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11.25.07 Blasts cause carnage in Baghdad

November 25 - A series of bomb attacks have killed at least 12 people and injured 41 others in Baghdad. A car bomb exploded on Sunday in the crowded northern district of Bab al-Muazzam, killing nine civilians. Two Iraqi soldiers and 29 locals were also injured in the blast, security officials said. The attack occurred at 9.30am (6.30 GMT) in the busy central Baghdad neighbourhood, which includes a medical complex, the health ministry and the central morgue. The bomb detonated near street vendors close to the ministry building, security officials said. In southeast Baghdad, at least one civilian was killed and eight people were injured by another roadside bomb. [More>>aljazeera.net ; See also indianexpress.com:hosted.ap.org, November 25, "Carbomb kills 9 in Baghdad."]

11.25.07 Afghan air strikes kill 80: officials

KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) November 25 - Around 80 Taleban were killed in a series of air raids by international military forces near eastern Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, officials said Sunday. About 65 of the rebels were killed in a single air assault late Saturday in eastern Paktia province on a "large group of Taleban,"  said Din Mohammad Darvish, a spokesman for the local administration.

Four others were killed in a second assault targeting a vehicle carrying rebels in the same region of the province, Patan district, and four in a nearby area, he said. Another three were killed in an air strike near Gardez, the capital of the restive province, he said. "Altogether 76 Taleban were killed in separate air strikes by coalition forces," Darvish told AFP. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

11.25.07 Syria to attend US Mideast peace conference

DAMASCUS (Agencies) November 25 - Syria said it will attend a US-hosted Middle East peace conference although at a lower level of representation, as Israeli and Palestinian leaders arrived in the US and Iran and Hezbollah dismissed the meeting as useless. Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad will represent Syria officially at the Annapolis, Maryland, conference which aims to revive the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, the source told AFP. [More>>alarabiya.net]

11.25.07 Palestinian editor freed after 11 hours

November 25 - A Palestinian journalist working for the independent Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency was kidnapped late Saturday night by five masked gunmen and held for 11 hours. Hafez Asakreh, who is one of the editors at the news agency, was on his way to work when he was abducted by the gunmen, who forced him into their vehicle and drove to an unknown destination. He was later released unharmed.

According to Nasser Lahham, editor-in-chief of Ma'an, the kidnappers demanded that the journalist publish a number of stories related to security and political affairs in the Palestinian territories. "They wanted us to publish unfounded stories," he explained without elaborating. "They wanted to get us into trouble with other Palestinian factions and the Palestinian Authority security forces."

He said Ma'an was facing a "despicable conspiracy" and expressed hope that the PA security forces would manage to capture the culprits. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate strongly condemned the abduction of Asakreh, noting that Palestinian journalists have been facing a fierce campaign of intimidation. Calling on the PA leadership to launch an investigation into the latest incident, the syndicate also urged human rights organizations around the world to expose the plight of Palestinian journalists. [More>>jpost.com]

11.25.07 Tibetans riot in rural town, police seal area

BEIJING (Reuters) November 25 - An altercation between a Han Chinese shopowner and Tibetan monks in rural Tibet escalated into an ethnic riot, a source with knowledge of the incident said on Sunday, the latest sign of discontent in the unsettled region. The riot began after three Buddhist monks from the Baiga temple in Tibet's Naqu district got into a scuffle with the shopowner. When police arrested the monks, but not the shopowner, anger flared. "The Han owner, he attacked the monks first," the Beijing-based source, familiar with Tibetan affairs, said of the incident which happened last week.

The monks were taken from the local police station to the county Public Security Bureau, where they claimed they were beaten. Hundreds of herdsmen went to the bureau to demand their release, and when their demands went unmet, they began smashing shops owned by Han Chinese. The estimated 600 herdsmen also attacked the police who initially arrested the monks and smashed cars and government offices. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

11.25.07 Russian police detain prominent opposition leaders

MOSCOW, November 25 - Russian riot police detained the leaders of one of Russia's oldest opposition parties Sunday and violently dispersed what officials described as an illegal rally and march in St. Petersburg. Among those detained were Nikita Belykh, chairman of the Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister in the 1990s. Both men are standing for the SPS in next Sunday's parliamentary elections, and Nemtsov was chosen Friday as the party's candidate in next March's presidential election.

