success. But is that assessment truly indicative of reality? Here are some facts about women’s rights in Libya under the previous regime: In theory, women and men are equal according to the Constitutional Declaration published in 1969; as well as in Qaddafi’s Green Book which was considered to be Libya’s Constitution back then, stating that “Women and men are equal, and to differentiate between women and men is a flagrant injustice and it is not justified.” However, the text also emphasises the biological differences between men and women and then states that “it’s impossible for woman and men to be equal.” But this did not stop Libyan women from demanding their rights under an authoritarian regime, and in 1996 a charter was published regarding the Rights and Duties of women in Libyan society, which stated clearly that women are equal to men and have the right to financial independence, along with women’s duty to protect and defend their country as well as their right to be in leadership positions. The Penal Code and the Criminal Code are applied equally on women and men. However, Article No. 375 of the Penal code minimises the punishment for a man who kills a female family member in an honour crime; whilst if a man sexually abuses a female family member , the punishment will not exceed two years in jail. Worse, most of these horrific crimes are not reported to the police due to the familial pressure of custom and tradition, (this law is still applicable). In addition, there are no laws to protect women from domestic violence or street harassment. Although Libya signed in 1989 the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) agreement, it did not approve Article No. 2. This stated that the states parties of the CEDAW agreement shall embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions and adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women. It also stated the need to establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men in Article No 16, points B and C. Point B states that women have the same right to freely choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent. Point C asserts that women have the same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution; justifying their rejection on the basis that these articles are against Islamic Sharia. However, not one of the CEDAW Articles has been implemented in Libyan law up to this date, and it is interesting to note that Libya has delivered two reports to CEDAW in 1991 and 2008 regarding women’s rights in Libya and to answer CEDAW committee questions in regards to women’s rights in Libya – which is available on line at . For example, orphaned women in Libya are living as if they are in a jail. Hakki Organisation (“My Right”) visited their building in Tripoli on the International Women’s Day on 8 March 2012. They faced security problems and needed to get permission to visit and eventually only got to meet the director at the orphanage, Ms. Zainab H. She said, “I cannot let you see the girls and their rooms, I will be in big trouble if I do.” We discovered after that she had to resign after she was conveniently accused of being pro-Qaddafi. As far as we know, nothing has changed in this orphanage to date. Divorce in Libya is a big issue. Although Libyan law made it easier for women to get divorced, the law has several limitations. For example, if a woman fails to give a “reasonable reason” for asking for a divorce, she not only has to give up her financial rights, but also she must give up the custody of her own children, sometimes having to pay the man financial reimbursement for the “damage” of divorcing him. In case the woman does succeed in giving a “reasonable reason,” she can keep her children and the ex-husband is held responsible for their financial needs. However, most men avoid this responsibility after telling the judge they are not capable of paying the amount although it doesn’t usually exceed LD 80 per month. However, if the woman decides to get married again, the ex-husband has the right to take her children away. It is for these reasons many women would rather suffer for the sake of their children than get a divorce and add to their hardship. There is also pressure from the woman’s family which often prevents her from getting divorced. The Hakki Organisation, of which I am a founding member, has interviewed one woman who got divorced. She had to give up her children and had to pay LD 1,000 to her ex-husband just so that he would agree to divorce her, after he destroyed her reputation in a conservative society. It is important to mention that when she stood in front of the judge and told him “My husband beats me and rapes me every day, I don’t want to live with him anymore,” the judge said to her “Huuuuush lower your voice, how can you say your husband rapes you, he is your husband?!” Rape by marriage, is not recognised as a rape crime in Libyan law. It is also worth mentioning that the legal age of marriage in Libya is 20 years old for women although she can get married before that if the court gives her permission. This law was set to prevent the early marriage of women due to family pressure. There is a concern by some women’s rights activist that this law could be changed in the new Libya after justifying that it is not according to Islamic Sharia Law. Under current Libyan law, women and men are free to travel within or outside the country. Women do not need any kind of permission to travel outside the country. This is another worrying point that women’s rights activists, including myself, are afraid could be changed. This is especially so after the remarks that were made by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former NTC head, during Libyan Liberation Day. In that famous speach he stated that “all laws shall be reviewed and any law against Islamic Shari’a shall be a question of discussion.” Rape is a very complicated crime, and Libyan law forces the rapist to marry the victim, in order to save her “honour.” Most women end up getting married to their rapist, at least for couple of months, in order to justify her loss of virginity with a divorce paper. Virginity itself is a big issue in an Islamic culture. In the beginning of the 1990s, women in Libya were allowed to participate in the judiciary, and it has become possible for a woman to be a judge and the attorney general. This may change if Libya applies the full extent of sharia law. In 2003, women were allowed for the first time to be part of the traffic police, as well as join the military and there were female-only military and police colleges, which have been occupied since the liberation by militias, and we don’t know what has happened to the students who were studying there. So in summary, up to this date there has been no change to Libyan laws concerning women, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be speaking up about it. We are worried that the rights of Libyan women, after fighting for the gains we have made, will be changed under the name of sharia Law. To say that women’s rights are better now just because we have 33 women in the GNC does not really mean women are enjoying their rights. If it wasn’t for the election law which required that women had to be on the party lists, we would only have one women in the parliament by now - Amina Mahmoud Takhtakh who ran as an individual candidate and won because people voted for her. She represents Bani Walid however, and it is important to note that this Congresswoman is unable to attend the GNC meetings as she is in hiding from the militias, after speaking out against the attack on Bani Walid which took place last September. After all of this, I can say women’s rights activists are seriously living in a state of denial about women rights in Libya, if they think anything so far has really been “gained.” There is a very long way to go before women are truly equal to and free from men in Libya.
Magdulien Z. Abaida lives in the UK and is a human rights activist and a founding member of the Hakki Organisation.

