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China-Led Development Bank Holds Signing Ceremony

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak leaves after signing an article of association to help set up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) during a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 29.

China has held the signing ceremony of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a new international financial institution that will rival the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

Representatives from 57 countries on June 29 met in Beijing and signed documents that define each member's share and the AIIB's initial capital.

China will provide about 30 percent of AIIB's initial capital, and have a 26 percent voting share. India is providing 8.4 percent to the capital, and Russia is the third-largest contributor with 6.5 percent.

Australia, Britain, Germany, and South Korea are among the founding members.

The United States and Japan are the most prominent countries not to join.

Washington has questioned the governance standards at the AIIB, which it sees as spreading Beijing’s "soft power." Washington lobbied European allies not to participate, but many of them have done so in order to boost ties with China.

The AIIB, which was created in October by 21 countries, will fund energy, transport, and infrastructure projects in Asia.

The AIIB, which will have billions of dollars to lend, is expected to go into operation later this year.

Based on reporting by AFP and BBC

Pakistani Military Says 23 Suspected Militants Killed In Air Strikes

A Chinese-made fighter jet of the Pakistan Air Force.

The Pakistani military claims it has killed 23 suspected militants in air strikes on the country's restive tribal regions near the Afghan border.

The June 28 attacks targeted the Khyber and North Waziristan districts as part of what officials described as the final phase of a yearlong offensive against the Taliban.

Both areas have been strongholds of militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban and its Lashkar-e Islam faction.

The military says more than 2,700 militants have been killed since the offensive began last summer.

The campaign resulted in a remarkable decline in violence, the military said in a statement earlier this month.

Meanwhile, one soldier was killed and three wounded when a checkpoint near the Shawal area of North Waziristan came under rocket attack on June 28, security officials said.

It takes the Pakistani military's official death toll during the offensive to 348.

The figures are impossible to verify independently because the area is off-limits to journalists.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

U.S. Rights Report Slams IS Militants, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Among Others

Members of an Afghan Local Police unit, also known as Arbaki, patrol in the northeastern Kunduz province, December, 2014/

In a new report, the U.S. State Department strongly criticizes Islamic State (IS) militants -- as well as the Russian, Iranian, and Azerbaijani governments -- for human rights abuses.

The 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released on June 25, says one of the most notable trends of the year was the brutality of IS militants in Syria and Iraq against the Yezidi minority, Christians, Turkomans, Shabak, Shi'a, and Sunni Muslims who did not conform to their extremist views.

At the same time, the report noted the Iraqi government's inability to rein in abusive and criminal actions by pro-government Shi'a militia fighters in the so-called Popular Mobilization Committees that helped government troops battle against IS militants.

"The message at the heart of these reports is that countries do best when their citizens fully enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in presenting the report in Washington. "This is not just an expression of hope, this is a reality and it has proven out in country after country around the world."

"Now we understand that some governments may take issue with these reports, including such extreme cases as North Korea or Syria, but also some governments with whom we work closely may also object," he continued. "But I want to say something about that and I think it is important: The discomfort that these reports sometimes cause does more to reinforce than to undermine the value and the credibility of these reports."

Russia

Russia's government came in for strong criticism not only for abuses within Russia's border but for its annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and its role supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The report describes Russia's political system as "increasingly authoritarian" with "a range of new measures to suppress dissent within its borders."

It says Russian authorities "selectively employed the law on 'foreign agents,' the law against extremism, and other means to harass, pressure, discredit, and/or prosecute individuals and entities that had voiced criticism of the government."

It says Russia's government also continued to use laws against extremism to prosecute some religious minorities, and that it adopted several discriminatory laws against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.

The report highlighted what it called a "growing recognition" of links between corruption, human rights abuses, and repressive governments -- saying corruption in Russia was "widespread throughout the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at all levels of government."

It also criticized the persecution in Crimea by "Russian occupation authorities" of the ethnic Tatar community, certain religious minorities, and others who opposed the occupation -- noting that many were forced to flee the peninsula.

It said Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists also shelled urban areas and committed "numerous other gross human rights abuses" in eastern Ukraine, including killings and abductions.

Iran

The State Department said Iran continues to severely restrict the freedoms of assembly, speech, religion, and the press.

READ MORE: U.S. To Continue Rights Sanctions Against Iran Regardless Of Nuclear Deal

It also noted that Iran had the world's second highest execution rate after "legal proceedings that frequently didn't respect Iran's own constitutional guarantee to due process or international legal norms."

