Saturday, May 18, 2013

Anti-Mursi demonstrators march to Tahrir Square

Demonstrators marched on Friday from Dawaran Shubra, Mostafa Mahmoud and Sayeda Zeinab to Cairo's Tahrir Square to protest against President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Activist Kamal Khalil urged around one thousand demonstrators on the march from Shubra to pass through Road al-Farag area in order to get more people to join the march. Hundreds of marching demonstrators joined the rebellion movement "Tamarod" whose aim is to collect support for a no confidence vote against President Mohamed Mursi's government and call for early presidential elections. Demonstrators on the Mostafa Mahmoud march chanted slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist Hamas movement, al-Ahram Portal reported.

Video: Teargas v stones, bottles: Hundreds of protesters clash with Turkish police near Syrian border

Large doses of teargas, paintballs, and water cannon were fired as protesters clashed with police in the Turkish town of Reyhanli near Syrian border. The mass demonstration comes a week after twin car bomb explosions a week ago, which killed 46 people. Angered by Turkish authorities’ policy towards Syria, protesters have been calling for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his cabinet to resign as people blame them for the decision to take in Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict in their country, saying it has made Turkey a target for attacks. Prime Minister Erdogan also came in for criticism for traveling to the United States this week, instead of visiting the town to display support in the wake of its tragedy.
Thursday also saw protesters in Istanbul with activists attempting to march to Erdogan's office, as they blame the PM for funding and support for the Syrian rebels against President Bashar Assad.
Turkey had been quick to blame Syria for the deadly attacks, with Ankara warning it would take “all retaliatory measures necessary,” raising the prospect of an escalation in the conflict. Interior Minister Muammer Guler and other Turkish officials have accused a former Marxist terror group that they claim have links with Syria's intelligence services Al Muhabarat. Syria dismisses Turkey's accusations, claiming “this is not the behavior of the Syrian government.” "It is Erdogan who should be asked about this act... He and his party bear direct responsibility," Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told a news conference on last Sunday. "As an assassin, he should resign."

'Turkey to see more bombings as Erdogan's support for Syrian rebels backfires'

Terrorist attacks on Turkish soil won’t stop until the country’s Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, gives up on his support of rebel forces in Syria, British broadcaster, Neil Clark, told RT. Turkish police have fired tear gas at protesters in a town near the Syrian border, which was the scene of a deadly double car bombing a week ago. Demonstrators are angry over Ankara's support for the Syrian rebels, which they say is putting Turkey in the firing line. World affairs journalist and broadcaster, Neil Clark, believes Erdogan must reconsider his policies and stop accusing the Syrian government of targeting the Hatay province, as it would’ve been an “absolutely absurd” move from Damascus.
RT: Tension and discontent on the Turkish-Syrian border is now escalating - what ramifications could this have?
Neil Clark: I think if I were Turkish I would be protesting too, because Mr Erdogan has made colossal blunder here because in August 2011 he took the line he’s going to play a leading role in trying to topple the Syrian government. He allowed rebels to be based in the country. His government gave arms to them and equipment. And now it’s sort of a blowback time. We had some terrible bombings in Turkey this week and this will only continue, until Turkey changes course in relation to Syria.
RT: Turkey maintains Syria was responsible for last weekend's bombing of a Turkish town that left more than 50 dead, but why would Damascus orchestrate a cross-border attack?
NC: It’ll be absolutely suicidal for Syrian president [Bashar] Assad to order an attack on Turkey, knowing that very powerful countries in the West are just itching for an excuse to militarily attack the country, to bomb the country. So the last thing would be doing is trying to bomb Turkey. It’s absolutely absurd. I don’t know who was responsible for these bombings, but it’s clear that what Erdogan has done has actually involved Turkey in this war. He’s brought the war to Turkey. And understandable the Turkish citizens – not just those on the border with Syria, but throughout the country – are getting increasingly angry and they demand that he changes his course.
RT: Turkey has made it clear it doesn't want to get directly involved in Syria, but has pledged to respond to the bombings. What action could we see?
NC: We haven’t got any evidence as to who’s responsible for these bombings. And I think Erdogan has to seriously reconsider his entire policies, because all he’s doing is increasing the tension here by backing the rebels. He took a gamble in August 2011 believing that the Syrian government would fall very shortly and that there’ll be a very nice Islamist government in power in Damascus that’ll be very friendly to Turkey. It backfired. It hasn’t happened. And I think that the position, Turkey is in, is getting worse and worse. I hope I’m wrong, but we’re going to see more bombings, I’m afraid. Because the war has been brought to Turkey and, of course, the rebels themselves are fighting among themselves – the radical Islamists, the not so radical Islamists. It’s all happening in Turkey.
RT: An international conference on Syria – endorsed by Russia and the US – is expected soon. What results can we expect?
NC: It all depends on the stance of the US and its allies. Because if they’re still going to carry on with this rhetoric, this Assad must go, we’re not going to get any progress, are we? The people, who are pouring the petrol on the fire, the countries like the US and Turkey, have got to change their position. It’s no use that they’re having a conference, if they’re still going to back the rebels. They’re still saying that the Syrian people could decide the government they want as long as Assad goes. That’s not democracy, is it? It’s up to the Syrian people alone. It’s up to US, Qatar, Turkey to stop interfering in Syria.

