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Islamic World News ( 20 Feb 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Nearly 100 killed in Libyan crackdown on unrest

Libya forces kill dozens as Muslim leaders urge end to "massacre"

Qaddafi’s Son Warns of Civil War as Libyan Protests Widen

Fears of Chaos Temper Calls for Change in Morocco

Turkey may emerge as Arab role model

Turks protest against arrests of army officers

Next Question for Tunisia: The Role of Islam in Politics

Moroccan protests to demand limit to king's powers

Protesters back in Bahrain's Pearl Square

Drone strikes on hold for Davis release?

NATO air raids killed 50 civilians, says Hamid Karzai

Pak films sweep top honours at NID fest

Iranian ships to enter Suez Canal, says official

Netanyahu: Israel takes grave view of Iran Suez move

New party shows deep political change in new Egypt

‘You have to talk to the enemy’

Kasab recites Quran, offers prayers in jail ahead of verdict

Yemen prez offers talks, students take to streets

Youth killed, students hurt in Yemen clashes

At least 18 killed in Afghan bank attack

Pakistan judge orders arrest of US car’s driver

Flood-hit Jeddawis given food baskets, blankets

King Abdullah food bank to expand role

Israel sold 1,400 homes in settlements in 2010

Compile by New Age Islam News Bureau




Nearly 100 killed in Libyan crackdown on unrest


Feb 20, 2011

CAIRO: Libyan forces opened fire on mourners leaving a funeral for protesters Saturday in the flashpoint city of Benghazi, and a medical official said 15 people were killed, with bodies piling up in a hospital and doctors collapsing in grief at the sight of dead relatives.

The deaths pushed the overall estimated death toll to 99 in five days of unprecedented protests against the 42-year reign of Muammar Qaddafi. Government forces also wiped out a protest encampment and clamped down on Internet service throughout the North African nation.

As relatives buried their dead, they fell victim to a mixture of special commandos, foreign mercenaries and Qaddafi loyalists armed with knives, Kalashnikovs and even anti-aircraft missiles trying to quell the demonstrations, witnesses said.

“The blood of our martyrs is still leaking from coffins over the shoulders of the mourners,” one female protester, who is also a lawyer, said while standing in front of about 20 coffins lined up in front of the Northern Court building in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the epicenter of the current unrest.

Before Saturday’s violence, Human Rights Watch had estimated at least 84 people have been killed.

Hospitals ran low on medical supplies and were packed with bodies shot in the chest and head, said the medical official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisal.

“Many of the dead and the injured are relatives of doctors here,” the official, who provided the figure of 15 dead, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“They are crying, and I keep telling them to please stand up and help us.” Information is tightly controlled in Libya, where journalists cannot work freely, and some of the accounts could not be independently confirmed. Other information comes from opposition activists in exile.

Qaddafi has been trying to bring his country out of isolation, announcing in 2003 that he was abandoning his program for weapons of mass destruction, renouncing terrorism and compensating victims of the 1986 La Belle disco bombing in Berlin and the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Those decisions opened the door for warmer relations with the West and the lifting of UN and US sanctions, but Qaddafi continues to face allegations of human rights violations in the North African nation.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called reports of the use of snipers and heavy weapons against demonstrators in Libya “clearly unacceptable and horrifying,” and criticized restrictions on media access.

Before the Internet was shut down, videos posted on a Facebook page showed Libyan protesters smashing a stone representation of the “Green Book,” which is Ghadhafi’s manifesto, as well as destroying billboards of the Libyan leader. Video of torched Revolutionary Committees buildings also were posted.

Protesters say that defiance is growing with the increasing bloodshed and attempts by authorities to silence them by offering financial compensation to relatives of the dead.

“Qaddafi’s men came to us and tried to bribe many of our colleagues,” said the female protester, but she added that the opposition would not agree to any negotiations with the regime because of the bloodshed.

Her account could not be verified independently but was identical to those of several others contacted by the AP.

Hatred of Qaddafi’s rule has grown in Benghazi in the past two decades. Anger has focused on the shooting deaths of about 1,200 inmates — most of them political prisoners — during prison riots in 1996.

Families of the dead since then have been holding small demonstrations calling for the prosecution of those responsible for the killings. But the current protests have been larger, apparently spurred by revolts that ousted the Tunisian and Egyptian leaders.

“There’s no turning back,” said Mohammed Abdullah, a Dubai-based member of the Libyan Salvation Front. “It is over for Qaddafi.”

According to several accounts, police in Benghazi initially followed orders to act against the protest but later joined with them because they belong to the same tribe and saw the foreign mercenaries taking part in the killings.

A similar scenario took place in other eastern cities, including Beyda, which once housed Libya’s parliament before Qaddafi’s military coup in September 1969 toppled the monarchy.

Protests spread to outside the southern city of Zentan and west to Mesrata, the third-biggest city in Libya.

“Now people are tearing down the posters of Qaddafi. This never happened before,” a protester from Mesrata said by phone who did not want to give his name because of fear of reprisal.

The capital of Tripoli, however, remained a stronghold of support for Qaddafi, with security forces swiftly curbing small protests erupting in the outskirts. Secret police were heavily deployed on the streets, as residents kept their opinions and emotions secret.

Residents reported receiving short messages on their mobile phones warning about taking any action against Qaddafi, national security and the oil industry, which are among “red lines” in Libya that must not be crossed.

A female protester said she tried to rally people in the streets Friday but ended up among 150 protesters detained by police at the end of the day. She was let go because she was the sole woman among them.

“It is very, very difficult for protesters to appear in the streets of Tripoli, except at night. People are under siege and those who dare to show up are arrested,” she said.

State-run media show only footage of the flamboyantly dressed Qaddafi, which it called “the inspiring leader,” waving to hundreds of cheering loyalists.

Libyan author Hisham Matar, whose novel “In the Country of Men” was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, said the regime wants to make “an example of Benghazi.”

