Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ayatollah Khomeini's pro-democracy granddaughter: I fear arrest

A granddaughter of Iran's first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has attacked the current regime's "deviation" from the goals of his revolution, criticised leaders for failing to allow democracy to flourish, and said she fears arrest and jail.
By Damien McElroy, and Ahmad Vahdat
Naeimeh Eshraghi
, a Tehran-based engineer, has told The Daily Telegraph that she wants to see an opening up of Iranian society with people free to express themselves. But she also warned the West that the crippling sanctions being imposed on Iran were having the effect of increasing the suffering of the people while having little impact on the leaders. Mrs Eshraghi is an enthusiastic user of Facebook and has on occasion shared her pro-democracy views and made critical comments about the country's leadership. She has built up a following of about 5,000 friends on her account, which she can access only by using illegal "filtering busting" technology that circumvents the country's firewall. She said she felt it was a duty to resist the increasingly harsh system imposed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, her grandfather's successor as a Supreme Leader. "My grandfather's system of spiritual guidance of the government rested its legitimacy on people's consent," she said. "Today this theory of government has split many sections of our society from the regime and has led to a deviation from the earlier right path of the revolution."Mrs Eshraghi – a qualified petrochemical engineer who last year supported a campaign against laws requiring women to wear hijabs – objects to the government's efforts to close off Iran's internet users from the world. "It is high time that the governments of Iran resorted to practicing democracy and refrained from confronting individuals and non-government groups. It should stop fearing the transfer of new communications technology," she said. "It is only when this happens and we have free and widespread communications and the opening up of our borders to the outside world, both geographically and socially, that we can secure the progress and prosperity of Iran." Mrs Eshraghi said that despite her place in Iran's most prominent revolutionary family – pictures of her as a girl on her grandfather's lap form the strapline on her Facebook page – she was vulnerable to a crackdown on free speech on the internet. "Not only am I concerned that the security forces may one day knock on my door, but also in fact think that it is quite possible that this may happen and then I would not be different from many other prominent free thinkers of our country who have ended up being in jail," she said. But she added that the regime would face a backlash within the country's establishment for such a high-profile arrest. Iran has well advanced plans to cut the entire country off from the world wide web and place all internet activity within a nationwide intranet. It has also established a force of "cyber-police" that has arrested dozens of internet users. Gen Saeed Shokrian, the force's commander, was sacked at the start of this month after an investigation into the death of the blogger Sattar Beheshti in Tehran's Evin prison, where he was being illegally detained. But the policing of online activity has continued. In one sense, Mrs Eshraghi is continuing a role played by her grandfather in pre-revolutionary Iran. He challenged the Shah's rule by having sermons taped in exile in Iraq and smuggled into Iran for underground distribution. The founder of the Islamic republic had five children and the clan maintains a prominent role with control of charitable foundations and filling official advisory positions. Mrs Eshraghi said that her outspoken views were accepted within the family culture. "We have always kept a balance between belonging to a certain family and having an independent identity of ourselves as well," she said.

Intimidation, fear keep Egypt’s Christians away from polls on disputed charter

A campaign of intimidation by Islamists left most Christians in this southern Egyptian province too afraid to participate in last week’s referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution they deeply oppose, residents say. The disenfranchisement is hiking Christians’ worries over their future under empowered Muslim conservatives. Around a week before the vote, some 50,000 Islamists marched through the provincial capital, Assiut, chanting that Egypt will be “Islamic, Islamic, despite the Christians.” At their head rode several bearded men on horseback with swords in scabbards on their hips, evoking images of early Muslims conquering Christian Egypt in the 7th Century. They made sure to go through mainly Christian districts of the city, where residents, fearing attacks, shuttered down their stores and stayed in their homes, witnesses said. The day of the voting itself on Saturday, Christian voting was minimal — as low as seven percent in some areas, according to church officials. Some of those who did try to head to polling stations in some villages were pelted by stones, forcing them to turn back without casting ballots, Christian activists and residents told The Associated Press this week. The activists now see what happened in Assuit as a barometer for what Christians’ status will be under a constitution that enshrines a greater role for Shariah, or Islamic law, in government and daily life. Even under the secular regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s Christians complained of discrimination and government failure to protect them and their rights. They fear it will be worse with the Islamists who have dominated Egypt’s political landscape since Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011. “When all issues become religious and all the talk is about championing Islam and its prophet, then, as a Christian, I am excluded from societal participation,” said Shady Magdy Tobia, a Christian activist in Assiut. “If this does not change, things will only get worse for Christians.” But some of the Christians of Assiut are pushing back against the emboldened Islamists. In recent weeks, young Christians joined growing street protests to demand that the charter is shelved, casting aside decades of political apathy. Assiut province is significant because it is home to one of Egypt’s largest Christian communities — they make up about 35 percent of the population of 4.5 million, perhaps three times the nationwide percentage. At the same time, it is a major stronghold of Egypt’s Islamists, who now dominate its local government. The province was the birthplace of some of the country’s most radical Islamist groups and was the main battlefield of an insurgency by Muslim militants in the 1990s. It was one of 10 provinces that voted in the first round of Egypt’s referendum. Nationwide, around 56 percent voted in favor of the draft charter, according to preliminary results. Assiut had one of the strongest “yes” votes at more than 77 percent. It also had a turnout of only 28 percent — one of the lowest in a round marred by a low participation of only 32 percent nationwide. The second and final round will held the coming Saturday in 17 provinces, including in Minya, which has the country’s highest proportion of Christians, at 36 percent. Rights groups reported attempts at suppression of the “no” vote in many parts of the country. But Christians say intimidation and suppression are more effective in this smaller, largely rural province. “In Assiut, we face more danger than in Cairo,” said businessman Emad Awny Ramzy, a key organizer of local protests against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood. “Here they can easily identify, monitor and attack us.” A senior figure of the Gamaa Islamiya — which was once one of the main groups waging the Islamic militant insurgency in Assiut but has since renounced violence and is allied to Morsi’s government — dismissed the Christians’ allegations of intimidation in the province. The claims are “just lies and rumors that surface every time we have an election,” Assem Abdel-Magued said. The Brotherhood and officials in Morsi’s government have similarly dismissed claims of violations around the country. The draft constitution, finalized by Islamists on a Constituent Assembly despite a boycott by liberals and Christians, has polarized Egypt, bringing out huge rival street rallies by both camps in the past four weeks. Opponents of Morsi accuse him of ramming the document through and, more broadly, of imposing a Brotherhood domination of power. Morsi supporters, in turn, accuse his opponents of seeking to thwart a right to bring Islamic law they say they earned with election victories the past year. Egypt’s main Coptic Orthodox Church and smaller ones have taken an uncharacteristically assertive approach in the constitutional struggle. They withdrew their six members from the Constituent Assembly to protest Islamist domination of the process and later refused to send representatives to a “national dialogue” called for by Morsi. The new Coptic pope, Tawadros II, enthroned last month, publicly called some of the charter’s articles “disastrous.” In response, the Muslim Brotherhood — which usually keeps a moderate tone toward Christians — has turned toward more inflammatory rhetoric. Senior Brotherhood figure Mohammed el-Beltagi in a newspaper interview this week depicted mass anti-Morsi rallies outside the presidential palace in Cairo this month as mainly made up of Christians, hinting at a Christian conspiracy against the president. In a recent speech, Safwat Hegazi, a famous Islamist preacher linked to the Brotherhood, warned Christians against joining forces with former Mubarak regime figures to topple Morsi. “I tell the church, yes, you are our brothers in Egypt, but there are red lines. Our red line is Morsi’s legitimacy. Whoever dares splash it with water, we will splash him with blood,” he said, using an Arabic saying. In Assiut, Tobia, Ramzy and other Christian activists spoke of an atmosphere of intimidation ahead of the vote, including the large Islamist march. They said threatening messages were sent on mobile phones and on social networking sites. During an opposition demonstration on Dec. 7 outside the offices of the Brotherhood’s political party in Assiut, suspected Morsi supporters seized six protesters — five Muslims and one Christian — beating them and shaving the head of one. With tension building up over the last four weeks, many Christian voters registered at polling centers located in predominantly Muslim areas did not vote, fearing violence, they said. Those who made it to polling centers in districts with significant Christian populations were soon frustrated by the long lines or delays, which activists said was intentional. In some cases, they said, Islamists who had voted elsewhere then went to stand in lines in mainly Christian areas to make them longer, increase delays and prompt Christians to give up and leave. Two Christian clerics said that outside the province’s main cities, only about 12 percent of registered Christian voters left their homes on Saturday to vote and that no more than seven percent were able to cast their ballots. They based the figures on statistics gathered by members of the Coptic Church’s youth group who monitored voting across the province. The two clerics spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivities over the church role in political issues. In the Christian village of el-Aziyah, only 2,350 of the village’s 12,100 registered voters cast ballots on Saturday, according to acting mayor Montaser Malek Yacoub. Yacoub is among the growing number of Christians who are pushing back against persecution. He has taken advantage of the tenuous security situation of the past two years and built two churches without permits and reclaimed a large area of state-owned desert that lies outside the village’s boundaries toward a rock mountain. Under Mubarak’s rule, Christians rarely received permits to build or renovate churches. “Let me just tell you this: As far as I am concerned, this is our country and everyone else are guests,” he said. But “we’re ready to cooperate with anyone who shares Egypt with us.”

