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The Chart Showing the National Debt above is still valid: "The debt to the penny," publicdebt.treas.gov.
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3.24.08 Three Afghan civilians, over dozen Taliban killed

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, March 24 - Three Afghan villagers died Monday when a Taliban weapons cache exploded in Afghanistan, and more than a dozen militants were killed in other operations a day earlier, police said. Four other villagers were wounded when weapons and explosives hidden in a stable in a village in the southern province of Ghazni blew up, provincial deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said. "The stock went off for unknown reasons, killing three civilians and injuring four others," Zaman said.

Separately 12 Taliban-linked rebels, including two militant commanders, were killed in an operation Sunday by international and Afghan forces in Uruzgan province further south, provincial police chief Juma Gul Hemat said. "We had a joint clean-up operation with coalition forces in Chora district. We came in contact with the Taliban and fighting erupted. During the fighting, 12 Taliban were killed," Hemat said. The dead bodies remained on the ground after the battle, he said, explaining how the death toll was reached. A number of weapons was also seized, Hemat said. On Saturday about 40 militants were killed in a similar operation in Dihrawud, another troubled district in Uruzgan. [

3.24.08 Death reports as Chinese police open fire on monks and nuns

March 24 - Hundreds of monks, nuns and local Tibetans who tried to march on a local government office in western China to demand the return of the Dalai Lama have been turned back by paramilitary police who opened fire to disperse the crowd. Local residents of Luhuo said two people – a monk and a farmer – appeared to have been shot dead and about a dozen were wounded in the latest violence to rock Tibetan areas of China.

The demonstration began at about 4pm local time when about 200 nuns from Woge nunnery and a similar number of monks from Jueri monastery marched out of their hillside sanctuaries and walked towards the Luhuo Third District government office in the nearby town. They were swiftly joined by an estimated several hundred farmers and nomads, witnesses said.

Shouting "Long Live the Dalai Lama" and "Tibet belongs to Tibetans," they approached the district government office. However, paramilitary People's Armed Police swiftly appeared and ordered the crowd to turn back. Town residents reported that, in the ensuing melee, shots were fired and two people appeared to have died. [More>>timesonline.co.uk]

3.24.08 Parkinson's: the breakthrough

March 24 - A potential cure for Parkinson's disease has come a significant step closer today with a study showing that it is possible to treat the degenerative brain disorder with cells derived from cloned embryos – a development condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. The research was carried out on laboratory mice but scientists believe the findings are proof that the techniques could be applied to humans suffering not just from Parkinson's, but a range of other incurable diseases. Researchers have demonstrated the possibility of treating Parkinson's disease by transplanting laboratory-matured brain cells back into the individual who supplied the skin cells that were turned into cloned embryos – a process known as therapeutic cloning. [More>>independent.co.uk]

3.24.08 JPMorgan raises bid for Bear Stearns to $10 a share

March 24 - JPMorgan Chase raised its offer for Bear Stearns, the beleaguered investment bank, to $10 a share Monday morning in an effort to pacify angry Bear shareholders. The sweetened offer of about $1 billion, which was first reported Sunday night, is intended to win over stockholders who vowed to fight the original fire-sale deal, struck only a week ago at the behest of the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department. {More>>nytimes.com]

3.24.08 Bush mourns all 4,000 dead in Iraq: White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) March 24 - President George W. Bush is saddened by the loss of 4,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and will focus on ensuring the US succeeds in the 5-year-old conflict, the White House said on Monday. "It's a sober moment, and one that all of us can focus on in terms of the number of 4,000," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said after a roadside bomb in Iraq killed four US soldiers, pushing the US death toll to a new milestone.

"The president feels each and every one of the deaths very strongly and he grieves for their families," Perino said. "He obviously is grieved by the moment but he mourns the loss of every single life." The 4,000th US death came days after Bush marked the fifth anniversary of the war and said the United States was on track toward victory. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

3.24.08 Bangladesh kills 200,000 fowl over bird flu

DHAKA, Bangladesh (Reuters) March 24 - Authorities in Bangladesh said on Monday they have culled more than 200,000 chickens at different farms over the last two weeks over suspected bird flu outbreaks, although the disease had begun subsiding across the country. Avian influenza has spread through 47 of Bangladesh's 64 districts and forced the killing of more than 1.5 million birds since March of last year. Nearly 2 million eggs have also been destroyed. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

3.24.08 Brand new Pakistan PM orders judges released

ISLAMABAD (AFP) March 24 - Pakistan's new prime minister triggered an immediate showdown with Pervez Musharraf on Monday, ordering the release of judges detained by the president just moments after being elected. Yousuf Raza Gilani, a key aide to slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, immediately promised to free the judges Musharraf ordered held in November amid fears they might challenge his grip on power in the nuclear-armed nation.

