Benazir Bhutto’s Daughter Officially Enters Pakistani Politics

Waving her hands, chanting party slogans and making victory signs Monday in Pakistan’s central city of Multan, the youngest daughter of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto reminded people of her firebrand mother. “In my opinion, the content of her speech was not as important as her aura, which generates the same feel and energy as her mother,” said Nusrat Javed, a senior Pakistani journalist who has spent decades interacting with three generations of the Bhutto family. This was 27-year-old Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari’s official launch into politics, almost by chance. She was filling in for her brother, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who was quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19 and could not lead his party in a pre-planned opposition rally.   The chance appearance had its own significance, said Sherry Rehman, a senior leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and a close political companion of the late Benazir Bhutto.Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, right in front row, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, center, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, left, leaders of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance of opposition parties, attend an anti-government rally in Pakistan, Nov. 22, 2020.“Circumstances have always catapulted key members of the Bhutto family into the churn of the political mainstream in Pakistan,” Rehman said, pointing out that both Benazir and Bilawal “found the life of politics choosing them, instead of the other way around.”   Benazir Bhutto was compelled to join politics when her prime minister father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was ousted in a military coup, jailed and executed. She went on to lead the PPP, which her father founded, and became the first female head of government of a Muslim-majority nation.   Bilawal, who was always considered his mother’s heir apparent, was prematurely thrust onto the political stage when Benazir was assassinated in 2007. His two younger sisters, Bakhtawar and Aseefa, mostly stayed on the sidelines, only delving into political commentary on social media. Meanwhile, Aseefa, who has a master’s degree in global health from University College London, established herself as a health activist. She became a United Nations ambassador for polio eradication.   All three siblings were exposed to politics from childhood. While Bakhtawar showed little interest in pursuing life as a politician, Aseefa seemed to have it in her even as a child, according to Sohail Warraich, a senior Pakistani journalist and analyst. “I remember Mohtarma (Benazir Bhutto) used to tell me that as a child, when Aseefa wanted to change her school, she would make placards with slogans on them and display them around the house,” he said. Members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party, or PTI, have called Aseefa’s political debut a continuation of PPP’s dynastic politics. “People’s Party has only one rhetoric. They want to milk the Bhutto name, both Benazir Bhutto and her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. But I think a lot of water has flown under the bridge,” said Fawad Hussain Chaudhry, federal minister for science and technology.   He added that the PPP needed to “rethink its politics,” as well as improve governance in the Sindh province where it ruled, or risk losing the next elections. The opposition, a conglomerate of multiple opposition parties that have joined hands against the government under the umbrella of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), also received widespread criticism for continuing with large political gatherings at a time when new COVID-19 cases are surging in Pakistan.   Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that the opposition leaders did not care about the lives and safety of ordinary people and accused them of using politics as a cover to avoid accountability for past corruption.   “Now, their sole & desperate goal is to save their families’ looted wealth & corruption of which they are an integral part,” he said on Twitter.Now their sole & desperate goal is to save their families looted wealth & corruption of which they are an integral part. This is all that guides their politics, not any concern for the lives of ordinary citizens. Their desperation to get NRO any which way they can motivates them.— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) November 29, 2020PDM leaders accused the government of using the spread of the novel coronavirus as an excuse to shut down opposition activities, even as it was holding its own large gatherings. The government has banned gatherings of more than 300 people until the virus is controlled and threatened the opposition with arrests if they violate the protocols.   “They think we are scared of getting arrested. They are mistaken. If they arrest our brothers, remember, every woman in the Pakistan People’s Party is ready for battle,” Aseefa Bhutto said in her debut speech. Aseefa is also the closest to her mother in physical appearance. She has also inherited qualities from both of her maternal grandparents, Javed, the journalist, said.   “She triggered the accumulated memories (of the Bhutto family) in a very powerful way,” he said.     Her presence at party rallies, he said, might become a necessity if the party wants to harness “a kind of forgotten energy” that she generates.   

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Turkmenistan Clamps Down on COVID-19 Criticism

At the opening of a new hospital in November, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow said President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan arrives to attend the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, October 22, 2019.Globally, more than 62 million cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus have been confirmed. While Turkmenistan denies the pandemic has reached its borders, it has imposed measures, including a mask mandate and restrictions on travel and retail, a Turkmen citizen, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, told VOA.“They close bazaars and restrict travel between the regions of the country. The railroad communication is stopped as well, but planes continue flying between the regional centers,” the person, who lives overseas but still visits his home country, said.Discussion about pandemicThe government has also sought to stifle discussion about the pandemic, including detaining those who speak publicly about COVID-19. Earlier this year, its Foreign Ministry said the People wearing protective face masks, used as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), are seen inside a bus in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, July 15, 2020.Turkmenistan was already a repressive place for free speech: the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks it as the second-worst country on its global Football supporters attend the Turkmenistan national football championship match between Altyn Asyr and Kopetdag on April 19, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.Access to news blockedForeign-based websites and media covering news on Turkmenistan and its handling of the pandemic have been hit by cyberattacks or attempts to block access.The Vienna-based Chronicles of Turkmenistan, which reports in Turkmen, Russian and English, has experienced cyberattacks since 2011, but the attacks intensified in recent months. Journalists at the site, which is part of the TIHR, said they believe the attacks are initiated by Turkmen security services in retaliation for their independent coverage of COVID-19 and other developments. Like other foreign-based websites, Chronicles of Turkmenistan is accessible only with the help of circumvention tools such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN).Ak Welsapar, an exiled journalist who runs Erkin Turkmenistan Radio, a YouTube channel with more than 33,000 followers and 18 million views, says he believes authorities were behind a copyright infringement accusation that led to YouTube shutting the channel in September.“Our radio was the first to inform the Turkmen people about coronavirus from February 8, 2020, and regularly published journalistic materials about COVID-19 and its wide spread in Turkmenistan,” Welsapar, who lives in Sweden, told VOA.Welspar said the copyright allegation related to his show’s usage of official national television footage and he believes authorities hired proxies in the West to file the complaint.The journalist has set up a parallel channel and says he hopes YouTube will allow the original one back online in mid-December.By denying access to independent news or critical voices on social media, Turkmenistan is leaving its citizens in the dark, journalists say.“Unfortunately, no media in Turkmenistan has been able to report on COVID-19 to warn the public about the disease at this crucial moment,” Welsapar said.

