Friday, May 31, 2013

Turkey: Main opposition leader calls on PM to order withdrawal of police from Taksim

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to take responsibility for instructing the withdrawal of the police from Istanbul’s Taksim area where clashes with peaceful demonstrators protesting against the demolition of Gezi Park continued late May 31. “Don’t confront police with the people. Withdraw immediately the police from Taksim Gezi [Park] area. People are defending their city. That’s why they are resisting,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, noting that an administrative court had suspended the Artillery Barracks projects planned to replace the park. “Show that you are the prime minister and make a public statement that you will respect the court’s ruling. This is your duty,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. Erdoğan had previously stated that the decision on the construction of the Artillery Barracks was already taken, adding that it would not change no matter what the protesters did.

At least 12 injured as police fire tear gas to break up protests in Istanbul, Ankara

Police Attack Protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square
ISTANBUL — Police officers attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators on Friday in Istanbul’s Taksim Square with water cannons and tear gas, sending scores of people, protesters and tourists alike, scurrying into shops and luxury hotels and turning the center of this city into a battle zone at the height of tourist season. The police action was the latest violent crackdown by the government against a growing protest movement challenging plans to replace a park in Taksim Square, Istanbul’s equivalent of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, with a replica Ottoman-era army barracks that would house a shopping mall. But while the removal of the park, which is filled with sycamore trees and is the last significant green space in the center of Istanbul, set off the protests at the beginning of the week, the gatherings have broadened into a wider expression of anger against the heavy-handed tactics and urban development plans of the government and its leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His party, now in power a decade, is increasingly viewed by many Turks as becoming authoritarian. Mr. Erdogan still has great support among Turkey’s religious masses, but secular critics cite his government’s sweeping prosecution and intimidation of journalists as evidence of its intolerance of dissent. Much of the anger also centers on the struggle over Istanbul’s public spaces. Mr. Erdogan’s government has preceded with disputed urban development plans with little public input, while his police forces have increasingly used tear gas against peaceful protesters, resulting in scores of injuries, including the hospitalization on Friday of a Kurdish lawmaker, who had become a vocal participant in the protests, after he was hit by a tear gas canister. The protest movement comes amid continued public anger at Turkey’s policy of supporting the rebels in Syria, which many Turks feel has led to a violent spillover inside Turkey, including recent car bombings in the southern city of Reyhanli, which killed dozens of people. The rising public disenchantment represents a significant political challenge to Mr. Erdogan, who is planning to run for the presidency next year and has been trying to alter the Constitution to create a more powerful presidential system. In the early afternoon Friday, as protesters gathered and began shouting antigovernment chants, police officers in riot gear began surrounding the group, positioning vehicles that resembled tanks at the edge of the square around the protesters, who were mostly sitting. “Taksim is ours, we are not giving it to the A.K.P.!” they chanted, referring to Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, known as A.K.P. As they chanted, police officers casually put on their gas masks and the operators of the tanklike vehicles aimed their big guns, which fire a mixture of water and tear gas, at the group. Then chaos erupted. Protesters and onlookers, some of them tourists, ran down side streets where shopkeepers offered sliced lemons to soothe the burning sensation of the gas, and pharmacists doled out ointments for skin burns. “The pigs, the pigs,” said Esra Yurtnac, who was crying as she sought refuge in a bakery after being gassed. “All they know is how to use gas.” She added, “They think they can silence us with force, but they won’t.” Hours after the clashes with protesters, an Istanbul court on Friday ruled in favor of a petition by a local advocacy group and halted the project until parties submitted their legal arguments to court, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported. The interior minister also pledged on Friday that claims of excessive force would be investigated. The chaos followed a dawn raid on an Occupy Wall Street-style encampment in Gezi Park, near Taksim, in which the police also used tear gas to drive away protesters and later barricaded the park. In an earlier raid on the camp, on Thursday, the police set fire to some tents. The brief occupation of the park, which began after bulldozers had started to take down trees, had taken on a festival-like atmosphere, with yoga, barbecues and musical performances, while the gathered changed, “Taksim is ours! Istanbul is ours!” The people adorned the camp with banners expressing the rising anger at the reshaping of Istanbul’s urban spaces by the government. One read, “Don’t touch our neighborhood, our squares, our trees, our water, our soil, our homes, our villages, our cities and our parks.” Another referred to Mr. Erdogan and the growing number of shopping malls being built around the city. “Let all shopping malls crumble and let Tayyip get crushed by their rubble,” the banner read. In building new mosques and emphasizing Turkey’s Islamic past over its Byzantine and Roman legacies, Mr. Erdogan has been referred to as a latter-day Ottoman sultan, with little regard for seeking public input on the projects. On Wednesday, the government held a groundbreaking ceremony for a third bridge over the Bosporus that is being named for an Ottoman sultan. “It’s all about superiority, and ruling over the people like sultans,” said one of the protesters, Seckin Barbaros, 26, a former journalist who is now unemployed. “When were we asked what we wanted? We have three times the amount of mosques as we do schools. Yet they are building new mosques. There are eight shopping malls in the vicinity of Taksim, yet they want to build another.” In a speech earlier in the week, Mr. Erdogan dismissed the protesters and said the destruction of park would go ahead, “no matter what they do.” The anger in the streets is also a rebuke to the economic policies of the government, which have relied heavily on construction and new housing in Istanbul to power economic growth. Turkey has had a resilient economy that emerged relatively unscathed from the global financial crisis, eclipsing the performance of Europe and many other nations. But some analysts worry the government’s focus on construction projects could lead to a bubble much like the one in the United States that led to the economic collapse of 2008. Ms. Barbaros said, “What about the day when all these shopping malls will be empty like in Greece and then they will wish they never constructed them.” She added: “Where are the opera houses? The theaters? The culture and youth centers? What about those? They only choose what will bring them the most profit without considering what we need.” Another demonstrator, Seyfettin Sabaz, who is training to be a dentist, said: “Many of the Turkish public think that we are here as environmentalists to save our sycamore trees. But that’s not it. We are here to stand up against those that are trying to make a profit from our land.” Around Taksim Square, the site of several other tear gas attacks on protesters this year, including one on May Day demonstrators, the chaos is taking on a sense of the familiar to shopkeepers who are becoming accustomed to offering shelter and aid to tear gas victims. “I own a decorations shop, but for the past year it has felt like I run a shelter for gas raid victims,” said Ali Yildrim, who has lived in Istanbul for 35 years. “Soon I’ll be keeping lemons and medicine behind my counter.”

Bangladeshi student Fatima Sheikh to play the role of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai

Indian film director Amjad Khan confirmed that 16-year-old Fatima Sheikh, from Dhaka, will play the central part in the film
A Bangladeshi student with no acting experience is to play the role of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai in a forthcoming movie about the work of the teenage activist who was shot and almost killed by the Taliban. Indian film director Amjad Khan confirmed that 16-year-old Fatima Sheikh, from Dhaka, will play the central part in the film, for which shooting is expected to start in the middle of July. Mr Khan said that for security reasons, no photographs showing Ms Sheikh’s face or other details about her would be released until shooting was well underway. “She is a student. She looks like Malala,” the Kolkata-based director told The Independent. “But there are security issues.” Indian media has been buzzing with speculation about who might play the role of 15-year-old Malala since Mr Khan announced his plans to make the film late last year. He said he had been inspired by her struggle for the right of girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley to be educated, a story that had received international attention after she was shot while on her way home from school last autumn. The English-language film is to be called Gul Makai, the pseudonym used by Malala when she wrote a blog for the BBC Urdu service website in 2009 when the Swat valley was seized by Taliban gunmen. The militants issued strict edicts obliging people to follow Sharia law and burned down girls’ schools. They were eventually driven out by the Pakistani army but the security situation remains uncertain. Malala, who also appeared in a subsequent documentary about her work as campaigner, was shot in the neck after her school bus was intercepted by a Taliban gunman last October. They said they had intentionally targeted her because of her work and because of her alleged links to the West. The shooting of the 15-year-old triggered outrage across Pakistan and around the world. After emergency treatment in Pakistan she was transferred to Britain where she has undergone reconstructive surgery and received rehabilitation. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Mr Khan said he had located Ms Sheikh through a friend in Bangladesh and that he had gone to Dhaka to carry out a screen-test. Her parents have insisted that her identity not be revealed until the second half of filming. “Filming will take place in London, Pakistan, Iran and India,” said Mr Khan. The selection of Ms Sheikh to play the role of Malala was first reported by the Times of India which used an image of the Bangladeshi student wearing a niqab, or veil, with just a narrow slit for her eyes. This is not the first time Mr Khan has selected a controversial subject for a film. Last year he reportedly received threats after completing work on Le Gaya Saddam, which looked at the issue of divorce in Muslim cultures. Malala, who was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, is due to publish an account of her life later this year. It is to be called I am Malala. The book’s publication is to be accompanied by two interviews broadcast in the UK and US. There was no immediate reaction from Malala or her family about the film

Punjab: Measles; unstoppable

Far from showing any retreat, the measles menace is looking almost unstoppable. It took the lives of nine more children on Monday, amid the Lahore High Court looking quite perturbed at the continued loss of life. What is to be done? A report in this paper points towards the usual procrastination in procurement and availability of vaccine as well as the shoddy conditions in the hospitals including medical staff that is incapable of stemming the disease. Broadly speaking, slackness is rather ingrained in our attitude or rather it is a way of life; we wake up when the disaster has already struck or sometimes when a suo moto notice is taken. Response towards measles is a case in point and a pathetic one. Reportedly many of the hospitals lack the vaccine, the delay in getting them has led to deaths.It appears, the authorities that ought to have arranged for the drugs and vaccines are literally hibernating. During the LHC proceedings, they were found shifting blame, which has been going on for quite some time now. In every hearing, accusations and excuses are flung as the judges watch and think to fight the scourge. Who is really in charge here? The Punjab Health Department that earned the ire of the court is headed by a bunch of officials who perhaps do not know what to do? Three more cases of children dying were also reported from Faisalabad; a total of 100 patients have died all over Punjab so far. The epidemic is spreading like a wildfire. The Lahore High Court’s statement that the meagre measures taken by the Punjab health officials are the cause of the deaths is a damning indictment of the department. Now if heads have to roll, they must; this is necessary to get things moving in the right direction to bring in those who can save lives. The vaccines have to be procured and not only that regular surveillance of public hospitals need to be carried out where reports indicate unscrupulous staff stooping so low as to steal the medicine.

