Friday, February 13, 2015

Video Report - Clashes in Bahrain ahead of uprising anniversary

Amnesty International calls on Bahrain to uphold citizens’ rights

Amnesty International has called on Bahraini officials to observe the citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly ahead of the fourth anniversary of the revolution in the Persian Gulf kingdom.
“The Bahraini authorities must uphold the rights to freedom of peaceful expression and assembly and rein in security forces as thousands of protesters are taking to the streets ahead of the fourth anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain,” the rights group said in a statement released on Friday.
The statement came after Bahrain’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa said on February 12 that the ministry will suppress protests ahead of the revolution anniversary on February 14. 
“Four years after the uprising, fundamental freedoms have increasingly been curtailed with the authorities banning protests and assemblies, restricting the activities of civil and political associations and stifling the right to peaceful freedom of expression,” the statement noted.
Amnesty also slammed Bahraini authorities for the arrest of a number of opposition figures and activists, including al-Wefaq National Islamic Society Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman and prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.
Since mid-February 2011, thousands of anti-regime protesters have held numerous demonstrations on the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa family to relinquish power.
On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country to assist the Bahraini government in its crackdown on peaceful protesters.
Scores of Bahrainis have been killed and hundreds of others injured and arrested in the ongoing crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.

Turks Boycott Schools in Protest of Islamization of Education

By Ben Ariel

Secular Turks opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan take to the streets to demand a secular education.

Secular Turks opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday boycotted schools and took to the streets to demand a secular education and denounce a claimed creeping Islamization of the schools system.
The protests were led by Turkey's largest religious minority the Alevis, who adhere to an offshoot of Shiite Islam, as well as leading education union Egitim Sen, according to the AFP news agency.
It was not immediately clear how many pupils had failed to attend schools due to the boycott but Turkish media reports said it was followed in cities including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Edirne, and Antalya.
Television pictures showed that police had used water cannon to roughly disperse a protest in the Aegean city of Izmir. Fifty-six people were arrested, according to NTV television.
Police used tear gas to disperse scores of protestors demonstrating in Ankara, AFP reported. There were also protests in Istanbul.
Secular Turks and Alevis in particular have been angered by the compulsory religion lessons used in schools under a system that has been amended by Erdogan’s ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Alevis are upset that the compulsory classes prioritize Sunni Islam, the dominant religion of Turkey which is practiced by almost all the current ruling elite.
Alevis have traditionally been champions of secularity in Turkey, believing it to be the best way to protect their own rights in the majority Sunni Muslim country.
Indeed, throughout Erdogan’s time in power there have been more signs of Turkey turning more extremist. In 2013, the Turkish Parliament tightened restrictions on the sale and advertising of alcoholic beverages and has charged individuals with insulting Islamic religious values over comments made on social media.
In December, Erdogan vowed to make lessons in the Arabic-alphabetOttoman language compulsory in high schools, despite objections from secularists.
Thousands of Alevis had rallied last weekend in Istanbul in a mass rally demanding more rights for their community, AFP reported.
Alevis are by far Turkey's largest religious  minority, estimated to form between 10-20 percent of the population, but are not recognized by the state as an official group.
Only Jewish or Christian children in Turkey can be excused from the religious education classes.
Many activists have been angered by the interventions of the AKP in the Turkish education system, which they allege have undermined the country's secular system founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Raif Badawi escapes weekly flogging again in Saudi Arabia

    Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger jailed for criticizing Islam, has had his weekly lashes delayed for a fifth time according to Amnesty International.
    He was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes, to be delivered in batches of 50 every week.
    He was flogged for the first time on Jan. 9. However, the next five flogging sessions were postponed. At least two of the postponements were due to medical reasons.
    He has not been seen by a doctor, according to the international human-rights organization.
    Badawi is a 32-year-old blogger and activist. His wife and three children are refugees living in Sherbrooke, Que.
    His case was transferred to the Saudi criminal court last week.
    Badawi was arrested in June 2012 after criticizing the Saudi regime and expressing views critical of Islam on his blog. 
    Amnesty International is calling for Badawi's sentence to be quashed and for him to be released immediately and unconditionally so he can join his family in Canada.

