Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Nawaz Sharif formally elected as Pakistan’s PM

N chief Nawaz Sharif was on Wednesday formally elected Pakistan’s Prime Minister by an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, setting the stage for an unprecedented third term as premier.

Mr. Sharif, 63, received 244 votes in the 342-member lower house of parliament during the election conducted through a division of the House.

Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the candidate of the Pakistan People’s Party that led the previous government, got 42 votes.

Veteran politician Javed Hashmi, the candidate of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party, got 31 votes.

The result of the election was announced by Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.

The PML-N chief made history when he returned to parliament after a long gap of over 13 years.

His last stint as premier ended when he was deposed in a military coup led by former Army Chief Pervez Musharraf in 1999.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Legal Pot Draws Tourists to Colorado for 4/20

Thousands of people are expected to join an unofficial counterculture holiday celebrating marijuana in Colorado and Washington this coming weekend, including out-of staters and even packaged tours. The events and crowds will test the limits of new laws permitting pot use by adults.

More than 50,000 are expected to light up outdoors in Denver's Civic Center Park on April 20 to celebrate marijuana legalization. Thousands more are headed here for the nation's first open-to-all Cannabis Cup, April 20-21, a domestic version of an annual marijuana contest and celebration in Amsterdam. Expected guests at the Cannabis Cup, a ticketed event taking place inside the Denver Convention Center, include Snoop Lion, the new reggae- and marijuana-loving persona for the rapper better known as Snoop Dogg.

Marijuana activists from New York to San Francisco consider April 20 a day to celebrate the drug and push for broader legalization. The origins of the number "420" as a code for pot are murky, but the drug's users have for decades marked the date 4/20 as a day to use pot together.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and its sale without a doctor's recommendation isn't allowed yet in Colorado or Washington. Neither state allows open and public use of the drug. But authorities largely look the other way at public pot-smoking, especially at festivals and concerts, and entrepreneurs are finding creative ways to capitalize on new marijuana laws.

One of them is Matt Brown, co-owner of Denver's new "My 420 Tours," which gives traveling pot users everything but the drug. Brown has sold 160 tour packages to visiting pot smokers for the April 20 weekend. Prices start at $499, not including hotel or air.

The tour sends cannabis tour guides to pick up marijuana tourists at the airport in limousines, escort them to Cannabis Cup and other Denver-area marijuana celebrations and deposit them at a hotel where smoking — tobacco or reefer — is permitted on room patios.

Marijuana tourists on Brown's tour can add extra days of touring medical marijuana dispensaries and commercial growing operations. A cannabis cooking class is another option. Five-day tours run $649 to $849.

Brown, a medical marijuana patient who is new to the travel business, says his tours will enable sharing of pot but not selling it. Eighty percent of his clients are coming from outside Colorado — meaning it's illegal for them to bring marijuana from home. And because commercial pot sales in Colorado don't start until January, out-of-state visitors can't yet buy pot at Colorado's 500-plus dispensaries.

Despite the legal barriers, Brown said his tours quickly filled to capacity and he had to turn away would-be cannabis tourists. He's hoping to book future pot-themed weekends if the April 20n weekend does well.

"People are fascinated by what's happening here, and they want to see it up close," Brown said. "We want to make sure people don't come here, land at the airport, rent a car and drive around stoned all weekend."

The tour group isn't affiliated with the Cannabis Cup, sponsored by High Times Magazine, which has run similar events for medical marijuana in nine cities. The magazine's editorial director, Dan Skye, says this month's U.S. Cannabis Cup was timed for the April 20 weekend.

"4/20 is the national stoner holiday, for lack of a better word," Skye said. "It gets bigger every year, and this year, after the legalization votes, it's going to be absolutely huge."

The magazine planned to award Snoop Lion with a "lifetime achievement" award at a Denver ceremony Friday. A Cypress Hill/Slightly Stoopid concert was planned Saturday at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater just west of Denver. Both events sold out weeks ago.

A few dozen miles northwest of Denver, the University of Colorado in Boulder will try to dampen pot celebrations on April 20. The campus once held the nation's largest college 4/20 celebration, drawing an estimated 10,000 in 2010. The legendary smokeout was cited by Playboy magazine when it named Colorado the nation's top party school in 2011 .

