Sunday, June 15, 2014

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Health officials warn of whooping cough "epidemic" in California

Health officials are warning of an ''epidemic'' of whooping cough in California where over 3,400 cases have already been reported this year.

Jihadis Recruitment Drive in Riyadh Revives Biggest Saudi Threat

By Glen Carey and Deema Almashabi
The al-Qaeda breakaway group that has captured Iraq’s biggest northern city is on a recruitment drive in Saudi Arabia.
The evidence showed up last month in Riyadh, where drivers woke up to find leaflets stuffed into the handles of their car doors and in their windshields. They were promoting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which has grabbed the world’s attention by seizing parts of northern Iraq. The militant group is also using social media, such as Twitter and YouTube, to recruit young Saudi men.
Already at war with the governments of Iraq and Syria, ISIL also poses a potential threat to the Al Saud family’s rule over the world’s biggest oil exporter. Saudi authorities gained the upper hand in their battle with al-Qaeda, which targeted the kingdom a decade ago, yet analysts said the latest generation of militants may be harder to crush.
ISIL, known as Da’esh in Arabic, has “territorial ambitions and is far more difficult to deal with than al-Qaeda,” Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center, said in a telephone interview. “These people are able to hold ground, they have army-like units, and they conduct terrorist attacks.”
Stability in Saudi Arabia under the Al Saud has been essential for global oil markets. When supplies from Libya and sanction-hit Iran were disrupted after 2011, the kingdom increased output to meet demand. It produced 9.67 million barrels of oil a day in May, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Oil Industry In the past, the Saudi oil industry was an al-Qaeda target. The group’s followers, including Saudi veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who returned to the kingdom, attacked Abqaiq, the world’s largest oil processing plant in the Eastern Province, with car-bombs in 2006.
There are concerns that conflicts in Syria and Iraq will play a similar role to those earlier wars, pulling fighters from different Arab and European countries.
Al-Qaeda’s offshoots such as ISIL are increasingly taking the initiative in the war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In Iraq, they control a swathe of territory, and Saudi authorities are on guard against local cells. Saudi Arabia conducted large military exercises along its northern border in April, in a show of force against possible threats.
‘Terrorism Threat’
In May, the Interior Ministry said it arrested 62 militants who were planning attacks against domestic and foreign targets in the kingdom. Major General Mansour al-Turki, the ministry’s spokesman, told Al Arabiya that police are still looking for another 44 members. Some of the suspects had ties with ISIL in Syria and with al-Qaeda’s splinter group in Yemen.
“We recognize that all terrorist-related groups are a threat, including ISIL,” al-Turki said in an interview yesterday. “But our security forces are very well prepared to handle any terrorism threat.”
The leaflets showed up on cars on back streets in two residential neighborhoods in Riyadh in May, according to a Saudi security official, who asked not to be identified because police are still investigating the incident. It’s also unclear if those responsible had direct contact with ISIL or were acting on their own, the official said. ‘Fake Beard’ In the leaflets, the group warned against Muslims with “fake beards,” or those who pretend to be followers of Islam but are really its enemy, according to copies posted on Twitter by residents of the capital.
Such language has often been used by jihadi groups to criticize the Saudi monarchy, which enforces Islamic law at home and yet has also cultivated an alliance with the U.S., seen as enemies by most Islamists.
The kingdom is home to Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest shrine, which was temporarily seized by militants in 1979. Juhayman al-Otaybi, who led the takeover the mosque, had accused the ruling Al Saud family of being un-Islamic and called for them to stop selling oil to western powers. “The Saudi leadership is seen by many extremist groups, even those groups that Saudis financially support, as corrupt,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington.
Saudi Arabia is backing the mainly Sunni rebels fighting Assad in Syria, though there is no evidence that authorities are funding ISIL.
Spray Paint
ISIL’s printed literature also accused Western nations of using the war on “terror” to assault the Muslim world, a message that may ring true with some Saudis, who are suspicious of the U.S. role in the Middle East.
In the western Saudi city of Taif, a video posted on Youtube showed militant slogans spray-painted on government buildings.
Al-Turki said police monitor young Saudis who engage in activities such as spraying graffiti, or filming themselves carrying the banners of radical groups, “in response to requests posted on terrorism-related accounts” on social media. He said several are being questioned by authorities.
ISIL is “expanding its strategic campaign to the kingdom,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said in a phone interview. “ISIL is using simple information operations to get their message out.”
Potential Audience There’s a potential audience of sympathizers in Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year, a group of veiled Saudi women posted a video on YouTube calling upon ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to topple Al Saud because of “their un-Islamic and unjust reign.” The authenticity of the video couldn’t be independently verified.
The language in the leaflet, and on the video, is reminiscent of Osama Bin Laden, who also urged the overthrow of the Saudi rulers. By taking control of a swathe of territory across northern Iraq and Syria, Al-Baghdadi’s fighters have achieved gains that al-Qaeda never managed. The U.S. has dispatched an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf as President Barack Obama weighs options to halt the group’s advance in Iraq,
“Its members are more brutal in their killings,” Abdulsalam Mohammed, head of the Abaad Studies and Research Center in Sana’a and a specialist in Islamic movements, said in a phone interview. “They have a greater tendency to exploit and promote sectarian division. But they’re also willing to target Sunni groups.”

US, Iran to open talks on Iraq as militants post photos of massacre
THE radical Sunni militia that has plunged Iraq into chaos bragged that it had executed hundreds of Shiite Iraqi soldiers, even as the Obama administration said it is preparing to open direct talks with Iran on how the two longtime foes can counter the insurgents.
The US-Iran dialogue, which is expected to begin this week, will mark the latest in a rapid move toward rapprochement between Washington and Tehran over the past year. It also comes as the US and other world powers try to reach an agreement with Iran by late July to curb its nuclear program.

