Pakistan MQM leader Altaf Hussain released

Altaf Hussain, the exiled leader of Pakistan’s powerful MQM party, has been released on bail by police in London after being arrested on suspicion of money laundering.Hussain was questioned for seven hours on the evening of June 6. He had been transferred to hospital for check-ups after being arrested on June 3. Investigations are continuing into the case, and Mr Hussain is due to report to police again in July.

Thousands of his supporters have been staging a protest rally in Karachi — Pakistan’s biggest city and the MQM’s power base. The news of Mr Hussain’s release prompted wild celebrations in the city, reports say. The British and Pakistani authorities have in the past expressed concerns that any arrest of Altaf Hussain could lead to violent protests.

Mr Hussain has lived in the UK since the early 1990s, saying his life would be at risk if he returned to Pakistan, and has since become a British citizen.

Mr Hussain, his party, as well as some of his associates and relatives, are currently the subject of a number of British investigations. One is looking into the question of whether he has incited violence in Pakistan in his televised speeches, an accusation he denies. Another is into whether the MQM has paid its UK taxes correctly.

The most high-profile investigation followed the 2010 murder in London of senior MQM leader Imran Farooq. No-one has been formally charged with his killing.

The MQM is often accused of extorting money from businesses in Karachi and shipping the money to the UK.

Five US troops killed in Afghan friendly-fire incident

Five US servicemen were killed in southern Afghanistan in a friendly-fire air strike during a security operation, Afghan police announced on June 10, days before a run-off round in the country’s presidential election.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the casualties occurred on June 9 when the unit came into contact with enemy forces. It did not give the nationality of the dead soldiers.

Local police chief Ghulam Sakhi Roghlewanai said of the incident in Zabul province’s Arghandab district: ‘The five killed were American soldiers who just returned from an operation when they were hit.

‘ISAF troops were returning to their bases after an operation when they were ambushed by the insurgents. The air strike mistakenly hit their own forces and killed the soldiers.’

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said insurgents had been attacking the foreign forces when the helicopters intervened and accidentally killed their own troops.

The Islamist Taliban, removed from power by a US-led drive into Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks, is on an offensive ahead of the planned withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of 2014.

Security is being ramped up in Afghanistan ahead of the June 14 run-off vote to replace President Hamid Karzai. The poll pits Abdullah Abdullah, a former leader of the opposition to the Islamist Taliban, against former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani.

India’s PM Modi holds talks with China’s foreign minister

India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, continued his strong focus on foreign policy in his first weeks in office, meeting with China’s foreign minister for talks aimed at reviving trade and building an economic partnership.

Both India and China have dismissed the idea that past tensions, particularly over a border dispute, should hold the two Asian countries back from cooperating economically.

The Indian foreign ministry said on June 9 that the two sides shared ‘an understanding that respect for the sensitivities and aspirations of each other was an essential for expansion of bilateral relations.’

India’s relations with China have long been lukewarm, amid worries about Beijing’s growing power as well as the decades-old dispute over their shared 6,400-kilometer (4,000-mile) Himalayan border that triggered a brief war in 1962. During the election campaign, Modi said India did not want a war with China but would be prepared to deal with what he called Beijing’s possible expansionist designs.

But after leading his party to a landslide victory on economic promises, Modi surprised many in India by immediately reaching out to neighbouring Asian countries, including traditional archrival Pakistan.

In his meeting on June 9 with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, visiting India, Modi ’emphasized the potential for greater cooperation between India and China for a strong and prosperous Asia’. Given China’s dominance in the global economy, Modi’s government is likely be looking for Beijing’s help in reviving India’s stalled economy, according to analysts.

Of the meeting between the two sides, T.C.A. Rangachari, a former Indian ambassador who dealt with India-China relations for decades, said: ‘This is primarily an economic gesture, but it is not devoid of political significance. Both sides are seeing an advantage in working together.’

Pakistan’s Geo News to sue ISI for defamation

Pakistani television channel Geo News is suing the powerful ISI spy agency for defamation over accusations of being anti-state, it said on June 6, in a move unprecedented in a country where public criticism of the military is taboo.

In the latest twist in a saga that has captivated the country, Pakistan’s media regulator, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), also suspended Geo for 15 days for reporting that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was behind the April 19 shooting of Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s most famous journalists.

‘Geo and Jang Group (have) served legal notice on the Ministry of Defence, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and for defaming and maligning the group,’ the channel said in a report published in a newspaper owned by its parent company.

‘More than 8,000 journalists, workers and professionals attached to the group and their families are not only being harassed but also attacked and tortured across Pakistan.’

Geo News has also given the ISI 14 days to retract its accusations and issue a public apology.