    UN envoy to Syria says Assad a key figure to ending bloodshed

    The United Nations envoy to Syria has said the country's president has a key role to play in ending almost four years of war. This is the first time that any UN official has made such a statement.
    The UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura made the statement during a joint press conference with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in Vienna on Friday.
    "President [Bashar al-]Assad is part of the solution," de Mistura said. "I will continue to have very important discussions with him."
    De Mistura added that "the only solution is a political solution."
    This was the first time that any UN official has named the Syrian president, whose government and military forces have been accused by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch of major abuses, a being part of any solution to the conflict.
    De Mistura added that if no solution to the conflict was found, "the only one who takes advantage of it is ISIS Daesh," referring to "Islamic State" jihadi group that has seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq by its Arabic name. The group is a "monster waiting for this conflict to take place in order to be able to take advantage," he added.
    Opposition angered
    The UN envoy's words sparked an angry response from opposition groups, including the Western-backed National Coalition.
    "I think de Mistura is fooling himself if he thinks that Assad is part of the solution," Coalition member Samir Nashar told the AFP news agency by telephone from Istanbul. "If Assad was really interested in fighting Daesh, he would have sent his troops to Raqa rather than to Douma."
    Raqa is the self-declared Islamic State capital in northern Syria, while Douma is a rebel-held town that is part of the Ghouta area, where the London-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights claims more than 180 people, including around 30 children have been killed in a government bombing campaign over the past few weeks alone.
    Later de Mistura, though, clarified his remarks in a telephone interview with a Reuters reporter, saying that Assad was "part of the solution for the reduction of the violence."
    "I am not talking about a final solution," added. "That is something that only the Syrians, if you had asked me, would have to decide upon. The main point was he is part of the solution in reducing violence."
    The Syrian conflict, which broke out in March 2011 after Assad sought to put down peaceful pro-democracy protests is believed to have killed more than 200,000 people and has displaced millions of others.

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    Video - Afghan Boy - From Street Urchin To Movie Star

    Afghan Taliban now smuggle drugs and gems like the mafia - United Nations report

    Afghanistan's Taliban Islamist movement is increasingly funded by criminal enterprises including heroin laboratories, illegal ruby and emerald mines and kidnapping, making negotiated peace harder, according to a UN Security Council report.
    The report said there was a new "scale and depth" to the Taliban's integration with criminal networks, which includes directly running marble mines, production and export of narcotics and kidnapping for ransom.
    Diverse financing, including foreign donations, helped the Taliban survive 13 years of US-led war in Afghanistan, analysts say.
    "They are increasingly acting more like 'godfathers' than a 'government in waiting'," a panel of experts who advise the Security Council on sanctions said in the report published on Tuesday.
    In 2014 the Taliban inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan security forces as foreign allies withdrew most of their troops. More civilians were killed in 2014 than in any other year of the war, according to the United Nations.
    The UN report called for sanctions to disrupt the Taliban's alleged criminal activity, warning that fighters in charge of lucrative illicit businesses would be less inclined to respond to calls by their leaders to settle for peace.
    The activities described in the report - which cites Afghan officials and businessmen affected by Taliban extortion - include charging to smuggle emeralds out of the country, taxing the production of lapis lazuli and facilitating illegal ruby mining in areas under the Taliban's influence near Kabul.
    "Taliban penetration of the natural resources sector is deep, and [the] extortion in that sector is fairly pervasive," the panel said.
    As well as charging farmers who grow opium poppies, the Taliban profits from heroin production and export of the narcotic. Fighters can often be found fighting close to heroin laboratories, the report said.
    In 2014, the group fought hard for control of Sangin district in the southern province of Helmand, where a number of laboratories were located, the report said, citing Afghan officials

    Why Did Afghanistan Just Suspend a Request for Heavy Weaponry from India?

