Monday, March 10, 2014

Russia Plans to Unveil Proposed Solution to Ukraine Crisis

VOA News
Russia plans to unveil its own solution to the Ukraine crisis, a plan that is likely to run counter to US proposals.
"We prepared, together with members of the Russian Security Council, our counter-proposals. They aim to resolve the situation on the basis of international law and take into account the interests of all Ukrainians without exception," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a televised meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
At a meeting with Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Lavrov said he received proposals from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry which "did not completely satisfy us". Lavrov also said Kerry had declined an invitation to visit Russia for further talks.
Russian forces have tightened their grip on Crimea as authorities in the breakaway territory push their proposal to join Moscow, a decision it plans to put to a referendum on March 16. Meantime, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine said Monday that the United States is still ruling out possible military action in Crimea. Geoffrey Pyatt said any diplomatic solution must address Moscow’s interests in the strategically important peninsula.
Pyatt reiterated that the U.S. will not recognize the results of the "so-called" referendum in Crimea set for March 16.
The chief of Crimea's election commission said Monday that he is moving ahead with preparations for next Sunday's unification referendum. Myhkailo Malyshev said all registered Crimean voters are eligible to vote.
Crimea has invited observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the referendum, according to Russia's RIA news agency.
On Saturday, an unarmed observer mission from the same Vienna-based group tried to cross into Crimea but had to turn back after warning shots were fired. Ukraine's interim prime minister vowed Sunday not to give up "a single centimeter" of territory. Arseniy Yatsenyuk is scheduled to meet Wednesday with President Barack Obama in Washington to discuss the standoff over Crimea, a strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine with a Russian-speaking majority. A Russian lawmaker said the Kremlin had set aside $1.1 billion to rebuild Crimea's industrial infrastructure if the disputed region votes to join Russia. Putin has defended the separatist drive in Crimea as consistent with international law, and a regional leader said Ukrainian troops remaining there should leave the territory unless they renounce their loyalty to Kyiv.
Shots fired
Armed men fired into the air as they took over a Ukrainian naval post in Crimea on Monday, according to local media there.
Ukraine's Channel 5 television quoted Ukrainian defence official Vladislav Seleznyov as saying the shooting took place in mid-afternoon at a motor pool base near Bakhchisaray.
On his Facebook page, Seleznyov said about 10 "unidentified armed men" in two minibuses drove into the compound and demanded Ukrainian personnel there give them 10 trucks, Reuters reported. Rival demonstrations Russian forces tightened their grip on the peninsula taking over a Ukrainian border post on the western edge of Crimea, trapping about 30 personnel inside. A Ukrainian military spokesman said Russian forces now control 11 border guard posts across the territory.
As demonstrators staged rival rallies in Crimea and throughout Ukraine, street violence flared in Sevastopol when pro-Russian activists and Cossacks attacked a group of Ukrainians. In the ethnic Russian eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, the Kyiv Post said 7,000 demonstrators in Lenin Square tore down a Ukrainian flag, replacing it with the Russian tricolor ensign and chanting "Putin our president" and "referendum." In Kyiv, former imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky implored a pro-Western crowd to believe that not all Russians support Moscow's recent actions in Ukraine.
Russia denies it has troops on the peninsula beyond those regularly stationed with its Sevastopol-based Black Sea fleet. Ukraine's much smaller navy is also based in the Crimean port city. Witnesses say although the soldiers have no insignia identifying them, they are clearly Russian.

Armed men have burnt down a yoga center in Islamabad inaugurated by a globally renowned Indian Hindu guru who once offered to teach inner peace to the Taliban, police said Sunday. The Art of Living center was torched on Saturday night in the upmarket Bani Gala suburb of the capital. It was the Pakistan branch of an international non-government organization founded by Nobel peace prize nominee Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, described by Forbes magazine in 2009 as the fifth most powerful person in India. Nayyer Salim, a police official, said some eight to nine people were involved in the attack. “The watchman told us that some eight to nine men armed with pistols and guns came and asked for money. Then they tied up three employees on duty and spread petrol,” he said. The staff members survived the attack, police said. Shahnaz Minallah, the Pakistan co-chair of Art of Living who was in Lahore at the time of the arson confirmed the incident but declined to comment further until she reached the site. Police said the motive behind the incident was not yet clear but they were investigating whether it was related to the center’s connection with India. Shankar last visited Pakistan in 2012, saying in an interview: “I would love to stretch my hands to Talibans because I would like them to see from a broader perspective of the universe.” His centers, which have branches all over the world and count some 300 million followers, teach breathing practices designed to relieve stress and jealousies. Its adherents in Pakistan were mainly drawn from the country’s urbane, educated elite. But the branch, built in 2004, has attracted some criticism by some in the media who see yoga as un-Islamic. Pakistani TV host Arshad Sharif hosted a show in February where he asked panelists whether the center was “compromising national security” and “challenging our values and lifestyle.”

