Thursday, March 7, 2013

Chavez body to be put on permanent display

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's acting president, says Hugo Chavez's embalmed body will be permanently displayed in a glass casket so that "his people will always have him." Tens of thousands have already filed past his glass-topped casket at a military academy following a seven-hour procession on Tuesday which took his body from the hospital where he died. Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman is in Caracas near where Chavez's body is being displayed.

Shia life in Peshawar: from harmony to horror

by Fattu Lohar
The Shia communities in almost every major city in Pakistan have a story of pain and grief to tell. Peshawar is no exception. But the gloom and doom wasn’t there always. Peshawar is perhaps that oldest living city in the subcontinent that has celebrated diversity for ages. Hindkowans, Pashtuns, Farsibans – both of Afghan and Persian descent- , Urdu speakers and even a few Uzbek families have lived in harmony in Peshawar, especially inside the old walled city, for ages. Besides the ethnic and linguistic diversity the Peshawar city also had boasted of religious pluralism. From Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi PBUH processions, the Giyarhveen Shareef, the Nauroz – the Persian new year- festivities to the Muharram commemoration the city’s Sunni Barelvis, Sufis and the Shia were together in everything. The Muharram tradition of Peshawar is hundreds of years old with several large and small Imambargahs dotting the old city and the large Sunni population of the city lending a helping hand to the caretakers of these Shia worship sites and indeed with the logistics of the Muharram processions. But things do seem to be changing. Last week a Shia street vendor named Ali Akbar Mir was shot pointblank and killed. He wasn’t exactly the caretaker of the Imambargah Razi Shah as reported in sections of the media but eked out living selling odds and ends close to that Imambargah. Reportedly, Mir was taunted by a neighboring vendor who disparaged the Shia rituals especially the Dhuljanah – the horse representing Hussain’s loyal steed at the Shia processions. A day or so later Mir was killed by unknown assailants. He is survived by two children. His wife – a Sunni – had died years ago trying to rescue one of their children from a drowning in a river where they had gone picnicking. Mir’s is not the only family with Shia-Sunni intermarriage in Peshawar. Scores of clans in Peshawar are what they describe themselves as ‘mixed Shia-Sunni’ families. Mir’s was neither the first targeted killing of a Shia in Peshawar nor, sadly, will it be the last. In fact, one the most high profile Shia leader ever assassinated was Maulana Arif Hussain al-Hussaini who was murdered at his seminary in Peshawar in August 1988. While Arif al-Hussaini was a politico-religious leader the overwhelming majority of the Shia target killed in Peshawar since 1988 has been apolitical – and mostly professional – people. From the AIG Farooq Haider – son of a scion of Pakistan movement, Sardar Ali ‘Baba’ – a banker, Safdar Abbas – a teacher, Sardar Mumtaz – retired government servant to more recently the physicians Riaz Hussain and Shahnawaz Ali and human rights activist and lawyer Malik Jarrar Hussain and SP Hilal Haider, over 30 Shia have been killed in Peshawar. In many cases the next of kin filed FIRs and pursued the cases as well but not a single perpetrator has been apprehended let alone tried and sentenced. In the wake of the bombings on Shia Hazara of Quetta the Peshawar Shia remain especially apprehensive that a bigger, more devastating attack than ‘just the target’ killings awaits them. The retain the memories of July 1992 when the armed terrorists of the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) first fired upon and killed Shia men in a Muharram procession and then laid a siege to the Shia population centers in Peshawar city. The SSP terrorists also looted and burnt Shia businesses and property. Apparently a judicial inquiry was conducted but needless to say the terrorist remain at large. In fact, most of the terrorists are well-known locally and have operated under the banner of one Deobandi outfit or another but their affiliation with the SSP is not hidden. Now, with elections just around the corner some of these thugs have even managed to register with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) as the Rah-e-Haq Party led by Maulana Ibrahim Qasmi.About two weeks ago the Shia community of Peshawar came out on the streets in a completely peaceful and solemn protest against their systematic extermination. Surprisingly, few if any of their neighbors – who they have lived in harmony with for centuries – came out to stand together with them. An honorable exception was the lawyers associations in Peshawar, who not only held protests on their own but also have extended legal help to the besieged community. Unfortunately, the plight of the Peshawar Shia has gone unnoticed and underreported even by the human rights organizations. With spineless political parties in cahoots with the SSP, an army complicit with the assorted jihadist and an election commission derelict in its duty, the Shia of Peshawar live in an anticipatory horror where they once lived in harmony. Deobandi militants of ASWJ are regularly target killing Shias in Peshawar. Mainstream media continues to ignore.

US Minimum Wage Boost Would Especially Benefit Women

Bangladesh:Make country Razakar-free

The youth-powered Gonojagoron Mancha organises a rally at the Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka yesterday to mark the historic March 7. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on this day in 1971 delivered his famous speech at this venue, then Racecourse Maidan. Photo: Anisur Rahman The Suhrawardy Udyan, formerly Race Course Maidan where Bangabandhu delivered his historic March 7 speech, reverberated with anti-Razakar slogans yesterday. On the day in 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced to the thunderous roars of hundreds of thousands: “The struggle this time is for emancipation. The struggle this time is for independence.” Forty-two years after that independence was won, the Shahbagh demonstrators on the same ground declared the struggle this time was to rid the country of Razakar and Jamaat-Shibir. Marking March 7, the protesters held the rally at the Shikha Chirantan at Suhrawardy Udyan yesterday, the 31st day of the movement. Once again, demonstrators urged the countrymen to resist Jamaat-Shibir in every neighbourhood. “March 7 is the inspiration of our sprit of unity and a guideline for our struggle…. Driven by this inspiration, we will continue our movement until our demands are met,” said Imran H Sarker, spokesperson for the protest that began on February 5 demanding capital punishment to all war criminals. Marking the International Women’s Day today, the protesters will organise a Nari Jagoron Samabesh (rally for awakening women) at the Shahbagh intersection, now popularly known as Projonmo Chattar. Imran called upon the women of different walks of life to join the rally and urged the garment owners and other organisations to allow a few hours’ leave for all women employees to join the rally. The organisers will today announce the date, time and venues of rallies to be held in divisional cities outside Dhaka. Also, the deadline for the mass signature campaign has been extended till March 22. So far, 4.5 lakh signatures have been registered. Like in previous rallies, Imran administered an oath to the protesters, who vowed to continue the movement until their demands are met. Criticising the filing of a case against Imran over “disgracing the national flag”, Bangladesh Chhatra Moitree President Bappadittya Bashu said, “Nothing happens when Jamaat-Shibir men burn the national flag down. But when we call for hoisting the flag, it is denigration of it.” Demonstrators also slammed Jatiya Party Chairman and former autocrat HM Ershad for giving “negative” comments about the Shahbagh movement. Leaders of different student bodies spoke at the rally participated by various professionals and socio-cultural organisations. At the rally, a nine-year-old child, Apurbo, rendered Bangabandhu’s full speech of March 7. Earlier in the morning, protesters brought out an anti-hartal campaign from Shahbagh and marched through Matsya Bhaban, Jatiya Press Club and Purana Paltan before returning to the intersection. Protesters took to the Shahbagh intersection on 5 February, just hours after a war crimes tribunal gave life sentence to Jamaat leader Abdur Quader Mollah for war crimes in 1971. They have been demanding capital punishment to Mollah, saying a life term for him is too lenient a punishment.

