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of the Day
young boy and his mother are scanned before entering a polling
station in the centre of Az Zubayr, Southern Iraq. (AP photo)
| The Border
Police is planning to demolish an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem to
protect the separation fence built in the area.
Commander Amitai Levy, the Border Police commander of the area enveloping
Jerusalem, has announced that dozens of buildings of the Al-Muntar
neighborhood in Jerusalem's Tzur Baher village must be torn down.
This follows from his decision to create
a 500-meter-wide security strip on each side of the barrier along
its entire length, he said.
The residents of Al-Muntar said this week that
at least 74 houses come within 500 meters of the barrier. In the
rest of the country, the security buffer along the fence is only
50 to 80 meters wide.
Levy's statement contradicts the instructions of Dan Tirza, a retired
colonel in charge of the security fence administration for the Israel
Defense Forces. Tirza permitted two architect firms hired by the
residents to plan the buildings only dozens of meters away from
Recently he ratified his decision and said it was reached in coordination
with the IDF command of the area surrounding Jerusalem.
Levy said the illegal buildings will be demolished
and "if the whole neighborhood is illegal, it must be destroyed."
He also said Tirza is not authorized to make any security
decisions in the fence region. "He is not a security authority
in this region and cannot legalize illegal buildings," he said.
The houses in Al-Muntar were built without a building permit, in
the absence of a master plan in the area. However, their owners
have been acting for years together with the Interior Ministry and
Jerusalem municipality to issue legal permits for the houses that
Attorney Giat Nasser, who represents 27 Al-Muntar
residents, said the plans for the houses were made following the
residents' petition to the High Court of Justice and on the instructions
of the Jerusalem municipality.
The architects are working on a master plan for the village, which,
once approved, will render the houses legal. However, red tape is
holding up the plan's approval, and meanwhile the residents keep
receiving demolition orders to their homes.
Although their homes are in the process of being approved, they
are forced to pay heavy fines and make efforts to persuade the courts
to withhold the demolitions.
The residents started building their houses in Al-Muntar in 1992
in the village's east wing, after three Jewish settlements (the
neighborhoods Har Homa, East Talpiot and Kibbutz Ramat Rahel) were
built around Tzur Baher since 1967. The residents of Tzur Baher,
which is mostly inside Jerusalem's municipal area, said the building
in Al-Muntar results from the village's natural growth in the only
unbuilt area left.
The residents were angry this week at Levy's statement. "The
commander is not supposed to promote the demolition of illegal structures.
Since when do the police or Border Police interfere with the affairs
of the Jerusalem municipality or the Interior Ministry?" they
The Jerusalem municipality denied the city is dragging its feet
approving the plans and said it is debating two of the plans submitted
by the residents. The Interior Ministry said, "The Jerusalem
district Planning Bureau in the ministry is handling the residents'
calls to replan Tzur Baher's margins."
| The Palestinian Authority has accused
Israel of seeking to frustrate Palestinian efforts to restore calm
and achieve a ceasefire in preparation for the possible resumption
of the stalled Middle East peace process.
Abd Allah Abd Allah, director-general of the Palestinian foreign
ministry, said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon's plans to annex Jewish settlements in the heartland of the
West Bank were a "clear provocation aimed at thwarting efforts
to end the violence".
"I am confident Sharon is not really
interested in the restoration of calm," he said. "He is
more interested in stealing more Palestinian land and shutting-in
Palestinian population centres with this satanic wall."
Speaking to Aljazeera.net on Sunday, shortly after Israeli soldiers
killed a Palestinian civilian in Rafah in southern Gaza, Abd
Allah said the Israeli decision to move the route of the gigantic
wall deep into the West Bank in the southern Bethlehem and northern
Hebron regions would kill peace efforts.
"It would mean cutting Hebron from Bethlehem
and turning both into separate Bantustans surrounded by Jewish-only
settlements and the hateful wall," he said.
Abd Allah said the Palestinian Authority (PA) would urge the Bush
administration and the European Union to pressurise Israel to stop
"mutilating our homeland".
Seeking to appease his Likud hardliners opposed
to the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Sharon has apparently
endorsed a new route for the wall that would take tens of thousands
of acres of Palestinian land and ghettoise a number of small Arab
towns and villages in the Hebron region.
According to Israeli media sources, the
new route will reduce Palestinian towns such as Surif and Nahalin
and several other surrounding villages into virtual detention camps.
Inhabitants in the area will not be able
to leave their towns except through so-called security gates manned
by Israeli soldiers. The gates would be open only during certain
times of the day.
Moreover, thousands of Palestinians from the
Bethlehem and Hebron regions would lose their land and farms due
to the wall.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that the Israeli government
will go ahead with its plan to build the wall in the southern part
of the West Bank despite Palestinian objections and possible American
An Israeli spokesperson told Aljazeera.net the new route was consistent
with a ruling by the Israeli High Court issued last year.
"The government is trying as much as
possible to avoid harming the Palestinians in accordance with the
High Court decision," said Amira Oron at the Israeli foreign
However, this ruling was incompatible with a verdict by the International
Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in early July 2004, which declared
the wall was illegal as it was built on occupied territory.
However, Israel, which routinely ignores UN resolutions pertaining
to the Arab-Israeli conflict, rejected the ICJ ruling, arguing that
Israel considered the West Bank disputed rather than occupied territory.
The Israeli decision to unilaterally and illegally
seize more Palestinian land in the West Bank is only one of many
measures the Sharon government has taken since the new reformist
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas was elected on 9 January.
Earlier this month, the Israeli government
revealed it had taken a secret decision several months earlier which
allowed for the confiscation of property and land on the "Israeli
side of Jerusalem" that is owned by Palestinians living on
that side of the wall.
According to the decision, Palestinian proprietors
owning real estate or land in Jerusalem but living outside the city,
even a few metres away on the other side of the separation wall,
are considered absentees.
This means their property can be seized without compensation and
automatically passed on to the ownership of the Jewish Agency for
the exclusive benefit of Jews.
Interestingly, the manifestly racist decision
has so far drawn no reaction from the Bush administration.
Last week, the Israeli government took another
decision requiring the estimated 300,000 Palestinian inhabitants
of East Jerusalem to obtain a special permit from the Israeli domestic
intelligence service, the Shin Beth, in order to travel outside
The decision affects only non-Jews since Jewish settlers living
in the West Bank travel freely from their settlements to Israel
proper and vice versa.
Israeli observers say openly the decision is aimed at getting as
many non-Jews as possible to leave Jerusalem.
| "The Breaking the Silence"
organization has collected new testimony from Israeli troop on harsh
actions carried out during the course of the fighting in the occupied
Palestinian territories, Haaretz reported Friday in its headline page.
Two of the testimonies
pertain to a military doctor who gave medics lessons in anatomy using
the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.
Israeli conscript who served as a medic in Ramallah area some two
years ago told Haaretz that the "lesson" had taken place
following a clash between an armed Palestinian and Israeli forces.
According to the soldier, the Palestinian's
body had been riddled with bullets and that some of his internal
organs had spilled out. The doctor pronounced the man dead and then
"took out a knife and began to cut off parts of the body,"
the soldier was quoted as saying by the Tel Aviv-based daily.
A mentally handicapped Palestinian man has
died after being shot by Israeli soldiers in the southern Gaza
Strip, hospital sources said.
Ibrahim al-Shawas, 36, died on Saturday
after being shot in the head near Khan Yunus on Friday,
they said. Witnesses said he was approaching a border fence near
the town when a shot rang out from the Israeli side.
Aljazeera reported that al-Shawas was on his way to his farm
when he was shot and killed.
His death brings the number of people killed since the start
of the Palestinian intifada or uprising in September 2000 to 4721,
including 3666 Palestinians and 981 Israelis.
Al-Shawas' death comes as Palestinian security forces widened
their control in the Gaza Strip on Friday under orders from President
Mahmud Abbas to prevent attacks on Israelis in another important
move towards reviving peace talks.
JERUSALEM (AP) - A political rally by the
militant Palestinian group Hamas turned violent Saturday, as supporters
of the rival Fatah faction opened fire, sparking a melee that
left more than 20 people wounded, Palestinian officials said.
The incident in the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza was
the first instance of violence between rival Palestinian factions
since the election of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in early
Abbas has been holding talks with rival political factions,
including Hamas, in hopes of reaching a truce agreement between
militants and Israel.
The shooting occurred at an outdoor rally staged by Hamas to
celebrate its victory in municipal elections in Gaza earlier in
the week. Hamas's strong showing dealt a setback to Abbas's dominant
A Palestinian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity,
said the violence broke out after several hundred Hamas supporters
marched from the nearby Ansarat refugee camp to Maghazi, one of
the few districts won by Fatah in Thursday's elections.
"You chose secularism. You should have chose Islam," the Hamas
crowd chanted, angering a crowd of Fatah supporters who had gathered.
One of the Fatah supporters opened fire, seriously
wounding one Hamas supporter in the chest and causing shrapnel
wounds to four others, officials said. Some 17 other people were
hurt by knives, clubs and beatings in the ensuing melee.
While rival Palestinian factions have sporadically fought one
another, such instances of fighting are rare, with the various
groups all saying they are committed to ending Israel's occupation
of the West Bank of the Jordan River and Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian security official said late Saturday the clash
had ended and leaders of the rival factions were meeting to reconcile
While Syrian President Bashar
Assad denied that he was in Moscow to shop for weapons, he defended
his country's right to acquire surface-to-air missiles from Russia.
He said during his four-day visit that was due to end on Thursday
that "these are weapons for air defense, meant to prevent aircraft
from intruding in our airspace".
"If Israel objects to our acquisition of these defensive weapons,
it is as if it is saying, 'We want to attack Syria but we do not
want them to defend themselves.' That's not logical," concluded
Assad while addressing the State Institute for Foreign Relations.
But Assad reiterated an earlier denial of a deal for SA-18 missiles
and long-range Iskandar-E missiles that could reach targets all
Ever since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, Syria
has been threatened both by Israel and the US. Assad was furious
when Israeli jets recently buzzed him in his palace.
