Monday, March 21, 2011

Afghan girls hate war, hoping to compete in international cricket

Although Taliban-led insurgency is going on unabated in the war-torn country, Afghan girls and women have

been exercising their rights envisaged in the post-Taliban country's constitution.

"I want to be flag bearer in the upcoming competition due in February in Kuwait," said Noshin, a member of Afghan women cricket team.

An energetic Noshin, 19, like many Afghans, uses only one name and attired in sport costume, told Xinhua that "I don't want the conflicts to destroy my dreams and ruin my future. I hate the war."

Noshin like many others, looks ambitious and was playing cricket in Bagh-e-Zanana, the only women park in the capital city Kabul where women even could not go inside during Taliban regime which collapsed in late 2001 by the NATO-led military campaign.

Dozens of women cricket players were busy in playing the game in this January, and the best ones of them will form Women National Cricket Team to compete in Kuwait next month.

The hardliner Taliban regime during its six-year reign had confined women to their houses and outlawed education for girls. Afghanistan only Sport Stadium -- Ghazi Stadium in Kabul had seen chopping hands, flogging and killing people on charge of involvement in criminal activities during Taliban reign on each Friday -- the Muslim weekly holiday.

"I wish our team to win the Asian cap tournament in Kuwait and that is why we are exercising hard to materialize our dream," she said.

Almost half of Afghanistan's 30 million population, according to another lady cricketer Muska, 28, are women and girls and deserve to play role in rebuilding the society."It is unwise to keep a major chunk of population at home sitting idle. We have to keep them engaged in social and economic activities and patronize them," said Muska who has been playing cricket for the past 18 months.

During the bloody factional fighting in Afghanistan, Muska's family like millions of Afghans left the country to neighboring Pakistan and used to live there for over two decades.

She had learned playing cricket in childhood when she used to live in Pakistan along with her family.

As part of efforts to restore women rights, the government of Afghanistan has initiated giving awareness campaign utilizing all facilities including religious scholars to enable women have their due status in the conservative country; but there is still a long way to go.

"We are preparing the team to participate the Kuwait championship," the coach of the team, a Pakistani lady, Hajira said to Xinhua.

"The team is good, you can see the girls are very good, professional players and very hard workers," she added.

"Here are 35 girls in the team and the board is to select 16 best players. We hope to bring medals," the hopeful and confident trainer Hajira, 30 said.

Asian Cricket Coucil Women's Twenty20 Championship 2011 is to be held in Kuwait from Feb. 17 to 25. The participating teams are Kuwait, Afghanistan, China, Chinese Hong Kong, Iran, Malaysia, Nepal, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Russia's Putin calls UN resolution on Libya "flawed"

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday criticized West-led military actions against Libya was based on a "flawed" UN Security Council resolution, according to local reports.

Speaking in the town of Votkinsk, Russia's military-industrial "capital" in Udmurt republic, Putin said the UNSCR 1973 "is, surely, flawed and allows intervention in a sovereign country."

The Resolution 1973 authorizes the use of force and the creation of a no-fly zone in Libya, where protests and the government have been clashing for several weeks.

The prime minister also criticized the role of the United States in the actions against the North African country.

"Use of force against other countries became a steady trend in the U.S. policy," Putin said, adding that this trend was "disturbing".

Earlier, Russia said it regretted the military intervention led by foreign countries in Libya and urged Western coalition forces to stop "indiscriminate" air strikes in Libya.

Kuwait joins Bahrain military crackdown

Kuwait has joined foreign military forces invading Bahrain by sending navy units to the Persian Gulf sheikhdom to help the government crack down on protesters.

A number of Kuwaiti vessels docked off the Bahraini coasts on Monday with some Kuwaiti ground forces onboard, Bahrain news agency reported.

The Kuwaiti ambassador in Manama said his country wants to help calm the situation in Bahrain.

However, Bahraini opposition groups have condemned the presence of foreign troops, calling it an "occupation."

Saudi Arabia has also deployed more than 1,000 troops to the country, while the UAE has dispatched around 500 police forces to assist in the violent repression of protesters.

More than 15 people have been killed and about 1,000 injured since the start of the anti-government protests demanding the ouster of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa from the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom in mid-February.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other human rights organizations have strongly condemned the military intervention and called the action illegal.

Obama faces growing criticism for Libya campaign

President Obama is facing growing criticism at home and abroad over whether the military campaign in Libya is the wrong policy — or the right policy at the wrong time.

Obama, on a five-day tour of Latin America, defended his administration's muscular approach in Libya, saying it was "very easy to square our military actions and our stated policies."

Speaking in Chile, Obama said U.S. military forces would focus on the goal approved by the U.N. Security Council last week, preventing longtime leader Moammar Kadafi's army from attacking Libyan civilians. But he also reiterated that Kadafi should be removed.

He said the United States also would use nonmilitary means, including economic sanctions and an arms embargo, to try to end Kadafi's four-decade rule.

Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders Monday attempting to assure them that the administration was seeking a "rapid but responsible transition" of military command to other members of the United Nations-backed coalition. The letter followed complaints that he had failed to consult Congress before launching military action.

Political analysts say Obama could benefit if Kadafi is quickly ousted, or if there is another quick and relatively bloodless resolution. But if the conflict becomes a stalemate, criticism is likely to mount.

Complaints have already started to escalate. Some early advocates of military intervention, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said Obama may have waited too long to help the opposition in Libya.

A contingent of liberal Democrats, normally allied with the president, condemned the use of military force. Some conservatives, as well as foreign policy experts, said Libya is not a vital U.S. interest.

An antiwar group announced plans for protests in Los Angeles, Chicago and nine other cities this week.

"The president seems to have angered almost every major group: He's either done too much or too little or he's done it too slowly," said James Lindsay, a former official in the Clinton White House who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations. "There's a very real political risk for Barack Obama in all of this."

Among the critics Monday was Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a widely respected voice on foreign policy who has often sided with the administration.

"There needs to be a plan about what happens after Kadafi," Lugar said. "Who will be in charge then, and who pays for this all? President Obama, so far, has only expressed vague hopes."

A group of liberal Democrats, including Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York, Donna Edwards of Maryland, Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee of California, issued a statement over the weekend saying they "all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president's actions."

Complaints also came from the Arab League, which initially called for imposing a no-fly zone in Libya, a decision that helped persuade the White House to join the fight. Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, lashed out at Washington for launching what he called "a crusade," saying it justified Russia's military buildup.

Administration officials acknowledged the political risk of involvement in Libya at a time when the U.S. is engaged militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and polls indicate that Americans want Obama to focus on the economy. But they say the president's insistence that he won't send ground troops, the involvement of other countries, and the promise to hand off command should help bolster support for Obama.

Robert Danin, a former State Department official who is a Mideast specialist, said he could not imagine how the mission could prove a political winner for Obama.

Americans are likely to worry, he said, that the United States will be stuck with part of the bill for rebuilding Libya. And U.S. officials, he noted, are still unsure whether the anti-Kadafi forces are necessarily pro-America and pro-democracy.

"The politics of this are just bad," Danin said.

Strikes on Libya set to slow, stalemate feared

Anti-aircraft fire rang out across Tripoli for a third night on Monday, but air attacks on Libya are likely to slow, a U.S. general said, as Washington holds back from being sucked into the Libyan civil war.

State television said several sites had come under attack in the capital. Western powers had no confirmation of fresh strikes in a U.N.-mandated campaign to target air defenses, enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

Rebels, who had been driven back toward their eastern Benghazi stronghold before the air attacks halted an advance by Gaddafi's forces, have so far done little to capitalize on the campaign -- raising fears the war could grind to a stalemate.

But Washington, wary of being drawn into another war after long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, has ruled out specific action to overthrow Gaddafi, though France said on Monday it hoped the Libyan government would collapse from within.

"My sense is that -- that unless something unusual or unexpected happens, we may see a decline in the frequency of attacks," General Carter Ham, who is leading U.S. forces in the Libyan operation, told reporters in Washington.

President Barack Obama, facing questions at home about the United States military getting bogged down in a third Muslim country, said Washington would cede control of the Libyan operation in days.

"We anticipate this transition to take place in a matter of days and not in a matter of weeks," Obama told a news conference during a visit to Chile.

He did not spell out which nation or organization would take charge, but Britain and France took a lead role in pushing for the intervention in Libya. The missile strikes have already been extensive enough to have destroyed much of Libya's air defenses.

Libyan state television reported that several sites in Tripoli had been subject to new attacks by what it called the "crusader enemy." "These attacks are not going to scare the Libyan people," said a state television broadcast.

Anti-aircraft gunfire rang out throughout the night and pro-Gaddafi slogans echoed around the city center. Cars sped through Tripoli streets honking wildly.

