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Archive for July, 2011

Sikorsky supplying Sweden with Black Hawks

STRATFORD, Conn., May 20 (UPI) — Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. reports the U.S. government has agreed to sell 15 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to Sweden.

The Swedish armed forces will use the aircraft for medical evacuation, utility, and search-and-rescue missions.

Sikorsky is slated to deliver six of the helicopters in 2011 and the remaining nine in 2012 under an accelerated production schedule.

“We’re honored to support the Swedish Armed Forces, and we congratulate them for being the first European Union nation to choose this highly evolved UH-60M aircraft, which is part of a lineage of aircraft that have proven themselves countless times under the most extreme conditions all over the world,” said Mick Maurer, president of Sikorsky Military Systems.

The UH-60M helicopter is the latest version of the Black Hawk, providing additional payload and range, advanced digital avionics, improved handling qualities and situational awareness, active vibration control, and improved survivability compared with the predecessor UH-60L model.

The company said about 2,700 Black Hawks are in operation today. Sweden will become the 26th nation to operate the aircraft and only the second in Europe, where Austria operates UH-60L models.

U.S. forces have flown various Black Hawk models for 1.2 million flight hours to date in Afghanistan and Iraq without a single material failure.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Libyan rebels not extremist, EU says

BRUSSELS, May 20 (UPI) — Rebels fighting to overthrow Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi are not Islamic fanatics, a European diplomat said as the EU prepares to open a liaison office in Benghazi.

The diplomat, interviewed on condition of anonymity by the EU Observer Wednesday, said the rebels “are not a bunch of al-Qaida fanatics.”

“There is an Islamic element in the politics of Libyan opposition at the moment, but it is a mild Islamic political trend, which is welcome and will have a role in the national dialogue which they envisage. Their focus is national. It’s a liberation struggle,” the diplomat said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced last week that a liaison office would be opened in Benghazi to support the Transitional National Council. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the move.

“Our vision is that the U.N. and the EU will play a leading role in the post-Gadhafi period” that will include organizing elections and drafting a new constitution, the diplomat said.

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski visited Benghazi last week for talks with the rebel council.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Rich tributes paid to Kashmiri martyrs

‘Pakistan Times’ Jammu & Kashmir Desk

SRINAGAR (IHK): In occupied Kashmir, senior APHC leader Shabbir Ahmed Shah and the Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Muhammad Yasin Malik have paid glowing tributes to the Kashmiri martyrs including liberation leaders, Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammad Farooq and Khawaja Abdul Ghani Lone, reports KMS.

Shabbir Ahmed Shah addressing a function held in Srinagar, today, in connection with the Martyrdom Week reiterated the pledge to continue the mission of Kashmiri martyrs till its logical end.

Muhammad Yasin Malik in a statement issued in Srinagar eulogized the services of Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammad Farooq and Khawaja Abdul Ghani Lone for the liberation movement. He urged to the JKLF activists to massively participate in the programs announced by the APHC in connection with the Martyrdom Week.

APHC leader, Nayeem Ahmed Khan, addressing a separate function said that people of Kashmir had nourished the ongoing movement with their blood and due to their sacrifices the world had acknowledged Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory.

The General Secretary of Rashtriya Lok Dal and the former member of Indian Parliament, Shahid Siddiqui, in a media interview in Srinagar said, the Kashmiris have offered lots of sacrifices, which should not go waste.

On the other hand, the occupation authorities have placed veteran Kashmiri Hurriyet leader, Syed Ali Gilani, under house arrest to prevent him from addressing a public meeting in Islamabad town, tomorrow, in connection with the campaign initiated by his forum for securing release of illegally detained Kashmiris.

Source: Pakistan Times.

Kashmir’s ‘missing girls’

By Arsalan Tariq (AFP) – May 19, 2011

SRINAGAR, India — India’s only Muslim-majority state is seizing ultrasound scanners and enlisting religious leaders in an effort to save unborn baby girls from a shocking rise in female foeticide.

The issue has united politicians, clerics and social activists in Jammu and Kashmir, a state best known for the deep, blood-stained divides caused by a 20-year-old Muslim separatist insurgency against Indian rule.

Provisional 2011 census data released at the end of March painted a bleak picture of India’s gender imbalance, with a national child sex ratio of just 914 females to 1,000 males, the lowest figure since independence in 1947.

By far the most dramatic decline was in Jammu and Kashmir, where the ratio plunged to 859 girls for every 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group, down by 82 points from 10 years ago.

