ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who has little experience in governing, was elected president of Pakistan on Saturday by a wide margin.
Mr. Zardari, 53, who spent 11 years in jail on corruption charges that remain unproved, succeeds Pervez Musharraf, who resigned last month under the threat of impeachment. He is expected to be sworn in on Monday or Tuesday, officials said.
Mr. Zardari has the tacit approval of the United States, which views him as an ally in the campaign against terrorism. He has promised a tougher fight against members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda ensconced in the nation’s tribal areas, from where they mount assaults on American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
His election coincides with a stepped-up effort by the United States to root out the Taliban and Al Qaeda from the tribal areas. American commandos attacked militants in a village near the Afghan border on Wednesday, in what American military officials said could be a continuing campaign in Pakistan’s tribal region.
Evidence is growing that the government and military face almost overwhelming difficulties in battling the militants, who now virtually control the tribal areas. In a reminder of that challenge, a suicide bomber killed at least 30 people and wounded 80 at a police checkpoint near Peshawar on Saturday.
Official results from voting in the two houses of Parliament and four provincial assemblies showed that Mr. Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, won 481 of 702 votes. His closest competitor, Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui, of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, won 153 votes, and a third candidate, Mushahid Hussain Syed, received 44 votes.
After Ms. Bhutto was killed in December, Mr. Zardari became the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which was founded by Ms. Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and is considered to be almost a cult of the Bhutto dynasty.
Mr. Zardari led the party to victory in a parliamentary election on Feb. 18 and formed a coalition with Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
That coalition collapsed last month amid recriminations over the reinstatement of some 60 judges fired by President Musharraf when he imposed emergency rule in November.
In a sign of conciliation, Mr. Sharif telephoned Mr. Zardari on Saturday to congratulate him on his victory and pledge his support, according to television accounts of the call.
The White House issued a supportive statement on Saturday. “The United States congratulates Asif Ali Zardari on his election as president,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman. “President Bush looks forward to working with him, Prime Minister Gilani and the government of Pakistan on issues important to both countries, including counterterrorism and making sure Pakistan has a stable and secure economy.”
Mr. Zardari’s aides have promised that as president, Mr. Zardari would agree to the elimination of a constitutional provision that allows the president to dismiss Parliament, long considered a weak institution.
The minister of information, Sherry Rehman, a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party, said the relationship between the presidency and Parliament would be better balanced under Mr. Zardari, resulting in a “new era of democratic stability.” Ms. Rehman added, “Today, every Pakistani can raise his head with pride.”
After the vote, Mr. Zardari spoke briefly outside the prime minister’s residence. Flanked by his two teenage daughters, Bakhtawar and Asifa, Mr. Zardari said he would uphold the democratic philosophy of Ms. Bhutto.
“Parliament will be sovereign,” he said. “This president shall be subservient to the Parliament.”
But there was considerable skepticism among politicians and in the news media that Mr. Zardari would agree to a diminution of power. An editorial on Saturday in the daily newspaper Dawn said it hoped that “his commitment to make himself a titular head of state will not waver.”
Most Pakistanis looked on the presidential vote with considerable indifference, a sharp contrast to the excitement during the campaign leading to parliamentary elections.
In the Aabpara market in Islamabad, some storekeepers viewed Mr. Zardari’s victory as a foregone conclusion.
Several said it was good for Pakistan to have a president and a prime minister from the same party, reflecting the official line of the Pakistan Peoples Party. “He can be a good president because the whole party is behind him,” said Malik Zahoor, 50.
But some vendors said the corruption charges against Mr. Zardari made him unsuitable for the presidency.
“He’s a certified thief,” said Akhlaq Abbasi, 60, the owner of a fabric and tailoring shop.
Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.
September 7, 2008
Atomic Club Votes to End Restrictions on India
By SOMINI SENGUPTA and MARK MAZZETTI
The worldwide body that regulates the sale of nuclear fuel and technology approved a landmark deal on Saturday to allow India to engage in nuclear trade for the first time in three decades, after a pressure campaign by the Bush administration and despite concerns about setting off an arms race in Asia.
Only one hurdle now remains for the deal: final approval by the United States Congress. But passage is likely to be difficult, considering both political opposition and dwindling time in the Congressional calendar before November’s elections.
If the agreement ultimately goes through, it would stand as a symbol of the deepening strategic ties between the United States and India, seen as a potential balancing power to a rising China. It would also be enormously lucrative for sellers of nuclear fuel and technology all over the world; India plans to import at least eight nuclear reactors by 2012, according to projections by the State Department.
State Department officials were ecstatic about the vote Saturday by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, or N.S.G. “I don’t think a lot of people thought we’d be able to get this through the N.S.G. this weekend,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in Algiers.
Both President Bush and the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, have cast the nuclear agreement as a legacy issue. The White House said the two leaders spoke to each other on Saturday.
September 10, 2008
Widower of Bhutto Takes Office in Pakistan
By JANE PERLEZ
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was sworn in as president of Pakistan on Tuesday and immediately declared he would work alongside the leader of Afghanistan to fight terrorism.
In a gesture of improved relations between the countries, Mr. Zardari invited the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, to attend his inauguration. He was the only foreign leader present.
Mr. Karzai has repeatedly accused Pakistan of helping Taliban fighters cross into Afghanistan in order to attack Afghan, NATO and American forces.
But there was no sign of sour feelings when the two men appeared at a news conference where Mr. Zardari was pummeled with sharp questions from Pakistani reporters about the alliance with the United States.
A major balancing act for Mr. Zardari will be how to allow the Americans to increase the attacks against the Taliban in the tribal areas — something Washington appears intent on doing — in the face of strong anti-American popular sentiment. For the first time, American helicopter-borne Special Forces troops landed in the tribal area last week and fought militants there.
The new president offered few clues as to how he would handle the conflicting priorities.
When a reporter suggested that it was time for the “Americans to go back into their tents,” Mr. Zardari sidestepped.
“We are in the eye of the storm,” he said. “I consider that an opportunity. I intend to take that and make it our strength.”
Mr. Zardari said he would attend the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly this month and go “as a victim of terrorism,” apparently a reference to the assassination of Ms. Bhutto in December. At the United Nations, he said, he will seek an inquiry into her death.
“I will ask the world to look upon us as victims of terrorism,” he said. He said he had a “comprehensive plan” for tackling terrorism, but he did not spell it out.
His first trip abroad will be to China, he said, a visit that will follow in the footsteps of Ms. Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who as prime minister in the 1970s forged a strong bond with Beijing.
“I will take whatever brief the Foreign Office gives me,” he said of the purpose of the visit.
Mr. Zardari, 53, took the oath of office from Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, a controversial start to his rule because Mr. Dogar was appointed under an emergency decree by the former president, Pervez Musharraf, and has remained in place with Mr. Zardari’s support.
The role of Mr. Dogar at the ceremony appeared to definitively signal that the former chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was fired twice by Mr. Musharraf, would not be invited back to his old job. Mr. Zardari has refused to reappoint Mr. Chaudhry despite pressure from his former coalition partner, Nawaz Sharif, who left the government over the issue.
Accompanying Mr. Zardari at the ceremony were his daughters, Bakhtawar and Asifa, and his son, Bilawal, who has been named heir of Mr. Zardari’s mantle as head of the Pakistan Peoples Party.
The chief of staff of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and other top brass sat in a prominent position at the swearing-in.
Historically, the Pakistan Peoples Party, founded by Ms. Bhutto’s father, has had difficult relations with the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence, the nation’s premier spy agency.
Mr. Zardari begins his five-year term with mixed reviews. He, like Ms. Bhutto and other politicians, received an amnesty on corruption charges from Mr. Musharraf, but the cloud of the allegations still lingers.
He spent 11 years in jail, leading The Daily Times, an English-language newspaper here, to use the headline “Prison to Presidency” when Mr. Zardari won the electoral college vote for the presidency on Saturday.
In a nationwide survey by Gallup Pakistan, 44 percent of respondents said none of the top three candidates should be the next president. Mr. Zardari received a 26 percent approval rating, compared with 18 percent for Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui, the candidate of Mr. Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
About 2,000 adults were interviewed in person on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 for the survey. The margin of sampling error was four percentage points.
Pakistan's new leader needs all the help he can get
Monday, September 15, 2008
CREDIT: Mian Khursheed, Reuters
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari attends a news conference following his swearing-in ceremony in Islamabad on Tuesday, in front of a portrait of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated last December.