Al Jazeera television said radar installations at two air defense bases in eastern Libya had been hit. However, a French armed forces spokesman said France, which has been involved in strikes in the east, had no planes in the air at the time.

Meanwhile, residents in two besieged rebel-held cities in western Libya, Misrata and Zintan, said they had been attacked by Gaddafi's forces. Security analysts have said they believe government troops will try to force their way into civilian areas to escape attack from the air.

In Misrata, residents said people had gone out into the streets to try to stop Gaddafi's forces entering the city.

"When they gathered in the center, the Gaddafi forces started shooting at them with artillery and guns," said the resident, who gave his name as Saadoun. He said nine people were killed.

Zintan, near the Tunisian border, faced heavy shelling, two witnesses said, forcing residents to flee to mountain caves. Several houses were destroyed and a mosque minaret destroyed.
State television said several sites had come under attack in the capital. Western powers had no confirmation of fresh strikes in a U.N.-mandated campaign to target air defenses, enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

Rebels, who had been driven back toward their eastern Benghazi stronghold before the air attacks halted an advance by Gaddafi's forces, have so far done little to capitalize on the campaign -- raising fears the war could grind to a stalemate.

But Washington, wary of being drawn into another war after long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, has ruled out specific action to overthrow Gaddafi, though France said on Monday it hoped the Libyan government would collapse from within.

"My sense is that -- that unless something unusual or unexpected happens, we may see a decline in the frequency of attacks," General Carter Ham, who is leading U.S. forces in the Libyan operation, told reporters in Washington.

President Barack Obama, facing questions at home about the United States military getting bogged down in a third Muslim country, said Washington would cede control of the Libyan operation in days.

"We anticipate this transition to take place in a matter of days and not in a matter of weeks," Obama told a news conference during a visit to Chile.

He did not spell out which nation or organization would take charge, but Britain and France took a lead role in pushing for the intervention in Libya. The missile strikes have already been extensive enough to have destroyed much of Libya's air defenses.

Libyan state television reported that several sites in Tripoli had been subject to new attacks by what it called the "crusader enemy." "These attacks are not going to scare the Libyan people," said a state television broadcast.

Anti-aircraft gunfire rang out throughout the night and pro-Gaddafi slogans echoed around the city center. Cars sped through Tripoli streets honking wildly.

Al Jazeera television said radar installations at two air defense bases in eastern Libya had been hit. However, a French armed forces spokesman said France, which has been involved in strikes in the east, had no planes in the air at the time.

Meanwhile, residents in two besieged rebel-held cities in western Libya, Misrata and Zintan, said they had been attacked by Gaddafi's forces. Security analysts have said they believe government troops will try to force their way into civilian areas to escape attack from the air.

In Misrata, residents said people had gone out into the streets to try to stop Gaddafi's forces entering the city.

"When they gathered in the center, the Gaddafi forces started shooting at them with artillery and guns," said the resident, who gave his name as Saadoun. He said nine people were killed.

Zintan, near the Tunisian border, faced heavy shelling, two witnesses said, forcing residents to flee to mountain caves. Several houses were destroyed and a mosque minaret destroyed.

U.N.: "Sick Water" Deadlier than War

Water-Related Diseases Account for 3.7 Percent of Deaths Worldwide, More Than All Forms of Violence, Report Says

More people die from polluted water every year than from all forms of violence, including war, the U.N. said in a report Monday that highlights the need for clean drinking water.

The report, launched Monday to coincide with World Water Day, said an estimated 2 billion tons of waste water - including fertilizer run-off, sewage and industrial waste - is being discharged daily. That waste fuels the spread of disease and damages ecosystems.

"Sick Water" - the report from the U.N. Environment Program - said that 3.7 percent of all deaths are attributed to water-related diseases, translating into millions of deaths. More than half of the world's hospital beds are filled by people suffering from water-related illnesses, it said. If we are not able to manage our waste, then that means more people dying from waterborne diseases," said Achim Steiner, the U.N. Undersecretary General and executive director of UNEP.

The report says that it takes 3 liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water, and that bottled water in the U.S. requires the consumption of some 17 million barrels of oil yearly.

Improved wastewater management in Europe has resulted in significant environmental improvements there, the UNEP said, but that dead zones in oceans are still spreading worldwide. Dead zones are oxygen-deprived areas caused by pollution.

"If the world is to thrive, let alone to survive on a planet of 6 billion people heading to over 9 billion by 2050, we need to get collectively smarter and more intelligent about how we manage waste, including wastewaters," Steiner said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is tightening drinking water standards to impose stricter limits on four contaminants that can cause cancer.

In a speech Monday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency is developing stricter regulations for four compounds (tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, acrylamide and epichlorohydrin). All four chemical compounds can cause cancer. Two of the compounds (tetrachloroethyleneylene and trichloroethylene) are used in industrial and textile processing and can seep into drinking water from contaminated groundwater or surface water. Two others (acrylamide and epichlorohydrin) are impurities that can be introduced into drinking water during the water treatment process.

Jackson said the EPA will issue new rules on the four chemical compounds within the next year.

In December, an analysis of federal data showed that since 2004 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires communities to provide safe tap water, have been found at 20 percent of U.S. water treatment systems, but only six percent of those systems were ever fined or punished by state or federal officials.

The New York Times' Charles Duhigg reported that the violations - which include dangerous bacteria or illegal concentrations of toxic or radioactive substances - affected water delivered to more than 49 million people.

44 percent Pakistanis drinking unsafe water

Access to safe water and sanitation is a daily battle for the people of rapidly growing cities, especially in slums. As many as 72 million Pakistanis out of a population of 180 million are deprived of having access to safe drinking water as the country is observing World Water Day today. Water experts urged the authorities to fill the fissures in the water management plan to cope with the growing number of population and meet the target of Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

According to sources in Ministry of Environment, as many as 72 million Pakistanis i.e. 44 percent population does not have access to safe drinking. On one hand there is scarcity of water, while on the other hand the water available is prone to various biological, chemical and Physical contaminants. There is a dire need to purify and filter the available water in order to ensure protection from water born diseases and disorders.

The ever-increasing growth of population in Pakistan has intensified the situation. Traces of multiple deadly rudiments including the human feces have been found in water by laboratory reports mega cities. This situation shows height of criminal neglect exhibited by the civic bodies towards public right of safe drinking water. Provision of pure water to all the people by the government is not only a basic need and precondition for a healthy life but also a vital human right of every single human, which mustn't be ignored at any cost.

Pakistan's water quality ranks 80th out of 122 nations. Consequently, government has to spend about Rs. 20 billion annually on medication for water borne diseases. Sources maintained that the global water shortage safe drinking water was conspicuously visible in the country with an estimated 44 percent of its population without any access to safe drinking water. "This paucity of clean drinking water is more visible in rural areas where up to 90 percent inhabitants are deprived of their basic right. On the other side, only three percent of Pakistan's sweet water resources are used for household purposes and drinking," said sources.

It was also learnt that majority of the population in Pakistan is destined to use or drink from unkempt and polluted water system and due to that, various problems have arisen-increasing the number of terminal diseases like Hepatitis etc. For those who can afford to avoid this unclean drinking water, bottled water is the only solution. Therefore, many have turned to bottled water (mineral water).

Bahraini protesters found dead

Bahrain opposition has announced that two protesters who were reported missing during the Manama-ordered crackdown on the popular revolution have been found dead.

Police officer Jawad al-Shamlan was found dead on Monday with a gunshot wound to the stomach, said Matar Matar of the main opposition Shia bloc Al-Wefaq political association, AFP reported.

Matar, who is one the 18 members of parliament who resigned last month in protest at violence against demonstrators, said that al-Shamlan went missing on Wednesday when security forces drove the protesters from Manama's Pearl Square.

He was buried on Monday in his village of Hajar, west of Manama.

Al-Wefaq also announced that Bahiya al-Aradi was found dead on Monday after being shot in the head. The 51-year-old woman also went missing on Wednesday evening.

Earlier on Sunday, Matar said that around 100 people have gone missing in the crackdown on the countrywide protests.

On Sunday, Bahraini opposition groups, led by Al-Wefaq, rejected King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's offer of talks, saying the government should comply with the protesters' demands.

More than 15 people have been killed and about 1,000 others have been injured since the start of the anti-government protests in mid-February.

Protesters demand the ouster of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa from the Persian Gulf kingdom.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Bahraini regime to end its crackdown on medical staff and human rights activists who speak out against government abuses.

“Bahrain should end its campaign of arrests of doctors and human rights activists,” HRW said in a statement released on Monday.

The human rights group said that “masked” security forces detained several doctors and rights activists on March 19-20.

