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12.09.07 Workers struggle to contain oil spill

December 9 - The worst-ever oil spill from a tanker in the country's West Sea on Friday has seriously damaged the region's marine farms and beaches, the government said yesterday. A total of 2,100 hectares of marine farms, and six beaches covering a 221-hectare area, have been hit by the oil leak, the Ministry of Marine and Fisheries said. Nearly 20 of 150 kilometers of the coastline in Taean County have been affected by the spill, the ministry added.

A Hong Kong-registered giant tanker leaked an estimated 10,500 tons of crude oil into the waters on Friday morning after it collided with a barge carrying a crane. This occurred 90 kilometers southwest of Seoul. Government officials suspect that, while the barge was anchored by another vessel, a tow wire was cut due to the strong winds and high waves. This oil spill is about twice the size of the one in 1995, when a tanker struck a reef off the south coast, spilling 5035 tons of oil. [More>>koreaherald.co.kr]

12.09.07 Victoria's Secret thrives off Jordan sweatshop

DUBAI, December 9 - A workers-rights group said a Jordanian subcontractor that makes clothing for popular lingerie brand Victoria's Secret is abusing its workers, cheating them of wages and imprisoning them, the America in Arabic news agency reported. The National Labor Committee (NLC), one of the biggest workers' advocacy groups in the world, said D.K. Garment in Irbid, 70 kms north of the capital Amman, is technically holding its workers prisoner after taking away their residency permits.

D.K. Garment manufactures women's clothing for Victoria's Secret as part of the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) agreement, which gives Jordanian products free access to U.S. markets if they have 7-8% Israeli inputs. The150 laborers -- 135 from Bangladesh and 15 from Sri Lanka -- work 14-15 hours a day, and get one day off every three to four months, according to the NLC report. The workers' housing conditions are also inhumane, with no heating system or hot water in winters, when temperatures fall below zero. Besides the harsh conditions, workers who do not get the work done one time are slapped or beaten, the report said.

12.09.07 12 killed in suicide attack in Swat

PESHAWAR, December 9 - A suicide car bomber smashed into a security forces’ checkpost in Neemgolai, an area in Swat on Sunday, killing 12 persons while the suicide bomber was also killed. Official sources confirmed the killing of nine persons. According to the sources, the bomber hit the checkpost barricades with the car. Ten civilians including two children, and three policemen were killed in the attack.

Their names are Abdullah Qureshi, Zafar Ali, Ibrahim, Hanifa Mama, Mohammad Faraz, Saima, Fatima Bibi, two children, and policemen Israr, Hazrat Syed and Qadar Gul. The toll included the suicide bomber himself who was suspected to be belonging to some local terrorist outfits. Various persons including police inspector Bahadur Khan were injured who were shifted to Saidu Sharif hospital. Many of the wounded are in critical condition. A nearby parked bus was also damaged in the blast.

12.09.07 Roadside bomb kills Iraq police chief

BAGHDAD (AP) December 9 - A roadside bomb struck a convoy carrying the police chief of a predominantly Shiite province south of Baghdad on Sunday, killing him and two of his bodyguards, authorities said. Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi said preparations had begun for a military operation in Diyala, a province northeast of Baghdad that on Friday saw more than 20 people killed in two suicide bombings.

"If we succeed in controlling areas of Diyala close to Baghdad, the rate of incidents in Baghdad decreases by 95 percent," he told The Associated Press. The area has seen numerous attacks in recent weeks, as militants flee for more remote regions to escape the security campaign in the capital. [More>>indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org]

12.09.07 Iran shuns Gulf security meeting

December 9 - Iran, initially scheduled to be represented at the Manama conference by its foreign minister, Manoucher Mottaki, decided at the last moment not to attend the conference where Gates was to deliver the keynote address. Iran's shunning of the Bahrain security conference accentuated the growing tension between the Islamic republic and the United States. But Iran's absence was also an indication of tension between Iran and its Gulf neighbor, the kingdom of Bahrain, a key US ally. Bahrain is home [to] the US Fifth Fleet.

Addressing several hundred delegates attending a security summit organized by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies in Manama, the capital of the small Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, Gates said, "We must keep all our options open."

