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Peshawar carnage: Condemnations pour in from home and world

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 08:29

As hundreds of children perished in one of the bloodiest insurgent attack in the country in recent years, condemnations poured in from across the globe against the heinous attack. 

Here are some the reactions from world leaders and personalities:

French President Francois Hollande condemned what he described as a “vile” attack on a school in Pakistan Tuesday that has killed at least 130 people, the majority children.

“No words can express the ignominy of such an attack against children in their school,” Hollande said in a statement.

The president said that France “supported the government of Pakistan in their fight against terrorism” and expressed solidarity with the victims and their parents.

AmbOlson Extends Condolences to Families of Army Public School Attack Victims http://t.co/5jgJf9vNcQ

— US Embassy Islamabad (@usembislamabad) December 16, 2014

“On behalf of the American people, US Ambassador Richard Olson extends the deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims of Tuesday’s heinous attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar,” a statement by the US embassy in Islamabad states.

“The United States strongly condemns senseless and inhumane attacks on innocent students and educators, and stands in solidarity with the people of Pakistan, and all who fight the menace of terrorism.”

“Few have suffered more at the hands of terrorists and extremists than the people of Pakistan. That is why it remains essential for the United States and Pakistan to continue to work together to secure peace and stability in the region,” it adds.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemns attack on school in Peshawar.

Strongly condemn the insane/coward attack on a school in K.Pakhtunkhwa. I seek patience/strength from Allah(swt) to the families of victims.

— Ashraf Ghani (@ashrafghani) December 16, 2014

Germany condemns ‘cruel cowardice’ of Peshawar school attack

Germany on Tuesday condemned the “cruel cowardice” of a Taliban attack that killed at least 130 people, most of who are children.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement he condemned the “criminal attack in the strongest terms”.

“The hostage-taking and murder of children exceeds in its cruel cowardice all that Pakistan, stricken by years of terror and violence, has known before.

“We mourn with the people of Pakistan the victims of this bloody terrorist attack. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims. For the many injured we wish speedy recoveries.”

Further, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth also said “there is no justification for Taliban attack on schoolchildren.”

https://twitter.com/KenRoth

Jemima Khan, former wife of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief, expressed her condolences for the victims and their families.

Thoughts & prayers for the families of those school children brutally murdered today in Peshawar.

— Jemima Khan (@Jemima_Khan) December 16, 2014

Former Minister of State for Faith and Communities Sayeeda Warsi condemns the horrific attack on children and teachers.

Horrifying attack on a school in #Peshawar #Pakistan Utter condemnation for this barbaric targeting of children.

— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) December 16, 2014

Terrorism in #Pakistan will only be defeated if Politicians, Army and Intelligence services are prepared 2 work together 2 the same agenda

— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) December 16, 2014

My thoughts and prayers with the families in #Pakistan who today mourn the death of their loved ones.

— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) December 16, 2014

Indian tennis player Sania Mirza Artiste Javed Akhtar tweet about the innocent lives lost in the attack on Tuesday.

Akthar terms it as a “black day for humanity”.

Please God..hav mercy on the kids and their families..this is heart breaking and painful..What has humanity come to :( #Peshawar

— Sania Mirza (@MirzaSania) December 16, 2014

104 innocent children are killed by Talibans In Peshawar . A black day for humanity .

— Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) December 16, 2014

104 innocent children are killed by Talibans In Peshawar . A black day for humanity .

— Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) December 16, 2014

UK Prime Minister David Cameroon condemns the attack, and said it was “horrifying that children are being killed simply for going to school”.

The news from Pakistan is deeply shocking. It's horrifying that children are being killed simply for going to school.

— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) December 16, 2014

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned the “cowardly” attack.

Modi branded the attack “a senseless act of unspeakable brutality” and said India shares rival Pakistan’s pain.

Strongly condemn the cowardly terrorist attack at a school in Peshawar.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 16, 2014

It is a senseless act of unspeakable brutality that has claimed lives of the most innocent of human beings – young children in their school.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 16, 2014

My heart goes out to everyone who lost their loved ones today. We share their pain & offer our deepest condolences.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 16, 2014

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh earlier said the attack exposed the “real face of terrorism”.

I strongly condemn the terrorist attack on a school at Peshwar(Pakistan). This dastardly & inhuman attack exposes the real face of terrorism

— Rajnath Singh (@BJPRajnathSingh) December 16, 2014

My heart goes out to the families of those children who got killed by the terrorists in Peshwar. I express my condolences to those families

— Rajnath Singh (@BJPRajnathSingh) December 16, 2014

Former Indian batsman Virender Sehwag tweets about the innocent lives lost in the attack.

“As a father, this pain kills me,” he tweeted.

My prayers go out to the hostages & innocent lives lost in #PeshawarAttack. Barbaric, senseless cowardice. As a father, this pain kills me

— Virender Sehwag (@virendersehwag) December 16, 2014

Indian Test cricketer Parthiv Patel send his thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims.

Gutted to see the #peshawar news…can't even imagine wht parents of the children must be gng thru..thoughts and prayers with thm…

— parthiv patel (@parthiv9) December 16, 2014

Former England cricket skipper Michael Vaughan terms the incident as that of cowardice.

Cannot believe what I am seeing in Pakistan..greatest act of bloody coward ness..Killing kids in school… #Pakistansiege

— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) December 16, 2014

Can anyone tell me how killing 82 children can improve your beliefs/Religion/Country ???? This world is sick… #PakSchoolAttack

— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) December 16, 2014

Malala “heartbroken” by Peshawar school slayings

Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai said she was “heartbroken” by “the senseless and cold blooded killing” of scores of children by Taliban militants in Peshawar.

