The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Name:
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Everything that's wrong with the Winnipeg Free Press----in one easy lesson.

If the Winnipeg Free Press was a real newspaper, this city would be buzzing with excitement today.

The streets would be electrified with anticipation. There would be only one topic of conversation--- “Are you going?”

It’s the biggest cultural event of the year in Winnipeg and the city’s biggest newspaper has hardly grunted an acknowledgement. The Toronto Globe and Mail has carried more stories on it than the Winnipeg Free Press.

It.

The Boys in the Photograph.

The world premiere at MTC of the new musical by Ben Elton and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

If you know next-to-nothing about it, you can thank the Winnipeg Free Press.

Like all beleagured dailies in the Internet Age, the Winnipeg Free Press clings to its last tattered source of respite.

We’re professionals, they bleat.

We’re trained journalists, unlike those not-to-be-trusted bloggers.
We know what is and is not news, and how it should be delivered.

Don’t worry your pretty little heads, leave the decisions about news to the trained professionals.

What The Boys in The Photograph has shown is that there isn’t a breath of news judgement left in the Winnipeg Free Press.

The FP has failed to recognize how important this production is.

It isn't just the $1.5 million cost of the production which MTC is co-funding and which makes it the most expensive production in the theatre company's history.

"The future of The Boys in the Photograph depends entirely on how Winnipeg receives it. The only other planned staging, in Toronto, was scrapped last year because, according to a Mirvish Productions spokesperson, the company still hasn't located an appropriate venue.
“We have to make it a huge hit here,” he says. “The audience is going to have to love their night, and I'm confident they will.”

So wrote Patrick White in last Saturday's Globe and Mail in a story ever-so-appopriately sub-titled "Why is Ben Elton, British tabloid celebrity, premiering his new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical at the Manitoba Theatre Centre?"

The FP has failed to do what newspapers do best -- bring people together around a single issue.

What an amazing lost opportunity. They could have spent weeks building up the story to the April 30 opening night.

Starting with the backstory.

The Boys in the Photograph is the rebirth of a play written by Elton and Lloyd Webber ten years ago about how the outbreak of IRA terrorism impacts the Catholic and Prostestant boys on a soccer team in Belfast.

When it hit the London stage in September, 2000 it was called The Beautiful Game, playing off the label given the sport by soccer great Pele. It was well-received and ran for 11 months. But it never made it to Broadway (for obvious reasons, as you'll see in a minute).

The play sat on the shelf for another five years until Elton found himself in Toronto preparing a run of his play We Will Rock You, based on the music of Queen. As he tells it, while casting the play he was stunned by the level of talent he was seeing in Canada.

“It was sort of heartbreaking because although we cast the very best cast, we knew we could have cast it twice with all the brilliant people we saw.” he told one interviewer. The talent pool lit his creative fire. Maybe, he thought, maybe it was time to redo The Beautiful Game, only this time to bring it to its full potential.

He floated the idea past Toronto impresario David Mirvish, who pulled out his chequebook. There was a problem. There was no venue open in Toronto for a play of that size. Mirvish had an idea---take it to Steven Schipper in Winnipeg. He's good people. They know what they're doing there. You won't be sorry.

So here it is.

Gone is the original title. The producers discovered that patron shorthand had turned The Beautiful Game, the musical, into Andrew Lloyd Webber's "soccer musicial." Out went the emphasis on the sport in favour of a focus on the players.

A quarter of the original music has been replaced. And anyone who saw the original would only recognize three-quarters of the script. Elton says he recognized the original staging was too dark, too depressing, too hopeless.

He doesn't say, and for some reason none of the interviewers has asked him the obvious, that post 9/11 the future was, and is, bleak for a play where the hero sympathizes with and eventually joins the IRA to become a terrorist bomber. Just try pitching that one to Broadway.

The Boys in the Photograph isn't making that mistake.

Who's in it?

Some of that mind-blowing talent that Elton talks about.

