Saturday, June 15, 2013

Thousands take to streets of Istanbul, defy Erdogan

Thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul overnight on Sunday, erecting barricades and starting bonfires, after riot police firing teargas and water cannon stormed a park at the center of two weeks of anti-government unrest. Lines of police backed by armored vehicles sealed off Taksim Square in the center of the city as officers raided the adjoining Gezi Park late on Saturday, where protesters had been camped in a ramshackle settlement of tents.Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had warned hours earlier that security forces would clear the square, the center of more than two weeks of fierce anti-government protests that spread to cities across the country, unless the demonstrators withdrew before a ruling party rally in Istanbul on Sunday. "We have our Istanbul rally tomorrow. I say it clearly: Taksim Square must be evacuated, otherwise this country's security forces know how to evacuate it," he told tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally in Ankara. Protesters took to the streets in several neighborhoods across Istanbul following the raid on Gezi Park, ripping up metal fences, paving stones and advertising hoardings to build barricades and lighting bonfires of trash in the streets. Some chanted, "Tayyip, resign." Local television footage showed groups of demonstrators blocking a main highway to Ataturk airport on the western edge of the city, while to the east, several hundred walked towards a main bridge crossing the Bosphorus waterway towards Taksim. Thousands more rallied in the working-class Gazi neighbourhood, which saw heavy clashes with police in the 1990s, while protesters also gathered in Ankara around the central Kugulu Park, including opposition MPs who sat in the streets in an effort to prevent the police from firing teargas. A main public-sector union confederation, KESK, which has some 240,000 members, said it would call a national strike for Monday, while a second union grouping said it was holding an emergency meeting to decide whether to join the action. "One million people to Taksim" - a call for more anti-government demonstrations later on Sunday - was a top-trending hashtag on Twitter. "The police brutality aims at clearing the streets of Istanbul to make way for Erdogan's meeting tomorrow," said Oguz Kaan Salici, Istanbul president of the main opposition People's Republican Party. "Yet it will backfire. People feel betrayed." A similar police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in Gezi Park two weeks ago provoked an unprecedented wave of protest against Erdogan, drawing in secularists, nationalists, professionals, trade unionists and students who took to the streets in protest at what they see as his autocratic style.The unrest, in which police fired teargas and water cannon at stone-throwing protesters night after night in cities including Istanbul and Ankara, left four people dead and about 5,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association. Panicked protesters fled into an upscale hotel at the back of Gezi Park during Saturday night's raid, several of them vomiting, as clouds of teargas and blasts from percussion bombs - designed to create confusion rather than injure - engulfed the park. "We tried to flee and the police pursued us. It was like war," Claudia Roth, co-chair of Germany's Greens party, who had gone to Gezi Park to show her support, told Reuters. The Gezi Park protesters, who oppose government plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks there, had defied repeated calls to leave but had started to reduce their presence in the park after meetings with Erdogan and the local authorities. "This is unbelievable. They had already taken out political banners and were reducing to a symbolic presence in the park," Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Bosphorus University, told Reuters from the edge of Gezi Park. Erdogan told protesters on Thursday that he would put the Gezi Park plans on hold until a court rules on them. It was a softer stance after two weeks in which he called protesters "riff-raff" and said the plans would go ahead regardless. But at the first of two rallies this weekend by his ruling AK Party, he reverted to a defiant tone, telling supporters on the outskirts of Ankara that he would crush his opponents in elections next year. The police intervention so soon after Erdogan spoke took many by surprise on a busy Saturday night around Taksim, one of Istanbul's main social hubs, not least after President Abdullah Gul, who has struck a more conciliatory tone than Erdogan, said earlier on Saturday that talks were progressing well. Erdogan has long been Turkey's most popular politician, his AK Party winning three successive election victories, each time with a larger share of the vote, but his critics complain of increasing authoritarianism. He has said the AK Party rallies in Ankara and Istanbul are meant to kick off campaigning for local elections next year and are not related to the protests, but they are widely seen as a show of strength in the face of the demonstrations.

‘If thousands of people injured is no political crisis in Turkey, what it is?’

It’s hypocritical on the part as Turkish authorities to deny the political crisis in the country, with even Erdogan’s European allies criticizing for harsh measures at Taskim square, says RT contributor Afshin Rattansi.
RT: We've just heard from a Turkish MP, she denies this is a political crisis. So what is it then?
Afshin Rattansi: Well, if thousands of people injured, people dead on the streets of Taskim Square, running that square, isn’t a political crisis, I’m not sure what is. Turkey has form on this, and now we have a 24-hour deadline from Mr. Erdogan. Gosh, his leadership started so well, and the whole world was with him; now, you know, even the German foreign minister is cautiously telling him, “Don’t start killing people in the streets of Istanbul.” Remember, it’s like 78 out of 81 cities, not just Istanbul and Ankara. These demonstrations are going right across the country.
RT: What’s the nub of these demonstrations? Why are they taking to the streets?
Erdogan’s policies have been consistent with all the kinds of Chicago School economics: the use of Lehman Brothers collapse to clamp down, the OECD saying Turkey has the second-highest rate of inequality of any OECD country, but it’s now biding them because the Turkish Central Bank intervened to support its currency. As for the masses that are demonstrating, it is so far the middle class, and because of the way the Turkish society is split, Erdogan’s AK Party has half of the population on his side, but how long can it last as he continues with the austerity campaigns? Previously, Turkey was a CIA-backed coup in 1980, and there was a massacre in Taskim Square in 1977. So we’ll have to see whether all these people, all these myriad interests, can actually do damage to the Erdogan’s government.
RT: How deep do cultural and ethnic divisions run in Turkey?
I wouldn’t say so much it’s ethnic, although I’d say that Western media loves to portray it as mainly ethnic. There are masses of inequality, and it’s out of that inequality and the people that benefit will support the AK Party. But of course, there is this latent Islamism. The thing about the Erdogan government is that it is obviously censoring Twitter and arresting people. Fifty-one people were killed in a Turkish town just a month ago or so. And that could well have been Sunni forces. But Erdogan is trying to stop anyone from finding out more about that. It’s the spillover of course of the Syrian intervention. Those ethnic dimensions to what’s happening in Turkey are also going to be particularly worrying for the Erdogan government and for the protesters in Taskim Square.
RT: Are we seeing the Islamization of Turkey?
I think the most important tool one can use to understand the Turkish society is the liberal track. I mean think of the Occupy movements right across the West, but in the case of Turkey, because of its peculiar history, I mean, it ran most of Europe for half a millennium, under Ottoman times. It would be wrong to go too much on the Islamization path. What we see here is the country basically is like Chile, except for that there are powers that remain long after Allende left. This is the CIA-backed country, and the army that run Turkey could swing it, and the army have been so far relatively quiet, and there are people in the AK Party themselves that are starting to criticize it.
RT: Erdogan's agreed to meet the protesters again - is that a sign he's wavering?
Apparently, what I’m hearing is that the group that he is purportedly meeting have nothing to do with the main movement of the demonstrators in Taskim Square, so it’s actually more Erdogan propaganda. We mustn’t forget that he is ordering the police to beat people up. The number of head wounds, I mean, just the idea of 3,000 people injured, and yet here’s this country trying to get into the European Union and trying to talk about the human rights in Syria. The absurdity of any idea that Turkey is some modern democracy as it tries to destroy the aspirations of half its population! Of course, we’re hearing nothing from the Obama administration whatsoever – that’s interesting in itself.

