May 21, 2013
Iran and Hezbollah Support for Syria Complicates Peace-Talk Strategy
By MICHAEL R. GORDON and STEVEN LEE MYERS
MUSCAT, Oman — As evidence grows of increased Iranian support for the Syrian government, the Obama administration’s strategy to bring the bitter fighting there to a close faces more challenges than ever.
With White House support, Secretary of State John Kerry has pushed for an international conference in Geneva in June that would bring representatives of the Syria government together with the opposition.
The aim would be to negotiate a transitional government that would take over if President Bashar al-Assad vacates his post and to put an end to the civil war that has killed more than 80,000.
But the stepped-up support Mr. Assad has received from Iran and Hezbollah in recent months appears to have fortified his belief that he can hang on to power and prevail militarily — or at least control a strategically significant swath of the country.
The limited assistance the United States and its partners have so far been willing to provide the rebels seems unlikely to prompt Mr. Assad to look for a political way out, critics maintain.
And persistent divisions within the ranks of the Syrian opposition, which is again seeking to select a new political leadership, can only be a source of comfort to the Syrian president.
In an interview on Tuesday, Gen. Salim Idris, the head of the opposition’s military command, suggested that he was too preoccupied with the brutal fighting in the city of Qusayr even to worry about attending the Geneva meeting.
“Let the regime, Iran and Lavrov go to Geneva,” he said, referring to Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who played a major role with Mr. Kerry in organizing the session.
The big issue is whether negotiations can succeed if the United States, its allies and the Syrian opposition do not have more leverage over a seemingly implacable Assad government.
“We have long said — and the secretary has said — that it is important to change Bashar al-Assad’s calculations in order to get to a political settlement,” a senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday in a conference call.
Mr. Kerry planned to meet Wednesday with members of the Syrian opposition and fellow foreign ministers in Amman, Jordan, to review the Syrian situation.
“One of the things we’ll be talking about here in Amman tomorrow is what else needs to be done with respect to the military balance on the ground,” the official added.
As the Geneva meeting approaches, however, it is Mr. Assad’s backers who appear to be pulling out all of the stops.
“Iran’s role and Hezbollah’s role has grown substantially over the last couple of months,” the State Department official said.
The number of Iranian weapons shipments to Syria declined after Mr. Kerry pressed Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq during a March visit to Baghdad to order more inspections of Iranian flights that crossed Iraqi airspace.
But after a lull, the flights have started up again. In early May, Israel carried out an airstrike against a warehouse full of Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles at Damascus International Airport that were flown from Iran on three cargo planes and that the Israelis feared would be transferred to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that is supported and equipped by Iran.
That led to a short break in the flights, but by May 11, the Iranian flights had resumed, according to American officials familiar with intelligence reports.
Syrian opposition officials have also told the United States that Iranians have joined Hezbollah in the fighting in Qusayr, a development American officials said they could not independently verify but that they suggested was plausible.
According to American intelligence reports, there are some 200 Iranian paramilitary Quds Force personnel in Syria. Qassim Suleimani, the Quds Force commander, recently ordered Iranian artillery and armor officials to help Mr. Assad’s regime, American officials say.
And Mr. Suleimani has also requested that several hundreds fighters from Asaib al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, two Iraqi Shiite militias that have been trained by the Iranians, join the war effort in Syria, according to officials familiar with the intelligence assessments. Iran is heavily involved in training thousands of members of Mr. Assad’s militia, the Jaish al-Sha’bi, including in Iran.
Iran’s somewhat shadowy role burst into the open in February when Brig. Gen. Hassan Shateri, a Quds Force officer, was killed when he ran into a rebel checkpoint after visiting Aleppo.
In the maneuvering before the Geneva meeting, Mr. Lavrov said recently that he had told Mr. Kerry that Iran should attend the session given its “influence” on the situation in Syria. But the senior State Department official, who described Iran’s role as “pernicious,” asserted that its participation was not needed.
Russia recently delivered sophisticated antiship cruise missiles to Syria, a step that Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said might embolden Mr. Assad to hold fast.
While Hezbollah and Iran have thrown their support behind Mr. Assad, the United States and its allies have been more deliberate.
At a conference on Syria in Istanbul in late April, Mr. Kerry pledged to increase the nonlethal aid to the armed Syria opposition beyond the food rations and medical kits that the United States has been providing. But a month later, the Obama administration has yet to notify Congress what additional assistance is to be sent or to deliver the new aid.
“We will certainly be looking at doing things that will help build the Supreme Military Command’s logistical capabilities,” the State Department official said, referring to the military wing of the opposition. “So we’ll get that notification up to Congress shortly, I hope.”