“The danger now is that because of the extraordinary impunity with which the Qaddafi regime and security apparatus are able to act, we might see the death toll rise even higher,” said Matar, whose father, a political dissident, was kidnapped in Egypt in 1990 and never seen again.


Libya forces kill dozens as Muslim leaders urge end to "massacre"

February 19, 2011

TRIPOLI: Libya forces have killed dozens of protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi in the latest violence to threaten Muammar Gaddafi's authority, with national Muslim leaders appealing for an end to the growing death toll.

Before the latest reports of deaths, Human Rights Watch said 84 people had been killed over three days in a fierce security crackdown mounted in response to anti-government protests that seek to emulate uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

Britain's Independent on Sunday said the body count in Benghazi may be as high as 200.

"Dozens were killed ... not 15, dozens. We are in the midst of a massacre here," a witness told Al Jazeera television. The man said he helped take the victims to hospital in Benghazi, Libya's second city.

The broadcaster on Sunday reported some security personnel captured by protesters appeared to be foreign mercenaries. Earlier, the channel said, security forces fired at mourners at a funeral killing at least 15 people.

Witness accounts have been hard to independently verify because Libyan authorities have not allowed foreign journalists into the country since the protests against Gaddafi erupted and local reporters have been barred from travelling to Benghazi.

Mobile phone connections have been frequently out of service and Internet service in Libya has been cut off, according to a U.S. company that monitors web traffic.

A Benghazi hopsital doctor said victims had suffered severe wounds from high-velocity rifles. Comments on social network sites suggested one man was hit by an anti-aircraft missile.

"Gaddafi will find it hard to make concessions in order to survive. I think the attitude of the Libyan regime is that it's all or nothing," Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Libya, told the newspaper.

The bloody crackdown prompted about 50 Libyan Muslim religious leaders to issue an appeal, sent to Reuters, for the security forces, as Muslims, to stop the killing.

"This is an urgent appeal from religious scholars (faqihs and Sufi sheikhs), intellectuals, and clan elders from Tripoli, Bani Walid, Zintan, Jadu, Msalata, Misrata, Zawiah, and other towns and villages of the western area," said the appeal.

"We appeal to every Muslim, within the regime or assisting it in any way, to recognize that the killing of innocent human beings is forbidden by our Creator and by His beloved Prophet of Compassion (peace be upon him)... Do NOT kill your brothers and sisters. STOP the massacre NOW!"

A Benghazi resident said security forces were confined to a compound from which snipers were firing at protesters.

"Right now, the only military presence in Benghazi is confined to the Command Centre Complex in the city. The rest of the city is liberated," he said.

"Thousands and thousands of people have gathered in front of Benghazi's court house....All of the revolutionary committee (local government) offices and police stations in the city have been burned," he said.

The account could not be independently verified and a security source earlier gave a different version, saying the situation in the Benghazi region was "80 percent under control".

The private Quryna newspaper, which is based in Benghazi and has been linked to one of Gaddafi's sons, said 24 people were killed in Benghazi on Friday. It said security forces fired to stop protesters attacking the police headquarters and a military base where weapons were stored.

"The guards were forced to use bullets," the paper said.

Italy's Ansa news agency quoted an Italian witness in Benghazi as saying the city was "completely out of control".

"All the government and institutional buildings and a bank have been burnt, and the rebels have ransacked and destroyed everything. There's no one on the streets, not even the police," said the witness, who declined to be identified.

The government has not released any casualty figures or made any official comment on the violence.


The violence has been largely concentrated around Benghazi, some 1,000 km (625 miles) east of the capital, where support for Gaddafi traditionally has been weaker than in the rest of the country. There was no clear sign of a nationwide revolt.

In Green Square in the centre of Tripoli, next to the walled old city, several hundred people gathered on Saturday, waving portraits of Gaddafi and chanting "Our revolutionary leader!" and "We follow your path", a Reuters reporter said.

A state-controlled newspaper said the violence was part of "the dirty plans and the conspiracies designed by America and Zionism and the traitors of the West".

State television showed footage of one of Gaddafi's sons, Saadi Gaddafi, who was this week put in charge of Benghazi, touring Green Square. He was cheered by about 1,000 people, most of them supporters of the capital's two main soccer clubs, Al-Ahly and Al-Ettihad.

The crowd chanted "God, Libya and Muammar only."

Libya watchers say an Egypt-style nationwide revolt is unlikely because Gaddafi has oil cash to smooth over social problems, and is still respected in much of the country. -- Reuters


Qaddafi’s Son Warns of Civil War as Libyan Protests Widen


February 20, 2011

CAIRO — A five-day-old uprising in Libya took control of its second-largest city of Benghazi and spread for the first time to the capital of Tripoli late on Sunday as the heir-apparent son of its strongman, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, warned Libyans in a televised speech that their oil-rich country would fall into civil war and even renewed Western “colonization” if they threw off his father’s 40-year-long rule.

In a rambling, disjointed address delivered about 1 a.m. on Monday, the son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, played down the uprising sweeping the country, which witnesses and rights activists say has left more than 200 people dead and hundreds wounded from gunfire by security forces. He repeated several times that “Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt” — the neighbors to the east and west that both overthrew their veteran autocrats in the space of the last six weeks.

The revolt shaking Libya is the latest and most violent turn in the rebellion across the Arab world that seemed unthinkable just two months ago and now poses the greatest threat in four decades to Colonel Qaddafi’s autocratic power. The United States condemned the Qaddafi government’s lethal use of force.

Witnesses in Tripoli interviewed by telephone on Sunday night said protesters were converging on the capital’s central Green Square and clashing with the heavily armed riot police. Young men armed themselves with chains around their knuckles, steel pipes and machetes. The police had retreated from some neighborhoods, and protesters were seen armed with police batons, helmets and rifles commandeered from riot squads.

