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Barack Obama says goodbye, rally spirits of Democrats

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Washington, Jan 11, 2017: Outgoing President Barack Obama on Tuesday said goodbye to the US citizens in a dramatic reinterpretation of a presidential farewell address.

Obama asked them to reaffirm their faith in their own ability to “bring about the change”, ending with his signature: “Yes we can”.

The 44th US President gave the farewell speech in Chicago, reflecting on his time in office.

“By almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place” than it was eight years ago,” he said.

He implored Americans of all backgrounds to consider things from each others point of view, saying: “We have to pay attention and listen”.

He said if the citizen were tired of how things were then, “lace up your shoes and do some organising”.

If they were unhappy with the way the officials functioned, then “get a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for the office”.

Returning to Chicago, where he first declared victory in 2008, Obama was delivering the parting message to Americans after a divisive and vicious election campaign which led to Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

He said: “Presuming goodness in others could be a risk”, but asked the 20,000 strong crowd gathered there to “dive in and stay at it” whenever change should be brought.

Referring to his own experience, Obama said: “More often than not your faith in America and Americans will be confirmed.”

He cited examples of young graduates and officers whom he met in the past eight years. He also recalled the bereaved families he mourned with and “found grace” in the Charleston Church.

He especially drew inspiration from the youngest. Obama recalled the young boy who offered his house and brotherhood to another child, a refuge from Syria.

The country’s first black president, now 55, was first elected in 2008 on a message of hope and change.

His successor, President-elect Donald Trump, has vowed to undo some of his signature policies.

Trump would be sworn into office on January 20.

Striking an upbeat tone, Obama said that the peaceful transfer of power between presidents was a “hallmark” of American democracy, the BBC reported.

However, he added, “our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity”.

Back to where it all started he said: “I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life,” CNN quoted Obama as saying.

His address was at McCormick Place, the largest convention centre in North America and the venue for Obama’s speech after he defeated Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

The tickets were given out free, but were selling online for more than $1,000 each hours ahead of the speech.

First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden are all in attendance.

Obama rallied the spirits of beleaguered Democrats, still reeling from Hillary Clinton’s election loss in November.

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Car bomb hits NATO convoy in Kandahar, kills civilian

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Kandahar (Afghanistan) Dec 17: An Afghan woman was killed and four civilians wounded when a suicide car bomb struck a NATO-led coalition forces’ convoy in Kandahar city on Sunday, an official said.

The blast occurred around 2 p.m. local time in Police District 5 of Kandahar city, capital of southern province of Kandahar, along a road which connects the city to the international airport, the official, who did not want to be named, told Xinhua news agency.

“The initial information found a woman was killed and four civilians were wounded by the blast. But no foreigner from the convoy was hurt as they were sitting in bomb proof vehicles,” he said.

“We heard a huge blast when a convoy of international forces was passing our neighbourhood. The whole place has now been sealed off, and no one knows what happened to residents near the blast site,” witness Ahmad told Xinhua.

Several vehicles and nearby houses were also damaged by the blast, he said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Taliban insurgent group routinely claims responsibility for such attacks.

More than 2,640 civilians were killed and over 5,370 others injured in conflict-related incidents in first nine months of the year in Afghanistan, according to figures released by the United Nations mission in the country.
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Balochistan: 8 killed, several injured in Quetta Church blast

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Quetta Blast (Photo- Dawn)

A blast in Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta of Balochistan claimed 8 lives. Meanwhile almost 44 people are injured.

According to pakistani media Gunshots were also heard at the site, where the explosion took place.

All casualties were shifted to Civil Hospital Quetta.

Pakistani news paper Dawn confirmed that Four suicide attackers struck while church service was ongoing. Initial reports suggested an explosion took place, which was followed by a sustained gunfight.

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Stalinist stories: The Soviet Man of Steel’s fictional forays 

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Joseph Stalin

There are just a handful of statesmen who have greatly influenced the course of the 20th century — for good or bad. But can we categorise leaders on this moral standard — for the most evil may have done some good, or vice versa. We could try the more tangible measure of success and failure, but how much importance should be given to the means they used? How about their literary presence?

