Saturday, September 18, 2010

US won't stand "slackness" by Pak Army in "war on terror": Holbrooke

ISLAMABAD: US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke has said that his country would not accept any "slackness" on the part of the Pakistan Army in the war against the Taliban, due to their engagement in the ongoing flood relief efforts.

"Neither the security situation has changed fundamentally, nor the Taliban threat has receded and with the Americans placed in a difficult situation in Afghanistan, we certainly will not like to see slackness on part of the Pakistan Army in the war on terror," the Daily Times quoted Holbrooke, as saying to news reporters.

Referring to the situation in Afghanistan, he said that he did not believe "that the Americans are losing any battles or the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, rather a recent surge of troops would certainly improve the situation in Eastern Afghanistan soon."

Pakistani military officials had said that the flood relief effort undertaken by the country's armed forces had forced the army to alter plans to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants.

"In some places where the army was on offensive operations, they have taken defensive positions," military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas had said.

German nominee for foreign film Oscar about breaking ties to Islam


Berlin - Germany is to nominate When We Leave, a movie about a woman who manages to break away from the dictates of her Muslim family, for Best Foreign Film at next year's Oscars movie awards ceremony, officials said Saturday.

The movie, made this year by an Austrian-born female director, Feo Aladag, was selected by a panel of judges from German Films Service and Marketing, an agency that promotes German movies abroad.

'This movie depicts, in a very dramatic and subtle way, the battle of a young German-Turkish mother for her self-determination between two systems of values,' said an endorsement by the judges.

Sibel Kekilli, a German of Turkish extraction, plays the title role in When We Leave, which appeals to German interest in how young Muslim immigrants shake off the values of their ancestral homelands and integrate into the German way of life.

A spokeswoman announced the choice at the Munich head office of the agency, which has the nomination right for Germany.

Aladag called the choice 'an incredibly big honour,' saying, 'I always wanted to make a universal film that reaches and touches people across ethnic, cultural and linguistic barriers.'

The next move is up to the US Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which picks five officially nominated films from around the globe, one of which will receive the 2011 Academy Award, or Oscar.

Babri mosque case: verdict to come out on Sep. 24


 Paramilitary forces have been deployed at various sensitive areas after a special meeting was called in provincial capital Lucknow on Tuesday (September 14) to heighten security all over the state. With less than a week to go for the verdict on the Babri mosque demolition case, security has been beefed up in Ayodhya city of northern India's Uttar Pradesh state. The Allahabad High Court is expected to pronounce on September 24 its judgment on the title suits for the disputed site in Ayodhya town where Hindu fanatics demolished the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992.

Egypt says has enough wheat to avert food riots

CAIRO (Reuters)
Egypt has secured the wheat quantities it needs to avoid shortages in subsidised bread and would not face a rerun of riots in 2008 over bread shortages, the trade minister said on Saturday.

Egypt, the Arab world's most populous state and the world's biggest wheat importer, pays hefty state subsidies to keep bread affordable in the country, where a fifth of the population lives on less than $1 a day, according to the United Nations.

In 2008, shortfalls in bread and rising commodity prices led to clashes between protesters and police. This year, Egypt has rushed to replace 540,000 tons of wheat contracts cancelled after Russia, its top wheat supplier, banned grain exports till year-end to address a massive drought.

Asked whether the government expected global wheat price hikes to stir public unrest in Egypt, Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid said: "No way, because the policy is very clear. First of all, we have secured all the quantities we need for our consumption."

"We have also secured the funds needed to increase the budget of our subsidy, which means at the end of the day, the Egyptian consumer and the Egyptian citizen will not feel the pain of the increase of prices globally," he added.

Egypt consumes around 14 million tons of wheat annually and relies on foreign supplies for about half of that amount. The trade ministry had said last month it expected changes in global wheat prices to impact the budget for fiscal year 2010-11 by between 2.5 and 4 billion Egyptian pounds ($701.1 million).

Egypt's core inflation rate rose unexpectedly in August to 8.2 percent from 7.08 percent in the year to July. The central bank said the rise was due to higher food prices associated with the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan which ended on Sept 9.

Domestic wheat production
Rachid said food subsidies would help contain the impact of rising food prices. "The fact that we are increasing our budgets for subsidies and the fact that we have more than 60 million people benefiting from our subsidized foods program, that in itself is the best measure we are taking," he said.

The agriculture ministry was also taking steps to maximize local wheat production, he said, but added Egypt would still need to import 6 million tons of wheat annually over the coming few years.

The agricultural ministry said last month it aimed to achieve 70 percent self-sufficiency in wheat by 2020 as it plants new strains with higher yields.

"What we are looking at is to ensure that whatever we are producing will continue to increase gradually but obviously we will continue to be a main importer of wheat globally within the next few years," Rachid said.

"We will continue to import in the range of 6 million tonnes of wheat every year," he said.

Since the start of the 2010/11 fiscal year on July 1, Egypt has bought 1.65 million tonnes of French, U.S., and Canadian wheat.

In the fiscal year that ended on June 30, Egypt's main state wheat buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC), purchased 5.53 million tonnes of U.S., French, Russian, German, Kazakh and Canadian wheat at international tenders.

UK: Thousands protest at Pope's visit

Thousands of protesters gathered on the streets of London today to demonstrate against Pope Benedict XVI's state visit.

Organisers estimated up to 10,000 were due to join the march to Downing Street in opposition to the papal tour.

Campaigners held aloft banners stating "the Pope is wrong - put a condom on" and "Pope protects paedophile priests" as they joined the march.

The action is supported by the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society among others.

Protesters cite a number of grievances against the Vatican's stance on issues ranging from gay rights, the use of condoms and the Church's response to clerical sex abuse.

Among those in attendance is human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

The seasoned campaigner hit out at the use of taxpayers' money being used to fund the visit.

He said: "The Vatican isn't a state, it is not recognised as a country by the UN.

"To give the Pope head of state status is wrong and to give him immunity against prosecution is wrong - no one should be above the law."

Mr Tatchell also criticised Pope Benedict's homily at Westminster Cathedral stating that he did not go far enough in taking personal responsibility for the crimes of paedophile priests.

"The Pope keeps on apologising for the failings of everyone but himself," he said.

"He hasn't admitted his own shortcomings and even today he fails to hand over to police across the world the files he has kept on paedophile priests.

"That makes him an accomplice to sex crimes against children."

Comedian Al Murray also figured among the crowd.

He said: "Like a lot of people I am a perplexed that it is a state visit.

"The Pope's opposition to condoms kills people.

"It is all very well him lecturing us on morals but he should look at his own organisation's view."

Asked how his alter-ego The Pub Landlord would react to the visit, Murray replied "he doesn't like it either but that is because he is a fan of Henry VIII because of his marriage arrangements".
Speaking at the march Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society (NSS), said "the days of popes is over".
He said: "This is a secular country, we are a secular nation.

