Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thousands denounce Yemen leader's remarks on women

Yemen's anti-government movement took up the issue of women's rights in the conservative Muslim nation on Saturday, as thousands of demonstrators seeking the president's ouster denounced his comments against the participation of women in protest rallies.
In a speech Friday, President Ali Abdullah Saleh said the mingling of men and women at protests in the capital was against Islamic law. Demonstrators, including thousands of women, responded by marching through the capital of Sanaa and several other cities, shouting: "Saleh, beware of injuring women's honor."
"This insult has made us more determined to remain at the opposition squares with the men to topple the ugly regime," said Jameela al-Qabsi, a female professor at an education college.
Though it was a young woman who first led anti-Saleh demonstrations on a university campus in late January, women didn't begin turning out in large numbers until early March. It was a startling step considering the Muslim nation is a largely tribal society with deeply conservative social and religious traditions.
Many Yemeni women remain out of sight and conceal themselves in public under black head-to-toe robes. The issue of child brides in Yemen has also drawn international criticism. But unlike in neighboring Saudi Arabia, women in Yemen are permitted to vote, run for parliament and drive cars.
Two months of near-daily protests and defections by key allies in the military, powerful tribes and diplomatic corps have failed to bring an end to Saleh's 32-year autocratic rule over the impoverished and fragile nation in the Arabian peninsula.
A crackdown on protesters by Saleh's forces has killed more than 120 people, according to Yemeni rights groups, but has not deterred crowds from gathering.
On Saturday, a group of female protesters presented the chief prosecutor with a complaint against Saleh for his remarks. Amat al-Salam Abdullah, one of the protesters, said the prosecutor ordered an investigation.
"I don't rule out that the president has been traumatized as a result of the involvement of tens of thousands of women in the demonstrations calling for his downfall," said Faiza al-Sharji, a female university professor.
The youth movement leading the anti-government protests took up the women's cause, calling for people to come out in millions on Sunday for a day of "honor and dignity."
The youth movement said in a statement that Saleh's comments were "a continuation of his violations against the Yemeni people after he killed them and accused them of being agents and outlaws."
Advocacy for women's rights in Yemen is rooted in the 1967-1990 period when the once-independent south had a socialist government. After unification, women in the south became more marginalized, resulting in high unemployment among female university graduates.

Bahraini women die amid crackdown

At least two Bahraini women have died as a result of a crackdown on the opposition as thugs backed by Saudi forces stormed the village of Karzakan following the country-wide protests.

Azizeh Hassan died in her home after pro-regime thugs stormed houses in Bilad al-Qadim district, a Press TV correspondent reported on Saturday.

Moreover, a female teenager died a month after she was attacked by pro-regime thugs in Manama. Jawaher Abdul-Amir Kuwaitan was in a coma at the capital's al-Salmaniyah Hospital.

A number of rallies were held in cities and villages across the country, including in A'ali, Diraz, Karzakan and Bani Jamarah, on Friday.

Meanwhile, Al Khalifa loyalists backed by Saudi forces poured into the streets of Karzakan, terrorizing and damaging properties.

Security forces have stepped up their crackdown on the opposition, with over 800 people now being arrested.

According to the opposition Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights and the al-Wefaq party, the prominent human rights lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer was arrested on Saturday night during a raid on his house.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights in Manama has said that those detained by government forces undergo torture. The group has also cited incidences of families receiving the bodies of those who died in custody with bruising and lashing marks.

Since the beginning of anti-government protests on February 14, scores of protesters have been killed and many others gone missing. Many of the families believe those arrested are most likely being detained at the Sheikh Isa military base.

Most Bahraini media outlets have been blocked and mosques demolished by the government. Additionally, doctors and others who help the injured protesters have been targeted in arrests.

Bahraini protesters are demanding an end to the 200-year rule of the Al Khalifa dynasty.

Candlelight vigil held for Italian activist

Hundreds of mourners have rallied and many have held a candlelight vigil in the Hamas-governed Palestinian enclave of Gaza for Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist who was killed on Friday.

And in the West Bank, which is run by Fatah, Hamas's rival, around 100 people, most of them foreigners, marched on Saturday through Ramallah to a house of mourning in El Bireh, an AFP correspondent said.

Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, who was working with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was found dead by the security forces in a house in northern Gaza early on Friday.

He had been hanged, Hamas security officials said.

Hamas officials said two people had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping and said they were hunting further accomplices.

Ihab al-Ghussein, a Hamas spokesman, called it a "heinous crime which has nothing to do with our values, our religion, our customs and traditions".

