29 February 2012

Pakistan calls in Interpol to arrest Musharraf over Bhutto assassination

Pakistan is in the ‘final stages’ of asking Interpol to help arrest former military ruler Pervez Musharraf over the murder of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, her former aide has announced.

‘We will bring Musharraf back to the country soon with a red notice issued through Interpol,’ Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently told law-makers in the provincial assembly of Bhutto’s home province of Sindh.

‘We are in the final phase of doing this,’ he said, without elaborating.

Ms Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007, while leaving an election rally in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of Pakistan’s army.

General Musharraf, who has lived in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai since August 2008, last month indefinitely delayed plans to return home to contest elections after the government warned he would be arrested upon arrival.

Pakistani courts have issued warrants for his arrest over the 2006 death of Akbar Bugti, a Baloch rebel leader in the southwest, and the 2007 assassination of Bhutto, whose widower is Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Mr Malik, who was a close aide of Ms Bhutto, accused General Musharraf of refusing to provide her with adequate security and of threatening her by phone when she was in Washington before returning to Pakistan in October 2007.

He said that Musharraf threatened her on the phone: ‘If you come to Pakistan, you will be responsible for the consequences. If you come to Pakistan before the elections, I will not be responsible for your security,’ said Mr Malik.

He quoted Ms Bhutto as replying: ‘General, the decision to come to Pakistan is mine, not yours.’

In March 2011, a Pakistani prosecutor also said Islamabad would ask Interpol to circulate a global arrest warrant for Musharraf over Ms Bhutto’s murder.

Brahmdagh Bugti welcomes Balochistan bill

Nawabzada Brahmdagh Bugti, President of the Baloch Republican Party, has welcomed a resolution on Balochistan tabled in the United States’ House of Representatives.

On Wednesday February 22, Brahmdagh Bugti held a telephone press conference from Switzerland.

He rejected the Pakistan government’s Balochistan Package and the proposed All-Party Conference, saying that the APC is not the solution to the issue.

He also urged the Chief Minister of Balochistan and other leaders to set aside their personal interests and differences, and join the Baloch nationalist movement.

Bugti said that the government move of calling the conference was beyond his understanding. On one hand, dead bodies were being handed over to the Baloch people, he said, while on the other hand the rulers were convening the conference.

The Baloch leader also criticised the Pakistan government for not providing access to NGOs and media organs to Dera Bugti, a region in the south-west of Balochistan, and other areas of the province.

Cheque book diplomacy

The remote and under-populated Asian Pacific republics of Nauru, Vanuatu and Tuvalu (population 11,000) have discovered a new sense of their self-importance, thanks to the ongoing tensions between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Georgia’s breakaway republics of Abkhazia (population 240,000) and South Ossetia (population 70,000) have the backing and support of Moscow, which has been lobbying the international community to recognize the two small countries in the heart of the Caucasus.

Until recently the Russians only managed to get the support of Venezuela and Nicaragua, but now the three Pacific island republics have also joined the process by recognizing either Abkhazia or South Ossetia, or both.

The reasons are not hard to fathom. Western tourists may occasionally hunger for dream holidays in the Pacific area, but the reality of day-to-day life for those who live there is not necessarily inspiring. They and their economies are entirely dependent on phosphate deposits,
cattle and tourism, so that even small grants of aid make a big difference.

The people of Nauru were accordingly delighted when Russia recently decided to extend a US$10 million credit to their government to help pay for critical work on the country’s port and aircraft. Vanuatu and Tuvalu can also expect generous handouts once they have established and sent a list of their priorities to Moscow.

For the time being all eyes are on Fiji, which recently received a Russian cheque of $20,000 to pay for flood aid. Such gestures have been described as cheque book diplomacy by Georgia’s foreign minister, Grigol Vashadze. But the Georgians themselves are not averse to using similar tactics. Recently Georgia gifted US$12,000 worth of medicines to Tuvalu and the people of Fiji have likewise benefited from a recent gift of 200 notebook computers.

Democracy must survive in Maldives

Following public protests and a mutiny by police and army officers, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives has been forced to step down.

Ex-President Mohammed Nasheed says he was forced to quit at gunpoint, a claim denied by his former Vice President and successor, Mohammed Waheed.

In a statement released to Reuters, Waheed said fresh elections planned for 2013 could be brought forward and former cabinet ministers from the Nasheed administration would be welcome to join his government.

Commenting on the date for new elections, he explained, ‘If we agree to bring it forward we will have a discussion with all political parties, but the conditions have to be right to ensure there will be free and fair elections. We need to make sure there is continuation of peace. It is really important to bring back confidence and create rule of law.’

Meanwhile, a fact-finding Commonwealth team has been investigating the circumstances around Nasheed’s resignation.