"The Pope should take his religion home with him and leave us to arrange our society as we want it.

"The days of popes is over. We are no longer listening to religious leaders - we get our morality from other places."

The NSS leader added that he was very pleased with the turnout.

"It is heading towards 10,000. It is very gratifying to see secularism on the streets like this."
Ahead of marches setting off from Hyde Park Corner to their Downing Street destination, protesters heard from a victim of clerical sex abuse.
Sue Cox, 63, from Gaydon, Warwickshire, told the gathered crowds that the Pope's visit was "egotistical, arrogant and selfish".

She continued: "How dare he suggest that secularism does not accept or tolerate traditional values?

"If his traditional values include enabling child abuse and lying about it, homophobia and calling gay and lesbian people inclined to moral evil, charging a fee for his performance to an entire country despite a large percentage of his following scavenging for scraps on rubbish tips, ruling with fear of hell and ex-communication, showing more intolerance than any other religion I have ever experienced, showing hate, disdain, and the purest forms of narcissism - then I am proud to stand up and say that I do not accept his traditional values."

She added that her own experience from the Catholic Church was "pain, anger, fear, terror, disgust, lies, shame, violence, sneering, disdain, and disempowerment."

She concluded her speech by warning the Vatican that they would no longer be able to get away with overlooking clerical sex abuse.

"We will continue to watch and shout out and work towards change. This is not over," she said.

The turnout was five times greater than expected before the event, protest organisers said

US-led strike kills 70 in Afghanistan

A US airstrike has reportedly left 70 people dead in southeastern Afghanistan as the war-ravaged country votes to elect a new parliament.
According to Afghan officials, the incident took place in province of Paktia on Saturday when a Taliban convoy came under attack.

Provincial officials say the victims were all militants, however, locals and eyewitnesses say the attack claimed civilian casualties.

This is while Taliban militants have launched sporadic attacks to disrupt the parliamentary election, killing more than a dozen people.

Taliban militants and US officials have not commented on the attack so far.

The loss of civilian lives at the hand of foreign forces has dramatically increased anti-American sentiments in Afghanistan, causing thousands of Afghans to protest against US-led military presence in the country.

Since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a considerable number of civilians have lost their lives in US-led air and ground operations.

Scotland Yard investigates political assassination as fears rise of Karachi gang violence spreading

Scotland Yard counter-terrorism police have been called in to lead the murder inquiry into the London killing of a Pakistani politician after officials warned a bloody struggle between political factions in Karachi was on its way to Britain.

By Duncan Gardham and Rob Crilly in Islamabad

Security sources told the Daily Telegraph the murder inquiry into the death of Imran Farooq, a founder member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), had been taken over by Scotland Yard's Counter-Terrorism Command which investigates political assassinations. MI5 is also likely to be called in to help with the hunt for the killers.

Scotland Yard last night appealed for witnesses to the crime.

Karachi, Pakistan's commercial capital, was in lockdown following the murder of Dr Farooq, who had lived in the UK since claiming asylum in 1999.

Hundreds of deaths of loyalists from rival political and ethnic gang have been recorded this year in a murky corruption and racketeering turf war.

"This has been going on here for years and it's not a surprise to see something happen in London," said a senior counter-terrorism official in Karachi, speaking on condition of anonymity. "These networks extend a long way and are very well developed."

He said it was impossible to tell who was responsible - from fellow MQM members, to rival political parties, business associates or even the Taliban, which is active in the city.

Detectives in London have not ruled out the possibility that Dr Farooq was killed in a random mugging. However, a political motive could spark political clashes in Karachi or undermine the stability of Pakistan's governing coalition, which includes the MQM.

Dr Farooq came to prominence in the late 1980s as general secretary of the newly formed party, which drew its strength from Urdu-speaking immigrants from India who arrived in Karachi after partition.

He was forced into hiding in 1992 during a military crackdown on his party during a violent struggle for control of Karachi. Along with many of his party leadership he was accused of involvement in the kidnap, murder and torture of political opponents drawn from Pashtu-speakers from northwestern Pakistan.

He always denied the allegations and eventually surfaced in London seven years later.

His death on Thursday night, outside his home in North London, took place as party members were preparing to mark the birthday of their leader, Altaf Hussain the next day.

Farooq Sattar, the party's leader in Pakistan, said the timing suggested a political motive.

"The date looks like it was selected by design," he told The Daily Telegraph, but added that a number of other possibilities remained.

"We are trying to keep a lid on speculation. Conspiracy theories could provoke more trouble."

Mohamad Anwar, a party member in London, said the leadership had received threat warnings.

"Because we did not find any symptoms of robbery, we feel that there may be an element of conspiracy and therefore, hence, we can think that this was an assassination," he said.

Political leaders called for calm during 10 days of mourning.

Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, said: "It was a great loss to the party and the family." Traders and bus drivers in Karachi stayed at home yesterday(FRI). Streets were deserted as many people feared a slide into renewed ethnic violence.

Last month Raza Haider, another MQM member, was gunned down with his guard as he attended a funeral near the centre of Karachi. The killing triggered violence in which dozens of people were killed and at least 100 wounded.

Swedish elections: The impact of immigration

For many, Sweden represents a modern, liberal, progressive ideal. But after tomorrow's election, a far-right party could hold the balance of power

Andrew Brown
The Swedish Social Democrats are no ordinary party. If Mona Sahlin, their leader, loses tomorrow's election, as seems almost certain, she will become the first leader in the party's history never to have been prime minister. The party has been in government for 65 of the last 78 years, and in that time no non-socialist government has ever been re-elected. But today a far-right party that blames Muslim immigration for almost all the country's ills is poised to enter parliament and hold the balance of power. It already has members in local government across more than half the country. The local paper in Malmö, the country's third-largest city, publishes a Google Map marking all the shootings in the city - there have been 46 this year, though no one has been killed. What on earth is going on in this tranquil, ordered and progressive country?

If you believe the international rightwing press, the answer is simple, and has been since 2004, when Fox News made a special report on the subject: Sweden, and especially Malmö, has become a laboratory for the creeping Islamisation of Europe. The most common child's name there is now Muhammad; police dare not go into immigrant districts, where only sharia law is respected; and soon all the Jews will be driven from the city. All this, flecked with varying amounts of spittle, is recounted as fact on the net and in US papers.

Paulina Neuding, a neoliberal Swedish commentator, wrote in Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard, "Too many of the country's Arab immigrants have brought anti-democratic values from their home countries; values that neither 'dialogue police' nor the world's most generous welfare system has been able to cure. And [Sweden] is also becoming a symbol of a western country that is prepared to compromise with those values."

