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Monday, February 6, 2012

Syrian army 'steps up Homs offensive'


Activists and witnesses say army has been indiscriminately shelling Bab Amr neighbourhood of the city since Sunday.

The Syrian army has stepped up its attacks on opposition fighters in Homs, activists and witnesses have said, a day after a UN Security Council resolution, aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria, was blocked by Russia and China.

Abu Abdo Alhomsy, an activist with the revolutionary council in Homs, spoke to Al Jazeera on Monday, describing an attack on the city as live pictures showed plumes of smoke billowing into the sky:

"It is horrible right here. Rockets are falling. There are massive explosions that shook buildings. We don't know really what to do," he said.

"Its a massive attack - a new massacre is happening here. Nobody can go out, we don't know how many homes have been hit or how many people died."

The Syrian revolution general commission said that 15 people were killed in Homs today, and at least three others were killed in Aleppo.

Video received by Al Jazeera from opposition activists on Sunday showed the apparent devastation caused by a military offensive in Bab Amr neighbourhood of Homs.

Activists and witnesses said the army had been shelling the neighbourhood "indiscriminately" since Sunday morning.

Attacks continue

The video images appear to show people who have been shot and hit by shrapnel, including heavily injured young children.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Danny Abdul Dayem, a resident of Homs: "It has been terrible. There is non-stop bombing with rockets, mortar bombs and tank shells. There were more than 50 people injured in Bab Amr today.

"I saw with my own eyes kids with no legs, and a kid who lost his whole bottom jaw. It is terrible."

In the northeast of the country, army deserters destroyed a military control post early on Monday, killing three officers and capturing 19 soldiers in the process, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The fighting happened on the village of Al Bara in the Edleb region, the observatory said, adding that none of the army deserters involved was killed and that the regular army post was completely destroyed.

The death toll in Syria rose to at least 88 people over the weekend - one of the bloodiest since the uprising against Assad's government erupted almost 11 months ago.

Opposition groups say at least 6,000 people have now been killed in Syria.

Sanctions

Meanwhile, Europe is set to strengthen sanctions imposed on Damascus in a bid to boost pressure on the government, France said on Sunday.

"Europe will again harden sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on BFMTV television.

"We will try to increase this international pressure and there will come a time when the regime will have to realise that it is completely isolated and cannot continue."

Juppe also said France would "help the Syrian opposition to structure and organise itself" and would be working to create an international group on Syria.

uppe said French President Nicolas Sarkozy "will take steps in the coming days to try to bring together all those who consider the current situation (in Syria) absolutely intolerable".

He also described the veto by China and Russia as a "moral stain" on the United Nations and said France would consider a call by Tunisia for all countries to expel Syrian diplomatic envoys.

Juppe added, however, that a decision by France to expel Syrian diplomats could lead to a tit-for-tat expulsion by Damascus.

"It is possible of course, but it would have to be measured against the consequences because our embassy in Damascus is today also playing a humanitarian role," he said.

'Tragedy must stop'

Russia and China on Saturday blocked a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria for its crackdown on protests, drawing condemnation from other global powers and the Syrian opposition.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister who will visit Damascus on Tuesday, has defended Moscow's decision to veto a draft UN resolution condemning the violence in Syria.

"Attempts to incite inter-ethnic or inter-religious contradictions or to start a civil war are totally unacceptable," he said after negotiations with Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa in Moscow on Monday.

Lavrov said adopting the resolution would have meant taking sides in a civil war, and he will ask Assad for rapid political reforms when he meets him.

The European Union has already agreed several rounds of sanctions against Assad's government, with dozens of government insiders and companies targeted so far by an assets freeze and travel ban.

The EU is also enforcing an arms embargo and a ban on imports of Syrian crude oil.

Since March 2011, "the Damascus regime has only responded to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people for freedom and democracy with fierce repression and endless promises," Sarkozy said.

Gerard Longuet, the French defence minister, earlier on Sunday criticised Russia for blocking the resolution on Syria and said Moscow could not hold out "indefinitely" in the face of global opinion.

"Russia, for reasons that are almost shameful, is blocking everything," Longuet told RTL radio.

