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5.09.09 Pakistani troops destroy Taleban headquarters in Swat

ISLAMABAD (DPA) May 9 - Pakistani troops on Saturday destroyed the headquarters of the Taleban in the restive Swat valley and killed some 55 militants, as a humanitarian crisis intensified with thousands of civilians stranded the battlefield. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR estimated up to 200,000 people fled the former tourist haven in recent days, but forecast further exodus of nearly 300,000 more. Security forces targeted the Taleban headquarters in the Loenamal area of the mountainous Matta sub-district, completely destroying it, the army claimed in a statement. The action there and in eight neighboring areas left 30 to 40 militants dead.

Separately, helicopter gunships pounded militant positions in Swat's main town of Mingora, to soften Taleban resistance as troops pushed forward with the ground operation, killing 15 rebels. "Militants were harassing the civil population and were intensely involved in various activities of looting and arson in Mingora," a statement from the Pakistani army said. The Pakistani military announced ‘a full-scale operation’ Friday, the day after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called for national unity as the troops were ordered "to eliminate the terrorists."
[More>>khaleejtimes.com; See also:

thenews.com.pk, May 9, "18 militants killed in clash with forces in Swat" : WANA - Eighteen militants have been killed and one security man martyred in an armed clash between security forces and militants in Ispin area on Saturday. According to ISPR, militants attacked a convoy of security forces in Ispin area which led to an exchange of fire. Eighteen militants were killed while one security man was martyred and two others were injured. ISPR further said that the militants later fled from the scene leaving behind bodies of their accomplices. It added that one militant was arrested alive. [end]

indianexpress.com, May 9, "Army pounds Taliban bases as Gilani calls it 'war for survival' " : ...
The "full-scale operation" against the Taliban targeted militant hideouts in in Mingora, the main town of Swat as also bases in Matta, Qambar, Ziarat, Mushkomai and Chamtalai areas, the military said in a statement adding that 55 militants have reportedly been killed. With this, the total of number of Taliban militants killed in three days of operations climbed near 200. Fighter jets and helicopter gunships pounded militant positions across the scenic valley located 160 km from Islamabad...

japantoday.com (AP) May 9, "Civilian casualties rise as Pakistan army battles Taliban."]

5.09.09 Suspected US missile strike kills 6 in Pakistan

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) May 9 - Pakistani officials say a suspected US missile strike has killed six people near the Afghan border. Two intelligence officials say Saturday's attack targeted a former government building in South Waziristan, a border region considered a stronghold for both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The identity of the victims was not immediately clear. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly to the media. [>thejakartapost.com]

5.09.09 Pope makes his second visit to a mosque

AMMAN, Jordan, May 9 - Pope blames religious manipulation for violence. Pope Benedict made his second visit to a mosque Saturday, the third papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship, and blamed the political manipulation of religion for divisions among people. In a speech delivered in Amman's huge Al-Hussein Mosque, the pope told his audience who also included Muslim religious leaders and Christian prelates, that it was not religion that sowed division between the world's communities but its manipulation for ideological ends.

"Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied," the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics told his audience. "However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society?" He also said that all human beings regardless of their faith were God's creatures and that all places of worship were like jewels on the earth.

5.09.09 Mali pursues al-Qaeda suspects in north

BAMAKO, Mali (Reuters) May 9 - Mali launched an operation aimed at flushing out suspected al-Qaeda militants in the Sahara on Saturday and states in the region are preparing for a joint crackdown, military sources said. A group called al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is threatening to kill a British hostage, believed to be held in the region, on May 15 unless Britain releases a Jordanian Islamist it is holding in prison. Mali's army sent three combat units from the northern town of Kidal to pursue a convoy of armed men spotted in the region close to its borders with Algeria and Niger, said the source, who requested anonymity.

"We are awaiting what comes out of it. We do not know whether they are Salafists or another armed group ... but we think they are Salafists," said the source. The AQIM title was adopted when rebels with Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) affiliated themselves to the al-Qaeda network. Mali and others in the region such as Algeria, Niger and Mauritania are trying to deflect pressure from Europe and the United States to tackle Islamist militant violence there. It was not immediately clear whether the Malian operation heralded a wider offensive. However, a senior military source in Niger confirmed there were preparations for a joint effort. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

5.09.09 Deaths in Afghan suicide attack

May 9 - At least 21 civilians have been killed after a suicide bomber on a motorbike attacked a convoy of NATO-led troops near a bazaar in southern Afghanistan, according to a local official. At least 22 people were wounded in the blast on Thursday in Gereshk in the province of Helmand, Daud Ahmadi, a provincial government spokesman, said. "A suicide attacker on motorcycle detonated his explosives as a foreign forces convoy was passing through the centre of Gereshk district," he said. "Twenty-one people are dead and 22 wounded."

The British defence ministry later confirmed that two of its troops, who were serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), also died in the bombing. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. "A suicide bomber on motorcycle headed from a street to the main road where forces were patrolling and then he fell to the ground," a witness said. "People gathered to help him up. When the ISAF troops arrived, he detonated himself," he said.
[More.>aljazeera.net; See related story, independent.co.uk, May 9, "Four soldiers killed on black day for Britain in Afghanistan."]

5.08.09 Stress tests results split financial landscape

May 8 - At one bank in Alabama, the problem is a construction bust. At two in Ohio, the trouble is real estate. And in San Francisco, at Wells Fargo, the worry is credit cards — a staggering 26 percent of that bank's card loans, federal regulators have concluded, might go bad if the economy takes a turn for the worse. The stress tests released by the Obama administration Thursday painted a broad montage of the troubles in the nation's banking industry and, for the first time, drew a stark dividing line through the new landscape of American finance. On one side are institutions like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, which regulators deemed stronger than their peers — perhaps strong enough to repay billions of bailout dollars and wriggle free of government control.

On the other side are weaker institutions like Bank of America, which now confront the daunting challenge of raising capital on their own or accepting increased government ownership, along with whatever strings might be attached. Time is short: the banks have only until June 8 to draw up their plans for regulators. As the results of the tests streamed in from the Federal Reserve, banks began racing to raise money. Broadly speaking, the test results suggested that the banking industry was in better shape than many had feared. Of the nation's 19 largest banks, which sit atop two-thirds of all deposits, regulators gave nine a clean bill of health. The remaining 10 were ordered to raise a combined $75 billion in equity capital as a buffer against potential losses should the economy deteriorate.

5.08.09 Pope expresses 'deep respect' for Islam

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) May 8 - Pope Benedict XVI expressed deep respect for Islam Friday and said he hopes the Catholic Church can play a role in Mideast peace as he began his first trip to the region, where he hopes to improve frayed ties with Muslims. The pope was met at the airport by Jordan's King Abdullah and praised the moderate Arab country as a leader in efforts to promote peace in the region and dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

..."My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by his majesty the king in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam," Benedict said shortly after landing in Amman. But his past comments continue to fuel criticism by some Muslims.
[Full story>>jpost.com]

5.08.09 Global wind power capacity up by 29 percent in 2008

LONDON (Reuters) May 8 - Global wind capacity grew by 29 percent in 2008 with the United States surpassing Germany to become the world's leading wind power generator, Worldwatch Institute said. The Washington-based research organization said on Thursday that global wind capacity rose by over 27,000 megawatts (MW), or enough to power around 27 million homes, to some 120,798 MW last year. Wind now provides 1.5 percent of the world's energy demand, up from 0.1 percent in 1997. US wind capacity increased by 50 percent to 25,170 MW, or 21 percent of world capacity. In Europe, wind represented the leading source of new power capacity, with 8,877 MW installed last year. This was 28 percent more than new natural gas capacity and over 10 times more than new coal, Worldwatch said. Europe now generates 65,946 MW of wind power, or 55 percent of global capacity. [More>>thestar.com.my]

5.08.09 Deal to boost key EU gas project

May 8 - The EU has signed an energy agreement with several countries aimed at developing a "southern corridor" for gas supplies bypassing Russia. The agreement was signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Egypt at a summit in Prague. It commits them to speeding up the construction of a long-delayed pipeline to bring Caspian gas to Central Europe. The EU is anxious to improve energy security because a Russia-Ukraine row in January cut gas supplies. Key to this meeting was a commitment by Turkey's President Abdullah Gul to sign up to an agreement on the construction of the Nabucco gas pipeline by next month. [More>>bbc.co.uk; See background stories, Maravot News 1.25.09 01.24.09 Turkey possible winner in Russia-Ukraine gas dispute - Expert.]