12.09.07 British capture two senior Taleban commanders

December 9 - British troops were tonight poised to smash through Taleban defences after surrounding the town of Musa Qala and pushing up almost to its outskirts. Two senior Taleban commanders were captured today as troops advanced to within a mile of the town, the Islamists' symbolic stronghold in Helmand Province.

Hundreds of rebel fighters in the area have been reported killed in air strikes and probing attacks in the last few weeks in advance of the offensive, one of the most ambitious to be launched in Afghanistan since 2001. Efforts have also been made to persuade Taleban commanders to defect to the government side. [More>>timesonline.co.uk]

12.09.07 From burgers to Bin Laden: has film-maker found al-Qaeda boss?

December 9 - Morgan Spurlock, the documentary maker who stuffed himself full to bursting with McDonald's hamburgers for his break-out film, Super Size Me, couldn't have asked for a better publicity hook for his new documentary. The word on the street, or rather the internet, is that he's tracked down Osama bin Laden – succeeding where six years of ostensibly unrelenting efforts by the US military, intelligence services and allies around the world have failed. The whisper went out last week on the website of the cable TV station MSNBC, and has spread like wildfire ever since.

We know his new film is called "Where Is The World Is Osama bin Laden?" We know that the Weinstein brothers snapped up the rights to it at the Berlin Film Festival in February, paying $25m (£ ) after seeing just 15 minutes of edited footage. And we have a quotation from Mr. Spurlock's director of photography, Daniel Marracino, who told Variety over the summer: "We've definitely got the Holy Grail."

From those less than conclusive elements, MSNBC concocted this headline: "Did Morgan Spurlock find Osama bin Laden?" The answer is unknowable, at least until the film gets its first showing at the Sundance Film Festival next month. But Mr. Spurlock's publicist is unlikely to be complaining. [More>>independent.co.uk]

12.08.07 NIE report's pre-Sept. 2003 allegation is a lie: Mottaki

TEHRAN (MNA) December 8 - The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear activities was 70 percent based on reality, but the 30 percent which concerned Iran's activities before September 2003 was all lies, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said here on Saturday. The US intelligence agencies’ report proves that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, Mottaki said during a conference held to review the process of Iran's nuclear activities at Amir Kabir University.

"This report was prepared in January, and the US president knew about it for many months," but it was published at this time due to internal conflicts between hawks and doves in the US government, the foreign minister added. "Some believe that we were thrilled by the report, but this is not true," he said. In the report, “they said that they had obtained the information from satellites, and on the day when it was released we protested to the Swiss Embassy, asking them why the country whose Interests Section they host has openly confessed to espionage,” he stated. [More>>mehrnews.ir ; See related story, metimes.com, December 8, "Iran drops dollar from oil deals: report."]

12.08.07 Milked! British Supermarkets admit secret price-fixing

December 8 - Some of Britain's biggest supermarket chains admitted yesterday that they had secretly swapped information with each other to make shoppers pay more for milk and cheese in a £270m scandal that represents one of the worst examples of price-fixing in British corporate history. Asda, Sainsbury's and Safeway agreed in principle with the anti-cartel watchdog, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) , that they acted covertly against the interests of consumers while publicly claiming that they were supporting 5,000 farmers recovering from the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The multiple confessions – which will limit the stores' exposure to fines of £116m – are the latest twist in a three-year investigation that has deeply embarrassed a sector that purports to be fiercely competitive. Campaigners said it would damage the reputation of the £90bn-a-year grocery giants at a time when they are under investigation by the Competition Commission for threatening suppliers and stifling rivals.

All the major store chains with the exception of Waitrose and Marks & Spencer are embroiled in the OFT inquiry into milk prices in 2002 and 2003 which has been ongoing since the beginning of 2004. Britain's biggest store chain Tesco, and Morrison, are accused of collusion too, but vigorously deny they took part in the swindle. The allegations against Tesco involve cheese as well as milk and butter. [More>>independent.co.uk]

12.08.07 Gunmen kill 3 Bhutto supporters in Pakistan

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) December 8 - Three supporters of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto were killed Saturday when gunmen attacked her party's office in a town in southwestern Pakistan, police said, in the first reported deaths in the current election campaign. Officers were investigating the early morning incident, which occurred in Naseerabad, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) east of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, said Wajid Akbar, the district police chief. Police had no immediate information about the motive for the attack or who was behind it, he said. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

12.08.07 Jailed charity workers in Chad on hunger strike

N'DJAMENA, Chad (AFP) December 8 - Six French charity workers jailed in Chad over an attempt to fly 103 children to France began a hunger strike Saturday to protest what they called a "biased" probe into the incident, a judicial source said. "They have begun their hunger strike, but are continuing to drink water and smoke," the source told AFP.