We have to forget that India and Pakistan are enemies.

Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik, who flown back on Sunday, thinks both the countries have moved much beyond merely sharing 'dossiers' on fugitives and key 26\11 accused. He says a lot of investigation has been done at Islamabad's end which could soon see conviction of the conspirators. During his short visit of less than 48 hours, he had not only ruffled many feathers by touching usual 'irritants' but also extended his wish-lists which he considers important for carrying forward friendly relationship. He wants India to do away with 'police reporting' clause in visa system. In an interview to TOI, he expressed his desire for a kind of relationship where citizens from both sides can even travel across the border (Wagah\Attari) in their private cars having smart cards and GPRS system to certain restricted areas.
Q. Both the countries had signed the new visa agreement over three months ago. India was ready to implement it in October. What is the reason for this delay in implementing it from Pakistan's side? How will the liberalized visa system be beneficial?
A. Even we were eager to implement it quickly. I had to come (for the launch of the agreement) but I could not come earlier. Secondly, if you are going to implement certain agreement, you have to set up a mechanism for this. I wanted to approve registered travel agents under ITTA (International Travel and Tourist Agency) guidelines as I did not want to face the charge of favouring certain operators. All these took time. The new visa regime will increase people-to-people contact which is a prerequisite to remove misunderstandings.
Q. What other steps you think are important to facilitate more people-to-people contract and travel to each other's country?
A. As a next step, I have even suggested during meetings that we should even do away with the system of 'police reporting' clause in visa. I don't think it is important to carry on with such a system in this electronic age where tracking of each-other nationals through computerized immigration checking system has become much easier. There is a suggestion from my side that we should reach a point where citizens from both sides can even travel across the border (Wagah\Attari) in their private cars having smart (security) cards and GPRS system to certain restricted areas.
Q. Your remark that both the countries should forget the past and move on to bring an era of peace and friendship for future generations is appreciated but at the same time it also raises a question whether Pakistan only wants to forget 26\11 and Kargil. Why can't it move further back in the past and forget Kashmir and UN resolution on it?
A. We have to forget that India and Pakistan are enemies. We are converging on Kashmir. It is a part of composite dialogue between the two countries. We are not forgetting 26/11. I never said forget the incidents. I said forget feeling of animosity. Let's create an era of brightness. I have found great hope between people of both the countries. Incidents are happening because we were not every close.
Q. There doesn't appear to be any progress on the ground despite promises made by Pakistan on anti-terror measures. How can you expect progress in other fields?
A. How many things have happened after Bombay blasts (Mumbai terror attack)? Whenever India has said it suspected some area we have searched and even shared information. Intelligence to intelligence, ministry to ministry, government to government...everybody is interacting. With interaction comes friendship. All incidents that are happening can be averted with friendship. You are spending millions we are spending millions (on security). We have to fight poverty and extremism. At government level, we have done many things. Now people-to people contact will clear misunderstandings. We have created a situation for this now.
Q. People keep hearing about dossier on Hafiz Saeed (LeT chief and one of the key 26\11 conspirators). Pakistan appears to be reluctant to get to the bottom of the conspiracy behind the terror attack specifically when all evidence are there on Pakistani soil. Why there is no progress?
A. We have move quite a far from dossier. We have done investigation which even your agencies have appreciated. We have done the investigation and submitted it to our Court where the trial is going on. The Court had formed the Judicial Commission. I have to follow my Court. My Court says until and unless and I repeat until and unless the witnesses are cross-examined they cannot proceed further. I can say with certainty that the trial would have been completed by now if the Judicial Commission from Pakistan had been allowed to cross-examine the four crucial Indian witnesses in the Mumbai attack case when it had visited India (in March, 2012). With the Indian government agreeing to let in the Commission visit Mumbai and cross-examine the witnesses "very soon", the trial in Pakistan (of Lashkar commander Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and six other accused) would be concluded swiftly.
Q. You must have discussed these issues when you met Indian delegation here. Would you please spell out those details?
A. I have discussed many things and raised certain issues. I told them that India should share all the details of investigation done at its end...Abu Jundal (who had coordinated the Mumbai terror strikes of Ajmal Kasab and nine other Laskhar terrorists from the Karachi control room) is an Indian. We are also curious as to how he and others landed in Pakistan. He was a known criminal. He worked as a source of an Indian intelligence agency. I am not saying this. He himself has said so. I have seen records...We have to figure out all these...whether non-state actors from the two sides are acting at the instance of a third power. You are aware that things had taken an alarming turn, with both countries massing their troops on the border. Things would have been worse if the leadership on both sides had not shown maturity.
Q. You remarks on Babri Masjid drew lot of attention. A cross-section of people thinks you shouldn't have raised India's internal matter. Your remarks mentioning 9\11, 26\11, Samjhauta Express blasts and Babri Masjid demolition issue in the same breath created unease even among those who are strongly advocating for peace between the two countries. What you have to say about this?
A. There is no comparison, whatsoever, between Babri mosque demolition and 26/11 attacks. Babri mosque was actually ethnic. It was a sectarian strife... It should not be taken in a negative way. I have no intention to interfere in the inter-faith matter. Pakistan itself is a victim of inter-faith clashes, sectarian strife. There have been Shia-Sunni clashes in Pakistan. My intention was not to create confusion but sound caution to the both countries. I am not a kind of person who would interfere in somebody's religion or inter-faith matters but a person who goes out and leads on issues of communal harmony. So, I said like the incidents of 9/11, people dying in Quetta, our Shia and Sunni people are being killed in Karachi. I (had) also said incidents like Mumbai blasts, Babri Masjid case, I am repeating it here and please do not take it in a negative way, we do not want that these things should happen in any region of India and Pakistan. Religious violence often leads to extremism and every efforts should be made to check it.