Three clouds hovered over Asif Zardari as he was sworn in Sept. 9 as Pakistan's president. First, the economy is in crisis. Second, the war against the local Taliban is going badly. And, third, Zardari himself has not shaken off the reputation he earned when his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister, as "10 per cent" -- a man less interested in running his country wisely than in looting it greedily.
Pessimists are already predicting a short, chaotic and disastrous presidency, followed, as night follows day in Pakistani politics, by a solid-looking general stepping in to stop the rot.
But since it is solid-looking generals who have reduced Pakistan to this dire pass, Zardari deserves, if not the benefit of the doubt, then at least the help due the constitutionally elected leader of a country of 165 million people that is, or should be, a vital NATO ally in the war in Afghanistan.
In return, he needs to show that he really does have at heart the national interest rather than self-aggrandizement or self-enrichment.
The omens are not good. Two economic issues above all are fuelling public anger: price rises, especially for food, and power cuts, a consequence of a shortage of money to pay for imported fuel.
Both demand fiscal discipline. Printing money would worsen inflation, debauch the currency and bring a balance-of-payments crisis.
Yet, in at least two ways, apparently at Zardari's behest, the government has sacrificed fiscal responsibility for political advantage.
First, it raised the procurement price of grain -- benefiting mainly farmers in Punjab, Pakistan's most prosperous province (and the stronghold of the main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif), but pushing up the cost of food subsidies for the cash-starved government.
Meanwhile, a proposed capital-gains tax was dropped, reportedly after Zardari was lobbied by wealthy financiers from Karachi, the biggest city in Zardari's own power base, Sindh province.
More encouragingly, Zardari's officials have reportedly come up with a sensible stabilization plan that should win the support of international donors. If so, America's Congress should smile on the 10-year, $15 billion aid proposal before it.
America has been lavish in the aid it has provided since Sept. 11, 2001. But most has gone to the army. Reducing poverty and offering economic opportunity would also do much to ease the fight against Islamist extremism.
So would better cross-border co-operation with Afghanistan.
Zardari is to be applauded for making President Hamid Karzai the guest of honour at his inauguration. His predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, and Karzai scarcely bothered to conceal their mutual antipathy.
Zardari resembles Musharraf, however, in talking a good game: about the importance of fighting the Taliban not for America's or Afghanistan's sake but for Pakistan's.
Like Musharraf, too, Zardari may find it hard to persuade Pakistan's people that the fight is worthwhile, especially since the army itself, whose soldiers' lives are on the line, is not wholly committed to it.
Exasperated at the continuing infiltration of armed militants from Pakistan's tribal areas, America has launched air strikes -- and even sent soldiers -- on its soil.
This seems intended in part to focus Zardari's wayward mind on the task in hand. But it also causes huge resentment in Pakistan, especially since at least one raid killed civilians instead of militants.
As the United States is finding in Afghanistan itself, there is no surer way of angering local people, undermining a friendly government and boosting Taliban recruitment than killing civilians.
September 17, 2008
India Grapples With How to Convert Its Farmland Into Factories
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
SINGUR, India — Barely a month before Tata, one of India’s most powerful conglomerates, was due to roll out the world’s cheapest car from a new factory on these former potato and rice fields, a peasant uprising has forced the company to suspend work on the plant and consider pulling out altogether.
The standoff is just the most prominent example of a dark cloud looming over India’s economic transition: How to divert scarce fertile farmland to industry in a country where more than half the people still live off the land.
At the heart of the challenge, one of the most important facing the Indian government, is not only how to compensate peasants who make way for India’s industrial future, but also how to prepare them — in great numbers — for the new economy India wants to enter.
In recent years, clashes over land have dogged several major industrial projects in virtually every corner of this crowded democracy of 1.1 billion people, most of them rural and poor.
In eastern Orissa State, betel leaf farmers have held up a $12 billion project by Posco, the South Korean steel maker, occasionally kidnapping company officials. In western Goa, several proposed Chinese-style special economic zones were scrapped after sustained public protests. And outside Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, village councils insist on a referendum this month on an economic zone proposed by Mukesh D. Ambani, the nation’s richest man.
In nearly all these cases, the peasants who resist most intensely are often those who know they are qualified to do little beyond eke out a living off the land.
If that fundamental anxiety feeds their protests, farmers and farmhands, often egged on by the politicians who seek their support, also stage protests to ratchet up the price of the land or to renegotiate deals.
The target of their ire is often the government, which in most cases acquires the land and turns it over to industrial developers. The central government has yet to release a long-awaited national policy on how to compensate those who lose their land.
“If the price is right, people will sacrifice the emotional attachment, but if you no longer have the guarantee of living off the land, then what do you do?” asked Subir Gokarn, chief economist for Standard & Poor’s in India. “The people who are being displaced are not the people who see themselves as benefiting immediately from the employment opportunities.”
Medha Patkar, one of India’s best-known opponents of large industrial projects, said, “Land is livelihood, it’s not just property.”
Last month in this rich farm belt in West Bengal State, protesters laid siege to the new Tata Motors plant, on one occasion preventing workers there from leaving.
The protesters now want the government to return roughly a third of the 997 acres that the state acquired for the Tata factory. Some of the land was taken by force from farmers.
Their demands have since forced the state government, controlled of all things by an elected Communist administration, to sweeten the deal without taking apart the factory site.
On Sunday, in an effort to assuage the protesters, the government announced a new, more generous compensation package for those who had been evicted. It included a 50 percent increase in the price paid for the property and job training for one member of each displaced family. The ruling party and its opponents have been staging competing protests this week.
That new deal only revealed the deep wedge of anxiety that the factory has driven through this cluster of villages.
“We are farmers,” said Tayab Ali Mandal, 52, of Joymolla village. “We know only farm work; we don’t know any paper-pencil work.” He gave up his land last year, but bitterly. Now, he wants it back, and he rejected the government’s latest offer of a job in the plant.
He said he would rather that his 16-year-old son continue to work in a small factory embroidering clothes, a traditional craft in his community. “I won’t go inside that place even to urinate,” he said. “We are disgusted by that place.”
Gopal Santra and his clan, who refused to accept money for the land they lost, said they hoped the renewed agitation would prompt the state to raise its offer even more.
The Santras also had land across the street from the Tata plant, which they sold to a private party a month ago for more than four times the price the state is now offering.
Still others, like Sheik Muhammad Ali, who welcomed the Nano, Tata’s flat-faced, pint-size car, to his fields, threatened to put the naysayers in their place.
Mr. Ali, 50, had readily given up his land, and through his contacts with Communist Party workers, started a business supplying cement to the factory developer.
On Sunday, he was seething at the protesters who had halted work on the plant for the last two weeks and, in turn, his business.
“There’s a limit to our patience,” he barked. “If you take my plate of rice, will I just let you go off with it?”
Bidyut Kumar Santra, 30, a rare high school graduate in Joymolla, was among the lucky few to get jobs on the assembly line and, in turn, he realized how poorly equipped he was to keep up with events on the factory floor. The engineers all spoke English, to him an alien tongue.
“I feel ashamed, like what kind of education did I get?” Mr. Santra said the other day and vowed to make certain that his son, who is in first grade, learns to speak English.
The villages of Singur, where the Nano was to be produced, stand at the crossroads of the two Indias.
For Tata, it is ideally located along a new national highway that heads north to New Delhi, the capital, and intersects an important east-west artery.
For farmers, it is ideally located on the fertile delta plains of the Ganges River and fed by irrigation canals, making the earth so rich and red that it yields two rice harvests a year, in addition to potatoes, cucumbers and squash.
West Bengal lured Tata here with heavy incentives, including a generous land lease and tax breaks from the state’s industrial development agency.
Some of these details of the company’s hitherto secret contract with the government have emerged in recent days, prompting the company to go to court, where a ruling blocked further disclosures. If Tata were required to give back 300 acres of land from the factory site, as the opposition demands, it would have to evict auto-parts makers who are setting up shop next to the main Nano plant. Their proximity allows Tata to save on the cost of production. Those savings and the generous land and tax deal allow Tata to offer the Nano at an astonishing price of less than $2,500. The plant’s fate is uncertain. Tata, while welcoming the government’s proposed compensation package, has remained silent on its plans.
The company has several other plants where it could produce the Nano in time for the Hindu festival season next month, traditionally a time of big spending. It has dangled the possibility of making the Nano elsewhere if the cost of production and the price of the world’s cheapest car rise too high.
