biased against Muslims
(Al-Jazeera) The annual
report of US State Department on human rights has warned of
increasing concern that discrimination against Muslims was
on the rise in Europe.
The human rights report for 2009 cited Switzerland’s ban on
the construction of minarets on mosques enacted in November,
as well as continued bans or restrictions on head scarves
and burqa worn by Muslims in France, Germany and the
The report said, “Discrimination against Muslims in Europe
has been an increasing concern.”
Germany and the Netherlands have prohibitions against
teachers wearing head scarves or burqa while on the job and
France bans the wearing of the religious garb in public, the
The report particularly focussed on problems in the
Netherlands where Muslims number about 850,000, saying that
Muslims face societal resentment based on the belief that
Islam is not compatible with Western values.
The report blamed right-wing politicians for playing a role
in fuelling the resentment.
It said, “Major incidents of violence against Muslims were
rare, but minor incidents including intimidation, brawls,
vandalism and graffiti with abusive language were common.”
It added that the department’s annual human rights report is
mandated by Congress to allow MPs to factor the issue into
decisions on allocated aid to foreign countries.
Among other countries, the report most critically faulted
human rights practises in Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran,
Myanmar, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Syria and Russia.
The report criticised China for crackdowns on Uighurs and in
Tibet as well as increased restrictions to the internet and
other forms of information and news.
Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner said, “The
Chinese government’s human rights records remain poor and
worsening in some areas including increased cultural and
religious repression of ethnic minorities and increased
detention and harassment of activists and public-interest
The State Department also focused on Iran and the repression
of demonstrators who took to the streets following June’s
presidential election. Dozens of people were killed and
thousands were detained, some facing prosecution.
Posner said, “An already poor human rights situation (in
Iran) rapidly deteriorated after the June elections. It is a
place where we are continuing to see severe repression of
dissent and are continuing to pay great attention.”
The report also cited the increased toll in conflicts in
some countries inflicted on the civilian population in 2009,
including in Afghanistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
There remain ‘significant human rights challenges’ in
Pakistan, the report said of the important US ally in the
war on terrorism. The report said there were extrajudicial
killings, torture, and disappearances.
The State Department cited reports the military carried out
up to 400 killings during counterinsurgency operations
against the Taliban in North West Frontier Province and the
(Al-jazeera) (STRAPLINE) The return of Mohammed
ElBaradei,the former head of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), to Egypt has created political controversy
centred around the likelihood of his running as a
presidential candidate next year.
But it also gave the Egyptian people something they have not
felt in a long time - hope for political change.
Years of stagnant social development have created two main
political camps in Egypt today: A camp that lost hope in
change, and hence in a better future for the country, and
another that still retains a glimmer of optimism.
The first camp is dominant; just ask any Egyptian these days
about current conditions and you will only hear complaints
Arguably, the whole Egyptian psyche revolves around the
glories of past - sometimes ancient - achievements. They
lament how they have lost their prestige and regional power,
and how current socio-economic circumstances are
crushing their dreams for a better future.
Some prominent Egyptian sociologists such as Galal Amin, the
author of the bestselling Whatever Happened to the
Egyptians?, have tried to explain the root causes of
Amin argues that the forces of domestic political
authoritarianism, Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 war, the global
culture of consumerism, and foreign hegemony have since the
1960s contributed to crushing the Egyptian middle class.
The result was a fractured Egyptian middle class that no
longer understood itself or trusted its own ability to lead
the country forward.
The pessimistic camp has vocalised its prophecies of
gloom rather loudly in the plethora of local talk TV shows
and the press.
They offer, rather philanthropically, reasons why ElBaradei,
and the socio-political movement he has inspired, do not
count in today’s political structure.
They say the Egyptian regime, which has been in power for 30
years, has successfully resisted all pressures - domestic
and foreign - for change and political reform.
Flirting with flights of conspiratorial fancy, they believe
that the government only sanctions toothless opposition, and
hence may allow ElBaradei to play politics for some time, in
a bid to show that Egypt is politically transparent and
But, at the right moment the regime will strike back and
crush ElBaradei and his supporters as it has defeated many
prior political opponents.
Four of Egypt’s main opposition parties, including al-Wafd,
al-Tagammu, and al-Araby al-Nasseri, have criticised
ElBaradei and the political movement around him.
They are particularly irked by his readiness to work with
and integrate the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement despite
his purported secular platform.
They question ElBaradei’s legitimacy as a political
proponent of any sort citing his absence from the country
for three decades; he has no party, no serious grassroots
support, or even a possible chance to run for president
under the current constitution, they say.
