News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Court in Pakistan acquits Sharif

Court in Pakistan acquits Sharif

Nawaz Sharif

Mr Sharif is one of the most popular politicians in Pakistan

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted opposition head Nawaz Sharif of hijacking charges, removing the final ban on him running for public office.

Mr Sharif was found guilty of hijacking then army chief General Pervez Musharraf’s plane in 1999, when he ordered it to be diverted.

Mr Sharif was then toppled as prime minster in a coup led by Gen Musharraf.

He was convicted by the Sindh High Court but he has always maintained that the charges were politically motivated.

Mr Sharif’s government had ordered officials to divert Gen Musharraf’s plane away from Karachi and to a smaller city in Sindh.

While he was imprisoned, Mr Sharif agreed to go into exile under a deal with Gen Musharraf who had taken over as Pakistan’s president.

Mr Sharif ended his exile ahead of the 2008 elections but was prevented from contesting due to the court conviction.

Pakistan’s president and prime minister were swift to congratulate Mr Sharif on the court ruling.

Mr Sharif’s acquittal will be viewed as a positive development which helps strengthen democracy.

It also puts Mr Sharif on an even keel with President Asif Ali Zardari of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Charges against him were withdrawn from court by the earlier Musharraf government in the name of “national” reconciliation.

But the court verdict restores to the political stage a potentially formidable opponent to Mr Zardari, correspondents say.

Mr Sharif has held office previously and can point to substantial political support across the country.

‘Set aside’

In its ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court said there was no evidence to support the charge of hijacking and acquitted Mr Sharif.

A judgement given by a kangaroo court nine years ago has been nullified by an independent and sovereign apex court
Siddique-ul-Farooq, PML-N spokesman

“Looking at the case from any angle – the charge of hijacking, attempt to hijack or terrorism – does not stand established against the petitioner,” news agency AFP quoted from the Supreme Court ruling.

“The conviction and sentence of the appellant are set aside and he is acquitted,” the order said.

The “petitioner had neither used force nor ordered its use and undisputedly no deceitful means were used,” it added.

The five-judge court headed by Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani heard the petition in June, but initially reserved judgement.

Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party has welcomed the order.

“A judgement given by a kangaroo court nine years ago has been nullified by an independent and sovereign apex court in the light of the constitution, law and evidence on record,” PML-N spokesman Siddique-ul-Farooq was quoted by AFP as saying.

In May, the Supreme Court had overturned a ban that prevented Mr Sharif and his brother Shahbaz from running for political office.

The ruling meant that Mr Sharif would be able to stand in elections due in 2013 or a parliamentary by-election before then.

The former prime minister and leader of the PML-N party is one of the most popular politicians in the country.

Advertisements

Sunday ferry makes first sailing

Sunday ferry makes first sailing

Protestors in Stornoway

A small group of protesters gathered ahead of the sailing

The controversial first scheduled Sunday ferry sailing from Stornoway on Lewis to mainland Scotland has gone ahead as planned.

There has been strong opposition on the island, where the Sabbath day has traditionally been strictly observed.

A small group of protesters prayed and sang a psalm as cars boarded the boat, but several hundred people clapped.

Supporters said it would boost the economy of the Hebridean island and offer local people freedom to travel.

A small group of about a dozen protesters gathered in Stornoway ahead of the sailing to Ullapool, which left at 1430 BST.

Equality laws

As cars lined up in the ferry terminal car park, protesters gathered in silence behind a banner.

It read: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”.

They sang Psalm 46 – God is our refuge and our strength – and prayed for the nation to “turn its back from sin and wickedness”.

A number of women wiped away tears as they prayed for a return to the Lord’s commandments.

The crossing was undertaken by the route’s usual ferry, the MV Isle of Lewis, after a fault in the exhaust on Friday was repaired sooner than expected.

A spokesman for ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne said: “We’re pleased to get under way after the difficulties over the last couple of days.

“It’s all gone as planned.”

The MV Isle of Arran was drafted in after the Isle of Lewis broke down.

The former boat ran a number of emergency crossings to clear the backlog of passengers.

CalMac said it could be breaking equality laws if it did not run ferries seven days a week.

It said religion or beliefs were not valid reasons to refuse to run the ferry.

Supporters of the service said it would be good for tourism.

They said it would offer more flexibility to travellers.