"They are saying that they are determined to continue their strike until they are freed because they say they have committed no crime." The six French nationals are incarcerated in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena on charges of kidnapping and fraud. Five Chadian officials and a Sudanese refugee are also detained for complicity.

In October, Chadian authorities halted a controversial operation in the eastern city of Abeche, as charity members tried to board 103 children on a France-bound plane. Zoe's Ark has said that it thought the children were orphans from Darfur, the neighboring Sudanese region in the throes of civil war. But international humanitarian organizations claim almost all the children are from Chadian villages in the border area, and have at least one parent or adult guardian.

Also charged initially were three French journalists, seven Spanish air crew members chartered by Zoe's Ark to take the children to France, and a Belgian pilot who transported some of the children from Adre, near the Sudanese border, to Abeche. They have since been released and repatriated, although the charges still hold in Chad. Those charged could incur sentences of between five to 20 years of forced labor in Chad.
[>alarabiya.net See also lefigaro.fr., December 8, «Arche de Zoé : les Français entament une grève de la faim.»]

12.08.07 Gunmen kill Philippine town vice mayor

MANILA, Philippines (AP) December 8 - Two gunmen barged into a central Philippine town hall and killed the vice mayor, a human rights advocate who had condemned a series of killings of left-wing activists, officials said Saturday. Vice Mayor Regolo Moran, who was wounded in the close-range shooting Friday, wrestled with one of the attackers but was shot again by the other and died in a car during the two-hour trip to a hospital, said left-wing lawmaker Rep. Crispin Beltran, a friend of the victim.

Two of Moran's employees were wounded in the assault in Masbate province's Dimasalang town, about 218 miles southeast of Manila. The gunmen fled and were being hunted, said regional police commander Senior Superintendent Balligi Tira...Moran, a longtime human rights advocate, had condemned a wave of killings of left-wing activists over the past six years. He had been scheduled to help lead a human rights demonstration Monday in Dimasalang, Beltran said. "His killing is undoubtedly politically motivated and will add up to more than 800 cases of extra-judicial killings in the country," Beltran's Anakpawis political party said in a statement. [Full story>>indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org]

12.07.07 Israeli minister 'in fear of arrest' cancels UK visit

December 7 - A senior Israeli minister has turned down an invitation to visit Britain because of fears he could have been arrested on war crimes charges arising from the assassination of a top Hamas military commander five years ago. The Israeli foreign ministry advised Avi Dichter, the Public Security minister, that what it described as an "extreme leftist" group was likely to file a legal complaint over the July 2002 bombing attack in Gaza on Saleh Shehadah which killed at least 13 civilians.

Mr. Dichter, who had been due to speak at a seminar in King's College London, was at the time head of the domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, which helped to plan the attack. The bombing, which was internationally criticized – including by the US – because of the civilian loss of life, was described after an internal Israeli investigation as a "mistake." [More>>:independent.co.uk]

12.07.07 Saddam's top aide escapes Iraqi security raid

TIKRIT, Iraq (Xinhua) December 7 - Iraq's former vice president Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a top aide of Saddam Hussein, escaped overnight a raid on him in Salahudin province, a senior provincial official said on Friday. Al-Douri, accused of leading an insurgency against the US military and Iraqi government and among the US most wanted 55-member list of Saddam Hussein top officials, escaped an overnight raid on his hideout in a village east of Tikrit City, 170 km north of Baghdad, the official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. He said that the raid was conducted upon an intelligence report that al-Douri and his aides were holding a meeting in the village. [More>>xinhuanet.com ; See related story, khaleejtimes.com (Reuters) December 7, "Female suicide bomber kills 16 in Iraq" : BAGHDAD - A female suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives killed 16 people in Iraq on Friday in an attack on former Sunni Arab insurgents who have joined the security forces to fight Al Qaeda, police said. Another 27 people were wounded in the blast in the town of Muqdadiya...

