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News in Brief: 1 May 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Afghanistan: Exclusionary Humanitarian Aid Practices Hitting Hearts and Minds. Atta expressed pride in achieving a measure of security and stability in Balkh. Crime is low and anti-government insurgents are not posing a particular problem. But endemic poverty and a critical humanitarian situation, he said, are threatening to reverse these fragile gains. Under current conditions aid agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the population’s needs. The reason, many say: donors predominantly fund political and military objectives. (EurasiaNet)

UN: Israel must freeze East Jerusalem home demolitions… a new report by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that Palestinians face serious obstacles in building legally, as only 13 percent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction, while Jewish “settlements” occupy 35 percent of East Jerusalem, “in violation of international law.” The difficulty of building legally is what leads many Palestinians to build illegally, it said. The report said the houses of some 60,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are at risk of being demolished. (Haaretz)

US says Turkey’s controversial Ergenekon probe details ‘murky’.
The controversial Ergenekon case concerns an alleged gang plotting a coup and has seen several former generals, bureaucrats, politicians, journalists and underground figures detained over the past year. “Alleged members of Ergenekon were on trial for a number of crimes including terrorism charges; the details of the case were murky, however, and Ergenekon’s status as a terrorist organization remained under debate at year’s end,” the State Department said in the Turkey section of the 2008 global terrorism report. (Hurriyet)

Heavy Battles Raging With Taliban in Pakistan. Heavy fighting raged for a third day in Pakistan’s northwest on Thursday as civilians flooded from the area and the Pakistani military reported some gains in pushing back Taliban insurgents. (New York Times)

Swat deal ‘practically dead’: Taliban. The peace deal in Swat valley is “practically dead” and the Taliban are waiting for a word from Maulana Sufi Muhammad for taking a decision, a militant commander said. (Times of India)

Russia, China on comradely terms. Russia’s deteriorating ties with the West – evident most recently in a blowout with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization over “spies” – are moving the country strategically closer to China. Moscow and Beijing have agreed to intensify military cooperation, while a plan is in the works to utilize the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to counter US expansion into Central Asia. (Asia Times)

Iran’s Presidential Election Becomes a Two-Man Race… the contest is increasingly looking like a two-man race between the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mussavi. Mir-Hossein Mussavi’s entry into the race and the organizational support he has received from reformist organizations across the board changed the dynamics of the race, finally forcing several hesitant conservative coalitions and organizations to join hard core Ahmadinejad supporters and come out publicly in his support as the unity candidate of the so-called principlist camp. (Informed Comment: Global Affairs)

The politics of the surge beyond Iraq. The current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is based, in large part, on bringing to bear on the Taliban the “Awakening” strategy used in Iraq… in Afghanistan the U.S. hopes to split off the “moderate” Taliban (who Vice President Joe Biden claimed in March make up 70% of the total insurgency) from their “incorrigable” brethren (estimated by Biden at 5% of the insurgency). On Saturday in Baghdad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave an interview in which she extended this logic to encompass Hamas as well. (LobeLog)

Turkey: Top general hints at military service reform. The system of compulsory military service for male Turkish citizens could be radically changed to increase the efficiency of the armed forces, Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ told reporters Wednesday. With its more than nearly 700,000 privates and 200,000 officers, the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, is one of the largest armies in the world. In NATO, it is second only to the United States. (Hurriyet)

US hides behind Iran sanctions threat. Proposed legislation introduced into the United States Senate this week would place “crippling sanctions” on Iran by targeting its energy imports. Tehran has reacted angrily, placing a question mark over any further moves towards US-Iran dialogue. It could be that this was precisely Washington’s intention. (Asia Times)

7 Iranians plead guilty in US court to terror charges. Seven men have pleaded guilty to terrorism charges for raising funds for an Iranian opposition group that the United States has designated a foreign terrorist organization, authorities said. The seven, all of Iranian origin, entered the guilty pleas on Wednesday. (The Daily Star / AFP)

U.S. Says Iran ‘Most Active’ Terrorism Sponsor. In a new report, the U.S. State Department says Iran remains the “most active state sponsor of terrorism” in the world, threatening peace in the Middle East and Afghanistan. (RFE/RL)

Occupying Hearts and Minds. the CIA had quietly started recruiting social scientists by advertising in academic journals, offering salaries of up to $400,000. The military’s goals for the HTS was to have them gather and disseminate information about Iraqi and Afghani cultures. These embedded scholars, contracted through companies like CACI International, work in the project that is described by CACI as “designed to improve the gathering, understanding, operational application, and sharing of local population knowledge” among combat teams. This new form of psychological warfare is deeply disturbing. Throughout my five years of reporting on the occupation of Iraq, when I’ve asked Iraqis what they feel the most damaging aspect of the occupation is, I have been told that the occupation is “shredding the fabric of Iraqi society and culture.” (truthout)

Kiss the Era of Human Rights Goodbye. These days, it’s virtually impossible to escape the world of torture the Bush administration constructed. Whether we like it or not, almost every day we learn ever more about the full range of its shameful policies, about who the culprits were, and just which crimes they might be prosecuted for. But in the morass of memos, testimony, op-eds, punditry, whistle-blowing, documents, and who knows what else, with all the blaming, evasion, and denial going on, somehow we’ve overlooked the most significant victim of all. One casualty of the Bush torture policies — certainly, at least equal in damage to those who were tortured and the country whose laws were twisted and perverted in the process — has been human rights itself. And no one even seems to notice. (TomDispatch)

LEBANON: Generals’ Release May Influence June Election. On Wednesday, a judge at the Hague-based “Special Tribunal for Lebanon” (STL) ordered Lebanon to release four senior Lebanese generals imprisoned since 2005 on suspicion of involvement in killing former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in February of that year. (IPS)

Russia takes control of Georgian rebel borders. Russia took formal control over the de-facto borders of Georgia’s rebel regions on Thursday a week before NATO military exercises in Georgia that President Dmitry Medvedev said amounted to a challenge from the West. (Today’s Zaman)

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