“I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold blooded act of terror in Peshawar that is unfolding before us. Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this,” Malala said in a statement.

“I condemn these atrocious and cowardly acts and stand united with the government and armed forces of Pakistan whose efforts so far to address this horrific event are commendable.”

Saqlain Mushtaq, Former Pakistan Test Bowler, prays for the loss of innocent lives in the tragic incident.

My prayers are with the innocent school children who have lost there souls today in Peshawar.

— Saqlain Mushtaq (@Saqlain_Mushtaq) December 16, 2014

Pakistan cricket all-rounder Shahid Afridi expresses shock in regard to the incident.

Shocking news , don't have words to explain this brutality at Kpk School attacked. My heart and feelings all the way with all effectees.

— Shahid Afridi (@SAfridiOfficial) December 16, 2014


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Australia mourns after tragic end to cafe siege

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 01:03

SYDNEY: Grieving Australians on Tuesday eulogised the victims of the Sydney cafe siege as authorities investigated why its Iranian-born perpetrator had remained at large despite a history of violence and extremism.

Emotions were raw as Australia awoke to the news that two hostages were killed when the day-long siege reached a climax in the early hours, as police commandos stormed the Lindt eatery in response to the militant gunman opening fire.

A sea of flowers were laid at a makeshift memorial near the scene in the heart of Sydney’s financial quarter, as Muslim community leaders joined their fellow Sydneysiders in mourning the victims, who were acclaimed as heroes.

“They were just going to work like everyone else, just going to get a cup of coffee. That could have been absolutely anyone,” one of those bearing flowers, Angelica Haifa, told AFP.

Police in SWAT-style gear hurled percussion grenades and opened fire as they stormed the cafe just after 2:00am on Tuesday, following a standoff of more than 16 hours. The 50-year-old lone gunman, widely named as Man Haron Monis, was shot and killed in the exchange that followed, officials said.

Two of the 17 hostages died: cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, 38.

Six others were wounded, including three women with gunshot wounds, among them a 75-year-old. Two pregnant women were taken to hospital as a precaution.

At a prayer service in St Mary’s Cathedral near the cafe, Archbishop Anthony Fisher said the “heart of our city is broken by the deaths of two innocents”.

“Reports have emerged this morning of the heroism of the male victim of this siege,” Fisher said.

“Apparently seeing an opportunity Tori Johnson grabbed the gun, tragically it went off killing him. But it triggered the response of the police and eventual freedom for most of the hostages.

“Reports have also emerged that Katrina Dawson was shielding her pregnant friend from gunfire. These heroes were willing to lay down their lives so others might live.”

New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn did not confirm the chain of events, only that investigators were still working out what happened.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the hostage-taker, who at one point had unfurled a flag with Arabic text on it at the window of the cafe, “had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability”.

“As the siege unfolded… he sought to cloak his actions with the symbolism of the ISIL death cult,” he said, referring to the Islamic State group, while praising police for their response “to this brush with terrorism”.

The man was out on bail for a series of violent offences, officials conceded.

New South Wales Attorney-General Brad Hazzard admitted there were serious questions over why he was free after being charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and other offences.

“We are asking state agencies and federal agencies to look very closely at how this offender slipped through the cracks,” he told reporters.

The Muslim community, which condemned the hostage-taking and the use of the flag, won sympathy from ordinary Australians on its handling of the crisis.

Flags on all federal and New South Wales state buildings flew at half mast, while condolence books were opened.

The pre-­Christmas siege of the Lindt chocolate cafe began Monday morning and triggered a massive security lockdown in the bustling financial district as hundreds of police surrounded the site.

Reports said the gunman forced hostages to make videos with demands during the standoff, including that Abbott call him and that an Islamic State flag be delivered.

Monis’s former lawyer Manny Conditsis said the public could be assured that it was not the work of an organised terrorist group.

“It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged ­goods individual who’s done something outrageous,” he said of a man who arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1996.

Australia has been on high alert in recent months with the government raising concerns that citizens who have fought alongside Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria could return home radicalised and carry out “lone wolf” attacks.

The government in September raised its terror threat level and police conducted large­scale counter­terror raids across the country. Only two people were charged.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Two dead: Sydney siege ends as police storm cafe

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:18

SYDNEY: 

At least two people were killed as heavily armed Australian police early on Tuesday dramatically stormed a central Sydney cafe to end a day-long siege that sparked when an Iranian-born alleged militant took several people hostage.

Security forces intervened, unleashing a flurry of loud bangs and flashes in the eatery in the heart of Australia’s biggest city, after a number of the staff and customers managed to flee for their lives.

An AFP photographer saw one body carried out. Australian media said the gunman was shot dead by police. Sky News also reported four people were wounded, three of them critically.

Royal North Shore Hospital had admitted a woman in her 40s with a gunshot wound to her leg, a spokeswoman said. She was in a serious but stable condition.

A bomb robot used to detect and disarm explosives was subsequently sent into the building as police declared the siege over and medics tended to hostages. “Sydney siege is over,” police announced on Twitter. The hostagetaker was named by ABC television as a 49-year-old Iranian-born man named Haron Monis.

The siege at the Lindt chocolate cafe began Monday morning and triggered a massive security lockdown in Sydney’s financial district.

Monis’s former lawyer Manny Conditsis said the public could be assured that the siege was not the work of an organised terrorist group. “This is a one-off random individual,” he told broadcaster ABC. “It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act.”

The Australian newspaper called Monis a “self-styled sheikh” who had sent offensive letters to the families of dead soldiers and was on bail on charges of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.

The gunman made a series of demands through Australian media but they were removed after police requested they not be made public.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2014. 


