Complied by New Age Islam News Bureau
Photo: Haj Show Seeks to Lift Veil on Key Islamic Ritual
Haj Show Seeks to Lift Veil on Key Islamic Ritual
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON Jan 25, 2012 (Reuters) - Billed as the first major exhibition devoted to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, "Hajj: journey at the heart of Islam" at the British Museum aims to lift the veil on a ritual that is a mystery to many in the non-Muslim world.
Curators also said they hoped the show, which runs from January 26-April 15 at the London venue, would be visited by Muslims as well as non-Muslims who are not allowed to join the haj.
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"People who don't believe in the religion of Islam aren't allowed (on the haj) and therefore know very little, but you'd be surprised how little Muslims know about the history of the haj also," said Qaisra Khan, co-curator of the exhibition.
"For me personally it's been a huge learning curve over the past two years," she told Reuters.
"In terms of the mystery surrounding the haj, I think we try and break the back of that in this exhibition so you learn a lot more about something you can't witness."
Khan believed that its message of peace was particularly important because the outside world's image of the Middle East had been associated in recent years with violence and upheaval.
"If you look at the last five years, even if not the last 12 months, there is a lot about Islam and the Middle East in the press and it doesn't always get good press as we know.
"I think what the exhibition does is to talk about the one facet of Islam we don't know much about and that it's very much about peace."
The show takes visitors on a journey that starts with how Muslims prepare for the pilgrimage, including settling outstanding debts and asking for the forgiveness of others.
Many pilgrims also make wills before they depart, reflecting the belief that they should be prepared for the possibility they may not return home.
The exhibition traces some of the main routes Muslims have followed over the centuries to get to Mecca, including from Kufa, Cairo and Damascus, and seeks to explain some of the rituals associated with the haj.
It features recorded accounts of what the journey meant to Muslims around the world and includes loaned items from Saudi Arabia such as a "sitara" which covers the door of the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building at the centre of the Grand Mosque around which pilgrims must walk.
All Muslims who are physically able are required to perform the haj at least once, as one of the five pillars of Islam.
The number of people taking part has risen dramatically over the last 80 years from around 20,000 in 1932 to just shy of three million in 2011, according to British Museum figures.
The museum displays the kinds of clothes pilgrims are expected to wear and the souvenirs they bring back.
One section showcases contemporary artists' interpretations of the haj, including Saudi Ahmed Mater's "Magnetism", in which tens of thousands of tiny iron filings form patterns around a central magnet that represents the Kaaba.
Among the individual tales told is that of Evelyn Cobbold, who wrote that she was the first European woman to take part in the haj.
Although never formally converted to Islam, she had long considered herself a Muslim and was granted permission to go on the pilgrimage in 1933.
Another Briton who earned considerable fame for his involvement in the haj was Richard Francis Burton, a 19th century soldier and explorer who disguised himself as an Afghan doctor and Sufi dervish in order to avoid detection.
He joined an Egyptian caravan to Mecca in 1853 and, despite several close scrapes, returned unscathed and wrote an account of his adventures in "A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah".
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)
3 Pakistani Shia Lawyers Martyred in the Firing of Wahhabi Terrorists in Karachi
In apparently a target killing incident, three innocent Shia lawyers were martyred by the wahhabi armed terrorists of Sipah Sahaba and Lashkar Jhangvi at Pakistan Chowk in Karachi.
KARACHI,2012/01/25, Pakistan (Ahlul Bayt News Agency), In apparently a target killing incident, three innocent Shia lawyers were martyred by the wahhabi armed terrorists of Sipah Sahaba and Lashkar Jhangvi at Pakistan Chowk in Karachi.
According to the sources the lawyers were on their way in a car when unidentified gunmen riding in motorbikes targeted them at Pakistan Chowk near City Court, they opened fire from the two side of the car and the 3 shia lawyers has been martyred at the spot.
The terrorists managed to flee from the scene afterwards. The martyred lawyers are identified as Shakeel Jafferi, Kafeel Jafferi and Badar Munir.
“It was a target killing incident, they all were lawyers. Two of them are father and son,” a police official told, adding that the dead bodies and injured have been shifted to civil hospital Karachi for medico-legal formalities.
Now the bodies of the martyred lawyers has been shifted to the Malir Imamnbargah, Hussaini Sifarat Khana.
Injured lawyer Babar are still in critical condition and doctors are struggling to save him.
Pakistan troops kill 20 militants in northwest
PARACHINAR, Pakistan,January 26, 2012, (AP) — A Pakistani government official says security forces have killed at least 20 militants after coming under attack near the Afghan border.
Wajid Khan says 22 troops were also wounded in Thursday's gunbattle in the northwestern Kurram tribal region.
He says the fighting began when a group of Pakistani militants attacked a security post. The troops returned fire and killed 20 militants.
The death toll could not be independently confirmed as the fighting was in a remote mountainous area that is off-limits to journalists.
Kurram is considered a main base for the Pakistani Taliban. Scores of insurgents are believed to hiding there after escaping military operations in the nearby tribal regions in recent years.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's prime minister toned down his criticism of the country's powerful generals Wednesday, a sign of lessening tension between the civilian government and the army that some predicted could topple the nation's leaders.
The two sides have long been in conflict, but tempers flared in recent months over a secret memo allegedly sent by the government to Washington last year asking for help in stopping a supposed army coup after the U.S. operation to kill al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden. The government has denied any connection to the letter.
The political crisis has come as the government is facing an array of challenges, including a struggling economy, rampant militant violence and troubled relations with its most important ally, the United States.
Denying it ever planned to carry out a coup, the army was outraged by the memo and pushed the Supreme Court to investigate, against the government's wishes. The probe prompted a war of words between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the army. He tried to calm that on Wednesday.
"I want to dispel the impression that the military leadership acted unconstitutionally or violated rules," Pakistani state television reported Gilani as saying. "We have to be seen as being on the same page."
His comments followed a meeting Tuesday with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the head of the army's powerful intelligence agency, Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha. The talk was another sign tempers had cooled.
Gilani previously criticized the army for cooperating with the Supreme Court investigation and said the standoff was nothing less than a choice between "democracy and dictatorship."
The army had warned of possible "grievous consequences" if the government did not tone down its criticism.
The conflict raised fears of a military coup, something that has happened three times since Pakistan was founded in 1947. Many analysts doubted a coup was imminent, but some speculated that the army was working with the Supreme Court to oust the government through constitutional means.
