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Pakistan turns off air-conditioners and tells civil servants to ditch socks
New dress code issued to government employees as country endures blackouts of up 20 hours a day amid 40C temperatures
Pakistan has told its civil servants not to wear socks as the country turns off air-conditioners amid soaring temperatures to deal with chronic power cuts.
The government has turned off all air-conditioning in its offices as the country endures blackouts of up to 20 hours a day in some places.
"There shall be no more use of air-conditioners in public offices till such time that substantial improvement in the energy situation takes place," a cabinet directive said. As part of a new dress code, moccasins or sandals must be worn without socks.
The power shortages have sparked violent protests and crippled key industries, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs in a country already beset by high unemployment, a failing economy, widespread poverty and a Taliban insurgency.
The "load-shedding" means many families cannot pump water, let alone run air-conditioners, with disastrous knock-on effects on health and domestic life.
Frustration over the power cuts contributed to the former ruling party's poor showing in the 11 May general election.
Two ministers in charge of water and power explained what could be done to end power cuts in parts of the country enduring temperatures of 40C and above – absolutely nothing, it seems, except raise prices. Ministers Musadiq Malik and Sohail Wajahat Siddiqui "expressed their inability to overcome the crisis", the Daily Times quoted them as telling a news conference in Lahore on Monday.
"They have termed financial constraints as a major, and incompetence as a minor, hurdle in resolving the issue," the newspaper said. "Presenting the realistic picture, the ministers announced that they were going to increase the price of electricity and gas for all sectors."
They gave no details but said the problem would get worse before it gets better. About two-thirds of Pakistan's energy is generated by oil and gas, and there are widespread gas shortages, with cars run on compressed natural gas queuing up for hours overnight to fill their tanks.guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
UK's first official astronaut Tim Peake 'absolutely delighted' to get ISS mission
Former army helicopter pilot will blast off on Soyuz rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in 2015
Britain's first official astronaut has spoken of his delight at being selected for a lengthy mission aboard the International Space Station.
Major Tim Peake, a former army helicopter pilot, will blast off on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in November 2015.
For the next two and a half years, Peake, 41, will train as a flight engineer for the six-month mission during which he will carry out scientific experiments and be eligible for spacewalks.
"I'm absolutely delighted by the decision," Peake told reporters at a press conference in London on Monday. "It really is a tremendous privilege to be assigned to a long-duration mission to the ISS."
Peake is the fourth of six astronauts who graduated from the European Astronaut Corps in 2009 to be assigned a mission to the International Space Station. He will fly to the station with two other crew, and join three who will already be aboard the ISS.
The last mission to the space station saw the rise to fame of Commander Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to take charge of the ISS, and the first man in space to wholly embrace social media, photography and guitar-playing. His cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity, complete with microgravity guitar spins, went viral.
Asked whether he intended to follow in Hadfield's footsteps, Peake said he would tweet, but perhaps not repeat the Canadian's virtuoso performances. "I do play the guitar, but very badly, and I wouldn't impose my singing on anybody," he said.
Hinting at what might be to come, Peake confessed that a friend had offered to teach him the didgeridoo, though any personal effects astronauts wish to take on a mission must fit into a container the size of a shoebox.
Peake joined the European Space Agency's astronaut corps in 2009, a year in which more than 8,000 people applied to the agency.
He has trained on the US and Russian equipment he will use on board the space station, and practised for spacewalks in a huge swimming pool used to mimic some of the conditions in orbit.
To prepare for life on board the space station, Peake spent a week in Sardinia living underground. He spent another 12 days in an underwater laboratory off the coast of Florida.
Peake, who has a wife and two sons, aged four and a half and 18 months, said he expected to move his family to Houston, where Nasa's astronaut training centre is based.
Peake was selected as an astronaut shortly before the British government stepped up its yearly contribution to the European Space Agency. Britain now funds the agency with £240m a year, making the UK the third largest contributor.
David Willetts, the science minister, said Peake's mission would inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, and boost the UK space industry, which already employs 30,000 people, and has grown at a rate of around 8% a year, even through the financial crisis.
