18 injured after protest turns violent in southern Afghan city
Monday March 7, 9:10 PM AP
Hundreds of demonstrators against a spate of criminal kidnappings clashed with police and looted shops and hotels in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Monday, wounding 18 people, an official said.
Protesters also reportedly stoned a passing convoy of U.S.-led coalition vehicles, but the U.S. military said none of its personnel were injured.
Khalid Pashtun, spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, blamed "enemies of the government and the coalition" for stirring up what started as a peaceful protest. Three unidentified armed men were arrested and are under questioning, he said.
About 1,000 local people had gathered to demand authorities provide better security in the city, after a series of kidnappings, including a 12-year-old boy who was killed last week by his abductors although relatives had paid a ransom.
Pashtun claimed outsiders infiltrated the protest, and then demonstrators smashed car windscreens, stoned and looted shops and hotels, and ransacked government offices, including one of the women's affairs ministry.
He claimed that coalition soldiers whose vehicles had been stoned opened fire in the air to ward off protesters _ but in Kabul, a top U.S. commander, Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, said the coalition was neither the target of the protest nor involved in putting it down.
Pashtun said seven police, five security guards and five demonstrators were injured in the melee and by stone-throwing, and one boy suffered a broken leg when he was hit by a coalition vehicle.
Police restored order after about three hours, and now the city is calm, he said.
U.S. forces hunting Taliban and al-Qaida militants have a base in Kandahar, the main city of southern Afghanistan.
CIA secretly jets suspects overseas for interrogation: report
Monday March 7, 8:16 AM AFP
The CIA uses a secret jet to ferry terror suspects for interrogation to countries known to use torture, according to a report.
CBS television's "60 Minutes" program videotaped the Boeing 737 on a runway at Glasgow Airport in Scotland, saying it was able to trace it through a series of companies and executives that apparently exist only on paper.
It said the plane had made at least 600 flights to 40 countries, all after the September 11, 2001, attacks, including 30 trips to Jordan, 19 to Afghanistan, 17 to Morocco, and 16 to Iraq.
The plane also went to Egypt, Libya and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to the report.
The aircraft is part of the Central Intelligence Agency's so-called "rendition" program, in which suspects are sent to foreign governments for interrogation.
The agency has not formally acknowledged the program's existence.
A German national, which CBS identified as Khalid El-Masri, told a reporter he was on vacation in Macedonia when he was arrested by police and held in Macedonia for three weeks and then brought to the airport, beaten by masked men, drugged and put aboard the 737.
The plane left Skopje, Macedonia, and went to Baghdad and then Kabul, with El-Masri saying he awoke in a jail cell where his captors said, "You're in a country without laws and no one knows where you are," CBS News quoted the former detainee as saying.
"It was very clear to me that he meant I could stay in my cell for 20 years or be buried somewhere," El-Masri told the network.
He added that his fellow prisoners in the American-run jail were Saudi Arabians, Tanzanians, a Yemeni and a Pakistani who had lived in the United States.
El-Masri said he had been in solitary confinement for five months and then released without an explanation.
According to the report, the jet also made 10 trips to Uzbekistan, where former British ambassador Craig Murray said the jet's nominal owner, Premier Executive Transport Services, kept a small staff at the airport in Tashkent.
Murray said Uzbek interrogators use unusually cruel methods, including "techniques of drowning and suffocation, rape ... and also the insertion of limbs in boiling liquid."
Murray said he had complained to his superiors that information was being obtained by torture and sent his deputy to the CIA station chief to inquire about the practice.
"The CIA definitely knows," he told the television program, adding that his deputy had confirmed that evidence "probably was obtained under torture but the CIA didn't see that as a problem."
He was ordered to return to London four months ago and has since left government service, CBS News pointed out.
Floods warning for southeast Afghanistan, several deaths already
March 6, 2005
KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghan and US officials are warning of a potential new disaster with floodwaters expected to hit three southeastern provinces as snows melt after the worst winter in a decade.
Rising waters, swelled by daily rain, have already burst the banks of some rivers, washing away roads and houses.
"Several deaths have already been reported," the US military said in a statement on Sunday.
The floods could be devastating in the provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost, Paktia governor Ustad Hakeem Taniwal told AFP.
"It could be a human tragedy," he said, urging relief agencies and the Afghan government to mobilise to head off the problem.
The US military, which operates a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) carrying out development work in the region, and western aid workers there echoed Taniwal's concerns.
Major James Hawver, the deputy commander of the PRT said the US military was placing aid supplies like blankets, tarpaulins and food items throughout the area and considering air drops to hard-hit villages.
"We're going to be limited as to what we can do at this point," Hawver said in the statement.
The roads in the area are already in poor condition, and the floods threaten to cut residents off from medical care and the outside world.
"This could cause more fatalities and disrupt local trade and commerce," the statement said.