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Joining the ranks: About 300 Chinese fight alongside ISIS

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:16

BEIJING: About 300 Chinese people are fighting alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a Chinese state-run newspaper said on Monday, a rare tally that is likely to fuel worry in China that militants pose a threat to security.

China has expressed concern about the rise of Islamic State in the Middle East, nervous about the effect it could have on its Xinjiang region.

But it has also shown no sign of wanting to join US efforts to use military force against the group. Chinese members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are travelling to Syria via Turkey to join the ISIS, also known as IS, the Global Times, a tabloid run by China’s ruling Communist Party’s official newspaper said.

“According to information from various sources, including security officers from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, around 300 Chinese extremists are fighting with IS in Iraq and Syria,” the it reported.

Chinese officials blame the ETIM for carrying out attacks in Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people. But the government has been vague about how many people from China are fighting in the Middle East.

In July, China’s Envoy to the Middle East Wu Sike cited media reports when he said about 100 Chinese citizens, most of them from the ETIM, were in the Middle East fighting or being trained.

China says ETIM militants are also holed up along the ungoverned Afghan-Pakistani border and want to create a separate state in Xinjiang, though many foreign experts doubt the group’s cohesiveness. Instead, human rights advocates argue that economic marginalisation of Uighurs and curbs on their culture and religion are main causes of ethnic violence in Xinjiang that has killed hundreds of people in the last two years.

China has criticised the Turkish government for offering shelter to Uighur refugees who have fled China through southeast Asia and said such a channel creates security risks.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's hearing at Guantanamo canceled: US Army

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 11:19

WASHINGTON: Court officials canceled a two-day pretrial hearing for suspects in the September 11, 2001, attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, on Monday at the United States (US) prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a US Army spokesperson said.

The hearing, intended to examine allegations the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tried to infiltrate legal defense teams, according to a docket on a Pentagon website.

It would have been the first such proceeding since a US Senate report on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) torture was released last week.

No reason was given for the cancellation. Judge James Pohl, an Army colonel, ruled in July that no conflict of interest arose for defense attorneys from the FBI approaching a security officer for a defense team.

The allegations surfaced in April, further delaying a complex, slow-moving case.

Lawyers for accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspects want Pohl to determine the extent of FBI contact with defense team members.

Mohammed and fellow 9/11 suspect Ramzi Binalshibh were among prisoners who underwent torture by the CIA, according to the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released on Tuesday.

The report on the CIA interrogation program implemented after the Sept 11 attacks said Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding, or simulated drowning, “rectal hydration” and sleep deprivation.

The 2001 attacks using hijacked airliners killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The defendants face possible death penalties if convicted.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Sydney siege: Anticipating backlash, Australians start #illridewithyou campaign to support Muslims

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 08:13

SYDNEY: Australians came out Monday in solidarity with the Muslim community following a siege at a Sydney cafe, as tens of thousands tweeted the hashtag #illridewithyou to counter possible anti-Muslim backlash.

The hostage-taking at the Lindt chocolate cafe triggered a security lockdown in the heart of Australia’s biggest city, with the government and Muslim leaders condemning the attack and calling for unity.

Amid uncertainty about the hostage-taker’s motives and fears of reprisals after an Islamic flag was raised in the cafe, an Australian woman reportedly started the #illridewithyou hashtag to show solidarity with Muslims who might feel threatened on public transport.

“#373 bus between Coogee & Martin Place. #illridewithyou @ me if you just want to wear your headdress & not be bothered,” @sirtessa tweeted.

Within hours, Australians around the country repeated the hashtag, with more than 40,000 tweets helping #illridewithyou become one of the top trends on the social media site.

Thanks for protecting my sisters #illridewithyou pic.twitter.com/Qy9l0lN1qB

— Angger Prawitasari (@anggerwitasari) December 15, 2014

“I make a commitment, right now, to always say something when I see any kind of abuse on public transport. #illridewithyou,” one user tweeted.

Another user in South Australia wrote, “If you wear religious attire, & need to get from #Adelaide’s west suburbs to the city on Tues but don’t want to travel alone #illridewithyou.”

Others offered help beyond travel support: “I’m mostly housebound so Im not useful for #illridewithyou but if you’re ever in tarneit VIC and need somewhere safe to hide out, contact me.”

Australia’s race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said he was heartened by the campaign, adding: “let’s not allow fear, hatred and division to triumph.”

I’m a semi regular commuter on the #mandurah line. If you see me #illridewithyou. I’ll be wearing this scarf. pic.twitter.com/sWSpbDcOsd

— Terri (@KaelaJael) December 15, 2014

Anti-Islam groups had earlier expressed outrage about the siege, with the Australian Defence League writing on Facebook: “Here it is folks, homegrown islamic terrorism in our backyard, courtesy of successive australian governments and their brainwashed voters.”

New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said officers were working with the Muslim community.

“Reprisal attacks are something that should not happen,” he added.

More than 40 Muslim groups condemned the siege, saying in a statement that they rejected “any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being or to instil fear and terror into their hearts”.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

India to boost women taxi drivers, spurred by Uber rape claim

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 04:05

NEW DELHI:  The alleged rape of a woman passenger by an Uber taxi driver once again spotlights the risks of India’s transport system, which fails to keep women safe. One solution: Taxis driven by women for women.

Last year, the southern state of Kerala launched ‘She Taxis‘, a fleet of 40 pink taxis run by women, and fitted with wireless tracking gear and panic buttons linked to call centers.

Now the service has become a model for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to replicate nationwide, its chief executive says. “The Delhi incident shows the need for ‘She Taxis’ all over the country,” PTM Sunish told Reuters.

