Dec 4, 2013
Dec 4, 2013
Dec 4, 2013
- The need of more provinces for Federation or Division?
- Shouldn’t Punjab government be held responsible for the deaths due to consumption of poisonous cough syrup in Punjab?
- Is Delimitation without census alone in Karachi is fair with the people of Karachi?
- Extremist Religious Groups in Pakistan Justifies: "Attack on Malala Yousuf Zai is a Reaction of Drone-attacks"
- In Quaid’s Pakistan Independence is a Responsibility not a Privilege: Are you ready to play your part?
- Do you think that the recent statement of Mr. Altaf Hussain is an eye opener for the Pakistani Nation?
Latest Breaking Pakistan News, Business, Life, Style, Cricket, Videos, Comments
Updated: 4 days 6 hours ago
As South African President Jacob Zuma announced to the world that Nelson Mandela had died at his Johannesburg home on Thursday after a prolonged lung infection, Pakistanis along with people around the world reacted in unison with shock at the news and collective tear.
Pakistan, where it was 3am when the announcement was made, took to twitter to mourn the death of South Africa’s first democratic President.
Former Interior Minister Rehman Malik tweeted that the world has lost a great leader and symbol of struggle.
The world has lost Nelson Mandela a great leader and symbol of struggle. May God bless his soul in peace.
— Rehman Malik (@SenRehmanMalik) December 5, 2013
Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Haider Abbasa Rizvi offered his condolence to the South African nation.
— Haider Abbas Rizvi (@HaiderRizviMQM) December 5, 2013
Devastated by the passing of Mr Mandela. He gave voice to the voiceless,hope to the hopeless&transformed a country into a nation may he #RIP
— Aseefa B Zardari (@AseefaBZ) December 5, 2013
Nelson Mandella was certainly Planet Earth's most significant person of modern times….RIP Mr.Mandella– thx for wht u did for Human race
— Fawad Hussain (@fawadchaudhry) December 5, 2013
Sad. My children will grow up without #Mandela But they can read and learn and still be inspired by him. He truly does belong "to the ages"
— Nadia Jamil (@NJLahori) December 5, 2013
Pakistan conferred the Nishan-e-Pakistan to Nelson Mandela, 3 October 1992
— Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi (@Ali_Abbas_Zaidi) December 5, 2013
On December 5, 2013, the world lost one of its finest, one of those who made it better for millions. Rest in peace, #NelsonMandela.
— Mehr Tarar (@MehrTarar) December 5, 2013
— Raza Rumi (@Razarumi) December 5, 2013
The importance of Mandela stepping away from power at the height of his popularity should not be underestimated. #SettingExamples
— Hasan Zaidi (@hyzaidi) December 5, 2013
With its foreign currency reserves hitting the dangerously low level of $3 billion, Pakistan has requested the United States to expedite the process of releasing about $900 million on account of services that Islamabad has rendered in global fight against terrorism.
The request to disburse dues on account of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) was made by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Thursday during a meeting with Washington’s Ambassador to Islamabad Richard Olson. He urged the US to release the outstanding dues in order to avoid the looming threat of default on international payments.
“Early reimbursements of dues on account of Coalition Support Fund… will help Pakistan in improving its present foreign exchange reserves position,” Dar was quoted as saying in an official handout, issued by the Ministry of Finance.
But while the urgency to secure the release of CSF dues builds up on one hand, Dar’s request could not come at a more inopportune moment.
As the minister implored the US envoy to fast track the release of the fund behind the closed doors of Q Block, the workers, office bearers and parliamentarians of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf were staging protests barely a few hundred yards away, outside the Parliament House, demanding the government stop the passage of Nato supplies through the country in retaliation to continuous drone strikes in the tribal areas.
The US Ambassador, meanwhile, remained non-committal about the timing of the release. An official handout stated that Olson assured the Finance Minister that he would convey Pakistan’s position to the US government.
According to the State Bank of Pakistan, the country’s foreign reserves have plunged to $3.05 billion as of November 29 – a sum sufficient to back an import bill of just three weeks. The reserves held by commercial banks stood at $5.19 billion, said the SBP. The outflows were not matching with the inflows due to heavy repayments to the IMF and other international lenders, and delays in taking certain policy decisions which the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have demanded be implemented before release of loans.
The IMF has so far given only $547 million while another tranche of roughly the same amount is expected to be approved by the lender’s executive board before the end of this month.
For the current financial year, Pakistan has budgeted $1.2 billion on account of CSF. However, the US has so far disbursed only $322 million. Around $900 million remain outstanding. Pakistan hopes to receive at least $300 million more in coming weeks.
It is not yet clear whether the Obama Administration has notified the Congress about releasing another tranche to Pakistan on account of CSF. The administration is required to give a 15-day notification before it can release the amount. Christmas and New Year holidays in the US will start from December 23, which may adversely affect Pakistan’s bid for early disbursements.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2013.
JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela, the revered icon of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and one of the towering political figures of the 20th century, has died aged 95.
Mandela, who was elected South Africa’s first black president after spending nearly three decades in prison, had been receiving treatment for a lung infection at his Johannesburg home since September, after three months in hospital in a critical state.
His condition deteriorated and he died following complications from the lung infection, with his family by his side.
