Saturday, May 31, 2014

The World's Greatest Democracy

The cousins, two girls of the ages of 14 and 15, had no facilities in their homes where they or any other family members could perform the most ordinary of human functions; voiding their bladders, emptying their bowels, something most people are accustomed to performing in privacy, in their own home bathrooms equipped with toilets to carry the waste away. But they, like around fifty percent of people living in India, have no such facilities.

They must evacuate their bodily-waste products in public, and they do, for they have little other choice. People go out from their homes and take themselves into empty fields or railway tracks or any other relatively close outdoor space, and they perform their daily evacuation. And it is there, where they are most vulnerable, that girls and women are violated. Not just any girls and woman, but mostly those of the 'untouchable' class.

The Hindu caste system holds that there are the privileged, of high caste, and the untouchables, the low caste people who are considered little better than slaves at the disposal of the high castes. And so, their human rights are largely non-existent. They are preyed upon in this most vulgar and unjust of social-religious-cultural systems that victimizes them, even though in India this is now against the law. It is also against the law to force girl children into marriage, but it is also customary.

The two cousins will never have to worry now about being forced into marriage with an elderly cousin or a wealthy old widower. They were abducted in full sight of other villagers similarly occupied in a field close to their home in Badaun in Utter Pradesh state. When the father of one of the girls went to the local police station, he was turned away. When he went to the home of one of the men whom he knew had abducted the girls, he was refused his demand for their release.

Villagers collect near tree where the girls were found in Badaun
BBC News

All this with imperious impunity, with the serenity of entitlement. The girls were raped, they were strangled, they were hanged from branches of a tree for the entire community to see that this could happen to any one of them, for they were lowly Dalit. In India, many upper caste men believe implicitly it is their right to have "first choice" of any Dalit girl.

Demonstration against rape in India (13 September 2013)
BBC News

"Rape is loss of our reputation, livelihood, honour and the end of our future" said one woman whose 14-year-old daughter with three of her friends were seized by five relations and neighbours of their feudal landlord. The girls had been drugged and raped throughout the night before they were finally released to their families. This, a family with five children who farm rice and barley fields with no income to show for it, to service a generational debt they could never pay off to a high-caste family.

The murdered cousins were seen being led away by local high-caste farmers, by their uncle. When the uncle attempted to intervene, he was warned off, with a gun. One of the girls' father said the police had "refused to look for my girl". Had his pleas been answered by a search -- since they knew very well where the girls were taken, having confronted one of the abductors who admitted the girls were with him, but refused to release them -- the girls' lives would have been saved.

"If my daughter doesn't get married and suffers her entire life, wouldn't it have been better for her that she had been killed by those beasts?" said the mother of the young girl who had been raped along with her three friends. It is impossible to imagine the lifelong trauma suffered by these children. The mother feared as well, with the tarnishing of the family honour, that her older daughter too would now be unmarriageable.

The entire family was forced to flee their village after death threats from the upper caste Hindus who had banned them from sending their children to school, from visiting the local temple, or from buying food from the shops. They migrated, along with 80 others from their village to Delhi, where they live in unspeakable privation, on the streets.

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The Harmony of Communist Leadership

"I am the captain of a sunk ship. I will always question of myself, 'Why didn't I die?' I believe, for the rest of my life. ... I will try my best to remember the guilt and try to realize the dreams of those who died that night [Tiananmen Square]."
"I still consider myself as a democracy activist, an active dissident. It just unfortunately doesn't pay, so I have to find another way to support the family."
Wu'er Kaixi, Taiwan

Mr. Wu'er was a 21-year-old protest leader during the June 1989 military crackdown to put an end to the weeks of student protests  in Beijing. Since then, twenty-five years have led to a sea change, at least for the Chinese economy and society, as China transformed itself from a purely Communist regime whose brutality became legend, to a somewhat less brutal regime which, using Hong Kong as its blueprint for success, adapted to capitalism.

Mr. Wu'er was a hunger striker in 1989, whose rise to prominence owed to his haranguing then-premier Li Peng at a meeting with protesters that had been televised. Two weeks following that, he spoke of witnessing "the atrocity, the killing" that haunts him yet. Following that fateful day, he escaped China in a boat, was smuggled out of the country, where he ended up in the United States.

He is now, at age 46, with a family and two teen-aged sons, an investment banker in Taipei, Taiwan. Quite the transition that; from a penurious Chinese hunger-striker to an investment banker. But then, as he said, ethics somehow fray at the ends when one has to support a family. Mr. Wu'er was furious when China won the Beijing Olympics, and then trotted itself out again for display at the Shanghai Expo.

"I felt like the world was betraying the idea of democracy ... giving in to China. But we, the Chinese democracy activists, want to carry on our own mission., to finish the unfinished business." The world watched, mesmerized, at the confrontation between the Chinese military and defenceless university students who carried flowers to plug the muzzles of rifles, but whom the military mowed down anyway.