‘She Taxis’ has ferried 24,000 people on about 10,000 trips since Nov. 2013. Demand so far exceeds supply that as many as half of callers have to be turned away, Sunish said.

“I feel secure and the family is satisfied,” said Aswathy Sreekumar, 25, a technology worker who has used the service for seven months, after finishing work at midnight.

“Otherwise, I keep getting calls from my parents.”

Rising sex crimes have prompted Indian states and small firms to launch taxi services run by women. The trend grew after December  2012 protests over the rape of a young woman on a moving bus in the capital, New Delhi, and her subsequent death.

Tougher laws and promises of better policing have proved ineffectual. India’s public transport is the fourth most dangerous in the world for women, and nighttime safety ranks second worst, a recent poll showed.

Women commuters face sexual harassment and public transport is seen as risky.

“The Uber incident reinforces that you are safer when a taxi is driven by a woman. People would be keener now,” said social activist Susieben Shah, who started Priyadarshini Taxi Service in 2010 in Mumbai. Now it aims to expand to New Delhi and the southern tech hub of Bengaluru.

Another company, Sakha Cabs, with 14 taxis in the capital, plans to expand in nearby western Jaipur and in eastern Kolkata.

Still, expansion is slow. Reluctant investors fear the tiny number of women drivers will brake future expansion, and India’s male-dominated social structure will deter aspirant drivers.

After the Uber incident India is stepping up support for such training, an official of the Ministry of Women & Child Development told Reuters.

But critics say better security is the answer.

“Government always resorts to knee-jerk reactions,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research. “Failure in law and order implementation cannot be compensated by such measures.”


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Executed Chinese teenager found innocent 18 years on

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 02:55

BEIJING: A Chinese teenager executed after being convicted of murder and rape 18 years ago was declared innocent by a court Monday, in a rare overturning of a wrongful conviction.

The 18-year-old, named Hugjiltu and also known as Qoysiletu, was found guilty and put to death in Inner Mongolia in 1996, but doubt was cast on the verdict when another man confessed to the crime in 2005.

“The Inner Mongolia Higher People’s Court finds Hugjiltu’s original guilty verdict… is not consistent with the facts and there is insufficient evidence,” the court in Hohhot said in a statement.

“Hugjiltu is found not guilty.”

The retrial comes after a pledge by leaders of the ruling Communist Party to strengthen the rule of law “with Chinese characteristics” – a concept experts caution refers to greater central control over the courts rather than judicial independence.

The court’s deputy president gave Hugjiltu’s parents compensation of $4,850, according to the official Xinhua News Agency – although the money was a personal donation by the head of the court, it added, rather than an official payment by the institution.

Images on social media showed the deputy president apologising to Hugjiltu’s now elderly parents.

“This is an amazing thing the court did, to admit that they were wrong,” said Wang Gongyi, deputy director of the research institute of the Ministry of Justice.

“It also sends a clear message to the police and prosecutors around the country: if there’s not enough evidence, don’t impose wrongful convictions,” he told AFP.

“In the future, this case will be singled out as what not to do and will influence the entire legal system.”

Police in Hohhot, where the crime took place, said they opened an investigation into the officers responsible for the original case, according to the Legal Evening News.

The regional court said Hugjiltu’s confession did not match the autopsy report as well as being inconsistent with “other evidence”, and that DNA evidence presented at the trial did not definitively connect him to the crime.

China’s courts, controlled by the ruling Communist Party, have a near-100 percent conviction rate in criminal cases and confessions extracted under dubious conditions are commonplace.

In Hugjiltu’s case, authorities interrogated the teenager for 48 hours, after which he confessed to having raped and choked the woman in the toilet of a textile factory, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported in November. He was executed 61 days after the woman’s death.

Hugjiltu’s family tried for nearly a decade to prove his innocence, according to reports, and the Higher People’s Court officially began a retrial in November.

Many on social media decried what they saw as insufficient compensation for such a grave miscarriage of justice, with one asking: “Is 30,000 yuan really enough to buy the life of a family member?”

Others demanded the court officials and police responsible for the original conviction be held responsible.

“We must bring all those morally corrupt public security officers to justice,” another user said on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging platform.

China executes more people than the rest of the world combined, according to rights groups. The country put an estimated 2,400 people to death last year.

China has occasionally exonerated wrongfully executed convicts after others came forward to confess their crimes, or in some cases because the supposed murder victim was later found alive.

In one case, police claimed a dead body was that of a woman who had recently disappeared and charged Teng Xingshan with her murder. Teng was executed by firing squad in 1989, but in 1993 the supposedly murdered woman returned to the village saying she had been kidnapped.

Teng was exonerated of all crimes in 2005.

Several other high-profile wrongful convictions have sparked public outrage in recent years.

Last year, a man who served 17 years in prison for killing his wife was declared innocent by an appeals court in the eastern province of Anhui.

A few months earlier two men who had been sentenced to death and life in prison in 2004 for the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl were also acquitted.

Doubts have been raised about several high-profile death penalty cases in the US. But the Innocence Project, a group advocating for those it says are wrongfully convicted, does not highlight on its website any instances of executed people later having their convictions quashed.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Heated debate: UN members agree historic climate deal

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 01:18

LIMA: International negotiators at the Lima climate change talks have agreed on a plan to fight global warming that would for the first time commit all countries to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.

At a marathon conference, they approved a blueprint to guide negotiations for the deal due to be sealed in Paris in December 2015.

But agreement came after a bitter dispute flared anew, requiring major compromise that campaigners said pointed to a mountain of work ahead.

“The document is approved,” Peru’s Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal announced in the small hours, to wild cheers from exhausted delegates.

