Thursday, March 14, 2013

Combat School: Syria kids recruited to fight for both rebels & govt forces

Egypt's Islamists warn giving women some rights could destroy society

Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood warns that a U.N. declaration on women's rights could destroy society by allowing a woman to travel, work and use contraception without her husband's approval and letting her control family spending. The Islamist movement that backs President Mohamed Mursi gave 10 reasons why Muslim countries should "reject and condemn" the declaration, which the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women is racing to negotiate a consensus deal on by Friday. The Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party propelled Mursi to power in June, posted the statement on its website,, and the website of the party on Thursday. Egypt has joined Iran, Russia and the Vatican - dubbed an "unholy alliance" by some diplomats - in threatening to derail the women's rights declaration by objecting to language on sexual, reproductive and gay rights. The Muslim Brotherhood said the declaration would give "wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger." U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice last week touted at the commission - a global policy-making body created in 1946 for the advancement of women - progress made by the United States in reducing the rate of violence against women by their partners. "All 50 states in our union now have laws that treat date rape or spousal rape as just as much of a crime as rape by a stranger," Rice said. "We cannot live in truly free societies, if women and girls are not free to reach their full potential." The contrasting views show the gap that needs to be breached in negotiations on the declaration, which this year is focused on urging an end to violence against women and girls. The commission failed to agree a declaration last year on a theme of empowering rural women due to similar disagreements. WORLD IS WATCHING Egypt has proposed an amendment, diplomats say, that would allow countries to avoid implementing the declaration if it clashed with national laws, religious or cultural values. But some diplomats say this would undermine the entire declaration. The Muslim Brotherhood warned the declaration would give girls sexual freedom, legalize abortion, provide teenagers with contraceptives, give equality to women in marriage and require men and women to share duties such as child care and chores. It said the declaration would allow "equal rights to homosexuals, and provide protection and respect for prostitutes" and "equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships." A coalition of Arab human rights groups - from Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Tunisia - called on countries at the Commission on the Status of Women on Thursday to stop using religion, culture, and tradition to justify abuse of women. "The current positions taken by some Arab governments at this meeting is clearly not representative of civil society views, aspirations or best practices regarding the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls within our countries," said the statement issued by the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies. Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile and head of U.N. Women, which supports the commission, said the commission was unable to reach a deal a decade ago when it last focused on the theme of women's rights and ending violence against women. "Ten years later, we simply cannot allow disagreement or indecision to block progress for the world's women," Bachelet told the opening session of the commission last week. "The world is watching ... the violence needs to stop." (This story corrects second paragraph to show Mursi has resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood, and corrects third paragraph to make clear it was Mursi who was elected in June, not the Muslim Brotherhood

Justin Bieber lashes out at media's 'countless lies' about him

Pop star Justin Bieber struck back at his critics on Thursday, denouncing the "countless lies" written about him after a week in which he canceled a concert, collapsed on stage and had a run-in with paparazzi. In a lengthy posting on his Instagram profile, the 19-year-old singer said he was not going into rehab, contrary to some media speculation, and felt he had done nothing to deserve the negative press surrounding his European tour. "Everyone in my team has been telling me, 'keep the press happy' but I'm tired of all the countless lies in the press right now. Saying I'm going to rehab and how my family is disappointed in me," Bieber wrote. Saying he wanted to let his fans know directly how he felt, Bieber added: "I'm a good person with a big heart. And don't think I deserve all this negative press I've worked my ass off to get where I am and my hard work doesn't stop here ... All this isn't easy. I get angry sometimes. I'm human. I'm gonna make mistakes. I'm gonna grow and get better from them." The clean-cut Canadian teenager has had a meteoric career since being discovered on YouTube in 2008. But he hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons last week when he turned up two hours late for a London concert, collapsed on stage in London with shortness of breath on another night, and was caught on camera cursing at a pushy photographer. He was spotted wearing a bizarre gas mask on a night out in London, and one British tabloid labeled him "Pop brat Justin." On Monday, he canceled one of two planned concerts in Portugal this week. A statement cited "unforeseen circumstances," but local media in Portugal reported that ticket sales for the gigs had been slow. Bieber, who has more than 35 million Twitter followers, suggested on Thursday that envy of his success might lie at the root of the jibes from the news media. "I'm 19 with 5 number one albums, 19 and I've seen the whole world. 19 and I've accomplished more than I could've ever dreamed of, I'm 19 and it must be scary to some people to think that this is just the beginning," he wrote. Bieber played a concert, apparently without incident, in Madrid on Thursday before moving on to Barcelona and other European cities later this month.


Jamaat-e-Islami attacked Hindu temples, homes across Bangladesh
Islamic activists have attacked dozens of Hindu temples and hundreds of homes across Bangladesh since an Islamist leader was sentenced to death for war crimes last month, a Hindu group said. Bangladesh Puja Udjapon Parishad, an organisation which looks after Hindu temples, said 47 temples and at least 700 Hindu houses had either been torched or vandalised since the verdict against Delwar Hossain Sayedee. Sayedee, vice-president of the country's largest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, was sentenced to hang on February 28 for crimes including rape and murder committed during the 1971 independence conflict. The sentencing of Sayedee and other Jamaat-e-Islami leaders has triggered the worst violence in impoverished Muslim-majority Bangladesh since independence, with 85 people so far killed in the unrest. Kazal Debnath, a vice-president of Bangladesh Puja Udjapon Parishad, blamed the attacks on Hindu temples and homes on Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir. "It was the work of the Jamaat and Shibir, but we also accuse the government, the police and the local government representatives including (our) MPs for failing to protect the temples and our community," he said. He said the attackers were given free rein to "torch our temples, houses and properties". Jamaat has denied any role in the attacks, blaming supporters of the ruling Awami League party for the violence. But Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told diplomats last week that Jamaat and Shibir attacked Hindu temples and houses in a "pre-planned manner". Amnesty International has appealed to the government to better protect Hindus. "The Hindu community in Bangladesh is at extreme risk, in particular at such a tense time in the country. It is shocking that they appear to be targeted simply for their religion," said Abbas Faiz, an Amnesty researcher. The Red Cross said it had started providing aid to 113 families affected by the violence. Hindus, who make up nearly 10 percent of Bangladesh's 153 million-strong population, are traditionally seen as supporters of the Awami League, which brands itself as a secular party. They were the main targets during Bangladesh's 1971 independence war against Pakistan and during post-poll violence in 2001 when a centre-right party allied with Jamaat won a two-thirds majority. Jamaat-e-Islami leaders have been on trial at the domestic International Crimes Tribunal, accused of colluding with Pakistan and pro-Pakistan militias during the war for independence. But the party says the process is an attempt by the ruling party to settle scores and not about delivering justice.