Legislators cheered as the 55-year-old Gilani, who himself spent five years in prison under Musharraf's regime, was elected overwhelmingly by the lower house of parliament — where an anti-Musharraf coalition now holds a majority.

3.24.08 Qaeda no. 2 urges attacks on Israel, US

CAIRO (AP)March 24 - Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on Muslims in a new audiotape released Monday to strike Jewish and American targets in revenge for Israel's recent offensive in the Gaza Strip. The al-Zawahri tape came on the heels of a message from Osama bin Laden, who called for a holy war to liberate the Palestinian territories. Together, the two messages appeared to be a more direct push by the terror network's leadership to use widespread anger over the Gaza violence to whip up support. [More>>indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org]

3.23.08 The rise of British sea power

March 23 - Britain is set this week to enter a new age, generating energy directly from the seas that surge around its shores. On Saturday a strange, 122ft- long contraption – looking like an upside-down windmill – will set off from the Belfast dock that built the Titanic to produce the first electricity ever brought ashore from British tides. The device – the first of its kind anywhere in the world – is expected to start a revolution which could lead to our island nation getting a fifth of its power from its surrounding waters, and to the far north of Scotland becoming "the Saudi Arabia of marine energy."

...Yet the inauguration of a tidal turbine, dubbed SeaGen – which will generate enough electricity to power 1,140 homes by being placed directly in the tide race that rushes in and out of the lough – may unexpectedly prove to be the more significant event. While the much-vaunted Severn Barrage has only just begun to undergo a two-year feasibility study, experts are hailing the new turbine as the start of a giant leap in exploiting marine energy, where Britain, for once, is now leading the world.

Later this year, in another global first, a wave energy power station developed by an Edinburgh firm is to be installed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Portugal. Next year, an even bigger one, off Cornwall, is expected to start feeding electricity into the national grid, and yet another is planned for the Orkneys. And Marine Current Turbines, the firm behind SeaGen, has joined with the utility company npower to develop a tidal power station off Anglesey.
[Full story>>independent.co.uk]

3.23.08 Since '01, guarding species is harder

March 23 - With little-noticed procedural and policy moves over several years, Bush administration officials have made it substantially more difficult to designate domestic animals and plants for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Controversies have occasionally flared over Interior Department officials who regularly overruled rank-and-file agency scientists' recommendations to list new species, but internal documents also suggest that pervasive bureaucratic obstacles were erected to limit the number of species protected under one of the nation's best-known environmental laws.

The documents show that personnel were barred from using information in agency files that might support new listings, and that senior officials repeatedly dismissed the views of scientific advisers as President Bush's appointees either rejected putting imperiled plants and animals on the list or sought to remove this federal protection. [More>>washingtonpost.com]

3.23.08 Beat up infidel tourists, says Muslim cleric

March 24 - Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir has returned to his hardline rhetoric with a call for followers to beat up Western tourists and for young Muslims to die as martyrs. In the sermon, organized by an Islamic youth organization and delivered a few kilometers from the home village of convicted Bali bombers Amrozi and Mukhlas, Bashir likened tourists in Bali to "worms, snakes, maggots", and specifically referred to the immorality of Australian infidels. The address was caught on video by an Australian university student.

"The youth movement here must aspire to a martyrdom death," said the cleric, who was convicted of conspiracy over the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, but was later cleared and released from prison. "The young must be first at the front line
don't hide at the back. You must be at the front, die as martyrs and all your sins will be forgiven. This is how to achieve forgiveness." Observers said the sermon's content was a clear indication of what many terrorism academics have noted - that the accused spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiah has been emboldened by his release from prison last year after serving 26 months for conspiracy in relation to the Bali blasts. [More>>news.com.au ; See related stories,
news.com.au, March 24, "Alleged Jemaah Islamiah militant arrested." and
thestar.com.my, March 23, "Muslim converted by pope says life in more danger."

3.23.08 Afghan, NATO forces kill dozens of Taliban militants

KABUL (RIA Novosti) March 23 - Afghan and NATO-led forces killed and wounded dozens of Taliban militants in a joint air and ground operation in the province of Uruzgan in south Afghanistan, the Afghan Defense Ministry said on Sunday. "Mullah Hashim, a well-known field commander, is among the bodies of the militants," the ministry said.