"The other members of the group will be hunted down," he said.

There has been an outrage over the cold-blooded killing of the Italian.

"I was about to cry when I heard the news. That man quit his family for us, for Gaza, and now Gazans killed him. That was so bad," Abu Ahmed, a supermarket owner, said.

Samira Ali, a teacher, said: "Those who killed him are not Muslims and certainly not Palestinians."

Arrigoni's kidnappers described him as a "journalist who came to our country for nothing but to corrupt people" - a charge completely rejected by activists and aid workers who knew him in Gaza.

"He's very well-known, he lives among the people," said Huwaida Arraf, a co-founder of ISM. "Vit has repeatedly put his life in danger, put his life on the line in support of the Palestinians."

A journalist colleague at the Italian daily Il Manifesto said he was "astounded" by Arrigoni's death.

Arrigoni is the third ISM member to be killed in Gaza - US national Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003, and a month later Briton Tom Hurndall was shot and critically injured by the army. He died in January 2004.

Widespread condemnation

The murder drew widespread condemnation, from Gaza City to Italy to the UN.

Italy's foreign ministry expressed "deep horror over the barbaric murder," saying it was an "act of vile and senseless violence committed by extremists who are indifferent to the value of human life."

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called for "the perpetrators of this appalling crime to be brought to justice as soon as possible", his spokesperson said in a statement.

Arrigoni was kidnapped a day earlier by a group aligned with al-Qaeda which had demanded that Hamas release Salafist prisoners within a 30-hour deadline that was to have expired on Friday afternoon. It was not clear why they killed him.

In a video posted on YouTube, the kidnappers said Arrigoni had been taken hostage in order to secure the release of an unspecified number of Salafists detained by Hamas.

Arrigoni had been in the Palestinian territories for 10 years, first in the West Bank. He was asked to leave by Israel and he arrived in Gaza in August 2008 with the first ship of the Gaza Free Movement.

There are half a dozen radical Islamist groups in Gaza, with membership numbering in the hundreds. The differences between them are unclear.

Some analysts believe they work in cells to evade Hamas pressure. All want to end Western influence and establish an Islamic state across the Middle East.

Hamas forces in August 2009 killed 28 people, mostly Salafis, in the storming of a mosque where a religious leader who supported al-Qaeda surrounded himself with armed men and declared an Islamic emirate.

Tension eased in Syria's Daraa

Syria to lift emergency law

Syria's president has said he expects his government to lift the decades-old emergency law next week.Bashar al-Assad also pledged further reforms in a televised speech to his new cabinet after it was sworn in on Saturday.
"The juridical commission on the emergency law has prepared a series of proposals for new legislation, and these proposals will be submitted to the government, which will issue a new law within a week at the most," he said.Lifting the 48-year-old state of emergency has been a key demand during a wave of protests over the past month.
The emergency law gives the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge and extends the state's authority into virtually every aspect of Syrians' lives.
The president said unemployment remains the biggest problems in the country and pledged that his new government will follow through on measures introduced by the former cabinet.
He said he realises there is a gap between citizens and the state institutions and that the government has to "keep up with the aspirations of the people".
"The world is rapidly changing around us and we have to keep up with developments," he said. "We have to focus on the demands and the aspirations of the people or there will be a sense of anger".
Assad also said he was saddened by the loss of lives in the demonstrations.
"We pray for their souls, whether they're from the armed forces, the police or ordinary citizens. Investigations are continuing to find those responsible and hold them responsible."

'New reality'

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Damascus, described his speech as "much more conciliatory and realistic" than his speech on March 30 in which he blamed foreign conspirators for the unrest.
"He used key words that the protesters use. For example he spoke about people's need for dignity, for more freedom, for justice. This will strike a cord with some of those who have been protesting on the streets, but not with all," she said.
"He acknowledged the new reality, how the police and the security forces here are not trained for this kind of situations and that they should be retrained and need new equipments. He's saying peaceful protests are now parts of people's lives and will be tolerated."
Rights groups say at least 200 people have been killed in a brutal crackdown since protests began.
Scores of people have been arrested, and US-based Human Rights Watch said on Friday that many of those released said they had been tortured while in detention.
Adel Safar, the prime minister, unveiled the new cabinet on Thursday, and it is expected to carry out broad changes. But the government has little power in the one-party state dominated by Assad, his family and the security apparatus.

Protests against Assad's rule have intensified despite the use of force and mass arrests mixed with promises of reform and concessions to minority groups and conservative Muslims.