Bangladesh Govt examining laws for ban on Jamaat

The government is scrutinising the laws to ban Jamaat-Shibir, as their terrorist and militant activities have wreaked havoc across the country, said Foreign Minister Dipu Moni yesterday. “There have been strong demands from different quarters for banning the politics of Jamaat and its student wing Shibir,” she said. Briefing foreign diplomats at the her ministry in the evening on the recent violence and atrocities by Jamaat-Shibir and their allies, Dipu Moni said the government was not thinking of deploying army to tackle the ongoing violence. She said the government was also investigating whether there was any funding for the terror acts. Diplomats from around 40 countries attended the meeting. Sources said ambassadors and high commissioners of Russia, Canada, the UK and the Philippines raised several questions on the ongoing situation. Talking to reporters after the diplomatic briefing, the foreign minister said the diplomats had enquired mainly about three things — plan to ban Jamaat, possibility of army deployment and funding behind violence and its source. On deployment of army, she said, “It seems the situation does not require it. But the government will take whatever steps necessary to protect the lives and property of the people.” Dipu Moni said the foreign diplomas while asking the questions implied that there had been a huge funding behind the Jamaat-Shibir violence and if so, what had been the source, and also whether the government was investigating that. “There have already been a lot of discussions on the matter in public domain and some independent researchers are working on it,” she added. Emerging from the briefing, German Ambassador Albrecht Conze expressed grave concern over the loss of lives and property. “The loss of innocent lives and public and private property is a matter of great regret,” he said, adding, “In the rundown of election in 10 months, I don’t know how this country can sustain, as in the coming months 10 verdicts and 13 appeals will happen. If the appeals are rejected, there will be more violence.” The German ambassador said constitutionally available options were the best way to resolve the problems. British High Commissioner Robert Gibson also expressed worry about countrywide violence and deaths. Meanwhile briefing the diplomats, the foreign minister hoped that the international community would appreciate a new paradigm being set by Bangladesh to conduct the trials of 1971 war criminals and a strong sense of national ownership. She said the government remains open to any constructive and legally feasible suggestions to ensure further international standards in the trials. Dipu said the international community should also react to the fabricated propaganda run by the Jamaat-Shibir and their allies that the International Crimes Tribunals had been an excuse to politically undermine and persecute leading Islamist leaders and thinkers. “It is unfortunate that such a false and mala fide notion had gained some sympathies within the political circles and media establishments of some of our friendly countries without delving into the antecedents of the accused and the convicted criminals,” she said. Dipu said, “We have seen how such misguided demonstration of support in certain foreign countries has been used by the Jamaat-Shibir to drive home their point among their local sympathisers about these trials being a pretext for political persecution only.” The Foreign Minister urged all friendly governments to show respect to the popular demand for justice and join in their condemnation of those who have been found guilty of committing crimes against humanity. Dipu said the difficult course of righting the wrongs that Bangladesh has taken up would not just signal an end to the culture of impunity but also have profound implications for opening up the possibility for justice for the genocides or ethnic cleansings in other parts of the world. “’… our law enforcement agencies would maintain an uncompromising stance against any form of violence or terrorist acts under the pretext of political activities to save convicted criminals,” she said. Dipu Moni said the government has largely been able to contain the spread of violence, which remains concentrated in certain identified pockets of the country. “We have heightened intelligence operations and deployed additional police and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) forces in the violence endemic areas,’ she told the diplomats. The district administrations have started distributing relief to the affected families and households including those of the Hindu minorities. “We believe that the strongest firewall against the Jamaat-Shibir violence has been built by our youth at the Projonmo Chattar in Shahbagh. Their peaceful rallies and demonstrations have stood in sharp anti-thesis and rejection to the path of violence, murder, arson and vandalism chosen by Jamaat-Shibir and their allies,” Dipu Moni said.

Is Pakistan's military out of politics for good?
Last week, three senior members of the Pakistani security establishment - including Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani, the country's most powerful military official - stated that the military will not interfere in the country's upcoming national elections. (Observers take note - when the Pakistani military plans to take over, it will let you know.) Indeed, of the numerous challenges over the last five years to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government's authority, the more overt ones came from Supreme Court efforts to remove President Asif Ali Zardari on corruption charges; flaky coalition partners like the Muttahida Quami Movement, whose frequent departures from the government threatened the coalition's viability; and the pro-regime change march led by Canada-based preacher Tahir ul-Qadri in January. Still, observers could not help but ponder the possible military connections to each challenge - a state of mind that is second nature in a place like Pakistan, which has spent nearly three decades under military rule since its independence in 1947. The obsessive speculation also suggests a deep-seated expectation in Pakistani culture for the military to come to the country's rescue from a corrupt, inefficient government, even at the expense of democracy. Those days seem to be over for now. With less than two weeks before its term expires, the PPP is still in charge, with no signs of an imminent hard or soft coup. Nor is there a clear path for significant military poll rigging, especially with a newly independent and neutral Election Commission, thanks to the 20th amendment passed in 2012. We can be sure, however, that the military, like other stakeholders and constituents, is watching the elections process closely, assessing ways it can exert its influence and preserve its interests in the next government. Keeping civilian involvement limited in key national security issues, such as India, Afghanistan, nuclear weapons development, and even relations with the United States will be a priority for the military. The world, too, will be watching Pakistan with interest on March 16, when the PPP-led government's term expires. It will have been the first civilian government to complete a full term in the country's history. Any challenge to this history in the making will see diminishing returns. Even though the military remains the most popular institution in Pakistan, there is zero public support for overthrowing the civilian government or intervention in elections. No doubt the generals in Rawalpindi understand all of this. But more than international scrutiny, internal leadership problems and ideological divides in the security establishment have inadvertently strengthened civilian rule. The military's cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan has come under fire from its lower ranks, a reality with violent consequences. Frequent attacks on military installations, like last year's incident at Kamra air base, can only happen with internal assistance, and imply some level sympathy within the military for Al Qaeda, the Taliban and affiliated groups. More specific discontent lies among the most senior officials, the Corps Commanders, some of whom reportedly missed their chance at promotion when the government extended Kayani's term by three years. Whispers of Kayani's family receiving lucrative government contracts have also attempted tarnish the general's standing with the public and within his institution. The military has rightfully chosen to focus on its own problems rather than take on those of the civilians. Staying uninvolved while protecting its interests will not come easy, though. The combination of internal leadership and ideological challenges, lack of public support for elections interference, and intense scrutiny by the international community will simply force the military to pursue more indirect means to influence the elections process. Ultimately, the Pakistani military does not need to lead a coup to interfere in elections. Its checkered past of political engineering speaks for itself. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had illegally financed politicians running against the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in the 1990 national elections. In 2002, when General Pervez Musharraf held a referendum to legitimize his coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and extend military rule, domestic and international observers called it "blatantly" rigged. Despite 2008 reports that the ISI shut down its political wing, known for "spying on politicians" and "making or breaking of political parties," rumors persist of military support for the purported indefinite extension of the impending caretaker government, as well as for the formation of the Defense of Pakistan Council (DPC), a coalition of conservative and extremist Islamist organizations aiming to be politically viable, possibly in this year's elections. General Kayani said last week that it was his dream for Pakistan to have free and fair elections. Relatively speaking, it is possible that the elections could be rigged less than previous polls and with less military involvement. But the security establishment's enduring interest in a pliable and cooperative new government that does not interfere in its dealings will guarantee continued military involvement in politics - not the other way around. Pakistan's military establishment will not always be this hesitant to get directly involved in politics. Over time, and especially as the U.S. war in Afghanistan winds down, the military could become less consumed by internal challenges, regaining political space to engage more directly. Additionally, public and institutional appetites for military intervention usually rise, peak, and fall over a period of 8-11 years; the governments of military rulers Zia ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf both lasted this long. If there is indeed a "generational" quality to military rule in Pakistan, then another five years of a poorly performing civilian government could create opportunities for an unpopular military to reenter Pakistani politics.

Hugo Chavez's economic legacy

Venezuela to give Chavez the Lenin treatment
The body of late President Hugo Chavez will be preserved and kept on display in a glass tomb in the manner of Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, the Venezuelan government said Thursday. "I want to tell the nation and the world ... it has been decided to the prepare the body of the comandante president, embalm it, so it can be eternally open for the people to have it there always," Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on state television.The tomb will rest inside a future Museum of the Bolivarian Revolution, to be built at the barracks then-Lt. Col. Chavez used as a command post during his failed coup in 1992, Maduro said from the Military Academy, where the leftist president's body now lies in state. "So, like Ho Chi Minh, like Lenin, like Mao Zedong, the body of our commander-in-chief will remain embalmed ... for our people to be able to have him forever," the acting head of state said. Maduro also said Chavez's body will remain at the Military Academy for at least seven more days "for all the people to be able to see him, without limitation." The state funeral will take place Friday with 33 heads of state and government in attendance, the vice president said. Chavez, 58, died Tuesday of a heart attack after battling cancer for 21 months. The streets of Caracas are bathed in red in honor of Chavez, who made the color the symbol of his Bolivarian Revolution. Thousands of red-clad Venezuelans lined the streets on Wednesday as Chavez's coffin was carried from the Military Hospital to the Military Academy, where people stood in line as long as 10 hours for an opportunity to get a glimpse of the fallen leader. Chavez underwent four operations, as well as courses of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, since first being diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. He spent more than two months in Cuba due to complications that followed his Dec. 11 cancer surgery in Havana. First elected in 1998, Chavez won another six-year term in last October's election. New elections are to be held within 30 days and Maduro is expected to be the candidate of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Turkey: ''No woman, no growth''

