Tuesday, July 13, 2010

French parliament set to vote on veil ban


PARIS — As France's parliament debates whether to ban burqa-like Muslim veils, one lawmaker compares them to muzzles, or "walking coffins." Another proclaims that women who wear them must be liberated, even against their will. Amid little resistance, France's lower house of parliament will likely approve a ban on face-covering veils Tuesday, and the Senate will probably follow suit in September.

Polls show voters overwhelmingly support a ban. In parliament, criticism was mostly timid, and relatively few dissenters spoke out about civil liberties or fears of fanning anti-Islam sentiment in a country where there are an estimated 5 million Muslims, and where mainstream society has struggled to integrate generations of immigrants.

One obstacle, however, may still stand in the way of a ban: the courts.

Law scholars say the ban could be shot down by France's constitutional watchdog or the European Court of Human Rights. That could dampen efforts under way in other European countries toward banning the veils.

It would also be a humiliation for President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative government, which has devoted much attention to a bill that would affect only an estimated 1,900 women in France.

The main body representing French Muslims says face-covering veils are not required by Islam and not suitable in France, but it worries that the law will stigmatize Muslims in general.

The niqab and burqa are widely seen in France as a gateway to extremism and an attack on women's rights and secularism, a central value of modern-day France. Critics say a ban is a cynical ploy to attract far-right voters.

The government has struggled — and failed, some legal observers say — to come up with a strong legal basis for a ban.

In March, France's highest administrative body, the Council of State, warned that it could be found unconstitutional. It rejected possible legal justifications one by one, including the French tradition of secularism, equality for women, human dignity and concerns about public security.

In the end, the government's central legal argument is that covering one's face doesn't square with French values.

Life in France is "carried out with a bare face," Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said last week, opening debate at the National Assembly.

As legal reasoning, she invoked the notion of public policy doctrine, a country's moral and social rules.

Face-covering veils "call into question the idea of integration, which is founded on the acceptance of the values of our society," Alliot-Marie said.

The legislation would forbid face-covering Muslim veils in all public places in France, even in the street. It calls for euro150 ($185) fines or citizenship classes, or both.

The bill is also aimed at husbands and fathers who impose such veils on women and girls. Anyone convicted of forcing someone else to wear the garb risks a year of prison and a euro30,000 ($38,000) fine — with both those penalties doubled if the victim is a minor.

Officials have taken pains to craft language that does not single out Muslims. While the proposed legislation is colloquially referred to as the "anti-burqa law," it is officially called "the bill to forbid concealing one's face in public."

It refers neither to Islam nor to veils — leading to an often surreal disconnect between the text and discussion in parliament about it. While officials insist the law against face-covering would apply to everyone, not just Muslims, they cite a host of exceptions, including masks for health reasons, for fencing, for carnivals and festivals.

Legislator Berengere Poletti, of Sarkozy's conservative party, argued that women in such garb "wear a sign of alienation on their faces" and "must be liberated," even if they say the apparel is their own choice.

Communist Andre Gerin, who also supports a ban, said that "talking about liberty to defend the wearing of the full veil is totally cynical — for me, the full veil is a walking coffin, a muzzle."

Socialist Jean Glavany, one of the few lawmakers to offer stinging criticism of a ban, said dwelling on questions of French identity and whether burqas are welcome in France "is nothing more than the fear of those who are different, who come from abroad, who aren't like us, who don't share our values."

He was also one of several lawmakers to question the bill's "judicial fragility."

To address that widespread concern, the conservative majority has taken the unusual step of asking the Constitutional Council watchdog to examine the bill once it passes parliament — a move usually made by opponents of legislation.

Down the road, the law could face another challenge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where decisions are binding. In February, the court shot down a Turkish decision that convicted dozens of people for wearing religious clothing in public.

Mark Reckless MP sorry for being 'too drunk to vote'

BBC News

A Kent MP has apologised for being drunk in the House of Commons and missing a vote on the Budget. Mark Reckless said he did not feel it was appropriate to take part in the vote in the early hours of Wednesday because of the amount he had drunk.

The Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood told BBC Radio Kent: "I made a mistake. I'm really sorry about it."

Labour MP Hazel Blears said she returned to the library after it became "a bit lively" on the terrace.

Mr Reckless is one of 227 new MPs who started work at Westminster following the general election on 6 May.
Continue reading the main story

He said: "I'm terribly, terribly embarrassed. I apologise unreservedly and I don't plan to drink again at Westminster."

Mr Reckless denied claims that he fell asleep on the terrace or got a taxi back to his constituency.

He added: "I remember someone asking me to vote and not thinking it was appropriate, given how I was at the time.

"If I was in the sort of situation generally where I thought I was drunk I tend to go home.

"Westminster is a very special situation and all I can say... is given this very embarrassing experience I don't intend to drink at Westminster again."
Houses of Parliament The Commons terrace overlooks the Thames

Mr Reckless was having drinks on the night of the second reading of the Finance Bill, which lasted until 0230 BST on Wednesday.

Commons leader Sir George Young described it as the first "seriously late" sitting of the new parliamentary term.

Hazel Blears told Sky News on Sunday: "On Tuesday night, it was a hot night, and we all knew we were going to be there until two o'clock so I went out for a drink on the terrace.

"I was there until about half past 10. Then I thought this is getting a bit lively so I went back in the library and did a bit more correspondence and then I popped out and had a drink somewhere else with my friends."

She added: "I think the lesson is [that] there's a lot of new members in the House. He said, Mr Reckless, he said it was a bit like a lock-in so maybe he does that in his pub.

"But I think he's probably learnt his lesson."

Broken Britain is in grip of £40bn organised crime wave

 Daily Mail

Britain is in the grip of a £40billion organised crimewave led by 6,000 gangs, the head of Scotland Yard warned last night. Sir Paul Stephenson spelt out the enormous economic cost to the country of large scale drugs supply, people smuggling, fraud and mass marketing scams as he called for a new approach to tackling the problem.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said the estimated cost of organised crime was more than double the £18.5billion budget for the 43 forces of England and Wales last year.

And he revealed that law enforcement agencies believe there are around 6,000 organised crime groups active in the UK with an estimated 38,000 individuals operating within them.

Analysis shows there are nearly 500 organised crime groups with known assets of over £1m and 68 groups with assets of £10m or more, he added.

The Met chief also revealed that last year just £154million worth of assets had been recovered from the estimated £40billion cost to the economy of organised crime.

Sir Paul, who has deliberately kept a low profile since succeeding gaffe-prone Sir Ian Blair as Met chief 18 months ago, made his hard-hitting comments in a speech in London to the Police Foundation.

He said the resources devoted to dealing with organised crime in Britain are 'uncoordinated and, in effect, inadequate and have been for many years'.

'In 2004, the Home Office reporting estimated the total cost of economic and social harm to the UK by organised crime at between £20-£40 billion every year. I think it reasonable to consider this to be a conservative estimate that can only have increased with the passage of time,' he said.

'It breaks down like this: every year class A drug use in England alone costs the Exchequer at least £15billion in social and economic cost. The value of the UK cannabis wholesale market equates to £1 billion, the cost of people smuggling has been estimated at £1.4 billion and trafficking for sexual exploitation £1billion.

'A 2006 study by the Office of Fair Trading reported that mass marketing scams caused losses to UK consumers of up to £3.5 billion every year. Fraud including tax and benefit fraud and counterfeit payment cards is estimated to cost £8 billion, and intellectual property crime £1billion.

'Metal theft costs the economy a third of a billion and there is an economic cost running into millions from the blackmail, extortions, abductions and kidnaps that occur every year. And of course, we have the bill for armed robberies, including cash in transit and artifice burglaries.'

Sir Paul, who fears the fight against major criminals will be hit by huge budget cuts in the police, said: 'Organised crime costs the country dearly - it is, in effect, a surcharge on every item we buy in every store in the country.

'It is sometimes said that organised crime and, in particular, fraud, is a 'victimless crime'; but in reality its effects are felt by us all.

'It reduces the money available to government, distorts the readout on the economy and affects the ability of legitimate businesses to retain market share, leading to higher prices for everyone.

