Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bangladesh Needs to Be Vigilant About Hardliners in Army

A day after the army in Bangladesh said it had foiled a coup attempt, analysts say the Muslim-majority country needs to stay vigilant about the presence of hardliners within the military.

The army says that the plot to overthrow Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was led by around 16 serving and former military officers with "extreme religious views" who wanted to introduce Islamic law in the country.

Dhaka University professor, Imtiaz Ahmed, says reports of grievances in some elements of the military had been around in recent weeks. He says there is not much information available as yet, but praises the army's handling of the "coup attempt."

"It will take some more time to understand what happened, but it was met very professionally," he said. "There was no noise, it was low profile."

Political analysts say the alleged conspiracy was apparently mounted by mid ranking officers and may not represent a serious threat to the elected government.

But questions are being raised whether the plot had support from hardline Islamists.

Since taking power after a landslide victory in 2009, Sheikh Hasina has angered Islamic groups, including the country's most prominent religious party, the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami.

Last year, her government faced protests after it made changes to make the country's constitution more secular, although Islam was retained as the state religion. She has banned Islamic militant groups. Several senior leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islmai have been put on trial for war crimes during the 1971 struggle that led to the country's independence from Pakistan.

Sukh Deo Muni is an analyst at the Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore.

"There are hardliners within the army, the influence of the Islamists has not been dominant, but it has always been present," said Muni. "No doubt some of the religious parties, Jamaat-e-Islami particularly, are under pressure, so the possibility of they using their army connections to upset the government cannot be ruled out at all."

This is not the first time Sheikh Hasina's government has confronted unrest in the military. Soon after she took office, a revolt in the paramilitary forces swept through several towns and killed 70 people including 51 army officers.

In recent months, she has warned that extreme groups are conspiring against her government, and asked people to be vigilant.

Bangladesh has a history of violent coups and democracy was restored after a long spell of military rule in 1991. More recently, an army-backed interim government ruled the country for two years until the end of 2008.

Rights Group Condemns Conditions Across Asia

The group Human Rights Watch released its annual World Report Sunday, painting a bleak picture of conditions across much of Asia.

HRW said Burma's human rights situation remained dire last year, despite the transition to a military-backed civilian government. The report accuses Burma's military of rape, torture and the killing of civilians in ethnic minority conflict zones, marring the government's recent political reforms.

The group accuses China's one-party government of imposing sharp curbs on freedom of expression, association and religion, and openly rejecting judicial independence and press freedom. Meanwhile, the document says Chinese citizens are increasingly rights-conscious and challenging authorities over abuses of power and corruption.

North Korea was accused of systematically violating the basic rights of its population through arbitrary arrest, lack of due process, torture and ill-treatment of detainees. The group said Pyongyang practices collective punishment for various offenses for which it enslaves hundreds of thousands of its citizens in prison camps, and periodically executes people for hoarding food, stealing and other so-called anti-socialist crimes.

HRW also detailed what it views as severe violations of human rights in nations including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Russia’s Communist Party finds itself at a familiar crossroads

By Kathy Lally,

Russia’s restless electorate bestowed a big bouquet of votes on the country’s Communists last month, putting the party of Lenin in position to either rally a new generation behind its red banners or stay reliably on the sidelines, repeating the old slogans and mourning the past.

The Communist Party took 19.19 percent of the vote to come in second in the Dec. 4 parliamentary election, an unexpected windfall for the party and a surprise to the rest of the country.

Though it has offices in small towns and cities around Russia, with portraits of Stalin on the wall and hammer-and-sickle flags in the corner, ready to unfurl, its message has remained unchanged as its members have aged over the past 20 years: The glorious achievements of the Soviet Union are being systematically destroyed and only it can save Russia from moral degradation.

The party won 11.57 percent of the vote in 2007, when it also came in second to United Russia, the party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The election resul ts humbled United Russia — which got 64.3 percent of the vote in 2007 and officially only 49.3 percent in December — and left the Communists with a tantalizing prospect of ascendance.

The Communists have been at this juncture before, challenging a weakened Boris Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential race. They failed to seize the advantage then, and this time is expected to be no different. On Saturday, they organized a rally just outside the Kremlin, promising a crowd of 5,000 or more. Though their red flags snapped smartly in the blowing snow, only a few hundred dedicated souls appeared, leaving the wide expanse of Manezh Square bare and windswept. Behind them, the spires of the State Historical Museum and the Resurrection Gate to Red Square once again bore the double-headed czarist eagle their predecessors had struggled so hard to bury.

Communist theory has always maintained that history is on its side, however, and so there was Gennady Zyuganov, the party’s leader and perennial presidential candidate, striding into a room packed with reporters last week with the easy smile of a hot new vote-getter.

“Merry Christmas,” he exclaimed, as if to remind Russians, who celebrated Christmas Jan. 7 and are still hearing Western carols in malls and coffee shops, that at least some Communists have gotten religion, despite the official atheism of the Soviet years.

The December election set off a paroxysm of anger among Russians who called it rigged, refusing to believe that Putin’s party had gotten even close to half the votes. Tired of years of what they have come to see as imperious and manipulative rule since Putin came to power in 2000, protesters took to the streets in demonstrations across the country, throwing into confusion what had been seen as Putin’s easy return to the presidency in March.

Zyuganov, who lost to Yeltsin in 1996, Putin in 2000 and Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 (he didn’t run in 2004), is seeking the presidency once more, buoyed by the election that gave his party 92 of the 450 seats in the state Duma. It had 57 before.

But he has a problem. Much of the election support has been attributed to protest votes against United Russia from people who went to the polls determined to back any opposition party.

Yuri Burminov cast his ballot for the Communists at a northwest Moscow polling station last month with great reluctance. The 70-year-old pensioner said he remembered communism all too well and was unenthusiastic about his choice. But he was disgusted by how country was being run.