The centre for all this fear is the Rosengård estate in Malmö. It is the nearest Sweden gets to a slum. "It doesn't feel like Sweden at all," said a horrified sociologist in a nearby university. "There are cockroaches there! People live 12 to a two-room flat. No one should have to live like that." In early September, police searched the bedroom of a local teenager who had been acting drugged in public, and found a submachine gun. Then they let him go, because he was only 15.

About 25,000 of Malmö's 300,000 people live on the estate; the actual figure is unknown because of overcrowding in the worst section, Herrgården, where adult unemployment runs at 90% (it is 30% on the estate as a whole). Thousands of new immigrants arrive every year. Of the 1,200 students in the secondary school, eight are native Swedes.

Like almost everywhere else that immigrants live in Sweden, Rosengård was built in the late 60s and early 70s as model housing for workers. But whereas most of these new settlements were located five or 10 miles outside the cities they served, and separated from them by belts of forest or farmland, Rosengård is an integral part of Malmö. It lies within the inner ring road. You can cycle there in 15 minutes from the station.

A 2008 government report, which drew entirely on the experiences of teachers, police and social workers, described a place where Islamic orthodoxy was enforced by young thugs; women were forced to wear headscarves and children segregated in religious free schools. There was a small riot after one of the 20 or 30 unofficial mosques in cellars was closed when its lease was not renewed, and nastier riots when the Israeli tennis team played a Davis Cup match in the city last summer.

But this isn't Beirut or Baltimore. It isn't even Tower Hamlets. I was told at Lund University that a foreign graduate student who lived in Rosengård for a couple of years couldn't understand why anyone would call it a ghetto. He came from Liverpool. Certainly, I can't think of another slum in Europe that has broad, well-signposted cycle paths on which stately middle-aged women in headscarves pedal their groceries home.

The houses are for the most part low blocks arranged in squares around playgrounds, on a familiar Swedish model. Even in Herrgården, where there are a few boarded-up windows, the play areas are clean and well-maintained.

The shops have Arabic signage as often as Swedish. The greengrocer's has a huge Ramadan calendar outside, but in the middle of a bright afternoon there are a great many people eating and drinking in public. In the middle of the estate is a shopping centre where a headscarfed woman is collecting for orphans in Iraq, Gaza and Pakistan. She came to Rosengård 16 years ago and says her children are happy on the estate, too. Her stall is an interesting mixture of Swedish and Islamic charity: the language is all Swedish, but the money referred to as zakat. All the distribution, the signs explain, will be handled by the Nordic aid organisation, which will guarantee the money ends up being used peacefully and responsibly.

The Islamology department at Lund University reckons the number of active Muslims in Rosengård and Sweden generally is greatly overestimated. "Most Muslims in Sweden are as unobservant as the Christians," says department head Leif Stenberg. "If you count the number of worshippers in the mosques, there are seldom more than 300 in the big ones, even at Friday prayers. The smaller ones will have 100, if that."

No one in Sweden believes there is any serious terrorist threat there, but Islam has become the symbol of all that is strange and menacing and un-Swedish about immigration. There is a film on YouTube that sums it up perfectly. In an industrial-looking warehouse, an old woman pushes her walking frame bravely across the floor towards two bureaucrats dispensing piles of cash. The camera cuts back to show that alongside her in the gloom are other figures - but these are swathed in burkas, pushing prams. You realise the old woman and the Muslims are all racing to reach red handles that hang from the ceiling, like the emergency brakes on trains. One is marked "Immigration", the other "Pensions". "You have a choice," says a woman's voice. "On September 19 you can slam the brakes on pensions or slam the brakes on immigration. Vote for the Sweden Democrats."

This is the banned party political broadcast for the Sweden Democrats, which the commercial television channel refused to show on the grounds that it was illegal to stand for election and be so flagrantly against ideals of equality. Instead, the Sweden Democrats may show an ad that directs people to their YouTube site. It's typical of the way in which this deeply conservative party has used new media to circumvent the old.

In another publicity stunt, the party released a report claiming to prove, from government statistics, that immigrants were five times more likely than native Swedes to be convicted of rape. What the statistics actually show is that they are five times as likely to be investigated for rape, but experts point out that this may be due in part to racism in the criminal justice system, and that the absolute numbers are very small: when the Sweden Democrats claimed that 10% of the rapists convicted in their survey were Iraqi, they were talking about 12 men. If 0.04% of native Swedes are investigated for rape in one year, the corresponding figure for immigrants is 0.22%."

Though rural Nazis are a staple of Swedish crime fiction, a few do, in fact, exist. Some years ago, one was pointed out to me on the island of Tjörn: "Look," my friend Rolf said as we passed an old man pushing his bicycle uphill, "there's the only Nazi on the island." The day was very hot, but the old man was wearing a heavy black suit, white collar and tie. "He really believes it," Rolf said. "He can argue it all out logically, though I have got him to admit Hitler went a little far with the Jews."

There has always been a streak of romantic nationalism in Swedish life. For most of the Social Democratic years, it took a paradoxical form: people here believed Sweden was the best country in the world because it was the most internationalist. This led to a fantastically generous policy on asylum and integration. Nearly a third of Sweden's population today are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. There are more Iranians living in Sweden than there are Danes. In 2007, one small town outside Stockholm took in more Iraqi refugees than the whole of the US. Professor Jan Ekberg at Linné University has calculated that unemployment among immigrants means the excess cost of their welfare payments over the tax they pay is at least as high as the defence budget, and possibly 50% higher. Although all measurements show that Swedish tolerance towards immigrants is increasing, it's not surprising that there has been a backlash.

Thirty years ago, the Sweden Democrats were a tiny fringe group of straightforward fascists - openly racist skinheads and a few old ideological Nazis. Anti-immigrant sentiment then was concentrated on a short-lived but successful protest party that entered parliament with nearly 7% of the vote in 1991 and soon after imploded and disappeared in the 1994 election.

Two years later, a group of four nationalist students at Lund University joined the Sweden Democrats. They all came from the backwoods of the province of Skåne, the country's southern tip - in Sweden, "backwoods" is a literal term. "There are really three countries here," says Peter Ekelund, a Stockholm businessman. "There is the region around here, with companies like mine where everyone speaks English in the office all the time. There is an international region around Malmö, and another around Gothenburg. And then there are the elk - that's all the rest."

The forest and farmland goes on for hundreds of kilometres in the interior, broken occasionally by farms and small towns. I lived in such towns myself for five years as a young man, and the sense of isolation from the outside world was very deep. Stockholm seemed like a foreign country, in some ways farther than small-town America.