5.08.09 Death in the Orchard of Eden

May 8 - The ancient forests of Central Asia gave the world apples, apricots and walnuts. Now they are under threat. In Biblical legend, it grew in the Garden of Eden. In reality, it grew wild in Kazakhstan. And now the world's original apple tree, the progenitor of all our modern apple varieties, is threatened with extinction. It is one of nearly 50 trees, including the original apricot and the original walnut, which have become endangered in a belt of forests in Central Asia a region home to more than 300 wild fruit and nut species, including, plum, cherry, and many other important food trees from which domesticated varieties are thought to descend.

In the past 50 years an estimated 90 per cent of these forests have been destroyed, and a new survey has pinpointed the threat to the very existence of many of the wild tree species they contain. The Red List of Trees of Central Asia identifies 44 tree species in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as threatened with extinction...Owing to the often fragmented, mountainous geography of the landscape, the genetic diversity these plants display is exceptionally high, and could prove vital in the development of new disease-resistant or climate-tolerant fruit varieties.

FFI is already working in Kyrgyzstan to save and restore one of the most highly threatened apple species identified in the report, the Niedzwetzky apple (Malus niedzwetzkyana), as part of its Global Trees Campaign. Only 111 individuals of this tree are known to survive in Kyrgyzstan and the species features on the Red List as "endangered"
the second highest category of threat. [Full story>>independent.co.uk]

5.08.09 Pakistan rushes more troops to Swat, 60 Taliban killed

ISLAMABAD, May 8 - Pakistan rushed more troops to the volatile Swat valley as fierce fighting continued to rage for the second day on Friday leading to the killing of over 60 militants so far, with authorities ordering Army to "eliminate" Taliban fighters. Pakistani jets and helicopter gunships bombed several key Taliban strongholds including Kabal on Friday, killing at least 12 militants, TV channels reported. As the fighting intensified, troops have pressed in tanks, fighters and heavy artillery to push out Taliban fighters from their positions inside houses in Mingora, the main town of Swat, and in the countryside as panicked residents continued to flee in droves from the town.

So far, 300,000 people are reported to have migrated from the scenic Swat valley, once Pakistan's most-favoured hill resort to other parts of NWFP and relief camps opened by the government. Heavy fighting was also reported from Mingora as well as adjoining districts of Buner and Dir. The Pakistan Army is advancing on three fronts against the Taliban
into Buner, Dir and Swat but the deadliest fighting is reported from Swat valley where militants are estimated to number more than 700 are putting up stiff resistance. Over 60 militants have been killed so far in the operations in Swat. [More>>indianexpress.com; See related stories:

thenews.com.pk, May 8, "Swat operation to continue till elimination of terrorists: Army: ISLAMABAD - The Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Athar Abbas has said that an all-out offensive has been launched in Swat to flush out anti-state elements and terrorists from the restive valley. In a press briefing here on Friday, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said that the army had been tasked to eliminate the terrorists from Swat. He said the armed forces will take the operation to its logical conclusion. The military spokesman said the ground intelligence estimates indicate the presence of about 4000 militants in Swat. Abbas said the security forces have taken control of Khwaza Khela and Chamkanai areas...

thenews.com.pk, May 8, "Pak-Afghan joint border security force to be formed" : ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to form a joint border security force. Addressing a press conference in Washington, the interior ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan also said that both the countries will exchange prisoners. On the occasion, Pakistani Interior Minister said agreement has also been made between the two countries to share intelligence. He said facilities will be provided to Afghanistan for the training of Afghan law enforcing institutions. Afghan interior minister Muhammad Hanif said it would be incorrect to call all the anti-state elements as Taliban. [end]

5.08.09 Singapore 'terror leader' captured

May 8 - The suspected leader of a southeast Asian Islamic group accused of plotting a 9/11-style attack on Singapore's international airport has been recaptured in Malaysia, Singapore officials have confirmed. The arrest of Mas Selamat Kastari, a member of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group, comes more than a year after he escaped from a Singapore jail in late February last year. The Singapore high commission in Kuala Lumpur on Friday confirmed the arrest and referred to a statement issued by the home affairs ministry. [More>>aljazeera.net]

5.08.09 Royal Sheikh detained by UAE over torture tape allegations

May 8 - ABC News Report Spurs Criminal Investigation of Royal Brother's Sadistic Beatings. A member of the royal family in the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, has been "detained" in Abu Dhabi by authorities investigating a chilling videotape that shows him torturing an Afghan grain dealer, according to officials in Washington. UAE officials told American diplomats the Sheikh was put under "house arrest" this week and prevented from leaving the country as the UAE Ministry of Justice conducts a criminal investigation of the incidents on the videotape, the officials said.

The 45-minute torture tape, first broadcast on ABC News Nightline two weeks ago, shows the Sheikh, the brother of the UAE crown prince, beating his victim with an electric cattle prod and a wooden plank with protruding nails. Men in police uniform are seen on the tape restraining the victim, who has sand shoved down his throat and is later repeatedly run over by a Mercedes Benz SUV driven by the Sheikh.

5.07.09 Suicide attack in Afghanistan, 11 killed

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) May 7 - Police fired on rock-throwing protesters enraged by the deaths of dozens of civilians they blame on American bombing runs in western Afghanistan, while a suicide bomber killed 12 more people in the south on Thursday. One protester was wounded by a bullet and five suffered other injuries after about 150 of them tried to storm the main government building in the capital of Farah province, said local health official Gul Ahmad Ayubi. US and Afghan investigators were examining the site of the bombing deaths blamed on a battle between militants and Afghan and international forces in the province's Bala Buluk district.

If local reports of the death toll are confirmed, it could be the deadliest case of civilian casualties since the 2001 US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban regime. The International Red Cross and local officials said the people were killed by American bombs, though the American military said that may not have been the case. US defense officials said the civilians may have been killed by grenades hurled by Taliban militants.

5.07.09 Pakistan army battles Swat Taliban

May 7 - The Pakistani military says it has killed more than 80 fighters in heavy fighting against several thousand Taliban loyalists in the country's northwest. As the fighting raged, tens of thousands of residents fled the Swat valley area of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The army launched its major offensive on Wednesday, with reports of aerial support being used overnight into Thursday. Al Jazeera's Sohail Rahman, reporting from the capital, Islamabad, said: "The military offensive has continued overnight and into Thursday ... our producers on the ground say the curfew in the region has been lifted and will be reimposed at midnight [18:00 GMT].