Egypt rights groups say vote marred by violations

Associated Press
Key Egyptian rights groups are calling for a repeat of the first round of a constitutional referendum on grounds that the vote was marred by widespread violations. Representatives of the seven groups told a news conference that Saturday's vote in 10 of Egypt's 27 provinces lacked sufficient supervision by judges. They alleged Sunday that some individuals falsely identified themselves as judges, that vote counting was not witnessed by monitors and some women were prevented from voting. The claim of widespread violations came only hours after President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brother group claimed that a majority of Egyptians who voted on a proposed Islamist-backed constitution have approved the document. Turnout was unofficially estimated at around 32 percent. The second round of voting on the charter is planned for Saturday Dec. 22.

Obama to join Newtown mourners

Worshippers filled Sunday services to mourn the victims of a gunman's elementary school rampage that killed 20 children and six adults with President Barack Obama due to appear later at an interfaith vigil to help this shattered Connecticut town recover. Twenty-year-old gunman Adam Lanza shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Friday morning, firing away at students at staff with the civilian version of a powerful military rifle. Victims were hit multiple times and at least one was shot 11 times, authorities said. All the dead children were either 6 or 7 years old, feeding more emotion into a revived debate about whether stricter gun laws could prevent future mass shootings in the United States. "If this doesn't shake the consciousness of the country about doing better to protect our children, I don't know what will," said Pedro Segarra, mayor of Hartford, the state capital. A light mix of snow and freezing rain greeted worshippers on a cold and gray morning, church parking lots filled with cars. On Saturday, Jews gathered at Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown to express their disbelief at the massacre and show support for the survivors. Obama was scheduled to attend an interfaith vigil with the families of the victims starting at 7 p.m. EST (0000 GMT). At the Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church, early Mass was packed. The priest's announcements at the end included news that the Christmas pageant rehearsal would go on as planned, but without 6-year-old Olivia Engel, killed on Friday before she could play the role of an angel. Makeshift memorials that began appearing in the hours after the shooting continued to grow on Sunday and new ones kept emerging in this affluent town of 27,000 people surrounded by wooded hills about 80 miles from New York City. The largest memorial, festooned with flowers and teddy bears, sat at the end of Dickenson Drive where Sandy Hook Elementary stands, and residents and visitors streamed past a police roadblock to add to it. At the memorial, a woman knelt down and sobbed violently. As the children walked down the street in the rain, carrying their toys and signs, a man sat on the back on his parked car playing a mournful tune on a violin to accompany them. Further up the street, an American "Flag of Honor" hung with the names of the dead. Poinsettias, roses and lilies lay beneath it, alongside candles and stuffed animals. "This is a time to come together," said Carina Bandhaver, 43, who lives in nearby Southbury. The children who survived will not have to return to the scene of the massacre when school reopens later this week and instead will attend classes at an unused school in a neighboring Connecticut town about 7 miles, school officials said. Classes elsewhere in the town would resume Tuesday, except at Sandy Hook. GUN DEBATE Connecticut's Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy on Sunday became the latest public figure to call for new gun control measures. "These are assault weapons. You don't hunt deer with these things," Malloy said on the CNN's "State of the Union." Gun rights advocates have countered that Connecticut already has among the strictest gun laws in the nation. Obama's appearance will be watched closely for clues as to what he meant when he called for "meaningful action" to prevent such tragedies. The president arrives after authorities released the names of the dead on Saturday and more details emerged about the victims and the rampage itself. After killing his mother, Nancy Lanza, at home, Adam Lanza shot his way into the school and started firing at the children, most if not all with a powerful rifle - a military-style Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine - at close range. He also killed six adult women at the school and himself, putting the death toll at 28. Malloy, referring to the shooter, said: "We know that he was a troubled individual, and that he went to school with a number of weapons which he used on his victims and ultimately used on himself. ... I'm sure we'll come to know more about him and his problems and his family." Lanza had struggled at times to fit into the community and his mother Nancy pulled him out of school for several years, to home-school him, said Louise Tambascio, the owner of My Place Restaurant, where his mother was a long-time patron. His father, Peter Lanza, issued a statement saying the family was in a "state of disbelief." "We too are asking why," the statement said. Nancy Lanza legally owned a Sig Sauer and a Glock, both handguns commonly used by police in addition to the long gun, according to law enforcement officials. U.S. lawmakers have not approved a major new gun law since 1994, and they let a ban on certain semiautomatic rifles known as assault weapons expire in 2004. Malloy lamented that the assault ban was allowed to lapse. He also said a lot of guns used in crimes in his state were actually purchased in other states and brought to Connecticut. Though Americans have seen many mass shootings over the years, the victims have rarely been so young. An appalled and grieving nation learned more about the dead. Emilie Parker, another of the child victims, was studying Portuguese with her father, Robbie Parker, who opened up about his daughter in an emotional news conference in which he turned both glowing and teary. "This world is a better place because she has been in it," Parker said. Vicki Leigh Soto, 27, saved her first-grade students' lives by putting herself between the kids and the gunman. Britain's Independent on Sunday newspaper splashed her photo on its front page with the caption "The Heroine of Sandy Hook."

