Archive for December 5, 2014

August 18, 2014

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Twin protests demanding the Pakistani government step down have wreaked havoc in the capital, Islamabad, where commuters must circumvent shipping containers and barbed wire to get to work, protesters knock on people’s doors to use the bathroom, and garbage is piling up.

“People are talking of revolution but (they) don’t care about the difficulties we are facing due to this situation,” said Zafar Habib, a 56-year-old government employee in Islamabad. Tens of thousands of people have descended on the capital in recent days, answering the call from cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan and anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri to push for the government’s ouster. Both claim widespread fraud in the May 2013 vote and want new elections, something the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not likely to concede.

Both Khan and Qadri have vowed to remain in the streets with their supporters until Sharif leaves office, raising fears of political instability in the nuclear-armed nation, which only saw its first democratic transfer of power last year.

The protests have taken a strain on the city of roughly 1.7 million inhabitants, many of whom work for the government, embassies, or non-governmental organizations. The difficulties began last Wednesday, when the government started to beef up security, and show no signs of letting up in the next few days.

The most affected neighborhoods have been in the eastern part of the city where the protests have been centered, not too far from the so-called “Red Zone” and a diplomatic enclave that house government offices, embassies and other sensitive installations.

Residents say protesters — mostly women — knock on their doors early in the morning, hoping to use their bathrooms. “This is frustrating! I and other residents were trying to accommodate the women but then today some men also knocked on my door,” said Sajid Khan, a real estate agent.

Male protesters have also been crowding the washrooms in local mosques or simply going into the nearby forests. Garbage is beginning to pile up as well. “My main concern is the deteriorating hygienic condition. This will make us and our children ill,” said retired government servant Jahangir Zahid.

Residents and people trying to get to work have also been stymied by both the protesters and the security measures the government has taken to deal with them. Early last week the government started putting up shipping containers to control access to and from the city. The hundreds of vehicles brought by protesters have also clogged the roads.

“I have to put in more hours and fuel to reach my office these days,” said software engineer Adeel Ahmed. While the crowds have fallen well short of the million marchers that both Khan and Qadri promised, their presence and the heightened security measures have virtually shut down business in the capital. The rallies have nevertheless remained festive, with families picnicking and men and women dancing to drums and national songs.

Police estimate the crowds in both sit-ins have gradually dwindled since they arrived in the capital late Friday. Both rallies began as caravans of vehicles setting out from the eastern city of Lahore.

According to police, there are currently around 25,000 to 30,000 people in both demonstrations. The two rallies are centered along parallel streets, each with its own stage for speakers, but the crowds overlap and mingle at various times, especially when the leaders or key figures address the gatherings.

Business owners say many of their suppliers are not able to reach their shops. Shaukat Ali, who owns a meat shop, said Sunday that his supplier hasn’t been able to come so all he had was a crate of chickens to sell.

Bicycle store owner Adeel Zafar said his shop has been closed for a week because of the protests. “Why we are being punished?” he said. Protesters say they have little choice but to rely on local residents for help. Saeed Ahmed came from the city of Faisalabad, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) away, to support Qadri. Ahmed said they were ready to suffer what may come in support of Qadri’s revolution but complained that local residents weren’t too cooperative.

“At least let us use the restroom and share a little food with us,” he said. “This is what our religion teaches us.”

August 15, 2014

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad late Friday in the pouring rain following the arrival of convoys led by a cricket star-turned-politician and a fiery anti-Taliban cleric.

The twin protests led by Imran Khan and the cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri represent the biggest challenge yet to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s year-old government and security had been tightened across the capital amid fears of unrest in a country with a long history of chaotic politics and military coups.

The protesters left the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, vowing to march to the capital and camp out there until their demands for a new government are met. Despite the darkness and the lashing rain, the crowds swelled as they entered Islamabad shortly before midnight.

Police estimated some 60,000 people were taking part in the protest. The protests were festive despite the rain, with demonstrators waving national and party flags and dancing to drum beats and patriotic songs. Women supporters of Qadri wearing Islamic headscarves lined the roads and waved to his convoy as it entered the city.

As he approached the Islamabad airport, Khan tweeted that he would stage the sit-in on the city’s main Kashmir Highway. “Sharif should have his resignation ready,” he said. A spokesman for Qadri, Shahid Mursaleen, said the cleric would deliver a speech on Saturday to call for Sharif’s removal and immediate arrest.

Sharif says he is ready to meet with his opponents but has given no indication that he would step down. His critics accuse him of vote fraud during the election that brought him to power last year. Sharif’s spokesman, Pervaiz Rashid, condemned the “irresponsible behavior and actions” of his opponents.

“Pakistan is not a banana republic, where a few thousand people come and seek the resignation of the country’s prime minister,” he told a local news channel. Earlier Friday, as the march led by Khan passed through the city of Gujranwala, supporters of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N hurled stones at the convoy, said Khan, who was unharmed.

PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah told the Dawn news channel that both sides threw stones at each other. Mohammed Azeem, a police officer in Gujranwala, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) from Lahore, said some 200 ruling party supporters clashed with Khan’s protesters but that “the situation is under control.”

Both Khan and Qadri have vowed to bring one million of their followers into the streets of Islamabad, a city of roughly 1.7 million inhabitants. Thousands of riot police have been deployed across the capital. Authorities set up shipping containers to block traffic and cut off cellphone service in some areas.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Thursday apologized for the city’s paralysis, insisting the measures were for the residents’ own safety and warning that demonstrators would face an “an iron hand” if they try to disrupt law and order.