New phase in Afghanistan as NATO readies handover

International forces deployed in Afghanistan begin their handover of security responsibilities to the local Afghan police and armed forces today. But many Afghans think the withdrawal comes too soon.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is to announce which areas of the country are to revert to Afghan control. This initial transition of security from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to local Afghan authorities is the first step toward full assumption of control to be completed by the end of 2014.

Many Afghans, however, and in particular the Afghan police and armed forces themselves, believe that the handover is happening too soon.

The formal date chosen to begin the ISAF withdrawal, March 21, is the first day of the Afghan New Year. It is supposed to signify a new beginning for Afghanistan and the end to years of foreign intervention to fight the terror network Al-Qaeda and the country's former Islamist Taliban regime.

President Karzai has planned a major event to personally announce the handover and name the regions that will be on their own. It is meant to be a great day of happiness and pride, but beginning with the country's defense ministry, it is more a day of gloom and uncertainty.

The Associated Press said that a Western official had told one of its reporters that the provincial capitals of Mazar-i-Sharif, Lashkar Gah and Herat had been tapped for the first transition phase and that the provinces of Bamiyan, Panshir and Kabul, except for the restive Surobi district, are also on the list.

Stability and security in doubt

There are major concerns that the current state of Afghanistan's defense forces is not adequate to the task of taking on the new responsibilities. Eshaq Peiman, a senior member of the defense ministry, is worried about the weaponry.

“Our army is armed to NATO standards with light weapons, but in terms of heavy weapons and armored vehicles, things look a lot different. For example, we have no artillery or missile units,” Peiman said.

The Afghan army currently has 155,000 troops in uniform, and another 90,000 are to be added in the next three years. The United States is funding additional equipment and training through 2014 with more than 10 billion dollars.

But Eshaq Peiman has his doubts as to whether this will be enough, considering the size of the task ahead. And he is not alone. Afghan Interior Minister Bismillah Muhammadi told Deutsche Welle that the country's police force is also not in the best of shape.

“We are not in a position to take care of ourselves. We do not have the weapons we need and the necessary training is lacking. It is true that the number of police is growing, but quantity is not quality,” the interior minister said.

A report last year by the International Crisis Group think tank agreed with that assessment and said that too much focus had been placed on quantity over quality and that combat readiness was "undermined by weak recruitment and retention policies, inadequate logistics, insufficient training and equipment and inconsistent leadership."

Egon Ramms, a former NATO commander from Germany and Afghan expert, strongly criticized the withdrawal plans earlier this month.

“Setting a date for the withdrawal of troops sends a totally wrong signal because no one can say how the security situation is going to develop this spring or summer following the troop buildup last year,” he said.

Taliban have not been defeated

Muhammadi knows that a police force numbering 122,000 is not sufficient to ensure security in a country the size of Afghanistan.

Since being driven from power in 2001, the Taliban have grown stronger. Last year, was the worst for civilian victims in the last ten years. According to United Nations figures, 2,777 civilians were killed in fighting or by Taliban bomb attacks and the numbers so far for 2011 do not look any better.

That is why many people in Afghanistan think the transition of security responsibilities is coming too early. Among the critics is Muhammad Arif Sharifi, who lives in Sare Pol province in central Afghanistan.

“Our armed forces over the last nine years have not been able to develop the strength required to defend the country. They are in no position at the moment to take on the Taliban and other terrorists alone. This is especially true for the police in Sare Pol,” Sharifi said.

These are hardly flattering words of praise for the United States, or Germany, which have spent the last ten years training police in Afghanistan. Following the Afghanistan conference in Bonn in 2001, Germany took the leading role in training Afghan police. German specialists have trained more than 30,000 police since then and it “was a big help” said Interior Minister Muhammadi, but “this has to go on for a long time to be effective in the long term,” he said.

President Karzai and all the ISAF countries are sticking to the withdrawal plans. They want the world to see that the international mission in Afghanistan is temporary and not long-term.

Civil unrest boils in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria

Leading officials defect, join Yemen protesters

The support for protesters in Yemen is growing as more and more military and political officials join the revolution there. In Syria anti-government protests are also gathering pace.
In a blow to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's authority, a number of leading diplomats and high-ranking military officials on Monday broke ranks with the regime and said they were joining the protesters and their cause.

The country's ambassador to Syria Abdel Wahab al-Tawaf announced his resignation in protest at the violent government crackdown in the wake of similar defections last week.

One of Yemen's most senior military officials, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, also pledged to support the protesters along with dozens of other officers.

President sacks ministers

In the face of increasing pressure on him to step down President Saleh on Sunday sacked his cabinet.

Earlier that day, tens of thousands of people gathered for a "national day of mourning" for 52 people who were gunned down during protests on Friday against Saleh.

The shooting on Friday by gunmen on rooftops above a square where protesters had gathered sparked the resignation of three Yemeni ministers who said the attack was carried out by government forces.

One of Yemen's largest tribal groups, Hashed, issued a statement Sunday calling on Saleh to heed the wishes of the people and step down. Saleh said he will stay in power until his current term ends in 2013.

Syria's ongoing violence

Meanwhile there were reports of further anti-government protests in Syria Monday as the unrest continued to spread south. Activists said thousands of people took to the streets in Daraa after the funeral of a protester who was reportedly killed on Sunday.

This came after four people were killed Friday when security forces opened fire on civilians taking part in a peaceful protest in Daraa. The protesters were demanding the release of 15 children, all under the age of 16, who had been arrested for writing pro-democracy slogans after being inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

Calling for an inquiry into the deaths, eight human rights groups slammed "the violent and unjustified behavior of the security authorities who used excessive force to disperse a peaceful demonstration in Daraa."

"This policy, pursued by the authorities to disperse several other demonstrations in Damascus, Homs and Banias, reflects their severity towards the peaceful civil-society movement," the groups said in a joint statement. "It also goes against the right to assembly guaranteed by the Syrian constitution and the government's commitments on human rights."

Gaddafi tanks burnt, oil depot on fire after Libya military strike

Setting up of modern urban centres in FATA: Governor briefed Plan to usher tribal areas into modern era

Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Barrister Masood Kausar Monday attended a briefing on Tribal Areas Rural to Urban Centres Conversion Initiative (TARUCCI) project here at Governor's House and was informed that many donor countries had shown keen interest in the project and made commitment for assistance. Secretary Administration and Coordination FATA Abid Majeed while giving briefing highlighted different aspects of this innovative project said that the objective was social transformation of FATA from a scattered rural tribal society to more organized, cosmopolitan and progressive society. Two centres each in Kurram, North Waziristan, South Waziristan and Orakzai Agency whereas one each for Khyber, Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies has been planned, he added. These centres, it was told in the briefing, would have all the modern facilities in almost all social sectors particularly in health, education, housing, technical education besides municipal services and local industry. The residents of these centres will have all the municipal facilities that are available in other urban areas of the country. Local industry will get a boost thus resulting in increased employment and livelihood opportunities for the tribesmen. The Governor was further informed that donor countries and organizations had so far taken interest in the plan and few formally committed to provide assistance for proposed centres in Bajaur, Kurram and Khyber Agency. He was also told that notification of municipal committees at 14 urban hubs in FATA had been issued. The committee would be made up of elected representatives from different shades of society. As regard financial implications, it was told that the project will need Rs 2400 million for category A and Rs. 2100 million for category B of the project components. The governor described the project an innovative and good one saying that the concept was appreciable and should be implemented. Creation of modern facilities in popular sectors like health and education besides provision of adequate municipal services would naturally control the population drain from tribal areas to settled districts in search for better faculties, he added. "This will also help reduce burden on the available facilities and services in city areas particularly the provincial capital," the Governor remarked. He said that efforts would be made for the provision of required resources adding that we would welcome the donor's assistance towards this project. Secretary to Governor Sikander Qayyum was also present in the briefing.

Obama explains U.S. role in Libya

'Saudis left no way for peace in Bahrain'

The head of Bahrain's al-Wefaq opposition party says Saudi Arabia's invasion has put an end to any chance for a "political solution" to end the country's current conflict.

"A political solution will not come with an attack. Before Saudis come to Bahrain, we tried to solve the problem with our government. But after Saudi forces came to Bahrain, things changed," Sheikh Ali Salman told Press TV in an interview on Monday.

The leader of al-Wefaq party further called on Saudi forces to leave Bahrain.

Salman criticized the detention of activists, saying it signaled that the Manama government was not seeking a solution to the crisis.

On Sunday, Bahraini opposition groups, led by al-Wefaq, rejected King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's offer of talks, saying the government should comply with the protesters' demands.

They said they would not negotiate with the government until all the troops are pulled off the streets, the prisoners are freed and the government guarantees political reforms.

More than 13 people have been killed and about 1,000 others have been injured as Bahraini security forces, backed by over 1,000 Saudi troops and 500 United Arab Emirates police, have violently suppressed protesters.

