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4.03.11 Rebels clash with Gaddafi forces in Brega; shelling reported across Libya

April 3 - Conflict has stabilized around the oil facilities of Brega, as better trained rebel soldiers join the fight and airstrikes blunt government advantages; casualties reported in Misrata and Yafran. Libyan rebels skirmished with government forces around the strategic oil town of Brega on Sunday, making incremental advances backed by international air strikes in the seesaw desert battle for the country. In contrast to the rapid gains and losses of territory that characterized the fighting over the past few weeks, the conflict has stabilized around the oil facilities of Brega, as better trained rebel soldiers join the fight and airstrikes blunt the government advantages in weapons and training. "There is fighting going on inside Brega, Gadhafi's forces are based inside Brega university, and we're shelling them and advancing them bit by bit," said Col. Juma Abdel-Hamid, as Grad rockets fired off toward government positions. As more veterans of the old army of joined the battle, the rebel forces have shown more skill in battling their government opponents who possess better training and weapons. [More>>haaretz.com]

4.03.11 Absorbent yet to soak up radioactive water at Fukushima plant

TOKYO, April 3 - Workers tried Sunday to block the leakage of highly radioactive water into the sea from the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant by injecting polymeric water absorbent that can soak up 50 times its volume, but the water flow remains unaffected, the government's nuclear safety agency said. Engineers put 8 kilograms of the polymeric water absorbent together with 60 kilograms of sawdust and three bags of shredded newspaper into pipes leading to a pit connected to the No. 2 reactor building where a 20-centimeter crack has been found to be leaking radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, the agency said. [More>>japantoday.com]

4.03.11 Militants kill 2 US soldiers in Iraq: US military

BAGHDAD (AP) April 3 - The US military says two American soldiers have been killed by enemy forces during an attack in Iraq. In a statement released Sunday, the military says the soldiers were killed by indirect fire on their unit Saturday. The statement did not say where the attack took place and gave no further details. The names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The death raises to at least 4,443 the number of US military personnel who have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. That's according to an Associated Press count. The US ended combat operations in Iraq in September and will withdraw all troops from the country by the end of the year. About 47,000 American troops remain. [>khaleejtimes.com]

4.03.11 Israel demands UN retract 'biased' Gaza report

(AFP) April 3 - Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that Israel will seek the retraction of a report criticizing its 2008-2009 Gaza Strip incursion after the main author, judge Richard Goldstone, accused the UN body behind the study of bias against Israel. Israel on Sunday demanded the retraction of a United Nations report deeply critical of its deadly 2008-2009 offensive on the Gaza Strip after the main author expressed regret over the conclusions. South African judge Richard Goldstone had faced down enormous criticism in Israel at the time over the report which accused both Israel and the Hamas rulers of Gaza of potential war crimes during the 22-day conflict. But in a surprise about-turn on Saturday, he said he now believed that the UN council which commissioned his report had been biased against Israel. He said his assessment had also been changed by the fact that whereas Israel had thoroughly investigated the concerns raised by his panel, Hamas had not. "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document," he wrote in a commentary piece in the Washington Post. The report's findings had set the tone for widespread international condemnation of the Israeli assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza in which more than 1,400 people lost their lives, the vast majority of them Palestinians. [More>>france24.com]

4.03.11 North Korea desperate for outside food aid

April 3 - Seoul, Washington reluctant to resume full-scale assistance. Facing ongoing international isolation and experiencing a wobbly power transfer from its ailing leader to his young son, North Korea is escalating efforts to secure food assistance for its starving people, philanthropic groups in and out of the country said Sunday. The communist North, which relies mostly on outside aid to feed its impoverished population of 24 million, has been facing deepening food shortages in recent years especially after leaving the aid-for-denuclearization talks with regional powers in 2008. While the reclusive state has been upping efforts to resume the talks, South Korea and the US, who are main members of the six-nation dialogue, have been demanding it first prove its willingness to disarm and apologize for attacking Seoul last year. A North Korean official recently said many of its people will "starve to death" if they don't receive food aid soon, an official at a charity group in Seoul said. [More>>koreaherald.com]

4.03.11 40 killed, 100 injured in blasts at Sufi shrine in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, April 3 - Three powerful blasts ripped through a crowded Sufi shrine near Dera Ghazi Khan in Pakistan's Punjab province, killing at least 40 people and injuring 100 others, a government official said. The first blast occurred at the main entrance of the Sakhi Sarwar Darbar located about 30 kms from Dera Ghazi Khan. The two other blasts went off inside the shrine just as a rescue operation had been launched at the site, officials said. "40 people were killed and 100 injured in the deadly attack," Express TV said. About 20 of the injured are in a serious condition, Natiq Hayat, a doctor in charge of emergency rescue service in the area said. The injured included elderly persons, women and children, he told reporters. [More>>indianexpress.com]

4.03.11 Target killing in Pakistan's Karachi claims 436 lives in first quarter of 2011

ISLAMABAD (Xinhua) April 2 - At least 436 people have been killed on the first quarter of the current year in the result of ongoing wave of target killings in Pakistan's southern coastal city of Karachi, official sources said. An official source demanding anonymity told Xinhua on Saturday from Karachi that 436 people had been reportedly killed during the first three months of 2011 as the result of armed clashes among different ethnic, religious, political and mafia groups in the city. Day to day death counting showed that such incidents, only in the month of March, claimed over 190 lives in the city. But Karachi police surprisingly, hiding the original figures, estimated the counting of killed persons at only 109 from January to March. "Killings of the persons who held any party membership or ticket or were party sympathizers are categorized as target killings," a police officer said. [More>>xinhuanet.com]

4.03.11 Twenty killed in under 24 hours in Mexican city

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico, April 3 - Authorities said that 20 people were killed in less than 24 hours in Mexico's most violent city, Ciudad Juarez, which borders the US state of Texas. The first of three separate attacks by armed groups was late Thursday when five people were killed at a bar called La Barritas. Witnesses described several armed men opening fire from outside the building before Molotov cocktails were thrown inside, according to local press reports yesterday. The victims were two men, two women and a fifth person "burned so badly that it was impossible to determine the sex," a forensics expert told AFP on condition of anonymity. Ten people were killed late Thursday into Friday at another bar, El Castillo, near the border crossing with the United States, officials in the state of Chihuahua said. Witnesses said more than a dozen gunmen dressed in black entered the bar and opened fire. The bar is located near the Zaragoza International Bridge linking Ciudad Juarez to the city of El Paso in Texas. Separately on Friday, gunmen fired at a food stand on the street, killing four men and a 10-year-old boy, a police officer said. Ciudad Juarez is considered the most violent city in Mexico, with more than 3,100 homicides in 2010. Most of the violence is blamed on drug cartels who fight for control of lucrative drug routes into the United States. [>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

4.03.11 Why did my middle class brother turn into an Islamic extremist who won't be seen on TV with our mother if she's not wearing a veil?

April 3 - Pressing his loudspeaker tighter into his mousy-brown bush of a beard, Salahuddin's bright-blue eyes fill with hatred. "When the Taliban defeat the allies we will establish Sharia law and take the fight to the enemy," he preaches before a baying crowd of extremist friends at a demo in Barking, Greater London. But just a year ago Salahuddin was known to his middle-class friends and family simply as Rich, a 27-year-old security guard for the BBC...Within the space of just six months he has abandoned his family and believes the UK should be run by strict Sharia law which means cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning women for cheating. Now, in a controversial new documentary made by his brother, Robb has attempted to understand Rich's journey throughout this drastic change in lifestyle....He regularly takes to the streets of Whitechapel, East London, where he now lives, to whip up support for the fight to create a global Islamic state. He has helped recruit new members to the religion, many of whom are also white, middle-class citizens who have turned their backs on the society they grew up in. [Full story>>dailymail.co.uk]

4.03.11 Afghanistan: Koran protests [continue] in Kandahar and Jalalabad

April 3 - At least one person has been killed and 18 injured in a third day of protests in Afghanistan over the burning of a Koran in the US last month. Hundreds of demonstrators marched in Kandahar, Jalalabad and other areas on Sunday. On Friday, 14 people, including seven UN staff, were killed in Mazar-e Sharif after similar protests. US President Barack Obama described the killings as "outrageous" and the Koran burning as "intolerance and bigotry." Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called on the US Congress to condemn the Koran burning and prevent it from happening again. [More>>bbc.co.uk; See also

en.rian.ru (RIA Novosti) April 3, "Over 100 dead in Kandahar, witnesses say police firing on crowds"
: KABUL - More than 100 people have died in violence in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, where eyewitnesses say police are firing on crowds with automatic weapons. A source in Afghanistan's Interior Ministry told RIA Novosti on Sunday that the death toll had passed 100 in riots over the public burning of a Quran by a US pastor. Fighting is going on outside a government building and the city's fifth district is littered with bodies. Police say the protesters have been joined by Taliban militants. Eyewitnesses told RIA Novosti by telephone that police had opened fire on a crowd that tried to storm a UN office, located next to a government building. "A machine gun is being fired, there are a lot of victims," one person said...

