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WORLD IN FOCUS March 2011 ‘April 2011

NATIONAL AFFAIRS

Rs 120b ‘mini-budget’ unveiled: In a major development, the government introduced a Rs 120 billion ‘mini-budget’ through presidential ordinances, envisaging Rs 53 billion of additional taxes on income, imports, agriculture and domestic sales of export-oriented items, after having failed to introduce Reformed General Sales Tax through parliament.

Davis buys his flight to freedom: A tension-filled saga spread over more than a month and a half was brought to an abrupt conclusion on March 16 as American citizen Raymond Davis was released and quickly flown out of Pakistan after heirs of the two youths he had shot dead on January 27 told a local court they had accepted blood money.

US assails Chinese N-help for Pakistan: The United States said on March 18 that China’s assistance to Pakistan’s Chashma 3 and 4 nuclear plants was inconsistent with Beijing’s obligations as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Robert Blake, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, made this distinction at a media roundtable in Beijing where he said he held wide-ranging talks with Chinese officials but this particular issue did not come up.

Pakistan criticises West’s intervention in Libya: Three days after the US-led coalition launched air strikes on Libya to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone, Pakistan issued on March 22 a veiled disapproval of the biggest military intervention in Arab world since Iraq war and said it was concerned over the developments.

Braving protests, Zardari calls for new consensus: Braving what turned out to be only restrained protests by a divided opposition in parliament on March 22, President Asif Ali Zardari invited all political parties to a national dialogue to achieve a five-point economic consensus to match one they had on constitutional reforms last year.

And the president had a solemn advice to the walked out of a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the Senate in two groups after he began his address to open the fourth parliamentary year of the present PPP-led government: Let us strive to keep our egos aside. Let political forces stop challenging each other, merely for point-scoring. It weakens democracy in the long run. The task of the leadership is to unite, not divide.

Filling of Gomal dam begins: With the completion of the Rs 13 billion Gomal Zam Dam in South Waziristan after a delay of over four years, the authorities began on March 28 filling its reservoir which will lead to full power generation before the end of the year.

The 120-metre high rolled concrete dam has a water storage capacity of 1.1 million acre feet and a generation capacity of 17.5MW.

Its construction was taken up in 2002 but Chinese contractors working on the project terminated the contract after the kidnapping and then killing of a Chinese engineer in October 2006.

The project was awarded to the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and the USAID agreed to contribute $40 million of which $25 million has already been disbursed.

The dam is estimated to irrigate more than 191,000 acres of land in Tank and D.I. Khan districts and help expand crop areas and yield.

The official said it was one of six major projects in the water and energy sector in which the United States was helping Pakistan.

The USAID has committed an amount of $134.4 million for projects which would generate 430MW of electricity.

About $44 million has already been disbursed under the scheme that seeks rehabilitation of the power sector to regain lost generation capacity of Tarbela Dam, Jamshoro, Guddu and Muzaffargarh thermal power stations, besides the construction of Gomal Zam and Satpara multi-purpose dams.

The US is spending its committed grants through Advanced Engineering Association International a US-based engineering firm by utilising advanced engineering equipment.

The cost of setting up 430MW thermal stations in Pakistan is estimated at $400 million at the rate of about one million dollar per megawatt.

Accord to resolve issues through talks: Pakistan and India moved a step closer to resumption of dialogue for normalising their ties soured by the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks when their prime ministers met in Mohali on March 30 in a relaxed atmosphere provided by the Cricket World Cup semi-final match between their teams.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh agreed to resolve all issues through dialogue and give their nations peace and prosperity.

Zardari signs plea to reopen Bhutto case: President Asif Ali Zardari on April 1 signed a reference which seeks to reopen the case of former prime minister and PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was hanged on April 4, 1979, in Rawalpindi.

The execution has been widely termed a ‘judicial murder’.

Tax on middlemen in agriculture: The government has imposed a 10 per cent advance tax on commission, or brokerage fee, earned by the agents of cultivators or farmers and a withholding tax at a rate of 1.5 per cent on the sale of cotton seed, rice and edible oils.

Carnage at shrine near D. G. Khan: Two suicide blasts outside the shrine of Syed Ahmad Sakhi Sarwar during the 942nd Urs claimed 42 lives and left more than 100 people injured on April 3, police and hospital sources said.