Nearly 200 people were detained in the city, including activists allied with the chess grandmaster and anti-Putin activist Garry Kasparov, who was sentenced to five days in jail in Moscow Saturday for participating in an "illegal procession." He and his allies attempted to march to the Russian Central Election Commission to hand in a letter following a rally in central Moscow.

11.24.07 Facebook backlash over sale of personal data

November 24 - Growing unrest among the users of social networking website members could turn into a full-blown rebellion as they demand greater control over the way their personal information is marketed in cyberspace. Following weeks of discontent on group discussion boards on Facebook, one of world's biggest internet sites, it is facing a privacy backlash organized by the US-based online democracy watchdog, MoveOn.

Thousands of American Facebook members have signed a petition calling on the website to remove a new advertising program called Facebook Beacon, which can be used to track the spending habits of Facebook users on external websites.

On Thursday, Britain's information watchdog warned millions of young people of the dangers posed to their privacy by using such sites. It found that 4.5 million people aged 14 to 21 had posted information on the internet which could make them vulnerable to identity fraud or blight their future careers. [More>>independent.co.uk]

11.24.07 Rawalpindi suicide blasts: death toll rises to 20

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, November 24 - The death toll in two separate suicide blasts that occurred near military headquarters in Rawalpindi has mounted to 20 on Saturday night. These blasts occurred in Rawalpindi earlier this morning on Saturday. "One was at a check post near GHQ through explosive laden car and the other was on a bus of the ministry of defence carrying security officials near Faizabad," Director General ISPR Major General Waheed Arshad said.

ISPR spokesman said that the attacker rammed an explosives laden vehicle with the hind side of the bus killing 15 people on the spot, while several others injured in the attack. Another suicide attack was made at security check post near GHQ in Rawalpindi, in which two persons were killed and five security officials’ sustained injuries. Both the attacks claimed at least 20 lives. The explosions were so powerful that windowpanes of the nearby buildings broke and the people came out of their houses in panic.

11.24.07 Take over our rainforest

November 24 - Guyana's extraordinary offer to Britain to save one of the world's most important carbon sinks. Man-made climate change is a clear and present danger. Decision-makers from around the globe will converge on Bali in a fortnight in an attempt to do something about it. And the call has gone out for the world's leaders to take bold action to avoid a catastrophe.

Enter Guyana. The former British colony, sandwiched between Venezuela and Brazil, is home to fewer than a million people but it is also home to an intact rainforest larger than England. In a dramatic offer, the government of Guyana has said it is willing to place its entire standing forest under the control of a British-led, international body in return for a bilateral deal with the UK that would secure development aid and the technical assistance needed to make the change to a green economy.

The deal would represent potentially the largest carbon offset ever undertaken, securing the vast carbon sinks of Guyana's pristine forest in return for assisting the economic growth of South America's poorest economy. [More>>independent.co.uk]

11.24.07 Northern Ireland: return of the killer jellyfish

BELFAST (AFP) November 24 - A freak wave of killer jellyfish staged a second attack on Northern Ireland's only salmon farm, massacring the babies after wiping out the adults earlier, producers said on Friday. Around 150,000 smolts were killed off by the billions of mauve stingers in the invasion on the north-east coast of County Antrim.

The attack comes just over a week after the jellyfish killed more than 100,000 adult fish worth more than one million pounds (2.1 million dollars, 1.4 million euros) in the assault at Glenarm Bay and Red Bay. The repeat carnage in Red Bay on the year-old "growers" has cost the beleaguered Northern Salmon Co. Ltd. another 500,000 pounds and leaves it in an even more perilous situation.

...The seven-hour attack last week over Tuesday and Wednesday saw the jellyfish covering a sea area of up to 10 square miles (26 square kilometers) and 35 feet (11 metres) deep. More often found in warmer climes further south, the mauve stingers’ unusual presence off the Northern Irish coast has been blamed on the wind and tides. [Full story>>khaleejtimes.com ; More details, belfasttelegraph.co.uk, November 24, "Salmon farm in second jellyfish attack" : ...Further huge jellyfish swarms have now been reported off the coast of Scotland, according to the Marine Conservation Society...

11.24.07 Slowing light heralds ultra-fast computers

November 24 - Scientists in Britain say they are able to slow and then stop a squirt of light in what they described as a key step toward the future of ultra-fast computing. The technique, called "trapped rainbow," would help optical data storage, with light replacing electrons to store information, according to their paper, released Wednesday by the British science journal Nature.