Did you know that Turkey does not utilize half of its working age population? According to the annual labor statistics released on Mar. 6, the labor force participation rate (LFP), which is the ratio of those working or looking for work to the population over the age of 15, turned out to be 50 percent in 2012. Turkish LFP is so low because only 29.5 percent of women are in the labor force. Every year, I make it a point to write about Turkish women’s labor market woes on or around International Women’s Day. I always bring up the issue of low women’s LFP, and, every year, without exception, I get an angry comment from a reader, saying that women “choose” to stay at home to raise their children.Although a recent World Bank survey found out that many women do not work because of disapproval from husbands or society, others indeed choose to stay at home. It is basic economics, really. What options do women have when childcare is not available or too expensive? Daycare is simply not economical for uneducated women, who would have to work long hours in the informal economy with low wages. No wonder Turkish women’s LFP goes up with education. The government is aware of the issue, and they have been working on widening/subsidizing childcare for a while. But women’s rights activist Hülya Gülbahar claims that they are quite happy keeping women at home. In her interview with Barçın Yinanç in the Daily News on March 4, she argues that policies such as financial support to take care of the elderly at home and tax exemption for women working from home show that incentives are “provided in a way to keep women at home.” I am not a big fan of conspiracy theories, and the government has an official goal of increasing women’s LFP to 38 percent by 2023. Women’s LPF did indeed hit an all-time low of 23.3 percent in 2004, two years after the ruling Justice and Development Party came to power, and then hovered there until 2008. It has been consistently on the rise since then.Some of these women probably started working when their husbands lost their jobs in 2009, when the Turkish economy contracted 4.8 percent, and then never turned back. But Gökçe Uysal from the Istanbul think-tank BETAM shows that most of the increase in LFP has been in cities and among low-educated women. She concludes that reductions in social security premium contributions for women, enacted in 2008 to encourage female employment, must have worked. But just why is increasing women’s LFP important? Ankara think-tank TEPAV’s Güneş Aşık offers some clues. Using simple and logical assumptions, she calculates that increasing women’s LPF to the government’s target would add 0.4 percentage points to Turkey’s potential growth rate. Achieving the OECD average of 61 percent would add another 1 percentage point. Unfortunately, it seems Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is more interested in having every healthy Turkish woman give birth to three children than getting them into work.

President Obama Signs the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization

Poll: Clinton, Christie fare best in possible 2016 showdowns

According to a new national poll, Clinton would come out on top in such a hypothetical matchup. That's one of the findings from a survey released Thursday from Quinnipiac University, which asked American voters about nine possible general election matchups in the next race for the White House. According to the poll, the former first lady, Democratic senator from New York and secretary of state, leads the Republican New Jersey governor 45%-37%. The survey also indicates Clinton would top Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida 50%-34% and would beat Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House budget committee chairman and last year's GOP vice presidential nominee, 50%-38%. "Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would start a 2016 presidential campaign with enormous advantages," says Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "She obviously is by far the best known and her more than 20 years in the public spotlight allows her to create a very favorable impression on the American people. But it is worth noting that she had very good poll numbers in 2006 looking toward the 2008 election, before she faced a relative unknown in Barack Obama." If Vice President Joe Biden became the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, the poll suggests closer general election contests. Biden would trail Christie 43%-40% and would top Ryan 45%-42%. The three point margins in both matchups are within the survey's sampling error. According to the poll, the vice president would lead Rubio 45%-38%. According to the poll, Christie would lead New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo 45%-28%, with Ryan ahead of Cuomo 42%-37% and Cuomo and Rubio deadlocked at 37%. "Although some Republicans don't think New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie is conservative enough for their taste, he runs best of the three Republicans tested and would defeat two of the top Democrats," adds Brown. One caveat with such polling is that the next presidential election is still three and a half years away, and surveys this early in a campaign cycle are often heavily influenced by name recognition. The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted February 27-March 4, with 1,944 registered voters nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

The Bolivarian revolution

EDITORIAL : Daily Times
Hugo Chavez of Venezuela finally lost a two-year battle against cancer on Tuesday. First detected in 2011, he had been under treatment in Cuba for most of the period since. The outpouring of grief amongst his people is testimony of his popularity, especially amongst the poor whom he made the centrepiece of his policies. Inevitably, that brought upon his head the hatred and vilification of the rich, whose privileges and dominant economic and social position in Venezuelan society he challenged. Messages of condolence have arrived thick and fast from virtually all over the world, including some of the countries considered his sworn enemies. Many world leaders are expected to attend his funeral in Caracas today, which some commentators say will rival that of Argentinean icon Eva Peron in 1952 in size and fervour. Speculation in the international and local media has centred on the possible fate of the Bolivarian revolution Chavez led in Latin America. This was a movement to emulate the example of Latin American independence fighter Simon Bolivar, whose dream was to see Latin America united, especially against the domination of its powerful northern neighbour, the US. While Venezuela had the unprecedented advantage of huge oil revenues (the country has the largest oil reserves in the world at an estimated 296 billion barrels) to fund Chavez’s social and economic redistributive policies on income, wealth and welfare for the poor, the whole of Latin America virtually has swung towards the left (through the ballot box) in recent years after the leftist guerilla movements of the 1960s and 1970s, attempting to emulate Fidel Castro’s revolutionary success in Cuba, had been defeated (with the notable exception of Colombia). Venezuela no doubt had been richly endowed by nature, but the use Chavez put the huge oil revenues to led to halving poverty and lifting millions out of absolute poverty by investment in education, health, housing, etc. All this was not achieved without the wealthy classes attempting to oust him through unconstitutional means when they realised he was too popular to be defeated at the hustings, a fact unmistakably established by his winning election after election hands down since he was first propelled to power in 1998. Before that, he had spent a stint of two years in jail from 1992 to 1994 for an attempted military uprising against the brutal repressive rule of his predecessor, Carlos Andres Perez. A paratrooper himself, Chavez never looked back from that initial failed bid for power, so much so that when a coup attempted to unseat him in 2002, the people mobilised and reversed the bid in 48 hours, such was the loyalty of his people with one of the few leaders in Venezuela or Latin America’s history who altered the lives of the poor for the better. Like so many other popular (and populist) Latin American leaders, Chavez was steadily pushed leftwards by the arrogant and domineering attitudes of Washington, and finally openly embraced socialism in 2005. For this shift, due credit must also go to his lifelong friend Fidel Castro of Cuba, who became a father figure and mentor to the Venezuelan president 20 years his junior. His leftward drift and friendship with Castro naturally invoked the open hostility of the US. Chavez in turn became more and more anti-imperialist, railing against Washington’s desire to dominate Latin America and the world. Consistent with his appreciation of the US as the greatest danger to regimes such as his, he sought friends in Latin America (the leftist governments of the region) and further abroad — countries in conflict with, and threatened by, US hegemony (Iran, Syria, etc). While he consolidated his ties with friendly countries in Latin America through economic and political close ties, his allies further abroad formed part of a broad anti-imperialist coalition that challenged US hegemony. Chavez’s likely successor in the elections to be held within 30 days is Vice President Nicolas Maduro. If, as expected, he wins, he will have his task cut out for him. Critics point to the problems left behind by Chavez’s legacy. Crime, deteriorating infrastructure (including in the oil sector), inflation (currently 18 percent) and other ‘failings’ are constantly trotted out by Chavez’s inveterate opponents to predict doom and gloom for Venezuela and ‘Chavismo’, not to mention the Bolivarian revolution. But the trend of history indicates that what Chavez wrought, and what he has left behind as a legacy, will be difficult to reverse, let alone wipe out, since it has been embraced with enthusiasm by the masses of the poor. Rest in peace, Comrade Hugo Chavez. We salute you as a champion of the people.

Islamabad to complete Iran-Pakistan pipeline ‘despite US pressure’

Pakistan will complete the $7.5 billion gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan despite pressure from the United States, a spokesman for the foreign office said Thursday. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, foreign ministry spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan announced that President Asif Ali Zardari would be visiting Iran on Monday for the groundbreaking of the much delayed project. “President Zardari will visit Iran for the groundbreaking ceremony and it will take place on March 11,” foreign ministry spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan told reporters. He did not give further details but a senior Pakistani official told news agency AFP that the ceremony would be held on the Iran-Pakistan border. It will be Zardari’s second visit to Iran since February 27 and comes after officials said a consortium would start work on the pipeline on Pakistani territory on March 11 despite American warnings of possible sanctions. Pakistan suffers from a crushing energy crisis, but the United States is pushing Islamabad to use its offered alternative solutions to help avoid sanctions. “We are not in a fix… we are very clear about it that the pipeline is in our national interest being an energy deficient country,” Khan said. “Yes we know about their concerns but hope our friends, including the US, will understand our economic compulsions,” said Khan. Officials have said Monday’s ceremony will mark the start of work on the 780-kilometre pipeline earmarked for the Pakistani side of the border, which is said to cost some $1.5 billion. Although the pipeline on the Iranian side has almost been completed, Pakistan has run into repeated difficulties, both in financing the project and over a US threat of possible sanctions due to Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran eventually agreed to finance a third of the costs of laying the pipeline through Pakistan, with the work to be carried out by an Iranian company.