“Those who are in power now are criminals,” he said. “For whom else could I vote?”

Nostalgia for the Soviet Union

The Communists rely on a small but cohesive core of members, who number 154,244, according to the Ministry of Justice, compared with United Russia’s 2,073,722 members. Many party members are in their 50s or 60s and dwell psychologically in the Soviet Union, said Boris Makarenko, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies. The protest voters make less than ideal fellow travelers, concentrated as they are in the big cities among the urban middle class. It will not be easy to profit from the windfall, he said.

“The Communist Party will not do anything to lose their core votes,” Makarenko said. “The party’s ability to change is severely limited.”

Zyuganov likes the comfy status of official, unthreatening opposition, Makarenko said, so instead of heralding a bright, new future, the Dec. 4 election may well mark the party’s inexorable retreat toward what one of its early revolutionaries called “the dustbin of history.”

He is 67 and has run the party since it was formed in 1993, rising from the ashes of the Soviet Communist party, which Yeltsin banned in 1991.

So far, the party’s collective heads remain unturned from the established line despite the flattering attention of the parliamentary elections. They’re still talking nostalgically about the Soviet Union, planning the nationalization of major industries once they return to power and keeping a dashing photo of Stalin on the party Web site.

“They pushed through the [World Trade Organization],” Zyuganov said of the Putin team in a darkly accusative tone at the news conference, “and this will turn the country into a colony.”

Lack of new leadership

Dmitri Novikov, the party’s ideologist, arrived at the news conference with a copy of Pravda — the party paper whose name means truth, founded by Lenin in 1912 — tucked under his arm. He described nationalization as a good thing and said it would leave small- and medium-size businesses operating freely. “Nationalization will affect a small number of individuals,” he said, “but the entire country will benefit.”

Zyuganov has been adroit at fending off competitors, running the party unchallenged, said Nikolay Petrov, a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center. New leadership, which might have attracted broader support, has not developed. If Zyuganov couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity Yeltsin’s weakness presented 15 years ago, Petrov said, he has little chance of doing so now.

“He’s too old,” Petrov said. “He doesn’t have the political skills, and he doesn’t have political ambitions.”

In Russian elections for the Duma, voters cast their ballots for party lists, not individual deputies. Not so in presidential contests. On March 4, voters will judge Zyuganov, not his party.

Zyuganov said he expects to win. Russians, he said, are tired of all the lies. And he has never deceived them, he told reporters.

Earlier in the week, the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion asked voters how they would cast their ballots if the presidential election were held Sunday. Fifty-two percent of respondents chose Putin; 11 percent picked Zyuganov.

He still has six weeks to change history.

Pervaiz Elahi flays Shahbaz over causalities in PIC

PML-Q’s senior federal minister said in his statement that hundreds of people died due to dengue fever owing to mismanagement of the Punjab government and now, dozens of people gave fallen victims to poor-quality medicines.
Ch Pervaiz Elahi said Shahbaz Sharif is responsible for killings caused by poor quality medicines.
Pervaiz Elahi also sympathised with the heirs to deceased ones.

Gingrich lauds other GOP contenders

Obama to Draw an Economic Line in State of the Union ‎

New York Times

President Obama will use his election-year State of the Union address on Tuesday to argue that it is government’s role to promote a prosperous and equitable society, drawing a stark contrast between the parties in a time of deep economic uncertainty.
In a video preview e-mailed to millions of supporters on Saturday, as South Carolina Republicans went to the polls to help pick an alternative to him, Mr. Obama promised a populist “blueprint for an American economy that’s built to last,” with the government assisting the private sector and individuals to ensure “an America where everybody gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everybody plays by the same set of rules.”

Mr. Obama has honed that message for months as he has attacked Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, contrasting it with what he has described as Republicans’ “go it alone” free-market views.

Last week at fund-raisers in New York, he told supporters that his push for a government hand had a precedent dating to the construction of canals and interstate highways, and the creation of land-grant colleges and the G.I. Bill. He said that Republicans had moved so far to the right that 2012 will be a “hugely consequential election.”

Notably, Mr. Obama will again propose changes to the tax code so the wealthy pay more, despite Republicans’ consistent opposition. Americans overwhelmingly support the idea, polls show, and the White House hopes that it gains traction with voters, given last week’s acknowledgment by the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that he pays taxes at a lower rate than many middle-class Americans because most of his income comes from investments.

With most Americans registering disapproval of the president’s economic record after three years, it is all the more imperative for Mr. Obama to define the election not as a referendum on him but as a choice between his vision and that of his eventual Republican rival.

Mr. Obama’s third State of the Union address is widely seen in parallel with the one delivered in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton likewise was seeking re-election, after voters in the midterm elections had put Republicans in power in Congress as a rebuke to his perceived big-government liberalism.

But Mr. Clinton sought to co-opt Republicans’ small-government message; his State of the Union line “the era of big government is over” is among the most memorable of his presidency. Mr. Obama is confronting them instead, and framing the election-year debate in a way that aides say will challenge Republicans’ support for unfettered American markets and “you’re-on-your-own economics,” as he put it in December in Osawatomie, Kan., in a speech that was a prelude for Tuesday’s address.

Advisers and other people familiar with the speech say Mr. Obama will expand again on the administration’s effort to resolve the housing crisis with both carrots and sticks to lenders dealing with homeowners behind on their mortgage payments — after yet another debate between his economic and political advisers.

