Saturday, March 2, 2013

Thousands rally in Moscow to support US adoption ban

Thousands have protested in Moscow to demand a ban on foreign adoptions following the death of Maksim Kuzmin, 3, who died shortly after being adopted by a US family in Texas. Pro-Kremlin activists demanded his brother Kirill be returned to Russia. According to several estimates by the Russian Mothers public movement, the 'Protect the Children' protest gathered 12,000 to 20,000 people. Moscow authorities had only authorized the demonstration to be bigger than 5,000 people. Protesters marched from Gogolevsky Boulevard to Novopushkinsky Garden in central Moscow, chanting “Children are not goods,” and “Bring Kirill back to his motherland,” referring to the brother of Maksim Kuzmin, who remains in the US with his adoptive father. Many participants were holding flags and balloons that read “Children’s protection,” and displayed icons and pictures of children. Over 80 public organizations and associations have supported the rally.The rally came hours after a US coroner revealed the results of the autopsy into Kuzmin's death. The medical examiner of Ector County, Texas, concluded that Kuzmin's January 21 death was not intentional. Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the US findings “inconclusive.” Moscow requested documents verifying the investigation amid a separate ongoing Russian inquiry. An organizer behind the Saturday event said that she did not trust the results of the US autopsy, calling it "American propaganda." "I am in favor of a more serious investigation,” Russian Mothers coordinator Irina Bergset told AFP. "It just shows they treat Russian children like cats and dogs.”The mass demonstration in central Moscow came two months after the 'Dima Yakovlev law' was enacted, banning US citizens from adopting Russian children. In January, at least 20,000 Russians marched in Moscow to protest the Kremlin’s ban, which activists dubbed the “law of scoundrels." ‘The March for Muscovites' Rights’ Hundreds of people also marched from Strastnoy Bulvar towards Prospekt Akademika Sakharova in a protest organized by Left Front leader Sergey Udaltsov, who also initiated the 'March against scoundrels' rally in January. Saturday’s 'March for Muscovites' Rights' called for "putting Moscow back under the control of its citizen." Udaltsov, who is currently under house arrest, was not able to attend the protest, so fellow opposition head Ilya Ponomarev lead the march. The protesters' main demands included lowering the cost of utilities and renovating apartment buildings. Ponomarev said that the Russian opposition should not only demand the government’s resignation, but also take part in protests with “social slogans.” However, though organizers tried to leave politics out of the rally, protesters paid a tribute to Udaltsov; some in the crowd chanted “Freedom for political prisoners.” Police said that almost 1,000 people attended the rally, while the Moscow-based Ekho Moskvy radio station put the number at around 2,000. No crimes were committed, and no arrests were made, police said.

Assad Hits Out At UK Government In Interview

Syrian President Bashar al Assad has heavily criticised the British government, calling it "shallow and immature".
President Assad tells The Sunday Times that Britain's involvement in the Syria crisis has been naïve, confused, and unrealistic.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, he dismissed any suggestion that Britain could help to resolve the conflict saying: "We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter." He said Britain was not trusted by many in the Middle East, saying its has been viewed as "unconstructive" in the region for centuries. "There's no contact between Syria and Britain for a long time. "You cannot separate the role form the credibility, and you cannot separate the credibility from the history of that country. "To be frank, Britain has played famously in our region (an) unconstructive role in different issues, for decades, some say for centuries." He added: "How can we expect to ask Britain to play a role while it's determined to militarise the problem? "How can you ask them to play a role in making the situation better, more stable, how can we expect them to make the violence less when they want to send the military supply to the terrorist? "I think they are working against us, and they are working against the interests of the UK itself. "This Government is acting in a naïve, confused, and unrealistic manner. If they want to play a role they have to change this, they have to act in a more reasonable and responsible way." Earlier this week the Syrian Government said it is ready for talks with its armed opponents. However, Syrian rebel leader Selim Idris said there could be no negotiations unless Mr Assad stepped down and leaders of the army and security forces were put on the trial. The UN estimates that around 70,000 people have been killed since fighting began in Syria almost two years ago.

