Home > News > News in Brief: 31 August 2007

News in Brief: 31 August 2007

A brief list of news for the day:

India: Committee to go into Left concerns. The Congress leadership has accommodated the Left parties’ concerns on the India-U.S. nuclear agreement by putting in place on Thursday a (political) committee to examine their objections as well to give the assurance that “the operationalisation of the deal will take into account the committee’s findings.” The composition of the committee will be declared shortly. Indications are that it will have 14 members — six from the Left parties and eight from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Forward Bloc leader Debabrata Biswas, however, said: “We are very clear that the deal will not be operationalised till the committee gives its findings.” (The Hindu)

India cannot afford to miss nuclear bus: PM. Fresh from the truce with Left parties, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today came out in strong defence of the Indo-US deal to end a three-decade long isolation, asserting that India cannot afford to “miss the bus” of nuclear renaissance. He also affirmed that a strong nuclear energy programme was in the country’s “vital” interest. Dedicating two high-efficiency nuclear reactors to the nation, he said international cooperation in nuclear power generation will not be dependent on any one country. “We will source supplies from many of the countries in the Nuclear Suppliers Group including the US, Russia and France.” There was no direct reference in his two speeches to the deal and the understanding reached on it with Left parties yesterday but the Prime Minister left no one in doubt that Government would move ahead on the agreement with the US. (The Hindu)

USS Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group takes up position opposite Lebanese coast amid trepidation over September presidential election. Our military sources report that aboard the Kearsarge group’s vessels are members of the 22nds Marine special operations-capable Expeditionary Unit, ready to execute landings on Lebanese beaches. Wednesday, Aug. 29, Adm. William Fallon, chief of US Central Command and the war on terror paid an unannounced visit to Beirut, although for years US generals have given the Lebanese capital a wide berth. Portents of coming unrest were seen last week in the hasty departure from Beirut of the Saudi and UAE ambassadors under threats to their lives. Most Arab and European missions have cut down staff in the Lebanese capital. Lebanese police are investigating the re-appearance of a sick videogame in Beirut whose goal is the murder of the prime minister, cabinet members, Jumblatt and Maronite leader Samir Geagea, who are designated “thieves and traitors.” Its name, “The Battle of the Seraya,” refers to the government building. (DEBKAfile)

Lebanon: Feltman plays coy about US position on how to fill Lahoud’s post. US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman said on Thursday his country supported holding the presidential election within constitutional deadlines and without foreign intervention. “It is not for the US to name candidates because we are confident that the Lebanese Parliament would elect a president committed to Lebanon’s independence, democracy, sovereignty, unity and plurality,” Feltman said following a visit to Speaker Nabih Berri. (The Daily Star)

Sharif ups stakes in Pakistan power triangle. Ex-Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif is raising the stakes with his enemies in a three-way power struggle, by vowing to fly home before Benazir Bhutto and wreck her deal with military ruler Pervez Musharraf, analysts say. Even by the turbulent standards of this nuclear-armed Islamic republic of 160 million people, Sharif’s announcement Thursday that he will return from exile September 10 has caused political chaos at home and abroad. He told reporters in London he wanted to “launch a decisive battle against dictatorship in Pakistan,” as a prelude to bidding for a third term as prime minister in general elections due by early 2008. (Middle East Times/AFP)

Musharraf-Bhutto talks stall. The ongoing dialogue between President General Pervez Musharraf and PPP Chairwoman Benazir Bhutto hit a snag on Thursday, after the PML leadership refused to support a constitutional amendment to pave the way for Benazir to become prime minister for a third term. After the president briefed the meeting on the proposed deal with Benazir, the PML leadership told the president that party legislators were against any constitutional amendment which would prove to be their “political demise”. (Daily Times)

S Korea criticised for hostage deal. South Korea is facing growing criticism amid reports it paid a ransom to secure the release of 19 Koreans recently freed by the Taliban. Several sources have told Al Jazeera that a sum of money was paid by Seoul. Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper also quoted an Afghan source as saying the move was made after mediators decided the payment of a ransom was the only way to resolve the crisis. However, a South Korean presidential spokesman said there had been no discussions with the Taliban about a ransom. (Al Jazeera)

Iraq says Iran still shelling its soil despite protest. Iran has continued to fire shells into northern Iraq despite protests from Baghdad, threatening relations between the two neighbors, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said on Thursday. Iraqi Kurdish officials have complained about cross-border shelling since mid-August. Cross-border fighting occasionally occurs as Iraq’s neighbors, Turkey and Iran, combat the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the anti-Iranian Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), linked to the PKK, operating from bases in Iraq’s mountainous and remote north and northeastern regions. (Today’s Zaman)

US to retain active presence in Asia: Bush. The United States will keep an active presence in Asia to ensure old tensions between China and Japan do not flare again, President George W. Bush said on Friday, ahead of a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders in Sydney. Some analysts have criticised the United States for overlooking Asia because of its focus on Iraq and the Middle East, after Bush postponed a planed trip to Singapore next week to meet Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also pulled out of an ASEAN regional forum in the Philippines earlier this month. ‘My view is that it is important for there to be an active US presence in Asia, precisely to make sure that old tensions don’t flare up.’ (Khaleej Times/Reuters)

Japan Eyes F-15 Upgrade, Stealth Jets. apan’s defense ministry plans to request billions of dollars to upgrade its F-15 fighter jets and develop its own stealth fighter since Washington is reluctant to sell its advanced Raptor fighters to its Asian ally. The ministry is asking for a 4.82 trillion yen ($41.6 billion) budget for the fiscal year beginning next April, an increase of 0.7 percent from this year, officials said. It includes a request for 112 billion yen to upgrade 32 F-15 fighter jets. Japan has about 200 F-15s and only eight of them have been upgraded so far. Japan’s defense ministry wants to buy Lockheed Martin’s radar-evading F-22s (Raptors), as well as Boeing F-15FX fighters to replace its aging F-4EJ fighter fleet. But current U.S. law bans exports of the Raptor, Washington’s most advanced stealth fighter, for security reasons. (Defense News/Reuters)

Dirt Isn’t So Cheap After All. Soil erosion is the “silent global crisis” that is undermining food production and water availability, as well as being responsible for 30 percent of the greenhouse gases driving climate change. Every year, some 100,000 square kilometres of land loses its vegetation and becomes degraded or turns into desert. Food production has kept pace with population growth by increasing 50 percent between 1980 and 2000. But it is an open question whether there will be enough food in 2050 with an estimated three billion more mouths to feed. That means more food has to be produced within the next 50 years than during the last 10,000 years combined. “Global food production per hectare is already declining,” said Zafar Adeel, director of the United Nations University’s Canadian-based International Network on Water, Environment and Health. (IPS)

Toxic ship-paint additive banned — after 40 years. A treaty that forbids the maritime use of what the Environmental Protection Agency deems the most toxic chemical ever deliberately released into the world’s waters is expected to be ratified within days. It bans the poison tributyltin, a cheap and effective barnacle and algae killer once used on nearly all of the world’s 30,000 commercial ships. The treaty also sets up a system for future testing and curbs on other hull biocides worldwide. By 1995, more than 500 research papers worldwide had linked tributyltin, known as TBT, to adverse environmental or health effects. The most worrisome were “profound reproductive effects” coupled with diminished marine-species populations, according to Jill Bloom, an EPA chemical-review manager who worked on the treaty. (McClatchy)

Bush moves to ease lending crisis. US President George W Bush and Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke have each unveiled plans to ease economic problems caused by the housing slump. President Bush announced a package of measures to help homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages amid the current sub-prime loan crisis. Meanwhile Mr Bernanke hinted that rates may be cut as the Fed seeks to “promote general financial stability”. (BBC)

Cholera spreads in Iraq as health services collapse. Lack of clean drinking water and poor sanitation has led to 5,000 people in northern Iraq contracting cholera. The outbreak is among the most serious signs yet that Iraqi health and social services are breaking down as the number of those living in camps and poor housing increases after people flee their homes. “The disease is spreading very fast,” Dr Juan Abdallah, a senior official in Kurdistan’s health ministry, told a UN agency. “It is the first outbreak of its kind here in the past few decades.” (The Independent)

U.S. report to call for overhaul of Iraqi police force. An independent commission established by Congress to assess Iraq’s security forces will recommend remaking the 26,000-member national police force to purge it of corrupt officers and Shiite militants suspected of complicity in sectarian killings, Bush administration and military officials said. The commission, headed by General James Jones, the former top U.S. commander in Europe, has concluded that the rampant sectarianism that has existed since the formation of the police force requires that its current units “be scrapped” and reshaped into a smaller, more elite organization, according to one senior official familiar with the findings. The recommendation is that “we should start over,” the official said Thursday. (International Herald Tribune)

The looting of Kenya. The breathtaking extent of corruption perpetrated by the family of the former Kenyan leader Daniel Arap Moi was exposed last night in a secret report that laid bare a web of shell companies, secret trusts and frontmen that his entourage used to funnel hundreds of millions of pounds into nearly 30 countries including Britain. (Guardian)

Zimbabwe: New Laws On Prices, Salaries. NO ONE in private or public sectors can now raise salaries, wages, rents, service charges, prices and school fees on account of increases or anticipated increases in the consumer price index, the official and unofficial exchange rates, or valued added tax and duty. The ban on indexing pay, prices, rents and fees to the CPI, an exchange rate or VAT — coupled with vastly increased powers for the National Incomes and Pricing Commission — was made by President Mugabe in regulations gazetted yesterday to temporarily amend two Acts: that setting up the Commission and the Education Act. (allAfrica)

Southern Africa: More U.S. Soldiers Not Welcome in Africa, Says Lekota. More armed US soldiers are not welcome in Africa, said Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota yesterday. Any country that allowed itself to be a base for the US strategic command in Africa (Africom) would have to live with the consequences, Lekota said. Africom’s recent creation has been interpreted as the US suddenly recognising the strategic importance of Africa to the US. Last month it was reported that Lekota was not responding to US requests for him to meet the first Africom commander, Gen Kip Ward. Briefing the media yesterday, Lekota said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) defence ministers had, at the summit in Lusaka this month, decided that no member states would host Africom and more armed US soldiers. He said this was also the “continental position” of the African Union. (allAfrica)

Thirteen injured, including French journalist in clashes between Executive Forces and Fatah members. Thousands of Fatah supporters and various factions from the Palestinian Liberation Organization held Friday prayers in several city squares rather than in the mosques to protest against what they call “incitement from imams who belong to Hamas in Gaza.” The thousands of worshippers prayed as hundreds of Hamas-affiliated Executive Forces members looked on, carrying guns and batons.As the prayer ended hundreds of Fatah members took to the streets chanting slogans in praise of Sameh Madhoon, the Fatah member killed by Executive Forces on June 4 2007 as television crews filmed what was happening. The Fatah supporters started throwing home-made explosive devices at the Executive Forces, and clashes erupted. (Ma’an)

Paraguay: Leader in Invisible Children. ix out of every 10 children in Paraguay were not registered at birth by their parents, and have no identity documents. In the eyes of the state, they simply do not exist. There are 600,000 Paraguayan children under 18 in this position. They have no access to public health and education services, Belinda Portillo, programme manager for the non-governmental organisation Plan Paraguay, told IPS. (IPS)

Bangladesh freezes ex-PM’s bank accounts. Bangladesh’s tax authority has asked commercial banks to freeze the accounts of the most recent prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, and 10 family members as part of the army-backed interim government’s anti-corruption drive. Family members on the freeze list include Khaleda’s younger son Arafat Rahman and his wife and their two daughters, Khaleda’s nephew and five other relatives, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) said in a circular issued to the banks. The NBR has already frozen the bank accounts of Khaleda’s elder son and political heir Tareque Rahman, who has been in jail since early this year for alleged corruption and abuse of power. (Khaleej Times/Reuters)

French troops ‘raped girls during Rwanda genocide’. French soldiers stationed in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 have been accused of “widespread rape” by a Rwandan commission investigating France’s role during the conflict. The commission, which is due to publish its final report in October, will also provide fresh evidence that French soldiers trained the Interahamwe, the extremist Hutu militia responsible for most of the killing, and even provided them with weapons. (The Independent)

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