Tuesday, June 18, 2013

4 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan

Defense officials say four U.S. troops have been killed at or near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Officials said Tuesday the four were killed by indirect fire, likely a mortar or rocket, but they had no other details. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to provide details on the deaths. The attack comes as U.S. and allied forces formally handed over control of the country's security to the Afghan army and police in a ceremony in Kabul. The transition to Afghan-led security means U.S. and other foreign combat troops will not be directly carrying the fight to the insurgency, but they will advise and back up the Afghan forces as needed with air support and medical evacuations.

US to join direct peace talks in Qatar with Taliban over Afghanistan's future

The US is to open direct talks with Taliban leaders within days, it was revealed on Tuesday, after Washington agreed to drop a series of preconditions that have previously held back negotiations over the future of Afghanistan. In a major milestone in the 12-year-old war, political representatives of the Taliban will shortly meet Afghan and US officials in Doha, the capital of Qatar, to discuss an agenda for what US officials called "peace and reconciliation" before further talks take place with Afghan government representatives soon after. The move came on the day that Nato forces handed official control of nationwide security to Afghan troops. Less than 12 hours later, the US confirmed that four US personnel died at Bagram air base near Kabul, in what was thought to be a mortar attack. Earlier the Taliban, in a statement announcing their plans for peace talks and an office in Qatar, said they would not allow anyone to threaten or harm other countries from Afghan soil – a move senior US administration officials described as an important first step to the Taliban severing ties with al-Qaida. The US has agreed that a formal rejection of al-Qaida by the Taliban leadership would now be a "negotiating aim" rather than a precondition for talks. It will also seek a commitment from the Taliban to end its insurgency in Afghanistan and recognise women's rights in the country. "This is an important first step but it will be a long road," said one senior US official. "We have long said this conflict won't be won on the battlefield, which is why we support the opening of this [Doha] office." White House officials say they believe the Taliban delegation at the talks represents the movement's leadership, and includes more radical groups such as the Haqqani network. Officials said the US would have a direct role in the talks starting starting this week in Doha, but the substantive negotiations over the future of Afghanistan would then be led by the Afghan government. Speaking later, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said: "The United States will be supporting a process that is fundamentally Afghan-led … We can play a role in talking to the Taliban as well in supporting that peace process – and because we have issues of our own to bring up with them." A Taliban spokesman said the group was opening the Doha office to "reach understanding and initiate talks with countries of the world for the purpose of improving relations with them", and to support a peaceful, political solution to end the "occupation of Afghanistan". The proposal for a Doha office has been on the table since 2011, and several senior Taliban figures have been living in Qatar for many months now, but the group had not publicly embraced plans for peace talks. In Kabul, Afghan president Hamid Karzai said he hoped the opening of the Taliban office would bring the start of talks between the High Peace Council he set up to lead government negotiation efforts, and the insurgents. However the Afghan leader, who has long been lukewarm about efforts to set up a Taliban base in Qatar, also called for any negotiations to move back to Afghanistan as soon as possible. "We hope that our brothers the Taliban also understand that the process will move to our country soon," he told a news conference in Kabul, although US officials stressed that moving talks to Afghanistan would take time. Karzai also announced that Nato forces had handed official control of nationwide security to Afghan troops on Tuesday. Foreign soldiers will still be fighting on the ground and supporting Afghans with air power, medical evacuation and other key capacities until the end of next year. Barack Obama is understood to have informed G8 leaders of the breakthrough at a dinner at the Northern Ireland summit on Monday night. The deal on talks with the Taliban was partly brokered by Pakistan and the emir of Qatar after "months of diplomatic spadework" also involving Germany, Norway and the UK. In 2011, Hillary Clinton suggested that Taliban leaders would have to renounce violence for a peace process to work. "Over the past two years, we have laid out our unambiguous red lines for reconciliation with the insurgents: they must renounce violence; they must abandon their alliance with al-Qaida; and they must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan," she said. "Those are necessary outcomes of any negotiation. This is the price for reaching a political resolution and bringing an end to the military actions that are targeting their leadership and decimating their ranks." But on Tuesday, that position appeared to have soften somewhat. "We don't expect them to break ties with al-Qaida [immediately]," said one of the US officials speaking on an off-the-record conference call. "That is an outcome of the process." He said the expected Taliban statement opposing the use of Afghan soil for foreign attacks was "a first step in distancing them from international terrorism". The Taliban also appeared to have softened on their long-term demand that foreign troops leave before talks can start. Karzai, despite his misgivings about overseas talks and initial opposition to the Qatar office visited the Gulf state twice this year, apparently paving the way for Tuesday's breakthrough. Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who has always said he would prefer talks to take place in Afghanistan, was initially lukewarm about the Qatar plans, but has visited the state twice this year, apparently paving the way for today's breakthrough.

Turkey: Young protester loses eye from rubber bullet, mother wants justice

One young man, who was shot with a rubber bullet during the police intervention in the demonstrations in Taksim Gezi Park last week, lost his sight in one eye but counts himself lucky for being alive. His family, however, are demanding justice and want those responsible to be brought to justice immediately. “I am thankful that I am alive. But I was unlucky that I lost my eye,” said Mahir Gür, 22-year-old university student, said in an interview with Hürriyet Daily News yesterday. On June 11, he was shot by a rubber bullet in his left eye and broke his left cheekbone. Three protesters and one policeman have died during the countrywide protests so far. “I went to Gezi to find my friends. It was the first time I went there [since the demonstrations started.] Around five minutes after I went there, the police intervention started and the police shot me with the rubber bullet,” said Gür, adding that it was the first time he had been to Taksim since the protests started. He said his friends took him to hospital while he was passing in and out of consciousness. Gür was discharged from the hospital on June 17, after staying at the hospital for a week and having surgery on his eye. He said he was told by the doctors that he had a very low chance of being able to see with his left eye again and that he had to undergo at least two more surgeries. He was still suffering the trauma of the incident, hardly speaking about his emotions, mostly standing silent and sad. He said he can no longer watch the TV and only gets updated about the incidents when his friends call him. Gür said he was not member of any group, party or organization and went to Gezi Park for the fate of the park as well as for the freedoms and against the pressures. No apologies from gov’t officials, mother says His mother, who wanted to remain anonymous, demanded an apology from the government officials and asked them to bring those responsible to justice. “He could apologize to people, who are suffering so much pain by now,” said Gür’s mother, adding that her son had never been part of any illegal action or organization. “I want those who did this to my son to be found. I want them to bring my son’s eye back. Can they do this? My son’s head was targeted by a rubber bullet. Who would do to this to a human?” asked his mother. Working as a cook in a suburban area of Istanbul, Gür’s mother comes home once every three hours to treat her son’s eyes. She said it is hard to cover the hospital costs, but added that they will find a way somehow. The family started a legal action against those responsible and expects the government to bring those responsible to justice. Devastated by his son’s situation, his mother says she would have preferred for her son to be beaten with batons instead of rubber bullets. “He would have a broken leg or arm. Now, he lost his eye. They have darkened his world,” she said in a shivering voice.