The protesters set trash hauling bins on fire, blocking roads in some neighborhoods. In the early evening the sound and smells of gunfire hung over the central city, and by midnight looting had begun.

“The state has disappeared from the streets,” said Mansour Abu Shenaf, a writer living in Tripoli, “and the people, the youth, have practically taken over.”

In Benghazi, the starting point of the revolt, three witnesses said that special military forces called in as reinforcements had instead helped the protesters take over the local army barracks. “The gunshots you hear are the gunshots of celebration,” said Abdel Latif al-Hadi, a 54-year-old Benghazi resident whose five sons were out protesting.

The younger Mr. Qaddafi blamed Islamic radicals and Libyans in exile for the uprising. He offered a vague package of reforms in his televised speech, potentially including a new flag, national anthem and confederate structure. But his main theme was to threaten Libyans with the prospect of civil war over its oil resources that would break up the country, deprive residents of food and education, and even invite a Western takeover.

“Libya is made up of tribes and clans and loyalties,” he said. “There will be civil war.”

Recalling Libya’s colonial past, he warned, “The West and Europe and the United States will not accept the establishment of an Islamic emirate in Libya.”

There was no sign that Colonel Qaddafi, 68, intended to allow the revolts that have taken down the longtime leaders in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt to fell him as well. Colonel Qaddafi for decades has skillfully cultivated tribal rivalries to avoid any threat to his authority.

“We will fight until the last man, until the last woman, until the last bullet,” his son said in his televised speech. The younger Mr. Qaddafi has been the government’s principal spokesman, especially on the subject of reform.

The whereabouts of Colonel Qaddafi himself remained unclear on Sunday. Over the last three days his security forces have killed at least 173 people, according to a tally by the group Human Rights Watch. Several people in Benghazi hospitals, reached by telephone, said they believed that as many as 200 had been killed and more than 800 wounded there on Saturday alone, with many of the deaths from machine gun fire. And after protesters marched in a funeral procession on Sunday morning, the security forces opened fire again, killing at least 50 more, Human Rights Watch said.

The escalating violence in Libya — a cycle of funerals, confrontations, and more coffins — has made the revolt there the bloodiest in the wave of uprisings sweeping the region.

Under Colonel Qaddafi’s idiosyncratic rule, tribal bonds remain primary even within the ranks of the military, and both protesters and the security forces have reason to believe that backing down will likely mean their ultimate death or imprisonment.

But in a break with the Qaddafi government, the powerful al-Warfalla and al-Zuwayya tribes came out against Colonel Qaddafi on Sunday. “We tell him to leave the country,” a spokesman for the al-Warfalla told the pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera.

The Libyan government has tried to impose a blackout on the country. Foreign journalists cannot enter. Internet access has been almost totally severed, with only occasional access, though some protesters appear to be using satellite connections or phoning information to services outside the country. Al Jazeera, viewed by many as a cheerleader for the democracy movements stirring the region, has been taken off the air. Several people and intermediaries said Libyans were reluctant to talk to the foreign press via phone, fearing reprisals from the security forces.

Benghazi, the traditional hub of the country’s eastern province, has long been a center of opposition to the Qaddafi government, centered in the Western city of Tripoli. In 1996, Benghazi was the site of a massacre at the Abu Slim prison, when security forces killed about 1,200 prisoners. Those killings have since become a cause for Qaddafi critics there.

Opponents of the government had set Thursday, Feb. 17, as the day of a demonstration dubbed the “day of rage” and inspired by the protests in Tunisia and Egypt. But on Tuesday, the security forces detained a prominent opposition lawyer, Fathi Terbil, who represented many of the families of prisoners killed in the massacre, and members of the families led the protesters into the streets the next day.

By Sunday, Fathi Terbil had been released and set up a live online video broadcast that appeared to emanate from the roof of the Benghazi courthouse overlooking what residents call their Tahrir Square. “Free Libya Radio,” he called it.

“We are expecting people to die today, more people than before,” Mr. Terbil said early on Sunday, before the latest round of funerals and shootings began.

“If anything happens to us today, we are not going to leave this place,” he said. “I’m not afraid to die, I’m afraid to lose the battle, that’s why I want the media to see what’s going on.”

“At least if we die, so many people can witness, I can protest from everywhere,” he added, “Long live a free Libya. We are determined to fight till the end for our country.”

On Sunday morning, residents of Benghazi described an ongoing battle for control of the city, with a population of about 700,000. Thousands of protesters had occupied a central square in front of the courthouse. As they had for days, they were chanting the slogans that echoed through the streets of Tunis and Cairo before — “The people want to bring down the regime.”

A brigade of more than a thousand other members of the security forces were concentrated a few miles from the courthouse in a barracks in the neighborhood of Berqa. Witnesses said young protesters were attempting suicidal attacks on the barracks with thrown rocks or stun grenades usually used for fishing. But the security forces responded by shooting from the cover of their fortified building, while others shot from vehicles as they cruised the side streets.

By afternoon, however, witnesses reported streams of new protesters flowing to Benghazi from other cities around the east to support the revolt. Then another brigade of reinforcements — described by witnesses as special forces — began collaborating with the protesters as well, some even lending their tanks to the cause of assaulting the government security forces.

Soon the protesters had stormed the local headquarters of the state security services. “These young men are taking bullets in their chests to confront the tyrant,” Mr. Hadi said, speaking by phone from the siege of the security building.

Within hours, several protesters said, they had taken control of the army barracks as well. “Despite the pain and victims, we are happy because the blood of our sons was not spilled in vain,” Amal Mohaity, a lawyer and human rights activist, said as the siege unfolded. “Mark my words: Qaddafi is coming down.”

