Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tawakul Karman,Mum of three is Saleh's top rival

Tawakul Karman, a 32-year-old mother of three, may seem an unlikely leader of the fight to overthrow the president of Yemen.
But the outspoken journalist and human rights activist has long been a thorn in Ali Abdullah Saleh's side, agitating for press freedoms and staging weekly sit-ins to demand the release of political prisoners from jail — a place she has been several times herself.
Now inspired by the uprising in Tunisia and the resignation of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, she finds herself at the head of a popular protest movement which is shaking the Yemeni regime to its core.
"With two civil wars, an Al Qaida presence and 40 per cent unemployment, what else is President Saleh waiting for? He should leave office now," she says, claiming that Yemen, like Tunisia and Egypt, needs an end to a dictatorship in the guise of a presidency.
"This revolution is inevitable, the people have endured dictatorship, corruption, poverty and unemployment for years and now the whole thing is exploding," she says.
Karman says it was a shaikh's tyranny against villagers in Ibb, a governorate south of the capital, that ignited her activism.
"I watched as families were thrown off their land by a corrupt tribal leader. They were a symbol to me of the injustice faced by so many in Yemen," she says.

Bahrain cancels scholarships of 40 student activists

Bahrain has cancelled the scholarships of 40 students for taking part in rallies calling for the overthrow of the regime, the education ministry said on Friday.
"The scholarships were granted with the stipulation that the students behave in a satisfactory manner and commit themselves to not harming the reputation of Bahrain in any way," Nabeel Al Assoumi, the head of public relations and media, said.

"Unfortunately, these students broke the convention and called for the overthrow of a political regime that is spending thousands of dinars for their education in most prestigious universities and to help build their character to serve their nation," he said.
No country would accept to spend huge amounts of money on citizens who do not respect it or act against its interests, he said.
"The ministry has already paid the students' dues until the end of the academic year 2010-2011 and the cancellation of the scholarships will be effective at the beginning of the new university year," Al Assoomi said.
According to the official, the ministry has granted 400 scholarships.
Thousands of Bahrainis have been calling for a tough stance against people who, they claim, have abused the system during the protests launched on February 14.
Al Asala, the flagship of Salafism, has been spearheading a movement to block the return of ministers or lawmakers in the lower chamber or members in the upper chamber who resigned in sympathy with the protesters or to express indignation with the government's attitudes.
The society on Thursday expelled its spiritual leader MP Adel Al Mouawda after he broke away from the society line to accept the resignation of 18 MPs representing Al Wefaq in the lower chamber.
Five Shura Council members on Wednesday withdrew their resignations days after submitting them.
Several MPs reported that they have been under pressure from their supporters to call for investigations into the prolonged absences of teachers and employees in the oil and aluminum sectors.

Rapes of Women Show Clash of Old and New India

GHAZIABAD, India — The young lovers met at a secluded spot next to a field of wheat at the edge of this sprawling suburb of New Delhi, where the timeless India of mustard fields and bullock carts abuts the frantically rising apartment towers of the budding middle class. They went seeking solitude, but instead found themselves at the violent cusp of old India and new.

There, according to the police, five drunken young men from a nearby farming village accosted the couple last month, beating the young man and gang-raping the woman. It was the latest in a series of brutal sexual assaults and gang rapes of women in India’s booming capital and its sprawling suburbs.

In each case there has been an explosive clash between the rapidly modernizing city and the embattled, conservative village culture upon which the capital increasingly encroaches. The victims are almost invariably young, educated working women who are enjoying freedom unknown even a decade ago. The accused are almost always young high school dropouts from surrounding villages, where women who work outside the home are often seen as lacking in virtue and therefore deserving of harassment and even rape.

“If these girls roam around openly like this, then the boys will make mistakes,” the mother of two of those accused in the rape said in an interview, refusing to give her name.

It is a deeply ingrained attitude that has made New Delhi, by almost any measure, the most dangerous large city in India for women. The rate of reported rape is nearly triple that of Mumbai, and 10 times as high as Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, according to government records. A survey completed last year by the government and several women’s rights groups found that 80 percent of women had faced verbal harassment in Delhi and that almost a third had been physically harassed by men.

Nearly half the women surveyed reported being stalked, a statistic grimly illustrated on Tuesday when a student at Delhi University was shot in broad daylight by a man the police suspect was stalking her.

The attackers often do not see their actions as crimes, the police said, and do not expect the women they attack to report them. “They have no doubt that they will get away with it,” said H. G. S. Dhaliwal, a deputy police commissioner in New Delhi who has investigated several such cases.

India’s economy is expected to grow 9 percent this year, and its extended boom has brought sweeping social change. The number of women in the workforce has roughly doubled in the past 15 years.

Law enforcement officials say that the rate of violent crime against women has actually dropped in Delhi in the past four years, owing to more aggressive policing efforts, measures like women-only train cars and laws that require companies that employ women on late shifts to chauffeur them home.

But a vast majority of crimes against women go unreported, the police and women’s activists say. The clash between the increasingly cosmopolitan city and its traditional surroundings is worsening, they say.

“There is a lot of tension between the people who are traditional in their mind-set and the city that is changing so quickly,” said Ranjana Kumari, a leading women’s rights advocate. “Men are not used to seeing so many women in the country occupying public spaces.”

In few places is that conflict as evident as here in Ghaziabad, which sits at the eastern edge of New Delhi, a metastasizing megacity. The farmland where the young couple met represents an invisible but indelible dividing line.

There is no question to which side the young couple belonged. The man was an engineer at a high-tech company with a salary good enough to afford him a motorbike and a laptop computer.

Their attackers lived in the village of Raispur, less than a mile from the tidy complex where the young man shared an apartment with his parents, but they belong to an altogether different India. None of them managed to graduate from high school. The narrow lanes of their sleepy village are redolent of cow dung; every home, it seems, has a few cattle or buffaloes, many of them living in pens within residents’ houses.

Unlike the growing ranks of professional women in the city on their doorstep, the women of Raispur live hemmed-in lives, covering their faces with shawls in front of strangers and seldom roaming beyond the village.

Seema Chowdhury, 20, the sister of one of the accused men, graduated from high school. But when she tried to enroll in college to become a teacher, her brothers refused to allow it. Young women who wander too far face many dangers, they argued.

“I wanted to do something in my life,” she said. “But they thought it was not a good idea.”

In comparison, the young woman who was raped here had unimaginable freedom. She had a job as an accountant at a garment factory and her own cellphone and e-mail account. Using those, she carried on a secret romance with a young man she met online despite the fact that her parents had arranged for her to be married to someone else, according to the police.

Vijay Kumar Singh, a senior police official here who investigated the rape, said that on Feb. 5 a young man came into his police station to report that his cellphone and laptop had been stolen. When the young man claimed they had been snatched near some isolated farmland at the edge of the city, Mr. Singh became suspicious: it was an unlikely place for a robbery.

He pressed for details, and eventually the young man admitted taking his girlfriend to the secluded area so they could be alone, and that five men had beaten him and raped her.

Based on the description, the police quickly identified one attacker as a village tough named Tony from Raispur with whom the police had tangled before.

When they picked up Tony, who goes by one name, he was still drunk, Mr. Singh said.

“He was so shameless he narrated the whole thing without any sense of remorse,” he said. Tony later denied that he had raped the woman, according to the police report.

Tony had apparently assumed that the rape victim would not come forward because the shame would be too great.

Mr. Singh feared that he was right. “I realized from the beginning that the girl would not help us,” he said.

The police arrested the five young men and charged them with rape and robbery. They tried repeatedly to get the young woman to come forward. The city’s police chief sent her an e-mail asking her to cooperate and offering to protect her identity.

She sent a curt e-mail reply, the police said: “The police will not be able to restore my honor.”

