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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pakistani police and protesters clash, four dead, 500 arrested

Pressure mounts on Pakistan leader to quit as protests continue Sat, Aug 30 16:10 PM EDT image 1 of 3 By Maria Golovnina and Mehreen Zahra-Malik ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters massed outside the residence of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday to demand he step down, after efforts to find a negotiated solution to the country's political crisis failed. Pakistan has been gripped by unrest for more than two weeks, with protest leaders Imran Khan and Tahir ul-Qadri saying they will not back down unless Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigns. On Saturday Sharif once again said he would not go. Security forces fired tear gas at protesters on Saturday night and the opposition said a woman was killed in the clashes. Police were not immediately available for comment. Late on Friday, up to 8,000 protesters, some armed with clubs, had gathered outside parliament, with police on standby. Pakistan's military stepped in this week to try to defuse the unrest. Qadri said the army had offered to mediate in the stand-off. Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million, has been ruled by the military for half of its entire history and has repeatedly oscillated between civilian and military rule. Although the army's role is key to how the crisis unfolds, few believe the army is bent on seizing power again. Nevertheless, its public intervention has demonstrated how fragile Pakistan's democracy is, more than a year after Sharif swept to office in the country's first democratic transition of power. Sharif has displeased the army by trying to strengthen civilian rule and improve relations with India and Afghanistan, and the latest conflict has given the military an opportunity to sideline him on security and foreign policy issues. Sharif also angered the military by putting the former army chief, Pervez Musharraf, on trial for treason. Musharraf ousted Sharif in the 1999 coup. The army's involvement is likely to unnerve some Pakistanis but it also offers Khan and Qadri a face-saving solution to end their deadlocked protest as both are seen as close to the military. (Reporting by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Andrew Roche) ================================= Pakistani police and protesters clash, four dead, 500 arrested Sat, Aug 09 03:25 AM EDT image By Mubasher Bukhari and Asim Tanveer LAHORE/MULTAN Pakistan (Reuters) - Violence erupted in several places in Pakistan on Saturday between police and supporters of an anti-government cleric and at least four people were killed and scores injured, police and witnesses said. The violence, which broke out on Friday, is exacerbating tension ahead of a big protest rally by the activist cleric, Tahir ul-Qadri, in the city of Lahore on Sunday. Qadri is holding the demonstration to protest against deadly clashes between his supporters and police in June but he has also condemned the government as corrupt and called for the overthrow of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. A separate protest, led by opposition politician Imran Khan, is planned for the capital on Thursday to protest alleged election irregularities. Khan has also called for the government to go. The planned demonstrations have unnerved Sharif's fledgling civilian government. The nuclear-armed nation of 180 million has a history of coups and street protests. Some members of the ruling party fear the protesters may be getting support from elements in the powerful military, which has had a series of disagreements with the government. The military denies meddling in politics. Security was tight in Lahore on Saturday with police manning checkpoints throughout the eastern city, the home town of both Qadri and the prime minister, and the capital of Punjab, the country's richest province. Around 500 Qadri supporters had been arrested, said Nabeela Ghazanfar, the provincial police spokeswoman, and more than 100 police injured. Rahiq Abbassi, a spokesman for Qadri, said more than a hundred of their supporters were also injured and denied attacking the police. In several parts of Punjab police tried to block Qadri's supporters from travelling to Lahore, sparking confrontations and violence, police and witnesses said. Two men and a woman were killed in the district of Gujranwala, about 220 km (140 miles) southeast of Islamabad, said deputy inspector general of police Saad Bahrwana. Shopkeeper Muhammad Hussain said those clashes began when police tried to stop Qadri supporters from travelling to Lahore. Another man was shot dead during clashes between Qadri supporters and police in the town of Bhakkar, 320 km (200 miles) southwest of the capital, said a doctor. Police said a police station had been burnt down and dozens of weapons seized in the central town of Qaidabad. ARRESTS In Lahore, Qadri's supporters on Friday tried to remove barricades that authorities put up around Qadri's house, sparking clashes. The supporters brought a crane to move shipping containers blocking off the residence and threw stones at police who tried to stop them by firing teargas. Police withdrew and women activists armed with batons surrounded Qadri's house. The clashes continued through Friday night into Saturday. "The Punjab police have lost all humanity," Qadri said in a televised speech on Friday. "The rulers have become terrorists." Provincial law minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad told Reuters on Friday that Qadri would be arrested and charged with terrorism offences for inciting violence. Underscoring the worry about political stability are indications that the military is frustrated with the government. Some officers are unhappy after former military chief and ex-president Pervez Musharraf was put on trial for treason last year. Musharraf deposed current prime minister Sharif, in a coup in 1999 but was forced to step down in 2008. Sharif returned from exile shortly afterwards and won a landslide victory in last year's polls. There was also disagreement between the government and the army on how to handle militants attacking the state with the army favouring military action and the government holding out hope for peace talks. The army eventually won the argument and launched an offensive in June. The military has ruled Pakistan for about half its history but is generally seen as reluctant to seize power and take on responsibility for a struggling economy and other problems. But excessive violence on the streets could force the military to step in to restore order. Last week, the government deployed the military around key installations in Islamabad and on Friday it banned gatherings of more than five people in the city. (Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik in Islamabad; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Saudi king warns of terrorism threat to U.S., Europe

Suicide attack kills 9 in Iraq . Associated Press By SAMEER N. YACOUB Bombings kill 42 in Iraq after Sunni mosque attack Associated Press Car bombing kills at least 11 people in Baghdad Associated Press Officials: 2 car bombs in Baghdad kill 15 people Associated Press Bombs kill at least 35 across Iraq a day after mosque shooting Reuters Six dead as suicide bomber hits Iraq intelligence HQ AFP BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi officials say a suicide car bomb attack on an army checkpoint has killed nine people, including four soldiers, south of Baghdad. Police officials say a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into the checkpoint in the town of Youssifiyah on Saturday. At least 20 people were wounded and several cars were burnt in the attack. Youssifiyah is 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Baghdad. Iraq has faced an onslaught by Sunni insurgents since early this year as the extremist Islamic State group and allied militants have taken over large areas in the country's west and north. ======================= Saudi king warns of terrorism threat to U.S., Europe . Reuters Britain raises its terrorism threat level over Syria, Iraq Reuters Egypt, Saudis seek united front against militant Islam Reuters U.S. says no precise threat to homeland from Islamic State Reuters Saudi Arabia jails 17 people for militant Islamist offences Reuters Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti denounces Iraq's Islamic State group Reuters DOHA (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said terrorism would soon spread to Europe and the United States unless it is quickly dealt with in the Middle East, the Saudi state news agency reported late on Friday. The king made the statement during a reception for foreign ambassadors held in Jeddah. "I ask you to convey this message to your leaders... Terrorism at this time is an evil force that must be fought with wisdom and speed," said King Abdullah. "And if neglected I'm sure after a month it will arrive in Europe and a month after that in America." The world's top oil exporter shares an 800-km (500-mile) border with Iraq, where Islamic State militants and other Sunni Islamist groups have seized towns and cities. Riyadh has long expressed fears of being targeted by jihadists, including some of its own citizens, who have taken part in conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Earlier this year, it decreed long jail terms for those who travel abroad to fight. Britain raised its terrorism alert on Friday and Prime Minister David Cameron said Islamic State posed the greatest ever security risk to the country. (Reporting by Amena Bakr; editing by Tom Pfeiffer) ================================================= Intelligence nightmare: Extremists returning home . Associated Press By KEN DILANIAN and BRADLEY KLAPPER 20 minutes ago . . .. . This March 23, 2008 photo provided by the Hennepin County, Minn. Sheriff's Office shows Douglas McAuthur McCain. The Obama administration has offered a wide range of assessments of the threat to U.S. national security posed by Islamic State extremists in an area straddling eastern Syrian and northern and western Iraq, and whose actions include last week’s beheading of American journalist James Foley. Some officials say the group is more dangerous than al-Qaida. Yet intelligence assessments say it currently couldn’t pull off a complex, 9-11-style attack on the U.S. or Europe. (AP Photo/Hennepin County, Minn. Sheriff's Office) . View photo This March 23, 2008 photo provided by the Hennepin County, Minn. Sheriff's Office shows Douglas McAuthur McCain. The Obama administration has offered a wide range of assessments of the threat to U.S. national security posed by Islamic State extremists in an area straddling eastern Syrian and northern and western Iraq, and whose actions include last week’s beheading of American journalist James Foley. Some officials say the group is more dangerous than al-Qaida. Yet intelligence assessments say it currently couldn’t pull off a complex, 9-11-style attack on the U.S. or Europe. (AP Photo/Hennepin County, Minn. Sheriff's Office) . WASHINGTON (AP) — The case of Mehdi Nemmouche haunts U.S. intelligence officials. Cameron promises tough action to fight militants Associated Press Obama weighs strategy against Islamic State Associated Press UN approves measure to combat al-Qaida fighters Associated Press U.S. says no precise threat to homeland from Islamic State Reuters Islamic authority: Extremists no 'Islamic State' Associated Press Nemmouche is a Frenchman who authorities say spent 11 months fighting with the Islamic State group in Syria before returning to Europe to act out his rage. On May 24, prosecutors say, he methodically shot four people at the Jewish Museum in central Brussels. Three died instantly, one afterward. Nemmouche was arrested later, apparently by chance. For U.S. and European counterterrorism officials, that 90-second spasm of violence is the kind of attack they fear from thousands of Europeans and up to 100 Americans who have gone to fight for extremist armies in Syria and now Iraq. The Obama administration has offered a wide range of assessments of the threat to U.S. national security posed by the extremists who say they've established a caliphate, or Islamic state, in an area straddling eastern Syrian and northern and western Iraq, and whose actions include last week's beheading of American journalist James Foley. Some officials say the group is more dangerous than al-Qaida. Yet intelligence assessments say it currently couldn't pull off a complex, 9-11-style attack on the U.S. or Europe. However, there is broad agreement across intelligence and law enforcement agencies of the immediate threat from radicalized Europeans and Americans who could come home to conduct lone-wolf operations. Such plots are difficult to detect because they don't require large conspiracies of people whose emails or phone calls can be intercepted. The 2013 Boston Marathon bombings were like that, carried out by radicalized American brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev acting on their own. So was the 2010 attempt to bomb New York's Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, who received training and direction in Pakistan but operated alone in the United States. On Friday, Britain raised its terror threat from "substantial" to "severe," its second highest level, citing a foreign fighter danger that made a terrorist attack "highly likely." The U.S. didn't elevate its national terrorist threat level, though White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was closely monitoring the situation. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Friday that U.S. authorities aren't aware of any "specific, credible" threats to the U.S. homeland from the group. So far, Nemmouche is the only foreign fighter affiliated with the Islamic State group who authorities say returned from the battlefield to carry out violence, and some scholars argue the danger is overstated. But nearly every senior national security official in the U.S. government — including the attorney general, FBI director, homeland security secretary and leaders of key intelligence and military agencies — has called foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq their top terrorism worry. "While we have worked hard over the last year and a half to detect Westerners who have gone to Syria, no one knows for sure whether there are those who have gone there undetected," said John Cohen, a Rutgers University professor who stepped down in July as the Homeland Security Department's counterterrorism coordinator. "And that's why those of us who look at this every day are so concerned that somebody is going to slip through the cracks," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the House Intelligence Committee chairman, said Thursday on CNN. "They're either going to get into Europe or they're going to get into the United States." Unlike al-Qaida militants in Pakistan and Yemen, American and European passport holders who have secretly gone to fight in Syria can travel freely if they have not been identified as terrorists. U.S. authorities are sifting through travel records and trying to identify the foreign fighters, but they won't see all of them. An American from San Diego, Douglas McAuthur McCain, was killed this week in Syria, where, officials say, he was fighting with the Islamic State. The U.S. is investigating whether a second American also was killed. McCain is one of several Western Muslims over the last two years who proved themselves willing to kill or die for extremist groups or help them win new recruits. The names of many more remain secret in the files of U.S. intelligence agencies, but here are others that are public: —Moner Mohammad Abusalha, an American who grew up a basketball fan in Vero Beach, Florida, killed 16 people and himself in a suicide bombing attack against Syrian government forces in May. U.S. officials say he was on their radar screen but acknowledge he traveled from Syria to the United States before the attack without detection. Had he attacked in the U.S. instead of Syria, it's unclear whether he would have been stopped. —Two brothers from East London, Hamza Nawaz, 23, and Mohommod Nawaz, 30, pleaded guilty in May to attending a terrorist training camp in Syria. They were caught on the return trip home with ammunition. In an unrelated case, Mashudur Choudhury, 31, was also convicted in London of traveling to a terrorist camp in Syria. —Three Norwegian residents were arrested in May and accused of having fought with the Islamic State group. —Eight men, including a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, were arrested in June by Spanish authorities and charged with recruiting for the Islamic State group. Of the thousands of foreign fighters who've flocked to Syria, many have fought with the al Nusra front, an al-Qaida affiliate and rival to the Islamic State. The group poses its own threat, American officials say, but poses less of a threat than does the Islamic State, whose battlefield successes have made it a stronger draw for foreign fighters than any Jihadist group in recent history. It has seized advanced military equipment and has millions of dollars in cash. Intelligence officials estimate that about a dozen Americans are fighting with the Islamic State group. Nemmouche, who has a long criminal record, allegedly killed two Israeli tourists outside the Brussels museum entrance with a .357 Magnum revolver. Then he walked inside, removed an assault rifle from a gym bag and shot two museum employees in the face and throat, prosecutors say. He was caught six days later during a random customs inspection of a bus from Amsterdam. With him were the murder weapons, authorities say, and a sheet scrawled with the name of the Islamic State. He had intended to film the attack with a wearable video camera, authorities say, though it wasn't working that day. Abusalha, the 22-year-old Vero Beach suicide bomber, was recorded in a series of videos before his attack. In one of them, he addresses the U.S. public in American-accented English. "You think you are safe? You are not safe," he said. "We are coming for you, mark my words." ===========================

