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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Nwaz's Declearation and A Truth of Pakistan

Nwaz's Declearation and A Truth of Pakistan

Peace talks won’t work. If they kill two, we must kill four

Locals try to console a family member at the hospital after the Qissa Khwani attack. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESS
Locals try to console a family member at the hospital after the Qissa Khwani attack. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESSRescue workers trying to extinguish fire that erupted after the explosion in Peshawar's Qissa Khwani area on September 29, 2013. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL A screengrab showing the blast site. A screengrab showing the blast site.
PESHAWAR: At least 38 people were killed and 100 others sustained injuries in a blast in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani area on Sunday, a week after a bombing at a church in the city killed scores, Express News reported.
Initial reports suggest the attack’s principal target was a nearby police station. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
This is the third attack in Peshawar in the last eight days. Last Friday, at least 19 people were killed and dozens were injured when a bomb exploded inside a van carrying Civil Secretariat employees. Last Sunday, over 78 parishioners, among them 34 women and seven children, were killed and over a hundred were injured in an attack on the All Saints Church.
Injured
Rescue officials reached the blast site and shifted the injured to Lady Reading Hospital. Emergency was declared in the hospital.
Many of the injured are in critical condition.
Blast
The blast took place near a police station in the Qissa Khwani area – a place crowded with shops and families. Fire erupted soon after the explosion and at least eight shops were also damaged.
Police cordoned off the blast site, while the bomb disposal squad collected evidence. It was determined that around 200 kilogrammes of explosives were planted inside a car used in the blast.
The bomb disposal chief told AFP the evidence suggested it was a remote controlled bomb.
“In fact, the whole car, which had been parked along the roadside, was converted into a remote controlled bomb,” he said.
Target
Local officials said they did not initially believe the police station was the intended target.
“Police station does not seem to be the target as it was away from the attack site,” bomb disposal chief Shafqat Malik said.
He said, “It looks like the market was the target.”
Condemnation
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government condemned the attack and issued directives to provide facilities to those injured in the explosion.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, President Mamnoon Hussain, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Muttahida Quami Movement chief Altaf Hussain also condemned the attack.
Read more »

Drone strike kills 6 in North Waziristan

Before Obama- Nawaz Meeting, An American Award 

Drone strike kills 6 in North Waziristan

Earlier, at least six people were killed in a US drone strike on September 22. PHOTO: AFP/FILE
NORTH WAZIRISTAN: An unmanned aerial combat vehicle fired missiles near Miranshah in North Waziristan killing at least six people, Express News reported on Sunday.
The attack took place in the Dargamandi area, seven kilometers north of Miranshah which is  the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region.
The area is a bastion of militants linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The area targeted by the drone is said to be the stronghold of Afghanistan’s Haqqani network, a guerrilla faction linked to the Taliban.
US drone attacks are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, but Washington sees them as a vital tool in the fight against militants in the lawless tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.
The Pakistani government has repeatedly protested against drone strikes as a violation of its sovereignty.
But privately officials have been reported as saying the attacks can be useful in removing militants from the country.
Earlier, at least six people were killed in a US drone strike on a suspected militant compound in North Waziristan on September 22, officials said.
At least four people were killed when a US drone targeted a house with missiles in North Waziristan on August 31.
Read more »

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Myanmar Jails Activists Over Protest Against China-Led Petroleum Project

Myanmar Jails Activists Over Protest Against China-Led Petroleum Project


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The Shwe Gas Project will transport oil purchased in the Middle East and gas purchased in Burma’s Shwe Bay to China beginning in September.
 RFA
A court in Myanmar's western Rakhine state on Thursday ordered 10 activists jailed for three months each for participating in a demonstration against a China-backed petroleum pipeline project, drawing outrage among villagers opposed to the venture.

About 300 people from 20 villages mobbed the court in Kyaukpyu Township, demanding the release of the activists who had joined hundreds in April in protesting against the Shwe Project over inadequate compensation and demands that its developer provide better transportation infrastructure and higher salaries for local workers.

The 10 were charged with demonstrating and holding a peaceful march without a permit on Rakhine state's Maday Island, the westernmost site of the U.S. $2.5 million Shwe Project, which includes a deep sea port, natural gas from Myanmar’s offshore reserves, and overland oil and gas pipelines from the state to China.

They were convicted under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, a much criticized legislation which requires a permit for demonstrations and which rights groups say is being used by the government to silence critics even as Myanmar undertakes democratic reforms after decades of brutal military rule.

The villagers said they went ahead with the protests in April after they applied twice for a permit and were denied each time.

On Thursday, the protesting villagers demanded the release of the 10, saying they cannot be singled out from a group of 400 people who had demonstrated on April 18. 

"All villagers from Maday Island came and demanded that the 10 be released. If not, the authorities should arrest all the villagers who had protested," a villager, Ko Nyi Nge, told RFA's Myanmar Service.

"They shouted [slogans] in front of the court, saying they won’t go home if these 10 men are not released."

About 100 security forces and several firefighters ringed the court but did not act against the protesters.

Appeal planned

Htein Lin, a lawyer for the jailed protesters, said although the authorities had identified the 10 as ringleaders of the protests, no one came forward to testify that they had indeed led the demonstrations.

"Nobody witnessed these 10 people leading the protest," he said, vowing to appeal against the sentence on Monday.

Rights groups have expressed concern over environmental and socioeconomic effects from the Shwe Project as well as issues related to takeovers of land from residents that remain unresolved.