The police approached her father, and he urged her to cooperate, said Raghubir Lal, Ghaziabad’s police chief. But the next morning her brother found her trying to hang herself, Mr. Lal said. The police decided to stop pressing her to cooperate.

Mr. Singh, the officer who first investigated the rape, said that with no physical evidence or victim’s testimony, the rape charge would not stand.

The police and women’s advocates say that successful convictions are central to changing attitudes that tolerate sexual assault.

A similar episode in Delhi in November had a very different ending. Men in a pickup abducted and gang-raped a woman who worked at an outsourcing center after a taxi dropped her and a roommate near their apartment.

The roommate called the police, who found the young woman and took her to the hospital. She was eager to press charges, the police said. Investigators tracked down and arrested five men. DNA evidence was matched to them, the police said, all but ensuring convictions.

Mr. Dhaliwal, the senior Delhi police official who investigated that rape case, estimated that only one in 10 rapes in the Delhi region were reported.

“But this girl was very brave,” Mr. Dhaliwal said. “It is a very difficult thing in the Indian context, but you have to report it.”

Unrest in Syria and Jordan Poses New Test for U.S. Policy

Even as the Obama administration defends the NATO-led air war in Libya, the latest violent clashes in Syria and Jordan are raising new alarm among senior officials who view those countries, in the heartland of the Arab world, as far more vital to American interests.

Deepening chaos in Syria, in particular, could dash any remaining hopes for a Middle East peace agreement, several analysts said. It could also alter the American rivalry with Iran for influence in the region and pose challenges to the United States’ greatest ally in the region, Israel.

In interviews, administration officials said the uprising appeared to be widespread, involving different religious groups in southern and coastal regions of Syria, including Sunni Muslims usually loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The new American ambassador in Damascus, Robert Ford, has been quietly reaching out to Mr. Assad to urge him to stop firing on his people.

As American officials confront the upheaval in Syria, a country with which the United States has icy relations, they say they are pulled between fears that its problems could destabilize neighbors like Lebanon and Israel, and the hope that it could weaken one of Iran’s key allies.

The Syrian unrest continued on Saturday, with government troops reported to have killed more protesters.

With 61 people confirmed killed by security forces, the country’s status as an island of stability amid the Middle East storm seemed irretrievably lost.

For two years, the United States has tried to coax Damascus into negotiating a peace deal with Israel and to moving away from Iran — a fruitless effort that has left President Obama open to criticism on Capitol Hill that he is bolstering one of the most repressive regimes in the Arab world.

Officials fear the unrest there and in Jordan could leave Israel further isolated. The Israeli government was already rattled by the overthrow of Egypt’s leader, Hosni Mubarak, worrying that a new government might not be as committed to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

While Israel has largely managed to avoid being drawn into the region’s turmoil, last week’s bombing of a bus in Jerusalem, which killed one person and wounded 30, and a rain of rocket attacks from Gaza, have fanned fears that the militant group Hamas is trying to exploit the uncertainty.

The unrest in Jordan, which has its own peace treaty with Israel, is also extremely worrying, a senior administration official said. The United States does not believe Jordan is close to a tipping point, this official said. But the clashes, which left one person dead and more than a hundred wounded, pose the gravest challenge yet to King Abdullah II, a close American ally.

Syria, however, is the more urgent crisis — one that could pose a thorny dilemma for the administration if Mr. Assad carries out a crackdown like that of his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, who ordered a bombardment in 1982 that killed at least 10,000 people in the northern city of Hama. Having intervened in Libya to prevent a wholesale slaughter in Benghazi, some analysts asked, how could the administration not do the same in Syria?

Though no one is yet talking about a no-fly zone over Syria, Obama administration officials acknowledge the parallels to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Some analysts predicted the administration would be cautious in pressing Mr. Assad, not because of any allegiance to him but out of a fear of what could follow him — a Sunni-led government potentially more radical and Islamist than his Alawite minority regime.

Still, after the violence, administration officials said Mr. Assad’s future was unclear. “Whatever credibility the government had, they shot it today — literally,” said a senior official about Syria, speaking on the condition that he not be named.

In the process, he said, Mr. Assad had also probably disqualified himself as a peace partner for Israel. Such a prospect had seemed a long shot in any event — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown no inclination to talk to Mr. Assad — but the administration kept working at it, sending its special envoy, George J. Mitchell, on several visits to Damascus.

Mr. Assad has said that he wants to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. But with his population up in arms, analysts said, he might actually have an incentive to pick a fight with its neighbor, if only to deflect attention from the festering problems at home.

“You can’t have a comprehensive peace without Syria,” the administration official said. “It’s definitely in our interest to pursue an agreement, but you can’t do it with a government that has no credibility with its population.”

Indeed, the crackdown calls into question the entire American engagement with Syria. Last June, the State Department organized a delegation from Microsoft, Dell and Cisco Systems to visit Mr. Assad with the message that he could attract more investment if he stopped censoring Facebook and Twitter. While the administration renewed economic sanctions against Syria, it approved export licenses for some civilian aircraft parts.

The Bush administration, by contrast, largely shunned Damascus, recalling its ambassador in February 2005 after the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese accuse Syria of involvement in the assassination, a charge it denies.

When Mr. Obama named Mr. Ford as his envoy last year, Republicans in the Senate held up the appointment for months, arguing that the United States should not reward Syria with closer ties. The administration said it would have more influence by restoring an ambassador.

But officials also concede that Mr. Assad has been an endless source of frustration — deepening ties with Iran and the Islamic militant group, Hezbollah; undermining the government of Saad Hariri in Lebanon; pursuing a nuclear program; and failing to deliver on promises of reform.

Some analysts said that the United States was so eager to use Syria to break the deadlock on Middle East peace negotiations that it had failed to push Mr. Assad harder on political reforms.

“He’s given us nothing, even though we’ve engaged him on the peace process,” said Andrew J. Tabler, who lived in Syria for a decade and is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I’m not saying we should give up on peace talks with Israel, but we cannot base our strategy on that.”

The United States does not have the leverage with Syria it had with Egypt. But Mr. Tabler said the administration could stiffen sanctions to press Mr. Assad to make reforms.

Other analysts, however, point to a positive effect of the unrest: it could deprive Iran of a reliable ally in extending its influence over Lebanon, Hezbollah and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

That is not a small thing, they said, given that Iran is likely to benefit from the fall of Mr. Mubarak in Egypt, the upheaval in Bahrain, and the resulting chill between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

“There’s much more upside than downside for the U.S.,” said Martin S. Indyk, the vice president for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. “We have an interest in counterbalancing the advantages Iran has gained in the rest of the region. That makes it an unusual confluence of our values and interests.”

Swat, a home for those who lost everything

The Express Tribune
Apart from the already significant psychological plight of women and children caused by life under armed conflict and insecurity, thousands of orphaned children are still vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, discrimination and other forms of violence. According to a survey conducted by Swat Scouts Open Group (SSOG), some 2,000 girls

have become orphans and are either living with their relatives or working for rich families.
To protect this vulnerable segment of society, Khpal Kor Foundation is building an orphanage of modern standards for girls.
Khpal Kor Foundation already runs a model orphanage for boys from across Pakistan, which works under the supervision of the SSOG. Over 200 orphaned boys get standardised education with boarding and lodging facilities free of charge there.
Haji Mohammad Ali, the director of Khpal Kor Foundation, told The Express Tribune, “Many girls are living with their relatives but this could be problematic in the long term. They are an equal part of our society and if they are not provided with access to their basic rights, they will invariably become a burden on it.”
When SSOG conducted the survey of newly orphaned children soon after the restoration of peace, the number of girls was enormously high.
“We contacted the government but got no response from them. Finally we started the project ourselves with our own meagre resources. Fortunately, the American people came to our aid as USAID is providing Rs7.9 million channelled through National Rural Support Program. The building will have 14 rooms with every basic facility.” The orphanage will accommodate 200 girls and provide standard education, boarding and lodging facilities at no cost.
However, only a small portion (about 10 per cent) of orphaned girls in Swat will be able to benefit from the facility. “The rest will live with their caregivers, but they also need proper accommodations.
The government needs to do something about it,” Ali said, adding, “A majority of girls are working for rich people who pay them a maximum of Rs600. They are vulnerable to physical and sexual harassment and are generally unsafe there.”