Saudi women activists get jail time for helping starving mother locked in home

A Saudi court sentenced two women to ten months in prison, along with a two-year travel ban, after they tried to help a Canadian woman who, with her three children, was denied adequate food and water and was subjected to violence by her Saudi husband. On June 6 2011, the two human rights workers Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni received a text message from Nathalie Morin, the Canadian woman, saying that her husband had locked the whole family in the house and left for a week-long visit to see relatives in another town while her supplies of food and water were running out, according to Human Rights Watch. “I cannot help myself and I have no rights in Saudi Arabia. My children are hungry and I cannot do anything to feed them. I'm fighting to get freedom, justice and fairness for my family including myself,” Morin wrote on her blog. The two bought food and came to Morin’s house, where police were already waiting for them. The women were brought to Damman station for questioning, where police told al-Huwaider and al-Oyouni they believed they were trying to smuggle Morin and her three children to Canada, Human Rights Center reports. After the women signed a statement pledging to cease all involvement with the case, the police released them. However, more than a year later in July 2012, authorities called in al-Huwaider and al-Oyouni for questioning, after which the government launched a case against them. The trial continued for another year, and last Saturday presiding judge Fahad al-Gda'a issued a ruling sentencing the two human rights workers to ten months in prison, imposing an additional two-year travel ban on top of the jail time. The charges were “inciting a woman to flee with her children” and “attempting to turn a woman against her husband.” The women were acquitted of charges that they had attempted to smuggle the wife and her three children to the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh. Al-Huwaider and al-Oyouni plan to challenge the ruling in the Court of Appeals. The same day the two women issued a statement that when the case was launched, they predicted that the government was trying to punish them for their women’s rights activism in recent years. "It was clear to us from the very beginning when we were summoned to the investigation by the prosecutor in Dammam that the issue was malicious and that those who filed this case against us are from concerned authorities that aim to harm and harass us to stop our humanitarian activities, because since the night of the incident two years ago, the case has been revoked by an order issued by the Amir of the Eastern region and the file was closed," they said. Al-Huwaider said that during her interrogations, investigators did not ask her about Morin’s case but rather about her involvement in the Saudi women’s rights movement, including questions about the Women2Drive campaign and her relationship with Saudi women's rights activist Manal al-Sharif. Al-Huwaider filmed the latter driving a car, which is illegal in the Kingdom, and posted the video on YouTube. Al-Sharif said later in a lecture in Scotland that followed the publication of that video, she received threats of being raped and killed. Al-Huwaider told Human Rights Watch that during her trial, which began in late 2012, the presiding judge denied her and al-Oyouni the right to adequately defend themselves by refusing to allow Morin to testify. The judge also declined to allow a Canadian Embassy official to attend the second trial session, in December, according to Human Rights Watch. Al-Huwaider is a prominent activist, author and journalist, a co-founder of the Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East advisory committee. She wrote for the Arabic language daily al-Watan and the English language daily Arab News until May 2003, after authorities banned her from writing or appearing in any local media. In an article published May 25, 2006 on rezgar.com, she drew a comparison between the lives of the prisoners in the "terrible inhuman prison" camp at Guantanamo Bay in the United States and the lives of Arab women. "...Anyone who examines and analyzes the lives of the prisoners in Guantanamo, and compares them to the lives of Arab women - particularly in the Gulf States, and especially in Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia - will discover that there are very many similarities... First, in some Arab countries a woman is a prisoner in her [own] home, and can only move with the permission of her guardian, or, more accurately, her jailor. Her situation is similar to that of a prisoner in Guantanamo…” There is no codified Penal Law in Saudi Arabia, and its legal system is based on Islamic law derived from the Qu'ran and the traditions of the prophet Muhammad. That means that judges and prosecutors have wide latitude to arbitrarily define certain acts as criminal. Saudi Arabia has a “guardianship system” and strict gender segregation rules that limit women’s abilities to make decisions and participate in public life. Under this system girls and women are forbidden from traveling, conducting official business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without permission from their male guardians.

Post-NATO Afghans need global support

It's difficult to make any concrete predictions about what will happen in Afghanistan after the NATO troop withdrawal in 2014. What we can definitely expect is a steep decrease in foreign aid to the war-torn country. If Afghanistan is to cope with these funding cuts, amid widespread corruption and entrenched aid dependency, the international community must ensure the hard-won gains for the Afghan people do not disappear as the aid and troops do. Few can deny there has been progress in Afghanistan over the past decade. The country has seen economic growth and improvements in access to services. 6.2 million children are now in school and infant mortality has decreased by 30 percent. Many of these gains, however, have been delivered through an expansive amount of international aid. Aid dependency is not a unique challenge, but few other countries have relied so heavily on aid funding. Afghanistan has an aid to GDP ratio of 71 percent, one of the highest dependency ratios in the world. Reliance is not the sole problem and the government is not entirely to blame. Aid in Afghanistan has been largely driven by the political priorities of donors rather than Afghan needs and oversight has been poor. Foreign aid has also increased corruption and waste and at times exacerbated local grievances and tensions. Worryingly, according to the International Monetary Fund, the Afghan government is unlikely to be able to cover less than half of the government's non-security spending this year because of widespread tax evasion and diversion of customs revenues. Moreover, not all aid has remained in Afghanistan. One study estimated that 40 percent of aid had returned to donor countries in the form of corporate profits and consultant salaries. The donor community must realize a massive cut in aid budgets is far from the answer. Like it or not, the Afghan government's reliance on aid means a drastic decline could lead to political instability as other players wait in the wings, poised to seek control. It has happened before. The late president Mohammad Najibullah rose into power following the Soviet invasion, but was left adrift without foreign aid or much support after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Unsurprisingly, he was ousted soon after and the country declined into civil war and chaos. As it stands, a decline in foreign aid is looming over Afghanistan. Few aid pledges stretch beyond 2016, and donors such as the United States Agency for International Development have already decreased funding for Afghanistan-based programs. A decline in foreign aid could also mean severe cuts in funding for much-needed aid programs and public services. While some aid projects have not been particularly well thought out, culturally appropriate or entirely effective, most notably those carried out under the umbrella of stabilization, many others have provided essential and basic services to the Afghan people in areas of peace and conflict. In order to keep a hold on the hard-won gains of the past decade, the international community and Afghan leadership must focus on what works. Funding should be directed to aid programs that are effective. We know that many programs that focus on basic service provision, delivering the essentials for people to survive, are improving the lives of Afghans. Basic healthcare and education have already made an incredible difference. Instead of undermining local capacity and governance structure, aid programs should help bolster them. The National Solidarity Program provides communities with block grants to allow them to dedicate it to what is needed in their communities, such as improving access to markets, building schools, or providing electricity through hydropower energy projects. Not only is this shown to be effective, but it also helps improve local governance in a country blighted by corruption and patronage at a national level. Before foreign aid donors make their budgetary decisions about aid to Afghanistan, they should reflect on the needs of the people in Afghanistan. Perhaps aid will, and must, decrease for the benefit of Afghan governance and donors' recession-hit budgets. But these political decisions cannot, and should not, take place without recognition of the impact they will have on the Afghan people.

