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India officials red-faced over video of child cleaners

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 11:23

LUCKNOW: Officials in one of India’s most populous states were left red-faced on Monday after a video emerged showing children cleaning up a medical college in preparation for a top politician’s visit.

The video, broadcast on the NDTV network, showed children as young as 10 cleaning and sweeping the college grounds in Uttar Pradesh state before the arrival of its chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav.

The footage comes just weeks after India’s child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace Prize, which shone an international spotlight on India’s high levels of child labour.

One of the children told the NDTV they were being paid “200 rupees” ($3.20) ahead of Yadav’s arrival at the college in Kannauj city on Sunday to address a seminar.

A spokesperson for the Uttar Pradesh government told AFP the incident would be thoroughly investigated.

“Though it is not in my knowledge, it indeed is a deplorable thing. The matter will be probed and the guilty shall be punished for sure,” Rajendra Chaudhary said.

The head of the college said action was already underway following the incident, adding that cleaning was conducted by a separate body which had probably outsourced Sunday’s job to a private vendor.

“I would like to clarify that the college administration has nothing to do with this,” said college dean VN Tripathi.

Uttar Pradesh, with a population of 204 million, has one of the country’s highest levels of child labour, according to NGOs and official statistics.

Satyarthi, 60, was this month jointly awarded the Nobel prize with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage education campaigner shot by the Taliban in 2012.

The Indian activist, who argues that poverty should not be an excuse for child labour, was recognised for doggedly championing children’s rights in his home country and worldwide for decades.

India’s mega cities such as Delhi and Mumbai are a particular target for criminal gangs whom police say traffic children in much the same way they sell drugs.

Most of these children end up as construction or domestic workers. Others take up rag-picking, agricultural work or industries such as fireworks, tobacco and carpet weaving.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Pakistan wins seat on ITU administrative council

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 10:35

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has been elected to the administrative council of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

According to an official release, Pakistan won the seat at the administrative council of ITU during the elections held during the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference currently in progress in Busan, South Korea.

Pakistan secured 101 votes out of a total of 168 votes to secure a position in the administrative, management and policy making body of the telecommunication body.

The Council is the premier board for global telecom’s policy making body of the UN with a mandate to consider broad global policy issues in the field of ICTs and telecommunications, and thereby ensure that the Union’s policies, activities and strategy fully respond to today’s dynamic and fast-changing environment.

The members of the Council are elected for a term of four years by the members of ITU at the Plenipotentiary Conference.

The victory is attributed to the collective efforts of government and the telecom industry of Pakistan and is a testimony of renewed confidence of the world community in the policy adopted by the Pakistani government for growth in ICT sectors and also recognises the important role that the world community expects Pakistan to play in the global ICT policy arena.


Rahman selected for GEMTECH 2014 award

The Minister of State for Telecommunication Anusha Rahman has been leading the campaign throughout and she is the finalist of “GEMTECH Award, 2014”. It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan had lost its position in the previous Plenipotentiary, held in 2010.

Rahman was selected for initiating a number of projects and programmes that have brought Pakistan closer to the international pace of growth in the IT industry, that enable enhanced role of women in the sector as well as enhanced benefit of women in general from ICT services and systems.

These include information sharing mechanisms on areas like maternity health, disbursing stipends to school going girls and welfares to poverty ridden families and the legislation for the prevention of Cyber Crime bill.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

'Outrage' as South Africa football captain shot dead

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 08:43

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma on Monday led a shocked nation in voicing outrage at the killing of national football captain Senzo Meyiwa after the talismanic goalkeeper was shot dead outside Johannesburg.

The 27-year-old was killed late Sunday at the home of his pop-star girlfriend Kelly Khumalo after an altercation, in a slaying that stunned the crime-weary nation.

“Words cannot express the nation’s shock at this loss,” said Zuma, amid a national outpouring of grief.

Zuma said police must “leave no stone unturned in finding his killers” and bringing them to justice.

Fighting back a flood of tears, national football coach Shakes Mashaba described Meyiwa as a “very kind person” who was the first name on his teamsheet.

Police have offered a reward of 150,000 rand ($14,000) for any information leading to his killer’s arrest.

This is just the latest tragedy to befall the country’s sporting fraternity.

South Africa is still reeling from the death of former world 800-metre champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi who died in a car crash on Friday and the jailing of fallen Paralympic hero Oscar Pistorius, who killed his girlfriend.

Pirates management on Monday said news of Meyiwa’s death had hit the club hard, with a players’ meeting on Monday seeing “uncontrollable” sobbing and crying.

Meyiwa’s South African team-mate Dean Furman was among the first to react to the tragedy.

“Beyond devastated at the loss of our captain and friend Senzo Meyiwa. Thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this terrible time,” tweeted England-based Furman, who plays for Doncaster Rovers in the third-tier of the English league.

Dennis Mumble, the Chief Executive Officer of the South African Football Association, said “The country is crying.”

Police Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale said Meyiwa was gunned down at a house in Vosloorus, a township about 30 kilometres south of the Johannesburg at around 2000 (1800 GMT).

Makgale said that the motive behind the attack remained unclear.

“There was an altercation and Senzo Meyiwa was shot. The three suspects fled on foot after the shooting.”

