Dr Ghulam Ashraf's Blog


Binyamin Netanyahu rejects calls for Palestinian state within 1967 lines

Israeli prime minister says border would be impossible to defend and allow ‘Hamas 400 metres from my home’

Election posters for Binyamin Netanyahu on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Photograph: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Binyamin Netanyahu has vowed to rebuff international demands to allow a Palestinian state with a border based on the pre-1967 Green Line and its capital in East Jerusalem, as hardline pro-settler parties and factions are expected to make unprecedented gains in Tuesday’s election.

“When they say, ‘Go back to the 67 lines,’ I stand against. When they say, ‘Don’t build in Jerusalem,’ I stand against,” the Israeli prime minister told Channel 2 in a television interview.

“It’s very easy to capitulate. I could go back to the impossible-to-defend 67 lines, and divide Jerusalem, and we would get Hamas 400 metres from my home.” He would not allow that to happen under his leadership, he said.

Likud supporters on Sunday draped the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City with huge banners proclaiming “Only Netanyahu will protect Jerusalem” and “Warning: 67 border ahead”.

Netanyahu’s electoral alliance, Likud-Beiteinu, is on course to emerge from the election as the biggest party in the 120-seat parliament, with 32-35 seats. Negotiations to form the next coalition government will begin immediately after final results are announced.

Most analysts expect Netanyahu to invite the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, to become a coalition partner following a bruising election battle between the pair. “An hour after the elections, the fight between Netanyahu and Bennett will be over. They will sit down together to form a coalition government,” wrote the respected columnist Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth.

But, he added, they will then “discover that their real enemies are within their own homes”. Both parties are fielding extremely hardline candidates, some of whom are expected to become members of the next Knesset, as the Israeli parliament is called.

The expected strengthening of the hard right in the next parliament may encourage Netanyahu to seek a broad base for his coalition.

“He will try for a large coalition in order to prevent the possibility of one party blackmailing him,” said Efraim Inbar, of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies. “The more parties you have, the more they neutralise each other. He will want parties both to his right and to his left.”

Labour, historically the party of the Israeli left, has moved towards the political centre. Its leader, former journalist Shelly Yachimovich, has all but refused to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which traditionally has been at the heart of Labour’s policies, instead attempting to capitalise on huge socio-economic protests in Israel 18 months ago. Labour is expected to be the second largest party, with 16-17 seats – up from 13 in the current parliament – but Yachimovich has publicly rejected the possibility of joining a “radical right” coalition led by Netanyahu.

However, the leaders of two new centrist parties have indicated their willingness to discuss a partnership with the Likud-Beiteinu alliance, led by Netanyahu and the ultra-nationalist former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Yair Lapid, the leader of the secular Yesh Atid party, which is forecast to win 11-13 seats, would be a counterweight to the religious ultra-orthodox parties, which are also potential coalition partners. Lapid has also steered away from the Israeli-Palestinian issue, concentrating his campaign on social and economic issues.

The former foreign minister Tzipi Livni may be a more problematic partner for Netanyahu as the chief pitch of her party, Hatnua, has been the resumption of meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians on a two-state settlement to the conflict. “The radical right and [Naftali] Bennett will bring about the destruction of Israel,” she warned at a campaign rally on Saturday.

But, said Inbar, “most of what Livni says about the peace process is just talk – no one thinks it’s serious. She has gone down in the polls because that’s all she talks about.” Hatnua is predicted to win seven or eight seats, down from a high of 10 earlier in the campaign.

Netanyahu needs to assemble a coalition of more than 60 MPs in order to form the next government.

Source: Guardian News


Landmark victory for BA employee over right to wear a cross at work

Airline check-in operator wins appeal at European court but three similar cases fail, as other rights trump faith

After seven years of legal appeals and accusations that Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs, the European court of human rights has ruled that a British Airways check-in operator should not have been prevented from wearing a cross at work.

Nadia Eweida, 60, was jubilant over her landmark victory, declaring it a “vindication” for Christians, after the court awarded her €2,000 (£1,600) in compensation for the “anxiety, frustration and distress” she endured.

While the finely tuned judicial compromise does not establish an absolute right for every employee to wear a crucifix, or religious symbol, visibly at work, it will help define the limits of religious freedom.

The decision on Eweida, a Coptic Christian working at Heathrow, was welcomed by David Cameron and others across the political spectrum.