The annual round of talks under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had been scheduled to end on Friday evening, after 12 days.

Instead, it overran by 32 hours, an exceptional delay even in the tradition of the notoriously fractious UNFCCC meetings.

The hard-fought agreement – dubbed the Lima Call for Climate Action – sets down the foundations for what is envisioned to be the most ambitious agreement in environmental history.

Due to take effect in 2020, it would for the first time bind all the world’s nations into a single arena for curbing heat-trapping carbon gases that drive dangerous climate change.

Its aim is to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, averting potentially catastrophic damage to Earth’s climate system by the turn of the century.

At its core is a roster where all nations will enter voluntary commitments to reduce their carbon emissions.

But the Lima deal came at the price of a compromise to bridge a deep rift between rich and poor countries.

In the face of opposition from China, it stripped out demands for extensive information about the pledges and tougher scrutiny to see if, jointly, they close in on the two degrees Celsius target.

The document does not oblige rich nations to outline aid for poorer countries in their pledges, as the developing world had insisted.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who will chair the December 2015 finale in Paris, said the Lima agreement had exorcised traumatic memories of the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

That meeting had also aimed at a ground-breaking climate treaty but ended a near fiasco in a similar welter of infighting.

“The ghost of Copenhagen is fading, the hope of success in Paris is nearing,” Fabius said.

UN Chief Ban Ki-moon applauded the deal, and pressed members to commit to talks in Paris and make good on financial pledges.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Remorseless: Cheney says CIA interrogators heroes not torturers

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 00:47

WASHINGTON: 

Former US vice president Dick Cheney on Sunday defended America’s now-banned programme that tortured al-Qaeda suspects, praising the CIA operatives who ran it as heroes. “I’m perfectly comfortable that they should be praised, they should be decorated,” the right-hand man to former president George W. Bush told NBC television’s Meet the Press programme, adding, “I’d do it again in a minute.”

Cheney said there is “no comparison” between the tactics and the deaths of American citizens on September 11, 2001. “Torture is what the al-Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” Cheney said. “There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation.”

He said he was unfazed that many of the foreign nationals rounded up and held for years, including those tortured, eventually were found not to be terrorists.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

On torture tactics: Death threat a routine CIA technique, says Zaeef

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 00:37

ISLAMABAD: 

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who had served as an Afghan ambassador in Pakistan during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, while commenting on a recently revealed CIA torture techniques report has shared his own heart-wrenching memories being detained for four years at the Guantanamo Bay – US prison camp in Cuba.

The US military and security agencies kept hundreds of terror suspects including Afghans and Pakistanis for years and their defence lawyers say most of them were kept without fair trial and legal rights.

“Death threats to me and other Guantanamo inmates were a routine technique of the guards. They used to force us to give information to the interrogators. Once three gunmen and two guards, holding big sticks, threatened to shoot and beat me if I did not reply to questions by an interrogator,” Zaeef told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview by phone.

Zaeef has written in his book that he was handed over to the US troops at Peshawar airport days after he was picked up from his residence at the posh F-10 sector of Islamabad in late 2001. Then Pakistani officials insisted Zaeef had been handed over to Afghan authorities at Torkham border after Islamabad de-recognised the then Taliban government. He was released in September 2005 after languishing in US detention centers at Bagram, Kandahar in Afghanistan and Guantanano.

“Depriving prisoners of sleep and keeping them in solitary confinement were also common techniques to force the inmates to share information. I could not sleep for a whole month,” the ex-Afghan envoy mentioned.

He went on to say that an Afghan national and the al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Muhammad were shifted to Guantanamo from Afghanistan in boxes.

“The Afghan national had told me he was forced to remain in a box for eight days,” Mullah Zaeef replied when asked how other prisoners were treated at Guantanamo.

He noted he had witnessed some prisoners, including al Qaeda suspects, unconscious and severely beaten, and their bones fractured.

Zaeef believes that it was not only the CIA but all American state institutions were responsible for the ill-treatment meted out to the prisoners.

“I do not think the US administration had any respect for human rights. They pursue policies only for own interests,” he said.

When his attention was drawn to condemnation of the CIA’s brutal acts by President Ashraf Ghani, who has also sought a report about Afghan prisoners, Zaeef said the Afghan government is “helpless and no one will listen to it.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2014.

 


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Peace with Taliban: Kabul wants Islamabad to play visible role

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 16:54

ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan has asked Pakistan to play a more ‘visible’ role in persuading the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiation table in a move suggesting that Kabul continues to believe that Islamabad still holds the key for an elusive peace deal.

The request for Pakistan’s proactive role in a possible peace deal, comes from the new administration in Afghanistan led by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Dr Abullah Abdullah, diplomatic sources told The Express Tribune.

The change of government in Kabul, after a decade of rule by former president Hamid Karzai, is seen as a new beginning for both neighbours to move away from an acrimonious relationship of mistrust to one built on mutual cooperation.

But that cooperation appears to be hinged on Pakistan’s role in brokering a deal between Afghanistan and insurgents.

The Afghan president during his recent visit to Islamabad sought Pakistan’s help in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.

His request for help stems from the widely held perception that Pakistan’s security establishment, because of its historic ties with the Taliban, can still push insurgents to make peace with the Ghani administration.

“There is a strong perception in Afghanistan that Pakistan’s security establishment still controls the Taliban, despite denial by Pakistan,” commented a western diplomat, who is engaged with both Islamabad and Kabul.

“I think reality lies between the two extremes,” the diplomat added saying that clear Pakistan support for peace talks in Afghanistan backed by practical steps could go a long away in addressing the longstanding misgivings between the two neighbours.