Beijing June 4, 1989.  Photo: Jeff Widener & Associated Press

While the image of a lone young man standing against four tanks fascinated and horrified a watching world, it was the mass murders, the indoctrination, the vanishing of intellectuals, the banishment of the learned elite of China to the countryside so they could learn humility, the misery of starvation and privation, the state against the well-being of the people during the Cultural Revolution that took place quietly, behind a wall of private mass atrocity that the world could not see that represents the true picture of Communist China.
Song YongyiOnline Encyclopedia of Mass Violence
The Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was a historical tragedy launched by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It claimed the lives of several million people and inflicted cruel and inhuman treatments on hundreds of million people. However, 40 years after it ended, the total number of victims of the Cultural Revolution and especially the death toll of mass killings still remain a mystery both in China and overseas. For the Chinese communist government, it is a highly classified “state secret,” although they do maintain statistics for the so-called “abnormal death” numbers all over China. Nevertheless, the government, realizing that the totalitarian regime and the endless power struggles in the CCP Central Committee (CCP CC) were the root cause of the Cultural Revolution, has consistently discounted the significance of looking back and reflecting on this important period of Chinese history. They even forbid Chinese scholars from studying it independently and discourage overseas scholars from undertaking research on this subject in China.
Zhao Ziyang, the-then Communist party general secretary, who had expressed some understanding and sympathized with the students, faced accusations of having split the party, and that resulted in his being forced to live the final 16 years of his life under house arrest. His aide, Bao Tong, was imprisoned for seven years, living since his release in 1996, under house arrest in Beijing.
"Back then, they feared the students, and deployed tanks and guns against these students. Today, they don't dare to tell this to the public. They don't dare to tell the truth to the Chinese people, tell the whole world what really happened."
"I think Deng took this decision [to deploy the army] because he wanted to safeguard one-party rule, and its governing of China. He feared the people would become the masters of this country, and would leave the party out, and then the party would not be able to continue being the master of China."
"He has already passed away, and his successors, his heirs in the party, still do not dare to point out and say, 'Deng Xiaoping made a mistake'."
Bao Tong, loyal aide to former Communist party general secretary Zhao Ziyang

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Back In The USSR

"The world hasn't forgotten the Second World War and Russia wants to start a third world war. Russia's support for the terrorists in Ukraine constitutes an international crime and we call on the international community to unite against the Russian aggression."
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine's temporary Prime Minister

"The West wants -- and this is how it all began -- to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people."
Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister

(Photo: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis / )   A gunman walks by thirty coffins prepared for the funerals of pro-Russian rebels killed during heavy fighting at Donetsk airport on May 26, outside a Donetsk morgue May 29, 2014.
"There is no doubt that Russia continues to ramp up its propaganda machine all the while accusing the West of some sort of plot to control Ukraine."
"Such ridiculous statements show just how out of touch -- and out of touch with reality -- the leaders are in the Kremlin."
John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada

A Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter was shut down by pro-Russian rebels using a portable air defence missile, on the outskirts of Slavyansk. The Ukrainian military has encircled Slavyansk, now considered to be rebellion-central, in Donetsk province. This is not the first helicopter the rebels have destroyed, an earlier assault with a rocket-propelled grenade hit a grounded helicopter the week before killing two crew.

On this occasion, however, the helicopter that was hit was in the process of rotating troops into a checkpoint when rebel fire struck while they were in flight. The result is a dozen dead soldiers, among them a high-ranking general who had served in the Soviet army and was now in charge of combat training for Ukraine. President-elect Petro Poroshenko, to be sworn into office on June 7 has his work cut out for him.

His election vow was that he would uproot the pro-Moscow rebels fighting for secession, to join the Russian federation. The rebels have made Slavyansk, a city of 120,000 population, their insurgency base. Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the self-styled mayor of the city has declared himself at war with Mr. Poroshenko, willing to match bloodshed for bloodshed.

Last week the leaders of Germany, France and Italy called upon Moscow to abide by a Geneva agreement to reduce tensions."Given the absence of progress, we have to think about -- and not just think about, but act on -- the option of new sanctions", warned Angela Merkel, German chancellor.

When, last Thursday, armoured vehicles and Ukrainian commandos briefly slipped into Slavyansk, killing one insurgent, the Russian foreign minister warned that the commanders of the Ukrainian army would face justice. Now, it seems his warning has been transformed into action with the death of General Serhiy Kulchytskiy, in charge of training Ukraine's National Guard.

Moscow still retains tens of thousands of Russian troops on Ukraine's border, fully equipped with tanks, artillery and Grad rocket launchers. But, not to worry, they are there only to conduct previously scheduled and completely routine manoeuvres; whatever else is happening within eastern Ukraine is simply incidental to the presence of the Russian military.

"Of course, if you will continue this hysterical campaign about Russia with empire ambitions trying to recreate the Soviet Union you can ramp up people's sentiments."
"There won't be any war. More than that I predict tensions will start gradually to recede around Ukraine. We'll soon have some kind of international framework facilitating normalization in Ukraine."
"This isn't a policy; it's propaganda. It reminds me of the Soviet Union. Lately in my discussions with your officials, I feel like I'm back in USSR, only this time it's you who are listening to the central committee of the Communist party."

"If you consider yourself here in Quebec a distinct nation, there are also people in Russia, and certain parts of Ukraine that consider themselves to be a historic nation. Historically, politically, culturally, Crimea always thought it was part of Russia. When this crisis unravelled, there were concerns the same thing would happen to them as what is happening now in Donetsk."
Russian ambassador to Canada Georgiy Mamedov

And, on the sidelines, something peculiar appears to be happening with the rebel movement in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian fighters with armoured personnel carriers took possession of the movement's headquarters in Donetsk, destroying the barricades surrounding it. They represent a group calling themselves the Vostok Battalion, involved in conflict with the Ukrainian army.

What occurred looks suspiciously like infighting, with a move to purge those individuals considered undesirable within the Donetsk Peoples' Republic. Despite which, key rebel leaders, absent when the Vostok fighters arrived, claimed still to be in control of their revolution.

"It is extremely difficult to fight against guerrillas. You just cannot destroy them. They are not regular troops. It's the classic problem which Russia had in Chechnya and the United States had in Vietnam", stated Igor Sutyagin, research fellow at Royal United Services Institute in London

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Allies, Economic Partners: Adversaries

"We are now fighting by peaceful means, by propagandizing against China's illegal invasion. In addition, we try to avoid any intentional clashes with Chinese vessels to minimize damages and casualties on our end."
Ha Le, Deputy Head, Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance Department

A Vietnamese fisheries patrol ship shows signs of damage that Hanoi says was a result of being rammed by Chinese vessels during  recent encounters in the South China Sea, May 18, 2014. (
A Vietnamese fisheries patrol ship shows signs of damage that Hanoi says was a result of being rammed by Chinese vessels during recent encounters in the South China Sea, May 18, 2014. (
China and Vietnam have an uneasy relationship. And it is one that has become strained to the breaking point in the last short while, even though they have enjoyed robust trade ties and China has invested heavily in Vietnam. But on Sunday, after weeks of outraged condemnation of China's high-handed positioning of a huge oil rig on the waters near the disputed Paracel Islands, Vietnamese protesters have come out in droves in furious protests against China.

