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News in Brief: 19 May 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Karzai gains from opposition’s disarray. President Hamid Karzai’s prominent opponents in this summer’s Afghan elections have withdrawn in disarray, making his re-election almost certain. Karzai has deftly outmaneuvered his challengers by wooing tribal elders and by making strategic cabinet shuffles. Perhaps more importantly, the United States couldn’t decide on another candidate to back. (Asia Times)

Turkish court rules President Gul should stand trial for fraud. A Turkish court has ruled that President Abdullah Gul should face trial for fraud. Gul is highly regarded in Europe, where he has acted as one of the driving forces behind Turkey’s bid for European Union membership. The court ruling is likely to increase animosity between Turkish secularists and the Islamist-rooted government. The secularist establishment includes many army generals, judges and academics. (Deutsch Welle)

Despite Smiles, Obama, Netanyahu Seem Far Apart. While reaffirming the “special relationship” between their two countries, U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared unable to bridge major differences in their approaches to Iran and Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts following their White House meeting here Monday… And while Obama repeatedly stressed the importance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu never uttered the phrase or alluded to the possibility of a Palestinian state during a 30-minute press appearance with the U.S. president after their meeting in the Oval Office. (IPS)

Israel bans books, music and clothes from entering Gaza. Altogether only 30 to 40 select commercial items are now allowed into the Gaza Strip, compared to 4,000 that had been approved before the closure Israel imposed on Gaza following the abduction of Gilad Shalit, according to merchants and human rights activists . The few items merchants are allowed to trade in are divided into three categories: food, medicine and detergent. Everything else is forbidden – including building materials (which are necessary to rehabilitate Gaza’s ruins and rebuild its infrastructure), electric appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines, spare machine and car parts, fabrics, threads, needles, light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, cutlery, crockery, cups, glasses and animals. (Haaretz)

Hamas and Fatah Agree on a Joint Security Force for Gaza. Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a joint security force that will operate in the Gaza Strip until the year’s end. One of Fatah’s leaders, Nabil Shaath, said that the two parties agreed in Cairo that the joint force would operate until the next elections scheduled for January. The exact composition of the force has yet to be determined. (Mideast Peace Pulse)

Invasion in the Name of Humanitarian Aid: The US in Afghanistan. It has been seven years since the US military launched air strikes in revenge for the 9/11 terror attacks. The Taliban have not been suppressed and Afghanistan remains in a state of war. Although overshadowed by the war against Iraq, this too is a war of aggression. A Japanese photo journalist examines the US-Afghan War. (Japan Focus)

America’s Afghanistan: The National Security and a Heroin-Ravaged State. For several years, informed observers independent of the national security bureaucracy have called for terminating current specific American policies and tactics in Afghanistan– many reminiscent of the US in Vietnam. Informed observers decry the use of air strikes to decapitate the Taliban and al Qaeda, an approach that has repeatedly resulted in the death of civilians. Many counsel against the insertion of more and more US and other foreign troops, as pursued first by the Bush administration and then, even more vigorously, in the early days of the Obama administration, in an effort to secure the safety and allegiance of the population. And they regret the on-going interference in the fragile Afghan and Pakistan political processes, in order to secure outcomes desired in Washington. (Japan Focus)

Ex-U.S. Envoy May Take Key Role in Afghan Government. Zalmay Khalilzad, who was President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan, could assume a powerful, unelected position inside the Afghan government under a plan he is discussing with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, according to senior American and Afghan officials. (New York Times)

Afghans Say No Plan To Put U.S. Ex-Envoy In Charge. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has no plan to install former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as “chief executive” of his country, a spokesman has said, denying a report in “The New York Times.” (RFE/RL)

Sri Lanka hails victory as images of Tamil Tiger leader’s body broadcast. Sri Lanka’s president proclaimed victory over the Tamil Tigers on Tuesday after decades of civil war, with state television showing what it said was the corpse of rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. (Hurriyet)

Iran summit with Afghan, Pakistan presidents postponed. Iran’s foreign ministry said on Monday that a planned summit to be hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad with his Afghanistan and Pakistan counterparts has been postponed. The summit, scheduled for Tuesday, was put off due to the busy programme of President Asif Ali Zardari, foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi told reporters. (The News)

Race for UN nuclear watchdog’s top job. (The Hindu)

Caspian Basin: Which Way is Up for Regional Energy Development? May 15 could become the official birth date of a pipeline that would help Russia maintain its virtual monopoly of natural gas exports to Europe. Whether the energy export project grows to maturity remains to be seen. Officials from Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Serbia and Russia convened in the Russian resort city of Sochi on May 15 to sign agreements to hasten the construction of the so-called South Stream pipeline. The pacts appear to give South Stream a commanding lead over the rival, US-backed Nabucco project in the race to deliver Caspian Basin natural gas to European markets. (EurasiaNet)

Tajikistan: French Air Detachment in Dushanbe Quietly Carries Out Afghan Mission. Since 2002, France’s Air Detachment Dushanbe has been home to between 170 and 230 French soldiers, who handle transit logistics, supply drops and airlift support on behalf of NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan, an hour’s flight to the south. Two Transall C-160s cargo planes form the backbone of the French operation in Dushanbe, while other NATO countries regularly use the facility as a way station for Afghanistan operations. In 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered the repositioning of six Mirage fighter jets from Dushanbe to Kandahar so that they would be positioned closer to where anti-insurgency operations are conducted. (EurasiaNet)

Iraqi general election set for January 30. Iraq yesterday decreed a general election early next year that is expected to be a key test of popular support for the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. (Hurriyet)

Indian Army Tests Nuclear-Capable Agni Missile. The surface-to-surface Agni II missile is capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to targets around 2,000 kilometers away, officials said. (RFE/RL)

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