Jeff Madden, now playing Frankie Valli in the Toronto production of Jersey Boys, was targeted for the lead role of John until he bowed out last October. Tony Lepage now plays the local football star John Kelly, trying to balance his wife, his hopes of a playing professional soccer and his pals who are being drawn into the "struggles" that will tear Belfast apart for the next 30 years. ( edited May 3rd)

Erica Peck is leaving the Toronto production of We Will Rock You to play the wife. She thinks she's coming back. But if her meteoric rise on the theatre scene is a clue, who knows what planet this 22-year-old is destined to land on? You might ask her mentor--Ben Elton.

You want more gravitas? Richard McMillan played Scar in Toronto's Lion King. Scar. What more do we need to say. He's coming to play the priest who coaches the team in The Boys.

The 57-year-old Stratford veteran has appeared on Broadway, at the Shaw Festival, with the Canadian Opera Company and in movies ranging from The Day After Tomorrow to M. Butterfly. McMillan, wrote one reviewer, (has) won more theatre awards than you've had hot dinners.

The "professionals" at the FP have demonstrated they don't even know how to exploit a "world-class" opportunity.

Three weeks ago they launched their terrible We Believe in Winnipeg campaign with an edition focused on the arts. It turned out to be a regurgitation of the yellow pages listings under A for Arts, without the phone numbers.

The back page was a full-page ad for The Boys in the Photograph.

But these "professionals" never thought that, hey, maybe we should include an entire story about this, the most exciting theatrical production in the city all year. All they could see was the ad revenue.

Ben Elton and Andrew Lloyd Webber are quite prepared to share the success of the musical. As Elton told Sun Media reporter Lindsey Ward:

"If this is the hit that I believe it will be, Steven specifically and the MTC in general will have been one of the principal reasons. And if it goes around the world as I hope and pray it will, then the MTC will yet again have a world banner to wave. It won't be the first time, but it might be the biggest."

And maybe then the Winnipeg Free Press will wake up in time to hop on the bandwagon and demonstrate, once again, what "professional journalists" they are.

Everything that's wrong with the Winnipeg Free Press----in one easy lesson.

Class dismissed.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

NDP show trials set the stage for prosecuting 2 cops

Manitoba's NDP government wants to send a Winnipeg police officer to jail.

It doesn't matter which one. Any one will do.

"Justice" Minister Dave (Six Months) Chomiak has painted bullseyes on two policemen in particular to get the ball rolling --- Const. Darrel Selley and his partner Const. Kristopher Overwater, who have been charged with a raft of offenses guaranteed to send them to prison if convicted.

The province has had great experience convicting police in the court of public opinion through Stalin-esque show trials called public inquiries (Sophonow, Driskell, Taman) at which the verdict is arrived at first (police are guilty) and evidence is then manipulated to, ahem, "prove" it.


The Black Rod has developed a cottage industry doing what the mainstream media refuses to do---expose these show trials as the travesties of justice they are, modern-day Salem Witch Trials.

The NDP has had a bad track record, though, in real courts with real judges who apply real rules of evidence and cross-examination. This time they hope its different. This time they invested 20 months of investigation to arrive at headline-grabbing charges against the accused officers.

Attempted Murder!
Fabricating Evidence!

Wow.

The girl who this week smashed an innocent office worker in the head repeatedly with a hatchet wasn't charged with attempted murder.

The car thieves who deliberately drive stolen vehicles at police officers on foot are never charged with attempted murder.

But two policeman trying to stop an (allegedly) doped up serial car thief get the book thrown at them.

Nope, no double standard here.

There was always something odd about this case. To start with, the, er, victim was not your usual cop-shot stiff , namely aboriginal, criminal, stupid and dead.

He wasn't dead. He got shot in the ass.

The rest of the story fit the template though---stolen car, car chase, police officer jumped, a shot. Except the shot was a bumshot, which, no matter how you look at it, was and is unusual.

A look at the charges stemming from the shooting tells the story the NDP wants to convince a court is the truth.

The charges say that Const. Selley shot fleeing car thief Kristofer Fournier in the ass and thereby broke the law. Then, says the Crown, Selley and his partner Const. Overwater made up a story to cover their own asses.