AP Interview: Egypt Atheist Blasts Islamist Regime

An Egyptian atheist convicted then released from prison on bail this week told The Associated Press Wednesday that the new Islamist government is no better than the dictatorial regime it replaced. The blasphemy case against Alber Saber, 27, is seen by rights advocates as part of a campaign by Egypt's ultraconservative Islamists to curb free expression. It underlines the growing divide between the country's powerful Islamists and those who say their uncompromising approach is creating a new authoritarian system that does not represent all Egyptians. Saber was arrested in September after neighbors complained he had posted an anti-Islam film that sparked protests across the Muslim world on his Facebook page, but investigators didn't find evidence of that. Even so, he was put on trial and sentenced last week to three years in prison for blasphemy and contempt of religion. He was released on bail on Tuesday pending an appeal in January. Saber, wearing a black tracksuit that hung off of his slight frame, told the AP that he believes the Muslim Brotherhood used him as an example — and as a means of warning those who oppose their Islamist ideology that alternate views will not be tolerated. "They are no different from the former regime," said Saber of President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government. "The weapons have changed, but they are both oppressive regimes," he said, explaining that while the Mubarak government relied on a network of security agencies to stifle dissent, the Brotherhood mobilizes an equally well-organized network of followers to carry out similar efforts to repress opposition to the Islamist-led government. The fundamentalist group and its ultraconservative Islamist allies have dominated politics in the aftermath of Egypt's 2011 popular uprising that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak, winning several elections and sparking fears from secular and liberal Egyptians of a crackdown on basic rights. Islamists insist they speak for the Muslim majority in Egypt's conservative society, calling the constitution a compromise that cannot meet all demands of every group. They deny that their intention is to persecute minorities. "They picked a good moment to target me," said Saber, referring to the charged environment in the Muslim world after the anti-Islam film "The Innocence of Muslims" circulated on the Internet. He was arrested at home on Sept. 13 during a wave of public outrage over the film, which triggered a riot at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Saber said that the night he was arrested and jailed, a police officer moved him to a cell where the officer incited detainees against Saber by telling that he had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. Saber was attacked by angry cellmates, one of whom slashed his neck with a knife. He said that this means of incitement on religious grounds is one of the tools being used by the government. He has a bumpy discolored scar from the wound. Saber said that regardless of the result of his appeal, the Egyptian system is unjust for minorities like himself. "Egypt is a religious state," said Saber. "If you disobey the norms, you get judged and sentenced. I'm not a criminal, but I'm being judged and sentenced on my opinion." Openly admitting to being an atheist is extremely rare in Egypt, and the notion of atheism is considered offensive to many in the predominantly religious society. His mother, a Coptic Christian who wears a cross and bears a tattoo of a cross on her wrist like many Egyptian Christians, said she feared for her son's safety. She was forced to leave her apartment the morning after Saber was arrested when men banged her door, telling her that they would burn her apartment and her church after Friday prayers if she did not leave. "Alber's case is not the first and will not be the last," said Ahmed Ezzat, one of Saber's lawyers. "There are no steps by the authorities to protect freedom of expression — the opposite, authorities are attacking more." Saber's sentencing came days before Egyptians began voting on an Islamist-backed constitution. In the first of two legs, the draft received a 56 percent "yes" vote. Rights groups and members of Egypt's opposition fear the document will enable the Islamist government to severely restrict civil rights. One article forbids limiting the basic rights of individuals but specifies that they "must be practiced in a manner not conflicting with" principles of religious law, which rights groups say opens the door for further clashes over freedom of expression.

