Khaama Press (KP) | Afghan News Agency » World The largest news and information source in Afghanistan Sun, 21 Dec 2014 16:56:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ISIS (Daesh) executes 100 of its own fighters for desertion Sun, 21 Dec 2014 16:55:54 +0000 Read the full article...]]> isis execute own fightersAccording to reports, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group has executed around 100 of its foreign fighters who tried to flee their headquarters.

The execution was carried out in the Syrian city of Raqqa, according to an activist opposed to ISIS and President Bashar al-Assad.

The activist quoted by The Financial Times said he had “verified 100 executions” of foreign Islamic State fighters trying to leave the jihadi group’s de facto capital.

“Local fighters are frustrated they feel they’re doing most of the work and the dying . . . foreign fighters who thought they were on an adventure are now exhausted,” the activist told FT.

According to paper, quoting Islamic State fighters in Raqqa, a military police has been formed to clamp down on foreign fighters who miss duty.

According to the reports, large areas in northern and eastern parts of Syria are under the control of the ISIS militants. The group claims to have fighters from European countries, including UK, France, Germany, as well as the U.S., the Arab world and the Caucasus.

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Another Peshawar like attack planned for Pakistan Sun, 21 Dec 2014 16:26:19 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Peshawar school attackInterior Minister of Pakistan says there is information indicating another Peshawar like attack designed to be carried out in Pakistan.

Addressing a press conference on Sunday Pakistan’s interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called on security agencies to be on high alert.

Khan ordered the mobile companies in Pakistan not to issue illegal SIM cards.

He ordered all the hotel owners to be strict in verification of the room renters and inform the security agencies regarding any suspected individuals.

Peshawar attack which was carried out past Tuesday left 141 people killed and more than 130 injured, most of them school kids.

Attackers targeted a military-run school in Warsak Road area of Peshawar.

The responsibility of the attack was claimed by the Tahrik-e-Taliban Pakistan also known as TTP, Pakistan’s armed opponent group.

Taliban’s spokesman told media that the attack was carried out as a revenge for Pakistan’s military operation in North Waziristan where they (TTP) has lost their people.

Taliban also emailed photos of some dead people to the media claiming to be the family members of their fighters killed in North Waziristan.

However, the minister of interior of Pakistan did not mention in the news conference that who is behind planning another attack.

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International Peace Conference to be held in Peshawar Sun, 21 Dec 2014 07:26:01 +0000 Read the full article...]]> OICPakistan based Dawn news agency reports that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is mulling an International Peace Conference for Muslim countries in Peshawar.

According to the news agency the aim of the conference is to unite Islamic countries for a shared strategy for defeating terrorism.

The news agency adds that the promise was made by OIC Secretary General Iyad Amin Madani who is currently on a visit to Pakistan.

OIC is pondering international peace conference to bring Muslim countries together against terrorism after a deadly attack in Peshawar that killed at least 141 and injured more than 130 others.

In the meantime peace council of Afghanistan says until Pakistan is not honest to its commitment to fight against any terrorist group, the region will face insecurity.

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US airstrike leaves 5 militants dead in Pakistan’s North Waziristan Sat, 20 Dec 2014 07:33:59 +0000 Read the full article...]]> MQ-9 reaperAt least five suspected militants were killed following a US drone strike in North Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan earlier today.

According to Pakistani security officials, the airstrike was carried out in DAtta Khel area, targeting a compound used by suspected militants.

A senior security official speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed that five militants were killed and that the death toll could rise.

In the meantime, another intelligence official has said a high-value target was likely among those killed but the identities of the militants yet to be ascertained.

North Waziristan is among the volatile districts in tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghan border where militants are actively opereting.

The area is alleged to be strongholds of Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, among others.

At least eight suspected militants were killed following a drone strike in North Waziristan late in the month of November.

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Boko Haram again kidnapped girls and women in Nigeria Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:19:41 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Boko HaramSuspected Boko Haram rebels in an attack at a village in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state have killed 32 men and kidnapped more than 100 girls and women including children.

Villagers of Gumsuri after escaping to Maiduguri, provincial capital of Borno state, have told media that gunmen attacked their village, killed men and kidnapped girls and women including children on Sunday.

Because of the poor or no electronic communication and poor roads the report is getting late to the media.

Boko Haram in an attack at another village in the same state had kidnapped more than 200 school girls and later announced that the girls were married off to their fighters.

Boko Haram has established an insurgency in Nigeria since five years.

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3 day countrywide mourning in Pakistan Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:48:47 +0000 Read the full article...]]> peshawar-650_121714120534Pakistan on Wednesday begin a 3 day countrywide mourning following a deadly attack at a military-run school in Peshawar that killed 141 and injured 124 others on Tuesday.

Pakistan’s flag was flown half all over the country as the funeral of the victims was offered in different parts of the city of Peshawar and later buried.

The attack prompted lifting ban on death penalty to convicted terrorists by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday.

Nawaz also vowed strict response to those responsible for the attack.

He said the operation will continue until the demolishment of the terrorists.

The attack was strongly condemned by world leaders including Afghanistan.

The death included at least 100 school children.

The responsibility was later claimed by Pakistani Taliban yesterday.

A Taliban spokesman has told media the attack was in the revenge for military operation in North Waziristan area where they also have lost their family members.

Pakistani Taliban have sent pictures of people they claim to be their people killed in Pakistan’s military operation in North Waziristan.

Pakistan military started a full-blown operation in North Waziristan in June which still continues. Pakistani officials say to have killed more than 1800 insurgents in these 6 months period.

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141 killed, 80 injured in Peshawar attack Tue, 16 Dec 2014 07:14:59 +0000 Read the full article...]]> peshawar attack   2The attack which started at around 11:00AM Tuesday in Warsak Road area of Peshawar and continued till late afternoon has left 141 killed and 80 injured on Tuesday.

Most of the victims are students of the military-run school stormed by gunmen.

The attack also included explosions in the school where around 500 students were thought to be inside by the time of the attack.

According to the officials attackers were  6 persons.

Eyewitnesses say the attackers were wearing military uniforms.

Pakistan prime minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif has declared a three-day country wide mourning.

Tahrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban spokesman has said that the attack was carried out to revenge Pakistan’s military operation under way in North Waziristan where they lost their family members.

TTP in the past also have carried out attacks in different parts of Pakistan in an apparent response to the military operation in the tribal belt.

Pakistan’s military has initiated a large scale operation in North Waziristan since June this year with last Monday marking 6 months.

Pakistan’s military sources claim to have killed over 1800 terrorists in this operation including Al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters.

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Miss South Africa Rolene Struss crowned Miss World Tue, 16 Dec 2014 05:23:06 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Miss WorldA 22-year-old fourth-year medical student Rolene Strauss from South Africa has claimed the crow at this year’s Miss World competition.

Women from 121 countries contested in the 64th annual competition where the contest’s glitzy final was held in London on Sunday.

Edina Kulcsar from Hungary was judged the runner-up and Miss United States Elizabeth Safrit came third.

Strauss was crowned by the outgoing Miss World, Megan Young of the Philippines, to huge cheers in the EXCEL exhibition centre.

She told AFP she wanted to help spread education in her homeland and thereby help other people realise their dreams.

“I am what I am today because of the opportunities I have received and I would love to give others the same opportunities; educating, the opportunity to be educated, to make healthy choices and also to live their dreams,” Strauss said.

Strauss is the third South African Miss World, the title has been held by the country in 1958 and 1974.

Venezuela has held the title for six times since the Miss World began in 1951, while India and the United Kingdom have claimed the tile for five times each.

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Three men arrested in Belgian hostage siege after police lockdown Mon, 15 Dec 2014 12:01:37 +0000 Read the full article...]]> MAIN-Belgium-seige-gunmenThree men were arrested by Belgian police after they allegedly stormed an apartment building and took a hostage in the city of Ghent on Monday.

But police say a hostage allegedly held by the men was released unharmed. 

The alleged motive remains unclear but Belgian authorities have been at pains to say it was “nothing political”. 

Federal police spokeswoman Annemie Serlippens said: “There appears to be nothing political.” 

“We are sure that it has nothing to do with terrorism. We think it might be drug related.”

She later added: “This isn’t the same sort of incident as events in Sydney.”

Four armed men had been reported entering the apartment block early on Monday in the working-class neighborhood, prompting police to set up a large security operation to keep bystanders away.

After several hours, at least two men left the building with their hands up. It was unclear how the third man came out or whether police were still looking for more suspects.

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US developes first ever self-guiding bullets Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:44:50 +0000 Read the full article...]]> self-guiding bulletAccording to reports, the Teledyne Scientific & Imaging LLC is developing bullets that can change direction after they have been fired.

The .50-caliber bullet is developed under the Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program and behest of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The EXACTO program released a new footage of their self-guiding bullets in action after a series of successful tests conducted year.

“The objective of the EXACTO program is to revolutionize rifle accuracy and range by developing the first ever guided small-caliber bullet,” DARPA officials quoted by Stars and Stripes said.

The officiasl further added “The EXACTO .50-caliber round and optical sighting technology expects to greatly extend the day and nighttime range over current state-of-the-art sniper systems.”

How that is done remains a tightly held secret. However, the Tech Generation Magazine, reported that the bullet gathers in-flight information through the optical sensors on the surface of its nose and transmits the data to internal electronic systems responsible for interpretation.

The bullet changes its direction with a series of fins located along it’s exterior with the help of the data.

It has been reported that the bullet has met accuracy standards from a distance of 1.2 miles.

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Gunman including 3 killed in Sydney cafe siege Mon, 15 Dec 2014 08:49:59 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Sydney_gunman_AFP_650The deadly siege began in the most incongruous of ways, on a sunny Monday morning inside a cheerful cafe in the heart of Australia’s largest city. An Iranian-born gunman burst in, took 17 people hostage, and forced some to hold a flag with an Islamic declaration of faith above the shop window’s festive inscription of “Merry Christmas.”

It ended after midnight with a barrage of gunfire that left two hostages and the gunman dead, four others wounded, and a nation that has long prided itself on its peace rocked to its core.

After waiting 16 hours, police stormed the Lindt Chocolat Cafe early Tuesday when they heard gunfire inside, said New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione.

A loud bang rang out, several hostages ran from the building and police swooped in amid heavy gunfire, shouts and flashes. A police bomb disposal robot also was sent into the building, but no explosives were found.

“They made the call because they believed that at that time, if they didn’t enter, there would have been many more lives lost,” Scipione said.

The gunman was identified as 50-year-old Man Haron Monis, who once was prosecuted for sending offensive letters to families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monis had “a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability.”

Scipione wouldn’t say whether the two hostages who were killed — a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman — were caught in crossfire, or shot by their captor. Among the four wounded was a police officer shot in the face.

One of the victims was Sydney lawyer and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson.

“Katrina was one of our best and brightest barristers who will be greatly missed by her colleagues and friends” Jane Needham, president of the New South Wales Bar Association, said in a statement.

Officials rolled one gurney out of the cafe carrying what appeared to be a man draped in a blood-soaked sheet with a bloody handprint in the center. Paramedics also carried away a woman with blood-covered feet.

“I can only imagine the terror that they’ve been through,” Scipione said. “They are very brave people who in many cases were just buying a cup of coffee and they got caught up in this dreadful affair. We should reflect on their courage.”

The prime minister also reflected on how an ordinary day turned terrifying.

“There is nothing more Australian than dropping in at the local cafe for a morning coffee, and it’s tragic beyond words that people going about their everyday business should have been caught up in such a horrific incident,” Abbott said.

While Monis’ motivation for the attack was still unclear, Abbott confirmed he was “well-known” to state and federal authorities.

Last year, he was convicted and sentenced to 300 hours of community service for using the postal service to send what a judge called “grossly offensive” letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009.

At the time, Monis said his letters were “flowers of advice,” adding: “Always, I stand behind my beliefs.”

Monis later was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Earlier this year, he was charged with the sexual assault of a woman in 2002. He has been out on bail on the charges.

“He had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability,” Abbott said. “As the siege unfolded yesterday, he sought to cloak his actions with the symbolism of the ISIL death cult. Tragically, there are people in our community ready to engage in politically motivated violence.”

“This is a one-off random individual. It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged-goods individual who’s done something outrageous,” his former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness,” Conditsis said.

Flags were lowered to half-staff on the landmark Harbour Bridge as Australians awakened to the surreal conclusion of the crisis. The state’s premier expressed disbelief that the attack could happen in Australia — a place he dubbed “a peaceful, harmonious society which is the envy of the world.”

“In the past 24 hours, this city has been shaken by a tragedy that none of us could have ever imagined,” Premier Mike Baird said. “The values we held dear yesterday we hold dear today. They are the values of freedom, democracy, and harmony. These defined us yesterday, they will define us today, they will define us tomorrow.”

The siege began about 9:45 a.m. in Martin Place, a plaza in Sydney’s financial and shopping district that was packed with holiday shoppers. Many of those inside the cafe would have been taken captive as they stopped in for their morning coffees.

Hundreds of police flooded the city. Streets were closed and offices evacuated. The public was told to stay away from Martin Place, site of the state premier’s office, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the headquarters of two of the nation’s largest banks. The state parliament house is a few blocks away, and the famous Sydney Opera House also is nearby.

Throughout the day, several hostages were seen with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the window of the cafe, with two people holding up a black flag with the Shahada, or Islamic declaration of faith, written on it.

The Shahada, which translates as, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger,” is considered the first of Islam’s five pillars of faith. It is pervasive throughout Islamic culture, including the green flag of Saudi Arabia. Jihadis have used the Shahada in their own black flag.

Channel 10 news said it received a video in which a hostage in the cafe had relayed the gunman’s demands. The station said police requested they not broadcast it, and Scipione separately asked media that might be contacted by the gunman to urge him instead to talk to police.

Australian Muslim groups condemned the hostage-taking in a joint statement and said the flag’s inscription was a “testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals.”

In a show of solidarity, many Australians offered on Twitter to accompany people dressed in Muslim clothes who were afraid of a backlash against the country’s tiny Muslim minority of some 500,000 people in a nation of 24 million. The hashtag #IllRideWithYou was used more than 90,000 times by late Monday evening.

Seven Network television news staff watched the gunman and hostages for hours from a fourth floor window of their Sydney offices, opposite the cafe.

The gunman could be seen pacing back and forth past the cafe’s windows. Reporter Chris Reason said the man carried what appeared to be a pump-action shotgun, was unshaven and wore a white shirt and a black cap.

Some of the hostages were forced up against the windows.

“The gunman seems to be sort of rotating these people through these positions on the windows with their hands and faces up against the glass,” Reason said in a report. “One woman we’ve counted was there for at least two hours — an extraordinary, agonizing time for her, surely, having to stand on her feet for that long.”

“When we saw that rush of escapees, we could see from up here in this vantage point the gunman got extremely agitated as he realized those five had got out. He started screaming orders at the people, the hostages who remain behind,” he added.

Reason later reported that staff brought food from a kitchen at the rear of the cafe and the hostages were fed.

As night set in, the lights inside the cafe were switched off. Armed police guarding the area outside fitted their helmets with green-glowing night goggles.

“This is a very disturbing incident,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said. “It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation.”

Lindt issued a statement saying it was “profoundly saddened and deeply affected about the death of innocent people.”

“We are devastated by the loss of their lives and that several others were wounded and had to experience such trauma,” said the statement from the Swiss company Lindt & Sprugli. “Our thoughts and feelings are with the victims and their families who have been through an incredible ordeal, and we want to pay tribute to their courage and bravery.”

Australia’s government raised the country’s terror warning level in September in response to the domestic threat posed by supporters of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL. Counterterror law enforcement teams later conducted dozens of raids and made several arrests in Australia’s three largest cities — Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. One man arrested during a series of raids in Sydney was charged with conspiring with an Islamic State leader in Syria to behead a random person in Sydney.

The Islamic State group, which holds a third of Syria and Iraq, has threatened Australia in the past. In September, its spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani issued a message urging attacks abroad, specifically mentioning Australia.

One terrorism expert said the situation appeared to be that of a “lone wolf” making his own demands, rather than an attack orchestrated by a foreign jihadist group.

“There haven’t been statements from overseas linking this to extremist groups outside the country — that is quite positive,” said Charles Knight, lecturer in the Department of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism at Australia’s Macquarie University. “The individual or individuals involved didn’t kill early, which is part of the pattern of some recent international attacks. … It seems to be shifting more into the model of a traditional hostage situation, rather than the sort of brutal attacks we’ve seen overseas.”



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ISIS (Daesh) publishes guide authorising fighters to rape children Sun, 14 Dec 2014 06:40:12 +0000 Read the full article...]]> ISISIslamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has published a shocking guidebook for its fighters on how to treat captured Yazidi women, allowing its followers to beat and trade them, and authorising them to rape slave girls – even if they have not reached puberty.

The manual, titled Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves, has been reportedly drawn up by the Islamist group’s research and fatwa department.

The document justifies the taking of non-Muslim women as sabaya (sex slaves) and gives detailed answers to 29 questions as to how fighters should behave with them.

Senior Islamic State leaders started circulating the document on Twitter accounts on Friday and was distributed by masked IS fighters outside a large mosque in Iraq’s second city Mosul.

The document asserts that the women from other faiths such as Christians, Jews and polytheists and that “there is no dispute among the scholars that it is permissible to capture unbelieving women.”

It is further added in the document that the female captives and slaves can be both, sold, or given as a gift, “for they are merely property, which can be disposed of as long as that doesn’t cause the Muslim ummah [COMMUNITY]any harm or damage.”

According to the guidelines of the document, the women can be beaten but only to discipline them and the virgins can be raped after their “masters” have purchased them.

Approval of sex with the girls who have not reached puberty, is the most chilling with the guidelines asserting: “It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who has not yet reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse, “it says. “However, if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.”

The Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute translated the Arabic manual into English after obtaining the document.

The document provides an insight into the likely fate of 5,000-7,000 Yazidis, mostly women and girls, who were kidnapped by the Islamic State fighters this summer.

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Syrian Moderate Rebels Faces Extinction Sat, 13 Dec 2014 05:57:01 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Syrian rebelsBy Manish Rai

The moderate Syrian rebel groups are caught between a rock and a hard place, pilloried by radical factions for taking Western weapons but failing to get enough of them (or quickly enough) to become serious players. Moderate groups also suffer from poor morale and a lack of resources which is leading to large scale dissertation. The forces that the U.S. and west has nominally been backing have suffered losses at the hands of the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra (al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise) and the regime. The current trajectory means the moderate opposition remains marginal and incapable of shaping the battlefield in any material way. US and coalition airstrikes against ISIS had allowed President Bashar al-Assad to refocus on hitting mainstream rebels, and the regime had made gains around Hama and Aleppo. Combined with al-Nusra’s advances in Idlib and the threat of a renewed offensive by ISIS, moderate groups were now in danger of a rapid decline. Making things still worse for moderates there appears to be at least a truce between al-Nusra and ISIS, allowing each to focus on other enemies, whether moderate groups, the regime or the Kurds, and consolidate control over their respective strongholds. The bottom line is that the pace and scale of U.S. and west support is not sufficient to halt, let alone reverse, the erosion of moderate forces in Syrian arena.

Most territory in Syria is essentially shared by the “big three”: Islamic state, al-Nusra and its allies, and the regime. Assad’s forces control Damascus, the Mediterranean coast and much of the area in between. Islamic State, controls the east, while Nusra controls much of the northwest and is expanding at the expense of moderates. Syrian regime is after the moderate rebels which it wants to vanished out from the scene as soon as possible. Assad regime is working on the strategy of killing off the mainstream groups and leaves the West with a stark choice: Bashar al-Assad or ISIS and other jihadist groups turning Syria into an Islamic state. On the other hands the jihadists group are also attacking moderates and taking territory from them as they consider them soft targets as compared to Syrian regime. During a key battle in the rugged mountains of northern Idlib province this month, US-backed Syrian rebels collapsed before an assault by Nusra fighters. Some surrendered their weapons and others outright defected to the militants. At the same time, a string of assassinations has targeted some of their most powerful moderate’s commanders. This is the end of the Free Syrian Army, said Alaa Al Deen, an opposition activist in Idlib, referring to western-backed rebel groups. “It’s the beginning of an Islamic emirate. Al Nusra drove US-backed factions almost completely out of Idlib provience where they had been the predominant force since from the start of the Syrian conflict. Two of the strongest western-backed forces, the Hazm Movement and the Syrian Revolutionary Front, were defeated and several other allied groups simply vanished.

