ISLAMABAD: Bowing to strong opposition from almost all political parties, the government decided on Monday not to increase the prices of petroleum products from Feb 1.
A parliamentary committee, headed by Petroleum Minister Syed Naveed Qamar and comprising representatives of the PML-N, PML-Q, ANP and MQM, failed to reach unanimity on raising the prices of petroleum products.
The government will now have to absorb an impact of about Rs13 billion by maintaining the prices at the level of Oct 31 last year despite a rise in international oil prices.
Meanwhile, the government and the PML-N forwarded to the National Assembly speaker on Monday names from the both houses of parliament for a 12-member committee to work out a procedure for selection of an independent chief election commissioner and members of the Election Commission.
After a third round of discussions on PML-N's 10-point agenda, the two sides indicated that a consensus had been reached on laws for across-the-board accountability, including that of army generals and judges.
At a joint news conference with PML-N leader Ishaq Dar, Law Minister Babar Awan said both the parties had finalised the names of four members from the government side and four from the opposition in the National Assembly and two each from the Senate to prepare the procedure and criteria for the appointment of an independent chief election commissioner and members of the Election Commission.
He said the list had reached the NA speaker who would notify the constitution of the committee.
Mr Awan said the government had already notified the formation of a judicial commission headed by former Supreme Court judge Sardar Raza Khan to probe into the sugar scam.
Mr Ishaq Dar said the commission would complete its investigation in 45 days and submit a report with recommendations and identifying those responsible for sugar price manipulations.
Asked why had the parliamentary committee not been able so far to make progress on immediate economic challenges and remained focused more on political issues like accountability and election commission, he said the full parliamentary committee would have detailed discussions on corruption, restructuring of state enterprises and austerity measures.
He said the finance minister had agreed to come up with recommendations for containing the fiscal deficit and the PML-N team would submit its proposals accordingly to the parliamentary committee in its next meeting on Wednesday.
He said it was not difficult to contain the fiscal deficit because it stood at 9.8 per cent of GDP in 2008 when he (Dar) was finance minister. "We were able to contain the fiscal deficit at 7.23 per cent of GDP through a Rs270 billion combination of measures that included about Rs92 billion additional taxes and painful expenditure cuts," he said.
The provincial governments had given an understanding to play their role to ensure fiscal discipline, he added.
Mr Dar said a sub-committee led by Senator Raza Rabbani had held detailed discussions with provincial chief secretaries on price control and its report would be presented to the parliamentary committee in its next meeting.
When asked if the proposed law on accountability would also cover judges and generals, Mr Dar said the government and opposition had a consensus that the accountability should be across-the-board and there should be no exemptions for any section of society.
In April last year, the National Assembly's standing committee had approved a draft bill to replace the National Accountability Bureau with a national accountability commission to hold all public holders of offices accountable for wrongdoings.
The draft bill had proposed to remove the immunity enjoyed by armed forces and judicial and parliamentary figures under Article 260 of the Constitution.
Responding to a question, Mr Dar confirmed that an IMF delegation would meet him and the Punjab chief minister on Tuesday.
LOS ANGELES: British actor Henry Cavill, will finally get to don Superman’s cape in the new Man of Steel movie, its distributor said.
Cavill will play the dual roles of mild-mannered newspaperman Clark Kent and his high-flying alter ego in the film, which Warner Bros. will release in December 2012. Its formal title has not been announced yet.
Zack Snyder ("300") will direct from a script written by David S. Goyer and based on a story that Goyer developed with "Inception" director Christopher Nolan, who will serve as a producer.
Cavill is perhaps best known for his role as Charles Brandon, the brother-in-law of Henry VIII, in the royal drama "The Tudors." He was a main contender for "Superman Returns" when Joseph "McG" Nichol was attached as director.
But when McG exited the project in 2004 and Bryan Singer signed on, Brandon Routh was subsequently cast.
Singer’s film, released in 2006, grossed about $391 million at the worldwide box office, a disappointment given its reported $215 million cost. An executive at Warner Bros. later said the film "didn’t quite work … in the way that we wanted it to."
Cavill, born in the Channel Islands, is the latest actor with British ties to take on the role of an iconic American superhero.
Andrew Garfield, born in Los Angeles but raised in England, was last year cast as the lead in a reboot of the "Spider-Man" franchise, which is due out in July 2012.
LONDON: Western powers should work on the assumption that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by next year and an Israeli intelligence assessment of 2015 could be over-optimistic, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said on Monday.
Meir Dagan, outgoing director of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, said this month that Israel believed Iran would not be able to produce a nuclear bomb before 2015.
But Fox, answering questions in parliament, said Dagan was "wrong to insinuate that we should always look at the more optimistic end of the spectrum" of estimates of Iran’s nuclear capability.
"We know from previous experience, not least what happened in North Korea, that the international community can be caught out assuming that things are more rosy than they actually are," he said.
"We should therefore be very clear that it is entirely possible that Iran may be on the 2012 end of that spectrum and act in accordance with that warning," he said.
He did not say whether his statement was based on any intelligence assessment available to Britain, a close US ally and one of six powers that made no progress in talks with Iran this month on its nuclear programme.
"Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons, as assessed, however it does continue to pursue uranium enrichment and the construction of a heavy water reactor, both of which have military potential," Fox said.
The UN Security Council has approved four rounds of sanctions against Tehran for refusing to freeze its uranium enrichment programme, which Western powers suspect is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon. Iran says its programme is for peaceful energy needs.
Dagan’s assessment was in line with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caution about resorting to force against Iran, which has vowed to retaliate against Israel and US interests for any attack on its nuclear installations.
Dagan was contradicted last week by Israel’s chief of military intelligence, Major-General Aviv Kochavi, who said sanctions had not held up Iran’s nuclear programme and it could produce bombs within two years.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said Dagan’s assessment should not undercut international determination to keep pressure on Iran through sanctions. – Reuters
ISLAMABAD: Co-Chairman of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and President Asif Ali Zardari has convened another meeting of the party’s core committee at the Presidency today.
The meeting will mainly discuss the issues of the planned cut in the cabinet size and relationship with the opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), sources said.
"Yes, the president has convened the core committee meeting to discuss the prevailing political situation in the country," president's spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Dawn while refusing to divulge the agenda items.
JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday warned of the dangers of an Iranian-style regime led by religious extremists arising out of the political chaos sweeping through Egypt.
"In a time of chaos, an organised Islamic group can take over the state. It happened in Iran and it also happened in other places," the Israeli leader said at a press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
His remarks were made as the Egyptian regime wrestles with a wave of unprecedented anti-government protests, which have pitted hundreds of thousands of demonstrators against the regime of embattled President Hosni Mubarak.
Although it was not extremist elements that provoked the instability in Tunisia or Egypt, the fear was that they could exploit the political vacuum left by the collapse of the ruling power, Netanyahu added, saying he was being updated about developments "every half hour.""Every one hopes that this will be resolved peacefully, that stability will return and peace will be maintained," he added.
The volatile situation in Egypt, which comes hot on the heels of the revolution in Tunisia that ousted president Zine El Abdine Ben Ali, has sparked fears in Israel about the loss of its closest regional ally, President Hosni Mubarak.