Egypt 'narrowly backs' charter in first round

Egypt :Referendum campaigns resume

Following the first phase of the constitutional referendum political groups are looking ahead to the second stage. Campaigns for and against the constitution continue, with political groups doing their best to raise awareness in the 17 governorates yet to vote. Some groups have picked up the pace of their campaigns, while others are sticking to their initial plans. “We have so far distributed 60,000 flyers in Beheira, 35,00 in Kafr Al-Sheikh, 60,000 in Fayoum and 30,00 in Minya,” Mohamed Adel, spokesperson of the 6 April Youth Movement (Ahmed Maher Front) said. Adel added that the movement’s target is to distribute around 45,000 flyers per governorate. The flyers list reasons why voters should reject the draft constitution. Apart from the flyers, 6 April also arranges popular conferences where projectors are used to display videos about the constitution. Strong Egypt Party (SEP) is also strongly involved in anti-constitution campaigns. The party’s spokesperson, Mohamed Al-Mohandess, stated that the SEP is present among the people in the same manner they adopted before the first round of the referendum. “It will be difficult to shift the results of the referendum towards ‘No’ during the second phase,” Al-Mohandess said, “but the difference in percentage between both votes is not that big; we shall do our best.” According to the Freedom and Justice party’s count, preliminary results of the first stage suggest that “Yes” votes made up 56.5 per cent of the vote. The National Salvation Front (NSF) states that “No” votes made up 66.5 percent. Al-Dostour Party, one of the NSF members, is resuming a nation-wide campaign. “We believe that the first phase of the referendum witnessed large-scale rigging,” said Ahmed Al-Hawary, member of Al-Dostour Party’s steering committee. He added that the announced turn-out, almost 30 per cent, is disappointing. “While campaigning, we will call for repeating the first stage of the referendum.” Al-Dostour Party’s campaign includes door to door visits and TV commercials. Al-Hawary stated that due to a tight budget, party members are usually forced to campaign at their own expense. Pro-constitution campaigns are also moving forward. The FJP is still counting on their initial campaign entitled “With the Constitution, the Wheel of Production Will Spin.” The campaign mainly revolves around distributing copies of the draft constitution among the remaining 17 governorates (to counteract the alleged distribution of misleading counterfeit copies), as well as holding symposiums and popular meetings. “Usually, Constituent Assembly members, who drafted the constitution, attend our events,” said Ahmed Sobei, FJP spokesperson. Al-Nour party is also holding similar events to “enlighten” voters about the advantages of the constitution and answer to the “alleged shortcomings,” stated party high board member Sha’ban Abdel Alim. He added that the party is now working at the same pace it has been throughout the campaigning process. Al-Wasat Party is also campaigning in favour of the constitution, chiefly by holding workshops to educate its members and travelling the country. “The members’ morale has definitely improved now that we’ve won the first phase,” Amr Farouk, the Al-Wasat Party’s spokesperson, said, “it’s like we’ve won the first half of the match.” The referendum on the constitution began 15 days after the draft was finalised, upon President Mohamed Morsy’s decree. Several political groups, especially those in the NSF, reject the draft constitution and the swift referendum held on it.