Pro Saudi Muslim Militants Say They Have Executed 1,700 Iraqi Soldiers

Wielding the threat of sectarian slaughter, Sunni Islamist militants claimed on Sunday that they had massacred hundreds of captive Shiite members of Iraq’s security forces, posting grisly pictures of a mass execution in Tikrit as evidence and warning of more killing to come.
Even as anecdotal reports of extrajudicial killings around the country seemed to bear out the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s intent to kill Shiites wherever it could, Iraqi officials and some human rights groups cautioned that the militants’ claim to have killed 1,700 soldiers in Tikrit could not be immediately verified.
But with their claim, the Sunni militants were reveling in an atrocity that if confirmed would be the worst yet in the conflicts that roil the region, outstripping even the poison gas attack near Damascus last year.
In an atmosphere where there were already fears that the militants’ sudden advance near the capital would prompt Shiite reprisal attacks against Sunni Arab civilians, the claims by ISIS were potentially explosive. And that is exactly the group’s stated intent: to stoke a return to all-out sectarian warfare that would bolster its attempts to carve out a Sunni Islamist caliphate that crosses borders through the region.
The sectarian element of the killings, and reports late Sunday that the city of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, had also fallen, may put more pressure on the Obama administration to aid Iraq militarily. In fact, the militants seemed to be counting on it. A pronouncement on Sunday by the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had a clear message for the United States: “Soon we will face you, and we are waiting for this day.”
The group’s announcement was made in a series of gruesome photographs uploaded to an ISIS Twitter feed and on websites late on Saturday night. Some showed insurgents, many wearing black masks, lining up at the edges of what looked like shallow mass graves and apparently firing their weapons into young men who had their hands bound behind their backs and were packed closely together in large groups.
The photographs showed what appeared to be seven massacre sites, although several of them may have been different views of the same sites. In any one of the pictures, no more than about 60 victims could be seen and sometimes as few as 20 at each of the sites, although it was not clear if the photographs showed the entire graves.
The militants’ captions seemed tailor-made to ignite anger and fear among Shiites. “The filthy Shiites are killed in the hundreds,” one read. “The liquidation of the Shiites who ran away from their military bases,” read another, and, “This is the destiny of Maliki’s Shiites,” referring to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Many of the captions mocked the victims. In one photograph, showing a group of young men walking toward an apparent execution site, where armed masked men awaited, the caption read, “Look at them walking to death on their own feet.”
So far, Iraq’s majority Shiites were not rising to the bait. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, their supreme religious leader, issued a statement on Saturday calling for all groups to “exert the highest possible level of self-restraint during this tumultuous period.” And there was little immediate public reaction to the ISIS claims in Baghdad or other southern Iraqi cities.
A senior Iraqi government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make press statements, said news of the executions was slow to circulate because Twitter and other social media sites had been blocked for days. “I don’t doubt they are real, but 1,700 is a big number,” he said. “We are trying to control the reaction.”
Acutely aware of the potential for retaliatory violence, some government officials who had heard about the ISIS claims took pains to play them down, confirming only that some executions had taken place in Tikrit, but not on a large scale.
One Iraqi security official claimed that no more than 11 bodies of executed soldiers were recovered from the Tigris River downstream from the execution site, a group of six and a group of five, although he confirmed that 800 soldiers had been taken prisoner in the area. He also reported finding 17 bodies washed up against a dam near Samarra, another city the militants are fighting for. But he said, “There is no such superstitious number as 1,700 people executed.”
An official statement posted on the Ministry of Defense’s website denied the executions had taken place at all.
Still, other officials and human rights representatives, while cautioning that they could not confirm the full 1,700 number being claimed, said that ISIS had shown no compunctions against hunting Shiites. And they reiterated that such horrific claims would go to further the group’s intent to sow chaos.
“We’re trying to verify the pics, and I am not convinced they are authentic,” said Erin Evers, the Human Rights Watch researcher in Iraq. “As far as ISIS claiming it has killed 1,700 people and publishing horrific photos to support that claim, it is unfortunately in keeping with their pattern of commission of atrocities, and obviously intended to further fuel sectarian war.”
Col. Suhail al-Samaraie, head of the Awakening Council in Samarra, a pro-government Sunni grouping, confirmed that officials in Salahuddin Province were aware that large-scale executions had taken place, but did not know how many. “They are targeting anyone working with the government side, any place, anywhere,” he said. He said the insurgents were targeting both Sunnis and Shiites, anyone with a government affiliation, but claiming for propaganda reasons that the victims were all Shiites.
A New York Times employee in Tikrit said local residents saw hundreds of Iraqi military personnel captured when they tried to flee Camp Speicher, a former American military base and airfield now used as an air force training center on the edge of Tikrit. It is still in government hands.
Most of those captured were air force cadets, the employee said. Those who were Sunnis were given civilian clothes and sent home; the Shiites were marched and trucked off to the grounds of Saddam Hussein’s old palace in Tikrit, where they reportedly were executed. He added that the bodies had been dumped in the Tigris River, which runs by the palace compound.
The ISIS photographs appeared to have been taken at that location, the employee said. However, he said he had not spoken to any witnesses who claimed to have seen the executions or the victims’ bodies.
Ryan C. Crocker, a former ambassador to Iraq and a critic of America’s 2011 withdrawal from that nation after the two countries failed to sign a mutual security pact, said the atrocity claims, proven or not, made it more urgent than ever for Washington to become involved.
“What this administration has to do is get John Kerry on a plane right now, like we did when I was there, and sit down with Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders and help them get to a position of declared national unity. Iraqis have to stand together now,” Mr. Crocker said. Regarding the massacres, he said, “Whatever it is, however many people, it’s clearly an effort to ignite an Iraqi civil war.”
Political analysts here mostly agreed about the militants’ intent. “The problem now is that you are dealing with emotions and ISIS is trying to provoke the other side to take revenge,” said Ameer Jabbar al-Sa’aedi, a Baghdad-based analyst. “There are extremists among the Shia, too, and if they respond, they could begin killing and not exclude anyone. It would be just like what happened in 2006.”
Even though Ayatollah Sistani’s statement over the weekend was intended to call for restraint on the part of Shiites, it came after his call just a day before for every Iraqi to take up arms to support the government.
That appeal was expected to greatly accelerate the formation of volunteer groups to supplement Shiite militias — nominally to fight alongside the Iraqi Army. But during the worst of the sectarian bloodletting in Iraq, from 2005 through 2007, some such Shiite groups were deeply involved in violence that was killing as many as 1,000 civilians each week.
One militia leader, Abu Bakr al-Zubaidi, from a group called Asaib Al Haq, a hard-line offshoot of the Mahdi Army militia, said he was not surprised to hear of the executions.
“ISIS regards Shia as their eternal enemy, and they will kill whoever falls in their hands who is Shia, whether they are soldiers, grocers or even singers,” he said. “Our response to that is there will not be any living ISIS prisoner.”