In Washington, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Mr. Kerry was chairman before becoming secretary of state, voted on Tuesday to approve legislation that would authorize expanded assistance to the rebels in Syria, including weapons.
“I think all of us understand the risks that come with this type of legislation,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. “But we also know that if we don’t shift the balance there and the moderate groups don’t have the opportunity to be successful the day after Assad, then I think all of us are going to regret we did not play a role in helping make that happen.”
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined to comment on the proposed legislation but said the White House’s policy was clear.
“We are working urgently to end the conflict in Syria and hasten a transition from Bashar al-Assad to a democratic Syria that is inclusive of all Syrians,” she said.
Michael R. Gordon reported from Muscat, Oman, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington. Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.
on: May 22, 2013, 07:22 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
on: May 22, 2013, 07:19 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Syria crisis: Iranian troops join battle for Qusair
• US says Iranians fighting alongside Syria and Hezbollah
• Friends of Syria set to discuss arming rebels
• Kidnapped Egyptian police freed in Sinai
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 08.57 BST
Welcome to Middle East Live.
We have changed the format of this blog. It is now primarily a forum for readers to share links and offer commentary on developments. Please post your comments below on any of the day's stories from the Middle East.
Here's a roundup of the main developments:
• A senior US official, citing "multiple" rebel commanders, said Iranians were fighting alongside Hezbollah and Syrian government troops in the continuing battle for the border town of Qusair. In a briefing to reporters the official said: "It is the most visible effort we have seen of Hezbollah to engage directly in the fighting in Syria as a foreign force. We understand there are also Iranians up there. That is what the Free Syrian Army commanders are telling us. I think this is an important thing to note, the direct implication of foreigners fighting on Syrian soil now for the regime." The latest footage from activists in Qusair showed residents picking through the rubble looking for survivors after another air strike on the town.
The US official also suggested that Wednesday's Friends of Syria meeting in Jordan would discuss arming the rebels. The official said: "It is important to change Bashar al-Assad’s calculations in order to get to a political settlement and that the balance on the ground – the military balance on the ground is a huge factor in those calculations, and we understand that. And so one of the things we’ll be talking about here in Amman tomorrow is what else needs to be done with respect to the military balance on the ground."
• The opposition and the Assad government appear to be preparing to take part in an international peace conference against a background of some of the worst fighting this year. The United Nations-Arab League mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the UN was working to organise the peace talks. "The Syrian people are building great hopes on the conference, as the opposition prepares itself to take part and likewise the Syrian regime prepares to take part in this conference," he told reporters at the Arab League in Cairo.
• A cross-border exchange of fire in the Golan Heights between the Israeli and Syrian armies early on Tuesday triggered a claim by the Damascus regime that a jeep manned by Israeli troops had entered Syrian territory and was destroyed. The Israeli Defence Forces denied the claim, saying shots were deliberately fired at a patrol inside the Israeli-controlled the Golan Heights, causing minor damage and no injuries. "In response, IDF forces returned precise fire at the source and reported a direct hit," it said.
• One month after two Orthodox Christian bishops were kidnapped by gunmen in Syria, officials say they still have no idea what has happened to the missing prelates. The clerics, the most senior church officials to be targeted since civil war engulfed the country, have not been heard of since their abduction at gunpoint in the northern city of Aleppo on 22 April. "We are deeply worried for the lives of archbishop Mor Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church," said Katrina Lantos Swett, who chairs the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
• The northern city of Tripoli witnessed the worst night of clashes since fighting between supporters and opponents of Assad in the city erupted over the weekend, amid fears the Lebanese Army might withdraw from the area, Lebanon's Daily Star reports. In a one-hour period during the night, at least 47 mortar bombs rained on Lebanon’s second-largest city, forcing many residents to huddle in corners of their homes they felt could offer shelter.
on: May 22, 2013, 07:15 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
US identifies terrorists who attacked its Benghazi consulate in 2012
Administration weighing its options as intercepts reveal identity and whereabouts of suspects in attack that left four dead
Staff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 09.12 BST
Officials in the US say they have identified five men who might be responsible for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 and there is enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists or killing them with a drone strike. However, there is not enough proof to try them in a US civilian court as the Obama administration prefers.
The men remain at large while the FBI gathers evidence. The investigation has been slowed by the reduced US intelligence presence in the region since the 11 September 2012 attacks and the limited ability to assist by Libya's post-revolutionary law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which are still in their infancy since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.
