Monday, December 16, 2013

Al-Qaida militants kill over 100 Syrians near Damascus

Radical rebels from the al-Qaida- linked Nusra Front have massacred more than 100 people in a suburb of the capital Damascus, the country's Foreign Ministry said Monday.
In a letter sent to the UN to complain about the terrorists' crimes in the country, the Foreign Ministry said the Nusra Front and the so-called Islam Brigade carried out a new massacre last Wednesday in the Adra Umalyeih suburb of Damascus, adding that the hard-liners had burnt the houses of the state servants in the area and took a large number of civilians as human shields. The ministry also lambasted Arab news outlets that offer a media cover for the terrorists, saying those outlets financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar are inciting sedition and killings in Syria.
It said that radical rebels from more than 80 countries are pouring into Syria, urging the UN member states to denounce the terrorism that Syria is subject to. The Syrian army started on Friday a wide-scale offensive against the radical rebels in Adra, a military source was cited by Syria's mainstream media as saying. The large-scale military operation aims at dislodging the al- Qaida-linked Nusra Front fighters from Adra, a couple of days after the fighters stormed the town, killing tens of people, including state servants, and burning houses in that area. The Nusra has also slaughtered people from the Alawite minority in Adra and placed their heads in the most popular market in the town.
"Unites of our military forces have started storming the rebels ' positions in Adra," the Syrian military source said, stressing the army's determination to "amputate the sinful hand of terrorism. "
The source added that "the criminals and those who support them will pay a steep price for the crimes they are committing against our people." Al-Qaida-linked groups such as the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant have taken advantage of the anti- government movement in Syria, emerging as a serious force among the rebel groups.
The radical rebels stormed Adra following their defeat in three major towns in the rugged al-Qalamoun region north of Damascus, namely al-Nabek, Deir Attieh and Qara.

Moscow confirms deployment of Iskander missiles on NATO borders

The Russian Defense Ministry has confirmed media reports on the deployment of short-range Iskander missiles in the country’s west, near its borders with the Baltic states and NATO members, saying that it does not violate international agreements. German newspaper Bild wrote this weekend that Russia stationed several Iskander tactical ballistic missile systems - which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads - in its westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad, along the border with Baltic states. The paper said it obtained “secret satellite” images showing at least 10 Russian missiles close to the EU border, which were deployed over the past year. Commenting on the matter, Moscow confirmed that it did station the missiles, which have been designated by NATO as SS-26 Stone, in the region. “Rocket and artillery units of the Western Military District are really armed with Iskander tactical missile systems,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, head of the Defense Ministry’s press service, told reporters on Monday.
“The concrete areas of the deployment of Iskander missile battalions in the Western Military District do not contradict any international agreements or treaties,” he added, as quoted by Interfax. Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said earlier that he was concerned over the reports of Russian missiles near his country’s border. He added that the former Soviet state had discussed with its neighbors and NATO partners “how to react and protect” themselves, because “any incidents were hypothetically possible,” Delfi news website reported on Monday.
Neighboring Latvia sees no threat to its security from the Iskanders being stationed in the Kaliningrad region, according to Defense Minister Artis Pabriks. “NATO guarantees to us rather high security level,” he said in an interview with LNT on Monday, as quoted by RIA Novosti.
Meanwhile, Poland says it is worried about the deployment of Russian missiles near its border and plans to hold consultations on the matter with alliance partners.
Iskanders have been stationed in the region for over 18 months now, a senior official at Russia’s Defense Ministry told Izvestia daily.
“Everything works as planned there. I don’t know why the Germans are raising a scare now,” the source noted.
Russia is not going to ease its defense on European borders, where the western military alliance keeps its strategic missile forces, said deputy head of the State Duma’s defense committee, Viktor Zavarzin.
“NATO has American tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Who can it be aimed against if not Iran? Only against us,” he told the daily. The official pointed out that Russian missiles do not pose a threat to anyone. Rather, they are solely for defensive purposes.
The deployment of Iskanders in Kaliningrad came in response to the development of the US missile defense system in Europe – which has long been a stumbling block in relations between Moscow and Washington. Back in November 2011, when the US failed to agree to make the missile defense shield a joint project with Russia, then-President Dmitry Medvedev announced sweeping plans to address what Moscow considered to be a threat to national security. He said he would deploy strike systems in the west and south of the country, as well as station Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad region in order to counter the risk posed by the European missile defense shield. Moscow has long been calling for legally-binding guarantees that the missile defense system will not be aimed against Russia, but the US has so far refused to deliver such a promise. For years, the necessity of building the missile defense shield in Europe was justified by the perceived threat from countries like Iran. However, as the controversy over Tehran’s nuclear program seems to be nearing an end, the US is not altering its intentions.
“We realize clearly that the anti-missile defense system is only called defensive, while in fact it is a significant part of the strategic offensive potential,” President Vladimir Putin said in his address to the Federal Assembly last week.

