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 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:33 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Netanyahu Told to Mend Ties With Washington

MARCH 25, 2015

JERUSALEM — Israel’s president on Wednesday officially handed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the task of forming a new government, saying its first priority was to repair relations with the United States and indirectly chiding Mr. Netanyahu for his Election Day warning that Arab citizens were flocking to polling places in “droves.”

“One who is afraid of votes in a ballot box will eventually see stones thrown in the streets,” the president, Reuven Rivlin, said as he ceremonially received the certified results of last week’s election. Later, standing next to Mr. Netanyahu, he described “a difficult election period” in which “things were said which ought not to be said — not in a Jewish state and not in a democratic state.”   

Mr. Netanyahu apologized this week for expressing concern in a video about Arab turnout, remarks that the White House, world leaders, American Jews and many inside Israel had condemned as race-baiting and fearmongering. As he accepted the mandate for a fourth term, the prime minister did not revisit the uproar over those remarks or directly address his pre-election disavowal of support for a Palestinian state, which together have drawn unrelenting criticism from President Obama and his aides.

“Our hands are held out in peace towards our Palestinian neighbors, and the people of Israel know that true peace will only be guaranteed if Israel remains powerful, both in spirit and in strength,” Mr. Netanyahu said Wednesday.

“We greatly appreciate, and will keep our pact with, the closest of our friends, the United States of America,” he continued, “and we will nonetheless continue to act to prevent the unfolding deal with Iran, an agreement which puts in danger us, our neighbors, the world.”

Mr. Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to form a governing coalition, an internecine process of deal-making over ministerial posts and policy positions. He is widely expected to do so with six rightist and religious parties that together won 67 of Parliament’s 120 seats, though some Israeli analysts said the crisis in relations with Washington had increased the pressure on him to form a unity government with the center-left Zionist Union or the centrist Yesh Atid, or both.

Senior members of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party and the heads of the ultranationalist Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu factions are all vying for the Foreign and Defense Ministries. Mr. Netanyahu has promised the finance position to Moshe Kahlon, a former Likud minister who formed Kulanu, a faction that focused on economic issues.

On Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu vowed that the government’s first budget would include steps to reduce the cost of housing and food and dismantle monopolies, tenets of Mr. Kahlon’s campaign.

Mr. Rivlin, a Likud member whose term as president has been marked by outreach to Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens and residents, said Mr. Netanyahu should make the government “as inclusive as possible.”

Alongside improving relations with the United States, other “critical missions” for the new government, according to Mr. Rivlin, include returning stability to the political system to avoid another early election, and “healing the wounds, mending the painful rifts, which have gaped open in the past years, and widened further in the course of this recent election.”

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:31 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Court tells former Liberian president to serve war crimes sentence in Britain

Charles Taylor sought to serve 50-year sentence in Rwanda for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war

Associated Press in Sierra Leone
Wednesday 25 March 2015 17.44 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 25 March 2015 19.11 GMT

The special court for Sierra Leone has denied the former Liberian president Charles Taylor’s request to serve his 50-year sentence for war crimes in Rwanda, rather than Britain.

Taylor was convicted in April 2012 of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for aiding murderous rebels in Sierra Leone’s civil war.
War criminal Charles Taylor claims UK is depriving him of right to family life
Read more

Taylor argued that detention in Britain violates his rights because the visa process will make it nearly impossible for his family to visit. He also complained about the conditions of his detention.

The court denied his request in a decision made public on Wednesday, saying Britain’s denial of his family’s visa application did not violate his rights.

It said that his wife simply had not met visa requirements and had ignored offers to help her to reapply.

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:29 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Saudi Arabia launches Yemen air strikes as alliance builds against Houthi rebels

White House confirms support for military effort, claiming international mandate to end ‘widespread instability and chaos’ that drove Yemeni president into exile

Dan Roberts in Washington, Kareem Shaheen in Beirut and agencies
Thursday 26 March 2015 10.14 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 11.14 GMT   

The US has confirmed its support for an extraordinary international military alliance that is emerging to counter Houthi rebel advances in Yemen.

As Saudi Arabia began pounding the rebels with airstrikes, countries from the Middle East to Pakistan were said to be prepared to commit troops for a ground assault.

The US was providing “logistical and intelligence support” to the Saudi-led forces attacking the rebels, the White House announced. Meanwhile the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel said the kingdom had lined up 150,000 soldiers in preparation for a ground offensive, with Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Sudan also ready to commit troops.

In a sign of the broadening scope of Barack Obama’s intervention across the region, officials in Washington said the US was establishing a “joint planning cell” with Saudi Arabia to co-ordinate the air strikes on the Houthi forces seeking to overthrow the Yemeni government.

