Saturday, April 2, 2011

Obama Calls for Tolerance in Afghanistan After UN Mission Attack, Protests
President Barack Obama called for tolerance in Afghanistan after the burning of a Koran in the U.S. prompted an attack that killed seven United Nations workers and sparked violent anti-U.S. protests in the country.

“Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity we that share,” Obama said in a statement yesterday issued by the White House in Washington. “The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous.”

The seven UN workers were killed in the city of Mazar-e- Sharif, in northern Afghanistan on April 1. Florida pastor Terry Jones last month oversaw the burning of a Koran, carrying out the act after last year backing away from a threat to torch the Muslim holy book amid U.S. government warnings such an act would hurt Middle Eastern relations.

At least nine people were killed in two days of protests, including a demonstration in the center of the southern city of Kandahar yesterday, the provincial authority said.

Demonstrators stormed a UN compound in Mazar-e-Sharif, killing four Nepalese security guards and three workers from Norway, Romania and Sweden, the UN said.

“No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act,” Obama said about the deaths of the UN workers. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attacks “cowardly,” adding such acts “cannot be justified under any circumstances.”

Kandahar Protest

Protesters shouted “Death to America” as they spread from the center of Kandahar, Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the Kandahar province, said by phone yesterday.

“Police had to open fire, aiming their shots in the air, to stop them marching on the United Nations office,” he said. “The police were trying to stop them but they attacked the police.”

Ghulam Yahya Toryalai, a 27-year-old shopkeeper, said he joined the protests to show his anger over the burning.

“A bloody person by the name of Jones insulted our most holy book,” Toryalai said. “He should have been hanged by someone.”

The casualties were all Afghan civilians caught in the protests, Ayoubi said.

Jones oversaw the burning of a Koran at his church in Gainesville, Florida, on March 20, USA Today reported. The burning was done by Wayne Sapp, a colleague of Jones, the newspaper said. Jones threatened last year to burn a copy of the sacred book of Islam on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Karzai’s Call

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called Ban Ki-moon to express his “grief over the attack” and convey “the sadness of the people and the government of Afghanistan to the mourning families of the victims,” according to a statement from Karzai’s office yesterday.

Munir Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman representing the Balkh province in Mazar-e-Sharif, said the attack was conducted by the Taliban. The group rejects the allegation, its spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in an interview yesterday.

Shaheed Z.A Bhutto death anniversary arrangements finalised

Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and PPP (Shaheed Bhutto), have finalised the arrangements to observe the 32nd death anniversary of former prime minister and founder-chairman of PPP Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on April 4. PPP will start the programme of the anniversary at mid-night of April 3 and on the early morning of April 4 there will be a public meeting at President House Naudero. A documentary, depicting the life and achievements of Shaheed Z.A. Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto will also be shown on the occasion.

Obama re-election announcement

President Barack Obama

plans to send supporters a text or e-mail message with a video announcing his intention to run for re-election, multiple Democratic sources tell CNN.
The message could come as early as Monday morning. The sources say his campaign team also hopes to file papers with the Federal Election Commission Monday to launch his 2012 re-election campaign.

The timing of the announcement and the filing could change depending on outside events. The White House is closely watching negotiations on Capitol Hill over the 2011 spending bill, which must be resolved this week to avoid a government shutdown.
This would come more than a week before the president hosts his first re-election fund-raiser in Chicago on April 14. These Democrats say no public event is planned because the White House wants to downplay the announcement and minimize the political distraction.
The president is making his campaign official slightly earlier than is typical for an incumbent so he can get a jump on fund-raising in a season that's likely to shatter all records. Obama’s team has been asking campaign bundlers to raise $350,000 each, no easy task since campaign finance laws limit gifts to $2,500 per donor. Two sources tell CNN the campaign team hopes that in total their bundlers will raise $500 million, leaving the campaign to raise another $500 million and amass a record-breaking $1 billion war chest.
According to these sources, the president has made calls to top donors and conference calls are planned this week to supporters and key Democratic groups. Vice President Joe Biden is already planning to be in New Hampshire Monday and will meet with key supporters in that crucial early voting state. For the past few weeks, Jim Messina, who will manage the campaign, and Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the DNC, have been flying around the country meeting with frustrated donors working to get them re-engaged.
So far no Republican contenders have formally announced. But these days the likely Republican presidential contenders are making endless visits to key early voting states and meeting with supporters across the country.
One top Democrat says, "The Republicans are out there day in and day out beating up on the president - they're basically running without filing. So to say we're going first isn't totally fair." This person adds, "No one wants to start running now. The president is engaged in the country, this is about getting (campaign) staff up and running."
Additionally, top Democrats say two former White House staffers are likely to set up a third-party outside spending group. Former Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, former aide to then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, have been approached by Democratic donors who are concerned about countering the influence of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers in the upcoming 2012 election.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's execution, a ‘historic crime’