The decision not to seize the men militarily underscores Washington's desire to move away from hunting terrorists as enemy combatants and holding them at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The preference is towards a process in which most are apprehended and tried by the countries where they are living or arrested by the US with the host country's co-operation, and tried in the US criminal justice system.
A senior Obama administration official, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the FBI had identified a number of individuals it believed could have information or may have been involved and was considering options to apprehend them. But taking action in remote eastern Libya would be difficult and America's relationship with Libya had to be considered.
The Libyan embassy did not respond to multiple requests for comment, the AP said.
The FBI and other US intelligence agencies identified the men through contacts in Libya and by monitoring their communications, officials said. They are thought to be members of Ansar al-Shariah, the Libyan militia group whose fighters were seen near the US diplomatic facility prior to the attack.
US officials say FBI surveillance has gathered proof that the five men were either at the scene of the first attack or somehow involved. In intercepts at least one of them bragged about taking part. Some of the men had also been in contact with a network of well-known regional jihadists, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the officials said.
The attack on the US diplomatic mission killed the ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans weeks before president Barack Obama's re-election. Since then, Republicans in congress have condemned the administration's handling of the situation, criticising the level of embassy security, questioning the talking points provided to UN ambassador Susan Rice for her public appearances to explain the attack and suggesting the White House tried to play down the incident to minimise its effect on the president's campaign.
The FBI released photos of three of the five suspects earlier this month. The images were captured by security cameras at the US diplomatic post during the attack, but it took weeks for the FBI to see and study them. It took the agency three weeks to get to Libya because of security problems.
on: May 22, 2013, 07:11 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
May 21, 2013
Muslims Linked to Riots Given Prison Terms in Myanmar
By THOMAS FULLER
BANGKOK — A court in Myanmar sentenced seven Muslim men to prison on Tuesday on charges related to the spasms of religious violence two months ago that left more than 40 people dead and chased thousands of people from their homes in central Myanmar.
A prominent Muslim questioned why Muslims had been the first to be prosecuted when witnesses and human rights groups agree that most of the violence had been carried out by Buddhist mobs attacking Muslims.
In the only other convictions related to the violence, two Muslims who owned a gold shop and their employee were each sentenced in April to 14 years in prison for aggravated assault, robbery and attempts to cause injury and for aiding and abetting criminal activity. The religious rioting is believed to have been incited by a dispute with a customer in the shop.
“I feel it is a one-sided trial against the Islamic community here,” said U Thein Myint, a leading member of the All Myanmar Islamic Scholars Organization, a group of Muslim religious teachers based in Yangon, the country’s largest city.
“The very first two trials regarding the Meiktila violence are all about Muslims,” he said, referring to a city in central Myanmar where the three days of rioting in March were centered.
In the court on Tuesday, U Myat Ko Ko, a motorcycle taxi driver in Meiktila, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder of a Buddhist monk. He was given an additional four-year sentence for inciting unrest and “insulting religious beliefs.”
The six other Muslim men who were sentenced Tuesday were given prison terms ranging from 2 to 28 years.
The lawyer for the seven men, U Thein Than Oo, said they all denied any involvement in the monk’s killing and would appeal their sentences.
The Myanmar authorities say that more than 60 Buddhists have been detained for their role in the violence and that trials are expected soon. “The police already sent 35 cases related to the Meiktila unrest to the Justice Department,” said U Kyi Shein, an officer at the Myanmar police force crimes division. “The Justice Department has to deal with those files.”
But Mr. Thein Than Oo said the way that the Buddhists were being treated was in marked contrast with the trial of the Muslims, which “was concluded urgently.”
“It seems that the authorities are worried about public anger,” he said, referring to widespread feeling among Buddhists, who are a majority in Myanmar, toward Muslims. “On the other hand, there has been silence about the murder of 28 children at a madrasa in Meiktila.”
Physicians for Human Rights, an organization based in the United States that brings attention to and researches abuses, published a report on Monday detailing what it called “organized attacks against Muslims” in Meiktila. The report, based on interviews with eyewitnesses, said that at least 20 children and four teachers from the madrasa, or Islamic school, had been killed and that the authorities had “stood by” and were “complicit” in the violence.
About 9 out of 10 people in Myanmar are Buddhist, and as Myanmar emerges from decades of military rule, there have been signs of growing intolerance toward minorities in the country, particularly Muslims. The United States State Department said in a report released on Monday that the government “limited freedom of religion” and “actively promoted Theravada Buddhism over other religions, particularly among certain ethnic minority populations.”
Two outbursts of rioting by Buddhists toward Muslims in western Myanmar over the past year forced more than 100,000 Muslims from their homes.
