Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bahrain Shiite majority demands transitional government
A number of Shiite rallies have been held across Bahrain as thousands of protesters demanded a transition government and the ousting of the prime minister who has been running the island since 1974. Demonstrators gathered in Diya village near the capital Manama carrying flags and chanting "Resign, Khalifa!", while west of the capital, in the village of Sanabis a rally assembled near the Pearl Monument also calling for change. In the meantime, Bahraini men and women waved the national flag and chanted during an anti-government demonstration in the western Manama suburb of Jidhafs. Though police regularly use violence to disperse crowds of protesters, Bahrainis have continued to protest, demanding greater rights and freedoms from a ruling Sunni minority. More than 80 people have died in the unrest since the pro-democracy protests, led by the country's Shiite Muslim majority, erupted in February 2011.

U.S: Possible Snow Christmas Day?
Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, you should be! The latest from the National Weather Service says there is a good chance for a winter storm on Christmas Day.
The winter storm is expected to begin Christmas afternoon as the rain will turn to snow about that time.Snow accumulations in the NE portion of Hunt County and further NE could see 2 to 4 inches of snow, with less than 2 inches everywhere else above I-20. If the storm tracks further South than expected, most of North Texas could see 2 to 4 inches of snow Christmas afternoon/evening. With this storm comes the good possibility of the precipitation freezing overnight Christmas, which will call for some hazardous driving conditions Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning. Be aware of the current traffic reports before you travel, and be very careful when having to drive. BUT, if the storm takes more of a Northerly turn, then North Texas may not see any wintry precipitation at all, so as always, stay with KETR for the latest weather information. Have a safe Christmas!

Top Pictures: Most memorable fashion of 2012
Angelina Jolie at the Oscars. The leg that protruded from the thigh-high slit of her Versace gown was the most talked about appearance on the red carpet. The gown fit perfectly into the sleek, sexy mold Jolie favours, but it was her picture-perfect pose to expose just enough thigh that launched a thousand memes.
Beyonce's post-baby body. Beyonce announced that motherhood wasn't going to hold her back from sexy outfits at the Met Gala, the industry event co-hosted by Vogue's Anna Wintour. Ivy Blue Carter's mum dazzled in a skin-tight, largely sheer gown by Givenchy.

INDIA: Students upset at protest turning political, violent

The Hindu
The massive protest against the recent gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student turned political and violent at India Gate here on Sunday with the original protesters resisting the attempts to “hijack” the movement. Some of the rowdy elements allegedly manhandled and harassed women present at the spot. Police resorted to baton charge and fired teargas to disperse the unruly crowd. Amid the peaceful protests by students and theatre groups demanding stern punishment for the rapists and stricter gender-sensitive laws for swift and sure punishment, several groups like the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena, whose member had recently attacked Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashant Bhushan, started turning up in the afternoon. Vandals ripped apart the tin-sheets and broke the wooden barricades and benches erected for Republic Day crowd control, setting them on fire. By early evening three huge bonfires were visible near India Gate. The protest saw organisations like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP, and the newly launched political outfit Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal jumping into the fray, which was strongly questioned by the students who have been leading the protest for the past few days. “Why are political groups hijacking a students’ movement and hurting the cause? I think it’s a really unfortunate turn in the protest which was peaceful expression of public anger,” said Ritika, a student present at India Gate, while expressing her shock at the fact that groups with “vested interests” who want to “hijack” the movement were resorting to violence. A girl, who was part of the demonstration, alleged that she was harassed and teased by drunken men. “These people were clearly not a part of the protest. When we tried to stop them, they used abusive language. When we asked them to back off, they refused,” she said. “The vandals continued to throw water bottles at the police. There are many of them who are drunk and are teasing women. They have come here just to have some fun.” Monisha Kaur Sudan, who works on issues related to poverty and hunger, expressed her anger and frustration at the movement turning violent and political. “We do not want politics to creep into this movement. Why have the political parties started hijacking it? These are the same parties who have fielded rapists and criminals as their MLAs and MPs. They do not have any face to come here and talk about women’s safety because every time somebody gets raped, these politicians, with their feudal mindset, blame the victims for provoking rapists into raping them,” she added, flashing a placard which said: “We want unconditional security and safety of women.” Ms. Sudan said: “I am really disturbed by the turn of events, especially by the fact that since the rowdy elements started coming in the afternoon, violence has gradually increased. I am only scared if the situation goes out of hand which will have disastrous impact on the protest which has been otherwise very peaceful.”

Nawaz Sharif's Dirty Shameful Scandal with Kim Barker

Hollywood reacts in wake of school shootings

Al Jazeera
Number of high profile film premieres have been cancelled in response to Connecticut massacre.
Fifty-five prominent Hollywood celebrities have participated in an online campaign with a simple message against gun violence: "Enough". Several film and television production companies have also cancelled screenings of films and television shows which feature gunplay and killing. This is in response to the recent school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

Bilour’s killing an attack on humanity says Gilani

The Express Tribune
Former prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Sunday the assassination of senior Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister Bashir Bilour on Saturday was an attack on humanity. He said the deceased was a brave man and his martyrdom was a loss not only for the Awami National Party, but also the entire nation. Gilani was addressing a gathering after attending the chehlum of Awais Gardezi, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf former deputy district nazim in Bahawalpur. Gilani said that some 30,000 to 35,000 people had lost their lives to terrorism in Pakistan since the war against terrorism began. “The country is in one piece due to democracy. Without democracy, Pakistan will face tougher challenges.” He said Pakistan had lost much due to the fact that it was playing a front line role against terrorism. “It is time for political leaders to agree that extremists are Pakistan’s enemies. We need to end them.” Gilani said the successful military operation in Swat was a model for how to defeat the extremists. On energy crisis Gilani hoped that power load shedding would end by 2014. “If Kalabagh Dam is not approved by the Counsel of Common Interest, no financial institution, including the World Bank, will sponsor the project …agreement of all provinces is a must.” Referring to his tenure as the premier, he said he had gotten approval for Basha Dam from all the chief ministers. This was the reason, he added, that the World Bank as well as other donors, were willing to finance it. He said there had always been some amount of cheating and bogus votes. However, given an independent Election Commission now, Gilani added, he was certain that no one could defeat the PPP in the upcoming elections. To a question, he said there was no question of postponing the elections. A 20th Amendment had been passed in this regard, he added. On new provinces Gilani denied that he was conspiring against the creation of the Bahawalpur province. He also said that a commission was made for the creation of a south Punjab province and Bahawalpur province. Several projects initiated by the PPP government were in their completion phase and the PPP would not allow any political or social party to be a part of any conspiracy that could halt development in the area. He told the gathering that motorways from Faisalabad to Multan and Karachi to Hyderabad had been approved and that these projects will begin soon. The motorway will also pass through Bahawalpur.

Pakistan: Propaganda about delay in elections must stop

Daily Times
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Sunday asked opponents to stop propaganda about the postponement of general elections. Raja said the government was going to complete its five-year term, which was triumph of democracy and the credit for which went to President Asif Ali Zardari. Talking to party office-bearers after offering Fateha for his deceased relative Raja Naseem Afzal, the prime minister said that despite conspiracies, the PPP and its allies played an active role for strengthening democracy and national institutions. “The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is really proud of it,” he said. He assured that the elections would be held on time. Raja hoped that the PPP along with the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid would clean sweep the elections and form governments in all the provinces and Centre

Madam Noor Jahan's death anniversary was observed on Sunday

Radio Pakistan
The 12th death anniversary of Melody Queen Noor Jahan was observed on Sunday. In Karachi‚ the staff members and workers of Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation led by the Station Director Tanveer Iqbal visited the grave of Madam Noor Jahan at the Defence Graveyard to pay tribute to the legendary singer. They laid floral wreath on behalf of the Director General Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation‚ Mr. Murtaza Solangi and staff members and offered Fateha. Radio Pakistan also paid tribute to the music maestro in its programs for the services she rendered in music and also in acting. Madam Noor Jahan was born in a family of musicians in Kasur on 21 September 1926. She died of heart failure on December 23‚ 2000 in Karachi. Noor Jehan was a legendary singer and actress first in British India and then in Pakistan. Her career spanned seven decades. She was renowned as one of the greatest and most influential singers of her time in South Asia and was given the title of Malika-e-Tarannum.A special live musical programme‚ which Radio Pakistan was to hold at Lahore Center in connection with the death anniversary of Melody Queen Noor Jahan‚ has been postponed due to the national mourning in connection with the martyrdom of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour.

