Monday, April 7, 2014

Driving in Saudi Arabia as a Woman
Since October 26 of last year, dozens of Saudi women have taken the wheel, defying the ban on female drivers. It's a movement that, while modest in size, garnered new attention this weekend when Barack Obama came to visit. There's no official law in Saudi Arabia that bans women from driving. But its Interior Ministry won't issue licenses to women. When pulled over, women have to sign a pledge saying that they won't drive again. A second violation means signing another pledge and waiting for a male relative pick them up. Whoever picks them up has to also sign a pledge saying they won't let the women drive. The ban stems from the ruling family's Wahhabism, a strict interpretation of Islam that requires women to get permission from a male guardian not only to drive but get married, travel, work, and go to school.
During last year's first organized defiance, 16 women were stopped by police. That's an improvement from the first protest in 1990 when, according to the Associated Press, 50 women were arrested, jailed, had their passports confiscated, and were fired from their jobs. A 2011 protest had 40 participants, one of whom was arrested and sentenced to 10 lashes. The protests have continued each month since October and some women are noticing a culture change. Police seem less willing to crackdown on those who defy the ban. And while Obama did not take up Amnesty International's suggestion to hire a woman chauffeur for his visit, one of the protestors, Naseema al-Sada, tells AP that more people around the country seem to be warming up to their cause. As part of the movement, many of these women post their driving experiences online. Evident in the hand-waving and thumbs-up gestures from passing vehicles in videos like the one below, the reactions are often far from hostile:

Wish for Change Animates Voters in India Election

Over the last several years, as the yearning for a strong leader began to deepen and swell in the Indian electorate, one politician was systematically preparing himself to be the answer to that demand. Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has spent this campaign season standing above oceans of people — a stern, commanding figure who brags of his “56-inch chest.” He has offered himself as a C.E.O. for the nation, poised to slice through India’s bureaucracy with the sure hand of an experienced manager.
This message has won him the confidence of India’s working and middle classes, who are pinched by food inflation, disillusioned with the Gandhi dynasty and wearied of the corruption scandals that have accumulated around the governing Congress party. The election, which began on Monday as the first of India’s 814 million registered voters cast ballots in the country’s remote northeast, is less about policies than a desire for change.
“The sentiment is that we have a slightly embarrassing leadership,” said Siddharth Khanna, 27, a Delhi advertising executive. “We are seen to be lagging. We feel if we have strong leadership, we will be insulated from the effects of the global slowdown. We don’t trust anyone, to be honest. But it might as well be someone who is aggressive in whatever stance he takes.”
It has never been clear what kind of leader Mr. Modi would be, should his coalition win enough seats to form a government after nine waves of votes are counted on May 16. At 63, he has shown radically different faces to the world as he has risen through the political system: Before campaigning on a technocratic, good-governance platform, Mr. Modi was shaped by his years working as a propagandist for a Hindu-right organization, and he was widely blamed for bloody religious riots that broke out in the state he governed. He is enthusiastically embraced by international corporations, but he also answers to an electoral base of small traders dead set against globalization. His sometimes autocratic style may collide with several constraints, among them a boisterous press, activist courts and fractious allies, that have slowed his predecessors. His method of governing may be determined by arithmetic. Opinion polls suggest that his National Democratic Alliance will emerge with the largest number parliamentary seats. Though Hindus make up 80 percent of India’s population, the country is a kaleidoscope of religious diversity, including a large Muslim population along with Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists. The Constitution enshrines a secular state, and the country has a long history of accommodating a wide range of religious and ethnic diversity. Mr. Modi will look to the margin of victory as a measure of his popular mandate, said Ashok Malik, a prominent columnist who has supported Mr. Modi’s candidacy. A haul of 220 out of 545 seats in the lower house, he said, would signal “a mandate for revolutionary change.” For Mr. Malik, that mandate matters for economic reasons, giving Mr. Modi the independence to challenge powerful state lobbies and restructure the economy to create jobs and integrate India in global supply chains. But Mr. Modi’s critics worry that a sweeping victory would embolden Mr. Modi to pursue a risky and divisive Hindu nationalist agenda sought by some of his most loyal supporters.
“He will look around and decide what he can do — whether he can make India into a Hindu nation or not,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadyay, the author of a biography of Mr. Modi. “If it takes too much risk, he will not do it. If he can, he will. Initially, he will focus on growth.” If Indians disagree about Mr. Modi’s intentions, it is partly because he has reinvented himself several times. The son of a tea-stall owner in a small town, he traces his political awakening to the age of 8, when he began taking part in the evening drills of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist right-wing organization. The R.S.S. offered him a way to break from family obligations, and he bucked his parents’ authority by walking away from an arranged marriage in favor of years of ascetic wandering; a new biography, distributed to journalists by the B.J.P., said he was turned away from three monasteries, finally returning to full-time work for the R.S.S. In a rare television interview broadcast last week, Mr. Modi credited the organization with shaping him. “I got the inspiration to live for the nation from the R.S.S.,” he said. “It inculcated discipline into me. I learned to live for others, and not for myself. I owe it all to the R.S.S.” Mr. Modi did not become famous for several decades after that, until he had risen through the ranks of the B.J.P. to become chief minister of his home state, Gujarat. By then, his ideological background had been thoroughly eclipsed by his international reputation as an effective manager. Corporate executives gushed about their experience in Gujarat, saying that Mr. Modi had increased efficiency by taking a tough approach with bureaucrats who worked under him. He asked judges to work extra hours to plow through a backlog of court cases, and put many state activities online, reducing corruption.
Rajeev Jyoti, managing director of Bombardier, a Canada-based aerospace and transportation company, recalled approaching Mr. Modi’s office in 2007, after winning a contract to produce subway cars. Eighteen months later, the factory was built and operating, Mr. Jyoti said in an interview. “It was incredible,” he said, “and it was a world record within Bombardier.” One big event stained Mr. Modi’s reputation. Months after he took control of Gujarat, in 2002, Hindu-Muslim riots erupted in the state, killing more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. The violence was set off after a Muslim crowd attacked a train car carrying Hindu activists. The car caught fire, and 59 people burned to death inside, though a central government investigation found that the fire was an accident. Police responded slowly, witnesses said, as unspeakable violence unfolded over several days. At one point, a Hindu mob armed with stones, iron rods and homemade bombs surrounded a walled compound where Muslim families had taken refuge. The compound’s owner, Ehsan Jafri, a former member of Parliament, spent hours making frantic calls to high-ranking officials, begging for police protection, but they arrived late, witnesses said. Sixty-nine people, including women and children, burned to death with Mr. Jafri. For years, Mr. Modi’s critics have argued that he failed to take steps to halt the violence, and he has denied any responsibility. In a 2002 interview, he said his only regret about the episode was that he did not handle the news media better. Late last year, an Indian court rejected a petition filed by Mr. Jafri’s widow seeking Mr. Modi’s prosecution in the riots. Mr. Modi greeted this decision as a victory, commenting via Twitter that “truth alone triumphs.” In an interview with foreign journalists last week, Arun Jaitley, a senior B.J.P. leader, ruled out the idea that Mr. Modi would apologize, calling the persistent questioning “a fake campaign.”
Those asking for an apology wanted the apology to be an act of confession,” Mr. Jaitley said. “If he has actually committed a mistake, why should he apologize? He should have been prosecuted and punished.” The question of who Mr. Modi really is — the steady-handed corporate leader or the Hindu-nationalist preacher — has been woven through this election season, as he took his place before throngs of men chanting his name.
Though his campaign has focused on job creation and development, his speeches have been scrutinized for religious content, and the B.J.P.’s manifesto, released on Monday, was immediately examined for sops to the far right. Prominent analysts have concluded that he has largely chosen to depart from the tenets of Hindu nationalism, either as a matter of political pragmatism or because his ideas have changed. Shekhar Gupta, the editor of The Indian Express, a daily newspaper, said the shift actually began many years ago, when Mr. Modi first saw “a chance for himself on the national stage.”
“I sometimes joke that I’ve never seen a human being resemble his mask more than Mr. Modi,” Mr. Gupta said. “The fact is that he will give you many new versions of that mask. The Mr. Modi you see today sounds very different — he looks the same, but he sounds very different from the way he sounded in 2007.” Mr. Gupta said that if the B.J.P. wins, the next few years will see a “calmer, more catholic Mr. Modi.” The reasons, he said, are purely practical. “He wants to be in power for a long time,” he said. “He is young by Indian standards, and that is not going to work with a purely polarizing agenda. What works in Gujarat doesn’t work in India.”