"Not only will we have the first UK astronaut for over two decades, but Tim Peake will be the first ever Briton to carry out ground-breaking research on the International Space Station." In 1989, Helen Sharman became the first Briton in space when she flew to the Mir space station.guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Iranian elections: 'Opposition? There is no such word here'
Indifference, contempt, cynicism, disillusionment and fear seem to be the dominant emotions among young Iranians they prepare to got to the polls to vote for a new president – or not
"I will vote," says Arash, a university student who has just turned 18. "I don't know any of the real candidates yet but I will vote, because I can.
"We have to try to make changes," he explains amid a birthday party in the middle-class Tehran neighborhood of Gisha. "By not doing anything, nothing will happen."
He says those who fail to act are "living their lives like a herd of sheep by putting their fate in the hands of others.
"For me, though, this is a chance to practise my democratic rights."
For many Iranians who have become eligible to vote since the last presidential election in 2009, , the awakening of political consciousness came with the emergence of the opposition Green Movement and its violent suppression over the months that followed.
"I don't know who is actually running since no one knows who'll be on the final list vetted by the Guardian Council," Arash adds. In 2009, 475 Iranians registered to run for president. Only four were approved as candidates after vetting by the council of religious and legal experts. This year, there are 686 would-be chief executives.
Arash say he is interested to find out who among them will be the "real" candidates; some of his friends at the party feel differently. Omid, who will turn 18 just before the ballot, on 14 June, is very pessimistic about the whole process.
"I won't vote in these elections," he says. "I don't know any of the people who are running, and from what I have seen over the last four years, and all of the hardships that my parents have experienced since the last election, I don't think that my vote even counts."
Amir, 23, says, "I have one vote, and I will use it." He is sporting a bohemian look, with a long, curly ponytail and large spectacles. "I guess each person has a duty toward the society, wherever one lives. We live together in this city, in this province, in this country, and we have to get involved. I will vote not only in the presidential election but in the municipal and regional elections as well."
In an apparent move to boost participation in the presidential poll, the regional elections will be held for the first time on the same day.
Who will get his vote?
He says that, except for the former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, any of the reformists who may be running are unknown to him
Though he has not generally been considered a reformist, Rafsanjani did publicly call for the government to address protesters' grievances in 2009. On11 May, the final day of registration for potential presidential candidates, he submitted his name. Khatami – who did not register – had announced his support for Rafsanjani the day before, declaring, "I think he is the person who can best help the system and solve the people's problems."
Amir continues: "The only other person who has a good chance is [the Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher] Ghalibaf.
"However, unless we have the full list in front of us, it's hard to make a choice. Nevertheless, I will not vote for a violent person or a person representing a radical and violent ideology."
A recent audio recording of Ghalibaf has since surfaced linking him directly to the violent suppression of protests in 1999 and thereafter. Reportedly speaking to a group of young Basiji paramilitary government loyalists about three weeks ago, Ghalibaf even boasts about beating them himself with a stick from the back seat of a motorbike.
Overhearing Amir's comments, Parisa, 24, and her boyfriend, Muhammad, 25, erupt into an argument. In June 2009, Parisa had just started working as a camerawoman and journalist at a reformist newspaper.
During the demonstrations that followed the announcement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election, she was severely beaten by the security forces; Muhammad works in the garment industry.
"I have one vote," he says, echoing Amir. "I will exercise it because it's important to me … What do you suggest?"
"I suggest we boycott the elections," Parisa replies. "They will do what they want, no matter what we say. Even if we do participate, they will pull out a majority vote for who they want from the ballot boxes, and get on with their plans."
He responds: "If we participate and vote for our own candidate, even if it is a choice between bad and worse, at least we show that we do exist. It shows that there is an opposition."
Parisa points to a scar on the back of her neck, left by the beating she suffered four years ago. "Opposition? There is no such word in the vocabulary of the Islamic Republic."
"You say that we are not important for these people," says Muhammad. "It really depends on how you look at this issue. Ignoring our social and political rights is one thing. But we were, and are, important enough for them to spend millions of dollars on antiriot gear, phone-tapping and tracing technology, CCTV and crowd-monitoring tools, satellite signal jamming and hundreds of other suppression devices to take us down. They are afraid of us. They are afraid of the youth born in the late 80s and 90s. So we are important, and we have to participate in the elections."