This is the background from which the new Sweden Democrats emerged. The young men from Lund had taken over the party entirely within 10 years. By 2005, one of them, Jimmie Åkesson, had become the party leader at the age of 26. He moved the party away from Nazism and some forms of racism, but they were still pariahs. "No one would vote for them because they were seen as fascist yokels," says Niklas Orrenius, a journalist who has studied the movement for years. To be a known member was to risk sacking from any kind of job. Far-left activists beat them up, on one occasion breaking into a party gathering with iron bars. Last Friday two masked men attacked David von Arnold, a party candidate in Malmö, outside his flat and carved a swastika into his forehead. The respectable media largely ignored this as it ignores the party as a whole.

"Most journalists detest them, so they don't write about them seriously," Orrenius says. Sweden is still an extremely conformist, authoritarian society, where opinion formers and politicians move together like a shoal of herring. The whole shoal can change direction in a flash, but not one herring dares swim anywhere on its own.

In the elections of 2008, opinion polls gave the party only about 1.8% of the national vote. In the event, it got 2.9%, which represented a huge breakthrough, because any party above 2.5% is eligible for state funding. In Skåne, it became the fourth largest party, and part of local government in many towns, but it was still well below the magic 4% threshold that would get it into parliament. Today it is now above that level in all the polls.

The party owes its success to an appeal that seems to cross political boundaries. Hostility to immigrants, especially to Muslims, is certainly a very large part of it, but its slogan for this election, "Tradition and Security", represents two things the Social Democrats once delivered (they always carried the Swedish flag in their May Day parades), but that no party has been able to offer convincingly since the economic storms of the mid-80s when the "Swedish model" went bankrupt.

None of the people who runs Sweden thinks these things will ever come back. All the herring agree the free market is the way forward. The result can be bewildering to English ears: Swedish Conservatives sounding to the left of New Labour when they talk about social mobility, Swedish Social Democrats sounding to the right of Cameron's Conservatives when they talk about the benefits of competition.

Ekelund speaks with unusual frankness, but his views are common: "Sweden is an export-dependent economy, and that is why it is the most successful in Europe. A company like Ericsson does business in 180 countries. It's unthinkable for them to go along with a politics of prejudice. Actually, we need far more immigration, not less."

A few hundred metres from his offices in central Stockholm, the Sweden Democrats have set out their stall. It's an electioneering tradition: all the parties set little wooden huts in the city's central square, where they hand out sweets and leaflets, and talk to voters. Most are as ignored as chuggers, but the Sweden Democrats usually have an angry group of schoolchildren around them.

Ulf Oscarsson, a sturdy man in his late 60s, is minding the stall when I enter. Why has he joined the party? "My daughter was the victim of a serious attempted rape by a Muslim minicab driver. Here, in the centre of the city. He was a married man with three children. When it came to trial, he got a two-month suspended sentence and a £700 fine. They told us we needed to have a certain sympathy for his culture. Well, shit on that."

Behind him, a poster asks, "Which do you want: bigger locks on your front door or bigger locks on the prison doors?"

Oscarsson doesn't want new laws; he just wants the laws that exist to be enforced. Nor is he racist, he says, and I believe him. It's obviously not true of all party members, but the belief that everyone should play by the rules is fundamental to the Swedish sense of justice. He is just as angry about a scandal in provincial local government that did not involve immigrants. Oscarsson claims 20% of the party's membership are immigrants, and while this seems improbable, they certainly have some. I saw a young Indian man running the stall when I passed it on the way to Ekelund's office.

Outside the hut, a group of teenagers in from the suburbs for the day are arguing with the Sweden Democrat on duty. Parand Saumloo, a 17-year-old Swede with one Iranian parent and one Bulgarian, is furious. "Of course you're racists," she says. "This country is full of it." Jabbing her finger, she asks, "When did you ever see a Swede behind the counter of a pizza joint? The country absolutely depends on immigrants. It's lunacy to cut down immigration."

But later it becomes clear she doesn't see herself as a pizza seller: her father is a psychologist, and that is the profession towards which she is studying. "I can even understand that we have to do something about the ones who just live on benefits," she says.

The respectable parties have all said they will not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats should they get into parliament. But if, or when, they do, the party will almost certainly hold the balance of power between the centre-right parties and the opposing bloc of Social Democrats, Greens and former communists. If they are kept out, perhaps by the defection of the Greens to the centre-right, they can convincingly portray themselves as the only real opposition in the country.

But they have no real policies, only longings. A friend who works in Ystad on what would be Wallander's local paper sums up the Sweden Democrats' programme: "They want to move to a country where there aren't any immigrants."

I doubt they will even manage to drag Swedish politics towards xenophobia the way their Danish counterparts, who now sit in government, have done. A tougher sentencing policy is possible. Better enforcement of existing rules on immigration, coupled with measures to ensure immigrant mothers go out to work and don't just live on child benefit, is already the policy of the Burundi-born minister of integration, Nyamko Sabuni. But, in the end, the Sweden Democrats' dream of a world of "tradition and security" cannot be fulfilled. It is a longing for an illusory past to replace the illusory future of endless prosperity and justice into which the Social Democrats seemed for years to be leading their country.

Afghan Vote Marked by Light Turnout and Attacks

KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of polling stations either closed or came under attack and at least 10 civilians were killed in Afghanistan's parliamentary elections on Saturday, even as officials insisted the vote was generally safe nationwide.

The city of Kandahar seemed particularly hard hit. Explosions were heard every half hour through the morning, and 31 had occurred by mid-morning including rockets fired by insurgents, according to a security official there, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wesa toured polling places to encourage voters to turn out, but his own convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, slightly damaging his armored car but hurting no one.

Voter turnout was extremely low in Marja, the Helmand Province battleground, as bullets flew over the polling station near the district center, and insurgents launched a rocket-propelled grenade into the main United States Marine base here. No one was injured in the rocket blast, which landed close to an ammunition supply area and destroyed the wooden platform of a tent housing several Marines. Marine commanders responded with three Hellfire missiles shot from Reaper drones, which they say killed at least two insurgents who had launched the rocket a quarter mile from the base.

Nationwide, authorities could only confirm that 92 percent of the planned 5,816 polling centers had opened as planned, and no word had been heard from the other 8 percent, raising concerns that security conditions had forced them to close, according to the Independent Election Commission. The commission had previously canceled about 1,000 polling centers because the authorities could not secure them.

The 8 percent of non-reporting polling places were in nine provinces in the northeast, northwest, east and south, Fazal Ahmad Manawi, the chairman of the I.E.C., said at a news conference. He added, however, that every province had at least 50 percent of its polling places open.

Halfway through the voting day, even in a safe neighborhood of downtown Kabul, only 150 men and 130 women had cast their ballots at the Naderia High School. But there was little violence in the capital, and late in the day, long lines began to form at some of the centers around the city.