On Sunday, the increasing bad faith and anger between the two countries; China, because it sees Vietnam making a nationalist nuisance of itself; Vietnam because it sees its sovereignty flagrantly abused, led to four Vietnamese fisheries officers being wounded, after being hit by water cannons from Chinese vessels. Almost all of Vietnam's vessels have sustained damage from attacks launched by China's vessels in the dispute.

The close economic ties between the two countries aside, Vietnam, like the Philippines, like Japan and South Korea, are all simmering with resentment over China's bullying aggression, claiming its ownership of territorial waters traditionally claimed by its Asian neighbours. China's declaration of ownership of the airspace between itself in the East China Sea and Japan has infuriated Japan.

File photo of the city government of Tokyo's survey vessel sailing around a group of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea
The city government of Tokyo's survey vessel sails around a group of disputed islands known as Senkaku

The two countries' long-standing dispute over the rocky oceanic outcroppings called Diaoyu and claimed by China, and named the Senkaku Islands by Japan claiming legal possession, has caused no end of frustration and threats. Japan claims a Chinese fighter flew within 30 meters of a Japanese surveillance plane above the waters where the two countries' air defence identification zones overlap.

Japan Coast Guard vessel PS206 Houou sails in front of Uotsuri island, one of the disputed islands

Last Thursday a protest in Ha Tinh province, Vietnam, turned violent at a steel mill, where 21 people were killed, 15 of them Chinese workers. Hundreds of Chinese workers have now been evacuated out of Vietnam. The Ha Tinh steel mill, attacked by outraged Vietnamese was a Taiwanese operation as were many of the 15 foreign-owned factories set ablaze, attacked and looted. Owned by Taiwanese and South Korean interests.

Hanoi and Beijing also, despite their economic ties have a long-running dispute over the Paracel Islands ownership located in the South China Sea. The two countries' relationship seemed to be on an even enough keel until a Chinese company towed an oil rig into the waters close by the Paracel Islands, with the stated intention of remaining there until at least August, triggering anti-Chinese sentiments.

China can weather the economic storm that has resulted, but it is questionable whether Vietnam will be able to, without lasting harm to its more fragile economy.

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Everything Is Moving Along Nicely, Now...

"The reconciliation is telling the world, 'We don't need your mediation, we can do it ourselves'. And with the elections, Assad is saying there's no need for a transitional governing body."
Murhaf Jouejati, professor Middle East studies, National Defense University, Washington

"We tell them, 'We die, our children die', but what about our grandchildren? Should their fate be the same?"
"Let's solve the crisis ourselves [acting] in accordance with directives from the president."
Sheikh Jabir Issa

Thousands of Syrian nationals living in Lebanon arrive outside the Syrian Embassy in Yarze east of Beirut on May 28, 2014, before voting in the upcoming presidential elections in Syria. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
It helps to have influential friends. And in the Middle East, Russia is now an influential friend to Iran and to Syria, and Iran's proxy militia, Hezbollah.  It is Russian arms that have so munificently aided the cause of the regime against the Free Syrian Army. Now that the regime has the upper hand, thanks to the sacrifice of Hezbollah's presence in Lebanon, the United States has finally decided to train and arm the Syrian rebels.

Which has not yet resulted in any measure of success for the rebels. Rather, when Russia intervened on behalf of Syria, to forestall American intrusion in the civil war, relating to the use of chemical weapons, President Putin, skilfully guided President Obama in a diplomatic putsch, toward the demand of stripping Syria's government of its chemical arsenal, deftly defusing the threat of American interference in the carnage.

Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security now states there are unresolved "omissions" in Syria's declaration of its chemical stockpile. Isn't that a surprise. The influence of Iran, a master at subterfuge and obfuscation under the guise of meek acceptance of orders from the international community has taught Bashar al-Assad the fine points of manipulation.

Now his government has designed 'truces' through a network of committees that persuade village elders, mosque clerics or clan members to persuade their Sunni Syrian rebels to surrender. Which the opposition interprets as residents of towns and villages are first forced to surrender their arms under pressure of starvation and the destruction of intense bombardment.

In the process of putting down an insurrection, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has outdone his father before him.  Hafez al-Assad, who destroyed only one town and many of its inhabitants in a deadly gas attack, would be so pleased at the alacrity with which his son took up his post as President, taking his lessons well learned to destroy much of the country's infrastructure, wiping out whole neighbourhoods, hospitals, schools and airports.

Depriving a generation of children of security and an education. But launching an election to give himself an aura of 'legitimacy' where a limited proportion of the country's residents will be free to vote in the midst of a "complex affair, incorporating overlapping political, religious, sectarian, ethnic and tribal narratives", in the words of Charles Lister, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institutions's Doha Center.

The vote will be "farcical", spits out Ahmad al-Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition. President Assad's plan to hold an election to restore himself to the people's favour as their sole choice for president represents "a black comedy". Noura Al Ameer, Mr. al-Jarba's deputy, speaks of the regime's cutting off food supplies to force surrender.

Assad uses "the loaf of bread as a means of pressure to achieve military and political goals", she stated. Rebels are given safe passage; surrender to the government or join local pro-Assad defense groups, leading the army to halt its offensive against that particular area. Which was what occurred in Homs earlier this month, leading to the evacuation of fighters, with the government reclaiming territory held by the rebels.

As for the chemicals? 100 tonnes are held at a storage facility near Damascus. The OPCW claims the chemicals have been packed in preparation for transport to the port of Latakia. Syrian authorities say it is not safe to move them. American authorities claim it will take 60 days for the Cape Ray, an American ship designed to neutralize all the chemicals, to complete its work. Which it has not yet begun.