4.02.11 More deaths as Afghans protest Quran burning

April 2 - Eight people killed in Kandahar as thousands protest against a US pastor's burning of the Quran last month. Eight people have been killed in Afghanistan as protests continue against the burning of the Quran by a controversial US pastor. Thousands of people took to the streets in Kandahar city on Saturday, a day after a deadly attack on UN staff. Protesters attacked the police and set shops ablaze. About 70 people were injured. Abdul Qayoum Pukhla, a senior doctor at Kandahar's Mirwais hospital, said victims suffering from bullet injuries and wounds caused by rocks had been admitted to the hospital. The spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province said the protest was organized by the Taliban who used the Quran burning in Florida as an excuse to incite violence. "The demonstration in Kandahar was planned by insurgents to take advantage of the situation and to create insecurity," Zalmay Ayoubi said.

A day earlier, after Friday prayers ended, protesters overwhelmed security guards at the UN office in the usually peaceful northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. They burned parts of the compound and climbed blast walls to topple a guard tower. Afghan officials said at least 11 people were killed, including seven UN staff. The throat of one of the dead foreigners was slit, the UN said. Demonstrators had gathered to protest over reports that an evangelical pastor last month burned a copy of the Muslim holy book in the US.

4.02.11 Islam accountable for Afghan killings: US pastor

GAINESVILLE, Florida, April 2 - The US pastor, whose burning of the Quran sparked deadly violence in Afghanistan, has called for "immediate" US and UN action against its perpetrators, saying the whole religion of Islam must be held accountable. "Islam is not a religion of peace," Dove World Outreach Centre Pastor Terry Jones said in a statement issued after seven foreign UN workers had been killed in Afghanistan by protesters angered by the Quran burning, in the deadliest attack on the UN there since the 2001 invasion. "The time has come to hold Islam accountable," he added....Jones called the killings "a very tragic and criminal action." "The United States government and the United Nations itself, must take immediate action," he continued. "We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities." The controversial evangelical pastor said he and his supporters demanded action from the United Nations. "Muslim-dominated countries can no longer be allowed to spread their hate against Christians and minorities," he said. "They must alter the laws that govern their countries to allow for individual freedoms and rights, such as the right to worship, free speech, and to move freely without fear of being attacked or killed." [Full story>>indianexpress.com]

Editorial note: "Confusion on the Islamic faith" The Quran (Koran) divides the world into two groups: those who are part of a Khilafah (Caliphate), completely subject to Islam and those who are not, being Kuffars (unbelievers). The Koran justifies violence against Kuffars, subjects them to extra taxes and generally justifies the suppression of all other faiths. Even Muslim's can fall under the criteria of "unbelievers," according to Osama bin Laden and other extremists who wage war against anyone that does not agree with their interpretation of Islam. The Koran is full of contradictions, claiming to confirm the Jewish Scriptures (Torah, Book of Moses), prophets and Gospel of Jesus, on the one hand, and advocating violence against unbelievers on the other hand. Jesus never advocated violence against unbelievers and certainly represented the opposite, of forgiveness of those who transgress you, turning the other cheek, etc. For a more complete discussion on these contradictions see Maravot News "The Allah Controversy," Chapter 6, "Koran advocates violence against unbelievers (kuffar) / enemies:" ; See also related Maravot News article 3.30.11 A victory for common sense' ...

4.02.11 Malaysia: Government allows import and local printing of Bible in all languages

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia, April 2 - The Bible can now be imported into the country in all languages including Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and in the indigenous languages. It can also be printed locally and there is no requirement for any stamp or serial number. These are part of a 10-point solution developed by the Government after being in dialogue with Christian groups, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala. He hoped the solution would be received positively by Christian groups. Below is the full statement by Idris on the 10 points provided to the media. The Government confirmed that it has been in dialogue with the Christian groups to look into their specific requests on the Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia Bible and also other religious issues. Taking into account the polarity of views of the different religious groups, including the Muslims, the Government decided on a 10-point solution. [More>>thestar.com.my; For background see Maravot News "The Allah Controversy."]

4.02.11 Radioactive water leaking from stricken nuclear plant into sea

FUKUSHIMA, April 2 - Water with high levels of radiation has been confirmed to have seeped into the sea from the No. 2 reactor at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, government officials said Saturday, raising wider fears of environmental contamination by the release of radioactivity. The water has been leaking into the sea from a 20-centimeter crack detected at a pit in the reactor where power cables are stored, the government's nuclear safety agency said, adding that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is ready to encase the fracture in concrete. The first detection of tainted water flowing out into the Pacific Ocean could force the government and the operator to limit further expansion of radioactive contamination, likely hampering efforts to restore the crippled cooling functions at the complex. The government "wants (the utility) to start the operation of covering the crack in concrete as soon as possible," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. "We will also check whether there are cracks at other reactors as soon as possible," he added. [More>>japantoday.com]

4.02.11 Coalition airstrike kills 10 rebels amid fierce fighting, report says

April 2 - Incident comes as residents of Misrata say forces loyal to Libyan Leader Muammar Gadhafi mounted an intense artillery bombardment of the rebel-held city. A Western coalition air strike hit a group of rebels on the eastern outskirts of Brega late on Friday, killing at least 10 of them, rebel fighters at the scene said on Saturday. A Reuters correspondent saw the burnt-out husks of at least four vehicles including an ambulance by the side of the road near the eastern entrance to the oil town. Men prayed at freshly dug graves nearby. "Some of Gadhafi's forces sneaked in among the rebels and fired anti-aircraft guns in the air," said rebel fighter Mustafa Ali Omar. "After that the NATO forces came and bombed them." [More>>haaretz.com]

4.02.11 Ivory Coast's Gbagbo besieged at residence

ABIDJAN, April 2 - Ouattara loyalist forces take state TV. Ivory Coast forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara seized the state broadcaster and attacked the residence of incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, a spokesman for Prime Minister Guillaume Soro said. Radio Television Ivorienne fell into our hands last night, Meite Sindou said in a phone interview today. Television broadcasts were halted at about midnight. He didn't provide further information on the attack on Gbagbos home in Abidjan, the commercial capital. Fighting is currently taking place at the presidential palace in the Plateau district and at the Agban military base in the Adjame neighborhood, Sindou said. A resident of the northern suburb of Cocody, where Gbgbo lives, said, "The shooting doesn't stop. Gbagbo's men are resisting in all their positions." "We are hearing deafening artillery shots, RPG7 (rockets) and machine guns," he said. [More>>alarabiya.net]

4.02.11 Six dead in attack on security post west of Baghdad

(AFP) April 2 - Six members of the Iraqi security forces were killed just before dawn when their control post in the village of Kubisa, 200 kilometers west of Baghdad, was attacked by armed raiders, a police spokesman said. The men — three soldiers and three police officers — died in the attack at 5am (0200 GMT). Eight other people, including four civilians, were injured in the attack in Al-Anbar province. None of the gunmen was killed or captured. Al Anbar, which covers Iraq's western desert, is a former stronghold of the Sunni Arab rebellion. Violence in the province had begun to tail off after tribal chiefs, weary of al-Qaeda attacks and backed financially by the US, rose up against the extremists in September 2006, forming militia dubbed "Sahwa," or Awakening. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

4.01.11 Japanese nuclear workers face new threat from radioactive groundwater

April 1 - Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant face new threats to their health after radiation exceeding safety levels was found to have seeped into groundwater near the facility. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), was the target of further criticism amid reports that some workers at the site had not been provided with personal radiation monitors. Tepco's handling of the crisis has come under closer scrutiny since three workers were exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation last week. They have all been discharged from hospital after suffering no ill effects. Japan's nuclear and industrial safety agency, Nisa, ordered the firm to review its latest radiation measurements taken from the air, seawater and groundwater, saying they seemed suspiciously high. Earlier on Friday Tepco reported that groundwater beneath one of the plant's six reactors contained levels of radioactive iodine 10,000 times higher than government standards. [More>>guardian.co.uk]

4.01.11 Ten killed during Koran burning protest in northern Afghanistan

April 1 - Ten foreigners were killed yesterday during an attack on the UN headquarters in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif by demonstrators protesting against the burning of the Koran by a US pastor, police said. Protesters marched in Mazar-i-Sharif and in the capital Kabul yesterday against the burning of Islam's holy book by US pastor Wayne Sapp last month, and against plans to establish permanent US bases in Afghanistan. "Ten (UN) people have been killed by the protesters (...) All the killed are foreigners," police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai said. A spokesman for the UN mission in Kabul, Don McNorton, said: "We are aware of an incident in our Mazar office, we are currently working to ascertain all the facts."

Sapp set alight to a Koran in the US on March 21 under the supervision of controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones, who last year abandoned his plans to burn a Koran after an international outcry. Some 200 protesters demonstrated at the American Embassy in Kabul, while protesters also gathered at the UN headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif. The demonstrators set off from mosques in downtown Kabul after Friday prayers. They burned a US flag and stamped on it, shouting "Death to America." "A mullah's speech encouraged people for the demonstration because of the burning of a Koran in the United States, and because we don't want US bases in Afghanistan," Mawladad, one of the protesters said.
[More>>news.com.au; See also dailymail.co., April 1, "Two UN staff beheaded and eight others murdered in protest against US pastor who burnt Koran.":...Among those murdered were Norwegian, Romanian, Swedish and Nepalese nationals. Two were decapitated, it is understood...