"The roads are blocked and there is very little transport for those fleeing the fighting, so they have taken to the roads on foot to reach IDP camps." "We are also hearing reports of jet fighters being used  that will be the first time in this battle and, if true, it is a very worrying development." As citizens escaped to camps for internally displaced people (IDP), a February peace deal between the government and the Taliban looked to be all but extinguished. Kifayatullah, the eldest son of Sufi Muhammad, a regional leader who brokered the accord, was killed in a bombardment on Thursday in Lower Dir which, like the Swat valley, is in the Malakand area of the NWFP. [More>>aljazeera.net]

5.07.09 Canadian Muslim pleads guilty to terrorist plot

OTTAWA, Canada, May 7 - Group allegedly planning to attack parliament, take PM hostage. A Canadian man has plead guilty to participating in a terrorist plot three years ago to attack the Canadian parliament and take the prime minister hostage, prosecutors said Wednesday. Saad Khalid, 22, is the first adult in the group to admit a role in the alleged plot. Khalid was part of a group of 18 Canadian Muslims arrested in mid-2006 in Toronto, accused of planning attacks in that city and in Ottawa, and having ties to jihadists in Pakistan. He entered a guilty plea in a Brampton courtroom on Monday, but a publication ban ordered by the court prevented its publication until Wednesday.

Khalid faced two charges of "knowingly participating in or contributing to ... activities of a terrorist group ... (enabling it) to carry out a terrorist activity," and intending to cause a deadly and destructive explosion, said an indictment. The group allegedly planned to attack the Canadian parliament and to take hostages, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to force Canada to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. Prosecutors said the group wanted to obtain three tons of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used to make explosives. But after the arrests, authorities dropped charges against seven of the suspects, and they were freed.

In September, one of the youngest of the group whose name cannot be revealed because of his age, was found guilty of terrorist activities. He is now 20 and remains in prison. Khalid, and other members of what was dubbed the Toronto 18, was arrested in June, 2006 and charged with terror-related offences. Nine others still remain in custody awaiting trial.

5.07.09 New jobless claims plunge to 601k

WASHINGTON (AP) May 7 - New applications for jobless benefits plunged to the lowest level in 14 weeks, a possible sign that the massive wave of layoffs has peaked. Still, the number of unemployed workers getting benefits climbed to a new record. The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number newly laid off workers applying for benefits dropped to 601,000 last week. That was far better than the rise to 635,000 claims that economists expected. But the total number of people receiving jobless benefits climbed to 6.35 million, a 14th straight record. [More>>cbsnews.com]

5.07.09 In Europe, social safety net softens the slump

EPPELHEIM, Germany, May 7 - Aid for unemployment, health care and further education cushions blow. With its tidy villages, orderly cities and atmospheric scenery, there are few outward signs that the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, home to historic Heidelberg and the famed Black Forest, is a victim of the current economic crisis. But with the auto industry here hit especially hard — this is the home of Mercedes-Benz — things are tougher than they have been in decades. Unemployment is up 70 percent in the past year (albeit to a relatively low 5 percent total) and many employees have been forced to cut down their hours. Misery below the surface, perhaps? Not at the bustling Fuerstenberger home just outside Heidelberg, where little has changed for the family's four children despite neither parent currently working. "If we were in Detroit, we could worry every minute," said Sarah Fuerstenberger, 37. "But here, we’re safe because of the system." [More>>msnbc.msn.com]

5.06.09 Met chief: Tibet challenged by global warming

LHASA, Tibet, May 6 - Tibet has felt some of the largest impact of global warming, China Meteorological Administration (CMA) chief Zheng Guoguang said here Wednesday. "In Tibet, the mercury has climbed an average 0.32 degrees Celsius every decade since records began in 1961," Zheng told more than 500 officials at a meeting in Lhasa on climate change. "This is much higher than the national average temperature rise of 0.05-0.08 degrees Celsius every 10 years." Tibet's temperature rise had also topped the global average of 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. The plateau region, with an average altitude above 4,000 meters, is a "magnifier" of global warming as it is more sensitive to temperature changes, Zheng said.

He said greenhouse gas tends to affect higher altitudes, but Tibet, given its underdeveloped industries, produces little greenhouse gas itself. "The impact of global warming has accelerated glacial shrinkage and the melting glaciers have swollen Tibet's lakes," he said. "If the warming continues, millions of people in western China would face floods in the short term and drought in the long run." Further, extreme weather conditions often cause geological disasters including mud-rock flows and landslides, he said.
[More, with related stories, "Fight against Global Warming" >>xinhuanet.com]

5.06.09 Meet the Chrysler holdouts

May 6 - Following a judge’s order, the group of dissident holders of Chrysler’s senior secured debt — or what’s left of them — revealed their identities in a court filing on Wednesday. What began last Thursday as a collection of about 20 investment firms holding a combined $1 billion in debt has dwindled to a set of five, holding a total of about $295 million. (The group apparently lost a member, since in a filing on Tuesday, it reported holding about $300 million.)

The members include three funds associated with Schultze Asset Management; Stairway Capital Management; Oppenheimer, which holds debt in two funds; Group G Partners, which has holdings in two funds; and Foxhill Capital Partners. By opposing the Obama administration’s out-of-court debt restructuring plan, this group of holdout creditors has found themselves in the national spotlight. Last Thursday, as Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection in New York, President Obama criticized the holdouts as “speculators,” even as the creditors argued that they were being treated unfairly under the government’s plan.

5.06.09 High civilian toll seen in US raid in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 6 - Dozens of Afghan civilians were killed in American air raids in western Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday. But Afghan officials gave far higher death tolls, ranging from 100 to 130 or more. The reports offered a grim backdrop to talks coming Wednesday afternoon in Washington between President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, whose office called the civilian deaths "unjustifiable and unacceptable" and said a government team had been sent to investigate. If the deaths are confirmed to have been from [an] American bombing raid, this would be the largest case of civilian death in Afghanistan since Mr. Obama took office. The continuing toll in civilian casualties has been a principal factor in turning many Afghans against the war to defeat the Taliban. [More>>nytimes.com; See also:

cbsnews.com, May 6, "Military: Taliban were beheading locals" : WASHINGTON - The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the military has come to "distinctly different conclusions" about how dozens of civilians died in an air raid conducted by American forces. The air attack came after local Afghani authorities requested assistance in fighting Taliban forces, who had beheaded three villagers in the district of Bala Baluk, Gen. David McKiernan said. The international Red Cross confirmed Wednesday that dozens of civilians, including women and children, were among the dead across two villages. The US is conducting a joint investigation of the incident with Afghani authorities, but McKiernan said allegations that the military was chiefly responsible for the deaths is premature.

"We have some other information that leads us to distinctly different conclusions about the cause of those civilian casualties," he said Wednesday. McKiernan wouldn't reveal any of the information, saying that he preferred to wait until he could confirm the facts. The general's remarks come as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Obama administration "deeply, deeply" regrets the loss of innocent life apparently as the result of a US bombing in Afghanistan and will undertake a full review of the incident...

5.06.09 US ups pressure, Pakistan attacks Taliban in Swat

MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) May 6 - Pakistani security forces attacked Taliban fighters on Wednesday killing at least 64 of them, the military said, after the United States called on the government to show its commitment to fighting militancy. (Watch) Expanding Taliban influence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has spread alarm at home and abroad and will be a core issue when US President Barack Obama meets his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts in Washington later on Wednesday.

A February peace pact aimed at ending Taliban violence in Swat has collapsed and thousands of people fled from Mingora, the region's main town, on Tuesday after a government official said fighting was expected. The military launched attacks on the outskirts of Mingora, the main town in Swat, 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, and in the nearby district of Buner.

While a curfew kept people off Mingora's streets, government forces struck militant targets with artillery and helicopters, including an emerald mine the Taliban had taken over. "There have been two quick offensives by security forces. We knocked the militants out and are moving forward," said a security official who declined to be identified. The army said 37 militants were killed in the clashes in Swat, 35 of them at the mine, while two soldiers were killed in a bomb blast. A militant headquarters near Mingora was also destroyed, the military said. A paramilitary force said 27 militants were killed in Buner.
[More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com; See related story,

thenews.com.pk, May 6, "15 injured in grenade attack on mosque in Di Khan" : DI KHAN - Fifteen people have been injured in a blast occurred a mosque in Dera Ismail Khan on Wednesday. Police said the blast was caused by a grenade hurled into the mosque. Rescue efforts have been kick started at the blast site while the injured rushed to a nearby hospital.

