PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence

PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence
A student waves the national flag of Pakistan outside the mausoleum of Mohammed Ali Jinnah during the country's 75th Independence Day ceremony in Karachi. (AFP)
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Updated 14 August 2022

PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence

PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence
  • Pakistan is facing surging inflation, increasing debts and dwindling foreign reserves
  • PM Sharif said country needs ‘sincere struggle’ toward national reforms

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for national dialogue on Sunday as Pakistan marked its 75th year of independence amid a deepening political crisis and a struggling economy. 

The South Asian nation, which gained independence when the British left and split the subcontinent into the two states of India and Pakistan on Aug. 14, 1947, marked its diamond jubilee with gun salutes in the capital and festive rallies across the country. 

But celebrations this year took place against the backdrop of surging inflation, increasing debts and fast-depleting foreign reserves. Inflation reached 24.9 percent last month, driven mainly by rising food and energy costs, as the Pakistani rupee hit an all-time low against the US dollar. 

Pakistan is also mired in a political crisis, with former Prime Minister Imran Khan leading a campaign against the new coalition government led by Sharif after losing a confidence vote in April that Khan alleged was part of a US-backed conspiracy to oust him from power. 

“We need to have a national dialogue so that the mistakes of the past can be clearly identified,” Sharif said during a flag-hoisting ceremony in Islamabad. 

“We need to start a sincere struggle to reform [Pakistan’s] state of affairs.” 

The premier said that the national dialogue can commence through the “charter of economy,” as he envisioned Pakistan’s future as an economic powerhouse. 

“If we can become a nuclear power, why can’t we become an economic power?” 

Sharif also said in a statement that nothing is more dangerous than internal division, disruption and chaos. 

Pakistan’s political leadership must devise a plan to resolve its complex issues, Parliamentary Secretary for Information and Broadcasting Mohammed Shahbaz Babar told Arab News.

“We will have to sit together to work out a comprehensive plan to move forward,” he said.

“All political parties and other relevant stakeholders should understand the gravity of issues Pakistan is faced with and come up with viable solutions.” 

Babar also said the coalition government could reach out to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in the coming weeks. 

PTI Vice President Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said his party was open to discussions with the government if some conditions are met, such as announcing dates for the next general elections. Khan and members of his party have been demanding new elections since he was dismissed in April. 

“We need freely, fairly and justly held elections,” Hussain said.

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Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing
Updated 01 October 2022

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing
  • The demonstration was quickly broken up by Taliban police
  • The bomber struck an education center Friday packed with hundreds of students in a Shiite neighborhood

KABUL, Afghanistan: A group of Afghan women Saturday protested a suicide bombing that killed or wounded dozens of students in a Shiite education center in the capital Kabul a day earlier, demanding better security from the Taliban-run government.
The demonstration was quickly broken up by Taliban police.
The bomber struck an education center Friday packed with hundreds of students in a Shiite neighborhood, killing 19 people and wounding 27. Among the casualties were teenagers taking practice university entrance exams, a Taliban spokesman said.
The morning explosion at the center took place in Kabul’s Dashti Barchi neighborhood, an area populated mostly by ethnic Hazaras, who belong to Afghanistan’s minority Shiite community. The Daesh group has carried out repeated, horrific attacks on schools, hospitals and mosques in Dashti Barchi and other Shiite areas in recent years.
About 20 protesters Saturday gathered in the Dashti Barchi area for about 45 minutes before their rally was broken up by Taliban security. They carried banners in English and Dari reading “Stop Hazar Genocide.”
“We are asking the Taliban government, when they claim that they have brought security, how they cannot stop an attacker from entering an educational center to target female students. In this incident, one family has lost four members, why is it still happening,” said demonstrator Fatima Mohammadi.
Staff at the Kaaj education center spent Saturday cleaning up the wreckage caused by the attack, while victims’ family members searched through items covered with blood belonging to their loved ones.
Hussain, who goes by one name, witnessed the attack. He said he believed the death toll was significantly higher, based on the large number of bodies he saw.
“First the attacker just over there, where a huge crowd of students was standing, opened fire. At least 40 people were killed there,” he said.
Zahra, a student who survived the attack, was unharmed because she went out just minutes before to buy a pen. She said she lost her friends in the attack and also her hope for a better future.
“I am not even sure if there is a future for us anymore or not,” she said.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. The Daesh group — the chief rival of the Taliban since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 — has in the past targeted the Hazara community, including in Dashti Barchi, in a brutal campaign of violence.
Militants have carried out several deadly attacks in Dashti Barchi, including a horrific 2020 attack on a maternity hospital claimed by IS that killed 24 people, including newborn babies and mothers.


Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country

Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country
Updated 01 October 2022

Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country

Iranians in Tokyo demonstrate ‘for freedom’ in their country
  • Protestors also shouted slogans such as “Bye Bye Islamic Republic”

TOKYO: Iranians in Japan protested in support after a woman from the Saquez region near Iranian Kurdistan died, allegedly as a result of being detained by the morality police for not wearing compulsory Islamic clothing.

In the crowded and popular Shibuya Scramble Square Central Tokyo, close to a 100 Iranians and activists from different organizations gathered to show their support and demanded freedom for all women in Iran.

Most of the women came bareheaded, others wore colorful veils and some wore their regional traditional dress. A group of several people present at the rally displayed portraits of the son of Iran’s former Shah.

Protests in Iran have spread after the 22-yer-old woman, Mahsa Amini, from the Kurdistan region died after being taken into custody by vice police for not complying with the religious dress code.  The Iranian government has denied accusations that she was beaten to death by police and claim that she had underlying health problems which caused her to collapse.

“She died at a hospital days later despite intensive medical care and resuscitation efforts,” said government sources.

Demonstrations spread in some parts of the world denouncing the Iranian government and “its oppression against women”, but Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said the United States and the United Kingdom were “directly” involved in the recent riots across the country.

“Dozens of terrorists affiliated with the Zionist regime and anti-revolution groups have been detained during the recent days of unrest,” the ministry said in a Friday statement.

But Tokyo demonstrators said “the totalitarian regime in the Iran Islamic Republic is killing Iranians seeking freedom, so it can continue its dictatorship.”

From a loudspeaker, a protestor shouted, “Today, the Iranian government is trying to suppress protests for the rights of Iranians by force to prove its legitimacy.”

At present, the Iran Islamic Republic is not representative of the Iranian people, so we strongly condemn any talks or initiatives. “We want freedom for all Iranians,” she said.

Protestors also shouted slogans like “Bye Bye Islamic Republic.”


At least 20 killed in Russian shelling of convoy in late Sept, Kyiv says

At least 20 killed in Russian shelling of convoy in late Sept, Kyiv says
Updated 01 October 2022

At least 20 killed in Russian shelling of convoy in late Sept, Kyiv says

At least 20 killed in Russian shelling of convoy in late Sept, Kyiv says
  • Seven vehicles were hit in shelling between occupied Svatove in Luhansk region and Ukrainian-held Kupiansk
  • The SBU published graphic images of destroyed civilian vehicles

KYIV: Ukraine’s SBU security service said on Saturday at least 20 civilians were killed in the Russian shelling of a civilian convoy in late September in an eastern “grey zone” between Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-controlled territory.
Seven vehicles were hit in shelling between occupied Svatove in Luhansk region and Ukrainian-held Kupiansk which Kyiv recaptured in the Kharkiv region last month, the SBU said in a statement.
The SBU published graphic images of destroyed civilian vehicles on a track next to a railway line and what appeared to be the charred remains of people. Two bodies were seated in the driving seats of their cars; one was holding the steering wheel.
Russian-installed officials in Ukraine’s east accused Kyiv on Thursday of shelling a convoy of refugees being evacuated from the Kharkiv region and killing around 30 civilians, Russian state media reported.
It was not immediately clear if those officials were referring to the same convoy.
Reuters could not independently verify the allegations.


UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil

UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil
Updated 01 October 2022

UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil

UK train strikes and energy hikes add to a week of turmoil
  • Only about 11% of train services were expected to operate across the UK on Saturday
  • Consumers were also hit with a jump in their energy bills Saturday

LONDON: Trains in Britain all but ground to a halt Saturday as coordinated strikes by rail workers added to a week of turmoil caused by soaring energy prices and unfunded tax cuts that roiled financial markets.
Only about 11 percent of train services were expected to operate across the UK on Saturday, according to Network Rail. Unions said they called the latest in a series of one-day strikes to demand that wage increases keep pace with inflation that is expected to peak at around 11 percent this month.
Consumers were also hit with a jump in their energy bills Saturday as the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine pushes gas and electricity prices higher. Household bills are expected to rise by about 20 percent, even after the government stepped in to cap prices.
Prime Minister Liz Truss, who has been in office less than a month, cited the cost-of-living crisis as the reason she moved swiftly to introduce a controversial economic stimulus program, which includes 45 billion pounds ($48 billion) of unfunded tax cuts.
Concern that the plans would push government debt to unsustainable levels sent the pound tumbling to a record low against the dollar this week and forced the Bank of England to intervene in the bond market.
“We need to get things done in this country more quickly,” Truss said in an unapologetic column for The Sun newspaper published Saturday. “So I am going to do things differently. It involves difficult decisions and does involve disruption in the short term.”
Many workers aren’t convinced.
Four labor unions have called three, 24-hour strikes over the next eight days, ensuring service disruptions for much of the week.
The timing is of particular concern for runners and fans trying to get to the capital for Sunday’s London Marathon, with is expected to attract 42,000 competitors.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union, said the strikes were designed to target the annual conference of Truss’s Conservative Party, which begins Sunday in Birmingham, England.
“We don’t want to inconvenience the public, and we’re really sorry that that’s happening,’’ Lynch said. “But the government has brought this dispute on. They (put) the challenges down to us, to cut our jobs, to cut our pensions and to cut our wages against inflation.”
Lynch urged Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to take “urgent steps to allow a negotiated settlement.” The union said the latest figures showed railway bosses benefiting from government tax cuts.
As a result of the strike, there will be no service between London and major cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle on Saturday. Lingering disruptions are likely to effect service on Sunday morning as well.
Runners and spectators traveling to London for the marathon, which begins at 9:30 a.m., have been warned they are likely to be frustrated by the strike.
“It is particularly disheartening that this weekend’s strike will hit the plans of thousands of runners who have trained for months to take part in the iconic London Marathon,’’ said Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at Rail Delivery Group. “That will also punish the many charities, large and small, who depend on sponsorship money raised by such events to support the most vulnerable in our community.”


Iranian city goes into blackout after IRGC intelligence chief killed in clashes

Iranian city goes into blackout after IRGC intelligence chief killed in clashes
Updated 01 October 2022

Iranian city goes into blackout after IRGC intelligence chief killed in clashes

Iranian city goes into blackout after IRGC intelligence chief killed in clashes
  • At least 36 people dead after security forces shoot at protesters in Zahedan
  • Protests broke out in the capital of Sistan and Balochistan after outcry over rape of a 15-year-old girl

QUETTA: Communication services were down in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan on Saturday, after a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander was killed in clashes.

Protests broke out in the capital of the Sistan and Balochistan province bordering Pakistan on Friday after the rape of a 15-year-old Baloch girl, allegedly by a local military commander, caused public outrage.

Ali Mousavi, IRGC intelligence chief of Sistan and Balochistan, was shot during the confrontation with protesters. The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that Mousavi was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Mousavi’s killing was claimed by the Jaish Al-Adl militant group, which says it is fighting for the independence of Sistan and Balochistan and greater rights for Baloch people, who are the main ethnic group in the province.

Footage emerging from Zahedan showed people carrying dead and wounded protesters amid heavy gunfire. The provincial administration said 19 people had died in the clashes. Local news agency Haal-e Vash reported the number of deaths to be at least 36, with dozens more wounded.

The internet has been blocked and mobile networks largely shut down in the city and surrounding areas since Friday — data from watchdog Netblocks shows — with residents of neighboring towns saying they have been unable to reach their relatives.

Mohammad Zia, a shopkeeper in Taftan, a city on Iran’s border with Pakistan around 90 kilometers from Zahedan, told Arab News that it was possible to find a “weak” mobile signal in some parts of Taftan.

“But internet services are still suspended in the entire Sistan and Balochistan region,” he said.

Muhammad Asif, who lives in Nokundi, a nearby town on the Pakistani side of the border, said he had received disturbing footage from the deadly clashes in Zahedan on Friday and has since been unable to contact his family there.

“I have been constantly trying to contact my cousin who traveled there for business,” he said. “Due to the internet and mobile network blackout I am unable to contact him, which increases my worries.”

The death of the provincial IRGC intelligence chief is a major escalation in the anti-government demonstrations that began in mid-September, triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was being held in custody by the Iranian morality police.

The nationwide rallies have been the largest manifestation of dissent against the Iranian government in more than a decade. Thousands of demonstrators and civil activists have been arrested.

As of Friday, at least 83 protesters had been killed by security forces, mainly in the provinces of Mazandaran, Gilan, Western Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Alborz, and the capital Tehran, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization. That number did not include those who died in the protests in Zahedan.