Al Arabiya also said planes from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain were taking part in the operation.

Unidentified warplanes had earlier launched air strikes on the main airport in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, and its al-Dulaimi military airbase, residents said.

Saudi Arabia said Houthi-controlled air defences and four warplanes were destroyed. A Houthi-backed TV station said 17 civilians were killed.

Yemen shut its major seaports on Thursday in response to the operation, industry and local sources said.

Iran, which is widely believed to be backing the Houthis, demanded an immediate halt to the operation.

“The Saudi-led airstrikes should stop immediately and it is against Yemen’s sovereignty,” said Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, according to the Students News Agency. Earlier, Iran’s foreign ministry said the airstrikes were a “dangerous step” that would worsen the crisis in Yemen.

A widening Yemen conflict could pose risks for global oil supplies, and Brent crude oil prices shot up nearly 6% soon after the operation began.

Unlike recent attacks in Iraq and Syria, the US said none of its planes or troops were currently engaged in Yemen but insists the action is a legitimate response to the advances made by Houthi rebels.
People gather at the site of an air strike at a residential area near Sanaa Airport

“The United States strongly condemns ongoing military actions taken by the Houthis against the elected government of Yemen,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. “These actions have caused widespread instability and chaos that threaten the safety and wellbeing of all Yemeni citizens.”

The US also claims a degree of international backing for the strikes although no formal United Nations mandate has been sought.

Meehan continued: “The international community has spoken clearly through the UN security council and in other fora that the violent takeover of Yemen by an armed faction is unacceptable and that a legitimate political transition – long sought by the Yemeni people – can be accomplished only through political negotiations and a consensus agreement among all of the parties.

“We strongly urge the Houthis to halt immediately their destabilizing military actions and return to negotiations as part of the political dialogue.”

Earlier, Washington sources said Saudi forces had acted in consultation with the White House in launching air strikes against Houthi rebels to try to dislodge their grip on the port city of Aden.

In a rare press conference, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, told reporters that a 10-country coalition had joined the military campaign in a bid “to protect and defend the legitimate government” of Yemen’s president, Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. He declined to give any information on Hadi’s whereabouts.

The Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthis in Yemen has been called “Decisive Storm”.

Officials also said the operation is intended to deter the strategic threat against the Gulf states posed by the Houthi advance and Iran’s growing strategic power, with Gulf cities coming in range of rebel missiles.

The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Twitter that the “difficult decision” to join the operation was necessary in light of a strategic threat to the Gulf states posed by a growing missile threat as a result of the Houthi advance.

“The strategic change in the region to Iran’s benefit, whose banner was carried by the Houthis, cannot be ignored,” he said. “The crisis in Yemen and the Houthi coup is another sign of the weakness of the Arab regional regime, and Decisive Storm is a new page of Arab cooperation to keep the region secure.”

Jubeir said the Houthis “have always chosen the path of violence”. He declined to say whether the Saudi campaign involved assistance from US intelligence.

He said the Saudis “will do anything necessary” to protect the people of Yemen and “the legitimate government of Yemen.”

Jubeir said Saudi Arabia launched the attack “in response to [a] request from the legitimate Yemen government” and insisted it would be a limited operation “designed to protect the people of Yemen and its legitimate government from a takeover by the Houthis”.

“The [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries tried to facilitate a peaceful transition of government in Yemen but the Houthis have continuously undercut the process,” he said. “Based on the appeal from President Hadi, and based on the kingdom’s responsibility to Yemen and its people, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with its allies within the GCC and outside the GCC, launched military operations in support of the people of Yemen and their legitimate government,” he added.

In a statement published by the Saudi press agency, the countries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain said they would answer a request from Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen”. Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, was not a signatory to the statement.

Egypt also said it was providing political and military support for the anti-Houthi operation.

An unnamed Houthi leader told al-Jazeera that military operations would drag the region into a wider war.

Earlier, Houthi rebels seized al-Anad airbase, which lies between Taiz – Yemen’s third largest city, which fell under rebel control last week – and Hadi’s stronghold of Aden, in a renewed push for control of the country’s south. The advance set the stage for a confrontation between Iran, which backs the rebels also known as Ansar Allah, and regional powers eager to halt the broadening of the Islamic Republic’s regional influence.

Yemen’s descent into chaos also complicates American efforts to fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the jihadi group that has been repeatedly targeted by US drone strikes and is also seen as an enemy by the Houthis.

The rebels, members of the Zaydi offshoot of Shia Islam, seized control of the capital, Sana’a, last year and placed Hadi under house arrest. He fled to Aden this month.

Hadi’s whereabouts were the subject of conflicting reports on Wednesday. Yemeni security and port officials told Associated Press that he had left the country with his aides on a boat from the port of Aden. They would not disclose Hadi’s destination; he is scheduled to attend an Arab summit in Egypt at the weekend.