Two dead, scores hurt in Jordanian clashes

Two persons are reported to have been killed after being beaten to death by riot police and pro-government loyalists in the Jordanian capital of Amman, Al Jazeera has learned.

More than 100 people, including policemen, were injured in the clashes, a medical source at the scene said.

Anti-riot police also broke up a protest camp for students and arrested several of them, a security official told AFP news agency.

The clashes erupted after around 200 government supporters hurled large stones at more than 2,000 young demonstrators from different movements calling for reforms to the current leadership and more efforts to fight corruption, an AFP journalist reported.

"Our gathering is peaceful, but this did not prevent the attacks," demonstrators said.

"Does the king agree with such actions? We are Jordanians and we have the right to express ourselves," said Reda Darwish, aged 20.

"We as young Jordanians, and as a whole nation, are fed up to see our demands ignored by the government and official institutions of this country," youth activist Moadh Khawaldeh told Al Jazeera.

'Start of chaos'

Speaking on Jordanian television, Marouf al-Bakhit, the country's prime minister, blamed an opposition Islamist group for the clashes.

"What happened today is definitely the start of chaos and it is unacceptable and I warn of the consequences," said Bakhit.

Trouble broke out at nightfall on Thursday when police attempted to disperse the youths, cutting off electricity to the square around 11:00 pm (2100 GMT), an AFP journalist witnessed.

Protesters said around 50 "loyalists" attacked them with rocks after the power supply was lost, adding that police who surrounded the scene did not intervene.

"We hold the interior minister responsible for this incident and we call on the king and the people to protect us from these thugs who are attacking us," said Nihad Zuhair, another protester.

The protesters want corrupt officials to be put on trial and security services to stop interfering in their affairs.

"The revolution is happening all around us," they shouted. "Jordan, your turn is coming."

"We want constitutional amendments to have parliamentary governments," said Alaa Fazaa of the Jayeen (We are Coming) group, adding the protests would go on until their demands were met.

Meanwhile, thousands gathered in Al-Hussein Gardens west of Amman to express loyalty and allegiance to the king, dancing to national songs and waving large national flags and pictures of the monarch.

The burden of leadership

How can the Arab League support a no-fly zone over Libya and then complain after it is put in place?

By Robert Grenier
Al Jazeera

No good deed, they say, goes unpunished.

Still, the haste with which Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, began to chastise those implementing the no-fly zone over Libya mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1973 – a resolution, mind you, solicited only days before by the Arab League itself – was almost breathtaking.

It may be bad form to quote oneself, but this aspiring pundit cannot refrain from noting his prior observation in this space that the League's resolution endorsing a UN-sponsored no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians fairly reeked of ambivalence.

In the same piece, this correspondent noted that it was perhaps too much to expect the US to take a leading role in promoting and then implementing a no-fly zone, if one were eventually adopted by the Security Council, given America's parlous standing in the region, where any perceived misstep would certainly be seized upon by its erstwhile Arab enablers as a sign of malevolent intent.

Nonetheless, and acting perhaps against his better judgement, president Obama took the League's resolution as an indication of regional support and joined the British and French in pressing for a UN-sponsored no-fly zone.

Diplomatic language

The Security Council, fortunately, was alive to the reality that a measure designed ostensibly to protect civilians, but which limited itself to the threat from aircraft, ignoring the far more deadly menace posed by Gaddafi's tanks and artillery, would amount to little more than posturing.

The Council therefore adopted language permitting "all necessary measures" to protect civilian populations "under threat of attack".

It is good that this language was included. Without it, French jets would not have had authorisation to attack the tank columns closing in on Benghazi and Ajdabiyah. Without it, significant regime elements might by now have penetrated in force into densely-populated areas of Benghazi, beyond the effective reach of coalition aircraft, and prepared to visit Gaddafi's revenge on the turbulent people of Libya's second-largest city in their own way, and in their own good time.

Perhaps it was just this action which gave Amr Moussa second thoughts.

Whatever the proximate reason, sure enough, the secretary general was voicing doubts barely hours after the resolution went into effect, expressing concern over the vigour of coalition attacks and the possibility of coalition-induced civilian casualties, throwing continued Arab League support for the effort into considerable doubt.

As Raghida Dergham of Al Hayat newspaper put it to him in a subsequent interview, did he not know that enforcement of a no-fly zone would "require bombings on the ground"?

In that same interview, questioned as to the prospect of continued violence and an open-ended Libyan civil war, Mr. Moussa suggested the likelihood of quick success for the UN's humanitarian mission, with the prospect of a ceasefire and international observers in place.

This is pious nonsense, and Moussa knows it. Anyone having the barest acquaintance with the Libyan regime is fully aware that there will be no ceasefire worthy of the name, and that Gaddafi will stop at nothing until his enemies are eradicated.

The rebels know this full well: This will be a fight to the finish, and the price of failure, at least for the rebels, will be death.

A regime schooled for years by the East Germans in the use of domestic terror as a means of political control is not about to reach a "peace of the brave" with those whom it regards as traitors.

Indeed, one shudders at the thought of what must be happening, as these words are written, in areas thus far retaken by the regime.

Power without responsibility

No, the words of the outgoing secretary general and aspiring president of Egypt are those of one long accustomed to operating secure in the knowledge that he will never be expected to act upon his words, and can leave those actions to others; that he will never have to take genuine moral responsibility for unintended consequences he can neither foresee nor control; and that he can content himself with demands for outcomes free of moral ambiguity, without having to produce them himself.

Those days, thankfully, may soon come to an end. The demand for changes in the quality of Arab leadership will come both from the international community and from Arab citizens themselves.

The text of resolution 1973 explicitly exhorts members of the League of Arab States to involve themselves in carrying out the military actions it provides for; thus far, only little Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have pledged to do so.

Obama has wisely insisted that the US step aside, once having made those contributions only it can make, in order to cede leadership to others, including those in the Arab world, whose interests are far more directly at stake in Libya than are those of the US.

And Turkish prime minister Erdogan has very wisely insisted that, while NATO may take on the role of operational coordination of military actions in Libya, the burden of political guidance, in what will inevitably become a highly complicated and politically uncertain situation, be far more widely shared.

Here especially, Arab nations should not be allowed, and should not allow themselves, to avoid responsibility.

Of the three elements of UN-mandated action in Libya – a weapons embargo, a no-fly zone, and protection of civilians – the first two are relatively easy; the third is exceedingly ambiguous and difficult.

As the Libyan rebels continue efforts to free themselves from a vile regime from which they can expect no quarter, the international community is sure to be confronted with a series of difficult choices.

When and where should coalition aircraft intervene to attack the regime's superior armour, artillery and rocket forces, when their mandate is restricted to civilian protection?

The logic of the situation dictates that short of outright regime change, large numbers of Libyan civilians, who can never again be considered reliable by the regime, will remain abjectly vulnerable to the tender mercies of Gaddafi, even if far from the front lines of battle. Who will protect them?

Libyans in control

Virtually no one argues that the international community should remove Gaddafi by direct use of force, no matter how fervently they may desire his fall.

Clearly, Libyans must be the agents of their own liberation, if free they are to be. For this, moreover, they will have to pay a heavy price in blood.

