Friday, February 20, 2015

Lavrov: Foreign interference caused outbreak of extremism, terrorism

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the foreign interference in the affairs the Middle East countries and the nonchalance about the future of their people have caused extremism and terrorism to spread.
He attributed the current state of affairs in a number of countries [in the region] to the blatant interference in its internal affairs. “This flagrant interference and the disregard for the fate of peoples have caused extremism and terrorism to metastasize.”
During his meeting with Patriarch John X Yazigi, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East who is on a visit to Russia, Lavrov reiterated that Russia is working on reaching a peaceful solution to the crises in Syria and Yemen and on stabilizing the situation in Iraq, adding that Moscow is very worried over the situation in Libya.
For his part, Patriarch Yazigi expressed appreciation for the Russian stances and efforts exerted to reach a peaceful settlement to problems in the Middle East region.
Following the meetings, Patriarch Yazigi granted Lavrov medal of Saints Paul & Peter, a prestigious religious medal, for his efforts to bring about peace and in appreciation for the Russian role in providing humanitarian and political aid to the countries of the region.

Turkey - Have AKP's policies caused rise in violence against women?

By Pinar Tremblay

The BBC reported on Feb. 17 that her name had been tweeted 4.6 million times. Ozgecan Aslan was not even 20 years old when she fell victim to a brutal murder. She was a college student in the southern town of Mersin in Turkey. While returning home from class on the afternoon of Feb. 11, the minibus driver attempted to rape her. She did as Minister of Family and Social Policies Aysenur Islam had recommended: women and children in distress should “learn to scream.” Aslan screamed, fought and used her pepper spray against her attacker. There are scratch marks on the murderer’s face. He got mad at her for resisting the assault and stabbed her with his knife. According to him, she was not dead when he called for help from his father and a friend, both of whom complied. Things then only get worse. It is not just murder, but the attempt to get rid of the evidence by cutting off Aslan's hands and burning her corpse. Reading the detailed accounts of the murderers, one cannot help but feel deep sorrow, embarrassment, fear and fury.