The charges against Overwater are clearly designed to get him to roll over on his partner-fabricating evidence, plus aiding and abetting the shooting. For good measure they threw in dangerous driving while chasing a desperate druggie in a stolen car.

But it's really Selley they want to put in jail.

Attempted murder tops the list, then all the variations, like Campbell Soup flavours:
- discharging a firearm with intent to wound,
- aggravated assault with a weapon,
- careless use of a weapon and
- criminal negligence causing bodily harm.




For more exotic fare they added fabricating evidence. And the cherry on top, aiding and abetting the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle.

After 20 months of investigation, they couldn't decide what crime Selley had committed, so they're offering the jury a smorgasbord.

This is an old prosecution trick. With a single charge, the jury gives a simple Yes/No answer into whether the evidence supports the charge beyond any reasonable doubt.

With a dim sum menu, the Crown knows that juries reason that the accused did something, even though they can't exactly be sure what, so they rationalize a compromise---throw out the worst and the least and vote guilty on the middle.

But if the Crown has to resort to these games, you know something smells. They don't care what the charge is, as long as they get a conviction.

This begs a hard look at the case against the police, and since the MSM won't do it….

The initial police report said that about 2:45 a.m. one morning in July, 2007, Selley and Overwater spotted Fournier in a stolen SUV as they responded to a robbery call from a 7-Eleven store in St. James.
They chased him about 2 miles to the intersection of Grant and Lindsay St. in south River Heights. There, the cars crashed into one another.

Fournier jumped out of his vehicle and ran. The officers split up and gave chase. Selley fell and hurt his ankle. He said Fournier jumped him and tried to wrestle his gun away. Then he dropped Fournier with a shot from his gun.
So what does this tell us?

1. The mainstream media accounts never failed to say that police now say Fournier was not responsible for the 7-Eleven robbery. So what? If the officers who spotted him in a stolen vehicle near the robbery scene thought he was a good suspect, that's sufficient reason to stop him.

2. Fournier was driving a stolen car, and when made by police he fled. That made him even more of a suspect for the robbery. Note to media: convience store robbers often use stolen cars to get away.

3. When the police caught up with Fournier, there was a collision of vehicles. Who hit who? We read in one report that he rammed the police car. We read in another that the police car rammed the stolen car. Professional reporters at work.

Either way, the incident had now escalated. Either the police felt they had to use their car to physically stop the stolen vehicle or Fourner used the SUV as a weapon to attack the police. More importantly, Fournier fled the scene of the accident.

Put yourself in the shoes of the two police officers.

They've just chased a suspect in a robbery for two miles and had their cruiser car smashed up by the suspect's vehicle. If they had had time to run the plate, they knew it was a stolen car. A robbery, by itself, is defined as theft with violence or threat of violence, which means the suspect may be armed.




If they knew he was driving a stolen car, they knew for a fact he was armed, since the tool of the car thief is a screwdriver, an edged weapon no different than a knife in police tactics.

If the collision was caused by the thief, then they knew he was violent. He was obviously desperate to escape, and if not apprehended as soon as possible, it's not inconceivable he would resort to carjacking to get another vehicle.

And the timing of the incident was bad and getting worse by the minute. 2:30 is pub closing time. In the next half hour, 45 minutes, the streets are filled with pub goers driving home, a perfect storm for a T-bone accident involving a fleeing car thief racing through a red light.

In short, Fournier had become a danger to the public by any definition of police work. And that is exactly what was missing from every MSM story on the charges.

It's called the "fleeing felon" defence. The law says police can shoot a fleeing suspect if they can show they had to act to stop a threat to themselves or the public.

Fournier's former lawyer said forensic evidence shows Fournier was shot at a distance. And several shots were fired.

Since Fournier was hit in the ass, he had his back to Selley and therefore you can argue he was not a threat. And police are trained to use controlled fire, not a spray of shots.

But what about that story that he jumped the fallen officer. Most people suggest this is the allegation of fabricated evidence.

