Saturday, August 24, 2013

No summer break in the violent Middle East

Here’s a short, random list of some of the major events that occurred in the Middle East just this past week: Hundreds of Syrians were killed in a chemical warfare attack in the suburbs of Damascus (the exact number is unknown, though the Syrian opposition counted over 1,300); 25 Egyptian police officers in civilian clothes were massacred in Sinai as they proceeded toward one of the military bases in the peninsula; a court in Cairo announced former president Hosni Mubarak’s release from prison while Mohammed Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested by Egyptian authorities and 38 prisoners suffocated to death in an Egyptian jail; four rockets were fired from south Lebanon into northern Israel, one of them intercepted by Iron Dome, prompting an Israeli airstrike in response; Syrian missiles fell on the Lebanese town of Harmel, a well-known Hezbollah stronghold; dozens were killed in Iraq in a series of terror attacks… and the list goes on.The Middle East did not take a break for the summer; it didn’t even slow down to catch its breath. The summer heat seemed to have peaked violence and bloodshed, with each week bringing more viciousness than the incomprehensible levels of violence of the week before.
Egypt and al-Qaeda
For a fleeting moment this past week, it seemed that the protests in Egypt against the military and the new regime were beginning to abate, and then the court’s decision to release former president Mubarak was announced, threatening to reignite protests. The Egyptian army has made a certain amount of progress in its attempt to stabilize the situation in the capital and other cities. The remaining Muslim Brotherhood leadership has gone into hiding following an especially large wave of arrests that placed nearly all of its dominant leaders behind bars: Badie, Khairat el-Shater, Morsi of course, and Safwat Hegazi have all been arrested by Egyptian authorities and will stand trial.In such difficult times, any Brotherhood activity becomes a great challenge. Everyone has become a target; anyone can be arrested at any time. This may also explain the steep decline in the number of protesters over the past week. Even American and Western criticism of the Egyptian military has subsided to the extent that the White House even denied a report that President Barack Obama had decided to stop its foreign aid to Egypt. These developments are certainly good news for Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and his fellow leaders, though at this point, it remains difficult to assess what impact the first pictures of Mubarak outside of jail will have on the military’s partial success. As a fragile calm settled on Cairo, the number of violent clashes in Sinai was on the rise. Thirty-five shooting incidents between the Egyptian army and Jihadist armed forces were reported in the past week alone. Since the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime fell, 120 soldiers and Jihadists were killed in Sinai. This number includes the 25 Egyptian soldiers who were executed early this week by armed extremists in northeastern Sinai. One of the developments in the region that especially concerns Cairo is that Bedouin tribes that had so far avoided supporting terrorists have recently begun to take a stance against the Egyptian army and assist the Jihadists. These tribes are not traditional, enthusiastic global Jihad supporters, such as the Barikat clan and parts of the Suwarka tribes. These are new groups of Sinai Bedouins who are now beginning to support the extremist organizations for the first time.Two regions in Sinai present the greatest Jihadist threat. The first is al-Madeya, not far from the Israeli border (opposite the Israeli villages of Yevul and Naveh) in the Rafah and el-Arish region (areas controlled by the Barikat tribe), and the second is Jabal Hilal. Nevertheless, the Egyptian army has so far refrained from launching a broader attack against these two strongholds. The terrorist attack this week may trigger a widespread operation in these specific areas, despite the immense numbers of casualties expected as a result. Al-Madeya and Jabal Hilal are heavily populated areas and the Jihadist militants hide amongst civilians. A military attack will result in many civilian deaths and will most likely drive additional Bedouin tribes to support the terrorist groups that operate in Sinai. Over the past six weeks, the Egyptian army has preferred to focus its operations on the northeastern corner of the border with Gaza, not far from al-Madeya. Large Egyptian forces are concentrated there and the majority of shooting incidents occurred in that region as well. This region was strategically selected when Egypt declared war against the tunnels connecting Sinai and Gaza. The army’s priorities are quite logical. The tunnels have become a major threat to the safety of the soldiers stationed in Sinai; those responsible for the attack this week, as well as the terrorist attack last August, received their ammunition from Gaza and were even trained there. Currently, 15 major terrorist groups operate in Sinai, each affiliated with global Jihad — al-Qaeda-style ideology — to some extent. The number of soldiers among these semi-tribal militant forces is estimated at several hundred, though when the number of supporters is taken into account, the estimates reach thousands of people who are involved in Jihadist efforts in Sinai. Four of the 15 groups are considered the most dominant: The first is Ansar Beit al-Maqdes, a primarily Barikat organization; the second is Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen; the third is Jaysh al-Islām, the most long-standing group based in the Gaza Strip, with many branches throughout Egypt; and the fourth is al-Tawid, which is actually comprised of several smaller groups, some of which are well known in Egypt for their terrorist activity. Each of these groups, without exception, is closely linked to terrorist activists in the Gaza