To mark the historic Syrian visit, Russia announced that it would
write off 73% of US$13.4 billion in debt owed by Syria from the
days of the USSR. Russian President Vladimir Putin said this created
"opportunities for long-term cooperation".
A joint statement issued on Wednesday included a conciliatory message
to the US that both countries "vehemently condemn terror in
all its forms and expressions, and affirm the strong need of the
international community to channel its effort to fight effectively
this dangerous challenge to the human race".
But Assad invited Russia to the region because "Russia has
an enormous role, and has a lot of respect from Third World countries
... which really hope that Russia will try to revive the positions
it used to hold". He added that US foreign policy on Iraq was
Russia seems to be returning to the Middle East. At the time of
the first Gulf crisis and war in 1990-91, when then Soviet president
Mikhail Gorbachev made moves for a peaceful settlement, he was brushed
aside by US president George H W Bush.
The other main points of the statement are as follows.
On Iraq, the two sides, while stressing commitment to Iraq's territorial
integrity, sovereignty and security, asserted support to the political
process under way in Iraq to achieve reconciliation and secure the
rights of all Iraqis regardless of their religious or ethnic belonging
in line with United Nations Resolution No 1546, whose implementation
creates the proper conditions for foreign troops to pull out from
Regarding the United States' unilateralism, they expressed confidence
that the 21st-century world system should be built on international
law, taking into consideration the interests of all countries and
mechanisms of formulating unanimous stances to solve international
issues through the pivotal role the UN assumes.
On Israel's reported nuclear stockpile and Western countries' emphasis
against weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Syria and Russia agreed
to cooperate in the field of boosting international stability and
preventing the proliferation of WMD, pointing to the importance
of commitment to UN Security Council Resolution No 1540 and freeing
the Middle East from all kinds of WMD.
The joint statement criticized US President George W Bush's daily
lectures on spreading liberty, elections and democracy. "Democracy
and reforms in the Middle East should be in line with the historical,
spiritual and civilizational features of states and are strongly
linked to the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace in the
region," the statement said. Defense cooperation was muted
in the phrase "it underlined that the two sides would develop
traditional cooperation in the military technical field in a way
that meets the mutual concerns of both countries and their international
Shivers down the Israeli spine
Commenting on the visit, a jittery Jerusalem Post, while describing
the Russian role in the region, wrote, "Russia's planned sale
of SA-18 missiles to Syria looms ominously as a throwback to the
[Leonid] Brezhnev era's most misguided attitudes. Economically,
Syria is a basket case whose debt-return record must make one doubt
its financial commitments. Ideologically, Syria remains part of
the terrorist internationale which has repeatedly victimized Russia.
And diplomatically, arming Damascus while Washington suspects it
of fueling the war on its troops in Iraq brings to mind memories
of Russia's role in the Vietnam and Korea wars.
"President Vladimir Putin has earned himself a reputation
as a rational man out to restore Russia's global stature. In itself,
this is a worthy goal. However, by pandering to regimes such as
Assad's, not only will Putin not have restored Russia's clout, he
will convince people that he has learned nothing from his Soviet
predecessors' downfalls. He will also make people reconsider their
impression of his rationalism."
But then where would Israel be without massive
annual US aid? Would not Israel be a basket case too? Or for that
matter take the massive US aid given to Pakistan in return for its
support in the "war on terror", despite Pakistan allowing
its territory to be used for training and recruitment of jihadis
to attack Indian territory, among other places.
Syrian strategic analyst Gamal Barout said recently, "Back
in 2001, the Russian side showed a desire for a strategic alliance
with Damascus, but traditional government wrangling poured cold
water on the bid. Now, Syria needs Moscow to stave off European-American
pressures." Last September, the UN Security Council adopted
a resolution put forward by the US and France that demanded the
withdrawal of foreign forces (Syrian) from Lebanon and non-interference
in the Lebanese presidential elections. Russia, which has the power
of the veto, abstained in that vote.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (shortly before her confirmation
to that position) warned that Damascus faced new sanctions because
of "its suspected interference in Iraq and ties to terrorism".
As a riposte, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko
described Syria as one of its "most important partners"
in the Middle East. He added, "It's well known that slapping
labels on countries and unilaterally describing certain states as
part of the 'axis of evil' has not improved anyone's security."
While an impoverished Syria needs to maintain
and modernize its army, Russia also needs a foothold in the Middle
East in view of the security and strategic significance of the region
and Euro-American competition. The revival of the old strategic
alliance of the Cold War is mutually beneficial. Another expert
said, "Moscow has been facing several problems recently. It
realized that Washington had gone too far in extending its influence
at the expense of Russia," arguing that Washington was seeking
to encircle Moscow, one way or the other.
Syrian journalist Hayan Niouf said that Syria could also play a
positive role in pushing for Moscow's active role, if not membership,
in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), in exchange for
Russian political support in the UN and the Security Council. Russia,
with a population of tens of millions of Muslims, was invited as
a guest at the most recent OIC summit in Malaysia last year. With
many Muslim nations distrusting the US government and its policies,
and hatred against the US in much of the Muslim ummah (community),
the OIC would be happy to grant a bigger role to Russia.
Assad's visit to China
Assad has been trying hard to escape the
suffocating straitjacket that Israeli and US policies have tied
him in. US sanctions, signed into law at the end of 2003,
include a near-blanket ban on US exports to Syria and the power
to freeze Syrian assets in the US. Except for food and medicines
and items intended for certain exempt entities, such as the US Embassy,
foreign diplomatic missions and UN agencies in Damascus, all US
exports to Syria, estimated at some $100 million a year, were banned
under the sanctions. The US resolution also banned the exportation
of "dual use" technology and restricted over-flight rights
for Syrian aircraft inside US airspace.
Last June, Assad visited China, the first
ever visit by a Syrian head of state. A more liberal politician
in the economic field than his late father, Hafez Assad, the visit
was made with the aim of learning from China's economic boom. The
editor-in-chief of Syria's state-run al-Thawra newspaper remarked
that the landmark visit demonstrated Damascus's keenness on following
in the footsteps of Beijing's open-door economic policy, growth
rates and political reforms. Syria was also interested in acquiring
technology from China.
Chinese Foreign Minister Zhaoxing Li, while welcoming
the visit, endorsed Syria's right to the occupied Golan Heights,
and described the US sanctions on Syria a "double-standards
policy". A Chinese diplomat in Damascus also highlighted the
military cooperation between both countries, pointing to the mutual
visits of military delegations. Syria of course has energy resources,
and many European and even Asian oil giants have shown great interest
in bidding for oil and gas contracts after the withdrawal of US
Two weeks ago, when the media reported a possible missile deal
between Russia and Syria, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov,
then on a visit to Washington, denied it, but Israeli Foreign Minister
Silvan Shalom was the first official to admit that Israel did ask
Russia to halt the deal. "We turned to the Russians and asked
that they not complete this deal," said Shalom. "Syria
is a country that supports terror and is supplying Hezbollah with
weapons non-stop." He added that the sale "will disrupt
regional stability and won't improve the chances for peace".
Israeli analyst Gerald Steinberg said the reported sales came as
a surprise because the Syrians did not have money to buy Russian
weapons. "If this report is true, it is very problematic and
will pose a challenge to Israeli military planners," said Steinberg.
The Jerusalem Post cited top Israeli diplomatic officials as saying
that Israel asked the US to pressure Russia to scrap the deal, claiming
that the missiles could be smuggled into Iraq and endanger the US
For Israel and the US it would be an adverse development
in the wake of the deteriorating situation around Iraq, but Moscow
has made its point and more. Russia does not like being pushed around
by US-led Western efforts, as it was in Ukraine and Georgia, or
being lectured on the sale of Russian oil giant Yukos, and it resents
support for the insurgency in Chechnya.
Syria has Soviet-era Scud ground-to-ground missiles, but media
reports suggest that Moscow is ready to sell a vastly updated version
of the Scud, the Iskandar, or even SS-26 missiles. These are capable
of pinpoint strikes against targets within a 300-kilometer range,
which could reach most Israeli targets, including its atomic reactor
US North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Turkey's
Prime Minister Recep Tayib Erdogan recently completed a visit to
Moscow, soon after Putin's postponed visit to Ankara last month.
While relations between Turkey and the US have cooled down, primarily
because of differences over the US-led invasion of Iraq, Turkey
is coming closer to its historical enemy, Russia.
In 1999, Turkey threatened to invade Syria if it did not expel
Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan (which it did, and he was captured
and imprisoned in Turkey), but since then relations have warmed
up, with the exchange of visits by Assad and Erdogan. And after
a visit by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to Ankara, relations
with Tehran, historically soured by the Shi'ite-Sunni rivalry, are
At the same time, relations between Turkey
and Israel, which were quite close during the Cold War and almost
hot after the fall of the Berlin Wall, have deteriorated recently,
with Erdogan accusing Israel of state terrorism in the occupied
territories. Turkey also asked Israel to leave Kurdish north
Iraq alone, following reports that Mossad had been training Kurdish
peshmergas (paramilitaries) to operate in the neighborhood, especially
in Iran and Syria. Turmoil in northern Iraq has always adversely
affected Turkey's own Kurdish southeast.
Why Putin is angry
Speaking to the media in Moscow last month, Putin
expressed his anger at the West, whether it was about the latter's
encouragement to the insurgency in Chechnya or a string of US-led
Western "franchised" successes in getting anti-Russian
leaders elected in its strategic neighborhood, that is, the "Rose
Revolution" in Georgia in November 2003 and the "Orange
Revolution" in the even more vitally important Ukraine, in
which finally anti-Russian Victor Yushchenko won. His utterances
and the appointment of anti-Russian Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister
Putin said last month, "Every country has the right to choose
the development path it considers best, including in organizing
its political system." Referring to US
criticism of the November 21 elections in Ukraine (then US secretary
of state Colin Powell said Washington would not accept them), Putin
retorted that he was not ecstatic about what happened in the US.
"Do you think that the electoral system in the United States
is entirely flawless? Do I have to recall the last elections in
the United States or the one before?" he added. He pointed
out that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
had criticized the US for barring observers from some polling stations
in last month's Ukrainian elections. "There was even intimidation
He also ridiculed a Texas judge's ruling on the sale of Russian
oil giant Yukos. "I am not sure whether they know where Russia
is. The level of professional training [of the judge] perplexes
me," he said. He also lambasted the
scheduled January 30 election in Iraq, saying that "it could
not be fair while the country remained occupied by US-led forces".