There were reports of uprisings in several cities along the coast, including in the major cities of Baida and Misratah. Roughly 70 miles east of Benghazi, in the port of Darnah, one witness said that five had died in clashes with the police on Thursday but that by Sunday the protesters had set fire to the security headquarters and the police had fled. “Right now, people are terrified,” said Ashraf Tarbah, a public employee, “and they are praying for the people of Benghazi.”

Fifty prominent Libyan Muslim religious leaders issued an appeal to Muslims in the security forces to stop participating in the violence against protesters.

Over Twitter, Facebook and online social networks, Libyans were calling Sunday for help from across the eastern border in Egypt, pleading for sympathetic Egyptians to bring medical supplies to help with revolt. And Egyptians, with the help of Libyans living abroad, were organizing aid convoys to the border.

The Libyan protesters, however, may face a more daunting prospect than rebels in Egypt to the east or Tunisia to the west.

Colonel Qaddafi has styled his authoritarian government “rule by the masses” and, despite his pervasive security forces, cultivated a noisy disdain for centralized government. With little shared national experience aside from brutal Italian colonialism, Libyans tend to identify themselves as members of tribes or clans rather than citizens of a country, and Colonel Qaddafi has governed in part through the mediation of a “social leadership committee” composed of about 15 representatives of various tribes, said Diederik Vandewalle, a Dartmouth professor who has studied the country.

What’s more, Mr. Vandewalle noted, most of the tribal representatives on the committee are also military officers, who each represent a tribal group within the military. So, unlike the Tunisian or Egyptian militaries, the Libyan military lacks the cohesion or professionalism that might enable it to step in to resolve the conflict with the protesters or to stabilize the country.


Fears of Chaos Temper Calls for Change in Morocco


CASABLANCA, Morocco — For Morocco, a kingdom on the western edge of North Africa, the calls for change sweeping the region are muted by a fear of chaos, a prevalent security apparatus and genuine respect for the king, Mohammed VI. Since he took the throne in 1999, the king, who is only 47, has done much to soften the harsh and often brutal rule of his father, Hassan II.

As in Jordan, demands for the resignation of the government have not touched the king, who is considered by many to be a reformer on the side of the poor. But the demands in Morocco include a desire for a more legitimate democracy, with limits on the power of Mohammed VI, who together with his close advisers controls most of the real power in the country.

On Sunday, in response to a “February 20 Movement for Change” that began on Facebook, more than 10,000 people turned out in cities across the country to call for democratic change, lower food prices, freedom for Islamist prisoners, rights for Berbers and a variety of causes, including pan-Arab nationalism.

In Rabat, the capital, and in Casablanca, the largest city, there were between 3,000 and 5,000 protesters, and there were smaller demonstrations in Marrakesh, Tangier and other cities. All were peaceful, though state radio announced that the rallies had been canceled, perhaps as a tactic to keep the turnout down.

There were reports of scattered violence on Sunday evening in Marrakesh, where protesters, some of them throwing stones, clashed with the police and attacked a McDonald’s, and in the northern town of Larache, where a gas station was set ablaze.

In Casablanca and Rabat, numerous undercover police officers were obvious in the crowd, sometimes photographing protesters. In Rabat, people chanted slogans like, “Down with autocracy,” and, “The king must reign, not govern.” In Casablanca, protesters called for the government to resign. One sign said: “Democratic Constitution = Parliamentary Monarchy.”

“This is a start,” said Imane Safi, 18, who was at the demonstration in Casablanca. “The Arab world is changing and the Moroccan people need a change in the Constitution for more democracy. We want a country like Britain, with a constitutional monarchy and a strong Parliament that is not corrupt.”

A doctor, 62, said that she was very happy to see the youth movement for change. “We hope that civil society will join, and we know it will take time, but we have to work at it,” said the doctor, who requested anonymity because she did not want to jeopardize her position. “The government is not real, and all key decisions are in the hands of the king and his friends, and people are tired of accepting a lie.”

But an adviser to the king said that he saw an opportunity in the protests to accelerate a movement for needed reform in Morocco, where about 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; where the median age is 26.5; and where there is high unemployment, high illiteracy and a level of corruption judged to be more severe than in Tunisia, if below that of Egypt.

These are some of the same factors — a large, youthful demographic combined with high unemployment, anger over corruption and the disparities between rich and poor — that set off the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

But the adviser, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said that the king was listening, having recently promised to invest $1.9 billion in subsidies to ease high prices for food and basic commodities. Nor will anyone rule out a replacement of the conservative prime minister, Abbas el-Fassi, appointed by the king in 2007.

“The king is trying to catch the wind of reform and use it,” the adviser said. “We have to listen to what people are saying, it’s reality. And you have to listen and accelerate change, because these kids want better things, not bad things.”

Saad el-Bazi, 25, another of the demonstrators in Casablanca, noted the softer approach of this king, compared with his father, saying it provided a contrast to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. “If Hassan were still in power, things would be very different here,” he said.

But in fact the pace of the overhaul has slackened in Morocco, because of nervousness about the rise of radical Islam, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and a parallel conservative reaction to change, including a landmark family law promoted by the king that in 2004 raised the age for women to marry and allowed women to seek divorce. The slowdown was an effort to provide stability, but the current protests may provide a new momentum for change.

Baudoin Dupret, director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, said he viewed the protests as an opportunity for the king to “unlock” difficult issues like corruption, regionalization and overhauling the judiciary.

“The Arab spring represents an opportunity for Moroccan leaders,” Mr. Dupret told the newspaper Le Monde, adding that the king retained legitimacy. “He is widely perceived as the ‘king of the poor,’ active in the social field, to the point that the most critical French-language newspaper had a headline this autumn, ‘Must he do everything?’ In other words, the challenge may be for the government, but it is more difficult to imagine that it affects the king. To that extent, the system will remain intact.”

The king’s adviser warned, however, that the Internet allowed young people “to become a citizen of the world, but it’s a virtual world,” he said. “You begin to think that the life and experience of others is yours. Yes, we would like to live like the United States and Norway, but we have to get there.”