Staff members of the local quality supervision bureau empty tainted milk power packets at a garbage dump in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.
China's dairy industry is in disarray after the baby milk powder scandal widened Friday to include liquid milk.
Tainted milk has sickened more than 6,200 babies so far.
Stores all over China were removing milk from their shelves and both Starbucks and KFC announced their supplies were affected.
Consumers across the country voted with their feet.
"Usually we sell several thousand kwai ($400-$500) worth of milk every day. Today we sold just a few cartons," said Chen Xiuzhen, a cashier at an Alldays convenience store in Shanghai where the dairy case was almost empty due to the recall.
And that was tough work, she said, because every customer wanted assurances it was safe.
"It is a lot of explanation work," Chen said.
The most recent traces of melamine that were found in liquid milk samples came from three of China's top dairy firms. On the mainland, the fresh milk involved was recalled immediately.
In Hong Kong, officials went further, recalling ice cream and yogurt, too. Singapore on Friday suspended the import and sale of all milk and milk products from China after tests found samples containing melamine.
Even the Yili group, a premier Chinese sponsor at the Beijing Olympics, has been found selling melamine-tainted milk and milk products.
Melamine is a chemical usually used in making plastics, but officials say milk producers have been adding it to illegally watered-down milk to boost protein levels -- and profits. The melamine is causing infants to develop kidney stones that block their urinary tracts and can cause renal failure.
In an effort to ease fears, officials are now saying the melamine poses little danger for adults. They maintain an adult weighing 60 kilograms or more can safely drink two litres of the tainted milk a day without encountering any problems.
Still, the milk crisis is threatening to ruin China's fledgling dairy industry. A summary of proceedings published after an emergency cabinet meeting earlier this week said ministers were told the whole sector is in disarray. The melamine scandal "reflects the chaotic condition in the industry and the loopholes in the supervision and management," it said.
Milk has not traditionally been an integral part of the Chinese diet, but changing tastes and habits and the trend towards urbanization have led to rapid growth in dairy consumption over the past two decades, particularly with liquid milk, ice cream and yogurt.
The industry now boasts 15 million milk cows. But many consumers are now wary of just about any "Made in China" dairy products.
On the Internet, meanwhile, there is growing anger at Beijing's attempts to control the scandal by restricting what the domestic media can report about it.
On a web forum, Fu Rui-Lon wrote: "The 'Sanlu poisonous milk scandal' attracted more and more attention until the Central Propaganda Department gave strict orders on 9/15 to stop all Chinese media to report and investigate this scandal.
In Canada, a national Chinese supermarket chain with stores in B.C., Alberta and Ontario has voluntarily recalled two yogurt drink brands from its shelves following the tainted-milk scandal.
An official with the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency said Friday that Vancouver-based T&T Supermarket pulled the yogurt drinks as a precaution because it has the same brand names included in the recall overseas.
The major chain has 16 locations across Canada including in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. No illnesses have been reported from the yogurt drinks.
September 20, 2008
China’s Baby Formula Scandal
We had been assured by Chinese authorities that their regulators and manufacturers were cracking down on the negligent procedures and criminal acts that have produced lead-laced toys and poisoned pet food, toothpaste and other dangerous goods. But a new scandal involving contaminated baby formula is a frightening reminder that China still is not doing enough to ensure the safety of its products — and a reminder that American importers and regulators cannot let down their guard.
The tainted milk powder has killed several babies in China and injured more than 6,000 others, many with kidney stones or kidney failure. This is an unconscionable toll and a shameful betrayal of families who relied on their government and corporate leaders to protect them.
The powdered formula has not been approved for import into the United States, so it poses no major threat here. But it is conceivable that limited amounts could have found their way into specialty markets.
The formula contains a dangerous chemical additive known as melamine — the same additive that sickened thousands of American dogs and cats last year. The best guess is that milk dealers eager to cut costs diluted their milk with water, then added the melamine to inflate the protein readings on a common industrial test.
It is increasingly clear that at least one major dairy company, the Sanlu Group, knew about the problem for months, and city officials in the company’s hometown knew about the problem for weeks and did nothing to warn the public or force a widespread recall. Critics speculate that local officials may have feared that any publicity would tarnish the Olympics. Only last week did the central government begin a vigorous response.
Since then, authorities have announced a well-publicized recall, arrested a number of suspects and fired several local officials, including the mayor. Regulators have revoked exemptions that previously allowed many top companies to police themselves. China alerted the World Health Organization to the contamination, a welcome contrast to its past inclination to hush problems up.
Investigators have now found melamine in infant milk powder produced by more than 20 companies, including some of China’s biggest dairy companies, and in other dairy products, suggesting a much wider problem.
While this time the tainted product was not imported into this country, the episode carries a serious warning for all Americans. Companies that buy goods from Chinese suppliers, and government regulators who oversee import safety, must be vigilant in policing Chinese companies. Even the biggest and supposed best can fail to meet safety standards that we take for granted.
September 21, 2008
Bombing at Hotel in Pakistan Kills at Least 40
By CARLOTTA GALL
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A huge truck bomb exploded at the entrance to the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday evening, killing at least 40 people and wounding at least 250, the police said.
The blast, one of the worst acts of terrorism in Pakistan’s history, went off just a few hundred yards from the prime minister’s house, where all the leaders of government were dining after the president’s address to Parliament.
The toll was expected to grow because of reports that people had been trapped inside the six-story hotel, which has been a favorite meeting spot of both foreigners and well-connected Pakistanis in the heart of the capital. The building was quickly engulfed in flames and continued to burn for hours Saturday night.
The bomb left a vast crater, 40 feet wide and 25 feet deep, at the security barrier to the hotel. Witnesses said security guards were buried under a mound of rubble. Cars across the street from the hotel were mangled, and trees on the street were charred and stripped of their branches. The blast shattered windows in buildings hundreds of yards away.
Witnesses said they dragged dozens of bodies from the lobby of the hotel and an adjacent parking lot, including those of a number of foreigners. Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the State Department, issued a statement saying at least one American citizen was killed and several others were injured.
The bombing was the deadliest to take place in the well-guarded capital and may have been timed for the day that President Asif Ali Zardari made his first address to Parliament since his election two weeks ago. Mr. Zardari, whose wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in December by a suicide bomber, vowed in his speech to root out extremism and to stop terrorists from using Pakistani soil to attack other countries.
Both he and the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, condemned the attack and repeated their determination to deal with terrorism with an iron hand, the state news agency, The Associated Press of Pakistan, reported.
On national television late Sunday, Mr. Zardari said most of the victims had been security guards at the entrance to the hotel. “These are not the acts of a Muslim,” he said. “We will get rid of this terrorism cancer.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But Pakistani analysts said the bombing may have been in retaliation for recent army operations that have reportedly killed scores of militants in the tribal area of Bajaur, near the border with Afghanistan, and the adjacent area of Swat.
An American intelligence official said the attack “bears all the hallmarks of a terrorist operation carried out by Al Qaeda or its associates.”
The tribal areas have become a safe haven for insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, whose attacks on targets in Pakistan have become increasingly frequent and lethal. Coming after a bombing this year at another gathering spot for foreigners, the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Marriott attack seemed intended to send a message to Washington and other allies of Pakistan.
Despite the tough talk by the president and prime minister, it was unclear what kind of response the government would mount. Pakistan has been in a state of political turmoil for months, and from the American perspective at least, the new civilian government has so far shown little interest in pursuing a campaign against the militants.
President Bush denounced the attack on Saturday. “I strongly condemn the terrorist bombing in Islamabad that targeted and killed many innocents,” he said.
The Islamabad Marriott has been attacked by militants at least twice in the past, including in a suicide attack in January 2007 that killed a policeman. A senior police official, Ashfaq Ahmed Khan, said initial reports suggested that an explosives-laden dump truck had been detonated near the entrance.
“The Marriott is an icon,” said Abdullah Riar, a former aide to Mrs. Bhutto. “It’s like the twin towers of Pakistan. It’s a symbolic place in the capital of the country, and now it has melted down.”
One wounded American who works at the embassy here said he was unlocking his car when the bomb exploded. The American, who gave only his first name, Chris, had injuries to his face, neck and shoulder, and was holding a bloody T-shirt to his face.
American Embassy personnel members at the scene said they had come to help American citizens caught in the blast.