India elections: Madrasa modernization, promotion of Urdu on BJP agenda
BJP has tried to reassure minorities by promising security, promotion of education, modernization of madrasas and promotion of Urdu as well as setting up of a mechanism for promoting inter-faith conversation.
The party's manifesto also sought to celebrate India's diversity, saying it was the country's biggest strength.
It sought to address the concern about communal violence by promising a "peaceful and secure environment, where there is no place for either the perpetrators or exploiters of fear". The formulation is important in view of its long-held complaint that some activists and NGOs try to stoke communal tensions and prevent the restoration of normalcy.
The manifesto, released against the backdrop of the fear of communal polarization because of Congress's wooing of controversial Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid and BJP general secretary Amit Shah's call to Hindus in western UP to use elections to avenge humiliation, also expressed concern about poverty among Muslims.
"It is unfortunate that even after several decades of independence, a large section of minority, and especially Muslim community, continues to be stymied in poverty. BJP is committed to ensure that all communities are equal partners in India's progress as we believe India cannot progress if any segment of Indians is left behind," the manifesto said.
It talked about the spread of education, with special focus on the girl child, and the promotion of Urdu.
The proposed mechanism for facilitating inter-faith talks has been conceived with the view to promoting harmony and trust.
The manifesto said, "BJP believes that in India's unity in diversity lies its biggest strength. We cherish the depth and vibrancy that the diversity in Indian society adds to the nation. BJP is thus committed to the preservation of rich culture and heritage of India's minority communities, alongside their social and economic empowerment."

India’s powerful young voters hold key to nation’s future

What do India’s youth want from their politicians? Clean water, universal health care, women’s safety, food for all, better education, less corruption, better roads, more investment and above all, more jobs.
In short, they want it all, and they want it fast.
As India begins its weekslong election process Monday, the enormous population of ambitious, tech-savvy and politically engaged youths has great potential to sway the outcome. More than 378 million of India’s 814 million eligible voters are between the ages of 18 and 35, according to census records.
And while the youth vote is a diverse and unpredictable bloc in a country of 1.2 billion people, India’s young voters have a world view that in many ways is strikingly different to their parents’ and grandparents’. They have grown up in a time of enormous international opportunity, technological innovation and high-speed economic growth.
“Our parents believed you can be happy only with financial security,” said Sushant Bangru, a 21-year-old biology major at the Indian Institute of Sciences in Bangalore. “But we know that passion and knowledge is above money. It’s about doing what you love to do.”
Nowhere is the power of India’s youth more clear than amid the bright cafes and technology companies of Bangalore, seen as the economy’s beating heart and brain trust. With 63 percent of its population under 25, Bangalore is one of India’s youngest cities.
Interviews with young adults in Bangalore suggest that the most pressing priorities are financial: more jobs and better economic opportunities.
India’s once red-hot economic growth has slowed in recent years, after a decade under a coalition led by the Congress party. With many worried about finding work, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has homed in on that weak spot, presenting itself as a purely capitalist, pro-business party. Congress — led mostly by the Nehru-Gandhi family since the country’s socialist beginnings in 1947 — is considered more of a welfare party, mixing capitalist reforms with handouts for the poor.
The main national parties in the running are heavily courting young voters, launching social media campaigns and introducing new candidates from outside traditional political circles. Rank-and-file members of the BJP are up in arms over the party replacing party stalwarts with dozens of untested candidates.
Congress party leaders have reportedly quarreled over letting younger members take more control, even as 43-year-old Gandhi family heir Rahul emerges as the most likely prime ministerial candidate. Despite his youth and dimples, Rahul Gandhi is seen as having failed to connect with many young Indians, instead appearing privileged, aloof and out of touch with everyday Indians.
The upstart Aam Aadmi Party — or Common Man’s Party — has drawn in droves of students and other young voters attracted to party leader Arvind Kejriwal’s outsider status and his anti-corruption platform.
Anxious to pursue their dreams, young people are particularly concerned with India’s ability to add jobs. The country added fewer than 3 million jobs between 2005 and 2010, far below the 1 million needed each month to keep up with student matriculation and Indians’ growing ambitions.
India’s first-time voters came of age in an era of economic reforms that eased socialist-leaning policies and allowed more imports and foreign investment. Annual per capita income nearly tripled between 2002 and 2010, while India moved from a country mostly concerned with securing food and shelter to one in which priorities are jobs, electricity and infrastructure.
But the riches have rolled out unevenly, creating a conspicuous wealth gap that has fueled frustrations by putting lavish lifestyles in close proximity with the 400 million Indians — a quarter of the country’s population — living in poverty at under $1.25 a day.
Those gaps are even more visible and public with the technology explosion. Twenty years ago, people had access to only a single state-run TV channel, and most had no telephone. Today, there are more than 200 TV channels — some 40 devoted to news alone — and 3 in 4 Indians have a cellphone.
“We have no toilets in my home village, but everybody has a smartphone, and we all check every day for what’s happening in the campaign,” said 22-year-old Hanamanthray Biradar in the southern state of Karnataka, where Bangalore is located.
The massive election will be held over nine days in April and May. The vote is geographically staggered to give police and paramilitary forces time to move around. Whether or not the youth vote swings the result, analysts agree their participation has turned the political scene on its head.
The engagement of India’s youth in politics reached a pinnacle three years ago as they joined urban middle-class protesters marching against corruption. Their demands for honest governance and an independent anti-corruption watchdog led to anti-graft legislation and the formation of the AAP, which has become the third-biggest national party.
The AAP delivered a stunning upset in Delhi’s December regional election, catapulting Kejriwal to national renown and a 49-day stint as Delhi’s chief minister. He quit the post, saying the entrenched political system prevented him from enacting real reforms. Instead, he said his scrappy party would focus on national elections and on denouncing deep graft in Congress and BJP.
Some voters say they are disillusioned by politics and unhappy with the candidates but plan to cast their ballots nonetheless, voting for a new choice: “none of the above.”

China urges U.S. to refrain from interfering in HK's affairs

China on Sunday voiced objection to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's meeting with two Hong Kong former legislators and called on the United States to refrain from interfering in Hong Kong's affairs.
One spokesman of office of the Commissioner of the Foreign Ministry of China in Hong Kong said Hong Kong's affairs are China' s internal affairs. China objects firmly to any country's interference in China's internal affairs in any form.
The spokesman made the comments when asked to respond to Biden' s meeting with two Hong Kong activists on Friday.
White House said Biden stopped by talks with former Hong Kong Legislative Council member Lee Chu-ming and former Chief Secretary Chan Fang On-sang. They are on a two-week visit to North America.
The two activists expressed concerns over freedom of the press in Hong Kong after a recent knife attack on Kevin Lau, a former editor of Ming Pao newspaper. They also expressed worries that freedom and other core values of Hong Kong are under threat.
The spokesman dismissed such notions.
"Over the past 17 years since Hong Kong's return, the region has seen the successful implementation of the 'one country, two systems' framework, which contributed to Hong Kong's great socioeconomic and democratic development. As a result, the people in Hong Kong are enjoying unprecedented democratic rights and freedom, which has won international acclaim," said the spokesperson.
The spokesman urged the United States to "proceed discreetly" regarding Hong Kong's affairs to avoid damage to China-U.S. ties as Hong Kong is currently at a critical time of political reform.

Erdoğan now at odds with Constitutional Court

The tendency actually started before the March 30 local elections, but it has continued afterward, despite the 45 percent Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan managed to secure regardless of the corruption allegations against his government.
This tendency is to not leave Erdoğan unanswered. Almost everyone, even top public personalities who are either criticized or thoroughly dressed down by Erdoğan, now replies to him, no matter what the subject.
The latest example is Haşim Kılıç, the top judge of Turkey’s Constitutional Court.
Right after the Constitutional Court (AYM) announced its decision to lift the government ban on Twitter, (which was accused by Erdoğan of carrying “false” information about corruption allegations to people), it was subject to criticism by the prime minister. Erdoğan had said that he knew he had to implement the decision, but he has “no respect” for such an “un-national” ruling.
Kılıç responded to Erdoğan on every one of those criticisms and more yesterday, April 7.
First of all, he said that he found Erdoğan’s “no respect” remark as an “emotional reflex,” but also as “understandable.” That is a difficult comment to digest, especially for Erdoğan.
Than, Kılıç said the AYM’s job was not to make “national rulings,” but to make rulings in accordance with universal law. He remind Erdoğan of Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution, which says that in the event of contradictions, the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are superior to Turkish legislation.
Another criticism by Erdoğan was the AYM’s apparent rush to lift the ban. Kılıç said that when freedoms are under consideration, the courts can give necessary priority. He also added that the AYM actually made the ruling five days ago, unanimously, but had to announce its implementation only when there was sign from the government. So, in a way, the top judge gently and indirectly said the Constitutional Court had to push the government in public to make it implement a court decision.
Kılıç also said something else that could get on Erdoğan’s nerves, in answer to a reporter’s question. Erdoğan had said the rulings of the Supreme Election Board (YSK) regarding objections to local election vote counts would have the “final word.” But Kılıç said the Court would decide what to do with them if and when such an application is made. This is not an outright confirmation that such applications will be accepted, but it does leave the door open for applications.
It is clear that Erdoğan is 100 percent determined in his actions and words that he wants to cleanse the Gülenists, not only from the bureaucracy but also from non-governmental sectors. There are signs that a real operation is on its way.
On the other hand, he wants to secure the presidency, for which elections will be held in August, either for himself or for President Abdullah Gül. But trying to keep his influence strong and steady with a continuous show of power until the presidential election, for which he would need 50 percent plus 1 vote, has limits. It could also backfire at some point.
Those recent responses to Erdoğan might indicate that we are getting closer to that point.

