Egypt Independent: World-Main news en India and Pakistan revive diplomatic efforts <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>India&rsquo;s top diplomat visits Pakistan on Tuesday for the first meeting with his counterpart since New Delhi called off talks last year aimed at easing the rivals&rsquo; many disputes.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours have resulted in both armies firing across their disputed border in the region of <a href="">Kashmir</a> several times in the past year. At least a dozen people were killed and thousands forced to flee their homes in the latest fighting in January.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is officially slated to discuss issues related to the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation in meetings with his Pakistani counterpart, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. Still, the Pakistani side expressed hope for resuming negotiations known as the Composite Dialogue, so-called because they aim to address multiple overlapping issues including Kashmir, cross-border terrorism, border and water issues.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;I wouldn&rsquo;t like to speculate, but naturally the two secretaries will also discuss bilateral relations,&rdquo; said Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;We hope that this process can lead to the resumption of the Composite Dialogue.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A senior Indian diplomat was more cautious late last week, saying that he was &ldquo;hesitant to predict&rdquo; whether Tuesday&rsquo;s meeting would lay the groundwork for restarting negotiations.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>India&rsquo;s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August abruptly cancelled the last round of talks in Islamabad out of anger that Pakistan&rsquo;s envoy in New Delhi had hosted Kashmiri separatists in preparation.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir since the brutal fighting following the two countries&rsquo; partition in 1947 following the end of British colonial rule.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Himalayan region is divided between the two countries by a disputed frontier, part of one of the world&rsquo;s most heavily militarised borders.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>India says Pakistan supports separatist militants that cross from the Pakistan side to attack Indian forces. Pakistan says India&rsquo;s military is abusing the human rights of Muslim Kashmiris.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>On Sunday in Kashmir, Modi&rsquo;s ruling Hindu nationalist party formed a coalition state government with the regional People&rsquo;s Democratic Party, which promotes self-rule for Indian-controlled Kashmir and peace talks with militant separatists. The new coalition offered a sign that cooperation is possible.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Another sign Modi might be warming to the idea of improving relations: the Indian leader telephoned Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last month to wish his country luck in the World Cup cricket tournament.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>India won its match with Pakistan in the tournament a day later.</div> Tue, 03 Mar 2015 11:15:00 +0000 AFP 2445397 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/03/03/501271/20150303_kashmir.jpg Poll gives France's far-right National Front party boost ahead of regional vote <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>More than a third of French voters believe the country&rsquo;s far-right leader Marine Le Pen &ldquo;embodies French republican values&rdquo;, according to a shock poll for left-leaning newspaper <em>Libération</em> published just weeks before key regional elections.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The <a href="">survey</a> published on Monday nevertheless showed that a significant majority (57 percent) believe Le Pen would make a &ldquo;bad&rdquo; or &ldquo;very bad&rdquo; president.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But the high level of approval &ndash; being recognised for having &ldquo;Republican values&rdquo; is a prized political asset &ndash; suggests that the National Front&rsquo;s (FN) strategy of rehabilitating the party&rsquo;s negative image through relentless domination of the media appears to be enjoying some success.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The FN is riding high. Polls give the far-right anti-immigration and anti-Europe party up to 33 percent national support as France gears up for this month&rsquo;s regional vote &ndash; well ahead of the ruling Socialists, the conservative opposition UMP and other parties which have been consistently trailing behind.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>On Sunday, Le Pen told supporters in Paris that the vote, due to take place between March 22 and 29 (for the leadership of France&rsquo;s 100 &ldquo;departements&rdquo;), was going to be a &ldquo;<a href="">monumental shock</a>&rdquo; to the French political establishment.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;These elections will be crucial in determining the future of our country,&rdquo; she said, admitting that, while regional elections would not bring the FN into parliamentary ascendancy, &ldquo;getting into power is something that is achieved in incremental steps&rdquo;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>A confident FN</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Her supporters are buoyed and the opposition is worried.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But historian Valérie Igounet, one of France&rsquo;s leading experts on the far-right and Holocaust denial, on Monday sounded a note of caution.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;We have information from polls but the elections haven&rsquo;t happened yet and we don&rsquo;t know what the results will be,&rdquo; she told FRANCE 24.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Indeed, despite the FN&rsquo;s lead against other (fringe and mainstream) parties, France&rsquo;s first-past-the-post system means it is unlikely that the far-right party will sweep to a landslide victory or dominate many regional councils: if no party achieves 50 percent in the first round of voting, many voters are likely to turn out at the second round to keep the FN out.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But the momentum is palpable, and Le Pen&rsquo;s anti-Europe and anti-immigration party is in a confident mood.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Caveat elector</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;Marine Le Pen is omnipresent in the media, pushing the FN&rsquo;s strategy of rehabilitating the party&rsquo;s image,&rdquo; Igounet said, referring to the FN&rsquo;s public rejection of its racist roots and the party&rsquo;s insistence that its anti-immigration and anti-Europe stance is simply economic pragmatism.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;She embodies a strategy in relation to the media that is completely different to that of her father [FN founder <a href="">Jean-Marie Le Pen</a>], who only spoke to the media to be deliberately provocative.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Le Pen senior certainly succeeded as a provocateur, famously saying in 1987 that the Holocaust was &quot;just a detail in the Second World War&quot; &ndash; a comment that landed him one of his numerous convictions for breaching France&rsquo;s anti-Semitism laws.