Azerbaijan

The State Department criticized Azerbaijan's use of the judicial system to punish peaceful dissent and critical journalists amid allegations of widespread corruption.

It says Baku's restrictions included "intimidation, incarceration on questionable charges, and use of force against human rights defenders, civil society activists, and journalists."

It noted an increased number of arbitrary arrests and detention in Azerbaijan along with politically motivated imprisonment, and lengthy pretrial detention for "individuals perceived as a threat by government officials."

It also lists "physical abuse in the military; torture or other abuse in prisons; and harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions" among other serious human rights problems in Azerbaijan.

Islamic State militants prepare to throw a man from a high rooftop as punishment for allegedly being gay in Mosul.
Islamic State militants prepare to throw a man from a high rooftop as punishment for allegedly being gay in Mosul.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the report says, the most significant problem was continued attacks on civilians by Islamic militants -- including violence that killed eight journalists and that targeted women.

It also noted ongoing human rights abuses committed by Afghan security forces.

Other serious abuses included torture and abuse of detainees, targeted violence, and discrimination against women and girls.

The report says while the situation of women "marginally" improved in 2014, domestic and international gender experts considered the country "very dangerous" for women.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan is described an "authoritarian state" where citizens are unable to change their government "through free and fair elections."

The report says authorities in Tajikistan continued to use torture against detainees and others during 2014 while repressing political activists and limiting the free flow of information.

It says human rights abuses also included "violence and discrimination against women, arbitrary arrest, denial of the right to a fair trial, and harsh and life-threatening prison conditions."

It noted there were very few prosecutions of government officials in Tajikistan for rights abuses.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

The U.S. State Department said government corruption remained among "most serious problems" in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2014, which it says resulted in "continued political and economic stagnation."

It also says some political leaders "manipulated deep-seated ethnic divisions" that weakened democracy and governance, undermined the rule of law, fostered discrimination in most aspects of daily life, distorted public discourse in the media, and obstructed the return of persons displaced by the 1992-95 conflict.

Iraq

At the same time, it noted the Iraqi government's inability to rein in abusive and criminal actions by pro-government Shi'ite militias that fought against IS militants.

Belarus

The State Department said authorities in Belarus have continued to "arrest individuals for political reasons and to use administrative measures to detain political activists."

It describes Belarus as an "authoritarian state" where "authorities arbitrarily arrested, detained, and imprisoned citizens for criticizing officials, participating in demonstrations, and other political reasons."

It says Belarus' judiciary suffered from "political interference and a lack of independence and trial outcomes often appeared predetermined."

It also says corruption in "all branches of government" remained a problem in Belarus during 2014.

Here's a look at the other countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region:

Armenia

The State Department says that “systemic corruption and lack of transparency in government” was a serious human rights problem in Armenia last year.

The report says “allegations of persistent corruption at all levels of government undermined the rule of law although the government took limited steps to punish corruption by low- and mid-level officials.”

The report also says that “limited independence of the judiciary, and limitations on the ability of citizens to change their government” were among other serious problems in the country.

Suspicious deaths in the military under noncombat conditions and continued hazing by officers and fellow soldiers were among other abuses cited in the report.

It also notes that there were several incidents of violence toward journalists in connection with citizens’ protests.

Georgia

The State Department says the most important human rights problems reported in Georgia during the last year included domestic violence and politically motivated violence and “increased societal intolerance” of members of minority groups.

The report also denounces interference with religious worship in the country and intimidation that prevented freedom of assembly.

The report adds that “persistent shortcomings” in the legal system led to “incomplete investigations, premature charging of suspects, and inappropriate use of pretrial detention.”

Other problems included abuse by law-enforcement officials, “substandard” prison conditions, and pressure on opposition figures to withdraw from local elections.

The report says de facto authorities in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia continued to “restrict the rights, primarily of ethnic Georgians, to vote or otherwise participate in the political process, own property, register businesses, and travel.”

Kazakhstan

The State Department says Kazakhstan’s government limited freedom of expression last year and exerted influence on the media through "laws, harassment, licensing regulations, internet restrictions, and criminal and administrative charges."

The report says judicial actions against journalists and media outlets, including civil and criminal libel suits filed by government officials, led to the suspension of several media outlets and encouraged self-censorship.