Strip. What’s more, Egyptian and Israeli authorities are aware that several of the most dominant Jihadi activists in Sinai, including those who were involved in the attack against the army last year, are now hiding in Gaza with Hamas’s knowledge and consent. This also explains Cairo’s rage at the leadership in Gaza. Cairo has finally realized that Hamas not only turns a blind eye to Jihadist activity in Sinai, but occasionally offers assistance as well.The first time that Hamas and Islamist terrorists collaborated with each other was during the downfall of Mubarak’s regime in 2011 in the famous Wadi Natrun jail break. Thousands of inmates escaped, including global Jihad activists and Iman Nofel, a senior member of the Hamas military wing who reached Gaza — where he was appointed commander of one of the Hamas Izz ad-Din al-Qassam divisions. It was later reported that Nofel brought a group of Jihadists into the Gaza Strip, where they were protected by Hamas. Another well-known prisoner in that same jail break was Morsi, who will stand trial for that memorable escape. Egyptian authorities have made unsuccessful attempts to warn Hamas against continued support of organizations that are affiliated with al-Qaeda. Cairo has made it clear to the leaders of the Palestinian Islamist organization that it was well aware that several senior members of these terrorist groups have found a haven in Gaza and that Jaysh al-Islām (the Army of Islam), led by Mumtaz Durmush, who is known for his excellent relationship with Hamas, offers its services to other organizations that share al-Qaeda’s ideology. In other words, Jihadi activists in Sinai have crossed through the tunnels time and again for basic military training in Gaza and to acquire weapons and ammunition. El-Sissi therefore decided to focus military efforts on closing the tunnels. And indeed, only about 50-60 of the 650 previously active tunnels in Rafah remain open and are carefully supervised by the Egyptian army. But Hamas refuses to cooperate and even released many Jihadist activists from prison in honor of the recent end-of-Ramadan holiday. In addition, a group of Hamas activists was recently arrested at the Cairo airport with forged passports as they attempted to smuggle weapons from Iran into Gaza.Since last week’s attack, the Egyptian army realized that even completely shutting down the tunnels will not resolve the problem that has developed in Sinai. As long as the leaders of the organizations remain active and highly motivated, terrorist activity in Sinai will not cease. Fortunately for Egypt, the Jihadist organizations in Sinai have not yet succeeded in coordinating their activity. There is no single body that directs and controls the war against the Egyptian army; on the other hand, it is extremely difficult to cause significant damage to the large number of branches and arms, since they are without distinct leadership. Despite Hamas’s attempts to ignore the signals that it receives from Egypt and to keep a low profile, it has been working tirelessly to reignite terrorist activity in the West Bank. These should not be mistaken for signs of empowerment, as they are clearly indications of distress. Hamas has reached rock bottom both in Gaza and in the West Bank. Hamas’s attempts to incite terrorist activity in the West Bank are motivated by its struggle to restore its status as a central authority for the Palestinian people without risking clashes with the IDF in Gaza. Increasing numbers of terror alerts have been piling up in the Shin Bet and Palestinian Authority security offices. Hamas activists in Gaza, particularly those who were released and sent to Gaza as part of the prisoner exchange deal for Gilad Shalit’s release in 2011, are now trying to establish a terrorist network to carry out terrorist attacks such as abducting Israelis, in order to disrupt the relative peace and quiet. One of the leaders of this initiative is Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad, who is responsible for coordinating the organization’s attempts to carry out attacks and abduct IDF soldiers. These attempts have so far been thwarted by the PA, and especially by the Shin Bet and the IDF. But the increasing number of threats and warnings make it difficult to ignore the likelihood of an eventual successful abduction or terrorist attack.
Meanwhile in the West Bank
The West Asian soccer championship for young leagues (under age 19) began at Faisal al-Husseini stadium in al-Ram (south of Ramallah) last Sunday. The first game, between Palestine and Jordan, was tied 2-2. The games were a world away from Intifada and terrorism. Few fans arrived to watch, but the first international championship hosted in Palestine was a festive occasion. Nevertheless, a certain degree of tension and strife was inevitable. The championship began two days behind schedule, because several delegation members were not granted entry permits from Israel into the West Bank. On the previous Thursday, Jibril Rajoub, chairman of the Palestinian Soccer League, sent a letter to the soccer governing body, FIFA, demanding that the organization suspend Israel’s membership because of its decision to deny entry to 30 members of the league’s administration for security reasons, including representatives from Iraq and the UAE. Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who holds an official role in the West Asian Soccer Association, also harshly criticized the delayed entry. Israel claimed that Rajoub’s demands were purely political and noted that all but five of the delayed representatives were eventually admitted. On the other hand, this claim would seem to prove Rajoub’s case. Why did Israel delay 25 members of the administration for security reasons if they were finally granted entry after their cases were reconsidered due to international pressure on Israel? Even if the Israeli authorities did not have the wrong intentions, Palestinian public relations once again succeeded in embarrassing Israel and damaging its reputation, this time on the soccer field.