The Taliban carried out more than 140 suicide missions in Afghanistan last year. More than 6,000 people were killed in violence in the country in 2007, nearly 2,000 of them civilians, according to official sources. Taliban militants are especially active in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, which border on Pakistan. [>rian.ru]

3.23.08 Wave of attacks kill 47 in Iraq Sunday

BAGHDAD (AFP) March 23 - A wave of attacks across Iraq on Sunday killed 47 people, while insurgents fired a barrage of mortars at Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, sending US embassy staff scurrying into bunkers. The deadliest attack was in the main northern city of Mosul where a suicide bomber crashed an explosives-laden truck into an Iraqi army base, triggering a blast that killed 10 soldiers and wounded 30 other people, mostly soldiers, army officer Major Mohammed Ahmed told AFP. [More>>khaleejtimes.com ; See also aljazeera.net]

3.22.08 Italy's toxic waste crisis, the Mafia and the scandal of Europe's mozzarella

ROME, March 22 - It may be the moment when the throwaway society meets its retribution. A shadow this weekend hangs over one of the great staples of modern European life – Italy's mozzarella cheese. The topping on a billion pizzas, the magic ingredient in a million salads, is at the centre of a major food scare involving pollution, corruption, the Mafia and southern Italy's remarkable crisis in waste management.

It centres on the buffalo milk used to produce the purest form of the rubbery, cream-coloured delicacy, now as prized an Italian export as extra virgin olive oil – mozzarella di bufala. High levels of dioxins, potentially hazardous pollutant chemicals, have been found in buffalo milk in a group of dairies in Campania, the southern province centring on Naples where most mozzarella production takes place.

Italy's public health authorities believe that the contamination is the result of illegal dumping of toxic waste in Campania, where the waste industry is under the control of the Camorra, the local branch of the Mafia, and where Naples and its region are undergoing a major waste management crisis, with disposal facilities either broken or full, and rubbish piling up in the streets. The scale of the problem is such that it is becoming the cautionary tale par excellence of the modern throwaway society, showing how a major city can be swallowed up by its own refuse and making Naples and its region a symbol for filth around the world. [More>>independent.co.uk]

3.22.08 US targets al-Qaeda's Iraq popaganda units

BAGHDAD (Reuters) March 22 - The US military said on Saturday it had hampered al-Qaeda's ability to recruit new members in Iraq by capturing or killing many of the people who make slick videos used to attract disaffected young Muslims. US military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith said that in the past year, 39 al-Qaeda members in Iraq responsible for producing and disseminating videos and other material to thousands of Internet Web sites had been captured or killed.

"The power of this information is obvious. These guys are using material that is used on Web sites to recruit and raise money," Smith told Reuters in an interview. "We think the vast majority of this media network has been degraded at this point," he said, adding that the arrests had led to fewer Internet postings of al-Qaeda beheadings, kidnappings and other attacks in Iraq.
[More>>alarabiya.net ; See related story, metimes.com, March 22, "Iraq units find terror material in raids."]

3.22.08 Al-Qaeda blamed in failed US site attack

SAN'A. Yemen (AP) March 22 - An al-Qaeda terror cell was behind a mortar strike against the US embassy in Yemen that missed its target but killed a security guard and wounded 13 students at a nearby school, an Interior Ministry official said Saturday. The official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said al-Qaeda militant Hamza Al Dayan launched three mortars at the embassy Tuesday before fleeing the scene in a vehicle with three accomplices.

The mortar shells crashed into the school in the downtown Sawan district of San’a, killing the security guard and wounding 13 schoolgirls, three grievously. On Thursday, the police arrested five suspects in the attack. It was not clear if they have any connection to Al Dayan and his men, who remain at large.

3.22.08 Murdered S. Russian journalists 'were on local paper's blacklist'

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) March 22 - The two journalists from south Russia's republic of Daghestan murdered on Friday were on a list of names that reporters of a local paper were banned from mentioning, a former editor said on Saturday. Early on Friday Ilyas Shurpayev, a journalist with Russia's state-run Channel One, was found stabbed and strangled in his rented Moscow flat. Later in the day Gadzhi Abashilov, the head of Daghestan's state-run television station, was killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his car in the volatile North Caucasus republic.

On the day before he was killed, Shurapayev mentioned in his final post in his Live Journal blog that local independent paper Nastoyashcheye Vremya had blacklisted him. A former editor in chief of the paper, Andrei Melamedov, confirmed the claim to RIA Novosti, saying both men had been put on the list in late 2007. [More>>rian.ru]

3.21.08 On visit, Pelosi offers support to Dalai Lama

DHARAMSALA, India, March 21 - As far as visits by American politicians go, it would be hard to stage a warmer reception. Buddhist nuns waved American flags and the Dalai Lama ordered his followers to offer a standing ovation Friday morning as Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, came to Dharamsala, the emotionally charged headquarters of Tibetan exiles, and seized the opportunity to stick a finger in the eye of China.