‘US has reservations over Pak-Iran pipeline’

The United States of America (USA) has once again expressed reservations on Pak-Iran gas pipeline project, Geo News reported. According to the State Department, the US was making efforts to help resolve energy crisis in Pakistan and to advance Mangla and Jamshoro power plants.

Polio team attacked in K-P, vaccines stolen

The Express Tribune
In a move that adhered to the recent surge of attacks on groups administering vaccines across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, a polio team was openly assaulted in Landi Kotal tehsil on Wednesday. Unidentified men, alleged to be militants, violently confronted the team of three workers, beat them and snatched their vaccination kits. Adnan Khan, a resident of Pero Khel, was one of the three workers. While relaying the incident to the political administration office, he said the team was entering a residential area of Pero Khel, Angor Bagh, when three masked men intercepted them and started hitting them, all the while asking why they were vaccinating children in the area. According to Khan, the men put knives to their throats and warned that if they attempted to administer vaccines in the area again, they would be killed. Then, the assailants took all their equipment and left. “We rushed out of the area after the incident,” said Khan. Shakeel Barki, an official of the Landi Kotal administration, said he had started an investigation right after the incident was reported. However, his meeting with the tribesmen of the area did not bear fruit as everyone expressed complete ignorance of any workers being beaten nearby. Barki added that eight suspects have been arrested under the collective responsibility clause of the Frontier Crimes Regulation. Additionally, the three polio workers have also been told to work under extra security measures provided by the area’s administration. However, the fear lurks on. After the incident, all polio workers in the tehsil have boycotted administering vaccinations to children.

PML-N nominations for caretaker PM 'a political joke': Qamar Zaman Kaira

Federal Information Minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira Thursday termed the names proposed by Pakistan Muslim League-N for the caretaker prime minister as 'a political joke'. He expressed the above views while briefing the media persons on the decisions taken by the Federal Cabinet in its 130th meeting held here today. Kaira said that PML-N has itself been criticizing the politician whose name is among the three proposed by PML-N for the caretaker PM. "The nominations of PML-N are nothing more than a political joke," he said, claiming " our nominations would be acceptable to all". APP adds: The Information Minister expressed the confidence that Pakistan Peoples Party would again emerge victorious in the upcoming general elections as it would go to masses on the basis of its performance. He said that during the past five years, the government tried its best to solve people's problems adding that it was the PPP government which revived economy. "During these five years, country's revenue witnessed an unprecedented increase. Inflation was brought down from 25% to the single digit of 7%," he said. Kaira said that he was proud that he belonged to a party which had given unmatchable sacrifices for the country but never compromised with terrorists. He said that today situation in Balochistan was different from the time when PPP came into power. "Today the political parties of Balochistan are preparing to participate in the upcoming general elections." To a question he said that although the government had serious reservations on Election Commission's decision to stop funds for the ongoing development projects but it obeyed the decision. He said the government was of the view that till the dissolution of assemblies, the government was bound to serve the masses and Parliament to do legislation. Answering another question, he said that from 1994 to 2007 not a single mega watt of electricity was added to the national grid adding that Mian Nawaz should also tell the nation that when his party was in power what steps were taken in this regard. To another question he said that the credit to sign Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline goes to the PPP. "Signing of the project is a remarkable achievement of the government and we will also present this achievement before masses in our election campaign," he added. Kaira agreed that prices registered an increase during the past few years but said that the government on the other hand also increased the salaries of employees.

US warns North Korea over 'suicidal' nuclear threat as UN expands sanctions

The United Nations security council has voted unanimously to punish North Korea for last month's nuclear test with a toughened sanctions regime, hours after Pyongyang threatened to unleash a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States. Secretary general Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, said the resolution "sent an unequivocal message to [the North] that the international community will not tolerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons". The decision by the 15-member council followed lengthy negotiations between the United States and China, the North's main ally. Measures range from tightened financial restrictions to cargo inspections and an explicit ban on exports of yachts and racing cars to the North, but experts say the real issue is enforcement. China's UN ambassador Li Baodong said Beijing, Pyongyang's main trading partner, wanted to see "full implementation" of the resolution. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, told reporters that the measures would "bite hard". She added: "North Korea will achieve nothing by continued threats and provocations." A foreign ministry spokesman in Pyongyang threatened to launch "pre-emptive nuclear strikes on the headquarters of the aggressors" because Washington was pushing to start a nuclear war against it, in a statement hours before the UN vote. Experts do not believe the North has managed to produce a warhead small enough to be mounted on a missile that could reach the US. They also pointed out that the original Korean language version referred to "invaders" rather than merely the "aggressors" of the English translation. Jennifer Lind, assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said that while the statement was disturbing, "North Korea has a long history of bluster and issuing threats that of course it does not carry out, [such as] its long term threats of turning Seoul into a sea of fire." Earlier this week the North threatened to cancel the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. Thursday's resolution condemns the North's third nuclear test "in the strongest possible terms" as a flagrant breach of previous resolutions, which bar it from testing or using nuclear or ballistic missile technology and importing or exporting material for the programmes. It aims to hinder those programmes but also targets the ruling elite. A ban on luxury exports was introduced in 2006, but countries could decide what fell under that rubric; this time, specific items are identified. The resolution warns the North against further provocations and demands its return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But it also stresses the council's commitment "to a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution" and urges a resumption of six-party talks. All countries are required to freeze financial transactions or services that could contribute to the North's nuclear or missile programmes. Public financial support for trade deals that could assist the programmes is outlawed. Countries must expel agents working for blacklisted companies from the North. They must inspect aircraft or vessels with suspect cargo and deny entry to those that refuse inspection. Hazel Smith, an expert on the North at Cranfield University, said the key question was how rigorously the US implemented financial sanctions, citing tough measures taken by Washington towards the end of the Bush administration. "They did have a major effect; they also paralysed diplomacy. But there is no diplomacy happening now," she said. Analysts suggest the immediate reaction of the North is likely to be further angry rhetoric and possibly another nuclear test, as Pyongyang hinted earlier. South Korean government sources cited by Seoul news agency Yonhap said on Wednesday that the North had imposed no-fly and no-sail zones off its coasts, apparently preparing for military drills. "North Korea will throw their usual histrionics about the resolution," said Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul in an interview prior to the latest threat. "Every time there's an escalation the risk of confrontation increases. But neither side wants anything to happen." At a Senate foreign relations committee hearing on North Korea, chairman Robert Menendez described the nuclear strike threat as "absurd and suicidal". Menendez, a Democrat, was holding the hearing as the UN security council voted for the resolution. He welcomed the new sanctions but said the US needed to do more to combine sanctions and military countermeasures with strong and realistic diplomacy aimed at North Korea and China. "There should be no doubt about our determination, willingness, and capability to neutralise and counter any threat that North Korea may present," Menendez said. "I do not think the regime in Pyongyang wants to commit suicide, but that, as they must surely know, would be the result of any attack on the United States." Glyn Davies, the State Department's special representative on North Korea, warned of "costly consequences" for the country. Its 12 February nuclear test, he said, represented "an even bolder threat to US national security, the stability of the region and the global non-proliferation regime". Davies told the committee the Pentagon was working with its counterparts in Japan and South Korea to ensure protection against an attack. The US would continue to look at unilateral sanctions against banks and other North Korean-linked bodies and seek to harmonise existing sanctions with other countries, he added. The US will not engage in negotiations unless there is a fundamental change in attitudes in North Korea. "The DPRK leadership must choose between provocation or peace, isolation or integration," Davies said.

UN resolution on DPRK nuclear test "balanced"

China on Thursday voiced support for the United Nations' latest resolution on Pyongyang's nuclear test, saying it is "balanced." In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, "China supports the UN Security Council's necessary and moderate response to the nuclear test of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)." The UN Security Council on Thursday passed unanimously resolution 2094 on condemning the DPRK's third nuclear test, which took place on Feb. 12. The DPRK also conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. The resolution demanded the DPRK not to proceed with any further nuclear tests, give up any nuclear arms program and return to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The resolution also urged peaceful, diplomatic and political resolution to the current situation and a resumption of the six-party talks. Qin said the resolution reflects the international community's opposition to the DPRK's nuclear test and promises to resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue by peaceful means, while reaffirming the resumption of the six-party talks. "Overall, it is balanced." He said it is in the fundamental interests of the international community to safeguard peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and northeast Asia. China urged relevant parties to remain calm and restrained and refrain from taking any action that could escalate tensions, the spokesman said. Qin called for all parties to stick to negotiations and seek denuclearization of the Peninsula under the framework of the six-party talks and explore effective ways to attain lasting peace and stability in the region.

