Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak has stepped down

President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak has finally descended fro power with the vice president Omar Suleiman has named a military council to run the country's affairs, state television said on Friday after 18 days of mass protests against his rule.
Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt with an iron hand for over three decades, stepped down as President on Friday and handed over power to the army capitulating under mass protests sweeping the country's streets for the last 18 days.

President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed over power to the military, announced the recently appointed vice president Omar Sulaiman on state television.Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the anti-government protests, erupted in joy with tens of thousands of people shouting 'Egypt is Free".The end of a despotic regime in most populous Arab nation came one week after the protesters set a deadline of 'Departure Friday' for 82-year- old Mubarak to step down as President.

Earlier in the day, the Army appeared to throw its weight behind Mubarak's transition plan, assuring the protesters that it will guarantee a free and fair election in September, and asking them to go home and get to work.
A ruling party official adds Mubarak and his family had left Cairo for the glitzy Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where there is a presidential villa further added that Mubarak had handed powers to deputy Omar Suleiman.

Pak PM Gilani dissolves cabinet

Pakistan PM Yousuf Raza Gilani has dissolved the federal cabinet as part of an exercise to refurbish the image of his govt that has been rocked by charges of inefficiency and corruption.Gilani announced the dissolution of the cabinet during an address on state-run PTV after all members of the cabinet submitted their resignations during a meeting chaired by him on Wednesday afternoon.

President Asif Ali Zardari Thursday approved the resignations of federal ministers, Geo News reported.According to the sources, the president has approved resignations of all the federal ministers including state ministers.On Wednesday, all the federal ministers tendered their resignations to Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani during the cabinet meeting.The oath taking ceremony of new federal cabinet will be held on Friday at Presidency.

The ruling Pakistan People's Party is also required to downsize the cabinet under the provisions of the 18th constitutional amendment, a landmark reforms package passed by parliament last year.Besides, the government is facing pressure from the main opposition PML-N to reduce the size of the cabinet and cut spending.
Major Western powers and international donors like the US and the International Monetary Fund have called on Pakistan to reduce spending and implement wholesale economic reforms, including the introduction of a reformed tax regime.
Donors have also expressed concern about alleged corruption and misuse of funds.
Officials said the federal ministers submitted their resignations to enable Gilani to announce a new cabinet in line with decisions taken recently by the PPP's central executive committee.During his address, Gilani paid tribute to the members of his cabinet and thanked them for their support.

Prime Minister did not say when a new cabinet would be formed. Analysts believe the PPP will face difficulties in striking deals with its coalition partners to accommodate members in a smaller cabinet mandated by the 18th constitutional amendment.The outgoing cabinet had 52 members and Gilani is expected to form a new team with over 20 ministers.During a meeting of the PPP's central executive committee on 4th February, party chief and President Asif Ali Zardari had authorised Gilani to dissolve the cabinet at a time of his choosing.In his address, Gilani referred to the formation of the PPP-led government after the 2008 general election and said: "When we took over, we found this country in very difficult circumstances. The country was facing an economic meltdown and terrorism in which doubts were expressed on the sustainability of Pakistan as a nation."

"We successfully together steered this nation towards a sustainable path of economic recovery by initiating both short-term and long-term policies such as rationalisation of subsidies and a tremendous boost in the agricultural sector," he said.Gilani listed the achievements of the government, saying foreign exchange reserves were at an "all time high" of over USD 17 billion while the stock exchange index had risen from 5,000 points three years ago to over 12,000 points.The government, he said, will continue to work to take Pakistan "out of troubled waters towards a sustainable path"

Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) said on Wednesday that the government needed to do far more to curb spending than simply appointing a new cabinet."We have demanded a 30-percent reduction in government expenditure. So far we are disappointed. The 45-day period will be over before the end of the month but they have done nothing tangible," said party spokesman Siddiqul Farooq.

"We may think seriously about making an appeal to the people of Pakistan to demand fresh elections. We have to see the size and the credibility of the new cabinet members. Only then can we say whether it fulfills our demand."

Jamaat-i-Islami said that up to 90 people enjoyed ministerial perks including advisors and special assistants to those holding the cabinet portfolios."It was a huge burden on our economy and the national exchequer," party spokesman Farid Paracha said."They must cut their lavish spending and curtail non development expenditure by at least 30 percent because the economy is heading towards collapse, Paracha added."