Pakistan: ''Now is the time: TTP leader’s death''

IN death, Waliur Rehman has caused almost as much controversy as he did when he was alive. The TTP second-in-command appears to have been taken out by an American drone strike, triggering consternation in public and more considered cost-benefit analyses in private. For all the cries about yet another violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, however, one fundamental point must not be overlooked: it appears that the US knew how and where to find the militant, whereas the Pakistani security and intelligence apparatus did not. Waliur Rehman had in the past been cast as a ‘moderate’ Taliban, someone the state here could do business with, but the truth was that he was a moderate only in that he was determined to attack inside Afghanistan too — meaning his attention was split between Pakistan and Afghanistan, unlike, say, Hakeemullah Mehsud who is known to focus most of his attention on attacks inside Pakistan. So here was a highly dangerous, highly motivated and highly effective militant leader in the form of Waliur Rehman and the Pakistani state appears to have had little clue of his whereabouts, appearing to believe that he would likely be hiding out on the border between North and South Waziristan. This is where the role of the security establishment should be questioned. The drone argument also has the unhappy effect of deflecting attention to a far more serious issue: what the Pakistani state intends to do about North Waziristan, now the last redoubt of militants in which they can operate and plan largely unmolested. The incoming civilian leadership has talked up talks again while the military leadership has tried to indirectly warn about the futility of negotiations — but then the army high command has not shown any decisiveness when it comes to North Waziristan for years now either. Now, with the Taliban once again ‘suspending’ their offer of talks in the wake of Waliur Rehman’s killing, there is one of two ways to proceed: flounder in the face of a continuing threat or take strength from the decisiveness showed by the electorate in rejecting the Taliban path. For all the reasons for inaction, to avoid a military operation in North Waziristan, to further delay establishing the state’s writ there, there is a simple truth: the TTP and Pakistan as imagined by its people, and endorsed in the recent elections, are incompatible. How to take on the TTP militants in North Waziristan is an important question but it is secondary to the need to take them on now not later.

PPP takes reins of Sindh, again

Daily Times
The Sindh Assembly elected PPP-Parliamentarians candidate Syed Qaim Ali Shah as chief minister of the province for the third time on Thursday. Qaim secured 86 votes, whereas MQM candidate for the slot, Syed Sardar Ahmed, got 48 votes and came in second in the contest, while the PML-F candidate, Imtiaz Sheikh, secured 18 votes. Later, speaking in the House Qaim thanked everyone for expressing confidence in him. He said that law and order in the province would be his top priority. He said that a 10-party alliance fought against the PPPP but people in Sindh again expressed confidence in the party. The chief minister said that his government would come up to the expectations of the people. Qaim was sworn in as the chief minister at a ceremony held at the Governor’s House. Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan administered him oath. Qaim said that his government would try to deliver more than it did in its previous tenure. His election was held through open division of members. Some seven ministers also took oath along with the chief minister. They are Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, Makhdoom Jamiluz Zaman, Manzoor Wasan, Sharjeel Inam Memon, Raja Khan Maher and Dr Sikanadar Mandhro. Syed Murad Ali Shah has been taken as adviser. Also, the Sindh Assembly elected PPPP leader Agha Siraj Durrani as speaker, and Shehla Raza as deputy speaker of the House. Durrani secured 87 votes and Shehla 86 during separate elections at the Sindh Assembly hall. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Khuwaja Izharul Hassan and Heer Sohu got second positions by securing 48 votes each in the polls for speaker and deputy speaker, respectively. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) Irfaullah Marwat and PML-F’s Nusrat Saher Abbasi got 18 votes each in the election for the two slots, respectively. Former speaker Nisar Ahmed Khuhro conducted the polls to select the new speaker, while the newly elected speaker, Agha Siraj Durrani supervised the deputy speaker’s election. After being elected as the speaker, Durrani said that former speaker Khuhro had performed well in the office, and he will also utilise his abilities to run the assembly affairs in a good manner. He said that he will try to run the House in a balanced way. He appealed both the treasury and opposition to extend their cooperation in this respect. Former speaker Khuhro, who is also an expected parliamentary leader of the PPPP, assured the new speaker of his full support. MQM’s leader Syed Sardar Ahmed also assured the speaker of his party’s cooperation. He hoped that Durrani will perform well in office, and said that office of the speaker was very much important as founder of the country; Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had also assumed the seat, while remaining in office as the governor general. PPPP leader Manzoor Wasan hoped that the new speaker whose father too had held the same office will perform better than Khuhro. Another senior leader of the PPP, Hazar Khan Bijrani said that assuming office as the speaker is an honour for Durrani.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

China: Schools' eyes opened on sex education after molestations

At a Beijing primary school, the teacher shows her fourth-grade students a cartoon video. When it portrays a male adult grabbing the bottom of a little girl, all the boys in the class utter sounds of disgust and then burst into playful laughter. The teacher pauses the video and asks of the nine and 10 year olds gathered before her, "What kind of trouble has the girl ran into?" A boy in a yellow-striped shirt stands up, saying, "Touching her private parts, it's very bad," then raising his voice, "It is behavior beyond description." Such "behavior beyond description" has haunted China in recent months as a string of cases involving molestations of school kids has hit the headlines. It prompted China's Supreme People's Court to vow "zero tolerance" of such acts in a statement issued on Wednesday. But with International Children's Day falling on Saturday, focus has also been placed on how to adequately educate kids about sexual issues. The recent molestation cases have highlighted the importance of classes like the one attended by the little boy on Tuesday at An Hui Li Central Primary School in Chaoyang District (referred to as An Hui Li School hereafter). Their tragic details reveal children's ignorance about self protection due to poor sex education. In some of the cases in the news, the victims were reportedly too afraid or ashamed to speak up, leaving molesters unrestrained for long periods after their acts. However, in An Hui Li School's "sex education" class, students, both boys and girls, are encouraged to talk openly about sexual assaults and scramble to express their ideas regarding protection measures. That is why this primary school in a leafy neighborhood adjacent to Beijing's Olympic Stadium has been cited as a trailblazer in breaking a Chinese taboo of educating youngsters about sex. "We should say NO to sexual assault loudly," a student writes on a feedback sheet after the class, spelling 'No' in capitalized English letters. For her and many of her peers, the notion of sexual assault was a foreign one before the class, according to a questionnaire they were asked to fill in. Two students answered that their only knowledge of sexual assault was that it was "perverted behavior." During the class, a boy volunteers to narrate his encounter with what he believed was a sexual assault. "The other day, I saw a woman in a man's arms, making very intimate moves, and I felt gross," he explains. The teacher, Zhang Xinzhu, a 23-year-old psychology graduate, says, "Oh, dear, I feel much relieved after you told me that was your experience with sexual assault." She then tells the 40-student class that sexual assault is dangerous, unacceptable behavior that makes one uncomfortable, including physical and verbal assaults, among other forms. To be more specific, Zhang says, "When you put on a swimming suit, the parts of your body covered are 'private.' Never allow anyone to touch them." The An Hui Li School has been running sex education classes since 2010,offering one or two 40-minute sessions to students of each grade annually. Their contents range from physical differences between boys and girls, how to prevent against sexual assaults, mood sexual management and birth. Sex education among young children remains controversial in China, with many fearing that it will render kids precocious. Besides, sex itself, historically considered taboo in confucianist culture and in the era before China's reform and opening-up from the late 1970s, still casts a pall on today's society. People often blush when sex is publicly mentioned. As a result, parents even stonewall their children's inquiries about sex-related topics. For instance, "Where do I come from" is a question bewildering generations of Chinese children, as the most probable answer they get from adults is a half-joking reply, "We picked you up at a garbage dump." A fifth-grade girl, Ling Ling (pseudonym) of An Hui Li School, said when she asked her mother what is the phrase to describe births other than caesarean, her mother answered, "You will know when you grow up." "When I was little, I always wondered where I came from. Did I fall from the sky? Was I fished from a garbage dump? Or a fairy turned into a human?" Ling said, placing her right index finger against her cheek. Now, as a recipient of sex education from first grade and a participant in a guided tour of the school's boys' rooms as part of the class, she knows babies are conceived by "the combination of sperms and eggs, and delivered through mothers' vaginas." Zheng Ju, vice principal of An Hui Li School, also one of the curriculum designers, believes quelling young kids' innocent curiosity is harmless and good for shaping their view of sex as something natural. On the other hand, "evading the topic will only arouse their greater curiosity and convey a message that sex is indeed mysterious and sensitive," she says. "Besides, even if adults keep silent, children may as well learn from other sources." She also insists on including teaching on sexual assaults prevention in the curriculum, explaining, "This is not something that can be fixed after it happens. Such knowledge is as important as earthquake survival skills." Hao Xinying, a 36-year-old housewife and mother of a fifth-grader at An Hui Li School, said, "I am too shy to talk about this stuff with my girl, and I feel relieved the school does the job. I hope they learn this knowledge as early as possible." In the recent child molestation cases, a 42-year-old second-grade teacher in the southern city of Shenzhen was detained on Monday under suspicion of molesting female pupils. And a 55-year-old teacher of central China's Henan Province was arrested on May 23 for allegedly molesting multiple female students. On May 14, a primary school headmaster and a government employee in Wanning City, Hainan Province, were also detained by police for allegedly sexually assaulting six female students.