The court has clashed with the government on a separate case involving old corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari and even threatened to hold the prime minister in contempt over the matter.
In apparent sectarian violence Wednesday, gunmen on motorcycles killed six Shiite Muslims in two attacks in different parts of Pakistan.
Three Shiite lawyers were killed and one wounded in the southern city of Karachi, said local police officer Naeem Shaikh. The dead included a father, son and nephew, he said.
Three Shiites riding in a car were killed in the southeastern city of Quetta, said police officer Shaukat Khan. The dead included a member of the Federal Investigation Agency, he said.
Sunni Muslim militants have carried out scores of bombings and shootings against minority Shiites in Pakistan. In recent years, Sunni attacks on Shiites have become far more common.
The Sunni-Shiite schism over the true heir to Islam's Prophet Muhammad dates back to the seventh century.
Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Ashraf Khan in Karachi and Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.
Bomb attacks in Musayyib and Kirkuk in Iraq kill 13
26 January 2012
Thirteen people have been killed in two separate bomb attacks in Iraq, officials have said.
Two brothers - both policeman - and at least eight of their relatives were reported to have been killed after insurgents bombed a house in Musayyib in the south of Baghdad.
Three people were also killed in Kirkuk in a separate bomb attack.
There has been a rise in attacks in Iraq since US troops left last month.
The Musayyib attack is said to have taken place at 0400 (0100 GMT), when several roadside bombs surrounding the house were detonated.
The dead police officers were named by AFP as Ahmed and Jihad Zuwaiyin. Six children are also believed to have been killed.
Many Shia Muslims live in the Musayyib area.
Four people were reported to be injured and six homes nearby were also damaged.
Police Brigadier General Adil Zain al-Abidine told AFP the attack in the northern city of Kirkuk was caused by a motorcycle bomb parked near a primary school in the city centre.
As well as the three fatalities, five others were also injured.
The violence has come amid a marked deterioration in Iraq's fragile political process.
On Tuesday, at least 13 people were killed and 62 wounded in four separate car bomb attacks in Shia districts of the capital, Baghdad.
Eight died when a bomb blew up close to day labourers waiting for jobs in Sadr City. Minutes later, a blast about 3km (1.9 miles) away killed another two.
Later, car bombs exploded in Shula and Hurriya, killing three.
'Strict Muslim' raped four women at knifepoint to 'punish them for being on the streets at night'
By NICK ENOCH
25th January 2012
A Muslim man who raped women to 'teach them a lesson' for being on the streets at night was jailed indefinitely today because of the danger he poses to women.
Sunny Islam, 23, who comes from a strict Muslim family, dragged his terrified victims - including a 15-year-old - from the street at knifepoint, bound and assaulted them during a two-month reign of terror.
Police fear that Islam may have attacked many more.
Three of the assaults took place close to his home in Barking, east London, while a fourth occurred in nearby Forest Gate.
Judge Patricia Lees, sentencing him to a minimum of 11 years, said: 'The harm you have done to your victims is incalculable.
'The nature and extent of these offences drives me to the conclusion that you represent an extreme and continuing danger to women, particularly those out at night.'
He was traced through the number plate of his girlfriend's car after he kidnapped and raped the 15-year-old in September 2010.
He grabbed her from behind as she walked home with a friend and bundled her into the car at knifepoint before driving to a secluded spot where he raped her twice despite her claiming she was only 11 years old.
Judge Lees said: 'You told her you were going to "teach her a lesson", and similar things were said to the other women.
'Those words are a chilling indictment of your very troubling attitude towards all of these victims.
'You seem to observe women out at night as not deserving respect or protection.
'I have no doubt that you were out that night looking for a victim, as you were on each of these occasions.'
The teen, who feared she would be murdered, was in court and smiled as her attacker was jailed.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, she said: 'No one will ever understand the flashbacks - they are so real. At night, I lay in my bed and it is like I am there.
'It is like a screen in my mind forcing me to relive that night again and again.
'People will say time will heal, but I think time has helped me accept the truth - that I will never escape what has happened to me.'
After his arrest, Islam's DNA was linked with three other attacks near his home in Barking, prosecutor Sara Lawson told Woolwich Crown Court.
The judge said on July 8, 2010 he subjected a 20-year-old prostitute to 'his trademark double rape' and then tied her up, repeatedly punched her in the face and stole her wallet.
She said: 'He treated me like an animal and made me feel worthless - I thought I was going to die.'
Six days later, in Forest Gate, he struck again on a 28-year-old when he dragged her into his car and forced her to commit a sex act.
She managed to kick out the back window of his car and escape despite being throttled.
His fourth victim, also attacked in September, did not come forward until police found the 31-year-old's blood in the back of the car along with a knife he used to threaten his victims and plastic ties he bound them with.
She was repeatedly repeatedly punched in the face until she was bleeding and then tied up and raped twice.
Islam, who told the jury he was a practising Muslim, was convicted of seven charges of rape, one of sexual assault and one of kidnap at Woolwich Crown Court
Tana Adkin, defending, said: 'The only piece of mitigation is his age. He was 21 at the time of these offences and comes from something of a strict background.'
His mother, in religious dress, sat with her covered head bowed throughout and wept as her son was jailed.
Judge Lees said: 'The fact that you have attacked these women not withstanding your background must represent your own wholly warped personality.'
After the trial, Det Chief Insp John Sandlin, of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command who investigated the offences, said they believed there may be other victims who had not come forward, but Islam has not been charged with any further offences.
In Shift, N Y Police commissioner Say Leader Helped With Anti-Islam Film and Now Regrets It
By MICHAEL POWELL
January 24, 2012
The New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, through a top aide, acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that he personally cooperated with the filmmakers of “The Third Jihad” — a decision the commissioner now describes as a mistake.
The film, which says the goal of “much of Muslim leadership here in America” is to “infiltrate and dominate” the United States, was screened for more than 1,400 officers during training in 2010.
Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne told The New York Times on Monday that the filmmakers had relied on old interview clips and had never spoken with the commissioner.
On Tuesday, the film’s producer, Raphael Shore, e-mailed The Times and provided a date and time for their 90-minute interview with the commissioner at Police Headquarters on March 19, 2007. Told of this e-mail, Mr. Browne revised his account.
“He’s right,” Mr. Browne said Tuesday of the producer. “In fact, I recommended in February 2007 that Commissioner Kelly be interviewed.”
