Saturday, June 13, 2009

US Peshawar consulate staff moved to Islamabad

ISLAMABAD: The United States on Saturday announced it was relocating the staff of its consulate in Peshawar to Islamabad for fear of their security. “The US consulate in Peshawar relocated some of its personnel to Islamabad due to heightened threat conditions in the city,” US embassy spokesman Lou Fintor told Daily Times. He said the Peshawar consulate would remain open but would only provide emergency consular services to US citizens. Fintor said the staff had been relocated for an indefinite period.

PAF swings into action to avenge Naeemi’s murder

TANK: Thirteen people, including militants and a few non-combatants, were killed when air force planes pounded militants’ positions in South Waziristan on Saturday, in response to the assassination of a revered religious scholar by the Taliban in Lahore on Friday, military and other sources said.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan of Baitullah Mehsud had claimed responsibility for suicide attacks in the Lahore seminary of Allama Sarfaraz Naeemi and in a mosque in Nowshera.

The main target of the air strikes was in Makeen area, the headquarters of Baitullah Mehsud. Local people said five planes took part in the attack that started at around 8am.

The bombing flattened the building of a higher secondary school in Shakerkot area of Makeen. Militants had occupied the building and used it for their activities.

(According to APP, in response to the suicide attack on Jamia Naeemia ‘two terrorists compounds were targeted by PAF in Makeen, South Waziristan Agency. The number of casualties following the air strikes at compounds occupied by terrorists could not be ascertained immediately.’)

Houses of three tribesmen — Shah Jehan Mehsud, Wali Malik Shai and Shah Khan Abdulai — were also bombed.

The sources said that the grandson of Khagai Abdulai was injured while the daughter-in-law of Shapool Mehsud was killed. Three foreigners were also injured in the attack.

Security officials said that seven militants were killed and five others injured in the fresh offensive in Makeen.

However, local militants denied the claim and said that one girl was killed and three children and a watchman were injured.

There were unconfirmed reports that the head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tahir Yaldeshiv, had been injured in the air strike. The houses of the tribesmen bombed were occupied by foreign militants, according to the sources.

On Friday night, officials said, security forces pounded suspected locations in Zara Serwakai and killed five militants. Troops also fired artillery from Jandola Fort hitting targets in Serwakai. Taliban sources confirmed they had suffered casualties, but did not give figures.

Meanwhile, more tribesmen left their homes in Makeen area and were seen moving to the adjacent North Waziristan. Shopkeepers have closed their shops.

In Bajaur, six militants were killed and several others injured when air and ground forces carried out joint strikes against militants’ strongholds.

A seminary was also hit and militants’ bodies were seen lying in the nearby fields. Troops launched attacks in Charmang area on Friday.

According to sources, ground forces entered Tangi, the centre of Charmang, on Saturday. Reinforcements were on way to the area.

Ahmadinejad re-election sparks Iran clashes

TEHRAN — The authorities declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the official winner of Iran’s presidential election on Saturday afternoon, but opposition candidates and their supporters insisted the election had been stolen, and riot police officers used batons and tear gas against thousands of demonstrators in the worst street protests in a decade.

Witnesses reported that at least one person had been shot dead in clashes with the police in Vanak Square in Tehran. Smoke from burning vehicles and tires hung over the city late Saturday.

The Interior Ministry said Mr. Ahmadinejad had won 62.6 percent of the vote, with Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leading challenger, taking just under 34 percent. Turnout was a record 85 percent, officials said.

Mr. Moussavi, a former prime minister who had promised to reverse Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line policies, declared himself the winner by a wide margin Friday night, charged widespread election irregularities and called on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, to intervene.

The landslide victory for Mr. Ahmadinejad, an intensely divisive figure here and abroad, came as a powerful shock to opposition supporters, who had cited polls showing that Mr. Moussavi had a strong lead in the final days of the campaign.

Iran’s interior minister, Sadegh Mahsouli, said Saturday that such a lead was a misimpression based on Mr. Moussavi’s higher levels of support in the capital, and that he had less backing elsewhere.