After the Playboy mention, the university stepped up efforts to shut the celebration down. Campus officials last year roped off the site of the smokeout, Norlin Quadrangle, reducing the 4/20 crowd to a few hundred protesters. The school planned another shutdown Saturday.

Celebrations were planned in Washington state, too, though April 20 isn't as broadly celebrated as Seattle's annual Hempfest, which draws hundreds of thousands of people to a waterfront park every summer.

The April 20 celebrations in Washington included a Seattle party being put on by DOPE Magazine at an artist work space and studio. About 1,500 were expected for glassblowing demonstrations, music, dancing and a bar where revelers can vaporize their pot, plus the judging for the "DOPE Cup" — an award for the best bud. There will be a smoking tent set up outside, along with food trucks to combat any cases of the munchies.

"It's pretty monumental," said DOPE editor in chief James Zachodni. "This is the first time in the U.S. there's been a cannabis holiday with a legal aspect to it."

Back in Colorado, longtime pot user Andrew Poarch says this year's April 20 observations in Colorado have taken on epic significance. He's joining dozens of friends to hire a bus from Colorado Springs to attend Denver's Cannabis Cup.

"It's going to be a lot bigger, a lot more people," he predicted. "People are trying to outdo themselves because it's a party and a celebration. We beat prohibition. It's a pretty big deal."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Civil society remembers Bhagat Singh on 82nd death anniversary

A large number civil society representatives, intellectuals, writers, poets and students gathered at Shadman Chowk on Saturday to commemorate the 82nd death anniversary of freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh, and paid tribute for his services.

The participants lit candles in front of the huge portrait of Bhagat Singh and demanded that the Shadman Chowk be officially named after the freedom fighter. The event was attended by a large number of civil society activists included Abdullah Malik, Deap, idrees Tabasm, Farooq Tariq, iftikhar Butt, Amna Malik, Madiha Gohar and many others. The peaceful gathering turned into a hostile one when some activists of Jamat Ud Dawa reached the spot and started protest against Bhagat Singh. However, the police was summoned to the spot, which brought situation under control.

Bhagat Singh was born in a village, Banga Jaranwala, which is now a Faisalabad District. He was educated in Lahore and visited many districts in Punjab inspiring others youngsters to fight for freedom. Singh was hanged at Shadman Chowk on March 23, 1931.

The participants highlighted Singh’s struggle and ideology and termed him hero of the sub-continent. The Bhagat Singh foundation President, Abdullah Malik demanded of the governments of India and Pakistan to declare all freedom fighters as national heroes. The other participants also spoke on the occasion and said the freedom fighters gave the messages of tolerance, brotherhood and peace in the society and raised their voices against injustice and unfair distribution of resources in the society. They further added that the fighters were still fighting for the same rights.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Insensitivity of Pakistani Christian Politicians and Civil Society Leaders

Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri a Muslim religious scholar from Lahore has mobilized about 50,000 devoted followers coming from lower middle class for a sit-in of the main Jinnah Avenue of Islamabad. Remarkably, the men, women and children have remained steadfast in this protest rally under extremely harsh winter weather conditions without any shelter.

They are demanding reforms in the electoral system to bring in transparency in the forthcoming general elections and elimination of corrupt practices among the ambitious politicians and parties. So far, he has fairly succeeded in winning the attention of all political players who have recognized the demands of holding free and fair elections through some constitutional reforms.

The Present regime is tense while handling the protest rally on one hand and anxious in fighting judicial proceedings against its stalwarts for mass scale corruption, on the other hand. The provincial capital of Peshawar is also in the grip of police firing to maintain law and order facing another protest rally against target killings. Earlier the provincial government in Baluchistan went into Governor’s rule after failing to address another issue of target killings of the Hazara tribal Shias.

In the wake of the above critical situations, a criminal silence and a careless attitude of Christian leadership in the country is alarming. Pakistani Christians express their deep concern for continuation of peace and harmony not only in Pakistan but in the whole world. There’s been many wakes up calls, but Pakistani Christian politician have gone into a long snooze. The cases of Bishop John Joseph, Shantinagar, Gojra, Asia Bibi and Rimsha are all examples of Christian leaders’ callousness.