Putin: Didn’t feel isolated, not all G8 leaders agree Assad used chemical weapons

There is no proof that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during the G8 summit. Some of the G8 countries share this view, he added. “We do not have any facts of the use of such weapons by the Syrian government. I assure you, that by no means all the G8 members believe that they were used,” Putin said. The Russian President stressed he “never felt isolated” at the summit despite the difference in views, and said the G8 leaders have been seeking a common solution to the Syrian conflict. Supplying arms to the rebels based on unconfirmed reports that chemical weapons were used by the Assad government would further destabilize Syria, Putin warned. Putin urged Western nations not to be hasty in arming the Syrian opposition, saying that such weapons could fall into the wrong hands, or be uncontrollable. “I call on all our partners to think twice before making such steps. It is a very dangerous stuff,” the Russian president said, pointing to the “horrible” and “tragic” Woolwich murder. There are “loads of such criminals fighting for the [Syrian] opposition, who could commit a brutal murder like this,” he stressed. However, Putin did not rule out Russia signing new arms contracts with the Syrian government. The Russian president stressed that all such contracts comport with international law: “We are supplying arms under legal contracts to the legitimate government. It is the government of the President Assad. And if we are going to make such contracts, then we will deliver.” Russia and the United States will spearhead the development of a peace plan for Syria, Putin said. The G8 countries have agreed that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the US Secretary of State John Kerry will take on “main role and the main burden of responsibility” for working out the principles of the solution to the crisis, he added. Tuesday’s communique by the G8 nations calling for an end to the fighting in Syria represents a “much better outcome” than was expected, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said. Harper also apparently changed his view on Russia’s role in Syrian conflict talks, saying there has been “a very significant move on the part of Mr. Putin and the Russians.”

Syria rebels 'beheaded a Christian and fed him to the dogs' as fears grow over Islamist atrocities

Syrian rebels beheaded a Christian man and fed his body to dogs, according to a nun who says the West is ignoring atrocities committed by Islamic extremists. The nun said taxi driver Andrei Arbashe, 38, was kidnapped after his brother was heard complaining that fighters against the ruling regime behaved like bandits. She said his headless corpse was found by the side of the road, surrounded by hungry dogs. He had recently married and was soon to be a father.Sister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix said: ‘His only crime was his brother criticised the rebels, accused them of acting like bandits, which is what they are.’ There have been a growing number of accounts of atrocities carried out by rogue elements of the Syrian Free Army, which opposes dictator Bashar al-Assad and is recognised by Britain and the West as the legitimate leadership.Sister Agnes-Miriam, mother superior of the Monastery of St James the Mutilated, has condemned Britain and the west for supporting the rebels despite growing evidence of human rights abuses. Murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery are becoming commonplace, she says. ‘The free and democratic world is supporting extremists,’ Sister Agnes-Miriam said from her sanctuary in Lebanon. ‘They want to impose Sharia Law and create an Islamic state in Syria.’The 60-year-old Carmelite nun claims the west has turned a blind eye to growing evidence of a ‘fifth column’ of fanatics within the rag-tag ranks that make up the Free Syrian Army that they back to oust Assad. One of the most effective fighting forces is the Jabat Al-Nusra, which has an ideology similar to Al Qaeda. ‘The uprising has been hijacked by Islamist mercenaries who are more interested in fighting a holy war than in changing the government,’ she said. ‘It has turned into a sectarian conflict. One in which Christians are paying a high price.’ The rebel attacked the northern town of Ras Al-Ayn, on the Turkish border, last month. The fighters entered the Christian quarter, ordering civilians to leave and leaving their homes. ‘More than 200 families were driven out in the night,’ Sister Agnes-Miriam says. ‘People are afraid. Everywhere the deaths squads stop civilians, abduct them and ask for ransom, sometimes they kill them.’Militants wearing black bandanas of Al Qaeda recently laid siege to the Monastery of St James the Mutilated, located between Damascus and Homs, for two days in an attempt to prevent Christmas celebrations, the nun claims. An estimated 300,000 Christians have been displaced in the conflict, with 80,000 forced out of the Homs region alone, she claims. Many have fled abroad raising fears that Syria’s Christian community may vanish - like others across Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity. Al Assad, a member of the Alawite Muslim sect, claims only his regime can protect Syria’s minorities from domination from the Sunni Muslims majority. Meanwhile the fighting continues to rage with government forces retaking control of a key district in the city of Homs yesterday. The latest violence comes after United Nations peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned of ‘hell’ for Syria if no political solution could be found. Russia has stated the conflict is becoming increasingly militarised and sectarian and risks bringing chaos to the whole region. Some 44,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the Al Assad regime began in March 2011.