On Sunday, Netanyahu had stressed that Israel’s efforts were focused on maintaining the "stability and security" of the region, and said he had ordered his ministers not to make any remarks on the developments in Egypt.
Peace between the two neighbours had existed for more than three decades and Israel’s aim was "to ensure that these relations continue to exist," Netanyahu said, while insisting Israel would act "responsibly, with restraint and maximum discretion."Earlier, Merkel had raised concerns about the implications of the unrest in Egypt, pushing Netanyahu to "urgently" address the deadlocked peace negotiations with the Palestinians in a bid to calm the situation, a source close to the German government said.
Merkel had told Netanyahu that what was happening in Egypt "made made it even more necessary for Israel to be more constructive in the discussions on the peace process," he said.
At the talks, both sides agreed that "concrete steps (to advance the peace process) should be taken within the coming six months." – AFP
Four elephants are held ‘hostage’ in Morocco, on a no man’s land close to Casablanca’s Great Mosque, following European Union travel restrictions that prevent wild animals coming from Africa to enter the EU. But having spent more than six months in Morocco "under European rules they have technically acquired the ‘nationality’ of the country where they are," the EU told AFP. Morocco, however, has no regulations on animal health compatible with EU rules and suffers moreover from foot and mouth disease. The elephants left France on tour in 2005.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said Monday the courts should decide the fate of a US government employee, under investigation for double murder, after US lawmakers pressed for his release.
Six representatives of the US Congress asked Zardari to free Raymond Davis, who was arrested after killing two Pakistani motorcyclists in broad daylight on the streets of Lahore, in what the American said was self-defence.
"It would be prudent to wait for the legal course to be completed,"Zardari’s office quoted him as saying during the meeting, which the US embassy said was planned before last week’s killings.
Spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that while the president "appreciated" the Congressmen’s concern "the matter was already before the courts".
The US embassy in Islamabad has requested Davis’ immediate release, calling him a consulate employee and claiming diplomatic immunity on his behalf.
Pakistan’s courts have refused to release the gunman, who claims he acted in self-defence to fend off an armed robbery.
A third Pakistani was crushed to death by a consulate car that went to help Davis following the shooting in a busy street in the eastern city of Lahore.
A Pakistani lawyer earlier Monday petitioned the Lahore high court to block any move to hand Davis over to the United States.
"Since two Pakistani men were killed and the third one died in the related accident, and panic was caused because of the actions of Raymond Davis, his trial should be held in Pakistan," said the lawyer, Saeed Zafar.
A court official said that the Lahore chief justice "issued notices" to the country’s top prosecutor to seek government advice and respond on Tuesday.
The US embassy says Davis — whose exact status is unclear — was a member of the "technical and administrative staff" at the embassy.
Anti-US sentiment is high in Muslim country Pakistan, fanned by a US drone campaign in its northwest that has provoked deadly attacks by militants. – AFP
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday reversed its earlier decision to restrict the popular BlackBerry services.
Earlier today, Pakistan called on mobile phone operators to stop BlackBerry services to foreign missions amid concern about the security of the communications, industry sources said.
But the instruction was later reversed. "Now they have again asked the operators to continue providing BlackBerry services to the foreign missions," an industry source told Reuters, who declined to be identified.
A spokesman at the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Khurram Ali Mehran, confirmed that the services continued. "The Blackberry services are on for the foreign missions," he said.
It was not immediately clear why the government retracted the earlier decision to restrict the services.
NEW DELHI: The International Cricket Council (ICC) will visit Kolkata’s Eden Gardens next Monday to find out if it can host its three remaining World Cup games and has said the India-England match will be moved to Bangalore.
Cricket’s governing body announced last week it would take the Feb. 27 clash between India and England away from the venue because of a delay in renovation work.
The ICC said on Monday it had accepted the Indian board’s (BCCI) proposal to move the match to Bangalore, adding it would make a further check on progress in Kolkata next week.
"In a letter to the BCCI yesterday the ICC outlined a schedule of works that needed to be carried out at Eden Gardens ahead of the ground’s other scheduled fixtures on 15, 18 and 20 March," read an ICC statement.
"An inspection team will visit Kolkata again on 7 February to assess progress in line with that schedule."
Kolkata’s race against time is mirroring Delhi’s struggle to get ready for last year’s Commonwealth Games when most of the venues missed several deadlines and it took a mad, last-minute scramble by the red-faced government to salvage the event.
The Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, which hosts the April 2 cricket final and two other World Cup matches, and all three venues in Sri Lanka have been cleared subject to completion of work within two weeks.
With the Feb. 27 game shifted to Bangalore, Eden Gardens has been left without a match featuring the home side. India spinner Harbhajan Singh said he was sad he would not be playing in Kolkata.
"It’s very unfortunate but I guess it’s beyond our control," Harbhajan told Reuters. "As a player I will play on whatever ground I’m asked to.
"But it would have been nice to play in front of a 100,000 crowd. This is India’s best ground," said the spinner who claimed a test hat-trick against Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001.
JALALABAD: Taliban militants kidnapped 21 tribal elders in Afghanistan close to the Pakistani border whose relatives apparently work for the Afghan government and NATO, an official said Monday.
The incident happened eight days ago in Marawara, in the eastern province of Kunar, which borders Pakistan’s lawless tribal district where Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked networks have carved out strongholds.
"The Taliban first called them for a meeting at a mosque and after a discussion, the Taliban took all the elders away to an unknown place," the local official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"Negotiations have started with the Taliban for their release, but have produced no result so far", he added.
Taliban militants have been leading a nine-year insurgency against the Western-backed Afghan government and foreign troops since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down their Islamist regime in Kabul.
A local Taliban commander identified as Qari Zia-ur-Rahman claimed responsibility for the abduction by SMS to an AFP correspondent.
"The reason behind this act is that some relatives, sons and close family members of these men, work in the Afghan army, Afghan police and some with NATO", he explained.
"Unless these people do not resign their jobs with the army, police and NATO, we will not release the hostages", he added.
Afghan police and other local authorities refused to comment. – AFP
NEW DELHI: Food insecurity caused by devastating floods in Pakistan could eventually lead to social unrest similar to that seen in Tunisia, the head of the international Red Cross federation warned on Monday.
Increasing disasters and conflicts across the world and shrinking aid from traditional Western donors meant emerging economies like India, China and Brazil should play a greater role in humanitarian relief, Tadateru Konoe said.
Pakistan is still reeling from floods six months ago that have left 11 million people homeless and devastated hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops in the traditional food-basket regions of Sindh and Punjab.
Konoe, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said some agricultural areas were still submerged, and resulting price rises and growing food insecurity could be destabilising.
"If the crops may be lost for successive years, that may develop into some sort of social unrest and political turmoil. That is what the president was very much worried about," Konoe told Reuters, referring to Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari.
"I don’t how long they can stand this type of situation …but it may be utilised by political opponents to criticise the government, so a minor thing may become a big thing like the situation in Tunisia," he said in an interview.
Weeks of violent protests in Tunisia over poverty, repression and corruption forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali out on Jan. 14 after 23 years in power. The United Nations has said 117 people died during the unrest.
