IW: It's taken a while, but the Western media and foreign policy crowd have finally realised that not only is Russia back in play, but they've already been beaten by the big bear.
Equally a failed state, run or in the hands of criminals (Afghanistan) is at war with another state, organised along similar lines (Pakistan). Into this gang fued the U.S.A has declared de facto war on Pakistan.
Pakistan is a nuclear state, as is the U.S.A. and is India.
India and Pakistan are at war.
Someone is going to press a button.
Meanwhile China quitely focusses on locking up the planet's energy resources through trade and Russia through investment bullying, pipelines and mini-wars to block any rival pipe lines.
Iraq simmers, Palestine simmers, gently, with the media focussed on Russia and Afghanistan.
The debt crisis and financial crisis simmers too.
And for now, the global food crisis is all but forgotten
The questions are these: what could happen between now and the U.S presidential elections, especially with so much American political and media time spent on the election race. And whoever is elected, will they be capable of helping or hindering the world.
EU trade chief looking for a legacy in the wake of Doha collapse
BRUSSELS: Peter Mandelson once said he would be the last man standing in the marathon push for a global trade deal, but as his time as Europe's trade chief ticks away, he may have to settle for smaller prizes.
Nearly seven years of on-and-off World Trade Organization negotiations suffered yet another setback in July when talks among ministers collapsed amid recriminations.
Talks resume in Geneva this week, but trade experts are skeptical about the chances of an agreement. On top of the recent acrimony, elections are coming up in the United States and India, both of which were blamed for the collapse of the talks.
"I feel as if we have a priceless, wafer-thin vase of great craftsmanship in our hands but which now has to be carried from here over a very slippery floor," Mandelson told the European Parliament last week. "One false move and the whole thing could crash into many pieces."
Farmers suspend protest of Tata car plant
KOLKATA, India: Farmers in eastern India who have blocked construction work at a Tata Motors car plant said they were suspending their protest after the government promised to return some land, officials said on Sunday.
A dispute over land given to Tata Motors in communist-run West Bengal state forced the top vehicle maker in India to suspend work late last week at the plant where it planned to build the Nano, billed as the world's cheapest car.
On Sunday, the governor of India's communist-ruled West Bengal state said a committee would work out the modalities of returning land in a week's time.
"The government has taken the decision to respond to the demand of those farmers who have not received compensation," Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the governor said after meeting the chief minister and opposition leaders.
A Tata Motors spokesperson said they would not immediately comment on the outcome of the talks.
Outside Colombia's peaceful cities, a country at war
BOGOTÁ: A much-heralded renaissance is under way in Colombia's largest cities, and few places capture it better than the Parque de la 93, a verdant, tranquil island of sidewalk cafés where Bogotanos listen to jazz, sample microbrewed beer or dine on Cantabrian prawns. So you can imagine the surprise a few weeks ago when 300 people displaced by fighting in the countryside tried to occupy the park, demanding greater benefits.
The protesting refugees, including about 30 children, served as a reminder that if Colombia's capital city is looking to a bright future, much of the countryside surrounding it is not. There, in the hamlets and jungles, Colombia remains at war, as it has been for generations.
The placid ambience underscores not so much a bright future for Colombia but rather the disconnect between the nation's ascendant cities - Bogotá and Medellín in particular - and its rural areas, mired in horrors.
Perhaps only in a country like this, where rural guerrilla warfare and brutal counterinsurgencies have ground on for decades, can such extreme dysfunction seem ordinary.
With war so endemic, some rebel leaders fight their entire lives, even managing to die of old age. And while judges in the cities issue rulings in the meticulous Spanish for which Colombians are renowned, great swaths of the country follow another code entirely - a Hobbesian state of mind known as "la ley del monte." It means "law of the mountain," but it applies as well to many of Colombia's sweltering jungles and tropical savannas.
Just a few years ago, the nation's largest cities were also violent theaters of conflict; there were periodic bombings in the capital and a horrific murder rate in Medellín as cocaine barons battled the police.
In this decade, across Colombia, there has been a decline in the level of extreme violence - not enough to end the rural displacement and conflict, but enough for imaginative mayors to restore a sense of safety to the two largest cities.
In Bogotá and in Medellín, they have reshaped life with a formula that seems plucked from the pages of Colombian novelists. They have modernized public transport, made parks sparkle, built bicycle paths.
One Bogotá mayor stationed more than 400 mimes at intersections to mock violators of traffic rules. In Medellín, a mayor built a network of innovatively designed libraries in the poorest slums, connecting them to the rest of city with cable cars.
A result has been cities that now have thriving, livable cores - even restaurants that charge Parisian prices to customers whose chauffeur-driven SUVs (armor-plated, of course) are parked outside.
Certainly, there are sections of both cities where illegal armed groups survive, and bomb-sniffing dogs still guard the shopping malls and hotels.
But the cities seem to be in a different country from the rural areas that are the domain of a dizzying array of private armies, including leftist guerrillas like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and resurgent right-wing paramilitary groups with names like New Generation and Black Eagles. Colombians explain the contrast with another expression, "ausencia del estado."
"This 'absence of the state' allows for Colombia to be a country of lords - the drug lord, the warlord, the landlord," said Silvana Paternostro, who wrote "My Colombian War" about her family's urban and rural life during the conflict. "Everything rural has been looked down upon, snubbed, and what was happening was a long list of horrors. It happened out in the open, under everyone's noses, but the capital was too busy getting the new facelift."
Among large Latin American countries, Colombia may trail only Brazil in the degree of economic inequality, said Michael LaRosa, a Colombia specialist at Rhodes College in Memphis. And it is in the rural areas where poverty is most severe, helping set the stage for warlords to fight for control of the coca fields.
The right-wing private armies gathered strength in the 1990s, at times as the allies of security forces in the U.S.-backed fight against leftist rebels. But before long, they had evolved, like the leftists before them, into cocaine traffickers who rule by terror. Chainsaw dismemberment was a signature method of killing.
On the left, meanwhile, was Manuel Marulanda, a master tactician who led the FARC for more than four decades until his death from natural causes last March; he got his first taste of rural guerrilla warfare during the late 1940s and 1950s, a period so bloody that it became known simply as La Violencia after 200,000 people were killed.
Today, Marulanda's group still holds some 700 hostages, even after the government's dramatic rescue in July of 15 high-profile captives, including the French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.
Immortalized by the painter Fernando Botero as a rotund, rifle-clasping killer standing in a forest clearing, Marulanda haunted urban Colombia with his thirst for war and his peasant habits. The cities meant nothing to him.
"Marulanda had no notion of urban life, no concept of conducting affairs from a palace if the FARC were to realize their dream of seizing power," said Alfredo Molano, a columnist for the newspaper El Espectador.
Betancourt, who was abducted six years ago while campaigning for president, captured the spirit of Marulanda's rural netherworld in letters sent to her mother last year. One, dated Oct. 4, 2007, began: "Rainy morning, like my soul, jungles of Colombia."
"Life here is not life," she wrote. "It is a gloomy waste of time. I live, or survive, in a hammock hanging from two poles, covered with mosquito netting and a tarpaulin overhead, which serves as a roof, which allows me to think that I have a house. At any moment they give the order to pack and one sleeps in any hole, hanging in any site, like any animal."
Last July, Betancourt's deliverance allowed Colombians to dream for a moment that the endgame to their long war might be approaching; Colombia's newly confident army has been penetrating jungle holdouts of the FARC far more effectively than in past years.
But coca cultivation still surges. Rebels still plant land mines. Bombs still explode, like one last month that killed seven people in the far-flung town of Ituango. The conflict keeps shifting to ever more remote areas, and reminders of the grim world outside the cities intrude here.
A mother cries for a son still held captive God knows where. A refugee child outside the sidewalk cafés pleads for housing. And when that happens, it can seem that the war's horrors have finally been woven into the fabric of the city itself.
Eni buys Canadian oil company, adding reserves in Algeria
MILAN: Eni has agreed to buy First Calgary Petroleums in a cash deal worth 923 million Canadian dollars, the latest in a series of acquisitions by the Italian company to increase its oil and natural gas reserves.
"The transaction is in line with our strategy of increasing our presence in our core countries, acquiring high-potential assets," the Eni chief executive, Paolo Scaroni, said Monday.
The deal is worth $878 million.
Last year, Eni paid £1.74 billion, or $3 billion at current exchange rates, for Burren Energy, which produces oil in the Republic of Congo and natural gas in Turkmenistan.
It also bought Maurel & Prom's stakes in fields in the Congo for $1.43 billion.
ConocoPhillips joins energy project in Australia
PERTH, Australia: Origin Energy, fending off an $11 billion hostile bid from the BG Group of Britain, will spin off its coal-bed methane assets into a joint venture with the U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips.
Origin and Conoco separately said Monday that Conoco would contribute as much as $8 billion toward a joint venture that would develop the huge coal-seam gas assets and build a liquefied natural gas project.