    A little noticed report in the Afghan press earlier this week confirms that the Afghan government has suspended a request made for heavy weaponry from India. The request, which was originally made by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai during a trip to New Delhi, requested heavy artillery and other weaponry from India. The request was initially rejected but later revisited by the Indian government. A report in Afghanistan’s ToLo News confirms, based on Afghan government sources, that the request for heavy weaponry has been suspended.
    Why the sudden change? Well, there are a variety of explanations. The first, and the least convincing, comes straight from within the Afghan government. Mohammad Mohaqeq, a staffer working for Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s chief executive officer, notes that ”If president the has rejected this, there is the possibility that he has thought of another place to confidently get these arms from.” The bid for Indian weaponry was one of the more public requests by the Afghan government and there have been no similar requests in the works for months now.
    “I believe that the president would have a trip to India and he will not contradict all the works of the former president, we need the equipment and should get it from anywhere,” Mohaqeq adds. Relations between Afghanistan and India haven’t declined either.
    The best explanation is probably that Afghanistan rescinded the request for heavy weaponry from New Delhi amid what appears to be a slow and steady process of rapprochement with Islamabad. Pakistan has made clear its interest in seeing India and Afghanistan keeping at an arm’s length. Earlier this week, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz recommended that “external actors” following a policy of non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal matters, warning against attempts to wage a proxy war. Similarly, both Afghanistan and Pakistan are looking at expanding their cooperation on counter-terrorism amid efforts by the central government in both countries to assert control over various militant groups.
    For instance, six of the perpetrators of December’s horrific attack against a school in Peshawar were apprehended on Afghan soil. Though these men were initially questioned by Afghan authorities, Pakistani authorities were reportedly in touch with the Afghan government seeing as how Mullah Fazlullah, the mastermind behind the attack, is suspected to be hiding on Afghan soil. Given the growing importance of counter-terrorism to both these countries, improving relations, at least in the short-term, is an area of common interest.
    Historically, however, Pakistan’s military-intelligence community has seen Afghanistan as nothing more than a buffer state. To this end, Pakistan has been held responsible for bolstering the Afghan Taliban and undermining the ability of the central government in Kabul to govern Afghanistan’s borderlands effectively.
    The Ghani government’s decision to suspend the request for heavy weaponry from India, however, doesn’t signal a major realignment in South Asia. Pakistan, although an important factor in Afghan foreign policy, can hardly offer the same sort of long-term financial support and international political ballast as India can for Afghanistan.

    In a Shift, Pakistan Pats Afghanistan on the Back

    In a sign of closer cooperation between often hostile neighbors, Pakistan’s military on Thursday credited Afghanistanwith helping to capture the Taliban militants who orchestrated the attack on a Peshawar school in December that killed 150 people.
    Maj. Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, the Pakistani Army spokesman, told reporters that the Afghan security forces had captured six militants who had been linked to the attack. Afghanistan has also stepped up intelligence and military cooperation along the countries’ mutual border, he said.