Bilawal Bhutto visits drough-hit Thar
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron in Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party today paid a visit to drought-hit Thar district to oversee the relief operations, reviewed ground situation, met with elected representatives of the Party and got different briefings by the concerned.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardai, being the first political leader who took notice of the burnings crisis drawing countrywide attention to the deaths of children due to diseases and drought conditions in the world’s 7th largest desert shared by Pakistan and India.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visited the Civil Hospital to inquire about the health of admitted patients mainly children and discussed in detail with doctors assuring his party’s continued support and cooperation for the best treatment to all patients. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was accompanied by his Advisor for Minority Affairs Surendar Valasai, Sindh Minister for Information Sharjil Memon and other Provincial Ministers, MNAs, MPAs and local Party leaders.
Later on, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari received Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at Mithi helipad and took him to another visit of the hospital and the Pakistan Army’s Medical and Relief Camp. The two leaders also distributed cheques among the patients. Together with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali, Federal Ministers and provincial ministers, he attended a brief by local and Sindh administration at DC office and also saw off Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and thanked him for visiting the drought-hit desert. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was also briefed by Party’s elected representatives about the conditions in Thar and the efforts being taken by Sindh government to ameliorate the situation. Those present on the occasion including MNAs Mir Munawar Talpur, Faqeer Sher Mohammad Bilalani, Pir Noor Mohammad Shah, MPAs Dr Mahesh Kumar Malani, Dost Ali Rahimoon, Makhdoom Naimatullah, Dr Khatumal Jeewan, Engr Gianchand and others. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also met with the Party workers and intermingled among them amid the slogans of Jeay Bhutto.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry alerts : Al Qaeda, Taliban plan to blow Musharraf's vehicle

Interior Ministry has revealed and alerted the law enforcement authorities about a possible terrorism attempt by Al Qaeda and Taliban to target former president Pervez Musharraf on his way to court. The alert issued just a day before scheduled court hearing says Musharraf can be ambushed by his own security guard the way slain governor Punjab Salman Taseer was targeted, Dunya News obtained the copy of the letter issued to secretary defense by interior ministry and reported on Monday. In the correspondence to secretary defense, interior minister has alerted of a possible terrorist attack on former president’s convoy on their way to court. It further says citing intelligence sources that Taliban and Al Qaeda have finalized preparations to carry out the attack. Former president’s vehicle can be blown up using explosives-laden vehicle or a remote control explosive device, the letter alerts while mentioning the details. The correspondence also warns of a possible ambush by own security guards akin to Salman Taseer’s murder. The correspondence also directs to tighten the security and make it foolproof. The interior ministry’s alert has come at a time when special court hearing Ghazi murder case has summoned former president to indict him tomorrow (Tuesday). It is pertinent mentioning here that Musharraf was granted exemption from court appearance in previous hearing on March 1, when the hearing of murder case of Lal Majid’s deputy orator Ghazi and his mother was conducted by Islamabad additional session judge. Plaintiff’s council had demanded issuance of arrest warrants for the former president while defense attorney maintained Musharraf is unable to make an appearance owing to the security and medical reasons. He further said that former president will appear before court once medical and security clearance is received. Former president Pervez Musharraf is facing a number of trials including high treason for suspending the constitution in favour of military emergency on November 3rd 2007. Taliban, government ceasefire This is the first threat of its kind directly naming Taliban since the ‘ceasefire’ announced by Taliban and reciprocated by government earlier this month. Government had hinted involvement of military representative in the negotiating committee to hold ‘direct talks’. An organization by the name of Ahrarul Hind claiming to be a spin-off of Tehrik-e-Taliban had targeted Islamabad Katcheri claiming nearly a dozen lives including that of a judge.

