News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Honduran crisis talks break down

Honduran crisis talks break down

Supporters of Manuel Zelaya in Tegucigalpa, Honduras (14 July 2009)

Mr Zelaya’s supporters say he remains the rightful leader of Honduras

Honduras’s interim government has rejected a proposal to solve the country’s political crisis, in effect ending talks with the ousted president.

The delegation’s head said Costa Rica’s proposal, which would see Manuel Zelaya return as leader of a unity government, was “absolutely unacceptable”.

Mr Zelaya’s representatives said they would no longer negotiate with the interim leaders’ current delegation.

Mediators have asked both sides to resume talks in three days.

“It was not possible to reach a satisfactory agreement,” said President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, who is leading mediations and has presented both parties with a seven-point proposal.

“The Zelaya delegation fully accepted my proposal, but not that of Don Roberto Micheletti.”

Their take on power is based on terror and force instead of peace and reason
Manuel Zelaya

Mr Arias has warned of possible civil war if the talks fail and urged both sides to continue.

“My conscience tells me that I cannot give up and must continue working for at least three more days and that is what I propose to do,” he said.

Mr Zelaya, who is currently in Nicaragua, said one “must never close the door on actions of good faith” but that he doubted the mediators could achieve much.

“I do not think that efforts with coup-mongers, just as with terrorists and kidnappers, will work,” he told Reuters news agency.

“Their take on power is based on terror and force instead of peace and reason.”

He later said his supporters were “organising internal resistance” in preparation for this return to the country, which he indicated could happen at the weekend.

Mr Zelaya called on the international community to act in his support and to “back us in restoring democratic order”.

The US, which has supported Mr Zelaya, urged the political rivals to reflect on the “significant progress” made at the talks and to “commit themselves to their successful conclusion”.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the Organisation of American States (OAS) and other interested parties “underscore their commitment to the peaceful resolution of political disputes through dialogue”.

‘Dialogue over’

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and representatives of Honduras talks in San Jose (19 July 2009)

Mr Arias has warned of possible civil war if the situation is not resolved

“I’m very sorry, but the proposals that you have presented are unacceptable to the constitutional government of Honduras,” said Carlos Lopez, the head of the interim government, led by Roberto Micheletti.

He said Mr Micheletti’s side objected in particular to the first point of Mr Arias’s plan, which proposes “the legitimate restitution” of Mr Zelaya as the head of a reconciliation government until early elections are held in October.

Mr Arias also proposed an amnesty for political crimes committed before and after the 28 June coup.

Mr Zelaya’s representatives had previously said they accepted the proposal for reinstating the deposed leader and were “willing to discuss all the other points”.

But following Sunday’s statement from the interim government, the delegation said the talks were effectively over, although it had not ruled out future talks with the coup leaders.

“This dialogue with this commission of the de facto, military coup government is finished,” said Rixi Moncada, one of Mr Zelaya’s representatives.

Mr Zelaya was forced into exile on 28 June. The interim government has said he will be arrested if he comes back.

It prevented an earlier attempted homecoming on 5 July.

On Sunday, Mr Zelaya said it was his right as a Honduran to return to the country and “absolutely no-one” would stop him, Reuters reported.

He later suggested he would return at the weekend, saying by then his supporters would have “all the necessary activities” in place, “as laid out in the law and the constitution and international mandates,” the agency quoted him as saying.

It would not be hard for Mr Zelaya to cross the long and mountainous border between Nicaragua and Honduras, but there is great concern that it will lead to bloodshed if he does.

Mr Arias said he was concerned that a “good part” of the Honduran population own firearms.

“What happens if one of those arms shoots a soldier? Or if a soldier shoots an armed civilian?

“There could be a civil war and bloodshed that the Honduran people do not deserve,” he said.

‘No return’

Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in Managua, Nicaragua (17 July 2009)

Mr Zelaya said it was his right to return to Honduras

Speaking to the EXPRESS in Nicaragua on Saturday, Mr Zelaya said he would not agree to anything that gave concessions to the people who ousted him from office.

Arturo Corrales, representing Mr Micheletti, had accused Mr Zelaya of bad faith.