4.01.11 Witness: Falling into security abyss in Gaddafi's Libya

TUNIS (Reuters), April 1 - I have interviewed many victims of Arab autocrats over the years. It was usually done secretly, at an obscure restaurant or by telephone. I never thought I might witness their suffering in real time. But in Muammar Gaddafi's Libya, anything is possible. One day last month, I joined the victims. At one point, when I was hauled out of a vehicle at a deserted farmyard, I heard the rifle catches click and thought I was about to be killed. Reuters photographer Chris Helgren and I were in Libya at the invitation of the government. It previously kept journalists out but changed tack as it fought an uprising. Officials had told us publicly that we could travel wherever we wanted, to see their side of the story. The reality was rather different. Chris and I, however, took them at their word and on March 5 we found a taxi to take us the 200 km (130 miles) east to the city of Misrata, where rebels said they had taken over. As we approached the outskirts, our trouble began. We were stopped at a checkpoint by a group of militiamen and soldiers. Hoping to relax them, I said I was Egyptian, a fellow Arab. Stupid move. Egyptians are now detested by Gaddafi loyalists, since the revolution in Cairo inspired Libyans to rebel. [More>>thestar.com.my]

4.01.11 Yemenis hold largest protest yet against leader

SANAA, Yemen (AP) April 1 - Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis packed a square in the capital and marched in villages and cities across the nation on Friday in what appeared to be the largest demonstrations in more than a month of demands the country's longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. Youth leaders said they planned a march in the direction of the heavily guarded presidential palace. Many mosques in the capital shut down — a move unprecedented for Friday, the Muslim day of prayer — as worshippers and clerics streamed to the square outside Sanaa University. Protesters filled the plaza and spilled out along three adjoining streets. Previous demonstrations have taken up the square and at most two of the streets that feed into it. The demonstrators set up tents and hung up posters of young men who were fatally shot by government forces during previous protests. [More>>foxnews.com]

4.01.11 Jobs report: March springs back

April 1 - The Labor Department released the March jobs report and the results were good: 216,000 non-farm jobs were added in the economy and the unemployment rate dropped to 8.8 percent. Since November 2010, the rate has dropped a full percentage point. The trend is moving in the right direction, as the total number of unemployed persons dropped to 13.5 million from 13.7 million in February and for the first quarter of the year, the US economy created an average of 159,000 a month. The economy needs to create about 125,000 jobs a month just to keep pace with new entrants to the work force, so it’s important that we string together a bunch of these +200,000 jobs a month to really put a dent in the unemployment rate. While I am pleased about the positive developments, another trend is reasserting itself in the American economy: pay disparity. It never really went away, but the Great Recession inflicted pain across the board. In 2010, one group is back with a vengeance: CEOs. USA TODAY conducted an analysis of data from GovernanceMetrics International and found median CEO pay at 158 S&P 500 companies jumped 27 percent in 2010, while the rest of us working schlubbs in private industry saw compensation grow just 2.1 percent in the 12 months ended December 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. [More>>moneywatch.bnet.com via cbs.com]

3.31.11 Cameron: Libyan defector shows regime's decay

March 31 - The defection of a Libyan foreign minister to the UK reflects on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's "crumbling" regime, Prime Minister David Cameron has said. Mr. Cameron called on the Libyan dictator's henchman to follow Musa Kusa's example in abandoning the leader. Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street, the PM said others should now "come to their senses" and change sides. "It shows a certain amount of distrust, decay and breakdown at the heart of the Gaddafi regime," he said. "The decision... to come to London to resign his position is a decision by someone right at the very top. It tells a compelling story of the desperation and the fear right at the very top of the crumbling and rotten Gaddafi regime." He also insisted Mr. Kusa would not be offered any immunity from British or international justice. Foreign secretary Mr. Hague revealed he had been communicating with the controversial politician over recent weeks. "His resignation shows that Gaddafi's regime...is fragmented, under pressure and crumbling from within," he said. "Gaddafi must be asking himself: who will be the next to abandon him?" The comments came as Sky sources learned an official at the Libyan embassy in London had stepped down, saying he wanted to represent the people of the country. [More>>news.sky.com; See also:

guardian.co.uk, March 31, "Lockerbie bombing prosecutors target Libyan defector Musa Kousa"
 : Scottish investigators have asked to interview Gaddafi foreign minister and spymaster, who has defected to Britain. Scottish prosecutors have asked to interview Moussa Kousa about the Lockerbie bombing after the Libyan foreign minister and spy chief defected to Britain. The request from the Crown Office in Scotland follows demands from Libya's rebel leadership for Koussa to be returned to Libya for trial for murder and crimes against humanity after Muammar Gaddafi is toppled from power...It remains unclear what role Koussa played when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in December 1988, killing 270 passengers, crew and townspeople. He later emerged as head of Libyan intelligence services. Koussa's defection provides Britain with an unparalleled source of intelligence on the state of the Libyan ruler's inner circle...

News.sky.com, March 31, "Libya's Musa Kusa 'a plum prize' for UK"
: He is the man Britain kicked out in 1980 for advocating killing Libyan dissidents living in London, but over 30 years on Musa Kusa is back...this is the man accused of masterminding the Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people. Years later, he helped secure the release of the only person convicted of involvement in the attack Abel Ali Mohmed al Megrahi...

nytimes.com, March 31, "Clandestine C.I.A. operatives gather information in Libya"
: WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi's forces, according to American officials. While President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Gaddafi's military, the officials said. In addition to the C.I.A. presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency's station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations, the officials said. American officials hope that similar information gathered by American intelligence officers — including the location of Colonel Gaddafi's munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns — might help weaken Libya's military enough to encourage defections within its ranks...

cbsnews.com, March 31, "NATO takes over in Libya, says no arms" : BRUSSELS -
NATO's chief said Thursday the alliance doesn't support US and British suggestions that the UN mandate for the international military operation in Libya allows arming rebels who are fighting Muammar Gaddafi's troops. NATO assumed command of all air operations over Libya early Thursday, taking over from the US, which had been eager to be rid of that responsibility. NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Stockholm that NATO's position is that "we are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm the people."...

3.31.11 13 dead in attack on Pakistan Islamic party leader

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, March 31 - Leader of Pakistan Islamic party survives murder attack. A suicide bomber struck a convoy carrying a prominent hardline Islamist leader in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing 13 people in what was the second attack that targeted the politician in as many days, police said. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of the Jamiat Ulema Islam party, told local TV after the attack in Charsadda town that he was unharmed but his vehicle was slightly damaged. The attack came a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up amid a crowd of Rehman's supporters minutes after he passed by in a vehicle. Rehman has been an outspoken supporter of the Afghan Taliban, but some militants in Pakistan have shown a willingness to target anyone connected to the US-backed government. US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last year also revealed that Rehman allegedly sought support from US officials in Pakistan despite his fierce criticism of Washington in public. The 13 dead from Thursday's attack included at least three policemen, said Liquat Ali Khan, police chief in Peshawar city. The blast also wounded at least 42 people. "The bomber was on foot and he jumped on the main road in front of the police vehicle and detonated his explosive when the convoy of Maulana Fazalur Rehman was coming," senior administration official Ajmal Khan said. [More>>alarabiya.net]

3.31.11 Letter bomb injures two at Swiss nuke plant office

GENEVA (AP) March 31 - A letter bomb has exploded at an office of the Swiss nuclear power industry in the northern city of Olten, injuring two people, police said Thursday. The explosion happened shortly after 8 a.m. as staff were opening the morning's post in the fourth-floor office of Swissnuclear, said police spokeswoman Thalia Schweizer. Swissnuclear is a lobby group representing national power companies Axpo, Alpiq and BKW. Schweizer said the two staff members had been taken to a hospital but their injuries appeared to be superficial. Opponents of nuclear power in Switzerland have become more vocal in recent weeks as images of the stricken Fukushima reactor in Japan appear on the evening news bulletins daily. Switzerland has five nuclear reactors currently in operation. [>foxnews.com]

3.30.11 Obama calls for US to reduce oil imports, defends domestic drilling policy

March 30 - President Obama called Wednesday for the United States to reduce its oil imports by one-third over the next decade, pledging to expedite domestic drilling permits and boost energy-efficiency, while rejecting as political posturing claims that his administration has locked down US oil wells.  Facing pressure to curb rising gas prices, Obama outlined what he called an energy security "blueprint" during a speech at Georgetown University. "In an economy that relies so heavily on oil, rising prices at the pump affect everybody," Obama said. But he said the United States needs a long-term plan, regardless of whether gas prices are up or down. He touted oil alternatives like natural gas and biofuels, while stressing the importance of creating more fuel-efficient vehicles. He suggested young people have a "responsibility" to buy fuel-efficient cars, to ensure that market is viable for manufacturers. "There are no quick fixes. And we will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we finally get serious about a long-term policy for a secure, affordable energy future," Obama said. "We cannot keep going from shock when gas prices go up to trance when they go back down." Obama said he wants America to cut its oil imports by a third from the 11 million barrels a day the country was importing when he was elected. [More>>foxnews.com]

3.30.11 China tops global clean energy table

March 30 - China remains the world's leading investor in low-carbon energy technology, a global study has shown. The table, published by the US Pew Environment Group, showed that the Chinese invested $54.4bn (£34.1bn) in 2010, up from $39.1bn in 2009. While the US saw investment increase by 51% to $34bn, it still slipped from 2nd to 3rd in the ranking, behind Germany's $41.2bn. However, the UK slipped outside the top 10 as investment fell by 70% in 2010. Globally, the sector — which does not include nuclear power — attracted $243bn of investment, a 30% increase from 2009 and a whopping 630% rise since 2004. The authors also said that 40 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 17GW of solar energy were installed during 2010, taking the global clean power capacity to 388GW. The report Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race, using data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, examined the clean energy sector's investment and technological trends in the G20 leading economies. "Looking at global trends, the solar sector experiences the strongest growth among the various technologies," observed Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. [More>>bbc.co.uk]

