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02.12.10 Iran accused of jamming Western broadcasters

LONDON (AFP) February 12 - Broadcasters call for urgent action against Iran. Three international broadcasters on Friday accused Iran of deliberately jamming their output as Tehran marked the 31st anniversary of 1979 Islamic revolution. Britain's BBC, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and the Voice of America said the interference began on Thursday. They accused Iran of broadcasting freely around the world while denying the Iranian people programs coming from outside the country. BBC World News was the latest TV channel to be jammed this week. "We condemn any jamming of these channels," said a joint statement by Peter Horrocks, Director of BBC World Service, Erik Bettermann, Director of Deutsche Welle and Dan Austin, Director of Voice of America. "It contravenes international agreements and is interfering with the free and open flow of international transmissions that are protected by international treaties." [More>>alarabiya.net; See related story,

cnn.com, February 11, "Iran uses 'enemies of God' charge on protesters"
: Iran hanged two men at the end of January -- the first political prisoners known to be executed in Iran since the demonstrations protesting the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to Amnesty International. It's still not entirely clear what Arash Rahmanipour and Mohammad Reza Ali-Zamani's crime was. Rahmanipour's lawyer said he was already in jail on election day in June 2009, so he couldn't have been involved in the post-election uprising, she said. But whatever their earthly crimes were, the two men executed last month were also accused of another offense far more serious than simply protesting against a government. They were convicted of being "mohareb," enemies of God. That is the worst possible crime in Shiite Muslim law, according to Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Stanford University. The legal implications are clear, he said. "A mohareb, according to Shiite law, is executed," he said.

That the regime is labeling its opponents enemies of God is a sign of how rattled it is by the protests, he said. "They were completely caught off guard by the ferocity and extent of the opposition and they pulled out all the stops," he said. Traditional accusations did not succeed in intimidating the protesters, he said. "They accused them of working in cahoots with the United States and Israel. When it didn't work, they said you are mohareb," he said. Legally, there's nowhere for the government to escalate from here, he added. "I can't imagine them upping the legal ante," he said. "What you can do is increase the number of people they are executing in an in-your-face manner to bring terror to the people." In fact, at least one other person is on death row for being a mohareb, according to the Tehran Judiciary as quoted by the semi-official Iran Students News Agency...

02.12.10 Shah's son urges help for protesters

(AP) February 12 - Reza Pahlavi, whose father, the shah of Iran, was toppled from power 31 years ago, said the international community must step up its support for Iran's opposition movement and stop focusing on the country's nuclear program. In an interview with the Associated Press, Pahlavi said nations such as the US should not "even bother" with a new round of sanctions regarding Iran's nuclear program, if punitive measures merely maintain the status quo. Instead, he suggested the kind of encouragement that ended South Africa's apartheid system and caused the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Pahlavi, 50, said that should include dialogue with the Iran's opposition, which has managed to keep up periodic street protests in the country since the disputed June presidential elections despite a fierce crackdown. He also said the opposition needs outside technological support to beat government eavesdropping and Internet crackdowns in Iran, and "stay connected" with the outside world. "The world is facing a regime today that is totalitarian, racist, fascist and yet what has been done about it? ... To this day no one has officially said 'basta,' (stop)," he said Thursday in Paris, which he was visiting from the US, where he lives.

02.12.10 Flying laser zaps missile in first for US

WASHINGTON, February 12 - Military experiment uses laser on 747 off California to destroy target. A high-powered laser aboard a modified Boeing Co. 747 jumbo jet shot down an in-flight ballistic missile for the first time, highlighting a new class of ray guns best known from science fiction. The flying laser's long-awaited test on Thursday showcased a potential to zap multiple targets at the speed of light and at a range of hundreds of kilometers, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said in a statement. "The Missile Defense Agency demonstrated the potential use of directed energy to defend against ballistic missiles when the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) successfully destroyed a boosting ballistic missile," the agency said. [More>>abcnews.go.com]

02.12.10 US, Afghan troops ring Taliban stronghold

NEAR MARJAH, Afghanistan (AP) February 12 - US and Afghan forces ringed the Taliban stronghold of Marjah early Friday, sealing off escape routes and setting the stage for what is being described as the biggest offensive of the nine-year war. Taliban defenders repeatedly fired rockets and mortars at units poised in foxholes along the edge of the town, apparently trying to lure NATO forces into skirmishes before the big attack. "They’re trying to draw us in," said Capt. Joshua Winfrey, 30, of Tulsa, Okla., commander of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.

Up to 1,000 militants are believed holed up in Marjah, a key Taliban logistics base and center of the lucrative opium poppy trade. But the biggest threats are likely to be the land mines and bombs hidden in the roads and fields of the farming community, 610 kilometers southwest of Kabul. The precise date for the attack has been kept secret. US officials have signaled for weeks they planned to seize Marjah, a town of about 80,000 people in Helmand province and the biggest community in southern Afghanistan under Taliban control.
[More>>japantoday.com; See also,

nytimes.com (AP) February 12, "Coalition force attacks Taliban stronghold in Afghan south"
: NEAR MARJAH, Afghanistan (AP) - US Marines and Afghan troops launched their long-expected attack Saturday on the biggest Taliban-held town in the south, seeking to re-establish government control and undermine support for the militants in their southern heartland. The attack on Marjah climaxed the biggest joint Afghan-international offensive of the war and is the largest combat operation since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 U.S. reinforcements here last December to turn the tide of the war..

washingtonpost.com, February 12, "US marines launch major offensive in Afghanistan"
: .CAMP LEATHERNECK, AFGHANISTAN - Thousands of US Marines and Afghan soldiers traveling in helicopters and mine-resistant vehicles began punching into a key Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan early Saturday, as one of the largest operations to assert government control over this country got underway. The first wave of Marines and Afghan soldiers swooped into the farming community of Marja at about 2am Saturday local time (4:30pm Eastern), their CH-53 Super Stallion transport helicopters landing amid clouds of dust on fallow fields. As the troops, weighed down with ammunition and supplies, lumbered out and set up defensive positions, AV-8B Harrier fighter jets and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters circled overhead in the moonless sky. Subsequent waves of troops were expected to alight in other parts of Marja in the hours before dawn. At sunrise, hundreds more Marines and Afghan soldiers plan to enter Marja by land, using mobile bridges to ford irrigation canals...

02.12.10 Twin bomb blasts kill 15, including 8 policemen in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, February 12 - At least 15 people, including eight policemen were killed and 24 other injured in twin bomb blasts outside a police training centre in Bannu. This is the third such attack on security personnel in the region in the last 24 hours...There were two blasts. The first one was near the gate. The second was a suicide attack. We have confirmed reports it was a suicide attack,” The Daily Times quoted city's senior administrator Sardar Abbas, as saying. No extremist group has taken the responsibility for the twin blast. [Full story>>indianexpress.com]

02.10.10 Haiti's latest crisis: Death from diarrhea

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) February 10 - Children most at risk from waterborne diseases and malnutrition; Haiti ups death toll to 230,000. Fourteen-month-old Abigail Charlot survived Haiti's cataclysmic earthquake but not its miserable aftermath. Brought into the capital's General Hospital with fever and diarrhea, little Abigail literally dried up. "Sometimes they arrive too late," said Dr. Adrien Colimon, the chief of pediatrics, shaking her head.

The second stage of Haiti's medical emergency has begun, with diarrheal illnesses, acute respiratory infections and malnutrition beginning to claim lives by the dozen. And while the half-million people jammed into germ-breeding makeshift camps have so far been spared a contagious-disease outbreak, health officials fear epidemics. They are rushing to vaccinate 530,000 children against measles, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. "It's still tough," said Chris Lewis, emergency health coordinator for Save the Children, which by Tuesday had treated 11,000 people at 14 mobile clinics in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel and Leogane. "At the moment we're providing lifesaving services. What we'd like to do is to move to provide quality, longer-term care, but we're not there yet."

Haiti's government raised the death toll for the Jan. 12 earthquake to 230,000 on Tuesday - the same death toll as the 2004 Asian tsunami. Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said she expects the toll to rise as more bodies are counted, and noted the number does not include bodies buried privately by funeral homes or families.