The local Christian politicians have been making money on the pretext of safeguarding minority rights but these financial resources are being used to help reach positions in other political parties, instead of spending those funds for achieving Christian unity. Some of them, as Christian representatives, have been a part of the constitutional assembly which approved blasphemy law and they kept quiet at that time. Now, we have few Christian political parties registered to contest general elections but have no contact with the Christian community and have not shown any seriousness in guarding Christians’ rights, choosing instead to remain busy in making deals with major Muslim parties.

When all other parties, groups and organizations can put their heads together and be unanimous on the solutions, why can’t Pakistani Christians sit together for their rights? This could take place. Instead of pronouncing moral judgments on everything and anything, why can’t Pakistani Christians stand altogether for their welfare?

It is high time that we define our role as conscious Christians and respect our rights for the better future of Christians in Pakistan.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Civil Society observes Human Rights Day in Hyderabad

Various organizations of civil society took out rallies to observe World Human Rights Day here Monday. The rallies of various HR groups and NGOs marched from various points of city to press club where the leaders highlighted human rights situation prevailing in Sindh.

First rally was taken out by Pakistan Rural and City Development Organization from Nasim Nagar Chowk. A rally was taken out from HRCP office, Human Rights International, Mehran Social Welfare Association, Social welfare department of Sindh University, Pakistan Human Riights Forum and other organizations highlighted the plight of women, peasants, and children.

These rallies were led by HRCP coordinated for Sindh Dr. Ashthama, Karamat Ali, Suleman G. Abro,Abdul Ghani Mirjat,Miss Hira, Miss Tanzila, Dr. Anwer Punhal Saryo, Arfana Mallah, Amar Sindhu, Fazal Qadir Memon advocate, comrade Hussain Bux Thebo advocate, Badar Soomro, Shams Shamoun Zahida Detho, Mehboob Sangi, Metha Ram, Dr. Qasim Soomro and others.

They said Sindh was passing from worst period of slavery as women are tortured, peasants are taken forced labour, Jirga system and tribal wars are order of the day. They asked for such a system under which the series of converting Hindu and Christian girls be stopped. They asked to stop picking up of political workers by agencies and end of dual local bodies system plus religious extremism.

They demanded legislation to ensure human rights they said due to social inequality and unjust distribution of food huam life was suffering under misery while on the other hand people have been made victim of price hike, hunger, poverty and unemployment. The people from income generating districts like Badin, Ghotki, Thatta and Tharparkar have been deprived of use of their resources. They asked for abolition of Jagridari and landlordism and distribution of stae land among landless peasants. Dr. Suleman Abro said innocent people were being killed daily and state is watching as silent spectator. He said life of common man has been made difficult. He asked to end of atrocities with minorities, abduction of their girls. He asked for equat local bodies’ system for urban and rural areas. Abdul Ghani Mirjat said that government has ignored providing the basic right of primary education and health to masses. Thousands of ghost schools are shown on government record which does not exist and millions of children have been deprived of education. He said his organization PRACDO was working on holding free medical camps where needy and poor are given medical checkup and medicines free of cost. They intend to set up health centers and schools in rural villages and suburban areas.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Drivers warned of vandals throwing rocks at cars on I-75

Authorities in Saginaw County are asking for help to find whoever is putting driver's safety at risk.
Drivers beware! As you're cruising along I-75 in Birch Run Township, there could be someone lurking above that could stop you in your tracks. "It's pretty irresponsible. They could kill somebody," said Fred Schmunk.

The Saginaw County Sheriff's Department is looking for the person or people who damaged at least five vehicles by throwing rocks from an area overpass.
"One driver says he was riding along I-75 when he noticed a shadow on this overpass near mile marker 139. The next thing he knew, he says he saw something fall. He ran over it, it made a terrible sound and damaged his vehicle.

Schmunk says it's a simple act that could have devastating effects. "Even if they don't kill the person in the car, they might swerve or something, roll their car over, cause a chain reaction accident or whatever."

Detectives brought a K-9 unit to the area to help track down the culprits. They believe juveniles living nearby are responsible. But, so far they are still on the run.  "The kids, they just think they are having fun. They don't realize the consequences," added Schmunk.

Most of the reported incidents happened the weekend after Thanksgiving, the busiest travel weekend of the year. But, with many locals on this highway everyday, and with more holiday travelers expected to hit the road in the coming weeks, drivers are hoping whoever is responsible is caught soon, before they strike again.