Meanwhile, US is also reworking on its strategy to make moderates a prominent force in Syria. The Pentagon plans to train and equip a force of 5,000 fighters in northern Syria to fight the Islamic State. A location south of the Turkish capital, Ankara, has been identified as a base for training the first 2,000 rebels, this training is expected to start from March next year. This new strategy which seems to have very little chance of success is being hastily formulated. The aim is to build a proxy rebel army from scratch to take on the Jihadists, recruiting from the sprawling refugee camps which house millions of displaced Syrians in neighbouring countries. It is unclear how the US will go about convincing Syrians brutalized and displaced by their regime to turn their attention away from battling it, and focus instead on fighting groups which they consider as brothers in arms. The Americans either have to employ some extraordinary powers of persuasion, or otherwise end up with little more than a limited and mediocre mercenary force, motivated by money and lacking any real conviction in its cause. A force like that would stand little chance against the more numerous and better motivated fanatical jihadists, let alone a cornered regime viciously fighting tooth and nail for its very survival.

If the fighting in Syria continues on its current trajectory, the country soon it will be partitioned almost entirely between jihadist forces and those of the Assad regime, leaving the moderate rebels without territory and the United States without allies in the strategically important country. It’s a hard fact that the Free Syrian Army the umbrella group of moderate rebels is currently the weakest force on the ground in Syria, a result not only of inadequate foreign backing compared with that of rival Islamist and extremist factions, but of its own internal divisions, byzantine leadership structure (based in Turkey) and rampant corruption. Over the period of time the moderates have gotten weaker, and are facing a regime that has adapted its military and political tactics. Their morale has gone down and the structural problems have become much more problematic in terms of organizing against the regime. Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State have done a great job at leveraging opposition weaknesses and attracting fighters from other groups into their ranks. It will be true to say that moderate rebel groups inside Syria are facing the prospect of complete annihilation. Moderate opposition groups were never going to survive if they didn’t address some of the core structural issues and challenges it faces in terms of fighting the Assad regime and extremists.

Manish_Rai(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geo-political news agency can be reached at

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FY 2015 bill expands fight against IS Sat, 13 Dec 2014 05:49:58 +0000 Read the full article...]]> White HouseLawmakers approved an annual defense policy bill on Friday that authorizes American training for Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting Islamic State rebels and sets overall defense spending at $577 billion, including $64 billion for wars abroad.

The Senate passed the legislation and sent it to President Barack Obama to sign into law. The House of Representatives last week endorsed the measure, which sets defense policy and authorizes spending levels for the 2015 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, but does not actually appropriate funding.

The bill approves a Pentagon base budget of $496 billion, in line with Obama’s request, plus nearly $64 billion for conflicts abroad including the war in Afghanistan. It also authorizes $17.9 billion for Energy Department nuclear weapons work.

The measure formally endorses the Pentagon’s plan to vet, train and equip a moderate Syrian opposition military force to fight Islamic State rebels, defend the Syrian people and promote conditions for a negotiated end to Syria’s civil war.

The U.S. military program to train and assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State militants also was authorized.

The bill takes new steps to control personnel costs, which consume about half the Pentagon budget, essentially approving a year’s worth of proposed long-term reforms but delaying further action until hearing in February from a congressionally appointed commission on military compensation.

The measure increases co-pays on most prescription drugs by $3, reduces the military housing allowance by 1 percentage point and remains silent on military pay hikes, thus allowing the Pentagon to implement a proposed 1 percent raise. In the past, Congress often approved pay raises above levels recommended by the Pentagon but did not do so this year.

The bill rejects a number of Pentagon efforts to retire or curtail weapons systems the department insists it can no longer afford to maintain because of budget cuts intended to trim projected defense spending by nearly $1 trillion over a decade.

The measure bars retirement of the A-10 Warthog close air support plane, beloved by ground troops because of its ability to fly low and destroy enemy tanks. The Air Force wants to retire the fleet to cut costs and retrain maintenance personnel to work on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

It also prohibits inactivation of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, a step being studied for budgetary reasons, and authorizes funding to begin an overhaul and refueling of the ship.

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Saudi prince offers $1m to spend night with American model Kim Kardashian Fri, 12 Dec 2014 18:06:15 +0000 Read the full article...]]> kim-kardashianAccording to reports, a Saudi prince has proposed $1 million per night to a famous American model and actress Kim Kardashian to spend the night partying with him.

It is rumoured Mrs Kardashian-West is set to fly out to Saudi Arabia in January, as a special guest of the prince.

The rumours were followed after Adel Al-Otaib, allegedly a member of the Saudi royal family commented on one of her many selfies in Instagram, saying: “I’m Saudi and I’ll pay you one million per night Mai”.

According to Media Take Out gossip website, the mother-of-one has accepted the offer, and will fly out to Saudi Arabia early next year.

However, Mrs Kardashian-West has denied she was offered $1m to spend the night partying with a Saudi prince, with her representatives saying the story was false.

The 34-year-old model has one daughter and is married to rapper Kanye West. She has previously been paid $500,000 to attend the 2013 Vienna Ball as the date of 81-year-old billionaire Richard Lugner.

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Pakistan detained 50 Indian fishermen, seized boats Thu, 11 Dec 2014 08:24:13 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Indian fishermenPakistani officials say that 50 Indian fishermen along with their 10 boats were arrested on Thursday for unlawfully entering to Pakistan territorial water.

Pakistan and India frequently arrest and accuse each other’s fishermen of violating their respective zones in the Arabian Sea.

Recently the relationship between the two neighboring countries have been narrowed due to the exchange of fire between their soldier on the border where dozens of people have been killed and as much wounded.

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17 rebels killed in past 24 hours Thu, 11 Dec 2014 07:34:29 +0000 Read the full article...]]> TalibanThe interior ministry of Afghanistan reports that the operations were conducted in in Nangarhar, Parwan, Baghlan, Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan, Maidan Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, Khost and Paktika provinces jointly by Afghan National Police and National Directorate of Security personnel.

A statement issued by the ministry states that two insurgents were also wounded during the operations and another arrested.

The statement adds that 4 IDS were defused and admonitions were seized from the position of the terrorists.

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Palestinian minister dies in clash with Israel Wed, 10 Dec 2014 11:58:17 +0000 Read the full article...]]> 2784988-4091537Palestinian Authority minister Ziad Abu Ein has died after inhaling tear gas in clashes with Israeli forces in occupied West Bank on Wednesday.

Ziad Abu Ein was taken in serious condition from a protest site near Ramallah in West Bank to a hospital where he breathed last.

Abu Ein, was heading the Anti-Wall and Settlement Commission constituted to act against the occupation of the Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas Palestinian President has condemned the death and has said that it is intolerable.

Mahmoud Abbas said that necessary steps will be taken after an investigation into the death is conducted.

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Pakistan in the hunt for Islamic State leader Wed, 10 Dec 2014 06:24:12 +0000 Read the full article...]]> ISIS in AfghanistanReports suggest that Pakistan is looking to recapture the fleeing leader of the Islamic States who has been designated for terrorist activities in the region.

Pakistan says Abdul Ghani Muslim Dost who an Afghan citizen is assigned by the terrorist group Islamic States to carry out terrorist activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran and other countries in the Middle East.

It is understood that Afghanistan and USA are also assisting Pakistan in the look for Muslim Dost.

Abdul Ghani Muslim Dost was a prisoner of Pakistan and Guantanamo.

Previous report suggested that some key leaders of the Tahrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan (TTP) had announced their allegiance to Islamic States also known as DAESH.

Unconfirmed reports including the main city Kabul also shows the presence of DAESH supporters in parts of Afghanistan.

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US beefed up security ahead of scheduled release of CIA report Tue, 09 Dec 2014 06:06:45 +0000 Read the full article...]]> White HouseThe US has stepped up security of US facilities around the globe including the embassies ahead of a long-delayed report into the CIA’s interrogation of suspects following the 9/11 attack at world trade center.

The report scheduled to be released, will be the first report put in public about CIA’s use of torture on captives in secret detention facilities in Asia and Europe.

“There are some indications that the release of the report could lead to a greater risk that is posed to US facilities and individuals all around the world,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

He further stated that “The administration has taken the prudent steps to ensure that the proper security precautions are in place at US facilities around the globe,”

The White House, however, did not give a specific time of the release for the report.

The full report which some 6, 200 pages will remain classified but 480-page report scheduled to be released is believed to be covering the treatment of around 100 suspects arrested on terrorism charges by the US operatives between 2001 and 2009.

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UN appeals for record aid fund of $16.4bn Tue, 09 Dec 2014 05:30:44 +0000 Read the full article...]]> un_logoThe UN appealed for a record $16.4 billion fund to provide aid to more than 57 million people worldwide for the year 2015, and almost half of the fund is scheduled to be spent in Syria.

“We are facing needs at unprecedented levels,” Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said on Monday.

She added that because of the ongoing conflicts in some of the countries the number of the vulnerable people is in the sharp raise. “Currently there are about 102 million people worldwide in need of aid” she said.

Monday’s appeal did not include the needs in Djibouti and including Nigeria and Mali, the nine countries in Africa’s Sahel region, which will be addressed in a separate appeal in February.

A $7.2 billion of aid is scheduled to be spent on the estimated 18.2 million  victimized people of the Syrian civil war which erupted in March 2011.

Around 2.1 million Iraqis have been displaced since January, mostly since the Islamic State group began seizing large swaths of the country in June, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” across much of Iraq and Syria.

The UN is appealing for $1.2 billion to help most of an estimated 5.2 million people in need throughout Iraq, including 3.6 million living in areas controlled by the IS group and its affiliates.

The crises in Central African Republic and South Sudan are also considered among the most serious, while the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has left more than 4,300 dead and driven around one million people from their homes, also figures on the list.

Crises in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, the occupied Palestinian territories, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen will also require significant funds.

“This is not business as usual in the humanitarian world,” said Antonio Guterres, head of the UN refugee agency, adding that needs are growing “exponentially”.

According to the United the number of people forced to flee their homes worldwide due to conflicts had raised from 14,000 a day in 2011 to 32,000 each day last year.

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70 Ethiopians drowned in Red Sea Mon, 08 Dec 2014 05:52:12 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Boat drowned

At least 70 Ethiopians died after the boat they were using to illegally immigrate to Yemen drowned in Red Sea, officials said on Sunday.

Officials in Taiz province added that these people were being transported by human traffickers in unusable jerry-built small boat which capsized in bad weather conditions close to al-Makha port.

Human traffickers often smuggle Africans to Yemen which Africans believe as a gateway to the Middle East’s wealthier life.

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200 prisoners escape in Nigeria jailbreak Mon, 08 Dec 2014 04:59:43 +0000 Read the full article...]]> NigeriaArmed men attacked a jail in central Nigeria and freed more than 200 prisoners but 10 of them were recaptured by Sunday night. Deputy Superintendent Ibrahim Gambari said

The recent mass jailbreak which took place on Saturday was the third of its kind in Nigeria since November.

Earlier this month gunmen bombed a prison in Ekiti state and freed more than 300 inmates and 144 escaped from captivity in Kogi state on November 3 when gunmen blown up a wall of the prison.

No group has claimed the responsibility for Saturday’s attack but hundreds of Boko Haram fighters were being held in the jail.

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World’s oldest two-faced cat dies at the age of 15 Sun, 07 Dec 2014 11:36:21 +0000 Read the full article...]]> two faced catThe world’s oldest two-faced cat with a record in Guinness World Records has died at the age of 15 in the United States.

Named Frank and Louie, the cat had two mouths, two noses and three eyes but one brain.

Believed to be the oldest Janus cat in the world, Frank and Louie died due to a cancer. He had made it into the 2012 edition of Guinness World Records as the longest-surviving so-called Janus cat.

Jenus cats almost never survive as they suffer from a rare congenital disorder known as craniofacial duplication.

The cat was adopted by Martha Stevens in 1999 when he was brought into a local vet clinic to be put down where she was told by veterinarian that the cat would die within three or four days.

But the pet survived due to careful nursing. “I tube-fed him until he was three months old because I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to eat,” she told The Telegram of Worcester.

Ms Stevens further added that she would be ready to give another Janus cat a home if one was in need.

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Drone strike kills Al-Qaeda commander for Afghanistan and Pakistan Sun, 07 Dec 2014 10:18:54 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Drone

Umar Farooq, and four others were killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan tribal belt on Sunday.

Sources say an American UAV fired two rockets on a compound in Khat Tangi area of Datakhil district in North Waziristan and where the militants were hiding, killing 5 including Umar Farooq and wounding 3 others.

Sources added that Umar Farooq was head of the operations of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Umar Farooq was believed to be the most high ranking Pakistani national within the leadership of Al-Qaeda.

Sunday’s strike comes a day after the Pakistan military killed wanted Al Qaeda leader Adnan Shukrijumah during a raid at a compound in Shin Warsak area of South Waziristan.

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Asia: people and governments are addicted to the deadly weed Fri, 05 Dec 2014 11:44:07 +0000 Read the full article...]]> cegAccording to reports around 700 million Asians, mostly men, cannot get through the day without puffing on a cigarette.

The habit is thought to kill around 2.3m Asians every year, almost half smoking’s global victims.

Cancer and other tobacco-related diseases are rising sharply.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and a major public health concern.

Tobacco use leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart and lungs, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and cancer.

But health ministries are taking tougher action against smoking.

In Asia, Thailand, which banned it in most public buildings in 2003, is holding hearings on a plan to extend the ban to all places of entertainment.

China’s press said this month that cigarette makers would be told to put larger health warnings on their packets, including images of skulls, blackened teeth or diseased lungs.

In India import of cigarettes are band since several years but inside the country the domestic produce of cigarettes are booming meanwhile the price of cigarettes is also high.

In Afghanistan even the numbers of smokers are increasing day by day but still the central government do not have any clear agenda to control that social problem.

Cigarette consumption in China soared between 1970 and 1990 but has fallen slightly since.

There, as elsewhere in Asia, smoking among men is far more common than in the West.

The worry, says Burke Fishburn of the World Health Organization (WHO), is that Asia will follow the Western trend, with more women taking up smoking as men quit. In Vietnam, for example, cigarettes are being peddled to urban women as a “sophisticated” pursuit.

Western tobacco firms, their home markets shrinking, have turned their attention to developing Asia, drawing fire from anti-smoking groups. But, says Mr Fishburn, a bigger worry is the ambitious plan by China’s huge state tobacco monopoly to become a big exporter of cut-price smokes to the rest of the region. Thailand, while extending its smoking bans, also plans a giant new factory for its state tobacco firm.

Almost all Asian countries have signed the WHO’s tobacco-control treaty, committing themselves to restricting the marketing of cigarettes, curbing smoking in public and helping smokers to quit. But they will struggle to change entrenched social customs.

In our neighbor China, for example, cigarettes are a social lubricant, pressed on guests, whose attempts to decline them are often ignored, or on those from whom one wants a favour, whose acceptance of the cigarette implies the favour will be granted.

Tobacco firms are wriggling around the new restrictions. In India, most outdoor advertising has been taken down since it was banned in 2003 but firms are spending heavily on in-store promotional displays, which are still allowed.

Another big obstacle is that Asia’s governments are addicted to the huge revenues they earn from both tobacco taxes and the profits of state tobacco firms. Though Afghanistan’s government is promising to cap cigarette output by 2012.

Tobacco taxes provide a huge amount the Afghan economy a country which will face some economical problem after the international troops pull out by the end of this year.

However, both nicotine-addled countries may be wrong. In each, tobacco taxes are unusually low by world standards. Studies by the World Bank and others suggest that, though raising tobacco taxes succeeds in cutting smoking, it still increases government revenues.

Tougher curbs on cigarette smuggling can have the same effect.

Tobacco farmers could switch to growing, say, oilseeds, for which demand is booming. And Asia’s tobacco firms, in the short term, says Mr Fishburn, need fear neither higher taxes nor tougher advertising bans: they have so much scope to improve their efficiency that they could boost profits even in a shrinking market.

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Australia hands over 38 intercepted asylum seekers to Sri Lanka Wed, 03 Dec 2014 04:29:46 +0000 Read the full article...]]> asylum seekersThe Australian Government continues its close cooperation with the Sri Lankan Government to disrupt people smuggling ventures departing Sri Lanka.

On 26 November2014 a people smuggling venture carrying 38 Sri Lankan nationals attempting to travel illegally by boat to Australia was successfully disrupted.

A statement from the Ministry of Immigration and Border Protection of Australia said every boat that departs is encouraging people smugglers and their customers to think there is an illegal way to Australia. There is not.

“There are only two outcomes for people who travel illegally by boat to Australia,” Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Hon. Scott Morrison said.

Morrison further added, “They will be intercepted and either turned back, or sent to another country, either Papua New Guinea or Nauru, for processing and resettlement in that country. Resettlement in Australia is not an option.

“The rules apply to everyone. There are no exceptions,” Morrison said, adding that “This is the Australian Government’s policy and it will not change.”

Australia will continue to work with its regional partners to disrupt people smuggling ventures and protect its borders.

People should not believe the lies of people smugglers and seek to come to Australia illegally by boat. The way to Australia remains closed.

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French lawmakers votes for the recognition of Palestinian state Tue, 02 Dec 2014 17:14:23 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Palestine stateThe lawmakers in the National Assembly of France on Tuesday voted to call on the government to recognize Palestine as a state.

The proposal was passed with 339 votes in favor and 151 against is likely to raise domestic political pressure on the government of France to be more active on the issue.

This comes as the lawmakers in Britain, Spain and Ireland have already passed similar proposal in an effort to push forward peace efforts between Israel and Palestine.

Sweden voted to formally recognize Palestine as a state on October 3, becoming the biggest Western European country to diplomatically accept the existence of Palestine.

The text introduced by the ruling Socialists “invites the French government to use the recognition of the state of Palestine as an instrument to gain a definitive resolution of the conflict”.

Israel immediately reacted towards the vote, saying that the motion would “harm the peace process,” AFP reported.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier warned that the move would be a “grave mistake.”

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Abu Bakr al-Badgdai’s wife and son arrested on Lebanon border Tue, 02 Dec 2014 07:26:24 +0000 Read the full article...]]> 371210_Al-BaghdadiAccording to reports, the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Badghdadi’s wife and his son have been arrested on Lebanon’s border.

The Lebanese security officials have said al-Baghdadi’s wife and son were arrested while they were crossing the border from syria.

The officials further added the arrest was made in coordination with “foreign intelligence apparatus”, the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported.

She was taken to the Lebanese Defense Ministry where interrogation is ongoing, the report added.

No further details were given regarding the name and nationality of the woman arrested by security forces.

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Tobacco industry booming in Asia Mon, 01 Dec 2014 19:19:51 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Pic of toboco userWhile much of the developed world has seen a big drop in the number of smokers, the opposite is true of many emerging and developing markets in Asia. Health officials are concerned.

Huge tobacco companies like big numbers, and they’re finding them in Asia, with the world’s largest and fastest growing population.

Take China with its estimated population of 1.3 billion people: More than 300 million Chinese already smoke. Or consider India with its 1.2 million people: Around 275 million people there are tobacco users, according to recent World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

But now the number of smokers  sagnefecntly increased in Afghanistan, a country with low income and huge number of people living under the poverty line.

Unconfirmed reports indicated that In Afghanistan, for instance, just over 2 percent of tobacco users are women and about 10 percent of teenagers smoke.

Afghanistan also has a smoking problem. Ahmad, a 33-year factory worker in Kabul, admits it’s sometimes tough not to smoke when everyone is smoking.