“We never expected such a drop,” admitted Yashpal Sharma, the Kashmir head of the National Rural Health Mission.

The global sex ratio is 984 girls to every 1,000 boys, according to United Nations population data.

But married women in India face huge pressure to produce male children, who are seen as breadwinners while girls are often viewed as a financial burden as they require hefty dowries to be married off.

The sharpest declines in the ratio were in the towns of the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, heartland of the armed insurgency against Indian rule that began in 1989.

“It is a matter of shame that Kashmiri Muslims are aborting their girl children,” said Kashmir’s top cleric, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, who heads an alliance of moderate political separatists.

Stressing that the practice was profoundly “un-Islamic” Farooq said everyone in the valley had to be conscripted in the battle against this “moral corruption.”

Yasin Malik, head of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, was equally forceful in denouncing an “undesirable and unethical trend” which he said was dragging the region back into the Stone Age.

“According to the Koran and traditions of Islam, foeticide is a grave unpardonable sin equivalent to murder. We cannot claim to be Muslims while indulging in this heinous crime,” he said.

The first reaction of the Kashmir authorities to the census figures was a crackdown on the unlicensed use of ultrasound scanners.

Determining the sex of a fetus is illegal in India, but many clinics offer the service for a small fee, fueling the demand for sex-selective abortions.

Lightweight, portable ultrasound machines mean tests can be carried out even in the most remote villages.

Sharma said close to 100 scanners had been seized in the initial crackdown, but added that long-term solutions were also needed.

“We are roping in religious and community leaders in our campaign. We have already sent 700 letters to various leaders — both Muslims and Hindus,” Sharma said.

Kashmir’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah, promised harsher penalties for anyone aiding or abetting female foeticide.

“It is civil society as a whole, and religious, political and social activists in particular, who have to play their part and make the people aware of this crime,” he said.

But Nusrat Nazir, a college lecturer, said efforts to empower women and overcome the social bias towards sons were often undermined by the dowry system, which brought a stark financial factor into the equation.

“These are not issues of governance but ethos, culture and values that our society holds. We have to make efforts to change society, for the better,” Nusrat said. “Dowry is a resident evil.”

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

Arab League deems Israel retaining the bodies of ‘martyrs’ a racial crime

Ahmed Eleiba, Thursday 19 May 2011

Experts gathered at the Arab League to discuss the legal dimensions of Israel retaining the dead bodies of those its army kills.

A seminar was held Thursday in the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on the legal dimensions of Israel retaining the bodies of Arab and Palestinian martyrs and on the fate of missing persons. Palestinian Minister of Justice Ali Khashan took part in the seminar along with Ambassador Mohamed Sabeeh, assistant secretary general for Palestine affairs.

Participants underlined the importance of exerting pressure on Israel to meet its obligations regarding the bodies of martyrs, including facilitating dignified burials in accordance with international humanitarian law, including the FIrst Additional Protocol of the Geneva Conventions which mentions the recovery of the dead and their humane treatment, a protocol Israel has not signed.

Khashan talked in detail about the national campaign on the return the remains of martyrs, reviewing Palestinian efforts on the subject since 2008, while Sabeeh called for an international conference on the legal aspects of dead and missing persons in situations of conflict.

Sabeeh also called for the forming of national committees to follow up on the subject, saying he would meet Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Al-Arabi to discuss the issue.

Khashan said that a committee already following the subject was able to document 317 cases of the retention of the dead bodies of persons killed by the Israeli occupation forces, adding that the issue is not a solely political and legal, but relates to human dignity and must be addressed internationally.

Sabeeh described Israeli practice as a racial crime, and that there exists evidence that Israel intentionally tampers with the bodies, including organ theft. The ambassador called for delegations from regional and international human rights organizations and institutions to visit the occupied Palestinian territories and work towards knowing the fate of scores of missing persons.

For his part, the legal consultant to the secretary general of the Arab League, Mohamed bin Khadraa, voiced his appreciation for the Palestinian justice minister as well as a number of civil institutions in their efforts on the issue, which he considers a war crime and crime against humanity.

Bin Khadraa said that not only did Israel kill people unjustly, but it prevents their kin from burying them according to their religion and in respect of human dignity, calling Israel to immediately stop its practices in this regard.

Included in the seminar was a series of lectures about the legal implications of retaining dead bodies in a situation of conflict, how to legally pursue Israel on the matter, and what the role of the Arab League and other organizations can be.

The seminar ended with the screening of a documentary on the subject in the presence of a large number of legal experts.