Karzai announces peace talks as Afghans take over security

Afghanistan will send a team to Qatar for peace talks with the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday, as the U.S.-led NATO coalition launched the final phase of the 12-year war with the last round of security transfers to Afghan forces. Karzai's announcement was the first possible step forward in the peace process, which has struggled to achieve results despite many attempts, and is likely to be applauded by his Western backers. "Afghanistan's High Peace Council will travel to Qatar to discuss peace talks with the Taliban," Karzai said in Kabul, referring to the council he formed in late 2010. "We hope that our brothers the Taliban also understand that the process will move to our country soon," Karzai said of the fundamentalist Islamic group that ruled the country with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001. There was no immediate comment from the Afghan Taliban. Karzai was speaking following a ceremony in which the international coalition marked the beginning of the end of the handover of security to Afghan forces. About 2,000 people including NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, dozens of Western ambassadors and senior Afghan and international officials attended. An explosion in Kabul early on Tuesday that targeted a senior member of the peace council illustrated concerns over how effectively the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces will be able to fight the growing insurgency after most foreign combat troops depart by the end of next year. Mohammad Mohaqiq, a prominent Hazara politician, escaped unscathed from the attack but three people were killed and 21 wounded, a government official said. Just a week separated the killings from two large-scale attacks in Kabul claimed by the Taliban, with militants attacking the airport on June 10 and a suicide bomber killing at least 17 people outside the Supreme Court the next day. Dubbed "milestone 2013" by NATO, the handover will culminate in the departure of all NATO troops serving in Afghanistan under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force at the end of 2014. Afghan security forces have been rapidly built up by the international coalition, from about 40,000 in 2009 to 352,000 in February this year.
The transfer of security responsibility began in July 2011 with a handover by ISAF of the country's most peaceful province, Bamiyan. There have been three further rounds since, taking to 87 percent by last December the proportion of the Afghan population protected by the Afghan state. Tuesday's tranche comprises restive eastern and southeastern provinces bordering Pakistan. These include Helmand, Kandahar, Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, Logar and Nuristan. Fatalities among the Afghan security forces show how soon they have been expected to take the burden of the Afghan war. In one year, the Afghan state has lost more troops than NATO has across the entire war. In reference to the peace talks, Karzai said three principles had been created - that having begun in Qatar, the talks must then immediately be moved to Afghanistan, that they bring about an end to violence and that they must not become a tool for a "third country" to exploit Afghanistan. Karzai called on the Taliban last month to fight Afghanistan's enemies in what was widely seen as a swipe against Pakistan days after the neighbors' security forces clashed on their joint border. Pakistan, which helped the Taliban take power in Afghanistan in the 1990s and is facing a Taliban insurgency itself, said it would continue to support reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan, though did not mention the Qatar talks in a statement on Tuesday. The Pakistan Foreign Ministry, in a dig at Karzai for earlier "attempting to create an impression" that some Pakistan state institutions were against the peace effort, said promoting peace in Afghanistan was an important pillar of its policy. "It is in our common interest to jointly address the common challenges of terrorism and extremism being faced by our region," it said. Many Afghan leaders say Pakistan is still helping the militants in Afghanistan, seeing them as a tool to counter the influence of its old rival, India. Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban is a separate entity to the Afghan Taliban, though allied with them. Spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsansaid said the Pakistani group would support the peace talks, and would respect a peace agreement by not carrying out cross-border attacks. But he said such an agreement would not apply to the Pakistani Taliban. "We are independent from the Afghan Taliban and are fighting for the implementation of Sharia Law in Pakistan," he said in a telephone call to Reuters. "We will continue to fight against the drone attacks, and Pakistan army and government, who are under U.S. influence." An Afghan diplomatic source in Qatar said the Afghan Taliban planned to open an office there as early as Tuesday. "There is a plan for the office to be open today," said the source. "This will help start the peace talks again." A team of envoys from the Taliban flew to Qatar in early 2012 to open talks with the U.S. government. But the Taliban suspended the talks in March 2012, saying Washington was giving mixed signals on the nascent Afghan reconciliation process.

'Standing man' inspires silent demonstration in Turkey

A man stood silently in Istanbul's Taksim Square for hours Monday night, defying police who had broken up weekend anti-government protests with tear gas and water cannon and drawing hundreds of others to emulate his vigil. For more than five hours, he appeared to stare at a portrait of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, on the side of the Ataturk Cultural Center. Police eventually moved in to arrest many of those who had joined him, but it was unclear Tuesday whether Erdem Gunduz -- a performance artist quickly dubbed the "standing man" -- was in custody. Turkey has been wracked by more than two weeks of protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But many of those who joined Gunduz late Monday said they were standing only for peace, not taking sides. "I'm standing against all violence," said Koray Konuk, one of those arrested. "I'm standing there so that the events that we've been witnessing and the events taking place over the last two to three weeks can come to a standstill."

President Zardari condemns blast during funeral prayer in Sher Garh, Mardan

President Asif Ali Zardari has strongly condemned the blast during a funeral prayer in Sher Garh, Mardan Tuesday that claimed several precious lives while injuring many others. Expressing his heartfelt sympathies with the bereaved families, the President has prayed for the departed souls and for the courage of the families to bear their losses with fortitude. He directed the concerned to ensure that best medical assistance is provided to the injured.

Death toll at Pakistan funeral blast jumps to 20

A police officer says the death toll from a bomb that ripped through a crowded funeral in northwest Pakistan has risen to 20 people. Tahir Ayub Khan, a senior police officer, says Tuesday's bombing took place in a village near the city of Mardan and that a provincial lawmaker was among the dead. The spokesman for the province, Shaukat Yousufzai, says the bombing also wounded 50 people. Khan says authorities believe the carnage was the work of a suicide bomber who targeted the funeral of a man who had been killed the day before. The lawmaker, Imran Khan Mohmand, ran in Pakistan's May 11 parliament elections as an independent candidate and later supported the party of cricketer turned politician Imran Khan.