It is important for the king and his government to get across the message of joint goals, he said, adding, “Let’s work together to get this. We want this for everybody.”


Turkey may emerge as Arab role model

Indrani Bagchi

Feb 21, 2011

With the Arab Middle East in turmoil, a new landscape is emerging and Turkey is the new regional power to reckon with. Turkey was among the first countries to advise former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down. And Turkey is the country the world is looking at to help the Arabs work out a democratic transition.

Over the weekend, as Bahrain witnessed more opposition protests and Muammar Gaddafi's Libya appeared to be swept up in demonstrations a la Egypt and Tunisia, Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke exclusively to TOI about the role his country plans to play in the evolving situation in the Middle East, saying, "The aspirations of the people must be respected." B u t , Davutoglu said, the transition of these countries into democracies can happen under certain conditions . He approved of the army takeover in Egypt, because this would make the transition to a democratically elected system more orderly. "The army should commit to transfer power to an elected government within an agreed time-frame ," he insisted. It's imperative, Davutoglu said, to contain the crisis, though the former professor recognized that it is impossible to predict the end-state of the current unrest in the Arab world. "It's very important that in the transition, there should be no region-wide tension, either between the Shias and Sunnis or between the Arab countries and Israel."

That may be more difficult to implement than Turkey makes it out to be. Arab countries are pointing a finger at Iran as the inspiration for many of the protests, a thinly veiled warning was even delivered by the Gulf Cooperation Counicil (GCC). A strong sectarian divide is being sharpened , especially as perceptions run strong that Iran could emerge as a regional powerhouse from the Arab ashes.

Davutoglu said Turkey was already playing a role to seek a peaceful solution. Last week, he said, the crown prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, visited Ankara as the threat of protests loomed large to ask for Turkey to intervene with Iran.

Read more: Turkey may emerge as Arab role model - The Times of India


Turks protest against arrests of army officers


Feb 19, 2011

ANKARA: Thousands of Turks, including the wives of defendants charged with trying to topple the government, marched to the tomb of the founder of modern Turkey on Saturday to protest at the arrests of army officers.

More than 150 active and retired military officers are in jail during hearings in the so-called Sledgehammer trial, at which prosecutors say they planned to overthrow in 2003 Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party, which traces its roots to a banned movement.

The military leadership denies any coup plots.

Some 3,000 people gathered in a heavy rain at Anitkabir, the sprawling tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former officer who led Turkey to independence after World War I, founded the secular republic in 1923 and served as its first president.

They carried flags and shouted "Turkey is secular and will stay secular" and “The army and the people are hand in hand.”

Nilufer Cetin told Reuters her husband, an admiral, had been detained three times in Sledgehammer, most recently last week.

"We want our voices to be heard, we are the victims here," she said. "Our country is being victimized."

Separately, Turkey's top general Isik Kosaner, accompanied by the commanders of the army, navy and air force, spent 3-1/2 hours at the Hasdal Military Prison near Istanbul on Friday meeting 120 defendants charged in Sledgehammer, NTV news channel reported.

The military is Turkey's self-proclaimed protector of secularism in a country that is 99.9 percent Muslim. Generals have toppled three governments since 1960 and pressured a fourth, Turkey's first Islamist-led, to quit in 1997.

But European Union-inspired reforms have curbed the military's influence and generals only occasionally interfere in domestic politics. Erdogan says he is not an Islamist and the AK Party is a centre-right political grouping.

Besides military officers, dozens of journalists, academics, lawyers and activists have been arrested on links to different alleged coup plots since 2008. None have been convicted to date.

On Friday, Soner Yalcin, a prominent journalist and vocal critic of Erdogan, was charged with links to a shadowy, ultra-nationalist group nicknamed Ergenekon.

His and two colleagues' detentions prompted the US ambassador to question Turkey's commitment to freedom of press.


Next Question for Tunisia: The Role of Islam in Politics


TUNIS — The Tunisian revolution that overthrew decades of authoritarian rule has entered a delicate new phase in recent days over the role of Islam in politics. Tensions mounted here last week when military helicopters and security forces were called in to carry out an unusual mission: protecting the city’s brothels from a mob of zealots.

Police officers dispersed a group of rock-throwing protesters who streamed into a warren of alleyways lined with legally sanctioned bordellos shouting, “God is great!” and “No to brothels in a Muslim country!”

Five weeks after protesters forced out the country’s dictator, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians are locked in a fierce and noisy debate about how far, or even whether, Islamism should be infused into the new government.

About 98 percent of the population of 10 million is Muslim, but Tunisia’s liberal social policies and Western lifestyle shatter stereotypes of the Arab world. Abortion is legal, polygamy is banned and women commonly wear bikinis on the country’s Mediterranean beaches. Wine is openly sold in supermarkets and imbibed at bars across the country.

Women’s groups say they are concerned that in the cacophonous aftermath of the revolution, conservative forces could tug the country away from its strict tradition of secularism.

“Nothing is irreversible,” said Khadija Cherif, a former head of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, a feminist organization. “We don’t want to let down our guard.”

Ms. Cherif was one of thousands of Tunisians who marched through Tunis, the capital, on Saturday demanding the separation of mosque and state in one of the largest demonstrations since the overthrow of Mr. Ben Ali.

Protesters held up signs saying, “Politics ruins religion and religion ruins politics.”

They were also mourning the killing on Friday of a Polish priest by unknown attackers. That assault was also condemned by the country’s main Muslim political movement, Ennahdha, or Renaissance, which was banned under Mr. Ben Ali’s dictatorship but is now regrouping.

In interviews in the Tunisian news media, Ennahdha’s leaders have taken pains to praise tolerance and moderation, comparing themselves to the Islamic parties that govern Turkey and Malaysia.