12.07.07 Democrats call for inquiry in destruction of tapes by C.I.A.

WASHINGTON, December 7 - Democratic lawmakers reacted with surprise and anger today to the disclosure that the Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two al-Qaeda operatives in the agency's custody. Representative Jane Harman of California, who was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in early 2003, said she cautioned C.I.A. officials then not to destroy any videotapes pertaining to interrogation practices. "To my knowledge, the Intelligence Committee was never informed that any videotapes had been destroyed<" Ms. Harman said. "Surely I was not." [More>>nytimes.com]

12.07.07 Half-cremated bodies dumped to save fuel

December 7 - China's worst fuel crunch in years has led a crematorium to dump half-burnt corpses to try to save on diesel costs. Villagers in Hengyang county, in the southern province of Hunan, discovered the practice when an "unbearable stench" started coming from the site, and tried to block a road on Wednesday to stop funeral vehicles from delivering more bodies.

The village sent people to investigate the smell and The South China Morning Post said they saw "crematorium workers putting half-burnt human remains and organs in plastic bags and throwing them into a nearby ditch. As the price of diesel rose, we saw more and more bags thrown out from the crematorium," the paper quoted Xiao Gaoyi, a village representative and one of the witnesses, as saying.

China was hit by its worst fuel supply crisis in four years from October to November, as a widening gap between low, state-regulated domestic prices and market-driven international prices forced Chinese refiners to cut output. Fuel in many parts of the country was rationed and there were long queues at petrol stations. An increase of nearly 10 per cent in the prices of domestic diesel and gasoline from November 1, the first in almost a year and a half, failed to lift refining margins back into the black.

12.07.07 Televangelist refuses to turn over more financial documents

December 7 - Georgia televangelist Creflo Dollar is refusing to turn over any more financial documents to the Senate Finance Committee, even though they are overdue. Last month, the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley, asked Dollar and five other TV and megachurch preachers to provide him detailed reports on how they're spending billions of dollars in church donations. He wants to make sure their ministries aren't violating their tax-exempt status by spending church donations on personal luxuries. Five of the six ministries have either turned over documents or asked Grassley for more time, which the senator readily agreed to give them....

...In November, Dollar told CNN that his church was not in violation of any tax laws. "We've always said at the very beginning we have no problems if it's a valid request," Dollar said. "And, you know, we comply with the IRS." Dollar is making no apologies for living in a $2.5 million mansion in Georgia, driving a church-bought Rolls Royce and having access to a luxury Manhattan apartment. He said the church owns some of his luxury items and he bought the rest with his own money. [Full story>>cnn.com]

12.06.07 PLC passes law to make any concessions on Jerusalem illegal

December 6 - The Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council Thursday passed a law that makes any concessions on Jerusalem illegal. The law, which was approved by first reading, also defines such concessions as a crime of high treason.

Presented by Hamas legislator Ahmed Abu Halbiyeh on behalf of two parliamentary committees - the Judicial Committee and the Committee for Jerusalem Affairs, the law is expected to pass in second and third readings in the coming days. The PLC session was boycotted by many members of the rival Fatah faction in protest against Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last June.

However, many Fatah legislators have made it known that they too support the law, which states that Jerusalem is a Palestinian, Arab and Islamic city and that it is totally forbidden to give up or conduct negotiations about any part of the city. According to the law, anyone who violates the law would be prosecuted as a traitor. [More>>jpost.com]

12.06.07 Radical detainees turned in by moderates

BAGHDAD (UPI) December 6 - A top military official in Iraq says radical Muslims are being turned in to security officials by moderates in what's being called a revolt by moderates. Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, deputy commanding general for Multinational Force-Iraq detainee operations, says radical ideologues are being handed over to detention officials on a daily basis. In turn, "security officials are keeping the extremist and moderate populations in separate confinement areas," the American Forces Press Service reported.

"What we had were moderates who said, 'listen, you know, we don't want that (extremist) direction,' " Stone said in a statement. "The moderates will turn in the extremists, … now that we can physically do that, almost every day groups of 50 to 100 to 150 to 200 (detainees) will self-identify the guys, will pull them out." Stone says one reason for the revolt by moderates has been Iraq's provincial and tribal leaders who are turning away from supporting radicals ideologies in their neighborhoods. [More>>metimes.com ; See related story, alarabiya.net, December 6, "US Army gives Islamic lessons to Iraqi prisoners."]