Xi, Obama look to strike up relationship at summit

Associated Press
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping face weighty issues when they meet at a private estate in California next week, but their most important task may simply be establishing a strong rapport. Tucked away at a mansion with a private golf course on the edge of the Mojave Desert, Obama and Xi will search for the kind of personal chemistry that has eluded their predecessors for the past several decades. With the bilateral relationship growing ever more critical and complex, how well the leaders click matters even more now. Distrust has grown between the world's sole superpower and the rising Asian giant. Beijing sees Washington as trying to thwart China's ascendancy. The U.S. accuses China of widespread computer hacking and unfair trade. Meanwhile, there's worry their militaries might be drawn into conflict as China tries to elbow aside U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines over disputed, remote islands. "There are a lot of problems between China and the U.S. that aren't going to be easy to solve. The hope, therefore, is that a way can be established so that at the times of crisis, dialogue will prevail based on trust and the personal relationship between the two leaders," said Zhu Feng, deputy director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University. The June 7-8 get-together at the private Sunnylands estate of late publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg is the first face-to-face meeting between the presidents since Obama's re-election and Xi's promotion to Communist Party chief last November. Under China's dual party-government system, Xi didn't officially assume the title of president until March. The summit comes months before the two leaders had been originally scheduled to meet, highlighting a perception on both sides that the leaders need to refocus on the U.S.-China relationship following their political transitions and amid myriad distractions at home and abroad. The accelerated timing constitutes "a clear message that China wants to emphasize the importance of U.S.-China relations for the future," said Cheng Li, a Chinese politics expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. It's not clear yet how big the two delegations will be or whether Xi and Obama will meet one-on-one, something Xi's stiff and formal predecessor, Hu Jintao, was unwilling to do, Li said. But there are hopeful signs that the two men will gel. Xi already has a warm relationship with Vice President Joe Biden, whom he accompanied to western China on a visit in 2011. Xi also boasts a greater familiarity with the U.S. than any of his predecessors, having visited frequently and maintained his ties to families he stayed with in Muscatine, Iowa, while a visiting provincial official in 1985. He also sent his daughter to Harvard. The two men share a love of sports: swimming and football on Xi's side, basketball and golf on Obama's. Both are married to glamorous, high-profile wives who have played a strong role in shaping their images. Xi's wife, People's Liberation Army songstress Peng Liyuan, was for many years better known to the public than her husband. Chinese media and Internet users closely followed her activities during the couple's first formal state visits to Russia and three African countries earlier this year. "It will be interesting to see how the chemistry will develop. It's important, because particularly in China, personal relationships always carry a lot of weight in state-to-state relations," said the Brookings Institution's Li. Xi has already proved himself a different leader by his pragmatism. With relations edgy, he was willing to forgo the pomp of an official White House visit for the lower-key meeting in California. Trust between the countries has dwindled over the decades. After U.S. planes bombed the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia in what Washington says was an accident during the Kosovo war in 1999, angry Chinese protesters nearly breached the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. In the discord, Chinese President Jiang Zemin refused a call from the White House. Two years later, when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. surveillance plane off southern China, Beijing held the American crew and waited for an acceptable apology from the U.S. In 2009, the U.S. Navy accused Chinese sailors of harassing one of its ocean floor mapping vessels in a game of high-seas chicken. The trust gap was further underscored by newly publicized claims Tuesday that China employed cyberattacks to access data from nearly 40 Pentagon weapons programs and almost 30 other defense technologies ranging from missile defense systems to the F-35 joint strike fighter. The disclosure was included in a Defense Science Board report released earlier this year, meaning U.S. officials knew of it before planning for the summit began. The disclosure's public release allows U.S. officials to highlight an issue of concern without necessarily overshadowing the summit. China's Defense Ministry on Thursday called the accusations faulty and said they underestimated both the Pentagon's ability to protect its secrets, and the capabilities of China's domestic defense industry. "China is entirely capable of producing the weaponry needed for national defense," spokesman Geng Yansheng told reports at a monthly briefing, pointing to recent domestic technological breakthroughs such as the country's first aircraft carrier, new generation fighter jets, large transport planes and the Beidou satellite system. China has consistently denied claims its military is engaged in hacking, including those in a report by U.S. cybersecurity firm Mandiant that traced the hacking back to a People's Liberation Army unit based in Shanghai. Other likely agenda items include the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, conflict in Syria, climate change and expanding bilateral military ties. China will likely press its claims of business discrimination in the U.S. market, along with its deep discomfort over Washington's shifting of military assets to Asia and renewed emphasis on its regional alliances, moves seen by China as part of an effort to contain its rise. The perception of U.S. decline and Chinese ascendancy forms much of the subtext to the current relationship, with Beijing seeking greater international influence commensurate with its status as the world's second-largest economy. Many in China see the U.S. as a waning power weakened by the economic crisis, partisan feuding and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In their latest contribution to diplomatic argot, Chinese leaders now say they are seeking a "new model of major country relations" in their dealings with Washington. Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang defined that Wednesday as "different from the old model featuring confrontation and conflict." "We believe a new model of major country relations between China and the United States should be based on mutual trust, equality, inclusiveness, mutual learning and win-win cooperation," Zheng said at a Wednesday briefing. Xi and Obama first met early last year when Xi, then China's vice president, visited the White House on a trip to meet key American political players and introduce himself to the American public. The visit afforded Xi a chance to show his human side, reconnecting with his old Iowa friends, chatting with students at a school in Los Angeles and even catching part of a Lakers basketball game. The two presidents give off different vibes but share abundant confidence and varied interests. The portly, soft-spoken Xi is known as a capable but highly cautious administrator, in contrast to the forceful and hard-charging Obama. Known primarily for his pedigree as the son of a communist elder, Xi is seen by many observers as a strong nationalist willing to press territorial claims and what Beijing broadly proclaims as the "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation." Unlike former President Hu, who often seemed uncomfortable outside official settings and stuck closely to his official talking points, Xi appears at ease around foreign visitors and is known for speaking without notes and allowing sessions to run well over their scheduled time limits. "On a personal level, he's confident, he's on top of his brief and you get a very distinct sense that he has a roadmap in his head in terms of where China needs to go. He's not only a very adroit political operator, but he's also a realist," said former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.

Pakistan: Another polio worker slain

What a pity that saviours who toiled in cities, towns and remote villages in an attempt to save the coming generation from crippling diseases like Polio are being ruthlessly killed. The extremists which are behind this crime against humanity seem to be enjoying a free rein. Since the past many months they have been targeting the health workers almost with impunity while the police as usual has yet to come up with any crucial arrest, evidence or anything that could prevent more attacks from occurring. In the aftermath of their recent attack on a female polio worker in Kaggawala village near Peshawar, the Polio vaccination campaign has been put on hold in Pakistan's northwest. According to a report, another female worker, who was also shot had died in the hospital. A government spokesman said the four-day campaign has been suspended there for security reasons and to express solidarity with the slain female polio workers. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but a police official, said that the hunt is on for the gunmen. Business as usual! Earlier, gunmen in Pakistan had killed six health workers during a nationwide polio vaccination bringing the death toll close to a dozen. Pakistan is one of the three countries where polio still remains, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. Efforts to tackle the crippling disease have been hampered over the years by superstition. Worse still, on the other hand, the Taliban banned immunizations in the tribal region of Waziristan, condemning the campaign as a cover for espionage after the arrest of Dr Shakeel Afridi who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden. World Health Organization, UNICEF and United Nations had already issued statements saying such attacks would deprive Pakistan’s most vulnerable section of population — especially children — of basic lifesaving health facilities. It is now that we must stand up and catch those amongst us who are our biggest enemies. Whatever it takes to get at these extremists, there should be no dithering. It is in ridding our country of this scourge that we would breathe freely and prosper.