Still, Abdul Hadi, an observer for an incumbent, Anar Kally Hunaryaar, complained that observers at the high school greatly outnumbered voters. "Right here there are almost zero voters, and a thousand observers, it's ridiculous," he said.

Outside the capital, in the rural Guldara District in Kabul Province, village polling places were lightly attended. And in one spot, only four women voted, other than official election observers. In the more populated district center, however, 650 people, including 150 women, had voted, and others were streaming in an hour before polls closed at 4 p.m.

In Kandahar, the Taliban papered the city with nightletters on the eve of the election, warning people not to vote in "Americanized elections" and that anyone doing so would be a target. The letters, signed by the Taliban's military commander for Kandahar, Al Haj Ahmad Sayid, gave two phone numbers, one for information about the warning, and another for complaints.

In Dand District just outside the city, polling places set aside for women had not received a single voter, although several hundred men had cast ballots. In the center of the city, another women's polling center had attracted only 23 voters in the morning.

Kandahar is the traditional stronghold of the Taliban where NATO and Afghan forces have stepped up military operations recently.

Those who did vote in Kandahar were nervous. "I am so scared to come to the polling station," said Shafiqa, 49, "my family insisted I not come, but I have to because this is my country and I want to use my vote for someone I like."

In Kunduz Province, northern Afghanistan, 16 civilians were injured during election-related violence, some while casting their votes and others in their homes when rockets were fired into them by insurgents, Mohammed Omar, the governor of Kunduz, said at a news conference. In addition, according to hospital officials there, five people were killed and three wounded in rocket, mortar and roadside bomb attacks in the province.

In eastern Nangarhar Province, bombs were hidden in a mosque that was to be used as a polling place but exploded with out harming anyone, officials said. However, in Chapayar town, two people were killed by a rocket that hit the road where they were walking.

The governor of Baghlan Province in the north, Munshi Abdul Majid, said a NATO air strike accidentally killed three members of a village defense team during a firefight with Taliban, eight of whom were also killed. A spokesman for NATO said the force so far had no knowledge of the incident.
A statement posted on a pro-Taliban website claimed the insurgents had attacked more than 100 polling centers.

However, the Afghan monitoring organization, the Free and Fair Elections Foundation, said generally the elections were safe. "Though there were numerous attacks, none were severe enough to disrupt voting on a wide scale," F.E.F.A. said in a statement.

There were numerous accounts of fraud.

In the first reported instance of fraud, a woman who worked for the I.E.C. in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province, was arrested with 1,500 fake voter registration cards, according to Dawood Ahmadi, the spokesman for the Helmand governor's office. He said the employee, whom he did not name, was the daughter of a female candidate, Habiba Sadat.

In Paktika Province, a man was arrested for trying to use 1,600 fake voter registration cards on behalf of a parliamentary candidate, Rahmatullah Wahid Yar, according to Rohullah Samoon, the spokesman for the governor.

At a polling center at the Ghazi Khan High School in Kunduz city, journalists and election observers watched as I.E.C. officials and supporters of some of the candidates locked the doors for two hours and filled out ballots themselves.

F.E.F.A. also said that in nearly 3,000 polling centers - about half of the total - its monitors discovered that the ink used to mark voters' fingers to prevent repeated voting was easily washed off, even though it was supposed to have been indelible.

Contributing reporting were Sangar Rahimi and Sharifullah Sahak in Kabul, Elisabeth Bumiller in Marja, Taimoor Shah in Kandahar and Afghan employees of The New York Times in Helmand, Khost, Nangarhar and Kunar provinces.

‘Mushrraf accepted 7 US demands in 24 hours after 9/11’

 The Daily Times

LAHORE: As the US prepared to invade Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) wanted America to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban, but the Bush administration “bluntly” told former president Pervez Musharraf that it had no inclination to do so.
According to classified documents released by the National Security Archive of the George Washington University, two days after al Qaeda unleashed terror on the US, its envoy to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, “bluntly” told Musharraf on September 13, 2001 that there was “absolutely no inclination in Washington to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban, which controlled Afghanistan at that time”. “The time for dialogue was finished as of September 11,” she told Musharraf, the documents said. However, Pakistan, as the Taliban’s primary sponsor, disagreed.

The documents also said Musharraf, who was facing heat from the US because of his support for the Taliban regime, accepted “unconditionally” in 24 hours all seven demands made by the US such as stopping al Qaeda at the border, providing the US with blanket landing rights to conduct operations and territorial and naval access and help in “destroying Osama Bin Laden”.

However, events thereafter showed that such an acceptance was just a “tactical move” by Musharraf as for all practical purposes, there was not much change in the policies of his government, the documents said.

The then ISI chief Mahmoud Ahmad also told Wendy Chamberlin “not to act in anger”. “Real victory will come in negotiations… if the Taliban are eliminated… Afghanistan will revert to warlordism,” the documents quoted Ahmad as saying.

The then ISI chief wanted the US to give Pakistan some time as he was headed for another trip to Afghanistan on September 25, 2001 to meet the top Taliban leadership in this regard. Mahmoud Ahmad returned to Afghanistan to make a last-minute plea to the Taliban. Ahmad told Chamberlin “his mission was taking place in parallel with US-Pakistani military planning” and that in his estimation, “a negotiated solution would be preferable to military action”.

“I implore you,” Ahmad told the ambassador, “not to act in anger. Real victory will come in negotiations. Mullah Omar himself is frightened. That much was clear in his last meeting.”
The ISI chief told the ambassador that America’s strategic objectives of getting Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda would best be accomplished by coercing the Taliban to do it themselves. “It is better for the Afghans to do it. We could avoid the fallout,” Ahmad told the ambassador. Nevertheless, he promised full Pakistani support for US activities, including military action.

“We will not flinch from a military effort. Pakistan stands behind you,” the documents said. Chamberlin insisted that while Washington “appreciated his objectives” to negotiate to get Bin Laden, Mullah Omar “had so far refused to meet even one US demand”.

The ambassador told Ahmad that his trip “could not delay military planning”.

The secret documents reveal that seven US demands were delivered to Ahmad by then deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage. Within 24 hours, Musharraf accepted “those requests without conditions”.

While Pakistan denied that it was a safe haven for anti-American forces, a State Department-issued paper for former vice president Dick Cheney claimed “some Taliban leaders operate with relative impunity in some Pakistani cities, and may still enjoy support from the lower echelons of the ISI”.
Armitage met with Ahmad on September 13, 2001 and told him that the US was looking for full cooperation and partnership from Pakistan, indicating that the decision whether or not to fully comply with US demands would be “a difficult choice for Pakistan”.

Armitage carefully presented Ahmad with the following specific requests for immediate action and asked that he present them to Musharraf for approval.

