Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In many countries legal system is extremely soft on men who commit rape - expert

As a new report by the Muslim Women’s Network which suggests young girls from different ethnic backgrounds are too scared to report attacks for fear of bringing shame on their families, Rachel Jewkes, the Director of the South African Medical Research Council based in Pretoria and one of the authors of the survey that we are talking about, in an interview with the Voice of Russia commented on the survey’s results and on measures to be taken to make women feel safer and "to hold men more accountable".
Mrs. Jewkes, hello and welcome to the program! As the author of the survey, how would you assess the results? Were they in any way predictable?
I think that I some ways we could have predicted them. The research with women has shown that actually the experience of being raped by their husband or their boyfriend is much more common than we would think. The figure of 1.7-1.5 women who have ever been coerced into sex by a husband or boyfriend is something that has been described in other research. The component that comes across as being very different is the component of non-partner sexual violence. Women tend to report quite low levels of victimization of non-partner sexual violence. And the figure that we’ve been able to measure from men is very-very much higher than that. What we have shown is that the prevalence is very much higher than people would have thought.
Considering the aftermath of the horrific gang rape in India’s Delhi and, of course, relying on the survey’s findings is there a potential to offer any effective government-controlled measures to make women feel safer not only in public places, but at home as well?
I think that the key thing about making women feel safer is that actually we need a comprehensive effort to try and make sure that rape perpetration is reduced. And apprehending the men who rape and locking them up, and charging them, denying them bail, prosecuting them, giving them longer sentences is obviously part of the set of measures that are needed. And we know that in many countries the legal system is extremely soft on men who commit rape. And we know that across the world, including the US, Britain and South Africa the conviction for rape is actually very low, even amongst cases that get into court. So, there is a huge amount of effort that could be done to actually hold men accountable more. But I think there is also a big agenda of primary prevention – stopping a rape happening before it ever occurs. And there is a set of things that need to be done here. I think, first of all, we have to change the social norms that lead men to think that it is acceptable for them to take a woman for sex if they want to. We also need to change the social norms in general about the use violence, because this drives the problem of gender-based violence overall. We found that in countries that have a higher prevalence of rape and other forms of violence against women there is generally a greater acceptability for the use of violence. It is very important to work with ordinary men around how they come to see themselves as men, because in most societies being a violent man is not something which is actually regarded as being a particularly admirable thing to be. In most societies men are expected to gain respect through nonviolent means. And so, the most admired masculine positions actually are not violent. That gives us a lot of potential for working to try and get men who use violence to think about how they want to be seen as men. And we also see a sort of toppling of ideas that it is important for men to demonstrate their heterosexuality a lot by having lots of partners, as well as being tough on willing to defend their honour with force. These ideas are all linked to rape perpetration. So, it is very-very important that we try and sort of unpick that cluster of ideas and get men to see themselves as being good, respectful and admirable men based on other ideas around masculinity. Another thing I wanted to mention is childhood, because actually men who experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse in childhood are more likely to rape and be violent towards women. We need to change the way in which we raise children in order to be able to make sure that they behave more as the adults that we fit in better into our society and don’t perpetrate crimes.
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By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN: '''A Plea for Caution From Russia'''

Vladimir V. Putin,the president of Russia.
RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies. Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again. The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades. No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization. The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance. Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world. Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all. From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression. No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored. It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.” But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes. No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect. The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded. We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement. A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action. I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations. If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues. My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal. Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

UN: One-third of food worldwide gets wasted

The U.N. food agency says one-third of all food produced in the world gets wasted, amounting to a loss of $750 billion a year. The Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organization said in a report Wednesday that food in developing countries is wasted mostly due to poor harvesting techniques, while in high-income areas the primary cause of waste is careless consumer behavior. The report said food waste hurts the environment by causing unnecessary carbon emissions, extra water consumption and the reduction of biodiversity as farming takes over more land. The most serious areas of waste are of cereals in Asia and meat in wealthy regions and Latin America. FAO stressed the importance of raising awareness among consumers.

Adios, President Asif Ali Zardari

BY Dr Mohammad Taqi
The former president has conducted himself with his hallmark personal courage and the political finesse of a seasoned politician, never coming across as an accidental leader With Mr Asif Ali Zardari passing on the presidential baton to Mr Mamnoon Hussain, Pakistan completed the first full democratic transition in its history. Mr Zardari presided over the country and his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in perhaps the most turbulent times in the history of both since 1971. Seen at his martyred wife Benazir Bhutto’s side since her first term as the prime minister, Mr Zardari was never a stranger to politics or controversy but his decision to run for the president after successfully ousting the military ruler General Pervez Musharraf in 2008, still surprised many. But with remarkable political suave Mr Zardari managed to be elected the president of Pakistan — unanimously. For a party that had lost its past two governments at the hands of two presidents within a five-year span, securing the then all-powerful presidential office was an absolute imperative. Conventional Pakistani political wisdom would have been for Mr Zardari to get a personal and party confidant elected as the president and rule from behind the scenes. He could also have opted to take a twirl at the prime ministerial slot — the chief executive but defanged position at the time. But Mr Zardari decided to take the office himself. With hindsight it looks like the best political decision of his career. He not only got to cover the PPP’s flank but also set the stage for eventually divesting the authority to dissolve the National Assembly that had been the bane of Pakistan’s parliamentary democracy throughout the 1990s. Military rulers like General Pervez Musharraf had described the president’s power to send governments packing as a safety valve against an army takeover. But the notorious Article 58(2)(b) effectively was the junta’s trapdoor that democracy kept falling through. Without securing the presidential office, Mr Zardari, the PPP, its coalition partners and the whole democratic dispensation would have effectively remained hostage to yet another political turncoat or bureaucrat doing the junta’s bidding. Mr Zardari’s slick manoeuvre and then safekeeping of the power to fire governments paved the way for the major constitutional changes including the 18th amendment that in sum total have done away with the quasi-presidential system that the 1973 constitution had mutated into. Full restoration of the 1973 constitution to its original form and spirit is still incomplete and would need removal of clauses such as the abhorrent and persecutory anti-Ahmadi amendment and addressing the status of the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas. Mr Zardari could certainly have done more on this front. But perhaps that is one area where his political outlook differed from the late Benazir Bhutto’s. Before and after her ill-fated return to Pakistan in 2007, Ms Benazir Bhutto was perceived as closer to her party’s social democratic ideological origins than she had been previously. We would never know if some of her very enlightened views would have translated into action had she lived to lead the country. But Mr Zardari clearly parted with Ms Bhutto’s rediscovered idealism and anchored his stint firmly in political pragmatism. He has remained one of the most vocal opponents of extremism and jihadist militancy but was never oblivious to the realpolitik needed in the rough and tumble of the Pakistani polity. He picked his battles carefully and shied away neither from a robust charge nor tactical recoil when the situation demanded. That the former president Asif Zardari did not want a head-on confrontation with the permanent power structures became clear from his initial handling of Ms Bhutto’s heartrending murder. He insisted that his party stick to the ‘democracy is the best revenge’ slogan, given originally by Ms Bhutto herself, rather than get into an agitation mode. With one eye on the 2008 elections and the other on keeping an emotionally devastated party intact, Mr Zardari apparently chose not to seek political mileage from the gruesome assassination. He might have had at the back of his mind Ms Bhutto’s own handling of the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder and agreeing to hold her nose and work with the vestiges of the martial law regime. But there certainly are differences between the two most tragic murders. The ZAB murder case was much more transparent and there was an element of closure with General Ziaul Haq and his judicial quislings being the known perpetrators. Additionally, Ms Bhutto and Mrs Nusrat Bhutto had led a decade-long struggle against the junta. On the other hand, Ms. Bhutto’s murder case remains unresolved despite her own party remaining at the helm for five years. Little if any interest or progress was shown by the PPP under Mr Zardari to pursue Ms. Bhutto’s murder case. From declining an autopsy on day one to not formally becoming a party in the legal proceedings till after the PPP left the government, there are questions about the handling of Ms Bhutto’s murder case that could have been addressed in a timely manner. Mr Asif Zardari maintained a rather ad hoc approach to national security and foreign policies with the PPP under him practically abdicating both to the security establishment. A direct consequence of this hands-off approach was an inability to do anything about the death that rained in Balochistan and the wholesale slaughter of the Shia and other religious minorities in the past five years. Thousands of devastated families that lost their loved ones may not, however, be able to empathise with the niceties of realpolitik needed to buttress a nascent democracy. The PPP and Mr Zardari owe them an explanation, consolation, and, at the very least, a promise of doing better if given a chance again. The former president has conducted himself with his hallmark personal courage and the political finesse of a seasoned politician, never coming across as an accidental leader. He has his work cut out for him again. He doesn’t have the luxury to write a book or develop presidential libraries. His party desperately needs reorganisation and reorientation. The PPP traditionally holds its own while in opposition but now there are new competitive kids on the block. Mr Zardari and the PPP should rightly cherish their many constitutional achievements but they must reflect long and hard about their tremendous governance debacles that ultimately cost them an election. Mr Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and possibly his sister Aseefa may become the ideological face and soul of the PPP very soon but Mr Zardari remains indispensable as its political muscle and game maker in the foreseeable future. An eventual run for the prime minister might not be too farfetched.
Adios for now President Asif Ali Zardari, we’ll see you soon!