The news was announced by a clearly emotional South African president Jacob Zuma live on television, who said Mandela had “departed” and was at peace.
“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” said Zuma.
“What made Nelson Mandela great is precisely what made him human,” he said.
Mandela, once a boxer, had a long history of lung problems after contracting tuberculosis while in jail on Robben Island.
His extraordinary life story, quirky sense of humour and lack of bitterness towards his former oppressors ensured global appeal for the charismatic leader.
Once considered a terrorist by the United States and Britain for his support of violence against the apartheid regime, at the time of his death he was an almost unimpeachable moral icon.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner spent 27 years behind bars before being freed in 1990 to lead the African National Congress (ANC) in negotiations with the white minority rulers which culminated in the first multi-racial elections in 1994.
A victorious Mandela served a single term as president before taking up a new role as a roving elder statesman and leading AIDS campaigner before finally retiring from public life in 2004.
“When he emerged from prison people discovered that he was all the things they had hoped for and more,” fellow Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said.
“He is by far the most admired and revered statesperson in the world and one of the greatest human beings to walk this earth.”
He was a global cause celebre during the long apartheid years, and popular pressure led world leaders to tighten sanctions imposed on South Africa’s racist white minority regime.
In 1988 at a concert in Wembley stadium in London, tens of thousands sang “Free Nelson Mandela” as millions more watched on their television sets across the world.
Born in July 1918 in the southeastern Transkei region, Mandela carved out a career as a lawyer in Johannesburg in parallel with his political activism.
He became commander-in-chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the by now-banned ANC, in 1961, and the following year underwent military training in Algeria and Ethiopia.
While underground back home in South Africa, Mandela was captured by police in 1962 and sentenced to five years in prison.
He was then charged with sabotage and sentenced in 1964 to life in prison at the Rivonia trial, named after a Johannesburg suburb where a number of ANC leaders were arrested.
He used the court hearing to deliver a speech that was to become the manifesto of the anti-apartheid movement.
“During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society.
“It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
He was first sent to prison on Robben Island, where he spent 18 years before being transferred in 1982 to Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town and later to Victor Verster prison in nearby Paarl.
When he was finally released on February 11, 1990, walking out of prison with his fist raised alongside his then-wife Winnie.
Ex-prisoner 46664 was entrusted with the task of persuading the new president F.W. de Klerk to call time on the era of racist white minority rule.
Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their role in the ending of apartheid.
Derived from the Afrikaans word for “apartness,” apartheid was a brutally enforced system that discriminated politically and economically against “non-whites” and separated the races in schools, buses, housing and even public toilets and beaches.
After the ANC won the first multi-racial elections, Mandela went out of his way to assuage the fears of the white minority, declaring his intention to establish “a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
Critics said his five-year presidency was marred by corruption and rising levels of crime. But his successors, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, have never enjoyed anywhere near the same levels of respect or affection.
In retirement, he focused his efforts on mediating conflicts, most notably in Burundi, as well as trying to raise awareness and abolish the taboos surrounding AIDS, which claimed the life of his son Makgatho.
His divorce from second wife Winnie was finalised in 1996.
He found new love in retirement with Graca Machel, the widow of the late Mozambican president Samora Machel, whom he married on his 80th birthday.
In one of his last foreign policy interventions, he issued a searing rebuke of George W. Bush on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, calling him “a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust”.
Bush’s predecessor Bill Clinton perhaps had a higher opinion of Mandela.
“Every time Nelson Mandela walks in a room we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we’d like to be him on our best day,” he said.
Mandela is survived by three daughters, 18 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and three step-grandchildren. He had four step-children through his marriage to Machel.
His death has left his family divided over his wealth. Some of his children and grandchildren are locked in a legal feud with his close friends over alleged irregularities in his two companies.
KARACHI: With 73 cases of poliovirus surfacing this year, travellers to and from Pakistan are expected to face restrictions and guidelines by the international community from January 2014.
Dr Ni’ma Saeed Abid, the World Health Organisation (WHO) country head for Pakistan, said that the three polio-endemic countries – Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan – risk becoming source of spreading wild poliovirus (that occurs naturally).
“The existing alarming situation in Pakistan and especially in the city of Karachi, which has historically been considered as the biggest amplifier and transmitter of the virus, will definitely be discussed during the executive board session of the World Health Organisation (WHO),” Dr Abid told The Express Tribune. “Sensing the gravity of situation, it is expected that a number of member states will formally place the travel restrictions and guidelines for Pakistan, which, on the other hand, are technically in place if we consider the International Health Regulations.”
The WHO executive board, comprising 34 professionals who are technically qualified in the field of health and designated by a member state elected to serve by the World Health Assembly, is set to meet from Jan 25 to Jan 30.
While explaining the WHO’s regulations, he said that all travellers arriving from polio-endemic countries, regardless of age and vaccination status, should receive one dose of oral polio vaccine (OPV) at least six weeks prior to departure and should provide its proof as part of their visa applications.
“As long as polio is eradicated from these last remaining strongholds, the countries should take special measures in allowing a citizen from any endemic polio state to not cross the borders without a valid vaccination certificate,” said Dr Abid, who is an epidemiologist by profession.
Meanwhile, Dr Durre Naz Jamal, the deputy project director at the Sindh Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), said the question of the imposition of sanctions by the international community has already been raised with top government officials. “This is not a good sign and a number of Pakistanis will face visa rejections [if the situation is not tackled].”