Ban-ki-Moon vows to stand by Pakistan in its fight against terrorism

Radio Pakistan
As the nation mourned martyrdom of Bashir Ahmad Bilour‚ the UN chief has condemned the suicide attack in Peshawar. One-day national mourning was observed on Sunday following the martyrdom of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa senior Minister and Awami National Party leader Bashir Ahmed Bilour in a suicide attack in Peshawar on Saturday evening. The National flags are flying at half-mast at all public and private buildings. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has announced a three-day while the ANP called for ten-day mourning in honour of the deceased leader. The Punjab Government has announced mourning day on Sunday across the province. Pakistan People's Party and government of Sindh have announced one day each while Muttahida Qaumi Movement called for three-day mourning. ANP's Balochistan chapter have announced to observe three-day mourning in the province. Meanwhile‚ the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon has condemned the Peshawar blast which killed 9 people including Bashir Ahmad Bilour. In a statement issued in New York‚ he vowed to stand by government and people of Pakistan in their fight against terrorism.

E-Tracking Saudi Women
Saudi men are now receiving automatic text messages from the government whenever their wives exit the country. It is part of a new program to electronically track women and ensure that they don’t leave the country without permission from their male “guardians”. The response from liberal feminists in the West? Silence. Saudi Arabia constitutes one of the most oppressive regimes in modern day history. It is known for its notorious human rights violations such as public beheadings, its extreme persecution of religious minorities, and its policies of gender apartheid, all of which are based on its stringent interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.Already, the law requires that women be covered from head to toe in burkas when in public, that unrelated men and women cannot mingle, and that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. In divorce, child custody goes automatically to the man. Inheritance laws favor sons over daughters. The list goes on and on. In short, women are treated as little more than chattel. But this isn’t enough for the Saudi government. So, recently, it implemented a practice whereby a male “guardian” is notified with a text message every time his wife or daughter leaves the country. It has always been the case in Saudi Arabia that women, all of whom are referred to as “dependents”, (along with children and foreign workers employed by individuals), must obtain written permission from a male relative or other male guardian before being able to work, attend university, obtain necessary medical procedures or leave the country. In 2010, the Ministry of the Interior implemented several initiatives to “update” the “efficiency” of the guardianship program, making it easier for guardians to authorize a dependent’s departure by, for example, allowing men to fill out permission forms online rather than producing the paperwork in person. Additionally, men had the choice of opting into a program whereby they would be notified whenever their “dependents” crossed the country’s borders. But in recent weeks, this notification program has been changed to automatically send text messages to men even when they did not sign up for the program. Thus, all male guardians in Saudi Arabia now receive a text message when their wives or daughters cross the border, even if he happens to be travelling alongside her. The change in policy was prompted by an incident where a 28-year-old woman used falsified documents to escape Saudi Arabia. Reportedly, she had converted from Islam to Christianity, a capital offense under Sharia law. She fled to Sweden, presumably to evade punishment. Subsequently, the Saudi government made SMS notification official policy rather than elective. One husband, who had been notified of his wife’s border crossing as he accompanied her, was alarmed by the notification. He alerted al-Sharif, a women’s rights activist, of the new policy.Al-Sharif became famous, or infamous, depending on one’s viewpoint, when she uploaded a YouTube video of herself defying the government’s prohibition on women’s driving. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. Last year, numerous Saudi women, who defied this ban, including Al-Sharif, were arrested and jailed. Al-Sharif was subsequently released on bail, so long as she promised not to drive again or speak to the media. Upon learning about the government’s e-tracking of women, she sent out tweets with the news, which were met with outrage from both men and women in Saudi Arabia. Reply tweets made proclamations like, “[H]ello Taliban, here with some tips from the Saudi e-government” and “[W]hy don’t we just install a microchip into our women to track them around?” Instead of making the guardianship system hi-tech, Saudi Arabia should be phasing it out. It’s ironic that one of the richest, most technologically advanced countries in the world is using technology to ensure that its human rights, morality, and treatment of women does not progress past that of the 7th century. The more advanced technology gets, the more backward and controlling of women becomes Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, feminists in the West, especially in America, don’t realize how good they have it. There are constant cries of “sexism” or accusations of male patriarchy every time a man compliments a women’s legs (“objectifies” her), or an older boss innocuously puts his hand on an employee’s shoulder (“sexually harasses” her), or a man provides his wife with an opportunity to be a stay-at-home mother (“devalues” her). Some men are afraid to open doors for women or pay for them on dates out of fear of “insulting” today’s “emancipated” women. And supervisors may go overboard in censoring the workplace out of fear of being slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit. Yes, feminists in the West have made themselves clear: treat them like men or they don’t consider themselves equal. Yet, women in Saudi Arabia are legally infantilized by the guardianship system in Saudi Arabia and treated as less than second class citizens in most of the Islamic world. Real human rights for women just plain do not exist under Sharia law. It is true that the Sharia does not directly address text messages or driving. However, the humiliation, excessive control of women, their subjugation and general deprivation of freedom as manifested in policies such as airport e-monitoring, certainly derive from the gender inequality based in Islamic law. Yet, the technological advancement used to tighten control of women even further produces not a peep from the Gloria Steinem’s of the West. Though Saudi feminists are outraged, when it comes to true sexism based in Islamist ideology and culture, liberal feminists in the West are, as usual, silent. Mum’s the word.

Injustice, Inequality Root Cause of Bahrain's Crisis

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast said that the unjust election system and unfair distribution of political power in Bahrain have caused the people to took to the streets and protest against the al-Khalifa regime. Mehman-Parast made the remarks in a press conference in Erzurum in Turkey on Saturday evening. In Bahrain 70 percent of people can only vote for 20 percent which is not fair and has caused protests in the Persian Gulf tiny Island, said the spokesman. Anti-government protesters have been holding peaceful demonstrations across Bahrain since mid-February 2011, calling for an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty's over-40-year rule. Violence against the defenseless people escalated after a Saudi-led conglomerate of police, security and military forces from the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) member states - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar - were dispatched to the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom on March 13, 2011, to help Manama crack down on peaceful protestors. So far, tens of protesters have been killed, hundreds have gone missing and thousands of others have been injured. Police clampdown on protesters continues daily. Authorities have tried to stop organized protests by opposition parties over the last several months by refusing to license them and using tear gas on those who turn up. The opposition coalition wants full powers for the elected parliament and a cabinet fully answerable to parliament.

Syria militants use chemical weapons against Syrian forces

Militants fighting against the Syrian government have used chemical weapons against the army in Daraya near the capital, Damascus, military sources say. According to a commander of the Syrian Presidential Guard, at least seven Syrian soldiers were killed on Saturday after they were attacked by a chemical weapon which produced a toxic yellow gas. The soldiers were reportedly killed within an hour after inhaling the gas. Foreign-backed militants have repeatedly threatened to use chemical weapons against the army and pro-government civilians in recent days. They have also threatened to contaminate Syria's drinking water supply in a bid to kill all Alawite Shias and the supporters of President Bashar al-Assad. The threat was made in a video posted on YouTube in which militants tested water contaminated with a lethal mixture on lab rabbits. The rabbits stopped breathing and their chests swelled shortly after drinking the poisoned water. The militants had earlier released a footage in which lab rabbits were killed by inhaling poisonous gas. The militants' use of chemical weapons come as the US and its allies have alleged that the Syrian government possesses the deadly weapons and is prepared to use them against militants. Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of army and security personnel, have been killed in the turmoil. A recent UN report has revealed that militants from 29 countries have so far infiltrated into Syria to fight against the Damascus government, most of whom are extremist Salafists. The Syrian government has repeatedly said that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and that a very large number of the militants operating in the country are foreign nationals.

