Home > News > News in Brief: 29 August 2007

News in Brief: 29 August 2007

A brief list of news for the day:

Taliban release eight South Korean hostages. The Taliban freed eight of their 19 South Korean captives on Wednesday as the six-week hostage crisis in Afghanistan neared resolution. The Islamic extremist movement handed over seven women and one man to tribal elders in two separate releases outside the central town of Ghazni. The aid workers were then driven to safety in Red Cross vehicles. A Taliban spokesman said earlier that a third group could be released later Wednesday. Amid speculation over whether a ransom was paid, both the Taliban and the South Korean government denied there was any secret deal. The South Korean government promised to pull out its 200 troops in medical and engineering units from Afghanistan by the end of the year — something it was already planning to do. It also promised to stop missionary activities by its Christian groups in Islamic Afghanistan — again, the government has already imposed a ban on all unauthorised travel to the war-torn nation. (AFP)

Asia markets fall sharply after Wall Street drop. The volatility triggered by the mortgage meltdown in the United States further plagued stock markets Wednesday, prompting a drop of most major indices in Asia a day after a battering on Wall Street. A series of worries particularly weighed on investors across the globe: falling U.S. house prices and dimming consumer confidence; uncertainty about the path of the U.S. Federal Reserve on interest rates; and a downgrade by Merrill Lynch of ratings on Lehman, Citigroup and Bear Stearns. (International Herald Tribune)

Gul Is President, What Next. Overriding concerns by the ever-watchful military and the secularists, Turkey’s parliament elected foreign minister Abdullah Gul as the first Islamic-rooted president of the 83-year-old republic on Tuesday. Along with him, Turkey also gets a First Lady who may wear the Islamic headscarf as the official hostess at the Cankaya presidential palace. The palace has so far banned such attire. Gul, whose candidacy put up by his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in April sparked military and secularist opposition, and led to early parliamentary election Jul. 22, received 339 votes from the 448 deputies who voted, way above the 276 needed. Gul won in the third round of voting when only a simple majority of the 550-member parliament was needed. He failed to obtain the required 367 votes, or two-thirds majority, in earlier rounds. (IPS)

Israel is aiding Iranian opposition groups, says Strategic Threats Minister Lieberman. The minister was answering questions from listeners to the Israeli Broadcasting Service’s Farsi program Monday night, Aug. 27. Avigdor Lieberman said Israel is extending aid to those opposition organizations which are proving effective. He is therefore the first member of the Israeli government to expose the clandestine war gaining ground between Israel and Iran in recent weeks. The also disclose that ten days ago, Iran alerted Shiite militias under their control in Iraq to a report that the Israeli Mossad intelligence service had delivered long-range shoulder-borne, anti-air and anti-tank missiles to PJAK, the Iranian Kurdistan Free Life Party. The message warned that these missiles may turn up anywhere in Iran or Iraq. (DEBKAfile)

Tehran protests at US seizure of Iranians in Iraq. Iran issued a strong protest on Wednesday after US forces seized an Iranian delegation at a Baghdad hotel in an action likely to further escalate tensions between archfoes Tehran and Washington. The Iranians, including two diplomats, were taken in blindfolds and handcuffs from the Sheraton hotel on Tuesday night after their convoy was stopped by US forces at a nearby checkpoint. They were freed early Wednesday. Their brief detention, which came shortly after US President George W. Bush ordered his military chiefs in Iraq to confront Iran’s “murderous activities,” was condemned by Tehran as “unjustifiable.” (AFP)

Bhutto and Musharraf ‘reach deal’. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, and Benazir Bhutto, head of Pakistan People’s Party, have reached a deal on Musharraf’s role within the military during power-sharing talks, a senior government official has said. Earlier in the day, Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper carried an interview with Bhutto in which the former prime minister said that Musharraf had agreed to quit as army chief in a power-sharing deal with her. Bhutto said that while the deal was not yet complete, the “uniform issue is resolved”. Her other conditions for a power-sharing deal are that she is immune from prosecution, the lifting of a ban on prime ministers serving a third term, and a curbing of presidential powers to sack the government. (Al Jazeera)

Al-Sadr Suspends Militia Activity in Iraq. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force, an aide said Wednesday. The aide, Sheik Hazim al-Araji, said on Iraqi state television that the goal was to “rehabilitate” the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions, some of which the U.S. maintains are trained and supplied by Iran. The order was issued after two days of bloody clashes in the Shiite holy city of Karbala that claimed at least 52 lives. Iraqi security officials blamed Mahdi militiamen for attacking mosque guards, some of whom are linked to the rival Badr Brigade militia. A spokesman for al-Sadr, Ahmed al-Shaibani, denied the Mahdi Army was involved in the Karbala fighting. Al-Sadr called for an independent inquiry into the clashes and urged his supporters to cooperate with the authorities “to calm the situation down,” al-Shaibani said. (AP)

Obstacles Keep Iraqi Refugees From U.S. Despite a stepped-up commitment from the United States to take in Iraqis who are in danger because they worked for the American government and military, very few are signing up to go, resettlement officials say. The reason, Iraqis say, is that they are not allowed to apply in Iraq, requiring them to make a costly and uncertain journey to countries like Syria or Jordan, where they may be turned away by border officials already overwhelmed by fleeing Iraqis. (New York Times)

Nato forces in deadly clashes. US-led and Afghan troops battled suspected Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan in ground clashes and airstrikes that left over 100 militants dead, the coalition said. In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber attacked Nato troops helping to build a bridge yesterday, killing three American soldiers, a US official said. The battle in southern Kandahar province’s Shah Wali Kot district started after the joint force was ambushed by a large group of insurgents who tried to overrun their position several times, before being strafed by airstrikes, the statement from the coalition said. The casualty figures could not be independently verified due to the remoteness of the area. (The Independent/AP)

Hamas plans massive Palestinian demo for Sept 1 to break through Gaza’s shuttered crossing to Egypt. The Hamas Executive Force has circulated leaflets and posted loudspeakers on vehicles and minarets in the towns and villages of the Gaza Strip calling on household heads to bring their families out en masse Saturday in protest against the hardships caused by Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing. Tuesday night, Egypt sent large police reinforcements to the crossing from Cairo and Suez Canal towns with crowd dispersal gear. Egyptian authorities had learned that Hamas planned to use spearhead units as battering rams to break through the blocked gate and permit more than 100,000 protesters to stream across and link up with the Palestinian communities of northern Sinai. Hamas would then assert control of both sides of the Rafah border town. (DEBKAfile)

Vulnerable to rising seas, Singapore envisions a giant dike. Surrounded by sea and almost pancake flat, Singapore is without doubt vulnerable to the rising sea levels many scientists predict global warming will cause. Faced with the prospect of a long, slow submersion into the very waters that serve as the lifeblood of this maritime trading hub, Singapore has reached out to the world’s greatest experts on the subject of battling back the sea — the Dutch. (International Herald Tribune)

Sydney prepares lockdown for Apec. Australia is putting in place the largest security operation in its history as the city of Sydney prepares to go into lock-down for next week’s summit of Asia-Pacific leaders. Some 21 government leaders will be attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) meeting, protected by a massive security fence around the summit venue and thousands of police and special forces soldiers. (Al Jazeera)

Germany Wants to Use Spying Software for Private Computers. According to two German daily newspapers, Germany’s interior ministry plans police-controlled spying of private computers to combat terrorism. Keyboard movements and password entry could also be monitored. (Deutsche Welle)

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