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Bringing Out The Vote

"Egypt and Saudi Arabia can work together to face threats, either internally like the Muslim Brotherhood, or externally like Iran and its supporters in the area."
"I think the Saudis will do all they can to support Sisi now he has been elected as he was supported by the Egyptian people."
Mohammed Zulfa, member, Shura Council, Saudi Arabia
A supporter of presidential hopeful Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt's former military chief, holds his poster and a national flag during a celebration at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, May 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
A supporter of presidential hopeful Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt's former military chief, holds his poster and a national flag during a celebration at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, May 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Not quite what was anticipated in the run-up to this latest presidential election, however. The routinely sham democratic elections that were staged to 're-elect' former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were well enough acknowledged for their notorious absurdity; as the sole candidate Mr. Mubarak enjoyed something approximating a 90% popular vote.

On the occasion of what most surely represented a more 'democratic' stage, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was given a 93.3 approval-rating by voters who, it was anticipated would come out in their droves, all eager to give the final stamp of approval to the presidency of the Egyptian general whose swift action saved Egypt from the talons of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood which had a stranglehold on the country.

Mind, when the election took place that elevated Mohammed Morsi to the presidency for a one-year term of office that turned out to be so disastrously ineffectual other than to mire the country deeper in economic straits and threaten the ancient Christian Copt community, a fairly robust voter turnout was occasioned that hoisted the Brotherhood into power with a 52% turnout, compared to the wan turnout of 46% for the current election.

Overweening confidence and a heavy-handed campaign can result in such a desultory public reaction, it would seem. President-elect El-Sissi had issued a call for 40 million people representing 80% of the electorate to turn out to vote. He had the support of the armed forces and the Interior Ministry, along with that of influential Egyptian businessmen.

But the all-too-obvious partisanship of the state along with never-ending media propaganda appears to have turned the voting public away, spurning that too-obvious manipulation as an insult to their intelligence. Aided, without doubt by the call from the Brotherhood to boycott the election.

Even people who felt compelled to support the army failed to turn out in numbers. Many felt it to be a foregone conclusion so why aid the pantomime?

After arrests of liberal Islamists and leftists who were out campaigning during and after the constitutional referendum, support evaporated from among that demographic as well, and many simply joined the boycott movement. Adding a third voting day doesn't appear to have made any difference whatever to the turnout. A disappointment and bit of a surprise for the man who would be president.

And, in fact, now is. May he do well for his country. "All in all the weak turnout will make it harder for Sisi to impose painful economic reforms that international institutions and investors are demanding", commented Anna Boyd, analyst at IHS Jane's in London. Never fear, Saudi Arabia has the means at its disposal to aid Egypt in ensuring financial stability leading to social stability.


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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ukraine army helicopter shot down near Sloviansk

The BBC's Mark Lowen says that the incident is "a huge blow to the Ukrainian military"
Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have shot down a military helicopter near Sloviansk, killing 14 people, the country's outgoing president says.

Olexander Turchynov said the rebels used a Russian-made anti-aircraft system, and a senior general was among the dead.

The town of Sloviansk has seen fierce fighting between separatists and government forces in recent weeks.
President-elect Petro Poroshenko has vowed to tackle "bandits" in the east.

The helicopter was hit during heavy fighting between Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, reportedly after it had dropped off troops at a military base.

President Turchynov said the 14 dead included Gen Serhiy Kulchytskiy, head of combat and special training for Ukraine's National Guard.

It is one of the worst losses of life for government forces in the conflict so far. Last week at least 14 soldiers died in a rebel attack on an army checkpoint near Donetsk, some 130km (80 miles) from Sloviansk.

Earlier this month the separatists shot down two army helicopters, also near Sloviansk, killing a pilot and another serviceman.

Mark Lowen, BBC News, Donetsk
Ukrainian army helicopter before being shot down (29 May) The helicopter had just taken off after transporting soldiers to a Ukrainian base
This is a significant blow for the Ukrainian military and the government in Kiev as it pursues what it calls its "anti-terror operation" in the east. Sloviansk, a town taken by the rebels early in this uprising, has long been the epicentre of the heaviest fighting here.
Two other Ukrainian helicopters were downed there at the start of May, a reminder that Kiev is not simply facing an amateur group of fighters here.
This has been a week in which the conflict in eastern Ukraine has escalated. After Kiev launched an air-and-ground assault on separatist groups at Donetsk airport to retake control, the rebels have vowed to regroup.
They hold patches of land and are clearly equipped with significant weapons. When Ukraine's new President-elect, Petro Poroshenko, vows to crush what he calls the "terrorists" within "a few hours, rather than a few months", this latest loss of life illustrates the immense challenge he faces.

Mr Poroshenko, a confectionery magnate, won 54.7% of the vote in last Sunday's presidential election, according to final results announced on Thursday.

After the poll, he called the separatists "terrorists" intent on maintaining a "bandit state". He vowed to tackle them "in hours", not months.

The conflict has intensified in recent days. The rebels say they lost up to 100 fighters when they tried to seize Donetsk airport on Monday.

Alexander Borodai, the separatist leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said 33 Russian nationals had been among those killed in the airport clashes.

Mr Borodai, himself a Russian citizen, said their bodies had been identified and would be taken to Russia.

Gen Serhiy Kulchytskiy
Gen Serhiy Kulchytskiy
  • Born on 17 December 1963 in East Germany where his father served with a Soviet military contingent
  • Began military career as a marine platoon commander at the Soviet Northern Fleet in Murmansk Region
  • Moved to western Ukraine in 1992 and became deputy commander of a National Guard battalion in Ternopil
  • Awarded the rank of major-general by President Viktor Yanukovych in August 2013

On the same day, pro-Russia militiamen seized four international monitors in Sloviansk.
The four - a Dane, an Estonian, a Turk and a Swiss national - are members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The self-proclaimed mayor of Sloviansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, told Russia's Interfax news agency they were safe and well and could be released soon.

The OSCE has said it does not know the monitors' whereabouts, but Mr Ponomaryov told another Russian news agency they were being held in the village of Makeyevka.