5.06.09 Bomber strikes in Baghdad market

May 6 - At least 11 people are feared dead after a bomb went off in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. The explosion near a fruit and vegetable market in the southern Dura neighbourhood on Wednesday wounded 30 other people, the authorities said. The mainly Sunni area experienced high levels of sectarian violence during Sunni-Shia battles between 2006 and 2007 in the wake of the US-led invasion of 2003. The area was once controlled by al-Qaeda. Workers in the al-Rasheed market, one of Baghdad's largest cooperative produce markets, told the AFP news agency that a man parked a pick-up truck and walked away before it blew up. Earlier reports suggested it had been a suicide attack. [More>>aljazeera.net; See also timesofindia.indiatimes.com, May 6, "15 dead in car bomb attack in Baghdad" : ...Hours later, another car bomb exploded in the capital's Karradah district, killing two people and wounding six, police said. The bomb apparently targeted a police patrol but missed....

5.06.09 10 Kurdish rebels killed in Turkish strike in Iraq

ANKARA, Turkey (AFP) May 6 - Ten Kurdish rebels were killed in a Turkish air strike last week targeting Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in northern Iraq, the Anatolia news agency reported on Wednesday. The strikes on April 29 and 30 also destroyed several hideouts and weapons depots used by the rebels, the agency said, without citing sources. A PKK spokesman denied the report and put rebel losses at two. [More.>khaleejtimes.com]

5.06.09 4 wounded as IAF bombs 3 Gaza tunnels

May 6 - AF warplanes bombed three tunnels underneath the Philadelphi Corridor on Wednesday evening. Palestinians reported that four people were wounded in the air strike on the Gaza-Egypt border. The air raid came shortly after Palestinians fired a Kassam rocket at a coastal area south of Ashkelon. Nobody was wounded in the attack, and no damage was reported. Earlier, Hamas claimed responsibility for firing three mortar shells at the Sha'ar Hanegev region. A total of six mortar shells were fired at southern Israel throughout the day. [More>>jpost.com]

5.05.09 'Thousands' flee Pakistan's Swat as peace crumbles

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) May 5 - Panicked civilians fled Pakistan's Swat district Tuesday as the government prepared to shelter 500,000 displaced people and clashes with Taliban fighters heightened fears that a peace deal was about to collapse. The spiralling insecurity made a mockery of a ceasefire on the eve of President Asif Ali Zardari's first meeting with US counterpart Barack Obama, amid Washington's concerns that Taliban and al-Qaeda linked militants are threatening Pakistan's existence.

Bedraggled men, women in burkas and children piled on to pick-up trucks, and led animals through streets in their haste to flee Mingora, the main town in the one-time ski resort, devastated by a nearly two-year Taliban insurgency...The military ordered neighborhoods around Mingora to evacuate and announced a break in a curfew for the displaced to flee
sparking fears of an imminent new offensive as bullets rattled through parts of town. "In view of this situation in Swat, at least 500,000 people can migrate from that area. Camps are being established for them," North West Frontier Province information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told a news conference. [Full story>>khallejtimes.com; See other details, timesofindia.indiatimes.com, May 5, "Taliban patrol roads, Pakistan government asks citizens to leave Swat town."]

5.05.09 'Blood feud' behind Turkey attack

May 5 - Eight people have been detained in southeastern Turkey, suspected of involvement in an attack which killed 44 people at a wedding party. Besir Atalay, the interior minister, said on Tuesday that the attack on Monday was most likely the result of a blood feud between families. "The state prosecutor has been working all night, listening to the accounts of eyewitnesses. Eight people have been caught and detained, and their weapons confiscated. "This can be understood as a blood feud between two families," he told a news conference. Atalay said those detained had the same last name as the people who have been killed, pointing to intra-clan violence.

He ruled out suggestions that the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group which is active in the mainly Kurdish area where the attack took place, had been involved. Atalay said 44 people were killed in the attack, while authorities earlier had put the toll at 45. The wedding was held in the village of Bilge about 20km from the city of Mardin, in a region where tribal ties and rivalries sometimes eclipse the power of the state.

5.04.09 Obama calls for new curbs on offshore tax havens

WASHINGTON, May 4 - President Obama presented a far-reaching set of proposals on Monday that are aimed at the tax benefits enjoyed by companies and wealthy individuals harboring cash in offshore accounts. These steps, he said, would be the first in a much broader effort to fix a “broken tax system.”

Mr. Obama made the announcement in the Grand Foyer of the White House, standing alongside Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, Douglas Shulman. His remarks echoed the sentiment he voiced again and again during the presidential campaign when he pledged to crack down on overseas tax evaders.

The proposed tax overhaul, which will be detailed later this week when the White House presents its formal budget, could help raise $210 billion in revenue over 10 years, the administration estimates. While most Americans pay their fair share of taxes, Mr. Obama said, "there are others who are shirking theirs, and many are aided and abetted by a broken tax system." Multinational corporations, he said, paid an average tax rate of just 2 percent on their foreign revenue. And some wealthy individuals hide their fortunes in foreign tax havens. [More>>nytimes.com]

5.04.09 Russia's Medvedev urges international court to try pirates

GORKI, Russia (Ria Novosti) May 4 - President Dmitry Medvedev urged Russian prosecutors on Monday to discuss with their foreign colleagues the likelihood of creating an international court to try pirates. The appeal came as about 30 suspected pirates are still being held on board a Russian warship after carrying out an unsuccessful hijack attempt on a Liberian-flagged and Russian-crewed tanker. Media reports said they could face trial in Russia as navy commanders and diplomats experience difficulties finding any Gulf of Aden littoral state willing to take the pirates. [More>>en.rian.ru]

5.04.09 Blast, attack kill 20 Afghans: officials

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) May 4 - A bomb blast and a separate militant attack in southern Afghanistan on Monday killed 20 people including 14 civilians, police and a government official said. A suspected militant bomb struck a group of nomads travelling by tractor and trailer in Zabul province, killing a dozen of them, including children, a district chief said. Taliban fighters separately attacked a construction site, killing six security guards and two civilian passers-by, police said. [>timesofindia.indiatimes.com; See more details with a summary of several killings / incidents, thenews.com.pk, May 4, "Suicide attacks, violence in Afghanistan kill 27" and:

khaleejtimes.com (Reuters) May 4 - "Mayor among 7 killed in Afghanistan suicide blast" : KABUL - A provincial mayor was among seven people killed by a teenage suicide bomber who blew himself up at the gate of a municipal administration building in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, the Interior Ministry said. Violence has been escalating in Afghanistan more than seven years after Taliban militants were ousted in a US-led invasion and despite a sharp increase in US and NATO forces. The latest attack occurred in eastern Laghman province. Three body guards and three civilians were killed along with the province's mayor, Mohammad Rahim, the Interior Ministry said.

5.04.09 Deadly clashes in NW Pakistan as peace deal unravels

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) May 4 - A peace deal in Pakistan appeared close to unravelling on Monday as deadly fighting raged between soldiers and militants in the northwest, sparking Taliban threats of fierce resistance. Tensions are soaring between the government, which is under US pressure to extend an offensive to crush militants, and Taliban hardliners, who rejected a new Islamic appeals court created in a bid to pacify their brutal uprising.

Analysts said the shaky three-month-old deal
establishing sharia courts in a northwest region home to three million in the hope the Taliban would stop fighting and disarm was now hanging by a thread. Three soldiers died and five were wounded in fighting in northwest Pakistan on Monday, including an officer killed when militants ambushed an army convoy in the former ski resort of Swat, the army said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

5.04.09 Khameini publicly rebukes Ahmadinejad

(AP) May 4 - Iran's supreme leader publicly rebuked the president over his removal of a top official, a rare show of discontent with the hard-line Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by the country's most powerful figure. The flap centered around control of a body that organizes the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, traditionally part of responsibilities under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's vast powers. Khameini overturned the government's removal of the head of the organization.