US secretly sending anti-tank weapons to Syrian rebels - reports

US Warns Russia Against Further Moves in Ukraine
The White House is telling Russia to stop intervening in eastern Ukraine, or face more sanctions.
The warning from the White House came after groups of pro-Russian demonstrators took over government buildings in at least three cities in eastern Ukraine over the last few days.
At a regular briefing Monday, spokesman Jay Carney said the takeovers are a result of increased Russian pressure on Ukraine. He warned Moscow to make no further moves.
“If Russia moves into eastern Ukraine, either overtly or covertly, this would be a very serious escalation. We call on President Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine and we caution against further military intervention,” he said.
Carney said there is strong evidence some of the demonstrators were paid, and not local residents.
Pro-Russian demonstrators in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk declared a separate republic, announced a secession referendum, and called for Russia to send in peacekeepers.
The moves resemble events leading up to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region last month, and U.S. officials are wary of a repeat.
The White House spokesman indicated the U.S. is prepared to step up sanctions.
“All of this is of concern to us and we've made very clear that should Russia take action that violates Ukraine's territorial integrity further or violates Ukraine's sovereignty further, there will be further consequences,” said Carney.
Those consequences could be wider sanctions leveled against entire sectors of the Russian economy, including weapons exports and banking, under executive orders President Obama signed last month.
U.S. officials say they see no evidence that Russia is pulling troops back from the Ukrainian border, where they have been massing for weeks.
Washington says discussions of military action are not on the forefront at this point and has committed to provide non-lethal aid to Ukraine.
U.S. defense officials confirmed the U.S. is sending a ship to the Black Sea in a bid to reassure allies.
Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, has been talking to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. The two spoke by phone Monday, and Kerry said he is watching events in Ukraine with “great concern.”

Lavrov: US and EU line on Ukraine ‘unproductive and dangerous’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has slammed the West for “aggravating internal differences” in Ukraine. His ministry says Kiev should stop “blaming Moscow for all of your problems.”
Writing in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the Russian official said that Western powers “have been trying to compel Ukraine to make a painful choice between east and west, further aggravating internal differences,” referring to the EU-Ukraine cooperation agreement that sparked the stand-off that led to the ousting of Viktor Yanukovich.
The political part of the agreement has now been signed by the interim government.
Contrastingly Lavrov said that "Russia has done more than any other country to support the independent Ukrainian state, including for many years subsidizing its economy through low energy prices."
Instead of closer cooperation with the EU, Lavrov said Ukraine should implement “real constitutional reform, which would ensure the legitimate rights of all Ukrainian regions and respond to demands from its south-eastern region to make Russian the state's second official language; firm guarantees on Ukraine's non-aligned status to be enshrined in its laws, thus ensuring its role as a connecting link in an indivisible European security architecture; and urgent measures to halt activity by illegal armed formations of the Right Sector and other ultra-nationalist groups.”
In recent days, Russia has been advocating federalization, which would give greater autonomy to the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country. Politicians in Kiev have rejected the move, saying that it would open a backdoor path for those territories to secede from the country, and possibly join Russia.
These calls have become particularly resonant after anti-Kiev demonstrators occupied various key government buildings in major eastern urban centers of the country over the past two days. In Donetsk, activists declared the region “an independent republic” and asked Russia to send in “a peacekeeping corps.”
Acting President Aleksandr Turchinov accused Moscow of staging a “special operation” to splinter Ukraine. He also threatened to increase penalties for separatism and said that protesters bearing arms will be treated as terrorists.
Moscow has rejected accusations of meddling.
“Stop blaming Russia’s for all of Ukraine’s problems. Ukrainian people want to hear meaningful answers from official Kiev,” said a statement on the foreign ministry’s website, which warned that Ukraine would “face new crises and difficulties” unless its “irresponsible" politicians make the necessary reforms to pacify its eastern regions.
Moreover, Russia’s upper legislative assembly, the Federation Council, said that Moscow has no plans to send troops to Ukraine without a go-ahead from the UN Security Council, but noted that it has internally sanctioned Vladimir Putin’s use of force on Ukrainian territory.

Pakistan: Opposition to react if sons of Gilani, Taseer not released: Shah

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah on Monday warned that if the government failed to secure the release of Ali Haider Gilani and Shahbaz Taseer, then the opposition would react, DawnNews reported Speaking to media representatives in an informal meeting in the Parliament House, Shah said it was imperative to take the military into confidence regarding the release of prisoners, even though the decision was to be taken by the government and not the army. He also expressed the fear that granting a free peace zone to the Taliban was dangerous. He said the Taliban had managed to get many of its prisoners released, but not a single person held in Taliban captivity was freed. The senior Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader warned that if the government failed to secure the release of Ali Haider Gilani and Shahbaz Taseer, then the opposition would react. Shah demanded of the government to apprise political parties of details of talks with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, adding that both sides should negotiate from a position of equality. Shah said the PPP was not against talks between the government and the TTP, adding that the former should not hold the opposition responsible in case the mediation failed. He claimed that in December 2000, Musharraf, who at the time was the chief executive of the country, had facilitated the granting of a presidential pardon to Nawaz Sharif and the incumbent premier would now return the favour. He said the opposition supported the federal government on talks with the Taliban for lasting peace in the country, but peace didn’t seem to be visible The opposition leader said the government had not held consultations over the Pakistan Protection Ordinance, adding that the ordinance would be opposed in case any contact was made.