But the action or inaction of international air forces will doubtless play an important role in determining whether the Libyan people's sacrifices are to be rewarded with success or with tragedy. The Arab world must share in the moral responsibility for those choices.

Already, detractors of Obama are attacking him for what they describe as his timidity in trying to cede leadership in this crisis to others. Seizing upon the limitations and internal inconsistencies of the recent UN resolution, they are demanding that the US provide the consistent leadership that is unlikely to come from an international committee.

Obama will be wise to ignore these taunts.

Yes, some Libyans may well die needlessly due to the vagaries and inconsistencies in tactical decision-making which will inevitably occur as those who take up practical implementation of UNSCR 1973 over the longer term struggle with that responsibility.

But the American president must also remember that the struggle within Libya, no matter how gripping and morally compelling to some, including this observer, does not engage core US national security interests.

In this instance, it should be an element of US leadership to demand a greater degree of responsibility and political maturity from others – including those in the leadership class of the Arab world. Eventually, the Arab people will demand nothing less.

It is part of the logic of the democratisation process in the Arab world, however lengthy and uncertain that process may be, that those who have taken their lives and their destinies into their own hands, who have assumed responsibility for their own fate, and taken decisive action on their own behalf, will demand the same of their leaders on the regional and international level.

Amr Moussa, who aspires to leadership of the country in the vanguard of that process, would do well to keep this looming imperative in mind.

Robert Grenier is a retired, 27-year veteran of the CIA's Clandestine Service. He was Director of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Centre from 2004 to 2006.

Libyan Revolutionaries retake key town

Libyan revolutionaries say they have regained control of the strategic oil-rich town of Brega after heavy fighting with forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

Latest reports have confirmed that the opposition forces advanced to the town center on Saturday.

"Gaddafi's forces are on the retreat and should now be at Al-Bisher -- 30 kilometers (20 miles) -- west of Brega," AFP quoted Abdelsalam al-Maadani, an opposition commander as saying.

This comes hours after revolutionary forces won back control of the strategic nearby eastern city of Ajdabiyah.

The revolutionaries had earlier pulled out of the towns when they came under heavy shelling.

Meanwhile, heavy clashes are underway near the city of Misratah. Reports say pro-Gaddafi forces are still in control of the eastern and western entrances of the city but that the revolutionary forces are advancing in parts of the city.

This is while Western-led forces have carried-out airstrikes against the Gaddafi forces on the outskirts of the city.

Opposition forces are being led by the Benghazi-based National Libyan Council.

The council, headed by Libya's former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, plans to lead the country to an election.

Jalil was among the first high-profile Libyan figures to join protesters following the Gaddafi regime's brutal crackdown on the opposition.

Libyan State TV said Western-led warplanes hit civilian and military sites in Tripoli and Zliten. Several explosions were heard in Tripoli.

Libya says at least 114 people -- many of them civilians -- have been killed in US-led airstrikes over the past 24 hours.

According to the Libyan Health Ministry, more than 450 people were also injured in the attacks.

Dozens of civilians have been killed in Libya since the US-led military alliance launched its attacks on the North African country.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa earlier said that the invasion was in violation of Resolution 1973, which calls for protection of civilians.

"What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians," he said on Monday.

Gingrich goes back and forth on Libya

It appears GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was for a no-fly zone in Libya before he was against it.
During an interview on March 7 with Fox News, the former House Speaker was asked what he would do about Libya and he directly answered "exercise a no-fly zone this evening." And on March 17, while appearing at an event in New Hampshire, he accused President Obama of talking loudly and carrying no stick because he believed that Obama lacked a plan for Libya.
But recent comments indicate that Gingrich has changed tack.

Six days later in an interview on NBC's "Today Show" Gingrich, who's launched a website to explore a presidential bid, said "I think that two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a lot…I would not have intervened. I think there are a lot of other ways to affect Gadhafi."
And he's not backing down from the reversal. After being accused of flip-flopping on the Libyan issue, Gingrich posted a Facebook note the same day in defense of his comments on the morning show stating, "President Obama said publicly that 'it's time for Gaddafi to go.' Prior to this statement there were options to be indirect and subtle to achieve this result without United States military forces."
"The president, however, took those options off the table with his public statement," he continued. "That's why during a March 7th Greta van Susteren interview, I asserted that the president should establish a no-fly zone 'this evening.'"
The question posed to Gingrich, however, was not "What should Obama do" but rather, "What would you do about Libya?"
On Facebook, Gingrich asserted that Obama "wasted weeks trying to get approval from the United Nations instead of Congress, the result of which was a weak mandate from the UN," a reinforcement of his Fox News interview, when he stated "The United States doesn't need to have anybody's permission. We don't need to have NATO who frankly, won't bring much to the fight. We don't need to have the United Nations."
Then, during is appearance on the "Today Show," he said, "I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Gadhafi. I think there are a lot of allies in the region that we could've worked with. I would not have used American and European forces."
On Facebook, Gingrich asserted, "Now that we have US forces engaged, any result less than the removal of Gadaffi from power will be considered a defeat."
Politifact has rated Ginrich's conflicting comments as a "full flop."
But the flak he's receiving has not caused Gingrich to miss a step. At an event in Greenville, South Carolina Thursday, he went back to blasting the president's actions in Libya, calling him a "spectator in chief" and, according to, said, "The whole situation is a muddle."
Gingrich will be in Iowa, the country's first-in-the-nation caucus state, on Friday for an interview with Iowa Public Television.

Latest developments in Arab world's unrest

Libyan rebels regain control of the eastern gateway city of Ajdabiya after international airstrikes cripple Moammar Gadhafi's forces, in the first major turnaround for an uprising that a week ago appeared on the verge of defeat. A doctor in the western city of Misrata says airstrikes there put an end to two days of shelling and sniper fire from Gadhafi's forces.
In Tripoli, a distraught Libyan woman storms into a hotel to tell foreign reporters that government troops raped her, setting off a brawl when hotel staff and government minders try to detain her.

Protesters set fire to offices of the ruling party in southern and western Syria, according to accounts by government officials, activists and witnesses. In Latakia, a religiously mixed city on the Mediterranean coast, crowds burn tires and attack cars and shops. Officials say at least two people were killed there.
Seeking to ease a week of unrest, President Bashar Assad pulls back police and soldiers from the southern city of Daraa, the epicenter of the protests, and releases hundreds of political prisoners.

Talks between members of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's party and the opposition make no progress toward a deal on the president's possible resignation. Protesters behind six weeks of demonstrations are demanding his immediate ouster, while the president's dwindling allies seek a transition that allows an "honorable" exit for a leader in power for 32 years.

Thousands of supporters of King Abdullah II take to the streets of the capital to express their loyalty in the face of a resilient opposition movement demanding political reforms and new elections. The brother of a man who died a day earlier in clashes involving rival groups of protesters and police says he was part of the anti-government side. That contradicts the view of authorities who insist he was a government supporter and that he died of a heart attack.

