Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fast-food workers protest for higher wages in Los Angeles

By Tiffany Hsu and Alana Semuels
Fast-food protests that started in New York spread to Los Angeles and other cities across the nation Thursday as workers called for higher wages and the chance to unionize. Dozens of fast-food workers and supporters marched outside a South Los Angeles Burger King at 6 a.m., chanting their demand for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Holding signs with slogans such as “Burgers and Lies,” “Yo Quiero $15,” and “Lovin' a Living Wage,” they began moving into formation before sunrise, headlights speeding by on the 110 Freeway behind the restaurant in the Brodway-Manchester neighborhood. As the sun slowly rose and honks from passing passing cars increased, the employees and protest organizers from the Service Employees International Union, many decked out in “Fight For 15” T-shirts, snaked around the corner at Broadway and Century Boulevard. The fast-food protests began in New York last November. There have been three protests in New York since then, and they have spread to Chicago and other cities. Thursday's protest is to mark the first for fast-food workers in Los Angeles and other cities. "This is our fourth strike in New York, and now we have 50 cities striking with us," said Tyeisha Batts, 27, one of the protesters, who has worked in fast food for six years. "I'm ready for a change." The Los Angeles area has 181,595 fast-food workers, earning a median hourly wage of $9, according to protest organizers from SEIU. They say – pointing to an MIT living wage calculator – that an adult living in the area with one child needs to earn $23.53 an hour full time to afford basic necessities. One worker who planned to protest told KTLA-TV early Thursday morning that it’s unfair that some of his colleagues have been in the industry for more than 20 years “and they still earn 8 bucks an hour.” “They have a family to feed and everything….They have two, three jobs and things just shouldn’t be like that,” he said. The protests come as more workers in blue- and white-collar jobs begin to agitate for better working conditions. But the fast-food protests are unique because they are not targeting one employer or company, but a whole industry. Workers were expected to protest outside a number of fast-food outlets, including Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King and Subway. The fast-food industry used to employ mostly younger people just trying to make some extra money as they went through school. Now, workers are older and depend on the work to feed families. Analysis by the Economic Policies Institute shows that the average age of minimum-wage workers is now 35, and that 88% are 20 and older. "This morning, I'm out here taking a stand for all the fast-food workers around the world," Derrick Langley said. "If you're not going to stand up for yourselves, we will." But industry groups such as the International Franchise Assn. said protesters' goals are “unrealistic.” Individual franchisees, not the bigwigs at corporate headquarters, determine wage levels for workers, according to the group. And many such operators are contending with thin margins made worse by a lagging economy, high commodity costs and soaring energy costs, according to the group. "Mandating increased wages would lead to higher prices for consumers, lower foot traffic and sales for franchise owners, and ultimately, lost jobs and opportunities for employees to become managers or franchise owners,” Steve Caldeira, the association’s chief executive, said in a statement.

U.S: Fast-food workers continue fight against low wages: 'This is our right'