Syria warns U.S. not to intervene militarily

Syrian government warned the U.S. that any military action against Damascus would set the Middle East ablaze.
The Syrian government accused rebels of using chemical weapons Saturday and warned the United States not to launch any military action against Damascus over an alleged chemical attack last week, saying such a move would set the Middle East ablaze. The accusations by the regime of President Bashar Assad against opposition forces came as an international aid group said it has tallied 355 deaths from a purported chemical weapons attack on Wednesday in a suburb of the Syrian capital known as Ghouta. Syria is intertwined in alliances with Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and Palestinian militant groups. The country also borders its longtime foe and U.S. ally Israel, making the fallout from military action unpredictable. Violence in Syria has already spilled over the past year to Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Battle-hardened Hezbollah fighters have joined the combat alongside Assad's forces. Meanwhile, U.S. naval units are moving closer to Syria as President Obama considers a military response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad's government.U.S. defense officials told The Associated Press that the Navy had sent a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea but without immediate orders for any missile launch into Syria. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss ship movements publicly. Obama emphasized that a quick intervention in the Syrian civil war was problematic, given the international considerations that should precede a military strike. After Obama met with his national security team Saturday, the White House said U.S. intelligence officials are still trying to determine whether Assad's government unleashed the chemical weapons attack earlier this week. The White House statement said Obama received a detailed review of the range of options he has requested for the U.S. and the international community to respond if it is determined that Assad has engaged in deadly chemical warfare. Obama spoke by telephone with British Prime Minister David Cameron about Syria, the White House said. A statement from Cameron's office at No. 10 Downing St. said the prime minister and Obama are concerned by "increasing signs" that "a significant chemical weapons attack" was carried out by the Syrian government against its people. Obama and Cameron "reiterated that significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response from the international community," according to the statement. Syria's Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi dismissed the possibility of an American attack, warning that such a move would risk triggering more violence in the region. "The basic repercussion would be a ball of fire that would burn not only Syria but the whole Middle East," al-Zoubi said in an interview with Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV. "An attack on Syria would be no easy trip." In Tehran, Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Abbas Arakji, warned that an American military intervention in Syria will "complicate matters." "Sending warships will not solve the problems but will worsen the situation," Arakji said in comments carried by Iran's Arabic-language TV Al-Alam. He added that any such U.S. move does not have international backing and that Iran "rejects military solutions." In France, Doctors Without Borders said three hospitals it supports in the eastern Damascus region reported receiving roughly 3,600 patients with "neurotoxic symptoms" over less than three hours on Wednesday morning, when the attack in the eastern Ghouta area took place. Of those, 355 died, the Paris-based group said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that its estimated death toll from the alleged chemical attack had reached 322, including 54 children, 82 women and dozens of fighters. It said the dead included 16 people who have not been identified. The group said it raised its death toll from an earlier figure of 136, which had been calculated before its activists in the stricken areas met doctors, residents and saw medical reports. It said the dead "fell in the massacre committed by the Syrian regime." Death tolls have varied wildly over the alleged attack, with Syrian anti-government activists reporting between 322 and 1,300 killed. Al-Zoubi blamed the rebels for the chemical attacks in Ghouta, saying that the Syrian government had proof of their responsibility but without giving details. "The rockets were fired from their positions and fell on civilians. They are responsible," he said. With the pressure increasing, Syria's state media accused rebels in the contested district of Jobar near Damascus of using chemical weapons against government troops Saturday. State TV broadcast images of plastic jugs, gas masks, vials of an unspecified medication, explosives and other items that it said were seized from rebel hideouts Saturday. One barrel had "made in Saudi Arabia" stamped on it. The TV report also showed medicines said to be produced by a Qatari-German medical supplies company. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are strong supporters of the Syrian rebels. The report could not be immediately verified. An army statement issued late Saturday said the discovery of the weapons "is clear evidence that these gangs are using chemical weapons against our people and soldiers with help from foreign sides." The claims could muddy the debate about who was responsible for Wednesday's alleged gas attack, which spurred demands for an independent investigation and renewed talk of potential international military action if chemical weapons were used. Just hours before the state media reports, the U.N. disarmament chief arrived in Damascus to press Assad's regime to allow U.N. experts to investigate the alleged Wednesday attack. The regime has denied allegations it was responsible, calling them "absolutely baseless" and suggesting they are an attempt to discredit the government. The U.S., Britain, France and Russia have urged the Assad regime and the rebels fighting to overthrow him to cooperate with the United Nations and allow a team of experts already in Syria to look into the latest purported use of chemical agents. The U.N. secretary-general dispatched Angela Kane, the high representative for disarmament affairs, to push for a speedy investigation into Wednesday's purported attack. She did not speak to reporters upon her arrival in Damascus Saturday. The state news agency said several government troops who took part in the Jobar offensive experienced severe trouble breathing or even "suffocation" after "armed terrorist groups used chemical weapons." It was not clear what was meant by "suffocation," and the report mentioned no fatalities among the troops. "The Syrian Army achieved major progress in the past days and for that reason, the terrorist groups used chemical weapons as their last card," state TV said. The government refers to rebels fighting to topple Assad as "terrorists." State TV also broadcast images of a Syrian army officer, wearing a surgical mask, telling reporters wearing similar masks that soldiers were subjected to poisonous attack in Jobar. He spoke inside the depot where the alleged confiscated products were placed. "Our troops did not suffer body wounds," the officer said. "I believe terrorist groups used special substances that are poisonous in an attempt to affect this advance." Al-Mayadeen aired interviews with two soldiers hospitalized for possible chemical weapons attack. The two appeared unharmed but were undergoing tests. "We were advancing and heard an explosion that was not very strong," a soldier said from his bed. "Then there was a strange smell, my eyes and head ached and I struggled to breathe." The other soldier also said he experienced trouble breathing after the explosion. Al-Mayadeen TV, which has a reporter embedded with the troops in the area, said some 50 soldiers were rushed to Damascus hospitals for treatment and that it was not yet known what type of gas the troops were subjected too. In Turkey, top Syrian rebel commander Salim Idris told reporters that opposition forces did not use chemical weapons on Saturday and that "the regime is lying." For days, the government has been trying to counter rebel allegations that the regime used chemical weapons on civilians in rebel-held areas of eastern Damascus, arguing that opposition fighters themselves were responsible for that attack. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius dismissed the Syrian government's claims. "All the information we have is converging to indicate there was a chemical massacre in Syria, near Damascus, and that Bashar Assad's regime was behind it," Fabius told reporters during a visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah. He did not elaborate. France has suggested that force could be used against Syria if Assad's regime was proven to have used chemical arms. The new talk of potential military action in in the country has made an independent investigation by U.N. inspectors critical to determine what exactly transpired. The U.N. experts already in Syria are tasked with investigating three earlier purported chemical attacks in the country: one in the village of Khan al-Assal outside the northern city of Aleppo in March, as well as two other locations that have been kept secret for security reasons. It took months of negotiations between the U.N. and Damascus before an agreement was struck to allow the 20-member team into Syria to investigate. Its mandate is limited to those three sites, however, and it is only charged with determining whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. Leaders of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group on Saturday vowed retaliation for the alleged chemical weapons attack. From Istanbul, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Al-Jarba, also criticized the lack of response to the attack by the United Nations and the international community, saying the UN was discrediting itself. "It does not reach the ethical and legal response that Syrians expect," he said. "As a matter of fact we can describe it as a shame."