02.10.10 Iran bans foreign media from revolution day

TEHRAN, February 10 - Several arrests made as opposition urges protests. Iran has for the first time banned foreign media from covering Thursday's street marches marking the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution, amid opposition plans for anti-government protests. An official coordinating the media told AFP that reporters and photographers were allowed to cover only the speech of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the historic Azadi (Freedom) Square in southwestern Tehran, and not the traditional street marches across the city. Every year hundreds of thousands of Iranians participate in marches in Tehran and other cities to mark the toppling of the US-backed shah in 1979. But since a dispute over Ahmadinejad's re-election erupted last June, opposition supporters have hijacked regime-sponsored events to stage anti-government protests.

...After the June election, thousands of people protesting against the conduct of the vote were arrested. Most of them have since been freed, although more than 80 people have been jailed for up to 15 years, including several senior ex-officials. In January, Iran hanged two people sentenced to death in post-vote trials and at least nine others are appealing such sentences. The West and rights groups condemned the executions, accusing Iran of seeking to intimidate the opposition.
[Full story>>alarabiya.net]

02.10.10 US Treasury sanctions Iranian construction firms

WASHINGTON (Reuters) February 10 - The US Treasury Department on Wednesday imposed sanctions against four subsidiaries and the commander of the construction arm of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The action, which extends earlier sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards and its Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, bans US transactions with the newly designated firms and aims to freeze any assets they may have under US jurisdiction. The Treasury said Khatam al-Anbiya is involved in the construction of streets, highways, tunnels, pipelines and water projects and its profits help support Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs as well as terrorist activities. The latest Treasury action represents an incremental step that builds on previous efforts to target specific firms that support Iran's nuclear development and missile technology. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

02.10.10 US military frees Iraqi journalist after 17 months

BAGHDAD, February 10 - The US military in Iraq on Wednesday freed an Iraqi freelance journalist working for the Thomson Reuters media group after holding him for 17 months without charge, the company said. "How can I describe my feelings? This is like being born again," Reuters quoted 33-year-old Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed as saying by telephone, adding that he was greeted emotionally by his family. The journalist told a foreign news agency that he was "very happy" to be free.

Mohammed, a freelance photographer and video cameraman for Reuters, was arrested after US and Iraqi forces broke into his home in the town of Mahmudiya in southern Iraq in September 2008. A US army statement said at the time that Mohammed had been "assessed to be a threat to the security of Iraq and coalition forces." But no charges were ever brought against him. "I am very pleased his long incarceration without charge is finally over," Reuters quoted its editor-in-chief, David Schlesinger, as saying. "I wish the process to release a man who had no specific accusations against him had been swifter," Schlesinger said. Several journalists working for foreign news organizations, including AFP, have been arrested and held without charge by the US military in Iraq.

02.10.10 Bomb kills six tribal Pakistani police

February 11 - A bomb blast ripped through a police vehicle in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border today, killing at least six policemen, officials said. The blast destroyed the vehicle as it was travelling through the Wazirdad area of Khyber, the district that straddles a main supply line for NATO troops in Afghanistan and is a hotbed of homegrown Taliban-linked militant groups. "At least six khasadar (tribal police) were killed and 10 others were wounded in a bomb blast," local administration official Rehan Gul Khattak told AFP by telephone. The blast destroyed the policemen's vehicle, he said. "We are not sure immediately whether it was a suicide attack or a planted bomb," he added. Shafeerullah Wazir, the administration chief of Khyber, confirmed that six tribal policemen were killed in a bomb attack. [>news.com.au; See other details,

thestar.com.my (Reuters) February 10, "Pakistan has 'credible information' Mehsud dead"
: ISLAMABAD - Pakistan said on Wednesday it had information suggesting Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud had died of wounds inflicted in a US drone aircraft attack in January. But in a reminder of the danger posed by the militants, even if, as looks increasingly likely, their leader is dead, a suicide car-bomber killed 19 people in the Khyber region on the Afghan border. Eleven policeman, a soldier and seven civilians were killed when the bomber rammed his vehicle into a police patrol, said regional government official Rehan Khattak. The bomber struck in Jamrud town, on the road leading through the Khyber Pass to the Afghan border. Television showed a burnt-out car on a blood-soaked street blocking trucks...

02.09.10 Protesters attack foreign embassies in Tehran

(AP) February 9 - About 100 Iranians protested Tuesday in front of the Italian embassy in Tehran, shouting Death to Italy, Death to Berlusconi, Italy's foreign minister said. Protests were also held outside the French and Dutch embassies. The protests came a week after Premier Silvio Berlusconi announced - in Israel - that Italy was scaling back its economic dealings with Iran and wanted tighter sanctions against the Tehran leadership. Italy has long been Tehran's biggest trading partner in the EU.

Television footage of the protests shown on Sky TG 24 showed protesters throwing stones and eggs at the Italian embassy. Foreign Ministry officials said none of the protesters managed to get inside and that police intervened. Frattini told the Senate that the protest was hostile and that the group tried to assault the building...The protesters demanded Iran scale back its relations with both countries and they shouted the word takeover in a reference to the 1979 student takeover of the US Embassy.
[Full story>>haaretz.com; See also

alarabiya.net, February 9, "Italy says Iranian militia tried to attack embassy"
: ROME - Basij militia hurled stones at Italian, French & Dutch embassies. Italy said dozens of members of Iran's religious Basij militia had tried to attack its embassy in Tehran on Tuesday, but Iranian media described the incident as a protest by students and denied there was any violence. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told a Senate hearing: "About a hundred Basij dressed as civilians tried to assault the embassy shouting "Death to Italy" and "Death to (Prime Minister) Berlusconi." He said similar incidents had occurred at the French and Dutch embassies in the Iranian capital...

02.09.10 Pakistan Taliban confirms Mehsud dead

February 9 - Keeping mum for weeks, several Taliban sources have confirmed the death of the Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud on Tuesday while Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq has rejected the claims of fellow Taliban, saying that these reports are baseless. According to Taliban and several local official sources in the volatile tribal regions of Waziristan and Orakzai tribal regions, the leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) died a week ago due to neck injury near Multan when he was being taken for treatment to Karachi from South Waziristan. US and some Pakistani officials had been saying that Mehsud had died due to injuries sustained in the pre-dawn drone strike at Shaktoi area of South Waziristan on January 14. Taliban sources also said that Mehsud was in a state of coma after being injured in the drone strike. The TTP spokesman Azam Tariq has rejected the reports of Mehsud's killing and said that all these claims are baseless. "Hakimullah Mehsud is alive and heads the TTP," Azam Tariq was quoted be media.

Taliban sources confirming reports of Mehsud's death have said that Maulvi Noor Jamal, a native of Orakzai agency, is now acting in his place while the announcement of full-time Mehsud's successor will be made in a Taliban shura (meeting) to be held in next few days in Orakzai agency. Noor Jamal, a close associate of Hakimullah, was appointed as Taliban chief of the Kurram tribal region. After the Pakistan's military launched an offensive in South Waziristan, he was given an additional charge of the Orakzai tribal region. Last week, a video of Jamal was aired on Pakistani TV stations, showing him flogging three people. Being ferocious and ruthless militant commander, Jamal is popularly known as Maulvi Toofan.

02.09.10 US tightens noose around Taliban town

LASHKAR Gah, Afghanisitan (AP) - US Army soldiers launched a preliminary operation Tuesday in support of a planned US-Afghan attack on the largest Taliban-controlled town in southern Afghanistan. NATO and Afghan officials, meanwhile, urged militants holding Marjah, where an offensive is expected, to lay down their arms and warned civilians there to "keep your heads down." About 400 US troops from the 5th Stryker Brigade as well as 250 Afghan soldiers and their 30 Canadian trainers moved into positions northeast of the town. No casualties were reported.

Large plumes of smoke could be seen in the area, and reporters traveling with the US unit could hear the distant rattle of 50-caliber machine gun fire and detonations from MK-19s, which fire 40 millimeter grenades from Stryker vehicles. US officials have not said when the main attack on the town of some 80,000 people will take place but have nonetheless heavily publicized plans to attack, causing hundreds of people to flee the opium-producing center in advance of the fighting. On Tuesday, however, Taliban militants prevented townspeople from leaving Marjah, as families huddled inside their homes, witnesses said.