Pro-Russian separatists in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence after referendums on 11 May, which were not recognised by Kiev or its Western allies.

The separatists took their cue from a disputed referendum in Crimea, which led to Russia's annexation of the southern peninsula.

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Family Honour ... Killing Together

"I have not heard of any such case in which a woman was stoned to death, and the most shameful and worrying thing is that this woman was killed in front of a court."
"Either the family does not pursue such cases or police don't properly investigate. As a result, the courts either award light sentences to the attackers or they are acquitted."
Zia Awan, Pakistani lawyer, human rights activist

"We were in love. I simply took her to court and registered a marriage."
Mohammad Iqbal, Lahore, Pakistan

"I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it."
Mohammad Azeem

Farzana Parveen was was stoned to death by her family outside a court in Pakistan. (MOhammad Tahir/Reuters)
Farzana Parveen was was stoned to death by her family outside a court in Pakistan. (Mohammad 

Mohammad Azeem filed an abduction case against Mohammad Iqbal, contending the man whom his daughter, Farzana Parveen 25, had married had taken her against her will and forced her into marriage. Mr. Azeem had his own settled idea about whom his daughter should marry and it was not Mr. Iqbal to whom she had been engaged for years, and finally married against her family's wishes.

The couple had gone to court to challenge the charge that her father had lodged against her husband. They had walked up to the main gate of the court located on a main downtown thoroughfare. As they reached the entrance, family members who had waited outside the court fired shots at random in the air, and attempted to snatch Farzana Parveen from her husband.

She resisted, leading her father, brothers and other relatives, some twenty family members in all, to beat her and begin pelting her with bricks they picked up from a nearby construction site. All this took place in broad daylight before a crowd of onlookers in front of the high court of Lahore. Farzana Parveen died of her wounds, three months pregnant.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a private group, reported last month that 869 women had been murdered in their country in 2013, resulting from honour killings. Among conservative Muslim Pakistanis, marriage for love is considered a cultural transgression, where arranged marriages are the accepted norm.

Mr. Iqbal, whose previous wife had died after delivering five children, had fallen in love, at age 43 with the woman 20 years his junior. He contended that his wife's family attempted to extort money from him, before they would agree to her marriage. The dismally unfortunate end to this cultural travesty is that Farzana Parveen is returning to her husband for burial.

Mohammad Iqbal, right, husband of Farzana Parveen, 25, sits in an ambulance next to the body of his pregnant wife who was stoned to death by her own family, in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, May 27, 2014.
Mohammad Iqbal, right, husband of Farzana Parveen, 25, sits in an ambulance next to the body of his pregnant wife who was stoned to death by her own family, in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, May 27, 2014.
AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Diplomatic Engagement

"[Mr. Sharif's presence at the inauguration] provides an opportunity to commence relations on an encouraging note."
"It also provides an occasion for Prime Minister Modi to lay down India's concerns, particularly on the topic of border security and terrorism."
Neelam Deo, director, Gateway House, foreign-policy think-tank Mumbai
A historic handshake: India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre left) was captured shaking hands with Pakistani leader, Nawaz Sharif, today as he took his oath of office at the sprawling presidential palace in Delhi
A historic handshake: India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre left) was captured shaking hands with Pakistani leader, Nawaz Sharif, today as he took his oath of office at the sprawling presidential palace in Delhi -- Times of India

India welcomes its newest prime minister, a man of humble background who became politicized at an early age and made his way up through the layers of Indian politics, aided by his inherent debating skills and his seasoning as a robust member of India's political corps. He has sworn to defend the equal rights of all citizens of his vast country of 1.3-billion people of diverse ethnicities, cultures, languages and religions.

narendra Modi123
Narendra Modi – a name that has become synonymous with the rising sun in the Indian political scenario will be taking the oath on 26th May for the post of 15th Prime Minister of India. It is highly said that the route of the top job goes through several odd jobs done at the grass root level. And this was the mantra of four times Chief Minister of Gujarat to become the Prime Minister of India – Narendra Modi, 63-year old Bharatiya Janata Party leader for the top job of leading the nation.

His ascension to power may mark a new turn for India, should his plans to empower castes such as the Dalit, bringing with him a number of once-unelectable Dalit politicians to governorships, opening new opportunities and advancing that great democracy into a more democratic, fair and just future for all Indians regardless of background and culture come to fruition.

Should he also manage by some miracle to negotiate a meaningful and lasting friendship of neighbourliness with Pakistan, that would represent a miracle far more outstanding than his own success in reaching the highest post in his vast country. Surprising everybody, he invited Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's re-elected prime minister, to attend his swearing-in ceremony on May 26.

There can be little doubt that nationalist Pakistanis and fundamentalist Pakistani Islamists were enraged that their prime minister reached out to meet the proffered handshake of India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. An easing of tensions between the two nuclear powers that had long been at war with each other, saw a setback when India charged with good reason that the Pakistan military had aided in a deadly Islamist attack in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people.

For the first time in its history, official India invited leaders from across South Asia to ceremonially help usher in the incoming Indian prime minister. Heads of government duly attended, representing Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Maldives, Nepal and Afghanistan, as well as Bangladesh sending its parliamentary speaker.

Mr. Sharif himself won re-election pledging to improve dismal ties with India. He can start by fast-tracking the stalled investigations into the Mumbai attack, isolating its perpetrators and placing them on trial. And undertake to ensure that there will be no more institutional involvement in fomenting violence by Islamists on India.

Finally, by having the two countries negotiate a settlement acceptable to both on the question of Kashmir's future.

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Looking For Normal

Post-election in Ukraine, with a new, duly elected president whose firm conviction remains that he will not negotiate with the criminal element that has taken Ukraine's Donbass region hostage to their demands of secession to become part of the Russian federation, the million people living in Donetsk are re-living their fear and trepidation. During the night, secessionist elements torched a hockey arena, challenging the fire department to put out the night blaze.