Clashes hit massive British anti-cuts demo

Masked rogue protesters battled police and occupied a top London food store on Saturday, overshadowing a peaceful march by more than a quarter of a million Britons against government spending cuts.
In the biggest rally in the capital since protests against the Iraq war in 2003, adults and children joined a demonstration called by unions against the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition's austerity measures.
But police said 157 people were arrested and 35 people were injured when a small group of "criminals" split off from the main protest and rampaged through the capital's commercial district smashing up shops and banks.
"I think it's a game of two halves. Two hundred and fifty thousand people came to central London and protested peacefully," said Commander Bob Broadhurst of Scotland Yard, who led the police operation.
"But what we have had unfortunately is a group of criminals, nothing to do with that march, have decided to on their own steam attack buildings in central London and attack police officers," he told Sky News.
Several hundred black-clad protesters covering their faces with scarves attacked shops and banks and hurled fireworks, petrol bombs and paint at police, AFP reporters saw.
Clothes store Topshop and banks HSBC and Lloyds had their windows smashed, while some protesters hurled missiles at London's landmark Ritz Hotel. Others lit a bonfire at Oxford Circus, in the heart of the shopping district.
A group of protesters occupied luxury food store Fortnum and Mason and sprayed graffiti on the building and police surrounded the building, saying they were treating the area as a crime scene.
UK Uncut, a group running a campaign against government cuts and corporate tax avoidance, accused the store's owners of tax-dodging.
Five police officers and 30 members of the public were wounded in the violence, with 16 people including one police officer needing hospital treatment, Scotland Yard said.
It said there were 157 arrests for public order offences, criminal damage, aggravated trespass and violent disorder. About 4,500 police officers were deployed for the protest.
Several British student demonstrations descended into chaos last year, with one culminating in protesters damaging the car carrying heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.
The violent end to Saturday came after the peaceful rally which organisers the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said was attended by between 250,000 and 300,000 people.
Public sector workers, students and pensioners waving signs which read "Don't Break Britain" and "No to Cuts" thronged the streets of the capital.
Many families with children were among the protesters and the air was filled with the low-pitched bellow of the vuvuzela, the plastic trumpet whose droning provided the soundtrack for the football World Cup in South Africa.
TUC chief Brendan Barber said he "bitterly regretted" the violence.
"I don't think the activities of a few hundred people should take the focus away from the hundreds of thousands of people who have sent a powerful message to the government today," he said.
The march started by the river Thames, passed the Houses of Parliament and Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street residence before ending in a rally in Hyde Park addressed by opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.
"Our struggle is to fight to preserve, protect and defend the best of the services we cherish because they represent the best of the country we love," Miliband told the rally.
It was the largest protest in London since one million people marched against the Iraq war in February 2003.
After coming to power in May, the coalition announced cuts worth £81 billion ($131 billion, 92 billion euros) over five years in order to slash a record public deficit it blames on the previous Labour government.
The cuts involve most government departments, with the loss of 300,000 public service jobs and pay freezes for civil servants.

Pakistan slams UN resolution on Libya

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir expressed serious reservations over the UN resolution on Libya and termed it faulty, which allowed the West to do ‘any thing’ in other countries.

Responding to queries of members of Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, which met on Saturday with Senator Saleem Saifullah Khan in the chair, Bashir said the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and Arab League supported the UN’s Security Council resolution. “Pakistan has reservations over the resolution as the same might be applied to other countries’ case,” he maintained.

He said Pakistan was still in favour of a peaceful solution to the Libya crises without any damage to any Islamic country in the name of human rights violations, democracy and other reasons. “Pakistan looks at the situation in a broader context and believes in letting people of respective countries decide their decision,” he added.

He said that initially, draft of the resolution was made to establish a no-fly zone and protect civilian population but later it was totally changed.

He informed the committee that China opposed the UN resolution but all Gulf countries supported it. “Libya is traditionally a tribal oriented society just like Afghanistan with 82 percent literacy rate,” he said.

Bashir said Pakistan sought stability in the region and was mainly concerned for the 15,000 Pakistanis residing in Libya and about three million in the whole Gulf region.

Kurram Agency under attack

The attack on inhabitants of the Kurram Agency, one of the deadliest so far, is one of the most brutal and bloody even for an Agency with a reputation as a centre of long-drawn-out sectarian violence. On Friday, two minibuses carrying Shia passengers and travelling from Peshawar to Kurram were fired at by suspected militants, killing 13 people and wounding 18. It is also reported that some 16 Shia passengers have been abducted. There are some unconfirmed reports that the number of abductees in this ambush is in fact much more. Most of the passengers belonged to the Toori tribe of Kurram, predominately Shia and unwilling to bend to militant rule in the Agency. It is little wonder then that they are incurring the wrath of villains who, reportedly, have deep connections to Pakistan’s establishment.

The history of Kurram Agency is a sordid one: strife with violence in the name of sectarianism and double games by some of the highest powers in the land. Kurram is a strategic hot zone as it is a part of FATA but also juts into Afghanistan — hence called the Parrot’s Beak — providing militants with easy access to Afghanistan in their war against US/NATO troops. It is a strategic staging ground for the militants. It is well known that our intelligence establishment has plenty of ‘friends’ amongst the Afghan Taliban, who they consider strategic assets in any end deal in Afghanistan after the US/NATO troop withdrawal. It is because of this cushy relationship that the predominant Shia majority in Kurram has been under increasing pressure by the establishment to allow the militants to relocate to the area. Not only would this save them from the spate of drone attacks in North Waziristan (NW), the military establishment would be able to preserve its proxies if it is forced to undertake an operation in NW. Kurram will also provide the militants with a perfect launch pad for any attacks in Afghanistan. The Shia tribes in Kurram, in the past, stood their ground and refused to allow any such militant relocation. However, dual policies and double games by those who are quite well versed in such tactics brought about such a violent situation in Kurram through stoking the fires of Sunni-Shia sectarianism that the area saw bitter rivalries between the two sects with bloody attacks on both sides, attacks that had never occurred before Kurram came onto the radar of the establishment. The situation became so bad that the Parachinar Highway, the main access road between Kurram and the rest of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was blocked, causing immense difficulty for travellers and supplies to the area. Those braving alternate routes, including a circuitous route through Afghanistan and back into Pakistan, ran the risk of being looted, kidnapped for ransom or murdered. Due to such a dire situation, the Shia tribes had no other choice but to entertain the wishes of the establishment and a peace deal was inked (and the Parachinar Highway reopened) in February in which it is rumoured the Haqqani network participated to broker the deal.

Now Kurram is at the mercy of the militants. The dignity of its people, who stood against hosting the militants initially, has been beaten out of them. This latest incident follows a long line of similar attacks on the Shia inhabitants. The Taliban, whether Afghan or Pakistani, have always considered the Shia to be heretics and now it looks like it is payback time for these ‘infidels’ who dared stand up to the militants. Kurram is convulsing at warp speed due to the dual policies of those who consider the militants friends. This vile game must be stopped; in the end, it is the people of Pakistan who suffer at the hands of these ‘strategic assets’

'Earth Hour' circles the globe

Hundreds of landmark buildings and millions of ordinary homes were switching off their lights Saturday as the annual "Earth Hour" moved around the globe in what was dubbed the world's largest voluntary action for the environment.

Australia's Opera House was the first of many global landmarks to go dark as the event got under way, as hundreds of millions of people prepared to follow suit to enhance awareness of energy use and climate change.

Others in their turn included Beijing's "Bird's Nest" stadium that hosted the 2008 Olympics, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the London Eye Ferris wheel, Times Square in New York and Brazil's Christ the Redeemer statue.

Most were switching off their floodlighting, advertising signs and other illuminations for an hour from 8:30 pm local time.

"The amount of power that's saved during that time is not really what it's about," Earth Hour co-founder and executive director Andy Ridley told in Sydney, where the movement began in 2007. "What it is meant to be about is showing what can happen when people come together."

Ridley said a record 134 countries or territories were on board for this year's event, which organisers have dubbed the world's largest voluntary action for the environment.

Organisers this year also asked people to commit to an action, large or small, that they will carry through the year to help the planet. For example, Dalian city in northeastern China will spend 1.5 billion dollars planting 340 million trees and Chengdu city in the southwest will make up to 60,000 bicycles available for public rental.

The event kicked off in the Pacific, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, rolling into Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas as it followed the descending sun.

Ridley said Earth Hour, organised by global environment group the WWF, this year would also focus on connecting people online so they could inspire each other to make commitments to help protect the environment.

