News & Current Affairs

February 20, 2010

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

A Dutch soldier in Afghanistan

Dutch forces have been in Uruzgan since 2006

The Dutch government has collapsed over disagreements within the governing coalition on extending troop deployments in Afghanistan.

After marathon talks, Christian Democratic Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the Labour Party was quitting the government.

He offered his government’s resignation to Queen Beatrix in a telephone call.

The premier had been considering a Nato request for Dutch forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2010.

But Labour, the second-largest coalition party, has opposed the move.

Just under 2,000 Dutch service personnel have been serving in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan since 2006, with 21 killed.

Their deployment has already been extended once.

Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together
Jan Peter Balkenende

The troops should have returned home in 2008, but they stayed on because no other Nato nation offered replacements.

The commitment is now due to end in August 2010.

The Dutch parliament voted in October 2009 that it must definitely stop by then, although the government has yet to endorse that vote.

Mr Balkenende’s centre-right Christian Democrats wanted to agree to Nato’s request to extend the Dutch presence in Afghanistan.

But this was bitterly opposed by the Dutch Labour Party.

The finance minister and leader of the Labour Party, Wouter Bos, demanded an immediate ruling from Mr Balkenende.

When they failed to reach a compromise, Labour said it was pulling out of the coalition.

Nato priority

Mr Balkenende said he would offer the cabinet’s resignation to the Dutch Queen Beatrix later on Saturday following the collapse of the government.

It was announced after a 16-hour cabinet meeting which ran into the early hours of Saturday morning.

The prime minister said there was no common ground between the parties.

“Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together. There is no good path to allow this cabinet to go further,” he said.

The launch in 2001 of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) for Afghanistan was the organisation’s first and largest ground operation outside Europe.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said six months ago when he began his job that his priority was the war in Afghanistan.

As of October 2009, Isaf had more than 71,000 personnel from 42 different countries including the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, Jordan and New Zealand.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende

Mr Balkenende had been considering the Nato request

The US provides the bulk of foreign forces in Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama has announced an extra 30,000 American troops for Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has said the next 18 months could prove crucial for the international mission in Afghanistan, after more than eight years of efforts to stabilise the country.

Afghanistan remains a deadly place for foreign forces.

Suicide attacks on Afghan civilians and roadside bomb strikes on international troops are common, with the Taliban strongly resurgent in many areas of the country.

July 26, 2009

US urges Syria on Mid-East peace

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:18 pm

US urges Syria on Mid-East peace

The United States has called for Syria’s “full co-operation” in trying to achieve a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement.

Speaking after talks in Damascus, Barack Obama’s envoy George Mitchell said discussions with Syria’s president had been “candid and positive”.

Mr Mitchell said restarting peace talks between Syria and Israel was a “near-term goal”.

He later arrived in Israel, to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Mr Mitchell’s visit to Damascus was his second since June, amid a renewed US push for peace since President Obama took office earlier this year.

The envoy’s trip comes ahead of a string of visits to Israel this week by leading Obama administration officials, at a time when US-Israel relations are unusually strained.

‘Historic endeavour’

Mr Mitchell said he had told Syrian President Bashar Assad that Barack Obama was “determined to facilitate a truly comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace”.

Naturally, in the context of friendly relations between allies, there isn’t agreement on all points
Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli prime minister

“If we are to succeed, we will need Arabs and Israelis alike to work with us to bring about comprehensive peace. We will welcome the full co-operation of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic in this historic endeavour,” he said.

Correspondents say the visit was not expected to bring a breakthrough, but Syrian officials have been encouraged by Washington’s new willingness to listen.

Damascus is a major player in the region, because of its support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas, its backing for Hezbollah in Lebanon, and its close links with Iran.

In the past, this made Syria a pariah in the eyes of the Bush administration, which cut virtually all ties with Syria, the BBC’s Natalia Antelava reports from Beirut.

Washington is a long way away from getting Damascus on its side, but for now at least, the atmosphere of hostility which dominated during the Bush administration seems to be a thing of the past, our correspondent says.

Syria was expected to lobby Mr Mitchell on the issue of the Golan Heights, a strategic mountainous area seized by Israel in 1967 which Syria wants back.

Syria’s official news agency quoted President Assad as stressing to Mr Mitchell “the Arab right to recover occupied lands through achieving a just and comprehensive peace.”