A long road ahead for equal rights in Saudi Arabia

Great news for Manal al-Sharif, the Saudi activist who rose to prominence after footage of her driving on the Kingdom’s roads went viral on YouTube last year.
She was arrested, of course, and spent time in jail for defying the authorities, but a small and committed campaign emerged nonetheless. Their tactics were simple: Sharif and her cohorts repeatedly applied to the General Directorate of Traffic for a driving licence, only to be refused on each occasion. That seemed to change yesterday when a euphoric Sharif tweeted a picture of her new driving licence. The only downside is that it was issued by the United Arab Emirates. Saudi women still face a long road ahead in their quest for equal rights.

Bahrain: Child held without charge in adult prison

The detention of a 16-year-old Bahraini boy in an adult prison has been extended for a further week despite the Bahraini authorities’ failure to bring any charges against him, which Amnesty International said violates international standards of justice. On 11 December, police raided the family home of Mohammad Mohammad ‘Abdulnabi ‘Abdulwasi in Sitra – an island east of the capital Manama – and arrested him, despite failing to produce a warrant. Family members present at the time allege that riot police broke the main door and took money and other possessions with them. Since his arrest, the 16-year-old has not been allowed to see his family or a lawyer, and his unlawful detention in Dry Dock Prison – a facility for adults – has been extended until 26 December. “It is absolutely shocking that Bahraini authorities broke into this boy’s house, detained him unlawfully and are still holding him in an adult prison, despite never bringing any charges against him,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “Mohammad Mohammad ‘Abdulnabi ‘Abdulwasi should not be treated as an adult before the law, and the authorities must immediately grant him access to his family and lawyer. Unless they can disclose the reason for his arrest and charge him with an internationally recognizable offence, he should be set free.” ‘Abdulnabi ‘Abdulwasi’s family did not know his whereabouts for two days after his arrest. On 18 December he was allowed to call them and told them he was being held at Dry Dock Prison, but he has yet to be allowed a visit from relatives or a lawyer. No charges appear to have been brought against him and the exact reasons for his arrest remain unknown. Child detention concerns In the past few months, a growing number of 15 to 17-year-olds have been held in adult prisons and detention centres in Bahrain. Some sources put the number as high as 80. Many of these children were arrested during demonstrations, where they were accused of “illegal gathering” and rioting. In some cases, they appear to have been targeted and punished solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Some of the child detainees have alleged they were beaten during their arrest or on the way to detention, and some have also been forced to sign “confessions”. Under international law, anyone under the age of 18 is a child, and children suspected of a criminal offence should be treated according to the rules of the juvenile justice system. “Children should always be held separately from adults, and the Bahraini authorities must protect all child detainees from torture or other ill-treatment,” said Hadj Sahraoui. “The Bahraini authorities’ disregard for international juvenile justice standards is just another sad indicator of the ongoing deterioration in the country’s human rights situation.”

After Newtown, some shoppers think twice about violent video games

For many families this holiday season, video games will come wrapped in colorful paper, ribbons and bows -- and lots of questions.
Inevitably, in the wake of the tragic school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, video games have become part of the national conversation about the roots of violence. To be sure, any role they may have played in Newtown remains unclear. Police have said nothing about them, and scattered news reports have gunman Adam Lanza playing games ranging from the military strategy "Starcraft" to kid-friendly "Dance Dance Revolution," neither of which rank among the more violent titles on the market. And while violent video-game controversies date back to the 1970s, studies into whether games cause violent behavior have been inconclusive. For many gamers, it's an old and tired debate. But after the Newtown shootings, which claimed the lives of 20 children and seven adults -- including Lanza's mother -- some shoppers are weighing whether it's appropriate to give certain video games to children or young teens this holiday season. CNN reached out to iReporters and commenters on the site for their thoughts on the issue. "I have two boys, age 9, that want 'Call of Duty,' " said a CNN commenter using the screen name goldeneagle78, referring to the popular military-shooter game series. "They will NOT be getting it, or any other game that is rated above their age level." Reader Crysty Harper of Maricopa, Arizona, said she understands that millions play games with no ill effect, but that "for the mentally unstable, these fantasy scenarios are fueling the violence, and being re-enacted in real life." The Entertainment Software Rating Board created a ratings system for video games similar to the classification used in movies, such as PG-13 and R. "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2," like many other games depicting violence, adult language or sexual content, is rated "M for Mature," or suggested for players 17 and older. Some readers lumped video games in with other media that depict violence. "If they want to ban guns, why not ban them in movies, television and video games?" asked reader Bill Smells in an iReport article inviting ideas for halting mass shootings. "Why do we allow the media and entertainment industries to glorify weapons and killings? "If we're going to start regulating and banning weapons, why not start by aggressively banning and preventing the abuse of weapons in media?" Smells added. "Why do we allow our children and young adults to buy video games that put them in the position of being rewarded for shooting and killing other players?" Commenters repeatedly mentioned the Entertainment Software Rating Board's system, saying parents should be as responsible about games their children play as they are about the movies they allow them to see. David Kaelin, president of Texas-based video game chain Game Over, said part of the confusion around the issue is because some parents and other adults only deal with video games once a year, around Christmas. Kaelin said he tries to help uninformed parents get the information they need, including ratings, before choosing gifts. But ultimately, he said, parents are responsible for keeping an eye on their kids. "I have two young kids myself," Kaelin said. "For any parent to be able to be involved in whatever your kid's doing, you need to be (educated). You need to know what those things are." Kaelin said he doesn't believe games are responsible for societal violence. But he said he thinks the way kids play them can tell parents a lot about possible problems, especially when a child is spending a lot of time alone on the computer. "Go into their room and see what they're doing and what they're into," Kaelin said. "Being an active and involved parent is being a good parent." That's a view echoed by many others. "I would not consider buying my child a first-person shooter game," wrote a reader using the handle dxp2718. "My kids, admittedly, are too young to play video games like that, but they COULD play with toy guns, swords or soldiers if I let them have them -- and I wouldn't even think of it. "NOT HURTING OTHERS is lesson #1. It comes before reading, writing, counting or anything else." Antwand Pearman, CEO of gaming and health company Gamer Fit Nation, said he doesn't believe games are to blame. But he started a movement, including a hashtag on Twitter, urging people to give up playing first-person shooter games on Friday, December 21, as a show of sympathy and understanding for the Newtown victims. "It's not to say that video games are to blame. It's more to show that we as gamers give a damn," Pearman said. "Video games are more so a reflection of real life. Gaming is an outlet, just like movies and music." CNN commenter Sean S. said he hopes people will look deeper for answers. He said parents have the most responsibility to teach their kids, especially since they are often the ones buying the games and they cost so much. "People blame the video games because it is easier than blaming themselves, but the fact is millions of kids around this country and around the world play the same violent and destructive video games, and yet only a very select few have made the choice to take that violence and killing from the game and bring it into real life," he said.