He said Mr Zelaya’s insistence on forming a unity government went against the spirit of the talks and showed “a wish in Honduras to keep violating our constitution and our laws”.

The negotiations in Costa Rica have benefitted the interim government by buying it time, and also because it has been treated with an equal status to the elected leaders, says our correspondent.

Mr Micheletti heads a military-backed government, which ousted Mr Zelaya amid a dispute with Congress and the courts.

Mr Zelaya had planned to hold a non-binding public consultation to ask people whether they supported moves to change the constitution.

His critics said the move was unconstitutional and aimed to remove the current one-term limit on serving as president and pave the way for his possible re-election.

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July 19, 2009

China quarantines school groups

China quarantines school groups

Four British pupils in Beijing hotel

Some of the British teenagers holed up in a hotel room in Beijing

More than 100 schoolchildren and their teachers from the UK and US have been quarantined in Beijing after eight children were found to have swine flu.

The four UK and four US children are being treated in a Beijing hospital and are said to be in a stable condition.

China has this year quarantined hundreds of foreign visitors who have shown symptoms of the H1N1 virus.

The four Britons taken ill are from London schools. A further 52 UK pupils and teachers are under quarantine.

The hospitalised pupils are year nine students, aged 13 to 14; three from the Central Foundation Boys School, Clerkenwell, and one from Parliament Hill School, Camden.

High temperatures

Meanwhile, four of the British pupils under quarantine have told the news from their hotel room they are being well looked after.

The four, who attend Clevedon School in north Somerset, are all in their late teens and are part of a group of 12 from that school, plus two teachers.

“We are quarantined in the hotel and are all currently well as we have daily temperature checks which are all good,” they said in an e-mail sent from their hotel room.

“The hotel is really nice and we have proper toilets. We hope we experience more of China as we should be out within four days.”

One of the boys, Christopher Hicks, said that they had been visiting the Great Wall of China when they were called back, because they had previously shared a bus with a pupil from another school who had tested positive for the virus.

Another pupil, Joe Robinson, said: “We’re being treated very, very well. The food’s great. We’ve got our own individual tellies.”

They also had individual rooms, he said, although they had to wear protective face masks and were not allowed outside of the quarantined zone.

More than 600 Britons are on the trip, organised by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the British Council and Chinese organisation Hanban.

Speaking about the four UK pupils who have swine flu, the SSAT’s Katharine Carruthers said: “They are being extremely well looked after and cared for, to the extent where they’re getting pizza delivered to where they are. They are all happy and getting better.

“There are a number of children in quarantine in very comfortable conditions in a four-star hotel in Beijing, who have been in close contact with the swine flu cases.

“Everyone is in good spirits, getting involved in activities and carrying on their Chinese learning.”

The vast majority of the students are continuing their trip as normal, she said.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, in Beijing, said three of the four UK children were found to have high temperatures when they arrived in Beijing earlier in the week.

They were taken straight from the airport to a hospital where it was confirmed they had the virus. A fourth classmate fell ill later.

Chinese health worker tests flight from London  9.7.09

Chinese health officials monitor passengers arriving in the country

The American children had been in contact with the UK group and four of them were also diagnosed as having the virus.

Amii van Amerongen, from London, told the news that her 15-year-old sister was one of the children under quarantine.

“She called me this morning telling me that she is confined in a hotel and she is being very brave about the whole thing. She said it was quite intimidating – they have these ‘guns’ that they point at your head which measure your temperature,” she said.

Chinese officials told the news that the children were being well looked after and they had regular contact with their families.

Simon Calder, travel editor for the UK’s Independent newspaper, told the news that many countries were using “thermal imaging” at airports to test travellers, and the UK was viewed as a high-risk area.


Have you or your family been quarantined in China? Send us your comments and stories

July 16, 2009

Chicago’s Sears Tower is renamed

Filed under: Business News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:43 pm

Chicago’s Sears Tower is renamed

Sears Tower

No longer the Sears Tower – but will the new name catch on?

The Sears Tower in Chicago – one of the most famous skyscrapers in the world – is being renamed.

The 110-storey structure, which opened in 1973, is being rechristened the Willis Tower on Thursday.