Controlling light would also help engineers control major nodes where billions of optical data "packets" arrive at the same time. By slowing some packets to let others through, rather like a traffic congestion scheme, the flow of data can be boosted. The research, by Ortwin Hess, a professor at the University of Surrey at Guildford, southern England and postgraduate student Kosmas Tsakmakidis, is based on the so-called "negative refractive index" of metamaterials.

...When this light hits an object or an interface between two media, it does not immediately bounce back but travels very slightly along that object. In the case of metamaterials, the light in fact travels very slight backward along the object.
[Full story>>metimes.com]

11.24.07 Myanmar reports fresh bird flu outbreak

YANGON (AFP) November 24 - Military-ruled Myanmar has detected a new outbreak of bird flu among chickens in an eastern district near the Chinese border, official media said Saturday. The outbreak was found at a farm in Kengtung township of eastern Shan state on November 18, after the farmer reported an unusual number of deaths in his chickens, the New Light of Myanmar said. The government-mouthpiece newspaper said an unspecified number of chickens were slaughtered and restrictions were imposed on the movement of poultry in the area. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

11.24.07 US calls for proof hostages in Columbia alive

WASHINGTON (AFP) November 24 - The United States on Friday urged Colombian rebels to provide proof their hostages were alive, but stopped short of backing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in his stymied efforts to mediate in the crisis. "We continue to call on the FARC to present proof of life of all hostages," a US State Department spokesman told AFP when asked about Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's decision to end Chavez's mediation for a prisoner-swap deal with the leftist rebels. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

11.24.07 Children die in Kabul bomb attack

November 24 - Three schoolchildren are among six civilians killed after a suicide bomber attacked a team of Italian soldiers building a bridge in a town near Kabul. An Italian soldier was killed and eleven people, including three other Italian troops, were injured in the attack west of Afghanistan's capital, officials said on Saturday. Nazanine Moshiri, Al Jazeera's correspondent at the scene of the attack, said the children had gathered around the engineers and soldiers as they often gave out sweets and chocolate. [More>>aljazeera.net]

11.23.07 Airbus warns of 'life threat' from weak dollar

November 23 - The weakness of the dollar is threatening the survival of European planemaker Airbus, its chief executive Tom Enders has told employees in Germany. Mr. Enders made the claim as he gave warning that European production plants would have to face major cost cuts to help them to counter the impact of the currency. "The dollar's rapid decline is life-threatening for Airbus," Mr. Enders said in a speech. "The dollar exchange rate has gone beyond the pain barrier."

The calls from the head of Europe's biggest manufacturer will increase the pressure on European ministers and the European Central Bank to take action against the continually weakening dollar. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has been leading a campaign for a "fairer exchange rate."

The weak dollar is favouring Airbus's arch rival Boeing, the company claimed. The dollar hit a new low against the euro yesterday. In the year to date, the euro has gained about 12.5 per cent against the US currency. Louis Gallois, chief executive of Airbus's parent company EADS, has said that every 10 cent decline of the dollar costs Airbus €1 billion. [More>>timesonline.co.uk]

11.23.07 Cellphone tracking powers on request

November 23 - Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

Such requests run counter to the Justice Department's internal recommendation that federal prosecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas. The requests and orders are sealed at the government's request, so it is difficult to know how often the orders are issued or denied.

11.23.07 Egypt's ancient desert rock art ravaged

(AFP) November 23 - A rising tide of travelers seeking out the new frontier of Egyptian tourism is threatening priceless rock art preserved for millennia in one of the most isolated reaches of the Sahara. In Egypt's southwest corner, straddling the borders of Sudan and Libya, the elegant paintings of prehistoric man and beast in the mountains of Gilf Kabir and Jebel Ouenat are as stunning in their simplicity as anything by Picasso. But lying 500 kilometers (330 miles) from the nearest habitation, the desert offers little sanctuary for these masterpieces and any effective protected designation first requires a deal between the three sometimes quarrelsome nations.

Not only the rock art is at stake, but the region's entire cultural and natural heritage. "You can't estimate the amount of damage done," says Dr. Rudolph Kuper, a German archaeologist involved in trying to protect the art, mostly dating from when the desert was a receding prairie 5,000-7,000 years ago. "People put water or oil on the paintings to make the faded colors look brighter, causing irreparable damage," he says.

The story is even more tragic just across the border in Libya, where the delicate brush strokes of human figures at Ain Dua appear to have been shot at by bored soldiers. Nearby, a painted cave is filled with rubbish while outside a giant portrait of Bob Marley shimmers garishly in the white of the desert.

