Funds sought for repair of Torkham Road

PESHAWAR, March 30: Civil society activists belonging to Khyber Agency have expressed grave concern over the dilapidated condition of Peshawar-Torkham road and demanded of the government to allocate sufficient funds for its reconstruction.

Speaking at a press conference at Peshawar Press Club on Wednesday, Khyber Development Social Society chairman Hazrat Wali Afridi said that the Torkham-Jamrud and Warsak-Jamrud roads were in ruins and the traffic mess on these roads had been making life miserable for the commuters. Several tribesmen were also present at the news conference.

Mr Afridi said that due to bad condition of the roads it took several hours to cover a distance, which would have been possible in one hour if the road was fit for travel. He said that patients were the worst affected, as they could not be shifted to hospitals in time.

US prosecutors defend Times Square bombing probe


Prosecutors wrote that Mohammad Younis was shown a photograph of Shahzad, and he said the man he gave the money to resembled him, except for a beard. –Photo by Reuters

NEW YORK: The government urged a judge on Wednesday to deny a businessman's request to toss out statements he made to the FBI about last year's Times Square car bombing probe, saying he wasn't read his rights before blurting out that he provided $7,000 to the unsuccessful bomber but wasn't guilty ''for the bomb.''

Prosecutors were responding to papers filed two weeks ago in US District Court in Manhattan by lawyers for Mohammad Younis, a Pakistani-born man who was visited at his Long Island home just days after the May 1 bombing attempt.

The car bomb attack by Faisal Shahzad failed because the bomb produced smoke but no explosion. Shahzad, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was arrested days later as he tried to flee the country. He is serving a life prison sentence after pleading guilty to plotting to set off the propane-and-gasoline bomb in a car parked outside a string of restaurants and a Broadway theater showing ''The Lion King.''

The government said Younis was visited by FBI agents on May 13, when he admitted that he gave an individual $7,000 in $100 bills at a restaurant near a suburban train station on April 10. Prosecutors wrote that he was shown a photograph of Shahzad, a Pakistani immigrant, and he said the man he gave the money to resembled him, except for a beard.

According to the court papers, Younis, 44, ''became visibly upset when he was told that the individual in the picture was 'the Times Square bomber' and denied knowing Shahzad or having contact with him, aside from the April 10 meeting.''

Prosecutors added: Younis told agents, in substance, 'I paid the money, but I am not guilty for the bomb.'

Younis was interviewed voluntarily two more times before he was arrested and charged in an indictment on Sept. 15 with conspiring with others to conduct an unlicensed money transmitting business affecting interstate commerce and with conducting, aiding and abetting an unlicensed money transmitting business.

Lawyers for Younis asked a judge to toss out their client's statements and evidence seized from his home on the grounds that he was not notified of his rights and the interviews and searches violated his constitutional rights.

The government called the suppression request ''meritless,'' arguing that he did not need to be read his rights because the circumstances in which his statements were taken were custodial in nature.

In a written statement to the court earlier this month, Younis described his ordeal, saying he was ''overwhelmed'' after government agents arrived at his Centereach home at about 6 am, waking him while he was at home with his wife and young daughter. He said he was not advised of his rights as he was interviewed by members of a terrorism task force while they did their work from 6 am to 11:45 am. He said he also met them at the FBI's Melville office from 12:45 pm to 4:30 pm that day and twice more within a week.

''I have the belief,'' he said, ''that my statements to the government agents were involuntarily elicited.''

JUI-F blames CIA, KP govt for suicide attack

Fazlur Rehman

Maulana Haidri said the Swabi suicide attack was an attempt to kill Maulana Fazl because he was exposing the American designs against the country. - File Photo

QUETTA: Jamiat Ulema Islam-F secretary general Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri has held the ANP-led coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the US agency CIA responsible for the attack on a rally to be addressed by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Addressing a rally outside the press club here on Wednesday, he said the JUI-F would hold protest demonstrations across the country on Friday to condemn the suicide attack.

He claimed that the recent drone attack in which innocent p eople were killed in tribal areas was carried out with the consent of the government.

Maulana Haidri said the government had given a free hand to the CIA and Blackwater to target political forces opposing the drone attacks.

He said the Swabi suicide attack was an attempt to kill Maulana Fazl because he was exposing the American designs against the country.

He said that such attacks would not force the JUI-F to abandon its struggle against imperialistic policies of the United States.

The JUI-F leader asked the government to stop US drone attacks and unlawful activities of the CIA and Blackwater in the country.

YDA strike continues: Seven die due to doctors’ apathy

LAHORE, March 30: The Punjab chapter of Young Doctors Association on Wednesday turned hostile towards patients, including those admitted in a critical condition, as they allegedly manhandled and threw several of them out of government hospitals of the provincial capital.

As a result seven patients, including five children, died at public hospitals as the doctors refused to attend them.

Four-year-old Shahzad died at the Jinnah Hospital emergency as no body allegedly attended him despite requests made by his parents. He suffered head injuries with massive bleeding from his nose and ears and was brought to the infirmary in a critical condition. The only senior doctor, Dr Mohsin, who was present at the emergency, was forced by the YDA office-bearers to leave the department without attending the minor. The child remained unattended for some minutes and breathed his last in the lap of his father.

Kiran, 7, of Gujranwala, Hamza, 9, of Shahdara and Rabia, 5, of Faisalabad died outside Children Hospital's emergency. Similarly, three critical patients identified as Nasir of Township, Sughran Bibi of Kahna and seven-year-old Zahid Kamran of Kasur district also died at Lahore General Hospital on Wednesday as doctors at the emergency refused to attend them.

Sources said the YDA doctors completely paralysed healthcare services at the major public sector hospitals. They said the YDA leaders, with the 'connivance' of their striking colleagues, had early in the morning locked operation theatres and emergency departments at all the state-run hospitals except the Mayo. Emergency at Punjab Institute of Cardiology was no exception on Wednesday night.

The `merciless' doctors even did not spare women, children and elderly people and rejected their repeated appeals for the treatment of their ailing family members and relatives, the witnesses said.

Scores of surgeries, this time even gynae operations, were postponed at the city's all major government hospitals as YDA doctors mostly equipped with clubs attacked the on-duty doctors, paramedics and attendants of the patients when they insisted on emergency care.

The YDA leaders took round of office of the administrations in all hospitals and threatened them with dire consequences for providing treatment to the patients.

They also roughed up senior doctors at Jinnah, Sir Ganga Ram and Services hospitals who later brought the matter to the knowledge of the authorities concerned but no action was taken against the offending medics.

The situation remained tense in Jinnah Hospital where two YDA activists were allegedly holding weapons while taking round of the health facility.

A senior doctor at Jinnah Hospital requesting not to be named told Dawn that the administration did not take any action when it was informed that two armed doctors were also present in the hospital causing panic among the senior medics as well as patients.

Keeping in view the gravity of the situation, Allama Iqbal Medical College/Jinnah Hospital Principal Prof Dr Javed Akram declared emergency in the infirmary and cancelled casual and spring leaves of all the staff.

He also withdrew security staff from hospital's residential colony, hostels and college and deputed them at all the departments of the health facility to avert frequent attacks of the offending doctors.

The security staff at the hospital got arrested two YDA activists Dr Salman and Dr Asad when they attacked lady doctors at gynae emergency department for providing treatment to patients.

When contacted, Prof Javed Akram said serious efforts were being made to provide treatment to patients.

He said a hurriedly called meeting of AIMC/Jinnah Hospital Academic Council took various decisions to carry out emergency care at the institution. The meeting passed a resolution, condemned the attitude of the young doctors and also appealed to the Punjab government to resolve the issue of pay package.

A source said a group of YDA, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital chapter, threw out all the serious patients, including wife of same health facility's acting principal Prof Rasheed Chaudhry, from the operation theatre when senior doctors were about to perform their surgeries on Wednesday morning.

One of these patients was under the influence of general anaesthesia and the doctors were ready to operate on him, the source said. The YDA doctors took the unconscious patient on a stretcher and 'dumped' him on the road outside emergency department.

"It was unbelievable and extremely cruel attitude of the doctors. They are animals, not human beings," a senior doctor told Dawn while quoting patient's relative Mujahid Ali.

Prof Rasheed Chaudhry's wife was admitted to the hospital for over a week and senior doctors had controlled her blood pressure after round-the-clock observation. They took her to the operation theatre on the basis of her diagnostic reports which suggested her stable for surgery.

The YDA doctors, however, expelled all the patients who had been shifted for surgery and locked the operation theatre. They also tore the operation list displayed outside the theatre, thrashed the staff and threatened the senior doctors when they protested against their act, witnesses said.

Similarly, the YDA office-bearers locked operation theatres in other hospitals.

4,000 gas schemes add to shortfall

"The gas utilities are under extreme pressure to work with full throttle to complete the schemes", a senior official of the petroleum ministry said. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: With gas shortfalls extending first time into the summer months, about 4,000 new gas provision schemes on the instructions of the prime minister for party colleagues mostly in Punjab and Sindh are estimated to add another 10 per cent to the shortage.

Informed sources told Dawn that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was told at a recent presentation that completion of gas connections schemes under his instructions would cause an additional gas shortage of 312 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) in winter and 118 mmcfd in summer, from an existing gap of about 950 mmcfd.

The prime minister had called the meeting to push for speeding up gas development schemes on the recommendations of members of the National Assembly, Senate, provincial assemblies and other leading figures of his party so that these could be completed before the next elections.