02.08.10 Iranian protesters facing "make it or break it" anniversary February 11

February 8 - The mood on Twitter:shows an Iranian leadership becoming more paranoid over the forthcoming 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. Anticipating protests the regime — considered illigitimate by the Green Opposition after the June 2009 presidential elections — has cut off internet and messaging facilities and installed lights and loudspeakers around Tehran parade routes. Here are some reports on February 8 (Tehran time Feb. 9) from twitter.com:

♦ THEIR HEARTS ARE STILL BEATING! New video against the executions. http://bit.ly/1OxoFE #iranelection #humanrights
♦ 8Feb Videos: Protests around Europe over the weekend... http://tinyurl.com/y92xtkc #iranelection
#iranelection video of loudspeakers installed on Iran demonstration route http://is.gd/7YFv3 #22bahman
♦ Using Photographs of Protests Outside Iran to Intimidate Arriving Passengers at the Airport http://bit.ly/bb0chL #iranelection
♦ BBC: Iran 'jails opposition leader Mohsen Aminzadeh' http://bit.ly/bbmCbc #iranelection
♦ IRAN: As many as 3 million protesters anticipated at Thursday rally http://shar.es/aL7NV #LATimes #iranElection
♦ Iran tehran 3 feb 2010 Death to khamenei banner in highway: Iran tehran 3 feb 2010 Death to ... http://bit.ly/doYMMs
♦ They stole the revolution.They stole the elections.Lets not allow them 2 steal #22Bahman.Join us..!! #IranElection
♦ 8Feb http://peiknet.net/10-februari/news.asp?id=44987 IRGC arrested 2 activists from a Children's rights NGO. #iranelection
♦ Firefox addons for bypassing Internet censorship in Iran http://bit.ly/crarqR #iranelection
Censorship + blocking the airwaves — Voice of America can no longer be received in Tehran according to an Iranian activist. #iranelection
♦ 8Feb source : They've so far managed to bring in 30,000-40,000 Basijis from provinces. #iranelection
♦ 8 Feb UPDATED #22Bahman Iran Solidarity Events Worldwide #iranelection http://post.ly/LYdF
♦ 8Feb http://tinyurl.com/yjqejj7 Up to 10,000 arrests nationwide in run up to 22Bahman. #iranelection
Roozonline: Activists Threatened: You Will Be Arrested If You Are in Tehran: With three days remainin... http://bit.ly/9Nir9v #IranElection : "With three days remaining to the February 11th anniversary of the Islamic revolution (in Iran known as the 22nd of the month of Bahman), the main topic of conversations in Tehran’s streets, taxis and parks are the creation of insecurity for activists and journalists even at their residences and the constant broadcast of contradictory interviews to frighten the public and intimidate protesters not to participate in the gathering.  It seems as if the government has employed all of its energy and power to control the rallies scheduled to take place on Wednesday February 11th and confront the Green Movement’s supporters.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Green Movement and reformist groups have invited the public to participate in the rally and display their identities. Reports received from Rooz correspondents in Tehran and other cities indicate that people intend to use 22 Bahman as another opportunity to voice their grievances.  This has prompted the security and intelligence apparatus to use the national media to literally terrorize the public..."
♦ Regime continues to blame legitimate protest on a foreign conspiracy, thereby ignoring its own people's legitimate protests. #iranelection
2 days 2 Go! join our destained Democratic revolution from 20 to 22 BAMAN wit yr presnts in streets!Great Democratic Persia #iranelection '

02.08.10 Stocks down sharply; Dow back below 10,000

(AP)  The Dow Jones industrial average closed below 10,000 for the first time in three months Monday on nagging concerns about debt loads in Europe. Shares of big banks pulled the market lower, extending a slump that has led to four straight weekly losses. Mounting deficits in weaker European economies including Greece, Portugal and Spain have raised questions about the health of the global financial system. Greece's finance minister said Monday the government is preparing to boost some taxes to shore up its finances. But civil servants opposed to cutbacks have pledged to strike on Wednesday. The questions about finances in Europe are only the latest blow to investor confidence. The market began to stumble in mid-January after China announced plans to contain economic growth and as the Obama administration proposed rules to restrict trading by large financial institutions.

That interrupted a 10-month climb in stocks, which hit 12-year lows last March. The Dow is down 817 points, or 7.6 percent, since closing at a 15-month high of 10,725.43 on Jan. 19. Brett Hryb, a portfolio manager with MFC Global Investment Management in Toronto, said the latest concern is that the financial troubles in a country like Greece, whose economy is small compared with the rest of Europe, will spill into other countries. "Clearly Greece itself is nothing. It's just a blip. It's what the contagion could be," he said. According to preliminary calculations, the Dow fell 103.84, or 1 percent, to 9,908.39. On Thursday, the Dow traded below the psychological barrier of 10,000 for the first time since November. It hadn't closed below that mark since Nov. 4.

02.08.10 Yemen al-Qaeda leader threatens US

February 8 - Saed Elshari, al-Qaeda's number two in the Arabian Peninsula, has called for attacks against US interests "everywhere." The message was contained in an audio message released on Monday and posted on a website often used by Islamist groups. Elshari also congratulated Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda's leader, for the bombing bid on a US plane on Christmas Day. "American and Crusader interests are everywhere and their agents are moving everywhere," Elshari said. "Attack them and eliminate as many enemies as you can."...Elshari was released in 2007 from the US Navy's detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to his native Saudi Arabia. There he graduated from a "rehabilitation" programme before fleeing the country to join anti-government fighters in Yemen. He quickly rose to become al-Qaeda's second-in-command in the Arabian Peninsula. [Full story>>aljazeera.net]

02.08.10 Frozen cattle crisis in harsh Mongolia winter

February 8 - Up to 20 million farm animals may die in Mongolia before spring as the fiercest winter in living memory grips the country, International Aid Agencies are being warned. Dogs and goats gnaw from the carcasses of the dead animals strewn outside the traditional "gurs," the herders' circular tented homesteads. "Our hay is all gone now. As our goats die we sell the hides and buy more fodder, but it only lasts a few days," she said. It's called the "Dzud" a multiple disaster with a summer drought followed by one of the coldest winters on record. It has left millions of livestock dying from a combination of exhaustion and starvation some herders report that their cattle perish at the rate of 50 a night. [More>>news.sky.com]

02.08.10 Moscow warns Tehran over uranium enrichment plans

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) February 8 - Tehran could face tougher economic sanctions if it goes ahead with its uranium enrichment plans, a senior Russian MP said on Monday. Earlier in the day, Iran notified the UN nuclear watchdog of plans to produce higher enriched uranium, saying it could not wait any longer to reach an agreement on international processing of its uranium for a reactor in Tehran. "The international community will not support this position. The issue of tighter economic sanctions against Tehran could be raised," said Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the State Duma international affairs committee. He added that the international community should send Iran a "strong, consolidated signal" about the unacceptability of such a move, which he described as a "setback." [More>>en.rian.ru; See related story,

jpost.com, February 8, "US, EU united on Iran nuclear issue'" :
Only option left is Security Council sanctions, French officials say. The US and the EU are united in the conviction that more sanctions are needed against Iran, French Defense Minister Herve Morin said Monday after talks with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, various news agencies reported. "We don't have any other option than to go to the Security Council for further measures,” Morin was quoted as saying following a meeting with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “On the Iran nuclear issue, our views totally converge." Also speaking on the Iranian nuclear issue was French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who was quoted by AFP as saying Monday afternoon that Iran's usage of “blackmail” over its atomic program was forcing Western powers to insist on sanctions. "Negotiation is not possible," he reportedly said...

02.08.10 Palestinian FM: New Mideast talks must focus above all on borders

February 8 - Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said Monday that renewed peace talks with Israel under US mediation must focus first and foremost on the issue of borders. "Proximity talks should focus on one issue only. That issue is borders," Malki said during a visit to Tokyo with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Other conflict issues such as water, security and Jerusalem must then be brought up for discussion, said Malki. The Palestinian official added that the timeframe for such talks should be no more than three to four months. [More>>haaretz.com]

02.08.10 Militants targeting Americans arrested: Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) February 8 - Authorities arrested six suspected Taliban militants with a suicide vest and hand grenades allegedly on their way Monday to attack a five-star hotel and kill Americans in Pakistan's cultural capital, said police. The eastern city of Lahore has suffered a spate of bombings at markets and security installations in recent years as the Taliban have expanded attacks beyond their main sanctuary in the northwest. Militants have also targeted hotels and restaurants in other parts of Pakistan popular with Westerners.