The rebuke, issued in the press on Monday, comes at a time when Iranians are watching carefully for any sign as to whether Khamenei's support for Ahmadinejad is weakening as the president faces a tough battle for a second term in June 12 elections. Khameini's backing is important for any presidential candidate to win. [More>>jpost.com]

5.04.09 Malaysian Christian told to challenge "Allah" ban

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 4 - Court allows Christian woman to seek seized religious material. A Malaysian court granted permission to a Christian woman to challenge the authorities for seizing religious material that used the word "Allah," national news agency Bernama reported on Monday. The Kuala Lumpur High Court on Monday allowed Jill Ireland Lawrence permission to seek an order directing the Home Ministry to return eight CDs seized from her last May, as well as a declaration that she had the right to use materials with the word "Allah" to describe God.

..Home Ministry officials seized the CDs from 27-year-old Lawrence after she disembarked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The CDs, containing Christian teaching materials, were brought in from Indonesia, where the national language shares much in common with Malay and where "Allah" is routinely used by Christians to describe God. The confiscated CDs bore titles including, "The way to use the keys to the kingdom of Allah," and, "True worship in the kingdom of Allah."...The government has said the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims might confuse Muslims or offend their sensitivities.
[Full story>>alarabiya.net; See background stories,

Maravot News 11.30.08 article
11.29.08 Malaysia government sued over seized Christian CD's with editorial note, "Confusion on the Islamic faith."

Maravot News 4.09.09
editorial note, how the Koran confirms the Bible and thus cannot contradict it: "Confusion over the teachings of the Koran."

5.03.09 Pakistan forces kill 80 Taliban fighters

ISLAMABAD, May 3 - Continuing their push against the Taliban, Pakistani troops today killed more than 20 would-be-suicide bombers in Dir and Buner districts, as the military accused the militants of "gross violation" of the peace accord in the restive Swat valley. As the security forces made further inroads into the Taliban-held areas, militants stepped up violence in the restive Swat valley, killing a soldier and injuring several others. Officials in-charge of the operation in Buner told reporters that security forces had killed 80 militants, including 21 suicide attackers, in recent fighting. Three soldiers were killed and eight others were injured, they said. [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com; See related stories,

indianexpress.com, May 3, "Taliban militants hold 2,000 villagers as human shields" : LONDON - Taliban militants were holding 2,000 people in Buner district of restive North West Frontier Province in Pakistan to use them as human shields in case the army attacked. Taliban's move came as Pakistani forces stepped up their campaign to retake territory in the districts of Buner, Dir and Swat. The military said they had killed more than 100 militants and lost several soldiers since fighting began on Tuesday. Taliban militants are holding 2,000 people as human shields in Pir Baba in Buner district, a local newspaper reported on Sunday...

thenews.com.pk, May 3, "Night curfew in Swat; Taliban patrol Mingora" : SWAT - Bodies of two security personnel have been found in Tehsil Khwazakhela while unknown men have set on fire three trucks in Babu Klay. Night curfew has been imposed in Swat from 9pm Sunday to 6am Monday, sources said. Beheaded bodies of two security men have been found in Alam Ganj area of Tehsil Khwazakhela, sources added. Shops remained closed in Mingora markets as Taliban patrolled the area. Sources further said that security forces had arrested 5 suspects.

Meanwhile, unknown men blew up a government boys school with the help of explosives while armed assailants broke into Mingora Grid Station. Heavy exchange of fire also took place between security forces and militants during which a power transformer was damaged resulting in suspension of electricity in many areas. [end]

thenews.com.pk, May 3, "Taliban kill US 'spy' in NW Pakistan" : MIRANSHAH: Taliban militants shot dead an Afghan national in Pakistan's restive northwest tribal belt after accusing him of spying for the United States, a police official said Sunday. The bullet-ridden body of Fazal Haq, 28, was found on Sunday dumped by the side of a road in Naurak village, 15 kilometres (nine miles) east of Miranshah, the main town in the semi-autonomous North Waziristan tribal region...

5.03.09 Flu cases increase, but there is some optimism

WASHINGTON, May 3 - The number of confirmed cases of swine flu continued to increase on Sunday, affecting additional countries in Europe and Latin America and increasing the likelihood that the World Health Organization might raise its alert to the highest level...19 countries have now been affected, including Colombia, which on Sunday reported the first confirmed case of swine flu in South America. The course of the disease in Mexico, where 19 confirmed deaths have been linked to the flu with many other deaths suspected, is now “in its phase of descent,” Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova told a news conference, Reuters reported. Scientists suspect many of the dead in Mexico might have waited too long — a week on average — to seek help.

Worldwide, about 800 people have been infected, predominantly in North America. Spain now has 40 confirmed cases, more than any other European country. And Britain, Italy and Germany reported new cases, The Associated Press reported. On Sunday, United States officials said that 226 people had confirmed cases of the the flu in a total of 30 states...Health professionals were studying a new development in Canada, where a swine herd on a family-run farm in Alberta Province apparently contracted the virus from a worker who had visited Mexico. The man-to-pig transmission appeared to be a first for this strain. Both the man and the swine have recovered; the herd remains quarantined.
[Full story>>nytimes.com]

5.03.09 Pirates seized after threatening French navy ship

May 3 - The French Navy said they seized 11 pirates Sunday after they apparently mistook a French military vessel for a commercial ship and made a run at it. Two pirate assault boats approached the Nivose "at great speed," Capt. Christophe Prazuck said, but a French helicopter intervened before the attackers had time to fire at the French navy ship. The helicopter fired warning shots, he said.

The pirates, who had a mother ship as well as the two assault boats, are being held for questioning on the Nivose, Prazuck said. The vessels were carrying AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, but the pirates did not fire, he said. The incident took place about 1,000 km (620 miles) east of Mombasa, Kenya, at 8:30 a.m. local time (0430 GMT) he added. In the past three weeks, the Nivose has intercepted 24 suspected pirates as part of a European Union anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia, which has become a piracy hotspot.

5.03.09 Sunni militia leader held in Iraq

May 3 - The head of a leading US-allied Sunni militia group in Iraq has been arrested in a joint Iraqi-US operation. Nadhim al-Jubouri and his two brothers were arrested at their home in the town of Dhuliuya "under the charge of terrorism", the US military says. Nadhim al-Jubouri is a leader in the Awakening Councils, US-sponsored groups that helped cut violence in Iraq after turning against al-Qaeda. The charges reportedly date back to when he was fighting against the US. Iraq's Shia-dominated government took over responsibility for supervising the mainly Sunni Awakening militias from the US military on 1 April.

Many of the Awakening members had been fighting against the Americans but joined forces with them in 2006 to take on al-Qaeda. Awakening leaders have complained that they have been subjected to growing attacks from insurgents recently and that the government is falling behind in paying their salaries. Mr. al-Jubouri's arrest is the latest in a number of recent detentions of Awakening members. "Members of the Iraq National Police with coalition advisors arrested three individuals," Derrick Cheng, a US military spokesman in northern Iraq, said, Reuters news agency reports.

He said the police had warrants for Mr. al-Jubouri and his brothers "under the charge of terrorism." The deputy governor of the province of Salahuddin said that local people had brought charges against Mr. al-Jubouri for the murder of their relatives at a time when he was fighting with al-Qaeda, Reuters reports. Last month a suicide bomber attacked an Awakening militia group in Iraq, killing at least nine people. In March, the arrest of a leader of one of the councils in Baghdad sparked clashes between militiamen and government forces.