"The gas utilities are under extreme pressure to work with full throttle to complete the schemes", a senior official of the petroleum ministry said.

The two Sui gas companies SNGPL and SSGCL and the ministry of petroleum had informed the prime minister that most of these schemes did not fit into the viable expansion plans of the two gas companies.

"This is not only forcing them (the gas companies) to borrow from the banks to fund such schemes but also depriving the government of dividends it had estimated to accrue from their profits", a chief executive of the company said requesting not to be identified.

Already, the gas utilities are entangled in the chronic energy sector circular debt and struggling to clear their dues to the gas producers and other equipment suppliers. The Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) has to recover about Rs8 billion from its consumers but was holding back payments of about Rs24 billion to its suppliers, further aggravating the circular debt position.

Under the prime minister's directives, the SNGPL and SSGCL have to complete 3,200 and 750 expansion schemes, respectively, involving more than 200,000 mostly household and commercial connections before the next elections.

The federal government provides about 30 per cent of the cost of new connections while the remaining 70 per cent portion has to be funded by the gas utilities. The SNGPL had already started discussions with the banking sector to raise loans at an interest rate of more than 4 per cent.

The maximum political pressure was on SNGPL because of its network in Punjab mostly in Southern region, followed by SSGCL in Sindh and some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the sources said.

Under the procedure, the prime minister approves different schemes on the recommendations of the parliamentarians and party workers and then sent these to the ministry of petroleum for cost estimation by the gas utilities.

On the basis of these estimates, the Prime Minister Secretariat issues directives to the finance ministry to release the amount to the cabinet division against federal government's share for onward transfer to the gas companies through the Auditor General of Pakistan Revenue (AGPR).

An official said that an amount of Rs6 billion was set aside by the government in November 2010 asking various ministries and divisions to surrender their unspent allocations of last financial year.

Officials said the gas utilities were unwilling to fund most of these schemes because of their unviable returns to recover the cost of new pipelines as most of these projects were in far-flung areas.

The downside of the expansion is that the government will have to make additional cuts in gas supplies to fertilizer sector, CNG and commercial sectors in the coming years, the official said.

The overall share of CNG consumption has already dropped from about 7.2 per cent in overall supplies to about 6 per cent this year because of two-day weekly gas holiday while fertilizer sector has been unable to get its committed supplies almost throughout the just concluded winter.

As a result, the overall gas shortfall was expected to go beyond 1.6 bcfd (billion cubic feet per day) in next winter season. Currently, the two gas utilities supply about 4.2 bcfd of gas, with winter shortfall at about 950 mmcfd.

The gas shortfall has been estimated to remain throughout summer albeit with a lower impact.

Qadhafi Stadium a venue away from venue

LAHORE, March 30: The Qadhafi Stadium attracted a 13,000-strong cricket fans on Wednesday to watch the match live on big screens.

The Qadhafi Stadium was also to host a semi-final in the original schedule of the mega event. Later, Pakistan was ousted from the hosting countries.

During the second semi-final of the ICC World Cup, the PCB installed big screens making the venue the biggest point of the city to watch the pre-final. The presence of vociferous fans, who cheered, danced and chanted slogans for every good work of the Pakistan team made the stadium as a real venue of the match.

Fans started arriving at the stadium well before the start of the grueling encounter and gradually it was almost half-full when India finished the innings. When Pakistan started the innings, more people had reached the venue.

During the lunch break, prominent singers Arif Lohar and Jawad Ahmad performed much to the delight of the crowed.

N adeem Ahmed, a spectator wearing green shirt, said that he enjoyed every ball in the stadium. Natasha, another fan who had come to the ground with her family from Shahdara, said though there were many points in the city to see the match on big screens, she preferred the stadium as it was the very right place for such an activity.

Police were deployed in and around the stadium to maintain the law and order situation.

Also, in other parts of the city, big screens were installed by fans on streets, roads, hotels, mohallas and shopping plazas in almost all the areas of the city. cinemas: Major cinemas of the city on Wednesday showed the Pakistan-India match on big screens instead of movies, as cricket mania gripped the Lahore like other parts of the country.

Some of the major cinemas of the city like Metropol, DHA, Sozo World, Cinestar, PFA and Angoori showed the match.

According to Qaiser Sanaullah, chairman of the Cinema Management Association, people i n good numbers watched the match in cinemas, which charged Rs150 to Rs600.

Private screenings of the match at many places in the city also added spice to the semi final between Pakistan and India.

Ruckus a routine at Punjab PA

LAHORE, March 30: The Punjab Assembly members, it seems, cannot conduct themselves decently even for a short time; every day, on the slightest provocation, they stoop to new lows, leapfrogging all limits of decency to hoot and abuse one another.

On Thursday, the house proceedings, which began 95 minutes late than the scheduled time of 10am, quickly denigrated into a pandemonium within ten minutes of their start, and for the rest of day no one knew who was hooting and abusing whom.

Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal, who had been reduced to a helpless spectator, restricted himself to expunging "non-parliamentary remarks," which were coming thick and fast from all sides. It all started as soon as Sheikh Allaudin (Unification Bloc) took the floor to ask a supplementary question on under discussion Home Department, and Samina Khawar Hayat (PML-Q) had a jibe at him for being a 'turncoat' (lota).

The Sheikh, who is also known for quickly losing temper and then resorting to, what speaker called, "non-parliamentary language," was quick to tell Ms Hayat that those "purchasing make-up kits in the garb of medicines from provincial exchequer" should not try to shame others for being turncoat.

Once the argument started, both Treasury and Opposition came to the support of their respective members and a mud-slinging match ensued that went on and on for the next one hour until the latter decided to walk out.

During the cacophony, Seemal Kamran of the Q-League threw the day's agenda at Speakers dice and Khalid Baloch of the N-League threw a copy, which he was holding, back that hit Ms Kamran and it was free for all. Qamar Hayat Kathia physically charged towards Baloch "to teach him a lesson", and was stopped by Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan, Deputy Speaker, who was trying to calm both sides since morning. It also led to a bout of pelting each other with all kinds of available objects, including even those which, according to Rana Sanaullah, were of "purely women's use."

The pandemonium consumed entire time reserved for the Question Hour, privilege motions and adjournment motions. Calm only returned to the House when after almost one-and-a-half hours, the former labour minister, Ashraf Sohna, of the PPP took the floor and asked the Speaker to "seek apology from Sheikh Allaudin or expel him for the rest of session," threatening a boycott of the session by the Opposition, otherwise. After that he, along with all the Opposition members, walked out of the House.

The speaker formed a four-member committee to get the Opposition back to the House, but in vain. Rana Sanaullah, however, was of the view that since both sides had committed excesses, both should be punished.

"The speaker can form a committee to apportion the blame and punish the guilty. But, it was certain that people from both sides were to be blamed," he conceded.

Mill owner held in loan case

LAHORE, March 30: The Punjab chapter of the National Accountability Bureau claimed on Wednesday to have arrested Javed Iqbal of M/s Khalid Oil Mill, Vehari, in a bank loan fraud case.

According to NAB, Javed Iqbal and Muhammad Shafi, both partners of M/s Khalid Oil Mill, were cited as accused in the reference under trial in an accountability court.

The accused allegedly caused a loss amounting to Rs4.69 million to the bank. The investigation revealed that the accused had availed running finance and cash finance facility from MCB Bank Ltd, Vehari, to the tune of Rs5.5 million against pledged stock.

The NAB said the accused misappropriated the pledged stock illegally without paying back the loan. The bank management lodged FIR against them and filed a complaint with the bureau for legal action.

The accused has been produced before the accountability court that granted his physical remand till April 13.

The Arab spring stops here

HE was not a humble President. He did not give way. There were hints, of course — an end to emergency legislation, "reforms" — but when he spoke on Tuesday, trying to calm a crisis that has seen more than 60 people killed in a fortnight and threatens his very office, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria did not give the impression of a man on the run.

Was it Libya that gave him the "oomph" to go on, the encouragement to stand up and say that "reform is not a seasonable issue" — an accurate translation of his belief that Syria does not have to conform to the Middle East revolution? Either way, the Baath party is going to fight on. Assad remains the President of Syria. No change.

Well, of course, we shall see. Muammar Qadhafi of Libya is not a wise example to follow in time of need. Friday is another day, the traditional day of memorial and trial and questioning. If he can get through tomorrow without further killing in Deraa and Latakia, Assad may make it. He is young, his wife — wrongly derided by those who hate Syria — is a great asset to him, and his rule has banished the worst excesses of his father, Hafez.

But — and it is a big "but" — torture does continue, the iniquities of the mukhabarat security services continue, freedom in Syria is as hard to find as an oasis in the desert, and the Syrian parliament remains, in the words of Al Jazeera's analyst Marwan Beshara, "a circus of support".

Yet there are more "buts" in Syria. It is a hard, tough country, without the avenues to free speech which were available in Egypt, to be sure, but a centre of Arab nationalism. Not for nothing do Syrians shout Um al Arabiya Wahida ("mother of one Arab nation").

Not for nothing do Syrians remember that they and they alone opposed the Sykes-Picot agreement that divided the region between France and Britain in 1916 with force of arms, their horse-riding army mowed down by French tanks at the battle of Maysaloon, their king given the monarchy of Iraq as a consolation prize by Winston Churchill.