The rioting in Meiktila in March spread to other towns and villages in the country’s heartland. The death of the Buddhist monk appears to have been one of the events that incited the riots.
Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, who met President Obama on Monday in Washington, emphasized religious tolerance in a speech and called for a “more inclusive national identity.”
“Myanmar people of all ethnic backgrounds and all faiths — Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and others — must feel part of this new national identity,” he said. “We must end all forms of discrimination. And we must ensure not only that intercommunal violence is brought to a halt, but that all perpetrators are brought to justice.”
Mr. Obama said violence directed toward minorities “needs to stop.”
Wai Moe contributed reporting from Yangon, Myanmar.
Discussion / Evolutionary Astrology Q&A / Re: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic
on: May 22, 2013, 07:08 AM
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British wildlife faces ‘stark’ threat as 60 percent of species assessed in ‘The State of Nature’ report decline
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 7:32 EDT
British wildlife is under serious threat, according to a major new study out Wednesday, which found that 60 percent of species assessed have declined in numbers over the past 50 years.
The State of Nature report, produced by 25 wildlife organisations working together for the first time, examined the population or distribution trends of 3,148 mammals, birds, insects and plants.
“This important document provides a stark warning: far more species are declining than increasing in the UK, including many of our most treasured species,” broadcaster David Attenborough said in an introduction to the study.
“Alarmingly, a large number of them are threatened with extinction.”
Some 31 percent of species surveyed have declined sharply, the study found. Its authors said that factors including climate change and the loss of habitats were having a “major impact” on wildlife.
Among butterflies alone, 72 percent of species have declined over the last ten years, while the number of breeding birds has fallen by 44 million since the late 1960s, the report said, citing targeted research projects.
Hedgehogs and red squirrels are continuing to shrink in numbers but otters are recovering, it added.
However, the authors of the study said a lack of knowledge on the trends of most of the UK’s plant and animal species means they can only report quantative trends for 5 percent of the 59,000 land and freshwater species in the UK and for very few of the 8,500 marine species.
Wildlife knowledge is strongly biased towards vertebrates and researchers know little about the fortunes of many invertebrates and fungi, the researchers said.
“The threats to the UK’s wildlife are many and varied, the most severe acting either to destroy valuable habitat or degrade the quality and value of what remains,” the study’s authors said.
“Climate change is having an increasing impact on nature in the UK. Rising average temperatures are known to be driving range expansion in some species, but evidence for harmful impacts is also mounting.”
The study nevertheless found that targeted conservation has produced a legacy of success stories including the reintroduction of red kites.
“With sufficient determination, resources and public support, we can, and will, turn the fortunes of our wildlife around,” the authors said.
on: May 22, 2013, 07:07 AM
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North Korea sends special envoy to patch up relations with China
Choe Ryong-hae, a close aide to Kim Jong-un, arrives in Beijing as tensions with South Korea appear to ebb
Tania Branigan in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 May 2013 10.27 BST
North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, has dispatched a special envoy to China, its state media announced on Wednesday, as Pyongyang seeks to improve its strained relations with its main ally and lifeline.
Choe Ryong-hae, a senior Workers' party official and a vice-chairman of the top military body, arrived in Beijing with a political and military delegation. A close aide of the youthful leader, he is the first senior North Korean to visit China since last summer and the first special envoy since Kim took power in 2011.
China provides North Korea with the vast majority of its fuel and trade – reportedly accounting for almost nine-tenths of its imports and exports in 2011 – and its support has become even more important as Pyongyang's relations with Seoul have deteriorated.
But it has shown increasing signs of frustration with the regime over its weapons programmes and angry rhetoric.
"Since North Korea had the third nuclear test [in February], the relationship between China and North Korea has been pretty tense. To ease the relationship, the visit is very normal and necessary. It helps to stop the bilateral relationship deteriorating," said Cai Jian of the Centre for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. "This visit shows China is also willing to improve the relationship with North Korea."
China's state news agency, Xinhua, said Choe, 63, met Wang Jiarui, head of the international department of the Communist party. It gave no further details.
Analysts say Beijing rebuffed earlier proposals of high-level exchanges because it wanted to demonstrate its displeasure and was not guaranteed a meeting with Kim if it sent an envoy to Pyongyang.
Major Chinese banks recently suspended financial dealings with the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea – Pyongyang's main conduit for international transactions.
Kim Jong-un has not visited Beijing since he took power following his father's death in late 2011, though his uncle Jang Song-thaek visited in August last year. Chinese politburo member Li Jianguo went to Pyongyang with a letter from Xi Jinping, who had just become the Communist party leader, in November.