“We know we have an essentially fragile economy that is very open toward the outside world, to the point of being totally dependent on it,” Hamadi Jebali, the party’s secretary general, said in an interview with the Tunisian magazine Réalités. “We have no interest whatsoever in throwing everything away today or tomorrow.”

The party, which is allied with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, says it opposes the imposition of Islamic law in Tunisia.

But some Tunisians say they remain unconvinced.

Full report at:


Moroccan protests to demand limit to king's powers

Feb 20, 2011

TRIPOLI: Libya forces have killed dozens of protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi in the latest violence to threaten Muammar Gaddafi's authority, with national Muslim leaders appealing for an end to the growing death toll.

The street protests, initiated by the February 20 Movement for Change which has attracted 19,000 Facebook fans after revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, will also urge the king to dismiss the coalition government and dissolve parliament.

The revolutions, especially in neighbour Tunisia, have brought the issue of constitutional reform back onto the agenda after a crackdown that followed suicide bombings in 2003 and the rapid rise of a political party led by a former security official close to the king.

On the eve of the protest, a Moroccan youth movement said it was pulling out because of disagreements with Islamists and leftists.

But Saeed Bin-Jebli, a spokesman for the organisers, said "thousands are expected to join the protests in main cities", including Marrakesh, the country's top tourist destination. Police in the capital Rabat have asked citizens not to park their cars on main streets to spare them potential damage.

Morocco is officially a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. But the constitution empowers the king to dissolve the legislature, impose a state of emergency and have a key say in government appointments including the prime minister.

Never since his enthronement in 1999 has King Mohammed's role come under so much scrutiny. The turnout for the protests and the slogans that will be chanted will be closely watched to gauge the popularity of a monarch who shuns domestic media and press conferences.

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Protesters back in Bahrain's Pearl Square

Feb 20, 2011

MANAMA: Thousands of singing and dancing protesters streamed back into Manama's central Pearl Square on Saturday after Bahrain's leaders withdrew tanks and riot police following a bloody crackdown by security forces.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, ordered the military pullout and appealed for calm and political dialogue in a brief address on state TV.

The authorities had been determined to prevent protesters from turning Pearl Square into a base like Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the heart of a revolt that ousted Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

On Thursday, riot police staged a night-time attack on sleeping protesters who had camped out there, killing four and wounding 231 protesters.

Sixty to 80 people were taken to Salmaniya hospital after being affected by teargas or hit by rubber bullets, a doctor said on Saturday. He said the hospital was full and did not have enough oxygen to deal with the rush of casualties.

More than 60 people were already in the hospital with wounds sustained on Friday when security forces fired on protesters as they headed to Pearl Square, then still in military hands.

After ordering the military to back off, Salman called for a national day of mourning “for the sons we have lost,” the state news agency reported.

“I stress, once more, that our duty is to preserve security and stability, to ensure that there is no discord and that the situation does not worsen,” he said in a statement.

With the military pullout, crowds approached the square from different directions, creating a standoff with riot police who had moved in earlier to replace the army troops.

Suddenly police raced to their buses, which drove away mounting kerbs in their haste to escape.

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Drone strikes on hold for Davis release?

Feb 21, 2011

ISLAMABAD: The United States has halted drone attacks on militants along Pakistan's western border in a development analysts believe is linked to US attempts to secure the release of a jailed US consular employee.

After months of frequent strikes from unmanned US aircraft on militant hideouts in tribal areas on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, where bloodshed has hit record levels, reports of covert strikes have gone quiet for over three weeks.

Many analysts believe Washington has stopped the attacks to avoid further inflaming anti-American fury in Pakistan just as it pressures a vulnerable Islamabad government to release Raymond Davis, a US consulate employee imprisoned after shooting two Pakistanis last month during what he said was an attempted robbery.

"This in itself raises a number of questions regarding the US Pakistan strategy as it struggles to balance counter terrorism ... with its public diplomacy," said Simbal Khan, an analyst with the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.


NATO air raids killed 50 civilians, says Hamid Karzai

Feb 20, 2011

ASADABAD: President Hamid Karzai on Sunday accused NATO troops of killing more than 50 civilians in a troubled province of eastern Afghanistan, as international troops pledged to probe the allegations.

Karzai's statement followed comments by Fazilullah Wahidi, provincial governor of Kunar province, alleging US-led NATO forces had killed up to 63 people, including women and children in airstrikes on suspected rebels.

Citing information from Afghanistan's spy agency and local officials Karzai said "about 50 civilians have been martyred during international military forces operations in Ghaziabad district in Kunar province."

Adding that he "strongly condemns" the deaths, Karzai pledged to send investigators to the remote district.

Wahidi earlier told AFP that most of the dead were civilians including 20 women, three elderly men and a number of children.

They were killed mostly in air raids by the ISAF against suspected rebels in Kunar province's Ghaziabad district, a remote mountainous region at the feet of the Hindu Kush ranges, he added.

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Pak films sweep top honours at NID fest

Feb 21, 2011

AHMEDABAD: Filmmakers from Pakistan could not make it to the film festival at National Institute of Design (NID) titled 'Alpavirama-2011' that ended on Sunday. But, they still have a reason to smile.

The 'Golden Comma Award', the top prize, in both the documentary and fiction categories went to films from Pakistan. While a short film titled 'Missing Vultures' made by Muhammad Ali Ijaz from Lahore won the Golden Comma Award for documentary films, the Golden Comma Award for fiction was won by 'Kalu' made by Naveed Anjum, also from Lahore.

Speaking to TOI from Lahore, Naveed Anjum, 25, said, "I am very excited. I never believed I will get the top award. Opportunities and facilities are better in India."

"I have worked hard on the script, direction and editing. However, I feel the execution could have been better if I had better resources," Anjum said. Kalu is the name of a rooster, an adored possession of a young boy named Sheeda. The 18-minute film revolves around how Sheeda and his two friends use Kalu to participate in local cock fights and earn an income.