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Environmental impact: Deep sea terminal will not affect ecology, KPT tells SHC

By Naeem Sahoutara Published: August 27, 2014 The KPT authorities told the court on Tuesday that their proposed deep sea container terminal will not disturb the ecology as they have the Environment Protection Agency’s approval. PHOTO: COURTESY KPT KARACHI: The Karachi Port Trust (KPT) authorities assured the Sindh High Court (SHC) on Tuesday that their deep sea container terminal project will not disturb the ecological cycle in the Arabian Sea. The port trust quoted an Environmental Protection Agency report that gave its approval for the project after carrying out impact assessment. The trust authorities made this claim during the hearing of a petition challenging the multi-billion-rupee project as part of the port’s expansion. The KPT chairperson filed his comments, submitting that the petitioner is not aggrieved by the construction of the project in any manner, as he has no locus standi to file the case, which may be dismissed. The chairperson also refuted the petitioner’s claims that the construction of the deep sea container terminal has denied public access to the seashore. “Everybody has access to the coast,” he said. The comments also clarified that the terminal project is not being constructed in violation of the fundamental rights of the sea-goers, as alleged by the petitioner. The project will provide job opportunities to millions of people directly or indirectly and will boost the economy, the chairperson added. The KPT chief maintained that the trust has a right to expand the port within its territorial limits, adding that the port is required to be developed and constructed according to international standards. Modern equipment and technologies will be installed to cope with the incoming and outgoing traffic, the chief claimed. There are mangroves over 900 hectors of the land within the limits of the port trust, which also include the nursery for the world’s most precious species of turtles, the port trust pointed out. “The project will have least disturbance to the ecology,” he claimed. Headed by the Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar, the bench took the KPT chief’s comments on record. It ordered the ports and shipping, environment and tourism, Karachi commissioner and the South district deputy commissioner to file their detailed comments within 15 days without fail. Case history Abdul Jabbar Khan, who lives in an apartment complex at the beachfront where the project is being executed, had gone to court against the port and shipping ministry, provincial and local authorities for allegedly constructing the deep sea container terminal at the cost of the ecology. He had claimed that the fundamental rights of the public, particularly the residents of Karachi, will be violated due to encroachment on the Clifton beach, which was the only beach accessible to the public in the port city. Located about a kilometre off the seashore in front of Clifton Block 1 and Block 2, the beautiful rocks are a “natural gift for the safety of humans as well as wildlife”, said Khan, adding that the rocks play an important role against earthquakes. “The lives of millions of people in Karachi may be at risk in case a natural disaster strikes because the rocks were being dismantled by heavy dredgers to pave the way for the terminal’s construction,” he had claimed. Referring to a survey conducted by Japanese experts for the deep sea terminal, Khan said that the study had clearly suggested that the terminal should be established on the western waters. The port trust decided, however, to establish the terminal on the eastern front for reasons best known to the authorities, he claimed. Around 15 square kilometres, including the Clifton beach, have been ‘encroached’ to build the port, depriving people of recreational opportunities, the petitioner alleged, appealing to the court to declare the construction of the deep sea container terminal illegal and permanently restrain the authorities from expanding the port. “Rather, they should be ordered to restore the beach,” he had claimed. Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2014.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Iran supplied weapons to Iraqi Kurds; Baghdad bomb kills 12

Iran supplied weapons to Iraqi Kurds; Baghdad bomb kills 12 Tue, Aug 26 18:07 PM EDT image 1 of 2 By Isabel Coles ARBIL (Reuters) - Iran has supplied weapons and ammunition to Iraqi Kurdish forces, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani said Tuesday at a joint press conference with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Arbil, capital of Iraq's Kurdish region. The direct arming of Kurdish forces is a contentious issue, because some Iraqi politicians suspect Kurdish leaders have aspirations to break away from the central government completely. The move could also be seen by some as a prelude to Iran's taking a more direct role in broader Iraqi conflict. "We asked for weapons and Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons and ammunition," Barzani said. Militants from the Islamic State have clashed with Kurdish peshmerga fighters in recent weeks and taken control of some areas on the periphery of Iraqi Kurdistan. Earlier in the day, a car bomb was detonated in a mainly Shi'ite district of eastern Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding 28, police and medical sources said. The bombing in the New Baghdad neighborhood followed a series of blasts in the Iraqi capital on Monday which killed more than 20 people. The Islamic State, which controls large swathes of northern and western Iraq, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the New Baghdad neighborhood on Monday. It said in a statement the attack was carried out as revenge for an attack against a Sunni mosque in Diyala on Friday which killed 68 and wounded dozens. The U.N. Human Rights Council will hold an emergency session in Geneva on Monday concerning abuses being committed by Islamic State and other militant groups in Iraq, the United Nations said on Tuesday. The 47 member states of the forum have moral authority to condemn abuses or set up international investigations into war crimes or crimes against humanity, but they cannot impose binding resolutions The Iranian foreign minister held talks with Barzani on Tuesday, one day after visiting senior Shi’ite clerics in southern Iraq. Zarif acknowledged giving military assistance to Iraqi security forces but said the cooperation did not include deploying ground troops in the country. "We have no military presence in Iraq," Zarif said. "We do have military cooperation with both the central government and the Kurds in different arenas.” Neither Zarif nor Barzani gave any details on whether weapons supplied to Kurdish peshmerga forces had been routed through the central government or given directly to Kurdish forces. Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi said Monday that arms given to the peshmerga had been routed through the central government. Britain, France, Germany and Italy have also promised to send military assistance to Kurdish security forces to fight the Islamic State. The United States has carried out a series of air strikes against the Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq in the past two weeks, partly to protect the Kurdish region from being overrun. Zarif denied that Iran and the United States were discussing Iraq as part of talks between Iran and Western powers about Iran’s nuclear program. (Additional reporting by Kareem Raheem in Baghdad; Writing by Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by Ralph Boulton, Larry King)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Talks on new Yemeni government collapse over Shi'ite Houthi subsidy demands