They have called on the authorities to drop the charges against the 10 protesters, saying the provisions of the law under which they were charged do not conform with international human rights standards.

“Peaceful protesters should not face prison time for exercising their basic rights,” Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director, said. “By jailing peaceful protesters, the Burmese [Myanmar] government is creating a new class of political prisoners."

"No genuinely reformist leadership would oversee the prosecution of people who peacefully challenge the state’s development plans,” he added.

The Shwe Project is a joint venture between Beijing’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Myanmar’s national petroleum company Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

CNPC completed the U.S. $14.2 million, 800-kilometer (500-mile) gas pipeline and began delivering natural gas to southern China’s Yunnan province in July, despite long-held objections from critics.

The state-run petroleum giant is nearing completion of a pipeline along the same route to transport oil purchased in the Middle East to China via Myanmar, in what officials connected to the project say shortens a distance that originally would have included passage through the Malacca Strait.

Two local rights groups have launched surveys to monitor potential adverse impacts of the controversial petroleum pipelines passing through 21 townships in Myanmar and plan to deliver their findings to the country’s parliament, international organizations, and project investors.
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China's Family Planning Fines 'Misadministered'

China's Family Planning Fines 'Misadministered'

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A girl plays jump rope with her family by a road in Beijing, Dec. 7, 2012.
 AFP
About 1.6 billion yuan (U.S. $261.5 million) collected in fines—often with the threat of violence or forced abortions—from Chinese families who exceed draconian birthrate quotas are being misused or embezzled by officials, a recent report has shown.

The fines levied across nine Chinese provinces, cities and counties between 2009 and May 2012 for "excess births" were misadministered by local officials, according to a probe by the National Audit Office in Beijing.

The figures were released after a high-profile campaign by 14 Chinese lawyers, who wrote to the Bureau on Sept. 1 to call for a probe into the the way such funds, which are often forcibly levied from impoverished rural families, were being used.

"I think our campaign has had an effect, in that they are paying much closer attention to this area of statistics," Guangzhou-based lawyer Lu Miaoqing, one of 14 women attorneys who signed the letter, said this week.

"I believe that if everyone starts to focus on this issue, they will make it more open and transparent," Lu said.

Lu's hopes appear to have been confirmed with the report, which suggests that money levied from disempowered rural families may be enriching local officials or financing their pet projects, instead of contributing to the social security costs of the extra child, as intended.

"There are a lot of disciplinary issues with the family planning fines issue," Lu said after sending the letter.

"[We should consider] whether criminal proceedings are appropriate where officials embezzle family planning fines, or don't follow the rules in collecting them, or in remitting them to state coffers."

Larger scale?

But amid growing public anger over China's family planning regime, transparency activists say the scale of the problem may be far larger than the figures provided by statistics officials.

Zhejiang lawyer Wu Youshui was told that a total of U.S. $2.7 billion (16.5 billion yuan) was collected in fines from parents who had violated family planning laws across 19 provinces in 2012 alone, the New York Times reported on Friday.

Wu told the paper that the fines were likely a substantial source of revenue for governments in poorer regions of China.

In an interview earlier this month with RFA's Mandarin Service, Wu said the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing was aware that problems existed.

"They know there are issues lower down the ranks, but they have covered it up," Wu said.

"I have been trying to get hold of internal statistics and requesting information from provincial- and county-level governments, statistics bureaus and finance departments."

Wu said any cases linked to the family planning fines system would routinely be rejected by courts across China.

"They won't even accept the case, because someone intervenes from higher up," he said.

Coercion tactics

Zhang Wenfang, a mother of two from Honghu city in the central province of Hubei, said local officials often used low-level coercion tactics to exact funds from the poorest families, including regarding the fines as a type of ongoing debt to the government.

"When they fine you ... they don't say you have to pay it all to the government in one go, but that you should pay some when you have some money," Zhang said.

"This can cost you your life and your health."

Zhang said local officials pay scant attention to the regulations when it comes to levying family planning fines, and frequently use violence to enforce their demands on families who exceed birth quotas.

"Something that should only be a matter of a few thousand yuan (several hundred U.S. dollars) becomes tens of thousands (several thousand U.S. dollars)," she said. "When I was fined, they sent me another demand a few days later."

"They just do as they please; they don't follow national policy."

Zhang, who has tried to lodge a formal complaint against her family planning bureau after being forced to abort her second child at nine months in 2008, said ordinary people faced with such treatment had nowhere to turn.

"Regular folk have no real form of help," said Zhang, who still suffers from the after-effects of the forced abortion and sterilization, and who was forced to pay 10,000 yuan (U.S. $1,630) in fines.

"These officials ... turn what is illegal into 'law' ... and the people can't get justice."

Current family planning rules state that no abortions should be forced, and that none should be carried out after six months.

Court-ordered fines

A Guangzhou-based mother surnamed Huang said family planning fines should be ordered only by courts, and should only be payable once.

However, ordinary people had no protection against official abuse of power, she said.

"They should be able investigate your sources of income and your economic situation, confirm that you have exceeded the quota, and then apply to the court for a fine, which the court would then order you to pay," Huang said.

"The court should receive the money, not the family planning bureau."

Under current family planning rules, urban families are limited to one child, while rural families are allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl.

But celebrities and members of China's political elite often get away with having larger families than most ordinary Chinese.