Thousands of workers to take part in a nationwide walk-out as part of a growing movement for industry workers' rights
Veronica Clark, a mother of three children and the sole breadwinner for her family in Detroit, has spent the last six years looking for a better paying job, to no avail. Every day, she puts on the shirt McDonald's provides her with and a pair of work pants of her own and goes to work serving burgers for $7.40 an hour. Clark, 47, is paid less per hour in real terms than the lowest paid US workers were half a century ago, when, on 28 August 1963, hundreds of thousands of citizens flooded into Washington for the historic march for freedom and jobs for black Americans. One of the marchers' demands was a minimum wage raise from $1.25 to $2, reflecting their belief that the wage floor did not enable hardworking men and women to live in dignity. In today's dollars, that would represent a raise from $8.37 to $13.39, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute this week, substantially less than the minimum wage of $7.25 today. Clark works between 36 and 40 hours a week to give her daughters, Crystal, 14, and Veronique, 15, and their brother, André, 16, a decent roof over their heads. But she takes home around $800-$1,000 a month, wages so low the government subsidises her earnings with food stamps. On Thursday, Clark plans to skip her shift at the burger giant for a day to take part in a nationwide protest by US fast-food workers designed to highlight wages that have fallen, in real terms, in the past five decades. Thousands of workers in 50 cities are expected to take part in the one-day demonstration, to demand $15 an hour wages and the right to unionise. It is the fourth time Clark, one of 53,000 fast-food workers in the city, has taken action to protest low wages. Unafraid of being fired for her actions, she says she is "doing what I have to do" to try to lift her and her family out of poverty. "I'm not scared," said Clark. "This is our right. We're trying to work on that too, to get unionised." The workers are supported by a broad coalition of unions, local community organisers and members of the clergy, who have successfully escorted workers threatened with the sack or other discipline for their actions, back into their jobs. The movement to raise the minimum wage has grown since 200 workers in New York staged a one-day strike last November. By July this year it had expanded, with seven other cities including Chicago, Detroit and Washington DC hosting strikes. The fast-food industry has long been the province of low wages, but unions and poverty campaigners point out that it is no longer an entry-level job for teenagers, but has disproportionately replaced many better-paying jobs lost in the recession. It is now one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the US, occupied by many family breadwinners. Women make up two-thirds of workers in the fast-food industry, and the median age of a female worker is 32, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A quarter of fast-food workers are raising children, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research Campaigners argue that, while wages remain low, profits at the big US chains, such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Domino's and Papa John's, are booming, reporting higher revenues and fatter operating margins than before the recession. McDonald's, which has 1.8 million employees, made $5.46bn in profits in 2012, while Domino's, with 34,000 employees made $112m the same year. So far, the strikes have yielded few tangible results and critics say that while unemployment stays high and jobs are in high demand, employers have no incentive to increase wages. President Barack Obama is pushing to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. The last federal raise of the minimum wage was in 2009. But even if Congress were solidly behind him, which they don't appear to be, the higher figure would still leave the US behind many other industrialised countries. The differences are stark. The US lags behind the UK, where the minimum wage is £6.11 ($9.50) Australia, where it is 15.96 Australian dollars, ($16.91), France, €9.43($12.68), and Tokyo,$9.10. And while the US's nearest neighbour, Canada, doesn't have a minimum wage, the lowest provincial wage in Alberta is $9.73 in US dollars. Although Canada is not part of the US strike for a minimum wage, it also has a fast-food campaign to raise the minimum wage to $14. Armando Zapata, 22, from Ottawa, Canada, works for Tim Horton's, a fast-food coffee and donut restaurant. It has taken him three years, he said, to find a job that pays what he needs to finally make ends meet, at $11.50 Canadian ($US 10.96) an hour. But he says it is "unimaginable" that US fast-food workers earn as little as $7.25. "Instead of always being stressed about money, I finally got to a stage that I am making ends meet," said Zapata. "I was struggling to feed myself but it's unimaginable that someone could feed a family on much less – $7.25 an hour." The restaurant where Zapata works is unionised, and as a result it pays a dollar above other non-unionised Tim Horton restaurants. It also pays health benefits. Fast-food workers in Ottawa typically earn $10.25 an hour, the minimum wage, or close to it. Such disparities raise a question: how can fast-food companies pay workers higher wages in some states, districts and countries, yet still make a profit, while arguing that paying higher wages elsewhere will hurt their profits? When the Guardian asked one outlet, McDonald's, how it could pay workers in Australia $16.91, while paying workers in Detroit $7.40, they sent a statement in reply. The story promoted by the individuals organizing these events does not provide an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald's. We respect the strong relationship which exists among McDonald's, our independent operators, and the employees who work in McDonald's restaurants. Our restaurants remain open, with our dedicated employees providing strong service to our customers. It went on to say that McDonald's pays "competitive pay and benefits to all our employees". "Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald's and went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald's." Pastor WJ Rideout the III, of All God's People church in Detroit, is part of a local coalition of campaigns for a minimum wage of $15, a group that includes the Service Employees International Union as well as D15 and Good Jobs Now. "People can't survive off $7.25 an hour," said Rideout. "A gallon of milk is almost $5 today and a loaf of bread is $4. Every thing has gone up significantly but the minimum wage has not. People are crazy to think you can live on minimum wages. Fast-food jobs are no longer starter jobs, they are mom-and-pop jobs, even senior citizens jobs. We call them survivor jobs now, because all people are doing is surviving. I see the hurt and the pain." Rideout said he expects thousands of Detroit's 53,000 fast-food workers to come out on strike on Thursday. Asked if he thought the protest would change anything, he said: "President Obama asked for $9 an hour before we did the strikes. A Democratic senator in California [Senator Barbara Boxer[ has now asked for it to be raised to $10. This is happening all across America. We are going to keep pushing until we see a change."

Syria: Are UK anti-war protests gaining momentum?