Russia, despite US pressure, is going ahead
with cooperation in setting up nuclear power stations in Iran.
China recently signed a major long-term agreement
with Iran for energy purchases and development of the Iranian oil
and gas sector. Energy-hungry China and India are aggressively bidding
for investment and development of Yukos energy assets.
The US reaction
Before the Russian denial, while describing Russian arms sales
to Syria as speculative, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher
made it clear that the US was opposed in principle to all arms sales
to Syria. He said, "We have seen reports of the sale. The US
policy on this is very clear. We're against the sale of weaponry
to Syria, the sale of lethal military equipment to Syria, which
is a state sponsor of terrorism. We think those kinds of sales are
not appropriate. The Russians know about this policy. They know
about our views." He added that the Russian entities involved
in such a sale would be subject to US sanctions under a law aimed
at curbing the flow of arms to countries on US terrorism lists.
Russian Defense Minister Ivanov was in Washington for high-level
talks, including with Powell.
The proposed sale has injected tension not only into Russian-Israel
relations, but with the US as well. Israel said that the missiles
might end up in the hands of Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and would
be aimed at Israeli targets. Hezbollah, which is close to Syria,
fought an 18-year guerrilla war against Israeli forces in south
Lebanon, firing rockets at northern Israel until 2000, and threatens
to do so again, say the Israelis.
This development might bring some restraint over the policies pursued
by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The missiles deal would
beef up Syria's air defenses and discourage Israel from making regular
threats to Syria. The Moscow Daily Kommersant said that Damascus
had asked for 18 Iskandar missiles in August, but was told they
had not been fully tested. The Syrians have now been told that the
missiles are ready.
Paul Beaver, a London-based defense analyst, commented that while
Russia has upgraded Syrian military equipment, it has not sold it
new arms since 1990. Beaver added that the SA-18 evolved from the
Russian shoulder-held SAM-7, which was widely used during the Vietnam
War. The SA-18 is much more flexible and can even target the non-heat-emitting
section of an aircraft. It can also overcome many Western defensive
maneuvers, such as flares, used to deflect anti-aircraft missiles.
It weighs just over 10 kilograms, has a maximum range of six kilometers
and can be used to shoot down planes and helicopters. The sophisticated
missiles cost about US$250,000 each. Analysts said the US might
be concerned that Iraqi insurgents would get their hands on these,
threatening US warplanes in Iraq. This palpably is an Israeli line.
Israel asked for US intervention in stalling the missile deal.
David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington,
said, "The reports in this regard are very disturbing and,
as in other cases with strategic implications, we conduct an ongoing
dialogue with the administration."
"We have enough problems on the ground with Syria and we don't
need more problems from the sky," Vice Prime Minister Shimon
Peres said. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said, "We have close
contacts with the Russians. We had consultations over the past few
days, and we hope to reach the necessary agreement." Russian
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov is in the region to discuss
the missile issue.
Israelis are keen not to jeopardize improving relations with Russia,
in place since the unraveling of the USSR. Israeli Foreign Ministry
official Gideon Meir denied a Russian media report that Israel had
recalled its ambassador. The ambassador was in Israel, but would
return to Moscow soon, added Meir. Many millions of Russian Jews
have immigrated to Israel, changing the demographic makeup of Israel
and making its policies more right-wing and aggressive. Sharon,
who is of Russian descent, has visited Moscow three times since
becoming prime minister in 2001. He asked Putin to stop Iran in
its covert nuclear-arms program and to restrain Syria, along with
its Lebanese and Palestinian proxies: a case of the wolf blaming
Assad's visit to Russia marks the first
stirrings of the Russian bear, which was sent into hibernation after
the USSR's power was partly dismantled by Mikhail Gorbachev, without
leveraging anything in return. A drunk or drugged Boris Yeltsin
then set Russia on the road to economic ruin, robbing it of public
property, which saw the emergence of a handful of dollar multibillionaires.
Putin, a karate expert, has come of age. He no
longer appears to trust Bush. Russia is still a world nuclear power
and can defend itself and its interests. A majority of nations,
almost all of the Muslim countries, oppose the United States' unilateralist
policies and targeting of Muslims. Russia has accumulated more than
500 billion rubles ($16.7 billion) in its energy-stabilization fund
because of unprecedented high global oil prices: its economic situation
is getting better. Putin will follow his own path.
K Gajendra Singh served as Indian ambassador to Turkey and
Azerbaijan from 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador
to Jordan (during the 1990-91 Gulf War), Romania and Senegal. He
is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies
and editorial adviser with global geopolitics website Eurasia Research
| The conclusion that Israel came
up with after the United Nations' commemoration of the 60th anniversary
of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp has nothing to do with the
memory itself. Sharon voiced his conclusion that the Jews can only
rely on themselves to defend their enemies. Israeli minister Sylvan
Shalom has also added that this commemoration might signify a transformation
in the role of the UN in the Middle East. Naturally, the United Nations
was rightly involved with this memory because it concerns all of humanity
as much as it concerns Jews. However, using the UN and the memory
of the Holocaust in order to clean up the bloody record of the State
of Israel is a completely different issue. Every single programmed
and deliberate Israeli use of the Holocaust is an insult and an assault
on its meanings because war crimes are not justified by others previously
Meddling with history in the sense of justifying Israel’s
existence as an alternative to the Holocaust could only reignite
a historic debate, which the Jews strongly avoid. What is the meaning
then of having Shalom claim that this represents the first time
that members of the UN have spoken positively about Israel and did
not attack it as usual? Of course, these delegates did not forget
the hundreds of international resolutions which condemn Israel and
its crimes but they were talking about the Holocaust, not about
the Israeli occupation which must end in the Palestinian territories.
Israel has found it convenient to correlate the international sympathy
with the Jews with support to its crimes against the Palestinian
people and its destructive policies in the Middle East.
What allowed Israel to stray away from the real moral behind the
Holocaust is that the Secretary General of the UN did not recognize
the danger of Israel’s taking advantage of the memory just
like it hijacked George W. Bush’s "war on terror"
or just like it interfered in the fabrications which justified the
war on Iraq and as it is doing now in preparation for another Bushite
war on Iran. Kofi Annan was wrong to say that Israel has risen from
the ashes of the Holocaust, for he has linked the establishment
of that state with the Nazi crime, and even so, he has no right
to insist on forgetting the other people who paid with their blood
and land the price of the emergence of that state. Annan was also
mistaken, he who condemns hatred of the “other”, to
quote his “friend” Eli Wiesel who is a symbol of denying
and hating the other by his condolence to the hostility against
the Palestinian people; he even received the Nobel peace prize for
For history, Annan’s speech in the memory of the Holocaust
was designed to forget about the Palestinians. He remembered Cambodia,
Rwanda and former Yugoslavia and rightfully the pains of Darfur.
He said: we are witnessing today horrifying models of inhumanity;
yet, he forgot what is happening in Palestine. It has truly become
a concern, considering the logic that Annan has adopted, that the
“transformation” mentioned by Shalom is real. It seems
as if silencing the United States’ criticisms of the UN and
of Annan himself pass through a “reconciliation” between
the international organization and the Zionist lobby. This implies
that the UN is called to forget most of its Charter’s articles
when it deals with Middle Eastern matters.
As much as the commemoration of a chapter of history reflects a
civilized human sensibility, as much as the memory should contribute
to dealing with the present in the same approach. The most important
aspect of the memory of the Holocaust is its condemnation of a crime
that all the world has shunned, but the worst aspect of the memory
is its use to justify crimes that are being committed before our
eyes. What we saw in the UN ceremony of commemoration is a programmed
neglect of the Palestinian misery. It would be wiser for Annan and
his aides to remember in such events that balance is crucial especially
after the United States and Israel have made the Muslims targets,
like the Jews were in the time of the Nazis.
Auschwitz “reminds us that evil is real,”
US Vice President Dick Cheney declared in addressing a ceremony
marking the 60th anniversary of the Nazi death camp’s liberation
by troops of the Soviet Red Army.
“Men without conscience are capable of any cruelty the human
mind can imagine,” the US vice president said at the commemoration.
“And in every generation, free nations must maintain the will,
the foresight and the strength to fight tyranny and spread the
freedom that leads to peace.”
It is not necessary to invoke the horrors of Auschwitz to remind
us that “evil is real.” But Cheney’s presence at the site of the
greatest crime of the 20th century gave this platitude a chilling
In Europe in general, and Poland in particular, Bush’s failure
to attend the commemoration himself was taken as a significant
slight. An even more glaring expression of Washington’s indifference
apparently went unnoticed—at least by the pliant media. Sections
of Cheney’s speech were lifted virtually unchanged from an address
given by Bush when the US president and his wife made a quick
tour of the camp a year-and-a-half ago (see: “A presidential visit
to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and the Bush family fortune”).
Cheney, like Bush before him, came to Auschwitz
with one purpose in mind: to twist and exploit the atrocities
of Hitlerite fascism to justify Washington’s own acts of aggression
For a number of reasons, this year’s ceremony has attracted
greater attention—and more heads of state—than the 50th anniversary
marked in 1995. On the one hand, there are great power interests
involved. The commemoration of Auschwitz and repudiation of the
crimes of the Third Reich have become enmeshed in the attempts
to create a common political and ideological framework for the
eastward extension of European integration.
There are also more human considerations. The ranks of those
who survived the death camp have dwindled to a handful, and few
remain of the Soviet soldiers who were stunned by the scenes of
depravity and death they encountered when they liberated the camp.
There is a growing realization that their entire generation is
passing from the world stage.
One of the camp survivors, Franciszek Jozefiak, 80, saw his
father gassed at Auschwitz and suffered horrific torture and abuse
at the hands of the Nazis. “The message today is: no more Auschwitz,”
he told the Associated Press. “But the
world has learned nothing so far—you see they are fighting and
killing each other everywhere in the world. Today they are saying
a lot because of the anniversary, but tomorrow they will forget.”
Jozefiak touched on the most compelling source of the Auschwitz
anniversary’s heightened resonance today. The world confronts
once again the growth of militarism, the deepening of international
tensions, and an escalating attack on democratic and human rights—tendencies
that found their consummate expression in the Nazi regime and
its “final solution.” Though the world has entered a new millennium,
the worst barbarities of the previous century seem closer to us,
and a repetition of such atrocities more possible.
Cheney did not have to deliver a speech
to remind his audience that those in power are capable of unspeakable
cruelty; his mere presence sufficed.
He is identified, perhaps more than any other world figure, with
Who is Cheney to represent the American people at Auschwitz?
The US vice president is identified with the most right-wing political
forces in America. In the 1980s, as a Republican congressman from
Wyoming, he acted as a defender of the Apartheid regime in South
Africa, voting against a resolution calling for an end to the
quarter-century imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. Currying favor
with homegrown racists, he likewise voted against the decision
to make Martin Luther King’s birthday an official holiday.
As defense secretary in the administration of Bush the elder
and in his current role as vice president, he has been the most
vociferous proponent of the use of military force to achieve Washington’s
global aims. He oversaw the first Persian Gulf War and acted as
a principal organizer of the illegal invasion and occupation of
Iraq, orchestrating a campaign of public deception and propaganda
that had no precedent since the days of the Hitlerite “big lie.”
In between, he enriched himself as the chief executive officer
of the oil industry giant Halliburton, a principal Pentagon contractor
from whose war profiteering the vice president stands to reap
Cheney’s entire political and business career strongly suggests
that if, by a twist of fate, he had grown to maturity in pre-war
Germany rather than in the post-war United States, he would have
found his way either into the Nazi regime or among the corporate
criminals who financed the Nazis and profited off of the slave
labor of concentration camp inmates.
The Bush administration is not the Third Reich and Cheney is
not a Nazi, but the parallels between the course upon which German
imperialism embarked in the 1930s and the one taken today by the
government in Washington are real and have profound objective
roots. With his invocation to “fight tyranny
and spread the freedom that leads to peace,” Cheney used the Auschwitz
commemoration to echo the threat of global US military aggression
advanced by Bush in his inauguration address a week earlier.
The US vice president’s presence in Poland was bound up with
the continuation of this aggression. One of primary objectives
of his visit was to dissuade the Polish government from moving
ahead with plans to begin withdrawing its 2,400 troops from Iraq,
the only numerically significant contingent outside of the US
and British occupation forces.
Aggressive war and the crimes of the Nazis
There is a grim irony in Cheney’s use of Auschwitz as a stage
for promoting such a strategy.
When the surviving leadership of the Nazi regime was brought
before an international war crimes tribunal at Nuremberg, the
principal charge against them was conspiring to wage aggressive
war. The ruling that sentenced the Nazi leaders to hang declared
the waging of aggressive war to be “essentially an evil thing.”
The launching of such a war, it said, “is not only an international
crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from
other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated
evil of the whole.”
Thus, in the view of the prosecution, the atrocities carried
out by the Nazis—Auschwitz and the murder of 6 million European
Jews, the destruction of the German workers’ movement, the liquidation
of all political opposition—flowed from the fundamental policy
of aggressive war.
In his closing statement to the tribunal, the lead prosecutor,
US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, dismissed a key justification
given by the Nazi defendants for their crimes. “Some of the defendants
argue that the wars were not aggressive and were only intended
to protect Germany against some eventual danger from the ‘menace
of communism,’ which was something of an obsession with many Nazis.”
Substitute the word “terrorism” for “communism,”
and you have the basic justification given by Bush, Cheney and
company for their policy of preventive war. Should they
be brought to trial for the war crimes they have committed against
Iraq, the prosecution would have only to cite Jackson’s words
to establish the applicability of the Nuremburg principle to their
US imperialism’s policy of aggressive war has yet to produce
killing on the scale of Auschwitz, but in resurrecting this criminal
strategy it has opened the door to such atrocities. While it has
not erected gas chambers and crematoriums, Washington
has embarked on the construction and running of a growing international
network of concentration camps, including Guantanamo Bay in Cuba,
Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. It has
legitimized both torture and assassination, while claiming the
right to indefinitely imprison citizens and non-citizens alike
without charges or trial.
This turn in American policy, like the rise of European fascism
in the 1930s, has its ultimate source in profound and insoluble
contradictions of the world capitalist system. Faced with the
loss of its undisputed economic and political hegemony, US imperialism
has embraced aggressive war as the principal means for reasserting
its domination of the world’s markets and sources of raw materials,
above all oil.
This drive will inevitably assume an increasingly destructive
character and, sooner rather than later, provoke countermeasures
by America’s imperialist rivals. This is
the climate in which Auschwitz looms not merely as a historical
reminder of abstract “evil,” but as a grim and urgent warning
of what capitalism in crisis is capable of inflicting upon humanity.
In his arguments before the Nuremberg tribunal, Robert Jackson
declared: “It is not necessary among the ruins of this ancient
and beautiful city, with untold members of its civilian inhabitants
still buried in its rubble, to argue the proposition that to start
or wage an aggressive war has the moral qualities of the worst
of crimes. The refuge of the defendants can be only their hope
that international law will lag so far behind the moral sense
of mankind that conduct which is crime in the moral sense must
be regarded as innocent in law...”
In the face of 100,000 or more dead in
Iraq, and with Fallujah and major portions of other Iraqi cities
in rubble, there can be no question that Bush, Cheney and others
in the current US administration stand guilty of this “worst of
crimes.” Yet the US vice president’s ability to deliver
his obscene speech at Auschwitz condemning “evil” and “cruelty”
make it clear that today the “moral sense of mankind” finds no
reflection in international law. Only the emergence of an independent
and socialist political movement of the working class can create
the conditions for bringing these war criminals to justice.
This week, grim ceremonies marked the 60th
anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered
1.5 million people. These remembrances of horror provoked extensive
commentary, summed up in a single agonizing question: How could
this have happened?
Answers -- some simplistic, others more nuanced -- were offered
by various pundits and scholars: It was one man's madness; it
was the result of unique historical circumstances; it was the
inevitable byproduct of a totalitarian system, and so on.
Implicit in these comments was the comforting notion that such
deliberate mass atrocity is possible only under a tyrannical regime,
led by brutal dictators, "madmen" like Hitler, Stalin and Saddam;
it could never happen in a democracy, where a free people exercise
its electoral will, and strong civic structures curb the excesses
of state power. Indeed, in his "fire sermon" at the inauguration,
U.S. president George W. Bush claimed that democracy is a divine
system, created by God Himself. It could therefore never be an
instrument of evil.
Does this stance correspond to reality, to history? To get at
the deeper truth, perhaps the question we should ask is not, "How
did Auschwitz happen?" but rather, "What exactly happened at Auschwitz?"
Well, here's what happened: Government
leaders ordered the murder and torture of innocent people in the
defense of "the Homeland" and the superior "moral values" of their
culture. They produced copious justifications for their actions,
including legal rulings from top government attorneys, while concealing
the actual operational details from public knowledge in the name
of "national security." When faced
with undeniable evidence of atrocity, they blamed "bad apples"
in the lower ranks.
Suddenly, viewed in this light, Auschwitz
doesn't seem so strange, so otherworldly, so removed from us.
For we have seen all of these things come to pass today, perpetrated
by the world's greatest democracy, by elected leaders whose initially
dubious hold on power has just been ratified by the free vote
of a free people. We have seen these democratic leaders launch
a war of aggression on false pretenses -- a deliberate action
which they knew would lead to mass murder.
We know this war has killed at least 100,000 innocent people,
according to a scientific study by the respected medical journal
The Lancet. The overwhelming majority of these 100,000 have been
killed by direct military action of the U.S.-U.K. coalition, most
of them long after "major combat operations" ended, The Lancet
reports. (It's fascinating to watch the Bushists quibble over
this number -- "The death count's not really that high, it wasn't
deliberate, it was collateral damage, it's anti-American propaganda,"
etc. -- like Holocaust revisionists disputing the reality of Auschwitz:
"It wasn't really 1.5 million, it wasn't deliberate, it was disease,
overwork, Jewish propaganda, etc.")
We know that thousands of Iraqis have been imprisoned unjustly;
up to 90 percent of all detainees were innocent of any offense,
the Red Cross reports. We know that many of these innocents have
been tortured, using techniques and guidelines laid down by Pentagon
chief Donald Rumsfeld and approved by Bush. We know that many
people have died from this torture, as the pro-war Times of London
reports, not only in Iraq but also in secret CIA prisons around
the world, where thousands of people are being held without charges
-- and where the administration's tepid restrictions on torture
do not apply, as Bush's legal factotum, Alberto Gonzales, admits.
And we know that whenever fragments of truth about this widespread,
thoroughgoing program of atrocity do manage to surface from the
darkness, Bush and his apologists run for cover and cast the blame
on underlings. "This so-called ill treatment
and torture in detention centers ... were not, as some assumed,
inflicted methodically, but were excesses committed by individual
prison guards, their deputies, and men who laid violent hands
on the detainees." These words have
a familiar ring, echoed almost daily by a Bush official or a right-wing
commentator -- but in fact the quote is from Rudolf Hoess, commandant
of Auschwitz, as Scott Horton notes in the Los Angeles
Times. Horton and other writers also unearthed statements by Nazi
leaders and jurists declaring the Geneva Conventions "obsolete"
for the "new kind of war" they were fighting against Bolshevik
"terrorists" on the Eastern Front -- precise equivalents to the
language used by the Bush White House in its "torture memos."
There is nothing new in this, of course. Richard Nixon, first
elected on a deceptive platform of "ending" the Vietnam War, in
fact expanded the conflict with secret invasions of Laos and Cambodia
that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Even
after these invasions came to light, Nixon was re-elected, democratically,
by one of the largest margins in U.S. history. His infamous Oval
Office tapes capture this democratic leader mocking aides who
sought to restrain his most murderous impulses (including his
repeated proposals to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam): "You're
so goddamned concerned about the civilians, and I don't give a
damn. I don't care." Yet as the Pentagon Papers showed, Nixon
was just part of a decades-long, bipartisan record of U.S. deception
and military escalation in Indochina that led to millions of deaths.
Yes, democracy remains the best system yet devised for the ordering
of human society. But even the strongest democracy can be subverted
by leaders bent on deception and aggression.
Even the strongest democracy can give rise to a ruthless, corporate-driven
war machine, to secret prisons, secret armies, torture regimens
and mass slaughter. Democracy, for
all its virtues, is not proof against systematic moral corruption
-- or monstrous atrocity. The ashes of Auschwitz are still
falling on the innocents being murdered today.
- Meet the New Boss...
A subtly implied argument often
heard in the mainstream US media is that, since Iraqis appear to
have accepted Saddam's totalitarian rule for so many years, they
lack the "qualities" to live under a democratic form of
government. The argument goes that, either they are just naturally
violent people ("evil terrorists") who have more respect
for the iron fist of dictatorship than the supposed velvet glove
of democracy, or they are simply too weak-willed to prevent the
rise to power of fascist elements within their society.
Of course, such a simplistic, uninformed and racist point of view
goes down very well with a significant portion of Americans and
many Europeans. But it is also an example of the fact that, very
often, an impressive ability to find fault in others is due to the
fact that the fault finders themselves possess the very same faults
in abundance. It is the well-known art of loudly pointing the finger
at others in order to distract from your own embarrassing situation,
and it is an art at which the US government and media excel.
Before condemning the Iraqis for supporting life under Saddam for
so long, the American people might first consider the lies and deceit
that they have been fed by successive US governments, and the fact
that only a tiny proportion ever refused to swallow those lies.
Think of the massive yet obvious deceptions that have been passed
off on the American people over the decades. From Magic bullets
to weather balloons to "they hate us because of our freedom",
it seems that no lie was ever big or blatant enough to rouse the
revolutionary spirit of the American people.
Saddam tried to convince the Iraqi people that he was god-like,
and most Iraqis were smart enough to make like devoted subjects
when required, but all of them KNEW that they were living under
a dictatorship. Today, despite the overwhelming evidence showing
the present administration has lied consistently to the American
people about virtually ever aspect of their policies, 50 million
remain convinced that George Bush was divinely ordained to the Presidency
and a majority still fervently believe that they are living in the
"greatest democracy on earth" rather than a burgeoning
fascist police state.
Today the mainstream news sites are turning their duplicitous gaze
upon the Iraqi "elections", almost all of them reporting
triumphantly on "the first free election to have been held
in Iraq for 50 years."
The problem is that these "elections" were no bargain
for the Iraqi people, unless you consider a price tag of one country
and 200,000 innocent civilians a reasonable exchange for the imposition
of an unrepresentative proxy US government. "Elections"
is also a strange word to use, when most Iraqi civilians do not
know who they are voting for and consequently a large percentage
will probably not vote. By now, the entire world knows that the
US lied about its reasons for invading Iraq. The real reasons remain
an enigma to this day, but one thing is certain, they have nothing
to do with spreading freedom and democracy.
Even in the case that the US government had been able to reach
this "historic" day without all of the preceding (and
ongoing) bloodshed and carnage, and if the elections really were
free and democratic, can Bush honestly claim credit for the ousting
of a dictator that America's intelligence agencies were responsible
for placing in power in the first place? Do we think that the belligerent
foreign policy that lead the CIA to place a man like Saddam in power
in Iraq is any different today?
Australia's daily newspaper "The
Age" tells us:
"Saddam, like so many other blood-soaked thugs tormenting
unhappy nations, is the creature of the CIA. James Critchfield,
head of the CIA in the Middle East when the Baathists took over
in 1961, says: "We regarded it as a great victory."
The Baath secretary-general at the time said: "We came to
power on a CIA train." President Qassim, overthrown by the
Baathists, intended to nationalise the foreign consortium that
controlled Iraq's oil, so he was doomed."
Or as UPI's Richard Sale reported:
While many have thought that Saddam first became involved with
U.S. intelligence agencies at the start of the September 1980
Iran-Iraq war, his first contacts with U.S. officials date back
to 1959, when he was part of a CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked
with assassinating then Iraqi Prime Minister Gen. Abd al-Karim
If the truth is to be told, rather than being a cause for celebration,
today should go down in history as the day when one more big lie
was added to the long list of deceptions that have been passed off
on the people of the world, and 26 million more people had their
aspirations for true freedom and self determination terminally quashed
by a fascist cabal determined to force all of humanity to submit
to its will.
| Shias are about to inherit Iraq,
but the election tomorrow that will bring them to power is creating
deep fears among the Arab kings and dictators of the Middle East that
their Sunni leadership is under threat.
America has insisted on these elections which will produce a largely
Shia parliament representing Iraq's largest religious community
because they are supposed to provide an exit strategy for embattled
US forces, but they seem set to change the geopolitical map of the
Arab world in ways the Americans could never have imagined. For
George Bush and Tony Blair this is the law of unintended consequences
Amid curfews, frontier closures and country wide travel restrictions,
voting in Iraq will begin tomorrow under the threat of Osama bin
Laden's ruling that the poll represents an "apostasy".
Voting started among expatriate Iraqis in Britain, the US, Sweden,
Syria and other countries, but the turnout was much smaller than
The Americans have talked up the possibility of massive bloodshed
tomorrow and US inteligence authorites have warned embassy staff
in Baghdad that insurgents may have been "saving up" suicide
bombers for mass attacks on polling stations.
But outside Iraq, Arab leaders are talking of a Shia "Crescent"
that will run from Iran through Iraq to Lebanon via Syria, whose
Alawite leadership forms a branch of Shia Islam. The underdogs of
the Middle East, repressed under the Ottomans, the British and then
the pro-Western dictators of the region, will be a new and potent
While Shia political parties in Iraq have promised that they will
not demand an Islamic republic, their speeches suggest that they
have no desire to recreate the Iranian revolution in their country,
their inveitable victory in an election that Iraq's Sunnis will
largely boycott mean that this country will become the first Arab
nation to be led by Shias.
On the surface, this may not be apparent; Iyad Allawi, the former
CIA agent and current Shia "interim" Prime Minister, is
widely tipped as the only viable choice for the next prime minister,
but the kings and emirs of the Gulf are facing the prospect with
In Bahrain, a Sunni monarchy rules over a Shia majority that staged
a mini-insurrection in the 1990's. Saudi Arabia has long treated
its Shia minority with suspicion and repression.
In the Arab world, they say that God favoured the Shia with oil.
The Shias live above the richest oil reserves in Saudi Arabia and
upon some of the Kuwaiti oil fields. Apart form Mosul, Iraqi Shias
live almost exclusively amid their own country's massive oil fields.
Iran's oil wealth is controlled by the country's overwhelming Shia
What does all this presage for the Sunni potentates of the Arabian
peninsula? Iraq's new national assembly and the next interim government
it selects will empower Shias throughout the region, inviting them
to question why they too cannot be given a fair share of their country's
The Americans oringinally feared that parlimentary elections in
Iraq would create a Shia Islamic republic and made inevitable and
unnecessary warnings to Iran not to interfere in Iraq. But now they
are far more frightened that without elections the 60 per cent Shia
community would join the Sunni insurgency.
Tommorrow's poll is thus, for the Americans, a means to an end,
a way of claiming that, while Iraq may not have become the stable,
liberal democracy they claimed they would create, it has started
its journey on the way to Western-style freedom and that the American
forces can leave.
Few in Iraq believe that these elections will end the insurgency,
let alone bring peace and stability. By holding the poll now, when
the Shias, who are not fighting the Americans, are voting while
the Sunnis, who are fighting the Americans, are not, the
elections can only sharpen the divisions between the country's two
While Washington had clearly not envisaged the results of its invasion
in this way, its demand for "democracy" is now moving
the tectonic plates in the Middle East in a new and uncertain direction.
The Arab states outside the Shia "Crescent" fear Shia
political power even more than they are frightened by genuine democracy.
No wonder, then, that King Abdullah of Jordan is warning that this
could destabilise the Gulf and pose a "challenge" to the
United States. This may also account for the tolerant attitude of
Jordan towards the insurgency, many of whose leaders freely cross
the border with Iraq.
The Americans claim that they move secretly from Syria into Iraq
is largely false; the men who run the rebellion against US rule
in Iraq are not likely to smuggle themselves across the Syrian-Iraqi
desert when they can travel "legally" across the Jordanian
Tommorrow's election may be bloody. It may well produce a parliament
so top-heavy with Shai candidates that the Americans will be tempted
to "top up" the Sunni assembly members by choosing some
of their own, who will inevitably be accused of collaboration.
But it will establish Shia power in Iraq and in the wider Arab
world for the first time since the great split between Sunnis and
Shias that followed the death of the Prophet Mohammad.
| Suicide attacks and explosions have
struck polling stations in Iraq as voters take part in the country's
first multi-party elections for 50 years.
At least 20 people died in attacks that centred on Baghdad, though
mortars and explosions were heard in other cities.
Turnout is patchy so far, with queues in some Shia and mixed neighbourhoods,
but deserted polling stations in some cities in the Sunni heartland.
Iraqis are voting for a 275-member assembly to draw up a new constitution.
More than 100 parties and coalitions are standing in the poll.
In the hours since polls opened at 0700 local time (0400 GMT),
several attacks have been reported:
* At least six people died when a bomber with explosives strapped
to his body blew himself up outside a polling station in eastern
* In western Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed at least four
others and injured at least six people outside a polling station,
and two policemen died in separate suicide attacks on polling
* In the capital's Sadr City district, at least four people
died and seven were wounded when a mortar struck a polling station
* At least four other people were reported to have died in other
attacks in or near the capital
* Explosions were also heard in Basra, Mosul and Baquba - where
fighting is reported to have broken out in the south of the city
* The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad says the political party
of Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has been reprimanded for
campaigning past the deadline there.
The attacks came after militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi issued
a warning to Iraqis not to vote, and declared "all-out war"
on the election.
The BBC's Ben Brown in Basra says electoral officials have been
surprised by the high turnout there, and some polling stations had
to open early.
Queues have also formed outside polling stations in Shia areas
- such as Sadr City in Baghdad - and some mixed Sunni-Shia neighbourhoods.
The BBC's Jim Muir in Irbil, in Iraq's mostly Kurdish north, says
people are patiently waiting in large queues to undergo security
checks before voting.
He says voters here are eager to secure as big as possible bloc
of seats in the transitional national assembly in Baghdad, so that
the Kurdish desire for autonomy will be taken into account as the
new constitution is drafted.
But reports from central Sunni cities, such as Falluja, Samarra
and Ramadi, say few polling stations are open, and there is at best
a trickle of voters.
The head of the local council in Samarra, Tana Hussein, said people
were staying away because of fears over security.
Some Sunni political parties urged Iraqis to boycott the election.
In a poll conducted by Zogby International, 76% of Sunni Arabs said
they "definitely would not vote". Only 9% said they would
Record numbers of US soldiers are reported to be on duty to enforce
security measures, which include a dusk-till-dawn curfew in most
cities and a ban on travel between provinces.
Iraq's borders and the main international airport in Baghdad are
Cars without special authorisation have been banned from the roads.
'Proud and happy'
Iraqi Interim President Ghazi Yawer was among the first to vote.
He said on the eve of the poll that voters would probably stay
away from polling stations over safety concerns, not as a protest.
But for polling day he had a more upbeat message, congratulating
the Iraqi people and calling on them to vote.
"I'm very proud and happy this morning," he said as he
voted in Baghdad's Green Zone.
"I congratulate all the Iraqi people and call them to vote
BAGHDAD—Coalition troops and Iraqi security
forces may be responsible for up to 60 per cent of conflict-related
civilian deaths in Iraq — far more than are killed by insurgents,
the BBC reports.
Data from the beginning of July, 2004, through the end of the
year covers all conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries
recorded by Iraqi public hospitals.
The figures exclude, where known, the deaths of insurgents,
the BBC says.
The figures reveal that 3,274 Iraqi civilians were killed and
12,657 wounded in conflict-related violence during the period.
Of those deaths, 60 per cent — 2,041 civilians
— were killed by the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi security forces.
A further 8,542 were wounded by them. Insurgent attacks
claimed 1,233 lives and wounded 4,115 people in the same period.
Official figures compiled by Iraq's Ministry of Health break
down deaths according to insurgent and coalition activity, according
to the BBC website. The figures are normally available only to
Iraqi cabinet ministers, it says.
The coalition had yet to respond to the figures.
Meanwhile, authorities in Iraq have arrested three close associates
of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, officials said yesterday, claiming to
be close to capturing the Al Qaeda-linked terror mastermind himself
two days ahead of historic elections extremists want to subvert.
The announcements, made days after the arrests,
appeared aimed at helping reassure Iraqis about security ahead
of tomorrow's polls.
Still, violence continued:
Insurgents killed five U.S. soldiers, set off a suicide car
bomb that killed four Iraqi police officers in Baghdad and targeted
more polling sites across the country.
BAGHDAD - Insurgents killed eight Iraqis
and a U.S. soldier in attacks today and blasted polling places
across the country on the eve of landmark elections, as Prime
Minister Ayad Allawi's government urged Iraqis to overcome their
fear of violence and vote.
The soldier from Task Force Baghdad was killed by a roadside
bomb in a western district of the capital, the military said.
Bursts of heavy machine-gun fire rattled through central districts
at midday, and several heavy explosions shook the downtown area
in the afternoon. American fighter jets
roared through the skies in a show of force.
Iraqi police and soldiers set up checkpoints through streets
largely devoid of traffic as the country battened down for the
vote, with a night-time curfew imposed across the country and
the borders sealed. Seven American soldiers were killed Friday
in the Baghdad area, including two pilots who died in the crash
of their OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter.
West of the capital, in the insurgent bastion of Ramadi,
five Iraqis with hands tied behind their backs were found slain
today on a city street. One of the bodies was decapitated.
Militants accused them of working for the Americans.
Sunni Muslim extremists have warned Iraqis not to participate
in the election Sunday, threatening to "wash the streets" in blood.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A rocket hit the U.S. Embassy
in Baghdad today, killing two Americans who worked there and wounding
four others on the eve of Iraq's landmark elections, a U.S. Embassy
The rocket fell into the Embassy's compound, near the building
itself in the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad,
according to the embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One civilian and one Navy sailor, both assigned to the embassy,
were killed in the rocket attack, a military official said, also
on condition of anonymity.
Of the four injured Americans, two were military, one was a
civilian and the fourth was as yet underdetermined, the military
Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan confirmed the embassy had been
hit in an attack, but could give no details about casualties.
The second Embassy official, speaking anonymously, then confirmed
that two had been killed and four injured.
BAQOUBA, Iraq - A car bomb exploded Saturday
near the police headquarters in the mostly Kurdish city of Khanaqin
on the Iranian border, a senior police official said. A
Kurdish official said three Iraqi soldiers and two civilians,
one of them a child, were killed.
The police commander of Diyala province, Brig. Gen. Adel Mulan,
confirmed the blast but had no initial casualty reports.
However, an official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Walah
Bakhtiar, gave the casualty figures. He said nine people were
The blast occurred between the U.S. base and the court house
in the city, located about 110 kilometers (70 miles) northeast
of Baghdad, he said.
The French embassy in Kuwait has advised
its citizens in the Gulf state to avoid shopping malls and to
move around only when necessary after clashes between suspected
insurgents and security forces, sources said.
The embassy contacted its wardens asking them to convey the
new warning to French nationals, the sources said, adding
that the advice was precautionary and not based on any specific
Two Kuwaiti security officers were killed and four others wounded
in two gun fights with suspected insurgents on 10 and 15 January.
Two suspects, including a Saudi, were also killed in the clashes.
The French warning followed an advisory from the US embassy
on Thursday warning of the danger of more unrest, saying residential
complexes for Westerners could be targeted.
The British embassy also warned its citizens of a continued threat
to Westerners in Kuwait.
Kuwait, which served as the main launch pad for the US-led invasion
of Iraq in March 2003, is home to about 12,000 Americans and 9000
Europeans, mostly Britons.
Kuwaiti security forces have arrested about 15 suspected Islamist
insurgents, according to Interior Minister Shaikh Nawaf al-Ahmad
Al Sabah, but an unspecified number, including the group's spiritual
leader, are still at large. [...]
MIAMI -- Carlos Delgado is willing to stand
up for his beliefs -- or, in his case, not stand up.
At his introductory news conference Thursday with the Florida Marlins,
Delgado said he'll continue to not stand up this season during the
playing of God Bless America.
An opponent of the war in Iraq, Delgado refused
to stand when God Bless America was played last season at games
involving his Toronto Blue Jays. Instead, he would stay on the bench
or go into the dugout tunnel.
"I wouldn't call it politics, because I hate politics,"
Delgado said Thursday after finalizing his four-year, $52 million
contract. "The reason why I didn't stand
for God Bless America was because I didn't like the way they tied
God Bless America and 9/11 to the war in Iraq in baseball."
"I say God bless America, God bless Miami,
God bless Puerto Rico and all countries until there is peace in
Marlins officials, who gave Delgado the richest per-season contract
in the team's 12-year history, made no objection to his war protest.
"The Marlins don't support it, and we don't not support it,"
team president David Samson said. "He's an adult. The club's
position is that what he does is up to him."
Florida is mostly interested in Delgado producing runs the way
he did with Toronto, where he hit at least 30 homers each of the
past eight seasons. He's the kind of hitter the Marlins have long
coveted -- a left-handed slugger capable of altering the balance
of power in the NL East. He's also a box-office draw who boosted
season-ticket sales at least fivefold this week. [...]
During negotiations with the free agent, teams raised the issue
of Delgado's stance regarding the Iraq war, said his agent, David
Sloane. It wasn't an obstacle to a deal with any club because Delgado
was willing to follow team policy regarding God Bless America, Sloane
"He didn't like the politicization
of baseball making use of the song," Sloane said. "But
he told me, 'I will never do anything to place myself above my teammates.'
If you have a policy that everybody has to be on the top step, he'll
be on the top step."
The Blue Jays had no such policy, and neither do the Marlins.
Even Toronto teammates who disagreed with Delgado accepted his
right to refuse to rise for the song. Conine predicted there will
be little reaction from Delgado's new teammates.
"That's an opinion of his, and you have to respect that,"
Conine said. "He's man enough to stand by it. I don't think
there's going to be one thing said or one ill thought in the clubhouse."
While Delgado doesn't make a public show of his
protest, he was the target of scattered jeers when he played last
summer at Yankee Stadium, the only park in
the majors where God Bless America has been played during every
game since the Sept. 11 attacks.
But he said reaction to his stance has been mostly supportive.
"Probably 90 percent of the people I've
talked to say they agree with that," he said. "I
don't do stuff so people agree with me. But it's always nice to
get some sort of support."
Regarding his war protest, Delgado fielded the questions cleanly.
Word is he can also hit.
The Bush administration
was confronted with fresh evidence of a far-reaching clandestine
campaign to influence public opinion yesterday after a third conservative
commentator admitted receiving payments for championing its policies.
Michael McManus, a newspaper columnist, was paid up to $10,000
to praise the administration's marriage initiative, which diverts
funds from welfare to marital counselling, the Los Angeles Times
His fees were approved by a branch of the department of health
and human services, and were funnelled through the Lewin Group,
a consultancy firm. The commentator's rightwing Marriage Savers
Foundation received an additional $49,000 in government grants.
Mr McManus did not disclose the payments in his columns.
Neither did Maggie Gallagher, another conservative columnist and
even a more prominent supporter of the marriage plan.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that
Ms Gallagher received $21,500 from the department of health and
human services, and $20,000 from the justice department for championing
the initiative in her syndicated newspaper columns.
George Bush tried to distance the administration from such payment
practices earlier this week, and an official from the health department
said the payments would cease.
But a report issued on Thursday by Democratic
members of the House of Representatives suggested the Bush administration
may rely far more heavily on pay-per-view columnists than had been
The administration spent more than $88m
on public relations contracts last year - more than double
the $37m it spent during Mr Bush's first year in office. That brought
the administration's first-term spending on PR to $250m.
The first sign of a political payola scandal erupted this month
when USA Today reported that Armstrong Williams, a conservative
African-American columnist, had been paid $240,000 by the education
department to champion the administration's controversial policies
in his print, radio and television outlets.
Mr Williams was paid through Ketchum PR, the public relations firm
also involved in producing fake "news pieces" last year
that touted the administration's prescription drug bill. Some US
television stations put the clips straight on the air.
The administration claimed that its use of a fake reporter, Karen
Ryan, to sell its programmes, was an isolated incident. It now appears
that such covert campaigns were widespread.
The Bush administration's readiness to pay for favourable press
at a time of mounting budget deficits has raised eyebrows in Congress.
"While not all public relations spending is illegal or inappropriate,
this rapid rise in public relations contracts at a time of growing
budget deficits raises questions about the priorities of the administration,"
a report on public relations spending by the Democratic staff of
the house government reform committee said.
Condi proudly invoked the name of Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. during her recent Senate confirmation hearings.
Yes, the same Dr. Condoleezza Rice who's consistently burnished
her conservative career by bashing the Civil Rights Movement craftily
told Senators she's "indebted" to the sacrifices of that
movement which enabled her to "be here" poised to become
America's first Black female Secretary of State.
Two days after Rice plucked Senators' heartstrings with her 'bootstrapping-out-of-segregated-Birmingham'
autobiographical account, her boss the President made a bold statement
about racism in his inaugural address.
America "must abandon all the habits of racism" President
Yes, the same George W. Bush who usually rejects pleas for intervention
on race related issues as comparable to a four letter profanity
condemned the "baggage of bigotry" during his inaugural,
promising to "strive in good faith to heal" divisions
What's going on here?
Is this the dawning of the long promised era of compassionate conservatism?
Has Condi actually abandoned her of-stated antipathy for affirmative
action, antipathy credited with convincing Bush to publicly condemn
minority admissions policies at the University of Michigan on MLK's
birthday in January 2003?
Does Bush's inaugural articulation of realities like "freedom
by its nature [requires] protection of minorities" and "there
is no justice without freedom" mean he now truly embraces these
truths that should be self-evident?
Condi crassly played the race-card during her confirmation snowing
some Democratic Senators while George's sweeping pronouncements
criticizing racism constituted a duplicitous attempt to 'play' Americans
Yes, show and not substance motivated the respective Capitol Hill
performances of Rice and Bush.
Proof of Bush's sleight of hand on racism is evident in his choosing
Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott as the master of ceremonies
for his inauguration.
Selecting the racial segregation praising Lott is not a shining
example of sincerely showing the asserted reversal of what is one
of the worst civil rights records of any president in recent memory.
Actions speak louder than words and Bush's first term record in
the arena of racial fairness is truly repugnant.
In July 2000, when then presidential candidate Bush addressed the
NAACP America's oldest and largest civil rights organization
he pledged, "Strong civil rights enforcement will be
a cornerstone of my administration."
Yet, during the waning months of Bush's first term, the US Civil
Rights Commission issued a report analyzing his administration's
record on civil rights that drew dismal conclusions.
"President Bush has implemented policies
that have retreated from long-established civil rights promises"
in a number of areas from affirmative action to voting rights to
issues dealing with women.
The same President Bush who calls affirmative action evilly improper
"racial preferences" to non-whites sees no problem in
providing special preference, no-bid contracts worth billions to
powerful corporations like Halliburton, the firm once headed by
his Vice-President, Dick Cheney.
While Bush extolled his intent to "widen the ownership of
businesses" during his inauguration speech, his first term
policies didn't dent the deliberate exclusion of Black business
from billions in federal highway and transportation contracting
opportunities according to a 2003 position paper issued by the National
Black Chamber of Commerce.
Black contractors, according to data in this paper, provided 1.4
percent of the work on projects funded by the Federal Highway Administration,
down from 6 percent in 1982, despite the existence of an affirmative
action initiative known as the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise
The National Black Chamber described this exclusion as a "sham
and national disgrace," blaming federal officials for "systematically
killing Black contractors."
Given Bush's repeated praise of his (deadly & federal deficit-raising)
campaigns to install democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is disturbing
that the Civil Rights Commission's report criticized Bush's failure
to "act swiftly toward election reform" that ensures enforcement
of voting rights across America.
Reports of GOP lead disenfranchisement campaigns
against Blacks peppered the 2004 presidential election, repeating
voter suppression practices in Florida and elsewhere during the
2000 presidential election.
Bush, in February 2001, told Congress that he wanted to end racial
profiling, repeating a pledge he made repeatedly on the campaign
Yet, an Amnesty International report issued last fall rebuked Bush
for backing off his pledges to end this ineffective practice that
Bush once called wrong.
"Almost four years later [Bush] has failed to support any
federal legislative effort to eliminate racial profiling in the
United States," stated the AI report.
This report noted how racial profiling has expanded beyond the
traditional targets of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans.
"Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans,
Persian-Americans, American Muslims, many immigrants and visitors,
and, under certain circumstances, white Americans" endure racial
profiling that now ravages "32 million Americans, a number
equivalent to the population of Canada," the AI report stated.
Also last fall, the Congressional Black Caucus released statistics
showing that African-Americans comprised only 7 percent of Bush's
165 appointments to important federal district court slots.
This appointment record compounds the already persistent problem
of under-representation of African-Americans at all levels of the
federal judiciary from district courts through courts of appeals.
Further, the CBC statistics pointed out the "stark contrast"
between the judicial appointment record of Bush and his predecessor
Blacks comprised 20 percent of the 170 district court appointments
during Clinton's first term in office.
"President Bush's record is truly disturbing and demonstrates
a lack of commitment to having a judiciary that looks like America,"
noted a CBC press release issued at the end of last September.
Bush's deliberate exclusion of Blacks from a position as freedom-ensuring/securing
as the federal judiciary continues the hollow ring of American democracy,
a brand of democracy that Bush repeatedly said in his inaugural
address that he wants to ring loudly around the world.
Bush's inauguration address articulated a "goal of ending
tyranny in our world."
However, Bush's stated intent to require "other
governments" to treat their citizens decently doesn't square
with his administration's sabotaging of the democratically elected
presidents of Haiti and Venezuela who worked hard to improve the
daily lives of their grossly impoverished Black citizens.
As National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice took point in defending
Bush Administration assaults on Venezuela's Chavez while the man
Condi called "my mentor" during her recent confirmation
former Secretary of State Colin Powell played a scurvy
role in the removal of Haiti's Aristide.
While presidential candidate Bush addressed the NAACP in 2000,
President Bush became the first Oval Office occupant in over seven
decades to not speak at the organization's national convention.
Bush spurned a NAACP convention speaking
invitation last year, claiming anger over the organization's 'harsh'
criticism of his civil rights record. [...]
Bigotry is not an irreversible condition so it is possible that
Bush can fulfill his inaugural pledges related to racism.
But the real measure here is not possibility but probability and
based on past performance it's a poor bet that Bush will do a real
180 on race.
Virginia Military Institute officials are
investigating a 2004 barracks Halloween observance during which
cadets dressed as Nazi soldiers, drag queens and a starving African.
Officials at the Lexington college were alerted to the behavior
when someone referred them to an Internet message board on which
four photographs of the costumed men are posted.
"We've been made aware of the possible involvement of a small
number of VMI cadets in various insensitive and inappropriate
photographic poses appearing on a Web site unaffiliated with VMI,"
spokesman Stewart MacInnis said. "VMI does not condone such behavior
and this matter is being investigated accordingly. While recognizing
cadets have rights as private citizens to express themselves,
we are disappointed in their behavior and judgment."
MacInnis said officials are satisfied that the pictures posted
at richmond.indymedia.org are from an October event in barracks
during which cadets were permitted to dress in costume for the
evening. The Web site is operated by the Richmond Independent
Media Center and offers a forum for "promoting social and economic
justice in the Richmond area," according to its mission statement.
One picture shows three men in their VMI-issued
black shirts and gray pants giving the Nazi salute to the camera.
Two are wearing homemade swastika armbands. One is wearing a small
Another picture shows two men dressed in tiaras, wings, lipstick
and eye shadow. One is holding a wand, and both are wearing underpants
and tank tops that read, "I [heart] a man in uniform."
There are also pictures of a man smeared head-to-toe in dark
makeup and wearing a loin cloth, and a man with a bull's-eye drawn
with tape on the rear of his pants.
Posted Thursday, the photos immediately generated a running
online debate about their offensiveness. Some posters noted that
they appeared weeks after England's Prince Harry was criticized
by Jewish organizations for wearing a Nazi uniform to a recent
costume party and that Thursday was the 60th anniversary of the
liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
Using the screen name "CBC," the person who posted the images
said others should "condemn VMI's ability to laugh at the deaths
of millions, make light of famine and race and mock homosexuality.
These are, after all, the men who are supposed to one day graduate
to their own posts at Gitmos [Guantanamo Bays] and Abu Ghraibs
around the world."
A writer identified as "Sean," who said he is a VMI cadet, defended
"We, the Corps of Cadets, were apalled
[sic] at the Abu Ghraib incident, but seeing as how we're going
to be in the midst of death and inhumanity and other such facts
of life we need to be able to keep a sense of humor," he
"What's funny about the Nazis?" replied poster "James Spady."
A poster named "Joseph" advised others to "lighten up, anyone
construing this as anything other than absurd and jovial is nothing
short of anal retentive."
Even if they acted without malice, the cadets involved could
still face disciplinary action.
MacInnis was unsure of what specific regulations VMI has regarding
racial or ethnic sensitivity, but he noted that such behavior
might also fit in the category of "conduct unbecoming a cadet."
New cadets receive instruction in sensitivity to matters of
gender, race and the like, MacInnis said.
"VMI will continue to make strong efforts to educate the Corps
in civility and respect for others," he said.
a violent demonstrator during a protest against far-right
extremism in Kiel, northern Germany, Saturday. (AP/Heribert
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) - Police arrested dozens of violent demonstrators
in northern Germany Saturday after roughly 7,000 peaceful protesters
took to the streets against far-right extremism.
Some 42 protesters were detained in the northern city of Kiel
following clashes with police who were protecting a much smaller
demonstration of several hundred neo-Nazis, said Hans-Joachim
Schmidt, a spokesman for Kiel police.
Angry protesters lobbed stones, bottles and firecrackers at
officers during the "massive and difficult" clashes, Schmidt said.
Police responded with water cannons in an attempt to break up
the group that was trying to break through a barricade separating
the leftist demonstration from the neo-Nazis.
No explosive device has been found; "all
the rooms at the bank have been thoroughly searched; the threat
of blast proved to be false," the source said.
An anonymous caller told police at 16:40 on Friday that a bomb
had been planted at the commercial Bank of Moscow. City emergency
services rushed to the scene.
It is a second incident this week near the
Bank of Moscow's central office.
On January 25, an explosion ripped through
the Bank's inner yard. The blast had an estimated power of 100
grams of TNT. The bomb came in a parcel by post.
Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin said the blast had been
planned by an organized group
A student, who is a follower of a left-wing radical party, has
been detained on suspicion of involvement in this crime. "We have
information that it was he who committed this crime," Pronin told
reporters on Friday.
At the same time, investigators are convinced that the detainee
had had help in carrying it out.
A criminal case under the article on terrorism was opened. The
FSB branch for Moscow and Moscow Region leads the investigation.
Law-enforcement bodies have information that a series of similar
acts against the Bank of Moscow is being prepared, according to
KHARTOUM - At least 14 people -- and possibly
as many as 23 -- have been killed in clashes between supporters
of a rebel group in eastern Sudan and security forces in Port
Sudan, on the Red Sea.
A dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed and 100 people were arrested
after the riots, which flared Friday during demonstrations by
members of the Beja community of eastern Sudan who are seeking
more powers and resources for their region.
Provincial governor Major General Hatim al-Wasilah al-Sammani
said 14 people were killed and 16 wounded in the clashes, although
witnesses told AFP that as many as 20 people were killed, including
The Beja Congress, based in exile in neighbouring Eritrea, said
government security forces killed 23 people and wounded more than
100 when they broke up a Beja demonstration in Port Sudan.
"The people were killed by security forces deployed by the government
in Khartoum. Signs of bullets were found at houses," Salah Barqueen,
a Beja Congress spokesman told AFP from Asmara by phone.
Demonstrations -- clamouring against the Beja's exclusion from
recent peace agreements signed between Khartoum and southern rebels
-- have spread to the towns of Kassala and Sinkat in eastern Sudan,
he said. [...]
CAIRO, Egypt - Almost a 100 people were killed
and wounded in a Sudanese air force bombardment in South Darfur
on Wednesday, U.N. spokeswoman Radhia Achouri said Friday.
The bombardment of villagers outside Shangil Tobaya put to flight
"thousands" of people, Achouri said in a phone interview from
"It is definitely one of the most serious violations of the
cease-fire" signed by the government and the Darfur rebels last
year, Achouri said.
The United Nations mission in Khartoum spoke to Sudan's Foreign
Ministry about the bombardment, but has received no reply.
Achouri said African Union observers at the scene had reported
"almost 100 casualties," but did not give the numbers of dead
"But 100 casualties is 100 too many, be they wounded or dead,"
NGO field workers based in Shangil Tobaya, 65 kilometers (40
miles) south of El Fasher, reported witnessing bombs exploding
on the ground and an air force Antonov circling overhead on Wednesday
afternoon. Later the same day, the African Union, which has 1,400
cease-fire monitors and protection troops in Darfur, confirmed
the aerial bombardment and called it a "major violation" of the
KINSHASA, Congo (AP) - Militiamen armed
with guns and machetes killed 16 people and kidnapped at least
34 girls in attacks this week on a remote area of eastern Congo,
a UN spokesman said Saturday.
Two platoons of UN peacekeepers arrived in the remote area by
helicopter early Saturday to protect the population from further
violence, UN spokesman Christophe Boulierarch said by telephone
from Bunia, capital of Ituri province. Bunia is 65 kilometres
south of Che, an area that has been attacked several times since
Earlier this week, aid workers with the group German Agro Action
reported seeing burning houses and residents streaming out of
Che as it was under attack.
Boulierarch cited witnesses saying 34 girls had been kidnapped
from Che and two others were missing.
Residents told the UN that 15 people were murdered by armed
Lendu militiamen. Boulierarch said he saw the body of another
old man along the road outside town who had been shot once in
the head. Ituri has long been the scene of savage fighting between
Lendu and Hema militias.
Since 1999, fighting in Ituri has killed more than 50,000 and
forced 500,000 to flee their homes, UN officials and human rights
groups say. [...]
HANOI - A 13-year-old girl has died from
bird flu, becoming Vietnam's 11th victim of the disease in the
past month, a doctor said, after worried Thai and UN experts met
in the country for talks on the outbreak.
"The girl from southern Dong Thap province died early Saturday
morning," a doctor from Ho Chi Minh City's Pediatric Hospital
No.1 told AFP, requesting anonymity.
The girl's mother, 35, died of the virus on January 21, a night
after being admitted to hospital.
State media said the mother and child lived in an area where
several chickens had died from the virus. They had slaughtered
an infected duck for a meal.
The doctor said a 10-year-old girl also suffering from the H5N1
bird flu virus was in a "very critical condition". Another two
patients are in stable condition in Hanoi after testing positive.
The virus has claimed 11 lives in Vietnam since December 30
and 31 since the end of 2003. Twelve people have also died in
Thailand from the virus that has swept Asia since December 2003.
- A cyclone with frosty winds and a snowstorm came from the Sea
of Japan to Sakhalin on Saturday.
A storm warning is issued for all the appropriate services.
Meteorologists say the wind speed will reach 19-24 metres a
second for two days and the height of waves will be five metres
in the Tatar Strait.
The situation is expected to be particularly tense in the north
of Sakhalin, where the temperature was 43 degrees Centigrade below
The cyclone shows its power in the south as well. The snowstorm
is raging in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
Such weather conditions will remain in the region till January
31, and it will become a bit warmer on the island when the cyclone
goes away to the Sea of Okhotsk.
ATLANTA - Freezing rain and sleet coated
parts of the Southeast with a layer of ice Saturday, canceling
hundreds of airline flights, knocking out power to thousands of
customers and shutting down sections of every interstate highway
in the metro Atlanta area.
Three weather-related traffic deaths were reported, two in Georgia
and one in South Carolina, police said.
At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, only one
of the four runways was open for much of the day and "very few
flights are coming or going," said airport spokeswoman Felicia
"I don't have an official number of cancellations, but I can
say with confidence a significant number have been canceled,"
AirTran alone canceled 90 flights for the day, said spokesman
Delta could not provide a number of canceled flights until the
end of the day, but had cut its schedule systemwide by about 40
percent in anticipation of the storm, said spokesman Anthony Black.
In South Carolina, Delta, Northwest Airlines, U.S. Airways,
and others canceled flights from Greenville-Spartanburg International
Airport and from Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
Browder said most travelers in Atlanta were aware of the approaching
storm, so few people are stranded at Hartsfield-Jackson.
Not everyone was so lucky. The Atlanta Hawks basketball team
spent the night at the airport aboard their chartered airplane
waiting to be deiced and then for permission to take off, and
finally gave up Saturday morning and went to a hotel to await
word on their scheduled Saturday night game in Memphis against
The ice also accumulated on power lines and tree limbs, and
at least 109,000 Georgia Power customers were without power Saturday
afternoon, about half of them in the Atlanta area, said spokesman
Georgia Electric Membership Corp. reported 39,000 homes and
businesses without power around the state.
The number of Georgia customers without power was expected to
grow significantly during the night as ice continued to accumulate,
and utilities in the Carolinas made preparations for expected
outages, said utility officials.
Throughout the Atlanta metropolitan area, wrecks led police
to shut down sections of Interstates 85, 20, 75 and 285 and some
other highways during the morning, said state Department of Transportation
spokeswoman Karlene Barron. Most were reopened by midday, officials
CANAKKALE (AA) - Two people were injured
in a tornado in Ayvacik town of northwestern city of Canakkale,
Sources said that the tornado which hit Ahmetce village of Ayvacik
town injured two people and damaged 6 houses and a mosque.
Head official of Ahmetce village Hasan Huseyin Kus said that
injured people were taken to Ayvacik State Hospital. He added
that minaret of the village's mosque collapsed and 6 houses were
damaged during the tornado.
GENEVA (AP) - Many Arctic animals, including
polar bears and some seal species, could be extinct within 20
years because of the effects of global warming, a major conservation
group said Sunday.
Traditional ways of life for many indigenous people in the Arctic
will also become unsustainable, unless the world "takes drastic
action to reduce climate change," said the World Wide Fund for
"If we don't act immediately the Arctic will soon become unrecognizable"
said Tonje Folkestad, a climate-change expert.
"Polar bears will be consigned to history, something that our
grandchildren can only read about in books."
By 2026, the Earth could be an average two degrees Celsius warmer
than it was in 1750, said research commissioned for WWF to be
presented to a Feb. 1-3 conference on climate change in Exeter,
"In the Arctic, this could lead to a loss of summer sea ice,
species and some types of tundra vegetation, as well as to a fundamental
change in the ways of life of Inuit and other arctic residents,"
WWF said in a statement.
The total area covered by summer sea ice in the Arctic is already
decreasing by 9.2 per cent a decade and "will disappear entirely
by the end of the century," unless the situation changes, WWF
This would threaten the existence of polar bears and seals that
live on the ice, which in turn would remove a major source of
food for the indigenous communities who hunt them.
Forested areas will spread northward as those areas become warmer,
threatening habitats for birds like ravens, snow buntings, falcons,
loons, sandpipers and terns.
"Migratory birds will lose a vital breeding ground in the Arctic,
affecting biodiversity around the globe," WWF said.
Indigenous peoples such as the Inuit in North America and Saami
in Scandinavia could lose their traditional livelihoods and their
communities will be threatened by the thinning sea ice, melting
glaciers and thawing permafrost. [...]
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