5.02.09 Chinese scientists develop live H5N1 (Bird flu) vaccine for humans

HARBIN, China, May 1 - Chinese scientists have developed a live human bird flu vaccine after more than three years of research on animals, a chief researcher said here Friday. Tests of the cold-adapted, live attenuated H5N1 vaccine in mice and nonhuman primates showed that the vaccine provided complete protection in the animals against homologous and heterologous H5N1virus challenge, said Chen Hualan, director of China's National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory, who is in charge of the research. "Our study represents a major advance in vaccine development for H5N1 pandemic influenza and we are very confident about its prospect," Chen told Xinhua in an exclusive interview. Chen said the new type of vaccine "has many revolutionary improvements" in terms of its protective efficacy, production technique, and usage...H5N1 influenza viruses have infected 421 people, including 257 killed, in 15 countries with a high fatality of 61 percent. [Full story>>xinhuanet.com] (Note that the fatality rate of the Spanish flu of 1918 was about 10 percent.)

5.02.09 Mission to break up Pacific island of rubbish twice the size of Texas

May 2 - A high-seas mission departs from San Francisco next month to map and explore a sinister and shifting 21st-century continent: one twice the size of Texas and created from six million tones of discarded plastic. Scientists and conservationists on the expedition will begin attempts to retrieve and recycle a monument to throwaway living in the middle of the North Pacific. The toxic soup of refuse was discovered in 1997 when Charles Moore, an oceanographer, decided to travel through the centre of the North Pacific gyre (a vortex or circular ocean current). Navigators usually avoid oceanic gyres because persistent high-pressure systems — also known as the doldrums — lack the winds and currents to benefit sailors.

Mr. Moore found bottle caps, plastic bags and polystyrene floating with tiny plastic chips. Worn down by sunlight and waves, discarded plastic disintegrates into smaller pieces. Suspended under the surface, these tiny fragments are invisible to ships and satellites trying to map the plastic continent, but in subsequent trawls Mr. Moore discovered that the chips outnumbered plankton by six to one. The damage caused by these tiny fragments is more insidious than strangulation, entrapment and choking by larger plastic refuse. The fragments act as sponges for heavy metals and pollutants until mistaken for food by small fish. The toxins then become more concentrated as they move up the food chain through larger fish, birds and marine mammals.

...In June the 151ft brigantine Kaisei (Japanese for Planet Ocean) will unfurl its sails in San Francisco to try to prove Mr. Moore wrong. Project Kaisei's flagship will be joined by a decommissioned fishing trawler armed with specialised nets. "The trick is collecting the plastic while minimizing the catch of sea life. We can't catch the tiny pieces. But the net benefit of getting the rest out is very likely to be better than leaving it in," says Doug Woodring, the leader of the project. With a crew of 30, the expedition, supported by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Brita, the water company, will use unmanned aircraft and robotic surface explorers to map the extent and depth of the plastic continent while collecting 40 tones of the refuse for trial recycling.
[Full story>>timesonline.co.uk]

Editorial note: See related, background articles at Maravot News 3.16.08 article 3.14.08 US west coast braced for ban on salmon fishing as stocks collapse and editorial note and:

independent.co.uk, " 'The world's rubbish dump: a garbage tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan.' "

5.02.09 Pakistani army kills 16 Taliban in Afghan border

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, May 2 - Pakistani security forces killed 16 Taliban fighters after coming under attack in a volatile tribal region on the Afghan border on Saturday, the military said. The clash in the Mohmand tribal region, bordering Afghanistan's eastern province of Kunar, came as security forces battled into the fifth consecutive day to take control of a strategic valley in the neighboring Malakand division. Over 60 Taliban fighters stormed a post of paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) in a predawn attack in the Spin Tangi area of Mohmand and killed two soldiers. [More>>alarabiya.net; See also:

khaleejtimes.com, May 2, "Pakistan retakes key road in anti-Taliban offensive" : PESHAWAR - Pakistani security forces Saturday seized control of key road in northwestern Buner district as troops and helicopter gunships shelled militant hideouts, the military said.

5.02.09 US soldiers killed by man wearing Iraqi uniform

BAGHDAD, May 2 - A man clad in an Iraqi security force uniform shot and killed two American soldiers and wounded three others Saturday, the US military said. The soldiers were killed just south of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where anti-US militants have a strong presence. The shootings underscored the dangers for US troops and Iraqi security forces in that city. It is not yet clear whether the shooter was a member of the Iraqi military. The Interior Ministry said he was a soldier in training who was standing close to US soldiers when he aimed his firearm at them and began shooting at a training facility in Hamam al-Alil. [More>>cnn.com]

5.02.09 Stanford students grill Condi Rice on torture definition

May 2 - Following disclosure by a Senate Armed Services Committee report that she gave verbal approval to CIA Director George Tenet to use waterboarding on detainees, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended herself in an impromptu interview (see the video below) with Stanford students at a campus reception on April 27. Rice told the Stanford students that waterboarding is not torture, based on the authorization to use an extreme method that simulates drowning by President Bush and legal counsel. "I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency," she said. [More>>cbsnews.com]

5.02.09 Iranian jets 'hit' Iraqi Kurd areas

May 2 - Iranian helicopters have attacked three Kurdish villages in northern Iraq in an apparent cross-border raid targeting Kurdish separatists, according to an Iraqi Kurdish border guard official. There were no immediate reports of casualties after the pre-dawn raid along the Iraqi border province of Sulaymaniya on Saturday. "At 4am (0100 GMT) they attacked with artillery the villages of Kani Saif, Jomarasi and Kara Sozi, that belong to the Panjwin district," the border guard official told the AFP news agency...The incident comes a week after reports of a clash between Iranian police officers and suspected PJAK fighters in the country's western province of Kermanshah. At least 10 policemen and 10 fighters were killed in the gun battle. Kermanshah borders Iraq and is home to many of Iran's minority Kurds. [Full story>>aljazeera.net]

5.02.09 Palestinians: 2 killed in IAF strike on Gaza tunnel

May 2 - Palestinian medical workers on Saturday said that the bodies of two Palestinians have been found inside a tunnel in the Gaza Strip bombed in an Israel Air Force strike earlier in the day. The men believed killed in the air strike were the first fatalities in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in about two months. The IAF on Saturday targeted three weapons-smuggling tunnels in the Gaza-Egypt border town of Rafah in response to a bombardment of Qassam and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Friday and Saturday. [More>>haaretz.com]

5.02.09 Russian guards take up duties on Abkhaz, S. Ossetia borders

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (RIA Novosti) May 2 - Russian border guards have started their duties as part of a joint border-protection agreement concluded between Russia and two former Georgian republics, a border service spokesperson said on Saturday. The border deals, which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed with the two republics at a ceremony in the Kremlin on Thursday, have been condemned by NATO for being a "clear contravention" of a French-brokered cease fire agreement...The border agreement comes at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and the military alliance, following planned NATO exercises in Georgia due to start later in the week and the expulsion of two Russian NATO envoys over spying claims. [Full story>>en.rian.ru]

5.02.09 Somali pirates hijack 2 ships, NATO scuppers attack

NAIROBI, Kenya (Reuters) May 2 - Somali pirates hijacked a Greek and a Ukrainian ship on Saturday and a NATO warship briefly detained 19 pirates armed with high explosives after foiling an attack on a Norwegian tanker in the Gulf of Aden. Pirates said they were taking the Ukrainian ship, hijacked in the Indian Ocean with a cargo including United Nations' vehicles, to the Somali coastal town of Haradheere. "We have hijacked a ship carrying industrial equipment including white cars with the UN logo, our friends are on board it," a pirate who said his name was Hussein told Reuters by telephone from Haradheere. Maritime and UN officials were not immediately available to confirm the hijack. Gunmen also seized a Greek-owned bulk carrier, the MT Ariana, with a 24-strong Ukrainian crew, Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme told Reuters. [More>>thestar.com.my]

5.01.09 US gives Pakistan two weeks to eliminate Taliban

WASHINGTON, May 1 - Stepping up pressure on Pakistan to take concrete action against the Taliban, the US has given Islamabad two weeks time to eliminate the insurgents from its soil before Washington determines what it will do next. General David Petraeus, who heads the US Central Command, has told US officials that the coming two weeks would be "critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive," Fox News reported. "The Pakistanis have run out of excuses" and are "finally getting serious" about combating the threat from Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists operating out of the country's northwest, the general said.

