Saturday, 9 August 2008

Friday, 8th August 2008

View from the new - and I hope my last - bedroom window.

Link found between warm spells and extreme rain
Scientists studying variations in tropical heat and rainfall since the mid-1980s have found a strong link between warm periods and more extreme downpours.
The observed rise in the heaviest rains is about twice that produced by computer simulations used to assess human-caused global warming, said the researchers.
Other studies have already measured a rise in heavy rains in areas as varied as North America and India, and climatologists have long forecast more heavy rains in a world warmed by accumulating greenhouse gases.
But this analysis, using 20 years of NASA satellite measurements, is the first to find a strong statistical link between warmth and extreme downpours, the researchers said.
The study was published Thursday in the online journal Science Express. The authors were Richard Allan of the University of Reading in England and Brian Soden at the University of Miami.
A general relationship between warming and heavier rainfall is widely accepted; the new paper is important "because it uses observations to demonstrate the sensitivity of extreme rainfall to temperature," said Anthony Broccoli, the director of the Center for Environmental Prediction at Rutgers University.
"Flash flooding is produced by the extreme rain events," he said. "In the U.S., flooding is a greater cause of death than lightning or tornadoes, and presumably poses similar risks elsewhere."
In developing countries, cities with poor drainage routinely grind to a halt and see outbreaks of waterborne disease after extreme rainstorms. Such downpours have been estimated in some such countries to blunt economic growth by several percentage points, according to World Bank experts.

Paul Krugman: Know-nothing politics
PRINCETON, New Jersey: So the Republican Party has found its issue for the 2008 election. For the next three months the party plans to keep chanting: "Drill here! Drill now! Drill here! Drill now! Four legs good, two legs bad!" O.K., I added that last part.
And the debate on energy policy has helped me find the words for something I've been thinking about for a while. Republicans, once hailed as the "party of ideas," have become the party of stupid.
Now, I don't mean that Republican politicians are, on average, any dumber than their Democratic counterparts. And I certainly don't mean to question the often frightening smarts of Republican political operatives.
What I mean, instead, is that know-nothingism - the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there's something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise - has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party's de facto slogan has become: "Real men don't think things through."
In the case of oil, this takes the form of pretending that more drilling would produce fast relief at the gas pump. In fact, earlier this week Republicans in Congress actually claimed credit for the recent fall in oil prices: "The market is responding to the fact that we are here talking," said Representative John Shadegg.
What about the experts at the Department of Energy who say that it would take years before offshore drilling would yield any oil at all, and that even then the effect on prices at the pump would be "insignificant"? Presumably they're just a bunch of wimps, probably Democrats. And the Democrats, as Representative Michele Bachmann assures us, "want Americans to move to the urban core, live in tenements, take light rail to their government jobs."
Is this political pitch too dumb to succeed? Don't count on it.
Remember how the Iraq war was sold. The stuff about aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds was just window dressing. The main political argument was, "They attacked us, and we're going to strike back" - and anyone who tried to point out that Saddam and Osama weren't the same person was an effete snob who hated America, and probably looked French.
Let's also not forget that for years President Bush was the center of a cult of personality that lionized him as a real-world Forrest Gump, a simple man who prevails through his gut instincts and moral superiority. "Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man," declared Peggy Noonan, writing in The Wall Street Journal in 2004. "He's not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world."
It wasn't until Hurricane Katrina - when the heckuva job done by the man of whom Noonan said, "if there's a fire on the block, he'll run out and help" revealed the true costs of obliviousness - that the cult began to fade.
What's more, the politics of stupidity didn't just appeal to the poorly informed. Bear in mind that members of the political and media elites were more pro-war than the public at large in the fall of 2002, even though the flimsiness of the case for invading Iraq should have been even more obvious to those paying close attention to the issue than it was to the average voter.
Why were the elite so hawkish? Well, I heard a number of people express privately the argument that some influential commentators made publicly - that the war was a good idea, not because Iraq posed a real threat, but because beating up someone in the Middle East, never mind who, would show Muslims that we mean business. In other words, even alleged wise men bought into the idea of macho posturing as policy.
All this is in the past. But the state of the energy debate shows that Republicans, despite Bush's plunge into record unpopularity and their defeat in 2006, still think that know-nothing politics works. And they may be right.
Sad to say, the current drill-and-burn campaign is getting some political traction. According to one recent poll, 69 percent of Americans now favor expanded offshore drilling - and 51 percent of them believe that removing restrictions on drilling would reduce gas prices within a year.
The headway Republicans are making on this issue won't prevent Democrats from expanding their majority in Congress, but it might limit their gains - and could conceivably swing the presidential election, where the polls show a much closer race.
In any case, remember this the next time someone calls for an end to partisanship, for working together to solve the country's problems. It's not going to happen - not as long as one of America's two great parties believes that when it comes to politics, stupidity is the best policy.

French police defuse 3 bombs in Basque region
PARIS: Bomb squads defused three explosive devices planted Friday at tourist areas in France's southwest Basque region on the Atlantic coast, officials said.
Rescue services received an anonymous phone call before dawn, warning that bombs had been left at five tourist sites in the Basque country near France's border with Spain, the prefecture in the southwestern Pyrenees Atlantiques region said.
The devices were "weak and defective," the prefecture said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

IW: Observe carefully what people and countries get up to during the Olympics. Just as an example, the day before the Olympics, Israel just happened to issue a tender for the construction of 447 housing units in settlements in the Jerusalem.
The statements and commentary about this on Friday, the day of the Olympics, are hard to find.

And oh yes, the slow boil Russian invasion of Georgia which I have been tracking for months just happens to blow on Olympics day.

John Edwards picks this day to admit his affair.


Olympic Games begin in Beijing

At 8 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month — eight being a lucky number in China — the world looked toward Beijing and the 91,000 people inside the National Stadium. The global television audience was estimated to surpass four billion people.

Protesters try to turn spotlight from Games to human rights
PARIS: As China celebrated sports and spectacle, protesters across the world Friday sought to yank the spotlight away from the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing and shine it on human rights issues.
In Ankara, a member of China's Uighur minority drenched himself in gasoline and set himself alight before fellow demonstrators rushed to extinguish the flames and he was taken to a hospital.
In Copenhagen, activists pledged to cut off their hair outside the Chinese Embassy to protest Beijing's policies in Tibet.
Exiled Tibetans took their grievances to the street in Nepal and India. And three American activists were reportedly detained in Beijing.
Demonstrations also took place in London, Madrid, Berlin, Stockholm, Lisbon and Amsterdam, with further marches planned in Washington and Toronto.

Police detain more than 1,100 in Nepal over China protests
KATMANDU, Nepal: The police in Nepal's capital broke up protests by Tibetan exiles in front of the Chinese Embassy's visa office Friday, detaining more than 1,100 people.
The protesters, many of them women, gathered outside the visa office in central Katmandu, despite a ban on demonstrations in the area.
"China thief, leave our country. Stop killing in Tibet," some of them chanted.
A police official, Ramesh Thapa, accused the protesters of trying to storm the office and violating the ban.

