Friday, May 22, 2009

Zhang Ziyi appears at Cannes Film Festival

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi poses during the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, on May 22, 2009. Zhang is a member of a jury that will select the best short film and the best of 15 films selected for the Cannes Cinefondation.

Militants forced army to take action: ANP

PESHAWAR: The Awami National Party Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan Friday said his party always believed in resolving issues through dialogue and peaceful political means rather than the use of force.

“The ANP-led provincial government has tried its best to resolve the Swat issue through dialogue and despite all pressure and criticism it signed peace accord, promulgated Nizam-e-Adl Regulation and set up Qazi courts, but unfortunately the militants violated the accord and forced the government to use force to ensure the safety of the people and establish the writ of the state,” Asfandyar said.

Addressing a meeting of party office-bearers and MPAs of district Charsadda here Friday, Asfandyar said the provincial government was still abiding by the Swat peace accord but the militants violated it and their nefarious designs were exposed before the nation.

Regarding Swat, he said the provincial government had always taken all the political parties into confidence and that was the reason all the political forces backed the military operation against the militants in Malakand division.

Asfandyar urged the party workers to make concerted efforts to provide better facilities to the displaced people of the restive areas. He asked them to constitute committees at district level, make regular visits to relief camps and co-ordinate with the provincial committee of the party about the deficiencies in the camps so that necessary steps could be taken to make them up.

The meeting also discussed the ongoing development projects in Charsadda district, including provision of natural gas, establishment of a cadet college and construction of roads. Asfandyar assured the party workers that the development projects would be completed soon.

Besides party office-bearers and provincial assembly members of Charsadda, Afrasiyab Khattak, Senator Zahid Khan, Bashir Ahmad Bilour, Tajuddin Khan and others also attended the meeting.

Timing not right for deal with Taliban: Gates

WASHINGTON: The chances of a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban are remote as long as the insurgents enjoy momentum on the battlefield, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday.

In an interview with US television's "Today" show, Gates said the time was not yet ripe for the kind of reconciliation that occurred in Iraq with armed opponents of the Baghdad government.

"I think the view of most of us is that until the momentum of the battle turns against the Taliban... that the likelihood of any kind of reconciliation on the part of the leadership of the Taliban is very small," Gates said.

Asked about a New York Times report that Taliban factions were in talks with the Kabul government and pushing for a deadline for the withdrawal of NATO-led forces, Gates said Washington would "absolutely not" accept any such idea.

The defense secretary said "the end of all such wars involves some measure of reconciliation. We've seen it in Iraq."

Car bomb wreaks havoc in Peshawar

PESHAWAR - At least 10 persons were killed and more than 75 injured on Friday evening in a car bomb explosion in front of Tasweer Mahal Cinema, Khyber Bazaar.
According to police officials and eyewitnesses, the red coloured Suzuki Mehran car, bearing registration number R-7867 Peshawar, was parked in front of Tasweer Mahal Cinema.
As a result of the explosion, the cinema and nearby shops collapsed.
Four rickshaws and some other vehicles, electricity towers and wires were also damaged in the incident and disrupted power supply in the area.
Some of the killed persons have been identified as Usman, Kisahwar, Khan Wali, Janat Gul, orangzeb and Zahid Gul.
Soon after the explosion, a large number of civilians and police personnel reached the site. The ambulances of Edhi Foundation and Lady Reading Hospital also reached and started shifting the injured to various hospitals in the city.
Later, CCPO Peshawar, while briefing the media confirmed the killing of 10 persons and injuring of 75. He also said the 10 persons of the injured were in critical condition. He further informed that it was a high-intensity explosion in which around 40 to 50 kilograms explosive material was used.
Meanwhile President Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, NWFP Chief Minister, Amir Khan Hoti, Federal Information Minister Kamaruzzaman Kaira have strongly condemned the blast.
President Zardari said the government was determined to root out the menace of terrorism from the society and such cowardly acts will not dampen its spirit.
The Prime Minister while condemning the attack ordered an immediate inquiry into the incident and asked the local administration to provide best medical care to the injured.
Monitoring Desk adds: Miscreants on Friday blew up the house and hujra of Awami National Party leader in Shah Dheri area of Swat, reported a private TV channel. Swat-based militants detonated the house and hujra of ANP leader Khan Nawab. No casualty was reported in the incident as no one was living there in the house and hujra nowadays.

Pakistan Claims More Gains Against Taliban

KHAWAZAKHELA, Pakistan — A top Pakistani general said Friday that the military has succeeded in clearing two militant strongholds in upper parts of the contested Swat valley and is just a week away from taking over a third.