12.06.07 Iraq: Villagers protest al-Qaeda attacks

BAGHDAD (AP) December 6 - Shiite villagers paraded empty coffins at mock funerals near Baghdad on Thursday, demonstrating against alleged al-Qaeda in Iraq attacks that killed as many as 45 people in a single village in recent months. Hundreds of residents and Muslim sheiks from Dwelah, a Shiite enclave about 45 miles north of Baghdad, held a huge procession in the Bawya area south of the capital, saying they feared reprisals if they did so in their hometown.

Dust blew through crowded streets as men hoisted flag-draped coffins over their heads, chanting "We remember the victims!" Another rally snaked through thoroughfares in Baghdad's mixed Karradah neighborhood, where Dwelah residents and their Shiite brethren from the capital demanded more protection from the Iraqi government. [More>>indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org]

12.06.07 US announces plans to sell anti-missile systems to UAE and Kuwait

DUBAI, December 6 - The US has announced plans to sell advanced anti-missile systems to the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait with a combined potential value of nearly $10.4 billion. According to an Arabian website, the Pentagon told Congress the United Arab Emirates had asked about buying 288 Patriot Advanced Capability PAC-3 missiles and related gear worth up to $9 billion. Kuwait said in October it planned to buy anti-missile Patriot systems from the US as part of a military aid package announced in July. [>thenews.com.pk ; See related stories, rian.ru, December 6, "BrahMos to increase production of Russian-Indian cruise missiles." and xinhuanet.com, December 6, "Indian interceptor missile test successfully conducted."]

12.06.07 Bush writes to North Korean leader

SEOUL, South Korea, December 6 - President Bush of the United States has sent a letter to Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, the North's official news agency and South Korean officials said today. It was Mr. Bush's first direct communication with the reclusive North Korean dictator.

Christopher R. Hill, the top envoy to six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs, delivered the letter through the North Korean foreign minister, Pak Ui-chun, during his three-day trip to Pyongyang earlier this week, the Korean Central News Agency said. It did not elaborate.

A White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, responded to questions about the contents of the letter this morning by saying: "President Bush wrote letters to all the leaders involved in the six-party talks last Saturday, Dec. 1. In these letters, the President reiterated our commitment to the six-party talks and stressed the need for North Korea to come forward with a full and complete declaration of their nuclear programs, as called for in the September 2005 six-party agreement." [More>>nytimes.com]

12.06.07 Bush announces mortgage rate freeze plan

WASHINGTON (AP) December 6 - President Bush announced on Thursday a plan to freeze interest rates for five years for hundreds of thousands of strapped homeowners whose mortgages are scheduled to rise in the coming months. "There is no perfect solution," he said. "The homeowners deserve our help. The steps I've outlined today are a sensible response to a serious challenge."

...Bush said that 1.2 million people could be eligible for help under the plan, developed in negotiations with the mortgage industry led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. But only a small fraction of that number will be subject to the rate freeze. Others would get assistance in refinancing with their lenders and moving into loans secured by the Federal Housing Administration, Bush said.
[Full story>>washingtonpost.com ; See related mortgage trend story, timesonline.co.uk, December 6, "Relief in city as bank lowers rates to 5.5%."]

12.05.07 Suicide attack on army bus kills 12 in Kabul

KABUL (Xinhua) December 5 - A suicide bomber driving a car exploded himself near a mini-bus of Afghan National Army on Wednesday morning in Afghan capital, killing at least six soldiers and six civilians, a Defense Ministry spokesman said. In an earlier talk to Xinhua, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Tahir Azimi said that the explosion took place at around 06:50 a.m. local time. However, a local radio, Noorin, quoted government officials as saying that eight personnel from defense ministry who were in the bus and some 12 nearby local civilians including some shopkeepers were killed. [More>>xinhuanet.com; See also indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org, December 5, " Suicide bomber attacks Afghan soldiers."]