Several human rights activists and medical staff have also been arrested for criticizing the government's abuses.

Yemeni envoys urge Saleh to resign

Five Yemeni ambassadors to European states have called on embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, the country's envoy to France says.
The ambassadors to Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Berlin and London as well as the Yemeni consul in Frankfurt "sent a message to President Saleh urging him to respond to the demands of the people and resign to avert bloodshed," Khaled al-Akwaa said.
He added that the Yemeni ambassador to Cuba was also one of the signatories, AFP reported.
The envoys join a host of senior Yemeni officials who have either resigned from their posts or voiced support for protesters demanding Saleh's ouster.
Several military commanders have joined the opposition while Yemen's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Mohammad Ali al-Ahwal has voiced support for protesters.
Yemeni deputy parliament speaker and the governor of the southern province of Aden along with the country's ambassadors to Syria, Japan and the UN have also stepped down.
More than 50 people have been killed and scores of others wounded during armed attacks by Saleh loyalists since the beginning of the popular revolution in January. Top Yemeni tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar also joined a number of influential Yemeni clerics who have called on Saleh to meet the demands of protesters and end his decades-long rule to avoid further violence and bloodshed.
Late on Sunday, President Saleh sacked his entire government amid continued pressure from the oppression-weary public. He, however, did not show any sign that he would meet the protesters' demand and step down.

Syria follow in the path of Egypt? Or Libya?

An escalating conflict in the southern Syrian city of Deraa, as well as small demonstrations being held throughout the country, is forcing the Syrian government to decide which path it will follow — that of Egypt, or that of Yemen, Bahrain and Libya.

The government has offered some mild concessions to try to appease an increasingly vocal populace. Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa said last week that the government planned to issue new election laws for both provincial and local parliaments.

Other recent measures include a hodgepodge of incentives aimed at winning over the population: the reduction of taxes on certain foods, the creation of a social aid fund for the poor, amnesty for all misdemeanor crimes committed before March 8, the reduction of obligatory military service by three months, the cutting of parking fees by about 30 cents and increasing public wages by 17 percent.

But at the same time, the government has, in a mixed message, arrested at least 30 human rights activists in the last week alone, tear-gassed hundreds of protesters and shot and killed several more.

“It is a tough one for them. Conciliation or real brutality? For sure people in the government are arguing about this right now,” said Michael Provence, a Middle East expert at the University of California San Diego.

Like Egypt before its revolution, Syria has been ruled for decades by a single party, which employs a security service that maintains an iron grip on its citizens. Also like Egypt, Syria has been struggling to reform its economy, stifled for generations by central control, in an effort to curb unemployment among a ballooning youth demographic that is becoming increasingly impatient.

The most recent unrest came the day the central government sent a committee of high-ranking officials to Deraa to offer condolences to the families of four protesters killed on March 18. Police again shot at protesters, killing at least one more person.

In the aftermath, crowds set fire to several buildings there, including the courthouse and the Ba’ath party headquarters. Protests attended by thousands continued today and troops have been deployed to the area. A peaceful demonstration also took place today in the town of Jassem, about 20 miles west of Deraa.

It is difficult to determine whether the violence is the result of a mismanaged local operation, or whether the central government in Damascus is turning to brutality to stamp out the protest movement.“There are not too many smart people working for the state in Deraa, probably, so it is not really a case of [the regime] making missteps, but local officials are responding with brutality and then the government has to back out of the situation,” Provence added.

There had been speculation the Persian Nowruz “new year” festival today — a holiday where Kurdish populations celebrate their nationalism — might cause the Deraa uprising to spread to the long-oppressed Kurdish minority. So far, however, there has been no news of violence emerging from the festivities.

One Kurd, an architect from Damascus who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that he did not expect Syria’s Kurds to use the events as a forum for dissent.“The police will be everywhere,” he said. “We know better … Kurdish people are too scared.”
The military presence was heavy at the parades. Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem said the government had sent 1,000 soldiers to guard one of the festivities, held outside the Kurdish stronghold of Hassakeh in the northeast. The government orchestrated the rallies to be held in empty lots outside major population centers.

A massive, government-organized rally in support of the regime is also planned for tomorrow afternoon. “Spontaneous” pro-government rallies are common here — and their trademark is the matching flags and presidential posters carried by every participant, mainly comprised of muchabarat, or secret police.

Residents of Damascus, where, so far, protests have been limited to no more than a few hundred people, said they are becoming increasingly nervous.

Several sources said that everyone in Syria is looking to Libya. They are worried that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s use of foreign mercenaries will be mimicked here.

There are rumors that Syria has brought in Hezbollah fighters, and that military conscripts could be sent to areas where they might harbor animosity toward the predominant ethnic group — a ploy that would aim to exploit sectarianism.

“Sunnis from Damascus, for example, are sent to Aalawite-held Lattakia,” explained one student from Damascus who has close ties to several of the well-known activists who were arrested during a silent protest outside the Interior Ministry in Damascus last week.

“Nobody can expect what the army will do,” he added. “A lot will depend on how the people receive the army. If they accept them with flowers, it will be OK. But I know the regime will do its best to see that this doesn’t happen.”

And the longer Gaddafi clings to power there, the more committed the regime here becomes to following the Libyan model, sources in Damascus said.

“The problem is that the regime has been committing crimes for decades, so they can’t reform and open up — it is impossible,” said the student, referring to the combined five decades of rule by father and son Hafez and Bashar al-Assad. “If they do, then everyone will see their crimes — the disappearances, the theft, all of it. So they’ll fight to the end.”

He added: “Bashar is worse than Gaddafi — and crazier. Don’t be fooled by the doctor thing (the president is a former eye doctor). He’s willing to do anything.”

Sovereignty, territorial integrity of Libya must be respected: Hina Khar

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar said principles of respect for the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of states must be respected in Libya.

In a statement here on Monday, Hina Rabbani Khar said Pakistan has always upheld the principles of respect for the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of states as well as the principles of non-intervention and non-interference in internal affairs.

These principles are universal and must be respected in Libya, she said adding it is imperative that all sides adhere to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and relevant norms of international law.

The Minister said Pakistan is following, with serious concern, the developments in Libya in the wake of the military strikes.

The loss of precious human lives is indeed regrettable. Peaceful political solution needs to be evolved by the Libyan people themselves in the spirit of mutual accommodation and national reconciliation, she said adding stability, peace and unity of Libya are of paramount importance.

It is imperative that humanitarian norms are respected by all concerned in letter and spirit, she remarked.

The Minister said reports of civilian casualties are extremely distressing and raise serious questions and could have far-reaching implications about interpretation and implementation of humanitarian principles.

Pakistan enjoys close fraternal relations with the Libyan people and fervently hopes that they would succeed, sooner rather than later in restoring stability and peace and establishing a societal equilibrium that accords fully with their national aspirations, she added.

The Minister said there is a large Pakistani community in Libya and Pakistan remains mindful of the safety and security of its nationals.

“Our Embassy in Tripoli and the Special Task Force in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are working round-the-clock to ensure the safety of our nationals. The Government of Pakistan has so far, arranged evacuation of more than five thousand Pakistanis from Libya,” she added.

Costs of Libya operation already piling up

With U.S. and coalition forces bombarding Libya leader Muammer al-Qaddafi's forces from the sea and air, the cost for the first day alone of the operation was well over $100 million with the total price tag expected to grow much higher the longer the strikes continue, analysts said.
Operation Odyssey Dawn appears to be focused on creating a limited no-fly zone mostly targeting Tripoli and other areas along the coast, which will require a wide range of military assets.
With allies expected to shoulder some of the bill, the initial stages of taking out Libya's air defenses could ultimately cost U.S.-led coalition forces between $400 million and $800 million, according to a report released by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments earlier this month.
Maintaining a coastal no-fly-zone after those first strikes would cost in the range of $30 million to $100 million per week — not pocket change by any means, but far less than the $100 million to $300 million estimated weekly cost for patrolling the skies above the entire 680,000-square-mile country.These unanticipated costs come at a time when the Pentagon is putting pressure on Capitol Hill to pass a fiscal 2011 defense budget. Continuing to operate under a stopgap continuing resolution through September, senior defense officials argue, would amount to a $23 billion cut to the military's request for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. The Pentagon wants $708.3 billion for this year, including $159.3 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yemen ambassador to Saudi Arabia sides with protesters

Mohammed al-Ahwal, Yemen's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has sided with protesters demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, according to a report on Al Arabiya television on Monday.

It was not immediately clear whether he was leaving his post or resigning.

Earlier on Monday, the Yemeni ambassador to Syria resigned from his post as well as from Saleh's ruling party as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest against this three decades-long rule.

