Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Military officers cancel trip after humiliation at US airport

By Anwar Iqbal
WASHINGTON: A Pakistani military delegation became the latest victim of the paranoia permeating US airports on Monday night, when US security officials detained a brigadier at Washington's Dulles airport on a complaint by a passenger who said he did not feel safe sharing the flight with the delegation.

The brigadier was removed from the United Airlines flight, and others in this eight-member delegation were also detained after they disembarked. They were later released.

The dispute became a major diplomatic row as the delegation, offended by this treatment, decided to cancel an important meeting at the headquarters of the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday, and return home.

By the time the US Department of Defence apologised to the delegation, their leader, a two-star naval officer, had already informed Islamabad where officials approved his decision to return home on Tuesday night.

The delegation included senior officials from all three services, the army, the navy and the air force.
Dawn contacted the US Transport Security Administration, whose officials had detained the brigadier, and the Department of Homeland Security but failed to get a response.

Mathew Chandler, a DHS spokesman, and Lauren Gaches of TSA, however, asked Dawn to contact the airline.

United Airlines officials, however, told the US media that the brigadier, whose name was not disclosed, had misbehaved with a stewardess and told her that "this would be her last mission".

Information collected by Dawn showed that the incident that led to the cancellation of the meeting happened at Washington's Dulles airport on Monday night when a passenger on the flight to Tampa complained that a Pakistani brigadier, while talking to his colleagues, had made remarks that he found threatening.

Officials of the airline informed the Transport Security Administration who detained the brigadier and later other officials as well.

A Pakistani official, when asked to comment on the airline's claim, said: "This is a delegation of senior officials, led by a two-star officer, not unit captains and majors. Such responsible officers do not indulge in such behaviour."

Information collected by Dawn also confirmed the Pakistani claim as the plane was delayed for 40 minutes before the airline's mentioned the alleged altercation between the brigadier and the stewardess.

Later, an official of the airline came with a TSA security officer and asked the brigadier to disembark. She gave no reason.

The head of the delegation asked the brigadier to get down and cooperate with the TSA. The brigadier disclosed his identity.

There was no response for about 15-20 minutes and then the airline and security officials asked the entire delegation to get off the plane.

The leader of the Pakistani delegation showed TSA officials an invitation letter from the Centcom, confirming that they were going to Tampa for a meeting. He also showed them all the passports that identified the delegation as senior military officers.

He then requested to talk to a senior TSA official or the person in-charge of security at the airport but his request was turned down.

"They did not let them speak and treated them like terrorists," said a Pakistani official. "The investigators were unprofessional, junior officials."

The official said that the TSA and airlines officials kept telling the delegation that a passenger found the brigadier's remarks threatening but did not say what those remarks were.

"The delegation was detained for two hours, telling them nothing, not allowing them to talk to anyone," said the Pakistani official.

"They received no response even when they showed them their passports and the Centcom letter," the official said.

"At the end, they realised their mistake and apologised but by then the delegation had decided it did not want to take that flight."

Explaining why the delegation decided to cancel the meeting and return home, the official said it was basically because of the humiliating treatment by the TSA and airline staff.

"They could not prove any of the allegations. What we gathered is that one of the passengers became paranoid, so they decided to detain an official delegation. This is an issue of paranoia," said the official who said the Pakistani forces will hold their own inquiry to determine what caused this humiliating behaviour.

In Islamabad, the Inter Services Public Relations said: "A Pakistani military delegation on a visit to US (on US invitation to attend a meeting at Centcom) was subjected to unwarranted security checks at Washington airport by US Transport Security Agency. Later, the delegation was cleared and US defence officials regretted the incident. However, as a result of these checks, military authorities in Pakistan decided to cancel the visit and call the delegation back."

New York teens charged for harassing Muslim worshipers at mosque

NEW YORK: A group of teenagers in western New York have been arrested for allegedly harassing worshipers at a mosque and firing a shotgun outside the gathering.

The five teens allegedly beeped their car horns and yelled obscenities during a religious service, according to Eyewitness News, a local media outlet.

Tim Weader, 17, Dylan Phillips, 18, Jeff Donahue, 18, and Anthony Ogden, 18 along with Mark Vendetti, 17 have been charged with disrupting a religious service, which is a misdemeanor charge.

Vendetti, who has been charged for firing shots at the mosque, was also arraigned on the weapons charge and remanded to the Orleans County Jail in lieu of USD 10,000 bail. Police say the incident remains under investigation and more charges are expected to be filed, according to Eyewitness News.

Worshipers said that they have been plagued by harassment for years, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations based in Washington, D C, called for the teens to be charged with hate-crime.

"Anti-Muslim bigots must learn that they will face hate-crime enhancements to their charges if they perpetrate such unconscionable criminal acts," Ibrahim Cooper, the organisation's spokesperson, said in a statement.

In another incident, last week, a drunken man entered a Queens mosque in New York City and urinated on the prayer rugs. He was shouting anti-Muslim slurs, and has been charged with criminal trespass.

This was preceded by an incident involving 21-year-old film student Michael Enright who stabbed 43-year-old Ahmed Sharif from Queens, after asking him "are you Muslim," according to NYC cops.

The incident occurred in Manhattan at a time when the majority of Americans are opposing the building of a proposed Islamic Center near the World Trade Center. He has been indicted on charges of second-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault as hate crimes.

The latest poll suggests that hat the majority of New Yorkers want the developers of the Islamic Centre to voluntarily move it away from Ground Zero.

"Overwhelmingly, across all party and regional lines, New Yorkers say the sponsors ought to voluntarily move the proposed mosque to another location," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

UK: Alcohol related hospital admissions soar

By John Fahey, PA
Hospital admissions due to alcohol have risen by 825 a day in five years to almost a million, researchers found today.

There were 945,469 admissions to hospital for alcohol-related harm in England in 2008/09, they said.

A survey by the North West Public Health Observatory also revealed that more than a quarter of drinkers exceed healthy limits every week, making us a nation of irresponsible boozers.

The findings came as experts recommended a UK-wide price limit on drink should be brought in to try to curb alcohol misuse.

The Alcohol Commission, which was set up by the Labour Party in Scotland, has recommended a ban on selling drink at below the "floor price" of the cost of production, plus the cost of duty and VAT.

In today's study, northerners were found to be the hardest drinkers but the most alcohol-related crimes were committed in London.

The academics, based at Liverpool John Moores University's Centre for Public Health, published their Local Alcohol Profiles for England (Lape 2010) report.

