Ex-Pakistan PM’s Son Abducted As Taliban Threaten Election

Gunmen kidnapped the son of a former Pakistani prime minister on Thursday as a letter from the leader of the Pakistani Taliban revealed plans for suicide bomb attacks on election day.

Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, in a message to the group’s spokesman, outlined plans for the attacks, including suicide blasts, in all four of the country’s provinces on polling day on Saturday.

“We don’t accept the system of infidels which is called democracy,” Mehsud said in the letter, dated May 1, and obtained by Reuters on Thursday.

Since April, the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban have killed more than 100 people in attacks on election candidates and rallies, particularly those of secular-leaning parties, in a bid to undermine elections they regard as un-Islamic.

The polls, already Pakistan’s most violent, will mark the first time a civilian government has completed a full term and handed over to another administration.

The attacks have prevented candidates from the three main parties in the ruling coalition from holding big rallies. Instead, they have relied on door-to-door campaigning or small meetings in homes or on street corners.

Gunmen kidnapped the son of Yusuf Raza Gilani, former prime minister and stalwart of the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), as he headed for a small political gathering in the central city of Multan, police said.

Ali Haider Gilani’s secretary and guard were shot dead in the attack.

“If we don’t get my brother by this evening I will not let the elections happen in my area,” said his brother, Musa, in televised comments.

Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan denied responsibility in a telephone call to Reuters.

MILITANTS SPARE MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY

The Pakistan Taliban are blamed for many of the suicide bombings across the country, a nuclear-armed strategic ally of the United States.

But they have not attacked the main opposition party led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which has courted support from groups accused of supporting militancy.

Sharif, who is seen as favorite to become the next prime minister, says Pakistan should reconsider its support for the U.S. war on Islamist militancy and suggests he would be in favor of negotiations with the Taliban.

Nor have the Taliban attacked former cricketer Imran Khan’s party, which advocates shooting down U.S. drones and withdrawing the Pakistani military from insurgency-infested ethnic Pashtun areas along the Afghan border.

The military said on Thursday it would send tens of thousands of troops to polling stations and counting centers to prevent the Taliban from disrupting the election.

The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 66-year history, either through coups or from behind the scenes.

Army spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa said 300,000 security officials, including 32,000 troops, had been deployed in Punjab, the most populous province. Another 96,000 security forces would be deployed in the northwest.

“Definitely they have reports and obviously they have made a plan to counter that,” newspapers quoted him as saying, referring to security agencies getting threats of violence from the Taliban.

Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League has capitalized on widespread frustrations with the outgoing government led by the Pakistan People’s Party.

Madonna Auctions Painting To Raise $7Million For Girls’ Education

Madonna sold an abstract painting by French artist Fernand Leger for $7.16 million on Tuesday to raise funds for girls’ education projects in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.

The 1921 painting, “Trois Femmes a la Table Rouge,” which carried a pre-sale estimate of up to $7 million, was purchased by an unidentified buyer at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art sale in New York, according to the auction house’s website.

The pop singer said in April that she bought the painting in 1990 and that selling it would combine her passions for art and education by raising funds for the Ray of Light Foundation, a non-profit organization offering vocational training for street children and poor farmers.

“I cannot accept a world where women or girls are wounded, shot or killed for either going to school or teaching in girls’ schools. We don’t have time to be complacent,” Madonna said in a statement last month.

“I want to trade something valuable for something invaluable – Educating Girls!”

Madonna has adopted two children from Malawi in southern Africa and plans to build 10 schools there.

Blast At Election Rally Kills 15 In Pakistan

A blast at an election rally organized by a religious party in Pakistan killed 15 people on Monday, officials said.

The attack at a gathering of members of the Jamiat Ulema-e- Islam religious party wounded 40 people, said the officials.

Since April, the Pakistani Taliban have killed more than 70 people in attacks targeting three major political parties, preventing many of their most prominent candidates from openly campaigning.