Russians in Georgia as government forces push into rebel capital
GORI, Georgia: Russian troops entered a breakaway region of Georgia on Friday after Georgian forces pushed into the capital of the pro-Russian enclave, in a sharp escalation of the longstanding conflict.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared that "war has started" and President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia accused Russia of a "well-planned invasion," saying he had mobilized Georgia's military reserves.
Reports conflicted Friday about whether Georgian or Russian forces had won control of the capital of the rebel province, South Ossetia. It was unclear late Friday whether ground combat had taken place between the two sides in the capital, Tskhinvali.
Georgia accused Russia of unleashing an air bombing campaign and claimed that hundreds of civilians had been killed; Russia denied those accusations.
Georgia is a close American ally whose shift toward the West and pursuit of NATO membership has angered Russia. The United States said Friday that it would send an envoy to the region to try to broker an end to the fighting in South Ossetia, and the European Union, NATO and Germany all called on both sides to stand down.

Russians reflect on the loss of their conscience

MOSCOW: In the week since Alexander Solzhenitsyn died, much has been said about how the writer who exposed the brutality of the Soviet system lost some relevance late in life - about how, as he trained his rhetorical thunderbolts on the immorality of the modern world, many Russians came to view him as a public scold and a relic.
But the response to his loss has been far more complicated than that. Russians who have the time and inclination to think about their country's fate are mourning not just Solzhenitsyn but also the uniquely Russian brand of intellectual leadership that he embodied.
"He considered himself responsible for the nation," Natalia Bruni, 59, said as she carried a fistful of pink roses from her own garden to lay beside the writer's coffin at his funeral on Wednesday. "He was the conscience of the nation. Without him, you feel as if no one is defending you."
From Leo Tolstoy to the poet Anna Akhmatova and the dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, the most respected Russian artists and scientists have traditionally functioned not just as cultural figures but as national symbols, moral beacons and speakers of truth. Soviet public intellectuals like Solzhenitsyn staked their lives on that mission - to "defeat the lie," as he put it.
Today, despite - or perhaps because of - an atmosphere of far greater freedom in private life, there are no towering cultural figures who command the respect that Solzhenitsyn did in his prime. Novelists write profanity-laced satires of consumerism, not moral clarion calls. Most opposition politicians have faded from the scene rather than push to the limits against growing authoritarianism. There is no cultural counterweight to the figure who dominates political life, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
That is partly because a new generation of Russians is awash in the global tide of infinite consumer choice, tending to careers and shopping. It is partly because Solzhenitsyn himself helped discredit the public intellectual by hectoring the nation after his return in 1994.
But it is also because the political landscape is more complex: Today's authoritarianism is less monumental than Soviet repression, and so are its opponents.
"A great conflict gives birth to great people," Boris Messerer, a famed Bolshoi Ballet set designer, said as he walked to the funeral arm-in-arm with the poet Bella Akhmadulina. Solzhenitsyn's era, he said, was "an obvious conflict between people of conscience and the authorities. Today we don't have that kind of conflict."

David Brooks: Lord of the Memes

Dear Dr. Kierkegaard,
All my life I've been a successful pseudo-intellectual, sprinkling quotations from Kafka, Epictetus and Derrida into my conversations, impressing dates and making my friends feel mentally inferior. But over the last few years, it's stopped working. People just look at me blankly. My artificially inflated self-esteem is on the wane. What happened?
Existential in Exeter
Dear Existential,
It pains me to see so many people being pseudo-intellectual in the wrong way. It desecrates the memory of the great poseurs of the past. And it is all the more frustrating because your error is so simple and yet so fundamental.
You have failed to keep pace with the current code of intellectual one-upsmanship. You have failed to appreciate that over the past few years, there has been a tectonic shift in the basis of good taste.
You must remember that there have been three epochs of intellectual affectation. The first, lasting from approximately 1400 to 1965, was the great age of snobbery. Cultural artifacts existed in a hierarchy, with opera and fine art at the top, and stripping at the bottom. The social climbing pseud merely had to familiarize himself with the forms at the top of the hierarchy and febrile acolytes would perch at his feet.
In 1960, for example, he merely had to follow the code of high modernism. He would master some impenetrably difficult work of art from T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound and then brood contemplatively at parties about Lionel Trilling's misinterpretation of it. A successful date might consist of going to a reading of "The Waste Land," contemplating the hollowness of the human condition and then going home to drink Russian vodka and suck on the gas pipe.
This code died sometime in the late 1960s and was replaced by the code of the Higher Eclectica. The old hierarchy of the arts was dismissed as hopelessly reactionary. Instead, any cultural artifact produced by a member of a colonially oppressed out-group was deemed artistically and intellectually superior.
During this period, status rewards went to the ostentatious cultural omnivores - those who could publicly savor an infinite range of historically hegemonized cultural products. It was necessary to have a record collection that contained "a little bit of everything" (except heavy metal): bluegrass, rap, world music, salsa and Gregorian chant. It was useful to decorate one's living room with African or Thai religious totems - any religion so long as it was one you could not conceivably believe in.
But on or about June 29, 2007, human character changed. That, of course, was the release date of the first iPhone.
On that date, media displaced culture. As commenters on The American Scene blog have pointed out, the means of transmission replaced the content of culture as the center of historical excitement and as the marker of social status.
Now the global thought-leader is defined less by what culture he enjoys than by the smartphone, social bookmarking site, social network and e-mail provider he uses to store and transmit it. (In this era, MySpace is the new leisure suit and an AOL e-mail address is a scarlet letter of techno-shame.)
Today, Kindle can change the world, but nobody expects much from a mere novel. The brain overshadows the mind. Design overshadows art.
This transition has produced some new status rules. In the first place, prestige has shifted from the producer of art to the aggregator and the appraiser. Inventors, artists and writers come and go, but buzz is forever. Maximum status goes to the Gladwellian heroes who occupy the convergence points of the Internet infosystem - Web sites like Pitchfork for music, Gizmodo for gadgets, Bookforum for ideas, etc.
These tastemakers surf the obscure niches of the culture market bringing back fashion-forward nuggets of coolness for their throngs of grateful disciples.
Second, in order to cement your status in the cultural elite, you want to be already sick of everything no one else has even heard of.
When you first come across some obscure cultural artifact - an unknown indie band, organic skate sneakers or wireless headphones from Finland - you will want to erupt with ecstatic enthusiasm. This will highlight the importance of your cultural discovery, the fineness of your discerning taste, and your early adopter insiderness for having found it before anyone else.
Then, a few weeks later, after the object is slightly better known, you will dismiss all the hype with a gesture of putrid disgust. This will demonstrate your lofty superiority to the sluggish masses. It will show how far ahead of the crowd you are and how distantly you have already ventured into the future.
If you can do this, becoming not only an early adopter, but an early discarder, you will realize greater status rewards than you ever imagined. Remember, cultural epochs come and go, but one-upsmanship is forever.

Euro falls to 6-month low against dollar
FRANKFURT: The euro tumbled Friday by almost three cents to near the $1.50 mark - its lowest level against the dollar since February - amid mounting evidence that the European economy was slowing.

