Pakistan police battle militants after deadly airport raid

Updated 16 December 2012
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Pakistan police battle militants after deadly airport raid

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Police battled militants armed with automatic weapons, grenades and mortars in northwest Pakistan’s Peshawar on Sunday, a day after a deadly Taleban raid on the city’s airport.
Fierce firing broke out after officers acting on an intelligence report tried to storm a house near the aiport, where a suicide and rocket attack on Saturday evening killed five civilians and the five attackers and wounded 50 other people.
The assault late Saturday, claimed by the Pakistani Taleban, sparked prolonged gunfire and forced authorities to close the airport, a commercial hub and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) base in Peshawar on the edge of the tribal belt.
It was the second Islamist militant attack in four months on a military air base in nuclear-armed Pakistan. In August 11 people were killed when heavily-armed insurgents wearing suicide vests stormed a facility in the northwestern town of Kamra.
Two police officers were wounded in Sunday’s renewed fighting during which militants threw a hand grenade, senior police officer Imtiaz Altaf told AFP.
“A militant has been killed. The encounter is still continuing. Militants are fully equipped with automatic weapons, hand grenades and mortars,” Altaf said.
Imran Shahid, a second police official, confirmed the shootout but said it was not yet clear how many attackers were involved.
Live television footage showed troops and police entering a street amid gunfire, while an AFP reporter heard fierce firing in the area.
A PAF statement said five attackers were killed on Saturday and no damage was done to air force equipment or personnel.
Doctor Umar Ayub, chief of Khyber Teaching Hospital near the airport, said five civilians had also been killed and some 50 wounded.
“The Base is in total control and normal operations have resumed. The security alert was also raised on other PAF air bases as well,” the air force added.
Peshawar airport is a joint military-civilian facility. Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Pervez George said the passenger side remained closed but there had been no damage to the terminals.
The air force said Saturday’s attackers used two vehicles loaded with explosives, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. One vehicle was destroyed and the second badly damaged.
Security forces found three suicide jackets near one of the vehicles, it said.
“Security forces consisting of Pakistan Air Force and Army personnel who were on full alert, cordoned off the Base and effectively repulsed the attack,” the air force said.
Television pictures showed a vehicle with a smashed windscreen, another damaged car, bushes on fire and what appeared to be a large breach in a wall.
Five nearby houses were destroyed after rockets landed on them and several other houses developed cracks, while the bomb squad detonated five out of eight bombs found near the base after the attack.
Pakistani Taleban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location that the group would continue to target the airport.
“Our target was jet fighter plans and gunship helicopters and soon we will target them again,” he said.
The armed forces have been waging a bloody campaign against the Taleban in the country’s northwest in recent years and the militants frequently attack military targets.
Aside from the August attack on Kamra, in May 2011 it took 17 hours to quell an assault on an air base in Karachi claimed by the Taleban. The attack piled embarrassment on the armed forces just three weeks after US troops killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.
Pakistan says more than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country since the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Its forces have for years been battling homegrown militants in the northwest.


Thai child fighting culture sparks debate after 13-year-old’s death

Updated 42 min 22 sec ago
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Thai child fighting culture sparks debate after 13-year-old’s death

  • Centuries-old Muay Thai is the country’s de facto national sport and remains a source of immense pride
  • New research within Thailand suggests that the earlier Muay Thai boxers begin, the more prone they are to a range of injuries

BANGKOK: Thousands of child boxers compete in Thailand’s traditional martial art with dreams of belts, glory and prize money — but the death of a 13-year-old has lit up a sensitive debate over whether competitors start too young.
Centuries-old Muay Thai — known as the art of eight limbs for the different ways opponents can strike each other with knees, fists, kicks, and elbows — is the country’s de facto national sport and remains a source of immense pride.
But new research within Thailand suggests that the earlier Muay Thai boxers begin, the more prone they are to a range of injuries.
Lawmakers under the country’s military leaders have also drafted revamped legislation that would bar children under 12 from competing in the contact sport.
The push has gathered new momentum in light of the death of 13-year-old Anucha Tasako, who died from a brain hemorrhage after his similarly aged opponent struck him with multiple blows to the head at a Saturday charity fight near Bangkok.
Anger erupted on social media where footage of the critical moments of the bout was uploaded.
Deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan instructed the sports ministry to review the legislation, which also requires parental consent for those between 12 and 15 and “physical safety measures.”
“The competitions must have appropriate, protective gear from the arena manager,” Prawit said according to a spokesperson.
It is common for Muay Thai fighters to start young and Anucha embarked on his career when he was eight years old.
He grew up in the northeastern province of Kalasin and after his parents parted ways, he spent time with a relative who had a Muay Thai gym.
Gripped by the sport, Anucha moved to Bangkok to stay with an uncle and train.
By the time he got to the charity match in Samut Prakan on Saturday he had fought 170 times, according to local media reports.
Critics point to alleged child exploitation as gamblers bet on bouts or promoters shave off prize money.
But it is the unseen health consequences that have received the most attention.
A five-year study from 2012 by the Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Center at Ramathibodi Hospital carried out MRI scans on the brains of 335 child boxers and compared them with 252 non-boxers of the same ages.
Hospital director Adisak Plitponkarnpim said it was “clear” that child boxers suffered more brain cell damage and ruptures, and also had lower IQs.
“Their young age increases the damage because their skull and muscles are not yet fully developed.”
He said that accumulative injuries could put them at higher risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as adults.
Coaches, gym owners and older fighters have mixed feelings about the draft legislation.
Thailand’s champions who have climbed out of Muay Thai and into success in western boxing circles also honed their skills as youngsters.
Wanheng Menayothin, the WBC minimumweight champion who surpassed Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0 record this year, moved to Bangkok at age 12 to train.
Tawee Umpornmaha also started fighting at 12 and went on to win a 1985 Olympic silver medal.
Some also feel the discussion around Muay Thai unfairly stigmatizes a sport that is easier to access for the South East Asian nation’s impoverished youth than more expensive sports such golf or tennis.
“For a lot of children, Muay Thai is a path out of poverty,” said a Muay Thai gym owner who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Besides giving children a sense of purpose, the owner said it also offers them “the chance to dream of a future far beyond the sport.”
The tensions are embodied in Anucha’s coach, Somsak Deerujijaroen, who runs a gym and trains his son.
“If the laws fully prevent child boxing, Thailand will not have Muay Thai masters. It will be the end of it. We will pass on the championships to foreigners,” he said at the funeral for Anucha, adding that rules on protective headgear for youth made more sense.
But he feels conflicted after the incident on Saturday and blames himself.
“I don’t want do the boxing gym anymore,” Somsak said, standing near Anucha’s coffin, where the young boxer’s favorite black-and-red boxing shorts were slung over a chair.
“One of my own kids who is eight years old has also been trained. But after this, I don’t want him to do it anymore.”