Friday, April 20, 2012

White House rebukes Palin Secret Service row

The White House said Friday it was "preposterous" and "ridiculous" for Republicans, including Sarah Palin, to try to blame President Barack Obama for the Secret Service sex scandal. Palin, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions and others have said the scandal, and other embarrassments for the government are somehow symptomatic of a lack of authority within Obama's government. White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed any attempt to link the scandal in Colombia, a row over a lavish conference held by the government's administrative agency and a furor over soldiers who had posed with corpses in Afghanistan. "It is preposterous to politicize the Secret Service, to politicize the behavior of the terrible conduct of some soldiers in Afghanistan in a war that's been going on for 10 years," Carney said. "What they're doing is trying to turn these incidents, one that's still under investigation, to political advantage. "It's a ridiculous assertion that trivializes both the very serious nature of the endeavor that our military is engaged in in Afghanistan and the very serious nature, both of the work that the Secret Service does." In an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Palin, the former Republican vice presidential nominee, suggested that scandal over Secret Service agents who consorted with prostitutes in Colombia last week was a symptom of a government "run amok." "The president, the CEO of this operation called our federal government, has got to start cracking down on these agencies," Palin said. "He is the head of the administrative branch." Palin also condemned one of the agents who lost his job due to the Colombia episode, who reportedly wrote on a Facebook page that he was "checking her out" while guarding her during the 2008 election. "Well, check this out bodyguard, you're fired," Palin said. The Washington Post named two of the three agents ousted by the agency over the affair as David Chaney, a senior supervisor and Greg Stokes, a member of the Secret Service's K-9 division.

Air Force Two carrying Biden struck by birds, lands safely

The Air Force Two plane
carrying Vice President Joe Biden was struck by birds in California on Thursday, a spokeswoman for his office said, but it landed without problem and the vice president, passengers and crew were safe at all times. The incident occurred on Thursday night as Air Force Two was landing in Santa Barbara, California. A person familiar with the situation said the landing felt normal to people on board. "The vice president left Santa Barbara this afternoon as scheduled, aboard an alternate U.S. Air Force aircraft," the spokeswoman said. Lieutenant Gregg Johnson of the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, which is responsible for transporting the president, vice president and other senior U.S. officials, said the crew and passengers of Air Force Two had been "safe at all times." "There was no emergency - no emergency landing declared," he said, adding it was not possible at this stage to characterize the level of damage, if any, that the modified Boeing 757 aircraft sustained in the bird strike. Another bird strike on Thursday forced a Delta Air Lines flight bound for Los Angeles to make an emergency return to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. In January 2009, a US Airways flight made a successful emergency landing in the Hudson River after it struck a flock of geese shortly after take-off from New York's LaGuardia airport. All 155 passengers and crew survived. Air safety incidents involving the U.S. president or vice president are rare, but not unprecedented. Air Force One aborted a landing due to bad weather while carrying President Barack Obama to an event in Connecticut last May. One month earlier, an aircraft carrying first lady Michelle Obama was ordered to abandon its landing approach to Andrews Air Force Base in order to avoid another plane.

Easy availability of fast food spurs unhealthy lifestyles
Populations in many countries around the globe are getting dangerously overweight and obese and doctors complain that it's because of fast foods which are cheaper and convenient. With a diet rich in saturated fats, salt and high caloric content, comes heart disease, the number one cause of death in many countries, including the UAE. Heart disease was earlier said to be a rich man's disease because of the rich foods and unhealthy diet of the glitterati, but now, even the poor have access to a hamburger or roasted chicken (with skin) and fries, which cost much less than good, wholesome food. With our fast-paced life of today, while we know the right thing to do, if there is no time to prepare a hot, nutritious breakfast for our school-going children, we opt for convenience foods and snacks such as chips, muffins or other unhealthy choices. But is fast food or convenience food alone to blame for the epidemic of diabetes, obesity and a host of non-communicable diseases, the diseases that are not contagious, but that are due to some extent because of our bad choice of foods? And if so what is a good and nutritious diet? "I know several people who have made a lot of money writing books about this but they end up confusing the public," says Dr George A. Mensah, Vice-President, nutrition, global research and development, PepsiCo. He is in Dubai for the World Congress on Cardiology and speak on early heart attacks among American women. "Eat what you enjoy. What is delicious and what is culturally relevant and important to you and that which allows you the social community with friends and family," he says. Dr Mensah said what science suggests is very simple. "The best diet is one rich in fruit and vegetables, rich in whole grains, low in saturated fats and low in calories. But even that, if you don't couple with moderate levels of physical activity, it cannot be the best thing for you." Sad story He said there is really nothing from science that says one food is a bad food and another is a good food. "It's really moderation, a balanced diet with appropriate fibre, protein, carbohydrates and good fats." He said it was a sad story, but not too long ago the world wasn't this fat. He was responding to a comment from Gulf News that America is now rated the fattest nation in the world today. "Dubai is getting there too... and so is Mexico," he said. The doctor recalled his growing up days in Africa. He said he was lucky as his village had a school, but he still walked six miles every day. Obesity "We ate all the wrong things. You must have heard of Cassava [a shrubby plant grown for its starch-filled roots], it has a highest concentration of calories, easily about 600 calories." He said but with all that walking there was no way anyone could get fat. "I have pictures and you could never find an overweight person [in it]," he said. With the obesity epidemic steadily moving across the globe and changing the physique of the younger generation, some western governments have asked food manufacturers to join in the fight against fat and provide nutritious food to the public. In Europe, the food and drink industry is working to reformulate foods and drinks to reduce salt, fat, sugar and other nutrients of concern. Britain, for instance, has asked for reduced salts because of the growing dangers of hypertension, the killer disease of high blood pressure. Researchers, the private sector representatives, policy-makers have been meeting to discuss the challenges of removing or replacing ingredients in a wide range of food products. But a researcher said the challenge with reformulation was that there was no ‘one size fits all' for food producers. But it is working to some extent and reformulation is responsible for two thirds of the positive change in salt reduction in the UK. Wider options Dr Mensah said PepsiCo through its Quaker brand is committed to increasing wholegrain, dairy, fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds in its functional foods. He said more such foods will come into the market that will give consumers wider options for healthier diets. But he hinted that there is still no huge demand from people for healthier foods. "Health communities, where ever they may be, have a responsibility to make people aware of healthier foods and provide them access to these foods," he said. The nutrition expert also noted that very little money was going into research on diet and the food systems. "There's more to health than just treatment and drugs," he said and quoted Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine: "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."