U.S. endorses $20 billion bid to aid Afghans
WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Robert Gates will endorse a $20 billion plan to substantially increase the size of Afghanistan's army and will also restructure the military command of American and NATO forces in response to the growing Taliban threat, senior Pentagon and military officials said Thursday.
Taken together, the two decisions are an acknowledgment of shortcomings that continue to hinder NATO- and American-led operations in Afghanistan. With the war in Iraq still an obstacle to any immediate American troop increase in Afghanistan, the plan was described by officials as an attempt to increase allied and Afghan capabilities in advance of deploying the additional American brigades that Gates and his commanders agree are necessary.
The additional American troops are unlikely to be available until next year.
Under a plan initially proposed by the Afghan government and now endorsed by Gates, the Afghan National Army will nearly double in size over the next five years, to more than 120,000 active-duty troops.
Such a large increase would not be possible without American funds, which will pay for trainers and for equipment, food and housing for Afghan forces. But Pentagon officials said that Gates would seek contributions from allies to help underwrite the $20 billion cost over five years.
In a closely related decision, Gates plans to reshape a command structure that has divided the NATO and American missions in Afghanistan, a system now viewed as unwieldy in the face of increasing insurgent violence, senior Pentagon and military officials said. Under an order expected to be signed by Gates before the end of August, General David McKiernan, the four-star army officer who leads the 45,000-member NATO force, would be given command of most of the 19,000 American troops who have operated separately. (The NATO force already includes about 15,000 other Americans.)
The moves come nearly seven years into the war in Afghanistan, a conflict that has claimed more than 500 American lives. The last two months have been among the deadliest in Afghanistan for American forces, who are trying to contend with a sharp increase in attacks by Taliban militants, some of them staged with support from insurgents based in the remote tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan.
Pentagon officials say they hope the creation of a more unified command structure under McKiernan will help to coordinate all forces in Afghanistan — most notably American units near the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan, which have operated independently of the NATO-led force in charge in southern Afghanistan.

The struggle ahead

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are authors of "Invisible History, Afghanistan's Untold Story," which will be published in January.
When the next president of the United States enters the Oval Office in January, he will face the toughest foreign policy decisions of any president since Franklin Roosevelt. But the toughest of all will involve the struggle for Afghanistan.
Lest he fall prey to Washington's beltway wisdom, he should be advised that today's Afghanistan is as much a creation of Washington and Islamabad as it is of Kabul. He should also know that achieving anything resembling real victory will require rethinking basic assumptions about both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As the first Americans to negotiate a TV crew into Kabul in 1981, after the Western press corps had been expelled, we encountered a country frozen between its feudal past and 100 years of social modernization. What we witnessed was an Afghan state walking a fine line between communism, capitalism, and a uniquely "progressive" and moderate Islam.
Today's Afghanistan suffers no trace of its progressive Islamic past. Culturally erased by the American- and Saudi Arabian-backed war from Pakistan, Afghanistan is a neo-feudal, corporatized playground of warlords, NATO troops, private military companies, and radicalized Islamists.
On Kabul's traffic-congested streets, "liberated" chador-clad women beg desperately for handouts at the darkened windows of local drug lords' Japanese SUVs. For thousands of years a hub for trade and a melting pot of cultures, Afghanistan is now the world's largest exporter of heroin and extreme forms of Islam.
After seven years and billions spent, little economic and social rebuilding can be seen. The new constitution guarantees women's rights. Women work and vote, girls can go to school. But without security or oversight in the countryside, hard fought women's rights mean nothing.
The next American president must reverse this process by remaking U.S. policy. That policy must address the needs of the Afghan people, not Washington. He must revamp USAID management to ensure that roads are rebuilt, power is restored, irrigation systems are improved, and independent contractors are held responsible for their work. He must redeploy thousands of troops from Iraq to major population centers around Afghanistan, disarm warlords, and establish security. He must also convince America's NATO allies to get serious.
Under current counterterrorism doctrine, Afghanistan would require 400,000 International Security and Assistance Force soldiers. There are currently 47,000. That done, he can promote alternative food crops while encouraging drug manufacturers to purchase Afghan opium for legal medicinal use.
With the Afghan people's support, the president can then proceed to political problems and Pakistan's subversive role in them. These problems stem from a failed British colonial policy designed to make Afghanistan invisible as a nation.
The first stirrings of Afghan nationalism began in the 16th century. In 1747 Ahmed Shah Durrani established an Afghan empire that was one of the world's largest and a dynasty that lasted until the Marxist coup of 1978.
Nonetheless, India's 19th century British viceroy, Lord Curzon, claimed Afghanistan was "a purely accidental geographic unit." The British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli advocated subsuming Afghanistan into British India. Failing that, in 1893 the British drew a line down the Hindu Kush (the Durand line), dividing Afghan tribal homelands.
Following Indian partition in 1947, Britain refused to renegotiate the boundary. Pakistan's struggle to control these Afghan homelands provided cause for Cold War confrontation. In 1979, it provided President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, with the bait to lure the Soviet Union into its own Vietnam.
From that day forward, this historic border dispute, originally intended as a hedge against Afghan independence, has grown into an international monster.
Pakistan's obsession with another border dispute with India fuels its need for nuclear weapons. Its fear of annihilation justifies smuggling guns and heroin, helping the Taliban, and harboring terrorists like Osama bin Laden.
Only the U.S. can forge a lasting peace between India and Pakistan, but only a lasting peace will stop Pakistan's interference in Afghanistan. America's Afghanistan is not Vietnam or Iraq. America's Afghanistan is a dream that can still be made to happen. It is something the new president must do.

Musharraf plans spirited defense
ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan plans to put up a spirited defense against impeachment charges that the governing coalition is pursuing against him, and has no plans to resign under pressure, his key allies said Friday.


Pakistan's army in focus

ISLAMABAD: Eyes were on Pakistan's generals on Friday for any gesture of support for President Pervez Musharraf a day after a four-month-old civilian coalition declared plans to impeach the former army chief.
The ex-commando, who seized power in a coup nine years ago, has yet to make any public response after being given the option of facing a confidence vote in parliament or being impeached.
A session of the National Assembly, Pakistan's lower house of parliament, has been called for Monday, coincidentally Musharraf's 65th birthday, to start what could be a lengthy process unless the president decides to bow out without a fight.
The prospects of the nuclear-armed Muslim country that is also a hiding place for al Qaeda leaders lurching into a fresh bout of instability will be viewed with trepidation by the United States and other Western nations, and regional neighbours.
A two-day meeting of the army's top brass at headquarters in Rawalpindi, the city next door to Islamabad, ended on Friday with a statement mainly about promotions which made no mention of the political crisis.