INDIA: Send me back to my country or kill me: Pakistani woman
“Send my wife back to Pakistan or release her to the family, just don’t forget her in Nirmal Chhaya (shelter home for women),’’ pleads Mohammed Gulfam, husband of the Pakistani national Nuzhat Jahan who has been living in Delhi for the past 30 years and is now awaiting her deportation to her country for overstaying in India illegally. Nuzhat, who was married at the age of 17, has stayed with her husband in India ever since in their small house in Sitaram Bazar, Old Delhi.
Valid visa
In 2002, she was picked up for overstaying in India without a valid visa. Earlier this month she was sentenced to six days’ imprisonment, awarded a fine and ordered to be sent back to Pakistan. After serving her punishment, she is currently lodged in Nirmal Chhaya awaiting further orders from the Central Government.
‘Worse than jail’
“My wife was taken away early this month and we haven’t had proper access to her since then. A Delhi Court has ordered her deportation; she has served her punishment and now is being kept in Nirmal Chhaya where we (her family–children and grand children) have had very little access to her. It is worse than being in Tihar Jail. We appeal to the Government to decide our fate soon. Send her back to Pakistan, if that is the only thing that can be done, but whatever is your decision just do it soon …… don’t forget this 47/48-year-old woman in a shelter home,’’ says Gulfam, looking at his wedding photos, eyes brimming with tears. “The last time I spoke to her, she said please ask the Indian Government to send me back to Pakistan or kill me….but don’t let them forget about me in Nirmal Chhaya,’’ adds Gulfam. “The wait is the worst punishment,’’ says 27-years-old Gulsher, the second of Nuzhat’s three children.
Blood pressure
“She is not home, she hasn’t been sent to Pakistan and she is lodged in a place where we can’t even sit down and talk to her. We are worried about her health: my mother has high blood pressure, she has ulcer, problem with her liver and is anaemic. We are worried about how she is faring in the shelter home,’’ he says. Even back in Pakistan, Nuzhat only has her old mother, besides her brother and sister who are married and have their own families. “The last time that my parents went to Pakistan was in 1992, my mother is more Indian than Pakistani she has lived her entire life here,’’ adds Gulsher.
‘The greatest law’
Unable to hold back his tears, Gulfam says: “After my wife has been taken away nothing is like before. My life seems over. What are these borders and nationalities about? Isn’t compassion the greatest law in the world. We are talking about a simple housewife here whose life has always revolved around her three children and grandchildren. She would even refuse to go shopping alone. Her home was her entire universe.’’ Speaking about his helplessness and how he finds himself alone in his fight to get his wife an Indian passport, Gulfam says: “No political party, leader or women’s group has agreed to help us despite the fact that we have been running from pillar to post appealing for help. Now I have lost all hope and the strength to take this fight forward; so if the court has ordered my wife’s deportation, send her back….just please do not forget that it is a human life and an entire family’s fate is being decided here.’’

Pakistan’s Absurdity of Negotiating With Taliban But Not the Baloch

Editorial:The Baloch Hal
The B.B.C. Urdu has reported that since the general elections of May 11, at least a dozen people have become the fresh victims of Pakistan’s ‘kill and dump‘ policies in Balochistan. While the so-called “mainstream national media” often do not report these cases, Baloch human rights activists have done a remarkable job in bringing the atrocities to public attention on platforms such as C.N.N.’s Eye Report segment. There is no let up in human rights abuses in Balochistan even after the general elections. Similar to the past incidents, most of the people whose bullet-riddled dead bodies are found are young students and political activists (between the ages of 18 to 24) belonging to remote parts of Balochistan. Among the fresh incidents, the most shocking is the killing of Shahzeb and Shah Noor, two brothers from Panjgur District whose bodies were found in neighboring Kech on May 19. According to the Daily Times, the two brothers “were in their 20s and were brutally tortured and subjected to electric shocks… They were abducted on March 11 from Turbat area of Kech district.” Unfortunately, no Pakistani politician, including Nawaz Sharif, the country’s future prime minister, has condemned the fresh kill and dump incidents in Balochistan. Mr. Sharif is too excited over his victory in the province of the Punjab and at the Center but he barely realizes that the country’s security establishment is still actively implementing Musharraf’s policies in Balochistan. The Pakistani media and the newly elected political parties are aloof to the plight of the Baloch people. Mr. Sharif seems to have gotten his priorities wrong. He says Pakistan’s electricity crisis worries him so much that he cannot sleep at night whereas mothers in Balochistan, on their part, cannot sleep because their children continue to disappear and return only as corpses. The continuity of the kill and dump operations post elections is indeed very alarming. Since reports of disappearances in Balochistan emerged in the media for the first time in early 2000s, Pakistan has transitioned between three different governments. Yet, democracy means nothing for Balochistan and elections barely mitigate the Baloch sufferings. With the arrival of the third government, we have entered the third generation of a government under which enforced disappearances and brutal killings continue unabated in Balochistan. The culture of absolute impunity continues as usual and the country’s spymasters, as repeatedly blamed by credible organizations such as the Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International, remain immune to official accountability for their brazen involvement in massive human rights violations. How much mandate do political parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz require to end the extrajudicial activities of the intelligence agencies? Someone on the land has to take the courageous initiative to bring these rights abusers to justice.The trauma the Baloch children go through every single day because of the fear of eventually ‘disappearing’ one day is far more intense, genuine and widespread than what the victims of the drone strikes go through in Pakistan’s northern tribal regions. Pakistan has a selective policy toward human rights and civilians’ fears which is why there is a hue and cry against the drones but no one in the military utters a word against enforced disappearances and kill and dump operations in Balochistan. While the Americans may be violating Pakistan’s ‘sovereignty’ through the drone strikes, but what armies on the earth are subjecting their own people to enforced disappearance, torture and dump? This only happens in Pakistan and it should immediately end. We do not understand why Islamabad is paying so much emphasis on negotiating with the Taliban on the one hand but intensifying its kill and dump operations against secular Baloch nationalists on the other hand. If the central government is willing to negotiate with the Taliban who are known across the globe for their terrorist activities and human rights abuses, particularly toward women, then what is wrong with talking to the Baloch who are actually the victims of Pakistani state-sponsored repression? The recent developments indicate that the upcoming P.M.L.N. government does not find itself in an urgent situation to ask the military to stop its brutal actions in Balochistan. The military is only supportive of peace with the Taliban and determined to continue operations in Balochistan. A word of caution: The P.M.L.-N is doing the right job by (reportedly) supporting Dr. Malik Baloch, a member of the Baloch middle class, to become the next chief minister of the province but it should not forget that there is also a parallel middle-class uprising in the province headed by Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch. Gone are the days when Islamabad could put out the fire in Balochistan only by covertly reaching a settlement with a handful of Baloch tribal chiefs. What should further worry Islamabad is the fact that almost all victims of the kill and dump policies belong to middle-class families. Each killing will only strengthen the middle class rebellion instead of facilitating a middle-class chief minister, provided that Dr. Baloch is appointed, to resolve or at least reduce Balochistan’s problems.

Bangladeshi whiz kid to be listed in Guinness record book

Deutsche Welle
A seven-year-old boy is to be included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's youngest IT expert. "Ripley's Believe It or Not" has already called him a “wonder boy” and plans to give him an award. Wasik Farhan Roopkotha started toying with the computer when he wasn't even a year old. Now, he is about to go down in history as the world’s youngest programmer. Born on January 27, 2006, the child recently demonstrated his skills in front of IT experts and journalists in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. The event was videotaped and an unedited copy was sent to the Guinness Book of World Records as proof of the boy's talent. "After receiving the video, the Guinness people sent me some papers which I have signed," the boy's mother, Cynthia Farheen Risha, told DW proudly.She explained her son Roopkotha, which means "fairytale" in English had started playing computer games when he was only a year old and at two he was already using MS Word. When he was four he could change characters from one game to another using different emulators. "About a year ago, he started working with some of the programming languages including one of the most complicated languages, C++," Risha said. Monir Hosen, the managing director of Creative IT Limited was there when Roopkotha was demonstrated his skills in Dhaka. “I am not sure about how much he knows about the computer language "C",” he told DW. “But whatever he did on that day was very unusual, considering his age. I wanted to talk to him. That such a young person was working on the computer, writing codes and solving problems, was really hard to believe." "I heard that the Guinness authorities had sent their representatives to Dhaka after they were contacted by Roopkotha's parents. They also noted the boy's talents and asked his parents to provide them with appropriate video confirmation."Risha said her son could easily set up operating systems and fix problems and that he could touch-type as fast as a professional. She said he had never received any IT lessons but simply taught himself. "Whenever he wants to know something he goes directly to Wikipedia." "He is thinking big," she added. “He wants to develop his own computer operating system. He already knows and can compare the features of different Windows versions." Ripley’s Believe It or Not franchise has already informed Roopkotha's parents it will include the boy's name in its annual record book in September. The Bangladeshi government has requested that Wasik Farhan Roopkotha's story be included in schoolbooks to serve as an inspiration to other children.