    The public acknowledgment contrasted sharply with the antagonistic relationship between the countries only last year, when Afghan officials accused Pakistan of cross-border shelling that killed Afghan civilians, and Pakistanis accused the Afghans of sheltering Taliban fugitives.
    But relations have visibly warmed since September under the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, and the reconciliation has been encouraged by the United States and other major powers in the region.
    Last week, six Afghan Army cadets arrived in Pakistan for a training course at Pakistan’s main military academy. And in Islamabad on Thursday, the visiting Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, publicly offered China’s help in mediating between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul — a gesture clearly made with Pakistani support.
    Still, previous periods of decreased tension between the two countries have ended abruptly, and this one might be no different. Pakistan is still seeking the capture of six Taliban fugitives linked to the Peshawar attack — including the movement’s leader, Maulana Fazlullah — who are believed to be hiding in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.
    General Bajwa made the comments about Afghanistan at a briefing in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, during which he provided a detailed account of the planning and execution of the Peshawar attack.
    He said that the army had taken 12 people into custody in the attack, which involved 27 people and was led by a commander known as Hajji Kamran. Before the assault, the attackers based themselves in the Khyber tribal district, on the edge of Peshawar, before dividing into two groups that hid at a mosque and a house in Peshawar on the eve of the attack, the general said.
    The military has since arrested a cleric associated with the Taliban cell, and is offering a $25,000 reward for the capture of Hazrat Ali, another militant.
    But, he added, the assault had been masterminded by the Taliban leader, Mr. Fazlullah, from his base in Afghanistan.
    Pakistan has renewed its requests for Afghan assistance in capturing him.
    “He is a known terrorist. His capture and handover to Pakistan are being discussed with the Afghan leadership,” General Bajwa said. “We are hopeful that we will hear a quick response from them in this regard.”

    Video Music - Dawn Richard - Choices: The Interlude

    U.S. eases restrictions on imports from private Cubans

    The United States on Friday eased restrictions on imports of goods and services from private Cuban entrepreneurs as part of Washington's rapprochement with Havana after more than half a century of enmity.
    However, the U.S. State Department said many goods were excluded from the liberalization, including tobacco, vegetables and some textiles, and it was unclear whether Cuba would relax its own rules to permit Cubans to export to the United States.
    The U.S. State Department said the import of all goods and services was now allowed except in certain broad categories, which also include live animals, vehicles, mineral products, machinery and some base metals.
    A full list of the exclusions can be found on the State Department website. (
    The move is the latest step toward normalization after the United States and Cuba agreed on Dec. 17 to begin the process of restoring diplomatic ties and U.S. President Barack Obama called for an end to the long economic embargo against its old Cold War enemy.
    "They are changing the thrust of U.S. policy to allow the private sector in Cuba to blossom," said Pedro Freyre, chair of law firm Akerman LLP's international practice.
    "Of course there are two ends to this. We are still waiting to see how it is going to play out inCuba."
    Under Cuban law, private sector entrepreneurs cannot independently import and export products or services without a government license. However, artists are allowed to sell their work to foreigners, and there is also an exotic bird cooperative that obtained a license in 2013.
    Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center in Alexandria, Virginia, said the step put the ball in Cuba’s court to see how it would react to opening up the private sector.
    "It’s a very important barrier that’s been broken. We’ll see how the Cuban government reacts," he said, saying Obama was opening up trade in broad categories. "He’s not micro-managing. President Obama is leaving it to the imagination of both sides."
    It was not immediately clear, however, what Cuban goods would find their way to the U.S. market. One sanctions expert suggested that these could include such items as artisanal soap, pottery and jewelry.
    After 18 months of secret talks, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in a Dec. 17 phone call on a breakthrough prisoner exchange, the formal reopening of embassies and an easing of some restrictions on commerce.
    Obama's call for an end to the economic embargo drew resistance from Republicans who in January took control of both houses of Congress and who oppose normal relations with the Communist-run island.
    However, Obama said he was ending what he called a rigid and outdated policy of isolatingCuba that had failed to achieve change on the Communist-led island.
    His administration's policy shift includes allowing use of U.S. credit and debit cards, increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cubans and allowing export of telecommunications devices and services.
    Beyond securing permission from their own authorities, another problem for potential Cuban exporters may be coming up with "documentary evidence" that will satisfy the U.S. government that they are indeed private entrepreneurs.
    "The problem is going to be proving that it is in fact a private-sector exporter," said Cari Stinebower, a partner with the law firm Crowell & Moring.