Obama presses for gun control policy changes

Al Jazeera
US President Barack Obama has asked a team led by Vice President Joe Biden to offer "concrete proposals" to curb gun violence no later than January, following the killing of 26 people at a Connecticut primary school last week. Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Obama said he would push legislation "without delay" after he received the recommendations. He urged the US Congress to hold votes on the bill soon after it is proposed. Obama said the issue of gun control was complex but that "if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent [shootings such as the Connecticut attack], we have a deep obligation - all of us - to try". He said meaningful action needed to be taken to curb an "epidemic of gun violence that plagues this nation every single day". "The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," he said. Biden, a longtime gun-control advocate, will lead a team that will include members of Obama's administration and outside groups. 'Weapons of war' Obama specifically mentioned that he felt it is currently too easy for people with mental instabilities to purchase assault weapons, which he referred to as "weapons of war". He also said action needs to be taken to close a loophole that allows sales to be made at gun shows without proper background checks. The president cited as a model for the new legislation a previous ten-year ban on assault weapons - military-style semi-automatics - that Congress allowed to expire in 2004. Notably, he said that he respected every US citizen's right to bear arms, but that there needed to be measures in place to ensure that only those who would use their guns "responsibly" would be allowed to purchase them. "Look, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the second amendment guarantees an individual a right to bear arms," he said. "This country has a strong tradition of gun ownership handed down from generation to generation." His comments come after twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown last Friday by a man wielding a semi-automatic rifle. "There have been some concerns voiced by gun control advocates that the president was waiting too long, because right now the emotions of the moment are so raw, they think that this is the time to act. The president says that the American people have a longer attention span than that," Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington DC, said. Any renewal of the assault weapons ban, she said, would also in no way affect the estimated 200 million guns that have already been bought by individuals in the United States.

Delhi gang rape: Anger rises in city as victim sinks
Protests over Sunday's brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old grew in strength and fury on Wednesday, assuming unprecedented proportions in the city even as demonstrations took place in other parts of India. On Wednesday evening, the angry voice of Delhi's students quite literally shook the seats of power. Hundreds of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University and Jamia Milia Islamia, along with many concerned citizens, stormed into the Central Secretariat at Raisina Hill and forced a meeting with the Union home minister, seeking an explanation on the security lapses that led to the assault. Earlier in the day, protesters laid siege on the chief minister's residence and police commissioner's office, pressing ahead relentlessly until panicky cops opened up water cannons against them. The protesters, drenched to their bones on a chilly winter day, refused to budge. Meanwhile, the cops had cordoned off most of central Delhi to prevent others from joining the stir. In the evening, what started as a spontaneous protest march at India Gate around 6pm, suddenly gained momentum when students marched straight up to Raisina Hill, jumping police barricades and blocking traffic. They pushed aside barricades while the police force guarding the high security zone did little to stop them. The cops on duty looked shocked and overwhelmed by the protest. The students finally gathered in front of North Block, filling the air with slogans such as 'home minister hai hai, home minister jawab do'. They demanded a meeting with the home minister, threatening to continue the protest at the spot until he obliges.
Minister, top cop feel the heat
"What about the gang rapes in Haryana? How many of them get reported? What about Chhattisgarh activist Soni Sori who was brutally assaulted by police. We demand an answer for everything. Can you imagine that only 12% of the rape cases get converted to FIRs?" said activist Albina Shakeel. They also said that the culture of blaming women for 'provoking' sexual violence by being out late or wearing certain kind of clothes had to stop. "Women have the right to wear what they like, go out when they want. It's the police who need to do their job," said another protester. Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde agreed to meet some of the students who went to his residence and submitted a 10-point memorandum. It included suggestions on sensitizing the police force and fast-tracking the investigation and judicial process. "It's a shame that our home minister doesn't have any idea of the conviction rate of 26% on sexual offences or that just 12% complaints are converted into FIRs," said Lenin after meeting the minister. The crowd that had also gathered in front of Shinde's house promised to continue protests in coming days. In the morning, students from JNU, Amity University and DU blocked the main gate of the Delhi Police headquarters for more than over two hours. "The gang-rape victim dared to protest against lewd comments. She is a courageous woman. Yet, she was abused. Our confidence is completely shattered," said Akhila Singh, a member of AIDWA (All India Democratic Women's' Association) which organized the protest along with 14 other women's and religious organizations. The demonstration that began at 11.15am, finally ended after a group of women met police commissioner Neeraj Kumar and submitted a charter of demands that included increased police patrolling on the roads, fast-track courts to deal with rape cases, standardized investigation procedures, increased sensitization of police and immediate relief (legal and medical) and long term rehabilitation of rape victims. Among the protesters was Rajya Sabha member Jaya Bachchan, who also met the commissioner. "We have been assured that this case will be dealt with in a very, very severe manner. I hope the government too will pitch in as Delhi Police alone cannot complete all necessary work to ensure justice for the girl in the fastest possible time," she said adding that all citizens, including MPs, should contribute money towards the girl's treatment. The demonstration blocked traffic on the busy ITO crossing with massive snarls witnessed both on the Ring Road and the Bahdurshah Zafar Marg. Traffic was diverted in the process, with more than 100 cops keeping vigil at the headquarter gates. "We want Delhi Police to follow a set of procedures and guidelines as conviction rates are very low when it comes to rape," said Sudha Sundararaman of AIDWA. Assuring the protesters that strong action will be taken against the perpetrators, police commissioner Neeraj Kumar said: "Women representatives from various organizations have demanded a monitoring committee to check crime against women. I think such a committee is needed. It will be headed by a nodal officer and women representatives from NGOs." Students and women's organizations also organized protests at Jantar Mantar and India Gate. There were also protests outside the Vasant Vihar police station, where the case has been registered and where students from JNU led the protests. They also protested at the Saket court where the accused were produced Wednesday. "It is a historic moment for students here. We have pushed aside barricades and have gheraoed the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Now they have to answer. We will not move from here," said V Lenin, president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Association (JNUSU). Student union members said that the protest was not just meant to demand an explanation for the recent gang rape in Delhi but also about the complete failure in ensuring safety for women around the country.