"We have a duty, we Europeans, to show that we will never accept this regime. Russia can hold out for 15 days, two months, but it cannot hold out indefinitely," he said.

Federal Court avoids deciding on right to religion of choice

Raus chaired the five-man panel which decided on the issue.
PUTRAJAYA, Feb 2 — The country’s top court today passed on a chance to answer one of the most fundamental constitutional questions plaguing this multiracial and multireligious nation of 28 million people — the right of a person to profess his faith of choice.

An Indian Malaysian father of three, Zaina Abdin Halim @ S. Maniam, who has been declared a Muslim on his identity card, has been seeking to have the National Registration Department (NRD) strike it off since 2002.

Fahri Azzat , lawyer for the litigant, told The Malaysian Insider today: “If a person’s mother and father are Muslims, that provision under section 2 of the Selangor State Enactment restraints the person from professing a faith of choice.”

Born of an ethnic Indian father and a Malay Muslim mother, the Zaina Abdin has said in court documents that he was raised to be a Hindu and has brought up his three children in the religion their whole lives.

In a sworn statement, he has put his real name down as Balachandran son of S. Maniam, taking the cue from his father’s name before the latter embraced Islam to marry.

The government agency, however, has refused to allow Zaina Abdin, also known as Balachandran, to change his religious status, based on a provision of the Selangor State Enactment concerning Islamic affairs.

Under section 2 of the state Islamic law, children of Muslim parents are automatically deemed to be Muslim as well.

As such, Zaina Abdin aka Balachandran would have to apply to the Syariah Court to renounce he is Muslim and become an apostate. He maintains he is not an apostate.

The upset litigant charges that section 2 is against the basic principles of the Federal Constitution, the country’s highest law, specifically Article 1(1), which states: “Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.”

Clause 4 states that state law and in the cases of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan, federal law, may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.

But a five-man panel of judges in the Federal Court unanimously decided that it was not the proper platform to determine a person’s religious position and returned the case to the High Court for a hearing.

“We are unanimous that this case is not a suitable case to be referred to us under section 84 of the Courts of Judicature Act.

“The facts [of the case] are in dispute,” said Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Raus Sharif, who chaired the Bench.

The crucial fact of the case rests on whether Zaina Abdin aka Balachandran is Muslim or Hindu, as he claims.

Both the man’s lawyers and government lawyers have been at odds on this one basic fact, agreeing only that by operation of the law Zaina Abdin aka Balachandran is Muslim, which is the latter’s dispute.

The Federal Court directed the case be heard on its merits in the High Court.

K. Shanmuga, another lawyer for Zaina Abdi aka Balachandran, told reporters his client was disappointed by the Federal Court decision after a 10-year wait which would have granted him finality in the matter.

The lawyer added that the three children, who were minors when the case was first filed in 2002, were now adults of marriageable age.

He said the Federal Court decision would also affect the trio, who like their father, had sued the federal government, the Selangor government and the Selangor Islamic Council, to seek the same basic rights.

“Now, we can only go back to the High Court and ask for an early hearing date,” Shanmuga said.

Half a million people call for release of Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi

BARTLESVILLE, OKLA. January 27, 2012. (ChristianNewsToday.com) More than 560,000 people around the world have signed a petition asking the Pakistani government to release Asia Bibi
a Christian wife and mother falsely accused of blasphemy against Mohammed and sentenced to death by a Pakistani court.

Bibi has appealed the conviction to the Lahore High Court, but is still in jail pending the outcome of her appeal. If the High Court upholds the guilty verdict and death sentence, the case could be appealed to Pakistan's Supreme Court.

The online petition, at www.CallForMercy.com, was launched by The Voice of the Martyrs after 150,000 Pakistani Christians started the petition calling for justice for Asia Bibi and better protection of religious minorities in Pakistan.

VOM sister offices in other countries have also promoted the petition drive, and people from more than 100 nations have signed thus far. VOM is delivering petition signatures to the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC. The goal is to collect one million signatures asking for Bibi's release.

VOM made the first petition delivery-more than 400,000 signatures-to the embassy in November. The signatures were accepted by an official at the embassy, who encouraged VOM staff to be patient with the legal process inside Pakistan. The official pointed out that even if the High Court does not overturn the death penalty, the Supreme Court of Pakistan could do so. And if the Supreme Court doesn't, the case could be appealed to Pakistan's president.