'Organised criminal networks can have global reach, but the effect of their criminality is played out daily on our streets and in our homes.

'And there is a significant consequential impact and cost on all public services, including education, health and social services.

'This local impact represents the end of a continuum that can start on another continent.

'And there is a complex array of criminal relationships and transactions that have allowed events on another continent to ultimately lead to this tragedy in one of our local communities.

'Someone has produced, processed and transported heroin in bulk across continents to the UK, passing it on to middle market suppliers who then pass to a network of street dealers.

'A local market is supported by local crime gangs involved in violence to enforce debts and protect 'turf'.

'A weapon has been procured and then smuggled in to the country, leading to its use ending tragically in an innocent person being killed.'

He referred specifically to the murder of schoolgirl Agnes Sina-Inakoju, 16, who was shot dead at a local takeaway in East London in April this year.

Sir Paul said forces are targeting in an 'operationally meaningful way' just 11% of the estimated 6,000 organised crime groups.

He called for the creation of a nationally coordinated federated structure for tackling organised crime, either from within the police service or as part of an extended remit for the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Jerusalem Thaws the Freeze, Approves New Housing


Jerusalem’s planning commission ended the de facto building freeze Monday night by approving building 32 new housing units in Pisgat Ze’ev, where 50,000 Jews lives in the northeastern part of the city. The Palestinian Authority claims the areas as part of its proposed new Arab country within Israel’s post-1967 borders. The approval puts a stamp of approval on Israel’s determination not to surrender to PA pressure, backed by U.S. President Barack Obama, to stop all construction for Jews in parts of Jerusalem where PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas demands sovereignty. President Obama has labeled the Jewish neighborhoods as “settlements” although approximately 300,000 Jews live in the neighborhoods, which are part of the municipality.

Jerusalem’s new light railway system, now in the final stages of construction, runs through Pisgat Ze’ev and reinforces its being part of the city, for all intents and purposes.

The United States has not yet reacted to the Jerusalem announcement, but a PA spokesman said it shows that Israel is not committed to the PA’s version of a new Arab country.

The 32 residences are part of a 220-unit project, and the approval is one of the last steps in a long bureaucratic process, which "still has to go to 15-to-20 municipal departments for approval, like sanitation and environment," Jerusalem spokesman Stephen Miller said.

A previous crisis with the United States broke out earlier this year over a bureaucratic approval of a housing complex in the nearby Ramat Shlomo neighborhood but which still is approximately two years away from final authorization.

On the eve of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s trip to the White House last week, he beat back an effort by several Knesset Members to introduce a bill that would require legislative approval for a building freeze.

Jerusalem’s planning committee also postponed a decision on the building at Pisgat Ze’ev to honor Prime Minister Netanyahu’s request not to stir up a controversy before his meeting with President Obama.

Tears as Srebrenica massacre victims mourned


Tens of thousands of grieving Bosnian Muslims gathered yesterday to bury the remains of 755 newly identified victims killed when Bosnian Serbs overran the eastern town of Srebrenica 15 years ago. An army led by Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic seized Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, and went on a week-long killing spree as UN troops protecting the town stepped aside.

Around 8000 Muslims were killed. Those who tried to escape were hunted down and killed. Mladic remains at large.

Yesterday, men passed green-draped coffins towards freshly-dug graves. Sobbing women said prayers as they kneeled among rows of marble gravestones.

“I have nothing left to lose,” Hatidza Mehmedovic, 58, said through tears. She came to bury her husband and two sons, killed when they were 18 and 21.

The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague has indicted Mladic and his political chief Radovan Karadzic for genocide in Srebrenica. Karadzic is on trial but denies all counts. Mladic is believed to be hiding in Serbia. Failure to arrest him has hindered Serbia’s progress towards EU membership.

After the massacre, Serbs dumped the bodies into mass graves. They were later dug out with bulldozers and moved in an attempt to cover up the crime.

More than 3700 victims have been buried in the memorial graveyard after being unearthed from mass graves and identified.

