.

Today's conditions brought to you by the Bush Junta - marionettes of their hyperdimensional puppet masters - Produced and Directed by the CIA, based on an original script by Henry Kissinger, with a cast of billions.... The "Greatest Shew on Earth," no doubt, and if you don't have a good sense of humor, don't read this page! It is designed to reveal the "unseen."
If you can't stand the heat of Objective Reality, get out of the kitchen!

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

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What do you do when you live in a world that has become so strange and bizarre?

We don't want to ever again hear anyone complain because we discuss hypotheses and theories of a conspiratorial nature, that we deal with Fortean phenomena and look for explanations other than the ones pawned off on us all as "rational". Reality has trumped even us. After reading through today's Signs you will understand what we are talking about.

By looking at the evidence of cycles and clues we knew that the world was going to get rather strange, but we were still not prepared for it to get this strange so fast.

The issue of oncoming weirdness is dealt with in Laura Knight-Jadczyk's work, Ancient Science. In this comprehensive overview of our reality from the very large to the very small, she looks at the possibility of time loops, at the cyclic appearance of cataclysms in the geological and archaeological record, and at how the ancients, prior to the imposition of the monotheistic religions, saw the world in terms of recurring cycles. The cyclic vision of birth and death, of periodic flood and fire cleansing the earth, leading to a renewed earth, moving in a spiral with each loop repeating the dynamics of the prior loop, was displaced by a vision of linear time with definite starting and end points of time and creation. The transition point, the point of a macrocosmic quantum leap, is the point of renewal. But it is also chaotic and catastrophic, a period of death and destruction prior to the birth of the new world.

Is the strangeness we are experiencing now a Sign of this transition, a marker that our world is on the verge of a macro-cosmic quantum change? It is possible. To read more about this, we encourage you to read Ancient Science. This work puts such speculation on a scientific footing, using research from many fields of science. Ancient Science has just been reissued in a new, revised edition, with 100 extra pages, including an exhaustive index.

The first high strangeness item we want to have a look at today is manifesting in Sicily. The first hint of this totally weird situation in English came from a little article we received last night:

MYSTERIOUS FIRES IN THE MESSINA AREA

(AGI) - Messina, 10 Feb - The mysterious phenomenon of the spontaneous fires that provoked fear and surprise among the residents of Canneto on the Tyrrhenian coast of the province of Messina has come to a standstill in the last twelve hours. The thirty or so inhabitants of the village who were evacuated for security reasons have not yet been able to go home. Experts of the State Rescue Services continue to carry out checks whilst awaiting special machinery from Milan in order to get more precise results.

Yesterday the fires had become paradoxical and were even breaking out in water pipes or between pieces of electrical wire which had been cut and were lying on the ground without being connected to any source of energy. The electricty has been turned off in Canneto for several days but this did not stop the fires breaking out. In the course of the last few days the flames developed again and again without any plausible explanation in domestic appliances, intercoms, plugs, meters. Checks by electricity company ENEL and technicians from the RFU have for the moment excluded any link between the fires and the electrical pylons of the Palermo-Messina railway line which passes only a few metres from the houses and which the residents believe are in some way responsible.

It gets stranger. This morning we have the following articles:

ITALIAN VILLAGERS FLEE AS FRIDGES BURST INTO FLAMES

From Jeremy Charles In Rome
The Mirror

IT was just little things at first...a TV would smoulder, a mobile phone would catch fire.

But then it got worse - a whole lot worse.

Over three weeks fridges, washing machines, cookers and furniture all began bursting into flames for no reason. Twelve houses were badly damaged by blazes in the quiet village.

Now, with panic-stricken locals blaming evil spirits and calling for an exorcism, the mayor has ordered a full-scale evacuation.

Last night Italian TV showed people fleeing in tears while fireman rushed to fight yet another spontaneous blaze.

Engineers called to Canneto di Caronia, near Messina, Sicily, were baffled because the fires continued even when the power was cut off.

Mayor Pedro Spinnato said: "This all began three weeks ago and we can discover no explanation. We cannot risk a tragedy through these fires so I have no other option to evacuate.

"We have had engineers in to examine cables and wires but they can find nothing wrong. Twelve houses have been severely damaged after various domestic appliances burst into flames.

"But it is not just electrical items. Furniture is also catching fire for no reason.

"For the time being we have asked families to leave and stay with friends and relatives so a through examination can take place.

"People are blaming evil spirits and I am being asked to get the priest to perform an exorcism."

Civil protection chief Tullio Martella said: "What is going on here is like a scene from some paranormal film.

"The fires continued even when we cut power to the village to see if that was a possible cause."

"For the time being there is no scientific explanation and I have never heard of anything like this before."

Last night more than 100 engineers were in the village and geologists were also due to carry out underground surveys.

Italian villagers call for exorcist to end 'demon' fires

JEREMY CHARLES IN ROME

AN ITALIAN village was evacuated yesterday as investigators attempted to explain an outbreak of spontaneous household appliance combustions, which have left locals fearing for their safety.

Fridges, cookers, televisions, washing machines, mobile telephones and furniture have burst into flame for no apparent reason at a dozen houses in the Sicilian village of Canneto di Caronia near Messina.

Authorities initially suspected the fires were caused by overhead cables on a nearby railway line, but the outbreaks continued even after the village’s electricity supply was cut off, leading some locals to blame supernatural forces.

Pedro Spinnato, the village mayor, has ordered the evacuation so further investigations can be carried out.

"This has been going on for three weeks now and there is no explanation for it. We cannot risk a tragedy through these fires, so I have no other option but to evacuate the village," said Mr Spinnato.

"We have had electrical engineers in to examine cables and wires but they can find no explanation. It is not just electrical items, furniture is also catching fire for no reason.

"Already people are blaming the events on evil spirits and I am being asked to get the local priest to perform an exorcism."

The civil protection chief, Tullio Martella, said: "For the time being there is no scientific explanation for it and I have never heard of anything like this happening before in Italy. The fires continued even when we cut power to the village to see if that was a possible cause."

Last night more than 100 engineers were in the village and geologists were also due to carry out underground surveys.

Nino Pezzino, 42, one of 39 villagers evacuated yesterday, said: "Twelve of our houses are uninhabitable. Fortunately, for the time being, the only damage has been to houses and no-one has been hurt, but you can sense the growing fear.

"How can anyone live in a house where any minute something can catch fire for no apparent reason?"

Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican’s chief expert on exorcisms, said: "With cases of demon behaviour it is normal for domestic appliances to be involved and for demons make their presence known via electricity."

We want to see your data Father Gabriel! If he, a spokesmen for the Catholic church, can talk about "demons", then surely we can discuss our own theories. How about this for starters: It could be a fourth density bleed through. We have very little idea how dimensions and densities interact in our reality, so if it is open season on all things weird then let's really get down to the nitty-gritty. See our brief commentary on the topic of densities and dimensions from Sunday.

There is a little known history of these types of fires, including this same type of phenomena happening in northern Italy in 1990. You can check out our work in progress on this topic here to help place this extraordinary occurrence in better context. Although, most of these examples we have collected are not quite as widespread, debilitating an entire town. Which leads us to the next theory:

It could be microwave weapons in space.

U.S. 'negation' policy in space raises concerns abroad

By Loring Wirbel
EE Times May 22, 2003 (1:26 p.m. ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — While much of the talk around the Pentagon these days focuses on "transformation" of the military, some of the United States' closest allies worry about another buzzword being used in subtler ways at the National Reconnaissance Office: "negation."

The nation's largest intelligence agency by budget and in control of all U.S. spy satellites, NRO is talking openly with the U.S. Air Force Space Command about actively denying the use of space for intelligence purposes to any other nation at any time—not just adversaries, but even longtime allies, according to NRO director Peter Teets. [...]

The program will include two components: the Counter Communication System, designed to disrupt other nations' communication networks from space; and the Counter Surveillance Reconnaissance System, formed to prevent other countries from using advanced intelligence-gathering technology in air or space.

"Negation implies treating allies poorly," Robert Lawson, senior policy adviser for nonproliferation in the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, said at a Toronto conference in late March. "It implies treaty busting." [...]

So lets not get going on the Russians and Scalar weapons business - a favorite of Tom Bearden's. If anyone decided to test microwave weapons it would be the US and/or the "secret government". One of the few hypotheses regarding the cause of the mysterious Columbia explosion was that it was shot down with a satellite based weapon, perhaps an EM pulse. It is very likely such capabilities really do exist.

Sicily is a great location for such a test. Modern enough to receive data on such an experiment from the media, religious enough for a large portion of the population to listen to the Catholic Church and write it off as the work of demons without further examination of the data. There are a couple of discussion groups in Italian discussing this issue. If any of our readers, who know Italian, want to write a summary for us, we would appreciate it: microwaves are discussed here, and, what appears to us as supernatural explanations are discussed here.

A few more details from The Guardian:

Devil in the detail of Sicily's mysterious village fires

John Hooper in Rome
Wednesday February 11, 2004
The Guardian

Is Lucifer loose on Sicily? No lesser figure than the honorary president of the International Association of Exorcists believes he may be.

"What is happening is what normally happens when the devil enters the lives of those who let him in," Father Gabriele Amorth said yesterday as scientists and officials confessed themselves unable to explain a string of fires and explosions which began in the middle of last month in the fishermen's quarter of a Sicilian village.

Thirty-nine inhabitants of Caronia, on the north coast, were preparing to spend their third night away from their homes last night, having been evacuated at the weekend.

Since then, in an operation that could have come straight from the television series X Files, a multi-disciplinary team of experts armed with measuring devices has been examining the area for clues to the spontaneous combustion of washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, electricity meters and cables.

Gianfranco Allegra, of the Italian Centre for Electro-technical Experimentation, told the newspaper Corriere della Sera that he had watched as "an electrical wire lying on the floor that was not plugged in to the mains inexplicably caught fire". When he reported the incident to his superiors in Milan he was told to sober up.

What makes the incidents all the more puzzling is that the area has been without an electricity supply since January 4.

On Monday the affair took a new turn when a chair burst into flames. Then a fire started in a water pipe.

The mayor of Caronia, Pedro Spinnato, said yesterday: "I have no idea what is going on."

He believed that arson had been ruled out.

Tullio Martella, the regional civil defence chief, said the fires and blasts seemed to derive "from a dispersion of electrical energy, but the origin of the presumed dispersion has yet to be determined".

The houses in which the fires have broken out are all in an area 350 metres (about 380 yards) by 70 metres between the shoreline and a railway.

At first suspicion centred on the railway line, but that has now been discounted.

Yesterday technicians were busy measuring emissions from local mobile telephone facilities.

But Fr Amorth said they should not rule out vibes of a different sort.

"The priest of the parish ought today to go and bless all the houses that have witnessed paranormal phenomena, because that is what they are," he said.

We have a lot to cover today, so let's move on the next topic: "Invasion from outer space."

It's just not fair. We have been discussing UFO's and strange multi-dimensional interactions for years, and received the prerequisite flak for doing so. Now the mainstream media decides to get into the action and hardly an eyebrow is raised in response.

What is going on?! Just a year ago, anyone that even hinted at the idea that ETs were real was immediately consigned to the lunatic fringe. Now, overnight, as if by magic, scientists are "preparing the world for first contact". Taking the reality of ETs for granted (since we feel like doing so today and retain the right to retract), we have long wondered just how the powers that be might go about making the world aware of the reality of "space brothers".

We decided that it would have to be a long drawn out process of acclimatisation, given that they have for so long maintained that we are alone in this vast universe. Never once did we think that our governments and scientists would have the audacity to just come out with it, from one day to the next. Yet that is exactly what they seem to be doing, and the sleeping public will no doubt accept every word they say as truth. In light of this fact, we are beginning to think that we should have copyrighted some of the crazier ideas we came up with, because no doubt we will soon be seeing them splashed across the world's media outlets. We say it again, "no fair!"

When UFOs Arrive

The U.S. and other world governments already have detailed secret plans for first contact.

BY JIM WILSON
Popular Mechanics

Within the scientific community, the question is no longer whether extraterrestrial life exists, but if ET is smart enough to do long division. [...]

Governments and international organizations around the world have taken notice of the changing odds. No governmental official has gone on record claiming that UFOs are real, let alone a threat. Yet with little public fanfare, they have begun preparing for the single most important event in human history: first contact. That is, the moment earthlings discover incontrovertible proof that they are not alone.

Whatever. Regular readers, and those who have done their homework know that such interactions have been going on for years, and not for our benefit.

[...] Unless ET materializes from another dimension in the middle of the Super Bowl, humans most likely will have some advance warning of its arrival. How much time we get to straighten up for extraterrestrial company depends upon who spots ET first. [...]

A side bar on this article mentions that, "The International Academy of Astronautics in Paris maintains a list of volunteers willing to help world governments if ET arrives," and then proceeds to give us the names on the list!

The broad-brush outline for Earth's response to the first alien encounter is set out in an international agreement called the "Declaration of Principles Concerning Activities Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence." Written by a committee of scientists organized by the SETI Institute, the declaration spells out what astronomers should do, and what they should avoid doing, immediately after first contact.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the agreement is that astronomers who sign on to the declaration agree to keep the news of an imminent contact under their hat until the astronomy community and authorities have been notified. [...]

The rest of the article goes on about their "secret" plans, including poking and prodding on Plum Island. Just yesterday we posted an interesting article with the following commentary:

Disclosure and the End of History

[...] Why the cover-up of extraterrestrial visitation? Could there be a more valid reason than fear and greed among the powers that be? Has popular entertainment been used to prepare us? [...]

Comment: A good article that asks some good questions, even if it begins by talking about Dr. Steven Greer of the Disclosure Project. From our research, Greer's work appears to be yet another COINTELPRO style campaign. Which is not to say that some useful information can't be separated from the disinfo. For an interesting perspective on Greer read Dr. Jean-Pierre Petit's commentary: Disclosure: Anatomie d'une Désinformation. (In French and English)

There you have it. The media has been talking about this stuff more and more frequently. We are clearly being set up for some sort of disclosure. Something so shocking that it will rock the status quo to the very core. Perhaps it sounds crazy. For those who are in search of objective reality, this hypothesis has to be at least entertained.

Warning: Researchers who begin digging into this topic with an open mind, and who are not a part of some COINTELPRO disinformation campaign, come away convinced that something sinister has been afoot for hundreds of years. More on this at a later time. Also of interest: A Cosmic Outrage: NASA's Baffling but Deliberate Self-Sabotage. We can't say how accurate this story is at this time, since there are too many variables we have not personally examined.

It appears also that the Anglican Church has not been as honest about their "faith" as they might have been. Allegedly, a survey was carried out where 200 Anglican Priests were asked to recite all ten commandments, only 69 were able to do so. In contrast 100 of the same 200 priests confirmed that they believed in "Space Aliens". But then again, are we surprised? Even the bible claims that YHWH at least once made an appearance in a fire and smoke spewing UFO-like device.

Smoking 'a blight on fertility'

Wednesday, 11 February, 2004

The study, by the British Medical Association, says smoking has caused impotence in 120,000 men aged 30-50.

It is responsible for up to 5,000 miscarriages a year, reduces the chances of successful IVF and is implicated in cases of cervical cancer.

The BMA is calling for tough anti-smoking measures, including help for pregnant women to avoid passive smoke.

The report concludes that the damage inflicted by smoking is evident throughout reproductive life - from puberty to middle age.

Not only can smoking prevent people starting a family, the report says, it can also damage their children.

It says smoking reduces the chances of a woman conceiving by up to 40% per cycle [...]

Comment: In recent years there has been a significant increase in government anti-smoking propaganda. What are the reasons? We suspect that it has little to do with infertility in the population given that the US government is presently urging couples to limit their offspring to 2 or less children. If governments were really concerned about public health they would force tobacco companies to remove the 200 chemicals that are added to each cigarette which cause the most damage to one's health. The answer we think lies elsewhere and may just be linked to the high strangeness that litters todays Signs page.

Water theory evaporates, but Mars mystery deepens

February 11, 2004

The first close-up pictures of the outcrop of rock discovered by NASA's Opportunity rover on Mars rule out the possibility that the layered rock was created by volcanic lava flows.

The finding makes it much less likely that there was once a large body of water at the Meridiani Planum site.

But the photographs revealed a new mystery - small grains of an apparently different material embedded in the layers of stone.

"The deeper we get into this, the more it is reminding me of a mystery novel," said the principal investigator, Steve Squyres, of Cornell University.

"We start getting clues, one at a time. Some of them mean something and some are probably red herrings, and we don't know which is which yet."

The photographs of the outcrop, which the rover team has named Opportunity Ledge, show layers of very fine-grained materials, one- or two-tenths of an inch thick. That is much too thin for lava flows.

The team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has narrowed the possibilities for the rock's formation down to two, Dr Squyres said. "One is that it is volcanic ash, and the other is that it is windblown dust compacted into sedimentary rock.

"Because it is so fine-grained, it is not sandstone", which is formed by minerals precipitating out of standing water.

"It's been sitting there for very long periods of time being sandblasted," he said. The photos even reveal some grains trapped in cracks and depressions.

What is really intriguing, however, are the spherical grains, "embedded in it like blueberries in a muffin", he said. "These are pretty tough. As the rock is eroded away these spherical grains are dropping out."

The tiny balls are very dark grey, much different from the material that forms the layers.

The team has two hypotheses about the origins of the spheres.

Either they were formed when molten rock from volcanoes or meteor impacts was sprayed into the air and froze into spherical shapes, or they were formed when mineral-laden water, possibly from underground springs, diffused through the rock.

The mineral could precipitate out to form the spheres.

Geologists should be able to choose between the two possibilities when they examine the spheres with the rover's instruments.

Comment: We predict that soon there will be "revelations" from NASA's "opportunity" (interesting name eh?) that there is indeed microscopic life on Mars. This may or may not be followed by images of humanoid looking creatures wearing togas, basking in the balmy Martian weather.

Mystery object baffles space station crew

US and Russian space officials say the crew on board the International Space Station has reported an unidentified object outside the orbiting craft.

A NASA representative in Russia says American astronaut Michael Foale and his Russian colleague, Alexander Kaleri, last week observed what they described as a 20 centimetre long strip of soft material which was floating in space.

The representative says it is still unclear what the object was.

He says US and Russian experts are studying photos sent by the crew to determine its origin but insist it posed no danger to the station.

Russian experts say it could have been a piece of the station's insulation, or a strip used to attach some technical equipment to the outside of the station. [...]

Comment: Maybe it was YHWH in his beat up old spaceship on his way back to liberate his people?

Weirdness in Russia

We reported yesterday on the disappearance of Ivan Rybkin, candidate for the Russian presidency. Mr. Rybkin made his appearance known yesterday evening with a phone call to his campaign chief in Moscow, saying he had taken a few days off and was in Kiev. The campaign manager is considering resigning after this escapade, saying that she didn't want to work for someone who wasn't serious. In an interview, a reporter had the following exchange with Rybkin's wife:

"Poor Russia, if this type of person tries to run the country," she told an Interfax reporter.

"You mean your husband?" the reporter asked.

"Yes," she said.

To further complicate matters, the hotel in Kiev said it had no record of Mr. Rybkin's stay.

On his arrival back in Moscow, Rybkin's responses to the press were very strange, as you will see in the articles that follow.

Russian candidate turns up alive in Ukraine

Last Updated Tue, 10 Feb 2004 11:37:51

MOSCOW - A would-be candidate in next month's presidential election in Russia has turned up alive and well in Ukraine, after his family, friends and political staff lost contact with him on Feb. 5.

"I haven't disappeared anywhere," Ivan Rybkin told the radio station Echo of Moscow, adding that he decided to visit friends in Kyiv and not listen to the radio or TV for a few days.

Comment: Perhaps he couldn't hear anything other than the voices being beamed into is head?

Missing Russian candidate returns

Rybkin looked exhausted on his return

A Russian presidential candidate, who went missing for five days, has arrived back in Moscow from Ukraine, saying he might drop out of the race.

Ivan Rybkin said at Moscow airport what had happened since last Thursday was abuse, but gave no further details.

Earlier, he told Russian media he went to visit friends in Kiev and "decided not to listen to the radio or TV".

There had been speculation that Mr Rybkin had been kidnapped or killed to remove him from next month's poll.

Other media reports in Russia suggested that he had staged his disappearance on 5 February as a publicity stunt.

Mr Rybkin, linked to exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, is a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin.

But he is seen as no threat to Mr Putin in the 14 March election.

Upon arriving at Moscow's Sheremetievo airport, Mr Rybkin looked pale and exhausted, a BBC correspondent said.

He described the events of the last five days as the most difficult experience during his 15 years in politics.

He said he was returning "as if I had been in a difficult round of Chechen negotiations".

"I'm very satisfied that I returned," Mr Rybkin said, hinting at a possibility that he might not have come back alive.

'Taking a break'

Earlier, Mr Rybkin defended his disappearance in an interview with Interfax news agency.

"I am entitled to two or three days of private life," he said.

"Last week I decided to take a break from the intrigue that there was about me. I left fruit and money for my wife, who is looking after our grandchildren at the moment, but did not tell her anything.

"I changed my jacket, got on a train and went to Kiev."

He said he switched off his mobile phone and went for walks.

A nationwide search for Mr Rybkin was started at the weekend, after his wife and his campaign manager reported him missing to the Moscow police.

Russian prosecutors briefly opened a murder inquiry on Monday but cancelled it within an hour, citing a lack of evidence.

Comment: "Taking a break"? Is that code for mind control? Kidnapping with threats?

Rybkin Reappears with No Answers

By Caroline McGregor
Staff Writer
Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2004. Page 1

Presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin, whose mysterious disappearance five days earlier made international headlines, surfaced Tuesday in Kiev and flew back to Moscow.

He offered no clear explanation for his absence.

Observers said his puzzling behavior might cost him his political career and alienate those close to him.

Upon arriving in Moscow on Tuesday night, Rybkin said he was considering pulling out of the presidential race.

"I'm very upset that my loved ones took [the absence] in such a way. It's possible that I will drop my candidacy," he told reporters at Sheremetyevo Airport.

He dropped vague hints indicating that his absence was against his will, The Associated Press reported.

Earlier Tuesday, Rybkin told Ekho Moskvy radio from Kiev that he had not been following the news for the past five days and was "shocked" when he picked up a newspaper Tuesday and learned that his absence had created a scare.

"I have the right to two to three days of private life," he told Interfax from the Ukrainian capital.

Rybkin's wife and campaign staff had said they had not heard from him since he was dropped off by his bodyguards at his Moscow apartment Thursday night. Police started looking for him Sunday.

Rybkin told Ekho Moskvy that after coming home Thursday night, he put fruit and money on the table for his wife, who was caring for a grandson, changed his jacket, turned off his cellphone and hopped on a train.

In Kiev, he added, the weather is good this time of year and he was happy for the chance to stroll along city streets as an escape from the stress of his campaign.

FSB spokesman Vadim Shibayev said the last official records of Rybkin crossing the border are on Feb. 3, when he flew to London to meet his political patron Boris Berezovsky, and on Feb. 4, when he flew back, Interfax reported. Rybkin and Berezovsky are both harsh critics of President Vladimir Putin.

Rybkin's sudden reappearance left as many unanswered questions as his sudden disappearance had.

While he was missing, his wife, Albina, repeatedly said she feared he had been kidnapped, even killed, in an attempt to remove him from the presidential race. Skeptics said his disappearance had been staged as a political gimmick to grab headlines and attention.

He vanished as he was waiting for word from the Central Elections Commission on whether it would register his bid to run for president. The commission registered it Friday, and his campaign manager, Ksenia Ponomaryova, picked up the papers in his absence.

Interfax cited a source in the Ukrainian parliament as saying that Rybkin had been meeting with opponents of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. But three opposition leaders denied this.

Some reports suggested that Rybkin planned his own disappearance not as a vote-grabbing trick but as a way to end a political career he had grown tired of. Berezovsky, not Rybkin, has been seen as the driving force behind his presidential candidacy.

Rybkin is a former State Duma speaker and Security Council secretary.

Berezovsky said Tuesday that he could not yet say whether the disappearance was "adventurism or something else." But he doubted there was anything fishy; Rybkin, he told Ekho Moskvy, is "very responsible."

"I'm happy that he's alive and well, but let everything that happened remain on his conscience," fellow presidential contender Irina Khakamada said, Interfax reported.

Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the Rybkin saga is simply a byproduct of an election that lacks competition, substance and an agenda.

"When the result is predetermined, an election is doomed to turn into a caricature," she said. "It has nothing to do with Rybkin, he's just a participant in the farce."

Igor Klyamkin, the head of the Liberal Mission Foundation, said even voters who were not going to vote for Rybkin will feel like they are being jerked around.

"It looked like Belarus, where political opponents disappear. Now all you hear is that he made this up to get more attention. It's not attractive, it's an outrage," he said.

"If this was a PR action, it was fantastically stupid."

Whatever the case, his wife, for one, was less than pleased by her husband's behavior.

"Poor Russia, if this type of person tries to run the country," she told an Interfax reporter.

"You mean your husband?" the reporter asked.

"Yes," she said.

Rybkin's campaign manager, who had been speaking of his disappearance with alarm since Thursday, said she had serious doubts about whether she could continue to work for "such a candidate."

Moscow police were waiting for Rybkin at the airport. Rybkin needed to sign an official statement in order for the search case to be closed, police spokesman Kirill Mazurin said.

Missing Russian says he was just visiting friends
Candidate expresses shock at reports on disappearance

Anna Badkhen, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Moscow -- After vanishing for five days and sparking an international uproar, Russian presidential hopeful Ivan Rybkin turned up alive and healthy in Ukraine on Tuesday. But while his re-emergence ended speculation that he had been kidnapped or killed, his explanation was as puzzling as the disappearance, flabbergasting friends and critics alike.

Fending off questions from reporters in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on his return Tuesday night, a dour-looking Rybkin, in fur hat and sunglasses, said he was "happy to be on my native soil" but suggested that, after all the commotion, he may drop out of the race.

Rybkin, who said he had spent five days in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, added that he was merely taking a break from the presidential race and expressed dismay at the controversy caused by his unannounced trip.

"I am entitled to devote two or three days to my private life," Rybkin told Russia's Interfax news agency in a telephone interview from Kiev. "I came to Kiev to visit my friends. I switched off my mobile phone and never watched television."

Rybkin, 57, an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, vanished Thursday evening, missing his own Friday press conference and a formal ceremony on Saturday to mark his official registration as a presidential candidate.

Wife filed report

His wife, Albina Rybkina, said that when she returned home Thursday night, she found her husband's jacket, as well as some fruit and mail he had brought home, but no sign of Rybkin. Fearing foul play, she filed a missing-person report on Saturday.

Russian law enforcement authorities had been searching for the missing candidate since then. On Monday, prosecutors opened a murder investigation into Rybkin's disappearance and then immediately closed it, citing a lack of evidence.

Rybkin, who flew from Kiev to Moscow late Tuesday, said he was shocked when he finally read reports on his absence in Russian newspapers Tuesday.

"I decided to take a break from the fuss around me. I left my wife, who is currently looking after our grandchildren, some fruit and money, but didn't tell her anything, changed into a different jacket, got on a train and went to Kiev," he said.

Asked if he would consider withdrawing his candidacy, he said, "Yes, I am considering it."

Dull race

The Russian media coverage of Rybkin's disappearance and the suspense surrounding it have eclipsed the otherwise dull presidential race, in which the immensely popular Putin is running against six candidates, all of whom have acknowledged that they don't stand a chance in the March 14 election.

Rybkin's disappearance spurred speculation that he had been kidnapped or murdered by political rivals. Two other prominent members of Rybkin's Liberal Party have been killed in the past two years. Meanwhile, his political opponents claimed it was a publicity stunt to boost his poor public rating ahead of the election. While Putin's popularity hovers above 70 percent, recent public polls show Rybkin in last place, with less than 1 percent support.

Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, a Kremlin foe who is Rybkin's chief financial supporter, said he doubted that Rybkin would participate in a political gimmick, telling the Ekho Moskvy radio station that the candidate was an "endlessly responsible" person.

"If it turns out that this was an escapade, then (Rybkin's) political career is over," said Berezovsky, who is facing fraud charges and lives in self-imposed exile in Britain.

Manager may quit

Russia's state-run Channel One television channel quoted Ksenia Ponomaryova, Rybkin's campaign manager, as saying she would probably quit because she could not help "such a candidate."

"I don't know what was the point of this," Ponomaryova told Ria-Novosti news agency.

And if Rybkin's popularity was low before his disappearance, by Tuesday night it was not clear whether he was even going to get his wife's vote next month.

"I pity Russia if people like this are going to run it," Rybkina told Interfax about her husband.

Ivan the invisible lays claim to Russian presidency

By Arkady Ostrovsky in Moscow
Published: February 10 2004 19:40 | Last Updated: February 10 2004 19:40

Black magic and hypnosis were two explanations offered for the mysterious vanishing act of Ivan Rybkin, a Russian presidential candidate, who disappeared five days ago in Moscow but reappeared safe and sound on Tuesday in Kiev.

Some called it a publicity stunt, others suspected the sinister hand of the security services, but Mr Rybkin's absence transported Russia's often-bizarre politics into the pages of a novel by Nikolai Gogol, the country's master of the absurd.

Mr Rybkin had a mundane explanation for his actions, which have invigorated the country's lifeless presidential campaign.

Speaking to a Moscow radio station, Mr Rybkin said he was feeling tired and decided to visit some friends in Ukraine.

"Last week I decided to take a break [ . . . ] I left fruit and money for my wife, who is currently taking care of the grandchildren, changed my jacket, got on a train and went to Kiev." He said he had switched off his mobile telephones and did not see the newspapers until Monday morning.

Asked to comment on his behaviour, Mrs Rybkin said: "I feel sorry for Russia if people like this want to govern it."

Mr Rybkin, a leader of the Liberal Russia party backed by the self-exiled business tycoon Boris Berezovsky, and an opponent of Mr Putin, had been reported missing by his wife, who found a jacket but no husband when she came home on Thursday evening.

His disappearance sparked a wave of conspiracy theories.

Pro-Kremlin politicians accused Mr Berezovsky of staging the disappearance to publicise his anti-Putin campaign. Mr Berezovsky himself hinted at the involvement of the security services (FSB). The police launched a hunt for Mr Rybkin while his wife and friends lost sleep.

Russia's prosecutors added to the mystery as they first opened a murder inquiry and then closed it an hour later, saying they were "lacking evidence". Meanwhile, a former FSB operative and member of the Russian parliament, said that Mr Rybkin had been seen in a country sanatorium near Moscow belonging to the presidential administration.

Alexander Veshnyakov, head of the election commission, said: "Even if Mr Rybkin remains in this state of uncertain location, he is still a presidential candidate."

Even before his disappearance, Mr Rybkin stood no chance of beating Mr Putin in the March 14 presidential elections. Now, however, he can at least count on the votes of fans of Gogol.

Russia seeks answers over Rybkin

Wednesday, February 11, 2004 Posted: 7:09 AM EST (1209 GMT)

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Confusion continues to surround the disappearance for five days of a Russian presidential candidate.

Moscow police say they hope to speak to Ivan Rybkin, who arrived back in Russia the night before from the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, before officially closing the missing persons case.

His campaign staff refused to comment Wednesday though, and his wife Albina hung up the telephone when an Associated Press reporter tried to call.

Rybkin, a presidential candidate and critic of the Kremlin, gave no explanation to reporters at a Moscow airport of what he had been doing since he disappeared last Thursday.

But the former speaker of Parliament and national security adviser to former President Boris Yeltsin, hinted Tuesday he might have been held against his will. Both his wife and campaign staff had said they feared for his life, concerned he might have been killed or kidnapped.

The disappearance had caused a political sensation, and the mystery deepened when prosecutors launched a murder probe, and then cancelled it. Russia's Federal Security Service also launched an investigation.

Others, however, believe the disappearance might have been a publicity stunt.

Press commentators also said Rybkin's political career was over unless he could show he had been the victim of a "dirty tricks" set-up to discredit him and his financial backer, exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

"It's likely this story will mark the end of his participation in the (March 14) elections," the business daily Kommersant wrote. "That is unless Mr. Rybkin can convince his colleagues and voters that he was not acting of his own free will."

Rybkin is running as an independent in the March 14 presidential election -- which Putin is expected to win easily.

He has poll ratings of barely 1 percent compared to Putin's ratings average of 80 percent and was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying he could withdraw his candidacy for president.

The first word that the 57-year-old had turned up came from his campaign manager, who told CNN Rybkin had called her on his mobile phone Tuesday afternoon, saying he was puzzled by the "hysteria" back in Moscow.

Rybkin, quoted by Interfax news agency, said he had been "hanging out" with his friends, had turned his mobile phone off and did not watch television. He said he noticed a newspaper story about him Tuesday and called Moscow.

At the Moscow airport, Rybkin appeared very serious, refusing to say precisely what happened to him but hinting he might not have survived the stay in Kiev.

"There's really nothing to say. I'm back as if I went through a difficult round of Chechen negotiations. And I'm very glad I'm back," he told reporters.

"And were there any other possibilities?" one journalist asked.

"I don't know, probably there were," he replied.

Another question: "Did they hold you (in captivity) there?"

"It's very difficult to hold me," Rybkin said, "but I all the same think there are good people in Kiev to whom I am very grateful."

Rybkin abruptly ended the questions with, "No comment. I am very disturbed that my daughter cried on the phone with me. Thank God, I am back in my homeland, Nothing more. That's it."

Rybkin mystery: Questions remain

Wednesday, February 11, 2004 Posted: 6:06 AM EST (1106 GMT)

MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- An innocent abroad or a victim of "dirty tricks?" Judgments varied on Wednesday after would-be President Ivan Rybkin returned to Moscow from a five-day mystery absence saying he had been on an impromptu break in Ukraine.

His haggard appearance at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Tuesday night, his evasiveness and his strong hints that he had been under some sort of pressure only added to the mystery about his disappearance.

Press commentators said Rybkin, a fierce critic of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, was bound for political oblivion unless he could show he had been the victim of a "dirty tricks" set-up to discredit him and his financial backer, exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

"It's likely this story will mark the end of his participation in the (March 14) elections," the business daily Kommersant wrote. "That is unless Mr Rybkin can convince his colleagues and voters that he was not acting of his own free will."

Rybkin, a former speaker of parliament, appeared on Tuesday in neighboring Ukraine to the bafflement of aides and family in Russia who had triggered a police hunt by reporting him missing.

He said he had simply decided to leave the house on the night of February 5, without telling his wife, and travel to Kiev for a quick break, away from the political pressure.

He said he was with "friends" and had been "stunned" on Tuesday to learn of the fuss surrounding him back in Moscow.

That explanation triggered sniggers and innuendo in broadcast media in Russia, where the common explanation "he's gone missing" is a euphemism for a man on a prolonged drinking binge or a romantic escapade.

NTV television compared him to Styopa Likhodeyev, one of the heroes of Mikhail Bulgakov's surrealistic classic "Master and Margarita," who under diabolic black magic is spirited away to Yalta -- also in Ukraine -- and returns later, dazed, to Moscow.
Dazed and tired

At the airport Rybkin, a former negotiator with Chechen separatists, seemed pale and dazed and said he was tired. Railing against what he called "arbitrariness" in politics, he said: "I've come back feeling as though I have just completed a round of Chechnya negotiations. I am pleased to be back."

His comments led to speculation that Rybkin -- whose name derives from the word for "little fish" -- had fallen victim to a "dirty tricks" operation that he was too scared to disclose. According to this speculation, he may have been put under pressure to compromise himself and also Berezovsky, an arch-foe of Putin, in the eyes of Russia's electorate.

Another presidential challenger, liberal Irina Khakamada, said that if it was shown he had gone off on a personal impulse "he is not fit to be a politician and should quit the race." If coerced, she said, he should seek asylum in London and tell all.

Rybkin has been strident in his criticism of Putin, accusing him of crushing independent media and mismanaging the drive against Chechen separatists.

But, like the other challengers in the poll, Rybkin poses no real threat to the highly popular Putin's bid for a second term.

Commentators said Rybkin clearly had to come up with a more detailed account of his five missing days to save his political career -- though Berezovsky said this was now over and Rybkin himself said he might now pull out of the presidential race.

"Ivan Rybkin's behavior at the airport indicates he will soon have to give supporters and the public an intelligible version of events in which he does not appear a 'clown' but a victim of political machinations," said the daily Kommersant.

Rybkin says may quit presidential race

MOSCOW. Feb 10 (Interfax) - Presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin said he may pull out of the presidential race. "I am very disappointed that my relatives have handled the situation in such a way," Rybkin said upon arriving from Kyiv to Moscow on Tuesday, referring to his recent trip to Kyiv. "I may leave the presidential race," he said.

Rybkin refused other comment on the situation.

No confirmation of Rybkin visit from Kiev

10.02.2004, 16.48

KIEV, February 10 (Itar-Tass) -- There has been no confirmation from Kiev that candidate for Russian president Ivan Rybkin is staying in the Ukrainian capital.

“No such guest has checked in,” an administrator of the Ukraine Hotel in Kiev told Itar-Tass. “Even if Ivan Rybkin had been staying here anonymously, we would have recognized him.” There is no Rybkin in other hotels of Kiev either.

Staffs of Ukrainian opposition forces did not confirm to Itar-Tass that Ivan Rybkin had met with their leaders.

CEC chairman hints he might know reason why Rybkin is missing

09.02.2004, 12.08

MOSCOW, February 9 (Itar-Tass) -- Chairman of the Central Election Commission Alexander Veshnyakov has declared that the CEC has no grounds not to put presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin, reported missing since Thursday, on the ballot, saying that Rybkin, as a Russian citizen, is vested with all the rights. Veshnaykov made it clear that Ivan Rybkin, a legitimately registered presidential candidate, would be put on the ballot.

Commenting on the news that Rybkin was missing,Veshnyakov said that he, like journalists, learned about it from chief of Ivan Rybklin's election headquarters Ksenia Ponomaryova on February 7, who made an official statement that Rybkin was missing immediately after the CEC session that registered Rybkin a presidential candidate.

No one, except Ponomaryova, knew about Rybkin being missing, that puzzled Veshnyakov, he admitted. Representatives of Rybkin's elections headquarters even asked Veshnyakov to give them Rybkin's mandate of a presidential candidate so as to turn it over to Ivan Rybkin, Veshnyakov said.

According to Veshnyakov, he has his own version of the incident, but said he would not like to voice it.

Meanwhile, the Central Election Commission is planning to finally endorse the ballot on February 10 with the names of all the candidates for presidency.

Russia press assess Rybkin return

By Steve Rosenberg
BBC correspondent in Moscow

A public relations stunt; a badly-timed holiday; or a case of abduction by the secret services?

Russia's papers on Wednesday were full of speculation over Ivan Rybkin's disappearance, and his reappearance five days later.

The headline in the business daily Kommersant: "He's been found!"

On the front page - a giant photograph of Mr Rybkin on his return to Moscow, looking exhausted, and wearing dark glasses.

"It could end his presidential bid, unless he can convince his supporters and the voters that he was being held against his will."

The pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda concluded that Ivan Rybkin's political career was now over.

"The secret services and the police had bust a gut to find him," the paper says angrily.

"And all Rybkin had been doing was taking a holiday in Kiev."

It accuses exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky of planning the whole incident and criticises the West for believing that the Kremlin was in some way linked to Mr Rybkin's disappearance.

Most of the papers on Wednesday feature comments by Mr Rybkin's wife after she had spoken to him on the telephone.

"Poor Russia," she said.

"If people like this are trying to become its leader."

Israeli Troops Kill 13 Palestinians in Gaza

By Nidal al-Mughrabi
February 11, 2004

GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli troops killed at least 13 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in gunbattles during what Israel called raids to root out militants behind attacks on Jewish settlements. [...]

Ten dead in Israeli raid on Gaza

Death toll for recent Gaza raids:
11 Feb - ten Palestinians dead
9 Feb - four Palestinians dead
6 Feb - eight Palestinians dead, including four civilians

Israeli troops are reported to have shot dead 10 Palestinians, including a police officer and seven militants, during an incursion into Gaza City.

The deaths occurred during exchanges of fire after Israeli tanks moved into an eastern area of the city early on Wednesday, residents said.

[...] At least 18 Palestinians were wounded in the incident, including a bodyguard of Sheikh Ahmed Yassim, the Hamas spiritual leader, witnesses said.

A political leader of the Islamic militant group vowed revenge for the deaths.

Moderate earthquake rattles Middle East, damaging Israeli parliament

06:54 AM EST Feb 11

JERUSALEM (AP) - A moderate earthquake rattled a swath of the Middle East early Wednesday, sending jitters throughout the region and causing minor damage to Israel's parliament. No injuries were immediately reported.

The quake rumbled for up to 20 seconds, rattling Israel, Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza. Rumblings were also felt in Syria and Lebanon. At the Knesset, Israel's parliament, investigators found cracks in the ceilings near Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office and in the main auditorium.

Legislators sitting in committee meetings feared a large bomb had gone off, Israel Army radio reported, and a parliamentary debate was cancelled.

[...] Israeli media said the quake was a magnitude 5.0, enough to cause serious damage in a populated area.

A source at the Syrian meteorology agency in Damascus reported several smaller aftershocks but no damage. On Sunday, several small quakes of magnitude were felt in northeast Syria.

The region is located along the Great Rift Valley, which runs for 4,800 kilometres between Syria and Mozambique and passes through the Dead Sea, below Jerusalem's eastern hills.

The fault line was caused by the separation of African and Eurasian tectonic plates 35 million years ago, a split that weakened the Earth's crust.

About 55 kilometres to the north, another fault line cuts the land east to west from the Mediterranean port of Haifa with the West Bank towns of Jenin and Nablus before reaching the Jordan River.

On Dec. 31, a small earthquake of magnitude 3.7 was measured in the Dead Sea region, but no damage was recorded.

The last big earthquake in the area was in 1927, when a magnitude 6.3 quake centred near Jericho in the West Bank, about 25 kilometres east of Jerusalem, killed more than 200 people.

Over 40 Iraqis killed in Baghdad blast

Wednesday 11 February 2004, 10:28 Makka Time, 7:28 GMT

A car bomb has exploded at an Iraqi army recruitment centre in central Baghdad, killing more than 40 recruits, in the second deadly attack against Iraqis working with US occupation forces in 24 hours.

"Forty-seven people were killed and more than 50 injured," General Ahmad Kathim, the Iraqi Interior Ministry undersecretary told Aljazeera's correspondent.

[...] About 50 people were killed in a similar attack on Tuesday against Iraqis outside a police station in the small town of Iskandariya, 40km south of Baghdad.

Iraq: Israeli influence concerns Sunnis

Wednesday 11 February 2004, 14:51 Makka Time, 11:51 GMT

Iraq's most influential Arab Sunni scholar Dr Harith al-Dhari has said he is concerned over "shady rooms" in which the issues of Iraq are being discussed.

Dr al-Dhari who descends from a family well known for resisting the British occupation of Iraq early in the twentieth century, is the secretary-general of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the highest Sunni authority in Iraq, which wants "liberation before elections".

He says "the UN team will achieve no success". He believes elections and the transition of power are worthless as long as Iraq is under occupation.

He denies Iraqi Arab Sunnis do not want elections, fearing they would loose: "The Sunnis in Iraq are more than half of the population, and they might reach 60% of Iraqi people, that is according to the calculations we trust" he said, "the figures quoted for the Shia majority in Iraq are a lie that until now we have not disputed for the sake of national unity."

Dr al-Dhari who lectured Islamic Sharia Law in Iraqi, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, says Israelis and Jews have a strong presence in after-war Iraq.

"Jews are in Iraq now. They are actively working with occupation forces, intelligence and companies allegedly in the country to rebuild Iraq" Dr al-Dhari said.

He says that Iraqi support for Palestinie provoked the Zionists and led them to push for the occupation of Iraq.

Dr Harith al-Dhari agrees with the Shia authority Ali al-Sistani on an Iraqi "free elected council", but says that should be after the liberation of Iraq from foreign occupation.

Rumsfeld says Iraq killings reflect human nature

By Will Dunham
Wednesday February 11, 08:11 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about Tuesday's car bombing in Iraq that killed about 50 people, says there are murders in every major city in the world "because human beings are human beings."

During a Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld also said he could not remember the widely publicised assertion made by U.S. ally Britain in the months before the Iraq war that President Saddam Hussein's forces could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of being ordered to do so. [...]

Asked by a reporter whether he personally had believed the British contention, Rumsfeld said, "I don't know that I want to get into that kind of a subject. First of all, who are you quoting on that?"

A reporter responded that it was "Tony Blair's White Paper."

Rumsfeld then was asked whether he had an opinion on the 45-minute claim when it was first made in 2002.

"I don't remember the statement being made, to be perfectly honest," Rumsfeld replied. [...]

Comment: Rummy's senility seems to set in at rather convenient times - press conferences, for example. It is also a bad sign when a politician ends a statement with, "to be perfectly honest". Are we meant to believe that most of the time, Rumsfeld isn't honest with us?

UN calls for war on Afghan drugs

BBC
Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 17:16 GMT

Foreign troops must target traffickers if Afghanistan is to win its war on drugs, a senior UN official says.

Antonio Mario Costa, head of the UN office on drugs and crime, said a rare US raid on an Afghan opium-processing lab last month should be repeated.

US and Nato-led forces have so far resisted calls to tackle drugs traffickers, saying their first responsibility is to maintain security.

Three-quarters of the world's opium was produced in Afghanistan last year. [...]

The drugs threat to Afghanistan

By Andrew North
BBC correspondent in Kabul
Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 16:11 GMT

The Afghan government is hoping an international drugs conference it has been hosting in the capital, Kabul, will focus much greater attention on the threat to the country from the illegal narcotics trade.

A refugee in Kabul smoking opium
President Hamid Karzai could hardly have been more blunt about how bad things are.

The multi-billion-dollar business that is fed by Afghanistan's vast opium fields is damaging the country's national security, economy and reputation, he said.

"Trafficking and production of heroin helps terrorism," Mr Karzai told delegates. This could "destroy Afghanistan". [...]

Comment: Two years after the fall of the Taleban, much of Afghanistan remains unstable. Armed factions compete in the north, remnants of the Taleban launch almost daily attacks in the south, and drug related violence racks much of the country. And what exactly is it that the US soldiers are there to do? Whose "security" is being maintained?

Afghan intelligence officer killed

BBC
Wednesday, 11 February, 2004, 11:02 GMT


A senior intelligence officer has been killed in an attack in south-eastern Afghanistan. Mohammed Isa, deputy intelligence chief in the troubled province of Khost, was shot dead while on his way into work.

The attacker then tried to escape but blew himself up while being chased by Mr Isa's guards. [...]

9/11 Panel to Get More Access to Memos

By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Feb 10, 7:57 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks will get greater access to classified intelligence briefings prepared for President Bush under an agreement announced Tuesday with the White House.

The 10-member, bipartisan panel had been barred from reviewing notes taken by three commissioners and the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow, who reviewed the data in December but couldn't take the summaries with them.

Under the agreement, the entire commission were allowed to read versions of the summaries that were edited by the White House.

Commissioners reviewed the materials in a daylong meeting Tuesday and said the information provided a better understanding of what the government knew prior to Sept. 11. The panel now is seeking additional interviews with several officials, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

"The report we have today raised some questions," said former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the commission. "There are questions that go to what happened, the history of al-Qaida and the history of the Clinton and Bush administrations."

He declined to discuss details.

The materials in question are the presidential daily briefings prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency. They include a memorandum dated one month before the 2001 attacks that discusses the possibility of airline hijackings by al-Qaida terrorists.

"We're pleased to work with them closely and in a cooperative manner," White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said.

In a statement released Tuesday, the commission said the agreement provided access to all briefings "of critical importance to the commission's work."

"This access to PDBs is unprecedented," the commission said. "We are confident that we can prepare a strong and credible report."

Some commissioners wanted to subpoena the unedited versions but that idea failed on a vote Tuesday by the full panel. Commissioners declined to disclose the vote count.

"I'm disappointed," said commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska who voted for a subpoena. "The White House, I believe, did not keep its word. The agreement narrows the scope of the report."

Commissioner Slade Gorton, a lawyer former Republican senator from Washington, said he was satisfied that the briefings were sufficient.

"My point of view is that I felt we got enough detail and enough substance from the report so that I can make an intelligent judgment," he said.

The Sept. 11 panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, was established by Congress to study the nation's preparedness before the attacks and its response afterward, and to recommend ways to guard against similar disasters.

Commission members have complained that their work repeatedly has been delayed because of disputes with the administration over access to documents and witnesses. Last month, the panel asked Congress to give it two additional months to finish its work, with a July 26 deadline. After opposing an extension, President Bush last week reversed course and said he supported it.

The dispute over documents also comes amid growing complaints of alleged politicization on the commission. A July deadline would mean the report would be released one month before the Republican National Convention in New York, the site of the World Trade Center collapse.

Family members of the Sept. 11 victims, who are seeking a January 2005 deadline to limit the influence of election-year politics, criticized the agreement to release edited summaries.

"It sends a dangerous signal to all future presidents if 3,000 people die on your watch, you can still stonewall, prevent a full investigation and escape any accountability or responsibility," said Kristen Breitweiser of New Jersey, a member of the Sept. 11 commission's Family Steering Committee. Her husband Ronald died in the World Trade Center.

The commission previously has issued three subpoenas to force disclosure of documents, and it was under a subpoena threat that the White House last fall agreed to access to the daily briefings. The panel also has subpoenaed the Defense Department, the Federal Aviation Administration and New York City.

More hearings are planned sometime in March and will focus on intelligence issues.

Comment: Talk about a sell-out! They give up the idea to subpoena UNEDITED records just to read EDITED records? What kind of investigation is that?? Keystone Kops anyone?

White House Releases Bush Military Record

By SCOTT LINDLAW
Feb 10, 7:09 PM (ET)


WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House, trying to end doubts about President Bush's Vietnam-era military record, released documents Tuesday that it said proved he had "met his requirements" in the Texas Air National Guard despite long, unexplained gaps in his service.

"These documents outline the days on which he was paid. That means he served," said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan. However, Democrats were dismissive of the newly released records. [...]

At the same time, White House officials were careful to stop short of claiming that the records proved definitively that Bush had shown up for all the Guard duties he was expected to.

Indeed, the payroll documents and annual service "point summaries" could throw new fuel onto a story the White House wants to quench this election year. [...]

Editorial: Bush cried 'wolf' on Iraq's threat

Toronto Star
Feb. 10, 2004. 01:00 AM

A year ago U.S. President George Bush warned the world that Saddam Hussein was "a grave and gathering danger" who "continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," making him "an urgent threat to America."

"The dictator of Iraq and his weapons of mass destruction are a threat to the security of free nations," Bush warned. He cited, approvingly, a British report that Iraq could launch weapons on 45 minutes' notice.

Vice-President Dick Cheney, too, saw a "mortal threat." Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Iraq a "terrorist state." Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, evoked the spectre of a "mushroom cloud."

It was all scare tactics. We now know Saddam had no serious ties to the 9/11 terrorists, and he had bowed to the United Nations and scrapped his nuclear, chemical and biological programs. The British report was bogus. Bush was crying wolf, and he's now scrambling to justify a $150 billion war, 600 U.S. and allied deaths and 13,000 Iraqi deaths.

All this was dismally evident in Bush's weekend interview with NBC, where he trotted out a feeble and incoherent Version B rationale for war.

After describing himself as a "war president" who makes decisions "with war on my mind," Bush vilified Saddam as a "madman" a half-dozen times. He said the U.S. had "run the diplomatic string in Iraq" (that is, exhausted diplomatic options) before attacking. He said Iraq "could have developed a nuclear weapon over time." So this was "a war of necessity."

Version B may have played well with Bush's core Republican constituency, but it isn't any more believable than Version A.

Saddam may have been a brutal despot with the blood of many Iraqis on his hands, but he's not a "madman." Indeed, he may be tried for his crimes. Moreover, the U.N. Security Council disagreed profoundly that Bush had exhausted all diplomatic means. U.N. inspectors begged for more time, to test Saddam's claim that he had disarmed. Bush refused, and attacked.

Had the U.N. inspections continued, Saddam couldn't have developed a nuclear or any other nightmare weapon. So the notion that this was a "war of necessity" is laughable. This was a "pre-emptive" strike, period.

In recent months Bush has also test-driven another line of argument, Version C, saying Iraqis are now better off. Yet Paul Wolfowitz, the hawkish deputy defence secretary, frankly admits that Saddam's brutality was "not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did." So Version C fails, too, as a reason for invading.

The polls suggest Bush has struck out three times with these ever shifting rationales. More Americans now mistrust him than trust him.

Prime Minister Paul Martin must keep this flailing in mind, if Bush proposes to use force against other threats "before they become imminent." Americans were sent to war on false pretences. Allies don't have to oblige.

Clark to Withdraw From Presidential Race

French Parliament votes to ban religious garb in public schools

06:54 AM EST Feb 11

French Education Minister Luc Ferry, right, and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin sit at the National Assembly in Paris, Tuesday. (AP/Laurent Rebours)
ELAINE GANLEY

PARIS (AP) - France took a decisive step Tuesday toward banning Islamic head scarves from public schools, with legislators overwhelmingly backing the government's drive to preserve French secularism from Islamic fundamentalism.

Legislators voted by a massive 494-36 margin to approve the controversial ban on head scarves and other religious apparel - despite protests and criticism from around the world that the measure infringes on religious freedom. The legislation goes to the Senate, where little opposition is anticipated, in early March. It is expected to be implemented for the 2004-2005 school year that starts in September.

The bill got far more than the 288 votes needed to pass in the 577-seat National Assembly, a measure of its popularity within France, demonstrated repeatedly in public opinion polls.

"The Republic and secularism are strengthened," said Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, hailing "the magnitude of this vote."

French leaders hope the legislation will quell the debate over head scarves that has divided France since 1989, when two young girls were expelled from their school in Creil, outside Paris, for wearing head scarves. Scores more have been expelled since then.

The bill stipulates that "in schools, junior high schools and high schools, signs and dress that conspicuously show the religious affiliation of students are forbidden." It would not apply to students in private schools or to French schools in other countries.

The legislation does not spell out what apparel would be banned, but it targets Islamic head scarves, as well as Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.

Sanctions for refusing to remove conspicuous religious symbols and clothing would range from a warning to temporary suspension from school to expulsion.

The government argues that a law is needed to protect France's secular traditions and to ward off rising Islamic fundamentalism.

Swiss govt against apartheid reparations case

Wendell Roelf
iafrica.com
Tue, 10 Feb 2004

An American court should not decide a class action law suit seeking reparations for apartheid from international companies, the Swiss government said on Tuesday.

"We are particularly concerned about the extraterritorial application of US laws," said Swiss ambassador Eric Martin of the multi-billion rand law suit, which targeted a number of international companies, including some Swiss banks.

Martin, who was addressing a group of South African journalists in Berne, said the Swiss government was following the developments in the Washington district court "very closely" and were in regular contact with stakeholders across the world. [...]

Uganda expels troublesome priest

BBC
Wednesday, 11 February, 2004, 12:08 GMT


The Ugandan army has banned a Roman Catholic priest from the war-torn north for "making false allegations" against the security forces.

Father Carlos Rodriguez, from Spain, had accused the army of starting a fire at a camp for displaced people and then shooting at people as they escaped.

The army spokesman told the BBC the priest must leave "for his own safety".

Correspondents say the priest has criticised the army's handling of the war with Lord's Resistance Army rebels. [...]

Uganda's atrocious war (WARNING: Graphic Image)

By Will Ross
BBC, Kitgum, Uganda
Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK

Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has become synonymous with torture, abductions and killings.

"They tied me and laid me down. They told me not to cry. Not to make any noise. Then one man sat on my chest, men held my arms, legs, and one held my neck".

"Another picked up an axe. First he chopped my left hand, then my right. Then he chopped my nose, my ears and my mouth with a knife."

23-year-old David was abducted by rebels of the LRA, who falsely accused him of being a government soldier.

While they were carrying out these atrocities, David pleaded with the rebels to kill him.

Instead they wrapped up David's ears in a letter warning people against joining the government forces. [...]

US destroys nearly 74,000 chickens in second case of Avian flu

AFP
Wednesday February 11, 7:50 AM


US authorities destroyed a flock of nearly 74,000 chickens after confirming a second case of Avian flu in Delaware state.

While the infection is not the same as the Avian flu that has been blamed for the deaths of 19 people in Asia, US officials still expressed concern after the new outbreak. [...]

Winter storm blows across Saskatchewan

Major multi-vehicle collision near Balgonie

CBC
Feb 10 2004 04:46 PM CST

REGINA - Poor visibility and slippery road conditions are being blamed for a pile up involving up to 30 vehicles, including at least four semi-trailers just east of Regina. [...]

Student accused of running 'killer-for-hire' website

Ananova.com
11:07 Wednesday 11th February 2004

A 25-year-old college student has been charged with conspiracy to murder for operating a killer-for-hire website in South Korea.

He took thousands of pounds from customers.

Police said in one case, the student, identified only by his surname, Kim, received £5,000 from a 22-year-old woman who wanted her ex-boyfriend and his wife murdered.

Investigator Chung Dong-yul said Kim had promised he would have the two killed in a staged traffic accident. [...]

None of the killings were carried out. Police say they are not charging Kim with attempted murder because he had no concrete plans to fulfil the deals he made.

Kim told police he opened the internet site because he could not find a job and needed to repay an £800 loan. If convicted, Kim could be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

Atkins' Records Ignite Another Diet Fight

By SARA KUGLER, Associated Press Writer
February 11, 2004

NEW YORK - The debate over Dr. Robert Atkins' popular high-fat, low-carb diet flared posthumously when it was learned that Atkins himself was a bloated 258 pounds at his death.

A city medical examiner's report filed after Atkins' 2003 death from a fall showed the 6-foot doctor was at a weight normally considered obese. A physicians group that is highly critical of the diet released details of the report Tuesday, claiming the Atkins diet led to weight and heart troubles for its 72-year-old creator.

Atkins' allies immediately disputed that.

The Atkins Physicians Council said the carbohydrate-shunning doctor gained more than 60 pounds through fluid retention in the eight days he spent in a coma before dying last April. He had slipped on an icy street and hit his head.

Atkins weighed 195 pounds when he was admitted, the group's chairman said. [...]

Comment: In a world gone mad that is now literally bursting into flames, all these people can talk about is a diet...

French bride weds dead boyfriend

Dressed in black, a 35-year-old Frenchwoman has married her boyfriend.

But Christel Demichel's wedding needed special permission because her policeman boyfriend, Eric, was killed by a hit-and-run driver 18 months ago.

The bride said she knew some people might be shocked but Eric's death had not dimmed her feelings for him.

The wedding at Nice city hall, attended by the couple's close friends and family, took place on what would have been Mr Demichel's 30th birthday.

Respect

"Eric and I promised when he was alive that we would get married," Mrs Demichel told France's La Chaine Info TV.

"Even though he is dead, I respect the values I shared with him, especially as his death was not his fault."

[...] Mrs Demichel's lawyer, Gilbert Collard, said the fight to get permission for the marriage had not been an easy one. He said the law allowing posthumous marriage - a rarely used legal provision - was introduced in France by General de Gaulle.

"It provides a means of giving legal expression to an emotional reality," he said.

Three Wise Men May Have Been Neither Wise Nor Men

Nelson Mandela was freed from prison on this day

Ananova.com
07:12 Wednesday 11th February 2004

Events that occurred on this day in history include:

1858: The Miracle of Lourdes took place when St Bernadette (peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous) had her first vision of the Virgin Mary.

1929: The 109 acres of the Vatican in Rome was made an independent sovereign state under the Lateran Treaty.

1990: South Africa's black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela was freed from prison after 27 years. [...]

Man fined $10,000 after going to church

February 10, 2004
2004 WorldNetDaily.com

A Maine resident is facing two $5,000 fines for twice crossing the U.S.-Canada border so he could attend church.

The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection recently notified Richard Albert, 52, of the fines, saying he violated new tighter security regulations by crossing back into the U.S. on Sundays, when the local crossing station was closed, reported the Bangor Daily News.

According to the report, Albert's home is right next to the U.S. Customs office, a mere 30 yards from the international border. His church, however, is on the Canadian side.

Although Albert has been crossing the border with relative freedom for more than 40 years, the feds have eliminated the program that allows pre-approved people to cross the border when border stations are closed.

"It was never an issue to cross before May 1, 2003, when they put a gate on the boundary and locked it up," Albert told the Bangor paper. "This situation, it's like having a nightmare, and you feel that Big Brother is really controlling you and you can do nothing about it."

Albert described the day he was busted: "I was coming home from church like I do every Sunday. They [Customs officials] said I was caught on tape re-entering the U.S. That's what they said, 'caught on tape.'"


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