‘Continue to place your ‘nambikei’ in us’

The prime minister says this trust is vital in order for the government to help the community achieve a better life.

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has called on Malaysian Hindus to continue to place their “nambikei” in the government.

With this trust, he said, the government would be able to effectively engage with and help the community overcome challenges and achieve personal visions for a better life.

“We remain committed to fulfilling all our promises to the community and we’ll do what’s needed to help people achieve their dreams,” he said in his message in conjunction with the Thaipusam festival posted on his blogsite www.1malaysia.com.my.

Najib noted that Hindus marked Thaipusam by offering their thanks and sacrifice throughout the country.

He said many would also be making vows and praying for a better life and a secure happy future for their children.

“It’s a basic human wish to improve and progress towards a better quality of life for oneself and our loved ones,” Najib said, adding that the government knew and understood this instinct for progress.

The prime minister took the opportunity to extend his greetings to all Hindus in Malaysia as they observed Thaipusam.

“We can, once again, appreciate our diverse culture as Malaysian Hindus mark the auspicious day,” he added.

-Bernama

Thousands pay homage to Lord Muruga

The silver chariot procession marks the start of the Thaipusam festival.

GEORGE TOWN: Thousands of Hindus thronged the city early this morning to pay homage to Lord Muruga Perumaan as the silver chariot procession takes to the road to mark the start of the Thaipusam festival.

Lord Muruga Perumaan is the most revered deity among the Tamil-speaking Hindu community.

Organised by the Nattukottai Chettiar Tamil sub-ethnic community, also known as Nagarathar, the chariot procession carrying a statue of Lord Muruga Perumaan marks the start of the annual four-day festival.

Previously, the silver chariot was made of wood.

Lord Muruga Perumaan began his annual journey on the chariot from the Nagarathars’ spiritual home, Kovil Veedu in Lebuh Penang, at 6am.

The silver chariot is scheduled to reach his destination at Thandayuthabani Kovil, Waterfall, at midnight after travelling for some 15km across major roads in the city.

The chariot will return from Balathandayuthabani Kovil to Kovil Veedu in an overnight journey commencing at 6pm on Wednesday.
Thousands of coconuts were smashed on the road to give a cool feeling to the warm legs of the devotees following the procession.

Tomorrow will be a full kavadi day, in which thousands of devotees would show their love and gratitude to Lord Murugan Perumaan by carrying various types of kavadis to the Waterfall hilltop Bala Thandayuthabani Kovil.

Many devotees have gone bald to offer their hair to their Lord.
Thaipusan in Penang is the oldest Hindu religious-cultural festival celebrated in the country.

The festival is expected to attract some 800,000 people, including Hindus from other states and tourists.
Some 200 panthals (refreshment sheds) have been erected along the festival route, especially in the Waterfall area, to provide free food and drinks to devotees.

Undeniably, Penang Thaipusam has always been the grandest and vividly celebrated Hindu religious festival in the country.

The festival is also good for businesses in Penang, which are expected to generate over RM30 million in turnover.

Meanwhile in Kuala Lumpur, the silver chariot from the Maha Mariamman Temple in Jalan Tun HS Lee arrived at Batu Caves at about 2pm. Thousands of devotees followed the procession which started at midnight today to the Batu Caves temple.

Tengku Adnan apologises for errors on Thaipusam banners

The Putrajaya MP says the Tamil translation was done in a rush.

PUTRAJAYA: Putrajaya MP Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor today apologised for the Tamil translation and spelling errors on Thaipusam banners placed around the constituency.

Tengku Adnan, who is also Barisan Nasional secretary-general, said his intention was genuine in respecting the Hindus of the area and in wanting to wish them on one of the main religious festivals celebrated in the country.

“My intention was genuine, in wanting to include Tamil in the banners as well. We did it in a rush and I was away at the time. So we asked BN and MIC members to help translate and write the Tamil parts,” he said.

“It looks like they’re not well-versed in the language. I apologise for the mistake. Next time we’ll ask those who are experts,” he said after launching the students peaceful campus tour, here today.