US weighs military options for Syria

The Pentagon is moving forces into position in the event that President Barack Obama opts for military action against Syria, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel suggested Friday. Amid calls for military intervention after the Syrian regime allegedly carried out a chemical weapon attack this week, US commanders have prepared a range of "options" for Obama if he chooses to launch an attack on the Damascus regime, Hagel told reporters aboard his plane en route to Malaysia. US readies possible missile attack on Syrian government forces Despite President Obama cautioning against intervention in Syria, the Pentagon is making "initial preparations" for a cruise missile strike on Syrian government forces, according to a new report. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is expected to present options for such a strike at a White House meeting on Saturday, CBS News reported on Friday. President Barack Obama is under renewed pressure to take action following the emergence of footage of what appears to be the aftermath of a toxic agent attack in a Damascus suburb on Wednesday. The forces of President Bashar Assad were assaulting a rebel stronghold in the district at the time, but deny responsibility. Moscow, which has maintained close ties with the regime, called the incident a rebel "provocation" possibly designed to derail upcoming Geneva peace talks. Questioned on the continuing upheaval in Syria and Egypt during a CNN interview Friday, President Obama said the United States should be wary of "being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region." Obama went on to express reservations for becoming involved in the 30-month Syrian conflict due to a lack of international consensus. "If the US goes in and attacks another country without a UN mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, [and] do we have the coalition to make it work?" said Obama. Despite his cautious tone, Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice said via Twitter, "What is Bashar al Assad hiding? The world is demanding an independent investigation of Wednesday’s apparent CW attack. Immediately." Adding to the rhetoric in Washington, Sen. John McCain said that if the administration was to "let this go on," it was "writing a blank check to other brutal dictators around the world if they want to use chemical weapons." Obama insisted to CNN that while the United States remains "the one indispensable nation' in international diplomacy, he suggested that perhaps this was one conflict where the world should not look to Washington for a definitive answer. "The notion that the US can somehow solve what is a sectarian complex problem inside of Syria sometimes is overstated," said the president. The White House later released a statement confirming Obama’s words, and emphasizing that the US has no plans to put "boots on the ground.'The US Navy will expand its presence in the Mediterranean with a fourth cruise-missile armed warship because of the escalating civil war in Syria, a defense official said on Friday. The USS Mahan had finished its deployment and was due to head back to its home base in Norfolk, Virginia, but the commander of the U. Sixth Fleet has decided to keep the ship in the region, the defense official said. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, stressed that the Navy had received no orders to prepare for any military operations regarding Syria. US officials are considering a range of options for responding to reports that Syria has used chemical weapons against civilians, including possible cruise missile attacks from the sea, a senior defense official told Reuters earlier. President Barack Obama and his advisers are still studying how to respond to an apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria, but the White House reiterated the president's position on Friday that he did not expect to send troops to the country. Obama has said several times he did not expect to have "boots on the ground" in Syria. White House spokesman Josh Earnest repeated that comment to reporters traveling with Obama on a bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania. Washington's assistance to Syrian opposition fighters was on an "upward trajectory" that was expanding in scope and scale, Earnest added.Materials implicating the forces of Syrian president Bashar Assad in chemical weapons use near Damascus were prepared prior to the alleged incident on August 21, the Russian foreign ministry said. Moscow continues to monitor closely the event surrounding the“alleged” chemical attack near Damascus, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, said in a statement. “We’re getting more new evidence that this criminal act was of a provocative nature,” he stressed. “In particular, there are reports circulating on the Internet, in particular that the materials of the incident and accusations against government troops had been posted for several hours before the so-called attack. Thus, it was a pre-planned action.” The Damascus chemical attack accusations indicate the launch of “another anti-Syrian propaganda wave” and, in this context, the calls on the UN Security Council to immediately use force in Syria “heard from some EU capitals” are “unacceptable”, Lukashevich said. The Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Assad’s government has demonstrated a “constructive approach” to the chemical weapons issue by allowing UN experts into the country. But it’s alarming that the “same signals” aren’t coming from the Syrian opposition, which so far hasn’t displayed willingness to ensure the safety and efficient operations of UN investigators on the territory it controls, he said. “This directly impedes the objective investigation of allegations of possible cases of chemical weapons use in Syria, which is called for by a number of countries and which the Russian side supports,” Lukashevich noted. The Russian foreign ministry “strongly appeals to those who should put pressure on the opposition, making it take the necessary steps in order to ensure the full realization of the objectives of the international expert mission,” the spokesman said. The reports of a chemical weapons use in the suburbs of the Ghouta region on the outskirts Damascus appeared in the pro-opposition media on Wednesday, August 21, coinciding with the arrival of the UN investigators to the Syrian capital. The Islamist rebels claimed that over a 1,000 people, including many children, were killed in the attack, with the government saying that the accusations were fabricated in order to cover up the opposition’s battle losses and undermine the work of the UN mission.
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Martin Luther King -'' I Have A Dream Speech'' - August 28, 1963