“We can assure South Africans that we will do all we can to bring Meyiwa’s killers to book.”

Police later said there were seven people inside the house, including Meyiwa, when two suspects entered and another remained outside.

After many years in the South African football shadows, Meyiwa had a meteoric climb to fame with his club the Orlando Pirates.

Meyiwa played for his club in Soweto Saturday and has been in outstanding form for the national team during recent 2015 Africa Cup qualifiers.

He displaced national squad goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs as first-choice at Pirates, the only South African side to be crowned African champions.

And a recent injury to South Africa captain and goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune gave Meyiwa a chance in the national team, popularly known as Bafana Bafana (The Boys).

New national coach Mashaba not only promoted Durban-born Meyiwa to replace Khune but also made him captain of a team that has been in the doldrums for some years.

Meyiwa responded to his promotion by leading the team to victories over Sudan and Congo Brazzaville and draws with Congo and Nigeria, a country South Africa traditionally struggle against.

He did not concede a goal in the four matches and if South Africa defeat Sudan in eastern city Nelspruit on October 15 they will qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations tournament.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Family tortures, kills Indian woman for 'witchcraft'

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 08:13

RAIPUR: A woman has been tortured and beaten to death by her in-laws in central India on suspicion of being a witch and practising black magic, police said Monday.

Police in the central state of Chhattisgarh said relatives attacked the 55-year-old widow on Sunday after claiming her witchcraft had caused her nephew’s ill health.

“Chilli powder was put in her eyes, ears and private parts and they thrashed her severely, because of which she died,” Narendra Khare, Bemetara district police chief, told AFP.

The district is 125 kilometres west of the state capital Raipur.

Khare said the victim’s brother-in-law, his wife and other relatives of her late husband confronted her over the sick boy, demanding that she reverse whatever “black magic” had caused the illness.

When she protested her innocence, the relatives attacked her with sticks and punched and kicked her in front of her 28-year-old son. He later took her to hospital where she was declared dead.

Twelve people, including the brother-in-law and five women, have been arrested over the incident, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The incident highlights the persistence of belief in witchcraft and the occult in some impoverished and tribal-dominated areas of India, leading to crimes mainly against women.

In some cases women are stripped naked as punishment, burnt alive or driven from their homes and killed.

In July this year villagers in the eastern state of Bihar — one of India’s most underdeveloped — killed a woman whom they accused of being a witch.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Taliban storm Afghan court, kill seven: officials

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 08:00

KUNDUZ: Taliban militants stormed a court in northern Afghanistan on Monday and killed at least seven people including prosecutors, officials said.

Four attackers wearing army uniforms attacked a provincial appeals court in the city of Kunduz, triggering a four-hour gunbattle with Afghan security forces, provincial police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini told AFP.

“They first blew up an explosives-laden car at the gate of the court and then entered the building,” he said.

“The attackers killed six court officials and one police. Eight people were wounded,” he said, adding that the militants were also killed.

Chief prosecutor Amruddin Amin said the gunmen went door-to-door in the court compound, shooting their victims at close range.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on their website and said several court officials and prosecutors were killed.

They did not elaborate on the motive for the attack but the court was hearing several cases against Taliban militants.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

India reveals names in quest for hidden foreign assets

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 06:39

NEW DELHI: India’s government revealed Monday the names of three prominent businessmen accused of illegally stashing funds in foreign bank accounts as it seeks to recover billions of dollars parked abroad.

The ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pledged to crack down on “black money” after winning power in May, accusing the previous Congress government of failing to get tough on the issue that had become a political lightning rod.

The government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Monday naming Pradip Burman, a former executive director of the Dabur food group, bullion trader Pankaj Chimanlal Lodhiya and mine operator Radha Timbola as among those under scrutiny.

The government said in its affidavit it was “committed to disclose the names of persons holding illegal money… following due process of law, and in all cases where tax evasion is established”.

The government was under pressure to file the affidavit following petitions including from activist Subramanian Swamy, who has waged an aggressive campaign to prosecute wealthy people with undeclared funds offshore.

Sambit Patra, a BJP spokesperson, called disclosure of the names “a historic day in the black money case”.

“The process of disclosure of names has started,” Patra told reporters, referring to a list that local media says contains hundreds of names.

But opposition Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh accused the BJP of “selective revelation” of names and said the process smacked of “blackmail, not black money”.

Several prominent figures of the Congress party, dogged by multi-billion-dollar graft scandals while in power, are reportedly on the list of people with untaxed funds abroad but their names have not been disclosed.

Subramanian Swamy said he did not understand why the government had not disclosed all of the names of alleged offenders at once.

“I do not see any legal issues in releasing all 700 names. I hope the government will release all the names very soon,” he told India’s CNN-IBN television network.

Swiftly after taking office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi set up a team of regulators and ex-judges to repatriate illicit funds kept in Swiss and other foreign bank accounts to avoid taxes.

There is no firm estimate of the amount of black money at home and abroad, but it is believed to amount to hundreds of billions of dollars.

The Dabur group said in a statement that Burman opened his foreign account while a non-resident Indian and “was legally allowed to open this account”.

Lodhiya told reporters he was in compliance with all tax laws, adding, “I have no foreign bank account”.

