Murder of Zainab, 6, stirs outrage in Pakistan

Students light candles during a protest rally in Lahore to condemn the killing of Zainab Ansari in Kasur. (AP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Murder of Zainab, 6, stirs outrage in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The city of Kasur in Pakistan’s Punjab province has exploded into violence following the sexual assault and murder of six-year-old Zainab Ansari, whose body was found in a rubbish dump on Tuesday. She is reportedly the 12th child to have been murdered in the last year in, or close to, Kasur — a city with a long history of pedophile scandals.
Protesters infuriated by perceived government inaction over this latest crime attacked a hospital, a police station, and government offices, bringing public transport to a halt and forcing the closure of the courts. On Thursday, residents attacked the homes of politicians.
While the restive city calmed somewhat on Friday, the nation remains enraged over the police’s failure to arrest the perpetrator of the crime.
“We want justice, and we hope that the killer of our daughter will not go scot-free,” Zainab’s father, Muhammad Amin, told Arab News.
“We hope the killer will not only be arrested but also given exemplary punishment.”
Zainab is believed to have been abducted outside a religious tuition center she attended just 100 meters from her home on Thursday, Jan. 4. Her parents were in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah at that time, and she was in the care of her maternal aunt.
A number of social, political and religious figures have visited the bereaved parents in recent days. And Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa assured Zainab’s family that the criminal would be caught and punished.
Kasur resident Mohammed Junaid said police had not taken the spate of child murders seriously and that no arrests have been made during their investigations.
“The people of Kasur are left with no option but to protest against the inaction of the government and the police,” he told Arab News, adding that they would “set all government buildings in the city on fire” if the culprit was not arrested soon.
The police aggravated the situation further on Wednesday when they shot and killed two protesters. Later, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif apologized to the families of the victims and promised compensation.
“The whole nation should come out to express solidarity with Zainab’s parents and demand the rulers to take cogent measures to put an end to such incidents,” Shakil Iftikhar, a businessman in Kasur, told Arab News.
There are signs, though, that the government may finally have been jolted into action.
Talking to Arab News, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb emphasized that all political parties should join together to create awareness about child abuse and help the government enact effective legislation.
“We will try our best to include the issue of child abuse in the curriculum by taking all parties on board,” she said, while urging the nation to stay calm as the government was doing its best to live up to people’s expectations.
It is not just Kasur that has witnessed an alarming increase in the sexual assault of minors. According to Sahil, a non-governmental organization for victims of violence and sexual abuse, there were 4,139 cases of child sexual abuse — including abduction, missing children and child marriage — in Pakistan in 2016, an average of 11 incidents per day and a 10 percent increase on 2015.
Sahil’s annual report, “Cruel Numbers,” revealed in 2016: “Following the previous year’s data, more girls have been sexually abused this year as well. The reported cases under major crime categories are: abduction 1,455, rape 502, sodomy 453, gang rape 271, gang sodomy 268 and 362 cases of attempted (child sexual abuse). An even more serious crime is committed when the victim is murdered. A total of 100 victims were murdered after sexual assaults.”
As tensions continued to run high on Friday, the Punjab government appointed Regional Police Officer Multan Idrees Ahmad as head of the joint investigation team for Zainab’s murder.
Punjab Government spokesperson Malik Ahmed Khan told Arab News that the police have unearthed a connection between Zainab’s killing and recent incidents of a similar nature in Kasur.
Khan said that experts from the forensic science laboratory had been working on the magnification of an image of the suspect.
“We are establishing a criminal database for the first time in the country’s history to identify suspects through facial recognition,” he said.
He claimed police were “close to the suspect now.”


As comedian eyes presidency, Ukraine braces for uncertain future

Presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a policy debate with his rival, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (unseen), at the National Sports Complex Olimpiyskiy stadium in Kiev, Ukraine April 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 April 2019
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As comedian eyes presidency, Ukraine braces for uncertain future

  • Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic actor, is best known for his TV portrayal of a schoolteacher who becomes Ukrainian president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral

KIEV, Ukraine: A comedian who plays the role of Ukraine’s president on television is set to take on the job for real, pushing out the man who currently holds the office, according to public opinion surveys ahead of Sunday’s election.
Saturday was a so-called “day of quiet,” on which electioneering is forbidden, a respite from a campaign of heated statements and unexpected moments.
Dismayed by endemic corruption, a struggling economy and a five-year fight against Russia-backed insurgents in the country’s east, Ukrainian voters appear poised to strongly rebuke incumbent Petro Poroshenko and replace him with Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Despite never having held political office, Zelenskiy could get more than twice as many votes as Poroshenko, polls suggest.
Since Zelenskiy and Poroshenko advanced to Sunday’s runoff in the first round three weeks ago, the campaign has been marked by jockeying for dominance, including a dispute over holding a debate that left Poroshenko standing next to an empty lectern bearing his opponent’s name and Zelenskiy’s challenge for both of the candidates to undergo drug testing.
Zelenskiy has run his campaign mostly on social media and has eschewed media interviews; Poroshenko has called him a “virtual candidate.” Poroshenko in turn was criticized for a video linked to his campaign that showed Zelenskiy being run over by a truck.
The two finally held an actual debate on Friday evening, just hours before campaigning was to end. They harshly criticized each other and engaged in the melodrama of both kneeling to ask forgiveness of those who lost relatives in the eastern fighting.
In an unexpected move less than 10 hours before polls were to open, a Kiev court heard a suit demanding that Zelenskiy’s registration as a candidate be canceled. The court rejected the case, which was filed by the head of an organization that conducts election observation and claimed that Zelenskiy committed bribery by offering tickets to the Friday debate.
Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic actor, is best known for his TV portrayal of a schoolteacher who becomes Ukrainian president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral. The name of the show, “Servant of the People,” became the name of his party when he announced his candidacy in January.
Like his TV character, the real-life Zelenskiy has focused his campaign strongly on corruption. Although criticized as having a vague platform, Zelenskiy has made specific proposals, including removing immunity for the president, parliament members and judges, and a lifetime ban on holding public office for anyone convicted of corruption. He also calls for a tax amnesty under which someone holding hidden assets would declare them, be taxed at 5% and face no other measures.
He supports Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO, but only if the country were to approve this in a referendum.
Zelenskiy has proposed that direct talks with Russia are necessary to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where fighting with Russia-backed separatist rebels has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. The Kremlin denies involvement there and says it is an internal matter. Zelenskiy says Russia-annexed Crimea must be returned to Ukraine and compensation paid.
Zelenskiy’s image has been shadowed by his admission that he had commercial interests in Russia through a holding company, and by persistent speculation about links with oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who owns the television station that airs “Servant of the People.”
A Ukrainian court this week ruled that the nationalization of a bank once owned by Kolomoyskyi was illegal, leading to new concern about Zelenskiy’s possible ties to him.
Poroshenko, who entered politics after establishing a lucrative candy-making company, came to power with a pragmatic image in 2014 after mass protests drove the previous, Russia-friendly president to leave the country.
Five years later, critics denounce him for having done little to combat Ukraine’s endemic corruption. The war with Russia-backed separatists in the east grinds on with no clear strategy for ending it. And while his economic reforms may have pleased international lenders, they’ve left millions of Ukrainians wondering if they can find the money to pay their utility bills.
After his weak performance in the election’s first round, in which Zelenskiy got nearly twice as many votes, Poroshenko said he had taken voters’ criticism to heart. He has since made some strong moves, including the long-awaited creation of an anti-corruption court. He also ordered the dismissal of the governor of the corruption-plagued Odessa region, and fired the deputy head of foreign intelligence who reportedly has vast real estate holdings in Russia.
Poroshenko, 53, has positioned himself as a leader who will stand up to Russia. He has scored some significant goals for Ukraine’s national identity and its desire to move out of Russia’s influence.
He signed an association agreement with the European Union — which predecessor Viktor Yanukovych turned away from, setting off the 2014 protests. Ukrainians now can travel visa-free to the European Union, a significant perk. He has also pushed relentlessly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be recognized as self-standing rather than just a branch of the Russian church.