Zardari : ''Will handover ruling power to winning party''

President Asif Ali Zardari has said that he wouldn’t become Ghulam Ishaq Khan and would hand over the ruling power to the winning party. Talking to senior journalists, columnists, anchor persons and newspaper editors here at Bilawal House, President Asif Ali Zardari said that former prime minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani would lead the election campaign for Pakistan Peoples Party.

Poverty of exiled Tibetans vs perk of its head
In an article entitled “It’s time Tibetan exiles became Indian citizens” published recently on the Asian Age, an Indian media, revealed Tibetan exiles’ miserable life and privileges of the“leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile”. The exiled Tibetans are living in Dharamshala, a small hill station in Himachal Pradesh, India, where the settlement was built for them in the early 1960s. According to the article, the old settlements are“disintegrating, filled with poor, often broken families who are frustrated with policies that consign them to isolation and exclusion by prolonging their unsettled legal status.” It is reported that under Indian law, Tibetans in India are not recognized as refugees, but are listed as foreigners. “The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) has never had any independently recognized international identity and with the retirement of the Dalai Lama, the original covenant with the Indian government is null. But the CTA still asserts de facto control over the exiles,” the article reported. The so-called head of the “Tibetan government-in-exile”, who has for years resided in the United States, obtained a US green card and eventually settled his family in a comfortable home near Boston, repeatedly said that his struggling brethren must remain refugees for the cause, as it is reported. However, the article pointed out that the “leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile” has not explained how it helps the cause to prevent his people shackled to a decaying, isolated camp system where they cannot work, vote, buy a house or register a business in India. The real aspiration of the “leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile” of leading the exiled Tibetans toward prosperity was questioned by the article by saying “Yet, the CTA officials frequently state that Tibetans should remain refugees to keep their benefits, which bring far fewer benefits than those conferred by citizenship. Perpetuating the outdated prototype of the needy-but-cheerful Tibetan refugee distorts the realities and needs of exiles." The author of the article also criticized the“leader of the CTA”for appreciating of the citizenship, but preventing the Tibetans from applying for it. As it is reported the “leader of the CTA”“can well appreciate the value of citizenship. The Bank of America website confirms that he was able to pay off his mortgage in full one week prior to being sworn in as the new exile leader. With a US green card, he is able to travel internationally without restrictions while Tibetans with only an RC cannot obtain visas and will face difficulty in obtaining a US mortgage.” No matter how euphemistic the leader of “the CTA" has said, one fact which can’t be changed is that the Tibetan exiles are living a miserable life while the “leader” of the “Tibetan government-in-exile” is enjoying privileges. It is hard to imagine that a privileged “leader” will really fight for the “cause” of his miserable people.

Let them eat horse, say French officials
Ready-made meals, withdrawn from shops because they contain horsemeat, could be given to charities to feed the poor, French government ministers have said.
Officials insist that as there is no health risk from the dishes and that their were withdrawn because of mislabelling they can be donated. Stéphane Le Foll, France's agriculture minister said, however, it was for charities to decide if they wanted the controversial meals. "From its side the government can only say that as far as health is concerned, it's fine. It's not for me to decide what should be done with it," Le Foll said. His junior minister Benoît Hamon added: "It's up to the associations to decide under what conditions they may wish to take these dishes. Those who don't want them won't take them." One of France's leading charities, Secours Catholique said the question of giving the withdrawn meals to the poor posed a "serious ethical problem" and it would refuse."If it's not good for the ordinary consumer, why should it be for the poor," Bernard Schricke, a charity director, said. "When people come to us for help with food, we often give them vouchers so they can choose what they want to eat because choice is not a luxury but a right. Also we shouldn't forget that the problem is not just access to enough food, but access to enough resources to live." In a statement, the Agriculture ministry suggested the dishes could even find their way back on sale if they were relabelled to clearly state that they contain horsemeat.