However, Yemen’s foreign minister and presidential sources told Reuters that the president remained in Aden. Another presidential aide told AFP that he had been rushed to a “secure location”.

The US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing: “We were in touch with him earlier today. He is no longer at his residence. I’m not in position to confirm any additional details from here about his location.”

Michael Lewis, professor at Ohio Northern University College of Law and a former navy fighter pilot who watches Yemen closely, said before the White House confirmed its involvement: “This is all about Sunni v Shia, Saudi v Iran. [The US] can’t be a disinterested observer. Nobody’s going to buy that. What we needed to do was pick a side.”

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:27 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Philippines: China Wants to Control South China Sea

by Naharnet Newsdesk 26 March 2015, 08:38

The Philippines accused China on Thursday of seeking to take control of nearly the entire South China Sea with an expansionist agenda dominated by "massive reclamation" works.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said China's efforts were aimed at undermining a United Nations tribunal that is due to rule early next year on a Philippine challenge to its claims to the disputed waters.

"China is accelerating its expansionist agenda and changing the status quo to actualise its nine-dash line claim and to control nearly the entire South China Sea before... the handing down of a decision of the arbitral tribunal on the Philippine submission," del Rosario told reporters.

China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the resource-rich sea, even areas approaching the coasts of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, based on an old Chinese map with nine dashes outlining its territory.

But the nine dashes are in some places more than 1,000 (600 miles) from the nearest major Chinese landmass and well within the exclusive economic zones of its neighbours.

The dispute -- with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claiming parts of the sea -- has for decades been a source of deep regional tension and occasional military conflict.

Tensions have escalated sharply in recent years as China has moved to increase its presence and assert its authority in the waters.

Del Rosario said those activities were continuing to pick up pace, pointing to what he described as Chinese ships ramming Filipino fishing boats at a shoal close to the Philippine coast in January.

"China also made and continues to make incursions in the West Philippine Sea and undertake massive reclamation activities in the disputed areas," he said, referring to the Philippine-claimed waters by its local name.

Del Rosario said the reclamation works were taking place on all seven reefs that China occupies in the Spratly Islands, one of the biggest archipelagos in the sea between the Philippines, southern Vietnam and Malaysia.

"The alterations of these features are plainly intended to change the character, status and maritime entitlements of the said features, which prejudice the arbitration and undermine the work of the arbitral tribunal to hear and objectively decide the case," he said in a speech to the foreign journalists' association in Manila.

China is a signatory to the U.N.'s Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty that is meant to govern nations' maritime actions.

But China has refused to participate in the case filed by the Philippines. The tribunal's ruling will not be legally enforceable and China is widely expected to ignore any verdict against it.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:26 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Australia, Cambodia Sign New Asylum-Seeker Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk 26 March 2015, 07:16

Australia and Cambodia on Thursday sealed a second deal on immigration cooperation, vowing to tackle the "growing security threat" of asylum-seeker smuggling just months after agreeing to transfer refugees to the Southeast Asian nation.

The new memorandum of understanding will see the two nations exchange information on people-smuggling activities, building on September's deal to transfer refugees held by Australia on the remote Pacific island of Nauru to Cambodia.

Under Canberra's hardline immigration policy, asylum-seekers who arrive on boats are denied resettlement in Australia and sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, even if they are genuine refugees.

"The agreement represents the renewed determination by Australia and Cambodia to work closely to counter the growing security threat posed by transnational crime and illegal migration practices," Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in a statement as he welcomed Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng to Canberra.

Sar Kheng said the agreement reflected Phnom Penh's commitment to "develop our capacity to fight this growing international criminal activity" of people-smuggling.

The deputy prime minister also defended Cambodia's reported deportation of 36 Vietnamese Montagnards last month after they were arrested while trying to seek asylum.

The mainly Christian ethnic minorities in Vietnam's mountainous Central Highlands have crossed the border to Cambodia in recent years to escape discrimination.

"If we are able to identify those individuals who are illegal immigrants then we implement the immigration law, whereas (if we) identify those who are refugees we implement the convention," Kheng said in Canberra, the Australian Associated Press reported.

Australia has attracted criticism, including from the United Nations, for signing the deal to permanently resettle refugees in Cambodia, one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.

Refugee advocates say asylum-seekers are not interested in the deal.

Source: Agence France Presse


Mandatory data retention becomes law as Coalition and Labor combine

Major parties join forces in the Senate to vote for the metadata storage scheme despite attempts to amend bill by independents and minor parties

Daniel Hurst Political correspondent
Thursday 26 March 2015 08.31 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 08.57 GMT

Australia’s mandatory data retention scheme has passed both houses of parliament after the Coalition and Labor stared down privacy-based objections from minor parties and independents.