Russia Denies Blackmailing Ukraine Over EU Deal

Russia has never threatened Ukraine with sanctions over a cooperation agreement with the European Union, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday.
But Moscow did warn Kiev in advance that Ukraine could lose its favorable status in trade relations with Russia, Lavrov said.
“We have not blackmailed anyone,” the minister told Rossiya 24 television after a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels. “We are not talking about sanctions, we are simply saying that we would return to normal trade relations with Ukraine or any other country that would choose this way [association with EU].”
Lavrov said that the sides agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty should be respected and that people should have a free choice as to how they want their state to develop.
“Any decision as to how to develop its economy, how to build relations with its leading partners… must be taken without external interference, in line with the country’s national interests,” he said. Both the EU and Moscow have accused each other of using strong-arm tactics to secure economic ties with Kiev. But Lavrov said that the meeting in Brussels showed that a large number of EU countries believed the crisis in Ukraine should be discussed in a “tripartite format”. Russia’s views had been heard “with understanding” by EU members.
The talks focused on prospects for political dialogue between Russia and the European Union on Ukraine and other issues including the civil war in Syria.
Kiev turned its back on a widely expected Association Agreement to strengthen trade links with the EU last month, saying it would harm economic relations with Russia. President Yanukovych is expected in Moscow Tuesday for talks with President Vladimir Putin. Ukraine’s rejection of the EU deal has prompted mass demonstrations in protest and thrown the country into a political crisis as hundreds of thousands of people attend rallies demanding the dissolution of the government and early elections. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said last Wednesday that Kiev would return to talks on the agreement with the EU in the spring. Brussels suspended negotiations on Sunday after the EU’s enlargement chief Stefan Fuele dismissed the Ukrainian government’s arguments as having “no grounds in reality.”

Judge: NSA’s collecting of phone records is probably unconstitutional

By Ellen Nakashima and Ann E. Marimow
A federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency’s daily collection of virtually all Americans’ phone records is almost certainly unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon found that a lawsuit by Larry Klayman, a conservative legal activist, has “demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success” on the basis of Fourth Amendment privacy protections against unreasonable searches.
Leon granted the request for an injunction that blocks the collection of phone data for Klayman and a co-plaintiff and orders the government to destroy any of their records that have been gathered. But the judge stayed action on his ruling pending a government appeal, recognizing in his 68-page opinion the “significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues.”
“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” said Leon, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”
The strongly worded decision stands in contrast to the secret deliberations of 15 judges on the nation’s surveillance court, which hears only the government’s side of cases and since 2006 has held in a series of classified rulings that the program is lawful. A Justice Department spokesman, Andrew Ames, said Monday that the government was reviewing Leon’s decision. “We believe the program is constitutional as previous judges have found,” he said. The challenge to the NSA’s once-classified collection of phone records is one of a series of cases filed in federal court since the program’s existence was revealed in June by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden praised the ruling in a statement made to journalist Glenn Greenwald, who received NSA documents from Snowden and first reported on the program’s existence.
“I acted on my belief that the NSA’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts,” said Snowden, who has received temporary asylum in Russia, where he is seeking to avoid U.S. prosecution under the Espionage Act for leaking NSA documents. “Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”
The ruling also comes as Congress is debating whether to end the NSA’s “bulk” collection of phone data or endorse it in statute. The White House, U.S. officials say, supports maintaining the program. “It will be very difficult for the administration to argue that the NSA’s call-tracking program should continue when a federal judge has found it to be unconstitutional,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has also sued the government over the program’s constitutionality. But George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr said, “It gives opponents of the NSA program more fuel to add to the fire, but its legal impact is quite limited because the case now just goes to the court of appeals.” The government has stressed that the program collects only “metadata,” such as numbers dialed and the times and lengths of calls, but no phone content or subscriber names. Officials say that only numbers linked to suspected terrorists are run against the database. Leon’s opinion countered that the program is so sweeping — the database easily contains billions of records — that it amounts to a “dragnet” that intrudes on the constitutional expectation of privacy. He dismissed the government’s claim that “special needs” requiring quick access to data that could thwart a terrorist plot make a warrant impracticable. “No court has ever recognized a special need sufficient to justify continuous, daily searches of virtually every American citizen without any particularized suspicion,” he said. The government’s legal justification for the call-tracking program is based on a 1979 case, Smith v. Maryland, involving the surveillance of a criminal suspect over a two-day period. In that case, the Supreme Court said that Americans have no expectation of privacy in the telephone metadata that companies hold as business records, and that therefore a warrant is not required to obtain such information. A succession of judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have adopted the government’s argument based on that ruling. But Leon said the question the Supreme Court confronted in 1979 is not the same as the one he was faced with. “Indeed, the question in this case can more properly be styled as follows: When do present-day circumstances — the evolutions in the government’s surveillance capabilities, citizens’ phone habits, and the relationship between the NSA and telecom companies — become so thoroughly unlike those considered by the Supreme Court thirty-four years ago, that a precedent like Smith does not apply?” he wrote. “The answer, unfortunately for the government, is now.” Kerr said Leon is wrong to suggest that Smith no longer applies. That decision, he said, draws a clear distinction between the collection of data on numbers dialed and on call content. The metadata information the government is gathering today, Kerr said, is the same type of information the court said that law enforcement could collect more than 30 years ago. “The opinion is more valid now than it was,” Kerr said, adding that “it’s up to the Supreme Court to overturn its decision, not trial judges.” Leon, who was nominated by President George W. Bush and appointed to the bench in 2002, said the government has played down the program’s invasiveness. The “almost-Orwellian technology” that allows the government to collect, store and analyze phone metadata is “unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979” and, “at best, the stuff of science fiction,” he said. Klayman, founder of the public interest group Freedom Watch, called Leon’s ruling “courageous.”
“This is a warning to both parties that they'd better start observing the rule of law and protecting the American people or there will be severe consequences,” he said.
Meanwhile, Verizon Communications, named as a defendant, filed a motion Monday asking to be dismissed from the case. The request was based in part on a certification also filed Monday by the Justice Department that the company has immunity against lawsuits since it was compelled by a court order to comply with the government’s request for data. That immunity was authorized under a 2008 law known as the FISA Amendments Act. Leon rejected the government’s argument that Klayman and a co-plaintiff — the father of an NSA cryptologist killed in Afghanistan in 2011 — lacked standing to bring the suit because they were customers of Verizon Communications subsidiary Verizon Wireless, which has not been publicly revealed as taking part in the program. “The government,” he said, says it has created a “comprehensive” database — “in which case, the NSA must have collected metadata from Verizon Wireless, the single largest wireless carrier in the United States.” Yet, at the same time, he wrote, the government asserts that the plaintiffs lack standing “based on the theoretical possibility” that the NSA has not collected Verizon’s records. “Candor of this type defies common sense and does not exactly inspire confidence!” he wrote. To draw an analogy, he wrote, omitting Verizon Wireless, AT&T or Sprint “would be like omitting John, Paul and George” and building a “Ringo-only database.”