Saudi Arabia must stop playing 'cat and mouse' game with peaceful protesters

Hundreds of people detained in Saudi Arabia in the wake of a protest against the incarceration without charge or trial of their relatives must be immediately and unconditionally released, Amnesty International said today. At least 176 men and women were arrested in the early hours of this morning after staging a peaceful protest outside the Bureau for Investigation and Public Prosecution in Buraida, a city north of the capital Riyadh, in Qassim province. They were calling for the release of more than 50 women and children, themselves detained since 27 February for their participation in another peaceful demonstration complaining about the incarceration of their relatives. According to reports, those arrested this morning have been transferred to a prison in Tarfiyah, east of Buraida, while those detained since 27 February continue to be held at the central prison in Buraida. No one has had access to the outside world. "This cat and mouse game authorities in Saudi Arabia are playing is, simply, outrageous," said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. "Instead of persecuting peaceful protesters, what the Saudi Authorities should do is listen to their demands and release all those held solely for exercising their human rights." The women and children held since 27 February were demanding the release of their relatives, incarcerated without charge or trial or beyond the end of their sentences. Some of the women also called for the sacking of the Minister of Interior. One of the women arrested, Rima al-Jeraish, is now in hospital after allegedly being beaten by female guards who tried to force her to remove all her clothes to carry out a search. According to information received by Amnesty International, she lost consciousness after her head was banged against a wall and now has a broken arm and bruises on her body. Protests are banned in Saudi Arabia and criticism of the state is not tolerated. However, since 2011 protests have been held by relatives of those held without charge or trial with increasing frequency in towns and cities around the country. "There is no justification for the long-standing ban on demonstrations in Saudi Arabia. The authorities must respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and release the protesters immediately and unconditionally," said Philip Luther. Those who do criticize the government are often held incommunicado without charge, sometimes in solitary confinement, and denied access to lawyers or the courts to challenge the legality of their detention.Torture or other ill-treatment is frequently used to extract "confessions" from detainees, to punish them for refusing to "repent" or to force them to make undertakings not to criticize the government. When authorities do press charges, it is sometimes with vaguely worded offences that cover conduct that should not be criminalized, such as "disobeying the ruler". Defendants are generally denied legal counsel, and in many cases, they and their families are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them. Court hearings are often held behind closed doors. The Qassim province police issued a statement today confirming that 161 men and 15 women had been arrested early this morning for unlawful gathering and reiterated that they would deal firmly with all those who oppose the ban on gatherings, marches and sit-ins. They also said that they had arrested six children, but that they were trying to hand them over to their families.

Saudi Arabia Arrests over 300 Women, Men
Security forces in Saudi Arabia have arrested over 300 women and men who were protesting in front of the Attorney General Inspection Office on Friday. During a massive rally they organized, the families of Saudi detainees gathered in front of the Attorney General Inspection Office in ‘Buraydah’, capital of Al-Qassim Province, to protest the illegal arrest and detention of their relatives. The website, said that 15 of the arrested people were women. The gathering of Saudi citizens and their insistence to continue their sit-in protests brought Saudi security forces to attack them and arrest more than 300, including 15 women. The participants on this sit-in rally stressed that, until the women are released from custody, they will not accept the negotiation offer by the representative of Qassim Province Emir.