Protests Flare in Bahrain After King's Speech

Activists in Bahrain say police have fired tear gas at anti-government protesters who took to the streets after an annual address by the Gulf nation's king. The sporadic clashes took place shortly after King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa called for unity Sunday in a speech for the kingdom's national day. They highlight the country's sharp divides after more than 22 months of near nonstop unrest between the Sunni monarchy and the country's majority Shiites, who seek a greater political voice. Acting head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Yousef al-Muhafedha says hundreds of protesters were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas in a neighborhood near the capital Manama. Elsewhere, masked youths blocked roads with burning tires. Protest groups are calling for large-scale marches later this week.

Prayer begins early Sunday as Newtown searches for meaning

The time for prayer came early Sunday morning for many as the town awaits the arrival of President Obama and as officials plan to release more information about the gunman in the school shooting. As early as 7:30 a.m., residents were streaming into area churches to find some sense of meaning from the Friday morning massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six adults dead. Gunman Adam Lanza, 20, also killed his mother and himself. "This is, this is mental illness, you know, dressed in evil, I suppose," Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "And it just, you know, it just overwhelms the community, overwhelms the state, and obviously as we sit here Sunday morning, it overwhelms the nation."He said one church would be handling eight funerals in the coming days. While mourners left flowers and candles at sidewalk shrines on their way to morning services, debate raged Sunday morning on airwaves and Twitter feeds over how to stop another tragedy like this from happening. "When someone can use an assault weapon to enter a building -- actually shoot out that which was preventing him getting in the building, have clips of up to 30 rounds on a weapon that can almost instantaneously fire those -- you have to start to question whether assault weapons should be allowed to be distributed the way they are in the United States," Malloy said. Officials believe that Lanza, a socially troubled 20-year-old, took his mother's legally purchased guns and shot his way into the school. Law enforcement sources told the Hartford Courant that they found Nancy Lanza's body in bed at her home, where she lived with her son. Police also said they were analyzing a hard drive from Adam Lanza's computer that had been broken into pieces. On talk shows, the topic turned to whether banning assault rifles or high-capacity magazines was the answer. On NBC's "Meet The Press," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) said she would introduce a bill proposing another assault weapons ban on the first day of the new session of Congress. "Look at the level of violence in our media and video games, the depiction of these assault weapons again and again. There might well be some connection between people with a mental disability” who idealize themselves as a video game character and want to use assault weapons," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said during a Sunday interview on CNN. The National Rifle Assn.'s normally active Twitter account has been silent since the shooting. Betsy Fischer Martin, an executive producer for "Meet The Press," tweeted: "We reached out to ALL 31 pro-gun rights Sens in the new Congress to invite them to share their views on @meetthepress - NO takers."

Obama once again cast in role of comforter-in-chief
President Obama will arrive NEWTOWN, Conn. Sunday to meet family members of those killed in Friday’s shooting rampage, carrying out the awful rituals of mass death and national grief for his fourth time in just four years as president. The president will meet with the families of the 27 victims of Friday’s shooting, including the 20 small children slain inside their elementary school. Obama will then speak at an interfaith vigil in the evening in Newtown.

Source: Obama to tap Kerry to be next secretary of state

President Obama has decided to nominate Sen. John Kerry to be the next secretary of state and could make a formal announcement as early as next week, a Democrat who spoke to Kerry told CNN Saturday.
The expected nomination follows U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's decision to withdraw her name from consideration for the post. She dropped out of the running Thursday after weeks of criticism from Republicans about statements she made about the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. If confirmed by the Senate, Kerry would replace current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plans to leave her post within the administration. Kerry, the senior senator from Massachusetts and the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nominee, is noted for the experience, gravitas and relationship-building skills that could help him succeed as the United States' top diplomat. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, recently jokingly referred to Kerry as "Mr. Secretary." In his current role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry has traveled the globe on behalf of the Obama administration to mend frayed relationships. Most notably he has traveled to Pakistan after a series of incidents, including the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, that had set relations back. World travel is second nature to Kerry, 69. Born in Denver, he spent much of his childhood overseas, living in Berlin before going to a Swiss boarding school at age 11. After graduating from Yale University in 1966, Kerry was deployed to Vietnam as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Kerry served as a gunboat officer on the Mekong Delta, earning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Upon his return home in the early 1970s, Kerry gained public recognition as the head of the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War and for his anti-war testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 1972, Kerry ran his first campaign, a losing effort for a congressional seat in Massachusetts. He eventually entered politics in 1982 as lieutenant governor under Gov. Michael Dukakis. Two years later, Kerry won the U.S. Senate seat he has held for five consecutive terms. The Vietnam experience came back to haunt Kerry during the 2004 presidential election. A Republican-funded group called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" aired campaign ads accusing Kerry of lying to receive two of his five combat decorations and criticizing his anti-war activism. Incumbent President George W. Bush won the Electoral College vote 292 to 252 and racked up 3 million more votes than Kerry. After winning his fifth Senate race in 2008, Kerry took over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the following January. If nominated by the president and confirmed by his colleagues in the Senate, Kerry would leave Congress, and Deval Patrick, Massachusetts' Democratic governor, would appoint a replacement. By state law, a special general election is required to take place 145 to 160 days after a vacancy occurs. So if Kerry were nominated, confirmed, and then stepped down on January 21 (Inauguration Day), the election would take place between June 14 and June 29, with primary elections being held six weeks earlier. Whoever wins the special election would serve the final year and a half of Kerry's term and would then be able to run again for a full six-year term in office in the 2014 midterm elections. Patrick says it's too soon to say whether he'll name a caretaker or appoint someone who would run in the special election. But a Democratic strategist in Massachusetts says Patrick is under pressure to avoid naming a caretaker, in hopes of preventing a divisive primary. The strategist told CNN that both Rep. Ed Markey and Rep. Michael Capuano have already separately met with Patrick to ask for the appointment if Kerry's seat does open up.