The focus is now on the man to whom Musharraf passed command of the army when he retired from the military last November.
"The fate of Musharraf now lies in the hands of Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani," said analyst Lisa Curtis in a commentary for the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
Although Kayani had been Musharraf's intelligence chief, civilian politicians have been encouraged by his efforts to withdraw the army from political affairs.
Musharraf has said in the past he would resign rather than be dragged through an impeachment process by a parliament filled with enemies.
He has also said he will not use powers to dissolve parliament, but critics say the unpredictable president suffers from a "saviour complex", and he could do just that in order to remove rivals he believes are making a mess of running Pakistan.
To do it he will need the army's backing, something which analysts have described as a "worst-case scenario".
Curtis said the United States should avoid interfering, other than to urge all sides to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis to prevent a return to military rule.
While the army had accepted a switch to civilian rule which began with the defeat of pro-Musharraf parties in an election on February 18, it was supposed to be a transition, and the generals could react badly to any humiliation of their former chief.
Speaking to news channels on Friday, a leading member of the coalition, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan expressed optimism that Kayani would not let the army "meddle in politics".
Despite the uncertainty, investors in a share market that has lost 38 percent after peaking on April 21, recovered some nerve on Friday as the main index rose 2 percent. The rupee at 72.60/70 to the dollar was a brushing all-time lows struck a month ago.
Politicians and analysts believe the generals will want to watch how the situation unfolds.
"They will have their concerns, but having concerns is one thing and sending in the tanks is quite another," said Ayaz Amir, an anti-Musharraf politician in the National Assembly, and a former army major.
Pakistan has yo-yoed between civilian and military rule throughout its turbulent history, but the army's image took a battering during the Musharraf era, particularly over its role supporting an unpopular U.S.-led war on terrorism.
The civilians, this time, took over an economy facing possible meltdown, with people suffering spiralling food and fuel prices, and Islamist militancy spreading across the northwest.
Musharraf was blamed for Pakistan's multiple crises by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto and head of the coalition, and Nawaz Sharif, the premier Musharraf overthrew, as they announced plans on Thursday to impeach him.
Sharif's party said on Friday some ministers would rejoin the cabinet, having pulled out last May after Zardari backtracked on a commitment to reinstate Supreme Court judges Musharraf had dismissed during emergency rule late last year.
It said the rest would rejoin once the judges are restored.

Sadr to split Iraq militia into 2 groups
BAGHDAD: Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric, said Friday that he would divide his Mahdi army militia in two: one elite unit of fighters and a group that would work on community and religious programs.
The announcement was made by Sadrist preachers in their sermons at Friday prayers in cities across Iraq. The speakers urged Shiite followers of the radical cleric to volunteer for the new social wing named the Momahidoun, meaning "those who prepare the way."


Sadr to disarm if U.S. withdraws

BAGHDAD: Anti-American Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr would dissolve his Mehdi Army militia if the United States started withdrawing troops according to a set timetable, a spokesman said.


Iraq proposes timetable for 2010 U.S. withdrawal

BAGHDAD: Iraqi negotiators have proposed a timetable for U.S. withdrawals that would see combat troops leave the country by October 2010, although Washington has not yet agreed to it, a senior Iraqi official said on Friday.
If agreed, the timetable would mean the administration of President George W. Bush effectively adopting a schedule very close to that proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"As of last night that was one of the issues being discussed between the two sides. There is no agreement yet, but this is what the Iraqis are asking for," said the official who is close to the negotiations.
The schedule proposed by Iraqi negotiators would see U.S. forces withdraw from the streets of Iraqi cities by the middle of next year and combat troops return home by October 2010. Some American support units could stay on for another few years.

IW: That has be the Olympic U-Turn Gold Medal of the Day. And the NYT/IHT devote a small Reuters article.

British report identifies flu, not terrorism, as primary threat
LONDON: Pandemic influenza, not terrorism, is the most serious risk for the British public, according to the first-ever British national threat assessment, published Friday.

Tracking Congo's misery

By Tim Butcher
Friday, August 8, 2008
I was panting in Congo's equatorial heat, but I saw something that gave me goose bumps. A picture hung on the wall of a timeworn colonial-era house. It showed three stylized African figures, stooped over paddles as they canoed toward a river bank.
The picture was all too familiar. During my stolid childhood in the British Midlands of the 1970s, my mother would light up gray days with stories of her African travels, illustrated by props including souvenir drawings she had bought in what is now Kalemie, the hollowed-out ruin of a town on the shores of Lake Tanganyika where I now stood. The stark contrast between my mother's genteel stories and the ghastly reality of today's Congo was chilling.
I had ventured into the country out of journalistic curiosity. In four years of covering Africa for The Daily Telegraph, I found many of the continent's problems were connected to Congo. Drawn to the place Joseph Conrad immortalized in "Heart of Darkness," I took a six-month leave and came to Kalemie, planning to reach the upper Congo River by land and then follow it to the Atlantic, a journey of 2,000 miles.
My reasons for going were complex, but mostly, I wanted to hear from the people - to discover how they lived their daily lives amid some of the worst conditions on the planet. Several people called my idea "suicidal."
Back in 1958, when my mother passed through Kalemie, known then as Albertville, the Belgian Congo was a going concern. Its tropical medicine was the envy of the world. Foreign businessmen invested there. Travelers no more adventurous than my mother, a graduate of a London secretarial college, routinely used a network of trains, riverboats, buses and ferries.
When I came to Congo, those connections had long since vanished. Since June 30, 1960, when Belgium officially ended colonial control, an almost-unbroken tide of war and rebellion has savaged the country.
On Nov. 8, 1960, nine Irish soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers were on patrol at the nearby Niemba railroad bridge when they were ambushed and massacred by hostile Baluba tribesmen. A couple of years later, Che Guevara tried to blow up the town's power station, and white mercenaries fought rebels on the palm-lined boulevard where colonialists used to promenade. In the 1990s, forces seeking to oust Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator who named the country Zaire, strafed the town. Ugandan and Rwandan troops, who invaded Congo in 1998 during a war with Mobutu's successor, Laurent Kabila, skirmished through its center.
Today, the once stately buildings of Kalemie are ghostly relics, with power lines connected to nothing and mains water pipes leading nowhere. As I travelled through what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo I found Kalemie's decay repeated in town after town, its violence fueled by a host of different conflicts.
Although a treaty is meant to have ended a war between Congo's battling factions in 2003 and elections were held in 2007, educated estimates put the death toll from violence at around 1,500 people a day.
Congo's neighbors contribute to its anarchy. The Lord's Resistance Army of northern Uganda keeps up its murderous campaign because its militiamen can flee to the lawless Congolese forests. The wounds of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 fester because many of the killers still find sanctuary in Congo. Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwean regime lined its pockets by controlling Congo diamond mines. Darfur rebels in Sudan earn money by cross-border smuggling with Congo.
The seeds of Congo's turbulence - from colonial cruelty to post-colonial chaos - began with a journalist who was sent to Africa, just as I had been, by the Telegraph. His name was Henry Morton Stanley and while he is best known for tracking down the missionary-turned-explorer David Livingstone in 1871, his next trip, when he charted the Congo River between 1874 and 1877, had much greater impact.
Financed jointly by the Telegraph and the New York Herald (a forerunner of this newspaper), Stanley's Congo expedition fired the starting gun for the scramble for Africa. Before then, European powers had only nibbled at the continent's edges. By uncovering the navigable Congo River, Stanley lured King Leopold II of Belguim to lay claim to a million square miles of equatorial rainforest, savannah and marshland, leading Britain, France, Germany and other colonialist powers to grab the remaining African hinterland. Even by the standards of the day, the Belgians were notoriously cruel. They ruthlessly crushed any challenges to their rule. Though no one wants to see them back, the colonialists provided a measure of stability that has eroded since the end of their empire.
I wanted to trace the problems of modern Congo by going back to where they began, following Stanley's original journey. The trip took years of planning and necessitated contacts with characters from the murky world of mercenaries and rebel movements. I was told that it would be more dangerous in the 21st century than when Stanley first blazed his trail. But, after writing a will, I plunged into the forests of Katanga Province, where the roads had long since been devoured by vegetation.
With the help of pygmy guides and motor-biking aid workers, I snaked for days along footpaths often no wider than my hips, crossing 300 miles to the upper Congo River, a stretch where my mother had one taken passage on a ferry. All motorized Congolese river craft had long since stopped working. I was forced to use the same method Stanley used, hollowed-out tree-trunk canoes known as pirogues.
There were countless delays, threats to my life, health scares and demands for bribes. Somewhere in the Katangan forest, a child soldier with a rusty Kalashnikov and no shoes thrust the barrel of his gun at me. But my guide, Georges Mbuyu, a pygmy with the presence of a giant, defused the situation.
I crossed killing fields, where human bones lay unburied on the forest floor, saw child soldiers wearing fetishes and hurried through burned-out villages hauntingly devoid of people.
With luck, I survived, arriving near the Congo River's mouth on the Atlantic 44 days after setting out. Along the way, I found another Congo. I found men willing to push bicycles laden with goods like palm oil for hundreds of miles through the forest for the chance to make an honest profit. I found congregations of people desperate for schooling - often at the hands of missionaries or aid workers because no state schools function. I found a land where the vast majority of people want desperately to re-engage with the world and lead lives free from chaos.
The Congolese know money sloshes around the mining centers of Lubumbashi and Mbuji Mayi and the capital, Kinshasa but they also know money alone brings no progress.
From one side of this vast country to the other, whether in the rainforest or on the river, whether in villages or cities, I heard the same message - "We don't need money, we need the rule of law."
Tim Butcher is the author of "Blood River - A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart."