"If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China's oppression in China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world," Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, told an overwhelmingly Tibetan audience of around 2,000 people in the courtyard of the town's main temple, Tsulakhang. [More.>nytimes.com]

3.21.08 Blast kills two Afghan cops, NATO soldier

KABUL, March 21 - A suicide attacker blew himself up near a busy shrine in Afghanistan Friday, killing two policemen, while a NATO soldier was killed in a blast elsewhere, officials said. Another bombing in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, flooded with visitors for New Year celebrations, wounded four people Friday, a security official said. The suicide attacker in the southern province of Kandahar detonated his explosives near a vehicle of police guarding a shrine where Friday prayers were busier than normal because of the New Year holidays, officials said. [More>>thenews.com.pk]

3.21.08 50 months, 3000 dead

BANGKOK, Thailand,March 21 - Police said on Thursday the death toll in the South has passed 3,000 since the extremists rekindled the violence in January, 2004. The government is scheduled to launch yet another effort to combat the insurgency this week. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej will hold an emergency meeting on Friday. Earlier this week, Minister Chalerm Yubamrung admitted he had "no idea" how to curb the unrest and called for help from the opposition Democrat party, whose political strength is in the troubled region.

Police on Thursday, quoted by the AFP news agency, put the death toll since 2004 at 3,004, pushed by killings of soldiers and insurgents on Wednesday, in addition to the murder of a 72-year-old Buddhist shopkeeper by four insurgents inside his Yala grocery store. The gunmen also planted a bomb that was aimed at killing police called to the crime scene, but it was detected and defused in time.. Srawut Aree, a professor of Muslim studies at Chulalongkorn University, said the government has made little progress in easing the violence because it has failed to identify any of the military leaders, according to the AFP report.

3.21.08 Abkhazia, the country that doesn't exist, prepares to follow Kosovo's example

March 21 - Underneath the red, white and green Abkhazian flag, border guards check documents on the bridge over the river Psou, just outside the Russian city of Sochi. "Welcome to Abkhazia," says a hirsute official, wearing military fatigues and smoking a slimline cigarette. "Enjoy your stay in our country." Abkhazia has a president, a flag, a national anthem and even a visa system for foreign visitors but the country doesn't appear on any maps. Officially, this small piece of sub-tropical Black Sea coastline with a population today of about 170,000, is a province of Georgia.

But since a vicious war in the early 1990s, it has been functioning as an independent state and, in the aftermath of Kosovo's independence, the Abkhazians hope their statehood will be recognized by the international community. Shortly after Kosovo declared independence, the Abkhazian parliament, located in a seafront building in the capital, Sukhumi, issued a call for international recognition. [More>>independent.co.uk; See related story, rian.ru, March 21, "Russia MPs urge government over sovereignty for Georgia regions."]

3.21.08 Boomerang works in space: astronaut

TOKYO (AFP) March 21 - In an unprecedented experiment, a Japanese astronaut has thrown a boomerang in space and confirmed it flies back much like on Earth. Astronaut Takao Doi ‘threw a boomerang and saw it come back’ during his free time on March 18 at the International Space Station, a spokeswoman at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said on Friday. Doi threw the boomerang after a request from compatriot Yasuhiro Togai, a world boomerang champion.

"I was very surprised and moved to see that it flew the same way it does on Earth," the Mainichi Shimbun daily quoted the 53-year-old astronaut as telling his wife in a chat from space. The space agency said a videotape of the experiment would likely be released later. Doi travelled on US shuttle Endeavour on the March 11 blast-off and successfully delivered the first piece of a Japanese laboratory to the International Space Station. [>khaleejtimes.com; See more details, mdn.mainichi.jp]

3.21.08 Giant sea creatures found in Antarctic search

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) March 21 - Scientists who conducted the most comprehensive survey to date of New Zealand's Antarctic waters were surprised by the size of some specimens found, including jellyfish with 12-foot tentacles and 2-foot-wide starfish. A 2,000-mile journey through the Ross Sea that ended Thursday has also potentially turned up several new species, including as many as eight new molluscs...

...But beyond the discovery of new species, scientists said the survey, the most comprehensive to date in the Ross Sea, turned up other surprises. Hanchet singled out the discovery of "fields" of sea lilies that stretched for hundreds of yards across the ocean floor. [Full story>>cnn.com]

3.21.08 Iran nets $70 bln from oil sales

TEHRAN (RIA Novosti) March 21 - Iran grossed $70 billion from oil sales over the country's past solar year, which according to the Iranian calendar runs from March 21, 2007 until March 20, 2008, the oil minister said on Friday. Gholamhossein Nozari told national television that in the past two years, oil production exceeded 4 million barrels per day, currently at 4.21 million, which is a new record since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He said about 2.5 million barrels per day was exported.