London-based insurance brokerage Willis Group Holdings has secured the naming rights as part of an agreement to lease space.

But the name change has angered some protesters, who have launched a website called http://www.itsthesearstower.com.

The Sears Tower is not just a Chicago landmark, it’s a national landmark that’s known around the world
Aaron Perlut
PR agency Elasticity

Tourists from around the world have visited the tower’s gallery to see views of Chicago.

Chicago teacher Marianne Turk, 46, told the Associated Press news agency that she was firmly against the change, as she waited to go up.

“It’s always going to be the Sears Tower. It’s part of Chicago and I won’t call it Willis Tower. In Chicago we hold fast,” she said.

Chicago landmark

The Willis Tower will be introduced to Chicago by the city’s mayor, Richard Daley, during a public renaming ceremony hosted by Willis Group Holdings.

The company is hopeful that the name change will catch on.

“Everybody knows that tower,” chief executive Joe Plumeri said ahead of the ceremony.

“If we’re good corporate citizens and do what we should, hopefully Willis and the tower and Chicago will all become synonymous.”

Other well-known buildings have undergone name changes – New York City’s Pan Am Building became the MetLife Building, and Chicago’s Standard Oil Building is now the Aon Center.

But people have not always taken to them.

Public relations experts said it could take decades for the new name of the Chicago skyscraper to take its place in the public consciousness.

“The Sears Tower is not just a Chicago landmark, it’s a national landmark that’s known around the world,” Aaron Perlut, a managing partner at St Louis-based PR agency Elasticity, told Reuters news agency.

“We see it on our TVs, in movies and magazines, so it is part of pop culture.”

“Gaining public acceptance of renaming the Sears Tower will be extremely challenging. Even with a very long, integrated marketing campaign we could be looking at a 20-to-30-year period,” he said.

The building’s original tenant, Sears Roebuck and Co, moved out in 1992 but its sign stayed on.

A real estate investment group, American Landmark Properties of Skokie, Illinois, now owns the building.

July 15, 2009

Scores killed in Iran plane crash

Scores killed in Iran plane crash

All 168 passengers and crew have died in a Caspian Airlines plane crash in northern Iran, officials say.

Wreckage was spread over a large area in a field in Jannatabad village, Qazvin province, about 75 miles (120km) north-west of Tehran, state TV said.

The Tupolev plane was flying from the Iranian capital to Yerevan in Armenia, with mostly Iranian passengers.

The cause of the crash, which happened soon after take-off, was unknown. One witness said it plummeted from the sky.

Map

“The 7908 Caspian flight crashed 16 minutes after its take-off from the International Imam Khomeini Airport,” Iranian Aviation Organisation spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh said, reported Iran’s Press TV.

He said no problems were reported before take-off and there would be a full investigation into the cause of the crash.

At Yerevan’s airport, one woman wept as she said her sister and two nephews, aged six and 11, had been on the flight.

“What will I do without them?” said Tina Karapetian, 45, before collapsing.

It was earlier reported that most of the passengers were Armenian, but officials later said the majority on board were Iranian.

A Caspian Airlines spokesman told Reuters news agency up to 25 of the passengers were Armenians.

There were also two Georgians on the plane, which had 153 passengers and 15 crew.

‘Big explosion’

One witness said the Tu-154 circled briefly looking for an emergency landing site, while another said the plane’s tail was on fire.

A man who saw the crash said the aircraft exploded on impact.

ANALYSIS
Jon Leyne
Jon Leyne,Courtesy
BBC News
Iran has a notoriously bad air safety record. Because of sanctions imposed by the United States, Iran relies on an increasingly ageing fleet of airliners, and has trouble buying spares.

There are tales of aircrew buying spare parts on flights to Europe, then sneaking them back to Iran in the cockpit. While those sanctions don’t apply to aircraft from Russia and Ukraine, many planes from those countries in the Iranian fleet also appear well past their best.

For some people, flying in Iran can be a nerve-wracking experience. Stepping on board, it often becomes quickly apparent you are in a plane that has done many years service.

There are also frequent delays because of the shortage of aircraft. Iranian engineers and aircrew do their best to keep their fleets in service.