    Making the Ukraine Cease-Fire Stick

    A “glimmer of hope” but “no illusion” was the inauspicious way Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, described the Ukraine cease-fire she and President François Hollande of France brokered in talks in Minsk, Belarus, with Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine. Ms. Merkel certainly deserves a lot of credit for her determined shuttling among Kiev, Moscow, Munich, Washington and Minsk in the urgent search for a resolution of the biggest security crisis to confront Europe since the end of the Cold War.
    The last cease-fire negotiated in Minsk, in September, quickly unraveled, and the new one is very limited, leaving hard problems to be settled in coming weeks and months. And in the end, it is still for Mr. Putin to decide whether this is to be a real step toward peace or just another cynical feint in his campaign to dismember Ukraine.
    Mr. Putin won a lot in Minsk. The fact that the cease-fire is to start on Sunday — and not immediately, as the Ukrainians wanted — gives the Ukrainian separatists a couple more days to press their siege on Debaltseve, a key rail hub where thousands of Ukrainian troops are surrounded, and in their attack on the Black Sea port of Mariupol. If the cease-fire does take hold, which is far from certain, both sides are to pull their heavy weapons out of range of each other. Then the deal requires both sides to withdraw “foreign” fighters and equipment, though Mr. Putin has never acknowledged the obvious presence of Russian forces and weapons in eastern Ukraine.
    On the political side, the agreement says Ukraine can recover full control over its border with Russia by the end of 2015, after local elections in rebel-held areas and constitutional changes that would give these areas considerable autonomy. The degree of self-rule for pro-Russian regions of eastern Ukraine is at the core of any sustainable settlement, but the negotiations will take place while Russia remains free to move men and equipment over the border.
    In short, the deal is a bitter pill for Mr. Poroshenko. But he was right to accept it, and Ms. Merkel and Mr. Hollande were right to press it. The conflict has already taken 5,400 lives and has displaced hundreds of thousands, and it has ravaged Ukraine’s most industrialized regions.
    Ukraine, moreover, is an economic mess, with inflation running at about 30 percent and the currency in sharp decline. Coinciding with the conclusion of the Minsk negotiations, the International Monetary Fund announced it would grant a new lifeline to Ukraine. But to get the money, Ukraine needs to start carrying out internal reforms, and for that, it needs a respite from conflict.
    Russia, too, finds itself in tough economic straits as a result of economic sanctions and the fall in oil prices. Mr. Putin finds himself increasingly ostracized in the West and potentially facing not only more sanctions but a Ukraine armed with lethal Western weaponry. One reason Ms. Merkel and Mr. Hollande may have embarked on their peace mission last week, apart from increased fighting in Ukraine, was a growing clamor in the United States Congress to send lethal arms to Ukraine. That would be an irresponsible and dangerous move in the current situation, but it added urgency to the Europeans’ mission.
    What remains incontrovertible is that Ukraine is Mr. Putin’s war. Mr. Putin has been offered a far better deal than he deserves. Now it is imperative for the West to keep his feet to the fire; there should be no easing of sanctions until he demonstrates a willingness to live by the agreements reached in Minsk. And if he does not, there should be no doubt of more sanctions.

    Video Report - Doubts in Ukraine over ceasefire

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    Video - Romance at the White House

    Is Clinton Versus Bush a Lock for 2016?