Al Qaeda attacks kill at least 33 people in Yemen Mon, Oct 20 15:09 PM EDT By Mohammed Ghobari SANAA (Reuters) - At least 33 people were killed in a suicide bombing and gun attacks in central Yemen, tribal sources and medics said on Monday, as al Qaeda fighters seized a Yemeni city in a new challenge to the central government. Violence has spread in Yemen since Shi'ite Muslim Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, last month, threatening the stability of a country that borders on Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter. Houthi forces have fanned out into central and western Yemen, posing a challenge to Sunni tribesmen and al Qaeda militants, who regard the Houthis as heretics. Fighting has flared in several provinces. In the latest attacks, an al Qaeda suicide bomber drove a car towards the home of a local government official in the town of Radda in al-Bayda province, killing at least 13 people, medical sources said. Ansar al-Sahrai, an al Qaeda affiliate, said in a statement the attack targeted a meeting at a Houthi leader's house and that "dozens were killed or wounded". Earlier in the day, tribal sources said al-Sharia fighters on Sunday night shelled a Radda house where a local Houthi leader lives, killing gunmen. At least 10 Houthi fighters were killed in two other incidents, one on the outskirts of Radda and another at a checkpoint in the nearby Ibb province, tribal sources said. Ansar al-Sharia said in a report from the al-Orsh area in al-Bayda that "dozens of Houthis" have been killed or wounded in battles since Sunday evening, and that two of its fighters were killed in Ibb. Radda, with a population of 60,000, has long been a stronghold of Ansar, which includes many fighters from local tribes who are up in arms over the presence of Houthi rebels in the mainly Sunni region. There is growing international concern about Yemen's turmoil because of its proximity to Saudi Arabia and international shipping lanes, as well as the risk of al Qaeda using the country as a springboard for attacks abroad. QAEDA INSURGENTS SEIZED MAJOR TOWN In a significant development, residents and activists said al Qaeda fighters had marched into al-Odayn, a city of 200,000 in the central province of Ibb, captured the local government offices and raised their black and white flag over it. "They came in at midday, invaded the town, chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Greater) and seized the government compound unopposed," one resident of al-Odayn said. Residents also said Sunni militants destroyed the home of a local Houthi member who had been trying to recruit local fighters to join a popular committee, a kind of a grassroots police force Houthis have established in other parts of the Arabian Peninsula country. The Houthis' advance and clashes with Ansar al-Sharia prompted often faction-ridden regional Sunni tribesmen to close ranks to try to protect themselves. In a statement issued on Sunday, a committee of local tribesmen warned that they would not tolerate the presence of "any armed militia from any party" in al-Bayda province and called on the central government to step in to maintain order. "The state must carry out its national duty to spare the province of sectarian strife," said the statement, which was obtained by Reuters. The Yemeni armed forces have largely avoided confronting the Houthis since they moved into Sanaa last month, leading to speculation that President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was tacitly allowing the group to move freely while a new government is being formed. Whether it would command more authority than the last one is questionable, however. While the Houthis signed a power-sharing pact with other political parties, that has not deterred them from thrusting into other regions of Yemen. In a further sign of gathering chaos, al Qaeda militants on Monday raided the Um al-Maghareb military airport in the eastern province of Hadramout province, not far from the Saudi border, and looted equipment, military and security sources said. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Larry King) ================================ Talks on new Yemeni government collapse over Shi'ite Houthi subsidy demands Sun, Aug 24 08:00 AM EDT image 1 of 5 By Mohammed Ghobari SANAA (Reuters) - Talks on forming a new Yemeni government collapsed on Sunday over demands by Shi'ite Muslim Houthis to restore fuel subsidies cut by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, officials said, and further demonstrations in the capital Sanaa were expected. The Houthis, who have been fighting for years for more power for their Zaydi Shi'ite Muslim sect in north Yemen, have massed tens of thousands of supporters on the outskirts of Sanaa to press the government to quit and to restore fuel subsidies. The government offered on Saturday to resign within a month to pave the way for a technocrat administration that would review the fuel subsidy issue, but officials said the Houthis had demanded an immediate reinstatement of the subsidies. The standoff has raised fears for the stability of Yemen, a majority Sunni Muslim country of 25 million that is allied with the United States and borders major oil exporter Saudi Arabia. The government blamed the Houthis for the failure of talks. "The Houthis have reneged on all previous understandings, including joining a new government and an offer to reduce the price of oil products, at the first government meeting," Abdel Malek al-Mekhlafi, a spokesman for the government committee assigned to negotiate with the Houthis, told Reuters. "They have threatened to escalate (their protests) if the decision to raise fuel prices is not cancelled," he added. Daifallah al-Shami, a leader of the Houthi group, made clear the demand for reinstating fuel subsidies was non-negotiable for his side and said the peaceful protests would continue. "(Reversing the increase in fuel prices) is a popular demand and cannot be abandoned," Shami told Reuters. "No other issues can be discussed." MORE RALLIES PLANNED Rival demonstrations are scheduled to take place in Sanaa later on Sunday, one by Houthi loyalists and one by supporters of President Hadi, but residents said they did not expect the two to come into contact with each other. Hadi has put the army on a state of heightened alert to tackle any resort to violence during the Sanaa demonstrations. The Houthis have been emboldened by recent military gains against rival Sunni Muslim tribesmen and allied government troops north of the capital. In a report on their website on Sunday, the Houthis said that one of their members had been killed and three wounded in an attack by Sunni Islamist gunmen on one of their offices in eastern Sanaa on Saturday. The al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia said in messages posted on social media that two of its members had been killed in the incident. Yemen's Gulf neighbours and Western partners, which helped the country stave off civil war in 2011, have watched the dispute between Sanaa and the Houthis with mounting concern. Last week, they urged the Houthis to stop trying to gain territory by force and to engage in a political transition process. The government's decision last month to raise fuel prices was part of efforts to rein in its budget deficit and helped the impoverished Arab state to conclude talks on a $560 million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).. Last year, it spent about $3 billion on the fuel subsidies, nearly a third of all state revenues. The Houthis, whose protests began last Monday, have pitched tents on a road leading to the airport near to key ministries. Their protests have tapped into wider public anger among Yemenis over the subsidy cuts. A previous attempt to cut subsidies, in 2005, led to unrest in which about 20 people were killed and more than 200 wounded. The reform was cancelled. (Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Gareth Jones) =============================== Sunni tribesmen and Houthi fighters clash in Yemen, 15 dead Fri, Oct 17 14:06 PM EDT image 1 of 2 SANAA (Reuters) - At least 15 people were killed in heavy fighting between Sunni Muslim tribesmen and Shi'ite Houthi rebels in central Yemen on Friday, increasing fears of outright sectarian warfare. The Houthi rebels also entered Radaa city, in the central province of al-Bayda, a bastion of the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), local officials and residents said. The Houthis established themselves as Yemen's new powerbrokers last month, capturing the capital Sanaa on Sept. 21 to little resistance from residents or from the weak administration of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Their ascendance has angered al Qaeda, which views Shi'ites as heretics and Houthis as pawns of Iran. Last week, AQAP claimed a suicide bombing on a Houthi gathering that killed at least 47 people. In Friday's fighting, medical sources said 15 people from both sides were killed on the outskirts and inside the city of Ibb, 150 km (90 miles) south of Sanaa. "We are hearing the sound of machine-guns and mortars everywhere," a resident told Reuters by telephone. The city of Ibb borders al-Bayda province. Al Qaeda said in a statement that its fighters had stormed the town of Odein, near Ibb on Wednesday, killing three soldiers and holding it for nine hours before withdrawing. Houthi fighters have been making advances outside of Sanaa in recent days, taking over cities and towns with the apparent agreement of the authorities there. At least 10 people were killed on Thursday in fighting between Houthi tribesmen and al Qaeda-linked militants. In addition to the rise of AQAP and the Houthi takeover of Sanaa, Yemen, an impoverished country of 25 million people, faces a secessionist movement in the south. The widespread and growing instability has alarmed neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, and other Gulf Arab states. Western and Gulf Arab countries have supported a U.N.-backed political transition since 2012 led by Hadi and meant to shepherd the country to stability after decades of autocracy. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Gareth Jones) =======================

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Behind Indonesia mining deal, newly minted minister and U.S. mining legend