The mine operator named was not immediately available for comment.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Rousseff vows dialogue, reform after narrow Brazil win

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 06:11

RIO DE JANEIRO: Leftist President Dilma Rousseff vowed to reconcile Brazil, reboot the economy and fight corruption after narrowly winning reelection Sunday in the most divisive race since the return to democracy in 1985.

Rousseff, the first woman president of the world’s seventh-largest economy, took 51.6 percent of the vote to 48.4 percent for business favorite Aecio Neves in a run-off election.

After a vitriolic campaign that largely split the country between the poor north and wealthier south, Rousseff crucially picked up enough middle-class votes in the industrialized southeast to cement a fourth straight win for her Workers’ Party (PT).

She will start her second four-year term on January 1 facing a laundry list of challenges: governing a polarized country, winning back the confidence of markets and investors, rebooting the stagnant economy and tackling corruption.

The 66-year-old, a former leftist guerrilla who was jailed and tortured for fighting the 1964-1985 dictatorship, called for unity in her victory speech.

And she promised to listen to voters’ demands for change.

“This president is open to dialogue. This is the top priority of my second term,” she told supporters in the capital Brasilia, clad in white alongside two-term predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

After four years of sluggish economic growth culminating in recession this year, she admitted her own report card had to improve.

“I want to be a much better president than I have been to date,” she said, issuing “a call for peace and unity” after a bitter campaign of low blows and mutual recriminations.

In Sao Paulo, capital of the country’s wealthiest state, Neves supporters watched the scene in disgust and chanted “Kick the PT out!”

Neves, a 54-year-old senator, called Rousseff to congratulate her.

“I told her the priority should be to unite Brazil,” he told disappointed supporters in Belo Horizonte, where he served two terms as governor of Minas Gerais state.

The race was widely seen as a referendum on 12 years of PT government, with voters weighing the party’s landmark social gains against Neves’s promise of economic revival.

The PT endeared itself to the masses with landmark social programs that have lifted 40 million Brazilians from poverty, increased wages and brought unemployment to a record-low 4.9 percent.

But the outlook has darkened since Rousseff won election in 2010, the year economic growth peaked at 7.5 percent.

She has presided over rising inflation and a recession this year, amid protests against corruption, record spending on the World Cup and poor public services.

Analysts said she would face steep challenges to govern for the next four years.

“Dilma’s narrow victory sets up a major challenge: She has to unite a Brazil split in two by tremendous animosity,” said political analyst Daniel Barcelos Vargas of the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

“Brazilians won’t tolerate corruption anymore and want more public services and economic growth.”

Rousseff has been hit hard by corruption scandals, notably a multi-billion-dollar embezzlement scheme implicating dozens of politicians – mainly her allies – at state-owned oil giant Petrobras.

The campaign was a fierce battle for Rousseff, who has a reputation for toughness and an iron grasp of even the smallest policy details.

In the first round, she had to fend off a blistering challenge by popular environmentalist Marina Silva, who at one point looked poised to make good on her vow to become Brazil’s first “poor, black” president.

Rousseff managed to win the first round on October 5, only to fall behind Neves in the opinion polls as Silva endorsed him.

A furious Rousseff went on the attack, accusing Neves of nepotism in Minas Gerais and playing up a report that he once hit his then-girlfriend in public.

Neves, the grandson of the man elected Brazil’s first post-dictatorship president, responded by accusing Rousseff of lying and “collusion” in the Petrobras kickbacks.

Rousseff now has to try to win back the confidence of the business world after defeating its darling.

Markets have grown allergic to the president, with stocks and the real currency falling every time her poll numbers rose during the campaign.

“Rousseff’s first challenge is to reconcile with the market, to begin a good dialogue with the business sector, the financial sector, which were undoubtedly very unhappy with her,” said political analyst Marco Antonio Teixeira of the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo.

The president has already announced plans to replace Finance Minister Guido Mantega, and investors are watching closely to see who she names.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

US sees Syria rebels in political, not military solution

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 04:28

The United States does not expect Syrian rebels it plans to train to fight Islamic State militants to also take on President Bashar al Assad’s forces, but sees them as a crucial part of a political solution to end the war, a senior US official said.

The United States, which is leading an international coalition bombing Islamic State in Syria, has said it wants to train and equip “moderate” rebels to fight the militant group which has seized tracts of land in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

Asked whether those rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) units would ultimately go on to fight Syrian government forces, John Allen, the US representative to the coalition, told the Asharq al Awsat daily:

“No. What we would like to see is for the FSA and the forces that we will ultimately generate, train and equip to become the credible force that the Assad government ultimately has to acknowledge and recognize.”

“There is not going to be a military solution here,” he added, in comments published at the weekend on the newspaper’s English language website.

The Free Syrian Army is a term used to describe dozens of armed groups fighting to overthrow Assad but with little or no central command. They have been widely outgunned by Islamist insurgents such as Islamic State.

Rebel fighters have voiced frustration with the US-led approach to fighting Islamic State. They say Washington and its Arab allies are too focused on quashing the militant group at the expense of confronting Syrian government forces, which many rebels still see as the ultimate enemy.

The Syrian air force has ramped up its own bombing campaign on insurgent-held areas since the US-led air strikes began last month, increasing rebel fears that the government is profiting from the distraction of the coalition campaign.