A BG spokeswoman declined to comment on the move, but analysts said it could press the British producer to raise its bid of 15.50 Australian dollars, or $12.69, per share. The BG bid is aimed at enlarging the company's Asia-Pacific liquefied natural gas production arm to feed Asian sales.
Origin's shares rose nearly 28 percent to a record 19.99 dollars on news of the venture.
"Obviously, ConocoPhillips's joining is a positive," said Peter Chilton, a fund manager with Constellation Capital Management, which does not own Origin shares. "I suppose it shows that there is good market out there for what Origin has got."
French fake plastic surgeon gets 3-year jail term
MARSEILLE, France: A French court sentenced a doctor on Monday to three years in jail for posing as a plastic surgeon and endangering patients by operating on them illegally in a derelict Marseille clinic.
Michel Maure went on trial in June accused of luring hundreds of patients to the dirty premises under false pretences between 2002 and 2004 and carrying out painful, unhygienic operations on them.
Maure was also sentenced to pay a 75,000 euro (60,400 pound) fine and to compensate his victims, about 100 of whom had complained of disfigurement and permanent damage to their health.
He went on the run while the court prepared its ruling and was arrested in Spain on August 19 after being spotted on a luxury yacht. Spain is expected to hand him over to France within days.Maure was a qualified doctor but not a trained plastic surgeon. He was struck off the list of recognised French doctors in 2007 over his activities at the Marseille clinic.
Scientologists charged with fraud in France
PARIS: A French judge has ordered two departments and seven prominent members of the Church of Scientology in France to stand trial on charges of organised fraud, a judicial source said on Monday.
The case is the latest in a series of legal battles that have pitted the French judicial system against the Scientologists, who could be forced to stop their activities in France if found guilty.
The latest suit centres on a complaint made in 1998 by a woman who said she was enrolled into the Church of Scientology by a group of people she met outside a metro station.
In the following months, she said she paid 140,000 francs (17,000 pounds) for "purification packs" and books which she said were a fraud. Other complaints then surfaced, prolonging the investigation.
Judge Jean-Christophe Hullin ruled that the Scientologists' Celebrity Centre, bookstore and seven Church leaders should be tried for fraud and "illegally practicing as pharmacists".
The Church of Scientology is registered as a religion in the United States but has struggled to be accepted in Europe, with French authorities seeing it as a sect masquerading as a church to make money.
The Church of Scientology denounced Monday's ruling, saying it was being "stigmatised" by the courts.
"The special treatment reserved for the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre raises questions about the equality of the justice system and the presumption of innocence," it said in a statement.
The public prosecutor had said the case should be shelved. In a relatively rare move, Judge Hullin ignored the recommendation and ordered a trial, which is not expected to start for at least six months.
The Scientologists said the suit was "empty and concocted", adding that the original plaintiff had been reimbursed.
Evidence of air strike in Afghanistan seems to rebut U.S. account
AZIZABAD, Afghanistan: To the villagers here, there is no doubt what happened in an American airstrike on Aug. 22: More than 90 civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed.
The Afghan government, human rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a United Nations investigation back up their account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.
Cellphone images seen by this reporter show at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among about 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable.
The accounts of the airstrikes' aftermath given by Afghans and Americans could not be further apart.
A visitor to the village and to three graveyards within its limits on Aug. 31 counted 42 freshly dug graves. Thirteen of the graves were so small they could hold only children; 13 were marked with stones in the way that Afghans identify women's graves.
Villagers questioned separately identified relatives in the graves; their names matched the accounts given by elders of the village of those who died in each of eight bomb-damaged houses and where they were buried.
They were quite specific about who was killed in the airstrikes and did not count those who died for other reasons; one of the fresh graves, they said, belonged to a man who was killed when villagers demonstrated against the Afghan Army on Aug. 23.
At the battle scene, shell craters dotted the courtyards and shrapnel had gouged holes in the walls. Rooms had collapsed and mud bricks and torn clothing lay in uneven mounds where people had been digging. In two places blood was splattered on the ceiling and a wall.
An old woman pushed forward with a cauldron full of jagged metal bomb fragments, and a youth presented cellphone video he said was recorded on the day of the bombing; there was no time stamp.
The smell of bodies lingered in one compound, causing villagers to start digging with spades. They found the body of a baby, caked in dust, in the corner of a bombed-out room.
Cellphone images that a villager said he took, and seen by this reporter, showed two lines of about 20 bodies each laid out in the mosque, with the sounds of loud sobbing and villagers' cries in the background.
An Afghan doctor who runs a clinic in a nearby village said he counted 50 to 60 bodies of civilians, most of them women and children and some of them his own patients, laid out in the village mosque on the day of the strike. The doctor, who works for a reputable nongovernmental organization here, at first gave his name but then asked that it be withheld because he feared retribution from Afghans feeding intelligence to the Americans.
The U.S. military, in a series of statements about the operation, has accused the villagers of spreading Taliban propaganda. Speaking on condition that their names not be used, some military officials have suggested that the villagers fabricated such evidence as grave sites - and, by implication, that other investigators had been duped. But many villagers have connections to the Afghan police, NATO or the Americans through reconstruction projects, and they say they oppose the Taliban.
The district chief of Shindand, Lal Muhammad Umarzai, 45, said he counted 76 bodies that day, and he believed that more bodies were unearthed over the next two days, bringing the total to more than 90. Umarzai has been praised for bringing security to the district in the three months since his appointment and is on good terms with American and NATO forces in the region.
U.S. military investigators said that they had interviewed Umarzai and that he had told them that he had no access to the village. But Umarzai said Taliban supporters came into the village midmorning after the airstrikes, forcing him and the police to leave the village, but that later he was able to return and attend the burials.
The United Nations issued a statement pointing to evidence it considered conclusive that about 90 civilians were killed, about 75 of them women and children. Villagers and relatives said that the bodies were scattered in different locations; many of the victims were visiting Azizabad for a family memorial ceremony, and their relatives took their bodies back to their home villages for burial. This reporter did not visit the other villages but was given a detailed list of names and places where the remaining victims were buried.
Accounts from survivors, including three people wounded in the bombing, described repeated strikes on houses where dozens of children were sleeping, grandparents, uncles and aunts huddled inside with them. Most of the village families were asleep when the shooting broke out, some sleeping out under mosquito nets in the yards of their houses, some inside the small domed rooms of their houses, lying close together on the floor, with up to 10 or 20 people in a room.
"I woke up when I heard shooting," Zainab, a 26-year-old woman who doctors said was wounded in the attack, said in an interview in Herat city hospital. "The shooting was very close to our house. We just stayed where we were because it was dangerous to go out. When the bombardment started there was smoke everywhere and we lay down to protect ourselves."
Yakhakhan, 51, one of several men in the village working for a private security firm, and who uses just one name, said he heard shooting and was just coming out of his house when he saw his neighbor's sons running.
"They were killed right here," he said. "They were 10 and 7 years old." In the compound next to his, he added, four entire families, including those of his two brothers, were killed. "They bombard us, they hate us, they kill us," he said of the Americans. "God will punish them."
A policeman, Abdul Hakim, whose four children were killed and whose wife was paralyzed, said she had told him how an Afghan informer accompanying the U.S. Special Operations forces had entered the compound after the bombardment and shot dead her brother, Reza Khan; her father, and an uncle as they were trying to help her. She said she had heard her father plead for help and ask the Afghan: "Are you a Muslim? Why are you doing this to us?" Then she heard shots, and her father did not speak after that, he said.
A U.S. military spokeswoman, Lieutenant Colonel Rumi Nielson-Green, said in an e-mail message that she was unaware of such an allegation, and that the U.S. military did not have Afghan civilian informers accompanying its forces during the mission. Soldiers treated wounded people at the scene, which indicated that the Laws of Armed Conflict were followed, she said.
While the U.S. forces reported they had come under fire upon entering the village, it is not clear from whom. The villagers and the relatives of some of the people killed in the raid insisted that none of them were Taliban, and that there were no Taliban present in the village. Eight of the men killed were security guards supplied by Reza Khan to a private American security company and did possess weapons, said Gul Ahmed Khan, Reza Khan's brother. Two other security guards and three members of the local Afghan police were detained by U.S. forces during the raid. Four of them were released a week later.
One measure of the Bush administration's efforts to hide the human toll of the war in Iraq is a recent news photograph of commercial airline passengers peering down from their windows as a flag-draped coffin unexpectedly emerges from the cargo bay. Their faces register surprise and grave wariness at this encounter with war's ultimate price.
The Pentagon has worked hard to make sure that such moments of truth are rare.
During the Vietnam War, photographs of the coffins of military casualties were routinely permitted when the dead arrived home. But a photo ban was imposed during the 1991 Gulf war, and the Bush administration has aggressively extended it. The result is that the return of more than 4,000 dead Americans from Iraq and Afghanistan has been treated as a virtual state secret.