Many of China's political and financial elite can afford to pay the fines necessary to have large numbers of children, while people without money or connections are routinely forced to undergo sterilization, or to terminate even very late-term pregnancies.
Read more »

Party Paper Rules Out Internet Freedoms in Shanghai Free Trade Zone

Party Paper Rules Out Internet Freedoms in Shanghai Free Trade Zone

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Workers decorate the gate of Shanghai's pilot free trade zone on Sept. 23, 2013 ahead of its Sept. 29 launch.
 AFP
China's state-run media on Friday appeared to rule out any limited provision of Internet freedom in a Shanghai free trade zone which opens on Sunday, apparently scotching earlier reports that the country's Great Firewall of Internet censorship wouldn't apply there or in a similar zone planned for Shenzhen.

"A lot of people have been talking about a 'special Internet zone,' or even 'cultural concessions,'" said a commentary posted in the overseas, online edition of the ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, thePeople's Daily.

"These reports were officially denied by official, authoritative media," it said, in a reference to earlier articles in the same paper that were later deleted.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported this week that denizens of the Shanghai free trade zone would have unfettered access to overseas websites which are currently blocked by Beijing's Internet censors.

Internet users inside the zone would be able to access Facebook, Twitter, and other sites including the New York Times, which has been blocked in China since last year, the paper said.

Qianhai zone

Meanwhile, Reuters quoted an official in charge of planning the U.S.$45 billion Qianhai financial zone in the southern city of Shenzhen as saying that Internet access would be on a par with Hong Kong, which doesn't censor what netizens can see.

"In Qianhai, we will be able to see what they can see in Hong Kong," Reuters quoted Wang Jinxia, director of the research and innovation center of the Qianhai Authority, as saying.

"We will strive for an exclusive international communication channel in which information won't be filtered," he said, adding that Facebook and Twitter would be available.

A formal policy blueprint announced by China's state council, or cabinet, for Qianhai in June that said "a dedicated channel for international communication in Qianhai shall be supported to satisfy the needs for international communications of the enterprises in the zone," Reuters said.

'Lack of judgment'

But the People's Daily article said the reports that the Great Firewall wouldn't operate in certain zones showed a "lack of judgement and blind repetition on the part of some people and organizations."

The paper, which appeared to be reacting in particular to the use of the sensitive concept of "concessions," which recall a humiliating era in Chinese history where foreign powers controlled Chinese ports, said online censorship was here to stay.

It said a weakening of the comprehensive system of blocks, filters, and human censorship known as the Great Firewall would likely only occur when China's power in the world matched that of the U.S.

"The management of the Internet is crucial if China's 1.3 billion people are to live in peace and not [have their country] fall apart like the Soviet Union, or end up in a similar state to Syria," the article said.

War on rumor

Professor Xia Ming, political science lecturer at the College of Staten Island in New York, said the notion of limited Internet freedom was "comical."

Xia said the Chinese government is currently in the middle of a nationwide crackdown on online "rumors" which has encompassed even its own tightly regulated Internet service providers.

"Allowing free Internet access in the free-trade zone wouldn't have much of a real impact on China," Xia said. "It would be little, too late."

War on rumor

Amid a crackdown on China's usually outspoken social media sites, the Supreme People’s Court and state prosecution service issued guidelines on Sept. 9 warning that "rumor-mongering" is a crime punishable under law.

Anyone posting information online deemed by the authorities to be "spreading rumors" or "defaming" another person could be punished for a serious offense if the post is subsequently viewed at least 5,000 times or re-posted at least 500 times.

Earlier this month, 16-year-old Gansu tweeter Yang Hui was held under administrative detention for seven days and expelled from his high-school after using Sina Weibo to cast doubts on official accounts of a local man's death.

Meaningful freedoms

According to Beijing-based political analyst Chen Yongmiao, any symbolic freedoms that might be extended to Internet users in a future free-trade zone would be fairly meaningless anyway.

"It's as if ... I stood at your door holding a gun and allowed you to speak freely inside the house," Chen said.

"You would be able to see me standing there holding the gun the whole time, so it would be impossible not to feel frightened."

"Under such circumstances, how meaningful would that freedom be?"

Shanghai resident Yu Zhonghuan said that, even if China did allow a wider range of overseas websites past its Great Firewall, it could easily revoke such access at any time.

"China has promised a lot of things ... since 1949, but how many of those promises has it kept?" Yu said.

"The Chinese government can always turn hostile after you thought things were settled."

Economic experiment

Economic experts said the Shanghai free-trade zone is more of an experiment in loosening the stranglehold of state monopolies and currency controls on economic activity than an exercise in greater freedom of expression.

"The establishment of the free trade zone will help to break up interference by government departments in the economy," Li Xiaobing, director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, said in an interview this week.

"[It] will also help smaller banks to develop, and get around all the red tape and bureaucracy."

The Shanghai free trade zone has top-level approval from China's cabinet, the State Council, and will remove controls on China's yuan currency in a bid to compete with global financial centers like Hong Kong, London, and New York, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

On condition of "effective oversight," Chinese banks in the zone will be allowed to provide services to depositors who are residents in other countries, the agency said.

"Eligible" foreign-funded financial institutions will be able to set up banks or joint-venture banks, it said.
Read more »

Tibetan Father of Two Self-Immolates in Protest Against Chinese Rule

Tibetan Father of Two Self-Immolates in Protest Against Chinese Rule


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Young exile Tibetans take part in a candlelight vigil for self-immolators in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, Feb. 13, 2013.
 AFP
A Tibetan father of two burned himself to death in a restive Tibetan county in Sichuan province Saturday in protest against Chinese policies in the first self-immolation in Tibetan-populated areas in China in more than two months, according to sources.

Shichung, 41, self-immolated near his house in Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) county in the Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture after lighting butter lamps in front of a portrait of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, sources in Tibet said.

"He was protesting against Chinese policy towards Tibetans," a Tibetan living in the area told RFA's Tibetan Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The burning protest occurred at about 2.30 p.m. after Shichung attended a prayer function. He torched himself at home and ran towards a busy road but succumbed to his burns and died.

"His body was held by the Tibetans but later taken away by the Chinese police by force," the Tibetan source told RFA. "Shichung is survived by his wife and two daughters, aged 18 and 14."

It was the first Tibetan self-immolation in China since July 20, when a teenage monk burned himself to death in Dzoege (in Chinese, Ruo’ergai) county, also in Ngaba prefecture.

The burning on Saturday brings to 122 the total number of Tibetans in China who have self-immolated calling for Tibetan freedom and for the return to Tibet of the Dalai Lama, who lives in India's Dharamsala hill town.

Another six Tibetans have staged self-immolation protests in India and Nepal.

On Aug. 6, a Tibetan monk self-immolated and died in Nepal—the third Tibetan burning protest in the small Himalayan nation where thousands of Tibetan refugees live.

Controls tightened

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.

Chinese authorities have tightened controls in a bid to check self-immolation protests, arresting and jailing Tibetans whom they accuse of being linked to the burnings. Some have been jailed for up to 15 years.

The authorities have also attempted to pressure local Tibetans to sign an official order that forbids any kind of activities to support or sympathize with self-immolation protests, residents said.
Read more »

US president speaks to Iranian counterpart in first talk since 1979

US president speaks to Iranian counterpart in first talk since 1979

The long-fractured relationship between the US and Iran took a significant turn on Friday when President Obama and President Hassan Rouhani became the first leaders of their countries to speak since the Tehran hostage crisis more than three decades ago.
In a hurriedly arranged telephone call, Mr. Obama reached Mr. Rouhani as the Iranian leader was headed to the airport to leave New York after a whirlwind news media and diplomatic blitz. The two agreed to accelerate talks aimed at defusing the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and afterward expressed optimism at the prospect of a rapprochement that would transform the Middle East.

“Resolving this issue, obviously, could also serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” Mr. Obama, referring to Tehran’s nuclear program, told reporters at the White House after the 15-minute phone call. “It would also help facilitate a better relationship between Iran and the international community, as well as others in the region.”

A Twitter account in Mr. Rouhani’s name later stated, “In regards to nuclear issue, with political will, there is a way to rapidly solve the matter.” The account added that Mr. Rouhani had told Mr. Obama, “We’re hopeful about what we will see from” the United States and other major powers “in coming weeks and months.”

The conversation was the first between Iranian and American leaders since 1979 when President Jimmy Carter spoke by telephone with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi shortly before the shah left the country, according to Iran experts. The Islamic Revolution that toppled the shah’s government led to the seizure of the American Embassy and a 444-day hostage crisis that have left the two countries at odds with each other ever since.

Although both Republican and Democratic presidents have reached out to Tehran in the interim, contact had been reserved to letters or lower-level officials.

The call came just days after Mr. Obama had hoped to encounter Mr. Rouhani at a luncheon at the United Nations and expected to shake hands. Mr. Rouhani skipped the luncheon and later indicated it was premature to meet Mr. Obama. But a meeting on Thursday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran was described as constructive and led Iranian officials to contact the White House on Friday to suggest the phone call, according to American officials.

A senior Obama administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities, said the White House had expressed the president’s interest in meeting Mr. Rouhani to the Iranians this week but was surprised when they suggested the phone call. Mr. Obama placed the call from the Oval Office around 2:30 p.m., joined by aides and a translator.

He opened by congratulating Mr. Rouhani on his election in June and noted the history of mistrust between the two nations, but also what he called the constructive statements Mr. Rouhani had made during his stay in New York, according to the official. The bulk of the call focused on the nuclear dispute, and Mr. Obama repeated that he respected Iran’s right to develop civilian nuclear energy, but insisted on concessions to prevent development of weapons.

Mr. Obama also raised the cases of three Americans in Iran, one missing and two others detained. In a lighter moment, he apologized for New York traffic.

The call ended on a polite note, according to the official and Mr. Rouhani’s Twitter account.

“Have a nice day,” Mr. Rouhani said in English.

“Thank you,” Mr. Obama replied, and then tried a Persian farewell. “Khodahafez.”

By talking on the phone instead of in person, Mr. Rouhani avoided a politically problematic photo of himself with Mr. Obama, which could have inflamed hard-liners in Iran who were already wary of his outreach to the United States. As it was, conservative elements in Tehran tried to reinterpret his statements acknowledging the Holocaust while he was in New York. The state news channel, the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, had not mentioned the phone call with Mr. Obama as of midnight Friday after word of it broke, and the original messages on Mr. Rouhani’s Twitter account were deleted and replaced with more anodyne comments. But Mr. Rouhani’s office announced the call in a statement carried by the Iranian state news agency. “This voice contact has for now replaced the actual shaking of hands, but this is clearly the start of a process that could in the future lead to a face-to-face meeting between both leaders,” said Amir Mohebbian, a political adviser close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Abbas Milani, an Iranian scholar at Stanford University, said Mr. Rouhani wanted to avoid looking as if he was making concessions. “The U.S. and the West have wisely decided to allow the regime to make its claims of victory at home, so long as they play earnest ball in meetings abroad,” Mr. Milani said. A call to a leader on the way to the airport may not be normal protocol, he added, but “in this case it was adroit policy for both sides.”