VIDEO UPDATE: Tear gas and bulldozers: Istanbul riot police clear Gezi Park protest camp

Police intervene at Istanbul's Taksim Square, enter Gezi Park

Police intervened once again in Istanbul's Taksim Square using tear gas and water cannons to quell the protesters an hour after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ultimatum to evacuate the Gezi Park before tomorrow. Ambulances are seen entering the park. Police have also entered the park for the first time after two weeks. Security forces took over the park, demolishing the tents of the protesters. Dozers worked to clear the remaining barricades around the park. Protesters had started a few hours earlier to remove the barricades standing at the entrance of te park following hours of dicussion on their next move. The police have also cordoned off the Taksim Square. The riot police stationed in front of the Atatürk Cultural Center made announcements before the intervention asking protesters to disperse from the park. The protesters had earlier decided to stay at the park following the government’s assurance that it will comply with a court decision that suspends the redevelopment plans for the site. The Taksim Solidarity Platform which launched the protests two weeks ago had also called for a mass meeting tomorrow at 4 p.m. There was a vast crowd, including kids and elderly people in the park, only minutes before the police raid.

Three Attacks in Pakistan Spotlight a Nation’s Rifts

Two bomb blasts rocked Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province in southwest Pakistan, on Saturday, tearing through a bus and then a hospital where the victims of the first attack had been taken. Pakistani officials said that at least 10 women were killed when the first blast hit a university bus. At least 19 other students were wounded, a police officer, Mir Zubair Mahmood, told The Associated Press. A second explosion occurred as gunmen attacked the Bolan Medical Complex, where the wounded were brought for treatment. Senior Quetta officials were visiting the hospital when armed gunmen forced their way into the compound, leading to an exchange of heavy gunfire. Abdul Mansoor, the Quetta deputy commissioner, was among the people killed at the hospital, according to reports. The brazen attacks shook the country, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif instructed the interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, to assist the provincial government in controlling the situation. The attacks occurred shortly after militants destroyed a historic building early Saturday that once was used by the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The blast set off widespread panic. Analysts said the attack on the Jinnah building, a national monument, had symbolic importance, signifying the deep rifts in Pakistan. At least five militants attacked the building, Jinnah’s Residency, as it was called, in Ziarat, about 74 miles from Quetta. They used rockets and hand grenades, officials said, and a guard was killed. Explosions caused a fire that quickly engulfed the two-story building. The facade was made of timber and was turned to ashes. A charred bricked structure remained barely intact; television images showed the smoldering remains. The Baluch Liberation Army, a militant separatist group that is fighting for the independence of Baluchistan Province, a mineral-rich region in southwestern Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack. Mr. Khan, the interior minister, was quoted by the local news media as saying that the attackers replaced the country’s national flag at the building with the Baluch Liberation Army’s banner. “In a way, it is an attack on the very symbol of Pakistan, the man who created Pakistan,” said Ejaz Haider, the editor for national security affairs at Capital TV, an Islamabad-based television network, and one of the country’s most widely read columnists. Mr. Haider compared the assault on the building to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Those attacks were against the very symbols and values of the United States,” he said. “In a way, this attack is the same thing.” It occurred just days after the installation of nationalist provincial government by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “The expectation was that with a new nationalist government, other secessionists’ groups could be brought in,” Mr. Haider said. “With this attack, at least the Baluchistan Liberation Army has said that we reject the very basis of Pakistan.” Raza Rumi, a columnist and talk show host, said, “This is a hugely symbolic attack at the very idea of Pakistan that Baluch separatists are refusing to accept and struggling to undo.” “Baluch nationalists and separatists hold Jinnah responsible for actions against their territory,” Mr. Rumi said. “After the attack, in some of the early reactions on social media, Baluch separatists portrayed the attack as a revenge for historical wrongs.” In 1948, Mr. Jinnah sent army troops into Baluchistan to subdue Baluch leaders who were resisting being incorporated into the new state of Pakistan. The Ziarat district is famous as a tourist destination, but the Jinnah Residency was its most notable attraction. Mr. Jinnah spent time there while trying to recover from tuberculosis. He died in September 1948. “The building was initially built as a sanitarium, and it was appropriated by the deputy commissioner in the 1930s,” said Salman Rashid, a prominent travel writer. “The building was not very important till Jinnah went and lived there in 1948. It was symbolic of Jinnah’s physical connection to Pakistan.” Mr. Rashid said he had visited the place several times. “Architecturally, it was very humble sort of a building, designed by a military engineer and made of Juniper timber,” he said. “It was maintained just as it was in 1948 when Jinnah left.”

Bilawal Bhutto condemns Quetta attacks, urges action against terrorists

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the barbaric terrorists’ attacks on Sardar Bahadar Khan Women University and Bolan Medical Complex in Quetta resulting in huge loss of human lives. At least 20 people including girl students have died in the terrorist attacks in the capital of violence-ridden Balochistan province on Saturday. Bilawal has called the attacks inhuman and beastly acts, which he said the people of Pakistan will never tolerate. In a statement, he said that such attacks are meant to tear down the civil society and take it hostage to impose darkness. “Terrorists need to be dealt with an iron hand instead of appeasing them to protect Pakistan and its founding ideology,” he added. He said schools, hospitals and mosques are being attacked by the terrorists to keep the people illiterate, maimed and spiritually hollow by holding the masses of the country captive. The PPP chief sympathised with the families of victims who lost their lives in the attack and expressed solidarity with them. He stressed that special arrangements should be made for timely treatment to all those injured in the attack. He also condemned the rocket attack on Quaid-e-Azam residency in Ziarat adding that enemies of Pakistan have mounted these attacks on the very founding assets of the country and its history.