Reuters reported that more than 1,000 women marched on Saturday in the coastal city of Baniyas in an all female pro-democracy protest.

"Not Sunni, not Alawite. Freedom is what we all want," the women chanted, according to a rights campaigner quoted by the news agency. The city and surrounding villages have many Alawite residents, belonging to the same religious minority as President Assad.

Earlier in the day, thousands of mourners in the city attended the funeral of a man who witnesses said had died from his wounds after being shot by gunmen loyal to President Assad during protests on April 10.

Osama al-Sheikha, 40, was among a group of men armed with sticks guarding a mosque in Baniyas, where the army has since been deployed to contain protests. Pro-government gunmen shot at them with AK-47 rifles, witnesses said.

Protesters also marched in Daraa on Saturday, chanting "the people want to overthrow the regime", according to Reuters.

Pakistan, Afghanistan set up joint commission to pursue peace

Pakistan and Afghanistan on Saturday agreed on the formation of a joint commission to carry forward the reconciliation process, following the withdrawal of foreign troops from the insurgency-torn country.

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who held exhaustive talks here at the Presidential Palace, described the parleys as “historic”, saying that “the two countries stand together as they have shared destinies.”

Prime Minister Gilani said that he in consultations with President Karzai, Chairman Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and members of the High Peace Council, had agreed to establish the two-tier Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission for facilitating and promoting reconciliation and peace.

The first tier of commission will include the chief executives, foreign ministers along with chiefs of the military and intelligence services of the two countries while the second tier will comprise senior officials of foreign ministries, military and intelligence services.

“I have assured President Karzai that Pakistan strongly supports an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process for reconciliation and peace,” Gilani said.

He also extended Pakistan’s full support to the efforts of President Karzai and the High Peace Council, for initiating an inclusive process of grand national reconciliation in which all Afghans not only have a stake but the process also promises the future peace and stability in their country.

“We firmly believe that this process must have full Afghan ownership,” Prime Minister Gilani said and added that it was for the Afghan nation to determine the parameters on which a reconciliation and peace process would be shaped.

“Conditions, qualifications or demands at this stage, in our view, may not be helpful,” he added.

He said that the restoration of stability and peace in Afghanistan was essential for peace, security and well-being of the people of Pakistan.

To a question about President Asif Ali Zardari’s recent statement wherein he warned that a destabilized Afghanistan could have a negative impact on Pakistan, Gilani said he fully endorsed the views. He said his visit was particularly aimed at working out a common strategy to jointly fight terrorism that was a threat to both the nations.

Asked whether the United States (US) was on board regarding the Pak-Afghan talks, Prime Minister Gilani said “the US is on-board. That’s our core group and whatever will be decided, will be among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US.”

President Karzai, while speaking on the tripartite arrangement, said that his country welcomed consultations with the United States in this regard.

He said Pakistan’s role as a facilitator was also important and added that whatever Prime Minister Gilani said was a “fundamental shift” of Pakistan from its views in the past.

“We today have clarity, which never existed earlier,” Karzai said.

Gilani, when asked about al-Qaeda’s presence in Pakistan, said “it is your country’s problem and you have to decide and set parameters.”

About the role of the United States in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Gilani said “whatever is the policy of the US on Afghanistan, Pakistan will support Afghanistan.”

Gilani also strongly dispelled the notion that terrorists were entering into Afghanistan from Pakistan and said the two countries were already interacting at political, intelligence and defence levels and this cooperation would enhance in the days ahead.

Gilani said that he held in-depth consultations with President Karzai on the situation prevailing in the region and various initiatives that were being talked about for promoting reconciliation and peace.

“I would like to laud the efforts of our Afghan brothers and sisters across length and breadth of Afghanistan to realize their legitimate aspirations for peace and stability.”

President Karzai described the message from Prime Minister Gilani on the reconciliation process as very “clear” and “important” and added that the two sides held detailed talks on all aspects, including the situation in the region and bilateral political, economic and trade relations.

Prime Minister Gilani termed the drone attacks “counter-productive” and added that loss of precious human lives could not be just dismissed as “collateral damage.”

Gilani said similarly, suicide attacks, resulting in loss of innocent lives as well as attacks on places of worship were not only inhuman and barbaric but evidently designed to denigrate Islam and to sow discord among Muslims, communities and societies.

Prime Minister Gilani said his visit to Afghanistan was aimed at reaching out to the Afghani people. He said in his opening remarks that he was here to convey respect and admiration for the great Afghan nation and to renew “deep-rooted bonds of fraternal solidarity.”