“I saw the plane crashing nose-down. It hit the ground causing a big explosion. The impact shook the ground like an earthquake. Then, plane pieces were scattered all over the fields,” 23-year-old Ali Akbar Hashemi told AP news agency.

Eight members of Iran’s national junior judo team and two coaches were on the flight, heading for training with the Armenian team.

Mohammad Reza Montazer Khorasan, the head of the disaster management centre at Iran’s health ministry, said: “All people aboard… the crashed plane are dead,” according to AFP news agency.

Television footage showed a massive crater in a field, with smouldering debris over a wide area.

The Qazvin Fire Department Chief said: “The area of the disaster is very wide and wreckage of the crashed plane has been thrown around as far as 150 to 200m.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered his condolences to the families of the victims.

IRANIAN PLANE CRASHES
Feb 2006: Tupolev crashes in Tehran, kills 29 people
Dec 2005: C-130 military transport plane crashes near Tehran, kills 110
Feb 2003: Iranian military transport plane crashes in south of country, kills all 276 on board
Dec 2002: Antonov 140 commuter plane crashes in central Iran, kills all 46 people on board
Feb 2002: Tupolev crashes in west Iran, kills all 199 on board

The plane was built in Russia in 1987.

It was the third deadly crash of a Tupolev Tu-154 in Iran since 2002.

The BBC’s Jon Leyne says Iran’s civil and military air fleets are made up of elderly aircraft, in poor condition due to their age and lack of maintenance.

Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, trade embargoes by Western nations have forced Iran to buy mainly Russian-built planes to supplement an existing fleet of Boeings and other American and European models.


Are you in the area? Have you been affected? Send us your comments

July 11, 2009

Obama speaks of hopes for Africa

Obama speaks of hopes for Africa

US President Barack Obama, on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, has said Africa must take charge of its own destiny in the world.

Mr Obama told parliament in Ghana during his one-day stay that good governance was vital for development.

Major challenges awaited Africans in the new century, he said, but vowed that the US would help the continent.

The US president’s trip comes at the end of a summit of eight of the world’s most powerful nations, held in Italy.

Ghana was chosen as the destination for the president’s visit because of its strong democratic record.

Mr Obama headed from parliament to Cape Coast Castle, a seaside fortress converted to the slave trade by the British in the 17th Century. He was accompanied by his wife, Michelle, a descendant of African slaves, and both of his young daughters.

People crowded into a public area outside the fort to greet Mr Obama, with those unable to get a place in the throng climbing onto nearby roofs and filling balconies just to catch a glimpse of the US leader.

Africa’s choice

Mr Obama spoke to parliament shortly after a breakfast meeting with Ghanaian President John Atta Mills.

He wore a broad grin as he was greeted at the podium by a series of rousing horn blasts from within the chamber.

US President Barack Obama speaks to the Ghanaian parliament
Development depends upon good governance. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans
US President Barack Obama

“Congress needs one of them,” Mr Obama joked, before turning to more serious matters.

“I have come here to Ghana for a simple reason,” the US president said: “The 21st Century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Ghana as well.”

Delivering a message that “Africa’s future is up to Africans”, Mr Obama conceded that the legacy of colonialism had helped breed conflict on the continent.

“But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants,” he added.

He praised Ghana’s own progress, governance and economic growth, saying Ghana’s achievements were less dramatic than the liberation struggles of the 20th Century but would ultimately be more significant.

“Development depends upon good governance,” Mr Obama told legislators. “That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long.

“And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”

‘Yes you can’

Expanding on his message, Mr Obama said four key areas were critical to the future of Africa and of the entire developing world, citing democracy, opportunity, health and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

ANALYSIS
Andrew Harding, BBC News, Accra
Andrew Harding, BBC News, Accra

The speech has gone down extremely well. This is a country that has been enormously proud to play host to Mr Obama and referred to him as a brother. People say endlessly that he is part of the family and they are expecting a great deal of him.

It was a very broad-ranging speech but Mr Obama has an ability because of his heritage, his Kenyan father, to reach out and speak to Africans in a way that I think most foreign leaders would find very difficult.