Earlier on Wednesday, the emergence of two poliovirus cases in Karachi within 24 hours had prompted the head of WHO’s polio eradication initiative in Pakistan, Dr Elias Durry, to signal that the city is likely to head towards an ‘explosive polio outbreak’.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2013.
ROME: The United Nations on Thursday said that as many as 1.3 million people in the Central African Republic needed food aid, as the UN Security Council backed an African and French military intervention to halt growing deadly unrest.
“In Central African Republic, 1.3 million people are in need of emergency food assistance due to civil unrest,” the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a report on world cereal production and needs.
The figure, which represents more than a quarter of the country’s total population, was up from an assessment of 1.1 million provided by the UN a month ago.
The report also issued a food warning for five Sahel countries further West – Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal – saying that crops and pastures had been affected by a delayed and short rainy season.
“The situation could lead to a new surge in food insecurity and malnutrition,” it said.
The organisation said that continued civil conflicts had created “severe food insecurity” for six million people in Syria and 4.5 million in Yemen.
The report said world cereal production in 2013 is expected to reach a new high of 2,500 million tonnes – almost 8.4 per cent more than last year and six per cent higher than the previous record in 2011.
It said food prices had remained stable, with the FAO Food Price Index averaging 206.3 points in November compared to 206.6 points in October.
Twitter Inc is tying up with a Singapore-based startup to make its 140-character messaging service available to users in emerging markets who have entry-level mobile phones that cannot access the Internet.
U2opia Mobile, which has a similar tie-up with Facebook Inc, will launch its Twitter service in the first quarter of next year, Chief Executive and Co-founder Sumesh Menon told Reuters.
Users will need to dial a simple code to get a feed of the popular trending topics on Twitter, he said.
More than 11 million people use U2opia’s Fonetwish service, which helps access Facebook and Google Talk on mobile without a data connection.
Twitter, which boasts of about 230 million users, held a successful initial public offering last month that valued the company at around $25 billion.
U2opia uses a telecom protocol named USSD, or Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, which does not allow viewing of pictures, videos or other graphics.
“USSD as a vehicle for Twitter is almost hand in glove because Twitter has by design a character limit, it’s a very text-driven social network,” Menon said.
Eight out of 10 people in emerging markets are still not accessing data on their phone, he said.
U2opia, which is present in 30 countries in seven international languages, will localise the Twitter feed according to the location of the user.
“So somebody in Paraguay would definitely get content that would be very very localised to that market vis a vis somebody sitting in Mumbai or Bangalore,” he said.
The company, whose biggest markets are Africa and South America, partners with telecom carriers such as Telenor (TEL.OL), Vodafone (VOD.L) and Bharti Airtel Ltd (BRTI.NS). U2opia usually gets 30 to 40 percent of what users pay its telecom partners to access Fonetwish.
“For a lot of end users in the emerging markets, it’s going to be their first Twitter experience,” Menon said.
Sexual orientation, private debt, medical records, even your favourite ice cream flavour: do you know much of this personal information is out there and available for sale?
And what if it could affect your job applications, whether you can rent a house or how high your insurance premium will be?
A new Austrian-designed online game titled “Data Dealer”, set for launch this week, hopes to make people a little more aware of their exposure to these risks, even if at a minimum it prompts them to switch off the GPS application on their smartphones.
“(Companies) are collecting more and more personal data,” designer Wolfie Christl told AFP. “At the same time, people are bored with thinking about this… so we had the idea to make a game out of it.”
A colourful demo was released last year, and “Data Dealer” — a browser game in the same style as Facebook’s popular “FarmVille” — won the Games for Change “most significant impact” award in New York in June.
“Here’s the most amusing way to learn the depressing news about your vanishing privacy,” Forbes magazine commented.
Some 80,000 players have already tested the game, which received funding from the Austrian government and the City of Vienna and will be available online for free.
“I don’t think most people can really imagine what it means not only to collect but also to collate and to combine all these massive amounts of personal data,” said Christl, one of the game’s four core designers.
Even “really boring” information can be a goldmine, the cheerful young designer added.
That is the premise of “Data Dealer”.
Players get to collect thousands of profiles at the click of a mouse, using shady characters such as a Bernie Madoff-lookalike and a disgruntled nurse who has no qualms about selling patients’ records to supplement her meagre salary.
The characters are colourful and amusing. But the scary bit is the message behind the game.
For a few hundred euros (dollars), the manager of a tanning salon will hand over his client list, including names, birthdates and email addresses. Loyalty cards reveal diets and buying habits. A dating site profile turns up a person’s relationship status and even the age when they had their first sexual encounter.
The player can then sell this information to a major employer, a rental authority or a security agency to make a quick buck and expand his or her virtual empire.
“Data Dealer” is just a game, but what if fitness-monitoring systems such as Nike+ sold information to your health insurance provider: would your premium go up if you failed to run a required distance per day?
“People don’t know about the value of this personal data and they also don’t control it,” Christl said, adding: “If we want to have a positive future digital society then we really need to enable people to make the self-determined use of personal data and get back control of it.”
The City of Vienna’s creative agency Departure praised “Data Dealer” as “the most innovative international approach to… data protection and online media competence”.