Bhoja Airline's crash

According to one of the eyewitnesses, the passenger plane caught fire in the air, Geo News reported. Talking to Geo News, a local resident said the plane was already on fire in the midair and seemed like a ball of fire coming at them. President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed deep grief and sorrow over the passenger plane crash and ordered immediate investigation into the incident, Geo News reported. They also expressed condolence with the heirs of the victims and prayed to Almighty Allah to rest the departed souls in eternal peace and grant courage to the family members to bear the irreparable losses.

6.1-quake rattles off northern Sumatra: USGS

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
A 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck the west coast of North Sumatra on Saturday morning, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported. The quake struck at 5:14 a.m. with an epicenter located at a depth of 34 kilometers, 368 km southwest of Meulaboh or 427km southwest of Banda Aceh. The tremor, however, did not trigger a tsunami. There were also no immediate reports of damage. Less than two weeks ago, Aceh and its surrounding areas were struck by an 8.5-magnitude quake and dozens of aftershocks, which also triggered a mini-tsunami. The earthquake claimed five lives, mostly due to heart attacks.

Socialist favoured as France heads for elections

France votes in the first round of a presidential election Sunday with Socialist Francois Hollande the favourite over incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, whose personal style and handling of the economy alienated many voters.

Moment of truth looms for a 'desperate' Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy told supporters on Friday the "moment of truth" had come. But with the first round of the presidential election less than 48 hours away it appears the pressure is beginning to take its toll on the head of state.French President Nicolas Sarkozy chose the last official day of campaigning before Sunday’s first round vote to lash out at election rules - as well as issue an apology to the nation.
The incumbent president is under pressure, with most opinion polls showing him trailing behind Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande by up to three points for the first round.At his final campaign rally in Nice on Friday evening, the president himself declared that “the moment of truth” had arrived. “This is the moment when the people of France will tell the truth”, he told supporters. But with less than 48 hours to go before polling stations open across France it appears the pressure is beginning to tell on the man the French call “Sarko”. After issuing a vague threat that the election will “teach everyone a lesson” in a speech on Thursday, Sarkozy turned his ire on the rules governing the election. Sarkozy is furious that all 10 candidates in the first round of voting had to be given equal air time by the media during the one month of official campaigning, despite the fact many will only get a tiny percentage of the vote. Chief rivals Sarkozy and Hollande have had to share air time with fringe candidates like the extreme left’s Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou as well as the eccentric Jacques Cheminade, who wants to create a thermo-nuclear corridor from earth to Mars. “Sarkozy getting desperate” “I have been in a battle, where for the past four weeks it has been me alone against nine other candidates,” Sarkozy complained to the French daily Le Figaro. Insisting the regulations must be changed in future he said: “It will be the last election with these rules because all this leads to is a caricature of our democracy. The rules reflect equality but not the reality.” University College London’s Philippe Marliere believes Sarkozy’s anger is a sign of the President’s increasing “desperation”. “His argument is a bit ironic considering he has been in power for five years with so much media exposure,” said the French politics professor. “The rule is only for a month and it shows all the candidates are equal before the law. It’s like he’s a child complaining about everyone ganging up on him. It really smacks of desperation,” Marliere added. “It’s a sign of someone who knows he is on course to lose.” Others, however, believe the election rules could benefit Sarkozy. Bernard Debré, former minister from Sarkozy’s UMP party believes the coverage given to fringe candidates will help the president. “The fact there are such absurd candidates could actually reflect well on the president,” Debré said. Second round is a “different story”Despite strong showings from far right candidate Marine Le Pen and the far lefts Jean-Luc Melanchon, the president is still expected to reach the second round run-off vote on May 6. The decisive vote to choose France’s next president will be “a totally different story”, Sarkozy believes. “I will go from having 10 percent of air time to having 50 percent and we will finally face each other, project against project, personality against personality,” he said. Marliere believes Sarkozy must take advantage of his time on television if he is to have any chance of convincing French voters to back him in the crucial run-off vote. “His biggest hope is the live TV debates which are held between the two rounds of voting,” said Marliere. “They are emotionally and politically charged and there will be a chance to take on Hollande because he believes he’s a better debater,” Marliere said. “But it would take Hollande to do or say something extremely foolish or be seen to be totally out of his depth for him to turn it around and I don’t think that will happen.” Asking for forgiveness Sarkozy also showed an air of contrition on his final day of campaigning once again issuing a “mea culpa” for the “mistakes” he made following his election triumph in 2007. He was heavily criticised in the French media in the aftermath of that victory for his perceived flashy lifestyle, which many in France thought unbecoming of a head of state. Pictures of him holidaying on multi-million pound yachts in the Mediterranean and his whirlwind romance with supermodel Carla Bruni earned him the derisive nickname of the ‘bling-bling’ president. After apologising at the start of this year’s election campaign, Sarkozy felt the need to remind the French public on Friday that he deeply regretted his errors. In a contrite interview with RTL radio station he claimed to not have immediately understood “the symbolic dimension of the role of president” and accepted that he had lacked a certain amount of “somberness”. “I will not make the same mistake again, now that I know the job,” he said. With opinion polls showing Hollande holding as much as a 10 point lead over Sarkozy for the run-off vote, the chances of the president being able to make up for his previous mishaps appear ever slimmer.