Being a non-believer in Pakistan

Deutsche Welle
A recent report says that Pakistan is one of the seven countries in the world where atheists face discrimination and persecution. DW talks to Pakistani non-believers about their lives in the Islamic Republic. The Freedom of Thought 2012 report, issued this week by the Netherlands-based International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), states that non-believers in many Islamic countries suffer discrimination and can even be executed if their beliefs become known to the public or state authorities. The IHEU - a union of over 100 humanist, rationalist, secular, atheist and free thought organizations - conducted its survey across some 60 countries. While non-believers are also legally and culturally discriminated against in many secular Western countries, the results showed that persecution was becoming increasingly acute in non-secular Islamic nations. The expression of atheistic views or anti-religious ideas can even bring with it a death sentence in Afghanistan, Iran, the Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, the report noted. Pakistani experts say that discrimination against non-believers has gradually increased in their country, which was once also known for its rebellious secular student movements, Marxist poets and painters, and non-conformist political leaders. They claim things have changed for the worse in the Islamic country.
History of religious tolerance
Blasphemy, or the insult of Prophet Mohammad, is an extremely sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where 97 percent of its 180 million people are Muslims. But the issue of blasphemy in Pakistan is generally limited to religious minorities like the Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis; it does not always involve atheists and agnostics with affiliations to the majority Muslim community. The voices of Pakistani non-believers are never heard in public. Pakistani atheists and religious skeptics are in a minority. They are mostly educated people from an urban background. Typically, they might be non-conformist poets, scholars, students, and political and human rights workers. Experts say that there was a time when Pakistani non-believers had more freedom to express their views. With the growth of Islamic extremism - particularly after the Afghan War of the 1980s - the culture of intellectual debates and tolerance levels towards atheists, started withering. Dr. Muhammad Ali Siddiqui, a veteran literary critic and academic in Karachi, told DW that in the 1950s and 60s, Pakistani religious clerics were very tolerant towards non-believers. He said that both groups would indulge in positive intellectual debates to prove their positions on religion and God. He regretted that the age of ideological tolerance in Pakistan was over. "Before the Partition of India, religious leaders like Hasrat Mohani would respect atheists and atheism. Even after Pakistan's independence, religious leaders and common Pakistanis would not discriminate non-believing people," Siddiqui said, adding that things started to change after the 1970s and Islam's extreme forms took control of the society.
Rejection of faith
But how is it being a non-believer now in a country which is mostly in news for suicide bombings perpetrated by Islamists, lynching of religious minorities, blasphemy allegations against non-Muslims, violence against women, and anti-US rallies? "I used to be a Muslim in the early 1990s but as time progressed, I lost faith in religion and believed in God or some supernatural power," A. Zaman, a student of philosophy and literature in Karachi, told DW. "In the early 2000s, I got a chance to interact with some people from the US online, and also met people in real life, who generally said things that made me question the idea of God." Islamic extremists do not believe in debates, experts Zaman said that it was the British writer Bertrand Russell's book "Why Am I Not A Christian," which turned him into a complete atheist. Expressing such ideas in Pakistan requires diplomacy. "When I started expressing my views, some of my friends had no problem with them at all. Some joked about them, some tried to convince me that there was a God, some said I was following Satan," he said. "But now, I try to keep a low profile and only disclose my ideas in the company of people I really trust." Reminiscing about his transformation from a Muslim to an agnostic, A. Hassan, a young Pakistani English poet, told DW he never felt connected to the rituals of Islam. He said that when he started sharing his thoughts with his friends, they were mostly taken as a joke. "Some of them glibly told me that this is a 'phase' that I am going through and that it will soon pass," said Hassan, adding that his family had been quite stern. "They did not take kindly to this idea and have been (successfully) pressuring me into keeping it all under wraps." Hassan, who lived in the US as a student, told DW that he was told upon his return to Pakistan that he should be very careful about what he said. "The threats (to non-believers) are quite real in Pakistan."
Secular Pakistan
Both Zaman and Hassan are of the view that Pakistan should be a secular state where religion plays no role in the public life. They say that they mean no offence - a point reaffirmed by a Pakistani atheist in Islamabad who spoke to DW on condition of anonymity. "We are non-religious people but we are also secular and respect all faiths. But it is our right not to believe in religion and god." "Pakistan was founded upon secular ideals and that's what it needs the most today," said Hassan. For his part, Zaman said that only secular education could end discrimination against non-believers and non-Muslims in Pakistan. "There is no doubt that Pakistan should be a secular state;" he said. "But extremist people will kill anyone who wants to change Pakistan's religious laws. We should definitely strive for a tolerant Pakistan, a tolerant Pakistan for everyone."