In September 2014, Al-Monitor reported that between 2003 and 2010, there had been a 1,400% increase in the number of slain women in Turkey.
Islam criticized the media in October 2014 for their insistence to dwell on these murders. Although official numbers have not been released for 2014, researchers have compiled records of at least 281 women murdered. The murder rate of women rose 31% from 2013 to 2014, and in January 2015 alone, 26 women were murdered in Turkey. Aslan’s murder highlighted the fact that less than 6% of all prosecutors who deal with rape cases are female. Pundits claim a male-dominated courtroom along with lax laws encourage attacks on women.
Two intriguing points in the aftermath of Aslan’s murder are noteworthy. First, as the public uproar started, a few regular Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters tried to silence the resentful voices. This backfired with a vengeance. Some examples of high-profile tweets follow:
On Feb. 14, Cemile Bayraktar, a female hijabi blogger for the pro-AKP daily Yeni Safak tweeted: "Muslim country, rape … try not to be a greedy opportunist, in the US every two minutes a woman gets raped. Now, shut your mouth." Her tweet generated hundreds of angry replies. One person replied: “So you are telling us if you were raped, you would be pleased about it, and you would continue with your life?”
Another provocative tweet was written by a popular television personality, Nihat Dogan. He tweeted on Feb. 14: “Women wearing miniskirts and getting naked don't have the right to make a fuss if they are harassed by perverts deprived of morals due to the secular system." He faced a stronger backlash than Bayraktar, losing several of his professional contracts and being ostracized on social media.
For the first time, other AKP supporters did not defend the outrageous statements of these pro-AKP public faces. The reason being they did not correctly predict President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reaction. Erdogan did not remain quiet and approached the matter with sincere humility. His daughters visited Aslan’s mourning family. Erdogan and his wife also promptly offered condolences to the family. Indeed, Erdogan stood tall and pledged his time and attention to the family to bring the murderers to justice. He said, “This could have happened to any one of our daughters.”
Indeed, Erdogan's statements led the lone pro-AKP voices, who had attempted to turn this hideous crime into blaming the victim, to retract their words. For the first time, pro-AKP figures had not found support and were left vulnerable to social lynching. One prominent religious figure, Cubbeli Ahmet Hoca, declared Aslan a martyr.
The second crucial point is the spontaneous campaign that was started on social media with the hashtag #sendeanlat (you tell your story). Under this hashtag, women from all walks of life shared their stories of sexual and physical harassment. The floodgates to shocking revelations had been opened. Over 1 million tweets were posted. These devastating firsthand accounts of victims showed no women in Turkey were immune to sexual harassment; it affects minors, hijabis, the elderly and disabled, those living in urban and rural areas, those with little education and graduate degrees, the rich and poor and tourists and locals. All these women had been taught since early childhood to hide in shame and remain quiet in the face of rape and sexual harassment. Now it was out in the open.
However, not all reactions were in support. Female columnist Sevda Turkusev from Yeni Safak tweeted: “Come to your senses. Go tell these stories to a doctor, not on social media. Do you think you will all become movie stars by airing your dirty laundry here?” Other voices urged all cases of rape and sexual harassment to remain untold, according to the Turkish honor code.
Photos of Aslan, smiling, decorate taxis, buses and buildings. Women, men and children have heeded the call to “wear black” to show their sorrow and protest. Yet, experts fear soon this populist fanfare will subside and murderers and rapists will continue to be released after short sentences.
The People’s Democracy Party deputy chairwoman, Hatice Altinisik, responsible for people and their beliefs, told Al-Monitor, “We are trying to survive male terror every day.” Altinisik emphasized how the AKP still fails to provide real policy solutions to these deep-rooted problems. She said, “They are still proposing band-aid solutions, not a real cure. Pink buses are fine, but where do we go after we get off the pink bus?” Indeed, the latest perplexing AKP solution to prevent another case of brutal murder came from the Higher Education Board (YOK). YOK announced that class times would be changed, so that female students can get home before sunset.