White House criticizes NASA chief for making remarks on Muslim outreach

By Reuters

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. was wrong to say that reaching out to the Muslim world was a top priority of the U.S. space agency.
Bolden raised eyebrows in the space community and outrage among conservative pundits by telling al-Jazeera television recently that President Barack Obama had instructed him to work for better outreach with the Muslim world.

He said Obama told him that one of his top priorities was to "find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering."

Improving relations with the Muslim world was a top foreign policy priority for Obama upon taking office last year, and he delivered a major speech on the topic in Cairo in June 2009.

Last week, the White House sought to clarify Bolden's comment, saying Obama wanted NASA to engage with the world's best scientists and engineers from countries such as Russia, Japan, Israel and many Muslim-majority countries.

That failed to end the controversy.

Gibbs was asked at his daily news briefing why Bolden had made the comment.

"I don't think -- that was not his task, and that's not the task of NASA," Gibbs said.

UK: Town's Muslim families ‘feel intimidated'

By Mark Tallentire

MUSLIM families no longer feel safe living in a North-East town, a community leader has claimed.

Maszlee Malik, a Malaysian Muslim, said Muslim children in Bowburn, near Durham, face daily verbal insults, adults receive no respect and Muslim homes are targeted for anti-social behaviour.

The married father-of-four, who has lived in the town for three years, said racist incidents have increased since he first voiced concerns to The Northern Echo last year, and described the situation in Bowburn as deteriorating.

Mr Malik went public with his concerns last December, after Muslim children allegedly suffered racist abuse walking to and from school. He blames the problems on teenagers in the town.

He said: "To be cursed with racist words like ‘Paki', ‘terrorist', ‘go back to your country' and ‘get out of Bowburn' is part of our daily life. Despite reports being made, we still experience the same intimidation. It has become rampant.

"All those unfortunate incidents that most international families in Bowburn have to face in their brief sojourn in the UK could be summarised in one sentence: ‘We don't feel safe any more living in Durham'."

About 40 Malaysian student families live in Bowburn, with smaller Arab and Chinese communities.

Mr Malik plans to return to Malaysia after completing a politics PhD at Durham University, where he was president of the Islamic Society.

Paul Anderson, Durham Police's neighbourhood inspector for Durham City, said "The police take any racist incidents very seriously and will not tolerate this behaviour. All reported incidents will be thoroughly investigated and a Hate Crime Officer allocated to support the victims wherever possible."

Mr Malik has praised Lynne Lyons, headteacher at Bowburn Junior School, for her work in encouraging integration between ethnic groups.

The school employed County Durham's first Malaysian Muslim teaching assistant to encourage intercultural play and its curriculum includes studying the child in the world.

Rich Muslim vows to pay all French burka fines

Flamboyant Rachid Nekkaz pledges €1m to pay fines of French Muslim women caught wearing the full veil

By Gavin Mortimer

ShareOn the eve of tomorrow's Bastille Day celebrations, there is more revolution in the air in France and this time the ringleader is a flamboyant Muslim businessman called Rachid Nekkaz. The 38-year-old property developer is incensed that France has moved one step closer to banning the burka, with women caught wearing the full veil in public liable to a €150 fine and anyone convicted of forcing a woman to cover up facing a fine of up to €30,000 and a year in prison.

The first stage in passing the controversial law was today approved in the National Assembly with members of the Lower House voting overwhelmingly - 335 votes for to one against - to introduce the ban. If the French senators in the Upper House ratify the proposal in September, it will become law by the spring of 2011.

Nekkaz (above), along with the majority of France's five million Muslims, is furious at what he sees as a persecution of his religion, pointing out that fewer than 2,000 French Muslims actually wear the full veil.

He has begun a campaign to fight the law and he's pledged one million euros of his own money to pay the fines of any Muslim convicted. Speaking outside the National Assembly, Nekkaz said: "One million sounds a lot, but to protect one's liberty it's not much, and I hope that others in this country who hold the constitution dear and want to protect our fundamental liberty will join me in fighting this law."

The debonair Nekkaz, a shining example of an integrated, modern French Muslim (he was born in France to Algerian parents), has set up a campaign group called 'Hands off my Constitution', and plans to raise the €1m by selling some of the properties he owns in the Parisian suburbs.