Despite the recent flurry of diplomatic initiatives aimed at generating a better appreciation of Pakistan’s limited influence in Afghanistan and its willingness to facilitate the peace process, western diplomats continue to hold the view that fears of a possible ‘proxy war’ between Pakistan and India in post-2014 Afghanistan might compel authorities in Islamabad to keep their options open.

Islamabad has publicly insisted that it cannot lead the peace process in Afghanistan and has repeatedly said that it is ready to play the role of a facilitator. A senior Pakistani official contended that the country was doing whatever it could to help facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

The official, who wished not to be identified, also dismissed the perception that Pakistani security apparatus enjoyed the level of influence that it once had over the Afghan Taliban.

The ongoing military offensive in North Waziristan Agency, where fighters from the deadliest Afghan insurgent network – the Haqqanis – have also been targeted in a ‘clear manifestation of our policy to act against all groups without any discrimination,’ the official argued.

Army Chief General Raheel Sharif during his two-week long trip to the United States earlier this month, tried to convince his American interlocutors that Pakistan had no favorites in Afghanistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2014.

 


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Miss South Africa crowned Miss World

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 13:31

LONDON: Miss South Africa, 22-year-old Rolene Strauss, was crowned Miss World 2014 at the pageant’s final in London on Sunday, with an estimated billion viewers watching on television around the globe.

Miss Hungary, Edina Kulcsar, was the runner-up and Miss United States, Elizabeth Safrit, came third in the 64th annual competition, contested by women from 121 countries.

The medical student clasped her hands together in surprise and was crowned by the outgoing Miss World, Megan Young of the Philippines, before a fireworks finale.

“South Africa this is for you,” Strauss said afterwards. “I think I will brace myself for what’s about to happen. It’s a huge responsibility.”

This year’s event has been rocked by the murder of Miss Honduras, 19-year-old Maria Jose Alvarado, who was shot dead along with her sister last month.

Their bodies were found on the day the beauty queen was due to travel to London.

Police in Honduras accuse her sister’s boyfriend of shooting them after seeing his partner dancing with another man at a party.

Strauss will travel to the violence-hit central American nation to build a school named in the sisters’ honour.

 

Sunday’s show started with a spectacular choreographed dance routine, with all the contestants shimmering on stage in costumes inspired by their homelands, including Miss Bolivia in a colourful giant feathered headdress.

Miss Scotland led the contestants in a Highland Fling, a traditional Scottish dance, before Miss United States performed a cowgirl routine.

While beauty remains central to the event, the women taking part are also judged on their brains, skills and involvement in good causes.

In the Beauty with a Purpose round, contestants present a charitable project they have been working on in their homeland.

The event also featured a special award for 1994′s Miss World, Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai.

The 41-year-old Indian actress appeared on stage with her film star husband Abhishek Bachchan, their daughter Aaradhya and her mother.

The prize was for the “Dhoom 2″ star’s charitable work since being rocketed to fame by Miss World.

The 10 contestants who topped the final scoreboard were, in descending order, from India, South Africa, England, Guyana, Brazil, Hungary, Kenya, United States, Mexico and Australia.

They were joined by Miss Thailand, who won the people’s choice award, voted for by people around the world through a mobile phone app.

The scores were reset at zero and the judges chose Miss Hungary, Miss Australia, Miss South Africa, Miss United States and Miss England as their top five.

Ahead of the pageant at the ExCel centre, feminist protesters against it rallied support on Twitter under the hashtag #missworldoldworldmisogyny.

“The sexist idea that women should be judged on the basis of their appearance influences the way that all of us feel about ourselves as women and the way that men view and treat women,” one of the groups backing the protest, the London Feminist Network, argued on its website.

Miss World began in 1951, a year before its chief rival Miss Universe.

As well as Rai, previous finalists include US actress Halle Berry in 1986.

It returns to Bali in Indonesia for the 2015 final.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Kerry in Rome for talks on Palestinian statehood bid

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 10:58

ROME: United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Rome on Sunday for a flurry of meetings about a looming showdown at the United Nations (UN) amid a European-led drive to push moves towards Palestinian statehood.

US officials told reporters accompanying Kerry on his plane that Washington wanted to learn more about the European position, saying the US administration had not yet decided whether to back or veto any UN resolution on the issue.

Kerry was first to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday, before talks on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a hastily-arranged pre-Christmas diplomatic whirlwind, the top US diplomat will also meet for a few hours Monday in Paris with French, German and British foreign ministers and the new EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

He will then fly to London to meet with the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and the secretary general of the Arab League on Tuesday.

Washington has long opposed unilateral Palestinian moves to win recognition for a state of Palestine at the United Nations, saying it would prejudge the outcome of stalled peace negotiations with Israel.

But officials said they drew a distinction between a unilateral step, and an effort to draw up a multilateral resolution at the UN Security Council which would have the backing of many nations.

“It’s important to understand that our overall goal here is to hear from and engage with other stakeholders, to hear their views and to the best of our ability work towards a common path forward,” a State Department official said.

“We all want to defuse tensions and reduce the potential for violence, we all want to keep open the hope of a two-state solution and we all want to prevent an escalation of the violence on the ground.”

Acknowledging any resolution on Palestinian statehood would be a “significant step,” the US official insisted it was “premature” for Washington to lay out a position since no text yet existed.

Jordan last month circulated a draft Palestinian text setting November 2016 as a deadline for the end of the Israeli occupation.

But the text ran into opposition from the United States because it set a two-year timetable for the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West Bank.

“That’s not the way I think that we would look at handling a very complicated security negotiation by mandating a deadline of two years,” the State Department official said, asking not to be identified.

