Khaleda pays tribute to war heroes

Bangladesh’s BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia has paid homage to the freedom fighters who laid down their lives for the country during the War of Liberation in 1971.

Khaleda, flanked by her party’s senior leaders, was at Savar National Mausoleum and placed wreaths there, marking Bangladesh’s Independence Day. Accompanying her were BNP standing committee members Barrister Rafiqul Islam Mia, Nazrul Islam Khan, Dr Moyeen Khan, and BNP vice chairman Sadeque Hossain Khoka, among others.

Bangladesh’s BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia has paid homage to the freedom fighters who laid down their lives for the country during the War of Liberation in 1971.

Khaleda, flanked by her party’s senior leaders, was at Savar National Mausoleum and placed wreaths there, marking Bangladesh’s Independence Day. Accompanying her were BNP standing committee members Barrister Rafiqul Islam Mia, Nazrul Islam Khan, Dr Moyeen Khan, and BNP vice chairman Sadeque Hossain Khoka, among others.

Later, Khaleda paid tribute to BNP founder and late President Ziaur Rahman at his grave at Sher-e Bangla Nagar, along with senior party leaders. Khaleda also joined a special prayer arranged by Jatiyatabadi Ulema Dal. Several hundred BNP leaders and activists thronged around the grave and also paid their tributes to their late leader.

As part of its two-day programme to mark Independence Day, the BNP arranged a discussion at the Institution of Engineers.

Taliban launch attacks in run-up to Afghanistan elections

Taliban suicide attackers have left a trail of blood across Afghanistan, storming an election office in Kabul, shooting at a bank in the east and detonating a bomb at a sports event in the north. An unidentified gunman also killed a policewoman in Helmand.

The violence came less than two weeks before presidential and provincial elections that insurgents have denounced as a sham and vowed to disrupt, warning anyone who votes or works on the polls that they will be considered a target.

Spring is normally a bloody time in Afghanistan, as insurgent fighters start filtering back from winter safe havens across the porous border with Pakistan and Taliban commanders look for high-profile ways to start the ‘fighting season’.

But this year has been particularly vicious, with a string of recent attacks on civilian targets, mostly unconnected to the election, including a shooting that killed two children and seven other civilians in an upmarket Kabul hotel and a marketplace bomb in northern Faryab province.

At least 12 people were killed in the March 25 attacks, including a provincial election candidate and an election worker at the Kabul office, several police and security guards. Dozens more were injured.

The most high-profile assault was on the headquarters of the independent election commission in Kabul, a hub for training election officials, registering voters for last-minute identity cards and organising the credentials of candidates for the provincial council. Two suicide bombers detonated explosives at the gate, blasting an entrance for three gunmen who took more than 20 people hostage. Commando units battled for more than four hours to retake the complex, just a few hundred metres from the home of presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani.

First day of Pakistan Taliban peace talks concluded

A first day of peace talks between the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban has concluded in the tribal region of North Waziristan.

Local media reported that a ceasefire has been extended, but there was no official confirmation from either side. It was the first direct contact between the two sides since peace moves began last month.

Militants from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been waging an insurgency in Pakistan since 2007.

A team of four Pakistani government representatives travelled to the area near the Afghan border by helicopter.

The talks are the result of an effort by the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to find a way to end the insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.

Mr Sharif is under political pressure to resolve the crisis, and many in Pakistan will push for military action if the talks fail.

The militants, who are fighting for their austere version of Sharia law to be imposed across Pakistan, have repeatedly rejected the country’s constitution. Many observers say that makes any lasting deal unlikely.

The TTP also comprises many factions, which makes a deal complicated to reach.

Kerry attempts to salvage Mideast peace talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry broke from a visit to Italy on March 26 to try to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, even as Arab leaders declared they would never meet Israel’s core demand to be recognised as a Jewish state.

Kerry flew to Jordan to ask Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to commit to extending the negotiations, just days before Israel is supposed to release a final group of Palestinian prisoners as a confidence-building gesture.

Before it releases the prisoners, Israel wants to be assured Abbas won’t abandon the US-brokered talks, which resumed last July after a three-year break. Having initially set next month as the target date for a peace accord, Kerry is now trying to get the sides to agree a framework for further negotiations.

Kerry began his visit to Amman by meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah, another Israeli-Palestinian mediator. He also spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the three-hour flight from Rome, US officials said.

The two were due to speak again after Kerry dined with Abbas.