The Senate voted in favour of the legislation on Thursday amid continuing uncertainty over the cost of requiring telcos and internet service providers (ISPs) to store customers’ metadata – including the time and participants in phone calls, text messages and emails – for two years.

The Coalition government and Labor opposition defeated a series of last-ditch amendments proposed by the Greens and other crossbench senators aimed at further tightening access arrangements, including a proposal to expand the use of warrants to obtain people’s metadata.

The upper house passed the bill 43 votes in favour to 16 against. The Coalition easily had the numbers to secure the legislation with support from Labor and the Palmer United senator Dio Wang. Opponents included the Greens and other crossbenchers David Leyonhjelm, Nick Xenophon, Jacqui Lambie, Glenn Lazarus, John Madigan and Ricky Muir.

The Greens senator Scott Ludlam said the legislation contained “the DNA of both of the major parties” and “entrenches a form of passive surveillance over 23 million Australians”.

“The ALP has caved into Tony Abbott’s self-interested fear campaign and supported the bill,” Ludlam said. “You failed to turn up. You will be judged for that … We will remember this in 2016 and we will not let others forget.”

But Labor speakers maintained that they had secured improvements to the original bill, including protections for journalists and other safeguards after the government accepted the recommendations of the bipartisan security committee.

“The Labor party has not caved in on this matter,” the Labor senator Jacinta Collins said. “And yes, indeed, we do accept that we will be judged as will yourselves as will all of us in the public arena. We accept that and we take responsibility for that. We are the alternative government and we do have to be responsible about issues related to national security.”

Collins also insisted that mandatory data retention was “not mass surveillance”.

“Information that is recorded is not necessarily accessed. We have built a strong system with checks and balances to ensure that we have that balance right,” she said.

The attorney general, George Brandis, praised senators for conducting “a very civil and intelligent debate” about the legislation, which he argued was proportionate.

“Nobody could say this has been a rushed process,” he said. “This legislation does contain protections that weren’t there before. It does preserve a capability for police and national security and commercial regulatory agencies which was on the verge of being lost. It does contain safeguards that weren’t there before.”

In a statement welcoming the decision, Brandis said metadata was “the basic building block in nearly every counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and organised crime investigation”.

He underlined the need for a mandatory scheme with consistent storage obligations to replace the current practice of relying on data retained by companies voluntarily.

“A victim’s right to justice, and agencies’ ability to solve crimes, shouldn’t depend on which service provider is used by the victims and perpetrators,” Brandis said.

But Xenophon said he was worried the law would have a “suffocating effect on press freedom”.

“We live in difficult and dangerous times,” the independent senator said. “There is a need to combat terrorism and do all we can to combat paedophilia and to stamp that out and bring those predators to justice but my concern is with our intelligence agencies having more and more power … we do not have that same level of scrutiny of some of our allies.”

Leyonhjelm, the Liberal Democratic senator, said he was worried the “data honeypot” would be used to pursue trivial matters.

The prime minister, Tony Abbott, had been determined to pass the law before parliament rose for a six-week pre-budget break, describing a mandatory data retention scheme as necessary to avoid “a form of unilateral disarmament in the face of criminals”.

But hours before the bill passed the upper house, Abbott was unable to answer a direct question about the amount the government would contribute to businesses to assist with the cost of implementation, estimated to be up to $300m.

“We have said to the industry that we are prepared to make an appropriate upfront contribution to the cost. We are continuing to talk to the industry about precisely what that will be,” he said. “But the important thing is that the metadata legislation be passed and passed quickly, because if we want to keep our communities safe we need this legislation in place.”

The Senate vote came a week after the bill passed the House of Representatives, where the government holds a majority.

Senators debated whether agencies should continue to be able to access to metadata without a warrant, privacy implications, the effectiveness of the scheme, the cost of implementation and definitional problems.

Crossbenchers also questioned the adequacy of the new warrant protections for journalists agreed between Labor and the Coalition after fears about the data being used to identify confidential sources.

Xenophon unsuccessfully attempted to amend a separate security law that passed parliament last year and introduced lengthy jail terms for journalists who reported information about “special intelligence operations” even where people lives’ were not jeopardised.

He wanted exemptions for journalists who reported in good faith about a matter of public interest so long as it would not enable an intelligence official to be identified.

“Make no mistake about it: these issues go to the heart of press freedom in this country and the ability of investigative journalists to do that work,” Xenophon said.

Ludlam questioned the effectiveness of the data retention scheme after the communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, used a television interview to list a variety of “over the top” messaging services that journalists and sources could use to avoid their interactions being captured.