3.30.11 Biggest spike in radiation at Japan power plant

TOKYO, March 30 - Setbacks mount in effort to contain nuclear crisis as officials weigh unorthodox solutions. Setbacks mounted Wednesday in the crisis over Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear facility, with nearby seawater testing at its highest radiation levels yet and the president of the plant operator checking into a hospital with hypertension. Nearly three weeks after a March 11 tsunami engulfed the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, knocking out power to the cooling system that keeps nuclear fuel rods from overheating, Tokyo Electric Power Co. is still struggling to bring the facility in northeastern Japan under control. While radioactive water in Unit 1 reactor's turbine building is being drained successfully, progress seems to have stalled at reactors 2 and 3, reports CBS Radio News correspondent Lucy Craft. Radiation leaking from the plant has seeped into the soil and seawater nearby and made its way into produce, raw milk and even tap water as far as Tokyo, 140 miles to the south. Amid criticism that safeguards were lax at the Fukushima plant, the nuclear agency on Wednesday ordered plant operators nationwide to review their emergency procedures. The agency told utilities they must have on hand mobile backup generators and fire engines, which have been used at Fukushima to cool the reactors. The operators must report back to the agency within a month. [More>>cbsnews.com; See related story,

japantoday.com, March 30, "TEPCO to scrap 4 reactors at crippled nuclear plant; president hospitalized'
: TOKYO - Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday that it will scrap four crippled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as the country struggles to bring the nuclear crisis under control weeks after a powerful earthquake and tsunami. The utility also signaled that the efforts to contain the crisis will take a long time, with Tsunehisa Katsumata, the company's chairman, saying that "several weeks will be too short" to stabilize the reactors. In a sign that the sheer size of the disaster is overwhelming the power provider, Katsumata admitted at a news conference that the cost of compensation in connection with the disaster will undermine the company financially. But he said the utility, known also as TEPCO, will try hard to remain afloat and avoid nationalization. "We apologize for causing the public anxiety, worry and trouble due to the explosions at reactor buildings and the release of radioactive materials," Katsumata said at the company's head office in Tokyo, 220 kilometers southwest of the plant on the Pacific coast...

3.30.11 Umar Patek could be information goldmine: ICG

JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 30 - International Crisis Group (ICG) senior advisor Sidney Jones says Umar Patek, a terrorism suspect allegedly arrested in Pakistan earlier this month, would be an information goldmine on terrorism networks in Southeast Asia and South Asia. "So the news of Umar Patek being caught is very good to hear," Sidney said Wednesday, as quoted by tempointeraktif.com. Patek allegedly masterminded the 2002 Bali bombing and is also wanted by the government of the United States, among others. Jones said Umar could have escaped from Indonesia in 2003 with the aid of another suspect, Abdullah Sonata, and Kompak, an organization he chaired. Umar had joined the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) at one period, she said. Sidney added that the MILF then ousted him in 2005 and Patek had joined a group led by militant Abu Sayaf. Patek, also known as “Abdul Ghoni”, “Abu Syeikh” and “Umar Arab”, is said to have obtained skills in weaponry and bomb assembling in Afghanistan. "However, we have not known what Umar Patek has been up to during the last two to three years," Jones said. A lot of information on Patek has yet to see the light, she said. "For example whether he joined Dulmatin when Dulmatin returned to Indonesia, and on the relationship between the Indonesian and Mindanao radical Islam network." Dulmatin was another suspect who was gunned down during a raid by the Indonesian police. Sidney said the Philippines government would also request that Patek be brought to court there. [>thejakartapost.com]

3.30.11 'A victory for common sense' : Cafe owner wins extractor fan appeal after 'bacon smell offends Muslims'

March 30 - A cafe owner who was ordered to tear down an extractor fan because the smell of bacon offended Muslims was celebrating a 'victory for commons sense' today. Beverley Akciecek has won her appeal against the ruling by Stockport councillors. Mrs. Akciecek's neighbour's had claimed their Muslim friends were refusing to visit because they 'couldn't stand'  the odour. And the Lib Dem-run council ruled the smell from the fan, which has been in Bev's Snack Shack for more than three years, was 'unacceptable on the grounds of residential amenity' and told her to take it down. But the mother-of-seven and her husband Cetin, 50, who is himself a Turkish Muslim, appealed the decision.

After a six-month legal battle, the Planning Inspectorate finally announced they had won their case. The council will now have to pay all of Mrs. Akciecek's legal costs plus their own, which include the costs of planning reports, lawyers' consultations and meetings. All will be met by the public purse. She said today: 'This a victory for common sense but we shouldn't have been put through this in the first place. "We're just relieved it's all over. I would like to thank the planning and environmental services who backed my appeal. We had lots of support from the Muslim community. The Muslim community were infuriated by what had happened. The council have got to pay our legal fees which is a great relief because we were beginning to struggle..."
[More>>dailymail.co.uk; See related stories,

foxnews.com, March 30, "Illinois discrimination case raises questions about religion and workplace" : Is it a case of legitimate discrimination? Or a Justice Department out of control? Those are two of the questions surrounding the case of Safoorah Khan, a 29-year-old math teacher and devout Muslim who, until December of 2007, taught at the MacArthur Middle School in Berkeley, Ill. In mid-August of that year, Khan notified her employer that she wanted three weeks of unpaid leave in December to attend the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. It happened to fall that year just prior to her students' final exams and the school district said no, leading Khan to resign. She took her case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ruled in her favor and referred the case to the Department of Justice. Last December, DOJ filed suit against the Berkeley, Ill., School Board in federal court in Chicago, claiming it violated Title Seven of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The act prohibits an employer from discriminating on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin or religion.

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez said in a recent interview that Khan's request to attend the Hajj was a "profoundly personal request by a person of faith." But former Bush-era DOJ Civil Rights Division lawyer Hans von Spakovsky disagrees. "The Justice Department is using its power and law to push frankly extreme cultural and other views that the ordinary American person does not agree with," Spakovsky said.

...Constitutional scholar Eugene Volokh of UCLA's School of Law says Khan's case is not unique in American history. "In one form or another this has been claimed by certain Christian denominations, by Jews and by others. Muslims are claiming the same kinds of rights that other religious groups have," he said. But in a broader context, the case raises uncomfortable questions. When do special accommodations for religious and cultural minorities become paralyzing exceptions? Does three weeks off for Hajj open the doors for Christians to spend three weeks at a retreat? Or Wiccans at a festival? Atheists at a convention? ...

france24.com, March 30, "French religious leaders warn against planned Islam debate" : One week before a parliamentary session on secularism and the role of Islam in France, French religious leaders have written an editorial casting doubt on a debate they say could fuel prejudice. Ahead of a scheduled April 5 parliamentary session on secularism in French society, religious figures representing the six major faiths in France have cosigner a sweeping editorial denouncing the debate as a potential source of discrimination and confusion. The initiative urged by French President Nicolas Sarkozy was originally framed, as ruling centre-right UMP party secretary Jean-François Copé stated last month, as a national conversation on "how to organise religious practice so that it is compatible in our country with the rules of our secular republics."

But following a February TV appearance in which Sarkozy wondered aloud what kind of "limits" needed to be placed on Islam in France, the debate has been increasingly viewed as specifically targeting the roughly 6 million Muslims residing in France. Indeed, the debate is now expected to address Islam-specific issues such as the financing of mosques and the ideological backgrounds of imams leading services...But in the context of recent French laws reinforcing secularism (a ban on headscarves, Jewish kippahs, and conspicuous crosses in public schools in 2004 and a ban of the head-to-toe burqa in public just last year), their opposition to the parliamentary debate is likely motivated, in part, by “a fear of a more rigorous application of laws affecting religious garb or religious dietary restrictions”...

bbc.co.uk, March 30, "Geert Wilders 'hate' trial to go ahead in Amsterdam" : The trial of Dutch political leader Geert Wilders on charges of inciting hatred against Muslims is to go ahead, an Amsterdam court has ruled. Mr. Wilders, whose Freedom Party props up the government, had argued the court could not try the case as the alleged offences took place in The Hague. He insists his remarks on Islam were part of a legitimate political debate. An original trial was halted last October after claims of bias by Mr. Wilders against the judges were upheld. Mr. Wilders has described Islam as "fascist", comparing the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf. In his ruling on Wednesday, Judge Marcel van Oosten said the court would pursue the charges against him for the comparisons he had made with Nazism, according to Dutch media. But he dropped a complaint referring to Mr. Wilders' statement: "I've had enough of Islam in the Netherlands - ban that fascist book." The judge said that an Amsterdam court was well within its right to judge the case as the alleged offences had "also been committed within the jurisdiction of Amsterdam." The trial was adjourned until 13 April, when three experts on Islam and the Middle East will be called to give evidence. [end]

Maravot News, "The Allah Controversy,"
Editorial Note: "a discussion of the main Islamic issues in conflict with the West": that the Koran advocates violence against unbelievers, complications in reconciling Islamic beliefs and practices with Western culture and laws, and the various attempts in reconciling the faiths that derive their authority from the Bible (including the Koran). "The Allah Controversy" opines its discussion with a simple argument advocated by the courts of Malaysia, that non-Muslims cannot use the term "Allah" as the term "God" in their documents. The lawsuit by the Government of Malaysia produced a ban against the Catholic church in using the term "Allah," though the Koran states in many places that it confirms the "Jewish scriptures" and "Gospel" of Jesus [sic. the Bible]. Such a confirmation would necessarily involve an acknowledgement that Allah is God, contrary to Malaysian courts and common Islamic perceptions. Also, the Koran's confirmation of the Bible prevents any contradiction between the Koran and the Bible (particularly the Gospel of Christ), for — as a fundamental precept of law — a document confirming another cannot contradict that which it confirms.