In other words, the AKP's policies do not help to make the streets, or police headquarters for that matter, safe for women.
However, is getting home before sunset and using gender-segregated transportation a viable solution? For instance, in one case, a husband murdered his hijabi wife of 9 years, because he was convinced her body and voice resembled that of a porn star he had watched. The court considered his jealousy as an extenuating circumstance and lowered his prison term.
Researchers have listed several reasons a man could receive a reduced sentence for murder or rape, such as: a man who says, “she was wearing jeans; she came home an hour late; there were birth control pills in her purse”; a rapist who could not complete the attempted rape; a victim who fails to scream during rape, which is viewed as giving consent and criminals who come across as well mannered in court. Yet, there has never been a discussion on “registering sex offenders” in Turkey. With this mindset, perpetrators of sexual crimes receive a slap on the wrist at best. We must remember it was the AKP government that looked the other way during the Gezi Park protests, while female protesters were systematically sexually abused by the police.
Sexual and physical harassment of women has been a pervasive and long-term problem in Turkey. While it did not start with the AKP government, they remain unconvinced that its faulty policies and dangerous rhetoric have contributed to the number of murdered females to skyrocket. A hope for change is therefore fruitless.

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9/11 families' attorney still wants to haul Saudi Arabia into court

T.J. Raphael

In 2002, the Sept. 11 victims' families filed a lawsuit in federal court against the government of Saudi Arabia for their alleged role in funding and supporting al-Qaeda. The lawsuit floundered in 2013 amidst delays and a lack of substantial evidence, but new information has emerged that may resurrect the lawsuit.
Statements from former al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui suggest that members of the Saudi royal family had been major donors to the terrorist group as recently as the late 1990s.
Moussaoui gave his account last October to Jerry Goldman, a shareholder at Anderson Kill law firm and a lawyer for Sept. 11 victims' families, and other lawyers from the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where he is serving a life sentence.
“He has absolutely nothing to gain from this testimony, except for telling the truth,” says Goldman.
The Saudi government rejects Moussaoui’s 100-page testimony, which describes a close relationship between the government of Saudi Arabia and the al-Qaeda operatives who planned the 9/11 attacks. But Goldman says Moussaoui’s testimony fits within a broad historical pattern.
“The bad behavior that we allege of the Saudi royal family goes back a considerable period of time, and perhaps it’s still continuing,” he says. “That relevance is important, and most importantly, it’s relevance that the American people as a whole — not just the victims of 9/11 — need to understand what happened and [to know] that people are finally held accountable for the wrongs that they caused.”
In light of Moussaoui’s testimony, some believe the lawsuit should go ahead. But Goldman says it appears that the US government is shielding the Saudis.
“In our view, all of the information has not been released,” he says. “We’ve been working at this for 12 years and we’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s more progress to be made.”
Goldman says that he is waiting for the government to release the 28 pages redacted from the 9/11 Commission Report and the papers seized from Osama bin Laden's home in Pakistan several years ago — something federal officials have yet to do.
“We are confident at this point that when all of the evidence is revealed that our theory of the case linking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to 9/11 will be found in a court of law,” he says. “The American people and the victims will then have justice.”
More than a decade after the towers collapsed, some are asking why this testimony hasn’t come out sooner. Moussaoui years ago gave his account to an attorney representing the family of former FBI counterterrorism chief John O'Neill, who died in the 9/11 attacks. O'Neill was believed to be among the most knowledgeable US officials on the connection between the late Osama Bin Laden and the Saudi royal family.
“I think John O’Neill would have been happy that people were finally asking Zacarias Moussaoui questions,” says Goldman. “I think the question that really arises is why didn’t the government really ask Zacarias Moussaoui the questions that we did? It’s clear that they didn’t during the course of his trial, and the judge at that trial raised that in a recent book: Why didn’t they try to flip him?"