Equally significant in the court’s complex ruling, however, was its determination that three other Christian applicants – Lilian Ladele, 52, a local authority registrar who lives in London, Shirley Chaplin, 57, a nurse from Exeter, and Gary McFarlane, 51, a Bristol marriage counsellor – who also claimed they had suffered religious discrimination, should lose their appeals.

The four decisions, contained in one judgment, stressed the principle that religious liberties should not trump other human rights. Freedom of religion, the court stated, as “one of the foundations of pluralistic, democratic societies” but “where an individual’s religious observance impinges on the rights of others, some restrictions can be made”.

In Eweida’s case, the Strasbourg court did not criticise UK law but said British courts failed to balance competing interests in the case adequately. On one hand was Eweida’s desire to display her religious belief; on the other was the employer’s wish to project a certain corporate image.

“While this aim was undoubtedly legitimate,” the judgment said, “the domestic courts accorded it too much weight … the fact that [BA] was able to amend the uniform code to allow for the visible wearing of religious symbolic jewellery demonstrates that the earlier prohibition was not of crucial importance.”

The prime minister, who intervened in the debate last summer by saying he might change the law, was among those who welcomed the ruling. Cameron wrote on Twitter: “Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld – ppl shouldn’t suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs.” In Chaplin’s case, superficially almost identical to Eweida’s, the judges unanimously decided the UK courts had resolved competing rights equitably. Chaplin stressed the importance for her to be allowed to bear witness to her Christian faith by wearing a crucifix visibly around her neck at work. But the Strasbourg judges said the fact that hospital authorities had asked her to remove it for the protection of health and safety and to prevent infections spreading on a ward “was inherently more important”. Hospital managers, the judges agreed, “were well placed to make decisions about clinical safety”.

Appeals by the other two claimants,Ladele and McFarlane were dismissed on the grounds that the disciplinary proceedings against them were justified. Ladele had been sacked by Islington council for not being prepared to conduct civil partnership ceremonies between same-sex couples. McFarlane was dismissed from his job after indicating he might have a conscientious objection to providing sex therapy to a same-sex couple on account of his Christian faith.

Both Islington council and the charity Relate were bound not to discriminate against their clients and therefore could not support staff who refused to work with homosexual couples, the court said.

After the ruling, Eweida, who lives in Twickenham, said: “I’m very pleased that after all this time the European court has specifically recognised … that I have suffered anxiety, frustration and distress. It’s a vindication that Christians have a right to express their faith on par with other colleagues at work visibly and not be ashamed of their faith.”

“I’m disappointed on behalf of the other three applicants but I fully support them in their asking for a referral for their [appeals] to be heard in the [European court’s] grand chamber, and I wish them every success in the future to win.”

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported the cases, said: “We are delighted that the cross has been recognised and indeed that Nadia has won her case.”

In the cases of Ladele and McFarlane, she complained, sexual rights had been given priority over religious liberty: “[The judges said] that if an employer has an equalities policy and says there should be no discrimination in any way on the grounds of sexual orientation no matter what your Christian belief is that the sexual orientation rights win.”

A BA spokesman said Eweida had worked continuously for the company for 13 years. “Our own uniform policy was changed in 2007 to allow Miss Eweida and others to wear symbols of faith and she and other employees have been working under these arrangements.”

But the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission said it believed “the government should now look at the need to change the law to take the European court judgment into account”. In the meantime, it added, it would publish guidance for employers and employees,” to help them avoid further confusion and potentially costly litigation”.The archbishop of York, the Most Revd Dr John Sentamu, struck a more cautionary note, insisting that courts should not have any power to prevent individuals wearing religious symbols. “‘Christians and those of other faiths should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination,” he said.

“The Equality Act 2010 encourages employers to embrace diversity – including people of faith. Whether people can wear a cross or pray with someone should not be something about which courts and tribunals have to rule.”

Source: Guardian News

Health: Racial gaps in access to robotic surgery

Minority and Medicaid cancer patients are less likely to have their prostates removed at hospitals that use robot-assisted surgery, according to a new study that stops short of suggesting the robotic technique represents better care.

“People who are poor – frequently Hispanic, African American or black, and Medicaid patients – tend to get what is considered to be less high-quality care than those who are middle class and wealthy,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society.