Iran's oil export earnings in the previous year stood at $54 billion. Iran ranks fourth in terms of crude reserves after Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait, as well as fourth in terms of oil production after Saudi Arabia, the United States and Russia. Tehran exports the majority of crude produced in the country. [>rian.ru]

3.20.08 Iraqis say Bush 'victory' is Mideast control

DUBAI, March 20 - The United States may have crushed Saddam Hussein but it failed to bring democracy and brought destruction to Iraq and the only "victory" achieved is stronger US hegemony in the region, Iraqis said as they marked the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion. US President George W. "Bush speaks of victory but I say he has only achieved one thing for this country, destruction," said Abu Fares al-Daraji, in his tobacco shop on the once-bustling Saadun Street of downtown Baghdad.

For Daraji and many of his compatriots, bloodshed has overshadowed the elimination of Saddam's regime and most feel that Washington alone reaped benefits from the war. "The United States achieved victory for itself by strengthening its control of the region, particularly that Iraq is a strategic country to contain the Iranian threat," said Daraji.

"They only secured their own interests, not those of the Iraqi people," Daraji said. "The Americans are an extension of Saddam. Decision-making is in their hands and the (Iraqi) government has no sovereignty whatsoever. There is no victory. The Americans brought our way things we never knew like terrorism and the killings we see on the streets," Daraji added. The war has killed more than 1 million Iraqis, 4,000 U.S. and allied soldiers and turned 5 million people in[to] refugees.
[More>>alarabiya.net See also:

metimes.com, March 20,"Déjà vu all over again" :
Two news reports Wednesday document the Bush administration's unfortunate continued blindness, one might even call it delusional thinking, on Iraq.

First, US President George W. Bush once again defended the war, saying it was necessary to topple Saddam Hussein. Speaking at the Pentagon, Bush was unapologetic while commemorating the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the US invasion of Iraq. He once again maintained that "removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision."

Bush then repeated his recent mantra that the "surge" in US troop levels and the new — certainly more effective — counter-insurgency policy pursued over the past 14 months by US Gen. David Petraeus had already achieved "a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror."

...For Monday's bombing in Karbala and other insurgent attacks the same day could have been taken straight from the headlines of nearly four years ago when, once again, guerrilla attacks against Shiites in Iraq were on the increase with terror bombs routinely massacring scores of innocent people at or near cherished Shiite religious shrines.

Monday's attack occurred near the shrine of Imam Hussein. The attack highlighted the continuing capabilities of the insurgents to inflict massive random suffering on innocent civilians, and the continued inability of the US armed forces and the U.S.-raised and trained Iraqi police and army to prevent such attacks from continuing...

3.20.08 Russian territory could be used for NATO supplies to Afghanistan

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) March 20 - Russia may allow its land and airspace to be used as a transit route for NATO-led counter-terrorism operation supplies to Afghanistan, a senior defense official said on Thursday. "If a decision is made on transit through the territory of Russia, we are ready to participate in it," said Maj. Gen. Boris Svistkov, head of the Defense Ministry's main directorate for military transport services. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on March 18 following his meeting in Moscow with the US secretaries of state and defense that Russia was considering the issue of providing logistics support to counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. A decision is expected soon. [More>>rian.ru]

3.20.08 Europe's last divided city in sight of peace

March 20 - The solution to Europe's longest-running conflict could begin with the agreement to remove two barricades dividing Ledra Street in Nicosia tomorrow. The reopening of the main commercial thoroughfare in the continent's last divided city would send the strongest signal yet that a peace deal for the Mediterranean island is finally in the offing. Cyprus's new president, Demetris Christofias, will meet the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, tomorrow with the symbolic end to the division of the famous street widely expected to be the first gesture agreed to by both sides.

While the aluminium barricades that separate north Ledra from south are hardly intimidating, they do stand between two very different worlds. To the south the mix of high street shops and cafes, like their patrons, could easily be part of any city in the European Union. To the north is a largely tumbledown urban landscape, evidence of the economic and cultural isolation in which Turkish Cyprus languishes. The ends of the street symbolise the two communities' fates since partition: Greek Cypriots have grown wealthy on the back of trade and tourism, eventually joining the EU; while their Turkish counterparts have been mired in poverty and isolated from the outside world by political leaders who, until recently, rejected talk of reunification.

3.20.08 Turkish warplanes bomb PKK targets in N. Iraq

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) March 20 - Turkish warplanes on Thursday bombed Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq, private news channel NTV reported. The planes flew reconnaissance flights over the border area before bombing targets of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the station said, citing Iraqi Kurdish officials. There were no reports of injuries to civilians, it said. Turkey last month launched a major ground operation into northern Iraq to hit Kurdish guerrilla camps there. The eight-day incursion ended on Feb. 29. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

3.20.08 Pakistan suicide bomb kills 5 soldiers

ISLAMABAD (AP) March 20 - A suicide car bomb killed five Pakistani soldiers and wounded nine others near the Afghan border on Thursday, the military said. The bomber attacked security forces in South Waziristan's main town of Wana, a military statement said.