March to mark 50 years since 'I have a dream' speech About 100,000 people expected to line the Mall Martin Luther King's 1963 speech preceded Voting Rights Act Marchers campaign for for Trayvon Martin and voting reform

Judges and advocates accountable to people: Indian chief justice

Though people do not elect judges and advocates, the two are answerable and accountable to the public, Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam said on Tuesday. “The judiciary is enjoying enormous public confidence and trust, and hence advocates and judges must conduct themselves in a befitting manner,” he said. Inaugurating the Alternative Disputes Redressal (ADR) Centre, in the presence of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, Justice Sathasivam further said the judiciary must ensure easy access to justice and guarantee early finality of disputes to the litigant-public. After assuming office about six weeks ago, he had sent three letters to the chief justice of various high courts, he said, adding that preference in judicial appointments would be given to women candidates and those from backward, SC and ST communities, besides minorities. “How relaxation in criteria should be fixed too has been indicated to them,” Justice Sathasivam said. He said the views of the state government and the central government with regard to the candidates suggested for being appointed as judges would be given due consideration. Noting that the Supreme Court of Indian had introduced a system wherein the listing of cases and the bench before which they were listed would be conveyed to advocates and litigants through text messages and email, he said the service would shortly be extended to daily orders as well. Jayalalithaa made an announcement of sorts when she said acting Chief Justice RK Agrawal would soon be a chief justice and Justice R Banumathi would soon be chief justice of Jharkhand High Court. She said resolution of disputes through negotiation, mediation and conciliation, especially in matrimonial and family disputes, would be a social therapy too, she said. Jayalalithaa said the idea of conflict resolution outside the court apparatus was not new to India, where from time immemorial a panchayat system was performing the job. The chief minister also recalled her government's initiatives for the welfare of women and children, and said it was an area close to her heart. While Justice FM Ibrahim Kalifulla said resolving a dispute amicably and by mutual consent would leave the litigant happy, acting Chief Justice Agrawal ADR was the most beneficial to the litigant public. - See more at:

President Obama's Weekly Address: Making Higher Education More Affordable

President Karzai's Press Conference -- August 24, 2013

Pakistani Movie MAIN HOON SHAHID AFRIDI - Songs

India is now world’s third largest Internet user after U.S., China
Three-fourths of its online population is under 35, says comScore report
India has bypassed Japan to become the world’s third largest Internet user after China and the United States, and its users are significantly younger than those of other emerging economies, global digital measurement and analytics firm comScore has said in a report. India now has nearly 74 million Internet users, a 31 per cent increase over March 2012, the report says. The numbers are lower than other recent estimates, possibly reflecting comScore’s methodology that only factors in PC and laptop-based Internet usage. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) pegged the number of Internet subscribers in India at 164.81 million as of March 31, 2013, with seven out of eight accessing the Internet from their mobile phones. The comScore report, on the other hand, puts mobile and tabled-based Internet traffic at just 14% of the total. “Mobile phone based Internet usage is a key component of Indian Internet usage, and I’d say the recent growth is being driven by mobile Internet usage,” Nilotpal Chakravarti, spokesperson of the Internet and Mobile Association of India told The Hindu on Thursday. In addition, many Netizens were using dongles to access the Internet. Three-fourths of India’s online population is under 35 as against just over half worldwide, the comScore report, India Digital Future in Focus 2013, says, possibly reflecting India’s more recent improvements in literacy. Men under 35 and women between 35 and 44 are heavier users. But women account for less than 40 per cent of all Indian users, a far lower sex ratio than that of other countries. A quarter of time spent online is on social media, the comScore report says, and another 23 per cent on email. While Google sites have the most unique visitors, Net users spend the most time on Facebook, which is at second place as far as unique visitors are concerned. Yahoo, Microsoft and Wikimedia sites follow in unique visitor numbers. Among social media sites, Linkedin and Twitter are the next most popular, while Orkut is in decline. Google is by far the most popular search engine, accounting for 90 per cent of all searches in India. Online retail is on the rise, with domestic retail sites being the most popular, the report notes. For online travel websites too, domestic websites are the most popular, the Indian Railways’ website being by far the most popular destination. Yahoo is also the most popular site for news. The locus of online dominance has moved steadily towards Asia, which now accounts for 41% of all Internet users; from having 66% of all users in 1996, the United States now accounts for just 13%. China has the world’s biggest online presence; Its Internet users outnumber Indians by a ratio of 5: 1. Brazil’s Internet presence grew faster than India’s over the last year.

INDIA: Mumbai photojournalist gang-rape: third suspect held, hunt intensifies for two others

Two more persons accused in the Thursday’s gang-rape of a Mumbai photojournalist were arrested on Saturday, while the police intensified the hunt for the two other accused on the run. While Vijay Jadhav was picked up from Madanpura area early Saturday morning, Siraj Rehman was arrested in the evening from south Mumbai. During questioning, Jadhav has confessed to the crime and was providing the police information about the other accused, said commissioner of police Satyapal Singh."The probe is heading in the right direction and the other accused will be arrested soon," Singh said. The police have all the evidence against the accused and a comprehensive charge sheet will be filed against them, he said. The Crime Branch will now investigate the case. Meanwhile, Chand Babu Sattar Shaikh alias Mohammed Abdul was produced before a court in Dadar amid a demonstration by a large number of BJP and Shiv Sena activists. Shaikh, who stood near the witness box, showed no remorse and was seen yawning during the proceedings. The court accepted the prosecutor’s plea seeking Shaikh’s custody for tracing the other accused. He and Jadhav were remanded in police custody till August 30. The five men gangraped the photojournalist on Thursday evening, when she and her male colleague had gone to the deserted Shakti Mills compound in Lower Parel on an assignment. The incident brought back shocking memories of the December gang-rape of a paramedic in Delhi which had sparked a nation-wide outrage. The victim’s condition was improving at Jaslok Hospital, where she is undergoing treatment, Singh said."The patient's condition is much better today. However, we are monitoring her health from all aspects of care," said a statement issued by Dr Tarang Gianchandani, director medical services at Jaslok Hospital. Asked about Shaikh’s kin’s claim that he was a juvenile, the commissioner said, “We will tell you about the profile, age and other related things once the other accused have been arrested.” More than 20 teams, including 10 from the elite Crime Branch, have been pressed into service to track down the culprits.

Afghanistan's Karzai says no rush to sign U.S. security pact

Afghanistan is in no rush to sign a pact with the United States setting out how many U.S. troops will stay after a NATO mission ends next year and may even delay a decision until after a presidential election, President Hamid Karzai said. Foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when the NATO-led mission winds up and the responsibility for fighting Taliban insurgents is handed over to Afghan forces. But NATO plans to keep a slimmed-down training and advisory mission in Afghanistan after 2014 although the United States and other NATO allies have been slow to provide detailed numbers of troops for the force. The United States has been putting pressure on Afghanistan to finalize a bilateral security agreement (BSA), which will mandate how many, and where, U.S. soldiers will remain once the NATO mission ends. U.S. diplomats have said they want the security pact signed by October, to prevent it becoming an issue in the campaign for next year's Afghan presidential election. "Although the Americans asked for October, we are not in a hurry and if the document is agreed upon during this government, good," Karzai told reporters at his Kabul palace on Saturday. "And if not, the next president can discuss whether to or not to accept it." The collapse of a similar pact between the United States and Iraq in 2011 - sparked partly by Iraq's refusal to provide immunity to U.S. soldiers serving there - led to the United States pulling its troops out of Iraq. In a recent interview with Reuters, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, said he had talked "at every level from district and province to members of parliament ... to President Karzai" and he was adamant the pact would be signed. NATO's former top military commander, James Stavridis, recently said he thought about 15,000 foreign troops should be kept in Afghanistan, made up of about 9,000 U.S. troops and about 6,000 from other countries. But U.S. officials support a smaller force of 8,000 to 12,000. Last month, a senior U.S. defense official said the United States could pull out all forces, the so-called zero option, in the event of a failure to reach a deal with Kabul on legal guarantees for troops. Talks on the agreement were suspended in June after the opening of a Taliban office in Doha, which enraged Karzai when the Taliban displayed their banner and flag, a reminder of their repressive rule over Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

'Main Houn Shahid Afridi' hits cinemas despite cricketer's objections

Pakistani film about a boy emulating the fairytale career of cricket star Shahid Afridi hit cinemas Friday despite objections from the player over "obscene" scenes he fears could damage his image. The $1 million Pakistan-made movie "Main Houn Shahid Afridi" ("I am Shahid Afridi") tells the story of a young man who dreams of becoming as great a player as Afridi, and the trials he faces as he tries to follow in his hero's footsteps. The big-hitting all-rounder had given his blessing to the producers, but last week reacted angrily to an "obscene" scene shown in trailers for the film in which the hero hugs and kisses a girl in a nightclub. He also raised objections to an "item song", a musical performance featuring Pakistani actress Mathira Khan. Dance numbers such as this with scantily clad women are often used in Indian cinema and have little to do with the story. "I had given permission for the film with an aim to give kids some positive healthy entertainment, to divert their minds towards cricket and it should not have obscene things," said Afridi, 33. But the filmmakers went ahead with the release without removing the scenes. "The item song was the demand and if Afridi had any objections, it's his mindset," Mathira told reporters at a private premier of the film Wednesday night. Cinema-goers had mixed reaction to the movie. "I don't see any obscenity in the film," said 27-year-old shopkeeper Liaqat Khan. "If we can watch Indian movies in our cinemas which are full of objectionable scenes, why can't we watch this film." But middle-aged housewife Samina Ali said she was embarrassed after waching the movie. "I came here on the insistence of my kids who are die-hard fans of Afridi, but this film cannot be watched with kids," she said. Afridi, who hails from Pakistan's deeply conservative tribal district of Khyber on the Afghan border, has so far played 27 Tests, 354 one-days and 59 Twenty20 matches for Pakistan. He became an instant hero when he hit a 37-ball century in only his second one-day against Sri Lanka in 1996 -- still a world record. Afridi also holds the record for hitting the most sixes in one-day international cricket, with 308 in 354 matches. Pakistan's film industry has been on the skids for years, unable to compete with India's Bollywood. But filmmakers are hoping the phenomenal popularity of one of the country's best-loved cricketers will translate into takings at the box office.

Pakistan: By-polls results

The by-elections held on Thursday, which media hype had billed as a ‘mini-general election’, produced some upsets amidst a low turnout in comparison with the general elections of May 11. The low turnout comes as no surprise since this is the normal pattern for by-elections. In Lahore for example, the turnout was 40 percent as compared with 60 percent in the general elections. The day started desultorily for vote casting almost all over the country and did not pick up until the late afternoon. One unfortunate aspect of our political culture, barring women from voting at the behest of backward political parties and hidebound reactionary forces in society, was once again in evidence in Lakki Marwat, Nowshera and Mardan. The Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court took suo motu notice of reports to this effect and ordered the results of NA-5 Nowshera and NA-27 Lakki Marwat withheld until women voters were allowed their right in these two constituencies. Repolling should be held in all those polling stations where women’s votes cast were thin, the Chief Justice ordered, and asked the provincial government to move against people who took the decision of barring women from voting. In these by-polls, 41 constituencies for the NA and provincial Assemblies were at stake. Some of these seats had been surrendered by the winning candidates because they had won more than one seat and after the general elections had to choose which seat to retain. Of the 15 NA seats in the contest, the PML-N won five, PPP three, PTI two, and the ANP, PkMAP and MQM one each. Two results were withheld, as noted above, because of the bar on women’s voting in these constituencies. Amongst the biggest upsets was Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour winning back by a big margin NA-1 Peshawar, his traditional seat, which he had lost to Imran Khan in the general elections amidst a wipe out of the ANP, but which the PTI’s Gul Badshah Khan could not hold on to. The PTI suffered a second setback in Mianwali, considered Imran Khan’s hometown, another seat he had vacated after the general elections. These two setbacks point to the problem of charisma versus ‘electable’ candidates. The PML-N, in line with its profile, maintained its hold on Punjab, winning five NA seats in Lahore, Mianwali, Hafizabad, Faisalabad, Sargodha, and most of the provincial seats in the province being contested. However, it too suffered setbacks on two prized provincial seats in D G Khan and Rajanpur, vacated by Shahbaz Sharif and Zulfikar Khosa respectively, losing them to the PTI. The PPP’s poor performance in Punjab in the general elections was reversed to some extent by a win on a key NA seat in Muzaffargarh, where Noor Rabbani Khar defeated Javed Dasti, MNA Jamshed Dasti’s brother. Another heartening result for the PPP was the win on a provincial seat by Jahangir Wattoo, son of PPP Punjab president Manzoor Wattoo, in the family’s traditional stronghold of Okara, a constituency won by the PML-N in the general elections. The PPP also managed two NA seats in its stronghold Sindh. MQM retained its hold on Karachi and urban Mirpurkhas. The PkMAP did not seem to have too much trouble holding on to the NA seat in Balochistan vacated by its leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai. A feather in the PTI’s cap is the win in NA-48 Islamabad, a seat vacated by Javed Hashmi and on which new entrant into politics Asad Umar romped home. Is there a discernible pattern in the results of the by-polls? Does it reflect any trends emerging in politics since the May 11 general elections? What, if any, conclusions can be drawn from the hurly burly of the by-elections? Although it is always dangerous to extrapolate the partial trends of by-elections onto the general electoral picture and try to extract likely trends from their results, nevertheless what can tentatively be said is that traditional strongholds were either held on to, or where they had been ‘disturbed’ in the general elections, seem to have reverted to the ‘devil they know’. The PPP and ANP, after their rough ride in the general elections, can find solace and lick their wounds as a result of their relatively better showing in the by-polls. However, there appears to be little room for complacency on this score. These previous incumbent parties received a royal drubbing in the general elections. Having shed the burden of incumbency (perforce), they may make gains at the expense of the new incumbents, given the grave situation of the country, but this should be regarded as the normal ebb and flow of politics and should certainly not lull anyone to sleep. Much introspection and correction still awaits. So far, at least, the by-polls results notwithstanding, these seem conspicuous by their absence.