“Amazing – tips on how to avoid mandatory data retention by the guy who introduced the bill,” Ludlam told the Senate, urging people to follow Turnbull’s advice.

Despite the bill’s passage, the data retention obligations do not begin immediately. Telcos and ISPs will have until 2017 to fulfil their implementation plans.

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:22 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Indian Police Make First Arrest in Nun's Rape

by Naharnet Newsdesk 26 March 2015, 09:12

Indian police have made their first arrest over the rape of an elderly nun that has shocked the country, a senior official said on Thursday.

Investigators traced the suspect to the western city of Mumbai and detained him on Wednesday night, the police official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"He was picked up from a hideout in Mumbai on Wednesday night," he said.

"He is being brought to headquarters of the investigating agency in Kolkata."

The nun, who is in her 70s, needed surgery after she was attacked earlier this month when a gang of robbers broke into the convent school in the eastern state of West Bengal where she lived.

Police in the state capital Kolkata identified four of the six robbers through CCTV footage and had detained eight people for questioning.

But no arrests were made until Wednesday and authorities in Kolkata had faced criticism over the pace of progress in the investigation.

Last week, the West Bengal government said it was handing over the case to the country's top investigators after coming under fire over the lack of arrests.

The assault was the latest in a string of high-profile rapes in India and added to the fears of the country's Christian minority following a spate of attacks on churches.

Detectives have posted a reward of 100,000 rupees ($1,600) for any leads on the suspects.

Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised a crackdown on religious violence and has said he was deeply concerned about the attack on the nun.

Police have launched a gang-rape inquiry, although officers say only one person sexually assaulted the nun.

Source: Agence France Presse


Indian duo tackle ‘rape culture’ in viral rap - video


Two young Indian women who released a rap video protesting sexual violence say they never expected the clip to receive worldwide attention. Uppekha Jain and Pankhuri Awasthi, who call themselves the 'BomBaebs', posted a music video on YouTube earlier this month, which now has almost 400,000 views. They are calling for people in India to do more to fight what they see as a rape culture

Click to watch: <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:18 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
All aboard the Super Savari Express: an armed tour bus for crime-ridden Karachi

It takes six gun-toting guards and a special bus in order for the wealthier residents of Karachi to see the sights of their own city

Maryam Omidi in Karachi
Wednesday 25 March 2015 10.06 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 00.04 GMT

Dubbed “the world’s most violent megacity”, armed muggings, carjackings and extortion are part of everyday life in Karachi, where political and criminal forces vie for ownership of the city. The result is a pervasive sense of fear – one that prevents many Karachiites from even leaving their own neighbourhoods, which are carved along wealth and ethnic lines.

“The culture of driving, and the security issue, disable you from visiting these other places,” says Farzana Mukhtar, an HR consultant. It’s 8am on Sunday, and the places Mukhtar is referring to are the streets of Saddar Town, Karachi’s former colonial centre. In contrast to the mid-week traffic, it is virtually deserted, leaving Mukhtar and his group of camera-wielding tourists to admire the remnants of the city’s colonial architecture and daily life with a sense of wonderment: the few hawkers who have woken early, and the tea shop owners preparing for the breakfast crowd. It’s a scene common to tourist sites everywhere; what’s unusual about this group is that many of them are from Karachi itself, on a tour to explore their own city.

Mukhtar and the group are part of a city bus tour organised by Super Savari Express, the first of its kind in the city. At 2,000 Pakistani rupees per ticket (£13), the tour, which launched late last year, attracts a relatively wealthy clientele: Mukhtar, who lives in Clifton, one of the city’s most affluent neighbourhoods, is typical.

“We have about 30 to 40 people on each tour, and they all know the political situation and the safety situation – and yet they’re here because they’re hungry to see they can explore,” says Atif bin Arif, managing director of Super Savari Express. “These are the same people who fly to the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel, even though we have beautiful churches here; or go to India to see temples, when we have Hindu temples here.”

    Having six armed guards close by at all times serves as a reminder of the city’s day-to-day reality

Karachi is demographically diverse. Members of each of Pakistan’s ethnic groups as well as refugees from across the region call the port city of more than 21 million residents home. Even so, urban space is highly fragmented, with little provocation needed for ethnic and political tensions to flare up. Turf wars between the country’s main political parties over the past three decades have wrought havoc on the city, with the rise of the Pakistani Taliban exacerbating the violence. “Unlike in South and North American cities, which top the list of the world’s most dangerous, in Karachi, no neighbourhood is entirely murder-free,” says Laurent Gayer, author of Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City. “Violent crime is only one source of insecurity among others, including inter-party rivalries, ethnic riots, Islamist terrorism and sectarian conflicts. This contributes to the general sense of insecurity of Karachi’s populations across the social, ethnic and religious divide.”

