Archive for December 12, 2014


November 15, 2014

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday pledged his support to the Afghan president in his attempt to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, a sign of warming ties between the two neighbors.

Sharif met with visiting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at his sprawling office in the capital, Islamabad. Ghani arrived in Pakistan on Friday for a two-day visit, seeking to repair a relationship between the two nations that was often tense in recent years. Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, frequently accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to the Taliban and other militants carrying out cross-border attacks from lawless tribal regions. Pakistan in turn blamed Kabul for failing to police its own borders.

Several weeks ago, Ghani invited the Taliban to join national reconciliation negotiations. On Saturday, Sharif backed Ghani’s initiative, but added that the process must be fully Afghan-led and Afghan owned.

“I reaffirmed that a peaceful, stable, united and prosperous Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s vital national interest,” Sharif said. “The bonds between Pakistan and Afghanistan are special. Our fraternal ties are fortified by common faith, kinship and shared history. We have common woes and common joys. We grieve together and rejoice together. Our security and future prosperity remain interlinked,” he said.

The new Afghan leader praised the Pakistani prime minister and called for the two nations to turn a new page in their relationship. “We must overcome the past,” Ghani said. “We will not permit the past to destroy the future.”

Ghani expressed hope that Pakistan and Afghanistan would “serve as the heart of Asia to ensure that economic integration in Asia becomes a reality.” He also called for a joint effort to curb extremism and terrorism in both countries, saying “any instability in Pakistan affects us and any instability in Afghanistan affects you.”

Sharif and Ghani attended a cricket match together between the national teams of Pakistan and Afghanistan in Islamabad. Afghanistan won the match with 54 runs.

Advertisements

October 29, 2014

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Children’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai on Wednesday received the World’s Children’s Prize 2014 in Sweden, after winning a global vote involving millions of children.

The awards organization cited the 17-year-old Pakistani girl for “her courageous and dangerous fight for girls’ right to education.” Yousafzai, who became the world’s youngest Nobel laureate earlier this month when she was awarded the peace prize, said she was honored to win this prize, known also as the “Children’s Nobel.”

“This award is not just for this one girl called Malala, this award is especially for children who are out of school,” she said in an interview with Swedish broadcaster SVT. “I’m really happy and honored that this time this award was from children; children voted for me.”

Yousafzai said the annual prize, worth $50,000 in money that is traditionally donated to children’s causes, is a sign that children strongly support the right to education. “It shows that now children are standing up for their rights, they say that education for every child,” she said.

Yousafzai began speaking out for the rights of girls at age 11 in her country and was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman two years ago. She was flown to Britain for treatment but said she doesn’t remember the shooting except for the “severe pain” when recovering.

Messages, TV greetings and postcards from children worldwide helped and encouraged her. “It gave me hope. It lessened the pain that I had. I just thought before this incident I was maybe one girl, now we are millions,” she said.

The 2014 World’s Children’s honorary awards, each worth $25,000, went to former U.S. Microsoft executive John Wood for promoting children’s reading programs and to Nepalese social worker Indira Ranamagar for helping prisoners’ children.

The World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child is given for work toward “a more humane world in support of the rights of the child.”

August 31, 2014

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Anti-government protesters armed with slingshots and hammers clashed repeatedly with police Sunday in the Pakistani capital, and the powerful military cautioned the prime minister against further use of force in the crisis that has triggered the biggest challenge yet to his authority.

At least three people were killed and nearly 400 admitted to hospitals, officials said, in clashes that started Saturday night and continued to boil over Sunday. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with top advisers seeking a way to ease the violence, which has raised the stakes in the two-week sit-in led by opposition politician Imran Khan and fiery cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri. They want the prime minister to step down over their allegations of massive voting fraud in the election that brought him into office last year in the country’s first democratic transfer of power.

Sharif’s party was elected in a landslide in which observers found no evidence of widespread fraud. The prime minister has refused to step down, and negotiators have tried to convince Qadri and Khan to end their protests.

The military weighed in after a late Sunday meeting, saying that it had “serious concern” about the crisis and the “violent turn it has taken.” “Further use of force will only aggravate the problem,” military leaders said in a statement that called on political figures to resolve their differences swiftly.

The demonstrations were mostly peaceful until late Saturday, when protesters headed toward the prime minister’s residence. When the crowd started removing shipping containers used as barricades, police fired salvos of tear gas that forced protesters back.

Authorities have said they had no choice but to use force on the demonstrators, some of whom wore gas masks. Hundreds of people were arrested, said Islamabad Police Chief Khalid Khattak. There were scattered clashes Sunday morning, and protesters appeared to regroup later in the afternoon.