This does not justify Bashar's autocratic rule. But it says something about it. Syrians do not obey the rules. Syrians do not follow the other Arabs like sheep. They fought harder than any others for a Palestinian-Israeli peace — which Assad described on Tuesday as "stagnant", the unrest a "test for the nation" rather than a test for the President. In truth, the Hauran region — Deraa is in the Hauran, the scene of a fearsome series of government killings last week — has always been rebellious, even under French rule. But can Bashar al-Assad hold his country together?

He has managed, with a minority Alawite power (for which read Shia), to bring the Sunni Muslim majority of Syria into the economic establishment. Indeed, the Sunnis are the economy of Syria, a powerful elite who have no interest in unrest, disunity or foreign plots. It was odd that Assad talked about foreign "conspiracies". It's an old adage that does him no credit; foreign "conspiracies" have always been discovered when dictators feel unsafe. Yet Damascus has been attacked by Israeli agents and Saddamist agents and Turkish right-wing agents over the past 40 years. It has a resonance, this talk of the moamarer — the "plot" — which makes Syrians into patriots rather than freedom fighters.

Of course, there is a lot wrong with Syria — and Bashar al-Assad may have pushed his luck on Tuesday, failing to announce the "reforms" and freedoms that Syrians expected of him. Instead of "God, Syria and Bashar", it was "God, Syria and my People" — but was that enough? He would not make reforms under pressure — "reforms", by the way, means democracy — but he surely is under pressure when government snipers have shot down the innocent in the streets of Syria's cities. He may not be in a mood for concessions. But is Syria not in need of these?

Its economy floats near bankruptcy — it was judged by the Swedish diplomatic corps to be unaffected by the West's economic catastrophe on the grounds that it did not really exist — and its Kurdish minority in the north are in a state of semi-revolt. But Assad has two friends who give him power: the Hizbollah in Lebanon and the Islamic Republic of Iran. If the Israelis need peace in Lebanon, they need Assad, and if Assad wants to maintain his regional power, he needs Iran. Syria is the Arab gate through which Iran can walk. Iran is the Muslim gate through which Assad — and remember, he is an Alawite and therefore a Shia — can walk.

It is all too easy for Madame Clinton to berate Syria for killing its own people — a phrase she does not, of course, use for Bahrain — but the Americans need Syria to extract their last troops from Iraq. It is also easy to turn Syria's problems into sectarianism. Nikolaos Van Dam, a brilliant Dutch diplomat, wrote a fine book emphasising that the struggle for power in Syria lay with the Alawites and that this minority effectively governed the country.Yet Syria has always remained a unitary state, and it has complied with the West's demands for security cooperation — until the Americans came across the border into Syria and shot up a Syrian security agent's house. So compliant has it been that the US actually sent a poor Canadian to Damascus — "renditioned", in the popular phrase — to be atrociously tortured and kept in a sewer until the Americans realised he was innocent and sheepishly allowed him to return to Toronto.

These, needless, to say, are not issues which are going to be discussed on the television news shows or by the US Secretary of State — who is so concerned about the innocents of Libya that her air force is bombing Qadhafi but is so little concerned about the innocents of Syria that her air force will definitely not be bombing Syria.

Syria needs to be renewed. It does need an end to emergency laws, a free media and a fair judiciary and the release of political prisoners and — herewith let it be said — an end to meddling in Lebanon. That figure of 60 dead, a Human Rights Watch estimate, may in fact be much higher. Tomorrow, President Bashar al-Assad will supposedly tell us his future for Syria. It better be good.  —Dawn/The Independent News Service © The Independent

PEC results

LAHORE, March 30: The Punjab Examination Commission (PEC) on Wednesday night declared the Grade-V and -VIII results and sent gazettes to all 36 districts for formal declaration of results on Thursday (today).

PEC Chief Executive Officer Capt Naseem Nawaz told Dawn that the overall Grade-V results stood at little over 88 per cent, while Grade-VIII results were around 84 per cent.

He said the commission had also promoted all those candidates with a star mark, who could not qualify one paper. He said the students promoted with a star mark would serve as an accountability of respective students' teachers.

HRCP decries cases against tenants

LAHORE, March 30: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Wednesday expressed its concern at registration of cases in Khanewal district against scores of tenants under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

In a statement, the commission said while the administration had largely refrained from using force to prevent the tenants' march elsewhere in Punjab, tenants in Khanewal district were baton-charged and faced tear-gas shelling and detention during their efforts to march to Lahore and hundreds were booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

HRCP said it was not in a position to determine what cause, if any, the tenants had given for the use of force by a police contingent blocking a key highway in Khanewal. However, the commission acknowledged that at least some policemen were also injured in addition to scores of tenants, including women and children, when police beat the marchers with batons and used tear-gas shells to disperse them.

The commission said such use of force against unarmed tenants was uncalled for when the police had already blocked the road by placing containers on it.

Scores of motorbikes and other vehicles used by the marchers travelling to Lahore were also damaged in the police action or were in police custody. HRCP expressed concern at the use of force to prevent the tenants from marching peacefully to press for their legitimate demands and registration of cases under the anti-terrorism law was utterly unwarranted.

The commission demanded that the authorities must immediately acknowledge detention of every tenant in custody, inform the family and the tenants' organisations about the place of their detention and produce them in court at the earliest if there were any charges against them. All other tenants must be released forthwith, HRCP demanded.

The commission also noted that the police had established checkpoints outside villages of tenants and emphasised that the authorities should listen to the tenants' demands and must desist from harassing them.

The tenants had participated in a march to Lahore on Monday to press for their demand for ownership rights of the land that they had been cultivating for decades.

Seven bills passed

LAHORE, March 30: The Punjab Assembly, in the absence of opposition members who staged a boycott of the proceedings, passed seven bills during the Wednesday session.

Taking the opposition's absence as an opportunity, Deputy Speaker Rana Mashhood Ahmed Khan, who was in the chair, swiftly ran the business regarding passage of bills presented by Rana Sanaullah.

The house passed The Trusts (Amendments) Bill 2011, The Transfer of Property (Amendment) Bill 2011, The Partition (Amendment) Bill 2011, The Employment of Children (Amendment) Bill 2011, The Employment (Record of Services) (Amendment) Bill 2011, The Punjab Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (Amendment) Bill 2011, and The Punjab Holy Quran (Printing and Recording) Bill 2011.

The law minister introduced four bills, which were referred to relevant standing committees of the house.

These bills included The Lahore Ring Road Authority Bill 2011, which was referred to standing committee on communication and works, while, The Antiquities (Amendment) Bill 2011 was referred to standing committee on culture and youth affairs.

Two other bills which were referred to the standing committee on social welfare, women development and Baitul Maal, included The Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) (Amendment) Bill 2011, and The Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies (Registration and Control) (Amendment) Bill 2011.

The chair also directed the relevant committees to present their reports in this regard by April 30.

Earlier, MPA Advocate Raja Hanif Abbasi presented a standing committee on law and parliamentary affairs report, MPA Rana Muhammad Afzal presented a report of special committee, MPA Muhammad Naeem Akhtar presented a report of standing committee on revenue, MPA Sakina Shaheen Wattoo presented a report of standing committee on housing, urban and rural development and MPA Abdur Razzaq sought extension in a special committee report, which was granted by the House.

The deputy speaker adjourned the session for Thursday (today).—APP

JUI-F flays suicide attack

LAHORE, March 30: The Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) staged a demonstration here on Wednesday to protest the suicide attack on party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

The Maulana was on a mass-contact drive in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa when a suicide bomber exploded himself close to a camp set up to welcome the JUI-F chief. Some 11 people were killed and several others injured in the attack.

Carrying banners and placards inscribed with writings against the "imperialist" forces and their local agents, activists of the party gathered outside the Press Club here and chanted slogans condemning the terrorist hit.

Speaking to the protesters, central information secretary Maulana Amjad Khan said the attack was a 'response' to JUI-F leader's getting a unanimous resolution passed from the parliament against use of force in the tribal areas.

He said the JUI-F would continue its peaceful struggle to root out imperialist system from the country and replace it with the Islamic system.

Demanding the government expose 'facts' behind the attack, he said the party would not postpone or cut short its mass-contact drive.

He said as the Awami National Party government had badly failed to bring peace to the province, it should immediately resign accepting its responsibility.

JI: Jamaat-i-Islami chief Syed Munawwar Hasan and Secretary-General Liaquat Baloch also condemned attack on the JUI-F chief.

In a joint statement here, they said the federal as well as the provincial governments had completely failed in the protection of life and property of the masses.

The JI leaders said such subversive activities would continue as long as CIA agents and 'terrorists' like Raymond Davis were freely roaming in the country.

Anti-corruption strategy in doldrums after NAB chief’s removal

The Supreme Court had recently declared the appointment of Justice (retd) Syed Deedar Hussain Shah as illegal and ordered his removal. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The government's plan to revise the national anti-corruption strategy, which was approved by Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf's cabinet in 2002, is in the doldrums because the post of National Accountability Bureau chairman is lying vacant, sources told Dawn on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court had recently declared the appointment of Justice (retd) Syed Deedar Hussain Shah as illegal and ordered his removal.

The NAB and Transparency International, which had jointly drafted the strategy, signed a memorandum of understanding on
January 13 this year to revise it.

"The whole process of revision of the strategy has come to a halt because the NAB chairman, who is the only decision-making authority, is not there," said Transparency International Pakistan chairman Adil Gilani.

He said the NAB and TI had chalked out a six-month plan for the revision of the strategy keeping in view the passage of 18th and 19th Amendments and announcement of new judicial policy.