“Essentially, at this point in time, we are looking at eliminating the hard core militants,” Major General Sajjad Ghani, the commanding officer of the military operation in the upper part of Swat, said in a briefing for journalists here. Khawazakhela is one of the largest cities in Swat, with a population locals estimate at more than 500,000.

General Ghani, who has been in the area for the past year and a half, said the military had cleared militants from Matta and Bini Baba Ziarart and was closing in on another stronghold in Peochar, in the upper Swat valley.

“The commandoes have already landed on the mountain peaks and ridges,” around Peochar, he said. “The militants are surrounded and encircled from all sides. They are hemmed in. And this is the right time that the security forces can go with full might and kill and eliminate the residual militants in the Peochar valley.”

Buoyed by the military’s success, local people in the neighboring northern area of Kalam have taken up arms against the Taliban, General Ghani said.

General Ghani ruled out the possibility of a ceasefire. “Miscreants are on the run,” he said. “Their command and control, communication infrastructure has been destroyed. They cannot coordinate and articulate operations in a coherent way any longer.”

While the military is gunning for the militant leadership, recruits who desert the Taliban ranks will be allowed to rejoin mainstream society, he said.

Gen. Ghani said residents could begin to return to Khawazakhela and Matta in 15 days.

But as of Friday, the city of Khawazakhela, like other towns and villages throughout the Swat valley, had a ghostly aspect when seen from a helicopter. Long roads winding through green fields were deserted. Dozens of cargo trucks were parked in the center of town, while smoke billowed from what seemed to be a filling station. Very few people could be seen.

The Pakistan Army has established an operational base in a girls’ college in the city. Soldiers in camouflage fatigues stood guard outside the boundary walls of the building.

“The Taliban would have blown it up had we not established our base here”, said Lt. Col. Abdul Rehman, one of the officers. The Taliban had targeted girls’ schools and banned female education.

Colonel Rehman said that 31 soldiers in his unit had been killed, but that morale remained high.

As helicopters flew in and out of the base, a group of young officers said there was no moral dilemma for them in fighting the Taliban, most of who are fellow Pakistanis. “They are not Muslims despite their claims to be so,” said Lt. Asad Hanif. “A true Muslim cannot slaughter people like the Taliban have been doing.”

Officers said the Taliban were recruiting young men from the area through intimidation and coercion, and raising money through extortion. While most of the Taliban militants were from the area, the officers said that some foreigners, most of them from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, had also joined in the fighting.

Rahimullah Shaheen, a local journalist, sounded a note of caution, saying that the Taliban who had been forced out of Khawazakhela had simply retreated into the nearby mountains, just a few miles from the city.

Actor Smith to make Katrina film

Actor Will Smith has agreed to produce a movie telling the true story of a man who rescued hundreds of people after Hurricane Katrina, reports suggest.

Ex-marine John Keller was nicknamed The Can Man after saving 244 people from flooding during the disaster.

Trade newspaper The Hollywood Reporter said that Smith's production company and Sony Pictures had bought the movie rights to his story.

John Lee Hancock will direct the project, called The American Can.

Hancock, whose previous films include The Rookie and The Alamo, will also write the script.

Mr Keller was dubbed The Can Man after rescuing his neighbours from a five-story apartment building, The American Can Company, where he lived.

For five days, Keller warded off intruders and marauders as chaos raged around the city.

He also directed the eventual rescue operation from the building's roof after residents, many of them elderly or handicapped, were left stranded by 11 feet of water.

"This is the story of an everyman who became a hero," said Doug Belgrad from Sony subsidiary Colombia Pictures.

"That is the story we want to tell. In the moment of an American tragedy, when we are tested, we find that we have greater depth of spirit and strength than we ever knew."

Deadly bombing in Pakistan

10 killed, 70 injured in Peshawar blast

At least ten people have been killed while more than 70 others injured in a bomb blast in Peshawar. The incident occurred at Cinema Road near Khyber bazaar area, where what appeared to be a remote-controlled bomb planted in a vehicle went off in rush evening hour, eyewitnesses said. The blast was as powerful as it severely damaged a nearby cinema house, its adjacent buildings and parked vehicles. The area was jampacked at the time of the incident while a show in the cinema was also underway, news reports said. Paramedics, firefighters and security personnel have arrived at the scene while the corpses and injured were rushed to nearby Lady Reeding hospital. Emergency have also been declared in all the major hospitals of Peshawar. Police have cordoned off the area.

Peshawar Blast,10 killed,dozen injured.

PESHAWAR :A bomb exploded at Khyber Bazar in Peshawar killed atleast ten people, wounding at least 30 people, some of them seriously, atleast 10 people were killed and thirty wounded people were brought to hospital, some of them in very critical condition.The blast occurred outside a cinema and a main market in a congested neighborhood.