“A game will probably not make a big difference, but it is a building block,” Tassilo Pellegrini, communications expert at St. Poelten technical college, told AFP.
“Data Dealer can boost people’s awareness, and with more awareness they might then act differently.”
Mass surveillance and privacy concerns became a major issue this year after US whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the US National Security Agency’s spying on civilians.
Last week, the UN General Assembly’s rights committee passed a “right to privacy” resolution, which found that surveillance and data interception by governments and companies “may violate or abuse human rights”.
For Christl, who has been working on this not-for-profit project with a small team for two years, the Internet is still a great communication and innovation tool.
But he hopes “Data Dealer” will make people pay more attention to their privacy settings.
The team is now planning an educational version of the game and is working with schools and digital literacy programmes.
Developments in the news will be regularly inserted into the game and a later version will even allow players to hack into each other’s accounts for an even more realistic effect.
As Christl put it: “It should also be entertaining; it’s not about preaching.”
KARACHI: Cement sales in the first five months (July-November) of the current fiscal year grew a meagre 0.3%, restricted by a decline in exports to major overseas markets and economic slowdown in the country.
Total cement sales in the five-month period stood at 13.167 million tons compared to 13.127 million tons in the corresponding period of last fiscal year, data released by the cement industry showed.
Capacity utilisation in five months was estimated at 70.79% — the lowest in the last five years, which industry players attributed to slower economic growth in the country.
Cement exports to Afghanistan is declining gradually due to the sluggish pace of new development projects in the country, while expected withdrawal of Nato forces from Afghanistan next year has also created a sense of uncertainty, industry officials say.
India, also an export destination for Pakistani cement, is experiencing economic slowdown, leading to a fall in cement demand.
In November alone, cement sales in the domestic market posted a growth of 8.61% while exports dropped 12.84%, resulting in an overall marginal growth of 3.03% compared to the previous year. The increase in domestic consumption was offset by a substantial fall in exports.
Data compiled by the All Pakistan Cement Manufacturers’ Association showed that total sales in November were 2.731 million tons compared to 2.650 million tons in the same month of last year.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2013.
ISLAMABAD: A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said in a press briefing on Thursday that the government has continued to arrange the passage of NATO supplies so that NATO forces may smoothly withdraw from Afghanistan.
“We have seen reports that the US has suspended the NATO supplies through Torkham for security of transporters,” said a Foreign Office spokesperson.
“The government has continued the arrangement for passage of NATO supplies in order to facilitate draw down of NATO forces from Afghanistan.”
The spokesperson maintained that the government was fully committed to its anti-drone stance.
“The government of Pakistan has consistently called for an end to drone strikes and has taken up this matter at the highest level with the United States and has also taken it up at United Nations. The government believes that all aspects related to these issues need to be settled peacefully and through talks.”
Human rights should be respected in Kashmir
In response to a question on the Kashmir issues, the spokesperson stressed on bilateral talks between India and Pakistan.
“We believe that the Kashmir issue should be resolved peacefully through talks based on UN Security Council resolutions. We have always urged the Indian government to engage with us in meaningful and substantive talks to resolve this long standing dispute.”
“We further believe that the Kashmiri leadership should be associated with the dialogue process. Having said that, I would like to add that the present government wishes to have improved relations with India.”
When asked to confirm reports that India was constructing a wall along the LoC, the FO spokesperson said:
“We have seen these media reports. There is an understanding that there should be no major construction within 500 meters on either side of the LoC. We believe this understanding must be respected.”
Regarding the statement given by Sartaj Aziz on Wednesday that the Indian troops must pull out from Siachen Glacier, the spokesperson was asked:
“There was also a statement issued from Prime Minister’s office that he has a dream of seeing Indian-held Kashmir free. Is there any change in Pakistan’s stance?”
In response, the FO official observed:
“In the statement attributed to Sartaj Aziz, comments were made on the environmental dimension of the Siachen issue. Our position on Siachen issue is well-known. We believe that there should be disengagement of forces and demilitarisation of the area and the issue needs to be resolved through talks.”
He confirmed that the statement attributed to Nawaz Sharif, which quoted him as saying that the Kashmir issue could trigger a war, had been misquoted.
WASHINGTON: India has expanded a secretive site that could be used to enrich more uranium for nuclear weapons, a US think tank said Wednesday, citing satellite imagery.
The Institute for Science and International Security, a private group opposed to nuclear proliferation, said that India appeared to be finishing a second gas centrifuge facility at its Rare Materials Plant near the southern city of Mysore.
“This new facility could significantly increase India’s ability to produce highly enriched uranium for military purposes, including more powerful nuclear weapons,” the institute said in a report that analyzed an image taken in April.
The institute said that India started building a second centrifuge plant near Mysore in 2010, but it was unclear whether it was a replacement for the first facility at the site or a supplement.
If it is a new facility, “India could have more than doubled its enrichment capacity, if the original building continues to function as an enrichment plant,” it said.
India closely guards its nuclear sites and says little about them publicly. In the past, India has complained about footage of sensitive infrastructure taken by commercial satellite services such as Google Earth.
Indian officials have reportedly said that highly enriched uranium from Mysore would fuel its new nuclear-powered submarines. India’s nuclear weapons program has traditionally been based on plutonium, not uranium.