Bangladesh: Pillage and Plunder in South Asia
By Ritika Singh
Don’t look now, but a populous Muslim country in the Indian subcontinent is simmering with tension between its Islamist parties and its ruling civilian government. No, I’m not talking about Pakistan. I’m talking about Bangladesh, which has carried out a little-noticed effort over the last few weeks to prosecute major Islamist figures for war crimes that took place more than forty years ago. Bangladesh has seen intense and widespread violence over the last month and a half, following the convictions of three prominent leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) for atrocities committed during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. JeI—an Islamist party that is part of an opposition coalition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party—has retaliated harshly. There have been violent clashes across the country between JeI supporters and those celebrating the tribunal’s verdicts. Homes have been looted, Hindu temples have been desecrated, and, last Thursday, an uprising shut down the capital city, Dhaka. JeI’s student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir, has also been hard at work holding protests and detonating bombs. According to Agence France Presse, the current death toll stands at eighty five, with hundreds injured. Human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have decried the unrest and have warned that the situation “could dissolve into uncontrolled violence." Bangladesh used to be part of Pakistan, though it is not territorially contiguous with the rest of it. Known then as East Pakistan, it is ethically and culturally different from Pakistan proper, and the union between ultimately collapsed. Bangladesh finally seceded in a bloody war of separation, in which India military intervened to support the resistance and the United States gave financial and military support to Pakistan. Estimates of the casualties range from 500,000 to three million, with close to 200,000 women raped, and upwards of eight million people displaced—making the war one of the most violent of the 20th century. At the time, JeI sided with the Pakistani army, and according to Bangladeshi journalist Shahidul Alam, the organization “informed on, hunted out, and participated in the rape, killing, and torture of ordinary citizens.” For decades, these crimes went pardoned or unprosecuted, Alam says, because “realpolitik in a young nation surrounded by powerful neighbors inevitably led to compromises. . . [and] the quest for justice was derailed.” That finally changed in 2010 when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s party established the International Crimes Tribunal to investigate war crimes that occurred during the conflict. The tribunal handed down three verdicts this year: On January 21, Abul Kalam Azad, a former member of JeI and a prominent Islamic cleric, was found guilty of eight charges of crimes against humanity, including the murder and rape of Hindus. He was tried in absentia and was sentenced to death; he is believed to be hiding in Pakistan (BBC, AP, The Daily Star). On February 5, the assistant secretary general of JeI, Abdul Qader Molla, was sentenced to life in prison for five of six counts of crimes against humanity. Charges against him include playing a role in the mass killing of 381 civilians, rape, torture and arson (AP, Al Jazeera). On February 28, a third Jamaat leader, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the current president of JeI and a former politician, was also sentenced to death for crimes against humanity, including mass murder, rape, and arson (BBC, AP). According to a press release from the Hindu American Foundation, Sayeedi “reportedly led a pro-Pakistani militia in abducting and raping three Hindu sisters over a three day period, forcibly converting at least 100 Hindus to Islam, burning down 25 houses in a Hindu village, and murdering two civilians.” Jamaat-e-Islami has had a tumultuous history in Bangladeshi politics; the party was banned shortly after the 1971 war and then reinstated a few years later after a series of military coups. Its political popularity has been on the decline for the last several years, but it remains a powerful force in the cultural mainstream—and as the last few weeks have shown, capable of creating real problems. Although the trials have received some criticism from international observers as less than fair and the recent domestic unrest and instability are cause for great concern, it is no small thing that after forty years, the perpetrators of heinous war crimes are finally facing justice. For ordinary Bangladeshis, whose day-to-day lives are beset by corruption, nepotism, and one government failure after another, that’s a significant positive development.

HRW: Israel pressures asylum seekers to leave

Human Rights Watch and the Hotline for Migrant Workers released a report on Wednesday stating that Israel is threatening detained Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, including asylum-seekers, with prolonged detention to pressure them to leave Israel. The report said that since December 11, 2012, “Israel’s pressure has convinced several hundred detained Sudanese and one Eritrean to leave Israel, and in February 2013, some 50 detained Eritreans agreed under similar pressure to leave for Uganda.” According to the report, all 50 of the detained Eritreans remain in detention. HRW and the Hotline for Migrant Workers said that Sudanese and Eritreans face a real risk of harm if they return to their home countries. The report said that under Sudanese law, anyone who has visited Israel faces up to 10 years in prison in Sudan and Sudanese officials have said the courts will apply the law. Next, the report stated that because of “credible persecution fears relating to punishment for evading indefinite military service in Eritrea, 80 percent of Eritrean asylumseekers worldwide are granted some form of protection.” “Israel’s prolonged detention of asylum-seekers apparently aims to shatter all hope so they feel they have no real choice but to leave the country,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of browbeating some of the world’s most abused and vulnerable people into giving up their rights and putting themselves at grave risk, Israel should release asylum- seekers while their claims are examined and protect anyone found to risk serious harm if returned.” The report claimed that if Israel returned anyone to a place where the person’s life or freedom would be threatened, “such return would violate international law’s prohibition on refoulement – forced return to a serious risk of persecution.” The scope of the constitutional rights of the migrants and Israel’s policy of detaining up to 2,000 migrants at Saharonim detention center in the South is currently before the High Court of Justice. On Tuesday, the High Court issued a conditional order against Israel’s policy of detaining certain migrants at Saharonim, demanding that the state explain how the policy does not violate international law obligations and migrants’ constitutional rights. However, conditional orders often do not lead to “victory” on a final ruling and the court gave the state at least until April 30 to respond, signaling that the court does not view the issue as an emergency to the same extent as migrant rights advocates. Frequently, the court’s granting such a long delay also is a signal that the court will approve state policy if some slight changes are made to address some of the objections brought by a petitioner. NGO Monitor’s legal adviser Anne Herzberg criticized the report for failing to “wrestle with some of the complicated, sensitive and important issues” regarding the situation. She said that “not everyone who comes across the border is defined by international law as a ‘refugee,’” but said that “Human Rights Watch is not interested in faithfulness to the law.” Part of the basis that advocates of the new detention policy have been pushing is that Israel does not force any migrant to return to their country of origin – arguing that any “returned” migrants are doing so voluntarily. However, the report said that Israel would also be violating the refoulement prohibition if a person “chose” to return after Israeli authorities had threatened prolonged or indefinite detention as the only alternative. Herzberg said that Israel is not the only country dealing with the complicated question of how many refugees to absorb and how many not to, noting that the US and Europe are dealing with the same problem. While she recognized that anyone who received the status determination of “refugee” and anyone who would be “persecuted” if they were “returned” cannot be sent back to their country of origin, she said that there is also a large group of migrants who came to Israel merely for economic reasons. HRW noted that there is an extreme lag time in Israel’s reviewing migrants status to determine if they are refugees.

Pakistan parliament creates history by completing full term

Pakistan's parliament made history today by becoming the first National Assembly in the country's history to complete a full term of five years, with the conclusion of the House's 50th session, setting the stage for the holding of elections. "The session that started on February 18, 2013 has prorogued on completion of its business," Yasmeen Rehman, a lawmaker for the ruling Pakistan People's Party, read out from a letter from President Asif Ali Zardari. Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khursheed Shah congratulated parliamentarians on the completion of the National Assembly's five-year constitutional term and said the credit for the passage of 138 bills by the lower house of parliament goes to parliamentarians from the treasury and opposition benches. Rehman, who was chairing the session in the absence of Speaker Fehmida Mirza, said, "I pray that Allah gives us success and that democracy should continue and the next parliament should also complete its term." However, only a handful of lawmakers attended the last session of the 13th National Assembly, which was largely devoted to farewell speeches. Pakistan is due to go to the polls to elect a new parliament sometime in May, and the election will mark the first time in the country's history that power will be transferred from one democratically elected government to another. The PPP and main opposition PML-N are currently conducting negotiations on installing a caretaker administration to oversee the polls. Listing the achievements of the outgoing National Assembly, Shah said its historic decisions included the grant of autonomy to the provinces, restoration of the 1973 Constitution and the National Finance Commission awards. The assembly laid guidelines for an independent foreign policy and President Zardari had surrendered all his powers to the parliament, he said. However, he noted that thousands of lives were lost to a wave of terrorism and urged politicians to wage a 'jihad' against the menace.