Egypt : Presidency 'lies' on the constitution, says No to Military Trials Campaign
No to Military Trials Campaign retorts against presidency statement that claims the new constitution prohibits military trials of civilians, offering proof the wording was left ambiguous on purpose.
The No to Military Trials Campaign accuses Egypt's presidency of "lying" regarding the status of the military trials of civilians, in response to a statement released by Egypt's presidential assistant on foreign relations, Essam Haddad. While Haddad's statement claims that the new constitution marks Egypt's progress towards universal Human Rights standards, including prohibiting the trying of civilians in military courts, the rights campaign condemned such a statement as completely false. Commenting on Article 198 of the constitution, which Haddad claims prohibits military trials of civilians, The No to Military Trials Campaign retorts that not only does the article "leave broad discretion for military courts to try civilians, but it is purposely vague and leaves all options open for legislation." Article 198 of the draft constitution stipulates that "civilians shall not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that harm the Armed Forces. The law shall define such crimes and determine the other competencies of Military Judiciary." According to the No to Military Trials Campaign, the article does nothing to limit military jurisdiction outlined by the Code of Military Justice, which allows civilians to be tried if one of the parties involved in any given conflict is a military officer or if the crime takes place in an area where the military is deployed. The rights group gave the example of the Qursaya Island residents who were recently tried using the military code of justice in a conflict over land. While the court of administrative justice affirmed in 2008 the islanders' legal right to live and farm the land, the military court recently charged 25 of the residents of encroaching on army property and of being present in a military zone. "The draft constitution is worse than the 1971 constitution when it comes to military trials of civilians since the previous constitution was silent on the matter, and far worse than the 1954 constitution written more than 58 years ago – of which article No. 20 absolutely prohibited the trial of civilians before military courts or exceptional courts" the campaign statement read. The campaign further criticised article 197 of the new constitution saying "just in case the legislative body actually decides to protect civilians from the injustice of military tribunals, article 197 ensures that the armed forces will continue to retain influence over any legislation related to the military via the National Defense Council which includes the Minister of Defense, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, the Commander of the Navy, the Air Forces and Air Defense, the Chief of Operations for the Armed Forces, and the Head of Military Intelligence, among others". Article 197 states: "The Council is responsible for matters pertaining to the methods of ensuring the safety and security of the country and to the budget of the Armed Forces. It shall be consulted about draft laws related to the Armed Forces. Other competencies are to be defined by law." "What presidency representatives also fail to tell you in their press release is that an earlier draft of the constitution had an article [similar to that of the 1954 constitution] that clearly prohibited any military trials for civilians - without exceptions." That article, the statement detailed, included the phrase "No person shall be tried except before the judge of their jurisdiction; exceptional courts are prohibited. No civilian may face military trial." However, the phrase "no civilian may face military trial" was completely removed from the new constitution. "It should also be noted that this is not an isolated lie," they continued in their statement. "The presidency tries to sell the new constitution as 'progressive' when it is anything but that," the campaign pointed to the Human Rights Watch report on the matter. "This comes after a revolution that called for justice and after more than 12,000 victims of military trials in a year!" they concluded. The No to Military Trial Campaign is a movement created shortly after the armed forces took over power after Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down after 30 years as president. The movement's work mainly involves campaigning against the military trials of civilians (which became common since the military took over power) and the trials of civilians in exceptional courts. It also strongly campaigned for the retrial in civilian courts of all those sentenced by military courts since the revolution. According to the presidential statement the new constitution not only prohibits military trials of civilians, it also guarantees equality of all citizens with no discrimination (Article 33), equal opportunity for all male and female citizens without discrimination (Preamble no. 5 and Article 9), prohibits exceptional trials (Article 75), prohibits any law that restricts core rights and freedoms (Article 81), affirms the right of access to information (Article 47), eradicates illiteracy in all age groups for males and females (Article 61), affirms freedom of the press and prohibits the ban of censorship on media (Article 48) and guarantees freedom of association (Article 50). Several of these points mentioned by the presidency have also been challenged by other rights groups and activists. The Press Syndicate has condemned the status of the freedom of press in the new constitution. Human Rights Watch published a report mentioning its reservations on how far the new constitution protects rights, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, military trials of civilians and women's rights. Egyptians voted on the constitution in a national referendum on Saturday with a 64 per cent voting 'Yes,' - in favour of enacting the constitution.

Egypt: NCW reports 600 referendum violations
The National Council for Women (NCW) announced future steps to be taken detailing the violations which occurred during the constitutional referendum in a press conference Sunday. Ambassador Mervat Al-Tallawy, head of NCW, said more than 600 violations were reported to the council during both phases of the referendum. She added that one of the most severe cases was merging several election committees into one committee, making it impossible for all voters to vote. “Mathematically, when you have more than 6000 voters in one committee, there would be no time for half of them to vote during the day. This shouldn’t be the case.” Al-Tallawy said the council received complaints from different governorates, during both voting stages. The ambassador claimed there are forces trying to prevent women from participating in elections, adding that whether or not this is being done on purpose, the result would still be the same. Fatma Khafaga, director of complaints department at NCW, mentioned complaints that some members of Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) were present inside elections committees calling voters to vote in favour of the draft constitution. She said that some of those members prevented some women from voting, because they were not wearing an Islamic veil. Khafaga added that the council received complaints of voters who said their voting ballots were already ticked when they received them. However, she praised women for being active participants in the elections, despite the difficulties they faced during the two phases of the referendum. “Women checked for stamps on their voting ballots and asked supervising judges for their identities. Women stood in queues all day long just to participate and try to shape a better future for Egypt,” she said. Abir Aboul Ella, coordinator at the NCW, said she was beaten and prevented from voting in the second phase of the referendum on Saturday. She said, “Inside the elections committee, there were FJP members. They called us infidels and secularists, beat us, and prevented us from voting until the committee closed its doors at 11pm.” On the future steps to be taken by NCW, Al-Tallawy said that they will submit a report including all the violations to the president and the Supreme Electoral Committee (SEC). She added that the council did nominate some of its members to be part of the Constituent Assembly, but the nominations were ignored. “We have done a lot and we will continue pressuring and giving advice until the constitution falls, just like the constitution of 1930.”

