Saturday, November 8, 2008
MIAMI: Dangerous Hurricane Paloma made landfall near Santa Cruz del Sur in southeastern Cuba on Saturday as a Category 3 storm with 125 mile-per-hour (200-kph) winds, the U.S. National Hurricane Centre said.
The storm, which had been forecast to produce a sea surge of 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.6 metres), was the third hurricane to batter the island this year and came almost 76 years to the day after a November 9, 1932, cyclone that killed 3,000 in the area.
(Reporting by Michael Christie; Editing by Jeff Franks and Peter Cooney)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
BEIJING: More sick and hungry giant pandas than in past winters may seek food at lower altitudes in China's earthquake-affected areas, straining facilities at the local panda research centre, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.
The devastating May 12 Sichuan earthquake caused landslides and destroyed some of the wild pandas' habitat, reducing supplies of their main source of food, bamboo, in the range of 2,500 metres to 3,200 metres (8,200-10,500 ft) where they normally live.
"They came down the mountains so early this year and that's why we predict there will be a worse situation for the wild pandas this winter," said Zhang Guiquan, assistant director of the Wolong Nature Reserve Administration.
In normal winter periods from December to March, four to five wild pandas are found at lower levels, seeking food or showing signs of illness, but Zhang said two had already been found by local residents in late October.
"Some of them may carry unknown bacteria or have infectious diseases, which will endanger the pandas in captivity," said Tang Chunxiang, chief veterinarian at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, where one of the pandas was taken.
The centre has already taken 53 pandas that had been living at the Wolong Nature Reserve. One panda in the reserve, the largest for pandas in China, died and one went missing after the massive quake.
There are still seven pandas remaining in Wolong, Zhang said, adding, "We have to get prepared to receive more sick, wild pandas."
(Reporting by Ken Wills; Editing by Alex Richardson)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
TAIPEI: A Taiwan woman has given birth to healthy twins using the 13-year-old frozen sperm of a former testicular cancer patient, local media said on Saturday, setting a record for the island.
The twin boys were born using the sperm taken from a man surnamed Chen, then 23, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer and told chemotherapy could make him infertile, Taiwan newspapers said, citing sources at a Taipei medical university.
Chen, who is in good health at age 36 but cannot produce sperm naturally, got his wife pregnant with two of the four embryos used for artificial insemination, newspapers said. Last month's delivery followed a 37-week pregnancy.
"Never before had a case involving such a long period of time between the freezing of male sperm and procreation been reported in Taiwan," the island's Central News Agency reported, citing the college of medicine dean at Taipei Medical University.
(Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Jerry Norton)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
MARSEILLE, France: France had to work hard to defeat Argentina 12-6 Saturday and take their revenge on the Pumas who spoiled their home World Cup a year ago.
The French had most of the possession but too many unforced errors cancelled out their attacking efforts in a try-less, rough and scrappy game with neither team giving an inch.
The French relied on three penalties by Benoit Baby and David Skrela, the last one two minutes from time, and a snap drop goal by Skrela to erase the memory of their defeat to the Pumas in the opening game and third-place playoff of the World Cup.
The Pumas scored two penalties by Felipe Contepomi.
"To win was particularly important tonight. It's not enough but we must content ourselves with it," France coach Marc Lievremont said.
"Sometimes you have to win playing ugly. That's what we did tonight. We played a bit like the Pumas. We'll score tries next time," he added.
France's best try-scoring opportunity came 12 minutes into the second half when fullback Maxime Medard, the only newcomer in the team, countered in his 22 after Argentina's flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez spilt the ball.
The 21-year-old charged down the touchline and chipped ahead but a Contepomi shoulder charge pushed him into touch.
The crowd roared when Sebastien Chabal came on for captain Lionel Nallet on the hour.
In the final 10 minutes, the French produced wave after wave of attacks but the Pumas held firm.
"The good thing is that we defended well but we lacked possession. It's only the first match of the tour," said Argentina coach Santiago Phelan.
With France leading 9-6, the game was still open and Argentina launched a last raid deep into French territory before Skrela landed a final penalty from the touchline.
France now face the Pacific Islanders next week in Sochaux before hosting Australia at the Stade de France. Argentina will travel to Italy and Ireland.
(Writing in Paris by Jean-Paul Couret; Editing by Clare Fallon and Greg Stutchbury)
By Carlotta Gall
Saturday, November 8, 2008
KAJAKI DAM, Afghanistan: Five shipping containers marked with the Afghan flag, some of them still wrapped in plastic, now sit in the construction camp at Kajaki Dam, Afghanistan's biggest hydroelectric project.
They hold the United States government's largest single gift to Afghanistan of the past seven years: massive pieces of a new 200-ton hydroelectric turbine that when installed will double the electricity supply to the towns and districts of southern Afghanistan.
The $180 million project, which includes distribution lines and substations, is intended to reach 1.8 million people, and provide jobs and economic renewal to the most troubled and violent part of the country.
The governor of Helmand Province, Gulab Mangal, paid a brief visit by helicopter to the dam in his province in October to emphasize its importance. Speaking to reporters over the roar of the water, he said that even if the immediate benefits were not apparent, future generations would appreciate the assistance coming into Afghanistan. "The children of Afghanistan will not forget the work done for this power station," he said.
The Chinese-made turbine remains in its packing cases, and it will not be installed and working for perhaps a year. But its arrival in this isolated camp, deep inside Taliban territory, was one of the great feats of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan this year.
It has been a rare instance of a fulfilled promise in the effort to build up Afghanistan's infrastructure. But even with the step forward, the improvements to the dam, in an inaccessible area of northern Helmand Province, are still being held hostage by the Taliban's growing ability to mount offensives in recent years. The overall power project has been repeatedly delayed because of the difficulty of security and logistics. And the rest of the original $500 million proposal to augment the capacity of the dam itself has not been approved, cast in doubt by the Taliban's gains.
"In the case of the Kajaki Dam or others, the security situation impedes the delivery of the service," the American ambassador to Afghanistan, William Wood, told reporters in Washington in June. "The reason that there isn't more light at night and more warmth in winter for South Afghanistan is because the Taliban has not let us do everything, work as effectively as we'd like to on the Kajaki Dam."
This has been the deadliest year for NATO forces and Afghan forces in Afghanistan since the invasion in late 2001, as Taliban insurgents have attacked persistently, in particular with ambushes and roadside bombs. The offensive has severely curtailed efforts by NATO and the government to expand their control from towns into the countryside.
As the summer fighting dragged on, it became clear that 19,000 foreign troops deployed in the southern provinces, alongside thousands more Afghan soldiers and police officers, were in a stalemate with the insurgents, as one senior NATO commander put it. It looked as if Usaid's project to develop the Kajaki Dam would be put on hold for yet another year.
Then in late August, NATO exercised some muscle. More than 4,000 British, American, Canadian, Danish, Australian and Afghan troops combined forces to cut and secure a road through 100 miles of hostile territory to move the equipment and turbine parts that were too heavy to be airlifted up to Kajaki.
The cargo convoy, which included 100 vehicles and carried the turbine in seven containers weighing up to 30 tons each, took five days to struggle through the mountains, amid a strict media blackout. Heavy fighting took place in villages south of the dam, including aerial bombardment, but the convoy took a different route and arrived in early September without damage.
The huge operation was criticized in the British news media, which questioned the exposure of British soldiers to such high risk to save an American government assistance project.
Yet for the Afghans employed here, and the frustrated residents of cities like Kandahar, who have lived with barely a few hours of electricity a day for the past seven years, NATO was belatedly meeting its commitment to bring development to southern Afghanistan.
"It is slow," said Sayed Rasoul, 52, an employee at the Kajaki power plant for 28 years and now its chief engineer. "We have a difficulty with transport."
Rasoul is now in charge of the next stage, with an American engineer, George Wilder, 62, who works for the American contractors in charge of the project, the Louis Berger Group. They work and live in a small construction camp next to the dam, protected by a battalion of British and Afghan soldiers who keep the Taliban, who hold the surrounding villages, at bay. Everything the workers and soldiers need comes by helicopters that fly high over the brown, barren mountains and then spiral down over the green-blue reservoir into the camp to avoid enemy fire.
Yet Wilder, who said he was pulled out of retirement to do the job at Kajaki, vowed he would stay until the new turbine was up and running. If all goes well, that should be by next August, he said.
"Of course, security will be humongous," he said. "But we will drive on with it one way or another."
The British troops have pushed the Taliban back far enough that the rocket attacks that forced the foreign contractors to pull out in 2006 are now rare, Wilder said.
"We have good nights and bad nights," he said, saying the worst were when British troops on night patrol fired mortars from the camp to cover their movements as they pulled back from a fight. The camp itself rarely comes under fire anymore, he said. "There is no danger here," he added.
Extraordinarily, Afghan workers have kept the power station running throughout the past 30 years of war and upheaval, and even now have negotiated with the Taliban so they can travel to work from their villages.
Rasoul, dressed in faded blue dungarees and a hard hat, clipboard in hand, leads a team of 43 workers, most of whom are white-bearded older men who have been working at the dam since it was built in 1975.
The Taliban hold sway in the countryside around the dam and even charge people for electricity, so they can be persuaded to let the workers keep the power plant running, the workers said.
"We do not have a problem with anyone," Rasoul said. "We tell them we are working and producing electricity for everyone in the villages and towns."
The work in the months ahead involves repairing one of the existing American Westinghouse turbines and installing the new Chinese one. But workers also need to survey and lay new transmission lines through miles of Taliban-controlled country to Kandahar.
Governor Mangal said he was confident that could be done, through a mixture of force and persuasion. "Firstly, we will extend the security with the support of the brave soldiers of our national forces. But secondly, we will try to win the hearts and minds of the people and tell them how important this power station is," he said. "I am sure they will support us."
By Katherine Zoepf
Saturday, November 8, 2008
RIYADH: The sunset prayer had just ended, and Sheik Ahmad al-Jilani was already calling his class to order. When the latecomers slipped into the front row, Jilani nodded at them briskly. "Young men," he began, "who can tell me why we do jihad?"
The members of the class were still new and a bit shy. Jilani clasped his hands and smiled encouragingly. Before him, sitting at school desks, were a dozen young Saudi men who had served time in prison for belonging to militant Islamic groups. Now they were inmates in a new rehabilitation center, part of a Saudi government initiative that seeks to deprogram Islamic extremists.