French voters’ ambivalence makes it tougher to predict presidential race
Emmanuelle Lellig was having none of it.
The candidates in France’s presidential election, she sneered, spend their time hurling insults at one another and throwing out promises that they have no intention of keeping.“How can we believe them?” she asked between sips of morning coffee at an outdoor cafe this week. “They’re not going to do what they say, anyway. For me, the campaign goes in one ear and out the other.” Lellig, a 24-year-old intern at a public relations agency in this graceful old city 150 miles southwest of Paris, has not made up her mind whether to vote Sunday in the first round of France’s election, much less in the second round May 6. Even if she votes, she said, she has not decided whether to back President Nicolas Sarkozy, main rival Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party or one of the eight minor candidates spread from the far right to the far left.
Lellig, in short, is emblematic of the joker that could produce surprises in France’s presidential race. Despite opinion polls that for months have put Sarkozy and Hollande neck and neck in the first round and given Hollande a decisive edge in the runoff, a number of polls have predicted that nearly one-third of France’s 43.2 million registered voters will make up their minds on whether to vote at the last minute or will not decide on a candidate until the day they cast their ballots. This marks a shift from past French elections, in which voter sentiment largely crystallized before the final week of campaigning, polling experts explained. The participation rate is likely to be around 75 percent, they estimated. By U.S. standards, that would be a massive turnout. But by French standards it marks a continuing decline and, they emphasized, could leave the country with a bloc of voters whose preferences are hard to predict. Jacques Le Goff, a law professor at the University of Nantes, lamented the trend in a front-page editorial Thursday in the main regional newspaper, Ouest-France. “How can it be that this act that is such a strong symbol, a manifestation of popular sovereignty and an incarnation of citizenship, ends up so pale and faded?” he asked. Many of those who abstain or cannot make up their minds are young people who have not yet fully integrated into society’s civic responsibilities. But many are also older adults who have grown disgusted with a political system they see as remote and unresponsive to the people. This is particularly true in distant suburbs and provincial cities, where the political fervor of Paris seems like frivolity from another world. “Nobody believes in it any more,” said Eric Fairnand, 38, the owner of a chic brasserie strategically located just in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral, the main Nantes church. “The candidates make all kinds of promises that they never keep. Whether they are on the left or the right, they treat us like we are sheep, like we are stupid jerks.” In that vein, the leftist news magazine Marianne headlined this week’s issue, over photos of the five most popular presidential candidates: “The biggest lies of the campaign. Who lies the most? Who lies the best?”Fairnand, who owns other businesses in this port city of 600,000 residents, said he voted for the conservative Sarkozy in 2007 and probably will do so again, chiefly because he fears a victory by Hollande would mean higher taxes for entrepreneurs. But he expressed dismay at Sarkozy’s record over his five-year term and said that Sarkozy was making campaign gestures, such as rescuing factories threatened with bankruptcy, that he should have been working on long ago. Some abstentions, analysts pointed out, could be blamed on the coincidence of having Sunday’s first-round voting at the tail end of Easter vacations, when large numbers of families are still in the Alps for end-of-season skiing. Beyond that, experts have tried to determine what has been triggering voters’ doubts and hesitations but have not come to widely accepted conclusions. Some point to a 24-hour news cycle on France’s relatively recent all-news television channels. The pressure to create several headlines a day to grab jaded viewers’ attention, they said, prevents candidates from focusing on a single issue long enough to explain their proposals. Others cite the number of candidates — 10 — and laws requiring that each get an equal amount of television and radio time, including one who proposes that France should colonize the moon. As a result of both factors, polling experts complained, the campaign often appears to many people, particularly outside Paris, like a confetti storm of declarations and denunciations unconnected to their daily lives. Sarkozy, in an interview Friday in Le Figaro newspaper, promised that this will be the last presidential election with equal-time rules, no matter who comes out the victor. “All this leads to a caricature of democracy,” he said. “We are in a formal equality that is not a real equality.” Hollande, also eager to counter the trend, emphasized in a recent interview that he has promised nothing that he cannot carry out if he is elected. But Pierre Ndiaye, a 19-year-old communications student at the University of Nantes, said he plans to stay away from the polling booths — and urges others to do the same — because the French political system does not work. Candidates such as Hollande can make all kinds of promises during the campaign, he said, but there is no system for making them adhere to what they pledged once they become president or members of parliament for five-year terms. “It’s cynical,” he declared. “Now he does it?” Fairnand jeered. “He could have started five years ago.”