UK ‘shocking’ bedroom tax should be axed, says UN

Social housing in the UK is deteriorating and “is almost a lottery” argues UN housing expert Raquel Rolnik. Her claims that the ‘shocking’ bedroom tax affects the most vulnerable citizens drew fire from the Tories who called her report ‘a disgrace’.
The United Nations special investigator on housing has called on the British government to scrap its unpopular bedroom tax, officially known as the spare room subsidy, after hearing “shocking” accounts of how the policy is affecting some of Britain’s most vulnerable people.
The bedroom tax was introduced by the coalition government last April in a bid to save money from the £24 billion a year housing benefit bill. It charges tenants extra for under occupying homes that are supposedly too large for them. Raquel Rolnik, a former urban planning minster for Brazil, and now the UN’s rapporteur on adequate housing, said Britain’s previously good record of providing housing to poorer people in society is being eroded by successive government’s failure to provide sufficient and affordable social housing.
During her two week trip to the UK, Rolnik travelled to Belfast, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London where she visited council estates, food banks, homelessness centers and new housing association developments. She said that Britain was in the middle of a housing crisis, with middle income people also hit hard by the cost of rent and mortgages, which was an equally urgent subject for investigation.Rolnik said that although in the 1970’s social housing was readily available and easy to access; it had now become stigmatized with just 17% of the population living in it. She was also skeptical of what she called Britain’s “obsessive” approach to home ownership and the right to buy policy; where the government offers financial support for families who want to own their own home.
Rolnik singled out the bedroom tax as affecting “the most vulnerable, the most fragile, the people who are on the fringes of coping with everyday life.” “I was very shocked to hear how people really feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why – being so vulnerable – they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis. People in testimonies were crying, saying 'I have nowhere to go,' 'I will commit suicide,'" she said in an interview with the Guardian of her findings. Carol Robertson is a council tenant in Edinburgh where many older buildings owned by the council have two or more bedrooms. She has lost £13 a week because of the spare room subsidy and now has just 26 a week to live on. As the winter draws in she says she will save extra money by not turning the lights on. “It sounds preposterous, but I think people will save on the electricity and use candles. I won’t put my lights on; I will just buy candles,” she told Rolnik, The Guardian reports. Carol wanted to remain in the two-bedroom flat where she brought up her two children and so had to pay the spare room supplement designed to push people like her out of her flat, which is deemed too big for a person living on their own. When central heating was being recently installed in the council block, Carol chose not be connected. “I knew I couldn’t afford it. If I get cold I just put on my jumper,” she said. Her neighbor next door is even worse off, and after paying the supplement has just £4 a week to live on. She says she can’t move because there are no smaller properties for her to move into in Edinburgh and she wouldn’t know anyone in a completely new area, so she has to pay the subsidy even though it leaves her with so little to live on. Rolnik says in her assessment of the tax that the government “didn’t assess the impact on lives when it took its decision”. She explains that the discrepancy payment the government makes to local council to try and mitigate the costs of implementing the policy is just for a couple of months so councils cannot count on it on a permanent basis.In comments emailed to RT, the charity Shelter, which deals with homelessness and housing issues in the UK said: “With the shortage of social homes of the right size in the right places, we know that it will be very difficult for many families to downsize and none more so than the disabled and others with special needs.” The UN expert was not sure whether her report, which will be presented in its entirety next spring, would impact the legal challenges already being made to the tax in the UK courts, but that she believed when somebody was forced to cut down on their heating and electricity it represents a violation of their human rights. She said that “judges should take that into account”. Her report drew a blistering reaction from the Conservative Party chairman, Grant Shapps, who questioned whether Rolnik, who is from Brazil, can criticize the UK when in her country there are 50 million people living in inadequate housing. He also said she had talked to no one in government who had implemented the policy. “It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government minsters, to fail to meet with the department responsible,” he told a BBC radio program Wednesday. The department for Work and Pensions issued a more measured statement: "It is surprising to see these conclusions being drawn from anecdotal evidence and conversations after a handful of meetings, instead of actual hard research and data. Britain has a very strong housing safety net, and even after our necessary reforms we continue to pay over 80% of most claimants' rent if they are affected by the ending of the spare room subsidy." Previously Rolnik as the UN’s special Rapporteur on housing has considered housing problems in Rwanda, Kazakhstan and Indonesia but says that Britain’s housing crisis is an equally urgent matter for investigation.