By Randy Fabi, Fergus Jensen and Michael Taylor JAKARTA Sat Aug 23, 2014 11:38pm EDT Indonesia's chief economics minister Chairul Tanjung (C) talks with his colleague, Trade Minister Muhammad Lutfi (L), as Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi looks (R) on during a news conference in Jakarta August 20, 2014. REUTERS-Beawiharta Indonesia's chief economics minister Chairul Tanjung talks during a news conference in Jakarta August 20, 2014. REUTERS-Beawiharta 1 of 3. Indonesia's chief economics minister Chairul Tanjung (C) talks with his colleague, Trade Minister Muhammad Lutfi (L), as Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi looks (R) on during a news conference in Jakarta August 20, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Beawiharta Related Topics Indonesia » (Reuters) - As negotiations to resolve an increasingly bitter dispute over Indonesian mining rules teetered on the brink of collapse, the chairman of Freeport-McMoRan Inc James "Jim Bob" Moffett flew to Jakarta for last-ditch talks. Indonesia's chief economics minister, Chairul Tanjung, said he had got to a point where he felt only talking directly to the 76-year-old U.S. mining legend might break a deadlock in the six-month row, which had already cost Southeast Asia's top economy more than $1 billion and put thousands of jobs at risk. In less than two hours the two men had reached an agreement, setting the stage to resume exports and restore badly needed government revenue to the world's fourth most populous nation. "I just convinced him that this was the maximum the government can give," Tanjung said in an interview. "He believed me, I believed him and we shook hands. Very simple." Tanjung, one of Indonesia's richest businessmen, was appointed minister in May and made reaching a deal to get mining exports going again a priority to revive an economy suffering its sharpest slowdown since the global financial crisis. But a looming presidential election had made it even harder to reach a politically unpopular compromise with foreign miners. Aside from any chemistry between the two successful businessmen, the breakthrough came because Moffett had taken a more flexible approach, said Tanjung. The dispute with Freeport had centered on its refusal to pay an escalating mineral concentrate export tax and its bid to extend its mining contract. The meeting was only attended by a small number of Indonesian officials and Freeport, and according to Tanjung the solution was to focus on what the two could agree on to get exports restarted and set other issues aside for now. Freeport agreed to a $115 million downpayment for a smelter, to pay higher royalties and divest more of its Indonesian unit. Indonesia in return substantially cut the concentrate export tax for Freeport and other miners building smelters. Moffett is a likeable and larger-than-life Louisiana businessman, known for his Elvis impersonations during lighter moments, but also a shrewd deal maker. Starting his career as a wildcat prospector in Louisiana, Moffett founded McMoRan Oil & Gas Co with two of his partners in 1969 and put together the merger with Freeport 12 years later. With a 47-year history in Indonesia, Freeport's fortunes were transformed by the discovery of the Grasberg mine in Papua, one of the world's biggest deposits of gold and copper. Helped by Moffett's ties to late autocratic President Suharto, Freeport won the right in 1988 to mine Grasberg, which has been a lightning rod for grievances over its impact on the environment, security arrangements and revenue sharing. The recent talks did not touch on Freeport's controversial links to the Suharto family or environmental issues, said Sukhyar, director general for coal and minerals at the ministry, who played a role in the negotiations. HIGH STAKES In January, Indonesia introduced a mineral ore export ban and the escalating tax on metal concentrate shipments in a bid to force miners to process raw materials to lift their value. But the tough measures in some cases backfired as miners such as Freeport and Newmont Mining Corp said the rules breached their contracts and exports stopped. The stakes were high on both sides. The Grasberg complex in Papua provided around a fifth of Freeport's global revenue last year. In Indonesia, the company employs 24,000 including contractors, and is one of the country's largest tax payers. Freeport believed the new mining rules, particularly the export tax, violated its contract. The company refused to pay the tax and invest in a copper smelter unless the government provided assurances it would be allowed to continue operating after its contract expires in 2021. Freeport wanted certainty to spend more than $15 billion to build what would be the world's biggest underground mine, while the government said it could not renegotiate until 2019, two years before the contract expired. Freeport Indonesia CEO Rozik Soetjipto said the breakthrough came when the new minister arrived with a business background. "He understood that it is impossible for a company to continue such huge investments if there are no legal guarantees for the long term continuation and fiscal certainty." A trained dentist, Tanjung, 52, was ranked as Indonesia's fifth-richest man by Forbes with a net wealth of $4 billion. His company CT Corp now operates two of the country's top five TV stations and has retail and banking interests. DENGUE FEVER Freeport had sent its chief executive, Richard Adkerson, to Jakarta in June to focus on negotiating a deal. Despite weeks of talks, which included meeting at a Jakarta hospital after a senior negotiator fell ill with dengue fever, the two sides remained deadlocked. "Adkerson was here for a month. He was running from pillar to post and nothing was happening," said a senior industry official with knowledge of the negotiations, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. According to the minister, Adkerson, an accountant by training, wanted to stick very closely to the terms of Freeport's contract. "He wanted to continue their Contract of Work. He wanted to keep paying the same royalties – the old rate," Tanjung said. Freeport's Soetjipto said Adkerson's contribution in reaching a deal was "very important". Requests for comment from Moffett and Adkerson sought via a spokesman at Freeport's head office in Phoenix were declined. An emailed statement said: "the Company and its executives have sought to engage in constructive discussions and to maintain good relations with Indonesian officials including the President, Ministers, Parliamentary representatives, and local officials of each respective administration." "BIGGER PICTURE" By the end of June, talks were at a breaking point and some were questioning whether Freeport had a future in Indonesia. "I told them, 'If they want to continue business here I don't want to discuss it with Adkerson any more,'" Tanjung said. "I want to talk with the chairman." At the same time, negotiations with Indonesia's second-biggest copper producer Newmont also reached an impasse and the U.S. miner decided to file for international arbitration. The move soured relations and the government threatened to terminate Newmont's contract if the company did not withdraw its legal challenge. Freeport chose a different path and decided instead to keep negotiating, with Moffett flying to Jakarta. At the private meeting in Jakarta in early July, Tanjung and Moffett agreed to leave the most contentious issues over contract renegotiations to the next government and instead focus on getting exports restarted. Tanjung told Reuters he felt he needed to bring Moffett in because "as a chairman you can see a bigger picture." A memorandum of understanding that was initially 90-pages long was whittled down to just 10 pages, the bare bones of what the two sides could agree on, said an industry official with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named. The government also agreed to a framework valid for at least six months that could be used to renegotiate the contract under the next administration. The final step left was for the cabinet and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to approve the MOU, though the unfolding presidential election delayed ratification and there were concerns the deal could still fall through. But finally drawing a line under the near seven-month dispute, a shipment of 10,000 tonnes of copper concentrate left Indonesia for China on Aug. 8. (Additional reporting by Wilda Asmarini, Gayatri Suroyo and Adriana Nina Kusuma and Dennys Kapa in JAKARTA and Allison Martell in TORONTO; Editing by Ed Davies)

Bombs kill at least 35 across Iraq a day after mosque shooting. Oil field burns after ISIS retreat