On the other hand, the campaign built around ElBaradei is
nevertheless a poignant reminder that there are many in
Egypt, notably among the elite, who retain a semblance of
hope that the country will inevitably evolve.
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a known Egyptian opposition figure, who
has been living abroad for the last three years fearing
prosecution if he returns to Egypt, wrote in the daily
independent newspaper AlMasry AlYoum, that ElBaradei’s
announcement of readiness to run for president if the
constitution is amended, has ‘changed the Egyptian political
scene qualitatively and psychologically in an unprecedented
way since 1952’.
Ibrahim argues that a melange of independent groups,
credible political activists and writers, youth, and middle
class citizens had for some time been establishing a ‘social
movement’ under the political surface in Egypt.
Ibrahim believes the movement declared itself at Cairo
Airport by showering the returning ElBaradei with a populist
ElBaradei returned to Egypt at the right moment to pick the
fruits of such mobilisation.
Prior to his return to his home country, ElBaradei was one
of a very small number of Egyptians who held international
As the head of the UN nuclear agency for 12 years and a
winner of the Noble Peace Prize (2005) for his efforts to
defuse tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme, ElBaradei
also earned the government’s praise.
In 2006, Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, awarded him
the Nile Collar, the country’s highest civilian merit.
And during a press conference with Angela Merkel, the German
chancellor in Berlin, Mubarak welcomed ElBaradei’s entry
into local politics provided he abide by the rules of the
Despite his detractor’s protestations, ElBaradei’s 30-year
absence from his home country is more to his advantage than
detriment. While some may argue that he has been isolated
from socio-political developments in the country, his
distance has also protected him from being trapped inside
Egyptian politics which have been dominated by stagnant,
partisan and undemocratic parties.
So, when ElBaradei now takes on the political system, he can
easily rise above Egypt’s partisan politics and call for
unity among its disputing political groups.
He may lack the charisma of an eloquent speaker such as
Barack Obama or Tony Blair, but he speaks in a commanding
calm voice that is genuine and emphatic of global democratic
ElBaradei wants to modernise Egypt’s laws and constitution
in ways that will bring them up to date with international
standards. He wants transparent elections, democratic rule,
freedom of press, and a constitution that does not prevent
religious minorities from running for Egypt’s highest
His appeal has garnered the support of a wide and diverse
coalition of political activists and intellectuals. It has
also gained him opponents within the ruling party and
political opposition groups alike.
No one seems to underestimate the difficulties lying ahead
of ElBaradei and his call for change. But, we should not
also underestimate the power behind his appeal.
In just a matter of a few weeks, ElBaradei was able to
remind many Egyptians of their deeply rooted love for their
country and hope for a better future.
|CLINTON REBUKES ISRAEL
OVER SETTLER HOMES
In a rare sharp rebuke, US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton chided Israel for plans to build new settler homes,
saying it sent a ‘deeply negative signal’ about Israel’s
ties to its top ally.
In unusually harsh words, Clinton told Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington strongly
objected to the announcement made during a landmark trip to
Israel by US Vice President Joe Biden.
“The United States considered the announcement a deeply
negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral
relationship,” the top US diplomat told Netanyahu in an
early Friday morning telephone call.
Her comments were backed by the Middle East Quartet --
made up of the European Union, the United States, Russia and
the United Nations -- which said in a statement it “condemns
Israel’s decision to advance planning for new housing units
in East Jerusalem. “Related article: Middle East Quartet
condemns Israel settlement plan
Clinton added the Israeli move ran ‘counter to the spirit of
the vice president’s trip,’ State Department spokesman
Philip Crowley told reporters.
Clinton heaped further scorn on the Jewish state’s
announcement after speaking with Netanyahu.
“The announcement of the settlements, the very day that the
vice president was there, was insulting,” she told CNN in an
“I mean, it was really just an unfortunate and difficult
moment for everyone.”
It was an unusually strong rebuke from the United States for
its main regional ally, and almost unprecedented in decades
of strong ties.
In June 1990, secretary of state James Baker, frustrated by
the intransigence of Israel’s then-prime minister Yitzhak
Shamir, told the Israelis, “When you’re serious about peace,
But while today’s frustration also stems from the stalemated
Middle East peace process, the political landscape is
completely different, analysts said.