The political team has long argued that most Americans oppose bold government action to stem home foreclosures, like forcing lenders to reduce borrowers’ principal, seeing it as rewarding those who had bought houses they could not afford. The economic team holds that until the housing market recovers, the broader economy cannot — and that all Americans suffer.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama will flesh out his populist message with new proposals to spur manufacturing, including tax breaks for companies that “insource” jobs back to the United States; to double-down on clean-energy incentives; and to improve education and job training initiatives, especially for the millions of long-term unemployed, the officials familiar with the speech said.Mr. Obama is expected to harden his challenge to China to increase its currency’s value for fairer trade — addressing the one area in which Mr. Romney has struck a more populist chord that appeals to the working-class voters that Mr. Obama will need if he is to be re-elected. The Obama team still views Mr. Romney, despite his defeat in the South Carolina primary on Saturday, as the president’s most likely Republican challenger.In the video preview, like one sent to supporters last year, Mr. Obama said he would call for “a return to American values of fairness for all and responsibility from all.”

“We can go in two directions,” he said. “One is towards less opportunity and less fairness. Or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few.”

To that end, people familiar with his draft speech say, Mr. Obama will again call for changing the corporate and individual income-tax codes so the wealthy pay more, both to finance government investments and to alleviate the rise in income inequality in recent years.

Mr. Obama will revive his call, made in September, to rewrite the individual tax code in a way that follows what he termed the “Buffett Rule” — making sure that, as the billionaire Warren Buffett has said, no secretaries or other employees pay a higher effective tax rate than their better-paid bosses.

The president’s proposal takes on heightened political importance after Mr. Romney, who so far has not released his tax returns, said he paid a rate of about 15 percent. That is a lower rate than many taxpayers who make much less income pay, reflecting a tax break opened in the past decade by the Bush administration and a Republican-led Congress for taxpayers whose income relies on investments rather than wages.

Republican presidential candidates have countered that government should get out of the way. Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said after his victory in the New Hampshire primary that Mr. Obama “wants to put free enterprise on trial” and divide Americans “with the bitter politics of envy.”

“We must offer an alternative vision,” Mr. Romney said. “I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success.”

Mr. Obama will also propose political changes, perhaps in campaign finance. Those would tap the sentiment of many Americans, expressed among both Tea Party and Occupy protesters on the political right and left, that the system is rigged against them in favor of a privileged few.

Yet even if Congress went along, an unlikely prospect for much of the president’s agenda because Republicans’ opposition is expected to intensify in this election year, any changes would not affect this campaign season. Already it has been influenced by independent “super PACs” of wealthy individuals, corporations and unions that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling unleashed to spend unlimited sums on behalf of candidates.

Administration officials and allies cautioned that the language and proposals for Mr. Obama’s Tuesday address to a joint session of Congress could change before then. “I’m actually not done writing it yet,” Mr. Obama told supporters in the video, “so there might be a few late nights between now and then.”

Besides new policies, he will revive politically popular proposals from the $447 billion job-creation package that he announced after Labor Day, but that Congressional Republicans blocked. He will again call for subsidies to struggling states to keep teachers and first-responders in their jobs, for money for roads and other infrastructure projects, and for extending for the remainder of the year both the temporary payroll tax cut for 160 million workers and federal payments to the long-term unemployed.

Congressional Republicans’ resistance to that agenda last fall, because they oppose both government stimulus measures and Mr. Obama’s proposed taxes on the wealthy to pay for them, helped depress their already low poll ratings. That leaves them at a disadvantage to Mr. Obama at the start of an election year. His ratings in national polls have picked up, though he is still struggling to regain support for his handling of the economy.

Google users search for info on Gingrich's wives

The Google search engine is reporting a major spike of interest in Newt Gingrich, with one specific focus.

His wives.

"At least three of the top four searches associated with Gingrich have to do with the candidate's current and former wives," Google reported.

Much of the activity was inspired by ex-wife Marianne Gingrich's accusation that the former House speaker had sought an "open marriage."

The top four search terms for Gingrich: Callista (his current wife), Marianne, Newt scandal, and Newt wives.

The top four search terms for Mitt Romney, meanwhile: Bio, Mitt South Carolina, 2012, Mitt Platform.

Here is Google's analysis:

Because negative stories about a political candidate are often just as newsworthy as positive ones, it's often helpful to go beyond mere search volume when analyzing which candidate-related issues have gained traction.

Yesterday, we published a graphic showing a 698% surge in South Carolina search traffic for Newt Gingrich since Monday. ... Google Politics & Elections analyzed which search queries South Carolinians typed most often into Google in relation to Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

At least three of the top four searches associated with Gingrich have to do with the candidate's current and former wives, which may be the result of a Nightline interview given to Gingrich's ex-wife Marianne on Thursday. The fourth-most-searched query, [Newt scandal], may be a direct result of this interview as well.

The top four queries associated with Romney were much less issue-specific. They instead focus on more general biographic details and his campaigning in South Carolina.

Veena Malik's horror film to release in May

Veena Malik,

who has been making headlines over the last few months, is now all set to star in a 3D horror film, Mumbai 125 KM. It’s being directed by Hemant Madhukar who has to his credit last year’s superhit Telugu movie, Vastadu Naa Raju. The film is expected this May.After a smashing hit many questioned my decision to make a Hindi 3D movie. But I haven’t forgotten Chota Chetan (1998) that I watched as a kid,” says Madhukar, who two years ago had directed another ghost story, A Flat (2010), that was a debacle.Mumbai 125 KM revolves around five friends who are stranded on a highway one dark night. The director refuses to divulge any details beyond this. All he promises is that it wil be a “treat” for audience.

The film also stars Vedita Pratap Singh and Karanveer Bohra, but Veena is undoubtedly the star. The Pakistani actor had created a flutter when she suddenly went missing.

Isn’t Madhukar taking a risk by casting the errant actor in his chiller-thriller? The director admits that when even though Veena fit the role to the T, he was hesitant about signing her. “But she promised me that she would give the challenging role her best shot. And after working with her, I’ve realised that she’s a dedicated actor,’ he says.“I’m sure people’s opinion of her will change after my film releases.”

It was recently reported by a Pakistani daily that Veena was having problems with Indian immigration officials, who had refused to process her visa following numerous controversies. Madhukar is not worried: “When I last spoke to her she said that she was returning to India in the first week of February. I am confident she will keep her promise.”

