Pakistan mob kills Ahmadi woman & girls over ‘blasphemous’ Facebook post

In the latest instance of growing violence against minorities in Pakistan, a mob have killed a woman member of a religious sect and two of her granddaughters after another sect member was accused of posting blasphemous material on Facebook.

The dead, including a seven-year-old girl and her baby sister, were Ahmadis, who consider themselves Muslim but believe in a prophet after Mohammed. A 1984 Pakistani law declared them non-Muslims and many Pakistanis consider them heretics.

Police said the July 27 violence in the town of Gujranwala, 140 miles southeast of the capital, Islamabad, started with an altercation between young men, one of whom was an Ahmadi accused of posting ‘objectionable material’.

‘Later, a crowd of 150 people came to the police station demanding the registration of a blasphemy case against the accused,’ said one police officer, who declined to be identified. ‘As police were negotiating with the crowd, another mob attacked and started burning the houses of Ahmadis.’ The youth accused of making the Facebook post had not been injured, he said.

Salim ud Din, a spokesman for the Ahmadi community, said it was the worst attack on the community since simultaneous attacks on Ahmadi places of worship killed 86 Ahmadis four years ago. Under Pakistani law, Ahmadis are banned from using Muslim greetings, saying Muslim prayers or referring to their place of worship as a mosque.

Accusations of blasphemy are rocketing in Pakistan, from one in 2011 to at least 68 last year, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. About 100 people have been accused of blasphemy this year.

Afghanistan: Karzai’s cousin killed in ‘turban bomb’ attack

 Asuicide attacker killed an influential cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai on July 28, officials said, raising tensions during a dispute over election results that will determine the country’s new leader as US-led troops withdraw.

Hashmat Karzai was a campaign manager in the southern province of Kandahar for Ashraf Ghani, one of the two presidential candidates involved in a bitter stand-off that threatens to trigger worsening ethnic instability.

Hashmat was killed at his home outside Kandahar city by a man with explosives hidden in his turban as visitors arrived to celebrate the Eid holiday at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan

Ghani and a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter Abdullah Abdullah are at loggerheads over the June 14 second-round election, which has been mired in allegations of massive fraud. With the audit beset by another outbreak of complaints from both sides, many fear the country is at risk of returning to the ethnic violence of the 1992-1996 civil war.

Ghani’s campaign team said via Twitter that it was in ‘immense shock’ over the death of Hashmat, who — like other members of the president’s family — was a wealthy businessman and powerbroker in Kandahar.

Islamic State orders Iraqi women to wear full veil or face harsh punishment

Islamic State, the al-Qaeda offshoot that seized large swathes of northern Iraq last month, has warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or risk severe punishment.

The Sunni insurgents, who have declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria and have threatened to march on Baghdad, also listed guidelines on how veils and clothes should be worn, part of a campaign to violently impose their radical brand of Islam.

A cleric in Mosul told reporters that Islamic State gunmen had shown up at his mosque and ordered him to read their warning on loudspeakers when worshippers gather.

The insurgents, formerly called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have been systematically stamping out any religious or cultural influences they deem non-Islamic since their lightning sweep through the north.

US military and Iraqi security officials estimate the Islamic State has at least 3,000 fighters in Iraq, rising towards 20,000 when new recruits since last month’s advance are included.

Islamic State militants view Iraq’s majority Shi’ites as infidels who deserve to be killed and have told Christians to either convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death.

The group’s radical views have alarmed many Iraqis, but there are no signs that their leaders will be able to regain control of captured areas anytime soon.

Gaza’s fragile truce fraying

Afragile truce in Gaza for the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival was fraying on Monday July 28 as Israel’s prime minister said United Nations calls for a long-term ceasefire ignored his country’s security needs.

Israeli forces said they were firing only when fired upon while army engineers hunted infiltrator tunnels from the Gaza Strip’s eastern frontier. They accused Palestinians of firing 17 rockets across the border, causing no casualties.

Palestinian officials said seven people, at least five of them minors, were killed in Israeli strikes, bringing the Gaza death toll from the three-week-old conflict to 1,049, mostly civilians. Israel has lost 43 soldiers to Gaza fighting and another three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling.

Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists had called for a pause to the hostilities ahead of the festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. But Israel balked, having abandoned its own offer to extend a 12-hour truce from July 26 as Palestinian rockets kept flying.

Foreign pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mounted, with both US President Barack Obama and the UN Security Council urging an immediate ceasefire that would allow relief to reach Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians, followed by negotiations on a more durable cessation of hostilities.

Israel wants guarantees Hamas will be stripped of its tunnels and rocket stocks. It worries the Palestinian Islamists will parlay the truce talks mediated by their friends in Qatar and Turkey into an easing of an Israeli-Egypt blockade on Gaza.