Direct talks between Israel and Syria broke down in 2000 over the scale of a potential Israeli pull-back on the Golan Heights.

Sticking points

The diplomatic flurry comes at a time of strained relations between the US and Israel.

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent Katya Adler says Mr Obama has been leaning on Israel’s government unusually hard for an American president.

Washington has called on Israel to stop all Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank, but Israel says it will not curb what it calls “natural growth” there.

Mr Mitchell arrived in Israel later on Sunday and met defence minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv.

In an effort to kick-start stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, the envoy is due to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Monday and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

Shortly before Mr Mitchell’s arrival in Israel, Mr Netanyahu said he hoped to reach an agreement with the US.

“This relationship is important and strong. Naturally, in the context of friendly relations between allies, there isn’t agreement on all points, and on several issues we are trying to reach understanding,” he said.

As well as Mr Mitchell, US defence secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor James Jones are also due to hold talks in Israel.

Our correspondent says Iran and its nuclear programme will certainly be discussed.

Israelis say that is their top priority but arguably the focus of the visits will be the possibilities for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and also the wider Arab world, she notes.

July 19, 2009

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta

Tributes are left for those killed in the hotel attacks

Indonesian officials say there are “strong indications” a key wanted fugitive was behind Friday’s deadly attacks on two hotels in Jakarta.

Noordin Mohamed Top is wanted for plotting the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and other Indonesian attacks.

Nine people, including two suicide bombers, died in the attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott.

At least four of Friday’s victims are said to be foreigners but have not all been formally identified.

Police in the Indonesian capital are studying DNA and other evidence to try to identify those behind the attacks.

The anti-terror chief, Ansyaad Mbai, has told the News he believes there are strong indications that Noordin was the mastermind behind the blasts.

NOORDIN MOHAMED TOP
Noordin Top (archive image)
Born in Malaysia, fled to Indonesia after 9/11
Wanted for planning bombings on Bali in 2002 and 2005 and other attacks
Said to have split from Jemaah Islamiah over strategy disagreements and set up new group
Main accomplice Azahari Husin killed by police in 2005
Escaped police raid in 2006 and continues to evade capture

Noordin was said to be a key financier for the Jemaah Islamiah militant group but is now thought to have set up his own splinter group.

Jemaah Islamiah has links to al-Qaeda and has a long track record of bomb attacks in Indonesia including the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

Friday’s bombs contained nails, ball bearings and bolts, identical to ones used by Jemaah Islamiah, police said.

Mr Mbai said he believed the aim of the attacks was to embarrass Indonesia’s government at a time when the country was enjoying a greater degree of stability than it had in the past.

The Indonesian people have been truly shocked by these attacks as they thought they had put events like this behind them.

Investigators on Friday recovered an unexploded bomb and other explosives material from what they said was the “control centre” for the attacks – room 1808 in the Marriott.

The attackers paid to stay at the hotel and smuggled in the explosives before detonating them in two restaurants on Friday.

CCTV footage showed one attacker wearing a cap pulling a bag on wheels into the Marriott restaurant, followed by a flash and smoke.

Security has been tightened across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, with 500 troops put on standby to support police in the capital.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

A New Zealander, businessman Tim Mackay, has been confirmed killed.

I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones
Barack Obama

Indonesian police say Australians Nathan Verity and Garth McEvoy also died.

Their countryman, diplomat Craig Senger, was at the same breakfast meeting. He is missing and feared dead.

A health ministry report said a Singaporean and an Indonesian were also confirmed dead.

At least 17 foreigners were among the wounded, including eight Americans.

Other foreign nationals wounded included visitors from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the UK.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the attacks as “cruel and inhuman”.

US President Barack Obama said: “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is due to arrive in Jakarta on Saturday.

He said he wanted to stand “shoulder to shoulder with Indonesia at this terrible time”.

The Manchester United football team had been booked to stay in the Ritz-Carlton next week ahead of a game in Jakarta.

The team has cancelled the Indonesian leg of their tour.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for the series of bombings more than five years ago.

Jakarta map

July 12, 2009

US president sets Afghan target

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:07 am

US president sets Afghan target

A US Marine helicopter delivers supplies in Helmand province, 11 July

Thousands of new US troops are boosting the effort in Afghanistan

The increasingly deadly conflict in Afghanistan is a “serious fight” but one essential for the future stability of the country, the US president says.

Insisting that US and allied troops have pushed back the Taliban, Barack Obama said the immediate target was to steer Afghanistan through elections.

The country is due to hold a presidential vote in August.

Mr Obama spoke to Sky News as concern grew in the UK at the rising British death toll in Afghanistan.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was also forced on Saturday to justify British involvement in Afghanistan.

Mr Brown said the UK’s military deployment there was aimed at preventing terrorism in the UK.

Fifteen British troops have died in the past 10 days, pushing the country’s number of deaths in Afghanistan past the number killed in action in Iraq.

‘Extraordinary role’

Speaking during a day-long visit to Africa, Mr Obama also told Sky News that the battle in Afghanistan was a vital element in the battle against terrorism.

He said the continued involvement of British troops in the conflict was necessary, right and was a vital contribution to UK national security.

US President Barack Obama in Ghana, 11 July

Barack Obama has boosted troop levels and is hoping for tangible results

“This is not an American mission,” Mr Obama said.

“The mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much if not more of a stake in than we do.

“The likelihood of a terrorist attack in London is at least as high, if not higher, than it is in the United States.”

He praised the efforts of all troops currently fighting the Taleban in gruelling summer heat, singling out British forces for praise when asked if their role was still important.

“Great Britain has played an extraordinary role in this coalition, understanding that we can not allow either Afghanistan or Pakistan to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda, those who with impunity blow up train stations in London or buildings in New York.

“We knew that this summer was going to be tough fighting. They [the Taliban] have, I think, been pushed back but we still have a long way to go. We’ve got to get through elections.”

‘Core mission’

Since taking office in Washington in January of this year, Mr Obama has announced a troop “surge” in Afghanistan.

British soldiers carry the coffin of a comrade, 10 July

British troops have endured a deadly week in Afghanistan

The US has said it is sending up to 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan this year to take on a resurgent Taleban. They will join 33,000 US and 32,000 other Nato troops already in the country.

He also replaced the incumbent US commander in the country, ousting Gen David McKiernan less than a year into his command.

The new US chief in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, has a stellar reputation from his days commanding special forces operations in Iraq.

He has been tasked with the mission of outsmarting the Taliban, who continue to win support among ordinary Afghans often caught in the crossfire of the bitter fighting.

High numbers of Afghan civilian casualties have become an issue of major concern to the US. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has regularly called on the international forces to reduce the numbers of Afghans killed in its operations.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Obama said although forces were currently engaged in heavy fighting, new strategies for building bridges with Afghan society would be considered once the country had held its presidential election.

A young girl in Afghanistan, 10 July

Afghan civilians often bear the brunt of the conflict with the Taliban

Afghanistan needed its own army, its own police and the ability to control its own security, Mr Obama said – a strategy currently being implemented in Iraq, where security is being handed over to Iraqi forces.

“All of us are going to have to do an evaluation after the Afghan election to see what more we can do,” the president said.

“It may not be on the military side, it might be on the development side providing Afghan farmers alternatives to poppy crops, making sure that we are effectively training a judiciary system and a rule of law in Afghanistan that people trust.”

“We’ve got a core mission that we have to accomplish.”

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

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

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 6, 2009

US and Russia agree nuclear cuts

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:16 pm

US and Russia agree nuclear cuts

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have reached an outline agreement to cut back their nations’ stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

The “joint understanding” signed in Moscow would see reductions of deployed nuclear warheads to below 1,700 each within seven years of a new treaty.

The accord would replace the 1991 Start I treaty, which expires in December.

Mr Obama said the two countries were both “committed to leaving behind the suspicion and the rivalry of the past”.

Separately, Russia also agreed to allow the US military to fly troops and weapons across its territory to Afghanistan, allowing it to avoid using supply routes through Pakistan that are attacked by militants.

On a range of issues, differences remain between us
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

The two countries also will set up a joint commission to co-operate over energy, and fighting terrorism and drug-trafficking. Military co-operation, suspended since last year’s conflict between Russia and Georgia, will be resumed.

However, on the contentious issue of US plans to base parts of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, the presidents merely said they had agreed to a joint study into ballistic missile threats and the creation of a data exchange centre.