Lavrov: I don't know how to work with Ukrainian FM now

Hong Kong film-makers aim to be first in 3D porn

Scotland is one of the world's wealthiest nations

Russia and Ukraine fail to reach gas deal ahead of cut-off deadline

Russia and Ukraine failed to resolve a gas pricing dispute during Sunday talks in Kiev. Gazprom says its demands have not changed and Kiev is expected to pay its debt of $1.95 billion by 06:00 GMT on Monday, otherwise the gas supply will be stopped.
Gazprom’s position remained unchanged after EU-brokered negotiations finally ended around 2:30 a.m. Moscow time (10:30 p.m. GMT) on Monday, Gazprom spokesperson Aleksey Kupriyanov told reporters.
If Ukraine’s gas debt is not paid on time, Russia will be switching to an advance payment system, which will essentially stop gas supply to Ukraine, he added.
"We reached no agreement and the chances that we will meet again are slim -- we are already on the plane heading back (to Moscow)," Kupriyanov told AFP. "If we receive no pre-payment by 10:00 am (0600GMT), then we obviously will deliver no gas."
In his turn, Ukrainian Energy Minister Yury Prodan said that Ukraine is prepared for the cut-off of gas supply from Russia.
However, the head of Ukraine’s Naftogaz said that EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger suggested a temporary price of US$300-385, adding that there is a chance that this compromise can be achieved before the deadline.
The talks were attended by Gazprom head Aleksey Miller, Ukrainian PM Arseny Yatsenyuk, and EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger.
The previous round of talks over the price of Russian gas for Ukraine failed to reach a solution to the standing Ukrainian $1.95 billion gas debt. Ukraine have not been paying for most of the gas supplied by Russia this year and demands that the contract on the deliveries be amended.
Russia offered a discount to the price, but Ukraine rejected it, saying it wants the price to be lower.
Ukraine has been pushing for the gas price to be set at $268 per 1,000 cubic meters, Ukrainian Energy Minister Yury Prodan told reporters on Saturday.
The latest price proposed by Russia stands at $385. On Friday, Kiev said it is ready to pay $326 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Behind the Scenes at the First-Ever White House Tumblr Q&A-June 13,2014

President Obama Speaks at UC-Irvine Commencement Ceremony

US-Russia row harmful to global security - expert

US-Russia relations have reached a new low since the end of the Cold War, which is a huge disappointment for those who recognize how tension between these two world powers undermine global security and stability, says Edward Lozansky, President of the American University in Moscow and co-organizer of an upcoming roundtable in Washington that aims to brainstorm a solution to the problem.
"Regrettably, this sad state of affairs is most harmful, not only to the US and Russia but to the world's security and stability in general. The current crisis in Ukraine, which many see as a result of a US-Russia geopolitical confrontation, underscores once again the urgent necessity for developing a new foreign policy agenda that will benefit both American and Russian long-term strategic interests," Edward Lozansky told RIA Novosti.
To address this concern, experts on relations between Russia and the United States are now going to meet on Monday in the US capital, where a panel of Russian and American pundits will brainstorm solutions to the growing tensions between the two powers and seek to resolve deadlocks on Ukraine, Syria and other bugbear issues.
"US-Russia relations are at their lowest point since the collapse of the Soviet Union," Lozansky said. "This is a huge disappointment for all those who were expecting the emergence of a mutually beneficial strategic partnership or even alliance of these two great nations once there was no dividing ideological differences between them."
Discussions at the Hart Senate Office Building will feature Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the US, Jack Matlock, a former US ambassador to Moscow, Leonid Gozman, president of the Union of Right Forces, and other luminaries specializing in US-Russia relations.
Relations between Moscow and Russia turned sour following the February coup in Ukraine, which brought to power a US-backed government with strong nationalist support.
Fearing a rise in ethnic violence, the Russian-majority republic of Crimea voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia.
The March 16 referendum in Crimea was denounced as illegitimate by the authorities in Kiev and Washington, resulting in a series of US sanctions against Russian individuals and firms, as well as freezes on all major cooperation projects.
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Taliban changing from religious group to criminal enterprise: U.N.