Bangladesh: The ghosts of 1971

Zardari : Pakistan won’t stop IP pipeline project at any cost

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has reiterated that Islamabad will not stop the multi-billion-dollar Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project at any cost. Zardari made the remarks upon returning to Pakistan after a visit to Iran during which he held several meetings with the neighboring country’s high-ranking officials. The Pakistani president further stressed that his government will continue to pursue the construction of the gas pipeline despite US threats and pressure. Zardari’s comments come a day after an unnamed Pakistani official confirmed that an Iranian-Pakistani consortium will start the construction of the IP gas pipeline as of March 11, 2013. The pipeline will enable the export of 21.5 million cubic meters (mcm) of Iran’s natural gas to Pakistan on a daily basis. Iran has already built more than 900 kilometers of the pipeline on its soil. Washington has repeatedly voiced its discontent with the joint project, but Pakistan has dismissed rumors that it might pull out of the project amid efforts by the United States to convince the country to abandon the pipeline. Last month, the Wall Street Journal said in a report that the United States had threatened Pakistan with stringent sanctions if it goes through the project. “Washington has made it clear that it will impose economic sanctions on Islamabad if it begins to buy gas from Iran. Besides, the UN has mandated sanctions on any trade with the oil-rich country,” the report added. Pakistan faces a crushing energy crisis which has caused difficulties in financing the pipeline which stretches from the border between the two countries to Nawabshah region in Pakistan. Iran, the second largest owner of gas reserves in the world after Russia, has said it will provide USD500 million to help Pakistan build the pipeline on its side of the border.

President Zardari vows not to betray elections

Talking to the media at Bilawal House in Lahore on Saturday, President Asif Ali Zardari said that he would not betray the democratic system. Former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani would lead the election campaign, said the president. He said that Pak-Iran gas project would be completed at every cost. Nobody has power to halt it as it is not violation of the international laws; rather Pakistan has signed an agreement with the neighbouring country in order to cope with the challenge of energy crisis which has pushed our national economy on the verge of destruction. Commenting on Gwader project, the president said that Pakistan is an independent state and authorized to have a deal with any country of the world in order to watch its national interests. He said that future of the country lies in democracy which is real guarantor of common man’s rights in real sense. He added that he had a dream to have a residence in Lahore and now he fulfilled his desire by constructing Bilawal House in the city. He repeatedly said that he has great respect for media men and would hold monthly meetings with them.