Somali pirates reportedly free two German hostages
BOSASSO, Somalia: Pirates on Friday freed two German tourists they had held hostage in remote northern Somalia since June, local elders and a source close to the gang said.
Hopes for their release rose this week as leaders in the breakaway region of Puntland tried to arrange for a ransom payment to be taken to the kidnappers.
Yusuf, a local man who described himself as an accomplice of the gang, said he was part of the group that carried $1 million (520,500 pounds) to their mountain hideout.
"They have released the two Germans," Yusuf told Reuters by telephone from the small town of Las Qoray. "They are well and we will be taking them to Bosasso."
Local elders confirmed the pair had been freed.
The two Germans were seized off Yemen in June while sailing to Thailand. The pirates ransacked their yacht then took them to northern Somalia by speedboat.
Their release followed the freeing on Tuesday of two Italian aid workers who had been held hostage in the south since May.
Yusuf said the operation almost faltered earlier on Friday after his group heard a rival militia planned to ambush them and steal the ransom.
Eventually, they proceeded with a police escort and reach the gang, which he said numbered about 200.

Returning to Somaliland to shape the future

HARGEISA, Somalia: Almis Yahye Ibrahim remembers when he and his friends hit on the idea of building a university in one of the world's most neglected corners, the breakaway republic of Somaliland.
It was the winter of 1997, and they were hanging out in Helsinki's cafes, keeping the Finnish winter at bay. That's when they dreamt up the International Horn University.
Four years ago, armed with diplomas and savings and driven by a desire to make a difference, the three men and another friend who had been in Malaysia returned home to build their dream. The towering university now stands in Somaliland's hilly capital Hargeisa.
"We had better lives and jobs in Europe," said soft-spoken Ibrahim, the university's president.
"It was not an easy decision to leave all that and return to a totally destroyed country wrecked by civil war."
Investments by returning refugees provide a lifeline to millions in Somaliland, which does not receive any direct foreign aid as it is not recognized internationally.
This trend of Africans returning home to do business is taking tentative hold in several sub-Saharan countries.
As nations shake off war, adopt better governance and cash in on a commodities boom, former refugees and other members of the African diaspora are coming back, drawn by patriotism and investment opportunities in a region which the International Monetary Fund expects to grow by 6.5 percent this year.
In Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia and elsewhere, these returning nationals are using skills acquired abroad and local knowledge to do business.
"The returnees have transformed Somaliland," said Abdullahi Ali, who drives a taxi for a returning refugee in Hargeisa.
A former British protectorate, Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 when former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted, plunging the Horn of Africa country into anarchy.
Thousands of people left the north during Barre's reign. He bombed Hargeisa to crush anti-government forces in 1988, killing thousands of people.
Some refugees began to return in the mid-1990s. Officials say the returnees now number in the thousands, with Somalis from other regions also attracted here by the relative stability.
Ibrahim left in the 1980s and first went to Egypt before ending up in Finland. Of his friends, another also fled Somaliland while the two others are from Somalia.
Slightly larger than England and Wales, Somaliland has enjoyed relative peace and prosperity and has held democratic elections, with a presidential vote scheduled for next year.
Analysts say it is not recognized globally because of concerns that rewriting colonial borders would open a Pandora's box of other secession claims.
The enclave's annual budget stands at approximately $35 to $40 million. Analysts say around 80 percent comes from customs duties and earnings from the port of Berbera, on the Gulf of Aden. The diaspora contributes around $450 million (233 million pounds) annually in remittances.
In a move to lure refugees home, the administration has introduced tax waivers on new investments to fuel more growth.
Half of Somaliland's cabinet and lawmakers are former refugees, who came back mainly from Europe and America. Former refugees have also become small factory owners or created businesses, for example in telecommunications.
Ibrahim, the university president, has even bigger dreams: he wants to fashion future leaders.
"We don't have leaders in our country but we have managers. Our aim is to produce visionary leaders in future who can bring back hope and amalgamate our people. There is a huge appetite for such leadership and we hope to be the source," he said.
Ibrahim and his friends used their savings to start building the university. After they opened, they won grants from Islamic banks and institutions, mainly from Gulf states.
He estimated they had so far spent nearly $500,000. The grants help fund the day-to-day running of the university, including paying staff salaries.
Ugandan, Kenyan and Asian lecturers provide tutorials in the university, which offers master degrees and PhD courses, in conjunction with Malaysia Open University. Around 500 students pay an average of $450 per semester.
Despite its poverty, Somaliland and the region offer investment opportunities for those brave enough to return.
According to a European Union study seen by Reuters, the area has substantial untapped resources of oil, coal and metals such as gold, platinum, copper, nickel and zinc.
Oil majors such as ConocoPhillips, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron staked out claims in the 1980s in Somalia but suspended operations when the country imploded in the 1990s.
Somaliland's 850 km (528 miles) of coastline also offer potential for a fisheries industry.
The mayor of Hargeisa, Mahamud Jiir, a former refugee who lived in Britain, says fresh investment has fuelled a construction boom in Hargeisa, a city still speckled with ruins from the 1988 bombing attack.
"Diasporas are the heart of our economy," said Jiir, an engineer who also owns a construction company which builds up to 50 new buildings in Hargeisa every month.
"We now waive tax on factory parts and other goods to encourage more diaspora investment. The economy is built on them. They are our lifeline," he said, referring both to those who return and those who send money back.
Hassan Mahamud Hassan, 32, returned from neighbouring Djibouti in January last year. He invested $500,000 to build the Imperial hotel in Hargeisa.
The hotel now employs 40 people and caters mainly to returning refugees and aid workers.
"The country depends on us. Our staff are better paid than government workers. There is a need to educate new returnees on the best investment opportunities available," Hassan said outside his hotel, as a group of men drank Italian cappuccinos at a next-door coffee shop.
"Diasporas are the heart of our economy," said Jiir, an engineer who also owns a construction company which builds up to 50 new buildings in Hargeisa every month.
"We now waive tax on factory parts and other goods to encourage more diaspora investment. The economy is built on them. They are our lifeline," he said, referring both to those who return and those who send money back.
Hassan Mahamud Hassan, 32, returned from neighbouring Djibouti in January last year. He invested $500,000 to build the Imperial hotel in Hargeisa.
The hotel now employs 40 people and caters mainly to returning refugees and aid workers.
"The country depends on us. Our staff are better paid than government workers. There is a need to educate new returnees on the best investment opportunities available," Hassan said outside his hotel, as a group of men drank Italian cappuccinos at a next-door coffee shop.