As the ferry left Stornoway a crowd of several hundred gathered to applaud, and wave to those on board.

A leaflet handed out by a group of local churches said that the peace and tranquillity of the islands was enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

It said: “By and large we like it like this.

“We are not oppressed by a quiet Sunday.”

It wished tourists who came to Lewis by ferry a “happy and blessed trip to the islands”.

June 22, 2009

Australia row over ‘fake’ e-mail

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:20 pm

Australia row over ‘fake’ e-mail

PM Kevin Rudd, 17th April 2009

This is the biggest test Mr Rudd has faced since he was elected in 2007

An e-mail at the centre of opposition attempts to oust Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a fake, according to police.

The e-mail was purported to have been sent to a treasury official by Mr Rudd’s office, to help his car dealer friend get a government loan.

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said the e-mail showed Mr Rudd had abused his position and must resign.

Analysts say this is the biggest test Mr Rudd has faced since he was elected.

Australian media have dubbed the affair “Utegate”, as the car dealer in question, John Grant, had lent Mr Rudd a “ute” – a two-seater pick-up truck – for use in his constituency.

Escalating row

Opposition politicians believe Mr Rudd tried to help Mr Grant secure money from a Treasury fund called OzCar to help his business cope with the global economic slump.

The row began on Friday, when Treasury official Godwin Grech told a Senate committee he thought he could remember receiving an e-mail regarding funding for the car salesman, but added he had no proof.

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull - 14/6/2009
We have a treasurer who has used his considerable influence to get a favour for a mate. And not just any mate – a mate who is a benefactor of the prime minister
Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull

Police were called in to search Mr Grech’s home on Monday and specialists examined his computer equipment.

“Preliminary results of those forensic examinations indicate that the e-mail referred to at the centre of this investigation has been created by a person or persons other than the purported author of the e-mail,” the Australian Federal Police said in a statement on Monday.

The row forced a special session of parliament in which the two sides demanded resignations.

Mr Rudd had given Mr Turnbull an ultimatum to produce the e-mail in the parliamentary session, or resign.

“It is false, fake and a forgery. There can be no graver offence in public political life than to be in the business of communicating a document that is false, out there, through the media, in order to bring your political opponent down,” Mr Rudd said.

He told parliament the opposition had failed to provide the evidence so had “no alternative now but to stand up and apologise and resign”.

But Mr Turnbull mounted his own attack, telling parliament: “What we have here is a shocking abuse of power.

“We have a treasurer who has used his considerable influence to get a favour for a mate. And not just any mate – a mate who is a benefactor of the prime minister,” he said.

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey demanded Mr Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan should both stand down.

September 22, 2008

Opposition leads Slovenia’s polls

Opposition leads Slovenia’s polls

Borut Pahor, leader of the opposition Social Democrats

Mr Pahor is a former young communist and one-time male model

Slovenia’s opposition is holding a razor-thin lead over the ruling party of PM Janez Jansa, near-complete results from parliamentary polls show.

With 97% of the votes counted, the Social Democrats had 30.5% of the vote against 29.2% for the center-right Slovenian Democrats, officials said.

But they said the vote was too close to predict the outcome.

Slovenia, the richest of the former Yugoslav states, is a member of the European Union and Nato.

It was also the first east European state to adopt the Euro.

Mr Jansa’s party is claiming credit for the country’s increased prosperity.

But the centre-right government has also frequently been accused of corruption.

Coalition allies

Earlier on Sunday, two separate exit polls gave the Social Democrats led by Borut Pahor a 4% lead over Mr Jansa’s party.

Election poster for  Janez Jansa's Slovene Democratic Party

Mr Jansa is hoping to gain a new four-year mandate

The outcome of the election may be determined by the performance of smaller parties which will be needed as coalition allies in the 90-seat parliament.

The exit polls suggested that two allies of the Social Democrats did well in the polls.

While the economic policies of the two main parties are similar, a left-leaning government could be expected to focus more on the redistribution of wealth to poorer parts of society, our correspondent says.

Polls opened at 0500GMT and closed at 1700GMT. Some 1.7 million people were eligible to vote.

September 12, 2008

New Zealand leader calls election

New Zealand leader calls election

PM Helen Clark

PM Helen Clark may hope that a lengthy campaign could help her win

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has called a general election for 8 November, aiming to win a fourth term in office.

However, Ms Clark’s Labor Party has trailed the opposition National Party in opinion polls for the past year.

Economic woes and a scandal-hit foreign minister have given the opposition its best chance of power in a decade.

But the country’s aversion to the Iraq war and strong anti-nuclear stance are unlikely to change, whoever wins.

Ms Clark, 58, a successful campaigner, told a news conference on Friday that the election would be about trust.

“It is about which leader and which major party we New Zealanders trust our families’ and country’s future with,” said the prime minister.

“What I see is that as the election nears people are focusing very much on what the real choice is. And at that point it comes down to what matters most to our families and our communities,” she said.

The latest date on which elections could have been set was 15 November, and some analysts have suggested Ms Clark’s choice of date will give her time to claw back support.

Correspondents say the nation’s economy is expected to be a key issue in election. A recent cut in interest rates may help Labour, and promised tax cuts are due to take effect in October.

Public opinion polls show the Labor Party trailing the main opposition National Party by at least 6.5 percentage points – an improvement on a 16-point gap earlier in the year.

Party problems

New Zealand’s voting system is mixed-member proportional representation, which shares power with smaller parties, in a 121-seat single-house parliament.

Ms Clark’s government has led a minority parliament in recent years, relying on parties such as United Future and New Zealand First for support.

New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters, has been her foreign minister but stepped down on 29 August as he is now under investigation for donations allegedly made to his party by wealthy business figures.

Ms Clark has distanced herself from Mr Peters in recent weeks.

Just before the election announcement, Ms Clark’s government passed a promised major piece of legislation to set up an emissions trading scheme.

Parliament will be dissolved on 3 October and nomination day is 14 October, allowing for a five-week campaign period.

“I do believe the future of New Zealand is at stake,” Ms Clark said.

“I believe that Labor has shown through its record in office that we can be trusted with the future of New Zealand.”

She said her Labor Party was “ambitious” for New Zealand, whereas the opposition party was “ambiguous”.

National leader John Key did not immediately comment.

September 7, 2008

Canadian PM calls snap election

Canadian PM calls snap election

Stephen Harper - file photo

Mr Harper’s minority government has needed opposition support to pass bills

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called an early election for 14 October in a bid to strengthen his minority Conservative government.

He met Governor General Michaelle Jean – the representative of Canada’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II – to request the dissolution of parliament.

The latest polls indicate the Conservatives are ahead of the opposition Liberals.

The PM, elected in 2006, has complained that parliament is deadlocked.

The vote will be Canada’s third national election in four years.

Economic issues

Mr Harper’s government has needed the support of the main opposition parties, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois, to pass legislation and adopt budgets.

The election call had been widely expected, with Mr Harper complaining in recent weeks that parliament was “dysfunctional”.

Between now and October 14, Canadians will choose a government to look out for their interests at a time of global economic trouble
Stephen Harper

Holding the election this year breaks Mr Harper’s own fixed-date election law, something he had said was necessary to prevent prime ministers calling elections when polls indicated they were in a favorable position.

Mr Harper has made it clear he is running on economic issues and criticized the Liberals’ plan to tax greenhouse gas polluters while cutting other taxes.

“Between now and October 14, Canadians will choose a government to look out for their interests at a time of global economic trouble,” Mr Harper said in a statement.

“They will choose between direction or uncertainty; between common sense or risky experiments; between steadiness or recklessness.”

The opposition leaders are expected to make their own addresses later on Sunday.

Favourable polls

Mr Harper led the Conservatives to victory in the 2006 election, ending 12 years of Liberal government.

The party heads into the election with 127 of parliament’s 308 seats. The Liberals have 95, the Bloc Quebecois has 48 and the New Democratic Party (NDP) 30.

There are three Independent MPs, the Green Party has one seat and four are vacant.

Stephane Dion - file photo

Opposition Liberal leader Stephane Dion proposes taxing polluters

An opinion poll held last week suggested support for the Conservatives had grown over the summer.

The Environics survey suggested that 38% of Canadians would vote for the Conservatives; 28% for the Liberals; 19% for the NDP, eight for the Bloc Quebecois and seven for the Greens.

The figures put the Conservatives within striking distance of a majority government, Donna Dasko, senior vice-president of Environics Research Group, told CBC News.

The leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, Gilles Duceppe, said his party was best positioned to stop the Conservatives gaining a majority.

The same Environics poll indicated increased support for the Conservatives in Quebec, where separatist ardour has faded in recent years.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion is staking his command of the party on his “Green Shift” plan, which would tax polluters but reduce other taxes.

If his party does not do well on 14 October, his leadership will likely come under scrutiny at a party convention in December.

Mr Dion has described Mr Harper as Canada’s most right-wing prime minister in history.

Mr Harper supported the Iraq war while in opposition and withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Protocol that aims to cut greenhouse gases. He has also increased Canada’s troop commitment to Afghanistan.

August 7, 2008

Mauritanian army coup condemned

Mauritanian army coup condemned

General Ould Abdel Aziz

General Ould Abdelaziz is now in charge in Mauritania

There has been widespread international condemnation of the  military takeover in Mauritania.

Troops overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, detaining him after he tried to dismiss army chiefs.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon called for the “restoration of constitutional order”. Condemnation has also come from the US, the EU, and the African Union (AU).

The military promised to hold fresh elections “as soon as possible”.

In a statement released a day after Wednesday’s coup, the junta promised the polls would be “free and transparent”.

Meanwhile US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for the immediate release of President Abdallahi and Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef, both of whom were detained by troops on Wednesday.

“The United States looks to all of our international partners to condemn this anti-democratic action,” she said in a statement.

The European Union warned that it may suspend aid to Mauritania.

The AU denounced the coup, demanded a return to constitutional government and said it was sending an envoy to the capital, Nouakchott, immediately.

Political crisis

On Wednesday the president tried to dismiss four senior army officers, including the head of the presidential guard, Gen Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, who responded by launching the coup.

Map of Mauritania

A statement issued by a body calling itself the “State Council” and led by Gen Abdelaziz, was broadcast by Gulf-based Arabic television stations.

It said Mr Abdallahi – who came to power in polls last year, taking over from a military junta – was now a “former president”.

Troops deployed on Nouakchott’s streets fired tear gas to disperse about 50 protesters as the council annulled his previous decree dismissing the military chiefs.

The country has been in the grip of a political crisis since a vote of no confidence in the cabinet two weeks ago.

On Monday, 48 MPs walked out of the ruling party.

Reports suggest some of the generals orchestrated the mass resignation, says the BBC’s James Copnall in the region.

Food protests

Mauritania has a long history of coups, with the military involved in nearly every government since its independence from France in 1960.

Presidential elections held in 2007 ended a two-year period of military rule – the product of a military coup in 2005.

The elections were deemed to have been free and fair and appeared to herald a new era of democracy.

Earlier this year, however, the president dismissed the government amid protests over soaring food prices.

The cabinet that replaced it has been dogged by instability, lacking the support of a moderate Islamist party and a major opposition group that were in the former government.

Mauritania is one of the world’s poorest nations as well as its newest oil producer.

Anwar Ibrahim charged with sodomy

Anwar Ibrahim charged with sodomy

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim waves as he leaves court

Mr Anwar was mobbed by supporters as he arrived in court

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been formally  charged with sodomising a former male aide.

Appearing in court in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Anwar pleaded not guilty and called the accusation “malicious”.

He has said the allegation is politically motivated. The 60-year-old was jailed after facing similar accusations 10 years ago.

Since his release he has been active in politics but, until recently, not able to officially run in elections.

Mr Anwar arrived at the main court in Kuala Lumpur amid chaotic scenes.

Dozens of supporters gathered as he emerged from his car – some shouting “reformasi”, the slogan of the movement he founded.

Revival

In court, Mr Anwar was charged with “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.

Sodomy is illegal in Malaysia and he could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

After Thursday’s hearing, he was released on bail.

Mr Anwar led the new opposition coalition to strong gains in a general election earlier this year, and had said the claims are aimed at derailing his political revival.

The accusation is the same as the one he faced in 1998 – after he had been sacked as deputy prime minister.

He was convicted and served six years before the guilty verdict was overturned.

A recent opinion poll suggests that few Malaysians believe Mr Anwar committed the crime.

Mr Anwar has accused Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi of orchestrating a campaign against him – Mr Abdullah has denied this.

The charges was made just as Mr Anwar prepared to fight for a seat in parliament, after a ban on his seeking public office expired.

Bush chides Beijing over rights

Bush chides Beijing over rights

US President George W Bush has expressed “deep concerns” over China’s human rights record in a speech on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.

“The US believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings,” he said in the Thai capital Bangkok.

He praised China’s economy but said only respect for human rights would let it realise its full potential.

Mr Bush has been criticised by some campaigners for going to the Games.

He was due to fly to Beijing following the speech in Bangkok, a stop on his final trip to Asia before he leaves office in January.

The wide-ranging address, which included criticism of the regime in Burma, was more nuanced than Mr Bush’s past speeches on China.

It is unlikely to cause much offence in China, our correspondent says, and many people will see it more as a valedictory speech for Mr Bush’s record in Asia rather than an outline of future US policy.

‘Firm opposition’

President Bush said he was optimistic about China’s future and said change in China would arrive “on its own terms”.

Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas…
George W Bush
US president

But his criticisms of China’s human rights record were clear.

“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists,” he said.

When it was controversially awarded the games in 2001 by the International Olympic Committee, Beijing promised to make improvements in human rights, media freedoms and the provision of health and education.

But campaigners, such as Amnesty International, say Chinese activists have been jailed, people made homeless, journalists detained and websites blocked, while there has been increased use of labour camps and prison beatings.

In March, China suppressed violent anti-government protests in Tibet. Beijing said rioters killed at least 19 people, but Tibetan exiles said security forces killed dozens of protesters in the worst unrest in Tibet for 20 years.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, rejected Beijing’s claims he was behind the riots and said he expressed good wishes for the success of Games.

On Thursday, at least 1,500 Buddhists were holding a protest in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu against what they called China’s violation of religious freedom in Tibet. Correspondents say there have been scuffles with police.

In Beijing, police dragged away three US Christians who tried to demonstrate on Tiananmen Square in support of religious freedom.

Four pro-Tibet activists from Britain and the US were arrested and held briefly in the city on Wednesday after a protest close to the Olympic stadium.

Burma refugees

In his address, Mr Bush said the US recognised that the growth sparked by China’s free market reforms was “good for the Chinese people” and the country’s’ purchasing power was “good for the world”.

On foreign policy, he commended China’s “critical leadership role” in the negotiations to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, and the “constructive relationship” between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan.

He also called for an end to what he described as tyranny in Thailand’s neighbour, Burma.

Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony coincides with the 20th anniversary of a democracy uprising in Burma, which was crushed by the military.

First lady Laura Bush flew to the Thai-Burmese border to spend the day at the Mae La refugee camp where about 35,000 refugees live, having fled their homes.

August 6, 2008

Troops stage coup in Mauritania

Troops stage coup in Mauritania

map

The president and prime minister of Mauritania, in north-west Africa, have been taken into custody by soldiers in a military coup.

President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef are being held by men loyal to a general sacked by the president.

Mauritania staged elections in June 2007, two years after a military coup.

The country has been gripped by political crisis for a fortnight, after a vote of no confidence in the cabinet.

On Tuesday, 48 MPs walked out of the ruling party.

Unusual troop movements

Earlier on Wednesday, President Abdallahi replaced several senior army officers, including the head of the presidential guard, Gen Ould Abdelaziz.

Shortly afterwards, Gen Abdelaziz led soldiers in a coup against the president.

Officials loyal to the general said that all the officers sacked by the president have been re-instated.

A statement issued by them also said Mr Abdallahi was no longer president of Mauritania.

The first indications of a military coup came as state television was taken off the air amid reports of unusual troop movements in the capital, Nouakchott.

The president’s daughter, Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi, told Reuters news agency soldiers seized her father at his house at 0920 local time (0920 GMT).

The streets of the capital are said to be calm with no violence reported.

Political instability

Mauritania is one of the world’s poorest nations as well as its newest oil producer.

The desert nation, a former French colony of more than three million people, has been looking to oil revenues to boost its economy.

Presidential elections held in 2007 ended a two-year period of military rule – the product of an earlier coup in 2005.

The elections were deemed to have been free and fair and appeared to herald a new era of democracy.

Earlier this year, however, the president dismissed the government amid protests over soaring food prices.

The cabinet that replaced it has been dogged by instability, lacking the support of a moderate Islamist party and a major opposition group that were in the former government.

Blog at WordPress.com.