"A two-week workshop of all stakeholders, who were supposed to give suggestions to improve the strategy, was to be held in Islamabad this month," he said.

Asked why it was felt that the strategy should be revised, Mr Gilani said it had to be improved because nine years had passed
since its introduction.

Former NAB chairman Justice (retd) Syed Deedar Hussain Shah had assured the TI of full support in its efforts to control corruption in the public and private sectors.

In its annual report for 2009, the TI had claimed that corruption in Pakistan had shot up to Rs195 billion from Rs45 billion in 2006 and declared police, power and health sectors and the land department the most corrupt.

Most respondents in a survey conducted by the TI were of the opinion that lack of accountability and transparency and discretionary powers were the main reasons for corruption.

A spokesman for the NAB told Dawn that many of the functions of the authority had been suspended since the removal of Justice (retd) Deedar Shah.

Another senior NAB official said that no further action was being taken on the improvement of the strategy.

He said the basic reason for the proposed revision of the strategy was that it could not be implemented in true letter and spirit.

"The strategy was to be implemented in all federal ministries to control the white-collar crime, but only a few ministries followed it," he said.

The interior ministry also tried to introduce a separate national anti-corruption strategy under the supervision of the Federal Investigation Agency after Interior Minister Rehman Malik launched an anti-corruption campaign in government departments.

A meeting of the heads of anti-corruption departments was held in the interior ministry in December last year. However, Mr Malik shelved the idea when he was told that the national anti-corruption strategy was being implemented by the NAB.

"But the minister asked the NAB officials to keep close coordination with the interior ministry to make the strategy more effective," the official said.

The national anti-corruption strategy approved by former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf in November 2002 had empowered the NAB to check or monitor all development projects having estimated cost of Rs500 million and above.

It has, however, been learnt that a direct interference and involvement of the NAB in uplift schemes under the strategy were not acceptable to the provincial governments.

India’s ‘digital divide’ worst among peers

NEW DELHI: Most Indians are missing out on the "digital revolution" due to dismal Internet access for the poor with the nation lagging far behind its emerging market peers, a study found on Wednesday.

The study said India was at "extreme risk" from a lack of "digital inclusion" as a vast proportion of its 1.2 billion population had no access to the Internet.

"Digital inclusion has the potential to bring education to people in countries where educational infrastructure is limited and the development of cadres of teachers is still constrained," said Alyson Warhurst, head of British risk analysis firm MapleCroft, which carried out the survey.

Digital inclusion is also crucial in helping people take part in economic activities and improves democratic governance, Warhurst added.

A Digital Inclusion Index compiled by MapleCroft found that of 186 countries India was in the lowest category, well behind Russia, China and Brazil in the BRIC grouping of emerging economies.

India is one of the world's fastest growing economies and is expected to clock nine per cent expansion in the coming financial year starting April 1.

However, on a scale of one to 186 with one the worst, India stood at 39, in the same "extreme risk" category as Niger, ranked number one, Chad and Ethiopia.

Russia stood at 134, Brazil at 110 and China at 103, all of which are classified as being at "medium risk".

The Netherlands came top of the index at 186, with Sweden at 183 and Britain at 182.

The United States was ranked 169, still categorised as low-risk, but the study noted Hispanic and African American families suffered from "significant digital exclusion."

The study used 10 indicators, including mobile and broadband subscriptions, to identify countries whose populations were being held back by a lack of "digital inclusion."

India is the world's fastest-growing mobile market with some 771 million mobile subscribers and monthly additions averaging around 19 million.

But the survey found it was just the wealthier segment of India's population, mainly in urban areas, who use modern communications technology.—AFP

No end to emergency rule: Assad speaks of ‘conspiracy’

DAMASCUS, March 30: President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday blamed conspirators for unrest sweeping Syria and dashed hopes of an end to decades of emergency rule in his first speech since protests erupted two weeks ago.

In a highly anticipated address to parliament that lasted almost an hour, Assad warned Syria`s "enemies" were targeting its unity and made no mention of the hoped-for lifting of the state of emergency.

While acknowledging that the Syrian people had legitimate demands which had not been met, Assad warned that the needs of the people had been used to "trick them into heading to the streets."

"We are all for reform. That is the duty of the state. But we are not for strife," Assad said.

"Reform is not a trend," he added. "When the people demand their rights, it is the state`s duty to fulfil their demands.

"What we should watch out for is starting reforms under these circumstances right now, this passing wave." Presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban had said on Sunday that the government intended to lift the emergency, in force since the Baath took power in 1963, but could not elaborate on the "timeframe." Assad, who appeared relaxed and exchanged jokes with parliamentarians, echoed that statement on Wednesday.

"The measures announced on Thursday were not made suddenly," he said. "The emergency law and political parties law have been under study for a year.

"There are more, unannounced reforms … but giving a timeframe is a logistic matter. When we announce it in such circumstances, it is difficult to meet that deadline." Facebook group The Syria Revolution 2011, which has called for nationwide demonstrations on Friday, was abuzz with critical reaction to the speech.

"What we understand from his response is that there is no escaping toppling the regime," read a posting on the group, which has attracted close to 100,000 fans but remains anonymous.

Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez in 2000, has come under unprecedented domestic pressure over the past two weeks, with protesters defying emergency rule in public protests demanding more freedoms, emboldened by the wave of protest that has rocked the Arab world since December.

The president warned that Syria was going through a "test of unity" and said its foes had taken advantage of the needs of the people to incite division.

"I know that the Syrian people have been awaiting this speech since last week, but I was waiting to get the full picture… to avoid giving an emotional address that would put the people at ease but have no real effect, at a time when our enemies are targeting Syria," said the 45-year-old leader.

"This conspiracy is different in shape and timing from what is going on in the Arab world," he added. "Syria is not isolated from the region… but we are not a copy of other countries."

Assad was widely expected to elaborate on a string of reforms announced last week in the face of the rare street protests.

The demonstrations, which began on March 15, were quickly contained in Damascus, but took root in the tribal region of Daraa, south of the capital, and in the confessionally divided city of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.

Gunfire could be heard in the port city following Assad`s speech, Latakia-based journalist Issam Khoury said.

But it is Daraa that has sustained the most casualties, with activists estimating at least 100 people killed on Wednesday alone last week in clashes with security forces.

Syrian human rights activists have accused security forces of killing 130 people in the crackdown. Amnesty International says upward of 55 people have been killed. Officials put the toll at some 30 dead.

Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otri tendered his government`s resignation on Tuesday and now acts in a caretaker capacity.

A new cabinet is expected to be announced by the end of the week.

Authorities have accused fundamentalists and "armed gangs" of stoking the unrest. —AFP

A collection of well-researched articles

CHHICHH PATAR (Research articles) by Fazal Farid Laleka; pp 240; Price Rs300 (hb); publishers, Saanjh Publications, Book Street, 46/2 Mozang Road, Lahore.

For almost one century, the first published version of Khwaja Farid's kafis was found by Laleka and that was an unprecedented achievement because till that time the whole of the southern Punjab or Seraiki belt's scholars were just aware of the title of the book and nobody had discovered such a great treasure published under the supervision of Khwaja Sahib who had given its publishing rights to a Multan publisher.

This discovery also helped the scholars to see that Khwaja Sahib had never used the name of local dialects like Multani or Riasti. Seraiki was a word not yet reached in any area of Punjab.

The second aspect of the Masnavi Ma'adan-i-Ishq (as named by Khwaja Sahib) is the morphology other than the Persian script and forms of alphabet. There was no harmony in it as was the case with Punjabi or other regional languages. He had perhaps also not referred name of any poet in the Masnavi, though he referred other Punjabi poets like Bulleh Shah, Shah Husain etc in his talks recorded in Maqabeesul Majalis. Laleka's this discovery opened a new chapter in the history of Punjabi literature.

Laleka's another research is about the original or family name of Baba Bulleh Shah on which there was controversy in which Maulvi Muhammad Shafi, principal of the Oriental College (from Kasur) and Dr Faqir Muhammad had their points of view.

Laleka with the help of books and manuscripts from Togeera Sharif…a village close to Bahawalnagar city proved that Bulleh Shah had visited that area about which some details has been given in Anwarul Israr. His arguments are based on solid grounds and insist that the original name of Bulleh Shah was Bu-Ali Shah.

Laleka's critic of Umar Kamal Khan's book Multani Varaan in which Var about Muzaffar Khan, the ruler of Multan has been attributed to one Dilpat Rai Lahori as Skemp had produced in Multani stories.

Umar Kamal has transcribed that in Punjabi script Shahmukhi from Skemp's book. Laleka is of the different opinion and claims that the Var was composed by Mian Rahmoon, a contemporary to Nawab Muzaffar Khan and Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, and projected the Nawab as the bravest man of the area which perhaps could not be done a Lahori Hindu.

The writer or composer Rahmoon, belongs to the Dharan family and that the family is associated with Laleka's family in Minchanabad tehsil.

Laleka claims that Mir Roshan Din from the family of Rahmoon was the first person from whom the former had heard this Var or poem on battle between Nawab Muzaffar Khan and the Sikhs.

Roshan Din himself was a good poet and he was well-versed in Urdu Bhasha or Hindi, Sanskrit and Persian languages. Laleka further confirmed the authorship of the poem in question by many Mirs of the area and they all confirmed that it was the creation of Rahmoon Mir of Bahawalnagar district. Mian Rahmoon also wrote a poem in praise of a Deepalpur saint, Syed Saidan Imam Shah, which confirms that the Multan battle was fought in the life of Mian Rahmoon.

