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News in Brief: Guarding Indonesia’s Islamic Heritage

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  • Zafar Khan
    Guarding Indonesia’s Islamic Heritage http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1243825129330&pagename=Zone-English-News/NWELayout JAKARTA
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 7 8:45 AM
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      Guarding Indonesia’s Islamic Heritage


      JAKARTA — In his Jakarta home, Tahir Harahap has a most precious possession: a collection of ancient Islamic manuscripts found in a cave in the remote region of Central Java, illuminating hidden pages of the history of Islam in Indonesia.
      "The manuscripts used to belong to a religious guru of an Islamic boarding school in Central Java," Tahir, a 71-year-old retired government official, told IslamOnline.net.

      "I got them from someone in 1985 through bartering."

      The treasure is comprised of enormous manuscripts, books and copies of the Noble Qur’an dating back to hundreds of years ago.

      Islamic Manuscripts (Watch)

      This includes eighty books and manuscripts on Islamic fiqh, tasfir (explanation of Qur’an meaning), Islamic history, literature and Arabic linguistics.
      Other documents contain written Friday prayer sermons and lectures.

      The manuscripts are written in various local languages such as Malay, Madurese, Sundanese and Javanese.

      Some are even written in Arabic including one of the 22 copies of the Muslim holy book, which was made in the sixteenth century.

      "I believe this Qur’an is originally Arab," said Tahir, carefully showing a very old brown-dusted hard-covered Qur’an.

      The second page of the holy book copy states its writing date as the year 895 Hijri.

      The Southeast Asian nation of Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation with a population of 220 million.

      Around 85 percent of the Indonesians follow Islam.

      National Treasure

      Recognizing the importance of his possession, Tahir felt obliged to hand the collection over to Indonesia’s Islamic manuscripts museum Beit al-Qur’an.

      "Before I die, I would like to donate those documents to the museum for the sake of Islam and knowledge."

      He contacted the Ministry of Religious Affairs which sent a team of researchers to his house to examine the manuscripts.

      But after copying and digitizing the documents, the researchers decided to leave them in Tahir’s possession.

      "For the time being, we are only documenting the manuscripts until we have proper space to place them," Alfan Firmanto, the leader of the researchers' team, told IOL.

      "We will let the collector keep maintaining the document."

      Alfan insists that Tahir’s case is not unique, as many others all across Indonesia have similar priceless manuscripts that tell hidden pages of the country's Islamic heritage and history.

      "For example, the history tells us that the arrival of Islam was in 13th century. But we have found that Muslim traders had been in Barus and North Sumatra since seventh century."

      The ministry conducted a research from 2003 until 2005 that found about 300 Islamic manuscripts scattered with collectors in Indonesia.

      "It’s a proof that Islam was mushrooming widely across Nusantara," Alfan said, referring to the Indonesian archipelago.

      For Tahir, nothing would make him happier than having his treasure for some more time.

      "As a Muslim, I have an obligation to do so," he said.

      "To be honest, I feel getting a blessing from Allah by taking care of these manuscripts."

      The Gaza Tunnel Scam


      For years, a network of underground smugglers' routes from Egypt to the Gaza Strip has supplied a besieged population with everything from cement to cattle. But now a series of major scams has destroyed the dreams of desperate investors who saw the tunnels as a path out of poverty

      Jawad Tawfiq, a 52-year-old Gazan actor and director, was dubious at first, but his nephew insisted. If they could scrape together enough money, the nephew said, large profits could be made from investing in the tunnels that snake beneath the Egyptian border.

      "They were liars," Tawfiq said bitterly last week. "They took my money to put in their own pockets. And we are being offered a fraction of what we gave them."

      At first the tunnels emerged as smuggling routes; then they became the vital lifeline for a Gaza under economic siege by Israel. But many people who invested in the tunnels now see them quite differently - as a source of ruination.

      A powerful rebuke to Israel's enemies


      Surrounded by the barbed wire of Buchenwald concentration camp, Barack Obama laid a white rose on a memorial to the 56,000 people murdered there by the Nazis yesterday. The US President, on his first ever visit to a concentration camp, and the first by any American President to Buchenwald, described it as the "ultimate rebuke" to Holocaust deniers.

      World's Gulen Brotherhood


      Farzana Samiha, 14, speaks Turkish fluently and knows about the Muslim-majority country nearly as mush as she knows about her own homeland Bangladesh, thanks to her school which is inspired by influential scholar Fethullah Gulen.
      "I love Turkey and it's a language that lots of people speak," Samiha, who recently participated in the annual Turkish Language Olympics in Istanbul, told Reuters on Sunday, June 7.

      Samiha is one of thousands of students worldwide who study in some 500 schools associated with the brotherhood known as the "Fethullahcilar", or disciples of Fethullah, in some 115 countries worldwide.

      During the Olympics, which ended last week, some 700 children from across the world competed in singing, poetry reciting and prose composition in Turkish.
      Nearly all the competitors are students of schools set up by a global network of millions of followers of the Turkish preacher and author.

      The schools, spreading from Poland to Nigeria, often perform much better than local state schools and offer extensive scholarships.

      Gulen, 71, is leader of the international faith-based Gulen social movement, whose ideology is described as a modernized version of Sunni Islam.

      The movement condemns terrorism, supports interfaith dialogue and emphasizes the role of science.

      Reclusive Gulen, who is living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, has authored over 60 books and many articles.

      He has been the subject of several academic studies.

      A recent conference was held at the House of Lords, under the sponsorship of the London School of Economics and the University of London, to study him and his movement.

      Last year, American Foreign Policy magazine placed him at the top of its list of the world's Top 20 Public Intellectuals.

      Many in Turkey are impressed by the huge success of the Gulen-inspired schools, even the country’s elite secularists, who are not at ease with the man.

      "It would be unfair not to write that I am totally impressed with the climate of brotherhood created by these children who have been educated in the community's schools," wrote columnist Ahmet Hakan in the secularist newspaper Hurriyet.

      Gulen's teachings have inspired millions of Turks to dedicate their time and money to groups active in publishing, charity and above all education.

      Others praise the schools for offering a Muslim face for Turkey, the predominantly Muslim country that has been run as a secular state since 1923.

      "The world doesn't see Turkey as a Muslim or a religious country, they see it as a bridge country between East and West," Turkish language teacher Leyla Kayumova, who works in Arizona, told Reuters.

      But despite the admiration and successes, some secularists suspect a secret agenda behind the schools.

      Gulen has long been revered and reviled in his home country.

      To members of the Gulen movement, he is an inspirational leader who encourages a life guided by moderate Islamic principles.

      To his detractors, he represents a threat to Turkey’s secular order.

      Ozcan Keles, head of the Gulen-inspired Dialogue Society in London, defends the movement.

      "The sheer scale of the movement and the diversity of the countries in which it operates makes it impossible to substantiate the argument that Gulen is at the centre controlling things," said Keles.

      "If you have a secret agenda to overthrow the secular Turkish state, why open a school in Madagascar?"

      Father and son held after 'ricin find'


      A father and son were being held today under the Terrorism Act after the discovery of traces of what is thought to be the deadly poison ricin at the house of a suspected white supremacist.

      Why a non-Muslim should know the Koran?


      The Qur'an is undeniably a book of great importance even to the non-Muslim, perhaps more today than ever, if that is possible. One aspect of Islam that is unexpected and yet appealing to the post-Christian secular mind is the harmonious interplay of faith and reason. Islam does not demand unreasoned belief. Rather, it invites intelligent faith, growing from observation, reflection, and contemplation, beginning with nature and what is all around us. Accordingly, antagonism between religion and science such as that familiar to Westerners is foreign to Islam.

      This connection between faith and reason enabled Islamic civilization to absorb and vivify useful knowledge, including that of ancient peoples, whereby it eventually nursed Europe out of the Dark Ages, laying the foundation for the Renaissance. When Europe got on its cultural feet and expelled Islam, however, the European mind was rent by the inability of the Christian church to tolerate the indivisibility of the sacred and the secular that characterized Islam and had enabled Islamic civilization to develop natural science and abstract art as well as philosophy and social science. The result was a painful, ill-fated divorce between science and religion in Europe, one whose consequences have adversely affected the entire world.

      In the post-Christian West, where thinking people, including scientists themselves once more, are seeking solutions to the difficulties created by the Christian divorce between religion and science, the Qur'an offers a way to explore an attitude that fully embraces the quest for knowledge and understanding that is the essence of science, while at the same time, and indeed for the same reasons, fully embraces the awe, humility, reverence, and conscience without which "humankind does indeed go too far in considering itself to be self-sufficient" (Qur'an 96:6-7).

      Malaysia's PAS Balance to Woo non-Muslims


      KUALA LUMPUR — Striking a balance between ulema (religious scholars) and professionals, Malaysia's Islamic party PAS on Saturday, June 6, voted scholars in the party's top posts and professionals for the decision-making committee, a move seen to lure non-Muslims' support.
      "The Ulema are still powerful ... the results show that, " Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia specialist at Johns Hopkins University, told Reuters.

      "The delegates voted for a deputy president who they felt more represented the party's interests."

      In a three-way heated contest, Nasharudin Mat Isa, a 47-year-old Shari`ah scholar, retained his post as party's deputy president, defeating one of the party's most prominent reformist figures Husam Musa.

      Nasharudin secured 480 votes against 281 to Husam, 49-year-old Kelantan state executive councilor.

      Three scholars were also elected to the three vice-president posts.

      The party's three wings, that held its election on Thursday, also saw the return of scholars candidates for all top three top posts.

      With nearly one million members, PAS is the main opposition party in the predominantly-Muslim south Asian nation.

      PAS is one of three parties in the opposition People's Alliance, led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.


      Though scholars controlled PAS's top posts, professionals managed to control the party's decision-making committee.

      Delegates voted in 11 professionals and seven scholars to the party's 18-seat decision-making central committee.

      "If you see the combination, it is clerics and professionals," said Nasharudin.

      "It is a manifestation of what the members want - PAS to consist of a collective leadership."

      Observers note that this combination would help the party achieve its goal of luring more non-Muslims.

      It also could help get more non-Muslims in multiracial Malaysia vote for the Islamic party.

      "I think they will be able to make more inroads in the next election because the moderates are seen," Mazni Buyong, an independent political analyst, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

      Thanks to a series of inclusive moves, support for PAS among non-Muslims has grown significantly with large numbers of Chinese and Indians joining its ranks.

      Non-Muslims have also enthusiastically campaigned for the party during last year's elections in which PAS maintained control of the Kelantan state and won two others, with significant Chinese and Indian concentrations.

      Muslim Malays form about 60 percent of the 26-million population of multiracial Malaysia.

      Christians make up around 9.1 percent of the population, including a Catholic population of nearly 800,000.

      Buddhists and Hindus constitute 19.2 and 6.3 percent of the population respectively.

      Jaafar Nimeiri
      Sudanese president who confirmed his land as 'Africa's most dysfunctional country'


      United Arab Emirates confronts stereoypes in Venice Biennale debut

      Emerging artists from the United Arab Emirates are aiming to show the state gets irony – by mocking its reputation for glitz and growth


      Think about art and the United Arab Emirates and you are perhaps likely to think of grandiose museums mushrooming on Saadiyat Island or of wealthy sheikhs buying European and American art as if it were going out of fashion. But two new exhibitions at the Venice Biennale aim to end the stereotypes and prove that the UAE has homegrown artists the equal of any in the world.

      The biennale – which is uneasily organised around the idea of countries competing to show the best exhibitions – has always mirrored the shifts of world economics and politics.

      Two editions ago, in 2005, the first Chinese exhibition was unveiled. Last year, Africa had a pavilion. Now it is the turn of the Arab world to make its debut at the biennale, with an exhibition hosted by the UAE and a separate show from Abu Dhabi.

      Tiger Woods' pride dented as Dubai course hits bunker

      The first golf course in the world bearing the world No1's name has been hit by the credit crunch


      Thousands protest in Indian Kashmir


      Thousands of people have demonstrated in India-administrated Kashmir, accusing Indian soldiers of raping and murdering two women.

      At least 40 people were injured when protesters clashed with police on Thursday, following the death of a man who had been injured in violence earlier in the week.

      Protesters marched through the city of Srinagar, carrying the body of Nisar Ahmad, who had been hit on the head by a teargas shell fired by police.

      "Indian forces go back, we want freedom," they shouted.

      Shops, business and government offices were closed in much of Kashmir for the fourth day of a strike called by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Kashmir's main separatist alliance.

      Thousands of government troops patrolled the streets in Srinagar and other major towns.

      Bodies recovered

      More than 250 people have been wounded in protests since Saturday, when authorities recovered the bodies of a 17-year-old girl and her 22-year-old sister-in-law in a shallow stream in Shopian, 60km south of Srinagar.

      Police have said the women appear to have drowned, but their families and locals accuse Indian government forces of raping and killing them.

      Omar Abdullah, Indian Kashmir's most senior elected official, has ordered a judicial investigation into the deaths.

      Human rights groups and separatist leaders have in the past accused the Indian military of human rights violations, including rape and extrajudicial killings.

      A majority of Kashmiris favour independence from India or a merger with Pakistan.

      Kashmir is divided between the two neighbours, and both claim the region in its entirety.

      Separatist groups have been fighting since 1989 to end Indian rule. More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the uprising.

      Robert Fisk: Could it be al-Qa'ida is missing Bush?


      President Barack Obama was received in the Middle East with the usual grovelling Saudi plea for help in taming the Israelis and an incendiary threat from Osama bin Laden that America will pay the price for his role in displacing a million Muslim refugees in Pakistan. It wasn't difficult to see why Obama warned the world not to expect too much from his attempt to "create a better dialogue" with Muslims.

      Bin Laden was probably 1,300 miles to the north of Obama when the US President landed in Riyadh yesterday for his meeting with King Abdullah but, as usual, Bin Laden's words were a good deal more direct than those of the fawning Saudis. By his support for the Pakistani army's assault on the Taliban in Waziristan, Obama had "sown new seeds of hatred against America" and was "laying the foundation for long wars ahead". With his normal flourish, Bin Laden added that he "warned the American people... that they will suffer the consequences of his actions".

      Could it be, perhaps, that Bin Laden is beginning to miss old George Bush and his "war on terror", that the ever smiling Barack Obama is beginning to stick in Bin Laden's craw, that the fractional improvement in US-Arab relations is beginning to be a little irksome – or that, by some awful mischance – Obama actually might tame the colonial ambitions of Israel? Ironically it was Madeleine Albright – writing with the usual pomposity but with almost bin Laden-like directness in the New York Times – who also spotted that no Obama speech, "however eloquent, can disentangle US-Muslim relations from the treacherous terrain of current events such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan..."

      India outraged as Pakistan court frees 'Mumbai plotter'


      India has angrily levelled fresh accusations at the Pakistani authorities after a court in Lahore ruled that a hardline Islamic cleric alleged to have been behind the Mumbai attacks should be set free.

      The Lahore High Court said the Pakistani government had no right to continue with the house detention of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the head of a charity that has been described as a front for the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). The Pakistani authorities said they would appeal against the decision at the Supreme Court.

      But India seized on the incident yesterday, saying it underlined the unwillingness of Islamabad to deal with those accused over last November's attacks. "We are unhappy that Pakistan does not show the degree of seriousness and commitment that it should to bring to justice perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack," said India's Home Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram.

      While Pakistan has taken into custody and charged several of those blamed for the attacks in Mumbai that left 166 dead, it has not brought any such charges against Mr Saeed. It has, however, held him under house arrest and closed down some of the offices of his charity, Jamaat-ud-Dawa. It has also repeatedly insisted that India has not been forthcoming with sufficient evidence to prosecute the alleged plotters.

      Archbishop Tutu warns Middle East key to world's problems
      If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved no other problems in the world will ever be solved, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told an audience at the Hay Festival last night.


      The Archbishop told a packed group at the literature festival, in mid Wales.

      "If we don't solve that problem (the conflict in Palestine) you can give up on all other problems.

      "You can give up on nuclear disarmament, on ever winning a war against terror. You can give up any hope of our faiths ever working really amicably and in a friendly way together.

      "This is the problem and it's in our hands."

      Archbishop Tutu said: "I think the West feels a deep, deep shame for what it did or didn't do during the Holocaust and I think that's right. You jolly well ought to feel that shame.

      "But then the penance has been paid, not by the West but it's been paid by the Palestinians."

      He said that a recent trip to Gaza had brought back memories of his fight against apartheid in South Africa.

      "One of the reasons God put South Africa as an example of success was to give the world some tangible notice that there's no situation that is totally intractable, so the world would have to say 'if they can do it in South Africa then they can do it anywhere'," he said.

      Haroubi's tree is a symbol of a people's changing fortunes


      Mohammed Haroubi's tree sits in a traffic island. An inner tube hangs from one branch while electricity cables snake through the others. Iron stakes have been driven into the tree's trunk on which hang religious signs announcing "God is great" in green and white.

      Some people call Haroubi the "old man". Others call him the "wallee" – an affectionate nickname. According to legend he fell asleep under its branches and never woke. He seemed at peace, so when locals found him he was buried where he died.

      Ask how old the tree is and the few who are old enough to remember back to the days of the Egyptian Mandate say their fathers and grandfathers knew the tree but not the man. Haroubi, the story goes, had been dead for centuries by then. Locals say he was the servant of Sheikh Hashem, the prophet's grandfather – after whom the nearby mosque is named – and came with him from "India".

      They tell tales associated with Haroubi's "tamour" tree that have grown to mythical status. One tells how an Israeli officer at the beginning of the occupation of Gaza in 1967 wanted to cut it down, but was warned by a resident he would die if he touched it. The officer thought better of it.

      When the municipality, digging a new water pipe, came too close to it the tree threw down a heavy branch to break the truck, another story goes. There are some who come to take its bark for ailments, believing Haroubi to bring good luck.

      Israel debates 'loyalty' law


      The Israeli parliament has passed a preliminary reading of a bill that would mandate the imprisonment of anyone who calls for the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, according to the Jerusalem Post newspaper.

      The bill was passed on Wednesday by the Knesset with the support of 47 members, or MKs.

      Thirty-four MKs opposed and one abstained, the daily said.

      Sponsored by Zevulun Orlev, an Israel Beiteinu MK, the bill stipulates one-year imprisonment of any person who makes "such public statement".

      The bill is part of two draft laws proposed by the Israel Beiteinu.

      The first is the Loyalty Oath Law that obliges all Palestinian Israelis to pledge allegiance to the Jewish identity of the state.

      The second is the Nakba Law, which bans commemoration of the 1948 dispossession of the Palestinians as a result of the creation of Israel.

      Israel Beitenu, led by Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, grew to be Israel's third largest political party in the February election, reflecting a shift to the right by the Israeli public.

      'Rights in jeopardy'

      Aljazeera's senior political analyst Lamis Andoni said the two bills will jeopardise the rights of Palestinian Israelis.

      "The two bills, if finally ratified, would punish Palestinian Israelis, and delegitimise their existence inside Israel," she said.

      "It is considered a prelude to the expulsion of the Palestinian Arabs as advocated by many Israeli leaders."

      The Meretz Party, several Knesset members of the Labour Party and even three Likud members have opposed the principle of both bills.

      The bill has to pass three votes and a committee review before taking effect as a legislation.

      A similar bill was presented by Lieberman's deputies in 2007 but blocked by the parliament.

      EU: Muslims suffer discrimination


      Discrimination against Muslims in Europe is far more widespread than reported, with one in three affected, a European Union human rights agency has said.

      In a survey of Muslims in 14 EU member states, the Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) said a third of those questioned had been victims of discrimination in the past year, and 11 per cent had experienced a racially motivated crime.

      It also found that most incidents are not reported to the police, because the majority of Muslims believe nothing would be done about it.

      The agency is calling on European governments to increase awareness among Muslim populations on their rights and how to report crimes.

      The organisation found the highest level of discrimination occured in the workplace, which the agency said was "worrying".

      Deadly explosion at Iranian mosque


      An explosion in a mosque in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan has killed at least 19 people and wounded scores more, the official Islamic Republic news agency (Irna) says.

      The explosion struck the Amir al-Mohini mosque on Thursday in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan.

      "The bomb exploded at the time of evening prayer and killed a number of worshippers," Ali Mohammad Azad, the governor general of the province told reporters.

      "It was a terrorist attack and the bomb was exploded by a terrorist."

      About 80 people were taken to hospital with injuries.

      Al Jazeera's Alireza Ronaghi said the death toll was bound to rise as it was a very strong explosion.

      "The timing of the explosion was interesting, as today was a national day of mourning in Iran for the death of the Prophet Muhammad's daughter," he said.

      No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

      According to Irna, Ayatollah Abbas Ali Soleymani, Zahedan's prayer leader, told reporters that "one of the main persons involved [in the attack] had been arrested" and "he will soon be punished in front of the mosque".

      Malaysia ban on 'Allah' upheld


      US insists on settlement freeze


      Barack Obama has repeated his call for Israel to stop settlement construction after holding talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

      Declaring that Washington was a "stalwart ally" of Israel, the US president nonetheless said that "stopping settlements" was part of Israel's responsibility under the 2003 "road map" peace plan.

      He also reiterated his commitment to a Palestinian state, saying he was "a strong believer in a two-state solution" to the Middle East conflict.

      Obama's comments, made alongside Abbas at the White House on Thursday, came as Israel appeared to rebuff Washington's demand, made a day earlier, that it stop all settlement expansion without exception.

      Deadly protests rock Yemen's south


      At least four Yemenis, including a policeman, have been killed in two days of clashes between police and anti-government protesters.

      Another 13 people were wounded in the exchanges of fire on Saturday and Sunday, which followed demonstrations in the south of the nation against the Sanaa government, medics and police said.

      In one clash on Sunday in the village of Labouss, in Lahij province, a policeman and demonstrator were killed.

      Another protester was killed in Dali, north of the port of Aden, in south Yemen, when police used firearms to disperse the crowd.

      "One protester, Tufiq al-Jaadi, died while being operated on in hospital. He was hit by a bullet," medical sources said of the Dali incident.

      In al-Eind village, near Labouss, a third protester was killed in similar circumstances.

      Violence also occurred in a hospital when police attempted to arrest a demonstrator, causing injuries to two people.

      One demonstrator died in clashes with police on Saturday in the village of Ashehir, in the southeastern Hadramut region.

      Police raid sparks West Bank clash


      Three Palestinian police officers, two Hamas fighters and a bystander have been killed in a clash in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian security officials say.

      Sunday's confrontation is among the deadliest factional fighting since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

      Police from the Palestinian Authority (PA) carried out a dawn raid on a house in the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya in order to arrest the Hamas fighters, sparking a gun battle in the streets, police said.

      The two dead fighters were named as Mohammad Samman, the local commander, and Mohammad Yasin, a member, of Hamas's military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

      The owner of the house also died in the firefight.

      Witnesses said Samman and Yasin had taken refuge in the house.

      There were reports of curfew in Qalqilya but the PA denied its imposition.

      Uzbek unrest prompts border closure


      The border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan has been closed after an attack on a police station was reported in an Uzbek border region.

      A spokesman for the Kyrgyz interior ministry said there had been shooting on the Uzbek border post of Khanabad on Tuesday.

      "It is possible there are wounded," the spokesman told the news agency AFP.

      "From the Kyrgyz side of the border, trails of blood were seen in the area of the border crossing, located in the territory of the neighbouring state."

      The press service for the Kyrgyz Border Guard service said all traffic across the border was halted after a police post in Khanabad was attacked overnight. The press service said some deaths were reported.

      Residents of the nearby town of Andijan told Reuters news agency that armoured vehicles could be seen on the streets.

      Khanabad is in Andijan province, where Uzbek government forces opened fire on demonstrators in 2005. At least 187 people were killed, according to authorities, in the unrest.

      Bangladesh's toxic legacy


      They call it the devil's water.

      Much of Bangladesh's water contains dangerous quantities of arsenic, a toxic element that cripples human organs and can eventually lead to death.

      The country is now scrambling to reverse what the World Health Organisation (WHO) calls "the largest mass poisoning in history", but it will not be an easy task.

      Arsenic was commonly used as a poison in the 19th century, but in Bangladesh, it occurs naturally in the groundwater, which is pumped up by shallow tube wells.

      No one has the exact figures of the number of wells contaminated with arsenic. But according to Ruhul Haq, Bangladesh's health minister, more than 50 per cent of the population is affected by arsenic contamination - that is more than 80 million poisoned people.

      The truth about Malaysia

      The efforts of civil society and alternative media have strived to show Malaysia in its true, anti-democratic light


      Architects of autocracies would benefit tremendously from studying the Malaysian model. It stands as a shining example of how, given the right combination of greed, ambition, maladministration and contempt for the rule of law, any democracy can be recast into an autocracy while preserving the veneer of democratic process.

      At the time of its independence in 1957, Malaysia's written constitution embedded the separation of powers and the freedoms so crucial to its checks and balances. But the vested interests of a hegemonic political elite has, over time, caused the system to mutate into one of rule by law that threatens the continued sustainability of the nation.

      This is easy enough for anyone to see. The statute books contain a plethora of anti-democratic laws that are designed for, and applied to, one end: the regulation of information and opinion. This has allowed the suborning of a voter base much weakened by a divisive system of race politics; voters already made to feel that they should be voting one way rather than the other are not given the means to make an informed choice. This has allowed a semblance of democracy, even though the democratic process has been subverted.
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