The new warning comes after at least 580 people, many of them children, died in Afghanistan (news - web sites)'s harsh winter, although more were feared dead in remote districts cut off by snowfalls.
Like many areas of Afghanistan, the mountainous south-east has not experienced this much snow or rainfall in the last seven years of drought, and in Paktika province at least six districts remain cut off by heavy snowfalls, a western aid worker based in the region told AFP.
The situation was becoming increasingly serious and roads which would be used to deliver food and medicines were a "sea of mud", he said.
"People are not dying in droves but the government has passed information about their needs and there has been no visible response in terms of food assistance in the field," he added, declining to be identified.
Two decades of deforestation had left the region with few natural defences against rising waters.
"The area here in Khost, eastern Paktika and Paktia is mountainous and has suffered from deforestation so it's very prone to flash floods and mudslides and flooding on flat terrain could wash off top soil and affect agriculture," the aid worker said.
Local leaders, international relief agencies and soldiers from the Gardez Provincial Reconstruction Team were already working together to create a flood response plan for the area, the US military said.
4 senior Taliban commanders arrested in Afghanistan
KABUL, March 6 (Xinhua) -- Troops of the Afghan National Army (ANA) have arrested four senior Taliban leaders in the southern Uruzgan province, an Afghan official told Xinhua Sunday.
"Personnel of ANA arrested Thursday four Taliban leaders, including Mullah Abidullah Akhund, a prominent commander, in Deh Rawad district," Mohammad Ishaq Paiman, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.
However, he clarified the name of the detainee Mullah AbidullahAkhund coincided to be the same as the fugitive Taliban Defense Minister who is still at large.
"All the four detainees are under investigation,"the spokesman noted.
Uruzgan, a constant restive province of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar's hometown, along with the neighboring provinces ofZabul, Kandahar and Helmand have been scene of militancy for the last three years.
More than 20 people including at least one American soldier were killed in Taliban-related violence in the restive south, southeast and east Afghanistan during the past two weeks.
Afghan women take up high office, but many face a long battle for equality
Monday March 7, 5:15 PM AP
Fifteen Afghan men, heads slightly bowed, file into a crowded living room to greet the recently appointed chief of Bamiyan province. They sip tea and listen patiently as the new governor holds court.
Such a courtesy call is commonplace in this deeply hierarchical society when someone wins high office _ save for one critical difference: On this occasion, the men's respect is directed toward a woman, the first female governor in this Islamic nation's long and tortured history.
Three years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan is casting off the shackles of fundamentalism that once barred its women from public life, kept girls from school and barred women from working.
The selection of Habiba Sarobi to head the central highland province of Bamiyan is a new milestone, but the governor is the first to acknowledge that it masks a sad reality.
"There are equal rights for women on paper. The challenge is to put it into practice ... Afghanistan is still a male-dominated society," Sarobi told The Associated Press as she received the well-wishers at her Kabul apartment last week.
For the vast majority of Afghan women, little has changed since the Taliban's ouster, with their daily lives dominated by archaic traditions and grinding poverty.
Women's literacy rates are just 14 percent, a third of what they are for men, and maternal mortality in Afghanistan is about 60 times higher than in the world's industrialized countries, with an Afghan mother dying every half hour on average.
Before Afghanistan descended into war two decades ago, women were no strangers to high office. As early as the 1950s, they served in the legislature, and worked as judges and diplomats. In the 1970s, a woman served as the minister of health. During the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, up to 70 percent of teachers were women.
A wave of fundamentalism swept the country after Islamic holy warriors ousted the Soviet army in 1989 _ culminating seven years later in the rule of the Taliban.
Since the hardline regime's ouster by U.S.-led forces in late 2001, millions of girls have returned to school. And while women are still mostly on the periphery of public life and business, career opportunities have reopened for them, at least in cities.
Women's rights were enshrined in a democratic constitution adopted in early 2004. Subsequently, women turned out in force to vote in presidential elections in October. A female candidate, now the women's affairs minister, came sixth in the poll.
President Hamid Karzai has installed three women to minor posts in his new, 30-strong Cabinet and to the secretary-generalships of the Afghan Red Crescent Society and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
But skeptics _ and even the high-profile women appointees themselves _ concede they have little political clout.
"I still believe most of us are selected for these seats because they (the government) want to give a good impression to the world," said Fatema Gailani _ wife of the finance minister _ who has won praise for shaking up the Red Crescent since her appointment as its chief two months ago.
"But we really want to achieve things," she said.
Malalai Joya, a 26-year-old woman who created a stir at last year's constitution-drafting convention by branding influential Afghan warlords as criminals, said progress in women's rights was only cosmetic.
"Women still live under the shadow of the gun," she said by phone from her home in western Farah province. "In Kabul, some women now walk to work without a burqa (all-covering veil) ... In the villages, there's no change. Women are still victims of violence."
Joya has received death threats for her outspoken behavior at the convention, and has three bodyguards supplied by the government to protect her.