HRW says documented ‘wave of arbitrary detentions, police attacks' in Turkey

The Erdoğan government’s use of force in a clampdown on protesters over the weekend has precipitated a deepening human rights and political crisis in Turkey. Human Rights Watch documented a huge wave of arbitrary detentions and police attacks on people who were on hospital premises, as well as on a hospital itself and on makeshift health clinics. With the trade union confederations declaring a strike on June 17, 2013, there were signs of further clampdown on demonstrations in the evening. “The police assault on a peaceful crowd in Gezi Park and teargas use in confined spaces showed a dangerous disregard for the well-being – and indeed the lives – of protesters and bystanders,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The repeated police violence against people who are dissatisfied with government policies has deeply polarized Turkey. The government urgently needs to change police tactics and issue a clear signal for restraint.” Police intervention on the evening of June 15 brought to an end the 18-day occupation of Gezi Park at Taksim Square. The police fired rounds of teargas and plastic bullets in the park, including in an area clearly marked as a clinic. The police gave protesters a 20-minute warning. The timing of the assault was particularly shocking given the large number of people in the park, swelled by supporters who included families and children. Soon after the police emptied the park, many people took shelter in the Divan Hotel, next to the park. Photographs show people taking refuge there or being cared for by doctors for injuries or overexposure to teargas. The police threw teargas canisters into or near the hotel entrance, engulfing the area in a thick fog. A Radikal newspaper journalist, İsmail Saymaz, who was in the hotel during the gas attack, described it to Human Rights Watch: After we were gassed out of the park we fled to the Divan Hotel. There were hundreds of us: women, children, older people. Being teargassed in a confined space with no ventilation was a desperate experience. No one can help you and you can help no one. You feel you are drowning and around you are people fainting, vomiting, writhing around in pain. The use of teargas in confined spaces, particularly against targets who pose no imminent threat to law enforcement or others, violates international standards on use of force as unnecessary and disproportionate. Such use, as it may causeserious ill-effects including respiratory problems, nausea, and vomiting, may also violate the prohibition on inhuman treatment. In cases against Turkey involving the use of harmful gases such as teargas and pepper spray, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has made clear its disquiet about such use and stated that if a harmful spray is to be used there have to be “clear instructions as to when [it] may be used, which should state explicitly that [it] should not be used in a confined area.” Anyone exposed should be granted immediate access to a doctor and offered measures of relief. In one case involving use of teargas against a detainee, the court found Turkey had violated the prohibition on inhuman treatment. After many clashes overnight on June 15 – some lasting into the morning – between police and some protesters who assembled again in the surrounding streets, the police attempted to prevent all access to Taksim Square or Gezi Park. There were street protests on June 16 spreading to other neighborhoods, with considerable numbers of young men and women repeatedly trying to assemble and shout slogans such as, “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere there is resistance,” despite the harsh police clampdown. In the Okmeydanı neighborhood, police shot 14-year-old Berkin Elvan in the head with a teargas canister. He is in critical condition. A Human Rights Watch representative visited the German Hospital near Taksim in the late afternoon and interviewed witnesses. They described police entering the hospital on two occasions pursuing protesters and firing teargas and water cannons at the hospital’s emergency entrance. Twenty-five-year-old Altuğ described how a group of riot police had chased him into the hospital 15 minutes earlier: I ran into a room in the hospital and locked myself in. They tried to force the door, then told me they wouldn’t touch me. I came out and they kicked and beat me. Yes, I am a protester but I have not used violence and I don’t want you to use my surname because I fear I will be arrested. A health worker in the hospital who spoke to Human Rights Watch on condition of anonymity recounted two incidents from the previous night in which the police targeted the hospital and tried to chase and capture protesters: At about 3 a.m. on Sunday police threw a gas canister into the hospital courtyard toward the casualty entrance and then turned a water cannon on the entrance. I recorded it on my phone. Sometime later riot police with unnumbered helmets chased two young men into the hospital and wanted to drag them away. One nurse in particular prevented it. The police had beaten one of the men really badly and he had two broken cheekbones and had to be sent on to Çapa Hospital. He was too afraid to lodge a complaint. Another health worker showed Human Rights Watch a gas canister that the police had dropped in the hospital but that had not gone off because the pin had not been removed. While Human Rights Watch was in the hospital, police fired a teargas canister at the terrace area on the first floor and gas overwhelmed people in the cafeteria inside. Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned about the Medical Association’s reports that police detained four health workers –Dr. Savaş Çömlek and nurses Nazlıhan Özdamar, Şehri Yağcıkara,and Esra Fidan – from a makeshift hospital in Tarlabaşı near Taksim. The use of force including use of teargas in and near medical premises in such circumstancesis an unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, as well as an interference with the right of injured protesters and others to seek medical assistance. In a 2012 court decision, Turkey was found to have violated freedom of assembly by unnecessary and disproportionate use of teargas near a hospital in Istanbul (Disk and Kesk v. Turkey, Application No. 38676/08, November 2012). There are also widespread reports by lawyers at the Istanbul Bar Association of protesters being detained on the night of June 15 and the morning of June 16 and being held on buses for hours rather than taken immediately into custody. Until midday on June 16, only 12 people were known to be registered in police custody. The Istanbul Bar Association received scores of calls from people who had witnessed riot police apprehending and escorting away others, but lawyers at the association were unable to find any record of their detention in nearby police stations. By the morning of June 17, the Vatan Police Headquarters’ and the Bar Association’s lists indicated that the number of detainees at the Security Branch at Vatan was 177, while 14 others were recorded as detained in the Organized Crime branch, although the Bar Association identified 22 people detained there. Another 42 people are recorded as being in custody in Beşiktaş, and seven in Şişli, both districts of Istanbul. On June 16 a Human Rights Watch representative together with a group of four lawyers appointed by the Bar Association tried to gain access to Taksim Square to investigate reports that detainees were being held on buses near the Atatürk Cultural Center or in the center itself. The police denied the group permission to enter the square, citing security reasons, and denied that anyone was being detained anywhere in Taksim Square. As a result, Human Rights Watch is not in a position to independently verify the reports. In the early hours of June 17 Human Rights Watch interviewed the sister of AslıVuslateri, whom police detained at about 7:30 p.m. on June 16 near her home in Cihangir. Vuslateri spoke with her sister when she was taken to the Vatan Security Directorate and told her that she had been held in a bus in Taksim Square for at least four hours. Although in the case of multiple detentions, transporting individual detainees separately to the police station may not be practical, any preliminary detention of individuals on a bus or other informal location, in particular detention that lasts for hours at a time, must be fully recorded and accounted for. Any unacknowledged or unrecorded detention is unlawful, arbitrary, and makes detainees vulnerable to abuse. Any such reports of unrecorded detention should be fully investigated by the police inspectorate, Human Rights Watch said. Two lawyers present during the medical examination at the Haseki Hospital of about 50 detainees currently held at the Vatan Police Headquarters at around 1 a.m. on June 17 told Human Rights Watch that “around 15 percent” of those between ages 18 and 25 bore signs consistent with ill-treatment such as kicks to the legs and beatings. One seemed in a particularly bad state with a broken tooth and a swollen eye. Human Rights Watch continues to document the scale of injuries resulting from the violence. Turkey is a party to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has strict obligations toprotect the rights to life, bodily integrity and security, freedom of expression,and peaceful assembly. All its policing operations should comply with the standards required by those obligations, and any infringement on fundamental rights and freedoms of others must be prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society. For example, when police do resort to force to disperse demonstrators, the United Nations Principles on the Use of Force require them in Principle 5 to minimize damage and injury, respect and preserve human life, and ensure that assistance and medical aid reach affected people at the earliest possible moment. The guidelines call for law enforcement officials to always exercise restraint, avoid unjustified escalation of violence, begin with nonviolent means, and progressively use force only when necessary and in a careful and planned manner. Background The forcible evacuation of Gezi Park came two days after negotiations over the protesters’ demands. A meeting between the prime minister and representatives of the Gezi Park protesters late at night on June 13 led to an announcement by Hüseyin Çelik, deputy chief of the ruling party and its spokesman, that the government would await a final court decision on the fate of the Taksim Gezi Park construction project that was the initial cause of the protests and suspend plans to go ahead with the project. Moreover, Çelik indicated that if the court gave a green light to building the proposed barracks-type complex, the project would be put to a plebiscite. Along with this concession to the protesters came an ultimatum to the demonstrators to end their occupation of the park. Over the following days, the protesters’ platform, Taksim Solidarity, debated the issue but did not agree to the government’s demand to evacuate the site. On the night of June 15, following the first of two rallies by government supporters in Ankara at which the prime minster again issued an ultimatum to the protesters to leave, the police forcibly intervened with teargas and raids on the park to end the occupation and clear the site. Although the occupation campaign began as a protest against government plans to build the barracks-style complex on the site, it has become the focus for a much wider expression of discontent with the Turkish government that has attracted the participation of huge numbers of young people from varying political backgrounds.