Multiple blasts, gunfire kill 20 in Quetta; hospital under siege

At least eleven women were killed on Saturday when bomb ripped through a bus inside the Women University campus in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. Less than an hour later, sounds of explosions and firing spread panic and chaos through the Bolan Medical Complex where most of the wounded had been taken. At least three explosions and constant gunfire were being heard from inside the hospital, where police sources reported eight gunmen had taken positions restricting security personnel from entering the premises of the complex. According to the latest reports, three soldiers were also said to have been lost their lives in the still continuing gun-battle between security forces and the militants. Capital City Police Officer Mir Zubair Mehmood confirmed Deputy Commissioner Abdul Mansoor Khan, who was wounded earlier, was also killed by shots to the head and chest. A journalist from a local television news channel was also wounded with a bullet to his leg. A DawnNews correspondent reporting from the hospital confirmed the second blast occurred inside the emergency ward of the hospital. The nature of the blasts at the hospital and the extent of the resulting damage were still unclear. Several people, including journalists and relatives of dozens wounded in the bus blast, were stranded inside the hospital, with reports of up to eight gunmen inside the premises. Frontier Corps and security personnel were still unable to enter the hospital premises, where exchange of gunfire and explosions were still being heard at frequent intervals. The exact number of casualties so far was unclear, but at least 12 people have been killed in the attacks in the Balochistan capital. Capital City Police Officer Mir Zubair Mehmood confirmed reporters that the first bomb went off inside the bus at Quetta’s Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University, killing eleven women. “The bomb exploded just when female teachers and students gathered inside the bus around 3 pm to proceed for Quetta city from the university,” he said. The CCPO said that most of the victims were female teachers and students. He said the bus caught fire after the powerful blast. Mehmood said all of the wounded were rushed for medical treatment to Bolan Medical Complex Hospital, where an emergency had been imposed. Earlier on Saturday, militants attacked the Quaid-e-Azam residency in Ziarat with hand grenades, destroying the historical monument where the founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah spent his last days. A policeman was killed in the attack on the Jinnah’s monumental residency. Officials had confirmed that most of the old memorials inside the monument were destroyed, with historic photographs of the founder burnt to the ground in the resulting fire. No group has so far claimed responsibility for any of the attacks on Saturday.

Militants occupy Bolan Medical College Hospital, commandos launch operation

At least five to seven militants have occupied Bolan Medical College in Quetta. Special commandos launched an operation in the premises, where heavy firing is being reported. According to latest reports, DCO Quetta Abdul Mansoor Kakar succumbed to the injuries he received in the exchange of firing. Assistant Commissioner Anwer Shar has been injured. Hospital staff and relatives of doctors are being held hostage. - See more at:

Attack on Quaid-e-Azam Residency: '''The End of Jinnah?'''

Editorial:BALOCH HAL
In the most unprecedented assault on a Pakistani national monument in Balochistan, unidentified persons on Saturday night attacked the Quaid-e-Azam Residency in Ziarat, the last resting place of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s founder. Most parts of the historic building, the furniture, historic photographs and other important items were also destroyed.
The Residency was located at an altitude of 7,200 feet above sea level in Ziarat,133 kilometers away from Quetta, the Baloch capital. The British spent Rs 39,012 in 1891-92 to construct what was then known as the Ziarat Residency. In 1975, the Pakistani government declared it as a national heritage while in 1978 it was renamed as the Quaid-e-Azam Residency as a mark of respect for the nation’s founder. The Baloch Liberation Army (B.L.A.) claimed responsibility for the attack. Officials in Ziarat say the attack, in which one security guard was killed, could have been more catastrophic if they had failed to recover six other bombs which they suspect the attackers allegedly wanted to use to blow up the national monument. Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, the Ziarat Residency has remained the most visited national building in the insurgency-stricken province’s summer resort town of Ziarat. The structure was the official sign of Balochistan’s connection with Pakistan as it regularly featured on postal stamps and other official documents to represent Balochistan in the federation of Pakistan. In a nutshell, the Residency was the first impression for most Pakistanis living outside Balochistan whenever they thought of the province. The attack has shocked the entire Pakistani nation, if not everyone in Balochistan. For most Baloch, the monument did not mean much because Mr. Jinnah’s successors never treated Balochistan with respect. During the past few years, the Baloch separatist movement had intensified to such an extent that had become nearly impossible for the Pakistani government to display the national flag on official buildings or play the national anthem at schools. There had also been sporadic attacks on “national assets” such as gas-pipelines, railway tracks by Baloch nationalists. Among all of these, the attack on the Residency in Ziarat is biggest attack on a Pakistani symbol in Balochistan which shows the increasing disillusionment among the Baloch people against the federation. The attack is significant for two reasons. First, the Residency is located in an entirely Pashtun-populated part of the province. Never in the history have anti-Pakistan attacks, that too on such a grand scale, have taken place in the Pashtun areas of Balochistan. The attack shows expansion of the Baloch insurgency beyond the Baloch-majority districts. Islamabad should truly worry but most not overreact. Second, the attack took place a week after the appointment of a Baloch nationalist, Dr. Malik Baloch, as the chief minister. Dr. Baloch’s appointment has raised extraordinary expectations across the country about reconciliation between the Baloch people and the Pakistani state. Since the armed groups asked the Baloch people to stay away from last month’s general elections and the latter responded positively, the new government does not have the power and the mandate to influence the Baloch armed groups. Such attacks are only going to increase the government’s challenges. The initial reactions across Pakistan to the incident have been that of enormous anger and calls for the government to take action against those responsible for demolishing the Residency. However, we caution the Pakistan army and the government not to respond to this event with more dead bullet-riddled dead bodies of Baloch youths. That will only worsen the situation. The government should not act in haste and respond to violence with more violence against the civil population. There are genuine Baloch complaints and the state has to provide an answer for its failures in Balochistan. A missing part of the post-election story is the dramatic increase in the number of dead bodies of the Baloch missing persons. For instance, as many as five bullet-riddled dead bodies of political activists were found on the day when Dr. Baloch was sworn-in as the chief minister. The attack on the Residency seems to be a reaction to the Pakistani state’s unabated violence against the Baloch civilians. Until the state stops its repressive anti-Baloch policies, more such radical attacks could take place again in the future. Attacks on national monuments take place because they symbolize the authority of the unaccountable State authorities. Dr. Baloch, the Chief Minister, has promised to rebuild the Residency whereas we believe no monument is more important than the lives of those Balochs who have been subjected to extra-judicial killings, torture and disappearance in the past ten years. The reconstruction of the residency is unhelpful in healing the Baloch wounds. The government should instead build a new monument to commemorate the Baloch youths, political activists, journalists and professors who have lost their lives in the conflict. It is meaningless to live in the past and snub the present and the future. If the central government wants to politically address the conflict, it should make sure that the Residency attack is not taken as an opportunity to launch fresh operations in Balochistan or justify the kill and dump operations. In order to deal with the new situation prudently, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should make sure that the Pakistan army stays away and the political leadership addresses the matter.