Four monitors representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- a Dane, an Estonian, a Turk and a Swiss -- are missing. They had approached a road checkpoint near Donetsk on Monday, and have not been seen nor heard from, since. Seven OSCE monitors had previously been held for eight days earlier in the month by pro-Moscow thugs.
"We warned Russia and we warned the international community that the elections on the 25th of May would not change the situation. Poroshenko is again coming to us for more bloodshed."
Pavel Gubarev, Donetsk separatist leader
President-elect Petro Proshenko, elected in a landslide vote, promised to directly confront "a bandit state", threatening to transform Ukraine into "Somalia". Turning words to action he sent attack jets, assault helicopters and commandos to retake the Donetsk airport from heavily armed separatists. Spurning, in effect, Russian President Vladimir Putin's warning that the government refrain from military assaults against the Russian-speaking rebels.

A Ukrainian helicopter gunship fires decoy flares after attacking Donetsk international airport
Ukrainian helicopter gunships mounted an attack on the rebel-held international airport terminal at Donetsk on Monday. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters
Government troops did eventually retake possession of the airport, even as the control tower burned. Journalists reported wild clashes resulting in the airport's ultra-modern glass, metal and wood terminal were shot up in a fierce gunstorm. The result was the death of 50 rebels. Ukrainian helicopters and gunships strafed the rebels from the air while paratroopers were sent in to root out the rebels.

A truck used to convey fighters sat on the airport highway, torn apart by machinegun fire, with blood sprayed on the road and splatted on a billboard high above the road. "The airport is completely under control. The adversary suffered heavy losses. We have no losses", stated Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. "We'll continue the anti-terrorist operation until not a single terrorist remains on the territory of Ukraine", said First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema.
The insurrectionists appear to have deliberately staged the assault in an effort to bring the Kremlin back into the immediate equation. In response to Vladimir Putin's declaration his government planned to recognize Mr. Poroshenko's victory and to "co-operate with him". President-elect Poroshenko has stated that he knows Putin well from his years of conducting business in Russia; he hoped to meet with him to discuss a mutually acceptable way of halting the crisis.

A crisis wholly owned by Moscow for ordering the presence of 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's eastern border, to the fiercely belligerent hyperbole that resulted, leading to limited sanctions against Russian interests by the governments of Canada, the U.S. and the European Union, as a means of disciplining Moscow for its intransigent aggression against Ukraine.

Without Moscow's intervention in Ukraine, its exploitation of the Donbass region's general dissatisfaction with the current management of their geography by the central government, and provocations meant to heighten that sense of disaffection, leading to the rise of pro-Russian thugs and henchmen of the Kremlin, the current situation would never have come to a head, as it did, with the loss of Crimea, the loss of lives and threatened further loss of territory.

Some things appear to have changed, possibly with the growing realization in Moscow that there are insufficient numbers of people among the millions in the Donbass region dedicated to leaving Ukraine; their numbers were clearly overestimated in the campaign to forge an overwhelming contingent of supporters of secession and annexation by Russia.

Perhaps the sobering realization that Russia must now expend billions it can scarcely spare given its economic downturn, on securing Crimea has made its impact. Temporary financial hardships imposed on the cronies of Mr. Putin may be viewed as an irritant to be toughed out, but the turn that Vladimir Putin's devious mind will next think of can never be anticipated to prepare for a usefully swift reaction.

What seems abundantly clear, however, is that a large number of eastern Ukrainians have been less than impressed by the thuggish violence perpetrated upon their region by the separatists claiming to be acting in Moscow's name. They appear far more prepared to live with the renewed promises from Kyiv to grant them greater autonomy.

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Resolving Questions Into Action

"Questions need to be raised about the accreditation, public funding and charity status of the organizations involved."
"[The report is] intended to focus public attention on the requirement to have a national level discussion on the Muslim Brotherhood and its role in Canada."
"The government of Canada may wish to pursue a wider investigation into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood with a particular focus on its activities in Canada and the U.S.A. Co-operation or information sharing with the proposed investigation in the United Kingdom may be useful."
report authored by Tom Quiggin, expert in terrorism; former Privy Council intelligence analyst

"We are aware that the U.K. is doing a review on the MB [Muslim Brotherhood]. We will be determining any possible next steps in short order."
Adam Hodge, spokesman, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird

The newly-released study suggests the Government of Canada might wish to follow the initiative of the United Kingdom to launch an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood which has established a "significant presence" in Canada. Describing the Brotherhood values as the "antithesis" of Canadian laws and values, the study goes on to recommend strongly that Ottawa deny public support and charitable status to organizations affiliated with the Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood's raison d'etre is the promotion of political Islam. Founded in Egypt in the 1920s by Sunni Muslim cleric Hassan Al-Banna, it aspires to create a "world living under the tranquility of Islam". Which would require the domination of the West under a global Caliphate. Mandatory memorization of the Koran would be taught in special schools to ignite "the spirit of Islamic jihad" in youths.

Alas, most people in the West have become familiar with Islamist tranquility. It merits a failing grade.

Al-Banna was welcomed in Saudi Arabia, when Egypt was less than enamoured with his message, honoured as a great Islamic scholar there, and his writings fit in very well with Saudi religious fanaticism, the Wahhabi school of religious Islamism. His thesis inspired the Saudi financing of madrasses all over the Middle East and the near SouthEast as well North Africa and in countries of the West, where impressionable young Muslims are taught to recite the Koran, and little else.

And from whose ranks sprang today's Islamist jihadis. Pakistan an outstanding metaphor for the production of Wahhabi-inspired jihad. An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood killed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in revenge for his signing a peace treaty with Israel. The terrorist group Hamas, on Canada's outlawed terrorist group, is another offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas and the Muslin Brotherhood enjoy support within certain groups of Canadian Muslims.

Most countries of the Middle East have attempted to diminish the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, with its established branches all over the MidEast and North Africa. The Brotherhood appeals to the huge numbers of disenfranchised and indigent poor within the regions. It has gained their support through its expressed sympathy with their plight, offering social assistance and welfare to those in need, and spiritual guidance toward its Islamist vision. Hence, a passionate following.