The banners did not make any sense because of the errors and were taken down a day after they were put up when the Indian community in Putrajaya spotted the mistakes.

Tengku Adnan assured that such a mistake, which would surely hurt the feelings of a race, would not be repeated.

- Bernama

RPK: Destroy the UMNO culture (VIDEO)

Shahrizat returns from leave with all guns blazing – not slayed the ghost of the “cattle condo” scandal but reared more monsters

Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the Wanita UMNO leader and Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, has returned from her three-week leave from Cabinet with all guns blazing but instead of slaying the ghost of the RM330 million “cattle condo” scandal, she has only reared more monsters.

When announcing her leave on January 12, Shahrizat said: “I hope the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) will be able to investigate whether or not I was involved in any of the decisions made by the government on the NFC in which my husband, Datuk Seri Dr Mohammad Salleh Ismail, is the executive chairman.”

Has Shahrizat been cleared of any impropriety, abuse of power or conflict of interest in the RM330 million NFC “cattle condo” scandal by the MACC?

The answer is in the negative. As the purpose of her Ministerial leave has not been achieved, shouldn’t her Cabinet leave be extended until a clear answer is available?

In the absence of any unequivocal exoneration by the MACC, the only alternative open to Shahrizat is to rebut one by one the many specific allegations of abuses of public funds or her knowledge/complicity, for instance allegations like the RM13.8 million used for purchasing luxury condominiums in Bangsar, RM10 million to purchase a luxury condominium in Singapore, RM3.4 million for plots of land in Putrajaya, RM830,000 for holiday trips, RM530,000 for a luxury car, payment of RM600,000 credit card bill for Shahrizat’s family, etc.

Shahrizat has not done this but instead launched a deplorable and most unbecoming below-the-belt attack against Rafizi Ramli, PKR strategic director, who had led the three-month exposes of the RM330 million NFC scandal – further highlighting the weakness of her case!

What cannot escape attention of astute political observes is that Shahrizat had been abandoned by the UMNO leadership to fend on her own – in the face of increasing pressures for her to accept responsibility and resign from the Cabinet coming not only from her predecessor as Wanita Umno chief, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz and her current Deputy Wanita Umno chief, Datuk Kamila Ibrahim but also different levels of UMNO leadership whether from former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir or Cheras Umno division head Daltuk Syed Ali Alhabshee.

This reflects the growing impotence and isolation of Datuk Seri Najib Razak as Prime Minister and UMNO President to provide the political leadership and set the political pace in UMNO and Barisan Nasional.

Just before the Chinese New Year, the MCA President Datuk Seri Dr. Chua Soi Lek in an interview blamed the Barisan Nasional government, “particularly embattled minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abd Jalil”, for the “poor handling” of the RM330 million “cattle condo” scandal, causing the public to perceive the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) project as “real rotten”.

Have the four MCA Cabinet Ministers the political courage to put things right by insisting at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting that Shahrizat should extend her Ministerial leave until she is cleared of any abuse of power and/or conflict of interest in the RM330 million NFC scandal, and better still, to ask for a full-scale Royal Commission of Inquiry into the NFC scandal?

Continue Placing Trust In Government - Najib

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 6 (Bernama) -- Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has called on Malaysian Hindus to continue to place their "nambikei" in the government.

With this trust, he said, the government would be able to effectively engage with and help the community overcome challenges and achieve personal visions for a better life.

"We remain committed to fulfilling all our promises to the community and we'll do what's needed to help people achieve their dreams," he said in his message in conjunction with the Thaipusam festival posted on his blogsite www.1malaysia.com.my.

Najib noted that Hindus marked Thaipusam by offering their thanks and sacrifice throughout the country.

He said many would also be making vows and praying for a better life and a secure happy future for their children.

"It's a basic human wish to improve and progress towards a better quality of life for oneself and our loved ones," Najib said, adding that the government knew and understood this instinct for progress.

The prime minister took the opportunity to extend his greetings to all Hindus in Malaysia as they observed Thaipusam.

"We can, once again, appreciate our diverse culture as Malaysian Hindus mark the auspicious day," he added.