Modi urges Pakistan to stop terror attacks and work with India to tackle poverty

Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist leader expected to become India’s next prime minister, has offered a new era of economic cooperation with Pakistan, provided it stops terrorist attacks on India from its territory.

In an interview with The Times of India on May 6, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader and chief minister of Gujarat said both countries faced a common enemy in widespread poverty, which they could tackle together if a new trust could be established.

If he becomes prime minister when the results of the biggest election in history are announced on May 16, he is ready to write a ‘new chapter’ in relations between the nuclear neighbours if Islamabad can first demonstrate its commitment to peace by stopping terrorist attacks being launched from its soil.

His comments will be welcomed in Pakistan, where senior officials last month have said they would like Mr Modi to become prime minister because they believe only an Indian government under a strong leader will be able to reopen talks and make progress towards normalising relations.

India and Pakistan have fought

four wars since their independence from Britain and partition from one another in 1947. Relations had been improving until the 2008 Mumbai attacks when Lashkar- e-Taiba terrorists sailed to India’s commercial capital by sea from Karachi and massacred more than 160 people in a three-day rampage. Dr Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, accused elements within Pakistan’s securit

y apparatus of supporting the attacks, which brought the enemies close to a fifth war.

China rebukes US for demanding release of Tiananmen activists

China has rebuked the United States for urging the release of activists detained after attending a meeting about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, saying Washington had no right to demand that criminals be freed.

A call on May 7 by the US State Department to release prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and others drew a sharp riposte two days later from China’s foreign ministry, which regards US expressions of concern as unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.

‘I want to ask the US spokesperson, what qualification does she have to demand that China’s government release Chinese people who have broken or infringed on Chinese laws and rules?’ China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, asked.

The US criticism comes at a particularly sensitive time for China.

Its recent detention of six activists, including lawyers, professors and journalists, adds to evidence that Chinese leaders are determined to continue a clampdown on dissent ahead of the 25th anniversary of the crushing of demonstrations around Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989.

Pu had ‘clearly crossed the red line of law’ for attending the event to commemorate the 1989 protests, ‘related to the most sensitive political issue in China’, the Global Times — an influential tabloid run by the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily — said on May 8.

The government was clearly using political reasons to detain the activists, said dissident artist Ai Weiwei, Pu’s most high-profile client.
Many rights groups have called the crackdown on free expression one of the worst in recent years, with some saying the pressure brought on rights activists is unprecedented.

Bangladesh: academic says evidence, not politics, driving Tribunal justice

Forty three years after the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 ended, the alleged orchestrators of some of its most horrific crimes have recently faced trial for their actions before the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal.

Yet there remain divisions between those who welcome the Tribunal and its aims to provide long-awaited justice to the victims of that war and those who argue that the political affiliations of the accused with former opposition party Jamaat has made them scapegoats. Their defenders argue that they should not be tried for that reason.

Supporters of the trials allege that the war resulted in three million deaths at the hands of the Pakistani military and their local collaborators, with tens of millions of Bangladeshis fleeing to neighbouring India as refugees. They say that the Pakistani military junta and its local collaborators systematically murdered and raped women and children, and targeted intellectuals for torture and killing.

Academic and writer T.H. Ali, who teaches South Asian history at the University of Houston-Main campus in Texas, writes on May 9 that the elapse of so much time should not prevent the perpetrators of crimes that he believes are tantamount to genocide from being brought to justice. He believes there is firm evidence for the prosecution of alleged perpetrators, citing in particular the crimes of Motiur Rahman Nizami and Delwar Hossain Sayedee.

Nizami was charged with 16 counts of war crimes, including murder, rape, looting and the directing of a systematic massacre of Bengali intellectuals. Sayedee was charged with similar crimes.

Ali states, ‘Time does not erase the actions they’ve been accused of, nor does it diminish their tragic impact. Trials for charges like these are necessary even if they are long delayed. When the crimes are as heinous as these, justice must be done.’

Abu Hamza claims he lost hands in accident, not fighting

For years, the radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri has been known as much for the distinctive metal hook he wore in place of his missing right hand as for his fiery sermons.

On May 8, for what appeared to be the first time, Abu Hamza claimed he lost both hands and one eye in an accidental explosion in Pakistan two decades ago.

His account, which came as he testified in New York at his trial on terrorism charges, conflicted with media stories that he suffered the injuries while fighting the Soviets alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan.

The preacher said his image as a veteran of the Afghan war was exaggerated by the press.

‘Unfortunately, the reputation is larger than the reality,’ he told a jury in Manhattan federal court.

US prosecutors have accused Abu Hamza of trying to set up a jihadist training camp in Oregon and providing aid to al Qaeda and the Taliban. He is also charged with helping Yemeni militants who in 1998 kidnapped a group of Western tourists, four of whom later died during a military rescue operation.

His lawyers have argued that he employed provocative language but never participated in any crimes.

UK: elite women soldiers may serve on frontline

An elite corps of superfit women soldiers could soon see frontline action, UK defence secretary Philip Hammond has announced.

For the first time in British military history, frontline combat roles may be given to women in the infantry and the Armoured Corps.

Mr Hammond has brought forward a planned review and speaking on May 8 at a Westminster lunch for political journalists, he said he wanted to ‘send a message’ that the Armed Forces were fully open to women. However, the physical demands of war zones may mean that only a limited number meet the rigorous fitness requirements.

Mr Hammond said that the review, which had been due to take place after the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, would now report by the end of the year.

‘I think that at a time when the Americans, the Australians, the Canadians, even the French, the Israelis of course for years, have women in their combat arms, this is something we have to look at again,’ he said. However, he stressed there would be no compromise in the high fitness requirements.

Homeless blame World Cup for high rent in Brazil

Thousands of impoverished Brazilians are living illegally on land near the World Cup stadium where the opening match will be played next month, blaming the arena’s construction for rent increases that drove them out of their homes.

Braving insects, little food and a lack of privacy, the families seized a field nestled in the green hills of eastern Sao Paulo, forming an improvised tent city 2 miles (3.5 kilometres) away from the stadium built for soccer’s biggest tournament.

The approximately 5,000 people who invaded this private property say rising rents are a result of World Cup real-estate fever in the neighbourhood around the stadium.

But the occupation has come to symbolize Brazil’s persistent income disparity and the frustration that the country’s poor feel as the government focuses its spending on world-class arenas rather than providing more affordable housing and improving woeful schools, hospitals and other public works

‘We are not against the World Cup,’ insisted Rita de Cassia, a 35-year-old nurse who says her landlord doubled the rent on her one-bedroom house nearby, driving her family out of their home. ‘We are against how they are trying to belittle us. They are giving priority to soccer and forgetting about the families, about the Brazilian people.’ 

Yemen: Western embassies on alert as army advances against al-Qaeda

Western embassies in Yemen have heightened security after increasingly bold attacks on foreigners by al Qaeda, even as the militant Islamists lost ground to an army offensive in the south.

The European Union said on May 8 it had limited its presence in Yemen to essential staff, while France ordered its diplomats to restrict their movement. On May 7, the United States announced a suspension of operations at its embassy.

Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the United Nations in New York, said the world body had no plans to move out of Yemen. ‘To the contrary, (it) is determined to continue the implementation of its critical mandates in this country, including political, development and humanitarian. To enable the above, the UN is applying a variety of security risk management options,’ Haq said without elaborating.

A spokeswoman for France’s Foreign Ministry said its security alertness in Yemen was at maximum but the embassy remained open. On May 5, a French security agent was killed in the capital Sanaa. Britain’s Foreign Office issued a new travel alert on May 8, advising against all travel to Yemen and strongly urging British nationals to leave the Arabian Peninsula state.

The International Committee for the Red Cross, whose staff have been kidnapped and shot in recent years in Yemen, said it was reducing its exposure in Sanaa, where it described the security conditions as ‘extremely worrying, unpredictable’.

On May 7 Yemen said its special forces had killed a militant suspected of masterminding attacks on Westerners, including the killing of the French agent two days earlier. Four members of al Qaeda had also been killed by security services in the capital Sanaa, the Defence Ministry announced.

Ukraine crisis: US warship in Georgia sends message of support

A US warship arrived on May 8 in Georgia’s port of Batumi, the US embassy said, sending a message of support to NATO allies amid the spiralling crisis in neighbouring Ukraine.

The USS Taylor’s ‘presence in Georgia reaffirms the United States’ commitment to strengthening ties with NATO allies and partners like Georgia, while working toward mutual goals of promoting peace and stability in the region,’ the embassy said in a statement.

The US 6th Fleet frigate arrived in Georgia for three days of exercises with the country’s coastguard in the Black Sea after completing joint live-fire exercises and an anti-submarine warfare scenario along with Romanian ships.

‘Allied ships, planes and exercises show vigilance and resolve from the Baltic to the Black Sea. We’ll keep reinforcing NATO security,’ NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen wrote on Twitter on May 7.

Events in neighbouring Ukraine’s standoff with Russia have alarmed Tbilisi, which fought and lost its own war with Moscow in 2008, and says it is still exposed to a Russian threat.

S. Sudan rivals still set for talks after damning UN report

South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar remained set to hold direct talks this month, after the UN said both sides in the country’s brutal civil war have likely carried out crimes against humanity.

Warning of ‘countless’ gross human rights violations, the UN peacekeeping mission said ‘there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed during the conflict by both government and opposition forces.’ The UN’s report was released on May 8 amid preparations for the May 9 talks between Kiir and Machar in the Ethiopian capital, aimed at stemming almost five months of bloodshed.

While both leaders speak of peace, fierce fighting still rages and the United Nations has warned of the risk of severe famine and genocide. With a January ceasefire in tatters, the UN report said that ‘fighting continues with little hope that civilians will see any respite from the relentless violence.’

