Pakistan: Ex-PM Sharif's Wife Wins Parliamentary Seat

FILE - Kulsoom Nawaz (L), wife, and Maryam Nawaz (R), daughter former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, wave to supporters at a campaign rally in Lahore, Pakistan, on May 4, 2013. Kulsoom Nawaz won her husband's parliamentary seat in a by-election Sunday.

Kulsoom Nawaz (L), wife, and Maryam Nawaz (R), daughter former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, wave to supporters at a campaign rally in Lahore, Pakistan, on May 4, 2013. Kulsoom Nawaz won her husband's parliamentary seat in a by-election Sunday.

 

Kulsoom Nawaz, wife of Pakistan's ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, easily won election Sunday to fill the seat he formerly held.

The victory by Kulsoom Nawaz was expected, since the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party is dominant in the central Lahore constituency. The former prime minister had held the seat since the mid-1980s, when he first entered national politics.

Official media reported the winning candidate had 61,254 votes, to just over 47,000 for her main rival, Yasmin Rahid of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. But above and beyond Sunday's by-election, the result was seen as a critical test for the Sharif dynasty ahead of Pakistan's national elections next year.

The country’s Supreme Court, which has been hearing a high-profile corruption case against Nawaz Sharif and his children, ruled in July that Sharif had concealed overseas assets, and ordered his removal from office for "dishonesty."

Kulsoom Nawaz is currently in London undergoing cancer treatment, with her husband at her side. Their daughter, Maryam Nawaz, ran the election campaign in her mother’s absence.

The younger woman, who has been described as a future leader by political insiders in Pakistan, addressed jubilant workers from the PML-N party late Sunday evening.

In her speech, televised live from the family residence in Lahore, Maryam Nawaz said outcome of the election demonstrated the “public’s love for Sharif,” and rejected his disqualification for office.

Pakistan's High Court said it dismissed Sharif because he had not reported monthly earnings he received from an overseas company owned by his son. The former prime minister denied that he had received any salary, or knew anything about the payments, which first were discovered after he was elected prime minister for a third time in 2013.

Sharif’s first term as Pakistan's prime minister, in the early 1990s, also ended abruptly when he was dismissed by presidential decree after being accused of corruption. Back in office a few years later, he was overthrown by a military coup in 1999 and exiled to Saudi Arabia along with other family members.

Putin Ally: No Logic in Deploying UN Forces on Russia-Ukraine Border

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets with the speaker of the Federation Council, upper parliament chamber Valentina Matviyenko at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence, outside Moscow, Russia, June 26, 2017.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets with the speaker of the Federation Council, upper parliament chamber Valentina Matviyenko at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence, outside Moscow, Russia, June 26, 2017.

 

One of President Vladimir Putin's top allies said on Sunday she saw no logic in deploying U.N. peacekeepers along the border between Russia and Ukraine, something Kyiv and Washington favor.

Putin this month suggested armed U.N. peacekeepers be deployed to eastern Ukraine to help protect ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and to help end a conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists, which has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the proposal "interesting," while Kurt Volker, the U.S. envoy to Ukraine peace talks, says the suggestion gives negotiators more ideas with which to seek a resolution to the conflict. But differences about where the peacekeepers would operate risk sinking the plan.

Putin originally said the peacekeepers could be deployed along the line of contact between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists, but later said they could also be deployed in other areas where OSCE inspectors work.

Washington and Kyiv also want peacekeepers to be deployed along those parts of Ukraine's border with Russia which Kyiv does not control.

However, Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Russian upper house of parliament and a close Putin ally, said on Sunday Moscow strongly objected to that idea.

"I don't see any logic in such a proposal," Matviyenko, visiting Turkmenistan, told reporters, the Interfax news agency reported. "Those who would like to surround the residents of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbas [parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions] with barbed wire or to simply destroy these people ... will not succeed."

New Technology Helps Stranded Refugees in Greece

Refugees on the Greek island of Chios using information stored on RefuComm's micro SD cards. The cards include video, audio and text information about the interview that those wishing to claim asylum must take.

Refugees on the Greek island of Chios using information stored on RefuComm's micro SD cards. The cards include video, audio and text information about the interview that those wishing to claim asylum must take.

 

Stuck in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios with poor internet and little credit, Abrar Hassan, like many others, was unaware that the tech world had been falling all over itself to help him.

More importantly, he was unaware of his rights and how best to prepare for the asylum interviews that would determine whether the 19-year-old, who fled a murderous family feud in Pakistan, had a future in Europe.

There has been an explosion of digital software applications, hackathons and websites since the refugee crisis filtered into Western public consciousness, with the tech world offering a range of solutions, whether to issues like Hassan’s, navigating the sea or job hunting.

Time has revealed the limits of such solutions when applied with little knowledge of the situation on the ground. Some tech tools, however, are bridging the gap.

No internet, no problem

Hundreds of micro SD memory cards that can be used in mobile phones have been given out in Chios. The memory cards are packed with information to help educate people about crucial details of the asylum process, such as the right to replace an inadequate translator during the asylum interview.

The information stored on the micro SD cards does not require internet connection. RefuComm's Sharon Silvey argues too many tech-based responses have been designed at a distance from the people they're supposed to help.
The information stored on the micro SD cards does not require internet connection. RefuComm's Sharon Silvey argues too many tech-based responses have been designed at a distance from the people they're supposed to help.

“When I came here I didn’t know anything about the Greek asylum system,” said Hassan, who passed his asylum interview and has remained on the island, helping to distribute SD cards to more refugees.

“This is the first time things have been clearly explained.”

The micro SD cards do not need an internet connection for people to access the text, audio and visual help offered in the Arabic, Farsi and Urdu languages.

The micro SD cards being distributed on Chios island. There are now around 780 in circulation.
The micro SD cards being distributed on Chios island. There are now around 780 in circulation.

 

They are the brainchild of Sharon Silvey, founder of RefuComm, a volunteer group working with refugees.

Silvey said that many tech products are often designed with little awareness of the audience they target.

“I’ve met thousands of refugees and I’ve not met one who said that they needed an app — it’s as simple as that. I’m not sure if refugees are involved at all [in development]," she said.

Steep learning curve

That criticism is partly acknowledged by some of those who have tracked the explosion of tech-focused assistance since fall 2015.

Ben Mason of Betterplace Lab, a Berlin-based nonprofit organization focused on what he calls “tech for good,” told VOA that the initial surge provided an “inspiring moment with people wanting to help and some good projects.”

“But there was quite a lot of misspent energy on ‘solutionism’ -- the idea you can take a complex social problem and find a simple tech solution," Mason added.

To avoid duplication of services, Techfugees — the most prominent tech network to emerge, with more than 15,000 members — called on users to consolidate their efforts and engage more with refugees themselves, many of whom rely on their own online social networks to get advice.

Tracking the success of this wave of tech support is difficult. Many projects have genuinely helped, such as Kiron Open Higher Education, which offers refugees access to higher education.

In the "fail fast, try again" ethos of the tech industry, meanwhile, other services proved useless or quickly disappeared, and some became notorious.

iSea, a highly hyped, award-winning app, was taken offline after it emerged that rather than live satellite images, it showed a single static image of the sea, rendering it useless for its purported role of helping crowdsource rescue operations.

Stuck in silos

Mason, who recently wrote a report on Germany’s tech response to the refugees crisis, argues that while it had “yet to deliver at scale,” the scene is “maturing,” with a small but emerging number of tech solutions created by refugees themselves.

FILE - Refugees at Vial centre on the Greek island Chios. Thousands of refugees remain stuck on the Greek islands closest to Turkey, unable to make it to the Greek mainland and facing the threat of deportation.
FILE - Refugees at Vial centre on the Greek island Chios. Thousands of refugees remain stuck on the Greek islands closest to Turkey, unable to make it to the Greek mainland and facing the threat of deportation.