Mr. Moussavi made clear in statements on Saturday that he rejected the results and called on supporters and fellow clerics to fight them. But there were no reports of any public appearances by him on Saturday, leading to rumors that he might have been arrested.

In a statement posted on his campaign Web site, Mr. Moussavi said: “Today the people’s will has been faced with an amazing incident of lies, hypocrisy and fraud. I call on my Iranian compatriots to remain calm and patient.”

But Ayatollah Khamenei closed the door to any appeals for intervention in a statement issued on state television on Saturday afternoon, congratulating Mr. Ahmadinejad on his victory and urging the other candidates to throw in the towel. “Our respected president is the president of all the people, including those who were his rivals yesterday, and they should all help and support him,” he said.

Mr. Moussavi’s defiance seemed to fuel street resistance by his supporters — a coalition including women, young people, intellectuals and members of the moderate clerical establishment — who had united in opposition to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s erratic economic stewardship, confrontational foreign policy and crackdown on social freedoms.

“Death to the coup d’état!” chanted a surging crowd of several thousand protesters, many of whom wore Mr. Moussavi’s signature bright green campaign colors, as they marched in central Tehran on Saturday afternoon. “Death to the dictator!”

Farther down the street, clusters of young men hurled rocks at a phalanx of riot police officers, and screams could be heard as the police used their batons to beat back protesters. As night fell, the crowd began setting fire to cars and tires. There were reports of demonstrations in other major Iranian cities as well.

The authorities closed universities in Tehran, blocked cellphone transmissions and access to Facebook and some other Web sites, and for a second day shut down text-messaging services.

Earlier in the day, hurried meetings were reported among Iran’s leading political figures and clerics; some were said to be trying to influence Ayatollah Khamenei to intervene in a situation that could stain public confidence in the integrity of Iran’s elections.

But Saeed Leylaz, an economist and political analyst, said he believed Ayatollah Khamenei’s statement would bring resolution, even if demonstrations persisted for a few days. “This has put an end to political negotiations from above,” Mr. Leylaz said.

For the moment, Ayatollah Khamenei’s admonition did nothing to calm the opposition’s rage.

“The results of the 10th presidential election are so ridiculous and so unbelievable that one cannot write or talk about it in a statement,” said Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist cleric and candidate. He came in last with 300,000 votes — much fewer than analysts had predicted. “It is amazing that the people’s vote has turned into an instrument for the government to stabilize itself.”

The other candidate, Mohsen Rezai, got 680,000 votes, Interior Ministry officials said.

In 2005, when Mr. Karroubi was also a candidate for president, he accused the government of rigging the vote in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s favor. In that election, the government announced when polls closed that there would probably be a runoff between two of three candidates, a reform candidate and a former police chief. But by 7 a.m. the next day, a spokesman for the Guardian Council, a clerical oversight panel that is not supposed to be involved in vote counting, announced that Mr. Ahmadinejad was in first place. Mr. Karroubi’s charges were never investigated.

The turmoil on Saturday followed an extraordinary night in which the Iranian state news agency announced that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won by a vast margin just two hours after the polls closed. The timing alone provoked deep suspicion here, because the authorities have never before announced election results until the following morning. Mr. Moussavi also announced Friday night that he believed he had won by a wide margin.

Mr. Moussavi also complained about irregularities and unfairness in the election, saying there had been a lack of ballots in many areas and that some of his campaign offices had been attacked and his Web sites shut down.

The official results prompted further skepticism, in part because Mr. Ahmadinejad won large majorities in some places that were considered safe for his opponents, including even their hometowns. Mr. Rezai’s hometown, for example, gave him less than a 10th of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s total there, the Interior Ministry said.

The issue of vote-rigging has often been raised in Iranian elections, but analysts have generally said the authorities can manipulate the results by only a few percentage points, leaving room for genuine democratic movements.

Iran’s clerical leaders often point to past reformist victories as proof of the Islamic Republic’s democratic legitimacy. Many reformists have boycotted votes in the past to avoid giving the clerics that satisfaction. Those reformists voted in large numbers this time, inspired by a vast popular movement that rose up to support Mr. Moussavi.

Their bitterness on Saturday at the unexpected results was correspondingly severe.

“We are not disposable things to be thrown away,” said Mahshid, 20, a student who declined to give her last name because she feared repercussions from the authorities. “From now on, we won’t vote. They have insulted our feelings of patriotism.”

Meanwhile, the working class areas of southern Tehran where Mr. Ahmadinejad is popular were largely quiet, despite rumors of wild victory celebrations.

“There might be some manipulation in what the government has done,” said Maliheh Afrouz, 55, a supporter of Mr. Ahmadinejad clad in a black chador. “But the other side is exaggerating, making it seem worse than it really is.”

Rs 2.482 trillion deficit budget unveiled, defence spending hiked

ISLAMABAD :Fighting a Taliban insurgency, mired in recession and kept afloat by an IMF emergency loan, Government announced on Saturday a budget for 2009/10 that underlined its dependence on foreign financial support.

Delivering the annual budget statement to the National Assembly, Minister of State for Finance Hina Rabbani Khar estimated that Pakistan had paid a price of about $35 billion for joining the US-led war against terrorism in 2001.

The civilian government, which came to power 15 months ago to bring down the curtain on almost a decade of military rule under former army chief Pervez Musharraf, has sought international support to stabilise its economy, fight the insurgency and fund development needed to make it harder for militants to recruit.

"We are facing huge expenditures to get rid of militancy," said Khar, who served as a minister of state in the Musharraf years.

"Our armed forces are in the forefront in the war against terrorism and militancy. Our western border is facing the most uncertain situation," she said, referring to the Taliban insurgency rolling in from the border with Afghanistan.

US officials, worried that their nuclear-armed Muslim ally could descend into chaos, have welcomed the army's offensive against militants in the Swat valley and adjoining areas northwest of Islamabad, which was launched in late April.

On Thursday, the US House of Representatives approved tripling aid to about $1.5 billion a year for five years to help combat extremism through development. Pakistan is the biggest recipient of US aid.

A $7.6 billion bail-out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) saved Pakistan from a balance of payments crisis last November.

The budget factored in 178 billion rupees of aid from "Friends of Pakistan" international donors who met in Tokyo in April, and the government is still seeking money from friendly governments and international lenders.


The balance of payments crisis, an oil price shock and economic mismanagement contributed to a sharp slowdown in Pakistan's previously fast-growing economy in the past year.

Insecurity, political uncertainty, economic difficulties, and power shortages combined to deter investment, and the textile industry, Pakistan's main export sector, has been hit hard.

Economic growth slid to 2 percent in the 2008/09 fiscal year ending on June 30, tantamount to recession for a country with annual population growth of more than 2 percent and with more than a third of its 170 million people living in poverty.

The budget forecast gross domestic product (GDP) growth recovering to 3.3 percent in 2009/10, and inflation easing to 9.5 percent after averaging 21 percent for the year just ending.

Development spending was increased more than 17 percent to 646 billion rupees, while defence spending was increased 15.3 percent to 342.9 billion rupees, according to a "Budget at a Glance" document, portions of which were obtained by Reuters.

Under IMF scrutiny, Pakistan has targeted an increase in its fiscal deficit to 4.9 percent of GDP for 2009/10, from 4.3 percent in 2008/09.

Pakistan expects to cover almost 265 billion rupees of the 722.5 billion rupee deficit with external borrowing, and the rest from domestic borrowing.

"The major risk in this budget is foreign funding. We have heavy reliance on that, but if that is delayed or does not go through, there is no fall-back solution," said Ashfaque Hasan Khan, Dean of the National University of Science and Technology.

"That would mean that the government will have to cut down development expenditure, which will be a big problem and difficult politically," said Khan, a former senior official in the Finance Ministry.

Other analysts echoed that concern.

Sakib Sherani, a economist with an international bank and member of the government's Economic Advisory Council, also noted the risk that rising oil prices posed to the energy-deficit country, along with the threat from the insurgency.

"The security situation will also have a bearing on the final outcome with regards to the deficit," Sherani said.

Ahmadinejad wins Iran election, Mousavi cries foul

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election by a thumping margin, official figures showed Saturday, but his moderate challenger rejected the tally as a "dangerous charade" that could lead to tyranny.