Al-Qaeda- and Taliban-linked militants are believed to operate in the remote tribal area in the rugged, lawless tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Pakistani troops have fought intense battles there in recent years. US-led coalition forces based across the Afghan border also have launched attacks on militants in the area. On Sunday, missiles that witnesses say came from an unmanned drone struck a suspected militant safehouse and killed about 20 people three miles outside of Wana. [More>>indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org]

3.19.08 The world is a better place for the Iraq War, says President Bush

March 19 - President Bush today marked the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war with the message: "The world is better, and the US is safer." In a bullish speech at the Pentagon, in which he repeatedly linked the conflict in Iraq with the worldwide war against Islamist terror, Mr. Bush said any rapid drawing down of troops would risk emboldened terrorists launching a "repeat" of the September 11 attacks. He also claimed that the surge into Iraq, launched last year, had been a success in reducing attacks against US troops, restoring order, and opening the door to "a major strategic victory in the broader war" on extremism.

Yet the President's optimism over the invasion was in stark contrast to many in America today, with one leading newspaper marking the anniversary by publishing a critical editorial over the way the invasion was carried out and with demonstrators clashing with police across the road from the Pentagon. [More>>timesonline.co.uk]

3.19.08 Government moves to help Fannie, Freddie

March 19 - The federal government today gave Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac permission to operate with a reduced safety net in order to increase their aid to the troubled mortgage market. The step could allow the two federally chartered finance companies to immediately increase their investment in mortgages by a combined $200 billion, potentially compensating for weak demand from other investors. That could improve the availability and affordability of home loans, leaders of the two companies said.

Together, the two companies already hold more than $1.4 trillion of mortgages and securities backed by mortgages. News of a possible deal sent what had been deeply depressed shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac soaring yesterday by 27.1 percent and 26.2 percent, respectively. As of early afternoon today, the stocks were up another 9.9 percent and 13.5 percent. [More>>washingtonpost.com]

3.19.08 'Terrorism threatens all we hold dear'

March 19 - The success of Hamas and Hizbullah in the region is not only a danger for Israel, but also a threat to US national interests, US Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post. "If Hamas/Hizbullah succeeds here, they are going to succeed everywhere, not only in the Middle East, but everywhere. Israel isn't the only enemy," Arizona Sen. McCain said, in the only interview he is giving to the Israeli media during his visit here.

"They are dedicated to the extinction of everything that the US, Israel and the West believe and stand for. So America does have an interest in what happens here, far above and beyond our alliance with the State of Israel." [More>>jpost.com]

3.19.08 McCain makes 'Bush-like' mistake about Iran

WASHINGTON (Reuters) March 19 - US Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who is touting his foreign policy credentials, made a mistake on Tuesday, which Democrats were quick to highlight as a sign he can not be trusted as the new president. McCain briefly mixed up which Islamic extremist group Iran is accused of supporting and at a news conference in the Jordanian capital of Amman he accused Iran of supporting the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"Well, it's common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That's well known and it's unfortunate," McCain said. US officials believe Iran has been backing Shiite extremists in Iraq, not a Sunni group al-Qaeda. Connecticut Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, traveling with McCain through the Middle East and Europe, whispered in his ear and McCain quickly corrected himself.

3.19.08 US raid kills 6 in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) March 19 - US forces searching for bomb makers raided Afghan homes near the border with Pakistan early Wednesday, exchanging gunfire with militants. Six people were killed, including two children and a woman, Afghan officials said. The US-led coalition said its forces were searching compounds in Khost province for a militant named Bismullah who organized roadside bomb attacks and smuggled weapons. Militants shot at the troops, who returned fire and killed "several militants," including Bismullah and Rahim Jan, another man suspected of making bombs, the coalition said.

A woman and two children were among six people killed, said Khibar Pashtun, a spokesman for the Khost governor. The coalition statement said a woman and a child who were in one of the buildings from which militants were shooting were killed. [More>>indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org]

3.19.08 Iranian military shells Iraqi villages: mayor

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq (AFP) March 19 - The Iranian military on Wednesday shelled seven Iraqi border villages, causing no injuries or damage but terrifying residents, an Iraqi official said. The shells were apparently aimed at bases of Kurdish rebel group Pejak (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan), said the mayor of Zarawah, a frontier town in northeastern Iraq. Pejak is accused by Tehran of launching deadly attacks on security forces in northwestern Iran. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

3.18.08 Warlords turn to ivory trade to fund slaughter of humans

March 17 - In Chad, Janjaweed militia from Sudan killed 100 elephants in one afternoon; in Kenya, Somali warlords armed with rocket-propelled grenades killed four wildlife rangers during a bloody raid on herds in the Tana Delta; in Democratic Republic of Congo, a whole host of rebel groups have turned the country's dwindling elephant population into a new cash crop.

