Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bashar al-Assad led Syrian Army regains control of rebel stronghold Qusair

The Syrian army seized control on Wednesday of the strategic border town of Qusair, Syrian media and security sources said, in a major advance for President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the country's two-year civil war.

Rebels said they had pulled out of Qusair, which lies on a cross-border supply route with neighbouring Lebanon and where they had fought fierce battles with government forces and Hezbollah guerrillas for more than two weeks.

One Hezbollah fighter told Reuters that they took the town in a rapid overnight offensive, allowing some of the fighters to flee. "We did a sudden surprise attack in the early hours and entered the town. They escaped," he said.

Assad's forces fought hard to seize Qusair, which had been in rebel hands for over a year, to reassert control of a corridor through the central province of Homs which links Damascus to the coastal heartland of Assad's minority Alawites, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

"Whoever controls Qusair controls the center of the country, and whoever controls the center of the country controls all of Syria," said Brigadier General Yahya Suleiman, speaking to Beirut-based Mayadeen television.

Mayadeen showed soldiers sticking Syrian flags with photographs of Assad on piles of rubble spilling from shelled buildings across the torn up streets.

"Our heroic armed forces have returned security and stability to all of the town of Qusair," a statement carried by Syrian state television said.

It marked the latest military gain for Assad, who has launched a series of counter-offensives against mainly Sunni Muslim rebels battling to overthrow him and end his minority Alawite family's four decade grip on power.

More than 80,000 people have been killed in the fighting and another 1.6 million Syrians refugees have fled a conflict which has fueled sectarian tensions across the Middle East, spilled over into neighbouring Lebanon and divided world powers. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Snubbed! Cabinet dismisses calls from civil-society groups to sideline embattled junior minister over shop saga

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Embattled junior minister Richard Azan will still hold on to his job even though civil-society groups had been calling for him to be sacked.

Azan has come under intense pressure for more that a week for his confessed involvement in the stink emanating from the shop saga at the Spaldings Market in Clarendon.

The slight by the Cabinet was announced on the same day the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) revealed that it had been investigating the unauthorised construction and rental of the shops for more than a month and called on members of the public to come forward with information on the matter.

Last week, the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC) argued that Azan, the member of parliament (MP) for North West Clarendon, should step aside and allow a full investigation to take place. The JCSC also said that the situation showed poor judgement on Azan's part.

Anti-corruption lobby National Integrity Action called for the OCG to investigate and said if the claims against Azan were proven to be true, then it would also support the view that the MP "should either, as a matter of conscience, resign or, in the absence, be fired".

Scores of individuals have also called for the minister's head.

But, the Portia Simpson Miller-led Cabinet was unmoved by the constant baying for the junior minister's head and circled the wagon in support of their man in North West Clarendon. The Cabinet saw the matter differently, arguing that it relates to Azan in his capacity as MP and not as state minister.

While awaiting the formal report from the OCG, the Cabinet appeared to be satisfied with the retroactive actions taken in a bid to regularise the sordid affair, which resulted in the rent being paid at the ruling People's National Party's (PNP) North West Clarendon constituency office and a $500 commission paid to a third party from each rent payment.

"Cabinet notes that the issues are not directly related to the duties of Mr Richard Azan, in his capacity as minister of state in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing. Pending receipt of the report from the OCG, he will continue in the position," noted the release issued by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

Established procedures breached

According to the Cabinet, it welcomed the OCG's decision to investigate the controversial matter. However, it was prepared to accept that established procedures were breached.

"It appears that standard administrative procedures may have been overlooked in attempting to address a clearly established need for vending space," the OPM release said.

"Cabinet also notes that the Clarendon Parish Council has advised that all monies collected by the contractor for the rental of the shops, as well as receipt books, were handed over on Friday last. The council further advised that the ownership of the shops has been transferred to the parish council," the press statement added.

The matter was brought to light by a Sunday Gleaner exposé published on April 7, 2013. Azan has endured a turbulent and testing time since it was revealed that he gave permission for a private contractor to build the shops on lands inside the refurbished Spaldings Market without the approval of the local authority that owned the property.

After declining to comment last week, the OCG disclosed yesterday that it initiated a formal enquiry into the matter from as early as March 6, 2013. "We wish to, however, use this opportunity to encourage members of the public who may be privy to any information in the captioned regard, to make contact with its office at 926-0011 or The OCG wishes to assure members of the public that any information received will be held with the strictest confidence," read another section of the OCG statement.

The guardian of the Government's contracts awards process also stated that the probe is ongoing and that material in its possession is currently being processed by its officers.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Civil society seeks arrest of Rahman’s killers

Members of civil society organisations called for the immediate arrest of Parveen Rahman’s killers while demonstrating near the Quaid’s mausoleum on Sunday.

Ms Rahman, a renowned social worker, was killed on Wednesday in a targeted attack when she was returning from her office in Orangi.

The demonstration was jointly organised by the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners (PCATP), Institute of Architects Pakistan (IAP), and an environmental NGO Shehri. Participants in the demonstration demanded that the killers be caught, booked, tried and punished sternly, according to the law.

A few speakers also named a certain ethnic party and its local leaders, who they accused of extending death threats to Ms Rahman, and demanded that a thorough investigation be carried out into the murder.

The demonstrators said that many other social workers, whose work was affecting various mafias and power groups, were also receiving threats and demanded that protection be provided to them.

According to them, Ms Rahman had said that she had been working on land surrounding the city which was being encroached upon. They said Ms Rahman had probably come too close to the powerful mafia and land grabbers, who fearing exposure, had eventually silenced her. They said the social worker’s cold-blooded murder had shocked the entire civil society and demanded that the government take concrete steps to contain the prevailing sense of insecurity. However, the demonstrators vowed that they would continue their work despite threats for the empowerment of the poor and rule of law.

Paying tribute to the slain social worker, Prof Nauman Ahmed of the NED university said Ms Rahman’s organisation, the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), had been working at the grass-roots level to turn a major chunk of Orangi Town from a slum into an area with proper infrastructure.

Amber Alibhai of Shehri, an NGO, said that many other social workers, whose community improvement work was affecting various mafias and power groups, were also receiving threats and demanded protection for them.

Sikander Hayat of the PCATP, Mumtaz Jilani of the IAP and others also spoke on the occasion.

The demonstrators carried banners inscribed with their demands and also chanted slogans. A statement condemning Ms Rahman’s murder and demanding her killers’ arrest was also distributed among the participants.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Civil society opposes Qadri’s ‘veto power’ on caretaker PM nomination

Progressive think tanks, intellectuals and representatives of civil society have unanimously opposed the Islamabad Long March Declaration – an agreement reached between the government and Tehreek-e-Minhajul Quran chief Tahirul Qadri – and challenged the “veto power” given to him by the coalition government for the nomination of caretaker prime minister.

The Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights (JAC), a consortium of more than 30 non-government organisations, arranged a seminar on Friday to discuss the current political situation and future of democracy in Pakistan.

Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, presided over the seminar. IA Rehman, director of Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP), human rights activist Hina Jilani, political scholar Ahmad Rashid, prominent lawyer Salman Raja, Irfan Mufti from South Asia Partnership (SAP), Robina Jamil, Peter Jacob, Karamat Ali and Awami Workers Party leader Farooq Tariq were among the key speakers.

Asma Jahangir, appreciating the role of government and opposition parties towards Qadri’s long march, said that Pakistani politics has “grown up now but some hurdles are still in its way so politicians should act sensibly in the future as Qadri’s long march was not fully ended in principle”. She also lauded the democratic government’s “wise decision” to deal with Qadri in a peaceful manner and holding negotiations to avoid an episode like Lal Mosque incident in the country. She, however, opposed the Islamabad Long March Declaration, reached between the government and Tahirul Qadri, and said it had given a “veto power” to Qadri on the appointment of caretaker prime minister that is “totally unconstitutional and illegal and the Pakistani nation will not endorse it”. About the implementation of articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, she said that the government should restore it in the original shape of 1973 as both articles were subjective and no one in the country could fulfil its requirements as a candidate in the next general elections.