The group is ferried around in one of the city’s gloriously kitsch public buses, painted with technicolor flowers and peacocks and festooned with pink and red feathers, tassles and tissue-paper flowers. For many on the tour, people who are used to being driven around in air-conditioned cars, travelling by public bus is a first. Others recall how in safer times in their youth they would take the bus to school or university.

In addition to showing off the former capital’s architectural heritage, the five-hour tour aims to highlight the city’s diversity by stopping off at a Hindu temple, a cathedral, a Parsi fire temple and mosques belonging to two minority Muslim groups, the Memons and the Dawoodi Bohra, all part of Bin Arif’s goal to demonstrate Karachi’s “mosaic of cultures, ethnicities and religions.” Although a sense of freedom sets in as the tour progresses, six armed guards, close by at all times, serves as a reminder of the city’s day-to-day reality.

The gap between rich and poor adds further complexity to the city’s design. While the destitute live in inner-city slums or in katchi abadis, unplanned ghettos on the fringes, the wealthy live isolated in Karachi’s most prestigious neighbourhoods, Clifton and Defence, in walled-off homes manned by 24-hour armed guards. In these enclaves, residents and private security companies have taken matters into their own hands, resulting in a proliferation of walls topped by razor wire, checkpoints, CCTV cameras and barriers of all shapes and sizes that would not be out of place in a war zone.

“We have a social divide across the city, meaning those in Clifton and Defence live inside a bubble. So when they move out of their comfort zone they are more worried than they should be,” says Farooq Soomro, the founder of The Karachi Walla, a blog documenting the city’s architectural treasures. “I’ve been robbed at signals, so this danger is clear and present. But it shouldn’t stop me from living in the moment, because the city has a lot to offer which probably balances out this risk.”

Back in Saddar Town, the tour group, who almost all live in the wealthy neighbourhoods, have, for a few hours at least, forgotten about their security concerns. “I’m here with five or six family members, all from Karachi, but we’ve never seen the city like this before,” says Bilal Khan, a businessman. “I’m 38 years old and I never knew about some of these places.”

Mukhtar agrees. “I’m not so worried about security right now because we’re in a group and it’s a Sunday. Plus you have to take a bit of a risk to enjoy yourself. But frankly speaking, it’s a daring thing to do in these times.”

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:16 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Ghani: IS Terror Threat Squeezing Afghanistan

by Naharnet Newsdesk 25 March 2015, 21:57

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned Wednesday that Islamist extremists will soon "come knocking on our door," and stressed to U.S. lawmakers that the region must unite in a battle against them.

"If one story of our future history is bright, there is another, darker cloud that is making its way towards our country," Ghani told a joint meeting of Congress during his first trip to Washington as leader of Afghanistan.

He said the Islamic State group has already begun sending "advance guards" to southern and western Afghanistan "to test for vulnerabilities."

"To the south, Pakistan's counter-insurgency operations, in which more than 40,000 people have already died, are pushing the Taliban from south Waziristan towards Afghanistan's border regions."

While he stressed the importance of democratic nations rising up as one to repel IS, which has seized wide swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, he indirectly accused some nations of abiding jihadism in the region.

"The changed ecology of terror could not have formed without some states tolerating, financing, providing sanctuary, and using violent, non-state actors as instruments of short sighted policies," he said.

Ghani held his debut White House meeting Tuesday with President Barack Obama, and while the two hailed a revitalized partnership following years of strain between Washington and Ghani's predecessor Hamid Karzai, the current leader warned that a reforming Afghanistan may not be able to keep the wave of jihadism at bay.

"Extremism is becoming a system, one that, like a dangerous virus, is constantly mutating, becoming more lethal, very media savvy, well financed, and thriving on state weakness and an overall lack of regional coordination," he said.

"To date, Afghanistan's people have rejected the allure of violent Islam. But sooner or later extremism will come knocking at our door. The world's democratic communities must unite to fight against this dangerous form of violence."

Ghani defiantly insisted that Afghanistan will be the "graveyard" of al-Qaida and other extremist groups who enter the country.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:14 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Kerry Begins New Talks with Iran Chasing Nuclear Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk 26 March 2015, 11:38

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart held down-to-the-wire talks in Switzerland Thursday, with U.S. officials insisting the contours of a historic nuclear deal were in sight just days before a deadline.

"We very much believe that we can get this done by (March) 31," said a senior State Department official travelling on Kerry's plane to the Swiss lakeside city of Lausanne.

"We can see a path forward here to get to an agreement, we can see what that path might look like," the official told reporters, cautioning however that this "doesn't mean we'll get there".