Caracas takes on a red hue to mark Chavez's death
The streets of Caracas are bathed in red in honor of late President Hugo Chavez, who made the color the symbol of his Bolivarian Revolution. Chavez will lie in state in the chapel of the Military Academy until his funeral and burial on Friday. The 58-year-old president died Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer. Thousands of Venezuelans clothed in red lined the streets of Caracas on Wednesday as Chavez's coffin was carried from the Military Hospital to the Military Academy. Red banners, Venezuelan flags, photographs of Chavez and posters honoring the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution have filled the streets of the capital. The armed forces fired a 21-gun salute to Chavez at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday and announced that a cannon would be fired once an hour until the late president was buried on Friday. Chavez's death was announced Tuesday by a tearful Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who will serve as interim president. Chavez had undergone four operations, as well as courses of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, since first being diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. The leftist president spent more than two months in Cuba due to complications that followed his Dec. 11 cancer surgery in Havana. Elections will be held within 30 days and Maduro is expected to be the candidate of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Hugo Chávez: Death of a socialist

The Hindu
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias, President of Venezuela, who died on March 5, 2013 at the age of 58, was a defining figure in Latin American politics for 15 years, becoming almost synonymous with the popular tide that has elected and re-elected left and centre-left governments across the continent in that time. A gifted orator who could hold an audience for hours, Mr. Chávez combined political courage with immense conviction and an extraordinary sense of destiny. Born to schoolteacher parents in Sabaneta in 1954, he qualified in military arts and sciences at the National Military Academy, became an officer in a paratrooper unit, and started his political career in the early 1980s by founding a secret organisation, the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement, which took its name from the Latin American independence leader Simón Bolivar. His first big move was an attempted military coup against the government of Carlos Andres Perez in 1992, for which he was imprisoned for two years before being pardoned. Mr. Chávez, however, renamed his group the Movement of the Fifth Republic (which a decade later merged with other groups to form the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV) and won the 1998 presidential election on a socialist manifesto, promising millions relief from a system which had put oil wealth into luxurious lives for the rich and profits for the oil corporations. Mr. Chávez removed corrupt military officers and started a national reform programme. Venezuela, according to the United States Department of Energy, has the world’s largest oil reserves at 1.36 trillion barrels, and the new president promptly nationalised the main oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), putting the profits into very effective social programmes. Carles Mutaner, Joan Benach, and Maria Paez Victor note that between 2000 and 2010, social spending increased by 61 per cent or $772 billion; the country has the region’s lowest level of inequality, with a reduction in its Gini coefficient of 54 per cent. Poverty is down from 71 per cent in 1996 to 21 now, and extreme poverty is down from 40 per cent to 7.3. The social programmes, or Misiones, he started have reached 20 million people, and 2.1 million have received senior citizens’ pensions, a sevenfold increase under Mr. Chávez. Social parameters The country has also cut food imports from 90 per cent to 30 per cent of its consumption, and has reduced child malnutrition from 7.7 per cent in 1990 to 5 today; infant mortality has declined from 25/1000 to 13 in the same period, and the country now has 58 doctors per 10,000 people (as against 18 in 1996). As many as 96 per cent of the population now have access to clean water, and with school attendance at 85 per cent, one in three Venezuelans is enrolled in free education up to and including university. Oil royalties help. A 2001 law cut the sale price share of foreign companies from 84 to 70 per cent, and they now pay royalties of 16.6 per cent on Orinoco basin heavy crude; they used to pay 1 per cent earlier. Exxon and Conoco Philips rejected these terms, as Deepak Bhojwani notes in the Economic and Political Weekly (December 22, 2012), and were expelled, but Chevron stayed. Mr. Chávez of course infuriated the mainly white elites, some of whom talked of him in racist terms, as well as the United States government and press, both of which have consistently vilified him in language bordering on the delusional. The State Department greeted the 2002 coup against Mr. Chávez by expressing solidarity with the Venezuelan people and looking forward to “working with all democratic forces in Venezuela.” The statement also said Mr. Chávez had dismissed the Vice-President and Cabinet. In fact it was the coup figurehead, Pedro Carmona Estanga, who, according to the Notable Names Database, dissolved the national assembly, disbanded the Supreme Court, closed the attorney-general’s and comptroller’s offices, and repealed 48 redistributive laws meant to help the poor. Yet huge public support for Mr. Chávez meant the putschist regime collapsed within days. The President was reinstated, but the then U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice hectored him to “respect the constitution.” Greg Palast points out in The Progressive that the George W. Bush administration’s National Security Strategy of 2006 called him a demagogue out to undermine democracy and destabilise Venezuela. The U.S. press dutifully played its part. In September 2012, the WorldNet columnist Drew Zahn called Mr. Chávez a “socialist dictator”, when the President was about to win a fourth successive election. All those elections were of far greater probity than the respective U.S. presidential elections of 2000 and 2004; this time Mr. Chávez won by 11 percentage points on a turnout of 80 per cent. Other U.S. media bodies have spread partial truths about the Caracas government, saying it bloats the public sector and lets the budget deficit spiral. In fact, as Mark Weisbrot notes in the Guardian, 18.4 per cent of Venezuela’s work force is in the public sector, in contrast to Norway’s 29 per cent, and its 2012 budget deficit, projected at 51.3 per cent of GDP, is lower than the European Union average of 82.5 per cent; inflation has declined too, from 27 per cent in 2010 to 19 per cent now. Weisbrot also points out that the New York Times — which welcomed the coup — has taken 14 years, longer even than other American media outfits, to publish any arguments for Mr. Chávez. Carles Mutaner and colleagues comment that U.S. analysts ask what Venezuela will do when the oil runs out, but do not ask that about other oil exporters like Saudi Arabia and Canada; neither do critics note that the country’s interest payments are only about 3 per cent of export earnings. On oil One of Washington’s problems is that, as Greg Palast recognises, Mr. Chávez kept oil revenues within Latin America; unlike Saudi Arabia, which buys U.S. treasury bills and other assets, Venezuela at one point withdrew $20 billion from the U.S. Federal Reserve, and since 2007 has aided other Latin American countries with $36 billion, most of which has been repaid back. In effect, this supplants the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and possibly also its neoliberal fellow-crusader the World Bank. Even more unpalatably for Washington, Chávismo represents a clear political programme for pan-Latin American transformation, which Palast calls a close replica of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, with progressive income tax, public works, social security, and cheap electricity. For Bolivarians, such things are rights; they are even reminiscent of T.H. Marshall’s view that they are integral to substantive citizenship. Worst of all for U.S. regional hegemony, Mr. Chávez himself said Venezuela is no longer an oil colony, that it has regained its oil sovereignty, and that he wanted to replace the IMF with an International Humanitarian Bank based on cooperation; Uruguay already pays for Venezuelan oil with cows. Mr. Chávez wished the IMF and the World Bank would “disappear”, and his passionate concern for Latin American countries’ sovereignty made him a decisive figure in the 2011 creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac). Mr. Chávez could also be ruthless; in 2010 a military court sentenced his former key ally Raúl Isaias Baduel to just under eight years for embezzlement after a long-delayed trial, and Baduel is now banned from future political office, almost certainly because he criticised constitutional reforms which would allow a president more than two terms. Mr. Chávez was, however, no doctrinaire leader. Although a Christian, he criticised clerical collusion with the ancien régime, and did not accept the Church’s authority in politics. And though a socialist, his model even includes a respect for private property. He also thought seriously about political economy. Bhojwani notes that he favoured a form of 21st century socialism partly derived from the work of Heinz Dieterich Steffan. For Mr. Chávez, ethics, morality, cooperativism, and associationism make for strong public economic activity and in turn protect the equality which is essential to liberty. The Venezuelan electorate has repeatedly endorsed this; in the December 2012 gubernatorial elections — the first ones in 14 years in which Mr. Chávez himself did not campaign — his allies won 20 out of 23 states. After the President’s win in October, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had sent him a message saying, “Your victory is also ours.” Billions, and not only poor people, around the world would agree: Tu victoria es también la nuestra.