Pakistan is saddled with a long list of troubles including a Taliban insurgency, rampant poverty, corruption and power cuts.
Inflation is fast becoming one of the most potentially explosive problems for the unpopular government.
The floods have fuelled increases in the price of food such as vegetables, making it harder for ordinary people to survive.
Konoe said Zardari had expressed concern over the problem of food insecurity while the Red Cross head was on a visit to Pakistan in October last year.
"The president of Pakistan said ‘we can manage for the time being, but if the situation continues like this, for some more time, we may enter into difficult times’.
He didn’t specify how long they could manage," said Konoe.
BRIC MUST AID
Konoe said emerging markets, or BRIC countries —Brazil, Russia, India and China —should become part of the traditional donor community and match their increasing global diplomatic and economic influence with aid.
Excluding the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, appeals by organisations like the United Nations and the IFRC remain under-funded because of a number of factors including the financial crisis and apprehension over corruption.
Aid workers say the lack of funds often means they have to scale down operations which could include cutting food rations, withdrawing health services or financial support to survivors.
Konoe said that despite the fact BRIC countries had populations who were living in poverty, they had the capability to give aid, citing the example of the Sichuan earthquake in China in 2008, where Beijing mobilised most of the financial aid itself.
"The BRICs are not yet coming forward in terms of providing humanitarian relief, but they should combine their economic cooperation with humanitarian aid to improve their image (as global powers)," said Konoe, a Japanese national.
"This is one thing I want to discuss with the Indian leadership when I meet them … I have discussed this briefly with China and they were just nodding like that —as a sort of gesture."
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has said the government is committed to economic reforms and is also evolving political consensus on resource mobilization besides chalking out a long-term national economic strategy.
The Prime Minister was talking to a three-member IMF delegation led by Masood Ahmed, Director IMF for Middle East and Central Asia, here at the PM House on Monday.
He reiterated that the Government was pursuing a long term structural reform programme to put Pakistan on a trajectory of sustainable economic growth and development.
He highlighted the positive trend in the national economy as a result of steps taken by his government like substantial increase in exports, record remittances and all time high foreign exchange reserves, which he said, were reflective of the sound economic fundamentals of the country.
The Prime Minister underlined that despite Pakistan’s current economic difficulties, his government will remain steadfast in its commitment to introduce and implement reforms.
In this connection, he added, the Government team is meeting the opposition to evolve political consensus on resource mobilization and long term national economic strategy.
Referring to the progress of the Government’s economic reforms agenda, the Prime Minister said the RGST (Reformed General Sales Tax) had already been introduced and passed through the Senate and intensive consultations were now being held with the major political parties of the country to build national consensus for their passage through the National Assembly.
He said the State Bank Amendment Bill has been passed while Banking Companies Ordinance is now under consideration of the National Assembly.
The Prime Minister said that the Government is restructuring the public sector corporations to transform the loss earning enterprises into a viable and profit earning entities which will also help cut down expenditure on subsidy to these corporations.
He mentioned that the Government had achieved macroeconomic stability despite the global recession and war on terror but the devastating floods have compounded the economic difficulties.
He pointed out that Pakistan is single-handedly catering to the needs of 3.5 million Afghan refugees without any help from the international community.
The Prime Minister urged the Friends of Pakistan to honour their commitments, adding, the flood affectees couldn’t be made to wait for their early rehabilitation.
He said that as far as the government of Pakistan was concerned, it had already drastically cut its development and non- development expenditures to divert the resources for providing relief to the flood victims.
The Prime Minister said that after enactment of 18th Constitutional Amendment, the provincial governments’ role in financial discipline has increased many folds.
He further said that while the government of Pakistan was implementing the economic reform programme in the interest of the country, the IMF should continue to help Pakistan to overcome economic challenges.
Masood Ahmed, Director IMF for Middle East and Central Asia said that the IMF supports Pakistan’s direction to bring in financial discipline.
He thanked the Prime Minister for his time and appreciated his resolve to implement economic reform agenda.
The meeting was also attended by Minister for Finance, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Minister of State Hina Rabbani Khar, Governor State Bank, Shahid H. Kardar, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Dr. Nadeem ul Haq, Assistant Director IMF, Adnan Mazaeri, Senior Resident Representative IMF in Pakistan, Paul Ross, Secretary and the Chairman Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). – APP
Passengers crowd the departure area at the Cairo International airport as Egyptians across the nation take to the streets calling on the resignation of their long-term president Hosni Mubarak. At the same time, EU demands reform in Egypt and moves to open a new chapter in ties with Tunisia. China urged a return to order in Egypt as soon as possible without openly taking sides in the unrest threatening Hosni Mubarak’s regime. In Lebanon, Seoul and South-East Asia, demonstrators gathered to show solidarity with protestors in Egypt.
CAIRO: Widely hated Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and businessmen were axed in a new Egyptian cabinet announced Monday by embattled President Hosni Mubarak that otherwise kept the lineup largely unchanged.
State television showed images of the new ministers being sworn in and shaking hands with Mubarak.
Absent were Adly and the finance and culture ministers of the previous cabinet. Adly was replaced by Mahmud Wagdi, a police general.
Adly’s ouster was one of the demands of protesters who have for a week demanded the departure of Mubarak and his entire regime. They have also called for an end to corruption and oppression.
Business tycoons close to the regime playing an important role in politics is seen in Egypt as a sign of corruption, while Mubarak’s son and previous heir apparent Gamal is also closely linked to the political-business milieu.
Mubarak on Saturday asked previous Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq to form a new government, while at the same time naming intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as the first vice president in his three-decade rule.
But protesters massed in downtown Cairo insisted they would only be satisfied when Mubarak quits.
"We will accept no change other than Mubarak’s departure," said one protester who asked not to be named.
Protester Rifat Ressat said: "We want a complete change of government, with a civilian authority."
The departure of Adly, who controls Egypt’s notorious security forces who are accused of systematic human rights violations, was however welcomed.
"The interior minister is responsible for all the violence, because it’s the police that opened fire on demonstrators," said Ressat.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit retained his job, as did Defence Minister General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, in the decree issued by Mubarak and read out on state television.
Flamboyant Culture Minister Faruq Hosni, who last year narrowly lost out on becoming the head of Unesco following controversial comments about Israeli books, was replaced by university lecturer and literary critic Gaber Asfur.
CAIRO: After 24 years in Canada, Rafik and Leila Baladi moved back to Cairo two weeks ago to settle down.
Now, like many other residents of the Egyptian capital, they're stocking up on bottled water and essential foodstuffs as chaos engulfs this sprawling city of some 18 million.
"We just don't know what is going to happen," said Leila, who along with her husband was pushing a shopping cart loaded with frozen chicken breasts, fava beans, milk and other items at a grocery store in central Cairo. "People are terrified to death."
Schools are closed and businesses boarded up; the usual bumper-to-bumper traffic is now little more than a trickle; and the capital's famed nightlife has been snuffed out by a 4 pm to 8 am curfew. For Monday, the military extended the hours, saying curfew would start at 3 pm.
Even the Internet and text message services have been blocked for days.
The overriding concern for almost everyone in Cairo remains the fear of lawlessness.