But the militant group has targeted moderate parties in their bid to undermine the May 11 general election, not religious ones like the Jamiat Ulema-e- Islam.

One official said a suicide bomber blew himself at the gathering. There was no claim of responsibility.

The polls mark the first time that an election is being held to decide on a transition between civilian governments.

The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 66-year history, either through coups or from behind the scenes.

But the Taliban violence has marred the election, with some candidates afraid to campaign.

The attack in the Kurram region, an ethnic Pashtun area near the Afghan border, will raise questions about whether the Taliban have expanded their campaign beyond moderate parties.

Sultan Affirms Support For Eradiction Of Polio

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar (III), has restated the commitment and support of traditional rulers in the 19 northern states to the eradication of polio in Nigeria.

Child receiving the polio vaccine

The Sultan, made this known while receiving the Minister of Health in Monday and he maintained that the committee of traditional rulers had in the last two years increased the awareness amongst their subjects concerning vaccination against polio.

In his response the Minister of Health, Professor Oyebuchi Chukwu said that considerable progress has been made in the fight against polio.

Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only countries in the world polio still exits and health officials administering the polio vaccines to children have been attacked and killed in the three countries.

Unknown gunmen  killed nine health workers in Unguwa Uku area of Kano metropolis, while they were carrying out polio immunization in the city in February.

U.S. Warns Health Officials To Be Alert For Deadly New virus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday warned state and local health officials about potential infections from a deadly virus previously unseen in humans that has now sickened 14 people and killed 8.

Most of the infections have occurred in the Middle East, but a new analysis of three confirmed infections in Britain suggests the virus can pass from person to person rather than from animal to humans, the CDC said in its Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report on Thursday.

The virus is a coronavirus, part of the same family of viruses as the common cold and the deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that first emerged in Asia in 2003. The new virus is not the same as SARS, but like the SARS virus, it is similar to those found in bats.

So far, no cases have been reported in the United States.

According to the CDC’s analysis, the infections in Britain started with a 60-year-old man who had recently traveled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and developed a respiratory illness on January 24, 2013. Samples from the man showed he was infected with both the new virus and with H1N1, or swine flu.

This man subsequently passed the infection to two members of his household: a male with an underlying illness who became ill on February 6 and subsequently died; and a healthy adult female in his household who developed a respiratory illness on February 5, but who did not need to be hospitalized and has recovered.

The CDC said people who develop a severe acute lower respiratory illness within 10 days of returning from the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries should continue to be evaluated according to current guidelines.

The health agency said doctors should be watchful of patients who develop an unexplained respiratory infection within 10 days of traveling from the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries. The CDC has set up a special website with updates on the infections at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/ncv/ .

Symptoms of infection with this new virus include severe acute respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Neither the CDC nor the World Health Organisation has issued travel restrictions related to the virus.

Twitter Launches Advertising Services In Middle East

Twitter Inc. on Sunday launched an advertising service in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as the social media firm seeks to exploit a tripling of its regional subscriber base following its widespread use during the Arab Spring protests.

Digital advertising is relatively undeveloped in the region, accounting for an estimated 4 percent of its total advertising spending, tech-savvy population and rising Internet penetration points to significant potential for growth.

“The two are interconnected – the rapid growth of our user base with the timing of why we want to help brands connect with that audience,” said Shailesh Rao, Twitter vice-president for international operations.

Twitter does not provide a regional breakdown of its more than 200 million users worldwide, but Rao said its MENA subscriber base had tripled in the past 12 months.

The company has recruited Egypt’s Connect Ads, owned by Cairo-listed Orascom Telecom Media and Technology, to launch advertising initially in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Twitter Inc. has named Pepsi and Saudi telecom operator Etihad Etisalat (Mobile) as confirmed clients.

Twitter says the products it promotes typically has an audience response rate of 1 to 3 percent, significantly higher than traditional advertising rate of 0.1 to 0.5 percent.