“Clinton and Biden are very close friends to Israel. Bush
and Baker weren’t so close,” the analyst said, asking to
remain anonymous, referring to the former president George
A member of Clinton’s close entourage said she was clearly
‘frustrated’ by the announcement which came just as the US
was hoping to coax the two sides back to the negotiating
The Israeli interior ministry announced Tuesday during
Biden’s visit that 1,600 new settler homes would be built in
predominantly Arab east Jerusalem triggering swift fury
among Arab and Palestinian leaders.
Clinton told Netanyahu that ‘she could not understand how
this happened particularly in light of the US strong
interest in Israel’s security,’ Crowley added.
“And she made clear that the Israeli government needed to
demonstrate not just through words, but through specific
actions, that they are committed to this relationship and to
the peace process.”
Netanyahu, who is due to address the powerful pro-Israeli
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual
conference in Washington from March 21-23, has apologised
for the timing of the announcement.
The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their
promised state while Israel, which seized it in the 1967 Six
Day War and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the
international community, considers the city its eternal and
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said earlier he would
not enter into any negotiations with Israel until the
Jerusalem settlement project was frozen, while the Arab
League withdrew its support for indirect talks.
Crowley acknowledged that top US regional envoys George
Mitchell and Jeffrey Feltman had spent the past 24 hours
calling Arab leaders in a bid to keep the peace talks on
“We have reached out to a range of leaders. And I think we
jointly remain committed, you know, to this process,
acknowledging that, obviously, it is a difficult
environment, given the Israeli statement,” Crowley said.
And Crowley made it clear that while Washington accepted
Netanyahu’s apology, they held him accountable.
“We accept what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. By the
same token, he is the head of the Israeli government and
ultimately is responsible for the actions of that
government,” Crowley said.
Suicide bombers strike
Pakistani market, killing at least 43
(Miami Herald) In the fifth terrorist attack this week in
Pakistan, extremists set off twin suicide bombs Friday in
the eastern city of Lahore, killing at least 43 people, a
reminder of the continued threat to the country despite an
overall fall in violence.
The bloodiest strike in Pakistan this year saw twin
attackers, on foot and wearing suicide jackets, detonate
themselves in a busy market in a high-security military
district in Lahore. The target appeared to be passing
military vehicles but most of the victims were civilians.
Children crossing the road and people waiting at a bus stop
were among the casualties of the blasts, which also ripped
apart shops in the market. Witnesses said that bodies, some
with missing limbs, were scattered across the area. Some 10
soldiers were among the dead, according to Lahore Police
Chief Parvaiz Rathore. About 100 people were wounded.
“There were about 10 to 15 seconds between the blasts.
Both were suicide attacks,” a senior local government
official, Sajjad Bhutta, said at the site. “The maximum
preventative measures were being taken, but these people
find support from somewhere.”
The bombers struck at 1 p.m., around the time of Friday
prayers in the cantonment area of Lahore, home to the local
army garrison and one of the city’s most affluent
residential districts. Lahore is the bustling cultural hub
of Pakistan which had enjoyed a period of relative peace in
recent weeks. It’s also the capital of Punjab province, the
country’s most densely populated area and its political
Five low-intensity blasts in Lahore in the evening, in
different locations in a residential area across town, sent
panicky locals running through the streets, but damage was
reported to be minor.
The authorities regularly assert that the Taliban and other
extremist groups have been smashed as a result of military
operations, a claim that was repeated Friday.
“We broke their networks,” provincial Law Minister Rana
Sanaullah said. “That’s why they have not been able to
strike for a considerable time.”
It was the second bombing this week in Lahore, however,
after the car bombing Monday of a police interrogation
center which killed 14 people. The other attacks in Pakistan
this week included a gun and grenade assault on the office
of World Vision, a U.S.-based Christian aid agency, in the
North West Frontier Province, killing six Pakistani
nationals on its staff.
The extremists “are trying to project their power,
telling the government that they are still alive,” said
analyst Imtiaz Gul, the author of the book “The Al Qaeda
Connection.” “They are still far from broken. It’s going to
be a long haul.Lahore was fully dragged last year into
Pakistan’s bloody insurgency - which claimed around 3,000
lives in 2009 - with a series of spectacular attacks,
including a gun assault on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket
team. The last major attack in Lahore was in December, when
a market was bombed, killing at least 49 people.
Last year, Pakistani security forces took on the homegrown
Taliban for the first time. There was an operation to clear
extremists from the Swat valley, in the northwest, then a
campaign in October in South Waziristan, on the Afghan
border, the base of the Pakistani Taliban that provoked a
spate of terrorist reprisals. The country had been
relatively peaceful this year, however.