Laleka also found a treatise on the source of Arabic alphabet and how to pronounce it while reciting the Holy Quran. This was titled Muqaddama Faizai and the manuscript dates 1090 Hjiri more than three centuries ago. This was the second book of this nature, the first was written by Abdullah Abadi of Emperor Akbar's period. But the more interesting part of the article is that a 26-page book Maarfatul Quran is written in Punjabi prose which is calligraphed in 1295 but neither the name of the writer or of the calligraphist is known.

One wonders why that old prose has not been produced by any of the Punjabi research or general magazine. Same is the case of Baba Nanak's Janam Sakhi Sodhi Wali which is mainly in Punjabi prose written in Babar or Humayoon's periods.

Fazal Farid Laleka is not professional researcher. He can be called a casual researcher but he has proved more serious critic of Punjabi literature. His article on the poets of Bahawalnagar district was included in special issue of monthly Punjabi Adab on district Bahawalnagar.

It relies more of on field research. The book includes a paper on the historical monuments remains in the district which have been criminally ignored since the reign of Bahawalpur Nawabs. The area was on the left bank of the dry river of Hakarra of immense historical importance.


NA SAJJNAN GANDHRRI PHOL by Muhammad Junaid Akram; pp 168; Price Rs250 (hb); Publishers Bazm-i-Faqir Pakistan, 125/366 – B2, Township, Lahore.

Junaid Akram is a college teacher by profession and inherited literary interest from his grandfather and one of the pioneers of Punjabi movement, particularly, after independence. Dr Faqir, who brought out a well-edited monthly Punjabi, first ever after 1947 from Lahore. He was patronized by well-known journalist, poet and scholar the late Abdul Majeed Salk. Dr Faqir devoted almost whole of his life for the promotion of Punjabi language.

Apart from his original writings he edited many of the classical books of Punjabi. It were the senior and junior contemporaries of Dr Faqir whose efforts were recognized and Punjabi language and literature department was established by the Punjab University at masters level.

He also taught the early classes of MA. In the last days of his life he retired to his city Gujranwala and was sorry that he could not succeed in introducing Punjabi as medium of instructions at primary level.

Junaid was well-aware of the efforts of Dr Faqir, therefore, when he came to Lahore, he with the financial help of the Information and Cultural Department of the Punjab government restarted the monthly Punjabi, a well-edited magazine under the newly established organization named after Dr Faqir.

He emerged as the first rate activist on the front of Punjabi and he infused new blood in the movement. But, unfortunately, he fell seriously ill and could not continue his forceful participation in the movement and Punjabi publishing activities.

But the only thing he could do was to continue his writing verse and now his second collection. He says that after the publication of the first collection Pattan Chanahan da, he thought that this would be his first and last poetic contribution to his mother-tongue. But Sarswati remained very kind and he has come out with his second collection in which there is a comment on the political, moral and social conditions under which Pakistanis are living for last many decades.

(The morning paper is blood-stained with news of murders, dacoities and thefts. Apparently, we are an independent nation but in real sense we are slaves. Even our government serves its own people but someone else).-— STM

Kot Lakhpat fruit market strike on April 3

LAHORE, March 30: Commission agents at Kot Lakhpat Fruit and Vegetable Market will keep their businesses closed on April 3 in protest against government move to acquire the place and shift the market to a 'far-off' venue.

No buying or selling would be allowed at the market on Sunday, decided a meeting of Anjuman Arhtian on Wednesday.

Presided over by Anjuman president Haji Yaseen, the meeting urged Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to directly hold talks with the stakeholders as bureaucracy was misguiding him.

Shifting of the market to a place near Kahna would render hundreds of people jobless and also increase vegetable and fruit prices because of its distance from the city which would raise transportation charges, they said.

The governing body of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) had decided in January this year to acquire 35 kanals of land for the Kot Lakhpat Fruit and Vegetable Market.

The decision was taken in the light of Punjab agriculture department's recommendations that the market should be shifted to some other place as it had not only become a source of pollution for adjoining localities but also causing traffic jams on Ferozepur Road.

The land for Model Town Extension Housing Scheme was purchased by the LDA from the Model Town Society in 1978. The Kot Lakhpat fruit and vegetable market was established by the LDA over 100 kanals as part of its Model Town Extension Housing Scheme.

Some 25 fruit and 90 vegetable traders who were allotted shops in the beginning have been doing business there at present. The number of 'outsiders' was 75 at the fruit and 32 at the vegetable market.

A cold storage has also been set up besides a bank and a post office.

Libyan rebels on the run as air strikes resume

AJDABIYA (Libya), March 30: Libyan rebels were driven back some 200 kilometres by the superior firepower of Moamer Qadhafi`s forces on Wednesday in a chaotic stampede which saw them yield most of the ground their recent advances had secured.

But the first air strike in two days against loyalist positions in the east brought them some cause for celebration.

A spokesman for the rebels played down allegations by a top Nato commander that there may be Al Qaeda fighters in their ranks, but said his fighters had come up against a force of thousands of Chadian Republican Guards.

Colonel Ahmed Bani told reporters in the rebel stronghold Benghazi: "If there are any Libyans who were associated with Al Qaeda around the world and are now in Libya, they are fighting on behalf of Libya. If," he emphasised.

Of the hasty retreat, he said: "We found that the best response was a tactical retreat until we can develop a better strategy for confronting this force." There were between 3,200 and 3,600 heavily armed troops, he said and claimed to have "three sources" for the presence of the foreign soldiers.

Qadhafi`s forces overran the towns of Ras Lanuf, Uqayla and Brega, rebels reported, scattering the outgunned insurgents as world powers mulled arming the rag-tag fighters seeking to oust the Libyan strongman.

Reporters and rebel fighters said Kadhafi`s troops swept through the oil town of Ras Lanuf, 300 kilometres east of Qadhafi`s hometown Sirte, soon after dawn, blazing away with tanks and heavy artillery fire.

But later, an air strike about 10kms west of Ajdabiya, where rebels are sheltering, sent a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky and brought cries of jubilation from the rebel fighters, who had been calling for renewed air support.

Panicked rebels called for air strikes as they fled in their hundreds eastwards through Uqayla, where they briefly regrouped, then on to Brega, where they also halted temporarily before charging to the main city of Ajdabiya, 120 kilometres away.

"We want two things: that the planes drop bombs on Qadhafi`s tanks and heavy artillery; and that they (the West) give us weapons so we can fight," rebel fighter Yunes Abdelghaim said.

The 27-year-old said it seemed as if the coalition had halted its air strikes for two days coinciding with a London conference on the Libyan crisis.—AFP

US sends robots to stricken nuclear plant

THE Obama administration is sending a squad of robots to Japan to help efforts to regain control over the Fukushima nuclear plant, it emerged on Tuesday.

"A shipment is being readied," Peter Lyons, who oversees nuclear power in the department of energy, told a Senate committee. "The government of Japan is very, very interested in the capabilities that could be brought to bear from this country."

The news came as the Japanese government said it was considering nationalising the operator of the crippled power plant at the centre of the worst nuclear accident in the country's history, amid mounting criticism of its handling of the crisis.

"Our preparedness was not sufficient," government spokesman Yukio Edano said.

"He said that when the current crisis was over they would thoroughly review safety standards.

The prime minister, Naoto Kan, fought off criticism of his role, insisting to MPs that a state of "maximum alert" would be maintained until the power plant had been made safe.

According to Lyons, engineers were making progress in resolving the emergency at Fukushima.

"Current information suggests the plants are in a slow recovery from the accident," he told senators in Washington.

But he and Bill Borchardt, director of operations for the US nuclear regulatory commission, would not predict when the crisis might be over.

The advantage of deploying robots at Fukushima was underlined last week when two workers were exposed to high levels of radiation and burned. The workers were standing in pools of extremely radioactive water in a reactor turbine room without adequate protective gear.

Robots, with electronics built to withstand radiation, can work in areas of Fukushima where radiation levels would soon kill a human engineer.

They can also help experts get a view on damage to the reactor core. Lyons said the robots would be equipped with cameras as well as devices to measure radiation.

"They could go places where you certainly wouldn't send a person," he said.

The department of energy has developed a number of remotely operated robots designed to clear up radioactive waste from department of energy test sites, Lyons said.

The earliest versions were developed in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 when robots were sent in to get a view of the damaged reactor, and to suck up radioactive water and partially melted fuel.

In addition to the robots, which will be accompanied by trainers, the US department of energy earlier sent nearly 40 people and almost eight tonnes of equipment.

Lyons said US flights were only going within four kilometres of the plant, because of the elevated radiation levels.

News that the Japanese government could take a majority stake in the

Tokyo Electric Power company (Tepco) came as the government admitted that its nuclear safety standards had been insufficient to protect the plant against the tsunami.—Dawn/Guardian News Service

Rs0.5m for each team member

LAHORE, March 30: Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has announced a Rs0.5 million cash prize for every member of the Pakistani cricket team.

According to a handout issued here on Wednesday, the chief minister also announced receiving the cricket team in person on its arrival at Lahore airport along with his cabinet members and to invite players to tea as well.

He said the performance of the Pakistani team in World Cup matches remained commendable irrespective of the fact that it could not succeed in the semi-final.

Talking to a private TV channel, Shahbaz said the victory and defeat was a part of the game but the point was that the game must not be rendered into a war.