Egypt opposition alleges vote fraud in referendum

Egypt's opposition said Sunday it will keep fighting the Islamist-backed constitution after the Muslim Brotherhood, the main group backing the charter, claimed it passed with a 64 percent "yes" vote in a referendum. The opposition alleged vote fraud and demanded an investigation - a sign that the referendum will not end the turmoil that has roiled this country for nearly two years since the uprising that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. Many Egyptians, especially the tens of millions who live in extreme poverty, had hoped the new constitution might usher in a period of more stability. A heated political debate over the past month leading up to the referendum at times erupted into deadly street battles. There were no mass opposition demonstrations on Sunday after the unofficial results came out. Renewed violence and political tensions have further imperiled Egypt's already precarious economy, reeling from dwindling resources and a cash-strapped government whose plans to borrow from the International Monetary Fund had to be pushed back because of the turmoil. The finance ministry said Sunday the budget deficit reached $13 billion in the five months from July-November, about 4.5 percent higher compared to the same period last year. Official results of the referendum are not expected until Monday. If the unofficial numbers are confirmed, it will be a victory Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who is from the Brotherhood. But the opposition allegations look likely to prolong the fight. Beyond allegations of fraud, the opposition will likely challenge new laws issued on the basis of the constitution as well as Morsi's economic policies. "The referendum is not the end game. It is only a battle in this long struggle for the future of Egypt," said the National Salvation Front, the main opposition group. "We will not allow a change to the identity of Egypt or the return of the age of tyranny." The opposition claims the new constitution seeks to enshrine Islamic rule in Egypt and accuses the Islamists of trying to monopolize power. Critics say it does not sufficiently protect the rights of women and minority groups and empowers Muslim clerics by giving them a say over legislation. Some articles were also seen as tailored to get rid of Islamists' enemies and undermine the freedom of labor unions. The latest political battle began with Morsi's Nov. 22 decrees that gave him powers to protect the Islamist-dominated panel writing the constitution and dismiss the country's top prosecutor, a holdover from the Mubarak era. Although Morsi subsequently rescinded the powers that gave him immunity from judicial oversight, his decision to replace the prosecutor general was viewed by many in the judiciary as trampling over their powers. Hundreds of prosecutors held a rally Sunday demanding the new, Morsi-appointed prosecutor general quit, days after he retracted his resignation claiming it was rendered under pressure. The prosecutors said in a news conference that they will be on strike until he quits. Scores of lawyers who support Morsi's decision held an earlier rally, demanding that the top prosecutor stay, and accusing the opposition of being "thugs." One major concern in the aftermath of the constitutional turmoil is Egypt's deteriorating economy, which has been battered by the two years of turmoil and taken an added hit from renewed violence recently. Adding to the anxiety, state television reported on Saturday amidst voting on the referendum that the central bank governor had resigned, then retracted the report. The governor turned up at a meeting of the government's economic team Sunday in an apparent attempt to quell nervousness over the state of the economy. The government stressed the urgency of stability. "The financial and economic situations are dire," government spokesman Alaa el-Hadidi said, according to comments published by the state news agency MENA. With the referendum behind, el-Hadidi said economic policies must be at the center of attention, adding that the government will work to improve the investment environment to attract foreign investors. The government had to postpone a request for $4.8 billion of IMF loans, putting off unpopular tax increases and reforms to after the referendum for fear they would only stoke political tensions. A day before the official results of the constitution are expected, the opposition front said it filed complaints to the country's top prosecutor and the election commission asking for an investigation. "The results of the referendum are for sure because of the rigging, violations and mismanagement that characterized it," the National Salvation Front said. It alleged the vote was marred by lack of complete judicial supervision, which led to overcrowding that pushed down the voting rate. It also charged there was interference by those who were supposed to be supervising the vote, with some instructing people to vote "yes." Many judges who traditionally supervise elections boycotted supervising the vote. "We don't think the results reflect the true desires of the Egyptian people," Khaled Dawoud, the front's spokesman, told The Associated Press. However, the Brotherhood insisted violations were limited and should not affect the referendum's integrity. The Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political arm, said it hoped the passage of the constitution would be a "historic opportunity" to heal Egypt's divisions and launch a dialogue to restore stability and build state institutions. If the violations are considered serious enough, there could be new votes in some areas that alter the results slightly. The referendum was conducted in two stages with the first vote on Dec. 15 and the second on Saturday. The Muslim Brotherhood and some media outlets have accurately tallied the outcome of past elections by compiling numbers released by electoral officials at thousands of individual polling stations shortly after voting closes. Turnout for the vote was 32 percent of Egypt's more than 51 million eligible voters, according to the Muslim Brotherhood. That was significantly lower than other elections since the uprising ended in February 2011. The opposition has pointed to the low turnout as well as allegations of violations in the voting to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the referendum. The Brotherhood said 64 percent voted "yes" to the constitution in a tally of both stages of voting. For Saturday's second stage only, the Brotherhood said 71 percent of those who voted said "yes" with 99 percent of polling stations accounted for. As expected, it was a jump from the first round of voting when about 56 percent said "yes." The provinces that voted in the second round were known for being a base for Brotherhood supporters. Only about eight million of the 25 million Egyptians eligible to vote in the second stage - a turnout of about 30 percent - cast their ballots. Some 32 percent of eligible voters participated in the first round. The Front said that regardless of the results, it welcomed the participation of many who rejected the constitution and refused to consider it a vote on Islamic law. The group vowed to continue to "democratically" work to change the constitution and praised the high turnout of women. The Islamists say Islam is core to Egypt's identity and they view the constitution as a foundation to move forward, elect a parliament and build state institutions. The new constitution will come into effect once official results are announced. Once that happens, Morsi is expected to call for the election of parliament's lower chamber, the more powerful of the legislature's two houses, within two months. The opposition said that even though it is challenging the results of the referendum, it will continue to prepare for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Until the lower chamber is elected, the normally toothless upper house, or Shura Council, will have legislative powers. On Sunday, Morsi appointed 90 new members to the Islamist-controlled Shura Council as part of his efforts to make the council more representative. The new appointments included at least 30 Islamists and a dozen Christians. They also include eight women, four of them Christians. The opposition front said it did not want its members nominated to the Shura Council, now made up of 270 members.

As Charter Passes, Egyptians Face New Fights

An Islamist-backed constitution was approved on Saturday, propelling Egypt’s deeply divided political factions into a new phase in the battle over the country’s future. After millions went to the polls for the final round of a referendum, the charter’s approval, which had been predicted by all sides, marked an important milestone in Egypt’s chaotic two-year transition to democracy. A “yes” vote of 70 percent on Saturday brought the overall margin of passage to about 64 percent, according to the Muslim Brotherhood. But the hastily drafted document leaves unresolved many questions about the character of that democracy, including the Islamists’ commitment to individual freedoms and their opposition’s willingness to accept the results of the political process without recourse to violent street protests. The charter’s path to the referendum has also taken Egypt to the brink of civil strife, exposing the alienation of the Christian minority, the political opposition’s refusal to negotiate and the Muslim Brotherhood’s willingness to rely on authoritarian tactics. How those tensions are managed and the new constitution is put into effect will determine whether Egypt returns to stability or plunges further into discord, and much of the region is watching the outcome of that definitive Arab Spring revolt. Neither supporters nor opponents of the charter said they expected an immediate end to the partisan feuding that has torn at the country in the month before the vote. The Islamists allied with President Mohamed Morsi said they intended to rebuild trust by using the new charter as a tool to battle remnants of former President Hosni Mubarak’s government. Old laws and prosecutors, the Islamists say, are protecting loyalists and holdovers while they obstruct change from within the bureaucracy and conspire with the opposition to stir up unrest. Leaders of the anti-Islamist opposition, however, said they hoped to carry the momentum of their struggle against the draft constitution into the parliamentary elections set to be held two months from now. They accused the Islamists of using the specter of a struggle against remnants of Mr. Mubarak’s government as a pretext to demonize the opposition and take over the machinery of the state. “If we accept the legitimacy of working within the system, they have to agree that the opposition is legitimate,” said Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister under Mr. Mubarak and a presidential candidate who has re-emerged as an opposition leader during the constitutional debate. “The ancien régime is finished. They are imagining things. They are imagining that if you say no to the constitution, as I have done, then you are part of a conspiracy to topple them.” Both sides of the ideological divide appeared to dig in. “A crack has emerged in Egypt; there’s a gap, there’s blood and deaths, there’s extremism,” said Ahmed Maher, who helped jump-start the revolution as a leader of the secular April 6 Youth Group and then served as a delegate in the constituent assembly that wrote a draft of the charter. “Something has happened between Egyptians that would make the results bad no matter what the outcome” of the constitutional vote, he said, predicting further clashes before the parliamentary elections. Adding to the uncertainty about what may come next, Mr. Morsi’s vice president, Mahmoud Mekki, resigned Saturday. The draft constitution would eliminate his position, and Mr. Mekki, a former judge, said that he had originally submitted his resignation in early November before a series of crises postponed it. “The nature of political work does not suit my nature as a judge,” he said. The turnout for Saturday’s voting appeared to be low, as it was last week. At one polling place in the dense Mohandeseen district near Cairo, the station was empty at midday. The low turnout may have reflected a lack of enthusiasm or perhaps a consensus among Egyptians that after last week, the charter’s approval was a foregone conclusion. Mr. Morsi’s advisers said that after the ballots were counted in the coming days he would deliver a televised address calling for unity and reconciliation. His critics said that to be credible he would need to strike a tone different from that of his previous address. In that speech, he blamed a conspiracy of foreign agents, Mubarak cronies and his political opponents for a deadly night of street fighting between his supporters and other protesters. In what Mr. Morsi’s advisers called a significant step toward reducing tensions, the president was planning to appoint some of his opponents to the Islamist-dominated upper house of Parliament. Although largely powerless, it will act as the main legislature until the coming re-election of the lower house, which was dissolved by the courts. Advisers to Mr. Morsi, who has the power to name 90 of the 270 seats, said he was expected to announce a roster of upper house appointees that would include eight representatives selected by the leaders of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches. That was more than the number of representatives chosen by Egypt’s highest Muslim authority, Al Azhar. At least four other appointees are Christian as well, his advisers said. Most members of Egypt’s Christian minority, about 10 percent of the population, have opposed the draft constitution since the Coptic Church withdrew its representatives from the constitutional assembly in a dispute over the role of Islamic law in Egyptian jurisprudence. The leaders of the main opposition coalition have refused to negotiate with Mr. Morsi or take seats in the upper house. His Islamist allies will still dominate, they say. Islamists won more than 70 percent of the seats in the parliamentary elections in late 2011. But their opponents see an opportunity to gain seats in the coming Parliament because of the backlash against Mr. Morsi’s heavy-handed attempts to force the draft constitution to a vote. Mr. Morsi pushed ahead over the objections of his opponents, judges and the Coptic Church. Mr. Moussa and others have said they hope the coalition forged to fight the draft constitution can hold together as a bloc in the elections. But if the anti-Islamist bloc does hold together, some worry it will force the mainstream Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood into closer collaboration with the ultraconservative Salafis, reinforcing sectarianism and polarization. Moataz Abdel-Fattah, a political scientist and former delegate in the constitutional assembly, said neither side appeared willing to respect the views of the other. “We have an elite running its affairs according to a strategy of stubbornness,” he said. “Everybody is trying to understand what the other side wants so that they can ask for the exact opposite.”