The standoff over Geo, part of the privately owned Jang Group, has exposed divisions between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the army, which has ruled the country for more than half of its history.

In April, Pakistan’s Defence Ministry had demanded that the licence of Geo News be suspended after it reported that the ISI was behind the shooting of one of Pakistan’s most famous journalists.

The PEMRA media regulator said in a statement on June 6 it had formally shut down Geo News for 15 days and imposed a 10 million rupee fine — roughly $100,000 or £60,000.

But even before the PEMRA order, the channel had been taken off the air in several parts of the country since the dispute began, allegedly under army pressure, according to its lawsuit.

Although Pakistani media have become increasingly vibrant in recent years, with stories exposing corruption or injustices appearing frequently on the pages of the country’s many dailies, public criticism of the army or the ISI is largely taboo.

Chinese media report on crackdown against terrorists

Chinese state media have issued details of 81 people sentenced on terror-related charges — nine of them to death — saying the bulk had belonged to terrorist organizations and committed murder and other violent crimes.

The sentences issued on June 5 came amid a massive crackdown in the western region of Xinjiang following four high-profile attacks on civilians since late October that have handed a major security challenge to President Xi Jinping during his first 15 months in office.

The attacks have been blamed on extremists from the Xinjiang region’s native Turkic-speaking Uighurs seeking to overthrow Chinese rule and inspired by global jihadi ideology.

Since a vegetable market bombing that killed 43 people on May 22, officials have issued a flurry of announcements citing more than 300 arrests and scores of rapid prosecutions resulting in stiff sentences including the death penalty — raising concerns among some human rights advocates that the prosecutions may be trampling legal rights.

Authorities have said 23 extremist groups have been broken up, including a group of five allegedly plotting another bomb attack.

Iraq’s second largest city falls to Sunni insurgents

Radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of most of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul early on June 10, overrunning a military base and freeing hundreds of prisoners in a spectacular strike against the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government.

The capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — an offshoot of al Qaeda — and its allies followed four days of fierce fighting in Mosul and other cities and towns in northern Iraq.
Across the border in Syria, embroiled in three years of civil war between President Bashar al-Assad and rebels seeking to oust him, ISIL fighters have seized control of swathes of eastern territory close to the Iraqi border. The jihadi group is seeking to establish an Islamist state by connecting territory it controls in western Iraq and eastern Syria.

Police, military and security officials said the insurgents, armed with anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, had taken over almost all police and army checkpoints in and around the Mosul. The militants also captured the Ghizlani army base in southern Mosul and set more than 200 prisoners free from a high security jail.

Thousands of families were fleeing the city towards the autonomous Kurdish region, which shares a border with Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.

The fall of Mosul deals a serious blow to Baghdad’s efforts to fight Sunni militants who have regained ground and momentum in Iraq over the past year and pushed into Mosul in the first week of June. An army colonel at the local military command said, ‘We have lost Mosul this morning…..It’s a total collapse for the security forces.’

Russia given month deadline to act on Ukraine or face harsher sanctions

Moscow has been given a month to stop destabilising the Ukraine or face harsher sanctions, world leaders announced on June 5. Speaking in Brussels at the G7 summit, the UK’s David Cameron said Russian leader Vladimir Putin must meet three conditions.

He must accept Petro Poroshenko’s election as the new leader in Kiev after he takes office early this month. Mr Putin must also stop arms from crossing the border and cease support for pro-Russian separatist groups concentrated in Eastern Ukraine.

‘If these things don’t happen then sectoral sanctions will follow,’ Mr Cameron said. ‘The next month will be vital in judging if president Putin has taken these steps.’

Barack Obama said the G7 leaders unanimously agreed with the steps Mr Cameron outlined. After two days of meetings, Mr Obama said: ‘If Mr Putin takes these steps then it is possible for us to begin to rebuild trust between Russia and its neighbours in Europe.’

It is unclear how Mr Putin will react to the conditions and whether he could claim he has already fulfilled them. He held his first face-to-face meetings with Mr Cameron and French president François Hollande on June 5.

Egypt’s new parliamentary election law alarms political parties

A law passed by Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mahmoud Mansour, will set the stage for parliamentary elections this year but political parties fear it will return the country to a system similar to one under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

One of the most significant changes in the election law is a return to a system where individual candidates take the majority of seats in parliament, rather than party lists of candidates. The system under Mubarak allowed wealthy or popular individuals, mostly aligned with his National Democratic Party (NDP), to run as ‘independents’ using local patronage networks to get into parliament, which they then dominated.

