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S Lanka to censor news alerts about military, police COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry yesterday ordered news outlets to get prior approval before sending mobile phone alerts about the military or police, a move press freedom groups decried as another step towards greater censorship. In a letter hand-delivered to news outlets including Reuters, Media Center for National Security (MCNS) Director-General Lakshman Hulugalle said the new order was effective immediately. “I have been instructed to inform you that any news related to national security, security

forces, and the police should get prior approval from the MCNS before dissemination,” Hulugalle said in the letter, dated last Friday. That was the same day local news outlets reported a murder-suicide that left three soldiers dead of gunshot wounds. It also came after reports of a police officer’s arrest for soliciting a large bribe, and a botched abduction attempt blamed on soldiers. The MCNS comes under the defence ministry, and handles the public affairs function for the mili-

tary and police. Contacted by Reuters, Hulugalle denied there were any restrictions on what could be reported. “But we want to know what’s going to be disseminated before it is being disseminated,” he said. The new directive is the latest control imposed on news and information websites. The government is increasingly intolerant of criticism, and Sri Lanka has in recent years headed further down lists measuring international press freedom rankings. “This is the first step in going for wider censor-

ship,” said Sunil Jayasekara, the head of Sri Lanka’s Free Media Movement. In November, the government required news websites to register with the Media Ministry, a month after it blocked some sites critical of the government. The Indian Ocean island nation’s government first blocked some websites linked to the Tamil Tiger separatists during the final phase of a 25-year civil war, arguing the ban was acceptable in a time of war, but the bans have grown since the end of the war in 2009. — Reuters

Merkel questions 2014 German pullout in surprise Afghan trip Urges to push forward reconciliation with Taleban BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel called into question yesterday Germany’s planned pullout from Afghanistan as she made a surprise trip to the war-torn country a day after a US soldier massacred 16 civilians. The point has not yet been reached where Germany can say “we can pull out today,” Merkel said as she visited troops stationed in Mazar-iSharif in the north of Afghanistan. “And therefore, I can also not say that we will manage that by 2013/2014. The will is there, we want to do that and we are working towards that,” she said, according to German news agency DPA. NATO said in January it was committed to withdrawing its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Tensions were running high in

Afghanistan as Merkel arrived following the rampage by the US soldier who killed 16 villagers including women and children in their homes in the Taleban heartland of Kandahar on Sunday. In a telephone call to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Merkel vowed that everything would be done to investigate what she called “the dreadful act of the US soldier”. She expressed her personal condolences and those of the German people to Karzai for the outrage, DPA cited her spokesman Steffen Seibert as saying. Merkel also congratulated Karzai for progress made in building up Afghan security forces while he in turn expressed gratitude for Germany’s commitment to peace in the war-wracked country. She also urged Kabul to push forward the political rec-

MAZAR-E-SHARIF: German chancellor Angela Merkel, second right, Chief of Federal Armed Forces Staff, Volker Wieker, left, and the German commander Erich Pfeffer, right, visit the memorial for killed German soldiers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, yesterday. — AP

Avalanche in Afghanistan kills 45 KUNAR: An avalanche engulfed houses and cut off roads in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, killing at least 45 people, the latest victims in the country’s worst winter in 30 years. Heavy snow blanketed 13 houses and blocked roads leading into a district of Nuristan province, near the border with Pakistan, preventing help from reaching avalanche victims, deputy provincial governor Mohammad Nabi Ahmadi said.

An entire village in northern Badakhshan province was covered by an avalanche almost a week ago, killing at least 50 people. Though avalanches are common in the mountainous north and east, the latest deaths are particularly painful during a winter that has killed dozens in the capital Kabul and created further food shortages in one of the world’s poorest countries. — Reuters

DHAKA: Supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) attend a rally organised by the BNP and allies in Dhaka yesterday. Thousands of Bangladeshi troops patrolled the streets of Dhaka as opposition parties prepared for a mass protest calling for the government to step down and hold elections. — AFP