Chinese military bans luxury banquets

The military on Friday declared that receptions for high-ranking officers will no longer feature liquor or luxury banquets. The receptions will also be free of welcome banners, red carpets, floral arrangements, formations of soldiers, performances and souvenirs, according to ten regulations drawn up by the Central Military Commission. The regulations also prohibit commission officials from staying in civilian hotels or military hotels specially equipped with luxury accommodation during inspection tours. The ten regulations also require officials to cut both the number and length of inspection tours, overseas visits, meetings and reports. The regulations state that speakers at meetings should avoid empty talk, while commission officials will not be allowed to attend ribbon-cutting and cornerstone-laying ceremonies, celebrations or seminars unless they have received approval from the of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee or the Central Military Commission.The use of vehicles equipped with sirens will be rigorously controlled during official visits in order to prevent public disturbances. Additionally, commission officials are also required to discipline their spouses, children and subordinates and make sure they do not take bribes. The Central Military Commission enacted the regulations to echo the new central leadership's call to improve work styles. At a meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee held on Dec. 4, participants approved regulations calling for political bureau members to improve their work in eight ways, with a particular focus on reducing extravagance and bureaucracy.

Huge Fire Devastates Kabul Market

A major fire has swept through a market area near the center of the Afghan capital, Kabul. There were no reports of casualties, but hundreds of shops and stalls were destroyed and Kabul's nearby currency-exchange center was evacuated, authorities say. NATO and Afghan Army firefighting units were called in to help contain the blaze, which was likely caused by faulty electrical wiring. The market is about one kilometer from the Afghan presidential palace and several government ministries. Authorities were quick to dismiss fears that the fire had been caused by a terrorist act.

India widens crackdown on gang-rape protests

ANP vows to continue struggle against militancy

Despite losing a senior leader, leadership of Awami National Party vowed to continue their struggle against militancy, saying they would root out terrorism from the country. A bomb blast in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar area of Peshawar killed Provincial MPA Bashir Ahmed Bilour along with eight others and injured at least 18 people. Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, whose brother embraced martyrdom in the blast, said his brother was a brave man who has desire of martyrdom. Expressing grief, he said it was not only party’s loss but for the entire nation. He pledged that he would not bow before the militants and would continue their fight against terrorism. While expressing grief over the great loss, ANP Chief Asfandyar Wali while speaking to the media said that they wouldn’t quite struggle against terrorism until death. He praised the bravery of mitered leader, saying they will have to fight against the militant mindset. He added that he would hold meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and make strategy for fight against militancy. KP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, while talking to said that he salutes Bashir Bilour. “He sacrificed himself for the country and he fought against militants,” Hussain added. Hussain reports that he and Bilour used to get 3-4 threats every day. The KP minister demands a tripartite commission between the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan to solve this crisis. ANP leader Senator Zahid Khan expressed grief over the demise of Bashir Bilour and said that it was great loss not only for the ANP but for the whole nation. He said terrorist wanted to lead the country towards darkness.

More than 3.5 million Pakistani children miss polio vaccine: WHO
More than 3.5 million Pakistani children missed out on polio vaccination this week in a campaign overshadowed by the deaths of nine immunisation workers, a UN official said Friday. The Muslim-majority nation of 180 million people is one of only three in the world where the highly infectious, crippling disease remains endemic and infections shot up from a low of 28 in 2005 to almost 200 last year. Nine people working on the UN-backed programme were shot dead in Karachi and the northwest this week, murdered for trying to protect children from a cruel disease that can leave limbs flaccid and useless in a matter of hours. “Out of a total target of 18.5 million for the last polio round, 14.9 million children were vaccinated throughout the country, resulting in over 3.5 million children missed during the campaign,” Dr. Elias Durry, the World Health Organisation’s senior coordinator for polio eradication in Pakistan, told AFP. “WHO and all the partners in polio eradication salute the bravery of thousands of polio team members in the country who performed their duties in the line of fire to reach the 14.9 million children,” he said. Durry said figures showed 1.75 million children were missed in southern Sindh province after the campaign was called off following the killing of four female polio team members in Karachi, the country’s commercial capital. In the insurgency-hit northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province around 700,000 children were missed as a result of the early suspension of the campaign after the deaths of polio team members. In central Punjab province, more than 800,000 remained unvaccinated but WHO officials said some major cities started the campaign a day late and data were still awaited. It was expected the number of missed children would significantly fall. More than 200,000 children in different areas remained unvaccinated for reasons unrelated to the attacks. Efforts to tackle polio in Pakistan have been hampered over the years by local suspicion about vaccination. The Pakistani Taliban have denied responsibility for the latest attacks though they have threatened polio workers in the past and in June they banned vaccinations in the northwestern tribal area of Waziristan, condemning the drive as a cover for espionage. Resistance also comes from parents, often poorly educated and impressionable, who believe wild conspiracy theories about the vaccine.

