Home > News > News in Brief 21 August 2007

News in Brief 21 August 2007

A brief list of news for the day:

Impatient Kosovo Albanians Press For a Declaration of Independence. Kosovo, the last territory of the former Yugoslavia to seek statehood, has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999, when 78 days of NATO bombing drove out Slobodan Milosevic’s Serb-dominated Yugoslav army. The territory is still technically a province of Serbia. This summer, after years of negotiations, Kosovo’s roughly 2 million residents — mostly ethnic Albanians with a 10 percent Serb minority — are again in limbo. The ethnic Albanian political leadership, anxious for independence, has reluctantly agreed to 120 more days of bargaining with Serbia, creating a new deadline in December. Surroi, an Albanian who is part of the team of local officials negotiating the province’s future, wants Kosovo to declare independence when the deadline expires, with or without an agreement. Such a move, which is gaining advocates among Albanians as the standoff continues, could inflame Kosovo’s Serbs and the government in Belgrade, capital of Serbia, which sees Kosovo as part of its historical and religious heritage. (Washington Post)

US senators suggest Maliki government be replaced. Two key US senators suggested Monday that Iraq’s parliament replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government if it fails in a “last chance” political reconciliation bid. Senators Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and John Warner, the ranking Republican, said after a two-day visit to Iraq that they were not optimistic about the prospects for compromise. “We believe that the recent high-level meetings among Iraqi political leaders could be the last chance for this government to solve the Iraqi political crisis,” they said in a joint statement. “And should it fail, we believe, the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the Iraqi people need to judge the government of Iraq’s record and determine what actions should be taken — consistent with the Iraqi Constitution — to form a true unity government to meet those responsibilities. (IC Publications/AFP)

East Africa: Region to Have Single Currency by 2012. East African heads of state yesterday resolved to have a common market and a single currency by 2012, then move on to a political federation. While noting the overwhelming support of East Africans for a political federation, the leaders decided to “move expeditiously towards establishing a common market and a monetary union by 2012.” The common market would allow the free circulation of goods and movement of the people within the region. To ease this, one common passport will be used within the five countries. The decision came after most Tanzanians rejected the proposal to fast-track the East Africa political federation whose ultimate objective was to have a federal president and parliament by 2013. Tanzania wants a gradual movement towards the federation. (allAfrica)

Big border looming? Just exactly who’s allowed into North America — and how long they can stay — could be heavily influenced by the complex web of initiatives known as the Security and Prosperity Partnership. Canada, the United States and Mexico are collaborating on more than a dozen traveller security programs that fall under three umbrellas: creating trusted border documents, developing compatible immigration measures and sharing information on high-risk travellers.While Ottawa, Washington and Mexico City say this will make citizens safer, critics charge it is a secretive bid to bolster the corporate agenda without public or parliamentary debate. (The Chronicle Herald)

Hamas forced to commit to electricity revenue checks. The European Commission has demanded guarantees that Hamas would not ” divert” electricity revenues before ending an increasingly critical shutdown, which has left hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents without power for four days. Now Hamas officials have accused the Ramallah-based emergency Palestinian government of fomenting the row as part of the tightening squeeze on what it regards as the illegitimate rival Hamas administration in Gaza. The EC said it had ceased to supply fuel because it had learnt Hamas was trying to “divert revenues from the production” of electricity in Gaza. Israeli officials said the freeze on payments had been requested by Salam Fayad, Prime Minister of the emergency administration set up by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. Because of Gaza’s dire economic problems, only a minority of its consumers pay their electricity bills, with the company collecting about 11m shekels a month compared with the 1.6bn (£200m) it should be collecting. The EU says it pays for 25 to 30 per cent of the supply to the Gaza Strip, worth £4.37m a month. (The Independent)

Turkey: First round of vote for president inconclusive. The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) presidential candidate Abdullah Gül led in the results of the first round of voting in Parliament with 341 votes but failed to get elected, as widely expected. The minimum number of votes required at this stage is 367; Gül is expected to be elected in the third round next week, when 276 votes will be enough to be elected president. (Today’s Zaman)

France signals wish for Iraq role with visit by foreign minister. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, held talks yesterday with Iraqi leaders in the first visit by a French minister to Baghdad since Paris’s opposition to the US-led invasion in 2003. The highly symbolic three-day visit marked France’s wish to forge a role in Iraq and build bridges with the US.” It is true that in the past we did not agree with certain countries about the events in 2003, but all that has been put behind us now,” Mr Kouchner said after meeting Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani. Mr Kouchner said France was “ready to play a role in the fight against the violence”, but did not explain how. (Guardian)

Court says Australia was wrong to deport Indian doctor over terror link. A judge has ruled that the Australian Government was wrong to deport an Indian doctor linked with the terrorist attacks on London and Glasgow. Justice Jeffrey Spender said today that the doctor, Mohamed Haneef, should be allowed to return to Australia to complete his medical training at a Queensland hospital. The ruling comes as an embarrassment for the Government and its Attorney-General, Kevin Andrews, who cancelled Dr Haneef’s visa on character grounds last month, saying that he had a reasonable suspicion that Dr Haneef had “associated” with terrorists. (Times Online)

Third trial of Saddam officials begins. Saddam Hussein’s cousin and 14 other former regime officials today went on trial in Baghdad for crimes against humanity for their role in the brutal suppression of a Shia revolt in 1991. Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali”, and two of the co-accused were sentenced to death in an earlier Anfal trial that dealt with a military campaign against Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988. In Iraq’s third trial against the toppled Saddam regime, the defendants stand accused of widespread or systematic attacks against civilians. The trial will hear testimony from about 90 witnesses. The maximum penalty is death by hanging. (Guardian)

Final Abu Ghraib abuse trial begins. A US military court has dismissed two of the most serious charges against the only ranking US officer accused of abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq. Army Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Jordan is the last of 12 defendants to face a court-martial over the case. Prosecutors also amended one of the four remaining charges Jordan still faces, narrowing the scope in a cruelty and maltreatment charge from three months to a single day. He faces up to eight-and-a-half years in prison if found guilty on the four remaining charges. Jordan has argued that he is a scapegoat who, because he is a reservist, is considered expendable. (Al Jazeera)

International Monetary Fund (IMF) director general Rodrigo Rato on Monday expressed the organisation’s commitment to triple the voting rights of African nations in the organisation. “We are conscious of the fact that current voting rights of African countries are insufficient and not representative enough”, Rato said in Maputo at the end of a meeting of African finance ministers and central bank governors. At IMF’s inception African countries had 11.2 percent of voting rights but their share has fallen to two percent. The rights are calculated on the basis of financial contributions. African countries have demanded a reform of IMF working rules to include factors such as population and economic development in the calculation of voting rights. (IC Publications)

Carving Up the Melting North. As climate change hit a cultural tipping point in 2007, with more and more people expressing concern and awareness of the risks posed by rising greenhouse gases, warming in the Arctic is already altering the landscape in Canada’s north. So it is not surprising that Russia went and planted a flag on the Arctic sea bed some 4,261 metres deep last week as a gesture of conquest. In the realm of international relations, the move was a minor blip on the radar — but it could be a portent of things to come as nations scramble to grab a piece of the melting north. (IPS)

Israeli Army Mulls Over How to Spend Its Billions. Army chiefs of staff convened a two-day workshop in Tel Aviv on Monday to discuss how to best allocate the military funding, which, in 2008, is set to reach more than $14 billion dollars (10 billion euros). In addition, Israel and the U.S. signed a memorandum of understanding this month for Washington to provide its ally with $30 billion of military aid over the next decade. The air force is aiming to buy new stocks of “smart bombs,” American Hercules transport aircraft and 100 F-35 stealth bombers, according to the Ynet Web site. The navy is aiming to buy two additional Dauphin submarines and two combat ships from Lockheed Martin, it said. Meanwhile, Defence Minister Ehud Barak is keen on creating an additional two reserve divisions outfitted with Merkava battle tanks. (Defense News)

Russia Delivers Air Defense System to Syria: Report. Russia has begun delivery of modern air defense units to Syria while rejecting speculation that some of the weapons could be forwarded secretly to Iran, a newspaper reported Aug. 17. ”The first part of the delivery to Syria has started,” the centrist daily Nezavissimaya Gazeta reported, quoting information from a domestic military information agency. A spokesman for Russia’s arms export agency Rosoboronexport, contacted by AFP, declined to comment on the newspaper report. Officially the contract was for the sale of 50 Pantsyr units for about $900 million (670 million euros). Media reports have put the number of units sold to Syria at around 36. (Defense News)

Lebanese army fights for equipment. Lebanon’s army has used artillery, bombs and ground troops in an attempt to overcome fighters from Fatah al-Islam, who are lodged inside a Palestinian refugee camp at Nahr al-Bared. But as the conflict enters its fourth month, the army has still not been able to wipe out the group. Some experts say the army troops are inexperienced and have never fought this type of urban guerrilla warfare before. The lack of sophisticated weaponry is a major reason for the army’s failure to take the camp, General Michel Suleiman, commander of the Lebanese army, has said. When the battles broke out, the US sent helmets, body armour, night-vision goggles and ammunition for weapons the army already possessed. (Al Jazeera)

Scholar Held in Iran to Be Freed on Bail. A detained Iranian-American academic accused of conspiring against the government will be freed from prison within hours if bail is posted in her case, a top judiciary official said Tuesday. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has been jailed largely incommunicado at Tehran’s Evin prison since early May on charges of acting against national security. (AP)

Pakistan: Constitutional amendment bills tabled by opposition. The government, in a surprise move, agreed in the Senate on Monday to allow seven bills of the opposition, one of which proposed to curtail the president’s powers to promulgate ordinances while the upper house of the parliament was in session. (DAWN)

Pakistan warns against Indian nuclear tests. Expressing serious concern over possible resumption of nuclear tests by India, Pakistan on Monday warned that it would review unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing if India resumed tests. “Pakistan does not want a nuclear arms race in the region but at the same time it is committed to maintaining a credible minimum deterrence in the interest of strategic balance, which is vital for regional peace,” Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam told a press briefing here on Monday. (DAWN)

Saudi-Syria tensions seethe over Lebanon. Tensions between regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Syria are running high because of sharp discord over Lebanon, as the country faces fresh turmoil over a divisive election and a high-profile court case. (Middle East Times/AFP)

Morocco: Censorship Begins At Home. A new press law has created a regulatory council comprising journalists that some fear could lead to censorship by media persons rather than the government. (IPS)

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