Heavy smog hangs over Russia
26/11: Pak prosecutors seek voice samples of suspects
6 Americans killed in Afghanistan
Moscow, August 7
The level of toxic carbon monoxide gas in the smog from the nearby peat bog and forest fires reached seven times the permissible limits in Moscow and coupled with an almost 40 degree Celsius heat, it is making life hell for Muscovites.
In a statement issued today the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) of firebrand leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky called for a state of emergency in Moscow, closure of all production units contributing to pollution and non-vital facilities and office for a week till the situation improves.
The dense toxic smog, multiplied by almost 40 degree Celsius heat is forcing Muscovites to leave their city and the air tickets to favourable destinations are overbooked for the next week, Channel 1 TV reported.
Even the luckier people who managed to buy an air ticket and holiday voucher at foreign resorts are unable to fly out of the ‘hell that is Moscow’ as for the second day Moscow two major international airports — Vnukovo and Domodedovo are badly affected by poor visibility.
Over 50 flights scheduled to leave or arrive today at Vnukovo, south west of Moscow and Domodedovo in the south, were cancelled today or diverted to other cities, Rossiya 24 channel reported.
The US State Department advisory has urged US citizens to keep health risks in mind while visiting Moscow and other wildfires affected Russian regions.
The US, Polish and some other European embassies have sent most of their staff and children away from Russia due to the smog, Kommersant FM radio reported.
With little chance of weakening of heat wave and rains, the fire fighting operation to douse 25 burning peat bogs have been extended now into the night, Vesti news of state-run Russia-2 channel reported.
“From today work on putting out peat bog fires will be carried out 24 hours, during the night as well,” Deputy Emergency Minister Alexander Chupriyan told the TV.
Burning peat bogs, once drained in 1930s to use their dried mass as fuel, from time to time have been the source of smog in Moscow, which was badly affected even in the shorter and moderate heat waves of 1972 and 2002.
Chupriyan said they have received new heavy equipment for carrying out fire fighting operations on the peat bogs in the night in the worst-hit eastern and south-eastern areas of Yegoriyevsk and Shatura near Moscow. — PTI
Islamist charities affiliated with terrorist groups are competing with international efforts to provide relief to those affected by the floods in Pakistan, according to international relief workers.
The floods have so far killed 1,500 people and are expected to affect six-million by the weekend as more rain is expected.
“There are always, in situations like this, NGOs that are associated with what we would call extremist groups,” Anne Patterson, the US ambassador in Pakistan, said in a conference call with reporters yesterday.
But, she added, “they are totally, in my view, overcome by the enormous number of local and highly reputable NGOs and international NGOs that have already mobilized for this crisis.”
Patterson said the US was trying to get money to the NGOs as quickly as possible so they could provide services throughout the country.
Some of the Islamist charities providing aid to flood victims have links with Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which the US designated a foreign terrorist organisation in December of 2001.
A relief worker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said charities linked to LeT had become involved in relief operations since the floods struck. Following the 2006 quake in Pakistan, Islamist charities saw their popularity soar as they filled a vacuum created by an inadequate effort by the government to disburse aid.
Soon after it was branded a terrorist organisation, LeT's founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed changed the group’s name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which began humanitarian projects to avoid restrictions.
LeT coordinates its charitable activities through JuD and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation, which spearheaded humanitarian relief to the victims of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and is said to be active on the ground once again.
According to an annual terrorism report released by the State Department this week, LeT and its founder Saeed “spread ideology advocating terrorism, as well as virulent rhetoric condemning the United States, India, Israel and other perceived enemies.” LeT was behind the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
Patterson said LeT’s impact during crises in Pakistan had been “wildly exaggerated.”
She said reports of LeT assistance during the refugee crisis in the aftermath of the Pakistani military operations against the Taliban in Swat Valley last year “turned out to be, if not flatly untrue, then wildly exaggerated.”
Meanwhile, inclement weather hampered relief operations on Friday.
“Monsoon rains arrived with a vengeance... the consequence has been the worst floods in Pakistan in 80 years,” Patterson said.
The earthquake and the displacement of 2 million people from the Swat Valley was more localised, she said, adding that while the loss of life in this disaster may be less its economics could be far greater.
Meanwhile, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is facing growing criticism from his countrymen over his decision to go ahead with a visit to Paris and London in spite of the floods.
Patterson said the US administration was “not really concentrating on the overall political situation here at this time because our focus is on saving lives and delivering supplies.”
The United States Agency for International Development is providing an additional $25 million to assist Pakistanis affected by the flooding. It had already committed $10 million to this effort.
Islamabad, August 7
The case was put off till August 28 as Judge Malik Muhammad Akram Awan was on leave for personal reasons.
Sources said the judge of the Rawalpindi-based anti-terrorism court had taken leave as his sister was unwell and had been hospitalised.
The prosecution filed an application seeking voice samples of Lakhvi and the other accused in view of a request made by Indian authorities, sources said.
The application is expected to be taken up at the next hearing.
Indian authorities have sought the voice samples of the accused so that they can be matched with recordings of Pakistan-based handlers, who were coordinating the actions of the 10 terrorists who carried out the attacks in Mumbai.
Khwaja Sultan, the counsel for Lakhvi, expressed his opposition to the prosecution’s efforts to obtain the voice samples.
He claimed the prosecution was following the directives of Indian authorities even though India had not provided information and materials on the Mumbai attacks that had been sought by Pakistan.
Shahbaz Rajput, one of the defence lawyers, told PTI that the court is expected to take up Lakhvi’s bail application on August 9 if the judge is on duty that day. — PTI
Kabul, August 7
Dirk Frans, director of the International Assistance Mission (IAM), said one German, one Briton and two Afghans also were a part of the team that made the two-week trip to Nuristan province. They drove to the province, left their vehicles and hiked for hours over mountainous terrain to reach the Parun valley in the province’s northwest.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in Pakistan that they killed the foreigners because they were “spying for the Americans” and “preaching Christianity”.
Frans said the IAM is registered as a nonprofit Christian organisation but it does not proselytise. “This tragedy negatively impacts our ability to continue serving the Afghan people as IAM has been doing since 1966.” — AP