11.23.07 Terror strikes UP, 14 killed in six blasts

LUCKNOW, India, November 23 - Terror struck on Friday in Uttar Pradesh when militants triggered near-simultaneous blasts in court premises in Varanasi, Faizabad and the state capital killing 14 people, some of them lawyers, and injuring over 50 others. Six bombs - three in Varansi, two in Faizabad and one in Lucknow - some planted on cycles, went off within a span of 15 minutes in the crowded court complexes between 1310 hours and 1325 hours.

A near stampede broke out in and around the blast spots with many injured bleeding profusely running for their life while several other wounded lay on the floor crying for help. Police immediately rushed to the spots and cordoned off the area and helped people in rushing the injured to various hospitals.

Apart from Uttar Pradesh, security was put on high alert in several parts of the country including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. S B Shirodkar, Senior Superintendent of Police in the temple town of Varanasi, which was the target of a terror strike in 2006, said nine people were killed and 45 others injured, some of them seriously, when two bombs planted on cycles went off in quick succession. [More>>expressindia.com]

11.23.07 Bomb at Baghdad pet market kills 13, wounds 57

BAGHDAD (Reuters) November 23 - A bomb hidden in a box of birds killed 13 people and wounded 57 at a popular pet market in central Baghdad on Friday, police and witnesses said, describing the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital in two months. Body parts were strewn among bird carcasses as bystanders piled victims into carts and rushed them to ambulances after the blast at the crowded Ghazil pet market. Police said four policemen were among the wounded. 

The market attack was the worst since 32 people were killed by twin car bombs in the predominantly Shi'ite district of Bayaa in southwestern Baghdad on Sept. 26, and could dent new-found confidence among Iraqis that security is getting better. In the northern city of Mosul, two separate bombings killed nine people, including six policemen, police said. [More>>thestar.com.my ; See also cnn.com, November 23, "Bombings in Baghdad, Mosul claim 22 lives."]

11.22.07 Balochistan farari camps uprooted: Musharraf

ISLAMABAD, November 22 - President General Pervez Musharraf, Thursday said that all the ferari camps have been eradicated from Balochistan and also hoped for the successful completion of the action against the extremists in Kalam and Swat. Speaking in a government TV programme, President Musharraf asked the nation to stand by the country's law enforcement agencies against extremists and terrorists for Pakistan's safe and secure future.

To a question about the reported death of Balach Mari, the President said the details were still coming in. He, however mentioned the decades-old enmity between the Mari and the Bugti tribes that has led to loss of several lives. He said in Balochistan earlier 95 per cent was "B" area, with no control of police, but now the situation has reversed, with [then] majority of the farari camps' shutdown. "Unless the people of Pakistan rise against extremists and terrorists, the threat from them would continue," he said.

...The President mentioned the multi-pronged strategy being pursued by the government to tackle the issue including putting an end to misuse of mosques, ban on publication, distribution of hate literature, amendment in syllabus and mainstreaming of Madrassas.
[Full story>>thenews.com.pk]

11.22.07 More than half of Afghanistan 'under Taliban'

November 22 - More than half of Afghanistan is back under Taliban control and the NATO force in the country needs to be doubled in size to cope with the resurgent group, a report by the Senlis Council think-tank says. A study by the group found that the Taliban, enriched by illicit profits from the country's record poppy harvest, had formed de-facto governments in swathes of the southern Pashtun belt.

The Afghan government and its NATO allies strongly deny the Senlis version of what is taking place in the country and say the extent of alleged Taliban control – 54 per cent – is a major exaggeration. In particular, British troops in Helmand have, in recent months, recovered territory lost to the Islamist group.

But senior defence sources say that a lack of frontline combat forces has meant that areas clawed back from the Taliban often cannot be held and have to be retaken after costly and fierce fighting. There is also an acknowledgement that the dangers on the ground have meant that aid efforts are being stymied. [More>>independent.co.uk]

11.22.07 US warship misses Thanksgiving in Hong Kong

November 22 - China reversed a decision today to block a United States aircraft carrier from making a four-day port call in Hong Kong, but the change of heart by Beijing officials came too late to stop the ship from returning to its base in Japan and missing families who had flown to Hong Kong to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. The aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk, and its flotilla of five support ships were en route back to their base at Yokosuka and were not planning to turn around for Hong Kong, said a spokesman for the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii, Lt. Commander John Filostrat.