Jilani has been teaching his class, which is called Understandings of Jihad, since the center was established early last year. A stout man who makes constant, self-deprecating references to his weight, the sheik is an avuncular figure, popular with his students. Behind his thick glasses, his eyes shone warmly as he surveyed the classroom.
Finally, someone answered: "We do jihad to fight our enemies."
"To defeat God's enemies?" another suggested.
"To help weak Muslims," a third offered.
"Good, good," Jilani said. "All good answers. Is there someone else? What about you, Ali?" Ali, in the second row, looked away, then faltered: "To ... answer ... calls for jihad?"
Jilani frowned slightly and wrote Ali's answer up on the white board behind him. He read it out to the class before turning back to Ali. "All right, Ali," the sheik said. "Why do we answer calls for jihad? Is it because all Muslim leaders want to make God's word highest? Do we kill if these leaders tell us to kill?"
Ali looked confused, but whispered, "Yes."
"No - wrong!" Jilani cried as Ali blushed. "Of course we want to make God's word highest, but not every Muslim leader has this as his goal. There are right jihads and wrong jihads, and we must examine the situation for ourselves."
Jilani's students, who range in age from 18 to 36, are part of a generation brought up on heroic tales of Saudi fighters who left home to fight alongside the mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s and who helped to force the Soviets to withdraw from the country.
The Saudi state was essentially built on the concept of jihad, which King Abdul Aziz al-Saud used to knit disparate tribal groups into a single nation. The word means "struggle" and in Islamic law usually refers to armed conflict with non-Muslims in defense of the global Islamic community. Saudi schools teach a version of world history that emphasizes repeated battles between Muslims and nonbelieving enemies. Whether to Afghanistan in the 1980s or present-day Iraq, Saudi Arabia has exported more jihadist volunteers than any other country; 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudis.
But jihad can go too far. The Saudi government has condemned the Sept. 11 attacks and arrests jihadists who attempt to enter Iraq. Some Saudi veterans of overseas jihads have adopted one form of the doctrine of "takfir," in which a Muslim is judged by another Muslim to be an unbeliever. Because traditional Islamic law calls for the execution of apostates, some have used takfir to justify attacks on the Saudi state. The Saudi government thus finds itself in the awkward position of needing to defend the principle of jihad to its citizens while discouraging them from actually taking up arms.
Though the exact nature of the role that religious belief plays in the recruitment of jihadists is the subject of much debate among scholars of terrorism, a growing number contend that ideology is far less important than family and group dynamics, psychological and emotional needs. "We're finding that they don't generally join for religious reasons," John Horgan told me. A political psychologist who directs the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Penn State, Horgan has interviewed dozens of former terrorists. "Terrorist movements seem to provide a sense of adventure, excitement, vision, purpose, camaraderie," he went on, "and involvement with them has an allure that can be difficult to resist. But the ideology is usually something you acquire once you're involved."
In 2004, the Saudi Interior Ministry started the "Munasaha," or Advisory Committee, program, to reform prison inmates convicted of involvement in Islamic extremism. Abdulrahman al-Hadlaq, the program administrator, says that a committee of senior Saudi clerics interviews inmates about their beliefs before placing them in appropriate classes. Enrollment in the Munasaha program is not voluntary, and Human Rights Watch reports that some participants have been in detention for months or even years without trial or access to lawyers. But graduates of the program say the treatment is far from harsh.
In January 2007, the Interior Ministry began renting small vacation compounds in the Riyadh suburb of al-Thumama. Half a dozen adjoining compounds now house the Care Center, a post-prison continuation of the Munasaha program offering more intensive rehabilitation activities. Each compound holds up to about 20 men, who study, eat and sleep together for the duration of the program.
On arrival, each prisoner is given a suitcase filled with gifts: clothes, a digital watch, school supplies and toiletries. Inmates are encouraged to ask for their favorite foods. Volleyball nets, PlayStation games and Ping-Pong and foosball tables are all provided. The atmosphere at the center - which I visited several times earlier this year - is almost eerily cozy and congenial, with mattresses and rugs spread on stubbly patches of lawn for inmates to lounge upon.
With few exceptions, the men wear their beards untrimmed and their thobes, the long garments that most Saudi men wear, cut above their ankles in the style favored by those who wish to demonstrate strict devotion to Islam. The men are pleasant but many seem a bit puffy and lethargic; one 19-year-old inmate, Faisal al-Subaii, explained that they are encouraged to spend most of their daytime hours in either rest or prayer.
In Saudi Arabia, psychological disorders are often understood as the results of a person finding himself somehow outside the traditional circle of family and community. Most of the counseling that the inmates receive is focused on helping them to develop more healthful family relationships. "We use Western psychiatric techniques together with Islamic techniques," T.M. Otayan, the center's staff psychologist, says, referring to the intensive religion classes. A number of the inmates have received diagnoses of antisocial personality disorder, he adds, but he claims serious mental illness among the former jihadists is rare.
Most prisoners complete the program within two months. Upon release, each former jihadist is required to sign a pledge that he has forsaken extremist sympathies; the head of his family must sign as well. Some also receive a car (often a Toyota) and aid from the Interior Ministry in renting a home. Social workers assist former jihadists and their families in making post-release plans for education, employment and, usually, marriage. "Getting married stabilizes a man's personality," Hadlaq says. "He thinks more about a long-term future and less about himself and his anger."
Of all the concepts addressed in classes at the rehabilitation center, takfir is the one that tends to evoke the most anger among mainstream Saudi Muslims. The idea that there is a slippery slope from jihad to takfir comes up regularly in discussions with Saudi clerics.
"Some of our young people don't listen to the right scholars," Jilani told me. "First they start to think that they have the right to go to jihad at any time. After that, they start to think that we have the right to kill any non-Muslim.
"Then they start to say that our leaders are 'kuffar,' infidels," the sheik continued. "After that they start to say that our scholars, too, are kuffar. Before long, they've declared war against the whole world."
The Saudi government has recently intensified efforts to fight extremism and to turn public sympathy away from terrorist groups. Several prominent clerics have taken public stands against Al Qaeda, and late last year Saudi Mufti Sheik Abd al-Aziz bin Abdallah Al al-Sheik issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from traveling overseas to wage jihad. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has initiated a new program called Serenity to fight terrorism online by drawing terrorist recruiters into one-on-one ideological chat-room combat with moderate-minded clerics.
The government maintains that no graduates of the Munasaha program have returned to violence. But the program is still relatively new, and there are unanswered questions. Is the government dealing with captured militants while really failing to address the root causes of extremism? Will released extremists, now counted as successes, eventually return to jihad?
A consulting psychiatrist at the King Faisal hospital in Riyadh says that global jihad is still a socially acceptable path for a young Saudi man with few options. "You have a young man who's depressed, frustrated with life, maybe he fails an exam. He can go from being a loser, a failure, to being a jihadi, someone with status."
How and why violent extremists come to leave their organizations are a fairly new focus in academic studies of terrorism. Horgan's findings - that simple fear and disillusionment can play a major role in an individual's decision to disengage from his group - seem to be echoed by a recent RAND Corp. report on the demise of terrorist groups, which found that efforts by police and intelligence agents to create intense internal pressure within terrorist groups are more successful at fighting extremism than military actions.
Consider Abu Sulayman, a stocky 32-year-old who spent more than three years in prison at the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and says he fought alongside Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora. Abu Sulayman spoke on the condition that I would use only his old nom de guerre. He completed the Munasaha program but was released shortly before the Care Center was established.
"Getting captured and Guantánamo - it was all a good lesson," Abu Sulayman told me. "I mean, the main idea of jihad is good - no one disagrees with that."
His first jihad was in 1996, when he traveled to the Philippines to fight with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. "They had guys from everywhere, all these different countries, working together," Abu Sulayman said. "The majority are always Saudis." In 1997, Abu Sulayman went on to Afghanistan. Four years later, after his second trip to the country, he grew disillusioned with bin Laden and planned to leave for the Philippines because "Chechnya said they didn't need anyone at the moment." Instead, he was captured.
Today he notes that the Qaeda camps where he worked as a training instructor offered him clear professional advancement. His new life - in a middle-class Jeddah suburb, doing shift work at an electrical company - does not provide the same sense of purpose. Even so, he has little regard for those who have followed in his footsteps.
"Most people just want to carry weapons," Abu Sulayman said. They do not, as he put it, have especially sophisticated religious arguments. "For me, it was always more about the feeling that I wanted to help the Muslims. But jihad is complicated. If you're heading to Afghanistan or Iraq, do you really have the facts you need to get involved on the right side?"
"Now our government is saying: 'Don't go to Iraq. It's not in our interests,"' Abu Sulayman continued. "Now I think, at least I did something with my life. I went out and fought for my beliefs, and I found that things were not as I had planned. But at least I fought for my beliefs. God knows my heart."
The sheiks who were charged with rehabilitating him were startled by his easygoing attitude, Abu Sulayman recalled. Even though Saudi public opinion has largely turned against Al Qaeda, many Saudis remain concerned that American-led efforts to fight terrorism are anti-Muslim and are infuriated by Guantánamo. "They thought that after all this time in Guantánamo I'd have some hate in me," Abu Sulayman told me. "But I never look back. I said, 'O.K., now I'll start a new life."'
Katherine Zoepf, who writes regularly for The New York Times, is working on a book about young women in the contemporary Arab world.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
By Olivia Rondonuwu and Telly Nathalia
Indonesia executed three Muslim militants for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people on the resort island, the attorney-general's office said on Sunday.
The three men -- Imam Samudra, Mukhlas and Amrozi -- were executed by firing squad on Nusakambangan island in central Java shortly after midnight, Jasman Pandjaitan, a spokesman for the attorney-general's office, told a news conference.
The two explosions on Bali's Kuta strip on October 12, 2002 -- one at Paddy's Bar and the other at the Sari Club -- killed 202 people including 88 Australians and 38 Indonesian citizens.
"We've waited a very long time for this and justice has finally been served," Australian Maria Kotronakis, who lost relatives in the bombings, told CNN by telephone from Sydney.
Georgia Lysaght, another Australian who lost her 33-year-old brother Scott in the attacks, told Reuters the executions would make little difference to how she felt.
"It isn't going to bring Scott back and it isn't going to change what happened," she said.
In an interview with Reuters late last year, the militants said their only regret was that some Muslims were killed.
Zakiah Darajad, Samudra's wife, had an open letter read by a relative at a news conference in Serang.