The fight to protect Africa's elephants has just got more dangerous. Across the continent, armed groups linked to civil wars and conflicts are using the illegal ivory trade to fund their activities. Groups like the Janjaweed, responsible for carrying out countless atrocities in Sudan's western Darfur region, are now the "greatest problem for the protection of elephants in Africa", according to Michael Wamithi, the head of the elephant programme for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).

"Small groups of people used to kill elephants and take their ivory for purely commercial reasons," he said. "Now it is a very different thing. It is organized and it is funding these dangerous groups." In one incident in Chad's Zakouma National Park a gang of more than 30 Janjaweed men on horseback killed more than 100 elephants in a single attack. [More>>independent.co.uk]

3.18.08 US adapts Cold-War idea to fight terrorists

WASHINGTON, March 18 - In the days immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, members of President Bush's war cabinet declared that it would be impossible to deter the most fervent extremists from carrying out even more deadly terrorist missions with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. Since then, however, administration, military and intelligence officials assigned to counterterrorism have begun to change their view. After piecing together a more nuanced portrait of terrorist organizations, they say there is reason to believe that a combination of efforts could in fact establish something akin to the posture of deterrence, the strategy that helped protect the United States from a Soviet nuclear attack during the cold war.

...A primary focus has become cyberspace, which is the global safe haven of terrorist networks. To counter efforts by terrorists to plot attacks, raise money and recruit new members on the Internet, the government has mounted a secret campaign to plant bogus e-mail messages and Web site postings, with the intent to sow confusion, dissent and distrust among militant organizations, officials confirm.
[Full story>>nytimes.com]

3.18.08 Online human rights activist tried in Beijing court

BEIJING, March 18 - Hu Jia, a human rights activist and commentator, was tried in a Beijing court Tuesday on charges of inciting subversion against the Chinese government through his writings on the Internet. Hu's lawyer, Li Fangping, said the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court would likely hand down its sentence in about a week. Hu, 34, who faces up to five years in prison, pleaded not guilty.

Li complained he was given only 20 minutes to defend Hu, which he said was not enough time to mount a persuasive case. "When the prosecutor spoke, the judge let him finish," Li said. "But when I spoke, the judge stopped me and said time was short."

Hu was detained Dec. 27 in what was seen as part of a crackdown by Chinese censors and security services to rid the Internet of dissidents in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing this August. Formal charges were filed a month later. His wife, Zeng Jinyan, and their infant daughter, Qianci, were restricted from leaving Hu's Beijing apartment. [More>>washingtonpost.com]

3.18.08 Two killed in Yemen blasts near US embassy

SANNA (AFP) March 18 - A schoolgirl and a policemen were killed in a bomb attack against a girls’ school near the US embassy in the Yemeni capital on Tuesday, police said, describing it as a criminal incident. About 15 children and four policemen were also wounded, a police official told AFP. "It is a purely criminal incident," the official said, suggesting that the attack was not linked to the US embassy which is located about 500 metres (yards) from the school. Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries, is awash with weapons, the scene of frequent incidents of violence and the ancestral homeland of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

3.17.08 Credit crunch fear sends markets reeling

March 17 - International investors were taken on a white-knuckle ride today as London and Wall Street shares oscillated between 200 points down and a few points to the good. The wild volatility was fuelled by fears that another bank could fall victim to the credit crunch, which last night forced the rescue of US investment bank Bear Stearns by JP Morgan Chase for a knock-down price. JP Morgan took control of Bear Stearns for $2 a share. They had been trading last week at $89. Today, US President, George W. Bush, attempted to reassure the shaken markets after meeting with Henry Paulson, the US Treasury Secretary, and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Fed. [More>>timesonline.co.uk; See also nytimes.com, March 17, "Dow shrugs off early slide after Fed move."]

3.17.08 Bomb kills 39 in Iraqi city of Karbala

BAGHDAD (AP) March 17 - A female suicide bomber attacked a group of Shiite worshippers near a mosque in Karbala on Monday, killing at least 39 people and wounding 54, officials said. The worshippers were gathered at a sacred historical site about half a mile from the Imam Hussein shrine, one of the holiest sites for Shiites. Karim Khazim, the city's chief health official, said the 39 dead included seven Iranians.