India carried out nuclear tests in 1998, and historic rival Pakistan quickly followed suit. India’s program is not subject to international restrictions or inspections as it is one of the few nations, along with Israel, North Korea and Pakistan, to reject the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which New Delhi says is discriminatory.
However, India’s international isolation ended through a 2008 cooperation deal with the United States, where both President George W Bush and his successor Barack Obama have agreed that the world’s largest democracy is a responsible nuclear power.
BEIRUT: Militants in northern Syria have kidnapped more than 50 Kurds in the past three days, in the second such case of mass hostage-taking since July, a monitoring group said on Thursday.
The kidnappings come months into major battles for control of several parts of northern Syria that have pitted Kurdish fighters against the militants, chiefly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“In the past three days, ISIL has kidnapped at least 51 Kurds in the towns of Minbej and Jarablus,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Among the hostages were nine children and a woman, said the Britain-based group, adding that there was no information on where they had been taken.
Minbej and Jarablus are located in Aleppo province, which is home to a Kurdish minority.
The kidnappings come weeks after Kurdish fighters further east, in majority Kurdish areas, expelled militants after battles that lasted several months.
In response, the militants have imposed a siege on Kurdish areas of Aleppo, where Kurdish fighters are weaker, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
In July, ISIL had kidnapped some 200 Kurdish civilians from the Kurdish towns of Tal Aran and Tal Hassel also in Aleppo province. Only a few of those hostages have since been released, the Observatory said.
SANAA: At least 20 people were killed on Thursday in a car bomb and gun battle at the Yemeni defense ministry compound in the capital Sanaa, sources inside the complex said, in one of the most serious attacks in the past 18 months.
The defense ministry said the attack targeted the ministry’s hospital and most of the gunmen had been killed or wounded.
“The attackers have exploited some construction work there to carry out this criminal act … the situation is under control,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack. But the US-allied country has been grappling with a security threat by al Qaeda-linked militants, who have repeatedly attacked government officials and installations over the past two years.
Witnesses said the explosion shook the compound in the old district of Sanaa, where the country’s central bank is also located.
“The attack took place shortly after working hours started at the ministry, when a suicide bomber drove a car into the gate,” the defense ministry source said.
“The explosion was very violent, the whole place shook because of it and plumes of smoke rose from the building,” an employee who works in a nearby building told Reuters.
Ambulance sirens and gunshots were heard after the blast as soldiers exchanged fire with the gunmen, said to have been disguised in Yemeni army uniforms, who had stormed the compound.
A military source said that at least 20 people, including militants, were killed in the attack and dozens were wounded. The Yemeni health ministry appealed to citizens to donate blood to help save the wounded.
At least two sources inside the defense ministry said the attackers came in two vehicles. One was driven by a suicide bomber who attacked the gate of the compound, while armed men entered the compound in the second, the sources said. The ministry statement made no reference to a suicide attacker.
Violence is common in Yemen, where an interim government is grappling with southern secessionists, al Qaeda-linked militants and northern Houthi rebels, as well as severe economic problems inherited from veteran President Ali Abdallah Saleh who was forced out of office in 2011.
The insurgents were emboldened by a decline in government control over the country during protests that eventually ousted Saleh. They seized several southern cities before being driven out in 2012.
Al Qaeda militants have killed hundreds of Yemeni soldiers and members of the security forces in a series of attacks since an offensive, which the United States has supported with intelligence and drones, drove them out of their strongholds.
In July last year, an al Qaeda suicide bomber wearing a Yemeni army uniform killed more than 90 people rehearsing for a military parade in Sanaa. Al Qaeda later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Yemen’s defense minister, Major General Muhammad Nasir Ahmad, escaped a car bomb on his motorcade in September 2012 that killed at least 12 other people.
TOKYO: Japanese police said Thursday they have arrested a woman for calling them more than 15,000 times over a six-month period.
Authorities repeatedly visited the 44-year-old and asked her to cease and desist.
When she failed to stop making the calls, which started in May, police slapped handcuffs on her.
“She made as many as 927 emergency calls in one day….disturbing our police duties,” said an official in the city of Sakai, near the western city of Osaka.
Authorities, who have so far ruled out mental illness for the woman’s behaviour, said her calls had “no real meaning”.
“She didn’t make up a story that required us to respond – it was just total nonsense,” the official told AFP.
“We visited her place about 60 times before arresting her, trying to persuade her not to call us again. I wonder if she was just lonely.”
The woman was charged with fraudulent obstruction of police business, which carries a maximum penalty of up to three years in prison or a fine of $4,900.
SAMAR KHEL: All it took to land Din Muhammed in a cell at an Afghan shrine, chained up and living on bread for 40 days, was an argument with his father.
Muhammad was forced to undergo the traditional “cure” at the shrine of Mia Ali Baba, outside the eastern city of Jalalabad, to rid him of evil spirits.
Even after a decade of international funding and medical expertise pouring into Afghanistan, many locals still believe that the grim ordeal at the shrine will cure mental health problems – or as they see it, possession by malevolent “jinn” spirits.
“I had a big argument with my father,” said Muhammed, a thin young man sitting on a dirty blanket with heavy chains around his ankles and wrists. “I took money from him to buy a motorbike.
