Home > News > News in Brief: 20 September 2007

News in Brief: 20 September 2007

A brief list of news for the day:

Unions stir over Sarkozy reforms. Sarkozy has fired the opening shot in his first major battle to modernise France, announcing potentially explosive pension reforms while hoping to avert the kind of strikes that once paralysed the country and brought down governments. The French President, who swept to power in May with a mandate to cull the sacred cows of France’s costly state sector, began with the divisive issue of special retirement privileges for state workers. But previous governments’ efforts to axe the special retirement deals have triggered massive street protests, forcing two administrations in the 1990s into retreat. In 1995, workers paralysed the country and brought down Jacques Chirac’s first government over the issue. (The Age)

Call to delay India-US nuclear deal. India’s main communist party has asked the Government not to pursue a controversial nuclear deal with the US for six months and warned of a “political crisis” if it goes ahead. But Washington’s envoy to New Delhi said time was running out on the deal seen as the centrepiece of the new warmth in ties between the once estranged democracies. The row has destabilised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s three-year-old coalition, which is shored up by leftist parties. Analysts have said that elections — which would normally be due in early 2009 — are likely to be held early. (The Age)

US wants to seal N-deal with India by year-end. The US, which is to brief the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on the civil nuclear deal with India, wants to seal the agreement by the end of this year, a senior American official said on Thursday. (The Indian Express)

Hamas calls Israeli move act of war. Israel declared the Gaza Strip an “enemy entity” on Wednesday and said it would reduce its fuel and power supplies to the Hamas-run territory in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. Hamas described the move, during a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to prepare for a U.S.-led Middle East peace conference, as a declaration of war. “They aim to starve our people and force them to bow and accept humiliating formulas that could emerge from the so-called November peace conference,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said. (Globe and Mail)

Palestinians: Food scarce on 3rd day of Nablus raid. Residents from Nablus complained that they were running out of food and a 17-year-old was killed in central Gaza, as the Israel Defense Forces operated in both the West Bank and the coastal strip on Thursday. The raid inside Nablus, intended to root out militants from Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, entered its third day on Thursday. A military spokesman said that the army is allowing food, medicine and ambulances into the Ein Beit Ilma refugee camp. But with a tight curfew clamped on the camp since Tuesday, some of the 5,000 residents said they couldn’t leave their homes to buy food. (Haaretz)

Haniyeh requests Egypt intervene to prevent Israeli invasion of Gaza Strip. Deposed Palestinian Prime Minister, Isma’il Haniyeh has requested immediate Egyptian action to prevent expected Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip. (Ma’an)

UN warns Israel over ‘enemy’ Gaza. The Israeli move to cut off the power, water and fuel supplies on which Gaza is almost entirely dependent was backed by the United States on Wednesday. (Al Jazeera)

Anti-Syrian Lebanese MP murdered. An anti-Syrian Lebanese MP was killed today in a large car bomb explosion in east Beirut just one week before parliament is scheduled to elect a new president. His death almost guarantees that the presidential vote will not be held on time and threatens to worsen a political crisis which has gridlocked the country for almost a year and sparked fears of civil war. Antoine Ghanem, a Christian MP, died immediately along with at least nine other people when a suspected car bomb packed with an estimated 40 kilogrammes of explosive blew up at a junction of a busy street in the Sin al-Fil district of Beirut during the early evening rush hour. (The Australian)

French warmongering aids Iran’s cause. The French are trying to limit the damage of recent warmongering comments about Iran, but the harm has already been done – although it could be to the benefit of Tehran. France’s quest for a unified European approach to additional “precise sanctions” against Iran is now under threat. All the same, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad won’t be laying any wreaths at the World Trade Center site in New York. (Asia Times)

Iran warns of Israel strike as nuclear tensions rise. Iran warned Wednesday that it could bomb Israel if it was attacked by the Jewish state, as the international war of words over the Islamic republic’s nuclear drive escalated further. There has been speculation in some foreign media that an Israeli airstrike on Syria earlier this month – which has never been confirmed by Israel – was a “dry run” for an attack against Iran’s nuclear installations. (Middle East Times/AFP)

Burmese junta in turmoil over rallies. Buddhist monks have emerged on the front line of protests that have rocked Burma’s ruling junta and could trigger mass support. In the month since the protests erupted following a fuel price rise, the monks have become key players in the rallies. More than 300 monks took to the streets of Rangoon yesterday, drawing hundreds of people. (The Australian)

Bush wants permanent spying powers. The US president has pressed congress to expand the government’s domestic spying powers permanently to prevent attacks by “enemies”. Bush said the 1978 law on surveillance was “dangerously out of date” and unable to deal with evolving technology such as disposable cell phones and the internet. The law must be changed to give intelligence agencies the tools needed to prevent attacks on American soil, he said. (Al Jazeera)

Republicans Block Habeas for Gitmo Detainees. Despite the support of a solid majority of the U.S. Senate, a measure designed to restore the right of foreign terrorist suspects to challenge their detention in federal court was blocked here Wednesday on a procedural manoeuvre. The measure, an amendment to the 2008 defense authorisation bill, would have restored habeas corpus rights for non-citizens in U.S. custody, including the some 340 prisoners still held at the naval detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, many of whom have been there for more than five years. Fifty-six senators, including six Republicans, voted for the measure, four short of the 60 needed to cut off a threatened filibuster against it. (IPS)

Pakistan’s presidential election set for Oct. 6. Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf will seek a new five-year term in a presidential election set for Oct. 6, officials said Thursday, even as opponents urged the courts to stop him from running and vowed to quit Parliament in protest. After the U.S.-allied leader signalled his plan to resign as army chief if re-elected, the Election Commission announced that the ballot by federal and provincial legislators would be held Oct. 6. (Globe and Mail)

Musharraf mulls major changes in Pak Army top brass. President Pervez Musharraf is in the final stages of deciding on new appointments in the Pakistan Army as he prepares for his re-election on October 6, a move that may lead the embattled General to step down as army chief. The Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) has been changed while corps commanders of Karachi and Lahore are being replaced beside the appointment of two four-star generals within a fortnight to fill the posts of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) and the Vice Chief of the Army Staff (VCOAS), The News daily reported. (The Indian Express)

Iraq wants Blackwater replaced after shootout. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki Wednesday called on the US authorities to replace private security operator Blackwater after a deadly shootout involving the firm’s guards in Baghdad. Maliki’s call came as US and Iraqi officials were locked in talks, trying to defuse the crisis sparked when Blackwater guards escorting US embassy officials opened fire in a Baghdad neighborhood, killing 10 people and wounding 13. “This crime has generated a lot of hatred in the government and the people against Blackwater,” Maliki told reporters. “For their own interests, the Americans should hire a new company to protect their people, so they can move freely.” (Middle East Times/AFP)

Where Military Rules Don’t Apply. Blackwater USA, the private security company involved in a Baghdad shootout last weekend, operated under State Department authority that exempted the company from U.S. military regulations governing other security firms, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials and industry representatives. In recent months, the State Department’s oversight of Blackwater became a central issue as Iraqi authorities repeatedly clashed with the company over its aggressive street tactics. Many U.S. and Iraqi officials and industry representatives said they came to see Blackwater as untouchable, protected by State Department officials who defended the company at every turn. Blackwater employees protect the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats in Iraq. The State Department allowed Blackwater’s heavily armed teams to operate without an Interior Ministry license, even after the requirement became standard language in Defense Department security contracts. The company was not subject to the military’s restrictions on the use of offensive weapons, its procedures for reporting shooting incidents or a central tracking system that allows commanders to monitor the movements of security companies on the battlefield. (Washington Post)

Violence spreads in Sierra Leone. A number of attacks are being reported against supporters of Sierra Leone’s ex-ruling party in the past 24 hours. Violence against Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) members erupted on Monday as opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma was sworn-in as the new president. President Koroma described violence by his supporters as “unfortunate and regrettable” and told police to use all their powers to get those responsible. (BBC)

New EU Rules to Take on Gazprom. The European Commission took on Russia and dominant European power giants Wednesday in a new move to open gas and electricity markets to more competition while limiting foreign ownership of EU assets. The European Union executive adopted hard-fought energy proposals aimed at forcing big utilities such as Germany’s E.On and Electricite de France to separate power generation from their distribution networks. (Moscow Times)

Pol Pot’s ‘Brother No 2’ is charged with crimes against humanity. Octogenarian leader of Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge is to be brought before a genocide tribunal. The most senior surviving member of the Khmer Rouge regime, Nuon Chea, was arrested yesterday at his home in the Cambodian jungle and flown by helicopter to the capital, Phnom Penh, where he was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nuon Chea, nicknamed Brother Number Two, served as the right-hand man to the Khmer Rouge’s leader, Pol Pot. He is the second person to be brought before a UN-backed genocide tribunal. In July, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch, was charged by the tribunal, which is finally starting work after years of negotiations between Cambodia and the UN. (The Independent)

Mideast peace meet in mid-November: Abbas. The US-sponsored Middle East peace conference should take place in November, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Thursday after meeting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (Khaleej Times/AFP)

Iranian officer ‘seized in Iraq’. US-led forces in Iraq say they have arrested an Iranian officer operating in the north of the country. They say the man was a member of the Quds Force – an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards – and was detained in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah. (BBC)

Refugees in their own land: 2m Iraqis forced to flee their homes. Nearly two million Iraqis have become refugees in their own land in the past year, redrawing the ethnic and sectarian map of Baghdad and other cities, a report by the Iraqi Red Crescent said yesterday. In Baghdad alone, nearly a million people have fled their homes. Last month saw the sharpest rise so far in the numbers of Iraqis forced to abandon their homes – 71.1%. The forced migration raises questions about claims from the Bush administration that the civilian protection plan at the core of its war strategy is making Iraq safer for Iraqis. (Guardian)

New blow to dollar amid U.S. growth fears. The dollar sank Thursday, with the euro rising above $1.40 for the first time, a significant milestone in its gradual decline against other major currencies across the globe over the past six years. The primary impetus for the dollar’s drop into record territory is a weakening U.S. economy – highlighted this week by an unexpectedly large cut in interest rates by the U.S. Federal Reserve as it tried to combat the fallout from the collapsing subprime mortgage market. (International Herald Tribune)

Rate cut alone may not fix economy. Wall Street rallied for a second consecutive day Wednesday, still buoyant over the Federal Reserve’s surprise half-point cut in interest rates, but several leading analysts warn that odds remain high for the [U.S.] to fall into recession by next year. (McClatchy)

Iran: Petrol Rationing – Bumpy Ride. Two months after the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began rationing petrol to ‘’vaccinate’’ itself against possible sanctions, critics say the plan has failed to cut down gasoline consumption. Instead it has hurt the agriculture, tourism, transportation and other sectors of the economy. Rationing did push consumption down by around 15 million lt a day. But where the average daily consumption stood at around 77 million lt, in the first three months prior to rationing, the first two months following rationing saw it drop to 61million lt, according to a report published by the Fars news agency. Demand is expected to rise considerably from late September when schools reopen. One undesirable outcome of rationing is the creation of a huge black market for ration cards. Iranian refineries, many of them outdated, have limited capacity to produce gasoline, and before rationing began the country had to import around 20 million lt of gasoline a day. (IPS)

China Buys Major Nigerian Oil Field. China National Oil Corporation (CNOOC), one of China’s largest state-run oil and gas producers, has agreed to buy a stake in South Atlantic Petroleum (SAPETRO), an offshore oil and gas field owned by former defence minister, Lt.-Gen Theophilus Danjuma, for N290 billion or $2.3 billion. China’s appetite for commodities such as oil and gas is second only to that of the United States. The OML 130 field covers almost 500 square miles, and was first discovered six years ago. It is reported to need billions of dollars of investment before it comes on stream in two years’ time. (allAfrica)

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