Pakistan's Women’s reserved seats: Top politicians’ spouses, kin strike it lucky

The kith and kin of top political leaders have once again grabbed a lion’s share of the reserved seats for women in both the National Assembly and provincial assemblies. Some of them managed the feat without actually winning in the recent general elections. Wives, daughters and close relatives of seasoned politicians punched their ticket to the NA and provincial assemblies under the 33% quota reserved for women. Some of the lucky women, who lost on May 11, are now members of the assemblies via the reserved seats route. Currently, there are 70 reserved seats in the NA, 60 for women and 10 for minorities. There are 137 seats reserved for women in the four provincial assemblies. In the Punjab Assembly, 61 seats are reserved for women, 37 seats in the Sindh Assembly, 25 in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and 14 seats in the Balochistan Assembly. Rida Khan, daughter of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Mushahidullah Khan, will be an MNA, according to the final list of MNAs and MPAs prepared by the Election Commission of Pakistan. The list revealed that Nafisa Shah, daughter of former Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and Shaista Pervez, wife of PML-N MNA Pervez Malik, are also set to become MNAs. Anusha Rehman of PML-N also managed to secure a reserved NA seat Top Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leaders Dr Shireen Mazari and Munaza Hassan made their way to the lower house of Parliament for the first time on the reserved seats. Despite losing in her constituency, Marvi Memon managed to secure a reserved seat on a PML-N ticket, while Shazia Marri was elected as an MNA on a Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians ticket on the reserved seat after losing in the polls. Syeda Shehla Raza, who is set to take charge as deputy speaker of Sindh Assembly, was elected on a PPPP ticket. However, not all political leaders are in favour of the way some politicians have made their way into the NA on the reserved seats without contesting for them. They recalled that a bill seeking reserved seats for women in the Indian Parliament was pending for the last three years. The bill proposed to amend the Indian Constitution to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. PTI Chairman Imran Khan said his party was against reserved seats for women in the assemblies. “Legislators in assemblies are representatives of the people. How can some women be representatives of other women when they haven’t even contested the elections?” Khan asked last December. Senior politician and jurist S M Zafar said elected people should be MPs. “Elections belong to the people and it’s their decision to elect the leaders.”

Disenfranchising women in Pakistan

The gender divide is systematic in Pakistan’s electoral system. Not only that women were barred from voting or contesting in parts of Pakistan, they were not even registered as voters in many other parts. In fact, Pakistan counted 11 million fewer women registered voters than men in the recent elections. The statistics provided by Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) paint a gloomy picture of the gender divide, which is more pronounced in some parts of Pakistan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), only one in three voters was a woman. The highest share of women voters was observed for Islamabad and the Federal Territories where women represented 46 per cent of all voters.Pakistan’s electoral system allows for reserved seats for women to address the gender bias in electoral outcomes. While the motivation behind the move for reserved seats is commendable, the outcome hardly meets the intent. In fact, the reserved seats have rested more power in the hands of a handful of men who appoint their favourite women to the legislature. It would have helped if the women alone elected the women candidates for the reserved seats instead of the richest and the most influential half a dozen Pakistani men. In some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the share of women registered voters was already the lowest in Pakistan, political parties agreed not to allow women to vote in the elections. This is one of those odd moments of consensus in Pakistan where consensus on political matters is not only rare, but almost non-existent. The Associated Press recently reported that in the 2008 elections, 564 polling districts recorded zero votes cast by women. This was partly a result of an understanding reached between political parties to deny women the right to vote. Similar agreements were revealed in the 2013 elections where candidates in Upper and Lower Dir, to name a few, agreed to bar women from voting in the provincial assembly elections.
Why Islamists oppose women enfranchise?
While Islamic injunctions may not prevent women from participating in the political process, Islamists certainly do. There is an obvious correlation between the degree of religiosity at a place and the women’s ability to vote in Pakistan. For instance, the religious dogma is most prevalent in FATA, Khyber Pakthunkhwa, and Balochistan. These are also the places where women voting rights are the least prevalent. In Dir, where political parties agreed to prevent women from voting, Jamaat-i-Islami’s candidates have regularly emerged victorious. Other political parties that flaunt religion to forward their political cause have also used religion or tradition to disenfranchise women. Jamaat-i-Islami and other similar religo-political outfits take their cues from Saudi Arabia where women’s political rights are almost non-existent. The right to rule and lead is reserved exclusively for the male offspring in the Royal family. Women, in fact, are forbidden even from driving. The religiously-oriented political parties in Pakistan have not explicitly stated their misogynist ideals in their manifestos. However, since their inspiration comes from Saudi Arabia, and given an opportunity they routinely deny women the right to vote, it takes not much imagination to visualise the kind of regressive future religious parties envision for Pakistan. In the neighbouring Iran the situation is not much better. Iranian mullahs in the Guardian Council have concluded that while a woman can be the mother, wife, and sister of a President, she however cannot be the president. The mullahs have thus denied the right to contest the presidential elections to 30-odd women who wanted to participate in the elections scheduled for mid-June. The mullahs believe that the Iranian constitution allows only men (reejal) to hold the President’s office.
Are seculars any better in Pakistan?
It is true to a large extent that secular parties in Pakistan (whose political ideology is not necessarily defined by religious doctrines) do not oppose women from participating in the electoral process, they however seldom act to enfranchise the disadvantaged lot. Consider Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) who had the opportunity to nominate two women to the National Assembly against the reserved seats for women in Punjab. PTI’s choices, however, appear to favour the privileged. One of the PTI’s nominee is a resident of Islamabad’s elitist sector, E-7, and the other is the Lahore-based president of PTI’s women wing.While the Mullahs in Dir restricted women’s participation in the elections altogether, the supposedly enlightened ones did not fare much better as they rewarded power, fame, and wealth instead of promoting women from the struggling classes in Pakistan.

Pakistan: No early end to load shedding

Editorial: Daily Times
With load shedding in Pakistan reaching debilitating heights, the recent statement by the head of the incoming PML-N government, Nawaz Sharif, about how the energy crisis will not be solved immediately, could not have come at a more apt moment. Addressing a Youm-e-Takbeer ceremony in Lahore the other day, the incoming prime minister did offer the energy-starved masses some respite by saying that he would work to improve the situation as soon as his government steps in. Nawaz Sharif went so far as to say that it was a shame that the country has made itself a nuclear power but has been unable to provide energy to the citizens. Whilst this is an apt analogy, it speaks volumes about the priorities of our various governments, Nawaz Sharif’s included, during whose watch we tested these above mentioned nuclear weapons but are now suffering because our industries are shutting down and lives are becoming miserable due to the lack of electricity. This blunt address to the nation could not have been timelier; we are suffering record load shedding — sometimes as much as a whopping 20 hours a day even in the urban centres — during a record heat wave. The masses, who came out in droves in these landmark elections to vote and elect more maturely, have unrealistically high expectations. Frustrated and defeated by the lack of power, they would like to believe that the incoming government will step in on June 5 and load shedding will be a thing of the past on June 6. To address this misconception is wise. However, it would bode well for Nawaz Sharif to remember that the masses also have an agenda they want fulfilled by their elected leaders and they will not stand for more rhetoric and quick fixes. If there was one slogan the masses were paying close attention to it was that of each party’s policy on load shedding. Shahbaz Sharif was quite vocal during the PML-N’s campaign drive about how electricity matters would be resolved instantly or at the very least within months. Nawaz Sharif’s dose of the bitter truth is wise but it must lead to his party addressing the energy crisis on a war footing. While all sorts of measures will be introduced from short-term measures, where austerity and conservation will be practiced, it is of the utmost importance that real working be started on long term measures such as power generation and the different options that are available. The past two governments have made a mockery of the power crisis and it is vital that the PML-N government not fall into the same rut as the others, where stopgap measures were taken but no real work was done to significantly add to the national grid. The main cause must be addressed: the tightening stranglehold of circular debt. Until and unless the distribution companies manage to collect the colossal amounts of money owed to them by first and foremost government institutions, which have not paid their bills in years, to give to the power supply companies, which in turn have to pay Pakistan State Oil for fuel, there is no way the energy crisis will ever be resolved. Retiring the current circular debt through treasury bills worth Rs 500 billion is of course a welcome measure. But unless the root causes of circular debt and how it arose in the first place are addressed, the cycle of circular debt is likely to build up again. It is the government, through and through, that needs to clean up its act in every way for this massive crisis to end so that there really may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Slain journalist: Saleem Shahzad’s case is buried, forgotten