The Taliban's reliance on extortion and kidnappings, along with narcotics and illegal mining operations, is transforming it from a group driven by religious ideology into a criminal enterprise hungry for profit, U.N. sanctions monitors said in a new report.
The latest annual report by the U.N. Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team on the Taliban was distributed to reporters on Friday, a day before Afghans vote in a run-off presidential election.
"In addition to voluntary or forced donations from Afghan businesses outside the country as well as voluntary donations motivated by religious or ideological convictions, the Taliban have established a fairly sophisticated system to generate resources inside the country," the report said.
"Increasingly Taliban finances also rely on abductions of wealthy businessmen for ransom."
The report said executing civilians and aid workers helps the Taliban reassert their power, block security improvements and prevent economic development 13 years after it was ousted from power by a U.S. invasion. It also creates new funding sources for the Taliban, hardline Islamists bent on toppling the Afghan government.
"However, these activities increasingly change the character of parts of the movement from a group based on religiously couched ideology to a coalition of increasingly criminalized networks, guided by the profit motive," the monitors said.
Taliban revenue generation is uneven. In provinces such as Nimroz and Kandahar, the Taliban are financially self-sustaining, while others depend on payments from the central leadership.
In Kandahar, the Taliban raise $7 million to $8 million a month from narcotics, extortion and mining, the report said.
The report includes details on Helmand, which it said is the Taliban's main province for generating funds. Helmand is the top opium-producing region in Afghanistan, with some 100,000 hectares of land cultivated with poppy in 2013.
In the worst case, it said, Afghan officials expect $50 million yield from this year's Helmand poppy harvest. Most of Helmand's poppy farmers can expect to pay 10 percent of their opium production as tax for the Taliban.
Another lucrative Taliban business is illegal marble mining, which the monitors said is the second major revenue source in Helmand.
"The illegal and unlicensed mining sector in the province appears to be several times larger than the legal mining sector," the report said. "The Team has currently identified from 25 to 30 illegal mining operations in southern Helmand."
Most of the illegal mines are near the Pakistani border, enabling the illegal miners to quickly smuggle the marble across the frontier and move it onto the international market.
"The Team's preliminary assessment is that this Taliban revenue stream is significantly larger than $10 million a year," the monitoring team said about marble mining. The monitors recommended that the Security Council sanctions committee warn U.N. member states about the Taliban's use of illegally mined marble for financing.
In Helmand, the Taliban's "Financial Commission" transfers its funds to the Quetta Shura, a group including the top Taliban leadership, who arrange for the transfer of narcotics to Pakistan for sale.
The money is then transferred back to the Quetta Shura in cash or via "hawala" agents, an informal system based on trust used to transfer money without actually moving any physical currency. The monitors said the Taliban spend 20 percent of the money on fighting the government in Helmand, while the Quetta Shura get 80 percent to redistribute to needier Taliban elsewhere.
The Taliban has been under U.N. sanctions since 1999. The sanctions include an international asset freeze. Many individual members face U.N. travel bans and asset freezes.

Pakistan launches 'Zarb-e-Azb' military operation in N Waziristan

On the directions of the government, the Pakistan Army has launched a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists who are hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan Agency, a week after a brazen insurgent attack on the country's busiest airport in Karachi.
“The operation has been named Zarb-e-Azb,” said an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement on Sunday.
“Using North Waziristan as a base, these terrorists had waged a war against the state of Pakistan and had been disrupting our national life in all its dimensions, stunting our economic growth and causing enormous loss of life and property.”
“They had also paralysed life within the agency and had perpetually terrorised the entire peace loving and patriotic local population,” the statement quoted DG ISPR Maj Gen Asim Bajwa as saying.
He said, “Our valiant armed forces have been tasked to eliminate these terrorists regardless of hue and color, along with their sanctuaries.”
“With the support of the entire nation, and in coordination with other state institutions and Law Enforcement Agencies, these enemies of the state will be denied space anywhere across the country.” “As always, armed forces of Pakistan will not hesitate in rendering any sacrifice for the motherland,” it added.
The all important announcement came after overnight air strikes by Pakistani jets that killed more than 50 foreign militants, mostly Uzbeks, in North Waziristan.
Strikes took place in the Boya tehsil, Degan forests and Datta Khel tehsil of North Waziristan. Local security officials put the death toll far higher, saying that about 150 militants died in the air strikes, which primarily targeted Uzbek fighters in a remote area of the tribal agency. Among the dead were insurgents linked to last Monday's all-night siege of Karachi airport that killed 38 people, including 10 attackers, and all but destroyed a tentative peace process between the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the government. Related: North Waziristan empties out as foreign fighters flee Pressure has been mounting on the government to launch a ground offensive in the Taliban-infested North Waziristan tribal district. Following the brazen assault in Karachi, the US carried out two drone strikes in North Waziristan on Wednesday, the first time the controversial programme has been used this year. The same day, air force jets pounded suspected militant hideouts, leaving at least 25 dead.
It may be mentioned that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan had warned the government against launching a major military offensive against the militants in North Waziristan saying it would prove ‘suicidal’.

Video Report: Pakistan Army Launches Military Operation - Zarb-e-Azb

Video: President Obama Delivers Inspirational Father’s Day Message

“I know how important it is to have a dad in your life, because I grew up without my father around. I felt the weight of his absence,” he said in the message delivered as his weekly address the day before the observance of Father’s Day. “So, for Michelle and our girls, I try every day to be the husband and father my family didn’t have when I was young. And every chance I get, I encourage fathers to get more involved in their children’s lives, because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to have a child—it’s the courage to raise one.” “And while there’s nothing that can replace a parent, any of us can do our part to be a mentor, a sounding board, a role model for a kid who needs one,” he said. “Earlier this year, I launched an initiative called My Brother’s Keeper—an all-hands-on-deck effort to help more of our young men reach their full potential.

Video: Americans mark Flag Day with national anthem sing-alongs

From the National Mall in Washington to a quiet pavilion at an Indiana Veteran's home, Americans across the country celebrate Flag Day.