Bahrain violence on the rise, funeral attacked with tear gas

The Bahrain government continues to increase its attacks on pro-democracy protesters in the country, killing a child over the weekend and attacking a funeral of another victim of the state-sponsored violence.

On Saturday police and pro-government supporters clashed with hundreds of mourners in Muharraq, north of the Bahraini capital Manama, as they marched in the funeral of 24-year-old Yousif Muwali, who died in controversial circumstances on January 13.

Muwali had gone missing on January 11 before his body was found on the sea-shore. Authorities say he died after drowning at sea, while relatives claim that he died in police custody and later had his body dumped by the shore.

The body was released to the family Saturday morning, but the authorities declined to authorize a funeral march. Mourners attempted to march inside the graveyard but clashes broke-out as they tried to head from the graveyard to a nearby street.

Earlier on Saturday, Yassin Asfour, 14, died due to inhalation of toxic gas. Friends close to the family told that doctors attempted to save his life, but due to his asthma they “couldn’t do anything.”

Citizens then took to the streets to protest the continued deaths that are rising, even after a November inquiry into the violence hoped to move the country away from the near constant street battles.

Saturday’s clashes left several injuries and several cars of people taking part in the funeral were damaged. The vice chairman of the opposition grouping Ekha, Ali Yousif Qodrat, was detained by police after they stormed the graveyard firing tear-gas.

The police action was backed-up by pro-government supporters armed with sticks and hurling rocks at mourners from various sides of the graveyard, before police finally stopped their assault but allowed them to remain in the vicinity and behind police lines.

Shortly after the clashes, several Shiite-owned businesses were vandalized by the pro-government supporters, in a repeat of the sectarian targeting seen in February and March of last year when the pro-reform protests broke-out.

Clashes were also reported in several areas across the small Gulf island on Saturday, with tire-burning protests to demand the release of political detainees.

In November a commission set up by Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa found that excessive force had been used against pro-reform protesters in a crack-down that began in mid-March with the introduction of martial law for almost 3 months, before being lifted.

Since the report’s release, some proposed reforms had been pushed forward by the government, but the key demands of the protesters have not been addressed while scores of people remain detained or facing trials, including political and religious leaders, medics, and other professionals.

The death toll from protest-related also continued to mount, surpassing 50 so far since February 14th, with many in the opposition now vowing to re-ignite the large protests by the first anniversary if the demands of political reform are not met. Those include a constitutional monarchy with a fully elected legislature and government.

Hardliners in the opposition and on the street continue to call for bringing down the regime.

The opposition protests in Lulu roundabout, in the heart of the capital, have attracted massive turnout for a month, before the authorities moved in against them taking control of the site.

The protest site remains locked-down and guarded by heavy security with protesters regularly attempting to retake it unsuccessfully. Tight security presence also remains across most parts of the country, with several protests flaring up on an almost daily basis.

Pro-government supporters have also escalated their tone in recent weeks, with some demanding strict implementation of anti-protest laws and vowing to stand-up against opposition groups.

Saudi Women Shatter the Lingerie Ceiling


A SOCIAL revolution began in Saudi Arabia this month, and it has little if anything to do with the Arab Spring. Women are going to work in lingerie shops.

The Ministry of Labor is enforcing a royal decree issued last summer ordering that sales personnel in shops selling garments and other goods, like cosmetics, that are only for women must be female. More than 28,000 women applied for the jobs, the ministry said. Anywhere else in the world, it would not be news that sales assistants in shops selling panties and bras were female. In Saudi Arabia, where women have always been excluded from the public work force, it is a critical breakthrough. This is not just about intimate garments; this is a milestone on the arduous path to employment equality for women in a country where they are systematically excluded from retail activity.

Saudi Arabia’s economic planners recognize that if women are going to be educated at public expense, as they now are in increasing numbers, they will expect to work and the country will need their economic output. Society has increasingly accepted the idea that women will work outside the home. They have long been employed in medicine and education. Retail commerce, however, has generally remained closed because such work usually requires interaction with men, which is prohibited. The lingerie shops are breaking that taboo.

One of the oddest sights in Saudi Arabia is that of fully veiled women, hidden from others by their enveloping garments, going into the Saudi equivalent of Victoria’s Secret stores in the many upscale malls and being greeted and assisted exclusively by male sales clerks, most of whom are from South Asia. This absurd situation so embarrassed many women that they waited until they were out of the country to buy their underwear and nightgowns.

The campaign to change the rules began several years ago, and was led by Reem Asaad, a fashion-conscious financial adviser who speaks flawless English and is comfortable with the Western media. It appeared to have succeeded in 2006 when the government ordered that the sales jobs be transferred to women. But social conservatives and the religious establishment objected, arguing that Islam prohibited women from working outside the home and that putting women in retail shops would expose them to the view of any passing stranger. If the sales clerks were female, the shop windows would have to be covered, the opponents said.

Shop owners objected, too, saying that no women were trained to do such work. In addition, the 2006 decree failed to address the transportation problem: if women were going to work in those shops, they would need a man to drive them because they are prohibited from driving. Saudi cities have virtually no public transportation. So the decree was never enforced. Ms. Asaad then used Facebook to organize a boycott of the shops, and arranged for some women to be trained in retail work.

This time, King Abdullah has put his personal authority behind the new decree. Last year he also installed a new minister of labor, Adel Fakieh, who had embraced the idea of employing women at a supermarket chain owned by his holding company. Under the new rules, the country’s thousands of lingerie and cosmetics shops have until June to replace their male employees with women. The feared religious police, who are really the behavior police, have been ordered to cooperate.

King Abdullah generally supported an expansion of opportunities for women, but steps in this direction can’t be traced to any burst of enlightenment within the royal family. They are happening because the kingdom’s women need and want jobs and are learning how to make themselves heard — and because, in an increasingly expensive country, their husbands often want them to work.