#RaifBadawi: Why won’t Saudi Arabia talk about blogger’s flogging?

IT WAS the brutal flogging which shocked the world.
But Saudi Arabia is remaining tight-lipped over the punishment handed down to blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to a public flogging every week for 20 weeks for insulting Islam.
The father-of-three was publicly whipped last month, receiving the first 50 lashes in an act which made global headlines.
One eyewitness told human rights organisation Amnesty International that Badawi was lashed on his back and legs without any break for at least five minutes.
He was flogged after Friday prayers when he was lashed 50 times outside al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah and was set to receive the same punishment every week for months.
However, Saudi authorities delayed the second and subsequent rounds after health officials said his wounds had not yet healed.
Badawi was sentenced in May to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for criticising Saudi Arabia’s powerful clerics and ridiculing the country’s morality police on a liberal blog he founded.
The Jeddah Criminal Court also ordered he pay a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals, or about $266,000.
The lashes are to be administered over 20 weekly sessions, with 50 lashes each week.
Badawi avoided further flogging last Friday, Amnesty International said, marking the fifth straight week that his 1000-lash sentence has not been carried out.
There has been no reason for more recent delays but the case has focused attention on the kingdom’s human rights record.
It is not known why the punishment was delayed or if it has been called off with Amnesty calling for the immediate release of the 31-year-old and for the punishment to go no further.
“Raef was not flogged again today. We’re not sure why but he remains in prison,” Amnesty, the London-based rights group, said on its Twitter account last week.
His brutal punishment follows his arrest in 2012 after he created an online forum that his wife Ensaf Haidar insists was meant to encourage discussion about faith.
Following his arrest, his wife and children Najwa, Tirad and Myriyam left the kingdom for Canada.
Last year, Badawi was initially sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in relation to the charges. But after an appeal, the judge stiffened the punishment.
The delay in his brutal punishment comes as a Norwegian parliamentarian nominated Badawi and his imprisoned lawyer Waleed Abulkhair for this year’s Nobel Peace prize.
In January an appeals court ordered Abulkhair to serve the full 15 years of his jail sentence.
He was convicted last July on a series of charges including “inciting public opinion” but the last five years of the sentence were initially suspended.
The two activists were convicted during the reign of King Abdullah, who died on January 23 and was succeeded by his half-brother Salman.