Excitement vanishes with defeat

ISLAMABAD, March 30: The excitement and plans to celebrate the result of the second semi-final vanished with the defeat of Pakistani team at the hands of India on Wednesday.

With the start of the second innings in the match, the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad started giving a festive look as cricket lovers wearing green T-shirts and faces painted with the flags came to the roads on their motorbikes and cars.

The young and the old gathered around giant screens placed at various points in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. They cheered in excitement when a player hit a four or faced a fierce delivery. Whenever an Indian wicket fell people jumped and danced in jubilation and fired gunshots in the air.

Fatima Jinnah Park drew the largest crowd where a large screen was installed. The other gathering was witnessed in front of the Islamabad Stock Exchange building.

However, after the match ended, signs of gloom were visible on the faces of  youngsters returning back on their vehicles only
waving Pakistani flags but not raising any slogan.

Earlier, in the day the otherwise bustling and noisy Rawalpindi city wore a deserted look with traffic off the road, shutters down in markets and cricket lovers confining themselves to their homes.

On Benazir Bhutto Road, where snarl is a common feature, hardly a vehicle could be seen.

However, in the evening youngsters wearing green shirts and faces painted came out in their vehicles showing victory signs, bringing the hustle and bustle back to the city. They also resorted to firing in the air, injuring a minor girl.

Keeping in view the vulnerable security situation, police enhanced patrolling on the city roads.

Since big screens were banned by authorities in the city for security reasons, most of the residents in Rawapindi thronged the federal capital to watch the match at public places.

"It is quite disappointing that the authorities have not installed big screens for the vast population in Rawalpindi city. We are going to Islamabad to enjoy the match," Raees Fakhar, a cricket fan said.

Meanwhile, young doctors, striking for the last one month for pay raise and better health services at government-run hospitals in Punjab, stayed at homes to watch the match.

"We have decided to stay at home instead to watch the mother of all cricket matches," said Dr Abbas Khan. He said that strike provided them opportunity to watch the cricket match between Pakistan and India at home.

However, for the patients at District Headquarters Hospital, Benazir Bhutto Hospital and Holy Family Hospital, the administration had arranged TV sets to watch the match.

At more than 20 places traders and local installed big screens despite the ban imposed by the city district government. Rawal Town Municipal Administration (RTMA) launched operation against those who installed big screens at main roads without
prior permission of the administration.Town Officer Regulation Tauseef Ahmed Malik claimed that the RTMA staff had removed five big screen television from Rehmanabad at Benazir Bhutto Road, College Road, DAV College Road, Ghausia Chowk near Dhoke Kala Khan. —Dawn Report

Islamophobia on the rise in US, say lawmakers

WASHINGTON, March 30: Some US lawmakers warn against rising Islamophobia in America while others complain that there were too many mosques in the United States.

The second congressional hearing on US Muslims saw the lawmakers divided between those who want Muslims to prove their loyalty and those who feel that after 9/11 this religious community is unnecessarily targeted. Senator Dick Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary subcommittee, said he convened the hearing because of rising Islamophobia, manifested by Quran burnings, hate speech and restrictions on mosque construction.

But Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who had called an earlier hearing to force Muslims to prove their loyalty to America, traded sharp jabs over the status of Muslims in the US.

Mr King, a Republican, flatly denied that American Muslims face violations of their civil rights and said the hearing Mr Durbin chaired "just perpetuates the myth that somehow Muslims are the victims of Sept 11".

Senator Durbin, a Democrat, rejected those contentions and criticised Mr King`s controversial statement that "there are too many mosques in this country".

"Such inflammatory speech from prominent public figures creates a fertile climate for discrimination," Senator Durbin said. He also questioned the premise of Mr King`s hearing that American Muslims do not cooperate with law-enforcement probes into violent members of their community.

"We should all agree that it is wrong to blame an entire community for the wrongdoing of a few," said Mr Durbin. "Guilt by association is not the American way."

Farhana Khera, executive director of the non-profit Muslim Advocates, noted "rising anti-Muslim bigotry." She recalled the murder of a taxi-driver for being Muslim and the beating of a Muslim child by classmates. "Parents worry, `Will my child be next?`" said Ms Khera. "And they worry about the future: Will America be hospitable to other faiths? Will its better angels prevail?" "One case is too many," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican.

But he sided with Mr King on holding US Muslims responsible for stopping terrorist radicalisation of their young men. "I will stand with you to practise your faith and be an integral part of this country," he said. "But you`re going to have to help your country."

Senator Durbin also voiced doubts on the claim that the Islamic law system was a threat to American jurisprudence, as some conservatives warn. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, said Catholic bishops "stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters in defence of their dignity and rights." "To the American Muslim community, I will stand with you as you practise your religion and you exercise your rights under the Constitution," said Rev. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance.

"But I am asking you to get in this fight as a community, and let it be known to your young people that there are lines you will not cross."

Like most Democrats, Senate Republicans also agreed that Muslims` rights should be protected but insisted that "there are two sides to this story." "Efforts to recruit and radicalise young Muslims must be dealt with," said Senator Graham.

Senator Jon Kyle, a Republican, warned: "The only way to stop terrorists is to recognise where they are coming from. Political correctness cannot stand in the way of identifying those who would do us harm."

Muslims who attended the hearing said it was a welcome change from the earlier House session, which targeted them.

Senator Kyl questioned Ms Khera on a statement on the Web site of her group, which counsels American Muslims not to speak to law enforcement officials without a lawyer present.

"Those who engage in criminal acts must be stopped and brought to justice, and every American has a civic duty to report criminal activity to law enforcement," Ms Khera responded.

At the same time, she said, "every American has the right to seek legal advice".

Junk dealers involved in robberies

ISLAMABAD, March 30: City police put a different spin on the rags-to-riches stories when they claimed that junkyards serve as hiding place for the riches robbers and burglars steal from the citizens.

"They (the thieves) are from Afghanistan, Punjab and Kohistan and operating in the capital city under the guise of junk dealers for the last a couple of years. The accused have links in Afghanistan and efforts are in progress to trace the links," sources in the Shalimar police told Dawn on Wednesday.

They said the accused used to dump their booties in the junkyards and hideouts in the Margalla forest behind Bari Imam area. They used to carry out reconnaissance of their targets in daylight while collecting junks from the streets of posh areas and came back at night to rob or burglar them.

The involvement of the junk dealers in robbery and burglary incidents came to light when the police started investigating a robbery case committed in a house at E-11 in the second week of March. During the investigation, the police spotted a suspect and mounted intelligence on him.

Later, it was revealed that the suspect had link with some junk dealers operating in Golra, Merabadi, Shehzad Town, Bari Imam, G-7 and F-11.

The police picked the suspect and on his information raided some junkyards which led to the arrest of 16 alleged robbers operating as junk dealers. It was also revealed that they had criminal record and were arrested in the past. Their ring leader was released from Adiala Jail four months back in connection with the illegal activities.

The accused used to rob people and bring the booties to different junkyards to hide them there. Later, the loot was transferred to the hideouts set up in the forest.

The police also raided the hideouts and recovered a handsome amount of looted items, including two vehicles. The accused told the police that the looted items were transported to Afghanistan and sold there. However, the police believed that the items were disposed of somewhere in Pakistan. All the accused had three to four computerised national identity cards (CNICs) issued by Nadra. They used to change their identity and residences after every four to five months.

Though having different ethnic backgrounds, the gang members have become a big family in crime.

CAA officers

LAHORE, March 30: The Civil Aviation Authority's Officers Association has demanded disbursement of salaries as per board's decision with effect from July 2009.

The association said in a statement on Wednesday that its negotiation with the management was in final stage but if the board's decision was not implemented they would withdraw additional facilities and concessions to the airlines from operational and technical point of view, including strictness in providing airport services on ground.

Opposition leader urges Iran, S. Arabia to leave Bahrain

MANAMA: Bahrain's Shia opposition head Ali Salman on Wednesday warned Iran and Saudi Arabia against using his country as a "battlefield" in a proxy war.

Salman urged Iran to keep out of the state's affairs and called on Saudi troops to leave the country.

Bahrain's foreign minister, meanwhile, renewed accusations that Lebanon's Shia militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Tehran, was "training" regime opponents in the Shia-majority country.

"We urge Iran not to meddle in Bahraini internal affairs," opposition head Ali Salman said, also demanding the withdrawal of Saudi-led troops in a joint Gulf force deployed in Bahrain since mid-March to help quash the protests.

"We demand Saudi Arabia withdraw the Peninsula Shield forces," he told a press conference. "We do not want Bahrain to turn into a battlefield" for Saudi Arabia, which is predominantly Sunni, and Shia Iran, its arch-foe.

Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said last week that bringing in Gulf troops was a "strategic and political" blunder that would cost the Bahraini regime its "legitimacy".

Twenty-four people, four of them police, were killed in a month of unrest, Bahrain's Interior Minister Rashed bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa said on Tuesday, linking the troubles to Hezbollah.

Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa, in an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper, said Manama had "proof" of "plotting with Hezbollah" and of training in Lebanon on how to organise mass protests.

But authorities in Bahrain have no intention of taking steps against Lebanese expatriates living in the kingdom, he said.

The foreign minister said his country, which has been widely condemned over the use of deadly force to crush unrest, had feared its Shia-led protests could spark sectarian conflict in other Gulf states.

"There have been sectarian tensions everywhere" for centuries, he told Al-Hayat. "Bahrain was afraid sectarian confrontations would break out not only in Bahrain but in all other regions."