But Brawley, who wasn’t involved in the new study, also said there is no evidence that removing a prostate with a robot is better than the old-fashioned way, with “open” surgery that requires an incision across a man’s stomach.

Those are two of several treatment options available for prostate cancer, including radiation as well as active surveillance, also known as watchful waiting.

The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 250,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, and about 28,000 died from it.

Despite a lack of evidence showing its superiority, robot-assisted prostate removal has become the predominant method since being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Simon Kim at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Robotic surgical tools allow doctors to operate through small incisions with the aid of a tiny video camera, an approach that is considered less invasive but also tends to be more expensive.

Kim and his colleagues write in The Journal of Urology that evidence does exist to show that black patients are already less likely to get radiation or to have their prostates removed, but there is less data on whether they and other minorities have equal access to robot-assisted prostate removal.

For the study, Kim’s group used two national databases to compare the differences between the approximately 20,500 cancer patients who had their prostates removed at hospitals offering robotic surgery, and the 9,500 who had their surgery at hospitals without robots between 2006 and 2008.

Overall, the researchers found, the proportion of all prostate removals shifted from about 56 percent taking place at hospitals with robots in 2006 to 76 percent in 2008.

They also found that hospitals offering robotic surgery removed more than four times the number of prostates as other hospitals during that time.

That’s important because hospitals that remove more prostates tend to report better patient outcomes after surgery.

In addition, black patients were 19 percent less likely to have their surgery at a hospital using robots compared to white patients, and Hispanic patients were 23 percent less likely.

Medicaid patients were also 30 percent less likely to go to a hospital offering robotic surgery, compared to patients with private insurance.

Dr. Michael Barry, who was not involved in the new research but has studied prostate cancer treatment and outcomes, pointed out that the new work shows a gap in who is able to access the hospitals that perform the greatest number of prostate removals.

“The issue here is not access to robot (surgery) but high-volume hospitals,” said Barry, a clinical professor of medicine at Boston’s Harvard Medical School.

The study authors, who were not available for comment by press time, similarly conclude that gaps in access to robotic surgery hospitals may also indicate limited access to high-volume hospitals.

“More effective health care policies focusing on incentives to provide better access for minorities or for patients primarily insured by Medicaid may reduce disparities in access to high volume hospitals with robotic surgery,” they write.

Source: News International

China unveils rival GPS satellite system

BEIJING: China has launched commercial and public services across the Asia-Pacific region on its domestic satellite navigation network built to rival the US global positioning system.

The Beidou, or Compass, system started providing services to civilians in the region on Thursday and is expected to provide global coverage by 2020, state media reported.

Ran Chengqi, spokesman for the China Satellite Navigation Office, said the system’s performance was “comparable” to GPS, the China Daily said.

“Signals from Beidou can be received in countries such as Australia,” he said.

It is the latest accomplishment in space technology for China, which aims to build a space station by the end of the decade and eventually send a manned mission to the moon.

China sees the multi-billion-dollar programme as a symbol of its rising global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

The Beidou system comprises 16 navigation satellites and four experimental satellites, the paper said. Ran added that the system would ultimately provide global navigation, positioning and timing services.

The start of commercial services comes a year after Beidou — which literally means the Big Dipper in Chinese — began a limited positioning service for China and adjacent areas.

China began building the network in 2000 to avoid relying on GPS.

“Having a satellite navigation system is of great strategic significance,” the Global Times newspaper, which has links to the Communist Party, said in an editorial.

“China has a large market, where the Beidou system can benefit both the military and civilians,” the paper said.

“With increases in profit, the Beidou system will be able to eventually develop into a global navigation satellite system which can compete with GPS.”

In a separate report, the paper said satellite navigation was seen as one of China’s “strategic emerging industries”.

Sun Jiadong, the system’s chief engineer, told the 21st century Business Herald newspaper that as Beidou matures it will erode GPS’s current 95 percent market share in China, the Global Times said.

Morris Jones, an independent space analyst based in Sydney, Australia, said that making significant inroads into that dominance anywhere outside China is unlikely.

“GPS is freely available, highly accessed and is well-known and trusted by the world at large,” he told AFP. “It has brand recognition and has successfully fought off other challenges.”

Morris described any commercial benefits China gains as “icing on the cake” and that the main reason for developing Beidou is to protect its own national security given the possibility US-controlled GPS could be cut off.