Criticizing Pakistan's attitude towards fighting the insurgents, Petraeus said "we have heard it all before" that Pakistan was doing its best to eliminate the Taliban threat. He said that he is looking forward to see concrete action by Islamabad in the next two weeks before determining the US' next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counter-insurgency training and aid. Petraeus made these assessment[s] in talks with lawmakers and Obama administration officials this week, the news channel reported, citing people familiar with the discussions.

The sources also told the channel that no one in Washington has an "understanding of Taliban's true objective." It remains unclear to policymakers here whether the Taliban wants to overthrow the Zardari government or merely to carve out territory within Pakistan in which it can establish safe haven, impose Sharia law, and plot attacks against external targets.
[>timesofindia.indiatimes.com; See related stories:

indianexpress.com, May 1, "Fifty killed in ethnic clashes in Karachi" :
KARACHI - The ethnic bloodbath in Pakistan's port city of Karachi has claimed at least 50 lives and left 80 others injured in three days, with Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani not ruling out the possibility of involvement of ‘foreign’ elements in the widespread violence. The government was concerned about the violence and a detailed inquiry was being carried out to find out who was responsible for it, Gilani was quoted as saying by news channels. He said the Government could not rule out the involvement of a "foreign hand" in the violence.

His remarks came when reporters asked him at the Multan airport whether he sees a foreign hand behind the incidents of arson, loot and violence in Karachi. "It can't be ruled out," Gilani replied. Media reports said that around 50 people have been killed and close to 80 injured in three days of violence in parts of the city which is blamed on ethnic clashes between the supporters of Urdu-speaking Mutthaida-e-Qaumi Movement and Pashtoon-speaking Awami National Party. The two parties are partners in the ruling coalition. The violence that broke out on Tuesday saw protesters burn vehicles and shops, with peace returning to the city on today as the people stayed indoors due to the May Day public holiday. [end]

thenews.com.pk, May 1, "PM directs steps to curb illegal arms supply in Karach" : KARACHI: Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani Friday termed Karachi as mini Pakistan and inter-linked [the] country's stability with the metropolis...PM Gilani said the government has to solve problems by pursuing the policy of reconciliation and vowed that the extremists will not be allowed to set their roots in Karachi...

indianexpress.com, May 1, "Taliban kidnap 10 soldiers as Pakistan forces continue advance" : ISLAMABAD - Pakistani forces on Friday pushed tanks into action to break stiff pockets of Taliban resistance in Buner killing seven militants, even as in a brazen retaliation the outfit kidnapped and took ten paramilitary soldiers as prisoners in adjoining Dir. As the security operation "Black Thunder" entered the third day on Friday, the Taliban threatened that the Swat peace deal was "practically dead." The militants said that the hardliner cleric Sufi Mohammad, who brokered the deal, will bury it. The cleric has been caught up in the fighting in his home town in Dir and has not been heard of for the past four days...

news.com.au (AFP) May 2, "Pakistan kills up to 60 militants in Taliban offensive" : Pakistani helicopter gunships and ground troops pounded Taliban fighters today, killing up to 60 militants and destroying a dozen would-be suicide bombers in fierce fighting, the army said. The military launched the gruelling assault in the northwest of the nuclear power six days ago under US pressure after the Islamist hardliners advanced to within 100km of the capital Islamabad. As the fighting raged, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates appealed to Congress to free up money for military aid to Pakistan, which is central to Washington's strategy for stopping the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

"During the last 24 hours, 55 to 60 militants have been killed," Major General Athar Abbas told a briefing update on the operation in Buner district. Based on combined tolls released by the military, nearly 200 militants have been killed in Operation Black Thunder since tanks, fighter jets and helicopter gunships swung into action in Buner and neighboring Lower Dir. None of the deaths or details provided by the military could be immediately confirmed independently. Maj-Gen Abbas described "fierce fighting" in the northern area of a strategic pass that heads towards Islamabad and said that 400 "well-equipped and organized" Taliban were putting up "stiff resistance" in Buner. Ground troops backed by helicopter gunships destroyed nine suicide vehicles and six vehicles of "fleeing militants," he said. Three "suicide motorcyclists" were shot dead by ground troops advancing on narrow mountain tracks, he said.[end]

5.01.09 Soldiers killed in Afghan attack

May 1 - At least five foreign soldiers have been killed in an attack in northeastern Afghanistan, military officials have said. The assailants attacked the soldiers with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades on Friday, NATO and US military forces said in a joint statement. The incident occurred at an outpost in the province of Kunar near the border with Pakistan, Captain Elizabeth Mathias, a US military spokeswoman, said. She said about 30 troops were stationed at the outpost.

Afghan and international troops returned fire and called in air support following the attack, the joint statement said. "The insurgents withdrew and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force)-Afghan forces are in pursuit." The US military said three of those killed in the attack were American soldiers. The Latvian military later announced that two of its soldiers were also killed in the clash. "The Latvian soldiers were on a mission to train the Afghan National Army," Normunds Stafeckis, a spokesman for Latvia's defence ministry, said.

5.01.09 Kabul's new elite live high on West's largesse

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 1 - 'Gilded cage' lifestyle reveals the ugly truth about foreign aid in Afghanistan. Vast sums of money are being lavished by Western aid agencies on their own officials in Afghanistan at a time when extreme poverty is driving young Afghans to fight for the Taliban. The going rate paid by the Taliban for an attack on a police checkpoint in the west of the country is $4, but foreign consultants in Kabul, who are paid out of overseas aids budgets, can command salaries of $250,000 to $500,000 a year.

The high expenditure on paying, protecting and accommodating Western aid officials in palatial style helps to explain why Afghanistan ranks 174th out of 178th on a UN ranking of countries' wealth. This is despite a vigorous international aid effort with the US alone spending $31bn since 2002 up to the end of last year. The high degree of wastage of aid money in Afghanistan has long been an open secret. In 2006, Jean Mazurelle, the then country director of the World Bank, calculated that between 35 percent and 40 percent of aid was "badly spent." "The wastage of aid is sky-high," he said. "There is real looting going on, mainly by private enterprises. It is a scandal."

The dysfunctional reputation of the US aid effort in Afghanistan is politically crucial because Barack Obama, with strong support from Gordon Brown, has promised that a "civilian surge" of non-military experts will be sent to Afghanistan to strengthen its government and turn the tide against the Taliban. These would number up to 600, including agronomists, economists and legal experts, though Washington admitted this week that it was having difficulty recruiting enough people of the right calibre.

5.01.09 3 US troops are killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD, May 1 - Two American Marines and a sailor were killed during a military operation in Anbar, the vast province west of Baghdad where combat operations and violence have declined dramatically, the American military command said in a statement on Friday. The three Americans died on Thursday "while conducting combat operations against enemy forces," the statement said. It provided no other details about the circumstances of their deaths. The deaths brought the total for American troops in April to 18, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, making it the deadliest month for American forces in Iraq since September. It was a steep increase from March’s total of nine American deaths the lowest since the war began in March 2003. [More>>nytimes.com]

5.01.09 Confirmed number of global swine flu cases: 363 and counting

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 1 - The number of confirmed swine flu cases across the globe kept rising Friday, but some signs of hope emerged in the battle against the worldwide outbreak. Scientists are working to develop vaccines to confront the flu, and one Mexican politician cited evidence that the virus is "letting up." The World Health Organization said Friday that the number of confirmed cases stood at 331. That number does not include 32 additional cases the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed in the United States, which brought the American total to 141.