Allen said there was a need to build up the credibility of the moderate Syrian opposition at a political level, adding that it was normal for rebel forces to clash with the Syrian military as they seek to defend their territory and families.

“But the intent is not to create a field force to liberate Damascus – that is not the intent,” Allen, a retired US general, told the newspaper.

“The intent is that in the political outcome, they must be a prominent – perhaps the preeminent voice – at the table to ultimately contribute to the political outcome that we seek,” he said at the start of a Middle East tour.

US President Barack Obama said last month he wanted to train and equip Free Syrian Army rebels to “strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to the extremists” and to prevent US troops from being dragged into another ground war.

“The outcome that we seek in Syria is akin to the (anti-Islamic State) strategy that fits into a much larger regional strategy and that outcome is a political outcome that does not include Assad,” Allen said.

The United Nations says more than 191,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian uprising against Assad’s rule in 2011. Rights groups say the actual figure is higher.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Israel greenlights plans for 1,000 Jerusalem settler homes

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 04:20

JERUSALEM: The Israeli government has given the green light for the planning of more than 1,000 new Jewish settler homes in annexed Arab east Jerusalem, an official told AFP on Monday.

“The government has decided to advance the planning of more than 1,000 units in Jerusalem – roughly 400 in Har Homa and about 600 in Ramat Shlomo,” the official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in English, referring to two existing east Jerusalem settlements.

He did not elaborate and declined to comment on the likely political and diplomatic impact of such a move at a time when Palestinians and the international community are already incensed at latest settler moves in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan, where there have been almost nightly clashes for months.

“There is never a good time to do such things, now more than ever as Jerusalem is burning,” Lior Amichai of settlement watchdog Peace Now told AFP.

He said it was unclear from the statement whether the government was close to issuing construction tenders or wanted to fast-track plans in their early stages.

Ties between Israel and its close ally, the United States have become increasingly frayed over Israeli officials’ public criticism of US foreign policy and the Obama administration’s alarm at Netanyahu’s relentless settlement-building.

The Israeli official also said that plans would be “advanced for infrastructure projects in the West Bank that will include roads for the Palestinians.”

Categories: Pakistan & World News

NYC boy being observed for possible Ebola symptoms

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 04:06

SYDNEY: A 5-year-old boy is being observed in isolation at Bellevue Hospital in New York City for possible Ebola symptoms, according to media reports on Monday.

The boy, who arrived in the United States on Saturday from Guinea, had a 39 degrees Celsius fever, ABC News reported.

He has not been tested for the virus and is not under quarantine, ABC said, citing officials with New York City’s health department.

The New York Post reported that the boy had been vomiting and was transported from his home in the Bronx by emergency medical workers.

Representatives for the city’s health department could not be immediately reached for comment.

Australia suspends immigration from Ebola-hit nations

Australia said Monday it was suspending migration from Ebola-hit West African nations to try to prevent the virus from crossing its borders, as a teenager who arrived from Guinea tested negative for the disease.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told parliament the government had stopped issuing visas to people from those countries hit by the disease, which has claimed close to 5,000 lives in its worst outbreak.

“These measures include temporarily suspending our immigration programme, including our humanitarian programme, from EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) affected countries,” he said.

“This means we are not processing any application from these affected countries.”

People who had already been granted visas on humanitarian grounds would be able to travel to Australia, but would be subject to three separate health checks before departure as well as screening on arrival.

But officials would cancel and refuse non-permanent or temporary visas for people who had not yet departed for Australia, Morrison said.

The restrictions came as an 18-year-old girl who arrived in Australia from Guinea 12 days ago with eight relatives remained in isolation in a Queensland hospital after testing negative for Ebola, authorities said.

The teenager – who was moving to Australia permanently on a humanitarian visa – had been under home quarantine in Brisbane before she developed a raised temperature and was placed in isolation at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital on Sunday.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young announced the negative results Monday and told reporters “she now has no fever, which is a really good sign”.

“She of course was very relieved to be given the information,” Young said, adding that the teenage girl would remain in hospital and undergo a second test for the deadly virus on Wednesday.

“She understands that a second test needs to be done. But given that her fever has resolved at this time, and she’s got no other symptoms, she’s feeling well.”

Three other families who arrived recently in Queensland from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the vast majority of Ebola cases have occurred, are in home quarantine and being monitored by health officials, Young added.

“They’ve all come from sites in West Africa that have had, you know, significant numbers of transmission of Ebola virus disease,” Young said.

“So they’re at an increased risk so that’s why we’ve asked each of them to go into home quarantine.”

The girl, whose name and nationality were not released, was the 12th person tested for Ebola in Australia, Health Minister Peter Dutton said. All have tested negative.

Morrison called on Australians and other travellers to inform immigration officials about their travel history when they enter the country “if you have been in West Africa up to 21 days prior to your arrival”.

“This is especially important if you have had a broken journey en route to Australia,” he said.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Iran appoints acid attacks probe chief

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 03:58

TEHRAN: Iran’s judiciary chief has tasked his deputy to lead an investigation into several acid attacks on women that have sown fear across the Islamic republic and provoked rare protests in cities.

With political attention increasingly focused on the attacks – at least four women have been doused in acid by assailants on motorcycles – Iran’s authorities have pledged to find and punish those responsible.