There are very few barriers for Mr Obama in this conversation that he is trying to initiate with Africans and I think that this speech will have ticked many, many boxes.

This is Mr Obama trying to link Africa into the international community.

He hailed Ghana’s democratic society, calling for strong parliaments, honest police, independent judges and a free press across Africa.

However, there were some blunt words directed at other countries, many of which have been undermined by despotic leaders and corrupt politicians.

“Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions,” Mr Obama told his audience.

“No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny.”

He pledged to continue strong US support for public healthcare initiatives in Africa, and called for sensible use of natural resources such as oil in the face of the threat of climate change.

“Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war,” Mr Obama added. “But for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. He described wars as a “millstone around Africa’s neck”.

“You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people,” Mr Obama said, describing freedom as Africa’s “inheritance” and urging the continent to beat disease, end conflict and bring long-lasting change.

In an echo of his presidential election campaign, he drew his speech to a close with a version of his trademark slogan: “Yes you can,” he told the gathered legislators.

Tight security

On the streets of Accra, many billboards welcoming Barack Obama have been erected, including one showing an image of the president and wife with the words: “Ghana loves you”.

A young supporter listens to Barack Obama's speech

Barack Obama’s speech was welcomed by Ghanaians of all ages

People have poured into Accra for a glimpse of the president during his 24-hour stay in Ghana.

But security is tight for the president’s visit, and few ordinary Ghanaians will have the chance to glimpse the first African-American President of the United States.

Mr Obama arrived in the capital late on Friday, fresh from the G8 summit in Italy where heads of state agreed on a $20bn (£12.3bn) fund to bolster agriculture – the main source of income for many sub-Saharan Africans.

July 9, 2009

Mystery surrounds Jackson burial

Mystery surrounds Jackson burial

Michael Jackson

Jackson died on 25 June, weeks before a series of comeback shows

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Michael Jackson’s body and plans for the singer’s burial following his emotional memorial service.

It is not clear where his golden coffin was taken to after it was removed from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

And, in the absence of an announcement by his family, speculation is mounting over where he will be buried.

Meanwhile, figures show that his memorial service was watched by 31.3 million people in the US.

Resting place

On Tuesday, family members attended a short funeral service at the Forest Lawn cemetery before Jackson’s coffin was taken in a hearse for the 10-mile trip to the Staples Center.

After the coffin was taken out, the hearse was seen leaving the centre but its destination has not been made public.

Los Angeles County records show that Forest Lawn is officially the temporary location of the body. But the coffin has not been seen returning to the cemetery.

Some reports suggest that Jackson could be buried at Forest Lawn – the last resting place of celebrities including Liberace, Bette Davis and actor David Carradine, who was found dead in a Bangkok hotel room last month.

Last week, Jackson’s brother Jermaine said he wanted the body to be buried in the grounds of the singer’s former home – the sprawling Neverland ranch, 150 miles north-west of Los Angeles.

Permission would be needed by authorities who would have to consider the implications of visiting fans on the transport infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Nielsen Media Research, the company that tracks viewing figures in the US, said that 31.3 million people watched the memorial service which was shown on a number of different networks.

This compared with the 28.9 million who watched the American Idol final in May and the 38 million who watched President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January.

Princess Diana’s funeral in September 1997 was watched by 33.2 million in the US.

Nielsen Media Research said Jackson’s memorial service was also watched by millions more on the internet.

It has emerged that the memorial service cost $1.4m (£860,000) to police and to provide traffic control and other services for.

Paris Jackson

Paris Jackson made an emotional tribute at the service

The amount included $1.1m (£680,000) in overtime pay for the 4,173 officers who worked around Forest Lawn, the Staples Center and other areas, the police department said.

The city council has set up a website asking people to make tax-free donations to help cover costs.

US music sales tracker Nielsen SoundScan, meanwhile, has revealed that 800,000 copies of Michael Jackson albums were bought last week – almost double sales for the previous week.

Compilation Number Ones was the best-selling album followed by 1982 album Thriller.