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Used to Freedom, Women in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Worry About Future Under Taliban Rule

In Afghanistan’s central Bamiyan province, women have enjoyed relatively more freedom than elsewhere in the country. But many of them are now facing an uncertain future. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.Camera: Rahim Gul Sarwan    

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‘World’s Loneliest Elephant’ Arrives in Cambodia to Start New Life 

The pachyderm dubbed the “world’s loneliest elephant” arrived in Cambodia Monday, following his rescue from a Pakistani zoo. After a seven-hour flight from Pakistan in a custom-built enclosure, Kaavan was welcomed to Cambodia by chanting Buddhist monks and sent on his way to a wildlife sanctuary. Kaavan the Asian elephant is released into his new home in the Kulen Prom Tep Wildlife Sanctuary in Oddar Meanchey Province on Nov. 30, 2020.During his flight, the elephant reportedly ate 200 kilograms of snacks and took a nap. “He behaves like a frequent flier. The flight was uneventful, which is all you can ask for when you transfer an elephant,” Amir Khalil, a veterinarian for the animal rescue group that accompanied Kaavan on the flight, according to AP. The vet works for the Vienna, Austria-based Four Paws animal rescue group, which organized the 36-year-old pachyderm’s rescue. FILE – Volunteers paint an image of Kaavan on a crate to transport him to Cambodia, at the Maragzar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 27, 2020.One reason Kaavan may have been somewhat relaxed is that he was trained three times a day for three months on how to enter and exit his special travel crate, AP reported. Kaavan arrived in Pakistan in 1985 as a gift from Sri Lanka. He had been in the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad. In 2012, his partner, Saheli, died due to a leg infection. FILE – A Four Paws veterinarian is pictured with an elephant named Kaavan at the Maragzar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan, Sept. 4, 2020.Campaigners say the heartbreaking image of Kaavan standing above the body of his partner shocked the world. Kaavan was held in chains for years in an insufficient enclosure and was forced to perform in front of visitors in the poorly managed zoo. An initial medical examination in September showed Kaavan’s nails had cracked and were overgrown due to improper care and an insufficient enclosure with flooring that damaged its feet. The elephant also developed a stereotypical behavior because of his loneliness, the cause of his shaking head back and forth for hours. Kaavan was also obese, according to AP, which said he ate 250 kilograms of sugar cane daily. He reportedly lost 450 kilograms before his trip to Cambodia. In addition to Four Paws, American singer Cher and her animal welfare group Free the Wild helped secure Kaavan’s release. Cher was in Pakistan Nov. 27 when she met with Prime Minister Imran Khan. “Cher has arrived and is so grateful for the help and support from the people of Pakistan to allow Kaavan to move to Cambodia and live out the rest of his life in peace and with dignity,” Free the Wild co-founder Mark Cowne said in an email to VOA.  Pop singer Cher gestures in front of the crate of Kaavan upon his arrival in Cambodia at Siem Reap International Airport in Siem Reap on Nov. 30, 2020.Kaavan will now be trucked to the animal sanctuary in northern Cambodia and should be out of his crate on Dec. 1. 
 
 
  
 
 
 

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Sri Lanka Prison Protest Over COVID-19 Becomes Deadly

Officials say an inmate protest Sunday about the growing number of COVID-19 infections at a prison in Sri Lanka turned into a riot. Authorities say guards opened fire on the inmates.  At least six people were killed in the clash and 50 people were wounded at the Mahara prison, about 15 kilometers north of Colombo. Police spokesman Ajith Rohana told the Associated Press the prisoners “reportedly destroyed most of the property including offices inside the prison.” Inmates at prisons in Sri Lanka have been demanding early release in recent weeks because of the escalating infections.  

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Indian Farmers Protest Deregulation Legislation

Farmers unions in India are meeting with the government Sunday as thousands of farmers stage a third day of protests outside New Delhi against new agricultural deregulation legislation.The legislation would allow farmers to sell their products anyplace, including to large corporate buyers.Currently, farmers may only sell their products to government-regulated wholesale markets, where the farmers are guaranteed a minimum price.Small farmers remain suspicious about the effects of deregulation.The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the legislation in September.Modi said Sunday in his monthly radio address. “From these reforms, farmers will get new rights and opportunities.”

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