The Hindus in Balochistan are migrating from a hell

The Baloch Hal
Interview By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
Sham Kumar is a veteran journalist, writer and poet of Pakistan. He simultaneously contributes to several leading English, Urdu and Sindhi newspapers and periodicals. The Baloch Hal spoke to him exclusively to get his opinion about the plight of the Hindu community in Balochistan. A Hindu himself, Mr. Kumar spoke extensively about the origin, contributions and the contemporary challenges of the Hindus living in Balochistan.
How do you trace back the history of Hindus living in Balochistan?
It is not clear in Balochistan’s historic documents how Hindus originally settled in Balochistan. However, some of its areas remained under Hindu rule before the Arabs invaded Sindh in 712 A.D. In those days, Hinduism and Buddhism were prevalent in Sindh and Balochistan. In some parts of Balochistan, they say paganism was the religion of scattered tribal people. It is quite clear that plains of Balochistan were particularly occupied and ruled by unknown dynastic rulers.
Where are some of the sacred places of the Hindus located in Balochistan and what is their significance?
There are mainly two sacred places of Hindu religious community belonging to ancient times. One is in Lasbela district called Hinglaj Shrine in a hilly track. It is abode of sacred Hindu goddess Hinglaj Mata. And the other one is in Kalat town called temple of Kali Devi, consort of god Shiva. There are some other small temples in Sibi, Dera Murad Jamali, Chaman, Khuzdar, Hub, Lorlai and other places. The Hinglaj Shrine has remained famous all over the undivided India since times of immemorial because prominent Hindu sect, Nath Panthis, whose founder was Guru Gork Nath, used to visit this shrine in 6,00 A.D. Also, Sindhi mystic poets Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai and other used to visit this prominent sacred place of pilgrimage.
In which areas of Balochistan are Hindus populated?
Hindus are mostly populated in Baloch areas. Before the Partition, they also used to live in the Pashtu-speaking areas but due to religious turmoil and riots in the earlier days of the Partition, they were compelled to flee either to Baloch areas or go to India. Presently, Hindus residing in Baloch-populated areas are facing a situation that is even worse than what the Hindus had to face in the past. As a result, many of the Hindus are compelled to migrate to India in order to save their honor and lives because the government is unable to check and control the situation.
What has been the role of Hindus in economic prosperity of Balochistan?
Hindus predominantly belong to the business community. They are traders, shopkeepers and deal in export and import businesses even since before the Partition. Since then, they have been contributing in development and economy of the country. Besides their being traders, they Hindus are also widely regarded as a peaceful people. Many of them are educated and offering valuable services in the fields of education, health and other departments. The Hindu community has also remained actively involved in philanthropy across Pakistan. They have built hospitals, schools and libraries in various parts of Balochistan and Sindh since the pre-Partition days. They are richly participating in and contributing to the economy of this backward province. How have the Hindus been living with Baloch people of Balochistan before and after Partition? The Hindus and the Baloch people had lived like brothers for several decades. The situation, unfortunately, changed during the dictatorial days of General Zai-ul-Haq (1977-1988). Since then, we have seen a significant change in the behavior of the younger generation of the Baloch. Unlike their ancestors, the younger Baloch no longer remained friendly and brotherly with the Hindu community. Now, the young Balochs are also drifting toward religious extremism and intolerance. I suppose sections of the government are also supportive of violence directed at the Hindus in Balochistan.
What has been the attitude of Baloch tribal elders toward the Hindus?
Balochistan’s elders have always shown respect and regards for the Hindu community since pre-partition days. But it is extremely heartbreaking that those elders no longer live in this world. A few of them who still live, they do not have control over the actions of their young generation. Hence, the Hindus have become an agonized community in this part of Pakistan. They are being kidnapped; their young generation is forcibly being converted into Islam. In other cases, they are also being killed without any reasons. Their properties are also being usurped under one or the other pretext.
Are Hindus free in their religious practices in Balochistan?
Currently, the Hindus are living in a constant nightmarish situation where they endlessly fear for their lives, faith, honor and property. The living conditions of a common Hindu have become more precarious and worsened with the passage of time. In the midst of these inhuman conditions, who do you think cares for religious freedom?
Why do you think the Baloch elders cannot safeguard the rights of the Hindus?
As I said earlier, Baloch elders who sympathized with the Hindus and cared for their rights hardly exist in today’s Balochistan. Many of those remarkable men have passed away and they have left behind a generation that no longer champions those valuable qualities.
Some people say that the Hindus are migrating to India because they see brighter economic prospects there. Do you agree?
No sane person or community would give up their connections to their place of birth until circumstances compel them to do so. More than 90 % Hindus living in Balochistan are not economically sound. In a situation of economic uncertainty, no one can even afford to migrate from his motherland to settle in some absolutely unknown place. It is absolutely wrong and misleading to say that the Hindus are migrating because they see better economic prospects in India or elsewhere. As their lives, honor and property remain under attack, the Hindus have shrunk into a statue of fear. This is the reason they are slowly and gradually migrating from this hell towards an abyss of an unknown death.
Is the government doing enough to prevent the exodus of Hindus?
As far as the government is concerned, it does not seem to exist at all because one does not see its writ anywhere. The government is deliberately snubbing this issue which consequently gives currency to the impression that the government is somewhat unbothered with the exodus of the Hindus.
Balochistan’s Minority Minister, Mr. Basant Lal Gulshan, also a Hindu, denies reports of Hindus fleeing Balochistan. How do you see his claim?
It is a shame on his part to deny this evidently critical situation.
Do you think should be done to stop the mass migration?
This question should be asked from the higher authorities of the provincial and the federal governments and law enforcing agencies who have forgotten their constitutional, religious and moral responsibilities. In my opinion, most windows and avenues for the Hindu community living in Balochistan and Sindh have been closed down. We need some revolutionary measures to bring prosperity, stability and unity of this country. This is the only way out to get rid of these all problems faced by all citizens of the land, particularly the Hindus.

Asifa Bhutto Vows : Killings will not halt vaccinations

Asifa Bhutto Zardari, daughter of President Zardari of Pakistan, yesterday defiantly vowed that the country's anti-polio campaign would continue, despite the killing of nine health workers by extremists opposed to the vaccination programme. The UN eradication campaign was partly suspended following the shootings last week in Pakistan, one of the last three countries in the world where the disease remains endemic. Speaking yesterday in London Ms Bhutto Zardari, goodwill ambassador for polio eradication, said new ways to protect health workers were being worked out and that she expected vaccinations would quickly resume. "Polio has become a high-profile issue to Pakistan's government, and extremists believe they can twist the government's arm by attacking our workers. We cannot allow these people to dictate what we can and cannot do. The polio vaccine can save millions. It is not against Islam to promote healthy children." She said the attacks had strengthened her determination to continue. "The government has provided an increased amount of security for our volunteers, who work tirelessly to promote the health of children." It was not clear initially who was behind the violence as many Islamists, including Taliban militants, have long opposed the campaign. Some say it aims to sterilise Muslims, others that it has been used by US intelligence as a cover for espionage. One militant commander said the programme would not continue unless attacks by US drone aircraft stopped. But while the Pakistan Taliban have repeatedly threatened health workers involved in the campaign, and some workers said they received calls telling them to stop working with "infidels" just before the attacks, a Pakistan Taliban spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan, told Reuters that his group wasn't involved in the violence. However, the same group has threatened polio workers in the past, and in June they banned vaccinations in the north-western Waziristan. Government officials say the Taliban's hostility to the campaign increased after it emerged that the CIA had used a fake vaccination campaign to try to gather information about Osama bin Laden, before he was found and killed in Pakistan last year. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, called the killing of the health workers "cruel, senseless and inexcusable". Speaking at an end-of-year press conference, he said the nine murdered workers were among thousands across Pakistan "working selflessly to achieve the historic goal of polio eradication." The killings prompted the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) to suspend the vaccination drive in two of Pakistan's four provinces, which critics claimed had handed the extremists a propaganda victory. UN officials estimate that 3.5 million children missed vaccinations this week as a result. The mission to stamp out polio had been started by Ms Bhutto Zardari's mother, Benazir Bhutto, then Pakistan's Prime Minister, who was murdered in a bomb attack in 2007. Ms Bhutto Zardari, 19, who is studying at a British university, said: "The mission was started by my mother and, until it is completed, I will devote as much time and effort as is needed." She said the eradication programme had already faced and overcome the challenge of widespread flooding, which killed more than 400 people and made thousands more homeless. "I want to make her proud and ensure that the country she loved is progressing to become a healthier Pakistan". Ms Bhutto Zardari dismissed extremist suspicions about "Western medicine", pointing out that much of the vaccine used in Pakistan is manufactured in Indonesia, one of the most populous Muslim countries in the world. She also pointed out that countries such as Saudi Arabia, which takes large numbers of Pakistani migrant workers each year, has made it mandatory that anyone entering the country should receive polio drops. "This is a global problem and deserves global commitment," she insisted. Pakistan had 20,000 polio cases in 1994, but vigorous vaccination efforts had brought the number down to just 56 in 2012, according to the government. The most recent figures show that Pakistan has now gone seven months without a single reported case of one of the two strains of polio found there. Polio predominantly affects small children, in some cases paralysing the victim within a few hours. Organisations such as Unicef and the WHO have campaigned for many years to completely eliminate the disease. That campaign was boosted when the chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda donated more than $1bn to polio vaccinations and campaigns so far, stating that they are willing to continue the funding until the disease is totally eradicated. To date, it has been banished from everywhere except Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. "Diseases know no borders, and mankind has a collective responsibility towards the children of the world, and together we must strive to ensure that tomorrow's world is free of this scourge," Ms Bhutto Zardari said.