“Social media advertising is totally different because it relies on what people say. It’s about two-way, not one-way, communication,” said Mohamed El Mehairy, Connect Ads managing director.

Anti-Muslim video ignites violence in Pakistan, 6 killed

Muslim protest against insults to the Prophet Mohammad turned violent in Pakistan, where six people were killed on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, but remained mostly peaceful in Islamic countries elsewhere.

In France, where the publication of cartoons denigrating the Prophet stoked anger over an anti-Islam video made in California, the authorities banned all protests over the issue.

“There will be strictly no exceptions. Demonstrations will be banned and broken up,” said Interior Minister Manuel Valls.

Tunisia’s Islamist-led government also banned protests against the images published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Four people were killed and almost 30 wounded last week when the U.S. embassy was stormed in a protest over the film.

Many Western and Muslim politicians and clerics have appealed for calm, denouncing those behind the mockery of the Prophet, but also condemning violent reactions to it.

At street level, Muslims enraged by attacks on their faith spoke of a culture war with those in the West who put rights to freedom of expression above any religious offence caused.

“They hate him (the Prophet Mohammad) and show this through their continued works in the West, through their writings, cartoons, films and the way they launch war against him in schools,” said Abdessalam Abdullah, a preacher at a mosque in Beirut’s Palestinian refugee camp of Bourj al-Barajneh.

Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet blasphemous.

REUTERS

£1 million lottery scam: Man jailed for 30 months

Farrakh Nizzar a shop worker has been jailed for 2 years and 6 months for trying to defraud a couple of their £1 million lottery ticket.

When the pensioner couple asked Farrakh Nizzar who is 30 years old and an illegal over-stayer in the United Kingdom the state of their ticket and their ticket which is the EuroMillions ticket was not a winning ticket and asked if they wanted the ticket back.

The Holts’ told Nizzar afterwards to thrash the ticket since its worthless but after the couples left, Nizzar took the ticket scanned it at a cousin’s Best One shop in Oldham Greater Manchester where he also works and he was told by the terminal to tell the holders of the ticket to contact Camelot.

Rather than do just that, Nizzar who is now facing deportation back to his home country of Pakistan kept the ticket and later called the lottery company himself in an attempt to keep the prize. But the firm became suspicious when he was unable to answer questions about the winning ticket.

Nizzar came to the UK in 2007 on a student visa and completed a postgraduate diploma in business studies. But his student visa ran out, he was refused leave to remain in the UK and exhausted all his rights to appeal.

Camelot began investigation with the aid of a CCTV, the Tesco Clubcard belonging to Mr.Holt to trace the original owners of the ticket and the Holts’ were united with their £1 million prize.

Nizzar bowed his head and made no reaction as he was jailed at Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester after he pleaded guilty last month to one charge of fraud by false representation which was committed on May 31 this year and has since written a letter of apology to Mr and Mrs Holt.

 

World Bank approves N15.2 billion for fight against polio in Nigeria

The World Bank’s Board has approved an International Development Association (IDA) credit of N15.2 billion (US$95 million) for the Nigeria Polio Eradication Support Project, which will help the country to achieve and sustain at least 80% polio immunization across all states, supporting the eventual eradication of the disease from Nigeria.

Child receiving the polio vaccine
Nigeria is one of four countries in the world - along with Pakistan, India and Afghanistan - where polio is still a major health risk.

According to the Bank in its website, “the project will finance roughly 655 million doses of oral polio vaccine for children under age five across Nigeria, with a special focus on the northern states where polio is more prevalent.”

The World Bank has worked with Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Agency since 2003 to ensure timely vaccine supply.

As part of a worldwide drive to eradicate polio, this effort builds on Nigeria’s strong performance in recent years, with the number of polio cases falling from 1,100 in 2006 to 62 in 2011.

Nigeria is one of the last three countries in the world where polio is endemic, the others being Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“What we do over the next four years is going to determine whether we will succeed in this historic undertaking to eradicate polio in Nigeria,” Mohamed Pate, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Health and Chairman of Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication said.