"There's no cash in the ATMs, there's something like 5,000 prisoners roaming the streets and there's no security," said May Sadek, a public relations agent who lives in the middle class Dokki neighborhood. There have been jail breaks from at least four prisons around Cairo in recent days.
The police, which before the revolt could be seen on nearly every corner, melted away Friday, giving way to looting and arson. Gangs of thugs have cleared out supermarkets, shopping malls and stores, as well as luxury homes and apartments in affluent residential areas in the suburbs. On Monday, police were beginning to redeploy in many neighborhoods.
But in the meantime, young men stepped in to fill the vacuum left by the police, setting up neighborhood defense committees armed with guns, clubs and knives to protect their families and property. Groups of youths also directed traffic in parts of Cairo, chasing away the gangs of criminals smashing passing cars.
Naglaa Mahmoud, a 37-year-old homemaker, said she and her two sons spent a sleepless night Saturday at their home in the upscale Maadi neighborhood in south Cairo because of the crackle of gunfire outside and the fear of looters.
"We couldn't sleep," she said. "My husband and brother went downstairs with sticks to fend off the thugs. … My kids finally dozed off by dawn. They were frightened by the sound of the bullets."
With the protests dragging on and no immediate end in sight, people are scrambling to buy up the basic supplies to wait things out.
At grocery stores across the city, people stocked up on food, water and other supplies Sunday. Stores in the neighborhoods of Zamalek, Mohandiseen and Dokki were running short of many items, especially bread and bottled water. At one store, water was selling for three times the normal rate.
But with banks closed and many ATMs out of cash, some are already feeling a pinch in their pocketbook.
"We can't get any money out and we have less than 1,000 pounds ($170) in cash at the moment so we're buying what we can now and we’ll try to get by," said Rafik Baladi, a 59-year-old musician and writer.
Across the capital, work has all but come to a standstill. Downtown, where the protests are centered, nearly all shopfronts are shuttered and windows either boarded up or painted over. Across the Nile in Dokki, only a smattering of pharmacies, coffee shops and eateries were open for business.
"Since Tuesday, it's just been about the demonstrations, not about anything else," said Selma Abou Dahab, a 36-year-old lifestyle manager for a multinational company. "We're being covered by our international offices because we can’t work without the Internet."
The government cut off access to the Internet across the country early Friday morning. Cell phone service was also suspended in some areas.
Abou Dahab said the cutoff has been as big a hassle as anything.
"It's a big deal for everybody," she said. "It's just like they're stuffing socks down our throats."
Despite the headaches, disruptions, fears and frustrations residents appear digging in.
"This is the first time we've been in a situation like this," said Yassin Gadelhak, a 26-year-old real estate agent and friend of Sadek. "It's not totally a question of how long we can hold out, but rather a question of how long they (Mubarak's government) can hold out."
ISLAMABAD: The government said on Sunday it had not yet decided to hand over to the US authorities American citizen Raymond Davis accused of gunning down two young men in Lahore on Thursday.
"It is wrong to say that at this stage the government has decided to send Davis to the US," said president's spokesman Farhatullah Babar in a statement. "The government will not sit quiet on the shooting of our nationals," he said.
Mr Babar added: "The law will take its own course and investigations are still going on. Legal process will be observed and respected."
Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Nawaz Sharif whose party heads the coalition government in Punjab is reported to have told the US that he and the provincial government could not do anything because the matter was in court.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik refused to comment on the issue, saying he was waiting for the court's decision. "The matter is sub judice and we should wait for the Punjab government's report," he said.
The US embassy in Islamabad has claimed that Davis enjoys diplomatic immunity because he was a member of its technical staff.
According to diplomatic observers here, the issue is becoming complex because the government says it will await the court decision while the US embassy insists that the accused enjoys diplomatic immunity.
Meanwhile, DawnNews said on Sunday that the passport of Davis showed that his name was Raymond Alan Davis and he did not have diplomatic visa but he came to Pakistan on an official/business visa.
According to the passport, he had visited the country nine times and his last Pakistani visa was issued in June last year for two years.
Earlier, the US government claimed that Raymond Davis was not the real name of the accused but refused to say what his name was.
One statement issued by the US embassy described the accused as a staff member of the US Consulate General in Lahore, while another said he was a staff member of the US embassy in Islamabad. And yet another statement issued on Sunday said he was a member of the technical staff of the embassy.
The embassy claimed that under Article 37 of the Vienna Convention, Davis had diplomatic immunity.
It is being said here that the ministry of interior should know the actual identity of the accused and whether or not he was a diplomat.
Davis has also been accused of being on a covert assignment in Pakistan, but ambiguity will remain till the government and the US authorities come up with the factual details about the accused and the Lahore incident.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, Senator Talha Mehmood, demanded at a press conference that the government should make the US personnel an example for wrongdoers.
"The government has to take a strong stand to give exemplary punishment to the US commando for killing innocent people," he said.
He warned that the heads of all the organisations concerned would be called by the senate committee for questioning if the government showed any leniency in the case.
Doubts on stay
Diplomatic sources in Islamabad said that Raymond Davis had first received a three-month diplomatic visa on a diplomatic passport on request of the US State Department in September 2009. That is the only visa issued to him by the Pakistan embassy in Washington.
On that occasion, the State Department had said Davis would be visiting Pakistan for a short term as a technical adviser. Subsequently, Davis received extensions to his visa in Islamabad or elsewhere.
His presence in Pakistan after the expiry of his first visa in December 2009 was neither known to nor authorised by the Pakistan embassy in Washington or the Foreign Office.
KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Chief Altaf Hussain has said that his party wanted to bring a peaceful revolution through vote and would not hesitate to offer sacrifices, if needed.
He said his party wanted to establish a system in the country which meets the parameters of pragmatism and realism.
Altaf Hussain was addressing via telephone from London at the "Jalsa-e-Qaumi Yakjehti" of his party organized at Jinnah Ground, Azizabad on Sunday.
He said his party intended to establish a system in the country which provides equal status to the rich and the poor.
Speaking about Balochistan situation, he was of the view that the government should talk to its people.
Altaf Hussain said the rights of provinces on their respective resources be accepted and expressed the need for holding a referrendum in this regard.
He observed that if more provinces were formed, it would strengthen the country. Altaf called upon the students to join hands with him to become power of the poor section.
He called upon the Sindh government to stop the reported kidnapping of traders and business community people.
The MQM Chief said the decisions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan should be implemented. Altaf Hussain also called for elimination of corruption from the country.
He asked the participants to maintain discipline to show that they are united and organised.
Altaf termed the "Jalsa Qaumi Yakjehti" as a bouquet of the people of varying backgrounds and communities and prayed to Allah that this unity remains unbroken.
He said a huge gathering like "Jalsa Qaumi Yakjehti" had earlier been witnessed during the time of Pakistan Movement in the leadership of founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Thanking the participants for attending the event, the MQM Chief said,"we do not want to fight and we only want peace".
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) on Sunday demanded judicial inquiry in Rs6 billion alleged fraud in the National Police Foundation (NPF).
Addressing a press conference, PML-N Leader Siddiqul Farooq also asked the NPF Chairman to constitute an inquiry team for probing the matter in detail.