The Koran's advocacy of violence against unbelievers is in particular contradiction to the Gospel of Jesus which it claims to confirm. Fundamental to the argument, one must question how it is that God, speaking in the Gospel of Jesus, advocates nonviolence, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, etc. and in the Koran orders the opposite: murder, punitive taxation, etc. of unbelievers. Other issues extend from an inquiry into the Koran's confirmation of the Gospel, whether the Gospel of Jesus advocates a ban against eating pork, limits women's rights and places restrictions on their dress and presence in public, etc. Finally, the Koran acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah of the Bible and thus brings into question the meaning of the term "Messiah." Islamic teachers have argued that the term "Messiah" has no significance. On the other hand the main gate to the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, the Golden Gate, was sealed by Suleiman II in 1541 to "prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering the Temple Mount." The fear among Muslims is that the Messiah will tear down the Dome of the Rock mosque in order to restore the Jewish Temple that was destroyed in 70A.D., when the Roman general Titus laid siege to the city.

When we examine Israeli-Palestinian conflicts over the land of Israel the extent the Koran confirms the Old Testament scriptures comes into review, since Israelis believe that the scriptures promise their restoration to the land, since it was given to their patriarch Abraham (who is also considered the patriarch of Islam).

Mel Copeland

3.30.11 Pro-Quattara rebel forces enter Ivory Coast capital, meet pockets of resistance

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) March 30 - Fighters supporting Ivory Coast's internationally recognized leader reached the capital Wednesday after seizing a dozen towns this week alone in a bid to install him in office after months of political chaos caused when two men claimed the presidency. Alassane Ouattara's military spokesman confirmed that his forces had entered the capital of Yamoussoukro but said that pockets of resistance still existed. "There have been some defections to our side, but the city isn't yet entirely under our control," said Seydou Ouattara, who is not related to the political leader. The rebels’ arrival in the administrative capital marks a dramatic advance from multiple directions after months of political stalemate. But many believe a final bloody battle over the presidency is destined for the commercial capital of Abidjan. Still, if Yamoussoukro falls to the Ouattara-allied forces, it would open up the main highway to Abidjan, which is only 143 miles (230 kilometers) away. [More>>washingtonpost.com]

3.30.11 Thousands return to Syria streets after Assad blames unrest on Israeli 'plot'

March 30 - Assad declared in a speech in Damascus on Wednesday that the people and government of Syria would withstand the foreign conspiracy and plots through national unity. Thousands of Syrian demonstrators took to the streets on Wednesday, hours after embattled President Bashar Assad blamed the ongoing ant-government protests on foreign "plots hatched against our county." The protesters marched through the port city of Latakia and the restive southern town of Daraa chanting "freedom". Security forces confronted the demonstrators in Latakia and witnesses reported hearing shots fired in the al-Sleibeh old district of the city, where one of at least two demonstrations took place. While Assad delivered his speech in parliament, opposition members called on the protesters to "go down into the streets now and announce the uprising — control all the cities and declare civil disobedience from this moment onward." [More>>haaretz.com]

3.30.11 Suicide bomber kills 10 in NW Pakistan: Police

PESHAWAR (AFP) March 30 - A suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up near a police checkpoint in Pakistan on Wednesday, killing ten people and wounding more than 20, police and hospital officials said. Police chief Abdullah Jan said the checkpoint was close to a camp set up by a religious political party for a public meeting in the northwestern town of Swabi, about 10 kilometres (60 miles) east of Peshawar. "Seven people died on the spot and three more succumbed to their injuries in the hospital," he said. "We have recovered the body parts of the suicide bomber." Nurul Wahid, the doctor in charge of the emergency ward at the state-run Swabi hospital, confirmed the toll. "We have 10 bodies. The dead included two policemen also," he said. A total of 21 people were receiving treatment, Wahid added. [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

3.29.11 Gaddafi troops force rebels back

March 29 - Pro-government forces have intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back tens of kilometers over ground they had taken in recent days. The BBC's Nick Springate says the rebels have lost Bin Jawad and most have now fled even further east past the town of Ras Lanuf. Misrata, closer to Tripoli, has also come under heavy attack and blasts have been reported in the capital. Meanwhile London has been hosting a key summit on the future of Libya. Anti-Gaddafi forces had made rapid progress westwards from their stronghold in Benghazi in recent days — greatly aided by international air strikes — seizing a number of coastal communities and important oil installations, including Ras Lanuf, Brega, Uqayla and Bin Jawad. But our correspondent says the situation changed significantly on Tuesday as pro-Gaddafi forces used heavy weaponry, forcing a mass retreat. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, 120km (75 miles) from Col Gaddafi's birthplace of Sirte, but pulled back to Bin Jawad, some 30km further east. There was intense fighting over Bin Jawad, forcing the rebels to abandon the town and flee back towards Ras Lanuf in a convoy of hundreds of vehicles. [More>>bbc.co.uk; See related stories,

guardian.co.uk, March 29, "US paves way to arm Libyan rebels"
: Clinton tells London conference that UN security council resolution 1973 overrode absolute prohibition of arms to Libya. Hillary Clinton has paved the way for the United States to arm the Libyan rebels by declaring that the recent UN security council resolution relaxed an arms embargo on the country. As Libya's opposition leaders called for the international community to arm them, the secretary of state indicated that the US was considering whether to meet their demands when she talked of a "work in progress". The US indicated on Monday night that it had not ruled out arming the rebels, though it was assumed this would take some time because of a UN arms embargo which applies to all sides in Libya. But Clinton made clear that UN security council resolution 1973, which allowed military strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's regime, relaxed the embargo. Speaking after the conference on Libya in London, Clinton said: "It is our interpretation that [resolution] 1973 amended or overrode the absolute prohibition of arms to anyone in Libya so that there could be legitimate transfer of arms if a country were to choose to do that. We have not made that decision at this time."...

cbsnews.com, March 29, "NATO: Signs of Qaeda presence in Libyan rebels" :
WASHINGTON - Allied commander tells Congress he has seen "flickers" of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah among rebel forces. As the United States and other nations build ties with Libyan rebels and leaders of the political opposition trying to oust Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, intelligence suggests al-Qaeda and other terrorists have a small presence within the opposition group, a top military commander said Tuesday. Adm. James Stavridis, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told Congress that officials have seen "flickers" of possible al-Qaeda and Hezbollah among the rebel forces, but at this point no evidence there are significant numbers within the group's leadership. Questions about who the rebels are have escalated as the US-led coalition moved into its second week of attacks against Gaddafi forces, halting their progress and paving the way for the ragtag opposition to regain lost ground. At this point, Stavridis said, there is "more than a reasonable chance of Gaddafi leaving."...

dailymail.co.uk, March 29, "Lampedusa has more migrants fleeing Tunisia and Libya than inhabitants" :
An Italian island has been overwhelmed by immigrants from north Africa who have more than doubled the island's population, prompting fierce protests from local people. Thousands of Tunisians have flooded into Lampedusa, a tiny island south of Sicily, after the fall of their President - with a further influx feared from refugees fleeing violence in Libya. The number of immigrants has been reported as being just over 5,500 today, with more than 3,000 coming in the last three days alone. The normal population of the quiet island, which relies on fishing and tourism, is around 5,300. Residents have occupied the town hall and threatened to close off supplies and services unless the thousands of illegal migrants were moved off...

3.29.11 Libya rape claim woman now 'the accused'

March 29 - A Libyan woman who rushed into a Tripoli hotel in an attempt to tell foreign journalists her story of rape is now facing possible criminal charges herself, a government spokesman says. "I heard that the attorney-general brought her in for questioning because she is now not just the accuser, she is the accused. There is a case against her," Moussa Ibrahim told journalist in Tripoli. A visibly distressed Eman al Obeidi had gone to the Tripoli hotel, where the media is based, shouting that she had been raped and tortured over two days after being picked up at a checkpoint in the capital. A gun was pulled on the Sky News team as she was dragged away by security forces loyal to Gaddafi. Mr. Ibrahim said MS al Obeidi had subsequently been asked about the alleged incident and "not come up with anything substantial." "She says four people kidnapped and raped her, one of them is the son of someone in the state. That is hardly political, the son of someone in the state is a human being," he said. "Now the four guys are having a case filed against her because instead of going to a police station and filing a case against them she went to the media and exposed their names." "Now their honour is tainted, their families black-named and this in the Islamic law is a very grave offence." [More>>news.sky.com]

3.29.11 Workers at Japan nuke plant 'lost the race' to save reactor, expert says

March 29 - Workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant appeared to have "lost the race" to save one of the reactors, a US expert told the Guardian. Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at the Japan plant, says the radioactive core in the Unit 2 reactor appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on a concrete floor. "The indications we have, from the reactor to radiation readings and the materials they are seeing, suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell," Lahey told the paper. Lahey did add there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe. [More>>foxnews.com]

3.29.11 Al Arabiya correspondent, 40 others killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD, March 29 - Gunmen attack provincial council HQ in Tikrit. Al Arabiya correspondent, Sabah al-Bazi and at least 19 other people were killed on Tuesday as gunmen attacked the provincial council headquarters in Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "Forty-one people were killed and 95 wounded. Six of the dead were the attackers," said the official, stationed at the Tikrit's main hospital. The gunmen swarmed into the building in Tikrit, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Baghdad, immediately after a suicide bomber detonated his payload and cleared the way, a police official said. The assailants used car bombs, explosive belts and hand grenades as they stormed into the building and were holding people hostage.