Oil field burns after ISIS retreat A Kurdish tank faces toward ISIS lines on Aug. 26, 2014, a few kilometers away from the Khazir refugee camp, half way between Erbil and Mosul. (VIANNEY LE CAER/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images) By Kamaran al-Najar, Mohammed Hussein, Ben Lando, Ben Van Heuvelen and Staff of Iraq Oil Report Published Thursday, August 28th, 2014 Flames have engulfed oil facilities at the Ain Zalah field, in Iraq's Ninewa province, after extremist militants fled the area following an offensive by Kurdish Peshmerga forces backed by ongoing U.S. air strikes.The Peshmerga also captured the nearby town of Zummar, just west of the Mosul Dam, which sits along a main road between Ain Zalah and Mosul, according to a Peshmerga officer, local residents, and a senior official from Iraq's state-run North Oil Company (NOC).Militants have co... ============== Shiite volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State, carry a picture of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf, Aug. 16, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani) How did Sistani succeed in ousting Maliki? The political behavior of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is characterized by composure, planning and continuity of work. In the past few years, he has carried out a large share of his projects through such behavior. For some time it was thought that Sistani had lost the political game to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, after the latter completely took control over internal affairs and created close ties with external actors who are influential in Iraq, in such a way that was expected to grant him another four years in power. Summary⎙ Print Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's fortitude, persistence and commitment to a more inclusive Iraqi democracy, along with his outreach to Iran, thwarted Nouri al-Maliki's attempt to serve a third term as prime minister. Author Ali Mamouri Posted August 20, 2014 Translator(s)Steffi Chakti Maliki warned Sistani to give up on his political demands, as the latter spoke of the necessity of Maliki stepping down to create political consensus among the different components of the new government. Maliki also galvanized religious guides who are opposed to Sistani and persuaded them to directly support him. This, however, did not foil the meticulous planning of Sistani, which he has been developing for a long time to protect the democratic process in Iraq. The role that Sistani plays is delicate and difficult and stirs, at times, controversy; there is debate as to whether religious figures have the right to take political positions in a country where the people elect representatives to take political decisions. Maliki referred to this electoral process in strongly opposing Sistani's demands. However, it is impossible to properly debate this issue without taking into account the social situation in Iraq, the course of democratic rotation of power in the country and the political work style of Sistani. Iraq is still a collective society, in which political decisions are made by societal authority: tribal leaders, clerics and the like who have influence over political decision-making. This poses a challenge to the democratic process in the country as elections constitute a tool that influential social figures use to preserve and expand their power. It is also used to remove democracy’s true character, which stipulates that people make free decisions. This social characteristic of Iraqi society has constituted a real challenge for Sistani, who strove to aid the democratic course without being embroiled in the political work. Such an embroilment would contradict Sistani’s principles and beliefs that Iraq should adopt a civil, nonreligious system of governance. Post-2003, Sistani tried to face this challenge by taking on the role of mediator between the people and the government on the one hand, and between the political parties participating in the government. His door was always open for all ethnic and religious components, and he closely followed up their legitimate demands. At the same time, he did not take sides as he endeavored to find a common ground between all the parties and ensured that they all participate in the governance in order to protect the country’s stability. When it comes to the recent crisis, it would have been easy for Sistani to call for Maliki to step down through the Shiite parties in parliament that are affiliated with him, or by calling on civil disobedience which would have led to the toppling of Maliki within a few hours. Sistani, however, called on Maliki to step down and did not ask the Shiite opposition to take a strong stance that would render the situation tenser than it already was. Moreover, Sistani did not intervene in the political agreements between the parties and coalitions. He did so to avoid contradicting his principles. Sistani, through his statements and the speeches of his deputies, insisted on national consensus. He called on Shiite parties to name a consensus candidate so that the Kurds and Sunnis would feel that the prime minister is for all. He also warned against clinging to the seat of power, especially on the part of those who are not accepted by everyone. All political parties figured that Sistani was alluding to Maliki, who wanted to impose himself on the parties who oppose him — which included Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis. On July 9, Sistani sent a letter, whose content was disclosed to Al-Monitor, to the Dawa Party, which plays a central role in the ruling State of Law Coalition, demanding the acceleration of the process of naming a consensus figure and the non-insistence on a figure that other parties oppose. The Dawa Party did not reveal this letter at the time for fear that it might negatively impact Maliki’s third term. The efforts of Sistani prevented Maliki from monopolizing power and compelling his rivals to succumb to his will. Choosing an alternative, however, was a thorny issue due to the intransigence of Iran in supporting Maliki. An Iranian source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al-Monitor that Sistani informed Iranian authorities through his office in Qom that he refused Iranian interference in choosing the Iraqi prime minister. He asked Iran not to impose pressures on Shiite parties to talk them out of naming someone other than Maliki. The Iranian leadership was then persuaded to give up on Maliki even though Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian official who is in charge of the Iraqi issue, was still insisting on renewing Maliki’s term. This is why Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was assigned to communicate with the Iraqi parties to facilitate the naming of an alternative candidate instead of Soleimani, who previously took on similar tasks. After an agreement was reached over the new candidate, and internal and external obstacles were lifted, Maliki was still insisting on his right to a third term. According to Al-Monitor’s sources, Sistani was ready to adopt a stronger stance in the face of Maliki’s resistance during his Aug. 15 Friday sermon. The leading members of the Dawa Party knew, through mediators, that Sistani's stance would be decisive in case Maliki clung to power, especially after a national consensus was reached on Haider al-Abadi. This led Maliki to announce he was stepping down Aug. 14, a day before the Friday sermon. Sistani is playing the role of protector of the democratic course in Iraq. He does this by relying on the societal influence he draws from the religious power he has over a large spectrum of Iraqi society. However, this remarkable characteristic of Sistani is not guaranteed to be found in his successors. Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/08/iraq-sistani-democratic-ways-successors-maliki.html#ixzz3BHCrLe9Z ===== Bomb explodes in Iraqi Kurdish capital Arbil : local TV Sat, Aug 23 12:35 PM EDT ARBIL Iraq (Reuters) - A bomb exploded on Saturday in Arbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, a relatively stable region which has recently come under threat from advancing Islamic State militants, local television network Rudaw reported. TV footage from the scene showed firefighters dousing the charred remains of a car, which blew up outside a technical college on the road from Arbil to Kirkuk. Several people were wounded but none killed in the blast, Rudaw said. Kurdish security forces have been on high alert since Islamic State militants overran large swathes of Iraq, opening a more than 1,000 km-long (600-mile) front with the semi-autonomous region. The last major attack in Arbil was in September, when militants launched a coordinated suicide and car bomb attack on the headquarters of the security services. Kurdistan's relative security has attracted some of the world's largest oil companies including ExxonMobil and Chevron Corp to the region, but many of them have put their operations on hold or withdrawn staff since the Islamic State sweep earlier this month. (Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Michael Georgy) ================= Qatar condemns Islamic State and rejects funding accusations Sat, Aug 23 12:35 PM EDT LONDON (Reuters) - Qatar condemned on Saturday the Islamic State's "barbaric" murder of U.S. journalist James Foley and flatly rejected accusations of giving financial support to the militant group. Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah's comments came a day after the German government apologized for remarks by a minister accusing Qatar of financing Islamic State militants. Attiyah described the recent comments as ill-informed.
"Qatar does not support extremist groups, including ISIS, in any way. We are repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions," he said in a statement released in London. "The vision of extremist groups for the region is one that we have not, nor will ever, support in any way."
Qatar has previously denied supporting Islamist insurgents who have seized wide areas of northern Iraq, northern and eastern Syria. But diplomats and opposition sources say while Qatar supports relatively moderate rebels also backed by Saudi Arabia and the West, it also has backed more hardline factions seeking to set up a strict Islamic state. Attiyah said Qatar's goal was to do all it could to see peace and justice across the region and called for collective action to end the violence in Iraq and Syria. He urged the Iraqi government to provide safety and security for its citizens and vowed that Qatar, a tiny but wealthy Gulf Arab state, would continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people. "The killing of innocent civilians and the forced flight of hundreds of thousands of people threatens the very existence of Iraq and the peace and security of the entire region," he said. "So while, along with many other countries from the Middle East and wider international community, we have supported the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime, we do not fund ISIS or other extremist factions." (Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Rosalind Russell) So #Iraq media is (once more) reporting #ISIS fleeing Yet another Sunni bloc (from Anbar) suspends #Iraq govt formation negotiations protesting #Diyala mosque attack. Amid violence, Shia alliance and Kurds meet. "Agree to present negotiation demands shortly". Sounds very 2010. Maliki orders investigatory committee after Sunni Diyala mosque attack; seems to acknowledge Shia involvement. The US govt seems less interested in rescuing the Shia Turkmen of #Amerli than the Yazidis of Sinjar. To #ISIS, they're the same. Calls for greater consistency in US humanitarian intervention in #Iraq: Why Jabal Sinjar but not #Amerli? #Iraq PM designate @HaiderAlAbadi met with Turkish ambassador in Baghdad (@frkkymkc) today. This is good news. In forming next #Iraq govt, @HaiderAlAbadi is assisted by committee of 7 Shia alliance leaders, 4 from Maliki bloc. Sunni politicians sounding upbeat about ongoing negotiations to form new government by @HaiderAlAbadi. #Iraq army today reportedly sending military forces to break #ISIS siege of mainly Turkmen town of Amerli (Salahadin). Asymmetry in #ISIS victim protection - James Foley vs thousands of Iraqis and Syrians - is sadly becoming a worrisome subject in itself. Imams in #Haditha urge citizens to revolt against #ISIS and to confront secterianism — Iraq. http://bit.ly/1AIWz23 #Maliki requested Peshmerga deployment to #Kirkuk: #KRG spokesman Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) spokesman Fouad Hussein informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Peshmerga forces had deployed to the Iraqi city of Kirkuk to combat the encroaching presence of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters on the basis of a request from outgoing Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had faced criticism from some sections of Iraqi following the troops deployment, with some saying that the Kurdish forces were exploiting ISIS’s presence to take control of the disputed city. Peshmerga forces were deployed to Kirkuk—which many Kurds view as the historic capital of Kurdistan—to repel ISIS’s northwards advance following the terrorist group’s capture of Mosul last month. However KRG spokesman has now said that the Peshmerga’s deployment was based on a request from the office of the prime minister. He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “On July 10, Hamid Al-Mousawi, the executive director of Maliki’s office, telephoned me. He said that he was speaking on behalf of the prime minister and requested that Peshmerga forces enter Kirkuk because there were fears that ISIS was going to take control of the city. I said, ‘Very well, we will enter to protect Kirkuk.’ Therefore, this means that the Peshmerga forces entered the city at Maliki’s request.” “If ISIS had been able to gain control of Kirkuk, this would have been a massive calamity for the Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, They would have been able to gain control of the oil wells and pipeline,” he added. Hussein outlined the current situation on the ground in northern Iraq, stressing that Kurdish Peshmerga forces are on the advance. “The threat from ISIS towards the [Kurdistan] region remains present, but at the same time we are resisting. Although there have been some setbacks due to operational flaws, [but] the Peshmerga forces have been restructured and now the operation is taking place at the hands or regional forces while the terrorist ISIS forces are in retreat,” Hussein told Asharq Al-Awsat. “The front-lines of our confrontation with ISIS extends approximately 1,500 km from the outskirts of Mosul to south of [the city of] Khanaqin. The confrontation today is taking place on the outskirts of Mosul after we liberated and took control of Mosul dam, while there are also confrontations taking place on the outskirts of Kirkuk and Jalula,” he added. =========== Sunnis do not believe Abadi is solution to Iraq's crises Sheikh Mohammed al-Bajari, a member of the local council in Fallujah — the city west of Baghdad in Anbar province that has been under heavy shelling and military operations for over 18 months now — said he does not believe “Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stepping down and Haider al-Abadi designated to form the new government will solve the Sunnis’ problem with the federal government in Baghdad.” Summary⎙ Print Members of the local council in Anbar province say that replacing Nouri al-Maliki with Haider al-Abadi will not solve the problems Sunnis have endured under Maliki’s rule. Author Omar al-Jaffal Posted August 21, 2014 Translator(s)Cynthia Milan Bajari described Maliki’s stepping down and Abadi’s designation as “a simple change of faces.” Both Sunni and Shiite political blocs believe Maliki’s methods of exclusion against Sunnis in Iraq, besides limiting the political decision-making to himself, aggravated the security situation.” Since last December, Anbar province has been witnessing large-scale military operations, conducted by the army against the Islamic State (IS), after the army had scattered the tents of the protesters who raised their demands to the central government for being subjected to several injustices such as random arrests. However, Bajari, who does not blame Maliki alone, told Al-Monitor over the phone, “Sunni officials and deputies were the main reason behind the Sunnis’ tragedy and the ongoing war that resulted in hundreds of victims. The complete political process started off wrong.” He said, “The constitution was written in a chaotic manner, making Iraq and its people suffer several crises.” Bajari said, “The demands of the citizens of Anbar included the annulment of the constitution, writing a new one and restructuring the armed forces on a professional and patriotic basis. We also demanded the annulment of the de-Baathification law and the release of the innocent people who were arrested, as well as the annulment of Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law. These demands require a firm decision; Abadi will not be able to achieve this.” “Replacing Maliki with Abadi, or anyone else, is not going to solve the tragedy suffered by Iraqis in general, and Sunnis in particular,” said Bajari, stressing, “There should be a trial against Maliki and his entire political system for all the crimes he committed against the Iraqis.” Another member of Fallujah's local council, Muthni al-Aani, seems rather more flexible than Bajari. Aani thinks there should be negotiations with the government, but limits these negotiations to whom he called “rebels.” He told Al-Monitor over the phone, “Only the rebels have the right to negotiate with the government. They are the ones leading the revolution, and they will decide whether or not to negotiate with the government.” He said, “Generally speaking, as local officials, we have witnessed the bloodshed and crimes committed by Maliki against Sunnis. Yet, neither Abadi nor any other politician, whether Sunni or Shiite, objected to Maliki’s unspeakable crimes against humanity.” A member of the general military council for the tribal rebels in Anbar, who wished to remain anonymous, told Al-Monitor, “The military council for tribal rebels in Anbar is waiting for an initiative showing the new prime minister’s goodwill. This initiative should include withdrawing all army divisions, militias and SWAT forces from Anbar completely. It should also grant all displaced families and families of the martyrs and wounded compensation for all the psychological, material and moral sufferings they have endured for the past months.” He added, “One of the main conditions for dialogue with Abadi is the trial of Maliki along with his complete political system, as well as its security, military and political leaders in all of Anbar, in addition to every individual who had anything to do with Maliki’s war against Anbar. Sunnis must be granted all the rights they were demanding during the protests that took place before the military operations. … If Abadi makes the initiative showing his goodwill, the military council will also show its goodwill through its own initiative.” Political analyst Ali Ismail Dalimi who lives in Anbar province told Al-Monitor, “Sunnis do not see a solution to their crises in replacing Maliki with a new prime minister. … The Sunnis are a group of tribal sheikhs, rebels and citizens who are determined to start restructuring the political process. If the constitution is not rewritten from scratch, the Sunnis will never stop their revolution.” He said, “This is the actual reality. Thousands of orphans and widows and thousands of displaced citizens will not accept that the situation goes back to the way it was before the revolution. They will not accept a political system similar to Maliki’s system and that of wrongful methods.” Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/08/sunnis-solution-abadi-maliki-problems.html#ixzz3BH8MxhNH ===== =========================== Sat, Aug 23 18:03 PM EDT image 1 of 4 By Ahmed Rasheed and Isabel Coles BAGHDAD/ARBIL Iraq (Reuters) - Bombings across Iraq killed at least 35 people in attacks that appeared to be revenge for an assault on a Sunni mosque that has deepened sectarian conflict. A bomb also exploded in the northern city of Arbil on Saturday, a rare attack unsettling the relative stability the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region has enjoyed. Local television footage showed firefighters dousing the charred remains of a car in Arbil. A Reuters journalist earlier saw a cloud of smoke, but the source was not clear. In Baghdad, a bomber rammed a vehicle into an intelligence headquarters, killing at least eight people, police and medical sources said. Near Tikrit, a suicide bomber driving a military Humvee packed with explosives attacked a gathering of soldiers and Shi'ite militias overnight, killing nine. Shi'ite militiamen machinegunned 68 worshipers at a village mosque in Diyala Province on Friday as politicians try to form a power-sharing government capable of countering Islamic State militants. An advance by Islamic State through northern Iraq has alarmed the Baghdad government and its Western allies and drawn U.S. airstrikes in Iraq for the first time since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011. Although the air campaign has caused a few setbacks for Islamic State, they do not address the far broader problem of sectarian warfare which the group has fueled with attacks on Shi'ites. Bombings, kidnappings and execution-style shootings occur almost daily, echoing the dark days of 2006-2007, the peak of a sectarian civil war. In addition to the Arbil attack, three bombings that appeared to target Kurdish forces killed 18 people in the city of Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, security sources said. Islamic State routed Kurdish forces in its latest advance through the north. Two of Iraq's most influential Sunni politicians suspended participation in talks on forming a new government after the militiamen carried out the mosque attack. Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jibouri have pulled out of talks with the main Shi'ite alliance until the results of an investigation into the killings are announced. Jibouri, a moderate Sunni, condemned both Islamic State as well as the Iranian-trained Shi'ite militias who Sunnis say kidnap and kill members of their sect with impunity. "We will not allow them to exploit disturbed security in the country to undermine the political process. We believe the political process should move on," he told a news conference on Saturday. Iraq's new Shi'ite prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, faces the task of trying to draw Sunnis into politics after they were sidelined by his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki. Maliki stepped aside after pressure from Sunnis, Kurds, some fellow Shi'ites, Iran and the United States. Iran, a regional power broker with deep influence in Iraq, is sending its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to Baghdad on Sunday for talks with Iraqi officials. (Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Rosalind Russell) =========================== Suicide bomber attacks Baghdad intelligence headquarters, eight dead Sat, Aug 23 06:24 AM EDT BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A suicide bomber rammed a vehicle into an intelligence headquarters in Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least eight people, police and medical sources said. The attack came a day after Shi'ite militiamen machinegunned 68 Sunni worshipers at a village mosque in Diyala Province, raising the prospect of revenge attacks as politicians try to form a government capable of countering Islamic State militants. An advance by Islamic State through northern Iraq has alarmed the Baghdad government and its Western allies and drawn airstrikes in Iraq for the first time since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011. Although the air campaign has caused a few setbacks for Islamic State, they do not address the wider problem of sectarian warfare which the group has fueled with attacks on Shi'ites. Bombings, kidnappings and execution-style shootings occur almost daily, echoing the dark days of 2006-2007, the peak of a sectarian civil war. (Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Toby Chopra) ==================== Islamic State executes soldiers, takes hostages at Syria base: social media Wed, Aug 27 03:51 AM EDT image 1 of 2 BEIRUT (Reuters) - Islamic State militants have executed Syrian army soldiers and are holding a group of them hostage after capturing an air base in northeast Syria at the weekend, pictures posted on the Internet and on Twitter by supporters showed on Wednesday. Islamic State, an offshoot of al Qaeda, stormed Tabqa air base near Raqqa city on Sunday after days of fighting with the army that cost more than 500 lives, according to monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Tabqa was the army's last foothold in an area otherwise controlled by the militants, who have seized large areas of Syria and Iraq. The United States has carried out air strikes on the group in Iraq and is studying its options in Syria. In one picture posted online, a group of militants in balaclavas are seen gunning down at least seven kneeling men identified as army personnel. Reuters was not able to immediately confirm the authenticity of the images or when exactly they were taken. Other photos showed groups of eight to 10 soldiers in fatigues taken hostage, some with facial wounds. Three are identified as officers. The photos appeared to show at least two dozen hostages. One picture reportedly shows the body of a pilot who had appeared on Syrian state television before the attack on the base explaining how the army could easily defend it. Others show militants holding up knives next to groups of captured men. Syrian state television aired a report last week interviewing army personnel at the base and showing its defenses, just before Islamic State overran it. On Sunday, Syrian state television said that after fierce battles, the military was "regrouping" and that there was a "successful evacuation of the airport" as the army continued strikes on Islamic State in areas close to the base. Raqqa is a stronghold of Islamic State, and some people celebrated in the city after the capture of the air base. The Observatory said at least 346 Islamic State fighters were killed and more than 170 members of the security forces had died in five days of fighting over the base, making it one of the deadliest clashes between the two groups since the start of Syria's war. The photos posted online also showed the attack on the base, which used at least one tank. Later pictures showed bodies on the ground and abandoned military hardware, such as a jet, warplane munitions and missiles, although it was not clear if any were operational. Syria said on Monday it would cooperate in any international effort to fight Islamic State militants, but a White House spokesman said on Tuesday there was no plan to coordinate with Damascus on how to counter the threat. President Barack Obama approved U.S. surveillance flights to gather intelligence on the extremist group after the release of a graphic video last week showing the beheading of a U.S. journalist by an Islamic State fighter. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