July 5, 2009

NFL star McNair found shot dead

Filed under: Latest, Sports News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:14 am

NFL star McNair found shot dead

Steve McNair playing for the Titans in January 2000

McNair led the Tennessee Titans to the Super Bowl

Recently retired American football star Steve “Air” McNair has been found dead with multiple gunshot wounds in Nashville, along with a dead woman.

“Air” McNair, who played 13 years with the National Football League and was a quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, retired last year.

A pistol was found near the dead woman, aged 20, who had received a single shot to head, police said.

The bodies were found in a flat used by the former footballer, who was 36.

First reports said McNair had suffered a gunshot wound to the head but police quoted by the Associated Press said later that he had been “shot multiple times”.

Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron identified the woman as Sahel Kazemi, whom he called a “friend” of McNair’s.

The footballer’s wife, Mechelle, was “very distraught” and police do not believe she was involved, the spokesman added.

‘One of the finest’

McNair led the Titans within a yard of forcing overtime in the 2000 Super Bowl, which they lost 23-16 to the St Louis Rams.

He was one of the finest players to play for our organisation and one of the most beloved players by our fans
Bud Adams
Titans owner

He also played for the Baltimore Ravens before retiring in April 2008 after injuries.

“We don’t know the details, but it is a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the families involved,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

Titans owner Bud Adams was “saddened and shocked” by news of McNair’s death.

“He was one of the finest players to play for our organisation and one of the most beloved players by our fans,” he said.

“He played with unquestioned heart and leadership and led us to places that we had never reached, including our only Super Bowl.”

July 4, 2009

North Korea missile tests defy UN

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:27 pm

North Korea missile tests defy UN

A student passes a diagram of North Korean missile types at a South Korean observation post in Paju, 19 June

North Korea is thought to have thousands of missiles

North Korea has test-fired a series of missiles in an apparent act of defiance on 4 July, American Independence Day.

Reports say at least seven Scud-type ballistic missiles were fired, with a range of about 500km (312 miles).

South Korea and Japan called the latest tests, which follow several others in recent weeks, an “act of provocation”.

North Korea is banned from all ballistic missile-related activities under UN sanctions imposed after a second underground nuclear test in May.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the missiles were fired from one of the North’s east coast launch sites on Saturday morning.

All landed in the Sea of Japan, known in South Korea as the East Sea.

NORTH KOREA 2009 TESTS
map
4 July – Seven suspected ballistic missiles fired
2 July – four short-range cruise missiles launched
25 May – second underground nuclear test brings new UN sanctions
25/26 May – series of short-range rockets fired
5 April – N Korea says long-range rocket was satellite launch

“Our military is fully ready to counter any North Korean threats and provocations,” the JCS said in a statement.

A South Korean defence official said Saturday’s tests were of greater concern than four short-range ones on Thursday, as the missiles had longer ranges.

“Thursday’s missile tests were apparently made as part of a military drill but today’s launches, which came on the eve of the US Independence Day, are believed to be aimed at political purposes,” the official told Yonhap news agency.

The South Korean government condemned the launches for being in breach of the recent UN security council resolution.

A spokesman for the US state department, meanwhile, described North Korea’s behaviour as “not helpful” and urged it not to aggravate tensions, AFP news agency reported.

Nuclear warhead fears

The BBC’s John Sudworth in Seoul says the launches are seen there as part of North Korean efforts to ratchet up the tension.

The missiles’ estimated 500km reach – although still technically short-range – brings most of South Korea withing striking distance, our correspondent says.

Japanese and South Korean media have reported that North Korea may be preparing to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Our correspondent says there are no signs that such a test could be imminent.

Pyongyang is banned from testing ballistic missiles under UN resolutions but launched a long-range rocket in April, which many governments saw as a thinly disguised test of Taepodong-2 missile technology.

There are fears that North Korea is trying to produce nuclear warheads small enough to put on missiles – but experts say this appears to be several years away.

After six-nation talks aimed at curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions broke down earlier this year, Pyongyang said it would “weaponise” its plutonium stocks and start enriching uranium.

On 12 June the UN Security Council approved a resolution allowing inspection of air, sea and land shipments in and out of North Korea suspected of carrying banned arms and weapons-related material.