The militants arrested Monday on the outskirts of Lahore included a 14-year-old boy and a prayer leader from Pakistan's Khyber tribal area near the Afghan border, said police official Zulfikar Hameed. The prayer leader was wearing a vest packed with explosives. They told police they were targeting Americans at the Pearl Continental hotel, he said. "We think they were on their way to launch the attack," said Hameed. “They told us that Americans are responsible for the death of every innocent Muslim in the so-called war on terror.”

Police seized 26 hand grenades and five detonators from the militants, who were traveling by car and motorcycle, said Hameed. Despite their intentions, the men didn't know for certain whether any Americans were staying at the hotel, he said. A Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber struck the Pearl Continental hotel in the northwestern city of Peshawar in June, killing nine people. A suicide truck attack against the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in 2008 killed more than 50 people.
[More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com; See related story,

thenews.com.pk, February 8, "Sheikh Rashid survives armed attack, 4 killed"
: RAWALPINDI - Chief of Awami Muslim League Sheikh Rashid survived an armed attack at his election office here on Monday. Sheikh Rashid received minor injuries on his leg when he fell on the ground at the time of the attack. However, four of his guards were killed in the attack. Armed assailants carrying Kalashnikov(s) attacked Sheikh Rashid outside his election office when he was heading on foot to attend a public meeting...

02.08.10 French mosque vandalized with swastikas, slurs

PARIS (AP) February 8 - A prominent French Muslim group says that swastikas and racial slurs have been painted on the walls of a mosque in the town of Saint-Etienne. The French Council of the Muslim Faith says the vandalism early Monday of the mosque in the Loire region is the latest example of rising Islamophobia. It says such vandalism has multiplied in France "in a very worrisome way." The council repeated a demand for the government to create a parliamentary panel to study rising Islamophobia. Muslim leaders are among those saying that a debate in France on the face-covering veil and a national identity debate have stigmatized Muslims and fed anti-Muslim sentiment. Nazi slogans and pig feet were found in December in a southern France mosque. [>thejakartapost.com]

02.08.10 Saudi rights body seeks divorce for child bride

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) Activists hope move will lead to ban on child marriages. Saudi Arabia's human rights commission has hired a lawyer to help a 12-year-old girl divorce her 80-year-old husband, the lawyer said, a move activists hope will lead to a ban on child marriages. Saudi Arabia has no minimum legal age for marriage. Fathers are granted guardianship over their daughters, giving them control over who their daughters marry and when. The girl from Buraidah, a town near the capital Riyadh, was married to her father's elderly cousin late last year for bridal money of 85,000 riyals ($22,670), her lawyer Sultan bin Zahim told Reuters.

Activists see the divorce proceedings as a test case that could pave the way for introducing a minimum age for marriage in the world's largest oil exporter. The child's mother had earlier filed for divorce on her daughter's behalf but withdrew without giving a reason after a second court hearing in early February, bin Zahim said. The government-affiliated rights watchdog then took over the case, again filing for divorce on the child's behalf.

02.08.10 Here's looking at dew: spiders snare water from the air

February 8 - Fog-catching nets which provide precious water in rain-starved parts of the world may be poised for a high-tech upgrade thanks to the spider. In a paper published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, Chinese scientists report on why spider's silk is not only famous for strength but also terrific for collecting water from the air, sparing the creature a hunt for a drink. The secret, revealed by scanning electron microscope, lies in the silk's tail-shaped protein fibres which change structure in response to water.

Once in contact with humidity, tiny sections of the thread scrunge up into knots, whose randomly arranged nano-fibres provide a roughly, knobbly texture. In between these "spindle knots" are joints, which are smooth and slender, comprising neatly aligned fibres. Small droplets then condense randomly on the spider's web. Once they reach a critical size, the droplets slide along the slick-surfaced joints thanks to surface tension. The droplets then reach the spindle knots, where they coalesce with larger drops. As a result, the joints are freed up to begin a new cycle of condensation and water collection.

02.08.10 Year of Tiger hope for endangered cat

BEIJING (AFP) February 8 - Less than 50 wild tigers remain in China, a conservation group said, voicing hope that the Year of the Tiger would not be the last for the endangered cats. Xie Yan, director of the China program for the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said that just 20 years ago tigers still roamed across large swathes of China. But based on data from the year 2000, there are only around 15 Bengal tigers left in Tibet, 10 Indochinese tigers in China's south-west, and around 20 Siberian tigers in the north-east, she said. And the South China tiger may already be extinct. According to the international conservation group WWF, none have been spotted in the wild since the late 1970s. In the 1950s, there were around 4000. Degradation of the animal's habitat and poaching of the tiger and its prey are blamed for its rapid disappearance. [More>>news.com.au]

02.07.10 Yemeni scholar backs 'jet bomber'

February 7 - Sheikh Anwar al-Aulaqi (Awlaki), a Yemeni religious scholar, has told Al Jazeera that the suspect accused of attempting to blow up a US passenger jet on Christmas Day, was one of his students. Al-aulaqi said that he did not order the attempted suicide attack on the airliner, but that US civilians were legitimate targets since they bore responsibility for their "government's crimes." "Omar Farouq, may Allah free him, is one of my students ... But I did not issue a fatwa [religious edict] allowing him to carry out this operation," the US-born Awlaki said in an exclusive interview. Farouq, a young British-educated Nigerian, currently in US custody for allegedly trying to detonate explosives stitched to his underwear as the plane carrying about 300 people made its descent to Detroit airport, has reportedly told US investigators that Awlaki had directed him to explode the bomb. [More>>aljazeera.net]

02.07.10 Taliban rejects President Karzai's reconciliation offer

KABUL (Reuters) February 7 - Afghanistan's Taliban rejected President Hamid Karzai's latest attempt to reach out to them as "futile" and "farcical" on Sunday, but said they were open to talks to achieve their goal of an Islamic state. "This is not the first time that the Kabul regime and the invading countries want to throw dust into the eyes of the public of the world by announcing reconciliation in words and, in practice, make preparation for war," said a statement posted in English on the Afghan Taliban's website, alemarah.info. "Similarly, they put forward conditions, which are tantamount to escalating the war rather than ending it. For example, they want Mujahideen to lay down arms, accept the constitution and renounce violence. None can name this reconciliation," it said.

Karzai used a conference in London last month to repeat a call for reconciliation with his "disenchanted brothers" in the Taliban. He has since travelled to Saudi Arabia to ask its leaders for help reaching out to the militants. At the conference, Western governments approved language in a communique that said Afghans who disavow violence and accept the constitution should be accepted in the political process, signalling support for Karzai's outreach bid. But the Taliban statement rejected Western support for Karzai's reconciliation efforts as "an eyewash" designed to convince anti-war voters in the West their leaders want peace, even as they prepare for a new offensive in Helmand province.

02.07.10 NATO chief wants Russia's role in alliance's operation in Afghanistan

MUNICH (RIA Novosti) February 7 - NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Sunday he did not rule out the possibility for Russia to join the alliance's operation in Afghanistan. Speaking at the 46th security conference in Germany, Rasmussen said he believed Russia shared NATO's concerns over the current situation in Afghanistan. He said it would be uneasy for Russia to fight the spread of drugs produced in Afghanistan, if the southwestern country turned into a refuge for terrorists again. Rasmussen said Russia could cooperate with NATO in Afghanistan in such areas as the training of pilots, the supply of helicopters, the training of Afghan military personnel and efforts to fight drug trafficking. [More>>en.rian.ru]

02.07.10 Special forces assassins infiltrate Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan

February 7 - American and British forces poised to assault the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, have begun targeting insurgent leaders for assassination, The Sunday Times reported. Special forces have been infiltrating the town on "kinetic" missions — jargon for armed attacks. "Special forces guys have been going in on assassination missions with the aim of decapitating the Taliban force," a military source told the Sunday Times. At US Marine base Camp Leatherneck and the adjoining British base of Camp Bastion, troops and munitions have been airlifted in by night to avoid enemy rockets. In a break from traditional military secrecy, American, British and Afghan commanders have revealed that Marjah, the last town in Helmand under Taliban control, will in fact be the site of fighting in the near future. [More>>foxnews.com; See more details,

timesonline.co.uk, Febraury 7, "Special forces assassins infiltrate Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan"
: ...About 1,000 Taliban, mostly Afghans but with some foreign fighters in their ranks, are believed to be in Marjah, an opium centre and local headquarters for bomb-making and sending out suicide bombers. Military sources described the use of publicity as a psychological tactic to intimidate the Taliban into laying down their weapons or fleeing. The risks are huge. By surrendering the element of surprise, the coalition has given the insurgents time to dig in and expand an already extensive tunnel network. Taliban diehards are known to have been placing bombs along alleyways, roads and in a network of irrigation canals. "Around Marjah is a mass of canals in a neat grid, the kind of terrain that’s difficult to clear, easy to defend," said a military source. There was little evidence of a Taliban retreat this weekend...