In Australia, organisers said an estimated 10 million people, nearly half the population, took part, with Sydney Harbour Bridge another of the landmarks to go dark.

Hong Kong's neon waterfront dimmed, while in Singapore all decorative lights were switched off and non-critical operational lights lowered at Changi Airport for an hour. The airport said the effort would result in energy savings equivalent to the total amount of electricity consumed by a four-room apartment over three months.

In Japan, which is reeling from a huge earthquake and tsunami that struck this month, several thousand people and a hotel-turned-evacuation centre in the northeast marked Earth Day.

In Paris a minute's silence was to be observed for Japan as the city of light went dark, with illuminations switched off at the cathedral of Notre Dame, City Hall, the two opera houses and many bridges, fountains and public places.

Another 129 French towns and cities were also taking part in Earth Hour.

In Russia some 30 cities were joining in, from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the most easterly city on the Kamchatka peninsula, through Moscow to Murmansk in the far north. Moscow was to turn off floodlighting on more than 70 buildings and bridges, including the 540-metre (1,780-foot) television tower and the 32-storey Moscow State University building.

In Athens monuments being darkened included the Acropolis, the parliament building, the presidential palace and at the temple of Poseidon near the city.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon backed Earth Hour, urging people to celebrate the shared quest to "protect the planet and ensure human well-being". "Let us use 60 minutes of darkness to help the world see the light," he said.

Ridley said he never expected the Earth Hour movement to become so large. "We didn't imagine right at the beginning... it would be on the scale that it is now. And the fact that it is so cross cultural, beyond borders and race and religion," he said.

Protest in London Against Cuts

Yemen president says he is 'ready to step down'

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told an Arab television network that he is "ready to step down with respect and dignity, even within a two hours notice."
But Saleh, speaking to Al Arabiya television on Saturday, also warned that some leadership factions have a "foreign agenda."
The interview came one day after after the Yemeni president spoke to thousands at a pro-government demonstration in an effort to underscore his intentions to have a dialogue with anti-government protesters and make concessions to avoid bloodshed.
Saleh told the crowd that while he is ready to hand over authority, he won't do so to "gangs," "drug dealers" or the Houthi rebels fighting the government
Protesters have called for the ouster of Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978.
The country has been wracked by a Shiite Muslim uprising, a U.S.-aided crackdown on al Qaeda operatives and a looming shortage of water.
Protesters cite government corruption, a lack of political freedom and high unemployment that have fueled much of the anger among a growing young population steeped in poverty.
Saleh had promised not to run for president in the next round of elections. But Yemen's parliament this week approved a 30-day extension of emergency powers Saleh declared last week in response to protests.
The emergency law expands the government's powers of arrest, detention and censorship.

Anarchy in the UK

FIVE police officers and 28 protesters were injured when hundreds of demonstrators smashed windows and attempted to occupy shops in central London.

Anti-capitalists and anarchists attacked branches of HSBC, Lloyds and Santander banks as well as McDonald's restaurants, and fashion outlets Topshop and Dorothy Perkins.
The windows of the Ritz hotel and an Ann Summers store in the Soho district were smashed.
Light bulbs filled with ammonia and paint bombs were thrown in the Oxford Street retail hub, police said.
Of the 28 injured protesters, seven were admitted to the hospital for treatment, police said. Four injured police officers were treated at the scene while one was hospitalized after suffering an injury to the groin.
Nine people were arrested on charges including using threatening words or behavior, committing criminal damage, and violent disorder, police said.

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Britons rally against budget cuts

Tens of thousands of people have rallied in London, the British capital, in opposition to public spending cuts introduced by the country's coalition government.

Organisers said that Saturday's demonstration could be the biggest rally in the capital since mass protests against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Crowds of demonstrators, including public sector workers, pensioners and students, kicked off the "March for the Alternative" along the banks of the river Thames.

Many protesters carried banners reading "Don't Break Britain", "No to Cuts" and "Defend Our Public Services", while others blew vuvuzelas, the plastic trumpets made famous during the South African football World Cup.

Families with children were among the protesters and steel bands, choirs and dancers also joined the march, giving a carnival atmosphere to the demonstration.

Tim Friend, Al Jazeera's correspondent at the march, said: "It's all good fun for many people here but there is a serious message as well, which the government will be watching very carefully.

"There are 'unsung heroes' here, from communities across Britain who have come down to London.

"The closure of their projects [due to cuts] for their local communities might not get much publicity, but for the people who use those services it will be absolutely devastating."

Political protest

Police said that about 4,500 officers would be deployed, after last years protests by student against plans to triple university tuition fees saw outbreaks of violence.

During Saturday's protest, a group of black-clad demonstrators threw paint bombs at shops and banks on the main shopping streets of Oxford Street and New Bond Street.

Police said that some protesters also threw paint bombs and light bulbs filled with ammonia at officers during the demonstration.

The demonstrators are angry at cuts to public spending, rising unemployment, tax rises and pension reforms imposed by the government after it came to power in May.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has announced plans for cuts worth £81bn ($131bn) over five years in order to slash a record public deficit that the party's blames on the previous Labour administration.

The cuts involve most government departments, with the loss of 300,000 public service jobs and pay freezes for civil servants.

The Liberal Democrats have faced public criticism for supporting the austerity measures, especially the hike in university fees which it had opposed before it came to power.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, spoke at the rally, likening the protest to the suffragette movement in Britain and the civil rights movement in America.

"Our causes may be different but we come together to realise our voice. We stand on the shoulders of those who have marched and have struggled in the past," he told protesters gathered in London's Hyde Park.

The UK march is the latest protest against austerity measures to take place in Europe where governments are struggling to bring down record deficits following bailouts and bank nationalisations in the wake of the financial crisis.

London Clashes with police overshadow British anti-cuts rally

Black-clad, masked youths clashed with police, smashed windows and started a fire in central London on Saturday when more than a quarter of a million Britons marched in protest against government spending cuts.

Breakaway groups splintered from the main rally and threw flares and smoke grenades and broke into a branch of HSBC bank in the center of the capital.
Hooded figures climbed on to the roof of luxury food store Fortnum & Mason while other protesters started a fire in the center of Oxford Street, the capital's main shopping street.
The clashes, although sporadic, rippled across the center of the city, and overshadowed a rally called by unions to protest against unemployment and public spending cuts, tax rises and pension reforms introduced by the Conservative-led coalition.
Union leaders and police said over 250,000 people joined the biggest rally in the capital since protests against war in Iraq in 2003.
The coalition, in power since last May, is pushing ahead with a tough debt reduction programme to virtually eliminate a budget deficit, running at about 10 percent of GDP, by 2015.
Prime Minister David Cameron's government says it is cleaning up a mess left by the previous Labour government and that failure to act would expose Britain to market turmoil.
Treasury minister Justine Greening condemned the violence.
"It's a real shame and totally unacceptable that this minority of people are committing criminal acts," she told Sky News.
Police were pelted with paint and what they said were light bulbs filled with ammonia by protesters in clashes which mirrored violence late last year over higher student tuition fees. Police said they had arrested nine people.
"Unfortunately we have had a group of approximately 500 criminals committing some disorder, including throwing paint at Topshop in Oxford Street and at the police, and scaring the public who are trying to shop," London Police Commander Bob Broadhurst said.
"That has been concerning but we are on top of it."
Many European countries have seen mass protests in recent months as governments slash public spending to try to help their economies to recover from the global financial crisis.
Unions and the opposition Labour Party say the government measures are bringing misery to millions of Britons with unemployment at its highest level since 1994.
Labour leader Ed Miliband told marchers in Hyde Park that the government was taking Britain back to what he said were the divisive politics of the 1980s when Conservative Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.
"There is a need for difficult choices, and some cuts," Miliband said. "But, this government is going too far and too fast and destroying the fabric of our communities."