In an e-mail, Mr. Browne said that when he first saw the film in 2011, he assumed the commissioner’s interview was taken from old clips, even though the film referred to Mr. Kelly as an “interviewee.” He did not offer an explanation as to why he and the commissioner, on Tuesday, remembered so much of their decision.
The Police Department’s admission suggests a closer relationship between it and the provocative film, which has drawn angry condemnation from Muslim and civil rights groups, than officials had previously acknowledged.
Mr. Browne said that the director of the film, Erik Werth, whom he described as part of an “Emmy-nominated ‘Dateline NBC’ team and Clinton administration staffer on security matters,” asked to speak to the commissioner for a cable film on “foiled terrorist plots and the current threat matrix.”
Mr. Shore, in a follow-up e-mail, cast doubt on this explanation. “Mr. Browne,” he said, “was informed that the interview was for a documentary on radical Islam.”
In any case, Mr. Browne said, the commissioner was not pleased.
“Commissioner Kelly told me today that the video was objectionable,” he said, “and that he should not have agreed to the interview five years ago, when I recommended it.”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Tuesday that whoever showed the film to city police officers during training “exercised some terrible judgment.”
“I don’t know who,” he said. “We’ll find out.”
Much about the film remains mysterious, from its financing to how it ended up in a police training center. Tom Robbins, a former Village Voice columnist, first reported in January 2011 that the film was being shown to police officers. At that time, Mr. Browne described it as “wacky” and said it had been shown “a few times” to a relative handful of officers.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School filed a Freedom of Information request in April 2011 seeking the release of internal Police Department memos concerning the training. The department responded to part of this request in the last few weeks.
The film, according to these memos, was shown on a “continuous loop” for between three months and a year to officers receiving antiterrorism training. The film, amid images of assassinations, bombings and executions, portrays many mainstream American Muslim leaders as closet radical Islamists, and states that their “primary tactic” is deception.
Mr. Shore, the producer, says that one of the more inflammatory images, of a black and white Muslim flag flying over the White House, was taken from an Islamist Web site.
Police officials stated in the internal memos that the movie apparently was obtained from a midlevel Department of Homeland Security employee, or a contractor for that agency. But although the Brennan Center has requested it, the Police Department has released no information on who made the decision to show the film. Nor has the department divulged how materials are chosen for training, and who vets them.
Religious intolerance sees Maldives drop to 73rd in Press Freedom Index
By JJ Robinson
January 25th, 2012
The Maldives has fallen 21 places on Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s press freedom index between 2010 and 2011.
The country is now ranked 73, level with the Seychelles and below Sierra Leone but still well above many countries in both the region and the Middle East countries, including Qatar, Oman and the UAE.
The Maldives took a giant leap in 2009 to 51 following the introduction of multiparty democracy – in 2008 it had been ranked 104.
RSF has however recently expressed concern at the rising climate of religious intolerance in the Maldives and its impact on freedom of expression.
“A climate of religious intolerance prevailed in the Maldives, where media organisations were subjected to threats by the authorities and had to deal with an Islamic Affairs Ministry bent on imposing Sharia to the detriment of free expression,” RSF stated.
In November 2011 the organisation reacted to the Islamic Ministry’s order to block the website of controversial blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed, stating that “the increase in acts of religious intolerance is a threat to the Maldives’ young democracy”.
“Incidents involving media workers are rare but that is only because most of them prefer to censor themselves and stay away from subjects relating to Islam. The government should not give in to the fanatical minority but must do all it can to ensure the media are free to tackle any subjects they choose,” the organisation said.
Rasheed was subsequently arrested on the evening of December 14 for his involvement in a “silent protest” calling for religious tolerance, held on Human Rights Day. The protesters had been attacked and Rasheed hospitalised after being struck with a stone.
On his release without charge three weeks later, Rasheed expressed concern for his safety.
“The majority of Maldivians are not violent people. But I am concerned about a few psychotic elements who believe they will go to heaven if they kill me – people who don’t care if they go to jail for it. Those people I am afraid of, and I will not provoke the country in the future,” he told Minivan News.
In September 2011 the government published new ‘religious unity’ regulations enforcing parliament’s religious unity act of 1994, with a penalty of 2-5 years imprisonment for violation.
Under the regulations, the media is banned from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio deemed to “humiliate Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”
More recently several journalists with the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) were beaten, threatened and tasered after protesters from the opposition and ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) clashed outside the station. Both sides blamed each other for the attacks, while MNBC said it would no longer cover the ongoing protests on scene.
The government meanwhile claimed that its commitment to media freedom is “absolute and unwavering.”
“President Nasheed’s administration never has and never will do anything to undermine the independence, integrity or professionalism of the media,” said President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair.
Zuhair’s comments followed allegations that Communications Minister Adhil Saleem had intimidated journalists by threatening to withdraw broadcasting licenses, which Zuhair claimed was “merely” a reaction to “certain TV news channels acting unprofessionally when airing footage of recent protests.”
Despite the fall, the Maldives was still ranked significantly higher than many other countries in the region.
Sri Lanka fell to 163, continuing a steady decline over the last decade (it was ranked 51 in 2002).
“The stranglehold of the Rajapakse clan [has] forced the last few opposition journalists to flee the country,” RSF said in a statement on the release of the 2011 Index.
“Any that stayed behind were regularly subjected to harassment and threats. Attacks were less common but impunity and official censorship of independent news sites put an end to pluralism and contributed more than ever to self-censorship by almost all media outlets.”
Bangladesh fared poorly (129) – “despite genuine media pluralism, the law allows the government to maintain excessive control over the media and the Internet” – while Nepal (109) showed modest improvement with a drop off in violence between the government and Maoist rebels.
India’s position fell (131) after the government unveiled the “Information Technology Rules 2011, which have dangerous implications for online freedom of expression. Foreign reporters saw their visa requests turned down or were pressured to provide positive coverage.”
Pakistan (151st) meanwhile remained the world’s deadliest country for journalists for the second year running.
Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland were ranked as having the greatest press freedom, while North Korea and Eritrea fared the worst.
CCRLIP conference stresses unity among Muslim Ummah
ISLAMABAD, January 26, 2012: A two-day conference titled “International Economic and Political Crises and Responsibilities of Religious Scholars” concluded on Wednesday with the declaration that unity among Muslim Ummah is only the solution to the political and economic problems of the Muslim world.