The report warns that Kazakhstan’s parliament passed new criminal and administrative offenses codes as well as a new labor law, which it says have “the potential to further limit freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion.”

Other reported abuses included arbitrary or unlawful killings, detainee and prisoner torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, infringements on citizens’ privacy rights, prohibitive political party registration requirements, and restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations.

Kosovo

The State Department says actions to block the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina was among the most important human rights problems in Kosovo in the past year.

The report also cites restrictions on such rights as freedom of movement and freedom of worship by Serbian Orthodox pilgrims.

The report says “societal violence and discrimination against members of ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community constituted a second significant area of concern.”

Domestic violence against women was a third major problem, it adds.

The report says the government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but adds that “many assumed that senior officials engaged in corruption with impunity.”

Kyrgyzstan

The U.S. State Department says routine violations of procedural protections in all stages of the judicial process, and systematic, police-driven extortion of vulnerable minority groups, were among the most serious human rights violations in Kyrgyzstan last year.

The report also denounces a “continued denial of justice" in connection with deadly ethnic clashes in the southern city of Osh five years ago as a serious rights issue.

“Underscoring the country’s human rights problems was an atmosphere of impunity for officials in the security services and elsewhere in government who committed abuses and engaged in corrupt practices,” the report adds.

It also denounces torture, poor prison conditions, corruption, and pressure on independent media in the country.

Macedonia

The State Department says the most significant human rights problem in Macedonia last year stemmed from “significant levels of corruption” and from the government’s “failure to respect fully the rule of law.”

The report also says political interference, inefficiency, favoritism toward well-placed persons, and corruption characterized the country's judicial system.

Human rights problems also included physical mistreatment of detainees and prisoners by police and prison guards, discrimination against Roma and other ethnic minorities, societal discrimination against sexual minorities, and child labor.

The report also says the government "took some steps to punish police officials guilty of excessive force, but impunity continued to be a problem.”​

Montenegro

The U.S. State Department says corruption was among Montenegro’s most pressing human rights problems last year.

The report says corruption was pervasive in health care, education, and multiple branches of government including law enforcement.

It was characterized by impunity, political favoritism, nepotism, and selective prosecution of political and societal opponents, the report adds.

According to the report, Montenegro also suffered from a continued deterioration of the environment for nongovernment institutions, including the media and civil society.

Other human rights problems included mistreatment by law enforcement officers of persons in their custody, overcrowded and dilapidated conditions in prisons, and domestic violence against women and children.

Moldova

The State Department says corruption, particularly in the judicial sector, continued to be “the most significant human rights problem” in Moldova last year.

The report says corruption remained “widespread” in the judiciary, the Tax Inspectorate, the customs service, and other public institutions.

“Poor conditions, mistreatment, and abuse in psychiatric and social care homes were major areas of concern,” the report adds.

Other significant problems included “erosion of media freedom, the opaque ownership of media outlets, and increased monopolization of the media and the advertising market.”

According to the report, the human rights situation in Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester “deteriorated in some respects, including through new restrictions on internet freedom.”

Pakistan

The U.S. State Department mentions serious human rights abuses in Pakistan, including “extrajudicial and targeted killings, disappearances, torture, lack of rule of law” and continued “sectarian violence.”

The report warns that harassment of journalists continued, “with high-profile attacks against journalists and media organizations."

Human rights problems also included “poor prison conditions, arbitrary detention, lengthy pretrial detention, a weak criminal justice system, lack of judicial independence in the lower courts, and infringement on citizens’ privacy rights.”

The report says “lack of government accountability” remained a problem while abuses often went unpunished, “fostering a culture of impunity.”

It adds that violence and intolerance by militant organizations contributed to “a culture of lawlessness” in some parts of the country.

Serbia

The U.S. State Department says the most serious human rights problem in Serbia last year included discrimination and societal violence against members of minority groups, especially Roma.

The report says harassment of journalists and pressure on them to self-censor was also a significant problem in the Balkan country.

Human rights problems also included police mistreatment of detainees, government censorship of the Internet, harassment of human rights advocates as well as government critics, and domestic violence against women and children.

It says the government took steps to prosecute officials when the public took notice of abuses, adding that many believed that numerous cases of corruption, police mistreatment, and other abuses went unreported and unpunished.

Turkmenistan

The State Department denounced human rights violations in Turkmenistan, including arbitrary arrest, torture, and disregard for civil liberties.