Professor Mark Bellis, the observatory's director, said: "The price we pay for turning a blind eye to the real extent of alcohol abuse across England is reflected in the new Local Alcohol Profiles for England and it is a price that is paid especially by the poorest communities.

"The English death toll from alcohol now exceeds fifteen-and-a-half thousand people every year.

"It is time to recognise that we are not a population of responsible drinkers with just a handful of irresponsible individuals ruining it for others.

"Over one in four drinkers exceed weekly limits according to national surveys and alcohol sales figures suggest the number is much higher.

"At weekends, by the early morning hours our city centres do not have just a few drunk individuals in them - actually most people are drunk yet continue to be able to buy alcohol despite such sales being illegal.

"We need to see the real cost of alcohol reflected in the price it is sold at and the warnings about the dangers that alcohol represents not relegated to a tiny corner in alcohol adverts, but written large enough for people to recognise the seriousness of the risks."

Key indicators such as healthcare, criminal justice, benefits claimants, drinking patterns and deaths were considered in mapping the nation's booze breakdown.

Researchers also found:

:: Two thirds (65%) of all local authorities suffering the highest levels of overall harm are in England's North West and North East.

:: The 10 local authority areas with the highest levels of combined alcohol-related harm, in descending order, are: Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Rochdale, Tameside, Islington, Middlesbrough, Halton, Oldham and Blackpool.

:: By comparison the East and South East contained two thirds (65%) of all the local authorities with the lowest overall harm. The 10 local authorities with the lowest levels of alcohol-related harm, in ascending order, are: Broadland, East Dorset, South Northamptonshire, Babergh, Three Rivers, South Norfolk, Hart, Sevenoaks, Wokingham and North Kesteven.

:: Across England, there were 415,059 recorded crimes attributable to alcohol in 2009/10; equivalent to 8.1 crimes per 1,000 population. The highest rates of alcohol-attributable crime occur in the London region where there were 12.2 crimes per 1,000 residents, although this has decreased by 2.1% from the previous year. The lowest rate is in the North East region at 6.2 crimes per 1,000 which also showed the largest decrease (13.5%) from the previous year.

Dr Ruth Hussey, regional director of public health for the North West, said: "We are once again reminded of the terrible burden that the abuse of alcohol causes to residents of the North West through its affects of ill health and crime.

"The North West alone saw over 100,000 individuals admitted into hospital for alcohol related reasons in 2008/09.

"Parts of the North West have already pioneered new ways to educate the public about alcohol and improve access to care for those requiring support. Alcohol costs people their jobs, their health and their lives."

Health minister Lord Howe said: "Levels of alcohol-related hospital admissions, crime, ill-health and deaths are unacceptable and we have already outlined our commitment to tackling the problem by taking action to stop the sale of alcohol below cost, to review alcohol taxation and price, and introducing a tougher licensing regime.

"Supply and price are not the only factors fuelling misuse though, attitudes are crucial. We need to understand better the psychology behind why different groups of people drink too much. Legislation or initiatives will not work unless we have a better understanding of what drives people's decisions.
"We will work across Government, society, communities and families to challenge negative social norms that cause social problems and promote the positives."

US attack kills women in S Afghanistan

A strike by US-led forces has claimed the lives of three Afghan civilians, including two women, and left three other civilians injured in the country's restive south.

In a statement released on Wednesday, NATO forces admitted to killing two women in their attack the day before on suspected Taliban militants in the Musa Qala district in the southern province of Helmand.

Two other civilians were also wounded in NATO's missile and air attacks which came in response to an earlier raid by armed militants, a Press TV correspondent reported.

Another Afghan civilian was directly shot and killed in Helmand's Marjeh district, where another Afghan citizen was injured.

Despite repeated US pledges to stem the civilian casualties nine years into the 2001 invasion it spearheaded against the country, Washington has not been successful in saving Afghan civilians from its random fire.

This has further deepened the anti-US sentiment among Afghans and added to growing oppositions in NATO-member states against the protracted military presence in the war-torn country.

Terrorist Ties Doubted in Amsterdam Arrests

WASHINGTON - American law enforcement officials said Tuesday that they believed that two Yemeni men detained in Amsterdam after unusual items were found in their luggage had no connection to terrorism, though they remained in Dutch custody and investigators continued to review the case.

The two men, United States residents identified by Dutch authorities as Ahmad Mohamed Nasser al-Soofi, 48, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Hezem al-Murisi, 37, of Memphis, missed their flight on Sunday at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago after the gate was changed, according to federal officials.
They caught a different flight, but some of their baggage had already been loaded on the flight they missed, including items that had been taped together and attracted attention from airport screeners. Though no explosives were found, investigators considered the possibility that the men might be conducting a test run for a terrorist attack, officials said.

By Tuesday, that possibility was all but ruled out. Neither man was on any terror watch list or had any known history of militancy.

"The F.B.I. looked into this and found no reason to suspect terrorism," said one law enforcement official, speaking of the investigation on the condition of anonymity. He said news accounts of the episode, set off by a report by ABC News on Monday night, had made a media sensation of what was really routine checking by counterterrorism investigators.

An American intelligence official said: "In the end, I think you'll find this is odd and unusual, but that it's not related to terrorism. At this point, we don't see any nexus between them and terrorist networks."

Dutch prosecutors said Mr. Soofi and Mr. Murisi were still being questioned on Tuesday. But a Dutch official said late Tuesday that investigators in Amsterdam had found no evidence of wrongdoing and that the men could be freed as early as Wednesday.

A search of Mr. Soofi by airport security screeners in Birmingham, Ala., as he waited to board a flight to Chicago on Sunday found that he was carrying $7,000 in cash and that his luggage contained a cellphone taped to a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, three cellphones taped together and several watches taped together, officials said. The bag also contained pill bottles, a box cutter and three large knives, according to an internal Transportation Security Administration report.

None of the items violated the restrictions for checked luggage, and Mr. Soofi was allowed to fly to Chicago. But the unusual taping of items led to the later inquiry, officials said.

After missing their connection in Chicago, both Mr. Soofi and Mr. Murisi were rebooked on United Airlines Flight 908 to Amsterdam. They evidently intended to fly on to Yemen but were removed from the plane by Dutch security officers, who had been alerted by their American counterparts to the possibility that the men were testing the aviation security system.