"(I) hope Allah gives the best to them and gives the worst to everyone that inflicted this unfair treatment," it said.
Officials had previously said that after the executions, the bombers' bodies would be taken for burial by helicopter to their respective home towns -- brothers Mukhlas and Amrozi to Lamongan in east Java, and Imam Samudra to Serang in west Java.
Security has been tight in Indonesia and some analysts say they feared a hardline backlash if the executions went ahead.
The Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) said the attacks were intended to deter foreigners as part of a drive to make Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, part of a larger Islamic caliphate.
Although there have been no major bomb attacks since 2005, Indonesia is considered at risk.
SEEN AS MARTYRS?
Australia immediately issued a new travel warning for its citizens going to Indonesia.
"You should exercise great care, particularly around locations that have a low level of protective security, including where Western tourists gather such as beaches, bars, malls and other venues," the warning said.
Although new attacks targeting bars and tourist hangouts were certainly possible, JI's network was fractured and sympathy for the bombers was low, said one leading Australian analyst.
"There will be some people in Indonesian society who regard them as martyrs, but they will be a very small proportion," said Damien Kingsbury, an associate professor at Deakin University.
The Indonesian anti-terrorist unit, Detachment 88, was involved in a series of raids last year that authorities say rounded up the heads of JI and its military wing.
Ten suspected militants were detained in July during raids in Sumatra and a large cache of explosives was seized.
In October, police said they had foiled a plan to attack a major oil storage facility in Jakarta.
Police are seeking Noordin Top, a Malaysian considered a main figure behind a series of bombings, including a second set of blasts in Bali in 2005 in which more than 20 people were killed.
The Balinese widow of a security officer killed at the Sari Club, said she hoped the executions would mark some closure.
"So, let the past be behind us and I hope there will not be any revenge from their families and supporters," said Wayan Rasmi. The body of her husband, I Made Sujana, was never found after the devastating blasts.
(Additional reporting by Crack Pallinggi in Cilacap, Heri Retnowati in Lamongan, Luh De Suriyani in Denpasar, and Chris McCall and Rob Taylor in Sydney)
(Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
By Michael Slackman and Souad Mekhennet
Saturday, November 8, 2008
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates:
The leader of a jihadi group in Iraq argued Friday that the election of Barack Obama as president represented a victory for radical Islamic groups that had battled American forces since the invasion of Iraq.
The statement, which experts said was part of the psychological duel with the United States, was included in a 25-minute audiotaped speech by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization that claims ties to Al Qaeda. Baghdadi's statement was posted on a password-protected Web site called Al Hesbah, used to disseminate information to Islamic radicals.
In his address, Baghdadi also said that the election of Obama and the rejection of the Republican candidate, John McCain was a victory for his movement, a claim that has already begun to resonate among the radical faithful. In so doing Baghdadi highlighted the challenge the new president would face as he weighed how to remove troops from Iraq without also giving movements like Al Qaeda a powerful propaganda tool to use for recruiting.
"And the other truth that politicians are embarrassed to admit," Baghdadi said, "is that their unjust war on the houses of Islam, with its heavy and successive losses and the continuous operations of exhaustion of your power and your economy, were the principal cause of the collapse of the economic giant."
The audio statement came amid a very public discussion in the Middle East over what Obama's election meant for the future and what it said about the past. Most of the public reaction, in newspapers and on television and radio stations, was euphoric, with many commentators marveling at the election of a black man whose father was from a Muslim family. There was a general assessment that Obama's election was a repudiation of the course taken by President Bush and his inner circle over the past eight years.
"Obama's election was a message against such destruction, against unjustified wars, wars that are fought with ignorance and rashness, without knowledge of their arenas or the shape of their surroundings," wrote Ghassan Charbel in Thursday's issue of the Saudi-owned, pan-Arab daily newspaper Al Hayat. "It was a message against the pattern that became a burden on the U.S. and transformed the U.S. into a burden on the world."
Some even pointed to Obama's election as a lesson to the rest of the region. In Kuwait, Sheik Hamed al-Ali, an Islamic scholar known for his support of jihadi fighters, posted a message titled "We Want Change!" on his Web site.
Sheik Ali said, "It remains the obligation of our Islamic nation to benefit from this example and request change, also, and to get rid of any regime that leads with ignorance and injustice, plunders from the country, enslaves the worshipers, drives us to destruction." The comments were then circulated on other Islamic Web forums.
But there was also a growing chorus of caution, as commentators began to try to tamp down expectations of any change in American policies in the region. And other commentators echoed Baghdadi's view that the election was a victory for the insurgents in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
"It would be no exaggeration to say that we Arabs and Muslims were the main unseen voters who decided the outcome of these elections," wrote Abdelbari Atwan in Wednesday's issue of the London-based pan-Arab daily newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.
He wrote, "The transformation that will begin in the U.S. starting today in various political, economic, military, and social domains may well have been delayed for decades, had the new American century been crowned with victory, and had the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan taken the directions sought by the neo-cons in other words, had there been political stability and economic prosperity, and had the citizens of the two countries targeted by the U.S.'s designs been totally subjugated by it."
Baghdadi also used his address to offer Obama an unlikely deal, one certain to do little to bring any resolution to the conflict between radical Islamic groups and the United States. He offered a truce of sorts in exchange for the removal of all forces from the region.
"On behalf of my brothers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Chechnya, I offer you what is better for you and us: you return to your previous era of neutrality, you withdraw your forces, and you return to your homes," Baghdadi said. "You do not interfere in the affairs of our countries, directly or indirectly. We in turn will not prevent commerce with you, whether it is in oil or otherwise, but with fairness, not at a loss."
Faris bin Hizam, an expert on Al Qaeda, said the offer of a trade relationship had struck a new note. "How can he call for establishing a relationship with the United States if it withdraws?" Bin Hizam said. "The main principle of Al Qaeda prohibits any relation with infidels."
Marwan Shehadeh, a Jordanian researcher and expert in radical Islamic groups, said that Al Qaeda leaders outside Iraq might balk at such a relationship, but that jihadis might view Obama's election as an opportunity.
"Of course there is a shift, because there is a new president who came from an oppressed class, and people who had little opportunity," Shehadeh said. "He wants to give Obama the chance to make a change, since Obama has no previous animosity with Islam."
Intelligence officials working in the region said that they did not see Obama's election as having any fundamental effect on Al Qaeda, and that any talk of a truce was likely to go nowhere. But two intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of their work said that they were concerned that any step that could be perceived as a victory for Al Qaeda, like pulling troops out of Iraq right away, would only strengthen its ability to recruit.
"If he withdraws the soldiers from Iraq before the country gets really stable, Al Qaeda will see it as their victory, and they might get stronger again," one regional intelligence official said. That dynamic was already beginning to play out on Al Hesbah.
As with other Web sites, it is impossible for an outsider to verify the identity, or integrity, of posted comments. But experts recognize Al Hesbah as the one remaining online forum for those aligned with Al Qaeda, after two other Web sites were apparently hacked and taken offline.
On the same day Baghdadi posted his statement, others chatted about the need to continue the fight against the United States. "All of them are low and dirty, and their hatred of Islam is the same," one participant wrote. Of Obama, he wrote, "Even in his speech rejoicing his victory he said, 'To those who fight us, we will defeat you.' Let us see who will be victorious."
Saturday, November 8, 2008
BAGHDAD: Two suicide bombers killed eight people and wounded 14 in an attack on a police headquarters just outside the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on Saturday, police said.
Two police captains who saw the bombing told Reuters four of the dead were policemen and the others civilians.
The bombers detonated their explosive vests simultaneously outside the station, Captain Shakir Aswad said.
But another police captain, Mohammed Hatim, said he thought at least one of the bombs was a suicide car bomb driven towards the station.
It was not clear whether the second bomber had contributed to the casualties or whether all had gone down with the first.
Violence has fallen sharply in Iraq over the past year and last month saw the lowest number of violent deaths amongst U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
But militants have shown themselves still capable for carrying out devastating, large-scale attacks. It was unclear who was behind the blasts in Ramadi but suicide attacks are a favourite tactic of Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.
(Reporting by Aws Qusay; Additional and Khalid al-Ansary; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
TEHRAN: Iran's head of parliament on Saturday criticised U.S. President-elect Barack Obama for saying its development of a nuclear weapon would be "unacceptable" and repeated the Islamic state's call for fundamental policy change.
"Obama must know that the change he talks about is a fundamental change and not changing of colours or tactics," Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said in comments on state radio.
Larijani, echoing Iran's official line, called on Obama to carry out his campaign slogans of U.S. foreign policy change, including change to U.S. dealings with Iran.
"Repeating objections to Iran's nuclear programme will be taking a step in the wrong direction."
Obama, at his first news conference since Tuesday's election, said on Friday an international effort must be made to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, adding that the country's development of a nuclear weapon was "unacceptable."
The West believes Iran's nuclear enrichment programme is aimed at building atomic weapons, an allegation Tehran denies.
Larijani said Iran would not yield to international pressure to abandon its right to nuclear technology.
"You (Obama) should know that you (the United States) cannot prevent Iran (from obtaining nuclear technology)," the official IRNA news agency quoted Larijani as saying.
Iranian officials have repeatedly rejected world powers' demand that it halt uranium enrichment, a process which can have both civilian and military purposes, in exchange for trade and other economic benefits.
Iran's defiance has drawn three rounds of U.N. sanctions since 2006 as well as bilateral U.S. punitive measures.
The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran shortly after its 1979 Islamic Revolution and is now spearheading a drive to isolate the country over its nuclear activities.
A senior Iranian official called on Obama on Thursday to show goodwill and remove "cruel" sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.
Obama has said he would harden sanctions on Iran but has also held out the possibility of direct talks with U.S. adversaries to resolve problems, including the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Louise Ireland)
By Somini Sengupta
Saturday, November 8, 2008
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Maqbool Fida Husain, India's most famous painter, is afraid to go home.
Husain is a Muslim who is fond of painting Hindu goddesses, sometimes portraying them nude. That obsession has earned him the ire of a small but organized cadre of Hindu nationalists. They have attacked galleries that exhibit his work, accused him in court of "promoting enmity" among faiths and, on one occasion, offered an $11 million reward for his head.
In September, the country's highest court offered him an unexpected reprieve, dismissing one of the cases against him with the blunt reminder that Hindu iconography, including ancient temples, is replete with nudity. Still, the artist, 93 and increasingly frail, is not taking any chances. For two years, he has lived here in self-imposed exile, amid opulently sterile skyscrapers. He intends to remain, at least for now. "They can put me in a jungle," Husain said gamely. "Still, I can create."
Freedom of expression has frequently, and by some accounts, increasingly, come under fire in India, as the country tries to balance the dictates of its secular democracy with the easily inflamed religious and ethnic passions of its multitudes.
The result is a strange anomaly in a nation known for its vibrant, freewheeling political culture. The government is compelled to ensure respect for India's diversity and at the same time prevent one group from pouncing on another for a perceived offense. Ramachandra Guha, a historian, calls it "perhaps the fundamental challenge of governance in India."
The rise of an intense brand of identity politics, with India's many communities mobilizing for political power, has intensified the problem. An accusation that a piece of art or writing is offensive is an easy way to whip up the sentiments of a particular caste, faith or tribe, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an Indian political scientist, points out. He calls it "offense mongering."
There have been isolated episodes of violence, and many more threats, often prompting the government to invoke British-era laws that allow it to ban works of art and literature. India was among the first countries to ban Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses."
In March, Taslima Nasreen, a Bangladeshi novelist living in exile in the Communist-controlled state of West Bengal, was forced to leave for several months after a Muslim political party objected to her work.
Meanwhile, in the western state of Gujarat, controlled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, a political psychologist, Ashis Nandy, was charged with "promoting enmity between different groups." His offense was to write an opinion article in The Times of India criticizing the victory of the Hindu nationalists in state elections; the case is pending.
"That politics has gotten out of hand," Mehta, the political scientist, argued. "It puts liberal democracy at risk. If we want social stability we need a consensus on what our freedoms are."
Even threats of violence from offended parties are a powerful deterrent. In Mumbai, formerly Bombay, where Husain lived for most of his life, a recent exhibition on Indian masters did not include his work. Nor did India's first modern art fair, held in New Delhi in August. The same week in the same city, a small show featuring reproductions of Husain's work was vandalized.
Of Husain's exceptionally large body of work at least 20,000 pieces, he guesses there are three that have angered his foes. Two are highly stylized pencil drawings of Durga, the mother goddess, and Saraswati, the goddess of the arts, both faceless and nude. The third is a map of India rendered as a female nude, her head in the Himalayas, a breast jutting out into the Arabian Sea. Husain insists that nudity symbolizes purity. He has repeatedly said that he had not meant to offend any faith. But one of his paintings, showing a donkey to the artist, a symbol of nonviolence at Mecca, created a ruckus among his fellow Muslims.
Harsh Goenka, a Mumbai-based industrialist and one of the country's most important collectors, has a similar Husain nude, an oil painting of the goddess Saraswati. As "an average normal Hindu," he says he is appalled that Husain is not safe in his country.
"Keeping him away is, in a way, showing the weakness of the system, that we cannot protect the rights of the citizen," Goenka said. "If he has done a crime, punish him. If he hasn't, let him live here with dignity and peace of mind."
Husain calls the current Congress Party-led government too weak-kneed to offer him protection from those who might harm him. Mostly, though, he cautions against making too much of his case. India, he insists, is fundamentally "tolerant."
Not least, he said, he has always been a vagabond, sleeping on the Mumbai streets during his impoverished youth, wandering through Europe to study Rembrandt, or bouncing, as he does now, among several lavish apartments and villas here in Dubai or rather, cruising among them, in one of his five costly thrill machines, including a lipstick-red Ferrari, his current favorite. Husain is India's best-paid artist. Last March, at a Christie's auction, his "Battle of Ganga and Jamuna," part of a 27-canvas series on the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic, fetched $1.6 million.
"I am working, it's O.K.," he said. "If things get all right, I'll go. If they don't, so be it. What can I do?"
And then he quoted the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a Pakistani who went into exile in the late 1970s during President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq's regime and who wrote about missing the animosity of his enemies as much as the affection of friends. "Of course," he conceded, "the heart is there."
On the morning of Id al-Fitr, Islam's holiest day, Husain sat in the back seat of his Bentley as it whizzed past a row of construction sites, taking calls from Mumbai on his new iPhone.
Back home on the same day, his granddaughter Rakshanda was getting engaged. It was the first major family function he had missed since his exile. "Such an auspicious day," he murmured. "Anyway, we will have a ceremony here again."
In Mumbai, it had been his custom to host an annual Id al-Fitr breakfast for his community, a Shiite subsect that calls itself Suleimanis. This morning, he hosted one here, too, at a community hall with steaming plates of mutton and flatbread. A stream of people came to pay their respects, taking his gnarled right hand, placing it above their eyes, one after the other, then to their lips. Husain, a master of flamboyance, stood beaming in a green silk jacket embroidered with motifs from his paintings, including several voluptuous, scantily clad women.
He is now working on two ambitious series: one on Indian civilization, to be mounted in London, the second on Arab civilization, which will be exhibited in Qatar.
Here in Dubai, he is at work on a whimsical installation titled "Form Meets Function," which will incorporate his five luxury cars, including a sound piece he intends to create using their engines.
At sundown, he climbed into the passenger seat of the Ferrari, pounded the dashboard and instructed his driver to hit the gas pedal. The engine revved, and he squealed in delight. He said he had stopped driving several years ago, after cataract surgery.
He does not have a studio in Dubai. There are easels in each of the homes he has bought for his extended clan. He spends a night here, a night there.
One of them is an 11th-floor apartment with spectacular, south-facing views of jagged skyscrapers under construction. It is filled with dozens of small canvases from the 1950s that he had given to a Czech woman he had once intended to marry, though she turned him down.
She found him recently and returned his paintings. "They belong to India," she told him.
This afternoon, recalling the story, Husain said he would eventually have to take them home. "Temporarily," he mused, "they are here."
Saturday, November 8, 2008
BEIJING: Hundreds of people clashed with police in a southern Chinese city, throwing stones and setting fire to a police car after a motorcyclist died while trying to avoid a checkpoint, the Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.
The skirmish in Shenzhen, which lasted from Friday afternoon until early Saturday morning, started when relatives of the motorcyclist carried his body to a local police station and a group of about 30 people smashed items in the station and set off fireworks, according to the report.
The crowd later grew to 400 people, with some 2,000 onlookers, police said. Some threw stones and set fire to a patrol car before they were disbursed by 2 a.m.
The motorcyclist was identified as 31-year-old Li Guochao. Police said he was driving an unlicensed motorcycle and had rushed passed a checkpoint in the Bao'an district of the city, Xinhua reported.
He then turned around at a crossroad and drove back on the other side of the road. At that point, a checkpoint worker threw his walkie-talkie at Li, causing him to lose control and strike a lamppost, Xinhua said.
The checkpoint worker has been detained by police, but Xinhua said the city's public security bureau had determined that police had shown restraint in handling the unrest.
Protests and incidents of "mass unrest" had been rising in China -- sparked by a wide range of grievances from official abuse of power and corruption, seizures of land, and disputes over environmental and corporate issues -- but Beijing has not released statistics on protests for the past few years.
China's top police official has urged officers to avoid inflaming protests at a time of growing and increasingly complex social unrest.
In June angry residents in Weng'an town, Guizhou province, torched and ransacked police headquarters and government offices after allegations spread that police had covered up the rape and murder of a girl.
(Reporting by Ken Wills; Editing by Alex Richardson)
The Associated Press
Saturday, November 8, 2008
MEXICO CITY: Mexican authorities on Friday detained a former senior police official suspected of aiding drug traffickers and an alleged founder of a vicious gang of drug-cartel hit men.
The announcements came on another day of extreme violence in Mexico. In the northeast, police mistakenly opened fire on a family of six, seriously wounding a teenage girl. In the west, inmates rioted, killing six. And police in Tijuana found three more bodies accompanied by messages that appeared to be from drug traffickers.
Police arrested Jaime Gonzalez Duran, also known as "The Hummer," in the northern city of Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas.
Gonzalez Duran is allegedly one of the founding members of the Zetas, a group of army deserters who went to work as hit men for the Gulf drug cartel. Federal Police Commissioner Rodrigo Esparza said Gonzalez Duran deserted from the army in 1999 and was a top lieutenant to current Zeta leader Heriberto Lazcano.
Also Friday, the army announced that it seized the largest drug-cartel weapons cache ever found in the country. The Thursday raid netted 540 rifles, 165 grenades, 500,000 rounds of ammunition and 14 sticks of TNT from a house in Reynosa.
And prosecutors announced that Rodolfo de la Guardia Garcia, the No. 2 official in the Federal Agency of Investigation from 2003-2005, has been placed under house arrest for 40 days as investigators look into the possibility he leaked information to the Sinaloa cartel in return for monthly payments in dollars.
De la Guardia was elected to Interpol's executive committee in 2002 but was removed from that post by the Mexican government in 2004, the Lyon, France-based Interpol General Secretariat said in a statement Friday.
The statement said Interpol was never informed as to why the Mexican government removed him and said that during his tenure "Interpol was never given any reason to question his integrity."
It stressed that "members of the Interpol Executive Committee are national law enforcement officials employed and paid for by their national authorities. They are not staff members" of the international police body.
De la Guardia's detention by the Attorney General's Office was part of the Mexican government's "Operation Clean House," which aims to weed out corruption that came to light after the January arrest of Alfredo Beltran Leyva, a reputed Sinaloa cartel lieutenant.
Former federal police commissioner Gerardo Garay and three other officials of the Public Safety Department were arrested earlier, though officials have not revealed the allegations against them.
In the past two weeks, the Sinaloa cartel also has been linked to four Mexican military officers and one soldier, as well as five officials in the organized-crime unit of the Attorney General's Office, which oversees the agency that employed de la Guardia Garcia.
President Felipe Calderon has long acknowledged corruption among the federal police and soldiers leading Mexico's anti-drug campaign. These announcements suggest corruption still reaches high in the ranks of law enforcement despite decades of crackdowns.
The Sinaloa cartel is one of several criminal gangs waging a savage battle for control of lucrative routes used to bring illegal drugs to consumers in the United States. Hundreds of people have been killed, often decapitated, across northern and western Mexico. The death toll among police is particularly high, leaving officers fearful and jittery.
In the northern city of Monterrey on Friday, police mistakenly opened fire on a family of six after confusing their vehicle with a getaway car used by armed robbers. A 13-year-old girl shot in the head and chest, said Nuevo Leon state Security Secretary Aldo Fasci Zuazua. Her father was shot in the shoulder and hand, while the mother was grazed by a bullet in the head. A 2-year-old boy suffered minor injuries and two other children, 4 and 6, were treated for shock and released.
In other violence, six prisoners died and two inmates were injured in a riot early Friday in a prison in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlan, the Televisa television network reported.
In the border city of Tijuana on Friday, three bodies were found alongside messages apparently from drug traffickers, Baja California's state attorney general's office said. Another man was found riddled with bullets hours later.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco said they arrested the suspected killers of a Mexican radio host, who was gunned down Sept. 23 while hanging banners to protest a wave of national kidnappings. The hit men worked for the Gulf drug cartel.
More than 4,000 people have been killed this year across Mexico as drug gangs lash back at Calderon's national crackdown on organized crime.
By Sarah Lyall
Saturday, November 8, 2008
REYKJAVIK, Iceland: The collapse came so fast it seemed unreal, impossible. One woman here compared it to being hit by a train. Another said she felt as if she were watching it through a window. Another said, "It feels like you've been put in a prison, and you don't know what you did wrong."
This country, as modern and sophisticated as it is geographically isolated, still seems to be in shock. But if the events of last month the failure of Iceland's banks; the plummeting of its currency; the first wave of layoffs; the loss of reputation abroad felt like a bad dream, Iceland has now awakened to find that it is all coming true.
It is not as if Reykjavik, where about two-thirds of the country's 300,000 people live, is filled with bread lines or homeless shanties or looters smashing store windows. But this city, until recently the center of one of the world's fastest economic booms, is now the unhappy site of one of its great crashes. It is impossible to meet anyone here who has not been profoundly affected by the financial crisis.
Overnight, people lost their savings. Prices are soaring. Once-crowded restaurants are almost empty. Banks are rationing foreign currency, and companies are finding it dauntingly difficult to do business abroad. Inflation is at 16 percent and rising. People have stopped traveling overseas. The local currency, the krona, was 65 to the dollar a year ago; now it is 130. Companies are slashing salaries, reducing workers' hours and, in some instances, embarking on mass layoffs.
"No country has ever crashed as quickly and as badly in peacetime," said Jon Danielsson, an economist with the London School of Economics.
The loss goes beyond the personal, shattering a proud country's sense of itself.
"Years ago, I would say that I was Icelandic and people might say, 'Oh, where's that?' " said Katrin Runolfsdottir, 49, who was fired from her secretarial job on Oct. 31. "That was fine. But now there's this image of us being overspenders, thieves."
Aldis Nordfjord, a 53-year-old architect, also lost her job last month. So did all 44 of her co-workers everyone in the company except its owners. Some 75 percent of Iceland's private-sector architects have been fired in the past few weeks, she said.
In a strange way, she said, it is comforting to be one in a crowd. "Everyone is in the same situation," she said. "If you can imagine, if only 10 out of 40 people had been fired, it would have been different; you would have felt, 'Why me? Why not him?' "
Until last spring, Iceland's economy seemed white-hot. It had the fourth-highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. Unemployment hovered between 0 and 1 percent (while forecasts for next spring are as high as 10 percent). A 2007 United Nations report measuring life expectancy, real per-capita income and educational levels identified Iceland as the world's best country in which to live.
Emboldened by the strong krona, once-frugal Icelanders took regular shopping weekends in Europe, bought fancy cars and built bigger houses paid for with low-interest loans in foreign currencies.
Like the Vikings of old, Icelandic bankers were roaming the world and aggressively seizing business, pumping debt into a soufflé of a system. The banks are the ones that cannot repay tens of billions of dollars in foreign debt, and "they're the ones who ruined our reputation," said Adalheidur Hedinsdottir, who runs a small chain of coffee shops called Kaffitar and sells coffee wholesale to stores.
There was so much work, employers had to import workers from abroad. Nordfjord, the architect, worked so much overtime last year that she doubled her salary. She was featured on a Swedish radio program as an expert on Iceland's extraordinary building boom.
Two months ago, her company canceled all overtime. Two weeks ago, it acknowledged that work was slowing. But it promised that there would be enough to last through next summer.
The next day, everyone was herded into a conference room and fired.
Employers are hurting just as much as employees. Hedinsdottir has laid off seven part-time employees, cut full-time workers' hours and raised prices. The Kaffitar branch on Reykjavik's central shopping street was perhaps half full; in normal times, it would have been bursting at its seams.
While business is dwindling, costs are soaring. When the government took over the country's failing banks in October, Hedinsdottir's latest shipment of coffee more than 109,000 pounds was already on the water, en route from Nicaragua. She had the money to pay for it, but because the crisis made foreign banks leery of doing business with Iceland, she said, she was unable to convert enough cash into foreign currency.
"They were calling me every day and asking me what the situation was, and they got really nervous," Hedinsdottir said of her creditors. They got so nervous that they sent the coffee to a warehouse in Hamburg, Germany, where it now sits while she tries to find the foreign currency to pay for it.
Her fixed costs are no longer fixed. Five years ago, the company built a new factory, borrowing the 120 million kronur about $1.5 million in foreign currencies. But the currency's fall has increased her debt to 200 million kronur. This summer, her monthly payments were 2.5 million kronur; now they may be double that the equivalent of $38,500 in Iceland's debased currency.
"My financial manager is talking to the banks every day, and we don't know how much we're supposed to pay," Hedinsdottir said.
In a recent survey, one-third of Icelanders said they would consider emigrating. Foreigners are already abandoning Iceland.
Anthony Restivo, an American who worked this fall for a potato farm in eastern Iceland and was heading home, said all of the farm's foreign workers abruptly left last month because their salaries had fallen so much. One man arrived from Poland, he said, then realized how little the krona was worth and went home the next day.
At the Kringlan shopping center on the edge of Reykjavik, Hronn Helgadottir, who works at the Aveda beauty store, said she could no longer afford to travel abroad. But the previous weekend, she said, she and her husband had gone for a last trip to Amsterdam, a holiday they had paid for months ago, when the krona was still strong.
They ate as cheaply as they could and bought nothing. "It was strange to stand in a store and look at a bag or a pair of shoes and see that they cost 100,000 kronur, when last year they cost only 40,000," she said.
In Kopavogur, a suburb of Reykjavik, Runolfsdottir, the recently fired secretary, said she had worried for some time that Iceland would collapse under the weight of inflated expectations.
"If you drive through Reykjavik, you see all these new houses, and I've been thinking for the longest time, 'Where are we going to get people to live in all these homes?'" she said.
The real estate firm that used to employ Runolfsdottir built about 800 houses two years ago, she said; only 40 percent have been sold.
According to Icelandic law, Runolfsdottir and other fired employees have three months before they have to leave their jobs. At the end of that period, she will start drawing unemployment benefits.
Meanwhile, her husband's modest investment in several now-failed Icelandic banks is worthless. "They were encouraging us to buy shares in their firms until the last minute," she said.
She feels angry at the government, which in her view has mishandled everything, and angry at the banks that have tarnished Iceland's reputation. And while she has every sympathy with the hundreds of thousands of foreign depositors who may have lost their money, she wonders why the Icelandic government and, in essence, the Icelandic people should have to suffer more than they already have.
"We didn't ask anyone to put their money in the banks," she said. "These are private companies and private banks, and they went abroad and did business there."
Despite all this, Icelanders are naturally optimistic, a trait born, perhaps, of living in one of the world's most punishing landscapes and depending for so much of their history on the fickle fishing industry. The weak krona will make exports more attractive, they point out. Also, Iceland has a highly educated, young and flexible population, and has triumphed after hardship before.
Ragna Sara Jonsdottir, who runs a small business consultancy, said she had met for the first time with other businesses in her office building. "We sat down and said, 'We all have ideas, and we can help each other through difficult times,' " she said.
But she said she was just as shocked as everyone else by the suddenness, and the severity, of the downturn. When the prime minister, Geir Haarde, addressed the nation at the beginning of October, she said, her 6-year-old daughter asked her to explain what he had said.
She answered that there was a crisis, but that the prime minister had not told the country how the government planned to address it. Her daughter said, "Maybe he didn't know what to say."
By Floyd Norris
Saturday, November 8, 2008
This was the autumn that the orders stopped coming. In nearly every major economy, companies have reported a slowing in business this season, which seems to have begun about the time that Lehman Brothers failed in mid-September. The credit crisis worsened sharply, and consumers and businesses grew far more cautious.
That reality can be seen in the accompanying charts, which trace indexes of new orders reported by manufacturers in eight countries or regions around the globe. Nearly all have fallen sharply this autumn.
In all the indexes, a figure of 50 indicates that the flow of orders is neither rising nor falling, and the amount above or below that level shows how big the change is.
In the United States, the figure fell to 32.2 in October. It had been under 50 for a year, indicating a possible recession, but it was not until September that the plunge began.
The October level is the lowest since early 1980, and it is also the first time since then that more than half the companies reported orders were falling, as opposed to rising or remaining about the same.
In 1980, the Federal Reserve and the administration of President Jimmy Carter had imposed credit controls in an effort to slow inflation. This year, the credit controls were imposed by a troubled banking system, which has been slow to respond to the Fed's efforts to ease credit.
The new-orders indexes are one of the components of the factory index maintained by the Institute of Supply Management in the United States and by other organizations around the globe. The overall indexes have also fallen, but it is new orders that are most sensitive to rapid changes in the economy. Employment indexes are also trending lower.
When the U.S. economy began to slow in 2007, there was much talk of decoupling from the American giant. It was hoped that the rest of the world could continue growing, if perhaps not quite as rapidly, during an American recession.
That hope now appears to have been a false one.
The sharp declines in new orders show that the financial crisis is having an impact everywhere, and it appears that there are recessions in Japan and most of Europe, including Britain.
There is still optimism in the rapidly growing parts of Asia, particularly China and India, that they can continue growing at a strong pace. But China's new orders have now turned down, and the growth rate in India is clearly slowing. It may turn out that export-oriented economies are not insulated from a crisis affecting so many of their customers.
In any case, it is notable that readings below 40 - a rarely occurring indication of a sharp decline in orders - are now being seen in the new orders indexes for the euro zone, Britain, Australia and Japan. Retail sales are down in most of those areas as well.