Netanyahu on Sunday rejected all talk of withdrawing from east Jerusalem and the West Bank within two years.

Pulling out now would bring “Islamic extremists to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and to the heart of Jerusalem”, Netanyahu said, adding that he would raise the issue with Kerry and Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

France stepped in last month to try to cobble together along with Britain and Germany a resolution that would win consensus at the 15-member council.

The new text would call for a return to negotiations with a view to achieving a two-state solution by which Israel and a Palestinian state would co-exist.

Amid rising tensions on the ground, the Palestinians are seeking a vote on a resolution by the end of the year.

But the US official said there did not yet appear to be any European consensus on a draft resolution.

“There’s a draft, a paper, that the French floated around, but it by no means represents a consensus European position,” the official said.

He conceded though that the Europeans felt that with tensions running high and Israeli elections looming in March there was a sense of urgency.

“The real driving sense of urgency is coming from the facts on the ground, the fact that tension is high… the fact that no-one wants this to continue to escalate and potentially explode,” said another State Department official.

“These initiatives at the UN are not emerging spontaneously from purely political forces, they’re driven in very large part by concern that everybody feels about things that are happening on the ground.”

European parliaments in Britain, France, Spain, Ireland and Portugal have meanwhile asked their governments to recognise Palestinian statehood, a move that would bypass negotiations all together.

Kerry is also expected to quiz Lavrov on Moscow’s plans for a new round of Syria peace talks to see whether there is a way to bring the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the moderate opposition back to negotiations.

The Russian minister meanwhile will likely raise Russian anger of over a new US bill which gives President Barack Obama the authority to send lethal weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Dutchman tries to pop question, destroys house

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 06:41

HAGUE: An over-amorous Dutchman became a homewrecker – literally – when a crane he was using to have himself lowered into his girlfriend’s garden for a marriage proposal fell through the neighbour’s roof.

The unnamed man hired a crane in the central town of Ijsselstein to lower him over his girlfriend’s house and into her garden for the surprise proposal early on Saturday morning, emergency services spokesman Jelle Mulder told AFP.

“The crane the man wanted to use to propose fell on a house. During the attempt to right it, the crane unfortunately slipped and fell on the house again,” Mulder said.

Neighbouring houses have been evacuated and the huge crane is still on top of the house.

“We’re looking at the best way to lift the crane without it falling again,” said Mulder.

The would-be fiance jumped to safety and no one else was hurt, Mulder said.

“The people in the house the crane fell on are deeply shocked,” he said.

The authorities will decide if the house needs to be demolished after the crane is lifted.

Despite the fiasco, the girlfriend accepted the marriage proposal, Dutch media reported, and the couple has now gone on holiday.

“They had a trip to Paris planned and the police told them that there was no reason to cancel,” said Mulder. “I don’t know if they’ve gone.”


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Srinagar votes as Modi seeks power

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 05:13

SRINAGAR: Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar voted Sunday in continuing elections in the troubled Muslim-majority region, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making an unprecedented bid for power.

As armed police patrolled the streets in bulletproof vests, voters queued to cast their ballots in freezing weather in Srinagar and the Kashmir Valley, where a separatist campaign is centred.

Some 1.4 million residents are eligible to vote in 18 seats in the latest phase of the elections in the region, where a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian rule since 1989.

After winning power at national elections in May, Modi and his BJP are trying to take control of the state’s parliament with a promise of economic development.

The BJP is fielding 32 Muslim candidates across the disputed region, where voters have so far ignored calls from separatists to boycott the election.

BJP candidate and Muslim Hina Bhat said voters might not like Modi, but like the rest of the country they believed his promise of economic prosperity.

“People will support Modi because now, like Muslims in India outside Kashmir, they know he delivers,” the dentist turned politician said.

“The local parties have treated Kashmiri people like cattle,” Bhat, 35, told AFP recently in an interview while campaigning in Srinagar.

“Here (in Kashmir) also people know in their hearts that going with Modi is good for them,” Hina added.

The BJP has traditionally had no base in the Kashmir Valley, where resentment against Indian rule runs high.

The picturesque Himalayan region is disputed between India and Pakistan and has been the scene of two wars.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died in violence between Indian security forces and rebels fighting for Kashmir’s independence or for its merger with Pakistan.

So the idea of the BJP taking even a share of power in Kashmir would have been unthinkable only a few months ago.

But Modi’s landslide national election win, and a meltdown in support for the incumbent chief minister after deadly floods in September, have given the BJP hope of a breakthrough.

Backed by a media blitz, Modi himself has addressed four campaign rallies in the territory since elections were announced in October, promising economic growth and corruption-free government and steering clear of discussing the territory’s disputed status.

Some analysts said Modi’s “development-only talk” in Kashmir was a simplistic approach.

“No Indian prime minister is going to make a difference in Kashmir unless he addresses the dispute,” said columnist Siddiq Wahid.

But Hina said change would only come to the region through development and not endless talk about independence.

“It is now up to the people whether they want to sulk and crib about their situation or they want a change,” Hina said.

Election results are due on December 23.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Dozens killed in Afghanistan as foreign troops head home

Sat, 12/13/2014 - 16:45

KABUL: 

The Afghan Taliban killed a Supreme Court official, a group of mine clearers and two foreign soldiers but also suffered heavy losses as violence intensifies in the run-up to the withdrawal of most international troops in the next two weeks.

The Afghan National Army said it had killed more than 50 insurgents in the past 48 hours. On Saturday, Taliban gunmen on motorbikes killed a dozen workers deactivating land mines near the former British base of Camp Bastion. In Kabul, more gunmen shot dead senior Supreme Court official Atiqullah Raoufi.