Pakistani Taliban from the northwest have joined with
militant groups from the Punjab, all closely allied to
al-Qaida to form teams that can strike anywhere. Many of the
attacks claimed by the Taliban are thought to be carried out
by these groups, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a former
sectarian organisation. While there’s been concerted action
against the Taliban, the Punjabi groups have been left
pill ‘may live longer’
Women, who have taken
the contraceptive pill, are less likely to die of cancer and
heart disease, a study has found.
The research, which studied 46,000 women over almost 40
years, was led by Prof Philip Hannaford of the University of
He said that earlier data from the study had suggested there
was an increased risk from using the pill but this
disappeared in the longer term.
The professor said, “I think it is really reassuring for
The results are from the Royal College of GPs Oral
Contraception Study, one of the world’s largest
investigations into the health effects of the pill. The
study was published online in the British Medical Journal
Prof Hannaford told BBC Scotland, “We have known for a while
that whilst women use the pill they have a small excess risk
of disease but that seems to wear off.
“What we have never known is, what are the really long-term
“This study, after following up a large group of women for
39 years, has shown there is no increased risk among women
who have used the pill, in fact there is a small 12% drop.”
He said women, who had taken the pill, were less likely to
die from cancer, heart disease or stroke.
The professor added, “There are some risks whilst you use it
but you can minimise those risks by avoiding smoking, having
your blood pressure checked, taking part in screening
“What we know now is once the pill is stopped those risks
disappear and in the very long term there is no increased
risk, in fact, if anything, a small benefit.”
He said the results of the survey related to the first
generation of pills. Prof Hannaford said pills had changed
over the years and methods of assessing risk were now
He added, “It would be wrong for me to say these results
directly apply to today’s pills, today’s women, but from the
few studies that have been done on the newer pills we are
finding similar effects as the older pills. So, one would
suppose that the overall benefit from the newer pills is
equally as good.”
Blood pressure fluctuations ‘warning sign
People with occasionally high blood pressure are more at
risk of stroke than those with consistently high readings,
Current guidelines focus on measuring average blood pressure
levels to spot and prevent the chance of a stroke.
But research suggests doctors should no longer ignore
variation in test results and give drugs that produce the
most steady blood pressure levels. The Stroke Association
called for national guidelines to be overhauled.
In the first of the series of studies published in The
Lancet, UK and Swedish researchers looked at the variability
in blood pressure readings at doctors’ checks.
They found those with fluctuating readings at different GP
visits had the greatest risk of future stroke regardless of
what their average blood pressure reading was. A review of
previous trials also found that the differences in
effectiveness of several blood pressure drugs could be
explained by how well they kept blood pressure on an even
Some drugs, in particular beta blockers, were shown in a
separate study in The Lancet Neurology, to increase
variation in a patient’s blood pressure.
Professor Peter Rothwell of the Department of Clinical
Neurology at the University of Oxford, who led the research,
said the findings have major implications for how GPs spot
and treat people at high risk of stroke.
“At the moment, the guidelines for GPs say not to believe a
one-off unusual reading, to bring the patient back and
measure again, and as long as it’s not consistently high,
there is no need to treat.
“What we’re saying is don’t discount that one-off high blood
He added that GPs would also need to make sure they
prescribe the most effective drug combinations - ideally one
that lowers blood pressure but also stabilises it. It is not
known exactly why occasional spikes would increase a
person’s risk of stroke, but it is thought it puts undue
stress on the system.
Obese drinkers face liver ‘double whammy’
Drinkers, who are overweight, face a ‘double
whammy’ impact on their liver, research suggests.
Two studies of more than a million UK men and women suggest
excess weight and alcohol act together to raise the risk of
cirrhosis and other liver diseases.
Obese women, who drink little more than a glass of wine a
day, have almost double the risk of liver disease than other
women, the researchers said. A similar effect is seen in
men, The British Medical Journal reported.
The authors of the research said ‘safe’ alcohol limits for
the overweight may need to be redefined. Rates of liver
disease and obesity are increasing in the UK.
Alcohol is a major cause of liver cirrhosis and there is
mounting evidence that excess weight also plays a role.
In the first study, researchers at the University of Oxford,
studied more than a million middle-aged women in England and
They found that being overweight or obese increased the
likelihood of developing liver cirrhosis. Dr. Bette Liu of
Oxford’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit said, “We estimate that
almost 20% of liver cirrhosis in middle-aged UK women is due
to excess weight, while almost 50% is due to alcohol
The second study followed more than 9,000 men in Scotland.