    The early jockeying for the 2016 presidential campaign is well underway and there is a stark difference of circumstances between the two major parties.  A rather large field of Republicans is taking a hard look at running for the White House next year.  For the moment, that list begins with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.  A recent Quinnipiac poll found Bush to be a strong contender in three crucial swing states for 2016—Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.  Historically, candidates who win two out of those three states become president.
    Bush was a clear favorite for the Republican nomination in his home state of Florida.  But he was less of a clear favorite in the other two states, where he has competition from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Bush garnered 10 percent support in Ohio and 12 percent in Pennsylvania with several other contenders trailing close behind.  As Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown noted, Bush is nowhere near the frontrunner that Hillary Clinton is on the Democratic side.
    Clinton was the clear favorite for the Democratic nomination in all three states for 2016.  Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren trailed far behind.  Biden has yet to announce what his plans are for 2016 while Warren has repeatedly said she is not running.  There are other Democrats waiting in the wings, however, including former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Vermont’s Independent Senator, Bernie Sanders and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb.
    Clinton will receive some sort of challenge from within the Democratic Party.  But for the moment, pollster Brown sees no major challenger emerging who would pose a genuine threat to her at this early stage of the race.  “She is very popular with Democrats.  She is also very well known, which has an upside and a downside.  But there is no doubt that she is the overwhelming frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 2016 if she chooses to run.”
    Alternatives to Bush 
    On the Republican side, Jeb Bush would seem to be a strong contender along the lines of previous nominees such as his brother, George W. Bush, in 2000, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.  But it’s also clear that plenty of Republicans are not intimidated by the prospect of a Bush candidacy.  That includes current and former governors like Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and George Pataki.  Five sitting senators have also expressed varying degrees of interest about the race:  Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
    Two veterans of the 2012 primary campaign also seem to be preparing for a run--former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Texas Governor Rick Perry.  And there are some newcomers to the national political scene who are not as well-known who may run including former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, retired surgeon Ben Carson and businesswoman Carly Fiorina.
    But the Republican field starts with Jeb Bush, who is already being asked to compare himself to the two former presidents in his family, his father, George H.W. Bush, and his brother, George W. Bush.  Bush argues he already escaped the shadow of his better known relatives during his eight years as governor of Florida.  “People knew that I wasn’t just the brother of (former President) George W. and the son of my beloved dad.  I was my own person.”
    Bush remains a favorite of many mainstream Republicans who want to field the strongest possible candidate to counter the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.  But Bush could encounter opposition from Republicans looking for a fresh face in 2016, says Republican analyst Scot Faulkner.  “Jeb was an excellent governor in Florida.  [But]  Jeb’s got the wrong name.  I mean, America fought a revolution so we don’t have dynasties.”
    Democrats seem split on a Bush candidacy.  Some see him as the strongest possible nominee to face off against Hillary Clinton.  But others, like pollster Stan Greenberg, argued that there is still a negative hangover that Jeb Bush would have to contend with stemming from his brother’s time in office.  “What surprised us was how weak Jeb Bush is [in a recent poll] and as one gets into an election cycle, the prospect of a Clinton-Bush election with all that that suggests, Jeb Bush faces major problems, a shellacking perhaps.”
    Struggling for Visibility
    Among those hoping to become a fresh face for Republican voters is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a favorite among libertarians who want to limit the role of government.  “I am probably about as fiscally conservative as they come.  I am a leader in the balanced budget movement.  But I am also someone who believes in a strong national defense but not that every war is a good war to be involved with.”
    Paul’s reluctance to commit U.S. troops to fight in foreign wars sets him apart from other Republican contenders like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  They argue for a tougher U.S. line on Iran and the Islamic State and do not rule out the need for U.S. ground troops to roll back Islamic State gains in the Middle East.
    A preview of the 2016 Republican debates on dealing with the Islamic State will play out in the weeks ahead when the Senate takes up President Obama’s proposal for an authorization of force to expand and sustain military operations against ISIL.  The Senate debate should offer voters plenty of indication as to how far the various Republican White House hopefuls would go in any military effort targeting the Islamic State.
    A recent poll targeting three crucial states in U.S. presidential elections—Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida—found Jeb Bush with a slight lead in the large Republican field.  But Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown says it is still too early to draw many conclusions about next year’s campaign.  “The tentative leader, if there is one, is probably Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and obviously the son of one president and the brother of another.  Mr. Bush is not anywhere near as strong a candidate for the Republican nomination as Mrs. Clinton is for the Democratic nomination.  Mr. Bush is probably the candidate best able to compete everyplace.”
    Some Republicans hope to avoid a repeat of the 2012 Republican primary campaign.  Mitt Romney eventually emerged as the nominee but only after he took a lot of political hits from a large field of Republican rivals.  But Republican strategist Phillip Stutts says this year’s emerging crop of Republican contenders is much stronger and deserves to be heard through numerous debates.  “We should put all these candidates out.  Let the process play out.  Let the smart guys out there talk about their policies.  Let’s have a robust debate and have fun with it and see what comes out of that.”
    Even though no one has officially jumped into the race, the debate among Republican contenders has already begun and from all the early indications it looks to be a lengthy, difficult and exciting battle for the Republican nomination well into next year.