BofA in $16.5 billion deal with U.S. over mortgage bonds: source

Fannie Mae settles shareholder lawsuit for $170 million Fri, Oct 24 18:32 PM EDT image By Jonathan Stempel NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fannie Mae (FNMA.OB) has reached a $170 million settlement of a lawsuit accusing it of misleading shareholders about its finances, risk management and mortgage exposure before it was seized by the U.S. government during the 2008 financial crisis. The settlement, which requires court approval, was disclosed in a Friday filing with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. It resolves shareholder allegations that Fannie Mae defrauded shareholders and inflated its stock by issuing false and misleading statements about its internal controls, capitalization, accounting, and exposure to subprime and low-documentation "Alt-A" mortgages. The settlement allocates $123.8 million to common stockholders and $46.2 million to preferred stockholders between Nov. 8, 2006 and Sept. 5, 2008. Fannie Mae's market value peaked during that period at more than $60 billion. It is now $2.71 billion. "We are pleased to put this matter behind us," Joseph Grassi, Fannie Mae's interim general counsel, said in a statement. "This is another sign of progress as Fannie Mae continues our focus on serving the market and helping lenders make mortgage credit available to qualified borrowers." The government seized Fannie Mae and the smaller Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB) on Sept. 7, 2008, and put them into a conservatorship under the Federal Housing Finance Agency, where they remain. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac together drew about $187.5 billion of bailout funds, but have returned roughly $218.7 billion to taxpayers in the form of dividends. The lead plaintiffs suing Fannie Mae are the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, the State-Boston Retirement Board and the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, and are seeking class-action status. They said the settlement averts potential "numerous and substantial risks" of continuing the lawsuit after similar litigation against Freddie Mac was dismissed last year. "We're extremely pleased with the results, particularly in light of the dismissal of a similar lawsuit against Fannie Mae's sibling company, Freddie Mac," Daniel Greene, the chairman of State-Boston, said in a statement. The law firms Labaton Sucharow and Berman DeValerio, which represent common stockholders, and Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer, which represents preferred stockholders, plan to seek fees of as much as 20 percent of the settlement fund, court papers show. A separate lawsuit over Fannie Mae's disclosures was brought in 2011 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission against former Chief Executive Officer Daniel Mudd and former Chief Risk Officer Enrico Dallavecchia, and remains pending. The SEC filed a similar lawsuit against former Freddie Mac officials, including onetime Chief Executive Officer Richard Syron. The case is In re: Fannie Mae 2008 Securities Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-07831. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Reese and Alan Crosby) ================================== Australia faces tough balancing act on housing loan rules Thu, Oct 02 11:09 AM EDT image By Wayne Cole SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's regulators are attempting the tricky task of tightening lending rules to take the heat out of house prices, without doing collateral damage to a much-needed revival in home building. Appearing before a Senate committee on Thursday, central bank officials said the intention was to avoid an upward spiral in prices that could potentially spill over into a bust that hurts household wealth and spending. The danger was real enough that policy makers were prepared to experiment with macro prudential rules that aimed to limit the build up of leverage and risk-taking in the banking system as a whole, rather than just at individual banks. Any steps would be targeted at restraining risky lending for investment in buy-to-let housing in inner-city districts of Sydney and Melbourne where prices were running hot, said Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Assistant Governor Malcolm Edey. Edey said the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, which oversees the banks, had already tightened its oversight of lending but was now considering "turning up the dial". "We are discussing with APRA steps that might be taken to reinforce sound lending practices, particularly for investor finance, though not necessarily limited to that," Edey told the Senate inquiry into affordable housing. A preliminary announcement on the steps was likely to come before the end of the year, he added. The RBA last week surprised many by saying it was open to tougher rules on lending for housing lending given rapid loan growth and rising home prices. Price growth had slowed somewhat in September, according to figures from property consultant RP Data, but were still up 9.3 percent on the same month last year. In Sydney, annual price growth was running at a rapid 14.3 percent with Melbourne following at 8.1 percent. BUT WHAT ABOUT HOME BUILDING? Senators, however, were concerned that any new regulations would not choke off the recovery in housing in general, and particularly the ongoing resurgence in home building. Government figures out on Thursday showed approvals to build new homes climbed 3 percent in August to a seven-month high, thanks entirely to a 9.6 percent jump in the apartment sector. The central bank has been counting on a revival in home construction as one way to offset the winding down of a decade-long boom in mining investment. "The construction upswing underway is, undoubtedly, the brightest spot of this patchy economy and key in generating employment, expenditure, and confidence," said Su-Lin Ong, a senior economist at RBC Capital Markets. "The RBA clearly wants investors to participate but possibly not to the extent that is emerging at present and with rising leverage. Finding the right balance may prove more difficult." Edey said setting a cap on loan to valuation ratios, as has been used by New Zealand, was unlikely to be included since it would have little impact on investors who typically were wealthy enough to afford large deposits on properties. He would not be drawn on what steps might be taken but RBC's Ong saw scope for a greater rate buffer for investors loans, increased capital provision against such loans, and some paring back of lending to areas which have a high concentration of investor activity. (Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Eric Meijer) ============================================================= ======== Watt The? The U.S. mortgage watchdog is risking a repeat of the subprime lending debacle. New rules on government guarantees from the Federal Housing Finance Agency clarify criteria for lenders. The trouble is, they also cut down payments to as little as 3 percent. That’s an invitation for another wave of underwater borrowers. Mel Watt took over from Ed DeMarco in January as director of the agency that sets standards for federal guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He quickly shifted its focus from avoiding another bailout like the nearly $190 billion crisis-era rescue toward making it easier for Americans to buy homes. For believers in home ownership as a social good, there’s a reason. The U.S. home ownership rate declined to under 65 percent in the second quarter, revisiting 1995 levels, after peaking above 69 percent as the housing and mortgage markets boomed in 2004. Earlier this year, Watt began rolling back plans to cut the size of the loans Fannie and Freddie could insure. His latest announcement at a Mortgage Bankers Association shindig in Las Vegas goes further. Down payments as low as 3 percent of a home’s value will soon be accepted by Fannie and Freddie, which have lately required at least 5 percent. That tops UK Chancellor George Osborne’s aggressive 2013 plan to promote home ownership by partially guaranteeing mortgages with 5 percent down. Such skinny down payments put Fannie and Freddie back in competition with the Federal Housing Administration, the agency explicitly charged with promoting home ownership for those with lower incomes. Such policies inspired a race to the bottom last time around until the crisis intervened and left millions of Americans with mortgages bigger than the value of their homes. Among other things, Watt also plans to make clearer when Fannie and Freddie can force lenders to take back loans that don’t meet all the required criteria. Greater certainty is helpful, even if it could sometimes leave the government enterprises more exposed rather than less. The reduced down payments, though, carry a worrying echo of pre-crisis complacency. Too much emphasis on helping consumers borrow, rather than ensuring lending is prudent, helped inflate the last bubble. U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt on Oct. 20 announced a series of new policies. One initiative involves the agency, which sets standards for federal mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, setting more specific guidelines for conditions when lenders can be forced to take back defective government-guaranteed home loans. Watt also announced a step to allow lower mortgage down payments, between 3 percent and 5 percent of a home’s value, in an effort to expand credit availability. ======================= Wed, Aug 20 15:45 PM EDT image WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bank of America Corp is expected to pay more than $16.5 billion to end investigations into mortgage securities that the bank and its units sold in the run-up to the financial crisis, in a deal that could be announced as early as Thursday, a person familiar with the matter said. The bank has been hammering out the final details of the record-breaking accord with the U.S. Department of Justice and is expected to pay around $9 billion in cash and the rest in assistance to struggling homeowners. A $16.5 billion payout would be the largest in a series of soaring penalties against banks for a range of misconduct, including violating U.S. sanctions and inappropriately marketing mortgage securities. An agreement in principle was reached earlier this month after a phone call between the bank's chief executive, Brian Moynihan, and Attorney General Eric Holder. The negotiations have been driven by an investigation into securities sold by Merrill Lynch, which the bank agreed to acquire in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis, people familiar with the matter have said. Representatives of the Justice Department and Bank of America declined comment. (Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha, additional reporting by Peter Rudegeair; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Steve Orlofsky)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sinopec petrol sale attracts a motley bunch