Chinese, U.S. presidents exchange views on bilateral ties, Ukraine over phone

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama exchanged views in a telephone conversation Monday on bilateral ties and the situation in Ukraine.
"I met with President Obama twice last year and we reached a series of important consensus to push for a new stage for building a new type of major-country relationship between China and the United States," said President Xi.
China was ready to work with the United States to build the new model of the major-country relationship, respect and accommodate each other's core interests and major concerns, and enhance dialogue, mutual trust and cooperation, in a bid to achieve a sustainable and healthy development of the China-U.S. relations, Xi said.
"I'm looking forward to the next meeting with Obama in the near future, and I welcome the upcoming visit of Michelle Obama to China," Xi said.
For his part, Obama said that the U.S.-China relationship had developed positively since he met Xi at his Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands last year. The United States hoped that the two countries would score new achievements through cooperation on major issues, as this year marked the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, Obama said.
Obama said he was expecting to meet with President Xi soon and his wife was looking forward to her visit to China later this month. Meanwhile, Obama briefed Xi on the U.S. stance on the Ukrainian situation. Stressing China's objective and fair stance on Ukraine, Xi said, given the complexity of the Ukrainian situation, it was very important for all parties concerned to remain calm and exercise restraint in order to avoid the escalation of the crisis. Urging a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis, Xi said China hoped that all parties concerned would tackle their differences through communication and coordination China had adopted an open attitude toward any proposals and suggestions that could help ease the tensions in Ukraine and was willing to keep in touch with the United States and other relevant parties on the issue, he added. President Obama expressed sympathies with the families of those aboard a Malaysian airliner that went missing on Saturday, and he said the United States was ready to work with China over search and rescue efforts.
Xi said China was also deeply concerned about the safety of the passengers and crew members on board the ill-fated aircraft. "I've already instructed related departments to carry out search and rescue operations and to make preparations for emergency response and follow-up work," Xi said, adding that "China will stay in touch with the United States."
Besides, Obama also mourned the deaths of Chinese civilians slain in a terrorist attack in southwest China's Kunming city on March 1. Obama said the United States was against all forms of terrorism and stood ready to cooperate with China in the fight against terrorism.
"Terrorism is the common enemy for human beings," Xi said, adding that China was prepared to work with the international community, including United States, to battle all forms of terrorism.

Debris sheds no light on missing Malaysia Airlines jet
Malaysian officials said Monday that debris spotted off the coast of southern Vietnam a day earlier had not been definitively linked to a Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing with 239 people on board early on Saturday. "Unfortunately, ladies and gentleman, we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft itself, said Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, head of Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation, on Monday. Vietnamese authorities also determined that a floating yellow object retrieved from the sea was not a life raft from the missing airliner as was earlier suspected, the country's civil aviation authority said. A Vietnamese navy plane spotted two floating objects suspected of belonging to Flight MH370 some 80 kilometres (50 miles) off Tho Chu island on Sunday, Vietnamese authorities said earlier. "There are various objects that we have seen, but none of them at this moment [have been confirmed to be] from this aircraft," Azharuddin said. The Malaysia Airlines flight vanished from radar screens without a trace on Saturday, shortly after taking off for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:40am (4:40pm GMT Friday). An extensive search and rescue operation was launched to find the plane, which last had contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, but has yet to find any sign of the Boeing 777-200ER. No distress signal was ever sent, authorities said. There has been speculation that the flight’s disappearance may be linked to foul play after it emerged that at least two of the passengers on board were travelling with stolen Italian and Austrian passports. Malaysia's Home Minister Zahid Hamidi reportedly said Sunday that the passengers using stolen passports appeared to be ethnically Asian. "I am still puzzled how come [immigration officers] cannot think: an Italian and Austrian but with Asian facial features," he was quoted as saying by Malaysia's national news agency Bernama. The country's police chief said Monday that one of the men had been identified, but gave no further details. A senior source involved with investigations in Malaysia told Reuters that the inquiry was focusing on the possibility that the plane had disintegrated mid-air. “The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet,” said the source, speaking shortly before it was announced that an object believed to belong to the flight had been found. If the plane had plunged intact from such a height, breaking up only on impact with the water, search teams would have expected to find a fairly concentrated pattern of debris, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly on the investigation. Asked about the possibility of an explosion, such as a bomb, the source said there was no evidence yet and that the aircraft could have broken up due to mechanical issues. Azharuddin confirmed reports that five passengers who purchased tickets and checked baggage did not make the flight. He said Malaysia Airlines had removed baggage belonging to those passengers once it was learned they did not board the plane, in accordance with standard safety procedures.