    Video - President Obama Speaks at the Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection Summit

    President Obama: Cybersecurity 'has to be a Shared Mission'

    President Obama calls triple N.C. shooting of three Muslim students "brutal and outrageous"

    President Obama issued a statement calling the murders of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C., "brutal and outrageous."
    "No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship," read the statement.
    Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were shot to death in their apartment in Chapel Hill on Tuesday evening. Their neighbor, Craig Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the case.
    Police have said that the victims may have been targeted because Hicks was unhappy with them over how they used the apartment complex parking lot. Multiple neighbors have told reporters that Hicks routinely had people's cars towed and a local towing company told CBS affiliate WRAL that he called so often they banned trucks from towing people at Hicks' request. "He was aggressive when it came to things like parking and noise," Samantha Maness told the Raleigh News and Observer. "There were a lot of instances of him getting people's cars towed, being very aggressive toward visitors and residents."
    Maness said that the neighbors organized a meeting to talk about how Hicks was making "everyone feel uncomfortable and unsafe." She told WRAL that he was "very angry anytime I saw him."
    Dr. Mohammad Yousif Abu-Salha, the father of the two female victims, says he believes his daughters and son-in-law were killed because of their religion and has asked that the case be investigated as a hate crime.
    "Let's stand up and be honest and see what these three children were martyred about. It was not about a parking spot," Abu-Salah said during the memorial service at North Carolina State University, reports the Associated Press.
    The FBI issued a statement Thursday saying that they are looking into the case and Obama echoed that, stating today that the FBI "is taking steps to determine whether federal laws were violated."
    Obama closed his statement by quoting one of the victims:
    "Growing up in America has been such a blessing," Yusor said recently. "It doesn't matter where you come from. There's so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions - but here, we're all one."

    Video Report - Pakistan - Asia bibi telling truth about her case on media

    آسیہ بی بی سے سب سچ سچ بتا دیا by christiansinpk

    Video Report - Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi: Family Living In Fear

    Pakistan - 7 militants killed in Tirah air strikes

    Seven suspected militants were killed and 15 others injured in air strikes by Pakistan Air Force planes in Tirah valley in Khyber tribal region on Thursday. 
    Official sources said that PAF planes targeted militant hideouts in Dwa Thoe, Sarrai, Sheikh Kot, Tor Darra, Nangrosa and Speen Drand localities early in the morning.
    They said that at least seven militants were killed and 15 injured in the air sorties which destroyed seven hideouts, officials said.
    \On Monday, 12 suspected militants were killed and 15 others injured in similar attacks in the same localities.
    The official claim about casualties could not be independently verified.  
    The banned Lashkar-i-Islam group’s spokesman, Salamuddin Ayubi, told Dawn by phone that military planes had targeted civilian houses and that none of their men had been killed.
    He warned of carrying out attacks in unidentified cities in Punjab if military operation against the out­fit was not stopped forthwith.