The North has said it will treat any interception of its ships as a declaration of war.

Korea analyst Aidan Foster-Carter told the BBC that the international community will have to wait and see what North Korea wants, while reprimanding it and taking what action it can.

He believes that the political situation inside North Korea could be behind its recent behaviour.

There are questions over the health of leader Kim Jong-il, after his apparent stroke last year.

Reports suggest he has named his youngest son as his successor – and some analysts believe the recent bellicosity could be a show of strength aimed at securing domestic support for his plans.

June 30, 2009

Challenges loom as Iraqis celebrate

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:33 am

Challenges loom as Iraqis celebrate

Iraqi celebrate 29 June 2009

Iraqis celebrated US troop withdrawals from cities in a way that has not been seen since the invasion

There was a pop concert and celebrations in the Baghdad zoo park, fireworks in the night sky, and jubilation in the streets.

Security forces were everywhere, all leave cancelled, for fear that the bombers might strike again.

But even the checkpoints were garlanded with flowers and flags, and many had music blaring.

They were marking the arrival of the last day of June, the deadline for US forces to be out of Iraqi towns and cities.

It’s been named Sovereignty Day, and declared a public holiday. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has said it is a huge victory for Iraq.

But the fact is that for most people in Baghdad and elsewhere, 1 July will look very similar to 30 June or 29 June.

‘A few miles away’

American troops have rarely been seen on the streets in many areas in recent months.

Most of the tasks involving contact with the public have been taken over by Iraqi security forces.

But the withdrawal process did see the US troops either dismantling some 86 bases in the capital or handing them to Iraqi forces.

At one such base, Joint Security Station Comanche on the edge of Sadr City, American soldiers were toiling last week in the baking heat to meet the deadline.

People have tasted democracy, they have worked on democracy… Nobody can enforce dictatorship again on this country
Haidar al-Obadi
Shia MP

Huge concrete blast-walls were taken to pieces and trucked away in the dust to another base outside the city.

The US soldiers from the 1st Cavalry’s Ironhorse Brigade were packing their kitbags and backpacks, stashing them in MRAP armoured vehicles, and being driven away.

“Since we came here in February, our 2,300 men haven’t suffered a single fatality,” said the position commander, Capt Chris Clyde.

“We’re moving to another base a few miles away outside the city, and will continue working with our Iraqi partners from there.”

JSS Comanche is already a thing of the past.

It is no longer a military position. It has been totally dismantled. The building used as its command centre was handed back to its original owners, the Iraqi Agriculture Ministry.

‘Sacrifices’

On Monday, there was a symbolic ceremony at the old Iraqi Ministry of Defence building in the centre of Baghdad, the last US-held position to be handed over to the Iraqi authorities.

At another big ceremony and parade on Tuesday, Mr Maliki paid tribute to the “increasing credibility” of the Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi soldiers on parade 29 June 2009

He said the US withdrawal from the cities vindicated the position taken by Iraqi negotiators in the tough talks with the US that led to the agreement under which American troops should be entirely out of Iraq by the end of 2011, and that the withdrawal timeline would be adhered to.

As far as the towns and cities are concerned, while US forces remain on call outside city limits, their role in urban areas now changes to one of training and advising.

“This is a huge day both for the American and Coalition forces and for the Iraqis,” said the chief spokesman for the US-led Multinational Forces, Brig Gen Steve Lanza.

“This is the culmination of much hard work and sacrifice over the years, as Iraqi security forces now have primacy and control in this country.”

Election test

Much now depends on whether Iraqi forces can prevent the upsurge of violence which heralded the approach of the US withdrawals from triggering another spiral of sectarian violence – the clear aim of a series of deadly bomb attacks directed almost exclusively against Shia neighbourhoods and markets.

It was just such attacks which provoked Shia militias to take brutal revenge against Sunnis in 2006 and 2007, taking the country to the brink of civil war and disintegration.

US soldier in Baquba

More than 130,000 US soldiers remain in Iraq, with full withdrawal due in 2011

“Iraqi society, two years and more ago, looked into that abyss and rejected it, and that is the trend now,” said British ambassador in Baghdad Christopher Prentice, looking ahead to key general elections scheduled for January.