Obese men, who said they drank 15 or more units a week, had
the greatest risk of liver disease; almost 19 times higher
than those who were slim. Writing in the BMJ, the authors
said their findings have important health implications. They
said lower body mass index (BMI) specific ‘safe’ limits of
alcohol consumption may need to be defined.
(Source: BBC news)
Protesters head for Thai
(Al-jazeera) Tens of thousands of supporters of Thaksin
Shinawatra, the deposed Thai prime minister, are heading to
Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, preparing for mass rallies
aimed at toppling the government.
The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship -
popularly known as the Red Shirts - staged early protests on
Friday and said a ’million-man march’ was to be held during
“Today, we had some small groups gathering, this is not yet
a rally. We want to build sentiment before Sunday,” Jatuporn
Prompan, a Red Shirt leader, said.
Friday’s protests passed peacefully and organisers have
insisted the coming rallies will also be non-violent.
But concerns about possible unrest remain and the government
is deploying a 50,000-strong security force. It has enacted
a tough security law that allows authorities to impose
curfews and limit movements.
build Indian atomic units
(Al-Jazeera) Russia will build 12 nuclear reactors in
India, half of them by 2017, and sell an aircraft carrier
and MiG fighter jets, officials say.Sergei Kiriyenko, head
of Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom, announced in
New Delhi on Friday that six of the reactors would be built
between 2012 and 2017.
Kiriyenko is accompanying Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime
minister on a visit to India to sign a series of lucrative
arms and energy deals.“So far it is clear that it will be 12
(reactors). And this is not the final figure,” he said.
Sergei Ivanov, the Russian deputy prime minister, said the
reactor agreement covered the construction of ‘up to 16
nuclear energy units’ at three Indian sites. Two units are
already under construction in the southern Indian state of
Tamil Nadu and Russia won a deal to build four more in 2008.
It was unclear if the 16 reactors referred to by Ivanov
included these six.
News in brief
Turkey warns Sweden over ‘genocide’ vote
(AFP) Turkey warned Sweden Friday of ‘serious’ damage to
ties after the Swedish parliament recognised the massacres
of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide, only days after a
similar vote by a US Congressional panel.
The foreign ministry summoned the Swedish ambassador to
convey Ankara’s protests, while the Turkish envoy to
Stockholm, recalled immediately after Thursday’s vote,
arrived home for consultations.
“It is up to the government to decide, but I think (the
vote) will have serious consequences on bilateral
relations”, Ambassador Zergun Koruturk told reporters after
landing in Istanbul.
She lamented that the vote came at a time when “we had
excellent ties with Sweden and it was at the forefront of
countries supporting our European Union membership process.”
Iraqi poll body rejects criticism
(Al-jazeera) The Independent High Electoral Commission of
Iraq (IHEC) has fought back against its critics after a day
of fielding accusations of fraud, malpractice and
incompetence. The IHEC is responsible for counting the votes
in the March 7 general elections and for investigating
complaints about the voting process. In frank interviews
with Al Jazeera, senior figures in IHEC expressed
frustration and indignation at the slew of criticisms. They
were fully backed up by officials at Unami - the United
Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (TK) - who are dismayed
and disappointed at the allegations. Faraj al-Hayderi, the
chairman of IHEC, lashed out at Struan Stevenson, a European
MP, who had issued a statement claiming there were
‘suspicious delays’ in announcing the results, and that
‘widespread fraud during the elections amounted to a plan to
drive Iraq into a crisis’. Al-Hayderi said the allegations
were a ‘complete fabrication’, and that Stevenson had no
professional contact with the many EU observers who had been
stationed in Iraq for the vote.
No wish to ‘Americanize’ Somali conflict: US official
(AFP) A top US official on Friday denied reports of a
boost in US military aid to Somalia’s transitional federal
government (TFG), and said there was no intention to
‘Americanize’ the conflict in the horn of Africa.
“We have provided limited military support to the TFG...
(but) the US does not plan, does not direct, and does not
coordinate the military operations of the TFG,” said
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie
He insisted that The New York Times inaccurately reported
last week that US special operations forces could help the
Somali government dislodge Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents Shebab
“We are not providing nor paying for military advisors for
the TFG. There is no desire to Americanize the conflict in
Somalia,” Carson said.
Asked to comment on the Somali government’s reconciliation
strategy, he said the TFG should ‘broaden its base as much
as possible, to bring in as much clan as possible.’
In Washington’s view, he added, ‘any moderate Islamists who
are seeking peace, are denouncing el Shebab and want to be
part of a peace process should in fact be considered for
inclusion in the TFG government.