By Gerry Holt & Justin Parkinson
It is more than 10 years since the invasion of Iraq began. During the long build-up to the conflict, amid debates over weapons of mass destruction and government intelligence, public opinion was divided. Those against war made their feelings known. A mass demonstration took place in London in February 2003. Two million people marched through the streets, according to organisers. But, with the indicators growing stronger that some sort of military action is likely in Syria in the next few days, how loud is anti-war sentiment this time round? 'Sold a pup' With less than a day to go before MPs and peers were due to debate the government's proposals, a demonstration took place opposite the entrance to Downing Street. Several hundred people, ranging from teenagers to the elderly, held placards bearing slogans such as "Hands off Syria" and "Cut war, not welfare". Ann-Kristine Westwood, a grandmother from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, told the BBC: "I can't see what we've achieved in 10 years in Iraq or Afghanistan. And I'm convinced we are being sold another pup. "We can't afford schools, houses, teachers, nurses, but we buy as many bombs as we want. The people in this country can't afford another war." She added: "The mothers in Syria are going to be terrified. We are now the terrorists." As a man with a loudspeaker denounced the government, another man, in his late 20s, who declined to reveal his name, said: "We want to bring home to the politicians the fact that the vast majority of people in this country are against war. "I think this may be a way to change some politicians' minds before the vote." He added: "I've been interested in the Iraq war and the military intervention in Libya for a long time, but it's only now that it's reached this height of ridiculousness. This is the first time I've really felt compelled to come out and protest. "I'm absolutely astonished how quickly this has happened and how much the government has rushed into this." More marches But most of the protesters were what might be called "veterans", those old enough to have been involved in the Iraq march. What of the less committed? Ian Chamberlain, a spokesman for the Stop the War Coalition (SWC), said anti-war sentiment was building. Some 5,000 people were expected to march from Embankment to Trafalgar Square via Downing Street once more this Saturday, he said. "I think we speak on behalf of a lot of people at the moment, as we did in 2003 and on Iraq, when two million went out on to the streets of London [to march] against intervention there," Mr Chamberlain said. "We've seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya how intervention by the West has not been humanitarian." But how many people does SWC speak "on behalf of"? The Sun newspaper commissioned a YouGov poll of almost 2,000 adults and found that they were opposed to the use of British missiles against military sites in Syria by two to one. YouGov's president Peter Kellner, said: "The public are very wary of any form of military engagement. They certainly don't want any British arms to go into Syria - even lightly defensive arms, let alone tanks and artillery. "But we asked specifically about this idea of missile attacks on military targets in response to chemical warfare and by two to one the poll found people don't want that." Mr Kellner added: "If one goes back 10 years ago to a similar situation to what we have now - the build-up to a special debate in Parliament about Britain going to war in Iraq - the week before the parliamentary vote only one third of the public wanted Britain to go to war without specific authorisation from the United Nations. "But on the day of the parliamentary votes, when there hadn't been authorisation, it went from 33% to 50% and three weeks later, when Baghdad fell, it was 66% support. "So public opinion is currently against British military involvement but I'm not certain it will stay against. It will depend on what happens in the next 24, 48, 72 hours." 'Tired of war' People do not know what will happen. A "boots-on-the-ground" intervention in Syria is deemed unlikely, but perhaps targeted missile strikes could take place. Some think this will be enough to deter President Assad's government from using chemical weapons in future. Others fear the reaction could lead to a wider, ongoing, bloody conflict. The disagreements transcend political party lines. But will it be like 2003 again? Will thousands of children skip school once more in co-ordinated protests? Will the centres of cities come to a halt? After Iraq and Afghanistan, UK Independence leader Nigel Farage, has said the "great British public are tired of being at war". Can tiredness be turned into passion? Mr Chamberlain said: "By mobilising people on the streets we're going to make it very clear what public opinion is [on Syria] and put our MPs under pressure to make the right decisions." One of the protesters, Frank Friedmann, spoke of widespread anger, but added that, in the face of the government's decision, there was a "feeling of futility" about protest. He added: "But I've come down here from Leicester to play my part." The next few days will show how many people feel compelled to join him.