By Alessandro Bruno
Libya is in chaos; it has been since the West (especially France) and Qatar-aided civil war that brought an end to Colonel Qadhafi’s regime, which had lasted 41 years and guaranteed, if not democracy, the kind of stability that is now sorely missing from the North African country.
The emergence of Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya is just the latest, if predictable, iteration of Libya’s anarchy. The increased numbers of migrants venturing to reach European (Italian) shores, whom traffickers have been forcing aboard crafts unsuitable to navigate stormy winter waters, are but one example of the fertile ground that Libya offers for criminal activity. Over 300 migrants went missing last week trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, while the survivors who made it across spoke of an increasingly difficult situation in Tripoli. The reported beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts, kidnapped by an ISIS-linked group in Derna (in the east) only served to highlight Libya’s deepening crisis.
The country continues to be divided politically by two governments and two parliaments. And in recent weeks, ISIS affiliates have strengthened and conquered new territories, which Egypt has already attacked following the killing of its 21 citizens. A diplomatic solution in the short-term seems impossible (there is no credible interlocutor) and, encouraged by Egypt’s President Mohammed al-Sisi, who seems highly motivated to lead a major military campaign (perhaps to distract his people from chronic social and economic problems), the EU and United States appear increasingly interested in pursuing a military solution.
A military solution, however, would be at best ill-considered and at worst catastrophic; after all, it was outside military intervention that is largely responsible for Libya’s current mess.
The main reason why a military intervention, even one in the guise of a peacekeeping mission, is unwarranted is the sheer complexity of its crisis, which, Islamic State aside, had already become more complicated and difficult over the course of the last year. One of the main problems is that by intervening, any international force would necessarily have to adopt a local political ally – either the Eastern ‘government’ in Bayda led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani (and backed by General Haftar) or the Western government in Tripoli led by ‘Dawn of Libya,’ a group related to the Muslim Brotherhood and backed by Islamist militias. Both are threatened by ISIS, but foreign military intrusion would be biased and rather than restoring the conditions for the resumption of a political process extended to all of Libya’s social and tribal components, it would likely choose to back General Haftar’s forces and ultimate rule.
Indeed there is some blame to be dispensed involving Libya’s descent into its present catastrophic situation. The idea to make Libya, intended as a union of the three former Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan, into a single state was the brainchild of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1932. After the fall of the Qadhafi regime in 2011, Libya has suffered a ‘bit of everything.’ There were two parliamentary elections (2012 and 2014), even though Libya remained effectively under the control of dozens of militias. Many political entities, under militia influence, refused to recognize the electoral results of 2014, deciding to establish an alternative government and parliament in Bayda. Then there is Libya’s geography: Libya has six million inhabitants and covers an area six times Italy or five times France. Most Libyans live on the coast, the rest of the territory is practically desert. There are two major regions, separated by the Gulf of Sirte: Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the east. The current struggle, in broad terms, is between the Bayda government, in eastern Libya, recognized by the international community and the “Dawn of Libya” in Tripoli. The foreign coalition would have to decide which of these two governments to support, once again causing excessive interference in Libya’s affairs. Moreover, there are divisions within the divisions. Gen. Khalifa Haftar (who was once a Qadhafi ally, participating in the 1969 coup against the monarchy), at first seemed willing to lead a coup against al-Thinni. Today he is his “ally,” which is true insofar as fighting Islamist militias (his forces have control of some aircraft, which have been used to conduct bombardments against enemies).
And what of Islamic State and its presence in Libya? There are two Libyan cities controlled at least in part by militias considered close to the Islamic State: Derna in eastern Libya not too far from Beyda, and Sirte, not too far from Tripoli, which has been under attack in the past few days. It seems that ISIS in Libya is formed mainly by Libyans who have returned from the war in Syria, and according to some counts, there are about a thousand of them.
Egypt openly supports General Haftar and the legitimate government and has launched a series of bombings on targets believed to be ISIS training camps and weapons depots; what’s to stop him from attacking the Tripoli government? The threats to Europe are mainly to Italy, whose government hinted that Italy would be willing to send a military contingent in the framework of international law, under the UN and possibly as a peacekeeping mission. Italy is the European country closest to Libya, geographically and economically. Italy imported at least a fifth of its oil and a tenth of its natural gas from Libya (although supplies have been erratic over the last two years). However, of great concern is that the current Libyan situation has served as one of the main causes of the increase in arrivals of immigrants through the central Mediterranean (more than one hundred thousand in 2014, twice the amount of 2013). Nevertheless, armed intervention in Libya would pave the way for a new bloody war that would fuel ever more terrorism, increase instability, and not help the victims.
After the dramatic failure of the intervention against Qadhafi in 2011- which opened the current Pandora’s Box – a Western war in Libya would not lead to any solution, though it would give ISIS and other jihadist factions a chance to re-launch their “holy war” against the new crusaders. The political and military authorities of two, if not three, governments claiming sovereignty are already dealing with dozens of jihadi militias fighting each other, often on swiftly changing fronts– and all this before ISIS got involved. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have played their role in backing some of the militias, fighting each other by proxy (as in Syria), while Egypt’s President al-Sisi, not really a champion of democracy, is eying the possibility of gaining some Libyan territory and/or is using Libya as a distraction from Egypt’s many problems. Current military solutions discussed by the West suggest the deployment of a few thousand troops, perhaps comparing the mission to that of UNIFIL in Lebanon.
However, UNIFIL is totally different. There is an agreement between Israel and Hezbollah that, at the time, has allowed for the UN to deploy a peacekeeping force; in Libya there is total anarchy, and Western forces would only add to that anarchy. It is impossible to intervene with a peacekeeping force if there is no peace to keep. An intervention of this type requires at least an agreement between two parties fighting over a territory. In Libya, there are multiple parties and no agreements. It would take tens of thousands of troops to have any real impact. Military intervention makes no sense and, as impossible or difficult as it sounds, a political solution is the only way – even if it means breaking Libya into a federation as it was in the years before Qadhafi. The West has confronted the problem of terrorism since 2001 through military means, achieving absolutely nothing but military occupation of so-called ‘rogue’ states, generating even more terrorism. Finally, the interventions against Qadhafi, misguided as that was in hindsight, cannot be used as an excuse to intervene again now. The one against Muammar Gaddafi was an intervention against a state that no longer exists. Now the West would be intervening in a country torn by civil war, like Somalia.
ISIS flags may be flying in Tripoli, trying to take over where the Muslim Brotherhood began, but Qadhafi did ‘tell us so.’