Saudi Arabia: 'ID cards revolution' inflames YouTube against regime
Al-Dusari: My salary is 1900 Riyals. The authority is preoccupied fighting the bombings while enjoying alone the revenues of the petroleum. The maxim "stave your dog it will obey you" is no longer valid.
Al-Ghamdi: I call upon the youth to participate by recording videos in the same way.
Al-Harbi: The authority has established centres for having dialogue with the Jews and the Americans but has not yet thought of having a dialogue with its people.
Al-Asiri: Al Saud, you have stolen every thing including even Islam and the Messenger. I warn that the first Saudi republic is on its way.
Al-Juhani: If the state fails to meet the demands of the youth the repercussions will be grave indeed.
Under the emblem of "the ID cards revolution" the Saudi youth protest movement has shifted from twitter to YouTube. A group of Saudi young men have begun recording individual video clips separately to convey messages to the king complaining living hardships, criticising the performance of the authority and denouncing corruption. This started nearly a week ago, more specifically on the 30th of March, when a young man called Abd Al-Aziz Muhammad Al-Dusari published a video clip on YouTube under the title "a message to the king" in which he complained from his living condition due to the low salary he receives, which does not exceed 1900 riyals (500 dollars) and which, according to him, does not suffice his essential living needs. He criticised the preoccupation of the authority with fighting "bombings" and not paying attention to the needs of its citizens. He demanded improving the living conditions of Saudis from oil revenues that are, in his own words, enjoyed solely by the royal family. The he pulled his ID card in front of the camera announcing his full name to the public in what seemed an act of defiance to the authority and its expected repressive response.
This is the translation of what he says in his video clip:
"Peace be upon you and the blessings and mercy of God. I am a Saudi citizen. I only receive 1900 riyals. I ask you in the name of God, O Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, is this amount sufficient for the dowry or for the car or for the house? We have had enough. And you (do nothing but) blame those who carry out bombings and you blame this and that. Give us (what is duly ours) of the petroleum, which you keep to yourself and your children to enjoy. Here, this is my name, Abdul Aziz Muhammad Fahd Al-Dusari. Give us what is duly ours."
The Saudi Authorities moved immediately arresting Al-Dusary and charging him with incitement, sedition and rebelling against the ruler. This case has stirred up a wave of criticisms within the ranks of Saudi youth. Some young men have followed Al-Dusari's example and recorded their own videos in which they express their solidarity with him and criticise corruption within the ranks of the ruling regime in the Kingdom. The second message was posted by Abdullah Al-Ghamdi who expressed solidarity with Al-Dusari's demands and called on young men to express solidarity with him by means of recording similar video clips. Al-Ghamdi criticised corruption inside the kingdom as a result of which few people enjoy wealth and prosperity while the rest of the people are starving, as he put it.
The following is the translation of his video clip:
"Peace be upon you and the blessings and mercy of God. Good evening to you all. Today, I watched a video clip for a Saudi young man called Abdul Aziz Muhammad Al-Dusari complaining from low salaries and their insufficiency addressing the king in his statement. By virtue of my own judgement and knowledge of the situation I support what the young man said in his statement and message to the king. I call on everyone to participate using the same method so that (our) voice may reach the Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines and so that he may learn about the situation we are in of low income and the spread of corruption and oppression. It is neither acceptable nor sensible that only a small group of people, whether those governing or others that are corrupt, are enjoying state wealth while the rest of the population is starving and suffering because of poverty and oppression. Therefore, I support what the young man said and hereby I show you my ID card with my full details. I am Abdullah Mabruk bin Othman from Disha. I wish that everyone takes part (in this effort) using the same method. May God's peace and prayers be upon Muhammad."
The third message came from Saud Al-Harbi who started with an expression of solidarity with his comrades. He warned that this dynamic may soon spread to the street and criticised the Authority that is having dialogue with everyone including the Jews and the Americans but it has never occurred to it to have a dialogue with its own people.
Here is the translation of his video clip:
"Peace be upon you and the blessings and mercy of God. May God's peace and prayers be upon His Messenger. I would like to talk about the video clip of brother Abdullah Al-Ghamdi and the video clip of brother Abdul Aziz Al-Dusari. They demanded the improvement of citizens' living conditions. These of course are our demands, the demands of the entire people. We lost our voices talking in vain about them. Our demands are easy to find. You do not need to open a twitter account or something of the sort to know them. You will find them in the rubbish bins of Al-Tuwaijri. Do not force the people to resort to a peaceful protest dynamic. Do not force the people to take to the streets. Simply put, the number of black (word indistinct) cars is a lot fewer than the number of free men. It would be easy for us to (take to the streets) to demand our rights, peacefully of course. So, I beg you, I beg you, listen to our voice. Please listen to our voice. You have a national dialogue centre. You have had dialogue with the Jewish and the Christian and tomorrow you will be having dialogue with Obama. So, I beg you. Listen to our voice, listen to your voice, meet our demands. We need housing. We need to live a decent life. And here is our ID card: Saud Mardi Abdullah Al-Harbi."
The Saudi authorities arrested all three men one after the other and charged them with incitement, sedition and rebelling against the ruler. Consequently, there has been more discussion among the youth about this. Some of them pursued the same methodology of recording video clips in solidarity with the detained young men.
The next message came from Abul Rahman Al-Asiri who criticised the authorities for arresting the three young men who preceded him simply for demanding their rights.
The following is the translation of his video clip:
"Peace be upon you and the blessings and mercy of God. I am citizen Abdul Rahman Ali Ahmad Ghraib Al-Asiri from Tuhama of Asir. I have watched a video clip for some repeatable and kind young men from our country, namely Al-Dusari, Al-Ghamdi and Al-Harbi. They were demanding their rights, their most basic rights. They were imprisoned the following day. The problem is with you Al Saud. You deliberately seek to humiliate and impoverish the people. The poor fellow Al-Dusari says "my salary is 1900", by Allah this is not sufficient to pay for dinner for one of your children. The following day we saw one of the princes, one of your children, who bought a gold plated car. The problem is with you Al Saud. You have stolen everything. You have stolen our name and our country and you have annexed us to you. By what right have you done that? You have even stolen Islam. It has become Saudi Islam, the one that belongs to Al-Fawzan, to Al Al-Sheikh and to you. You have even distorted it. You have stolen Messenger who has become Saudi. As for petroleum, instead of distributing it and giving to the people, you have (pursued a policy of) empoverishing and humiliating the people. And if you ever distribute petroleum you distribute it to the enemies of the Ummah, the Sisi and the Christians of Lebanon who look down upon the Arabs and see them as nothing but trash. The problem is with you. You have stolen everything. This is unlawful, this is unjust. This is unjust. I am a medical doctor. I trained in (National) Guards and military hospitals and in hospitals belonging to the Ministry of Health. Once we had to place three patients in one bed. Where is this Abdullah ibn Abdul Aziz? You seem to see nothing! I am demanding the rights. The first right I demand is (to ask) why have you imprisoned them? All they did was to demand their rights. Why have you imprisoned them? It is from the man who bought a gold plated care that we seek to demand our right. While I am recording this clip you are busy giving an oath of allegiance to Migrin. This is a selling / buying process as if the people are nothing but a piece of furniture. You sell and buy when you tell people come and pay allegiance. No, this will not do. This is unlawful. And when we speak you imprison us. You imprison us or you tell us to leave the country. This is not your country alone. No. The people demand their rights. We want freedom. I warn you. We want what is right for our country. Yemen, Tunisia and the others are in the second republic (phase). Saudi Arabia will enter the first republic (phase) if you do not move and apply reason. And for the benefit of the secret police, because I know their tactics, here is (my ID card). Abdul Rahman Ali Ahmad Ghraib Al-Asiri. Peace be upon you and the blessings and mercy of God."
The fifth message was recorded by Mu'adh bin Sulaiman Al-Juhani. He criticised the authority for imprisoning the youth who are only demanding their rights. He himself demands that the state distribute wealth to the people, build housing estates, employ the unemployed, and increase the salaries or else repercussions would rather grave, as he put it.
The following is the translation of his clip: "Peace be upon you and the blessings and mercy of God. I direct this message to Al Saud. When the despotic king [reddens his cheeks] we flock to him with swords. You have stolen the people's wealth and when the people demand their rights you imprison them. What religion is this and what humanity? We demand the government to distribute the wealth fairly among the people and to stop stealing it you and your children. We demand the building of housing estates, employing the unemployed and increasing the salaries of employees. Otherwise the repercussions will be rather grave. And this is my ID card. I am Mu'adh Muhammad Sulaiman Al-Juhani from the Blessed Hijaz. May God's peace and prayers be upon Muhammad."
Message by by Al-Shammari
"Peace be upon you. I have three messages. The first message is directed to the people. Naturally, we all wish for reform except, of course, for the House of Saud. We as people wish for reform and wish to see things change (for the better). But, to be fair, whoever sees things will discover that it would impossible for reform to take place under the banner of the House of Saud. It is impossible, just impossible, by the Almighty God. These people are hostile to Islam, they are traitors, they are lackeys. They sold Iraq and they sold Palestine to Israel and they are hostile to all the Arab revolutions. The people are destitute. 25 per cent of the people are below the poverty line. All of this and (ours) is the richest country in the world. 70 per cent of the people cannot find housing. 60 % of the land is in the hands of the princes. And who ever utters a word demanding reform will be thrown in jail. Evidently, the young men who a few days ago demanded reform have been imprisoned. Why? What did they say to deserve imprisonment by you? As the proverb says: "evil and arrogant". You do not like to hear people demand reform! You just want them to pay lip service to you? Praise and thanks be to God. By God, even the Pharaoh was not like that. So, my message to the people is: rebel. Rebel because reform will not occur unless the House of Saud is no more.
My second message is directed at the Ulema. If you consider rebellion against the ruler is unlawful, this does not justify your defence of them and paying lip service to oppression and oppressors. By God, some Ulema, and some laymen too, justify oppression by the House of Saud in a manner that makes one suspect that they are none other than secret police. Why are you justifying this? What motivates you to defend them in this way? Some (much earlier) ulema used to prohibit rebellion against the rulers but they used at the same time to denounce them and even curse them. There is no contradiction (between the two acts). Regrettably, some ulema are not content with justifying (their oppression) but they also praise them. That is one thing. But if you consider rebellion against the oppressive ruler to be mandatory, then why are you silent? Why are you silent? I would like to know. You are (supposed to be) an example (to be followed by others). The House of Saud are oppressing (the people) and stealing (the wealth) while you are preoccupying the people with (trivial matters such as) growing the beard, shortening the gown and the technique of uttering praise post prayer. Ok, these are part of jurisprudence, we do not dispute. But, to what extent are we in need of this (type of) jurisprudence. Are these things more important than justice? Gold Almighty says: "We sent down our messengers with the book so that people establish justice and balance". He made justice an objective of sending messengers and books (to humanity) while you only care about growing the beard and shortening the gown. Yesterday, during the Friday sermon the imam spoke about the rewards allocated for those who fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You may say to me, so what, where is the problem (in this)? I shall tell you what is the problem. When oppression is so widespread and when corruption is so widespread and when all types of deviation are widespread while you are giving (the Friday) sermon about the reward (awaiting these who) fast on Mondays and Thursdays, there must be something wrong with you. This means you are completely detached from reality. So, my message to the ulema is that you should speak the truth. You should tell the oppressor "you are an oppressor". By God Almighty, the people will never respect you or appreciate you if you do not tell the House of Saud the truth to their faces.
My third and final message is directed at the House of Saud. Naturally, I am not (here) to demand or wish (anything) from you. Frankly and clearly, we have already lost all hope in you. Since the day you detained those young men who demanded reform, I feel you live in a world and we live in a different world altogether. However, I would like to say just one word. I would like to say that your end is drawing near, you lackeys. Your end is near. And this is my name: Muhammad Mut'ib Abdullah Al-Shammari."
Translation of a video clip by Al-Amri
"In the name of God most Gracious Most Merciful. May God's peace and prayers be upon Prophet Muhammad and all his companions. I would like to extend my thanks to the brothers who have demanded the rights of the citizens. My Allah reward them on our behalf. It is your legitimate right to demand you rights. So long you are on the (path of) truth, we are the supporters of Truth. The brothers have said enough regarding demands for the rights of the citizens.
The money that is sent abroad, to (support) coups and other things for the purpose of protecting your thrones, (you'd better) give to your people. Empower your own people instead. It is your people that will protect you. I ask you by God, (is it acceptable that) you have been so disrespectful of your people to the extent that a minister from Al Al-Sheikh comes out to say that we are protecting our asses? Shame on you by Allah. Not only is the citizen in dire need but is being humiliated by you. What a mess.
The detainees, the detainees, oh Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, (include) scholars and ulema. Whoever speaks the truth, you imprison him. By Allah this is a disaster. Sheikh Khalid Al-Rashid who is a defender of the Messenger of God, you have imprisoned him for 15 years? And then you say you implement the Law of God? No by God, this is not the Law of God. Never, never. The same thing happened to Sheikh Sulaiman Al-Ulwan. This by God is a strange thing. Fear god. There is this poor weak woman who is powerless and helpless, and you have imprisoned her. (Something about Muhammad bin Nayif - indistinct). I am present and my name is Jabir Salih Hamdan Al-Amri. This on the one side.
On the other side, whoever calls for the implementation of Shari'ah is accused of terrorism. If demanding the implementation of Shari'ah (amounts to being accused of) terrorism, (I'd say) welcome. If demanding our legitimate rights is (considered) stirring up sedition, then we seek God's help. Consider us fomenters of trouble. To (give my claim) more credibility that the people are suffering, I shall move elsewhere to video from it. Peace be upon you.
My second message is from the bedside of my father in the hospital. May God cure him and provide him with recovery. My father is the father of detainee Ali Salih Al-Amri who has been held inside Al-Ha'ir prison for the past 12 years. He was sentenced to three years but has not so far been released. There is no charge whatsoever apart from having god to (perform) jihad in 1410 (of Hijrah). Apart from that he has never been charged (of any crime). Frankly, we have not kept quiet for 12 years out of cowardice or fear. No, by God. We have appealed to the king, we have appealed to the Court of Grievances, we have appealed to the human rights (council), we have appealed to prince Nayif, we have appealed to Prince Muhammad bin Nayif, but to no avail. He was sentence for three years and now they are retrying him and fabricating new charges to justify keep him locked up for 12 year. For 12 years we have left no one but appealed to by letters and by faxes etc. You tell us your door is open? For 12 years, oh Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, I and my father have spared no effort. Of the open doors you talk about we have found none whatsoever. Muhammad bin Nayif has burnt the heart of this elderly man. May God burn his heart and provide us with victory in the life before the Hereafter.
I have only spoken and recorded this clip to clear my responsibility. I am not going to ask you once again whether you will release him or not. It is all in the hand of God. But I wanted to convey to you a picture that is already known to many people.
This is the father of detainee Ali Salih Hamdan Al-Amri whose nickname is Abd Al-Majid Al-Tabuki and I am his brother. May the peace and mercy of God be with you."

Syria's President: The "project of political Islam has failed"
The "project of political Islam has failed," Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday, calling for the separation of religion from politics, state television said.
Assad's regime has been battling an uprising that has come to be dominated by Islamists, ranging from moderates to radicals, who want to see Syria run as an Islamic state.
"The project of political Islam has failed, and there should be no mixing between political and religious work," he said in comments on the 67th anniversary of the founding of his Baath party.
Assad refers to all those fighting against him as "terrorists" and has said that he is battling extremists with retrograde ideas.
The president has repeatedly stressed the need for all parts of Syrian society to challenge "extremism". Assad said his government was also "continuing with the process of reconciliation, because what concerns us is ending the bloodshed and the destruction of infrastructure".
In recent months, Assad's government has negotiated limited ceasefires with rebels who agree to raise the government's flag in their neighborhoods, and in many cases turn over their weapons.
The deals usually follow months-long sieges by the army, which have contributed to humanitarian crises in parts of the country.
Syria's conflict, which began in March 2011, has left more than 150,000 people dead.

Syrians take to streets to pay homage to army, al-Baath Party principles
Citizens in al-Haffeh area and the adjacent villages in Lattakia countryside turned out in big numbers to express support to the Syrian army and commitment to the principles of al-Baath Arab Socialist Party.
Waving national and al-Baath Party flags, the participants voiced unwavering support to the Syrian army which is fighting terrorism all over Syria, expressing allegiance to the principles and values of al-Baath Arab Socialist Party which is celebrating the 67th anniversary of its foundation.
The participants said the Syrian people are headed to a decisive victory over the conspiracy targeting their country.
Lattakia governor, Ahmad Sheikh Abdul-Kader said the citizens of al-Haffeh are proving, once against, that they won't relinquish their history and national belonging no matter what. Secretary of al-Baath Party branch in Lattakia, Mohammad Shreitah said the Party, since its foundation, has laid the groundwork for a new Syria and focused attention on protecting the homeland and liberating occupied lands.
March in Qamishli in support of army
A massive march in support of the Syrian army was organized at Saba' Bahrat Square in Qamishli city in Hasaka province, with the participation of political, social, economic and public figures.
The participants who streamed in from several areas in Qamishli city and countryside expressed pride in the Syrian army which is offering the dearest of sacrifices for Syria to remain invincible agaisnt conspiracies and terrorism.
Hasaka governor, Mohammad Zaal called on the citizens of the governorate to stand fast in the face of the crisis, affirming that the achievements of the Syrian army have brought victory closer. Secretary of al-Baath Party branch in Hasaka, Khalaf Ayed al-Mehshem said the march is a token of support and appreciation for the Syrian army and armed forces who are writing down chapters of unequalled heroism and patriotism.
The artisans in Sweida province organized a sit-in to express support for the Syrian army in the war against terrorism, with the participation of Minister of Tourism, Bisher Yazigi. The participants expressed unswerving loyalty to the army and readiness to offer sacrifices to consolidate the homeland's dignity and security. They waved national flags and held banners extolling the Syrian army and emphasizing national unity, voicing commitment to the independent national decision in the face of the conspiracy targeting Syria.