India set to complete three hydro-power plans: With three major hydroelectric projects on the Jhelum and Indus rivers heading for completion, India is set to get control of the flow of water into Pakistan.

Despite nine technical objections raised by Pakistan over the Chutak project in Kargil and Nimmo-Bazgo project in Leh district of Occupied Kashmir on the Indus, India has completed 80 per cent work on the sites.

A ‘fresh start’ and conditional aid: British Prime Minister David Cameron called on April 5 for a fresh start in relations with Pakistan and said tensions of the past shouldn’t hold back the two countries. Earlier he signed with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani a document title ‘Enhanced Strategic Dialogue’ which represents the commitment of both countries to deepen their relationship.

FIA asked to recover Rs 34m from Haj squad: The Supreme Court on April 8 ordered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to launch criminal cases against those instrumental behind sending 248 pilgrims to perform Haj on government expense if the Rs 34 million incurred in the sponsorship is not recovered.

No improvement in growth rate, inflation likely: A marked improvement in the current account deficit is unlikely to accelerate the growth rate or suppress inflation in the country struggling to deal with a stalled IMF programme by introducing revenue measures, including flood surcharge, according to the State Bank’s Second Quarterly Report.

The SBP released the report covering the July-February 2010-11 period.

It predicted a low GDP growth of 2-3 per cent for the current year as the country absorbs the impact of last year’s catastrophic floods.

Although our inflation projections for FY11 have eased marginally to 14.5-15.5  per cent, we fear that inflationary expectations are becoming engrained.

Economy has stabilised: President Asif Ali Zardari brushed aside all bleak economic scenarios being made by international donor organisations and opposition parties, asserting instead that the country’s economy had ‘stabilised.

According to a spokesman for the Presidency, Mr Zardari highlighted the government’s ‘achievements’ saying the rural economy had been strengthened as never before, foreign exchange reserves had increased to over $17 billion and foreign remittances, which were $6.4 billion when the government took over, would cross the $11 billion marks this year.

In a similarly vein, he added that exports this year were expected to cross a record $24 billion. ‘And bear in mind that the government achieved all this despite the fact that it inherited a very poor economy. It is fighting a war against militants and the unprecedented floods last year caused a loss of over $10 billion’ Mr Zardari told participants of the National Management Course.

Energy shortfall to double in 15 years, warns PM: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that Pakistan faced an overwhelming task of bridging the gap between energy demand and supply which was feared to double in the next 15 years unless addressed urgently by all stakeholders in the public and private sectors.

Water crisis deepens as river flows decline: On April 10, the shortage of water has reached an alarming proportions and during the ongoing Kharif season there could be a shortfall of up to 50 per cent.

Inflows at Mangla Dam dropped from 28,000 cusecs to 25,000 cusecs. Flows in the Kabul River also reduced to 13,000 cusecs while inflows at Tarbela came down to 21,000 cusecs.

The sources said that Irsa was releasing 45,000 cusecs from Mangla Dam. The Met Office has forecast that temperature in Northern Areas will not increase during the current month.

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

Quake, monster tsunami stun Japan: The strongest quake ever recorded in Japan unleashed on March 11 a monster tsunami that claimed hundreds of lives, and a minister warned there could be a discharge of radiation from a nuclear plant.

The towering wall of water generated by the 8.9 magnitude earthquake ‘the seventh biggest in history ‘pulverised the northeastern city of Sendai, where police reportedly said that 200-300 bodies had been found on the coast.

Major quakes around the world: Here is a chronology of some of the major quakes and tsunamis around the world since the Asian tsunami of December 2004 which left more than 220,000 dead in what was one of the world’s worst natural disasters:

Dec 26, 2004: Southeast Asia ‘A 9.3 magnitude undersea quake off the coast of Sumatra island triggers a tsunami that killed 220,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean, including 168,000 in Indonesia.

July 17, 2006: Indonesia ‘A 7.7 magnitude undersea quake hit off Indonesia’s Java island, unleashing a tsunami, killing at least 654.

April 2, 2007: Solomon Islands ‘An 8.0 magnitude quake in the Western Solomon Islands triggered a tsunami that killed 52 people and displaces thousands.