Meanwhile, the unaccompanied luggage flew without its owners from Chicago to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, which is not a violation of aviation rules on a domestic flight, Homeland Security Department officials said. The luggage was removed from the connecting flight to Dubai after the plane was pulled back to the gate at Dulles - not at O'Hare, as officials had said Monday night. It underwent further inspection and testing at Dulles, according to T.S.A. documents.

Imad Hamad, Michigan director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said he had spoken with several relatives and friends of the detained men and believed that they would be proved innocent. He said many Yemenis living in the United States travel home at this time of year to stay with relatives and celebrate the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"People tend to take lots of gifts - cellphones, cameras, even basic medications," Mr. Hamad said. "Different people have different ways of packaging or grouping their gifts together."

He said he did not fault security officials for scrutinizing the men or their luggage. "The last thing we want to do is block the ability of law enforcement to do its job," Mr. Hamad said. But he added that he wished the investigation could have been handled quietly, out of view of the news media.

Amy Kudwa, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the episode showed that the aviation security system, on higher alert since the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25, was working properly.

"In this instance, sound judgment led to suspicious items being identified, which triggered automatic security responses by U.S. security personnel," Ms. Kudwa said. Dutch authorities and federal air marshals aboard the flight to Amsterdam were informed in advance of concerns about the two men, she said.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

Obama Seeks Progress on 3 Fronts in Mideast

President Obama is attempting a triple play this week that eluded his predecessors over the past two decades: simultaneous progress on the most vexing and violent problems in the Middle East - Israeli-Palestinian peace, Iraq and Iran - in hopes of creating a virtuous cycle in a region prone to downward spirals.

History shouts that all the odds are against him. White House officials, eager to show concrete progress on the hardest foreign policy challenges at a time when Mr. Obama is struggling with a variety of domestic issues, contend that that the president has changed the political climate in all three arenas and has the best shot in years at creating positive and interlocking results.

When President Bill Clinton tried a similar strategy, he argued that a comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians would make it easier for Arab nations to join in the "dual containment" of Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It turned out that the reverse was true as well: When one of those efforts fell apart, so did the other two.

A month before invading Iraq, President George W. Bush argued that toppling Saddam Hussein would create "a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region," leading Arab countries "to support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine, and state clearly they will live in peace with Israel." Instead, Iraq went up in flames and hopes for peace collapsed. Iran accelerated its drive for a nuclear capability.

Mr. Obama's argument, which formed one subtext of his speech to the nation on Tuesday night about the end of the American combat mission in Iraq and which will play out Wednesday and Thursday as he gathers Israeli and Palestinian leaders for their first direct talks in two years, is more subtle about the linkage among the issues.

"There are three big chess pieces here, and in each of those places we are now poised for success," Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama's chief of staff and a major voice in Middle East policy, said in an interview Tuesday. He argued that while the linkages are loose, "victory begets victory, and success will be reinforcing."

While Mr. Obama's thinking contains elements of the logic that drove his predecessors, there are also some critical differences, and success or failure hinges on how significant those turn out to be. Those differences include evidence that the United States is truly pulling out of Iraq, far tougher sanctions on Iran and the tentative emergence of a working Palestinian government in the West Bank.
The main problem is that success is not assured in any of the fronts in question, and the dynamic among them is unpredictable.

"It's hard to make the case that progress in the peace process is going to resolve the political stalemate in Iraq, or force the Iranians to reconsider their nuclear program," said Martin S. Indyk, who served as American ambassador to Israel and now is the director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. "But I think you can claim that success would help make headway in isolating Iran, and Iran's claims to leadership in the region would be challenged. The risk - the one we forgot in the Clinton years - is that failure can also diminish your credibility."

It is in Iraq, a war Mr. Obama campaigned to end, where he is claiming progress. While Iraq's fractious politicians have still not agreed on a government nearly six months after an election and insurgents have landed some punishing recent attacks, overall violence has fallen and the withdrawal from combat missions happened a few weeks ahead of schedule. "It is clear in Iraq a genuine political process is under way," said Dennis B. Ross, Mr. Obama's top Middle East adviser.

Still, Mr. Obama is loath to declare anything resembling victory, and he said Tuesday that a "tough slog" remained. The question is whether the American public is willing to see more money and lives spent there while Iraqi politicians argue.

As Ryan C. Crocker, the former American ambassador to Iraq, wrote recently in The National Interest: "Strategic patience is often in short supply in this country. It is not a new problem for us, and it is not limited to Iraq."

While 50,000 American troops remain in Iraq for now, Mr. Obama made clear Tuesday night that he was intent on moving on from that war, proclaiming that his primary mission now was to jump-start the American economy and address domestic issues like energy and education.

But as the Iranians have learned in recent months, Mr. Obama also seems persistent in finding new ways to turn the screws, and that is another element of the strategy.

When Mr. Obama came to office, three successive sets of international sanctions against Iran had had little effect, and there was virtually no prospect of getting a fourth.

It took 17 months for Mr. Obama to build the case for another round, and to orchestrate far more damaging additional measures - enforced by Europe, Japan, Australia and even some Arab nations - that have cut gasoline imports into Iran, sliced access to most foreign banking, and made it enormously difficult for shippers to obtain the insurance they need to go in and out of foreign ports.
"We finally have leverage," said Mr. Ross, noting that for the first time Iranian officials have started calling for resumed talks with the West.

But few believe that the pain will cause Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment program. In fact, Iran could respond by speeding it up. There is also the possibility, some believe the probability, that Iran will seek to do whatever it can to prevent the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians from becoming fruitful.

Still, Mr. Obama's advisers argue that conditions have never been better for those talks: Attacks on Israel are down and the government of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has brought infrastructure, policing and better living to the West Bank. Many in Israel and among the Palestinians say they want a two-state solution, although support is ebbing. But many analysts are pessimistic that either side is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve it.

The big question is whether the image of America pulling out of Iraq, and of the White House re-engaging in the peace process, will be enough.

"In none of these areas have we achieved success," Mr. Ross said. "But now we have the possibility and the potential for significant progress."

Civilians among dead in Pakistani air strikes on militants

Up to 45 Taliban killed as well as relatives and other civilians in Pakistani strikes in Khyber region near Afghan border

Pakistani government air raids have killed up to 45 militants, their family members and other civilians with no ties to the fighters, officials said today.

Taliban militants were targeted in three strikes last night in one of their strongholds in the Tirah valley, in the north-western Khyber region on the Afghan border.

"We have reports that 40 to 45 terrorists were killed," said a security official. "Some of the families were living in the vicinity of these hideouts and they were also among the dead."