02.07.10 NATO arrests top Afghan cop accused in roadside bombs

KABUL, Afghanistan, February 7 - NATO-led forces arrested a deputy provincial police chief they accused of helping place roadside bombs north of Kabul, officials said, in the latest sign of concerns about weaknesses in Afghan security forces. Provincial officials said Sunday that the man was an honest and good officer. The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, wasn't informed about the arrest in advance and is contacting NATO to learn what happened, according to ministry spokesman Zamary Bashary. Attaullah Wahab, the deputy police chief and security director in Kapisa province, was detained along with a bodyguard in a raid backed by helicopters while he was home in the provincial capital of Mahmud-i-Raqi, according to a spokesman for the provincial government, Halim Ayar. [More>>japantoday.com]

02.07.10 Four Afghan police killed in Taliban-style bombing

KANDAHAR, February 7 - A massive bomb destroyed a police vehicle in the Afghan city of Kandahar Sunday, killing four officers and injuring two civilians, police said. The "very big bomb" was placed under a bridge and exploded as the police vehicle was passing, police colonel Abdul Ahmad said. "Four policemen who were bringing food to their post were killed," he said at the site of the blast close to the city centre. A reporter of a French news agency saw a mangled police jeep and human flesh spread over a wide area. The bombing bore the hallmarks of the Taliban as it appeared to have been caused by a crudely-made device and detonated by remote control, Ahmad said. [>thenews.com.pk]

02.07.10 Iran tests radar-evading aircraft: commander

TEHRAN (Reuters) February 7 - Iran has successfully tested a radar-evading aircraft, a commander said on Sunday, in the country's latest announcement of technological advances as it marks the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution. The semi-official Fars News Agency, citing senior air force official Aziz Nasirzadeh, said the prototype of a radar-evading aircraft named Swordfish had been test-flown. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

02.07.10 Iran leader says Israel's destruction 'imminent'

TEHRAN (AFP) February 7 - Calls on continued resistance and hope for victory. Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday the destruction of Israel was "imminent," and called for continued resistance against the Jewish state, state media reported. "I am very optimistic about the future of Palestine and believe Israel is on the steep path of decline and deterioration," Khamenei told Ramadan Abdullah, the secretary general of Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad. "God willing, its destruction will be imminent," the Islamic republic's all-powerful leader said.

"Continued resistance and hope for victory should be taken into consideration." Iran does not recognize Israel, and is a staunch backer of Palestinian Islamist militants. Tensions have soared between Iran and Israel over the past five years since hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power. Ahmadinejad has drawn international condemnation by repeatedly predicting that Israel is doomed to disappear and dismissing the Holocaust as a "myth." Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East, has called for tougher action against Tehran over its controversial atomic program and accuses it of seeking nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.

02.07.10 Iran to begin work on 20 percent nuclear fuel

TEHRAN, February 7 - President tells atomic body to begin enrichment. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday told Iran's Atomic Energy Organization to start work on producing nuclear fuel for a Tehran research reactor in a fresh challenge to Western powers bidding to rein in Tehran's galloping nuclear drive. Ahmadinejad's announcement is likely to irritate Western powers who want Iran to send most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad in return for higher-refined fuel for the Tehran reactor. Iranian officials have repeatedly said the Islamic Republic can make fuel enriched to 20 percent itself if there is no agreement on obtaining the material from abroad. [More>>alarabiya.net]

02.07.10 Iran detains 7 tied to US-funded radio for spying

TEHRAN (AP) February 7 - Iran has arrested seven people linked to a US-funded Farsi-language radio station for allegedly fomenting unrest, and accused some of the suspects of working for American spy agencies, Iranian state media reported Sunday. The official IRNA news agency and Iran’s state radio both cited an Intelligence Ministry statement saying the suspects played a role in violent anti-government demonstrations in Tehran on Dec. 27. On that day, at least eight people were killed and hundreds were arrested during clashes between opposition supporters and security forces. The violence was the worst since authorities launched a harsh crackdown immediately after Iran’s disputed presidential election in June. State radio said the suspects were trained outside of Iran in sabotage, disturbing public order, spreading rumors and overthrowing a government by soft means. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

02.07.10 Thousands of dianosaur footprints uncovered in China

BEIJING (AFP) February 7 - Archaeologists in China have uncovered more than 3,000 dinosaur footprints, state media reported, in an area said to be the world's largest grouping of fossilized bones belonging to the ancient animals. The footprints, believed to be more than 100 million years old, were discovered after a three-month excavation at a gully in Zhucheng in the eastern province of Shandong, the Xinhua news agency reported. The prints range from 10 to 80 centimeters (four to 32 inches) in length, and belonged to at least six different kinds of dinosaurs, including tyrannosaurs, the report said Saturday.

Wang Haijun, a senior engineer at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the prints faced the same direction, Xinhua said. This indicated a possible migration or a panic escape by plant-eating dinosaurs after an attack by predators, Wang added. Archeologists have found dinosaur fossils at some 30 sites in Zhucheng, known as "dinosaur city." The region has seen two major digs since 1964, and experts say the discovery of so many dinosaurs in such a dense area could provide clues on how the animals became extinct millions of years ago. Plans are being made to set up a fossil park in the area.

02.06.10 Goldman CEO Blankfein gets $9 million stock bonus

February 6 - News of bonus eagerly awaited by Wall Street; Blankfein can't cash shares for five years. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein is getting a $9 million stock bonus for 2009. The bank said in a securities filing Friday that Blankfein will receive more than 58,000 shares of restricted stock that can't be cashed in for five years. Blankfein will receive no cash as part of his bonus. News of Blanfein's bonus was eagerly awaited by Wall Street, and also reflects its changing pay culture. Several banks are paying their CEO restricted stock and adopting clawback provisions in response to a furor over outsized cash bonuses paid by financial institutions that helped push the economy into a recession and then later took billions in federal bailouts.

JPMorgan Chase said Friday that CEO Jamie Dimon received a $16 million stock bonus, making him the highest paid CEO among the nation's largest banks that have announced their pay plans. Morgan Stanley CEO James P. Gorman received a stock bonus valued at $8.1 million for 2009. Gorman was co-president of the bank for that period. He replaced John Mack as CEO last month. Mack, who remains chairman, received no bonus for 2009 or the previous two years.

02.06.10 Shia militant group claims to be holding US hostage

February 6 - The Iraqi militants behind the kidnapping of IT consultant Peter Moore, have released a video showing what appears to be a missing American contractor. Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, which recently freed Moore after killing his bodygaurds, now claim to be holding a US hostage. They have posted an internet clip of a man believed to be Issa T Salomi, 60, who was reported missing in Baghdad on January 23. The man in the footage does not identify himself but says he is being held hostage by the Shia militant group. He then lists their demands, including the prosecution of Blackwater security contractors accused of killing 17 Iraqis in 2007. [More>>timesonline.co.uk]

02.06.10 2 FC men among dozen injured in Quetta blast

QUETTA, Pakistan, February 6 - A powerful blast occurred at Jinnah Road in Quetta, injuring at least [a] dozen people, including two Frontier Corps personnel. According to police, the bomb planted on a motorbike exploded outside a local hotel located at the Jinnah Road. Two FC personnel were also among the injured, hospital sources confirmed. The police and law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area immediately after the blast and started investigation, while the injured were rushed to Civil and CMH hospitals. Out of 12, two injured are said to be in [a] critical state. The bomb disposal squad claimed that the bomb was planted on a motorcycle, which was blown up through a time device. [>thenews.com.pk]

02.06.10 Afghan police 'kill civilians'

February 6 - Afghan border police have killed seven civilians after opening fire on a group of villagers they mistook for fighters, according to a police official in Kandahar province. The villagers were gathering wood near the Pakistan border before they were killed by gunfire on Friday, the official said. The officers who shot the villagers were driving through Kandahar province's Shorabak district before sunrise on Friday when they spotted the seven men and thought they were about to be ambushed, General Abdul Raziq, commander of the border police of southern Afghanistan, said. They started shooting from about 350 metres away and only discovered when they went to recover the bodies that no one was armed, he said. [More>>aljazeera.net]