Police said the attacker was a woman but provided no other immediate details. Karbala is located about 50 miles south of Baghdad. Police closed the area around the twin golden dome mosques and blocked all roads leading to the sites. The site includes tombs of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson who was killed in a seventh-century battle, and his half brother, also a Shiite saint. [More>>indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org]

3.17.08 UN police, Serbs battle in Kosovo

KOSOVO MITROVICA, Kosovo, March 17 - International forces pulling Serb demonstrators from a U.N. courthouse were attacked Monday by hundreds of furious protesters who massed outside, setting off an hours-long battle with rocks, grenades and live ammunition. UN and NATO forces responded with tear gas, stun grenades and gunshots. At least 42 UN and NATO forces and 70 protesters were wounded in the worst violence in Kosovo since its declaration of independence last month.

The UN police stormed the courthouse just before dawn to arrest dozens of Serbs who had occupied the UN building since Friday to protest Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia. Hundreds of Serbs surrounded the courthouse as the police tried to leave with the arrested demonstrators. Polish, Ukrainian and Bulgarian members of the UN force and NATO troops backing them up were pelted with rocks, Molotov cocktails and hand grenades. Some demonstrators fired guns at the international forces. Witnesses said others surrounded and attacked three UN vehicles, pulling out and freeing about 20 of the 53 protesters who had been arrested in the courthouse. The rest of the 53 were freed after questioning. [More>>washingtonpost.com ; See also bbc.co.uk, March 17, "Kosovo clashes force UN pullout."]

3.17.08 Iran poll delivers challenger to president

March 17 - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has suffered a setback with the election to parliament of the former nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, a personal enemy who challenged him in 2005's presidential election. Mr. Larijani won a landslide victory in the holy city of Qom in last Friday's election, winning more than 70 percent of the vote. He is now a favorite to become the parliament's speaker as his alliance of "pragmatic conservatives" has cut into the parliamentary majority of Mr. Ahmadinejad's supporters. It has also placed Mr. Larijani in pole position for another run against Mr. Ahmadinejad in the presidential election next year. "It sends a subliminal message that he has the backing of the religious mullahs," said one Western diplomat in Tehran.

Mr. Larijani resigned last year as chief nuclear negotiator after falling out with the President over his confrontational tactics with the West. But the President's erstwhile allies, including the Mayor of Tehran, Mohamed Baqer Qalibaf who also nurses presidential ambitions, were also critical of the President's economic policies which have caused high inflation and unemployment. Many Iranians said that the economy was their main concern in the parliamentary vote, whose outcome will not affect the nuclear stand-off between Iran and the West. [More>>independent.co.uk]

3.17.08 232 arrested after blast in Pakistani capital

ISLAMABAD (Xinhua) March 16 - The Islamabad police have rounded up as many as 232 people, most of them students of religious seminaries, following the bomb explosion at an Italian restaurant in Islamabad, a senior police officer said Sunday. The News Network International news agency quoted the chief of Islamabad police Syed Kalim Imam as saying that these people were arrested during a hunt in the capital. The security officials deployed at the US embassy also visited the blast site and collected evidences. However, the Islamabad police chief denied the participation of the USofficials in the investigation of the incident. He said that only Pakistan officials are authorized to probe into the case. [More>>xinhuanet.com]

3.17.08 Suicide bomber kills SHO among two in Mingora police line

SWAT, March 17 - A suicide bomber Monday killed SHO among two policemen and injured seven others in Pakistan's violence-plagued northern Swat valley, police said. The suicide bomber blew himself up inside [the] barracks in Mingora Police Line, the main city in the region where Pakistani troops have been battling Islamic militants for the past several months. The mountainous, snow-capped Swat region is renowned for its ancient Buddhist relics and once attracted large numbers of foreign and local tourists, but has been beset by recent violence blamed on pro-Taliban militants. The injured policemen were reportedly in critical condition, the hospital sources said. The injured were shifted to a nearby hospital. [>thenews.com.pk]

3.17.08 Suicide blast kills 3 Afghans, 2 NATO soldiers

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) March 17 - A suicide attack aimed at NATO-led forces killed two Danish soldiers and at least three Afghan civilians on Monday in the southern province of Helmand, officials said. The Danish Army Central Command said another of its soldiers was wounded in the attack, in Girishk district of the province. The soldiers were working on a reconstruction project when they were attacked, it said.

A spokesman for British forces in Helmand said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had suffered casualties — either dead or wounded — but denied media reports that four British soldiers were killed. "That is completely untrue. As yet, all I can say is that there were ISAF casualties," Lieutenant Colonel Simon Miller said. "We are still waiting for confirmation of nationalities and types of casualties and I am not aware of four British soldiers being killed, that is wrong," he said.

The attacker was in a car, but failed to hit the NATO convoy travelling in the Girishk district of Helmand, one of the areas where Taliban guerrillas are most active and the region that alone produces nearly half the world's opium, the Helmand police chief said. [More>>khaleejtimes.com ; See also turkishpress.com (AFP) March 17, "Three NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan blast."]


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