The 'Silver Comma Award', the second prize went to 'Boxing Ladies' made by Anusha Nandakumar from Kolkata.


Iranian ships to enter Suez Canal, says official

February 20, 2011

CAIRO, Feb 20 — Two Iranian naval ships are due to sail through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean on Monday (tomorrow), Suez Canal officials said, denying a report from Iran that said the ships had already gone through the waterway.

The vessels, the first Iranian naval ships to sail through the canal since 1979, are due to arrive at the southern entrance to the canal in the Gulf of Suez later today, the officials said.

Earlier today, Iran’s Arabic language state television channel Al Alam TV reported that the ships had passed through the Suez Canal.

The military, which has been running Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled on Feb. 11, approved Iran’s request to send the ships through the canal, an Egyptian army source said on Friday.

The request was a difficult one for Egypt’s interim government. Cairo is an ally of the United States and has a peace treaty with Israel, and its relations with Iran have been strained since Iran’s 1979 revolution.

The prospect of Iranian warships sailing through the canal into the Mediterranean for the first time since 1979 alarmed Israel whose foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, described it as a provocation. — Reuters


Netanyahu: Israel takes grave view of Iran Suez move

February 20, 2011

JERUSALEM, Feb 20 — Israel views with gravity the planned passage of two Iranian naval ships through the Suez Canal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today.

In remarks to his cabinet, Netanyahu described the Iranian move as an attempt by Tehran to broaden its regional influence. — Reuters


New party shows deep political change in new Egypt

February 20, 2011

CAIRO, Feb 20 — A court yesterday approved a new political party that had sought a license for 15 years, making it the first to be recognised since Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow and illustrating the political earthquake shaking the new Egypt.

In a move to placate reformists and strikers and distance itself from the Mubarak regime, the interim government will change up to four ministers in a limited cabinet reshuffle, an Egyptian official was quoted by state media as saying.

The Wasat Party (Centre Party) had tried to gain an official licence four times since 1996, but each time its application was rejected by a political parties committee chaired by a leading member of the ruling party, a procedure that stifled opposition.

“The court ruled that the party was established and legitimate as of today,” Egypt’s news agency said of Wasat, set up by a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood and which wants to fuse a respect for Islamic society with democracy.

The means that the Wasat Party can take part in elections that the military has promised to hold within six months and its founder Abou Elela Mady said that it had been powered by “the winds of freedom that blew with the revolution.”

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You have to talk to the enemy’

Feb 20 2011

C Raja Mohan: Can we begin with the internal situation in Pakistan after Salman Taseer’s assassination?

Rashed Rahman: The governor and my publisher, Salman Taseer’s assassination naturally came as a big shock. What has been very alarming is the kind of bonding between all the mullah parties who, otherwise, are at daggers drawn. You have everyone from lawyers to middle class people, professionals and of course the religious people, proclaiming not only the man who killed Salman Taseer a hero but that the murder was justified and that anyone who dared to challenge the blasphemy laws was a fit case to be murdered. Now, this tells you volumes about the kind of accumulated weight the mullahs have achieved in Pakistan over the past three-four decades. In the same period, we have a decline in the liberal democratic or progressive community.

We don’t know, as yet, whether his assassination was an individual act or a deeper conspiracy. In Pakistan, conspiracy theory is the only growth industry. But you cannot rule it out either. Pakistan, as you know, has a very troubled history.

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Kasab recites Quran, offers prayers in jail ahead of verdict

Feb 21, 2011

MUMBAI: Pakistani terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, whose fate is going to be decided by the Bombay High Court today for his role in the Mumbai terror attacks, got up early in the morning, offered prayers and recited verses of the Holy Quran in his cell at Arthur Road Jail.

"Kasab woke up early today and offered prayers in his cell", jail sources said.

The High Court will deliver its verdict on the fate of Kasab today, nine months after he was awarded death penalty by the trial court for the death of 166 persons in the terror attacks.

The 24-year-old convict, hailing from Faridkot in Punjab province of Pakistan, would appear on screen before the court through the medium of video conference.

Kasab told his lawyer Farhana Shah on Saturday last that he would hear the verdict through video conference. He also appeared to be nervous and did not talk much, Shah said.

Justice Ranjana Desai and Justice R V More of the Bombay High Court would also give verdict today on an appeal filed by Kasab against his conviction and death sentence.

The Judges would also pronounce judgement on an appeal filed by Maharashtra Government against the acquittal of Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, both Indians who were let off on ground of "doubtful evidence".

Meanwhile, security in and around the High Court has been tightened. The special branch of police has issued passes to journalists and lawyers for entry into court 49 where the judgement would be delivered.


Yemen prez offers talks, students take to streets

Feb 21, 2011

SANAA: Yemen's embattled president on Sunday sought a way out of the political crisis gripping his impoverished Arab nation , offering to oversee a dialogue between his ruling party and the opposition to defuse the ongoing standoff with protesters demanding his ouster.

The offer by the US-backed Ali Abdullah Saleh came as protests demanding that he step down continued for the 11th straight day, with 3,000 university students demonstrating Sunday at Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. The protests pose the most serious challenge to Saleh's rule to date.


Youth killed, students hurt in Yemen clashes

Feb 20, 2011

SANAA ( YEMEN): A youth was killed in Aden and several students were shot and wounded in clashes with Yemeni government supporters near Sanaa university, with the interior ministry denying initial reports that one had been killed in the capital.

"A number of demonstrators were wounded... but only four remain in hospital," an unnamed ministry official said on the ministry's news website, adding that there were no deaths in Sanaa.

Earlier, reports said one protester was shot dead and five wounded in the clashes after he had seen the body of the student, hit by a bullet.

The shootings came as government supporters, armed with guns, batons and rocks, tried to break into the campus and students responded by hurling stones.

Tribesmen and plain-clothes police also attacked the students during the clashes.

