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News in Brief: 28 May 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Iraq redux? Obama seeks funds for Pakistan super-embassy. The U.S. is embarking on a $1 billion crash program to expand its diplomatic presence in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, another sign that the Obama administration is making a costly, long-term commitment to war-torn South Asia, U.S. officials said Wednesday… The scale of the projects rivals the giant U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which was completed last year after construction delays at a cost of $740 million. (McClatchy)

The Sinking Dollar (Wallerstein). When Premier Wen Jiabao of China said in March of 2009 that he was “a little bit worried” about the state of the U.S. dollar, he echoed the feelings of states, enterprises, and individuals across the world. He called upon the United States “to maintain its good credit, to honor its promises and to guarantee the safety of China’s assets.” Even five years ago, this would have seemed a very presumptuous request. Now it seems “understandable” even to Janet Yellen, the President of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, although she considers China’s proposals concerning the world’s reserve currency “far from being a practical alternative.” (Dollars & Sense)

US Chief: Troops could stay 10 years in Iraq. Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff said he does not rule out the possibility of leaving US forces in Iraq for as long as a decade. According to the Associated Press, he said his planning envisions combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade as part of a sustained U.S. commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East. (Alsumaria)

Waziristan militants start mining region: report. A latest advisory issued by the Interior ministry to the country’s security agencies reveals that the Taliban and other militants operating in Waziristan have started planting landmines in the area, a BBC report said. (Dawn)

Fatima Bhutto lashes out at ‘corrupt leadership’. Fatima Bhutto has painted a highly pessimistic picture of the present-day Pakistan blaming the state, especially its civil and military apparatus, for creating all the problems that the country is facing, including the menace of Taliban, widespread poverty and corruption. (Dawn)

Taliban Claim Pakistan Bomb Attack. Hours after the Pakistani government placed bounties on 21 insurgent leaders it blamed for a massive suicide car bomb attack here, Taliban groups claimed responsibility Thursday for the assault that killed at least two dozen people and wounded nearly 300. (New York Times)

‘I-spy’ alert sweeps south Lebanon. “Who’s next?” The question is on everyone’s mind in southern Lebanon where dozens of people have been detained in recent weeks on suspicion of spying for neighbouring Israel… Officials say the probe into the spy networks, which comes as the country prepares for elections on June 7, is far from over with more arrests expected. Anyone convicted of high treason faces up to life in prison or even capital punishment in Lebanon, which is still technically at war with Israel. In villages and towns across the south of the country, the spy scandal has hit hard and prompted a collective paranoia with everyone looking over their shoulder, suspicious of their neighbour. Still fresh in the minds of many here is Israel’s occupation of the region between 1978 and 2000, when many locals collaborated with the enemy under the umbrella of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a militia which was allied with the Israelis. (The News)

Israel rebuffs US call for total colony freeze. An Israeli government spokesman says Israel will continue some construction work in West Bank colonies, despite an unusually blunt US call for a complete colony freeze. (Gulf News / AP)

Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in West Bank. Settler attacks against Palestinian civilians, and the occasional retaliatory attacks by Palestinians continue to dominate media headlines on an almost daily basis. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that an increase in settler attacks, as well as Israeli military raids, are part of an overall deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the West Bank. “During April four Palestinians, including two boys, were killed by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and another 145 were injured by Israeli soldiers and settlers. The number of Palestinians injured rose by 40 percent compared with the 2008 monthly average,” the report says. “We have noticed a significant increase in the incidents of both settler and soldier violence against Palestinian civilians since the new Israeli government took power at the beginning of the year,” says Ronen Shimoni from B’Tselem. “This is probably related to an increase in settlement activity in the West Bank as the rightist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to establish facts on the ground,” Shimoni told IPS. (IPS)

The Foreign Policy Factor in Iran’s Presidential Race. While the run-up to Iran’s presidential election was billed as a referendum on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic agenda, Iran expert Farideh Farhi says the president’s “bombastic foreign policy style” is fast becoming the campaign issue de jour. All three of Ahmadinejad’s opponents have challenged the president’s international approach, Farhi says, questioning “his emphasis on issues surrounding the Holocaust and his approach to Iran’s nuclear negotiations.” As the campaigning enters its final phase—with the incumbent expected to face a tough challenge in his re-election bid. (CFR)

Indian defense minister urges attainment of self reliance in national defense. Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony said on Thursday that India should attain self reliance in national defense by shifting from “buy” to “make” in strategy and taking full advantage of its information technology in developing high-tech weaponry…”India’s image as a global leader in Information Technology should be reflected in the national defense domain. The IT industry, therefore, should come up with indigenous products for the transformation of defense,” Antony said. (Xinhua)

Kyrgyzstan: Radioactive Legacy Vexes Bishkek. For a generation, Toko and his extended family have grown tomatoes, apples and strawberries along the Mailuu Suu River in southern Kyrgyzstan. Their little plot was a form of insurance, looked upon as a reliable food source that could help feed the family and produce some income amid the post-Soviet era’s economic uncertainty. But for the past year, an infernal legacy of the Soviet era has haunted Toko’s household. A new sign across the muddy lane tells the story: it displays the fearsome international trefoil symbol for radioactivity and reads, “Keep Out!” (EurasiaNet)

The Der Spiegel story and the Lebanese Reaction. On Memorial Day or (in Lebanon) the Ninth Celebration of the Liberation and Resistance, a consensus began to emerge between March 14 and March 8 over the allegations in the Der Spiegel article. Generally, March 14 leaders and Hezbollah are treating the report as spurious and planted by Israel. Saad al-Hariri said, “كل ما يحكى في الصحف ويصدر عنها نعتبره كلاماً صحافياً وليس لنا أي تعليق عليه وأننا لا نحتكم إلا لقرار المحكمة التي ناضلنا من أجلها ودفعنا دماء وسقط شهداء في سبيلها [Everything that is said in the newspapers and published in it we consider journalistic speech and we don’t have any comment on it. We do not judge anything expect the decision of The Tribunal that we fought for, that we paid blood for, and that martyrs fell for.] Hariri’s position is more measured than Jumblatt’s, who explicitly rejects Der Spiegel’s claims. (Ex Oriente Lux?)

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