Eleven female students killed in Quetta blast

Associated Press
A bomb tore through a bus of female university students in southwestern Pakistan Saturday, killing 11, officials said. As family and friends gathered at the hospital another blast went off, followed by a flurry of bullets that sent bystanders running for cover. The violence in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, came hours after militants destroyed a historic house elsewhere in the province that at one time was used by the country's founder. No one claimed responsibility for the multiple attacks Saturday that highlighted the violence that has continued to plague the sparsely populated province. Baluch nationalists pushing for more say in the province's future, Taliban militants and violent sectarian groups all have a presence in the region. At least 19 other students were wounded when the bomb went off near the bus, said police officer Mir Zubair Mahmood. Television footage of the bus showed a blackened hulk with twisted pieces of metal and articles of women's clothing strewn about. The second blast occurred at a hospital where the dead and wounded were taken later Saturday. The police chief and the chief secretary of the province had arrived at the hospital when the blast went off in a corridor of the hospital's emergency room, said Fayaz Sumbal, a senior police officer in Quetta. Sumbal said at least four people were wounded. The blast was followed by bursts of gunfire but it was not clear whether the firing was the work of militants or security officials. Images on Pakistani television showed people running from the hospital building into a parking lot filled with ambulances. Some people appeared to be taking cover behind the vehicles.

Protesters in Turkey Vow to Continue Fight

Taksim Square is mostly back to normal: the taxicabs line up in front of fancy hotels, whose doormen no longer clutch gas masks, and outdoor cafes are bustling again. But Gezi Park — the green corner of the square — remains occupied by defiant protesters who on Saturday pledged that they would continue with their demonstrations, disavowing a compromise between their self-declared leaders and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to end a political crisis that has caused severe damage to Turkey’s image and its economy. Protesters and Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group of protest organizers, “continued to guard the park and the city for all the living beings in them, our trees, living spaces, private lives, liberties and future,” the group said a statement issued Saturday. The environmentalist resistance that “has met citizens’ anger that accumulated over 11 years of AKP government” would continue and spread over all portions of life, city and country, the statement said. Their decision puts the two sides on the path to confrontation, raising the specter of a police raid to flush out the protesters. Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, urged the protesters to end their action, saying in a Twitter posting Saturday, “everyone should now return home.” It was a message that was ignored. The defiance of the protesters came after organizers in the early morning hours Friday had walked out of Mr. Erdogan’s home in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, with a tentative deal to end the protests. But rank-and-file demonstrators did not go along. “Cowards! Liars! Sheep!” shouted some protesters as members from Taksim Solidarity tried to deliver details of their meeting with Mr. Erdogan. In their proposed compromise Mr. Erdogan had agreed to allow a legal challenge to the park’s demolition to proceed before any construction begins, and he pledged to hold a referendum in Istanbul even if a court rules in the government’s favor and allows the park to be replaced with a mall designed to look like an Ottoman-era army barracks. But from the moment the deal was reached, it was unclear how ordinary protesters in the park, who are mostly young, secular and middle class, would react. Many say they have no leader and do not trust the government to uphold its side of a deal. “The government thinks the solidarity group represents all of us, and the rest are extremists and terrorists, but that is just not true,” said Cuneyt Yusuf, 25, referring to several leftist groups the government says are terrorist organizations and that joined street protests. “We in the park are a majority, and we do not have a representative.” The defiant posture struck by the occupiers of Gezi Park underscored the amorphous nature of the protest movement, which is largely leaderless. Mr. Erdogan’s decision to directly engage the Taksim Solidarity organization, after days of defiant comments, was an attempt to focus the protests on their original cause: the preservation of the park. Originally, a few hundred protesters peacefully mobilized against the destruction of the park. But the police cracked down, spurring a broader protest movement that challenged Mr. Erdogan’s government, which many Turks view as becoming increasingly authoritarian. “We want a group of representatives from all corners of the park,” said Bilgi Coskun, who has slept in Gezi Park for 17 days. “Those that have put up a fight, choked on gas, slept here day and night, guarding our soil. The Taksim Solidarity is no representative of this park or movement.” The apparent unwillingness of many of the protesters to agree to the compromise also raised the specter of a further hardening of resolve on both sides, even as some leaders promoted a compromise. That raised more fears that ultimately the government would dispatch the police to empty the park, leading to more violence. Mr. Erdogan said again on Friday that protesters must leave. “Youngsters, look,” he said, “you have stayed there for as long as you could. We have received and evaluated your message. Now withdraw from Gezi Park and go home. If there are still some left from the illegal organizations, leave us alone with them.” Protesters say it is now hard to sleep because they expect to be woken by a police raid. “You get used to it,” Turgut Bulut, 29, said. “If they come, they come. We are not scared because it is them that will pay the price in the long run. They are going down.”

Turkey: Gezi Park protesters refuse to leave, vow to 'continue resistance'

The protesters have announced today that they will continue to “stand guard” at Gezi Park and vowed to "pursue resistance," despite repeated calls for the end of the demonstrations after the government assured that it would comply with a court decision suspending the redevelopment plans for Gezi Park. “On the 18th day of our resistance, we are continuing to stand guard for our park, city, trees, living spaces private lives, freedoms and future,” the Taksim Solidarity Platform, which has been at the center of the protests since the first day, said in a written statement. “We will follow whether our demands [are carried out]. This resistance will be the reflection of the Taksim Solidarity’s common will and the common flag of a whole struggle. From now on, we will continue the resistance against every injustice in our country with the dynamism and force of our struggle that extended to the whole nation, or even to the world,” it added, calling for concrete steps toward the investigation of the four casualties during the protests. “We will follow closely whether those responsible for this violence are brought to justice.” Representatives of the platform that had a late night meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on June 13 informed the protesters at the park about the content of the discussions. The protesters debated throughout the night their next move in seven different discussion forums to reach a common decision. The tendency had been leaning towards the continuation of the demonstrations. “Despite the policies of violence, we saw that we could gather, debate, associate and fight together with the richness of our different tendencies. The Gezi resistance has succeeded in preserving its peaceful posture against police violence,” the statement also said, adding that the protests would be an inspiration for future civil movements. “The most important thing that we learned in this process is that the struggle cannot be limited by space and time and that it will continue in the future in every square meter of the city, the country and life.” Erdoğan yesterday, and President Abdullah Gül earlier today, had called on the protesters to “return home.” After insisting that he would not step back from the historic barracks project that was set to be built on the site of the park, Erdoğan had said that the protesters’ message was received. However, staying on a harsh tone, he had warned that the officials would resort “to different measures” if the protests were not brought to an end.

1000s rally for reform in Jordan capital

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in the Jordanian capital Amman after Friday prayers to demand economic and political reforms in the Arab country. Chanted anti-regime slogans, protesters held banners accusing the regime of corruption. "We say to them (Jordanian regime), start from today and call for reform. Work with us to achieve reform, to avoid Jordan entering into a dark tunnel that would effect everyone including the head of the regime," said protester Mohammad al-Hout. Protesters, most of them from the Islamic Action Front and other opposition parties, lashed out at the government, accusing it of planning to impoverish Jordanians. Participants in the demonstration warned against the serious consequences of any move by the government to raise the prices of public utilities such as electricity. The protest came as the government has announced recently that it plans to increase electricity bills to decrease a growing budget deficit.

Pakistan may extend Afghan refugees’ stay
The new Pakistani government may extend the stay of more than 1.6 million Afghan refugees living in the neighbouring country, a media report said on Friday. All registered Afghans will automatically lose their refugee status on June 30 when the agreement on their stay in Pakistan is scheduled to expire, according to the Dawn newspaper. The daily quoted officials as saying he newly federal government would have little choice but to extending the stay of the Afghans. The current six-month extension from January 1 had been granted in response to requests from President Hamid Karzai and the international community. Commissioner of Afghan Refugees Ziaur Rehman told the newspaper: “Registered Afghans will become illegal if the government does not legalise them before July 1.” Since more than 1.6 million Afghans were living unlawfully in Pakistan, the number would double if the refugees' status was not renewed, the official said, adding Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch had been briefed on the issue. Last year, the Peshawar High Court had ordered the federal government not to grant further extension to registered refugees. But the Supreme Court set aside the verdict.

Expect more attacks on foreigners in Afghanistan, warns deputy commander

The international community in Afghanistan, recently hit by two high-profile attacks on aid organizations, should brace itself for more Taliban violence in the coming months, the deputy commander of foreign forces said. "I think we should expect (the Taliban) to attack international forces and internationals more generally," Lt General Nick Carter, Britain's top soldier in Afghanistan, said in an interview late on Friday, referring to the summer months. Combat troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are preparing to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year, ending a costly and increasingly unpopular war launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets. "There's definitely a sense that the Taliban would like to appear to compel the international community's withdrawal, and certainly ISAF's withdrawal," said Carter, who leaves Afghanistan next month to become head of the British Army. "That chimes with an obvious narrative." British troops in the first Anglo-Afghan war, in 1842, were slaughtered en masse as they withdrew in what is Britain's biggest military defeat in history. Afghanistan has been beset by violence in recent weeks. A coordinated attack on the International Organisation of Migration in Kabul killed at least three civilians and injured four foreign aid workers. The Red Cross headquarters in the eastern city of Jalalabad also came under attack, the first such incident in the 26 years it has worked in the country. Several foreign organizations in the capital have received more targeted threats than usual over the past week, senior officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Violence aimed at non-military foreign organizations, especially those which help Afghans, came as a surprise to the international community. The Taliban made no mention of such targets in its annual spring offensive announcement, vowing only to start a campaign of suicide attacks on military bases and diplomatic areas. Insurgents this week besieged Kabul's main airport for four hours before being killed, and a Taliban suicide bomber detonated explosives in front of the Supreme Court, killing at least 17 people. Plans are still on track to hand over the remaining security responsibilities to the Afghan security forces "within the next week or so", Carter said. Afghan security forces lead in 89 percent of operations, with foreign forces still in combat along much of the border with Pakistan and in pockets around the country, including Helmand province, a bastion of the Taliban. Once troops withdraw, NATO's role will move to a support mission to strengthen the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces. Carter stressed that developing Afghanistan's fledgling air force in the years following the withdrawal was crucial. "Horizons have to be tangible and I think it's very reasonable to talk about the Afghan air force being fielded by 2018 or 2019," he said.

Malala: ''' Courageous Women Can Change the World''