Putin and Merkel agree UN Council must study Syria probe

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed Thursday on the need for the UN Security Council to study a report by UN experts on the alleged chemical attack outside Damascus, the Kremlin said.
"Both sides proceed from the fact that active work will be continued within the framework of the United Nations and other formats on issues of a political and diplomatic settlement of the current situation," the Kremlin said in a statement. "In particular, it is important that the Security Council examines a report by UN inspectors about possible facts of the use of chemical weapons in Syria," it added. In Berlin, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert confirmed the telephone conversation, saying Putin and Merkel agreed that the "conflict can only be resolved politically". The German chancellor "emphasised that the inhumane poison gas attack against Syrian civilians requires an international reaction," Seibert added. The conversation comes as Russia is expected to veto any attempts to win UN Security Council backing for Western-led military action against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad over last week's attack, which activists say killed hundreds of people. The United States, Britain and France have said Assad's regime was to blame for the alleged chemical attack but Russia has suggested it was the rebels seeking to discredit the regime. The German government spokesman said that Merkel, who will fight for a third term in September 22 elections, had told Putin that discussions at the UN Security Council should lead to a "unanimous and quick international reaction". "She is hoping for a quick conclusion to the UN inspection mission and a comprehensive report for the UN Security Council," Seibert's statement said. Speaking on Russian national television, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said it was important to "undertake all the necessary steps to prevent the possible negative development of the situation" or the use of force against Syria. "We are working towards that goal, our efforts are aimed at that," state-run ITAR-Tass new agency quoted him as saying. Read more:

Russia: West is acting in Muslim world like a ‘monkey with a grenade’

The Washington Times
Western countries are behaving in the Islamic world like a “monkey with a grenade,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted on Tuesday as the United States and its allies mull military action against Syria. “The West behaves towards the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade,” Mr. Rogozin posted to his 150,000 followers as Russia begins to evacuate its citizens from Syria, AFP reported. Envoys from the United States and its allies have told rebels fighting President Bashar Assad that Western powers might attack Syria within days, Times Live reported. Read more: Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter

Foreign Firm to Survey Afghan-Tajikistan-Turkmenistan Railway Project
The Afghan Ministry of Public Works (MoPW) on Thursday said that a foreign company would soon begin an assessment the Afghan leg of the Afghanistan-Tajikistan-Turkmenistan railway project. The MoPW refused to reveal the name of the company, which just recently won the bid to survey to project, until the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had vetted and approved the firm for contracting. The company's documents were sent to the ADP office in the Philippines this week. "The Asian Development Bank has always helped Afghanistan in carrying out several infrastructural projects," said Nurgul Mangal, the Deputy Technical Minister of the MoPW. "The Bank has committed to fund a part of the project, and the assessment of will begin soon after the firm is approved." Mr. Mangal said that his Ministry tentatively approved the foreign company to evaluate the technical and financial modalities of the Afghan section of the transnational railway construction following a competitive bidding process. The 550 KM railway line is intended to be completed in a span five years. The entire project is estimated to cost approximately $960 million, much of which will be provided by the ADB. In addition to the Afghanistan-Tajikistan-Turkmenistan railway project, recently, President Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed to establish a railway line between their two nations to better facilitate travel, trade and commerce.

Pakistan overturns sentence of doctor who helped find bin Laden

A Pakistani judicial official on Thursday overturned the 33-year jail sentence passed on Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped CIA agents hunting for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who was killed in 2011. U.S. officials have hailed Afridi as a hero for helping pinpoint bin Laden's location before the secret May 2011 raid by U.S. special forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after more than a decade of searching. Judicial official Sahibzada Mohammad Anees ordered a new trial on the grounds that another official had exceeded his authority when handing down last year's sentence. Afridi remains in custody. "The assistant political agent ... did not have the authority to award 33 years' imprisonment to Dr. Shakil Afridi," said the written judgment. "The assistant political agent played the role of a magistrate for which he was not authorized." A political agent and his assistant are representatives of the Pakistani government in the tribal areas, which are not covered by the country's judicial system. Afridi's sentence further damaged ties between Pakistan and the United States when they had already strained over the bin Laden raid. Angry U.S. senators symbolically withheld $33 million in aid from Pakistan in retaliation. Relations since then have slowly improved but there remains plenty of residual distrust on both sides. Lawyer Samiullah Afridi said Afridi plans to submit an application for an early hearing. Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign, in which he collected DNA samples, that is believed to have helped the American intelligence agency track down bin Laden. Pakistani officials initially said Afridi would be tried for treason for helping the United States, but court documents showed he was jailed for being a member of a militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam. Afridi denied the charges and a spokesman for the group said they had no ties with him. "Shakil was himself kidnapped by militants," Afridi's lawyer told Reuters. "He had to pay a lot of money for his release. There is no question that a person like him would treat militants or give them funds." Afridi's new trial will be conducted under the auspices of the political agent of Khyber Agency, Anees said in his statement. Anees is a commissioner with responsibility for law in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Russia, Pakistan Hold 'Strategic Dialogue'
Officials from Russia and Pakistan are wrapping up a two-day "strategic dialogue" in Moscow on August 29. Media reports from Pakistan say Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani is leading his country's delegation in the talks, with topics ranging from economic, political, and defense cooperation to regional and international security issues. Commentators say the talks mark a high point in bilateral ties after years of frosty relations. Russia has been supportive of Pakistan becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and helped Pakistan obtain observer status in the organization. For its part, Islamabad backed Russia's bid to gain observer status in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Defense ties between the two nations are also closer. Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani visited Moscow last year and the Russian Air Force chief visited Pakistan earlier this month.