02.05.10 Jobless rate drops unexpectedly to 9.7%

WASHINGTON, February 5 - January unemployment rate down .3% as number of employed Americans rose by 541,000. The outlook for jobs became a bit less bleak with January's unexpected decline in the unemployment rate, which fell to 9.7 percent from 10 percent as more Americans said they had jobs. Still, Friday's unemployment report showed just how deep the job crisis remains. The government now estimates 8.4 million jobs vanished in the Great Recession, and economists think the nation would be lucky to get back 1.5 million of them this year. And they say it will take at least three to four years for the job market to return to anything like normal. A Labor Department survey of US households found that 541,000 more Americans had jobs last month. But most of those gains were attributed to seasonal adjustments to the data. Without those adjustments, which account for reduced hiring during winter, the data show fewer people had jobs last month. [More>>cbsnews.com]

02.05.10 Dow tumbles below 10000 on soverign credit woes

February 5 - Stocks continued to bleed triple-digit losses on Friday as persistent worries about the debt of slow-growing European countries and a mixed jobs report prevented Wall Street from rebounding from its worst day in more than nine months. 

Today's Markets

As of 1:50pm EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 135.96 points, or 1.37%, to 9865.32, the Standard & Poor's 500 sank 16.17 points, or 1.52%, to 1046.94 and the Nasdaq Composite lost 21.40 points, or 1%, to 2104.10. The FOX 50 dropped 10.44 points, or 1.35%, to 763.91. The Dow was on track to close below the psychologically-important 10000 level for the first time since early November amid fears Europe's debt virus will infect the global economy. "The sovereign debt/CDO concerns have hijacked the market psychology and have imposed fear
gut wrenching fear into the global market," Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Capital Group, wrote in a note.

The mixed jobs report, which showed the employers slashed another 20,000 jobs last month, was unable to stabilize the markets even after the Dow plummeted 268 points
its largest decline since April on Thursday on the debt fears. While the markets briefly flirted with positive territory, the US dollar soared to to its highest level versus the euro since May, sending crude oil plummeting $3 and dragging down energy stocks. [More>>foxbusiness.com; See related story,

telegraph.co.uk, February 5, "Eurozone debt fears unsettle global markets"
: The euro and the stocks and bonds of debt-laden eurozone members fell for a second straight day on Friday as fears over Portugal and other European sovereigns spread, pushing investors into safe havens. Stock markets around the world joined in the latest sell-off as worries about the strength of the global recovery resurfaced. On Friday, all eyes were on Lisbon, where the parliament was due to vote on a regional financing bill markets see as a crucial test of the government's ability to curb public spending.


Portugal's stock market
down 5pc yesterday skidded a further 3.3pc on Friday ahead of a vote on an opposition bill the government wants to block. The government says that if passed, the bill will increase a budget deficit which has already caused investors to take fright...

02.05.10 Two bombs hit Pakistan city, 25 dead

KARACHI, Pakistan, February 5 - Two bombs targeting Shiite Muslims exploded in Pakistan's largest city Friday, one outside a hospital treating victims from the first blast hours earlier. At least 25 people were killed and around 100 others wounded. Police appealed for calm following the strikes in the chaotic city of 16 million people. Karachi has a history of religious violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and has been tense in recent weeks due to deadly clashes between rival political parties.

In late December, a bomb in the southern port city killed 44 Shiites attending a procession to mark Ashura, the anniversary of the death of revered Shiite figure Imam Hussein, sparking deadly riots. Friday's blasts coincided with Arbaeen, the final day of the annual 40-day mourning period for Hussein.

One of Pakistan's many al-Qaeda linked Sunni extremist groups will be suspected in the twin attacks. Zulfiqar Mirza, the provincial home minister, said one or both of the attacks may have been suicide blasts but that it too soon to say for sure. The first blast targeted a bus carrying worshippers, most of them women and children, killing 12 and wounding 49, officials said. The bomb was attached to a motorcycle and detonated as the bus drove to an Arbaeen procession, witnesses said.

02.05.10 Mortar attacks kill 41 Shiite pilgrims in Iraq

KARBALA, February 5 - More than one million pilgrims throng Karbala. A mortar bomb attack on the last day of a major mourning ceremony in Iraq killed 41 Shiite pilgrims and wounded more than 144 others on Friday in an atrocity blamed on al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein loyalists. The bomb struck pilgrims who were leaving the holy shrine city of Karbala, 110 kilometers (68 miles) south of Baghdad, where more than a million devotees had gathered to mark the festival of Arbaeen. It was the third major attack this week on worshippers who have for weeks been travelling there on foot for the climax of the event earlier on Friday. [More>>alarabiya.net]

02.05.10 Commandos take back shp from pirates

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) February 6 - Danish special forces have stormed a Slovenian cargo ship which had been captured by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, freeing the 25 crew members, a spokesman for the EU'a anti-piracy naval force says. "It's the first time that an assault of this nature has taken place,"' John Harbour, spokesman for the European Union Naval Force (NAVFOR) said today. The operation took place around 1100 GMT yesterday (10pm yesterday AEDT) soon after the pirates seized the Antigua and Barbuda-flagged cargo ship Ariella. The ship's crew had managed to send out a distress signal which the international coalition forces patrolling the waters off Somalia intercepted. A plane from the EU anti-piracy force flew to the spot and called on a Danish NATO ship in the area to intervene with its special forces. That was made possible after the whole ship's crew managed to lock themselves into a room on board, the spokesman said. [>news.com.au; See more details,

bbc.co.uk, February 5, "NATO troops free ship off Somalia after pirate attack"
...It seems the pirates escaped to their boat before the troops arrived but the 180m (590ft) vessel was being searched. A second pirate boat in the area was seized by a Russian warship, NATO says. Admiral Sir Trevor Soar, commander of the NATO Maritime HQ in London, commended the actions of the Danish warship Absalon, which carried out the rescue...

en.rian.ru (RIA Novosti) February 6, "Russian warship seizes group of pirates off Somalia" : MOSCOW - A Russian frigate, the Neustrashimy (Fearless), seized on Saturday a boat with seven pirates on board during an operation to thwart an attack on a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, a Russian Navy spokesman said. Slovenia's Ariella vessel with a crew of 15 nationals of the Philippines, seven Ukrainians, a Slovenian, a Bulgarian and an Indian, was en route from the Black Sea port of Sevastopol to Indonesia when it gave a distress call early on Friday...

02.04.10 Shell to axe 1,000 jobs as profits plunge 69%

February 4 - Shell, Britain's second-biggest oil company, will cut a further 1,000 jobs this year as it reported a bigger than expected 69 per cent fall in full-year profits and cautioned over an "uncertain" outlook for 2010. The Anglo-Dutch company reported 2009 earnings of $9.8 billion on a current cost of supplies basis, against $31.4 billion for 2008. Peter Voser, chief executive of Shell, said: "Oil prices have increased compared to a year ago, but gas prices and refining margins have declined sharply, because of weaker demand and high industry inventory levels. We are not assuming that there will be a quick recovery, and the outlook for 2010 is uncertain." Under its restructuring programme, Project Transition, Shell has already reduced staff numbers by 5,000 over the past year. It will add a further 1,000 to the tally, mainly from its downstream and corporate functions, as part of its plan to reduce underlying costs by $1 billion in 2010. [More>>timesonline.co.uk]

02.04.10 Bank of America sued for fraud

NEW YORK (AFP) February 5 - New York state officials have filed a lawsuit against Bank of America and its former top executives alleging they defrauded taxpayers and shareholders in the takeover of Merrill Lynch. Andrew Cuomo, the New York state attorney-general, announced the lawsuit against the bank and former chief executive, Kenneth Lewis, and former chief financial officer, Joseph Price, "for duping shareholders and the federal government in order to complete a merger with Merrill Lynch."

"This merger is a classic example of how the actions of our nation's largest financial institutions led to the near-collapse of our financial system," Mr. Cuomo said today. "Bank of America, through its top management, engaged in a concerted effort to deceive shareholders and American taxpayers at large. This was an arrogant scheme hatched by the bank's top executives who believed they could play by their own set of rules. In the end, they committed an enormous fraud and American taxpayers ended up paying billions for Bank of America's misdeeds."