“People smoke because their parents smoke or their friends smoke or they’re stressed,” he told Khaama Press. “People smoke because it is also very cheap to smoke here. And they also like to copy movie stars.”

The WHO is acutely aware of Asia’s potentially dangerous demographics when it comes to having a puff.

“Countries with low numbers of people smoking are markets waiting to be tapped,” said Edouard Tursan D’Espaignet of WHO’s tobacco control program.

“In many Asian countries like China and India where men already smoke at an incredibly high rate, women and young people are now being targeted by the tobacco industry.”

Already, approximately 1 million smokers in China die each year from tobacco-related diseases and about 100,000 people die from exposure to second-hand smoke, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

If current trends continue, the non-governmental organization expects the country’s smoke-related death toll to reach 2 million by 2020.

But there is no official numbers of tobacco related death in Afghanistan a country which producer more than 90 percent of poppy in the world.

Kicking the habit may not be so easy for China, however.

The country is both the largest consumer and producer of tobacco in the world. More than 20 million Chinese farmers produce nearly 40 percent of the global supply. Clearly, there’s money to be made.

China’s tobacco sales in the first half of this year rose 2.8 percent from a year ago to 1.31 trillion cigarettes, according to the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration. And for the same period, the sector remained one of the countries most profitable, with state-owned tobacco companies reporting a combined profit of 152.04 billion yuan (US$24.08 billion). The government collected 480.7 billion yuan in tax revenues for the period.

Singapore is seen as one of Asia’s most determined countries to curb tobacco usage. Smoking is banned in nearly every public area. Cigarettes are expensive, about US$9 per pack, and packages already contain graphics. Yet the government says smoking is on the rise.

Indonesia, by comparison, is the complete opposite. The country of 240 million is one of the last vestiges of laissez-faire tobacco controls in the world and is paying with the price of growing addiction.

Its problem is illustrated with a video circulating on the Internet, showing a toddler with a 40-cigarette-a-day habit.

Indonesia has no ban on advertising. Consumers see ads of well-known athletes promoting smoking and even sporting events named after sporting events.

Some 17.3 million smoke in the Philippines, one of Asia’s highest rates, and about 87,000 people die per year of tobacco-related disease, according to Philippine Health Undersecretary Paulyn Jean Ubial.

WHO claims that tobacco kills half of its users.

The agency warns in its recently published Global Adult Tobacco Survey that if the current trend continues, it will cause up to 1 billion deaths in the 21st century.

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Muhammad becomes the most popular name for boys in UK Mon, 01 Dec 2014 17:19:26 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Mohammad most popular name in UKA new research in United Kingdom has revealed that the name Muhammed has become the top boys’ name chosen by parents in Britain following a huge surge in popularity last year.

The annual data by United Kingdom’s top baby names website – BabyCentre shows the name Muhammad at the top of the list of the most used boys’ name in 2014.

According to the research by BabyCentre, the name has risen 27 places from last year to claim the number one spot for the boys.

This comes as Oliver was the number one name until the spellings of 3,499 Muhammads, 2,887 Mohammeds and 1,059 Mohammads were combined, giving a total of 7,445 babies.

However, the latest research puts Oliver in to second place, Jack in to third place while Sophia took top spot for girls.

The managing editor of BabyCentre Sarah Redshaw said traditionally Mohammed is often given to the first-born boy in Muslim families.

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WHO: 16,000 people infected with Ebola Mon, 01 Dec 2014 03:26:47 +0000 Read the full article...]]> ebola-3Around 16,500 people have been infected with Ebola virus and nearly 7,000 have died, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization.

The new death toll, released late on Friday by the UN agency, represents an increase of more than 1,000 deaths since a report from two days before.

 Most of the new deaths were recorded in Liberia, but the new toll likely includes deaths that have gone unreported over a significant period of time.

Data from the outbreak has been spotty and slow to come and often death and case tolls see large jumps when backlogs of information are cleared. Because the data is so hard to come by, the World Health Organisation has cautioned that its figures may significantly underreport the actual number of people sickened and killed by the disease.

The current outbreak began in West Africa and has been severely hitting three countries there: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Friday’s data showed there have been 16,169 cases in just those three countries — an increase of 268 cases since a report two days earlier.

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European Parliament voted at Google break up Sat, 29 Nov 2014 05:54:23 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Google to be broken up in EuropeThe European Parliament members have voted that the Google should be broken up, as it favours its own services in search results, BBC reported.

US trade bodies and politicians have expressed their objection and disagreement at the vote.

Google has almost covered 90% of the market share for search in Europe and its rivals have asked Margarethe Vestager, the European Union commissioner who will take the final decision, to investigate the following four areas:

  • The manner in which Google displays its own vertical search services compared with other, competing products
  • How Google copies content from other websites – such as restaurant reviews – to include within its own services
  • The exclusivity Google has to sell advertising around the search terms people use
  • Restrictions on advertisers from moving their online ad campaigns to rival search engines

Many believes that the Commission may not order for the company break-up, as there has never been such an order before.

This comes as Google’s rivals had lodged an anti-competitive case in 2010.

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Australian cricket star Phillip Hughes dies after being hit by ball Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:07:45 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Phillip HughesAn Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes died in a hospital in Sydney on Thursday, two days after he was struck on the head by a ball.

Regarded as a player with a bright future, the 25-year-old Hughes had played dozens of One Day International (ODI) and test matches for Australia.

He was hit by a short ball from bowler Sean Abbott during a domestic game on Tuesday, striking him on the part of the side of his head as he was trying to evade the delivery.

According to reports, the force was such that his vertebral artery was pierced and was induced a coma by physicians as they sought to save him.

His death drew expressions of grief, shock and disbelief from fellow players and sporting figures around the world.

Following the announcement of his death, a two-day tour match between India and a Cricket Australia XI in Adelaide was called off, while New Zealand and Pakistan suspended their Test match in Sharjah for the day out of respect.

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Canada pledges $500m in development aid to Afghanistan by 2017 Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:33:28 +0000 Read the full article...]]> CanadaThe government of Canada has pledged over $500 million in development to Afghanistan by 2017.

Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular of Canada has said the aid would be spent by 2017 in the development sector.

In an interview with The Oslo Times at the ‘High-level Symposium on Women’s Rights in Afghanistan’ in Oslo, Minister Yelich, said Afghanistan is a country of focus for Canada

She said Canada is among the lead donors of the Independent Afghan Human Rights Commission and insisted that women’s rights remains at the core of Canadian efforts in Afghanistan.

“When it comes to the United Nations policies we are focused on the implementation of the resolution 1325, in an effort to eliminate violence against women,” Minister Yelich added.

She also added “Just today we want to invest and we are investing over $6 million on the National Democratic Institute. This money is for those who are trying to have a fair election and in an effort to increase women participation in elections.

Whether we are talking about members of parliament fulfilling their mandate in accordance to women participation criterion or providing necessary resources for women in parliament, these are places where this budget can be used.”

she also hailed the national unity government under the leadership of President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and CEO Dr. Abdullah Abdullah for their commitment to make sure that women’s rights are considered and to recognize the important role that women can and do play in the social, political and economic spheres.

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Canadian FM strongly condemns suicide attack in Paktika province Mon, 24 Nov 2014 09:24:12 +0000 Read the full article...]]> John BairdThe Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird condemned a suicide attack which targeted a volleyball match in eastern Paktika province on Sunday.

“Canada condemns in the strongest terms the suicide attack that took place at a volleyball match in eastern Afghanistan, reportedly killing dozens of people and injuring scores more,” Foreign Minister John Baird said following a statement.

He said “On behalf of all Canadians, I extend my deepest sympathies to the victims’ families and friends, and wish a swift recovery to those injured.”

“This heinous attack was clearly meant to target innocent civilians who had gathered to watch the sporting event. Afghan civilians continue to bear the devastating impact of this ongoing campaign of terror,” Baird added.

He also added “Canada stands by the Government of Afghanistan as it strengthens its efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms in order to bring peace and prosperity to all Afghans.”

The incident took place around 4:30 pm local time in Yahya Khel district after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a gathering attended by hundreds of match spectators.

No group including the Taliban militants has so far claimed responsibility behind the incident.

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ISIS launches caliphate passport as it aims to expand its territory Tue, 12 Aug 2014 11:46:32 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Islamic State passportThe Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has reportedly issued Islamic State passports as the group expressed desire to expand its territory in Middle East, parts of Asia and Europe.

The group has also threatened to to raise the jihadist flag over Downing Street and the White House.

The introduction of passports by ISIS is believed to be part of the group’s ongoing campaign of psychological warfare, with experts saying that the passports are little more than a symbolic gesture.

Photos of the passports based on the black jihadist flag flown by ISIS terrorists with inscription “State of the Islamic Caliphate” at the top of the passport, were circulated on social media websites.

The document also allegedly says, “If the holder of the passport is harmed we will deploy armies for his service.”

The first image of the passport emerged last month by ISIS militant members and sympathizers who said that the the new document will be distributed to 11,000 citizens living in cities bordering Iraq and Syria.

According to reports, the passports are being printed in a government printing facility in Mosul which was building in 2011.

ISIS which operates in both Syria and Iraq has said their would spread from Aleppo in northern Syria to Diyala in eastern Iraq.

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Clashes over Valentine’s Day celebration in Pakistan leaves 4 injured Fri, 14 Feb 2014 13:23:55 +0000 Read the full article...]]> 1392315659000-pakistan-valentinesAccording to reports, at least four university students were injured following clashes between two rival student groups in Pakistan.

Police officials in Pakistan said the incident took place in country’s northwest over celebration fo Valentine’s Day.

A local police official, Rahim Hussain, said clashes between the two groups started in University of Peshawar after a liberal group rallied in the favor of the romantic holiday.

Mr. Hussain further added that both members of the liberal group and conservative group started throwing stones at each other and used weapons to fire in the air.

He confirmed that four students were injured following the clashes which lasted for several minutes.

The young are increasingly using Valentine’s Day as a form of rebellion – some call it a silent revolution of sorts, despite conservatives in Pakistan every year call for people to boycott Valentine’s Day.

In a devout Muslim society where adultery is punishable by death and public displays of love are forbidden, celebrating on this day is a direct challenge to the rigid Islamic groups that hold sway in the country and who deem such displays as immoral.

However, the holiday is still widely celebrated in Pakistan where people buy flowers, pink teddy bears and heart-shaped balloons.

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Saif Ali Khan charged with assault on South African businessman Sat, 22 Dec 2012 06:33:09 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Saif Ali Khan charged with assaultIndian police have charged Bollywood star Saif Ali Khan for allegedly assaulting and breaking the nose of a South African businessman at a luxury hotel earlier this year, a report said Friday.

“Mumbai’s Colaba police station filed a chargesheet against Khan in a metropolitan magistrate court on Thursday,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Ravindra Shishwe told reporters here on Friday.

“The chargesheet has been filed with regard to a complaint registered against him for assaulting an NRI businessman on Feb 22,” he added.

Shishwe further informed that the charge-sheet has been filed with regard to complaint registered against Khan and two others by NRI businessman Iqbal Mir Sharma on February 22. Thus, the charge-sheet apart from naming Khan as accused included his two friends — Shakeel Ladak and Bilal Amrohi.

Khan and two friends were charged under section 325 of the Indian Penal Code for assault, Press Trust of India reported.

Khan, 42, was at the time of the alleged assault dining with friends and actress Kareena Kapoor, whom he married in October.

Saif was arrested on February 22 with Amrohi and Ladak for assaulting NRI businessman Iqbal Sharma. They were later released on bail. Khan however claimed one of his friends was assaulted which led to the fight.

Khan is one of Bollywood’s biggest actors and the Nawab (Muslim prince) of the former princely state of Pataudi.

His father was famous cricketing legend Mansur Ali Khan, better known as “Tiger Pataudi”.

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Chinese teen sells kidney to buy iPhone, iPad Sun, 08 Apr 2012 04:11:22 +0000 Read the full article...]]> In the second case of its kind in China, a teenage boy sold his kidney to buy an Apple iPhone and iPad. A 17-year-old high school student from Anhui province, surnamed Wang sold his kidney to buy the expensive gadgets, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The source further added, at five people in southern China have been charged with intentional injury in the case of a Chinese teenager who sold a kidney so he could buy an iPhone and an iPad.

The five included a surgeon who removed a kidney from a 17-year-old boy in April last year. The boy, identified only by
his surname Wang, now suffers from renal deficiency, Xinhua quoted prosecutors in Chenzhou city, Hunan province, as saying on Friday.

The news agency said that the man who allegedly organized the plot was in need of money to pay off gambling debts. He supposedly received about $35,000 to get the kidney, out of which he paid about $3,000 to the student. The defendant also allegedly paid the medical staff for the operation, and for the rental of a medical facility.

It said about 1.5 million people in China need organ transplants, but that only about 10,000 transplants are performed each year, fueling the illegal trade in organs.

Wang was recruited from an online chatroom and is now suffering from kidney failure and is in deteriorating health, the Xinhua news agency said.

International human rights groups have long accused China of harvesting organs from executed prisoners for transplant without the consent of the prisoner or their family, charges the government has denied.

China banned the trading of human organs in 2007, Xinhua said. Several other suspects involved in the case are still
being investigated.

Apple products are hugely popular in China, but are priced beyond the reach of many Chinese. IPhones start at 3,988 yuan (£400), and iPads begin at 2,988 yuan – just under £190.

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Obama’s $858 billion tax-cut plan heads to the House Thu, 16 Dec 2010 07:00:39 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (Reuters) – A deal that President Barack Obama struck with Republicans to extend tax cuts for nearly every working American and spur job growth moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for passage as early as Thursday.

Many of Obama’s fellow Democrats in that chamber strongly oppose the measure as favoring the wealthy, and are still angry with him for cutting the deal with Republicans without them.

“We have a situation where we have a proposal before us that gives 6,600 families in America $25 billion and holds the rest of the provisions in the bill, (such as) low-income tax cuts, hostage to that blackmail,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday, referring to a provision on the estate tax.

Still, most analysts believe the deal, which has already received overwhelming bipartisan approval in the Senate, will pass the House with substantial backing from Republicans and some Democrats.

The legislation would extend for two years income tax cuts enacted under Republican former President George W. Bush, with Democrats backing off their earlier fervent opposition to extending the cuts for the richest Americans. The Bush-era cuts are due to expire at the end of 2010 unless Congress acts.

The measure would also prevent a spike in taxes on capital gains and dividends, renew long-term unemployment insurance and provide new tax relief for students, working families and businesses.

House Democrats are becoming more resigned to passage of the $858 billion package. Experts predict the measures will probably boost economic growth but add to the $1.3 trillion budget deficit, which has unsettled the bond market.

Most of the 255 House Democrats may oppose the overall tax package, but it is expected to be approved with overwhelming support among the chamber’s 179 Republicans.


Obama on Wednesday called on the House to approve the bill “as soon as possible” to avoid tax increases across the board in January.

Many economists predict the tax package could add up to 1 percentage point to economic expansion next year, due partly to a one-year cut in the payroll tax and removal of uncertainty about taxes in general.

Obama’s current position on taxes contrasts sharply with his position earlier this year when he and his fellow Democrats fought against renewing tax reductions for the wealthiest Americans — those with household incomes above $250,000 — while supporting continued cuts for middle-class taxpayers.

At the time, they said that with budget deficits at record levels, the United States could not afford to give the tax breaks to the wealthiest.

But with Republicans drawing a line in the sand on the issue and scoring major victories in November 2 congressional elections — taking control of the House and making gains in the Senate — Obama acquiesced on tax cuts for upper-income Americans.

Democrats did win their desired extension of unemployment benefits, which were expiring for millions of people shut out of jobs in the lackluster economy.

Particularly irksome to Democrats is a provision raising the exemption threshold for the estate tax from $3.5 million in 2009 to $5 million, and cutting the estate tax rate from 45 percent to 35 percent.

Democrats will likely try to change the tax bill with an amendment on the estate tax, though Representative Earl Pomeroy, the Democrat sponsor of a steeper estate tax proposal, told Reuters it was “unclear” if such a vote would pass.

He said Democrats will try because “some things are worth fighting for.” He then noted: “I will say this. … People want to get home and you know sometimes, heading to the gate is a pretty powerful impetus to pass packages.”

(Reporting by Kim Dixon; editing by Todd Eastham)

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Nepal ex-crown prince ‘fired gun in row’ at resort Tue, 14 Dec 2010 11:14:12 +0000 Read the full article...]]>

Paras Shah was unpopular among Nepalis for his drunken antics

(BBC) – The former Crown Prince of Nepal, Paras Shah, is to be questioned after firing his gun at a jungle resort, police say.

The former heir to the now abolished throne was reportedly drunk, and threatened relatives of the deputy prime minister who were staying there.

The 39-year-old son of ex-King Gyanendra was unpopular among Nepalis for his drunken playboy lifestyle.

His cousin shot dead nine family members – including the king and queen – before killing himself in 2001.

An official inquiry blamed Prince Dipendra for the royal massacre which shocked Nepal and the world.

The Himalayan nation’s 240-year-old Hindu monarchy was abolished in 2008 after former Maoist rebels who waged a 10-year insurgency against the state came to power.

Police in the resort town of Pokhara in western Nepal, where Mr Shah is currently staying, are preparing to question the former prince.

The chief of police, Keshap Adhikhari, told the BBC he was outside Mr Shah’s hotel room.

He said he would detain him and take him to Chitwan, where Sunday’s shooting incident happened.

‘Derogatory remarks’

Reports say that Mr Shah fired a gun in the air after an argument with the daughter and son-in-law of Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sujata Koirala.

He had reportedly been drinking when the incident occurred at Chitwan national park, a popular tourist destination.

“I am sure the government will take appropriate action as nobody is above the law,” Kathmandu police chief Ramesh Kharel told the BBC earlier.

The Himalayan Times online quoted Mr Shah as admitting that he had fired the weapon.

“I fired a shot in the air from my pistol in a fit of anger as I could not bear the insult of myself and the country,” Mr Shah was quoted as saying.

He said the incident was prompted by “derogatory remarks” against him, his family and Nepal by “two foreign nationals”.

Mr Shah moved to Singapore with his family in 2008 after having a heart attack.

He was a controversial and unpopular figure who had been at the centre of a number of scandals.

Last year he spoke out on the 2001 royal massacre in which his cousin killed nine family members before killing himself.

He said his cousin Prince Dipendra was angry at a failed arms deal, and also unhappy at his family’s rejection of his choice of bride.

Mr Shah said a second motive for Prince Dipendra was his anger King Birendra’s decision to end absolute monarchy in Nepal.

He had also dismissed the notion that Prince Dipendra was drunk or that he had shot his family – his parents, the King and Queen of Nepal and seven other royals – on impulse.

Source: BBC News

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Richard Holbrooke, veteran US diplomat, dies Tue, 14 Dec 2010 04:22:03 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – Veteran US diplomat Richard Holbrooke has died following a second round of surgery to treat a torn aorta.

He fell ill on Friday while meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

He was President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The presidents of both nations had called to wish him well, prior to his death.

Mr Obama called the 69-year-old, who was known for bringing warring leaders to the negotiating table, a “true giant of American foreign policy”.

Mr Holbrooke was meeting Ms Clinton at the US state department on Friday morning when he collapsed.

He was rushed to the US capital’s George Washington University Hospital, where he underwent surgery to repair a tear in his aorta – the largest artery in the human body, which carries oxygenated blood from the heart.

Mr Holbrooke’s death comes as the Obama administration prepares to make public its latest review of US policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan later this week.

‘Foreign policy giant’

Following the news of his death, Mr Obama said: “Michelle and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Richard Holbrooke, a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer and more respected.

“He was a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country, and pursuit of peace.”

Ms Clinton also paid tribute to Mr Holbrooke’s service, saying the US had lost “one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants”.

“He was one of a kind – a true statesman – and that makes his passing all the more painful,” she said in a statement.

Beginning with a foreign service posting in Vietnam in 1962, the veteran diplomat served under every Democratic president from John F Kennedy to Mr Obama.

