Thursday, May 21, 2020

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Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari delivered medical equipment to Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar

Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has sent medical kits and other protective equipment for the doctors and other medical staff of Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar.
Secretary-General PPP Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari handed over this consignment of medical equipment to the administration of Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar. On this occasion Humayun Khan, Faisal Karim Kundi, Aijaz Durrani, and other party local leaders were also present.
Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari said PPP believes in the service for the people of Pakistan. PPP salutes the doctors and other medical workers for serving the people to save their lives and at the same time risking their own lives. He said doctors, nurses, and medical workers are the real heroes and heroines of the nation.
The medical director of Lady Reading hospital Peshawar Dr. Faisal and DR. Masood briefed the PPP delegation about the working of the hospital and the situation of Covid-19 in the area. Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari appreciated the courage and hard work of the doctors and medical workers of Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar.

#CoronaVirusPakistan - Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah requests people to celebrate Eid with simplicity

Celebrate Eidul Fitr with simplicity this year, said Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in a press conference on Thursday.
“It’s okay if you don’t wear new clothes,” he said. “We shouldn’t even be discussing new clothes as we have to think about all those who lost their lives during the pandemic.” More than 20 people died because of the coronavirus in Sindh on Thursday.
The Centre has been focusing on opening markets so that people don’t die of hunger. The federal government must announce that Eid should be celebrated with simplicity keeping in mind all those who lose their jobs because of the lockdown.
“I want this chance to announce that we are dedicating this Eid to all our doctors, health workers, paramedical staff, sanitary workers, police officers, and security personnel,” Shah said. These people are fighting the battle against the coronavirus on the frontline on our behalf.
“During Eid, we exchange gifts with our loved ones, so this time that biggest gift you can give our paramedic staff is to stay at home,” he remarked. “We have no other weapon against this virus, so you have to ensure your own safety and that of your family members.”
He said that seven doctors have lost their lives to the coronavirus. “This includes Dr Abdul Qadir Soomro, Dr Abdul Haq, Dr Zubaida Siraj, Dr Furqanul Haq, Dr Ansar Ibrahim, Dr Basheer Qasim and Dr Nawaz Ghahoti.”
The chief minister even mentioned the police officers who lost the battle to Covid-19. Sub Inspector Hanif Ahmed, Constable Anees Ahmed, ASI Muhammad Anwar, ASI Sher Gul Khan Niazi and Head Constable Abdul Aziz. “I want to pay my regards to all these brave people.”Many people have accused me of politicking. “I accept that I have been politicking but only to save lives. I am presenting nothing but the facts to the people,” he added.

#CoronaVirusPakistan - State of anarchy - Why would citizens follow SOPs if they are made to believe that no contagion is threatening their lives?

NO more lockdown or smart lockdown. It’s now a free-for-all. What had already started some time ago now seems to have the sanction of the country’s highest judicial authority. Even the pretense of restrictions on movement has been swept aside.
What pandemic? We are a blessed people anyway. No big deal if a few thousand people are killed by the virus; the business must not be stopped.