In front of the cameras he wrote a personal cheque for the seven-figure sum before describing the proposed law as 'Anti-Constitutional' and demanding that President Sarkozy shelves the idea.

That seems unlikely. Not only has Sarkozy described the full veil as degrading to women, but it's an issue that has the overwhelming support of his UMP party. Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said last week that wearing the veil "amounted to being cut off from society and rejecting the very spirit of the French republic that is founded on a desire to live together''.

And the likes of Nekkaz haven't been helped in fighting the law by the muddled approach of the opposition Socialist Party. They would like to see a ban restricted to state institutions. But that notion was ridiculed by Alliot-Marie, who said it would be "legally incoherent" and impossible to enforce. "How could we convince the French people that freedom, equality and respect for the dignity of women begins in the train station but stops at the exit?''

The Socialists abstained in today's vote in the Lower House and have said they will adopt a similar stance in September's Senate vote, in which case it seems certain the law will be written into the French Constitution. But the country's police force is bracing itself for a backlash. Security was increased at the National Assembly ahead of today's vote and there are fears of street riots if the bill is passed.

Mothers in the Palestinian territories find support in the company of women

Women who have recently given birth give an insight into the support they get from female relatives - and their love of kitsch

Ingvild Hersoug Nedberg

Small bundles of pink or blue are paraded around the living room, where we, the midwives visiting the new mother, are oohing and aahing at the small wonders. Within the bundles lie sleeping Palestinian babies; blissfully unaware of the political turmoil they are born into. Lucky is the mother who has managed to have a boy, still important in a culture where the male line carries the family name.

After months of meeting a woman at the antenatal care clinic in the village of Deir Jareer, and perhaps being lucky enough to be her midwife during birth at the hospital in Ramallah, this is our last formal meeting. A visit from the midwives prompts all the women in the house to join in - sisters, mothers, mothers-in-law or other children. They listen and comment; serve up chocolates and a hot cinnamon mixture with nuts. We are honoured by being seated in the formal living room.

The room is a peek into the Palestinians' love of kitsch. It has embroidered pillows, fake flower arrangements, tableaux of Mecca with ornate lighting around the frames, verses from the Qur'an hanging on the wall, and lots of family photos. The men in the house have all disappeared for the time being, this is a women's world.

The midwives ask about the birth, complications, breast-feeding and plans for more children. Since Arabic is still just a myriad of strange sounds in my ears, I use the time to admire the newborn or the pillows with blue and white sparrows embroidered on them. Every now and then, recognising a familiar word, I can put in a question that my midwife supervisor will translate.

It is the first time I see women without their veils. They wear comfortable clothes, lose and airy, without any make up. It is difficult to recognise them from the clinic, where they wear long black coats, high-heeled sandals with glittering stones, and matching handbags. Now the new mother is at home, with other women to care for her, cook and wash, and help with the baby. They have all been in the same situation, and have many years of combined knowledge and experience.

Waving goodbye we know the chance of seeing this woman again at the midwifery in a year or two is not unlikely. In the meantime, she will enjoy the support and experience of generations of women around her.

Pakistan Says Iran Scientist in U.S. Fled to Its Embassy


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - In the latest twist in a murky tale, Pakistan said Tuesday that an Iranian nuclear scientist who Tehran maintains was kidnapped by the Central Intelligence Agency had taken refuge in a section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington that deals with Iranian interests.

Iranian officials were "making arrangements for his repatriation," said Abdul Basit, a spokesman at the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, but no details were made public.

The scientist, Shahram Amiri, 32, vanished during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in June 2009, and Iran accused the United States of abducting and torturing him. He had worked at Iran's Malek Ashtar University, which is linked to the powerful Revolutionary Guards.

The United States government has never officially discussed Mr. Amiri or his disappearance, though a Western official briefed recently on evidence of Iran's nuclear program said he was "one of the sources" for new information on the program.

Mr. Basit declined to comment on how Mr. Amiri entered the embassy's Iran section and denied that the episode could strain relations between Iran and Pakistan.