Malala Yousafzai:Last year an extremist tried to kill her on her way back from school. She was treated in the UK where she now lives, studies, and endeavors for freedom.
In order to fully understand why Malala Yousafzai, now fifteen years old, made an outstanding contribution to changing the world - and we hope she will continue to do so - it is important to take a look at the background of the following story. It is a Dantesque background, where it is a challenge, as well as an act of courage against the blazing fires of hell, for a girl to go to school. Malala’s district, Swat, fell under the rule of the Talibans, who led by a certain Fazlullah, bombed the girls’ school; the followers of this fanatic would flog the “apostates”, with crowds gathering at the mosque to witness the floggings, while Fazlullah screamed “The government says we shouldn’t, but we don’t follow their orders, we follow the orders of Allah!” The crowd would respond “Allahu Akbar!” as it would also yell when Fazlullah asked them “Are you ready for an Islamic system? Are you prepared to make the sacrifices?” Meanwhile, Fazlullah banned television, movies, music, polio vaccinations, tapes, radios, dance, singing, and TV serials. He would, however, constantly broadcast his harangues from local television stations, while, he prohibited anyone, under pain of death, to approach a television station. A famous dancer, Shabana, was murdered, one among many other artists and intellectuals, and her body was left on display. Arts were deemed evil, therefore ruthlessly punished. Freedom of speech became a remote memory in the province of Swat, “my Swat” as Malala calls it, a place once deemed among the most free and most creative in Pakistan, thanks to its skiing tourism’s features. That is, there was a certain degree of freedom until the invasion of the Talibans. This is a relative term. Female education, which has a peculiar place in the region, was deemed the worst among all perversions, worse than sympathy for the United States or tolerance of Christians and Jews. We are writing about this as Malala’s case, the girl who was almost killed by a shot in the head, causing much uproar; a 14 year old girl, who became the symbol of the fight for culture and freedom of Islamic women, who was almost murdered because she blogged on the BBC site; she repeatedly spoke on television giving insights about her country in polished and refined English, a rare skill for people in her area. At times she was considered a victim rather than a hero, and a victim especially of her father, Ziauddin Yousafai. Ziauddin is an intellectual, an ex-professor at Peshawar University, a poet, and a passionate advocate of the Swat Valley, he even is the owner of the girls’ school.
He learned about the attack on his daughter on October 9th 2012 while he was studying for a doctorate in Illinois. He had a serious crisis; he was afflicted by a terrible sense of guilt because he had been an ardent admirer and promoter of his little daughter’s intellectual gifts, pushing her despite her very young age towards school, study, reading, encouraging her to talk on television and to blog also in the face of the death threats of al Qaeda’s Talibans. However, if you carefully read into Malala’s life, who is now peacefully studying in Birmingham and who has been proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize, any doubts regarding possible pressure from her father will be dispelled. On the contrary, you will acquire the conviction that Malala surely enjoyed her family’s support, but she, like an antenna which collected all the horror and all the courage, is the icepick of the Islamist condition of women. They find in her the magnificent will to break yjr terrible chains that are almost incomprehensible to us as Westerners.
Malala was born in 1997, in the city of Mingora in the Swat district. Although the Talibans formally left in 2009, their presence continued to torment the girls who dared to go to school in the following years. Malala was an already famous little girl in 2009, when she blogged on the daily invasion of the extremists into her life under a false name though.
In 2009 she wrote:
“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban [sic]. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taleban’s edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict. On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”
On Sunday January 4th she wrote:
“I heard my father talking about another three bodies lying at Green Chowk (crossing). I felt bad on hearing this news. Before the launch of the military operation we all used to go to Marghazar, Fiza Ghat and Kanju for picnics on Sundays. But now the situation is such that we have not been out on picnic for over a year and a half. We also used to go for a walk after dinner but now we are back home before sunset. Today I did some household chores, my homework and played with my brother. But my heart was beating fast – as I have to go to school tomorrow.”
The following day Malala wrote:
“I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms – and come to school wearing normal clothes instead.” It is a diary of restrictions and persecutions against the education of girls, that Malala completes with television interventions, considered that she is often the only one available to answer the reporters’ questions, while many people are afraid. When the dancer got killed, Malala dared to say on- camera: “They cannot stop me. I will get my education if it is my home, school or any place. This is our request to all the world. Save our schools. Save our world. Save our Pakistan. Save our Swat.” The Talibans went on destroying all schools for girls in the area, after decreeing that they must close. Malala wrote: “Five more schools have been destroyed. I am quite surprised, because these schools were closed, so why did they also need to be destroyed?" In solidarity, schools for boys decided not to open until February. The army gained back military control of the area in 2009, but by then no civilian facility was left, so Malala’s family had to flee from the inhabited areas, the refugee camps filled up and Malala wrote that instead of being a doctor when she would grow up, she might choose politics. The line of her thoughts is direct and simple, dictated by an underlying choice: “I want to go to school”. And she did, when she eventually moved back to her home with her family. But the worst was yet to come: last year a bearded gunman shot her in the head and in the neck on her way back from school. The Talibans claimed responsibility for the glorious action of attacking a little girl “because she was spreading lay ideas and was propagating against us. Moreover she idolizes the black devil Obama”. After a struggle between life and death, Malala was then transferred to England where she was successfully treated. The attack caused "a wave of indignation", as they say, even among local politicians. How nice would it be not only to see Malala being awarded the Nobel Prize, but to watch a scene where these politicians, taking turns, each take a little girl by the hand to her desk at school with her books in their satchel at 8 a.m. for a couple of years.

Malala bags another world award

The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) has awarded its annual award for 2013 to Malala Yousufzai in recognition of her “fearless struggle to uphold the right of girls to education”.
Presented at the 34th annual session of the ministerial council of the fund, the award was accepted by Ziauddin Yousufzai on behalf of his daughter, said a statement by OFID. In a recorded message sent to OFID, Ms Yousufzai expressed her gratitude for being honoured with “such a prestigious award”. She also underlined the need for all organisations to “work together to educate girls, to teach them, to empower them”. Education for all “is true development”, she added. Accepting the award, Mr Yousufzai thanked OFID and said: “I, my daughter Malala, my family and my countryman are very honoured to receive this prestigious award. I hope it will further strengthen — and promote — the cause of educating underprivileged people, especially… girls, for which Malala put her life at stake.” The OFID’s annual award, which comes with a $100,000 purse, was instituted in 2006. Past recipients include Prof Muhammad Yunus, the founder and managing director of the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh. The OFID is the development finance institution established by the member states of OPEC in 1976 as a collective channel of aid to the developing countries. It works to stimulate economic growth and alleviate poverty in all disadvantaged regions of the world.

Pakistani bombers destroy Jinnah’s historic residence in Balochistan
Militants on Saturday attacked a historic 121-year-old building in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan Province that was used by the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, killing a policeman and causing extensive damage to the structure. The militants targeted the Quaid-e-Azam Residency in Ziarat, a holiday resort located about 120 km from the provincial capital of Quetta, at 1.15 am. They planted and set off four bombs and then opened fire.
The explosions and gunfire triggered a blaze that was extinguished after four hours. A policeman was killed in the shooting, police officials said. The wooden parts of the building, furniture and memorabilia associated with Jinnah were destroyed by the fire. Footage on television showed that the rood of the building had collapsed and only its structure made of bricks was left intact. District police chief Asghar Ali said a bomb disposal squad had found and defused six more bombs, each containing about three kilograms of explosives. He said it took longer than expected for the fire to be controlled as there are no fire tenders in Ziarat. A fire tender sent from Quetta was used to put out the blaze. Security forces cordoned off the area and launched a search operation though they were unable to trace the attackers. The Residency, built in 1892, was originally used as the summer residence of the Agent of the British Governor General. Jinnah spent the last days of his life in the building while suffering from tuberculosis and the structure was later declared a national monument.