The report says officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity.

Human rights problems also included denial of due process and fair trial, discrimination and violence against women, trafficking in persons, and restrictions on the free association of workers.

The report says there were no reports of prosecution of government officials for human rights abuses.

Ukraine

The State Department said the most significant human rights developments in Ukraine last year were linked to antigovernment protests in Kyiv, Russia’s occupation of Crimea, and conflict in the country’s east.

The report says ousted President Viktor Yanukovych government’s decision to use force to disperse citizen protests in central Kyiv in February “resulted in more than 100 civilian deaths, most by sniper fire from special security forces, and numerous injuries.”

The report says Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea in March “displaced more than 18,000 Crimeans, while Russian authorities committed “numerous human rights abuses, targeting ethnic and religious communities, particularly Crimean Tatars.”

The report says fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since April destabilized the region and resulted by year’s end in more than 4,700 civilian deaths. The toll is now more than 6,500.

Generally, the document says, actions by the rebels deprived more than 5 million people of “access to education, health care, housing, the opportunity to earn a living and to the rule of law," and forced more than 1 million people to leave the area.

Uzbekistan

The State Department accuses Uzbek officials of “frequently” engaging in "corrupt practices" with impunity.

The report also denounces serious human rights issues in Uzbekistan including, “torture and abuse of detainees by security forces,” denial of due process and fair trial,” and “widespread restrictions on religious freedom.”

It says Uzbek authorities subjected human rights activists, journalists, and others who criticized the government, as well as their family members, to harassment, arbitrary arrest, and politically motivated prosecution and detention.

Human rights problems also included restrictions on freedom of speech and on civil society activity as well as violence against women.

Pakistan Heat-Wave Toll Crosses 1,000

Relatives sit beside a body of a deceased who died due to an intense heat wave in Karachi, Pakistan on June 22.

Officials say that more than 1,000 people have died from a recent heat wave in southern Pakistan, with thousands still being treated as temperatures started to ease.

Karachi, capital of Sindh Province, and several other districts have been in the grip of soaring temperatures since start of Ramadan on June 19.

A medical official said that more than 950 people died in Karachi and over 50 in rest of the province.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that more than 40,000 people have suffered heatstroke and over 8,000 were treated at medical facilities.

Pakistan's Meteorological Department said the temperature in Karachi, which reached 45 degree Celsius over the weekend, dipped to 37 on June 25.

The government has set up 100 heatstroke centers in Karachi.

On June 24, an influential religious scholar issued an edict that sick and frail people can skip fasting in the holy month of Ramadan.

Based on reporting by dpa and AFP

Death Toll In Pakistani Heat Wave At Almost 800

A boy cools off on a hot day in Karachi on June 23.

A four-day heat wave has killed more than 780 people in Karachi as the government declared a holiday in the southern Pakistani city to encourage people to stay home.

The heat wave has coincided with severe electricity cuts and the holy month of Ramadan, when most Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. Many of the deaths, among the elderly and poor have been caused by dehydration.

Anwar Kazmi, a senior official with the Edhi Foundation, a private charity, told the Reuters news agency that "the heat wave death toll has reached close to the 800 mark in the last four days."

The charity runs a network of ambulances, clinics and morgues to bridge the gaps in an overburdened and poorly funded public health system in the city of 20 million people, home to Pakistan's main stock market, central bank, and biggest port.

Government health officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Many of Karachi's wealthy have generators to run air conditioners to beat the heat, which reached 44 degrees Celsius over the weekend. Public services in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people, are starved of resources because of endemic tax evasion.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

Pakistani Rangers Kill At Least 10 Militants Outside Karachi

File photo of Pakistani rangers arresting a suspected in Karachi (March 20, 2015).

Pakistani paramilitary forces June 23 gunned down at least 10 militants in two encounters in suburban areas of the sprawling southern city of Karachi, authorities said.

The paramilitary rangers were acting on an intelligence tip that militants belonging to an unnamed, banned outfit were present in Kathor, a district in the northern outskirts of the port city.

When rangers went to cordon off their hideout, militants opened fire. Two of the militants were killed in retaliatory fire.

Their accomplices fled the scene, but rangers in pursuit killed four more. Two soldiers were wounded during the exchange of gunfire.

Elsewhere, in the Manghopir area, rangers killed four militants and later recovered automatic weapons and a suicide vest. One soldier was injured.