“We have beaten back the disease to a large extent already, and with the support of our partners, we are gearing up to make the last big push,” he added.

The World Bank polio project continues a “buy-down” arrangement by which the Gates Foundation, the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, and Rotary International (via the UN Foundation), will repay the loan’s present value when pre-agreed results are met.

Of the World Bank’s lending commitments to Nigeria for polio from 2003 to 2012—a total of $195 million—Nigeria has already qualified for a 70 percent buy-down.

“Eradication of polio is now within reach in Nigeria, so we must keep up the momentum to defeat this dreaded disease once and for all,” said Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank Country Director for Nigeria.

“Also, we must take in the main lesson from Nigeria’s success against polio, which is that improving outreach and closely involving communities will help build a stronger national health system.”

The new project is aligned with the Federal Government 2012 Polio Eradication Emergency Plan, and with the World Bank’s strategy in Africa, which aims to reduce vulnerability to illness and disability among poor people.

Bomb kills 8, wounds 20 in Pakistan

A bomb attack killed at least eight people and wounded more than 20 others outside a Pakistani madrassa in the troubled southwestern city of Quetta on Thursday, police said.

The bomb which was detonated outside the gates of the Sunni Muslim seminary as a degree ceremony for students was being held inside, appears to be the deadliest attack in the city since a car bomb killed 15 people last December.

Doctor Mohammad Haider at the state-run Civil Hospital said three boys and five men were killed, adding that the children were aged 7, 9 and 14.

Police official Hamid Shakeel confirmed the death toll and said that more than 20 people were wounded. “It was a remote-controlled bomb,”

Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan.

It is one of the most deprived regions of Pakistan despite its wealth in resources, and human rights activists have heavily condemned the military for summary arrests and executions in its bid to put down the separatist insurgency.

Twitter blocked in Pakistan due to anti-Islam materials

Pakistan’s telecommunications authority has been by the government to block social media networkng website Twitter, the chairman of the authority said.

This was mandatory because of the claim that there are some materials thought offensive to the religion practiced in pakistan which is Islam.

Mohammad Yaseen said the website was blocked on Sunday because Twitter refused to remove material related to a competition on Facebook to post images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Many Muslims regard depictions of the prophet, even favorable ones, as blasphemous.

Yaseen said Facebook agreed to address Pakistan’s concerns but officials have not been able to get Twitter to do the same.

Officials from Facebook and Twitter could not immediately be reached for comment.

Pakistan blocked Facebook for about two weeks in 2010 because of a similar competition.

Drone strike kills four suspected militants in Pakistan

A U.S. drone strike killed four suspected militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border on Sunday, intelligence officials and witnesses said, the first strike in almost a month.

The controversial drone program, a key element in U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, is highly unpopular in Pakistan, where it is considered a violation of sovereignty which causes many civilian casualties.

A Pakistani parliamentary committee recently demanded an end to drone strikes on Pakistani territory as part of its recommendations for how its relationship with Washington should change. The United States has given no indication it intends to halt the campaign.

The remotely piloted aircraft targeted an abandoned girls’ high school building used by militants in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, the officials and witnesses said. Three militants were wounded.

“We intercepted internal conversation of the militants asking for arranging four coffins for the slain men in the drone attack. We don’t know about their identity and nationality but those living in the girls’ school were mostly Arabs,” a security official said.

A local resident, Haji Niamat Khan, said more than two dozen militants were living in the school when it was attacked.

The last drone strike, on March 30, killed four suspected militants and wounded three in the same town of Miranshah, a known hotbed for Pakistan Taliban and foreign militants.

The strikes are a major stumbling block in restoring ties with Washington, badly frayed after an inadvertent cross-border attack by NATO aircraft on Nov 26 last year killed 24 Pakistani troops.

The United States says the strikes in Pakistan’s unruly northwestern tribal regions along the Afghan border are very accurate and there is minimal collateral damage.

REUTERS