“The concentration and effort across Iraq now is on a very vigorous political campaign. Six months from a landmark election, this is almost unique in the region, a country that is focusing on coalition building, on real politics, and the question is which politicians can win the trust of the electorate to deliver better services and build on the improving security in the way that meets the national needs.”

The period leading up to the elections will be a real test for the Iraqi forces.

They still have 131,000 US troops standing by to help if they run into trouble.

But if they do have to call them back in, it will be seen as a reverse for the Iraqi government, and for President Barack Obama’s hopes of getting all of his forces out of Iraq by the end of 2011 without leaving chaos in their wake.

Changed society

Last January’s provincial elections set an impressive model of democracy in action, with powerful parties in some cases losing out, but accepting the results with good grace.

Will they do so in future elections, when the Americans are no longer around to stiffen the resolve of security forces? Is democracy now sufficiently rooted that it will survive the US withdrawal?

Haidar al-Obadi, a Shia Member of Parliament and close adviser to the prime minister, believes it is.

“There is no going back to a dictatorship or a one-party system in the country now,” he said.

“People have tasted democracy, they have worked on democracy, it is an operation not only at the centre, but also in other areas, in the governorates and in the regions. Nobody can enforce dictatorship again on this country.”

US soldiers leave Iraq’s cities

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:28 am

US soldiers leave Iraq’s cities

Iraqi soldiers carry the national flag and a banner that reads in Arabic "Parade to Mark the Iraq Pride day" in the city of Karbala

US and Iraqi commanders say Iraqi forces are ready to take over security

US troops have withdrawn from towns and cities in Iraq, six years after the invasion, having formally handed over security duties to new Iraqi forces.

A public holiday – National Sovereignty Day – has been declared, and the capital, Baghdad, threw a giant party to mark the eve of the changeover.

Hours before the midnight deadline, four US soldiers were killed in combat.

US-led combat operations are due to end by September 2010, with all troops gone from Iraq by the end of 2011.

The US military said the four soldiers served in Baghdad, but did not provide further details before families had been notified. They died as a “result of combat related injuries”, the military said.

Iraqi and US troops have been on the alert for insurgent attacks during the handover.

Despite the pullback from cities and towns, due to be completed on Tuesday, US troops will still be embedded with Iraqi forces.

We think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready
Christopher Hill
US Ambassador to Iraq

Both American and the Iraqi commanders say they are expecting al-Qaeda in Iraq and other groups to attempt to re-ignite sectarian tensions.

BBC defence and security correspondent Rob Watson says that while the pullback is significant, the actual withdrawal of US combat troops in 2010 will pose a greater challenge.

The success of that depends on Iraq’s political leaders and their ability to tackle the country’s many outstanding problems and tensions, he says.

Some 131,000 US troops remain in Iraq, including 12 combat brigades, and the total is not expected to drop below 128,000 until after the Iraqi national election in January.

‘Now is the time’

Iraqi soldiers paraded through Baghdad’s streets on Monday in vehicles decorated with flowers and Iraqi flags, while patriotic songs were played through loudspeakers at checkpoints.

Signs were draped on some Baghdad’s concrete blast walls reading “Iraq: my nation, my glory, my honour”.

US commanders have said security and stability is improving, and that Iraqi forces are now ready to take over security operations.

The US Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, said there would be no major reduction in forces until 2010 but the pullback was a “milestone”.

“Yes, we think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready,” he said.

“We have spent a lot of time working very closely with Iraqi security services… and I think there is an understanding that now it is the time.”

Mr Hill stressed that there would still be “a lot of US combat capabilities in Iraq for months to come”.

“After 30 June, with US combat forces out of cities and villages, localities, we’ll still be in Iraq,” he said.

“We will still have a very robust number of US troops in Iraq and, in fact, those troops will not begin to withdraw from Iraq until probably several months from now.”

The pullback comes two years after the US “surge” of extra troops between February and June 2007, which took US troop levels in Iraq to 168,000.

There was a decline in violence, but recent months have seen an upsurge.

In the past 10 days nearly 170 people have been killed and many more injured in three attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk.


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