The conference was organised by the Coordination Council of Religious Leaders and Intellectual Pakistan (CCRLIP). The conference was headed by Senator Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani and attended by Senator Gulnaseeb Khan, Maulana Amin Shaheedi, Agha Murtaza Poya, Maulana Muhammad Khateeb Mutafai, Maulana Ali Iqtidar, Amir JI AJK Abdul Rashid Turabi, Naib Khatib Lal Masjid Amir Siddique, Dr Abid Rauf Orakzai. The participants pledged to work together on a four-point agenda which requests that harmony and coordination among the people so that an environment of mutual respect can be created. The members agreed that Quran and Sunnah was the base of unity among all Islamic groups. They also said that for the followers of all Islamic sects, interpretation of the holy Quran and Sunnah will only be derived by their respective Mujtahideen and Fuqaha (religious scholars).
Religious scholars at the conference reached a consensus that their political approach would not be secular but would be based on the principles of Islam only. It was also decided that followers of all Islamic sects will respect each other’s religious scholars and Imams, the meeting added. The speakers thanked Iran for defending the rights of Muslim Ummah in all international forums. Council of Islamic Ideology Chairman Senator Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani stressed the need for unity to counter what he called anti-Islamic policies of the West. Senator Gulnaseeb Khan strongly condemned “Western double standards” against all Muslim countries and said Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan can play a vital role in establishing regional stability.
Pakistan Awami Tehreek Senior Vice President Agha Murtaza Poya praised the role of Iran for bringing unity to Muslim Ummah. He also paid homage to Imam Khomeini, saying the former Iranian leader was a role model for people all over the world.
Pakistani Mashaikh, religious scholars call for reviving Islamic spirit
Sardar Attiq stresses religious harmony
Islamabad, Jan 26, 2012—Prominent Mashaikh and religious scholars from across the country, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan have made passionate call for reviving true Islamic spirit through full devotion to the Holy Prophet Hazrat Mohammed (PBUH).
They were addressing Mujjadidain Conference here Tuesday. The conference was organised by Anjuman-i-Jalalia Razvia to highlight the missions and achievements of Hazrat Mujjadid Alf Thani Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi and Ala Hazrat Imam Shah Ahmed Raza Khan Brelvi (RA).
The speakers said that Mujjadid Alf Thani (RA) and Imam Ahmed Raza Khan Brelvi in their times upheld banner of true Islam. The two valiantly struggled against forces of the evil and presented to the people true message of Islam which obligated Muslims to fully devote themselves to the Prophet (PBUH), lead a life of piety and serve the fellow human beings.
The speakers said that Mujjadid Alf Thani (RA) and Imam Ahmed Raza Khan Brelvi were pioneers in promoting Muslim identity in South Asia. They both urged the Muslims to jealously guard their separate identity on the basis of their Islamic faith.
Hazrat Pir Syed Muhammad Navid-ul-Hassan Shah Mashhadi in his presidential address spoke at length about historic roles of Mujjadid Alf Thani (RA) and Imam Ahmed Raza Khan Brelvi at critical junctures of Muslims in South Asia.
He said the Muslims of the Sub Continent would always remain indebted to the two great revivers of faith. He urged the Muslims to study the lives and missions of the Mujjadidain and follow in their footprints.
Addressing the Mujjadidain Conference Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, President Muslim Conference and former Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir called for religious harmony among the Muslims so that they could face the current challenges unitedly. He said, we should focus on common denominators and ignore minor differences. He said nations rise through unity and fall when in discords and
Pakistan Supreme Court issues notice to ISI and military intelligence chiefs
ISLAMABAD:26 JAN, 2012, Pakistan's Supreme Court has issued notices to the heads of the ISI and the Military Intelligence besides other senior officials to explain the circumstances that led to the death of four men while allegedly in the custody of security agencies.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry issued the notices yesterday after admitting a petition filed by a woman whose three sons were picked up by intelligence operatives for their alleged role in attacks on the army's General Headquarters and the ISI's Hamza Camp base in Rawalpindi.
The woman's sons were detained along with eight other men, and four of the suspects have died in mysterious circumstances over the past six months.
The suspects were being tried under the Army Act. The bench also issued notices to the Attorney General, the Advocate General of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the army's Judge Advocate General and the army commanding officer involved in the detentions.
The bench directed the respondents to file their replies by January 30.
The bench took up the constitutional petition filed by the woman, identified only as Ruhaifa, after removing objections raised by the Supreme Court Registrar's office.
Ruhaifa petitioned the court for the provision of "due process of law" to her sons Syed Abdul Saboor, Syed Abdul Basit and Syed Abdul Majid saying "The matter is of public importance and there is apprehension of deaths of the remaining detainees."
After the apex court's Registrar raised objections to the petition, Saboor was killed by intelligence agencies, his brother Mufti Shakoor told a newspaper.
Libyan detainees die after torture, says Amnesty International
26 January 2012
Several people have died after being tortured by militias in Libyan detention centres, humanitarian group Amnesty International has said.
It claimed to have seen patients in Tripoli, Misrata and Gheryan with open wounds to their head, limbs and back.
Meanwhile, charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has suspended operations in Misrata after treating 115 patients with torture-related wounds.
The UN says it is concerned about the conditions in which patients are held.
"The torture is being carried out by officially recognised military and security entities as well as by a multitude of armed militias operating outside any legal framework," a spokesman for London-based Amnesty said.
"After all the promises to get detention centres under control, it is horrifying to find that there has been no progress to stop the use of torture," Donatella Rovera, from the charity, said.
Medecins Sans Frontieres said it was being "exploited" as some patients were being brought to them between interrogation sessions.
Iran: New Assault on Freedom Of Information
by: Eurasia Review
January 26, 2012
Iranian authorities should immediately charge or release at least 10 journalists and bloggers arrested since the beginning of 2012, Human Rights Watch said today. The arrests appear to be part of the government’s most recent campaign to disrupt the free flow of information ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2.
On January 19, security forces stormed the home of Shahram Manouchehri, a journalist, searched and confiscated his belongings, and transferred him to an unknown location. On January 17, security forces stormed the homes of two journalists, Marzieh Rasouli and Sahamoddin Bouraghani, in Tehran and arrested them. On January 15, agents arrested Parastou Dokouhaki, a journalist, blogger, and women’s rights activist. At least six other journalists and bloggers have also been arrested and detained since the beginning of the year. All have been associated with reformist papers or websites critical of government policies.