Sierra Leone's convalescence

Donald Steinberg, who served as National Security Council senior director for African affairs in the 1990s, is deputy president of the International Crisis Group.
In 1994, while serving as President Bill Clinton's senior adviser for Africa, I received a note from him about Robert Kaplan's article, "The Coming Anarchy." That article argued that Sierra Leone, like much of the developing world, was doomed to a future of chaos and poverty due to largely inescapable factors like population pressures, urbanization, and scarcities of food and water.
Clinton's note read, "Is this true?" Tragically, the next eight years seemed to confirm the doomsday scenario, as Sierra Leone descended further into a civil war whose brutality was legendary, with the massive use of alienated youth as child soldiers, pillaging of the country's diamond and timber resources by regional warlords, including Liberia's Charles Taylor, and spill-over of refugees and instability throughout West Africa.
But the prediction was, in the longer run, incomplete. Phoenix-like, a new nation is emerging since the signature of a peace agreement in 2002. Indeed, many actions now being taken by Sierra Leone's leadership - backed by the international community - are a blueprint for how a country rebuilds after conflict.
Free elections took place last September, and the governing party accepted defeat and transferred power to the opposition under Ernest Bai Koroma. The nation's security forces, long seen as a source of corruption and human rights abuse, are slowly being transformed into a professional force. The international community, often criticized for a cut-and-run attitude once the guns go silent, has committed to a partnership for the long-run, including the decision to include Sierra Leone as a priority country under the new UN Peacebuilding Commission.
Still, the challenge ahead remains daunting. Most of the population lives in abject poverty, infant mortality is among the worst in the world, and youth unemployment rests at some 80 percent. Corruption is so widespread that more than half of the government officials interviewed freely admitted that they had engaged in fraudulent practices. The country's political system remains fractured along regional lines, with the government drawing most of its support from the north and the opposition from the south.
The new president exacerbated these rivalries by dismissing numerous officials from the south and replacing them with his northern supporters. Most people still view government not as a source of social services and justice, but as responsive only to the powerful or those of the right ethnic group, and rapacious toward all the rest. And now comes the shock of rising energy prices and the devastating impact of the global food shortage, which doubled the local price of commodities like rice in the last half of 2007 alone.
Koroma and his team have sought to fulfill his promise to run government "like a business concern." In his first year in office, he has initiated a long-delayed civil service reform and required ministers to sign performance contracts whose targets they must meet to keep their jobs. He has reminded civil servants that they must convince a skeptical population that the government is responding to their priorities.
A symbol of Koroma's success has been his ability to turn the lights back on in Freetown. The failure of his predecessor to ensure reliable electricity there was a source of great public anger. Foreign donors agreed to support this project, allowing Koroma to establish his own priorities in response to popular demands.
Coupled with a commitment to complete the long-delayed Bumbuna hydroelectric project, this has created the expectation that the government will soon be able to supply every province with electricity.
But will the international donors stay the course, given estimates that the action is costing Sierra Leone's government some $5 million per month that it doesn't have, and will the local power users be prepared to pay their energy bills? If so, this popular step can be a model for supplying other needed social services, including water. If not, the crushing debt and unmet popular expectations are a prescription for a "back to the future" scenario.
Responding to Clinton 14 years ago, I quoted Ebenezer Scrooge's reaction when shown his pitiful future by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come: "Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change." So, too, Sierra Leone under Koroma and supported by the international community has the opportunity to depart from its past to forestall Kaplan's vision of inevitable doom.

Defiant junta to form new Mauritanian government
NOUAKCHOTT: Mauritania's coup leaders have announced they will appoint a government to run the country until new elections, defying international demands to reinstate the first democratically elected president.
Soldiers in the northwest African country overthrew Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi on Wednesday after he tried to sack senior officers.
Abdallahi is being held at a secret location. His daughter, released from house arrest with the rest of his family late on Thursday, said he needed medical attention.
"His doctor visited him last night, and said he has to have a little operation, but it is not serious," she told Reuters after her release from house arrest, without giving details of the president's condition.
The only contact Abdallahi had been allowed with his family was a handwritten list, delivered by soldiers, in which he asked for antibiotics, clothes, books and aftershave, she said.
Mauritania spans Arab and black Africa and has been an ally of the United States in its fight against terrorism as al Qaeda has stepped up attacks in the region in recent years. The country is Africa's newest oil producer although production remains small.
Washington has joined international condemnation of Abdallahi's overthrow, demanding the restoration of his government and announcing the suspension on Thursday of non-humanitarian aid, worth more than $15 million (7.8 million pounds) of mostly military funding.
The European Union also threatened to cut aid. The United Nations and the African Union condemned the coup. An Arab League delegation arrived in Mauritania on a fact-finding mission.


WHO says polio cases in Nigeria up 240 pct this year
LAGOS: The number of new polio infections in Nigeria has soared by more than 240 percent this year as a large number of children in the north have not been fully immunised, a World Health Organisation official said on Friday. In the first seven months of the year, health officials reported 555 new polio cases in Africa's most populous country, up from 163 during the same period last year. Nigeria, which has struggled to contain the contagious, crippling disease since some northern states imposed a year-long vaccine ban in mid-2003, accounts for more than 50 percent of global new polio cases, officials said. WHO's health promotion officer in Nigeria, Ola Soyinka, said the resurgence was triggered because many children missed several rounds of immunisation towards the end of 2007.
"There are large numbers of children in some northern states who have unfortunately been missed repeatedly during immunisation rounds," Soyinka told Reuters.


AIDS group cites rapes in Zimbabwe as terror tool

MEXICO CITY: A 13-year-old girl was abducted, then raped repeatedly over a two-week period during a campaign of political terror in Zimbabwe surrounding recent elections there.
Hers is one of 53 cases documented by AIDS-Free World, an advocacy group investigating rape as a political weapon in Zimbabwe, activists said Thursday at a news conference at the 17th International AIDS Conference here.
Betty Makoni, director of Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe, said at the news conference, "Rape is being used as a weapon of political intimidation to instill fear in us, our families and communities." Youth militias have raped an estimated 800 girls on bases, she said.
Other rape victims include the wives, sisters, mothers and grandmothers of political opponents, Makoni said. Some were teachers, ward leaders and clergy members, she said. Some were raped in front of family members and some men were forced to rape their mothers-in-law. The victims were often forced to say they would never support the opposition, she said.
"Pesticides, sticks and other objects have been inserted in their vaginas," Makoni said.

Many victims went to state hospitals to seek treatment to prevent pregnancy, as well as HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, she said, but they were denied treatment, even when they were in pain and bleeding. The victims said that doctors at government hospitals did not treat them, fearing repercussions.
AIDS-Free World is a Boston-based advocacy group that focuses on international AIDS issues. Stephen Lewis, the co-director of the group, said it was collecting evidence of rape and other atrocities committed in the campaign that was aimed at the political opposition in Zimbabwe. Rape and other atrocities have long been part of wars and political campaigns in many countries. But the evidence for charges of atrocities is often obtained long after alleged crimes.
Documenting personal accounts now as well as collecting photographic and laboratory evidence obtained soon after the alleged crimes, AIDS-Free World said, should eventually make for stronger legal cases to present to prosecutors under new governments in Zimbabwe than has been possible in similar situations elsewhere.
Noah Novogrodsky, a human-rights lawyer and the advocacy group's legal director, said the evidence would also be shared with the office of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights for possible prosecution as crimes against humanity.
The United Nations' latest report on AIDS says "widespread violence against women not only represents a global human rights crisis but also contributes to women's vulnerability to HIV.

14 reported dead in Texas bus crash

A bus carrying a group of Vietnamese Catholics on their way to a pilgrimage plunged off a Texas highway early Friday morning, leaving at least 14 people dead and scores more injured.
The accident occurred just after midnight near Sherman, Texas, about 60 miles north of Dallas, and may have been a result of a blown tire, although local police are still investigating the cause, according to local press reports.
The bus had been chartered by members of two Houston churches who were traveling to Carthage, Missouri, site of an annual gathering of Vietnamese Catholics known as Marian Days.
The police who arrived at the scene of the crash found the smashed vehicle lying on its side beneath an overpass of U.S. Highway 75. Baggage and bodies — some dead, some injured — were strewn amid the wreckage of glass and metal shards.
"You've got 50-something people laying everywhere," Tony Walden, a Sherman police officer, told The Dallas Morning News. "I don't even know how to describe it."

Twelve people died at the scene, The Associated Press reported, and another passenger died later at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, according to a hospital spokeswoman. A 14th passenger was also reported dead. Dozens of injured passengers were transported to area hospitals by helicopter, and at least five were in critical condition.
A 3 a.m. phone call on Friday alerted the Rev. Dominic Trinh about the crash; three members of his church, Our Lady of Lavang in Houston, had been killed, and others had been injured.
Father Trinh, the church's pastor, said that his parishioners had rented several buses and vans for the five-hour trip to Marian Days, an annual event named for the Virgin Mary and convened by a religious order called the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix. Thousands of Vietnamese Catholics travel to the group's headquarters in Carthage for the event, which began in the late 1970s.
Angel Tours, the Houston-based company that owned the bus, was barred by federal regulators from making trips across state lines, The Houston Chronicle reported. The company had also been fined for various violations in the past three years, the report said.
This was the first year that the church had used the company for its trip, Father Trinh said. He was planning an evening mass for his mourning congregation.
"Anything that happen is God's providence," Father Trinh said, when asked what he would discuss during the mass. "We must trust in God and put the people in God's hand. And pray, just pray for them."
The other passengers on the bus belonged to the Vietnamese Martyrs Church, also in Houston.
Many of the passengers spoke only Vietnamese, the police said. "What do you say when you see bodies all over the place and screaming for help and they're talking a language you don't understand?" Lieutenant Robert Fair, of the Sherman police department, told The News. "That's pretty much the definition of chaotic."


Nine killed in vehicle rollover in Arizona

PHOENIX: Nine people were killed and 10 injured when a sports utility vehicle packed with suspected illegal immigrants overturned on a desert highway south of Phoenix, police said on Thursday.
Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said the vehicle ran off state route 79 on Thursday morning.
"The vehicle hit a wash at a high rate of speed and flipped over. ... People appear to have been thrown from the vehicle," Graves said. "We have a suspicion that the people involved were undocumented aliens."
Graves said the injured were flown to local hospitals.
Arizona straddles the busiest human and drug smuggling corridor into the United States from Mexico.

Two years ago, 10 people were killed when an SUV packed with illegal immigrants overturned on a desert road near Yuma in western Arizona.


Czech train crash kills at least 10 and injures 100

PRAGUE: An international express train crashed into a collapsed bridge in the Czech Republic on Friday, killing 10 people and injuring at least 100. The EuroCity train, travelling from the Polish city of Krakow to the Czech capital, crashed at the speed of about of about 140 km (87 miles) per hour. "An international train from Krakow to Prague ran into a collapsed bridge which fell on the rails in the area of the town Studenka," said Radek Joklik, spokesman for the Czech Railways.Studenka lies about 350 km from Prague and close to the eastern Czech city of Ostrava and the Polish border.


Car bomb in Iraq kills 18 and wounds 25
MOSUL, Iraq: A car bomb in a vegetable market in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar killed 18 people and wounded 25 on Friday, police said.The town, 420 km (260 miles) northwest of Baghdad, is near the city of Mosul, where U.S.-backed Iraqi troops have cracked down on al Qaeda Sunni Arab militants in recent months.The attack was the biggest since suicide bombers struck Shi'ite pilgrims in Baghdad and a protest by Kurds in Kirkuk last month, killing nearly 60 people in total.

Short earthquake jolts Tokyo

TOKYO: A short, sharp quake of magnitude 4.5 jolted Tokyo on Friday, but there were no immediate reports of damage and the Japan Meteorological Agency said no tsunami warning was issued.
The tremor was centred in western Tokyo, 40 km (25 miles) below the surface of the earth, the Agency said.
Japanese broadcaster NHK said trains and highways were operating as usual.
Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas. The country accounts for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.
In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the Niigata region in northern Japan, killing 65 people and injuring more than 3,000.

That was the deadliest quake since a magnitude 7.3 tremor hit the city of Kobe in 1995, killing more than 6,400.

Australian police seize world record ecstasy haul
CANBERRA: Australian police said on Friday they had seized the world's largest ecstasy haul during a series of raids on drug barons across four states and in Europe in which 16 people were arrested.
Australian Federal Police said they seized 4.4 tonnes, or 15 million pills, of the banned amphetamine stimulant that were hidden in tins of tomatoes and imported from Italy into the southern city of Melbourne in June last year.
Raids were also underway in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, while German police were also involved in a specially formed European police taskforce, with 500 million euros seized and overseas arrests still expected.
"This is part of a global, international syndicate. It is classic organised crime," AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty told reporters.
The operation followed a 12-month investigation after a tip-off and X-ray imaging of a shipping container that arrived in Port Melbourne on June 28 last year.
Customs officers and AFP agents examined the container and found more than 3,000 tins, each weighing about 1.5 kilograms, containing MDMA tablets with an approximate street value of A$440 million (204.5 million pounds), police said.
Another container with 150 kilograms of cocaine was discovered on July 24 this year and led to Friday's arrests in the Australian states of Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales.
"This is what makes getting up in the morning and coming to work worthwhile," Australian Customs chief Michael Carmody said.
Keelty, Australia's top policeman, said the year-long operation had been the largest in his force's history, involving 400 officers and 185,000 phone intercepts to shatter a syndicate believed responsible for 60 percent of drug importation in southern Australia.
The raids had included homes of ethnic-Italian Australians linked to the Calabrian mafia in the New South Wales fruit-growing town of Griffith, as well as figures linked to the Black Uhlans outlaw motorcycle gang.
Keelty named one of those arrested as Pasquale "Pat" Barbaro, 46, whose family was once named in a judicial inquiry into the 1977 disappearance of a prominent Australian anti-drugs campaigner.
The AFP said the investigation also identified a money laundering operation worth more than A$9 million used to pay for the illegal drugs.
The size of the haul surpassed the previous world ecstasy record of 1 tonne in 2005, also in Australia, and Keelty said local youths were paying high prices for the drug, making the country an attractive target for global drug cartels.
Those arrested were yet to face court or police charges.