British prime minister David Cameron ordered an investigation into the Brotherhood's activities in his country, and its links to violence and extremism. A month ago Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney publicly announced the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy -- Canada (IRFAN) was placed on Ottawa's list of banned terrorist groups. IRFAN brought attention to itself by merging with the Jerusalem Fund for Human Services a Muslim Brotherhood unit.

IRFAN had funnelled funding to Hamas-linked groups. A registered charity at the time of this declaration, its charitable status has been revoked, with the RCMP investigating its activities, despite IRFAN's denial of involvement in funding Hamas. Writing in the Winnipeg Free Press, Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, stated that Mr. Quiggan has written a "conspiracy-laden diatribe that, in a sweeping stroke, smeared our long-standing Canadian organization as 'terrorists' and despicably suggested we intend to destroy Canada from within".

The report lists other Canadian organizations, some of which are also federally regulated charities, he claims are also aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact some of their executives have departed Canada to take up positions with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria. He suggests a probe should be mounted to examine which Canadian groups with Muslim Brotherhood affiliation have charitable status and access to government.

Additionally, the Canada Border Services Agency may also want to screen foreign nationals to ascertain whether they have membership in the Brotherhood. Those advocating the spread of Muslim Brotherhood ideology should be required to register as lobbyists.

Better yet, why not outlaw them entirely? And do all of that forthwith.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ukraine unrest: Dozens die as Donetsk airport 'retaken'

BBC News online -- 27 May 2014
The BBC's Mark Lowen witnessed the battle at Donetsk airport, and returned on Tuesday to examine the bloody aftermath
Ukraine's interior ministry says the military is now in full control of the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk after a day of bloody clashes.

At least 30 pro-Russia separatists were reported killed after an attempt to take over the airport early on Monday.

New President Petro Poroshenko vowed to tackle the eastern uprising within hours not months. Russia has called for an immediate end to military action.
Meanwhile, the OSCE says it has lost contact with a monitoring team.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said four of its monitors were on a routine mission east of Donetsk but had not been heard from since 18:00 (16:00 GMT) on Monday.
A spokesman told the BBC the monitors, all male, were Turkish, Swiss, Estonian and Danish.
Seven international military observers linked to the OSCE were held captive in eastern Ukraine in April for a week.

Pro-Russia militants, Donetsk airport, 26 May Pro-Russia militants tried to take over the airport early on Monday morning
Family sheltering from fighting in a building near Donetsk airport (26 May 2014) This family sought shelter inside a building near the airport as shots rang out
Residents build a sandbag shooting position on the road to the airport in Donetsk (27 May 2014) Pro-Russian locals helped build shooting positions on the road to the airport.
Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement on Tuesday: "The airport is under our full control. The enemy suffered heavy losses. We have none."
He said operations were still continuing. A BBC team there heard sporadic gunfire.
At the scene: Mark Lowen in Donetsk
The Kiev government was absolutely determined that the airport would not fall to the insurgents.
Back in February when pro-Russia separatists launched their incursion in Crimea - which led to Moscow's annexation of the peninsula a month later - the airport was the first key installation they took control of, so Kiev was committed to clamping down on that.
Ukraine's new president gave a speech on Monday saying he would not negotiate with "terrorists" as he put it - and clearly you see the impact of that around Donetsk airport.
A representative of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic told the BBC that reports of at least 30 dead in Monday's fighting were accurate.

Rebels said the men had been injured and were being transported to hospital when their truck came under fire from government troops.
Photographs from inside Donetsk morgue showed more than a dozen bodies in military fatigues piled in a small room.

The clashes started on Monday as separatist militants stormed the Sergei Prokofiev Donetsk airport in the early hours.
The Ukrainian military responded quickly with air strikes and an assault by heavily armed troops.
Pro-Russia militants, Donetsk airport, 26 May The separatists may have been trying to prevent a visit by the new president
Amateur footage showed Donetsk's ice arena after it was set on fire
The attempt to seize the airport may have been intended to prevent Mr Poroshenko from travelling there after he said his first trip would be to visit the restive east.
Mr Poroshenko, a 48-year-old billionaire and former foreign minister, was on Monday formally declared the winner of Sunday's presidential election with 54% of the vote.
He vowed east Ukraine would not be "turned into Somalia", adding: "The anti-terrorist operation cannot and should not last two or three months. It should and will last hours."
Petro Poroshenko: "We will fight for the trust of the people" of the east
However, he has also said he wants to talk to Russia to end the crisis.
Moscow had said it would accept the election results and engage in dialogue with the winner.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday: "The question of a visit to Russia by Poroshenko is not being considered and is not being discussed through diplomatic or any other channels."
He again called on Mr Poroshenko to stop military operations in eastern Ukraine immediately and implement a roadmap for peace negotiated in Geneva on 17 April.
Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, he said a "real war" was under way in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The regions declared independence after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in the wake of the removal of Ukraine's pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.

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Expression Their Opinions

"The ballot papers arrived late, so we were planning to open at ten."
"But at 9:30, a man arrived and presented ID from the Donetsk People's Republic and told us not to. So we didn't."
"It was an entirely peaceful request, but there was a certain understanding that it might not be if we did not comply."
Election commissioner, School No. 4, Dokuchaevsk, Ukraine

"My own polling station was closed, so I came here hoping to vote. And it turns out I can't. We need to have this election because we need a government to put an end to the chaos and violence here."
local Dokuchaevsk woman, turned away from the school

In most of Ukraine, polling stations opened at 8:00 a.m. There was a high turnout, with 21 candidates on the ballot with exit polls indicating Petro Poroshenko was heading to a landslide victory, his cloest rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, well behind. He had pledged during the short lead-up to the vote that the election would bring calm to Ukraine.