Secretary Information Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Qamar Zaman Kaira terming the execution of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a ‘judicial murder’ said it was not a mistake rather, it was a ‘historic crime’. Talking to PTV on Saturday he said the courts, lawyers and public did not consider the verdict of the case against founder chairman of PPP, a correct decision. Filing a reference in the Supreme Court was necessary to wash off a stigma from the judicial history as public consider the execution was a judicial murder, he said adding, so, correction of the record was need of the time. He said, it is not too late.
He said, a reference has been filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan to reopen the murder case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto which was mandatory for the PPP.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was not only declared an innocent but also called a ‘hero’ which is the reason that despite the passage of 32-year of his murder, people were giving vote to the party on the name of the founder chairman. The slogans ‘Bhutto Zinda Hay’ (Bhutto is still alive) are voiced in every nook and corner of the country, he added.
The judicial murder of Bhutto is present in the books but no one accepts it, he added.
The reference will strengthen the judicial system as judiciary in the country is free and can deliver big decisions, he replied to a query.
Qamar Zaman Kaira said, PPP has never intended to take revenge but it wants to correct a historic crime, and vindicating the position of its founding chairman.
To a question about the performance of the government he said that it has fulfilled 70 percent of the party manifesto and also implemented 80 percent Charter of Democracy (CoD) which is a big achievement. But, unfortunately due to worldwide phenomenon of price hike and its impact on Pakistan, the achievements of the government are not so obvious.

Karzai expresses ‘grief’ to UN’s Ban over killings

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday voiced sympathy for the deaths of seven UN staff in an attack on their office during anti-US protests, his office said. Karzai telephoned UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to give his condolences over the incident, it said. Seven UN foreign staff -- three Europeans and and four Nepalese guards -- were killed on Friday when an angry mob attacked the United Nation's headquarters in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif following the burning of a Koran in the US. Karzai "spoke this morning (Saturday) on the phone with UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon to convey his grief over the attack on the UN office in Mazar-i-Sharif in which seven of his staff were killed", the president's office said in a statement. Karzai described the attack as "ruthless" and said his administration "is committed to launching an all-out probe into the incident and bringing to justice those responsible", the statement said. The president called on Ban to "play his role in raising public awareness on the significance of resorting to non-violence and non-desecration of faith... particularly in countries where such sacrilegious practices were carried out", it said, in an apparent reference to the US. The burning of the Koran by evangelical preacher Pastor Wayne Sapp in a Florida church last month has sparked angry protests in Islamic countries. At least nine people were killed and dozens more injured during a fresh anti-US protests in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Saturday.