Sheikh Khaled argued that unrest in Bahrain was fired not so much by political opposition but rather a sectarian division.

"We want to affirm to the world that we don't have a problem between the government and the opposition … There is a clear sectarian problem in Bahrain. There is division within society," he said.

At Wednesday's news conference, Salman who heads the opposition Shia bloc Al-Wefaq, accused the government of using "the security option to shut the door to dialogue".

Last month, Bahrain's Crown Prince Sheikh Salman, with the encouragement of Washington, offered to start an open dialogue with all parties on the issues which sparked the protests.

But the opposition says it refuses to be coerced into talks.

Salman said opposition supporters were not being called on to stage fresh protests or to confront security forces. On Saturday, a day of mourning is to be held for the "martyrs" of the protests, he said.

On March 16, security forces drove the pro-democracy protesters out of central Manama's Pearl Square and demolished their camp under a state of emergency put in place for three months.

Bahrain's 40-member parliament on Tuesday accepted the resignation of 11 out of 18 MPs from Salman's Wefaq, exposing them to possible legal action, after a news blackout on the arrests of top activists.

Al-Wefaq MPs resigned en masse in February in protest at the use of deadly force against demonstrators.


Qatar’s envoy tipped to head UN General Assembly

UNITED NATIONS, March 30: Qatar`s Ambassador to the United Nations Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser is tipped to become the president of the 192 member UN General Assembly next year after getting the endorsement of 53-member Asian group.

The Asian group is also expected to endorse a second term for the incumbent UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon later in the year. Although Ban has not sought the support of the member states so far but has not made his ambition a secret either.

Diplomatic sources here disclosed that in a secret straw poll the Asian group, one of the largest groups in the world body, had already picked the ambassador of Qatar over Kul Gautam of Nepal, a former deputy executive director of Unicef.

Ambassador al-Nasser will succeed Joseph Deiss of Switzerland when the 66th session of the General Assembly opens in September.

170 milk samples sent for lab test

LAHORE, March 30: The food squad of the City District Government of Lahore on Wednesday checked the quality of loose milk being supplied to the Punjab capital.

Led by District Officer (Food) Dr Masood Ashraf, the squad stopped 86 milkmen at Shera Kot, Saggian Bridge, near Rohi Nullah on Ferozpur Road and Thokar Niaz Beg on Multan Road.

Some 170 samples of milk were collected and sent to a CDGL food laboratory for analysis. Further action will be initiated against milkmen in the light of the laboratory report, said an official of the CDGL.

During summer, Lahorites consume 1.2 million litre loose and around 300,000 litre branded or packed milk in 24 hours, while during winter the quantity decreases to one million litre loose and around 200,000 litre packed milk.

In addition to 200 or so mini-trucks and tankers, over 700 people on motorcycles and as many on bicycles bring milk daily to Lahore from suburbs. Bicyclists and motorcyclists bring 50 to 100 litre each and mini-trucks and tankers 15,000 to 30,000 litre each. Around 100,000 people are directly or indirectly involved in the milk business in Lahore alone, the official said. — Staff Reporter

Cricket hype leaves its impact on betting

ISLAMABAD, March 30: The hype created in the media and in all walks of life for the cricket semi-final between India and Pakistan on Wednesday had its impact on the betting sector too, as even a large number of non-players had entered the arena to invest in gambling.

However, for the first time in the ongoing cricket World Cup, two rates were floating in the grey market. The high-end bookies were following the international market trend on the lines of betting rates being offered in London and South Africa for their routine clients while the localised bookmakers and the new emotional entrants were going heavily with their best bet for Pakistan.

As the semi-final between India and Pakistan was already considered the biggest betting turnover match, bookies based in Lahore and Karachi and Mumbai in India were signalling that betting would possibly be the all-time high in the one-day history of the match. However, as betting is illegal in both the countries, the bookies had special setup in Dubai and South Africa.

Panicky and exchanging SMS from both the phones at the same time was the condition of Mr X when the Indian closed their innings at 260 runs as he had invested heavily on the Indian side.

The international rates were clearly in favour of India and key bookies in Pakistan had declared that the rate for India was between 52 and 55 paisa per one rupee, whereas that for Pakistan was Rs1.50 per rupee.

However, the rates at the localised setup changed in the beginning of the Pakistani inning, as the good start led to the drop in the Indian rating to 80 paisa per rupee and a decrease of Pakistani team rate to 100 paisa per one rupee.

“The rates keep fluctuating with the fall of wickets and the runs scored over by over," said Mr X, who is an executive in the private sector with a passion for betting.

The mobile phones are used for getting the rates of the match which are announced after the toss and the fluctuations start as the game continues.

"But one should keep in mind that this is not an ordinary kind of business," said Mr AT, a punter. "The minimum betting got to Rs100,000 due to the frenzy."

Due to the illegality of the business, the bookies remained at low profile and hid from the clients, while the bulk of activity was done by the punters.

However, despite the excitement, not many new players could enter the betting business for the semi-finals due to stern actions taken by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) who raided a setup in federal capital on the eve of the match and confiscated a large cache of books.

According to sources, an official was sent in plainclothes to place a bet of Rs500,000 under the guise of a customer who wanted to directly approach the bookies. This led to some direct contact with the bookies which paved way for the raid.

The raid also discouraged the punters who operated with other bookies but the other side of the betting continued unabated, that is the localised betting/gambling operated by the punters by themselves or some shopkeepers involved in the lottery business, which too is illegal.

These bets placed by the ordinary citizens were all heavily in favour of Pakistan.

"I won Rs1,500 for placing my wager on India," said Imran. But for the majority of Pakistanis the result of the match was disappointing. However, for those who placed their stakes on the national team the loss was not only emotional but also financial.

Saleh’s new offer to Yemen’s opposition

SANAA, March 30: Yemens president has made a new offer to protesters demanding his ouster, proposing he stays in office until elections are held but transferring his powers to a caretaker government, an opposition source said on Wednesday.

Ali Abdullah Saleh made his offer at a meeting on Tuesday night with Mohammed al-Yadoumi, head of the Islah party. It was the first time President Saleh had dealt with Mr Islah, once a partner in his government, an opposition spokesman said.

"The opposition could pick a head of government of its own choosing and there would be parliamentary elections by the end of the year," an opposition source said of the president`s offer.

He said the opposition was still considering its response.

Weeks of protests by many thousands in Sanaa and other cities have sent Mr Saleh`s 32-year rule to the brink of collapse, but the United States and Saudi Arabia, a key Yemen financer, are worried over who could succeed their ally.

They have long regarded Mr Saleh as a bulwark of stability who can keep Al Qaeda from extending its foothold in the Arabian Peninsula country.

US officials have said openly they like working with Mr Saleh — who has allowed unpopular US air strikes in Yemen against Al Qaeda — and Mr Saleh has said the US ambassador in Sanaa is involved in talks to find a solution.

Any agreement between Mr Saleh and the parties could run into trouble from another party — the Yemeni protesters.

A coalition of protester groups calling themselves the Youth Revolution issued a statement on Wednesday, saying they would not leave the large public space near Sanaa University until President Saleh and his allies were removed from power.

"A temporary presidential council of five individuals known for experience and integrity should run the country for an interim period (of six months)," it said, adding the council should appoint a technocrat to form a caretaker government.

It also called for corruption trials, return of "stolen public and private property", release of political detainees, dissolving state security forces and closing the information ministry — steps taken in Tunisia and Egypt after similar pro-democracy uprisings had removed entrenched leaders.

They called for dialogue over the complaints of northern Shia and southerners who lean towards secession.

Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, a key tribal figure who belongs to the Islah party, said Mr Islah and the opposition could handle the militant issue better than Mr Saleh, whose government he said was not serious in confronting them.

"I think Yemenis would be capable to free Yemen of terror within months," Sheikh Ahmar said, adding that the United States and European countries should call directly for Mr Saleh`s departure.

"They should do what they did in Egypt. We don`t need what is going on in Libya. We don`t need that much support. But support like what was done in Egypt would be enough to finish things," he said.

Protesters and opposition parties suspect incidents of lax security over the past week are government ploys to demonstrate to foreign powers that Mr Saleh is the strongman who can hold the impoverished country together.—Reuters

Domestic violence bill

LAHORE, March 30: Mumkin EVAW Alliance, a network of 15 civil society organisations, will hold a "Provincial consultation with parliamentarians and political parties on domestic violence bill in Punjab" at a The Mall hotel on Thursday (today).

A release issued on Wednesday said the basic aim of the network was to contribute to preventing and decreasing violence against women as well as improving the overall living conditions of the women.

The network comprised Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, AGHS Legal Aid Cell, Strengthening Participatory Organisation, South-Asia Partnership, Action Aid Pakistan, ASR Resource Centre, Aurat Foundation, Shirkat Gah Women Resource Centre, Medecins du Monde-France, WAR against Rape, Women Empowerment Group, National Commission on Justice and Peace, Pakistan Catholic Women's Organisation and Women Workers Helpline besides a representative of UNIFEM.

Robbery victim succumbs to injury

RAWALPINDI, March 30: Khan Nisar, who was injured the previous day by robbers at his house, died at DHQ Hospital on Wednesday, police said.

Khan Nisar's skull was fractured when three policemen beat him and his wife with a hockey stick at his home. He was shifted to the hospital in critical condition.