Amjad Ali Khan, a guard on duty at a side entrance to the hotel, said that he had seen four to five bodies in the hotel parking lot and that he helped carry out 40 bodies from inside the hotel. He said they had been “in the lobby and in the restaurant and everywhere.”
“There were very few people injured,” he said. “They were all dead.”
When asked who he thought was responsible for the blast, he responded, “They are terrorists.”
The Interior Ministry had warned several days ago that it had information that four or five suicide bombers had been dispatched on missions around the country. The government enforced tight security during the president’s 3 p.m. address, posting Army Rangers and police officers in rings around the Parliament and government buildings.
The Marriott is nearby, but security may have been reduced after the speech and ahead of the evening meal, when Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. The bomb exploded at 8 p.m., when many Pakistanis were inside the banquet hall at the back of the hotel.
Asmatullah Marvat, a paramedic for the Capital Development Authority, said rescue workers had taken 70 to 80 people to different hospitals in the city.
Hotel workers said that they had heard a loud explosion and that the east wing of the hotel was on fire. “I was inside the Marquee Hall,” said a man who identified himself as Kaleem. “It was iftar time. All of a sudden there was a massive explosion. The roofs collapsed, and we ran out the back.”
Zahid Ahmed, a businessman who rushed to the blast site from a nearby neighborhood, was standing near the wreckage of mangled cars across the road. “I saw dozens of casualties,” he said. “People were trying to help but it was such a depressing sight that I cannot describe it”, he added, with moist eyes and shaking his head.The Islamabad police asked the army to assist in the rescue work.
The F.B.I. offered to send special agents to help investigate, said a senior American official, who declined to be identified because of the nature of the matter. The F.B.I. is awaiting approval from the Pakistani government, the official said.
Reporting was contributed by Salman Masood from Islamabad, Jane Perlez from London and Eric Schmitt from Washington.
India spawning millionaires at fastest rate
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE MUMBAI
India is minting new millionaires at a faster pace than anywhere else in the world, buoyed by a fast-growing economy, according to a new study.
There were an estimated 123,000 millionaires in India at the end of 2007 — 22.7 per cent more than in the previous 12 months, said the Asia-Pacific Wealth Report, compiled by U.S. investment bank Merrill Lynch and consultants Capgemini.
"Despite dislocations in developed markets, the number of high net worth individuals in India grew at a faster rate than the global average," said Pradeep Dokania, head of Global Wealth Management for DSP Merrill Lynch.
"Domestic demand and Asia's appetite for commodities continue to drive wealth accumulation in India," he said.
China was the second in the millionaire stakes. It had a millionaire population growth of 20.3 per cent in the same period followed by South Korea with 18.9 per cent.
The figures, released late Thursday, assessed the wealth of so-called "high net-worth individuals" (HNWIs) as people with more than one million dollars in net assets — excluding primary residences.
"In 2007, the standout markets in the Asia-Pacific region were China and India, with the number of wealthy individuals, and their overall level of wealth, growing at a faster rate than the global averages," the report said.
India's economy grew by nine per cent in the financial year to March 2008 while China's economy expanded by 11.9 per cent last year, well ahead of other industrialized countries who are feeling the effects of global market turmoil. But growth is expected to slow this year in both countries, albeit to still strong rates.
In India, the country's economy, which has drawn billions of dollars in foreign investment, has been losing steam as the central bank has aggressively raised interest rates to curb inflation now at 13-year highs.
Economic growth for the first quarter ending June slowed to 7.9 per cent, the weakest in three-and-a-half years.
India's stock markets grew by 47.1 per cent in 2007, but the benchmark Sensex is down more than 33 per cent this year. China meanwhile has seen growth slow to 10.1 per cent in the second quarter of this year.
Still, India's millionaire wealth trails behind China and Japan, the study shows, despite Indian tycoons like Mukesh and Anil Ambani who regularly feature on the Forbes magazine billionaire list.
India's millionaires have a combined wealth of 454 billion dollars, compared with 2.18 trillion dollars in China and 3.9 trillion dollars in Japan.
China and Japan account for 62.4 per cent of Asia's millionaire wealth, while India's share is just 4.6 per cent But the report added: "Although the number of emerging-HNWIs in China and India is still relatively small, we expect that within 10 years" it will surpass the mature markets."
China left its mark in space history Saturday, successfully turbocharging its space program into an orbit that could see a Chinese man walk on the moon before the U.S. has a chance to get back there in 2020.
Taikonaut Zhai Zhigang spent almost 20 minutes outside the Shenzhou Vll's orbital capsule and exuberantly waved the red flag of the People's Republic of China in space for the first time.
As he exited the craft his voice could be clearly heard, broadcast into the command centre in Beijing where a solemn Chinese President Hu Jintao was on hand to watch the historic walk.
"I am feeling good," Zhai said.
He waved at the camera and said he wanted to send greetings to everyone in China and around the world. "People of my country have faith in me and my team and we will finish this mission."
His every move outside the capsule was caught by cameras and beamed back for live broadcast across China.
Zhai wore the Chinese-designed Feitian spacesuit and gave it the ultimate test. The 120-kilogram, $4.4-million suit that took the astronaut 12 hours to assemble inside the space capsule appeared to live up to expectations as Zhai performed small experiments designed to measure its flexibility outside the capsule.
Waiting inside, just in case, was astronaut Liu Boming, dressed in a Russian Orlan suit that has proven its ability to keep a man safe in space.
His head was clearly visible above the hatch at one point, but he did not venture further from his perch. Still, some experts immediately said he may have come out far enough for this to be technically considered a two-man walk.
The Feitian suit is key to China's plans to develop a space-docking station and laboratory, which will allow it to carry out large-scale experiments in space.
Shenzhou Vll has been successfully orbiting 343 kilometres above Earth every 90 minutes since it blasted off from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwest Gansu province on Thursday night. It was in its 29th orbit when Zhai made his historic walk.
China sent its first man into space in 2003. Two more went up in 2005 and the trio now orbiting are on the country's third manned mission.
When Zhai stepped out of the capsule, he confirmed China's membership in the world's most exclusive club: only Russia and the United States have the technology to allow their astronauts to walk in space.
On Friday, Zhang Bainan, the chief designer of the Shenzhou series of spacecraft, said beginning with the Shenzhou Vlll, China will start mass production of its space capsules so it can establish a shuttle program to supply the space station it expects to develop.
"The mass production would also allow intensive launch(es) in a short period of time," he told Xinhua, China's official news agency.
Zhang said he expected the new generation craft to support three astronauts for seven days in space and he predicted other countries will want to piggyback on China's achievements by sending cargo and astronauts on its flights.
October 3, 2008
Confronting Taliban, Pakistan Finds Itself at War
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — War has come to Pakistan, not just as terrorist bombings, but as full-scale battles, leaving Pakistanis angry and dismayed as the dead, wounded and displaced turn up right on their doorstep.
An estimated 250,000 people have now fled the helicopters, jets, artillery and mortar fire of the Pakistani Army, and the assaults, intimidation and rough justice of the Taliban who have dug into Pakistan’s tribal areas.
About 20,000 people are so desperate that they have flooded over the border from the Bajaur tribal area to seek safety in Afghanistan.
Many others are crowding around this northwest Pakistani city, where staff members from the United Nations refugee agency are present at nearly a dozen camps.
No reliable casualty figures are available. But the International Committee of the Red Cross flew in a special surgical team from abroad last week to work alongside Pakistani doctors and help treat the wounded in two hospitals, so urgent has the need become.
“This is now a war zone,” said Marco Succi, the spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Not since Pakistan forged an alliance with the United States after 9/11 has the Pakistani Army fought its own people on such a scale and at such close quarters to a major city. After years of relative passivity, the army is now engaged in heavy fighting with the militants on at least three fronts.
The sudden engagement of the Pakistani Army comes after months in which the United States has heaped criticism, behind the scenes and in public, on Pakistan for not doing enough to take on the militants, and increasingly took action into its own hands with drone strikes and even a raid by Special Operations forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
But the army campaign has also unfolded as the Taliban have encroached deeper into Pakistan proper and carried out far bolder terrorist attacks, like the Marriott Hotel bombing on Sept. 20, which have generated fears among the political, business and diplomatic elite that the country is teetering.
Fighting on Three Fronts
In early August, goaded by the American complaints and faced with a nexus of the Taliban and Al Qaeda that had become too powerful to ignore, the chief of the Pakistan military, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, opened the front in Bajaur, a Taliban and Qaeda stronghold along the Afghan border.