Police did not intervene but blocked roads leading to the campus.

Later, supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh dispersed the protesters and took control of the area around the university campus and surrounding roads, reports said.

On Friday, at least four anti-regime protesters were wounded by Saleh supporters, who attacked the demonstration armed with batons and axes.

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At least 18 killed in Afghan bank attack


Feb 20, 2011

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: Gunmen and suicide bombers dressed as border police killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 70 in an attack on a bank in the main city in Afghanistan’s east on Saturday, government officials said.

A Reuters witness reported hearing blasts soon after the attack began and gunfire could be heard coming from the branch of the Kabulbank in Jalalabad, which handles salaries for the Afghan police and armed forces, for several hours.

Gul Agha Sherzai, governor of Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad is the capital, said 18 people had been killed, with civilians and members of Afghanistan’s security forces among the dead and wounded.

He said seven insurgents had attacked the bank, three of them detonating explosive vests inside the building.

Ahmadzia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the Nangarhar government, said fighting had gone on for several hours and described the scene as “chaotic.”

The motive for the attack was not immediately clear, although coordinated assaults by insurgents against government buildings and military bases have increased in recent years, especially in eastern provinces near the Pakistan border.

Insurgents often dress in the uniforms of Afghan security forces, or as women, for such attacks.

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Pakistan judge orders arrest of US car’s driver


Feb 20, 2011

LAHORE, Pakistan: A judge on Friday ordered the arrest of the driver of a US vehicle that struck and killed a Pakistani while rushing to help an American detained in a pair of fatal shootings, a lawyer for the victim’s family said.

The arrest warrant could add to the tensions surrounding the case of the shooter, Raymond Allen Davis. The US insists he was acting in self-defense against robbers and qualifies for diplomatic immunity because he worked for the embassy.

The odds of Pakistani police detaining the people in the US car are low. Authorities say they do not know who was in the vehicle, and the Americans have said little on the matter, other than admitting the car was driven by US Embassy staff.

The judge’s order could be a means of pressuring the US to produce the driver, who has not been identified. But it’s highly unlikely that any Americans involved in the traffic accident are still in Pakistan. Employees of the US mission who get into trouble are typically on the first plane out of the country.

It’s also possible the driver was a Pakistani. US Embassy spokeswoman Courtney Beale on Friday declined to comment on the order other than saying the vehicular incident “is under investigation.”

Lawyer Asad Manzoor Butt said the family of the struck bystander, Ibadur Rehman, filed a petition with the Lahore High Court seeking to bring attention to his death, which has received far less scrutiny than the deaths of the two men shot earlier Jan. 27 in Lahore.

The court’s chief justice, Ijaz Chaudhry issued the arrest order, Butt said. On Thursday, the same court gave Pakistan’s government three more weeks to determine if Davis has diplomatic immunity as America claims.

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Flood-hit Jeddawis given food baskets, blankets

Feb 20, 2011

JEDDAH: The International Islamic Relief Organization-Saudi Arabia (IIROSA) has completed the execution of its comprehensive urgent relief campaign in the areas badly affected by the Jan. 26 floods in Jeddah.

Over 30 male and female volunteers participated in the campaign during which they distributed 5,000 food baskets and 5,000 blankets in addition to clothes and hot meals to the residents  particularly widows and orphans, affected by the disaster, according to IIROSA Secretary-General Adnan ibn Khalil Basha.

“Since the very first hours of the natural disaster, IIROSA started to make field survey of the areas most affected by the torrential rains and floods and immediately began extending relief assistance to the victims in east, south, west and central Jeddah,” he said.

Basha pointed out that each of the 5,000 food baskets weighed 37.5 kg and consisted of rice, flour, sugar, tea, cooking oil, salt, powdered milk, tomato sauce and other ingredients. He added that the IIROSA has also distributed 250 coats and 250 pairs of shoes.

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King Abdullah food bank to expand role

Feb 20, 2011

JEDDAH: Riyadh Gov. Prince Salman on Saturday named the bank for food and clothing in the city after Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah on the occasion of the king’s imminent return to the Kingdom after gaining full recovery following back surgery.

Prince Salman also ordered for the bank’s activities to be expanded to all parts of the Riyadh province to support the poor and needy. Prince Abdul Aziz Al-Muqrin, mayor of Riyadh, described the bank as a pioneering humanitarian project aimed at providing assistance to the poor in an effective and professional manner.

“This bank will carry out its humanitarian activities in a scientific and modern way,” the mayor said, adding that its style of work and programs would be different from conventional charities. The bank will have a permanent source of income to finance its activities.

“We’ll also explore new sources of income to support the bank’s charitable programs,” he added.

Prince Abdul Aziz disclosed prospects of opening the bank’s branches in other provinces at a later stage. “We’ll announce the bank’s mode of operation, its board of directors and other details very soon,” he added.


Israel sold 1,400 homes in settlements in 2010


Feb 20, 2011

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian lawyer and specialist in settlements affairs on Saturday said that the Israeli authorities sold some 1,400 homes in the Jewish settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem in the year 2010.

Qais Nasser, also a lecturer in the field of planning and construction and an activist from the 1948 Palestinian territories, said that 668 homes were sold in the settlement of Modi'in, to the southwest of Ramallah, 319 homes in the settlement of Har Homa, to the ease of Jerusalem, 101 homes in Ma'aleh Adumim, to the east of Jerusalem, 126 homes in Beitar Elit, to the west of Bethlehem, and 78 homes in Giv'at Ze'ev, located in East Jerusalem.

Nasser added that the other 108 homes were sold in several West Bank and East Jerusalem's settlements.

The activist said that the sold homes constitute 35 percent of the housing units the Israeli Ministry of Housing has sold to Jewish occupiers.

Nasser warned that the Israeli ministry is planning to build and sell 5,000 housing units in West Bank and East Jerusalem.

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