Mental illness is rampant in Afghanistan

According to the American Medical Association, around 70 percent of the Afghan population suffers from psychological disorders. Mentally challenged people face discrimination and their families suffer. "Mohammad! Madman!" the children cry after him. They laugh and make jokes. Mohammad does not know how to answer and shouts back angrily at his tormentors: "Not me! You!" The 16-year-old is just one among many mentally handicapped in trouble-torn Afghanistan. The authorities are not in a position to supply any reliable numbers. Mohammad lives with his parents and two sisters in one of the poorer areas of Kabul. The whole family suffers with him - when he is restless, his mother orders him out of the house so that she can have some respite. No school will accept him because of his hereditary mental disability - and there are no special schools for people with mental illness in Afghanistan. Mohammad was very often sick in his childhood, his mother relates. Local doctors told her that he could be cured, but that the treatment would cost a lot of money. "We don't have any money and cannot afford that kind of treatment," she sighs. "Otherwise we'd have sent him to the doctor." An alternative would be to bring him to a "marastun," a psychiatric clinic but these are only to be found in big cities and they do not have a very good reputation when it comes to treating patients.
Prospective bridegrooms get cold feet
Afghan women with mental disabilities have a further problem - it's very difficult to find a husband for them. The mother of 22-year-old Fereshta says that all prospective grooms bowed out as soon as they found out that she was disabled. Fereshta managed to finish the fifth class in school, although she was laughed at by her classmates. Medical treatment didn't help. Her mother took Fereshta to the local mullah out of desperation. He told her he would cure her daughter. "He gave me an amulet. But when I came home Fereshta was even more difficult. I threw it away." Fereshta's mother does not want to keep her at home any more because it takes so much time and effort to look after her - she wants to send her daughter to a psychiatric clinic as soon as possible.
Lack of support
Kabul psychiatric hospital is the only clinic of its kind in the whole of the Afghan capital. It's a government hospital and provides free checkups. Dozens of patients can be accommodated and are looked after by Dr Sima. "We do not treat the severely handicapped," she says. "Such children in Afghanistan have no chance of going to a school either. It's already a big achievement if they learn the simplest things." Dr Sima is unhappy that the government and NGOs do not have any special programs for severely disabled people who face social discrimination. She thinks the level of acceptance for mental problems is far too low. A mental handicap is seen as a major deficit, she says. Most of the mentally disabled, such as Mohammad and Fereshta, have to live with the stigma of "madness" and vegetate through life in loneliness and squalor.

Spate Of Pakistani Killings Suggests 'Humanitarian Space' Ignored

Aid workers have warned for years that they must operate independently from military forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan or risk being seen by locals -- and by militants -- as part of the counterinsurgency campaign. With a rising number of targeted attacks against medical aid workers in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, those warnings appear increasingly relevant and justified. In the past week, eight polio-eradication workers have been targeted and killed in Pakistan by gunmen. Scores of foreign and Afghan humanitarian aid workers have also been killed in Afghanistan in recent years -- most recently, the December 1 shooting death in Kapisa Province of a 20-year-old Afghan woman who distributed polio vaccinations in the village of Kohistan. Concerned about the safety of health workers, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Pakistan's government have halted their field immunization campaigns -- including a three-day immunization drive aimed at vaccinating millions of Pakistani children. Health workers in Afghanistan and Pakistan tell RFE/RL they feel increasingly threatened as a result of counterinsurgency operations in the areas where they operate. They say militants increasingly are linking aid workers to intelligence agents and military forces.
'Sacred' Space
Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, says the best protection for aid workers is for their "humanitarian space" to remain independent from armed forces. "Health workers or aid workers -- in this particular case, polio vaccinators -- must be protected at all times, and [that means] the space in which they operate must remain safe and free of any political interference whatsoever," she says. "So that humanitarian space is sacred and must remain so, because it is not just about the health and lives of those polio workers and the health workers concerned; it is also about the children they serve," Crowe adds. "That is why it is all the more important that this humanitarian space remain sacred." But Mustafa Qadri, a researcher for Amnesty International, says military operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have blurred the line of distinction between humanitarian workers and soldiers. "The line has been blurred, certainly in Afghanistan, since there has been this push for a civilian surge where, quite deliberately, there has been an attempt to use aid workers to promote objectives in a conflict," Qadri says. "The practical impact on the people can be devastating." In Pakistan, meanwhile, some Islamic clerics have announced opposition to immunization programs since a Pakistani CIA informant created a fake hepatitis-immunization campaign to locate Osama bin Laden. "With the doctor who helped the CIA to track down bin Laden, that move to use a fake vaccination campaign has had a very big negative impact on the much-needed vaccinations and health needs of Pakistanis," Qadri says. "Even before that secret campaign was disclosed, groups like the Taliban and others would claim that polio and other kinds of vaccinations were actually an attempt to sterilize the population and to get information. So, in a way, they've exploited that revelation."
Double-Edged Damage
Indeed, militants in Pakistan say the immunization drives are a scheme by Western and Pakistani intelligence agencies to spy on them. Suspected Taliban fighters have more frequently kidnapped or killed aid workers since the May 1, 2011 raid by U.S. forces that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But it's not just the fake immunization program in Abbottabad that has raised aid workers' concerns. A Swedish aid organization, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, is in the midst of talks with NATO officials in Afghanistan after NATO and soldiers from the Afghan National Army occupied an Afghan health clinic in Wardak Province in late October. The aid group says NATO used the clinic as a detention and interrogation center for three days -- as well as for a combat operations hub and a strategic position to launch mortars. Andreas Stefansson, the country director of the Swedish Committee, says such incidents cause patients and staff to lose confidence that medical centers are a neutral zone respected by warring parties. "We're not going to let this go," Stefansson says. "We're going to keep the pressure up together along with other health actors to ensure that they actually improve, because repeatedly there are breaches around the country toward health facilities and hospitals." Meanwhile, World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says the cancellation of the immunization programs in Pakistan threatens to reverse recent gains toward eradicating polio in Pakistan -- where 56 polio paralysis cases were reported this year, down from 190 cases in 2011. Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only other countries where the debilitating disease is endemic.