Earlier this summer, the military became locked in an uphill fight against the militants in Swat, a more settled area of North-West Frontier Province that was once a middle-class ski resort. Today it is a maelstrom of killing.
“Swat is a place of hell,” said Wajid Ali Khan, a minister in the provincial government who has taken refuge in Peshawar. Mr. Khan said he was so afraid that he had not been to his house in Swat for a month.
At a third front, south of Peshawar, around the town of Dera Adam Khel, the army recently recaptured from Taliban control the strategic Kohat tunnel, a road more than a mile long that carries NATO supplies from the port of Karachi to the American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The new president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, spoke in New York during a visit to the United Nations General Assembly, about how the fight against terrorism was Pakistan’s war, not America’s.
But even as the gruesome effects of the battles slam the national consciousness, there has been scant effort to prepare the public for the impact of the fighting. Public opinion has soured on Pakistan’s alliance with the United States and has strongly opposed military campaigns that inflict heavy civilian casualties.
Pakistani law enforcement officials and residents of Bajaur and Swat say there have been many civilian deaths, but so far, no agency or government body has offered an estimate of those killed.
Hanging in the balance in the fighting is the allegiance of the civilians who have seen their homes wrecked, their cattle and crops abandoned, and their loved ones killed and wounded.
Pakistani Army commanders have said that in order to put down the Taliban, the government must win the hearts and minds of the Bajaur tribesmen.
Losing Hearts and Minds
But in interviews in the camps, and in villages around Peshawar where the displaced are bunking with relatives, many of the people of Bajaur say they are fed up with both sides of the conflict.
In the Red Cross hospital ward, two young brothers, Haseen Ullah, 5, and Shakir Ullah, 8, lay immobile on their hospital beds, their limbs tightly bound in white bandages covering what Dr. Daniel Brechbuhler, a Red Cross surgeon, said were shrapnel wounds.
The father of the two wounded boys, Hajji Sher Zaman, a relatively well-to-do used-car dealer in Bajaur, said he had no patience with the Taliban.
But Mr. Zaman said he was furious with the government for not holding anyone responsible for the killing and wounding of civilians.
“In Bajaur, innocent people are being killed as infidels, the dead cattle are lying on the road, the roads are tainted with the blood of the people who have been killed,” he said. On return trips in recent weeks, he said, his village was “full of the rotten smell of dead animals.”
“Why not target the real people, the administration knows where they are,” Mr. Zaman said.
In another ward, Amin Baacha, 13, lay with only one arm, his right one had been amputated. An army helicopter had circled his family’s pickup truck as they were fleeing their village and fired on them, the boy said.
An Insurgent Sanctuary
At a briefing at army headquarters in Rawalpindi on Monday, the military said it believed that Fakir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in Bajaur, had taken sanctuary in the neighboring Mohmand district. Another important commander, an Afghan Taliban, Qari Ziaur Rehman, had moved back to Afghanistan, it said.
From their side of the fighting in Bajaur, the Taliban have mounted a brutal show of intimidation, aided by money and deep support from across the border in Afghanistan and Mohmand, according to interviews with the displaced and with law enforcement and military officials.
Recently, the Taliban leader, Mr. Mohammed, stormed into a gathering of tribal leaders, arriving in a convoy of 20 vehicles, said Habib-ur Rehman, a trader from Bajaur who now lives in a camp for the displaced in Timergara in the district of Dir, just outside Bajaur.
Mr. Mohammed, who is described by the army as one of the most skilled Taliban tacticians, told the tribesmen, “I’m here to get you to stop the meeting. If you don’t stop, you will have a coffin over your heads,’ ” Mr. Rehman recalled.
The Taliban were well financed, some of the displaced tribesmen said.
In Koz Cinari, in Mohmand, the Taliban gathered nightly with a fleet of up to 100 double-cabin pickup trucks, according to a resident of Koz Cinari who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
The vehicles were carefully caked in mud for camouflage against possible sightings from government planes, with only a patch of clear glass in front for the driver. The convoys then crossed into Bajaur with men and weapons, the resident said.
Foreign languages pierced the nighttime air as the vehicles were prepared, the resident said.
According to the military officials at the briefing on Monday, many of the Taliban fighters come from Central Asia.
In Swat, the Pakistani Army has been fighting the Taliban for more than two months, and still the Taliban hold the upper hand, according to accounts from people who have fled the area.
Reports of Taliban terrorism are widespread.
In one case, scores of Taliban fighters confronted Iqbal Ahmed Khan, the brother of Waqar Khan, a member of the provincial assembly. The fighters ordered Mr. Khan, who was with two of his sons, to choose the son he wanted killed, said the president of the Awami National Party, Senator Asfandyar Wali.
After Mr. Khan was humiliated into choosing one son, the Taliban killed both boys, Mr. Khan and seven servants, Mr. Wali said.
On Thursday a suicide bomber attacked Mr. Wali’s home, killing four people and narrowly missing Mr. Wali, one of the best-known politicians in North-West Frontier Province and a national figure.
Life in a Battle Zone
Many residents of Swat say they are exasperated by the army-imposed round-the-clock curfew that keeps them indoors listening to the scream of jets and the thud of artillery.
To increase the misery, the Taliban blew up the power grid last week, and when protesters gathered in the main street of Mingora, the police fired on them, killing six people.
More than 140 girls schools have been destroyed by the Taliban in the last several months.
In a typical technique to raise funds, the militants ordered the shopkeepers in the mall in the town of Matta to stop paying rent to the landlord and pay the militants instead.
“There is no light, no gas, no water, no food,” Mr. Khan said.
Despite all the distress of the civilians, “only two Taliban commanders have been killed,” he said. “The army has its strategy, but they don’t explain.”
The one hope in the gloom of war, said civilians and law enforcement officials, has been the formation of small private armies by tribal leaders, known in the region as lashkars.
They have traditionally served as a way of dealing with squabbles in Pakistan’s tribal society, but are now being formed in some cases to stand up to the Taliban.
Forming Tribal Armies
In Salarzai, in the northern corner of Bajaur, a local private army has attracted several thousand anti-Taliban fighters, said Jalal-Uddin Khan, a tribal leader.
But whether the fervor of the tribesmen and their ancient equipment can be a match for the ideological zeal, modern weaponry and sophisticated tactics of the Taliban is an open question.
In other places, like Dir, just outside Bajaur, these private armies have pledged to keep both the Pakistani Army and the Taliban from entering their territory.
“Where the army comes, the Taliban come,” said Sher Bahadar Khan, a tribal leader from Upper Dir. His community had organized a militia and persuaded the army not to put up checkpoints. The army was of little comfort because when the Taliban killed civilians, soldiers stood by as a “silent spectator,” he said.
Closer to Peshawar, in the village of Shabqadar, where the Taliban have held sway for months, the local police organized civilians to join them in a display of force against the militants.
The Taliban had terrorized women who did not wear the burqa, and killed men they deemed as “pimps” and threw their bodies in the river.
The police chief of North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, said he had encouraged the new police chief in Shabqadar to organize a “popular movement.”
Last week, about 500 people, led by the local police chief, marched toward a fort controlled by the Taliban in Shabqadar, Mr. Khan said.
A 15-hour battle ensued, leaving nine Taliban fighters dead and 28 wounded, the police chief said. On the government side, one man was killed, and five wounded, he said.
In revenge, the Taliban threatened to blow up Warsak Dam, the main water supply for Peshawar. But Mr. Khan said he was not deterred. He would not back down. “I told the governor: ‘Open many fronts. We are more than them.’ ”
India implements public smoking ban
Law infringes on individual rights, tobacco firms say
India banned smoking in public places on Thursday in an attempt to fight tobacco use blamed, directly or indirectly, for a fifth of all deaths in the world's third-largest consumer.
The ban, which includes all offices and restaurants, will hit its estimated 240 million tobacco users, who are likely to find their homes and cars among the last few places to light up.
The government cites the economic costs and the need to stem the loss of human lives but tobacco firms say the ban infringes on individual rights.
Everyone agrees, though, that implementing the ban could be a problem and much will depend on compliance rather than enforcement.
The ban includes schools and colleges, pubs and discotheques, hospitals and bus stops. Offenders will be fined $4.60.
"Don't wait for enforcing authorities to catch you," said Anbumani Ramadoss, India's health minister who has long championed a ban on tobacco, urging Bollywood actors not to encourage smoking by lighting up on screen.