Afghan support staffers for NATO seeking a lifeline

By Alexandra Zavis and Hashmat Baktash
Their work aiding foreign troops has made them and their families the targets of insurgents. But the U.S. has been slow to approve special immigrant visas.
The two bullet-riddled bodies were found splayed on the road near a car. Both men — one an interpreter and the other a security guard — had worked at an international base outside Kabul. They knew their lives were in danger, relatives said. The Taliban had threatened to kill them if they did not come up with money and stop helping NATO-led forces. But the men were supporting large extended families. Their recent deaths provided a chilling reminder of the dangers faced by thousands of Afghans who have served as interpreters, cultural advisors and other support staff to foreign troops and diplomats during the 11 years of war in Afghanistan. Many have waited months, if not years, for special permission to move to the United States or other coalition countries. With the bulk of foreign forces due to depart in 2014, they fear they will be left behind. "I'm a dead man walking," said Ghafar, an interpreter who has spent six years working with U.S. troops in Kabul, the capital, and in the dangerous eastern provinces. "I feel like I'm not living in this world. My soul is walking around." Ghafar, 37, has accompanied U.S. forces on countless foot patrols, raids and interrogations. Along the way, suspected insurgents have called him an infidel and warned that they would come after him, threats he used to laugh off. "I thought, 'The Taliban is over. They are history,'" he said. "'It's better to help the coalition forces to bring peace and stability.'" Now he fears the job could cost him his life. He has no faith in the country's leaders and worries that security will collapse when foreign troops withdraw. When he travels to and from work, Ghafar, who did not want his full name published for safety reasons, wears dark sunglasses and wraps a scarf around his face. Despite holding down a job that has paid well at more than $900 a month, nearly four times what a soldier or policeman might earn, Ghafar long ago applied to immigrate to the United States. He said he and his wife would like to see their boys, ages 2 and two months, grow up in a safe and "more open society." Ghafar initially applied for one of 50 "special immigrant" visas issued each year to the government's Afghan and Iraqi interpreters, but the program is oversubscribed. So he applied again through the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, which authorized 1,500 special visas a year — up to a limit of 7,500 — for Afghans whose service to the U.S. military or government put them at risk. In response to this second application, which Ghafar filed in 2010, the U.S. government interviewed him in January. He is waiting to hear back. U.S. officials acknowledged that the Afghan Allies program has been slow to get off the ground. Sixty-three of the visas were issued in the last fiscal year, according to figures released by the State Department. The numbers do not include spouses or children, whose visas do not count against the annual allotment. In all, officials said more than 2,200 Afghans, including the relatives of applicants, have been granted special visas since fiscal 2007. U.S. officials declined to specify how many applications they have received, but said a big push was underway to clear a backlog. More than 1,000 interviews were scheduled with applicants and their families in January. Additional staff has been hired to process the applications, and the numbers of visas issued so far this year already exceeds the total for 2012, said a U.S. Embassy official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Extra screening measures introduced in response to a "credible threat" caused some delays, a State Department official said. Two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Kentucky in 2011 on federal terrorism charges and pleaded guilty to conspiring to send weapons, cash and explosives to the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq. "We need to protect our borders and make sure qualified people are coming through, but we want to do it as quickly as possible because these people are under threat," the embassy official said. Afghan interpreters and advisors have helped foreign forces understand the culture and establish relationships with community leaders, officials said. They have braved roadside bombs, ambushes and other attacks aimed at foreign troops and have also been targeted repeatedly outside their jobs. Last year, insurgents killed at least 24 Afghan civilians working for the coalition, according to NATO figures. Grieving relatives said the interpreter and security guard slain near Kabul, both in their early 30s, were sharing a ride to work in the guard's car when Taliban gunmen caught up with them. Family members said it is dangerous for them to remain in the district, but they don't have the means to leave. The interpreter's brother, who is caring for the man's widow and three children, said he too works for the U.S. government. The day after his brother died, he applied for a special visa. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is leaving it up to the 50 coalition members to decide what provision they will make for Afghan employees and contractors when the combat mission ends next year. Britain, the second largest troop contributor after the United States, does not have a resettlement program. It is "looking very carefully" at ways to support locally hired staff members as it draws down its forces, an embassy spokeswoman said. Canada, which pulled out its combat troops in 2011, has relocated 750 former Afghan staff and family members. Canadian officials expect the number to grow to 800. Australia and France also have announced resettlement programs for at-risk staff. On a recent day, an interpreter who adopted the American alias "Jack" while working with U.S. police mentors for four years, logged onto his computer to check the status of his visa application. He has been waiting nearly two years. Jack thought the glowing reference letters from his supervisors in the southern province of Kandahar, heartland of the Taliban insurgency, would clear his way to America. One U.S. officer said Jack "sacrifices his safety and well-being to better his country, America and the world." Another said the special visa program was designed for people like Jack, who has "risked much, including his life, to support U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan." "These letters I received, do they have value or not?" Jack said, staring hopelessly at the papers spread out on his parents' living room floor. "I served the U.S. military, the U.S. people, at a bad time in Kandahar." Jack said he has felt like a marked man since 2011, when at least 488 inmates, most presumed to be Taliban fighters, escaped from Kandahar's main prison. One of his jobs was to help U.S. troops collect biometric data from the political prisoners. The prisoners spat at him, and some said, "We will get you." Last year, the owner of a shop where Jack sometimes bought food told him that two men on motorcycles had threatened to shoot them both if they spotted him there again. He quit his job as an interpreter soon after and fled to Kabul. He rarely leaves his parents' home. Jack doesn't trust Afghan security forces. In some cases, he said, "their right hand is with the Taliban and their left hand is with the government." He doesn't even trust members of his own family, some of whom held government posts in Kandahar when the Taliban was in power. "If the Americans leave this country," he said, "I will be the first target."