Rare photographs of arrival ceremonies have emerged only through lawsuits and drawn-out freedom-of-information struggles.
A worthy proposal that would lift the veil is drawing bipartisan support in the House. It would require the Pentagon to allow journalists access to commemoration services and, most pointedly, the arrival ceremonies for flag-draped coffins coming home at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Afghan kidnappings damage business revival
KABUL: When foreigners are kidnapped in Afghanistan it always makes headlines, but it rarely rates a mention when Afghans are abducted in their own country as worsening security and poverty fuel crime.
Rather than being seized by Taliban insurgents bent on pressuring foreign armies and aid workers for political ends, Afghans are more often kidnapped for ransom by criminal gangs.
Many of the victims are from families of Afghanistan's fledgling business class and the kidnappings are driving abroad the few investors willing to put money into the struggling Afghan economy which relies on foreign aid to fund 90 percent of expenditure.
Sayed Mustafa, a businessman importing fuel in the Afghan capital, received a call from his family two months ago saying his 10-year-old son had not returned home from school.
Frantically, he scoured the streets and hospitals but by night-time there was still no sign of the boy.
Then he received a phone call.
"'Don't try to inform the police or we will kill your son'," Mustafa said the caller told him. "'Listen carefully, the price of your son is $200,000. Give us the money and we'll free him'."
"I didn't believe him until I heard my son crying and calling out 'where are you father?'," he said.
"I didn't get another call from the kidnappers for two days. On the third day they called and asked if I had the money ready.
"I wanted to negotiate, to bring down the price," Mustafa said, fighting back tears. "But I didn't know it would cost my son's life ... They killed my son because I hesitated to pay."
Security is deteriorating as Afghan and foreign forces fail to bring the Taliban insurgency under control. Rising food prices only add to poverty in a country which is already one of the poorest in the world. Life expectancy is only around 44 years.
"The security situation is worsening day-by-day. The government is still in a deep sleep. There are no jobs, no good income, so it is obvious that kidnappings will increase," said Jawed Rashidi, a doctor in Kabul.
Some 130 people have been reported kidnapped in the last five months, the Afghan Criminal Investigation Department (CID) says, but the real number is believed to be far higher.
"We have about 130 cases of abduction registered, about 100 people are still with the kidnappers, and more than 100 individuals involved in abduction have been detained," said CID chief Mirza Mohammad Yaarmand.
Five kidnap victims have been killed.
Of those kidnapped since March, only 13 have been foreigners, most of them either Western aid workers, or businessmen and construction engineers from Turkey, Iran, India and Nepal.
"The cases are either political or financial. The kidnappers disguise themselves as minister's guards, as U.N. guards, as foreign troops or Afghan army or police," Yaarmand said.
INVESTMENT AT RISK
Afghan businessmen, many of whom returned to invest in their homeland after the 2001 fall of the Taliban, are particularly at risk. The general state of insecurity and the lack of personal security is driving them abroad again, officials say.
U.S. drones kill 23 in missile attack in Pakistan
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan: Missiles fired by U.S. drones killed 23 people, mostly relatives of a Taliban commander close to Osama bin Laden, in a region of Pakistan near the Afghan border on Monday, witnesses and intelligence officials said.
The missiles targeted a sprawling complex comprising a house and a religious school, or madrasa, founded by veteran Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani near Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan tribal region.
Ten militants were killed in the strike.
"There were two drones and they fired three missiles," said a resident of Dandi Darpakheil, the village which was hit.
Those killed included one of the several wives of Haqqani, his sister-in-law, a sister, two nieces, eight grandchildren and a male relative. A son-in-law of Haqqani was wounded.
A senior intelligence official said the militants killed were Pakistani and Afghan Taliban but locals said five of them were low-ranking al Qaeda operatives, including three Arabs.
Haqqani is a veteran of the U.S.-backed Afghan war against the Soviet invasion in the 1970s and 1980s, and his extended family had been living in North Waziristan since then. Haqqani's links with bin Laden go back to the late 1980s.
Taliban sources say he is in ill-health and his son, Sirajuddin, has been leading the Haqqani group. An intelligence official said the militants killed belonged to this faction.
One of Haqqani's younger sons told Reuters his father and Sirajuddin were in Afghanistan when the attack took place.
Fifteen to 20 wounded people, most of them women and children, were taken to hospital in Miranshah, doctors said.
Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said an incident had taken place and its cause was being ascertained.
CLOSE LINKS WITH ISI
Haqqani has had close links with Pakistani intelligence, notably the military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The New York Times reported in July that the U.S. CIA had given Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani evidence of the ISI's involvement with Haqqani, along with evidence of ISI connections to a suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed nearly 60 people on July 7.
Taliban commander alive after attack in Pakistan
KABUL: A relative of Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani was among three people killed in a suspected U.S. drone attack in a Pakistani border village on Monday, but Haqqani and his militant son, Sirajuddin, were not present, a younger son said.
"Haqqani and Sirajuddin were in Afghanistan at the time of the attack. They are alive," Badruddin, the third son of Haqqani, told Reuters by telephone.
Badruddin said one of his aunts was killed in the attack, and women and children were among the wounded.
Indian Kashmir shuts over election plan and violence
SRINAGAR, India: At least 15 people were wounded on Monday when police opened fire during a one-day strike in Indian Kashmir, held in protest against the killing of Muslims during independence rallies and plans to hold elections.
India's Election Commission held a meeting with political parties to decide on poll dates for Kashmir, where separatists fighting for the Himalayan region's secession from India have traditionally boycotted polls.
"An election is no solution to the Kashmir dispute," senior separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said. "There shall be a general shutdown on Monday against the election meeting."
Police fired bullets, teargas shells and used batons to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing demonstrators protesting against Indian rule in Srinagar, witnesses said.
"No election, no selection, we want freedom," the protesters shouted. Separatist leaders condemned the shooting by police in Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital.
"New Delhi is pushing Kashmiris to the wall and wants to convert the ongoing peaceful agitation into a violent resistance movement so as to dub it as a terrorist movement," Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the main separatist alliance All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, told a news conference.
Streets in the Himalayan region had earlier been quiet before violence broke out, with shops, businesses and schools closed.
Muslim-majority Kashmir and Hindu-majority Jammu, along with the Ladakh region, form the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which came under New Delhi's direct rule in July after the state government fell over a land dispute.
The controversy became the trigger for some of Kashmir's biggest anti-India protests since a revolt against New Delhi's rule began in 1989, killing tens of thousands of people.
At least 36 protesters have been killed by government forces in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley since last month. About 1,000 people were injured.
"The one-day strike is also to protest against the killing of peaceful protesters by Indian troops," Geelani said.
The protests were sparked by a government decision to grant land to build shelters for Hindu pilgrims travelling to Kashmir for an annual pilgrimage.
Muslims were enraged, forcing the government to backtrack. Hindus protested in turn, blocking the highway to the Kashmir Valley. They relented after the state government offered to allow temporary shelters to be built during the annual pilgrimage.
Muslim separatists have rejected the deal.
Al Qaeda video criticizes Iran
DUBAI: Al Qaeda has issued a video marking the September 11 attacks, in which deputy group leader Ayman al-Zawahri accuses Iran of taking part in a Western "Crusader" war against Islam, Al Jazeera television said on Monday.
The video also shows apparently recent footage of senior al Qaeda figure Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, casting doubt on a report that he was killed on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan last month.
In a segment on the video aired by al Jazeera, Zawahri attacked Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, questioning the Islamic Republic's anti-Western stand.
"The (leader of Iran) collaborates with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and recognises the puppet regimes in both countries, while he warns of death and destruction to anyone who touches an inch of Iranian soil," Zawahri said.
Al Qaeda, a militant Sunni Islamist group, often criticises predominantly Shi'ite Iran, which has good relations with Afghanistan's anti-Taliban leaders and Iraq's Shi'ite-led government.
"Not even one Shi'ite authority -- whether in Iraq or elsewhere -- has issued a fatwa (religious edict) obligating jihad and taking up of arms against the American Crusader invaders in Iraq and Afghanistan," Zawahri said.
Another segment of the video showed Abu al-Yazid commenting on the resignation of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, announced on August 18 -- six days after a Pakistani official said Abu al-Yazid had been killed in clashes with Pakistani forces near the Afghan border.
Abu al-Yazid, also known as Abu Saeed al-Masri, said on the video that Musharraf was "humiliated by God" for betraying Islam.
"So here he is ... finding no option but to resign from the presidency," he said.
Deep in debt, European companies may be living on borrowed time
PARIS: As the world economy slumps, European companies may be living on borrowed time.