By evening, large groups of protesters were located in pockets around the parliament and some had spread into other parts of the city, said police official Amir Paracha. He said they had taken shields from police and were wielding iron rods, batons, stones and bricks.

The injured included women, children, journalists and police officers who had been hurt by tear gas shells, batons and rubber bullets, said Dr. Javed Akram, who heads the capital’s main hospital. Railways Minister Saad Rafiq said the government would investigate the conduct of officers who beat up some journalists.

The prime minister met Sunday with top advisers at his residence. In a news release, Sharif said he would convene a joint session of parliament on Tuesday to address the crisis. His government “condemned the attack on symbols of the state by two political parties,” saying the violence was “undemocratic and unconstitutional.”

“The steps taken by police and security forces to defend and defeat such acts were appreciated,” the statement said. The government blamed the protesters, saying officials had tried to negotiate. The statement called on Khan and Qadri to come back to the negotiating table, but they showed no inclination to do so.

Both Khan and Qadri, who spent most of the day inside the shipping containers that they have been living in for days, addressed their supporters in impassioned speeches. “Now, it is death or freedom,” Khan said. “We will not leave from here without Nawaz Sharif’s resignation.”

Both Khan and Qadri called on more people to come into the streets to support them. But there were some apparent cracks in Khan’s party. Javed Hashmi, president of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said at a news conference that the party had earlier decided not to push toward the premier’s house and warned that the country was close to martial law.

The protests began with a march from the eastern city of Lahore on Pakistan’s Independence Day, Aug. 14. The demonstrations signify the starkest threat to Sharif’s third term as prime minister. His previous term ended in 1999 with a military coup and his eventual exile. This turn in office has seen equally contentious relations with the country’s powerful army. He’s clashed with the military over the prosecution of the former army chief for treason, accusations the country’s powerful spy agency was behind the attempted killing of a top TV anchor and a military operation in the tribal areas.

Sharif vowed Saturday that he would not step down, but if the violence continues, it could severely undermine his authority. “The biggest question: Can Nawaz Sharif survive? The answer, in these frantic hours, must surely be a miserable, despondent no,” read an editorial in Dawn, one of the country’s leading English-language newspapers.

Associated Press Writer Anjum Naveed contributed to this report.

 

August 31, 2014

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani police on Sunday clashed with scattered pockets of anti-government protesters trying to advance on the prime minister’s residence after a night of violence that saw hundreds wounded and the first death in more than two weeks of demonstrations.

The violence has raised the stakes in a political standoff, in which cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri have led twin protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, alleging massive voting fraud in the election that brought him into office last year in the country’s first democratic transfer of power.

Backed by parliament and many political parties, Sharif has refused to step down. Government negotiators have tried to convince Qadri and Khan to end their protests. Senior hospital official Dr. Wasim Khawaja said Qadri supporter Naveed Razzaq drowned in a ditch after he was in a crowd that was bombarded with tear gas. Hundreds of people were wounded overnight as police battled protesters with tear gas, batons and rubber bullets near the premier’s official residence and the adjacent parliament building.

The protesters started regrouping at daybreak Sunday and made repeated attempts to make their way through heavy deployment of police and barricades to reach the premier’s residence. Police strengthened their lines and responded by lobbing tear gas canisters.

Scores of protesters, including women, carrying hammers and iron rods broke down a fence outside the parliament building late Saturday, enabling hundreds of people to enter the lawns and parking area, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene.

Islamabad police chief Khalid Khattak said the protesters were armed with large hammers, wire cutters, axes and even a crane. More than 300 people — including women, children and police officers — were admitted to two government hospitals in the Pakistani capital, medics and police said. The injured had wounds from tear gas shells, batons and rubber bullets, said Dr. Javed Akram, who heads the capital’s main hospital.

Akram said 182 people, including 37 police officers, were treated at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences. Another 152 people were brought to a government hospital near the scene of the clashes, said another physician, Dr. Tanvir Malik.

The protests began with a march from the eastern city of Lahore on Independence Day, Aug. 14, that eventually reached Islamabad. Khan and Qadri had called for millions of protesters to join, but crowds have not been more than tens of thousands.

The protesters’ presence and heightened security measures have ground much of the capital to a halt. On Saturday similar marches were held in Lahore and Karachi, and on Sunday small demonstrations were held in other towns.

Riot police initially showed restraint during Saturday’s march, but when the crowd started removing shipping containers used as barricades, they fired salvos of tear gas canisters that forced the crowds back.

Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan visited the scene of the protests late Saturday to boost police morale. “A group wanted to capture the prime minister’s house and other buildings. We are under oath, and the police as well, to protect the state assets,” he told reporters.

Associated Press photographer Anjum Naveed contributed to this report.