Pakistan's war on polio: Violence, fear & suspicion

Pakistani health worker Bushra Bibi spent eight years trekking to remote villages, carefully dripping polio vaccine into toddlers' pursed mouths to protect them from the crippling disease. Now the 35-year-old mother is too scared to go to work after masked men on motorbikes gunned down nine of her fellow health workers in a string of attacks this week. "I have seen so much pain in the eyes of mothers whose children have been infected. So I have never seen this as just a job. It is my passion," she said. "But I also have a family to look after ... Things have never been this bad." After the deaths, the United Nations put its workers on lockdown. Immunizations by the Pakistani government continued in parts of the country. But the violence raised fresh questions over stability in the South Asian nation. Pakistan's Taliban insurgency, convinced that the anti-polio drive is just another Western plot against Muslims, has long threatened action against anyone taking part in it. The militant group's hostility deepened after it emerged that the CIA - with the help of a Pakistani doctor - had used a vaccination campaign to spy on Osama bin Laden's compound before he was killed by U.S. special forces in a Pakistan town last year. Critics say the attacks on the health workers are a prime example of the government's failure to formulate a decisive policy on tackling militancy, despite pressure from key ally the United States, the source of billions of dollars in aid. For years, authorities were aware that Taliban commanders had broadcast claims that the vaccination drive was actually a plot to sterilize Muslims. That may seem absurd to the West, but in Pakistan such assertions are plausible to some. Years of secrecy during military dictatorships, frequent political upheaval during civilian rule and a poor public education system mean conspiracy theories run wild. "Ever since they began to give these polio drops, children are reaching maturity a lot earlier, especially girls. Now 12 to 13-year-old girls are becoming women. This causes indecency in society," said 45-year-old Mir Alam Khan, a carpet seller in the northern town of Dera Ismail Khan. The father of four didn't allow any of his children to receive vaccinations. "Why doesn't the United States give free cures for other illnesses? Why only polio? There has to be an agenda," he said. While health workers risk attacks by militants, growing suspicions from ordinary Pakistanis are lowering their morale. Fatima, a health worker in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said that reaction to news of the CIA polio campaign was so severe that many of her colleagues quit. "People's attitudes have changed. You will not believe how even the most educated and well-to-do people will turn us away, calling us U.S. spies and un-Islamic," said the 25-year-old who did not give her last name for fear of reprisals. "Boys call us names, they say we are 'indecent women'." Pakistan's government has tried to shatter the myths that can undermine even the best-intentioned health projects by turning to moderate clerics and urging them to issue religious rulings supporting the anti-polio efforts. Tahir Ashrafi, head of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, said the alliance of clerics had done its part, and it was up to the government to come to the rescue of aid workers. "Clerics can only give fatwas and will continue to come together and condemn such acts," he said. "What good are fatwas if the government doesn't provide security?" RISK OF POLIO RETURNING That may be a tall order in Pakistan, where critics allege government officials are too busy lining their pockets or locked in power struggles to protect its citizens, even children vulnerable to diseases that can cripple or disfigure them. Pakistani leaders deny such accusations. Politicians also have a questionable track record when it comes to dealing with all the other troubles afflicting nuclear-armed Pakistan. The villages where health workers once spent time tending to children often lack basic services, clinics, clean water and jobs. Industries that could strengthen the fragile economy are hobbled by chronic power cuts. Deepening frustrations with those issues often encourage Pakistanis to give up on the state and join the Taliban. So far it's unclear who is behind the shootings. The main Taliban spokesman said they were opposed to the vaccination scheme but the group distanced itself from the attacks. But another Taliban spokesman in South Waziristan said their fighters were behind an attack on a polio team in the northwestern town of Lakki Marwat on Monday. "The vaccinations were part of "a secret Jewish-American agenda to poison Pakistanis", he said. What is clear is the stakes are high. Any gaps in the program endanger hard-won gains against a disease that can cause death or paralysis within hours. A global effort costing billions of dollars eradicated polio from every country except Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vaccinations cut Pakistan's polio cases from 20,000 in 1994 to 56 in 2012 and the disease seemed isolated in a pocket in the north. But polio is spread person-to-person, so any outbreak risks re-infecting communities cleared of the disease. Last year, a strain from Pakistan spread northeast and caused the first outbreak in neighboring China since 1999. Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said the group had been coming closer to eradicating the disease. "For the first time, the virus had been geographically cornered," he said. "We don't want to lose the gains that had been made ... Any suspension of activities gives the virus a new foothold and the potential to come roaring back and paralyze more children." MOURNING FAMILIES Condemnation of the killings has been nearly universal. Clerics called for demonstrations to support health workers, the government has promised compensation for the deaths and police have vowed to provide more protection. For women like Fehmida Shah, it's already too late. The 44-year-old health worker lived with her family in a two-room house before gunmen shot her on Tuesday. Her husband, Syed Riaz Shah, said she spent her tiny salary - the equivalent of just $2 a day - on presents for their four daughters. Even though the family was struggling, she always found some spare money for any neighbor in need. "She was very kind and big hearted. All the women in our lane knew her," he said. "The entire neighborhood is in shock. Pray for my daughters. I will get through this. But I don't know how they will."

Qadri’s logic is beyond understanding

Addressing a press conference at Governor’s House, PPP Punjab President Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo said that all political parties and judiciary believe in democratic process in the country as no other system can run the country. He said if anyone raises slogan of ‘accountability first and then elections’, nobody would support this as such slogans are raised during dictatorship era. Wattoo said that statements like laying siege around the parliament were beyond understanding; however, if Tahir-ul-Qadri decides to march towards Islamabad, he would be taken care of.

Bashir Bilour : Taliban silence most vocal critic

For years, senior Awami National Party leader Bashir Ahmed Bilour was engaged in a trenchant and exhausting verbal duel with the Taliban. At 69, Bilour was living a charmed life, having survived at least two assassination attempts and other acts of reprisal. But then on Saturday a third bid on his life proved successful. At least eight other people – including Bilour’s secretary and a local police official – were also killed in a suicide attack that took place during a political meeting of the ANP in the Dhaki Nalbandi neighbourhood of Peshawar. Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) officials said a suicide bomber detonated the explosives strapped to his body when the meeting was at its peak and dozens of people were vowing allegiance to the ANP. “The bomber walked into the house where the meeting was ongoing and detonated his vest,” said Additional Inspector General of Police Shafqat Malik, who heads the BDS. Police said around 100 people had gathered for the meeting when the suicide bomber blew himself up. “The bomber reached very close to Bilour,” senior police officer Asif Iqbal told AFP. However, witnesses differed. “The meeting had ended and Bilour was leaving the venue when supporters gathered around him. It was at this point that the bomber struck,” Hameed Jan, the vice president of ANP Peshawar chapter, told The Express Tribune. Seven people, including Bilour’s personal secretary Haji Noor and SHO Sattar Khattak, died on the spot while the ANP leader was critically injured with 17 others, said Haji Imtiaz, the deputy superintendent of police (DSP). Bilour was driven to the Lady Reading Hospital (LHR), where medics performed a series of surgeries but could not resuscitate him. “Bashir has embraced martyrdom,” his brother Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, the federal minister for railways, told stunned ANP workers at the LRH. However, he appealed for calm. Bilour had “wounds to the chest and stomach. We tried our best to save his life” but he died during surgery, said Dr Arshad Javed, the chief executive officer of the LRH. He added that when Bilour was brought to the hospital he had already suffered a cardiac arrest. The explosion itself wreaked widespread damage in the congested, downtown neighbourhood, where several shops and vehicles were damaged. Scenes of chaos were witnessed soon after as people scrambled to search for their loved ones among the casualties. According to BDS official Abdul Haq, the bomber carried four kilogrammes of explosives in his suicide vest. Police found the severed head and other limbs of the bomber who appeared to be in his mid-teens. Akhtar, a shopkeeper, said he was in his shop when the bomber struck. “I saw Bilour surrounded by supporters. Suddenly, there was an ear-splitting explosion and I was thrown out of my chair by the impact,” he told The Express Tribune. Akhtar added that he rushed out to find dead and injured people lying in pools of blood. “Human limbs littered the place and blood was all over,” he recalled. Soon afterwards, police, rescuers and residents rushed to the spot to shift the casualties to hospitals. The Darra Adam Khel and Khyber Agency chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. “The attack was carried out by what he called Shuba-e-Intiqam (Dawn of Revenge). We are at war with the ANP which is against our religion,” the group’s spokesperson, Muhammad, told The Express Tribune in a telephone call from an undisclosed location. He claimed that the slain senior police officers, Sifwat Ghayoor, Kalam Khan and Khurshid, were also targeted by his group. It was the third attack on Bilour. On November 11, 2008, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of Qayyum Stadium in Peshawar Saddar when the ANP leader was leaving the place after attending the closing ceremony of inter-provincial games. Bilour remained unhurt in the attack that had killed three people. On March 11, 2009, there was an abortive suicide attack on Bilour in the Namak Mandi neighbourhood of Peshawar. The bomber was challenged by the police before he could detonate his explosives. The bomber fled police firing and blew himself up in a nearby house, killing six people. The provincial government has announced three days of mourning across the province. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, meanwhile, announced one-day state mourning for Bilour. The national flag will also fly at half mast. The Sindh government also announced a day of mourning. Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that the funeral prayers for the slain ANP leader will be offered at 2pm on Sunday at Colonel Sher Khan Shaheed Stadium, Peshawar. April 5, 2010 50 killed in a suicide bomb blast in Timergara, Lower Dir May 28, 2011 Matta tehsil ANP President Muzaffar Ali Khan along with a Policeman and a guest were killed when unidentified militants attacked his Hujra at Matta tehsil in Swat November 7, 2011 Three people, including a former ANP tehsil Nazim, were killed and nine people were injured in a suicide attack in the Malikabad area of Swabi February 27, 2012 At least five people lost their lives, while 27 others sustained injuries when a bomb went off after an ANP rally ended in Nowshera. March, 5 2012 At least seven people were injured when unidentified assailants opened fire on the crowd gathered at an ANP welcome rally in Karachi. December 10, 2012 Eight people were injured in a bomb blast near the venue of a public rally of the ANP in Charsadda December 22, 2012 A bomb blast in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar area of Peshawar killed Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour along with eight others