A decade of investing more than they have earned has loaded corporations in the 15-nation euro area with debt, leaving them thinner cushions of cash to fall back on than their U.S. and Japanese counterparts. Companies like Renault and Thomson in France are under pressure to curtail hiring and capital spending to meet rising interest payments, as weaker growth squeezes their profits.
That increases the threat of a prolonged slowdown for the euro-area economy, which contracted in the second quarter for the first time since the single currency began trading in 1999. Economists at Deutsche Bank predict investment will shrink in 2009 for the first time in seven years, leaving the economy to grow just 0.1 percent for the year, while the U.S. economy expands 1 percent.
David Owen, chief economist in London for Dresdner Kleinwort Group, said, "The size of the debt imbalances makes it very difficult to envisage a strong euro-zone economy over the next year or so." Owen added, "It increases the risk of recession."
For Europe's nonfinancial corporations, the gap between profits and investment rose to 4.5 percent of annual output last year, compared with 3.6 percent for their counterparts in the United States, Citigroup estimates. Exclude companies in Germany, where earnings still outstrip investment, and the gap swells to 6.6 percent.
The result: Europe's nonfinancial companies are burdened with €5.3 trillion, or $7.5 trillion, in debt, equal to about 57 percent of the euro-zone economy. That's up from 48 percent before the 2001 slowdown and compares with 46 percent in the United States, according to data from the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank.
Paul Krugman: The power of deflation
We've come a long way from the days when Alan Greenspan declared a national housing bubble "most unlikely." There was indeed a bubble, and since it popped two years ago home prices have fallen faster than they did during the Great Depression.
Falling home prices, in turn, have led to the much-feared phenomenon of "debt deflation." Yes, deflation: prices are going up at the checkout counter, but the prices of assets, which are what matter for balance sheets, are dropping fast.
As the economist Irving Fisher observed back in 1933, when highly indebted individuals and businesses get into trouble, they usually sell assets and use the proceeds to pay down their debt.
What Fisher pointed out, however, was that such sell-offs are self-defeating when everyone does it: If everyone tries to sell assets at the same time, the resulting plunge in market prices undermines debtors' financial positions faster than debt can be paid off. So deflation in asset prices can turn into a vicious circle. And one consequence of what he called a "stampede to liquidate" is a severe economic slump.
That's what's happening now, with debt deflation made especially ugly by the fact that key financial players are highly leveraged - their assets were mainly bought with borrowed money. As Paul McCulley of Pimco, the bond investor, put it in a recent essay titled "The Paradox of Deleveraging," lately just about every financial institution has been trying to reduce its leverage - but the plunge in asset values has nonetheless left these institutions with more debt relative to their assets than before. And the numbers keep getting worse. In July 2007 Ben Bernanke suggested that subprime losses would be less than $100 billion. Last month write-downs by banks and other financial institutions passed the $500 billion mark - and the hits keep coming
In America, a dedicated hunt for a legendary devil
SMITHVILLE, New Jersey: Late summer is not optimum devil-hunting time.
For one thing, the creature tends to reveal itself more often in winter, when the somewhat suffocating Pine Barrens of South Jersey carries an extra sense of dread. For another, the ticks are murder this time of year.
A few dedicated hunters gather instead at JD's Pub, in a strip mall near the epicenter of the Jersey Devil phenomenon. On the surrounding walls hang old illustrations of that which they seek: cloven hooves, a horselike face, a wingspan perhaps too wide for browsing the aisles at the Super Foodtown a few doors down.
These college-educated people, who call themselves the Devil Hunters, order a round of soft drinks that includes two Shirley Temples. They say they are the "official researchers" of the Jersey Devil, a shy specimen of cryptozoology that has haunted these parts long enough to have sent tricornered hats spinning from the mops of frightened colonists.
Laura Leuter, 30, the group's president, already knows what you're thinking: Why don't these "devil hunters" wake up, walk down to that Super Foodtown and buy some coffee to smell?
"I'm the first one to say, 'Yeah, I search for the Jersey Devil, ha-ha,"' says Leuter, who supervises a call center when not searching for devil spoor. "But why, to this day, do people still report sightings?"
Here's another question: Why do we wish for such things?
Why do we root for the discovery of beings that would subvert our understanding of the natural order? Why, oh why, would a group of people actually hope that somewhere in the dark expanse, beyond the fluorescent lights of a New Jersey strip mall, there frolics - a devil?
This curious desire was in full evidence recently when two men announced their discovery of a half-ape, half-human carcass in the backwoods of Georgia: an ex-Bigfoot that had ceased to be. They placed the remains in a freezer and promised that DNA analysis would conclusively prove the existence of this legendary creature.
That the supposed Bigfoot carcass turned out to be a defrosting rubber costume stuffed with animal entrails is less instructive than the way news outlets reported the matter - first with a kind of hopeful skepticism, then, once the hoax was exposed, with a dismissive, we-knew-it-all-along harrumph.
"Hoaxes," an annoyed Leuter says. "A complete waste of everybody's time."
Jury selection begins in OJ Simpson robbery trial
LOS ANGELES: Jury selection began on Monday in the Las Vegas robbery and kidnapping trial of O.J. Simpson, and the judge told prospective panellists to put the former football star's 1990s murder trial out of their minds.
This trial centres on accusations that Simpson led the 2007 robbery of his own sports memorabilia from a Las Vegas hotel room.
"If you think you are going to punish Mr. Simpson for what happened in L.A. ... this is not the case for you," Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass said as the case opened, according to a Los Angeles Times report on its Web site.
She added that she didn't want jurors who were "looking to become famous ... write a book or be on TV."
Orthodox Christianity under threat
When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and his Islamic-rooted party came under fierce fire this summer from secularists, who came close to persuading the country's supreme court to bar both from politics, he called the campaign an attack against religious freedom and a threat to Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.
Yet in nearly six years in power, Erdogan has shown no inclination to extend even a modicum of religious freedom to the most revered Christian institution in Turkey - the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the spiritual center of 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world. As a result, Turkey's persecution of the Patriarchate looms as a major obstacle to its European aspirations, and rightly so.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, which was established in the fourth century and once possessed holdings as vast as those of the Vatican, has been reduced to a small, besieged enclave in a decaying corner of Istanbul called the Phanar, or Lighthouse. Almost all of its property has been seized by successive Turkish governments, its schools have been closed and its prelates are taunted by extremists who demonstrate almost daily outside the Patriarchate, calling for its ouster from Turkey.
The ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew I, is often jeered and threatened when he ventures outside his walled enclave. He is periodically burned in effigy by Turkish chauvinists and Muslim fanatics. Government bureaucrats take pleasure in harassing him, summoning him to their offices to question and berate him about irrelevant issues, blocking his efforts to make repairs in the few buildings still under his control, and issuing veiled threats about what he says and does when he travels abroad.
Successive Turkish governments have followed policies that deliberately belittle the patriarch, refusing to recognize his ecumenical status as the spiritual leader of a major religious faith but viewing him only as the head of the small Greek Orthodox community of Istanbul.
Local Chinese governments impose rules for Ramadan
BEIJING: Local governments in a Muslim desert region in western China have imposed strict limits on religious practices during the traditional Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began last week, according to the Web sites of four of those governments.
The rules include prohibiting women from wearing veils and men from growing beards, as well as barring government officials from observing Ramadan. One town, Yingmaili, mandates that local officials check up on mosques at least twice a week during Ramadan.
The local governments administer areas in the western part of Xinjiang, a vast autonomous region that is home to the Uighurs, a Muslim Turkic people who often chafe under rule by the ethnic Han Chinese.
In August, a wave of attacks swept through Xinjiang, the largest surge of violence in the region in years. Some local officials blamed the instability on separatist groups, and the central government dispatched security forces to the area.
The limits on religious practices put in place by the local governments appear to be part of the broader security crackdown. The areas affected by the new rules are near Kuqa, a town struck by multiple bombings on Aug. 10.
The Web site of the town of Yingmaili lists nine rules put in place to "maintain stability during Ramadan."
They include barring teachers and students from observing Ramadan, prohibiting retired government officials from entering mosques and requiring men to shave off beards and women to take off veils. Mosques may not let people from outside the town stay overnight, and restaurants must maintain normal hours of business. (Many restaurants close during daytime hours over Ramadan because of the fasting, which is supposed to last from sunrise to sunset. Muslims observing Ramadan typically eat substantial meals at night.)
In nearby Xinhe County, the government has decreed that Communist Party members, civil servants and retired officials not observe Ramadan, enter mosques or take part in any religious activities during the month. Worshipers cannot make pilgrimages to tombs, so as to "avoid any group event that might harm social stability," according to the Xinhe government's Web site.
In addition, children and students cannot be forced to attend religious activities, and women cannot be forced to wear veils.
County rules also stress the need to maintain a strict watch over migrant workers and visitors from outside. Companies and families who have workers or visitors from outside the county are required to register the outsiders with the nearest police station and have the outsiders sign an agreement "on maintaining social stability."
