Thursday, March 30, 2017

Video - ‘Status of President Assad to be decided by Syrian people’ – Tillerson during his visit to Turkey

Video - S. Korea's ex-president Park arrested following impeachment over corruption scandal

Saudi Air Raid Leaves 10 Civilians Dead in Yemen's Sa’ada

Eight children and two women have lost their lives in a fresh Saudi aerial attack on Yemen’s northwestern Sa’ada province.
Four people were also injured in Wednesday’s airstrike that hit a residential area in Sa’ada, Yemen's Arabic-language al-Masirah television network said, Press TV reported on Thursday. Additionally on Wednesday, Saudi warplanes bombarded the Yemeni districts of Dhubab, Harad and Munabbih, situated in the provinces of Ta'izz, Hajjah and Sa’ada, respectively.
The Wednesday airstrikes were carried out a day after similar raids on Nihm neighborhood of Sana'a province killed all members of a family. In retaliation for the deadly Saudi airstrikes, 20 Saudi mercenaries were slain in mortar attacks conducted by the Yemeni army and Yemen's Houthi Ansarullah movement in the north of Midi Desert in Hajjah. Yemeni army snipers further shot dead five Saudi officers in an unspecified location.
Saudi Arabia has been leading a brutal military campaign against Yemen since March 2015. The kingdom has also imposed an aerial and naval blockade on its impoverished southern neighbor. The Saudi aggression, which allegedly seeks to restore Yemen's ex-government to power, has killed over 12,000 Yemenis, according to the latest tallies.
Separately on Wednesday, a drone strike claimed the lives of four people in Yemen’s southern Abyan province, a security official said. Two missiles hit a vehicle on the outskirts of Abyan’s Mudiyah neighborhood, killing all four occupants, who were suspected to be members of the al-Qaeda militant group, the official added.
Earlier this month The Wall Street Journal reported that US President Donald Trump had given the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) new powers to launch drone attacks against suspected terrorist targets. The authority was limited to the Pentagon under the former US administration.
Under the new measure, however, the CIA would require no permission from the Pentagon or even the White House before conducting a drone strike. Reports say Washington has conducted dozens of strikes against what are claimed to be al-Qaeda targets in Yemen since March 2, when it stepped up its campaign in the Arabian Peninsula country.
The conflict-ridden state has been under regular US drone attacks, with Washington claiming to be targeting al-Qaeda elements while local sources say civilians have been the main victims of the attacks.

West still bowing to Saudi Arabia

A petition recently circulated in the UK demanded a halt to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the release of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi and an investigation into possible Saudi war crimes in Yemen.
While many Western nations line up to sign business contracts with Saudi Arabia, they turn a blind eye to its medieval laws and policies.
The recent ban on electronics larger than a cell phone from the cabins of direct flights coming into the U.S. from 10 countries included Saudi Arabia.
But U.S. President Donald Trump’s second attempt to temporarily ban visitors from six countries judged to be incubators of terrorism didn’t, even though most of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia.
The oil-rich kingdom remains a Western ally despite its human rights violations and the religious fundamentalism and parochialism still featured in its textbooks, and which it still exports to Middle Eastern and South Asian nations.
Saudi Arabia’s excesses could fill a book, ranging from abusing the rights of women, to its mistreatment of foreign workers, to persecution of anyone espousing a non-traditional view of Islam, or daring to have a different sexual orientation from the one sanctioned by the state, under its draconian religious laws.
Yet Western nations continue to reward the oil kingdom.
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved an arms contract with Saudi Arabia, arguing it was a legacy of the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
As for the UK, Saudi Arabia remains its largest market for arms sales, under the specious argument it has the same right to self-defence as any country.
As the UK petition notes, such cooperation leaves no doubt of implicit Western support for a Saudi regime that does not meet basic, universal standards of human rights.
Badawi is a Saudi writer and blogger,who was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 on a charge of “insulting Islam”.
According to Peter Tatchell, a human rights lawyer who is one of the authors of the UK petition, “The Saudi regime ought to be treated as a global pariah. Its courts sentenced Raif Badawi to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for the crime of expressing the wrong opinions ... But there is no sign that this sadistic cruelty is disturbing the close and decades-long friendship between London and Riyadh.”
Other human rights abuses are even worse.
According to another petitioner, Claire Brand, “For two years, UK-made bombs have been falling on Yemen. The consequences have been devastating, with thousands being killed and whole communities being ... destroyed. The UK government's response has been ... to sell even more weapons. If (Prime Minister) Theresa May and her colleagues want to do what’s right for the Yemeni people, then they must end their complicity in this destruction.”
There are other alleged human rights abuses that the petition does not address.
For example, two Pakistani transgender women were recently murdered in Saudi Arabia -- a charge the kingdom denies in the face of strong evidence to the contrary -- according to Pakistani news reports.
In any event all alleged Saudi crimes will almost certainly go unpunished.
Women generally remain largely marginalized in the oil kingdom.
Saudi authorities have not relented in their position on Badawi despite Western demands and requests by human rights agencies.
It is past time Western leaders had the backbone to stop kowtowing to Saudi Arabia.