To halt the slide, central banks around the world are scrambling to cut interest rates. But it is not clear how rapidly that medicine can have an effect when the financial system is still weak and worried about the value of the assets it built up during the credit boom that ended last year.
By Joe Nocera
Saturday, November 8, 2008
My old friend and mentor Charles Peters, the founder of The Washington Monthly, is one of the world's great devotees of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Charlie grew up in Charleston, West Virginia, during the Great Depression, and some of his most powerful memories revolve around FDR's fireside chats. He and his parents would gather around the radio, hanging on the president's every word - and they got inspiration and hope from those speeches that carried them through the worst of those days.
"He was a genius at using common sense, down-to-earth Christian arguments for helping out neighbors who were in trouble," Charlie recalled the other day. FDR was unafraid to take bold actions - "bold experimentation," he called it - on the chance that at least some of those experiments might help the country survive, and eventually recover from, the Depression. He soothed when he needed to soothe, and hectored when he needed to hector.
No president has ever used the bully pulpit to such powerful effect. And no president has ever set in motion as many programs in as short a time as he did when he first took office in 1933 - 15 pieces of legislation in those now-famous first 100 days.
Now the United States is about to get a new president who many people, including Charlie Peters, believe has the potential to be another Roosevelt. Like FDR, Barack Obama has shown an ability to inspire and instill hope, and he has also exhibited the keen intellect, canny political instincts and easy confidence that were hallmarks of Roosevelt.
But of course there is another reason people are making the comparison these days between President-elect Obama and FDR. At this moment in America's history - with the country in a deep recession, the government flailing in its effort to combat the financial crisis, and Americans deeply divided over what to do about homeowners who got in trouble as a result of mistakes they made during the housing bubble - the country needs a new FDR. And it needs him badly.
Is the situation facing the United States today as dire as it was in the spring of 1933, as Franklin Roosevelt prepared to assume the presidency? Of course not. Back then, unemployment stood at a staggering 26 percent; on Friday, the government reported that the October unemployment rate was 6.5 percent. From its peak last year, the stock market has declined 35 percent. That's no fun, but it doesn't compare with 1933, when the Dow Jones industrial average was down 75 percent from its 1929 peak. There were many more bank failures, many more devastating foreclosures, especially among farmers, and much greater hardships during the Great Depression than there are now. Really, it's not even close.
Still, America is in a heap of trouble right now, and it is going to be the job of the new president help us claw our way out of it - just as it was for FDR 75 years ago. Even though economic life was rougher then, there are also instructive similarities between 1933 and now: contagions of fear sweeping through the country, a banking system teetering on the brink, and foreclosure problems that seem intractable, among them. And the path FDR trod in trying to solve those problems - both in terms of his rhetoric and his actions - is also instructive.
One important similarity is the response to the crisis by the departing presidents, Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush. Hoover, it turns out, was far more active than he gets credit for in the popular imagination. But his primary method of combating the crisis was by having the government make large loans to big banks, in the hope that they would restore confidence. When it didn't work, he was lost. As people began standing in line to pull their savings out of banks - creating devastating bank runs - government officials pleaded with Hoover to declare a bank holiday. But he couldn't pull the trigger.
Hoover also established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which made loans to tax-starved state governments, among other entities. But as the historian Michael Parrish points out in his classic work, "Anxious Decades," state governments "had to take a virtual pauper's oath" to get any money. Hoover would only approve public works projects that would generate enough revenue to pay off the federal loan - a restriction that severely limited their usefulness. And for ideological reasons, he opposed any direct federal aid to the unemployed. Parrish describes the Hoover administration response to the crisis as "pathetically inadequate."
Sound familiar? The Bush administration has also attacked the crisis almost entirely by focusing on the banking system. It has made huge loans and taken equity stakes - but for reasons largely of ideology has refused to demand anything in return for those capital infusions, thus limiting their usefulness. Hoarding was a problem in the 1930s, because dollar bills (or, in many cases, gold) stuffed under a mattress didn't help the banking system. Hoover did nothing about it. Hoarding is a different kind of problem today, with big banks too afraid to make loans to creditworthy customers. The Bush administration has done nothing about it.
And the Bush administration has been every bit as reluctant to help individual homeowners as the Hoover administration ever was. It has yet to produce a plan for broad loan modification, and the paltry efforts it has made so far seem primarily aimed at making sure most people don't qualify for relief. Its unwillingness to help ordinary citizens is appalling not just because it is so callous but because until housing prices stabilize and foreclosures decline, the crisis won't end.
Jonathan Alter, the Newsweek columnist and author of "The Defining Moment," a book about Roosevelt's first election and early presidency, told me that the most important phrase FDR uttered in his inaugural address was not "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The key words - the words all the reporters covering the speech led with - were "action and action now." That is what Americans yearned to hear.
Upon taking office, Roosevelt ordered a national bank holiday - but he sold it to the country in such a way that people were actually relieved that the banks had closed. He solved the hoarding problem by announcing that the federal government would publish the names of anyone holding gold or gold certificates - thus shaming those people into putting their gold back into the banks. And when he did reopen the banks - or at least the healthiest banks - after an eight-day holiday, he decided to give a speech first, to explain the banking crisis to Americans. That was his first fireside chat. Jim Farley, who was then one of FDR's closest aides, later declared that "no other talk in history ever called forth such a wave of spontaneous enthusiasm and cooperation."
Alter told me that when the banks were reopened, Americans lined up to put money back into savings accounts - because Roosevelt had convinced them that it was their patriotic duty.
As for homeowners and farmers, Roosevelt created agencies like the Home Owners' Loan Corporation, which refinanced homes to prevent foreclosures, and the Resolution Trust Corporation, which took bad mortgages off the balance sheets of banks. Again, these were actions the country desperately needed but which Hoover had refused to do.
It is impossible to read about Roosevelt's early days in office and not imagine what Obama could do in his early days in office. He, too, will need to take "action and action now." He'll need to put in place quickly a plan for mortgage modification that will help keep people in their homes. He'll need a Treasury secretary with the confidence and skill to deal with the toxic mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps that still threaten the world's financial system. He'll need to come up with a stimulus plan that will actually stimulate the economy.
But if he is the president that so many people hope he'll be, he'll take these actions while also explaining them to the country in a way that makes them both understandable and palatable. He'll calm the country down, reduce the panic and end the contagions of fear. That's a tall order, I realize - but it's what FDR managed to accomplish with his fireside chats.
He'll need to do one other thing that FDR did so well: He'll need to help us understand that we're all in this together. For several weeks now, I have been publishing on my blog a series of plans for helping homeowners. The people who have sent me these plans devised them mainly because they want to help the country. They understand how devastating foreclosures are not just to the families involved but to entire neighborhoods and the economy as a whole.
Yet the response on my blog has been astonishingly angry. Reader after reader has written to complain about how unfair it is that their neighbors, who overreached because of greed or stupidity, will be bailed out, while those who didn't buy homes they couldn't afford will get no reward.
And you know what? It is unfair. But there is a larger good at stake: the economic health of the country. Robert Putnam, the Harvard professor who wrote the book "Bowling Alone," about America's lack of community and social interaction, told me that in hard times, people tend to hunker down and look inward instead of reaching out to others. That was even true during the Depression, he said, when civic groups of various kinds lost half their membership between 1930 and 1935.
With his powerful rhetoric and message of hope, Roosevelt convinced Americans that they needed to act for the greater good if the country was ever going to get back on its feet. And they did. Now, Obama needs to lead Americans to the realization that once again, people need to do what's right for the country, even if it feels personally unfair.
Putnam has known Obama since he was a community organizer in Chicago. "I think Obama has it within his power to do the Roosevelt thing," he said.
Good to hear. And not a moment too soon.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
By Deborah Charles
Barack Obama said on Saturday that, with the long U.S. presidential election campaign over, now was the time for Americans to put aside political differences and work together to solve the economic crisis.
Obama, a Democrat who won a decisive victory against Republican John McCain in Tuesday's election to become the first black U.S. president as of January 20, vowed to seek unity.
He noted Republican President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush had invited Obama and his wife Michelle to the White House on Monday and that the Bushes had offered to do all they could to help with Obama's transition.
"This speaks to a fundamental recognition that here in America we can compete vigorously in elections and challenge each other's ideas, yet come together in service of a common purpose once the voting is done," Obama said in the Democratic Party's weekly radio address.
"And that is particularly important at a moment when we face the most serious challenges of our lifetime," said Obama, who regularly attacked the Bush administration during the campaign for causing the now-global economic crisis.
Obama noted that figures released on Friday showed a 10th straight month of job losses, bringing the total number of unemployed Americans to about 10 million.
"Tens of millions of families are struggling to figure out how to pay the bills and stay in their homes," Obama said. "Their stories are an urgent reminder that we are facing the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime and we must act swiftly to resolve them."
'CAN'T AFFORD TO WAIT'
Obama said he and his transition advisory board -- a well-regarded group of business leaders, former top Washington officials and economic experts -- discussed the challenges at a meeting on Friday and started developing a series of policies to address the crisis.
"While we must recognise that we only have one president at a time and that President Bush is the leader of our government, I want to ensure that we hit the ground running on January 20th because we don't have a moment to lose," said Obama.
In his own weekly radio address, Bush congratulated Obama on his historic victory.
"No matter how we cast our ballots, all Americans have reason to be proud of our democracy. Our citizens have chosen a president who represents a triumph of the American story -- a testament to hard work, optimism and faith in the enduring promise of our nation," Bush said.
But he warned of the difficulties awaiting the president-elect.
"Our country faces economic challenges that will not pause to let a new president settle in," Bush said.
"This will also be America's first wartime presidential transition in four decades," Bush added. "We're in a struggle against violent extremists determined to attack us -- and they would like nothing more than to exploit this period of change to harm the American people."
Bush said his administration would work hard to ensure that that Obama and his team can "hit the ground running."
Obama vowed to help working class families and to stem the problems before they get worse.
He said the United States "can't afford to wait" to move forward with his priorities like clean energy, health care reform, improvements to the education system and tax relief for the middle class.
"I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead," said Obama.
"We've taken some major actions to date, and we will need further actions during this transition and subsequent months," he said.
"Some of those choices will be difficult, but America is a strong and resilient country. I know that we will succeed if we put aside partisanship and work together as one nation. And that is what I intend to do."
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)
By C.J. Chivers
Saturday, November 8, 2008
VESTAL, New York: After a career of deception, Isaiah Oggins died in an executioner's dirty trick.
An aspiring American professor turned spy for the NKVD, Stalin's intelligence service, Oggins had been convicted of treason and espionage by the Soviet Union and completed an eight-year sentence in the gulag.
It was the summer of 1947. He was past due for release. A few months before in New York, his wife and young son had pleaded with George Marshall, then the secretary of state, to seek his freedom from the Soviet Union's grip.
By then a picture of frailty, Oggins, was taken to a medical examination in a Moscow clinic, where a doctor prepared an injection. But this was not a treatment to dress up a mistreated inmate for display. It was a blacker art: The injection contained the neurotoxin curare.
Isaiah Oggins was soon dead, by Stalin's order and a doctor's hand. His secrets from Soviet netherworlds - the foreign spy service and the labor camps - had been hushed. His family would be told the necessary lies, including a death certificate mentioning "sclerosis" and a place of burial, the Jewish cemetery in Penza, where his grave has never been found.
More than six decades later, Oggins's only child, Robin, now 77 and a retired associate professor of Medieval History at Binghamton University, sat at home in upstate New York on a recent morning, contemplating the enduring puzzle of his father's dark journey.
After years of investigative work by Andrew Meier, an American journalist and former correspondent for Time, much about Isaiah Oggins - a leftist academic killed by the very system that once had attracted him - had been dragged into the light. As a child, Robin Oggins had been told his father worked for American Express and had been lost in Europe in World War II. In time he learned his father was a Soviet spy.
That he now knows more than that rough sketch speaks to breakthroughs in Meier's six-year investigation for his recent book, "The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service." Meier managed to collect and assemble fragmentary glimpses of Oggins's secretive life into a more coherent picture than had existed.
Robin Oggins now knows details of his father's assignments, glimpses of his interrogation and incarceration, and part of the State Department's internal deliberations about how to secure his release.
But essential pieces of the puzzle were still missing, withheld by Russian censors more than a half-century on, and neglected by an American government that once pledged to uncover and make public the truth.
Robin Oggins had spent his life ambivalent about trying to peel away the secrets surrounding his father's career. With the disclosures pried free by Meier's work, he wanted to know more.
"When you've got what other people might regard as a secret," he said, "you kind of evaluate: Do you want to find out the truth at the expense of having the secret out there, or do you want to put the lid back on it as it has been all these years?"
He let the question linger. "In the final analysis, I am a historian," he said. "I am dissatisfied with what I have now.
He added: "It would be nice if they could release everything that is still out there."
In response to a query from The New York Times, Russian officials have privately said that the FSB, the latest successor to the spy service Isaiah Oggins served, was reviewing its files to see if more information could be provided to his son. But they have thus far declined to speak publicly about the matter and did not know when the review might be completed.
In many ways, Robin Oggins's urge to know a fuller account of the redacted chapters of his father's life propel him toward the center of a lingering Cold War mystery. Most of the Soviet records about his father remain sealed, including dossiers of his recruitment, assignments and operations, and his prison file. Files of other agents he worked with, and of the doctor who killed him, are also closed.
In telephone interviews and e-mail exchanges, Meier said that fuller disclosures from Russian archives would be a boon for researchers of Soviet intelligence, revealing, for example, who recruited Isaiah Oggins, what operations he conducted in Western Europe and Manchuria and whether he spied during periods when he lived in New York and San Francisco.
"For historians of Soviet espionage, this is all crucial," Meier said.
But Robin Oggins said the larger questions interested him only slightly. His motivation is personal. "I know less about my father in many respects than you know about your fifth-grade teacher," he said.
Beside obvious matters of fact, like the location of his father's remains, he is curious to know his father's state of mind. Meier's research led to a spy tale that examines the fatal allure of a Soviet ideal for an American leftist, and the horrors and betrayal that awaited him.
But records made public to date do not reveal what Isaiah Oggins thought after he was ensnared in Stalin's paranoiac purges. It is "Darkness at Noon" without as yet the internal narrative of the accused.
Isaiah Oggins never pleaded guilty to the charges against him; that much is known. His resistance suggests a durable streak of defiance and independence. Did he change his mind about Communism once he understood what the Soviet Union had become?
The prison records and interrogation files might hold the answer. "The worst thing for my father may have been realizing that he had been wrong all along," Robin Oggins said. "On the other hand, he may never have thought that. He may have believed in an ideal to the end, and thought that the train had been hijacked by lunatics."
Meier's citations to date include documents on Robin Oggins's father and mother, Nerma, who was in all likelihood a spy as well, from the Soviet military and intelligence archives, from the FBI, from a joint Russian-American commission examining Americans missing in action in the Soviet Union, and from federal archives in Switzerland and the United States.
Armed with Robin Oggins's signature on a letter appealing to the Russians to release details of victims of the purges to their descendants, Meier had helped coax the FSB to release 22 pages of redacted documents about Isaiah.
Among those records were a pair of grim photographs of the incarcerated spy - slouched, dim-eyed and broken in threadbare prison clothes - in the last hours of life. Isaiah Oggins had left home the last time when Robin was just a boy. His son's sole memory of him was of accompanying him one time to the Paris stamp market.
Seeing the final photographs for the first time, Robin had wept.
But the photographs arrived late in his life. His wife was ill with Alzheimer's disease, his mind occupied by his own academic research. He had no means or experience to press the Russian government for help.
"I am a full-time caregiver," he said. "I do not speak Russian. Practically, I cannot travel. To work on this, I would not know where to begin."
Still, the photographs beg questions. What did a man, caught at the crossroads of history and reduced to such a state, know?
"Abstractly, I want more," Robin Oggins said. "Practically, it changes nothing. It is still a horror story."
Ellen Barry contributed reporting from Moscow.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
WARSAW: Mieczyslaw Rakowski, Poland's last communist prime minister and head of the ruling communist party, has died at the age of 82, news channel TVN24 reported on Saturday.
Rakowski headed Poland's government in 1988-1989 and led the ruling Polish United Workers Party for half a year until it was disbanded in January 1990 amid the country's switch-over from Soviet-style rule to parliamentary democracy.
He first rose to prominence as the editor of the influential weekly Polityka which was regarded as surprisingly liberal by Soviet-bloc standards.
A life-long communist, Rakowski nevertheless opposed the party's hardliners and sought agreement with moderate opposition activists.
But he clashed openly with the Solidarity movement which emerged in 1980 to challenge totalitarian rule and was remembered for his attempt to liquidate its cradle, the Gdansk Shipyard.
(Reporting by Rob Strybel; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
By Hez Holland and Yves Boussen
Aid agency efforts to help thousands of people displaced by fighting in eastern Congo mostly failed on Saturday, despite an appeal by African leaders for a cease-fire.
Toning down his warlike rhetoric, rebel chief Laurent Nkunda welcomed a call for a cease-fire and humanitarian corridor, and the U.N. force urged rebel and pro-government militias to leave the North Kivu town of Rutshuru, north of Goma, after a spate of killings by both sides.
But aid workers in North Kivu province were cautious as fighting between Tutsi rebels and pro-government forces continued despite a unilateral cease-fire Nkunda declared last week, a few days into an offensive against the provincial capital Goma that sent civilians fleeing for their lives.
"We urgently need to get into these places and deliver assistance," the U.N. World Food Programme's Marcus Prior said.
Sporadic bursts of gunfire were heard early on Saturday near Kibati, 12 km (7 miles) north of Goma, where more serious fighting between Nkunda's rebels and Congo's army halted food distribution and vaccinations by U.N. agencies on Friday.
In a sign of chaos reigning in Goma, Congolese Army soldiers shot dead an off-duty Senegalese peacekeeper late on Friday in what appeared to be a botched robbery, U.N. officials said.
Nkunda's revolt against the Democratic Republic of Congo's government, which he says sides with local militias and Rwandan Hutu rebels against his minority Tutsi community, has displaced over 1 million in North Kivu in two years, and an estimated 250,000 since September alone.
The world's biggest U.N. peacekeeping force, the 17,000-strong MONUC, has been unable to stem the latest bout of bloodletting to rock Congo since a 1998-2003 regional war driven in part by competition for its huge mineral resources.
Over 5 million people have died in a decade of conflict.
African leaders and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met in Nairobi on Friday to tackle the conflict, rooted in Rwanda's 1994 genocide of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
"They were talking about a cease-fire and humanitarian corridor. We were asking for that already," Nkunda told Reuters on Saturday by phone from his base in the hills north of Goma.
WARNING TO PEACEMAKERS
Nkunda's comments were generally more conciliatory than most of his other public statements during the two-week offensive.
But he warned regional peacemaking forces -- which Friday's summit agreed may be sent into North Kivu -- to stick to humanitarian operations or they would be treated as the enemy.
"If they come to really support the corridor, I have no problem. If they come for political reasons, it is not for peace. We will treat them like (the U.N. force). They will be on the side of the government," Nkunda said.
Civilians displaced by the conflict tried on Saturday to get back to what passes for normality in a refugee camp at Kibati, which thousands fled on Friday during gunbattles between rebels and Congolese troops in nearby Kibati village.
"I heard bullets and bombs from Kibati yesterday. I just dropped my luggage and ran," 12-year-old Jean-Claude Bahati, wearing a frayed shirt and plastic flip-flops, told Reuters.
"I don't know where my parents are. Last night I slept in a banana plantation," he said as he wandered around Kibati camp.
Further north around the towns of Rutshuru and neighbouring Kiwanja, aid workers are unable to reach camps where thousands of people had been sheltering before the latest fighting.
"We had a lot of work going on in Rutshuru and some points in between, but that's been suspended," Kevin Cook, spokesman for aid group World Vision, said.
"We would like to see the corridor opened all the way to Rutshuru, but we don't think it's going to happen," he said.
In some areas Nkunda's Tutsi rebels have fought Rwandan Hutu rebels, reflecting the ethnic faultline of Rwanda's genocide.
Nkunda's rebels drove pro-government Mai-Mai militia fighters out of Kiwanja on Wednesday, and the U.N. force and human rights researchers say both sides killed civilians.
U.N. peacekeepers visited 11 sites of communal graves and human rights groups say the armed factions have been recruiting children to fight in Rutshuru and other parts of North Kivu.
"I suggest that we demilitarise Rutshuru. All armed forces of whatever kind should leave," MONUC head Alan Doss said at a news conference in Goma.
MONUC says it cannot cover every bit of a country the size of Western Europe where marauding armed groups have roamed for years, killing, looting and raping and recruiting child soldiers in some of the worst violence seen in the world.
A senior peacekeeping official urged the Security Council on Friday to give urgent consideration to a request from Ban last week for 3,085 more police and military personnel for MONUC.
"We are very concerned that the situation may deteriorate further," Edmond Mulet, U.N. assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, said after visiting Congo.
(Additional reporting by Joe Bavier in Kinshasa, David Lewis in Nairobi and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing Alistair Thomson; Editing by Louise Ireland)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has conceded defeat to the centre-right National Party led by John Key after Saturday's election, media reported. Clark had telephoned Key to concede that her Labour Party had lost the election, Television New Zealand said.
With almost 99 percent of the vote counted, Key's centre-right National Party had 45 percent of the vote, which would translate to 59 seats in the 122-seat parliament with support from its allied parties enough to give it a majority.
The centre-left Labour Party, which had been seeking a fourth three-year term, had 34 percent of the vote, translating to 43 seats.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
By Alan Lorimer
New Zealand safely negotiated the first leg of their Grand Slam tour with a comfortable 32-6 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The All Blacks ran in four tries which just about reflected the balance of play with the visitors, who always looked menacing with ball in hand, having too much pace for a Scotland defence that never seemed totally secure.
The hosts had lots of possession but made little headway against New Zealand's hard, quick engagement in the tackle and coach Frank Hadden has a lot of problems to sort out ahead of their match with world champions South Africa next Saturday.
Scotland looked the part in the early stages and almost scored when Mike Blair made inroads with a quickly taken tap penalty before flicking the ball to Chris Paterson. The end result, though, was a penalty converted by Paterson.
Scotland barely had time to celebrate when centre Nick De Luca was sin-binned for kicking the ball out of ruck. Stephen Donald punished the offence with a penalty goal but the loss of De Luca was to exact a further cost for the Scots.
From line-out possession, Donald, exploiting Scotland's depleted back line, picked out Anthony Tuitavake with a delicate cross kick giving the Fijian-born winger a try in the corner.
Donald and Paterson then exchanged penalty kicks before another critical strike from New Zealand when Thom Evans was stripped of the ball by Ali Williams.
The lock triggered a move that ended with centre Richard Kahui putting in a clever grubber kick that caused mayhem in the Scotland defence allowing Piri Weepu to grab the ball for an unconverted try.
Scotland tried desperately to get back on terms after New Zealand lock Anthony Boric had been yellow carded. The Scots had a succession of scrums on the New Zealand line which came to nothing leaving the All Blacks ahead by 18-6 at halftime.
Barely a minute into the second half New Zealand delivered another sucker punch, this time from an innocuous looking high kick from Donald.
The Scotland defence failed to deal with the bouncing ball and it was Kahui who benefited with a straight romp to the line, Donald adding the conversion.
New Zealand, a raft of replacements on board, almost struck again after a powerful run by Liam Messam but winger Corey Jane spilt the number eight's pass with the line at his mercy.
The All Blacks atoned with a fourth try from another speculative kick by Donald that fell to second row Boric, ending with a touchdown under the posts, leaving replacement Dan Carter with a simple conversion for the final points of the match.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
By Mitch Phillips
The Martin Johnson era got off to a winning and encouraging start on Saturday as England beat the Pacific Islanders 39-13 at Twickenham in the first match of the former World Cup winning-captain's reign as manager.
Two tries for prolific wing Paul Sackey, further scores for flyhalf Danny Cipriani, debutant lock Nick Kennedy and hooker Lee Mears and a man-of-the-match performance by debutant fullback Delon Armitage were the highlights of England's positive approach.
Johnson's new-look side produced plenty of bright moments with the three other debutants, Riki Flutey, Ugo Monye and Kennedy, all delivering confident performances and the halfback partnership of Danny Care and Danny Cipriani also sharp.
The lineout, bossed by new captain Steve Borthwick, was faultless and though the pack struggled to impose themselves at the scrum and there were some problems at the breakdown, Johnson has more positives than negatives to ponder.
"There are areas where we can be critical but it was a difficult day in difficult conditions against dangerous opposition and we got there in the end and saw five good debuts," Johnson told Sky Sports TV after Dylan Hartly joined the fray as a late replacement hooker.
England, playing in their unfamiliar red strip with the Islanders in their first-choice white, got underway with a terrific try after 14 minutes.
Care made a sharp break to feed Armitage and he cut loose before looping a clever overarm pass inside to Sackey to score his ninth try in his 16th game.
A minute later though England gifted the Islanders their sole try as Seru Rabeni charged down a Cipriani kick inside the England 22 and the centre scooped it up to score.
The flyhalf, who also slotted two first-half penalties, made amends at the end of the first half as he again combined quickly with Care to catch the Islanders napping.
He gave winger Monye a chance to show the speed that made him a talented teenage sprinter before arriving on his shoulder to collect the return and dive over before a Pierre Hola penalty cut the deficit to 20-10 at halftime.
England struck again four minutes after the restart with a crisp try. Kennedy caught a lineout, threw to Care and backed up the scrumhalf to collect a reciprocal pass and score.
The Islanders then enjoyed a lengthy spell of pressure, with Armitage twice making important tackles as the driving rain made handling difficult.
England, though, finished strongly as Armitage again cut through two tackles to pave the way for Mears to score his first try on his 26th appearance and Sackey got his second in the corner despite almost being decapitated by Semisi Naevo in the process, a tackle that earned the Fijian flanker a yellow card.
"I thought our back three were outstanding, Delon played with real assurance, he's been doing it in training and we hoped he could do that and he did," Johnson said. "I don't think I've seen a better debut than that so that's fantastic.
"We've got an exciting young team but it's inexperienced."
England face Australia next week before further Twickenham tests against world champions South Africa and New Zealand.
"The pace will probably be higher next week but there's been so much talk so it was good to get this game out the way and give us something to work with," Johnson said.
(Editing by John Mehaffey)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
By Matt Lloyd
World Cup holders South Africa opened their November international season with a 20-15 victory over European champions Wales at the Millennium stadium on Saturday.
Centres Adrian Jacobs and Jean de Villiers scored tries either side of halftime and Ruan Pienaar, starting at flyhalf for the first time in a test, kicked 10 points.
Wales missed their chance to claim only their second victory against South Africa after trailing 20-3 early in the second half.
Replacement flyhalf James Hook converted four penalties to bring Wales back into contention in front of British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan, who was in the Cardiff crowd, only for the Springboks to prove their qualities in defence.
Wales's preparations were hampered by the late withdrawal of centre Gavin Henson, who failed to shake off a persistent Achilles problem that now threatens his role in the remainder of the autumn series.
Then, just five minutes after the kickoff, South Africa found a way through for the game's opening try.
JP Pietersen outjumped Shane Williams for Pienaar's high kick, quick ball offered Schalk Burger space in midfield, Conrad Jantjes and John Smit edged the Springboks closer before centre Jacobs crashed over for his sixth international try.
Pienaar converted with ease before adding a penalty moments later to hand South Africa a dream 10-point advantage after as many minutes.
It took new cap Andy Powell to finally get Wales on to the front foot. The number eight passed his first test under the high ball before setting off on a barnstorming run that lifted the red jerseys.
However, Wales could not find a finishing touch as breaks by Powell, Ryan James and Williams went unfinished and Stephen Jones was off target with his first attempt.
Instead it was another first cap, 19 year-old Leigh Halfpenny wing, who landed his country's first points with a 28th minute penalty.
Pienaar extended South Africa's advantage to 13-3 before halftime with his second penalty, though the lead would have been more had he not spilt possession over the tryline moments earlier after beating three defenders.
Wales regrouped at halftime and were on the ascendancy as fullback Byrne showed his Lions credentials, smashing holes in the Springbok defence time and again.
Yet for all their possession, Wales struggled to breach a dogged South African defence and instead the game swung inextricably in the direction of the visitors with De Villiers' interception try.
Hook had only just taken the field to rapturous applause when his first pass landed in the hands of De Villiers who had a clear 60 metres of field ahead of him to score.
Pienaar's conversion put South Africa 20-3 ahead, though that was not the end of Wales. Hook made amends for his early blunder with a fine kicking display, landing four penalties to haul Wales back into the game.
The third followed a yellow card for South African replacement Jaque Fourie who was guilty of diving in as Wales desperately sought a winning try, after another burst by man-of the-match Powell.
(Editing by John Mehaffey)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
PADUA, Italy: Debutant Quade Cooper scored a late try to help an unimpressive Australia side to a face-saving 30-20 victory over Italy on Saturday.
The twice world champions were tied 20-20 against the dogged Italians with eight minutes to go when substitute back Cooper danced through a muddle of players to put them in charge.
Wing Lachie Turner scored the Wallabies' only other try, with Matt Giteau notching up 17 points with the boot and captain Stirling Mortlock also getting on the scoreboard with a penalty.
Winger Mirco Bergamasco crossed the line for the Azzurri. Flyhalf Andrea Marcato and his replacement Luciano Orquera kicked the rest of Italy's points.
After an early trade of penalties between Mortlock and Marcato, Turner ran in the first try for Australia in the eighth minute when swift hands created an overlap on the right.
Flyhalf Giteau, on from the bench after Berrick Barnes took an early knock, replied to another Marcato penalty before the Italian playmaker narrowed the gap with a fine drop goal and a third place kick.
Australia then sliced through the home side's defence with ease but were let down by fumbles and poor kicks.
The Azzurri managed to get some momentum going and took the lead on the half hour when fullback Andrea Masi burst through the Wallabies' backline following a clever switch of play from a scrum to set up Bergamasco.
Giteau split the posts with a long range penalty to send the teams in level 14-14 at halftime.
He converted two more amid whistles from the crowd after the break, but with several top players rested for next week's match against England, Australia were still unable to ignite.
Orquera, who replaced the injured Marcato at the start of the second half, brought Italy on equal terms again with kicks.
The match remained tight until the closing stages, when Cooper's fancy feet saved the Wallabies' blushes.
"There a bit of a bitter taste because we came close," Italy flanker Mauro Bergamasco told La7 television. "We made mistakes. But we showed that we can go forward, that we can play good rugby.
"We scored a beautiful first-phase try. It's the sort of thing great teams often do against us and that we have proved we are capable of when we play at 120 percent."
(Writing by Paul Virgo in Rome; Editing by John Mehaffey)
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