A provincial official said the gunmen who wore security forces' uniforms threw hand grenades and opened fire at a checkpoint of the Salahuddin provincial council building before they managed to storm in. Twelve people were killed, the official said. "When security forces tried to intervene when they reached the entrance, a parked car bomb exploded. It was a powerful explosion and as a result, some of the security forces were killed," said the official. "Two suicide bombers detonated themselves inside the provincial building, while other gunmen managed to seize members of the provincial council as hostages." Special police forces have entered the building and engaged with the gunmen, who were holding hostages on the second floor of the building, the second official said. Iraqi security forces and US soldiers had surrounded the building in the city, 150 km (95 miles) north of Baghdad.

3.29.11 'If Palestinians declare state, Israel weighing annexation'

March 29 - Official in Jerusalem tells AP that possible counter-measures include annexation of settlements, restricting water, use of ports. Jerusalem is weighing the annexation of the major settlement blocs if Palestinians seek unilateral recognition of statehood, an official in Jerusalem told AP on Tuesday. The official said that "adopting unilateral measures is not a one-way street," and that it was not the only option being considered, according to the report. He cautioned, however, that he was not aware of how seriously the political leadership was considering such a bold move. Other responses to Palestinian unilateralism could include reducing water access below agreed upon levels, as well as restricting the use of Israeli ports for Palestinian imports and exports, AP reported. The Prime Minister's Office said that it had not heard of the plan, Israel Radio reported. [More>>jpost.com]

3.29.11 Report: Dozens of Palestinians arrested in connection to Itamar murders

March 29 - More than 40 Palestinians from West Bank village of Awarta were detained overnight and subjected to DNA testing in connection to brutal murder of five members of Fogel family, Ma'an News Agency reported. Dozens of Palestinians were arrested and given DNA tests in the West Bank town of Awarta in connection to the recent murder of five family members in the nearby settlement of Itamar, Ma'an News Agency reported on Tuesday. Earlier this month, suspected terrorists entered the West Bank settlement of Itamar and murdered Udi and Ruth Fogel, along with three of their young children, including their three-month-old baby, before fleeing the scene. Ma'an reported that among those arrested was the deputy mayor of Awarta and two of his brothers. Awarta Mayor Qays Awwad told Ma'an that more than 40 Awarta residents were taken to an Israeli military base, where they were fingerprinted and underwent DNA testing. "They took samples for DNA tests, and were fingerprinted before being interrogated, some were released but more are being kept in custody," Awwad said. [More>>haaretz.com]

3.29.11 Syrian government resigns after protests sweep country

DAMASCUS, Syria (Reuters) March 29 - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepted his government's resignation on Tuesday after nearly two weeks of pro-democracy unrest that has posed the gravest challenge to his 11-year rule. But the move was unlikely to satisfy protester demands since the cabinet has little authority in Syria, where power is concentrated in the hands of Assad, his family and the security apparatus. Tens of thousands of Syrians held pro-government rallies on Tuesday, awaiting a speech in which Assad was expected to announce a decision on lifting emergency laws that have served to crush dissent for almost 50 years. That is a key demand of anti-government demonstrations in which more than 60 people have been killed. "President Assad accepts the government's resignation," the state news agency SANA said, adding that Naji al-Otari, the prime minister since 2003, would remain caretaker until a new government was formed. Protesters at first had limited their demands to greater freedoms. But, increasingly incensed by a security crackdown on them, especially in the southern city of Deraa where protests first erupted, they now call for the "downfall of the regime." [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

3.29.11 Taliban seize district in Afghanistan remote east

ASADABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) March 29 - Taliban insurgents seized a district in Afghanistan's remote northeast after a brief battle with police, provincial officials said on Tuesday, underscoring the difficulty Afghan and foreign forces face in securing the increasingly violent region. Hundreds of Taliban fighters had captured the Waygal district centre in mountainous Nuristan province in the pre-dawn hours on Tuesday, said Mohammad Zarin, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Nimatullah Mazabyar, the head of the Nuristan provincial council, also confirmed sparsely populated Waygal was under control of insurgents. Zarin said government forces were being prepared to launch a counter-offensive to retake the district. Violence in Afghanistan has spiralled in the past year, with Taliban-led militants stepping up their fight against the Afghan government and its Western backers as Kabul prepares to take security responsibility gradually from foreign forces. [>thenews.com.pk; See more details, nytimes.com, March 29, "Taliban seize district in eastern Afghanistan."]

3.28.11 Fukushima radiation spreads in northern seawaters

(AFP) March 28 - The operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear complex has appealed to France for help, the French industry minister said Monday, amid reports that radioactive iodine had leaked into seawater further north than previously thought. Highly contaminated water has escaped from a reactor building at Japan's stricken nuclear plant and may leak into the ocean, the operator said Monday, appealing for overseas help in the crisis. Radiation fears have disrupted efforts to restart the cooling system of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was battered by a massive earthquake and tsunami more than two weeks ago that has left over 28,000 people dead or missing. With Japan struggling to contain its worst ever atomic crisis, France said its nuclear groups Areva and EDF had been asked to help in a situation which Industry Minister Eric Besson described as "extremely critical."

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said a large amount of highly radioactive water had leaked from reactor two's turbine building into an underground maintenance tunnel that is now close to overflowing. "We need to check if the water could flow directly into the sea," a TEPCO official said. The water is thought to have leaked from the vessel containing the fuel rods — which are suspected to have temporarily melted -- or from the pipe system. It was measured at 1,000 millisieverts an hour, a dose that can cause temporary radiation sickness with nausea and vomiting for people who are exposed. Contamination from the plant northeast of Tokyo has already wafted into the air and been detected in farm produce and tap water, although officials stress there is no imminent health threat.

3.28.11 13% of all US homes are vacant

NEW YORK, March 28 - High residential vacancies are killing many housing markets, as foreclosed homes sit on the market and depress sale prices and property values. And it's only getting worse: The national vacancy rate crept up to just over 13% according to last week's decennial census report. That's up from 12.1% in 2007. "More vacant homes equal more downward pressure on home prices," said Brad Hunter, chief economist for Metrostudy, a real estate information provider. Maine had the highest proportion of empty housing stock, at 22.8%. Other states with gluts of empty houses included Vermont (20.5%), Florida (17.5%), Arizona (16.3%) and Alaska (15.9%). [More>>cnn.com]

3.28.11 Libya: Rebels battle for road to Gaddafi hometown Sirte

March 28 - Libyan rebels are battling for control of the road leading to the heartland of government loyalists. The rebel army has been moving rapidly westwards, but came under heavy attack on the approach to Col. Muammar Gaddafi's birthplace of Sirte. NATO, which now runs the coalition action, has denied its strikes are to provide cover for a rebel advance. Britain and France have urged Col Gaddafi's supporters to defect "before it is too late." The anti-Gaddafi rebels have seized a number of key coastal communities and important oil installations in recent days, including Ras Lanuf, Brega, Uqayla and Bin Jawad. Earlier on Monday, the rebels said they had seized Sirte, but the BBC's Ben Brown in rebel-held Bin Jawad says it is now clear their progress was halted before they reached Sirte. [More>>bbc.co.uk]

3.28.11 Vote ban for Saudi women stays

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) March 28 - Saudi Arabia's ban on women voting or running as candidates is to remain in place for the kingdom's municipal elections in April, the electoral committee head said on Monday. "We are not ready for the participation of women in these municipal elections," Abdulrahman al-Dahmash told reporters, renewing earlier promises that authorities would “allow (women's) participation in the next ballot." Saudi Arabia announced last week that it is to hold municipal elections by region, kicking off on April 23. The kingdom held its first, men-only municipal polls in 2005, when Saudis elected half the members of 178 municipal councils across the Gulf state. The government in May 2009 extended the mandate of the councils by two years, postponing a second vote expected to have taken place that year. Women in the country were not allowed to stand as candidates or to vote in the 2005 elections. King Abdullah has announced unprecedented economic benefits worth nearly $100 billion (71.1 billion euros) and warned against any attempt to undermine security in the country. And in late February he ordered social benefits worth an estimated $36 billion, mostly aimed at youth, civil servants and the unemployed. [>khaleejtimes.com]

3.28.11 Egypt's Mubarak 'under house arrest'

March 28 - Military council denies ousted leader has fled to Saudi Arabia and says emergency laws will be lifted ahead of vote. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's ousted president, has been put under house arrest along with his family, according to an Egyptian military statement. Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on Monday said that the former leader and his family would not be allowed to leave the country and denied reports that Mubarak had fled to Saudi Arabia. "There is no truth to reports that former president Hosni Mubarak has left Egypt for Tabuk in Saudi Arabia," the council said in a statement on the social networking site Facebook. "He is under house arrest, with his family, in Egypt." [More>>aljazeera.net]