Over the coming generation, this is likely to be the farthest-reaching transformation in Saudi society. While women are still constrained by law, religion and custom, more and more are likely to enter the work force. They will be better educated than their predecessors, will marry later and will have fewer children. The range of jobs and professions open to them will expand. The Ministry of Labor is already compiling a list of jobs women will be permitted to hold. It won’t include all jobs — no female miners or construction workers here — but it will be a much longer list than in the past, including some positions in law enforcement.

These changes will meet entrenched opposition, but the economic and demographic forces behind them seem irresistible. The transition would be easier if women were permitted to drive (the 2011 decree failed to address that issue), but that is bound to come, too — if not this year, then soon, if only because growing ranks of employed women will build pressure for it. Thousands of Saudi women have driver’s licenses issued by other countries; they will be ready when the day comes.

Yemeni protesters denounce immunity bill

One year after Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt activists seek more revolution

A crowd of anti-military activists suddenly converged on a bustling Cairo boulevard, erecting makeshift screens and showing videos of soldiers beating protesters, dragging women on the ground, partially stripping one and stomping on her chest. Their message: The generals ruling Egypt have to go.

The activists who led the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year have been holding hundreds of so-called flash mobs around the country, in a campaign they call “Liars.” By showing people recent abuses by the military, they say they have injected new public support for their demand that the generals quickly surrender power.

But it also raises questions.

“What do they want?” one passer-by, Mohammed Ali, asked at one such gathering this week.

“Even if (the military) are liars ... we are going to get power transferred to civilians in six months. That is not bad,” the 30-year-old said. “It doesn’t deserve all this noise. Let’s wait and see.”

Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the start of the 18-day wave of protests that toppled Mubarak. Activists are trying to turn public discontent over lack of change into support for continuing revolutionary protests. But they face the task of explaining to Egyptians who are sick of turmoil: Revolution for what?

The revolution’s second year, the activists say, must pressure both the ruling military, which they maintain is as authoritarian as Mubarak, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which dominates the new parliament and which they fear is allying itself with the generals.

The anniversary shows the tensions. Each of the country’s power brokers has its own plans to mark the day, underlining the stark differences over the very meaning of the revolution and raising the potential for a clash. State and pro-military media blare warnings that the protesters aim to “burn the country,” raising concerns over a crackdown.

The activists are organizing new nationwide protests for the occasion. Thousands rallied in Tahrir Square on Friday, kicking off what they say will be several days of demonstrations, including Monday when parliament convenes and on the Wednesday anniversary.

The military has put together its own elaborate Jan. 25 celebrations, declaring the day a national holiday. It plans a nationwide air show, including flyovers by warplanes that it boasts will be bigger than those it holds for anniversaries of the 1952 coup that first brought the generals to the helm of Egyptian politics. Other planes will drop gift coupons to the public. Officers will be decorated for their role helping the anti-Mubarak protests.

The military’s message is that it supported the anti-Mubarak uprising, but the time for revolution is over.

“Stability is the first goal,” said Maj. Gen. Ismail Etman, a member of the military council that took power after Mubarak’s Feb. 11 fall. “If there is tension between the people and the armed forces, it must be removed ... We want the big family to enjoy love and stability.”

For the activists and many others in Egypt, the army celebrations aim to co-opt their movement.

“We are not going down to celebrate, we are going to finish our revolution,” activist Ahmed Imam said at a news conference by youth movements this week. “We will not celebrate while the blood of martyrs is shed without retribution. ... We will not celebrate, because they are liars.”

Critics say the military is keeping the status quo with a slight reshuffle of the cards but with the same authoritarianism and abuses by security forces, if not worse. They point to almost 100 protesters killed in military crackdowns since Mubarak’s fall, some run over by armored vehicles. Nearly 12,000 civilians have been tried by military tribunals, and female protesters have been subjected to humiliating “virginity tests.”

They say the revolution’s vision of “freedom, social justice and dignity” has been aborted in favor of an emerging ruling coalition between the Islamists and the military.

The difficulty for the activists is that a transition plan is in place, set by the generals and backed by the Brotherhood.

The military promises to transfer power to an elected civilian president by the end of June. Before that, a constitution is to be written by a committee chosen by the Islamist-controlled parliament while the generals are still in charge.

Brotherhood officials deny any alliance with the military. They say they want the army to step down, but maintain parliament not protests can ensure they do so. They warn protesters endanger the process by creating turmoil.

Ahmed Abou Baraka, a leading Brotherhood member, said the revolution against Mubarak aimed “to grant the people sovereignty and build a state based on the rule of law.”

Protests must be “within the law and ...uphold the higher interests of the state,” he said.

The “Liars” campaign − “Kazeboon” in Arabic − has been a new way for revolutionaries to reach out to a skeptical public.

Hundreds of impromptu street shows highlighting military abuses have been put on around the country in past weeks, sometimes more than 10 a day. The campaign has mobilized thousands of volunteers, a sign of the activists’ increasing reach, said Rasha Azab, an organizer.

“Kazeboon is a bridge between the street and the square ... They are now seeing that Tahrir is no longer the only expression of the revolution,” she said. “They cornered us in the square. Now there are 50 squares.”

Many of the gatherings have been harassed by hecklers the activists believe are hired. At this week’s flash mob in Cairo’s Mohandessin district, young men tried to disrupt the show. One shouted that the screen and video projectors had to be packed up in five minutes. Across the street, another yelled, “Down with revolution.”

Still, the activists’ plan for the future remains hazy. They want the military to step aside, but are divided about whether it should hand executive powers to the parliament, a president or to a council of civilians.

Some fear handing power to the parliament would further strengthen the Brotherhood.

