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     Volume 5 Issue 97 | June 2, 2006 |

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News Notes

Free Speech Attacked
A pack of goons belonging to local Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) hounded on journalists last week in southwestern Kushtia district. Around 500 journalists from across the country gathered at the town's public library to protest an assault on four local journalists. Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, editor of The Bangladesh Observer, sustained injuries in the head when about a hundred armed men attacked the rally chanting slogans against the free press.
Though the prime minister and her cabinet are claiming normalcy, incidents like this is on the rise. Journalists, especially those belonging to the independent newspapers, are regularly being singled out whenever their reports highlight the corruption and misuse of power. The situation has deteriorated sharply in recent times.
During Awami League's five-year rule we have witnessed godfathers like Jainal Hazari or Abu Taher, who, given the flimsiest pretext, would unleash a reign of horror in their locality. Now, under Khaleda Zia's rule, the independent press is facing an army of Hazaris and Tahers, who, under the wing of the prime minister's party, is indiscriminately butchering journalists whenever anyone dares to write anything against them.
In her rule, at the height of an onslaught of assault on free press, Sheikh Hasina infamously called Hazari an innocent person. Khaleda is repeating Hasina's mistakes and the problem is Khaleda will not accept that she is making any mistake. Those who refuse to learn from history are always forced to learn the toughest of lessons from it. And that is not pleasant always. We know how the AL was routed in the last general elections, and the next one is only months away.

Bangladeshi Peacekeepers to be honoured
For the very first time, the United Nations will be honouring 124 peacekeepers with the Dag Hammarskjold Medal this year. The awardees also include the 15 Bangladeshis who had lost their lives last year serving in the cause of peace.
These peacekeepers from 46 countries, including Bangladesh, were working for peace in different parts of the world, serving the UN peacekeeping operations.
The Dag Hammarskjold Medal, instituted on July 22, 1997 is of a pale blue colour, awarded to those who lose their lives during service with a United Nations Peacekeeping Operation.
On May 29, the UN Peacekeepers Day, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that Bangladesh is one of the three countries, which made significant contributions to UN peacekeeping missions. "The leading contributors, by far, are India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which collectively provide more than 40 per cent on UN peacekeepers," he said. "and as a result have also suffered some of the highest losses."
The medals will be awarded by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno, at a function to be addressed by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The event will be organised in UN Headquarters in New York on May 31 in observance of the International Day for the UN peacekeepers.
Bangladesh Permanent Representative to the UN Dr Iftekhar Chowdhury will receive the awards and forward them to the respective families.
The first peacekeeping mission of the world was established by the UN Security Council on May 29, 1948. More than 72,000 uniformed personnel and 15,000 civilians are now serving in 18 peace operations administered by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Some 108 countries now contribute uniformed personnel including a 71-nation mission in Sudan --the most diverse coalition ever assembled.

7 JMB linchpins Handed Death in Jhalakathi
The verdict on the Jhalakathi judge killing has met the expectation of the relative of the dead. The Barisal court on May 29 sentenced to death Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) chief Abdur Rahman, his second in command Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai and five other militants and acquitted one. What the families of the slain now expect is a quick execution of the verdict.
Today, the verdict may seem like a usual outcome of their crimes, but in lieu of the past stance of the BNP-led coalition government, which categorically denied that the JMB lynchpins were involved in killings of the innocents and that they unleashed a reign of terror in the northern district during their rise to prominence, it can be termed as an unusual conclusion of the JMB saga which was, at the onset, almost seemed state-sponsored.
It should be noted that the government were forced to change their stance only at the point when the JMB's involvement with serial bomb blasts were confirmed, and there were a series of blasts in the court premises across the country killing several judges. Though there is a certain satisfaction in the fact that in the end it is the news media that was proved right, as from the beginning, it is the media that tried their best to expose the heinous exploits of the JMB faithful. However, one must not forget that by the time these JMB kingpins were rounded up, numerous innocent lives have perished. One must also remember that these militants are being tried for the killings that they committed at the later part of their self-styled jihad. At the onset, since the inception of this militant outfit on April 2004 till the next couple of months, the JMB leaders and their cohort executed innocent men with impunity. While the authority turned a blind eye, Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai led a parallel administration and slaughtered 23 men in a way that reminded one of medieval brutality.
Interestingly, jihadis as they see themselves as, these terror dons would not appeal against the judgement under the existing judicial system that they dubbed as "Taguty" or infidels' court. The seven days that they were given for appeal the verdict was only a waste of time, as the accused not even recognised the validity of the court that gave the verdict.

Fear of eruption after massive earthquake
A 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck at dawn near the densely-populated ancient city of Yogyakarta on the main island of Java (Indonesia) on Saturday, rattling an area that had been on edge for weeks amid fears that the nearby Mount Merapi volcano would erupt.
Thousands of families fled their homes in panic as buildings shuddered and collapsed, many of them running for higher ground amid false rumours of a tsunami like the one that devastated the country in December 2004.
Although the death toll was at first thought to be around 3000, it continued to rise very steeply and on Tuesday went past the 5000 mark Many could not escape and were buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings or struck by flying rocks and debris as the quake devastated towns and villages across the south of the island. One of the worst hit areas was the Bantul district south of Yogyakarta, which was flattened.
Homeless survivors of Saturday's earthquake resorted to desperate measures Monday amid a dearth of assistance, with some camping out in a cattle shed and others begging for food from passersby. In the absence of permanent toilets evacuees at Balong Bantul camp in Bantul regency had to use water from a sewer to bathe and relieve themselves.
Experts warned that earthquake-resistant construction standards must be strengthened to prevent future disasters.
A volcanologist warned Monday that Mt. Merapi's activity level had tripled in the wake of the earthquake. "The quake in Bantul clearly affected Merapi's activities. Since the quake, the volcano has discharged hot clouds three times more than usual," the chief of the Yogyakarta-based Volcanological Research and Technology Development Center said.

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