A day of tears after Chavez death in Venezuela

By the hundreds of thousands, Hugo Chavez’s tearful supporters carried their dead president through streets still plastered with his smiling image, an epic farewell to a larger-than-life leader remembered simply as ”our commander”. In a display of raw, and at times, unruly emotion, generations of Venezuelans, many dressed in the red of Chavez’s socialist party, filled Caracas’ streets Wednesday to remember the man who dominated their country for 14 years before succumbing to cancer. Chavez’s flag-draped coffin floated over hundreds of thousands of supporters as it made its way atop an open hearse on a seven-hour journey to a military academy in the capital. Mourners followed the lead of a grim drum major, with some shouting out ”nuestro comandante” as the coffin passed. At the academy, Chavez’s family and close advisers, as well as the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay, attended a funeral Mass before the president’s open casket. Later, the public slowly filed past in a show of respect expected to go on late into the night. But even amid the outpouring of grief, questions about the country’s future could not be put off for long, with worries amplified by the government’s lack of regard for the letter of the constitution and the military’s eagerness to choose political sides. Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the late president’s hand-picked successor, and Bolivian President Evo Morales, one of his staunchest allies, mingled with the crowd, at one point falling to the ground in the jostle of bodies pushing in every direction. Military officers and Cabinet members ringed the president’s coffin, stone-faced with grief. Other mourners pumped their fists and held aloft images of the late president, amid countless waving yellow, blue and red Venezuelan flags. ”The fight goes on! Chavez lives!” the mourners shouted in unison, many through eyes red from crying late into the night. Chavez’s bereaved mother, Elena Frias de Chavez, leaned against her son’s casket, while a priest read a prayer before the procession left the military hospital where Chavez died Tuesday at age 58. His funeral is scheduled for Friday. People who passed by the glass-topped coffin said Chavez’s body was clad in the presidential sash and the military uniform and red beret of his days as a paratrooper. Ricardo Tria, a social worker, said he waited nearly four hours to pass by the casket. Chavez looked ”asleep, quiet, serious,” he said. ”I feel so much pain. So much pain,” said Yamile Gil, a 38-year-old housewife. ”We never wanted to see our president like this. We will always love him.” Others who bitterly opposed Chavez’s take-no-prisoners brand of socialism said they were sorry about his death, but hopeful it would usher in a less confrontational, more business-friendly era in this major oil-producing country. Under his leadership, the state expropriated key industries, raised taxes on the rich and forced many opponents into exile. ”I am not happy that he has died, but I can’t be sad either,” said Delia Ramirez, a 32-year-old accountant who stayed away from the procession. ”This man sowed hatred and division among Venezuelans.” Even as Chavistas said their goodbyes, a sense of foreboding gripped the country as it awaited word on what might come next. Many Venezuelans, fearful of possible violence, stocked up on food and fuel as the country pondered whether the former paratrooper’s socialist agenda would survive him, and for how long. The 1999 constitution that Chavez himself pushed through mandates that elections be called within 30 days, but Chavez’s top lieutenants have often improvised with the law. The charter clearly states that the speaker of the National Assembly, in this case Diosdado Cabello, should become interim president if a head of state is forced to leave office within three years of his election. Chavez was re-elected only in October. But Chavez anointed Maduro for that role, and the vice president has assumed the mantle even as the government announced he would represent the ruling socialist party in the presidential vote. Some took to Twitter to denounce the move, citing Article 233 of the constitution, which establishes Cabello as the rightful president. The military also appears to be showing firm support for Maduro, despite a constitutional mandate that it play no role in politics. In a late-night tweet, Venezuelan state television said the defence minister, Admiral Diego Molero, had pledged military support for Maduro’s candidacy against likely opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, raising concern among critics about the fairness of the vote. Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state who lost to Chavez in October, was conciliatory in a televised address Tuesday. ”This is not the moment to highlight what separates us,” Capriles said. ”This is not the hour for differences; it is the hour for union, it is the hour for peace.” Other opposition leaders were more critical of the military stance. “When all Venezuela wants unity and peace, and a climate of respect between Venezuelans predominates, they’re contrasted by what’s unacceptable, the declarations of the minister of defence, that are, besides false, unconstitutional,” said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, executive secretary of the opposition coalition. If elected, Maduro would still face a stiff challenge replacing the ultra-charismatic Chavez, who parlayed a folksy nationalism and stiff resolve into a virtual one-man government, maintaining support among the poor despite food shortages, rampant crime and inflation topping 20 per cent. Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Maduro won’t be able to harness “Chavismo” as Chavez did so successfully, but she expects him to win any upcoming presidential vote. “There’s really no one who can step into those shoes,” she said. The next administration must also control a ballooning public debt that has quadrupled to $102 billion since Chavez took office in 1999, despite Venezuela’s booming oil exports Maduro’s Jekyll-and-Hyde-like behaviour Tuesday has stoked worries about a future government. He used a speech just before Chavez’s death to lash out at the United States and internal opponents he accused of plotting to destabilise the government. He pointed to shadowy forces as being behind the president’s cancer and expelled two American military attaches he charged with spying. In a speech later announcing the death, a shaken and somber Maduro called for peace, love and reconciliation among all Venezuelans. Many mourners at Wednesday’s procession took their cue from the more virulent Maduro speech, venting anger at Washington and accusing Venezuela’s opposition of conspiring with far-right US forces to undermine the revolution. “The government of the United States is not going to rest,” said Oscar Navas, a 33-year-old fruit vendor and Chavez supporter who joined the procession. “It’s going to continue conspiring against our revolution because we are anti-imperialists. I don’t have the slightest doubt the CIA is here, undercover, doing whatever it can to destabilise our country.” Venezuela and the United States have a complicated relationship, with Chavez’s enemy to the north remaining the top buyer of Venezuelan oil. But Chavez’s inner circle has long claimed the United States was behind a failed 2002 attempt to overthrow him, and he has frequently used anti-American rhetoric to stir up support. Venezuela has been without a US ambassador since July 2010 and expelled a US military officer in 2006. In Washington, senior Obama administration officials said Wednesday they hoped to rebuild the US-Venezuelan relationship in the wake of Chavez’s death, but acknowledged that sudden rapprochement was unlikely given the Latin American country’s upcoming presidential election. They expressed displeasure with the expulsion of two US military officials in Venezuela and Maduro’s accusations that the US was somehow responsible for Chavez’s cancer. “Yesterday’s first press conference was not encouraging,” a senior official said. “It disappointed us.” She and the other officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to speak publicly on the matter. The US is still reviewing whether to take reciprocal action for the expulsion of the American attaches, the officials said.

Jobless claims drop, signaling labor market gains

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting a pick-up in the labor market recovery and the pace of economic growth. The data on Thursday was the latest to indicate the economy's resilience in the face of higher taxes, although a separate report showing the U.S. trade gap widened in January dimmed the near-term outlook a bit. "Fundamentally, we are getting on a little better footing right now," said Omair Sharif, an economist at RBS in Stamford, Connecticut. Initial claims for state jobless aid fell 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 340,000, the Labor Department said. It was the second straight weekly drop, and it confounded economists' expectations for a rise to 355,000. The four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of labor market trends, fell 7,000 to 348,750 - the lowest level since March 2008. A 2 percent payroll tax cut ended and tax rates went up for wealthy Americans on January 1. In addition, $85 billion in federal budget cuts that could slice as much as 0.6 percentage point from growth this year started on March 1. Against the backdrop of tighter fiscal policy, economists were encouraged by the drop in claims. "It suggests that some jobs are being created and there is income that is falling into the consumers' pockets," said Sam Bullard, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina. In another sign of improving economic conditions, household debt grew at its fastest pace since early 2008 in the fourth quarter of last year, the Federal Reserve said in a report. Other reports showed steady job gains and a pick-up in tax refunds helped to boost sales at several retailers in February. The new reports added to recent data on housing and factory activity that have pointed to an acceleration in growth. "As we start the year, first-quarter growth is going to be substantially stronger than where we ended last year," said Bullard. The economy grew at a 0.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter. Growth estimates for the first three months of this year range as high as 2.8 percent, mostly reflecting a pick-up in the pace at which businesses are restocking. In a separate report, the Commerce Department said the trade deficit widened to $44.45 billion in January from $38.14 billion in December. Exports fell, giving back the bulk of December's gains, while imports rebounded after being held down by disruptions to port activity in the prior months. The inflation-adjusted trade deficit widened to $48.0 billion from $44.2 billion in December. Economists said this implied trade would be a small drag on first-quarter growth. "The sharp deterioration in trade shaves a bit from the outlook for growth in the first quarter," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago. "There are signs that domestic demand is firming, which would provide a major offset to weakness abroad." Stocks on Wall Street were trading slightly higher on the claims data, while prices for U.S. Treasury debt fell. The dollar weakened against a basket of currencies. LAYOFFS HAVE EBBED While the claims data fell outside the survey period for the government's report on February employment due on Friday, economists said they would not be surprised if job growth during the month beat expectations. A report on Wednesday had shown private employers hired more workers than expected last month. According to a Reuters survey of economists, employers probably added 160,000 jobs last month, a small pick-up up from January's 157,000 count. That would just be enough to hold the jobless rate steady at 7.9 percent. Economists say job gains of at least 250,000 per month are needed over a sustained period to significantly dent the ranks of the unemployed. Job growth averaged 200,000 in the three months through January. High unemployment prompted the Federal Reserve last year to launch an open-ended bond buying program to keep borrowing costs low. The U.S. central bank said it would keep up the program until there was a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market. In testimony to Congress last week, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled the central bank would press forward with plans to buy $85 billion in bonds per month. While layoffs have ebbed, companies are not in a hurry to step up hiring as demand remains lackluster. Claims are tucked in the low end of a 330,000 to 375,000 range for this year. Another report showed planned layoffs at U.S. companies rose for the second month in a row in February as the financial sector cut the most employees in over a year. Still, planned layoffs remain at historic low levels. "The rise in financial industry job cut announcements appears to have been driven by planned layoffs in the mortgage business at one large bank," said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York.