Though his wife tried to rescue her husband, she was overpowered by the intruders who made off with Rs200,000 cash. After regaining her senses, the victim's wife Mrs Yasmeen identified one of the culprits that led to the arrest of Amir, who was performing guard duty at Police College Sihala. His two accomplices, constables Khurram and Munday Khan, were still at large.

Meanwhile, a man was killed after being run over by a vehicle outside a hospital near Morgah.

Noman Arshad, who along with his brother Sohail Arshad was going to hospital to visit his ailing father when he was hit by a recklessly-driven vehicle. The injured was shifted to the DHQ Hospital where he died.

Arab rulers must change or risk defeat: Turkey

LONDON: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday a new era was sweeping the Middle East and it was up to its leaders to embrace change or risk being cast away.

He dismissed allegations by many Arab autocrats that an unprecedented wave of uprisings that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and inspired masses across Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria was the work of "foreign elements".

Davutoglu said the Middle East was passing through a political and social upheaval like that which gripped Eastern Europe in the 1990s and toppled a series of communist dictators.

"In the region there is an era of change," Davutoglu said in an interview. "It is like Eastern Europe in the late 1990s. Once there is a popular demand in a region, each country is being affected by these demands."

The world, he said, was changing and a young generation of Arabs "wanted more dignity, more economic prosperity and more democracy".

"Now wise leaders in the region should lead this process rather than try to prevent it. Those who try to prevent this process will face more difficulties like in Libya."

"This a new era that will bring many challenges, many opportunities and many risks."

"It is up to these leaders to maximise the opportunities and minimise these risks," he added.

Davutoglu was speaking a day after an international coalition in London piled pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi to quit, resolving to continue military action against his forces until he complies with a UN resolution.

Many young Arabs look to Turkey as an example of a Muslim country making democracy work within a secular framework, thanks to far reaching reforms undertaken in the last eight years by a ruling party that emerged from Islamist parties a decade ago.

DOUBTS FOREIGN PLOTS: Asked about accusations by Syria that "foreign elements" had stirred two weeks of anti-government protests, Davutoglu said:

"We don't have any evidence. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, in all these countries, it was a genuine start."

He said Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian vegetable seller who set himself alight in protest after a policewoman slapped and hurled insults at him was "an ordinary Tunisian".

"If we think all these issues are led by foreign elements then it means we think that Arab individuals and societies cannot demand change or do something alike."

"Ordinary Arabs, young Arabs, men and women, want to have more dignity, more freedom, more participation in politics. I think the demand for change is genuine."

"We should understand those voices in Tahrir square, in Tunisia and elsewhere. Then we can prepare for the future."

Davutoglu made his comments just before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told parliament in his first speech since protests erupted that they were the result of a "foreign plot".—Reuters

Arming Libyan rebels not ruled out: Obama

WASHINGTON, March 30: US President Barack Obama has said he does not rule out arming the rebels seeking to overthrow Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi.

In a series of television interviews broadcast on Wednesday, Mr Obama claimed that Col Qadhafi had been greatly weakened and would eventually step down.

Asked if he supported arming the rebels, President Obama told NBC News: "I`m not ruling it out, but I`m not ruling it in. We`re still making an assessment partly about what Qaddafi`s forces are going to be doing."

The comments come amid a fierce debate within the Obama administration over the issue. Some Obama officials fear that providing arms would deepen US involvement in a civil war and that some of the fighters may have links to Al Qaeda.

The US media reported on Wednesday that the debate has drawn in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon and has prompted an urgent call for intelligence about the rebels.

On Tuesday afternoon, a Nato military commander, Admiral James Stavridis, further stoked the controversy when he told a Senate hearing that there were "flickers" in intelligence reports about the presence of Al Qaeda and Hezbollah members among the rebels.

"Well, first of all, I think it`s important to note that the people that we`ve met with have been fully vetted," Mr Obama told CBS News when asked to comment on the admiral`s statement.

"We have a clear sense of who they are, and so far they`re saying the right things, and most of them are professionals, lawyers, doctors, people who appear to be credible." But Mr Obama acknowledged that there might be elements among the rebels who were unfriendly to the US and its interests. "That`s why I think it`s important for us not to jump in with both feet but to carefully consider: What are the goals of the opposition? What kind of transition do they want to bring about inside of Libya?"

President Obama also claimed that the "noose has tightened" around Col Qadhafi and those around him recognise that "their options are limited and their days are numbered".

The US and other nations, he said, needed to "ratchet up our diplomatic and political pressure" on Mr Qadhafi to force him to step down.

Stolen answer sheets Guilty candidates may face three-year ban

RAWALPINDI, March 30: The candidates whose roll number slips have been recovered along with stolen solved answer sheets from a schoolteacher in Rawat are likely to face three-year ban.

The Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) has decided to scrutinise their answer sheets and, if found guilty of being involved in solving the paper, take stern action against them, Dawn has learnt.

As many as 43 roll number slips were recovered by Rawat police from Waqar Satti, a private schoolteacher, as he was caught with 522 solved answer sheets he had allegedly stolen from the United Bank Limited, Chowk Pindorian branch. The slips were of the candidates appearing in the annual secondary school certificate examination part-I, 2010.

"The roll number slips can be used as evidence against the students and the fate of other students would be decided by the BISE disciplinary committee," said Controller Examination Abdul Sattar Ramay.

He said the examination body had taken into the custody the sheets the Rawat police recovered on Sunday night from two men.

According to the rules of the board, the candidates could face three-year ban from appearing in the annual examination. The results of the could be withheld till the disciplinary committee concluded its probe.

"A disciplinary committee comprising four senior professors and teachers would decide unfair means cases while another
would soon be constituted scrutinize the recovered answer sheets," the controller said.

Majority of the candidates whose sheets were recovered are private candidates, the controller said.Meanwhile, the additional secretary of Punjab higher education department, Chaudhry Mohammad Akram, looking into the matter to ascertain the role
of the officials of Rawalpindi BISE in the case declared the low rank officials of secrecy branch of the board as guilty for not collecting the answer sheets from the bank in time.

A superintendent of the secrecy branch had already been suspended along with two clerks and the rest of the officials would get suspension soon after Chaudhry Mohammad Akram found them guilty.

In another development Rawat police obtained two days physical remand of Ahmed, the guard of UBL, and Sajjid Ali, a sweeper in the bank from the area magistrate to question them about how the answer sheets were stolen from the bank.

Rawat SHO Chaudhry Mehdi Khan said police was trying to arrest the main accused Zahir Shah as he was on the run.

Military rule ends in Myanmar, but army retains grip

YANGON: Myanmar's military made way for a nominally civilian government on Wednesday after almost half a century in power, as the junta was disbanded and a new president talked of a "changing era".

But the army hierarchy retains a firm grip on power in the resource-rich Southeast Asian country, and many analysts believe strongman Senior General Than Shwe will attempt to retain some sort of control behind the scenes.

The handover came after widely-panned elections last November — the country's first in 20 years — which were marred by the absence of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and claims of cheating and intimidation.

Quoting an order signed by Than Shwe, Myanmar state television reported the junta's State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) "has been officially dissolved".

Than Shwe, who has ruled with an iron fist since 1992, is apparently no longer in the hitherto most powerful position of head of the army.

But Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo said: "Everyone will be required to report to him for quite some time." He added that the handover was similar to the slow withdrawal of Than Shwe's predecessor, late dictator Ne Win.

"We have not had any kind of democracy in the past 50 years so it is more like an experiment," the Thailand-based analyst said. "There are more questions than answers."

The SPDC, previously known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC, seized power in 1988, but Myanmar has been under military authority since 1962 and the generals continue to dominate the impoverished nation.

Former prime minister Thein Sein, a key Than Shwe ally, was sworn in as president at the parliament in Naypyidaw on Wednesday.

He is among a slew of generals who shed their army uniforms to contest the elections last year and are now civilian members of parliament, which also had a quarter of its seats allocated to the military.

"We will reform the whole government system as part of the changing era while struggling to stand firm as a strong government," he told parliament in a rare public address.

In an apparent reference to Suu Kyi and her party, he said those that do not accept the new system "need to see us as their government".

An official said Wednesday's presidential inauguration was attended by General Min Aung Hlaing in a new guise as armed forces commander-in-chief, implying Than Shwe no longer holds the top military job.

But the official added that "it's not clear yet" whether Min Aung Hlaing has formally taken over the army.

The 54-year-old Min Aung Hlaing, is part of a younger generation of Myanmar generals.

He was head of the Defence Services Academy and a commander in the so-called Golden Triangle, a region near the country's borders with Laos and Thailand notorious for drug trafficking.

Across Myanmar moves to change signs on government buildings to reflect the new political system followed a quiet withdrawal by the junta in recent days.

Than Shwe's image and decrees have disappeared from the front page of government mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar and Armed Forces day on Sunday was also a subdued affair.

"Symbolically, this is the army stepping into the background, even if the military elite are still running the show," said a Myanmar analyst in Yangon who asked not to be named.

"It's now the elite not the armed forces in charge."

The formation of a parliament, convened for the first time at the end of January, takes the country towards the final stage of the junta's so-called "roadmap" to a "disciplined democracy".

Thein Sein's junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) bagged 388 of the national legislature's 493 elected seats the election.

Suu Kyi has no voice in the new parliament. Her National League for Democracy party was disbanded for opting to boycott the vote because the rules seemed designed to bar her from participating.

The election, and Suu Kyi's release from house arrest a few days later, have reignited a debate about economic sanctions enforced by the United States and European Union because of Myanmar's human rights abuses.—AFP