John Delury of Yonsei University suggested that Chinese leaders might also be looking ahead to South Korean president Park Geun-hye's visit next month.
"China wants to have good relations with both Koreas … They don't want to go too far with a great splashy meeting [with the South] while things are still off-kilter in the North Korean relationship. For its part, North Korea may want to recalibrate; they wanted a bit of distance from Beijing, but they don't want to push it too far," he said.
The North Korean news agency story on Choe's trip also revealed that General Kim Kyok-sik has become military chief again – a post he held before 2009 – replacing Hyon Yong-chul.
General Kim was recently replaced as defence minister – a lower ranking position – by Jang Jong-nam.
North Korea tested short range missiles over the weekend, but tensions have ebbed on the peninsula and there are signs of diplomatic engagement again.
Last week the Japanese prime minister sent a close aide to Pyongyang to hold talks over abducted Japanese citizens – a move greeted with dismay by South Korea, which described the trip as unhelpful.
On Tuesday, a Chinese fishing boat owner said his vessel had been released, two weeks after it was taken captive by gunmen in North Korean military uniforms. He said the captain was beaten and fuel stolen.
on: May 22, 2013, 07:02 AM
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Karachi's king over the water: Altaf Hussain of the MQM
From an unassuming office in Edgware, the Pakistani metropolis is ruled by a party Imran Khan accuses of murdering his Movement for Justice colleague Zhara Shahid Hussain
Luke Harding and Jon Boone in Islamabad
The Guardian, Tuesday 21 May 2013 19.15 BST
Its neighbours are an Afghan restaurant, a cafe selling fried chicken and a boarded-up, Tudor-style pub. But it is from this first-floor office in north-west London that the Pakistani megacity of Karachi, 4,000 miles away, is remotely governed by a flamboyant and controversial British citizen.
The office is the headquarters-in-exile of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Karachi's most powerful political party. Its leader, Altaf Hussain, has lived in the UK since 1991. These days, he rarely visits his headquarters, but his portrait hangs on the wall next to coloured maps of Pakistan's provinces, a list of MQM candidates who recently took part in Pakistan's general election, and a silver statue of a fist.
On Saturday Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician, accused the London-based MQM leader of being "directly responsible" for the murder of Zhara Shahid Hussain, a senior female member of Khan's Movement for Justice party (PTI). Hussain was shot dead outside her house in Karachi's upmarket Defence neighbourhood. Her driver, who witnessed her murder, is now under police protection.The sequence of events was this: after Hussain emerged from her car, a man sitting on a moped with an accomplice rushed towards her. Assuming she was being mugged, she threw down her handbag and mobile phone. The man pointed his gun at her forehead. She tried to defend herself, pushing the gun away, only for it to fire into her jaw. The man shot her again, in the back. Her handbag was taken but the wallet from inside it was discarded. "If this was a mugging incident, why did he [the assassin] leave the wallet?" Ahmed Chinoy, head of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee, asked.
A furious Khan also berated Britain. He suggested that Downing Street had failed to heed his claim that Altaf Hussain was responsible for numerous incidents of torture and murder in Pakistan.
In 2007, Khan presented a dossier to No 10, urging the government to have the MQM leader arrested and prosecuted using anti-terrorism laws.
On Saturday, Khan tweeted: "I also hold the British Govt responsible as I had warned them abt Br citizen Altaf Hussain after his open threats to kill PTI workers."
The dispute marks a new low in the already bitter rivalry between Khan's party and the MQM. The PTI accuses the MQM of preventing its supporters from voting during the elections, 10 days ago. (The poll was rerun last Saturday in 43 Karachi polling stations; the PTI cruised to victory after the MQM and others boycotted it.) More broadly, Khan alleges that Britain has ignored the MQM's violent record. The UK's liberal traditions have in this case enabled cold-blooded murder on Karachi's already febrile streets, he says.
Following Khan's complaints, the Metropolitan police is investigating a controversial speech made by Altaf Hussain from London last week. The investigation is in its early stages. The British Foreign Office said on Saturday that it "strongly condemned" all acts of violence in Karachi. It added: "We are deeply saddened by the recent violence in the city, including violence murderously directed against democratic political figures."
The MQM vehemently rejects Khan's allegations. It is suing him for defamation in Pakistan's high court, and says it will do the same this week in Britain. In a statement on the party's website, Hussain says he had nothing to do with Zhara Shahid Hussain's brutal death. Expressing his condolences to her family, he urged Pakistan's government to find the killers and administer "exemplary punishment".
