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Pakistani PM escapes assassins

Josef Litobarski
3 September 2008

The Pakistani government has confirmed that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was unharmed after assassins targeted his motorcade on Wednesday. The convoy of vehicles was travelling to meet the prime-minister at the airport, and he was not in his car when the assassins struck. Two shots hit the bullet-proof windshield of the black Mercedes on the driver's side, but failed to penetrate. The attack comes just three days before Pakistan's presidential election on Sunday, amidst political turmoil caused by the recent resignation of President Musharraf and the subsequent collapse of the governing coalition which forced him from power.

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The assassination attempt comes only eight days after a similar attempt on a senior US diplomat in Pakistan, and only nine months after the assassination of Benezir Bhutto, whose widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is now tipped to win the upcoming elections and become the next president of the country.

Against this backdrop of escalating political violence, the government this weekend announced a ceasefire in its conflict with the Taliban for the Muslim holy-month of Ramadan, worrying coalition forces in Afghanistan who believe the Taliban could use the opportunity to regroup. However, the Pakistani army is apparently continuing airstrikes in the volatile Swat valley region. The army claims to have killed 30 militants on Wednesday.

Any ceasefire over Ramadan would risk antagonising the US, which may be tempted to take action itself. Today, the Pakistani army accused coalition forces of crossing the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan in a raid which killed at least 20 civilians. US-led coalition forces have often carried out airstrikes against militants in Pakistani territory, but this raid would mark the first time that ground troops were deployed across the border without Pakistan's consent. Both NATO and coalition spokespeople have denied any knowledge of the raid.

Commission concludes IRA has disbanded

The International Monitoring Commission (IMC), an independent body formed to assess the Northern Ireland peace process, has concluded in a report released today that the IRA has effectively disbanded. However, the report goes on to say that the IRA's ruling body, the army council, has not yet been dissolved. There has been a wave of violence in Northern Ireland in recent weeks, including shootings and riots blamed on dissident republican groups which splintered away from the IRA. Although a power-sharing deal has now been reached, the resulting peace is still fragile and vulnerable to what analysts term "spoilers".

Philippines ceasefire crumbles further

The president of the Philippines has dissolved a government peace panel which had been mandated to end the country's forty-year conflict with Islamic separatist groups in the south. The conflict, which has claimed over 120,000 lives, flared up last month when a deal granting greater autonomy to the country's Muslim south was rejected by the government. Two Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders, angered by the deal's collapse, then allegedly went "rogue" and began attacking civilian villages in retaliation.

The government has declared that the main body of rebel forces are still covered by the ceasefire. President Gloria Arroyo, however, has said that the military's offensive against the rogue MILF elements will continue throughout the Muslim holy-month of Ramadan, but that troops will be ordered to respect Muslim civilians (about 5% of the population of the mainly Roman Catholic country).

Journalists targeted in Russia

Separate attacks in Russia's troubled North Caucasus region this week have left two journalists dead and one in hospital. Islamic TV reporter Telman Alishaev died in hospital this morning after being shot in his car on Tuesday by two men. Miloslav Bitokov, a newspaper reporter, was beaten up by three men and left with a fractured skull outside his home on Tuesday evening.

The attacks came only days after the death of Magomed Yevloyev, who ran a website critical of the Russian authorities in Ingushetia and died on Sunday after being shot in the head by police. Yevloyev was arrested and then "accidently" shot in the head when he allegedly tried to take an officer's rifle away from him, before his body was dumped in the street outside a hospital. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has described the killings as "a further deterioration of media freedom in Russia."

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