Demonstrators swarm central London to protest spending cuts

Scattered violence broke out Saturday as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through central London to protest proposed austerity measures and public sector spending cuts.
Police arrested 13 people for criminal damage and public order offenses after several businesses were vandalized, police said.
Four police officers were hurt during the protests, with one being treated in the hospital, they added.
The Trades Union Congress, which organized the demonstration, said nearly half a million people were taking part, far exceeding their original estimate of 100,000 participants. London's Metropolitan Police would not give an estimate of the number of participants.
"Banker's greed or people's needs -- Cut bonuses not benefits" read one placard at the protest. "Strike together to bring down the government" read another.
The march was largely peaceful apart from isolated skirmishes between protesters and police, who said light bulbs filled with ammonia were thrown at officers after they intervened to stop paint and bottles being thrown at store windows on Oxford Street.
A clothing store and branches of the HSBC and Santander banks were damaged and trash cans were overturned. Protesters then made their way to Piccadilly Circus and the nearby Ritz Hotel, where they swarmed the famous entrance arcade.
Protesters smashed a nearby Starbucks Coffee window and spray painted anarchy symbols on the front. Police in fluorescent yellow jackets lined up at the sandwich shop next door to stop further damage.
The Trades Union Congress calls Saturday's event a "March for the Alternative" and says cuts to public sector spending are not the way to address the government deficit.

London Police clash with anti-cut protesters

A group of over 300 protesters has attacked an HSBC bank at Cambridge Circus, breaking windows and throwing paints at officers, amid the continuation of the protest against government's spending cuts.

Anti-capitalist protesters attacked the bank and painted the mottos "thieves” on the bank's windows.

According to an eye-witness Reece Hughes, 41, a band of around 300 demonstrators attacked the bank at about 14.15 GMT. "They came down the road and started smashing the place in. The branch was immediately shut but some managed to break in.”

Riot police soon arrived and escaped the protesters down Shaftesbury Avenue, surrounding the bank in minutes. Two police helicopters followed the running demonstrators and a protester was captured and questioned inside the bank.

It is also reported that the police has been fighting with a group of over 200 anarchists, wearing black and covering their faces and holding black and red flags and pro-anarchy banners.

The group of protesters attempting to occupy the shops scuffled with police were reportedly tried on breaking into branches of Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and McDonalds.

According to the police, the protesters threw “light bulbs filled with ammonia and paint bombs in Oxford Street.”

Over 400,000 teachers, council staff, nurses, students, National Health Service (NHS) officials and many others who are angry at the public cut plans, mounting rates of unemployment, tax rises, pay cuts and pension reforms are partaking in the demonstration.

London's Anti-cuts march swells to 400,000

Around 400,000 people have joined a march in London to oppose the coalition government's spending cuts.

In what looks like being the largest mass protest since the anti-Iraq war march in 2003, teachers, nurses, midwives, NHS, council and other public sector workers were joined by students, pensioners and direct action supporters, bringing the centre of the capital to a standstill.

Tens of thousands of people streamed along Embankment and past police barriers in Whitehall. Feeder marches, including a protest by students which set off from the University of London in Bloomsbury, swelled the crowd, which stretched back as far as St Paul's Cathedral.

The biggest union-organised event for over 20 years saw more than 800 coaches and dozens of trains hired to bring people to London, with many unable to make the journey to the capital because of the massive demand for transport.

"I'm sure that many of our critics will try to write us off today as a minority, vested interest," said Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, which organised the march.

"The thousands coming to London from across the country will be speaking for their communities when they call for a plan B that saves vital services, gets the jobless back to work and tackles the deficit through growth and fair tax."

Barber is expected to tell this afternoon's rally in Hyde Park that there is an alternative to the "brutal" spending cuts, which have already led to the threat of 170,000 council job losses and another 50,000 elsewhere in the public sector.

"No part of our public realm is to be protected. And don't believe it when ministers say that the NHS is safe in their hands. With over 50,000 job cuts already in the pipeline – nurses, doctors, physios, midwives – in the name of so-called efficiency savings of £20bn, the NHS as we know it is already in intensive care.

"With David Cameron talking about selling it off to any willing provider out to make a profit, the NHS is facing the gravest threat in its history. Today let us say to him: we will not let you destroy what has taken generations to build. Let's be brutally clear about these brutal cuts. They're going to cost jobs on a huge scale – adding to the misery of the 2.5 million people already on the dole."

The education secretary, Michael Gove, acknowledged the public's concerns about the planned cuts, but insisted they were necessary.

"Of course people will feel a sense of disquiet, in some cases anger, at what they see happening," Gove told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "But the difficulty we have, as the government inheriting a terrible economic mess, is that we have to take steps to bring the public finances back into balance."

Labour politicians will join the march, and party leader, Ed Miliband, will address the rally in Hyde Park.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, will tell demonstrators that the government faces being wiped out in May's elections.

"Every month when a library closes, a care home shuts its doors, or services for struggling young people are withdrawn, I want them to feel the fear, and anger of the people who have come here today from every part of the UK to vent their frustration and to stand up for a fairer future."

Banks and stores in Oxford Street are being targeted by the anti-cuts group UK Uncut. There are also plans to target a secret location with a mass occupation.

Around 4,500 police officers were on duty, with the human rights group Liberty sending 100 legal observers to monitor their actions.

The senior Scotland Yard officer in charge of policing the protests, Commander Bob Broadhurst, has pledged that the controversial tactic of "kettling" protesters into a confined area will be kept to a minimum. "The issues will be with the fracture groups who might want to spoil the party," he said.

London protests, Tens of thousands Anti-cuts march


Tens of thousands of people have attended a rally and march in central London against public spending cuts.

Labour leader Ed Miliband addressed crowds in Hyde Park, and more than 250,000 people have taken part, exceeding expectations.

Police said the main march was "peaceful" but there have been unrelated incidents of public disorder, attacks on businesses and 13 arrests.

Ministers say the cuts are necessary to get the public finances in order.

In the largest public protest since the Iraq war rally in 2003, marchers set off from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park, where Trades Union Congress general secretary Brendan Barber was first in a line of speakers.

"We are here to send a message to the government that we are strong and united," he said.

"We will fight the savage cuts and we will not let them destroy peoples' services, jobs and lives."He was followed by Mr Miliband, who said: "The Tories said I should not come and speak today. But I am proud to stand with you. There is an alternative."The march began at 1200 GMT and it took more than four hours for the protesters to file past the Houses of Parliament on their way to the park.

The TUC, which organised the event, said more than 250,000 people had taken part, and the Metropolitan Police confirmed the numbers.

BBC political reporter Brian Wheeler, in central London, said there were lots of families and older people, and the atmosphere was good-natured but the anger was real.

"The noise in Whitehall was deafening as thousands of protesters banged drums, blew whistles and shouted anti-cut slogans, slowly making their way towards Trafalgar Square.

"The crowds were booing as they went past Number 10, but the demonstration was good-natured and friendly.

"There are hundreds of trade union banners, but we have also spoken to public sector workers who have come to make their voices heard."

One of those protesting was Peter Keats, 54, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, who works for Jobcentre Plus.

Organisers estimated at least 250,000 people attended
He said: "Personally, I think it's wrong the way we are hitting the poor."I'm not so much worried about myself but the customers I deal with are vulnerable and I'm worried about them and I'm worried about the kids of this country."

Demonstrator Christine Nugent, a university research fellow, said: "The size and scale of it, and the range of people here, is great."

The veteran of anti-Margaret Thatcher demonstrations in the 1980s said protesters came from all walks of life, adding: "There are a lot of trade unionists here, but it's not just the usual suspects."