Far-Right makes comeback across France

France has entered a ‘new political age’ that appears to have sounded the death knell of two-party politics in the country when the far-Right party Front National (FN) made surprising gains in municipal elections.

Surpassing even the most upbeat forecasts by Marine Le Pen, the FN leader, the anti-EU and anti-immigration party gained at least 10 per cent of the vote in 229 towns across France, qualifying them to run in the second round of elections on March 30.

Although it only won five per cent of the vote nationally, the FN’s success was proportionally high as it only fielded candidates in fewer than 600 of the 37,000 villages, towns and cities in France.

The elections were widely seen as a slap in the face for François Hollande, who is suffering record unpopularity against a backdrop of near-zero growth and high unemployment.

‘The FN can now boast to be the third major force in national politics alongside the Socialists and the “Republican” Right,’ wrote Le Monde newspaper in an editorial, saying the result reflected the ‘discredit from which [the president] is suffering’.

Terror charges for UK soldier

A British soldier is to be charged with explosives and terrorism offences over claims he made an improvised bomb.

Ryan McGee, 19, from 5th Battalion the Rifles, is also alleged to have had a copy of bomb-making manual The Anarchist Cookbook. He will face two charges and is due to appear in court in early April, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

McGee was detained at an Army base in Paderborn, Germany, late last year, after the discovery of the suspicious device at a terraced home in Salford.

Jane Stansfield, of the Crown Prosecution Service Counter Terrorism Division, said: ‘Following an investigation by police of the North West Counter Terrorism Command, we have today authorised charges against Ryan Adam McGee, a serving Rifleman with 5th Battalion the Rifles at the time of his arrest.

‘It is alleged that between May 31 2012 and November 29 2013, Ryan Adam McGee had possession of a document or record for terrorist purposes, namely a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook.

‘He has been charged with one offence contrary to Section 58(1)(b) of the Terrorism Act 2000.

‘It is also alleged that Ryan Adam McGee, between September 1 and 30 2013 made an improvised explosive and has therefore also been charged with one offence contrary to Section 4 of the Explosive Substances Act 1883.’

The Anarchist Cookbook, first published in 1971, contains instructions for the manufacture of explosives and for home manufacturing of illicit drugs.

US & EU to cooperate on tougher Russia sanctions

The United States and the European Union have agreed to work together to prepare possible tougher economic sanctions in response to Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine, including on the energy sector, and to make Europe less dependent on Russian gas.

US President Barack Obama said after a summit with top EU officials that Russian President Vladimir Putin had miscalculated if he thought he could divide the West or count on its indifference over his annexation of Crimea.

Leaders of the Group of Seven major industrial powers recently decided to hold off on sanctions targeting Moscow’s economy unless Putin took further action to destabilise Ukraine or other former Soviet republics.

‘If Russia continues on its current course, however, the isolation will deepen, sanctions will increase and there will be more consequences for the Russian economy,’ Obama told a joint news conference with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

In the keynote address of his European trip, Obama later told an audience of 2,000 young people that the West would prevail if it remained united, not by military action but by the power of its values to attract ordinary Ukrainians.

Russia would not be ‘dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force. But with time, so long as we remain united, the Russian people will recognise that they cannot achieve security, prosperity, and the status they seek through brute force,’ he said.

Mass Egypt death sentences ‘breach international law’

The UN human rights commissioner has condemned an Egyptian court’s decision to sentence to death 528 supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

Rupert Coville, a spokesman for Navi Pillay, said the ‘cursory mass trial’ was ‘rife with procedural irregularities’ and breached international human rights law.

The defendants were found guilty on Monday March 24 of charges relating to an attack on a police station in Minya in August. Another 683 Morsi supporters went on trial at the same court on the following day.

They include the Muslim Brotherhood’s general guide, Mohammed Badie, and the chairman of its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Saad al-Katatni.

Later, security forces clashed with hundreds of Minya University students protesting against the trials. Tear gas was fired at the students after they blocked a main road, threw stones and set an armoured police vehicle on fire.

Colville told a news conference in Geneva: ‘The astounding number of people sentenced to death in this case is unprecedented in recent history.’

MH370 search: satellite spots ‘300 objects’

Thailand says satellite images show 300 objects floating in the ocean in the hunt for wreckage from flight MH370, which has been scaled back due to bad weather.

The items, ranging from two to 15 metres (6.5 to 50 feet) in size, were scattered over an area about 1,700 miles southwest of Perth, Australia, according to the country’s space agency.