Obama to meet with tech execs to talk NSA, health care

President Obama is set to meet with several tech executives on Tuesday to discuss the administration's efforts to address problems with the federal online health care exchange as well as the fallout that national security leaks have had on their companies, according to the White House. Among those expected to take part in the White House meeting are Apple's CEO Tim Cook, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
The announcement of the meeting comes as a federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance program that collects millions of Americans' telephone records may be unconstitutional.
The White House announced on Friday that Obama received 40 recommendations made by a special study group he tasked with reviewing the U.S. intelligence community's collection of telephone and Internet data in the aftermath of revelations made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Obama's action on the recommendations -- which he is currently weighing and expected to announce next month -- are of significant importance to companies like Google. Facebook, Apple and others who are dealing with the fallout of reports based on the Snowden's leaks that the NSA gained access to some of their users' information.
Obama is expected to talk to the tech officials specifically about the economic impacts of unauthorized intelligence disclosures and how government can help the tech sector to "grow the economy, create jobs and address issues around income inequality and social mobility," according to the White House.
In addition to Cook, Mayer and Sandberg, other executives expected to attend the White House meeting include Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter; Chad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy ; Reed Hastings, co-Founder and CEO of Netflix; Drew Houston, founder and CEO of Dropbox; Burke Norton, chief legal officer of Salesforce; Mark Pincus, Founder and chairman of Zynga; Shervin Pishevar, co-Founder of Sherpa Global; Brian Roberts, chairman & CEO of Comcast; Erika Rottenberg, vice president, and general counsel of LinkedIn; Brad Smith, executive vice president and general counsel of Microsoft; and Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T.

North Korean army stages mass rally as loyalty to Kim dynasty

The North Korean army stages a massive rally to pledge its loyalty to the Kim dynasty, as the reclusive country prepares to mark the second anniversary of the late leader Kim Jong-il's death.

Bangladesh & Hamid Mir: A rose not to be taken

By Maskwaith Ahsan
Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir’s recent article in daily Jang, asking for the release of Ghulam Azam, the Bangladesh mastermind of ‘71 war crimes, appeared as a surprise gift for those who witnessed Mir’s photo session in front of Islamabad Press Club demanding Pakistan’s apology for the genocide of 1971.
Hamid Mir became a hero in Bangladesh for this photo session and a few reconciliatory articles published in daily Prothom Alo. Mir’s father Waris Mir stood up against the ‘71 killings and was hence humiliated and defamed as a traitor by the then establishment. Recently, Hamid Mir visited Dhaka to receive national recognition on behalf of his father’s heroic role in 71 as a friend of Bangladesh and humanity.
With the help of his father’s credibility and standing Hamid Mir has been portraying himself as a politically correct activist in Bangladesh. However, all it took was an article in favor of Ghulam Azam to expose Hamid’s deceptive agenda.
In his article he has tried to defame the Bangladesh tribunal as being a farce and a mere conduit for political witch hunting. Interestingly, it’s the same line of propaganda used by the lobbyists hired by Jamaat leaders of Bangladesh. Hamid Mir has used the same illogical argument that when Pakistan could not bring to trial the 195 army officers involved in the killings of ’71, what then is the basis if trying their Bangladeshi collaborators! Ironically for Hamid Mir, he defeated his own argument in the article by writing that had the war criminals listed in the Inquiry commission report of 1972 been punished, Pakistan and Bangladesh could have reconciled the tragedy of ‘71. Basically, he accepts that war crimes were committed but doesn’t want the Jamaat perpetrators punished.
To give him credit, Hamid Mir has raised an important point: Awami League won the 1970 national elections with a clean majority and by launching an operation in the then east Pakistan, the Pakistan army committed a crime by violating the rights of the majority and by that reason violated the rules of the state, so why didn’t Pakistan try those involved with an illegitimate army operation against the legitimate majority of the then East Pakistan? Having raised this question it is now Hamid Mir and his politically correct friends’ responsibility to request the Pakistan Government to seek state apology for ‘71 and to implement the commission report by trying those Pakistanis implicated in the 1972 inquiry commission report.
Bangladesh cannot take responsibility for the failure of Pakistan’s actions. At our end, the youth of Bangladesh voted Awami League into power in 2008 for bringing war criminals to justice. With that mandate Awami League formed this tribunal to try top local collaborators who were involved in the civilian killings of 1971.
My observation so far has been that Hamid Mir writes secular columns in English and reactionary ones in Urdu. He knows well that the ‘burger’ crowds of Pakistan don’t/can’t read Urdu and that’s why they invite him to fashionable human rights rallies, whereas his ‘bun kabab’ fans read only Urdu and consider him an icon of right-wingism. In this manner he gets to swing both ways: by seeking apology for ‘71 in English and in the same breath by seeking pardon for Ghulam Azam’s war crimes in Urdu. This sort of blatant hypocracy earns nothing; it only unmasks the heart of darkness. Hamid Mir suffers from the dilemma of the contrast between his father’s ideology and of his own. His father’s influence inspired him to become a part of the movement for seeking apology for the 1971 crimes, while his Jamaat ties forced him to call Ghulam Azam a hero. As evident on social media, this dilemma has cost Hamid Mir his young followers in Bangladesh in a matter of minutes.
Bangladeshi thinker Professor Humayun Azad once made a very generic and personal comment that he could not trust a Pakistani, not even one offering him a rose. In my case I would narrow it down to just I would say the same about Hamid Mir.