Video - A bloodbath in Libya

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French Music Video - Indila - Dernière Danse

English subtitles

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Pakistan - PPP united under leadership of Zardari: Sharmila

Special Assistant to Chief Minister Sindh for Culture and Tourism Sharmila Farooqi said likewise the past, Pakistan People’s Party was strong and united under leadership of Asif Ali Zardari. All people who are carrying out negative propaganda against PPP will always face disgraced, she said during a meeting with a PPP delegation. Sharmila said, “Zardari is looking after the party in an innovative manner the example of which is before the world.” Sharmila said Zardari’s policy for promotion of democracy and reconciliation had brought prosperity and development in the country, which was appreciated by international powers and the opposition. She said PPP members and workers should not care of any propaganda and remain united among their ranks because PPP had faced such conspiracies since its inception.

Pakistan - The fairness test in Gilgit

By Asha’ar Rehman 

This is ingenuous. Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has been asked so many times to prove the fairness of the 2013 general polls. Now it has been offered an opportunity to vindicate itself through a simple act: by refraining from rigging a forthcoming election in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The idea has come from the ever-innovative Pakistan People’s Party, which, in 2009, gave Gilgit-Baltistan its legislative council, ending the period of direct rule by the Centre. Among its other services to democracy, PPP has been all along going out of its way to allow best friend Nawaz Sharif to prove his commitment to the cause of coexistence.
However, PPP’s Khursheed Shah, the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, is not all that pleased with the Valentine Day gift that his party received from the PML(N) government. He has registered his displeasure over the appointment of a PML(N) minister as governor of Gilgit-Baltistan and his PPP colleague Senator Farhatullah Babar has rightly called the appointment of Barjees Tahir, who happened to be the federal minister looking after Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, as mysterious.
There have been protests, of course apart from the singularly serious one where a group of oppressed journalists let out a loud complaint about congestion at the venue where Governor Tahir was sworn in. There have been the usual reminders about the region’s desire to ally itself with Pakistan at the time of  partition and the PPP workers have been out in the street. The angrier amongst them warn of a Balochistan-like situation developing there.
What would PML(N) now be required to do to pass Khursheed Shah’s fairness test? Obviously, the ideal answer for PPP would be one which takes it back in the GB council in a majority. Anything short of that would, according to Shah’s logic, bring the election in GB as well as the general election in the country held in 2013 into disrepute. This is a very tough ask. Notwithstanding PPP’s ability to hold anyone accountable here, PML(N) is destined for failure here.
Khursheed Shah is asserting the right to coexist in terms of PPP’s hold on certain territories in Pakistan. This theory means that while PPP extends PML(N) support in the name of democracy, the Sharif camp must reciprocate by respecting PPP’s right to govern in its strongholds. Asif Zardari’s party has been trying to assert that right in Sindh, and Shah’s claim on Gilgit-Baltistan is a continuation of the same argument. PPP claims GB just not on the basis of its calculations about its popularity in the area; it appears to be asking for it in return for its valiant support to PML(N) for the grand cause of establishing a democratic order. As public perceptions go, Nawaz Sharif’s alliance with the Army stands restored in the wake of the current anti-militancy drive that he is widely believed to have, finally, committed himself to.
The restoration allows Sharif some respite — not just in terms of his stand-off with Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Imran Khan; it should also make it easier for him to address the demands of his relationship with Zardari. In fact, all the Prime Minister is required to do is to nod his head while the Army Chief advises the Sindh government on how to run its police to drive the common message home.
As he warns of rigging in Gilgit-Baltistan, Opposition leader Khursheed Shah forcefully presses for the Sindh government’s right to fill posts with police officers it deems fit. He is seeking the Prime Minister’s attention, whereas the Prime Minister increasingly has other matters and allies to be occupied with.
These new realities place greater pressures on PPP to diversify, quickly. Zardari’s politics has been in dependency mode for far too long, putting all his eggs in the Nawaz Sharif basket. While his PPP has been boastfully offering grand services to the system at some cost, public perceptions have the party taking a course where it has knowingly and willingly settled for a sharp decline in its influence.
The old Zardari admirers, or whatever remains of them, will now again be watching closely how much and what portions of the Senate his genius can secure for his party. That would be a spectacle of some merit, but no matter how many marks Zardari scores in the Senate, he would be doing his party a real favour if he were to realise that his real vocation lay in Sindh. PPP in Sindh is exposed to many challenges other than the one posed by the joint intervention in its government’s working by the Prime Minister and his Army Chief.
There are signs of rebellion in the ranks that cannot be dispelled by an odd tweet by chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The loyalists would play down reports of a widening rift, but these are powerful enough rumours to adversely affect a party that has found it impossible to do anything to counter its image — that of a group of people incapable of establishing a half efficient government. In the circumstances, tasking the region with some kind of a revival would be too heavy a burden for Gilgit-Baltistan to carry.