"Real dangerous. People get killed that way. I don't know who's doing it. But they should catch them really soon I hope," said Ken Byron, a concerned driver. He says he'll be keeping a watchful eye until someone is charged in the crime.

If you have seen or know something that may help authorities solve this case call the Saginaw Sheriff's Department.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Newspaper columnist highlights value of international media watchdog's attention to Guyana

Guyanese newspaper columnist Freddie Kissoon, widely considered a harsh government critic, is among several Latin American media operatives featured as part of the International Freedom of Expression Network's (IFEX) International Day to End Impunity.

Kissoon told Demerara Waves Online News ( that his inclusion is part of a growing body of international opinion against the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration until it implodes like the Peoples National Congress (PNC) in 1992 when it lost Guyana's first free and fair elections in almost three decades.

"It symbolizes the international community's interest in growing depravities that are occuring in Guyana," he said, adding that the interest by IFEX and other organisations is long overdue. He said IFEX's intervention showed that efforts are being made to protect Guyanese media workers.

Government has targeted the privately-owned Kaieteur News,k Stabroek News, Demerara Waves Online News and the pro-opposition Benschop Radio.

It was a month-long campaign that recounts how reporters, human rights activists, and artists from around the world have been forcibly silenced for their advocacy on promoting freedom of expression. The campaign culminated on Friday, Nov. 23.

The campaign aims to raise awareness on what it describes as a culture of impunity, which “exists when those who seek to control the freedom of expression of others do so knowing that it is unlikely they will be held accountable for their actions.”

“At IFEX we chronicle free expression violations. We see journalists, bloggers, artists whose rights are being violated and are forced to live in fear, in jail or in exile, every day. While an International Day might not be the solution, it is the opportunity to bring a global voice together to demand authorities take responsibility and bring an end to the violations,” IFEX executive director Annie Game told the Knight Center for Journalism of the Americas.

Among the tools developed for promoting the campaign include a website, a short video, and 23 profiles of journalists and human rights activists from around the world telling their stories about the different types of threats they face from other people or from their countries’ government. IFEX featured the cases of the following four journalists in Latin America:

Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima was abducted and raped during a 2001 investigation into alleged arms trafficking ring at a Colombian prison that involved state officials and members of the AUC paramilitary group.

In a 2011 article written by the Atlantic, Bedoya described the dangers women who work as journalists face. She recounted her experience of being tortured and raped by three men, who then abandoned her in a garbage dump on the side of the road. The lack of action of Colombian authorities forced Bedoya to plea her case for justice to the Inter-American Commission in Washington, DC.

“Before there was the risk -- we always had a fear of something happening to us when we covered conflict, but now I have the additional fear of what can happen to me because I'm a woman, the specific vulnerability of what can happen to my body because I'm a woman," Bedoya told the Atlantic

Lydia Cacho is a prominent Mexican investigative journalist and author who was forced to leave the country in August 2012 after receiving threats following the publication of her book, "Slavery Inc: the Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking." Cacho had also been a kidnapping victim in 2005 following her investigations into a pedophile ring that linked several Mexican politicians and businessmen. The Mexican Supreme Court dismissed that case on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

"People come up to me sometimes and say I'm their hero," Cacho said in an interview with Amnesty International on Aug. 1. "But I’m not Superwoman… I realize that I still live in a culture of impunity and that honors on a wall can't protect me."

Guyanese writer and and human rights activist Freddie Kissoon was fired from his lecturer position at the state-run University of Guyana and is currently involved in a $40,000 libel suit with the former Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo. Kissoon wrote in an Aug. 12 op-ed piece for Guyanese publication Kaieteur News how human waste has been thrown at him and how his wife lost her job with a Guyanese state-owned company. He states that these actions are in retaliation for his criticisms against the government.

“I am a human rights activist like so many others. I write an analytical commentary that the Government frowns upon. But there are pro-government commentators all over Guyana and I don’t see the opposition targeting them and harassing them,” Kissoon writes in his op-ed piece.

Venezuelan journalist and political cartoonist Rayma Suprani started to receive threats following the publication of several cartoons for Venezuela’s El Universal where she criticizes the Venezuelan government and its policies. She even became the target on Twitter where supporters of President Hugo Chávez used the hashtag #RaymaApatrida (“Unpatriotic Rayma”) to post threats and insults.

In an interview with online magazine Sampsonia Way, Suprani describes how she criticizes the Chávez regime in her drawings even though she doesn’t specifically draw him in her cartoons.

“I have been threatened by pro-Chávez gangs, but the government does not punish them for their actions because it supports them,” Suprani said. “Sometimes it is difficult to express things, but the cartoonist’s commitment is always with the readers and with the facts.”

The International Day to End Impunity, started in 2011, marks the anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines, when 46 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, were murdered on Nov. 23, 2009. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called that massacre the single deadliest day for journalists since it began keeping records in 1992. Several events—including ones in Mexico, Guatemala, and Venezuela—are being held in conjunction with the International Day to commemorate that massacre promote impunity issues in those countries.

Less than two years after the Pakistani military drew down its counterinsurgency operations in the picturesque Swat valley, Pakistan’s frontier region is once again being rocked by suicide attacks and targeted killings. While the country may appear to be locked in an entrenched conflict, Pakistan’s civil society could hold the key for a sustainable, peaceful future.
The World Organization for Resource Development and Education, a nonprofit, educational organization aiming to enhance communication and understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, recently completed a yearlong study to understand the capacity of Pakistan’s civil society for resolving conflict within its borders. The WORDE team traveled to over 35 cities and villages – from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to interior Sindh – to interview over 100 organizations countering radical narratives and fostering social harmony.
Our research indicates that Pakistan’s civil society has the capacity to promote peace and regional stability through five powerful mechanisms. First, activists are leading bold public awareness initiatives to educate the population about the threat of radicalization. Public rallies, such as “Save Pakistan Conventions,” have galvanized the population and forged unity against terrorism. In 2009, for example, conservative Muslim parties teamed up with the Christian Progressive Movement of Pakistan to hold a 25,000-man National Flag Day march in Islamabad to demonstrate national solidarity against violent extremism.
Following examples from the Arab Spring, Pakistani youth are also using new media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to promote peace – often at great personal risk. Just last month, Malala Yousafzai, a female teenage blogger and girls’ education activist, was shot by militants in the Swat valley for speaking out against the Taliban.
Second, concerted efforts are under way across the country to empower youth with alternatives to militancy. For example, schools such as the Dar ul Uloom Okara in Southern Punjab organize intensive two-week seminars on Quranic principles of peace and conflict resolution. Others, like the Dar ul Uloom Bhera, conduct individually tailored interventions for at-risk youth that refute the idea of violence in the name of Islam. Where possible, large schools are also offering advanced courses in English, sciences, mathematics and vocational training to prepare students for professional careers after graduation.
Third, public statements are also a powerful mechanism to counter violent ideologies. Since 9/11, dozens of fatwas in Urdu and local languages have been issued to denounce terrorism at the theological level. Given the high number of targeted killings in Pakistan, however, many scholars are hesitant to address the issue of extremism directly. Instead, they often embed their anti-terror messages within speeches on broader social issues.
Fourth, religious scholars are organizing public lectures and debates to deconstruct radical interpretations of Islam using the Quran, stories of the Prophets and historical examples. In regions like southern Punjab, where robust civil society networks exist, public debates and lectures are held on a weekly basis. Those featuring prominent speakers such as Sayyed Arshad Kazmi are televised or posted on YouTube.
Fifth, Pakistani faith-based organizations are using their social networks to distribute humanitarian assistance to impoverished communities at risk of militancy. For example, the Jamia Subhaniyya Rizvia, a school bordering the tribal regions, recently teamed up with the military and social welfare organizations to distribute emergency kits and over 30 tons of goods to internally displaced peoples in terrorism-affected regions.
In short, there are many examples of Pakistani civil society’s constructive efforts to create change, and Pakistan’s future hinges on replicating and expanding these efforts across the country. However, security and a lack of funding and resources prevent activists from creating a sustained national movement.
Today, with the public outcry following the attack on Yousafzai and other peace activists, the international community – especially the Pakistani diaspora – has been presented with an opportunity to provide training in capacity-building, technical assistance and material support to strengthen Pakistan’s civil society.
Ultimately, such support can further empower Pakistanis to peacefully push back against the tide of violent extremism.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::