Sept 29, 2009: Samoa ‘A tsunami sparked by an 8.0 magnitude earthquake flattened villages and resorts in Samoa and the neighbouring Pacific islands of American Samoa and northern Tonga, killing more than 190 people.

Feb 27, 2010: Chile ‘An 8.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Chile, killing at least 521 people and leaving 56 missing. Most of the dead were in the coastal area of Maule, 400 kilometres south-west of the capital Santiago.

Oct 25-26: Indonesia ‘At least 112 people were killed and over 500 missing after a tsunami unleashed by a powerful 7.7 magnitude quake hit off the island of Sumatra.

March 11: Japan ‘An 8.9 magnitude undersea quake triggered a powerful tsunami that smashed into northern Japan. Reports put the size of the wave at as much as 10 metres in the port city of Sendai.

Radiation adds to Japan’s agony: An explosion at a nuclear power plant on Japan’s coast destroyed a building on March 12 and added leaking radiation, or even outright meltdown, to the threats menacing a nation just beginning to grasp the scale of a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

Qaboos cedes some powers to parliament after protests: Oman’s ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said has decided to cede some legislative powers to a partially elected council, the state news agency reported on March 13, in an apparent effort to quell protests in the Gulf Arab sultanate.

New blasts rocks Japan’s N-plant: A new explosion at a stricken nuclear power plant hit Japan on March 14 as it raced to avert a reactor meltdown after a quake-tsunami disaster that is feared to have killed more than 10,000 people.

Saudis, other Gulf states send forces to Bahrain: A military force from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations moved into Bahrain on March 14 to shore up the nation’s Sunni rulers in the face of escalating Shia-led protests seeking to break the monarchy’s hold on power. The force marked the first cross-border military operation to quell unrest since the Arab world’s rebellions began in December.

Qadhafi family banned from entering Russia: Russia slapped an entry ban on March 14 on Moamer Qadhafi and froze all financial operations involving the Libyan leader’s family and top security aides involved in the violent crackdown on the opposition.

Hundreds shot, wounded in Bahrain: At least 200 people were shot and wounded on March 15 in a Shia village south of the Bahraini capital, a medic said, as the king imposed a state of emergency after bringing in Saudi and Emirati troops to help quell anti-regime protests.

Chinese author wins literary prize: Acclaimed Chinese author Bi Feiyu on March 18 won Asia’s top literary prize $30,000 Man Asian Literary Prize for his ‘Three Sisters’ set during the Cultural Revolution.

West pounds Libya with air strikes: French air raids and US Tomahawk missiles pounded targets in Libya on March 19, in an international campaign to prevent Muammar Qadhafi from crushing a month-old uprising against his rule.

Thousands march for rights in Morocco: Thousands took to the streets on March 20 in cities across Morocco demanding better civil rights and an end to corruption in the moderate North African country where the king this month promised constitutional reform.

Muslim states put off UN drive on defaming religion: Muslim countries set aside their 12-year campaign to have religions protected from defamation, allowing the UN Human Rights Council to approve a plan to promote religious tolerance on March 24.

75 killed in Myanmar quake: At least 75 people were killed and hundreds left homeless on March 25, after a strong earthquake hit Myanmar, with fears that the death toll could rise significantly.

Saleh rejects call to step down: Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh rebuffed on March 26 opposition calls to step down saying his regime is firm, as his ruling party said he should serve out his term until 2013.

Stricken reactor marks 40th anniversary: The Japanese operator of a stricken Fukushima nuclear plant on March 26 marked, 40 years since the first reactor started commercial operations with a boast of safety ‘unthinkable elsewhere’.

It is extremely disappointing to mark the 40th anniversary this way Sakae Muto, vice-president of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), told a news conference. And we feel very sorry. The quake and huge tsunami on March 11 paralysed the cooling systems of the Fukushima Daiichi (No.1) plant 250kms northeast of Tokyo, leaving it on the brink of a catastrophic meltdown.

Emergency workers have sprayed huge amounts of water on the reactors ‘including the 460,000-watt number one reactor’ to prevent the fuel rods becoming exposed and spewing out dangerous amounts of radiation.

US giant General Electric started construction of what was TEPCO’s first nuclear reactor in September 1967. It began commercial operations on March 26, 1971.

Japan began nuclear power generation in 1963 at an experimental reactor in Tokai on the same coast, some 120km northeast of Tokyo. Now it has 55 nuclear reactors, accounting for 30 per cent of electric power generation.

The Fukushima plant’s commercial launch was celebrated as a milestone in Japan’s drive into the age of nuclear energy.

Israel deploys rocket defence system against Gaza: Israel deployed a cutting-edge rocket defence system on March 27, rolling out the latest tool in its arsenal to stop a recent spike in attacks from the neighbouring Gaza Strip.

Protests force Bashar to end emergency rule: Streets were deserted on March 28 in Latakia, scene of Syria’s latest deadly violence, as citizens nationwide awaited an announcement by President Bashar al-Assad ending of 50 years of emergency rule.

Assad speaks of ‘conspiracy’: President Bashar al-Assad on March 30, blamed conspirators for unrest sweeping Syria and dashed hopes of an end to decades of emergency rule in his first speech since protests erupted two weeks ago.

Syria

Surface area: 185,000 km2.

Population: 22 million (2010).
Religion: Muslim (90 per cent) with a Sunni majority, Christians (10 per cent).
Government: Executive president.
GDP per capita: 2,474 dollars (2009).
Unemployment: 20 per cent.
Armed forces: 325,000 troops.
Resources: Oil, gas, cotton, cereals, tourism.
April 1946: Independence (had been under French mandate since 1920).
March 1963: Arab Socialist Baath Party seizes power, imposes martial law and state of emergency.
November 1970: General Hafez al-Assad ousts president Nureddin Atassi from power. He is elected president in 1971.
July 2000: Bashar al-Assad elected president after his father’s death. In 2007 wins referendum extending his term by another seven years.
May 2004: US imposes economic sanctions, accusing Damascus of supporting terrorism.
March 15, 2011: Unprecedented popular uprising starts. In the following weeks hundreds of protesters are killed, many in the southern tribal region of
Daraa.

March 29: Government resigns.

Syria launches reforms as new protests planned: Syrian authorities announced a raft of measures aimed at meeting protesters’ demands as opposition movements ready for more rallies across the country after Friday prayers.

Libya’s conflict uproots 400,000: The ongoing conflict in Libya uprooted over 400,000 people with the majority of them fleeing to neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Nigeria postpones parliament vote amid disarray: Nigeria postponed parliamentary polls hours after they were to begin amid widespread organisational problems, an ominous start to a crucial vote period in Africa’s most populous nation.

UN, French forces attack bases in Ivory Coast: French and UN helicopters opened fire on the Ivory Coast presidential palace and bases of strongman Laurent Gbagbo on April 4 amid an all-out offensive to make him quit the presidency.

SPORTS

Shoaib retires: Fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, whose colourful career has been a heady mix of on-field brilliance and off-field controversy, will quit international cricket after the World Cup.

India humble Lanka to lift World Cup: India made Cricket World Cup history on April 2 when they defeated Sri Lanka by six wickets in a record run chase in the final in Mumbai, ending a 28-year-old title drought.

OBITUARIES IN NEWS

National
Well-known comedian and writer Liaquat Soldier died on March 30. He was 55.

Prominent writer, academician and columnist Dr Zahoor Ahmad Awan died in Peshawar on April 3. He was born on January 4, 1942.

Dr Nabi Bakhsh Khan Baloch, the legendary research scholar, educationist and historian died. He was born on December 21, 1917.

International
Former US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, a ‘diplomat’s diplomat’ who helped negotiate peace in the former Yugoslavia and advanced the Middle East peace process, died at the age of 85, US officials said.

Hollywood legend and violet-eyed beauty Elizabeth Taylor, famed as much for her glamorous but stormy love life as for her five-decade Oscar-winning film career, died aged 79.

Taylor won two Academy Awards for best actress, including in the 1966 classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? one of many films she played opposite Richard Burton.

US political pioneer Geraldine Ferraro, the first female candidate on a major national US political ticket, died on March 26.

Paul Baran, the US engineer who helped create the Arpanet, the government-built precursor to the Internet, has died at the age of 84 in California.

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