Bashir Ahmed Bilour laid to rest

Awami National Party (ANP)’s Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour was laid to rest at the Syed Hassan Pir graveyard on Sunday after his funeral prayers were offered at the Karnal Sher Khan Shaheed Satdium (Army stadium) in Peshawar Cantt area. Presidential spokesman Farhattullah Babar and a large number of political leaders belonging various parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid ( PML-Q) among others, were present in the funeral procession. A large number of ANP party workers and city residents also joined the procession of the slain ANP leader. Around 2,000 personnel of the Army, police and FC were deployed around the stadium as part of strict security arrangements. Bilour was buried in the Syed Hassan Pir graveyard next to the grave of Shabbir Ahmed Bilour, who was believed to be his son and had been adopted by his brother Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. A national day of mourning was announced by the prime minister due to the tragedy. Earlier today, the funeral prayer of Noor Mohammad Khan, Bilour’s personal secretary for almost 25 years, was held in the Kakshal area of Peshawar following which the funeral was taken to his ancestral village for burial. The funeral prayers and burial of Abdul Sattar Khan, a police Station House Officer (SHO) escorting Bilour, were also held earlier in the day. FIR for the suicide blast incident that killed Bilour and eight others was registered at a police station in Peshawar.

Bashir Bilour : An irreplaceable man

With the assassination of Bashir Ahmad Bilour, senior minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a glorious chapter in selfless public service and the nation's political life has come to a doleful close. This was the third murder attempt on him. The accursed terrorists were murderously after him and had had abortively attempted to assassinate him in 2008 and 2009 as well. But a brave man that he was, he never buckled under their threats. Not to be dissuaded by their vile intimidations, he indeed was always the first to visit the place in the province where they had perpetrated their grisly carnage, condole with the bereaved families and look after the victims of their mayhem. Bow down he would not to the merchants of death and destruction, he would vow always. And he lived up to his vow valorously and unflinchingly, though he paid the price with his precious life ultimately. He was a man of many parts. A lawyer by profession, a businessman by occupation, and a politician by career, the mild-mannered, soft-spoken and sociable Bashir Ahmed Bilour was a much loved man. Love and affection for fellow human beings was his high distinctive mark. Even when under dire life threat for being on the thugs' hit list, he was highly accessible to the people and never kept his doors shut on them. And his constituents would remember him for long for his services to them. Though a man of means, he abhorred pomp and show disdainfully and shunned it puritanically. Humbleness was his hallmark. And though in politics for decades, he hankered not after office or power. Quite often, he was inducted into the provincial ministries, but not for his asking but for his sterling qualities of heart and mind. Never ever he switched coats for greener pastures. Throughout, he stayed with the ANP faithfully, even when the political pundits predicted he would bolt away for what they perceived was a shabby treatment meted out to him by the party high command. He did not; he stayed put with no whines or complaints on his lips. Philanthropy was his one outstanding trait. He believed in sharing his opulence with the needy and the destitute without expecting the return of the compliment. And he practised it in the true Islamic spirit, with one hand knowing not what the other has given in charity. So self-effacing indeed was he on this count that never ever he wore his charity work on his sleeve. In his tragic demise, the nation has verily suffered an irreparable loss. He was a great human being and a principled politician. And the condolences pouring in from various quarters surely would never be able to match his status. A par excellence human being he was. And just irreplaceable is he. We strongly condemn his brutal assassination. And we express our deepest sympathy with the bereaved family and pray to Almighty Allah to give it the fortitude to bear its colossal loss. May the soul of the deceased rest in eternal peace! Amen.

Remembering Bashir Ahmed Bilour

The Frontier Post
Bashir Ahmed Bilour, Senior Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was not only a seasoned politician but also one of only few politicians in the country who had high regard not only within his own party but also in all other political parties of the country. Even he had high regard in the voters of his opponents as he never wasted a minute to reach the needy people from whatever party they belonged to. Bashir Ahmed Bilour was son of Bilour Din Khan and was born on August 1, 1943. Belonged to a notable political and social Hindku family of Peshawar, Bilour had bachelor's degree of Law and was also member of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Association and Peshawar High Court Bar Association and used to cast his vote in the elections of lawyers' bodies. He got his early education from Government Higher Secondary School No. 1 Peshawar Cantt. After doing Matriculation he got admission in famous Edwards College Peshawar and got graduation degree from the said college. Then for higher education he got admission in University of Peshawar and got LLB degree. Bilour was famous for his social contacts with his voters and used to visit different parts of the city without fearing terrorists despite of the fact that there were several death threats to him from the terrorists. He had survived two life attempts from terrorists before the attack on Saturday in which he was killed. The legendary leader and staunch follower of Pakhtun rights and till his death kept on uttering the words for the betterment of people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He followed the footsteps of his father in politics and joined Awami National Party (ANP) in 1970. In 2008 General Elections he was elected as Member of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly for the record fifth time which showed the confidence of his voters in his personality. He had won his seat with majority votes from PF-3, a constituency of Peshawar City. Soon after the elections he also took oath as a Senior Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkha for the 4th time. He also remained President of ANP Khyber Pakhtunkhwa twice. Bashir Ahmad Bilour was unique personality in the sense that he never lost any election throughout his career. He became member of provincial assembly for the first time in 1990; then in 1993; 1997; 2002 and 2007. He had also announced not to contest for MPA slot in the next general elections. He was appointed as Minister for C&W in 1990 and 1993 and as Minister for Irrigation in 1997. Bashir Bilour, had repeatedly termed the fight against terrorism as 'our own battle' and was few of the politicians who had voice openly against the miltants. His death is a loss not only to ANP, not only to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but also to the whole country which has lost another brave son of the soil in war against terrorism. ANP workers and activists condemned the killing of Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour and term his death a memorable lost for the country. Most of the workers at Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar were not control their feelings when they heard the news of the death of Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour. Meanwhile civil society member, traders and from every walks of life shows their grief and sorrow over the death of senior minister and give tribute to him in the fight against terror and prayed for his deported soul in rest. Bashir Ahmed Bilour not only lost his life in the incident but also lost his long standing friend, colleague and personal secretary Haji Noor Muhammad who remained loyal to his Senior Minister and even died with Bashir Ahmed Bilour. Bashir Ahmed Bilour remained influential in efforts to make Peshawar a city of flowers again and kept on working day and night for the betterment of Provincial Capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He will always remain in the heart of people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general and people of Peshawar in particular and whenever the stories of brave, honest, hardworking, loyal and intelligent politicians would be written his name would be written among the top listed politicians and human beings.