Pakistani forces have stepped up air strikes against activists, in Khyber and adjoining Pashtun tribal lands in recent months. Many of the activists fled military offensives last year in the Taliban strongholds of Swat and South Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan.

Air strikes could undermine efforts to win over civilians in the fight against the Taliban. Rehan Khattak, a senior government official in Khyber, said six civilians, including women and children, were killed in one of the strikes. He said the victims had nothing to do with militants.

"Four people were also wounded. They were members of Kokikhel," said Khattak, referring to the pro-government Pashtun tribe that dominates Khyber.

Anar Bacha, 32, who was wounded in the attacks, said the victims were innocent. "We were going to our home in a cab when all of a sudden planes appeared and began targeting us," he said. "We are innocent. We are Kokikhels. We are not terrorists."

In April, up to 50 members of the same tribe were killed in an air raid in Tirah after they were mistaken for the Taliban, prompting an apology from the Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.
Khyber is a key route for US and allied convoys carrying supplies for troops in Afghanistan. Fighters frequently attack these convoys, forcing the US to look at alternative routes.

Algerian rapper delivers sermons in Ramadan

ALGIERS (Ramadan Belamri)
Famous Algerian rap singer Lotfi Double Kanon took his fans by surprise when he started giving religious sermons since the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

Videos of Lotfi Belamri, known as Lotfi Double Kanon, preaching to Algerian youths on his official website and on the video-sharing website You Tube surprised fans and critics alike and raised questions about the singer's intentions to retire.

The near absence of preaching programs in the Algerian dialect is what encouraged Double Kanon to start his own sermons under the title Ramadaneyat.

Sermons at mosques only
" Sermons given in mosques are also in classical Arabic which makes them inaccessible for a considerable number of young Algerians "

Lotfi Double Kanon"I was more encouraged when I realized that the majority of my fans are irreligious youths who do not have the proper guidance," he told Al Arabiya.

According to Lotfi Double Kanon, the activities of preachers in Algeria are almost confined to mosques, so youths who do not frequent mosques regularly do not get the chance to learn the teachings of Islam.

"Sermons given in mosques are also in classical Arabic which makes them inaccessible for a considerable number of young Algerians."

The new project, Double Kanon pointed out, is not only for his compatriots inside Algeria but also abroad since many of them are not familiar with their religion.

"They need to learn about the true Islam which is different from the image the Western media tries to convey."

Double Kanon argued that the idea of preaching is in line with his singing career as many claim since both carry a message.

"Since the beginning of my career, I have said that I have a message. Preaching is a continuation of this message."

Before starting his project, Double Kanon posted a poll on his website, which thousands of fans visit everyday, asking his fans if they like the idea.

"When they voted for it, I found myself setting up a room in my house and recording sermons about Islam with a special focus on Ramadan and the meaning of fasting."

Double Kanon added that he wanted to teach youths about the essence of fasting and how it is not only about abstention from eating and drinking but from committing all kinds of sins whether during fasting or after breaking the fast.

Public and official reactions
" I have no intention to retire because I absolutely believe in what I'm doing "

Double KanonRegarding the reaction of Algerian people to his project and their reservations about having a singer preach, Double Kanon said there is no contradiction between preaching and singing.

"What I preach is already in religious books. The difference is the language that is easier for youths to understand."

Double Kanon added that he hasn't so far seen any young Algerian preacher who took a similar initiative and targeted youths who do not go to mosques.

Despite accusation that his project is sheer propaganda and claims that a singer cannot be a preacher, Double Kanon was pleasantly to see the increasing number of people who visit his website to see the videos of the sermons.

"I have until now gotten more than 200,000 visitors from different parts of the world."

He also received a call for an official at the Ministry of Religious Affairs to thank him for his initiative to raise religious awareness among Algerian youths.

Double Kanon's project raised questions among critics as to whether preaching is a step towards retirement like what several singers did.

"I have no intention to retire because I absolutely believe in what I'm doing."

Double Kanon, who currently lives in Paris, is involved in several charity projects. He is taking part in an initiative to distribute 10,000 copybooks among school children at the start of the new academic year.

He also took part in a previous initiative to give away lambs on the Greater Bairam to the poor residents of his hometown Annaba.

(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)Al- Arabiya

Arrests at anti-Kremlin protests

Police detain at least 100 people, including a former deputy prime minister, at anti-government demonstrations.

Russian police have arrested more than 100 people, including Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, who were taking part in anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Opposition leaders and rights activists have been converging at the capital's Triumph Square on the 31st of each month, symbolising the right to free assembly guaranteed in Article 31 of Russia's constitution.

Authorities have justified crackdowns on previous protests at the square by saying the demonstrators lacked official permission.

Tuesday's arrests came a day after Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, announced that any demonstrators without permits could expect harsh treatment.

About 70 people were detained in Moscow while 50 others were detained in St Petersburg, Viktor Biryukov, a police spokesman said on Tuesday.

Putin had defended police crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in an interview published on Monday.

"Go without permission, and you will be hit on the head with batons. That's all there is to it," he said.
The activists say the constitutional protection of free assembly means prior permission is not required.

'Russia without Putin'
Protesters had gathered in Triumph Square calling for their right to freedom of assembly to be respected and shouting "Shame" and "Russia without Putin".

Lyudmila Lyubomudrova, 64, raised a banner reading: "Free the Constitution, Save Russia."

She told the Reuters news agency: "I am not afraid. Why should I be afraid? It's my country."

Many of the demonstrators were dragged on to buses by police officers.

Among the activists taken into custody were Eduard Limonov, an opposition party leader, Konstantin Kosyakin, a Left Front opposition movement leader and Nemtsov, who is now the co-chairman of the Solidarity opposition movement.

Moscow authorities had declared Triumph Square off-limits for demonstrations and closed off its centre last week to make way for construction of an underground parking garage.

Opposition groups said the abrupt closure was a pretext to stop the protests.

EU, US criticism
The detentions have drawn criticism from the United States and European governments.

"There are hundreds of police and to us it looks disproportionate," Thijs Berman, a Dutch member of the European Parliament's human rights subcommittee, said at Triumph Square.

"It begs the question: what is such a big country as Russia afraid of?"

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a US Republican representative on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Russia "must be held accountable for its crackdown on all forms of dissent, including the murders of journalists".