Video - #Saudi General gives finger to protesters attempting citizen’s arrest over Yemen atrocities

Video - #Putin talks at Intl Artic Forum in Russia

Video - China’s Defense Ministry: Cooperation is the only correct option for China and US

Trump Administration Signals It Won't Seek Assad’s Ouster

On Thursday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Washington no longer will pursue an agenda of removing Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, marking a tectonic shift in US foreign policy.

The comments mark a major admission of defeat of that particular aspect of US foreign policy. 
"Our priority," Haley said, "is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out," Haley said on Thursday. "Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria." 
The question of whether Assad will retain power has had leaders scratching their heads all over the globe. Since January, a shaky ceasefire has been in effect, brokered by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara. 
Moscow and Ankara specifically have emerged as guarantors of the ceasefire, but essentially every other country, including the US under the Obama administration, wanted to see Assad removed from power. The question leaders have had to grapple with – whether Assad could, should or would stay in power – now seems to have gained some clarity.
While the US struggles to maintain its will on the international landscape, the removal of Washington’s support for anti-Assad voices is a major blow to interests that wanted to see Assad replaced. 
In response to a question on whether a political settlement in Syria would include the resignation of Assad, Haley replied in an article published March 30, “This is one of the situations where the US and Russia can definitely talk and say, ‘OK, how can we get to a better solution here?’ but the issue of Assad is going to be there.”
Earlier in March, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Assad isn’t “an acceptable leader to all of the Syrian people.” Ousting Assad was one of the Obama administration’s top objectives in the Middle East.
While visiting Ankara, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also said that the US would retreat from its previous stance. 
The “longer term” status of Assad “will be decided by the Syrian people,” Tillerson said during a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday.

Putin blasts opposition politicians for using protests as ‘campaign spin’

Russia’s president has it is wrong for political figures to use anti-corruption campaigns for political advantage rather than actually try to do something about it, while noting that his administration and allies have always been staunchly anti-corruption. “We persistently stand for fighting corruption,” President Vladimir Putin told reporters on Wednesday at the International Arctic Forum in Russia’s northwestern city of Arkhangelsk. “The problem has become lesser in recent times, public opinion polls testify to that,” he noted.
“But I think that it is not right when certain political forces attempt to use this tool for their own promotion, including electoral campaigns, instead of trying to improve the situation in the country,” Putin said.
“This tool was used in the Arab Spring events and we know very well what the results of those events were. The same tool was used as an excuse for the coup d’état in Ukraine that has driven that country into chaos,” Putin added. He also told reporters that, in his opinion, those who violate the law must be held responsible within the limits set by it. As for recent calls from Western politicians to release the demonstrators detained during Sunday’s unsanctioned protests, Putin said he considers such rhetoric extremely politicized and also an attempt to influence Russia’s internal political situation.
On Sunday, March 26, thousands of people took to the streets across Russia to protest corruption. The rallies were organized by opposition politician Aleksey Navalny, who wants the authorities to react to his latest report, in which he accuses PM Dmitry Medvedev of ‘illegally’ using the assets of several charity funds. Russia’s authorities have dismissed those allegations as Navalny’s own political propaganda.
The largest unsanctioned rally took place in Moscow. According to police reports, about 500 participants, including Navalny himself, were detained for violating public order and the law on rallies. Dozens of those detained have been sentenced to short terms of administrative arrest. Navalny was sentenced to 15 days in custody for resisting arrest and fined 20,000 rubles (about $355) for deliberately ignoring the law on public marches and rallies.

Video - 'Read my lips - NO!' Putin slams allegations of Russian meddling in US election

Pakistan - Dr Ishtaq A Malik guilty of corruption worth Rs 1.8 billion by US courts -PM NAWAZ's Unsuitable Appointments

The Prime Minister’s office has given the go-ahead on the appointment of Dr Ishtaq A Malik as head of the Human Organ Transplant Authority (HOTA) – a man that has been already found guilty of corruption worth Rs 1.8 billion by US courts. According to reports, Federal Minister for Health Saira Afzal Tarar and Principal Secretary to PM Fawad Ahmed Fawad were both directly involved in this appointment, which means that the questions must start from them.
HOTA is an institution that can save lives, or lose them, depending on who works for it. Someone who has been involved in mega-corruption scandals is obviously not suited to take the wheel. A person found guilty of making fake medical claims, makes it reasonable to assume that he might use his authority to grant organs to those that are lower on the list, or even deny them to those that need it most.
This appointment can only mean one of two things. Either the PM’s office is not aware that the person appointed is corrupt – which means there aren’t any proper screenings before appointments – or someone within was aware and made the appointment regardless.
To remedy this, the government must first cancel the appointment and choose someone more suited to the task. The bureaucratic set-up is already riddled with corruption, and doesn’t need another individual convicted of this in its ranks. The idea is to improve accountability and decrease corruption, instead of making things worse. A transparent inquiry must also be carried out – one that is impartial and actually manages to identify the person responsible for this appointment, instead of petering out mid-investigation due to a lack of results.
Maybe the government thinks that this institution is not as important as the others, and does not merit enough screening for those appointed; or it assumes that appointing a personal favourite might slip under the radar because HOTA’s work is not as prolific as those of many other governmental departments. This is not the case. Reversing this decision is paramount.

Pakistan’s minorities under attack

By Sana Ashraf 

On 16 February, a suicide bomb ripped through the shrine of 12th century Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan — a town in Sindh, Pakistan — while the traditional Sufi whirling dance and meditation called Dhamaal was being performed. The bomb came after a series of attacks throughout Pakistan in the same week and was the deadliest of all.

Pakistan has few sites of tolerance and inclusivity open to the middle and lower classes. The shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was one of them. The shrine is also frequented by people from across Pakistan’s religious denominations: both Sunni and Shia Muslims worship there, as do Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Parsis. Despite increased regulation and enforced segregation of Sufi shrines in Pakistan since the 1970s, the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine has continued to host diverse crowds of Pakistanis throughout the year.
Pluralism and inclusivity is at the heart of Muslim Sufi practice, which has been branded as ‘divergent’ by both Saudi-funded Wahhabi groups and the so-called Islamic State (IS), who claimed to be behind the attack. It is the most recent in a spate of attacks on Sufi temples and Sufi adherents over the past few years. The attack was a message that extremists will not tolerate any pluralistic practice of religion in Pakistan.
Following the Sehwan attack, major Sufi shrines across the country were closed for security purposes, although many worshippers at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar were not deterred. The Dhamaal was performed, as usual, the very next day, with an outpouring of public support from many Pakistanis including public figures and activists who joined the daily ritual. Yet, despite the rage and disgust expressed by many Pakistanis in response to the slaughter, criticism of Sufi practice poured in from popular religious scholars and their urban middle-class followers. Many in these conservative religious communities see Sufi shrine culture as a corruption of ‘pure’ Islam.
The past few decades have seen the space for religious expression shrink for Pakistan’s religious minorities. Since 2006 there has been an increase in violent attacks on not only Sufi shrines, but Ahmedi mosquesChristian churchesHindu temples and Shia mosques. Behind the violence are organised militant groups such as IS, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and other factions of the Pakistani Taliban as well as mobs of self-proclaimed moderate Sunni Muslims who are otherwise non-militant. While there are different — and often rival — groups behind the attacks, the common aim seems to be the elimination of religious minorities.
In the aftermath of the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar massacre the military establishment has rushed to place the blame on Afghanistan, arguing the terrorists are Afghanis and operating with the tacit support of the Afghan state.
Within hours of the Sehwan Sharif blast the Pakistan army had boasted of killing over 100 terrorists. There has been no explanation as to how these people were located within a few hours of the blast, or why were they not found earlier. More disturbing is why the military or the government felt justified in performing on-the-spot executions without investigation.
The government is now seeking constitutional support to reintroduce the recently expired military courts. The efficacy of these courts in eliminating terrorism through swift and unmonitored hearings is highly questionable. They also operate in direct contradiction of the legal right to an independent and impartial trial enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution.
Promises of a renewed resolve to fight the terrorists and of immediate retaliation by the Army and Rangers are all too familiar to Pakistanis. After every such incident, increased security measures are taken to appease the infuriated masses. Until recently, the military crackdown on terrorists had appeared to have worked: Terrorist attacks were sharply reduced, and security appeared to have improved. The strategy has also worked on other fronts: the military enjoys high levels of public support for their strong stance and prompt efforts against terrorism. Yet in light of the latest attack, many are now questioning the effectiveness of the broader National Action Plan in combatting terrorist activity in Pakistan.
But the government and military’s public responses gloss over their selective fight against the terrorists and their support of certain extremist groups for their own political gains. The government has been negligent of the religious scholars spreading hatred through various forums despite the National Action Plan’s aim to address the issue of hate speech. Known extremist religious leaders such as Molana Abdul Aziz, who has openly praised IS, and many others continue to preach freely. There have been several incidents in which government authorities have failed to provide security to minority communities despite blatant threats of attacks directed towards them.
So long as the military establishment, government officials and political leaders continue to pursue their own political interests at the cost of Pakistan’s religious minorities, peace, tolerance and co-existence will be hard to achieve.

Pakistan's Ahmadi Muslims Under Attack - Nobel laureate Abdul Salam's cousin killed in Nankana Sahib

An advocate and local leader of Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya was gunned down as unidentified armed men opened fire at him in Nankana Sahib on Thursday morning.
Advocate Malik Saleem Latif and his son Advocate Farhan were on their way to court when unidentified men fired at them, killing Latif on the spot.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, a duty officer at Nankana city police station said, Latif was killed as a result of the attack near Beri Wala Chowk. He added that no application for the registration of an FIR has been filed thus far.
According to Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya spokesperson Saleemuddin, the father and son were on their way to court for the hearing of a case when the incident occurred. The spokesperson revealed that Latif, who was the president of Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya, Nankana city, was also Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam’s cousin. “Advocate Latif was killed because of his religious beliefs,” Saleemuddin said. One of the sons of the deceased is a civil judge in Lahore.
On Wednesday, an annual report was issued by the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, claiming that at least six Ahmadis were killed in Pakistan in 2016 because of their religious beliefs. Saleemudin, the spokesperson for the group, cited Ordinance XX which later came to be known as the Blasphemy Law as the main reason behind targeted killings of Ahmadis. “Since its [Ordinance XX] imposition in 1984, so far 250 Ahmadis have been killed,” he complained.

#Pakistan - Youhanabad lynching: Christian suspects asked to convert in return for release

A prosecutor has reportedly asked members of a minority community facing trial in an anti-terrorism court over lynching of two men that he ‘can guarantee their acquittal’ if they renounce their faith and embrace Islam, rights activists claim.

Some 42 Christians have been charged with lynching the two men after twin suicide blasts targeting a Sunday Mass in two churches in the Christian neighbourhood of Youhanabad in Lahore on March 15, 2015.
Violent protests erupted after the blasts, with a mob lynching the two men, suspecting them of involvement in the blasts.
“Taking advantage of their presence at ATC-1 Lahore, Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah gathers the accused outside the courtroom and asks them to embrace Islam,” said Joseph Franci, a rights activist who was involved in providing legal assistance to the accused in the case. “He asks them if they embrace Islam, he can guarantee them their acquittal in this case,” Joseph said.
The activist said they [the accused] remained silent and were dumbfounded and added that one, Irfan Masih, had spoken out and said that he was ready to be hanged if he embraced Christianity.
Naseeb Anjum Advocate, counsel for some of the accused, told The Express Tribune said that the public prosecutor’s offer was not new and added that he had also given this offer to some of the accused about six months back but they simply ignored it.
“They [lawyers] believe in independence of the court, but why is the DDPP blackmailing them?”
“The government should get rid of such elements that bring bad name to the state by such acts.”
Syed Anees Shah, when contacted, at first said that he did not ask them to embrace Islam, but conceded that he offered them a choice when he was told that the accused have video recording of what he said. Later, he disconnected the call in an attempt to avoid discussing the issue.

Pakistan - Kaira accuses government of pre-poll rigging

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Punjab President Qamar-uz-Zaman Kaira has on Thursday accused government of pre-poll rigging, reported Dunya News.
Qamar-uz-Zaman expressed his views in a media talk at PPP leader Manzoor Wattoo’s home in Lahore.
Kaira said that federal government is announcing new projects despite the fact that it does not have money to complete old ones. He further said that why are our courts not aware of the pre-poll rigging that has already been started by the government?
He demanded that instead of making next elections controversial, work should be done in order to make them credible.
Commenting on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s press conference, Qamar-uz-Zaman Kaira said that Imran Khan made a vigorous speech and once again accused that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and PPP are in a deal. He said that Imran Khan is mistaken if he thinks he would not get any competition from PPP in the next election.
Kaira said that his party was going through the process of reorganization. PPP is still standing on its principles and will emerge as a big party, he stressed.