Poll: Scots trust Holyrood more than Westminster

THREE times as many people trust Holyrood to make decisions in the interests of Scotland as opposed to politicians at Westminster, a poll has revealed.
When asked who they trusted most to make decisions in Scotland’s best interests, 52% of Scots said Holyrood, while 17.3% said Westminster, according to the study by Survation.
When the 30.7% who said they did not know were excluded, 75% trusted Holyrood more while 25% preferred Westminster.
A total of 1,004 people were questioned for the research, which was commissioned by the Better Nation political blog in partnership with the Daily Record and Dundee University’s 5 Million Questions referendum project.
Amongst those who voted for the SNP in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, 82.3% said they trusted Holyrood more to make decisions in the best interests of Scotland.
More than half (51.9%) of Labour supporters also preferred the Edinburgh parliament over that in London.
Almost three-fifths (57.9%) of those who backed the Tories in 2011 said they trusted Westminster more to make decisions in Scotland’s best interests.
Better Nation founder James Mackenzie said the poll suggested that if the SNP focused on the referendum, instead of trying to win both that vote and the 2016 Scottish elections, a majority of Scots could be persuaded to back independence.
He stated: “The referendum result can’t change anyone’s identity, nor can any party guarantee that we’ll be better or worse off either way. What a Yes vote would do is transfer the remaining powers from Westminster to Holyrood, and this poll suggests a clear vote for independence on that basis is within reach.
“The SNP are currently trying to win both the referendum and the election after it at the same time, but the prospects of a Yes win would be much better if they clearly distinguished their next manifesto from the principle of self-governance.
“We know Labour voters already overwhelmingly trust Holyrood more, and the campaign needs to focus on them if the referendum is to be won. If, over the next 100 days, the broader Yes campaign makes it clear the referendum is a choice between voting for Holyrood and voting for Westminster, which it really is, then Yes can win and win comfortably.”
SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing said: “Decisions about Scotland are best made in Scotland - and this poll is a welcome confirmation of the fact that the majority of people in Scotland agree, which is why a Yes vote in September is so important.
“With a Yes vote the Scottish Parliament will take all the decisions about Scotland - meaning we have the power to make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous country and will no longer have Tory governments foisted on us by Westminster.
“It is no wonder that most people in Scotland trust Holyrood more than Westminster. While the Scottish Parliament has delivered free university education, protected our NHS and sought to invest in our economy - Westminster has imposed the Bedroom Tax, welfare cuts and austerity economics.
“More than half of Labour voters trust the Scottish Parliament more than Westminster - and with Westminster’s lurch to the right it is not difficult to see why.”

Masterminds of Karachi airport attack also killed in NWA bombings

Several high profile foreign terrorist commanders were also killed in jet fighters bombings in North Waziristan Agency (NWA), Geo News reported on Sunday.
Security sources said that terrorist commander Abu Abdul Rahman Almani and a key-member of East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Wilayet bin Hashim besides several other terrorists were also killed in the air strikes conducted about 0130 hours on Sunday. The report adds that the strike was carried on intelligence about terrorist hideouts in Degan, Datta Khel in NWA.
Following confirmed reports about the presence of foreign and local terrorists involved in the Karachi Airport attack, Pakistani jets targeted the hideouts as well an ammunition dump.
While the ISPR confirms over 50 terrorists were killed in the strike, a foreign news agency has reported the number to be as high as 150.
The political administration confirms a curfew remains enforced in NWA and all exit/entry roads are closed.

Bangladesh Reports First Case of MERS Infection

Bangladesh on Sunday reported its first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus infection in a man returning from the United States through Abu Dhabi. The man, 53, was being treated in hospital, said Mahmudur Rahman, of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research. "Most probably, he contacted the virus while he was in Abu Dhabi in transit on his way back from the United States," Rahman told Reuters. First reported in humans in 2012, MERS causes severe and often fatal respiratory illness, with symptoms similar to those seen during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. Its death rate of about 40 percent and reports of clusters of human-to-human transmission have raised concern it may blow up into a pandemic. It has infected more than 800 people around the world, killing at least 310 of them. The vast majority of cases have been in Saudi Arabia, but there have also been sporadic cases and clusters across the Middle East and in Europe, Asia and the United States.


The Pakistan Army will be deployed in various parts of the country’s capital at the request of the district government, a government official said on Saturday.
“In order to assist the rapid response force (RRF), two companies of the Pakistan Army will be deployed from tomorrow [June 15] in different areas of Islamabad,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as he is not authorized to speak to media. “The district administration requested the military provide extra security because Islamabad has been on high alert since the attack on the Karachi Airport,” he added.
On Thursday, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq informed lawmakers that Parliament was the ‘most wanted’ target for terrorists. The statement was met with criticism from the opposition.
Khursheed Shah, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, told Newsweek the speaker’s claim was unnecessary and would merely spread panic. “There was no need to share a statement that can worry the people of Pakistan,” said Shah.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which claimed responsibility for the attack on the Karachi airport, has announced that it will attack sensitive government installations following the collapse of peace talks.
According to security analysts, the threat is likely to increase with last week’s drone strike and the Pakistan military’s shelling of suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan.