But it was his role in Europe, helping bring to an end the war in Bosnia, that solidified his reputation as an important figure in foreign policy.

Nicknamed “the Bulldozer”, the veteran diplomat once said he had no qualms about “negotiating with people who do immoral things”, if it served efforts for peace.

“He’s a bulldog for the globe,” United Nations Foundation president Tim Wirth once said.

Mr Holbrooke was named by Mr Obama as his special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan shortly after the president took office in January 2009.

Since moving into that position under the Obama administration, he had led the difficult task of pushing Kabul and Islamabad to work together against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

Mr Holbrooke, a New York City native, also served as the US ambassador to the United Nations and to Germany, as well as the assistant secretary of state.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says Mr Holbrooke was famous for his blunt speaking behind the scenes, despite his handshakes and careful courtesy in public.

Never afraid to bulldoze his way to a solution, our correspondent says, he got them all, Serb, Croat and Bosnian, to sign an accord in 1995.

“He was a remarkable man, a remarkable public servant and someone who contributed enormously to the cause of a more peaceful and just world,” said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Analysts had said the veteran diplomat could one day serve as a future secretary of state.

Mr Holbrooke’s deputy, Frank Ruggiero, is expected to stand in for him in the interim.

Source: BBC News

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Gates says Afghan strategy works Thu, 09 Dec 2010 06:15:18 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – US Defence Secretary Robert Gates says he is “convinced” that the US strategy in Afghanistan is working.

After visiting US bases in Afghanistan over two days, Mr Gates said the goal of pulling American troops out of major combat roles by 2014 could be met.

He admitted that Nato and Afghan forces were suffering more casualties but said the security situation had improved.

US President Barack Obama has set July 2011 as the date to begin withdrawing forces from Afghanistan.

But the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has said that he might advise President Obama to delay the exit plan.

“I will go back convinced that our strategy is working and that we will be able to achieve key goals set out by President Barack Obama last year,” Mr Gates told a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Wednesday.

“The bottom line is that in the last 12 months we’ve come a long way, making progress that even just in the last few months has exceeded my expectations,” he added.

Mr Gates said that coalition and Afghan forces were suffering more casualties “but there is no denying that the security climate is improving”.

“The sacrifices of Afghan and coalition troops are achieving greater safety and security for both our nations,” he added.

Support for the war in Afghanistan is waning in the US and other troop-contributing countries as the death toll continues to rise.

The number of foreign troops killed since the 2001 invasion is reported to have passed 2,000.

Source: BBC

]]> 0 WikiLeaks founder arrested Tue, 07 Dec 2010 10:43:52 +0000 Read the full article...]]> LONDON — Police say WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested on a Swedish warrant.

Assange was arrested at 9:30 a.m. (0930 GMT) Tuesday and was due to appear at Westminster Magistrate’s Court later in the day.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

LONDON (AP) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is expected to surrender to British police Tuesday as part of a Swedish sex-crimes investigation – one of a host of international legal, financial, and security challenges closing in on the secret-spilling website.

Lawyer Mark Stephens has said that Assange, who has been hiding out at an undisclosed location in Britain since WikiLeaks’ began releasing hundreds of U.S. diplomatic cables to the Web last week, would soon meet with officers from London’s Scotland Yard.

The police force said Tuesday it wouldn’t comment until an arrest had been made.

The Internet-based organization’s room for maneuver is narrowing by the day. It’s been battered by web attacks, cut off by Internet service providers and been subjected to a barrage of muscular rhetoric out of the United States.

In the latest development, Swiss authorities closed Assange’s bank account, depriving him of a key fundraising tool. MasterCard has also pulled the plug on payments to the site, according to technology news website CNET. A European representative for the credit card company didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

The attacks appeared to have been at least partially successful in stanching the flow of secrets – WikiLeaks has not published any new cables to the Internet in more than 24 hours, although stories about them have continued to appear in the New York Times and The Guardian, two of the papers given advance access to all 250,000 documents.

WikiLeaks Twitter feed, generally packed with updates, appeals, and pithy comments, has been silent since Monday night, when the group warned that Assange’s arrest might be imminent.

The 39-year-old Australian’s legal troubles stem from allegations leveled against him by two women he met while in Sweden over the summer.

Assange is accused of rape and sexual molestation in one case and of sexual molestation and unlawful coercion in another.

Assange denies the allegations, which Stephens has said stem from a “dispute over consensual but unprotected sex.” Stephens said the two women involved made the allegations only after they became aware of each other’s relationships with Assange.

Although unrelated to WikiLeaks’ mass disclosures, which have infuriated U.S. officials, Assange and his lawyers have suggested that the prosecution is being manipulated for political reasons.

Assange’s arrest could happen within hours. Depending on whether Assange decides to fight the extradition attempt, as Stephens has said he was likely to, the process could drag on for weeks or months.

Source: Washington Post

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China leadership ‘orchestrated Google hacking’ Mon, 06 Dec 2010 06:00:53 +0000 Read the full article...]]> BBC – Senior Chinese figures were behind the hacking of Google earlier this year which forced the search engine to quit the country, leaked US cables suggest.

One cable, released by whistle-blowing site Wikileaks, cites a “well-placed” contact as saying the action against Google was “100% political”.

A politburo member is said to have been angered after Googling his name and finding critical comments online.

The cable says it is unclear whether China’s top leaders were involved.

Other cables show Beijing has been “extremely concerned” about the use of high-resolution satellite imagery on Google’s mapping software, Google Earth.

In January, Google said it had been subjected to a “sophisticated cyber attack originating from China” – it said the e-mail accounts of human rights activists were among those hacked.

In the ensuing row over internet censorship, Google abandoned mainland China and moved its Chinese-language operations to Hong Kong.

The company did not say who it thought was responsible but the cables, released by Wikileaks and published on the Guardian website, show the company had repeatedly raised concerns about the issue.

‘Forbidden fruit’

The BBC’s Nick Childs says the allegations contained in the cables will reinforce both the perception that the Chinese government is highly sensitive about the internet and suspicions that it was behind the hacking attacks on Google.

One cable from the US embassy in Beijing cites a “well-placed contact” as claiming “that the Chinese government coordinated the recent intrusions of Google systems”.

“According to our contact, the closely held operations were directed at the Politburo Standing Committee level,” it says.

The source, whose name is deleted from the text, told the US that the operations against Google were “100%” political in nature, not an attempt to reduce Google’s influence in China in favour of domestic search engines, such as Baidu.

But the writer of the cable notes that it is “unclear whether President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were aware of these actions” before Google publicly announced its concerns.

The cable also reports on alleged concern in the Chinese government that, by challenging official censorship of the internet, Google had made itself seem more appealing to Chinese net users and given the impression that the US and Google were working together “to undermine Chinese government controls of the internet”.

“All of a sudden, XXXXXXXXXXXX continued, Baidu looked like a boring state-owned enterprise while Google “seems very attractive, like the forbidden fruit,” it says.

In cable dated 18 May 2009, US diplomats quote a Chinese source as saying that “the root of the problem” was an unnamed member of the politburo standing committee who wanted Google to stop linking to its international site from its sanitised version,

The politician is said to have “recently discovered that Google’s worldwide site is uncensored, and is capable of Chinese language searches and search results”. He reportedly carried out a search for his own name and found sites personally critical of him.

Google consistently refused to remove the link, citing its own anti-censorship principles, and eventually left the Chinese mainland.

The cable says that while the US can neither confirm nor deny the allegations against Beijing, “the potential for continuing escalation by the Chinese, assuming Google sticks to its guns – and the likelihood of loud US Congressional and public outcry if it caves – suggest a high-level USG [US government] response may be in order”.

The following January, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China to fully investigate the hacking allegations.

“Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation,” she said.

Source: BBC

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Denmark will remain committed to Afghanistan Thu, 02 Dec 2010 04:40:11 +0000 Read the full article...]]> “Denmark will remain committed to Afghanistan”: Minister for Foreign Affairs visits Helmand and Kabul.

Denmark’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Lene Espersen, has completed a two-day visit to Afghanistan. On the first day, Mrs. Lene Espersen visited the Helmand Province together with His Royal Highness Crown Prince Frederik and the Danish Minister of Defence, Mrs. Gitte Lillelund Bech. On the second day, Mrs. Espersen was in Kabul.

During her visit to Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Espersen emphasized that Afghanistan is a top Danish foreign policy priority. Afghanistan is one of the largest recipients of Danish development assistance. Mrs. Espersen stressed that Denmark will remain committed to Afghanistan in the years to come.

In Helmand, the Danish high-level delegation had the opportunity to speak with the Danish battle group and key military and civilian actors in Helmand. “The visit to Helmand was a welcome opportunity to discuss the security situation and the civilian and development efforts on the ground. In the years to come, we will gradually transition to Afghan security responsibility”, Mrs. Espersen said.


The Foreign Minister also held meetings with the provincial governor of Helmand, Mr. Gulab Mangal, and she visited the police training center in Helmand, which is supported financially by Denmark. Foreign Minister Espersen said: “Building a capable Afghan police force is a high priority. I will look at how Denmark can do more to help educate and train the Afghan police. Compared to when I visited Helmand in March 2010, I have also witnessed significant progress with regards to governance and development, which is encouraging.

In Kabul, the Foreign Minister had the opportunity to meet with General Petraeus, the ISAF commander in Afghanistan; Mark Sedwill, NATO’s senior civilian representative; and chairman of the High Peace Council Rabbani. The Foreign Minister said: “There is no doubt that the situation in Afghanistan is complex and that major challenges remain. It is important that we continue to look at how we best support the building of the Afghan capabilities – both military and civilians. It is the key to transition.”

Also in Kabul, the Foreign Minister attended a meeting with Afghan women from key civil society organizations, parliament, the High Peace Council and government. The event focused on political empowerment, the legal sector, and women’s role in achieving peace and security. The Foreign Minister underlined that “Denmark will continue the work to promote women being empowered and obtaining influence in the Afghan society. The role of women in peace and security in Afghanistan is critical to create a stable country. Denmark will continue to support Afghan women’s networks, civil society and human rights institutions“.

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Prince William and Kate: What Wedding Gift Should Our Country Give them? Thu, 02 Dec 2010 04:02:37 +0000 Read the full article...]]> By: Moe Riyasat

The thought of a wedding gift won’t have crossed our minds if the media hadn’t turned the news into a feeding-frenzy.

The news had just broken: the royal engagement was announced. Prince William finally proposed to Kate Middleton, and what began as a slow day for the media, turned into feverish, bee-hive, activity. The media hounded us, pounded us, and then shifted the story into hyper-drive.  CNN told us, David Letterman told us, the tabloids told us, and even if we still didn’t hear, the village idiot would’ve told us. 

But don’t be distracted by media noise. The real tooth-and-claw action is in trying to get an invitation to the royal wedding: the hottest ticket in the world; and some people are going out of their way to snag it. Old boys’ networks are unearthed and dusted off, favours are called in, buttons pushed, and if all else fails, indecent proposals traded.   

      However, the elusive invitation is frustrating everyone, especially leaders of countries who’re hell-bent on getting it.  You’ll find Presidents, Prime Ministers, and imposters, worldwide, making burnt offerings at dawn, praying that their names are on the guest-list for the wedding, while their spouses are out-sprinting their ancient butlers to check the mailboxes daily, for the royal invitation. They’re all obsessed, becoming basket cases.

       While they’re busy on the lookout for the royal-sealed envelope, it’s in our best interest to help the leader of our country choose the perfect gift for the soon-to-wed couple. After all, we have a stake in it: the gift would represent us too, courtesy of our tax dollars.

       In helping our leader choose the perfect gift for Prince William and Kate, we’ll need to brainstorm and ask a few probing questions, similar to these:

Does size matter?

      We know that the British monarchy has been in existence for centuries. This means that they have thousands upon thousands of paintings, sculptures, handicrafts and keepsakes, gathering dust; and nothing is ever thrown out. As a result of the hoarding problem, there’s a shortage of real estate in the castle and only a couple of bedrooms remain free of stuff. 

So since space is critical, size matters.  

Is it made in China?

      These days, just about everything is made in China. It goes without saying that if we give something “Made in China” to the couple, then it becomes a Chinese gift. A Chinese leader could always show up at the wedding empty-handed, and claimed that it came from him. Could we say otherwise?

The moral of the story: before selecting an item as a present, check where it’s made.

Can it be duplicated? 

       Imagine going to a party and another person wears the same outfit you have on. Think of the emotional shock. Likewise, suppose another leader takes a similar gift as ours, to the royal wedding? The result: our gift won’t stand out and won’t be remembered.

       So the rule of thumb becomes: if it can be duplicated, ditch it, let it go, get rid of it. No hoarding allowed here.  

How expensive should it be?

       The Prim & Proper Advice Column reminded us that at a wedding, it’s polite to give a gift worth more than the cost of a plate of food served at the wedding.

      We can easily get the cost of a plate of food from a simple question: what is the cost of two sprigs of asparagus fencing-in a scrawny chicken leg and resting on an oversized Royal Doulton dinner plate?

      Using that cost as the bare minimum amount to spend, and the maximum amount being our national budget, we could go as expensive as needed, as long as it doesn’t cause taxes to rise or cause a peasants’ revolt.

Is it creative?

       A set of tall beer glasses bought at the dollar store, as the gift, may not identify who we’re as a nation, even if the tall glasses are frosted and dimpled. 

      Our gift should be creative, unique, representing the psyche of the country and coming from deep within our culture.  We could look for guidance from our artisans, sculptors, painters, etc.


And, will it wow the royal couple?

       An oil painting of two chimpanzees scratching their lower body parts, and grinning, may not impress the royal couple, regardless of the price of the frame. It may even rile up the Royal ancestors.

       In wowing Prince William and Kate, our gift should be something unexpected, something  desirable, and something to be treasured.

In closing:

      After we’ve brainstormed, probed, and thought of the perfect gift, it’ll be in our best interest  to suggest it to our leader in time for the wedding. Hopefully, they will listen to us (as was their election promise), and give a gift that will personalize the nation and do us all proud. Equally important, the gift should make Price William and Kate ecstatic and their families thrilled.

 Best wishes on your choice of a gift.

]]> 1
Virat Kohli inspires India to victory over New Zealand Wed, 01 Dec 2010 04:08:38 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Virat Kohli struck his third limited overs century as India secured a 40-run victory over New Zealand in the first one-day international in Guwahati.

Kohli scored 105 in 104 balls, ably assisted by Yuvraj Singh (42), as India were dismissed for 276, with Andy McKay taking 4-62 for the tourists.

New Zealand’s innings began slowly but Ross Taylor injected impetus with 66.

But his team-mates could not provide sufficient support as India took a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.

India’s victory margin would have been wider had Nathan McCullum (35) and Kyle Mills (32) not staged an ninth-wicket rally.

Mills joined McCullum at the wicket with the score at 169-8 as the pair mounted an entertaining 71-run ninth-wicket stand before both men were dismissed in successive deliveries in the 46th over as India wrapped up victory.

The hosts, led by stand-in skipper Gautam Gambhir, gave wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, in for the rested Mahendra Singh Dhoni, his one-day debut, as they were put into bat by New Zealand, temporarily captained by Taylor.

Gambhir (38) and Murali Vijay (29) wasted good starts but Kohli, batting at three, took control of the middle orders to notch his second successive one-day century following on from his 118 against Australia at Visakhapatnam last month.

“It feels good. I had a kind of a lean patch in Sri Lanka recently, the team-mates and coach backed me. I would like to thank them,” said the 22-year-old.

“I try to probably stop myself if I feel like playing a big shot and enjoy the singles.”

Kohli was eventually dismissed when he spooned a catch to Jamie How in the covers off a slower Mills delivery, one of three wickets for the seamer.

And the hosts lost their next five wickets for just 26 runs as McKay wrapped up the tail.

New Zealand’s progress was regularly checked by the regular fall of wickets, with only Taylor able to contribute a significant innings, smashing three sixes and three fours, before he was caught off Yuvraj in the 34th over.

McCullum and Mills briefly provided late lusty blows to reduce the margin of defeat as India cruised to victory.

The second one-day international takes place in Jaipur on 1 December.

Source: BBC News

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India’s Ambani hosts party for ‘world’s priciest home’ Tue, 30 Nov 2010 04:21:21 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani has hosted a lavish house-warming for his new 27-storey residence, believed to be the world’s most expensive home.

About 80 people attended the party in Mumbai on Friday, reported the Times of India. One guest described the house as “the Taj Mahal of the 21st Century”.

Mr Ambani, said to be India’s richest man, moved into the house last month with his wife and three children.

Reports suggest the residence is worth more than $1bn (£630m).

The skyscraper in Mumbai (Bombay), which overlooks sprawling slums, is said to have a cinema, swimming pools and a helicopter pad, and is named “Antilia” after a mythical Atlantic island.

Local newspapers said the house would require 600 members of staff to maintain it, and according to the Times of India, the first electricity bill, for September, is costing Mr Ambani 7m rupees (£98,000).

The house has sparked some controversy, with anti-poverty campaigners underlining the contrast between the luxury of the house and the plight of those who live in Mumbai’s slums, which house about half of the city’s 18 million people.

‘Versailles rival’

Guests at the house-warming included Indian novelist Shobhaa De, Bollywood stars Preity Zinta and Aamir Khan, and billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla.

Ms De said the 174m (570ft) building was the “Taj Mahal of the 21st Century”.

She described “what has got to be the biggest, glitziest ballroom in India – the Palace of Versailles is a poor cousin”.

“There is a lot of marble, there is a lot of mother of pearl. There are areas and gardens and lotus pools and an absolutely beautiful Krishna temple. There is art, there’s sculpture, there is a huge bar, there is a swimming pool,” she said.

“The Taj Mahal was considered one of the wonders of the world, this is…I’m sure it’s going to be one of the wonders of modern India,” she told the BBC.

She said the house was built to the personal taste of Mr Ambani, and that people should not “grudge him his indulgencies”.

“He generates a great amount of employment for those very poor and contributes to the economy,” she added.

The house, which has a temple on the ground floor and a library on the top, was designed according to Vaastu principles, an Indian tradition similar to Chinese feng shui.

According to Forbes magazine, Mr Ambani, 53, has amassed a $27bn (£17bn) fortune.

He is chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, one of the largest conglomerates in the world, and also owns the Indian Premier League team, the Mumbai Indians.

Mr Ambani’s brother, Anil, held a “parallel party” at the 14-storey residence which houses the rest of the family.

Relations between the brothers became strained during a dispute over the division of the conglomerate left by their father, Dhirubhai, who died in 2002 without a will.

Source: BBC

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US criticises Wikileaks release Mon, 29 Nov 2010 11:06:55 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – The US has strongly criticised the release by the website Wikileaks of thousands of extracts from US diplomatic messages.

Among the revelations is a report Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah urged the US to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, said the US authorities were afraid of being held to account.

But the White House said the release was “reckless” and put the lives of diplomats and others at risk.

One Republican congressman called for Wikileaks to be designated a terrorist organisation.

Peter King, a member of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said the latest release “manifests Mr Assange’s purposeful intent to damage not only our national interests in fighting the war on terror, but also undermines the very safety of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s foreign ministry condemned what it called “the irresponsible disclosure of sensitive official documents”.

The US Department of Defence says it is making its computer systems more secure to prevent future leaks.

Computer hacking

Wikileaks has only posted some 200 of the 251,287 messages it says it has obtained. However, the entire bundle of cables has been made available to five publications, including the New York Times and the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

The leaked cables by US diplomats posted overseas contain blunt appraisals of their host governments, and unflattering pen portraits of world leaders.

US officials are said to have described Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as feckless, vain and ineffective, sharing a close relationship with “alpha dog” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is said to be thin-skinned and authoritarian, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel is described as risk-averse.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is referred to as “extremely weak” and susceptible to conspiracy theories.

One US diplomat was said to be shocked at the “rude behaviour” of the British queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, when abroad.

Meanwhile, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya always travels with a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse, according to one of the cables.

Concerns aired include the security of Pakistani nuclear material that could fall into the wrong hands, allowing militants to make an atomic weapon.The widespread use of computer hacking by China’s government is also reported.

Other issues reportedly covered in the cables are:

  • Iranian attempts to adapt North Korean rockets for use as long-range missiles
  • Corruption in Afghanistan with concerns heightened when a senior official was found to be carrying more than $52m (£33m) in cash on a foreign trip
  • Bargaining to empty the Guantanamo Bay prison camp – including Slovenian diplomats being told to take in a freed prisoner to secure a meeting with President Barack Obama
  • Germany being warned in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for CIA officers involved in an operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was abducted and held in Afghanistan
  • US officials being instructed to spy on the UN leadership by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  • Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime
  • Yemen’s president talking to General David Petraeus (while he was responsible for US military operations in Central Asia and the Middle East as head of US Central Command) about attacks on Yemeni al-Qaeda bases and saying: “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours”
  • Faltering US attempts to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon

Shedding light on wars?

The leaked embassy cables are both contemporary and historical, and include a 1989 note from a US diplomat in Panama City musing about the options open to Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega and referring to him as “a master of survival” – the author apparently had no idea that US forces would invade a week later and arrest Noriega.

In a statement, the White House said: “Such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government.

“President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal.”

A former state department official told the BBC the leaked messages were unlikely to affect relations with US allies.

“No wikileak is going to fundamentally or in any deterministic way alter the relationship that the United States has with any of its allies in the Middle East or elsewhere,” said the ex-diplomat, Aaron Miller.

No-one has been charged with passing the diplomatic files to the website but suspicion has fallen on US Army private Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst arrested in Iraq in June and charged over an earlier leak of classified US documents to Mr Assange’s organisation.

The cables release was the third mass Wikileaks release of classified documents since it published 77,000 secret US files on the Afghan conflict in July, and 400,000 documents about the Iraq war in October.

Wikileaks argues the release of the documents has shed light on the wars, including allegations of torture and reports that suggest 15,000 additional civilian deaths in Iraq.

Source: BBC

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China calls for emergency talks amid Korea crisis Sun, 28 Nov 2010 11:05:29 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – China has called for an emergency meeting of key nations amid tension in Korea over the North’s deadly shelling of a Southern island.

It proposed that members of the six nations that have been taking part in talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament should meet in December.

The two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia are involved in the talks.

Correspondents say South Korea’s response has been non-committal and that it will consult other countries.

Tension remains high on the peninsula, with the US and South Korea undertaking joint military exercises the North has denounced as a provocation.

Angry protests

The six-party North Korea talks have been stalled since April 2009, and South Korea and the US say they should not resume until the North has made a genuine offer on halting its nuclear programme.

Some analysts think North Korea is trying to raise tensions in order to strengthen its negotiating position and force a resumption of the talks.

Wu Dawei, China’s representative to the talks, said on Sunday: “The Chinese side, after careful study, proposes to have emergency consultations among the heads of delegation to the six-party talks in early December in Beijing to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present.”

He said this was not a proposal to resume formally the six-nation negotiations.

Mr Wu said “complicated factors” had arisen on the peninsula, adding: “The international community, particularly the members of the six-party talks, is deeply concerned.”

The BBC’s Chris Hogg in Seoul says the response of South Korea and its allies to China’s move has been less than enthusiastic.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said President Lee Myung-bak had told visiting senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Dai Bingguo that Seoul was not interested in the early resumption of the six-party nuclear talks themselves, as it was more urgent to deal with Pyongyang’s belligerence.

Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said that Tokyo would “deal with the issue cautiously while cooperating with South Korea and the United States”.

The Korea crisis began when the North launched a sudden barrage of shells at Yeonpyeong island, close to the maritime border between the two countries, on Tuesday.

Two South Korean civilians and two marines were killed, sparking the resignation of the South’s defence minister and angry protests in the South.

Pyongyang insists it was provoked into the shelling by military exercises, which were being carried out by the South close to Yeonpyeong.


The US and South Korea on Sunday began new, pre-arranged military exercises in the Yellow Sea, about 125km (77 miles) south of the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas.

The aircraft carrier the USS George Washington and four other US navy vessels are being joined by South Korean destroyers, patrol vessels, frigates, support ships and anti-submarine aircraft.

Shortly after the exercises began, North Korea again vowed to hit back if its waters were violated.

“We will deliver a brutal military blow on any provocation which violates our territorial waters,” the North’s state-controlled KCNA news agency said.

Yonhap reported that Pyongyang had placed surface-to-surface missiles on launch pads in the Yellow Sea and had also moved surface-to-air missiles to frontline areas, but the South’s defence ministry could not confirm the deployment.

Residents of Yeonpyeong were ordered to shelter in bunkers when artillery fire was heard on Sunday, but the order was lifted 40 minutes later. Only about 20 of the 1,700 residents remain on the island.

The South Korean defence ministry has also now instructed journalists to leave by the end of Sunday as it cannot guarantee their safety.

“At this stage, it is unpredictable what kind of a provocative action North Korea will take using the South Korean-US joint drills as a justification,” the ministry said.

Yonhap also reported that South Korean troops on Sunday accidentally fired an artillery round into the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the nations. Seoul quickly sent the North a message saying it was an accident, the news agency said.

Earlier, Mr Dai had told President Lee that Beijing would try to prevent the situation deteriorating any further.

Mr Lee had urged China to take what he called a more fair and responsible position on the relationship between the two Koreas.

The chairman of North Korea’s parliament, an official known to be a close confidant of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, has been invited to visit Beijing next week.

Source: BBC News

Do you live on Yeonpyeong Island? What is your reaction to North Korea’s warning? Send us your comments using the form below.

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Plane from Karachi crashes with eight people on board Sun, 28 Nov 2010 10:47:33 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – A plane carrying eight people has crashed shortly after taking off from Karachi airport in Pakistan, killing all those on board.

They say it was a Russian-made cargo plane heading to Sudan’s capital Khartoum and the crew was Russian.

The jet crashed into buildings that were under construction inside a naval base, close to Jinnah airport.

TV footage showed rescuers fighting a large fire. Reports say there were also casualties on the ground.

There were also reports of explosions.

‘Engine on fire’

“It (the plane) took off from Karachi at 0145 (2045 GMT) and after one-and-a-half minutes it crashed,” Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Pervez George told the AFP news agency.

“It was an IL-76 cargo plane. It was going to Khartoum. It had eight people on board,” he said.

Unconfirmed reports say that two construction workers on the ground also died in the crash.

The BBC’s Shoaib Hasan in Karachi reports that another worker – who was sleeping near the premises – told how he ran for his life when he heard the plane coming. The worker spoke while being treated for injuries in a local hospital.

If the plane had crashed just 500 metres (560 yards) away, it would have hit a much more densely populated area, our correspondent adds.

Rescuers later recovered several bodies from the crash site, reports say.

Witnesses say they saw that one of the plane’s engines was on fire, which suggests that the cause of the crash may have been a mechanical failure.

“The plane crashed 800m away from my house. We heard the bang and we rushed out,” Ayas Peer Mohammed, a retired brigadier who lives in the naval residential area, told the BBC.

“My son wasn’t asleep and he saw the cockpit on fire and the crash. I went to the crash site immediately. Right now the fire vehicles are there and they are trying to extinguish the fire. The plane was in more than two parts. It’s totally burnt, it’s a wreck, there were many small pieces on fire,” he said.

“The plane crashed in an open area very close to the last inhabited building. I think the pilot tried to crash there on purpose,” Ayas Peer Mohammed added.

Our correspondent says that the blaze – which was fuelled by thousands of gallons of petrol – is now under control.

The explosion caused by the crash was so powerful that local residents thought it was triggered by a bomb, Karachi police chief Fayyas Leghari was quoted by the AFP as saying.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, and an investigation is now under way.

The plane was carrying relief aid to Sudan.

Earlier this month, a small passenger plane crashed soon after take-off from Karachi, killing all 21 people on board.

In July, Pakistan’s Airblue passenger plane crashed into hills overlooking the capital Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board.

Source: BBC

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Obama receives 12 stitches to lip Sat, 27 Nov 2010 05:14:23 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – President Obama was treated in the White House doctor’s office following the game at Fort McNair

US President Barack Obama has been given 12 stitches after he was hit in the lip during a basketball game.

Mr Obama was inadvertently struck by someone’s elbow during the game on Friday morning, the White House said.

The US president was treated in the doctor’s office of the White House following the game at Fort McNair, in Washington DC.

Later, Mr Obama was seen at the White House holding what appeared to be an ice pack to his lip.

“After being inadvertently hit with an opposing player’s elbow in the lip … the president received 12 stitches today, administered by the White House Medical Unit,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

Mr Obama was given a local anaesthetic while receiving the stitches, he added.

“The medical unit that treated Obama used a smaller filament than typically used, which increases the number of stitches but makes a tighter stitch and results in a smaller scar,” added Mr Gibbs.

Mr Obama was playing basketball with his personal aide Reggie Love – who played basketball for Duke University – and other members of his family on what is the thanksgiving holiday in United States.

He was photographed in a grey T-shirt and jogging bottoms leaving the basketball facility, holding his bottom lip.

A few hours later, reporters who had gathered on the White House driveway for the arrival of the Christmas Tree saw the president in an upstairs window, pressing what appeared to be a cold compress against his mouth.

The president has been a long time player of the sport, and has even been seen to take to the court with Cabinet members.

Source: BBC News

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US nuclear transport agents seen ‘in drunken incidents’ Tue, 23 Nov 2010 08:11:16 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – US agents who drive nuclear weapons around the country were involved in 16 alcohol-related incidents in two years, the energy department has said.

One was arrested for public drunkenness and two were held after an incident at a bar while on overnight missions.

The incidents “indicate a potential vulnerability in [a] critical national security mission”, an energy department report said.

A spokesman noted agents had never had a fatal accident or radiation leak.

Extended missions

In a newly released report, the Department of Energy’s inspector general’s office said it had launched an investigation after hearing complaints of alcohol abuse among agents in the Office of Secure Transportation (OST).

OST agents drive nuclear weapons, weapons components and nuclear materials around the country, and are trained to defend the shipments from attack and sabotage.

Investigators discovered 16 “alcohol-related incidents” from 2007 to 2009. Two flagged up as especially worrisome occurred while the agents were on “secure extended missions”, during which the convoy vehicles are secured overnight en route and the agents check into hotels.

The Office of Secure Transportation has about 600 trained security agents.

In 2007, investigators found, an agent was arrested for public intoxication; in 2009, two were handcuffed and held by police “after an incident at a local bar”.

“OST management took what appeared to be appropriate action in these cases,” investigators wrote. “However, in our judgment, alcohol incidents such as these, as infrequent as they may be, indicate a potential vulnerability in OST’s critical national security mission.”

Investigators declined to make formal recommendations.

“[The] Office of Secure Transportation maintains a highly trained, highly professional force that has safely and securely transported nuclear materials more than 100 million miles (161 million km) without a single fatal accident or any release of radiation,” said Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the energy department’s National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA).

“Of hundreds of agents, the report identifies just two cases involving NNSA personnel being intoxicated while on overnight stops during official missions.”

The NNSA stressed that there had been no instances of agents drunk-driving while on duty.

Source: BBC News

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Artillery fire on Korean border Tue, 23 Nov 2010 07:28:35 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – North Korea has fired artillery shells across its western maritime border, prompting return fire from South Korea, officials say.

Dozens of the shells landed on a South Korean island, from which plumes of smoke are rising. At least four soldiers are said to have been hurt.

South Korea has issued its highest non-wartime alert in response.

A BBC correspondent says this is one of the most serious incidents between the two Koreas since the end of the war.

Top leaders are meeting in an underground bunker in Seoul over the incident, Reuters news agency reported.

The incident comes days after North Korea revealed it had a modern uranium enrichment plant – potentially giving it a second route to a nuclear weapon.

Earlier, the US ruled out more denuclearisation talks while Pyongyang continued to work on the facility.

‘Illegal firing’

South Korean officials said artillery rounds landed on Yeonpyeong island, near the disputed inter-Korean maritime border to the west of the Korean Peninsula.

“A North Korean artillery unit staged an illegal firing provocation at 1434 PM (0534 GMT) and South Korean troops fired back immediately in self-defence,” a defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

A resident on the island told the agency that dozens of houses were damaged, while television pictures reportedly showed plumes of smoke rising above the island.

“Houses and mountains are on fire and people are evacuating. You can’t see very well because of plumes of smoke,” a witness on the island told YTN television station.

“People are frightened to death and shelling continues as we speak,” the witness said.

South Korea had deployed fighter jets to the island, Yonhap news agency said.

This western maritime border has been the scene of numerous clashes between the two Koreas in the past.

In March, a South Korean warship went down near the border with the loss of 46 lives.

International investigators say a North Korean torpedo sank the ship, although Pyongyang denies any role in the incident.

Since then relations between the two neighbours – who have not signed a peace treaty since the 1950-53 Korean War – have been very tense.

Source: BBC News

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Nouri Maliki reappointed as Iraq’s PM Fri, 12 Nov 2010 08:47:02 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – Newly re-elected Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has reappointed Nouri Maliki, a Shia, as prime minister.

The move comes after eight months of political deadlock which followed inconclusive elections in March.

But the event was marred by a walkout by al-Iraqiyya, the main Sunni-backed alliance led by former PM Iyad Allawi.

It said Mr Maliki had reneged on an agreement to reinstate four Sunni leaders who had been banned for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath party.

US President Barack Obama welcomed the progress that Iraq had made in recent days.

“The president is encouraged by the substantial progress that has been made in forging an inclusive government that represents the Iraqi people and the results of this year’s election,” said a White House statement.

The White House added that the US president had spoken to several Iraqi leaders in the run-up to the parliamentary session.

‘Stabbed in the back’

Iraq’s parliament convened after a delay of several hours on Thursday.

Their first act was to hold secret ballot which appointed Osama al-Nujaifi – a Sunni Arab member of Mr Allawi’s al-Iraqiyya coalition – as speaker. He was previously governor of Nineveh province.

MPs were then due to vote on reappointing Mr Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), as president. But before the vote could be held, about a third of the al-Iraqiyya MPs – including Mr Nujaifi and Mr Allawai – walked out of the parliament.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad says the al-Iraqiyya members had wanted parliament to pass a motion to remove the stigma of Baathism which had barred four of the coalition’s key figures from taking political office.

Although not opposed to Mr Talabani’s re-election itself, they had wanted the motion to be passed before the election of the president.

“We boycotted the session because we showed good intentions to others, but they stabbed us in the back,” Saleh al-Mutlak, one of the barred lawmakers, told the AFP news agency.

“We will not return without international guarantees,” he added, but gave no further details.


But despite the walk-out, the parliamentary session continued and MPs went on to re-elect Mr Talabani.

“Today is the day of victory. The victory of the true Iraqi will,” Mr Talabani told parliament.

As had been agreed in the deal reached on Wednesday, Mr Talabani then handed the task of forming a government to the largest coalition, the National Alliance – a merger of Mr Maliki’s State of Law coalition and the Iraqi National Alliance of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Mr Maliki now has a month to put together a cabinet, during which efforts will be made to draw Mr Allawi back into the process, says our correspondent.

Under the power-sharing deal – struck late on Wednesday – Mr Allawi will head a new Council for National Strategy. Al-Iraqiyya will also get the foreign ministry.

Al-Iraqiyya won two more seats than State of Law in March’s election, but neither had enough seats to form a government.

The tide turned for Mr Maliki in early October when the Iraqi alliance announced that the 40 or so seats he controlled in the new parliament would back the incumbent for a second term.

Our correspondent says that many Iraqis are now cautiously hopeful that they are on the road to a stable government which includes all the main factions and could turn the corner to a better future for the whole country.

Source: BBC

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US Concerned Over Haqqani Network Activities Fri, 12 Nov 2010 08:20:30 +0000 Read the full article...]]> The US is concerned over the activities of Haqqani network in Afghanistan, the US senator John McCain said at a press conference in Kabul on Wednesday

The United States republican Senator John McCain along with 3 American senators arrived to the Afghan capital Kabul on Wednesday and met with the Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Mr McCain said he will also talk with Pakistani authorities about the activities of Haqqani network and that Afghanistan should not turn into a safe haven for terrorists.

“We are also concerned about the fact that the Haqqani network continues to operate with impunity and we will be going to Pakistan and raising that issue with Pakistani leadership, including Gen. Kayani,” senator McCain said.

Mr McCain once again emphasised that the United States was concerned over widespread corruption in Afghanistan and is doing its best to have achievements in fight against administrative corruption.

“We are concerned with continuing corruption at all levels of government. We know that without addressing this issue, that long term success is jeopardised,” he added.

These senators said that US will not withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by 2011, but it will make the decision based on the conditions on the ground.

“Every time I come back here is I am troubled by the extent to which the July 2011 date is misunderstood or whatever. The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan is based on the conditions on the ground. We are not going anywhere until the job is done,” the US senator, Joseph Lieberman told reporters.

The American senators also talked with the Afghan president Hamid Karzai about the withdrawal date of the US forces from Afghanistan and other related issues.

The senators also participated in Veterans Day ceremony held in the US embassy in Kabul on Thursday morning.

The Veterans Day is an annual United States holiday in which military veterans are honoured.
Source: Tolo News

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G20 agree to address currencies Fri, 12 Nov 2010 07:56:52 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – Leaders of the G20 group of major economies have agreed to avoid “competitive devaluation” of currencies after a second day of difficult talks in the South Korea capital, Seoul.

Leaders agreed to come up with “indicative guidelines” to tackle trade imbalances afflicting world growth.

Tensions had been high between some delegations over how to correct distortions in currency and trade.

Some fear the conflict may threaten global growth.

The disagreement has primarily been between China and the United States.

US President Barack Obama said there should be no controversy about fixing imbalances “that helped to contribute to the crisis that we just went through”.

Earlier a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that China was acting to address Washington’s concerns about its currency.

“I think that if you look past some of the heat you’ve seen recently and you look at what’s happening in our very important relationship with China, I’m very encouraged by the progress we’ve seen,” the official said.

Meanwhile, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain issued a joint declaration to try to calm bond market jitters over a possible future EU bail-out fund.

As Irish bond yields reached a fresh high, leaders discussed the Irish Republic’s debt crisis amid concerns that the European Union will have to step in.

“Any new [bail-out] mechanism would only come into effect after mid-2013 with no impact whatsoever on the current arrangements,” finance ministers from the five countries said in the declaration.

UK sources say that officials from the UK, France and Russia had to be called in the early hours of this morning after “fractious” negotiations between China and the US broke down in “acrimony”.

Source: BBC

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ICRC Enhances Medical Services to War Victims Thu, 11 Nov 2010 14:09:13 +0000 Read the full article...]]> The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday it will develop medical services to war victims and wounded in the country

The spokesman for ICRC, Abdul Hasib Rahimi said in cooperation with Afghan Ministry of Public Health the committee is planning to boost new professional medical training in restive parts of the country.

The training projects will be helpful to those who have been affected by war, Mr Rahimi said.

The ICRC said providing medical services to war victims in Afghanistan is part of its activities and doctors will be taught new medical experiences.

“A part of ICRC’s work is to increase people’s access to medical services. In order to address Afghan medical problems, ICRC holds such seminars so that doctors operating in different war-hit parts of Afghanistan come and join, Mr Rahimi said.

Some doctors remarked that new surgery lessons help them provide better medical services to war victims.

“The topic we discussed was about traumatic patients and ways through which they are rescued and their lives are given back to them,” said a doctor.

The International Committee of the Red Cross supplies technical and financial aid to Mirwais Hospital in southern Kandahar province, Emergency Hospital in Shebirghan, ten clinics of Afghan Red Crescent Society, five first aid centres and seven orthopedic centres in the country.

The remarks came as previously the ICRC had expressed concern about proliferation of armed anti-government groups and their threats hindering the committee’s efforts to address Afghan medical problems.
Source: Tolo News

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Obama seeks co-operation at G20 Thu, 11 Nov 2010 04:20:25 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – The global financial system and world economy are set to dominate the agenda at a two-day meeting of the G20 group of nations in South Korea.

But there are fears the summit in Seoul could descend into a row between the US and China about so-called “currency wars” and trade imbalances.

Ahead of the meeting US President Barack Obama urged leaders to work together for global economic recovery.

He said the US would seek to create jobs and reduce global imbalances.

On a visit to a US base in Seoul before the main G20 meetings began, Mr Obama took the opportunity to urge North Korea to engage with the international community.

“North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons will only lead to more isolation and less security,” he said. “But there is another path available to North Korea.”

Domestic demand

Washington has blamed global economic imbalances in part on Beijing’s alleged manipulation of its currency to help boost Chinese exports, which has led to Beijing amassing huge foreign reserves.

Others, however, say America’s economic policies, specifically creating new money to pursue quantitative easing (QE), could also be a form of currency manipulation for its own ends.

Speaking to the BBC, the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, said there were “definitely tensions” over currency.

“One has to be wary of the tensions because you don’t want them to slip into protectionism,” he said.

But he said that while the US raising the issue over China was “useful”, he added China’s next five-year plan for its economic development would focus on increasing domestic demand, adding this would be important in shifting China’s growth.


At a G20 press conference, Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega criticised the US central bank’s latest QE programme.

“The trouble with putting an extra $600bn into the US economy is that this money will not go into production, will not create jobs and neither will it boost domestic consumption.

“With more money in the market, investors will take advantage of higher interest rates in other places, put the money into these countries’ stock exchanges or invest in commodities, raising the prices and causing inflation in our countries,” Mr Mantega said.

Accused of forcing the dollar down to trade its way back to prosperity, Mr Obama is expected to hold one-on-one talks with two of the strongest critics of his administration’s economic direction – Chinese President Hu Jintao and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

President Obama has said that the US alone could not restore growth but accepted the US must change, adding: “When all nations do their part… we all benefit from higher growth.”

However, he defended America’s “decisive action to halt the fall in activity caused by the deepest crisis we have experienced in generations”.

And he again called on countries not to rely on exports to pull them out of their economic problems.

“We all now recognize that the foundation for a strong and durable recovery will not materialize if American households stop saving and go back to spending based on borrowing.

“Yet, no one country can achieve our joint objective of a strong, sustainable, and balanced recovery on its own.

“Just as the United States must change, so too must those economies that have previously relied on exports to offset weaknesses in their down demand,” Mr Obama said.

Currency concerns

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron also warned that China should act to correct its trade imbalance.

Critics, especially in the US, have called for tariffs on Chinese imports unless the yuan is allowed to appreciate.

It is feared that other countries will rush to allow currency devaluation to also make their exports more competitive.

But China considers the exchange rate of its currency to be an internal matter and has only agreed to only gradually let the yuan appreciate.

The governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has urged the G20 to agree to let current account imbalances unwind, rather than impose targets and policy instruments that could be damaging to all.

Can leaders co-operate to achieve growth? What would you ask your leaders to do at the G20? You can send us your views using the form below.

Source: BBC

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US new jobs figure beats expectations Sun, 07 Nov 2010 10:17:21 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – The US unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.6% in October, but 151,000 jobs were created, the Labor Department has said.

The new jobs figure is much higher than analysts had expected amidst the sluggish recovery of the economy.

But the unemployment rate has now been at the current level for three months.

US President Barack Obama called the increase in jobs “encouraging news”, adding that there was still much more to be done.

“I am open to any idea, any proposal, any way we can get the economy growing faster so that people who need work can find it faster,” he said.

The US Federal Reserve announced on Wednesday it would pump $600bn (£373bn) into the US economy to boost the speed of recovery.

High unemployment was named as one of the reasons for the intervention.

The October unemployment rate itself was in line with Wall Street forecasts.

“We still have the unemployment rate steady so this isn’t going to affect the Fed thinking too much at this point,” said economist Sean Incremona at 4Cast Ltd in New York.

Private sector gains

The net gain of 151,000 jobs was the first increase since May.

US stock index futures surged on the announcement, while the dollar strengthened against the euro and yen.

There were 41,000 jobs shed in September, according to revised figures.

The private sector added 159,000 jobs in October, while the state cut 8,000 positions.

Since the beginning of the year, 874,000 new jobs were created in the US, after huge job losses in 2008 and 2009.

“This month’s data is one of the rare months since the recession in which employment growth has been strong enough to keep pace with population growth,” said Owen James, an economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

The Republican Party, which took control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s congressional elections, was helped by voters’ anger over high unemployment.

Nearly 15 million people are registered as unemployed and the lack of jobs was a key issue for many voters who punished President Obama’s Democrats.

Source: BBC

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Mexico Gulf drug cartel leader Ezequiel Cardenas killed Sat, 06 Nov 2010 05:01:01 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – A leader of Mexico’s powerful Gulf drug cartel has been shot dead by security forces in a town near the US border, the Mexican military says.

Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, known as “Tony Tormenta”, was killed in the city of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville in Texas.

He is the brother of former Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas, who was extradited to the US in 2007.

Residents in Matamoros spoke of a shoot-out lasting for several hours.

Three suspected gunmen and two marines were also killed in the gun battle, according to federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire.

Cardenas, 48, had been indicted in the US on drugs charges, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration was offering a reward of up to $5m for his arrest.

He was accused of smuggling tonnes of drugs across the US/Mexico border in the course of the past decade.

Friday’s operation involved several hundred Mexican soldiers and marines, and local residents were trapped in shops and schools for extended periods.

Bridges across the international border into Texas were closed briefly, as the military used firearms and grenades to tackle suspected cartel members.

Lucrative routes

The Mexican police and army are struggling to control armed cartels in a number of areas of the country.

Several groups are trying to control lucrative drug smuggling routes into the US.

More than 28,000 people have died in the drugs war since Mexican President Felipe Calderon ordered the army into the fight in 2006.

The policy has had some successes, but that has not led to a decline in the number of killings, or the level of kidnappings, extortion and human trafficking that the gangs also engage in
Source: BBC

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Dozens die in new Mount Merapi eruption in Indonesia Fri, 05 Nov 2010 05:23:53 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – At least 49 people have been killed in the latest eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Merapi volcano – more than doubling the death toll since it became active again last week.

Dozens are being treated for burns and respiratory problems after a gas cloud hit villages with even greater force than the previous eruptions.

More than 90 people are now said to have been killed.

An estimated 75,000 residents have been evacuated from the area.

Mount Merapi, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, is located in a densely populated area in central Java.

The latest eruption began late on Thursday, sending residents streaming down the mountain with ash-covered faces.

Rescue workers said villages in the area were in flames and bodies burnt beyond recognition.

‘Danger zone’

Many of the dead are believed to be children from Argomulyo village, 18km (11 miles) from the crater, the Associated Press news agency quoted emergency officials as saying.

The agency quoted hospital spokesman Heru Nugroho as saying that 48 bodies had been brought in after the inferno, and that 66 others had been injured – although these figures were not independently confirmed.

Earlier, government volcanologist Surono told AFP: “This is the biggest eruption so far. The heatclouds went down the slopes as far as 13km (eight miles) and the explosion was heard as far as 20 kilometres away.”

The authorities have decided to widen the “danger zone” around the crater from 15 km (9 miles) to 20km (12 miles).

A rescue official told the BBC some of the casualties could have been avoided if residents had stayed away from the danger zone.

Scientists are warning of further eruptions in the coming weeks.

Indonesia is also dealing with the aftermath of another natural disaster, after a tsunami hit the Mentawai islands last week, claiming more than 400 lives and sending thousands into emergency shelters.
Source: BBC

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US Expands its Embassy in Afghanistan Thu, 04 Nov 2010 11:36:04 +0000 Read the full article...]]> The US ambassador in Kabul said expansion of the US embassy to some Afghan provinces will cost $511 million which “is an indication for a long term commitment”

Karl Eikenberry, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan said the extension of the US Embassy will be beneficial ensuring security, and improving economy in the country.

Expansion of the US embassy is included the construction of consulates in Kabul, Herat and Balkh provinces and it is believed that the projects will provide job opportunities for more than 600 Afghans.

A funding of $40 million is allocated to Afghan construction companies to run the projects.

Mr Eikenberry said the need for expansion of the US embassy in Afghanistan is the long-term commitment of the US government to Afghanistan.

“Now although United States embassy projects by law anywhere in the world must be awarded to the United States contractors,” He said. “It’s estimated that these projects will infuse over $150 million into the local economy right here in Kabul through the employment of local Afghan workers and sub-contractors to the purchase of local materials which we put a priority on.”

He said that the construction of US embassy consulates in Kabul, Herat and northern Balkh provinces has begun.

He said: “Let me conclude by just saying this, it is very substantial the United Sates’ investment and construction in its Kabul embassy here, in the Mazar and Herat consulates, is an indication as I said at the start is an action, is a deed, that you can take as a long-term commitment of the United States government to the government of Afghanistan.”

The projects will be ready for use until summer of 2014, he said.
Source: Tolo News

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US candidates in final vote push Tue, 02 Nov 2010 05:00:25 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – Michelle Obama and former president Bill Clinton were on the campaign trail supporting fellow Democrats

Candidates are making their final push for votes on the last day of campaigning for Tuesday’s US Congressional mid-term elections.

President Barack Obama’s Democratic party is expected to lose its majority in the House of Representatives and is struggling to keep the Senate.

Mr Obama spent the day at the White House attending meetings and recording radio interviews.

Republicans hope to capitalise on voters’ discontent with the economy.

“We’re hoping now for a fresh start with the American people,” Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said on Monday.

“If we don’t live up to those expectations, then we’ll have a problem in two years.”

Up for election on Tuesday are all 435 House seats, 37 of the 100 seats in the Senate, governorships of 37 of the 50 states and all but four state legislatures.

The Republican Party needs to gain 39 House seats to win control of the lower chamber of Congress – an amount opinion polls suggest they will easily win – and 10 to take over the Senate.

Democrats are hoping to hold on to the Senate by at least one or two seats.

In addition, voters will decide on ballot measures ranging from marijuana legalisation in California to a referendum in Oklahoma on forbidding judges from using Islamic Sharia law in rulings.

Rallying support

Mr Obama tried to rally support for Democrats on Monday by giving an interview to Ryan Seacrest, host of the popular TV programme American Idol. The interview is due to air on Tuesday on Seacrest’s nationally syndicated radio show.

Mr Obama also recorded interviews for radio stations in the cities of Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Honolulu and Miami.

Former President Bill Clinton rallied Democrats a day before the elections in the states of New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Mr Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd in the Pennsylvania town of McKeesport that the most important thing was to get out the vote on Tuesday.

Both Republicans and Democrats appeared on early morning TV shows to try to motivate supporters for election day.

Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine and Mr Steele appeared on the ABC network’s Good Morning America, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas were interviewed on NBC’s Today show and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was on CBS’s The Early Show.

Mr Steele acknowledged that recapturing the Senate would be a difficult task, while Mr Barbour said claiming a majority in the Senate would be “a bit of a stretch”.

Economic blame

On Sunday, Mr Obama wrapped up a final blizzard of rallies and speeches in the key battleground state of Ohio.

Speaking in Cleveland, he repeated the theme from his 2008 presidential campaign.

“In two days, you have a chance to once again say: ‘Yes, we can’.”

He urged his supporters to get the vote out and sought to place the blame for the country’s economic woes on the policies of his predecessor, Republican President George W Bush.

The rally was short of capacity, a contrast to the 2008 election when across the country people were turned away from Mr Obama’s packed-out appearances.

The Democrats face losing up to six House seats, one Senate race and the governorship in Ohio.

Tea Party momentum

Republicans are riding high in opinion polls, buoyed by discontent over unemployment running near 10%, slow economic growth and a burst housing market bubble that has seen many Americans lose their homes.

The party has also gained from the backing of the populist Tea Party movement, which has given voice to conservative grassroots opposition to Mr Obama and the Democrats’ economic stimulus programmes and healthcare overhaul.

Tea Party favourite Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008 and a former governor of Alaska, said in a TV appearance on Sunday that Tuesday’s vote would be a “political earthquake”.

She said voters would tell the president and the Democrats: “You blew it, President Obama. We gave you the two years to fulfil your promise of making sure that our economy starts roaring back to life again.”

Ms Palin is not running for any office but has hinted at a 2012 run for the presidency.

Republican House leader John Boehner, who stands to replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi as the House Speaker if the polls are borne out, acknowledged the country’s economic problems had not started under Mr Obama.

“But instead of fixing them, his policies have made them worse,” he said, campaigning in Ohio.

The results of the day’s gubernatorial and state legislative elections could also have a big impact on American politics.

In a given state, the party that controls the state legislature and holds the governor’s office has influence over the redrawing of the Congressional district map for the next 10 years.

Source: BBC

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UK and France agree to joint nuclear testing treaty Tue, 02 Nov 2010 04:40:57 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – The UK and France are to sign treaties agreeing to military cooperation including testing of nuclear warheads.

The plans will see one centre set up in the UK to develop technology and another in France to carry out testing.

Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy will also outline plans, at a London summit, for a joint army expeditionary force.

Downing Street called the measures “practical”, but Labour said they left “big questions” over the UK’s defences.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “This summit marks a deepening of the UK-France bilateral relationship. Ours is now a strategic partnership tackling together the biggest challenges facing our two countries.”

The summit comes two weeks after the UK government announced cuts to its armed forces, in the first strategic defence review since 1998, as part of savings aimed at reducing the country’s budget deficit.

Under the plans £750m will be saved over four years on the Trident nuclear missile system by cutting the number of warheads.

Harrier jump jets, the Navy’s flagship HMS Ark Royal and planned Nimrod spy planes will also be axed, but two new aircraft carriers were spared.

Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy are to sign two treaties – one on greater general military co-operation and the other on nuclear weapons.

Speaking about greater military co-operation, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said there had been a “great deal of hysteria” in the media about the idea of British troops coming under French command.

He said: “Under the existing Nato system our troops could come under Turkish or Polish command. There’s nothing new about that.

“This does not affect our special relationship with the United States. It gives us economies of scale and helps us to welcome France back fully into Nato.”

Asked whether there might be a situation in the future, during a political crisis in which Britain and France did “not see eye to eye”, when British planes were dependent on a French aircraft carrier, he said: “That’s very unlikely to happen.”

“This is not about interdependence. It’s about interoperability,” he added.

Operational veto

The nuclear treaty will establish a centre in the UK to develop technology and another one in France to carry out the testing.

It is understood that each country will still control its own warheads, and that nuclear secrets will not be shared.

The other treaty will allow the setting up of a “combined joint expeditionary force”, thought to involve a brigade of about 5,000 soldiers from each side.

Each country will retain a veto for each operation, which will operate under one military commander to be chosen at the time.

The UK and France have also agreed to keep at least one aircraft carrier at sea between them at any one time.

Each will be able to use the other’s carrier in some form, certainly for training and possibly operations.

Meanwhile, France is to use British A400M fuelling aircraft when there is spare capacity, with plans in place for common maintenance and training.

‘Deepening ties’

Joint work on drones, mine counter-measures and satellite communications is also proposed.

In a statement, the French presidency said the test centre in Valduc, eastern France, would start operations in 2014.

The Valduc laboratory would work with a French-British research centre based in Aldermaston, Berkshire, it added.

Together the facilities would involve “several dozen” French and British experts and cost both countries several million euros.

It said scientists from both countries would be able to ensure the “viability, safety and security in the long term of our nuclear arsenals”.

Mr Cameron told MPs on Monday: “I do seriously believe that this link-up with the French over defence is in the long term interests of both our countries.

“And to those who worry that this might in some way lead to… European armies, that is not the point. The point is to enhance sovereign capability by two like-minded countries being able to work together.”

The UK’s shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: “I support the government’s emphasis on international co-operation, taking forward the good work of the last government.

“We share common threats with countries such as France, from terrorism to privacy to cyber-attack. Deepening military ties is an essential part of modern defence policy.

“Interdependence, however, is different from dependence, and binding legal treaties pose some big questions for the government.”

Mr Murphy also questioned whether the the UK was entering “an era where we are reliant on our allies to fill in the gaps in the government’s defence policy”.

Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said Anglo-French military initiatives dated back to Dunkirk and he said: “Both (countries) have got similar problems. They have both got similar interests… and the fact is that if both powers are determined to play a role in the world with military force they are going to find ways of pooling their relatively common force structures if they are going to have some effect.”

Asked about hypothetical scenarios where France and Britain disagreed politically, Professor Clarke said: “You can’t rule them out but they are not the most likely outcome. Most things that happen in the world at the moment – in Afghanistan, in southern Europe, in relation to instabilities in eastern Europe – are things that the British and French do share common interests on.”

Source: BBC

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Istanbul blast injures at least 22, may be suicide bomb Sun, 31 Oct 2010 10:46:00 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – The blast occurred near the independence monument in Taksim Square

Police say 22 people have been injured in what appears to have been a suicide bomb attack in the centre of Istanbul.

Television pictures from Taksim Square showed body parts lying on the ground.

No group has said it carried out the attack, but a two-month-old ceasefire by Kurdish rebels was due to expire later on Sunday, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Istanbul.

Riot police stationed in the square may have been the target, a police spokesman said.

Nine police officers have been injured, some very seriously, he added. Six civilians were also hurt.

A large explosion was heard throughout central Istanbul just after 0900 GMT.

Past attacks

The explosion took place right next to the independence monument on Taksim Square, which is always crowded with people, our correspondent says.

There are usually squads of riot police posted at this part of the square, as it is often the site of demonstrations.

A police spokesman has said he believes they were the target of the explosion, which he said may have been caused by a suicide bomber.

Eyewitness Aris Virkas told the BBC that he was walking through Taksim Square when he heard the blast.

“I turned around and saw policemen with blood on their face and someone lying on the ground,” he said. “People, including police, were running around in panic.

“There was a big bus with maybe 20 police officers: they ran out of the bus, trying to find out what’s going on.

“After a couple of minutes, they started asking people to step back. I think I think I heard a few gunshots afterwards, but I can’t be certain it wasn’t something else.”

Our correspondent says suspicion is likely to fall on Kurdish separatist factions, or groups linked to al-Qaeda.

The Kurdish separatist PKK party has carried out bomb attacks in Istanbul in the past, as have extreme left-wing and Islamist groups.

Our correspondent says al-Qaeda-linked groups are small but active in Turkey, and police make frequent arrests.

A group with ties to al-Qaeda carried out the bombing of the British consulate in Istanbul in 2003 in which 28 people died.

Source: BBC

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Yemen arrests medical student over cargo jet bomb plot Sun, 31 Oct 2010 04:23:34 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – Security forces in Yemen have arrested a female medical student suspected of posting bombs found on two cargo jets in Dubai and the UK.

She was held at a house in the capital, Sanaa, after being traced through a phone number left with a cargo company. Her mother was also detained.

UK PM David Cameron said the device in Britain found on a US-bound cargo plane was designed to go off on the aircraft.

The two packages were addressed to synagogues in the Chicago area.

Both bombs, discovered on Friday, were apparently inserted in printer cartridges.

Germany announced it would no longer accept air freight from Yemen, Agence France-Presse news agency quoted the country’s interior minister as saying.

‘Quiet student’

The unnamed young Yemeni woman, described as a medical student and the daughter of a petroleum engineer, was arrested at a house on the outskirts of Sanaa, a security official told AFP news agency.

Her mother was also detained but was not a prime suspect, the arrested woman’s lawyer said.

The lawyer, Abdel Rahman Burman, confirmed to Reuters news agency the student had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in sending the two packages.

“Her acquaintances tell me that she is a quiet student and there was no knowledge of her having involvement in any religious or political groups,” he said.

“I’m concerned the girl is a victim because it doesn’t make sense that the person who would do this kind of operation would leave a picture of their ID and their phone number.”

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said the US and the United Arab Emirates had provided Yemen with information that helped identify the woman, and he pledged that his country would continue fighting al-Qaeda “in co-operation with its partners”.

“But we do not want anyone to interfere in Yemeni affairs by hunting down al-Qaeda,” he added.

Further investigations in Yemen are likely to focus on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has its stronghold in the remote Shabwa province in the south of the country, the BBC’s Jon Leyne reports from Cairo.

Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) – an explosive favoured by AQAP – was discovered in the device intercepted in Dubai.

Mr Saleh’s remarks on interference are presumably a message to Washington to hold off military strikes inside Yemen, our correspondent says.

But he says Washington has been impressed by the speed and determination the Yemeni authorities have shown in their response.

Our correspondent says this latest attempted bomb attack will only underscore fears about the security threat from Yemen, where al-Qaeda is taking advantage of weak government, wild geography and huge political social and economic problems that have no clear solutions.

Cargo changes

The Yemeni authorities have closed down the local offices of the US cargo firms UPS and FedEx, who have already suspended all shipments out of the country and pledged full co-operation with investigators.

One device was intercepted on a UPS plane at East Midlands Airport in the UK and the other on a FedEx jet in Dubai.

Mr Cameron said the authorities had immediately banned packages coming to or through the UK from Yemen, and was considering further steps.

Late on Saturday, AFP quoted German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere as giving an assurance that “no freight coming from Yemen will arrive in Germany”.

While details of the device found in Britain have not been released, Dubai police said the bomb intercepted there had been “prepared in a professional manner and equipped with an electrical circuit linked to a mobile telephone [Sim] card”.

Rafi Ron, an aviation security adviser to the US government, told the BBC that cargo planes were currently subject to a lot less scrutiny than passenger planes but that this was now likely to change.

“I think that there will be a larger demand for details on the shippers of any item, there will be greater investigation and data mining programmes will be put in place to identify high-risk packages or letters that are put on board, and there will be more technology put in place to screen those packages that will be found serious enough to be screened,” he said.

How the alerts were raised (all times GMT):

• Early hours of Friday morning: alert raised at East Midlands airport after suspect package found on UPS plane. Security cordon put in place, then lifted.

• 0900: suspect package found on FedEx plane in Dubai.

• 1300: security cordon reinstated at East Midlands airport, apparently after a second suspect device is found.

• 1700: FBI says two suspect packages were addressed to religious buildings in Chicago.

• 1835: Emirates Flight 201 from Yemen via Dubai lands at JFK airport, New York, escorted by US fighter jets. The plane is carrying a package from Yemen.

• 1845: FedEx in Dubai confirms it has confiscated a suspect package sent from Yemen and is suspending all shipments from Dubai.

• 1900: two other FedEx flights investigated after landing at Newark, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Both receive the all-clear.

• 2330: BA flight from London to New York (JFK) met by US officials as a “precautionary measure”.

Source: BBC

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UK MPs question Google over Street View data breaches Sat, 30 Oct 2010 06:42:13 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – MPs have accused Google of deliberately collecting wi-fi data for commercial gain.
It is another twist to events kicked off by the search giant collecting of millions of pieces of sensitive information via its Street View cars.
Discovery of the data triggered investigations around the globe.
Google has always maintained that the data was collected in error because of code being mistakenly included in the Street View software.
The code was created by a Google engineer as part of a wider project to map wi-fi hotspots but should never have found its way into Street View cars, the search giant said.
Google’s head of PR told the BBC’s Today programme this week that there was code incorporated into Street View which was intended to map wi-fi hotspots in order to improve Google’s location-based services.
But it was never the intention that any part of it would also suck up personal and sensitive information relating to unsecured wireless networks, he said.
“This data has never been used in any Google product, was never intended to be used by Google and will never be used,” he said.
He added that Google had now stopped collecting any wi-fi data, had “isolated” the personal data and wanted to delete it as soon as investigations by information commissions around the world had concluded.
During a two-hour parliamentary debate on privacy, MPs questioned Google’s version of events.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon questioned Google’s insistence that the details were sucked up by Street View cars as a result of code being accidentally included in the software.
“I find it hard to believe that a company with the creative genius and originality of Google could map the personal wi-fi details, computer passwords and e-mail addresses of millions of people across the world and not know what it was doing,” he said.
“My own feeling is that this data was of use to Google for commercial purposes and that is why it was done.
The question is whether the company underestimated the reaction of the public, and many governments around the world, once it had been revealed what it had done.”
Google said that the allegations were “completely untrue”.
Graham Cluley, a senior consultant at security firm Sophos, told the BBC that he found it “surprising” that Google staff did not realise that the Street View cars were storing more than just the location of wi-fi hotspots.
“If you were competent then it would be surprising that you wouldn’t know that you were storing far more than you actually needed,” he said.
Refuge pictures
During the two-hour parliamentary debate, there was wider criticism of the Street View service, which offers detailed maps of the country on a street-by-street basis.
Conservative MP Mark Lancaster cited a women’s refuge in his constituency which had asked to be removed from Street View.
“Imagine their great concern when on entering the name of the organisation on Google, a picture of the building the refugees use and also their addresses appear on the search engine,” he said.
He said that requests to Google to remove the refuge from the map had received no response.
“I find it staggering that such an invasion of privacy on an organisation whose purpose is to protect others is allowed to occur,” he said.
Google told the BBC that it was unaware of this particular case.
“Anyone can request an image for removal using our simple ‘report a problem’ tool in Street View. When they do we remove the image quickly,” said a Google spokeswoman.
No investigation
In June Privacy International made a complaint to the UK Metropolitan police, saying the data collection put Google in breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).
Broadband minister Ed Vaizey revealed during the debate that the police had “decided that it would not be appropriate” to launch a criminal investigation in the matter.
But he said that he planned to meet with Google to discuss the data breaches.
MPs also criticised the way the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had handled the matter, describing it as “lily-livered”.
In July, the ICO said that Google did not harvest “significant” personal details when the data was collected.
But as more details have emerged about the nature of the data it is reassessing its position.
“Earlier this year the ICO visited Google’s premises to make a preliminary assessment of the ‘pay-load’ data it inadvertently collected.
Whilst the information we saw at the time did not include meaningful personal details, we have continued to liaise with, and await the findings of, the investigations carried out by our international counterparts,” it said in a statement.
“Now that these findings are starting to emerge, we understand that Google has accepted that in some instances entire URLs and e-mail and passwords have been captured,” it added.
In the light of this the ICO said it was “deciding on the necessary course of action, including a consideration of the need to use our enforcement powers”.
Investigations conducted by the Canadian information commissioner revealed that Google had collected some highly sensitive information including complete e-mails, lists of names of people suffering from a certain medical conditions, telephone numbers and addresses.
Its findings go against Google’s initial assertion that all the information collected was “fragmentary”.
The Canadian investigation found that Google was in breach of privacy laws but said no further action would be taken if Google tightened up its internal privacy policies.
Medical conditions
The US Federal Trade Commission ended its investigation yesterday, welcoming changes Google has recently announced to its internal processes.
On Friday Google revealed that it would be creating a director of privacy and offering more training and better procedures regarding privacy.
“Every engineering project leader will be required to maintain a privacy design document for each initiative they are working on,” Google said in a statement.
But it still faces on-going investigation in the US, with a lawsuit looming and a large scale enquiry backed by 38 states demanding detailed explanations about the process which led to so much personal data being stored by Google.
It has pressed Google to name the engineer responsible and to explain in full how the code he designed came to be incorporated in Street View.
Google has never publicly named the engineer.

Source: BBC

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Russian anti-drugs chief applauds Afghan heroin haul Sat, 30 Oct 2010 05:48:38 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Moscow, Russia (CNN) — Russia’s joint operation with the United States to destroy Afghan drugs laboratories marks the first time it has deployed security forces in the region since the Soviet military withdrew in 1989, Russia’s anti-narcotics chief said Friday.

The operation in Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan on Thursday was jointly conducted by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Department of Defense, NATO, the Afghan Ministry of Interior and the Russian drug control agency.

It involved raids on four laboratories associated with a significant dugs trafficker in the province. Approximately one metric ton of heroin worth $250 million was seized, along with a smaller quantity of opium and items used in drug production, U.S. authorities said.

“This is the first operation in Afghanistan in which Russian drug police officers took part,” said Victor Ivanov, head of Russia’s federal drug control agency.

But he stressed they were not in Afghanistan as a military unit, but part of an agreement between Moscow, the Afghan government and the U.S. DEA to share information about the flow of drugs into Russia via its vast southern borders with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

“For the first time our officials handed over information about the location of drug laboratories, which was confirmed by the Afghan Interior Ministry and the U.S. DEA,” he told CNN.

Planning for the operation took three months, during which time coordinates, names, locations, and other valuable data was established, he added.

According to officials, 70 people were involved in the raid close to the Pakistan border, with helicopter gunships and Afghan police providing air and ground cover.

“It was a huge success which became possible as a result of our joint well-coordinated work,” as well as a result of the “resetting” of Russian-U.S. relations,” he told reporters at a news conference in Moscow, in quotes carried by Russia’s Interfax.

Ivanov was referring to the Medvedev-Obama commission, a working group set up in 2009 by the leaders of the U.S. and Russia to improve communication and cooperation between the two former foes.

Russia, estimated by the United Nations to have between one-and-half and six million heroin addicts, has long targeted the poppy fields of Afghanistan as the source of the problem, calling on the U.S. and its NATO allies to do more to eradicate the opium trade.

However the strategy of destroying the poppy fields of southern Afghanistan, which yield much of the heroin flooding out of the country, is viewed as counterproductive by the U.S.-led coalition because it drives farmers into the hands of the Taliban.

The [Afghan] farmers are the hostages of the situation. They are forced to work like slaves in order to survive.
–Victor Ivanov

Ivanov disputes this, pointing out how successful the campaign has been to eradicate the crops used to produce cocaine in Colombia, one of the world’s biggest producers.

“The [Afghan] farmers are the hostages of the situation,” he told CNN. “They are forced to work like slaves in order to survive. They are working on the plantations they do not own. If they were presented with the alternatives, they would accept them.”

With vast quantities of heroin and opium flowing into Russia, Ivanov stressed Moscow was keen to cooperate further with NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.

“We are interested in further cooperation in destroying drug laboratories,” he told reporters, in quotes carried by Interfax.

“According to our sources, in Badakhshan alone, there are more than 400 drug laboratories and a large number are located in Helmand. The number of laboratories is huge, as we see.”

But any future could be contingent on Russia helping NATO with its training activities and transit roots into Afghanistan, an issue Ivanov says makes many Russians uneasy.

“I get around 100,000 letters every year from citizens asking questions about drug trafficking and drug production,” he told CNN. “A lot of people have started to ask if Russia is doing the right thing in allowing NATO to use its corridors to Afghanistan, considering it presents a bigger and bigger threat to Russian society.”

Source: CNN Blog

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Explosives in U.S.-bound parcels from Yemen: Obama Sat, 30 Oct 2010 05:39:06 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (Reuters) – Security officials in Britain and Dubai intercepted two parcel bombs being sent from Yemen to the United States in a “credible terrorist threat,” President Barack Obama said on Friday.

The parcels were bound for “two places of Jewish worship in Chicago,” Obama said. The Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish organization, earlier warned of a danger to U.S. Jewish institutions from packages mailed from Britain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Suspicion fell on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which had taken responsibility for a failed plot to blow up a U.S. passenger jet on Christmas Day in 2009.

The group, thought to include Yemenis and Saudis, is affiliated with al Qaeda, whose militants killed about 3,000 people using hijacked planes in the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

“Initial examinations of those packages has determined that they do apparently contain explosive material,” Obama said in a televised briefing, calling it “a credible terrorist threat against our country.”

The White House said “both of these packages originated from Yemen” and Obama was notified of the threat on Thursday night.

Speaking just days before the U.S. congressional elections on Tuesday, Obama said a top aide had spoken to Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and that Saleh had pledged full cooperation in the investigation.

One of the packages was found on a United Parcel Service cargo plane at East Midlands Airport, about 160 miles north of London. The other was discovered at a FedEx Corp facility in Dubai.

UPS and FedEx, the world’s largest cargo airline, said they were halting shipments from Yemen.


One U.S. official and some analysts speculated that the parcels may have been a test of cargo screening procedures and the reaction of security officials.

“This may be a trial run,” the U.S. official said.

The White House said Saudi Arabia helped determine that the threat came from Yemen, while Britain, the United Arab Emirates and “other friends and partners” also provided information.

“The United States is grateful to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for their assistance in developing information that helped underscore the imminence of the threat emerging from Yemen,” said Obama’s homeland security adviser, John Brennan.

In the United States, UPS planes were checked and then cleared in New Jersey and Philadelphia. The Transportation Security Administration said they were searched “out of an abundance of caution.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it was tightening aviation security measures as a result of the scare. The British government said it was “too soon to say” whether it would follow suit but it was “urgently considering” what steps to take about freight coming from Yemen.

British police said an item found on the UPS plane was sent for further testing. CNN said it was an ink toner cartridge converted into a bomb.

An official source in the United Arab Emirates said “an explosive device was found in the package that originated in Yemen” and the parcel was similar to the one found in Britain.

“We were on to this,” Brennan said. “Clearly they are looking to identify vulnerabilities in our system.”

He said it was it was not clear how the devices were supposed to be activated.

The man accused of the failed Christmas Day bombing, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has told U.S. investigators he got the device and training from al Qaeda militants in Yemen.

Since then, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and one of its leading figures, American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, have become priority U.S. targets. The United States has stepped up military aid to Yemen, which has been trying to quell the resurgent branch of al Qaeda.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Michelle Nichols, Christine Kearney, Lynn Adler and Mark Egan in New York, Jeff Mason and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington and Mohammed Abbas in London; Writing by John O’Callaghan; editing by Christopher Wilson)

Source: Reuters News

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Facebook celebrity game borrows from fantasy sports Thu, 28 Oct 2010 10:21:23 +0000 Read the full article...]]>  LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Your ability to predict whether a celebrity’s star power will rise or fall is about to come in handy.

Launching on Saturday is FanSwarm, a Hollywood version of fantasy sports for Facebook users. But in this case your team consists of a group of celebrities who score points based on what’s being said about them in tweets and on blogs.

Whether an actor scores a major role or freaks out in a hotel, it doesn’t much matter, because players are scoring points whenever news is generated.

“We use an algorithm that reads the heat of the social graph to figure out if a celebrity is hot or not,” said Doug Levin, president and CEO of nascent developer Ayeah Games. “You can gain points by betting on Charlie Sheen’s and Lindsay Lohan’s crazy careers.”

It’s not limited to actors, either. At launch, FanSwarm’s data base will have about 2,000 names from which to choose including Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly and President Barack Obama.

FanSwarm users will compete to become king or queen of the entire userbase: the “Swarm.” Additionally, they can build teams or leagues and compete on a smaller scale.

Players also earn points by playing mini games like TV trivia and by nominating new celebrities that are accepted into the data base.

FanSwarm will aggregate news content around the celebrities and encourage commentary.

Players choose a group of celebrities and put them into 20 different “scenes,” the selection of which also increases or decreases points. Putting Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in the “beach” scene is a wise move, for example, but not if Jennifer Aniston also is there.

Levin said he got the idea for FanSwarm when he was disappointed that George Clooney didn’t win an Oscar this year for “Up in the Air,” but he had nowhere to go online and vent. And he knew he was on to something when he observed women reacting to Sandra Bullock’s marital problems with Jesse James.

“The environment is a highly structured way for people to express themselves, and we encourage user-generated content,” Levin said. “Leave a comment, get points, play with friends, map out your predictions about celebrities. Our research says people are interested in these ideas.”

Levin has raised one round of angel funding for the company and next month begins raising venture capital. The business model includes micropayments for virtual goodies, and he intends on selling data to PR executives, talent management and anyone else interested in the blogosphere’s opinion of a celebrity.

In 2002, Levin founded Black Duck Software, a company backed by Intel, SAP and Red Hat; he stepped down as CEO last year. He is a consultant to several tech companies in Massachusetts, where Ayeah is based, and he is a former CEO of MessageMachines and X-Collaboration Software.

Source: Reuters

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Tajikistan Embassy Officially Opened in Kabul Wed, 27 Oct 2010 05:33:22 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (Tolo News) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai Tuesday termed the inauguration of Tajikistan’s embassy in Kabul a cornerstone for strengthening relations between the two countries

During the inauguration ceremony of Tajikistan’s embassy in the capital Kabul, Tajikistan’s President emphasised on the improvement of relations between the two neighbouring countries and said cooperation of the two countries could be unique in the region.

Imam Ali Rahman, Tajikistan’s President remarked that exchange of merchandise has increased 20 times in the past six years and acknowledged efforts are on the ground to boost the commerce relation between the two countries.

“Tajikistan and Afghanistan could be an example in cooperation and friendly mutual relationships in the region,” Tajikistan’s President said.

During the ceremony, President Karzai said: “in reality the inauguration of the magnificent embassy of Tajikistan in Kabul is to strengthen and improve ties between the two countries.”

Tajikistan’s President also said that his country will soon take his part in reconstruction of Afghanistan.

During his visit, Mr Rahman signed five agreements including trade, expansion of water of Amu River, transit, counter-terrorism, norm and standard, railway construction and hydro power.

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UN urges US and Iraq to probe Wikileaks torture claims Wed, 27 Oct 2010 05:21:44 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – The US and Iraq should investigate claims of abuse contained in files published on the Wikileaks website, the UN’s rights chief says.

Navi Pillay said the files suggested US forces had continued to hand detainees to Iraqi authorities despite evidence that they had been tortured.

Meanwhile, the UN’s adviser on torture, Manfred Novak, called for a wider inquiry to include alleged US abuses.

The US military has denied turning a blind eye to torture in Iraq.

On Monday, Gen George Casey, who was in charge of US forces in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, said all soldiers were instructed to report any allegations of abuse.

But Ms Pillay said the Wikileaks disclosure of almost 400,000 secret war logs added to her concerns that serious breaches of international human rights law had occurred in Iraq.

“The US and Iraqi authorities should take necessary measures to investigate all allegations made in these reports and to bring to justice those responsible for unlawful killings, summary executions, torture and other serious human rights abuses,” she said in a statement.

Fewer allegations

Mr Novak said it was not enough to investigate only what happened in Iraq.

He urged US President Barack Obama to launch a full investigation into all allegations of torture against US military and intelligence officials.

He said the inquiry should include accounts of US agents handing detainees to states such as Egypt, Morocco and Syria, knowing they would be ill treated.

Mr Novak told journalists he now received far fewer allegations of torture than he had done during the so-called war on terror launched by former US President George W Bush.

But he pointed out that Mr Obama, like his predecessor, had refused to grant private interviews with detainees, and had invoked state secrecy privileges to prevent civil lawsuits by alleged victims of US torture.

Source: BBC

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Yahoo Mail gets first major revamp in five years Wed, 27 Oct 2010 05:07:10 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – Yahoo Mail is getting its biggest redesign since 2005 to make it a message hub for its 279 million users.

At the centre of the revamp is a plan to make the communications system much more compatible with social media.

This means users can post updates to Facebook and Twitter without ever leaving Yahoo Mail.

Texting and sending instant messages has been updated. Yahoo said the service will be twice as fast as Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Hotmail.

Users will also be able to view photos and videos from Flickr, Picasa and YouTube inside their e-mail inbox.

Priority email

“People spend more than 30 billion minutes a month on Yahoo Mail,” Dave McDowell, Yahoo Mail senior product director told BBC News.

“It is a critically important product to our users and this represents [the] most significant upgrade to Yahoo mail in five years.”

Other upgrades to Yahoo’s service include improved spam filtering, and tools to search through mail that will help better sort and prioritise messages.

By revamping its mail system, Yahoo is mirroring refreshes already pushed through by rivals.

Google introduced its priority inbox feature at the end of the summer to help users grade e-mail into four categories.

Meanwhile Microsoft updated its Hotmail e-mail system in a similar fashion to help people organise messages better.

Cool factor

The Yahoo Mail refresh had been touted back in September as part of an overall product strategy to show the company remains relevant amid increased competition from Google, Microsoft and Facebook.

Last week the early internet pioneer posted mixed financial results, increasing pressure on executives to turn the company around. 

Industry analyst Greg Sterling, of Sterling Market Intelligence, said the upgrades to Yahoo mail are important in showing the firm still has products that can compete.

“Yahoo Mail is a critical product for the company with an enormous user base,” he said. “The challenge for them is to make having a Yahoo Mail address cool.”

“It has lost some of its chic or cachet to GMail among early adopters or the tech savvy so there is a brand issue there,” he added.

“In the past I would have said people don’t want all these functions in their e-mail box but with people now having so many sites to visit this makes sense,” said Mr Sterling. 

“I think if Yahoo Mail performs well, they will win people over,” he said.

Source: BBC

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Tajik President Meets Afghan leader in Kabul Tue, 26 Oct 2010 10:58:34 +0000 Read the full article...]]> The president of Tajikistan in an unexpected visit to the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday morning met with the Afghan president and high-ranking government officials The president of Tajikistan, Imam Ali Rahman, after a meeting with Afghan president Hamid Karzai and other high-profile government officials, appeared in a press conference with president Karzai and emphasised on more trade relations between the two countries. During his visit to Afghanistan, five contracts were signed between the two countries in different areas including trade, energy and tourism. Mr Rahman also discussed border security issues, counter-terrorism and joint fight against drug trafficking. Mr Rahman also announced his support from the Afghan government peace talks. “Military option is not the only way to resolve Afghan issues. We back the Afghan government’s initiative and wish it success,” said Mr Rahman. “Enforcement of our joint 1400 km border is vital for both countries, so our joint fight against terrorism and drug smuggling that could be an example for others should be strengthened,” he said Addressing the joint press conference, President Karzai said: “during the past nine years, we have had good cultural, trade and educational improvements in our relationships.”

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Students aim to bolster French protests Tue, 26 Oct 2010 05:26:29 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (BBC) – French students will stage protests on Tuesday to try to bolster opposition to the government’s pension reforms amid some signs of cracks in the movement.

The numbers could be a litmus test, correspondents say, after three of 12 national oil refineries voted to end their action and a rubbish collectors’ strike in Marseille was suspended.

The row comes to a head this week.

Parliament is expected to hold a final vote on Wednesday, while a nationwide strike has been called for Thursday.

The vote in parliament is expected to bring into law an increase in the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62.

The BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris says the students are supposed to be on half-term break but instead are planning a series of marches around the country in opposition to the plan to increase the minimum retirement age.

President Nicolas Sarkozy will be hoping the vote – and the 10-day school holiday – will take the sting out of the protest.

But our correspondent says the students will be out to prove him wrong and how many come out will be the litmus test of where this protest is heading.

On Monday, all of France’s 200 fuel supply depots were cleared of strikers.

And unions said that rubbish collectors in the southern port of Marseille would end their high-profile two-week strike on Tuesday.

However, our correspondent says that seven French refineries are still closed, buffer stocks of petrol and diesel are almost exhausted and unless refineries reopen, France could face an even more serious fuel crisis by the end of the week.

‘French exception’

The government has warned that the disruption is threatening the country’s fragile economic recovery.

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said on Monday that the strikes were costing France up to 400m euros (£350m; $560m) a day.

The president says the reform is an “inevitable” measure in the face of France’s rapidly ageing population and growing budget deficit.

His defence of the deeply unpopular reforms has seen his approval ratings plummet to a record low of 29%, according to a poll published last Sunday.

However, the vote in parliament is almost certain to pass.

An MP from Mr Sarkozy’s party, Pierre Mehaignerie, said: “We must be aware that in a world without borders we can’t have a French exception… that exists nowhere else.”

But millions of people have come out on to the streets in a series of protests over the past few weeks and French trade unions have called another nationwide strike on Thursday.

That will be followed by yet another on 6 November, the unions say, unless Mr Sarkozy withdraws the pension law or opens negotiations.

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Source: BBC

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G20 summit agrees to reform IMF Mon, 25 Oct 2010 04:11:01 +0000 Read the full article...]]> By Andrew Walker Economics correspondent, BBC World Service

Finance ministers from the G20 leading economies have agreed reforms of the International Monetary Fund, giving major developing nations more of a say.

At a meeting in South Korea, they agreed a shift of about 6% of the votes in the IMF towards some of the fast-growing developing countries.

Those nations will also have more seats on the IMF’s Board, while Western Europe will lose two seats.

But the US will retain the veto it has over key decisions.

Such decisions require an 85% vote – Washington holds 17% under the IMF’s weighted voting system.

The ministers also agreed to refrain from competitive devaluations of their currencies and move towards more market-determined currency systems.

‘Currency manipulation’

The talks in the city of Gyeongji come against a background of strains in financial markets which some have called a currency war.

Much of the tension in the currency market is being blamed on the US and China, although it is not clear that either country will be restrained by the latest agreement.

The pressure has been on China to end its policy of holding the yuan down to maintain its competitiveness.

There was, however, no timetable for change in the devaluations agreement, so Beijing has kept to its long-held position that it will reform its currency policy gradually.

In the US, low interest rates and other central bank policies have led many investors to seek higher returns in developing countries, which tends to push their currencies higher, undermining competitiveness.

This is partly a result of policies in the US which mean investors are seeking higher returns elsewhere. US officials would argue the weak dollar is not the result of a deliberate devaluation, but rather a side effect of policies aimed at stimulating the domestic US economy.

It is possible that there will be more dollar weakness: One of the policies behind it – the Federal Reserve boosting the US money supply – might be extended in the next few weeks.

German Economy Minster Rainer Bruederle suggested that US policies, if not reversed, amount indirectly to currency manipulation – an accusation more often levelled at China.
Source: BBC

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Celine Dion gives birth to twin boys Mon, 25 Oct 2010 04:04:56 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Singer Celine Dion has given birth to twin boys at a hospital in Florida.

Dion, 42, and husband Rene Angelil, 68, are said to be “thrilled” to have the as yet unnamed children, who were born by Caesarean section on Saturday.

The babies were reportedly born healthy but were premature and will spend the next few days in an incubator.

The Canadian-born singer, due to return to Las Vegas in March for a three-year residency, already has a nine-year-old son with Angelil.

A statement released by St Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida said the first twin weighed five pounds and 10 ounces (2.55 kg).

His brother, born one minute afterwards, weighed six ounces less (2.38 kg).

Dion has been trying to have more children for some time and has spoken publicly about her experiences with in-vitro fertilisation.

Last year the Grammy-winning artist confirmed she was pregnant, only to subsequently suffer a miscarriage.

In other baby news, US actor Matt Damon and his wife Luciana have announced the birth of their third daughter together.

The couple are said to be “great” after welcoming Stella Zavala Damon, who was born on Wednesday in New York.
Source: BBC

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Russell Brand and Katy Perry get married in India Sun, 24 Oct 2010 04:52:13 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Comedian Russell Brand has married US singer Katy Perry in a private ceremony in India.

The wedding was conducted by a Christian minister and both Brand, 35, and Perry, 25, wore traditional Indian clothes, with the bride in a sari.

The couple met at the MTV Video Music Awards in September 2009, where Brand was host.

The ceremony took place at the Aman-e-Khas luxury resort outside the Ranthambhore tiger sanctuary.

Brand proposed to Perry in India outside the Taj Mahal last December.

A spokesman for the couple said the wedding service was carried out by a friend of the Perry family.

“The very private and spiritual ceremony, attended by the couple’s closest family and friends, was performed by a Christian minister and long time friend of the Hudson [Perry] Family.

“The backdrop was the inspirational and majestic countryside of northern India,” the spokesman said.

According to the news agency, Press Trust of India, 21 camels, elephants and horses formed part of Brand’s wedding procession from a nearby resort. He was also accompanied by traditional dancers and musicians.

Perry appealed for privacy on the social networking site Twitter while the couple got married.

She tweeted on Tuesday evening: “TWIT BREAK: Greatest gift you can give us is respect and love during this private time. No use wasting our time with STOLEN or FALSE info. Thank you for this.”

The National Park, which provided the backdrop for the wedding, is one of northern India’s largest sanctuaries.

In addition to stand-up comedy, Brand has established a Hollywood acting career after he appeared in the 2007 St Trinian’s film and Judd Apatow’s comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

His autobiography, My Booky Wook, was a best-seller and his second instalment has just recently been published.

Perry’s first hit was I Kissed A Girl in 2008, and her latest album is Teenage Dream.
Source : BBC

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Iraqi PM criticises timing of Wikileaks disclosure Sun, 24 Oct 2010 04:30:58 +0000 Read the full article...]]> Iraq’s prime minister has criticised the timing of the release by Wikileaks of almost 400,000 secret US military documents about the conflict there.

Nouri Maliki’s office accused it of trying to sabotage his bid to form a new government by stoking up anger “against national parties and leaders, especially the prime minister”.

Mr Maliki is struggling to keep his job after inconclusive elections in March.

Wikileaks said the disclosure was aimed at revealing the truth about the war.

Its founder, Julian Assange, said the records showed there had been “a bloodbath on every corner” and provided evidence of war crimes.

“We hope to correct some of that attack on the truth that occurred before the war, during the war and which has continued on since the war officially concluded,” he told a news conference in London.

But the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, strongly condemned the disclosure of classified information.

In a posting on Twitter, he called Wikileaks “irresponsible” and said the website puts “lives at risk and gives adversaries valuable information”.

‘Media games’

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad says the Wikileaks revelations have attracted relatively little interest among Iraqis, although they triggered an angry response from the office of Prime Minister Maliki.

It issued a statement saying that publishing the documents while negotiations over a new government continued was suspicious, but also expressed confidence in the Iraqi people’s “awareness regarding such games or media bubbles that are motivated by known political goals”.

Mr Maliki’s office also said the records did not present any proof of detainees being tortured in Iraqi-run facilities during his premiership.

Instead, the statement praised him as courageous for taking a tough stance against terrorists. It did not offer any further details.

Earlier, a government spokesman admitted that “violations” had taken place but that these did not reflect official policy and were punished when discovered However, there is no record of any official having been jailed for torture after successive scandals starting in 2005.

The Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc of the former Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, said the allegations demonstrated why it was important to have a power-sharing government, and why Mr Maliki should step aside.

“Putting all the security powers in the hands of one person, who is the general commander of the armed forces, have led to these abuses and torture practices in Iraqi prisons,” spokeswoman Maysoun al-Damlouji told the Associated Press.

“Maliki wants to have all powers in his hands,” she added.

Iraqiya narrowly won the most seats in the general election, but has refused to participate in a government led by Mr Maliki, who has been nominated by the country’s main Shia coalition, the National Alliance.


Click to play

One shows US soldiers were given a video apparently showing Iraqi Army (IA) officers executing a prisoner in the northern town of Talafar. Another says officers were suspected of cutting off a detainee’s fingers and burning him with acid.

Despite the severity of the allegations, the reports were often sent up the chain of command marked “no further investigation”.

US military spokesman Col Dave Lapan told the BBC that it had no plans to reinvestigate the alleged abuses, and that its policy was consistent with the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

He stressed that when the allegations involved the abuse of Iraqis by Iraqis, the role of American soldiers was to “observe and report” what they had seen to their superiors – who would then pass on the evidence to the Iraqi authorities.

Col Lapan said this was “customary international practice” – adding that the field reports published by Wikileaks had been viewed by senior officers at the time, and the “necessary actions” taken.

The Sigacts also reveal many previously unreported instances in which US forces killed civilians at checkpoints and during operations.

In one incident in July 2007, as many as 26 Iraqis were killed by a helicopter gunship, about half of them civilians, according to the log.

The disclosure also appears to show the US military did keep records of civilian deaths, despite earlier denials that any official statistics were available.

The logs showed there were more than 109,000 violent deaths between 2004 and the end of 2009. They included 66,081 civilians, 23,984 people classed as “enemy”, 15,196 members of the Iraqi security forces, and 3,771 coalition troops.

Iraq Body Count, which collates civilian deaths using cross-checked media reports and other figures, said that based on an analysis of a sample, it estimated that around 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths would be identified.

The release of the documents comes as the US military prepares to withdraw all 50,000 remaining troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Source: BBC News

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Israeli presence on Palestinian land ‘irreversible’ Sat, 23 Oct 2010 07:12:21 +0000 Read the full article...]]> By Barbara Plett BBC UN correspondent, New York

A UN human rights rapporteur has said continued settlement construction will probably make Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land irreversible.

Richard Falk said the peace process aimed at creating an independent, sovereign Palestinian state therefore appeared to be based on an illusion.

He said the UN, the US and Israel had failed to uphold Palestinians’ rights.

Israeli officials said Mr Falk’s report on the Palestinian territories was biased and served a political agenda.

Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are held to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

‘De-facto annexation’

In a report for the UN General Assembly, Mr Falk said Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem had become so extensive it amounted to de-facto annexation of Palestinian land.

He said this undercut assumptions behind UN Security Council resolutions which said Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory in 1967 was temporary and reversible.

Such assumptions are the basis for the current peace process aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

This now appears to be an illusion, said Mr Falk.

Israel said the report was utterly biased and served a political agenda, criticising its author for making no mention of what it called Palestinian terrorist attacks.

Mr Falk told journalists that his mandate was to report on the Israeli occupation, not on the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He said he based his conclusion not only on the deepening expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but on the eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, and the demolition of their homes.

Israel’s refusal to extend a partial 10-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank has derailed peace negotiations sponsored by the United States. Washington wants them resumed.

But Mr Falk said both governments and the United Nations had failed to uphold Palestinian rights.

He urged the UN to support civil society initiatives, such as campaigns to sanction or boycott Israel for alleged violations of international law.

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Bahrainis to vote in parliamentary election Sat, 23 Oct 2010 06:57:44 +0000 Read the full article...]]> People in Bahrain are set to elect representatives for the lower house of parliament, the third such vote since it became a constitutional monarchy.

Correspondents say the main contest is between Islamists and those with a more secular vision for the Gulf state.

The election comes amid rising tension between the dominant Sunni Muslim community and majority Shia Muslims.

The government has also been criticised for arresting dissidents and curtailing media and internet freedom.

Observers will also be watching to see if Bahrain’s only woman in parliament is joined by other female MPs.

Although women got the right to vote in 2001, strong discrimination against their participation in Bahraini politics still exists. The main Islamist parties are unwilling to back women candidates.

‘Second-class’ Shia

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Jon Leyne, says the Kingdom of Bahrain is one of the more democratic countries in the Arab world.

But it is a limited democracy, he adds, with the elected members of the lower house, the Council of Representatives, only holding restricted powers.

The upper house, the Shura Council – all of whose members are appointed by the royal family – can and does over-rule the lower house, and is a major source of complaints by democracy campaigners and opposition politicians. In addition, King Hamad appoints all ministers without parliamentary scrutiny.

Our correspondent says the main election contest will be between Islamists, and those politicians with a more secular outlook.

The Islamists want measures such as limits on the sale of alcohol. Others say that would damage Bahrain’s aim to be a global financial centre.

The long-running conflict between the Shia majority and the ruling Sunni minority has also once more come to the fore, with a series of protests by Shia complaining about their “second-class” status.

On Wednesday, the leader of the main Shia opposition al-Wifaq al-Watani (National Accord) Islamic Society called for an end to the monopoly on power the Sunni ruling family has had since independence in 1971.

“It is unacceptable that power be monopolised by a single family, even one to which we owe respect and consideration,” Sheikh Ali Salman told a rally in a suburb of the capital, Manama.

“We look forward to the day when any child of the people, be they Sunni or Shia, can become prime minister,” he added.

King Hamad’s uncle, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, has served as prime minister ever since Bahrain’s independence from the UK in 1971.

Sheikh Salman’s comments came after the detention of 250 Shia opposition activists in recent months, some on terrorism charges, according to the human rights group, Amnesty International.

Source: BBC

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Iran to try US hikers accused of spying in November Thu, 21 Oct 2010 04:06:02 +0000 Read the full article...]]> An Iranian lawyer says the trial of three American hikers accused of spying will begin in early November.

Two of the hikers are being held in a Tehran prison, while a third, Sarah Shourd, returned to the US after her release on bail in September.

The Iranians arrested the three in July 2009 after they strayed across the border from Iraq.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has said there is no basis for a trial.

Speaking on Tuesday, she demanded that the two hikers still in custody, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, be released on humanitarian grounds.

“We regret that they and their families are being subjected to a criminal system that we do not think in any way reflects their actions,” she said, adding that it was “unfortunate” the pair had been held for more than a year.

The lawyer representing the hikers’ families, Masoud Shafii, said a trial date of 6 November has been set, in an interview with the BBC’s Persian-language service.

He said the three faced charges of espionage and illegally entering the country.

Mr Shafii added that the trial would be conducted by Abol Qasem Salavati – a judge who presided over the trial of dozens of political activists accused of organising street protests after elections last year.

Correspondents say that given the risks, it is very unlikely Ms Shourd will return to Iran for the proceedings.

The three have always maintained that they accidentally crossed over the border into Iran from Iraq while hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan.
Source: BBC

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US inquiry into China rare earth shipments Wed, 20 Oct 2010 07:40:25 +0000 Read the full article...]]> US trade officials say they are looking into a New York Times report that China is blocking shipments of rare earths to the US and Europe.

China mines 97% of the specialist metals crucial to green technology.

The report, citing anonymous industry sources, said Chinese customs officials had broadened export restrictions.

Meanwhile China’s commerce ministry has denied a report by the official China Daily that it will cut quotas by 30% next year to stop overmining.

“The report is completely false,” the ministry said in a statement.

“China will continue to supply rare earths to the world, and at the same time, to protect usable resources and sustainable development, China will also continue to impose restrictive measures on exploration, production and import and export of rare earths.”

Threat to economy

The US Geological Survey recognises 17 different rare earths.

They are used in everything from catalytic converters in cars to computer monitors, TVs and in pharmaceuticals.

Analysts say without these elements, much of the modern economy would shut down.

China accounts for about 97% of global rare-earth production. The BBC’s Paul Mason says the rare earth story goes to the heart of China’s relationship with the West.

The US, which is also a major buyer of rare earths, mined no rare earth elements last year.

US trade officials say they are now checking the New York Times report that China is blocking shipments to the US and Europe, following reports of a similar move against Japan.

The newspaper cited unnamed Chinese rare earths officials as saying that “the embargo is expanding”.

Nefeterius McPherson of the US Trade Representative’s office said: “We’re seeking more information in keeping with our recent announcement of an investigation into whether China’s actions and policies are consistent with WTO rules.”

Washington is investigating whether China is violating international trade rules by subsidising its clean energy industries.

Japan accused China of halting rare earth shipments last month amid a diplomatic row over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain whose trawler collided with two Japanese patrol boats.

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In Russia, it’s an honor to be a deported spy Mon, 18 Oct 2010 13:12:46 +0000 Read the full article...]]> (CNN) — Nearly four months after a Russian spy ring in the U.S. was unmasked and the spies deported, Russia’s president awarded the spies top state honors.

The ceremony took place Monday in the Kremlin, according to a statement from Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova. The awards were given to employees of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), she said, “including the intelligence officers who were working in the United States and returned to Russia in July.”

The event was reported in the Russian media but video and pictures were not shown.

Shortly after news of the spy scandal broke President Dmitry Medvedev, trying to downplay repercussions, said any attempt to destroy warming relations with the U.S. would fail.

In August, however, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, himself a former intelligence agent in Germany during the Cold War, boasted that he met with the spies after their return to Moscow and sang “patriotic songs” with them. He also criticized U.S. authorities for “going out of control” in dealing with the affair.

Eleven intelligence personnel, living and working in the U.S. as “sleeper” agents, were arrested and later allowed to return to Moscow as part of a spy swap. A twelfth was arrested in Cyprus and escaped.

Perhaps the most famous member of the group, 28-year-old year old Anna Chapman, has been relentlessly covered by international media and portrayed as a glamorous spook.

Now, according to the Russian media, she is a consultant to a Russian investment bank and was most recently spotted October 7 at the Baikonur space station working on space exploration projects. Russian media report she also is writing a book on “new internet resources.”

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