Weekly Address: The President Obama Talks About How to Build a Rising, Thriving Middle Class

Afghan lawmakers block law on women's rights

Associated Press
Conservative religious lawmakers in Afghanistan blocked legislation on Saturday aimed at strengthening provisions for women's freedoms, arguing that parts of it violate Islamic principles and encourage disobedience. The fierce opposition highlights how tenuous women's rights remain a dozen years after the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime, whose strict interpretation of Islam once kept Afghan women virtual prisoners in their homes. Khalil Ahmad Shaheedzada, a conservative lawmaker for Herat province, said the legislation was withdrawn shortly after being introduced in parliament because of an uproar by religious parties who said parts of the law are un-Islamic. "Whatever is against Islamic law, we don't even need to speak about it," Shaheedzada said. The Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women has been in effect since 2009, but only by presidential decree. It is being brought before parliament now because lawmaker Fawzia Kofi, a women's rights activist, wants to cement it with a parliamentary vote to prevent its potential reversal by any future president who might be tempted to repeal it to satisfy hard-line religious parties.

The law criminalizes, among other things, child marriage and forced marriage, and bans "baad," the traditional practice of exchanging girls and women to settle disputes. It makes domestic violence a crime punishable by up to three years in prison and specifies that rape victims should not face criminal charges for fornication or adultery. Kofi, who plans to run for president in next year's elections, said she was disappointed because among those who oppose upgrading the law from presidential decree to legislation passed by parliament are women. Afghanistan's parliament has more than 60 female lawmakers, mostly due to constitutional provisions reserving certain seats for women. There has been spotty enforcement of the law as it stands. A United Nations analysis in late 2011 found only a small percentage of reported crimes against women were pursued by the Afghan government. Between March 2010 and March 2011 — the first full Afghan year the decree was in effect — prosecutors filed criminal charges in only 155 cases, or 7 percent of the total number of crimes reported. The child marriage ban and the idea of protecting female rape victims from prosecution were particularly heated subjects in Saturday's parliamentary debate, said Nasirullah Sadiqizada Neli, a conservative lawmaker from Daykundi province. Neli suggested that removing the custom — common in Afghanistan — of prosecuting raped women for adultery would lead to social chaos, with women freely engaging in extramarital sex safe in the knowledge they could claim rape if caught. Another lawmaker, Mandavi Abdul Rahmani of Barlkh province, also opposed the law's rape provision. "Adultery itself is a crime in Islam, whether it is by force or not," Rahmani said. He said the Quran also makes clear that a husband has a right to beat a disobedient wife as a last resort, as long as she is not permanently harmed. "But in this law," he said, "It says if a man beats his wife at all, he should be jailed for three months to three years." Lawmaker Shaheedzada also claimed that the law might encourage disobedience among girls and women, saying it reflected Western values not applicable in Afghanistan. "Even now in Afghanistan, women are running from their husbands. Girls are running from home," Shaheedzada said. "Such laws give them these ideas." More freedoms for women are one of the most visible — and symbolic — changes in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban regime. While in power, the Taliban imposed a strict interpretation of Islam that put severe curbs on the freedom of women. For five years, the regime banned women from working and going to school, or even leaving home without a male relative. In public, all women were forced wear a head-to-toe burqa, which covers even the face with a mesh panel. Violators were publicly flogged or executed. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, women's freedoms have improved vastly, but Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative culture, especially in rural areas. Saturday's failure of the legislation in parliament reflected the power of religious parties but changed little on the ground, since the decree is still the law of the land, however loosely enforced. Kofi said the parliament decided to send the legislation to committee, and it could come to a vote again later this year. "We will work on this law," she said. "We will bring it back." Some activists, however, worry about potential changes to the law. Bringing the legislation before parliament also opened it up to being amended, leaving the possibility that conservatives will seek to weaken it by stripping out provisions they dislike — or even vote to repeal it. "There's a real risk this has opened a Pandora's box, that this may have galvanized opposition to this decree by people who in principle oppose greater rights for women," said Heather Barr, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. That's true for lawmaker Rahmani, who said President Hamid Karzai should never have issued the decree and wants it changed, if not repealed. "We cannot have an Islamic country with basically Western laws," he said.