Police have closed investigation into the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, taking a stance that no clue has been found, The Express Tribune has learnt. Saleem Shahzad was the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, Hong Kong and Italian news agency Adnkronos (AKI). Shahzad was kidnapped on May 29, 2011 from Islamabad and his body was found floating in a canal near the Head Rasul area, in Mandi Bahauddin, about 130km from Islamabad, on May 30 with visible torture marks. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) had pointed fingers at the Pakistani spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), over Shahzad’s murder and the US government officials later announced that they had ‘reliable and conclusive’ intelligence that this was the case. The ISI denied the allegations outright and called them ‘totally unfounded’. The last supplementary statement of this case had been written by the DSP Saddar Circle, Mandi Bahuddin, Hafiz Ataur Rehman, on February 3, 2012. The case had been registered with the Saddar police station, Mandi Bahauddin, on May 30, 2011 vide FIR No192. The current Investigation Officer (IO) of the case, Sub Inspector Mumtaz Gill, told The Express Tribune that investigation into the case of Saleem Shahzad has been closed for the time being for lack of evidence. The then government had set up a judicial inquiry commission, headed by Supreme Court Judge Saqib Nisar, to probe the abduction and murder of Shahzad. However, the commission failed to identify the culprits. Judicial commission’s investigation The commission, in its report on circumstances surrounding Shahzad’s death submitted to the prime minister on January 10, 2012, recommended making the ISI and Intelligence Bureau accountable within their organisations and to the parliamentary committees concerned. The contents of the executive summary of the commission read, “Saleem’s writings probably did, and certainly could have drawn the ire of various belligerents in the war on terror which included the Pakistani state and non-state actors such as the Taliban and al Qaeda and foreign actors. “Any of these could have had the motive to commit the crime, as clearly, he was also in close contact with all of these,” the report stated. The incident may also have been linked, as asserted by some of the witnesses examined, to the subsequent drone attack on Ilyas Kashmiri, it said. The commission said it had been unable to identify the culprits despite having looked very hard for substantial evidence, direct or circumstantial, “yet such evidence has not surfaced.” The commission urged the media to maintain a balance between secrecy and accountability in the conduct of information gathering which should be appropriately readjusted, with the aim of restoring public confidence in all institutions of the state Family reaction Hamza Ameer, Correspondent Iran’s Press TV and the brother-in-law of Saleem Shahzad expressed dismay at the lack of progress in the investigation. He said journalists and human rights bodies have also forgotten this issue. He said the bank accounts and other assets have not been transferred to Shahzad’s legal heirs, who are still waiting for succession certificate. He said Quran Khawani will be held on Thursday (today) at the residence of Saleem Shahzad in Karachi to mark his second death anniversary.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Comey in line to become FBI director, officials say
President Obama plans to nominate James B. Comey, a former senior Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration, to replace Robert S. Mueller III as FBI director, according to two people with knowledge of the selection process. Comey, 52, was at the center of some of the most bruising debates over counterterrorism during the Bush administration and established a reputation as a fierce defender of the law and the integrity of the Justice Department regardless of the political pressures of the moment.The expected nomination of Comey, a Republican, was seen in some quarters as a bipartisan move by a president besieged by Republicans in Congress. But Chuck Hagel’s prior service as a Republican senator from Nebraska did not spare him from a bruising nomination battle for secretary of defense. Mueller has served 12 years as FBI director, a period of enormous transformation for the bureau in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The director’s term is limited by law to 10 years, but Congress unanimously approved Obama’s request in 2011 that Mueller be granted another two years. Comey was famously involved in a 2004 hospital-room confrontation with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and the president’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. The two White House officials were attempting to persuade Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who was recovering from emergency surgery to remove his gallbladder, to reauthorize a controversial warrantless domestic eavesdropping program. Comey, who was acting attorney general in Ashcroft’s absence, had refused to agree to extend the program. When he learned that the White House was attempting to go around him and get the ill Ashcroft to sign off on an extension, Comey rushed to George Washington University Medical Center, arriving just before Gonzales and Card. Comey explained to Ashcroft what was happening and, when the White House officials arrived, the attorney general raised himself up and said he never should have authorized the program. He gestured at Comey and said, “There is the attorney general,” according to an account by former Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman. The White House had narrowed the search in recent days to Comey and Lisa Monaco, a former assistant attorney general for national security who became Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser this year. One law enforcement source said that a few weeks ago, the Justice Department sent both names to the White House for consideration. Monaco would have been the first woman to lead the FBI, but Comey comes with extensive law enforcement experience. He served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, and he was the managing assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Richmond division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. While in Richmond, he was credited with reducing the homicide rate by shifting gun prosecutions from state court to federal court, where the sentences were tougher. From 2003 though 2005, he served as deputy attorney general, responsible for overseeing the operations of the Justice Department.Jim is one of the great leaders of the Justice Department,” said Jamie Gorelick, who served as a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. “He has worked very closely with the bureau. He knows its strengths and will be great at enhancing its capabilities.” The officials who said Comey was selected spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a pending decision. They did not say how soon Obama would make the official announcement. News of Comey’s appointment was first reported by NPR.A White House spokesman would not confirm the appointment Wednesday night, saying he had no personnel announcements to make. Comey, who is married and has five children, could not be reached at home or work Wednesday for comment. He is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and the University of Chicago Law School. Comey’s objection to the warrantless wiretapping — he told Congress that he would have resigned had the technique continued — was not his only brush with Bush-era policies. He also opposed the approval of enhanced interrogation techniques by the CIA. He said at the time that the Justice Department would eventually be ashamed of its legal backing when the world learned about the methods, which included waterboarding. At the same time, in January 2005, he invoked the state secrets privilege in the civil case of a Syrian Canadian who was sent to Damascus in 2002 to be interrogated and was ultimately tortured. Comey’s role in that episode elicited some criticism from civil liberties groups. “James Comey’s nomination should raise serious concerns, and his role in the Bush administration needs to be examined,” said Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “We need to know the full story of his role in the torture memos. It does not sound like a great nomination. Recycling Bush people is not a good guarantee for the protection of civil liberties.” Comey later came under criticism from some Bush administration officials for his role in selecting Patrick Fitzgerald to lead the special investigation into the leaking of the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame, a probe that led to the conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s adviser Scooter Libby. Comey prosecuted numerous terrorism cases while in New York and created a specialized unit to go after international drug cartels. While in Virginia, he handled the case that arose out of the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military facility in Saudi Arabia. Comey has prosecuted a variety of other types of cases, including the 1993 racketeering and murder trial of New York mob boss John Gambino. Comey left the Justice Department in 2005 and served as a senior vice president and general counsel at the defense contractor Lockheed Martin until 2010. In June 2010, Comey joined Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut-based hedge fund with $75 billion in investments for clients including universities and foreign governments. He left the hedge fund in January and now teaches national security law at Columbia Law School in New York. White House officials have been eager to send a nomination to Capitol Hill in order to complete the confirmation process and have the new director in place before Mueller must leave Sept. 4. Given summer recesses and the likelihood of Republican criticism, the White House is expected to formally announce Comey’s name soon. Comey, if confirmed, will lead an agency whose primary mission is now counterterrorism. And until the Boston Marathon bombing, the FBI had been praised for its success in largely preventing terrorist attacks in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. Although Mueller has won bipartisan support on Capitol Hill through two administrations, the FBI has been criticized by civil liberties groups for its surveillance operations and aggressive sting operations, which defense lawyers say amount to entrapment.

Obama says Democrats could win back US House in 2014

US President Barack Obama, whose agenda has been frustrated by Republicans in Washington, said on Wednesday he believed his party could reclaim control of the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterm elections but conceded it was an uphill struggle. The party in power in the White House typically loses seats in the first midterm election after a presidential campaign, and many political analysts believe Democrats could lose seats in Congress in 2014. But Obama, appearing at fundraisers for Democratic House candidates in his hometown of Chicago, said he believed 2014 could prove different.

Over 7 Mln Egyptians Sign Anti-Morsi Petition

More than 7 million signatures have been gathered under a petition to oust Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, anti-Morsi movement spokesman Mahmud Badr said Wednesday. The movement aims to collect 15 million signatures by June 30 to demand early presidential elections. Campaign organizers urged Egyptians to join their call for a million-man march outside the presidential palace in Cairo on June 30 to protest the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule and demand snap presidential elections. “Whoever wants the revolution to prevail must rebel; whoever wants to achieve bread, freedom and social justice must rebel. Let June 30 be a decisive day for the revolution,” Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, one of the movement’s organizers, was quoted by Ahram Online as saying. Mahmud Badr earlier told AFP the campaign was launched “because the president is no longer able to manage the country." Ten months into his presidency, Morsi, Egypt's first freely-elected civilian president after a revolution that ousted Mubarak two years ago, stands accused of betraying his election campaign promises by consolidating the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and of failing to become a leader of all Egyptians.