02.04.10 32 Taliban militants killed in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR (AFP) February 4 - Thirty-two Taliban and three soldiers have been killed in Afghan-NATO operation in Helmand province ahead of a major anti-Taliban push, the provincial government said on Thursday. The operation took place in Nad Ali district, west of the provincial capital Lashkar Gar, on Wednesday, provincial government spokesman Daud Ahmadi told AFP. "We had an operation in the Nad Ali area last night," Ahmadi said. "During the operation thirty-two Taliban were killed and the bodies of some of them remained in the area." The southern province of Helmand, along with neighboring Kandahar, has been the hub of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan since their regime was pushed from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001. [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

02.04.10 Gulf states not to buy 'ineffective' US missiles: Iran

TEHRAN (AFP) February 4 - A senior Iranian military official told Gulf states on Thursday not to squander money on US missiles, boasting that Iran can render them useless, the state news agency IRNA reported. Tehran had on Wednesday slammed plans by the United States to beef up defences in the Gulf against potential Iranian missile attacks, with the Islamic republic insisting it posed no threat to its neighbors. "Installing anti-missile Patriot missiles is a new trick to empty the pockets of rich Persian Gulf countries," said General Hassan Firuzabadi, the joint chief of staff of Iran's armed forces. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

02.04.10 Romania ready to host US interceptor missiles - president

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) February 4 - Romanian President Traian Basescu said on Thursday his country could host U.S. medium-range interceptor missiles as part of revamped missile shield plans, the BBC reported. "Romania has been officially invited by US President Barack Obama to be part of the [new] missile defense system," Basescu said after a meeting of the country's Supreme Defense Council. He said talks between Washington and Bucharest on the issue should start in the near future and the agreements reached will be submitted to Romanian parliament for ratification. Basescu stressed that the new system would not be directed against Russia but would "protect the whole of Romania's territory" in case of a potential ballistic missile attack. [More>>en.rian.ru]

02.04.10 NATO readies for assault on Taliban

February 4- Thousands of NATO and Afghan troops are gearing up to launch a massive offensive in southern Afghanistan the largest the country has seen since the 2001 US-led invasion. Announcement of the joint operation, meant to target Taliban strongholds in Helmand province, comes as NATO defence ministers gather in Istanbul on Thursday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. Al Jazeera's David Chater, reporting from the capital, Kabul, said the target of the operation is believed to be the Marjah area, a stronghold of around 1,000 Taliban fighters. Marjah is also thought to be the hub of the Taliban-controlled opium trade  which provides them with most of their funding. The US marine corps has been broadcasting and handing out leaflets about their intentions to launch a major assault in Helmand province, Chater said. "They [the Taliban] have had many days to prepare for this it's the same sort of situation I saw in Iraq when the assault on Fallujah came about; everyone knew that was going to happen at the time," he said. [More>>aljazeera.net]

02.04.10 Dozen killed in Bajaur offensive

PESHAWAR, February 4 - At least 12 militants were killed and six others were arrested after security forces carried out operation[s] in different parts of Bajaur Agency on Thursday. Sources close to Frontier Corps said that forces targeted militants' positions situated in several parts of Bajuar Agency, including Sewai, Damadola and Pusht. As a result a total of 12 militants were killed and a cache of arms were recovered from their possession. Meanwhile, troops strengthened their positions and made advancement in the tribal region. [>thenews.com.pk]

02.04.10 France wants tuna trade ban in 18 months

February 4 - France wants a ban on international trade in bluefin tuna to come into force in 18 months time in order to protect the over-fished species, a government source said Wednesday. The announcement came weeks ahead of a European decision on whether to back calls for the lucrative but over-exploited fish beloved of Japanese sushi fans to be officially listed as an endangered species. The French decision due to be officially announced later Tuesday by the government will weigh heavily in the final position adopted by the European Union. [More>>independent.co.uk]

02.04.10 Brain scan may foster communication with vegatative patients

February 3 - Study may reinvigorate right-to-life debate, experts say. For the brother of Terri Schiavo, Wednesday's news that a team of researchers in England were able to use a novel scanning technology to establish limited communication with a man in a persistent vegetative state was bittersweet. Bobby Schindler said that while the test using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) likely holds promise for the families of minimally conscious and persistently vegetative patients, he wishes his sister had been afforded this technology before a court ruling allowed her husband Michael Schiavo to remove her feeding tube in 2005 leading to her death. "It's upsetting to me when I see this type of research," Schindler said. "We were looking to afford these kinds of tests for Terri, but the court did not allow us to perform these kinds of tests."

...In the new study, researchers found that a 34-year-old man was able to answer simple yes or no questions by imagining different types of activity, which caused changes in brain activity that could be seen in the machine, according to Martin Monti of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, England, and colleagues. The finding showed that at least some patients who are otherwise unresponsive may have some residual awareness, the researchers reported online in the New England Journal of Medicine.
[Full story>>abcnews.go.com]

02.03.10 AIG plans to pay $100 million in another round of bonuses

February 3 - American International Group plans Wednesday to pay another round of employee bonuses, worth about $100 million, said several people familiar with the matter, a year after similar payments at the bailed-out insurance giant infuriated many Americans and inflamed Washington. This week's retention payments go to those employees at the company's Financial Products division who agreed recently to accept 10 to 20 percent less money than AIG had initially promised them two years ago. In return, they are to receive their payments more than a month ahead of schedule. The company is still scheduled to pay out tens of millions of dollars more in March, mostly to former employees who did not agree to the concessions.

AIG executives have been scrambling to hammer out a compromise before March 15, when the firm faces a deadline to pay nearly $200 million in bonuses to employees at Financial Products, the unit whose risky derivatives deals brought the insurer to the brink of collapse in 2008. Government and AIG officials have been eager to avoid a repeat of the public furor that erupted last March when an earlier round of payments
worth $168 million went to the same set of employees. [More>>washingtonpost.com]

02.03.10 BofA spends $4.4 billion on its Wall Street bankers

NEW YORK, February 3 - Bank of America spent $4.4 billion last year on its Wall Street bankers , according to a person familiar with the matter. The nation's largest bank used 19% of the $23 billion in revenues it generated in 2009 within its markets and investment banking businesses to pay workers' salaries benefits as well as year-end bonuses. That works out to an average of about $440,000 per employee. The bank has roughly 10,000 workers in its markets and investment banking units. Bob Stickler, a spokesman for Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), would not confirm the figures, although he said that the company tried to walk a fine line when it structured worker pay this year. "We are trying to balance the need to pay competitively and to respond to concerns about the level of compensation on Wall Street," said Stickler. [More>>cnn.com]

02.03.10 Mixed signals as Iran launches rocket into space

February 3 - Iran successfully launched a can of worms into space today, prompting a jubilant President Ahmadinejad to brag that the Islamic Republic would soon be sending its own astronauts to orbit Earth. About a dozen worms joined a rat and two turtles in a research capsule aboard a Kavoshgar-3 satellite-carrying rocket launched this morning as part of an ambitious Iranian space programme that has worried Western experts who fear the same technology could be used to deliver atomic warheads. France reacted to the rocket launch with "great concern." A Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "This announcement can only reinforce the concerns of the international community as Iran in parallel develops a nuclear programme that has no identifiable civil aims." Paradoxically, the launch came only a few hours after Mr. Ahmadinejad suggested that Iran would be willing to go back to a UN-brokered deal it rejected last year and send its low-enriched uranium for processing abroad. The proposal was given a cautious welcome in Western capitals.