"Responsible nations cannot overlook Russia's downward spiral towards tyranny and oppression, and must deny Russia membership in the World Trade Organization and all of the other perks which it does not deserve," he said.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, has said the development of civil society and the rule of law is crucial for Russia's future.

But activists say police conduct and restrictions on protests show the Kremlin is determined to silence critics.

Tony Blair: I did not understand Islam at time of 9/11 attacks

The September 11 attacks represented the declaration of war by a new type of enemy, Tony Blair says.

He claims that he quickly realised the implications of the suicide bombers crashing aircraft into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, having heard the news while preparing to deliver a speech to the TUC in Brighton.

Mr Blair says he understood the new war was ideological, but admits that at the time he did not fully understand the history of Islam. He admits he underestimated the "hold of this extremism".

Only the future will tell if it would have been better to fight the war using military intervention or "soft power".

But he insists he followed his instinct and convictions, and would not have changed his decisions on Iraq or Afghanistan even if he had known the length of the campaign.

"To try to escape conflict would have been a grave mistake, political cowardice."

Mr Blair also discloses that he once came close to authorising the shooting down of a commercial flight heading to London, after it lost radio contact.

But after the deadline passed he decided to hold fire, and once the pilot re-established contact he had to sit down and thank the heavens.

Settlement must stop

 Al- Ahram

The announcement this week that the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership has agreed to resume "direct talks" with Israel, virtually without any conditions, has generated a lot of consternation among the Palestinian people as well as within virtually all political groups. A clearly embarrassed and frustrated PA has been struggling to justify and explain its decision that seems to have been taken under duress, as the Obama administration has been exerting pressure on a vulnerable leadership to refrain from placing "sticks in the wheels of the peace process".

PA officials and spokesperson have vehemently denied that the PA is capitulating to Israel. They have reaffirmed earlier positions that the PA is still committed to preserving Palestinian rights and that the creation of a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state remains the central target of peace negotiations.

But such pronouncements by the Ramallah leadership are not being taken seriously, neither by Israel itself nor by the bulk of Palestinian political forces, with the latter accusing the PA leadership of ignoring overwhelming public disapproval of talks with Israel under existing circumstances. And now the issue has placed Fatah -- the backbone of the PA -- on the defensive.

While PA spokesmen carefully avoided the press, because apparently they had nothing to say to defend the latest PA decision, some senior Fatah leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have warned that they will boycott the upcoming talks if Israel fails to freeze settlement construction. Both Israel and Washington reject the precondition, with the US State Department officials arguing that all "contentious issues" will be discussed during the talks.

From the American vantage point, this means that an Israeli decision to terminate its partial settlement expansion freeze -- adopted several months ago and that is due to expire late September -- should not impede the commencement of talks. Earlier, Abbas warned in letters sent to Obama and other Quartet representatives that failing to maintain the partial construction freeze would bring talks to a grinding halt. "It is impossible to conduct negotiations alongside settlement construction," Abbas wrote.

The Americans, the broker, referee and judge of the "peace process", have not taken a final stand on the settlement freeze issue. Sources in Washington have suggested that the Obama administration might take a "middle stand" on the issue by allowing Israel to build in major settlements (those that would be annexed to Israel in the context of a possible final peace settlement), while the settlement freeze would continue to be observed in other small settlements east of the Separation Wall.

This formula is supported by some Israeli officials, such as Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor. However, hardcore rightwing ministers in the Israeli cabinet are opposed to the compromise on ideological grounds.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has reiterated his draconian conditions for the creation of a Palestinian state. Speaking during a government session this week, Netanyahu warned that there would be no peace agreement with the Palestinians unless the PA recognised Israel as a Jewish state. In the Israeli political and ideological lexicon, "Jewish state" means forgetting that Israel is a settler-colonial state and institutionalising discrimination against Palestinians that remain in Israel. It also invokes the possibility of "evicting" hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Israeli citizens.

Netanyahu said there were three conditions without which no agreement with the Palestinians could be reached: meeting Israel's security needs; Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; and Palestinian acknowledgement that the agreement that might be reached would constitute the end of the conflict. If Netanyahu insists on his conditions, which he has been reiterating at every occasion, it means that there can be no peace agreement with the Palestinians, irrespective of the intensity or sincerity of US efforts.

Some Israeli circles hope that the US will eventually force the weak PA leadership, using carrot-and-stick tactics, to surrender to the fait accompli and accept a dwarfed Palestinian "statelet" under virtual Israeli control. These circles have been encouraged by the "positive" modes of PA management of talks with Israel, especially since the arrival of the Likud-led government to power in Israel more than a year ago. The PA has consistently abandoned crucial preconditions for the resumption of talks with the Israeli government that critics argue shows that the PA leadership can give concessions to Israel if sufficiently pressured by Washington.

Hamas, which has been taking political advantage of what it deems "humiliating PA concessions" to Israel, has lashed out at the PA's leadership for "gambling with the national cause of the Palestinian people". "It is obvious to all those who have minds and eyes and senses that the Ramallah leadership can't be entrusted with the Palestinian cause. This bankrupt leadership seems to be more answerable to the Americans than it is to the Palestinian people," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent Islamist spokesman based in the Gaza Strip.

Abu Zuhri castigated Fatah's "silence and betrayal of the national cause in favour of some immediate and other benefits". He added: "We in Hamas consider these talks as catastrophic whose main goal is the liquidation of the Palestinian cause."

Similarly, another Islamist party, the Hizbul Tahrir, or Liberation Party, lambasted the PA leadership for "hankering after a deformed state that has no sovereignty or authority over its borders, a state that would be controlled by Israel, a state whose raison d'ĂȘtre would be to brutalise and pacify the Palestinian people on Israel's behalf."

Given the clear American bias towards Israel, clearly malicious Israeli intent and insolence, as well as the inherent weakness of the Palestinian position, it is more than likely that the upcoming round of direct talks between Israel and the PA will lead nowhere. In the final analysis, the huge chasm between the two sides can't be bridged using the classical tools of international relations.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that Washington, with all its cumulative experience with things Middle Eastern doesn't realise the near impossibility of reaching a true historical solution to the conflict in Palestine-Israel. Perhaps Washington has come to think that an open-ended or interminable peace process is the solution.

For the Palestinians, this would mean Israel continuing to create facts on the ground while they continue negotiating and complaining. In a phrase, absurdum ad infinitum.