Hussain has not given an interview for some years. His aides in London say he is "unwell". YouTube footage of his British press conferences show him as a larger-than-life figure prone to wild verbal performances characterised by finger-wagging and odd gestures.
His campaign speeches are broadcast from chilly, overcast London to the Karachi faithful, many of them women who hold portraits of their tubby, moustachioed leader.
Speaking from the MQM's office, in Edgware, Mohamad Anwar, one of Hussain's advisers, said the party was a legitimate democratic movement.
Hussain founded the MQM in the 1980s to defend the interests of the Muhajirs, the Urdu-speaking descendants of Muslims who moved from India to Pakistan during partition, in 1947. They arrived in a city then dominated by native Sindhis and Baloch. The MQM's political strongholds are urban Karachi and Hyderabad, in Sindh province; it is at odds with Pakistan's Punjabi-dominated elite, Anwar says.
But critics say that from its earliest days the party showed a readiness to use violence to fight for power.In the 1980s, when Hussain felt newspapers were giving him insufficient coverage, MQM supporters began burning all the city's papers before they could be distributed. "He forced all the media owners to come to the 90 [the party's headquarters] and beg his pardon," said Muhammad Ziauddin, managing editor of the Express Tribune. One paper protested by refusing to publish for one day.
Over the last five years, the MQM has proved to be an extremely troublesome coalition partner, temporarily walking out of the government several times and threatening to bring it down when it didn't get what it wanted. Critics say that when political blackmail fails, it turns to street violence.
"MQM has the ability to dial up and dial down violence when certain political objectives are threatened," said Shamila Chaudhary, a senior analyst at the Eurasia Group. "It's not new, but now they are feeling particularly threatened in their historic domain."
After successfully asserting its authority over Karachi in the 1980s and 1990s, when the military launched operations against the party, the MQM's power base is now under attack. One problem is profound demographic change: the city is filling up with Pashtuns fleeing Taliban violence in the north-west of the country. One informal estimate puts their numbers as high as 25%.
More of a surprise to the MQM is the rise of the PTI. Imran Khan's party had a disappointing result nationally, winning 28 seats, fewer than it had hoped. But in Karachi it managed to snatch nearly 20% of the vote.
Undoubtedly, however, Khan wrested votes from the MQM's core of middle-class supporters. Nusrat Javed, a prominent journalist, said: "The PTI is giving voice to the accumulated rage of middle-class, upwardly-mobile professionals who think the MQM got stuck in the 1980s."Hussain's followers dismiss claims of MQM wrongdoing. Of Khan's murder accusation, Anwar replied: "It's a madman's rant. Khan is a man who has utterly failed, having lost the elections."
Anwar said the MQM was itself a victim of political violence because of its secular beliefs and refusal to compromise with radical Islamists. The Pakistani Taliban frequently targeted and killed MQM party workers, he said. He denied claims that the party engages in extortion, land theft and other mafia-style activities, or that it has a shadowy armed wing.
Leaked diplomatic cables, meanwhile, show the US was impressed with the MQM's municipal record after it won control of Karachi city council in 2005. Its young mayor improved tax collection rates, built roads and devised water schemes in an overcrowded metropolis and port city of 16 million people. "The MQM based in Karachi appears to be transforming itself from a group of thugs to a service-based, grassroots political party," one diplomat wrote in 2008.
Hussain continues to fight for Karachi from self-imposed exile in Britain. Why doesn't he go back? "Look at what happened to Benazir Bhutto," Anwar said. "Would the Taliban spare him? They didn't spare Benazir."
He added: "Benazir lived in London for many years; Nawaz Sharif was in Saudi Arabia. Mr Hussain is no exception." Anwar predicted that Pakistan's ex-president Pervez Musharraf, who was in London and is now under house arrest in Pakistan, would soon be coming back.
The bookshelf at Hussain's London HQ contains some unexpected reading: Imran Khan's autobiography, as well as books on Churchill and India's constitution. According to Anwar, they are justified in their worries. Scotland Yard is so concerned the MQM's office, on Edgware High Street, could be the subject of an attack that a police sergeant calls round twice a day.
These concerns may not be exaggerated: in 2010, Hussain's senior London-based ally Dr Imran Farooq was stabbed to death outside his Edgware home.Why did the MQM have a copy of its arch-enemy's book, Pakistan: A Personal History? Anwar explained: "Of course we can read his autobiography. But Khan is an arrogant and immature man."
on: May 22, 2013, 07:00 AM
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Iran election: Rafsanjani blocked from running for president
List of eight candidates allowed to run in race to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad excludes two leading figures
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 21 May 2013 20.00 BST
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the leading opposition-backed candidate in Iran's presidential election, was disqualified on Tuesday from standing in a blow to those hoping for significant change when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leaves office.