    Pakistan - ISI cultivated Taliban to counter Indian action against Pakistan: Musharraf

    Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani military ruler accused of sheltering and supporting the Taliban after 2001, has called for an end to the backing of militant “proxies” in Afghanistan.
    In an interview with the Guardian, Musharraf admitted that when he was in power, Pakistan sought to undermine the government of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai because Karzai had “helped India stab Pakistan in the back”. But now the time had come to “totally cooperate” with Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president since September, who Musharraf believes is “the last hope for peace in the region”.
    “In President Karzai’s times, yes, indeed, he was damaging Pakistan and therefore we were working against his interest. Obviously we had to protect our own interest,” Musharraf said. “But now President Ashraf Ghani has come and he is trying to restore balance in Afghanistan. We must totally cooperate with him.” 
    In his first months in office, Ghani has sought to woo Pakistan in a way Musharraf could only have dreamed of in the critical years between the US-led intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, and 2008, when Musharraf was finally forced from power. Ghani has not only suspended a planned weapons deal with India, but also diverted troops to fight against anti-Pakistan militant groups in eastern Afghanistan.
    For Musharraf, the most welcome development was Ghani’s decision this month to send six army cadets for training at Pakistan’s officer academy in the town of Abbottabad. Karzai infuriated both Musharraf and Ashfaq Kayani, his successor as army chief, by spurning offers to help train Afghanistan’s embryonic army. Instead, Karzai sent cadets to India, where Musharraf believes they were “indoctrinated” against Pakistan.
    Speaking in his luxurious Karachi home, the former army chief repeatedly hinted at what is now widely accepted among diplomats and analysts: that the nominal western ally assisted both Nato forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban they were fighting against in a bid to counter the perceived influence of arch-rival India. “Pakistan had its own proxies, India had its proxies, which is unhealthy. I do admit this, it is most unhealthy. It is not in favour of Afghanistan, or Pakistan or India. It must stop,” he said.
    Musharraf said Pakistani spies in the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) cultivated the Taliban after 2001 because Karzai’s government was dominated by non-Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, and officials who were thought to favour India. “Obviously we were looking for some groups to counter this Indian action against Pakistan,” he said. “That is where the intelligence work comes in. Intelligence being in contact with Taliban groups. Definitely they were in contact, and they should be.”
    The army remains deeply suspicious of India, a country that has beaten Pakistan in three conflicts since independence and played a critical role in the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. Musharraf insists he is not an “India hater”, but bristles at what he says is western bias towards Pakistan’s giant neighbour. “‘India is the greatest democracy, promoter of human rights and democratic culture’? All bullshit,” he said. “There is no human rights. The religion itself is anti-human rights. In the rural areas, if even the shadow of an untouchable goes on a pandit, that man can be killed.”
    Like many soldiers, he is convinced that India, through its Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), backs regional separatists in an effort to break up Pakistan. “The RAW of India, the ISI of Pakistan have always been fighting against each other since our independence. That is how it continued, it continues now also.
    “It must stop, but it can only stop when leaderships on both sides show the will to resolve disputes and stop confrontation in favour of compromise and accommodation.”
    Musharraf has become increasingly vocal in recent months as his position in the country steadily improves after he suffered a series of setbacks in the wake of his disastrous return from self-exile in 2013. A ban on standing in elections quashed his hopes of entering parliament. He was ensnared by a series of legal cases, including one murder charge. Most seriously of all, Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999, won a landslide victory and initiated a treason trial for which the former dictator could be hanged if found guilty.
    But Sharif’s power has been curbed by a series of bruising fights with Pakistan’s powerful military establishment and the treason case now appears tied up in legal wrangling. Musharraf is still banned from leaving the country, which he says deprives him not just of the lucrative international lecture circuit, but also access to his homes in London and Dubai. He says he misses his old life in his two favourite cities, where he could go to restaurants alone without the vast security required to protect him in Pakistan.
    But he says his problems are nearly behind him, and that he has the army to thank. “I’m very proud of my institution. Whatever they are doing to help me, to protect the honour and dignity of their ex-chief, I’m proud of that,” he said.