“I am very unhappy and I am angry at him that he put me here.”
Muhammed, who says he has five war wounds after serving in the Afghan army, is incarcerated in a row of 20 miserable stone cells.
The ceilings are low and damp, and there are no fans in the summer or heating in the winter.
“The patient is kept in chains for 40 days on a diet of bread with black pepper,” said Malik, the shrine supervisor.
“He is given this to make bad spirits goes away. When someone is infected by ghosts, we read verses of the Quran, and married women without children give them amulets to make the spirits depart.”
“It has been the same for 360 years, and thousands of people have been cured.”
At the end of the course, the “patients” are given broth made from goat’s head to complete the cleansing process.
Those undergoing the gruelling regime appear in fast-deteriorating health and barely able to talk due to exhaustion.
“I did not want to come, my brother forced me,” said Abdul, in his 30s, in a weak voice, unable to explain why he was sent to the shrine.
“They told me they would take me to a doctor and they took 5,000 Afghanis ($90) from my pocket for that. I feel dizzy and have headaches.”
Abdul’s cell stinks of sweat and urine, and it is littered with trash and soiled linen. Children approach the cell to mock him, before running away laughing as he shakes in desperation.
Shah Temor Mosamim, a doctor and director of a psychiatric hospital in Kabul, dismissed the shrine’s treatment as “having no basis in scientific fact”.
“No matter how aggressive a patient is, if you don’t give him much food for 40 days, he will get quieter,” Mosamim said.
“In Afghanistan, there have been these traditional ways of treatment for mental patients – chaining them up in rooms or shrines. In some cases, patients are suffering from depression or mental problems.”
The campaign group Human Rights Watch has called for the Mia Ali Baba shrine, named after a 17th-century holy man, to be closed and there is also concern from local rights activists.
“This place should be shut down as its practices are not compatible with human rights,” said HRW researcher Heather Barr.
“Mental health treatment is at its basic stages in Afghanistan and unfortunately has not been a high priority for international donors in spite of the fact that many Afghans have experiences of serious trauma.”
Rafiullah Bidar, of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, described how families leave patients to live in appalling conditions at the shrine.
“They think that it is the last option… we cannot ignore it,” he said. “These families are not satisfied with government medical services, that is why they rely on the shrine.
“The environment that the patients live in is unhealthy, they defecate and urinate in their cells. I remember the stench and filthy environment when I visited.”
For Muhammed and Abdul, the greatest fear is that they have been incarcerated not to be cured – but to die.
From their cells, they can see the rough graves of those who never left.
“Some families do not come back for the sick who remain for six or eight months and sometimes die,” said caretaker Mir Shafiqullah. “We bury them here.”
NEW YORK: A new book brings to a wider audience a theory of cover-up, sweeping blame and staggering security failures behind the 2007 assassination of Pakistan’s ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Author and Chilean diplomat Heraldo Munoz headed a damning UN report in 2010 that said Bhutto’s death could have been prevented and that Pakistan deliberately failed to investigate properly.
Now a UN assistant secretary general, his book Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan, goes on sale in the United States next week.
Oxford-educated Bhutto served twice as prime minister and had returned from exile to stand in elections when she was killed in a gun and suicide attack on December 27, 2007.
Six years later, no one has been convicted of her murder.
The government at the time blamed the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP). Despite scant evidence, a court this August charged Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan from 1999-2008, with her killing.
Munoz compares the assassination to a collective murder plot in a 17th century play and singles out Pakistan’s ex-interior minister in particular for refusing to give straight answers.
Asked at a New York launch event whether he feared for his life during his investigation, Munoz said “not really”, but revealed that in around January 2010 he was forced to step up security.
“I got a warning from a very trustworthy source that ‘these people’ are capable of anything and ‘these people’ don’t know the world,” he told the audience.
Although he never knew who “these people” referred to “I thought maybe we were stepping on some toes,” he said.
Munoz likened the best explanation for who killed Bhutto to the 17th century Spanish play “Fuenteovejuna” by Felix Arturo Lope de Vega, in which a village united together to kill a hated commander.
Al Qaeda wanted her dead, the TTP executed the attack – possibly with support of rogue intelligence agents – and local police did a cover-up, Munoz said.
Bhutto’s own security failed her and those who encouraged her to return to Pakistan did not provide her with protection, Munoz argues.
At one point the US suggested she hire the security contracting firm formerly known as Blackwater, Munoz said, but Musharraf refused to let foreign agents in.
“Political actors, even those close to her, would rather turn the page rather than find out who did it,” he said.
“She was clearly a target for the TTP and al Qaeda for sure,” said Munoz. “Sectors of the Pakistani establishment also wanted her dismissed or dead.”
He said police were “clearly responsible for a cover-up and I’m convinced that came from higher up”.
Federal investigators were delayed in accessing the scene, first by cups of tea until it got too dark and then by a big lunch.
In the end they collected only 23 pieces of evidence from the washed-down scene where Britain’s Scotland Yard said ordinarily thousands would have been expected.
Munoz said it was ridiculous to imagine that Bhutto’s widower, Pakistan’s desperately unpopular former president Asif Ali Zardari, had been involved in her death.
“He was helpful but I cannot say his whole government was helpful because we encountered all sorts of obstacles,” he said.