3.28.11 At least 110 dead in Yemen ammunition factory explosion

(Reuters) March 28 - Witnesses say blast took place after Jaar residents broke into factory to steal ammunition a day after clashes broke out between Islamist militants and the army. A series of blasts at a bullet factory in south Yemen killed at least 110 people on Monday when residents broke in to steal ammunition a day after clashes between militants and the army in the town, doctors said. Witnesses said the blasts, possibly triggered by a cigarette, caused a massive fire in the factory in the town of Jaar in Abyan province, where al-Qaeda militants and mainly leftist southern separatists are active. "This accident is a true catastrophe, the first of its kind in Abyan," said one doctor at the state-run hospital. "There are so many burned bodies. I can't even describe the situation." Doctors put the death toll at 110, but said that even arriving at a figure was difficult because the charred remains were difficult to count. They said some victims, including women and children, would be buried in a mass grave. Scores were wounded, many suffering from burns, doctors said, and many bodies remained inside the factory, which also contained stores of gunpowder. [More>>haaretz.com]

3.28.11 Suicide bombers kill 24 in eastern Afghanistan, Taliban claim responsibility

KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) March 28 - Three suicide bombers killed 24 people and wounded dozens more in an attack on a construction firm in Afghanistan's restive southeast, government officials said on Monday, with the Taliban claiming responsibility for the assault. Violence in Afghanistan has spiralled in the past year, with Taliban-led militants stepping up their fight against the Afghan government and its Western backers as Kabul prepares to take over responsibility for security gradually from foreign forces. The attackers forced their way into the company's compound in the Bermel district of volatile Paktika province on Sunday night after killing a security guard and then detonated a truck laden with explosives, the interior ministry said. A statement from the office of the Paktika governor said 24 people were killed and another 53 wounded. Earlier estimates said between 13 and 20 had been killed. [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

3.28.11 Pakistan Taliban forms 'vigilance cell' to hunt US informers

March 28 - The Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan tribal agency have established a "vigilance cell" to hunt people suspected of providing intelligence to guide US drones in attacks on the militants, according to a media report today. The cell, known as the Lashkar-e-Khorasan, has been tasked to identify, capture and execute people working for what is described as a "web of local spies" created by the US Central Intelligence Agency, The Express Tribune newspaper quoted its sources as saying. The Lashkar draws it strength from the Haqqani network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group — two Taliban factions that control regions along the Afghan border, the report said. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan led by Hakimullah Mehsud has its sympathies for the cell and provides occasional "active cooperation" to the Lashkar. Though the exact number of members of the Lashkar is not known, a source in the tribal areas told the daily it was more than 300. The regions where the cell works are Datta Khel, Miranshah, Mir Ali and surrounding areas where US drone strikes have been frequent. The cell was set up last year by top commanders of the Haqqani network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, which have a "tacit peace understanding" with Pakistan troops operating in South Waziristan. [More>>indianexpress.com]

3.28.11 17 militants killed in strike on terrorist camp in Russian North Caucasus

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) March 28 - Seventeen militants were killed on Monday in combined air and ground strikes on a terrorist camp in Russia's North Caucasus region, a spokesman for the National Anti-Terrorist Committee said. The strikes were part of an ongoing operation to capture terrorists thought to be behind a suicide bombing at Moscow's busiest airport in January that left 37 people dead. "As a result of a precision airstrike and a ground operation, a terrorist camp that trained suicide bombers, some of whom have committed terrorist attacks in [the republics of] North Ossetia and Ingushetia, has been destroyed," spokesman Nikolai Sentsov said. "According to preliminary data, at least 17 militants have been killed...and two suspects in the Domodedovo blast have been detained," the official said. Two Russian Federal Security operatives and a police officer were also killed in the operation. Russia has been fighting terrorists in its volatile southern republics for over a decade. Terrorist attacks are common in the mainly-Muslim region and regularly stray to the Russian capital. [>en.rian.ru]

3.27.11 Libya rebels capture key Gaddafi strongholds in push westward

March 27 - Opponents of Libyan leader captured the city of Ajadibya on Saturday, swept into the oil town of Brega the next day and reached edge of Uqayla, backed by international air strikes. Libyan rebels took back control of all the main oil terminals in the eastern half of the country, after advance into the town of Bin Jawad, 525 km (330 miles) east of the capital Tripoli. The rebels said they planned to push on toward Gaddafi's stronghold of Sirte. The advance puts the rebels back in control of all the main oil terminals in the eastern half of Libya, namely Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, Zueitina and Tobruk. A Reuters correspondent in Bin Jawad saw more than two dozen rebel pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns in the town center. Fighters were shooting in the air in celebration. Rebels reached the oil terminal towns of Ras Lanuf and Brega on Sunday, after routing government forces from the strategic towns. The speed of the rebel advance suggests a rapid retreat by Gaddafi's forces after they lost Ajdabiyah, an important gateway for the better-armed force to the rebel-held east. [More>>haaretz.com]

3.27.11 Arrests after Benghazi woman's rape claim

March 27 - The son of a high-ranking Libyan police officer is thought to be among five people arrested after a woman claimed she was raped and tortured by men connected to Colonel Gaddafi's regime. In a conversation with Sky News, Libya's deputy foreign minister Khalid Kaim said the men were being detained as part of a criminal investigation into the rape allegations made by Iman al-Obeidi. Ms. al-Obeidi was manhandled by waitresses and government minders yesterday morning as she attempted to speak to journalists at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli. In the commotion a gun was pointed towards the Sky News team in an attempt to stop them filming. Sky's Lisa Holland reports on the incident She claimed she had been held for two days, and that she had been raped and tortured by men connected to the regime. [More>>news.sky.com]

3.27.11 As the Middle East burns, Saudi economy glows

March 27 - Arab world unrest boosts oil prices, swelling country's coffers; estimates oil output grows from 700,000 to 9.2m barrels a day.  Bahrain and Yemen aside, the turmoil in the Middle East has turned into a boon for Saudi Arabia, as the country's coffers swell with the proceeds of climbing oil prices and production. And, a series of subsidies and other measures worth as much as $133 billion will help ensure the bounty reaches ordinary Saudis. National Commercial Bank, a Saudi lender, raised its outlook this week to 5.1% from a previous 4%. Barclays Capital is planning to revise its forecasts shortly as is Bank of America. A Reuters poll of economists taken last week before the second of two government spending plans was unveiled showed the Saudi economy growing by 4.5% this year, slightly faster than previous expected.

Where unrest and uncertainty are weighing down on most regional economies, Saudi Arabia is an exception these days to the trend in the Middle East. As supplies from Libya have fallen and worries that other exporters may cut output as well, oil prices have risen about 20% this year. Benchmark Brent crude for May delivery traded at about $115 for a barrel on Thursday. Economists estimate that for every $10 increase in the price, Saudi Arabia can increase its budget by 6% of gross domestic product. And, with the world's biggest reserves and excess capacity, Saudi Arabia is benefiting twice over by raising output to fill the Libyan gap. Official figures aren't available, but the country is believed to have boosted output by about 700,000 barrels a day to 9.2 million barrels.

3.27.11 Workers struggle to remove radioactive water from Japanese nuclear complex

TOKYO (AP) March 27 - Mounting problems, including incorrect radiation figures and a shortage of storage tanks, stymied emergency workers Sunday as they tried to nudge Japan's stricken nuclear complex back from the edge of disaster. Workers are struggling to remove radioactive water from the tsunami-ravaged nuclear compound and restart the regular cooling systems for the dangerously hot fuel. The day began with company officials reporting that radiation in leaking water in the Unit 2 reactor was 10 million times above normal, a spike that forced employees to flee the unit. The day ended with officials saying the huge figure had been miscalculated and offering apologies. "The number is not credible," said Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Takashi Kurita. "We are very sorry." While the water is contaminated with radiation, officials are unsure about the actual levels. They planned to take another sample, but Kurita did not know when the results would be known. [More>>foxnews.com]

3.27.11 Egypt museum gets back five stolen artefacts

CAIRO (AFP) March 27 - Troops and police have recovered five artefacts stolen from the Egyptian Museum during a revolt that toppled the country's government, the antiquities council said on Sunday. The council said in a statement that four bronze statues of ancient Egyptian deities and a bronze scepter stolen on January 28 have been restored to the museum. Thirty-seven artefacts are still missing. "Four of the recovered pieces were in good condition," the statement said, but one statue of a deity in the form of a ram was broken into pieces. Robbers raided several warehouses around the country, including one in the Egyptian Museum, after an uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak gave way to looting and insecurity. An antiquities official said last week that 800 relics stolen by armed robbers from a warehouse east of Cairo were still missing. Roughly 300 artefacts, which include pieces from Pharaonic, Roman and Islamic periods, were recovered, he said. [>khaleejtimes.com]

3.27.11 Depok to open seized Amadiyah mosque to all Muslims

JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 27 - The Depok administration says an Amadiyah mosque it recently ordered closed will be reopened for use by all Muslims — except Ahmadis. "After the mosque was sealed it could no longer be used by Ahmadiyah followers. In the future it will be available for all Muslims in general," Depok Deputy Mayor Idris Abdul Shomad said as quoted by Antara news agency. "Muslims in general can use the mosque for their activities — but Ahmadis are not allowed," he added. The Al-Hidayah mosque in Depok, West Java was closed after the mayor and the provincial governor issued decrees banning Ahmadiyah. Idris also said on Sunday that Depok would invite clerics from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) to return local Ahmadis to the "right path of Islam." He also said the administration would guarantee the safety of Ahmadis and protect the sect from violence. [>thejakartapost.com; For background see Maravot News article 3.17.11 27 US Congressmen urge RI to annul bans on Ahmadiyah sect.]