The demands were to stop al Qaeda at the border, provide the US with blanket landing rights to conduct operations; provide territorial and naval access, provide intelligence; publicly condemn terrorist attacks, cut off recruits and supplies to the Taliban, and break diplomatic relations with the Taliban and help the US destroy Osama Bin Ladin.

In another paper dated September 14, 2001, the ambassador in her message to the then secretary of state, said that Musharraf had accepted all US conditions. “Gen Musharraf accepts the seven actions we are asking of the Pakistani government to support our efforts against international terrorism. His top military commander concurs. Musharraf discussed implementation details remaining to be worked out regarding the points and invited us to send an interagency team to address them,” the US ambassador wrote.

“In a 90-minute meeting on September 14, Musharraf said he had studied the points and discussed them in an all-day meeting with his corps commanders and other ranking military officers. He (Musharraf) said he accepted the points without conditions and that his military leadership concurred,” the documents said.

Israeli Soldiers Sexually Abuse Palestinian Children

 Palestinian Chronicle

By Stephen Lendman

On September 10, Israel’s headlined, ‘IDF sexually abused Palestinian children,’ headlining:

“Damning (September 9) CNN report cites uncorroborated sexual abuse charges of Palestinian children detained by IDF.” Military officials refused to “respond to abuse charges as no details (were) provided,” a spokesman saying “We cannot address general claims on the subject in the absence of a specific complaint.”

CNN’s report “featured an unidentified Palestinian boy claiming that IDF forces attempted to insert an object into his rectum,” and that dozens of officers present stood around laughing while it happened.

The network cited Defence of Children International (DCI) as its source, an independent NGO involved in promoting and protecting children’s rights globally for over 30 years, founded on the date the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) passed 10 years later.

In May 2010, it asked the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to investigate 14 cases of sexual assault or threatened assault it uncovered – committed by Israeli soldiers, interrogators, and police from January 2009 – April 2010. The abused children were from 13 – 16 years old, detained for offenses like stone-throwing harming no one.

DCI-Palestine expressed alarm about sworn affidavits children provided, explaining instances of sexual assault or threatened assault to obtain confessions. In 2009 alone, DCI reviewed 100 sworn affidavits attesting to the following:

– 97% of children said their hands were tied during interrogations;
– 92% said they were blindfolded or hooded;
– 81% said forced confessions were made;
– 69% said they were beaten or kicked;
– 65% said they were arrested from midnight to 4AM;
– 50% said they were verbally abused;
– 49% cited threats or inducements;
– 32% were forced to sign confessions in Hebrew they didn’t understand;
– 26% cited painful position abuse;
– 14% were in solitary confinement;
– 12% were threatened with sexual assault; and
– 4%, in fact, were sexually assaulted.

It included grabbing boys by the testicles until they confessed, and threatening others as young as 13 with rape unless they admitted to “throwing stones at Israeli settler vehicles in the occupied West Bank.”

In its April 2008 report, the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs said over 7,000 children had been arrested since September 2000, the start of the second Intifada. About 360 were still held, some as young as 10, treated as harshly as adults, in violation of international law requiring special treatment for children.

Of these, 145 had been sentenced, 200 awaited trial, and 15 were being administratively held without charge for offenses as trivial as stone-throwing. The report also said about 500 youths arrested turned 18 in prison. About 75 were ill and not treated, and nearly all had been tortured or abused by beatings, hooding, painful shackling, and sleep deprivation for several days in the shabeh position.

It involves binding their hands and feet to a small chair, at times from behind to a pipe affixed to the wall, painfully slanted forward, hooded with a filthy sack, and played loud music nonstop through loudspeakers.

The article includes more on their treatment during detention and under occupation, clear evidence of state-sponsored brutality, flagrantly violating international law, Israel’s specialty.

DCI-Palestine cited a 15 year old boy’s experience after being arrested in September 2009 at 2AM at home:

“While sitting on the ground near the truck, a person speaking Arabic approached me and grabbed my hands and ordered me to stand up and accompany him. He grabbed me so violently and pulled me. He forced me to walk with him for about 20 meters, and I could see from under the blindfold that we stopped behind a military jeep. He slapped me hard twice and grabbed my testicles so hard and started pressing them. Then, he asked me whether I threw stones and Molotov cocktails and I said I did not.”

“He started shouting and saying ‘liar,’ your mother’s c..t.’ He started beating me all over my body and once again grabbed my testicles and started pressing hard. ‘I won’t let go of your testicles unless you confess,’ he said to me. I felt so much pain and kept shouting. I had no other choice but to confess” to stop the pain.

Every year, around 700 children are arrested, most for stone-throwing, then interrogated with no lawyer or family member present, prosecuted, and sentenced. Over 80% signed forced confessions, one-third written in Hebrew they don’t understand. After conviction in military, not civil, court, most are imprisoned in violation of Fourth Geneva’s Article 76. Its provisions include assuring “Proper regard….paid to the special treatment due to minors,” one of many laws Israel violates, children abused like adults.

When confronted with hard evidence, Israel denies it, saying it respects and observes international law, when, in fact, it’s abusively and consistently in violation.

On May 10, Haaretz writer Amira Hass covered the child abuse story, headlining “Over 100 Palestinian minors reported abuse in IDF, police custody in 2009,” saying:

“69 minors complained of being beaten, four minors reported being sexually assaulted, and 12 said they were threatened with sexual assault.” She added that most were intimidated, abused, and maltreated in custody, before and during interrogations. In addition, they got no food or water for many hours and were forced to name others to stop being mistreated.

DCI-Palestine legal advisor Khaled Kuzmar said many parents don’t complain to authorities, having no “confidence in the system that abuses them.”

Like always, an IDF Spokesman dismissed “claims of deliberate deviation from procedures for arresting and interrogating minors, (saying their) arrests are carried out in keeping with international law; the arrests of suspects under 16 years old in the West Bank requires a military lawyer’s approval….Minors are brought before a judge within a relatively short period.”
He lied, including about quick resolution before a judge. In fact, children and adults are often held for weeks or months before appearing for trial or accepting a plea bargain, Israel’s corrupted injustice system for anyone not Jewish – even children as young as 9 or 10.

UK fears coup in Pakistan, evacuation plan ready

The News

LONDON: Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) on Monday admitted that it does have “a contingency plans for British staff and the UK nationals in Pakistan in case of an emergency or a military coup”.

The FCO reacted after a tabloid in Britain claimed that amid fears of a military coup in Pakistan, Britain has put its elite Special Air Service (SAS) on a stand-by mode for an emergency evacuation of Britons from the country.

Speaking to The News, an FCO spokesperson said: “All of our overseas Posts have contingency plans in place for staff and UK nationals. We do not comment on the nature of these contingency plans.”
The spokesperson refused to answer further questions about the fears Britain has and its assessment of the Pakistan’s political instability. The Ministry of Defence also refused to answer questions and referred all queries to the FCO but the brisk reply confirms that the original report published in a paper, considered close to Britain’s armed forces, was not baseless and may have been published on the basis of a briefing from a senior military official.

The displacement of more than 10 per cent of Pakistan’s population after the worst floods in modern Pakistan’s history has prompted multiple concerns over the stability of the country, including the fear that the nuclear-armed country could be taken over again by the powerful military. The military has been seen on the frontline of delivering aid and rehabilitation to the flood-affected population while the civilian government has been exposed as inefficient, rudderless and corrupt.

Recently, some democratic politicians have openly called on the military to intervene and steer the people’s revolution in Pakistan by ousting the current democratically elected set-up. The Sunday Express newspaper reported that special forces regiment of the British Army in Afghanistan are drawing up plans to remove staff from the Islamabad embassy within four hours, if required. Britons working in the country have been put on a register and will be told to gather at an assembly point at a time of crisis. The plan, said the report, is a sign of Pakistan’s political fragility.

The civilian government is having to field off questions of an imminent military coup. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani recently told journalists that Pakistan’s elected government would complete its tenure as there is no threat to democracy and the Army has no intention of coming to power. “The Army neither intends to come to power nor will it come to power. The judiciary is independent and pro-democratic,” he said.

How Rich are Pakistani MNAs?: PPPP MNA tops list with Rs3.288bn

The News

LONDON: Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) on Monday admitted that it does have “a contingency plans for British staff and the UK nationals in Pakistan in case of an emergency or a military coup”.

The FCO reacted after a tabloid in Britain claimed that amid fears of a military coup in Pakistan, Britain has put its elite Special Air Service (SAS) on a stand-by mode for an emergency evacuation of Britons from the country.

Speaking to The News, an FCO spokesperson said: “All of our overseas Posts have contingency plans in place for staff and UK nationals. We do not comment on the nature of these contingency plans.”

The spokesperson refused to answer further questions about the fears Britain has and its assessment of the Pakistan’s political instability. The Ministry of Defence also refused to answer questions and referred all queries to the FCO but the brisk reply confirms that the original report published in a paper, considered close to Britain’s armed forces, was not baseless and may have been published on the basis of a briefing from a senior military official.

The displacement of more than 10 per cent of Pakistan’s population after the worst floods in modern Pakistan’s history has prompted multiple concerns over the stability of the country, including the fear that the nuclear-armed country could be taken over again by the powerful military. The military has been seen on the frontline of delivering aid and rehabilitation to the flood-affected population while the civilian government has been exposed as inefficient, rudderless and corrupt.

Recently, some democratic politicians have openly called on the military to intervene and steer the people’s revolution in Pakistan by ousting the current democratically elected set-up. The Sunday Express newspaper reported that special forces regiment of the British Army in Afghanistan are drawing up plans to remove staff from the Islamabad embassy within four hours, if required. Britons working in the country have been put on a register and will be told to gather at an assembly point at a time of crisis. The plan, said the report, is a sign of Pakistan’s political fragility.

The civilian government is having to field off questions of an imminent military coup. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani recently told journalists that Pakistan’s elected government would complete its tenure as there is no threat to democracy and the Army has no intention of coming to power. “The Army neither intends to come to power nor will it come to power. The judiciary is independent and pro-democratic,” he said.

Musharraf to launch his political party in London on Oct 1

 The Economic Times

ISLAMABAD: Former president Pervez Musharraf, who has announced his intentions to return to Pakistan before the 2013 general elections, will formally launch his new political party and unveil its programme in London on October 1.

Musharraf, 67, is also planning to hold a show of power in Birmingham on October 3, less than two months after a man hurled his shoes at President Asif Ali Zardari during a rally in the same British city with a large population of Pakistani origin.

The former military ruler’s spokesman Mohammad Saif told the Dawn newspaper that Musharraf would “start his political journey at a press conference (in London) on October 1″.

Musharraf will address a public rally at the Oval Banqueting Suite in Birmingham’s Sparkhill area two days later, media reports said.

The meet is being described by Musharraf’s aides as a demonstration of the support enjoyed by his new party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, among Pakistanis abroad.

Supporters of Musharraf from the Middle East, the US, Europe and Pakistan, including former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, are expected to attend the meet.

Musharraf has reportedly chosen Birmingham as the venue for the meet because of the strong backing from Khalid Mahmood, a local Labour party MP.

Before the show of power in Birmingham, Musharraf will hold meetings of his new political party in London.

During the planned interaction with the media, Musharraf will launch his party’s manifesto, explain how he rates the current government and opposition in Pakistan and outline his future plans.

Musharraf’s supporters are planning another gathering in Manchester on October 9.

The MP has stood by Musharraf all along and has hosted him at the House of Commons on a number of occasions despite the opposition from many British Pakistani groups.

Chaudhary Aslam Wassan, the APML coordinator for Birmingham, claimed Musharraf has a lot of support among expatriate Pakistanis who have nostalgia for his time in power “when the land mafia and criminal gangs were under control and foreign investors were flocking to Pakistan”.

“He served Pakistan wholeheartedly. Compare today’s Pakistan with Mushararf’s period. It has been taken over by bandits who only want Pakistan for their children,” Wassan said.

$11-Million Monument to Benazir Bhutto: APPROVED

The Huffington Post

This week, as flood waters ravage Pakistan’s land and 20 million of its people, and after Pakistan’s own president, Asif Ali Zardari, managed to muster only $58,000 of his own vast wealth to the flood relief (a donation nearly doubled by Angelina Jolie), yet another devastating blow has hit Pakistan: news that the government has now approved an $11-million statue of the President’s assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto.

And yes, this is Pakistani taxpayer money.

The statue itself will cost 4.7 million dollars, and it will be built on land that is worth another 5.9 million dollars. Apparently, Mr. Zardari, whose personal wealth is estimated to be more than 1 billion dollars, just couldn’t afford to donate the land or the statue in honor of the mother of his children.
His government decided the people of Pakistan could afford it, though. People who, according to the World Bank, have an average per capita income of $870 annually.

Admirably, the people of Pakistan have taken it upon themselves to try and stop this misguided use of funds in the midst of a national disaster. A legal action failed, but now a petition is available online.
Another day, another battle in the Pakistani people’s war for a representative government.

New York imam says moving mosque could incite Muslim backlash

 The Guardian

If planned centre is moved from site near Ground Zero, radicals could see Islam as under attack in US, says cleric

The imam behind the controversial plan to build an Islamic centre and mosque near New York’s Ground Zero site has said he is “exploring all options” and “everything is on the table”, in the face of a firestorm of politically driven protest against the project.

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York today, Feisal Abdul Rauf expressed frustration that “radical extremists have hijacked our discourse”, and warned that moving the mosque could prompt a violent backlash from some Muslims abroad.

Rauf said the Islamic centre’s advisers had been looking at “every option” including delaying construction. The imam has also suggested that the centre could expand to provide space for people of other faiths alongside Muslims.

“Everything is on the table,” he said. “We really are focused on solving it … I give you my pledge.”
Rauf said it was “absolutely disingenuous” to suggest that the site of the planned construction was “hallowed ground” when there is a strip club and betting shops nearby. He defended the need for the project.

“In recent days some people have asked: is there really a need for an Islamic community centre in lower Manhattan? Is it worth all this firestorm? The answer is a categorical yes,” he said.

Yesterday, Rauf told ABC News that the controversy had “been used for political purposes” and that there was “growing Islamophobia in this country”. He said the “discourse has been, to a certain extent, hijacked by the radicals.”

“The radicals on both sides, the radicals in the United States and the radicals in the Muslim world, feed off each other. And to a certain extent, the attention that they’ve been able to get by the media has even aggravated the problem,” he said.

Asked why, when more than two-thirds of New Yorkers say they want the Islamic centre built somewhere else, he would not do that, Rauf said: “My major concern with moving it is that the headline in the Muslim world will be Islam is under attack in America, this will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment, this will put our people – our soldiers, our troops, our embassies, our citizens – under attack in the Muslim world, and we have expanded and given and fueled terrorism.”

Rauf said he might have done some things differently if he had realised the Islamic centre would provoke the reaction that has engulfed it. “I would never have done it. I’m a man of peace. I mean the whole objective of peace work is not to do something that would provoke controversy,” he said

Police shoot dead 18 during protests in Kashmir

 BBC News

Police have shot dead 18 civilians in the deadliest day in Indian-administered Kashmir since protests erupted three months ago.

A policeman was also killed when he was run over by a lorry.

The BBC’s Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says reports of Koran desecration in the US have stoked anger.
Scores of Kashmiris have now died since June, when anti-India protests broke out after police shot dead a teenager.

In Monday’s protests, thousands of people defied curfews and took to the streets, chanting anti-India and anti-US slogans and burning effigies of US President Barack Obama, our correspondent says.

An angry mob set fire to several government buildings and a Protestant-run school, as well as attacking a police station, he adds.

Police fired live ammunition to break up the demonstrations, and confirmed that 18 civilians had been killed.

Several of the deaths were reported to have occurred in Budgam district, with others reported in the village of Tangmarg, where the school was burned.

One of those killed was a student aged 12 or 13, our correspondent says.

More than 100 people are also reported to have been wounded, some seriously, he adds.
Meanwhile, a policeman died after he was run over by a lorry driven by demonstrators in the town of Humahama.

The attack on the missionary school was condemned by separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani – who has been put under house arrest by Indian authorities.

“I urge the Muslims to protect members of [the] minority community and their religious places. We should at any cost maintain the age-old communal harmony and brotherhood for which Kashmir is known the world over,” he said.

A curfew was also imposed in the town of Poonch in Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday following violent protests, Indian officials said.

Protesters stoned government vehicles and clashed with security forces when they were stopped from moving towards a Christian church, police said.

Police dispersed the protesters using teargas and more than a dozen people were reported to be injured.

The Indian government said it was “deeply distressed” by the violence.

In a statement following a cabinet meeting on Monday, the government expressed its “profound grief at the loss of life and offers its sincere condolences to the bereaved families”.

An indefinite curfew remains in place in Srinagar and other major towns in the region.

The measures were imposed after mass protests against Indian rule on Saturday again turned violent.

Tensions heightened
A plan by a Florida church to burn copies of the Koran during the 9/11 anniversary caused outrage across the Muslim world, but was eventually called off.

However, reports that pages had been torn from a Koran outside the White House over the weekend reignited the controversy and further heightened tensions in the Kashmir Valley.

Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than 50 years.

In Delhi on Monday, the Indian cabinet resisted calls to partially lift a 20-year-old emergency law that shields their forces from prosecution.

Instead it called an all-party meeting for Wednesday to discuss solutions to the latest violence in Kashmir.

Human rights activists say the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which also grants powerful search and seizure powers, is often misused by Indian police and paramilitaries.

Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah had urged the government to withdraw the act, but has met with strong resistance from the Indian military.

Barack Obama to authorise record $60bn Saudi arms sale

 The Guardian

Biggest arms deal in US history will shore up a Gulf ally against Iran threat, but angers Tehran and worries Israel.

Barack Obama is to go ahead with plans to sell Saudi Arabia advanced aircraft and other weapons worth up to $60bn (£39bn), the biggest arms deal in US history, in a strategy of shoring up Gulf Arab allies to face any military threat from Iran.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the administration is also in talks with the Saudis about possible naval and missile-defence upgrades that could be worth tens of billions of dollars more over five to 10 years.

Plans to go ahead with the package, which has been under secret negotiation since 2007, have been known for some time and have raised angry objections from Iran and to a lesser extent from Israel, an even closer US ally which is anxious to maintain its strategic edge over any potential adversary in the Middle East.

In its notification to Congress, the administration will authorise the Saudis to buy as many as 84 new F-15 fighters, upgrade 70 more, and purchase three different types of helicopters – 70 Apaches, 72 Black Hawks and 36 Little Birds, the Wall Street Journal reported. The package would be subject to a review by Congress.

According to earlier reports, the administration has already decided out of deference to the Israelis not to sell Saudi Arabia so-called stand-off systems, advanced long-range weapons that can be attached to F-15s for use in offensive operations.

The US is the world’s largest arms supplier and the Saudi deal alone is said to support up to 75,000 jobs, according to firms such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and General Electric. Last year, despite a recession that hit global arms sales, the US increased its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a congressional study.

In 2008, Saudi Arabia was the second biggest arms buyer in the developing world, spending $8.7bn, making it second only to the United Arab Emirates. Britain and France are also in intense competition to sell in this market.

US-Saudi ties suffered a serious dip after the 9/11 terrorist attacks exposed al-Qaida’s Saudi background to ordinary Americans, but the military relationship is in good order. Analysts say the deal will significantly boost Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend its airspace against aircraft and missiles, to undertake “very painful” deterrent strikes and to police coastal areas.

It will also lock Riyadh into a close military relationship with Washington for at least another 20 years. Questions about democracy, freedoms and human rights in the kingdom clearly have a lower priority than security issues.

The package is expected to win congressional approval with limited amendments, although probably not until after the 2 November mid-term elections. It is a striking reflection of a convergence between the strategic concerns of the US, Israel and conservative Arab states about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and bid for regional influence.

Saudi Arabia has denied recent reports that it has secretly agreed to allow Israeli planes to pass through its airspace on the way to bomb nuclear sites in Iran.