Malaria rising in Pakistan's provinces as new flood threatens


THATTA: Pakistani authorities plugged flood defences near a southern city as officials warned that farmland is unlikely to be fit for cultivation for at least six months and massive aid was needed to prevent social unrest. Most of the 300,000-strong population had fled Thatta, which now is no longer under threat of being swamped. Concerns are now focused on Dadu.

''The water has entered into its districts and if the flow increases, it will affect 600,000 people,'' said Khair Muhammad Kalwar, the director of operations at Sindh province's Provincial Disaster Management Authority.

Suspected cases of malaria are increasing in Baluchistan and Sindh provinces, the World Health Organisation said. On August 28, cases of suspected malaria comprised 27 per cent of patient consultations in both Baluchistan and Sindh, it said.

''We expect another 1.5 million people will be affected by the flood now heading towards Dadu'' with little to block its path, said Fawad Hussain, a UN humanitarian affairs officer.

Several civilian casualties feared after NATO operation in northern Afghanistan

 Wired News

KABUL (BNO NEWS) -- Coalition forces are investigating claims of civilian casualties after a mishap during a NATO operation in northern Afghanistan earlier this month, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said on Monday. ISAF said the allegations of civilian casualties follow an operation in the Talah wa Barfak district of Baghlan province on August 22. The force said an initial joint assessment team composed of representatives from the ministries of interior, defense, and ISAF reported that several rounds from coalition helicopters fell short, missing the intended target and striking two buildings.

The alliance said the two buildings that were hit were being used as a base of operation, but was not the intended target of the strike. "We are here to protect the people of Afghanistan," said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez. "Civilian casualties reduce the confidence of the Afghan people and erodes trust placed in us."

"We regret any possible civilian loss of life or injury," said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Timothy Zadalis. "Our thoughts and concerns are with the family and friends of those civilians who may have been injured or killed."

ISAF initially said 13 insurgents had been killed in the operation, with no civilian casualties, but the assessment team discovered the accidental short rounds during an examination of the air weapons team video. The assessment determined a gun site malfunction was the cause of the errant rounds.

When asked how many civilian casualties are being alleged, U.S. Air Force Major Michael Johnson said: "We don't have precise numbers however several best describes the claims."

"This is exactly why we send assessment teams to look into all civilian casualty allegations," said Zadalis. "We want to be sure we understand exactly what happened, review all information available and set the record straight."

Rodriguez said he ordered an investigation into the accident to find out what happened during the operation and promised to release more information when the investigation has been completed.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its 2010 Mid-Year Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. It revealed that civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose approximately 31 percent in the first semester of 2010.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups, however, are the main causes of these casualties. "Afghan children and women are increasingly bearing the brunt of this conflict. They are being killed and injured in their homes and communities in greater numbers than ever before," said Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General.

From January 1 to June 30, UNAMA registered a total of 3,268 civilian casualties including 1,271 deaths and 1,997 injuries. From this amount, insurgents were responsible for 2,477 casualties (76 percent of all casualties, 53 percent more than in 2009) while 386 were attributed to pro-government forces such as NATO. It accounted for 12 percent of all casualties, which is 30 percent less than in 2009.

UNAMA said that the increase in the number of casualties are attributed to the use of a greater number of larger and more sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the number of civilians assassinated and executed by anti-government forces (which included public executions of children).

“The devastating human impact of these events underscores that, nine years into the conflict, measures to protect Afghan civilians effectively and to minimize the impact of the conflict on basic human rights are more urgent than ever. All those concerned must do more to protect civilians and comply with their legal obligations not to attack civilians,” said Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for UNAMA.

IEDs and suicide attacks by insurgents killed 557 Afghans and injured 1,137 in the first six months of 2010. On the other hand, aerial attacks by ISAF remained the most harmful pro-government tactic, causing 69 of the 223 civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces in the period.

The southern region witnessed more than half of assassinations and executions in Afghanistan, where more than one hundred Afghan civilians were killed in such incidents. These civilians killed included teachers, nurses, doctors, tribal elders, community leaders, provincial and district officials, other civilians including children, and civilians working for international military forces and international organizations.

UNAMA recommended insurgents in its report to stop the use of IEDs as these cause a great number of fatalities. The agency also suggested the Afghan Government to create a public body to lead its response to major civilian casualty incidents and its interaction with international military forces.

PA forces assault press and rights workers at anti-talks protest

 Maan News

RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Members of the PA General Intelligence Service reportedly assaulted two field workers from Palestinian rights group Al-Haq on Wednesday as they documented the quashing of a rally protesting the return to peace talks. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights issued a statement condemning the assault, which its own field workers documented in the hours following by gathering testimony and witness accounts. A second organization, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), condemned a second assault by PA forces, on a local television crew.

The incidents occurred at what police called an illegal rally. Members of leftist and independent political parties organized a conference to voice opposition to the government decision to return to peace talks with Israel, and accused police and intelligence officials of inflitrating the meeting and instigating the rally.

According to collected testimonies, Al-Haq staff members heard noise on the main street near their central Ramallah offices, and called friends who informed them that intelligence officers were attempting to stop an assembly of political and civil society organizations gathering at the Protestant Church, which was across the street.

Wissam Ahmed, 33, Program Officer at Al-Haq, reportedly took a video camera into the street. He said that as soon as he reached the church area, he was beaten by a person in civilian clothes, who later identified himself as an intelligence officer.

Ahmed told PCHR that his camera was temporarily taken from him and he was thrown to the ground. He said he asked why he was prevented from filming the event. "In response, more than 10 GIS members surrounded him and beat him on the head and the neck. They took his camera and pushed him away," PCHR testimony recorded.

A second staff member, who tried to intervene, was also reportedly assaulted. She told PCHR that an intelligence officer stomped on her feet so hard she had to be transferred to the hospital.

In its own statement on the event, Al-Haq condemned "the use of intimidation and coercion in preventing a peaceful public meeting of Palestinian political parties and civil society. We also deplore the use of violence against human rights defenders during their attempts to document the incident."

Media also assaulted

WATAN television also reported an assault on two of its cameramen, which MADA called a "flagrant violation of Freedom of expression."

The administration at the station condemned a the incident, and called on the PA to respect media freedoms.

MADA said the men were beaten and their equipment confiscated as they covered a march protesting the shutdown of "a conference against direct negotiations between Palestinian National Authority and Israeli government, which [was] organized by a group of Palestinian factions and civil society organizations."

The statement also noted that the WATAN office had been raided 8 days earlier, when the channel decided to air their coverage of a Hizb Ul-Tahrir march, which was banned by the PA security services.