PM Nawaz, Bilawal Bhutto jointly visit Mithi hospital

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accompanied by patron-in-chief, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visited civil hospital Mithi and reviewed medical facilities being provided there to affectees of Tharparkar drought, SAMAA reported. Earlier, the premier arrived in Mirpur Khas to visit the Tharparkar district. He was received by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah at the airport. The PM was being briefed over ongoing relief activities in the affected areas and health facilities for the affected families. Nawaz Sharif and the PPP leader reviewed medical facilities for affectees and assured government’s full assistance to the famine-hit people of Thar where nearly 50 children have died of malnutrition and negligence in past few days. Hundreds of families have left the affected areas of Tharparkar district. Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, PPP ministers and high officials accompanied the Prime Minister.

Pakistan: F-8 court attack: Judge Rafaqat Awan was killed by terrorists, says reader
Khalid Noon, the reader of the slain Additional Sessions Judge Rafaqat Ahmed Awan appeared before the apex court today (Monday) and stated that the police was pressurising him to give a statement according to their will. A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani heard the Islamabad court attack case. During case proceedings, reader Khalid Noon claimed that Judge Rafaqat Awan was shot by the terrorists. He told court that ASP RA Aziz wanted him to say that Rafaqat Awan was accidentally shot and killed by his own guard during the attack. Meanwhile, brother of Awan Colonel Safdar Hussain said that the reader was a liar. The bench told Colonel Safdar that he was not witness to the attack and his statement could affect the investigation process. Earlier today,Inspect General of Police, Islamabad Chief Commissioner, Chief Secretaries and District and Session Judge East and West presented their reports in the court. In the report, IG Islamabad stated that there were two terrorists involved in the attack. however, Islamabad chief commissioner’s report stated that there were more than two attackers. The chief commissioner told court that the deputy commissioner is carrying out an inquiry into the attack and so far 154 people have recorded their statements. The apex court expressed dissatisfaction over the police report, stating that reports by the Islamabad chief commissioner and the inspector general of police (IGP) Islamabad were contradictory. The court ordered that a new report about the attack on Islamabad’s district court should be presented in two days. The case was adjourned till March 17. On March 3, two suicide bombers and several armed terrorists attacked the district courts in Islamabad’s sector F-8 killing at least 11 people, including an additional sessions judge and a female lawyer, and injuring over two dozen others.

Pakistan: Hasten slowly

Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has won the first round. Not only was its principal interlocutor Maulana Samiul Haq entertained to a sumptuous breakfast at the Prime Minister House he has also won Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's concurrence that state is prepared to meet the Taliban leadership and talk of peace. Early last month when Samiul Haq said the prime minister asked him to arrange talks with Taliban his claim was rubbished by the government. But then government set up a committee to initiate talks, to which the TPP promptly responded by nominating a team of its interlocutors with same Samiul Haq as its head, surprising everyone in the county, including prime ministers' own close aides. Then the popular perception was that somewhere work is in hand to secure respite from targeted military operation. And that respite it got, though terrorism kept visiting the targets of its choice. Of late that kind of fondness for the TTP leadership seems to be a passion on the part of the government - a change of heart so bravely, if not brazenly, and confessed by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali. Winding up debate on the government's new internal security policy in the National Assembly the other day he said the TTP 'may be opposed to the government but they are not anti-Pakistan'. Nothing could be more diabolic. Yes, the Taliban-claimed violence during the last few weeks, particularly since the initiation of 'mazakrat'- though this violence has been target-specific. But the Taliban-owned terrorism was rampant even during the present parliamentary opposition was in power. Yes, a few politicians too suffered at the hands of the Taliban, but their main targets have been the state institutions particularly defence forces and security organisations, as well the man in the street. Then, they conceive the constitution of Pakistan un-Islamic, want parliamentary democracy replaced with caliphate headed by a person like Fazlullah, and entertain no respect for the country's geographic borders. If they are not anti-state what then are the anti-state forces? Chaudhry Nisar may say Additional Sessions Judge Rafaqat Awan died at the hands of his own guard - if you accept his version that suicide-bombers killed during raid on Islamabad district courts were the only two assailants and refute scores of witnesses on the spot who insist they numbered many and some of them might be armed with other than Kalashnikovs. But if he intended conveying that the carnage in the capital's courts was the work of others and not of the TTP men then there is the problem.
One would hate to be dubbed as anti-peace talks even with elements at war with the state. But there is a way to go about it - by recognising TTP as equal partner the PML-N government would be lending legitimacy to the outfit which is banned under the law, its leaders are nominated in cases of murder and are openly hostile to very existence of Pakistan as a democratic country. If the government position is untenable in the eyes of law it is also bereft of political vision the leadership is expected to imbibe. By limiting the proposed talks to North Waziristan-based terrorists and only with those who swear allegiance to Afghanistan-based Fazlullah the government would be indirectly inviting others in this business of killing people to establish their relevance. Incidence of terrorism permeates the length and breadth of Pakistan and terrorists are of all colours and creeds. Even more dangerous is the Samiul Haq's insistence that army leadership should also be involved. What does it imply: it implies that the elected government is not fully mandated to take decisions in matters concerning the country's law and order.
The argument that in the past the local army commanders and terrorist leaders had been talking is no more valid, mainly for the reason that the then government was headed by a military commander. Also, the demands now being aired by the TTP are pregnant with far more serious consequences than before when the talks were essentially focused on law and order situation. TTP wants substitution of democratic system with their peculiar version of Islamic state; insist their prisoners, including foreigners be freed; and army should depart from the tribal areas of their choosing. Mercifully the corps commanders in their last meeting have rejected all these demands including the suggestion that army be part of the negotiating team. How much hollow is the argument that the new committee would have powers to take on-the-spot decisions. We haven't forgotten yet the same source claiming earlier that his committee enjoyed unqualified mandate of the prime minister. Maybe there is something more to the talks with TTP than what meets the eye. Perhaps, it is the 'foreign hand' more vigorously involved now than before - there is some talk about India's RAW being involved in the carnage at the Islamabad courts. Therefore, it would be in the fitness of things that Prime Minister should speak to the nation or address the parliament. The gravity of situation brooks no hush-hush confabulations and subterranean approaches to a threat of existential significance. It's defining moment in our history. Think before you leap.