Nato commander apologises after troops shoot dead Afghan children

Coalition soldiers kill two boys in Uruzgan province in episode likely to worsen strained relations with President Hamid Karzai
Nato said on Saturday its forces had accidentally shot dead two Afghan boys, in the latest of a series of reports of civilian deaths at the hands of international troops. The shooting, in the southern province of Uruzgan, could further strain the relationship between the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who has demanded US special forces leave another province over allegations of torture. The two boys were shot dead when they were mistaken for insurgents during an operation in northwest Uruzgan on 28 February, Isaf commander US General Joseph Dunford said in a statement. "I offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed," Dunford said. "The boys were killed when Coalition forces fired at what they thought were insurgent forces." Dunford added that a team of Afghan and Isaf investigators visited the village on Saturday and met local leaders. The area, Lowar-e-Dowahom, was often patrolled by international troops, a spokesman for provincial governor Amir Mohammad Akhundzada said. "They saw two young children who were apparently listening to a radio and they shot them – it is not yet clear why," the spokesman said. Australian forces deployed in Uruzgan said earlier there had been an "operational incident" in the province's northwest but gave no details except that no soldiers were harmed. On 13 February a Nato air strike requested by Afghan forces killed 10 people – including five children and four women – in the eastern province of Kunar, prompting Karzai to ban his troops from requesting foreign air strikes. Two weeks later he halted all special forces operations in the central province of Wardak after a series of allegations involving US special forces soldiers and Afghan men said to be working with them.

President Obama's Weekly Address

Syria crisis: Assad sends top aide to meet Manmohan
The Syrian President’s political and information advisor Buthaina Shabaan is expected to meet the Prime Minister on Tuesday when she will deliver a special message. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is sending his top aide Buthaina Shabaan to India to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and brief him about the ongoing conflict in the country. Ms. Buthaina, who is Mr. Assad’s political and information advisor, is expected to meet Dr. Singh on Tuesday when she will deliver a special message. She is also expected to meet other officials and apprise them about the latest security situation in the country, Syrian diplomats said. Ms. Buthaina had visited India along with President Assad in 2008. Ms. Buthaina’s visit follows Iranian Speaker Ali Larijani’s talks with the Prime Minister, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and other leaders during which the Syrian situation came up for discussion. Syria feels that India like Russia, Iran and China should play a positive role in ending violence in that country. It is supportive of U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s initiative on direct negotiations between two warring factions. India on many occasions has opposed military intervention in Syria and advocated negotiated settlement. India had told the U.N. that further militarisation of the conflict will make political settlement complicated and difficult.

New Slaying Highlights Perils Of Journalism In Pakistan's Tribal Areas

The Taliban has dissociated itself; the Pakistan Army has extended its condolences; and government functionaries, politicians, and civil-society representatives have offered condolences as "unidentified" armed men took the life of another journalist in Pakistan's perilous tribal areas on February 27. Malik Mumtaz, who was reporting from Miranshah, North Waziristan, for Pakistan's "The News International" and Geo television, was gunned down while on his way home from a funeral in a nearby village. He thus became the 11th tribal journalist killed in armed attacks or bomb blasts since February 7, 2005. [Police in Pakistan’s southwest Balochistan Province reported a 12th death on March 2, saying attackers on a motorcycle had shot dead local journalist Mahmud Afridi. Senior police officer Ahmed Shah Lango said Afridi was killed on March 1 as he walked to a press club in the town of Kalat, some 150 kilometers south of the provincial capital, Quetta. Lango said Afridi worked for the local Intikhab newspaper and was president of the Kalat press club. His friend and colleague Nowroz Mengal told Radio Mashaal that it did not appear that Afridi had ever received any threats. No one has claimed the responsibility of his killing.] The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has described Pakistan as "one of the deadliest nations in the world for the press," where "the government is unwilling to confront the problem." According to CPJ, as many as 51 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992 but the government has failed to arrest and punish their killers. Apart from the abduction and execution of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 in Pakistan's commercial capital, Karachi, the killings of tribal journalist Hayatullah Khan, Asia Online correspondent Saleem Shahzad, and Geo TV reporter Wali Khan Babar are all examples of the government's inability to hold accountable those responsible for journalist slayings.Before his bullet-riddled body was found handcuffed in North Waziristan on June 16, 2006, tribal journalist Hayatullah Khan was kidnapped and kept in captivity for several weeks. After protests from journalist associations in and outside Pakistan, a judicial commission was formed to investigate his death. However, that commission's report never saw the light of day, and it's unclear why. Khan's kidnappers and killers remain "unidentified." Geo TV's Babar was shot dead in Karachi on January 13, 2011. Geo TV officials claim that witnesses in Babar's murder case were killed one by one by "unidentified" armed men, while prosecutors and police officers investigating the case have received anonymous threats. The case remains stalled two years after the slaying. Asia Online's Shahzad was kidnapped in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on May 30, 2011, and his bruised body was found a day later in the town of Mandi Bahauddin, in Punjab Province. After countrywide protests from journalists, the government formed a judicial commission to investigate the Shahzad case. The commission's findings, released six months later, were heavily criticized as overly vague. One paragraph of the report states: "Despite extensive efforts by the commission, it was unable to identify the culprits due to a lack of significant evidence." Now comes the task of investigating the killing of Mumtaz and arresting the culprits, as promised by the Pakistani authorities in their statements of condemnation. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman denied responsibility for the murder and condemned the killing, and the Pakistan Army also expressed condolences. In the majority of targeted killings or kidnappings of journalists, fingers are raised at both nonstate and state actors -- meaning militants and the Pakistani security agencies, respectively. In North Waziristan, the two parties holding what is arguably the greatest sway are the security agencies and the various Taliban groups. Who is responsible, if neither of those two?Seasoned Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi, commenting during his evening show "Aapas Ki Baat" on Geo TV on February 27, suggested the killers want to communicate the message that those in the media should be careful (when reporting on sensitive issues). But on the more basic question of who the killers are, Sethi -- whose program is known for bold predictions of political developments -- remained silent. As is often the case, the next few days will see protests by journalists across Pakistan at the killing, as well as promises from Pakistani officials about bringing the culprits to justice. But the key question will remain unresolved until the culprits are actually identified and brought to justice. Unfortunately, just as when unidentified perpetrators kidnapped and killed Shahzad nearly two years ago, it bears repeating that while Mumtaz is the latest on the list of slain Pakistani journalists he certainly won't be the last.

Shia trader gunned down

The Express Tribune
A Shia trader was gunned down in Kochi Bazaar on Friday evening, in the 11th such attack in nearly two months. Akbar Ali was in his shop with a friend, Muktar Hussain, when two motorcyclists opened fire and escaped, leaving them critically injured. Both were rushed to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) but Ali died on the way. Hussain is said to be in critical condition. “Most shopkeepers were at the mosque offering prayers so no one really saw the attackers,” said Tauseef Khan, another shopkeeper. He said Ali was targeted in his shop, adding that people in the area learnt about the incident when they heard two boys who worked in the shop crying. By the time police reached the scene of the crime, the culprits had escaped. Ali, a resident of Chowk Nasir Khan, inside the walled city, was a trader by profession. A few hours after Ali was killed, the Imamia Coordination Council (ICC) called for a protest. At least 200 people marched from Imambargah Adil Baig Kucha Risaldar towards Qissa Khwani Bazaar. There, the aggrieved participants held a sit-in, condemning the government over its failure to bring sectarian violence to an end and demanded the arrest of those responsible for killing Shias. The protesters, led by Imamia Jirga member Muzaffar Akhunzada, burnt tires at Qissa Khwani Bazaar and placed the deceased’s body on the main thoroughfare. The sit-in continued till the filing of this report.

Punjab govt allied with terrorists

Punjab Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) President Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo said on Saturday that the Punjab government has links with terrorist organizations and this poses threats to the lives of citizens and national security. In a press conference in the PPP provincial secretariat, Mian Manzoor Wattoo said the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) has electoral alliance with terrorist groups that is why the People’s Party was not interested in coalition or seat adjustment with the PML-N. The PPP provincial president said that foreign powers including United States were opposing Pak-Iran gas project but keeping in view the energy crisis and greater interest of country it would completed at all costs. Wattoo claimed that various rebellious movements were in order and separatists were running amok destabilizing the country but their initiatives would be in vain. He called the large scale appointments and transfers in Punjab as pre-poll rigging of the sitting provincial government and demanded the chief election commissioner to take notice.

Pakistan: Caretaker government will be in place on 16th

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and PPP stalwart Syed Khurshid Shah on Saturday said that caretaker setup would be in place on March 16. “There will be interim government in country right at 12:01 am on March 16,” the minister said while talking to media after attending a ceremony organized by Haj Organization. He said that consultation was underway for the name of caretaker prime minister and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz would give its name for the post after its meeting. The minister said that for the first time MNAs knew as to when the National Assembly was going to expire. Shah said that President Asif Ali Zardari would give farewell dinner to all the MNAs if the opposition gave its consent to attend the occasion. The PPP leader said that all the political parties had the right to form and an alliance. - See more at:

Pakistan: The threat within

BURIED in Defence Secretary Asif Malik’s comments on Wednesday to the media after his appearance before the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Defence was a disturbing admission: the military is aware of continuing, and serious, threats against security installations in the country and army commandos have been deployed to protect naval and air force establishments. The two smaller arms of the military have been attacked several times in spectacular fashion over the past couple of years and each time insider information and assistance has been suspected. While information is hard to come by, particularly since the armed forces are impervious in terms of accountability and outside scrutiny, there is a lingering sense that the navy and air force have an extremism problem that has resisted whatever cure the military high command has thrown at it. Last month alone two small-scale attacks against naval personnel in Karachi, one inside PNS Karsaz, have underlined the threat — though it is in the nature of such threats now that separating sectarian motives from anti-state attacks is becoming increasingly difficult. The problem with attacks on military installations is not just the physical damage caused — planes worth billions of rupees have been damaged or destroyed — but the psychological damage they inflict. A military unable to defend its own property and personnel has a devastating impact on public confidence and on Pakistan’s already poor international standing (in the back of security experts’ minds will be the knowledge that the air force is a central delivery platform for Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent). The solution is neither ad hoc nor immediate. More thorough vetting procedures and sustained intelligence gathering, particularly of recently retired military personnel who are often implicated in attacks and are harder to track once they leave the self contained environment of military bases, requires complex cooperation across the services, which are often rooted in cultures that are insular and not easily amenable to deep scrutiny. Ideology too plays a role: Gen Kayani’s repeated exhortations that the internal threat is greatest are only a small step towards reorienting the military’s security paradigm. Ultimately, the threat can be addressed, but only by relentless purposefulness.

Peshawar: TTP terrorists threaten to bomb mobile phone shops

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have threatened to bomb a mobile phone market in Peshawar for the "shameless" selling of video clips, ring tones and accessories, officials said Saturday. Some 60 shopkeepers received letters in the post ordering them to burn the offending stock, including memory cards and speakers for MP3 players, and stick to selling only mobile phones and essential accessories. DVD and CD shops have in the past been bombed by militants who deemed the businesses "un-Islamic". In one of the letters, seen by AFP, militants wrote: "Do not compel us to send a bomber... stop this shameless business in one week and burn the shameful stuff. Just sell mobile phones, batteries and chargers. "Your markets have become centers of shamelessness... Our mission is to stop this shameless business and if you do not stop it yourself then we will make an example of you and your market." Officials and police acted quickly to minimise the threat from would-be bombers. "We have immediately closed down the shops doing ring tones and video clips business, after about 60 shopkeepers received threatening letters from Taliban by mail," local market association secretary general Shakil Ahmed told AFP. He said parking spots for motorcycles -- which are sometimes packed with explosives and detonated -- had been moved away from the market and police had been asked to increase security. Senior police official Faisal Murad said patrols had been stepped up around the market in Peshawar.