Slogans in Indonesia against the burning of the Koran


Indonesian protesters hold a demonstration against Israel in front of the US embassy in Jakarta. Yes, it is the first demonstration in Indonesia against the Church in America is intending to burn the Koran

There is no doubt that this action by doing is a criminal act and must be prevented by all means and methods

It is an act falls within the ignorance and backwardness, racism and stupidity

Instead, the Church, to enter into a scientific debate with the Muslims do the job, which works differently from the tyrants in the world like Hitler

We have Hundreds of Muslims today, Friday, Indonesia, in front of the American Embassy in Jakarta, threatened to declare "jihad" in case the U.S. Church project judge burned copy of the Koran to the public on September 11.

The church of the "Dove was born Outreach Center" in Florida Baptist has announced that it plans to burn a copy of the Koran in the ninth anniversary of the attacks, the eleventh of September 2001.

The protesters warned that if the American church carried out its threat to the reaction of the Muslim, would be out of control in the whole world, may reach so far as to declare jihad.

Said Ronnie Ruslan leading role in Hizb ut-Tahrir: "No one will be able to control the reaction of those,"

Adding "We call on the U.S. government and Christian officials to disable the diabolical project of this small community, it is an affront to Islam and the billion and a half billion Muslims around the world."

And the shrill cry of zoom protesters gathered in front the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, waving a banner against the burning of the Koran

Super-strength alcohol 'is killing more homeless people than crack or heroin'


Charities urge ministers to save lives by bringing in punitive pricing to save a generation of 'young olds' who are pressing the fast-forward button to self-destruction

A leading homeless charity last night pleaded with the government to drastically raise the price of super-strength beers and ciders, saying that cheap alcohol was killing more people living rough than crack cocaine or heroin.

Thames Reach, which helps thousands of homeless people throughout London and the south-east, said it was alarmed that proposals to increase the price of cider, put forward by the last government, had been scrapped in response to furious lobbying from West Country producers.

However, it is understood that ministers are now looking at proposals to increase the price of "white cider" – the cheap, high-strength alcohol that is made with a minimum apple content and has become the drink of choice for homeless people in recent years.

"From our experiences, we feel pretty confident in saying these drinks are killing more people than heroin or crack," said Mike Nicholas, spokesman for Thames Reach.

One can of super-strength cider contains 4.5 units of alcohol – more than the recommended daily limit – and costs as little as 59p.

Nicholas said that, of the 110 people who had died in Thames Reach hostels over the past three years, 18 were receiving support for drug addiction, while 45 had alcohol dependency, with the vast majority consuming super-strength lagers and ciders that range between 7.5% and 9% in strength. In one hostel there had been 28 deaths in the past two years, of which 21 were attributed to super-strength alcohol.

He also said the vast majority of homeless people living in Thames Reach's 59-bed hostel in Vauxhall, south London, were there because of problems with super-strength alcohol. "Many people we work with tell us they find it more difficult to get off super-strength than heroin," Nicholas said. "With drugs you've got to find dealers, whereas super-strength alcohol is in every corner shop."

Nicholas warned that the alcohol was creating a generation of "young olds". "It's causing mobility issues, incontinence, heart and liver problems," he said. "We have people who are in their 30s who look like they are in their 50s. I've just come back from seeing a man in one of our hostels who was vomiting blood. He was 47 and doubted whether he would see 48."

Thames Reach's concerns are shared by other homeless charities, health charities and doctors' groups, which have called on the government to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol as part of its ongoing consultation on problem drinking. Under the proposals the cost of a 2.5-litre bottle of super-strength cider could rise from around £2.50 to £7.50.

The government has rejected the proposals, signalling that it would prefer to bar retailers from selling drink at below cost price. But the Observer understands that civil servants are now looking at ways of increasing the price of white cider in a way that would not hit traditional cider manufacturers.

Writing in the current issue of the Big Issue, Jeremy Swain, chief executive of Thames Reach, said it was time for the government to take action if more lives were not to be lost. "The rise of the super-strength drinks is a relatively recent phenomenon. When I was a street outreach worker in the 1980s, they were virtually unknown," he said.

"Of course, alcoholism among the homeless is hardly new. But what is different is the speed of the deterioration caused by the super-strength drinks. Consuming them is akin to pushing the fast forward on your life."

Swain predicted that, if prices were increased on super-strength alcohol, "people seriously addicted to alcohol would move over to weaker, cheaper lagers and ciders". It would then be much easier to help them take further steps towards abstinence and recovery.

"If they're drinking normal-strength lagers or ciders they stop behaving like maniacs," Swain told the Observer. "We can at least talk to them and have a serious conversation. Getting these people into detoxification centres is difficult because the levels of alcohol they are consuming are too high for them to come down from."

There have been suggestions that the drinks industry was prepared to reduce the size of its super-strength cans from 500ml to 440ml in response to concerns about the drinks' impact on public health and antisocial behaviour. But the main producers dropped the plan at the eleventh hour. Manufacturers of super-strength lagers include InBev, which makes Tennent's Super, Carlsberg, which makes Special Brew and Skol Super, and Wells and Young's, which makes Kestrel Super.

In the super-strength cider market, one of the most popular brands is White Ace, which is 7.5% in strength and sells for 59p a can.

White Lightning cider, sometimes referred to as "White Frightening" because of the paranoia it was said to induce, has been discontinued by Heineken. The company admitted that white cider had become a problem drink because it had connotations with "the park bench". White cider is made from dry apple pulp and apple concentrate. Unlike traditional cider, the alcohol is provided through the addition of glucose or corn syrup.

Dennis Rogers, a volunteer with Thames Reach, who has beaten his addiction to super-strength alcohol, said it was a cheap way of dealing with living on the streets.

"The quicker you could get drunk, the better," he said. "The Tennent's and the Special Brew, they did the job. I wanted to get drunk as quickly as possible. I was quite prepared to drink myself to death."

It was only after Rogers was stabbed in a fight and sent to hospital that he was able to enter rehab and face up to life without alcohol. "There is life without drink but just thinking about it is scary."

Swain said he had recently encountered a group of homeless Polish workers who were employed by off-licences to unload deliveries and were being paid in White Ace. In their alcoholic state they had resorted to barbecuing rats for food.

"Wherever you have these drinks, there's always going to be trouble."

Saved from Pakistan's endless sea


A month after floods devastated the country, small boats still rescue those strong, and lucky, enough to have survived the waters

At first it looks like just another tiny island of ruined and abandoned buildings, poking out of the vast, unnatural inland sea that stretches away into the distance on all sides.