Balochistan on fire

Balochistan issue is one of those issues which all the governments of Pakistan until now have failed to resolve. Killings have been a common phenomenon in this longstanding yet unresolved issue. Recently provincial capital Quetta and another major city, Mastung, have witnessed the worst carnages that left more than 200 people dead with many more injured. Families of victims are either given compensation or some government leader is sent to express grief or condole over the killings. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf one month back announced imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan keeping in view the deteriorating security situation across province and failure of provincial government to address it. For the time being it was much needed and timely action yet this could in no manner be the long lasting solution to this outstanding issue. Despite being rich in mineral resource, Balochistan has always been on the last of every government’s priority list. Every government, be it democratic or dictatorship, has completely failed to find an everlasting solution to Balochistan. Sectarian killings have always been witnessed in the province but since last few years this has gained momentum. Not only killings but issue of missing persons has also been one of the important and most heated topics since last 2-3 years. Families of missing persons spent many days and nights in front of parliament but no leader paid special attention towards them after which Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had to finally intervene. Is this the way security situations across globe are managed? This is the responsibility of the governments and elected leaders to resolve important issues. Recently the killings of Hazara Shiite community people have increased. Not only in Balochistan but in Karachi as well the lives of Shiites are in danger. After every major incident of killings in Balochistan, Lashkar-e Jhangvi immediately accepts responsibility. This terrorist outfit was created by Pakistan’s own agencies at the time of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Taliban too has been the product of our people but today they are becoming the most dangerous and powerful entity. All parties’ conference was recently held to discuss the issue of holding peace talks with Taliban. It was decided that the tribal jirga would be given more powers than before. We hope that this would resolve at least some part of security issue. After dissolution of Balochistan Assembly, a resolution was passed declaring governor’s rule as unlawful. Chief Minister Aslam Raisani did not even express grief over the killings of Hazara community people in February last. Aslam Raisani sees some foreign hand behind the killings in Balochistan. Not only the provincial chief minister blames secret hand but most of the leaders of federal capital also see Balochistan situation as a conspiracy against Pakistan. Today the entire nation is confused and is unable to understand that if a secret hand is involved in Balochistan unrest then why the people’s government i.e., Pakistan Peoples Party during its five-year tenure has failed to stop that hand? Interior Minister Rehman Malik even says that Indian intelligence agency RAW is behind Balochistan unrest then why didn’t he raise this issue with the Indian leadership during his recent visit to India? Keeping aside interior minister, who according to the recent statement of TTP is not taken seriously, President Asif Ali Zardari or Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar could have raised this most important issue with India but it seems as if no government leader is serious in getting the Balochistan issue resolved. If government of Pakistan has evidences regarding RAW’s involvement in the deteriorating security situation in Balochistan then it could have moved to international court of justice but no such step was taken in the past nor would it be taken in the future because our government is still uncertain about the reason behind Balochistan issue. Today, when the countries across globe are developing their economies we Pakistanis have engaged ourselves in useless debates. Security issues are prevailing in different countries across globe but their governments are handling them with great care and are taking concrete steps to resolve them. Similarly, solid steps should also be taken by the government of Pakistan. But the most worrisome thing is that elections are round the corner. By mid of March, assemblies will be dissolved and caretaker setup will be in place. Hence it is the most important and golden time for Pakistan and Pakistanis. Instead of surrendering, it is required that nation casts vote to the most genuine leadership and not to those families who have been given chances again and again but they after coming in power have forgot their pledges and indulged themselves in looting and plundering. It is important this time that competent leadership is brought in power. After its coming in power, it is required that issues of Balochistan and Karachi are given the top most priority. At one time, Swat’s unrest was hiked. Not only national but international leaders were also very much concerned over the unrest in Swat. After seeing the increase in terrorist activities, Pakistan Army was handed over the responsibility of Swat which like always did not let down the nation and restored peace in the Swat. Today, when there is increase in sectarianism, killings of Hazara community people is on the peak, unrest is prevailing not only in Balochistan but Karachi and many other parts of the country are also under this fire, it is high time that services of Pakistan Army are once again taken, which possesses the most modern weapons and are capable enough to control the situation. Perhaps the next government in power should consider this solution and for once give chance to Pakistan Army. Like Karachi that is the economic hub of Pakistan, peace in Balochistan is also very important. This is because the province is rich in mineral resources and if given special attention, it could help in bringing out Pakistan out of prevailing economic problems. Peace in Balochistan could thus be a turning point in Pakistan’s history and could lead us towards prosperity.

Indian Women : Living in Hell

On December 16th, a 23-year-old female student was brutally raped by six men on board a bus. She was assaulted with an iron bar and thrown naked onto the roadside. She died two weeks later. In a society where many still regard women as a commodity, our reporter met both victims of sexual violence and people who support gender inequality.Most of this report was shot in and around the Indian capital, New Delhi, where the gang rape of a 23-year-old student shocked the nation. The brutal rape and subsequent death of the victim has triggered a debate in Indian society about the rampant violence against women. During the course of filming this report, we met rape survivors whose horrific stories are heart-wrenching. We followed an Indian feminist during a rally for equality who believes the time for change is now. We also interviewed India’s Taliban, members of conservative village councils, and young Indian girls in both small villages and big cities.

Russia says international commission's Syria report biased

The latest report of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was neither objective nor balanced, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday. "The experts (of the commission) cite difficulties to collect evidence of the victims as they were unable to enter the country. However, they did not use many other possibilities," the deputy head of the ministry's information and press department, Maria Zakharova, said in an online comment. Citing a conference held in Geneva on March 7, at which many victims of the Syrian violence testified, Zakharova said: " Hundreds of witnesses are ready to arrive for testimonies against the (Syrian) rebels. Still the commission is reluctant to include this information in its reports." She added that the commission's experts also refused to define the bombings conducted by the rebels as "terror attacks." The Russian diplomat accused some members of the UN Security Council of using the commission for blocking resolutions intended to condemn these deadly attacks, calling it a practice of double standard. "The international efforts (on Syria) must be focused on stopping violence and launching an inclusive political dialogue in accordance with the Geneva Communique," she stressed. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was established in August 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, with a mandate to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in the Middle East country since March 2011.

Syrian rebels ramp up extrajudicial killings, kidnappings

Syrian rebels have increasingly resorted to torture and the summary execution of soldiers, suspected informants, pro-government militias and captured or kidnapped civilians, Amnesty International has warned. In two separate reports reviewing the conduct of the rebels and Syrian government, Amnesty said that the killing of government soldiers and suspected government supporters was on the rise as rebel forces continue to gain ground. “[Rebel fighters] are summarily killing people with a chilling sense of impunity, and the death toll continues to rise as more towns and villages come under the control of armed opposition groups," Amnesty said. “While the vast majority of war crimes and other gross violations continue to be committed by government forces, our research also points to an escalation in abuses by armed opposition groups,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program. “If left unaddressed such practices risk becoming more and more entrenched - it is imperative that all those concerned know they will be held accountable for their actions.” Noting the public sympathy the Syrian opposition continues to receive in the West, Cilina Nasser of Amnesty said rebel fighters must be held accountable for crimes against humanity: “It’s time for the armed opposition groups to know that what they are doing is very wrong, and that some of the abuses they committed amount to war crimes.” Amnesty said it also investigated one of the most gruesome videos in the conflict to surface in recent months, which showed the beheading of two Syrian army officers abducted by in the eastern town of Deir al-Zour in August.Nasser said researchers contacted the families of the two men, Col. Fuad Abd al-Rahman and Col. Izz al-Din Badr. The relatives of the slain men told Amnesty the kidnappers had identified themselves as members of the opposition group Osoud Tawhid. They initially contacted the family to demand a ransom, but after negotiations the hostage-takers told the family they had killed the two men. In November, a video surfaced of a machete-wielding boy – apparently between 12 and 14 years of age – standing over Col. Badr, who is lying prostrate with his hands bound behind his back. A voice off-camera provokes the youth, shouting: “He doesn’t have the strength.” The boy brings the machete down on Col. Badr’s neck as rebel fighters cheer him on. At least one gunman then proceeds to fire six shots into his body. The family of Col. Rahman learned the gruesome nature of his death after the beheading was aired on Sama TV. While Amnesty said the footage was most likely authentic, they acknowledged that many videos can be doctored and corroborating evidence and witness testimony is needed. In a separate case, a witness told the rights watchdog of a so-called “hole of death” where rebels have dumped the bodies of pro-government fighters or suspected informers. Another witness told the group about a man who was killed by an opposition faction after being accused of collaborating with the government: “We immediately went there and found him on a heap of waste, with a bullet hole in the middle of his forehead, a firearm injury to the shoulder… His knee was broken… A brown card hung on him with the words ‘collaborator [awayni], Col. Helal Eid,’” a neighbor told Amnesty. One video reportedly filmed on March 9 in Raqqa, a city which was occupied by rebel fighters last week, showed three bodies laid out in a city square in pools of blood. One of the dead was lying face-down, with his hands tied behind his back. "The dogs of military security were executed in clock square," the video’s narrator says. The primary Western-backed rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), denied that summary execution of captured soldiers was a regular practice. “We do not deny that it’s happening, but these are individual cases, people who take revenge because their father or relatives have been killed by the regime,” Bassam al-Dada, a Turkey-based FSA official, told AP. “This happens in wars all over the place.” FSA has attempted to introduce a code of conduct, with little success among the numerous rebel factions, particularly the Al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group, which controls key battlefronts. Amnesty noted that such abuses had been carried out by FSA-affiliated fighters as well. In a separate report, Amnesty accused government forces of ramping up indiscriminate air and artillery attacks on civilian populations in recent months, often with the use of internationally banned munitions. The group also said that children and civilians were increasingly being killed in government airstrikes on rebel-held territory. The UN estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed and over 2 million internally displaced in the two-year uprising to against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Syria slams Britain, France's calls for arming rebels

The Syrian government has slammed France and Britain's fresh talks of arming the rebels as " flagrant violation to the principles of the international law," as Russia warned against such move out of fear of the radical rebel groups. In a terse statement published Thursday, Syria's state-media said the British and French statements about arming the rebels " have come in the framework of the European, Turkish and Gulf states' blatant involvement in the Syrian crisis through overtly speaking about sending money and arms to the terrorist groups that carry out kidnapping and killing as well as targeting the infrastructure of Syria." The Syrian statement came as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Thursday said that Paris and London will arm the Syrian opposition even if the European Union (EU) refuses to give its unanimous agreement. In an interview with the local radio France Info, Fabius said the two countries will call on their European partners to speed up lifting the Syrian arms embargo. The arms embargo is part of a package of EU sanctions on Syria. The EU was scheduled to review the embargo late May. The armament issue has raised fears and skepticism of human rights campaigners and other international powers such as Russia, whose Foreign Ministry responded by saying that "terrorists" would become the final recipients of arms shipments intended for the Syrian opposition. On March 6, the AL foreign ministers' meeting invited the Syrian opposition to occupy Syria's AL seat formerly and gave the green light to its member states to provide arms to the Syrian opposition.