Mubarak was overthrown in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, allowing Egypt’s Islamist movement, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, to emerge and use its organizational muscle to win seats in the 2011 parliamentary election. The Islamists later managed to win five successive victories at the polls, including the election of the country’s first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown by the army in July last year following mass protests.

On June 8 Egypt inaugurated the main man behind Morsi’s overthrow, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who won more than 90 per cent of the vote in presidential elections last month. The election took place against the background of a crackdown on supporters of Morsi and the Brotherhood, leading Western governments to express concern about the state of democracy and human rights in Egypt.

Cameron calls on world leaders to unite for D-Day celebrations

British prime minister David Cameron has said world leaders should set aside their differences on the ‘incredibly moving’ 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

As veterans, politicians and members of the Royal Family gathered in Normandy, the Prime Minister said that amid ongoing tensions with Russia, the events of June 6, 1944, ‘show the importance of standing up together … for freedom and security’.

Mr Cameron and Russian President Vladimir Putin have both travelled to northern France to remember an event that changed the course of the Second World War. They will join the Queen and a host of other world leaders for a service at Sword Beach in Ouistreham, where the moment 150,000 Allied troops came ashore will be re-enacted.

Mr Cameron said: ‘Yes, we have our disagreements with Russia but we should never forget the Soviet Union was an ally of the forces that liberated this continent from the tyranny of Nazism and enabled generations to come to live in democracy, freedom and prosperity,’ he said.

‘Today is all about the magnificent feat of arms that saw young men … do incredibly brave things to liberate this continent and to give us a chance of peace and democracy. We did that together.’

Described by wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill as ‘undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult (operation) that has ever taken place’, D-Day proved to be a pivotal moment of the Second World War and the battle to uphold democracy over fascism. 

Brazil enacts 20 per cent quotas for blacks in federal jobs

Brazil approved a law on June 9 creating 20 percent quotas for mixed race and black Brazilians in government jobs, in a country where more than half of the population has African roots.

‘We have started this change in the racial composition of public officials in the federal administration so it will be more representative of the Brazilian population,’ said President Dilma Rousseff during a ceremony for the enactment of the law.

The quotas expire in 10 years and apply to federal agencies and foundations as well as state-controlled companies like oil giant Petrobras and banks like Caixa Economica Federal and Banco de Brasil. However, the quotas do not apply to the legislative and judicial branches, which would require separate legal initiatives. To qualify for the quotas, candidates must declare their race as black or mixed-race when they sign up for the civil servant exam.

In August 2012, after 13 years of debate, Rousseff had signed a controversial law that reserved half of university spots for public school students, with priority given to black, mixed-race, and indigenous candidates. Ninety one per cent of the black population do not succeed in going to university.

Brazil was one of the last countries in the world to abolish slavery, in 1888. Afro-Brazilian activists say there has been ‘some progress in 500 years’ towards equality but say ‘much remains to be done.’

 News in Brief

Pakistan: Taliban responsible for Karachi airport attacks
A second attack by Taliban gunmen on Pakistan’s Karachi international airport has ended with no casualties. Gunmen on two motorcycles opened fire on Karachi’s airport security academy on June 10 and fled after Pakistani forces retaliated. The attack follows hard on the heels of Tarik-i-Taliban gunmen laying siege to Jinnah International Airport on June 8 in an attack that left 36 people dead, including 10 Taliban gunmen. The attacks were not unexpected in the light of failed talks between the government and the jihadists as well as the military offensive against them in the tribal belt.

Nigeria: Boko Haram gunmen kidnap 20 young mothers
Suspected Boko Haram gunmen have kidnapped at least 20 young mothers near a town in northeast Nigeria where more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted nearly two months ago, it was reported on June 10. The latest kidnappings, which happened on June 7 in and around the village of Garkin Fulani, eight kilometres from Chibok, follow the killing on June 3 of at least 83people in three northern villages in Borno state by Boko Haram militants posing as soldiers.

Bergdahl’s condition improving says US military hospital
A US military hospital in Germany says that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is showing ‘signs of improvement’ after several days at the facility following his release from nearly five years as a captive of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where Bergdahl arrived on June 1, said on June 6 that Bergdahl remains in a stable condition, is conversing with medical staff ‘and becoming more engaged in his treatment-care plan.’ It remains unclear when he will continue to the United States.

Tibetan filmmaker freed from Chinese prison
Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, who made a 2008 documentary about Tibetan nomads expressing discontent over China’s rule, has been released from a Chinese prison after serving six years for separatism, his production company, Switzerland-based Filming for Tibet, said in a statement on its website. Wangchen was freed on June 5 in the western city of Xining, capital of Qinghai province. He was arrested in March 2008 and sentenced to six years in prison in late 2009 on charges of trying to split the country.