There have been separate incidents involving a number of groups away from the main march:

A sit-in organised by the campaigner group UK Uncut is taking place at Fortnum & Mason department store in Piccadilly. The group has previously mounted protests against tax avoidance measures by big businesses
A bonfire was lit by protesters at Oxford Circus, where earlier police said light bulbs containing ammonia were thrown at officers
Topshop on Oxford Street had its windows smashed and was doused with paint
Missiles were thrown at the Ritz Hotel, Piccadilly
Bank branches including the Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander were attacked with paint and had windows broken, while an HSBC branch was broken into.
Scotland Yard said four officers have been injured and 13 people arrested for criminal damage and public order offences.

Commander Bob Broadhurst said: "The main TUC march has been going well. We have had more than a quarter of a million people with hardly any problems.

"Unfortunately we have had a group of approximately 500 criminals committing some disorder including throwing paint at Topshop in Oxford Street and at the police, and scaring the public who are trying to shop.

"That has been concerning but we are on top of it."Earlier, the largest union involved, Unite, said so many of its members had wanted to take part that it could not find enough coaches or trains to ferry them to London.

Its general secretary Len McCluskey said the scale of the deficit had been exaggerated.

Outlining his economic plan to the BBC, he said: "Our alternative is to concentrate on economic growth through tax fairness so, for example, if the government was brave enough, it would tackle the tax avoidance that robs the British taxpayer of a minimum of £25bn a year."

Education Secretary Michael Gove said he could understand the disquiet and anger.

"But the difficulty that we have as the government inheriting a terrible economic mess is that we have to take steps to bring the public finances back into balance," he said.

Mr Miliband is attending the march but is yet to sketch out an alternative, he added.

Matthew Sinclair, director of the Taxpayers' Alliance which lobbies for lower taxes and greater government efficiency, said: "It's understandable that people feel upset...

"But in the end it's not valid and what politicians should be doing is not encouraging this rally but saying look, you've got to be more realistic about the options facing this country."

Protesters return to streets in Yemen

Anti-government protesters have once again taken to the streets of Sana'a, demanding the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The protesters, who have been camping in Change Square near Sana'a University since mid-February to demand the ouster of the regime, gathered there on Saturday, Reuters reported.

President Saleh has so far rejected calls to step down, saying he's ready to cede power only to what he calls "safe hands."

"The legitimate authority is firm and steadfast in face of challenges, and we shall not allow a small minority to overcome the majority of the Yemeni people," Saleh said to tribal chiefs on Saturday.

His party -- the General People's Congress -- also rejected the demands for Saleh's resignation as unacceptable.

Meanwhile, some reports say a deal on the transition of power has been offered by Saleh's government to opposition groups. The deal reportedly calls for parliamentary and presidential elections and a new constitution but keeps the president in power till the end of this year.

Since the beginning of anti-Saleh demonstrations, nearly 100 protesters have been killed and many others injured during clashes with security forces and supporters of Saleh.

Last week saw the worst of the violence when the president ordered snipers to fire on peaceful protesters, killing 52 people. The massacre has sparked the resignation of a number of ministers and high-ranking officials, who later joined the protesters.

Afghan president arrives in Iran

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has arrived in the Iranian capital, Tehran to take part in a ceremony celebrating Nowruz, which marks the beginning of the New Year in Iran and several other countries.Karzai who will be heading a high-ranking delegation is to sit down with senior Iranian officials as well as the presidents of several other countries who will also be attending the event.Afghan Ambassador to Iran Obaidullah Obaid said Karzai also plans to negotiate the release of Afghan inmates in Iran.Tehran and Kabul enjoy cordial relations, and so far several high-ranking delegations from both sides have paid official visits to the two countries.The presidents of several regional countries are to attend the Tehran event to honor Nowruz, which is celebrated in almost all Persian-speaking communities as well as parts of Central Asia, Caucasus, South Asia, Northwestern China, the Crimea and some groups in the Balkans.Meaning 'new day,' Nowruz is celebrated by over 300 million people worldwide. Beginning on March 21st, the day of the vernal equinox, observance of the holiday continues for nearly two weeks.Nowruz was also registered on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on September 30, 2009.

Bangladesh Independence Day

It is Independence Day today (Saturday). The nation celebrates the day -- its 40th anniversary of independence -- in a joyous mood amid pomp and gaiety. It achieved its independence after a long-protracted struggle for democracy, freedom and fundamental rights over a period of two decades beforehand. This struggle had many distinctive phases including notably, among others, the historic Language Movement in the early fifties followed by the United Front (UF) election in 1954, the education movement in the early sixties, the six-point movement in the mid-sixties, the mass upsurge led by the students in 1969 and the election in 1970. And finally, the people were engaged in a bloody war of independence for long nine months, following the Declaration of Independence by the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at mid-night on March 26 after the then Pakistan occupation army launched a heavy crackdown in pursuit of a scorched-earth policy purported to muffling the voice of the people in this part of the world. Ultimately, the people of this country emerged victorious in their nine-month-long war of independence, defeating the occupation army of the then Pakistan and leading to the triumphant emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign entity in the comity of nations.

Four decades have passed since March 26, 1971 when the country was launched on a hard and determined course to fight for its freedom from subjugation, and bondage to Pakistan. Looking back at the achievements of Bangladesh after these long forty years, one cannot fail to see some great successes towards nation-building. In 1971, the population of Bangladesh was 75 million people whereas the present population is over 150 million. But food production in the country has gone on, largely matching the need of this doubled population. Large scale and persistent hunger or starvation deaths are hardly noted in Bangladesh. A quality export-oriented garments industry has been developed. Its industrial base is now otherwise fairly diversified, compared to the situation prior to its independence. It has achieved some striking feats of its performances in economic and social sectors. Bangladesh is now awaiting to harness its great economic potential.

But the question which is relevant here is: could the rate of national move-up be a lot faster making the attainments of Bangladesh a great deal more? In all new-born countries, it is the leadership that acquires the greatest responsibility to play a catalytic role in hastening all-round national developments. When visionary and dedicated leadership combines with the efforts of a hard-working and capable people, the results can be very productive or creative. But Bangladesh has been only half-lucky in these respects. It fulfills the requirement of having people who are keen to struggle and make sacrifices to change its face for the better. But their instincts and aspirations are yet to be appreciated or shared by their leaders -- across the political divide -- who seem otherwise to be motivated mainly by their useless egoism, self-aggrandisement and incorrigible hatred towards their respective opponents.

In this situation, though Bangladesh today enjoys some strong conditions for an economic take-off based on the zest of its people, its progress at the desired pace is being held back by those who matter in the country's polity. Bangladesh badly needs expanded infrastructural facilities, human resources development, good and pro-active governance, in order to facilitate its young and talented entrepreneurs to run their enterprises efficiently, befitting the needs of to-day's highly-competitive global economy. If all successive governments in Bangladesh had done their work honestly, capably and in time, then its gross domestic product (GDP), economic growth and balanced social and spatial developments as well as their positive consequences, could be much greater. It is for the country's political leaderships, across the divide, to appreciate the imperatives for taking the nation forward on a steady course. It is their will or resolve that will matter most for shaping the future of the nation.

Pakistan to Pay Victims of Suspected US Missile Strike

Pakistan is preparing to compensate the families of 39 people killed in a suspected U.S. missile strike.

A Pakistani official said Saturday each family would get $3,530, and that payments also will be made to those injured in the strike and their families.

The missile attack on March 17 targeted an area of North Waziristan near the Afghan border.

Pakistan's army chief condemned the strike and said it showed a complete disregard for human life. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said the missiles hit a peaceful meeting of tribal elders.

U.S. officials and Pakistani intelligence sources have said those killed were militants.