India win launches billion-person party

A billion Indians launched the world's biggest party Saturday, as their adored national team lifted the cricket World Cup, triggering celebrations and firework displays across the country.
From the megacities of Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi to India's rural heartland, where entire villages had gathered around television sets to watch the final, this cricket-obsessed nation went into delirious meltdown.
"The whole of India is not going to sleep tonight," said Sania Singhvi, an 18-year-old college student from Mumbai, where the Wankhede Stadium, the match venue, was engulfed in a sea of dancing, cheering Indian fans.
Motorbikes with pillion passengers waving the saffron, white and green Indian tricolor roared up and down Mumbai's sweeping Marine Drive promenade, weaving in and out of the traffic, as cars hooted their horns in accompaniment.
In the streets of the country's financial capital, people danced and banged drums, cheered on by entire families who had come out onto their balconies and rooftops to watch the party unfold, chanting "India, India, India!"
Jaywant Nikam, a 50-year-old architect who was among the 32,000 spectators inside the sold-out stadium who watched India down their South Asian rivals Sri Lanka, was almost overcome by the occasion.
"I was 23 years old when India won the World Cup the first time, and it's so good after so many years to see them win again with my children," a tearful Nikam said, hugging his son and daughter.
His 11-year-old son Vedant was dressed head-to-toe in the Indian team kit, the price tag still dangling from his cap and his face painted in the colours of the national flag.
There were tears of another kind in the Sri Lankan capital, as some fans wept with disappointment after watching their team fall at the final hurdle.
Colombo's Galle Face promenade, where tens of thousands had gathered in expectation of a victory party, took on the atmosphere of a wake, as fans made their way home in silence, shaking their heads and offering each other consoling pats on the back.
Some still managed to put a brave face on their disappointment.
"We must be happy that the World Cup was lifted by a fellow South Asian nation," said Palitha Perera. "We have only another four years to wait."
The victory was especially sweet for the people of Mumbai.
The World Cup final was the city's highest-profile sporting event since the 2008 attacks, which saw 10 Islamist militants kill 166 people at landmark targets, including the Taj Mahal Palace hotel where the teams were staying.
"We are very, very proud of our team," said college student Beenish Shaikh.
"It is truly something to win the trophy after 28 years. We are so happy. We are going to party all through the night."
In Kolkata, thousands of ecstatic fans thronged the city's three kilometre-long (two-mile-long) Park Street boulevard, singing and hugging.
"Many of us were not born in 1983 when India last won the cup," said Neha Keshri, 18.
"We waited through the years, and six editions of World Cups passed by. The moment has come now," she laughed.
Some 3,500 police personnel had been deployed to ensure the safety of the two teams and the spectators in Mumbai, who included both countries' presidents.
Khaki-clad police equipped with bamboo sticks were joined by paramilitaries with full body armour and automatic weapons, as coastguard and navy patrols kept watch on the Arabian Sea and a no-fly zone was imposed over south Mumbai.
Indians from cycle-rickshaw drivers and Bollywood film stars to the prime minister had been swept up in the anticipation, with an Indian swimwear model now stuck with fulfilling her pledge to strip naked for the team if they won.
Cycle-rickshaw driver Sheru Khan, 35, showed his dedication by riding nearly 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from his home in northern Uttar Pradesh state to Mumbai after being promised a free ticket by a local politician.
Black market tickets for the match had exchanged hands for as much as to $3,300 each, and cricket's governing body was criticised for only making 4,000 tickets available to the general public.
The Mumbai Mirror tabloid said that customs officers at the city's airport even offered to waive import duty on a replica of the World Cup trophy in return for seats at the final.

Spy Chief’s Tenure Is Extended in Pakistan

The Pakistani government has given another one-year extension to the chief of its powerful spy organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced the decision Friday evening in a television interview with the state-run PTV News and the private network Dawn News. Mr. Gilani said his government had decided to retain Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the director general of the ISI, owing to the “prevailing security situation in the country.”

“We need continuity in the current situation, and the extension was very necessary,” Mr. Gilani said.

The interview was the first public confirmation that the tenure of General Pasha, who is second only to the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in terms of power and influence, is being extended. This is the second extension given to General Pasha, whom General Kayani has sought to keep by his side as Pakistan grapples with the Taliban insurgency.

General Pasha’s previous extension ended March 18, but there was no official public notification, in contrast to last year, when Mr. Gilani issued a brief statement announcing the extension.

General Kayani was given a three-year extension in July 2010. He is scheduled to retire in 2013, when the terms of both President Asif Ali Zardari and the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, will also end.

There was speculation here that the army was pushing for a two-year extension for General Pasha, to ensure that he also retained his job until 2013. There was little doubt that General Pasha would retain his job after General Kayani again put his weight behind his chosen spy chief.

In his televised interview, Mr. Gilani skirted a question as to why his government could not choose another officer to replace General Pasha. “Why is there confusion over the extension of the ISI chief?” he said. “It is very much the right of the government, and we have given him one year’s extension in the same position.”

The Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate is often described as a state within a state, given its unfettered powers and general lack of accountability and transparency. It has influenced the country’s domestic and foreign policy for decades and continues to do so, leaving a weak civilian government no choice but to play second fiddle.

General Pasha, a career soldier, was appointed head of the directorate in October 2008. He had previously headed military operations and overseen the army’s campaigns against Taliban militants in Pakistan’s volatile northwest region, and he had forged a good relationship with United States officials.