Iranian state-run television broadcast a statement by the interior ministry on Tuesday night announcing the final list of candidates. It did not include Rafsanjani or President Ahmadinejad's close ally, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.
Eight men were allowed to enter the race for the election on 14 June, including Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili; the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf; and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati. Hassan Rouhani, a reformist who is seen as having little chance of victory, was also allowed to run. Jalili is widely seen as the favourite candidate of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
More than 680 people, among them some 40 prominent figures, registered as potential candidates this month in the hope of succeeding Ahmadinejad, but the six clergymen and six jurists of the Guardian Council allowed only a handful to stand.
The council's spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, said on Tuesday the vetting process had ended and the final list of candidates had been sent to the interior ministry but did not name those qualified, the semi-official Isna news agency reported. The candidates were then announced on national TV.
Conservative websites and semi-official agencies had earlier reported that Rafsanjani, 78, who has won the support of the country's reformers, had been disqualified because he is seen as too feeble to govern the country. His supporters said the reports amounted to no more than rumours spread by rival camps.
"If an individual who wants to take up a high post can only perform a few hours of work each day, naturally that person cannot be confirmed," Kadkhodaei said earlierthis week, boosting speculation that Rafsanjani would be blocked. Two of the Guardian Council's 12 members are older than Rafsanjani.
The hardline Kayhan newspaper, whose director is appointed by Khamenei, ran an editorial on Tuesday calling on the Guardian Council to disqualify Rafsanjani, saying he had become the favourite candidate of the country's enemies and opposition.
"A divine and serious responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Guardian Council. It is to rescue Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani from a dangerous bait that has been set for him by foreign enemies and their domestic associates," wrote Kayhan's Hossein Shariatmadari. Rafsanjani's office fought back by issuing a statement saying his opponents had resorted to fabricating news in order to distort the old man's image.
Rafsanjani's disqualification would come as a surprise to many of his supporters, who thought it unlikely the Guardian Council would reject him, given his crucial role in founding the Islamic republic and his position as one of the country's great political survivors.
Ali Motahari, an influential MP who was appointed on Tuesday as head of a major campaign group supporting Rafsanjani, predicted that Khamenei might intervene to reinstate Rafsanjani.
"Rafsanjani played a significant role in founding the Islamic republic … His disqualification will call into question the very principles of our revolution and the principles of the ruling system of the Islamic republic," he told the semi-official Isna news agency. Rafsanjani is head of Iran's expediency council, which mediates between the parliament and the Guardian Council.
Mashaei, who is seen as a nationalist figure, was widely expected to be barred despite Ahmadinejad's unwavering support. Supporters of Khamenei have accused Mashaei of putting Iran ahead of Islam and not showing enough loyalty to the supreme leader.
The Iran News Network, a pro-Ahmadinejad website, reported on Monday that a group of activists and campaigners sympathetic to Mashaei had been arrested and some summoned for questioning. Access to at least four pro-Mashaei websites was blocked last week. Analysts fear that Ahmadinejad might go out with all guns firing following Mashaei's disqualification. The president was reported to have cancelled three of his provincial visits this week to stay in the capital, Tehran.
Meanwhile, the Fars news agency, which is affiliated to the elite Revolutionary Guards, published a series of interviews with some leading clerics who called on people to respect the Guardian Council's decision.
Rafsanjani was a close confidant of Khamenei for much of the 1980s and 1990s but the pair fell out when the former lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential vote. The rift between the two widened when Rafsanjani voiced moderate support for Iran's Green movement in 2009 while Khamenei stood firm by Ahmadinejad and denied any allegations of vote rigging.
Rafsanjani's last-minute entry in Iran's presidential race had revived hopes among the country's reformers for a change in the country's trajectory and infuriated hardliners who believed his candidacy would challenge Khamenei's authority.
on: May 22, 2013, 06:57 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
May 21, 2013
Aide Charged With Abuse of Power in Georgia
By ELLEN BARRY
MOSCOW — The Georgian authorities charged one of President Mikheil Saakashvili’s top political partners with embezzlement and abuse of power on Tuesday, in the new government’s most decisive move yet against Mr. Saakashvili’s pro-Western team, which came to power in the 2003 Rose Revolution and dominated Georgian politics for nine years.
The official, Vano Merabishvili, is head of Mr. Saakashvili’s party, the United National Movement, and for years wielded great power as the head of Georgia’s police and security services and then as prime minister. But he saw his influence dwindle quickly when an opposition coalition, Georgian Dream, won parliamentary elections in 2012.