He said former interior minister Rehman Malik, Bhutto’s head of security, had been in a back-up bullet-proof Mercedes but was nowhere to be found immediately after the attack.
“They probably wanted to save their skin, to put it bluntly,” Munoz said. “Never could we get straight answers from him.”
The diplomat said guilt was for the courts to decide, but that Musharraf bore “political responsibility” by not providing adequate security to a former prime minister living under threat.
Presence of Indian forces on Siachen Glacier is harmful to the environment according to Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Radio Pakistan reported on Wednesday.
Pakistan is facing a water shortage and Indian forces are damaging one of the largest sources of water to Pakistan on a regular basis‚ Aziz said.
Presence of Indian forces on Siachen is a big issue and should be resolved as soon as possible, Aziz stated insisting that India should pull out its troops from the glacier.
He further added that disposal of daily use items by thousands of Indian soldiers is detrimental to the glacier.
India and Pakistan are working on resolving their water issues, Aziz stated. The two countries are doing this through multiple channels including Pakistan-India composite dialogue and Indus Water Commission.
Aziz also said that water should be properly used in Pakistan‚ it should be conserved and new water reservoirs should be built. He also said ‘Senate has recently formed a committee to deliberate various dimensions of water related issues and suggest its recommendations.’
NEW DELHI: A new Indian political party rooted in an anti-corruption movement that swept the country in 2011 faced its first electoral test Wednesday as voters in New Delhi headed to the ballot box.
The Aam Aadmi Party, led by former tax inspector Arvind Kejriwal, is contesting the New Delhi state election and hoping for a victory that would be a political earthquake ahead of national polls next year.
New Delhi, whose 16.8 million inhabitants elect their own assembly, has been run by the Congress party since 1998 but it is seen as struggling with voter fatigue, inflation, and anger over crime against women and corruption.
Kejriwal cast his vote at a polling station in central Delhi early on Wednesday accompanied by about 100 supporters wearing white Gandhi caps which, along with a broom, has become the party’s trademark.
“Broom! Broom! Broom!,” said street food vendor Rajesh Sharma, 49, after casting his vote in the chaotic old city area. “Kejriwal deserves a chance to show what he’s got.”
The Delhi election, along with four other state polls over the last month, is also crucial for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its newly chosen hardline leader Narendra Modi.
Modi, a prime ministerial candidate for next year’s general elections, has campaigned hard and will hope to see the BJP make gains when results are announced for all five state elections on Sunday.
NDTV report quoted BJP chief ministerial candidate Harsh Vardhan as saying that his party is ahead of both the Congress and AAP.
“BJP is far ahead of the Congress and the AAP. It is the Congress and the AAP who are contesting for the second position. Nobody can make a dent in our vote bank,” Harsh Vardhan told reporters.
Kejriwal, 44, believes his promise of clean politics, young candidates and pursuit of black marketeers who he blames for soaring food prices will see his party surge to victory.
“I believe that the people will vote against a corrupt establishment this time,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
He formed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) less than a year ago after a split from his one-time partner Anna Hazare, an elderly activist with whom he launched a nationwide protest movement in 2011 demanding a new anti-corruption law.
A survey on perceptions of corruption published on Tuesday by Transparency International showed India ranked at number 94 out of 177 countries.
Support for the AAP as detected by India’s often unreliable pollsters fluctuates wildly, from an impressive six to eight seats in the 70-member assembly to an extraordinary 30 or more.
“This election will test the substance of a new force, the Aam Aadmi party, which despite lacking a seasoned organisation has expertly created a buzz about its presence,” The Indian Express said in an editorial Wednesday.
In the general elections next year, the left-leaning Congress is predicted to struggle to win a third term in power, with Modi and the BJP making headway but without enough support to win a majority.
“Consistently we have worked for development of Delhi, inclusive development, not only social development but also infrastructure,” Sheila Dikshit, India’s longest serving chief minister, told reporters Wednesday.
“Lots of work that we have done people try to blow it away in the wind of corruption. This is not true.”
Dikshit was criticised for her handling of the Delhi Commonwealth Games and related infrastructure projects in 2010 which were late, often badly built and riddled with corruption, according to auditors.
She has also been under pressure to improve safety in the capital after the fatal gang rape of a student on a bus last December which brought simmering anger about widespread sex crime in India to the boil.
WASHINGTON: Two skydivers collided in mid-air and died Tuesday after plummeting to the ground with collapsed parachutes in the southwestern United States, police said.
The accident happened at a skydiving facility in Arizona when the daredevils were about 200-300 feet above the ground, Police Sergeant Brian Jerome of the town of Eloy told the Arizona Republic newspaper.
One of the divers died on the scene and another was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Jerome said both were believed to be non-Americans.
Andrew Baker, another diver in the air at the time, said the accident happened while some 200 people were staging a simultaneous jump and trying to hook up in mid-air.
The people killed were experienced skydivers, the newspaper said, quoting acquaintances of theirs.
Eloy is about 65 miles southeast of Phoenix.
WASHINGTON: The White House warned Congress Tuesday that passing new sanctions on Iran – even with a delayed launch date – would give Tehran an excuse to undermine an interim nuclear deal.
White House spokesman Jay Carney also warned a bipartisan coalition of senators who are suspicious of the pact reached last month and want to pile up more punishments for Tehran, that their move would be seen as a show of “bad faith” by US partners abroad.