Six world powers negotiating with Iran since late 2013 want Iran to disable parts of its nuclear infrastructure in order to put an atomic bomb out of reach and end a 12-year standoff.

After missing two deadlines in 2014 to turn a interim accord struck in November 2013 into a lasting deal, the parties set March 31 for a "framework" agreement with a full pact to be agreed by July.

But it remains unclear how detailed the framework between Iran and the six powers will be, particularly with the United States and France appearing split on the issue.

A senior European official also said any deal may only be an internal document, a fact sheet -- or not a text at all.

The State Department official said the format of what, if anything, is agreed by March 31 was still under discussion but that it "needs to address in some way all of the major elements of a final agreement".

"We have always said it needs to have specifics. We will need to communicate as many specifics as possible to the public in some form or fashion," the official said.

- 'Bad tactic' -

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is under severe pressure from a hostile Congress to return from Lausanne with something concrete to show from his 18 months of talks with the Islamic Republic.

The White House said Wednesday that Washington expects "tangible, specific commitments... by the Iranians".

But Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has criticised the two-step process, with the New York Times reporting that Tehran prefers a more general statement of understanding.

France, seen as the most hawkish of the P5+1 group also comprising Russia, China, Britain and Germany as well as the United States, has also expressed misgivings.

France's ambassador to Washington, Gerard Araud, said on Twitter last week that aiming to agree something by March 31 was a "bad tactic" creating pressure to get a deal "at any price".

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is also under pressure from hardliners at home to deliver, on Wednesday hit out at the P5+1 for failing to "coordinate its stance".

- Improved relations -

Britain's Philip Hammond, who like other foreign ministers is on stand-by to come to Lausanne, warned of the consequences of failure.

"No deal means no restrictions on (Iran's nuclear program) ... It means a fundamentally more unstable Middle East, with the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the region," Hammond said in a speech.

The mooted deal could boost relations between Iran and the West after decades of acrimony, potentially including more cooperation fighting Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

But Iran, which denies wanting the bomb, is loath to dismantle any of its nuclear facilities unless in return the powers dismantle painful U.N., U.S. and EU sanctions that have choked its economy.

The six powers counter that they can only be suspended -- not terminated -- over a long period, allowing them to be "snapped back" if Iran violates the deal.

And even before a deal is agreed, critics have been lining up to say that it will not do enough to stop Iran getting the bomb.

These include Sunni Muslim Gulf monarchies like powerhouse Saudi Arabia, Shiite Iran's main regional rival, and Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power and a close U.S. ally.

"We will continue to act to prevent the emerging agreement with Iran -- an agreement which endangers us, our neighbours and the world," newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.

But the main thorns in Obama's side have been his Republican opponents, who sparked a furore by warning Iran in an open letter that Obama does not have the power to conclude a durable agreement without their backing.

Republicans are also readying legislation that could oblige Obama to get any deal approved by Congress and impose fresh sanctions on Iran -- something which would may well torpedo the entire process if passed.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:11 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Opening New Iraq Front, U.S. Strikes ISIS in Tikrit

MARCH 25, 2015

BAGHDAD — American warplanes began airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Tikrit late Wednesday, finally joining a stalled offensive to retake the Iraqi city as American officials sought to seize the initiative from Iran, which had taken a major role in directing the operation.

The decision to directly aid the offensive was made by President Obama on Wednesday, American officials said, and represented a significant shift in the Iraqi campaign. For more than three weeks, the Americans had stayed on the sideline of the battle for Tikrit, wary of being in the position of aiding an essentially Iranian-led operation. Senior Iranian officials had been on the scene, and allied Shiite militias had made up the bulk of the force.   

Mr. Obama approved the airstrikes after a request from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the condition that Iranian-backed Shiite militias move aside to allow a larger role for Iraqi government counterterrorism forces that have worked most closely with United States troops, American officials said. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who has been advising forces around Tikrit, was reported on Sunday to have left the area.

The United States has struggled to maintain influence in Iraq, even as Iran has helped direct the war on the ground against the Islamic State. But as the struggles to take Tikrit mounted, with a small band of Islamic State militants holding out against a combined Iraqi force of more than 30,000 for weeks, American officials saw a chance not only to turn the momentum against the Islamic State but to gain an edge against the Iranians.

If the Americans did not engage, they feared becoming marginalized by Tehran in a country where they had spilled much blood in the last decade, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

American officials now hope that an American-assisted victory by Mr. Abadi and his forces will politically bolster him and counter the view of Iranian officials, and many Iraqi Shiites, that Iran is Iraq’s vital ally. “Taking back Tikrit is important, but it gives us an opportunity to have our half of the operation win this one,” one American official said. “It’s somewhat of a gamble.”