The Maldives crisis is of concern to India, the dominant regional power, both because of the Maldives’ proximity to India’s Lakshwadeep islands and also because it is so close to one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Critics say New Delhi jumped the gun with its almost instant recognition of the new Waheed government which has the backing of hard-line Islamic fundamentalists. They add that the democratic process nurtured by the ousted president was exploited by the Islamists to
their own advantage.

In the circumstances it is now in the best interests of India and any other major power interested in preserving stability to make sure multi-party democracy survives in the country. President Waheed’s promise to form a government of national unity is seen as a step in the right direction for this country of 120,000 people.

Obama and Karzai discuss Afghan reconciliation

US President Barack Obama has spoken to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss efforts to reconcile with elements of the Taliban, including his recent meeting with Pakistani and Iranian leaders.

The White House says Obama and Karzai discussed regional support for reconciliation in Afghanistan.

The conversation came in the wake of a three-day summit in Islamabad with Karzai, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The call also followed Karzai’s assertion in mid-February that the US, the Afghan government and the Taliban had held three-way talks aimed at moving toward a political settlement of the war.

Karzai has also met with a Taliban-linked Pakistani cleric, Maulana Samiul Haq, in an effort to secure his help in bringing the militant movement’s leadership into peace negotiations.

Australia’s foreign minister resigns

Australia’s foreign minister Kevin Rudd has resigned amid widespread reports of a leadership tussle between him and Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

He made the announcement at a press conference in Washington DC, where he had earlier met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ms Gillard said he had not informed her that he intended to resign.

Ms Gillard ousted Mr Rudd as PM in June 2010. There has been speculation he plans to challenge her for the top job.

Amid the leadership wrangling, she had faced calls from backbenchers to sack Mr Rudd – who said her failure to defend him from these attacks had helped him come to his decision.

‘The simple truth is that I cannot continue to serve as foreign minister if I don’t have Prime Minister Gillard’s support,’ he said late at the press conference in the US, which was broadcast live in Australia. ‘I therefore believe the only honourable course of action is for me to resign.’

He did not say if he would be challenging Ms Gillard for the leadership, but confirmed that he would leave the US the next day, adding that he would not be involved in a ‘stealth attack on a sitting prime minister’.

‘We all know that what happened then was wrong and it must never happen again,’ he said, referring to how he was ousted.

Mr Rudd said he would consult his family and community before making an announcement about his future before parliament returned, he said.

Bangkok bombers may have used stickers to mark targets

Police investigating the failed plot to bomb Israeli diplomats in Bangkok by a group of Iranians have discovered stickers posted on a mile-long stretch of road that officers believe could have marked spots where attacks might be carried out.

The stickers bearing the word ‘SEJEAL’ were also found in a room in the Bangkok house where one of the ‘sticky’ bombs accidentally exploded, leading to the capture of three of the ring.

Thai court issued an arrest warrant for a fifth Iranian, Nourzi Shayan Ali Akbar, 57, who was seen on CCTV footage leaving the house hours before the blast and was found to have caught a flight to Tehran. An arrest warrant was also issued for Leila Rohani, 31, who rented the Bangkok house but left for Tehran days earlier.

Thai authorities have also now formally sought the extradition of Masoud Sedaghat Zadeh, 31, from Malaysia. He was seized in Kuala Lumpur trying to board a flight to Tehran after fleeing Bangkok.

His two accomplices were arrested when a bomb exploded at lunchtime on Valentine’s Day in the upstairs room of the two-storey house they had rented in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit area.

Saeid Moradi, 28, was injured in the blast and in his escape bid threw a device at a taxi that refused his fare. A second device thrown at pursuing police hit an obstacle, landed at his feet and severed his legs. Mohammad Khazaei, 42, escaped but was detained at the airport trying to fly to Malaysia.

Police say the men planned to target Israeli diplomats, including the ambassador, with explosives-filled radios designed to stick on cars with magnets found at the rented house. An Israeli diplomat’s wife was injured by a bomb stuck on her car by a passing motorcyclist in New Delhi a day earlier, and another identical plot was foiled in Tibilisi.

An abandoned blue Honda motorbike bought by Sadaghat Zadeh with a ‘SEJEAL’ sticker under the saddle was discovered by Bangkok police.

The word is thought to be a reference in the Koran to ‘sejeal stones’. Palestinians sometimes refer to their missiles and mortars used to attack Israel as ‘sejeal stones’.

UN inspectors denied access to key military site

A visit to Iran by UN inspectors probing the country’s suspected nuclear weapons activities failed to achieve a breakthrough, with Tehran denying access to a key military site, the IAEA has said.

‘Intensive efforts were made to reach agreement on a document facilitating the clarification of unresolved issues in connection with Iran’s nuclear programme,’ the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement. ‘Unfortunately, agreement was not reached on this document.’

The team requested access both during this visit and during an initial trip in late January to the Parchin military site, near Tehran, where it believes explosives testing was carried out, but Iran ‘did not grant permission’, it said.