Pakistan: Budget’s aftermath

In his post-budget press conference a day after the presentation of the Budget 2013-14, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar asserted that no tax on essential food items has been imposed, and only the rich had been taxed. Even if it is conceded that Mr Dar may be technically right, this is only half the truth. The price rises that have followed on the heels of the budget tell the other half of the story. The one percent increase in sales tax (GST) announced by the worthy finance minister in his budget speech was implemented just one day after that presentation. Objections have been raised that this step does not have legal cover since the Finance Bill has yet to be passed by parliament. After its passage, the increased tax should only kick in on July 1, the start of the new financial year. The PPP amongst others has objected to this ‘haste’. The measure has also been challenged in the Supreme Court. The fact of the matter is that this kind of increase in GST has been implemented in just this manner over many years, irrespective of the Finance Bill’s passage into law. Practiced it may have been for long years, but this is perhaps the first time that a political and legal challenge has been mounted against such premature imposition of an enhanced GST. In response to the increase in GST, POL products and CNG prices have been immediately raised. Sympathetic price rises in edibles and daily use items have followed as surely as night follows day. Inter-city fares too have been jacked up. All this ‘negates’ Mr Dar’s argument that no tax on essential food and other daily use items has been imposed. The free market economy that everyone from the finance minister downwards now accepts as a given, has worked its ‘magic’. The market is not amenable to the fine tuned arguments of finance ministers or economists. Any across the board increase in an indirect tax such as GST is bound to give rise to sympathetic price rises in essentials and even non-essential items. Being indirect, GST inevitably is regressive, hitting the poor harder than the well off as a proportion of their income. Since the budget failed for the first time in living memory to raise the salaries of government employees (the increase of 10 percent in pensions and raising the minimum pension to Rs 5,000 from Rs 3,000 notwithstanding), it has sparked off unrest amongst the denied. Government clerks have announced a strike on Friday, other government servants from June 21. Mr Dar’s argument that government employees’ salaries were raised by 20 percent just two months ago was refuted in his press conference by the fact being pointed out by media men that that increase was confined to a relatively small section of government employees and was not extended to all categories of government servants. Mr Dar has asked government employees in his press conference to swallow the bitter pill this year in the hope of relief next year. The alternative, he argued, was to print more money, which would inevitably be even more inflationary. It seems that the government servants were not impressed by the finance minister’s case, pointing out that concessions in import of hybrid cars for the relatively well off when the poor were finding it hard to make ends meet was unacceptable. The new government may have miscalculated the political mood at the mass level. The heightened public expectations from the incoming government tended in certain cases to soar beyond the possible. For example, the impatience with load shedding resulted in riots in Faisalabad, and the situation was made worse by the tender attentions of the police towards the protestors. Similarly, having been tormented by inflation, unemployment and other afflictions through the five-year rule of the PPP-led government, the people are impatient for change, relief, succour. Admittedly Mr Dar’s hands were not totally free to satisfy the public’s expectations. But particular measures in the budget such as the example of hybrid cars pointed out above left the government inadvertently looking uncaring and insensitive to the plight of the masses. Such a perception so early in the new government’s tenure cannot be good for it. It is therefore just as well that Mr Dar has decided to set up a committee to review the question of salary increases of government employees. In today’s Pakistan, this is a measure of how all governments from hereon will have to be aware of, and responsive to, the demands of the people.

Pakistan: PML-N govt faces first ‘embarrassment’ at SC

Daily times
The Supreme Court on Friday questioned the recent hike in the prices of petroleum products through implementation of the hiked general sales tax without the approval of parliament. Although the court did not issue a stay order over the hike in petroleum prices but it observed that parliament had not yet approved the finance bill, therefore, it was not possible to implement the tax on petroleum products. The court also directed attorney general of Pakistan to seek instructions from the authorities concerned on the issue and assist it on June 18. The court warned that it may suspend FBR’s notification regarding one percent increase in sales tax without parliament’s approval. A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry heard a suo motu case pertaining to recent hike in petroleum prices. The newly elected government has proposed one percent increase in sales tax in the budget. The chief justice took suo motu notice of the issue on a note of the court registrar and issued notices to attorney general and other concerned and also sought a copy of the notification from the authorities concerned. The chief justice further stated that the government has the powers to implement the tax but at the same time it does not have the authority to start collecting GST before the approval of finance bill. The bench observed that the bill was yet to be approved by parliament and observed that the people were suffering from this increase. While addressing the attorney general, Justice Iftikhar stated that the budget been neither been approved nor signed by the president then on what grounds has the government started collecting increased sales tax. The chief justice further said that the finance minister, while presenting the budget before the National Assembly, had just proposed one percent increase in sales tax. Appearing on notice, Attorney General Munir A Malik submitted that nothing could be done without the approval of parliament and as such the tax can also not be imposed without its approval. The attorney general also read out the Provisional Collection Taxes Act 1931 and contended that the recent increase in the sales tax was made under the said Act, adding that it was meant for controlling hoarding. However, the chief justice said that hoarding itself is a crime and both the federal and provincials government failed to control it. Attorney General Malik contended that the previous government had done the same. The chief justice however, said that whatever had been done was illegal and the authorities should recover the amount. “Why you are sucking the blood of the people, it seems that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is not aware of the parliamentary system,” the chief justice remarked, adding that prices of daily-use items have shot up abruptly across the country. During the hearing, Salman Akram Raja, counsel for Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), produced before the court the declaration and notification pertaining to the recent hike in petroleum prices, while a copy of the finance bill was also presented before the court by the FBR. The chief justice told the counsel for OGRA that increase in sales tax could not be made without amending the relevant Act. He further said that tax can be collected only in accordance with law. “Prima facie, whatever was done was totally illegal,” he remarked, adding that by doing so an extra burden was placed on the shoulders of the masses. Meanwhile, Justice Ejaz Ahmed Chaudhry observed that people hoard goods when prices come down and later sell them on higher prices. He further said that it is difficult to reduce prices once they have been raised. The OGRA counsel contended that the authority has issued a notification regarding increase in CNG and kerosene oil prices and imposed sales tax on CNG. The hearing of the case has been adjourned until June 18.

Pakistan: ANP moves motion against GST in Senate

Awami National Party (ANP) moved an adjournment motion in Senate over implementation of the increase in general sales tax (GST) prior to Parliament’s approval. ANP Senators Zahid Khan, Afrasiab Khattak and Haji Adeel moved the motion in the Upper House. They took the stance that it was unconstitutional to implement the increase in GST before the proposal had been passed by the Parliament. They said immediate debate should be held on the issue since GST directly affected prices of victuals among other things, adding that privilege of both houses had been mortified by implementation of the proposal before its approval.