Meghan Benton, a senior policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute, said there have been successes, but for tech to truly impact efforts to help refugees, it will have to be about “a connection to mainstream services -- rather than a parallel world, which serves small pockets, and might die from one week to the next.”

Not that such a solution is simple.

The ever-shifting nature of the refugee presence in Europe presents its own issues. For example, the U.N.’s refugee agency in Greece told VOA that as refugees moved from camps into urban settings, helping provide internet services would become even more difficult.

Meanwhile, the slow adaption of many European states to harnessing this tech talent and enthusiasm — for example, in its slow, bureaucratic funding methods — may, to varying extents, be influenced by the politics of the refugee crisis.

A distant prospect

Thousands still languish on the islands and face deportation until their asylum interviews are held.

FILE - A child at Vial centre on the Greek Island of Chios. Conditions at the camp have prompted protests in the past.
FILE - A child at Vial centre on the Greek Island of Chios. Conditions at the camp have prompted protests in the past.

When it comes to the asylum process, Greek authorities are perceived as more of an obstacle to the fair treatment of refugees than a partner to work with, RefuComm's Silvey said.

For her, the idea of integrating her services remains a distant prospect.

Silvey said she would not be discouraged, though, and is now hunting for funds to roll out her idea further, and aims to launch it in Italy.

And with a team made up mostly of refugees as volunteers, RefuComm doesn't lack the contact with beneficiaries that has plagued other tech solutions.

“Millennials are creating all these high-tech solutions, and then some old grandma comes up with a low-tech solution that works," quips Silvey, 56.

18 Hurt in London Subway Blast

Police vehicles line the street near Parsons Green tube station in London, Britain, Sept. 15, 2017.

Police vehicles line the street near Parsons Green tube station in London, Britain, Sept. 15, 2017.

 

At least 18 people were injured, many with burns, following a blast early Friday on a packed rush-hour commuter train in London that police are treating as a terrorism incident.

Armed police descended on the Parsons Green underground subway station after commuters reported an explosion and a fire. London police say an improvised explosive device was the source of the fire. The police say their investigation is being supported by input from MI-5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency.


British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson appealed for calm and said it was important not to speculate. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the British capital "will never be intimidated or defeated by terrorism."

Witnesses described a scene of panic.

Chris Wildish, a passenger on the train, said there was a "massive flash of flames" reaching to the top of the train, followed by the smell of chemicals. He said a number of schoolchildren were on the rush-hour train and they were knocked around as passengers panicked as they exited the train.

This is an image made from video showing burning items in underground train at the scene of an explosion in London, Sept. 15, 2017.
This is an image made from video showing burning items in underground train at the scene of an explosion in London, Sept. 15, 2017.

Photos taken inside the train show a white plastic bucket inside a supermarket shopping bag. Flames and what appear to be wires can be seen.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted early Friday, "Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!"

 


It was the fifth suspected terrorist attack in London in six months. British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to chair a government emergency meeting Friday.

In this image made from video, a policeman cordons off an area near the scene of an explosion in London Sept. 15, 2017.
In this image made from video, a policeman cordons off an area near the scene of an explosion in London Sept. 15, 2017.

Former Georgian Leader, Ukraine President Face Off in Charged Political Standoff

Former Georgian president and ex-governor of Ukraine's Odessa region Mikhail Saakashvili, second right, signs a protocol on border crossing at a hotel in Lviv, Ukraine, Sept. 12, 2017.

Former Georgian president and ex-governor of Ukraine's Odessa region Mikhail Saakashvili, second right, signs a protocol on border crossing at a hotel in Lviv, Ukraine, Sept. 12, 2017.

 

Former governor of Odessa and onetime Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was served Tuesday with a legal notice to appear before a Ukrainian court to explain why he broke through a cordon of police and border guards to enter the country from Poland.

The legal move adds more drama to a weeks-long political standoff roiling Ukraine between the country's president, Petro Poroshenko, and his onetime ally, Saakashvili, who was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship in July by the government.

Saakashvili, who claims Poroshenko revoked his citizenship illegally after the two fell out, has now sworn to rally opposition parties behind him. He and a rowdy group of supporters, that included five Ukrainian lawmakers, forced their way through the Polish-Ukrainian border Sunday after the authorities tried to deny him entry at other crossing points, first arguing his documents were invalid, and then halting a train he was traveling because of an alleged bomb threat.

FILE - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks at a press conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, July 18, 2017.
FILE - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks at a press conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, July 18, 2017.

After breaking through a police cordon at the Shehyni border crossing, Saakashvili made his way to a hotel in nearby Lviv and — with opposition leaders Yulia Tymoshenko, a former Ukrainian prime minister, and Andriy Sadovy, looking on — he said he planned to rally Poroshenko's political opponents and help them unseat the Ukrainian president over failed promises to reform the country.

Saakashvili says he is not seeking the presidency for himself, but wants to see his former friend, Poroshenko, voted out of office at the next elections, scheduled in 2019.

"I am fighting against rampant corruption, against the fact that oligarchs are in full control of Ukraine again, against the fact that Maidan has been betrayed," Saakashvili said at a press conference, referring to the anti-government protests that saw pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych ousted from power.

In a country that, in the past four years, has witnessed high political drama, invasion and war — from the ouster of a Moscow-backed president by popular street protests to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin fomenting of conflict and separatism in the Donbas in the east of the country — Sunday's circus-like incident may seem minor by comparison.

But the clash between the friends-turned-foes is adding to a sense of alarm in the country and undermines Poroshenko's argument that Ukraine is slowly but surely stabilizing and establishing the rule of law, according to analysts.

Poroshenko has said Saakashvili will have to face a court for his illegal crossing.

"This is a state security issue," the Ukrainian president said in a video address Monday. "I don't care who breaks the state border: fighters in the east, or politicians in the west. There should be direct legal accountability."

From friends to foes

Saakashvili received Ukrainian citizenship in 2015 from Poroshenko when the president made him governor of Odessa, hoping he would help with the reform of Ukraine following the Maidan uprising. But the hard-charging Saakashvili and Poroshenko, who were old friends from university days, soon fell out.

The Georgian accused Poroshenko of abetting corruption; Poroshenko said Saakashvili had failed to deliver any real change as governor and alleged he had lied on his citizenship application form by leaving out information about possible corruption charges he could face in his native country of Georgia. Revoking citizenship rendered Saakashvili stateless, as Georgia revoked his Georgian citizenship when he became a Ukrainian.

"I think Poroshenko made a mistake inviting Saakashvili in the first place," said political scientist Oleksy Garan, a professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. "He was invited because he was viewed as a successful reformer in Georgia. But he is a man of PR stunts. He didn't perform his job well and he appeared very destabilizing and the two men clashed badly."

Like many legal experts, Garan says the revocation of Saakashvili's citizenship may be justified legally. "But from the moral and political point of view, it looked bad. The corruption investigation in Georgia was known about and everyone just turned a blind eye to it before Poroshenko used it to get rid of him," he said. "Saakashvili's antics now are playing into Russian hands — Moscow is now saying this shows how Ukraine is a failed state and chaotic."

Saakashvili's own popularity ratings in the polls are low, with under two percent of Ukrainians viewing him favorably. But populist sentiments he is beginning to trigger could be used by other opposition leaders and used against Poroshenko, analysts warn.

Saakashvili's supporters say they believe the court papers were served on him in Lviv in an effort to prevent the former Georgian president from traveling to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, something he has threatened to do. On Tuesday, Saakashvili said he would tour Ukraine's biggest cities to rally support before heading to Kyiv.

He argues he committed no offense by crossing into Ukraine, claiming he was carried by his supporters through the checkpoint and that can't be considered an "illegal breakthrough." Saakashvili also claims he has applied for asylum, and asylum applicants are exempt from penalties for border crossings with invalid papers.

Login