He said that the allegation of fraud on Member of National Assembly Anjum Aqeel Khan in NPF was baseless.
He alleged that the NFP Director Housing has levelled the allegations in order to blackmail the MNA.
He said that the respected m ember has the right to take legal action against the Director Housing NPF for maligning him.
Presenting a document, Siddiqul Farooq said that Anjum Aqeel has transferred 318 kanals and 12 marlas of land to the NPF, for which the latter had paid him over Rs 260 million.
He said that the construction of roads on this piece of land was an issue between the Capital Development Authority and the NPF. He said that Anjum Aqeel had no concern with the matter and the record proved it.
Anjum Aqeel claimed that an NPF officer had demanded money from him but he had refused, following which this report was compiled against him, he said.
NPF Director Housing Shahid Iqbal has given himself a clearance certificate, which establishes the fact that he does not owe anything to the foundation, he claimed. MNA Tariq Fazal Chaudhry was also present on the occasion.
WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Sunday for an "orderly transition" in Egypt but stopped short of demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down as protests engulfed his regime.
Mubarak, who appointed military intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his first ever vice president on Saturday and named a new premier to try to assuage his people’s thirst for change, must go further, Clinton said.
"That is the beginning, the bare beginning of what needs to happen, which is a process that leads to the kind of concrete steps to achieve democratic and economic reform that we’ve been urging," she told ABC News.
As the anti-government revolt in Egypt raged into a sixth day amid increasing lawlessness and mass jail breaks, Clinton did a sweep of Sunday morning talk shows in the United States to outline the US position.
"We’re trying to promote an orderly transition and change that will respond to the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people, which the protests are all about," she told CBS.
"We are urging the Mubarak government, which is still in power, we are urging the military, which is a very respected institution in Egypt, to do what is necessary to facilitate that kind of orderly transition."
President Barack Obama’s administration has performed a delicate balancing act over the past week, pushing for reform while refusing to cut off its crucial military aid or call directly on Mubarak, a longtime ally, to go.
"There is no discussion as of this time about cutting off any aid" to Egypt, Clinton reiterated on ABC.
TUNIS: Thousands turned out Sunday to welcome Islamic leader Rached Ghannouchi after more than 20 years in exile, as he eyed a political future for his Ennahda movement after the fall of Tunisia’s regime.
"God is great!" Ghannouchi cried out, raising his arms in triumph as he walked into the arrivals hall of Tunis airport, with thousands of cheering supporters crowding around him before driving off to visit his family.
The crowd intoned a religious song in honour of the Prophet Mohammed, as supporters held up olive branches, flowers and copies of the Koran.
"I am so happy to be bringing him back home. I never thought I would see my brother again alive in Tunisia," his sister, Jamila, told AFP.
There were also dozens of people protesting his arrival at the airport, holding up placards that warned against Islamic fundamentalism.
The 69-year-old said he was elated as he checked in for his historic flight at London’s Gatwick airport, where he posed with a Tunisian flag and embraced relatives before boarding for a country that he has not seen since 1989.
"When I return home today I am returning to the Arab world as a whole," he told reporters, adding that Ennahda (Awakening) now planned to register as a political party and take part in the country’s first democratic elections.
The interim government installed in the north African state after the fall of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14 has granted unprecedented freedoms and allowed key exiles to return despite bans from the old regime.
Ghannouchi, a former radical preacher who says he now espouses moderate ideals similar to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was persecuted in Tunisia ever since founding his Islamic movement in 1981.
He still officially has a life sentence hanging over his head for plotting against the president, although the new government has drawn up an amnesty law for convicted activists like Ghannouchi that now has to go before parliament.
"There is still confusion regarding the political situation…. The interim government is changing its ministers every day, it’s not stable yet and its powers are not clear yet," Ghannouchi told reporters before leaving on Sunday.
LONDON: Scientists have devised a way to manipulate a magnetically polarized current by electric fields which opens new prospect of simultaneously processing and storing data on a single chip.
The Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London (UK) and University of Fribourg (Switzerland) have published their research in the journal Nature Materials which made possible to do processing and storing data on electrons at molecular level on the chips.
The technology is a part of emerging field of 'Spintronics' – or spin transport electronics.
“This is especially exciting, as this discovery has been made with flexible organic semiconductors, which are set to be the new generation of displays for mobile devices, TVs and computer monitors, and could offer a step-change in power efficiency and reduced weight of these devices,” said Dr Alan Drew on the website of Queen Mary’s School of Physics, who led the research.
Dr Drew and his colleagues have investigated the layers of Lithium Fluoride (LiF) – a material that has an intrinsic electric field which can modify the spin of electrons or to control the spin with electric fields.
The technique was performed at the Paul Scherrer Institute, which is the only institute in the world which provides this sort of facilities.
Here, physicists performed the technique on magnetic properties of muons which are considered as unstable subatomic particles.
“In such an experiment the muons are shot into the material and when they decay, the decay products carry information about the magnetic processes inside the material,” explains Professor Elvezio Morenzoni from PSI, where the technique has been developed.
“The unique thing about low energy muons is that they can be placed specifically in a particular layer of a multi-layer system. Thus using this method one can study the magnetism in any single layer separately.”
The experiment provided a practical leap of a theoretical field and thus opens new vistas for spintronics based devices.
DUBAI: Al Jazeera television, banned in Egypt on Sunday, has often angered Arab governments with its coverage of dissent and served as a counterweight to regimes which accuse it of stirring dissent.
Egypt’s official MENA news agency said the outgoing information minister, Anas al-Fikki, ordered Al Jazeera’s closure in Cairo after its blanket coverage of anti-government protests sweeping the country.
The Doha-based Al Jazeera slammed the move as an attempt at "censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people."
In this time of deep turmoil and unrest in Egyptian society it is imperative that voices from all sides be heard," the Arab satellite news channel said.
On Saturday, it broadcast an appeal from Yusef al-Qaradawi, a popular Egyptian-born television preacher and mentor of Egypt’s officially banned Muslim Brotherhood, urging President Hosni Mubarak to step down.
In Tunisia, a wave of protests earlier this month led to the ouster of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power, inspiring demonstrations in various other countries around the region, including Egypt.
"Arab governments accuse Al Jazeera of mobilising the street, and they are right, but this accusation is an honour for the channel," said Abdel Khaleq Abdullah, a professor at United Arab Emirates University.
"There’s no doubt Al Jazeera was an important actor in the Tunisian revolution and in the events in Egypt," he said.
Al Jazeera, which was founded in gas-rich Qatar in 1996, is no stranger to conflict with governments in the region.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Thursday appealed to Qatar’s emir to "intervene with Al Jazeera to calm the situation and not resort to provocation, falsification of facts and exaggeration" in reports on protests in his country.
And in October 2010, Morocco’s communications ministry suspended Al Jazeera operations and withdrew the accreditation of its staff, following "numerous failures in (following) the rules of serious and responsible journalism."
London-based analyst Abdel Wahab Badrakhan said Al Jazeera’s coverage of the protests in Egypt had been quite different in the first days from its coverage of the revolution in Tunisia.