Cultural Taboos Putting Saudi Women’s Lives At Risk

Women in Saudi Arabia, who suffer heart attacks, are delaying life-saving treatment because they need a man’s permission to travel to hospital, new research by the University of Ulster has revealed. Female patients surveyed at three hospitals in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, waited five times as long as men to attend hospital, researcher, Hassan Alshahrani, from the Institute of Nursing and Health Research has discovered. He said: “Women and men took a similar length of time to realise their symptoms were serious and decide to call for help. However, once they made that decision women took five times longer to transfer to hospital – 0.5 hours for men and 2.5 hours for women. “Findings from this study confirm that cultural factors are implicated and the fact that females need permission of a male relative to travel and that they cannot do so unaccompanied is contributing to their long delays. “The speed of treatment during a heart attack greatly enhances survival so the findings of this study suggests that women’s chances of surviving a heart attack and receiving prompt care are dramatically reduced by cultural issues.” In the survey 189 patients, both men and women, who presented with a diagnosis of myocardial infarction, (a heart attack), were questioned between March 2011 and August 2011. Subsequently, 18 patients (9 males and 9 females) took part in one-to-one interviews. Some of the women described their experience in their own words: B5 said: “Nothing stopped me except the absence of my son (Osama); this is the truth, because I and Osama’s wife are females, and moreover, were without Mahram (male relative to escort woman).” B7 said: “I was worried because my deceased husband preferred me not to go alone with a taxi driver, as I am female and I did not have a Mahram. Also, my daughter did not like to go by taxi, because my son will be angry; as he told me only to go with the private driver.” B3 said: “It is not acceptable, socially. The majority of people they did not accept this (women going alone without close relative).” “My husband said: ‘your voice cause us scandal’ - social taboo. I was crying, because of pain, and he was saying don’t cause scandal for us. Also the same thing happened at the hospital, he was saying you will scandalise our family crying like that.” The survey is part of Hassan’s PhD research, Dr Donna Fitzsimons, at the Institute of Nursing and Health Research on the Jordanstown campus, is his supervisor. She said: "The results of this study are alarming. We know that fast treatment saves lives and reduces damage during a heart attack. In this study we found protracted delays for women compared to men. It is clear that cultural issues make it difficult for women to get to hospital quickly. The female patients themselves told us that they delayed longer because they could not travel without a male relative or even decide to call an ambulance without a man’s permission. We need to highlight this issue and conduct further research in this area.” Before studying at the University at Ulster Hassan Alshahrani was Head Nurse of a cardiac care unit and supervisor of critical care units in Saudi Arabia.

Protesters, policemen injured in Bahrain clashes

At least 10 civilians and several policemen were injured in Bahrain on Thursday, an opposition group and the government said, during protests to mark the second anniversary of the arrival of Saudi forces which helped crush a pro-democracy uprising. Home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, the tiny state has been hit by unrest since the revolt in early 2011, becoming a front line in a region-wide tussle for influence between Shi'ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent in 1,500 troops on March 14, 2011 to help suppress the uprising. The mass disturbances were crushed but demonstrators, mainly from Bahrain's Shi'ite majority, have continued small protests on an almost daily basis demanding equality and a constitutional monarchy in the kingdom ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa family. The latest violence followed the death of two young men during clashes with police last month as Bahrainis marked the second anniversary of the February 14 start of the uprising. It is likely to cast a shadow over reconciliation talks between the government and the opposition aimed at ending political turmoil. The Islamist Wefaq association - the country's biggest opposition group - said that, by midday on Thursday, at least 10 people had been injured by security forces who they said used live bullets, birdshot and teargas against "peaceful demonstrators". Three of those injured were in critical condition, the group said in a report on its website. It posted pictures of injuries, including a limb hit by what appeared to be a live round. The Information Affairs Authority said several policemen were injured when demonstrators attacked them with petrol bombs and iron rods, and detonated homemade bombs "endangering the lives of innocent bystanders and security personnel". "Police used restraint to restore order and all force used was necessary and proportionate," the assistant chief of security for operations said in the statement. The statement said the demonstrators had stolen cars, torched vehicles and blocked the streets with large rocks and lampposts and scattered nails and oil on roads. It attached pictures of barricaded roads and torched vehicles. It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the reports or pictures given by either side. An international inquiry commission, invited by Bahrain's government, said in a report in November 2011 that 35 people had died during the uprising. The dead were mainly protesters but included five security personnel and seven foreigners. The report said five people had died from torture. The opposition puts the death toll at more than 80. Bahrain's opposition and government resumed reconciliation talks last month for the first time since July 2011, but little progress has been reported in several sessions of negotiations.

Judge's mistake cost girl spelling bee

12-year-old Sierra Shoemaker spelled her word correctly, but a mistake on the spelling sheet cost her the spelling bee.

U.S.: Senate panel passes ban on assault-style weapons
In a meeting rife with angry and emotional exchanges, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a new ban on semiautomatic firearms modeled after military assault weapons. The measure now goes to the full Senate for consideration as part of a package of gun measures prompted by a Connecticut school massacre last December that killed 20 first graders. However, the proposed ban has little chance of becoming law due to fierce opposition by the National Rifle Association and a certain GOP filibuster. Even supporters acknowledged the difficulty ahead in passing an updated version of a similar ban that became law in 1994 and expired without congressional re-authorization a decade letter. Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said he doubted whether the new prohibition could get the 60 votes needed for passage. Instead, Whitehouse called for breaking off a provision that would limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, saying he believed it could win Senate approval as a separate measure. Sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the proposed ban won approval from the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote with 10 Democrats supporting it and eight Republicans opposed. The panel previously approved other proposals that would expand background checks on all gun sales and enact tougher laws against firearms trafficking and straw purchases. Analysts believe those have a better chance of clearing the Senate. Heated debate by committee members on Thursday showed the partisan divide over gun legislation, as well as the challenge supporters face in getting any substantive measures through Congress. At one point, Feinstein and Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, reacted sharply to remarks by freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, about the need for the committee to legislate based on facts and the Constitution instead of passion over the gun issue ignited by the Newtown, Connecticut, killings. When Cruz asked if Feinstein believed the First Amendment also could be limited in the same way he contended the proposed ban would limit the Second Amendment right to bear arms, she shot back: “I’m not a sixth grader.” Noting her 20 years on the committee and experience as mayor of San Francisco, she said in a rising voice how she had seen “bodies that have been shot with these weapons,” adding that the schoolchildren killed in Newtown “were dismembered” by the bullets. “I’ve studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well-educated and I thank you for the lecture,” she continued, noting her bill exempts 2,271 weapons from the ban. “Isn’t that enough for the people in the United States? Do they need a bazooka? Do they need other high-powered weapons that military people use to kill in close combat? I don’t think so,” she said. She concluded by telling Cruz that “I come from a different place than you do. I respect your views. I ask you to respect my views.” Cruz and other Republicans on the committee contended that Feinstein’s proposal would prevent law-abiding gun owners from possessing weapons of choice, while criminals would still be able to get them to leave people unable to properly defend themselves. “Why would you deny for defensive purposes otherwise law-abiding citizens to be able to use an equivalent firepower to defend themselves?” argued Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “It’s not much satisfaction to say that criminals are gonna have access to the whole range of weapons that they will have access to because they don’t care about the laws that are passed. And we’re gonna give the American citizen a pea shooter to defend themselves with.” President Barack Obama called for the legislative steps in response to the massacre in Newtown by a lone gunman armed with an assault weapon that jolted the nation. The Senate panel passed versions of much of the package Obama proposed, but Republicans made their opposition clear. “Now the full Senate and the House need to vote on this bill, as well as the measures advanced in the past week,” Obama said in a statement on Thursday. One measure by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York would mandate background checks for all gun sales, including private transactions. It would also require increased cooperation by states with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and would prohibit people deemed by the courts as unfit to own guns from obtaining them. Cornyn said Thursday that he would propose amendments to Schumer’s bill on the Senate floor, and he also mentioned that a bipartisan substitute to the measure could be offered. The NRA has said increased checks are nothing more than an attempt to create a national gun registry, a move the group vehemently opposes. Leahy challenged such assertions on Thursday, saying in a toughly worded final statement that opponents of gun legislation should stop spreading false information about the panel’s proposals. “Second Amendment rights are not at risk,” he said. “Let’s not put an issue out here that’s not out here. But lives are at risk.” Reflecting on his decades on the panel, Leahy called for members of both parties to “come together to become a safer and more secure society.” “We do not need false charges about gun registries and gun registration to scare people when no such thing is being proposed or will be proposed,” he said. Another measure approved by the panel earlier this week would establish a framework for the Department of Education to set safety guidelines aimed at protecting schools from gun violence.