But the relationship between the ISI and the Central Intelligence Agency has not been easy, and it suffered a new blow after Raymond Davis, a C.I.A. security contractor, was arrested in January on charges of killing two people in Lahore.

PPP to observe Shaheed Bhutto anniversary with solemnity

Provincial president PPP Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Syed Zahir Ali Shah has said that like other parts of the country 32nd death anniversary of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would be observed with great solemnity and political enthusiasm in the province. Addressing a meeting here Saturday in connections with arrangement for the death anniversary of the PPP founding chairman, he said that April 4 is the day for the renewal of pledge for the leadership and workers of PPP that they will not hesitate from rendering any kind of sacrifice in the achievement of the party mission.
He said that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

wanted the strengthening of democracy in the country and accepted gallows in the struggle for the rights of the downtrodden classes of the society. He said that Zulfikat Ali Bhutto declined to bow before the military dictator and his daughter Benazir Bhutto also followed the suite and martyred in the struggle for restoration of democracy in the country.
He said that due to these reasons once again a PPP government has been established in Pakistan under the leadership of the co-chairman, President, Asif Ali Zardari and the graph of the popularity of the party is on rise.
Paying tributes to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on the eve his 32nd death anniversary, he urged the party workers to promote his philosophy and utilize their all available resources for the promotion of democratic culture in the country.
Syed Zahir Ali Shah, who also holds the portfolio of health in the provincial cabinet, said that PPP is top popular political party and having roots in the masses. He said that the party founded by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has become as top popular political party.
He said that all conspiracies against the party would be foiled, saying whenever PPP come to power, anti-democratic forces indulged in such attempts.
However, he warned such forces that though the leadership of the party could be physically eliminated, but they will never succeed in the elimination of the party.
The provincial president PPP said that though today Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Shaheed Benazir Bhutto are not amongst them, but their philosophies are still guiding them and will continue in future also.

Female boxer shot before fight in Germany

Germany’s female world lightweight boxing champion Rola El-Halabi was recovering in hospital on Saturday after being gunned down before a title fight.

The 25-year-old, born in Lebanon, but raised in Ulm, Germany, was preparing for a WIBF title fight against Bosnia’s Irma Balijagic-Adler in Karlshorst, Berlin, on Friday when she was shot in her dressing room.

A 44-year-old man, believed to the boxer’s step-father and her former manager, fired at El-Halabi’s legs and hands, as well as wounding two security guards in the process, before police arrested him.

All three victims later needed emergency operations in hospital.

El-Halabi received three wounds and is recovering in hospital, but there are fears her injuries could threaten her career.

She is undefeated after 11 fights with six knock-outs.

Afghanistan: when gentle Mazar-e-Sharif erupted in violence

UN workers warn killings in surge of anger prompted by Qur'an burning could end Afghan mission

Syed Jamal had a front-row seat for Friday's sacking of the UN compound in Mazar-e-Sharif. The small building containing offices for the provincial mission are separated from the bread shop owned by the 17-year-old's family by just an open drain and a few dozen yards of rutted, unpaved road.

The day after the attack, a group of 20 bored policemen were lounging around in the front of the gutted building, biding their time by reading UN leaflets that had become strewn in front of the building, and standing guard in front of a pair of burned-out trucks.

But the dramatic events of Friday – events that shocked the world, imperilled the entire UN mission and raised serious doubts about how Afghanistan will handle the handover of power from its foreign backers – were of marginal interest to Jamal and the boys messing around on the corner.

And there were mixed feelings about the rights and wrongs of an incident that cost the lives of seven UN staff – four Gurkha security guards and three European UN diplomats – making it the worst crisis to hit the international organisation in Afghanistan.

Yes, they thought what happened on their doorstep was wrong – particularly the beheading of two UN staff, who they accepted were only in Mazar to "serve Afghanistan". But, they said, "the foreigners" needed to understand the level of anger at the desecration of the Qur'an by a Christian extremist on the other side of the world.

"Why do they not respect us?" asked Jamal. "We do not burn their Christian books, so they need to understand that the Qur'an is our most holy book."

It was a question repeated in other parts of Afghanistan as anger over the Qur'an-burning fuelled a second day of violence, sparking riots in the southern city of Kandahar in which nine protesters died and more than 80 were injured. Demonstrations in cities such as Kabul and Herat against Florida pastor Terry Jones's stunt were reported to have stayed peaceful, in stark comparison to Friday's drama in Mazar.

It was in the city's exquisite Blue Mosque, where Jones's Qur'an-burning was the subject of a Friday-prayers sermon, that the afternoon's bloody sequence of events began to unfold. Upon leaving the mosque, worshippers found another set of religious leaders in a Toyota Corolla kitted out with loudspeakers urging people to join them at the burning of Jones in effigy.

But then the crowd turned and started walking the one-mile journey towards the UN compound.

Atiullah Ansari, head of the Blue Mosque, said there had been no plan to do that and claimed that radical madrasa students from outside the city were to blame. These "agents of the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami [a Taliban-allied insurgent group]" were solely responsible for the violence, he argued.

That view was also being pushed by provincial government officials keen to blame a small minority for inciting the violence, although few analysts accepted it. Unusually, one of the Taliban's spokesmen, Zabiullah Mujahid – a man not usually given to missing an opportunity to claim credit for mayhem – sent a text message to the Observer denying involvement.

If the glimmer of popular sympathy for violence in Mazar is disturbing, so too is the fact that such a terrible attack on western civilians should have happened there at all. Mazar is a highly secure city of ordered streets, where cars are regulated by traffic lights which, almost uniquely in Afghanistan, not only work but are obeyed.

When Liam Fox, the defence secretary, toured Afghanistan, he made a point of adding Mazar to the usual British itinerary of Kabul and Helmand. "It was a totally unthreatening environment," he said at the time. "It's a city the size of Bristol and it felt just like any safe city in Central Asia."

Indeed, there are few signs of the concrete bastions and blast walls that encrust important buildings in other Afghan cities. The newly opened US consulate, which has taken over an old hotel, does not even have razor wire along its not particularly high walls.

And the UN compound looks, with hindsight, absurdly under-protected. Little stood in the way of Friday's crowds except a metal car barrier and a couple of Gurkhas who, on being overwhelmed by the crowds, were beaten with the butts of their own assault rifles, eyewitnesses said.

The image of a furious mob cutting down the white men who had come into their midst conjured up parallels with the west's previous forays into the country, not least the first Anglo-Afghan War, which was preceded by a crowd overwhelming a British position and killing the famous diplomat Alexander Burnes in 1841.

That incident had in part been due to the dissolute behaviour of foreigners that had been gradually enraging the locals in the conservative Islamic country for some time.

Many believe the same is happening again. "There is a lot of anger after years in which western military operations have caused an accumulation of civilian casualty cases," wrote Thomas Ruttig, director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. "Afghans are tired of the repeated initial denials, then admission that something may have gone wrong and then apologies. Paying compensation might be nice gestures but cannot bring anyone back to life."

Politicians, including the president Hamid Karzai, tap into public anger in order – claim his many critics – to mask his own shortcomings. The day before the Mazar riots, the Afghan president fuelled the controversy by condemning the Qur'an burning and calling for Jones to be arrested.

In days gone by, the UN liked to think it stood above the many conflicts in Afghanistan, working as a vital independent arbiter. Today, however, the international organisation is regarded as too weak to be truly useful by the Americans and partisan by both the government and much of the insurgent movement.

The Karzai government's displeasure with the UN was illustrated earlier this month when Ban Ki-moon, the organisation's secretary general, received an extraordinary letter from the Afghan foreign minister demanding radical changes to its mandate in the country. The government demanded that the UN close down many of its offices, limiting its presence to just "six recognised zones throughout the country."

The tragedy is that the UN had just started preparing for potentially greater risks to its staff in future, as the country starts a multi-year process of "transition" from Nato to Afghan security control.

By the end of 2014, the entire country is meant to be in the hands of the Afghan National Army and its police force, with certain cities and provinces due to be transfer this year – including Mazar. But in a sign that they are not fully confident in Afghanistan's security services, UN officers have been looking at ways to improve the safety of their staff in areas that are soon to be handed over.

Even in Bamiyan, by far the most benign and anti-Taliban area in the country, which is also slated to be transferred away from Nato control this year, the UN has drawn up plans to move from the compound that has served it well for years to the other side of the town and a more secure area.