Some of those rules are similar to ones implemented in Beijing just before the Olympic Games started in early August.
Shayar County, which includes the town of Yingmaili, said on its Web site that migrants must register with the police, and that any missionary work by outsiders is banned. (Even outside Ramadan, China is wary of missionaries doing any kind of work in the country.)
The city of Artux is also preventing its teachers and students from observing Ramadan. As a result, schools have to keep serving food and water, city authorities said. As with the other governments, the overall goal is "to maintain social stability during Ramadan."
In some parts of the world, militants see Ramadan as a good time to carry out attacks because they believe achieving martyrdom during the holy fasting month is an especially sacred act.
Religious extremists in Iraq, for example, have carried out waves of bombings during Ramadan in recent years. But the Chinese government has not presented any evidence showing that separatists in Xinjiang might do the same this year.
ITALY AND LIBYA
Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of The Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. Distributed by Agence Global.
The agreement signed Aug. 30, which sees Italy apologize and pay $5 billion in compensation for its colonial rule and misdeeds in Libya, is a powerful example of why it is so important to acknowledge that which many of our friends in the West constantly tell us to put behind us: history.
History matters, and endures, and its consequences constantly must be grasped, not ignored. In this case, we witness neither the end nor the resumption of history, but the neutralization of one aspect of history as a fractious force of resentment and discord.
History for many in the West - especially the history of West's colonialism and imperialism in Asia, the Middle East and Africa - is something to skim through in a high school class, and then to relegate to the past as irrelevant to today's conflicts and tensions. For many people in the former colonized world, however, history is a deep and open wound that still oozes pain and distortion. Libya is a classic example of colonialism's twisted and enduring legacy of nearly dysfunctional states governed by corrupt and often incompetent elites, whose people never have a chance to validate either the configuration of statehood or the exercise of power.
History is very much an active force in much of the Middle East today. It manifests itself, for example, in the form of bitter memories of the West's behavior in the past (Iran, Palestine), and explains the lot of poor and fragmenting countries that have never made a coherent transition to stable statehood, legitimate sovereignty, or credible governance.
A major reason for the mess and mediocrity that define so many Arab-Asian-African countries is their unnatural birth at the hands of retreating European colonial midwives. Because they were manufactured by fleeing European occupiers, many countries in our region have enjoyed neither the logic of a sensible balance among natural and human resources, nor the compensatory vitality that comes from self-determinant and truly sovereign states.
Made in Europe cars and shoes are wonderful; made in Europe Arab states are unnatural and embarrassing.
The Arab world remains ignominiously the world's only collectively, structurally and chronically undemocratic region in large part because it experienced an unnatural birth, and could be maintained in its current format only through the pacifying force of hard security states. Not surprisingly, the former European colonial powers continue to sustain and benefit from the bizarre Arab order of turbulent, often violent, and sometimes vicious, statehood that they left behind when they fled our shores.
The Italian-Libyan agreement is fascinating for what it reveals about a belated acknowledgment in at least one European country - always elegant Italy - that colonialism damaged and retarded the native land and its people. This is a noteworthy and noble act, for which the Italians and their government are to be congratulated. It takes courage and humility to undertake such an agreement, admitting, as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy did, "complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era."
He continued: "In the name of the Italian people ... I feel the duty to apologize and show our pain for what happened many years ago and which affected many of your families."
Among the things Italy regrets were its killing thousands of Libyans and uprooting thousands of others from their homes. Italy will spend $5 billion to help compensate for its historical misdeeds, in the form of $200 million of investments per year in Libya over 25 years, including building a highway across Libya from the Tunisian border to Egypt. Italy will also clear land mines dating back to the colonial era, and has already returned an ancient statue of Venus stolen during colonial rule.
While Italy should be commended for this acknowledgment and apology, at the same time troubling dimensions to this agreement deserve wider scrutiny. In return for its gesture, Italy expects to reap great rewards, in the form of multi-billion dollar contracts, and tighter security controls over flows of illegal immigrants. And so Italy expects to continue enjoying benefits from an unequal historical association with the land and people it once directly colonized.
Equally troubling, such agreements help to maintain in power leaders like Libya's Muammar el-Qaddafi, who next year celebrates 40 years in power. There is very little to show for his leadership, other than a legacy of intensely erratic and wasteful governance matched only by its longevity. If there were a prize for modern Arab mismanaged statehood and squandered wealth, Libya would win it hands down, with close competition from countries like Algeria, Sudan and Iraq.
Yet the West continues to manipulate, reward and protect these hapless societies. And it seems quite obvious to many of us in the Middle East, that this is only a new and disguised form of colonialism.
For ordinary Arab people, the endless pain of an unsatisfying relationship with European colonial powers endures, in new and more elegant forms.
Russia says to sue British American Tobacco
MOSCOW: Russia will sue cigarette maker British American Tobacco (BAT) for spreading misinformation and selling lower grade products than in Europe, state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said on Monday.
BAT, the maker of international brands Dunhill and Lucky Strike, denied the accusation.
"British American Tobacco maintains its activities in Russia are in full accordance with Russian law," BAT's director of corporate affairs in Russia, Alexander Lyuty, said.
The head of the watchdog, Gennady Onishchenko, told a press briefing: "These gentlemen are satisfied with Russia as an uncivilised market where they can sell products not according to European legislation which are dangerous and poisonous." He said he had already sent BAT the appropriate legal documents.
BAT denied receiving the documents.
THE RUSSIA RIDDLE I
Russia: Integration, not isolation
Brook Horowitz is executive director of the Russian office of International Business Leaders Forum, which promotes responsible business practices worldwide.
The recent emergency European Union summit meeting came to the conclusion that economic sanctions against Russia were not appropriate for the time being. Nevertheless they remain an option in the future, just one in a wide array of measures the West can take to signal discontent and attempt to change Russian behavior.
However, it is highly unlikely that a change of heart in Moscow can be forced through further isolation, like excluding Russia from the Group of Eight, suspending negotiations for Russia's adherence to the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or making it harder for Russian business people to get visas or invest abroad.
Russia should, on the contrary, be further brought in to global markets and international institutions, not isolated. Indeed, exposure to a combination of market forces and good governance already has done, and will do, more to show Russia the consequences of its actions than sanctions can ever hope to achieve.
THE RUSSIA RIDDLE II
Russia, the U.S. and Iran
Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Nikolas Gvosdev is a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College.
It is one of the rites of passage of the fall - every September, the Bush administration returns to the United Nations for another sanctions resolution against Iran. However, this time there is much consternation in Washington that Russia's invasion of Georgia - and the subsequent chill that has descended on relations between Russia and the West - has ended any possibility of cooperation between the United States and Russia in dealing with Iran's nuclear imbroglio. Such fears are overblown.
Russia's assault on Georgia may produce no measurable change of its Iran policy. Indeed, President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia made it clear that, despite the harsh rhetoric that has been exchanged between Moscow and Washington, Russia continues to support efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The primary reason for the continuity is that both Iran and Russia are essentially satisfied with existing U.S.-European policy of applying incremental and largely symbolic UN sanctions on Tehran. Moscow feels that as long as the diplomatic process remains in play, America is in no position to launch a military strike that could destabilize the Middle East. At the same time, the theocratic regime in Iran has increasingly adjusted to a sanctions policy whose impact is negated by increasing oil prices.
Although Tehran would be grateful for a Russian veto of any future sanctions resolutions, it does seem content with a Russian policy that waters down UN mandates while deepening its commercial ties with Iran. On the one hand, Moscow has supported three previous Security Council injunctions against Iran, yet it has also signed lucrative trade deals and expanded its diplomatic representation in Iran. The incongruity of today's situation is that Russia rebukes Iran for its nuclear infractions while providing technical assistance to the Bushehr plant, which is a critical component of Iran's atomic industry.
For its part, Russia is happy with the standoff between Iran and the United States. Not only does it destabilize international oil markets - keeping prices higher than they ought to be - but Iran's large natural gas reserves are effectively off-limits for European use, reinforcing the continent's dependency on Moscow. At the same time, as Iran strengthens its economic links with key Asian powers, it makes it more dependent on Russia and China for its critical trade and investments. Russia can only benefit from Iran's gradual reorientation toward the East.
All this is not to suggest that Iran has not benefited from the Russian-Georgian conflagration, but those advantages have been subtle. Tehran is using the Georgian crisis as a cautionary lesson to the Gulf states. From its podiums and platforms, the message emanating from the Islamic Republic is that the Georgians mistakenly accepted American pledges of support, only to pay a heavy price for their naïveté. The Gulf sheikdoms who similarly put much stock in U.S. security assurances would be wise to come to terms with their populous and powerful Persian neighbor. In a region where America is viewed as unpredictable and unreliable, this message has a powerful resonance.