The additional CDC cases would bring the worldwide total to 363
and counting. Meanwhile, researchers raced to develop a vaccine for swine flu, which is also known as 2009 H1N1. The CDC hopes to have a vaccine to manufacturers within a month, said Michael Shaw, lab team leader for the H1N1 response at the CDC....The WHO said Mexico has 156 confirmed cases and nine deaths. Mexican authorities say there have been 15 deaths, at least 358 confirmed cases, and more than 150 deaths suspected to have been caused by the flu.

..The CDC gave the following state-by-state breakdown of confirmed H1N1 cases for the United States: Arizona, 4; California, 13; Colorado 2; Delaware, 4; Illinois, 3; Indiana, 3; Kansas, 2; Kentucky, 1; Massachusetts, 2; Michigan, 2; Minnesota, 1; Nebraska, 1; Nevada, 1; New Jersey, 5; New York, 50; Ohio, 1; South Carolina, 16; Texas, 28; and Virginia, 2. ..In addition to Mexico and the United States, WHO said, the following countries have confirmed cases: Austria 1; Canada 34; Germany 3; Israel 2; Netherlands 1; New Zealand 3; Spain 13; Switzerland 1; and the United Kingdom, 8. Health officials in Denmark and China each said Friday they had confirmed the first cases of swine flu in their respective countries, but the WHO has not yet confirmed those findings.
[Full story>>cnn.com]

5.01.09 Clinton: US has no interest to offer aid to DPRK

WASHINGTON, April 30 - The United States has no interest to offer economic aid to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), said Hillary Rodham Clinton, the US Secretary of State, on Thursday. "We have absolutely no interest and no willingness on the part of this administration to give them any economic aid at all," Clinton told a hearing on the fiscal year 2009 war supplement held by the Senate Appropriations Committee. "They are digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole with the international community," said the secretary, referring to the latest threat made by Pyongyang to carry out tests of nuclear explosives and intercontinental ballistic missiles. [More>>xinhuanet.net]

5.01.09 Castro blasts Obama, says US wants Cuba as slave

HAVANA (AFP) May 1 - Fidel Castro blasted US President Barack Obama Friday in provocative May Day remarks, saying the United States only wanted Cuba to return "to the fold, like slaves." Castro, 82, who led Cuba for almost 50 years and remains head of the Cuban Communist Party, was not in outreach mode, though Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, 77, have made remarks aimed at easing Cold War-era tensions. "Today, they stand ready to forgive us as if we would resign ourselves to returning to the fold like slaves, who after tasting freedom, go back to the yoke and whip,"

Fidel Castro said in a defiant address published in Cuban state media to mark May Day. Obama has said the United States wants to see progress on human rights and political freedom from Cuba. That runs counter to Cuba's main interest in maintaining and projecting the Americas’ only communist regime into the future. Castro, who for decades referred to the United States as the enemy, warned: "The (US) adversary must never delude itself into thinking that Cuba will surrender." Cuba on Thursday accused the US government of being an "international criminal" after Washington said it was keeping Cuba on a list of countries that allegedly support terrorism.
[More>>khaleejtimes.com; See also:

alarabiya.net, May 1, "Iran, Cuba, Venezuela reject US terrorist label" :HAVANA - Cuban FM says US has "long record of terrorist actions." Iran, Cuba and Venezuela late on Thursday assailed the US administration for a new report that lists Havana and Tehran as state sponsors of terrorism and raises concerns about Caracas. The US State Department report, which singled out Iran as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism" in the world, was released in Washington Thursday as ministers from some of the countries named in the report were here for a meeting of non-aligned countries...

abcnews.go.com, May 1, "Fidel Castro sports a US flag pin" : HAVANA - Former Cuban President Signals Thaw in US-Cuban Relations; Obama Eases Travel Restrictions. Photos of Fidel Castro meeting with a United States congressional delegation last month show the former Cuban president wearing lapel flag pins from both Cuba and the United States. That surprising image signals a thaw in US-Cuban relations after limits on family visits imposed by the Bush administration were dropped by President Obama April 13. Now at Havana's Jose Marti Airport, planeload after planeload of Cuban Americans enter the country to visit relatives...

5.01.09 May Day turns violent in Turkey, Germany, Greece

ISTANBUL (Reuters) May 1 - May Day protesters clashed with riot police in Germany, Turkey and Greece on Friday while thousands angry at the government's responses to the global financial crisis took to the streets in France and Spain. Rising unemployment across Europe and beyond has added intensity to May Day marches as last year's market crash and banking meltdown rolls into the real economy. There were early morning clashes in Germany and protests in Istanbul swiftly turned violent. Greek police clashed with self-styled anarchists. Demonstrations in France and Spain appeared largely peaceful.

Turkish riot police fired water cannon and tear gas, firing shots and pepper spray to disperse masked protesters. Young men hurled stones and Molotov cocktails, smashing bank and shop windows in side streets. An Istanbul police spokesman said 68 demonstrators were detained and 11 police wounded. Leftists and Kurdish separatists regularly clash with police at demonstrations in Turkey and the May Day protest last year also turned violent...In Berlin and Hamburg, scattered violence erupted in the early hours of the May Day holiday injuring more than 50 riot police, authorities said...French unions organized nearly 300 marches targeting President Nicolas Sarkozy's social policies and crisis management, with the opposition Socialists calling on members to join the protests for the first time since 2002.
[Full story>>thestar.com.my]

5.01.09 Amnesty outraged at Iran execution

May 1 - Iranian authorities on Friday morning executed a woman convicted of a crime she was alleged to have committed while still under 18, Amnesty International revealed. Delara Darabi was put to death in Rasht Central Prison, becoming the second woman to be executed in the Islamic republic this year. Amnesty International said it was "outraged" at the execution, drawing particular attention to the fact that her lawyer was not informed about it, despite the legal requirement that he should receive 48 hours' notice.

"This appears to have been a cynical move on the part of the authorities to avoid domestic and international protests which might have saved Delara Darabi's life," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program.

Darabi was executed despite her having been given a two-month stay of execution by the Head of the Judiciary on April. 19, which Sahraoui said indicates "that even decisions by the Head of the Judiciary carry no weight and are disregarded in the provinces." Darabi was convicted of murdering a relative in 2003 when she was 17. She initially confessed to the murder, believing she could save her boyfriend from the gallows, but later retracted her confession. She was being detained at Rasht Prison in northern Iran since her arrest in 2003.

Amnesty claimed the trial was not fair, citing the court's refusal to consider new evidence, which her lawyer said would have proved her innocence. The organization had campaigned for Darabi's life since her case emerged in 2006, urging the Iranian authorities to commute her death sentence and calling for a re-trial in proceedings that meet international standards. Darabi's death brings the number of executions in Iran in 2009 to 140, and she is the second woman known to have been executed this year. Iran has executed at least 42 juvenile offenders since 1990, eight of them in 2008 and one on 21 January 2009, in total disregard of international law, which unequivocally bans the execution of those convicted of crimes committed when under the age of 18, Amnesty said.

5.01.09 UN: Israel must freeze East Jerusalem home demolitions

May 1 - The United Nations is demanding that Israel freeze all pending demolition orders against Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. The orders were issued because the homes were built illegally. But a new report by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that Palestinians face serious obstacles in building legally, as only 13 percent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction, while Jewish "settlements" occupy 35 percent of East Jerusalem, "in violation of international law." [More>>haaretz.com]


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