Even if Fournier never actually touched Selley, there's no doubt he was in the vicinity, having just fled his stolen car. And he may have entered the kill zone, deliberately or otherwise, which, as we learned in the Matthew Dumas inquest, is a bubble 25 feet around a police officer confronting an armed person, within which he is trained to shoot to kill before the other person can cover the distance and strike.

A spooked police officer firing from a downed position may not be as accurate with his shots as he intends, especially if his target turns at the last minute and takes a slug in the keister.

This may be the right time to take a closer look at the victim of the alleged crimes---Kristofer Fournier.

He was 18 at the time, and on the last court day of 2008 he answered charges arising from the July, 2007 incident.

Some charges, like assaulting a police officer and attempting to grab his gun (that's a charge?), were dropped. But he did plead guilty to others which are quite illuminating.

The Winnipeg Free Press says Fournier pleaded guilty to auto theft, dangerous driving, and "having a quantity of cocaine and ecstasy on him that night." The paper added, "He's also admitted to causing some damage to six other cars he tried to steal in late 2006."

Does that mean he pleaded guilty to attempted theft of six cars? How much dope was he carrying? Did he plead guilty to possession of cocaine or trafficking in cocaine and ecstasy? Is it too much to expect clarity in the newspaper?

Even more confusing is the story by Canadian Press which states that "he was convicted of impaired driving and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle." Was the impaired driving charge related to the cocaine?

We can fume about professional reporters at work another time. What's clear is that Fournier makes a poor victim.

He had stolen a car and drove recklessly for two miles, possibly stopping only when driving into a police car in pursuit. And they're charging the police with dangerous driving for trying to stop him?

He may have been stoned on cocaine, although that's not clear from the press reports. His juvenile record is sealed, but we can guess from the six attempted thefts referred to by the Free Press that its filled with priors.

Did someone mention cocaine? Or was it actually crack. The use of either causing the user to become aggressive and/or paranoid.

In other words, dangerous, desperate and exactly someone who would resist arrest violently.

The NDP may even find that the parts of their prior show trials that were celebrated will boomerang back on them.

Fournier had charges dropped by the Crown.




Why?
Wasn't this explored in the Sophonow and Driskell inquiries?


Shouldn't we know if the charges were dropped in exchange for Fournier's testimony at the trials of the police officers?
Was there (gasp) a secret plea bargain?



Fournier has spoken with a lawyer, according to one story, with plans to sue the police. Doesn't this give him motive to lie?

And haven't we learned from the Sophonow inquiry that eyewitnesses to crimes are the worst witnesses?

Four or five people testified in court that they saw Thomas Sophonow walk out the doughnut shop where Barbara Stoppel lay dead in the washroom, and the inquiry into his conviction decided they were wrong to a man. And they were sober and not under stress, unlike Fournier who was
- running from the law,

- desperate to make an escape,

- possibly stoned, and, eventually,

- in shock from a gunshot wound.

Yeah, he'll be great on the stand as he, ahem, remembers the exact details of his crime spree.

Even the tactic of turning one police officer against the other will run into big problems thanks to the previous public inquiries. The prosecutor cannot accept any plea bargain, thanks to the Taman Inquiry, without facing public allegations of a cover-up.

The only independence the independent prosecutor assigned to the case will have will be to decide what colour socks to wear to court. And if he decides anything other than black, he'd better phone the Crown's office first.

And will Fournier even show up for the court proceedings? One story said he lived in Winnipeg on Eric Street and another said he had moved to Alberta.

Which is not to say this case isn't going anywhere. The investigators spent 20 months sifting through evidence. In biker trials, that usually means wiretaps. And a charge of fabricating evidence can't be just a bluff. There has to be something to back it up even if that something can be challenged in court.

Ultimately, for the NDP, it's not whether they win or lose this case, it's playing the game.

They laid the charges, now they want the prosecutions.

If the police lose, the NDP will preen at sending a cop to jail.

If the police win, the NDP will feed the public cynicism and claim it is proof of the need for their announced changes to the police act.

Monday, April 13, 2009

We Believe---this campaign is a disaster

You may as well cue the funeral dirge for Winnipeg.