The contours of Russia's policy became obvious in the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran was unable to persuade Moscow and its partners to extend security guarantees to Tehran, or to gain Russian support for switching oil pricing from dollars to euros. Medvedev and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, continued to urge Iran to be flexible and negotiate restraint on its nuclear activities. Yet, Moscow also declared support for Iran's nuclear activities that were designed for peaceful purposes.
Given the fact that technologies employed for civilian use can be the basis of a military program, it is hard to see the utility of Russia's latest pronouncement.
What this means?
Russia is not interested in playing an active role in resolving the Iran crisis on terms America will find acceptable. If the next president is going to solve the Iranian nuclear conundrum, he must appreciate that the UN process has reached its limits, and that the only manner of moving forward is for Washington to engage in direct negotiations with Tehran.
Medvedev says Russians will leave Georgian territory
MOSCOW: After a four-hour negotiation with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, President Dmitri Medvedev announced Monday that Russia would withdraw its troops by mid-October from all positions in Georgia outside the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
He also agreed to allow 200 observers from the European Union to enter the region by Oct. 1, and to take part in international talks on its future from Oct. 15.
But Medvedev said Russia would stand by its decision to recognize the two breakaway regions as independent nations.
"We have made our choice," he said at a joint news conference. "This is a final choice, an irreversible choice. This is an irrevocable decision."
Georgia and Russia in Hague court over conflict
THE HAGUE: Georgian accusations that Russia committed human rights violations against ethnic Georgians in the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia went before an international court on Monday.
Georgia is seeking a provisional order or injunction from the International Court of Justice, which investigates disputes between nations, ordering Russia to halt the alleged violations, "including attacks against civilians ... murder, forced displacement, denial of humanitarian assistance".
Russia is expected to question the jurisdiction of the ICJ during three days of emergency hearings, and may also dispute Georgia's claims that ethnic discrimination is occurring or argue the situation is beyond its control.
In a lawsuit filed last month shortly after Russia invaded its neighbouring country after Georgia tried to recapture South Ossetia by force, Georgia alleges that Russia violated an anti-discrimination convention during three interventions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia from 1990 to August 2008.
Georgia is also claiming that more than 400,000 of its citizens, almost 10 percent of its population, have been forcibly driven from their homes since its declaration of independence in 1991 by a Russian-backed campaign of violence and intimidation.
Bulgaria casts doubt on London "poisoned umbrella" killing
SOFIA: Bulgaria is closing its probe into a Cold War killing, the murder of dissident Georgi Markov in London, but an investigator said no evidence existed to back up the theory that he was stabbed with a poison-tipped umbrella.
Under Bulgarian law, the 30-year statute of limitations on the case expires on Thursday, the anniversary of Markov's death, but Sofia will continue to work with British police on their investigation into the case.
Markov, a writer, journalist and opponent of Bulgaria's then communist regime, died on September 11, 1978 after a stranger shot a ricin-laced pellet into his leg on London's Waterloo Bridge.
Luchezar Penev, head of Bulgaria's Serious Crimes Investigation unit, told Reuters that the popular story that an umbrella was used to inject the poison had not been confirmed.
"The famous umbrella is for someone who is writing a book... there is no evidence for such a thing," he said.
"The pellet's size was several times smaller to contain the necessary quantity of ricin, if we accept it's ricin, needed to kill a man," he added but declined to give any other details.
According to accounts of the incident, Markov, who defected to the West in 1969, was waiting for a bus when he felt a sharp sting in his thigh. A stranger fumbled behind him with an umbrella he had dropped and mumbled "sorry" before walking away.
Markov died four days later of what is believed to be ricin poisoning, for which there is no antidote.
British police are still eager to solve the murder.
U.S. withdrawing nuclear pact with Russia
WASHINGTON: The Bush administration planned Monday to formally withdraw from congressional consideration an agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia, in the most meaningful show yet of U.S. displeasure over Russian military action in Georgia.
The withdrawal could cost Russia billions of dollars, but will also unravel a program critical to President George W. Bush's hopes of safely spreading civilian nuclear energy.
A senior administration official, who spoke on grounds of anonymity because the official announcement had not been made, said of the agreement, "After Russia's invasion of Georgia, it's not appropriate at this time."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected to make a formal statement later Monday on the withdrawal. And Bush, who has been weighing his response to the Georgia crisis, was to notify Congress.
By simply withdrawing the pact from consideration, the administration retains the option of submitting it anew if tensions are resolved.
A way for America to get Russia in line
WASHINGTON: John McCain got the Republican Convention roaring last week when he called on America to "stand up and fight" for a list of seemingly noble and/or necessary reforms and causes. Not on that list: the Republic of Georgia, invaded, endangered, and now fast becoming a symbol of Russian aggression's new impunity.
Instead, McCain offered Georgia our "solidarity and prayers." Coming from a man stating his creed to the nation (and who said months ago that his first presidential act would be to set up an international league of democracies that would exclude Russia), this was a retreat from strong medicine to sunshine, spring water and meditation.
In doing next to nothing to mark on Moscow's consciousness that the invasion was intolerable - and more, that replicating it in the Baltic states, Ukraine or Moldova would be inconceivable in terms of its massive price - McCain was joined by Barack Obama.
"Now is the time for action - not just words," Obama said (on his third try) just after the invasion. But in the month since, he's fled from repeating or defining that American resolve.
Punishment? Sure. On Aug. 17, an Associated Press dispatch out of Crawford, Texas, and the Lone Star White House reported, "U.S. officials say Russia can't be allowed to get away with invading its neighbor."
Oh, yeah. The fact is, most of the American political class and the Bush administration have turned for the occasion into an Assembly of Woofers. Vladimir Putin certainly saw this coming, looking into George W. Bush's eyes as late as June, and searching out not soul but weakness, fatigue and incompetence.
With the cynicism dial turned to high-cool, you could rationalize away the McCain/Obama caution as a judgment that there are no advantages to taking Russia on from the campaign trail.
But the Bush administration, beyond the verbiage, has wobbled between passivity and retreat.
In place of an American policy - there is none - the job of extracting the Russians from Georgia, and then seemingly deciding on how to penalize them for the invasion, has been turned over to the Europeans.
It's an extraordinary moment of American abdication. Responsibility for it belongs to a president who clung to his belief in a benign Russia and a mysterious, misguided notion of Putin's soulfulness in the face of three years of intensifying nationalism, aggressivity of all sorts, strangled attempts at democracy and threats to American allies.
Subcontracting a response to the invasion to the Europeans looks like the administration, incapable of leadership, is trying to counter Russia's goal of splitting off Europe from America by turning over responsibility for dealing with Moscow to a European Union with no history of turning back aggression.
That's both pathetic and ironic.
Pathetic because this feckless United States, which has so often in private described Europe as hopelessly soft, had been warned the week before last, and indeed by a man who held the post of the EU's foreign affairs representative. Chris Patten said, "Russia knows that when it comes to conducting a serious foreign and security policy, Europe is all mouth."
When the EU decided to postpone, not halt, its talks on renewing a so-called Strategic Partnership with Russia last week (essentially labeling the invasion a see-ya-soon contretemps), the White House reported Bush's "appreciation for the EU's sending strong messages" to Moscow.
This overlooked, of course, that Europe promised nothing immediate and specific concerning what it should do: act at once and as a bloc to break Russia's chokehold on its energy supplies.
Massive irony enters here. Compare the EU membership's reaction to Georgia's invasion with what happened in 2005, when Russia placed an embargo on meat imports from Poland, involving a possibly legitimate complaint about products from third-country sources.
Back then, on the basis of a Polish threat to veto the Strategic Partnership, talks on it were shut down from 2005 to 2007!
And now the United States looks like it has an application in for the Paper Tiger Club.
This is sad because the United States and Europe don't have to start a new Cold War to find ways that will emboss Russia's inadmissible behavior and loss of credibility on its leaders' minds.
As for faded U.S. leadership, Europe has already noticed, that with the dollar up and American growth projections surpassing the rest of the G-7 next year, America and the pillars of its strength are not collapsing.
So here's the outline of an initiative. The most effective and resonant American reaction to the Russian invasion would be to respond on a different playing field and move around Russia's blocking role on Iran's drive toward nuclear weapons.
The United States essentially would be asserting a home truth: that Georgia's invader so disqualified itself - hey, Putin insists Tehran's program is peaceful, not military - it can no longer to be allowed to act as both as Iran's provider of nuclear wherewithal and arms, and derail serious sanctions in its gatekeeper capacity at the United Nations Security Council.
To do this, the Bush administration would have to open direct U.S.-Iran talks. It wouldn't only be a Bush administration gift to McCain, who's stuck with a rigid "no" on negotiations with Iran while Obama backs direct ones.
Much more, the move lifts the United States from paralysis, undercuts Russia and serves as the best available demonstration of America's will and capacity to act.