Turkey: Substance in water cannons in Gezi Park protests harmful and criminal, experts say

The addition of a gas to the water cannons during the weekend’s police crackdown on the Gezi Park protests has stirred a debate in Turkey, following experts’ remarks about the legal basis of its use and the harm that it may cause to the human body. The substance, which was photographed as police officers added it to water cannons, is “highly dangerous,” according to the doctors, while lawyer Ömer Kavili described the use of this substance as a “crime against humanity.” Many photos have been shared on social media showing people with burnt skins because of the water used by these mass incident intervention vehicles (TOMA).
However according to Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu’s earlier remarks, the water used in the TOMAs is “Not chemical, but medicated water. Our citizens have got used to this water.” The substance used in the TOMAs is described as “OC gas solution,” namely Jenix, on its plastic can, which refers to liquid tear gas. It causes “first degree burns” and causes damage to the skin similar to the effects of tear gas on respiration, according to Dr. Ümit Ünüvar, a member of the Forensic Medicine Experts Association. “Keep away from children. Do not spread over a broad area. Do not spill over canalization, underground or surface water. Prevent contact with skin and eyes,” the warning on the plastic can reads, adding that skin should be washed with a large amount of water in case of contact. OC gas solution provokes redness, bulging of the skin and its effects depend on the amount used and the manner in which it comes into contact with the skin. On a legal basis, Lawyer Ömer Kavili described the use of this gas solution as a “crime.” “The substance added to the water [used in the TOMAs] is a chemical substance. I have seen this used on ten or eleven-year-old children during my duty in the Istanbul Bar. The children’s skins were burned beneath their clothes,” he said. “The use of this substance is a crime. The vendor should inform the customer about the consequences of this substance and those who used this substance despite the warning on the can should immediately be investigated,” Kavili says.
“The use of this substance is ‘torture and inhuman crime,’ according to the article 94 of the Turkish Criminal Code,” he added. Meanwhile, a responsible from the company producing Jenix gas solution has confirmed that it has been used in the TOMAs for years during protests in southern Turkey as well as in Istanbul and Ankara. It is produced in conformity with technical specifications determined by the security forces, he said. “It is not directly added to the water but it is put in a separate tank, the police can manage its amount while using it,” he said, adding that it has become controversial as the police “might have used it over the dosage.”

Bill Clinton: No alternative to two-state solution

Former US president Bill Clinton on Monday night urged Israel to work toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians, saying that he had never heard a credible alternative that would enable Israel to remain a Jewish and a democratic state. “No matter how many settlers you put out there [in the West Bank], the Palestinians are having more babies than the Israelis as a whole,” Clinton said, and thus demographics were working against Israel. Clinton was answering questions after a speech at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot in honor of President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday celebrations, which continue Tuesday through Thursday with Peres’s Presidential Conference in Jerusalem.The former US president made plain repeatedly that he shared Peres’s vision of peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians, and gently intimated that he considered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach overly bleak and cautious. Some people are more risk-averse, he said, while “some people including President Peres and I believe that risk is part of life and you have to keep on trying to make good things happen….” “If you don’t have a vision of where you want to wind up,” he said, “bad things are going to happen sooner or later… You have a better chance if you are driven by a vision of peace and reconciliation.” Still, he noted, Netanyahu in his first term as prime minister reached an agreement that, had the Second Intifada not erupted, would have given the Palestinians “more of the West Bank than they have today.” And Netanyahu, in his second term as prime minister, Clinton recalled, froze settlement building for several months. The Palestinians “made a mistake” at the time “in not entering talks,” Clinton said.Empathizing with the security challenges facing Israel, Clinton noted that ”Things are going to hell in a handbasket all around you.” But, he stressed, “your neighbors are still your neighbors… One way or the other, you’re going to share your future with them.” It was necessary and sensible to prepare for the worst, he said, but there was “no possibility” of a better future prevailing “if all you do is prepare for the worst and don’t work for the best.” If it was “okay with you” to have a majority of people denied the vote in an expanded Israel, so be it, he said, but “would you be a democracy?” And “if you let them [the Palestinians] vote, would you be a Jewish state?” he asked rhetorically. “I just don’t think that in all these years a credible alternative has been presented that would preserve the essential character of the state of Israel — a Jewish but democratic state.”
The longer the Palestinian conflict remained unsolved, he said, the more acute the demographic challenge would become for Israel. “No matter how many settlers you put out there, the Palestinians are having more babies than the Israelis as a whole… You’ve got an existential question to answer.” He added: “I’m like President Peres. I don’t see any alternative to a Palestinian state… You’re going to have to share the future. Paint a picture in your mind of the future you want to have and take the logical steps to achieve it,” he urged. And if it didn’t work out, he said, Israel would have greater international support for its fallback positions. Reflecting on the Friday election to the Iranian presidency of Hasan Rowhani, Clinton said it was premature to judge whether that vote could lead to negotiations that would prevent the fulfillment of what are feared to be Iran’s nuclear objectives. “What this election in Iran tells us is that there are a lot of restive people in Iran who do not want to be isolated,” who do not hate the West and Israel, and who do not want to be in constant conflict, while there are others who like the current situation just fine. Israel and the US, he said, have to work together on Iran — “to stay in constant contact and work through it.” As for Syria, he said “there’s a chance that the rebel groups not only can be successful in their attempts to remove Mr. Assad, but also if the right people are involved could be induced to have shared power governance.” Earlier, in his prepared remarks, Clinton said that “the saddest day of my presidency was the day prime minister Rabin lost his life” and that “never a week goes by, even now, that I don’t think of him and that I don’t think of the burdens Shimon took on in the wake of that day.” He added: “I love this country more than I have words to say.”