West's outrage is tempered by alliances

To the relief of millions in Libya and millions more around the world, the West has unsheathed the sword against the resurgent forces of the loathsome Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Explaining America's decision, Barack Obama said: ''Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Gaddafi would commit atrocities against his people …

''The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow …

''Our focus has been clear: protecting innocent civilians within Libya, and holding the Gaddafi regime accountable.''

So who will protect innocent civilians against the dictators who are killing them in other Arab countries today - Bahrain, Yemen, Syria? Who will hold these regimes accountable?

In the tiny, prosperous island kingdom of Bahrain, with a population of 1.2 million, of whom half are expats, the people had been protesting peacefully in Pearl Square in the centre of the capital, Manama, inspired by the so-called Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The graceful white arches of the modern monument in the square symbolised the pearl-diving industry which had been the region's main industry before the discovery of oil. The protesters were asking for basic political rights, without calling for the end of the Khalifah family's rule.

It was only when a night raid by police against sleeping demonstrators killed three of them on February 17 that the protesters' demands broadened to include the downfall of the monarchy.

The protest grew and persisted until an extraordinary crackdown last week. With the world's attention on Japan's calamity, the repression largely escaped notice But it was remarkable not only for its violence but for its breadth.

Two neighbouring monarchies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, sent a combined total of 2000 soldiers and police into Bahrain in an ostentatious show of support for the regime.

The regime then set about clearing Pearl Square by force, killing more protesters in the process, arresting their leaders, and shocking many observers by staging a military takeover of the main hospital. A total of 11 protesters and four police officers have been killed, according to the opposition, and hundreds have been wounded. The health minister, half a dozen members of the king's council and a clutch of top judges have resigned in protest. In a petty postscript, the regime demolished the Pearl Square monument, a symbol of nationhood that had become a rallying point for the protesters.

The message that the Arab kingdoms sent through this authoritarian internationalism was unmistakeable: ''There will be no Arab Spring here, only an Arab Winter. We will not only repress you, our people, but we will extend our repression across borders to repress all the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula. We authoritarian monarchs will stand with each other against you.''

Authoritarians of the world, unite!

This confrontation has a sectarian dimension, too: the monarchies are all Sunni Muslim families, and they are all ruling over populations with Shiite majorities.

''We think what is happening in Bahrain is no different to what was happening in Libya,'' said Ibrahim Mattar, the leader of the biggest of the Shiite opposition parties, Wefaq. ''Bahrain is very small so the deaths are significant for a country where Bahrainis are only 600,000.''

Yet the West's reaction here has been a very different one, confined to the clucking of tongues and urgings to both sides to engage is peaceful dialogue.

Why the differing response? ''It's not rocket science,'' says the Lowy Institute's Middle East expert, Anthony Bubalo. ''The US Fifth Fleet is based there. It's a critical supporter of the West in the Persian Gulf.''

And then there are the regimes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Like Bahrain, these two are also US allies and friends. Both are important oil exporters. And both, like the Bahrainis and the US, are sworn enemies of Iran.

Australia has its own special interest in the UAE, in addition to a solid economic relationship. Although it has been announced, it's still a little-known fact that Australia has based its Middle East defence logistics in the UAE. Along with the hardware, Australia has about 500 defence personnel based permanently there.

So if the Saudis and the Emiratis have a concern about Bahrain, that means the US and Australia are obliged to take it seriously. Bubalo says: ''The absolute concern for the Saudis and the Emiratis is that they don't want a Lebanon on their doorstep.

''Their central concern is that a Hezbollah-type organisation'' - a political party and welfare organisation but also a sponsor of terrorism, operating in Lebanon but supported by Iran - ''could establish a foothold in Bahrain. Whether we see that as realistic or not, it's what they are afraid of.''

So there will be no Western military intervention into Bahrain. The king can do as he pleases, as far as the West is concerned. And so can the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

And then there's Yemen. The President of this poor Arab republic, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has ruled for 33 years. And though vast protest rallies persuaded him to announce that he'd retire in 2013, he's in no special hurry.

Last week he sent his snipers out to murder 41 people in a crowd of protesters. At least 45 civilians were killed and more than 200 injured. Claiming to be shocked, Saleh then declared a state of emergency.

What about Yemen? Will there be a Western intervention to protect the people of Yemen and hold the regime accountable?

''No, we won't be doing anything in Yemen because there's a significant al-Qaeda presence there. We're already having enough trouble building co-operation with the Yemeni government trying to address that,'' says Bubalo. Besides, the Saudis would oppose any Western adventurism in Yemen, part of their sphere of influence.

This double standard - aggressively intervening to protect innocent civilians in Libya, but staring at the ceiling and whistling as dictators murder their people in Bahrain and Yemen - is already apparent. ''If things keep getting worse in Yemen, where it's potentially a lot bloodier, then it's going to become increasingly uncomfortable for the West,'' Bubalo observes.

So the answer is that no one will protect the innocent civilians of Bahrain and Yemen. The West's words will indeed be hollow.

Hypocrisy? Yes. But also realism. As one of the eminent figures in Australian foreign policy, Owen Harries, puts it: ''The West seems committed to pursuing two incompatible ends in the Middle East.

''One is democracy, the other is stability. The West fluctuates between emphasis on one and then the other. Democracy, once it's in place, is a stabilising force. But the process of getting there is highly destabilising.''

The intervention in Libya is not a precedent. Pity the Arab peoples who expect it will be.

Peter Hartcher is the international editor.

The dire consequences of Saudi intervention in Bahrain

By Dr. Kristin Diwan
In February, Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement fashioned its own version of Egypt’s Liberation (Tahrir) Square, bringing the spirit of Arab rebellion to the tiny, oil-rich Gulf country.
The site of the protest encampment is a traffic roundabout in the commercial district of the capital, Manama. The fountain at its center, a pearl held up by six arms representing the Gulf countries, was built to honor the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
A month later, that same council authorized the deployment of a joint force – under the command of Saudi Arabia – to support the Bahraini government in its escalating domestic dispute. The very next day, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa imposed martial law, and Bahraini forces cleared the protesters from the roundabout in a haze of tear gas, fire and lethal buckshot.
The council’s decision to send troops is a momentous one.
The GCC was established in 1981 as an economic and defense compact, drawn together by common fears over the emerging Islamic government in neighboring Iran. More recently, the GCC has been focused on economic integration, with four of its members proceeding with plans for a monetary union.
The Bahrain intervention returns the GCC to its security mantle, but with a twist. Instead of defending the state from foreign aggression (as the military pact specifies), the GCC force is protecting a monarch from a domestic uprising – the first time the forces have been deployed this way.
The alarming turn of events spells bad news for the cause of democracy in Bahrain, for reform in the Gulf, and ultimately for the stability the monarchs seek to ensure. Most disturbing for the United States, it also expands what had heretofore been a local conflict, and it injects a dangerous sectarianism with international implications. Both of these factors work to the benefit of the Tehran hard-liners that the United States – with its Fifth Fleet stationed in Bahrain – is trying to contain.
The primary mission of the GCC’s Peninsula Shield Force is to protect strategic sites. But, in reality, they are there to strengthen the ruling family’s resolve for a military solution to the crisis. The arrest of political leaders, many of them released from prison only a week ago, leaves few partners for the negotiation of a political settlement.
Ebrahim Sharif, the leader of the centrist, cross-sectarian democracy movement al-Waad, is now in jail. The main Shia Islamist opposition, al-Wefaq, has resigned its representation in the parliament and seems to be shifting from engagement to a strategy of peaceful resistance. Their leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, struck an MLK-like tone, arguing they need only endurance: “With our peacefulness and values, we are deepening the moral and political crisis of this regime and hastening its defeat.”
Yet after the brutal crackdown on mostly peaceful protesters and the assault on Shia villages by state-sponsored thugs, the patient strategy of al-Wefaq may have less appeal, particularly among the young and disenfranchised. The presence of the foreign troops exacerbates the problem by reinforcing the hard-liners’ conviction that Al-Khalifa’s government cannot be trusted.
The reigning Bahraini narrative already paints the Sunni-led government as "outsiders" who rely on foreign mercenaries and dilute the "native" Shia population through strategic naturalization of Sunnis from neighboring countries. The import of foreign troops only validates their viewpoint, and it will convince many more that political freedoms will come only with the monarchy’s demise.
The political repercussions extend beyond Bahrain, implicating the entire Gulf in a stand against the Arab uprising. The Gulf has chosen the role of defenders of order, and it has now sanctioned force – not just the use of petrodollars – to achieve that end. This strategy may work in the short term, but it is unlikely to hold against the growing economic and political demands of their youthful populations.
If the democratic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia turn out well, the Gulf will look increasingly out of step with the hopes and ambitions of Arab people. One sign of this can be seen in the defection of Kuwait – the Gulf’s most democratic state – from the GCC force dispatched to Bahrain.
Compounding this formula for medium-term instability is the dangerous tactic used by the monarchies to build support for the crackdown: fear of Iran and all things Shia. Sectarian tensions have already been on the rise in the Gulf since the U.S. intervention in Iraq unwittingly empowered the Shia majority there. The corresponding rise of anti-Shia Islamist movements is dangerously polarizing. Inflaming these communal tensions – which exist in most of the Gulf countries and beyond – hardly qualifies as a recipe for stability.
Ironically, the decision by the Al-Khalifa government may be opening the door for the very Iranian influence they fear. As U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned, Iran did not start the Bahraini unrest but there is evidence that they are looking to exploit it.
By inviting in troops, the Al-Khalifa government took the first step to broadening the conflict beyond the national context. While a direct intervention is highly unlikely, frustrated Shia people may be more receptive to Iranian support. Ultimately, the best insulation from Iranian influence lies in more fully integrating Shia people into their respective national projects.
Today, the Pearl Roundabout – a symbol of Bahrain’s democracy movement – is cleared of protesters. And in an absurd turn, the Bahraini government – aided by the GCC’s Peninsula Shield Forces – has dismantled the monument that once stood at its center.
Could this action to prop up a neighboring monarchy be undermining the GCC’s own foundations? Time will tell, but one thing is clear: Containing the mounting demands for reform will not be as easy as destroying the fountain built in their honor.

Bahrain detains doctors, activists

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Bahraini regime to end its crackdown on medical staff and human rights activists that speak out against government abuses.

Saudi and Bahraini troops are seen guarding one of the entrances of Salmaniya Hospital in Manama

“Bahrain should end its campaign of arrests of doctors and human rights activists,” HRW said in a statement released on Monday.

The human rights group said that “masked” security forces detained several doctors and rights activists on March 19-20.

After a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters on Wednesday, the Bahraini regime widened pressure on political and human rights advocates as well as doctors and social workers under the pretext of an emergency rule declared by Bahrain's rulers.

More than 13 people have been killed and about 1,000 injured since the start of the anti-government protests demanding the ouster of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa from the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom in mid-February.

Human Rights Watch also voiced concern “about the whereabouts of those doctors and rights advocates still in detention.”

“The arrests, some of which occurred during pre-dawn hours, appear part of a broader government crackdown involving nighttime raids on the homes of those viewed as supporting pro-democracy protesters,” HRW said.

"Nighttime raids by masked men accompanied by uniformed security personnel have become disturbingly familiar in Bahrain," said Joe Stork, deputy director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division.

"The state is now unabashedly terrorizing anyone including doctors who dared to support pro-democracy protesters during the past several weeks," he said.

The prominent rights organization also announced that Bahraini security forces arrested four anti-government doctors on March 19.

“The recent arrests appear part of a broader government crackdown,” it added.

The HRW added that many opposition political activists and local rights defenders “have slept away from their homes or gone into hiding to avoid arrest or harassment.”

It added that several political and human rights activists have been threatened with death on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.

"Bahrain is rapidly reverting to the police state of the 1990s," said Stork. "The authorities should stop arresting rights activists and doctors who speak out against abuses, and release all those improperly detained."

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch also said that Bahraini security forces refused to let injured people reach the country's largest hospital on March 16 and interfered with medical services at other facilities as well.

“Security forces prevented ambulances transporting injured people from reaching the hospitals,” it added.

“There can be no justification for denying critical medical care,” said Stork.

“King Hamad, as the commander of Bahrain's army, bears responsibility for this flagrant violation of the right to health and potentially the right to life.”

Bahrainis continue anti-regime protests

Bahrainis continue to protest against the Al Khalifa regime amid concerns over rising human rights abuses in the Persian Gulf kingdom.

On Monday, thousands of anti-regime protesters mourned the death of another protester in the village of Buri.

Waving black and Bahraini flags, the mourners shouted slogans such as “Down with Al Khalifa.”

Abdulrusul Hajair, 38-year-old father-of-three, had gone missing a few days ago and was found on Sunday, apparently beaten to death.

Bahrain's largest Shia opposition group, al-Wefaq, said police told Hajair's family on Sunday to collect his body from hospital.

Hadi al-Moussawi, one of around 21 former al-Wefaq lawmakers, said on Sunday that almost 100 people have gone missing during the government's crackdown on protesters.

"We don't know anything about them, we've asked hospital and ministry authorities and none of them are telling us anything about them," he told a protest in front of the United Nations building in Manama.

More than 13 people have been killed and about 1,000 injured since the start of the anti-government protests in mid-February.

Protesters have demanded the ouster of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa from the Persian Gulf kingdom.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Bahraini regime to end its crackdown on medical staff and human rights activists who speak out against government abuses.

“Bahrain should end its campaign of arrests of doctors and human rights activists,” HRW said in a statement released on Monday.

The human rights group said that “masked” security forces detained several doctors and rights activists on March 19-20.

Rival tanks deploy in streets of Yemen's capital

Rival tanks deployed in the streets of Yemen's capital Monday after three senior army commanders defected to a movement calling for the ouster of the U.S.-backed president, leaving him with virtually no support among the country's most powerful institutions.
Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the army's powerful 1st Armored Division, was the most senior of the three commanders to join the opposition. He announced his defection in a message delivered by a close aide to protest leaders at the Sanaa square that has become the epicenter of their movement.
Some of the tanks and armored vehicles deployed in the Sanaa square where protesters have been camping out to call for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose forces opened fire from rooftops and killed more 40 demonstrators on Friday. Others were deployed at state TV, the Central Bank and the Defense Ministry.
Saleh, who has cooperated closely with a U.S.-backed offensive against his nation's branch of al-Qaida, looked to be far closer to what analysts increasingly have called inevitable: a choice between stepping down after 32 years in power or waging a dramatically more violent campaign against his opponents.
A senior opposition leader said contacts were underway with the president over a peaceful way out of the ongoing crisis. One option under discussion, he said, was for Saleh to step down and a military council takes over from him to run the country till presidential and legislative elections are held.
The leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the contacts, declined to say how much progress the talks have made, but gave 48 hours as the likely timeframe for a breakthrough.
Also Monday, Saleh sent his foreign minister to Saudi Arabia, Yemen's powerful neighbor and the on-and-off backer of the Yemeni leader, with a message to King Abdullah. The contents of the message were not known.
At least a dozen tanks and armored personnel carriers belonging to the Republican Guards, an elite force led by Saleh's son and one-time heir apparent, Ahmed, were deployed outside the presidential palace on Sanaa's southern outskirts, according to witnesses.
The deployment appeared designed to counter the presence of elements of the 1st Armored Division elsewhere in the city.
All three officers who defected belong to Saleh's Hashid tribe. A Hashid leader said the tribe, eager to keep the president's job for one of its own, was rallying behind Maj. Gen. al-Ahmar as a possible replacement for Saleh.
The leader spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Saleh has now lost support from every power base in the nation. He fired his entire Cabinet Sunday ahead of what one government official said was a planned mass resignation, a series of ambassador have quit in protest and Sadeq al-Ahmar, the chief of the Hashid tribe, said Monday that he too was joining the opposition.
Regional TV stations reported that dozens of army commanders and politicians were joining the opposition, but there was no immediate independent confirmation.
Maj. Gen al-Ahmar has been close to Saleh for most of the Yemeni president's years in power. He has close associations with Islamist groups in Yemen that are likely to raise suspicions in the West about his willingness to effectively fight al-Qaida operatives active in the country.
He is a veteran of the 1994 civil war that saw Saleh's army suppress an attempt by southern Yemen to secede. Al-Ahmar also fought in recent years against Shiite rebels in the north of the country.
His defection to the opposition was welcomed by protesters, but the warm reception may not guarantee him a political career in a post-Saleh Yemen given his close links to the president.
Popular among troops and viewed as a seasoned field commander, al-Ahmar also has widely been seen as a rival to the president and his son, who saw him as a threat to him succeeding his father.
Speaking to Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television from Sanaa, al-Ahmar said the death of scores of protesters at the hands of security forces on Friday made him decide to back the opposition after weeks of trying to mediate between Saleh and the protesters.
"The demands of the protesters are the demands of the Yemeni people," he said. "I can no longer fool myself, it is not the custom of men or tribes to do so."
The two other officers who announced their defection were Mohammed Ali Mohsen and Hameed al-Qusaibi, who both have the rank of brigadier. Yemen's ambassadors to Jordan, Syria and parliament's deputy speaker also announced Monday they were supporting the opposition, further undermining Saleh's weakening authority.
On Saturday, crowds flooded cities and towns across Yemen to mourn the dozens of protesters killed when Saleh's security forces opened fire on the demonstration in Sanaa.
Saleh and his weak government have faced down many serious challenges, often forging fragile alliances with restive tribes to extend power beyond the capital, Sanaa. Most recently, he has battled a seven-year armed rebellion in the north, a secessionist movement in the south, and an al-Qaida offshoot that is of great concern to the U.S.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which formed in January 2009, has moved beyond regional aims and attacked the West, including sending a suicide bomber who came tried to down a U.S.-bound airliner with a bomb sewn into his underwear. The device failed to detonate properly.
Yemen is also home to U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have offered inspiration to those attacking the U.S., including Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people and wounding dozens in a 2009 shootout at Fort Hood, Texas.

Afghan VP calls on militants to lay down arms

In a speech marking the Afghan new year, Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili on Monday called on militants to lay down their weapons because the nation will never return to the days of hardline Taliban rule.
"We are going toward the light. We are never going back to the dark," Khalili said at a historic blue-tiled mosque in the center of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Efforts to reconcile with Taliban insurgents have not yet gained traction and violence continues across the nation.
On Sunday night, a gunman killed an Afghan policeman outside the headquarters of Yosuf Khel district of Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan, said Mokhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the province. The officer was trying to prevent the man from getting inside when he was shot.
Also, NATO reported that a coalition service member died Sunday in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. No details or the service member's nationality were released. The death raised to 88 the number of international troops killed so far this year.
Last year was the deadliest of the nearly decade-old war for coalition forces, with 701 killed, including 492 Americans.
Police in northeastern Badakhshan province said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from a strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 that struck the sparsely populated region.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck in the Hindu Kush region and had its epicenter 172 miles (277 kilometers) northeast of the Afghan capital. It was felt in Kabul and as far east as the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
Khalili, one of two vice presidents in Afghanistan, said President Hamid Karzai would deliver a speech later Tuesday. It's expected to outline the first sites where Afghan security forces will begin taking the lead for securing and defending their homeland.
"We are going to start a new chapter," Khalili told hundreds who flocked to the shrine to celebrate the new year. "The opposition should join the peace process to save the country."
Karzai is expected to announce that Afghan forces will soon replace NATO-led troops in charge of security at six sites across Afghanistan — the first step in a transition that he hopes will leave his troops in control across the nation by the end of 2014.
The provincial capitals of Mazar-i-Sharif, Lashkar Gah in the volatile southern Afghanistan and Herat in the west are slated for the first phase of transition from NATO-led forces to Afghan soldiers and police, a Western official told AP earlier this month. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Karzai was to formally announce the sites in his speech.
In addition, all of Bamiyan and Panshir provinces, which have seen little to no fighting, and Kabul province, except for the restive Surobi district, are on the transition list, according to the official. Afghan security forces earlier took charge of security in the capital, Kabul.

Libya conflict sees Britain accused of launching 'new war' in Middle East

The Stop the War Coalition has condemned Britain and its allies for launching a "new war" in the Middle East after the "bloody and failing" occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the campaign said:

"Air attacks on Libya will not help end the civil war but will escalate it and could be the prelude to a much wider war. They will not help bring the downfall of Gaddafi. He is already portraying the UN's decision as an act of western colonisation and himself as the defender of Libyan sovereignty. Air strikes by the US and Britain will strengthen, not weaken, his position."

"History shows us that the consequences of western intervention are almost always disastrous and not in the interests of those it claims to support."

Andrew Murray, national chair of the coalition, wrote that the decision to "attack Libya and impose regime change" was "instigated by the despots of the Arab League, desperate to secure deeper western involvement in the region to save them from their own peoples".

But the coalition could name just four MPs who were supporting its stance: Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Paul Flynn and the Green party's only MP, Caroline Lucas.

In the Commons, Corbyn, MP for Islington North, said: "Is the prime minister now suggesting we should develop a foreign policy that would be prepared to countenance intervention elsewhere where there are attacks on civilians, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman or Bahrain? I hope he has thought this whole thing through."

McDonnell told the Commons: "I support the freedom struggle and I'm a supporter of the United Nations but I have grave and serious concerns about the use of force by western powers in this region, both the short-term and long-term consequences. In the short term, in the interest of conflict resolution, is there to be a final offer from the United Nations to Gaddafi for peace talks?"

Corbyn and McDonnell have rushed out an amendment ahead of a Commons debate on Monday calling on the government to exhaust peaceful attempts at conflict resolution under the auspices of the UN and directly involve other Arab nations before, and during, any deployment of armed force.

Lucas said Britain had "lost the moral authority" when it came to military intervention in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan. UN resolution or not, she said: "I very much worry that this would be portrayed by Gaddafi as yet more neocolonial exploits."

This evening, Stop the War Coalition said around 80 people took part in a protest outside Downing Street and that further protests were planned.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said: "CND regrets the British government's decision to pursue military intervention in Libya and urges a political and diplomatic response to the Libyan regime's ceasefire declaration.

" Intervention is difficult and dangerous and runs the risk not only of major civilian casualties but also escalation into a major war in Libya and even further afield.

"The lessons of the last decade's interventionist wars have not been learned: military intervention is not the answer to the just demands of the Libyan people for freedom and democracy. CND urges political solutions including increased sanctions on the Libyan regime and calls on the British government to guarantee that civilian life will be protected and depleted uranium munitions will not be used in any attacks."

Yemeni women face education and employment challenges

Rising poverty and high unemployment limit the choices young men and women in Yemen can make about their vocations. Although majorities are still satisfied with their personal freedom to decide what they do with their lives the differences between men and women in Yemen are clearly visible.

Gallup’s surveys of 15- to 29-year-old Yemenis for the Silatech Index in 2009 and 2010 found 71 percent of young men and 54 percent of young women were satisfied with their freedom to choose their own destiny. The gender gap, however, underscores different challenges young Yemeni women face.

“Given the recent unrest in Yemen, it’s important to note that these data pre-date the still unfolding situation and that this question assesses people’s feelings about their freedom to explore their own paths in life, more so than how they feel about the level of freedom in their country as a whole,” explained the research.

Lubna is today a married Yemeni woman from Sana’a and a mother of five children. She barely completed her high school before she was married off to a relative.

“I was the top student of my class. My teachers anticipated a great future for me. I too dared to dream of becoming a doctor or an engineer but all came to an end when I graduated from school sixteen years ago,” she said bitterly. “It did not make a difference to my father that I was the top student of my class. In our family university education was not acceptable during my time. Now things have changed.”

Some of Lubna’s younger sisters are in university, and she vows that all her daughters will have the careers of their choices.

Ramzya Al-Eryani director of the Yemeni Women’s Union says that the situation of Yemeni women has changed today, although there are some challenges that affect both men and women’s ability to make choices about their lives.

Yemen has made positive steps toward the Millennium Development Goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women. However, a great deal of work remains before the country bridges the still-wide chasms in young women’s access to education, their participation in the workforce, and political participation.

The United Nations’ Development Programme reported in 2010 that female school enrollment rates have steadily improved, as has the awareness of how important education is for girls, but education remains elusive for many young Yemeni women.

Seventeen percent of young women, for example, said they have a secondary education; this is in sharp contrast to nearly half of young Yemeni men (47 percent) with the same level of education. The vast majority of young Yemeni women (81 percent) Gallup surveyed said they have elementary educations or less schooling, compared with nearly half of young Yemeni men (48percent ) in the same situation.

Studies conducted in Yemen by the Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa Project (SWMENA) in 2010 suggest many young women and young men desire more education than they are getting.

Three in 10 young men (30 percent) between the ages of 18 and 24 and less than one-quarter of young women (23 percent) said they have all the education they want. More than one-third of young women (36 percent) and more than half of young men (55 percent) said they would like to complete a college or graduate degree.

The SWMENA survey also suggests that young women’s career aspirations are related to their education. Nearly one-quarter of women younger than age 25 without any formal schooling intend to pursue a career, considerably lower than the 41 percent who have completed primary school who plan to do the same. Nearly three in four (74 percent) of those who have finished secondary school would like to seek a career.

Tawfeek Ahmed had to let go of his dream in travelling abroad to perfect his English in order to run the family auto maintenance workshop.

“It was good money, and there was no one in the family who can do it. My father needed me and I had to either let my family down or postpone my dream indefinitely,” said Tawfeek. “Naturally I chose the later.”

Perhaps hampered by their relative lack of education in addition to other economic and cultural barriers, Gallup found young Yemeni women’s participation in the workforce was low in 2010. Eighty-two percent of young women were out of the workforce -- meaning they were not employed in the last seven days, neither for an employer nor for themselves and were not looking for work, and/or were not available to start work. In contrast, 27percent of young men were out of the workforce.

It’s possible that many young Yemeni women who were not in the workforce were full-time students, disabled, or homemakers, but the latter is more likely because 48 percent of the 15- to 29-year-old women surveyed were married.

Further, these young women already had an average of four children younger than age 15 living in their households.


Despite gains on the education front, as of 2010, Yemen is still not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of eliminating gender disparities in primary, secondary, and higher education by 2015. These disparities, so evident in Gallup’s data, may be keeping young Yemeni women from getting the education they desire and is potentially limiting their career opportunities. This, in turn, may be fueling young Yemeni women’s frustrations with the freedom they have to choose what they do with their lives.

Economic and social obstacles line young Yemeni women’s paths to education, but investing in young women’s education is also an investment in Yemen’s future generations. Half of young men (50 percent) and 57 percent of young women believe children in their country do not get the chance to learn and grow every day. If women, as the primary caregivers, are educated, they can model this for their children and siblings and improve their chances.

Top army commanders defect in Yemen

Several top Yemeni army commanders have declared their support for anti-government protesters seeking the resignation of the country''s president, Ali Abudullah Saleh.

Major General Ali Mohsen Saleh, the head of the north western military zone and the head of the first armoured division, said on Monday that he had deployed army units to protect the protesters.

Several other commanders, Brigadier Hameed Al koshebi, head of brigade 310 in Omran area, Brigadier Mohammed Ali Mohsen, head of the eastern division, Brigadier Nasser Eljahori, head of brigade 121, and
General Ali Abdullaha Aliewa, adviser of the Yemeni supreme leader of the army, rallied behind Major General Saleh soon after.

Addressing a news conference, Major General Saleh said: "Yemen today, is suffering from a comprehensive and dangerous crisis and it is widespread.

"Lack of dialogue and oppression of peaceful protesters in the public sphere, resulted in crisis which has increased each day.

"And it is because of what I feel about the emotions of officers and leaders in the armed forces, who are an integral part of the people, and protectors of the people, I declare, on their behalf, our peaceful support of the youth revolution and their demands and that we will fulfil our duties."The announcement came days after scores died when armed men fired at an anti-government protest in the capital Sanaa.

Several ministers resigned from the government after Friday's violence. Abdullah Alsaidi, Yemen's ambassador to the United Nations, also quit in protest over the killings.

Hakim Al Masmari, editor-in-chief of Yemen Post, told Al Jazeera that Monday's army defections spell the end for president Saleh.

"It is officially over, now that 60 per cent of the army is allied with the protesters.

"For Ali Mohsen Saleh to annnouce this, it is a clear sign to president Saleh that the game is over and that he must step down now.

"It means the fall of the Yemeni army, by nightfall, we expect 90 per cent of the army to join Mohsen Saleh.

"According to our sources, the president knew that this will happen and he expects Major General Saleh to let him leave without further degradation and humiliation," he said.

Masmari, however, said Major General Saleh was not an acceptable figure.

"Ali Mohsen Saleh will not be accepted by the youth, it is not the start of a military government in Yemen, so a national emergency government will be a civil government," he said.

"He is also very corrupt, he is not respected here in Yemen, however, it will open the doors for the fall of the current regime."

Popular uprising

On Sunday, president Saleh fired his entire cabinet, which came after a month-long popular uprising calling for political reform and his resignation.

The president asked the cabinet to serve as caretaker government until he forms a new one.

Adding even more pressure on Saleh, the country''s most powerful tribal confederation on Sunday called on him to step down.

Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the leader of Hashed, which includes Saleh''s tribe, issued a statement asking the president to respond to the people''s demands and leave peacefully. It was co-signed by several religious leaders.

Jamila Ali Raja, a former Yemeni foreign ministry spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that "They are preparing a scene for military protection, at the same time a transitional government will be put in place, so a similar scenario to Egypt."

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Gabool al Mutawakil, a youth activist, said: "We are now in the middle of two militaries - one that has joined the protesters and one that is under the authority of president Saleh.

"There is fear of civil war, but we are insisting on having a peaceful revolution."

Violence condemned

Saleh has been in power since 1978, and is facing one of the toughest challenges during his tenure.

The violence used against demonstrators has prompted condemnation from the UN and the US, which backs Yemen''''s government with hundreds of millions in military aid to battle an al-Qaeda offshoot.

Muslim clerics have called on Yemeni soldiers to disobey orders to shoot at demonstrators, and blamed Saleh for the slaughter on Friday.The defections are on all sides and this is just the beginning," Abdul Ghani Al Iryani, a political analyst in the capital, Sanaa, told Al Jazeera.

"I think if we don''t come to some kind of national reconciliation, the defections will continue until the regime falls.

"The president is talking to various political groups but he''''s not talking to the main group, which is the youth in the square.

"If he wants to get out of this, he will have to address their concerns, he will have to include them in any national dialogue and he will have to accept the fact that much of his power needs to be transferred to a government of national unity."

Twenty-four parliamentarians have left the ruling party since the protests began.

Huda al-Baan, Yemen's human rights minister, said she had resigned from the government and the ruling party in protest over the sniper attack on demonstrators.

She said in a statement late on Saturday that her resignation was to protest the "massacre" of demonstrators.

The undersecretary at the ministry, Ali Taysir, also resigned.

Nabil al-Faqih, the minister of tourism, resigned on Friday over the "unjustifiable use of force" against protesters, while the minister of religious endowments Hamoud al-Hattar resigned earlier in the week.

The chief of the state news agency has also stepped down, along with Yemen''s ambassador to Lebanon.

Witnesses said pro-government "thugs" rained bullets from rooftops near a square close to Sanaa University, which for weeks has been the centre of demonstrations calling for the end of Saleh''s rule.

Gadhafi Supporters Rally Amid Rubble At Tripoli Base

With U.S. and allied forces using missiles and bombs to strike at the heart of Moammar Gadhafi's military defenses, the Libyan leader finds himself standing alone against the world once more. But in Libya's capital, where part of Gadhafi's compound was hit Sunday, his supporters celebrated his continued defiance.

From a roof in Tripoli on Sunday night, we saw a plume of smoke rise near Bab Al Azizia, the sprawling military base where Gadhafi has a home. A couple of hours later, the government opened the doors of the compound and invited foreign journalists in.We were led through a party of people — apparently to show us that people are still celebrating and standing by their leader. And then we walked through a lot of rubble and came to a building that has totally collapsed. The government says this administrative building was hit by a missile earlier Sunday.

"Hundreds of civilians are here in this place to protect it as a voluntary human shield," said Ibrahim Moussa, a government spokesman. "So the danger of harming people was real, was there, and we are really thankful to God, not to the Americans, that no one was hurt today — none of the children, none of the families, none of the civilians."

He said someone working there had handed him part of the rocket that hit the building, but that he couldn't confirm it.

At the Pentagon, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney was asked Sunday night if Gadhafi himself is a target, and he said no. But Gortney did say the allied forces are going after "command and control" structures in Gadhafi's air defense system. And it's certainly possible a building on this base played such a role.

Gadhafi loyalists have been sleeping and partying at Bab Al Azizia, the downtown compound, since the attacks began, to show support for their leader. The base has long been a symbol of Gadhafi's defiance and ability to survive. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan ordered airstrikes here, reportedly killing one of Gadhafi's daughters. There's still a statue here — a large golden fist crushing the model of a U.S. fighter jet.

The statue was shown on Libyan state television Sunday as Gadhafi delivered a 12-minute rant.

"You can't do anything in Afghanistan. Bin Laden defeated you. This week, man, you've used all your resources, and now you've accepted defeat and you're ready to leave. And the same in Libya. You're not going to leave victorious," he said.

To defend the country, Gadhafi has said he is putting weapons in the hands of the Libyan people.

Shots were fired into the sky Sunday afternoon along the shore of the Mediterranean. It was part celebration, part funeral at a place known as the "cemetery for martyrs." Twenty-six graves were dug and prepared, we were told, for Libyan soldiers and civilians killed in airstrikes Saturday.

One man watching on the sidelines spoke quietly to a few journalists. Police were watching his every move. The funeral, he whispered, was all lies. No civilians were killed. He said there are many people in Tripoli who don't like Gadhafi. But right now, they're living in fear. Give the military strikes a week, he said. People in Tripoli will rise up again.

At one gravesite, Ibrahim Dao said a 3-month-old girl, his distant cousin, was among those killed in a missile strike and was being buried. As reporters asked details about the girl, Dao began to get upset. "From your questions, I feel like you think that we killed her," he said. "I don't know why."

Anger at the media has been stoked by the government, with state TV saying journalists from around the world are ganging up on Gadhafi, telling lies about what's been happening here. People sought journalists out to make sure they got the real story.

"You know, I love Moammar Gadhafi like my father," said one young man, a 15-year-old who gave his first name, Ahmed.