“We would replace a tyrant with no popularity and a corrupt majority, with a tyrant supported by religious legitimacy and an organized majority,” said Abdel-Gelil el-Sharnoubi, a former Brotherhood member who since last year’s revolution has become a fervent opponent.

Ahmed Maher, of the April 6 activist movement, counters that it is the best tactic to draw the Brotherhood away from the military.

“They are civilians. We will argue with them, negotiate, fight, whatever,” said Maher. “But with the military council, they will drive over us with armored vehicles.”

Despite disagreements, the activists’ main intention remains to use street pressure for the long haul.

“It is hard ... (but) we are creating a new country, we are creating the future,” said Lobna Darwish, an activist with Mosireen, a media collective that produces most Kazeboon videos. “It is not even a choice − when you see people die ... you feel this is a commitment to go on.”

At the Kazeboon rally, Mostafa Abou-el-Wafa parked his motorcycle and joined the crowd. He intends to attend the activists’ anniversary rallies, his first ever protest.

Nothing has changed under the military, the 26-year-old delivery man said, pointing to a recent bribe he had to pay to get his motorcycle licensed.

“The military council has no shame,” he said. “I will go with what these people are saying.”

AIDS killed 28,000 in China in 2011, study says

AIDS killed 28,000 people in China last year, and another 48,000 new infections from the HIV virus were discovered in the country, according to an official report on Saturday.

In China 780,000 people live with the HIV virus, of which 154,000 developed AIDS, a report jointly produced by China's Ministry of Health, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization said.

In September 2011 there were 136,000 people receiving anti-viral treatment for the disease, it said, making the treatment coverage rate 73.5 percent, an increase of 11.5 percentage points compared to 2009.

The report, quoted by China's official state media Xinhua, said some new trends had appeared, notably "a rise in the number of imported cases and those transmitted sexually".

Sexual relations are the first source of contamination of the HIV virus in China, where a huge blood contamination scandal erupted in the central Henan province in the 1990s.

HIV/AIDS sufferers have long been stigmatised in the country, and rights groups estimate the number of sufferers to be higher, but increased government education has helped raise awareness.

Govt given wrong advice on River Kabul

Pakistan Today

In an amazing development, Pakistan has decided to help Afghanistan develop water storage and hydel power generation on the River Kabul and then import the surplus power, without knowing that developing water reserves on the river would lead to significant water reduction in the River Indus system. An official source said this unique commitment was given at a two-day meeting of the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission held recently in Islamabad. However, he said top officials attending the meeting did not know that 65 percent share of water in Kabul River originated from River Kunhar in Chitral and building of water reserves in Afghanistan would significantly decline the water availability in Pakistan, as the water from Kabul River ultimately entered the country. Afghanistan is being helped by the international financial institutions to build more than 10 water reservoirs and hydel power projects on the River Kabul. Pakistan has serious reservations over the plans as it will lead to massive water shortage for irrigation in the country. Both the countries have no treaty on sharing the water resources of the River Kabul that they mutually share. The government is not aware of the complete situation as it was not appropriately briefed on the issue; the source said, adding that even some reports written by the government servants gave a wrong picture.
He mentioned a report, “Towards Kabul Water Treaty: Managing Shared Water Resources” written by a government servant Dr Shahid Ahmad of PARC, financed by an international NGO, IUCN in 2010, and currently posted on its website asks the government to resolve the water issues with Afghanistan.
The report says, “The current situation is very uncertain politically between the basin states of Kabul River basin, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The upper riparian, Afghanistan is developing new irrigation and hydro-power infrastructure for the benefits of future generations. Afghanistan is currently supported by the international community and has relatively the upper edge in resolving the conflicts.”
Then he directs his own government saying, “As Pakistan is a more developed country than Afghanistan, therefore, the change must start in Pakistan to develop a mindset to assist the neighbour in building the infrastructure.”
Asking his own government to show courage, he writes, “There must be leadership from the government of Pakistan, who should show the generosity of spirit which is an integral part of being truly a good neighbour after resolving the pending issues of mistrust; extends an invitation to Afghanistan to explore ways in which the principles of the International Water Laws could be respected, while providing a win-win situation for both the basin states. With good will there are multiple ways in which the treaty could be negotiated so that both the basin states could win; and discussions on the Kabul waters should be de-linked from both historic grievances and from the other Durand Line-related issues.”
What the writer misses completely is the fact that the Kabul River’s major source is River Kunhar which originates from Pakistan and secondly that irrigated farming is not possible in majority of the mountainous areas of the Kabul River basin. Any such schemes would only lead to curtailing the water flow to Pakistan. When Dr Shahid Ahmad was contacted to explain how being a government servant he could direct his own government, his reply was, “I have only given a technical advice”.
The source said the advice given by the report financed by the international NGO was similar to a report compiled by Indian origin authors of the World Bank who too have proposed building water reservoirs on the River Kabul for hydel power generation and then exporting it to Pakistan.
He said some unfriendly elements in the international community were making subtle attempts to dissuade financing of hydel power projects on Pakistan’s main rivers and were facilitating neighbour states to develop water storages on its rivers. India recently managed to get carbon credits from the United Nations for Nimoo Bazgo dam in the disputed territory of Indian-held Kashmir.