Obama tree's loss of leaves causes angst in India

Peepal tree planted by US president in Delhi last month has since lost its foliage but horticulturalists say that’s normal for time of year.
Officials in India want to make one thing clear: the tree that Barack Obama planted in Delhi three weeks ago is not dead. It just looks dead.
The peepal tree was awash in leaves when Obama planted it at the New Delhi memorial to the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. By Thursday, though, it was just a single lonely stem.
Its lack of leaves has been giving Indian officials sleepless nights and there has been criticism from the media for apparently allowing the tree to die less than a month after the US president’s visit.
But the reality is that peepal trees often lose their leaves this time of year.
“It’s a seasonal phenomenon,” said BC Katiyar, a regional government horticulturist, after he and other officials visited the tree and pronounced it to be in good health. “It will send out shoots within the next 10 days.”
The peepal, or Ficus religiosa, is seen as holy by many in Asia as Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment under such a tree in 589BC.

Examining Pakistan's growing sectarian violence

Interview: Gabriel Domínguez
Sectarian violence is on the rise in Pakistan, with a wave of attacks on Shiite mosques killing several dozens over the past weeks. DW speaks to analyst Arif Rafiq about what has triggered the resurgence of the conflict.
Conflicts between the Islamic Republic's Sunni Deobandi and Shiite Muslim groups have increased in brutality, frequency and mortality over the past several years. According to a Middle East Institute (MEI) report, approximately 2,300 people have died in the country's four main provinces and some 1,500 people have lost their lives in the tribal area of the Kurram Agency since 2007. Prominent members of both the Sunni and Shiite groups have fallen victim to the violence in nearly every main city in Pakistan.
The suicide bomb attacks on Shiite mosques of the past few weeks - which claimed the lives of more than 80 people - are being viewed by many as the deadliest sectarian incidents to have hit the South Asian country in over two years. They come as the Pakistani army has intensified efforts to fight militant groups following the Peshawar school attacks last December which left over 150 dead - most of them were children.
In a DW interview, Arif Rafiq, Pakistan analyst and author of the MEI report, talks about the reasons behind the sectarian conflict. The expert argues that while sectarianism has become mainstreamed in nearly all regions of Pakistan, the country is far from being divided on sectarian lines in the way Iraq and Syria have been.
DW: What has triggered the latest round of sectarian violence in Pakistan?
The latest round of sectarian violence in Pakistan is merely a continuation of the targeting of Shiite Muslims by various militant groups who are mainly from the Sunni sub-sect known as the Deobandis. They are one of three main Sunni subsects in Pakistan. The largest Sunni sub-sect, the Barelvis, is not in conflict with the Shiites and, in fact, increasingly cooperates with them on political issues.
And so it's important that we identify this as not a Sunni-Shiite conflict, but a conflict between Sunni Deobandi and Shiite Muslims - with Shiite civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.
In recent weeks, Shiites have been targeted by Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ), Jundullah, and a faction of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Some of these militant groups may focus on killing Shiites, while others may focus on targeting the Pakistani state.
But as a former senior Pakistani law enforcement official told me, the natural fallback position of most Sunni Deobandi militant groups - when other targets are unavailable - is anti-Shiite violence.
What has been at the core of the surge in sectarian violence in Pakistan since 2007?
There are multiple zones of Sunni Deobandi-Shiite sectarian violence in Pakistan and each arena has its own set of causes and networks behind the violence.
Talibanization has been the main causal factor behind anti-Shiite violence in the Kurram Agency near Afghanistan and the southern port city of Karachi. Shiites there resisted Talibanization, and the Pakistani Taliban sought to pummel them into submission.
With respect to Karachi, the TTP initially used the city for financing, logistics, and rest. But when it decided to engage in violence in the city, TTP terrorists - including militants absorbed from existing Sunni Deobandi networks - attacked Shiite neighborhoods and processions with mass casualty attacks.
In Balochistan, what we've seen is the indigenization of Sunni Deobandi militancy there with possible assistance from both anti-state Baloch separatists as well as elements of the Pakistani state.
But more specifically, the uptick in violence there can be attributed to the escape of LeJ commanders from a Quetta prison in suspicious circumstances. LeJ commanders Usman Kurd and Dawood Badini led a viscous campaign against Shiites in Balochistan - especially ethnic Hazaras - that verges on ethnic and religious cleansing.
Who exactly are the networks behind the clashes?
The main groups behind the anti-Shiite violence in Pakistan are Sunni Deobandi militant groups - namely Lashkar-e Jhangvi and the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan.
But with the establishment of an "IS" group in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, we may see Salafi jihadists like "IS" take part in anti-Shiite violence, especially in the Kurram Agency.
While reiterating that the greatest victims of this conflict are Shiite civilians, it must be noted that there are also active Shiite militant networks in Pakistan. Their violence has been reactive and largely restricted to targeting radicals and militants.
But in some instances, Shiite militant networks have gone beyond the regular tit-for-tat, engaging in violence that has exacerbated the sectarian conflict.
What does the TPP expect to gain by targeting Shiite mosques?
Shiites are easy targets for the TTP. If they cannot target the security forces, Shiites are the next best target for them. TTP militants also believe Shiites are disbelievers worthy of being killed. They exaggerate the extent of Shiite influence in Pakistan, often describing the army and government as Shiite or pro-Shiite.
Pakistan Bombenanschlag auf eine Moschee in Shikarpur Protest 30.01.2015
Karachi is one of the cities in Pakistan that has seen anti-shiite violence
What is the Pakistani government's position on this and how has it handled the situation?
The Pakistani government has largely failed to stem the tide of sectarian violence. That is not to say that the Pakistani federal and provincial governments have done nothing to prevent the killings of Shiites. The federal and provincial security forces provide security for Shiite processions, close off the border to prevent attacks during Shiite holy days, and have killed and arrested LeJ terrorists.
But at the same time, as one hand of the Pakistani state fights the LeJ and other terrorists, the other hand engages in deals with their political affiliates, such as the Ahl-e Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ) group.
Politicians from most major political parties, especially the ruling Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz Sharif's party, are guilty of engaging in electoral deals with the ASWJ, despite the group's public declaration that Shiite s are infidels.
And it's unclear whether the military regards anti-Shiite militant networks as great of a threat to Pakistan as expressly anti-state groups like the TTP. So the Pakistani state, in so much as we can regard it as a singular entity, lacks moral and strategic clarity when it comes to sectarian militancy.
Despite the good faith efforts of many elements within the Pakistani state to counter sectarian terrorists, the phenomenon will continue until the top civilian and military leadership confronts it unambiguously.
What can be done to role back the tide?
While sectarianism has become mainstreamed in nearly all regions of Pakistan, the country is far from being divided on sectarian lines in the way Iraq and Syria have been. By confronting the ideas and networks behind sectarian violence, the Pakistani state has the capacity to reverse its tide.
Pakistan Taliban-Überfall auf Schule in Peshawar 16.12.2014
Many children lost their lives in the attack on a Peshawar school last year
Provincial and local officials should enforce existing laws that empower it to curb hate speech and incitement and limit the movement of individuals on terrorist watch lists. The political leadership at the federal and provincial levels must bring radical Sunni Deobandi and Shiite leaders together, getting them to agree to a code of conduct.
The security services should continue operations against the LeJ and TTP in both the border regions with Afghanistan as well as in urban areas across in the country. And above all, the state must do no harm.
The military as well as civilian politicians need to ease out of partnerships with groups that foment hate toward Shiites and other minorities in the country. The longer Pakistan's leaders continue to directly or indirectly aid hate groups, the longer it will be struggling to put out the fires started with its own hands.