Past attempts to ban spitting and urinating in public in India drew little success, and the impoverished and lawless northern state of Bihar has already expressed reservations about the practicalities of implementing the ban.
While rules limiting advertising, marketing and sales existed before, implementation was not very effective.
Not everyone is happy with the ban. Many say a lack of smoking rooms means they would be deprived of a stress-busting puff in offices and other public places.
October 17, 2008
Courts Compound Pain of China’s Tainted Milk
By EDWARD WONG
BEIJING — The first sign of trouble was powder in the baby’s urine. Then there was blood. By the time the parents took their son to the hospital, he had no urine at all.
Kidney stones were the problem, doctors told the parents. The baby died on May 1 in the hospital, just two weeks after the first symptoms appeared. His name was Yi Kaixuan. He was 6 months old.
The parents filed a lawsuit on Monday in the arid northwest province of Gansu, where the family lives, asking for compensation from Sanlu Group, the maker of the powdered baby formula that Kaixuan had been drinking. It seemed like a clear-cut liability case; since last month, Sanlu has been at the center of China’s biggest contaminated food crisis in years. But as in two other courts dealing with related lawsuits, judges have so far declined to hear the case.
Tainted infant formula is the latest in a long string of food and drug safety problems that have exposed corruption and inefficiency among China’s regulators. But the problem goes well beyond the inability of regulators to police a huge, dynamic economy. Companies that produce shoddy goods rarely face financial penalties from the legal system, run by the Communist Party.
Some lawyers and judges are making great efforts in China to establish the power of the courts. Still, courts often remain passive pawns in the party’s efforts to handle big disputes behind closed doors.
“I felt myself falling apart when he died, and my wife even avoids thinking about it now,” the baby’s father, Yi Yongsheng, 30, said by telephone from the city of Xian, where he works menial construction jobs to send money home. “I don’t place too much hope in the lawsuit. I just want to ask for justice.”
Chinese officials, under pressure to promote fast rates of economic growth and to enforce social stability, routinely favor producers over consumers. Product liability lawsuits remain difficult to file and harder still to win, especially if the company involved is state-owned or has close connections to the government.
Officials also view high-profile lawsuits as a potential political threat and go to great lengths to silence the plaintiffs rather than allowing the wheels of justice to turn. In the milk crisis, officials in several provinces have put pressure on many involved, including parents, lawyers and judges, to drop the issue, said legal scholars and lawyers who have volunteered to help the parents.
Western lawyers would probably have lined up to sue Sanlu. One of China’s largest milk companies, Sanlu, based in the city of Shijiazhuang, was the most prominent dairy producer found to sell milk products tainted with melamine, a toxic chemical illegally added to watered-down milk to artificially increase the protein count and fool safety tests. At least four babies have died from complications resulting from kidney stones, and 53,000 children have been sickened. Senior government officials and company executives were fired after evidence emerged of a wide-ranging cover-up.
In China, Mr. Yi and his wife, who are seeking $152,000 from Sanlu, are among only a handful of Chinese who have filed a lawsuit against a dairy company. The plaintiffs are all individual families; lawyers say there is almost no chance that any judge would consider a class-action lawsuit because those are strongly discouraged in China.
More than 100 lawyers across the country put themselves on a list of volunteers willing to give legal advice to anxious parents, but local government officials have put pressure on some not to take on any cases, several lawyers said. At least two dozen have since removed themselves from the list.
“This will move further away from the legal system,” Zhang Xinbao, a law professor at People’s University of China, said of the milk crisis. “The legal system and mechanism we have can’t function in this case. This is what law experts are concerned about.”
“This is a product liability case that in a Western country would turn into a class-action lawsuit,” Professor Zhang said. In China, he said, “they don’t want to see so many people getting involved in one lawsuit. This might threaten social stability.”
Qian Weiqing, the head of the Dacheng Law Office in Beijing, said at a legal conference last week that the government, in continually suppressing such lawsuits, had “missed many opportunities to improve the system to deal with these problems, including perfecting the law enforcement system, the judicial system and the relief system.”
Government officials have told parents and lawyers in the milk cases that their complaints can be resolved through out-of-court compensation payments.
Local governments in Sichuan Province employed the same strategy with grieving parents whose children died in school collapses during the May 12 earthquake. Over the summer, the officials compensated the parents if they signed individual papers agreeing to drop demands for investigations into shoddy school construction. Most of the parents accepted the money, but many said they were furious that no one had been held responsible for the deaths of their children.
As with the school collapses, the milk scandal involves a web of complicity linking company executives to government officials. Those connections make sorting out responsibility a delicate political task. Rather than allow the courts to weigh in, officials prefer to press complainants to take compensation, said Teng Biao, a lawyer in Beijing who is collecting material for a possible class-action lawsuit. “Traditionally in China, politics is always higher than the law,” he said.
“To protect Sanlu is to protect the government itself,” he added. “A public health crisis like this not only involves Sanlu. It involves many officials from authorities in the city of Shijiazhuang up to the central government. It involves media censorship, the food quality regulatory system and the corrupt deal between commercial merchants and corrupt officials.”
In the milk scandal, judges are trying to decide whether to accept three lawsuits that have been filed separately in the provinces of Gansu, Henan and Guangdong. The Gansu lawsuit is the only one to involve a dead child, Mr. Yi’s son. Courts in Henan have already rejected two other cases, said Chang Boyang, a volunteer lawyer in Henan representing parents whose 1-year-old son died in early September.
Lawyers in Henan, a poor backward province, have faced more harassment from local officials than lawyers elsewhere. At least 20 of the lawyers who have dropped off the volunteer list are from Henan. On Sept. 27, officials from the province’s judicial bureau, which administers the courts and legal licenses, met with lawyers to discourage them from taking the cases.
A working brief issued Oct. 7 by the national volunteer group said the officials had directly told the lawyers not to give any legal aid to the parents.
Mr. Chang said the pressure actually took a subtler form. Officials told the lawyers to report to the government if they decided to handle a milk case. The officials also reiterated rules mandating that the lawyers tell the government if they take any cases centered on incidents involving many people or delicate issues.
Li Fangping, a human rights lawyer, said officials from the Beijing lawyers association met with lawyers in the capital last month to discourage them from filing milk lawsuits, especially suits with plaintiffs from multiple provinces. The lawyers were told not to publish working briefs on the Internet. At the time, the volunteer lawyers had already gotten more than 1,200 phone calls from concerned parents.
Many lawyers find it hard to ignore the entreaties of provincial judicial bureaus or lawyers associations, which they are required to join. Those groups are controlled by the Ministry of Justice, which ultimately makes the rules for licensing lawyers.
The All China Lawyers Association, the country’s bar association, strongly discourages class-action lawsuits. In March 2006, the association put out a guiding opinion aimed at curbing cases involving 10 or more plaintiffs. There was no outright ban on class-action lawsuits, but the association put in place onerous rules, including a requirement that lawyers report conversations with clients to the judicial bureaus, said Jerome A. Cohen, a professor of law at New York University who specializes in the Chinese legal system.
On Oct. 10, a group of lawyers, law professors and a judge from the Supreme People’s Court held a conference at People’s University to discuss the milk scandal’s legal issues. The judge, Chen Xianjie, said China’s courts had little experience with class-action suits. “If the court accepts the Sanlu case as a collective lawsuit, consumers would end up with no legal protection,” he warned.
Judge Chen said it would be better for the parents’ complaints to be treated in the traditional manner. The government should handle them as an administrative issue and dole out compensation, he said. It has already agreed to pay medical bills, but has yet to offer more compensation.
Some Chinese have raised questions, though, about whether the government should be using taxpayers’ money to compensate for private companies’ mistakes.
Huang Yuanxi and Zhang Jing contributed research, and Jim Yardley contributed reporting.
October 22, 2008
India Launches Unmanned Orbiter to Moon
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
NEW DELHI — India launched its first unmanned spacecraft to orbit the moon early Wednesday, part of an effort to assert its power in space and claim some of the business opportunities there.
The Indian mission is scheduled to last two years, prepare a three-dimensional atlas of the moon and prospect the lunar surface for natural resources, including uranium, a coveted fuel for nuclear power plants, according to the Indian Space Research Organization.
The spacecraft will not land on the moon, though it is supposed to send a small “impactor” probe to the surface.
The launching of Chandrayaan-1, as the vehicle is called — roughly translated as Moon Craft-1 — comes about a year after China’s first moon mission.
Talk of a space race with China could not be contained, even as Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, was due to visit Beijing later in the week.