Pakistanis protest against ‘poll rigging’
The Pakistani election commission says it has received over hundred complaints of rigging and irregularities in the May 11 parliamentary elections. The EU election monitors have also confirmed irregularities in the vote. Pakistan's May 11 parliamentary elections have been hailed by the national and international observers as landmark and historic, but there have also been complaints of rigging and irregularities in the polls. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party defeated both the former ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and cricket star turned politician Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the polls, and Sharif looks poised to form the new government in Islamabad. Though the PPP has conceded defeat without any major complaints, Khan's PTI has accused Sharif and some other parties of rigging the elections.Earlier this week, Michael Gahler, the chief observer of the European Union's elections observation mission (EOM), confirmed "serious problems in polling." Despite a campaign marred by violence and irregularities, EU observers praised the elections as a 'positive step for democracy.' Still, they urge the new government to press on with reforms.
On Thursday, May 16, the Pakistani election commission said in a statement that it received 110 complaints about voting irregularities. The commission ordered recounting of votes in nine constituencies in various parts of the country. It also set up 14 election tribunals which will look into the complaints. The tribunals are headed by retired judges and will have the authority to declare the results null and void if rigging complaints are proven to be correct. “The tribunals will be able to address the complaints to an extent only. There will always be people who won't accept their decisions,” Amir Zia of the daily The News in Karachi told DW. Zia said that there were certain irregularities in the polls but the elections were generally quite free and fair.
Social media
Khan's supporters do not agree. They have launched a campaign against "rigging" on the social media and have also taken to the streets in big cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The PTI supporters are posting "evidence" in the form of videos and photographs on Facebook and Twitter to highlight what they call "massive rigging." The PTI has particularly criticized the Karachi-based liberal Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for allegedly rigging the elections in several areas of Karachi. The PTI has held several protest rallies against the MQM in Karachi, which has been the MQM stronghold for more than two decades. Analysts say that the use of social media to report irregularities and express anger against alleged rigging should be seen as a sign of emerging civil society, but it will also be misleading to think that the evolving social media in Pakistan is a mirror to the whole country. "It is a positive sign that in the cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, rigging and mismanagement are reported and highlighted on the social media. But we must keep in mind that the social media in Pakistan is not used by most Pakistanis and is limited to the rich and the urban middle-class youth," Jahanzaib Haque of the Express Tribune newspaper's online edition told DW. "Also, the actual number of rigging reports is lesser than the number of people complaining about them. A lot of fake reports and videos are also circulating on Facebook and Twitter," he added. Poll rigging is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan but this time around the Pakistani society is reacting more proactively to it. Many analysts in Pakistan believe that the perseverance of the Pakistani youth to make their politicians more accountable to the people is commendable and is a proof that democracy in Pakistan is evolving.

Moment of truth: ANP’s electoral rout

ANP CHIEF Asfandyar Wali Khan has offered a mature, forthright analysis into his party’s failure to perform on May 11, highlighting the party’s own weaknesses as well as the bloody campaign the TTP conducted against the ANP. Addressing a news conference on Thursday, the ANP leader showed grace in defeat, saying that his party accepted the poll results, though with reservations, and would sit in the opposition. The party has been reduced to one seat in the National Assembly, while it has gone from ruling KP to four seats in the provincial legislature. There is much weight in Asfandyar Wali’s claim that TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud set the election agenda as far as disallowing the ANP to freely campaign is concerned. The party has paid with blood for its opposition to the militants. While other parties the Pakistani Taliban deem ‘secular’ were also targeted, clearly the ANP’s cadre bore the brunt. According to Asfandyar Wali, 61 party activists were killed between March 30 and May 11. Nevertheless, poor governance over the past five years was a major factor in the drubbing the party received at the ballot box. For the voters, corruption and the ANP government’s failure to maintain law and order in a province on the frontline of the battle against militancy overshadowed the party’s sacrifices. Which is why the ANP has done right by forming committees to look into the reasons behind the party’s electoral rout. There are lessons here for other parties who were also sent packing; they too must identify their flaws and take action where needed as the ANP plans to do, for instance, by expelling any member found to have prevented women from voting. The party’s internal issues aside, the ANP chief’s comments on the larger picture of militancy must be considered by all parties. Asfandyar Wali focused on drone strikes, saying that while his party condemned them, he considered suicide attacks a worse violation of national sovereignty. While drone strikes invoke strong emotions and the ‘collateral damage’ caused by the strikes cannot be ignored, even the fiercest critics of these unmanned killers remain quiet on suicide attacks and the many innocents religious militants kill. There is no realisation by these parties that their silence will save neither them nor democracy should the militants expand their list of ‘undesirable’ political targets. The bloodshed witnessed over the past five years should propel the incoming rulers towards taking decisive steps to tackle militancy, even as they concentrate on other aspects of good governance.