“As Atiqullah Raoufi was leaving his house, gunmen opened fire and shot him dead,” Hashmat Stanekzai, a spokesman for Kabul’s police chief, told Reuters, adding that no one had been detained. The Taliban, ousted from power by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, claimed responsibility, but did not say why it had killed him.

Two Nato soldiers were also killed on Friday in an attack in the east of Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said in a statement, without identifying their nationality.

The latest bout of violence comes ahead of the official end of Nato’s war against the Taliban on December 31 after 13 years of fighting. The bloodshed has wrecked claims that the insurgency is weakening and has highlighted fears that Afghanistan could trip into a spiral of violence as the US-led military presence declines.

On Saturday, a suicide bomber on foot detonated explosives next to the military bus in central Kabul, destroying the vehicle in one of the busiest parts of the city as people left work. “The suicide attack on an Afghan army bus today killed seven and injured 18 more, including some civilians,” General Ayoub Salangi, the deputy interior minister, said.

Earlier in the day, Taliban gunmen shot dead a senior Supreme Court official in the city as he left his home. Insurgents also killed 12 mine clearance workers in the restive southern province of Helmand in attack that President Ashraf Ghani condemned as “unjustifiable and un-Islamic”. The Taliban have targeted de-mining projects before, beheading seven workers Farah province in 2011.

On Thursday, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up among the audience attending a performance at a French cultural centre in Kabul, killing one German national and wounding 15 others. Other recent targets have included foreign guesthouses, a female Afghan member of parliament, a British embassy convoy and three members of a South African family killed when their compound was attacked.

Kabul has been hit by at least 12 suicide attacks in the last month. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on a visit to Kabul a week ago that the upsurge showed “that the international community must not waver in its support for a stable, secure and prosperous Afghanistan”.

He insisted Afghanistan would not go the way of Iraq, where another US-trained army virtually collapsed in the face of an onslaught by Islamic State jihadists after American troops left the country in 2011. But Afghan officials have expressed alarm over the challenge facing the local security forces who must increasingly tackle the insurgents without NATO military assistance.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Indian allegations, provocative statements not conducive to peace: FO

Sat, 12/13/2014 - 10:47

ISLAMABAD: After Indian defence minister warned Pakistan of a “strong response” for alleged cross-border terrorism, the Foreign Office on Saturday responded by saying that unfounded allegations and provocative statements were not conducive to peace in the region.

Following a week where 11 security personnel were killed in attacks in Indian Kashmir, for which Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had blamed Pakistan, Times of India reported.

“I feel that there has to be some strong response which will once and for all reduce these blatant attempts. It’s an open secret that they (militants) came from Pakistan.”

In response, the FO spokesperson in statement on Saturday said that these “unfounded allegations and provocative statements are not conducive to peace in the region.”

“There must not be any miscalculation about Pakistan’s resolve to defend itself and thwart any aggression.”


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Top Turkey cleric under fire over luxury Mercedes

Sat, 12/13/2014 - 10:18

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s top cleric came under fire on Saturday over reports that a luxury Mercedes had been purchased at public expense to serve as his official car — the latest government splurge to cause a public outcry.

Mehmet Gormez, the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, known as Diyanet in Turkish, will soon be cruising in a Mercedes s500, worth around $435,000, the Hurriyet newspaper reported Saturday.

Diyanet, whose budget is funded by taxpayers, bought another 14 Toyota cars for its senior officials, the newspaper said, noting that they previously rode in the more modest Renault Symbol.

The purchases have caused an online outcry in the mainly Muslim but officially secular country, which has been run by a government with Islamist roots for more than a decade.

Many argued that such extravagance was against Islamic principles.

“Let’s call the Fatwa (religious ruling) hotline and ask: Isn’t it haram — forbidden by Islam — to buy a luxury car for the head of Diyanet by using citizens’ donations?” Hakan Sukur, former international football player and MP, wrote on Twitter.

“One never knows who might have money or who might have faith in God,” opposition lawmaker Erdal Aksunger wrote, using a Turkish proverb. Another MP called on Gormez to resign.

Diyanet did not deny the reports, but said in a statement that the cars had been bought through state tenders and the cost was less than estimated by the press.

“All vehicles have been purchased with the approval of the finance ministry…. All expenses are documented in a transparent way,” it added.

Gormez was among top Turkish figures who welcomed Pope Francis to Turkey late last month. The pope, who has made a point of eschewing luxury, opted to ride in a Renault Symbol during his visit.

The debate comes amid ongoing controversy over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s new presidential palace, a 1,150-room complex in Ankara that cost taxpayers more than $600 million.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Computer fault identified as UK flight chaos abates

Sat, 12/13/2014 - 10:04

LONDON: A system failure affecting air traffic control workstations was to blame for disruption to thousands of passengers coming in and out of Britain’s biggest airports, officials said, as services returned to normal on Saturday.

A small number of flights remain delayed or cancelled at London’s Heathrow Airport, which calls itself the world’s busiest international airport, according to its website.

Air traffic officials said Friday’s system failure occurred during a switchover of air controllers’ workstations, which are put into operation or placed on standby as demand varies.

“In this instance a transition between the two states caused a failure in the system which has not been seen before,” National Air Traffic Service said in a statement.

“The failure meant that the controllers were unable to access all of the data regarding individual flight plans which significantly increases their workload,” NATS said, adding that traffic was then reduced.

British Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin had on Friday demanded a full explanation for the glitch that forced authorities to limit access to British airspace at one of the busiest times of year.

He will appear before lawmakers on Monday as a parliamentary committee begins an investigation into the disruption.

The disruption was the second such incident in just over a year to hit NATS’s hub at Swanwick in southern England, one of two main centres.


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