The White House stepped up its rhetorical push to forestall new sanctions amid intense behind-the-scenes lobbying by top Obama administration officials targeting key lawmakers from both Democratic and Republican parties.
“Passing any new sanctions right now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution to this issue by giving the Iranians an excuse to push the terms of the agreement on their side,” Carney said.
“Furthermore, new sanctions are unnecessary right now because our core sanctions architecture remains in place, and the Iranians continue to be under extraordinary pressure.
“If we pass sanctions now, even with the deferred trigger, which has been discussed, the Iranians and likely our international partners will see us as having negotiated in bad faith.”
Carney argued that the passage of new US sanctions – even with a built-in six-month delay contemplated by hawks on Capitol Hill – would threaten the unity of the international coalition that has leveled punishing sanctions on Tehran.
He also said if the interim deal – which freezes aspects of Iran’s nuclear program in return for a slight easing of the sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy – is not translated into a final pact that Iran abides by, the White House would support new sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Barack Obama’s domestic opponents have seized on the terms of the deal to claim that it enshrines the right of Iran to enrich uranium but the White House late Tuesday issued a statement which sought to clarify the scope of any eventual final nuclear deal with Tehran.
Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said that the United States did not recognize that Iran has “a right to enrich” and that such a right was not included in the deal reached between Iran and six world powers in Geneva last month.
“We are prepared to negotiate a strictly limited enrichment program in the end state, but only because the Iranians have indicated for the first time in a public document that they are prepared to accept rigorous monitoring and limits on scope, capacity, and stockpiles,” she said.
“If we can reach an understanding on all of these strict constraints then we could have an arrangement that includes a very modest amount of enrichment that is tied to Iran’s practical needs and that eliminates any near-term breakout capacity.”
Breakout capacity is the time needed for Iran to manufacture a nuclear bomb if it decided to do so.
US intelligence assessments suggest that the Islamic Republic’s leaders have yet to take such a step.
While some reports billed the White House statement as a major concession on enrichment, Obama has all along argued that his aim in the negotiations is to ensure that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and that Tehran could retain some verifiably peaceful civilian nuclear program.
By implication, that means Iran could end up with some limited capacity to enrich, albeit well below the purity levels needed to produce a weapon – as long as its actions are proven to be peaceful and subject to airtight monitoring.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vehemently criticized the Geneva deal, has however called for a complete end to uranium enrichment in all its forms by Iran. Hawks on Capitol Hill in both political parties back his stance.
However, more pragmatic analysts in Washington argue that such a “perfect” deal is out of reach and would not be politically viable in Iran.
In the end, the key to a permanent deal may be some kind of diplomatic formula that allows the West to argue that Iran has made major concessions and rolled back its nuclear program to make the swift production of a weapon impossible and for Iranian negotiators to be able to proclaim to their domestic constituencies that they did not formally renounce the “right” to enrich uranium.
Several groups of Republican and Democratic senators are working to reconcile various different sanctions measures, believing that they would strengthen Obama’s hand in negotiations.
Under the deal reached between world powers and Tehran to freeze Iran’s nuclear program last month, Washington committed to “refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions” for the six months during which world powers will seek to hammer out a comprehensive settlement.
Carney, however, would not say whether Obama would use his presidential veto to halt any congressional effort to impose new sanctions.
BEIJING: British Prime Minister David Cameron faced demands for the return of priceless artefacts looted from Beijing in the 19th century on Wednesday, the last day of his visit to China.
Cameron travelled to the southwestern city of Chengdu on the third day of what embassy officials said was the largest ever British trade mission to the country.
British officials say £5.6 billion-worth of deals have been signed so far on the trip, but Cameron has been derided by both Chinese state-run media and the country’s sharp-tongued Internet users.
The prime minister last Friday set up his own microblogging page on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, attracting more than 230,000 followers by Wednesday.
He invited netizens to ask questions, saying that he would aim to reply during the visit.
One of the most popular questions was posted by a prominent Chinese think-tank, the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, which is headed by former vice-premier Zeng Peiyan and includes as its members many top government officials and leading economists.
“When will Britain return the illegally plundered artefacts?” the organisation asked, referring to 23,000 items in the British Museum which it says were looted by the British Army, part of the Eight-Nation Alliance that put down the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the 19th century, a popular uprising against the incursion of European imperial powers in China.
To the Chinese, the ransacking of the Forbidden City, and the earlier destruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 – about which one British officer wrote: “You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them” – remain key symbols of how the country was once dominated by foreign powers.
Even now the ruling Communist party appeals to nationalism to bolster its popularity.
Beijing was outraged by Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama – who it condemns as a dangerous separatist – last year, which led to a diplomatic deep-freeze between the two nations.
Despite the trip being billed as a trade mission, it has widely been seen as an attempt to repair some of the damage caused to China-British relations.
But a leading state newspaper launched an attack on Cameron Tuesday, saying Britain should recognise it is not a major power but “just an old European country apt for travel and study” in an editorial under the headline “China won’t fall for Cameron’s ‘sincerity’”.
The prime minister has taken more than 100 businesspeople with him to China, including the heads of Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls Royce and Royal Dutch Shell and the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange.