Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Finance Minister Sirajul Haq on Monday presented a tax-free budget with an outlay of Rs 344 billion for the upcoming fiscal year 2013-2014. Although no tax has been levied in the budget, the provincial government has proposed one percent tax on Afghan Transit Trade. The provincial government is going to establish the KP Revenue Authority to improve its receipts. A major chunk of the current revenue receipts in the KP budget for the financial year of 2013-2014 depends on receipts from the federal government. Presenting budget proposals in the provincial assembly, Haq said total outlay was 13.5 percent more than budgetary allocations for the outgoing financial year. The finance minister said there was a deficit of Rs 41 billion during the financial year of 2012-2013. Current revenue expenditures for fiscal year 2012-13 were estimated at Rs 303 billion but registered figures show Rs 261 billion only. However, more than a four billion rupees decline was registered in current revenue expenditures for 2012-13, he said. He further said a major portion of current expenditure would be consumed on social sectors which included Rs 22.807 billion allocated for health and Rs 66.608 billion for education. He said an amount of Rs 23.781 billion would be spent on the police force, Rs 3.122 billion on irrigation, Rs 1.972 billion on technical education, Rs 2.913 billion on agriculture, Rs 1.275 billion on environment and Rs 4.93 billion on communication and works. Giving details of current revenue receipts for the coming financial year, Haq said an amount of Rs 198.269 billion would be received from the federal divisible pool which, according to him, was 8 percent more than budgetary estimates for 2012-13. He said the KP government would receive an amount of Rs 23.823 billion from the federal government as compensation for terrorism affected public and private infrastructure in the ongoing war on terror. The federal government and all four federating units through National Finance Commission (NFC) agreed on payment of the said amount to KP in 2011-12, he added. Haq further said the province would receive an amount of Rs 27.495 billion as royalty on oil and gas, which according to him was 24 percent more than that of the outgoing financial year. The province would receive an amount of Rs 6 billion from General Sales Tax (GST) and an amount of Rs 8.559 billion from its own receipts during the financial year 2013-14, he said. Amidst desk thumbing by MPs from both treasury and opposition benches, the provincial finance minister said KP would receive an amount of 2.361 billion from its own established power houses. It would be the first ever income from the recently constructed power houses, he added. KP is engaged in construction of over 12 power houses and electricity generation dams, which might be completed in a couple of years. With completion of these power houses, the provincial government would be capable of combating the issue of energy crises, he stated. Haq said in 2013-14, the province would receive Rs 6 billion as hydel net profit and Rs 25 billion as arrears from the federal government. He said the provincial government expected Rs 35 billion from foreign projects assistance whereas an amount of Rs 723.5 million is expected from miscellaneous sectors. He further said the Rs 35 billion projected from foreign receipts included Rs 30.695 billion as grants and only Rs 4.304 billion was in loans on easy terms. Describing the current financial expenditures estimated for 2013-14, Haq said it included Rs 211 billion as current revenue expenditure, which he said was 10 percent more than the outgoing year. Like the recent past, a huge amount of resources is being spent on unproductive sectors. The finance minister in his budget speech said Rs 24 billion would be spent on pensions of retired government employees, Rs 2.5 billion for subsidy on wheat procurement and Rs 11.169 billion will be paid as mark-up on loans. RS 118B FOR ADP According to Haq, an amount of Rs 118 billion was earmarked for Annual Development Programme (ADP), which included Rs 83 billion for Provincial Development Programme, registering a 12 percent increase compared to budgetary estimates for the outgoing financial year. He said the amount would be consumed on 983 projects, including 609 that are underway, and 374 new schemes. The provincial finance minister also announced a number of welfare schemes and projects while presenting the budget. These schemes included work on welfare projects for blind and disabled people, schemes for welfare and development of women including provision of transportation facilities to teachers, establishment of Women Welfare Complex, handicrafts centers, and training centers for teachers of special children schools among others. He said the present government was determined to improve conditions of rehabilitation centers for beggars, Darul Kafala and drug addicts. In this respect an amount of Rs 492.8 million was allocated for execution of 31 projects. The provincial government will execute six projects for mother-child care with an estimated cost of Rs 224.8 million. Haq said an endowment fund of Rs 50 million would be established for the welfare of heirs of journalists who became victims of terrorism. Unique Points -Computerisation of land records -Police reforms against ‘Thana culture’ -Public can lodge FIR on telephone or the internet without going to the police station -Development of 11,000 villages -Construction of 10 small hydro power projects -Mobile courts announced for the entire province -Over 57 sports, culture and tourism projects to be initiated -Special package for Kalash valley’s minority community -Environment protection projects worth Rs 1.27 billion -Over 157 projects for road infrastructure development -Mass Transit System for Peshawar being planned -Subsidy of about Rs 2 billion reserved on wheat -Minimum pension up to Rs 5,000 from Rs 3,000 -Clean water projects to be completed -Peshawar to be made 'City of Flowers' -Green Peshawar Project announced to overhaul the city -Traffic projects to be completed within the fiscal year -Peshawar Uplift Project announced worth Rs 4 billion -Welfare projects for specials persons, educational institutes, beggars, women and kids Other vital measures -Security monitoring system comprising up to 500 monitors -Free medical treatment to 800 cancer and 26,000 TB patients - Interest-free loans ranging from Rs 50,000 to 200,000 -Position holding students to get scholarships -Rs 500 million allocated for Cancer patients -Rs 100 million set aside for Hepatitis patients -Rs 3 billion reserved for Education Emergency and Improvement Program -Minimum wage to be Rs 10,000
A number of services were brought into the existing tax net as the Sindh government on Monday unveiled a Rs 617.212 billion deficit budget for the financial year 2013-2014. The new fiscal plan, presented in a desk-thumping Sindh Assembly by Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, who also holds the portfolio of finance minister, envisaged a deficit of Rs 21.637 billion. This deficit is against FY13’s revised gap of Rs 16.510 billion that was budgeted at Rs 7.166 billion in the finance bill in June last year. The provincial government estimated its annual revenues and expenditures at Rs 595.575 billion and Rs 617.212 billion, respectively. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-dominated Sindh Assembly, which reassembled with a 75-minute delay at 4:15pm under the chairmanship of Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, also witnessed oath-taking of three newly-notified lawmakers- Dr Seemab, Waqar Shah and Haider Ali Shah Shirazi. Of the three lawmakers, the first two took the solemn oath in Urdu and the third one in Sindhi. Along with the Sindh Finance Bill 2013, the government also laid revised estimates for the budget of 2012-13. In a bid to expand its existing “insufficient” and “limited” sales tax base, the Sindh government, in the new budget, proposed removal of existing exemptions, increasing the rate of tax and including in the tax net “more items in the services sector”. Announcing not to increase the “standard” 16 percent rate of GST, the Sindh government tends to tax services of advertising agents, security agencies (by 10 percent), commodity brokers, marriage halls and lawns located on plots sized above 800 square yards, event management and public bonded warehouses. The federal government’s one percent increase in GST to 17 percent was termed by the chief minister as an “extra tax,” the impact of which would be inflationary. “This loss of revenue shall be sustained in order to provide relief to the ordinary consumers of Sindh through taxable services,” Shah said on the 1 percent hike in GST on services his government, unlike the PML-N-led federal government, was not imposing. The new services to be taxed are beauty parlors (to be taxed at “reduced” rate of 10 percent) having an annual turnover of up to Rs 3.6 million. In addition, race clubs would also be taxed. The constructors, on recommendation of Sindh chapter of the Constructors Association of Pakistan, are proposed to be taxed by 4 percent sans any input tax adjustments. The Sindh government also proposed an increase of 0.90 and 0.95 percent in the Special Development and Maintenance of Infrastructure tax which previously was being charged at a rate of 0.80 and 0.85 percent. “It is proposed to enhance the rate of tax… on various slabs of imports to facilitate additional funds to the government for meeting the cost of maintenance of infrastructure,” the chief minister said. The areas where taxes were proposed to be withdrawn include Bed Tax of 7.5 percent. “Hotels would continue to pay only the Sindh sales tax on their services,” the chief minister said. The property tax on the annual rental value of the buildings and lands was also suggested to be increased from 20 to 25 percent in FY14. From the new fiscal year, traders (importers and retailers) of “potable liquor” would have to pay Rs 0.8 million and Rs 0.5 million instead of Rs 0.6 million and Rs 0.35 million on account of licensing, respectively. The Sindh government also proposed “certain legislative arrangements” to provide specificity and clarity in law. Some contractual services, specified in the new finance bill, would also be liable to sales tax. Internet and broadband services would now be liable to pay tax as the new budget proposed to withdraw the existing exemption. Internet services of up to Rs 1,500 monthly would remain exempted to benefit students and households. Collection of utility bills by NADRA would also be exempted from taxation on the pattern of banks. These new fiscal measures are proposed to be taken to “supplement the national efforts for achieving the NFC-desired tax-to-GDP ratio of 15 percent by the terminal year 2014-15,” Shah said. Also, these would help his government tax the province’s services sector “equitably,” he added. “The provincial tax administration needs to be reformed and the tax base needs to be appropriately expanded,” he declared. SALIENT FEATURES OF THE NEW BUDGET: The government has allocated what Shah called a historically high Rs 185 billion to be used under the head of Annual Development Program (ADP). Total provincial development expenditure has been envisaged at Rs 229.937 billion, of which Rs 185 billion would be spent as ADP, Rs 29.557 billion as Foreign Project Assistance (FPA) and Flood Emergency Reconstruction Project, Rs 15.379 billion on account of other federal grants. The current revenue and current capital expenditures have been projected, respectively, at Rs 355.973 billion and Rs 31.302 billion for FY14. On the receipts side, the government expects to receive Rs 529.195 billion as current revenue receipts consisting mainly of federal transfers. The revenue assignment, straight transfers and grants to offset losses of abolition of Octroi Zilla Tax (OZT) are estimated to be fetching Rs 332.93 billion, Rs 67.12 billion and Rs 8.95 billion for the provincial government, respectively. The Sindh government projected its tax and non-tax receipts (other than on services) at Rs 49.370 billion and Rs 28.812 billion. The GST on services is envisaged to add Rs 42 billion to the provincial kitty. Under current receipts, including local repayments and loans, DPC/SWAP, World Bank, European Commission Grant and ADB funding, the government expects to receive over Rs 18.442 billion. Also, the government expects to receive Rs 44.937 billion as in other federal grants during FY14. Budget documents also show a carryover cash balance of Rs 5 billion on the receipts front. The receipts and disbursements under the head of provincial public accounts have been estimated at Rs 8 billion. To make the fiscal plan popular, at least among government employees, the government announced for a salary raise of 10 to 15 percent. Lower graded employees, from 1 to 15, would fall in the 15 percent slab while those working in 16 or above grade would get 10 percent increase. Also, the government set a minimum amount of monthly pension for the retired government servants at Rs 5,000. A 10 percent increment has been announced in the pension. “The focus of this budget is to ensure optimal utilisation of (available) resources,” the chief minister told legislators.
Expatriates who came to the Indian and Pakistani missions to rectify their status or return home said they were anxious as only 17 days are left before the amnesty deadline expires and that an extension to the July 3 deadline is needed. Muhammad Khan, a Pakistani worker who had come to the embassy to correct his status, told Arab News that many expatriates are panicking with just 17 days left before the amnesty period for undocumented workers ends. Another worker, Imran, who is working as a painter, said it will be tough to stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for even a short while as those hit by Nitaqat will be the target of the security personnel, who will raid workplaces as well as houses after the deadline. Muzafar Hussain, another distressed Pakistani worker, said, “We never thought we would face such a problem. It is not a simple issue as it involves many technicalities and standing in long queues outside the embassies in the scorching heat is not easy.” Zeeshan, an Indian worker, said, “The long queues in front of the embassy and Jawazat office are the real problem because of the heat. People asking for hefty charges to change status is also a worry.” Moeenuddin, community welfare attaché at the Pakistani embassy, said, “We have requested the Saudi authorities for an extension of the grace period so that our people can complete their procedures.”
A Taliban office, to act as a bridge between militants and the Afghan government in facilitating talks between the two, will open today (Tuesday) in Doha. A foreign television channel reported the news on Monday citing anonymous sources and giving no further details. Meanwhile, a Taliban spokesman in Kabul appeared oblivious to the development and was unable to confirm or deny the news. Talks have been underway since 2011 to open a Taliban office in Qatar. In April 2013, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the opening of a Taliban office in Doha could facilitate the peace process. Karzai had previously opposed a Taliban office in Qatar over fears that his government would be pushed out of any future peace deal involving the Islamic extremists and the United States (US) in case a Taliban office was opened in Qatar. But with the US-led NATO troops due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Karzai recently backed the proposed office in Doha.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday said the budget for fiscal year 2013-14 was prepared with the objective to give maximum relief to the common man and to stabilize the country's economy. Nawaz was talking to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who called on him here at the PM’s House. During the meeting, Dar briefed him about the parliament’s budget session and also apprised him that a comprehensive and constructive discussion on the budgetary proposals was taking place in both Houses of parliament. Nawaz was also briefed about various proposals and recommendations put forward by members of Parliament during debate on the budget. The PM praised the interest that the budget document has evoked among the members of parliament in particular and among public in general.
Punjab Finance Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman on Monday presented before the provincial assembly the budget for the fiscal year 2013-14 with a total outlay of Rs 897,569.311 billion with energy, health and education and infrastructure sectors getting the top slots. The provincial government also expressed its intention to introduce an agriculture tax with effect from the next year. It seemed that it was shying away from taking a tough decision so early in the day despite enjoying a heavy mandate in the province. According to the budgetary figures, the current expenditures for the year 2013-14 have been estimated at Rs 607,569.311 million while last year’s estimates were Rs 549,762.393 million. Of the total divisible pool, the Punjab government is expected to get Rs 702 billion as its share compared to last year’s Rs 568,769.226 billion, showing an increase of 23.5 percent. The Punjab government will have net tax receipts estimated at Rs 126,702,799 million while revenues from non-tax receipts will be Rs 43,129.872 million. The provincial government had to face a shortfall of Rs 98 billion in its share of divisible pool last year due to the federal government’s inability to meet its revenue collection target. According to the budget document, an important tax reform this year is a provision in the Finance Act whereby persons declaring agricultural income in their income tax return will be required to pay agriculture income tax to the Punjab government. The government has also announced taxes for houses on areas measuring two kanals and above. The estimated expenditures on the general public services, including transfers to the local governments are Rs 345,327.434 million, on Public Order and Safety Rs 92,718.858 million, Economic Affairs Rs 75,652.940 million, Environment Protection Rs 116.730 million, Housing and Community Amenities Rs 4,002.789 million, Health Rs 44,629.627 million, Recreational and Cultural and Religion Affairs Rs 1,334.779 million, Educational Affairs and Services Rs 40,596.539 million and Social Protection will get Rs 2,189.615 million. The budget includes a large annual development programme of Rs 290 billion. There has been significant increase in the allocation of Health and Education as well as for infrastructure development. According to government officials, about 25 percent of the budget is related to the education sector, most of which is usually consumed in salaries. In order to protect these two sectors, the government has allocated dedicated funds for health and education. The government has allocated over Rs 20 billion for various projects in the energy sector. It plans to introduce solar tube wells for small farmers to mitigate the effects of the energy crisis on this vital sector. Sector-wise allocations in ADP are: Education Rs 25,398 million, Water Supply and Sanitation Rs 10500 million, Social Protection Rs 2200 million, LG&CD Rs 1700 million, District Development Programme Rs 9800 million, Infrastructure Development Rs 92600 million, Production Sectors Rs 14225 million, Agriculture Rs 5500 million, Service Sectors Rs 14105 million, Special Programme/packages Rs 21750 million, District/TMA Development Programme Rs 14000 million, Special Programme/Initiatives was allocated Rs 8050 million.
An otherwise lackluster session of the Upper House of parliament on Monday returned lively with the members of the opposition benches reiterating their demands to the PML-N government to frame national strategies to counter terrorism and cyber war against Pakistani people waged by the US government and urging the government to bring the security establishment under the “civilian command” and under the “ambit of the law”. The House also had a brief debate over the Federal Budget 2013-14 and the members from the treasury and opposition members came up with their proposals to improve the finance bill. It was Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, who dropped a bombshell by claiming that after coming into power, the PML-N had decided to support the US war against terrorism – a policy the PML-N had been opposing during the past 13 years. He said though the PML-N had opposed the past governments’ policy of engagement with the US in the war on terror, but after coming to power they took a u-turn and were now supporting the same cause. “The PML-N has mentioned $1.2 billion under the coalition support fund (CSF). Accepting this amount is evidence that the (PML-N) government has assured the US of its cooperation in the war on terror,” he said. The PML-Q secretary-general termed the budget “anti-people which reflected the government’s policies of the status-quo”. He also outlined his six-point proposals for the finance minister, stating that a special fund should be set up for the victims of drone strikes and money should be allocated in the budget for the drone strikes-affected families and the injured. Mushahid said special funds should also be allocated in the budget under a programme to provide life insurance to working journalists, who he said were working in difficult conditions. “Rather than giving the FBR access to online accounts of bank account-holders, the FBR should be given access to the Swiss accounts and off-shore bank accounts in which ill-gotten money had been kept abroad in Switzerland and elsewhere.” Mushahid said Pakistani internet and phone users were a victim of the cyber aggression of the US which had launched a surveillance programme under the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor all email and phone communications of Pakistanis while their email accounts were being hacked. He said a cyber strategy should be framed to counter the US cyber aggression against Pakistani people and funds should be allocated in the budget to formulate a strategy to counter that. The PML-Q leader also called for allocation of funds to evolve a counter-terror strategy as the country was facing terrorism. He said a counterterrorism strategy should be formed taking all stakeholders, including civilian and military branches, on board. He also called for revival of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) which had contributed a lot under the leadership of Raza Rabbani. Usman Saifullah Khan of the PPP said difficult times needed difficult decisions. However, he lamented it was missing from the budget 2013-14. He said rather than increasing the general sales tax (GST), the government should have imposed a tax of Rs 10,000 each to the 32,000 potential tax evaders identified by the FBR which could have resulted into an additional Rs 32 billion into the national exchequer. PPP’s Khwaja Karim said the initiatives taken for youth by the federal government should be for all provinces and there should be no discrimination. He also demanded the GST increase be withdrawn. He said parliamentary democracy should be cemented and the civil-military coordination should be improved. Humayon Mandokhel said the GwadarPort's handing over to China was a good step and it would help the country become self-reliant. He said the facility of mortgage for housing sector would help revive the economy, adding that talks should be the way forward for resolution of the Balochistan problem and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should talk to Baloch national leaders.
Federal Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar on Monday announced that a joint investigation team had been formulated comprising officials from various spy agencies to investigate the incidents of terrorism in Ziarat Residency, women university bus bombing and Bolan Medical Center terrorism. Furthermore, the minister said that a new security paradigm would be announced soon. Elaborating further, he mentioned that the new security protocol would include provincial governments‚ political parties and security institutions. Some basic security policy outlines, he said, would be given in the new plan to curb repetition terrorist attacks. The minister said that the new security plan would be presented before members of the federal cabinet as well as the Parliament seeking improvement, if required. Furthermore, Khan said that a standard operating procedure had been prepared to safeguard national monuments in the country. He said the provincial governments would be responsible for improving and beefing up the security arrangements at the national monuments and federal government would also fully support in this regard. Nisar said that law and order was completely a provincial issue for which the provinces were responsible. However, he said that the federal government was ready to support them following requisition if needed. The minister maintained that the federal government was fulfilling its responsibility of intelligence sharing where needed and would share any such information with the provinces. The interior minister also announced the gallantry award for the deputy commissioner who was killed in the attack on Bolan Medical Complex. On terrorist strikes in Balochistan, the federal interior minister said that a joint investigation team had been formed which was now investigating the incidents of violence in the province. The minister added that two security guards posted at the Ziarat residency had been taken in for questioning. He questioned as to why guards had failed to inform the police upon hearing suspicious noises indicating that an attack was taking place. The minister said that a high-level meeting has been convened on June 20 and a security policy would be announced on the very next day. He assured the House that Jinnah’s residency would be renovated within three to four months.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who will visit Islamabad by the end of this month, on Monday assured Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Obama administration’s cooperation with the new government in Pakistan and sought his support for the success of the Afghan reconciliation process. US Secretary of State is expected to visit Islamabad on June 26 on his first trip after the formation of Pakistan Muslim-League (PML-N) government and according to diplomatic sources, Afghanistan reconciliation process and drone strikes in Pakistani tribal regions would top his agenda for talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other senior authorities. “Pakistani authorities will ask Secretary Kerry for halt on drone strikes on grounds that these assaults are counterproductive and breach of Pakistan sovereignty,” a diplomatic source seeking anonymity said. He said that the US secretary of state could be offered Pakistan’s support in eliminating militant hideouts in tribal regions in exchange for his government putting an end to drone strikes. The Foreign Office said that Secretary of State Kerry telephoned the Prime Minister on Sunday. “During the call, Secretary Kerry conveyed his felicitations on the assumption of office as prime minister of Pakistan,” said a foreign office statement. “He reaffirmed the importance of Pakistan–US bilateral relations for enduring peace and stability in the region. Secretary Kerry reassured that the US Administration remained steadfast in supporting the new democratic government in Pakistan,” the statement said. The prime minister thanked Secretary Kerry for the felicitations and reiterated his government’s resolve to further consolidate and strengthen relations with the US on the basis of mutual trust and mutual respect. The prime minister underscored the need to strengthen strategic dialogue between the two countries. He also emphasized on the importance of regular high level exchanges between the two sides in order to build on mutual interests and shared goals. The prime minister and Secretary Kerry also discussed the regional situation. Secretary Kerry provided an update on the recent developments and expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s positive role in advancing peace and stability in the region, according to foreign office statement. An official seeking anonymity said that during the telephonic conversation, the US secretary sought the help of Nawaz’s government for the success of peace dialogue between Washington, Kabul and the Mullah Omar-led Afghan Taliban. “Secretary Kerry said that Pakistan’s role is vital for the success of efforts being made to bring peace and stability back to Afghanistan,” the official said.
- Houses measuring two kanals and above taxed Rs 0.5m, while Rs 1.5m tax for houses exceeding eight kanals size
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government on Monday revealed a huge deficit over RS 35 billion in its budgetary estimates for the financial year of 2012-2013. However, KP Finance minister Siraj Ul Haq, in his budget speech before the provincial assembly, said that the real deficit inherited stood at Rs 41 billion. The finance minister said that the KP government, upon assuming office, had been able to recover Rs 6 billion from the Current Revenue Receipts of 2012-2013 of the previous government. While the finance minister did not go into further details of the deficit, he complained that the provincial government had not received any cooperation from the federal government, including living up to the promises made through National Finance Commission (NFC). Furthermore, he alleged that the federal government had also failed making payments of Hydel Net profits not only in the current financial year but also in the financial year of 2011-2012. Going into budget documents, he explained that the provincial government had saved a huge sum of Rs 8 billion in the Annual Development Program (ADP). The allocation of ADP consumed about 90 percent of the budget. The documents confirmed around Rs 13 billion of shortfalls in the receipts of foreign aid services. The previous government projected an amount of Rs 23.258 billion from foreign services during 2012-2013 but in revised estimates, it was registered to the tune of Rs 10.759 billion. Though the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led coalition government made a huge increase in budgetary allocation for health and education sectors, it ignored the police force in budgetary proposals for coming financial year. The finance minister said that an amount of Rs 23.781 billion was earmarked for the police department. Ironic to mention that in former finance minister Engineer Humayoon Khan in his all five budget speeches from 2008 till 2012 had appreciated the police force for its heroic role against terrorists and militants. But Siraj Ul Haq said nothing about importance of the police force in maintaining law and order and combating the trends of violence and terrorism. However, the PTI-led coalition government had proposed 15 percent increase in salaries of government employees and similar raise in pension of retired employees. The government also fixed minimum wage at Rs 10,000. At the same time, the finance minister made promises of around 50 percent reduction in expenditures of chief minister’s offices and other official buildings. The provincial government also banned treatments of political figures in hospitals. However, the chief minister would approve foreign treatment for those who required it on grounds of lacking facilities and requirements at home.
Pakistan High Commissioner to Malaysia Shahid Masroor Gul Kiani said Malaysian companies are seriously looking to explore business and investment opportunities in Pakistan. “We have spent the last few weeks holding a series of talks with Malaysian trade officials and captains of various industries and the response to our offer to visit Pakistan and explore possibilities of joint ventures and business collaborations has been extremely positive,” he said while commenting on the announcement by the Malaysian government to send a strong delegation of 30 Malaysian companies to participate in Expo Pakistan 2013 to be held later this year. According to a message received from Kuala Lumpur on Monday, the high commissioner welcomed participation of MATRADE in Expo Pakistan and assured Malaysian companies that there is immense business potential in Pakistan in various sectors, especially in the wake of signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries effective since January 2008. “The b2b sessions during the event would allow Malaysian businessmen to weigh potential deals with their Pakistani counterparts,” he said, adding “the government of Pakistan would provide foolproof security to all foreign visitors including Malaysians”. Last year, the Malaysian delegation was the biggest of all foreign contingents signalling interest of Malaysian companies to realise the full benefits of the FTA, he added. The high commissioner’s statement followed a news report carried by Malaysia’s state-owned news agency Bernama quoted Malaysia’s trade official Noraslan Hadi Abdul Kadir as saying that Malaysian businessmen were set to explore business and investment opportunities in Pakistan, given the openness and the vast scope for joint ventures- particularly in the halal food and refineries, in the country. “Pakistan is strong in agriculture, such as basmati rice, mango and seafood and offers more potential in expanding seafood exports,” said Noraslan Hadi Abdul Kadir in a recent interview focusing on bilateral trade between Pakistan and Malaysia. He said Pakistan businesses were open to joint ventures, especially for refineries. “They import a lot of palm oil and there is a huge demand for refinery business and Pakistan wants to tap Malaysia’s expertise,” he said. Pakistan’s edible oil consumption is about 3.2 million tonnes annually, of which, palm oil accounted for 65 percent or between 2 and 2.1 million tonnes. Last year, Malaysian palm oil met 73 per cent of Pakistan’s edible oil requirements while in the first five months this year, it dropped to 60 percent. Noraslan also listed pharmaceutical, medical tourism and Islamic banking industries as other areas of interest for joint ventures. “As for medical tourism, Pakistan is hopeful Malaysian companies would invest aggressively as there was a huge demand for it,” he said. Against this backdrop, he said a 30-member delegation comprising Malaysian companies would participate in Expo Pakistan 2013 in September. “I have also invited them to partake in Intrade Malaysia 2013 to be held in November,” Noraslan said, adding Intrade would give Pakistani businessmen the opportunity to explore areas of potential for export. He said the trade imbalance currently in favour of Malaysia was of concern for Pakistan which was looking to increase its exports to Malaysia and Intrade was a good platform to get potential customers or clients. Bilateral trade stood at $2.1 billion last year. Exports amounted to a whooping $1.83 billion while imports stood at only $250 million. Malaysia’s major exports to Pakistan are palm oil, chemical and chemical products, electrical and electronic products, machinery, appliances and parts, as well as, textiles and clothing. Malaysia mainly imports cereal, textiles and clothing, seafood (fresh, chilled and frozen), refined petroleum products and, chemical and chemicals products.
As many as 39,000 new consumers will get gas supply and around 350 new towns and villages will get gas networks during the fiscal year 2013-14. According to the budget document, gas utility companies have planed to invest Rs 17,437 million on transmission projects, Rs 27,265 million on distribution projects, and Rs 11,165 million on other projects, bringing the total investment to Rs 55,867 million during the fiscal year 2013-14. While during July-Feb 2012-13, two gas utility companies (SNGPL and the SSGC) laid 14 km gas transmission networks, 4,326 km distribution and 831 km services lines and connected 261 villages and towns to gas. During this period, the gas utility companies invested Rs 1513 million on transmission projects and Rs 1,898 million on other projects bringing total investment to about Rs 15,336 million. During this period, 237,588 additional gas connections including 236,997 domestic, 221 commercial and 370 industrial were provided across the country. Moreover, the document reveals Pakistan being the largest consumer of gas has a total resource potential of 282 trillion cubic feet with recoverable reserves of 24 trillion cubic feet and a production of almost 4 billion cubic feet per day. During 2012, total production of natural gas remained at 1,559 billion cubic feet that is equivalent to 32 million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE), which shows a growth of 6 percent when compared to last year. It reveals that there are 146 non-associated gas fields while 44 associated gas fields operating under 15 companies. It further says that the country’s power sector is heavily dependent on gas and reduction of gas has crippled its performance.
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) will host the 26th SAARCFINANCE Group Meeting, 9th SAARCFINANCE Governors’ Symposium and 42nd Asian Clearing Union (ACU) Board of Directors Meeting on June 18-19, 2013 in Islamabad. Governors of central banks and senior government officials from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka will participate. SBP will also organise its most prestigious annual event, Zahid Husain Memorial Lecture on June 18, 2013 in Islamabad, where Prof Ha-Joon Chang from Cambridge University will deliver a lecture on “Rethinking Role of the State in Economic Development”. Pakistan will also assume the chair of ACU Board of Directors at the 42nd Meeting of the board, scheduled to be held on June 19, 2013.
It was not the split everyone expected. Two weeks before Rupert Murdoch was due to split the world’s second-largest media conglomerate into two new companies (21st Century Fox and a period-free News Corp), the announcement on Thursday that he was filing for divorce from his third wife, Wendi Deng, came as a shock. There were reports that the 12-year marriage was on the rocks two years ago, according to the former Financial Times chief media correspondent Ben Fenton, but these were denied at the time and overwhelmed by the phone-hacking scandal that erupted weeks later. Sources close to Deng explained to The New York Times a year ago that the spouses were effectively leading “separate lives,” but that was after she so deftly defended her husband in Parliament from a foam-pie-throwing protestor as he answered questions from MPs about the phone-hacking scandal that had just shuttered his bestselling Sunday tabloid, News of the World. Whatever the personal background, it’s unlikely that the timing of the announcement is purely driven by emotion. Murdoch, who has always evinced a dislike of royalty, has nevertheless designed the world’s second-biggest media conglomerate as a dynastic empire. Since the two new companies will continue to be controlled by a family trust in which Murdoch’s six children have an interest, questions of marriage and succession remain as charged and difficult for Murdoch as a season of Game of Thrones. Phone-hacking allegations were followed by more than 100 arrests, mainly of staff and informants for his bestselling daily Sun newspaper. This coming September, Murdoch’s close aide and protégé Rebekah Brooks and other senior newspaper executives face a very public and potentially revelatory trial for charges including phone hacking, payments to public officials, and alleged destruction of evidence. The US Department of Justice is in the final stages of what (from stock write down) could be the biggest corporate fine since the Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham scandal. It’s hard not to see the divorce announcement as part of a wider strategy. In 1998, when Murdoch announced his divorce from his second wife, Anna, after 31 years of marriage, no reason was given for the breakdown. A year later in June 1999, a few months before his marriage to Wendi Deng, Murdoch sold $150 million of stock and settled his divorce with Anna for $110 million in cash plus other assets. In the last two years, according to The Wall Street Journal, Murdoch has sold all his nonvoting stock and raised over $140 million in cash. Deng and Murdoch’s prenuptial agreement was ratified by Jacqueline Silverman, head of the matrimonial division of the New York Supreme Court. Subsequent written agreements followed the birth of their two children, Chloe and Grace, in October 2002 and June 2004. (Though she was an employee of News Corp.’s subsidiary Star TV in Hong Kong when she met Murdoch, Deng has never sat on the company’s board unlike his previous wife.) As the proprietor of tabloid titles such as News of the World and the New York Post, Murdoch has made as his stock in trade the personal scandals of celebrities, royals, businessmen, and politicians, so he understands better than most the potential pitfalls ahead. A year after his marriage to Deng, in November 2000, The Wall Street Journal published a 4,000-word front-page article that probed into her past and former relationships. Murdoch was reported to be furious. After a long campaign exploiting divisions in the Bancroft family, who then owned the Journal’s parent company, Murdoch acquired the publisher for $5 billion in 2007. For six years the Deng article was buried in the archives—until Thursday, when it was linked to a report of the imminent divorce. So a battle of the airwaves could be about to commence during the tough negotiations over a settlement. Already the rumor mills and PR spin machines seem to be in operation. As reported by Robert Peston, the BBC’s financial correspondent, and close to senior News Corp. executives, “the undisclosed reasons for Murdoch divorcing Deng are jaw-dropping.” Murdoch’s biographer Michael Wolff suggests that the older children from his two previous marriages never trusted Deng so the split may actually help his plan to pass on control of parts of his company to the next generation. Both Lachlan and James Murdoch have spent time in New York being groomed for the succession. And by virtue of the company’s $650 million acquisition of her media company, Shine Entertainment, Elisabeth also has a right to sit on the board, which she has yet to exert. Deng was also more liberal in her tastes than the 82-year-old Australian. She includes in her circle celebrities like Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, who are godfather to Grace and Chloe, along with Tony Blair. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a spokesman for the former prime minister flatly denies rumors that Deng and the former prime minister had any kind of inappropriate friendship. (“If you are asking if they are having an affair, the answer is no.”) While celebrities and politicians generally have to suffer the media spotlight, those who control it often know where the ‘off’ switch is and can escape the glare of public attention in their private lives. But given the horrendous two years Murdoch has suffered, and the depletion of much of his political—if not his financial—capital, the privacy he would normally be accorded may be more difficult to enforce this time around. As the foremost media player of his generation, it would be foolish to think the 82-year-old doesn’t have many more moves left to play. But this could be more of a drawn-out endgame for Murdoch.
Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who will be getting married this fall, are planning to take a trip to the moon after their marriage. The couple is all set to join the 68-mile high club and go on one of Richard Branson's flights into space for the honeymoon, the Sun reported. A friend of the former 'That 70's show' co-stars, said that the pair decided together that they want their big day in September, probably on one of St Tropez's beaches. The source asserted that the 'Two and a half men' actor is already going into space on Branson's Virgin Galactic flight and he has admitted that Kunis will definitely be at his side as his honeymoon gift.
Mila Kunis has said that she is happy and has found that being in love is wonderful. The 29-year-old actress told Italian magazine Io Donna that she won’t answer their question about Kutcher but admitted that love is great, the Daily Express reported. She added that love is all around us.
Sri Lanka beat Australia by 20 runs in their Champions Trophy Group A match on Monday to reach the semi-final. Sri Lanka managed to reach 253-8 off 50 overs all due to the sublime batting of Mahela Jayawardene 84 not out and with the supporting L.Thirimanne 57. Michael Johnson was the pick of Australian bowlers with three for 48. In reply Australia nearly pulled the match but fell short of 20 runs with its tail fighting to 233 all out off 42.3 overs. A.Voges who scored 49 sent jitters in the Sri Lanka ranks. Kulasekera took three wickets for 42 to be the highest wicket-taker. But it was Dilshan who ended the frustration with a caught and bowled move of CJ McKay at 30. Dilshan was moving to his right, but the ball was hit to his left at a comfortable height, but he quickly changed direction and plucked it out from nowhere. It was drifting away from him all the time. It was a special catch to finally end Australia's resistance and the Aussies and the Kiwis hope of reaching the semi-final. As Mahela Jayawardene strode beyond 11,000 ODI runs, he made enough at The Oval to leave Australia with a near impossible task to elbow past Sri Lanka and New Zealand and so qualify for the Champions Trophy semi-finals. Sri Lanka's innings flirted with mediocrity in the face of some diligent Australian bowling until Jayawardene's delayed arrival, which signalled a late innings surge to 253 for 8. Lahiru Thirmanne had been promoted ahead of Jayawardene at an uncertain 20 for 2, and the switch allowed the senior man to make merry in the later overs against the older ball. George Bailey's side must now pass this total within 29.1 overs in order to lift their net run rate to a high enough level to reach the knockout phase. It is an exceptionally tall task on a drying surface, which offered enough assistance for Xavier Doherty to return the figures of 1 for 30 from his 10 overs. By contrast, Sri Lanka simply need to win to ensure their qualification ahead of New Zealand. Mitchell Johnson was swift and Clint McKay accurate in the early overs after Bailey sent the Sri Lankans in, and a pair of early wickets were adequate reward. But Sri Lanka rebuilt through Thirimanne and Tillakaratne Dilshan, before Jayawardene played with his familiar blend of art and invention to take the total beyond 250, after 200 had appeared a more likely tally for much of the innings. Both sides named unchanged line-ups for the match, Australia's options reduced for the fixture by their captain Michael Clarke's continued absence due to back trouble, while David Warner was ruled out by his suspension for punching Joe Root in a Birmingham pub after the opening match against England. Mitchell Starc was another absentee. The Oval pitch was brown, but overcast skies and a desire to know his eventual target encouraged Bailey to send Sri Lanka in. Johnson's first two deliveries of the match were poor; the first clattered to the backward point boundary, the second scuttling to fine leg off the pads. But his third was straight and too quick for Kusal Perera, who was clearly LBW. Kumar Sangakkara hinted at the genius that had guided Sri Lanka to a stirring chase against England on this ground last week, but found himself tied down by McKay's persistent line and subtle movement. Having already chanced a desperate single, Sangakkara was offered a fraction of extra width and lashed out, but managed only to slice a drive to Glenn Maxwell. At that moment Australia could envision a slim target, but Thirimanne was sent in to steady the innings in Dilshan's company, leaving Jayawardene in reserve. A serviceable job was done, gaps found every now and then the Australian bowlers were not gifted any wickets. It took Doherty to split them with a ball that straightened just enough to take an edge, Watson diving alertly to his right. Angelo Mathews played a halting innings in Jayawardene's company before losing his off bail to a nicely pitched delivery from James Faulkner, but Dinesh Chandimal was busier and more effective in a fifth-wicket stand of 65 in 56 balls. The Australians fielded soundly enough and did not bowl too much that was loose, but were left to marvel at Jayawardene's knack for manipulating the field as the score mounted. In what is becoming a familiar pattern, the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade became embroiled in a profane joust with Jayawardene late in the innings, and 94 runs from the final 13 overs left the Australians hoping for something miraculous. SCOREBOARD Sri Lanka MDKJ Perera lbw b Johnson 4 TM Dilshan c Watson b Doherty 34 KC Sangakkara c Maxwell b McKay 3 HDRL Thirimanne c Watson b Johnson 57 DPMD Jayawardene not out 84 AD Mathews b Faulkner 12 LD Chandimal c Hughes b Johnson 31 KMDN Kulasekara run out (Maxwell/†Wade) 6 HMRKB Herath run out (Marsh/Faulkner) 2 SL Malinga not out 2 Extras (b 5, lb 7, w 4, nb 2) 18 Total (8 wickets; 50 overs) 253 Did not bat RMS Eranga Fall of wickets 1-8 (Perera, 0.3 ov), 2-20 (Sangakkara, 3.2 ov), 3-92 (Dilshan, 22.2 ov), 4-128 (Thirimanne, 31.3 ov), 5-159 (Mathews, 36.6 ov), 6-224 (Chandimal, 46.2 ov), 7-234 (Kulasekara, 47.4 ov), 8-244 (Herath, 49.1 ov) Bowling: MG Johnson 10-0-48-3, CJ McKay 10-1-51-1, JP Faulkner 9-0-60-1, SR Watson 4-0-14-0, XJ Doherty 10-1-30-1, MR Marsh 2-0-12-0, GJ Maxwell 5-0-26-0 Australia SR Watson b Kulasekara 5 PJ Hughes c Sangakkara b Kulasekara 13 GJ Maxwell b Malinga 32 GJ Bailey run out (Kulasekara) 4 AC Voges c Eranga b Herath 49 MR Marsh b Mathews 4 MS Wade c Dilshan b Kulasekara 31 JP Faulkner c Sangakkara b Herath 17 MG Johnson c Kulasekara b Eranga 4 CJ McKay c & b Dilshan 30 XJ Doherty not out 15 Extras (lb 11, w 17, nb 1) 29 Total (all out; 42.3 overs) 233 Fall of wickets 1-9 (Watson, 1.2 ov), 2-45 (Hughes, 5.2 ov), 3-59 (Maxwell, 6.3 ov), 4-69 (Bailey, 8.3 ov), 5-80 (Marsh, 12.6 ov), 6-127 (Wade, 19.1 ov), 7-163 (Faulkner, 23.6 ov), 8-168 (Johnson, 24.6 ov), 9-192 (Voges, 30.2 ov), 10-233 (McKay, 42.3 ov) Bowling: RMS Eranga 8-1-40-1, KMDN Kulasekara 9-0-42-3, SL Malinga 9-0-60-1, HMRKB Herath 10-0-48-2, AD Mathews 3-0-21-1, TM Dilshan 3.3-0-11-1 Toss Australia, who chose to field Points Sri Lanka 2, Australia 0 Umpires M Erasmus (South Africa) and AL Hill (New Zealand) TV umpire Aleem Dar (Pakistan) Match referee J Srinath (India) Reserve umpire BF Bowden (New Zealand)
Former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram has thrown his support behind under fire skipper Misbah-ul-Haq after the national team's disappointing Champions Trophy tournament. Misbah, 39, was the only Pakistani batsman to shine with two half centuries in England as the Greenshirts lost all their three group matches to West Indies, South Africa and India. The team's disappointing performance has led to calls for changes in the squad and for the removal of head coach Dav Whatmore by several former players. But Wasim, who played 104 tests and 356 one-day internationals, said while there was a need to rebuild the national side for the World Cup in 2015, Misbah should not be removed from his post. "I think Misbah has been our best batsman in recent times and in the Champions Trophy," the 47-year-old said on a private news channel. "If Misbah had not stood his ground the way this team batted it could have been bowled out for scores of 30. "His future should be secure. We need to rebuild with new players." PCB needs to work sensibly: Aaqib Former Pakistan bowling coach Aaqib Javed has said that despite the team's heartbreaking performance in the series, it was not a panic situation at all and instead sensible decisions are required by the board. Aaqib shared the nation's disappointment with the team's performance but said that selectors or the board should not opt for wholesale changes after former players demanded massive overhaul of the team after their dismal show at the ICC Champions Trophy. According to reports, Aaqib advised implementation of a realistic approach by dropping Shoaib Malik, wicket keeper Kamran Akmal and opener Imran Farhat who failed miserably with the bat and replacing them with Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Amin. Aaqib opposed the idea of removing coach Dav Whatmore and said that if hiring him was a mistake then sacking him now would be a bigger blunder. He further insisted that in order to produce quality players, there was an immediate need of giving more exposure to the Pakistan ''A'' team by organising bilateral series on a regular basis. Contrary to Aaqib, former chief selector Salahuddin Ahmed strongly demanded actions for the remedial work and said that the entire team management failed to read the conditions and it is time some tough decisions are taken for the team''s betterment, the report added.
When the Proteas left OR Tambo a fortnight ago for the Champions Trophy, the baggage of expectation they were carrying had never been as light heading into a major tournament. And this was not only because of a cynical nation that suffered through one too many traumas with the national cricket team. Instead, it was a genuine feeling that this new-look South African side, devoid of heavy-weight stars such as Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, were not one of the favourites for the trophy. A common belief was that perhaps in the next two years when the World Cup came around, this inexperienced side, especially the batting unit, would be ready to compete with the big boys. Yet somewhere along the line, this message must have been conveyed to this group of greenhorns in the United Kingdom, for they have been committed to show they are not just keeping places warm but in the process managed to secure a place in Wednesday’s semi-final at The Oval. At this stage, the Proteas’ opponents have yet to be decided, but this important fact, two days out of possibly the biggest game of their fledgling career, has not fazed these young bucks. “We haven’t chatted about it or anything, but anyway we look at it that is out of our control, so we haven’t given it much thought. I think it is better that way. We are through and we’ll leave the stresses and worries about getting through to the other teams. Whatever comes our way, we will take it on,” said freshly-turned 24-year-old David Miller. There is certainly a refreshing spirit blowing through this Proteas team, with accountability being most impressive. No individual is pointing a finger at another, or waiting for a more senior team-mate to make the big play. Colin Ingram’s half-century against the West Indies in the thrilling tie in Cardiff last Friday was a perfect example, when the makeshift opener shifted the focus away from Hashim Amla with an attacking innings of his own. Ingram may not have pre-planned his assault on arguably the world’s most threatening one-day spin bowler, Sunil Narine, but the chutzpah with which the left-hander dispatched Narine into The River Taff filled his teammates waiting to bat back in the sheds with supreme confidence. Miller took his cue and delivered his most influential innings since donning the green pyjamas intermittently three years ago. Again it was not simply runs on the scoreboard that impressed, but rather the way he summed up the situation and then had the confidence to belt the ball out of the park. “I was telling Ryan McLaren the other day that this has possibly been the most enjoyable tour I have been on,” Miller exclaimed. “It really has been. We’re just taking each day as it comes. “It’s been really great being in England ... London and Birmingham. “We are a young side, and really comfortable with each other, gelling on and off the field. So it’s nice to see it coming through by backing each other on and off the field. The guys are playing with lots of freedom, and it’s something we need to do more often, playing with freedom within the game plan.” Miller’s role within the broader South African game plan is a straightforward one. He occupies “the finisher” role, whether that be when the Proteas are setting or chasing down a target. It is highly unlikely to change for Wednesday’s semifinal, so it could easily be left to him to find those much-needed winning runs like another left-hander from KwaZulu Natal, his current coach at the Dolphins Lance Klusener, had to do for South Africa in the past. Will this expectation and extra pressure not curtail his current positive approach? “I don’t think about it like that. I have been fortunate to play a lot of Twenty20 cricket in the off-season, where I come in towards the end of the innings. This has helped to work out my game plan. I still go according to a game plan, assess the conditions, get myself in and then when I feel like going, I back myself to do just that,” Miller explained.
A car bomb has struck near the Syrian northern city of Aleppo, killing at least 60 members of President Bashar al-Assad’s troops, activists have told Al Jazeera. Monday’s blast, carried out by a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaeda, hit near a military complex in the town of al-Douwairinah near Aleppo’s international airport, Mohammad al-Hadi, an activist in the city, said. “The car was filled with six tonnes of explosives,” he said. The blast was one of the largest attacks targetting regime forces. Activists posted a video on social media that purports to show the moment of the explosion. However, the authenticity of the video could not be verified. It came hours after a car bomb attack targeting a checkpoint near a military airport in Damascus, the Syrian capital. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were 20 casualties in the blast on Sunday night in the western Damascus district of Mazzeh, but did not state how many were killed or injuried in the attack. Syrian state media confirmed the blast that occurred late on Sunday, but have not released the number of those killed and injured. Mazzeh is an upscale neighbourhood of Damascus that houses several embassies and a military airport. At least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria’s two-year-old conflict.
The Turkish deputy prime minister has said that the army could be deployed to halt protests that have swept the nation over the past two weeks. Bulent Arinc on Monday said the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) could be pressed into action if the police failed to restore order. “What is required of us is to stop if there is a protest against the law. Here is the police, if not enough gendarme, if not TSK,” he said in a televised interview to the A Haber channel. The threat came as members of two union federations in Turkey went on a one-day strike over the forced evictions of protesters from Istanbul’s Gezi Park a day earlier. Labour groups representing doctors, engineers and dentists are also said to have joined the strike on Monday. The striking groups represent about 800,000 workers. The Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler said the strike was “illegal” and warned of police action. The call for the strike came as police and protesters clashed sporadically in Istanbul overnight following a weekend of scuffles in the city. Riot police backed by a helicopter, some in plain clothes and carrying batons, fired teargas and chased groups of rock-throwing youths into side streets around the iconic Taksim Square and Gezi Park late on Sunday night, trying to prevent them from regrouping. There were also disturbances in other parts of the city that had so far largely been spared the violence, including around the Galata bridge, which crosses to the historic Sultanahmet district, and the upmarket Nisantasi neighbourhood. Erdogan supporters: The police had earlier during the day moved in to clear Gezi Park of protesters occupying the area adjoining Taksim Square, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed hundreds of thousands of his supporters at an Istanbul parade. Erdogan told a sea of flag-waving supporters that two weeks of unrest had been manipulated by “terrorists” and dismissed suggestions that he was behaving like a dictator, a constant refrain from those who have taken to the streets. “They say ‘you are too tough’, they say ‘dictator’. What kind of a dictator is this who met the Gezi Park occupiers and honest environmentalists? Is there such a dictator?” Erdogan said to roars of approval from the crowd. He dismissed the demonstrations as “nothing more than the minority’s attempt to dominate the majority ... We could not have allowed this and we will not allow it.” A small-scale environmental protest against government plans to redevelop Gezi Park had snowballed into a larger movement against the government of Erdogan. The clashes pose no immediate threat to Erdogan’s leadership, but they have tarnished Turkey’s image as an oasis of stability on the fringes of the volatile Middle East, and presented him with the greatest challenge of his 10-year rule.
North Korea on Sunday proposed high-level talks with the US on denuclearisation and easing tensions on the Korean peninsula, just days after it abruptly cancelled a rare meeting with the South. Tension has been high on the peninsula since the North's third nuclear test in February that triggered new UN sanctions which ignited an angry response from Pyongyang, including threats of nuclear attacks on Seoul and Washington. A rare high-level meeting between two Koreas scheduled for June 12 and 13, which would have been the first between the two sides for six years, was cancelled on Tuesday due to spats over protocol. The latest proposal came as the North came under increasing pressure to abandon its atomic arsenal and its belligerent behaviour, not only from the US and its ally the South, but also Pyongyang's sole major ally, China. "We propose senior-level talks between... the (North) and the US to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula and ensure peace and security in the region," the North's powerful National Defense Commission said in a statement carried by state media. The North is willing to have "broad and in-depth discussions" on issues such as the building of "a world without nuclear weapons" being promoted by US President Barack Obama, it said, inviting the US to set the time and venue for the meeting. "If the US has true intent on defusing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and ensuring peace and security in the US mainland and the region, it should not raise preconditions for dialogue and contact," it said. Analysts said Washington is unlikely to accept the latest proposal without any concrete action from Pyongyang to move towards denuclearisation -- a pre-condition for any talks long demanded by the US. "The US has repeatedly made it clear that it was not interested in a dialogue for the sake of dialogue," said Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University North Korean Studies in Seoul. "So I'm not sure if Washington will respond to the talks offer, especially if it was made without any behind-the-curtain negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington in advance," he said. The nuclear-armed communist state said in Sunday's statement that it was committed to denuclearisation of the peninsula but defended its atomic arsenal as "self-defence" against what it called military and nuclear threats from the US. "The legitimate status of the (North) as a nuclear weapons state will go on... until... the nuclear threats from outside are put to a final end," it said, urging the US to also scrap all sanctions against it. Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who agreed at a summit with Obama earlier this month that the North must give up its nuclear arsenal, is also to hold talks with the South's leader Park Geun-Hye on June 27. "The North is hard-pressed to show some kind of reconciliatory gestures to avoid being further isolated in this dynamic, especially by China," said Kim Yong-Hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University.