Pakistan: Military action is the only answer

Give without saying in so many words the government seems to have decided to go in for an all-out offensive against terrorist outfits across the country, hopefully once for all taking off the table the option of ill-conceived peace talks with their leadership. It was long due, as inordinate delay in that has brought home the fallacy of suing peace with blood-addicted marauders. If at all there was any chance of peace dialogue succeeding that is over, aptly reflected from the audacity and brashness with which the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility of the attack on Karachi airport and its associate Jaishul Islam proudly announced killing of over two dozen Shia pilgrims. Even when the generally pro-peace dialogue Sharif government and interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali are still a bit inhibited in admitting the grim reality of overarching terrorism threat confronting Pakistan - maybe the minister thought it prudent to avoid saying country is in war which invites Proclamation of Emergency under the constitution, and instead told parliament 'we are in a war zone'. But he did concede the gravity of the terrorism threat by telling parliament 'Nobody should be in doubt that there will necessarily be a reaction to the action'. And that reaction was there without any loss of time when PAF jets took out some nine terrorist hideouts and killed 25 suspected militants in the Tirah Valley. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) directorate claimed the bombing was 'in retaliation to Sunday's deadly attack on the Karachi airport' - an expression more in context of a 'targeted action' than a final move against the terrorist outfits and their scheming dens. The ambivalence so much abounding in an expression like 'we are in a war zone' instead of 'state of war' betrays a kind of admitting the fact that the obtaining threat to national security aptly fits the circumstances that merit proclamation of emergency. The truth is that normal channels had failed to deal with attackers at the airport complex and complete absence of security forces to protect a conspicuously obvious target of terrorists the 300 Shia pilgrims at Taftan airstrip were, a failure accentuated by collapse of contact link between the federal and provincial authorities at the highest level. We don't know if the Cabinet Committee on National Committee in its meeting following the Karachi airport saga could shun ambivalence on the need for a final action against terrorist outfits - the press release issued following the meeting evades clarity. But we do hope the unsourced reports saying the military's position for stern action against militants was unanimously adopted by the CCNC.
Time for a final action against terrorist outfits has come; it brooks no deferment howsoever appealing be the alternatives, both real and fictional. An earlier opportunity for an effective action to root out this curse was last thanks to the so-called Taliban's peace messengers when conditions were quite favourable. Something like that opportunity seems to have come again in the wake of split along tribal and regional differences besetting the TTP alliance in the wake of Saeed Khan aka Sajna group's revolt against its chief Mulla Fazlullah. If they are also divided along ideological Deobandi versus Punjpiri schools of thought that may be yet another cause of intra-TTP rifts. Also with powerful commanders in southern tribal areas like Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Haji Sher Mohammad and Mullah Nazir being amenable to regional military command's overture for peaceful coexistence the time may be opportune to strike at the TTP, which is increasingly being confined to north in Bajaur, Mohmand and Swat areas. There is no reason for the military operations not to succeed in these areas, especially now that local populations appear to be showing signs of joining the fights against terrorists, of which quite a big chunk are foreigners having their own particular agendas. But where weakness is quite palpable is the government's lingering inability to fight terrorists on the psychological warfare front. Take the case of second attack on the Karachi airport. There was hardly a reason to believe that it could have caused a serious damage, but it did. Not only the TTP promptly claimed responsibility and promised more of the same it made people believe that even if 10 terrorists were killed all is not well at the country's most important airport. Consequently, the security at the airport has become suspect in the eyes of foreign airlines with one Cathay Pacific announcing cancellation of its Karachi operation. This is all what the TTP wants to do as a guerrilla outfit. So when military is ready to take on and defeat the terrorist forces the civil counterparts too should stand up to the challenge, close its ranks, evolve unanimity of thought and action and banish the idea from their mind if any that the Taliban and their genre are a political or national asset. They are out to destroy Pakistan and must be defeated whatever it takes.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa govt burdens salaried class with taxes
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has raised the ratio of provincial taxes by making amendments to various laws pertaining to the stamp duty, professional institutions, business establishments, agriculture income and salaries.
Finance Minister Sirajul Haq presented the provincial budget for fiscal 2014-15 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on Saturday.
According to the Finance Bill, the government has levied an annual tax of Rs330 on all those persons engaged in any profession and trade having an income of Rs10,000, but not exceeding Rs20,000. “A person whose income is between Rs200,000 and Rs500,000 will be liable to pay Rs10,000 tax per annum,” it stated.
Employees of the federal and provincial governments drawing pay in basic pay scale 1 to 4 have been exempted from tax. All employees from BPS-5 to BPS-20 and above will pay tax. The BPS-20 and above grade officers will have to pay Rs20,000 tax a year.
All limited companies, modarbas, mutual funds and other corporate concerns with paid-up capital and reserves in the preceding year and with income not exceeding Rs10 million will have to pay a tax of Rs18,000. Each will have to pay Rs100,000 if the income exceeds Rs200 million.
Persons other than limited companies, owning factories, commercial establishments, private educational institutions and private hospitals are liable to pay tax. Any commercial establishment having 10 or more employees will have to pay Rs10,000 tax, while private hospitals having up to 50 employees will have to pay Rs50,000 tax a year. Each of the private medical colleges and private engineering institutes running degree programmes will have to pay Rs100,000 tax.
Private business educational institutes having up to 100 students will have to par Rs70,000 and private law colleges Rs100,000 tax, while education institutes charging monthly Rs5,000 per student will have to pay Rs100,000 per annum.
The government has also levied tax of Rs4,000 on holders of import or export licence, who has an income of Rs50,000 in the preceding year. A clearing agent or approved custom house agent will have to pay Rs10,000 per annum. An IATA approved travel agent and hajj and tour operator will have to Rs15,000 annual fee each.
The government has also levied tax on restaurants/guesthouses and professional caterer, who will be paying Rs15,000 annual tax. The wedding halls will be charged Rs30,000 a year. Specialist doctors and dentists will have to, respectively, pay Rs20,000 and Rs15,000 professional tax a year. Besides this, diagnostic and therapeutic centres, including pathological and chemical laboratories, are also included in the tax net.
The petrol/diesel/CNG filling stations, video shops, real estate shops/ agencies, car dealers and net cafes, chartered accountants, vehicle service stations, transporters, members of stock exchange companies, money changers, jewellers, cable operators, printing presses, pesticides dealers, health fitness centers/gymnasium, departmental stores, electronic goods stores and tobacco whole sellers have been levied with various ratios of taxes ranging between Rs1000 and Rs15,000.
On the one hand, the government has announced 10 per cent increase in the salaries, on the other it imposed various taxes on the salaried class. Finance Minister Sirajul Haq, during his budget speech, said that it was a tax-free budget, but taxes imposed on services and trades belied his claim.