American advocates of closer relations between the two countries were optimistic. “The phone call wasn’t just history,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, an arms control group, who attended a dinner with Mr. Rouhani in New York. “It helped fundamentally change the course of Iranian-U.S. relations. We’re on a very different trajectory than we were even at the beginning of the week.”

But others expressed caution, arguing that Iran was reaching out only because of the sanctions that have strangled its economy.

“The economic pain now is sufficient to oblige a telephone call, though not a face-to-face meeting,” said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which supports stronger sanctions against Iran. “We will see whether the pain is sufficient for the Iranians to shut the heavy-water plant at Arak and reverse Iran’s path to a rapid breakout capacity with enriched uranium.”

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican majority leader, criticized Mr. Obama for not pressing Iran to halt what he said was its support for terrorism and for Syria’s government. “It is particularly unfortunate that President Obama would recognize the Iranian people’s right to nuclear energy but not stand up for their right to freedom, human rights or democracy,” he said.

In announcing the call with Mr. Rouhani, Mr. Obama said that only “meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions” on the nuclear program could “bring relief” from sanctions.

“A path to a meaningful agreement will be difficult, and at this point, both sides have significant concerns that will have to be overcome,” he said. “But I believe we’ve got a responsibility to pursue diplomacy, and that we have a unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran.”

Recognizing the delicacy of the outreach effort, Mr. Obama made a point of trying to reassure Israel that he would not jeopardize an ally’s security. “Throughout this process, we’ll stay in close touch with our friends and allies in the region, including Israel,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is scheduled to visit Mr. Obama at the White House on Monday.
Read more »

Maldives second round of poll put off until court decision

Maldives second round of poll put off until court decision

The Maldives Election Commission said it will hold the second round of presidential polls as scheduled on Saturday, but backed down after the court ordered the security forces to implement its order of putting the elections on hold, in a late night order.
“Second round of voting will NOT be conducted on Saturday 28th September in compliance with the order of the Supreme Court,” said President’s spokesperson Masood Imad on twitter.

Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Mohamed Nasheed and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Yaameen Abdulla were to face off in a runoff on September 28, 2013 after the first round of polls, on September 7, 2013 placed them in first and second positions respectively. The person who was placed third in the polls, Jumhooree Party’s Qasim Ibrahim, approached the court claiming that the polls were not free and fair. All international observers, including a high-level team from India, Commonwealth, the European Union, and the United States, had attested that the elections were free and fair.

Late night court session

On Thursday night, in a special court session after midnight, six out of seven Supreme Court judges ruled that the court’s earlier order of September 23, 2013 to postpone the runoff will stand. The court directed security forces to “stop any individual from disobeying” the postponement.

Elections Commission chairperson Fuwad Thowfeek had said on Thursday that the court had no right to override the constitution. The Maldivian Constitution stipulates that a runoff vote must be held within three weeks of the first round.

Mr. Nasheed, who is confident of winning the runoff, was the only major leader to welcome the decision of the Elections Commission: “We welcome the Elections Commission decision. I ask all parties to respect this decision,” he tweeted. Meanwhile, the opposition appears to have begun a whisper campaign against Mr. Thowfeek.

India disappointed

India expressed its disappointment over the delay in holding the second round. “We are deeply disappointed and distressed that this should have happened. Our understanding of the democratic system is that even if there are imperfections in the election system, those imperfections need to be addressed in a manner which is not destructive of the very process of elections. It won’t be fair of me to comment on a court judgement, it is an interim judgement,” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said.

“I don’t want to comment on the contents of the judgement but certainly on the implications of the interference with an election. There is a window of time available because they have a November date by which a President has to be installed and I would urge all countries that care for democracy and who have a special cause of Maldives at heart, I would urge them all to use their good offices to ensure that democracy is preserved. If this is being done in the name of democracy, it is unfortunate. I think this is something that undermines democracy. I would certainly hope and expect that better wisdom will prevail in this matter. It is only an interim judgement and I am sure having factored everything in election process will remain uninterrupted and it will proceed to a free and fair second round of election,” he added.
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Iran, Afghanistan determined to enhance relations

Iran, Afghanistan determined to enhance relations

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rasoul have reaffirmed Tehran and Kabul’s determination to enhance bilateral ties on different fronts.
At a Friday meeting on the sidelines of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York, Zarif said Iran and Afghanistan enjoy very close and strong relations, and expressed Tehran’s preparedness for any cooperation with Kabul.

He described the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and the country’s next elections as two momentous upcoming events for Kabul in 2014.

The Iranian foreign minister said whenever the Afghan people assumed responsibility for security affairs in their country, security issues were resolved, adding, “We’ve pinned our hopes on a new Afghanistan.”

Rasoul, for his part, thanked Iran for its constant support for Afghanistan, describing Tehran-Kabul ties as being at their highest level compared to the past.

He elaborated on the current developments in Afghanistan and expressed optimism that mutual relations will witness further growth.

The Afghan foreign minister also invited Zarif to visit his country.
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China sends aid for Nepal election

China sends aid for Nepal election

The Chinese government has gifted election materials worth $1.63mn to Nepal for the country’s 27th general elections on November 19.
The plane with the election materials arrived in Kathmandu yesterday morning, including ballot papers and office materials.

Chinese ambassador to Nepal Wu Chuntai and joint secretary of Nepal election commission Maheshow Neupane were present at the airport to receive the materials.

Nepuane said that the Chinese assistance to Nepal for the election has proved once again that the two countries harbour a clean friendship.

“China has always supported in the democratic process of Nepal. With this assistance we will be able to manage our logistics more conveniently. We are on track to hold the election in the scheduled date and we will hold it in a grand manner,” said
Neupane.

Security has been the main concern for the elections, with some parties threatening to disrupt the polls but Neupane said the home ministry will be tightening up the security by deploying 61,000 army soldiers, more than 29,000 armed police force personnel, 60,000 police personnel and about 45,000 volunteers.

Wu Chuntai said that Nepal and China have been good neighbours and friends, and hoped that the assistance would help to conduct the election in an efficient way. 
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Tuesday, 17 September 2013

China Steel Plant Halts as Workforce Protests Over Unpaid Wages

China Steel Plant Halts as Workforce Protests Over Unpaid Wages


china-heilongjiang-steel-june-2012.jpg
Chinese workers manufacture steel products at a factory in Heilongjiang province, June 27, 2012.
 ImagineChina
More than 1,000 employees from a steel company in the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang marched on local government offices Monday in protest at what they said were several months' worth of unpaid wages, according to striking workers.

"They are all over there now, nearly 2,000 people," a worker at the Beigang Group's steel plant in Heilongjiang's Jixi city told RFA's Mandarin Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said the workers had marched on the Jixi municipal government offices, holding banners and demanding to be paid.

"They are still there kicking up a fuss and waiting for something to be done, for a response," he said.

He said workers were complaining that the company owed them nearly five months' worth of back pay.

"[There are] about 2,000 [in the workforce]. About 200 have stayed behind here in the factory."

A second worker who also asked to remain anonymous said production had halted because of the strike.

"Even the furnaces aren't running now," the worker said. "The company ... said it would pay us 18 yuan (U.S. $3) a day, but that was only what they said."

"They never paid up," he said.

He said Beigang Steel, a former state-owned factory that was bought up by a local businessman and currently makes steel girders for the construction industry, hadn't raised wages in two years, and had defaulted on compulsory social security payments on behalf of its workers.

"They didn't pay in anything to our pensions or our unemployment insurance," he said.

Online response

Posts on popular Chinese social media sites also reported the strike and protest.

"At 8:30 this morning, more than 1,000 people staged a demonstration in the city center of Jixi," wrote blogger @gaoshuaihaimeifu.

A number of posts on the microblogging services Tencent and Sina Weibo also reported on the demonstration, saying the workers held banners that read "We want to live, we want to eat, give us our wages!"

Photos of the protest posted online showed hundreds of people crowding along a city street.

"I hope someone pays attention to the livelihoods of a few thousand people," tweeted social media user @tuaixiaofeiyang. "Beigang used to be an old-fashioned state-owned enterprise, which once brought hope and prosperity to the people of Jixi."

An official who answered the phone at the Jixi municipal government offices declined to comment on Monday. "We don't know about this," the official said.

Calls to the management offices of Beigang Group rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.

'Rustbelt' tensions

In July 2009, authorities in the northeastern province of Jilin called off a proposed takeover deal at a major steel factory following a violent dispute with angry workers after which a newly appointed general manager was killed.

China's three northeastern "rustbelt" provinces of Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Liaoning were once the heartland of heavy industry with massive state-run firms employing entire districts and towns, running schools, hospitals, and newspapers, and providing cradle-to-grave care for workers and their families.

While China is still the world's top producer and consumer of steel, the official policy is to force the sector to slim down and consolidate. But millions of layoffs in recent decades have led to increased social unrest in the formerly booming industrial heartland.
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Pakistan, Afghanistan to import electricity from Central Asia


Pakistan, Afghanistan to import electricity from Central Asia

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan sign resolution to initiate commercial negotiations for development of $1 billion 1227km transmission line for delivering about 1,000MW of electricity from the two Central Asian States to Pakistan.
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan sign an inter-governmental council resolution to formally initiate commercial negotiations for development of $1 billion 1227km transmission line for delivering about 1,000MW of electricity from the two Central Asian States to Pakistan.

The project -- Central Asia South Asia Energy and Trade Corridor (CASA-1000) -- is to be funded by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, US State Department, US Agency for International Development (USAID), UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Australian Agency for International Development and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The resolution was signed by Water and Power Minister Khwaja Mohammad Asif, Kyrgyz Minister for Energy and Industry Artykbaev Osmonbek Mambet Janovich, Tajik Minister for Energy and Industry Gul Sherali and Afghan Minister for Energy and Water Mohammad Esmail Khan.

This will be followed by a Master Agreement, Power Purchase Agreements and a Coordination Agreement, which was updated by lawyers at the conference. They also discussed issues relating to financing, selection of developer and operator and finalisation of environmental and social assessment and a benefit-sharing plan for communities living along the transmission line corridor.

After the signing of the inter-governmental council resolution, the ministerial-level delegations began discussions on project structure and commercial principles.

The resolution required the four nations to negotiate commercial agreements, disclose environment and social safeguard measures and host public consultations within a month.

The parties resolved that a plan for benefit-sharing by communities during construction and operation would need to be developed in coming months. “We hope the vision for import of electricity from our Central Asian brethren will become a reality very soon,” Khwaja Mohammad Asif told reporters. He said the transmission line would be completed in three years.

“Electricity is already available in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and about 1,000MW of that could be provided to Pakistan in peak summer once the transmission line is completed,” he said, adding that the good thing about the project was that the Central Asian states would have surplus energy when Pakistan faced shortages of up to 5,000MW in peak summer. The power production would drop at Tajik and Kyrgyz hydropower plants in winter and at that time Pakistan would be having sufficient energy at home because of lower demand, he said.

He said Pakistan had been assigned to arrange $200 million funding for the project while all other parties had sufficient funds to meet the requirement of the project. On top of that leading international lending agencies led by the World Bank are supporting the project and would be ready to meet any financing shortfall.

Afghan Minister for Energy and Water Mohammad Esmail Khan pointed out the importance of the project in establishing his country’s role as a viable transit country to connect Central Asian states with South Asian states and enhance its growth prospects at a critical time.

The ministers from Tajik and Kyrgyz republics welcomed the development and said the project had the potential of being a source of fiscal and power sector revenues for their governments.

The project is designed to transmit 300MW to Afghanistan and 1000MW to Pakistan through 500KV AC line of 477 km and 500KV DC line of 750 km. The average cost of energy at source, according to SNC-Lavalin, a project consultant of Canada – has been worked out at 1.75 US cents per unit while the levelised cost of transmission is estimated at five cents per unit. As such, the cost of electricity delivered in Pakistan comes to 6.75 cents per unit.
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Monday, 16 September 2013

Kyrgyzstan - Vox Pop: Central Asians Comment On China's Growing Presence In Their Region

Kyrgyzstan

Vox Pop: Central Asians Comment On China's Growing Presence In Their Region

Manizha, a Tajik medical student, says: "China gives us money, but then brings Chinese workers to Tajikistan. Chinese people are taking jobs in Tajikistan, as Tajiks are forced to seek jobs in Russia."
Manizha, a Tajik medical student, says: "China gives us money, but then brings Chinese workers to Tajikistan. Chinese people are taking jobs in Tajikistan, as Tajiks are forced to seek jobs in Russia."
Concern among Central Asians about Chinese influence in their counties occasionally come to the fore; for example, during protests over local jobs taken by Chinese. But an informal poll taken by RFE/RL in the wake of Chinese President Xi Jinping's whirlwind tour of the region reveals that the average citizen generally accepts Beijing's economic and cultural presence in Central Asia.

Jibek, waitress, Bishkek:
"I think it is a very good thing that we are cooperating with a country as developed as China. I wish Kyrgyzstan had good relations with European countries, too. I myself work with Chinese people. And we receive almost all goods from China."


Unidentified pensioner, Almaty:
"I see Chinese people everywhere in our city, in bazaars, shops, streets, and bus stops. I think there are many Chinese living here now because I live in the city center and I see them all the time. They are mostly smart-looking young men in suits, so it means they work somewhere."


Davlat Usmon, former Tajik economy minister, Dushanbe:
"Weak Central Asian economies needed generous donors like China, and Chinese investments are good for our country. However, the real Chinese strategy is aimed at gaining access to the natural resources of the region."


Ruslan, Bishkek:
"If our strategic partnership doesn't hurt Kyrgyzstan's interests then we can support it. China is interested in our country as a transit zone. We each have mutual interests."





Shahnoza Kamiljonova, Tajik State University student, Dushanbe:
"We have not seen any harm come from the expanding Sino-Tajik relationship so far, and have always benefitted. China is helping Tajikistan very much."

Unidentified woman, Almaty:
"I don't mind the Chinese working here. For me all people are the same. They don't bother me."

Khoudaiberdy Orazov, former Turkmen Central Bank chief, Ashgabat:
"When Turkmenistan does business with China, Beijing is the one that provides credit. Chinese companies handle the projects; they install the pipelines; they control everything. The question then is who owns the projects? Turkmenistan's business culture in doing business with others is not suitable for an independent state. It has to change."

Bezhan Beknazar, driver, Dushanbe:
"It is good to build roads, buildings, factories with Chinese money. But bear in mind that all that money is debt that has to be repaid to China sooner or later."

Serdar, shopkeeper, Turkmenabad:
"I am against the rising number of Chinese coming to Turkmenistan. I fear that if the Chinese continue to come, Turkmen might disappear. China has a population of over 1.5 billion (ed: China's population is estimated to be 1.35 billion), but our population is only about 5 million. If Chinese people continue to come, Turkmen will slowly disappear."

Janysh, Bishkek:
"One can do lots of good business with China, but we still need to be very careful. Getting too close to them is not good. They have more than 1 billion people. There are some dangerous things coming from China."





Compiled by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, and Tajik services
.
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"We Are Not Afraid Of Death:" Lieutenant Nigar's Last Interview With RFE/RL

"We Are Not Afraid Of Death:" Lieutenant Nigar's Last Interview With RFE/RL

Helmand police officer Lieutenant Nigar in an undated courtesy photo.
Helmand police officer Lieutenant Nigar in an undated courtesy photo.

 
In July, Lieutenant Nigar became the highest-ranking woman police officer in Afghanistan's ultraconservative Helmand Province when her predecessor in that position was assassinated.

In the days after Islam Bibi's killing, Nigar discussed the importance of Afghan women participating in the effort to establish security and shrugged off the dangers as being part of the job.

On September 15 Nigar, was also  killed after being shot by unknown attackers. Here are some excerpts from her early July interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

On the killing of Islam Bibi, her predecessor as the highest-ranking female police officer in Helmand Province:

"This is Afghanistan. Fighting has been going on for 30 years in this country. [Dangerous things] happen. Either you die or live on. We are not afraid of death."

On the recruitment of women into Afghanistan's police forces:

"My message to everyone is to come join the women's police forces. We are human beings and deadly attacks can happen. There shouldn't be any problems."