Sri Lankan asylum seekers to be taken to Australia

Agroup of Sri Lankan asylum seekers that has been languishing on board an Australian customs vessel for weeks will temporarily be brought to Australia’s mainland and may be sent to India, Australia’s government said July 25, following a court challenge and outrage from human rights groups.

Two boats of Sri Lankans were intercepted by Australia’s border patrol in the Indian Ocean in late June. Australia handed over the passengers from the first boat to the Sri Lankan government after their refugee claims were assessed at sea and rejected, sparking protests in Australia by human rights advocates, who said the migrants could face persecution back home.

Some of the 157 asylum seekers on board the second boat, which departed from India, launched a legal challenge in the High Court to prevent their return to Sri Lanka. Their lawyers argued the group could face persecution in the island nation, which emerged in 2009 from a brutal civil war between government troops and the now-defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels. Tamils say they are still suffering violence at the hands of the military.

The asylum seekers will be held in Australia, where Indian consular officials will interview them about their possible return to India, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said July 25. India has agreed to take back any of its citizens that might be on board, and will consider taking back Indian residents who may be Sri Lankan citizens, he said. He confirmed that none of those on board will be resettled in Australia.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, criticised Australia for its decision to return the asylum seekers on board the first boat, saying the at-sea screening process used to evaluate their claims was unlikely to have given the migrants a fair chance.

India: Modi under fire for silence over religious incidents

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing criticism for remaining silent about incidents deemed anti-Muslim in the past week, underscoring fears that his Hindu nationalist followers will upset religious relations in the multi-faith nation.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power in May after an election campaign that mainly focussed on promises to revive the economy but that also made reference to India’s majority Hindu identity.

Footage emerged this week of a radical Hindu party lawmaker trying to force food into the mouth of a Muslim caterer. Separately, a BJP politician questioned the national identity of an Indian Muslim tennis star, while an ally of the prime minister said India could become a Hindu nation under Modi.

Several commentators said Modi’s failure to speak out about the incidents risked encouraging aggressive behaviour by fringe elements of his party and related organizations. Modi has long faced accusations of looking the other way when Hindu mobs went on a rampage of revenge against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, when he was that state’s chief minister, after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was torched. Modi has denied those allegations and an inquiry ordered by the Supreme Court absolved him of responsibility.

The Times of India said in an editorial: ‘The prime minister needs to come out strongly against the recent comments in order to reassure the minorities that their apprehensions about the intent of his regime are misplaced… Silence on his part will only encourage such elements.’

Australia sending personnel to Europe to help secure MH17 crash site

Australia will send 100 additional police and some defence force personnel to Europe to join a planned Dutch-led international security force to secure the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash site, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on July 25.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers, some of whom will be armed, will join a contingent of 90 AFP officers already in London waiting for a deal with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to be approved by Ukraine’s parliament.

‘This is a humanitarian mission, with a clear and simple objective,’ Abbott told reporters. ‘I expect the operation on the ground in Ukraine, should the deployment go ahead, to last no longer than a few weeks.’

Abbott announced on July 24 that 50 police officers had been deployed to London ahead of the mission, but a police spokeswoman said on July 25 that the number was 90. It was unclear why the discrepancy had occurred.

On Tuesday, Abbott said that Russian-backed rebels who control the area were tampering with evidence on ‘an industrial scale’ and argued that outside police or possibly military forces were needed to ensure that did not continue.

The Boeing 777 was shot down last week in eastern Ukraine en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board. Twenty eight Australians were killed.

Millions displaced by religious violence

The US says millions of people were forced from their homes because of their religious beliefs last year. The State Department released its 2013 report on religious freedom around the world. It said in conflict zones, mass displacement has become the ‘pernicious norm’.

The report said that in much of the Middle East, the Christian presence is becoming ‘a shadow of its former self’, and hundreds of thousands of minority Christians have fled Syria after three years of civil war.

The report highlighted more than one million people being displaced in the Central African Republic during 2013, amid an upsurge in Christian-Muslim violence.

In Southeast Asia, anti-Muslim violence spread from Myanmar’s volatile west to central Meikhtila, with up to 100 deaths and 12,000 displaced.

 UK troops in NATO show of strength

More than 1,300 British troops are to take part in a major NATO exercise in Eastern Europe in a further show of strength by the Western alliance in the face of Russia’s continuing ‘destabilisation’ of Ukraine.

Speaking on a visit to Warsaw, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that the UK would be sending a full battle group to take part in Exercise Black Eagle in Poland this autumn, in the largest British commitment to the region since 2008.

The announcement came as David Cameron and other key EU leaders agreed to press for a final deal on far-reaching economic sanctions against Moscow targeting Russia’s defence, energy and financial sectors.