Obama may not attend Rio Earth Summit, administration official says

Washington Post For months foreign leaders and environmentalists have wondered whether President Obama would attend a landmark U.N. conference slated for late June, known as the “Rio+20 Summit.” The answer remains unknown.. In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, U.S. special envoy on climate change Todd Stern said that when it comes to the prospect of Obama attending the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, “I don’t have any understanding that the president has any intention of going.” Administration officials, who asked not to be identified because the question concerned a future scheduling matter, said Tuesday that a final decision had not been made. A White House official wrote in an e-mail that when it came to Obama’s possible attendance at Rio+20, “I don’t have any scheduling announcements at this time.” More than 120 presidents and prime ministers from around the globe—including the leaders of China, India and Germany—have announced they’ll attend a high-level segment of the gathering, scheduled for June 20-22. The meeting, which marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, has major symbolic significance even though it remains unclear whether it will produce many concrete results. Two decades ago President George H.W. Bush attended the initial summit, which produced major environmental agreements including the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity. Jacob Scherr, global strategy and advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he and others hope Obama will show up. “We’ve known for a long time the president’s been undecided. We’re still hopeful that the administration will continue to consider whether the president will go,” he said in an interview. “We think it would be a real tragedy if the U.S. is missing in this effort to try to put the world on a more sustainable path.” George W. Bush chose not to attend the U.N. Earth Summit in 2002, which took place in Johannesberg. Scherr said that if Obama chose to skip the event, “It will be noticed by the rest of the world.” Just last week, Obama joined other Latin American heads of state in issuing a joint communique in which the leaders reiterated “our commitment to ensure broad participation” at the summit’s high-level session. “The Conference will be an invaluable opportunity to rethink the current models of development,” the statement added. Stern’s comments came on the same day when the top U.N. climate official played down any expectations that the Rio+20 summit would produce any binding agreements. In a briefing hosted by the U.N. Foundation in Washington, UNFCC executive secretary Cristiana Figueres said the meeting “is not a technical negotiation.” where “countries agree on the legal structure that is going to be the guiding or underpinning [for a] collective effort.” ”Rio is about a bigger conversation,” she said. “What kind of society do we really want? What are we headed to?”

Obama: Keep rates of student loans low

Washington Post
Obama will also appear for the first time on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” which will be taped Tuesday on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, according to NBC. According to a White House fact sheet issued Friday, student loan rates for 7.4 million Americans will double on July 1 without congressional intervention to extend current rates. Without action, the higher rates would translate into $1,000 in additional debt each year for the average student, the fact sheet said. Obama’s push will include an appearance by Education Secretary Arne Duncan at Friday’s White House briefing with Press Secretary Jay Carney; it will also feature a social-media campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ using the hashtag #DontDoubleMyRate. The effort also targets a critical constituency for the president as the general election gets underway: young people. Obama’s trip will feature stops in three states widely seen as battlegrounds this year, and his appearances are all scheduled for college campuses — a crucial focus of the reelection campaign’s organizing efforts this year.

‘Secularism is the way forward’

''Secularism is not against religion; it is the message of humanity.''
This was the gist of the speeches delivered by eminent speakers at the launch of the Pakistan chapter of the Forum of Secular Bangladesh and Trial of War Criminals of 1971 at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday. Prior to the launch, a documentary Portraits of Jihad directed by distinguished Bangladeshi filmmaker Shahriar Kabir was screened. The subject of the film was the spread of religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh. It gave a detailed account of how extremist groups tried to shake the foundation of Bangladeshi society through terror, making their recruits acquire training abroad and target those who spoke against fundamentalism or upheld secular values. It was a moving documentary that commenced with the footage of an attempt on the life of Shaikh Haseena Wajid in 2004 and ended on a positive note with Lalon Fakir’s mystical words. Iqbal Haider, the president of the forum, complimented the people of Bangladesh for having got rid of militancy. He said the foundation of Bangladesh was laid on four principles enshrined in their constitution — secularism, socialism, nationalism and democracy — which made all the difference. “On the contrary, we Pakistanis are infected with fundamentalism, ethnicity, sectarianism etc,” he said, and claimed that the largest number of Muslims were killed (by Muslims) in Pakistan. He said that extremists were free to attack jails, shrines and schools; 900 schools were destroyed by Taliban within the last three years in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, depriving children of education. Following the path of secularism did not mean deviating from the basic principles of Islam, he argued. “Secularism is the message of humanity; it is not against religion,” he concluded. Shahriar Kabir informed the media that when the BNP and Jamaat-i-Islami were in power in Bangladesh, a vibrant civil society movement in the country took root because of which extremist forces suffered a humiliating defeat in the next elections. He said Bangladesh had succeeded in coming up with a viable education policy introducing uniform curriculum in schools and madressahs. He was of the view that no government could fight against terrorism without the help of civil society. With respect to Pakistan, he said he was optimistic as the people of the country were not fundamentalists. Speaking about the importance of the forum, he said while religious parties had built their networks all over the world, those who spoke with reasoning did not know each other. Senator Hasil Bizenjo praised the way Mr Kabir’s documentary highlighted a sensitive issue, and lamented that despite the fact that Pakistan was more affected by violence no such documentaries were made in the country. He remarked it was time that intellectuals of Pakistan came forward. Artiste Sheema Kermani stated that there were two victims of fundamentalism — women and art & culture —, adding that “we could only move forward if we adopted secularism; otherwise there is little hope for Pakistan”. She complained that the media, especially the electronic media, did not give enough coverage to the activities that highlighted tolerant values. Advocate Javed Qazi agreed with Shahriar Kabir that there should be a Sufi conference in Pakistan and told the media that it could be held in Karachi in winter. Later, the host of the programme, Munazza Siddiqui, read out the names of the ad hoc committee of the forum.

Amnesty Demands Indonesia Drop Blasphemy Charges Against Shiite Leader

Rights group Amnesty International demanded on Wednesday that Indonesian authorities drop blasphemy charges against Tajul Muluk, a local Shiite leader displaced from his village in East Java’s Madura Island, who is currently under police detention. Tajul was displaced with over 300 other Shiite villagers on Dec. 29, when an anti-Shiite mob of some 500 people attacked and burned houses, a boarding school and a Shiite place of worship in Nangkrenang village in Sampang, Madura. Afterwards most of the Shiite who were displaced by the attack returned to Nangkrenang, but Tajul and about 20 other villagers, including his family, were prevented from returning to the village by the attackers, who reportedly threatened to kill them if they returned, and by police. On Jan. 1, the Sampang branch of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued an edict describing Tajul’s teachings as “deviant,” and then two days later his own relative, Rois Al Hukuma, reported him to police for blasphemy. On March 16, the East Java Police charged Tajul with blasphemy, saying he violated Article 156 of the Criminal Code on blasphemy and Article 335 on “offensive actions.” Tajul is currently being detained at the Sampang prison awaiting trial. His lawyers said they were concerned he would not receive a fair trial in Sampang because of the strong presence of anti-Shiite groups there. They are requesting his trial be moved to the provincial capital Surabaya, according to Amnesty International. “Amnesty International believes that these charges have been brought against him solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” Amnesty said in a press statement on Wednesday. “He is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally. These blasphemy laws are fundamentally incompatible with Indonesia’s international human rights obligations to protect and respect freedom of expression, and freedom of thought, conscience, religion and equality.” Amnesty also raised concerns about reports that Shiite villagers in Sampang have continued to face intimidation and threats from individuals trying to force them to denounce their beliefs. Shiites are a minority Islamic sect in Indonesia. The majority of Indonesian Muslims are Sunnis.

High-Rise Buildings Pose Growing Security Threat in Kabul

In two high profile attacks in the Afghan capital, insurgents used high-rise buildings that were under construction to target Afghan and foreign institutions. Our reporter has more on the growing security threat these buildings pose and why they are being constructed so close to sensitive areas of Kabul. Earlier this week, insurgents targeted the presidential palace, foreign embassies and other strategic locations during a deadly attack in Kabul. The 18-hour assault that began Sunday only ended when Afghan security forces backed by NATO helicopters fired on the last attackers who had seized an unfinished building in the diplomatic enclave. In a similar attack last September, insurgents occupied the upper floors of an unfinished building in Kabul, firing bullets and rockets at the U.S. Embassy, NATO headquarters and Afghan intelligence headquarters. Kabul has seen a construction boom in recent years, but many of the buildings that have emerged among mud houses and the rubble of war remain incomplete for years due to very slow construction work. Afghan finance ministry advisor Najib Manalai is closely watching this development and considers unfinished high-rise buildings a grave threat to security in the capital. "We have several buildings all around the presidential palace which could be easily used by anyone who wants to attack the palace," said Manalai. "Kabul has such buildings all over the city; some of them even close to military installations. These buildings have been built out of the norms of the city. Besides a security threat they have other negative sides too." The building used during last year's attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is reportedly owned by a member of the Afghan parliament. Manalai says property owners and officials who allows these buildings to go up are equally to blame. "We can’t say high-ranking officials in the government are unaware of the construction of these buildings," he said. "They are partners in many of these buildings. It is said that when permission for a big building is needed, a mayor is brought in to do the job. As soon as the mayor signs the papers on that huge building he is replaced by another mayor." Kabul residents, like Lema, who live close to these unfinished high-rises are also worried about their safety. "These buildings could be used by insurgents, suicide bombers and other criminals, because nobody knows who owns them, nobody protects them and nobody can question who they belong to," said Lema. "We have a building which lay incomplete for the last eight years. No one knows who the owner of the building is. It has no protection and no one oversees it. We see people coming into the building at night, but no one comes into it during the day." Kabul's technical deputy mayor, Abdul Ahad, says there are at least three such high-rise buildings whose owners are unknown, and the properties have changed hands at least three or four times. He says this is just part of the problem. "According to our last year’s evaluations around 50 percent of such buildings have illegally been constructed and have no legal permits from the municipality," said Ahad. "This is a huge issue. We are working on a new construction evaluation rule and will reevaluate all these illegal constructions based on these new rules." The Kabul official says the new rules will mandate that work be completed within a certain timeframe and that overall, there will be greater oversight of future construction projects.


Chief Minister Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani chaired a meeting to review the law and order particularly the situation developed aftermath of the targeted killings of Hazara community in Quetta and the meeting decided to launch targeted and result-oriented operation against the terrorists involved in these heinous crimes. Mr. Raisani had a meeting with the Shia and other religious scholars and they expressed their confidence in the Provincial Government for its initiatives to retain peace in the provincial capital. The meeting and its decisions are positive moves or bode-well but again there is need to implement these decisions with letter and spirit. Government has to show the sincerity and seriousness for maintaining public order instead of harassing the poor people on the pretext of strict security measure rounding up passersby and raiding squatter settlements. There is need to understand the nature and sensitivity of the issue and then trace the responsible and bring them to justice. There are no two opinions that the recent spate of targeted killings of Hazara community is nothing to do with sectarian issue because a specific community was targeted in recent incidents. People find it difficult to understand whenever there are targeted killings the government soon blame hidden foreign hands for destabilizing the region. Home Secretary once again claimed the foreign hands of targeting Hazara community in Quetta. Home Secretary must come up with a clear statement mentioning the names of the countries responsible for these massacres. It is beyond the understanding that why Pakistan not taking up the issue with countries involved in creating disturbances. It is the basic right of the people to know that who are responsible for the recent killings and who are the forces fueling hatred among people on sectarian and ethnic grounds. The situation is critical and administration can not spared from its responsibility by arresting irrelevant people because law enforcing agencies have so far not been able to arrest a single culprit or any suspect that helped the terrorists. The administrators should avoid harassing the poor people at public places on the pretext of checking and arresting them by declaring them suspects because it such actions are misplaced at this critical juncture. Balochistan government should realize the sensitivity of the situation and review its decisions and take concrete steps to restore peace urgently before it is too late. The apprehension of Governor Balochistan Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi that civil war may break out in Balochistan will come true if the situation gone out of control from civil government.

The Bhoja crash killing all onboard

Footage has emerged showing the wreckage of a Bhoja Airline Boeing 737 which crashed in bad weather minutes before it was due to land in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Bahrain protesters seek global Formula 1 audience for their cause
Protests in Bahrain calling for the dissolution of the Sunni monarchy and equal treatment for the Shia majority have now been joined by protest signs which criticise Formula One specifically for coming to the country. “A lot of the protesters are holding up placards saying 'Formula One driving over Bahraini blood',” Mr Freeman said of the protests he has seen day and night around the capital Manama. “People gather in the early evening in the alleyways of the villages where they listen to speeches from a mosque tower then they head off. "As soon as they reach one of the main roads, there are usually large groups of riot police who then promptly fire off tear gas.” In videos posted online by activists inside Bahrain, protesters can be seen throwing petrol bombs at the advancing security services in various locations around Manama.The Telegraph is unable to independently verify the date or location of the video footage though this footage was claimed to have been filmed on Thursday evening. Despite an incident in which mechanics from the Force India team were caught between petrol-bomb throwing protesters and riot police, all the Formula One teams are publicly committed to running the race. Around town, though, it doesn't feel like race weekend. “There is not much of a sense of a large fan entourage here,” our correspondent said of the quiet streets of Manama, which would usually be filled with sponsor's branding and parties when Formula One comes to town. "The big fear is that someone makes it onto the track during Sunday's race but a more likely outcome may be for a protester to unfurl a banner they had smuggled into the venue in the hope that it will be seen by the estimated 600 million race watchers worldwide. Even strict Formula One licensing rights would not stop the dissemination of any such incident. “If any protesters do get in they are well versed in taking footage on mobile phones and then smuggling it out and putting on the internet,” Mr Freeman said.

Tens of thousands protest military rule in Egypt

Egypt's Islamist and secular forces sought to relaunch the street uprising against Egypt's ruling military Friday, packing Cairo's Tahrir Square with tens of thousands of protesters in the biggest rally in months and accusing the generals of manipulating upcoming presidential elections to preserve their power. But attempts by protest organizers to form a united front against the military were blocked by competing agendas. The protest was riven by distrust and resentments that have grown between Islamists and liberals during the rocky, military-run transition process since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago.
Liberals and leftists accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of abandoning the "revolution" months ago and allying with the military in hopes of securing power. In Friday's rally, many said the Brotherhood was only turning to the streets after the generals proved more powerful in decision-making even after an Islamist-dominated parliament was elected. The liberal groups warned that the Brotherhood could accommodate the military again for a chance to govern. "The Brotherhood are here for the throne, that's all. We tried them before and they rode the revolution and the blood of martyrs," said Mohammed Abu-Lazeed, an accountant who took part in a march to Tahrir led by communists and socialists. The Brotherhood said it was protesting to preserve the revolution. The elections set to begin May 23 were intended to be a landmark in Egypt's transition: the first free choosing of a president after decades of authoritarian rule. After the president is installed, the military is to hand over by the end of June the power it took after Mubarak's ouster. Instead, political chaos in the lead-up to the vote has fueled fears that the military aims to push a candidate it favors into the presidency to ensure its continued influence and block dramatic reform. This week, the election commission disqualified 10 candidates, including the top three contenders. The move enraged Islamists because among those excluded were the Brotherhood's nominee and a favorite of ultraconservatives known as Salafis. "Down with military rule," chanted the protesters. Banners by all factions draped around the sprawling downtown plaza demanded that candidates seen as "feloul," or "remnants" from Mubarak's regime be barred from the race — particularly former foreign minister Amr Moussa, a frontrunner after the disqualifications. Tens of thousands more demonstrated in other cities around the country. Liberals and youth activists who led last year's anti-Mubarak uprising urged the Brotherhood and other Islamists to agree with them on a single candidate for president who would pursue a "revolutionary" agenda of reform and confront the military. The Brotherhood, however, refused to step aside in favor of a consensus figure. Though its initial candidate Khairat el-Shater was disqualified, the Brotherhood has a back-up nominee in the race, party leader Mohammed Morsi. To liberals, its insistence on running fuels the perception that it seeks to monopolize power for itself. And many on the secular side are embittered by events of the past year, when they held anti-military protests only to have the Brotherhood oppose their street action. "Sell-out, sell-out, sell-out of the revolution," chanted a group of leftists as they marched on the edge of Tahrir, addressing the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. A group of Brothers in reply shouted, "One hand, one hand," in an attempt to encourage unity. The majority in Tahrir appeared to be Islamists, though the leftist and liberal camps made their strongest showing in months. Each group massed around its own stage, blaring slogans and speeches by loudspeaker. A stage of leftist youths blasted hip-hop and revolutionary poetry, while next to it a stage run by the Salafis played verses from Islam's holy book, the Quran, and religious chants. At the Brotherhood's stage, thousands of supporters carried photos of their candidate, Morsi. In a sign of the competing agendas, many of the Salafis focused on their demand for the reinstatement of their disqualified candidate, Hazem Abu Ismail. A group of his supporters streamed through the crowd carrying a giant banner with his image. Abu Ismail was barred from the race because his late mother held American citizenship, violating rules that a candidate's spouse and parents cannot hold any foreign nationality. The Brotherhood entered the protest at a time when its frustration has peaked with the military, which has prevented its domination of parliament from translating into real political power. The group won nearly half of parliament in elections late last year. But the generals rejected its demands that the military-appointed Cabinet be removed so it could form its own government. The Brotherhood has also says the military is manipulating the judiciary, the election committee and the writing of a new constitution. The Brotherhood and other Islamists sought to dominate the constitution-writing assembly, formed by parliament. More than 25 non-Islamists on the body stepped down, protesting it was not diverse enough. A court order later disbanded the assembly. "Parliament was the first institution Egyptians built and chose," said Taha Shahat, a member of the Brotherhood's political party at Friday's protest in Tahrir. "We want them to have power and the right to carry out decisions." But the liberal camp was looking for signs that the Brotherhood and other Islamists were willing to compromise in their drive for power. Enjy Hamadi, with the leftist April 6 youth movement, said the Brotherhood should drop Morsi, agree on a consensus candidate and to a more inclusive assembly to write the constitution. "The Brotherhood needs to return to the revolution with actions, not words," she said. But Essam el-Erian, deputy head of the Brotherhood's political party, called it "not logical" for Morsi to step aside and denied the group would agree to a constitutional panel that does not include members of the Islamist-dominated parliament. "We thought that the revolution was on the right path, then were were surprised by attempts to bring back the former regime to power," he said, referring to the military. "This is what forced us to put forth a (presidential) candidate with legitimacy from the street, this is our goal." Read more:

Bhoja Air crash: No hope of survivors in Pakistan plane crash: police

A passenger airliner crashed near Islamabad on Friday while trying to land during a thunderstorm, officials said, with all 127 people on board believed dead. The Bhoja Air flight from Karachi burst into flames after coming down in fields near a village on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital as it tried to land in rain and hail at the city's international airport. The airline said the Boeing 737 was carrying 121 passengers, including 11 children, as well as six crew. "There is no chance of any survivors. It will be only a miracle. The plane is totally destroyed," police official Fazle Akbar told AFP from the crash site. Torn fragments of the fuselage, including a large section bearing the airline's logo, littered the fields around the village of Hussain Abad, where the plane came down. Rescue workers in orange jumpsuits and local residents used torches to search through the wreckage after nightfall, assisted by soldiers carrying assault rifles.
Part of the airline's name could be read on a large section of ripped white fuselage from the passenger cabin. The smell of burning filled the air at the scene and human limbs were scattered in a large area spattered with blood, witnesses said. An AFP reporter saw an orange flight data recorder in a house where some of the wreckage fell. Pakistan Navy official Captain Arshad Mahmood said the crash happened as the plane approached the runway to land. "The weather was very bad, there was hail and thunderstorm. The pilot lost control and hit the ground. It tossed up due to the impact and exploded and came down in a fireball," he said. Saifur Rehman, an official from the police rescue team, said the plane burst into flames after impact. "Fire erupted after the crash. The wreckage is on fire, the plane is completely destroyed," Rehman told Geo television. An airport source said the plane had been due to land at Islamabad airport at 6:50 pm (1350 GMT) but lost contact with the control tower at 6:40 pm and crashed shortly afterwards before reaching the runway. A probe has been ordered into the crash, Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi said, warning that traffic caused by people trying to get to the site was hindering rescue efforts. "A team of investigators comprising senior civil aviation officials have immediately started investigations," Sethi said. "We are working under the direct supervision of president and prime minister." Nadeem Khan Yusufzai, director general of Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority, said initial reports suggested the bad weather was to blame for the crash. Bhoja Air relaunched domestic operations with a fleet of five 737s in March, according to newspaper reports, when the airline was planning to start flights connecting Karachi, Sukkur, Multan, Lahore and Islamabad. Bhoja had been grounded in 2000 by the Civil Aviation Authorities amid financial difficulties, the reports said. The worst aviation tragedy on Pakistani soil came in July 2010 when an Airbus 321 passenger jet operated by the private airline Airblue crashed into hills overlooking Islamabad while coming in to land after a flight from Karachi. All 152 people on board were killed in the accident, which occurred amid heavy rain and poor visibility. The deadliest civilian plane crash involving a Pakistani jet came in 1992 when a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a cloud-covered hillside on its approach to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, killing 167 people.

Punjab Polio: Vaccinator blows whistle on Punjab’s polio drive

A polio vaccinator of the Punjab Health Department has spilled the beans on severe irregularities observed during the vaccination campaign during January in the provincial metropolitan and has moved the Lahore High Court, Pakistan Today has learnt. Per details, Suleman Khan, a vaccinator working for the City District Government has maintained in his petition that the health authorities showed complete disregard for the incidents in which people refused to get their children vaccinated against polio. He further alleged that despite bringing this to the notice of the district health authorities several times, no official took any action to handle the situation. Instead, he alleged that the Lahore health EDO suspended him in complete violation of rules just because he had raised his voice against the ongoing irregularities. Khan has maintained that to achieve 100 percent results for Oral Polio Vaccine, it was necessary that the vaccine had to be distributed at union council level at stage-0. Every vaccine comes with a Vaccine Vial Monitor (VVM) which changes colour on the vaccine’s exposure to heat and goes from stage-0 to stage-3 to indicate when the vaccine becomes unusable. Khan has alleged that the vaccines are normally distributed when they are at stage-2 and the UCs do not have any facility to store the vaccines which means they move on to stage-3 quickly, rendering them useless. The vaccinator further submitted that the staff provided for vaccination was not professional but consisted of peons and watchmen, further alleging that the “government representatives received the empty vouchers of expenses from the vaccinators with their signatures without even paying a single penny.” Khan also highlighted that the World Health Organisation had been appreciating the role of Indian government in eradicating polio while Pakistan received billions of dollars in funds in this regard also. “It seems that the government, staff of UNICEF and the WHO were not working for eradication of polio seriously and are only trying to grab international funds,” he said, adding that it was just a campaign of huge salaries and other facilities. He further highlighted the government’s inefficiency by pointing out that the first polio case surfaced in the provincial metropolitan at the start of the year. Lahore Health EDO Dr Inamul Haq said the matter is in the court and a detailed reply had already been submitted. He further said the quality and efficacy of OPV was beyond any doubt per WHO criterion. He said Suleman Khan had made an “irresponsible” statement and had damaged the cause of polio eradication.

South Waziristan polio immunisation campaign put off
Due to a military operation and curfew in South Waziristan, the polio campaign which will begin in the tribal belt on April 23 has been delayed in the war-torn agency. According to Dr Imtiaz Ali Shah, the provincial focal person (technical) for polio, the immunisation campaign will be launched in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata according to schedule. He said that 4.93 million children in the province and 1.02 million in the tribal belt will be administered polio drops. “Other than oral vaccine, Vitamin A capsules will also be given to children over six months of age.” Shah was speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the three-day national immunisation campaign that began at the Khyber Institute of Child Health in Peshawar’s Hayatabad area on Friday. He said that 16,608 teams had been deployed in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. “Rs39 million have been allocated for the campaign in the province and Rs15 million for the tribal belt.” Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Governor Masood Kausar, who also addressed the ceremony, said that it is disappointing that people refuse to take polio seriously and do not understand the consequences of not vaccinating their children for it. Urging parents to ensure that their kids are administered the oral polio vaccine, the governor reminded them of the age-old proverb ‘prevention is better than cure’.

Letter to Swiss officials not possible now; says Aitzaz Ahsan
Counsel for Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, reiterated his stance saying letter should not be written to the Swiss authorities until Asif Ali Zardari holds the office president. Aitzaz while arguing before a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court said his client relied on the summary of the Ministry of Law, which had advised him against writing letter to the Swiss authorities. The bench questioned why writing the letter was being taken as move against President Asif Ali Zardari, observing that it was concerned with civil rights. In counter-argument, Justice Sarmad Jalal questioned whether the prime minister was bound to uphold the summary or not? On this, the lawyer replied in negative, saying the premier thought that the letter to Swiss officials could not be written presently. Justice Nasirul Mulk on the occasion noted that the matter relating to presidential immunity was not at all raised at the stage of review while his colleague Justice Ejaz Afzal said that the premier had taken a firm stand against the court’s verdict. The counsel for the premier said that writing letter to Swiss authorities meant giving up on presidential immunity. Justice Gulzar on this occasion raised a question, “What makes you scary about writing letter”? On this, Aitzaz replied that he was afraid of disgracing the President of Pakistan. Justice Nasirul-Mulk said that nothing would happen due to immunity if the letter was written. He asked whether Swiss courts would open on writing letter. Aitzaz to this query answered that writing letter would demean the President. He continued that heads of states do not surrender their sovereignty in front of another country’s magistrate. The bench adjourned the hearing till Tuesday, April 24, 2012. During Thursday’s hearing, referring to the six options that the Supreme Court had rolled out before the premier on January 10, Ahsan had said that this was a perfect example of a “pre-trial” and these options were nothing but a conundrum and were like “nuclear bombs, daisy-cutters and carpet bombing”. Yousaf Raza Gilani was charged with contempt of court on February-13 over the government’s two-year refusal to write to authorities in Switzerland asking them to re-open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

No possibility of unilateral withdrawal from Siachen, says Zardari

Pakistan’s president has signaled a possible opening of the Head Sulemanki border for future trade with India. Addressing a gathering of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) workers in Okara, President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday said that Pakistan can not unilaterally withdraw it’s forces from Siachen. If India withdraws it’s forces from Siachen then Pakistan would do so too, said President Zardari. Continuing with his criticism of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), Zardari remarked that the Sharif brothers were “princes with a Mughal mindset”. Moreover, Zardari claimed that the Punjab government was “handed over” to the Sharif brothers by the PPP, and that they could take it away any time. The president said that had all powers when the PPP was elected, and could have toppled the government, but he handed over powers to the parliament. “That is the difference between the PPP and other parties,” he remarked. Zardari, who arrived in Okara on Friday, also inaugurated an orphanage and the Benazir Education City.