‘Countless incidents of gross violations of human rights and serious violations of humanitarian law have occurred during the conflict in South Sudan,’ said the report, based on more than 900 interviews with victims and witnesses.

The conflict, which started as a personal rivalry between Kiir and Machar, has seen the army divide along ethnic lines, pitting members of Kiir’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer.

The United States has recently unveiled its first sanctions in response to the ‘unthinkable violence’, targeting one military leader from each side.
The war has claimed thousands — and possibly tens of thousands — of lives, with over 1.2 million people forced to flee their homes.

Susan Rice reassures Israel on Iran nuclear ambitions

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice assured Israel at high-level talks on May 8 that Washington remains determined to stop Iran developing nuclear arms, the White House said.

‘The US delegation reaffirmed our commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,’ said a White House statement released after talks in Jerusalem between Rice, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior officials from both sides.

Earlier, Netanyahu said the best defence against a nuclear Iran was to block it from developing such a weapon in the first place and he referred to a new round of talks between Tehran and world powers due to open mid May in Vienna.

The White House statement said the Israeli-US talks also dealt with ‘other critical regional and bilateral issues.’

It was Rice’s first trip to Israel since she took office last July and it came shortly after the collapse of US-brokered Middle East peace talks.

The White House is assessing whether to try to salvage its Middle East peace efforts after the collapse in late April of nine months of US-brokered negotiations vigorously promoted by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Girls’ kidnap will be ‘end of Nigeria terror’

The abduction of more than 200 girls in Nigeria will be the ‘beginning of the end of terror’ there, says the country’s President Goodluck Jonathan.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Nigerian capital Abuja, he also thanked the international community for its support and said ‘by God’s grace we will conquer the terrorists’.

Mr Goodluck has been criticised for his response to the kidnapping, and for not acting sooner to recruit help.

His words come as military and intelligence experts from around the world head to Nigeria to help in the search.

The UK, France, China and the US are among the countries lending their support.

Britain is sending a small team of advisers — possibly including some military officers — to help with planning and coordination. However, they will not take part in operations on the ground.

The US is flying out a group including experts in intelligence, law enforcement and hostage negotiations, with fewer than ten military troops going.

Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament the kidnapping was ‘an act of pure evil’, adding: ‘There are extreme Islamists around our world who are against education, against progress, against equality and we must fight them and take them on wherever they are.’

The 276 girls were abducted from a boarding school in the village of Chibok in Borno state, north Nigeria, on April 14. Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility and its leader, Abubakar Shekau, has threatened to sell the girls ‘on the market’.

News in Brief

Taliban attack checkpoint in western Afghanistan
Afghan police say the Taliban have staged a large-scale attack involving more than 100 fighters on a remote police checkpoint in western Afghanistan that wounded 11 police officers. It is claimed the Taliban attacked the outpost in Bala Boluk district around 5 a.m. on May 9. Militants captured a tank and a pickup truck after they forced around 25 police and army troops to briefly abandon the post. Some 70 police and army reinforcements were called in from the provincial capital about 20 miles away to help repulse the attack.

Palestine ready to resume talks with Israel says President
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on May 8 that Palestinians are ready to return to negotiations with Israel if Israel releases a fourth batch of prisoners and halts settlement construction for three months, it was reported May 9. Israel halted negotiations in the aftermath of a unity deal between Hamas and Fatah. A unity government is not yet imminent, but formalizing a path toward Fatah-Hamas reconciliation will have widespread implications.

Ukraine: president calls referendums ‘meaningless’
Ukrainian interim President Oleksandr Turchynov has said that referendums held in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on declaring independence from Ukraine are not legally valid, and added that their organisers will be prosecuted. Turchynov said that the administration will hold a dialogue with protesters in the east who have not used violent methods, but that Kiev will continue to fight against what he called ‘terrorists, saboteurs and criminals’. Clashes between Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russian separatists are occurring on a regular basis, particularly in Kramatorsk and separatist strongholds like Slovyansk.

Thailand: Yingluck charged in rice subsidy scandal
Thailand’s deposed prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been charged with dereliction of duty after overseeing a corrupt rice subsidy programme. The disgraced former leader failed to act after the botched scheme left some farmers bankrupt. She could be banned from politics for five years if she is impeached. The ruling came a day after she quit as premier after a court found her guilty of abusing her power.

Ferry boss questioned over South Korea deaths
The head of the company that owned the ill-fated Sewol ferry was detained on May 8 by police in South Korea. Kim Han-sik, president of Chonghaejin Marine, is being held over claims that he knew the passenger ship was over its cargo limit. The extra weight may have caused the boat to capsize last month, with the loss of 300 lives. Almost 20 arrests have been made in the case. Parents of the children killed led a sombre march on South Korea’s presidential palace in the early hours of May 9, where they demanded to meet with President Park Geun-hye.