Bacha Khan Airport operational after cancellation of 20 flights
Bacha Khan Airport located in the provincial capital Peshawar has successfully resumed its operation after closure over damage done in an orchestrated terrorist attack on Saturday night.
The airport was cleared after thorough search for remains of the attack that could have been harmful for the facility. Earlier, the Air Chief Marshal, Tahir Rafique Butt briefed called Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf and briefed him on the situation. The PM hailed prompt action of the security forces, saying he’s proud of them. News reports said that more than 20 flights were cancelled owing to the incident that reportedly left 14 people dead and 42 injured and caused serious damage to the wall of the airport.

Peshawar: Polio hero born from personal tragedy

"My heart bleeds when I see my son crawling on the ground, unable to walk and play with his brother and sister despite his urge to stand on his feet ," said Samina, mother of two-year's old Fahad, a polio victim from the Khyber Agency. Fahad's family lives in Jalozai Camp in abject conditions along with thousands of other internally displaced persons from Khyber, Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies in shabby tents without any proper sanitation and other basic facilities. Samina in her early twenties said that "For one week, we did not know that he had been affected by polio and thought that he could not walk due to weakness caused by severe temperature," Later, my husband took him to a doctor in Peshawar, where it was confirmed that he had been affected by Polio." "Gone are the days when I used to enjoy life and was a lively person. I haven't laughed since my child was hit by polio," says Fahad's farther, Muhammad Usman, adding that, "No words can describe my feelings when I watch my two years old son cannot walk and enjoy life." A driver by profession with meagre economic resources, 25 year's old Usman took Fahad to various doctors and spiritual healers for treatment, which has no known cure. Usman said that he lives in a mud house at tehsil Bara with 35 family members adding that he has no income sources as businesses in Khyber Agency were badly affected due to on-going conflict in the region. He said that Polio teams had not visited Bara since 2007 and maintained that lack of awareness about routine and polio vaccination resulted in Fahad ending up as a Polio victim. Usman, now acts as an advocate for polio eradication and actively participates in awareness raising activities, working to prevent hundreds of young children from the fate his own child has suffered. Speaking to community members at the Jalozai camp, Usman said that "In my neighbourhood, we have seven polio victims, but nobody took pain to inform others of the miseries of polio, had they informed others of the disease, it would have been prevented".

Ahmadi graves desecration: The death of conscience

By: Faiza Mirza
When one is sitting thousands of miles away from Pakistan, every horrifying story and news event come across as more malicious than ever. Perhaps, living in safer countries, where rights are mutually respected and accepted, puts things into clearer perspective. There are times when I want to question God about why I opened my eyes into a society where religion is taken as a point of differentiation? Why was I born in a country where religious places are bombed? Why was I made to be a part of a society in which people continue to disrespect and kill others who are diverse and different? It is unfortunate that many amongst us continue to kill for religion, money and power, however, what is most unfortunate is that we have stopped paying respects to the dead as well. The desecration of an Ahmadi graveyard in Lahore is a prime example of the brutal death of Pakistan’s conscience. Religious bigots who continue to consider themselves as saviors of the Muslim brotherhood fail to realise that desecrating graves is not exactly aligned with the teachings of Islam. What purpose does this grotesque act serve rather than further disrespecting the dead, lying six feet under the ground seeking the peace that they could not get in the sanctuary of their own country? Is it not enough that fanatics disallow the Ahmadi community to live peacefully in Pakistan, that now they must destroy their final resting places? It is admonishable that the culprits were not even arrested for the repulsive acts that they have committed. Where were the law enforcing agencies and what happened to the caretakers of the graveyard? No matter what faith you belong to, it is impossible to not wonder about the families of the people whose graves were disrespected in the most obscene of ways. Most of us are nothing more than living corpses who neither feel nor understand the pain of hundreds of suffering non-Muslims and Muslim minorities living in Pakistan. More tragic is the fact that our respected Chief Justice, the custodian of human rights, fails to take any action against the mistreatment of living — and now also dead — minorities. If there ever was a suo moto action to take against anything, it would be this. Discouraged by the law and order situation and the ubiquity of religious fundamentalism in Pakistan, many Ahmadis have been forced to migrate to other countries in the hope of being treated on equal footings with other people in the society. An Ahmadi who now lives in Toronto shared his views on the incident, on condition of anonymity, “I am not at all surprised to hear that the intolerance has penetrated so deeply into the roots of our society. How can you expect militants and fundamentalist to respect the people who have left this world for good when they do not feel any pain for people who are alive? My family left Pakistan in the early 1990s because we were literally hounded by clerics and people who supported them. We would receive threatening letters about how if we do not accept the ‘one and only true form of Islam’ we would be killed or worse, our daughters would be raped because according to them sexually assaulting an Ahmadi woman was not considered a crime.” “Fundamentalists believe that we use excuses such as the one I just mentioned to seek asylum in foreign countries. That is certainly not the case. Nobody wants to leave their country and everything that they possess and start from scratch. But most of us are not left with any option,” he said, tears glistening in his eyes. Neither any social class nor any age is taken into consideration when it comes to the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan. Adults and children alike are mistreated for their differing religious beliefs. Workplaces, playgrounds and even schools are used as platforms to spread hatred about them. Educational institutes primarily top the list of miscreants who aim to indoctrinate young minds by filling them with hatred for anyone who does not conform to their religious standards. Many Ahmadi students have been expelled from colleges and universities without any rhyme or reason whereas, others are abused with degrading and hurtful words. It is most ironic but when the entire world was filled with violence and disharmony over the Innocence of Muslims, a group of Ahmadi students was busy organising symposiums in Canadian universities to discourage violence by highlighting the aspects of the holy prophet and how the video was nothing but a way to instigate hatred and aggression. The symposium I attended was held at one of the local universities in the city of Windsor in Ontario. A lot of students showed up for it, some were Christians, many were Muslims and others were agnostic. Most of them came to hear about the life of one of the most revered personalities in Islam and left the auditorium with positive feelings about the religion and its followers. For me, these students are the true saviors. They’re trying to abridge the communication gap between different communities by answering hundreds of questions which are important to address in order to build an inclusive society. Societies which thrive on religious disharmony and bigotry perish sooner than later. It is time for us to wake up and safeguard the rights of religious minorities. It is time for us to hold their hands and stand in defiance to the fundamentalist elements who take advantage of our silence. It is indeed time to acknowledge their sacrifices and treat them with the respect that they truly deserve because their graves now seek answers.