UN Issues Urgent Appeal for Pakistan Refugee Aid

The United Nations is appealing for an additional $454 million to assist nearly two million Pakistanis displaced by fighting between army troops and Taliban militants in Swat Valley. The U.N. has already committed $88 million, bringing the total coast of humanitarian relief to $453 million.The United Nations says the scale and speed of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Pakistan is extraordinary.
"The numbers of people who have moved in that last three and half weeks is the highest rate of movement we have seen for more than 20 years anywhere in the world," said Martin Mogwanja, the acting UN coordinator in Pakistan. "And it is the biggest displacement that has ever occurred in Pakistan. Given the other social, economic and security factors in Pakistan, we believe that responding to this appeal quickly and responding now is in the interest - not only of the humanitarian community - it is in the interest of the world as a whole."
This week, the Pakistani government unveiled a high-profile strategy to deal with the exploding numbers of people displaced by the war against Taliban militants in Swat Valley. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani hosted a donor's conference in the capital, Islamabad, where several nations, including the United States, pledged $224 million in humanitarian aid.
Gilani told donors that addressing the current humanitarian crisis in the northwest is inextricably linked to combating extremism.
"Taking care of Pakistan's IDP's [internally displaced people] is among the responsibilities that come in the wake of efforts to combat terrorism," said Mr. Gilani. "There is an urgent need for joint and comprehensive response to this issue by all those who are committed to fighting terrorism."
In addition to seeking outside financial help, the Pakistani government has budgeted $100 million for relief efforts that include one-time grants of $300 to each displaced family.Part of the problem facing the Pakistani government and aid agencies is that only 20 percent of people who fled the violence are actually in the camps. The rest are staying with family or friends and that population is harder to reach and help.
Helene Caux is a spokesperson with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She visited Jalala camp in Mardan district not far from the military offensive this week. She says the biggest problem for camp residents is the heat, which has been steadily hovering just below 40 degrees Celsius. Caux also says camp residents are clearly traumatized and want to go home.
"They say everything is being provided to them in the camps, what they need is to go back," said Caux. "This is harvesting time right now and they absolutely need to go back [home] to do that."
On the battlefront, the military says they are on the verge on entering and taking control of Mingora, the main town in Swat Valley. Earlier this week, the military said it had recaptured the town of Sultanwas, a major Taliban stronghold, in neighboring Buner district.

Troops encircle Swat, cut off Taliban escape routes

KHWAZAKHELA: Troops are encircling Taliban militants in their mountain base as well as the main town in the Swat Valley, a Pakistani general said on Friday.

With scepticism growing about the progress of the month-old army offensive in the north-western region, the army flew a handful of reporters from foreign news organisations into Swat on Friday.

An Associated Press reporter aboard the helicopter saw no cars and few people in the town of Mingora or on roads further up the valley.

From the air, there was little evidence of the fierce fighting and air strikes that the military claims have already killed more than 1,000 militants as well as some 60 soldiers.

But a senior commander insisted the army was trapping militants in Mingora and Peochar, a side-valley further north that is the stronghold of Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah.

‘The noose is tightening around them. Their routes of escape have been cut off,’ Maj. Gen. Sajad Ghani said.

‘It’s just a question of time before (Taliban leaders) are eliminated.’

Meanwhile, the head of the government relief operation, Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed, said up to 200,000 civilians were stranded in the valley and authorities might have to drop food to them from the air.

But Ahmed said ‘not many’ civilians were left in Mingora, with most people still in the valley in its northern reaches, which had been ‘relatively calm’.

In a sign of growing hostility towards the Taliban among people long ambivalent, villagers in two north-western districts are trying to expel the gunmen, a politician and another official said.

‘The people of Kalam have risen against the Taliban. The people have asked them to get out,’ said provincial assembly member Jafar Shah, referring to a region to the north of Swat.

A clashed had erupted on Thursday and several people on both sides were wounded or killed, he said.

‘The residents are insisting they won’t let the Taliban stay. The militants have been confined to a small area,’ Shah said.

Villagers had taken the same stand in parts of Lower Dir, to the west of Swat, and Taliban had pulled out of some areas, a provincial government official said.

In Swat, soldiers advancing from three directions have begun battling the militants in towns where civilians are still hiding.

ANP leader house blown up in Swat

The miscreants Friday blew up the house and hujra of Awami National Party leader Khan Nawab in Shah Dheri area of Swat. The militants and the Lashkar of local tribesmen have declared ceasefire in tehsil Kalam of Swat still the extremists have been entrenched in bunkers and continuing their armed patrolling in the area. The Lashkar of tribesmen and the militants were agreed for truce yesterday after negotiations. In Takhtaband, Qanbar, Matta and Kabal the forces are targeting the hideouts of the militants. According to reports the forces and militants were also fighting in Kabal and Matta.