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Putin - Russia Will Find Adequate Response to Any Pressure From Outside

Vladimir Putin said the Russian military is ready to act decisively against any external threats. The president also added that in recent years, a lot of work to improve the effectiveness of Russia’s military administration has been carried out.
Russia will always find an adequate response to any external pressures, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a concert dedicated to the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Russia.
“No one should be under any illusion that it is possible to achieve military superiority over Russia or put Russia under any pressure, we will always have an adequate response to these wild thoughts. Our soldiers and officers have proved that they are ready to act decisively, consistently, professionally and courageously, and perform the most difficult tasks, like an efficient and modern army, which keeps its traditions and military duty, ought to do,” Putin said.
The president also noted that the Russian Army is always improving. Putin pointed out that over the last few years, a lot of work has been done to improve the effectiveness of Russia’s military administration.

“A large-scale program of modernization of the army and navy is currently being implemented, including the improvement of Aerospace defense and nuclear forces. These are guarantees for global parity,” said the Russian president, adding that Russia will continue to improve the military potential of its armed forces.
Putin concluded his speech by reminding everyone that Russia has always valued its military traditions. Putin said Russia is proud of its fearless soldiers, who during different times allowed no enemy to conquer their country and defended every inch of their native land.
The president’s words come amid NATO’s increasing military presence in Eastern Europe, following Russia’s reunification with Crimea and the start of the bloody conflict in eastern Ukraine last April.

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At a dinner in New York City, former mayor Rudy Giuliani questioned President Obama’s patriotism. Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart wonders why no Republican of any stature is condemning Giuliani for his outrageous remarks.

U.S. - Justice Department to seek emergency stay to allow immigration action

The U.S. Justice Department will seek an emergency stay to block a decision by a federal judge and allow eligible immigrants to apply for benefits granted under President Obama's executive action, the White House said on Friday.
Immigration advocates have called on the administration to take legal action to reverse the injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen that halted the issuance of work permits to eligible immigrants one day before the program's launch.
But seeking a stay comes with added headaches for the Obama administration.
Hanen must approve the stay and the Justice Department is concerned he could drag his feet or deny it.
Delaying a decision could keep the administration from filing an appeal in the 5th Circuit, where the decision would be taken out of Hanen's hands.
Approximately 4.7 million undocumented immigrants are expected to be granted relief from deportation under the program if it is allowed to go through.
The Justice Department will file paperwork to seek a stay by Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

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President Obama To Hold Immigration Town Hall Meeting In Miami

South Florida is in for a presidential visit next week. President Obama will visit Miami on Wednesday, February 25th to attend an immigration town-hall style meeting at Florida International University’s main campus.
Immigration has always been a hot topic in South Florida and continues to be even though a Texas judge temporarily blocked the president’s plan to shield more than 4 million immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation.
About a third of the immigrants now living in the United States illegally would be eligible for temporary protection if Obama’s latest orders are upheld in court, either because they were brought to the U.S. as children or because their own children have legal status in the country.
Despite the legal setbacks, President Obama plans to forge ahead by speaking directly to the immigrant community that must now endure this latest delay to protections from deportation.
The nationally televised event, hosted by Miami-based Telemundo and MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart, will be in English and Spanish.
Tickets designated for FIU will be made available to students.