Bangladesh opposition holds mass rally in Dhaka DHAKA: Thousands of Bangladeshi troops patrolled the streets of Dhaka yesterday as opposition parties prepared for a mass protest calling for the government to step down and hold elections. Schools and shops were closed and roads in the capital were empty ahead of the rally, which has been planned for months by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies. Media reports said thousands of opposition activists were detained ahead of the event, but police denied any organised crackdown. “These are regular arrests nothing to do with the opposition grand rally,” deputy commissioner of Dhaka police Monirul Islam told AFP. Islam said at least 15,000 policemen and border guards were deployed in Dhaka to prevent violence. Bus and ferry services to the city were also

suspended, making it hard for opposition supporters to travel from rural areas. BNP spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told AFP that at least 3,000 people had been detained nationwide over the last four days. “Police have been holding our officials and supporters en masse,” Alamgir said. The Prothom Alo newspaper said more than 2,800 had been held since Wednesday. Opposition anger has been growing since the government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, last year scrapped a neutral caretaker system for overseeing elections. Bangladesh politics have often erupted into violence, with the last serious outbreak of street fighting between rival party activists in 2006 when several people were killed. The next national election is due to be held by early 2014. — AFP

onciliation process with armed groups like the Taleban. Germany is the third biggest supplier of troops to the 130,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) after the United States and Britain. It had 4,900 soldiers in Afghanistan as of February 1, but a further 500 are set to be withdrawn by 2013 before a complete pullout. Opinion polls have shown that the German mission, the first major Bundeswehr deployment outside of Europe since World War II, has been consistently unpopular in the country. Sunday’s massacre added to roiling antiWestern sentiment in Afghanistan over the burning of the Quran at a US base last month. Germany and several other NATO member states pulled their advisors from Afghan institutions after two members of the international force in Afghanistan were shot dead in violence over the Quran incident. The holy Quran burning ignited days of violent anti-US protests in which some 40 people died, plunging relations between foreign forces and their Afghan allies to an all-time low. Sunday’s killing spree came as the United States and Afghanistan pursue difficult talks on securing a strategic pact to govern their partnership once foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan, scheduled for 2014. The proposed accord would likely cover the legal status of any US troops remaining in Afghanistan to help Kabul with intelligence, air power and logistics in the fight against Taleban insurgents. In her call to Karzai, the chancellor said a draft of the pact would be available this month. Merkel last visited Afghanistan in December 2010, to meet German soldiers just before Christmas. On that occasion she described the fighting there for the first time as “war”. This is her fourth trip to Afghanistan since taking office in 2005 and was planned before Sunday’s massacre. It was not announced in advance for security reasons. Merkel also paid homage to German soldiers killed in Afghanistan since NATOled troops first deployed to the country in 2002. Fifty-two German soldiers have been killed, 34 of them through enemy action, according to the military’s website. — AFP

Britain’s Hague sued over Pakistan drone attacks LONDON: A British law firm said on Sunday it was to sue Foreign Secretary William Hague on behalf of a Pakistani man over claims that British intelligence was used to assist US drone attacks. London-based Leigh Day and Co confirmed they would issue formal proceedings at Britain’s High Court on behalf of Noor Khan, whose father was killed by a US strike in Pakistan. Lawyers will claim that civilian intelligence officers who pass on intelligence to the US are not “lawful combatants”, therefore cannot claim immunity from criminal law and could be liable as “secondary parties to murder”. They will also argue that the immunity clause does not apply as Pakistan is not currently involved in an “international armed conflict”. “There is credible, unchallenged evidence that (Hague) is operating a policy of passing intelligence to officials or agents of the US government and that he considers such a policy to be in ‘strict accordance’ with the law,” Richard Stein, head of human rights at Leigh Day, said in a statement. “If this is the case, the Secretary of State has misunderstood one or more of the principles of international law governing immunity for those involved in armed attacks on behalf of a state.” Britain’s Foreign Office said it would not comment on legal or intelligence matters. Khan says his father, Malik Daud, was killed by a drone missile while at a council of elders meeting in northwest Pakistan. Drone attacks have become a key feature of US President Barack Obama’s fight against terrorism in Pakistan, but many inhabitants are deeply unhappy about the civilian death toll incurred in the raids. Meanwhile, Pakistan yesterday invited Islamist militant groups including the Taleban for peace talks and said banned organisations would be delisted if they “closed down their militant wings”. Pakistan has banned more than 30 militant outfits, including Al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group blamed by New Delhi and Washington for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. “If the proscribed organisations assure us that they have closed down their militant wings and abandoned extremism, then we would like to meet them in next few days,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters. Pakistan has faced heavy criticism for not doing more to clampdown on the groups, many of which are allowed to operate freely under new names, such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a UN blacklisted charity considered a front for LeT. Despite a relative decline in high-profile attacks, there has been a recent surge in bombings in the northwest blamed on the Taleban and their accomplices. “We have been contacted by several banned organisations that want to sit and talk. If they want to give up militancy we will talk to them as we are revising the list of proscribed organisations,” Malik said. He did not identify any group but said that the government had “even offered the Taliban to give up militancy and join the federation”. According to an AFP tally, Islamist militants have killed more than 4,900 people across Pakistan since government troops raided an extremist mosque in Islamabad in July 2007. The military says more than 3,000 soldiers have died. There were about 120 bomb attacks in Pakistan in 2011, up from 96 in 2010, but fewer than the 203 in 2009, according to an AFP tally. — AFP