The latest satellite evidence comes as search aircraft were recalled to Perth due to poor weather conditions, which are expected to last 24 hours.

But eight ships will stay in the area and attempt to continue scouring the remote southern Indian Ocean where previous satellite images showed what could be a debris field. The operation has already been suspended once this week because of the weather.

The Malaysian government has been heavily criticised internationally for its incompetent handling of the case, which has exposed a state that is corrupt, authoritarian and racist in its ‘Malays-first’ policies.

Meanwhile, Chinese insurance companies have started paying compensation to the families of passengers aboard the missing plane, according to the state news agency.

Clegg taunts rivals over EU debate

Britain’s deputy prime minister Nick Clegg taunted PM David Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband for lacking ‘the guts’ to take part in a televised debate on Britain’s EU membership, after he and Ukip leader Nigel Farage clashed during their March 26 head-to-head.

The Liberal Democrat leader said it was time for Cameron to stop ‘dragging his feet’ and confirm that he will take part in TV leaders’ debates in the campaign for next year’s general election.

An instant poll found that Farage won the LBC debate, with 57 per cent of those questioned by YouGov for The Sun saying he performed best, against 36 per cent for Clegg.

But Clegg shrugged off the setback, insisting that the battle over Britain’s place in Europe was ‘a marathon not a sprint’ and that it would take time to overcome ‘years and years of misinformation and deeply misleading facts’ spread virtually unchallenged by eurosceptics like Ukip.

The exchange showed ‘the value of having politicians with different points of view battling it out in front of people so people can make up their own minds’, said the Lib Dem leader.

Bin Laden son-in-law convicted at NYC trial

Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, the voice of fiery al-Qaeda propaganda videotapes after the September 11 attacks, was convicted on Wednesday 26 March of conspiring to kill Americans for his role as the terror group’s spokesman.

The verdict came after about six hours of deliberation over two days in the case against Kuwaiti imam Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the highest-ranking al-Qaeda figure to face trial on US soil since the attacks. As the verdict was read, Abu Ghaith remained composed as he had throughout the trial. Just before he was led out of the courtroom, he turned toward a spectator – a longtime friend from Kuwait – and smiled.

In a statement, US Attorney Preet Bharara said he hoped the verdict brought some measure of comfort to victims of al-Qaeda.

‘He was more than just Osama bin Laden’s propaganda minister,’ Bharara said. ‘Within hours after the devastating 9/11 attacks, Abu Ghaith was using his position in al-Qaeda’s homicidal hierarchy to persuade others to pledge themselves to al-Qaeda in the cause of murdering more Americans.’

News in brief

Merkel not ready to back sanctions against Russia

The West has not yet reached a stage where it will be ready to impose economic sanctions on Russia advocated by US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said. Merkel stressed that Germany is working on a political solution to the stalemate over the Ukraine situation.

Muslim rebels sign historic peace deal

The biggest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines has signed a historic pact with the government to end one of Asia’s longest and deadliest conflicts.

‘The comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro is the crowning glory of our struggle,’ Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ebrahim said at the signing ceremony in Manila, using a local term that refers to a Muslim homeland.

Obama meets Pope to discuss inequality

US President Barack Obama has held a historic first meeting with Pope Francis to discuss a shared agenda of fighting global inequality, despite wide differences over issues like gay rights and contraception.

Obama told Francis he was a ‘great admirer’ at the start of their talks at the Vatican, which political observers said could be a bid to boost the US president’s support at home among Catholic voters.

The closed-door talks between the first African-American US president and the first pope from Latin America lasted around 50 minutes.

South Korea fires warning shots at NK fishing boat

A South Korean naval vessel has fired warning shots at a North Korean fishing boat in southern waters. It is unknown whether the incursion was intentional, but a South Korea Defence Ministry spokesman said the North Korean boat is sailing back into northern waters.

Tensions have been high since North Korea began test launching short- and medium-range missiles in response to joint South Korean and US amphibious landing drills.

Three million suffer in Nigerian Islamic uprising

Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency says 3 million people are suffering from the country’s Islamic uprising, with a quarter million people made homeless in the northeast of the country just this year.

An assessment of the three affected states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa shows children, elderly people and women are most affected. The government agency has provided relief goods but says needs increase daily and asks for help.

The UN refugee agency estimates 470,000 people are displaced in the country and another 30,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries since the uprising began four years ago.