This approach offers an escape from the just-woofin' on Georgia routine that turns Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder into posthumous visionaries concerning America's diminished world leverage.
Whatever the many other measures the United States and Europe need to take to protect Georgia and chasten Russia, it would provide a path and a perspective until Jan. 20, 2009, on the most pressing world problem.
Indeed, Georgia's tragedy is in part the child of Russia's reading of America's passivity on Iran.
Coupled now with U.S. insistence that all its options are open through any talks with the mullahs, breaking this mold that magnifies Moscow's importance would be Washington sending Russia an unmistakable and constructive message: enough.
A postwar cultural reckoning for Georgia
TBILISI, Georgia: When a Russian-language theater troupe from Georgia went to St. Petersburg a few years ago to stage a darkly satirical play about modern Russia - featuring a mentally impaired child named Vladimir who brings the country to ruin and a Stalinist plot to create a master race through artificial insemination - much of the Russian audience hissed and booed.
Avto Varsimashvili, the Georgian director of the play, "Russian Blues," said he expected it to inspire the opposite reaction next year when the play opens in Georgia. But Varsimashvili insisted that it was the caustic Georgian sense of humor, rather than an anti-Russian sentiment spurred by the recent war between Georgia and Russia, that would help make the play a success.
"Georgians have always had a deep affection for Russian people and Russian culture going back centuries," said Varsimashvili, speaking in fluent Russian from his theater, which is in a multiethnic neighborhood of Tbilisi that is plastered with pictures of Georgians bombed in the recent war.
"We perceive a modern Russia that is big and sometimes monstrous," he said. "But the difference between Georgians and Russians is that we have never mistaken the Russian people for the Russian government."
The war and its aftermath have nevertheless been greeted with an anti-Russian backlash that is spilling over into politics and culture. For instance, a popular rap video has appeared repeatedly on state television depicting the head of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia attached to the body of a rat stomping on a map of Georgia, under the words the "evil vampire."
Meanwhile, the government of Georgia has cut off Georgians' access to Russian television and Web sites, and the two countries have officially cut diplomatic relations.
Yet the reality is more complex. Although the Georgian government has spent the years since the fall of the Soviet Union promoting Georgian identity, Georgian society remains infused with an appreciation for Russian culture that Georgian sociologists and historians say will outlive this latest round of tensions.
A monument to Alexander Pushkin, a Russian poet and icon who once visited Tbilisi for inspiration, stands in a park just off the city's Freedom Square. Georgian television channels routinely broadcast old Russian films, kiosks sell Russian-language fashion magazines and Russian pop music blares from taxi radios. While Georgians proudly cling to their distinct, centuries-old language, Russian is the second language here.
Even some of those who were victims of recent Russian bombings said they perceived the conflict as a proxy battle between two global powers - Russia and the United States - rather than a vendetta between Georgians and Russians.
"We hate the policies of the Russian government, but we do not hate the Russian people," said Zura Pushauvi, looking over the rubble of his bombed-out casino in Gori, a central Georgian city. A statue of Joseph Stalin, who was born in Gori, could be seen through a shattered window.
"This war was a spat between two global powers. It was not an ethnic war between Georgians and Russians."
Georgia has long had an ambivalent relationship with its former colonial ruler. Georgian princes benefited from Russian protection against the Persian and Ottoman armies in the 19th century, although Russia abolished the Georgian monarchy and erased the separate identity of its Orthodox church. In the early 20th century, a nascent independent Georgian state was quashed by the Soviet Red Army.
Some ethnic Russians living in Georgia, of which there are around 70,000, said the war had forced them to choose sides. Nadejna Diakonova-Giuashvili, an ethnic Russian whose late husband was a Georgian officer in the Russian Army, recently went to a refugee center in Gori after fleeing her bombed-out Georgian village near South Ossetia. She said she was now ashamed to be Russian.
"I'm so ashamed to look in the eyes of my neighbors after what Russia has done," she said, speaking in both Russian and Georgian.
"I only learned my husband was Georgian when he signed his name on the marriage registry the day we were married," she said. "He spoke fluent Russian, and he tricked me. But I didn't care. We have the same blood."
Some ethnic Russians here said that bubbling anti-Russian sentiment had forced them to conceal their Russian identities, even though they have no intention of leaving Georgia, which has been their home for decades.
Vera Tsereteli, who moved to Tbilisi from Moscow more than 30 years ago, said her Georgian friends still greeted her with a kiss even as they teased her by calling her an "occupier." She does not speak Georgian, but she said she was now wary of speaking Russian in public.
"During Soviet times, it was prestigious to speak Russian and a sign of being educated and refined," she said. "Now, Russia is associated with occupation, annexation and refugees."
Sozar Subari, the Georgian public defender who monitors human rights abuses in the country, said he had received no complaints of violence against ethnic Russians since the war began. He emphasized that the country's Russian-language schools were an integral part of a multiethnic Georgia and would not be closed.
A generational divide in Georgian attitudes toward Russia was apparent on a recent day at Teremok, a popular Russian restaurant in Tbilisi. Dimitry Dotiashvili, 34, a hotel security guard, said that the younger generation preferred speaking English to Russian and wanted Georgia to strengthen ties to NATO and the European Union.
A survey of Georgian attitudes toward Russia, conducted in June - before the recent war - by the Institute for Polling and Marketing in Tbilisi, showed that 76 percent of Georgians were against war with Russia.
Many Russians, meanwhile, have vacationed in Georgia, whether to soak in Tbilisi's sulfur baths or to relax on Batumi's Black Sea beaches. Georgian cuisine, with its spicy plum and pepper sauces, and khachapuri, a cheese-filled flat bread, is among the most popular in Russia, and there are few if any major Russian cities, from Moscow to Vladivostok, without a Georgian restaurant. Georgian wines also are renowned throughout Russia and the Caucasus.
Yet the backlash against Georgians living in Russia appears to be far more pronounced than the sentiment against Russians being stirred in Georgia.
"Once again they have begun to endlessly show us programs about Georgian thieves," Grigory Chkhartishvili, a Georgian native who writes under the pseudonym Boris Akunin, recently told Echo of Moscow, an independent Russian radio station.
"The entire country is beginning to hate Georgians."
Drawing a bead on the press
In the press galleries at the convention, journalists wrinkled their noses in disgust when Piper, Palin's youngest daughter, was filmed kitty-licking her baby brother's hair into place. But to many Americans — including some I talked to in the convention hall — that looked like family church on Sunday, evidence of good breeding and sibling regard.
Atom-smasher promises closer look at makeup of matter
GENEVA: It has been called an Alice in Wonderland investigation into the makeup of the universe - or dangerous tampering with nature that could spell doomsday.
Whatever the case, the most powerful atom-smasher ever built comes online Wednesday, eagerly anticipated by scientists worldwide who have awaited this moment for two decades.
The multibillion-dollar Large Hadron Collider will explore the tiniest particles and come ever closer to re-enacting the Big Bang, the theoretical colossal explosion that created the universe.
The machine at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, promises scientists a closer look at the makeup of matter, filling in gaps in knowledge or possibly reshaping theories.
The first beams of protons will be fired around the 27-kilometer, or 17-mile, tunnel to test the controlling strength of the world's largest superconducting magnets. It will still be about a month before beams traveling in opposite directions are brought together in collisions that some skeptics fear could create micro "black holes" and endanger the planet.
Conventional wisdom: Fathers know best
Matt Mendelsohn is a photographer.
"Champ, when you get knocked down, get up."
- Joe Biden relating advice from his father at the Democratic convention.
"My dad... worked hard, lifted heavy things, and got his hands dirty. The only soap we had at my house was Lava."
- Mike Huckabee speaking at the Republican convention.
Thank you, thank you very much. It's a great honor to be here tonight. My fellow Americans, I stand here a proud but humbled public servant, ready to face the challenges and issues that weigh so heavily on this great land and ever mindful of the sage words of my hardworking father: "People drive like maniacs in parking lots."
I am the son of that ordinary man, a research scientist like so many millions of others, a man who often toiled late into the evening doing the Sunday crossword puzzle in ink, and I accept the trust and faith you have shown me through this long campaign.
My father imparted his wisdom to me at an early age, more often than not along the clogged Long Island Expressway of my youth. Somewhere around Exit 48 or 49, not far from the great Walt Whitman Mall - but far from the Eastern elitism of my opponent - I remember him uttering the words that would resonate years later, words that would propel me on the course that has led me here to this podium tonight.
"Matthew," my father said, "if a racing car leaves Detroit at 4 and is going 213 miles per hour, and another racing car leaves Memphis at 5 going half the speed, when will the first car arrive in Chicago?"
Jay Mendelsohn: American hero. For 35 years, dabbling away at the everyday problems of random variables and the Cooley-Tukey algorithm in his lab at the Grumman Aerospace Corp., kept warm only by an open fire and the strains of the "Moonlight Sonata" wafting through the office.