And in as per actual appearance, express or implied, rather than works set in their era, Stalin could win hands-down, against Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Mao Zedong and Nelson Mandela, though he could face some challenge from John F. Kennedy and Vladimir Putin. The Soviet Union’s second — and longest — ruler crops up in a wide range of works in English, spanning political fiction to historical thrillers — a trend which continues even now.

Young Stalin

Young Stalin

But why is Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), whose 139th birth anniversary falls on Monday, so favoured, given he is not a very positive figure? Josef Vissarionovich Dzugashvili, or Stalin (his revolutionary pseudonym), was insecure, devious, did not take insults lightly, held grudges until he could exact revenge, and was unmoved by the suffering or deaths of his enemies (and their families) and other victims — including his second wife and at least one son.

Stalin,Lenin, Kalinin

Stalin,Lenin, Kalinin

As a ruler, he caused enormous suffering and nearly wrecked the country. Millions of Soviet citizens died, were killed outright or perished in camps due to crimes, real and imagined. His purges went on decimate top defence personnel, the government (including two secret service chiefs) and even the Communist Party, where almost all the old Bolsheviks were eliminated.

Then Stalin entered into an opportunistic pact with Hitler that began the Second World War, but soon his one-time ally turned on him and overran large parts of Soviet territory.

However, soon the Germans were soon stopped and chased back to Berlin. And the Soviet Union emerged as one of the two superpowers — with nuclear weapons (with information stolen from the West), and a large part of Central and Eastern Europe under its control.

On the other hand, Stalin, could read at an incredible pace, had over 20,000 books — which he had all read as per his notings in them — had an excellent memory, an appreciation of both high and low culture, and could be charismatic when he wanted — as British novelist H.G. Wells and Yugoslav communist (later dissident) Milovan Djilas could attest.

With all this making him a fascinating, though equally repellent, figure, and his literary debut dates from 1940 with Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon”. Set in 1938 during the Great Purge and dealing with the fate of an Old Bolshevik now accused of treason, it doesn’t name either the Soviet regime or its leader, who are just referred to as “the Party” and “Number One”, but the reference is obvious.

Winston Churchill, Franlin D Rooosevelt , Joseph Stalin

Winston Churchill, Franlin D Rooosevelt , Joseph Stalin

More famous depictions include George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (1945), where he is Napoleon. However, the author commends his bravery in staying on in Moscow as the Germans advance, with the scene where Napoleon stays upright during an explosion even as the other animals duck.

Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” or “1984” (1949) is an attack on a totalitarian regime, that could be either Nazi or Stalinist, though it leans toward the latter with the sort of “cult of personality” shown in it. Similarly, “Big Brother”, with his prominent moustache, could be more Stalin than Hitler, who had a toothbrush growth.

Stalin, as himself, is a major player in the Inspector Pekkala series of crime fiction by Sam Eastland, the pseudonym of American academician and novelist Paul Watkins. Starring Pekkala, an uncanny Finn who was once Tsar Nicholas II’s trusted investigator, they seem freed from the Gulag by Stalin, who gets him to work for the regime by heartless manipulation.

In the seven installments from “Eye of the Red Tsar” (2010) to “Berlin Red” (2016), Stalin sometimes appears even benign but rapidly comes back to his scheming, heartless self, once even ordering Pekkala be eliminated after a self-serving denunciation.

A more realistic depiction is in British historian and novelist Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Moscow Trilogy — “Sashenka” (2008), “One Night in Winter” (2013) and “Red Sky at Noon” (2017). Montefiore, who has also written “Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar” (2003) and “Young Stalin” (2007), draws on his knowledge to show Stalin in all his colours — the all-night orgies, the despotic style — but especially his cunning and viciousness — making promises he doesn’t intend to keep, being cryptic in his orders to claim deniability, setting subordinates against each other, and keeping everyone in line by even targetting their families.

There are more, but these should suffice for a good idea of Stalin, who could be said to have done “great things — terrible, yes, but great” as Harry Potter is told when he selects a wand in the start of his adventures.

By Vikas Datta(ians) 

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