It is the sort of development that is likely to further erode already rock-bottom morale among many UN staff who, over the last two years, have seen their freedom to operate drastically curtailed in the name of security. Today they live and work in increasingly fortress-like facilities and only see everyday Afghanistan through the thick glass of their armoured vehicles.

Now things could get even worse, with many UN staffers predicting that – as with the aftermath of an attack on a Kabul guesthouse in 2009 that left five dead – many people might be sent out of the country altogether to work remotely for Afghanistan from Dubai.

Writing on her personal blog in response to Friday's attack, one aid worker called Una Moore said that the episode did not represent the beginning of the end of the international presence in Afghanistan; "this is the end," she wrote.

"Unless we, the internationals, want our guards to fire on unarmed protesters from now on, the day has come for us to leave Afghanistan."

Obama '12 launch likely next week

In a long-anticipated move, President Barack Obama is expected to file his reelection papers with the Federal Election Commission as soon as next week — possibly as early as Monday — and follow up with an announcement to supporters sometime soon after, Democrats say.

On Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney teased reporters about the FEC filing, one of the worst kept secrets in Washington, inserting a breathless, dramatic pause into a typically monotone readout of Obama’s schedule for the next week.

Shakira donates $400,000 to rebuild Haiti school

Colombian pop star Shakira donated $400,000 Thursday to rebuild a school that was severely damaged in the January 2010 quake that leveled much of the Haitian capital.

The singer signed an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank, which will match her contribution to rebuild the Elie Dubois school, one of the island's oldest, built in the early 20th century.

"I am delighted to have the opportunity to help you make your dream come true," Shakira told about a hundred students and nuns from the school, speaking in French.

"I would like to tell the girls of the Elie Dubois school that you should seize the opportunity for education," she added, saying she was heartened by the warm reception she had received. The star then performed a brief dance.

The non-profit group Architecture for Humanity will rebuild two of the school's buildings, with a target completion date in 12 to 14 months from now.

"In the name of the children and the government, I would like to thank the IDB and Shakira for their support to the cause of education," said Education Minister Joel Desrosiers Jean-Pierre.

Following the ceremony, a few students performed a dance on a Shakira soundtrack, as the singer joined them on an improvised stage.

Iraqis protest Bahrain crackdown

Hundreds of Iraqis have taken to the streets in a show of solidarity with Bahraini anti-government protesters, as the Manama government continues its brutal crackdown.

Demonstrators in Baghdad waved Bahraini flags from buildings and car antennas on Saturday. They protested the presence of troops from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries in Bahrain, AP reported.

The Iraqi government has denounced the crackdown and called on the United States to do more to pressure the Bahraini government into stopping the violence.

"We demand the withdrawal of foreign troops, which entered Bahrain under the pretext of protecting Bahrain from external threat, and we call on those who have committed crimes against the people of Bahrain to be held accountable," Iraqi lawmaker Ahmed al-Chalabi said at a news conference in Baghdad.

Other Iraqi lawmakers have also condemned the international media for remaining silent on the atrocities committed by the Al Khalifa family. "Peoples in all countries have the right to ... ask for change,'' said lawmaker Aliya Nusayif.

"There are massacres being committed on the Bahraini land while the international community is paying no attention to it and directing their concern to Libya only,'' she added.

Bahrain has been the scene of nationwide anti-government protests since February 14.

Opposition groups say dozens of people have gone missing, at least 25 have been killed and around 1,000 have been wounded. It has also been reported that at least 250 Bahrainis have been detained.

Demonstrators demand a new constitution that would limit the king's powers. They are also calling for Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa to step down.

Poll: Saudi Kingdom will collapse

A Press TV survey reveals that almost half of the public think the brutal crackdown and tight security measures in Saudi Arabia will not safeguard the Kingdom against collapse.

According to the public opinion poll, some 51.6 percent of people think that crackdown will result in a massive bloodshed and the collapse of the Saudi kingdom.

The poll indicates that 13.04 percent of people believe that the issue will only result in massive bloodshed, while another 18 percent said the strict security measures will just not be enough to save the kingdom from falling.

An estimated 17.36 percent of the voters went for the choice that said the crackdown will eventually discourage the public in its revolutionary drive.

The survey also found that the voters from the United States topped the list of participants by 26.3 percent of the votes, while 11.4 percent were from the United Kingdom.