She also suggested introducing a good and trustworthy accountability procedure by bringing an accountability bill in the assembly to further empower National Accountability Bureau.

For strengthening democracy, she stressed on holding local bodies elections soon after completing the general elections procedure in the country. She also stressed on the need for an “independent foreign policy”, emphasising trade relations with regional countries.

About the future government after general elections, she was confident that nationalists would win in Balochistan and after establishing their government in the province they would not give permission to any military general to earn money from trade through Chaman border.

She also criticised security forces for getting 20 percent fee from the Balochistan government to protect resources of the province. HRCP Director IA Rehman, while addressing the seminar, said that due to subjective and hard merit, articles 62 and 63 of the constitution of Pakistan should be removed as no one could meet the merits mentioned in the elections. He also criticised the role of media during Tahirul Qadri’s long march, and said that all the media had been “hijacked and it played a partial role all the time… it was not showing the opinion of the anti-long march people so accountability of the media should also be done”. Salman Raja said that Qadri’s “veto power” on the interim set-up nomination was unconstitutional and it should be challenged because the constitution had defined the domain of the government and the opposition regarding it.

He also said that articles 62 and 63 were not fulfilling the needs of the hour as they were silent about the non-tax payers but held a restriction on the defaulters so there was a need to amend these articles to make them more effective. All the other speakers agreed that the democratic system could run the business of the government more effectively. They unanimously urged political parties to make democracy stronger.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Civil society jointly takes out rally against gender based violence in Pakistan

Legislation against domestic violence, and violence perpetuated by the state machinery and its officials must be passed to make these acts punishable offence; this was demanded by the hundreds of participants of a rally entitled ‘Protect Women against Violence’ to mark international day for the elimination of all forms of violence against women, held at Faisalabad on 28th November 2012. The Member of the National Assembly (MNA) of Pakistan, Mrs. Khalida Mansoor led the rally, staged by the Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (AWAM) and Peace and Human Development (PHD Foundation) in collaboration with CARE Foundation, Aitbar Foundation, ARADA Network, LEHR Network and RASTA Network.

Speaking on this occasion, the executive secretary of the AWAM, Naseem Anthony said, “Violence is a serious violation of human rights, but regrettably there is a general and widespread acceptance of violence based on gender diversity in the society, therefore the majority of people do not recognize its many forms as crime in Pakistan, but rather consider it an integral part of the culture and the fate of women.” “The conservative value system, poverty, women's dependence on men, and religious extremism are the root causes behind all forms of violence against women. It is a fact that male member of a family whether he is a father, husband or brother, usually have power over movements and behaviour of female members, therefore problem arising from the culture and local traditions must be demolished by laws and a change of mentality,” he added.

The director of the PHD Foundation, Suneel Malik said, “It is sad that the forces responsible for protecting citizens are also sometimes found involved in gender based violence in the jails and shelter homes, therefore the government must pass a legislation banning violence perpetrated or condoned by the state machinery.” “When the state fails to prosecute the perpetrators without hesitation, this not only encourages further abuse, it also give the message that male violence against females is acceptable or normal. The result of such impunity is not only denial of justice to the individual victims, but also reinforcement of prevailing inequalities that affect other women and girls as well,” he added.

The coordinator of the AWAM, Shazia George said, “The forced sterilization of the women with disabilities is horrendous act, which cause their reproductive inability. The violence in the domestic sphere is also objectionable, therefore, govt. must approve legislation protecting women against domestic violence.” “It is their prime responsibility to stand up and say no to all forms of violence against their fellow women. Together these voices will turn into a force that would be hard to ignore or sideline,” she added.

The director of the AWAM, Nazia Sardar said, “Violence against women also takes place in developed countries. However it is more problematic in Pakistan, as there is there is no system to address this issue in an effective manner. Working to end violence against women requires not only a clear demonstration of political commitment, but also systematic and sustained action, backed by strong, dedicated and permanent institutional mechanisms.” “Though the government of Pakistan has set up crises centers to protect women victims of violence, but it is pity that the funds are not being released for crises centers to stay functional,” she added.