"In Tunisia, Al Jazeera beat the street, but in Egypt, it followed," he said.
"In the first days, it gave signals that it was not prepared to treat the Egyptian question the same way that it treated the uprising in Tunisia."
While the protests were breaking out in Cairo, the channel gave precedence to its own controversial leaks on the Palestinian Authority’s position in peace negotiations with Israel, Badrakhan said.
On Tuesday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat accused Al Jazeera of trying to provoke the Palestinians into "a revolution against their leaders in order to bring down the Palestinian political system."
His accusation came after Al-Jazeera began releasing 1,600 documents known as "The Palestine Papers" which exposed far-reaching concessions offered to Israel during 10 years of closed-door peace talks.
Demonstrators in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Tuesday burned portraits of Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, while others torched Israeli flags with the Al-Jazeera logo on them.
Despite the ban on Sunday, Al Jazeera vowed to "continue its in-depth and comprehensive reporting on the events unfolding in Egypt."
LAHORE: About 40,000 people rallied in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore on Sunday in the latest protest against proposed reforms of a controversial blasphemy law, police said.
Religious groups have held protests in several Pakistani cities since former Punjab governor Salman Taseer vowed to amend the law, that was recently used to sentence a Christian woman to death
Taseer’s stance enraged the country’s increasingly conservative religious base and he was assassinated on January 4 by his own security guard, who has said he killed the governor over his support for reform.
Under intense pressure from religious parties, Pakistan’s government has since said it had no intentions to amend the law.
Demonstrators from religious parties Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and Jamaat-ud-Dawa held banners in support of Mumtaz Qadri – the police commando who shot dead Taseer.
Participants chanted slogans including "Free Mumtaz Qadri", "We are ready to sacrifice our lives for the honour of Prophet Mohammad" and "Changes in blasphemy law not accepted."
An AFP reporter saw activists carrying effigies of Pope Benedict XVI and Pakistani minorities affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti shouting slogans "Allah-o-Akbar."
Local government official Tariq Zaman put the overall number of protesters at 40,000.
Leaders of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and Quaid-i-Azam group also addressed the rally.
Event organisers called the brothers of two Pakistani men shot dead by a US national in Lahore on Thursday to the stage and pledged their support for the victims’ families in pursuing a murder case.
The US man, named as Raymond Davis, is being held at a police station on double murder charges over the shooting of the two motorcyclists.
The US embassy had claimed diplomatic immunity on his behalf while Davis, who has been held at a Lahore police station since the incident, told a magistrate’s court Friday that he had fired in self-defence.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Sunday declined to comment on the arrest of a US man who shot dead two men in Lahore, saying the matter was being probed by courts and regional authorities.
The US embassy has claimed diplomatic immunity on behalf of Raymond Davis, previously described as a consulate employee, who is under investigation on double murder charges after shooting dead two motorcyclists on Thursday.
A third Pakistani was crushed to death by a consulate car that went to help Davis following the shooting in a busy street in the eastern city.
"The federal government is not silent over this matter. This matter is in the court," Gilani told reporters in a live televised press conference from his home town of Multan.
"The Punjab government is conducting an inquiry into this matter and I would not comment till it is completed," Gilani said.
Davis, who has been held at a Lahore police station since the incident, appeared before a magistrate’s court Friday and said he had fired in self-defence. He was remanded into police custody for six days.
Police said Friday that two handguns had been found close to the victims’ bodies, but that they so far appeared to have no previous criminal record.
Two days after the deadly shooting, the US embassy in Islamabad released a statement saying Davis had diplomatic status and was therefore being detained unlawfully.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry responded by saying: "This matter is sub judice in a court of law and the legal process should be respected."
LAHORE: The president of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has claimed that the Asian region will in the future only feature one club level championship instead of the three-tiers currently in place as traditionally weaker sides have become more competitive.
Currently, there is the AFC Champions League for elite sides, while the 'developing' and 'emerging' nations compete in the AFC Cup and AFC Presidents Cup respectively. But with Asian Football Confederation putting more focus on emerging nations through their 'Vision Asia' programme, PFF chief Faisal Saleh Hayat believes the AFC Cup and the President's Cup will eventually become one strong league.
"It is my belief and hope that this (President's Cup) competition will be gone one day. The clubs playing in AFC President’s Cup have matured and will be able to play at the higher level such as the AFC Cup, and even the AFC Champions League, in the future," Hayat, who is also an AFC EXCO member, said.
Since the competition began, the eight founding nations to take part in the President's Cup have been Tajikistan, Nepal, Taiwan, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Cambodia.
Pakistani representatives in the event have been Pakistan WAPDA (2005, 2008, 2009, 2011), Pakistan Army (2006, 2007) and Khan Research Laboratories (2010).
Since 2008, clubs from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Turkmenistan have been invited. Other nations that could enter a team, but have yet to do so are Brunei, Timor-Leste, Laos, Philippines, Guam, Macau, Mongolia, North Korea and Afghanistan.
Palestinian clubs have also earned entry into the championship this year.
LAHORE: Deputy Prosecutor General of Punjab, Rana Bakhtiar said on Sunday that Raymond Davis had fired the bullets from the back thus it was not a case of ‘self defense’ as he had stated earlier.
Rana also said that Davis, charged with murder of two motorcyclists in Lahore, did not hold any special privileges as a diplomat.
Referring to Article 49-2 of the Vienna Convention, he said that diplomatic officials only hold privilege when they are on duty, but Davis was in Pakistan on a business visa.
Davis is being described by the American media as a security contractor from a Florida-based firm, Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC.
That Foreign Office and the US embassy were not on the same page on the issue of status of the accused was obvious from an FO press release that mentioned Davis as a US 'functionary', and not a diplomat.
Third seed Novak Djokovic brushed aside fifth seed Andy Murray 6-4 6-2 6-3 to win his second Grand Slam title.
ISLAMABAD: Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit on Sunday said that Pakistan is monitoring the situation in Egypt closely and is in constant contact with the Pakistani diplomatic mission in Egypt.
The spokesman said that there were more than 150 Pakistani families in Egypt and preparations to bring them back to the country were complete.
While speaking to Dawn.com, Abdul Basit said that more than 500 Pakistanis were present in Cairo and due to the deteriorating situation there, they will be brought back to Pakistan by PAF C 130 aircrafts.
Meanwhile, also on Sunday, the United States said it was offering evacuation flights to Europe for US citizens who wish to leave Egypt, which has been rocked by violent protests seeking an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
"The U.S. Embassy in Cairo informs US citizens in Egypt who wish to depart that the Department of State is making arrangements to provide transportation to safehaven locations in Europe," the statement said.
"Flights to evacuation points will begin departing Egypt on Monday, Jan. 31," it said, describing the evacuation as voluntary.
Turkey was also sending two Turkish Airlines planes to Egypt on Sunday to evacuate is citizens, state-run Anatolian news agency quoted embassy officials in Cairo as saying.
Witnesses said businesses were also starting to evacuate their staff and saw scenes of chaos at the airport, where many people, including Egyptians, were trying to get flights out of the country.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani students will participate in International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) 2011 scheduled to be held in May in Los Angeles, United States.