Sunday saw the first installment of "We Believe--In Winnipeg", a joint campaign by the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce "to get the city to feel good about itself."

Well, if this is the best that the city's business community and biggest newspaper can come up with, then it's time for the medical examiner to call the time of death. We believe---Winnipeg has flatlined.

We Believe/The Arts, Sunday's campaign kickoff, was the worst dreck in modern memory. The amount of time put into Part One can be measure in milliseconds. The so-called stories were nothing more than quick cut-and-paste jobs from city promo brochures. They looked under Art Galleries and Theatres in the phone book and reprinted the results.

In hyping the campaign, the FP wrote "(Chamber president Dave Angus) and Silver said Winnipeg needs to get over its inferiority complex and do a better job of trumpeting its success stories."
And so we were told:

* The world knows us for ballet
"If you took a worldwide poll, what one thing would most people associate with the city of Winnipeg?" asked writer Alison Mayes.
"Chances are, it would be either the 1919 General Strike or the Royal Winnipeg Ballet." she answered herself.

Fantastic!

Or it would be fantastic if this was 1919 when ballet was a current art form and you had to show an interest in ballet to be considered cultured.

But then came the horseless carriage, electric lights, telephones, talking pictures, rock and roll, television, men in space, women in space, breakdancing, rock videos, Michael Jackson (when he still had a nose), and computers in every home. They know us for ballet?

Who the hell cares?

Oh, Alison...the correct answer to your question is Murder Capital of Canada, Car Theft Capital of Canada, and perennial contender for Gang Capital of Canada.

* Film Critics, box office agree on us
Randall King told us a made-in-Manitoba movie, The Haunting in Connecticut, has earned $37 million US and been in the top three box office draws for the past two weeks. And another locally-shot movie The Stone Angel won Genies for best actress and best score.

Whoopee.

He didn't say that nobody knows what a Genie is, and fewer care.

And that The Haunting in Connecticut owes more to the public's love for a good scary movie than for where it was shot. Or maybe its the drawing power of star Virginia Madsen. The Horsemen, the Dennis Quaid movie shot in Winnipeg in 2007 with China's most beautiful woman Zhang Ziyi, limped into a limited release in March, 2009, and hasn't been heard from since.

* Call us the CanLit capital said Morley Walker.
We prefer the Slurpee Capital. People have actually heard of Slurpees.

* Forever the bedrock of rock
Omigod. Could it get any worse? John Kendle dragged out every chestnut in the forest in his first three paragraphs. Neil Young, Burton Cummings, The Guess Who. None of them has had a hit in 30 years. They're your grandpa's music.

And so it went.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce,

- we write books no one reads,

- produce movies nobody watches,

- make music nobody listens to, but

- we cling with a death grip to art forms of the past century (or two) like the ballet, the opera and symphony.

Doesn't that make you feel better about the city already?

They couldn't even hype the mythology of Winnipeg. Where's Guy Maddin when you really need him? Oh, yeah. He moved to Toronto.

"The cold statistics...contradict our own self-mythology. The most recent study, published in 2006 by the Hamilton-based arts consultant Hill Strategies Research, showed that Winnipeg's arts community, size-wise, conforms to the per capita national average," confessed Morley Walker.

Elsewhere, a grabbag story on Winnipeg's artists community referenced a recent issue of the "Winnipeg-based art magazine Border Crossings".

"In it, editor Meeka Walsh wrote that in this place of flat terrain, geographic isolation, harsh climate and lack of wealth, "it is necessary to dream a city."

Well if that doesn't shake you out of your inferiority complex, then nothing will. Except, if we were dreaming up a city, this wouldn't be it.

We shudder to think there's apparently months of this badly done, small-town boosterism still to come, with special sections devoted to everything from the aircraft industry to agriculture. Eek.

For the record, when this campaign was announced last month, we held our fire. We feared the worst (although even we couldn't imagine how bad the worst would turn out to be), but we were prepared to see what the C of C came up with. We even began to brainstorm our own We Believe stories.

We now see we may have to come to the rescue of the campaign.

Stay tuned.

Monday, April 06, 2009

War in Afghanistan 2009 Week 14

The British in Afghanistan are using an artillery piece so accurate we may have to redefine the word sniper.

A Taliban commander was hit in the chest with a 35 pound shell fired from the gun 1.8 miles away. The blast killed him instantly and blew apart two of his subordinates. Time from firing to detonation: 5 seconds.

The 105mm Light Gun, installed last month by the defenders of the town of Musa Qala, has become the weapon most feared by the local insurgent fighters, who call it The Dragon because of the tongue of fire that blasts out of its muzzle whenever its fired.

The two-ton gun was flown by helicopter to the foot of a cliff, dismantled because of concerns the pathway couldn't handle the weight, then carried in pieces up a 130 foot hill by the men of 8 (Alma) Commando Battery, 29 Cdo Royal Artillery.

But it's not the only weapon the Taliban hates, and fears.

The bombing campaign in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions by unmanned drones is starting to unnerve the Taliban leaders in what used to be safe territory where they could train and regroup in peace.

About 25 people were killed by two drone attacks this week, alone. Since the drones were let loose last year, about 35 strikes have killed about 350 people, including mid-level al Qaeda commanders, according to reports from Pakistani officials, residents and insurent sources. Since US President Barack Obama took office drones have killed at least 81 people, primarily Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, underlining the message that there is no sanctuary for terrorists anymore.

Pakistani Taliban leaders have started a suicide bomb terror campaign within Pakistan to get the American drones stopped. A suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque south of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, killed 22 people Sunday, and a suicide bomber blew himself up in a packed mosque near the Afghan border at a Friday prayer service, killing 48 people.

The splinter group that claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack called for an end to the drone attacks and a spokesman for Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud threatened two suicide attacks per week in Pakistan if the drone attacks continued.

Canadian forces in Afghanistan have a new weapon of their own.

CH-146 Griffon helicopters, equipped with Gatling guns, have begun flying escort duties to protect CH-147 Chinook transport helicopters and ground convoys. They can also spot roadside bombs from the air.

Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, are flying as helicopter door gunners, becoming the first Canadian air gunners in combat since the Second World War.

Retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie addressed our concerns in this article in the Edmonton Sun:

"(He) said movies like Black Hawk Down (about an ill-fated U.S. military operation in Somalia in the 1990s) can give the impression that helicopters are flying death traps, easy targets for anyone with a shoulder-mounted grenade launcher.

In fact, MacKenzie said, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are not designed for airborne targets and only have a range of a hundred metres or so. Helicopters can easily fly above that.

Real surface-to-air missiles are harder to come by, and so far the Taliban don't appear to have any weapons that sophisticated."

(Canuck helicopter team adds a vital eye in the sky, Edmonton Sun, Andrew Hanon, Tuesday, February 03, 2009)
************

Why We Fight
In case you forgot...

Taliban blocks UN polio treatment in Pakistan
Taliban miliants in northern Pakistan have triggered a medical emergency by refusing to allow UN health officials to conduct a polio vaccination campaign.

By Isambard Wilkinson in Islamabad and Ashfaq Yusufzai in Mingora/ U.K. Telegraph
26 Mar 2009


Militants in northern Pakistan have triggered a medical emergency by refusing to allow health officials to conduct a polio vaccination campaign.

Taliban militants in the former tourist destination of Swat Valley have obstructed officials from vaccinating over 300,000 children.

Militants have seized control of most of Swat and its capital, Mingora, and have extended their rule since striking a peace deal with the government and army earlier this year.

“There is a real emergency there. It is urgent to go in and vaccinate children,” said Dr Nima Abid, the Polio Team leader from the World Health Organisation in Pakistan.

Extremist clerics have used mosque loudspeakers and illegal radio stations to spread the idea that the vaccinations cause infertility and are part of a US-sponsored anti-Muslim plot.

Dr Abid said that militants have not allowed polio vaccinations to take place at a critical time.

“Polio vaccination is effective in first three months of the year when virus transmission is lowest and so there is no interference with the vaccine virus,” said Dr Abid.

Militants had reportedly agreed to allow the vaccination program to take place as part of the peace agreements.

However, the militants had reneged on their word and despite assiduous efforts made by the increasingly irrelevant local administration, no vaccinations have taken place.

“It’s a US tool to cut the population of the Muslims. It is against Islam that you take a medicine before the disease”, said, Muslim Khan, Swat’s Taliban spokesman, speaking by telephone.

Yesterday government officials convened another meeting in Swat an attempt to break the impasse, according to Dr Abdul Jabbar, the WHO’s polio team leader in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Swat had recorded 4 cases of polio last year of the total 53 recorded by NWFP and the tribal areas. Pakistan had 118 cases in 2009.

The disease is concentrated in NWFP where 60% of the refusals were attributed to “religious reasons”.

Danger isn't stopping children from heading to school
Some schools are overflowing and new ones opening as education is increasing in Kandahar
GLORIA GALLOWAY/ Globe and Mail
March 26, 2009

Highlights of Galloway's story:

She quotes Hajim Anwar, director of education in Kandahar province where Canadian troops are stationed.

* school enrolment went up by 15 to 20 per cent across the province in the past year.
* Most of the increase has occurred in the rural districts outside the relative security of Kandahar city, where large numbers of children have been enrolled for some time.
* The schools "are overflowing," said Drew Gilmour, director of Development Works, an aid agency in Kandahar.
* The Mirwais Mina high school, where men on motorbikes sprayed the faces of girls and teachers with acid last November, is bulging at the seams.
* Enrolment increased from 800 to nearly 1,300 in one year and, although students stayed away immediately after the attack, nearly all have returned.
* new schools have opened even as others have closed.
*In Shorabak in the southeastern part of Kandahar province, he said, there were no schools a year ago and now there are seven.
*In the district of Shah Wali Kot, the northern part of which is largely controlled by the Taliban, there were five schools last year and now there are nine.

AFGHANISTAN: Dozens of schools reopen in volatile south
KABUL, 26 March 2009 (IRIN) - Eighty-one primary and secondary schools which had previously been closed in southern areas of Afghanistan owing to insecurity have reopened in the past three months, the Education Ministry (MoE) has said.

Highlights of the IRIN story:
* “The reopening of 81 schools in Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces will enable over 50,000 students to reclaim their right to education,” Asif Nang, a spokesman for the MoE, told IRIN in Kabul.
* Some 15 percent of the 50,000 students are girls, MoE said.
* According to UNICEF, the country has one of the highest adult illiteracy rates in the world: 71 percent in general, 86 percent for females.

Sadly, on Wednesday Mohammad Anwar Khan, Kandahar's director of education, was killed along with 12 others when four Taliban suicide bombers disguised in army uniforms attacked the provincial council.

But more and more there's evidence that the populace has had enough of the terrorists.

In Herat province, Afghan soldiers, assisted by coalition forces, were on a combat reconnaissance patrol in the Shindand district when "concerned local villagers" stopped them and directed the commandos to the location of two weapons and ordnance caches in a nearby area.

One cache, which was buried less than two-feet deep in a dried-up riverbed near a well-traveled road, consisted of 10 mortar rounds, seven cases of 30 mm anti-aircraft rounds, one 100 mm projectile, nine rocket fuses and four grenades.

The second contained 20 rocket-propelled grenades, 30 armour-piercing sabot rounds, eight Russian smoke canisters and two cases of 20 mm anti-aircraft rounds.

The Taliban this week continued their tactic of disrupting NATO supplies entering Afghanistan from Pakistan.

Nine NATO vehicles were destroyed in a depot near the Pakistani city of Peshawar by Taliban forces Friday.

The US, meanwhile, is making arrangements to ferry supplies through the former Soviet republics bordering Afghanistan. A transit deal with Tajikistan has been signed allowing up to 250 NATO trucks a day to cross the border. Bilateral agreements with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are expected to be signed soon.

Kyrgyzstan, however, announced last month it was shutting down the US base near its capital Bishkek. This is the last US outpost in Central Asia and has been valuable for moving troops and supplies into Afghanistan.