President Obama: I'm no Dick Cheney on drones
President Barack Obama’s defense to Democratic senators complaining about how little his administration has told Congress about the legal justifications for his drone policy: Dick Cheney was worse. That’s part of what two senators in the room recounted of Obama’s response when, near the outset of his closed-door session with the Senate Democratic conference on Tuesday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) confronted the president over the administration’s refusal for two years to show congressional intelligence committees Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memos justifying the use of lethal force against American terror suspects abroad.Obama recently allowed members of those panels to see the memos, but only after senators in both parties threatened to hold up the confirmation of John Brennan as Central Intelligence Agency director. Brennan was confirmed last week, but lawmakers not on one of the intelligence panels are still being denied access to the memos and several are steamed over being frozen out.In response to Rockefeller’s critique, Obama said he’s not involved in drafting such memos, the senators told POLITICO. He also tried to assure his former colleagues that his administration is more open to oversight than that of President George W. Bush, whom many Democratic senators attacked for secrecy and for expanding executive power in the national security realm. “This is not Dick Cheney we’re talking about here,” he said, according to Democratic senators who asked not to be named discussing the private meeting. Two Obama administration officials, who asked not to be named, confirmed Rockefeller raised the drone oversight issue with the president at the session. The White House had no comment on Obama’s alleged reference to the former vice president.While Obama defended his handling of the issue, he told his former Senate colleagues he understood their concerns about being left out of the loop on such sensitive decisions, senators said. The president noted that he would have “probably objected” over the White House’s handling of this issue if he were still a senator, they said. But, according to the sources, he noted his viewpoint changed now that he occupies the Oval Office — not a room in a Senate office building.Asked about the exchange on Wednesday, Rockefeller would only say: “I’ll leave it where it is.” However, Rockefeller hasn’t been shy about his views on the issue. During a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing Tuesday just before the meeting with Obama, the senior senator from West Virginia railed against the administration’s secrecy and publicly charged that it amounted to a return to the Bush approach.“It’s a terrible situation,” a clearly irritated Rockefeller said during the annual hearing focusing on global threats to the U.S. “What happened over the last couple of weeks is a threat, is a threat to trust between us and you, us towards you and you towards us,” Rockefeller told Brennan and other administration witnesses. “What basically happened was that we were given certain things which we requested, primarily because [Brennan was] up for confirmation….Had we not been given those things, some of those things which we requested, the confirmation would not have had the votes.” Rockefeller also charged that after Brennan was confirmed, the administration clammed up again and “went directly back to the way they were from 2001-2 to 2007.” As for the legal memos shared after two years of requests, Rockefeller said there was “nothing in them which is a threat to anybody.” He also complained bitterly about the administration initially denying Senate staffers cleared to see highly classified information access to the memos and about someone sent in to watch him and an aide when they finally got to look at some of the documents in a secure room. “There was a minder who was sent in. I was unaware that that person was going to have to be there. It was an insult to me,” Rockefeller said. “And I kicked the person out. He said, ‘My orders are I have to be here. And I said something else.’” Rockefeller raised his concerns about the “minder” again directly with Obama during the Tuesday afternoon caucus meeting, one White House official said. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday morning, Chairman Patrick Leahy suggested he’d recently raised the issue with the president. The Vermont Democrat also reiterated his threat to subpoena one of the classified legal memos if the White House won’t fork it over. Leahy voted against Brennan’s confirmation in what the Judiciary Committee chairman said was a protest over the administration’s refusal to show the relevant memos to his committee, which oversees the Justice Department. ”Every time I asked the question of various people, the attorney general, the president and others, it’s always somebody else’s department,” Leahy said. “This is something we’re very serious about — one [opinion] especially this committee may end up subpoenaing if we can’t get it.”

U.S: '''Immigration deal could limit family visas'''

By David Nakamura Key senators are developing plans that would make it harder for U.S. citizens to get visas for their family members while easing the path for more high-skilled foreign workers, according to aides and advocates familiar with negotiations over an emerging immigration deal. The plans — which would run counter to policies that have been in place for generations — are part of ongoing talks between a bipartisan group of eight senators, whose bill is expected to serve as the template for a comprehensive immigration deal between Congress and the White House. The senators agree that a limited number of people should be allowed into the country each year; the question is who those people should be. Currently, about two-thirds of legal immigrants are admitted for family reasons and 14 percent for employment, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The rest are humanitarian cases. Republicans would prefer to admit greater numbers of high-skilled workers, who business leaders say are in short supply and who would provide an immediate economic benefit. Democrats generally favor giving priority to family members of citizens and legal residents already in the country, saying they provide support networks that help families thrive. As it stands, spouses and minor children of citizens are given top priority, followed by unmarried children over 21 and, lastly, married adult children and siblings. The Senate proposal would eliminate the latter two categories altogether, which add up to about 90,000 visas per year. Those people could still apply for entry into the country but would need other qualifications, such as high-tech skills, to be approved for a green card. Senators involved in the negotiations stress no final decision has been made. But Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a leader in the talks, said in an interview Thursday that “we’re going to change fundamentally the immigration system,” including tighter limits on family visas. “Right now you get green cards to adult children, to grandparents,” Graham said. “What I want to do is reserve green cards based on the economic needs of the country, and we’ll do something for families. But the goal for me is to replace a chained migration immigration system with an economic-based immigration system.” The group of senators, which includes four Democrats and four Republicans, has said it will release a comprehensive bill in early April. The Obama administration has expressed support for the group’s general principles. The proposed changes to the family system have angered immigration advocates, who warn the move could threaten the chances of a broader reform agreement. “Eliminating these categories would produce only a small reduction in visas while creating greater hardship for thousands of U.S. citizens and their loved ones,” two dozen members of the House Asian Pacific American caucus wrote in a letter to the eight senators last week. “We oppose any efforts to further limit the definition of family.” The family visa program has been largely overshadowed by fierce public debate over a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants and an expanded guest worker program for foreigners. But potential changes to the family visa program, which has a waiting list of 4.3 million people, also will play a pivotal role in any agreement reached by Congress and the White House. In 2007, some Democrats and the Catholic Church objected to provisions in a comprehensive immigration bill that would have drastically reduced the number of family visas. The issue was one of several key reasons that the bill failed to advance through the Senate. The issue has mobilized both Hispanics and Asian Americans, who have been at the forefront of family immigration debates since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which imposed stiff restrictions on Chinese immigrants until its repeal in 1943. The current waiting list includes an estimated 1.9 million people from Asian countries, including China, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh. The wait for processing visas from the Philippines — which has the most family applicants other than Mexico — extends more than two decades, the longest of any country. “The point that we’ve been trying to communicate to the White House and House and Senate is, ‘Who are we to define what a nuclear family is?’ ” said Mee Moua, president of the Asian American Justice Center, which has made family reunification one of its top priorities. “Who are we to determine that the definition of family ends with a mother, father and minor children?” Part of a deal People familiar with the talks said that some Democrats in the group have decided they need to compromise on family visas in order to convince Republicans to give ground on citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Democrats also are pushing for improvements to the family system that would expedite the green card process by raising the limit for a single country’s percentage of annual immigrants from 7 percent to 15 percent. Lawmaker also are considering ways to make it easier for legal permanent residents, who do not have U.S. citizenship, to sponsor their spouses and children for green cards. Aides to Sen. Robert Mendendez (D-N.J.), a member of the bipartisan working group who pushed hard to support family reunification in the 2007 debate, declined to comment. Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.), who like Mendendez has introduced previous legislation aimed at strengthening the family visa program, said he would push the Senate group to maintain all of the family categories. Former GOP senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, who led the 2007 push to reduce family visa caps, said the large number of illegal immigrants and low-skilled workers seeking to become legal residents and citizens should be offset with foreigners who bring higher levels of education and technical skills. In the 2007 bill, some categories of family visas were eliminated and replaced by a point-system in which applicants would earn points based on family ties, skills and education levels, including the ability to speak English. “Everything has to be balanced here,” said Kyl, now a government policy adviser at Covington & Burling. “We’ve all been inspired by the Statue of Liberty. But if you have 10 to 20 million people, many of whom are not well educated or skilled, coming in all at once, that does potentially create some problems.” Grass-roots lobbying Immigration advocates have reacted to the discussions by launching a grass-roots lobbying effort in recent days aimed at blocking any reductions in family visas. On Wednesday, more than 100 immigrants arrived in Washington after a bus tour to highlight family reunification and spent the day lobbying Congress. A House subcommittee held a public hearing Thursday morning on the hurdles of reuniting families under current law, and advocates will brief Senate staffers on the issue Friday. “Congress does not have to sacrifice immigrant families, many of whom start their own businesses and strengthen our social fabric, at the altar of economic interests,” said Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It should not be a zero-sum game. It would be salt in the wound if they gave them to the business side.” Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, said that defining immediate families as simply parents and their minor children ignores the “people you need to build a support network. We’re talking about a U.S. citizen where the sister has a small business and wants to sponsor her brother who has the technical skills to help run that business. The fallacy is that folks think of immediate relatives not contributing to the economy. That’s not true.”