Pro-Moscow protesters seize arms, declare republic; Kiev fears invasion
Pro-Moscow protesters in eastern Ukraine seized arms in one city and declared a separatist republic in another, in moves Kiev described on Monday as part of a Russian-orchestrated plan to justify an invasion to dismember the country.
Kiev said the overnight seizure of public buildings in three cities in eastern Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking industrial heartland were a replay of events in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow seized and annexed last month.
"An anti-Ukrainian plan is being put into operation ... under which foreign troops will cross the border and seize the territory of the country," Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said in public remarks to his cabinet. "We will not allow this."
Pro-Russian protesters seized official buildings in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk on Sunday night, demanding that referendums be held on whether to join Russia like the one that preceded Moscow's takeover of Crimea.
Acting President Oleksander Turchinov, in a televised address to the nation, said Moscow was attempting to repeat "the Crimea scenario". He added that "anti-terrorist measures" would be deployed against those who had taken up arms.
Police said they cleared the protesters from the building in Kharkiv, but in Luhansk the demonstrators had seized weapons.
In Donetsk, home base of deposed Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich, about 120 pro-Russia activists calling themselves the "Republican People's Soviet of Donetsk" seized the chamber of the regional assembly.
An unidentified bearded man read out "the act of the proclamation of an independent state, Donetsk People's Republic" in front of a white, blue and red Russian flag.
"In the event of aggressive action from the illegitimate Kiev authorities, we will appeal to the Russian Federation to bring in a peacekeeping contingent," ran the proclamation.
The activists later read out the text by loud hailer to a cheering crowd of about 1,000 people outside the building.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on March 1, a week after Yanukovich was overthrown, that Moscow had the right to take military action in Ukraine to protect Russian speakers, creating the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
The United States and EU imposed mild financial sanctions on a number of Russian officials over the seizure of Crimea but have threatened much tougher measures if Russian troops, now massed on the frontier, enter other parts of Ukraine.
Western European governments have hesitated to alienate Russia further, fearing for supplies of Russian natural gas, much of which reaches EU buyers via pipelines across Ukraine.
In Vienna, Russia did not attend a meeting on Ukraine of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The U.S. envoy to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, said tens of thousands of Russian troops were massed on the Ukrainian border, and any call by pro-Moscow activists for them to intervene was "tightly coordinated with the Russian government". Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Monday the main regional administration building in Kharkiv had been cleared of "separatists". But police in Luhansk said protesters occupying the state security building there had seized weapons.
Highway police had closed off roads into the city.
"Unidentified people who are in the building have broken into the building's arsenal and have seized weapons," police said in a statement. Nine people had been hurt in the disturbances in Luhansk. Mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, densely populated and producing much of the country's industrial output, has seen a sharp rise in tension since Yanukovich fled the country, and Kiev has long said it believes Moscow is behind the unrest. Pro-Russian protesters briefly held public buildings in the east early last month and three people were killed in clashes in mid-March. But trouble had subsided until Sunday. Unlike in Crimea, where ethnic Russians form a majority, most people in the east and south are ethnically Ukrainian but speak Russian as a first language. Influential business owners in eastern regions who once supported Yanukovich have mostly thrown their weight behind the government in Kiev, and the unrest there is a test of their ability to assert their control. YANUKOVICH CALL Yanukovich, in exile in Russia, has called for referendums across Ukrainian regions on their status within the country. Ukraine's defence ministry said a Russian marine had shot and killed a Ukrainian naval officer in Crimea on Sunday night. The 33-year-old officer, who was preparing to leave Crimea, was shot twice in officers' quarters. It was not clear why the Russian marine had opened fire. Ukraine has declared that it is pulling its troops out of Crimea after Russian forces seized it. Yatseniuk said that though much of the unrest had died down in eastern Ukraine in the past month there remained about 1,500 "radicals" in each region who spoke with "clear Russian accents" and whose activity was being coordinated abroad. But he said Ukrainian authorities had drawn up a plan to handle the crisis. "We have a clear action plan," he said, adding that senior officials would head to the towns concerned. Avakov accused Putin on Sunday of orchestrating the "separatist disorder" and promised that disturbances would be brought under control without violence. Russia has been pushing internationally a plan proposing the "federalisation" of Ukraine in which regions of the country of 46 million would have broad powers of autonomy.
Ukraine, while drawing up its own plan for "de-centralisation", in which smaller municipalities would be able to retain a portion of state taxes, says the Russian proposal is aimed at breaking up the former Soviet republic. "It is an attempt to destroy Ukrainian statehood, a script which has been written in the Russian Federation, the aim of which is to divide and destroy Ukraine and turn part of Ukraine into a slave territory under the dictatorship of Russia," Yatseniuk said of what called the Russian plan.
"I appeal to the people and the elites of the east: Our common responsibility is to preserve the country and I am sure that no one wants to be under a neighbouring country," he said.
"We have our country. Let's keep it."

New Hindi song 2014 Bewafa

Mere Sapno Ki Rani - Kishore Kumar

India kicks off world's biggest election in remote northeast

The first Indians cast their votes in the world's biggest election on Monday with Hindu nationalist opposition candidate Narendra Modi seen holding a strong lead on promises of economic revival and jobs but likely to fall short of a majority.
Some 815 million people are registered to vote over the next five weeks as the election spreads out in stages from two small states near Myanmar to include northern Himalayan plateaus, western deserts and the tropical south, before ending in the densely-populated northern plains. Results are due on May 16.
Elderly women in saris and young men in jeans and polo shirts lined up outside a dilapidated sports center before voting started on a cool morning in Dibrugarh, a river town in the tea-growing state of Assam, one of two states to vote on Monday.
"We need a change, someone who will come and change the whole scenario," said handbag shop manager Ashim Sarkar, 35, lining up soon after voting started at 7.00 a.m. (9.30 p.m. ET Sunday).
During high-octane campaigning at well attended rallies the length and breadth of India, Modi has been promising just that change - to jumpstart a flagging economy and sweep out the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for most of the period since independence in 1947.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allies are forecast to win the biggest chunk of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs, but fall shy of a majority, according to a survey released this week by respected Indian pollsters CSDS. In such a situation, a coalition government led by the BJP is seen as the most likely outcome.
An efficient administrator, Modi is loved by big business in a country tangled in red tape. But he is tainted by accusations that he failed to stop or even encouraged anti-Muslim riots in 2002 in the state of Gujarat, where he is chief minister. At least 1,000 people died in the violence, most of them Muslims.
Modi has denied the charges and a Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to prosecute him.
Surveys show a resounding defeat awaits the ruling Congress party, led by Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, after the longest economic slowdown since the 1980s put the brakes on development and job creation in a country where half of the population is under 25 years of age.
India's remote northeast, a lush but underdeveloped border region of eight states home to just 27.4 million voters, is a test case for the appeal of Modi's promises to fill India with new highways and fast trains and to take a tough line on frontier disputes with neighbors. China claims sections of the region.
"Young people can't find good work here - the jobs available are just about picking tea leaves," said Jyotirmoy Sharma, a manager at a tea factory who lives in Lahoal village near Dibrugarh. He voted for the ruling Congress party in India's last two national elections in 2004 and 2009 but will switch to Modi this time.
Northeastern India is one of the few remaining strongholds for Congress. The CSDS poll found that almost half of voters in Assam, who have one of the country's lowest per capita incomes and often still rely on the center-left Congress' welfare schemes, are set to support the party.
Among residents working as casual tea pickers on plantations around Dibrugarh, many had not heard of Modi.
The debate in New Delhi is focused on whether Modi can win enough seats to secure a stable coalition with India's increasingly powerful regional parties and push through promised reforms.
India's diverse electorate and parliamentary system mean that local leaders - and local issues such as their caste or ethnic group - still hold great sway. In some constituencies this could stymie the BJP, which has run a presidential-style campaign focused wholly on Modi.
"I vote for the local candidate - that is who affects my life," said Shanti Naik, a woman selling biscuits and shampoo sachets at a stall in Lahoal who said she planned to vote for Congress. "Whoever is in Delhi, it doesn't bother me."

Opinion: BJP and the Muslim Vote

It's lucky Indians invented the use of zero in a decimal system - along with fractions, division and the minus sign - because otherwise how would you do electoral calculations? Let's say there's a five-cornered contest in a constituency with three dominant communities, of whom two sometimes vote in combination: will candidate A, B or C be more likely to take the seat, and will their party finally back the NDA or the UPA after the election? It's no wonder pollsters can sometimes sound more like soothsayers making predictions than statisticians analyzing plausible data.
Electoral calculation or 'winnability' was probably what the BJP leadership was thinking of when it decided not to field a single Muslim candidate in Uttar Pradesh, a state with a long and distinguished tradition of Muslim cultural and intellectual life.
"We have given tickets in other states," was the lacklustre answer of party president Rajnath Singh when he was asked about this. "I want to make an appeal to all Muslim brothers and sisters that they should join us." His thinking was, I guess, that although the BJP was doing its cautious best to avoid touching on the Hindutva issue in the election campaign, it stood so little chance of picking up Muslim votes that there was little point in trying to demonstrate inclusivity. The BJP may feel it's damned if it does and damned if it doesn't: put up a Muslim candidate and risk alienating your hardcore supporters; don't bother, and your party will be accused of intolerance.
But there's a more practical lesson from history about the dangers of ignoring such a significant part of the population. In 1937, the eleven provincial assemblies of British India (as opposed to the princely states, which did not practice democracy) held what at that time was India's biggest ever election. It was a key test of popular opinion across the nation. More than 1,500 'unreserved' seats were contested, and Congress took the lion's share - but they only managed to return 26 Muslim representatives.
In the seats reserved for Muslims, the results were less impressive for Congress, except in the North-West Frontier Province where it was allied with the Khudai Khidmatgar movement. The Congress leadership concluded after the 1937 elections that it could pursue its larger ambitions without depending on Muslim votes.
We all know what happened next: Congress failed to engage with minor political groupings like Jinnah's Muslim League, which responded by making an appeal to the religious roots of its own community. The price of membership of the Muslim League was cut to two annas (half the fee for joining Congress) and within a matter of years a marginal outfit had become a mass movement. Today, the prospect of this kind of Muslim separatism in India is unimaginable. But the complexity of India's electoral arithmetic means that - leaving aside moral arguments in favour of social cohesion and unity in diversity - a successful ruling BJP has no choice but to be inclusive.

The Indian general election: 'Back to sectarianism'

The Indian general election is inexorably moving towards the wearisomely familiar pattern of sectarian rhetoric and counter-rhetoric. It is something that unfailingly happens despite promises across the political spectrum to eschew divisive electoral hectoring. Three days ahead of the first phase of polling, the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, has given a call to Muslims to vote for the Congress nationally and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. The call itself follows a controversial meeting with Sonia Gandhi where she is presumed to have sought his support. The impropriety of the election-eve meeting and exhortations aside, there is the problem of treating Muslims as an undifferentiated group that can be herded in one direction. In actuality, there is no evidence to show that all Muslims vote one way, much less that the Imam holds any kind of influence over the community.
The episode also calls into question the Congress president’s judgment — if she did indeed seek the Imam’s support. Narendra Modi’s sudden interest in meat exports and slaughterhouses is simply a case of reverse demagogy, with Hindus being seen as an exploitable whole. Some time ago, Mr. Modi had used a reference to the AK-47 assault rifle to insinuate shady Pakistani connections in the cases of Arvind Kejriwal and A.K. Antony. Lately, he has been expressing angst over the alleged growth of meat exports and slaughterhouses during the period coinciding with the United Progressive Alliance’s years in office.
The USP of the Modi campaign has been its promise to deliver efficient governance. Yet, slowly the campaign has veered towards issues with the potential to divide the polity. Meat exports are hardly the stuff of the citizen’s aspirational dreams that Mr. Modi undertook to fulfil. And yet, what should have been a non-issue has gained rapid currency thanks to Mr. Modi raising it consecutively at three election rallies. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial nominee accused the Congress of ushering in a ‘pink revolution’ by prioritising meat exports over the welfare of cowherds, while the BJP, he said, had brought in the ‘white [milk] revolution.’ The allusions are slanted and disturbing — not least because cow slaughter is an emotive issue for sections of Hindus, and its invocation on election-eve can be for no purpose other than to intensify communal polarisation. The Congress’s unprincipled overture to the Imam is clearly an act of desperation by a party with little hope in this election. As the man of the moment, Mr. Modi was in a position to offer a genuine alternative to voters. By failing to do so, he is yet to persuade unconvinced voters that Hindutva is not his only plank.

Afghanistan’s presidential election got high turnout, but many still voted along ethnic lines

By Kevin Sieff
As ballots were tallied Sunday from Afghanistan’s presidential election, many voters hoped that the country was moving into a new era marked by its first democratic handover of power. But early returns in Kabul pointed to the enduring power of ethnic politics.
The presidential candidates had tried to market themselves as post-ethnic leaders, promoting economic and political reform rather than the kind of sectarianism that fed the civil war in the 1990s. An electoral result that breaks down along ethnic lines could complicate the formation of the next government, requiring negotiations and compromises to create a broad-based coalition.
Saturday’s election drew a surprisingly large turnout despite threats from the Taliban to disrupt the balloting. At least 23 people were killed on election day and the prior day, mostly soldiers and police officers, the government announced.
Three more people were killed Sunday, including at least one election worker, when a government vehicle struck a roadside bomb in northern Kunduz province, according to Afghan officials.
But there were no large-scale attacks in Kabul, and the death toll was lower than many had expected.
As votes were counted, the country’s electoral complaints commission started processing about 1,000 formal allegations of fraud. The last presidential election, in 2009, was plagued by irregularities, and many Afghans pointed fingers at election staffers thought to be acting on the basis of tribal or ethnic loyalties.
Afghans have keen memories of the brutal war that raged among ethnically based militias, killing tens of thousands of people and destroying large parts of the capital.
Eighteen years after it ended, tensions among those groups have diminished. Saturday’s election was celebrated in many quarters as a moment of national unity and collective opposition to the Taliban. But Kabul is still divided into neighborhoods reflecting the country’s largest ethnic groups.
In several predominantly Tajik neighborhoods, for example, the ethnic Tajik presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, was the clear winner based on preliminary results. He received about 75 percent of the vote, out of a total of about 3,000 ballots cast at four polling stations. Ashraf Ghani, who is a Pashtun, thought to be Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, was the second-highest vote-getter, receiving about 18 percent.
In several Pashtun neighborhoods, the results were reversed, with Ghani winning about three-quarters of the vote.
In ethnic Hazara neighborhoods, Abdullah was the overwhelming winner. His vice- presidential pick, Mohammad Mohaqiq, is a Hazara warlord.
“Our whole people voted for Abdullah because of Mohaqiq,” said Mahram Ali, 48, a Hazara. “We want a change in leadership from Pashtun to Tajik — and afterwards, our turn will arrive.”
The lopsided results are based on a fraction of preliminary tallies posted outside polling centers, but they paint a picture of a trend expected to emerge across the country as votes are counted over the coming weeks.
Patronage and presidency
The country’s election commission estimates that about 7 million votes were cast. Kabul is home to about one-sixth of Afghanistan’s population but could represent a bigger share of the electorate because of low turnout in rural areas plagued by Taliban attacks.
A candidate has to win more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round to avoid a runoff, which would be held later this spring or in the summer.
“Pashtuns vote for Pashtuns,” said Nangullah, a resident of Kabul’s Arzan Qemat neighborhood, where about 90 percent of the community is Pashtun and where Ghani won an overwhelming number of the votes.
In the 2009 presidential election, ethnicity played an important role, with incumbent Hamid Karzai taking the vast majority of the Pashtun vote and Abdullah winning the Tajik community’s support. Abdullah later dropped out of the runoff. Karzai was not eligible to run for a third term.
Although Karzai’s presidency was criticized for corruption and poor relations with Washington, he proved adept at building a coalition with strongmen from across Afghanistan’s ethnic spectrum. For more than a decade, that approach kept ethnic flare-ups to a minimum. In universities and in some ministries, an ethnically diverse meritocracy appeared to take form.
Still, strong patronage networks exist within each group, and top officials in both the private and the public sector often recruit from their own ethnicities.
The next president also is likely to have to form a coalition spanning Afghanistan’s major ethnic groups.
Cross-ethnic appeals
During this election, the candidates worked harder to win support from outside their ethnic groups. They recruited vice- presidential candidates of other backgrounds who would expand their appeal. And they traveled well beyond their traditional spheres of influence.
Abdullah flew to Kandahar province, the Pashtun heartland, and said he had spoken to voters there “as an Afghan,” rather than as a member of a different ethnic group.
Ghani boasted of “a political alliance that is widely based.” That alliance included the Uzbek warlord Abdurrashid Dostum, who reportedly brought the ticket thousands of votes from that ethnic group, particularly in northern Afghanistan.
Zalmay Rassoul, another leading candidate, made a similar post-ethnic pitch, but at polling stations visited Sunday by Washington Post reporters, he had won only a fraction of the vote.
The cross-ethnic appeals resonated with some voters, particularly a class of young, educated Afghans in Kabul, who said they were more interested in the candidates’ platforms than in their ethnicities.
Some voters said the qualities they look for in a president have broadened to include having an effective economic plan and an ability to work with the international community. For them, ethnicity is just one box on the checklist.
“There were various factors that prompted me to vote for him, ethnicity being one of them,” said Mohammad Modabir, a 28-year-old Tajik who voted for Abdullah.
For some Pashtuns, who speak Pashto as a first language, Ghani stood out because he was the only front-runner who addressed them fluently in their native tongue.
“There’s no way he would have received so many votes if he was Tajik,” said Ashokullah Hotak, a Pashto-speaking carpet seller in the Pashtun neighborhood of ­Utkhel.

Pakistan: Sharmila asks Nisar if he was Taliban's interior minister
The Sindh Assembly has passed a resolution for the release of Professor Ajmal, Ali Haider Gilani and Shahbaz Taseer.
The resolution was presented by Sharmila Farooqi. Addressing the house, Sharmila said that the government was releasing Taliban prisoners but was quiet over the locals detained by TTP. She said the Taliban were showing no flexibility on this matter.
Sharmila Farooqi questioned Chaudhry Nisar if he was the interior minister of Taliban or the government.
The Sindh Assembly session started after a delay of 1:20 minutes with speaker Agha Siraj Durani in chair.
Opposition leader Faisal Sabzwari protested against the extrajudicial killings of MQM workers while demanded to investigate the matter. Meanwhile, information minister Sharjeel Memon said the government will not allow discrimination against any party including MQM, adding that no law enforcement agency has been allowed for extrajudicial killings. MQM lawmaker Kamran Akhtar said the country was facing huge losses due to the smuggling of Iranian oil. Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sikander said that the coastguard and custom officials were responsible to curb smuggling.

