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News in Brief: 22 April 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Pakistan: Taliban militants extend reach in north. Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Swat region who endorsed a peace deal with the government have extended their control of the nearby Buner district. Dozens of militants moved into Buner in North West Frontier Province on Tuesday and began patrolling bazaars, villages and towns in the district. (AKI)

Global bank losses likely to reach $4.1 trillion, says IMF. The global financial sector faces write-downs of $4.1tn (£2.8tn) from the toxic assets that have crashed in value since the start of the credit crunch 20 months ago, the International Monetary Fund said today. In its first comprehensive study of the impact of the crisis on banks and other financial institutions, the Fund said that it had increased its estimate of the potential losses in the US from $2.2tn to $2.7tn as a result of the deepening economic slump over the past three months. (Guardian)

China unveils its new naval clout. Beijing will mark the 60th anniversary of the naval branch of the People’s Liberation Army on Thursday by flexing its newfound nautical muscle alongside vessels from 14 other countries. The gala, four-day fleet review attended by naval dignitaries from around the world in the northern port city of Qingdao will show off once-secret nuclear submarines and may launch a new role for Beijing in the world’s waters. (Asia Times)

Power, humiliation and torture. The assumption inside the [US] administration was that if its harsh methods could be presented as having been effective in preventing subsequent acts of terrorism, then pragmatic Americans would have less concern about the moral qualms of the administration’s critics — individuals who could be dismissed as civil liberties fanatics. The moral question of whether the state can be allowed to use torture as a method of extra-judicial punishment and retribution rarely if ever entered the debate. But the evidence now suggests that it should. (Conflicts Forum)

Cheney: show torture ‘success’. Former US vice-president Cheney says CIA memos showed torture methods such as waterboarding delivered ‘good’ intelligence The former US vice-president Dick Cheney has called for the disclosure of CIA memos which reveal the “success” of torture techniques… (Guardian)

Germans in groundbreaking Turkmen deal. German energy giant Rheinisch-Westfaelische Elektrizitaetswerk has entered what could become a breakthrough agreement with Turkmenistan on offshore gas field development and gas deliveries. Alongside a public clash on a pipeline explosion, it is a sign of a new era in Turkmenistan’s policies. (Asia Times)

Putin gets to work on Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan is demonstrating unprecedented outspokenness and persistence in standing up to Russia to defend its own interests, notably in efforts to evade the close embrace of energy giant Gazprom. In Moscow, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is taking notice. (Asia Times)

Russia: Trying to Remain Standing on Central Asia’s Slippery Energy Slope. With its energy strategy for Central Asia in grave danger of unraveling, Russia is striving to create an appearance of normalcy as the first step in reasserting its energy role in the region. (EurasiaNet)

$11.3M to Improve Djibouti Base. Djibouti is an important base for western navies, the French Foreign Legion, and the US Marines. It sits in a very strategic location, at the entrance to the Red Sea and astride the passage from the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal. Growing pirate troubles to the southeast, around the area that used to be Somalia, have magnified Djibouti’s importance. (Defense Industry Daily)

Israeli ambassador pick for US raises eyebrows. On the face of it, Israeli historian Michael Oren would seem like a good choice to be Israel’s next ambassador to the United States… The main focus of concern is a detailed pre-US election analysis in which Oren compared the Middle East policies of Obama and McCain… In some circles, the piece was seen as a critical slap at Obama and a tacit endorsement of McCain that was wrapped up as analysis. (Checkpoint Jerusalem)

Aide: Obama to meet Abbas on May 28 in White House. Nabil Abu Rudeineh says Abbas wants the U.S. to persuade the new Israeli government to accept a two-state solution – namely, separate Israeli and Palestinian states living alongside each other in peace. Abbas also wants the U.S. to persuade Israel to halt its settlement construction. Israel’s new hardline government has balked at supporting the creation of a Palestinian state. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he plans to keep building in settlements. (Haaretz)

Diplomats pick up pieces after UN meeting walkout. Diplomats at the United Nations sought on Tuesday to advance an anti-racism declaration and brush off comments from Iran’s president that prompted a rare conference walkout. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the only head of state to attend the UN’s conference on racism, called Israel a “totally racist government” in his address on its opening day on Monday. Dozens of delegations then streamed out, including all 23 of the European Union states present. (Today’s Zaman)

Afghanistan: Presidential Politics Reveal Complexities in the Afghan Political System. Speaking at an April 20 security conference, Abdullah Abdullah — a former Afghan foreign minister and himself a presidential hopeful in the August election — complained that Afghanistan’s current security woes can be attributed in part to the marginalization of forces that played an instrumental role in resisting both Soviet occupation and Taliban rule. “Those who played a role in bringing security” in earlier years should have a say in the present security debates, Abdullah asserted. Instead, Karzai in recent years has managed to consolidate authority in his hands, and has succeeded in pushing out those individuals and forces that could provide checks on his authority. The current governmental decision-making process is so centralized that “even the smallest decisions have to go to the president’s office,” Abdullah said. (EurasiaNet)

Egypt reports links between alleged Hizbullah cell, Lebanese government. Egyptian investigators have reportedly uncovered links between an alleged Hizbullah cell operating in Egypt and Lebanese government officials. Citing an informed source, the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported Tuesday that Cairo has information that Lebanese authorities provided a member of the alleged cell with forged documents and would encourage Lebanon to investigate the “dangerous” allegations. (The Daily Star)

UN to launch report on Iraq’s disputed territories to avert clashes. The United Nations will hand to Iraq on Wednesday a report on disputed territories, including Kirkuk, that it hopes will avert war between Kurds and the Arab-led government in Baghdad, western officials said. (Hurriyet)

Kosovar President Asks UN To End Its Mission. Kosovo has asked the United Nations to end its mission in the country as its presence is unnecessary one year after independence from Serbia, President Fatmir Sejdiu has said. (RFE/RL)

Chechen Operation Targets ‘Hundreds’ Of Rebels. The operation comes less than a month after officials in Moscow said major combat operations by the Russian army were over in the war-fraught republic. (RFE/RL)

Monsters vs. Aliens. Why Terrorists and Pirates Are Not About to Team Up Any Time Soon. (TomDispatch)

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