Among the campaign promises that swept Georgia’s new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, into office was a pledge to prosecute Saakashvili officials for offenses including corruption and police brutality. Dozens of officials have been charged with crimes since Mr. Ivanishvili’s election, but Western diplomats have urged restraint, especially in cases that involved political rivals like Mr. Merabishvili.
If convicted on the abuse-of-power charges, Mr. Merabishvili could face a prison term of seven to 12 years, prosecutors said. His lawyer, Giorgi Chiviashvili, told Georgian television that he would plead not guilty.
Mr. Saakasvhili, whose presidential term will end this year, said Mr. Ivanishvili had chosen the repressive path of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, who after winning the presidency in 2011 jailed his political rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko. The move, he said, would threaten Georgia’s longtime aspiration to enter NATO and the European Union.
“Even Ukraine, which is so much needed by America and Europe, managed to become internationally isolated because of the political arrest of its former prime minister,” he said Tuesday at a news conference.
Mr. Ivanishivili, who has pledged to maintain Georgia’s path toward European integration, said he was confident that Western governments would not view the arrest as politically motivated.
Prosecutors say Mr. Merabishvili misused a government employment program, using 5.2 million lari, or about $3 million, to pay 22,000 people to campaign for the United National Movement. He may also face additional charges, including excessive use of force against demonstrators at a rally in May 2011 and obstruction of justice in a 2006 homicide investigation. A second Saakashvili official, Zurab Chiaberashvili, the governor of the eastern region of Kakheti, was also detained on charges relating to the employment program.
The crowd-fueled euphoria of the Rose Revolution put Mr. Saakashvili and Mr. Merabishvili, then in their mid-30s, in control of a country plagued by corruption, crumbling infrastructure and electricity shortages. They pushed through risky reforms, overhauling the police force and imposing a zero-tolerance policy that all but obliterated everyday bribery.
But the United National Movement lost its luster in recent years. Unemployment was high, and the police were increasingly seen as heavy-handed. Just before the fall election, Mr. Saakashvili was badly damaged by the release of video clips showing brutal abuse in a Georgian prison. A poll released in April by the National Democratic Institute found that Mr. Saakashvili’s party had an approval rating of 10 percent, versus 60 percent for Mr. Ivanishvili’s coalition, Georgian Dream.
Mr. Merabishvili has had months to contemplate the possibility that he would be prosecuted, and in November said that he would stay in Georgia and run for office again, even if it meant serving a 15- or 20-year sentence.
“Georgian society, like any other society, thinks that pressure against the opposition is not democratic,” he said. “I am the main opponent of Ivanishvili, yes, because I was the candidate for prime minister. So they are arresting his main opponent.”
Olesya Vartanyan contributed reporting from Tbilisi, Georgia.
on: May 22, 2013, 06:55 AM
|Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad|
May 21, 2013
Exorcist Says Pope Helped ‘Liberate’ Man
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
VATICAN CITY — A dispute over whether Pope Francis performed an exorcism intensified on Tuesday, with a well-known exorcist insisting that Francis helped “liberate” a Mexican man possessed by four different demons despite the Vatican’s insistence that no such papal exorcism took place.
The case concerns a 43-year-old husband and father who traveled to Rome from Mexico to attend Francis’ Mass on Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. At the end of the Mass, Francis blessed several wheelchair-bound faithful as he always does, including a man described by the priest who brought him as being possessed by the devil.
Francis laid his hands on the man’s head and recited a prayer. The man heaved deeply a half-dozen times, shook, then slumped in his wheelchair.
The images, broadcast worldwide, prompted the television station of the Italian bishops’ conference to declare that according to several exorcists, there was “no doubt” that Francis either performed an exorcism or a simpler prayer to free the man from the devil.
The Vatican was more cautious. In a statement Tuesday, it said Francis “didn’t intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone who was suffering who was presented to him.”
The Rev. Gabriele Amorth, a leading exorcist for the diocese of Rome, said he performed a lengthy exorcism of his own on the man Tuesday morning and ascertained that he was possessed by four separate demons. Rvenerand Amorth told RAI state radio that even a short prayer, without the full rite of exorcism being performed, is in itself a type of exorcism.
“That was a true exorcism,” he said of Francis’ prayer. “Exorcisms aren’t just done according to the rules of the ritual.”
The Rev. Juan Rivas, the priest who brought the man, took the Vatican line, saying it was no exorcism but that Francis merely said a prayer to free the man from the devil.