Will text messaging be the death of Hebrew?


EU says Israel settlements undermine peace process

BRUSSELS: Israel's decision to approve the building of hundreds of new housing units in the Jerusalem area undermines the credibility of the Middle East peace process, the European Union said on Friday.
A statement from the French EU Presidency said it was deeply concerned by the Israeli move.
"This decision serves to undermine the credibility of the ongoing peace process," it said, adding that the building of such settlements was illegal under international law.
"Settlement activities prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations and compromise the viability of a concerted two-state solution," the EU statement said, calling on Israel to freeze settlement activities.
Israel issued a tender for the construction of 447 housing units in settlements in the Jerusalem area on Thursday, drawing criticism from Palestinians who accused the Jewish state of sabotaging chances of peace.


Israeli-Palestinian hatreds envenom West Bank city

By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

Friday, August 8, 2008
HEBRON, West Bank: The Palestinian juice vendor cursed after an Israeli soldier stopped him from trundling his barrow into Hebron's ancient covered market.
"Twenty barrows a day pass this checkpoint, that soldier just wants to make a problem for me," 42-year-old Nabil Taha fumed, rounding on two uniformed European observers who had asked the soldier to explain his decision.
"It's forbidden," the Israeli said in Arabic. "He can carry his stuff into the souk (market), but he must leave the barrow."
The exchange occurred near the Cave of the Patriarchs, whose links to Abraham make it holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
However trivial, it illustrated the tensions seething around the 650 or so settlers living in fortified enclaves guarded by Israeli troops in the heart of this West Bank city of 180,000.
This friction often explodes into violence, making Hebron a crucible of hatred in the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The white trailer homes of one settler enclave are planted atop buildings in the Old City's warren of alleys, immediately overlooking a narrow street in the once-bustling market.
Protective steel netting spanning the street is littered with bricks, bottles and rubbish hurled down at Palestinians by settlers -- who in turn complain they are constantly harassed.
Israel rarely acts when Palestinians complain of settler violence, said Vincent Pasquier, a research officer for the European mission, known as the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), which has monitored Hebron since 1994.
"What is totally lacking is a determined will to act against the settlers in terms of arrest and prosecution," Pasquier said.
The Israelis have closed Hebron roads at 120 points, according the latest count by the 63-strong observer mission.
"It's a ghost town," Pasquier said, pointing down a desolate street where gold sellers once plied their trade. Now weeds grow a metre (3 feet) high between rows of shops with rusty shutters.
"Gas the Arabs," reads a slogan sprayed in English on the metal door of a home in the Old City, where 30,000 Palestinians are subject to Israeli army checkpoints, lookout posts and blocked streets that disrupt daily life, causing many to leave.
In 2007, Israel's B'Tselem human rights group said more than 1,000 Palestinian homes had been vacated and 1,829 shops closed in the roughly 20 percent of Hebron under full Israeli control.
The rest of Hebron is formally under Palestinian Authority rule, like other West Bank cities. But Israeli forces stormed into this zone while crushing an uprising after peace talks collapsed in 2000. They still conduct almost daily raids there.
That's a problem for the Palestinian security chief in the Hebron area, who is seeking to advance President Mahmoud Abbas's Western-backed campaign to impose order in the West Bank and meet Palestinian "road map" commitments to rein in militants.
"The Israelis just called now to say they have an operation and I must take my men off the streets," Brigadier-General Samih al-Saifi told Reuters at his headquarters. Half an hour later, the telephone rings again. The Israeli raid is over.
"It's a cat-and-mouse game," said Saifi, who has overall command of about 3,000 security men and intelligence agents.
He said drug dealers, car thieves or criminals often flee to the Israeli-held zone, where his men cannot pursue them.
"It's like working in a mine field. Despite that, we still cooperate with the Israelis," Saifi said, listing tank shells, an explosives belt and stolen cars among confiscated items his men had recently handed over to Israeli counterparts.
Saifi wants to bring in more than 600 security men, now completing training in Jordan and Jericho, to bolster Palestinian Authority control in Hebron -- whose citizens mostly support Hamas, the Islamist rivals to Abbas's Fatah faction.
"So far there is no approval from the Israeli side, but yes, the plan is to bring them to Hebron," Saifi said.
Abbas, whose forces have received extra U.S. and European support since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in June 2007, has launched security crackdowns in Nablus, Jenin and other West Bank towns in the past year, with some success.
Extending the drive to the southern city of Hebron, where half a dozen big clans exert a powerful sway, could be tough, even if Israel gave the green light. And that seems unlikely.
Asked if a Palestinian deployment in Hebron was being discussed, an Israeli military source said: "Not currently."
Jewish settlers would oppose any such move, even though Palestinian forces would only operate in their own sector.
"Allowing them weapons, with a possible withdrawal of Israeli forces from that side of the city, is a recipe for disaster," said David Wilder, a Hebron settler spokesman.
"Israel has to understand that our security has to be in Israeli hands. They cannot put the security of Israelis living in Hebron or anywhere else into the hands of our enemies."
The settlers created four enclaves in Hebron from 1979 to 1984 to fulfil what they saw as a divine mission to restore a presence in a city whose old Jewish community was removed by British forces after a 1929 riot in which Arabs killed 67 Jews.
In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a U.S.-born doctor and settler, shot dead 29 Palestinians in the mosque built over the Cave of the Patriarchs, before survivors beat him to death.
Such bloody episodes fuel the raw hostility between the religiously driven settlers and their deeply conservative Muslim neighbours feeling the sting of Israeli occupation.
Palestinians are also divided among themselves. Rivalry between Fatah and Hamas injects a political element into security efforts by Abbas's forces in Hebron and elsewhere.
Israeli incursions to hunt for militants have continued, notably in Nablus, undermining the credibility of Palestinian forces that began cracking down there last year.
"People say, 'You ran the campaign (in Nablus) and the Israelis finished it'," said a Palestinian security source in Hebron. "Israel wants to embarrass us before the people."
Hamas, which won all of Hebron's nine parliamentary seats in 2006 elections, accuses Abbas's Palestinian Authority of working with Israel in a U.S.-approved drive against its Islamist foes.
Abbas should coordinate with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions before launching any security plan in Hebron, said Bassem Zarir, a local MP for Hamas's Reform and Change bloc.
"If the aim is law enforcement, we are with it 100 percent. But if it is to eliminate the resistance or factions opposed to the Palestinian Authority, we are against it," he said.
Few Palestinians in Hebron seemed satisfied with security in a city bedevilled by a plethora of competing authorities.
"There's the Israelis, the police and the clans," said Ziad al-Jaberi, 22, a waiter. "The clans are stronger than the police, who hide in their bases whenever the Israelis enter Hebron. This doesn't provide security for anyone."
(Additional reporting by Haitham Tamimi in Hebron and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Clar Ni Chonghaile)


1 comment:

Family Smudge said...

If we had those views we would NEVER leave! stunning!