By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
The attack on the Karachi international airport on 8th June was one of the most spectacular and audacious ones by the TTP in the last few months.
The details of the attack have been given in great detail in the media and are not being repeated here. But significant points that need to be noted on the attack are:
If the attack was intended to create panic, terror and diversion of State machinery towards security threats, then it had succeeded to that extent.
Though the press had mentioned about intention of the attackers to hijack a civilian aircraft, there were no indications that the militants tried to attack any passenger plane that was full of passengers. In the attacks, one militant managed get onto a plane. One plane of PIA, one of Air Blue and a Cargo plane were reported to have been damaged. The militants in the guise of Airport security personnel entered the airport through the scarcely used gateway to the cargo section and were soon engaged by the Airport security and the Pak Rangers who joined them.
In all ten militants were involved and all of them were killed. A total of 36 persons were killed that included airport staff and Pak security forces. Three of the militants who blew themselves up were Uzbeks and it is suspected that most of the attackers were all of foreign origin.
While the initial message from the TTP said that it was a revenge for the killing of TTP leader Mehsud a year ago, the real reason appears to be the killing of innocent people in the bomb attacks that have been intensified since 21st June. The bombing of Machis camp near Mirenshah where Uzbeks were suspected to be hiding on 23rd June is said to have killed over 25 Uzbeks besides their commander code named Abu Ahmad. The Uzbeks probably belonging to the IMU have since claimed responsibility for the attack along with the TTP.
It is surprising that though the security forces on the morning of 8 June declared that the airport was cleared of militants, explosions and huge fires were seen in the airport much later. Within 36 hours, two or three gun men again attacked the training and hostel facility of the airport security and escaped before they could be apprehended. The TTP spokesman said that the attacks were a message that they were still alive to react over the killing of innocent people. An attempt was made to divert attention and blame India for the attack and there was even mention of Indian arms being found with the dead militants. But fortunately this was not pursued. LET’s chief’s statement blaming the Modi Government for the incident should be ignored.
Some conclusions can be drawn from the attacks:
1. There was a view that the TTP of the Fazlullah group had considerably weakened after the split and ensuing clashes that took place two weeks ago. Regular Army operations that began with aerial bombing and later ground attacks took into consideration of the split in launching the operations. The current attack has proved that the Fazlullah group is still strong and could attack in other areas too. Recall Fazlullah’s statement (paper 5710) that he is getting ready his suicide bombers to take on the evil forces.
2. The day after the attack Nawaz Sharif met the Army Chief and the main agenda was whether to give up on the peace talks and launch a regular operation. Operations had already begun and what is being intended is a “Swat like” operation which could involve serious civilian casualties and exodus of refugees to other regions. It looks that Nawaz Sharif had given the final clearance for such an operation. The Army Chief who had been insisting on such an operation ever since he took over in November last year and he has finally had his way. Sure enough, the next day after the meeting, jets bombed nine of the suspected hideouts in North Waziristan killing over 25 suspected militants.
3. The repercussions on such large scale operations will be difficult to comprehend right now. Punjab is relatively free now but it may not remain so. Secondly forays from across the border by militants camping on the other side of the border cannot be ruled out. For the third time in a week, militants fired from across the border in Bajaur agency and two Pakistani posts Manozangel and Monkla were attacked. Two soldiers were killed and many more injured. It is said that the TTP is well entrenched in Nuristan on the other side of the border in Afghanistan. Any foray into Afghanistan would bring in reaction from the Afghan forces too. To this extent the border in that area would remain unstable.
4. This attack is the fourth high security target that was penetrated. The first was the Pak Naval Airbase PNS Mehran in Karachi that was attacked in May 2011. Then followed the attack on the international airport at Peshawar on Dec 15, 2012 and then the Air force base at Kamra near Karachi in Aug. 2012. The question that should be of concern not only to India but also to others whether the nuclear establishments and areas where nuclear devices are stored are safe from the militant attacks. The TTP has demonstrated that it can attack at will any high value security target easily!
5.The operations in the North Waziristan cannot be conducted by the Pak Army without active cooperation from the Haqqani Group. The latter perhaps are providing information on the hideouts and about the location of the leaders. Closely associated with the Haqqani Group is the LET and this may embolden the latter to attack the Indian interests. The attack on the Herat Consulate is just the beginning and one cannot rule out another 26/11 in India too.
6. In all this process, the position of Nawaz Sharif has considerably weakened. He with his Interior minister had set their heart right from the election to have a dialogue with the militants and find a solution. The army on the one hand and the militants on the other are now bent upon quashing any hope he had. One analyst remarked that the Pak Army will as before unsettle and destabilise Nawaz Sharif. But one thing is sure- the military offensive against the TTP is unlikely to succeed in the near term.

Pakistan: "PM sentencing in contempt case against law" - Aitzaz Ahsan

Pakistan: Aitzaz terms govt’s Taliban policy soft

Aitzaz Ahsan, leader of the opposition in the Senate, Friday criticised the PML-N government’s policy towards Taliban, saying the PML-N has soft policy towards Taliban and Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan seems busy shielding the extremists after every terrorist attack.
“The nation will have to finally stand up to terrorism and speak up against religious extremism to save Pakistan, which is being isolated internationally, and there is no time left,” said Ahsan at a seminar organised by human rights cell of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) here at a local hotel.
“Pakistan is being ostracised for polio, terrorism and extremism; there is no cricket, no investment, no tourists, and after the Karachi airport attack, further restrictions may follow,” he cautioned. He also criticised the government for lacking clear strategy on terrorism. Ahsan said that Pakistani women are very talented and they have right to raise the voice for their rights. He mentioned that PPP always fights for the rights of women in and out the parliament. Slain former PM Benazir Bhutto also equally treated the women in the party meetings.
Romana Bashir, director Peace and Development Foundation, hinting at a provision in the 18th amendment asked why the constitutional and other offices were not open to other identities and religions when they were equally loyal and patriotic Pakistanis like any other. If Cecil Chaudhry can sacrifice his life for the country, why cannot those of his or other religions serve the nation on the highest offices. She also condemned a chief minister’s statement on sanitary workers, which was derogatory to Christians. Dr Nafisa Shah, central coordinator of the PPP Human Rights Cell, introducing the cell said the objective of the seminar was to discuss how progressive parties like the PPP and progressive civil society, which had ceded space to the religious right, can combat the extremist narrative politically.
Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, general secretary of the cell, spoke of the human rights legislations that PPP had instituted in the last government. Khokhar in his remarks said the PPP government made several legislations regarding the human rights throughout its tenure and the pervious government initiated several steps for protecting the basic rights of the people. He appreciated Nafeesa Shah’s efforts for human rights cell of the PPP. He said that PPP would also pressurise the government to take positive steps for the welfare of poor class.