“This wave of arrests against journalists and bloggers is a brazen attempt by the authorities to exercise absolute control over information available to the citizens,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Officials should immediately release all journalists and bloggers currently languishing in Iran’s prisons without ever being publicly charged and presented with the evidence against them, or serving time for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
Authorities have refused to reveal publicly the charges against the journalists and bloggers arrested since the beginning of the year. On January 24, BBC’s Persian website reported that judicial authorities had acknowledged the issuance of a “temporary detention” order for Dokouhaki, but a source close to the families of Rasouli and Dokouhaki told Human Rights Watch that judicial authorities have so far refused to meet with the families or provide any official reasons behind the women’s arrests. The source said that Dokouhaki had contacted her family by phone several times since her arrest, but that Rasouli had only managed to call her family once, within 24 hours of her arrest. Security agents confiscated Rasouli and Dokouhaki’s private belongings, including their laptops, during the raids.
Following Rasouli’s arrest, BBC’s Persian website reported that the agents accused her of “acting against the national security” at the time of her arrest. Similar reports suggest that Dokouhaki has been informed that she is being charged with “propaganda against the regime.”
The source told Human Rights Watch that Rasouli and Dokouhaki are in Ward 2-A of Evin Prison in Tehran, which is controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
During their careers, Rasouli, Dokouhaki, Manouchehri, and Bouraghani have all been associated with reformist papers, some of which have since been shut down by the authorities. They have also been previously targeted for their activities. In 2007, authorities charged Dokouhaki with “acting against the national security” in relation to her journalism activities, but a court acquitted her in May 2010. In October 2010, authorities prevented Rasouli from leaving the country and the Intelligence Ministry has interrogated her on several occasions. Manouchehri had been arrested during the crackdown that followed the 2009 presidential election.
Along with Dokouhaki, Rasouli, and Bouraghani, security forces have arrested the following journalists and bloggers since the beginning of the year: Peyman Pakmehr (January 17), Simin Nematollahi (January 11), Mohammad Soleimaninia (January 10), Said Madani (January 8), Fatemeh Kheradmand (January 7), and Ehsan Houshmand (January 7). Nematollahi is one of a dozen or so bloggers and website administrators working for Majzooban-e Noor, a website affiliated with the Nematollahi Gonabadi Sufi order. Security forces arrested eleven of her colleagues in early September 2011, but later released them on bail. Authorities had summoned several of these journalists arrested since January of this year for interrogations during the weeks leading up to their arrest. All are believed to be in Evin Prison.
On January 24, Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi announced that security and intelligence forces had uncovered and disrupted various plots to undermine the legitimacy of the upcoming parliamentary elections, and that the “link between the seditionist elements and the state’s enemies has already been established and there is lots of evidence [to support this].”
On January 8, Moslehi announced that security and intelligence forces had arrested a number of people and had evidence suggesting they planned to disrupt the upcoming parliamentary elections and “further America’s objectives” through social media sites. Earlier, Moslehi had warned that the parliamentary elections are the “most sensitive” elections in the Islamic Republic’s history.
In November and December, reformist and opposition activists, some of whom are serving prison terms, issued several statements calling the elections a sham and concluding there was no reason to field candidates. In December, the Iranian judiciary announced that anyone calling for a boycott of the elections would be subject to prosecution.
It is not yet clear whether this latest round of arrests is connected to Moslehi’s January 8 announcement.
As of December, 42 journalists and bloggers were in prison in Iran, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. According to rights groups, more than 60 journalists were forced into exile in 2011 alone, and authorities have shut down at least 40 publications since 2009. On January 17, Iran’s Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence for a blogger, Saeed Malekpour, a Canadian resident who was convicted of “insulting and desecrating Islam” in October. At least two other people have been sentenced to death by the judiciary on internet-related charges.
Egypt Bars Son of U.S. Official From Leaving
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and STEVEN LEE MYERS
CAIRO — January 26, 2012, The Egyptian authorities have blocked the son of a United States cabinet member and several other American employees of a Washington-backed nongovernmental organization from leaving Egypt in an apparent escalation of a politically charged criminal investigation into foreign-funded groups promoting democracy.
Officials of the group, the International Republican Institute, said the Egyptian authorities had blocked its Cairo chief, Sam LaHood, from boarding a flight at the airport last week. His father is Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary and a former Republican congressman from Illinois. Officials of the group said Egyptian legal authorities told them a few other American employees had been barred from travel outside the country as well.
Officials of its sister organization, the National Democratic Institute, also said on Thursday that six of its employees had been banned from travelling, including three American citizens. It was unclear how many other Americans working at similar groups may also be banned from travel.
The episode comes at a tense moment in relations between Washington and Cairo. A year after a council of generals took power after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, Washington has begun publicly urging them to turn over authority to civilians as soon as possible. And legislators have begun agitating to put new conditions about the transition to democracy on the more than $3 billion a year in military aide that the United States sends Egypt, although the Obama administration has shown no inclination to allow such a move.
Egypt’s ruling military council, in turn, has been suggesting for months that the United States may have been funding nonprofit human rights and democracy building groups with an agenda to destabilize Egypt, part of a growing drumbeat of anti-Americanism that has emanated from the military-led government. The generals have often sought to blame outbursts of violence in the streets on such foreign interference.
The military council has also kept in place Mubarak-era laws requiring any foreign funding of Egyptian nonprofit organizations to pass through the government and go only to licensed groups. The government rarely issues licenses to genuinely independent civil society groups, ensuring that almost all of them remain in a kind of legal twilight and vulnerable to prosecution — including the American-backed groups.
Since the ouster of Mr. Mubarak a year ago, the American government has begun providing some financing more directly to Egyptian nonprofit groups without going through the Egyptian government, acting in the expectation that Egypt’s political transition meant a more open policy toward civil society groups.
But several months ago, the military-led government launched a formal legal investigation into foreign funding of Egyptian nonprofits, and it culminated recently in raids by armed police squads who confiscated files, computers and money from four such groups, including the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. Both have close ties to the congressional leadership and work to promote the practice of electoral democracy in countries around the world.
The raids ignited a new firestorm of criticism from both Congress and the United States State department. American officials, including Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Ambassador Anne Patterson, both said they had received direct assurance from members of the ruling military council that it would end the raids and return the confiscated property. But officials of the government have subsequently defended the raids as a legitimate part of the investigation and said that no property would be returned until the inquiry was closed.