PPP supports targeted operation in Karachi

The Express Tribune
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) supported calls for a targeted operation in Karachi on Thursday, Express News reported. PPP leader Naveed Qamar was representing his party during the National Assembly today, where he said that an operation should be conducted without any discrimination. He further said that a targeted operation is the only solution to the prevailing violence in the city and the judiciary should also support this suggestion. Earlier today, the federal interior minister proposed a targeted operation to counter the ongoing violence and killings in Karachi. Background Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of the deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi on Wednesday. The notice came after MQM demanded that the army be deployed in Karachi. MQM chief Altaf Hussain had demanded army deployment to protect the life and property of the Kutchi community in Lyari. He had clarified that the Constitution allows them to make such a demand. Nawaz decided that a special cabinet meeting will be held on September 2 or 3 in Karachi to discuss the situation in the city and determine what parties are in favour of this demand. Earlier, major political parties in Sindh rejected MQM’s demand to deploy army in Karachi to maintain law and order. Imtiaz Shaikh of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) had said that his party would not extend any support if the forces are moved in Karachi for law and order. “Police officials should be appointed on merit and given full authority, otherwise no change will take place,” he said. “It should be examined as to why the situation in Karachi reached a point where the MQM had to make this demand”, said PTI Deputy Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi. However, he did not subscribe to the demand. Jamaat-e-Islami Karachi chief Mohammad Hussain Mehnati had said that calling the soldiers was not a solution to every problem. The provincial government should end its reconciliation policy and take action against the criminals, he said.

Pakistan: Altaf Hussain’s incredible demand

MQM and its self-exiled leader Altaf Hussain have invited the wrath of most political parties for demanding Karachi be handed over to the army to deal with the deteriorating law and order situation of the city. Ostensibly, the demand, which was voiced by Dr Farooq Sattar in the National Assembly, has been triggered by continuing target killings and clashes between, it is assumed, the returning Kachhi community IDPs who have recently returned to their homes in Lyari and elements of the now banned People’s Amn (Peace) Committee. Although Dr Sattar based his demand on the provisions of Article 245 of the constitution, which envisages calling the army in aid of civil power (by the government of the day), his startling statement has evoked bitter resentment and criticism by the PPP and PML-N, muted criticism and the question being raised of how the situation has come to this pass by the PTI, condemnation by the Jamaat-i-Islami and most sensible people in the entire country. Surprisingly, the ANP, which was approached by the MQM to persuade the ruling party in Sindh, the PPP, supported the demand, at least if its Sindh leadership’s response is to be taken as the party’s policy. Interestingly, the MQM wants an ‘indiscriminate’ operation against criminal and other elements disturbing the peace of the city. Interesting because the MQM stands charged with being the originator of what has now become commonplace in Karachi: political parties all have armed wings, some of those parties (including the MQM) are accused of being behind extortion activities, criminal gangs have for some time been emulating extortion, leading to turf wars, and the general disturbed conditions in the city have encouraged mugging and kidnapping on an unprecedented scale. Dead bodies strew the streets of Karachi on a daily basis and hardly a day goes by without the news of fresh bloodshed. While it may be conceded for the sake of argument that it is these conditions that have resurrected the time-worn formula of relying on the army as the ultimate solution for all problems, wisdom gleaned from the track record and history would seem to suggest that this is nothing if not illusion. It is doubly surprising that a party (MQM) that never tires of reminding us of its ‘victimisation’ during the 1992 army operation in Karachi (Altaf Hussain having fled into exile in anticipation six months earlier) should now contemplate going back to inviting the army in for an ‘indiscriminate’ operation (that could, if allowed, envelope the MQM in its fold too). The ‘desperation’ inherent in the MQM’s call deserves thought. It is ironic that the MQM should only have woken up to the horrible conditions in Karachi after it is no longer in the government. For the past five years, it was a coalition partner of the PPP in the Sindh government. Did that period see an improvement or deterioration in the law and order situation in the city? First and foremost, the MQM should carry out some self-accountability and explain to the suffering people of Karachi what, if anything, it did to improve law and order while in power. The fact of the matter is that the previous government’s tenure saw Karachi slide further and further into chaos, with the police and Rangers unable to make a dent (despite their spirited defence now by Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon). The police and Rangers, whatever their limitations and weaknesses (and they are legion), are also hampered by the fact that political patronage of criminal law breakers sees arrested miscreants released through political intervention from on high. As if this was not bad enough, the myriad law breakers arrested by the law enforcers usually get bail or even acquittal from the courts because of the flawed prosecution and judicial system. Unless law enforcement is freed of political interference and the judicial system is vamped up to be able to put law breakers away irrespective of their clout, etc, there can be little hope of improvement. In the absence of the political parties refraining from going down the path of armed wings and turf wars and the law enforcement system seemingly ineffective, demands such as the MQM’s may arise from time to time (the ‘strong hand is needed’ syndrome). Those making such demands have obviously forgotten how army intervention on a limited scale has often led to wider, unforeseen outcomes that the country hardly wants or needs to revisit. Democracy may have its flaws, and ours is still embryonic, but military interventions, invited or uninvited, are surely things we can do without.