The two areas are known to be hotbeds for the Taliban, though authorities didn't identify the militant group involved.

Pakistan's war against Islamic militants intensified in December when the Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, killing over 150 people -- mostly children.

Based on reporting by AFP and Dawn.com

Death Toll From Pakistan Heat Wave Tops 700

A man uses a hand-held fan to cool down his son, while waiting for their turn for a medical checkup, outside the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center in Karachi on June 23.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for emergency measures as the death toll from a three-day heat wave in southern Pakistan reached nearly 700.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said on June 23 that it had received orders from Sharif to take immediate action.

An NDMA official was quoted as saying heatstroke treatment centers would be established at all hospitals across the southern province of Sindh.

The majority of deaths occurred in the port city of Karachi, where temperatures hit 45 degrees Celsius at the weekend, while several other deaths occurred in other parts of southern Sindh Province.

The deaths come a month after neighboring India suffered the second-deadliest heat wave in its history, with more than 2,000 deaths.

Semi Jamali, a doctor at Karachi's largest hospital, said they had treated about 3,000 patients suffering from heatstroke.

In Karachi, a city of 20 million people, electricity shortages crippled the water supply system, hampering the pumping of millions of gallons of water to consumers.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

UN Refugee Chief Urges World Not To 'Forget' Afghans In Pakistan

An Afghan refugee family stands by trucks loaded with their belongings as they wait to go back to Afghanistan in Peshawar in February.

The UN's top official for refugees has urged the world not to "forget" the millions of Afghans forced to live for decades in Pakistan because of war in their home country.

Pakistan has the world's second-largest refugee population -- 1.5 million -- most of them Afghans having lived for years in poor conditions in camps in the northwest.

On a visit to the camps in Pakistan, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said Afghanistan needed help to create an environment in which people returning could thrive.

Guterres said that Afghans were still the second-largest refugee group in the world, after Syrians.

Islamabad is keen for the refugees to return to Afghanistan, with more than 65,000 going back this year -- a considerable improvement over last year's 25,000.

Last week, the UN said the number of people forced to flee war, violence, and persecution has soared to a record 60 million, and the situation was getting out of control.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Death Toll From Pakistan Heat Wave Tops 450

Pakistani Muslims rest at a mosque during a heatwave in Karachi on June 22.

Officials say more than 450 people have died from a three-day heat wave in southern Pakistan, and a state of emergency was declared in hospitals.

The death toll in worst-hit Karachi, where temperatures hit 45 degrees Celsius at the weekend, was at least 450, while another eight to 10 people died in other parts of southern Sindh Province.

The deaths come a month after neighboring India suffered the second-deadliest heat wave in its history, with more than 2,000 deaths.

Semi Jamali, a doctor at Karachi's largest hospital, said they had treated about 3,000 patients suffering from heatstroke.

In Karachi, a city of 20 million people, electricity shortages crippled the water supply system, hampering the pumping of millions of gallons of water to consumers.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

Pakistan Heatwave Leaves More Than 220 Dead

Men sleep in the shade under a bridge during intense hot weather in Karachi on June 22.

Reports from Pakistan say more than 220 people have died during a heatwave in the southern province of Sindh.

Officials said on June 22 that most of the deaths were reported in the province's largest city, Karachi, which has experienced temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius in recent days.

Hundreds of patients suffering from the effects of the heat were being treated at hospitals.

Many of the victims are elderly people who have been suffering from fever and dehydration.

The situation has been aggravated by power outages in Karachi, which has a population of about 20 million.

The country's Meteorological Department said cooler weather is forecast from June 23.

Based on reporting by dpa and the BBC

Pakistan Security Forces Clash With Waziristan IDPs

A displaced North Waziristan resident who fainted while queuing up to receive food supplies at a distribution point in Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

At least two people were killed and nine injured during clashes between security forces and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Bannu town in northwestern Pakistan.

The violence broke out late on June 21 in the Bakakhel IDP camp, which hosts about 20,000 IDPS from North Waziristan, where security forces launched a military operation against the Taliban in June 2014.

A witness told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that IDPs were enraged by reports that security guards had tortured an IDP trying to enter the camp.

Security forces fired tear gas to disperse chanting protesters.

It is not clear how the two people were killed, and security forces are preventing journalists from entering the area.

The North Waziristan operation has displaced more than 1 million people, with most living in the Bannu area or around Peshawar.

Scores Dead In Brutal Pakistan Heat Wave

Pakistani youth cool off under a leaking water pipeline during a heat wave in Karachi in May.

Officials in Pakistan have raised the death toll from a brutal heat wave in the Karachi area to at least 122.

Since June 20, 114 people reportedly died in Karachi and eight others in the surrounding Sindh Province, health officials reported on June 21.

All of the deaths have been ascribed to heat stroke.

Temperatures in the southern port city have reached as high as 45 degrees Celsius, just shy of the 1979 record of 47 degrees.

The situation has been aggravated by frequent power outages in several parts of the city, which has a population of about 20 million.

The country's Meteorological Department said on June 21 that temperatures are predicted to subside in coming days, although they will remain high.

Officials are encouraging people to avoid exposure to the sun.

Based on reporting by AFP and Dawn

At Least Five More Die As Pakistan's Heatwave Continues

A man distributes samosas, a traditional delicacy to men before breaking their fast in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on June 19.

Reports from Pakistan say at least five people died on June 20 as a result of sweltering temperatures in Sindh and Baluchistan provinces during what was one of the hottest days of 2015 so far.

In Sibbi, a town in Balochistan Province to the south of the Quetta, one man died and five others fell unconscious when temperatures rose to 49 degrees Celsius.

Further south, in the Tharparkar district of Sindh Province near the border with India, local health officials confirmed that four Pakistani children died as a result of soaring temperatures.

Some areas to the northwest of Islamabad -- as well as the cities of Faisalabad and Rawalpindi to the south of Pakistan’s capital -- received rainfall and strong winds on June 20, offering welcome relief to residents.

On June 7 and 8, at least 25 Pakistanis died in the southern province of Sindh as temperatures reached 46 degrees Celsius.

The heat wave has triggered power outages in several Pakistani cities, sparking angry protests during the holy month of Ramadan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has ordered officials to take "all steps" to address the power outages.

With reporting by The Express Tribune, PTI, and AAP

U.S. State Department: Terror Attacks, Deaths Up Sharply In 2014

Pakistani security personnel collect potential evidence after a bomb attack on the outskirts of the southwestern city of Quetta. (File photo)

A U.S. State Department report says terrorist attacks worldwide went up by more than one-third and fatalities surged by 81 percent in 2014.

In its annual report on terrorism, the department also points to an unprecedented flow of foreign fighters to Syria, often lured by the Islamic State group's use of social media.

Al-Qaeda's leaders "appeared to lose momentum as the self-styled leader of a global movement in the face of ISIL's rapid expansion and proclamation of a Caliphate," the report said, using an alternate acronym for Islamic State.

The State Department report, which covers the calendar year of 2014, said there were 13,463 terrorist attacks -- a 35 percent increase from 2013, resulting in more than 32,700 deaths -- an 81 percent rise.

However, militant activity decreased in some countries, including Pakistan, the Philippines, Nepal, and Russia.

As of late December, more than 16,000 foreign terrorist fighters had traveled to Syria, exceeding the rate of those who traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia "at any point in the last 20 years," the report said.
Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

U.S. Worker Gets Seven Years For Aiding Lahore Bombing That Killed 30

The aftermath of a 2009 attack on buildings housing offices of Police and intelligence agencies in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

A former city worker in Oregon who provided money to a terrorist who carried out a deadly suicide bombing in Pakistan has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison.

Reaz Khan pleaded guilty in February to being an accessory to a 2009 suicide attack on Pakistan's intelligence service in Lahore that killed 30 people and injured an additional 300.

U.S. prosecutors say Khan arranged for a friend in Pakistan, Ali Jaleel, to receive $2,450 before Jaleel participated in the attack. He also provided financial help and advice to Jaleel's wives after the bombing.

Khan did not speak at the sentencing on June 19 before U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman.

Mosman said that while the bombing was horrific, Khan's knowledge of what Jaleel was planning was murky.

"The ultimate outcome was so horrific," the judge said, though Khan had "otherwise lived an exemplary life" and contributed significantly to his community.

Based on reporting by AP and Oregonlive.com

Pakistan Suspends Death Penalty During Ramadan

File photo of the funeral for an executed prisoner in Pakistan.

Pakistan has temporarily suspended the death penalty during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the pause to observe "the sanctity of the holy month."

Ramadan begins in most parts of Pakistan on June 19.

In December, Pakistan partially lifted its moratorium on executions following a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar that left 150 people dead, mostly children.

Sharif later lifted the ban entirely, and since then about 150 inmates have been hanged in Pakistan.

Pakistan's military has intensified a military campaign against local and foreign militants since the Taliban school attack in Peshawar.

The military killed 20 suspected militants in air strikes on June 19 in the northwestern Khyber tribal region, the army said.

The Pakistani military says it has killed more than 2,700 militants since launching a major military operation in the North Waziristan tribal region one year ago.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Ramadan Begins On Same Day For Most World Muslims

An elderly Afghan reads the Koran at the beginning of Ramadan in the western Afghan city of Herat.

More than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world mark the start of Ramadan on June 17, a month of intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts.

Muslims follow a lunar calendar and a moon-sighting methodology that can lead to different countries declaring the start of Ramadan a day or two apart.

However, this year religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Indonesia, and most other parts of the world announced based on their sightings of the moon that daily fasting would begin on the same day.

In Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Ramadan starts on June 18, a day before the rest of the country.

During Ramadan, observant Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, and sex from sunrise to sunset for the entire month.

A single sip of water or a puff of a cigarette is considered enough to invalidate the fast.

The fast is intended to bring the faithful closer to God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate.

Muslims often give to charities during the month, and mosques and aid organizations organize free meals for the public every night.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

Pakistan Orders Foreign Aid Groups To Re-Register

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has ordered all international aid agencies to renew their registration within 90 days amid a crackdown on charity workers whom authorities accuse of breaking unspecified laws.

Last week, authorities said they would tighten oversight of local and international aid groups. Police closed the offices of the international aid organization Save the Children but did not explain why.

"All INGOs [international nongovernmental organizations] will complete the process of their fresh registration with the Government of Pakistan within three months," said a government statement.

Save the Children has operated in Pakistan, a poverty-stricken South Asian nation of 190 million people, for more than 30 years.

But it has had tense relations with the government since 2011, when a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, was recruited to help the CIA hunt down Osama bin Laden.

Last week's decision to shut down Save the Children was suspended two days later after international donors, including the U.S. government, raised concerns.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Pakistan Executes Seven Prisoners Ahead Of Ramadan

Volunteers hand over the body of convicted criminal after execution in May 28.

Pakistan has hanged at least seven convicted murderers ahead of the traditional halt in executions for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Pakistani officials said on June 16 that the latest deaths bring the total number of executions to about 160 since a ban on the death penalty was lifted in December.

Ramadan begins later this week and officials said no one would be executed during the holiday, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

The executions took place in the central province of Punjab in various cities, including Lahore, Faisalabad, and Gujranwala.

Executions in Pakistan had been banned for six years until Taliban militants shot dead 154 people, mostly children, at a school in the restive northwestern city of Peshawar late last year.

The European Union, the United Nations, and human rights organizations have urged Pakistan to reinstate the moratorium on executions.

Amnesty International estimates that there are more than 8,000 prisoners on death row in Pakistan.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpaa

Report: Nuclear States Continue To Upgrade Arsenals

Pakistan's nuclear-capable cruise missile Babur (Hatf VII) being fired during a test at an undisclosed location. (File photo)

A Swedish think tank says world stockpiles of nuclear warheads have fallen from 22,600 to 15,850 between 2010 and 2015, but nuclear armed states have continued to modernize their arsenals.

In a report published on June 15, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said the United States and Russia represented the bulk of the reduction, but pointed to "extensive and expensive long-term modernization programs" in the two countries, which account for 90 percent of the nuclear weapons.

The report said the other three nuclear armed states legally recognized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- China, France, and Britain -- are "either developing or deploying new nuclear weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so."

China was the only state among the five global nuclear powers to have a "modest" increase in the size of its arsenal.

Among the remaining nuclear nations, India and Pakistan continued to increase their arsenals, while Israel tested long-range ballistic missiles.

Based on reporting by AFP and dpa

Pakistan Halts Ordered Closure Of Save The Children Office

A Pakistani security official stands guard outside the office of the sealed international charity 'Save the Children' in Islamabad on June 12.

Pakistan's government has suspended an order to shut down the offices of Save the Children, according to a senior official and a government letter leaked on June 14, after international donors raised concerns over the interior minister's pledge to clamp down on aid groups.

Pakistani authorities closed the offices of international aid organization Save the Children on June 11. The following day, the interior minister accused some charities of breaking Pakistani laws and said they would be shut down.

He did not specify which groups or laws he was referring to.

The government letter, seen by the Reuters news agency, dated June 12 and marked "confidential," offered scant detail.

A senior Interior Ministry official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to discuss the decision, also did not elaborate.

Saeed Ahmed, a spokesman for Save the Children in Pakistan, said they had no word from the government on the decision.

Save the Children was linked to a Pakistani doctor recruited by the CIA to help in the hunt that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Pakistan Says 20 Suspected Militants Killed In Air Strikes

File photo of Pakistani air strikes in North Waziristan.

Pakistan's military says it has killed at least 20 suspected militants in air strikes on a troubled northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border.

A June 13 statement said the strikes took place near the Datta Khel area in North Waziristan tribal region.

The military gave no other details.

Pakistan has been battling a homegrown Islamist insurgency for over a decade following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

The army began a major campaign against Taliban and other militant strongholds in the North Waziristan tribal area in June 2014.

It says it has since killed over 1,300 militants in North Waziristan, clearing 90 percent of the region of militants.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa

Pakistan Shuts Down Save The Children Office In Islamabad

Pakistani news cameramen take footage of the office of the international charity 'Save the Children' sealed by order of Pakistani authorities in Islamabad on June 11.

Pakistan has ordered Save the Children to leave the country, with an official accusing the charity of "anti-Pakistan" activities.

Police sealed off their offices in Islamabad and gave foreign staff 15 days to leave the country.

Save the Children said it received no warning and "strongly objected" to the action.

Pakistan has previously linked the charity to the fake vaccination program used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to track down Osama Bin Laden.

The charity has always denied being involved with the CIA or Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi. Afridi carried out the vaccination program and told Pakistani interrogators that the CIA had recruited him through a senior official at Save the Children to help in the hunt for Bin Laden.

Pakistani officials said interim permission for the group to operate in the country had run out May 15.

One official told AFP: "Their activities were being monitored since a long time. They were doing something which was against Pakistan's interest."

A Save the Children spokesman said the group is "raising our serious concerns at the highest levels," adding that it no longer has foreign staff in Pakistan.

The group's expat staff was forced to leave the country after a Pakistani intelligence report emerged in 2012 linking it to the CIA. It now has 1,200 Pakistani staff working on projects in health, education, and food, the charity said.

The ouster comes after the Pakistani government announced it was tightening the rules for nongovernmental organizations, revoking several of their licenses.

Pakistan has hardened its policies towards many international aid groups, accusing them of being covers for spying operations. It has repeatedly warned them to restrict their activities, vowing stern action for any "suspicious" activity.

Based on reporting by BBC, AFP, and New York Times

Pakistan-Born Brothers Sentenced For Plotting To Bomb New York City

A combo photo shows Sheheryar Qazi (L) and Raees Qazi.

Two Pakistani-born brothers, one of whom bicycled around New York City to scope out targets, were given maximum prison sentences June 11 for plotting to explode a bomb in the city in 2012.

Raees Qazi was sentenced to 35 years and Sheheryar Qazi to 20 years by a federal court in Florida.

The brothers, naturalized U.S. citizens aged 22 and 32, respectively, had pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges in March.

They were accused of trying to support Al-Qaeda by using a weapon of mass destruction, though they never carried out an attack.

Raees Qazi told investigators that he bicycled around New York City prospecting targets, and inquired about the size of crowds at Times Square, Wall Street, and some New York City theaters.

He admitted to using an Al-Qaeda online publication to build an explosive from Christmas tree light bulbs.

But he never chose a target and returned home to Florida after running out of money.

His brother, a former taxi driver, supported the plot by paying bills, and providing a computer and cell phone, prosecutors said.

Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa

Four Policemen Killed In Southwest Pakistan

File Photo of a bomb attack in Quetta, Balochistan.

Pakistani officials say gunmen on motorcycles shot dead four police officers in the southwestern province of Balochistan.

The shootings took place on June 11 in the Pashtunabad neighborhood of the provincial capital, Quetta, as the police were conducting a patrol in their vehicle.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Balochistan has been the scene of violence perpetrated by Islamic radicals and Baluch separatists who want a share of revenue from natural gas and mineral resources and complete autonomy from Islamabad.

On May 29, gunmen killed at least 19 people traveling in a bus in the town of Mastung, some 40 kilometers south of Quetta.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

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