Balochistan: 4.5 magnitude quake jolts Sibbi
A 4.5-magnitude earthquake jolted Sibbi and adjoining areas on early Monday morning, seismologists said. Metrological Department sources informed that the epicentre of the earthquake was located at the depth of 59 kilometres, 63 kilometres south of Sibbi. The quake spread panic among people and they rushed out of their homes, however no loss of life or property was reported.

Pakistan: Emergency measures taken in Tharparkar
Sindh Minister for information, Archives and Local Government Sharjeel Inam Memon said that Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarian and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah were personally monitoring the situation of Tharparkar and the PPPP and its provincial government would not leave the famine affected people of Tharparkar alone in tragic conditions. The Minister also claimed that only 69 children died in Tharparkar during past 4 months but cause of their deaths was not famine but pneumonia. A team of doctors and paramedics had already started catering to the people of Tharparkar for their needs of medical care and a shipment of medicines of urgent needs had also been supplied to the healthcare facilities in the areas.
He said that there were 25 children under medical care and they were all out of danger and the stock of required medicines was also available in those hospitals. He claimed that number of deaths of children as reported were not true but the actual number of deaths was 26 in December 2013, 18 in January, 23 in February and 3 in March 2014. Majority of children had died of pneumonia and other infections and again majority of infants were fateful to the pneumonia and infection. He said Tharparkar was affected with natural calamity and the PPPP and Sindh government would take care of them and Sindh government had already started free distribution of wheat worth Rs 40.2 million. A major part of Thar was covered with desert, which created impediments in plying transport there. However, special transport was being arranged to deal with the situation.
He said that Sindh government had also initiated work on construction of water reservoirs in Tharparkar to prevent any water paucity situation in the area in future. The provisioning of relief goods was being carried round the clock and was closely monitored.
Sharjeel Inam Memon said that Punjab government did not make any offer for support in terms of relief and rehabilitation of the famine-affected population of Tharparkar and reports that Sindh government had refused Punjab assistance were baseless. The Minister said that Sindh government was thankful to the Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and Federal Government for taking steps for the redressal of the situation in Tharparkar while Sindh government was taking all steps for addressing the prevailing situation in Tharparkar, which would shortly be overcome.
He said that ministers in Sindh government had reached Tharparkar to show solidarity with the famine-affected population of
Tharparkar and were taking part in relief activities. The Sindh government has sent a team of 30 doctors and 15 paramedics to Tharparkar along with 2 trucks of medicines. The medical team would stay in Tharparkar till the situation would be under control. Meanwhile the Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah following deaths of children in Tharparkar due to starvation suspended Mirpur Khas Commissioner and Tharparkar Deputy Commissioner for negligence. The Mirpur Khas Commissioner Ghulam Mustafa and Tharparkar Deputy Commissioner Makhdoom Aqeel Uz Zaman were accused of ignoring starving people. The CM after suspending the two bureaucrats, appointed Sajid Jamal Abro as Mirpur Khas Commissioner and Asif Ikram as Tharparkar Deputy Commissioner. Superintendent of Police, Tharparkar was replaced by Muneer Shaikh.