Pakistan: Sharif’s Pyrrhic victory

by Lal Khan
Most of the elitist actors at the helm of the political edifice personify the social, moral, ethical, and cultural decay through which the country is passing presently
In an election devoid of any real ideological debates, the much-flaunted victory by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has nothing to ameliorate the sufferings of the impoverished masses. Sharif represents the national, i.e. ruling class interests and campaigned with a chauvinist rhetoric. In a situation whereby the political consciousness of the working classes had suffered a setback, such an outcome is not surprising. Most of the elitist actors at the helm of the political edifice personify the social, moral, ethical, and cultural decay through which the country is passing presently. The victory of Sharif reminds one of the comments made by Karl Marx after the spectacular victory of Louis Napoleon in the presidential elections of December 1848 in France. Marx wrote at the time: “Why had the French voted, in such overwhelming numbers, for this preposterous deadbeat — clumsily cunning, knavishly naïve, doltishly sublime, a calculated superstition, a pathetic burlesque, a cleverly stupid anachronism, a world historic piece of buffoonery and an undecipherable hieroglyphic? Simple: the very blankness of this junior Bonaparte allowed all classes and types to reinvent him in their own image...Thus it happened that the most simple minded man in France acquired the most complex significance: ‘Just because he was nothing, he could signify everything.’” The Sharifs entered the political arena under the patronage of the Zia dictatorship. Their immediate benefactor was General Jilani, the martial law administrator and governor of Punjab. General Ziaul Haq was generous to the Sharifs. Their (in)famous Ittefaq Foundry, nationalised by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the early 1970s, was handed back for peanuts. There are harrowing tales of brutalities inflicted upon the workers when the Ittefaq was owned by the Sharifs before it was nationalised. Groomed by the dictatorship, Nawaz Sharif made a meteoric rise to the dizzy heights in the hierarchy of the dictatorship. As he was reaching new heights, the working class activists of the left and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) were being subjected to horrible atrocities by the Zia dictatorship. Ever since the Sharifs have also become lieutenants of the reactionary Saudi monarchy. They are also part of the nexus between finance capital, drug barons, sections of the religious right, organs of the deep state and the political protégés of the ruling classes. A society often goes through sudden changes and sharp turns. The demise of General Zia in a C-130 plane crash in 1988 heralded a new period with the working masses yearning for a new dawn. However, Benazir Bhutto turned her back on the PPP’s socialist tradition. Instead she looked towards US imperialism and embarked upon Thatcherite neo-liberal economic policies, rolling back Bhutto’s nationalisation thrust. She initiated the privatisation process. These pro-capitalist policies resulted in the disillusionment of the masses and enabled the Sharifs to gain politically. They returned to power with a vengeance against the working masses. Sharif became the champion of right-wing politics. His accession to power as prime minister for the third time is in large part due to further political and ideological betrayal and deterioration of the PPP leadership. Turnout and elections results were managed by the deep state like in previous cases favouring the PML-N, allocating far more seats than they even envisaged. As Maryam Nawaz commented, “It is beyond our expectations.” Six independently elected National Assembly members from the tribal areas were made to join Sharif’s party. The election of a Marxist contesting as an independent from NA-41 Wana, South Waziristan, Ali Wazir, was conveniently stolen by a margin of a mere 300 votes. The agencies were fully aware that Ali could neither be bought, nor coaxed or terrified to join this right-wing government. The PML-N candidate was declared officially the winner. But that is a bad omen for the state itself as Wazir aroused the youth of this hinterland with most advanced revolutionary ideas and has gained a mass base in the region. The raging inferno amongst these youth striving in such atrocious conditions can be well imagined. But despite the backing of imperialist media, the state, Chinese corporate elite, Saudi Arabian and Gulf monarchs, this right-wing government will not be stable or able to solve any of the burning issues afflicting society. The so-called peaceful transition will become turbulent and furious in the weeks and months ahead. In the past, as the crisis exacerbated, there were conflicts between Sharif and sections of the state that led to the dismissals of his governments. Currently, imperialist aggressors and the fundamentalist terrorists are involved in a bloody mayhem that is tearing apart the social fabric of Pakistan. Sharif’s slogan to negotiate with the Taliban is mere rhetoric. There is no united leadership or representation of these fundamentalist outfits, splintered into innumerable groups and indulging in endless feuds to gain a bigger chunk of the black money. Sharif evades the question of drone strikes, as he is well aware of his limitations and impotence in this matter. Sharif’s experts do not have a clue how to salvage the crumbling economy. The illusion of overcoming a massive deficit and preventing an economic meltdown with Saudi oil subsidies or Chinese aid is a fallacy. Sharif’s main focus is on macroeconomic stability. His policies of aggressive privatisation, restructuring, and deregulation will exasperate redundancies, cuts in social spending and price hikes devastating the already impoverished masses. The informal or the black economy cannot be brought into the tax net. If he tries to take measures such as increased taxation, etc, against sections of his own corrupt class, there will be a brisk flight of capital and assets, further bludgeoning the decaying economy. On the question of improving the toxic relations with India, Sharif is well aware of the economic interests of the military top brass, the imperialist military-industrial complex, reluctant diplomats, and shadowy lobbies fostering this conflict. At most, both sides will manage to announce some cosmetic measures while the fundamental reality of Indo-Pak relations will remain unchanged. The two countries can neither afford a full-fledged war nor can they sustain a durable peace. Since both Manmohan Singh and Sharif represent the capitalist class, they will try to maximise their profits by expanding trade, etc. But this will fail to boost the dwindling economic growth in the two countries. However, no major initiatives are likely until the 2014 general elections in India. Pakistani capitalism in a rotten state will further pauperise the already deprived masses. In the scenario of a right-wing government launching severe attacks on the working classes, this can provoke an upheaval that can become the death knell for the rule of the capitalist system and the classes that Sharif represents.

Syria has no pre-conditions for dialogue

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al- Moallem said Wednesday that his government has no pre-conditions for holding peace talks, however, excluding those who have Syrians ' blood smeared over their hands. Al-Moallem made the remarks during an interview with pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV, saying his government has not been invited to the conference, but Damascus is ready for dialogue without pre- conditions, excluding "those who have Syrians' blood smeared over their hands." He added that the results of the Geneva conference would be put for popular referendum before being "literally" implemented, stressing President Bashar al-Assad will remain in his post until the presidential elections in 2014. Al-Moallem also slammed some remarks from the opposition and their western allies about the destiny of Assad and their desire for him to resign as a pre-condition for political settlement. "President Assad is in contact with his people and the election in 2014 is in the hand of the Syrian people," the minister said, adding that "if the people in 2014 wanted Assad to run for the elections, he will do." Regarding the recent French allegations about the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons in the fight against the rebels, al-Moallem said "France is a liar." "The chemical weapons was only used once by the armed opposition in March in the northern city of Khan al-Asal," he reiterated, adding that his government had immediately asked the UN to send a technical team to probe the incident. "(But) we will not allow any (UN) team to wreak havoc in Syria because the UN mission that went into Iraq (before 2003) led to its invasion later... and we will not allow a repetition of the Iraqi scenario," al-Moallem said. As for Israel's latest airstrike against Syrian army positions in Damascus earlier this May, the head of Syria's diplomacy said that his country will respond in case of further aggressions by Israel. "Our response will be proportionate to the scale of the attack," he contended. Asked about Syria's Arms deals with Russia, al-Moallem said " Russia gives us only defensive weapons." The arms deals issue was highlighted recently as Moscow announced that it was sending Russian-made long-range S-300 anti- aircraft missiles to Syria. Moscow said recently that sending the missiles to Syria constitutes "a stability factor" and prevents foreign forces from interfering in the country, adding that the shipment is being carried out according to a contract signed between Syria and Russia five years ago.

Tunisians rally in support of Syria

Tunisians have held a demonstration in the capital, Tunis, in protest against the presence of foreign-backed militants in Syria.Politicians, students and human rights activists as well as the family members of young men recruited by foreign-sponsored armed groups in Syria gathered in front of the foreign affairs ministry building to voice support for Damascus. The protesters slammed foreign countries for œinterfering” in Syria™s internal affairs.
Qatar is the base for this Zionist project. It is financing terrorists while Saudi Arabia is arming them. They are killing innocent civilians in order to empower Israel and its allies,” a protester said.
The demonstrators also called for the resumption of diplomatic ties between Tunisia and Syria. Another demonstrator asked the Syrian government to release his mentally-retarded son who was recruited by militants in the Arab country.

Bahrainis hold fresh anti-regime demo in Manama

Bahraini demonstrators have staged a fresh anti-regime protest rally in the capital Manama despite the ongoing heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protesters in the Persian Gulf kingdom. On Wednesday, protesters took to the streets in the city and chanted slogans against the ruling Al Khalifa royal family. Earlier in the day, Bahraini regime forces attacked the funeral procession of a man identified as Omran al-Seyed who died after inhaling toxic tear gas used by regime forces in the village of Karzakan. The Bahraini revolution began in mid-February 2011, when the people, inspired by the popular revolutions that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, started holding massive demonstrations. The Bahraini government promptly launched a brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests and called in Saudi-led Arab forces from neighboring states. Dozens of people have been killed in the crackdown, and the security forces have arrested hundreds, including doctors and nurses accused of treating injured revolutionaries. A report published by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in November 2011 found that the Al Khalifa regime had used excessive force in the crackdown and accused Manama of torturing political activists, politicians, and protesters. The protesters say they will continue holding anti-regime demonstrations until their demand for the establishment of a democratically elected government is met.

Saudi writer urges groping of women to make them stay at home

A Saudi writer with more than 97,000 Twitter followers has been promoting the molestation of women on under the hash-tag #harass_female_cashiers to pressure for Saudi women to stay at home in order to protect their chastity. Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood, author of several books, urged his abundance of followers to harass women working in Saudi grocery stores nationwide. He is attempting to campaign against the employment of women in mixed-gender environments and his move towards condoning assault is regarded as a backlash against mild socioeconomic reforms in the country. Since 2011, women have begun taking up private-sector work in increasing droves, following official moves encouraging their influx into the sphere in order to boost the country’s economy. His tweet was apparently ‘justified’ by a sermon about a 7th-century Islamic warrior who did not want his wife to leave home to visit the mosque, according to Gulf News. The warrior, Al Zubair, hid in the dark and molested his wife anonymously when she left the house. His terrified spouse never set foot outside again, realizing that the external world was a corrupt and evil place. Some fellow conservatives have lauded his Twitter campaign as part of a great fight against government efforts to ‘Westernize’ the nation. One cleric, named Khalid Ebrahim Al Saqabi was fully supportive, saying that government laws against sexual harassment were only meant to encourage consensual debauchery, and accused the labor minister of being “concerned with finding jobs for women instead of men.” Another stated that, “They had better ban mingling of the sexes, not protect it.” However, his comments have sparked a backlash across the Twittersphere from people suggesting that he wouldn’t like his own words if the women in question were his wife or sisters.