“China has gone earlier, but today we are trying to catch them, catch that gap, bridge the gap,” Bhaskar Narayan, a director at the Indian space agency, was quoted by Reuters as having said.
The first Indian lunar voyage is carrying two devices from NASA. One, the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, or M3, will assess mineral composition of the moon from orbit. The other, the Mini-SAR, will look for ice deposits in the moon’s polar regions.
Chandrayaan-1 was launched from a research station in Sriharikota, a barrier island off the coast of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
The moon mission, in addition to demonstrating technological capacity, can potentially yield commercial gains for India’s space program. India’s ability to put satellites into orbit has already resulted in lucrative deals; for example, Israel has sent up a satellite by means of an Indian launcher.
“It is proof of India’s technical capability in an advanced area of science,” said Dipankar Banerjee, a retired army general who is the director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies here. “India wants to be counted as one of the emerging players in Asia. Space is, of course, an important part of power projection.”
The mission is not without domestic critics. Bharat Karnad, a strategic affairs analyst who frequently finds fault with the Congress Party-led coalition government, called the mission a “grandiloquent” effort designed to catch up with a far more advanced Chinese space program. “It is kind of a prestige project the government has gotten into,” Mr. Karnad said. “This is misuse of resources that this country can ill afford at this point.”
John Schwartz contributed reporting from New York.
November 2, 2008
As Taliban Overwhelm Police, Pakistanis Hit Back
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
SHALBANDI, Pakistan — On a rainy Friday evening in early August, six Taliban fighters attacked a police post in a village in Buner, a quiet farming valley just outside Pakistan’s lawless tribal region.
The militants tied up eight policemen and lay them on the floor, and according to local accounts, the youngest member of the gang, a 14-year-old, shot the captives on orders from his boss. The fighters stole uniforms and weapons and fled into the mountains.
Almost instantly, the people of Buner, armed with rifles, daggers and pistols, formed a posse, and after five days they cornered and killed their quarry. A video made on a cellphone showed the six militants lying in the dirt, blood oozing from their wounds.
The stand at Buner has entered the lore of Pakistan’s war against the militants as a dramatic example of ordinary citizens’ determination to draw a line against the militants.
But it says as much about the shortcomings of Pakistan’s increasingly overwhelmed police forces and the pell-mell nature of the efforts to stop the militants, who week by week seem to seep deeper into Pakistan from their tribal strongholds.
Since the events in Buner, the inspector general of the police in the North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, has encouraged citizens in other towns and villages in his realm to form posses of their own.
The hope is that determination itself will deter Taliban encroachment, building on the August victory with one phalanx after another of committed citizens.
China punishes hospitals for sale of human organs
Sunday, November 02, 2008
China's Health Ministry has penalized three hospitals for illegally selling human organs to foreigners, a local media report said on Saturday, citing a deputy health minister.
Huang Jiefu did not identify the hospitals or doctors involved in the illegal organ transplant cases or the penalties handed out, Caijing Magazine, an influential financial magazine, said.
Huang, who was addressing a national medical academic forum, warned that the licences of future offenders would be revoked, Caijing said.
Live organ transplants are allowed in China only among family members, but illegal organ vending is widely practised due to a shortage of organs, it said.
The penalties against the three hospitals were the first under China's guidelines for organ transplants, the magazine quoted Huang as saying. Official statistics show about 1.5 million people need organ transplants annually, but only 10,000 organs are available, it said.
Huang did not disclose the number of hospitals permitted to provide organ transplant services, but said the ministry would not issue additional licences this year due to a lack of organs.
November 10, 2008
China Unveils Sweeping Plan for Economy
By DAVID BARBOZA
SHANGHAI — China announced a huge economic stimulus plan on Sunday aimed at bolstering its weakening economy, a sweeping move that could also help fight the effects of the global slowdown.
At a time when major infrastructure projects are being put off around the world, China said it would spend an estimated $586 billion over the next two years — roughly 7 percent of its gross domestic product each year — to construct new railways, subways and airports and to rebuild communities devastated by an earthquake in the southwest in May.
The package, announced Sunday evening by the State Council, or cabinet, is the largest economic stimulus effort ever undertaken by the Chinese government.
“Over the past two months, the global financial crisis has been intensifying daily,” the State Council said in a statement. “In expanding investment, we must be fast and heavy-handed.”
The plan was unveiled as finance ministers from the Group of 20 nations met in São Paulo, Brazil, over the weekend.
It came less than a week before President Hu Jintao was scheduled to travel to Washington for a global economic summit meeting hosted by President Bush.
On Saturday, Mr. Hu spoke by telephone with President-elect Barack Obama about a variety of issues, including the global financial crisis and how their countries might cooperate to help resolve economic problems.
Asian markets welcomed news of the stimulus plan. The Japanese Nikkei index rose 5.6 percent in trading early Monday. Stocks in Hong Kong and Shanghai rallied strongly, jumping over 5 percent and lifting share prices that have been depressed for much of the year.
Although Beijing has indicated that it will focus on keeping its own economy on track, it is difficult to insulate any economy from a global downturn. After five years of growth in excess of 10 percent, China’s economy is beginning to weaken. Growth in exports and investment is slowing, consumer confidence is waning and stock and property markets are severely depressed.
The stimulus plan, though driven by domestic concerns, represents a fresh commitment by China to keep from adding to the economic and financial woes of the United States and Europe. It is also likely to cheer foreign investors in China’s economy by ensuring that the country remains a source of growth.
China’s package is not comparable to fiscal stimulus measures that are being discussed in Washington. In China, much of the capital for infrastructure improvements comes not from central and local governments but from state banks and state-owned companies that are encouraged to expand more rapidly.
The plan also differs from the $700 billion financial rescue package approved by Congress, which has helped strengthen bank balance sheets but did not directly mandate new lending or support specific investment projects in the United States.
China’s overall government spending remains relatively low as a percentage of economic output compared with the United States and Europe. Yet Beijing maintains far more control over investment trends than Washington does, so it has greater flexibility to increase investment to counter a sharp downturn.
It was unclear how Chinese officials arrived at the $586 billion figure or how much of the stimulus would be spending above what Beijing normally earmarks for infrastructure projects. Beijing said it was loosening credit and encouraging state-owned banks to lend as part of a more “proactive fiscal policy.”
The government said the stimulus would cover 10 areas, including low-income housing, electricity, water, rural infrastructure and projects aimed at environmental protection and technological innovation — all of which could incite consumer spending and bolster the economy. The State Council said the new spending would begin immediately, with $18 billion scheduled for the last quarter of this year.
State-driven investment projects of this kind have been a major impetus to Chinese growth throughout the 30 years of market-oriented reforms, a strong legacy of central planning.
The biggest players in many major Chinese industries — like steel, automobiles and energy — are state-owned companies, and government officials locally and nationally have a hand in deciding how much bank lending is steered to those sectors.
The investment numbers announced by China’s central government often include projects financed by a variety of sources, including state-backed entities and even foreign investors.
Beijing is struggling to cope with rapidly slowing economic growth. A downturn in investment and exports has led to factory closings in southern China, resulting in mass layoffs and even setting off sporadic protests by workers who have complained that owners disappeared without paying them their wages.
With many economists in China now projecting that growth in the fourth quarter of this year could be as low as 5.8 percent, and amid worries that the country’s economy could be walloped by the global financial crisis, Beijing is moving aggressively.
Analysts were expecting China to announce a big stimulus package, but they said they were surprised at its size. “That is much more aggressive than I expected,” said Frank Gong, an economist at J. P. Morgan who is based in Hong Kong. “That’s a lot of money to spend.”
Mr. Gong said that after the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Beijing undertook a similar, but much smaller, stimulus package, earmarking huge sums to build the country’s highway and toll-road system, projects that helped keep the economy growing.
Arthur Kroeber, managing director at Dragonomics, a Beijing-based economic research firm, said the government was concerned because people in China had suddenly pulled back on spending as a precautionary move because of worries about China’s suffering with the global economy.
“The government is sending a signal saying: ‘We’re going to spend in a big way,’ ” Mr. Kroeber said Sunday in a telephone interview. “This is designed to say to the market that people should not panic.”
Quake Hits Remote Area in China
BEIJING (AP) — A magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck the remote northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai on Monday, the United States Geological Survey said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The quake struck at a depth of 6.2 miles, the agency said.