"He is not in the Pakistani Embassy, per se," Mr. Basit said. "He is at the Iranian interests section, which is manned by Iranian nationals."

He added, "We understand that they are making arrangements for his repatriation." Countries that do not maintain direct diplomatic ties often establish an "interest section" in another country's embassy. Iran's is connected to the Pakistani Embassy; the United States has a parallel office at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. Iran and the United States severed diplomatic ties after the 1979 revolution.

Confusion over the scientist deepened in June, when two conflicting videos purporting to show the scientist emerged just before the United Nations Security Council voted to approve a new set of American-backed economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. The first, publicized by Iran, showed a young man speaking in Persian through a computer phone hookup and saying he had been kidnapped in a joint operation involving the C.I.A. and the Saudi intelligence service in Medina on June 3, 2009. He said that he was taken to a house in Saudi Arabia, that he was injected with a shot, and that when he awoke he was on a plane heading to the United States.

He said he recorded the video on April 5 in Tucson. The announcer said that he could not disclose how the video was obtained.

But the second videotape, posted on YouTube shortly after the first video was publicized, showed a different young man in a suit who, also speaking in Persian, identified himself as Mr. Amiri. He said he was free and safe in the United States and was working on his Ph.D. He also demanded an end to what he called false videos about himself, saying he had no interest in politics or experience in nuclear weapons programs.

If the Iranian version is true, it is not clear how the man was able to reach the Pakistani Embassy. If the second version is accurate, it is not clear why he would want to take refuge at the embassy.
Iran's state-run English-language broadcaster Press TV said the Iranian Foreign Ministry had handed over to Swiss diplomats in Tehran "new documents related to the abduction of the Iranian national by the C.I.A." and called for Mr. Amiri's "swift and unconditional release."

The broadcaster quoted an "audio message obtained by Iran's intelligence sources" as saying he had been offered $10 million "to appear on CNN and announce that he had willingly defected to the United States." Iranian news outlets have also said that a former Iranian deputy defense minister, Alireza Asgari, was abducted during a trip to Turkey in 2007. The two videos released in June served to deepen the mystery.

Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, and Alan Cowell from London.

Kashmir tense ahead of planned rally

Tension is running high in Indian-administered Kashmir as the volatile region braces for yet another mass demonstration to commemorate the Martyrs' Day.

Protesters called for a third day of strikes on Tuesday and announced plans for a rally in Srinagar to mark the killing of 21 people by jail guards in 1931 known as the Martyrs' Day.

The deadly incident took place as people revolting against Kashmir's former ruler Hari Singh stormed the central jail in Srinagar city. In response, jail guards opened fire on protestors.

Meanwhile, police officials reacted to the demonstration plan on Tuesday, confirming that no rally would be allowed.

"Restrictions are in place throughout Srinagar city as a precautionary measure to protect civilian life and property from the designs of anti-social elements," a senior police officer said.

Indian security forces are struggling to control demonstrations in the Kashmir valley after being blamed for the killing of 15 civilian protestors over the past month.

Each death sparked fresh violence across the volatile Himalayan region.

India and Pakistan both claim full control over Kashmir but rule the territory only in part. The dispute has led to two wars between the two countries.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Kashmir since anger against the Indian rule turned into rebellion back in 1989.

Afghan soldier kills 3 British troops

An Afghan soldier has killed three British troops during a joint patrol in the country's southern province of Helmand, a provincial security official has said.

Two more British soldiers were injured in the attack, which took place near Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, where some 9,000 British troops are based as part of the US-led forces, a security source told Reuters on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, NATO released a statement saying that three of its soldiers were killed in an attack by militants in southern Afghanistan.

Their deaths bring to 36 the number of foreign soldiers killed so far this month in Afghanistan.

American and NATO military casualties are on the rise as they step up attacks against Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan.

Britain has about 10,000 boots on the ground in Afghanistan, the largest international force after the United States. The UK says it is going to withdraw all its troops from Afghan combat zones by 2015.

The British government is under fire at home over the rising number of casualties in Afghanistan. Opinion polls show that most Britons want their troops back home.