US commander in Afghanistan puts troops on alert after Karzai's remarks

The American commander in Afghanistan quietly told his forces to intensify security measures on Wednesday, issuing a strongly worded warning that a string of anti-American statements by President Hamid Karzai had put western troops at greater risk of attack both from rogue Afghan security forces and from militants. The order came amid a growing backlash against Karzai's public excoriation of the United States, including a speech on Tuesday in which he suggested that the government might unilaterally act to ensure control of the Bagram Prison if the United States delayed its handover. An array of Afghan political leaders issued a joint statement criticizing Karzai and saying his comments did not reflect their views. And though American military and diplomatic officials have mostly refrained from replying publicly to Karzai's criticism, in private they have expressed concerns that relations between the allies had reached a worrisome low point right at a critical point in the war against the Taliban. Frustration with Karzai was clear in the alert, known as a command threat advisory, sent on Wednesday by General Joseph F Dunford Jr to his top commanders. "His remarks could be a catalyst for some to lash out against our forces — he may also issue orders that put our forces at risk," the advisory read. Senior American military officials confirmed that a copy of the advisory obtained by New York Times was genuine, although they said it had not been intended to be released publicly. While threat advisories are circulated routinely, one directly from the commanding general is unusual, one western official said. The threat advisory specifically mentioned Karzai's comments about Bagram Prison, calling it an "inflammatory speech," and warning commanders to be on guard against heightened insider attacks by Afghan forces against Westerners, as well as opportunistic Taliban violence. The order came after a recent rise in violence, including an insider attack that killed two American servicemembers and a bombing that struck the capital just after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived for a visit last week. Brig Gen Stephen M Twitty, the head of communications for the military here, said that a more general threat advisory would normally have gone out in April, but was sent early because of recent events. "This is prudent," he said. "It's making sure the force is seeing the same thing we're seeing. It's our job to alert the force." Karzai's latest comments, in the southern province of Helmand, came after weeks of increased tension over his public comments about the United States, including banning special operations forces from a critical province and, on Sunday, suggesting that the Taliban and the United States were in effect colluding to keep each other in Afghanistan. His harsh stance has been widely taken as an attempt to improve his domestic political image by appealing to Afghan sovereignty. However, the comments have led to a furious backlash among some of the Afghan leader's past supporters in Congress, and among his political opponents — and even some allies — within Afghanistan. In Washington, even Republican members of Congress who had long been strong supporters of the Afghan war and Karzai, were scathing in their denunciation of him in recent days. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has visited Karzai repeatedly and has long been involved with Afghanistan policy, expressed "disgust and resentment" over the Afghan's comments, in remarks quoted on Foreign Policy magazine's website. He added: "I am perfectly capable of pulling the plug on Afghanistan." That last statement was an offhand reference to the negotiations now under way to determine the size and shape of an American military presence in Afghanistan past 2014, and perhaps to the billions in dollars of future American aid already committed to the country. One senior Obama administration official said Wednesday that commanders on the ground were taking appropriate steps given the circumstances. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations, said that many in the administration were "obviously unhappy" with Karzai's comments, but insisted the latest tensions would do little to alter the current military assistance plan for Afghanistan. Still, some Afghan leaders have expressed concern that American budgetary concerns, coupled with a worsening political relationship between the countries, could lead the United States to reduce or even remove its support. In Kabul, both Afghan vice presidents met with Karzai for two hours Wednesday morning, while a group of representatives from 14 political parties — most of them opposition groups but several with members in government — held a news conference to denounce the president's stance. "All these remarks may destroy our relations with the international community, and especially America, and lead to the isolation of Afghanistan again," said Faizullah Zaki, the spokesman for Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful Uzbek leader and warlord who campaigned for Karzai in his 2009 election and later fell out with him. "We are calling on the president to stop doing this because we believe it is not in our national interest." In the American threat advisory issued Wednesday, General Dunford expressed concerns about the strain between the countries, saying, "We're at a rough point in the relationship." He said the contretemps could encourage insurgents, given that the Taliban and other groups "are also watching and will look for a way to exploit the situation — they have already ramped up for the spring." In the latest outbreak of violence, which Afghan officials attributed to the Taliban, a suicide bomber on Wednesday targeted a crowd after a match of buzkashi, or Afghan polo, in northern Kunduz province. The attack killed the police chief, Abdul Qayoum Ibrahimi, his son, his father and seven other people. Ibrahimi was the brother of the speaker of the Afghan Parliament, Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, and of Abdul Latif Ibrahimi, a presidential adviser. They were not present, but their father was also among the dead.