Parisa answers: "For them, we are only important to make the election look sensational and successful. Just before the 2009 election we were practically dancing in the streets. But what happened right after that? I lost my job, our home phone was tapped for several years, and my family and I were regularly insulted. Until just a few months ago, we were all living in hell. We do not have any power against the mullahs. I will not vote."
Outside the Tehran University of Art, two postgraduate classmates stand chatting. "Well, naturally, I want these elections to bring about positive, lasting change in our country," says Mahmoud, 24. "I don't care for all the chaos. I'd prefer candidates who actually want to participate and contribute to a healthy process."
Mahmoud, who wears his hair and beard long, says that despite the fraud many Iranians believe was committed to ensure Ahmadinejad's 2009 victory, he is ready to go to the polls again this year. "I'm like someone whose mum slaps him," he says. "I won't run away after it happens once; but if it happens a second time, I'm gone."
"When I say I'm going to vote, I mean a vote only for Rafsanjani or Khatami," he stresses. "I won't be voting for anyone else. I would honestly like to see Khatami as president. He is in the best position to free [Mir Hossein] Mousavi, [Mehdi] Karroubi and other political prisoners."
In response to large street protests that took place around the country on 14 February 2011, the two opposition leaders and their wives, Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi, were placed under house arrest and cut off almost entirely from the outside world. (Fatemeh Karroubi was released a few months later.)
Kourosh, Mahmoud's 26-year-old classmate, says how much he wishes Khatami would run. I ask his opinion of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's closest political confidant, who did register to run.
Mashaei has been the target of scorn by many in the ruling conservative establishment because of statements he has made that place Iranian nationalism on a par with the state's Islamic identity. Does he count as an "opposition" candidate?
"I'm willing to vote for the most rightwing fundamentalist out there before I vote for him," says Koroush. "He is a two-faced hypocrite … like his president."
Ali, the 26-year-old owner of an internet cafe on a major Tehran boulevard, describes what the coming election means for his livelihood.
"Business is terrible right now," he says "They have closed all of the VPNs [virtual private networks] and slowed down the internet speed to almost nothing. My customers are all gone.
"I don't have any hope for any of them," he says of the presidential nominees. "They can't do anything. Someone who has already been president before will have to do it again. It would be great if Rafsanjani won again: he has a pretty good résumé."
Ali says he doesn't think much about the events of 2009. "My identification card is full of stamps. I've participated in every election, and I most certainly will if Rafsanjani is running," he says.
The card he refers to is his shenasnameh, issued to all Iranians at birth, in which each trip to the polls is recorded.
Sara, a 29-year-old cosmetics salesperson, says, "I'm not going to vote at all. In fact, I've never voted. My ID card is totally empty.
"When it's so obvious how engineered everything is, why waste my time?
Why get all dressed up and grab a pen and go write down someone's name?" Nor does she think highly of the opposition: "I won't even vote for the Green Movement candidates, if they run. They've got only their own interests at heart. They are concerned with consolidating power."
Shopping at Sara's counter, 23-year-old Elna is of the same mind.
"I've just got no energy for elections any more," says the sociology student. "Everything was so awesome four years ago; it really made us want to participate. But not this time. They're all the same. There might be a bit of difference here and there, but in the end they're all just killing and maiming people with no accountability whatsoever, aren't they?
"Considering all that has happened, there's no chance of the atmosphere of four years ago coming back. People are terrified," Elna concludes. "It's no use any more. Ultimately, they couldn't do anything."
Muhammad, 24, a member of the engineering corps of the Basij, says he voted for Ahmadinejad in both 2005 and 2009. But this time, he adds, "I just hope Mashaei doesn't run, or anyone from Ahmadinejad's circle, for that matter. It would probably lead to more infighting that would ultimately hurt the regime. Ahmadinejad more or less stands against the greater interests of the regime now, and [that] has made support for him untenable for a lot of people."
