Pakistan blocks off roads into capital as blasphemy law supporters stage sit-in

A supporter of the Pakistani radical religious party, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, stands guard as people offer Friday prayers during a sit-in protest in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday, November 10, 2017. (AP)
Updated 10 November 2017
0

Pakistan blocks off roads into capital as blasphemy law supporters stage sit-in

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan on Friday blocked off roads into Islamabad, the capital, as an Islamist party that backs strict blasphemy laws staged a sit-in on a key highway, demanding the resignation of a minister it blames for changes to an electoral oath.
Dozens of Pakistanis are on death row, convicted of having insulted Islam’s prophet, a charge that carries a mandatory death sentence, although no executions have been carried out.
More than 500 supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan party, or Movement of the Prophet’s Followers, chanted slogans as speakers addressed them from atop a cargo truck, pledging their lives to protect Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
The protesters demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, whom they hold responsible for the law change, and denounced him as a blasphemer.
“Immediately appear before us and beg for forgiveness,” said one speaker.
Two high court lawyers who joined the sit-in said they would work to advance Labaik’s agenda in the courts.
“He (Hamid) has insulted the blasphemy laws, the punishment for which is death,” said one of the lawyers.
Pakistan’s interior ministry did not immediately answer telephone calls from Reuters to seek comment.
The ruling Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) unexpectedly set off a firestorm last month after voting through the alteration of the oath, among seemingly small changes to the nation’s electoral law.
The changes prompted accusations of blasphemy from religious parties and the government retreated, apologizing in parliament for what it called a “clerical” mistake.
But the apology did not satisfy Tehreek-e-Labaik, triggering the sit-in, as the culmination of a march of nearly 400 km (249 miles) from the eastern city of Lahore.
The party rose to prominence in September, after placing third in a by-election in Lahore, edging out a major opposition party to pick up 6 percent of the vote.
Last month, it gained nearly 8 percent in a by-election in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
While Tehrik-e-Labaik is unlikely to break out of single digits in coming votes, its rapid rise could present a challenge for the PML-N.
On a bridge overlooking the highway demonstration site, drivers of trucks halted by blockades erected by city authorities complained about cargo delivery delays.
One commuter unable to take public transport to work told Reuters his business had suffered.
“I run a tailoring shop and can’t go to work today,” said Mohammad Altaf. “I have lost a day’s earnings.”


UN council support tough action for peacekeeping failures

Updated 28 min 5 sec ago
0

UN council support tough action for peacekeeping failures

  • The UN, which deploys 96,000 peacekeepers in 14 far-flung missions from the Mideast to Africa to Haiti, has come under sharp criticism in recent years
  • Some countries that contribute troops to UN missions privately expressed unhappiness at the initial US draft resolution

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday to support tougher UN action against peacekeepers who fail to protect civilians, including by sending them home and refusing to pay their governments.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said after the adoption of the US-sponsored resolution that the council had responded to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ challenge “to step up and strengthen peacekeeping.”
“The actions we take today will make the United Nations a better, more effective instrument of peace and security,” she said. “This resolution mandates a timely and transparent reporting process for performance failures. It creates real accountability measures for when these failures occur.”
The United Nations, which deploys 96,000 peacekeepers in 14 far-flung missions from the Mideast to Africa to Haiti, has come under sharp criticism in recent years for sexual abuse by its troops and failures to protect civilians.
The United States is the largest contributor to peacekeeping, but deploys only 50 officers to UN missions.
Haley has been trying to cut the peacekeeping budget, which this year is $7.3 billion, and she announced in March that the Trump administration was reducing its 28.5 percent assessment to 25 percent.
Some countries that contribute troops to UN missions privately expressed unhappiness at the initial US draft resolution. Russia and China said earlier this month that the views of troop contributors needed to be taken into account, and Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Friday he almost voted against the measure.
Haley said the US rejected “business as usual” for the resolution and did engage major troop contributing countries.
The resolution honors “the heroic work of tens of thousands of United Nations uniformed and civilian peacekeeping personnel” and underscores that the UN “should not let the performance failures of a few tarnish the achievements of the whole.”
But it also expresses “deep concern about the serious and continuous allegations and underreporting of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeepers.” It further takes aim at “continued instances of underperformance,” including inaction by UN soldiers against imminent threats to civilians they are mandated to protect.
The council reaffirmed support for the development of a comprehensive policy with clear standards on peacekeeping performance and “well-defined benchmarks to ensure accountability for underperformance and incentives and recognition for outstanding performance.”
It said “a range of responses proportionate to the identified performance failures” are needed. These should include “transparent public reporting,” repatriating or replacing military units, and withholding financial payments to governments of uniformed personnel, the council said. For civilian members of UN missions, the measures for performance failures should include revoking or changing duties, dismissing them or not renewing contracts, it said.