Pakistan: Zero tolerance towards tax evaders

The Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) for small traders and cottage industries and President of Karachi Tajir Ittehad, Atiq Mir, categorically refused to abide by the Federal Board of Revenue's (FBR) directive to small traders to display their National Tax Numbers (NTNs) prominently at their places of business. He added that he enjoys full support of an estimated 650,000 to 700,000 Karachi traders and his concern over the FBR directive is that it would create problems for traders. When asked about the problems, he stated that the traders were worried that the display would enable the FBR to launch an audit and make additional inquiries on each trader's financial accounts. The objective of the display as per the FBR is to ensure that all small traders/shop owners are registered and therefore no longer operating in the black economy. Evidence consistently points to the fact that the poor tax to Gross Domestic Product ratio is attributable to the existence of large black economy that is around 50 percent of the formal economy. Those who operate in the black economy are not only the drug mafia and those engaged in corruption but also traders who have consistently refused to allow official documentation of their businesses that they fear would lead the FBR to bring them into the tax net as the Board would have access to their detailed financial accounts. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) condition under the 7.6 billion dollar Stand-By Arrangement that the government was unable to implement and which eventually led to first stalling and then suspension of the programme with two tranches remaining undisbursed, stipulated that "Following the seminar (planned seminar to review tax policy and administration) in December 2008, the government will initiate a process to implement a full Value Added Tax (VAT) with minimal exemptions, to be administered by the FBR." The reason for the failure to implement this condition: organised protests by small traders that on several occasions turned violent throughout the country and their support by political parties for their own political exigencies. In this context, some political parties as well as traders have argued that the parliament, overly represented by absentee landlords, has been unfair in not legislating a tax on farm income at the same rate as is levied on other sectors and maintain that tax exemption for these rich and influential farmers must be withdrawn prior to taxing the small traders. There is merit in this argument and the parliament, provincial and federal, must begin the process of withdrawing exemptions as agreed under the IMF programme. It is time for zero-tolerance for tax evaders of all ilk and that the political support for the traders' defiance is withdrawn given the current poor state of the economy which is grappling with a deficit of 8.5 percent - 0.9 percentage points higher than what the PPP government inherited in 2008 and which prompted it to go for the IMF programme. In effect, all political parties must throw their weight behind these efforts by FBR because this may well reduce our reliance on foreign assistance and internal borrowing, policies that are highly inflationary, on the one hand and generate more revenue for development of the sadly deficient infrastructure sectors on the other. For small traders to announce a campaign of resistance against a legitimate FBR directive is incomprehensible. If the law as legislated by parliament that represents the people of the country requires a trader/shop owner to display NTN then this announcement of defiance is unmerited. There is no doubt that the small traders are going to launch a similar campaign that was successful in the past namely violent street protests as well as continued support by some political parties. As aforementioned one would hope that political parties do not extend this support in the national interest and the traders are brought into the tax net, which would be levied on the income of each trader.