'It can become a cancer': Rising crystal meth use worries Afghanistan
By Amie Ferris-Rotman, Reuters
Impoverished Afghanistan, already plagued by insurgency and struggling to contain crippling rates of opium addiction, faces another potential headache with spiraling usage of the synthetic drug crystal methamphetamine. The growing use of the drug, known as crystal meth or ice, comes at a critical time. Some fear that, with the exit of most foreign troops by the end of next year and dwindling interest and aid from the international community, significant addiction to the relatively new drug could wreak social havoc. The number of crystal meth samples taken from seizures tripled to 48 in 2012 compared with the year before, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).Treatment options for Afghanistan's 1 million heroin addicts, some of whom inject into their groins in broad daylight in central Kabul, are sorely limited. In the country's sole, ultra-secretive drugs lab on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghan pharmacists analyze samples from seizures brought in on a daily basis, which are subject to three rounds of testing to identify the substance and its potency. A sack of translucent crystals resembling large grains of sea salt sat on one of the lab's tables -- one of the recent seizures of crystal meth. It stood out starkly among the brown hues of heroin, opium, morphine and hashish in tiny bags. "If only we could get the punishment increased for selling this," said Mohammad Khalid Nabizada, the head of the lab, which operates under the Interior Ministry's Counter Narcotics Police. Prison terms for selling crystal meth are relatively light, with dealers facing up to one year behind bars for a kilogram (2.2 lbs.), compared with up to three years for opium and a maximum of 10 years for the same amount of heroin. Dubbed "glass" in Afghanistan, crystal meth appeared there only in recent years and is made in high-tech labs across the border in Iran. Most of it is consumed in the border provinces of Herat and Nimroz, but seizures have been scattered across the country. Its street price is about $20, or five times that of heroin, making it relatively expensive in one of the world's poorest countries, said Ahmad Khalid Mowahid, spokesman for the Criminal Justice Task Force that convicts serious drug offenders.But its rocketing use hints at falling exclusivity. "If glass users are added to our opium addicts, it'll be a disaster. Meth addicts jump off roofs and punch fists in walls. Imagine such abnormal behavior here," Mowahid told Reuters. He said Afghanistan does not have the "medicine nor the means" to try to contain a growing meth addiction. The United States is no stranger to the epidemic of crystal meth, where homemade labs and a booming Mexican trade have consumed small towns. "It has that same look coming out of Iran, of large-scale commercial properties. ... It can become a cancer," the DEA official said.

U.S. spelling bee starts with a new challenge : definitions

REUTERS.COM Sometimes-nervous contestants in the United States' Scripps National Spelling Bee launched two days of competition on Wednesday, facing the new challenge of not only having to spell obscure words correctly, but also knowing what they mean. A total of 281 contestants aged 8 to 14 from across the United States and other countries took to the stage for a preliminary spelling round in the spelling bee. The finals are on Thursday night. For the first time since it began in 1927, the contest is requiring young spellers in preliminary and semifinal rounds to take a computerized vocabulary test. Organizers say it is part of the Bee's commitment to deepening contestants' command of English. Sixteen spellers were eliminated in a first onstage round, with a second round to come for survivors. They stumbled on such words as "sinecure," a paid job with little work; "weissnichtwo," an imaginary place; and "yannigan," player in an individualized baseball game. Some spellers were visibly nervous before advancing to the microphone in the packed auditorium, clutching arms to sides, jiggling feet or crossing themselves. "I felt a little nervous before I got on stage, but once I was on stage I was OK," said Matthew Griffin, a 12-year-old home schooled eighth grader from Bailey, N.C., who correctly spelled "panglossian," or extreme optimism. "It's pretty cool. I've made a lot of friends," he said. Owen Duffy, 13, from Fort Johnson Middle School in Charleston, S.C., did not fare as well. Given "langlauf" to spell, the seventh grader asked chief pronouncer Jacques Bailly for the pronunciation of the German word for cross-country skiing several times. "Langlauf? Langlauf? Langlauf?" Duffy said slowly. He barely finished spelling it, incorrectly, before his time ran out. Almost all the contestants asked for the origin of the word, the kind of word and a definition, which is allowed as an aid to spelling. They then wrote it out on the palm of their hands with a fingertip while spelling aloud. DEFINE THAT Since 2002, a written or computer spelling test has been a component that, along with onstage spelling, factored in determining which spellers advanced to the semi-finals. This year, competitors will advance to the semi-finals and finals based on their onstage spelling, as well as computer-based spelling and vocabulary questions. Vocabulary evaluation will count for half of a speller's overall score. Contestants said the multiple-choice test taken on Tuesday was fairly easy for them. Amber Born, 14, a home-schooled eighth grader from Marblehead, Massachusetts, said after the first round of spelling that it "was good, it was fun." Standing next to Born, Katherine Wang, an 11-year-old sixth grader from the Qooco School in Beijing, called it "nerve-wracking." "It was multiple choice, so you could narrow it down," Born said. She and Wang had met at last year's contest and stayed in touch through e-mail. Griffin said the test was "a little hard. I knew how to spell the words but now having to know them makes the challenge a little harder." Paige Kimble, the Bee's executive director who won the competition in 1981, told a news conference the decision to add the vocabulary test had come after about a year and a half of discussion. A key element was support from spellers and their parents who believed that adding the test would increase the tournament's prestige, she said. The contestants hail from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and Defense Department schools around the world. Some contestants come from the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea. The Bee is taking place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center outside Washington. It is being broadcast by ESPN. The contestants range from third to eighth graders, with 116 speaking more than one language. The group is 52 percent girls and 48 percent boys, organizers said.

Pakistan's Caretaker’s controversial step: Polio cell abolished

The caretaker government took another controversial step by abolishing the Prime Minister Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell, established by the Pakistan Peoples Party government in 2011. According to a notification, the caretaker prime minister has approved the dissolution of the Polio Cell with immediate effect. The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination would be the apex nodal ministry for the Polio Eradication Initiative. Under the cell, the number of polio cases had been reduced to 58 in 2012 from the 198 cases in 2011 (a 70 percent decrease). Former adviser to the Prime Minister for polio eradication, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, condemned the move and lashed out at the caretaker government. “It is a very surprising move and will give a bad message to the donor agencies and the world community. It would show that the Pakistani government did not fulfill its commitments,” she told Dawn. “The caretaker government has now placed the monitoring cell under the Ministry of National Health Services which is against the 18th amendment. Under the amendment, it is clearly stated that health is the subject of provinces,” she said. High ranking officials associated with international donor agencies working with the polio cell have also expressed their disappointment regarding the decision. “We received a shock when we heard the polio monitoring cell was being dissolved,” said an official of an international donor agency requesting anonymity. Caretaker Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Arif Nizami was not aware of the move. Similarly, Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso’s spokesman Shafqat Jaleel, when approached, said the decision had not been announced and he was not aware of it.

U.S. drone kills 4 militants in Pakistan
A pair of suspected U.S. missiles fired from an unmanned aircraft killed four alleged militants early Wednesday near the Afghan border in Pakistan, intelligence officials said, the first drone strike since Pakistan's nationwide elections earlier this month. The strike was also the first since President Barack Obama's speech last week on the controversial U.S. drone program and more restrictive rules he was implementing on their use in places such as Pakistan and Yemen. Wednesday's strike came in the North Waziristan tribal region, a stronghold for militants in the mountainous stretch of land bordering Afghanistan to the west. Pakistani intelligence officials said the missiles hit a house in the town of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said they suspected the house was being used by foreign militants but had no other details. The tribal region is home to a variety of local and Afghan militant outfits, including al-Qaeda-linked fighters. The U.S. has often criticized Pakistan, saying it does not vigorously target militants in these areas. Using their safe havens in Pakistan, militants are then targeting American troops in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani officials say their military is already overly overtaxed by fighting militants in both the northwestern tribal regions and in the southwestern province of Baluchistan and that the casualties they've already incurred battling militants have not been properly recognized. Washington's drone program is extremely unpopular in Pakistan, although the number of strikes has dropped significantly since the height of the program in 2010. The country's incoming prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has repeatedly said he is against the use of American drones on Pakistani soil, and Pakistani officials have demanded publicly that the program be stopped. Senior civilian and military officials are known to have supported at least some of the attacks in the past, but that is no longer the case. Pakistan has been hit by 355 such attacks since 2004, according to the New America Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank. The figure does not include Wednesday's strike. Up to 3,336 people have died in the strikes, said the think tank. Obama's speech last Thursday was his most extensive comments to date about the secretive drone program, which has come under increased criticism for its lack of accountability. The president cast drone strikes against Islamic militants as crucial to U.S. counterterrorism efforts but acknowledged that they are not a "cure-all." The president also said he is deeply troubled by civilians unintentionally killed in the strikes and announced more restrictive rules governing the attacks — measures that his advisers said would effectively limit drone use in the future.