Analysts were also sceptical, saying the resignations are unlikely to satisfy the IMF and international donors.

ULFA leaders Peace talks with Centre

Centre on Thursday held unconditional talks with the banned ULFA and said it was "confident" of finding a "just and honourable solution" to the over three decade-old insurgency problem in Assam.During the hour-long deliberations, it was decided that a seven-member group will be formed to discuss modalities of carrying forward the peace process.The group will have Joint Secretary (northeast) as its coordinator and comprise three ULFA members and two representatives each of the state and Central governments.The group will discuss about designated camps, surrender policy, deposit of arms and other nitty-gritty for maintaining peace in the state.

The pro-talk group is unlikely to interfere if government launches operations against those members indulging in violence.The eight-member ULFA delegation led by 'chairman' Arabinda Rajkhowa met Home Minister P Chidambaram before going into a full session with senior officials led by Home Secretary G K Pillai.
"As you are aware that they (ULFA) have offered unconditional talks with Government of India and Government of Assam to find out a honourable and just solution to the issues raised by them"."I welcome them. I assured them that the government of India and government of Assam will engage them in sincere and meaningful talks and I am confident that we will find a just and honourable solution," Chidambaram said.
"They called on me which is a courtesy call. These are very preliminary stages (of talks), you (media) should cooperate and they will feel confident which will help to find a solution through talks," he said.

This is the first time that such unconditional talks are being held in ULFA's 31-year-old history.The meeting was also attended by Assam Chief Secretary N K Das, Additional DGP Khagen Sharma, Assam Home Commissioner Jishnu Barua, Centre's interlocutor P C Haldar, Secretary (Internal Security) U K Bansal and IB chief N Sandhu.

Apart from Rajkhowa, 'vice-chairman' Pradip Gogoi, 'political advisor' Bhimakanta Buragohain, 'foreign secretary' Sasha Choudhury, 'finance secretary' Chitrabon Hazarika, 'cultural secretary' Pranati Deka, 'publicity secretary' Mithinga Daimary and 'deputy commander-in-chief' Raju Barua participated in the talks.
Later addressing a crowded press conference, Choudhury said ULFA was hopeful that the insurgency problem in Assam can be solved through an amendment in the Constitution and made it clear that it will not participate in the forthcoming polls.
"Through the talks, therefore, we proposed to evaluate various facets of the Constitution and to explore the viability of protection and enrichment of the sovereignty of the people of Assam in all its dimensions-political, social and cultural, within the flexibility as mentioned by the prime minister," Choudhury said.

During the press conference, 'vice-chairman' Gogoi and 'finance secretary' Hazarika were also present but only Choudhury took questions from journalists.Declaring that the agenda of the future talks with the government and ULFA's demands would be decided by the "people of Assam", he said it was necessary to amend the Constitution to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of the people.Asked what would be the role of ULFA in the coming Assam Assembly elections due in April-May, Choudhury said the group would not participate in the polls."Time and again we have been saying that we will have zero involvement in the polls," he said.However, he said, ULFA cannot mention anything what would be the role of its supporters in the elections.

On the possibility of declaring a ceasefire, Choudhury said the initiative has to come from the government."Anyway, we have not indulged in violence in last one year," he said.Asked about the opposition of 'commander-in-chief' Paresh Baruah to the dialogue process, he said it was a decision of the group's highest decision making body general council."Baruah is still our commander-in-chief," he said.
He said the ULFA is still a banned group and its members outlawed but they are trying to be a "good citizen" to bring a lasting solution to the "conflict".
On 5th February, the ULFA announced that it will sit for unconditional talks with the Centre "respecting the wishes of the people of Assam".It also apologised for the violent acts it committed.The ULFA delegation arrived in the national capital last evening.

Before leaving for Delhi, the leaders met Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and sought his cooperation to take forward the peace process with the Centre.The ULFA leaders released from jail recently decided to hold unconditional talks with the government but the faction led by the group's 'commander-in-chief' Barua is opposed to it.The ULFA delegation is also likely to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 13th February after his return from Kerala.
Media agencies

Press Conference - ULFA talks Centre for Peace in Assam

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