Terrorist : Malik Ishaq: A threat to society


The release orders of notorious Malik Ishaq, chief of banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), given by a review board of the Lahore High Court (LHC) has raised questions once again about the efficacy of our legal and prosecution systems. The man is a well-known criminal nominated in 44 cases of 70 sectarian killings, an alleged mastermind of many high profile attacks, including an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, murder of the MQM MPA Raza Haider and the Mastung massacre. Despite confessing to his crimes in the courtyard of a court and threats in public to witnesses and prosecutors dealing with his cases, Malik Ishaq has continued his terrorist activities with impunity even from the jail where he spent 14 years facing charges related to murder and other terrorist acts. Out of 44 cases, the courts acquitted him in 34 cases, regrettably, on lack of sufficient evidence while granting bail in the rest. He was set free in July 2011. He was subsequently put under house arrest for a little while but violated the conditions set against his free movement several times. On Friday, a review board of the LHC refused to extend his detention, requested by the DPO Rahim Yar Khan under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, as preventive detention has a time limit. On the very same day, he was nominated in an FIR registered against his alleged involvement in the recent Khanpur blast killing 18 Shias. Malik Ishaq’s inflammatory speeches and involvement in sectarian homicide, clashes and violence against the Shia community have been creating havoc across the country since long. This man is a continuous threat to society but the judiciary does not seem to appreciate this. To be fair, there are several lacunae in the Anti-Terrorism Act and our laws, which seem to have facilitated criminals. A labyrinthine legal system coupled with a faulty prosecution regime, which lacks the capacity and training to investigate properly and collect adequate evidence necessary to prove its case against terrorists, not only fail to stop this menace but shift the burden onto witnesses, who refuse to appear before the courts due to threats from those they seek to depose against, in the absence of a witness protection programme. In many cases against Malik Ishaq, witnesses have been intimidated and even killed.

There is a need to understand that terrorists like Malik Ishaq are not ordinary criminals. They are fanatics, motivated and well organised hardcore terrorists who even enjoy a soft corner in a section of our political class. To get rid of them, political will is crucially needed to improve the whole justice system to a level where they cannot go scot-free.

Human Rights violation in Balochistan

Strengthening Participatory Organization’s Programme Officer Hashim Marri expressing concern over the increasing incidents of child abuse and women rights violation in Balochistan called for initiating mass awareness drive to cop with the alarming situation more effectively,he said that SPO in collaboration with the local NGOs has launched awareness programme in parts of Balochistan to minimize the gross human rights violation.

He noted that comprehensive awareness program aimed at sensitize masses about their defined rights would bring about positive changes in the overall behaviors of the society.

He said that efforts were afoot to make drive a success through the capacity building of NGOs working in rural and urban areas of the province.

"The practice of gender discriminations, child abuses and other kinds of human rights violation reported from across the country was tarnishing the image of Pakistan" he said adding we are working on a line to sensitize an ordinary citizen about his rights which is enshrined by the Constitution of Pakistan.

Marri noted that SPO with the help of local NGOs would soon initiate an advocacy campaign for the promotion of positive behavior and tangible changes in the overall structure of the society.

Mukarram Khan: Another journalist's murder

That Pakistan is a dangerous place for journalists is obvious from the fact that as many as 17 journalists and media workers were killed last year alone.

This year has barely begun and already a TV/radio broadcaster, Mukarram Khan Atif, has lost his life in the line of duty.

Working for a private TV channel and a Washington-based Pashto language radio, Mukarram had moved from his hometown in the extremists-infested Mohmand Agency to the relative safety of Charsadda where he was gunned down during Maghreb prayers.

The self-styled Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the murder also brandishing the threat, in a text message sent to the tribal areas based media persons that "more killings would come." That illustrates how dangerous are the working conditions for journalists in Pakistan.

The danger comes not only from the violent extremists in the conflict zone.

As the killings last year of journalists Saleem Shahzad, kidnapped from Islamabad and found murdered some 120 kilometres away in Mandi Bahauddin district; and Wali Khan Babar gunned down in the country's commercial hub, Karachi, show no place is safe, and that the perpetrators are just as likely to be state agencies as non-state actors.

So far no one has been caught and brought to justice.

That works as an encouragement for more acts of violence, and poses a threat not only to the journalists' personal safety, but their ability to report objectively.

In the present incident, for instance, Mukarram's colleagues have said that he had told them that sometimes he used to receive phone calls to be told how to report certain events.

As mentioned earlier, the TTP itself has said that it did not like what he was doing and hence eliminated him.

Some other journalists have reported being subjected to threats from sources other than the extremists.

The situation, therefore, poses a serious challenge not only in terms of journalists' individual safety and their ability to report objectively, without fear or favour, but also the wider issue of unrestricted flow of information.

So far the authorities concerned have done little to provide protection to those complaining of vulnerability.

In fact Interior Minister Rehman Malik, whose responsibility it is to provide security to all citizens, offered the outrageous advice to media persons, in the wake Wali Babar's murder, that they should carry weapons for self-defence.

The present incident has been widely condemned, among others by national and international media organisations, and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Prime Minister Gilani has also issued a statement to express solidarity with media persons, vowing to apprehend the "perpetrators of this heinous crime and bring them to justice." He must back these words with action.

Unless the perpetrators know they cannot function with impunity, violence against journalists will not come to a stop.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa launches Rs 900 million skill development project for youth

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Industries, Syed Ahmad Hussein Shah, said that the provincial government has launched Rs 900 million's project for provision of technical training to the youth of the province.

Under this project, he said, youth will be sent to other countries for training.

The provincial minister was addressing cheques' distribution ceremony under Waseela-e-Haq Programme of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) in Abbottabad on Saturday.

He on this occasion distributed cheques of Rs 20 million amongst 84 women of Hazara.

The provincial minister said that BISP has been launched under the manifesto of PPP and Vision of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto to enable the women to stand on their own feet adding that millions of women are taking benefit of the scheme.

Syed Ahmad Hussein Shah said that the government is following the slogan of the provision of bread, clothes and houses to the people.

He said that the leadership of PPP had rendered the sacrifices of their blood for the nation and country for keeping alive democracy and guaranteeing rights to the people.

He said that the process of hatching conspiracies against PPP remained continued in every period, but they never bothered.

He said that the PPP has an honour that it had resolved big problems faced by the people and in present period of the government 18th Constitutional Amendment was passed which paved way for the devolution of 10 ministries and will usher in an era of progress and development in the provinces.

The provincial minister for industries said that under the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award the province has received an extra amount of Rs 22 billion, which is being spent on the people-welfare-oriented projects and will benefit the future generations of the province.