Voters from Canada made 6.3 percent, along with Australians and the Dutch, with 2.6 and 1.6 percent respectively.

Some 51.8 percent of the votes were also from other countries.

The poll was conducted while hundreds of people have recently protested peacefully in Saudi Arabia, calling on the country's military to end its incursion into Bahrain.

Moreover, hundreds of anti-government Saudi protesters took to the streets in Qatif and surrounding villages in eastern Saudi Arabia on March 25, demanding the immediate release of what they called forgotten political prisoners. The protesters said the prisoners were being held unjustly and without trial, some as long as 16 years.

Demonstrators also called for political freedoms and an end to sectarian discrimination by the Wahhabi monarchy.

Nine dead in Afghan Koran burning protests

At least nine people have been killed in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, officials said on Saturday, on a second day of violent protests over the burning of a Koran by a radical fundamentalist Christian in the United States.

A suicide attack also hit a NATO military base in the capital Kabul, the day after protesters over-ran a UN mission in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and killed seven foreign staff, in the deadliest attack on the UN in Afghanistan.

The violence is the worst in Afghanistan for months, and comes as the country gears up for the first stage of a years-long security handover to Afghan troops, and after the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, delivered an optimistic assessment of progress in the war.

Friday's attack, followed by a series of protests on Saturday, were sparked by the actions of Christian preacher Terry Jones who supervised the burning of the Koran in front of about 50 people at a church in Florida on March 20, according to his website.

The spokesman for the Kandahar governor, Zalmay Ayoubi, said at least nine people were killed and over 70 injured in Saturday's violence in the city in the spiritual heartland of the Taliban.

Abdul Qayum Pukhla, the senior health official for the province, said some of the dead showed signs they had been beaten and hit with stones.

A band of around 150 men who had taken to the streets to denounce Koran burning set tires alight, smashed up shops and attacked an Afghan photographer, Reuters' witnesses said.

The reporter was hit over the head and had his camera taken from him and smashed, by protesters who discussed killing him. Police kept other journalists from approaching the crowd, which was shouting slogans including "death to America."

The spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province said the protest was organized by the Taliban who used the Koran burning as an excuse to incite violence in a city where their reach has been curtailed by an aggressive NATO-led military campaign.

Gunfire still echoed round the city in the afternoon, but it was not clear if anyone other than nervous security forces was still on the streets.

In Kabul on Saturday, a small group of burkha-clad insurgents attacked a coalition base, although they caused only light injuries to three soldiers, police and NATO-led troops said.

More protests are possible across volatile and deeply religious Afghanistan, where anti-Western sentiment has been fueled for years by civilian casualties.

Around 1,000 people protested peacefully in northern Tahar province, said Shah Jahan Noori, provincial police chief.


The Taliban said they had no role in Friday's assault on the U.N. office in the usually peaceful northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, after both the provincial governor and a senior U.N. official suggested provocateurs among the crowd had sparked or led the vicious attack."The Taliban had nothing to do with this, it was a pure act of responsible Muslims," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said by phone from an undisclosed location.

"The foreigners brought the wrath of the Afghans on themselves by burning the Koran."

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashery said police reports suggested the attack was not planned.

Thousands of demonstrators flooded into the streets of a city considered safe enough to be in the vanguard of a crucial security transition, after Friday prayers ended, and many headed straight for the U.N. mission.

There they overwhelmed security guards, burned parts of the compound and climbed blast walls to topple a guard tower. The throat of one of slain foreigners had been slit, the U.N. said.

Five Afghan protesters were also killed and others wounded, some after trying to take weapons off U.N. security guards.

The attack took many in the city, one of the country's most prosperous and stable, by surprise and some demonstrators said they had not expected the extreme violence.

"It is our right to demonstrate because they burned our holy book, but I was not there to kill people," said 20-year-old Habeebullah, who was wounded in one leg.

However some had little sympathy for the foreign dead.

"I took part in the demonstration to curse the foreigners but I had no weapon," said shopkeeper Rahim Mohammad.

"But I don't feel sorry for UN workers killed, our people are slaughtered by foreigners everyday."

Radical evangelical Jones told the British Broadcasting Corporation he did not feel guilty over the deaths in Mazar. "We are not responsible for their actions," he said, when asked about the attack.