“It’s that possibility, that they could be denied access to GPS, that inspires other nations to develop their own system that would be free of control by the United States,” he said.

“At a time of war you do not want to be denied” access, he said.

The Global Times editorial, while trumpeting Beidou as “not a second-class product or a carbon-copy of GPS” still appeared to recognise its limitations, at least in the early stages.

“Some problems may be found in its operation because Beidou is a new system. Chinese consumers should… show tolerance toward the Beidou system,” it said.

Source: News international

More than 60,000 killed in Syria conflict: UN

A Syrian child plays at the Bab al-Salam refugee camp on the Syrian-Turkish border. -AFP Photo

GENEVA: More than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime erupted in March 2011, a top UN official said on Wednesday.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that an exhaustive analysis carried out by data specialists showed that 59,648 people had died through the end of November.

“Given there has been no let-up in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013,” Pillay concluded in a statement.

“The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking,” she said.

Pillay had said in December 2011 that the UN was unable to provide a precise figure on the number of deaths, and media have been relying on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog, which on Monday had put the total number of those killed at more than 46,000.

In reference to the UN figure, Pillay said Wednesday that “although this is the most detailed and wide-ranging analysis of casualty figures so far, this is by no means a definitive figure.

“We have not been able to verify the circumstances of each and every death, partly because of the nature of the conflict and partly because we have not been allowed inside Syria since the unrest began in March 2011.”

The UN High Commissioner added that “once there is peace in Syria, further investigations will be necessary to discover precisely how many people have died, and in what circumstances, and who was responsible for all the crimes that have been committed.”

The analysts cited by the UN official noted that 60,000 was likely to be an underestimate of the actual number of deaths, given that reports containing insufficient information were excluded from the list, and that a significant number of killings might not have been documented.

The analysis, which the UN High Commissioner stressed is “a work in progress, not a final product”, shows a steady increase in the average number of documented deaths per month since the beginning of the conflict, from around 1,000 per month in the summer of 2011 to an average of more than 5,000 per month since July 2012.

The greatest number of reported killings have occurred in Homs (12,560), rural Damascus (10,862) and Idlib (7,686), followed by Aleppo (6,188), Daraa (6,034) and Hama (5,080).

Source: Dawn News

Indian lawyers refuse to defend gang-rape accused


Indian university students shout slogans during protest march in New Delhi on Dec 31, 2012. — Photo by AFP

NEW DELHI: Lawyers at an Indian court hearing the case of a fatal gang-rape which has shocked the nation said on Wednesday they would refuse to defend the men accused of taking part in the assault and murder.

Hearings are expected to begin on Thursday at the Saket district court in south New Delhi, where police will formally present a 1,000-page charge sheet against the six-person gang.

“We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend the rape accused as it would be immoral to defend the case,” Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer and a member of the Saket District Bar Council, told AFP.

Kumar said the 2,500 advocates registered at the court have decided to “stay away” to ensure “speedy justice”, meaning the government would have to appoint lawyers for the defendants.

Another lawyer at the court confirmed the boycott to AFP.

Five men are expected to face charges including rape, murder and kidnapping in the Saket court, with the prosecutor likely to seek the death sentence.

A sixth suspect is believed to be 17 years old, meaning he would be tried in a juveniles’ court, but police are conducting bone tests to determine his age.

The brutality and horrific nature of the attack on a 23-year-old has led to protests in the capital and elsewhere over the widespread abuse of women and sex crime in India.

The rape victim died at the weekend after 13-day struggle to survive injuries so grievous that part of her intestines had to be removed.

She was repeatedly raped and violated with an iron bar on a bus on December 16 before being thrown from the moving vehicle at the end of a 40-minute ordeal.

In 2008, Indian lawyers also refused to defend a gunman who took part in attacks on Mumbai which killed 166 people, leaving him with a government-appointed lawyer. He was executed in November last year.

Source: Dawn News


Plebgate: senior Tory slams ‘cancer’ of corruption in UK police service

Former justice minister Nick Herbert demands urgent reform as crisis over Andrew Mitchell affair intensifies

The man who was in charge of Britain’s police until September has delivered a blistering attack on the “cancer” of corruption among a minority of officers as the crisis engulfing the service over the Andrew Mitchell “plebgate” affair reaches new heights.

Writing in the Observer, Nick Herbert, who quit as minister for police and criminal justice in David Cameron’s autumn reshuffle, calls for urgent reforms to restore public trust, arguing that while “corruption may not be endemic, neither is it an aberration”.

Herbert, while praising the “decent majority” of officers whom he says do “brilliant” work, suggests that for too long the police have been shielded from criticism by a lack of accountability and an unhealthily cosy relationship with sections of the press that rely on officers leaking “juicy” information.

In a sign of how Mitchell’s resignation as chief whip in October, after he was accused of calling officers guarding the Downing Street gates “fucking plebs”, is causing continuing bitterness and division in government, the ex-minister also has a sideswipe at cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, implying that he failed to investigate the police claims thoroughly enough.

Mitchell admits that he swore at officers but denies using the word “plebs”. He accused the officers of using “awful toxic phrases” and said police actions following his altercation were an attempt to “toxify” the Tory party as a whole. Mitchell believes he was the victim of a police stitch-up – a view reinforced after CCTV footage of the incident, released last week, appeared to contradict elements of the police account.

Herbert suggests Heywood failed to probe the evidence thoroughly. “The cabinet secretary’s investigation of the incident, following hard on the heels of his green light to the flawed West Coast mainline franchise, has raised eyebrows,” he says.

It is understood that Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Scotland Yard commissioner, cut short a holiday to be briefed on his force’s investigation into whether its officers conspired to frame Mitchell.

On Saturday night, after unnamed “friends” of Mitchell accused Cameron of leaving Mitchell “swinging in the wind”, Downing Street said the former chief whip had stepped down from his cabinet post because of lack of support in the Tory party, not a loss of backing from the prime minister.

Downing Street said Cameron had been shocked by recent disclosures about the events leading to Mitchell’s resignation but challenged those who claimed Mitchell had felt let down at the time. “The prime minister stood behind his chief whip through weeks of growing demands to sack him,” it said.

Herbert says the police must take stock following a number of disturbing revelations about their conduct, including the arrest last month of five detectives in Kent over allegations that crime figures had been manipulated, and the independent inquiry into the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster which uncovered a full-scale cover-up by South Yorkshire police.

He says elements within the police feel they can leak information to journalists. “Why is it that organisations like the Inland Revenue, which holds sensitive tax information on prominent figures, do not leak, yet police officers, with their powers of coercion and duty to uphold the law, think nothing of tipping off the press at the first opportunity?”

He adds that while the crisis in the police should not be exaggerated “the cancer must be cut out before it spreads”. Reforms, including the introduction of elected police commissioners, must serve to hold the police more closely to account, he says.

The “plebgate” row is also threatening to tear apart the Police Federation, the organisation representing police interests. Senior members are known to be angry at the PR tactics deployed by its West Midlands branch as it sought to heap pressure on Mitchell, a local MP.

The West Midlands Police Federation employed the radio presenter and former Sun columnist Jon Gaunt to advise it on a campaign to protect its members from cutbacks. Its members were given media training and, once Plebgate erupted, they were issued with “PC Pleb” T-shirts that ensured the Mitchell row enjoyed sustained newspaper coverage.

In a stunt co-ordinated by Gaunt, whose PR company, Gaunt Brothers, lists the Sun newspaper, which broke the original Mitchell story, as a client, three senior members of the West Midlands federation met Mitchell at his Sutton Coldfield constituency office. The meeting was flagged to the press and the media scrum and ensuing interest heaped further pressure on Mitchell who resigned only days later.

On Saturday the national federation confirmed it was setting up an independent review of its structure because of “issues around the way it is able to lead and co-ordinate”. The move is seen as a tacit admission that some federation members went too far in targeting Mitchell. The national chairman, Paul McKeever, says the body took “a very clear line” not to call for Mitchell’s resignation.

However, in a press release issued days after the scandal broke, the federation quoted McKeever as saying: “It is hard to fathom how someone who holds the police in such contempt could be allowed to hold a public office.”

The row has also heaped pressure on Hogan-Howe, who has publicly backed the two officers who were present when Mitchell attempted to leave through the Downing Street gate.

The home affairs select committee has written to the commissioner asking him to account for the Met’s handling of the affair and is expected to question him on it early in the new year.

Mitchell is understood to be unhappy with what he considers an “unsatisfactory” exchange of letters between himself and Hogan-Howe, which has reportedly eroded his confidence in the commissioner.

Source: Guardian News