Pakistan: FATA province the only way

The lawyers from tribal areas have demanded amendment in the Frontier Crimes Regulation (The law in itself is a crime against humanity) be amended. These lawyers have also demanded the extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to FATA. However, the requirements to bring the people of tribal areas at par with the rest of the nation are much greater; Nothing less than FATA becoming a province with its own elected assembly, political administration and other trappings will bring peace and prosperity to the area and enforce a will among the tribes to fight terrorism. The absence of a province of their own, and the presence of the cruel FCR law has held in abeyance the progress of the tribes. The shameful law contains sections which allow the political administration to demolish the house of a tribesman in his absence without informing him of his crime or giving him a chance to defend himself, legally. To give another example: A political agent (PA), who also has the powers of a session judge and deputy commissioner, can send a tribesman to the gallows on the basis of a report prepared by his staff and signed by the tribal elders whose positions and means of living depend on the goodwill of that very PA. Again, the condemned individual has no right to defend himself as he would in any court anywhere in the civilized world: The accused tribesman does not have the right to appeal; to be represented by a lawyer, or to submit evidence in the PA's court. As such, for all practical purposes, the PA is the chief executive, the head investigator, leading prosecutor and the top judge in the political agency of his posting: there is no escape for a tribesman from PA's clutches. As to the demand for extending the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to FATA; without the structure of lower judiciary, the arrangement will not be effective. Right now the people of FATA, who are as much citizens of Pakistan as anybody else and as much loyal to the country if not more, are being treated as pariah. For the corrupt bureaucracy in Islamabad, the secretariat for the tribal areas in Peshawar and the as much corrupt local politicians, FATA is the most milk-yielding cow: they would not want to change the arrangement. If only the funds embezzled during the last fifteen years are recovered from the corrupt officials and politicians, these would be enough to bring a major improvement in the infrastructure of the area. The tribal area with a population of 12 million, as it stands today, has no major modern institutions. There is not even one university in FATA. However, the woes of tribes are not just because of the barbaric legal system or the lack of infrastructure, it is also the absence of a modern and democratic political system impeding their freedom from the yoke of backwardness. The tribes need not just modern courts, police, hospitals and schools; they also require full fledged political institutions: they need a local government system topped by a representative provincial government. It is not understandable that such an area as Gilgit-Baltistan, which is not recognised either nationally or internationally as part of Pakistan, can be allowed to have an elected assembly, a chief minister and all the administrative paraphernalia of a province, but the same cannot be given to FATA which is a recognised part of the country. The tribal areas have great potential to develop quickly educationally, culturally, economically and politically if made a province. It has seven agencies as natural geographical units and each agency if declared a district with further subdivisions, which already exists but are held together by a draconian instead of democratic system, can be joined into a province. Just establishing the necessary offices in the headquarters of these districts for the new democratic setup will generate enough development, jobs and hopes to put the tribal people in a positive frame of mind. The excitement of having a province of their own with a representative provincial assembly which can pass laws for the area and having their own civil administration will invigorate the tribal people to make big strides towards progress on all fronts. Right now, whatever resistance there is in Fata against the introduction of modern laws and institutions is because of the sense that these are imposed from the outside. With their elected representative making the very laws, promoting similar uplift projects and setting new institutions, such biases will vanish. There will be a healthy competition for projects among the elected representatives from different districts which will further help the tribes snap out of desperation. Nawaz Sharif had raised voice for making Fata province before elections; now he is in power and is in a position to fulfil his vows. The question is will he?