The 8,000-member crew was due in Hong Kong on Wednesday for a four-day visit to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Some were planning to join family members who had flown in from the United States, Japan and the Philippines. While the ships were nearby in the South China Sea, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a “last-minute” refusal of the port call, the State Department said.

China has not explained the motives behind the initial refusal. United States Navy ships make frequent calls to the former British colony — as many as 40 in the past year. The visits are normally negotiated with the Foreign Ministry and approved a month in advance.

The sudden denial of the visit prompted speculation that China was retaliating against recent American actions, like the meeting last month between President Bush and the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader, or planned weapons sales to Taiwan. [Full story>>nytimes.com]

11.22.07 Scientists find 8 white dwarfs in Milky Way galaxy

BEIJING (Xinhuanet) November 22 - Scientists found eight white dwarfs located in the Milk Way galaxy between about 1,000 and 2,000 light years from Earth, which represent a previously unknown category of stars, media reported Thursday. Patrick Dufour, astrophysicist Arizona University of U.S., said previously known white dwarfs have fallen into two categories: those with a hydrogen-rich atmosphere and those with a helium-rich atmosphere. But Dufour and three other scientists, writing in the journal Nature, described eight white dwarfs that break the mold by possessing carbon atmospheres.

The researchers think they may have formed from stars much more massive than the sun but not quite massive enough to explode as a supernova. "It was totally unexpected because all of the white dwarfs we knew so far were either hydrogen-rich or helium-rich. So this is a completely new kind of star," Dufour said.

11.22.07 Hateful host attacks Islam on US radio

DUBAI, November 22 - Major US corporations and civil organizations are launching a campaign to boycott channels that broadcast shows of controversial radio anchor Michael Savage after his hateful remarks about Islam...In his show that aired on October 29, Savage launched into a vicious tirade about Islam: "I'm not gonna put my wife in a hijab. And I'm not gonna put my daughter in a burqa. And I'm not getting on my all-fours and braying to Mecca. And you could drop dead if you don't like it. You can shove it up your pipe. I don't wanna hear anymore about Islam. I don't wanna hear one more word about Islam.

..."Make no mistake about it, the Quran is not a document of freedom. The Quran is a document of slavery and chattel. It teaches you that you are a slave," continued Savage, whose real name is Michael Alan Weiner. "What kind of religion is this? What kind of world are you living in when you let them in here with that…book of hate?...They need deportation…"
[Full story>>alarabiya.net]

11.22.07 Qaeda kill 10 in Baghdad, mortars hit Green Zone

BAGHDAD (Reuters) November 22 - Al Qaeda militants killed at least eight police in southern Baghdad on Thursday, raking them with machine-gun fire from a stolen Iraqi army vehicle, police said. Separately, police said insurgents fired 10 mortar bombs at Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone just before dusk, in attacks coinciding with the US Thanksgiving holiday. 

A Reuters witness said he saw what appeared to be a body hanging from a damaged minibus in the zone, which houses the US embassy and many government ministries. Police said there were casualties, but had no details. The eruption of violence ran against the trend of a sharp drop in attacks in recent months. [More>>thestar.com.my ; See related story, khaleejtimes.com (AFP) November 22, "Saudi, Libya top sources of Iraq foreign fighters."]

11.21.07 Tehran paper attacks Ahmadinejad

November 21 - In a rare attack on Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardline newspaper has accused him of behaving immorally towards his political rivals. The Islamic Republic daily, close to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has said Mr. Ahmadinejad's behavior is dangerous for Iran. The publication is seen as a newspaper with impeccable Islamic credentials.

The attack would be difficult to imagine without at least tacit support from Ayatollah Khamenei. In a hard-hitting editorial on Wednesday, the Tehran paper said the president's treatment of his critics was immoral, illogical and illegal. [More>>bbc.co.uk]

11.21.07 Petition condemns Iran for 'disorder' in S. Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) November 21 - More than 300,000 Iraqis including 600 Shi'ite tribal leaders have signed a petition accusing Iran of sowing "disorder" in southern Iraq, a group of sheikhs involved in the campaign said. The sheikhs showed Reuters two thick bundles of notes which contained original signatures. The sheikhs said more than 300,000 people had signed the pages.