Police uproot PTI protest camp in Lahore

Police on Saturday arrested several Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) protesters, uprooting their camp which they setup to protest the alleged rigging in the by-polls. The police crackdown drew strong criticism from the PTI chairman Imran Khan and other senior leaders. Opposition Leadre in the Punjab Assembly Mehmoodur Rasheed and female workers were also held in the crackdown. DCO Naseem Sadiq said that protest could not be held at the Mall Road due to imposition of Section 144. PTI leader and MNA Shafqat Mehmood said that party's Punjab President Ejaz Chaudhry, Information Secretary Andleeb Abbas and several other workers and leaders were arresed. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has taken notice of the police action and directed them to immediately release the PTI workers and leaders.

HRW urges Pakistan govt to address 'serious human rights abuses'

Pakistan’s new government should urgently address serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today in a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif outlining “10 Steps to Improve Human Rights.” The abuses include attacks on religious minorities, disappearances in Balochistan, and impunity for abusive militant groups. In May 2013, Pakistanis went to the polls, effecting an historic transition of power from one democratically elected government to another. Prime Minister Sharif has an important opportunity to create a rights-respecting government that abides by the rule of law and restores the public’s faith in democratic institutions, HRW said. “Pakistan has made impressive gains in very challenging circumstances since democracy was restored in 2008,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at HRW. “But unless the government calls a halt to serious human rights abuses, these gains may slip away.” Since 2012, well over 650 Shia Muslims have been killed in targeted attacks across Pakistan, the majority from the Hazara community in Balochistan province. Sunni militant groups, such as the ostensibly banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi, operate with widespread impunity across Pakistan. The government should apprehend and prosecute those responsible for attacks on the Shia and other groups at risk, HRW said. “Militant attacks on the Shia have occurred with increasing ferocity while the security forces have looked on helplessly,” Hasan said. “Whether the failure to hold and deter attackers is a function of incompetence or complicity by elements of the security forces, the government has a responsibility to reverse this state of affairs.” Human Rights Watch has recorded repeated enforced disappearances and killings of suspected Baloch militants and opposition activists by the military, intelligence agencies, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps. Baloch nationalists and other militant groups also stepped up attacks on non-Baloch civilians in 2012 and 2013. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should take all necessary measures to end enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detentions in Balochistan,” Hasan said. “But for that to happen the government should fully investigate and prosecute as appropriate everyone, regardless of position or rank, who orders or commits abuses.” Prime Minister Sharif should redouble efforts to protect religious minorities, and imposing a moratorium on the use of Section 295-C, the blasphemy law, would be a first step, HRW said. The government should also enact legislation against domestic violence and measures to improve investigation and prosecution of “honor” killings and acid attacks, which target women. The government also needs to provide greater protection for journalists, who work in a climate of fear that impedes coverage of the state security forces and militant groups. To cement in place mechanisms to protect human rights and to make human rights a priority in government policymaking, the government should promptly constitute the National Human Rights Commission, for which legislation has already been enacted. “There are many challenges to making Pakistan a rights-respecting democracy and there are no quick fixes,” Hasan said. “But for the development of Pakistan, it is essential for the government to take concrete steps to protect fundamental civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights as part of an active human rights agenda.”