Pakistan: Three Polio cases reported in DI Khan, NWA

The Frontier Post
Polio virus reported in lunda sharif village of Dera Ismail khan, a five-year old girl, Samina Bibi D/O Sana Ullah is reported to be having Polio virus, sources in District Headquarters and Teaching hospital Dera ismail khan conforms but the public health department DI khan is not verified it so far. The medics at the DHQ, DI khan suspect Samina Bibi having Polio virus, who was brought here. Hospital sources added that Samina bibi’s polio test will be sent to National Laboratory Islamabad for verification. Two polio cases surface in NWA: Two more polio cases surfaced in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) on Wednesday taking total number of affected patients to 40. According to Surgeon Dr Jan Mir Khan, polio virus was detected in two more patients belonging to different areas of NWA. After exposure of two more dengue cases total number of affected patients since Jan 01, has mounted to 40. The locals said that surge in dengue patients has created terror among the tribesmen as it has turned into an epidemic.

Pakistan: ‘Need for women politicians greater than ever’
Former National Assembly speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza on Wednesday stressed the need for creating sustained training opportunities for women parliamentarians to ensure they play a vital role in promoting a strong democratic culture in Pakistan. She was speaking at “National Networking Summit on Women’s Leadership”, arranged by the Search For Common Ground (SFCG) Pakistan and PAIMAN Alumni Trust as part of SFCG Pakistan’s “Women’s Initiatives for Learning and Leadership (WILL)” campaign under the project “Strengthening Women Parliamentarians for Effective Government”. Dr Mirza in her speech quoted Quaid-e-Azam, who said, “I have always maintained that no nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.” She said, “Enhanced professional skills of women politicians will help improve our society’s perceptions on the leadership skills of women and will also inspire young women to step forward and strengthen the democratic culture and structures for creating a peaceful Pakistan.” Referring to the cases in certain constituencies where women were barred from voting in the recently held by-elections, she said such instances indicated the challenges that women continue to face in Pakistan in their efforts for inclusion in the national political struggle for democracy. “The need for women’s participation, recognition of their efforts, and their acceptance as effective leaders has never been greater than now,” she said. She also urged the National Women’s Parliamentary Caucus to play a significant role in establishing strong and synergetic links between women parliamentarians in the National Assembly and those in the provincial assemblies. “This will help women parliamentarians achieve our common goals and objectives as a multi-partisan political force for bringing about much-needed legislative reforms and dynamism in Pakistan,” said Dr Mirza. During the summit, Health Sciences and Regulation Minister Saira Afzal Tarar and former National Assembly deputy speaker Faisal Kairm Kundi co-chaired a roundtable session entitled, “Advancing Women’s Political Leadership in Pakistan”. The session included a large number of male and female politicians belonging to major political parties from across Pakistan, as well as key members of civil society, academia, development sector and media. The discussion addressed issues pertaining to women’s political leadership such as discrepancies in the manifestos of political parties on the role of women and how civil society and media could help support women politicians bolster their leadership role in national politics. A participatory session entitled “Leading by Learning: Women Leaders Experiences from the Field” was another feature of the summit where WILL ambassadors and beneficiaries of capacity-building trainings talked about their experiences, lessons learned and accomplishments from the field. SFCG also screened a documentary featuring success stories of women politicians who had participated in the WILL programme from four provinces as well as FATA region.