The protests represent the toughest challenge yet for Sharif, who won a landslide election victory in May 2013. Khan, who led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 cricket World Cup, heads the third largest party in parliament.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of 180 million people, has largely been ruled by military dictators since it was carved out of India in 1947. Last year’s election marked the first time that one elected civilian government had handed over power to another.

The army still wields great influence in Pakistan, which is battling several militant groups, but has not taken sides in the protests. There are fears, however, that political unrest could prompt the military to intervene.

Late Thursday, Islamic militants tried to storm two air bases in the southwestern city of Quetta, sparking a gun battle that killed 10 attackers, police said. Police chief Muhammad Amlish said seven security personnel were wounded in the attack. He said the attackers used guns and grenades as they tried to enter the Smungli and Khalid military bases on a sprawling complex next to the city’s airport.

The army said 11 “terrorists” were killed in the attack and another three apprehended. Initial police reports had said only two attackers were involved. Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif said militants were “desperate” and on the run amid a massive military operation in North Waziristan, a tribal region that has long been home to various insurgent groups.

Hours after the attack, Azam Tariq, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility. Inspired by the Afghanistan Taliban across the border, the group wants to overthrow the government in Islamabad and impose its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

In a statement, he said Uzbek and Pakistani militants carried out the attack in response to the offensive in North Waziristan.

Associated Press reporters K.M. Chaudhry and Muhammad Farooq in Islamabad and Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.


ATHENS – Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit Greece for two days beginning Friday amid tensions over energy deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.

The two-day talks between Turkey and Greece are part of confidence-building measures launched in 2010 to improve relations between the Aegean neighbors.

So far, the talks have resulted in the signing of around 50 accords on immigration, disaster response, tourism, health, transport, agriculture, immigration, culture and sport.

A Greek foreign ministry source said Wednesday that several of these accords will be “re-evaluated” during Davutoglu’s visit.

The visit has been clouded by Turkey’s intervention in the energy exploration race in the eastern Mediterranean.

Ankara is determined to search for oil and gas in the same area where the internationally recognized Cyprus government has licensed exploratory drilling in its exclusive economic zone.

Last month, Nicosia said a Turkish survey vessel had encroached on Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone off its south coast.

The Greek foreign ministry source said Turkey’s actions were a “brutal violation” of sovereign rights.

Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of Cyprus in 1974 following an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting it with Greece. The peace talks are aimed at reunifying the island.

Ankara opposes the Cyprus government’s exploitation of offshore energy reserves before agreement is reached on solving the decades-long division of the east Mediterranean island.

Davutoglu will be accompanied by at least seven ministers and a large business delegation.

The last round of Greek-Turkish talks had been held in Istanbul in March last year.

Greece and Turkey remain divided over territorial issues despite a rapprochement in 1999 that followed back-to-back earthquakes.

The soaring of undocumented migration via Turkey towards Greece over the past decade has further strained relations.

Source: Middle East Online.


03 December 2014 Wednesday

The Turkish Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Alevis can found associations to open or build their houses of worship, known as cemevi.

But the court also ruled that the judiciary does not have the right to say what is, or is not, a house of worship.

The defendant in the case was Cankaya Cemevi Building Association. The charter of the organization stated that its aim was to open cemevis as places of worship.

The authorities tried to close down the organization, arguing that cemevis are not counted as places of worship in Diyanet’s definitions. Diyanet is Turkey’s department of religious affairs.

A local court in Ankara had ruled after a government department applied for the closure of the organization. The court said the association could not be closed as it was not violating any law.

The public prosecutor appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Turkey, called Yartigay for short, and won.

But the Alevi group appealed again to the General Assembly of the Supreme Court — the highest body and the highest chamber. That body decided Wednesday that Alevis could establish associations with the aim of building and opening cemevis. The assembly also said judicial authorities could not define a place of worship.

The ruling came a day after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had discriminated against the Alevi community’s houses of worship.

Turkish authorities have said the country is already working to eliminate discrimination against Alevi community.

“It will not affect our efforts,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday in response to the European court’s decision. “We will proceed on our way.”

Last month, the premier also announced that his government would make a series of moves to atone for previous discrimination by the state against the Alevi minority.

Source: World Bulletin.



AMMAN – A Jordanian man was jailed for a year on Wednesday for threatening on Facebook to blow up the Australian embassy in Amman and to kill tourists from the country.

Ali al-Hasanat, 37, had denied any wrongdoing in a November 3 hearing at the state security court that could have been imprisoned him for up to 15 years.

Sources close to the case said he is married to an Australian and had made the threats after an argument with her.

He was accused of using the Internet “to carry out activity that could expose Jordan to acts of aggression”.

The charge sheet said that in January Hasanat sent a message on his Facebook page to the embassy in Amman “threatening to blow it up”.

A “picture of a bullet” was said to have been attached to the message.

Australia and Jordan are both members of the US-led international coalition fighting jihadists of the Islamic State group.

Amman has intensified surveillance of jihadist sympathizers, monitoring social networks and sermons preached in the kingdom’s mosques.

It recently jailed a number of people for having joined IS or spreading propaganda in its favor.

Source: Middle East Online.