On the importance of having women officers present during house searches:

"Without the accompaniment of women, our police and the Army cannot do anything. Women are needed, and they shouldn't be scared [to join]. We should take pride in the fact that our people are happy with the work we do, and they thank God that we women police exist."

On the role women play in establishing trust with locals during search operations:

“Sometimes people are terrified when police enter their homes. I take off my veil and keep telling them, 'Don't be scared, we are women police.' We introduce ourselves to women and conduct our search operation and I find that they are very happy and satisfied with us.
"
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Wide-open Afghan presidential race kicks off


Wide-open Afghan presidential race kicks off

Afghanistan’s presidential race kick off as election authorities begin accepting the nominations of would-be candidates, the start of a wide-open race whose winner will oversee the final phases of the withdrawal of US-led troops amid a relentles insurgen
Afghanistan’s presidential race kicked off Monday as election authorities began accepting the nominations of would-be candidates, the start of a wide-open race whose winner will oversee the final phases of the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops amid a relentless Taliban insurgency.

The election, set for April 5, will also mark the first transfer of power from incumbent President Hamid Karzai, who has in some form or shape led Afghanistan since the Taliban government was ousted in the American-led invasion in 2001. Karzai is barred from running for a third four-year term.

Candidates have until Oct. 6 to submit their names, along with a hefty fee and voter identification information of 100,000 people backing them. No major candidates are expected to submit their nominations until closer to the Oct. 6 deadline, part of a waiting game to see how the field shapes up.

There are no clear favorites in the race, but speculation in recent days has focused on Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul. Rassoul is a former national security adviser with a medical degree who has tended to stay out of the limelight and could end up being a consensus candidate among some of the many political factions in this nation of 31 million.

Other potential candidates include: Abdullah Abdullah, an opposition leader who lost to Karzai in 2009; Ashraf Ghani, a well-known academic and former finance minister with a reputation as a technocrat who also lost the last election; Hanif Atmar, a former interior minister who has grown critical of Karzai; and Farooq Wardak, the education minister who is involved in efforts to pursue peace talks with Taliban insurgents.

Some speculation also has focused on Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, an influential lawmaker with a long history as a jihadist and allegations of past links to Arab militants including Osama bin Laden. He would likely be the most controversial candidate, at least among Afghanistan’s foreign allies.

Afghanistan is a desperately poor, ethnically fractious country whose economy relies heavily on foreign assistance. Its politics are marked by patronage and alliances among the elite — a demographic that includes warlords and tribal elders who can marshal votes.

But those alliances are very fluid, and so-called political coalitions that have been set up in recent months have quickly experienced fissures. Even within ethnic groups — the population is roughly 42 percent Pashtun, 27 percent Tajik, 9 percent Hazara, and 9 percent Uzbek along with other, smaller factions — there are divisions that make it difficult to predict who will line up with whom.

Karzai, who has been accused of being unwilling to crack down on the pervasive corruption in his government, has said he would not endorse a candidate, but his presence is expected to loom large during the campaign.

Also looming are the Taliban, the militant Islamists who ruled the country from 1996-2001 before being overthrown by America after refusing to hand over bin Laden, whose al-Qaida terrorist network staged the Sept. 11 attacks. The Taliban insurgency has strengthened in recent years and seems primed to wreak more havoc as U.S.-led foreign troops finish withdrawing in late 2014, leaving Afghan troops fully in charge.

Whether the election can be held safely is a major concern, as is whether it can be held without fraud. The 2009 elections were marred by allegations of vote-rigging against Karzai’s camp.

Thomas Ruttig, an expert with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said there are already warning signs about how the vote will go April 5, including reports of “many more voter cards in circulation than voters in Afghanistan” and failures to make progress in peace talks with the Taliban.

At this stage, “one has to be doubtful about how reliable these elections will be,” he said.
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Kabul invites Baradar, other Taliban to return home after release

Kabul invites Baradar, other Taliban to return home after release

Afghanistan invites the Taliban’s second in command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is set to be freed by Pakistan shortly, to return to his home country along with other members of the group and open their offices there as well.
“Afghanistan wants Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and other Taliban members freed by Pakistan to return and open their office in the country,” an Afghan foreign ministry official said on Sunday.
The comments came days after Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister’s adviser on national security and foreign affairs, said that the government had decided in principle to release Mullah Baradar to facilitate the peace process.
In an interview with a private television channel late Saturday, Sartaz said that Mullah Baradar would be released within days and would be free to go anywhere. However, he pointed out that the Taliban leader would not be handed over to Kabul.
The adviser hinted that Baradar could also either be sent to Saudi Arabia or Turkey. “Baradar could contact Taliban leaders and representatives to help in the peace process,” Sartaj said.
Afghan foreign ministry’s spokesman Janan Mosazai said Mullah Baradar and other freed Taliban should have both an office and a “specific address” in Afghanistan.
“Our priority is that Mullah Baradar returns to Afghanistan following his release in Pakistan. We want Baradar and all other Taliban released by Pakistan to return to Afghanistan and push for the peace process,” the spokesman told a weekly press briefing.
Taliban leaders offered security
Mosazai said that the Afghan authorities were ready to provide security to the Taliban leaders upon their return. “If they cannot come to Afghanistan, they can go to another Islamic country and talk to the Afghan High Peace Council,” he said.
“But if they want to stay in Pakistan then they must have a specific address and complete freedom. They must be accessible to the Peace Council in Pakistan so they can be directly contacted.” 
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