The Bomber Boys of Quetta

Editorial: The Baloch Hal
Little known for its outstanding performance, the Balochistan Police stunned the world on Wednesday by bringing in front of the media at least 11 young members of a ‘terrorist gang’ that allegedly uses children to carry out bomb blasts in Quetta city. In an impromptu press conference in Quetta, Capital City Police Officer (C.C.P.O.), Zubair Mehmood, said the arrested boys, aged 11 to 18 years, have confessed their involvement in the Mizan Chowk bomb blast on January 1o, 2013 that killed 12 people. According to the police, a relatively unknown group called the United Baloch Army (U.B.A.), which claimed responsibility for the January bombing in Quetta which ultimately led to the imposition of the governor’s rule in the province, had exploited the poverty and innocence of these children at the time of recruitment. While this report is deeply shocking and requires the immediate attention, what remains at stake is its authenticity. The Balochistan Police is hardly known for its credibility and professional integrity. It has had a long history of making false and exaggerated claims to divert attention from its actual failures. The police carries out phony encounters and extract confessions by applying torturous methods. In the past, the Pakistani security forces had time and again made similar sensational claims about recovering huge cache of weapons from Baloch tribal and political leaders. How can we be sure that the arrested boys did not make their confessions after facing brutal torture and government intimidation. In other cases, the police have also claimed that so-called commanders of the Baloch armed groups had surrendered their weapons and joined the government. Each time, these cases were dug deeper, they turned out to be ridiculously shallow. On a positive note, this exposé should pave the way for the international community, particularly for groups like the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), to visit Balochistan to independently investigate the true impact of the decade-long conflict on women and children. There is a wealth of information that needs to be collected and distributed with the world how Pakistan’s war on Balochistan has actually plunged children in a state of fear and trauma. Baloch children have seen rough displacement and harsh military operations in all these years. Hundreds of them have been marching in the streets of Quetta or staging set-ins in front of various press clubs, officials buildings to agitate against the enforced disappearance of their parents and siblings. All these sufferings of the children have been criminally ignored by the Pakistani government and these voices were never heard by the world because government functionaries also kept these children away from the international humanitarian groups and the media. The C.C.P.O.’s dramatic account of child bombers is also disputed because of some factual inaccuracies. For instance, the top police officer said Baloch nationalists exploited the poverty of these children. Those who fight in the name of nationalism have hardly cited their material poverty as the major motivation for fighting against Pakistan. Most armed groups and political parties, such as the Baloch National Movement and the Baloch Republican Party, have always said that mineral wealth of Balochistan is a secondary issue. The Baloch nationalists have been fighting for a separate homeland where they become the master of their own decisions, including the owners of their mineral wealth. There is little material gain involved in encouraging people to become a part of a nationalistic movement. One such example is the group of women and children who have given up everything by sitting in hunger strike camps against enforced disappearances. People like Nasrullah Baloch and Abdul Qadeer Baloch, the chairman and the vice chairman of the Voice for Missing Baloch Persons respectively, could have easily given up their strike camps and gone out to eek out a living instead of fighting for justice. On the contrary, repeated threats and offers of bribe were also made to them by the Pakistani authorities and if they were ever interested, the government would be the first to buy them off. Also, the Capital Police Chief said some of the boys who were involved in the child bombings actually worked as garbage collectors. Those who live and work in Quetta know that children who collect garbage in the city are the Afghan refugee boys not Baloch kids. Different non-governmental organizations in Quetta have conducted surveys about the state of the garbage collectors and they agree that very few Baloch children collect garbage in Quetta. If garbage collecting children were easy to recruit then the Taliban would surely benefit from their availability The truth of the matter is that both Baloch nationalists and Taliban draw the bulk of their recruits from people who are actually motivated on ideological grounds and firsthand experience of facing injustice or undergoing instead of mere financial attraction. We do not endorse the use of children for terrorist activities. If the assertions by the Quetta police are correct, Baloch nationalists must immediately abandon such despicable practices no matter how legitimate their political demands are. The mystery of child bombers should be resolved with the help of third party organizations like UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Because Pakistan has had a long history, dating back to the infamous 1970s episode of the recovery of huge cache of weapons from the Iraqi Embassy that Pakistan misleadingly insisted was meant to help the Baloch nationalists. Based on that event, Islamabad dismissed Balochistan’s first ever elected government and unleashed a massive military operation against the Baloch people who have endured a long history of Islamabad’s lies and fabrications.

Taliban taking foothold in Karachi

The Taliban have occupied several areas in Karachi following a cold war between two Pakhtun tribes, Mehsud and Kakakhel, for ownership of Pakhtun strongholds in the city, Pakistan Today has learnt. The Mehsud tribe has taken control of several Pakhtun strongholds where the banned outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has established its network. The fire at New Sabzi Mandi on Super Highway, one of the Asia’s largest fruits and vegetables market, was also a result of ownership dispute between the two tribes. Reportedly, the Taliban wanted the control of the vegetable market, which observes business of billion of rupees daily. There were reports of the Taliban uprising in the outskirts of the city, mainly the Super Highway. Earlier, both tribes were working under the political party – which claims to represent the Pakhtun living in Karachi. Later, the Mehsud tribe parted ways with the party and started occupying Pakhtun areas with the Taliban’s help. “A cold war has been started between two Pakhtun tribes which has damaged the party structure,” said a party leader, requesting not to be named. “From Sohrab Goth to Manghopir, Taliban have taken control of Pakhtun areas and established their system there which not only destroyed party structure, but also earned bad name for us,” he added. “The war started after a clash of interest between the two tribes and later the Mehsud tribe abandoned the party and joined hands with the Taliban to establish a TTP network,” he claimed. “From Sohrab Goth to Toll Plaza, Taliban have set their network and removed party flags from these areas, but we are still resisting against these elements in Al-Asif Square,” he said. “We are in a fix because we have to secure the Pakhtun living in those areas which were occupied by Taliban with the help of Mehsud,” he noted. “The [Sabzi Mandi] fire started from a hotel which is 200 yards away from my shop and there is open ground but how it captured the shop it is beyond my thinking,” Salahuddin, a crate maker, told Pakistan Today. “The wind was also blowing from east to west of the market but how it engulfed the eastern part of the market it could be imagined,” Salahuddin added. “The people belonging to different tribes of KP are working in the market but the Mehsud tribe dominates the market,” All Vegetable Tajir Biradari Alliance (AVTBA) Chairman Haji Syed Abdul Razzak Shah said. “People of many tribes of KP are working in the market but Mehsud and Kakakhel have made their clear representation in the market so far,” he added. “Apparently, there is no war going on between the two tribes in the market but one thing is sure that the market was set on fire as per plan, Shah said, adding that we do not have proves against anyone that’s why we cannot held anyone responsible for this blaze.” “We can say that fire in the market was result of ownership dispute between Mehsud and Kakakhel tribe as the market is situated next to Faqeera Goth where both groups are undergoing in a cold war,” Rehman Khan, another leader of (AVTBA) said. “I am resident of Faqeera Goth too and there were reports about some people who tried to close barber and computer shops,” Khan added. “Few years back, some people started working for TTP in the area, but they were killed in police encounters,” Gadap Town SP Javed Iqbal Bhatti claimed. “I am not much aware about matters of the town as I was posted here a few days back, but I have confirmed from the Ahsanabad post in-charge that some people who pronounce themselves Taliban were killed in encounters and after that they do not get solid evidences that prove presence of TTP in the area,” he maintained. “Fire at vegetable market on Super Highway is still an accident because we have not received evidence which proves ‘blaze conspiracy’,” he maintained.

Balochistan floods: Massive corruption detected in relief funds

The Express Tribune
Huge corruption has been detected in the distribution of funds earmarked for flood relief efforts in Balochistan’s Kharan and Washuk districts, the provincial ombudsman revealed on Wednesday. “We have completed our inquiry and found that as much as Rs50 million has been embezzled from the Rs120 million funds provided by the provincial government for flood relief efforts in Kharan and Washuk districts,” Balochistan Ombudsman Akber Baloch disclosed while addressing to the media. According to Baloch, four government officials, including one high-ranking officer, were found to be involved in the embezzlement. He added that a report in this regard had been sent to the Balochistan High Court (BHC) with recommendations that strict action be taken against the accused officials. Huge corruption was also detected in relief efforts in Sibi district, the ombudsman maintained, adding that Rs32 million had been recovered following the inquiry and deposited with the Balochistan finance department. Baloch said the inquiry had been ordered by BHC after victims of the 2007 and 2008 floods from Kharan and Washuk complained of misappropriation of funds earmarked for relief efforts.

Lahore: CCPO Lahore removed

On the directives of the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday, Lahore’s Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Amjad Javed Saleemi was removed from his post today. The SC whilst hearing the Joseph Colony case,held the CCPO responsible for not being able to stop a mob from burning down more than 100 homes in the Christian community. The former CCPO himself admitted that the Punjab Police had been ineffective in maintaining peace in the city. Saleemi has been replaced by Mohammad Amlesh who will take over as the 16th police chief of the city.