She still plans to contest parliamentary elections due later this year that should grant an unprecedented political voice for Afghan women. The constitution requires that 68 of the 249 seats be held by female lawmakers.
Afghanistan's progress toward democracy takes place amid conflict between conservatives and liberals over women's place in society _ with disputes still simmering over issues such as whether women should be seen singing and dancing on television.
Abdul Hafiz Mansour, editor of the conservative Mujahedeen's Message newspaper _ who views women singing on TV as being against "the culture, religion and beliefs of the people" _ said he supports women's rights to hold political office. But he doubted whether there were enough educated women in some provinces to fill their quota of seats in Parliament.
Kit Spence, from the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, said that the quota system would give women a valuable foothold in politics, although it would likely take "decades and generations rather than years or months" to overcome gender barriers.
Afghan women hit the road in drive for sexual equality
Mon Mar 7, 2:42 AM ET South Asia - AFP
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Sitting behind the steering wheel of her red 4x4 Toyota, Sina Shireen gets a kick out of being one of the first women in this western Afghan city to throw off her burqa and learn to drive.
The diminutive 22-year-old may be hard to see behind the tinted windows of the massive car but three years ago she had to be completely shrouded in an all-encompassing blue burqa even to leave the house.
"The most joyful moments of my life are when I'm driving -- I love it," Shireen says, the excitement visible on her face as she finally gets to do what the country's male motorists take for granted.
High school student Shireen is taking part at the first ever driving course in Herat, Afghanistan's most prosperous city, which was launched in early February by the traffic department, under the auspices of the new governor.
Until September last year, Herat was under the thumb of Ismael Khan, a military strongman whose views of women were only marginally more liberal than those of the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban.
Under Khan's hardline rule, women were just about allowed to attend school but the motoring lessons by an Afghan non-governmental organisation proved unacceptable.
"The women's driving course was opened last year but we got order at the time from former governor to shut it down," said Basir Bigzad, one of the organizers in Herat traffic department told AFP.
"The course was closed three days after it was opened," he added.
Khan, a former anti-Soviet fighter, was slammed for curbing the political and economic rights of women during his three-year tenure before he was dismissed by President Hamid Karzai last year amid violent riots.
He is now Afghanistan's minister of energy.
His replacement as governor was the more urbane Sayed Mohammad Khairkhwa, a technocrat and former ambassador to Ukraine, as well as an aide of Karzai.
"It's the right of a woman to drive," the governor, who wears dark western suits in contrast to his his turbanned predecessor, told AFP.
"If you limit the activities of women you have limited the activities of half of the community. I wouldn't do that."
His attitude belies the agonisingly slow development of gender awareness in Afghanistan, where the treatment of women has largely regressed over the past two and a half decades of Soviet occupation, civil war and religious rule.
The country has recently named its first ever female provincial governor and President Karzai has a record three women in his new cabinet, but rights and empowerment are still foreign concepts to the majority of Afghan women.
During the three-week course, the students, now numbering 25, learn how to manoeuvre the car, observe traffic rules and change punctured tyres -- a likely hazard on the donkey cart and jeep-clogged streets of Herat.
"Women were not allowed to attend driving school under Ismael Khan," said one of Shireen's fellow students in a huge classroom decorated with road signs printed on paper and pinned on the wall.
"When a man can drive why should a woman not -- the constitution assures us equal rights with man," she said.
Driving is not without its potholes for Afghan women, because although the Taliban's feared religious police are gone female motorists still face discrimination in the male-dominated conservative Islamic country.
The Taliban were ousted by US-led forces in late 2001.
"We don't have a problem with the authorities now but people on the streets taunt us when they see us driving -- that is very annoying," said another learner driver, Mahsooma Sadiqi.
Sadiqi said it wouldn't stop her though. "It was my dream to drive even I was a kid," the 23-year-old told AFP.
Federal Foreign Office supports additional emergency relief projects for Afghanistan
Source: Government of Germany 03 Mar 2005
An unusually severe winter with heavy snow has exacerbated the already difficult humanitarian situation and claimed numerous lives in several parts of the country. At short notice the Federal Foreign Office has earmarked 394,000 euro from humanitarian aid funds for winter emergency relief.
World Vision Germany has received 300,000 euro to provide people in the barely accessible province of Ghor with medication and high-protein biscuits.
Malteser Germany has been given around 48,600 euro in financial assistance to supply more than 200 refugee families in Kabul with food, blankets, stoves and material for winter clothing.
Right at the beginning of the year the branch office of the German Embassy in Herat organized food aid for more than 1800 families in cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent. Approximately 45,500 euro were spent on rice and oil.
Two additional projects with the Afghan German Doctors Association and Afghanistan-Hilfe Wenden e.V. (Wenden Afghanistan Aid) provided hospitals in Jalalabad and Kahdestan with medical supplies to the amount of 33,000 euro.
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