President Obama dines with GOP senators

Obama to sign expanded Violence Against Women Act
President Barack Obama on Thursday is set to sign legislation expanding the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to afford domestic violence protections to gay, lesbian and transgender victims as well as Native Americans and undocumented immigrants. The existing VAWA law, first enacted in 1994 to aid victims of domestic violence, offers programs and services to survivors, the criminal justice system and the community. The law has established the federal prosecution of interstate crimes, identifies dating violence and stalking as crimes of domestic violence, offers federal funding for rape crisis centers and other provisions. The bill, passed in Congress on Feb. 28, authorizes funding for more rape kits and a national registry of forensic evidence, strengthens trafficking statutes and makes other new provisions in addition to expanding coverage for more survivors. Men are covered under the law, but it's called the Violence Against Women Act because women are disproportionally victims in domestic violence. "That is a big win for not just women but for families and for the American people. It’s a law that’s going to save lives and help more Americans live free from fear," Obama said following the bill's passage. A House version of the bill, favored by some Republicans, did not contain expansions for additional survivors and other measures contained in the version crafted by the Democratic-controlled Senate, which both chambers ultimately approved. Obama is set to sign the legislation into law at a ceremony in the Interior Department building at 1:55 p.m. ET. The president will be joined by Vice President Joe Biden, who as a Delaware senator authored the original VAWA legislation in 1994. They will be joined by members of Congress, women’s organizations and advocates, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders and domestic violence survivors, according to the White House.

Kabul's Frustrations With Pakistan Boil Over

Pakistan's checkered role in Afghanistan has long attracted the anger and mistrust of Afghan officials. But while some might go so far as to privately accuse Islamabad of orchestrating violence in their country, such sentiments were routinely suppressed. That all changed this week, when high-level Afghan officials publicly accused Islamabad and its notorious intelligence service, the Inter-Service Intelligence agency (ISI), of covertly supporting the Taliban and other extremist groups working against the government in Afghanistan. First came Afghanistan's ex-spy chief, Rahmatullah Nabil, who on March 3 took the unprecedented step of calling for the United Nations to place the ISI on its global list of terrorist groups. "A terrorist is blacklisted, but the person who issues the fatwa for them to act or who provides them with safe havens is not blacklisted. Any entity that gives support and shelter to terrorists must be blacklisted," Nabil said. Nabil, who is deputy chairman of Afghanistan's National Security Council, also said Pakistan should not be allowed to participate in negotiations to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban. "The Afghan government and people have done their outmost to forge a good relationship with Pakistan so we could, as Muslim neighbors, live together and create peace in Afghanistan and in the region," Nabil said. "But, unfortunately, we have never seen any positive steps from Pakistan. Instead, they fire rockets that shell our people and land while our clerics, tribes, and children are martyred by their terrorists." Then came President Hamid Karzai, who issued similarly robust remarks on March 4. Speaking to reporters alongside NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Kabul, Karzai said Pakistan has taken "no practical steps" to help Afghanistan fight terrorism. The Afghan president also criticized recent statements by influential Pakistani cleric Tahir Ashrafi, who reportedly said suicide attacks in Afghanistan were justifiable because they target foreign occupiers.
Raised Political Stakes
For Kabul to formalize Nabil's calls for the ISI to be blacklisted by the UN, Afghanistan would have to make a request to the Al-Qaeda and Associated Individuals and Entities Committee, also known as the "Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee." The committee, which is chaired by Australia's ambassador to the UN and includes representatives from all 15 members of the Security Council, would then have to decide by consensus to add the ISI to its blacklist. Much of the anger in Afghanistan appears to be directly related to Ashrafi's legitimization of terrorist acts in Afghanistan. Former Afghan spy chief Nabil initially charged that Ashrafi's statement represented the views of the Pakistan government and intelligence services. Ashrafi has since backtracked and said his comments were taken out of context by the Afghan media. Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, suggests that the recent criticism could be a sign of Kabul's frustrations with its efforts to reach a peace settlement with the Taliban. Kabul has secured the releases of dozens of Taliban officials held in Pakistani prisons over the past few months, but the move has not led to any breakthroughs. Instead, there have been media reports that many of those released are now back on the battlefield. Kugelman also leaves open the possibility that the strong reaction by Nabil could be driven by political considerations, with presidential elections scheduled to take place in Afghanistan in 2014. "This strong comment from Kabul could betray this sense of anger about how things aren't really progressing very well. Given the elections aren't too far off, someone like [Nabil], a possible candidate, could be trying to make a political statement that would appeal to public opinion. Particularly given how hostile many Afghans are toward Pakistan, but in particular the ISI," Kugelman said. Whatever the case, Kugelman said, the strong reaction from Kabul does not bode well for Afghan-Pakistani relations. And this comes at a particularly critical time, he says, with Kabul in need of Islamabad's support as it prepares to take over security responsibilities as international forces prepare to withdraw. "Afghanistan-Pakistan relations are volatile and not good. They seem to have improved over the last few months. But anytime you have a high-level official make a comment as strong as Nabil did about the ISI, that risks not endangering but definitely harming the relationship -- in the sense that to have such a strong statement come from so high up in the government against such a significant and powerful organization such as the ISI," Kugelman said.

Pakistan Prepares for Historic National Elections

Pakistan's Election Commission says it is taking all measures necessary to secure the safety at 80,000 polling stations and ensure free and fair elections in the upcoming national vote. If successful, the election will be Pakistan's first transfer of power between civilian governments since the country gained independence in 1947. In a series of firsts for Pakistan, commission official Muhammad Afzal Khan says work is being done to ensure that the roughly 10,000 candidates for Pakistan's 1,000 national and provincial government spots have clean financial and legal records. Khan says officials will film and review every major candidate's political campaign. He also says the nation's civil registry of voters has been cleaned up and that the practical logistics on ballots and ballot boxes is almost complete. He dismisses criticism that the commission has bowed to political pressure. "We are not going to be distracted from our main national mission and objective: that is of holding of the country's best, cleanest, intimidation-free, fairest election - the election in which the loser will say, yes they have lost, but genuinely," said Khan. "We are not going to succumb to any pressure. We don't take any pressure. We don’t take any dictation." Bilal Mehboob, of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, cautions that the country's legal system and maze of regulations means it will not be easy to conclude the investigations Khan is talking about in such a short period of time. The elections are expected to take place within three months. "The realistic thing would be that yes, the election commission is making a lot of efforts and trying to do things which have not done before," said Mehboob. "So I think yes, they will probably be making much better efforts this time. But this is yet to be tested, what systems they are putting together, how much foolproof that system is." Mehboob says the biggest problem in the upcoming election is security, not fraud. He says militant groups like the Taliban want to disrupt the democratic process, which they believe is against the teachings of Islam. According to Khan, the commission is meeting with federal and regional government and security officials to ensure the safety at the roughly 80,000 polling stations. "We have made a lot of ground work, spade work, just focusing on the security. We would be focusing on the areas which require more and more, the high-sensitive areas and preemption is better than cure," added Khan. "Whatever preemption can be secured - that will be done, what is humanly possible." International and national observers are expected to monitor the elections, but there are concerns about their safety, as well. Khan says, if it were up to him, he would have cut observers out because they will detract from security forces needed to secure polling booths around the country. "Had there been ideal security situation, I would not have said that it should be a limited number, but this is the ground reality. Because if one observer is hurt it would damage our whole process and our image," said Khan. Pakistan has some 85 million registered voters out of a population of roughly 190 million. Of those voters, some 10-15 million are living in violent areas, home to militants, nationalists and armed political groups. Mehboob and other analysts say there are efforts underway to reach some kind of ceasefire or truce with the Taliban to prevent bloodshed during the elections. Although the date of the election has not been announced, it is expected to take place in May. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf insists nothing will detract from the vote. "Our government has always been committed to holding elections on time and create history by ensuring the transfer of power by a political government as required under the constitution," said Ashraf. "We can take pride that we are delivering on this commitment." If successful, it will be the first time a civilian government has handed power to another civilian government through the ballot box.