Pakistan : Govt workers protest price hikes, demand raises

The Express Tribune
The Punjab Teachers Union (PTU) and the All Pakistan Clerks Association (APCA) have strongly reacted to the federal budget announced on Wednesday. They say the new budget has provided no relief to government employees.
In a statement issued on Friday, the PTU said it would protest against the budget in front of the Provincial Assembly on Saturday. They said the budget failed to show any concern for the welfare of government employees. PTU General Secretary Rana Liaquat Ali said the government employees had been ‘abandoned’. “Not only have they failed to revise our salaries, they have also failed to control prices,” he said, “How does the government expect us to make ends meet?” He said government employees would have to deal with price hikes and indirect taxes without a proportionate increase in salaries. The PTU, Ali said, was concerned about the government’s decision not to revise the house rent allowance. The current allowance for house rent was in accordance with the 2008 pay scale revisions. Teachers posted in urban areas were given 45 per cent of their basic pay as house rent allowance while those in rural areas were given 30 per cent of their base salary. The general secretary said the government school teachers’ medical allowance was a pittance. Those teaching grades 1 to 15 had a medical allowance of Rs1,000 per month, he said. “Considering the recent price hike, the allowance is a joke,” he said. According to the statement, the PTU will stage a sit-in in front of the Provincial Assembly to protest against the budget. More than 90 members of the PTU’s Lahore district body are expected to join the sit-in. The union hopes to convey its concerns to the provincial government. The PTU has also announced an all Punjab district meeting for June 19, to evaluate the implications of the provincial budget. Clerks demand raises On a call by the All Pakistan Clerks Association’s, all offices of the Excise and Taxation Department remained closed in the city on Friday. Staff members took part in APCA’s protest against government’s decision to not increase salaries of government employees. The Excise and Taxation head office in Shadman and offices in Model Town and Fareed Kot Road remained closed the entire day. Due to the suspension of work, several people waited outside the offices to submit their vehicular taxes. Excise and Taxation Officer Muhammad Zaka said the government’s policy was not fair. “We wait an entire year for a raise in salary,” he said. This is the only source of income for most of us, he said, “Our salaries must be raised in proportion to the inflation rate.”

Pakistan: Harsh budget in tough

Just six days after assuming the power in the Centre, the PML-N Finance Minister Ishaq Dar presents the annual national budget, having a total outlay of Rs 3.591 trillion for the year 2013-14 in the National Assembly on Wednesday. Earlier in a special meeting, the Federal Cabinet, with the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the chair, formally approved the budget after reviewing the budgetary proposals. The Finance Minister gave a detailed briefing of the current financial year, which he called a bad one, having widespread slippages on economic targets and remedies offered in the budget for revival of the Country’s ailing economy. During the current year, the GDP growth rate was targeted at 4.3pc, but estimates put it at 3.6pc. The revenue target was Rs2.381 trillion, but it faces a massive Rs350billion shortfall. Total investment was 14.9pc, but only 14.2pc is achieved. The investment-to-GDP ratio was targeted at 13.3pc, but it stood around 12.6pc-- far too short to run the industry and economy. The agriculture sector grew at the rate of 3.3 per cent against the target of 4.1%. The services sector just achieved a growth rate of 3.7 % against set target of 4.3pc. Industrial performance grew at 2.8pc against a target of 2pc—marginally above the estimates. Indeed, the overall economic growth rate has been pathetic. The fiscal management also does not paint a rosy picture. The current account deficit was expected to $2 billion that actually turned out be $2.9 billion and the Foreign Exchange Reserves held by the SBP stand at a dismal $6.2bn. The public debt, which was staggering at Rs3 trillion in June 1999, had jumped to Rs13.25 trillion in March this year and is likely to reach Rs14 trillion by the end of the financial year—of course it is not sustainable at all. In such pathetic economic conditions, overcoming the energy crisis, stabling the economy, cutting down on non-development expenditures and enhancing productivity are the prime goals, the government had to focus on, thus in the first national budget for the PML-N government has unveiled new growth strategies. To redress the immediate concern of the nation, Rs 225 billion has been earmarked for the energy sector and Rs 59 billion for the construction of new dams--apart from promising to restrict the exaggeratedly high line losses in the power sector. If the government manages to bring down half of its power losses, it can save around Rs 100 billion. Yet it will bring no respite for the general consumers, as the government intends to bring down subsidies and gradually increase electricity tariff for all. Minutes before the budget announcement, the Nepra notified another increase in the power tariff which must have rocked the masses, hoping for any sort of relief. In an attempt to boost Pakistan’s tax-to-GDP ratio from existing 8.9% to 15 per cent to meet the revenue target of Rs 2.75 trillion rupees, the government had proposed to bring General Sales Tax up from 16 per cent to 17 per cent meaning thereby that the price of every essential house-hold item will go up unless accorded special exemption. Middle class and the poor people, already battered by the worst price hike, might rue the impact once the GST increase is implemented. But to the immediate delight of the House that mostly comprises filthy rich members; the Finance Minister extended 100 per cent exemption of all duties and taxes to the imported eco-friendly hybrid cars up to 1200cc. A concession of 25 percent has also been proposed for 1800-2500 cc cars and 50% duty reduction on 1200-1800 cc cars. Great! All rich bureaucrats, politicians, army men, business men can buy fuel-efficient new cars that too at subsidized rate of levies. Offering some consolation to the under-privileged class, the government has decided to offer interest-free loans at the provincial level, and at least 50 per cent of those benefiting from these cheap loans will be women—the decision will give some relief to those who had no one seek financial help from provided the scheme is judiciously executed, ensuring a highest degree of transparency. Denying raise to the salaried class, pensioners get 10 per cent increase and minimum pension goes up Rs 3000 to Rs 5000 a month. The taxation proposals don’t carry any new tax on those who are already paying taxes; however, the rate of taxation will go up. Once again the government reiterated to expand tax base. On the other hand, the finance Minister promised to decrease corporate tax by one per cent each year—yet another move that will serve the rich corporate sector. Contrary to this, two percent adjustable withholding tax had been proposed on the functions held in hotels‚ clubs‚ marriage halls and restaurants. The minimum tax rate has enhanced from 0.5 per cent to one percent of the annual income. Unregistered industrial and commercial electricity connections are also now liable to five percent additional sales tax. Putting slabs on salaries, the tax on salaried persons will be rationalized according to their salaries. Similarly, to rationalize tax on the business men, two slabs had been created under which tax rate from 25 per cent goes up to 35 per cent on the income of Rs six million. Small farmer, who hardly earn taxable income, is no more entitled to the agriculture credit. A new adjustable withholding tax had been clamped on foreign films and dramas that will make the entertainment for the general public more expensive. The Prime Minister’s discretionary fund and secret funds of all government departments had been frozen and scrapped; the same should be applied on the security agencies. Pakistan’s economy is battered thus the harsh measures are no surprise. Yet the measures announced in the PML-N debut budget are too harsh and contrary to the expectations of the masses who voted the PML-N to power. Soon the brunt of the initiatives will fall on them like a sword. The gimmick of words used in the speech will falsify the public oratory used by the PML-N in the run-up of May 11 elections. Though the Finance Minister claims the budget has been chalked out, in line with the vision of the populist Prime Minister to ensure revival of the Pakistan’s economy; but the remedies offered in the federal budget give the feelings that the federal budget 2013-14 complies with the reflections of the International Monetary Fund. By all means, the federal budget 2013-14 is hardly a people-friendly budget rather a tough call in tough economic conditions.