President Obama has also brought the matter up in a telephone conversation with Egypt’s acting head of state, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the White House said in a recent statement.
David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.
Thousands of NATO trucks in Pakistan backlog
KARACHI: January 26, 2012, Two months into Pakistan’s blockade on Nato supplies crossing into Afghanistan, thousands of trucks are crowding the port in Karachi where drivers, fed up with waiting, are starting to desert.
For a month, directors of transport companies, drivers and their helpers hung around patiently, buoyed by rumours of an imminent reopening of the border, shut after US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26.
But the botched raids snowballed into the biggest disaster in Pakistani-US relations since the 2001 American invasion began after the 9/11 attacks.
Two months on, Pakistan is still reviewing the relationship and no one knows when the border will reopen, through which passes 25 per cent of the supplies needed by the 130,000 foreign troops under US command in landlocked Afghanistan.
Fed up, running out of money and missing their families, many of the drivers have since abandoned their trucks and returned to their homes, often in Pakistan’s troubled northwestern areas near the Afghan border.
“They had no more money in the end so they left one helper with their vehicle for security and care, and went back to their families,” said Mohammad Saleh Afridi, vice chairman of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Association.
He says more than a thousand trucks are stranded in Karachi. In addition, there are containers and military vehicles —about 5,000 according to a count provided by the authorities in early January.
Since then, more have arrived by boat. Hundreds of oil tankers are filling huge car parks by the sea.
“Most of the tankers are loaded with fuel, so helpers have to look after them to avoid looting,” said Afridi.
For years, drivers of NATO trucks and tankers have been frontline victims of the troubled Pakistani-US relationship.
Seen as traitors by extremists, considered open game by bandits and now doing without their salaries because the relationship has taken a nose dive, the drivers have been the unwitting pawns trapped in the middle.
Gul Khan, who has eight oil tankers supplying Nato, confirms that drivers are leaving Karachi. “We’re worried, we can be attacked,” he told AFP.
In 2008, attacks on trucks began to rise as Pakistani government forces became increasingly locked in trying to put down a Taliban insurgency and al Qaeda-linked militants went on bombing rampages across the country.
Are the attack carried out by Taliban, bandits, rival trucking companies or simply as an insurance scam or as a means for the authorities to put pressure on Nato? The theories are endless, but the proof is lacking.
Working for Nato is also a serious handicap in a society fed up with the US alliance that many blame for violence sweeping the country.
“Nobody wants to see us any more,” said Khan. “(Roadside) hotels and restaurants are afraid of attacks and don’t allow us to stop by anymore. Police are taking lots of bribes —it wasn’t like that before, three years ago for example —and tell us to stop working for NATO.”And the trouble doesn’t stop at the border.
“In Afghanistan, we’re attacked very often and Afghan police insult us, they shout: ‘Shame on you, you’re working for American infidels!’”Some drivers are happy about the blockade.
“If it closes down for good, that’s all right. It’s not a problem for us. At least we won’t get abused,” said Rozi Jan, parked near the port.
But like others, many of whom come from Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt, he will start working again when the border reopens.
“There are no jobs in our villages. Being a driver is the only solution to feed our families,” said Mohammad Ayub, 33.
A driver for NATO earn 30,000 rupees ($330) a month, then an additional 30,000 rupees per trip to Afghanistan, which they can do once or twice a month, far more than the average salary of 7,000 rupees in Pakistan.
When the war began in late 2001, the job was easy, but not anymore.
“You could make loads of money, so we borrowed money to buy trucks. But now everything is expensive and difficult,” said Khan, who is paying back at 15 per cent a 2.5 million rupee ($27,700) debt.
In 10 years, 10 of his drivers have been killed and 12 of his trucks destroyed. He hopes one day to get out of the spiral of debt and get a new job.
“Every Pakistani who’s not involved in the business is against it,” he said.
Pakistan willing to charge uniform transit fee for Turkmen gas
RAJEEV JAYASWAL,ET BUREAU
NEW DELHI, 25 JAN, 2012: Pakistan is in-principle willing to charge a uniform transit fee for natural gas supplied from Turkmenistan through proposed $7.6 billion transnational pipeline and has shown interest in India's offer of fuel trade across the border.
India and Pakistan are also working on a joint strategy to develop gas fields in Turkmenistan, oil ministers of India and Pakistan said after a bilateral meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Pakistan's oil minister Asim Hussain said the transit fee issue was being discussed with Afghanistan. "A joint strategy is being evolved between India and Pakistan on this issue," he said at the joint press conference.
Once, the transit fee issue is resolved, India will be closer to signing gas sale purchase agreement (GSPA), Indian officials said.
The four countries executing the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project want to finalise the GSPA soon. But India, which is at the end of the 1,680 kilometre long pipeline, wants to ascertain the fee first to determine the landed cost of gas before investing in the project, officials said.
"India will invest in the project only if the Turkmen gas is cheaper than spot price of liquefied natural gas (LNG)," one official said. Gas consumers; Afghanistan, Pakistan and India plan to source 90 million standard cubic meters per day (mmscmd) gas through the transnational pipeline where India's share will be 38 mmscmd.
ETwrote first on Jan 14 that oil ministers of India and Pakistan would discuss transit fee for Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline in New Delhi this month and initiate dialogue to open up fuel trade between the two countries.
At the bilateral meeting, India offered to export petrol, diesel, aviation turbine fuel, fuel oil, sulphur, polyethylene and polypropylene to Pakistan by road, rail and sea routes, India's oil minister, Jaipal Reddy said.
"They (Pakistani delegates) have shown interest in this proposal. In next few weeks we will work details," he told reporters at the joint press conference.
He said, some companies would be willing to construct product pipelines to Pakistan provided long-term guarantees for product offtake.
An India-Pakistan joint working group has been constituted recently to facilitate trade in petroleum and petrochemical products and both ministers have agreed to advise their respective officials to hold the first meeting of the group at the earliest, officials said.
Pakistan relies on import of petroleum products such as petrol and diesel from the Gulf countries to meet about half of its total domestic consumption. Its neighbour has surplus refining capacity. India exports about one-fourth of its 185 million tonne petroleum products. Officials say that fuel trade across the boarder would especially help the 9 million tonne Bhatinda refinery, which is jointly promoted by LN Mittal group and state-run Hindustan Petroleum.