Pakistan can't fight Taliban with old methods: TV Paul, author of 'The Warrior State'

Kunal Majumder
The author of 15 books on South Asia and international politics, TV Paul tries to decode Pakistan and its many troubles in his latest book The Warrior State. In a telephonic conversation with Kunal Majumder, Paul explains why Pakistan's Taliban policy requires a rethink
To begin with, how do you read the last two attacks on Karachi airport?
The attacks show a tit-for-tat approach. The Pakistani military thought they could bomb Taliban and other militant hideouts in Waziristan. In retaliation, the Taliban and other militant groups are showing they can attack the heart of Pakistan, especially important places like airports. I don't know how much these approaches by both the military and the Taliban are helping anyone. It's a small civil war. They want a say in the country's constitution and the future. An option could be to concede some of the demands of the Taliban, but they would come back with more demands.
You spoke about how Pakistan has a geostrategic curse, and the economy is not doing as well as India's. You have given the example of how Europe revived its economy based on wars. Pakistan has been perpetually fighting one or another conflict, with billions spent on its war machinery, and yet it failed to strengthen its economy. Why do you think Pakistan has been unable to do this?
That is the puzzle that I am addressing in the book. Pakistan has abandoned the 'trading state approach' or 'developmental state approach'. They have basically benefited from aid received from foreign countries and the services they have provided. They have got enough money from international corporations by being an ally of the United States and then China. But they have no trade relationship with great powers like Korea or Taiwan. That is why I call it a curse. No crisis is turned into an opportunity, to reform their economy, educational system or industry. India would also have faced this curse had they not undergone liberalisation. For example, there are no land reforms in Pakistan. The country will not progress unless other countries stop handing out money and demand reform.
I'm sure you have been following Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to India, and the warming up of the relationship between the two prime ministers. Are you sceptical about this, or do you think Sharif means well by attending Modi's swearing in? Does he want good relations with India?
I think he means well. It remains to be seen if he can take along the army and the ISI. Whether he has the ability to convince them is crucial. Whenever the two countries agreed on an issue, some state or non-state actors succeeded in spoiling the peace. The big question is whether the Pakistani government has the ability to stop these actors. One thing badly needed is the reduction of tactical weapons build-up on the border. The nuclear issue needs to be addressed. The big issues should be isolated.
Just a day before Modi's swearing in, the Indian consulate in Herat was attacked. Afghan president Hamid Karzai accused Laskhar-e-Toiba for the incident. Do you think India and Pakistan will be able to keep Herat and other such incidents aside to come together for a peace process?
I think the general impression is that the ISI is aiding the Taliban to carry out these attacks. But it is Pakistan's strategy to keep India off Afghanistan. There is some level of collaboration. What exactly does Pakistan want in Afghanistan? India has played a reasonably good role in Afghanistan. It is important to convince the Pakistanis of the developmental interests of India in Afghanistan. But everybody is waiting for the elections there to be over. The Americans are also waiting. We need creative strategies for the region, and India and Pakistan are important.
Do you think Pakistan is serious about tackling the Taliban? They make a difference between the Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan considers the Afghan Taliban as freedom fighters, while Pakistan Taliban are terrorists. Are these double standards going to help Pakistan? Even during the attack on the Karachi airport, India was blamed by certain quarters in Pakistan, though the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the incident.
There is a lot of paranoia. Some elements in Pakistan are sympathetic to the Taliban, but the people have realised the danger of Taliban. I do not know how serious Sharif or the army chief is. Is there any synchronisation between their policies? If they follow the old methods, Pakistan will not be able to fight the Taliban. TTP will pretend to listen to Pakistan, but they could unite with the Afghan Taliban. They both have the dream of an Islamic Emirate. If they unite, it will destroy the secular peace process of South Asia. Pakistan is self-destroying by playing this game. The militaries in Pakistan and Afghanistan do not discard their strategies easily. This comes out of their history of Islamic persistence, of fighting on. They have to realise they need a new strategy, a different Afghanistan. Right now, they use a policy of divide and rule. I do not know how long this will go on. This country has great troubles and the elite are talking in different ways. There is a lot of discussion but no consensus.

Pakistan: Airstrikes Kill 150 Militants in Tribal Lands

Airstrikes by Pakistan’s military overnight killed 150 militants in the northwestern tribal regions near the Afghan border, Pakistani government sources said Sunday. Pakistan government forces said Uzbek militants were among those killed, but local Taliban sources denied that.
The airstrikes came a week after a deadly Taliban attack on the Karachi airport — which militant commanders said was aided by Uzbek jihadists.
The area where the airstrikes occurred is a remote tribal region and stronghold of the Haqqani network — part of Afghanistan’s Taliban. The same group claimed responsibility for the capture of U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl in June 2009.
In 2006, the Pakistani government signed a peace agreement with local Taliban in the area but since then foreign militants have come in.
After the Karachi attack, the Pakistan government told Taliban militants to expel the foreigners or face action.
Uzbekistan doesn’t share a border with Pakistan, but Uzbek militants have bases around the lawless areas straddling Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
Uzbek militants also helped the Pakistani Taliban during its attack on Peshawar's airport last year.