Saudi Arabia sending anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian opposition

Saudi Arabia is said to be providing anti-aircraft missiles to Syria’s insurgency, confirming that country’s long-standing policy of supporting the ouster of president Bashar Assad. According to a Gulf source cited by Reuters, the kingdom has been supplying shoulder-fired weapons “on a small scale” to the Free Syrian Army as of two months ago, though the country’s foreign ministry would not confirm the claims. Members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy have been vocal of their support of Syria’s rebellion, including Prince Turki bin Faisal, who recently told Der Spiegel that “the immediate downfall of the Bashar al-Assad regime” was the kingdom’s “strategic aim” for Syria. The same source that alleges the shipment of missiles to General Salim Idriss, considered Saudi Arabia’s “point man” within the Syrian opposition, believes that recent gains made against the rebels in Qusair as a result of involvement by the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah had alarmed the kingdom. On Friday, Idriss told Reuters that his forces urgently needed heavier weapons in Aleppo to thwart a looming assault by forces loyal to the Assad government. Idriss further claimed that, if properly armed, his opposition forces could defeat Syria’s army within six months. Observers noted that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud cut short his summer holiday in Morocco and returned to Saudi Arabia immediately following president Obama’s announcement that the US would begin arming Syria’s insurgency. It is believed that Saudi weapons supplies began to flow into Syria before the US announced a change of course - a policy Riyadh, a longtime American ally in the region, had been encouraging since the Syrian unrest began in earnest some two years ago. Despite the recent announcement by Obama, recent polls show that a slight majority of the American public remains opposed to arming the Syrian opposition. A poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center showed 70 per cent said they are not in favor of “sending arms to anti-government groups in Syria,” an increase from 65 per cent in December and 63 per cent opposed in March 2012. Meanwhile, the number of those who favor providing military support dropped to 20 per cent in the most recent poll, down from 29 per cent in March of last year. There has also been increased rhetoric against the Syrian government from prominent Sunni religious figures in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, says the Wall Street Journal. According to sources close to Saudi Arabia’s king, he felt personally betrayed when President Assad rebuffed attempts made by him to encourage Syria to separate itself from Iran’s Shiites and ally itself with the region’s Sunni political movement. Last week American officials confirmed that F-16 fighter jets and a Patriot missile defense battery that had been brought to Jordan for military exercises would now stay on in the country, prompting speculation that the US might deepen its involvement in Syria’s civil war by enforcing a no-fly zone extending from Jordanian airspace into Syria. In the days leading up to the US announcement of renewed military support for Syria’s rebels, Saudi Arabia, France, Qatar and Britain were all said to be pushing for Washington to take decisive action against president Assad and support arming the rebel forces.

Kabul blast ahead of Afghanistan security handover

A suicide attacker is believed to have targeted a prominent Afghan politician just as Nato formally hands over command of security responsibilities to Afghan forces. The bomb struck the convoy of Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq, the country's second vice-president and a leader of the Hazara ethnic minority, in west Kabul. Mr Mohaqeq was reportedly unhurt, but three people were killed and six injured. Nato forces are handing over control of the last 95 districts. A ceremony is due to be attended by President Hamid Karzai and Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The location of the event has not been given. The switch of security duties to the 350,000-strong Afghan National Army is a milestone on the road to the final withdrawal of international combat troops at the end of next year. The handover of security control by the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) started with Bamiyan in 2011. The final districts to be handed over include 13 in Kandahar province - the birthplace of the Taliban - and 12 each in Nangarhar, Khost and Paktika, all bastions of insurgent activity along the border with Pakistan.

Afghans take security lead role from NATO coalition

. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his country's armed forces are taking over the lead for security around the country from the U.S.-led NATO coalition. The handover of responsibility on Tuesday marks a significant milestone in the nearly 12-year war and a turning point for American and NATO military forces, which will now move entirely into a supporting role. It also opens the way for their full withdrawal in 18 months. The handover was marred by a botched bomb attack against an Afghan politician in another part of Kabul. The bombing killed at least three civilians.The transition has the international military coalition handing over responsibility for fighting the Taliban insurgency to the nascent national army and police they have been training. Kabul deputy police chief Mohammad Daoud Amin said the blast was in the Pul-e-Surkh area of the western part of the city, which is miles away from the site of the handover ceremony attended by NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. A police officer named Asadullah said the target was the convoy of Mohammed Mohaqiq, a prominent ethnic Hazara lawmaker who is a former Cabinet member. Asadullah, who like many Afghans uses just one name, said he saw two dead bodies lying in the street and that a police vehicle was destroyed in the blast. Mohaqiq survived the explosion, according to Nahim Lalai Hamidzai, another member of the Afghan parliament. Gen. Mohammad Zahir, chief of the Kabul Criminal Investigation Division, said three people were killed by the bombing and another 30 were wounded, including six bodyguards. "The roadside bomb targeted the Mohaqiq convoy, but he safely passed. One of his vehicles was damaged," Zahir said. The leader of the People's Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, Mohaqiq is a member of the National Front, which represents members of the former Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban before the U.S. invasion in 2001. The predominantly ethnic Pashtun Taliban persecuted the Hazara minority during their five-year rule that imposed a radical interpretation of Islamic law. The Taliban insurgency has been pressing an intense campaign of violence in the run-up to Tuesday's security handover.