Israel-Palestinian exploratory talks 'over'
25 January 2012
The Palestinian Authority president has said the exploratory talks with Israel on resuming full peace negotiations have concluded, without any progress.
After a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman, Mahmoud Abbas told reporters that he would discuss what to do next with the Arab League next week.
Both Israel and the Palestinians have been under international pressure to resume talks on a two-state solution.
They stalled in late 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement construction.
About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
Palestinian and Israeli negotiators met five times in recent weeks in the Jordanian capital for what were termed "exploratory talks".
The BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem says that following Mr Abbas's statement on Wednesday, it appears those discussions have drawn a blank.
The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators - the US, UN, EU and Russia - said last autumn that they expected both sides to submit detailed proposals on borders and security arrangements, in the hope that the dialogue would encourage the resumption of direct peace talks.
The Palestinians say they have submitted their proposals, but that Israel has not.
"If we demarcate the borders, we can return to negotiations, but Israel does not want to do that,'' President Abbas told reporters on Wednesday.
The Israelis say that they have submitted a document outlining the areas that need to be discussed, but do not describe it as a proposal.
The Palestinians have demanded an end to Israeli settlement building as a prerequisite for peace talks
Our correspondent says there was never any real expectation from seasoned observers that any progress would be made in Amman, despite the added pressure of a deadline set by the Quartet.
The truth is that there is little trust between President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, despite the relative calm on the ground, the two sides have rarely been further apart, he adds.
For their part, Palestinian negotiators insist that building settlements on occupied land must stop before they agree to reopen talks. Israel says there can be no preconditions to talks and it continues to build in the settlements.
But all may not be lost, our correspondent says, as there are several international delegates in the region, persuading both sides to keep talking, including European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Libyan defense minister seeks deal in seized town
By RAMI AL-SHAHEIBI, AP
BENGHAZI, Libya, Jan 25, 2012: The Libyan defense minister held talks Wednesday with tribal leaders in a town overrun by locals loyal to former leader Muammar Qaddafi, an official said.
The recapture this week of Bani Walid, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, was the first such organized operation by armed remnants of Qaddafi’s regime.
But there were no immediate signs that the operation was part of some wider attempt to restore the family of Qaddafi, who was swept out of power in August and killed in the nearby city of Sirte in October. His sons, daughter and wife have been killed, arrested or have fled to neighboring countries.
Rather, the fighting seemed to reflect a rejection of Libya’s new Western-backed authorities by a town that never quite accepted the revolutionaries’ rule,
It also highlighted the still unresolved tensions between those who benefited under Qaddafi’s regime and those now in power — tensions that are tightly wound up with Libya’s tribal and regional rivalries.
Bani Walid government representative Mubarak Al-Fatmani said Wednesday that Defense Minister Osama Al-Juwali was “seeking a solution” to the clashes between Qaddafi loyalists and forces of the new regime.
Bani Walid was one of the last Qaddafi strongholds captured by the new leadership late last year.
On Wednesday, brigades loyal to the ruling National Transitional Council held positions and checkpoints outside Bani Walid as Al-Juwali held the talks with the tribesmen inside the town.
Before the town’s takeover, a simultaneous outbreak of shootings in the capital and Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, raised authorities’ concerns that other networks of loyalists could stage operations elsewhere.
The security woes add to the difficulties of the NTC, which is struggling to establish its authority and show Libyans progress in stability and good government.
In New York, Ian Martin, the UN envoy to Libya, noted the problems at a Wednesday briefing to the UN Security Council.
“The former regime may have been toppled, but the harsh reality is that the Libyan people continue to have to live with its deep-rooted legacy,” said Martin.
He characterized that legacy as “weak, at times absent, state institutions, coupled with the long absence of political parties and civil society organizations, which render the country’s transition more difficult.”
The Bani Walid fighting erupted on Monday, when hundreds of well-equipped and highly trained remnants of Qaddafi’s forces battled for eight hours with the local pro-NTC revolutionary brigade, known as the May 28 Brigade, said Al-Fatmani, the town representative. The brigade was driven out, and Qaddafi loyalists then raised their old green flag over buildings in the western city.
Four revolutionary fighters were killed and 25 others were wounded, Al-Fatmani said.
Brotherhood figure meets US officials at US ambassador’s residence
Hany ElWaziry, Ghada Mohamed Al-Sherif
Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau member Abdel Rahman al-Barr on Tuesday met with Assistant US Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Michael Posner and US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson at the embassy’s headquarters in Cairo.
“The Egyptian people consider America’s claims that it respects democracy and freedom as mere words,” Barr said during the meeting, according to a statement on the group’s website.
“US President Obama's promises, made during his visit to Egypt, have not been fulfilled, and Egyptians want to see more concrete steps in this regard,” the statement added.
Obama visited Egypt in June 2009. He gave a speech from Cairo University addressing the Muslim world with the name “A New Beginning.”
“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings,” Obama said in his speech.
Brotherhood statement said: “The discriminatory policies adopted by the US administration toward Muslims make them doubt the seriousness of US intentions with regard to democracy promotion. We had a revolution for change, and US policy should change, too.”
“We have a parliament for the first time that represents the people and not the regime,” he added. “And religion is a key component in the hearts of the people, who will stand by their Parliament.”
Barr also said he inquired whether the US embassy is aware of how money the US gave to Egypt's human rights organizations was spent.
Last month, Egyptian authorities raided the offices of several non-governmental organizations, including international NGOs, alleged to be receiving foreign funding illegally.
Two US-based rights groups — the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) — were targeted in the operation.
Law 84/2002 requires NGOs to get approval from the Ministry of Social Solidarity before they can receive foreign funds. The government said that these NGOs accepted foreign money without informing the authorities.
Patterson said that the National Democratic Institute, which is led by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, has a complex accounting system, but she knows most of the money is spent on training and political activities. She said that she "is committed to pursuing the matter thoroughly," and to the protection of rights and freedoms.
Translated from Al-Masry Al-Youm
Nigeria president sacks police chief after Islamist attacks
ABUJA: Jan 26, 2012, Nigeria's president fired the country's police chief and all six of his deputies on Wednesday after a wave of Islamist attacks that has fuelled growing criticism of the country's security policies.
The move came a day after gunmen stormed a police station in Nigeria's second city of Kano, the latest raid blamed on the Islamist group Boko Haram, which is accused of killing more than 250 people this year alone.