...At the ceremony, at which he also unveiled three home-built satellites, Mr. Ahmadinejad hailed the progress Iran was making in its space programme and said that it was only through science that it could "break the global domineering system." "It is a great job that living organisms can be sent into space
we do experiments on them and they return to Earth," the President said. "We are going to send a satellite 500km up. The next steps are 700km and 1,000km. Everyone knows that reaching the 1,000km orbit allows you to reach all orbits. This was a huge breakthrough...and we hope we can send our own astronauts into space soon." Iran launched its first home-built satellite, Omid (hope), in February last year to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

The previous year it launched two rockets
Kavoshgar (Explorer) and Kavoshgar 2, although neither was carrying any payload. Tehran has said that it wants to put satellites into orbit to monitor natural disasters in the earthquake-prone nation and improve its telecommunications, but it is already locked in a stand-off with the West over its nuclear programme which it insists is for the generation of electricity and its technological advances have set alarm bells ringing. Mr. Ahmadinejad did not mention the nuclear issue at today's ceremony, but in a television interview last night he confirmed that Iran was willing to ship some uranium abroad for enrichment. [Full story>>timesonline.co.uk]

02.03.10 Iran opposition leaders urge defiance of regime

TORONTO, Canada, February 3 - Throwing up a challenge to to the increasingly violent tactics of Iran's ruling elite, the country's two leading opposition figures are urging protesters to defy the government and take to the streets in an anti-government rally on February 11. The government announced on Tuesday that it would execute nine protesters in addition to the two who were hanged last week. The prosecutor also asked for the death sentence for a 24-year-old protester today, having charged him with Moharehbeh, or waging war against God, for "throwing rocks during protests," the ISNA student news agency reported. The statements by the two opposition leaders, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hussein Moussavi, appeared to reflect a unanimous decision among opposition leaders to stand fast in the face of the brutal treatment of protesters by the government. The statement from Mr. Karoubi, posted Wednesday on his Web site, Sahamnews.org, called for free elections, release of political prisoners and an end to the police state created since the June 12 elections. He renewed his accusations that the results of the June 12 elections were "engineered," and dismissed claims that he was seeking a compromise with the government. [More>>nytimes.com]

02.03.10 Pakistani female scientist guilty of US murder attempt

February 3 - A US court has found a Pakistani female scientist guilty of attempting to murder US agents while she was detained for questioning in Afghanistan. The prosecution said Aafia Siddiqui, a US-trained neuroscientist, picked up an army rifle and shot at the US agents. None of the Americans was injured but Siddiqui, 37, was shot. She was arrested by Afghan police in July 2008 on suspicion of carrying chemicals and notes referring to "mass-casualty attacks" in New York. She has been accused of having links to the al-Qaeda leadership. A jury in Manhattan found Siddiqui guilty of attempted murder, of armed assault, using and carrying a firearm. [More>>bbc.co.uk]

02.03.10 Afghan militants 'making deadlier bombs'

February 3 - Militants in Afghanistan appear to have developed new, more sophisticated and more powerful roadside bombs. Sky News has gained access to underground bomb-making cells and seen first-hand how the militants seem to be creating more devastating ways to kill and maim foreign troops in the country. In Wardak Province, Sky was shown a stockpile of bombs, primed and ready for use, whilst peace talks with the Taliban-led insurgency remain in their infancy. At least 10kgs of explosives had been packed into a group of jerry cans. Each had its own black box with individual frequency codes plus an antenna. But rather than using mobile phones to trigger the explosives as often done in the past these bombs are detonated using a device similar to a radio scanner. The attacker punches in the corresponding numbers into the scanner and can set off the bomb whenever he wants. It works from between 500 metres and one kilometer away. One commander said it is more accurate and not vulnerable to the military jamming systems, which often disable mobile phones...A commander who called himself Kamran said: "The bombs are very cheap. They only cost about $100, but they are very effective. And we can use the scanner again and again." [Full story>>news.sky.com]

02.03.10 Bomb blast in northwest Pakistan; 8 killed including 4 foreigners

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) February 3 - A bomb blast in northwest Pakistan killed eight people Wednesday, including four foreign aid workers and children at a school which had just been rebuilt after a previous Islamist attack. (Watch Video) Journalists were also wounded when the bomb exploded as Pakistani paramilitary forces escorted a group of foreign and local visitors to the inauguration ceremony for the newly built school in the volatile region. "Eight people were killed in this blast -- four foreigners, one security guard and three schoolgirls," district police chief Mumtaz Zarin told AFP. "The school building was also badly damaged and three vehicles destroyed." Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the blast and ordered an investigation into the attack in Koto village, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the Lower Dir's main town of Taimargara.

"The four foreigners were working for an NGO (non-governmental organization). They are from the international community," said a spokesman for the paramilitary Frontier Corps. Doctor Sardar Ali told AFP from Taimargara Hospital that medics had received the bodies of three schoolgirls and a man. Police said they were investigating the nationalities of the foreigners and that four local journalists were also injured. Police said the attack happened ahead of the inauguration of the school, which had been blown up in January 2009 and was reconstructed with the help of a foreign aid organization.

02.03.10 Second Qassam rocket in 24 hours strikes southern Israel

February 3 - Attack follows calls to expedite deployment of delayed "Iron Dome" defense batteries. A second rocket fired from the Gaza strip in 24 hours struck Israel late on Wednesday, falling on open ground and causing no damage or injury. Launch of the Gaza-made Qassam rocket followed air strikes on Gaza on Tuesday night. Israel's air force struck smuggling tunnel beneath Gaza's southern border with Egypt in retaliation for another rocket attack earlier in the day. The strikes also followed a series of what appeared to be attempted attacks on Israel, in which barrels packed with explosives rigged for remote detonation were washed ashore south of Tel Aviv. Earlier today Haaretz reported that Israeli military commanders had for the time being decided against permanently deploying a new defense system against rocket fire, known as "Iron Dome." The army now expects to begin operating the anti-rocket batteries in May. [More>>haaretz.com; See related stories,

jpost.com, February 3, "#rd bomb made safe at Palmahim beach"
: JERUSALEM - Gaza gunman claims many more bombs still at sea to avenge terror chief's death. Police sappers detonated a bomb found on the Palmahim beach late Wednesday afternoon, the third barrel containing explosives found on Israel's shores this week. Police closed down the entire area and shortly after 4pm, sappers blew up the barrel. A large explosion was seen and heard on the beach. The incident comes two days after two barrels containing explosive devices washed ashore on beaches in Ashkelon and Ashdod Monday. Both were destroyed by police sappers. Since Monday, dozens of policemen have been searching for additional explosive barrels and the public was asked to stay off the beaches from Ashdod to Zikim for a second day running.

alarabiya.net, February 3, "Three wounded in Isreli raids on Gaza tunnels" : JERUSALEM - Palestinian PM urges Israel to "roll back" occupation. Israel launched air strikes in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday hitting tunnels as Palestinian prime minister said that Israel must begin to "roll back" its occupation of the Palestinian territories to convince Palestinians it wants a peace deal that would give them statehood. Witnesses said five missiles were fired by Israeli air force fighter jets at an airport that is not operational and on tunnels Israel says are used to smuggle weapons into the coastal territory. An Israeli army spokesman confirmed the attacks took place saying the air strikes targeted two sites where tunnels were dug to help gunmen infiltrate from Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza into Israel and to smuggle in weapons from Egypt...

02.03.10 France denies citizenship over veil

February 3 - The French government is refusing to grant citizenship to a foreign man who forces his wife to wear the full Islamic veil, amid a fierce debate in the country about national identity. Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, said on Wednesday he would sign a decree barring the man from receiving French nationality, adding that he "has no place in our country." The decision comes just days after a parliamentary panel called for a law to ban the wearing of full Islamic veils in public institutions such as schools, hospitals and transport. "It's French law," Fillon told Europe 1 radio. "The civil code has for a very long time provided that naturalization could be refused to someone who does not respect the values of the (French) republic. This case is about a religious radical: he imposes the burqa, he imposes the separation of men and women in his own home, and he refuses to shake the hands of women," he said. On Tuesday, Eric Besson, the immigration minister, said that during checks into the man's application, he had explicitly stated that he would never allow his wife to leave the house without wearing a full veil and that he believed a woman is "an inferior being." [More>>aljazeera.net]

02.03.10 Suicide attack kills 23 Shia pilgrims in Iraq

KARBALA, Iraq (AFP) February 3 - A suicide attacker on Wednesday ploughed a bomb-laden vehicle into Shiite pilgrims in central Iraq, killing 23 of them, including women and children, the second deadly assault on devotees this week. The bomber struck pilgrims walking on foot on the outskirts of the shrine city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, where Shiites are massing to observe Arbaeen rituals. The attack also left 147 people wounded. Arbaeen marks 40 days after the Ashura anniversary commemorating the slaying of one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures, Imam Hussein, by the armies of the Sunni caliph Yazid in 680 AD...The victims had been travelling from Hilla in Babil province and were among tens of thousands of Shiites, including many from neighboring Iran, heading to pay homage at Imam Hussein's shrine in Karbala, one of the holiest places in Shiite Islam. [Full story>>khaleejtimes.com]


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