A range of businesses have been short-listed to bid for part of a 30 percent stake in China Petroleum's Chemical Corporation’s (Sinopec’s) petrol station operating subsidiary Sinopec Sales valued at $16 billion, Reuters reported on Aug. 19.

Canadian retailer Alimentation Couche-Tard, Chinese tech group Tencent, China Life Insurance, Chinese energy distributor ENN Energy, and private equity firms Fosun Group, Hopu Investment Management, and Affinity Equity Partners have all made it to the final round of bidding. Final bids are due by the end of August.

Sinopec said on Jan. 19 that it would restructure the company’s marketing division and allow up to a 30 percent private investment. Sinopec Sales’ assets include over 30,000 petrol stations and 23,000 “Easy Joy” convenience stores.

The group said it wants outside capital to help modernise its petrol station and convenience store business and sales management system. It also wants to expand from supplying fuel to providing services.

Sinopec Sales said on July 29 it signed a co-operation framework agreement with Taiwanese conglomerate Ruentex. The groups will pool procurement, which should reduce buying costs for Sinopec’s convenience stores, according to a Sinopec statement. Ruentex will also pilot joint management of Shanghai-based convenience stores, as well as explore e-commerce cooperation. Ruentex is part owner of Chinese hypermarket operator Sun Art Retail.

Sinopec petrol sale attracts a motley bunch

Sinopec’s petrol station stake sale could drum up a mixed bunch. The Chinese oil giant is seeking investors to help develop Sinopec Sales, which operates its vast network of filling stations. Prospective buyers from food retail, energy, technology and private equity have been shortlisted, according to Reuters. But the price tag of around $16 billion for a 30 percent stake could force them to club together.

Motley crude

Sinopec Sales operates 30,000 petrol stations. Energy distributors like ENN may see some logic in owning more of China’s fuel delivery network. Yet buyers from a range of other industries see greater potential in developing additional sources of income.

Take retail. Though Sinopec Sales has 23,000 Easy Joy convenience stores, these currently bring in just 1 percent of the group’s revenue. Boosting that figure could be lucrative: for established retailers, profit margins on non-fuel sales are three times higher than the 1.7 percent Sinopec Sales squeezes out at the moment. That explains why Alimentation Couche-Tard, the Canadian owner of Circle K convenience stores, is on the shortlist.

Logistics and technology groups have other reasons for getting involved. Petrol stations could act as collection points for online parcels handled by delivery groups like S.F. Express. Internet giant Tencent, meanwhile, might be interested in Sinopec’s fuel payments network.

A big investment will require a large consortium. At the mooted valuation, a $1 billion cheque would buy no more than 2 percent of Sinopec Sales. Not many companies can justify tying up that much capital in what could prove a passive stake in the unlisted subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned enterprise. Besides, not all investors will get a voice: Sinopec Sales is offering just three seats on an 11-member board to outside investors, according to Bernstein analysts.

Prospective investors will also have to grapple with factors beyond their control. Boosting non-fuel revenue and margins could lift the unit’s valuation in an initial public offering. But Beijing, which regulates fuel prices, has the power to wipe out any revenue gains with the stroke of a pen. Whatever the final roster, outside investors will need to stick together to make the deal work.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Doctors tackle damaged minds amid Gaza's post-war destruction

Fri, Aug 15 07:09 AM EDT image By Nidal al-Mughrabi GAZA (Reuters) - In a ward at Shifa, Gaza's largest hospital, child therapist Rabeea Hamouda is trying to elicit a response from two small brothers, Omar and Mohammed, aged three and 18 months, hoping for some words or perhaps a smile. For seven straight minutes the children, peppered with burns and shrapnel wounds sustained in Israeli shelling that hit their home in north Gaza, stare at him blankly, emotionless. Eventually, as Hamouda gently teases them, pretending to mix up their names and holding out a present while another counselor sings quietly, a smile creeps across Mohammed's face and the older one, Omar, cries out his name. "At the beginning, Omar was not responding to us at all, he was not even willing to say his name," explains Hamouda, who heads a team of 150 psychotherapists working for the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution in Gaza. "Big progress has been made with these children," he says with a sense of relief and quiet accomplishment. "At the beginning they did not talk, they refused to communicate. But now, with the sixth session, we are witnessing good progress." Omar and Mohammed are just two of the 400,000 Gazan children the United Nations estimates are in need of psychological care as a result of not just the latest war in the territory but the three previous conflicts fought with Israel since 2006. The most recent conflagration has been the deadliest, with 1,945 Palestinians killed, many of them civilians and including an estimated 457 children. On the other side of the border, some 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed. Whether the result of Israeli air strikes, having parents or relatives killed before their eyes, hearing militants firing rockets from their own towns or themselves being wounded, the psychological trauma for Gaza's young is profound. The symptoms range from nightmares, bed-wetting and behavioral regression to more debilitating mental anxiety, including an inability to process or verbalize experiences. There is also deep trauma on the other side of the border, with tens of thousands of Israeli children mentally disturbed by the regular rocket fire from militants during the month-long war and over the seven years since Hamas seized control of Gaza. While the conflict's destruction of buildings and livelihoods is clear to see and documented daily in television footage, the damage to minds is mostly invisible, yet can have far more damaging and longer-lasting consequences. "The first time a child goes through a traumatic event like a war it's just deeply terrifying," said Chris Gunness, the spokesman of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which has 200 psychotherapists working in up to 90 clinics in Gaza. "The second time is terrifying-plus-one because the child remembers the worst parts of the last war as well as the impact of the current one. Then the third time is plus-plus as the compounded memories of conflict build up. "This time, for an eight- or nine-year-old child in Gaza, it's very, very intense indeed because there is this cumulative toll of trauma from repeated conflicts since 2006." SMALL STEPS Hamouda and his team, like other psychotherapy units working across the small territory - home to an estimated 1.8 million people, more than half of whom are aged under 18 - can barely cope with the number of patients requiring help. The treatment is by necessity basic - an effort to draw children out, to have them paint pictures of their experiences or emotions, to get them to verbalize their circumstances. While a lot can be achieved with such simple techniques, many more require longer-term, personalized psychological care because of the enormity of the mental damage suffered. "First we provide wounded and traumatized children with immediate pyscho-social support and we give parents some guidance on how to deal with them," says Hamouda. Then there is home care and follow up for the more severe cases. "Houses can be rebuilt and some physical wounds can be healed, but the people's psychological condition needs more than money and time," he says. "It needs a big effort and persuasion, and overall it needs calm and stability." One of Gaza's most successful trauma assistance projects is the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, launched in 1990. Hassan Zyada, a psychologist with the project, describes the latest conflict as easily the worst since 2006, with scores of Palestinians having lost multiple family members. "Our expectation is that more than 30 percent of the people here in Gaza will develop a psychiatric disorder," he said. Even health professionals are not immune. Six members of Zyada's own family were killed during the war: his mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law and a nephew. He is now receiving counseling from the clinic's chief therapist. "It is a really traumatic loss and it is not easy for me to deal with," he said, adding that several others on the team had suffered similar experiences. So widespread has the psychological damage become that UNRWA, which runs schools throughout the Gaza Strip, has now made psychotherapy a regular part of the curriculum. "We are rolling out a pretty massive program of parental and child therapy," said Gunness. "We're having to integrate this kind of therapy into our schools." (Additional reporting and editing by Luke Baker and Crispian Balmer)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pakistani cleric, opposition leader begin protest marches

Clashes in Pakistan after shots fired at opposition leader Imran Khan Fri, Aug 15 06:51 AM EDT image 1 of 7 By Syed Raza Hassan ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Clashes broke out Friday as tens of thousands of Pakistani protesters from two anti-government movements converged on the capital, presenting the 15-month-old civilian government with its biggest challenge yet. Gunshots hit the vehicle of former cricket star and opposition politician Imran Khan as he led his supporters through the eastern city of Gujranwala. Residents brandishing ruling-party posters attacked his convoy, throwing shoes and stones. Khan was not injured, his spokeswoman said. Khan and populist cleric Tahir ul-Qadri are slowly leading separate processions towards Islamabad where they plan to occupy main streets until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigns. Security was tight in the capital and authorities had blocked several main roads with shipping containers and barbed wire in a effort to thwart the marches. Riot police were out in force but hundreds of protesters began to gather, banging drums, singing and dancing as they prepared to welcome the their comrades approaching the city. "We have come to save our country because of the call of our leader, Imran Khan," said 36-year-old Ajaz Khan in central Islamabad. He was speaking before the shots were fired at Khan. "We will not leave from here until our leader tells us to go." The protests have raised questions over stability at a time when the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million is fighting an offensive against Pakistani Taliban militants and the influence of anti-Western and sectarian groups is growing. In the latest violence, 10 militants were killed and 13 members of the security forces were wounded in attacks on two air force bases in the city Quetta late on Thursday, the third time since June airports had been targeted. Some members of Sharif's ruling party have suggested the protests are secretly backed by elements in the powerful military, which has had an uneasy relationship with Sharif. How far Khan and Qadri succeed in destabilising the government is likely to depend on the stance taken by a military, which has a long history of mounting coups. While few people think there will be a coup but many officials fear the threat of unrest will increase the military's hold over the government. The military has been frustrated with the government, in particular over the prosecution of former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf for treason. There was also disagreement between the government and the army on how to handle the Pakistani Taliban with the army favouring military action and the government holding out hope for peace talks. REFEREE? The government is also struggling to overcome daily power shortages, high unemployment, and spiralling crime - the legacy of decades of corruption and neglect. Anger over the economy means the protests appeal to many disillusioned young Pakistanis. Both protest leaders also command intense personal loyalty from their followers. Khan is a famed former cricketer, known for his charity work, who now heads the third largest legislative bloc in the country. Qadri, a cleric and political activist who usually lives in Canada, controls a large network of schools and Islamic charities. His followers say they intend to occupy Jinnah Avenue, Islamabad's main thoroughfare leading to many embassies and government buildings. "We will not go back until Sharif resigns," said Qadri's spokesman, Shahid Mursaleen. "They killed our people, there is no way we can make a deal with them." Qadri has accused police of killing 22 of his supporters during clashes in the eastern city of Lahore in June and this month. Police confirmed 11 deaths. About 2,000 of Qadri's supporters were also arrested this month, police said. Khan is protesting against alleged electoral irregularities in last year's polls. Most observers expect the military to play referee, to maintain security but not support action to force Sharif out. "Imran will not get from the army what he was expecting," said an analyst close to the military. "If there was any confusion earlier about whether the army would help Imran or rescue him or topple the government, there should be none now. There is no question of army intervention." (Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld and Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Robert Birsel) ======== Thu, Aug 14 13:58 PM EDT image 1 of 10 By Mubasher Bukhari LAHORE Pakistan (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters began a march to the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Thursday, raising fears for political stability and civilian rule in the nuclear-armed South Asian country. Two protest groups - one led by cricketer-turned-opposition politician Imran Khan, the other by activist cleric Tahir ul-Qadri - are heading to the capital from the eastern city of Lahore. They say the government is corrupt and should step down. Both marches were initially banned, then allowed to go ahead at the last minute. The protesters caused huge traffic jams, and by evening the leaders and most marchers had not left Lahore. Reuters reporters in Lahore and Peshawar said tens of thousands of people were congregating for the marches. Khan and Qadri are not officially allied though both are enemies of the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party swept an election last year. It was the first transfer of power from one elected government to another in the history of coup-prone Pakistan. Qadri is a Muslim preacher turned political activist who lives most of the time in Canada. His supporters, many from his network of Islamic schools and charities, have been involved in several deadly clashes with police. In Islamabad, security was tight. Main roads and key areas, including many embassies, were blocked by riot police and shipping containers. But the country's interior minister said the marchers would be allowed to enter. Qadri's spokesman said they planned to occupy Jinnah Avenue, the main street in the capital near many embassies and top government offices. Qadri has said he plans to force out Sharif and his government by the end of the month. "There will be a sit-in. They will stay there until their demands are met and (Sharif) steps down," Qadri told Reuters. The cleric's calls for revolution are appealing to poor Pakistanis struggling with high unemployment, daily power cuts and inflation. So are the promises he makes. "Every homeless person will be provided housing; every unemployed person will be given a job; low-paid people will be provided with daily necessities," Qadri said on Thursday. One of his main complaints is that violence against his supporters by police is not being properly investigated. About 2,000 of his supporters have been arrested, police say. ELECTION COMPLAINTS The political confrontation has revived concern about the central issue in Pakistani politics: competition for power between the military and civilian leaders. Some officials have accused elements within the powerful military of orchestrating the protests to weaken the civilian government. The military insists it does not meddle in politics. Most analysts doubt the military wants a coup, but a perception is widespread that it could exploit the protests to pressure the civilian government. Despite those perceptions, Sharif is relying on the military for security in the face of the challenges. Recently, policies that the armed forces object to, such as the treason trial of former military leader Pervez Musharraf, have ground to a halt. Imran Khan said he was cheated in the general election in May last year and wants a proper investigation into his complaints. His supporters were exuberant as they set off on the 370-km (230-mile) journey to Islamabad on Thursday, an Independence Day holiday in Pakistan. Khan traveled in a modified, bulletproof shipping container with windows. Many of his supporters carried sleeping mats and food, determined to camp on Islamabad streets until their demands were met - including a demand for Sharif to resign. "I was treated at his cancer hospital free of cost," said 50-year-old housewife Aasia Khan, referring to a charitable hospital that Khan set up in memory of his mother. "I owe him a lot and will support him until I die." Khan's political ambitions were dismissed for years, but he built up support, particularly among students. The one-time playboy cricket star developed a reputation as a conservative maverick and reformist. On Thursday, he challenged Sharif over tax evasion and the country's dependence on foreign donors. Most wealthy Pakistanis pay almost no tax, but the nation receives billions in aid. "The begging bowl will break only when you start paying taxes yourself," he said in a speech. Khan won 34 seats in the 342-seat lower house of parliament in the last election. Sharif's party won 190 seats. Qadri did not contest. (Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld, Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Syed Raza Hassan in Islamabad and Asim Tanveer in Multan; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Mark Heinrich) ====================================== Pakistan government splits protests, some march on capital, some blocked Thu, Aug 14 02:46 AM EDT image By Mubasher Bukhari LAHORE Pakistan (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters preparing to march on the Pakistani capital gathered in the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, buoyed by a last-minute court order that a peaceful march could go ahead and a government promise to obey the ruling. The festive air at the home of cricketer-turned-opposition politician Imran Khan was in stark contrast to the grim determination at the blockaded home of cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, another would-be protest leader whose march has been banned. Khan and Qadri are not officially allied though both are calling for the ouster of a government they condemn as corrupt, which came to power after a sweeping general election victory for the party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last year. "We are the ones who pose the biggest challenge to the government, that is why they are opposing us so strongly," Qadri's spokesman, Shahid Mursaleen, said late on Wednesday. "The police are killing us and our people only have sticks to protect themselves." The protests have raised tension in the nuclear-armed country of 180-million people and have revived concern about the central issue in Pakistani politics: competition for power between the military and civilian leaders. Any threat to Pakistan's stability alarms its allies and neighbors, who fear rising religious intolerance and the Islamist militants who find refuge there. Some officials had accused elements within the powerful military of orchestrating the protests to weaken the civilian government. The military has declined to comment but has previously said it does not meddle in politics. Many analysts doubt whether the military wants to seize power, but there is a widespread perception it could use the opportunity to put the civilian government under its thumb. Sharif is relying on the military for security in the face of the challenges, and, as a result, the government is likely to be less determined to pursue polices the military objects to, such as the prosecution on treason charges of former military leader Pervez Musharraf, analysts say. DIVIDE AND RULE? By early on Thursday, the government appeared to have developed a strategy to blunt the challenge to its power with the contrasting approaches to the two marches neatly splitting its foes. Late on Wednesday, a court ruled that Khan's march would be permitted, as long as nothing illegal was done, and Sharif's interior minister said the government would respect that ruling. Allowing Khan's march demonstrated that the government tolerated peaceful protests and obeyed the courts, who are rapidly emerging as Pakistan's third power center after the military and the fledgling civilian government. At Khan's home, protesters were chanting, listening to music and preparing to set off on the 370-km (230-mile) journey form Lahore to Islamabad, said Asad Umar, a member of parliament from Khan's party. Khan is protesting about alleged irregularities in last year's polls, which marked the first transfer of power from one elected government to another in coup-prone Pakistan's history. As Khan's supporters prepared to march, Qadri's supporters, who had planned to join them, were isolated and blockaded in the area around his home by shipping containers placed across roads by the authorities. Those inside said food and water were running low and telephone services in the area were suspended. The fiery cleric had vowed to overthrow the government by the end of this month. His supporters, many of them drawn from his network of Islamic schools and charities, have been involved in several deadly clashes with police. (Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld and Syed Raza Hassan in Islamabad; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Robert Birsel)