‘It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin during the first or second meetings,’ IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in the statement. ‘We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached.’

The statement gave no further details and did not say whether another visit was planned.

Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, was quoted by the Iranian news agency ISNA as saying the talks had been intensive and covered ‘cooperation and mutual understanding between Iran and the IAEA’.

‘These negotiations will continue in the future,’ Soltanieh said.

The high-ranking IAEA team led by Herman Nackaerts, the Vienna-based agency’s Belgian chief inspector and its Argentine number two Rafael Grossi, was due back in Vienna on February 22.

The visit was aimed, the IAEA said, at clarifying all ‘outstanding substantive issues’ surrounding Tehran’s nuclear programme, in particular what it called ‘possible military dimensions’.

International community discusses terror threats in Somalia

International leaders have met to discuss terror and militant threats in Somalia and find ways to address the leadership and famine woes that have dogged the nation for decades. In late February representatives from 40 countries, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN chief Ban Ki-moon, attended the London conference on stabilizing and rebuilding Somalia after decades of war.

The session aims to galvanize the international community to develop a more comprehensive approach to tackling these ills, British officials said. ‘We are realistic – Somalia’s problems cannot be solved in a day, but its people deserve a better future, and our own security requires their country to become more stable,’ UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

The meeting immediately followed the United Nations Security Council’s vote to increase the African Union force in Somalia from about 12,000 to close to 18,000 troops to help battle a militant insurgency.

Somalia has not had a central government since 1991, with a transitional government being established in 2004. But this government is weak and the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab has been waging an insurgency against the transitional federation for years. The group, which announced recently that it had joined al Qaeda, remains a threat in the country. The international community hopes the bolstered force will further degrade Al-Shabaab, creating space for a political solution.

“We must keep up the pressure on Al Shabaab so that their grip on Somalia continues to weaken,” Clinton said.

The international community wants the transitional government to meet a timeline for establishing a new government, including appointing a constitutional assembly and writing a constitution, before August when its mandate expires.

The crisis in Somalia has drawn in many African countries. Neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia have both sent troops directly, while Uganda, Djibouti and Burundi are contributing peacekeepers.

The United States – which has used drones to target militants in Somalia – and European nations consider Somalia to be one of the key terrorist threats in the world today.

Occupy London bids goodbye to St Paul’s

The Court of Appeal has refused permission for ‘Occupy London’ to challenge an eviction order obtained by City of London Corporation. As a result, the anti-capitalist protest group have now been ordered out of the camp they set up on 15 October and must pack up the 120 tents that have been pitched outside St Paul’s Cathedral since then.

Despite criticisms from lawyers for the City of London that the camp acted as a magnet for disorder and crime, lead protestor George Barda condemned the decision. ‘The reality is that the interests of billions of people, both current and future, and millions of people across the country who are beginning to feel the hit of austerity are not being taken into account,’ he said. Other occupy campers described the ruling as a ‘blow’.

The appeal judges said the protestors, who have now reached the end of the legal road, had raised no arguable case. Although they do not want to pack their bags, some of the protestors said the decision had been expected and added, ‘We arrived here peacefully and we’d like to leave peacefully too.’

But even if the ruling means that the camp has been defeated, there is strong feeling that the battle will go on.

One of the group, who has been at the camp for the past four months, said: ‘The occupy movement is much bigger than one campsite.’

 After the hearing Occupy London tweeted: ‘Having a focus point at St Paul’s can still be maintained without residential tents but this isn’t a setback.’

Tunis conference seeks Syrian truce

A major conference is being held in Tunisia to seek a breakthrough in the increasingly bitter Syrian unrest.

The US, Europe and Arab countries plan to challenge President Bashar al-Assad to provide humanitarian access within days to the worst-affected areas. Activists say that more than 7,000 people have died during the 11-month uprising. Two journalists – American Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik – also died during shelling in Homs.

Around 70 nations, including the US, UK, France and Turkey are attending the Tunis conference, organised by the Arab League. But Russia and China, key allies of Syria which have blocked UN resolutions against Damascus, are not attending the ‘Friends of Syria’ conference.

The declaration resulting from the conference is expected to demand an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian assessment, with the threat of further sanctions if ignored.

It may also boost the standing of the main opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Council (SNC), by naming it as a ‘legitimate’ representative of Syrians, but stopping short of full endorsement. At least one opposition group, the National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC), is boycotting the meeting, saying it reflected a ‘dangerous trend towards… specifying who represents the Syrian people’ and left open the idea of military intervention, AFP news agency reports.

Key figures at the conference include US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who said it was vital that the international community came together on the issue of Syria

The UN and Arab League have appointed Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general, as their envoy to the troubled country. He said he looked forward to working with all relevant parties to ‘help bring an end to the violence and human rights abuses, and promote a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.’