He struggled with those equations, his white lab coat often sullied with sweat, though some of the sweat might have been from the tennis he played every day before work, and he understood well the value of those racing car problems for me and my four siblings. He somehow knew that overcoming those problems would turn us into more patriotic citizens.
And even though only one of his five children went on to get a Ph.D. in anything remotely math-related, the prescience of his words gives me pause.
Looking back, I can now so clearly see that by invoking "Detroit," my father was trying to shape our young minds toward the plight of the American autoworker. "Memphis" was so obviously an allusion to the teachings of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. And there can be no doubt that in having both racing cars arrive in the city of Chicago, my father meant to hearken back to the site of Enrico Fermi's first atomic pile.
My father taught me other things that shaped the nominee you see before you this evening. My deep faith is part of his legacy. My dad knew that there was only one true God and that his name was Seaver - as in Tom Seaver of the New York Mets. His teammate Jerry Koosman was great, yes, and so was Tug McGraw, a solid reliever, but Tom Seaver once struck out 19 in a game, including the final 10 batters in a row. In a row, my fellow Americans, in a row!
This is the reason I must now make a painful admission: I made up large portions of my bar mitzvah haphtara, mumbling through certain key sections. No one really noticed anyway, except my grandfather, who had flown in from Miami Beach and proclaimed, as his father had before him, "You call this a synagogue?"
This campaign has taken me all across our great land and I've had the honor of shaking hands with thousands of Americans, like the woman I met in a checkout line in Wichita. Looking into her eyes, I could only think of words my father once spoke to me, words that resonate with all Americans as loudly today as they did that day in 1977: "I don't care what Edward Feldman does. You're a Mendelsohn."
Our party is united. From the snow-crested Rockies to Town Bagel of Plainview, from the cornfields of Iowa to the parking lot of the Syms clothing outlet, where our green Impala wagon was once stolen, though recovered a few hours later, we shall prevail.
And so I accept your nomination, with solemnity, and humility, and in keeping with the words of my father as he drove us home once from a vacation in Ocean City: "Andrew, if you hit your brother one more time I swear to God you won't get any McDonald's."
Only two of China's quake orphans finds new parents
BEIJING: Nearly four months an earthquake killed nearly 90,000 people in China's Sichuan province, only two of 88 orphans eligible for adoption had found a new home, local officials and state media said on Monday. Tens of thousands of Chinese families offered to take in orphans after the May 12 disaster, but most had found homes with relatives, leaving just 88 to be put up for adoption.
One reason for the lack of families coming forward was that many of the orphans were handicapped, the China Daily said.
And many of those eligible for adoption are between 10 and 14, though most of those intending to adopt prefer children under six, the report added.
The two boys who had been adopted were aged 10 and 13.
Of 532 children who lost their parents in the magnitude 7.9 quake, 240 are under 14 and most have grandparents or other relatives as guardians.
Only 88 in the hard-hit cities of Deyang, Mianzhu, Mianyang and Guangyuan and the Aba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture had no relatives to care for them, the newspaper said.
South Asia flood victims plead for food and safe water
PATNA, India: Hungry villagers pleaded with authorities to rescue them from flooded homes in eastern India on Monday, as devastating floods continued to haunt millions in South Asia.
"We want to be evacuated, but no boats have come to take us away to relief camps," Ravindra Yadav, a villager in flood-hit Madhepura district said by telephone. "We are hungry, we are dying."
The government said they will try to evacuate as many as possible within the next two day, but those still stranded were few.
About 20,000 villagers have refused to leave their homes, saying they wanted to protect their belongings, officials said.
"(The evacuation) drive will continue as per the requirement only," said Nitish Mishra, the disaster management minister.
Aid agencies say there are still a few thousand people who have no means to survive on their own anymore.
"We are waiting for the last three days to leave, but there are no boats to save my family," said flood victim Badri Sharma, who built a bamboo raft to flee, but which proved not good enough to negotiate the swift river current.
Flood waters in the eastern state of Bihar have been receding over the past week in some areas, exposing bloated bodies and rotting carcasses caught in bamboo groves and bushes.
The floods have forced more than three million people from their homes in Bihar, destroyed 100,000 ha (250,000 acres) of farmland and killed at least 90 people.
The Kosi river, which originates in Nepal, burst a dam last month and unleashed the worst flooding in Bihar in 50 years.
Last week, authorities airdropped leaflets to villagers appealing for thousands of people remaining in their homes to evacuate as heavy rains risked more flooding.
The government has evacuated over 900,000 people already, but there are still thousands who want to be evacuated.
Aid agencies say those marooned would probably die of hunger.
"Only God knows what will happen to thousands of villagers still trapped in their homes and waiting to be rescued," said Bhagwanji Pathak, chairman of a local NGO working for the displaced villagers.
FORCED TO SCAVENGE
Families who fled to makeshift camps were forced to scavenge for scarce food in conditions that aid agencies warned would expose thousands to outbreaks of disease.
Others were naming their newborns after the river in remembrance of what was lost during the floods.
"One Kosi destroyed our life and house but this Kosi has brought new joy in our life", said Rubi, a first-time mother.
In the northeastern Indian state of Assam, also facing floods, at least 18 people have died and 1.3 million were affected when heavy rains caused the Brahmaputra river, one of the largest in Asia, to burst its banks.
State officials said the waters have been receding and there have been no outbreaks of water borne diseases.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, flood waters continued to rise due to heavy rains resulting in acute shortages of drinking water and medicines, officials said.
The two-week old deluge swamped one third of the country's districts, displacing 200,000 people from their homes and affecting nearly four million.
But the jury failed to reach verdicts on the most serious charges - an alleged conspiracy to have suicide bombers armed with soft-drink bottles filled with liquid explosives destroy seven planes headed for the United States and Canada on the same day.
At the time of the arrests, Scotland Yard said it had found plastic bottles and large quantities of hydrogen peroxide in premises used by the defendants, along with a computer memory stick belonging to Abdulla Ahmed Ali, the alleged ringleader of the plot. The police said the memory stick included highlighted timetables of seven flights to the United States and Canada, along with information on baggage rules, guidance on what could be carried as hand luggage and information about London Heathrow Airport.
Ali, testifying at the trial, said that there had been no plot to bomb planes or to kill anyone, that the plan was to cause alarm and panic by setting off minor blasts to protest British and American policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East.
Brown is under pressure to spend more to head off a deep recession. Some of his Labour party want him to quit as the Conservatives surge ahead in opinion polls and unions threaten a winter of strikes over pay.
"I am confident that we can come through this difficult economic time and meet these challenges a stronger, more secure, and fairer country than ever before," Brown said in a foreword to a draft document for Labour's annual conference this month.
"Meeting this challenge will not be easy and it will not happen overnight. There are no easy or quick answers. It requires leadership, squaring up to hard truths, being open with the British people about the choices we face, and making tough decisions on priorities for public spending."
Labour trails the Conservatvies in opinion polls which point towards defeat in the next parliamentary election, due in 2010.
The state-backed firm reduced its spending demand from a previous request for 31 billion pounds, but the figure is still above the 27.5 billion proposed by its regulator.
Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) are hammering out a deal on how much the operator should spend on improving the railways between 2009 and 2014, with a final decision due to be published next month.
A Network Rail spokesman said that while the firm had compromised by some 800 million pounds of cost savings, it had not budged on its expenditure requirements for expansion -- leaving a 1 billion pound gap between the two parties.
"We think 8.5 billion pounds ... is needed, it (the ORR) thinks 7.5 billion is needed," he told Reuters, adding that a string of projects could be scrapped or scaled back if the regulator did not compromise.
Barclaycard, owned by Barclays , introduced its first contactless credit card as the OnePulse product one year ago, in which a microchip allows customers to pay for goods by touching the card against a reader without having to remove it from their wallet or purse.
The group now plans to issue over one million contactless cards by the end of this year. Barclaycard then plans to make it possible to put the chip into a mobile phone or key fob, meaning the need to carry a plastic credit card will disappear.
"In time you won't have to carry a plastic credit card around with you if you don't want to, although some people will chose to for nostalgic reasons," Barclaycard Chief Executive Officer Antony Jenkins said in a statement on Monday.
"If I had said to you 10 years ago that you couldn't pay with a cheque at the supermarket, you wouldn't have believed me. That is now the reality, and we see plastic cards going the same way eventually," Jenkins added.
Flooding struck large areas of Wales and western and northern England after one of the wettest Augusts on record. Heavy rains have swollen rivers and inundated roads.
Hundreds of people were evacuated and 1,000 properties flooded in the worst-hit town of Morpeth, 460 kilometers, or 285 miles, north of London.
Among the dead are a 17-year-old girl killed when her car overturned in floodwater in Wales and a geologist killed in a mudslide in western England.
Monday was drier, but forecasters said rain would return to many areas on Tuesday.
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