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News in Brief: 11 May 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Pakistan: At least 360,000 flee fighting in Swat, Buner, Lower Dir. A spokeswoman for UN refugee agency UNHCR told AFP: ‘360,600 individuals registered in camps and outside camps as part of a new influx from Swat, Buner and Lower Dir’ since May 2. Government air and ground forces launched a military offensive against Taliban fighters in the district of Lower Dir on April 26 and in neighbouring Buner on April 28. (Dawn)

Chemical burns probe after Afghan battle. Afghanistan’s top human rights group said it is investigating whether white phosporous was used in a US-Taliban battle that killed scores of people, which could further deepen controversy over an incident that has already sparked public anger. The American military yesterday denied using the incendiary in the battle in Farah province — which President Hamid Karzai has said killed 125 to 130 civilians — but left open the possibility that Taliban militants did. The US says Taliban fighters have used white phosphorus, a spontaneously flammable material that leaves severe chemical burns on flesh, at least four times the last two years. Afghan doctors told The Associated Press they have treated at least 14 patients with severe burns the doctors have never seen before. The villagers were wounded during last Monday’s battle in Farah province. (The Independent / AP)

U.S. Rebuffs Afghan Leader’s Call To Halt Air Strikes. The United States has said it will not halt air strikes in Afghanistan as demanded by President Hamid Karzai after civilian deaths, and it denied using burning phosphorus in the attacks. (RFE/RL)

Legends of the fail. Manan Ahmed examines the decades-old tradition of experts predicting that Pakistan is sure to collapse any day now. (The National)

Sri Lanka’s migrant workers secure protection. An unprecedented agreement involving trade unions in Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait has secured new protection for Sri Lanka’s migrant workers in the Gulf area. The deal is seen as loosening the grip of recruitment agencies. Workers from Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines may soon get similar protection. (Asia Times)

Up to 1,000 dead in Sri Lanka shelling: Doctor. A government doctor is estimating that two nights of artillery attacks on Sri Lanka’s northern war zone may have killed as many as 1,000 civilians. (Khaleej Times / AP)

Turkmenistan: Iranian Petropars Company intends to develop Southern Yolotan field. Southern Yolotan, the biggest gas field in Turkmenistan, located in the south-eastern part of the country, will be possibly developed by the experts of Islamic Republic of Iran. On May 2 this was announced by Gholam Reza Manoucheri, Petropars Oil and Gas Company Executive Director. (Ferghana.ru)

Four contenders register for Iran’s presidential elections on June 12, 2009. Presuming that four main candidates compete, a run-off is a certainty. In the last run-off, which brought Ahmadi-Nejad to office when he defeated Hashemi Rafsanjani in 2005, the cleric and candidate Mehdi Karroubi complained loudly of interference in the balloting. In fact, Karroubi claimed that he, not Rafsanjani should have been in the run-off. Some of his supporters argued that Ahmadi-Nejad’s supporters, not least Supreme Leader ‘Ali Khameinei, preferred Rafsanjani as an easier to defeat rival, given widespread knowledge of his corruption. Karroubi is running again, and he has issued pre-emptive warnings about his demand for an unfettered election. So, it will be Karroubi or Mir-Hossen Moussavi (supported by former President M. Khatami) vs. Ahmadi-Nejad or Mohsen Rezaei, the former Pasdaran commander. (From the Field)

Iranian-American journalist to be freed soon. U.S.-born journalist Roxana Saberi will be freed soon after an Iranian appeals court cut her eight-year jail sentence for espionage to a suspended two-year term, her lawyer said on Monday. (Hurriyet)

MIDEAST: Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation Looking Distant. Doubts have arisen about a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation ahead of a new round of talks. The last talks between the two Palestinian factions failed to bridge outstanding differences. (IPS)

Vladimir Putin signals he is pondering a presidential comeback in 2012. Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, tonight gave his strongest hint yet that he is pondering a comeback that would see him return to the Kremlin as president in 2012. Putin said there was no decision yet on whether he or his close ally Dmitry Medevedev, the current president, would run for office when Medvedev’s four-year-stint in the job expires. (Guardian)

We don’t want multi-ethnic Italy, says Silvio Berlusconi. The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has defended his government’s decision to return migrants found off its shores to Libya by declaring that his party rejected the idea of a “multi-ethnic” Italy. His remark prompted an outcry from opposition politicians, already indignant at his refusal to condemn an ally in Milan who last week proposed that seats and carriages on local public transport be reserved for native Italians. (Guardian)

Afghan drug trade thrives with help, and neglect, of officials. When it’s harvest time in the poppy fields of Kandahar, dust-covered Taliban fighters pull up on their motorbikes to collect a 10 percent tax on the crop. Afghan police arrive in Ford Ranger pickups — bought with U.S. aid money — and demand their cut of the cash in exchange for promises to skip the farms during annual eradication. (McClatchy)

Syria Eats Sanctions but Looks to Mitchell Visit for Understanding. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad review an honor guard at Al-Shaab presidential palace in Damascus, Syria on the eve of Obama’s announcement that he was renewing sanctions. Mitchell, Obama’s special envoy, is headed for Damascus so forward momentum is being maintained despite the slow progress on negotiations and disapointment of renewed sanctions. (Syria Comment)

Lebanon: Israel’s ‘sleeper cells’ were building Hizbullah database. They were allegedly sleeper cells of spies set up by Israel to build up a “database” on the secretive Hizbullah until Lebanon unmasked them with the arrest of a retired security officer. The moles had for years fed Israel with data on the Shiite resistance and other groups, including the army, using sophisticated transmission equipment, according to security officials and experts. (The Daily Star / AFP)

War of the Camera Phones. A few weeks ago, a video of Walid Jumblatt saying nasty things about his allies appeared on YouTube. This week, a new video has popped up, which has Jumblatt’s arch-rival Talal Arslan calling on the Syrians to make Jumblatt “pay the price” for his betrayal of the community. (Qifa Nabki)

Georgia talks end without result: opposition. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili met opposition leaders on Monday after a month of street protests aimed at forcing him from power. (Reuters)

UAE Orders $752M Worth of HIMARS Launchers & Rockets. (Defense Industry Daily)

UAE’s 30-Helicopter Apache Upgrade Program Underway. (Defense Industry Daily)

Middle-East Defense. The United Arab Emirates not only is purchasing jet fighters, tanks, ships and air-defense systems, but it also is beefing up its nuclear, biological and chemical defense capabilities, communications and early warning systems, while satisfying its insatiable need for trucks and armored vehicles, said Brigadier Staff Obaid Al Ketbi, one of the top UAE armed forces procurement officials. (National Defense)

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