In a conference call with US president Barack Obama, Mr Cameron, Germany’s chancellor Angel Merkel, French president Francois Hollande and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, all accepted measures should be in place as ‘soon as possible’, Downing St said.

A No 10 source said that they now hoped to see them push forward on the so-called ‘Tier 3’ measures at a July 29 meeting of EU ambassadors, although the source acknowledged that it would require the agreement of all 28 nations.

If agreed, the measures are expected to go beyond the existing travel bans and asset freezes against individuals and hit Russia’s access to European capital markets and trade in the defence sector and sensitive technologies in the energy sector.

Obama renames Africa programme for Nelson Mandela

President Barack Obama welcomed the inaugural class of young African leaders to Washington on July 27, drawing cheers as he announced their programme is being expanded and renamed after former South African President Nelson Mandela.

The youngsters are participating in the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, part of the broader Young African Leaders Initiative that Obama launched in 2010 to support a new generation of leadership there.

‘We have to make sure that we’re all seizing the extraordinary potential of today’s Africa — the youngest and fastest-growing continent,’ Obama said. Obama announced the fellowship during a stop in South Africa last summer. It connects young African leaders to leadership training opportunities at top US universities. He said next year’s summit will be held in sub-Saharan Africa.

Obama singled out some fellows in his remarks for their inspiring accomplishments, including a woman from Senegal who started an academy to fight trafficking of young girls. ‘One of the things we’ve got to teach Africa is how strong the women are and to empower women,’ he said.

Obama said the spirit of the group reflects the optimism and idealism of Mandela, who died last December at age 95. Mandela spent 27 years in jail under apartheid, South Africa’s former system of white minority rule, before eventually leading his country through a difficult transition to democracy. In 1994, he became the first democratically elected leader of a post-apartheid South Africa.

The week’s events with the next generation of young African leaders lead in to the inaugural US-Africa Leaders Summit, being held August 4- 6 in Washington. About 50 African leaders are expected to attend what the White House says will be the largest gathering any US president has held with African heads of state and government.

China: ex-security czar Zhou under investigation

China’s former security chief, Zhou

Yongkang, is under investigation, authorities said July 29, in a move targeting one of the ruling Communist Party’s most powerful men.

Zhou, who retired from China’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) in 2012, is being probed for ‘serious disciplinary violation,’ the ruling party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, its internal watchdog, said in a statement. The term is usually used to refer to corruption.

The move will have been preceded by extensive negotiations within the factionalised ruling party, but is still likely to send shockwaves through the political establishment, as PSC members have long been regarded as untouchable even after retirement.

More than a dozen officials have been targeted in the sweeping probe into Zhou, with speculation mounting that the former security czar himself would be soon to fall. Earlier this month, three associates of Zhou — Ji Wenlin, Zhou’s former secretary; Yu Gang, an ex-vice director of the office of the Central Politics and Law Commission (CPLC); and Tan Hong, a former senior staff officer of the Ministry of Public Security — were stripped of their Communist Party membership.

 News in Brief

Thailand blast kills 1, injures 22
Police say a woman was killed and 22 other civilians wounded when a hidden bomb exploded in a commercial district in Thailand’s insurgency-plagued south on July 25. Police Col. Wasan Phuangnoi says suspected insurgents detonated an improvised bomb that was hidden in a pickup truck parked across from a hotel in Betong district in Yala province. More than 5,000 people have been killed in Thailand’s three Muslim-dominated southernmost provinces since an Islamic insurgency erupted in 2004.

Indian youngster scoops Commonwealth silver
The youngest member of the Indian squad at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, 16-year-old Malaika Goel, has clinched the silver medal in the women’s 10-metre air pistol shooting.

The teenager, who is a professional shooter with a shooting range at home built by her father after he saw her interest in the sport, beat her own idol Heena Sidhu at the event. She is one of a host of medal-winning shooters for India at the 2014 Games.

Tribes forming militias to fight Islamic State
Tribal leaders in northern Iraq have said they are forming militias to fight Islamic State militants, Asharq Al-Awsat has reported. The Al-Obeidi tribe in Salahadin and Kirkuk provinces will assemble an armed group to fight the militants, the tribe’s leader said. The Al-Jabouri tribe in Salahadin is doing the same, its leaders said. The leaders said they remain opposed to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Boko Haram kidnaps Cameroon Vice PM’s wife
Boko Haram militants have kidnapped the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister, a government official said on July 27. An attack in the town of Kolofata in the north of Cameroon targeted the house of Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali and the residence of a local chief.

World leaders to push for Gaza ceasefire
American, German, English, Italian and French leaders agreed during a July 28 telephone interview to increase pressure to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza, according to a French government statement. The call included US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande.