News & Current Affairs

July 9, 2009

Ban criticises G8 climate efforts

Ban criticises G8 climate efforts

(L-R) Manmohan Singh; Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva; Felipe Calderon; Jacob Zuma; Dai Bingguo

The summit has opened up to take in the so-called G5 nations

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has criticised leaders of the G8 industrial nations for failing to make deeper commitments to combat climate change.

On Wednesday, the leaders, meeting in Italy, agreed to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, but Mr Ban said big cuts were needed sooner rather than later.

The leaders are set to meet their counterparts from emerging economies to discuss a new deal on global warming.

US President Barack Obama will chair the session, in the city of L’Aquila.

The second day of the summit has begun, opening up its discussions to take in the so-called G5 nations – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. Egypt is a special invitee.

The G8 leaders said on Wednesday they had agreed to try to limit global warming to just 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels.

That is the level above which, the United Nations says, the Earth’s climate system would become dangerously unstable.

The G8 leaders also said rich nations should cut emissions by 80% by 2050 while the world overall should reduce them 50% by 2050.

But correspondents say emerging nations appear reluctant to sign up and tough negotiations lie ahead.

‘Moral imperative’

Mr Ban said Wednesday’s agreement was welcome, but the leaders needed to establish a strong and ambitious mid-term target for emissions cuts by 2020.

“This is politically and morally imperative and a historic responsibility for the leaders… for the future of humanity, even for the future of Planet Earth,” he told the news.

Mr Ban said the leaders also had to come up with financial incentives for poorer countries to reduce pollution and aid to help them mitigate the effects of climate change.

President Obama will chair the Major Economies Forum meeting on Thursday afternoon.

The countries represented there account for some 80% of the emissions of gases that are blamed for global warming.

‘Still time’

Our diplomatic correspondent says, in L’Aquila, says the talks with India and China will be difficult.

China’s president has headed home to deal with the ethnic violence in Xinjiang, so there are now questions whether his delegation will be more cautious.

G8 KEY ISSUES/TIMETABLE
THURSDAY: Climate Change
Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, Egypt join talks
1230 GMT – Junior G8
1300 GMT – Major Economies Forum meeting
FRIDAY: Development
0630 GMT – crisis’ impact on Africa with African leaders attending
0830 GMT – food security
1100 GMT – final news conference
G8 members: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, US

Our correspondent adds that India is already complaining that the G8’s long-term targets for 2050 are too long-term and that G8 countries are ducking interim targets for 2020 which would make their 40-year ambitions more credible.

But in a meeting with Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Mr Obama said there was still time to close the gap between developed and developing nations before UN talks on a new climate change treaty in Copenhagen in December.

The summit host, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has said a deal should be all-inclusive.

“It would not be productive if European countries, Japan, the United States and Canada accepted cuts that are economically damaging while more than five billion people in other countries carried on as before,” he said.

The G8 summit began in L’Aquila on Wednesday, with the first day largely taken up with discussion of the fragile state of the global economy.

The leaders also issued a statement reaffirming that they were “deeply concerned” by Iran’s nuclear programme and condemning North Korea’s recent nuclear test and missile launches.

African leaders will join the summit on Friday to push for a new initiative to fund farming in the developing world and tackle global hunger.

Graph shows rising global temperatures
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January 15, 2009

Gaza pounded amid push for truce

Gaza pounded amid push for truce

Israeli tanks have pushed deep into Gaza City, prompting fierce exchanges of gunfire with fighters of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The UN’s relief agency, Unrwa, says part of its HQ in Gaza caught fire after being hit by Israeli shells.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed outrage. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert apologised but said troops returned fire after coming under attack from the UN’s compound.

The Hamas interior minister, Said Siyam was reported killed in an air strike.

Both Hamas and Israeli officials said Siyam was killed at his brother’s home in Gaza City.

Meanwhile, Hamas and Israeli negotiators were said to be making progress towards a ceasefire agreement as they held separate meetings with Egyptian mediators in Cairo.

Olmert apology

Speaking to reporters on the Israel-Gaza border, Unrwa spokesman Christopher Gunness said three of the agency’s employees were hurt in the attack on its compound in Gaza City.

About 700 people were still sheltering in the compound, he said, and the fire had been burning close to five full fuel tanks.

Mr Gunness added that Unrwa would not be able to distribute food or medical supplies on Thursday as its trucks were unable to leave the compound.

Mr Olmert met Mr Ban and apologised for the attack, but blamed it on Palestinian fighters firing from the UN site.

“It is absolutely true that we were attacked from that place, but the consequences are very sad and we apologise for it,” he said.

“I don’t think it should have happened and I’m very sorry.”

Escalation

The coastal enclave came under heavy fire from the east in the early morning as soldiers and tanks pushed into Gaza City.

Witnesses said they saw soldiers on foot marching behind bulldozers and tanks.

The advancing troops came under fire from fighters from Hamas and other Palestinian factions positioned on rooftops and balconies.

The building where he lives in the Gaza City suburb of Tel al-Hawa was surrounded by Israeli tanks at one point, he said, and several shells hit the lower floors.

Columns of thick smoke rose into the sky over Gaza from fires touched off by the fighting.

About 70 people have been killed in the fighting on Thursday, Gaza’s Ministry of Health said.

Reports said at least 15 rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israel since the early morning, injuring eight people in Beersheba.

Nearly 1,100 Gazans and 13 Israelis have reportedly died so far in the conflict.

Speaking to the press after meeting Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv, Mr Ban repeated previous calls for an immediate ceasefire, and said the suffering in Gaza was a “dire humanitarian crisis” that had reached an “unbearable point”.

In other developments:

  • The UK Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown says the British government “utterly” condemns the attack on the UN headquarters in Gaza. Fierce criticism also came from the French foreign ministry
  • Two hospitals in Gaza City are hit by shellfire: the al-Quds hospital in Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood, scene of heavy fighting, and a Red Crescent hospital, the UK Red Cross says
  • The Shurouq tower block in Gaza City, which houses the offices of the Reuters news agency and several other media organisations, is hit by an explosion, injuring a journalist for the Abu Dhabi television channel
  • Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council are to meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss the crisis. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, said the meeting was convened because of what he called Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people
  • A boat carrying medical supplies to Gaza is surrounded by Israeli warships in international waters off Lebanon’s southern coast and forced to return to Cyprus, according to charity Free Gaza
  • Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip reach 1,083 according to Gaza medical sources. Nearly a third of the dead are said to be children

‘Detailed vision’

Israeli and Hamas envoys have been in Cairo, holding separate meetings with Egyptian negotiators.

Egypt has been leading efforts to broker a ceasefire that could include a peacekeeping force being deployed along its border with Gaza to prevent the smuggling of weapons.

GAZA CRISIS BACKGROUND
Destroyed building in Gaza City

On Wednesday, Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil said his movement had presented Egyptian negotiators with a “detailed vision” of how to bring about a ceasefire.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, has said any ceasefire agreement would have to include a halt to Israeli attacks, the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces and the opening of border crossings to end the blockade of Gaza.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said there was “momentum” to the talks.

“Ultimately we want to see a long-term sustainable quiet in the south, a quiet that’s going to be based on the total absence of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and an internationally supported mechanism that will prevent Hamas from rearming,” Mr Regev said.

Israel launched its offensive on the Gaza Strip on 27 December and has refused to allow international journalists to enter Gaza without supervision, making it to independently confirm casualty figures.

The offensive has provoked widespread international condemnation at the cost in civilian casualties and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave.

Map

December 27, 2008

Massive Israeli air raids on Gaza

Massive Israeli air raids on Gaza

Israeli F-16 bombers have pounded key targets across the Gaza Strip, killing more than 200 people, local medics say.

Most of those killed were policemen in the Hamas militant movement, which controls Gaza, but women and children also died, the Gaza officials said.

About 700 others were wounded, as missiles struck security compounds and militant bases, the officials said.

Israel said it was responding to an escalation in rocket attacks from Gaza and would bomb “as long as necessary”.

They were the heaviest Israeli attacks on Gaza for decades. More air raids were launched as night fell.

Map

The operation came days after a truce with Hamas expired.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said “it won’t be easy and it won’t be short”.

“There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate halt to the violence, condemning what he called Israel’s “excessive use of force leading to the killing and injuring of civilians” and “the ongoing rocket attacks by Palestinian militants”.

Middle East envoy Tony Blair and the French EU presidency also urged an immediate ceasefire.

Palestinian militants frequently fire rockets against Israeli towns from inside the Gaza Strip; large numbers of rocket and mortar shells have been fired at Israel in recent days.

In a statement, Israel’s military said it targeted “Hamas terror operatives” as well as training camps and weapons storage warehouses.

Hamas bases destroyed

A Hamas police spokesman, Islam Shahwan, said one of the raids targeted a police compound in Gaza City where a graduation ceremony for new personnel was taking place.

At least a dozen bodies of men in black uniforms were photographed at the Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City.

Hamas will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood
Fawzi Barhoum
Hamas spokesman

Israel said operations “will continue, will be expanded, and will deepen if necessary”.

It is the worst attack in Gaza since 1967 in terms of the number of Palestinian casualties, a senior analyst told the BBC in Jerusalem.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni defended the air raids, saying Israel had “no choice”. “We’re doing what we need to do to defend our citizens,” she said in a television broadcast.

Israel hit targets across Gaza, striking in the territory’s main population centres, including Gaza City in the north and the southern towns of Khan Younis and Rafah.

Hamas said all of its security compounds in Gaza were destroyed by the air strikes, which Israel said hit some 40 targets.

Mosques issued urgent appeals for people to donate blood and Hamas sources told the BBC’s Rushdi Abou Alouf in Gaza that hospitals were soon full.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – whose Fatah faction was ousted from Gaza by Hamas in 2007 – condemned the attacks and called for restraint.

But Hamas quickly vowed to carry out revenge attacks on Israel in response to the air strikes, firing Qassam rockets into Israeli territory as an immediate reply.

One Israeli was killed by a rocket strike on the town of Netivot, 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Gaza, doctors said.

“Hamas will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood,” spokesman Fawzi Barhoum was reported as saying.

The air strikes come amid rumours that an Israeli ground operation is imminent.

Calls for ceasefire

World leaders urged both sides to halt the violence.

Palestinians flee the scene of an air strike in Rafah

Civilians were caught up in the air strikes in heavily-populated Gaza

A White House spokesman said the United States “urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza”.

“Hamas’ continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop,” the spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, added.

The UK Foreign Office said: “We urge maximum restraint to avoid further civilian casualties.”

At least 30 missiles were fired by F-16 fighter bombers. Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that about 60 warplanes took part in the first wave of air strikes.

Egypt opened its border crossing to the Gaza Strip at Rafah to absorb and treat some of those injured in the south of the territory.

Most of the dead and injured were said to be in Gaza City, where Hamas’s main security compound was destroyed. The head of Gaza’s police forces, Tawfik Jaber, was reportedly among those killed.

Residents spoke of children heading to and from school at the time of the attacks, and there were fears of civilian casualties.

Israeli security officials have been briefing about the possibility of a new offensive into Gaza for some days now.

But most reports centred on the possibility of a ground offensive, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not expected to authorise any operation until Sunday at the earliest.

Although a six-month truce between Hamas and Israel was agreed earlier this year, it was regularly under strain and was allowed to lapse when it expired this month.

Hamas blamed Israel for the end of the ceasefire, saying it had not respected its terms, including the lifting of the blockade under which little more than humanitarian aid has been allowed into Gaza.

Israel said it initially began a staged easing of the blockade, but this was halted when Hamas failed to fulfil what Israel says were agreed conditions, including ending all rocket fire and halting weapons smuggling.

Israel says the blockade – in place since Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007 – is needed to isolate Hamas and stop it and other militants from firing rockets across the border at Israeli towns.

Pakistani mourners honour Bhutto

Pakistani mourners honour Bhutto

Pakistan has marked a year since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto with a two-minute silence, while thousands of mourners visited her mausoleum.

President Asif Ali Zardari, her widower, used the occasion to call for peace and democracy in Pakistan and the resolution of problems through talks.

Analysts say the call was also aimed at India, which blames the recent attack on Mumbai on Pakistani militants.

Mrs Bhutto died in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi after an election rally.

Mourning ceremonies focused on the Bhutto family mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, in the southern province of Sindh.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says he expects an independent inquiry into her death to be set up soon.

Tears and flowers

Local police officials in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh told news agencies that about 150,000 people had travelled to the site.
They came from around the country, by train, plane, car and even on foot, chanting Bhutto slogans, some wailing and beating their chests in an outpouring of emotion reports.

Mourners kissed her grave and laid flowers at the mausoleum, where official ceremonies were delayed because the site was shrouded in winter mist and fog for much of Saturday morning.

These were her devoted supporters, but many other Pakistanis were also feeling the loss of the charismatic politician, famous abroad and at home, our correspondent says.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani paid tribute in a televised address, saying Mrs Bhutto had “worked for poor segments, for poor people and she was the only ray of hope for the people of this country, she was a hope for the region”.

Mr Zardari delivered a televised speech from the family home in Naudero, Sindh.

“Dialogue is our biggest arsenal,” he said.

“The solution to the problem of the region… is politics, is dialogue and is democracy in Pakistan.

“I want to tell the oldest democracy and the largest democracies of this world: listen to us, learn from us. We have lost our people, we do not talk about war, we do not talk about vengeance.”

Thousands of police officers have been deployed in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, amid fears that Mr Zardari could also be targeted during his visit to the mausoleum.

Multiple crises

Eulogies to Bhutto gloss over her mixed record when in power and her controversial decision to make a deal with Pakistan’s military leader, Gen Pervez Musharraf, in order to return from exile, our correspondent adds.
Benazir Bhutto. File photo
Many Pakistanis say they sorely miss Benazir Bhutto

But her assassination by suspected Islamist militants shook the nation to the core and although Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and her husband swept to power in the wake of her death, there is still a feeling she left a vacuum that has not been filled, she says.

Pakistanis are missing her political experience and international stature, as they face crises ranging from a raging Islamist insurgency to dangerous tensions with India, our correspondent notes.

Pakistan has redeployed some troops from the north-west to strengthen its border defences, while India has advised its citizens against travelling to Pakistan.

On Friday, the UN secretary general expressed hopes that a UN investigation into Mrs Bhutto’s assassination could be set up in the near future and said he was committed to helping Pakistan’s search for “truth and justice”.

Earlier this year, British detectives investigating the fatal attack in Rawalpindi said Mrs Bhutto had died from the effect of a bomb blast, not gunfire.

Their account matched that of the Pakistani authorities.

But Bhutto’s party has insisted she was shot by an assassin and accused the government of a cover-up.

Are you in Pakistan? Have you been attending any of the ceremonies today? Send your comment

November 12, 2008

UN appeals for DR Congo back-up

UN appeals for DR Congo back-up

Congolese government soldiers pass displaced people as they return from the front near Goma on Tuesday 11 November 2008

Congolese troops have faced fresh allegations of abuses

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made a fresh plea for 3,000 more peacekeepers to be sent to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In New York, Mr Ban also called for a ceasefire so aid workers could urgently help “at least 100,000 refugees” cut off in rebel-held areas near Goma.

A 17,000-strong UN force in Congo has been unable to stop the fighting or halt the rebel advance.

The UN Security Council is considering the call for reinforcements.

The UN head of UN peacekeeping operations, Alain Le Roy, said there were currently only 10 UN soldiers for every 10,000 inhabitants in eastern DR Congo.

Rebel administration

He said this was not enough to protect the population from violence perpetrated by rebel groups and the Congolese army.

A displaced woman next to a UN armoured vehicle near Goma on Tuesday 11 November 2008

The UN presence in DR Congo is its largest mission in the world

Recent fighting between government and rebel troops has displaced a quarter of a million people in the strife-torn region around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

Earlier, the rebel Congolese general, Laurent Nkunda, said he had formed an alternative administration in the area of eastern Congo that he controls.

In what observers say is his latest direct challenge to the central government, 12 ministers will take responsibility for a range of functions including police and security.

The move appears to be pure propaganda.

‘Looting and raping’

Our correspondent says it may annoy the government but is likely to be insignificant unless the rebels follow it up with further military action.

Displaced people tap into a supply of water aid nearby the Nyiragongo volcano in Kibati

Meanwhile government troops have faced fresh accusations that they have been ransacking villages and raping civilians.

UN spokesman Lt-Col Jean Paul Dietrich said looting began around Kanyabayonga, 100 km (60 miles) north of Goma, on Monday afternoon and continued through the night.

He said UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army had been trying to intervene.

Rebel leader Gen Nkunda claims to be fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels, who fled to DR Congo after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

On Monday, he threatened to take over the whole country if President Joseph Kabila’s government continued in its refusal to negotiate with him.

FORCES AROUND GOMA
CNDP: Gen Nkunda’s Tutsi rebels – 6,000 fighters
FDLR: Rwandan Hutus – 6,000-7,000
Mai Mai: pro-government militia – 3,500
Monuc: UN peacekeepers – 1,000 in Goma, 6,000 in North Kivu (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army – 90,000 (nationwide)
Source: UN, military experts

But a Congolese official said the government was still unwilling to talk to the rebel leader and accused him of war crimes.

The UN has accused both sides of war crimes during the latest violence.

Mr Kabila was elected president in 2006 in polls that were backed by the UN, and which international observers generally declared to be fair.

As in the four-year war that began in DR Congo in 1998, the recent fighting has threatened to draw in neighbouring countries.

Map of eastern DR Congo


What is your reaction to the situation in Congo? Can this region ever find peace? Tell us your thoughts

September 18, 2008

UN admits Darfur troop shortfall

UN admits Darfur troop shortfall

A Unamid peacekeeper talks to civilians in Darfur (UN image from 2006)

Unamid had hoped to deploy 80% of 26,000 mandated troops by 2009

Only half the troops intended for a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force for the Sudanese region of Darfur will be deployed by 2009, the UN says.

Alain Le Roy, the new head of UN peacekeeping, said only 13,000 of the 26,000 troops authorized for the Unamid force would arrive by the end of 2008.

Unamid took over peacekeeping duties in the war-ravaged Darfur province last January from a 7,000-strong AU force.

It had planned to have more than 20,000 staff deployed by the start of 2009.

But by last month it had only 8,100 troops and fewer than 2,000 police on the ground.

In July, Unamid’s commander, Nigerian Gen Martin Agwai, expressed optimism that 80% of the force could be deployed by year’s end. That optimism was echoed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

But Mr Le Roy said: “I think 80% sadly has been, as far as I know so far, a bit optimistic.”

He said the arrival of Thai and Nepalese units in Darfur had been delayed, adding that he expected an additional 3,000 troops and police to be on the ground by the end of November, primarily from Ethiopia and Egypt.

In July, seven Unamid peacekeepers were killed and 22 injured when they were attacked by heavily armed militia in northern Darfur, prompting the UN to move its non-essential staff to locations outside the country.

Some 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur since 2003, while more than two million people have fled their homes, the UN estimates.

Sudan’s government denies mobilising Arab Janjaweed militias to attack black African civilians in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003.

September 10, 2008

Sri Lanka jets bomb ‘rebel base’

Sri Lanka jets bomb ‘rebel base’

Sri Lanka Air Force MiG 27s (Photo from air force website)

Jets are said to have carried out raids deep inside rebel-held territory

Sri Lanka’s military says its jets have bombed a Tamil Tiger intelligence center in the north, a day after a rebel air raid on a military base.

Fighter aircraft pounded the rebel center in the northern region of Kilinochchi, the defense ministry said.

Reports from the area confirm an air raid, injuring at least two people. The rebels said civilian homes were hit.

The attack came as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern over the increased hostilities in Sri Lanka.

On Monday, the government issued a notice to foreign aid workers to leave the rebel-held areas in the north saying it could not guarantee their safety. On Tuesday, UN officials said they would relocate staff.

The government says that it is on track to defeat the rebels.

Displaced

Officials said the area where the latest military operation was carried out is deep inside rebel-held territory.

map

“Taking on offensive raids into the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] backyard, Sri Lanka air force fighter jets made precision air sorties at the LTTE’s main intelligence command and control centre located in Kilinochchi,” the defense ministry said.

The region also houses several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid agencies. The UN said one of its vehicles was slightly damaged.

The Tamil Tigers said the air force had bombed a civilian settlement near Kilinochchi town centre, destroying 12 homes.

“No one was hurt because people sought safety in the bunkers,” a statement said.

Photographs on their website showed buildings they said were civilian houses damaged or destroyed by the bombing.

Hospital officials told a pregnant woman had been injured in the bombing. She lost her baby after a stone hit her abdomen during the raid. A child also fainted.

Rubble of civilian homes the Tigers say were hit in the raid

Rubble of civilian homes the Tigers say were hit in the raid

There is growing concern for the fate of civilians in the north after the government ordered aid agencies to leave Tamil Tiger controlled territory.

The UN secretary general said the fighting had “grave humanitarian consequences for civilians”.

“He reminds all concerned of their responsibility to take active steps to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of civilians, allowing humanitarian organizations to do their work in safety, as well as to reach persons affected by the fighting who need humanitarian assistance,” a statement said.

Human rights group Amnesty International called for international monitors to be allowed into the north to oversee convoys of aid and other essential supplies.

There are about 70 UN national and international workers in areas of the north controlled by the Tamil Tigers, the UN says. Most are based in the town of Kilinochchi.

Aid agencies say there are nearly 160,000 people in the Tiger-controlled north who have been displaced by the fighting.

The International Red Cross (ICRC) – one of the most prominent international agencies in the north – said that its teams were committed to remain in both rebel and government-held areas.

Offensive

But an ICRC spokesman said that situation was being monitored and negotiations were currently underway with the government in Colombo.

UN camp for displaced people in Sri Lanka

The UN says the plight of civilians in the north is worsening

Correspondents say that part of the problem for some aid agencies in the north is that their staff cannot leave because they are Tamil locals and the rebels will not issue them with passes.

The military meanwhile says that its offensive – aimed at crushing the rebels and ending their fight for a separate state for the Tamil minority – is on course.

The ministry of defence said that it shot down a rebel plane on Tuesday in a major incident in which 12 soldiers and a policemen were killed during a Tamil Tiger attack on a base in the northern area of Vavuniya.

The Tigers said 10 of their suicide fighters were killed in the raid.

They said that the raid was backed by artillery and light aircraft dropping bombs and that a radar station was destroyed in extensive damage to the base.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for a separate state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of Sri Lanka for 25 years.

More than 70,000 people have died.

August 16, 2008

Russia signs up to Georgia truce

Russia signs up to Georgia truce

Russian troops

Moscow’s troops continue to operate deep inside the Caucasus republic

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a ceasefire agreement with Georgia after receiving it in Moscow.

The deal calls for all military activity to stop and for troops from both sides to pull back into pre-conflict positions.

The deal was signed on Friday by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

But Russian forces remain deep in Georgian territory, and correspondents say many obstacles remain in the way of full implementation of the peace deal.

At stake is the future of Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

US-backed Georgia has vowed it will not accept any loss of its territory, but Russia insists that following the recent violence, residents are unlikely to want to live in the same state as Georgians.

The crisis, which began nine days ago, saw Georgian forces launch a surprise attack to regain control of South Ossetia, only to be decisively repelled by Russian forces.

Russian ‘advances’

On the ground in Georgia, Russian forces had moved forward overnight.

Russian forces still control Gori, which lies some 15km (10 miles) from the border with South Ossetia.

Several tanks and armored personnel carriers were seen in Kaspi, west of Gori and some 35km north-east of the capital Tbilisi – an advance of some 15km on their previous position. Lorries of soldiers were seen heading towards the town.

Meanwhile, Russian troops were seen patrolling in Zestafoni, some 100km west of Gori along a major highway.

The Russian army brought in a large number of irregulars, mercenaries… They go around drunk, aggressive, armed and do all these atrocities
Mikhail Saakashvili
Georgian president

Georgian officials also said Russian forces remained in the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, the site of a major oil shipment facility, and a major Russian military contingent is further inland, at Senaki.

The crisis began on 7 August, when Georgian forces launched a surprise attack to regain control of South Ossetia, which has had de facto independence since the end of a civil war in 1992.

The move followed days of exchanges of heavy fire with the Russian-backed separatist militias. In response to the Georgian assault, Moscow sent armoured units across the border into South Ossetia to intervene.

Obstacles ahead

Scores of people have been killed by the fighting and tens of thousands displaced.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia

The EU-brokered ceasefire agreement which both sides have now signed includes a pledge to pull all troops back to their pre-conflict positions.

It also contains a plan to begin international talks about the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in Tbilisi on Friday, has demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgian territory.

But Russia argues its forces are there to ensure civilians face no threat from Georgian troops.

Mr Saakashvili has accused the Russians of committing war crimes.

A displaced Georgian woman rests just outside the town of Gori (15/08/08)

The UN puts the number of those displaced in the conflict at 118,000

“The Russian army brought in a large number of irregulars, mercenaries,” he said. “They go around drunk, aggressive, armed and do all these atrocities.”

He criticized the West for not granting Georgia membership of Nato, saying it could have prevented the fighting.

Diplomats have said that the UN Security Council is expected to vote this weekend on a draft resolution formalising the ceasefire agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will meet the Russian permanent representative in New York, possibly on Saturday, because he has so far been unable to contact the Russian president, officials have said.

‘Watching with alarm’

President Bush is set to hold a video conference with some of his most senior staff, including Ms Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, to discuss the crisis in Georgia.

George Bush (file)
President Bush said Russia had to act to end the crisis in Georgia

On Friday, Mr Bush said Russia’s actions in Georgia were “completely unacceptable”.

“The world has watched with alarm as Russia invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatened a democratic government elected by its people,” he said.

He called upon Russia to end the crisis or risk its credibility on the global stage.

Mr Bush said he would send his secretary of state to Brussels next week to discuss how to deal with Russia with Nato foreign ministers and EU officials.

But the president did not respond to comments from Russia’s deputy chief of staff, who said Moscow would be justified in launching a nuclear attack if Poland went through with its agreement to base US interceptor missiles on its territory as part of Washington’s controversial defence shield.

Map of region


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August 7, 2008

Mauritanian army coup condemned

Mauritanian army coup condemned

General Ould Abdel Aziz

General Ould Abdelaziz is now in charge in Mauritania

There has been widespread international condemnation of theĀ  military takeover in Mauritania.

Troops overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, detaining him after he tried to dismiss army chiefs.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon called for the “restoration of constitutional order”. Condemnation has also come from the US, the EU, and the African Union (AU).

The military promised to hold fresh elections “as soon as possible”.

In a statement released a day after Wednesday’s coup, the junta promised the polls would be “free and transparent”.

Meanwhile US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for the immediate release of President Abdallahi and Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef, both of whom were detained by troops on Wednesday.

“The United States looks to all of our international partners to condemn this anti-democratic action,” she said in a statement.

The European Union warned that it may suspend aid to Mauritania.

The AU denounced the coup, demanded a return to constitutional government and said it was sending an envoy to the capital, Nouakchott, immediately.

Political crisis

On Wednesday the president tried to dismiss four senior army officers, including the head of the presidential guard, Gen Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, who responded by launching the coup.

Map of Mauritania

A statement issued by a body calling itself the “State Council” and led by Gen Abdelaziz, was broadcast by Gulf-based Arabic television stations.

It said Mr Abdallahi – who came to power in polls last year, taking over from a military junta – was now a “former president”.

Troops deployed on Nouakchott’s streets fired tear gas to disperse about 50 protesters as the council annulled his previous decree dismissing the military chiefs.

The country has been in the grip of a political crisis since a vote of no confidence in the cabinet two weeks ago.

On Monday, 48 MPs walked out of the ruling party.

Reports suggest some of the generals orchestrated the mass resignation, says the BBC’s James Copnall in the region.

Food protests

Mauritania has a long history of coups, with the military involved in nearly every government since its independence from France in 1960.

Presidential elections held in 2007 ended a two-year period of military rule – the product of a military coup in 2005.

The elections were deemed to have been free and fair and appeared to herald a new era of democracy.

Earlier this year, however, the president dismissed the government amid protests over soaring food prices.

The cabinet that replaced it has been dogged by instability, lacking the support of a moderate Islamist party and a major opposition group that were in the former government.

Mauritania is one of the world’s poorest nations as well as its newest oil producer.

August 5, 2008

Mexican set for Texas execution

Mexican set for Texas execution

Jose Medellin

Jose Medellin, now 33, has been on death row since he was 18

A Mexican man whose case has drawn international legal attention is set to be executed in Texas for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl.

Barring a last-minute stay, Jose Medellin will face lethal injection at 1800 local time (2300 GMT).

The International Court of Justice had ruled that Medellin was entitled to a new hearing as he was not told of his right to contact a consular official.

Texas says its courts are not bound by the rulings of the ICJ.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the US to abide by the ICJ ruling, AFP news agency reported.

“All decisions and orders of the International Court of Justice must be respected by states,” he is reported to have told a television station in Mexico City, where he is attending a world Aids conference.

“The United States should take every step to make sure the execution does not take place.”

Medellin’s case dates back to 1993 when two girls, Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, were raped and murdered by six gang members in Houston.

A general view of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, file pic from February 2008

Set up in 1946, the ICJ is the highest United Nations court

Medellin, who was born in Mexico but moved to the US as a child, was convicted of Miss Pena’s murder.

At the time of his arrest, police did not tell him that he could request assistance from the Mexican consulate – in violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

In 2003, Mexico, which does not have the death penalty, filed a lawsuit at the ICJ on behalf of Medellin and 50 other Mexican nationals on death row in the US who had also not received consular support.

The court ruled in Mexico’s favour, and ordered that their cases be reviewed.

Texas acknowledged that Medellin had not been told he could ask for help from Mexican diplomats, but argued that he had forfeited the right because he never raised the issue at trial or sentencing.

State officials also argued that it would not have made any difference to the outcome of the case.

Earlier this year, President George W Bush ordered Texas to comply with the ICJ ruling, but the Supreme Court justices subsequently decided 6-3 that he had overstepped his authority.

Case is ‘clear’

Last month, in response to an urgent request from Mexico, the ICJ ordered the US to “take all measures necessary” to halt Medellin’s execution.

But Texas judicial authorities said in response that the law in Medellin’s case was “clear”.

“Texas is not bound by the World Court but by the US Supreme Court, which reviewed this matter and determined that the convicted murderer’s execution shall proceed,” a statement from the attorney general’s office said.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a request by Medellin and his legal team for a reprieve.

Medellin’s legal team are still hoping the Supreme Court will grant a stay of execution that would give Congress time to enact new legislation compelling US states to abide by ICJ decisions.

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