12.05.07 Car bombs kill 23 across Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) December 5 - Car bombs killed 23 people in Baghdad and three other Iraqi cities on Wednesday but US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that a secure, stable country was within reach. A car bomb near a Shi'ite mosque in central Baghdad killed 15 people and wounded 33 as they gathered for evening prayers, making it the city's deadliest bombing since September. [More>>thestar.com.my ; See also thenews.com.pk, December 5, "Three US soldiers among 31 killed in Iraq violence."]

12.05.07 Major 2nd Temple structure uncovered

December 5 - Israeli archeologists have uncovered a monumental Second Temple structure in a parking lot just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem opposite the Temple Mount which was likely the ancient palace of Queen Helena, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

The site, which has been unearthed during a six-month "salvage" excavation in the Givati parking lot just outside the Dung Gate ahead of the planned expansion of the Western Wall car park, also indicates that the ancient City of David was much larger than previously thought, said archeologist Doron Ben-Ami, who is directing the dig at the site.

The "monumental" edifice, which was destroyed by the Romans when they demolished the Second Temple in 70 CE, was dated to the end of the Second Temple Period by pottery and stone vessels, as well as an assortment of coins from that time, Ben-Ami said. [More>>jpost.com]

12.05.07 Photo casts doubt over Darwin couple

December 5 - Police have taken a man suspected of faking his own death in a canoe accident to Cleveland for questioning. John Darwin was being held at Basingstoke police station, where he was quizzed about the bizarre turn of events that has seen him come "back from the dead."

He was declared dead in 2002 after going out in his canoe in Hartlepool. Wreckage of the boat was recovered by rescuers who said he had virtually no chance of survival. His wife, Anne, cashed in his life insurance policy and moved to Panama last month. [More>>news.sky.com]

12.05.07 Study shows why the flu likes winter

December 5 - Researchers in New York believe they have solved one of the great mysteries of the flu: Why does the infection spread primarily in the winter months? The answer, they say, has to do with the virus itself. It is more stable and stays in the air longer when air is cold and dry, the exact conditions for much of the flu season.

"Influenza virus is more likely to be transmitted during winter on the way to the subway than in a warm room," said Peter Palese, a flu researcher who is professor and chairman of the microbiology department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and the lead author of the flu study. [More>>nytimes.com]

12.04.07 Bush says Iran stil a danger despite report on weapons

WASHINGTON, December 4 - President Bush said today that a new intelligence finding that Iran halted its nuclear weapons work in 2003 had not altered his sense that Iran remained a danger. The world needed to view the report as "a warning signal," not grounds for reassurance, he said, and the United States would not renounce the option of a military response. [More>>nytimes.com]

12.04.07 First female suicide bomber killed in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) December 4 - A burka clad female suicide bomber blew herself up at a check post in northwest Pakistan Tuesday, in the country's first such attack involving a woman, police said. There were no other casualties in the blast in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which is near the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan where troops are battling Islamic militants, they said.

It happened in a high-security zone where intelligence services buildings and a Christian convent school are located, provincial police chief Mohammad Sharif told AFP
. "This is the first suicide attack carried out by a woman in Pakistan. She was the single casualty," Sharif said. "She came to the army check post, she was stopped but she blew herself up. No soldiers were injured in the blast," a police official said

12.04.07 Gulf countries launch common market

DOHA, Qatar (AP) December 4 - The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council announced the formation of a common market Tuesday similar to the one launched by Europe over 50 years ago. Starting at the beginning of 2008, citizens from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will have equal rights to carry out business in any GCC country and equal residency rights. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

12.04.07 US says slain Syrian was aide of Abu Ayyub al-Masri

December 4 - The US military has identified one of the "terrorists" its troops killed in a raid last month as Abu Maysara, a top aide of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri, it said Tuesday. "Abu Maysara was positively identified using DNA evidence," the military said in a statement. Syrian national Maysara, also known as Abu Basha'ir, was killed in a November 17 raid near the central town of Samarra, the military said.

"He was a member of Abu Ayyub al-Masri's inner circle and served as a senior advisor," the statement said. "Maysara was specifically responsible for providing extremist spiritual guidance and rebuttal on terrorist matters." He was also known to provide logistical support to al-Qaeda operations and was a key leader in the al-Qaeda in Iraq media network, the military added.

12.04.07 Chávez chastened in Venezela vote

CARACAS, Venezuela, December 4 - A day after the first electoral loss of Hugo Chávez's presidency, the calculus of political affairs in Venezuela has fundamentally changed. A once-demoralized, inept opposition won an important victory in Sunday's national referendum on constitutional changes, exposing weaknesses in Chávez's traditional base of support and slowing, at least for the moment, a process that would have eroded the country's system of checks and balances.

"The first thing we did was to defeat that giant leap of the president to his totalitarian project," Américo Martín, a longtime leftist leader here opposed to Chávez, said Monday. "That has an enormous significance. The second thing we did was to show that the vote does work here."

Analysts said the rejection of 69 constitutional amendments demonstrated that important segments of Chávez's base of support - the poor and the working class - are not willing to accept his vision wholesale, no matter how popular his social and economic programs. Even some of those who had ardently backed the president in the past had their doubts this time. [More>>washingtonpost.com]

12.03.07 Expanding tropics 'a threat to millions'

December 3 - The tropical belt that girdles the Earth is expanding north and south, which could have dire consequences for large regions of the world where the climate is likely to become more arid or more stormy, scientists have warned in a seminal study published today. Climate change is having a dramatic impact on the tropics by pushing their boundaries towards the poles at an unprecedented rate not foreseen by computer models, which had predicted this sort of poleward movement only by the end of the century.

The report comes as representatives from 191 countries around the world assemble on the island of Bali in Indonesia, to negotiate a new international treaty to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists have found that, during the past 25 years the equatorial region classified as climatologically tropical has expanded polewards by about 172 miles which has meant that a further 8.5 million sq. miles of the Earth are now experiencing a tropical climate, compared to 1980.

The scientists warned there are grave implications for the many millions of people living in dry, subtropical regions bordering the tropics, which are at risk of becoming even more arid because of changes to rainfall patterns and wind directions.

...They are particularly concerned about the poleward movement of subtropical dry belts that could affect water supplies and agriculture over vast areas of the Mediterranean, the south-western United States, northern Mexico, southern Australia, southern Africa and parts of South America. "A poleward expansion of the tropics is likely to bring even drier conditions to these heavily populated regions but may bring increased moisture to other areas," the scientists warn. "An increase in the width of the tropics could bring an increase in the area affected by tropical storms, or could change climatologically tropical cyclone development regions and tracks," they say.
[Full story>>independent.co.uk]

12.03.07 Olmert: Israel was right to accept partition 60 years ago

(AP) December 3 - "Ben-Gurion was right," declared Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at a parliament session marking 60 years since the UN approved partitioning mandatory Palestine, endorsing the legendary Israeli founder's decision to accept the plan. Olmert said that division of the land into a Jewish and an Arab state is essential now as well. "There is no other alternative," he said. In the gallery at the special session of parliament were relatives of the ambassadors who voted for the partition at the tense UN General Assembly session on November 29, 1947.

Olmert said Israel "deserves credit from the world" for accepting the partition, while the Arab world rejected it, setting off a two-year war after Israel declared its independence six months later.

Speaking after Olmert, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu charged that today, the Palestinians want "two states for one people - a Palestinian state, and an Israeli state flooded with Palestinians under what they call the 'right of return"' of refugees displaced during the war, along with their descendants."

Olmert said Israel would take part in rehabilitating Palestinian refugees, while rejecting the demand that they be resettled in Israel. "We will do this willingly, not heaven forbid, out of feelings of guilt, but for pure humanitarian reasons and for good neighborly relations," he said. "That is a commitment and promise." [>jpost.com]

Editorial note:
For a background on the UN plan that provided a partition of Palestine in 1947, see Maravot News 12.02.07, "Abbas repeats rejection of 'Jewish state' demand." To cut to the chase, all of the arguments reduce down to the population in the state of Israel and the possible consequence that the Jews could become a minority in the state of Israel. The Jews have faced persecution as a minority during the past 2,000 years, whereever they had been scattered around the world, culminating with the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis. The Jewish homeland of Israel assures to Jews that never again will they be persecuted. This assurance could be overturned if, in the democratic state, the population of nonJews should exceed Jews. This also relates to the surge of Jewish settlements into the West Bank which had an effect of expanding the original borders of the Jews. Also relating to this problem is Iran's (President Ahmadinejad's) expressed intentions of erasing Israel off the map. Iran's active support of Palestinian insurgents and terrorists in the region is sufficient cause for the world to be wary of a Two-state agreement that would enable a Palestinian majority in Israel.

Mel Copeland

12.03.07 Pakistan's Sharif barred from election

ISLAMABAD (AFP) December 3 - Pakistani authorities Monday banned former premier Nawaz Sharif's from standing in next month's general election, further damaging the credibility of a vote that the opposition may yet boycott.

The ruling came as Sharif prepared to hold crunch talks with fellow opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, in which he aimed to persuade her not to participate in the emergency-ruled nation's polls on January 8. Electoral officials upheld a challenge against Sharif's candidacy on the grounds that he was convicted of criminal charges in the wake of his 1999 ouster by Pervez Musharraf, who is now president. [More>>turkishpress.com]

12.03.07 US says Iran ended atomic arms work

WASHINGTON, December 3 - A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years ago that Tehran was working inexorably toward building a bomb. The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to be major factor in the tense international negotiations aimed at getting Iran to halt its nuclear energy program. Concerns about Iran were raised sharply after President Bush had suggested in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to "World War III," and Vice President Dick Cheney promised "serious consequences" if the government in Tehran did not abandon its nuclear program. [More>>nytimes.com]

12.03.07 Bring Tibet rail to Nepal, Kathmandu tells Beijing

NEW DELHI, December 3 - Nepal: As opposition to India's border road plan grows, agreement reached on widening Kathmandu-Lhasa road. While India struggled last week to allay Nepalese concerns over a proposed highway along the Indo-Nepal border amid outrage over a Nepalese parliamentary committee report, China has had a pleasant experience with Kathmandu formally requesting Beijing to extend the well-known Tibet rail into Nepal.

Having firmed up an agreement to resume the Kathmandu-Lhasa bus service from January next year, Nepal Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan is learnt to have formally requested a high-level Chinese delegation headed by Wang Jiarui, head of the international liaison department of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee, that Nepal would welcome speedy consideration of extending the Tibet rail into Nepal.

12.03.07 Iraqi troops find mass grave with 12 bodies

BAGHDAD (AP) December 3 - A mass grave containing the remains of 12 people, including a paramedic who disappeared more than a year ago, was unearthed in in an area long controlled by al-Qaeda in Iraq, officials said Monday. In the capital, an Interior Ministry aide was gunned down in his car, police said. Two of the decomposed bodies were beheaded, according to an official at Fallujah General Hospital, where the bodies were taken after their discovery on Sunday. Hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to release details of the discovery, said some appeared to have been killed as recently as four months ago, and some of the deaths dated to 18 months ago. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

12.03.07 950 youths, 2,000 Qaeda members held in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AFP) December 3 - More and more youths, some only 10, are being influenced by al-Qaeda to join the insurgency in Iraq, US generals said Monday, adding that 2,000 members of the jihadi group are being held in Iraqi prisons. The number of juveniles in detention had jumped from 100 in January to about 950 now, many of them roped into the anti-American insurgency by the Iraqi affiliate of al-Qaeda, the officers said.

"Al-Qaeda is targeting the ‘young and the most impressionable. I equate them with drug dealers," said Major General Douglas Stone, head of the US military's detention operations in Iraq. "It is a real concern. If I can break their back, I would do it," he told AFP at his office in Camp Cropper, one of the two US-run prisons in Iraq.

The jail near Baghdad airport holds around 4,000 of the nearly 26,000 people detained by the US military in he country. The rest are in Camp Bucca in the southern port city of Basra. Of the 4,000 prisoners in Camp Cropper, 950 are juveniles, some as young as 10. Most are aged between 15 and 17 and are being held for offences ranging from "planting bombs to picking up a gun and firefighting," said Brigadier General Michael Nevin of the US military police.

"These juveniles have been involved in something that is perceived as a security threat to Iraq or coalition forces." The number of juveniles rounded up has skyrocketed since a "surge" was launched in February which saw 28,500 extra American troops deployed in Iraq. "In January we had around 100 juveniles. Now we have around 950," Nevin said. [>khaleejtimes.com]


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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