Balochistan: Monsters Rule my City

BY: Adnan Baloch
15 June, 2013 was marked as the worse day in the history of Baluchistan when a female suicide bomber blew her inside bus of Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University Quetta killing 21 female students and 20 got injured. I was on my way to home when a friend called me and asked if there had been a blast in your area. Panic-stricken I tuned on to TV to figure out and all the news channel were ablaze with the of the blast. I called my cousin who is lecturer over there as she picked her cell, I heard her insane cries that everyone was dead (sub mar gai hain). My heart went down I could not continue on talking anymore. News-channels were showing the footage of bus completely destroyed and belongings of the unfortunate students scattered on the ground. It tore our hearts to pieces watching all that happen to our people, especially those out there at the university. Parents rushed to SBK University to see if their loved ones had survived while the law enforcing agencies already cordoned-off the area and they were not allowed to enter inside the university premises. But when the Rescue team started to shift the injured students to nearby Bolan Medical Complex Hospital (BMC), parents and relatives hurried towards BMC hospital to get a glimpse of their loved ones. Rescue work was underway injured students were being shift to BMC emergency, ward was full of relatives of students, paramedic staff, doctors and governments officials. Meanwhile suicide bomber blew himself or herself outside emergency ward, which was followed by heavy firing. Deputy Commissioner Quetta Abdul Mansoor was also killed in the attack. Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob was also present on this occasion, but he survived unhurt. Five gunmen have taken positions on the rooftop of the hospital and they were firing continuously on the innocent people. Doctors were unable to attend the injured patients as hospital was under siege. Dead bodies were scattered in the hospital premises and injured were shouting for help. Law enforcing agencies started operation to rescue hostages inside hospital, it was very difficult task for them many people’s lives were at risk. In the very beginning they captured one terrorist alive on the identification of the hospital staff and 2nd blew himself in the second floor of hospital. At the end of the operation at least four terrorists were killed, forces freed dozens of people, who were held hostage inside the building. “The standoff lasted for several hours and ended when security forces stormed the building. It was one of the tragic day. For some, the day hasn’t ended yet and they are still searching for their lost people. At the end of the day I heard three funeral announcements from my neighborhood “Masjid”. And all I can think now is what was their fault and if not he law enforcing agencies, then who could possibly stop these on their run to kill innocents?

New Governor Is a Shock to Some Inside Egypt

Egypt’s Islamist president appointed a new governor of Luxor on Sunday who comes from the political arm of an Islamist group that once carried out terrorist attacks that killed dozens of tourists, soldiers and police officers in the same city. Leaders of the group, the Gamaa al-Islamiyya, who were held in Egyptian prisons renounced violence in 1997, a few months before members carried out a terrorist attack near Luxor, in central Egypt, that killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians. In 2003, the Egyptian government permitted the group to publish its revised, nonviolent ideology. But its partisans hold ultraconservative views on matters like sunbathing, women wearing shorts, the consumption of alcohol and other things that many tourists consider necessary components of vacations to see the country’s Pharaonic sites. Luxor is a major attraction, and tourism has been vital to the Egyptian economy. Many people were shocked by the appointment. “It is amazingly tone-deaf to symbolism,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst at the Century Foundation. “Everybody is interested in the process of normalization of these former militant groups into politics, but I think it is pretty audacious to appoint a Gamaa member to be governor of Luxor, of all places.” The new governor, Adel Asaad al-Khayyat, is not well known outside upper Egypt, where he was a leader in the engineers’ syndicate and worked for a government office that promotes regional development. Security officials say he was detained without charge by the Egyptian authorities during the crackdown on Islamist groups after the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981. Mr. Khayyat did not immediately comment on what his policies would be as governor. Aides to President Mohamed Morsi could not be reached for comment on Sunday. But the appointment immediately drew jokes that the end of Egypt’s ancient pre-Islamic heritage was nigh. “The governor of Luxor from the Gamaa? O.K., get us two idols from there before it’s too late,” the TV comedian Bassem Youssef posted on Twitter. Mr. Khayyat’s group follows a puritanical form of Islam called Salafism that seeks to closely imitate the lives of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. While less well organized than the Muslim Brotherhood, the group to which Mr. Morsi belonged, Salafists have formed political parties and won seats in Parliament. Some Salafi leaders have expressed disregard, and even hostility, toward Egypt’s pre-Islamic relics and monuments, which they consider pagan. They were widely blamed for splashing blue paint on a statue of a mermaid in Alexandria last month. And in 2011, they wrapped cloth around a fountain that depicted mermaids, and hung a sign praising Egyptian women for dedication to their husbands. Salafi political leaders have not actively moved to eliminate the country’s ancient sites, but their contempt for the ways of non-Muslim tourists is well known. A fatwa, or religious decree, published on the Gamaa al-Islamiyya’s Web site advised members of the group not to build tourist accommodations. “Because tourist villages have aspects that anger Allah, including alcohol, gambling and other forbidden things, building these hotels and villages is considered aiding their owners in sin and aggression, and is not permitted,” the decision read. Mr. Khayyat was one of 17 new governors named Sunday, 7 of them from the Muslim Brotherhood. The group now has 13 of Egypt’s 27 governorates.

Malala signs UN-backed education petition

Pakistani student activist Malala Yousafzai is the first signatory of a new worldwide petition calling for urgent action to ensure the right of every child to safely attend school, launched today with the backing of the United Nations Special Envoy for Education. The launch came in the wake of an attack that killed 14 students at an all girls' college in Pakistan, emphasized Special Envoy Gordon Brown, in an op-ed published on Monday in the Huffington Post. “This, the bloodiest atrocity yet in escalating violence against female students, comes eight months after the attempted assassination of Malala and her two friends, Kainat and Shazia, targeted by terrorists just because they wanted to go to school,” Mr. Brown wrote. “That is why today, in advance of Malala Day on July 12, we are launching our worldwide petition to demand that global leaders ensure 57 million out-of-school girls and boys are given the chance of education,” he said. Malala's appearance at UN Headquarters on 12 July will mark her first major public speech since she was shot last October. She will be joined at the UN by hundreds of young people from around the world. The petition and the UN event are part of an effort to establish universal primary education by December 2015, the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, a set of anti-poverty targets set by UN Member States in a 2000 summit. In a statement issued for the petition launch, Malala Yousafzai said that the terrorists in the attack on the girls’ school, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned over the weekend, were “cowards.” "The innocent girls who died on Saturday have nothing to do with politics and only wanted to empower themselves through education. Obtaining education is every man and woman's birth right and no one is allowed to take away this right from them,” she stressed.” Mr. Brown and Malala Yousafzai are supporting the initiative of Secretary-General Ban to accelerate progress towards the UN Global Education First Initiative to put every child in school, improve the quality of learning, and foster global citizenship by the end of 2015.