Pervez Khan Khattak: '''Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Chief Minister'''

Altaf Hussain: A costly indiscretion

EDITORIAL : Daily Times
It seems the MQM leader, Altaf Hussain, has found himself in troubled waters for his usual rhetoric and firebrand speeches, only this time he may have gone too far. In a televised speech broadcast on different channels on Sunday night, Altaf Hussain went and said the unthinkable: separate Karachi from the rest of Pakistan if the mandate of his party was unacceptable to the ‘establishment’. As can be expected, this kind of comment did not go down well with the people of the country, and one would not be surprised if that included the referred to establishment. After the loud public outcry in response to this ‘ultimatum’, the MQM chief was forced to retract his statement, with the party faithful saying that his words had been taken out of context. In addition to these very irresponsible sentiments, the voters of Karachi are angry. Altaf Hussain’s party faces allegations of rigging and electoral fraud by rival parties as well as the public. It is being claimed that the numbers and votes for the MQM just do not add up, with rival political parties demanding a recount or even re-polling. With all these accusations and ill feelings against him, Altaf Hussain needs to learn a few lessons in politics. First of all, he needs to understand that Karachi is not his plaything. He and his party’s leadership have treated the economic hub of the country as little better than their private fiefdom that they can mould according to their whims and desires. Altaf Hussain has been in the habit of declaring things in the heat of the moment, which has in the past resulted in shutter down strikes and mayhem in the city. What has happened this time is that even the usually quiescent masses have said enough is enough. May 11, 2013 saw a newly invigorated Pakistan in which people turned up in droves to vote for their new representatives in a landmark turnout. Those very people are now not prepared to allow party leaders to do as they wish with their votes. That is why thousands of phone calls and messages have been received by the UK Metropolitan Police, urging that action be taken against Altaf Hussain, a British citizen, who the callers maintain is inciting hatred and anarchy and attacking the country’s sovereignty. The Metropolitan Police has promised to investigate these charges. This is the first time the nation has stood against such threatening statements that the MQM chief is famous for delivering unthinkingly (some reports speak of his trying to intimidate the media too). It would do everyone a great deal of good if Altaf Hussain and all others who think they own their constituencies and the voters in them, wake up to the new, more aware Pakistan.

Pakistan: Over 27 million children out of school

The Express Tribune
Pakistan's Official figures are not very encouraging: Over 27 million students are out of school, of which 7 million have not even received any form of primary education.According to an official at the ministry of education and training, low enrollment and high dropout rate are the two main problems that must be dealt with immediately. A whopping 13.5 million out-of-school children are in Punjab. The ministry’s research reveals that in Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkwa and Fata, poverty kept the young boys out of school, while the patriarchal system discouraged the girls. Recent data from the Status of Education Report (ASER) of 2012 paints an even bleaker picture. According to its findings, 23% of rural and 7% of urban children, aged 6-16, are not in schools, with girls lagging significantly behind boys in the rural areas. Furthermore, primary schools, on average, have 2.3 classrooms – of these schools, only 50% have working toilets while only 61% have usable water. Similarly, the Global Monitoring Report 2012 has marked Pakistan on the second highest spot amongst the countries with the most out-of-school children. The UNDP Millennium Development Goals report states that Pakistan will not be able to achieve its education goals until 2015. Approximately 50% of enrolled children drop out before completing primary education. Dismal state of early education For the last several years, political leaders have stood by while 63% of pre-primary age children do not attend school. Of those that do, 71% are enrolled in public institutions and 29% in private institutions. Provincial figures for this age group – children 3 to 5 years of age – are even more alarming. Even in Punjab, which boasts the lowest pre-primary out-of-school rate, 50% children are not enrolled. Balochistan tops this list, with 78% of the children not attending school. Looking to the future Pakistan’s literacy rate is currently 54% — 66.25% for males and 41.75% for females. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which has won a sweeping majority in this electoral round, has vowed to address this and claims that it will raise the rate to 80%. However, the party should be prepared for a bumpy ride ahead. During the last five years, the previous government kept lowering its GDP allocation for education. In 2008, it stood at 23.9%; currently, it is 2.2%. So far, nine education policies have been announced by successive governments, though the major portions of the policies remain unchanged each time around. According to the ministry of education and training, work is under way to formulate innovate plans, which include taking mosques and madrassas into the fold. These plans have been encouraged by the UN Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation. The ministry also stated that meeting Pakistan’s MDGs for education requires an estimate of one thousand billion rupees. “This is why we need to significantly increase the budget to enroll out-of-school children,” said an official. In 2010, Article 25-A was added to the Constitution, in the 18th Amendment, called The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2012. It stated that “the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” Since the devolution of education ministry that year, all provinces have been responsible for education-related policies and their implementation. However, only two provinces-Punjab and Sindh-and Islamabad Capital Territory passed the law.