Pakistan : Political turncoats

The trait of people lacking ideological commitment enjoying perks and privileges for a full term of the government and then switching their loyalty to another party at the decisive stage has permeated in the country’s political order as a chronic ailment. This’tamasha’ is being staged on Pakistan’s political chessboard these days without any shame and remorse. The latest actor of this stage is the former president of the Balochistan chapter of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, Nawab Lashkari Raisani, who joined the rival Pakistan Muslim League-N, at a time when assemblies are being dissolved in a few days. He has attributed his defection to the PPP leadership losing the vision of slain PPP leader Benazir Bhutto in governance, an excuse he found only after the province has been placed under the governor’s rule. However, the fact remains that it is not Lashkari but his brother Nawab Aslam Raisani, the former chief minister, who holds sway over the Raisani tribe, one of the major clans in Balochistan, and his joining of the PML-N has only a symbolic importance as Aslam continues to be the PPP man. Such defections have been the hallmark of the powerful feudal lords, tribal chiefs and the people with vested interests to always remain in power and this custom reminds the people that the country has not so far been liberated from the exploitative and repressive feudal society. History would bear the testimony that such defections are usual before every election in particular and yet this has never disturbed the political equilibrium. Similarly, political polarization has come to stay like in the past. Such a ghastly political mannerism must be the matter of concern for the parties receiving with open arms the unscrupulous elements more than the party losing them in the switch over. Those welcoming them are, no doubt, promoting political corruption and are adding to the ushering in a politically incredibility era. Because such elements hardly have a commitment, their only concern is returning to assembly. No doubt, Lashkari, too, would be aspiring for a PML-N ticket and if the Sharifs’ party obliges him, it will be an apolitical decision and promote political corruption and black-mailing. Pakistan is now at the crossroad of making or breaking political and democratic traditions and the coming parliamentary election has thus assumed a critical importance. If those at the helm of affairs falter, the country would never attain a democratic landmark. The selection of candidates, therefore, also becomes a great responsibility of all political parties. Better they refuse awarding tickets to political turncoats because they can be expected to leave like parting ways with their original party. Ideally, all electoral laws should be so amended as to awarding of tickets to political renegades becomes a legal offence and a big disqualification.

Punjab University: University, bank officials stole millions in exam fees

Punjab University officials and bank employees have stolen millions of rupees in exam fees deposited by thousands of BA and MA students in an unfolding scandal which the university is yet to conduct an inquiry into, The Express Tribune has learnt. Meanwhile, the exam results of hundreds of students have not been released and they face unfair means cases, which “basically means that their careers are over,” in the words of one university official. The university has detected a loss of Rs25 million in exam fees, deposited by some 6,000 BA and 2,000 MA students in 2012. When the results for the BA exams were announced in August and for the MA exams in December, the students got results cards stating that their scores would be ‘released later on’. Weeks later, students began approaching the university to complain that their results had still not been received. They were told that this was because they had not paid their exam fees of Rs3,250 for BA students and Rs3,025 for MA students. When the students then produced receipts, it became clear that some chicanery had taken place. An administration official told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity that the students had deposited their fees at the University Branch of Habib Bank Limited and got receipts. But the bank officials had not transferred the money to the university’s account. “The bank staff and some PU officials in the fee section later divided the money amongst themselves,” said the official. Some students were given receipts with bogus bank stamps. “University officials in their case took the fee and, without involving the bank, issued them receipts with forged stamps,” said the administration official.He said that before issuing roll number slips, fee section officials should have checked how much money had been transferred into the university’s account and tallied that with the number of roll number slips issued. He said that not a single university employee had been penalised yet. A senior official of the HBL University Branch told The Express Tribune that all bank staff involved in the fee scam had been transferred. He said that the bank was now transferring money to the university for students able to produce receipts showing they had paid the exam fees and who submitted applications. PU Additional Controller Ahmad Ali Chattha said so far some 600 students had received their results after the bank had transferred their exam fees to the university. Most of these were from Lahore and some were from Sheikhupura and some from Sialkot. He said unfair means cases had been initiated against the students earlier because “under the rules, we are bound to do so”. He said he had asked the treasurer to take action against the university officials involved in the scam. “So far no inquiry has been initiated,” he said. Chattha said that over Rs25 million had been embezzled out of the money deposited for the BA and MA exams in 2012, but this could have happened before. PU Acting Treasure Rao Sharif, who left his charge earlier this week after two years, said that he had discussed the matter with the vice chancellor and they had decided against lodging FIRs against the corrupt officials because then they wouldn’t be able to recover the money. “The bank is paying back the money and 90 per cent of the results have been released. Had we initiated legal action, this wouldn’t have been possible,” he said. Another university official claimed that Sharif was in possession of a video showing fee section employees and bank officials on the roof of a university building dividing some of the stolen money amongst themselves. He claimed that Sharif was protecting one of the officials involved in the scam as he was backed by a prominent politician. Sharif denied being in possession of such a video or protecting any employee. He also refused to comment on proceedings of the Punjab Assembly Standing Committee on Education at which MPAs declared his appointment as acting treasurer illegal as it had not been approved by the university’s senate or its chancellor. Muhammad Jameel Anjum, who took charge as treasurer this week, said that he was aware of the scandal. “I have just taken charge. I assure you I will look into this matter and those who are involved will not be allowed to go scot-free,” he said. PU Registrar Professor Khan Raas Masood said he was unaware of the exact situation. “Many inquiries are initiated at PU. I will see and let you know,” he said.

President Zardari will visit Iran on Monday

Radio Pakistan
President Asif Ali Zardari is to visit Iran to perform ground-breaking of gas pipeline project taking place on Monday next. Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan said at the weekly news briefing in Islamabad today that several heads of state have also been invited to attend the ceremony. He said Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources is working out details. He rejected the impression that Pakistan was in a fix over the project due to foreign pressure and said the project is in our national interests and we are committed to go ahead with it. The spokesman said Pakistan is aware of concerns of the United States and some other countries about the project but hoped that they would understand Pakistan's economic compulsions in this regard. To a question he said discussions are also going on with Iran about setting up of an oil refinery at Gwadar. The spokesman also confirmed that Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf would pay a personal visit to Ajmer Sharif shrine in India on Saturday. He said no talks are yet scheduled on the occasion with Indian leadership.Asked to comment on Indian Prime Minister's allegations that Pakistan was not doing enough against terrorism‚ he said Pakistan condemns terrorism and extremism in all its forms and manifestations. He said it is a common threat and requires a common strategy and cooperation amongst all countries of the region. As for Mumbai attacks‚ he said Pakistan has repeatedly told India to provide proof that could stand scrutiny in the court of law as mere statements are not enough. The spokesman said Pakistan wants resolution of all issues with India through dialogue including the recent incident on the Line of Control. He said Pakistan has even gone to the extent of offering investigations under the mechanism of UN system. About grant of MFN status to India‚ he said Pakistan Government is committed to its decision in this regard but the two countries have to complete the required processes first. When his attention was drawn towards reports that India wants Pakistan to seek NOC for construction of water reservoirs in Azad Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltistan‚ the spokesman said Pakistan doesn't need any NOC from India. This position has also been supported by the latest verdict of the international court of arbitration in Kishanganga dispute. He‚ however‚ added that under provisions of Indus Basin Treaty‚ India is under obligation to inform Pakistan in advance if it wanted to build any structure on three Western rivers meant for Pakistan. To a question he said there was an understanding with the United States for initiation of case against Raymond Davis for killing two Pakistanis in Lahore but so far no such development was in his knowledge. Asked to sum up five year foreign policy of the present Government‚ the spokesman said the focus has been on improving relations with regional countries including India and Afghanistan. He said it is also pertinent that the Government involved the Parliament in the formulation of the country's foreign policy.

Peshawar professor under Taliban captivity appeals for release

A professor from a university in Peshawar under captivity of the Pakistani Taliban has appealed again to the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to accept the militants’ demands for his release. In a new video received Thursday, Professor Ajmal Khan, vice-chancellor of the Islamia College University (ICU), called out to Awami National Party (ANP) chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, the Peshawar High Court, the Governor and the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province to ensure his release from captivity by the extremist militants. Prof Khan, who was abducted by the Pakistani Taliban two years ago, said his health was deteriorating by the day. “Its been more than 2 and a half years I am in captivity but no concrete steps have been taken by the government for my release,” said Professor Ajmal Khan, speaking in Pashto language in the two and a half minute video, a copy of which is available with The VC was kidnapped from Professors Colony on Peshawar’s University Road in September 2010. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had demanded the release of four Taliban prisoners in the bargain of his release but government had earlier refused the offer. Prof Khan is also a close relative of ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan and had been a staunch supporter of the war against militancy. The TTP had threatened to kill the professor if the government failed to accept their demands and an earlier deadline had been extended by militants after appeals by his family and religious scholars hailing from Khan’s native Charsadda district. Security officials said Taliban insurgents have been using kidnapping as ransom tool, and to bargain for the release of their militants being held by Pakistan authorities.