Pakistan: Christians Protests On Exploitation Of Blasphemy Laws

The protesters commanded by Rufus Solomon and Asif Sohail Khokhar minorities leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) demonstrated against the deliberate exploitation of the blasphemy laws specifically against the minority Christian communal.
While addressing the protesters, Rufus Solomon said that the recent death sentences dispensed to Sawan Masih, and Christian couple Shafqat and Shagufta Emmanuel over alleged blasphemous text messages sent to local Muslims in Gojra, had stunned the Christians.
“It’s a pity that these three people were convicted even though there was no concrete evidence against them. We strongly protest the blatant misuse of blasphemy laws to target the minority communities to settle personal scores and vendettas,” he said, adding that it had been perceived that in most cases the judges were pressurized by local priests and vigilante groups into sentencing innocent people. He said that the Christians consistently demanded that the High Court should review the judgments in light of evidence against the suspects and convey justice to them.
Addressing the protesters, Asif Sohail Khokhar said that it was an open secret that the blasphemy laws were being misused against minorities and the majority Muslims alike.
“Government must ensure that no innocent person is victimized through the misuse of these laws,” he said. The protesters dispersed peaceably after enclosing their protest.
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Pakistan: WB report: some disturbing figures

The recently-released World Bank report on South Asia infrastructure has revealed that Pakistan will have to enhance its outlay in infrastructure development from 3 percent to 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) if we are to succeed in filling the gap between demand and supply. For energy sector alone around 6 percent of GDP would be required, 1.2 percent for transport, 0.71 percent for telecom and 0.83 percent for irrigation. These are disturbing figures and one would hope that the government readjusts its expenditure priorities based on this data given its considerable outlay in developing a road network. In economic theory investment has an identity with the savings rate and Pakistan has consistently performed very poorly in terms of savings. Thus investment has typically been higher than savings that accounts for heavy borrowing by the government to fund its budget deficit - both from foreign and domestic sources - thereby requiring an increasing budgetary outlay for associated debt servicing payments which, in turn, has resulted in a shrinking budgeted development outlay. A decline in investment in infrastructure has indicated a lower ability of the government to borrow based on the prevailing macroeconomic conditions. In 2007-08 investment was 19.21 percent of GDP while in 2012-13 it declined to 14.22 percent.
And alarmingly while public investment declined from 17.6 percent in 2007-08 to 12.6 percent last year (in the aftermath of the suspension of the International Monetary Fund programme in 2010 with other multilaterals/donors suspending their budgetary support) private investment plummeted by 8.7 percent last year with massive loadshedding cited as the major reason. National savings were 11 percent of GDP in 2007-08 and rose to 13.5 percent last year. However, some policies of the incumbent government, like its predecessors, are anti-savings, though it envisages a lower budget deficit than last year. It expects to reduce the deficit through borrowing from domestic and international markets with the implications of the former being a rise in inflationary pressure while the implication of the latter is failure to formulate in-house policies as foreign loans come attached with a range of politically challenging conditions. Thus one would argue that the government must focus on promoting national savings to meet the investment savings gap, which would have minimal if any negative repercussions on key macroeconomic variables. Unfortunately this has not been evident in the budget for fiscal year 2013-14 and one would be compelled to maintain that Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has supported policies that have a definite anti-savings bias.
The policy with the most anti-saving bias announced in the budget for the current year was the income support levy which envisaged taxing the savings and moveable assets created from income that had already been taxed and acting as disincentive for domestic savers. Notwithstanding Dar's claim that the money was to be earmarked for supporting the poor, the fact remains that this burdens the existing taxpayers and militates against savings and investment. Instead of (i) widening the tax net to include those whose income from whatever source falls within the bracket that is taxed, (ii) eliminating all industry-specific statutory regulatory orders costing the treasury over 300 billion rupees per annum, and (iii) increasing documentation to expand the tax net, the government continues to focus on ease of collection and milking the existing taxpayers. In addition, as the IMF second staff review report points out the Prime Minister's Youth Investment package generates "challenges" in "aligning the policies of the National Savings Schemes (as those instruments offer the investors the option to redeem investments before maturity) with marketable instruments to minimise pricing risks and diversify investor base for fixed-income securities to ensure high liquidity and stable demand in the market".
Much needs to be done by Dar in terms of proactively encouraging savings on the one hand and prioritising investment into those sectors that remain an impediment to investment notably energy sector and one would hope that his obsession with revenue whatever the source be replaced with forward looking policies that can ensure improved sustained performance of the country's critical macroeconomic indicators.

Pakistan: Taliban getting active support from seminaries in twin cities(Rawalpindi-Islamabad)

A report jointly prepared by the Rawalpindi and Islamabad police has claimed that the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was getting active support from hardliner religious seminaries to carry out terrorism in the twin cities.
Fearing a strong backlash from the TTP in case of the failure of the ongoing peace talks, the federal government had directed the police to collect information about the sympathisers and supporters of the Taliban. The police prepared the report with the help of intelligence agencies.
The report, a copy of which is available with Dawn, stated that the TTP was not alone whenever it carried out terrorism activities in the twin cities. “It (TTP) gets full support from the religious seminaries and worship places of the Deobandi school of thought.”
The seminaries and worship places are used by the TTP terrorists for lodging and sheltering.
The main seminaries that provided support to the TTP are: Jamia Darul Uloom Zakrya Basti Anwarul Madina, Sara-i-Kharbooza, Tarnol, led by its administrator Pir Azizur Rehman Hazarvi, and Jamia Khalid Bin Walid located at Shams Colony in Golra which is administered by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. It said Khalil was also the chief of Ansarul Ummah and a Jihadi commander.
These two seminaries, according to the report, were used by the TTP as the central points of activities to carry out terror attacks in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Then there are scores of other seminaries and Jamia (central) mosques whose like-minded administrators are working in tandem with these two madressahs.Whenever the TTP planned to carry out a suicide attack in the twin cities, the last-moment support was provided to the attackers by the like-minded administrations of the seminaries and mosques located in the targeted areas.
These seminaries in different parts of the cities have students from KP, Fata, South and North Waziristan, Bajaur, Khyber and Mohmand agencies, the report stated. The students were also being imparted Jihadi training in the main seminaries - Darul Uloom Zakrya and Jamia Khalid Bin Walid.
Besides, religious seminaries and worship places managed by the Deobandis were also supporting the TTP through the administrators of the two main madressahs. “In case of an army operation against the TTP, like-minded seminaries will be given the task to help TTP in carrying out attacks in the twin cities,” the report said. Besides, seminaries in the far-flung areas would be used by the terrorists as their sanctuaries.
The report identified 20 such seminaries in Rawalpindi which would be used by the TTP attackers.
These madressahs are located in the Cantonment, Tench Bhatta, Girja Road, Westridge, Dhamyal Camp, Saddar, Ittehad Colony, Khayaban-i-Sir Syed, Kashmiri Bazaar, Pindora, Sadiqabad, Pirwadhai, Chaklala and Dhoke Hasu. The report added that scores of students from Ummat-i-Islamia Public High School in the Jhand tehsil of Attock district had gone for Jihad with the TTP, adding nine of the students were currently stationed in Waziristan.
The school principal Manzoor Hussain’s two sons - Mujahid Manzoor and Shahid Manzoor - used to preach Jihad to other students of the school.
“Now the two are in Waziristan and engaged in Jihad along with the TTP.” The principal is a grade 18 officer of the agriculture department and was previously affiliated with the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). Later, the JI cancelled his membership after he entered into a second marriage with a female teacher.
“Two students of the school, Mohammad Usman and Abdul Mateen, were killed in Afghanistan,” the report stated, adding they had gone to Afghanistan after completing their matriculation.
Two other students of the school, Imran Sattar and Hafiz Mudassir, carried out terrorist attacks in Jhand on January 28, 2010, and Korangi Ada on February 8, 2013.
The report said the school was training the students of 9th and 10 classes for Jihad. A large number of people from North and South Waziristan have been migrating to other parts of the country after the army conducted air strikes on militant hideouts there.
“Well-trained terrorists and their leaders and commanders can also slip out of the their hideouts in Fata and take shelter in the hilly areas such as Abbottabad, Kakul, Nathia Gali, Murree, Jat Alyot and Phagwari,” the report stated.
They can later move to the twin cities and take shelter in the seminaries and then carry out terrorism activities.
“In reaction to the possible army operation, Taliban can also use Pashto speaking scavengers and women to attack their targets.” The report said the TTP activists can also find supporters and sympathisers in the rural areas of Islamabad and Rawalpindi such as Bhara Kahu and Adiala Road.