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News in Brief: 22 May 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Afghan troop surge may destabilize Pakistan, says US General. The top US military officer said on May 21 he is concerned that the US troop build-up to oust insurgents from Afghanistan could further destabilise neighbouring Pakistan, according to Daily Times. (Afghan Citizen)

Afghan Detainees Denied Rights In Canadian Courts. The Supreme Court today refused to consider an appeal from rights groups seeking constitutional protection for Afghan detainees held by Canadian troops who may be transferred to torture. The decision effectively ends the legal effort to protect prisoners captured on foreign battlefields under the Canadian charter of rights. (Afghanistan Conflict Monitor / Globe and Mail)

Al-Qaeda keeps its eyes on Afghanistan. A militant cell was on the brink of an assassination attempt on Pakistani chief of army staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani last year, but it was halted by top al-Qaeda leaders, an al-Qaeda insider has revealed to Asia Times Online. They feared the backlash from such an incident would damage their overall objective – to win the war in Afghanistan. (Asia Times)

Pakistani Press Suspicious that Government Made up Swat Campaign against Taliban. There is something fishy about the Pakistani military’s reporting of its campaign against the Taliban in Swat, according to the Pakistani press. Dawn uses the phrase, “With scepticism growing about the progress of the month-old army offensive in the north-western region . . .” and notes, “From the air, there was little evidence of the fierce fighting and air strikes that the military claims have already killed more than 1,000 militants as well as some 60 soldiers.” (Informed Comment)

Netanyahu: “Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Thursday that all of Jerusalem would always remain under Israeli sovereignty, in comments likely to spark consternation among Palestinians who hope to make the city the capital of a future state. “United Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided,” Netanyahu said at a state ceremony to mark Jerusalem Day. Netanyahu said he had made the same declaration during his visit to Washington this week, where he met with U.S. President Barack Obama and discussed the peace process and Iran’s nuclear program. Jerusalem Day celebrates the conquest of the city during the 1967 Six-Day War, before which Jordan controlled East Jerusalem, while Israel had the western section. Shortly after the war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem. (Haaretz)

Centcom Commanders Gather in Bahrain to Discuss Regional Security. Commanders from the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility gathered here to discuss regional security issues and approaches to these challenges for a three-day conference. (US Department of Defense)

Iran: Sejil Significance. I’ve been asked to try to express the significance of the Sejil launch. At first, I was given a choice for what was the most significant aspect, from a technical point of view: The staging? The fact that it was a solid propellant missile? A reportedly new guidance system? The launch of Sejil confirms, if we needed confirmation, that Iran has two major missile development groups; one a liquid propellant group and this one, a major solid propellant developmental group. (Arms Control Wonk)

Iran summit with Zardari and Karzai on Sunday. A delayed summit hosted by the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts will now go ahead in Tehran on Sunday, diplomatic sources said. The sources confirmed the participation of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai in the summit, which will discuss the rebuilding of war-shattered Afghanistan. (Dawn)

China picks core new leaders. China’s Communist Party has set its sights on leadership rejuvenation, with several fifth-generation cadres now under the political spotlight. Among the chosen ones is Zhou Qiang, governor of economic powerhouse Hunan. Like most members of the party clique, though, these 50-something rising stars are not without faults. (Asia Times)

Iraq: Tall Order for New Assembly Speaker. The Iraqi parliament’s new speaker will have to struggle to appear neutral before an assembly facing divisive corruption claims and several critical decisions, say analysts. Ayad al-Samarrai’s recent appointment ended four months of wrangling that had left parliament paralysed. (IWPR)

Iraq Bombings Shatter Lull. It was the second day of attacks aimed also at Iraqi police officers and members of American-allied Awakening Councils. (New York Times)

Georgia: Suspected Mutiny Mastermind Killed in Shootout. Georgian police have shot dead one of the accused masterminds of a military mutiny and badly wounded his two accomplices. The incident is sparking fresh controversy over a tank battalion rebellion against President Mikheil Saakashvili earlier in May. (EurasiaNet)

LEBANON: Channel bans political humor in run-up to election. While the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces are busy preparing for the upcoming parliamentary runoff on June 7, the popular television channel LBC is taking its own security measures by banning all political satire until after the elections, the daily Al Akhbar (Arabic) reported this week. (LA Times)

Biden’s Three-Hour Tour. At some point today (Friday), U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden will sweep into the Lebanese capital for what will be yet another “three-hour” visit by a top U.S. official ahead of the critical June 7 parliamentary elections here. Like those who came before him in a similar fashion most recently — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — the vice president will likely offer a range of promises: The U.S. will never sell out Lebanon (like it did following the 1990 Gulf War when Syria was given the keys to the country); the U.S. wants an election free of violence and intimidation (alleged Israeli assassination networks and massive military maneuvers this week are free to proceed without criticism, however) and Hezbollah should give up its weapons and recognize Israel in order to get Washington’s stamp of approval (i.e. give up, in advance, precisely what a credible political process is supposed to deliver as an end result). Biden’s visit is intended to shore up the waning brand appeal of the pro-U.S. March 14 alliance before the polls. (Friday Lunch Club)

Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures: Diplomacy, Militarism and Imagery. President Obama’s greatest foreign policy successes are found in the reports of the mass media. His greatest failures go unreported, but are of great consequence. A survey of the major foreign policy priorities of the White House reveals a continuous series of major setbacks, which call into question the principal objectives and methods pursued by the Obama regime. (Axis of Logic)

EUROPE: Trafficking Rises as Incomes Fall. The economic crisis sweeping Eastern Europe is leading to a sharp increase in people trafficking as people look to migrate for work amid rising unemployment and growing economic hardship, migration watchdogs and women’s rights groups warn. (IPS)

Russia Rejects Ukraine Gas Proposal, Talks Stall. Russia has rejected a Ukrainian proposal to defer payment on up to $5 billion in gas storage payments as energy talks between the prime ministers of the ex-Soviet neighbors ended in stalemate. (RFE/RL)

Lebanon: The Eagle Has Landed. So. Who else wants to try debating `Uqab Saqr on live television? No one? I thought not. Unless the opposition is willing to dig a lot deeper, I don’t think March 14th’s James Carville is going to see much action for a while. (Qifa Nabki)

Hizbullah’s growing regional role piques Arab governments. Arab governments are starting to see the fingerprints of Lebanon’s Hizbullah all over the Middle East, adding to their growing alarm over Iran’s power and a widening Sunni-Shiite rift. The worry comes at a time when Hizbullah, a Shiite resistance group and political party backed by Iran, already is expected to make political gains inside Lebanon in June 7 elections. (The Daily Star)

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