Source: Ahram.

Bahrain foreign minister floats plan to expand Gulf force

May 20, 2011

DUBAI: Bahrain’s foreign minister floated the idea of expanding military bases within a bloc of Sunni-led Gulf Arab allies that helped Manama quash mostly Shiite protests it blamed rival Shiite power Iran for stoking.

Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa said in an interview with PBS Newshour Wednesday evening that concerns over Iranian interference may push the Gulf Cooperation Council to reshape its Gulf military presence.

“Any threat that any country would face would definitely, no doubt, affect its neighbors. Saudi Arabia is only 28 kilometers away from here. We are looking at the GCC force to be expanded, to have multi-bases everywhere in the GCC,” he told the U.S. television program. “So whether they leave or stay or be restructured, that’s what is to be discussed in the future.”

Bahrain’s Sunni rulers imposed emergency law and called in troops from neighboring countries in March to quash protests led mostly by its Shiite majority demanding reforms.

Sheikh Khalid told Newshour that Bahrain was getting a “daily barrage” of statements from Iran that worried the tiny Gulf island country.

“I can tell you that they have people sympathizing with them here,” he said, adding that not all Shiites were siding with Iran. “There’s definitely an Iranian interest group in Bahrain.”

Meanwhile, a military court Thursday sentenced nine people to 20 years in prison after they were convicted of kidnapping a policeman. One of the men sentenced was a prominent religious cleric and political activist.

International and local rights groups have criticized the government for the severity of its security sweep, in which masked troops manned checkpoints throughout the city and hundreds of people, mostly Shiite activists or politicians, were arrested. At least four detainees have died in custody.

Some 1,000 protesters in a Sunni neighborhood of Manama rallied Wednesday night but several religious clerics urged them to return home.

Some of the demonstrators vowed to gather again after prayers Friday, a day which has taken on great significance since pro-democracy protests began sweeping the Arab region. Protesters have used Friday prayers to mobilize larger crowds.

In his Newshour interview, Sheikh Khalid said that a security presence would still be high after emergency law is lifted despite the removal of tanks and military from the streets.

“There’s no doubt that the police will be on their toes 24/7, because the time just after June 1 … it’s a very delicate period we want to ensure nothing goes wrong and we don’t slide back to chaos.”

Source: The Daily Star.

Bahrain jails 9 for 20 years for policeman kidnap

May 19, 2011

DUBAI — A special security court in Bahrain has sentenced nine people to 20 years in prison each after it convicted them of abducting a policeman, state news agency BNA reported Thursday.

“The Lower National Safety Court sentenced nine defendants accused of kidnapping one policeman to 20 years in prison,” according to an English-language statement on BNA that did not give further details.

Among those sentenced was Sheikh Mohammed Habib al-Safaf, a Shiite cleric who had previously been arrested along with 22 other activists and charged with terrorism.

The group was freed under a royal pardon in February after the outbreak of protests calling for democratic reforms in Bahrain.

The court was set up under the state of national safety, a lower level of emergency law declared by King Hamad in mid-March, a day before an all-out crackdown on a month-long, Shiite-dominated protest movement demanding political reforms.

Defendants have the right to appeal the court’s rulings within 15 days.

Last month, authorities said that 405 detainees have been referred to national safety courts, of whom 312 had been released.

The National Safety Appeals Court last month sentenced four Shiites to death and three others to jail for life for killing two policemen by running them over with cars during the protests.

Their case has drawn condemnation from Amnesty International, which urged Bahrain to halt the executions.

In a statement released on Thursday, Amnesty also condemned the conviction of a number of other activists it said were sentenced to between one and four years in jail earlier this week.

“These trials and convictions represent yet further evidence of the extent to which the rights to freedom of speech and assembly are now being denied in Bahrain,” Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s Middle East and north Africa director, said in the statement.

It also said that leading Bahraini activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja had said in court that he was threatened with rape by police after refusing to record a taped apology to the king.

“The Bahraini authorities must immediately launch an independent investigation into Abdulhadi al-Khawaja’s torture allegations and bring to justice any officials responsible for torture or other ill-treatment,” Smart said.

Nine policemen were hurt on Tuesday when a car hit them as they were dispersing a protest in a Bahraini Shiite village, BNA state news agency said.

Four of the policemen sustained critical injuries in the attack that took place in Nuwaidrat, south of Manama, said BNA quoting a police official.

Bahraini authorities have said 24 people were killed during the month-long unrest, most of them demonstrators.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

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