President Goodluck Jonathan appointed Mohammed D. Abubakar to replace Hafiz Ringim "as a first step towards the comprehensive reorganisation and repositioning of the Nigeria police force to make it more effective and capable of meeting emerging internal security challenges," said a statement.
Hafiz, who was police chief for less than a year, faced scathing criticism after suspected Boko Haram member Kabiru Sokoto escaped police custody last week while being transferred to a police station near the capital Abuja.
The statement said Jonathan had also approved the "retirement" of six deputy police chiefs with immediate effect.
Jonathan also appointed a committee "to oversee the urgent reorganisation" of the force and to look into the reasons behind "the collapse in public confidence of the police".
Critics say Nigeria's police have done too little to stop the spate of increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks that have hit several areas of northern Nigeria in recent weeks.
In an opinion piece published Wednesday before the sackings, Nigeria's Punch daily urged Jonathan to "overhaul his security appartus," and accused the government of "incompetence" in dealing with the Islamist threat.
Amnesty International on Tuesday also denounced "serious criminal justice failings" in the handling of the Boko Haram menace, and pointed to poorly trained and ill-equipped policemen.
In the Islamist group's deadliest onslaught yet, at least 185 people were killed on Friday in a wave of coordinated gun and bomb that mostly targetted police stations in the mainly Muslim northern city of Kano.
And on Tuesday, gunmen attacked a Kano police station with bombs and gunfire, killing one woman, witnesses said.
The station, in a densely populated area, was severely damaged: its windows were shattered, the walls were smoke-stained and blood had covered nearly the entire bathroom floor, according to AFP reporters.
"A policeman was shot in the leg. A woman who came to see a policeman was shot in the stomach. She died," a resident who requested anonymity told AFP.
Boko Haram has said it wants to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, and some believe the group has Al-Qaeda ties.
Mali's Foreign Minister Boubeye Maiga said Tuesday there was a "confirmed link" between Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda's North Africa franchise, at a security meeting of Sahel states in Mauritania also attended by Nigeria.
At checkpoints set up across Kano on Wednesday, security forces were stopping vehicles and ordering drivers to open their car boots for inspection.
The army was manning checkpoints in the Christian neighbourhood of Sabon Gari, while the local police were in charge elsewhere, AFP correspondents said.
Security forces have also imposed a strict sundown curfew across the city.
According to Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram has killed more than 935 people since the group -- whose name can be loosely translated as "Western education is sin" -- launched a violent campaign in July 2009.
More than 250 of those deaths have come in 2012 alone.
Jonathan is having to confront the worst crises of his nine-month tenure -- the surge in Boko Haram attacks and mounting social discontent.
Military spokesman Colonel Mohammed Yerima said Wednesday that troops had withdrawn from the streets of the commercial capital Lagos following a public outcry over their deployment in the wake of mass fuel protests.
Jonathan set off the protests when he abolished fuel subsidies on January 1, causing petrol prices to more than double.
Gaza Hamas prime minister leaving next week for Iran, Egypt and Gulf countries
By Associated Press,
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, January 26, 2012 — The Hamas prime minister’s office says the Gaza premier will be visiting Iran as part of his tour of Muslim countries next week.
Ismail Haniyeh will make Cairo his first stop on January 30. He will also visit Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.
Israel says Iran backs Hamas with funds and smuggled weapons.
Earlier this month Haniyeh toured Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and Tunisia. That was the first time he left Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory from the rival Fatah movement in 2007.
Hamas says the visits prove that it has won increased international recognition and that Islamic groups in the region have more influence.
The Palestinian Authority, which is dominated by Fatah, has been concerned by the warm welcome Haniyeh has received.
Challenges to growth of Islamic banking
Mohammad Al Asoomi, Special to Gulf News
January 26, 2012
Although Islamic banking has grown rapidly over the last three decades, the volume of transactions touched $1.086 trillion (Dh3.98 trillion) in 2011, accounting for only one per cent of the world's total.
This point was made at a seminar organised last week by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi in cooperation with the Paris Institute of Geo-Political Studies.
The seminar also highlighted global interest in Islamic banking, motivated by the growing economic importance of Islamic countries and the increasing number of Muslims in places such as Europe. Even China is entering the market, recently approving a licence to set up the first Islamic bank in the country.
More than 310 Islamic financial institutions currently operate in more than 75 countries, and in the GCC the sector continues to flourish. The recent announcement that the world's largest Islamic bank, with a capital of $100 billion, would be headquartered in Bahrain, will boost this trend.
But despite the global interest and new trends, Islamic banking still faces many challenges. Many of these challenges have complicated Sharia and professional characteristics.
Regarding Sharia, there is a wide variation in fatwas in each Islamic bank. Some of these fatwas contradict each other, thus creating hurdles in the progress of the sector.
This disparity reflects conflicts of interest and competition among Islamic banks on the one hand, and among scholars on the other. Some financial instruments adopted by some Islamic banks are prohibited or treated as undesirable in other lenders, which may hinder their adoption and the mission of the banking business in general.
On the professional side, although one of the most basic fundamentals of Islamic banking is based on the profit-and-loss sharing principle, the interest rate in Islamic banks mirrors interest rates in traditional banks, in that it moves up and down in accordance with the interest rate of the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) on the London Stock Exchange. This is the average interest rate that leading banks in London charge when lending to other banks.
Even though fatwa departments in Islamic banks are currently considering a substitute for this interest rate mechanism, in reality, Islamic banking is part of the global banking system and will remain so due to the integration of the economies of Islamic countries with the global economy.
This is because economic globalisation does not allow for such a separation between Islamic banks and traditional banks.
The impact of the global financial crisis on Islamic banking stand as evidence of strong association between Islamic banking and global banking, despite the fact that the effects on Islamic banks were less serious than those suffered by traditional banks. Let us not forget that one reason for this is that Islamic finance prohibits overestimating assets without sound financial foundations, and financial derivatives — two major causes of the crisis.
The efforts of Islamic banking to go global are important, particularly if they want to achieve the stature of French banks, for example, but it also requires finding a solution to the currently existing Sharia and professionalism-related problems.
Dealing with global fin-ancial markets is different from dealing with local and regional markets, especially given that there are complicated financial instruments and derivatives that are difficult to deal with in terms of Sharia only.
There are also major stock exchanges for commodities, gold and oil that deal with billions of dollars daily, thus putting big burdens on financial institutions because of the size and speed of transactions.
But if these issues can be resolved, it would be possible for Islamic banking to constitute an important part of the world banking system.