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News in Brief: 12 May 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Gen. David McKiernan Ousted as Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced yesterday that he had requested the resignation of the top American general in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, making a rare decision to remove a wartime commander at a time when the Obama administration has voiced increasing alarm about the country’s downward spiral. (Washington Post)

Secretary Doomsday and the Empathy Gap. A front-page New York Times headline last week put the matter politely indeed: “In Pakistan, U.S. Courts Leader of Opposition.” And nobody thought it was strange at all. In fact, it’s the sort of thing you can read just about any time when it comes to American policy in Pakistan or, for that matter, Afghanistan. It’s just the norm on a planet on which it’s assumed that American civilian and military leaders can issue pronunciamentos about what other countries must do; publicly demand various actions of ruling groups; opt for specific leaders, and then, when they disappoint, attempt to replace them; and use what was once called “foreign aid,” now taxpayer dollars largely funneled through the Pentagon, to bribe those who are hard to convince. (TomDispatch)

CIA, ISI created Taliban: Zardari. In a frank admission, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday said America’s intelligence agency CIA and his country’s ISI together created the “monster” called Taliban. Taliban was “part of our past and your past, and the ISI and CIA created them together,” Mr. Zardari told the NBC news channel in an interview. (The Hindu)

Uzbekistan: Karimov Gives Washington the Air Base It Needs for Afghan Operations. With a helping hand from South Korea, the United States has reestablished a strategic presence in Uzbekistan – sort of. The development provides a boost for US efforts to press an offensive against Islamic militants in Afghanistan, and offers evidence that Russia’s influence in Central Asia is waning. (EurasiaNet)

Appeals Court in Iran Releases Imprisoned American Journalist Roxana Saberi. An Iranian appeals court freed American journalist Roxana Saberi on Monday, three weeks after the 32-year-old former beauty queen was convicted of spying for the United States in a closed, one-day trial. (Washington Post)

Syria sentences Kurd dissident. A Syrian court sentenced a Kurdish dissident to 3-1/2 years in jail on political charges on Monday, the latest in a string of convictions against opponents of the government, which is mending its ties with the West. (The News)

Third Afghan Girls School Hit By Mass Poisoning. Nearly 90 young girls have been hospitalized after a suspected gas attack at their school in Afghanistan, the third in a series of such incidents north of Kabul, Afghan police and officials said. (RFE/RL)

AFGHANISTAN: Thousands of schools lack drinking water, sanitation. About two million state school students do not have access to safe drinking water and about 75 percent of these schools in Afghanistan do not have safe sanitation facilities, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). (IRIN)

Abbas prepared to swear in new government this week without Hamas. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Monday that he is swearing in a new government without his Hamas rivals by midweek, further dimming chances of a power-sharing deal. Abbas also announced that his Fatah movement will hold a long-overdue conference July 1 to select new leaders. (The Daily Star)

MIDEAST: Abbas Standing Takes a Fall. Yet another sign of the growing unpopularity of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) was evident on the streets of Ramallah last weekend. Demonstrators ripped apart hundreds of posters of PA President Mahmoud Abbas that were plastered on walls and buildings along the street leading to the heavily fortified compound known as the Muqata, the PA government headquarters. All this was done within spitting distance of the heavily armed soldiers who patrol the sidewalks and roads leading to the Muqata. The popularity of Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has plunged to an all-time low in the wake of allegations of corruption, and of collusion with Israel during its bloody January offensive in Gaza which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. (IPS)

Iraqi Deal Opens Way for Kurdish Oil to Go on Sale. Oil from the Kurdish region of Iraq will begin to flow into world markets within a matter of weeks after a landmark agreement between Baghdad and the regional government. (Iraq Updates)

Renewed violence spreads to oil sector. A significant proportion of the recent increase in bombings in Iraq has targeted oil installations, with a pipeline carrying crude from the northern Bai Hassan field being blown up yesterday, although it has had little noticeable effect on the northern region’s exports. (Iraq Oil Report)

U.S. budget deficit to top $1.8 tln in 2009 fiscal year. The U.S. federal budget deficit will rise above 1.8 trillion dollars in the current fiscal year, about four times the record set last year, the White House said Monday. (Xinhua)

Fifth phase of polling to conclude tomorrow. Polling in one of India’s most bitterly-fought general elections will conclude on Wednesday although it is not yet clear who will capture power. Campaigning for the polls was acerbic with attacks on persons and characters by star campaigners of key groupings– UPA, NDA and the Third Front. Staggered polling, which began on April 16, has seen elections completed to 457 Lok Sabha seats and also stray violence in some parts of the country. (Times of India)

Mousavi tries to win backing of Ahmadinejad’s supporters. A top moderate Iranian presidential candidate tried to win over conservative voters by campaigning from the birthplace of Ayatullah Rohullah Khomeini, the founder of the 1979 Islamic revolution. Mir Hossein Mousavi called for a return to Khomeini’s “fundamental values,” seeking to undercut support for hardline President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who is seeking a second four-year term in the June 12 polls. (The Daily Star / Reuters)

Pollsters Predict Lebanese Election Results. We’re less than four weeks away from the elections, and al-Akhbar has done us a service by aggregating the predictions of four prominent Lebanese pollsters… Majority best case scenario: 71 seats; worst case scenario: 48. Opposition best case scenario: 80 seats; worst case scenario: 57. As you can see, the opposition’s over/under is nine points better than the majority’s, which may be why many people are predicting a slim win for Aoun-Hizbullah-Berri. (Qifa Nabki)

Georgia: No Breakthrough in Saakashvili-Opposition Talks. After a month of street demonstrations during which protesters have agitated for President Mikheil Saakashvili’s resignation, the Georgian leader and opposition envoys sat down for talks on May 11. The discussions did not appear to resolve any of the issues dividing the two sides. (EurasiaNet)

Captive Knowledge. The funding for academic research has been taken over by business. Why is the Medical Research Council run by an arms manufacturer? Why is the Natural Environment Research Council run by the head of a construction company? Why is the chairman of a real estate firm in charge of higher education funding for England? Because our universities are being turned by the government into corporate research departments. No longer may they pursue knowledge for its own sake: now the highest ambition to which they must aspire is finding better ways to make money. At the end of last month, unremarked by the media, a quiet intellectual revolution took place. The research councils, which provide 90% of the funding for academic research in Britain(1), introduced a new requirement for people seeking grants: now they must describe the economic impact of the work they want to conduct. (Monbiot)

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