Kabul erupts with joy after South Asian football victory

When the rattling sound of Kalashnikov assault rifles resonates in the streets of Kabul, it's more often than not because of an attack by Taliban insurgents. But that changed, for once, on Wednesday, the shots being fired in celebration at Afghanistan's victory over India to win the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) title. The smell of burning cordite enveloped the Afghan city after the national team's 2-0 win over the Indians in Kathmandu thanks to goals from Mustafa Azadzoy and Sandjar Ahmadi.
The victory will no doubt reinforce the popularity of the national team that already grabbed the right headlines with a 3-0 win in a friendly against Pakistan, the neighbouring state with which Afghanistan shares stormy political relations. As the win over India played out, Afghans did not wait for the referee's final whistle for some welcome relief, packing cafes, restaurants and businesses throughout Kabul that showed the game on television.
In a tearoom in the old city, some 20 people crammed around a television set mounted on a wall. Situated on the first floor of a rickety house, the tearoom had small platforms covered in red carpet on which the clientele stretched out to drink tea, smoke cigarettes or hashish. “I came here to visit my brother and also to watch football,” said 30-year-old civil servant Gholam Rasol Lala. “I love to watch football, especially the English championship. It's good for us, it makes us forget the war and the attacks that we can see every day in our country.” When Azadzoy opened the scoring after a badly attempted clearance by Indian goalkeeper Subrata Paul, it was met by deafening cheers and applause. “They're playing very well,” beamed tearoom regular Gul Raman. A little further down the street was a restaurant also showing the game. The owner was left rubbing his hands in delight at the sight of his packed establishment, grilled kebabs of meat accompanied by long, spiced chips selling like hot cakes.
With no places left to sit inside, dozens of locals massed in front of the restaurant in an ambitious bid to spy the small-screened television set up at the far end of the establishment. Abdel Wahed, 21, avoided any disruption to his viewing entertainment by simply going to a shop selling televisions. The final was broadcast on a big screen still sporting its plastic protective wrapping. “If we win, there will be a big celebration,” the 21-year-old Barcelona fan said. “We went through three decades of war so it is good to think about something else from time to time.” When Sandjar Ahmadi chipped 'keeper Paul for Afganistan's second in the 62nd minute of a fast-paced final, and the team then held on for the win, the relief was palpable. “We won, this is so exciting!” cried Abdul Salam. “They struggled to be there, to ensure that the name of Afghanistan will be known for something other than war and attacks.” Out in the street, car horns blazed, guns rattled and groups of fans came together waving the Afghan flag. Scenes familiar in the West – perhaps apart from the guns – but incredibly rare in a country still battling the Taliban, who have been leading a bloody insurgency since their regime was toppled in late 2001. The national team players will return as heroes to Afghanistan. And they will doubtless be better off after the government promised each player an apartment should they win – not bad when you earn nine dollars a day as a professional footballer in the country ranked 139th in the world.

VIDEO: Remarks by President Obama at Food & Friends

Veena Malik: ''Rape Is A Universal Crime''

Bollywood actress Veena Malik
has expressed her concern over relentless incidents of rapes in India but said that it is not the problem of a specific society or country and happens everywhere. “It’s not that rapes don’t happen in Pakistan but the news of the heinous crime is often not flagged. Also, Pakistan is more conservative and traditional in its culture. Whereas in America, you would be surprised to know that most rapes happen there. So women safety is every country’s problem but society and people’s outlook can sort it out,” the actress told Times of India on Sunday. Veena Malik wasn’t convinced with the perception that films and fashion and are responsible for the increasing crimes against women and said it is the mindset of men that actually liable is. ”Neither films, nor is modern culture liable to the rising crimes against women. It’s the mindset of men. It’s absurd to say that if a woman is wearing fashionable clothes then she is inciting a man to rape her. Also, no film preaches to misbehave with women,” she said. The sizzling actress said what the man need to understand is that every woman has the right to live her life in her own way. “She has her own dreams, aspirations, ambitions and a way of living life. No society, country or community can deprive her of these basics or harm her dignity. It’s unfortunate that in the era of modernisation, women are still facing medieval customs. I’m a working woman and I’ve the right to enjoy my life in my way. If I follow a fashionable lifestyle, it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad girl,” said the actress. Veena Malik said men should be educated about respecting the women but women should also know their parameters. ”There should be a balance behavior between men and women. Every man should learn how to respect a woman. They should be educated about it. Similarly, a woman should know her limit and public behaviour,” she said. - See more at:

Commentary: Obama's turn on Syria reflects changing times

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday evening embraced the Russian proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control, opting for a way out of the bind he found himself in after his push for Congressional authorization of a military strike yielded little result. The sharp turn from military action to multilateral diplomacy signifies the changing times in which Americans are ready to look inward. Obama surprised many when he decided to seek Congressional approval for his planned strike to punish Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons, as it reversed decades of precedents in which the decision for overseas military ventures remained a presidential prerogative. But the political climate in the United States is fast changing, and the public are weary from years of military interventions in distant lands and the state of perpetual war they bring, including thousands of American soldiers killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The alarming benefit-cost ratio in those military ventures appalled the American public. That is partially why the military plan against Syria was met with little enthusiasm. Multiple polls point to almost identical results: some 60 percent of Americans oppose a strike against Syria, while support lingers between 20 and 30 percent. The logic is simple: the country itself is in desperate need of attention and nurture after a long economic slump, and Americans are looking decidedly inward. It is also unhelpful to the president that Washington is bitterly divided politically, and he has to rely on the people to overcome Republican obstructionism for much of his domestic agenda in the second term. The danger of undertaking an unpopular military intervention needs no introduction. Mindful of this, Obama opted for a national discussion on whether to launch missiles into Syria and the extent to which America should project her power overseas in a changed time. His intensive push for Congressional authorization yielded little result, and vote counts by media outlets showed strong bipartisan division in both chambers of Congress. If the vote were to take place today, the resolution may fail, leaving the president humiliated. This is when Secretary of State John Kerry made the seemingly off the cuff statement, in which he said to avert a military strike, Assad should "turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community within the next week, without delay." It was picked up and turned into a proposal by Russia, and welcomed by Syria. In this almost accidental development, Obama saw a way out of the losing battle to persuade Congress and the American people to bomb yet another country, and quickly seized the opportunity.

US, Russia to meet in Geneva for talks on Syria

US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday to discuss the details of Moscow’s proposal to place Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons under international control.US Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Geneva on Thursday where he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the details of a proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international control.The high-stakes meeting could potentially impact whether the United States pushes forward with a threatened military strike against Syria in response to the government’s suspected use of chemical weapons in an attack outside the capital Damascus on August 21, which the US claims killed more than 1,400 people. Russia gave the United States its plan on Syria ahead of the meeting in Geneva, the Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday. However, Russia already said earlier this week that the only way its initiative to put Syria’s chemical stockpiles under international control will work, is if the United States removes the continued threat of military action. US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, said in a speech on Tuesday that he had asked Congress to postpone a vote on authorising the use of military force against Syria and that he was willing to explore diplomatic resolution.Kerry is also expected to meet UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi while in Geneva, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said prior to the trip, adding that bilateral US-Russia talks could take at least two days, if not longer. Russia has been one of Syria’s most powerful allies over the course of its two-and-a-half year crisis, which has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, blocking three UN resolutions to impose sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

President Obama on 9/11 Anniversary: Our Hearts Still Ache

US President Barack Obama observed the 12th anniversary of Sept. 11, honoring those who perished in the worst terror attack in US history.
“Together we pause and we pray,” Obama said today at a ceremony at the Pentagon just outside Washington. “We pray for the memory of all those taken from us. Our hearts still ache for the futures snatched away.” Obama, joined by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid a wreath to honor Pentagon victims, their families and first responders. He said the nation reaffirms the “values and virtues” of those who perished and that the nation will remain resilient in their honor. “There’s no trouble we can’t endure and no calamity that we can’t overcome,” Obama said. Americans will “carry on, no matter how dark the night nor how difficult the days.” Earlier, the president, joined by first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, along with White House aides, gathered on the South Lawn of the White House, where flags were at half-staff. They stood silent at 8:46 a.m., the time on Sept. 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 11 smashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Taps were played at the end of the moment of silence. “On September 11, 2001, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family,” Obama said in a proclamation issued yesterday. “May the same be said of us today, and always.” Twelve years after terrorists killed 2,977 people -- beginning with American Airlines Flight 11's crash into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001 -- observances were held at the sites of the disasters. Memorial services were also conducted by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Obama also planned to participate in a service project in the afternoon in the Washington area.
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U.S: 1912 High School Test Blows Kids' Minds

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89% Pakistanis say suicide bombing is 'never justified': PEW report

A new survey conducted by ‘Pew Research Center’ has found that as many as 89% of Pakistanis currently believe suicide bombings or other acts of violence targeting civilians are “never justified”. Another two percent stated they sometimes can be justified, while one percent stated they are “often” justified. The survey reports opinions from 11 Muslim countries from face-to-face interviews of 8, 989 Muslims conducted during March 3 to April 7, 2013, across Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Senegal, Tunisia and Turkey. “Across 11 Muslim publics surveyed by the Pew Research Center, a median of 67% say they are somewhat or very concerned about Islamic extremism. In five countries – Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Turkey and Indonesia – Muslim worries about extremism have increased in the past year.”
With respect to Pakistan, Pew reports overwhelmingly negative views of suicide bombing. “Indeed, about three-quarters or more in Pakistan (89%), Indonesia (81%), Nigeria (78%) and Tunisia (77%), say suicide bombings or other acts of violence that target civilians are never justified.” It also states that currently, an estimated 67% of Pakistanis are ‘concerned’ about the threat of Islamic extremism, which is an increase, compared with 58% in 2012. The survey further says: “Although substantial percentages in some countries do think suicide bombing is often or sometimes justified – including a 62% majority of Palestinian Muslims, overall support for violence in the name of Islam has declined among Muslim publics during the past decade.
On its research on the various pro-Islamic militant groups operating across the world, the survey yields: “The Taliban are viewed negatively by a median of 51% of Muslims in the countries polled. Hezbollah and Hamas fare little better. Hezbollah, in particular, has seen its support slip in key Middle Eastern countries, including a 38 percentage point drop in favorable views among Egyptian Muslims since 2007.”
Islamic Extremism
Elsewhere on the globe, concern about Islamic extremism varied from country to country. “In Indonesia, the Muslim public is evenly split: 48% concerned vs. 48% unconcerned. Turkey, meanwhile, is the only country surveyed where at least half of Muslims (51%) say they are not worried about Islamic extremism.” “In Tunisia, six-in-ten Muslims are now very concerned, up from 42% saying the same a year ago…in the Palestinian territories, the proportion of Muslims worried about extremism has declined 14 percentage points since 2011, the last time the question was asked there.” Suicide Bombing In some countries, substantial minorities of Muslims say attacks on civilians are at least sometimes justified to defend Islam from its enemies; in the Palestinian territories, a majority of Muslims hold this view.
Half or more of Muslims in most countries surveyed say that suicide bombing and other acts of violence that target civilians can never be justified in the name of Islam. In Malaysia, however, roughly a quarter of Muslims (27%) take the view that attacks on civilians are sometimes or often justified. More importantly, the report indicates that support for suicide bombing is not correlated with religious devoutness. “Generally, Muslims who say they pray five times per day are no more likely to support targeting civilians to protect Islam than those who pray less often. The only exception is the Palestinian territories, where 66% of Muslims who pray five times per day say suicide bombing is often or sometimes justified versus 49% of those who pray less than five times per day.”
Extremist Groups
Overall, views of extremist groups are negative across the Muslim publics surveyed. A median of about a third or fewer have a positive view of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, or Hezbollah. And in no country polled do any of these organizations receive majority Muslim support.
In Pakistan, most of the candidates surveyed offered no opinion on this front, though amongst those who did, most people were against the groups.
Al Qaeda
46% Pakistanis are against the organisation whereas 13% are in favour of it, with 41% choosing not to offer an opinion. However, in Palestine, positive ratings of Al Qaeda have ticked up seven percentage points since 2011 among Muslims (from 28% to 35% favorable).
72% Pakistanis did not offer an opinion, and 16% of the remaining ones thumbed Hamas down. In the Palestinian territories, opinions of Hamas are mixed, with 45% of Muslims viewing the group unfavorably, compared with 48% who say they have a favorable view. “Since 2007, support for Hamas has also declined among Muslims in Pakistan (-31), Jordan (-20), Malaysia (-20), Indonesia (-19), and Turkey (-10).”
Muslim attitudes toward Hezbollah are mixed in Senegal, Tunisia, and Indonesia, with many offering no opinion. In Palestine, 43% are in favour of the group with 49% against it. In Pakistan, again, 72% recorded no opinion. 13% said they were not in favour of the group against a 15% who said they were. The Taliban A median of 51% of all Muslims have an unfavorable view of the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist movement almost exclusively based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Majorities of Muslims in Lebanon (92%), Jordan (82%), Egypt (70%), Turkey (70%), and Pakistan (65%) have a negative opinion of the group. About half of Muslims in Nigeria (51%), Tunisia (50%), and the Palestinian territories (50%) share this view.

Spy games: ISI men caught cheating in Pakistan exam

Spies resorting to underhand tactics is nothing new but sneaking in smartphones to cheat in an exam is pushing it a bit too far.
Fifty Inter-Services Intelligence, better known as ISI, and intelligence bureau officials were among 500 candidates caught browsing internet on their phones to answer a recruitment exam for Pakistan’s premier counter-terrorism agency, a report said on Wednesday. The National Counter Terrorism Authority, which the Sharif government is counting on for a decisive war against terrorism, opened 130 vacant positions — 34 for officers — offering hefty packages and perks. The last week’s exam, the News International said, was “marred by so many blatant frauds that it has turned into a farce”. Question papers were not only distributed one-and-a-half hours after the start time but were also not enough. Many examinees had to wait longer, for the photocopies of the question paper. While most of the questions were multiple-choice, there were a few that required the aspirants to write a couple of paragraphs on ways to eradicate terrorism. “As the exam started, there were around 10 invigilators for 5,000 candidates, hundreds of them busy cheating since they were allowed to bring mobile phones,” the report said. Intelligence agency officials turned out to be the trouble-makers as they started arguing with the invigilators when efforts were made to take away their phones. Candidates found cheating had been disqualified, the exam coordinator said.

Bangladesh: Curb child marriage

THE study report that 64 per cent of women between 20 and 24 years of age were victims of child marriage is disquieting. The figure palpably demonstrates how the evil practice continues despite all the laws and efforts at various levels to combat it. The survey conducted by Plan International, Bangladesh and ICDDR, B, further shows that the malaise is widespread in the rural areas. There 86 per cent of women were subjected to marriage in their childhood to fulfil the wishes of their parents. Patriarchy, reinforced by poverty, illiteracy, absence of awareness and lack of law enforcement only provided a fertile ground on which the practice thrived. In addition, negative social mindset, discriminatory treatment towards a female child, and hostile social environment lead to marrying them off at an early age. There is also a perception of the female child being a burden on families, particularly in the rural areas. All this necessitates the involvement of the community in fighting social prejudice side by side with the rights and advocacy groups lending a hand in putting a lid on child marriage. Education, and more intensive campaign by the government and different stakeholders, should play a complementary role for the work on the ground.

Bangladesh: Eyewitness Places ICNA Official at Bangladesh Mass Killings
A survivor of a 1971 Islamist killing spree in Bangladesh tearfully told a war crimes tribunal Monday that he saw a man who would go on to lead the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) giving orders during the kidnapping, torture and murder of intellectuals. Delwar Hossain, 70, provided a dramatic eyewitness account against Ashrafuzzaman Khan, who remains on the executive board of ICNA's New York chapter and is a leader of the North American Imams Federation. Prosecutors allege that Khan was the "chief executor" of a killing squad loyal to the Pakistani army during the closing days of Bangladesh's war of independence. It targeted intellectuals to rob the newly-liberated nation of leadership. Khan and prominent U.K. imam Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin are being tried in absentia. Court-appointed defense attorneys are cross examining witnesses. Hossain, the 22nd witness against Khan, is considered the only survivor of the attacks. He said that he saw Khan and Mueen-Uddin when he was kidnapped and heard them address each other by name. Later, he heard another captive beg for Khan to spare his as the bound and blindfolded prisoners were stabbed with bayonets. Khan walked away, Hossain testified. Hossain was able to free his hands and adjust his blindfold to see what was happening around him. He said he soaked his shirt in another victim's blood in hopes of fooling his captors into believing he already had been tortured. He showed the war crimes tribunal a scar on his head from the beatings he endured that day. He took off running and made his escape swimming in the nearby river as gunmen fired at him. "I was adamant to be killed by shooting. I did not want to be killed by bayonets," Hossain said. Hossain identified several other victims he saw at the killing site. Most of the other witnesses against Khan and Mueen-Uddin have been their surviving relatives, who have testified about seeing their loved ones taken away at gunpoint similar to what Hossain described. "I witnessed the killings from the beginning to the end," Hossain testified. "Ashraf [Khan] and Mueen [Uddin] led the killings." It is not clear what the United States would do about Khan, a naturalized citizen, if he is convicted. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly offered to assist Bangladesh's government in trying to repatriate Khan.

Pakistan: ‘Man arrested from Punjab University is al-Qaeda operative’
A foreigner arrested from Punjab University hostel was affiliated with al-Qaeda, intelligence, sources said Wednesday. The sources said the arrested accused was an Arab but his country of origin was yet to be known. They said that eight more people have also been arrested on the information provided by detained accused. Pictures of Aafia Siddiqui and other al-Qaeda leaders were also recovered from the room in Punjab University hostel, intelligence sources added. An activist of Punjab University’s student organization was also arrested on the bases of information.

Pakistan: Listen to Dr Pasha carefully

Noted economist who previously held the positions of Finance Minister and Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Hafeez A. Pasha has expressed his fears in a Business Recorder op-ed 'Stagflation feared' that country's growth could lower and inflation rise as a result of the programme recently signed with the International Monetary Fund by the PML (N) government. Stagflation is generally defined as a condition of slow economic growth and a relatively high unemployment - a time of stagnation - accompanied by a rise in prices, or inflation. Further, Dr Pasha has pointed out that Pakistan will receive a lower amount in disbursement from the Fund than it will repay through the year. Basically, the Fund has rescheduled its previous lending to Pakistan. The question that needs an answer is: What was the other option for this government? Default on repayment to international lender of the last resort - IMF! The government felt that the pain to the nation would have been worse had we not gone to the Fund for help. This newspaper had been consistently arguing in favour of a programme since last November. Both the then Finance Minister, Dr Hafeez Sheikh, and Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Dr Nadeem-ul-Haq, were also for an IMF bailout. But the then President, Asif Ali Zardari, was not. And, he told Governor SBP Yaseen Anwar to manage the repayments. Forex reserves of the country were allowed to fall. It needs to be recognised that the value of PKR was better managed until end-June. Are we not seeing a repeat of 2007 when in an election year political compulsions stumped sound economic proposals? The conditions in 2008 (oil prices rose to record above US $145 on July 7 and after-effects of Bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September were felt the world over) but our forex reserves were also much more compared to under dollar 10 billion in 2013. Once we committed to Fund's conditionalities (prior actions) to purchase 125 million dollars from the interbank market by August 15, 2013, the PKR lost its value against the dollar by a massive six percent in only one month. This was far worse than 8 to 9 percent depreciation in one full year. A battered PKR is now a focal point for price-setting by all businesses. POL prices have been readjusted taking into account landed cost of oil in rupees. Similarly, electricity tariff has also been raised. So every move is just reinforcing each other. The PPP-led government also retired circular debt; adjusted upward the rupee parity from 62 to over Rs 80 to a dollar; raised POL prices; and also rationalised upward electricity tariff in the first year of coming into power in accordance with an agreement with the Fund. But it failed to restructure the economic fundamentals that held us back and led to persistently high fiscal deficits, thereby miserably failing to turn the economy around. There was very little focus on growth in FY2008 and there is hardly any now. After all we now project that growth will slip from 4.4 to 2.5 percent of GDP. Dr Pasha is right in saying that "revival of the economy has been sacrificed at the altar of macro-economic stabilisation." The Federal Budget for this year provides very little fiscal incentive to entrepreneurs or investors. Those who were already investment shy due to a bad law and order situation are now contemplating living in Dubai - where they can live off the tax differential available to non-residents over residents in Pakistan. The rich can make the move. They can come on Mondays to attend to their business and go back to Dubai on Thursdays. This option, however, is not available to the middle-class - the real engine of growth - who will be forced to face the likely spectre of low economic growth, relatively high inflation and diminishing job opportunities. We need to analyse what the prior actions sought by the Fund have achieved? A net purchase of 125 million dollars from foreign exchange spot market between July 1st and August 15th forced the PKR to become a currency with an exchange rate lower than it ought to be. That 'Pak rupee is undervalued' is a remark that has been widely attributed to Finance Minister Dar. By mechanically complying with requirement of the deal, there was though very little thought given by both the Fund staff and the government to where we are headed and whether the aims of the programme will be met? The situation will give birth to cost-push inflation (a phenomenon in which the general price levels rise due to increases in the cost of wages and raw materials) primarily due to PKR depreciation, POL price hike and spike in the tariff of electricity and later of gas. Here, it is also important to note that demand-pull (inflation resulting from increased demand outstripping readily available supply of goods and services) generally requires interest rate hikes. Inflation spike could now exceed 12.5 percent with food inflation even higher. Raising interest rates will have hardly any bearing - one way or another - on inflation. However, it would prick the stock market rise. Forex inflows will now be encouraged due to the Fund programme and not due to any policy intervention by the central bank. Definitely, lower growth would not be helpful in meeting our revenue target agreed with the Fund. Scaling down growth to 2.5 percent, says Dr Pasha, in the programme implies hardly any improvement in per capita income or in employment prospects. For any country faced with rising terrorism, like Pakistan, increasing unemployment with rising inflation is a deadly combination that the PML (N) government should have avoided. The bottom line is that pressure on exchange rate and interest rate are symptoms of the disease whose underlying cause is a burgeoning fiscal deficit and unsustainable trade deficit. Unless we overcome these twin deficits, we will be going round in circles instead of moving forward to reach a satisfactory decision or conclusion.

Pakistan:APC: peace consensus or sell-out?

THE resolution emanating from Monday’s all-parties conference seems more of a document of surrender than an expression of a nation’s resolve to fight terrorism. It attributes the loss of thousands of innocent lives not to the militant violence but to the “war, the illegal and immoral drone strikes and the blowback from the actions of Nato/Isaf forces in Afghanistan”. In fact, militant groups responsible for the death of thousands of men, women, children and soldiers, are virtually legitimised as stakeholders in the peace efforts. It was apparent from the outset that a conference of parties with such diverse ideological and political views would not be able to come up with a coherent strategy to tackle terrorism. But the outcome has been even more shambolic than expected. There are no two views that dialogue is the best way to end conflict. So, it may be a right decision by the APC to try this course once again and initiate negotiations with all the militant groups involved in violence and insurgency in different parts of the country. But for the talks to succeed, the government has to lay down certain conditions and a specific framework. A previous APC sponsored by the Awami National Party on the eve of elections had agreed on certain preconditions for peace talks that included renouncing of violence and adherence to the Constitution. Unfortunately, these preconditions are conspicuous by their absence in the resolution adopted on Monday. The very tenor of the resolution is indicative of a weak state willing to concede to the forces that challenge its authority. Not surprisingly, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has “cautiously” welcomed the government’s offer for talks. But there is no indication that the militant group has backed down from its own preconditions enunciated by its spokesman earlier. These preconditions include virtually changing Pakistan’s foreign policy and enforcement of their version of Sharia. There is no promise of even cessation of violence, let alone of renouncing force. In fact, the TTP has upped the ante after the APC resolution calling for the state to show more sincerity before the negotiations. “The government will also have to convince the army and to decide on a roadmap for the talks,” a TTP spokesman was quoted as saying. Many security experts see little prospect of peace talks taking place at all, let alone of them being successful in the current situation. “There is very little probability of peace negotiations taking off the ground,” contends retired Brigadier Asad Munir, a former ISI officer who has vast experience in dealing with militant groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas. This apprehension is based on the past experience of various broken peace deals. Pakistan has signed at least nine peace agreements with the militants in Fata and KP over the last 10 years, but they all collapsed within months. “In all the cases, the agreements were broken by the militants,” said Mr Munir who had been directly involved in many of those peace deals. “It is a completely wrong perception that the security forces did not honour the promises.” A major problem for the government in negotiation is that the militants are not a monolithic group. Security officials maintain that there are more than three dozen militant and sectarian groups or factions operating in different parts of KP, Fata and other parts of the country. While these militant groups may be united in common cause, they all have their own agenda that often leads to fierce conflict. Even the TTP is divided into various factions, many of which are completely under Al Qaeda’s influence. In this situation, even if the TTP agrees to a peace deal others will not accept it, say some retired and serving security officials. There is in fact a danger that any negotiations with the TTP may trigger a new wave of violence by other groups. The most serious militant threat comes from North Waziristan, which has become the main sanctuary for many Al Qaeda-linked groups. Among them are various Punjabi militant factions with a strong support network in south Punjab. These groups are also active across the border in Afghanistan. “There is no possibility of them coming to the negotiating table,” says Mr Munir. The APC resolution has also asked the government to consider raising the issue of US drone strikes with the UN Security Council. Indeed, there is national consensus on the stopping of illegal and unethical use of drones that reportedly cause collateral damage, while killing some key Al Qaeda leaders. Most of these attacks are now targeting militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan. However, while raising the issue at the UN and other forums, Pakistan should also be able to convince the international community that it is able to eliminate militant sanctuaries from its border areas, which threaten regional security. We cannot deny the fact that many terrorist attacks in other countries have roots in North Waziristan and other tribal regions. For a comprehensive national security and counter-terrorism policy, the government needs to adopt a holistic approach. Indeed, dialogue and negotiations must be a part of the strategy, but it should not be the only option. Sustainable peace can never be achieved if the state gives up the option of using force to assert its authority. Renunciation of violence and acceptance of the country’s Constitution must be a precondition for negotiations, whether they are militant groups fighting the security forces in Fata or Baloch insurgent groups.

Malala Portrait Goes On Display In London
A portrait of Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai will go on display on September 11 at Britain's National Portrait Gallery in London.
The portrait shows Malala doing her homework and was painted by British artist Jonathan Yeo. The portrait will later be auctioned for Malala's charity fund, which promotes girls' rights to education. Malala, 16, was shot in the head by the Taliban in her native Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan in October 2012. She was flown to Britain for treatment, and currently lives there with her family. Malala last week received the 100,000 euro ($130,000) International Children's Peace Prize. The money is to be invested in girls education projects in Pakistan.

Bilawal Bhutto pays homage to Quaid-e-Azam on death anniversary
Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari pays homage to the Father of the Nation‚ Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, on his 65th death anniversary on Wednesday.
In a message to nation, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that our founding father Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had dreamt of an egalitarian society in the new country where rights of every individual had to be protected without any discrimination. A democratic struggle led by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah culminated the foundation of the country, but thereafter dictatorial forces blew up the democracy in bud forcing the nation to launch an un-relented struggle for its restoration under the leadership of Pakistan People s Party. The PPP is proud of its historic struggle and we will continue our struggle for achieving the goal of a federal and democratic Pakistan in accordance with the vision of Quaid-e- Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. PPP Patron-In-Chief paid rich tributes to Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and urged the nation to follow his foot-steps to drive Pakistan to an international stage where it is revered a model Muslim nation following the true democratic path. To work to ones fullest potential was the message of the great leader and he succeeded in achieving a separate homeland, Pakistan for the Muslims of the sub-continent by adhering to this philosophy. He laid out the principles of unity, faith and discipline for the nation to make headway on the path to progress and development. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari offered Fateha for the founder of the Nation and also said that the recent completion of peaceful democratic transition for the first time in the country is the fulfilment of a dream of Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Recruited by Al-Qaeda: Foreign fighters in a Damascus jail tell their stories