The scale of Ahmadinejad's victory -- he took nearly twice as many votes as former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi with counting almost complete after Friday's poll -- upset widespread expectations that the race would at least go to a second round.

Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli said Ahmadinejad won 62.6 percent of the vote and Mousavi 33.75 percent. Turnout was a record 85 percent of eligible voters.

Mousavi protested against what he said were many obvious violations.

"I'm warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade. The result of such performance by some officials will jeopardize the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny," Mousavi said in a statement made available to Reuters.

He had been due to hold a news conference, but police at the building turned journalists away, saying it was canceled.

Iranian and Western analysts abroad greeted the results with disbelief. They said Ahmadinejad's re-election would disappoint Western powers aiming to convince Iran to halt work they suspect is aimed at making bombs, and could further complicate efforts by U.S. President Barack Obama to reach out to Tehran.

"It doesn't augur well for an early and peaceful settlement of the nuclear dispute," said Mark Fitzpatrick at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

A bitterly fought campaign generated strong interest around the world and intense excitement inside Iran. It revealed deep divisions among establishment figures between those backing Ahmadinejad and those pushing for social and political change.

Ahmadinejad accused his rivals of undermining the Islamic Republic by advocating detente with the West. Mousavi said the president's "extremist" foreign policy had humiliated Iranians.

Friday night, before official results emerged, Mousavi had claimed to be the "definite winner." He said many people had been unable to vote and ballot papers were lacking.

He also accused authorities of blocking text messaging, with which his campaign tried to reach young, urban voters.

State election commission figures showed Ahmadinejad had secured a second four-year term with 61.6 percent of ballots against 32.5 percent for Mousavi with 39 million votes counted. It put the turnout at 80 percent of 46 million eligible voters.

Trita Parsi, president of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council, expressed disbelief at the wide margin in Ahmadinejad's favor. "It is difficult to feel comfortable that this occurred without any cheating," Parsi said.

Ali Ansari, who heads the Institute for Iranian Studies at St Andrews University in Scotland, said: "People will wake up today in Iran in shock, not that Ahmadinejad has won, but that he has won on such a dramatic scale."


Western capitals had hoped a victory for Mousavi could help ease tensions with the West, which is concerned about Tehran's nuclear plans, and improve chances of engagement with Obama, who has talked of a new start if Tehran "unclenches its fist."

Now they must again deal with Ahmadinejad, who has refused talks with six world powers over Iran's nuclear program.

The three-week election campaign was marked by mudslinging, with Ahmadinejad accusing his rivals of corruption. They said he was lying about the economy. Inflation, officially put at 15 percent, and unemployment were core issues in the debate.

It was unclear how Mousavi's supporters, who thronged the streets of Tehran nightly during the campaign, might react to Ahmadinejad's victory. U.S. strategic intelligence group Stratfor called the situation "potentially explosive."

Scuffles broke out overnight between police and chanting Mousavi supporters in a Tehran square, a Reuters witness said. Police said they had boosted security across the capital. All gatherings have been banned until final results are declared.

Ahmadinejad draws his bedrock support from rural areas and poorer big city neighborhoods. Mousavi enjoys strong backing in wealthier urban centers, especially among women and the young.

Two other candidates attracted only tiny voter support.

Ahmadinejad, 52, won power four years ago, vowing to revive the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution. He has expanded the nuclear program, which Iran says is only for electricity generation, and stirred international outrage by denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.

"If there was a shadow of hope for a change in Iran, the renewed choice of Ahmadinejad expresses more than anything the growing Iranian threat," Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in a statement. "The international community must stop a nuclear Iran and Iranian terror immediately."

Ahmadinejad, who has cultivated relations with U.S. foes around the world, received telephoned congratulations from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the Fars news agency said.

Mousavi, 67, rejects Western demands that Iran halt uranium enrichment, but argued for a different approach to Iran-U.S. ties and nuclear talks -- although these are policy areas ultimately controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The United States has had no ties with Iran, the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Obama said his country had "tried to send a clear message that we think there is the possibility of change."