Such a public and organized display of animosity toward neighboring Shi'ite Iran is rare in Iraq. Iranian influence has grown steadily, especially in the predominantly Shi'ite south, since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

11.21.07 Lost in the post: the personal details of 25 million people

November 21 - Seven million families are having to make urgent checks on their bank accounts today after the biggest security blunder in history led to the personal details of 25 million fathers, mothers and children being lost by the Whitehall department responsible for all tax and benefits. The head of HM Revenue and Customs, Paul Gray – one of the country's most highly paid civil servants – resigned his £198,000-a-year post as the scale of the fiasco became clear.

But the Prime Minister and his embattled Chancellor, Alistair Darling, were counting the cost to their own reputations last night as the disaster left them looking accident-prone and open to opposition charges of incompetence.

The news that a package containing the personal details of every family in Britain with a child under 16 had gone missing in the post was greeted with astonishment and anger when it was revealed to MPs by the Chancellor. It could not have come at a worse time for Mr. Darling, who just 24 hours earlier had come under sustained attack from the opposition after admitting that taxpayers' money could be at risk in the £24bn rescue of Northern Rock. [More>>independent.co.uk]

11.21.07 Iran inflation to rise: central bank

TEHRAN (AFP) November 21 - The Iranian central bank has warned rising money supply growth will further push up inflation, an acute economic problem in the Islamic republic, the Etemad Melli newspaper reported on Wednesday. "Indices ... show that the inflation pressures will grow in the coming months," the deputy governor of the central bank, Hossein Ghazavi, was quoted as saying.

He pointed to the inflation rate which nearly doubled between the fiscal year ending September 2008 and the previous year, warning that there was "major inflation underway."

"The inflation rate was 8.9 percent in the previous year and it has increased to 15.8 percent," Ghazavi said. [More>>metimes.com]

11.21.07 Saudi woman punished after gang rape

RIYADH (AFP) November 21 - A Saudi woman sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes despite being gang raped has vowed to challenge the ruling in a case that has received wide publicity, embarrassing the Saudi government. The case "sums up the major problems that the Saudi judiciary faces," said the young woman's lawyer, Abdurrahman al-Lahem.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites, applies a rigorous doctrine of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. It imposes strict segregation of the sexes and a host of restrictions on women, who may not mix with men other than relatives and must cover from head to toe in public.

...After the rape in October 2006, she was sentenced to 90 lashes for having been in a car with a man who is not a relative. The Higher Judicial Council granted a retrial but, on November 14, a court toughened her sentence to six months in jail and 200 lashes...New York-based Human Rights Watch slammed the ruling and urged King Abdullah to "void the verdict and drop all charges against the rape victim and to order the court to end its harassment of her lawyer."
[Full story>>khaleejtimes.com ; See also cnn.com, November 21, "Clinton: Saudi rape verdict 'an outrage' "]

11.20.07 Stem cells without embryos - skin cells transformed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) November 19 - Two separate teams of researchers announced on Tuesday they had transformed ordinary skin cells into batches of cells that look and act like embryonic stem cells - but without using cloning technology and without making embryos. Their breakthroughs could make possible the long-sought goal of tailor-made medicine, but without the political, scientific and ethical roadblock of using human embryos. 

Both teams call the new cells induced pluripotent stem cells and say they look and act like embryonic stem cells - the master cells that give rise to every cell and tissue in the body. "We can now envisage a time when a simple approach can be used to produce stem cells that are able to form any tissue from a small sample taken from any of us," Ian Wilmut of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement. "This will have enormous implications for research and perhaps one day for therapy," added Wilmut, who helped clone the first mammal, Dolly the sheep, in 1997. 

James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin in Madison and colleagues reported their finding in the journal Science while Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan and colleagues reported theirs in the journal Cell. Both teams used just four genes to transform ordinary skin cells called fibroblasts into induced pluripotent stem cells - iPS cells for short. [More>>thestar.com.my]

11.20.07 Korea develops hi-tech shrapnel rifle

November 20 - The Korean military has successfully developed a new gun which fires bullets that explode over targets and disperse deadly shrapnel, a military official said yesterday. "The state-run Agency for Defense Development has developed the air explosive special rifle. The ADD is currently testing the weapon, and we will see the end product next year," the official said on condition of anonymity. The secret development has been led by the government, he said.

The military plans to adopt the weapon as its future assault rifle, he added. It will be synchronized to computerized helmets and other high-tech infantry equipment. The battle rifle is equipped with laser distance measuring capability as well as optical sight and night vision functions. Its 20-millimeter ammunition contains a micro-explosive charge within a rigid shell scored so that it breaks into small fragments propelled at high speed.

Once soldiers input a target in the rifle, using laser measurement, the ammunition flies to the target and explodes, the official explained. On an open battlefield, the bullets would blow up in the air above the enemy on the ground and shower them with deadly fragments, he said. On the urban battlefield, they would penetrate buildings where enemy soldiers are hiding. It can also kill enemy combatants hiding around corners of buildings by exploding ammunition nearby.

The United States, Singapore and Sweden are developing similar weapons as well, but they have not yet succeeded due to various mechanical problems, the official said. [>koreaherald.co.kr]

11.20.07 'Planned escapes' boom as North Korea crumbles

SEOUL, November 19 - Brokers here are busy selling what they call "planned escapes" from North Korea. Given enough money, the brokers say, they can now get just about anyone out of the dictatorial Stalinist state that human rights activists call the world’s largest prison. A low-budget escape through China via Thailand to Seoul can cost less than $2,000, according to four brokers here.

North Korea’s underground railroad to the South is busier than ever because the number of border guards and low-level security officials in the North, who are eager to take bribes, has increased exponentially...For years, North-to-South defections amounted to just a trickle. Most of those coming out were men in their 30s and 40s, who held positions that made fleeing relatively easy. Generally, they escaped without help.

Just 41 defectors sought asylum in South Korea in 1995, but nearly every year since then the number has risen. As the number has increased, the typical sex and age of defectors have also changed. There are more women and more families, according to Chun Sung-ho, an official at South Korea’s Ministry of Unification. [More>>indianexpress.com]

11.20.07 Second British lender warns that its future is in doubt

November 20 - Paragon says that it will fail unless it agrees new funding terms, JC Flowers promises to cut Northern Rock debt by £15bn. Paragon has become the second British lender, after Northern Rock, to give warning that its future is in doubt in the wake of the global credit crunch. The buy-to-let mortgage specialist said today that it may not be able to continue as a going concern if it failed to secure funds by February. So far its bankers had only offered loan terms that would "jeopardise shareholder value," Paragon said. The lender also unveiled plans for a possible emergency rights issue - a measure under which it would approach its shareholders for fresh cash.

It emerged today that JC Flowers, the US investor, has made a bid for Northern Rock, offering to pay a nominal amount for the business but it will inject £1 billion to revitalise its balance sheet and pay £15 billion to reduce £24 billion worth of emergency government borrowing the lender has drawn down since mid-September. However, shares in Northern Rock fell below £1 for the first time, closing 6.7 per cent down at 97p when more doubts over its future spooked investors. Cerberus, one of four parties thought to be considering serious offers for the bank, has decided against making a firm bid because of financial market turmoil. [More>>timesonline.co.uk ; See related stories:

independent.co.uk, November 20, "Northern Rock 'could cost taxpayers millions'" and
nytimes.com, November 20, "Freddie Mac posts a $2 billion loss."]

11.20.07 Mardi Noir: France faces 'Black Tuesday'

November 20 - Strikes. Sabotage. Student unrest. Transport, schools and hospitals disrupted. National newspapers halted. Factories running out of raw materials. France faces a Black Tuesday today. Is this President Nicolas Sarkozy's " Thatcher moment"? Is this another May 1968? Is the New France promised last spring by a combative new president, struggling to emerge from the muddled, but often charming, Old France of street protests, government climbdowns and generous social benefits?

Something is happening across the Channel but how significant the moment will prove to be is unclear. Both President Sarkozy and the more moderate trade union leaders have been trying to avoid a political train-wreck. Some militant unions and transport workers seem to have been determined to provoke one. (According to the state railway company, the SNCF, a fringe of rail workers risked real train crashes yesterday by moving freight locomotives and wagons to obstruct lines and by blocking points with ballast.) A solution to a six-day-old railway and Paris transport strike, over early retirement rights, now seems possible tomorrow. Both government and unions have compromised on the pre-conditions for talks.

At the same time, tens of thousands of other public sector workers – teachers, nurses, air-traffic controllers, postal workers – will go on strike for 24 hours today over pay claims and job cuts. Print workers in Paris walked out last night – in an entirely separate dispute – threatening to block the publication of all national newspapers this morning. A growing protest movement by students, who are opposed to private, extra funding of state universities, spread yesterday to schools for the first time. [More>>independent.co.uk]


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


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