China’s far west is fairly earthquake-prone. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake on May 12 devastated parts of Sichuan Province, killing about 70,000 people and leaving millions homeless.
November 14, 2008
Factories Shut, China Workers Are Suffering
By EDWARD WONG
CHANG’AN, China — Wang Denggui, father of three, arrived more than a year ago in the palm-lined streets of this southern town with a single goal: toil in a factory to save for his children’s school tuition.
But the plans of Mr. Wang and thousands of co-workers unraveled at noon on Nov. 1, when the Taiwanese chairman of their ailing shoe factory climbed over a factory wall to flee the country and his debts. That left several American shoe companies with unfilled orders and 2,000 workers without jobs.
“He just ran without telling anyone,” Mr. Wang said.
For decades, the steamy Pearl River Delta area of southern Guangdong Province served as a primary engine for China’s astounding economic growth. But an export slowdown that began earlier this year and that has been magnified by the global financial crisis of recent months is contributing to the shutdown of tens of thousands of small and mid-size factories here and in other coastal regions, forcing laborers to scramble for other jobs or return home to the countryside.
Furthermore, the slowdown inhibits China’s ability to work with other nations in alleviating the worldwide crisis.
The Pearl River Delta, known as the world’s factory, powered an export industry that pushed China’s annual growth rate into the double digits and provided work for migrants from interior provinces with poor farmland. But circumstances have changed quickly. The slowdown in exports contributed to the closing of at least 67,000 factories across China in the first half of the year, according to government statistics. Labor disputes and protests over lost back wages have surged, igniting fear in local officials.
After the shutdown of their shoe factory, called Weixu in Chinese and China Top Industries in English, Mr. Wang and some co-workers took to the streets in protest, demanding two months of back pay, or $440 on average. The government called in the riot police. Seven workers were thrown in jail and six were beaten, including Mr. Wang, he said.
“I plan to return home once I get my money,” Mr. Wang said as he stood outside the factory on Tuesday, showing the bloody shin wound that he said resulted from a blow from a metal baton. (The police declined to comment.) “I’m over 50 years old, and I won’t be able to find work. I’ll just retire.”
Under pressure from Beijing to maintain social stability, local officials are also trying to tamp down unrest by doling out back wages. Here in Chang’an, after the worker protest, the government shelled out more than $1 million to pay back wages to most of the workers at the shoe factory. (Mr. Wang and some other laborers say they are still without back pay.)
The slowdown in exports has accelerated a major shift in the nature of Chinese manufacturing: small factories that were already being pinched by rising costs of labor, transportation and raw materials, as well as by the appreciating yuan, are closing en masse. That is especially the case in these towns scattered around the city of Dongguan, known for churning out low-end products. Soon the labor-intensive factories that rely solely on migrant work could disappear from southern China, and foreign companies could contract with similar factories in Vietnam and other countries where costs are lower.
“There’s very serious damage being done down there, I don’t deny it, and I think it’ll get worse because we haven’t seen the full impact of the economic downturn in Europe,” said Arthur Kroeber, managing director of Dragonomics, an economic research and advisory firm based in Beijing. “I think next year we might see export growth in the country as a whole go down to 0 percent.”
The export sector is still growing but has slowed considerably; year-on-year growth was at 9 percent in October compared with 26 percent in September 2007, Mr. Kroeber said.
The social problems arising from the slowdown have stirred anxiety in the top leadership of the Communist Party, whose legitimacy is based on maintaining economic growth. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is pushing for policies that will increase domestic consumer consumption to wean China off its reliance on exports. Last Sunday, the government unveiled a stimulus package worth $586 billion over the next two years — the largest ever announced in China — to help create jobs, mostly by building new transportation infrastructure.
Foreign governments expecting China to take the lead in addressing the global crisis will be disappointed, say analysts and scholars. Chinese officials say they are focused on trying to ease domestic problems and keeping the country’s annual growth rate above 8 percent, which they see as vital to generating enough new jobs. Some analysts say economic expansion could drop to as little as 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter this year, down from about 11 percent in 2007.
“I think China foresees that it’ll need to spend a lot of money to get itself out of the current domestic situation,” said Victor Shih, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University who studies the political economy of China. “On the global financial crisis, China will not take a leading role.”
The mass layoffs have led to a profound change in the movements this year of migrant workers like Mr. Wang who spend virtually the entire year away from home. Many are heading home early for the Chinese New Year, in late January, and say they might not return to work in the coastal regions. A worker in the railway station in Guangzhou said that from Oct. 11 to Oct. 27, there were 1.17 million passengers on trains leaving the station, an increase of 129,000 over the same period last year. There have been reports of a similar jump in other regions.
Once in the interior, the workers will have less incentive than in the past to return to the coastal provinces. Rising grain prices have made farming more profitable. The Chinese government announced a rural land reform policy last month that could spur some farmers to stay on their land and make better use of it.
A growing number of factories have opened in the interior provinces as well. Wages are still lower than on the coast, but have risen quickly in recent years.
In Zhangmutou, a town here in the Dongguan area, many of the 7,000 workers who lost their jobs when a Hong Kong-owned toy factory called Smart Union shut down last month have returned home. Li Dongmei, a former human resources employee, said her two older brothers who worked in the factory had taken the 20-hour bus ride home to Hunan Province. Ms. Li, though, still lives across from the abandoned factory building because she is eight months pregnant.
“This place isn’t too stable economically,” Ms. Li, 25, said as she sat on a terrace outside her cramped apartment. “Guangdong isn’t so good anymore.”
As was the case with the Weixu shoe factory, Smart Union closed without any notice, and hundreds of angry workers poured into the streets to demand that the local government pay them back wages. Many such factories were run by Taiwanese or Hong Kong managers who fled the mainland. Chinese police and courts have limited reach in Hong Kong, which has a separate legal system, and they have almost no ability to prosecute people in Taiwan, which is treated as a renegade province and does not have formal political or diplomatic relations with the mainland.
The wave of factory shutdowns is taking place at a time when migrant workers are more aware than ever of their legal rights and know how to put pressure on local governments. Two national labor laws were enacted in January that, among other things, require companies to pay severance and give out more long-term labor contracts. The laws could lead to more labor disputes and protests, said Mary Gallagher, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan.
“Increasingly, the migrant workers know their rights,” she said.
Here in Chang’an, nearly 200 workers showed up outside the south gate of the four-story Weixu factory on Tuesday to demand from the government severance payments that generally ranged from $1,500 to $3,700 each. They signed their names on a list and put a red fingerprint stamp next to each signature.
“No one’s gotten this subsidy yet,” said a woman from Qinghai Province who spoke on condition of anonymity because local officials had scolded her for talking to a local newspaper. “The government has been helpful in giving us our back pay, but it hasn’t been helpful in paying the subsidy.”
The Taiwanese chairman of the shoe factory, Zhuang Jiaying, did not return calls seeking comment. The collapse of the factory started a domino effect: Related businesses, like a smaller factory that put labels on Weixu’s shoe boxes, have also failed. Hundreds of additional laborers have lost their jobs, and more than 200 creditors have yet to collect millions of dollars, said Yang Qiusheng, the manager of the factory that handled the labels.
“I had to fire people who had worked for me for a long time,” he said. “When I see this shoe factory, this enterprise, I feel very sad and sorry. I never thought it would end like this.”
Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Guangzhou, and Jimmy Wang from Chang’an. Huang Yuanxi contributed research
November 19, 2008
The Dead Tell a Tale China Doesn’t Care to Listen To
By EDWARD WONG
URUMQI, China — An exhibit on the first floor of the museum here gives the government’s unambiguous take on the history of this border region: “Xinjiang has been an inalienable part of the territory of China,” says one prominent sign.
But walk upstairs to the second floor, and the ancient corpses on display seem to tell a different story.
One called the Loulan Beauty lies on her back with her shoulder-length hair matted down, her lips pursed in death, her high cheekbones and long nose the most obvious signs that she is not what one thinks of as Chinese.
The Loulan Beauty is one of more than 200 remarkably well-preserved mummies discovered in the western deserts here over the last few decades. The ancient bodies have become protagonists in a very contemporary political dispute over who should control the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
The Chinese authorities here face an intermittent separatist movement of nationalist Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who number nine million in Xinjiang.
At the heart of the matter lie these questions: Who first settled this inhospitable part of western China? And for how long has the oil-rich region been part of the Chinese empire?
Uighur nationalists have gleaned evidence from the mummies, whose corpses span thousands of years, to support historical claims to the region.
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum