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News Headlines & Trends

1.07.08 Iranians threatened US ships in Hormuz - US officials

WASHINGON (Reuters) January 7 - Five Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats harassed and provoked three US Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route off the Iranian coast, during the weekend, Pentagon officials said on Monday. The captain of one of the US ships was in the process of giving an order to fire but the order was not implemented as the Iranian boats then moved away, one official said.

The official said the five Iranian speedboats "pretty much swarmed" the three US vessels in international waters with the Iranians threatening that one of the US ships would blow up in minutes. US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, were confirming a report first aired by CNN. [More.>thestar.com.my ; See related story, thenews.com.pk, January 7, " Iran plays down incident with US ships."]

1.07.08 Bombs kill 17 including Iraq volunteer leader

BAGHDAD (AP) January 7 - A double suicide attack outside an agency that cares for Sunni mosques and shrines killed 12 people on Monday, including a prominent leader of a U.S.-backed group fighting al-Qaeda, officials and witnesses said. A police officer said as many as 14 people died in the twin bombing, the deadliest in a series of attacks across the capital. Three other bombs killed five more people, police said. The double bombing comes a little more than a week after an audiotape of Osama bin Laden was released in which he called for renewed attacks on the mostly Sunni armed groups. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

1.07.08 Afghan bomb kills coalition soldier

KABUL (AP) January 7 - A roadside bomb killed a soldier from the U.S.-led coalition in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, and a suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a border police patrol in the south, killing a policeman, officials said. Clashes and another roadside bomb left nine people dead elsewhere. In the eastern blast, two other US-led coalition soldiers were wounded when the roadside bomb hit their vehicle in Kot district of Nangarhar province, the coalition said in a statement. The troops were responding to a call from the local police who had discovered another explosive device nearby, when the second bomb exploded, the statement said. [More>>indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org]

1.07.08 Tribal mediators killed in Pakistan'

January 7 - Tribal fighters in Pakistan's troubled northwest region have killed eight local leaders involved in peace negotiations. Authorities said that the men were killed in separate attacks late on Sunday and early on Monday in South Waziristan, a mountainous region close to Afghanistan. Officials said the men were scheduled to meet on Monday in Wana to discuss ongoing efforts to negotiate peace between Pakistani forces and the fighters. [More>>aljazeera.net; See related story, thenews.com.pk, January 7, "Five alleged suicide attackers arrested in Sargodha."]

1.07.08 Disappearing world: The village falling into the sea

January 7 - Skipsea is disappearing fast. It sits on the fastest-eroding coastline in Europe and every year the sea swallows another chunk of land. Mark Hughes visits the people living on the edge. The sign as you enter Skipsea is an immediate indication that something is wrong. "Danger," it reads. "Enter at your own risk." Just ahead, there is a huge hole in the middle of the road, blocking your path.

The village of Skipsea sits, precariously, on Yorkshire's East Riding coastline – the fastest eroding coastline in Europe. As 2008 begins, many of the villagers have a common new year's resolution: to leave their doomed village before their homes are washed into the sea. Official figures estimate that this coastline loses an average of 18 inches a year. The council estimates that 13 homes in the village will disappear in the next five years, with a further 78 likely to be lost by 2058. But, worryingly, the residents of Skipsea, which has a population of just 600, say these estimates are far too optimistic. [More>>independent.co.uk]

1.07.08 Gaza Strip: IDF kills terrorist 'couple'

January 7 - Two armed Palestinians, a man and a woman, approached IDF troops near the Erez Crossing Monday afternoon and started shooting, prompting return fire, Army Radio reported. The two combatants were killed in the incident. The IDF found additional ammunition on the scene, including an explosive device on the woman's person. Soldiers said the two were holding hands, apparently pretending to be a couple. Palestinian sources named the woman as Usma Abu Fanuna, of the Nuseirat refugee camp. No casualties were reported among the soldiers.

According to the IDF, female bombers were responsible for the deaths of up to 37 Israeli civilians through the seven years of the Second Intifada. The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, saying the woman managed to detonate the explosives on her person rather than being killed by the soldiers. [>jpost.com]

1.06.08 US military not welcome in Pakistan: army

ISLAMABAD (AFP) January 6 - The Pakistani military reacted angrily on Sunday to reports that US President George W. Bush is considering covert military operations in the country's volatile tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. "It is not up to the US administration, it is Pakistan's government who is responsible for this country," chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP. "There are no overt or covert US operations inside Pakistan. Such reports are baseless and we reject them."

The New York Times reported on its website late Saturday that under a proposal being discussed in Washington, CIA operatives based in Afghanistan would be able to call on direct military support for counter-terrorism operations in neighboring Pakistan. Citing unnamed senior administration officials, the newspaper said the proposal called for giving Central Intelligence Agency agents broader powers to strike targets in Pakistan.

Pakistan's western tribal belt is seen as a safe haven for Taleban and al-Qaeda militants who carry out attacks in Afghanistan, as well as the most likely hideout for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The United States now has about 50 soldiers in Pakistan, the report said. [More>>khaleejtimes.com ; See also thenews.com.pk, January 6, Pakistan rejects report on US operations in tribal region." and
nytimes.com, January 6, "US considers new covert push within Pakistan."]

1.06.08 Bomber strikes on Iraqi Army Day

BAGHDAD (AP) January 6 - Two Iraqi soldiers threw themselves on a suicide bomber who slipped into a crowd celebrating Iraq's Army Day, but the attacker detonated an explosives vest, killing both soldiers and nine other people, the US military and police said. It was the deadliest of a series of attacks across Baghdad that left as many as 16 people dead.

About two dozen soldiers were in the street celebrating at an Army Day event hosted by a local non-governmental agency pushing for unity in Iraq. Several soldiers and civilians lay in pools of blood after the attacker struck, AK-47 machine guns and shoes scattered on the ground. Among the dead were four police officers, three Iraqi soldiers and four civilians, a police officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media. A US military statement four people were killed. [More>>nytimes.com]

1.06.08 American Al-Qaeda leader to Bush: 'We will be waiting for you'

January 6 - Native Californian al-Qaeda Leader Makes Threats Against Bush Middle East Visit. American al-Qaeda leader Adam Gadahn told his followers to welcome Bush "with bombs and traps" upon his upcoming visit to the Middle East this week.

"The occupied territories are awaiting their first visit by the crusader Bush and the mujahideen are also waiting for him," said Gadahn, a California native and now an al-Qaeda spokesman. Gadahn is the star of the latest al-Qaeda propaganda video to be posted online by the group's media wing, As Sahab. In his newest dramatic gesture, Gadahn tore up his US passport in protest of the imprisonment of fellow al-Qaeda followers Abu Zubaydah, John Walker Lindh and Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman. "I don't need it to travel anyway," he said afterwards.

Gadahn made reference to November's Annapolis conference of Middle Eastern leaders, saying it was a gathering of Bush's "loyal puppets." He said the United States has been "unmistakably defeated" in Iraq in Afghanistan and has lost the battle for hearts and minds "in spectacular fashion."
[More>>abcnews.go.com ; See also aljazeera.net and alarabiya.net]

1.06.08 Bishop warns of no-go zones for non-Muslims

January 6 - Islamic extremists have created "no-go" areas across Britain where it is too dangerous for non-Muslims to enter, one of the Church of England's most senior bishops warns today. The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester and the Church's only Asian bishop, says that people of a different race or faith face physical attack if they live or work in communities dominated by a strict Muslim ideology.

The Muslim Council of Britain today described his comments as "frantic scaremongering," while William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said the bishop had "probably put it too strongly." Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the idea of no-go areas was "a gross caricature of reality." Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Bishop Nazir-Ali compares the threat to the use of intimidation by the far-Right, and says that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christianity to be the nation's public religion in a multifaith, multicultural society.

His comments come as a poll of the General Synod - the Church's parliament - shows that its senior leaders, including bishops, also believe that Britain is being damaged by large-scale immigration. Bishop Nazir-Ali, who was born in Pakistan, gives warning that attempts are being made to give Britain an increasingly Islamic character by introducing the call to prayer and wider use of sharia law, a legal system based on the Koran. [More>>telegraph.co.uk]

1.06.08 British wards are closed as vomiting bug spreads

January 5 - The rapid spread of the winter vomiting virus shows no signs of slowing and is causing chaos throughout the NHS. More than 100 wards were closed to new admissions yesterday and routine surgery was cancelled as hospitals struggled to curb the spread of the norovirus. More than 100,000 people a week are going down with the highly contagious bug, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea lasting up to three days, leading to widespread absence from workplaces and schools.

The Health Protection Agency said the peak season for the norovirus began a month earlier than usual, in December, and the number of cases was at a five-year high. A spokesman added: "This is the highest year since 2002 but we are not overly concerned. Every year we have ward closures and people off sick. The effects are in line with previous years." [More>>independent.co.uk ; See related story, khaleejtimes.com, January 6, (Hong Kong) "Filipinos at biggest risk to new infection."]

1.05.08 Iraqi soldier deliberately shot dead two US troops

BAGHDAD (Reuters) January 5 - An Iraqi soldier opened fire on US troops during a joint patrol in the northern city of Mosul on Dec. 26, killing two and wounding three others along with a civilian interpreter, Iraqi and US officials said on Saturday. The US military said it was not clear why the Iraqi soldier had opened fire, but two Iraqi generals told Reuters the attacker had links to Sunni Arab insurgent groups.

The US military said in a statement the two soldiers were Captain Rowdy Inman and Sergeant Benjamin Portell, both assigned to 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, III Corps, based in Fort Hood, Texas. "The Iraqi soldier who allegedly opened fire fled the scene but was identified by other Iraqi army personnel and was then apprehended. Two Iraqi army soldiers are now being held in connection with the incident," the military said. [More>>khaleejtimes.com ; See related stories,
metimes.com, January 5, "iraqi citizens' group finds weapons cache." and
metimes.com, January 4, "US raid on al-Qaeda kills two." and
indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org, January 5, "Al-Qaeda uses women as suicide attackers."

1.05.08 Mud barriers collapse, hundreds flee in panic'

January 6 - An embankment built to contain the hot mud that has been flowing from an oil drilling well in Porong, Sidoarjo regency, East Java, has collapsed, forcing hundreds of residents to flee in panic. The collapsed embankment has caused mud to flow into the area, paralyzing the nearby railway track and road transportation. Mudflow Mitigation Agency's coordinating team head Soenarso said Friday the embankment collapsed at 10pm on Thursday at Ketapang Keres village in Tanggulangin district, Sidoarjo.

"We've been able to repair the damage of the nine-meter embankment, but we will work hard to exhaust water and mud, which has submerged railway tracks and the main road with 20 to 80 centimeters of mud," Sonarso said. On Thursday night, mud levels had reportedly reached one meter. Vehicles were trapped when a truck transporting instant food packages overturned in the flow of the water. Soenarso said the collapse was caused by the sinking level of land surface around the main embankment near the well. [More>>thejakartapost.com]

1.05.08 10 killed in Swat Shelling

SWAT, January 5 - Security forces are using heavy artillery shells to force any remaining militants out of Swat valley. At least 10 people have been killed in on-going clashes. In Tehsil Kabbal district, seven family members were killed after an artillery shell hit their house. In Kala Kalay area, artillery shells used against militants had mistakenly struck three civilians houses killing three persons and injuring a woman. Meanwhile, curfew relaxation has been announced in Swat from 7:00am to 6:00pm. [>thenews.com.pk]

1.04.08 'Olmert, Abdullah II discussed division of Jerusalem'

January 4 - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jordan's King Abdullah II discussed the division of Israel's capital during a brief visit Olmert held with the monarch Thursday, the London based Al Hayat reported Friday. Quoting Jordanian sources, the prime minister and the king discussed at length issues relating to a final status settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Apart from the potentiality of ceding parts of Jerusalem, the two also addressed the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Reportedly, during the meeting which was aimed at coordinating positions ahead of a visit by US President George W. Bush slated for next week, Abdullah II told Olmert that the latter had to stand up to commitments he made in the past, and begin making public statements regarding the division of Jerusalem. [More>>jpost.com]

1.04.08 Turkish police hold four over deadly bombing

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AFP) January 4 - Turkish police have detained four suspects over a deadly car bomb attack in the main Kurdish city of Diyarbakir and more explosives have been seized, officials said Friday. No one has claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack, which killed five people and wounded 68, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pointed to the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Investigators believe the bomb was made of about 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of explosives of a type the PKK has frequently used, a police source said on condition of anonymity. [More>>turkishpress.com]

1.04.08 Analysis: India's new terror hotbed

NEW DELHI (UPI, editorial by Kushal Jeena) January 4 - Following frequent terrorist strikes, the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has emerged as a new terror hotbed as major militant groups have found a suitable base developed by the rebel Harkat-ul-Ansar 14 years ago, Indian security and intelligence agencies say.

"The predawn terror strike on a camp of the CRPF demonstrates that jihadis are determined to make Uttar Pradesh their new major area of operation after military and security forces pushed them to the wall in Jammu and Kashmir," said a top official of the Intelligence Bureau, who asked his name not be used. CRPF refers to India's paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force.

He said militant outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Ansar and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen have a strong presence in the western part of the state. Lashkar-e-Toiba, which India regards as a terrorist group, uses the banned Student Islamic Movement of India's network in the state, the official said, adding the state has been on the radar of terrorists for more than a decade. [More>>metimes.com]

1.04.08 'Hand of God' favors Israel in peace talks: Olmert

JERUSALEM, January 4 - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the "hand of God" had helped create an international climate that is favorable to Israel in its peace negotiations with the Palestinians, according to an interview published on Friday. Olmert heaped praise on Bush, saying "in all my years of public life, since 1973, I don't recall that America was led by someone as friendly since the days of president (Gerald) Ford" and adding that "he doesn't apply pressure. I know for certain that he (Bush) backs our red lines" and that "he doesn't say a thing that he thinks will make life harder for Israel."

He said it is a coincidence that is almost 'the hand of God' that Bush is president of the United States, that Nicolas Sarkozy is the president of France, that Angela Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, that Gordon Brown is the prime minister of England and that the special envoy to the Middle East is Tony Blair. "What possible combination could be more comfortable for the state of Israel?"

1.04.08 Job growth numbers send stocks lower

January 4 - The unemployment rate surged to 5 percent in December as the nation added only 18,000 jobs, the smallest monthly increase in four years, the Labor Department reported on Friday. Economists treated the report as the most powerful evidence to date that the United States could well be falling into a recessionary downturn in economic activity, and investors responded by sending the stock market down sharply. "This is unambiguously negative," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. "The economy is on the edge of recession, if we’re not already engulfed in one." [More>>nytimes.com]

1.04.08 Iraqis resort to selling children

BAGHDAD, January 4 - Abu Muhammad, a Baghdad resident, found it difficult to let go of his daughter's hand but he had already convinced himself that selling her to a family outside Iraq would provide her with a better future. "The war disgraced my family. I lost relatives including my wife among thousands of victims of sectarian violence and was forced to sell my daughter to give my other children something to eat," he told Al Jazeera.

...By mid-2007, conditions for his family had become desperate and his children, once healthy and bubbling with life, had become gaunt and lethargic. It was then that a translator and a Swedish couple claiming to be part of an international NGO arrived in the makeshift refugee camp. "They heard about my situation and the woman, who said she could not have babies, offered some money to give her my youngest daughter of two years old," he said.
[Full story>>aljazeera.net]

1.03.08 New safety Bike introduced by the Crimethlne Workers Collective

January 3 - The Crimethlne Workers Collective produced a new video documenting the development of a new safety bike. The music on the video is perhaps worth listening to. There is not too much dialogue in the documentary, since the producers no doubt felt that the visual affects would tell all; or they might have been another casualty of the writer's strike. Other works by the collective can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYB7CpwxcUw

The video begins with mumbling and then an exclamation:

First speaker: Oh my God, that was so [expletive] great!
Second speaker: Ha, Ha.
Second speaker: (unrecognizable comment, possibly Welsh?)
Second speaker: Faster! (more unrecognizable speech)
(Second attempt), speaker: whoo, whoo! Yeaaa!
(Third attempt), speaker: whoo, whoo!
(Third attempt): M God! My..(unrecognizable speech) Ohhhh; ya (unrecognizable speech) Ahhhh, yeaa (unrecognizable speech) aghh, yeah, aye, wahoo, wahoohoo..

1.03.08 Commentary: Absurdistan?

January 3 (editorial by Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI Editor at Large) - There is a fresh and sordid postscript to Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Tainted by her husband Asif Ali Zardari's penchant for graft and corruption, Bhutto was twice fired as Prime Minister (1990 and 1996). Her closest friends now say she did not appoint Zardari to succeed her as party leader in case of death. The political testament Zardari read on television was his recent creation, not hers.

These friends of longstanding had never heard of such a document. Zardari is known as "Mr. 10 percent" and is widely reviled as one of the most corrupt political hacks of the past 30 years. As "minister of investment" in Bhutto's second Cabinet, all government contracts passed through his hands. They were not approved until a kickback was deposited in a numbered foreign bank account. There are cases pending against him in three foreign jurisdictions, including Switzerland, for money-laundering.

...When arrested the first time in 1990, after Bhutto was first dismissed as prime minister, Zardari was accused of tying a remote-controlled bomb to the leg of a U.K.-based Pakistani businessman, Murtaza Bukhari, and the sending him into a bank to withdraw money from his account for a payoff he had been avoiding. In 1993, when Bhutto regained power, Zardari was plucked out of prison to be made the minister in charge of government investments (i.e., contracts). No sooner was Bhutto deposed the second time than Zardari was charged with the murder of Mir Murtaza Bhutto, his wife's influential brother, who was expected to play the role of PPP leader.

...If the Bhutto dynasty holds, the legitimate heir of the PPP is Sanam Bhutto, Bhutto's younger sister and only daughter left among the children of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the prime minister who was hanged by the previous military dictator. Sanam is convinced the assassination of Benazir's brother, Murtaza, was ordered by Zardari. Murtaza's widow and children are also certain Zardari was involved..
[Full story>>metimes.com ; See related story, indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org, January 3, "Bhutto leaves mixed legacy for women."]

1.03.08 Fears over fish stocks as jellyfish invade Baltic Sea

January 3 - Finnish marine biologists have identified a dangerous species of invasive jellyfish in the Baltic and raised fears that the creature has the potential to drastically reduce fish stocks in what is already regarded as one of the world's most polluted seas. Evidence collected by scientists aboard the Aranda, a ship operated by the Finnish Institute of Marine Research, revealed that the Mnemiopsis leidyi species of jellyfish which caused huge declines in fish stocks in the Black and Caspian Seas had been sighted in the Baltic's Gulf of Finland.

Dr. Markku Viitasalo, one of the institute's senior marine biologists, said yesterday that the crew of the Aranda spotted the species of combed jellyfish, which had never been seen in the Baltic before, while cruising in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland last week. He said the species almost certainly arrived in the Baltic after leaving the waters off North and South America which are their natural habitat and entering the ballast tanks of container ships plying the Atlantic for Europe. [More>>independent.co.uk ; See related stories of jellyfish invasions, Maravot News, 11.24.07, "Northern Ireland: return of the killer jellyfish."]

1.03.08 Afghan attack kills Indian engineer

January 3 - An Indian engineer and six Afghan policemen have been killed in a suicide attack in western Afghanistan, officials say. The blast on Thursday in the Khashrud district of Nimroz province was the first suicide bombing this year. According to Ghulam Dastgir Azad, Nimroz's governor, the attack left 11 policemen and two Indian engineers wounded in addition to the fatalities. Azad said: "At this point we know that an Indian engineer and six policemen have been killed in the suicide bombing. First they detonated a bomb hidden in a motorbike on the side of the road. When police came to see what's happening, a suicide bomber came up and blew himself up among them." No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. [More>>aljazeera.net]

1.03.08 Cargo ship sinks in Sea of Azov, at least 3 dead

SOFIA / KIEV (Reuters) January 3 - A Bulgarian cargo ship with 11 crew on board sank in rough weather in the Sea of Azov on Thursday, drowning at least three seamen, rescue officials said. The ship sank near the narrow Kerch Strait, between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, where a dozen vessels were sunk or damaged in a storm last November.

One Bulgarian seaman was rescued alive, Russian news agencies reported, but efforts to recover more crew from the vessel, called the Vanessa, were hampered by stormy conditions. Ukraine's Emergencies Ministry said three bodies had been found. Russian rescue headquarters in the port of Novorossiisk put the figure at four, RIA news agency reported. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

1.03.08 Number of dead in Diyarbakir blast climbs to 5

DIYARBAKIR, January 3 - The number of dead in today's blast at Diyarbakir climbed to 5, it was reported. Two of the dead were students. The blast occurred while a military personnel vehicle was passing on Mimar Sinan Street in Yenisehir district of Diyarbakir. Following the explosion, fire erupted in the military vehicle as well as four other vehicles. Teams extinguished the fire. In the explosion, soldiers and civilians and several students from a nearby private teaching institution were wounded. [>turkishpress.com ; See other details, nytimes.com]

1.03.08 Criminal probe on CIA tapes opened

January 3 - The Justice Department said yesterday that it has opened a formal criminal investigation into the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes, appointing a career prosecutor to examine whether intelligence officials broke the law by destroying videos of exceptionally harsh questioning of terrorism suspects.

The criminal probe, announced by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, significantly escalates a preliminary inquiry into whether the CIA's actions constituted an obstruction of justice. Officials have said that some White House and Justice Department lawyers advised the CIA not to destroy the tapes, which contained information of interest to the attorneys of detainees and to a congressionally chartered panel examining the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The decision opens the door to fresh scrutiny of the CIA's activities by the FBI, which clashed repeatedly with CIA field officers over the use of the harsh interrogation techniques and ultimately withdrew its own agents from interrogations to avoid entanglement in activities that senior FBI officials considered improper.

1.03.08 Notorious plane hijackers walk free

(AFP) January 4 - Pakistani authorities released four Palestinians who were involved in the bloody hijacking of an American plane in 1986. The group commandeered a Pan Am jet at Karachi airport and the 16-hour drama ended when Pakistan troops stormed the plane. The shootout left 22 people dead and more than 100 wounded. The hijackers were arrested and convicted by a Pakistani court.

"They had completed their sentences about four years ago and since then they had been living as internees," Adiala Jail superintendent Mohsin Rafiq said. Negotiations were underway for their repatriation with the Palestinian authorities, he said. They were supposed to leave for their home country, according to Mr. Rafiq. [>news.com.au]

1.03.08 Lethal avian flu found in Binyamina, Israel

January 3 - Avian flu which was found among hens in a petting zoo near a Binyamina kindergarten is of the H5N1 strain which is lethal to humans, the Agriculture Ministry said Thursday. People who came in contact with the birds over the past week and all of the children in the kindergarten were instructed to take preventative medicine, Israel Radio reported.

Veterinary services have ordered that all fowl within a three-kilometer range of the petting zoo be culled, the radio report stated. Poultry within a 10-kilometer range must be slaughtered in quarantine conditions and under the supervision of veterinary services, but it can be sold for food since the cooked meat presents no health hazard. The birds in the petting zoo were tested for the disease after 18 out of 25 hens died in the last week. [More>>jpost.com]

1.02.08 Scotland Yard to join hunt for Benazir Bhutto's killers

January 2 - Scotland Yard is to send a team of detectives to Pakistan to help find the killer of Benazir Bhutto after a special request by President Musharraf to Gordon Brown, it emerged today. The under-fire Pakistani leader announced the move, which he said would take place "immediately," in a live broadcast to the Pakistani nation as it was announced that the country's elections were being postponed from January 8 to February 18.

Mr. Musharraf's decision to request outside help marks a dramatic U-turn only days after the Interior Ministry issued a statement saying that foreigners could not help because they did "not understand the environment" in the country.

The move is designed to ease huge pressure on the President over the conduct of the police investigation, which has seen initial Government claims that Ms. Bhutto died by hitting her head on the sunroof of her car, and not by bullet-wounds, widely ridiculed by opposition politicians. Video and photographic footage released subsequently appear to show Ms. Bhutto slumping after a gunman fired shots at her. [More>>timesonline.co.uk ; See also thenews.com.pk, January 2, "Foreign team to assist in Benazir's murder probe: Musharraf."]

1.02.08 Five terrorists die when planting bomb in a car in Afghanistan

KABUL (RIA Novosti) January 2 - Five suspected terrorists were killed when mining a car in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the local Tolo television said. The TV channel quoted a policeman in Kandahar as saying that "extremists were mining a car they were planning to use for an act of terror when a blast went off killing all the five on the spot." Last year, suicide bombers conducted over 150 explosions in the country killing over a hundred civilians.

Earlier reports said 21 Taliban gunmen were captured in a military operation involving police and security officers in the central Afghan province of Vardak. In Nangarhar, in the east of the country, Afghan police confiscated 1,030 kg of hashish and arrested three suspects in drug trafficking earlier in the day. Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime was overthrown in the 2001 US-led campaign, has seen a rise in violence in the last two years. The country is also the world's leader in opium trade, with almost all its arable lands being sown with poppy. [>rian.ru ; See related story, indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org, January 2, "US general predicts record poppy haul."]

1.02.08 Broke Britain: millions face struggle to stay afloat as financial crisis hits home

January 2 - Debt experts are predicting a record number of personal insolvencies this year as excessive Christmas shopping, rising mortgage payments and soaring food and fuel costs force thousands of people over the financial edge and into bankruptcy. More than nine million individuals in Britain are now believed to be struggling to pay credit card bills and mortgages, with the average owed by problem debtors hitting £30,000.

In alarming figures to be released tomorrow, the accountancy firm Grant Thornton predicts the total number of personal insolvencies will jump to at least 120,000 this year, almost triple the equivalent figure in 2004, when just under 47,000 people went bankrupt. Insolvency experts say people have been readily loading large amounts of debt on to credit cards and personal loans, despite the economic slowdown. [More>>independent.co.uk ; See related story, nytimes.com, January 2, "Oil hits $100 a barrel for the first time."]

1.02.08 Deep impact on schedule for 2010 comet rendezvous

BEIJING (Xinhuanet) January 2 - On schedule for a 2010 meeting with Hartley 2 comet while searching for Earth-sized planets around a cluster of stars, NASA's Deep Impact probe took a swing past Earth Monday on the first of three flybys to generate the speed needed to complete its 1.6-billion-mile mission. Last week, engineers calibrated the instruments aboard the spacecraft using the moon as a target in advance of the flyby, which occurred as planned, said William Blume of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At closest approach the spacecraft was 10,000 miles (16,092 km) above Australia. "We're taking laps around the sun until the comet comes," he said.

Deep Impact -- named after the movie -- became the first spacecraft to bust a comet by releasing a copper impactor that smashed into Tempel 1 in 2005, giving scientists their first glimpse of the interior. The mothership survived and was placed in safe mode before it was tapped for an encore. The new mission, known as Epoxi, calls for Deep Impact to reach Hartley 2, which will be about 12 million miles (19.31 million km) from Earth at the time of the encounter. Deep Impact will hover 550 miles (885.1 km) from the half mile-wide surface and use its two telescopes and infrared spectrometer to map features and record gas outbursts.

1.02.08 India: Militants getting foreign aid

NEW DELHI (UPI) January 2 - India says militants in the northern state of Punjab are getting financial aid from supporters based overseas. A Punjab police spokesman said that following the interrogation of four arrested militants allegedly involved in the blasts in the city of Ludhiana that financial aid is being received from foreign-based supporters, and safe places are still available in Punjab where militants can hide easily. The spokesman said the hideouts were cultivated on the basis of personal friendships or the four suspects presented themselves as fighters against alleged religious oppression.

"The investigators have found that the four arrested suspects were getting a sort of monthly salary from their foreign-based handlers. Firstly, the suspects were given money to buy an Esteem car and later a sum was transferred through Western Union money transfer on a regular basis," said N.P.S. Aulakh, director general of police of Punjab. The police are investigating details of the people who transferred the money. More arrests are likely to follow, Aulakh said. [>metimes.com]

1.01.08 Suicide bomber kills30 at Iraq funeral

BAGHDAD (Reuters) January 1 - A suicide bomber blew himself up at a funeral in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 30 people and wounding 38 in one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in months, police said. Police said two women were among the dead. The funeral in Zayouna district in eastern Baghdad was being held for a man killed in a bomb attack three days earlier.

Iraq has seen a steep drop in overall violence since June, but US military statistics show the number of suicide bomb attacks has risen slightly since reaching a low in October. US commanders say militants are still dispatching suicide bombers in an effort to cause mass-casualty "spectacular" attacks. [>thestar.com.my]

1.01.08 'Israel must internalize divided Jerusalem'

January 1 - Israel needs to internalize that even its supportive friends on the international stage conceive of the country's future on the basis of the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem divided, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declared to The Jerusalem Post. At the same time, he made clear that he did not envisage a permanent accord along the '67 lines, describing Ma'aleh Adumim as an "indivisible" part of Jerusalem and Israel.

In an interview at the start of a year that he hopes will yield a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, the prime minister said many rival Israeli political parties remain "detached from the reality" that requires Israel to compromise "on parts of Eretz Yisrael" in order to maintain its Jewish, democratic nature. If Israel "will have to deal with a reality of one state for two peoples," he said, this "could bring about the end of the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. That is a danger one cannot deny; it exists, and is even realistic." [More>>jpost.com ; See related story, turkishpress.com, January 1, "Peace talks cannot go on unless settlements stop: Abbas."]

1.01.08 US diplomat killed in Sudan

January 1 - A US official has died after being critically wounded when an embassy vehicle was shot at by unidentified attackers in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Sudan's interior ministry said that the vehicle was fired on by armed men in another car as it drove through a residential area in western of the city in the early hours of Tuesday. The Sudanese driver was also killed in the attack...The interior ministry identified the American as 33 year-old John Michael Granfield but this was not confirmed by the US embassy. [Full story>>aljazeera.net]

1.01.08 Intel community: 'Military killed Bhutto'

December 31 - Lower and middle level officers of the Pakistani army and the Pakistani air force were involved in the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, according to various intelligence sources, including members of India's counter-intelligence service. Well-informed sources have told the Middle East Times that these rogue elements of the Pakistani military support the jihadis and share their extremist views of an ultra-conservative form of Islam.

One former CIA official told a Middle East Times source that, "It's worrying when half of your lower or mid-level Pak intelligence analysts have bin Laden screen-savers on their computers." The conclusion of a number of US analysts is that al-Qaeda and other jihadis have successfully penetrated the armed forces and security services in Pakistan. If these findings are substantiated it could be a matter of grave concern, given the fact that Pakistan is in possession of nuclear weapons.
[More>>metimes.com ; See related stories,

independent.co.uk, January 1, "Zardari - 'Pakistan could be another Somalia.' " and
washingtonpost.com, January 1, "Doctors cite pressure to keep silent on Bhutto."
: ...The doctors now find themselves at the center of a political firestorm over the circumstances of Bhutto's death. The government has said Bhutto, 54, was killed after the force of a suicide bombing caused her head to slam against the lever of her vehicle's sunroof. Bhutto's supporters have pointed to video footage, including a new amateur video released Monday, as proof that she was killed by gunfire.

The truth about what happened has serious implications in Pakistan. The ability of a gunman to fire at Bhutto from close range, as alleged by her supporters, would suggest that an assassin was able to breach government security in a city that serves as headquarters of the Pakistani military, bolstering her supporters' claims that the government failed to provide her with adequate protection. If a gunman were to blame, it would also raise questions as to why the government has for days insisted otherwise. Bhutto's supporters have called for an international investigation...

1.01.08 50 killed as mob sets fire to Kenyan church

January 1 - A mob has torched a church sheltering hundreds of Kenyans fleeing election violence, killing at least 50 people, many of them children, as the country's disputed presidential election set off a bloody convulsion threatening what had been East Africa's most stable and prosperous democracy. Four days of rioting has killed at least 228 people, and 70,000 have been displaced in western Kenya by the post-electoral disruption, according to a Kenyan Red Cross report today.

The newly re-elected President Mwai Kibaki said today that political parties should meet immediately and publicly call as the for calm as the opposition leader Raila Odinga told Associated Press that the government is guilty of “genocide" after the deadly violence sparked by the disputed election result. [More>>timesonline.co.uk ; See also independent.co.uk, January 1, "Kenya riots crackdown leaves nearly 100 dead."]

1.01.08 North Korea calls for end to 'hostile' US policies

SEOUL, South Korea, January 1 - An editorial in North Korea's three major state-run newspapers urged the United States on Tuesday to abandon its "hostile" policies and proposed closer economic ties with South Korea under its president-elect, Lee Myung-bak.

But the message made no mention of the Dec. 31 deadline the country had missed to declare all its nuclear activities: weapons, facilities and fissile material. The New Year's editorial is a customary vehicle for the country's leader, Kim Jong-il, to set out his policy priorities.

"An end should be put to the US policy hostile toward North Korea," the editorial said, reiterating Pyongyang's justification for building nuclear weapons and detonating one in October 2006. "The source of war should be removed and lasting peace be ensured." [More>>nytimes.com]

1.01.08 Dissident Saudi blogger is arrested

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia, December 31 - Saudi Arabia's most popular blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, has been detained for questioning, an Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed Monday. It was the first known arrest of an online critic in the kingdom. Farhan, 32, who used his blog to criticize corruption and call for political reform, was detained "for violating rules not related to state security," according to the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, responding to repeated requests for comment with a brief cellphone text message.

Farhan's Dec. 10 arrest was reported last week on the Internet and has been condemned by bloggers in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Bahrain. The Saudi news media have not yet reported the arrest, but more than 200 bloggers in the kingdom have criticized Farhan's detention, and a group of supporters have set up a Free Fouad Web site.
[More>>washingtonpost.com; See also arabnews.com, January 1, "Blogger does not face security charges: Ministry."]


09.11.05 When a nation lacks a competent leader it invites disaster – the legacy of Bush
"Using force the George W. Bush way – Bush's crusade"
11.25.04 Why the Crusade & Jihad?


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