The head of the Aitbar Foundation, Nasreen Bukhari said, “The passage of pro-women legislation is not enough to protect women. The most important action towards safeguarding human rights of women is the substantive measures and strict enforcement of laws towards the increasing trend of violence against women in the society.”

The convener of the ARADA advocacy Network, Mehwish Anam stressed the need for collective and rigorous efforts by the media, educators, religious leaders and families to help create a society alienated from gender based discrimination and violence, and emphasized on the need of more cohesive and strategic approach on the part of the government and civil society to tackle to menace of violence against women.”

The participants of the rally strongly condemned the inhuman and unethical treatment towards women witnessed in Pakistan on a daily basis, and urged the govt. to take tangible steps for the protection of women’s rights. They chanted slogans in support and recognition of women’s rights and in opposition to gender based violence, intolerance and discrimination. They were also holding placards and banners criticizing various forms of physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence in the family, community, and violence perpetrated or condoned by the state including; laws and customary practices against women, sexual harassment, the jirga system, murder, rape, forced abortion, women trafficking, forced prostitution, honour killing, forced conversion, forced marriages, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, genital mutilation, beating, stove-burning and acid attacks, limiting them to home boundary and depriving from their right to live a life on their own with their free will.

The rally was joined by over 300 people from different walks of life including students, lawyers, representatives of trade unions, political parties and civil society organizations namely; HEDO, ASB, Maimar, PACE, ASWO, AIM, PATAN, EDEN, IWF, NCJP, Labour Qaumi Movement, Freedom Bhatta Workers Union and Awami Workers Party. Naseem Anthony, Suneel Malik, Nazia Sardar, Shazia George, Amina Zaman, Nasreen Bukhari, Yousaf Adnan, Dr. Gul Pervaiz Akhtar Ghouri, Mehwish Anam, Asghar Shaheen, Farrukh Awan, Irshad Parkash, Babar Surroya, Farooq Ayub, Dr. Shafiq, Shahid Anwar, Shafiq Sharif and Mian Naveed were among the prominent figures, present at the rally.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Eat in to keep from spreading out

In an era of deficits, we Americans have one surplus: calories. In the U.S., there's enough food in the supply chain to provide every person with 3,800 calories a day — but we need only about two-thirds of that (2,350 calories a day). Unfortunately, we chow down those extra calories, especially when we eat out. Guys who eat fast food or at full-service restaurants munch 500 more calories a day than those who eat at home. Young kids take in about 130 additional calories; teens and adult women, 250-300 extra. If you eat out four or five times a week, that could boost your weight 12 to 24 pounds a year!

So our recommendation to control your weight, protect your heart, keep your brain sharp, skin wrinkle-free and sex life revved? Put on an apron (always a turn-on) and cook at home. 

1. Steam assorted veggies: Toss with a dash of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a grind of pepper. Add spices (rosemary, garlic, or peppers) for flavor and health! 

2. Broil fish: Salmon and trout are loaded with heart-saving omega-3s — using a marinade of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and lime juice. Or brush on a mustard coating or a crust of walnuts. 

3. Stir up Grandma's chicken soup: Saute a mixture of chopped celery, carrots and onions. Add chicken parts (no skin!) and water; boil for 30 or more minutes. Remove chicken and dice; add back to liquid with 100 percent whole-grain pasta and a quarter-cup frozen peas. Cook until done. Yum!


Telltale signs of hard living are unmistakable: Think of 26-year-old Lindsay Lohan's once-unlined face. But those of you with less raucous lives also can display physical signs that you're older than your chronological age — and are at risk for heart disease. 

A new study identifies a receding hairline at the temples, baldness on the top of the head, horizontal earlobe creases and yellow, fatty deposits around the eyes as markers of aging associated with heart disease. Got any three? Your chance of a heart attack goes up 57 percent.