The administration also hopes that a Tikrit victory with American air power will ensure that it is their coalition with Mr. Abadi’s forces, and not the faction led by Mr. Suleimani, that then proceeds to try to recapture the larger and more pivotal city of Mosul.

But by most accounts, such an operation is months in the future, at least, as officials and analysts agree the assembled force around Tikrit would be inadequate to take Mosul. Officials are scrambling to train more Iraqi soldiers for a push on Mosul, and especially to include more Sunni Arab forces in the offensive. Tikrit and Mosul are heavily Sunni cities, and there are widespread concerns that using predominantly Shiite forces in the campaigns could lead to sectarian abuses. Further, it is not clear that Mr. Abadi has the political strength or will to keep reining in the militiamen or Iran’s influence, both which have powerful sway in his Shiite political coalition.

The White House made no comment and instead left it to the Pentagon to announce the new airstrikes against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. “These strikes are intended to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing collateral damage to infrastructure,” Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, the commanding of the Islamic State operation, said in a statement. “This will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to maneuver and defeat ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit.”

Mr. Abadi hailed the strikes in a speech broadcast on Iraqi state television from Baghdad on Wednesday night. “The time of freedom has just been started,” he said. He continued, “We announce today what we have promised you yesterday, that we are going to liberate and clear each spot of our territory, and ISIS won’t have a foothold on Iraq’s land.”

But Shiite militia figures have criticized any outreach toward the United States. “Some of the weaklings in the army say that we need the Americans, but we say we do not need the Americans,” Hadi al-Ameri, the prominent leader of the group of Shiite militias known here as popular mobilization committees, said last week.

The battle for Tikrit, an important city north of Baghdad in Iraq’s Sunni heartland, has powerful resonance because its capture last year was seen as a sign of the Islamic State’s ascendance. Complete control of Tikrit would give Iraqi forces command of a vital cluster of road networks and would be the first major success in rolling back last year’s lightning offensive that brought Islamic State forces within a short drive from the capital.

The offensive began March 2, with officials making repeated claims that the city would be reclaimed within days. Then in recent days, officials have said they preferred to consolidate their gains rather than risk more civilian casualties by continuing to press their attack.

The preponderance of the 30,000 fighters on the Iraqi side have been members of the militias, fighting alongside Iraqi soldiers and policemen. The Iraqi government has tried to broaden the offensive to include more Sunnis, but the force remains largely Shiite.

At Friday Prayer in Karbala last week, a sermon by Sheikh Abdul Mehdi al-Karbalaee, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the powerful spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiites, pointedly called for more unity and better organization in the fight in Tikrit. That was widely taken as implicit criticism of the offensive’s lack of success.

The representative also said that fighters should refrain from flying Shiite religious banners, suggesting that better efforts should be made to involve Sunnis in the fight.

Last Sunday, Mr. Ameri, the militia organizer, praised Mr. Suleimani, the Iranian commander, for his help in Tikrit but said that he had left the area. “Qassem Suleimani is here whenever we need him,” Mr. Ameri said at a news conference at Camp Ashraf, a militia base north of Baghdad. “He was giving very good advice. The battle ended now, and he returned to his operational headquarters.”

Mr. Abadi asked the ambassador Stuart E. Jones and Brett McGurk, the deputy special envoy for the battle with the Islamic State, for American help with the Tikrit offensive last week. The American side insisted that it could help only if operations were coordinated by a joint center with the American military in Baghdad and if there were clear targets.

The Americans wanted to work with Iraqi forces they had helped train and insisted on “deconflicting” with the Iranian-backed militias so they would not bomb them by mistake, American officials said. The Shiite militias have generally been on the east side of the Tigris River, the officials said, so it should be possible to avoid any errors.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke with Mr. Abadi by telephone, and Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of Central Command, developed a plan for strikes and concluded that the Iraqis had met the Americans’ condition, the officials said. Although Mr. Obama does not personally sign off on most airstrikes in the fight with the Islamic State, he was brought this decision for approval because it represented a more complicated shift in policy.

American officials seemed heartened that Mr. Abadi had made a point of calling the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey last weekend to reassure them that once the Islamic State is rooted out of Tikrit, the Sunni city would be returned to the control of its Sunni police, not dominated by Shiite forces.

But even the addition of American air power did not guarantee victory. Although the Islamic State has a relatively small force in Tikrit, American officials said they had booby-trapped many of the houses, and an all-out raid to drive them out could be costly.

“It’s a pretty gnarly situation for anybody going in there,” one of the officials said.
Correction: March 26, 2015

An earlier version of this article misstated the location from which a speech by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq was broadcast Wednesday night. It was Baghdad, not Salahuddin Province.

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