3.27.11 200 arrested as anarchists fight police after 500,000-strong anti-cuts march..

March 27 - A major clean-up operation was under way today to repair the damage to some of Britain's top landmarks after extremists brought violent chaos to central London. Workers scrubbed Trafalgar Square, where the famous lions had been graffitied and daubed with paint as anarchists ran wild during an anti-cuts protest. Slogans including "Tory scum" and "fight back" were scrawled on the statues, and red paint had been hurled at the 2012 Olympic countdown clock. Unions chiefs today vowed to continue their protests despite the way they are being hijacked by anarchists, although they did condemn the violence. Staff at Fortnum and Mason, where protesters had climbed on the roof and invaded the shop floor, were busy repairing the damage to its wooden frontage. More than 200 people are in custody following the attacks yesterday, which were perpetrated by splinter groups from a massive demonstration against the Government's spending plans. There were more than 80 people injured and at least 84 police officers were hurt, with 11 requiring hospital treatment. [More>>dailymail.co.uk]

3.27.11 Pakistani Christian official's slaying stirs fear, discord

KHUSHPUR, Pakistan, March 26 - For generations, this village in Punjab province has been a rare oasis of religious harmony. Muslims and Christians attend each other's weddings and are buried in the same cemetery. Church bells and Islamic calls to prayer ring out from spires a few muddy streets apart. In recent years, a soccer tournament with mixed-faith teams became a regional attraction. The man most identified with this achievement was Shabbaz Bhatti, the son of a local Catholic schoolmaster, who grew up to become a passionate advocate for minority rights and, two years ago, the first Christian member of the federal cabinet. When religious conflict flared elsewhere, Khushpur's 5,000 residents felt shielded by Bhatti's high-profile stature. But since March 3, when Bhatti was gunned down by Islamic extremists in the capital, Islamabad, a jittery gloom has permeated his village and the poison of suspicion has begun to creep into people's thoughts.

At the soccer field last week, a sign said, "Play for Peace," but a rifleman was posted to guard the afternoon match and not one Muslim player showed up. "Shabbaz Bhatti taught us to hold our heads high, but now we feel we are not safe," said a Christian player in his 20s named Shehzad. Asked about relations with young Muslims, he shook his head sadly. "There is a gulf between us now," he said. "Things seem normal, but inside they don't accept us. This incident has made them more powerful, and we both feel it." Bhatti's slaying, which came amid growing attacks on religious minorities, has also opened rifts within the Christian community over how to respond. On Jan. 6, Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, a critic of Pakistan's harsh Islamic blasphemy laws, was gunned down by his Muslim bodyguard. Since then, there have been scattered incidents of violence, including attacks on churches in the cities of Lahore and Hyderabad.

3.27.11 Bomb explodes at Lebanese church, no injuries

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AFP) March 27 - A bomb exploded overnight at the entrance of a church in the eastern Lebanese city of Zahle, causing no injuries, a church official said Sunday. Consisting of about two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of TNT, the bomb was placed at the side entrance of St. Mary's Church, a Syriac Orthodox church, Monsignor Youstinios Boulos Safar said. The device went off at 4:15am (0115 GMT), blowing out a side door of the church and damaging benches inside as well as the altar, Safar said. Seven cars parked nearby were also damaged. No one claimed responsibility. "I denounce this type of attack and urge people to remain calm," said Safar, who hails from neighboring Syria and is bishop of Zahle, a mainly Christian town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital Beirut. [More>>alarabiya.net]

3.27.11 Syrian army deploys in flashpoint cities

(Reuters) March 27 - Syria's army beefed up its presence in the southern city of Deraa, a focal point of bloody protests across the country, and soldiers took to the streets in a northern port where tensions are rising, residents said on Sunday. The protests, which started in Deraa eight days ago, pose the most serious challenge to the 48-year rule of the Baath Party, and its leader, President Bashar al-Assad. The demonstrations, in which protesters in some towns set fire to ruling party headquarters, would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in the tightly controlled Arab country. [More>>france24.com; See also bbc.co.uk, March 27, "Syria unrest: Twelve killed in Latakia protest."]

3.27.11 Two Palestinians killed in Israeli air strike on Gaza

(AFP) March 27 - An Israeli air strike killed two people in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, medics said, a day after Palestinian militants said they were committed to calming tensions if Israel reciprocated. "Two Palestinians were killed and another wounded Sunday morning in an Israeli air raid on targets east of Jabaliya," said Adham Abu Senmya, spokesman for the Gaza emergency services. An army spokeswoman confirmed the raid, saying "an air force plane attacked on Sunday morning a terrorist cell that was preparing to fire a rocket at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip." A witness said the men were in a car, but did not elaborate. The army also confirmed Israel would begin deploying on Sunday its multi-million-dollar "Iron Dome" missile defence system in the south in the wake of rocket attacks from Gaza. The system is designed to intercept rockets and artillery shells fired from between four and 70 kilometres (three and 45 miles). On Saturday, after a week of bloody clashes with Israel that killed eight Palestinians, militants led by the Hamas rulers of Gaza met and declared they wanted to restore calm in the coastal enclave. [More>>france24.com]

3.27.11 Taleban claims to have kidnapped 50 Afghan police

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) March 27 - The Taleban claimed on Sunday that it kidnapped 50 Afghan policemen in northeastern Afghanistan — part of the insurgents’ murder and intimidation campaign against anyone affiliated with the US-backed government. Also Sunday, a NATO service member was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan, the coalition said. No details were released about the death, which raised to 94 the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year. Militants ambushed the policemen Saturday afternoon after being tipped off that they would be traveling in Kunar province, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an emailed statement to reporters. The policemen from Nuristan province had just finished their training to join the Afghan National Police, he said. Kunar provincial police chief Gen. Khalilullah Ziayi confirmed that militants stopped four vehicles in Chapa Dara district and captured several dozen men. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

3.27.11 Seven Afghan civilians killed in NATO air strike

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) March 27 - Seven civilians, three of them children, were killed and five others wounded in a NATO air strike targeting insurgents in restive southern Afghanistan, a local official said Saturday. The governor of Helmand province said the two men, two women and three children died when the car they were travelling in was hit by NATO fire late Friday. Earlier, NATO said its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) called in an air strike on two vehicles believed to be carrying a Taliban leader and his associates, but later discovered they were transporting civilians. "ISAF forces fired on a vehicle carrying insurgents," said a statement from Helmand governor Muhammad Gulab Mangal's office. "The explosion hit another vehicle in which civilians were travelling, and as a result two men, two women and three children were killed and a man, a woman and three other children were wounded." NATO said it had launched an investigation into the incident, which came after nine people — who Afghan officials said were children collecting firewood — were killed in a NATO airstrike in eastern Kunar province this month. Civilian casualties in military operations are highly sensitive in Afghanistan as coalition troops battle to curb a Taliban-led insurgency ahead of a planned handover of security to Afghan forces. The Kunar strike unleashed public fury, leading the US troop commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, to issue a rare public apology. [>thenews.com.pk]

3.27.11 Qatar seizes Iranian boats carrying weapons

MANAMA, Bahrain, March 27 - Boats held near Zubara close to the sea border between Bahrain and Qatar. Qatar on Sunday seized two Iranian boats carrying weapons, a Kuwaiti news portal said. The boats were held near Zubara in the northeast of Qatar and near the sea border between Bahrain and Qatar, Al Aan reported, quoting a source it did not name. The source did not give the number or nationality of those arrested on the boats nor the final destination of the weapons. Qatar is a member of the Peninsula Shield, the military arm of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which this month sent units to Bahrain to help guard major installations. Iran has been accused of fuelling tension in Bahrain after its leaders issued statements supporting the protesters and harshly criticizing the Bahraini government and the deployment of Peninsula Shields forces in Bahrain. [>gulfnews.com]

3.27.11 Suspected al-Qaeda gunmen kill 7 soldiers

SANAA, Yemen (AP) March 27 - Yemeni security officials say suspected al-Qaeda gunmen have killed seven soldiers and wounded seven others in an attack on a military post. The officials said the attack Sunday took place at Ubaida area in the in the central Marib province, an al-Qaeda stronghold and one of several areas where the central government has little authority. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media, said the attackers set fire to a pickup mounted with machine gun and fled with an armored vehicle belonged to the post. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, facing a strong public opposition inside, is a key US ally against an active al-Qaeda branch that calls Yemen home and funds his security forces to fight it. [>koreaherald.com; See also

cbsnews.com, March 27 (AP) "Yemeni militants seize weapons factory"
: SANAA, Yemen - Islamic militants seized control of a weapons factory, a strategic mountain and a nearby town in the southern Yemen province of Abyan Sunday, said a witness and security officials, as a political stalemate in the capital causes security to unravel around the country. The fragile nation has been rocked by weeks of mass protests against the long-serving president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who refuses to step down. Saleh's fate is of deep concern to the US as he is a key ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, but with his attention on massive anti-government protests in the capital, security has declined in the provinces...


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