Pakistan's Islamist shock jocks face ban on glamorising terrorism

Pakistan's Islamist shock jocks, who are blamed for promoting anti-American conspiracy theories on almost 100 different TV channels, could be silenced by new laws banning shows that glamorise terrorism.

By Rob Crilly in Islamabad

The proposed Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Bill will ban live coverage of militant attacks and the broadcast of anything "defamatory against the organs of the state".

But critics have said the law's broad terms will prohibit criticism of the government and wipe out the controversial shows, which attract millions of viewers.

Reading and Birmingham stand on brink of promotion"There's no doubt about it," said Zaid Hamid, one of the country's best known TV hosts, "the target is programmes like mine."

The issue cuts to the core of modern Pakistan, a conservative Muslim society grappling with democracy after a decade of military rule. The government is struggling to contain a growing extremist threat and knows its position as an ally in the American war on terror puts it at risk of a backlash.

The new type of talk show host finds a ready audience among a population that views the US with suspicion.

With his grey goatee, Mr Hamid is one of the most recognisable - and feared.

He coined the term Hindu Zionist to describe the Israeli and Indian forces he believes are allied in a plot to destabilise Pakistan, and he has repeatedly accused the private military contractor Blackwater (now Xe) of staging bomb blasts blamed on Islamist extremists.

His show, Brass Tacks, was very popular with young people, but was pulled recently after protest from student groups who believed he was intent on creating a cult of personality. He is also under investigation in a murder case, allegations he believes are politically motivated.

Other controversial figures include Hamid Mir, host of "Capital Talk", who is revered as one of Pakistan's most influential journalists.

However, his easy access to militants has led many to question whether he is a sympathiser. A tape surfaced recently of a telephone conversation Mr Mir is alleged to have had with extremists, apparently urging them to kill a hostage. He claims the recording was faked.

Farahnaz Ispahani, a member of the ruling party who sits on the standing committee on information and broadcasting, said the legislation was needed to rein in shows that glamorised violence.

"The problem is that the owners don't give a damn about anything other than ratings, so they want their programmes and news shows to be as sensationalist as possible," she said.

Offenders could be sentenced to up to three years in jail or a fined a maximum of 10 million rupees (about £80,000).

WMD claims were lies says former envoy

By Nigel Morris, Deputy Political Editor

Britain was taken to war in Iraq on the basis of "lies", scaremongering and deliberate exaggeration, a former UK diplomat told the Iraq inquiry.

Carne Ross claimed that Britain and the United States privately did not believe that Iraq's weapons programmes posed a "substantial threat" before launching the 2003 invasion.

Mr Ross, the former first secretary at the UK's mission to the United Nations, told the Chilcot inquiry there was no "significant intelligence" to support claims that Saddam Hussein had amassed an arsenal of deadly weapons.

He argued that Saddam could have been contained through sanctions - and condemned the failure by the US or UK to close the Iraqi dictator's bank accounts in Jordan.

Mr Ross, who resigned before the war, pointed to a document circulated to Labour MPs in 2002 as evidence of a "process of deliberate public exaggeration", including the claim that Saddam could develop nuclear weapons within five years.

He added: "This paper also contains such scare-mongering claims as ‘less than a teaspoon of anthrax can kill over a million people' without explaining the extremely difficult process for anthrax to be weaponised and delivered in an effective method."

The former diplomat said the September 2002 dossier that made the case for war - including the notorious claim that Iraq could launch a missile strike within 45 minutes "misrepresented" the raw intelligence.

He said a "very uncertain and patchy picture" was converted into "positive claims of knowledge of threat".

Mr Ross concluded: "This process of exaggeration was gradual, and proceeded by accretion and editing from document to document, in a way that allowed those participating to convince themselves that they were not engaged in blatant dishonesty.

"But this process led to highly misleading statements about the UK assessment of the Iraqi threat that were, in their totality, lies."

Mr Ross challenged the inquiry to publish all Government documents concerning the war. He alleged that the evidence given by some officials was contradicted by papers he had seen and added he had seen "very little" in classified documents that could not be made public.