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;The FN has changed over the years, and its pool of supporters has changed significantly since the mid-1990s,&rdquo; Igounet said. &ldquo;But it is still very much an extreme-right party.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;And if it does enjoy significant successes in this month&rsquo;s elections, Le Pen will have achieved another step in the FN strategy of planting the party firmly into the [mainstream] French political landscape,&rdquo; she added.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;If this happens, what she said on Sunday will be true: it will be a monumental shock.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div> Tue, 03 Mar 2015 11:06:00 +0000 AFP 2445393 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/03/03/501271/le_pen_0.jpg Nigeria's Boko Haram releases beheading video echoing Islamic State <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Nigeria&#39;s Islamist sect Boko Haram released a video purporting to show it beheading two men, its first online posting using advanced graphics and editing techniques reminiscent of footage from Islamic State.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The film, released on Monday, shows militants standing behind the two men who are on their knees, their hands tied behind their backs, with one man standing over them, holding a knife.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>One of the men is made to tell the camera that they had been paid by authorities to spy on the militant group, before the film moves to another scene showing their decapitated bodies. It was not possible to confirm the film&#39;s authenticity or date.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The footage will stoke concerns that Boko Haram, which evolved out of a clerical movement focused on northeast Nigeria, is expanding its scope and seeking inspiration from global militant networks including al Qaeda and Islamic State.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The militants who have killed thousands and kidnapped hundreds in their bid to carve out an Islamist state in their homeland, have in recent months stepped up cross-border raids into Cameroon, Chad and Niger.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Nigeria&#39;s President Goodluck Jonathan has said Boko Haram is allied to both al Qaeda and its offshoot Islamic State, though that has not been confirmed by the group itself.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Boko Haram film&#39;s use of graphics, the footage of black-clad militants with a black flag, and the editing to show only the aftermath of the beheading, were particularly reminiscent of footage from Islamic state, which has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria and killed several hostages.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In the film, one of the men says he comes from Baga in Borno state, and the other says he is from Michika in Adamawa state, both areas where the army says it has recently recaptured territory from Boko Haram.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Past Boko Haram films have been much cruder affairs, often featuring a man identified as leader Abubakar Shekau talking more about local gripes than global jihad. A number of recent releases have included much more gruesome footage of beheadings.</div> Tue, 03 Mar 2015 10:55:00 +0000 Reuters 2445390 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/02/28/501010/boko_haram_02-28-15.jpg Mourners pay respects to murdered Kremlin critic Nemtsov <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Several hundred <a href="">Russia</a>ns, many carrying red carnations, queued on Tuesday to pay their respects to Boris Nemtsov, the Kremlin critic whose murder last week showed the hazards of speaking out against Russian President Vladimir Putin.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Putin&#39;s aides deny any involvement in killing Nemtsov, who was shot in the back four times on Friday within sight of the Kremlin walls, but Nemtsov&#39;s friends say he was the victim of an atmosphere of hatred whipped up against anyone who opposes the president.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In a gesture of conciliation from the Kremlin, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich joined mourners filing into the hall where Nemtsov&#39;s open casket was on display. Dvorkovich, from the Kremlin&#39;s increasingly sidelined liberal camp, was carrying a bunch of red flowers.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>For the most part though, the mourners were die-hard liberals who feel deep alarm at Nemtsov&#39;s killing but who represent only a minority of the Russian population. Polls show most Russians support Putin, despite a plummeting rouble and international sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;He (Nemtsov) was our hope,&quot; said Tatyana, a pensioner queuing to pay her respects. &quot;I feel like Putin killed me on the day he died. This last year has been full of suffering.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Photographs of Nemtsov hung on the walls, and sombre music played. Former British Prime Minister John Major was among the mourners.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Lev Ponomaryov, a leading human rights campaigner, pointed the finger of blame at state media, which routinely describe Kremlin opponents as traitors.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;If you look at what people say of the killing, the versions differ. Some blame Vladimir Putin, some don&#39;t. But they all agree that Russian state television created this atmosphere that leads to this.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The killing of a leading opponent against the backdrop of the Kremlin, in an area closely watched by the security services, has been deeply awkward for Putin.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In an interview with Reuters in Washington, President Barack Obama said it was a sign of a worsening climate in Russia, where civil rights and media freedoms have been rolled back.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Russian investigators say they are actively working to track down Nemtsov&#39;s killers. The Investigative Committee, the body in charge of the investigation, said it had obtained closed-circuit television footage from the scene, and scheduled ballistic and medical tests.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Nemtsov&#39;s girlfriend, Anna Duritskaya, who was with him at the moment he was shot, has returned to her native Ukraine, the committee said in a statement. It said she had already given evidence, and undertook to continue to cooperate with investigators.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Committee said the shots fired at Nemtsov came from a Makarov pistol, and that six bullet casings were recovered. It said the killing was painstakingly planned and that the organisers knew in advance where Nemtsov would be.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It appealed to anyone with information about the killing to come forward, and offered a reward of 3 million roubles ($43,000).</div><div>&nbsp;</div> Tue, 03 Mar 2015 10:45:00 +0000 Reuters 2445387 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/03/03/501271/nemtsovfuneral.jpg