Raouchan Gazakov brought his family to Syria, taught his 5-year-old son to make bombs and bade farewell to his relative, a suicide bomber. RT’s Maria Finoshina talked to him in a Damascus prison and asked him why he came to fight for Al-Qaeda.
“A group called Murad approached me a year ago and convinced me that Muslims in Syria are being oppressed and killed, and that I should go and take up arms against Assad for world jihad,” Raouchan said in the spartan prison, where some 200 inmates are held – most of them jihadist fighters for Al-Qaeda or affiliated groups. The prisoners’ fate is unknown, although it looks grim. Raouchan says he sneaked into Syria last January through Turkey. In Istanbul, two men claiming to be from Al-Qaeda met Raouchan and accompanied him to Syria. There, he joined a large terrorist group run by an Egyptian jihadist. “My job was mainly to prepare bombs for cars. There were many people, all from different countries. Our ‘teachers’ showed us how to make bombs – which ingredients to use, and how exactly to make them,” he says. Raouchan came with his entire family to Syria. In a macabre home movie later found on his laptop, he, his son and a group of men say goodbye to their male relative, who is about to go and blow up a police station in a suicide bomb attack.In the Damascus prison, there are many stories of men recruited from faraway lands to come fight for jihad in Syria. Another detainee, Amer El Khadoud, tells Maria Finoshina how he left a normal life in France, where he lived for years with his wife, a French woman, to join the Syrian jihad with an Al-Qaeda affiliated group. “I volunteered,” says Amer. “I went to Turkey. In a refugee camp, there I met a Salafi group and I trained with them for about 2 1/2 months, and then we illegally crossed the border into Syria.” However, upon his arrival, Amer says he was disappointed that the jihad was not as he was promised. “I saw my Sunni Syrian brothers suffering here. I saw on Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and other channels that kids are also suffering. I took up arms, and I was ready to use them. But when I came here – I didn’t see the enemy.” The prisoners’ stories of Al-Qaeda recruitment came as a new report, published by the Washington think tank Bipartisan Policy Center, entitled “Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment,” concluded that "the civil war in Syria may provide Al-Qaeda with an opportunity to regroup, train and plan operations.” The presence of so many foreign jihadist fighters in the Damascus prison appears to support the center’s findings. “Foreign fighters hardened in that conflict could eventually destabilize the region or band together to plot attacks against the West," the report said. Reports have been growing for some time of jihadists recruited internationally to fight against Assad’s government. For instance, in January, a leaked memo provided an inside look at how Saudi officials commuted the sentences of 1,200 death row inmates on the condition they join the rebels and fight against Assad in Syria, the Assyrian International News Agency reported.

Nobel peace prize for Putin: why not?

Vladimir Putin’s peace initiative on Syria could earn the Russian president a Nobel peace prize, says French political analyst Marc Rousset.
The move to place Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile under intentional control has postponed a potentially bloody strike against the Arab country, while at the same time making the Assad regime give up its deadly chemical arsenal, the pundit pointed out in his blog. Mr. Rousset stressed that Putin managed to pull off a fine maneuver, preventing an airstrike against Damascus and offering western leaders a way to save face amid the Syrian quagmire, as more and more people are speaking against a war on Syria. The peaceful option could also save President Obama from shame of having his Syria plan repudiated in Congress. With the war or a punitive action on hold, Syria is now in for a lengthy negotiating process, the analyst believes. “One thing is clear: Putin’s diplomatic gambit was quite a game-changer in that it reinstated Russia as a world power that must be taken into account, which was obviously the goal.” Marc Rousset underscored that Moscow’s proposal was met with relief even in the Arab world, whose leaders, for all their hate of Assad, loathed western-backed wars in the region. “A Nobel peace prize for Putin? Why not? Obama got it for doing nothing,” the analyst wrote. Mr. Rousset also said that Moscow's plan should have come from the West. “Barack Obama, who decided not to go to Russia, should be grateful for its idea, which should have been his own.” Read more:

Hold your fire: Obama puts the march to war on pause as diplomacy gets a chance

A UN resolution forcing the Syrian government to hand over its chemical weapons would give the Assad regime 15 days to provide a full account of its entire stockpile, according to an early French draft of the document. As US President Barack Obama told the American public last night that he had asked the US Congress to pause before voting on whether to back military strikes against Syria, his country is engaged with France and the UK in trying to come up with a strong but realistic scheme which would deny Bashar al-Assad the capability for future chemical atrocities. Last night diplomats were struggling to complete a draft for consideration by the Security Council that would give Syria a concrete 15 day deadline. The effort almost immediately hit rapids, however, when Russia objected to the French offering that included the possibility of the use of force to ensure Syrian compliance as well as explicit condemnation of the regime. Ahead of his commitments today to commemoration services marking the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr Obama said last night that diplomacy would have its chance in seeking a path through the UN towards forcing the regime in Damascus to give up its chemical weapons. In his long-anticipated address to the nation from inside the White House, Mr Obama asserted that it had been the credible threat of US action that had in part precipitated the dramatic diplomatic activity of the last days springing from a Russian initiative requiring that the Syrian government hand over the chemical arsenal for dismantlement. Speaking in primetime for 15 minutes, Mr Obama acknowledged strikes would be unpopular at home but said the horror of chemical weapons meant America could not look away. “For nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security,” he argued. “This has meant doing more than forging international agreements - it has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.” Mr Obama said he was dispatching Secretary of State, John Kerry, to Geneva for direct talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Thursday. The outcome of that meeting will give western capitals a better idea of how serious an effort for peace Moscow is making or whether it is engaged in stalling tactic on Syria’s behalf. “I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom, and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the UN Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons, and to ultimately destroy them under international control,” Mr Obama explained, adding that he would also give the UN inspectors time to report on their findings in Syria. His speech was divided into two parts, the first laying out why he thinks it is incumbent on America to punish Syria for using chemical weapons and the second explaining why he is pushing the pause button to give the latest diplomatic effort a chance. “It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed,” Mr Obama warned. “And any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies.” As for the argument for responding to Syria’s alleged crimes, Mr Obama offered some history going back to the World War I and the decades spent trying to outlaw chemical weapons. He argued also that turning a blind eye would give license to Bashar al-Assad and others to resort to gas in the future. “If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons,” Mr Obama said. “As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them.” He also invited Americans to turn to their laptops and smartphones and view the videos of gassed civilians in Syria. “The images from this massacre are sickening: men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas; others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath; a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.” Further action at the UN in New York is now likely to await the Kerry-Lavrov meeting in Geneva. The French draft of a UN resolution tabled yesterday that drew instant Russian opposition includes a warning that the UN would be ready “in the event of non-compliance by the Syrian authorities with the provisions of this resolution ... to adopt further necessary measures under Chapter VII” of the UN Charter, which allows for the use of force.

Somber U.S. ceremonies mark 12th anniversary of September 11 attacks

Americans marked the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks with solemn ceremonies and pledges not to forget the nearly 3,000 killed when hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, in 2001. In New York City, still scarred from the attacks that brought down the Twin Towers, residents repeated the ritual on Wednesday of reading the names of the 2,983 people who died that day. Officials, including former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his successor Michael Bloomberg, observed a citywide moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. EDT, the time American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower, with a second pause at 9:03 a.m. when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower. The ceremony was held at the National September 11 Memorial plaza, where two reflecting pools mark the footprints of the original Twin Towers. Further moments of silence will be observed at 9:37 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon; at 9:59 a.m. when the South Tower fell; at 10:03 a.m. when United Flight 93 hit the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and at 10:28 a.m., when the North Tower collapsed. Nineteen hijackers died in the attacks, later claimed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, which led directly to the U.S. war in Afghanistan and indirectly to the invasion of Iraq. Two skyscrapers are nearly completed on either side of the plaza, including One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 1,776 feet, a symbolic number chosen to allude to the year of the Declaration of Independence. In Washington, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden marked the first moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House, as a bell tolled. "Friends of mine who lost friends in a different context long ago have a simple saying: 'Every day is extra,'" said Secretary of State John Kerry, who served in the Vietnam War. "I've always thought it was a beautiful expression and I try to hold on to it on bright September mornings like today. It's a way of saying that we honor those we've lost by continuing their work, serving our country and helping others." At the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, the National Park Service planned a memorial service on Wednesday starting at 9:45 a.m. that will include a reading of the names of the Flight 93 passengers and crew, a ringing of bells, a wreath-laying and brief remarks. A number of cities will hold ceremonies, including 21-gun salutes, moments of silence, and memorial services Wednesday to remember those who lost their lives, including the police officers and firefighters killed as they attempted to save the victims of the attacks. The website is encouraging classroom discussions, service projects, and other commemorative acts.

Obama leads moment of silence for 9/11

President Obama led a moment of silence at the White House Wednesday morning, 12 years after the 9/11 attacks that so changed the United States.
Bells tolled and a military bugler played taps as the president and first lady Michelle Obama, joined by members of the White House staff, stood silent on the South Lawn. The moment of silence began at 8:46 a.m, the time at which the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center building in New York City. Vice President Biden and wife Jill also participated in the memorial ceremony. The White House flags are at half-mast today. Later this morning, Obama attends a September 11 Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon, also struck by a hijacked plane that fateful day. This afternoon, the president participates in a service project, part of the the National Day of Service and Remembrance in honor of the 9/11 victims.

On 9/11 Anniversary, Moments of Silence and Reflection

Michael Ollis was not even in high school when terrorists slammed jetliners into the World Trade Center towers. This summer, 12 years later, he was serving his third combat tour with the United States Army when insurgents attacked his base in Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Ollis, 24, a Staten Island native, was killed. He was one of 92 New Yorkers who enlisted after 9/11 and died in battles that were spawned in the smoldering rubble of ground zero. As the families of those killed on 9/11 gathered on Wednesday morning in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia to mark the anniversary of the attacks, Sergeant Ollis’s death, one of thousands during a decade of war, offered a reminder that the costs of what happened 12 years ago are still being borne across the globe. And with the nation once again in the midst of a debate about America’s role in the world and the wisdom of launching military strikes, the memorial ceremonies offered not just an occasion to pay tribute, but a moment to take stock. Edwin Aviles, 41, who lives in Brooklyn and was working near ground zero just before the memorial Wednesday, said time had done little to ease his sense that there are enemies looking to harm New York. “I don’t think anything has changed,” he said. “Just like then, just like now we got to stay on point. Got to stay on top of everyone else. Anything can happen at any given moment.” Others noted that it was on the anniversary last year that the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked and Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others were killed. On Wednesday morning, a car bomb exploded outside the Libyan foreign ministry in Benghazi, causing no casualties, according to state media, but offering a reminder that the day holds significance for extremists as well. But in New York, the anniversary itself now has taken on the familiarity of routine. Bruni Sandoval has come each year to remember her friend, Nereida De Jesus. “It helps a little,” she said. Families began to gather quietly between the reflecting pools, the rush of water and the distant sounds of bagpipes the only sounds rising above the crowd. The ceremony at ground zero was to begin with bagpipers and drummers; the Brooklyn Youth Chorus was to perform the national anthem. At 8:46 a.m., when the first plane struck the north tower, a moment of silence was scheduled before the reading of the names. At 9:03, a second moment of silence will mark the moment a second plane hit the south tower. There would be four more moments of silence interrupting the reading of the names -- twice to mark the time when each tower fell and to mark the moments of the attacks on the Pentagon and on Flight 93, which crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. The ceremony will also be the last over which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg presides. Elected to office just weeks after the attacks, Mr. Bloomberg has taken a forceful role in shaping New York’s efforts both to honor its dead and to rebuild ground zero. He will continue to play a role, in his capacity as the chairman of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum foundation. But next year his place will be occupied by one of the winners of the mayoral primary held Tuesday. Twelve years ago, when Mayor Bloomberg first ascended a podium that was hastily constructed overseeing a vast pit of rubble, there was a moment of seeming national unity and moral clarity. But that clarity long since eroded in the sands outside Fallujah and the ancient alleyways of Baghdad. As President Obama, who was elected on a promise to disentangle the country from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has tried to rally a war-weary nation to support a possible military intervention in Syria, he has been met with resistance. Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader who the Obama administration contends used chemical weapons to kill his own people, invoked the memory of 9/11 in warning against an attack on his country. Such a strike, he told the broadcaster Charlie Rose, would help “the same people that killed Americans on the 11th of September.” Closer to home, the politics of 9/11 re-emerged as a campaign issue hours before primary voters went to cast their ballots on Tuesday, when Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly blasted the field of candidates for not taking the threat seriously. “The analysis of the Police Department, the intelligence community, our recent experience tells us that New York remains squarely in the cross hairs of global terrorism,” he said. “This is a time for vigilance, not complacency.” In Lower Manhattan, healing the physical scars of the attack has been slow but progress is now evident. The wildly over-optimistic promises of a decade ago are starting to take shape, even if they are still under construction. In the past year, the city celebrated the topping off 1 World Trade Center, its spire rising 1776 feet. Meredith Feiner, 28, who works in Lower Manhattan, said she was proud to see the new building rising, the construction cranes towering overhead. “It never would have had to be rebuilt if something terrible had not happened,” she said. Work on the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava of Spain, has finally moved above ground, offering the public a glimpse at the grand design soon to be completed. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum remains on track to open next spring. Once the museum opens, the annual anniversary will no longer bear the main weight of remembrance, either for New Yorkers or for the millions who visit the city. By next Sept. 11, the museum devoted to memorializing the attacks and their aftermath will open to the public. Still a vast subterranean construction site, a series of chambers as vast and as hermetic as a pharaoh’s tomb, the museum will eventually offer an array of historical exhibits, personal tributes and archaeological artifacts. Last week the last of the large-scale artifacts – like a burned-out fire truck and a 36-foot-tall steel column from the south tower – were fitted into place.