Mehrdad, 28, who works for his father's food distribution company, disagrees vehemently. "I reject this entire regime. I'm not voting, even for Rafsanjani and Khatami: they act in their own way to legitimise the regime. I would only vote for Mir Hossein Mousavi. He's a real man.
"I'm surprised that Khamenei doesn't just become a candidate and put all our minds at ease," he says with a wry smile. "Maybe he's just a bit too modest."
In her third year of university studies, Sahar says the past two presidential elections have opened her eyes to "domestic and international realities." She blames the country's deepening economic woes on poor management by the government, coupled with international sanctions. Her father has his own food processing company, which he has run for 16 years.
"It was all going well until four or five years ago," she says. "In these last few years, he has struggled to even meet his payrolls. He may even be forced to shut the plant and declare bankruptcy.
"That's our condition here in the country. Then internationally, according to my friends and family, one has to endure much humiliation and indignity, and present a thousand and one reasons just to establish a bank account.
"Given the way things are going, and the candidates they have announced so far, I will not participate in the elections … The president has already been picked."
More than 500 miles from the Iranian capital, two teenage boys are hanging out on the side of a road in the town of Torghabeh. It was here, in 1960, that the Tehran mayor, Ghalibaf, whom many see as a leading candidate, was born. Asked about Ghalibaf's popularity in his home town, 15-year-old Ghasem says: "I still don't really know. Nobody here actually cares about the elections, to be honest. I can't even vote."
Adel, 19, leans casually against his motorcycle and straightens out his baggy trousers. He says he has graduated from high school but currently has no plans to enter university, Unlike Ghasem, he is eligible to vote.
"If Khatami or Ghalibaf runs, I'll vote for one of them. If Hashemi Rafsanjani ran, I'd vote for him, too. He's a clever bastard," he says, wryly.
Adel says his family voted for Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's reformist challenger, in 2009. "We all voted for Mousavi," he says. "Nobody voted for Ahmadinejad. Literally, all of Mashhad and Torghabeh voted for Mousavi."
Adel says that should neither Ghalibaf nor Khatami run, he will wait to see who else enters the race. He stresses, though, that he would never vote for Mashaei.
"He can't fool me," he says. "He's no different from Ahmadinejad."
Revising his position, he then says that if neither Ghalibaf nor Khatami chose to run, or were deemed ineligible, he would not vote at all.
Isn't that a risk? It is widely believed in Iran that getting a decent job requires a shenasnameh filled with the official stamps that indicate electoral participation. But Adel says he is not swayed.
"Why should I worry?" he asks. "I don't feel like voting. Let's see if they can come up with even four reasonable candidates, and then we'll talk about people voting."guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
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North Korea fires two more missiles
Missile launches bring total to six in three days as Pyongyang defends right to carry out drills
North Korea has fired more two short-range missiles, making six launches in three days, and condemning South Korea for criticising what it said were its legitimate military drills.
South Korea's defence ministry said North Korea had fired one missile on Monday morning and a second one in the afternoon. Both were fired into the sea off North Korea's east coast, a ministry official said.
The launches come hard on the heels of more than two months of threats from North Korea that it would wage a nuclear war against South Korea and the US if it were attacked. The North condemned joint US and South Korean military exercises, that ended in late April, as a rehearsal for an attack on its territory.
"We are conducting intense military exercises to strengthen our defence capacity," North Korea's KCNA news agency quoted the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, the body that handles inter-Korean issues, as saying on Monday.
"Our military is conducting these exercises in order to cope with the mounting war measures from the US and South Korea, which is the legitimate right of any sovereign country."
North Korea frequently fires short-range missiles, although the current spate of launches has drawn criticism from Seoul and Washington after the recent threats from the North.
Seoul condemned the launches for stoking tension in the region while Beijing, the North's sole major ally, called for restraint.
"These launches are its tactic of signalling to the world that the regime is willing to negotiate now, while at the same time saving face," Kim Yeon-su, a professor at Korea National Defense University in Seoul, which is part of the defence ministry, said of North Korea. Kim said North Korea had an arsenal of hundreds of short- and medium-range missiles.
There appears to be little prospect of talks between North Korea and the US as Washington insists Pyongyang needs to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, something the isolated and impoverished state has said it will not do.