Ukrainian businessman, politician and presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko. Ukrainian businessman, politician and presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko. Photo: Ukraine
"I am confident that today's vote will finally help bring peace to Ukraine and stop the disorder, chaos, lawlessness and terror wrought by bandits in the east."
"The first thing we will do is begin direct dialogue with the people of the Donbass in Donetsk and Luhansk."
Ukrainian President-elect, Petro Poroshenko

In parts of eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian militants closed the polling stations, confiscating ballot papers. Not a single polling station opened in Donetsk, the region's capital, in the grip of the separatist insurgency. Kyiv authorities had promised that even within the troubled region a showcase democratic vote would take place.

Separatist fighters fire their weapons in honour of their fallen comrades as they parade down the street near Lenin Square in Donetsk on the day of the Ukrainian Presidential elections. Separatist fighters fire their weapons in honour of their fallen comrades as they parade down the street near Lenin Square in Donetsk on the day of the Ukrainian Presidential elections. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Perhaps their failure to ensure sufficient security forces were on hand to ensure a free vote was at fault. It's possible that they had fears of increased confrontations turning deadly, marring the triumph of an election observed by thousands of international volunteers as a free and fair election, should their security forces come up hard against the push-back of the 'Donetsk People's Republic'.

A woman embraces separatist fighters as they parade on the streets of
Donetsk near Lenin Square on the day of the Ukrainian Presidential
elections. Donetsk, East Ukraine. A woman embraces separatist fighters as they parade on the streets of Donetsk near Lenin Square on the day of the Ukrainian Presidential elections. Donetsk, East Ukraine. Photo: Kate Geraghty

In the region where no votes were cast, those who meant to vote left out in the dark and the cold by diktat of the Donetsk People's Republic, President-elect Poroshenko plans to travel east to offer jobs and language rights to the population hoping to put an end to the insurgency. He would enter a dialogue with Russia, in hopes of restoring good relations, a moderation of the current standoff of hostility from both sides.

But he made it quite clear that Ukraine, and he as president of Ukraine would "never recognize the annexation of Crimea". Russian President Vladimir Putin may just come across someone as determined as he is himself, but someone with good reason and moral justness on his side, in comparison to his own conniving malice in infiltrating a neighbouring country to intimidate, oppress and exploit it by causing instability and violence in a bid to enlarge the Russian federation.

The election disruption that took place in Donetsk and Luhansk reflects the rebels' disputation of the new government legitimacy. While those two populous Ukrainian cities have been highjacked by an unscrupulous third column of Russian infiltrators calling upon their compatriots who were never naturalized psychologically as Ukrainians, the city of Mariupol on the south coast did conduct their voting process.

A woman votes in the Ukrainian Presidential election in Mariupol, East Ukraine. A woman votes in the Ukrainian Presidential election in Mariupol, East Ukraine. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Where steel workers from steel plants owned by local billionaire Rinat Akhmetov restored a semblance of order, ousting the militant secessionists, reclaiming the town and re-instituting the near-calm of normalcy. Ballot papers had been delivered quietly during the night hours while police, steel-workers and private security guards protected the polling stations.

"I came to vote because it is my civil duty.  I am a citizen of Ukraine and a patriot", Natalia, a local casting her ballot in the afternoon, claimed with the satisfaction of one whose rights had been upheld.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Hypocrisy: Syria and UN Health Assembly Slam Israel

UN Watch BriefingLatest from the United Nations  Vol. 489 |  May 26, 2014         


Syria accuses Israel of "inhumane practices" that "target the health of Syrian citizens"


GENEVA, May 26, 2013 – The Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch condemned the UN World Health Assembly for singling out Israel -- the only specific country on the agenda -- with its call on Friday for the UN to investigate the health conditions in "the occupied Syrian Golan," even as it was silent on the health of Syria's own victims over the past three years, including more than 500,000 wounded, 6.5 million uprooted from their homes, and more than 160,000 killed.
As state members of the WHO wrapped up their annual meeting on Friday, the plenary confirmed a resolution adopted by a committee on Thursday by a vote of 105 countries voting in support (including EU states) to 5 against (Australia, Canada, Israel, Papua New Guinea and the U.S.).
There were 6 abstentions (Andorra, Armenia, Burundi, Colombia, Congo, New Zealand), and 60 absent.
The text focused on Palestinian health conditions allegedly harmed by Israel, and was proposed by Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
It is paradoxical that these sponsors are not exactly known for contributing to the world's health, while Israel, in proportional terms, contributes more to medical science and bio-technology than any other country in the world.
In its submission to the assembly, Syria accused Israel of "inhumane practices" that "target the health of Syrian citizens."
It's the height of hypocrisy for Syria -- which is gassing its own citizens to death when not dropping barrel bombs on entire neighborhoods -- to denounce Israel, and even more so when Israeli hospitals are treating more and more Syrian victims of Assad's butchery.
Although this year's resolution was substantially shortened compared to previous years' resolutions, by continuing to single out Israel as the only country-specific item on its agenda and as the only country to be targeted for criticism in a resolution, the UN has once again allowed the politics of demonization to hijack the noble purpose of promoting world health.
To see the Assad regime point the finger at Israel out of professed concern for the health of Syrians is nothing but a sick joke.
Assad's troops have slaughtered more than 160,000 of their own people, and are now busy destroying the lives of millions more. Why is the UN allowing mass murderers to deflect attention from their crimes by scapegoating democracies?
A world health assembly should be about Hippocrates -- not hypocrisy.
Out of 24 items on this year's WHO agenda, all but one addressed global themes. The exception turned a spotlight on Israel. No other country in the world -- not Mexico, Russia, Syria, or anyone else -- was treated this way.
Hypocrisy: Syria and UN Health Assembly Slam Israel
Israel’s Health Record vs. Country Sponsors of WHO Resolution
Percentage of maternal mortality for 2013
United Arab Emirates

Number of infants dying before age 1
(per 1,000 live births)

Despite what's being said at the UN, however, the Palestinians' own health minister acknowledged last year Israel's extensive medical care for Palestinian children and its training of Palestinians doctors. 

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