Bangladesh: Celebrations of triumph 1971

Victory Day is one of the biggest national celebrations across the country, and despite the ongoing political turmoil, a lot of programmes are scheduled for the day, including some unique attempts.
One of the most elaborate programmes of the day is being chalked out by the Gonojagoron Mancha. Titled “Bijoy 2013”, a wide array of programmes will be held at the historic Suhrawardy Udyan. Starting at 11:15am, noted artistes and groups will perform at the stage, followed by a ‘Concert for Freedom’ beginning at 2:30pm. After a cultural presentation by the Sector Commanders’ Forum at 3:45pm, a ‘documentary act’ on the surrender of the Pakistan army will be held at 4:10pm, followed by a choral singing of the National Anthem at 4:31pm, the exact time of surrender by the Pak army in 1971. A token oath-taking and flag handover to the second-in-command of the Liberation War Air Vice Marshall (retd) AK Khandaker and a performance by artistes of Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro, a fireworks display is scheduled for 5:20pm, after which the concert will resume.
At the National Parade Ground, Telecom Company Robi Axiata Limited is attempting to break a World Record by making the largest human flag in the world, titled “Laal Shobuj’er Bishwa Joy”. A staggering number of 30,000 people are expected to take part in holding up the largest human flag ever made. The event will begin at 10am and is scheduled till 2pm. Channel i is also holding a daylong Channel i Bijoy Mela at its office at Tejgaon today. Freedom Fighters, cultural and literary personalities along with editors of the national dailies will be present at the inaugural session. As part of the Bijoy Mela, artists will take part in a painting programme. The event will include songs, recitations, plays, interviews and reminiscences on the war. There will also be several documentary screenings, and photography exhibitions on the Liberation War. Senior programme manager Amirul Islam and Shahidul Islam Sachchu will direct the event.
Apart from that, Sammilita Sangskritik Jote will continue their scheduled cultural programmes at 12 venues in and around the capital, in Gendaria, Bahadur Shah Park, Hajaribagh, Motijheel, Shaheed Minar, Dhaka University premises, Dhanmondi Rabindra Sharobor, Rayerbazar memorial, Uttara, Dania, Pallabiand Mirpur. As part of the Liberation War Museum’s programmes, it will hold a children’s cultural programme featuring various cultural organisations and schools at its premises from 10am, while a separate programme at Mirpur’s ‘Jolladkhana’ memorial will feature cultural performances by various groups. The National museum’s two-day Liberation War-based Film Festival will also see its final day from 2pm, screening films “Stop Genocide”, “Not a Penny, Not a Gun” and “The Birth Pangs of a Nation”. Udichi Shilpi Goshthi has also chalked out three-day programmes on the occasion. Today’s programmes will feature a children’s painting competition at 3pm at the Hakim Chattar of Dhaka University, a rally, book fair, photography exhibition, cultural programme and film show. Dhaka University Film Society’s Victory Day celebrations will include a wall painting session at TSC at 6:30pm, followed by a film screening. BUET is also organising a daylong fair and photography exhibition, followed by a cultural programme and an orchestral performance in the evening.

Bangladesh: 'Victory Day today'
The nation celebrates the 43rd Victory Day today, paying rich tributes to the three million martyrs for their supreme sacrifice for the country and with a renewed call for executing all the verdicts against war criminals. On this day in 1971, Pakistani occupation forces surrendered after a nine-month war resulting in a free, independent and sovereign Bangladesh.
The day bears a special significance this year as it is going to be celebrated four days after the execution of war criminal Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah. He was hanged on Thursday night. The day is a public holiday.
Different political parties, socio-cultural organisations and educational institutions have drawn up elaborate programmes to celebrate the Victory Day.
The day will be heralded with 31 gun salutes. However, no parade will be held this year as law enforcers are currently busy ahead of the national election.
President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia will place wreaths at the National Mausoleum at Savar in the early hours to pay homage to the martyred freedom fighters. People from all walks of life will also place wreaths at the National Memorial.
The national flag will be hoisted atop all government and private buildings, while the government and semi-government buildings and other public places will be illuminated and roads and islands will be decorated with flags and festoons in all cities of the country on the occasion.
National dailies will bring out supplements. The state-owned and private televisions and radios will broadcast special programmes highlighting the significance of the day. Special prayers will be offered in mosques, temples, churches, pagodas and other places of worship seeking divine blessings for the peace and progress of the country.
The President will accord a reception to freedom fighters at Bangabhaban in the afternoon. The destitute children will be allowed to visit the children park in the capital on the day free of cost. Improved diets will be served in jails, hospitals, orphanages and vagrant homes across the country.
Bangladesh missions abroad will hoist the national flag and organise discussion, cultural function and reception.
The ruling Awami League has chalked out elaborate programmes to mark the day. National and party flags will be hoisted at the party's central office at Bangabandhu Avenue at dawn. Awami League leaders and workers will place wreaths at the National Memorial at Savar at the same time. The ruling party leaders will also pay tributes to Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by placing wreaths at his portrait at Bangabnadhu Bhaban at Dhanmondi in the city in the morning. Besides, the party leaders and workers will place wreaths at the graveyard of Bangabandhu at Tungipara in Gopalganj district. The ruling party will also bring out a victory rally from Suhrawardy Udyan in the afternoon. The main opposition BNP will celebrate the Victory Day with various programmes across the country. BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia along with her party leaders and activists will place wreaths at the majar of late President and BNP founder Ziaur Rahman at Sher-e-Banglanagar in the capital around 8am. The party will also hold a discussion meeting at the Jatiya Press Club in the afternoon, marking the day. Meanwhile, President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia have issued separate messages on the occasion. In his message, the President urged all irrespective of party affiliation and opinion to work together with a view to reaching the benefit of the independence to the doorsteps of people. The Prime Minister in her message said, "We're determined to build a hunger - and poverty-free, prosperous and peaceful Golden Bangladesh by 2021 as dreamt by the Father of the Nation." She also underscored the need for maintaining the continuity of the development and democracy to achieve the target. The opposition leader, in her message, said, "We must forge a national unity imbued with the spirit of the Liberation War to save our beloved country, its independence and sovereignty from the hands of the evil forces and make the democracy free from danger."

Delhi sees 125% jump in number of rape cases since December 16 rape case

In the year since a brutal gang rape took the life of a young woman and made the entire country stand up and say enough is enough, there has been a 125% jump in the number of rape cases in Delhi. Molestation cases are up a massive 417%.
That may not necessarily be a bad thing.
It’s because more and more cases are being reported and registered, the police say. A tough new law now holds the cops directly accountable, with refusal to lodge a case inviting a two-year jail sentence. But how long can the police sustain this, that’s the big question. The force deals with very real constraints - a severe manpower crunch that has sees one cop handling as many as 18-20 cases at a time, and a lack of forensic testing facilities that is crucial for evidence collection and analysis.
These constraints impact the quality of investigation. "An internal examination showed that only 60% of such complaints could withstand judicial scrutiny," an officer admitted. Till November this year, the Delhi Police registered 1,493 cases of rape against 661 in the corresponding period last year, 3,237 cases of molestation against 625 in the same period, 852 cases of harassment against 165.
"Safety of women is our top priority and all necessary measures to ensure it are being taken," said commissioner BS Bassi.
Every complaint is converted into a first information report, each of which is then taken up for scrutiny on a regular basis for the filing of a charge sheet.
"All cases of sexual assault are monitored on a monthly basis," said Deepak Mishra, special commissioner of police (law and order). "Our endeavour is to file charge sheets in every single case within a month of its being reported."
But with just one forensic facility currently at their disposal, supplementary charge sheets are the best the police can do in most cases, they say. The 80,000-strong city force already has a backlog of 10,000 cases with new ones coming in at an alarming rate.
Lawyers, however, feel differently. "The police are duty-bound to register cases as and when received and the total number of complaints does not matter under the criminal procedure code. A closure report can be filed if investigation proves a false complaint. However, there’s enough manpower in the form of personnel serving in district lines who can be utilised for patrolling, if not investigation," said high court advocate Vikas Garg.

Afghanistan: BSA can be signed by Karzai's successor: Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry, insisting on the early conclusion of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), has said the deal could be inked either by President Hamid Karzai or his successor.
Speaking to ABC television on Sunday, Kerry hinted for the first time at some flexibility in the Obama administration's stance on the issue and said the agreement could be signed even by President Karzai's successor after the April 2014 elections. Refusing to give a clear cut-off date, the secretary said: "I believe that Hamid Karzai, either he or his successor will sign this. Now, I think he needs to sign this... And the reason he needs to sign it is because of the planning that is necessary..." The BSA should be in place as soon as possible because more than 50 nations had been involved in the ongoing mission and they all had budgets and planning requirements, he argued, asking Karzai to recognise the importance of signing the pact. He replied in the negative when asked if the Afghan leader had to sign the accord by January. "We have an agreement that's been negotiated and he has said to me personally, and as recently as a day ago, reiterated through his minister that the language is fine."
With the consultative Loya Jirga having endorsed the BSA, Karzai wanted guarantees of a halt to raids on civilian homes and US support for the peace process, the diplomat said, hoping that the two sides would still achieve a breakthrough.
"I believe that it’s possible to work this through and I don’t think, uh, you know, we’ve reached the point of throwing up our hands…" Kerry remarked.

The Afghan challenge ahead

President Hamid Karzai’s visit to India, possibly his last before elections scheduled for April 2014, marks a critical moment in the development of the relationship between India and the new Afghanistan born amid the bloodshed of 9/11. India has been a partner in the process, but Mr. Karzai came asking how much more it might be willing to do. In the spring, the International Security Assistance Force which has provided the backbone of the state since 2001 will begin to return home. Although there are substantial international aid commitments in place, Mr. Karzai has been seeking a reassurance that the country’s most trusted partners will stand by it if things go wrong. He received some comfort from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Following more than a year of deliberation, India has finally committed to providing Afghanistan with the military assistance it seeks under the Strategic Partnership Agreement binding the two allies. The assistance will, for now, be modest. Indian-made light helicopters will join Afghanistan’s fledgling air fleet, while its army will receive transport and logistics equipment. This comes on top of a substantial programme of civilian assistance. Indian engineers have, despite credible Taliban threats, brought the Salma hydro-electric dam near Herat to within a year of completion. Indian experts have been involved in setting up an agricultural university at Kandahar, which Afghans hope will prove an incubator to rebuild livelihoods across the troubled south. India provides over a thousand scholarships every year to Afghan university students, and is building its new Parliament building. Preliminary plans exist for iron ore mining at Hajigak.
India’s investments, measured against overall international aid, are not huge. However, the reservoir of goodwill the assistance has generated is illustrated by the fact that all the competing presidential candidates in 2014 are vocal in their support for a deeper relationship. The reasons are rooted in history. Before 9/11, India, along with Iran and Russia, was at the heart of the small coalition of states which nurtured the struggle against the Pakistan-backed Taliban and al-Qaeda. India provided aid to the resistance. India has clear interests in helping build a democratic Afghanistan. The alternative is the empowerment of jihadist organisations which threaten peace and stability in the region. For a decade now, India’s low-key partnership has piggy-backed on the western presence in Afghanistan. The day may not be far, though, when India, with others, finds itself called on to do more. New Delhi must start considering the challenges that lie ahead.

Genocide Of Pakistan's Shia: Pakistanis slam killing of Shia cleric

Shia Muslims in Pakistan have held demonstrations in condemnation of the killing of a prominent Shia cleric in Lahore.
Allama Nasir Abbas, the leader of Tehreek Nifaz Fiqah-e-Jafaria, which is a banned organization in Pakistan, was gunned down by unidentified armed men on Sunday night, on his way home after addressing a religious gathering in the capital of Punjab Province.
“It is a targeted attack. The gunmen shot him from close range when he was driving home along with his driver and a friend,” said Lahore police chief Chaudhry Shafeeq. “Abbas died on the way to hospital. His driver and friend were unhurt.”
The followers of the cleric gathered at the hospital after hearing the news and held a protest. Chanting slogans against the Pakistani government, the protesters said they will not bury his body until police arrest the killers. Groups of Shias also demonstrated in front of the Punjab governor’s house early Monday to demand officials to bring the attackers to justice.
Three days of mourning have been announced in Lahore to honor the assassinated Muslim leader.
The latest killing comes more than a week after the assassination of Maulana Shamsur Rehman, the leader of the Sunni organization of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, near a mosque in Lahore. Shia groups have condemned the December 6 killing of the Sunni leader. Shia Muslims, who make up about 20 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million population, have been the target of sectarian violence in recent years. On November 19, gunmen killed a senior Shia university director along with his driver in Lahore, while another Shia leader and his guard were killed in Karachi early December.
More than 800 Shia Muslims have been killed in attacks in Pakistan since 2012, according to Human Rights Watch.

Ahmadi Muslim Sect Under siege in Pakistan
Last year 20 cases against Ahmadis were registered, up from 10 cases in 2009. A bank clerk was arrested for wearing a ring with a Koranic verse and an entire family was charged for writing a Muslim greeting on a wedding invitation.
A 72-year-old British doctor is in prison in Pakistan for "posing as a Muslim", charges that reveal an escalating ideological fight that often spills over into violence.
Masood Ahmad is a quiet, reserved widower who returned to Pakistan to open a pharmacy in 1982 after decades of working in London to pay his children's school fees, his family said. He is also an Ahmadi, a sect that consider themselves Muslim but believe in a prophet after Mohammed. A 1984 Pakistani law declared them non-Muslims, and Ahmadis can be jailed for three years for posing as a Muslim or outraging Muslims' feelings.
Some mullahs promise that killing Ahmadis earns a place in heaven. Leaflets list their home addresses.
Three years ago, 86 Ahmadis were killed in two simultaneous attacks on Friday prayers in Lahore. There have been no mass attacks since then, but targeted killings are rising: last year 20 Ahmadis were killed, up from 11 in 2009.
And legal prosecutions are on the rise, say Ahmadis, some of which they say are linked to property grabs. Ahmad was arrested in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore last month when two men posing as patients questioned him about his faith and used mobile phones to secretly record him reading a verse from the Koran. "He (the patient) said you are like a father to me, please help me with some questions," said the doctor's older brother, Nasir Ahmad. "When (my brother) answered, they began beating him and dragged him outside by his neck." One of his accusers, Islamic teacher Muhammad Ihsan, told Reuters that Ahmad had preached to them illegally. Last year 20 cases against Ahmadis were registered, up from 10 cases in 2009. A bank clerk was arrested for wearing a ring with a Koranic verse and an entire family was charged for writing a Muslim greeting on a wedding invitation. Mullahs have twice sought the arrest of an entire town of Ahmadis - 60,000 people - for holding religious celebrations. Residents were serving food, giving out sweets and displaying bunting, the complaints said. "We would not have a problem with them if they did not use the name of Islam and the symbols of Islam," said Tahir Ashrafi, head of the powerful Ulema Council of clerics. "We are against the killing of any innocent, Qadiani or Shi'ite or any non-Muslim. Such attacks are not acceptable or allowed, but if they break the law, we have a right to go to the police," he said, using another term for Ahmadis.
There are about half a million Ahmadis in Pakistan, their leaders say. Many only feel safe in Rabwa, a town they bought when Pakistan was created in 1947. On its main streets, banks of security cameras monitor fruit vendors and dozing dogs. Near the playing fields, blocks of flats house families that fled other parts of Pakistan after loved ones were murdered. Rafiatta, who asked her last name not be used, moved to Rabwa after gunmen killed her husband in 2010 in front of their young children.
"He was just a hard-working man who loved his family," she said. The family fled after two Ahmadi neighbours were also killed and men tried to kidnap Raffiata's young son.
The Ahmadi are also targets outside Pakistan. In Indonesia, a gruesome YouTube video recorded a mass lynching in 2011 as police looked on. Ahmadi publications are banned in Bangladesh, where a festival site was torched earlier this year. In Britain, Ahmadi buildings have been vandalised and leaflets have appeared forbidding them to enter shops and urging Muslims to kill them, British media have reported.
But Pakistan is the epicentre of persecution.
Last April, a 25-year-old hospital clerk and his father were at home in Lahore reading an Ahmadi newspaper when a crowd of mullahs broke down their door, the clerk said. They beat the two while a crowd looted their home. Then a gunman forced the pair into a car without license plates, the clerk said. He asked not to be named for fear of retribution.
Their kidnappers went free but the two were eventually charged with impersonating Muslims in special anti-terrorist courts designed to combat the Taliban.
The clerk was released after a month, but his father, who has not yet been convicted, has been in prison for nine months. The family has since fled their home and the man now occupying it is refusing to pay them for it. "Nobody has the courage to give him bail or dismiss the case," the clerk said. And that's what Masood Ahmad's family fears. He has had three bail hearings. One was picketed by scores of mullahs chanting anti-Ahmadi slogans and his frightened lawyer skipped the next two. British authorities are giving him consular assistance. His son, one of seven children in Britain and Australia, said the family suspected someone was trying to steal his father's dispensary. "I feel so angry because I can't do anything from here," said 39-year-old Abbas Ahmad, a cab driver in Glasgow. "It's awful to know that people were plotting against someone you love."

Voice for Baloch Missing Persons launches second phase of its long march to Islamabad
The organisation representing families of enforced-disappeared Baloch launched its second phase of long march from Karachi to Islamabad on Friday.
The convey consisting of hundreds of Baloch youth, children, elders and women headed by Mama Qadeer Baloch, father of murdered Jalil Reki, and Farzana Majeed Baloch, sister of abducted Baloch student leader Zakir Majeed Baloch, left to Islamabad on 13 December 2013 from Karachi Press Club.
The people in convoy marched ten miles to reach Baloch Colony where they rested for a while and then restarted their journey in the evening.
The women and young ones continuously chanted slogans for the release of their loved ones. They also pledged to continue the struggle to bring the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings in Balochistan to justice.
The leader of the convoy Mama Qadeer said they present a memorandum United Nations headquarter after they reach to Islamabad. He said they would ask the UN why it has continuously been ignoring human rights violations, especially, enforced-disappearances and extra-judicial killings in Balochistan. He claimed that according to today’s figures eighteen thousand two hundred thirty-six (18632) people have been abducted and they currently being held by Pakistani security agencies and army.
Farzana Baloch dressed in traditional Balochi cloths, whose brother Zakir Majeed Baloch was abducted four years ago, said: “We have explored every option, we have contacted human rights organisations, we have petitioned in Supreme Court but it has been of no use. We have daily been requesting United Nations to press state of Pakistan for the release of our loved ones but there has been no success. We seek an answer about the reasons.” An ambulance, two vehicles of Police and two others of Rangers were also traveling alongside the caravan but the participants were not satisfied regarding their safety.
Chairman of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, while talking to BBC Urdu, said that he was worried about young children in the caravan who are continuously being threatened by Pakistani forces.
According the participants of the long march it will take them two months to reach Islamabad but it can even take longer if the weather deteriorates. On Saturday the March started the second day of their journey from Malir area of Karachi accompanied by thousands of Baloch and other human rights activists. As they entered interior Sindh different Sindhi political parties passionately greeted them and started walking with them. The Sindhi nationalist leaders said they would continue to support the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons long march for the release of thousands of abducted persons.
Meanwhile Farzana Majeed Baloch told a private TV channel that Voice for Baloch Missing Persons long marchers will continue their journey and hoped that Sindhi brothers and sisters will support them as both nations are suffering at the hands of common oppressor
She said: “Sindhi should consider us their families, sisters and mothers and do their best to help us as we pass from their territory.”
Vice chairman of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons Mama Qadeer Baloch strongly condemned a Sindhi pro-establishment newspaper ‘Awami Awaaz’ for a misleading statement attributed to him. He said in a video message that he has always spoken about Sindh’s unity and prosperity. He said Baloch and Sindhi’s were brothers and were struggling against a common enemy. “The same forces that abducted and killed thousands of Baloch, are now arbitrary arresting and killing Sindhi political activists,” he said.

Relatives of people who have gone missing from Balochistan province set off on a grueling 1,200-kilometer march from Karachi to Islamabad on Saturday, hoping to recover their loved ones. The more than two-dozen men, women and children had camped in the commercial hub for nearly three weeks after walking 700 kilometers from Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, where a violent insurgency against the Pakistani state has raged since 2004. The latest leg of their journey will take them from Karachi, which lies on the Arabian Sea, to the capital city in the foothills of the Himalayas. They hope to gain public support so they can pressure the government into freeing relatives who have disappeared, allegedly at the hands of Pakistan’s security services. “Our main objective is to secure release of our loved ones but unfortunately we have not received any help from the government so far,” said Muhammad Qadir Baloch, leader of the march. Baloch, 70, who also heads a non-governmental organization, Voice of Missing Baloch Persons, said: “Our next destination is Islamabad where we will finalize our future course of action.” Tired of waiting for justice—or even news of the fate of their brothers, sons, and husbands—the men and women undertook the unprecedented march from Quetta to Karachi. Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but least populous province. It is also the least developed, which has exacerbated a long-running ethnic Baloch separatist movement that wants more autonomy and a greater share of its mineral wealth. The latest armed insurgency rose up in 2004 and separatist groups still regularly carry out attacks on Pakistani forces. Rights groups accuse the military and intelligence agencies of kidnapping and killing suspected Baloch rebels before leaving their bodies by the roadside. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 300 people have suffered this fate—known as “kill and dump”—in the province since January 2011. The security services deny the allegations and say they are battling a fierce rebellion in the province.

Bilawal unveils plan to promote peace

The Express Tribune
For the first time in the history of Pakistan a ‘Sindh festival’ is going to be organised from February 2014, aiming to promote, protect and preserve one of the richest cultures of the world: the Indus Civilisation.
“We are promoting the culture of peace, while terrorists want to impose their culture through the barrel of a gun,” said Pakistan Peoples Party Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at a ceremony Sunday evening.
The Sindh festival, which will be hosted by Bilawal and his sister, Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, will start from Mohenjo-Daro and will end at Keenjhar Lake. It will feature events such as a horse and cattle grand prix, grand mushairas [in Sindhi and Urdu], music nights, Sindh fashion festival, Sindh international film festival, Karachi literature festival, a children’s festival and a Basant festival.
“Our heritage is under threat,” Bilawal said while unveiling the features of the Sindh festival. A ‘fictionalised and imported’ culture is being imposed on Pakistan “despite the fact that the country has its own rich cultural heritage”, he added.
“Terrorists want Pakistan to have a primitive society… It is up to us to preserve our own history and culture,” Bilawal said. “I’m proud to be a Sindhi, Muslim and Pakistani… Let’s preserve, protect and promote Sindh. Let’s preserve, protect and promote Pakistan’s heritage,” he added. Bilawal stressed that the Sindh festival would be an ‘apolitical’ festival. “Every citizen of Pakistan… [including] Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, Imran Khan and members of all political parties… are invited to the Sindh festival,” he said.

Three bomb disposal unit officials killed in Peshawar blast
A remote-controlled bomb blast in Peshawar Monday killed three officials of the bomb disposal unit (BDU), Local TV reported. According to the police, the remote-controlled explosion occurred in the Sheikh Mohammadi area of Badhber and targeted the vehicle of the BDU. Three officials, including the BDU in-charge, were killed in the blast. Police and other security personnel have cordoned off the Sheikh Mohammadi area and another bomb, containing four kilograms of explosive materials, was defused after a search operation went underway. Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, lies on the edge of Pakistan's tribal areas which have been labelled by Washington as the main sanctuary for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the country. The city has seen frequent attacks by militants in the past few years, with targets ranging from civilians to policemen and other law enforcement personnel.

Lahore: Sit-in outside Governor House continues against MWM' Allama Nasir killing

Three officials of bomb disposal unit including the in-charge were killed in a blast at Sheikh Mohammadi in the outskirt here on Monday, Geo News reported. Sources said that a minor blast had occurred last night at Badaber in the outskirt here and a bomb disposal unit in-charge Abdul Huque and other personnel of the team were on way to the scene of incident early this morning, when a roadside planted bomb near Sheikh Mohammadi went off and destroyed the vehicle, which resulted in the death of three personnel on board the vehicle including the BDU in-charge Abdul Huque and two injured. Later, the injured were shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital, where they are being given treatment. Hospital sources said that the injured are still in critical condition.

Pakistani Shi'ite cleric shot dead in reprisal attack

A prominent Pakistani Shi'ite Muslim cleric has been shot dead in an apparent reprisal attack following the murder this month of a Sunni Muslim leader, police said on Monday.
Sectarian violence has been on the rise in Pakistan, adding to the list of concerns for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a time when security forces are already stretched fighting an escalating Taliban insurgency in the northwest of the country.Allama Nasir Abbas, leader of Tehreek Nifaz Fiqah-e-Jafaria, a banned Shi'ite organisation, was shot by unknown gunmen on a motorbike as he drove home after addressing a religious gathering in the city of Lahore on Sunday evening."It's a targeted attack. The gunmen shot him from close range when he was driving home along with his driver and a friend," Lahore police chief Chaudhry Shafeeq told Reuters.
"Abbas died on the way to hospital. His driver and friend were unhurt."
On December 6, Maulana Shamsur Rehman, the Punjab province leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a Sunni organisation, was shot dead as he left a mosque in Lahore.
Shi'ite Muslims make up about 20 percent of Pakistan's 180 million population. More than 800 Shi'ites have been killed in attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of 2012, according to Human Rights Watch. But tit-for-tat sectarian killings are relatively rare in Lahore, the political and cultural capital of Pakistan and Sharif's home town.