It’s unconstitutional to close down markets and commercial activities even on weekends, says the Supreme Court order. The ruling has set aside the executive orders aimed at streamlining the reopening of the economy.
It’s now more than business as usual, with all constraints almost gone. With the floodgates fully opened we are witnessing a virtual breakdown of order. Encouraged by the apex court ruling, the federal government has gone further by opening all kinds of transport services including railways.
Why would citizens follow SOPs if they are made to believe that no contagion is threatening their lives?
For a government that had long rejected the idea of lockdown, the order is seen as a vindication of its position. Even the mantra of ‘smart lockdown’ has now disappeared from the government’s lexicon. No wonder, the PTI has been celebrating the court order despite the fact that many see it as infringing on the executive domain.
Ironically, the same court in March had ordered the streamlining of a national policy in order to deal with the coronavirus infection. The court instructions had resulted in the formation of the National Command and Operations Centre and the National Coordination Committee led by the prime minister with all the provincial chief ministers a part of it.
Despite differences over the approach among the stakeholders, these forums had really worked well in coordinating efforts and containing the spread of the infection. But the latest court ruling has struck down several decisions taken by the NCC.
The court also questioned whether the coronavirus is really a pandemic in Pakistan. “There are other serious ailments prevailing in the country from which people are dying daily, and those ailments are not being catered for, and the coronavirus, which apparently is not a pandemic in Pakistan, is swallowing huge money,” the court said.
The court’s observation appears contrary to the WHO’s declaration of Covid-19 as a global pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions of others have been infected across the globe by this deadly disease. Countries may have adopted different approaches to dealing with a problem of biblical proportions but there has not been any denial of the contagion threatening human lives. It cannot be compared with non-infectious diseases or deaths in car accidents. Denial that the country is facing a serious public health crisis will have disastrous consequences.
Pakistan would perhaps be the only country in denial about the pandemic. That raises questions about the measures that are required to deal with this unprecedented public health challenge. How can the citizens be expected to follow the rules if they are made to believe that there is no contagion threatening their lives?
Most worrisome is that all precautions are being set aside while the registered number of coronavirus cases across the country has reached 45,000 with almost 1,000 officially recorded deaths. Pakistan is among the 20 worst Covid-19-affected nations, even if comparatively the death toll is low here.
In fact, doctors and other experts maintain that these figures don’t provide an accurate picture of the seriousness of the situation. According to them, Pakistan is in phase one of the blind spot of the epidemic curve, where there is a huge discrepancy between diagnosed cases/reported fatalities and the reality.
“This is due to a combination of the fast-spreading, silent nature of the virus [through carriers] and defective diagnostic tools, leading to massive underestimation of active cases as well as misdiagnosed fatalities,” they maintain. “This is because the authorities have lost the ability to trace cases, which is a sign of transition to phase two.”
There are several examples of countries that have seen an explosion in their coronavirus death toll; they had not taken the pandemic seriously in the initial stages. With hundreds of doctors and paramedics affected by the infection, the country’s fragile health system is already under pressure. The number of cases is bound to climb exponentially with unregulated reopening of daily life.
It is indeed an alarming situation compounded by the doubts being raised about the fast-spreading nature of the infection. One shudders to think what could happen over the next few weeks with crowded and congested marketplaces and social-distancing measures being flaunted without a care.
Seemingly encouraged by the Supreme Court order, the clerics are also set to defy the rules and are saying they will open mosques for prayers. Although the federal and some provincial governments had already relaxed restrictions during Ramazan, the Sindh government had continued the ban on congregational prayers under lockdown.
A statement signed by a group of leading clerics said that since nothing was sure about the coronavirus pandemic, Muslims couldn’t leave religious rituals out of fear. Last week, thousands of people joined religious processions taken out in various parts of the country in defiance of the ban.
Interestingly, the federal government has not only been actively backing the clerics threatening to defy the ban on congregational prayers, but also inciting traders to violate the restrictions imposed by the Sindh government. Now some are calling for imposition of governor’s rule in the province. When the country needs unity more than at any other time, the ruling party is doing everything to intensify political polarisation in the country.
It is apparent that the federal leadership lacks seriousness and is not able to effectively deal with the existential crisis. It has unnecessarily created a controversy by putting the economy before public health. The issue is of balancing the two. The latest court order and the federal government’s misplaced views have pushed the country into a state of anarchy in times of pandemic.

#CoronaVirusPakistan - Lockdown over, Pakistan's Covid-19 deaths, infections tick higher

Covid-19 infections trended higher in recent days and were approaching 50,000, official data showed, with total deaths crossing 1,000, as the government remained unsure over the consequences of its decision to end the nation's lockdown.
Fearful of the economic and financial impact, and swayed by the acute hardship suffered by millions of poor families, Prime Minister Imran Khan has defended the lifting of the lockdown last week, saying the virus spread has been well below projections. Education is the only major sector that remains closed.“The ending of the lockdown doesn't mean the threat is over,” Yasmeen Rashid, the Punjab health minister, said in an interview on television on Wednesday, adding that people needed to adopt safety measures themselves.
How the nation of 207 million people behaves when the month of Ramazan ends and festivities for Eid begin could influence the course of the contagion.
Usually Eid draws big crowds to malls and shops, and people travel in droves to reach their hometowns. While the government has advised people to act responsibly, and avoid going out for non-essential reasons, there has been little mention of special precautions needed over this period. For a country of Pakistan's size, levels of testing remain low at around 14,000 a day. But Reuters calculations, using official data, suggest the infection rate has so far remained relatively steady, with total infections doubling every 9 to 11 days since April 1. Doctors and experts fear the country's under-funded and creaking healthcare system will crumble under the pressure if the contagion gathers more pace.
In the first 20 days of May, over 630 people have died, compared to around 380 in the entire month of April, data tabulated by Reuters shows. There were less than 10 deaths in March.
The 32 deaths reported on Wednesday took the total to 1,017, a government website showed, making Pakistan the 25th country worldwide where the toll has crossed a thousand.
On Tuesday, Pakistan reported the most deaths for a single day at 46.
Infections on Wednesday were reported at 2,193 — the second-highest for a single day — taking the total number of Covid-19 cases to 48,091.
Regardless of the final death toll, the country expects to suffer an awful human cost, as the government expects millions more of its people to fall into poverty.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast that the economy will shrink 1.5 percent this year, and the government is expected to miss major revenue and deficit targets, making it more dependent on loans from multilateral lenders.

#CoronaVirusPakistan - Lock down? Pakistan Not Convinced

by: Mariam Bokhari & Ayesha Mushtaq
When a global pandemic burns through a country it first tests both its leadership as well as its national public resolve. In Pakistan much more is being tested, including the limits of the healthcare system across the federation, and the state's ability to mobilize responses and shape civic engagement.
First things first. The one crucial measure that arrests the spread of Coronavirus is social distancing. Of this we are daily reminded by social media updates received from countries that learned this too late, after mounting death tolls and widespread economic collapse. Lockdown to save lives is the message broadcast from hospital wards abroad, quarantine zones, and even our own public advisories. With 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pakistan in a matter of days and very likely thousands more on the way, it is certain that Pakistan will face its greatest challenge yet. But the crisis does not end with scaled-up healthcare and lifesaving equipment; there is a simultaneous tide of resistance to public order that governments must contend with.
From its earliest outbreak in China in late December 2019, and thereafter to the rest of the world, the Coronavirus pandemic has panned out in full public knowledge through social media, down to its latest developments today in each city across Pakistan. Television channels have been dedicating most of their programming to discussion and updates on the disease; and it is without question an unprecedented emergency causing greater loss and disruption than any other global crisis. Except that this information has left a cross-section of Pakistani citizens unmoved, who perceive this analysis to be exaggerated and misleading. Public places like markets and restaurants in Pakistan are experiencing an unceasing footfall, even as the Prime Minister made a televised appeal to the nation to stay home and prevent transmission of the disease. This is not untypical of public reactions elsewhere: in Italy as well as Iran, where the death tolls are highest to date, the public did not heed advisories meant to save hundreds of precious lives.
Both federal and provincial governments’ repeated directives to undertake isolation and social distancing have come to no avail. The closure of public spaces and cancellation of large public gatherings, and in some cases stricter measures like raids at wedding halls, were correctly aimed at the prevention of the virus on a large scale, but given the exponential spread of the disease, a lockdown must be brought about right away. Earlier with just 100 cases confirmed, the government announced an indefinite closure of all public and privates schools, colleges, and universities across the country. Public congregations were canceled through the imposition of Section 144. With rapidly increasing cases and thousands of untested carriers, nothing short of a lockdown will save the world’s fifth-most populous country from collapse.
Of course leadership makes all the difference. Sindh has demonstrated far more adaptive capacity to control and quarantine the disease, given that the province has the highest number of confirmed cases, and earned the WHO’s praise for proactively containing its spread. The federal government on the other hand, has moved much slower in its response, and continues to fumble over prevention and containment mechanisms across Punjab, the most populous province. A crucial month since the pandemic arrived, there is no comprehensive information regime, nor a communications strategy that guides citizens on what to expect.
But citizens disregard public service announcements even during the best of times. With the stakes for survival at an all-time high, what can explain this resistance to public order? A large cohort of citizens is unwilling to believe that the pandemic is as deadly as the doctors, media, and governments worldwide are claiming it to be; that an international conspiracy has been launched to subvert the nation by spreading a malicious virus. Multiple Facebook pages are curating content to this effect, freely circulating on Whatsapp to colloquial readerships that accept fake news. Much of this content offers specialized Islamic prescriptions for disease and suggests traditional medicine and faith healing alternatives. This group is significant both in voice and number, as evident from the proliferation of their webpages, as well as the multitudes that subscribe to and endorse this worldview. None of this comes as a surprise in Pakistan where traditional skepticism of governments, along with deeply held convictions against modernity, has had a long history. A time of crisis further impairs good judgment, and people collectively indulge a confirmation bias that endorses their own beliefs while rejecting any information contradicting it.
There are also those openly defying the ban knowing full well the risks associated with the public congregation. This includes citizens insisting on holding wedding receptions, mosques performing Friday jamaat, private schools refusing to shut down, putting employees at risk of contracting and transmitting Coronavirus. Punitive action by police has forced some to close down, but the resistance to public order is part and parcel of a poor attitude towards political obligation, or the moral duty to obey directives issued in the public interest. This attitude values self-interest above the safety and security of others and will become more evident as the cordon extends into days and weeks. It also makes clear how far we can go with collective action in Pakistan.
Crises like this pandemic often lay bare our worst inclinations, as well as provide an opportunity to reorder social priorities and respond to socio-economic groups experiencing the outbreak of Coronavirus differently. The fundamental problem with lockdowns is that social distancing is not an option for vulnerable groups, like daily wage earners forced to find work in partially shut down markets. Pakistan’s informal employment is as high as 70 percent, and poverty levels among informal workers are twice as high compared to formal labor. Not all informal workers are daily wage earners, but face similar uncertainties should they be let off during the pandemic. In context, the national poverty line will stand at an estimated 40% this summer, compounding vulnerabilities for those furthest removed from state benefits, including women and other marginalized groups. The pandemic will take away their livelihoods, as well as their bread earners who cannot reduce their exposure to the virus. As repeatedly warned by international agencies, COVID-19 must be contained among these vulnerable groups who have no recourse to healthcare other than overburdened and poorly managed public hospitals. Numerous online collectives have emerged to pool monetary support and food rations for those in need, in addition to mobilizing funds for medical equipment for healthcare facilities across the country, but more coordinated executive action must respond to this at federal and provincial levels.
All crises necessitate collective responsibility. Those of us with resources, information, and mobilizing capacity can help make a larger difference. The gap between those unwilling to prevent the pandemic and those who are defenseless against it must be overcome by civic influencing and stricter governmental control. A robust federal information regime must come in place – going beyond individual spokespersons addressing a press conference or talk show – and provide uniform instruction on disaster preparedness and the impending fallout of the pandemic, now turning into a death toll. The whole gamut of preventive measures must be communicated daily, along with a modicum of scientific reasoning to convince citizens why and how these measures will be useful. A lockdown is the only option at hand now, even though there are naysayers warning against an economic meltdown. Saving lives has to take precedence over saving the economy. Yes, altering political convictions and social behavior in the face of any disaster is difficult, but will we allow corporate interests and the public’s recklessness to overwhelm our survival?

New Pentagon report says Pakistan continues to harbour Taliban, Haqqani Network

Rezaul H Laskar

The report is the first one to be issued since the US and the Taliban signed an agreement on February 29 to facilitate the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

Pakistan continues to focus on countering Indian influence in Afghanistan and harbors the Taliban and groups such as the Haqqani Network, which have the ability to engage in violence on Afghan soil, according to a new Pentagon report.
The report by the inspector general of the US Department of Defense for the January-March quarter, issued on Monday, pointed to a continuation of Pakistan’s efforts to achieve its strategic objectives in Afghanistan, including shutting out India from the war-torn country.
The report is the first one to be issued since the US and the Taliban signed an agreement on February 29 to facilitate the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. The deal has stalled due to differences between the Taliban and the Afghan government on prisoner releases and intra-Afghan dialogue.
There was no immediate response to the report from Indian officials.
“According to the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], Pakistan’s strategic objectives in Afghanistan continue to be countering Indian influence and mitigating spillover of instability into its territory,” the report said.
“The DIA reported that Pakistan likely views increased Taliban influence in Afghanistan as supporting its overall objectives and will seek to influence intra-Afghan peace talks in a direction favorable to Pakistan.”The DIA also reported to the inspector general that “Pakistan has encouraged the Afghan Taliban to participate in peace talks, but refrained from applying coercive pressure that would seriously threaten its relationship with the Afghan Taliban to dissuade the group from conducting further violence”.
The DIA also told the inspector general that “Pakistan continues to harbor the Taliban and associated militant groups in Pakistan, such as the Haqqani Network, which maintains the ability to conduct attacks against Afghan interests”.
Indian and Afghan officials have for long accused the Taliban, particularly its sword arm, the Haqqani Network, of having close links to the Pakistani military leadership. Most of the Taliban leadership and their families continue to be based in Pakistani cities such as Quetta.
The report comes at a time when the US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has called on India to hold direct talks with the Taliban. However, the Trump administration’s outgoing point person for South Asia, Alice Wells, said on Wednesday that it was up to India to take a call on engaging with the Taliban. In his message in the report, Sean O’Donnell, the acting inspector general of the US department of defense, said: “The United States and Taliban agreed to a [one]-week reduction in violence prior to the signing of the agreement, but Taliban violence during the quarter overall was high.
“In January and February, both the United States and the Taliban increased operations in order to influence negotiations. In addition, while the Taliban reduced attacks against US and coalition forces, it continued to attack the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, particularly after the signing of the agreement.”
The department of defense didn’t provide information on Taliban-initiated attack for the January-March quarter, saying this was “sensitive” as it was part of ongoing deliberations on whether the Taliban is complying with the terms of the agreement with the US.

Pakistan's Ruling Party, Powerful Military Accused Of Trying To Roll Back 'Democratizing Laws'

By Daud Khattak, Frud Bezhan

During his iron-fisted reign, Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf toppled an elected government, dismissed judges, suspended the constitution, and imposed emergency rule.
General Musharraf's bloodless coup in 1999 restored power to the military, which has ruled for around half of the country's 73-year history, staging three coups d'etat.
When Musharraf was forced to resign in 2008 amid widespread protests, Pakistan's new civilian government and opposition parties were united in thwarting attempts by the military to forcibly seize power again.
In 2010, President Asif Ali Zardari enacted sweeping constitutional reforms that undid provisions that military dictators had introduced to tighten their grip on power and legitimize their coups.
Under the 18th Amendment, the president no longer had the authority to dissolve parliament and impose emergency rule on his own. The courts no longer had jurisdiction to validate suspensions of the constitution. And powers were transferred from the presidency to a prime minister and his cabinet.
The amendment also transferred power from the center to the provinces, restored parliamentary democracy, and closed off paths to generals overturning civilian rule.
Now, a decade on from that landmark move, there are fears that the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is backed by the military, is seeking to roll back the changes, which are widely seen as the bulwark of the democratization process in the South Asian nation of 220 million people.
The ruling Tehrik-e Insaf party (PTI) has called for a review to "fix" what it perceives as flaws in the 18th Amendment, including restoring federal authority over legislation and finances.
The government has cited the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, arguing that the amendment has limited the federal government's authority to devise a national strategy to fight the COVID-19 disease. Pakistan had officially registered more than 35,000 coronavirus infections and 770 deaths as of May 14.
Critics and opposition parties accuse the government of using the pandemic as a pretext to undermine the legislation and reassert national clout from the political center.
Michael Kugelman, South Asia senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, has argued that reining in the amendment would "amount to a demoralizing defeat for the forces of democracy in a nation where such forces have long struggled to secure a sustained foothold."
"The 18th Amendment has long endured as a brave and bold achievement that showcases the very real potential for strong democracy in Pakistan," he said.
'Weak Points'
The ruling PTI party has discussed reviewing and possibly changing the 18th Amendment since coming to power nearly two years ago.
Opposition politicians have accused the powerful military of manipulating the 2018 elections to help the PTI win.
Since the coronavirus outbreak in Pakistan, Khan's government has intensified its criticism of the reforms, which devolved many powers and resources to the provinces.
Information Minister Shibli Faraz warned on May 1 that Pakistan was facing an "unprecedented challenge" from the coronavirus and the amendment had tied the government's hands, lamenting that the federal government could "only issue policy guidelines."
Then Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on May 12 that the government did not want to scrap the amendment, but he added that its "weak points should be reviewed and addressed."
The federal government has come under criticism for its perceived mishandling of the outbreak and for only imposing a partial lockdown.
The opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP) that runs Sindh Province, which includes the industrial and financial center of Karachi, has imposed a strict lockdown and won praise for its management of the outbreak.
'Undemocratic Elements'
Opposition parties have condemned government calls to review the amendment.
Ahsan Iqbal, a member of parliament and former member of parliament from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, told RFE/RL that the federal government has "raised the 18th Amendment issue to hide its poor governance."
The ruling PTI party has come under growing scrutiny over the country's economic performance, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak.
Senator Usman Khan Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party told RFE/RL that any party that backed the rolling-back of the amendment could undermine national interests and, in particular, the interests of minority groups like ethnic Baloch, Pashtun, and Sindhis.
"Repealing or changing the amendment will have serious repercussions," he said.
Afrasiab Khattak, a former senator and a senior leader of the opposition secular Awami National Party (ANP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, was one of the framers of the 18th Amendment.
Khattak accused the military establishment of being behind the push for its review.
"The 18th Amendment was a great development in strengthening democracy in Pakistan," he told RFE/RL. "But undemocratic elements, who oppose provincial autonomy, are opposing this amendment."
He said the government was using the coronavirus outbreak as a "lame excuse" to undermine the amendment, adding that if Islamabad was serious about devising a unified strategy in fighting the disease, it could do so through parliament.
The ruling PTI party does not have the necessary two-thirds majority in both the National Assembly and Senate that it would take to repeal or change the 18th Amendment. The government has said it will consult with provincial governments and opposition political parties to review the changes.
Khattak said he feared the opposition parties had "a history of succumbing to pressure from the establishment and there is chance that they will bow before the establishment to bring changes to or repeal this amendment."
'Dangerous' Move
Pakistan's military, which has an oversize role in domestic and foreign affairs, has said it is not opposed to the 18th Amendment.
But analysts suggest the military wants to weaken it because it is affecting the military's ability to influence policy and threatens its control over national resources.
Khan is widely believed to be backed by the army.
The army fell out with Khan's predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, who looked to curb the military's traditional dominance of national politics. Sharif, a three-time prime minister, was removed from office in 2017 after his disqualification by the Supreme Court.
Sharif, who was sentenced earlier this year to seven years in prison on corruption charges, has denied wrongdoing and suggested collusion between the military and courts threw him from power.
Kugelman suggested the military and the ruling party agreed on most issues, and the civilian leadership has been willing to cede policy space to the army.
"The military has a lot of momentum right now, and the PTI government -- unlike the previous government -- has served as an enabling force in the armed forces' growing policy clout," Kugelman said.
"So, this would be an opportune time for the military, using the civilian leadership as a vehicle, to try to make a play for undermining one of Pakistan's most important and democratizing laws of recent times," he said.
Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in an off-the-record briefing with journalists in March 2018, was quoted widely as saying that the 18th Amendment was "more dangerous than Sheikh Mujibur Rehman's six points."
Rehman was the founding father of Bangladesh, which gained independence from Pakistan after a devastating war in 1971. His "six points" were a demand for greater autonomy five years before the Bengali war of independence erupted.
The Pakistani military said Bajwa's comments were taken out of context.

 Source: powerful-military-accused-of-trying-to-roll-back- democratizing-laws-/30612080.html