Barack Obama: US ready together with Russia to persuade Syrian conflict sides to negotiate

US President Barack Obama has not yet made a decision on military action against Syria. He made this statement in an interview on PBS TV public broadcasting service on Wednesday. “I’ve not made a decision. I have gotten options from our military, had extensive discussions with my national security team,” he said. According to the US president, a possible military action could serve as a warning signal to Assad about the inadmissibility of the further use of chemical weapons. “I think it’s important that if, in fact, we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime, which is involved in a civil war, trying to protect itself, will have received a pretty strong signal, that in fact, it better not do it again,” Obama stressed. Obama acknowledged that “that doesn’t solve all the problems inside of Syria, and, you know, it doesn’t, obviously end the death of innocent civilians inside of Syria. And we hope that, in fact, ultimately, a political transition can take place inside of Syria, and we’re prepared to work with anybody - the Russians and others - to try to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict, but we want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people - against women, against infants, against children, that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency, but you’re also creating a situation where US national interests are affected, and that needs to stop.” He stressed that the United States does not want the Syrian conflict to last forever. He said the United States has come to the conclusion that the Syrian government is behind the recent chemical attack near Damascus in which civilians were killed. According o the US president, data available to the United States suggest that the opposition forces do not possess chemical weapons and their means of delivery.

Syria asks UN to immediately investigate three new ‘chemical attacks’ by rebels

The Syrian government is demanding that the United Nations immediately investigate three alleged chemical attacks carried out by rebel groups on the outskirts of Damascus last week, Syria’s envoy to the UN said. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said he had requested UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the team of experts currently in Damascus investigating an alleged use of chemical weapons last week also investigate these other attacks. The attacks took place on August 22, 24 and 25 in Jobar, Sahnaya, and al-Bahariya, Bashar Jaafari told journalists Wednesday. The “militants” used toxic chemical gas against the Syrian army, the diplomat said. "We are asking UN to incorporate 3 more locations where the Syrian soldiers inhaled the nerve gas also in the suburbs of Damascus. So the spectrum of investigation is increasing compared to the initial phase of investigation," Jaafari said. Jaafari spoke shortly after an informal meeting of the UN Security Council, where its five permanent members discussed the UK’s proposed draft resolution. The text blames Assad’s government for an alleged chemical attack on August 21, and demands a swift response. “There is no consensus in the Council on any draft of the resolution, whether it is British or French or American... because members of the Council do not believe the authenticity of the accusations provided by this delegation or that delegation,” the Syrian diplomat said. Jaafari also accused the US, UK and France of being “part of the problem,” rather than “a solution to the crisis.” These Western states are providing “armed terrorists groups” in Syria with weapons and all kinds of logistical support, he stated.Following the alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19 in Khan al-Assal near Aleppo, which killed over 30 people, the Syrian government asked the UN chief for assistance in investigating the attack and identifying who was behind it, Jaafari said. But Ban Ki-moon, “his experts in the department of disarmament, as well as the three Western delegations in the Council, objected to the second part of our request,” he said. “They objected to our request to identify who did it from day one, because they knew who did it in Khan al-Assal.” The diplomat said that, even though “everyone agreed” that the March 19 attack involved chemical weapons, the UK, the US and France did not submit any draft resolutions to the UN Security Council then. “They did not raise a finger in the media to say that what happened in Khan al-Assal was wrong,” Jaafari said. After the incident near Aleppo, the UN set up a fact-finding mission. The investigation, however, got stalled as a group of Western countries insisted on a more thorough inquiry, which would also look into alleged chemical weapons use in Homs in December 2012. The rebel groups insisted that Assad’s forces were responsible for that attack. The investigators also required access to Syrian military installations, which the UN said Damascus denied them access to. In addition, the UN excluded Russian and Chinese experts from the investigation team, and Syria protested this decision. Moscow repeatedly called on its partners not to delay the investigation and not to draw any conclusions before the findings were complete. However, some Western states – mainly the US and the UK – claimed that “limited but persuasive information” allegedly proved “with varying degrees of confidence” the Assad’s forces were behind the use of chemical weapons. “The Syrian government is against the use of chemical weapons by all means,” Jaafari said on Wednesday, adding that the government wants those behind such attacks in the country to be held accountable. “We want the investigation team currently present on Syrian soil to continue investigating this crime and to come up with a scientific report to be examined by the Security Council members,” he told journalists. The UN team is currently working at the site of the alleged August 21 attack in a suburb of Damascus. According to Ban Ki-moon, they are expected to finish their investigation in four days, then the results will be sent to the Security Council. The experts have collected samples and interviewed victims and witnesses, the Secretary General told reporters in The Hague on Wednesday. “The team needs time to do its job,” he pointed out. However, the US, the UK and France continue pushing for a response to the Syrian chemical attack. American State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Wednesday that the US will not let Syria “hide behind” the Russian veto in the UN Security Council against military intervention.