NEW DELHI: Tibetan childredn born in-exile walk over an effigy representing Chinese President Hu Jintao during a protest march marking the 53rd anniversary of the Tibetan Women’s Uprising Day in New Delhi yesterday. — AFP

Tibetans ‘suffocated’ by Chinese influence KATHMANDU: At a cafe near a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, Tsewang Dolma stirs her iced tea nervously as she talks of her fears for the future of her people. She worries she will be followed home and arrested again, yet the 27-yearold is one of the few Tibetans in Nepal keen to speak about what they see as an increasingly hardline approach by the government to their community. “It’s not easy because we have no freedom. We are refugees here. Things have changed and people feel very suffocated,” she said ahead of commemorations last Saturday to mark the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet. For decades, Nepal has been a safe haven for Tibetans fleeing China but activists say their people’s peaceful existence is at threat because of Beijing’s growing influence over its Himalayan neighbour. Campaigners believe the wave of protests against Chinese rule that began in Tibet in March 2008 and the resulting crackdown has transformed the attitude of Nepal’s government. Arrests of activists in Kathmandu have become frequent in recent years and the periods of detention are getting longer, activists say. In February, Nepal police arrested 13 students protesting in front of the United Nations headquarters in Kathmandu, releasing them only after they had spent two weeks in jail. “They were just taking part in a human rights protest and they were arrested. Before, when people got arrested they would be released on the same night,” said Dolma, who has been detained twice in recent months. “We get information that they got orders from China to be kept in detention for so long.” Nepal-born Dolma, the president of the Nepal chapter of the Tibetan Youth Congress, said pre-emptive arrests and large-scale police deployment in her community were contributing to fear and insecurity. “They don’t allow any Tibetan to do anything freely,” she told AFP. “I don’t know what really changed but it’s all Chinese influence. It was bad but now it’s worse.” At Saturday’s 1959 commemorations, Kathmandu police arrested 22 Tibetans for “suspicious activities” at demonstrations that were more mut-

ed than in previous years as hundreds of officers looked on. For three decades Nepal welcomed Tibetans into the country after the uprising, issuing them with refugee identity certificates, known as the “RC”. But the government has refused since 1998 to issue RCs to Tibetans, including children born in Nepal to refugee parents. “I have a lot of friends who don’t have RCs and they face so many problems. They were born here but they don’t have citizenship,” said Dolma. “If they want to go abroad for study, they can’t. And if you want to work in a bank they require Nepali citizenship documents.” Analysts say while India has traditionally been the influential player in Nepal, China is making in-roads in a nation that is recovering after a decade-long civil war came to an end in 2006. Impoverished Nepal, home to 20,000 exiles from Tibet, appears keen to seek further Chinese aid. In January Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Nepalese counterpart Baburam Bhattarai discussed investment from Beijing for infrastructure projects that could amount to billions of dollars. In return, Nepal expressed support for Beijing’s “oneChina” policy which states that Tibet is an integral part of the Chinese territory. In the last few months rights groups including the International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have voiced concerns over Nepal’s hard line on its Tibetan community. And Tibetan groups such as the US-based International Campaign for Tibet say the change in attitude is increasingly apparent. “The characterisation of peaceful Tibetan community activities and demonstrations as anti-Chinese clearly reflects China’s agenda in Nepal,” an ICT spokeswoman told AFP. Chinese authorities declined to comment but Nepal’s Home Ministry said its policy was to arrest Tibetans for “agitation against the Chinese government in sensitive locations inside Nepal”. “We have a policy for not allowing any activities against our friendly neighbour China,” said spokesman Shankar Prasad Koirala. — AFP

PESHAWAR: Pakistani bomb disposal squad personnel are pictured with a defused explosive device which was found inside a car in Peshawar yesterday. The Bomb Disposal Squad defused some 40kgs of explosives in an abandoned car parked in Peshawar. — AFP

13 Mar 2012  

Kuwait Times

13 Mar 2012  

Kuwait Times