Reports on social networks have claimed that the victims were targeted on the face and body because they were not properly veiled, but Iranian authorities have denied such a link.

President Hassan Rouhani addressed the issue in a meeting with his ministers on Sunday evening, Iranian media reported.

“People should be in no doubt that the government is doing everything to arrest those responsible for these crimes,” he said.

“The most severe punishment awaits them.”

The attacks in Isfahan, Iran’s third largest city and a top tourist attraction, occurred earlier this month and prompted more than 1,000 people to take to the streets last Wednesday to demand better security.

There were also two smaller protests in Tehran last week.

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani has appointed his deputy, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejeie, to lead the investigation.

“It is an inhuman act, unlawful, violent and anti-Islamic. Everyone must help to arrest those responsible,” said Mohseni-Ejeie, who will have power to oversee the justice and police authorities in Isfahan.

According to justice officials, the last acid attack in Isfahan took place on October 15.

There has been little progress in finding the attackers. Several men who had been arrested were released due to insufficient evidence.

Under Islamic law in force in Iran since the 1979 revolution, women must wear loose clothing, known as hijab, that covers the head and neck and which conceals their hair.

But many women now push the boundaries by wearing a headscarf and thin coat rather than the chador, a traditional black garment that covers the body from head to toe.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Tall claims: 134 mobile schools for Pakistani IDPs in Afghanistan

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 02:29

ISLAMABAD: Afghan officials claimed on Sunday that they have established 134 mobile schools for children of displaced tribesmen who have migrated to Afghanistan following military operations in Waziristan tribal regions.

Thousands of families from North and South Waziristan agencies have crossed into eastern Afghanistan and most of them now live in parts of Khost and Paktika provinces. Most of the tribesmen fled North Waziristan after the security forces launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb against local and foreign militants in mid-June.

Muhammad Kabir Haqmal, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s Education Ministry, told The Express Tribune by the phone from Kabul that 54 schools started functioning in Paktika this week which accommodate 3,500 Pakistani children, while 2,000 children study in schools in Khost province. “We have recruited 54 teachers from the Pakistani refugees,” he added.

The UN Children Fund Unicef and the Norwegian Refugee Council have helped the Afghan government in the establishment of these schools. Haqmal said 93 more mobile schools will be set up in the next few days. He claimed that there were nearly 25,000 Pakistani families in Khost and 21,000 in Paktika.

Afghan officials earlier put the number of displaced Pakistani tribesmen at 100,000 – a claim disputed by Pakistani officials who say that many of those who had crossed into Afghanistan are now returning to the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2014.

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Operation Zarb-e-Azb: TTP sets up new sanctuaries in Afghanistan

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 16:46


Pakistani officials claim to have found evidence of ‘new sanctuaries’ set up by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates in the Afghan territory near the border with North Waziristan Agency, where a massive military operation, codenamed Zarb-e-Azb, has been ongoing since mid-June.

A senior security official told The Express Tribune that the new sanctuaries have been established to create difficulties for Pakistan’s military and disrupt Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the troubled agency. “It is a worrying development that the TTP is regrouping close to the border right under the nose of the Afghan security forces,” said the official, who did not wish to be named.

When asked, the official did not rule out the possibility of ‘tacit support’ from Afghan security agencies for the new Taliban sanctuaries. Despite repeated requests, Afghan authorities have done little to dislodge militants from their side of the Durand Line, he added. ‘The lack of action from Afghan authorities has encouraged the terrorists to carve out new sanctuaries.”

Pakistan has long urged Afghanistan to eliminate what it calls ‘safe havens’ of the TTP in northeastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Fugitive TTP chief Mullah Fazllullah is also believed to be hiding in those areas. Islamabad has sought Fazllulah’s extradition from Afghanistan, but Kabul is not forthcoming to such a demand.

The Afghan inaction stems from a trust-deficit with Pakistan. While Pakistan voiced concern over Afghanistan’s reluctance to cooperate against the TTP, Kabul continues to believe that the country’s security establishment is still supporting Afghan insurgents. Recently, an acting Afghan interior minister reiterated these allegations against Pakistan while speaking at a conference in New Delhi.

However, with the formation of the new unity government led by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Islamabad is hoping for a new beginning.

“I think we should give the new Afghan government a benefit of doubt. Whatever has happened at the border is due to the policies of Karzai administration,” commented another government official. He said Pakistan was looking forward to the new Afghan leadership for fresh start.

The official pointed out that Pakistan has already conveyed to the Afghan administration that it would not allow its territory to be used against any other country. “We expect the same from Kabul now,” he added.

Islamabad believes cooperation from Kabul would be crucial for eradicating the ‘terror infrastructure’ from North Waziristan.

The military on Sunday also claimed that they have killed 18 suspected terrorists during ‘precise’ aerial strikes in parts of Khyber Agency where Operation Khyber-I has been ongoing for the past few days. “A huge cache of arms and ammunition was also destroyed,” said the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police chief is said to have requested the federal government for manpower to deal with security threats emanating from Operation Khyber-I.

According to documents available with Express News, intelligence agencies have warned in a report that Khyber Agency has become a safe haven for terrorists who have fled Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. They plan to use Khyber Agency as a springboard for launching attacks in Peshawar and elsewhere in the province.

The IG police highlighted the pressing need for deployment of 4,000 Frontier Constabulary personnel in the areas lying between Peshawar and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Provincial authorities, according to sources, have warned that if these areas were not secured, the terrorists might carry out a major attack in Peshawar.

Sources said that the authorities have also shared the reports of intelligence agencies with the federal interior ministry. They revealed that law enforcers have recently foiled three major terror plots and arrested suspected terrorists.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Concerns mount over US Ebola quarantine

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 12:35

WASHINGTON: A controversial decision to impose Ebola quarantines in three US states sparked criticism Sunday, as the first American nurse isolated under the order blasted her treatment as “inhumane.”

Health authorities also expressed concern that the strict new rules will discourage badly needed health workers from volunteering in the crisis in West Africa, where more than 4,900 people have already died in the worst ever outbreak of the hemorrhagic virus.

Kaci Hickox, a nurse who flew into New Jersey Friday after caring for the ill in Sierra Leone, one of the hardest hit countries by the epidemic, told CNN, “I feel like my basic human rights have been violated.”

She has been isolated in a hospital out of fears she could develop the disease later, given its 21-day incubation period. She said she is being kept outside the main hospital building, with only a hospital bed, a non-flush chemical toilet, and no shower.

In an interview with CNN‘s State of the Union Sunday, Hickox said she has not been told how long she will have to remain in the hospital.

“When I arrived, I was not symptomatic, and that Friday they tested my blood, and I am negative,” she said, which means there is “no way to be contagious.”

“And for anyone to tell me that I need to be isolated and be under a quarantine is just completely unacceptable.”

“To put me in prison,” she said, “is just inhumane.”

The strict new rules in New York, New Jersey and Illinois require a three-week quarantine for anyone exposed to the disease.

Health authorities say the measure could be counterproductive.

“The best way to protect us is to stop (the outbreak) in Africa, and one of the best ways to stop it in Africa is to get health workers who are going there and helping them with their problem,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci told CNN Sunday.

But “when they come back, they need to be treated in a way that doesn’t disincentivise them from going there,” he said.

Fauci stressed that the scientific evidence “tells us people who are not ill, who don’t have symptoms, with whom you don’t come into contact with body fluids, they are not a threat, they are not going to spread it.”

But New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended his state’s mandatory quarantine, calling it necessary “to protect the public health of the people of New Jersey.”

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Christie said: “I think this is a policy that will become a national policy sooner rather than later.”

He rejected arguments it would discourage health workers from travelling to the most impacted zone, saying “I believe that folks who want to take that step, willing to volunteer, also understand it’s in their interests and the public health interests to have a 21-day” quarantine.

New York, New Jersey and Illinois ordered the mandatory measure on Friday.

US envoy to the United Nations Samantha Power has also expressed concern the new quarantine policies were “haphazard and not well thought out.”

“We cannot take measures here that are going to impact our ability to flood the zone” with health workers, Power said Sunday during a stop in Guinea.

Fauci said Sunday, on ABC This Week: “As a scientist and as a health person, if I were asked, I would not have recommended” the quarantine.

He emphasised it is possible to monitor at-risk people by having “somebody taking your temperature, asking you if you have symptoms.”

“There’s a big, big difference between completely confining somebody that they can’t even get outside and doing the appropriate monitoring based on scientific evidence,” he said on CNN.

So far there have been nine cases of Ebola in the United States, most among health workers who volunteered in Africa, with only one death.

In the most recent case, the first in New York, doctor Craig Spencer, 33, tested positive a week after returning from Guinea.

Although he was monitoring for symptoms, he spent the days prior to falling ill moving around the city, including riding the subway and going bowling the night before he developed a fever, raising public fears he could have infected others.

But health authorities have said the risk is extremely low.

Ebola is spread though close contact with the sweat, vomit, blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Delhi Jama Masjid’s Imam attacked

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 11:23

DELHI: Delhi Jama Masjid’s Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari was attacked on Sunday evening, The Hindu reported.

According to details Bukhari was leading the evening prayers when a man threw a bottle of kerosene on him. However, the Imam remained unharmed in the incident.

The attacker, who is identified as Kamaluddin, 32, was immediately nabbed by the personal security officers of Bukhari and later handed over to local police. Kamaluddin is a resident of 24-Parganas district of West Bengal.

“The incident took place when the Imam was leading maghrib namaz (evening prayer). A man suddenly threw a plastic bottle which had kerosene at him from behind. The attacker was caught by Imam’s PSOs. He has been taken to the nearby police station,” said Imam’s official spokesperson Amanullah.

Additional Commissioner of Police (Central) Alok Kumar said that the man has been taken into custody and is being questioned.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Indonesia's Widodo takes office, reaches out to foes

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 14:27

JAKARTA: Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s first leader without deep roots in the era of dictator Suharto, was sworn in as president Monday and immediately reached out to his political foes to seek support for his ambitious reform agenda.

The inauguration, which was attended by foreign dignitaries including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, capped a remarkable rise for a softly-spoken politician who was brought up in a riverside slum.

Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, worked his way up through local politics before securing the presidency in July following a close race against controversial ex-general Prabowo Subianto.

He is the country’s first president from outside an ageing band of political and military figures who have ruled the world’s third-biggest democracy since the end of the three-decade Suharto dictatorship in 1998.

But there are fears that a hostile parliament dominated by parties that opposed Widodo at the election, and the new leader’s status as a political outsider, could make it hard for him to push through reforms aimed at reviving Southeast Asia’s top economy and helping society’s poorest.

At a ceremony in parliament, Widodo, wearing a black suit and traditional cap, stood for the national anthem alongside Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is stepping down after a decade in power, before taking the oath.

During his first speech as president, he called for unity following the most bitterly fought election in Indonesian history.

“Unity and working hand in hand are prerequisites for us to be a great nation,” Widodo, a 53-year-old former furniture exporter who won legions of fans during his time as Jakarta governor, told parliament. “We will never become a great nation if we are stuck with division.”

“This is a historic moment for us all to move together, to work and work,” the president urged, and insisted that the government would help citizens right across the world’s biggest archipelago nation.

The new leader also referred to Prabowo as “my best friend” during the speech, and the ex-general responded by standing up and giving a salute.

It was the latest sign of a thaw between the pair, after Prabowo only grudgingly conceded defeat and his supporters threatened to block the new leader’s reforms in parliament. However, analysts cautioned the reconciliation may be short-lived.

Tens of thousands lined the streets across Jakarta to celebrate the inauguration of Widodo, who was later expected to travel through the capital by horse-drawn carriage with new vice president, Jusuf Kalla, to the presidential palace.

In the evening the new leader, a heavy metal fan, is expected to join rock bands on stage at an outdoor concert.

About 24,000 police and military personnel were deployed to secure the day’s events.

But the euphoria of the inauguration is likely to be short-lived, analysts warn, as Widodo faces up to the task of leading the world’s fourth most populous country, with 250 million people spread over more than 17,000 islands, at a critical moment.

Economic growth is at five-year lows, corruption remains rampant, and fears are mounting that support for the Islamic State group could spawn a new generation of radicals in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Kerry’s attendance was in part aimed at seeking support from Indonesia and other Southeast Asian nations in the fight against the extremists, who have taken over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Widodo’s first test will be to reduce the huge fuel subsidies that eat up about a fifth of the budget, a move economists say is urgently needed but which risks sparking large street protests.

Prospects for his ambitious reforms dimmed in recent weeks after Prabowo’s supporters in parliament used their majority to abolish the direct election of local leaders, a move opposed by Widodo, and win key posts in the legislature.

Prabowo’s appearance at the inauguration and an unexpected meeting with Widodo Friday during which he pledged support have raised hopes that tensions are easing, but observers say the ex-general may still oppose the new leader’s policies.

Widodo is also expected to announce his new cabinet later in the week.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Planet marks hottest September since 1880: US

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:25

WASHINGTON: Last month was the hottest September for globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces since record-keeping began in 1880, the US government said on Monday.

“It also marked the 38th consecutive September with a global temperature above the 20th century average,” said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

When combining average temperature over land and ocean surfaces, NOAA found a record high for September at 60.3 Fahrenheit (15.72 Celsius), or 1.3 F (0.72 C) above the 20th century average.

“With the exception of February, every month to date in 2014 has been among its four warmest on record, with May, June, August and September all record warm,” said the NOAA report.

It said most of the land on Earth was warmer than normal last month, except for central Russia, some areas in eastern and northern Canada, and a small region in Namibia.

“Record warmth was notable in much of northwestern Africa, coastal regions of southeastern South America, southwestern Australia, parts of the Middle East, and regions of southeastern Asia.”

When it came to the world’s oceans, the September global sea surface temperature was 1.19 F (0.66 C) above the 20th century average, the highest on record for September.

“This also marked the highest departure from average for any month since records began in 1880, breaking the previous record of 1.17 F (0.65 C) set just one month earlier in August,” said NOAA.

It said record warmth was observed in parts of every major ocean basin, particularly in the northeastern and equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Pakistan, Afghanistan working on 'roadmap' for tension-free ties: Aziz

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 11:31

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Monday that it was working with Afghanistan on a “comprehensive road-map” to improve bilateral relations between the two countries, which will be free of mistrust and will focus on constructive engagement and economic cooperation.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, who in a day-long visit to Kabul on Sunday, met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders, told reporters in Islamabad that both sides agreed not to allow anyone to use their territories against each other.

“It was agreed during my visit to Afghanistan that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used and Afghanistan will not allow its territory,” Aziz said.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have nearly 2,200 kilometer border, mostly porous, and both blame each other for loose control that enables the militants to illegally cross it.

For this purpose, Aziz said both sides had also agreed to put in place a mechanism for better border management. Further, discussions will be held on the issue of implementing bio-metric systems, opening of new routes and documentation.

“There will be a mechanism on local level so that local commanders could talk if there is any issue, then higher commanders, then intelligence agencies, then at foreign policy level the political level,” he said.

The adviser said that both countries will devise a comprehensive mechanism through which political interaction military-to-military interaction, foreign policy interaction and people to people interaction will be enhanced.

“This mechanism is being evolved and a draft standing operating procedure for border management has been prepared. These measures will address to mistrust. We will build economic and trade cooperation on their basis,” Sartaj said.

Mistrust and blame game between Pakistan and Afghanistan over the years badly affected bilateral cooperation on security matters between the two neighbouring countries.

He said that these issues will be discussed in coming days and will be finalised when President Ghani visits Pakistan, adding that the dates of the visit are being finalised.

No repeat of 1990s

During the Trilateral dialogue on China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Aziz warned that as Afghanistan enters a transition, there should be no repeat of the 1990s with outside attempts to fill any void in Afghanistan.

“Conscious of the lessons of history, Pakistan has been consistently stressing that there should be no repeat of the 1990s. In our view, every effort should be made to ensure that neither there is any attempt from outside to fill any perceived security vacuum in Afghanistan, nor is there any economic vacuum allowed to emerge.”

Aziz added that the international community’s enhanced engagement for Afghanistan’s economic development and reconstruction remains critical, as it would have “reinforcing effect on efforts for peace and stability.”

Trilateral contribution for Afghanistan

The adviser further listed Pakistan’s vision for trilateral cooperation contributing in the following areas:

i) Supporting Afghanistan’s efforts for peace and stability.

ii) Addressing common challenges of extremism and terrorism.

iii) Strengthening capacity-building of Afghan national security forces (ANSF).

iv) Reinforcing Afghanistan’s economic development, particularly in the mining sector.

v)  Promoting connectivity for trade and energy corridors.

vi) Advancing a regional consensus on non-interference.

vii) Mobilising regional and international support for stability in Afghanistan.

Iran- Pak tensions

Replying to questions about the recent Iran-Pakistan border tension that have led to troop casualties on both sides, the Pakistani adviser said a large number of militant groups, smugglers and criminal elements are operating in the border areas who are responsible for the current escalations.

Iran and Pakistani troops traded fire along their border in Balochsitan which resulted in the killing of at least four troops on both sides.

Aziz said that both countries are working on a mechanism to enhance interaction of local security officials for interaction to ward off such incidents.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Sri Lanka heads for snap presidential poll

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 08:23

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka will hold a presidential election in January, almost two years ahead of schedule, in which Mahinda Rajapakse will seek a third term, the information minister said Monday.

An early election had been widely expected. But the remarks by minister Keheliya Rambukwella were the first confirmation that Rajapakse was seeking a fresh mandate after removing the two-term limit on the presidency soon after winning re-election in 2010.

“The presidential election will be held in January,” Rambukwella said at a public meeting in the district of Kandy.

“I know the date but can’t say it at the moment.”

There had been speculation that Rajapakse, who is also the finance minister, would call a snap election after he brought forward the 2015 national budget by a month to Friday.

His ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance is expected to use the budget to try to boost its popularity after its share of the vote plummeted by over 20 percentage points in local elections held last month.

It was his party’s worst performance since he came to power in 2005, and the main opposition United National Party more than doubled its vote.

Rajapakse gained popularity among Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese community by crushing a Tamil separatist rebellion in May 2009 and ending a 37-year-long Tamil separatist war.

However, he is also is under intense international pressure to probe allegations that his troops killed up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians while battling Tamil rebels in 2009.

Presidential elections are due by November 2016, but Rajapakse has the power to call them at any time.

Candidates need more than 50 percent of the vote to win in a complicated system of preferential voting.

It was not immediately clear how a January election would affect the Pope’s plans to visit the island on January 13-15.

The Catholic church has made it clear that a papal visit would be inappropriate during an election campaign.

There was no immediate comment from the Roman Catholic church in Colombo.

Official sources said Rajapakse may make an announcement of the election date after he completes four years of his current term on November 19, a day after his 69th birthday.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Indian boss gives workers cars, home deposits, jewellery for Diwali

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 08:01

A generous boss in western India has given 1,200 of his workers new cars, deposits for flats and thousands of dollars’ worth of diamond jewellery as rewards for loyalty.

The diamond merchant from the city of Surat presented the lavish gifts to the employees in a ceremony on Sunday before the major Hindu festival of Diwali.

The presents, including those for worker’s wives, were part of Savjibhai Dholakia’s company loyalty programme worth a total of 50 billion rupees ($815 million).

“We have rewarded those employees who have contributed to the development of the company over the years,” Dholakia, chairman of Hari Krishna Exports, told AFP on Monday.

“They have sacrificed their family lives for the progress of the firm and hence they deserve the reward,” Dholakia said from Surat, a diamond polishing and export hub.

Most employees receive presents of some kind from their bosses during Diwali, the festival of lights, but they are usually just boxes of Indian sweets.

Dholakia’s complex loyalty programme, in which employees earn points in 25 criteria, has been in place for five years — but this year the rewards have reached new heights.

“We gave apartments to 207 employees, cars to 491 and jewellery to 500 employees,” Dholakia said.

“The (deposits on) apartments were given to those who did not own one,” he said, while cars were given to those workers who already have their own home.

Jewellery, worth a maximum $5,860 apiece, was given to some employees as presents for their wives because spouses “have also contributed indirectly to the progress of the firm”, he said.

Employee Gaurav Duggal said his two-odd years of working for the company had been “indescribable”

“The jewellery which they have given me is not only priceless, it shows the sentiment that the company has towards me and other employees,” he told the NDTV network.

Dholakia’s firm exports polished diamonds to 75 countries.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

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