A science project supervised by Dr. Tajamul Hussain of the National Centre for Physics (NCP) will be showcased at the international fair in which 1500 teams from across the world would compete and present their projects, said a press release issued here Saturday.
Widely attended by students, the National Science Fair was held during the current month in Islamabad and had showcased more than 80 science projects.
Young scientists from different parts of the country qualified for a place in the national fair after going through rigorous competitions at district and provincial level.
Ambreen Bibi and Mehwish Ghafoor the students of F.G College for Women, G-10/4 Islamabad had designed the project "Degradation of Environmental pollutants with nanocomposites," which was supervised by Dr. Tajamul Hussain.
This project is aimed at changing the contaminated nullah water into pure drinking water with the help of nanomaterials and sunlight. These nanomaterials were developed and synthesized by scientists of NCP.
The International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) sponsored by Intel since 1997, is the world’s largest pre-college science competition, showcasing the world’s most promising young scientists and inventors.
Intel Education in Pakistan has been holding district, provincial and a national science fair for promoting research based learning in Sciences and Mathematics.
Science Fairs in Pakistan are held in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.
NCP Director General Dr. Hamid Saleem has commended the efforts of Dr. Tajamul Hussain for the science project, which would be showcased at the fair.
MADRID: Lionel Messi scored two late goals on Saturday as leaders Barcelona won 3-0 away to Hercules, their 15th consecutive victory matching the La Liga record set by Real Madrid in the 1960-61 season.
Promoted Hercules stunned the champions with a 2-0 win at the Nou Camp back in September, the only defeat Barca have suffered in the league this season, and they made life tough for the visitors until Pedro struck just before the break.
World player of the year Messi scored twice in as many minutes at the end after the hosts were reduced to 10 men following a second yellow card for Francisco Farinos in the 85th.
Barca moved on to 58 points from 21 games, pulling seven clear of second-placed Real Madrid who visit lowly Osasuna on Sunday.
"Scoring just before the break helped us a lot but 1-0 is always a dangerous scoreline, any lost ball can put you in danger. The red card for Farinos helped us a lot," Barca coach Pep Guardiola told reporters.
It could have been a different story at the Rico Perez if David Trezeguet had been able to put away a good chance in the 20th minute, as Hercules unsettled the visiting defence.
Barca were knocked out of their stride until Xavi picked out Pedro in the area and the Spain forward thumped a shot inside the near post, scoring for a sixth consecutive league game.
They took the sting out of the encounter after the break but were unable to settle the match until Farinos was sent off and Messi, who had had a poor game by his standards, skipped through to score in the 87th.
Two minutes later, Dani Alves crossed for the Argentine to tap in Barca’s third goal, taking his league tally for the season to 21 behind Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo on 22.
In the late game, Deportivo Coruna’s Laure grabbed a hotly-disputed late equaliser in a 3-3 draw at home to 10-man Sevilla.
The linesman’s flag was up when the fullback broke into the area to score but the referee overruled him prompting heated and lengthy complaints from the visitors. Television replays showed Laure to be onside when he received the ball.
Lassad had put Depor ahead with a spectacular strike early in the first half and, after Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop had been sent off for handball outside the area in the 57th minute, he doubled the lead just past the hour.
Sevilla, who have a King’s Cup semi-final second leg at Real Madrid on Wednesday, stormed back to take the lead with a double from Alvaro Negredo either side of Julien Escude’s opportunist effort, but were denied the three points in the 88th.
Earlier, struggling Sporting Gijon and Real Zaragoza notched their first wins on the road this season to climb away from the foot of the standings.
Sporting’s steady improvement was confirmed with a third consecutive victory, beating Real Mallorca 4-0.
They climbed to 12th with 22 points from 21 games ahead of Hercules, Deportivo and 15th-placed Zaragoza on goal difference.
Javier Aguirre’s Zaragoza also claimed their third consecutive victory, Florent Sinama Pongolle completing a 2-1 comeback win at Malaga who are now bottom.
Levante, who started the weekend at the foot of the table, won 2-0 at home to Getafe while Real Sociedad sank Almeria 2-0.
Levante now have 18 points with Almeria and Malaga on 17.
MUMBAI: Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra has rubbished claims she has not declared her full earnings to Indian authorities as "malicious rumours" after a raid on her home amid suspicions of tax evasion.
"We deny the many malicious rumours being spread in the media on the basis of some unidentified sources," a spokesman for the actress was quoted as saying by the domestic Press Trust of India news agency.
Chopra was cooperating fully with the income tax department and would make no further comment until the investigations were complete, the spokesman added.
Tax officials in Mumbai raided the homes and offices of Chopra and fellow actress Katrina Kaif, prompting claims in the Indian media that the popular actresses had not fully declared their assets.
Kaif issued a similar statement through her chartered accountant, saying she was "disturbed" at similar speculation.
KARACHI: Unknown gunmen opened fire on three Nato tankers at Wadh area near Khuzdar on Sunday.
Two of the tankers caught fire while the third one fell off the bridge.
According to police sources, the tankers were going to Quetta from Karachi, where unknown motorcyclists opened fire on them near Wadh area.
No casualties were reported in the incident.
ADDIS ABABA: List of main conflicts, crises and flashpoints in Africa ahead of the African Union's summit January 30-31 in Addis Ababa.
A month of violent protests that resulted in dozens of deaths forced authoritarian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country on January 14, ending his 23 year-rule.
Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi caved in to pressure from demonstrators Thursday by forming a new cabinet backed by the powerful labour union UGTT.
Since January 25 Egypt has been facing unprecedented protests challenging President Hosni Mubarak's three-decade rule and his perpetual state of emergency.
Mubarak's announcement Friday of a government reshuffle failed to appease public anger.
The Ivory Coast is mired in a two-month-old power struggle between incumbent strongman Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised winner of disputed November elections.
More than 270 people lost their lives during the violence that erupted from the stalemate, according to the United Nations.
Ravaged by a two-decade-old civil war, the al-Shebab insurgent group controls most of the country while the government commands only a few sections of the capital thanks to the presence of African Union forces.
The insurgents killed 76 people in double blasts last July in Uganda's capital Kampala, in retaliation for its major role in the African Union’s peacekeeping mission.
An overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voted in favour of independence in January elections, following a 2005 peace treaty that ended two decades of civil war.
Meanwhile the International Criminal Court has issued two warrants for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's arrest on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, which has been gripped by civil war since 2003.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Conflicts between armed groups in the country’s eastern region have been continuing for over a decade. DRC soldiers are routinely accused of rape and looting.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
The Central African Republic held elections on January 23 in a bid to end years of instability, but the results are contested.
Rebels of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who have been active since 1988, have installed units in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the Central African Republic.
Scarred from a decade of civil war (1993-2006) that killed 300,000 people, the country has been in a political deadlock since contested 2010 elections which returned the ruling party to power.
Attacks against oil refineries in the country's south forced production in the world's eighth biggest oil exporter to slump since 2006. Nigeria is often the scene of ethnic and religious conflicts.
The country has been mired in a political crisis since late 2008 after president Marc Ravalomanana was ousted and replaced by his army-backed rival Andry Rajoelina.