Badami Bagh tragedy: HRCP finds police, admin responsible

In its preliminary report after a fact-finding mission to the Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has held the police and the provincial administration squarely responsible for the attack on Christian homes earlier this week. The mission’s purpose was to “present facts — regarding the incident of violence on Saturday, March 9 — and the events that led up to the incident.” The report also seeks to look at the response of the administration before and during the incident and identify those responsible for the lapse. The initial investigations were conducted over two days and the HRCP plans to issue detailed findings within a few days. On March 9, more than 200 houses in Joseph Colony were attacked, looted and burnt by a mob. The incident which sparked the chain of events that led to the assault is said to have occurred on Wednesday, March 6. “(A)ccording to most residents…on Wednesday evening a quarrel broke out between Shahid Imran, a local barber, and Sawan Masih alias Bodhi, while they were drinking together,” says the initial HRCP report. “At the end of the fight Imran alleged that Sawan had made blasphemous remarks. “At a subsequent stage, a resident of a neighbouring locality, Shaikhabad, Shafiq alias Cheeko, came to know of the incident through Imran. Later Shafiq, with the apparent intention of attacking Sawan, went to Joseph Colony, burnt down the billiard table (owned by) Sawan and proceeded to curse and threaten Sawan and the Christian community generally. Sawan was subsequently arrested on Friday after an FIR under Section 295-C, PPC, had been registered against him at the Badami Bagh police station.” The report quotes Zahida Parveen, a relative of Sawan, as saying that on the Friday evening the local police told the Christian community to vacate their houses as there was a possibility of violence erupting on Saturday. “The police also assured them of the safety of their houses and their belongings. Following the warning by the police almost the entire community evacuated the colony on Friday.” Some of the residents expressed the fear that the local trader community might have played a role in escalating the tensions. A local candidate for the upcoming Trader Association elections was alleged to have played a subversive role in the episode and in particular the incitement. “On Saturday, a mob reportedly of around 3,000 ransacked and looted the colony with complete impunity, setting fire to majority of houses,” says the HRCP report. “There is enough evidence to suggest that there was a considerable presence of the police force on the scene of occurrence. There is nothing to suggest that the mob was in any way resisted by the police. According to some residents, there was looting before the houses were set on fire.” The HRCP mission found it “disturbing” that the local administration “that was clearly aware of the possibility of such an attack failed to take adequate measures either before or even during the attack”. The commission asserts that the warning issued by the police on Friday to the residents “establishes conclusively the fact that the administration knew about arson and plunder in advance”. DCO Noorul Amin Mengal, while talking to the mission, “admitted the knowledge on Friday about possible violence and claimed to have informed his superiors, the IGP, and the chief minister, about the situation”. The DCO said “he was present at some point during the incident on Saturday and asserted that maintenance of law and order was not part of his job as after the Police Order 2002 this power had devolved to the police administration”. The mission contacted City SP Imtiaz Sarwar, who had taken charge of the post after the occurrence. “He said in his opinion the police could have contained the protesters and a mistake had occurred in threat assessment by the local police and administration”. The entire police administration at the time of the occurrence, consisting of SP City, DSP Badami Bagh and the SHO Badami Bagh have been removed from their posts and “were not available for comment at this stage”. The HRCP mission also tried to contact SSP (Investigation) Babar Bakht, who also was not available. “The HRCP mission feels that the responsibility for the incident has to be ascribed at two levels — immediate and ultimate,” says the report. “The immediate responsibility for this act lies primarily with the police and district administration that despite prior knowledge failed to act. The ultimate responsibility rests squarely with the provincial government. The statement by the DCO establishes that the provincial government at the highest level was aware of the threat and potential damage, even likely violence in advance, and yet failed to order any measures. The HRCP mission also took note of statements made by the people it talked to that the raiders were ordinary residents from the adjacent areas and could not be identified as a group. That points to the effect of accumulated animus against the minority communities.”

Pakistan: SC asks Punjab to explain failure

Daily Times
The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed dissatisfaction with the Punjab government over the arson attack on a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore and sought its clear stance over its failure to protect the lives and property of the people as well as on the conduct of the police officers in the incident. During the hearing of the suo motu case regarding the Joseph Colony incident, the Punjab Police admitted before the court that the SHO concerned was compelled to register a blasphemy case against a Christian man under pressure because an unruly mob had started growing in the area. A provincial police officer has also revealed before the three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, that the complainant had not mentioned use of any derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his application, therefore the SHO was reluctant to register the FIR against the accused. He also said that the complainant and two witnesses in the blasphemy case were absconders in another FIR regarding the incident, in which 178 houses of the Christians were burnt by the mob. The Punjab Police officer also said that there were two groups in the area, one of which was trying to resolve the matter, while the other group, led by Tariq Gujar and Usman Butt, planned demonstrations, therefore the SHO was compelled to registrar the FIR against the accused. He told the court that the blasphemy accused stated during investigation that he was intoxicated and did not know what he had done at the time. Meanwhile, the court observed that if the Punjab government had implemented the recommendations of Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rehman report on the Gojra incident, this incident could have be avoided. It also observed that the Punjab government had failed to establish the cause of this incident and find out the real culprit. It said that the Punjab Police has itself admitted in the report that the security system had failed to give relief to the people. The court questioned why were security personnel not deputed for the protection of the people’s properties. It noted that there was a contradiction between the reports of the Punjab government and the Punjab Police, but both reports were silent about why the Joseph Colony residents were compelled to leave their home before the attack, in which 178 houses were burnt. The hearing of the case has been adjourned until March 18.

PPPP election manifesto pledges to enhance minimum wages

Radio Pakistan
PPP-Parliamentarians has announced its election manifesto with special focus on a 7-point agenda pledging to fulfill basic needs of the poor folk. The manifesto was released by the party President Makhdoom Amin Fahim at a press conference in Islamabad on Thursday evening. Former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani‚ Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira‚ Minister for Defence Naveed Qamar and Minister of State for Information Syed Sumsam Bukhari were also present on the occasion. The manifesto pledges to increase minimum wage to 18‚000 rupees per month by 2018 and enhance cash monthly grant under Benazir Income Support Programme from 1000 to 2000 rupees. The manifesto pledges to create of a new province in South Punjab through necessary constitutional measures. It further pledges that under the new NFC Award‚ Sindh will get special grant for Karachi‚ being mega port and economic hub of the country. A mother and childcare programme would be launched to ensure healthcare for them through vouchers and cash transfers. The manifesto commits to eradicate polio by 2018 and taking its coverage to 100 percent. Enhanced security cover would be provided to health workers. As per Constitutional requirements‚ the manifesto promises universal primary enrolment by 2018 and 10‚000 higher education and technical vocation scholarships for FATA and Balochistan. Labour representatives will get 4 seats in National Assembly and 2 seats in each Provincial Assembly through legislation. There will be renewed focus on housing and the poor will be given priority for low cost housing schemes to be launched through public-private partnership. The party proposes to launch a youth employment initiative called 'Peoples Employment Programme'. Farmers will be supported by charging flat rate for electricity for tube wells and providing cheaper inputs. Special Economic Zones would be established to promote industrialization and create job opportunities. The manifesto also pledges addition of 12‚000 MW of cheaper electricity by way of hydel‚ coal‚ gas and renewable energy by the end of next term of the Government. National Commission on Minorities will be given statutory status and religious properties would be given protection. The manifesto committed to build city-to-town and farm-to-market roads through public-private partnership. It said the Party will ensure sustainable and responsible use of national resources to protect environment and provide water security through efficient water resource management. The manifesto proposed 7 core priorities that will protect and empower the people of Pakistan. The party will initiate key programme in first 100 days at the federal and provincial levels to implement these core priorities. These priorities include ensuring basic needs‚ empowerment of all citizens‚ equitable and inclusive growth‚ infrastructure for the future. Answering a question‚ Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani said the present government has implemented more than 85 percent of its previous Party manifesto and Charter of Democracy. He described it as a big achievement. To a question‚ Information Minister said the prudent policies of the government gave food security to the country. He said the government provided jobs to hundreds of people and regularised the services of contract and daily wages employees. Syed Naveed Qamar to a question said the PPP government gave shares to the workers in the privatization process.

Pakistan: Health workers in CIA's bin Laden plot reinstated

A defense lawyer says a Pakistani court has reinstated 17 health workers who were fired last year for allegedly participating in a CIA scheme to confirm the presence of Osama bin Laden in a town in northwest Pakistan. Lawyer Javed Awan says Thursday's court order came 11 months after the health workers were suspended for failing to inform the government about Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi's fake polio vaccination program. The health workers say they didn't know Afridi was working for CIA to run a polio campaign in Abbottabad where bin Laden was later killed in a U.S. raid. Afridi was sentenced to more than three decades in prison for ties to militants. But it is widely believed that he was punished as he helped CIA track down bin Laden.