He said that several welfare programmes have been launched under BISP, while the department of industries has initiated a scheme of the provision of a loan up to Rs 2.5 million for standing unemployed youth on their own feet and their economic stability.

For the resolution of the problems of load shedding and meeting the deficiency of electricity, he said the provincial government has proposed initiating work on the hydro-power projects, which will cost Rs 50 billion and the country will be brought out of energy crisis in a period of five to six years.

He said that industrialisation will be promoted in the province.

He said that devoted party workers are the real assets of the party and no conspiracy against the president and prime minister will succeed in their presence.

He cautioned the party workers against the conspiracies of the conspirators as such elements always remain out to divert the attention of PPP from the service of the people.

Afghan asylum bids hit 10-year high

More Afghans fled the country and sought asylum abroad in 2011 than in any other year since the start of the decade-long war, suggesting that many are looking for their own exit strategy as international troops prepare to withdraw.

From January to November, more than 30,000 Afghans applied for political asylum worldwide, a 25 percent increase over the same period the previous year and more than triple the level of just four years ago, according to UN statistics obtained by The Associated Press ahead of their scheduled publication later this year.

Many Afghans are turning to a thriving and increasingly sophisticated human smuggling industry to get themselves -- or in most cases, their sons -- out of the country. They pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars to cross into Iran or Pakistan to more $25,000 for fake papers and flights to places like London or Stockholm.

Thousands of refugees also return each year, but their numbers have been dwindling as the asylum applications rise. Both trends highlight worries among Afghans about what may happen after 2014, when American and other NATO troops turn security over to the Afghan army and police.

The true numbers of people leaving is likely even higher -- since those who are successfully smuggled abroad often melt into an underground economy. Still, the jump in a rough indicator like asylum seekers suggests the total numbers are also on the rise.

Smuggling people out of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan is a $1 billion-per-year criminal enterprise, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates. Those who pay to leave often face a risky journey and detention abroad because many developed countries now see many Afghans who flee as illegal economic migrants, not political refugees.

Still, the business finds an eager clientele in Afghans such as Ahmad, an unemployed 20-year-old in Kabul. He has agreed to pay a smuggler $400 to take him over the Iranian border, where he hopes to find work and save up to move on to Europe in a few years. He has no money, but his smuggler is giving him credit -- he'll have a month to pay up once he's in Iran.

"I don't think anything will improve in three or five years, so it's better to leave now," said Ahmad, who expects to leave for Iran within a few weeks. He asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of being arrested.

Ahmad's family fled to Iran during the Taliban's late 1990s rule and returned full of hope after the regime fell. But now, he sees no future in his homeland.

"If foreign troops leave, the situation will only get worse, not better," he said.

That's a view shared by many. Tajma Kurt, who manages an International Organization for Migration program helping Afghans who have returned home, says she's noticed a marked change in ordinary Afghans' outlook since roughly 2007, when the Taliban insurgency began to gain strength and violent attacks increased.

"Before, they were looking for a job, discussing buying a house or whatever," Kurt said. "Now, they are all thinking of leaving because the situation has deteriorated dramatically and they don't see that it's going to get much better."

Devastated by decades of war, Afghanistan is already the world's biggest source of refugees, with more than 3 million of its total population of 30 million still outside the country, most in Iran and Pakistan, according to the office of the UN High Commissioner of Refugees and the Afghan government.

After the 2001 US-led military intervention that toppled the Taliban, some 5.7 million Afghan refugees returned. The vast majority of those came back in the first five years. The numbers have since dwindled, with about 60,000 refugees returning last year, about half the number as the previous year.

As the pace of returns slowed, the number of Afghans seeking asylum abroad rebounded. In 2011, 30,407 sought asylum through November, the latest available figures.

Driving both trends is not only economic ambition but deep uncertainties about the country's future, says Abdul Samad Hami, deputy minister of Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation.

"Who knows what happens when foreign troops leave Afghanistan? Is it going to get better or worse? Who knows what happens with the foreign aid to Afghanistan -- going down or increasing?" he said.

Some Afghans fear that once most foreign troops leave, the Taliban will take over more territory and civil war could erupt along ethnic lines, as it did in the 1990s. Others worry the Afghan economy will collapse if foreign aid dries up.

The real number of Afghans leaving is unknown, but undoubtedly higher than the asylum figures. The country's foreign ministry recently said 50,000 Afghans illegally entered Greece in the past two years alone, many of them now stranded without passports or money to move farther into Europe. Most of those arranged their journey with smugglers.

For their money, many endure a perilous journey.

Esmat Adine nearly drowned after the overcrowded boat he was on sank off Indonesia late last year, killing at least 200 fellow asylum-seekers headed for Australia. He says he left his wife and infant son at home in Afghanistan and paid $5,000 to travel to Australia after the Taliban threatened to kill him for working with American aid workers. He flew from Kabul to Dubai, then boarded a plane to Jakarta, Indonesia. From there, he was taken to eastern Java and was packed onto the doomed boat.

When the vessel capsized, Adine managed to survive by swimming to a nearby island.

"I swam and swam until I reached the shore," Adine, 24, told The Associated Press in an Indonesian detention center, where he is awaiting a ruling on his legal status. "I thought of how my wife and children are counting on me, of how I must earn a good life in Australia, free from intimidation."

He says he still hopes to be able to enter Australia and send for his family.

Australia has vowed to crack down on asylum-seekers but has been forced to relax a policy of mandatory detention because its detention camps are dangerously overcrowded.

Hami, the Afghan refugee official, says the country has come a long way and if the transition goes smoothly, fewer people will want to leave. But he conceded that depends on whether the government can provide security and jobs.

"If the situation gets worse, people will go out. If the situation gets better, people will return."

Mansoor Ijaz "Stupidisco" Cameo