In the north African Sahel region, the group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) operates in a vast desert zone around Mauritania, Algeria, Mali and Niger.
The insurgent group, which currently holds seven people hostage (five French, one Togolese and one Malagasy) said it was behind the kidnapping of two French men, who were killed amid a French-backed rescue operation.
TEHRAN: The Netherlands has frozen contacts with Iran after Tehran hanged an Iranian-Dutch woman for drug smuggling, having initially arrested her for taking part in anti-government protests.
Zahra Bahrami's execution Saturday brings the total number of people hanged in Iran so far this year to 66 – on average more than two a day – according to an AFP tally based on media reports.
"A drug trafficker named Zahra Bahrami, daughter of Ali, was hanged early on Saturday morning after she was convicted of selling and possessing drugs," the Tehran prosecutor's office said.
Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal "was profoundly shocked by the news, he called it an act committed by a barbarous regime," foreign ministry spokesman Bengt van Loosdrecht told AFP.
"The Netherlands has decided to freeze all contacts with Iran" after obtaining confirmation of Bahrami's execution from Iran's ambassador to the Netherlands Kazem Gharib Abadi, the ministry spokesman said.
"This concerns all official contacts between diplomats and civil servants," he added.
Bahrami, a 46-year-old Iranian-born naturalised Dutch citizen, was reportedly arrested in December 2009 after joining a protest against the government while visiting relatives in the Islamic republic.
The prosecutor's office confirmed on Saturday that she had been arrested for "security crimes." But elaborating on the drug smuggling charge, the office said Bahrami had used her Dutch connections to bring narcotics into Iran.
"The convict, a member of an international drug gang, smuggled cocaine to Iran using her Dutch connections and had twice shipped and distributed cocaine inside the country," it said.
During a search of her house, authorities found 450 grams of cocaine and 420 grams of opium, the prosecutor's office said. Investigations revealed she had sold 150 grams of cocaine in Iran, it added.
"The revolutionary court sentenced her to death for possessing 450 grams of cocaine and participating in the selling of 150 grams of cocaine," it said.
The Dutch government said it was "surprised" by Bahrami's execution.
"We didn't expect it at all," foreign ministry spokesman van Loosdrecht said, noting Iran's ambassador had "certified" to Dutch authorities on Friday that "all judicial means had not yet been exhausted."
Of the freeze in bilateral contacts, "it will be up to us to decide whether (Iranian officials) can or cannot meet the person they wish to meet," he said.
The Dutch authorities expressed their sympathy and condolences to Bahrami's family, he said.
"We're still in contact with her family in Tehran, that's the reason why we wish to keep our ambassador in Tehran," he added.
The Netherlands had been seeking details about Bahrami's case and had accused Iranian officials of refusing the Dutch embassy access to her because they did not recognise her dual nationality.
But a statement from the Iranian embassy in the Netherlands said the affair was an "internal issue and should have no impact on the mutual relations between the two nations."
"We all regret the fact that an Iranian citizen has committed a crime that resulted in the capital punishment," said the statement.
The embassy also said she had been travelling using Dutch, Iranian and Spanish passports, all of which had different personal information.
And it confirmed that Iran did not recognise dual nationality for its nationals. That meant her "other nationality did not affect her judicial case in Iran," said the statement.
Dutch broadcaster Radio Netherlands Worldwide, quoting Bahrami’s daughter Banafsheh Najebpour, reported earlier this month that Bahrami was awaiting trial in a second capital case. In it, she had been accused of being in an armed opposition group.
There has been a spike in hangings this year in Iran, especially of convicted drug smugglers.
Last Monday, Iran carried out the first executions of two political activists detained in street protests after the disputed presidential poll of 2009.
Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Hajaghaei, members of the outlawed People's Mujahedeen of Iran, were hanged despite US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging their release.
The executions have drawn criticism from Catherine Ashton, Europe's chief diplomat, who is leading talks between world powers and Iran over Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.
Along with China, Saudi Arabia and the United States, Iran has one of the highest numbers of executions each year: adultery, murder, drug trafficking and other major crimes are all punishable by death.
SALISBURY PLAIN: The next British brigade heading to Afghanistan will enter Helmand Province with a new emphasis on giving locals enough confidence to oust the Taliban from their strongholds.
Ten years and now 350 British military deaths into the mission, their focus will be on improving the lives of ordinary Afghans first and on front-line fighting second, in a clear strategy shift.
Leaders of the 6,500-strong 3 Commando Brigade believe success rests on convincing nervous residents of the long-lawless Helmand that they can place their trust in the democratic governance on offer.
The Royal Marines formation is heading back to Afghanistan in April with memories still fresh of the 33 men it lost when it led British operations in the country in 2009.
The first British brigade to go on a grueling fourth tour, they will take charge in the southern province’s central belt – fighting the insurgency, training up local troops and assisting reconstruction efforts.
"The central pillar of our approach is to focus on the people first and the insurgents second," Brigadier Ed Davis, who will command the operation, told journalists Thursday as his troops underwent final training.
"If we are going to succeed in Afghanistan, we need to focus on the cause of the insurgency – which is the intimidated, vulnerable, disenfranchised people – and not the symptom, which is the insurgent fighter.
"It is our job to make sure we give them the confidence and the courage to reject the insurgency, accept the offer that the government is giving them and put their hopes for the future in the Afghan state.
"They need tangible evidence that their own security forces will be able to protect them."
He added: "We'll be going out there with our eyes wide open: the progress is fragile and it is reversible."
The brigadier's troops have had 12 months of general and then mission-specific training before entering final rehearsal manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain in southwest England.
On the bleak grassland home to the famous Stonehenge monument, Chinook and Sea King helicopters sweep down to drop off a platoon outside a replica village.
While the Cold War-era buildings are modeled on Germany and the Afghan troops in the mixed patrol are played by Gurkhas, the civilians are played by genuine Afghans.
Outside, as Afghan women chop carrots and boil rice on a wood fire, Marine Sam Magowan keeps watch.
"For lads like myself it's the first time out there. It's a new experience but the training prepares you well," the 18-year-old said.
"We're trained to deal with IEDs (improvised explosive devices), mine strikes, suicide bombers, small arms fire, indirect fire, absolutely everything.
"I'm anxious to get out there, do the job and see whatever comes our way."
Britain wants its troops out of a combat role in Afghanistan by 2015 and is therefore training up local security forces so they can gradually take over.
Defence Secretary Liam Fox visited 3 Commando to see the next deployment's preparations.
"They've got the security mission on the ground to look after but they're going to be in a very different political environment when the shift in Afghan policy is going to move to the political arena," he told AFP.
"The security improvement that we want will not be won by the military alone."
A critical part of the effort is the 200-strong Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team, headed by Foreign Office diplomat Michael O’Neill.
He said progress in building up the infrastructure of a functioning state had taken off in 2010, with governors now in 10 of the 14 Helmand districts and an increasing numbers of judges across the province.
"The challenge in 2011 is to consolidate and deepen that because it is still fragile," he told AFP, 24 hours after leaving Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah.
"The most important part is building the confidence and trust of the Afghan people in their own government.
"An Afghan face, an Afghan lead – that is what will win them over."