Pakistan: School without building for over two decades

The Express Tribune
Whereas some schoolchildren enjoy outdoor activities, that is certainly not the case with the students of Government Primary School Qaziabad in Kabal Tehsil. Come rain or shine, they are forced to take lessons in a tattered tent, exposed to harsh weather. Established in 1988, the school still lacks a proper building among other basic facilities. Currently, there are 197 students enrolled at the school from kindergarten up to third grade. However, they huddle up to take lessons under the same tent.
Shaista, a third grader finds it hard to concentrate amidst so much noise. “When it rains, it gets muddy and the water seeps into the tent. Since we cannot study under such conditions, we simply go home,” she said.Another student, Ruqquia is fond of studying and she gets upset when the school is shut due to bad weather. “Every day, some animals enter our tent and disturb us. Often when we come in the morning, there is animal waste inside the tent,” she said. Salahuddin, a teacher said the school has been erected on an open ground in the middle of residential blocks but they would have to relocate whenever some construction takes place in the area. “Despite several applications to the education department, no one has bothered to address the problems” he added. Furthermore, he demanded the government to construct a building for the school so as to enable the children to study without hindrance. “It is heartening to see these children study in such pathetic conditions especially when the government receives hefty aid in the name of education,” Hamayun Masud, a social activist lamented. When contacted, the District Coordination Officer Kamran Rehman he said that he has asked the Executive District Officer Education to submit report on the school. “I will to arrange a rented building for the children and in the mean time, also try to start construction of a school building on priority basis,” he said.

Pakistan: '' A deadly virus ''

In a string of attacks across the country, five members of polio vaccination teams have been murdered – four in Karachi and one on the outskirts of Peshawar. All of the health workers killed were women, the youngest a 14-year-old volunteer. The victims, all Pakistani nationals, were working on behalf of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its local partners. Tuesday was the second day of a nationwide three-day drive to eradicate polio, which is a very real crisis in the country. The Taliban had already threatened that they would target these brave health workers, saying they would ‘regret’ spreading infidel practices. The WHO has now suspended its polio vaccination programme in Karachi. It is being widely reported that the police had not provided any security to the teams of vaccinators. Considering the threats these polio vaccination workers had been receiving and their vulnerability – women travelling in difficult (and often remote) areas – there has been a remarkable lack of protection provided by any government agency. At the very least protection, should have been provided to those teams that were working in the most dangerous areas, which are well known to one and all. Not to have done so displays a serious abdication of responsibility. The deadly virus that killed these women is called ‘obscurantism’. The fight against polio in Pakistan is crucial to its global eradication, and if we are unable to contain it by vaccination then there is a serious possibility that WHO is going to impose a travel ban on Pakistan in the near future. This will mean that those who cannot provide proof of vaccination will not be allowed to enter countries certified as polio-free. It takes little imagination to understand what impact this would have on a population that is highly mobile and travels internationally. If the current or any future government is really serious about tackling the polio threat then they need to strengthen the resources of those who are working towards ensuring polio eradication in the country. There need to be public information films and notices across every media platform, print and electronic, to counter the regressive and dangerous tales of those who see polio vaccination as some sort of plot hatched by the infidels. A sustained public information campaign can be launched in schools, mosques and other public spaces. The obscurantists are not only busy bombing their way across large parts of the country, they now also want to condemn us to a life in a wheelchair or on crutches. The government has a choice to make: either we stop them or we become a crippled and sick nation.

Pakistan: Mullahs and Militants Keep Polio Alive

Unidentified assailants have killed two more immunization workers in northwestern Pakistan’s Chardassa district, outside Peshawar, bringing the total number to eight. In response, the organizers of the three-day polio vaccination drive suspended the campaign nationwide. No armed group has claimed responsibility. Six health workers in Pakistan are the latest to be killed for trying to eradicate a crippling illness. Sami Yousafzai talks to the immunizers and their foes.The physician from the Pakistani Health Ministry acknowledges that he expected some of the country’s rural areas to be risky. Still, he had no idea how dangerous the cities would be. This week began with six polio-vaccination workers—five women and a man—being shot dead in four separate attacks in Karachi and Peshawar. On Wednesday a seventh polio worker was shot and seriously injured in Peshawar. “We were worried in the countryside and tribal areas,” says Dr. Jamshid, who for the sake of his own safety declines to use his full name. “This means even in the cities we will have trouble.”The nationwide eradication drive, which had been in the second of three scheduled days, was quickly suspended in Karachi. “Police were on alert,” says Shahnaz Wazir Ali, the Pakistani prime minister’s chief adviser for the immunization effort, “but the polio teams are in the thousands. It would not be possible to keep police with each team. Tomorrow was to be the last day of the campaign, but we have suspended it in Karachi for the moment to protect our staff’s lives. We must secure the health of the future.”But in authorities in Peshawar vowed to carry despite the threat, declaring that the eradication campaign is too important to stop. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where the crippling and possibly fatal poliomyelitis virus remains endemic (Afghanistan and Nigeria are the other two). The waterborne disease infects only humans, and for more than a decade the World Health Organization has been vowing to wipe it out globally. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s eradication effort keeps encountering obstacles—sometimes in the form of superstitious fears and wild rumors and other times in the form of undisguised politics. Last summer a Pakistani Taliban leader in North Waziristan issued a decree forbidding any further vaccinations in his area until America ended its drone attacks against militants. Soon afterward gunmen in Karachi wounded a Ghanaian doctor for the World Health Organization and his driver. The opposition is just as vicious in Afghanistan, where the insurgency prevents antipolio teams from visiting many areas. Early this month in Kapisa province, unidentified gunmen pumped six bullets into the stomach of a teenage immunization-program volunteer, killing her. A Taliban spokesman denied responsibility. The biggest setback to date may have come with Pakistan’s arrest of Dr. Shakil Afridi. The Pakistani physician, an active participant in the country’s polio-eradication campaign, was revealed to have set up a minuscule vaccination drive against hepatitis in early 2011, in collaboration with America’s efforts to track down Osama bin Laden. “The antipolio campaign was already controversial in some parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but Dr. Afridi’s involvement in bin Laden’s death brought even more trouble,” says Dr. Jamshid. Polio teams became unwelcome even in areas where the Pakistani Taliban had previously allowed them to work, he says, and inhabitants were warned not to let their children take the oral drops. Now the outlook is still grimmer. “What happened today in Karachi and Peshawar is long-term bad news for the campaign against polio in Pakistan,” says Jamshid. “In many areas our volunteers are unwilling to work anymore. They have been warned by hard-line mullahs and the Taliban not to participate in antipolio programs. We were in the final stages of the effort to free Pakistan’s children from the virus. Now it’s looking like we will fail.”Shazia Khan, a health worker in the northwestern Pakistan city of Mardan, has devoted the past five years to the campaign to eradicate polio. “As soon as my brother heard about the polio workers being killed, I had to stop,” she says. “I came back home, and I doubt that my mother and my brother will ever let me go back to distributing drops to the children in the street.”

People killed working on polio in Pakistan to 8 in 48 hours

Gunmen shot dead a woman working on U.N.-backed polio vaccination efforts and her driver in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, officials said, raising to eight the number of people killed in the last 48 hours who were part of the immunization drive. The attack on the woman was one of five that took place on polio workers in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday. One male polio worker was critically wounded, while the others managed to escape unharmed. The recent killings prompted the U.N.’s public health arm to suspend work on the vaccination drive in two of Pakistan’s four provinces Wednesday, a major setback for a campaign that international health officials consider vital to contain the crippling disease but which Taliban insurgents say is a cover for espionage. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Suspicion has fallen on the Pakistani Taliban because of their virulent opposition to the polio campaign, but the group’s spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, denied responsibility in a telephone call to The Associated Press. Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio is endemic. Prevention efforts have managed to reduce the number of cases in Pakistan by around 70 percent this year compared to 2011. But the recent violence threatens to reverse that progress. Militants accuse health workers of acting as spies for the U.S. and claim the vaccine makes children sterile. Taliban commanders in the troubled northwest tribal region have also said vaccinations can’t go forward until the U.S. stops drone strikes in the country. Insurgent opposition to the campaign grew last year after it was revealed that a Pakistani doctor ran a fake vaccination program to help the CIA track down al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in the town of Abbottabad in the country’s northwest. The number of attacks this week on polio workers is unprecedented. They came as the government started a three-day vaccination drive Monday targeting high risk areas of the country, part of an effort to immunize millions of children under the age of five. The deadliest of Wednesday’s attacks occurred in the northwestern town of Charsadda, where the female polio worker and her driver were gunned down, said senior government official Syed Zafar Ali Shah. Gunmen attacked two other polio teams in Charsadda and one in the town of Nowshera, but no one was hurt in those attacks, he said. Earlier in the day, gunmen shot a polio worker in the head in the city of Peshawar, wounding him critically, said Janbaz Afridi, a senior health official in surrounding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. On Tuesday, gunmen killed five female polio workers — three of them teenagers — in a series of attacks in Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province, and a village outside Peshawar. Two men who were working alongside the women were critically wounded in those attacks. A male polio worker was also shot to death in Karachi on Monday. Maryam Yunus, a spokeswoman for the U.N. World Health Organization in Pakistan, said the group’s polio staff have been pulled back from the field in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh and asked to work from home until the vaccination campaign ends Wednesday. Officials in Karachi temporarily suspended the vaccination campaign in the city after the shootings Tuesday, but the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government plowed ahead, not wanting to be cowed by the violence. Several dozen polio workers and human rights activists protested against the killings in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on Wednesday and demanded security for the field staff. The Pakistani government and the U.N. have also condemned the attacks, saying they deprive Pakistan’s most vulnerable populations — specifically children — of basic life-saving health interventions. Polio usually infects children living in unsanitary conditions, attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyze. A total of 56 polio cases have been reported in Pakistan during 2012, down from 190 the previous year, according to the U.N. Most of the new cases in Pakistan are in the northwest, where the presence of militants makes it difficult to reach children. Despite the obstacles, the government has teamed up with U.N. agencies to give oral polio drops to 34 million children under the age of five. Clerics and tribal elders have been recruited to support polio vaccinations in an attempt to open up areas previously inaccessible to health workers.

UN Chief: Polio Killings in Pakistan 'Cruel'

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling the killing of health workers trying to vaccinate Pakistani children against polio in a U.N.-backed campaign "cruel, senseless and inexcusable." Gunmen killed a woman working on vaccination efforts and her driver Wednesday, raising to eight the number of people killed in the last 48 hours who were part of the immunization drive. Suspicion has fallen on the Pakistani Taliban because of their opposition to the polio campaign. Ban said at his year-end news conference that the eight killed were among thousands across Pakistan "working selflessly to achieve the historic goal of polio eradication." The killings Wednesday prompted the U.N. World Health Organization to suspend the vaccination drive in two of Pakistan's four provinces. Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio is endemic.

Pakistan: Entire polio campaign halted as 3 more including woman supervisor killed in KPK
As a continuity of the orchestrated attack on polio campaign teams, supervisor of the drive in Batgaram area was shot at and killed along-with her driver on Wednesday morning. Police sources said four motorcycle riders opened fire on the car, killing the health worker. The incident happened in the jurisdiction of Shabqadar Police Station and spread fear in the area. Polio campaign in the entire district has been halted following the incident. WHO operation suspended A polio campaigner who was shot and injured this morning in the Khazana area has succumbed to his injuries at the hospital. News reports said a total of four incident have happened in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa today. Meanwhile, World Health Organization has halted anti-polio operation in the entire country.

Jamrud massacre

A car bomb killed 17 people and wounded more than 60 in the Jamrud bazaar in Khyber Agency on Monday. Twenty-one cars and seven shops were also destroyed in the huge explosion. No claim of responsibility has been forthcoming but the cast of usual suspects must head the list of possible perpetrators. This is the third attack in Jamrud this year. Each one has yielded a fair crop of deaths and injuries. The attack on the Peshawar airport the other day and now this bombing are part and parcel of the terrorists’ counter-offensive to relieve the pressure on them in Khyber Agency where the military has been conducting an operation. As further evidence of the counter-offensive perception, on the same day, three soldiers were killed and another three wounded in clashes with terrorist attackers at a check post in Lakki Marwat. Another bomb was discovered and defused in time near Bacha Khan Chowk in Peshawar. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain has called for a full scale military offensive against the terrorists, who he thinks are now looking for soft targets, having seen the stiffened security forces’ response to the Peshawar airport attack. Another interesting new aspect that has been brought forward as a result of the Peshawar attack is that many foreigners, including Uzbeks and Daghestanis, were part of the group that carried out the action. The authorities have revealed that some of the 10 terrorists who carried out the attack on the Peshawar airport were Uzbeks, or certainly of Central Asian origin, and the by now infamous tattooed gentleman who has found widespread mention in the media, has been found to be from Daghestan according to a letter in Urdu found on his person after he was killed. This has led to the conclusion that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) are now collaborating in their war against the Pakistani state. Mian Iftikhar surmises that this is because the TTP is running into difficulties now in recruiting people and is being forced therefore to rely on these foreign trainers to carry out actual actions. Certainly the big Bannu jailbreak earlier this year proved the TTP-IMU collaboration according to the respective claims of the two groups. The IMU is well known to have an al Qaeda connection. It follows therefore that the nexus of terrorist groups now enfolds a wide array of groups from the TTP to the Afghan Taliban to Central Asian and other groups that are aligned with al Qaeda. The terrorist fanatics have targeted polio campaign workers according to reports when these lines were being written, causing a halt to the immunisation campaign in Karachi. The terrorists are enemies of everything that a modern, forward looking society aspires to: education, healthcare, and an open, vibrant culture. These enemies of humanity, including women and children, and arguably enemies of the religion they purport to speak for, are the black vermin of our times, unleashed in the past by the unthinking obsession of the west to overcome communism through every and any means, and whose unintended consequences have drenched our country and the region and to some extent the rest of the world, in blood and gore. Without eliminating the threat they pose to everything civilisation stands for, there can be no good future for Pakistan, the region, or the world. This is the existential struggle of our times, and if we fall short, subsequent generations would be within their rights not to forgive us for blighting their future, perhaps beyond redemption.

UNICEF, WHO suspend polio field work in Pakistan

The Frontier Post
The UN children's agency UNICEF and the World Health Organisation suspended work on campaigns against polio in Pakistan Wednesday after a series of attacks against workers.UNICEF spokesman Michael Coleman told AFP the two organisations halted polio work in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces on Tuesday after attacks in Karachi and Peshawar, but extended the suspension nationwide after fresh bloodshed on Wednesday. A supervisor of the anti-polio campaign and her driver were killed in the third attack on staff of the anti-polio campaign in Charsadda on Wednesday. Polio workers were also attacked in Peshawar and Nowshera, On Tuesday, four female workers of the anti-polio campaign were killed in Karachi while a 14 year old volunteer was killed in Peshawar.

Three more polio workers shot in Pakistan; eight dead in 48 hours

Three workers in a polio eradication campaign were shot in Pakistan on Wednesday, and two of them were killed, the latest in a string of attacks that has partially halted the U.N.-backed global health campaign to stamp out the crippling disease. Following the violence, the United Nations in Pakistan has pulled all staff involved in the immunization campaign off the streets, spokesman Michael Coleman said. Wednesday saw at least three separate attacks. In the northwestern district of Charsadda, men on motorbikes shot dead a woman and her driver, police and health officials said. Hours earlier, a male health worker was shot and badly wounded in the nearby provincial capital of Peshawar. He remains in a critical condition, said a doctor at the Lady Reading Hospital where he is being treated. Four other women health workers were shot at but not hit in nearby Nowshera, said Jan Baz Afridi, deputy head of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation. It is not clear exactly who is behind the violence but some Islamists, including Taliban militants, have long opposed the campaign, with some saying it is aimed at sterilizing Muslims. The Taliban have repeatedly issued threats against the polio eradication campaign and health workers said they received calls telling them to stop working with the "infidels". But a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ihsanullah Ihsan, told Reuters his group was not involved in the violence. On Monday and Tuesday, six female health workers were killed in attacks in the southern port city of Karachi and in Peshawar. The youngest was 17. The shootings, five of which happened in Karachi, home to 18 million people, led provincial health authorities to suspend the polio eradication campaign in the province of Sindh. But authorities in Khyber Paktunkhwa province, where the capital is Peshawar, said they would not accept a recommendation to suspend the campaign even as the United Nations ordered their staff to suspend work. "You know halting the campaign at this stage would create more problems as it's not a one-day phenomenon. If we stopped the campaign it would encourage the forces opposing the polio vaccination," said an official in the province, Javed Marwat. Despite this, many health workers told Reuters they would not be going to work until the security situation improved. The Taliban have repeatedly said the campaign is a Western conspiracy to sterilize or spy on Muslims or said the vaccinations could only continue if attacks by U.S. drone aircraft stopped. Their suspicions increased after it emerged that the CIA had used a fake vaccination campaign to try to gather information about Osama bin Laden, before he was found and killed in a northern Pakistani town last year. On Wednesday, Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said the campaign needed to go on. "We cannot and would not allow polio to wreak havoc on the lives of our children," he said in a statement. Pakistan had 20,000 polio cases in 1994 but vigorous vaccination efforts had brought the number down to 56 in 2012, the statement said. A global vaccination campaign has eradicated the disease from everywhere except Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Polio can paralyze or kill within hours of infection. It is transmitted person-to-person, meaning that as long as one child is infected, the disease can be passed to others.

Pakistan: President‚ PM directs full security for Polio vaccination teams

President and the Prime Minister have directed to provide full security to the Polio vaccination teams for the success of the campaign. President Asif Ali Zardari has directed the Chief Secretaries of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to conduct an enquiry into the incidents of killings of polio workers in Karachi and Peshawar. He also directed to provide full security to polio eradication teams so that they could continue the campaign without any fear. The President reiterated unflinching resolve of the government for eradication of polio from the country. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf also directed the Interior Ministry to provide foolproof security to the polio teams. Chairing a meeting of Polio Task Force in Islamabad‚ he directed the concerned authorities to conduct an enquiry into the killing of polio workers in Karachi and Peshawar and bring the culprits to book. He paid tributes to the services of polio workers. Raja Pervez Ashraf said polio free Pakistan is the cherished goal of the government. He said this is the least we owe to our children and seeking a polio-free life is the fundamental right of the people. The meeting was informed that thirty four million children would be covered under the National Emergency Plan 2013 which will involve over twenty five thousand polio workers.