But as the boat edges closer, gliding over the tops of bushes and brushing over raised banks that were once roads, it is clear that this one is different. There are people here, pouring out of their rough shelters, streaming down to the water's edge, shielding their eyes from the sun, squinting to get a better glimpse of salvation.

It is clear, too, that there are far too many to fit on the two small boats that have been sent to rescue them. They will hold 20 people each, but there are maybe 100 or more standing among the graves in the burial ground – the only piece of land high enough in the village of Bago Daro to remain above the floodwaters of the Indus.

People push and shove to get to the boats, wading through the water, men lifting children onto the wooden benches, women with babies clambering over the sides. A few men elbow their way through the mass of bodies and hold their ground: those women and children not strong enough to compete are left behind.

It is all over in minutes, the boatmen pulling on the cords to start the outboard motors, the boats pushing backwards and away. Those not strong or lucky enough to grab a place stand and watch in despair. In the water, a little boy stands bewildered. He does not cry, or wave, or show any emotion. He just stands there, staring blankly, receding into the distance. And then he is gone, obscured by the top of a tree, and the boats are once again out on the open water, heading for the city of Shahdadkot and what amounts, in the flood-ravaged province of Sind, to safety.

Most of the villagers have never been on a boat before. They sit quietly for a while, then start to talk.

It was five days ago that the water arrived, five days that they have been trapped by the rising waters. They had been asleep in their houses, says Nawabi Khatoon, when they realised. They had heard no warnings, she says, cradling the youngest of her four children, one-year-old Zenat. No-one told them their homes, miles from the river, were in the slightest danger.

They have been drinking the flood waters, she says, because there was nothing else. They had no food, no medicines. Her husband is missing, along with their animals. She has no idea if they are alive or dead.

They grabbed what they could, says Shabeer Ahmad, and waded through the rising water to the highest ground they could find: the graveyard. One person drowned, he says; others are very ill. The very sick were not among those who managed to fight their way onto today's rescue mission.

A month into the unfolding disaster, hundreds of thousands of people are still being forced to abandon their homes, fleeing before a fresh surge of water swelling the already overflowing Indus as it rushes towards the sea. High tides have slowed the rate at which the Indus can empty into the Arabian Sea. Hundreds of thousands of people were still being evacuated this week from areas of Sind, including around Shahdadkot and Hyderabad. An estimated 3.6 million people are homeless in Sind alone.

That morning, the boat pushed off two hours late at 9.45 from the levee on the outskirts of the city. First the boatmen were late, then there was no fuel, then there was a crush of men wanting to be ferried back to their villages to retrieve possessions.

Behind the levee, towards the city, the land was mostly dry. In front, there was only water and the tops of trees poking out as far as the horizon. There should be no water here, but a breach in a canal has inundated the vast plain, wiping out villages, livestock and crops, everything that stood in its way.

Local agency NGO's Development Society, a partner of the UK's Action Aid, has rescued about 650 people so far over the last week, Ghaffar Pandrani told me as we sat in the rear of the boat. "They don't have support from our government or anyone. We are only a small group; we can't help them all," he said.

The journey to Bago Daro covered 35km and took the best part of three hours. There was no shade in the boats and the water quickly ran out. The bottom of the boat quickly filled with water and had to be bailed out every few minutes.

The sheer scale of the flood became clear as we headed further away from Shahdadkot. A few broken buildings poked above the surface, but the only signs of life were the water birds and four dogs trapped on a broken levee. They ran backwards and forwards, barking frantically as the boat passed.

By the time the boat returns to Shahdadkot, it is 3.30pm. Yasin Brohi watches it pull up to the levee. The 45-year-old was rescued two days ago with his wife from a scrap of higher ground. It took less than half an hour for his house to disappear. "All we have left is our lives," he says.

A cloud of flies has settled on two-year-old Ambreen Magsi and her brother and sisters. They sit or lie listlessly in the heat of a schoolyard in the abandoned city, where once more than 100,000 people lived.

Shahdadkot's streets are virtually empty, the shops shuttered, a few dogs trotting down the dusty lanes. Ninety per cent of the population has gone, fleeing ahead of the advancing waters.

Ambreen's mother, Nawabzadi, flicks at the flies, which rise up and settle again on her one-year-old sister, Samreen, lying asleep on the concrete. They were at home a week ago when they spotted the water rushing towards their village, Haibat Magsi. Within a couple of hours, it was surrounded. Muzir Ahmed Magsi packed his family onto a tractor and they fled.

"It was so fast rising: it took only a couple of hours," says the 35-year-old, shaking his head in disbelief. "I saw the water in the fields and we got on the tractor and went as fast as it would go." When they looked back, the water was closing over their home.

Everything they ever had has gone, not that it was much to start with. "We are waiting for God to help us because there is no support from the government," Muzir says.

They were farmers. Now they sleep in the schoolyard and wonder what will become of them. They will have to find work as labourers, he says, and try to slowly start again. All gone, he says, and looks away.

An old man and his wife appear in the distance along the levee. Mushtaq Jamali leans heavily on a stick; Islam Hatoum has a few possessions tied in a cloth. Behind them, a digger is pushing more earth up against the bulwark that is all that stands between the city and disaster. Slowly, they make their way towards the point where the boats are tied up. They are confused, hot, disconsolate. They have left their animals behind on a piece of dry ground and tottered along the railway line, and then on to the levee. They want someone to help; they cannot understand why no help has come.

The UN estimates that 800,000 people remain trapped in areas accessible only by air. A fifth of the country is under water. As many as 5 million people have no shelter at all. Sind alone has 1,800 makeshift relief camps, housing about 700,000 people. Disease remains a significant threat and the numbers needing food aid are rising daily. To complicate matters further, the Taliban threatened last week to target what it called the "unacceptable horde" of foreigners involved in the relief efforts.

President Zardari has said recovery will take at least three years. Those in Sind cannot see that far ahead. The planting season is nearly upon them, but there is nowhere to plant. Without crops, there will be no food.

Though the death toll has remained markedly low for such a disaster, at an estimated 1,600, more than 1.2m homes have been damaged or destroyed, and many families have lost everything they owned. For many farmers, the loss of their animals is the cruellest blow: they can rebuild their homes, but their animals represented their real wealth.

UK public donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee have now topped £40m. Still the UN says that the disaster remains underfunded.