‘Frank’ discussions

After three hours of talks at the Kremlin on Monday, Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev publicly signed a joint understanding to negotiate a new arms control treaty that would set lower levels of both nuclear warheads and delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles and bombers.

US-RUSSIA NUCLEAR DEAL
Each country to cut deployed nuclear warheads to 1,500-1,675 (currently 1,700-2,200)
Delivery systems to be within 500-1,000 range (currently 1,600)
Reductions so be achieved within seven years of new treaty
Treaty to be signed before Start I expires in December and include “effective” verification measures

“Within seven years after this treaty comes into force, and in future, the limits for strategic delivery systems should be within the range of 500-1,100 units and for warheads linked to them within the range of 1,500-1,675 units,” the document said.

Under the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, each country is allowed between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed nuclear warheads and 1,600 delivery systems – meaning each side might only be required to decommission a further 25 warheads.

Correspondents also point out that the proposed cuts would still leave the US and Russia able to destroy each other many times over.

A White House statement said the new treaty would “include effective verification measures” and “enhance the security of both the US and Russia, as well as provide predictability and stability in strategic offensive forces”.

Afterwards, Mr Medvedev said the talks had been “very frank and very sincere”, but that they had been, “without any doubt, the meeting we had been waiting for in Russia and the United States”.

“I would like particularly to stress that our country would like to reach a level of co-operation with the United States that would really be worthy of the 21st Century, and which would ensure international peace and security,” he said.

Russians spell out their hopes for Obama visit

But the Russian leader cautioned that there remained “differences on many issues”, most notably on the proposed US missile defence shield.

Mr Obama said he and Mr Medvedev were countering a “sense of drift” and were now resolved “to reset US-Russian relations so that we can co-operate more effectively in areas of common interest”.

“We must lead by example, and that’s what we are doing here today,” he said.

The US president said he was confident a legally binding disarmament treaty would be signed by the end of the year, when Start I expires.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama will meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

He said last week that he thought the former Russian president had “one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new”.

“I think that it’s important that even as we move forward with President Medvedev, that Putin understands that the old Cold War approaches to US-Russian relations is outdated, that it’s time to move forward in a different direction,” he told the Associated Press.

Mr Putin responded: “We stand solidly on our own two feet and always look into the future.”

Graph showing US and Russian nuclear weapon stockpiles

July 2, 2009

US opens ‘major Afghan offensive’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:36 am

US opens ‘major Afghan offensive’

The US army says it has launched a major offensive against the Taliban in south Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The US military says about 4,000 Marines as well as 650 Afghan troops are involved, supported by Nato planes.

Brigadier General Larry Nicholson said the operation was different from previous ones because of the “massive size of the force” and its speed.

The offensive is the Marines’ first major operation since their recent deployment to Afghanistan.

It is also the first such operation under President Barack Obama’s presidency.

The operation – codenamed Khanjar or Strike of the Sword – began when units moved into the Helmand river valley in the early hours of Thursday.

Afghan map

Helicopters and heavy transport vehicles carried out the advance, with Nato planes providing air cover.

UK-led forces in Helmand launched their own operation to combat the Taliban insurgency last week, in what the Ministry of Defence described as one of the largest air operations in modern times.

Thousands of British forces under Nato command have been fighting the Taliban in Helmand since 2006, but there has been criticism that they have been overstretched and under-resourced.

Security aim

Southern Afghanistan is considered a Taliban stronghold.

The security forces will build bases to provide security for the local people so that they can carry out every activity with this favourable background, and take their lives forward in peace
Gulab Mangal
Helmand Governor

“Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” said Brig Gen Nicholson in a statement.

At a briefing at the US military’s Camp Leatherneck last week, he told personnel and embedded reporters: “One of the most critical things is to tell people why we’re there, and we are going to have a limited opportunity to gain their trust.”

The operation would have an initial highly aggressive stage lasting 36 hours, AFP news agency reported.

It aims to improve security ahead of presidential elections on 20 August, allowing voter registration where before there was none, Gen Nicholson said.

US soldiers in Afghanistan, 27 June, 2009

US troops are working to flush out Taliban from Helmand province

A US military spokesman, Captain William Pelletier, told the news there had been “no enemy contact” in the first hours of the operation, but one marine was slightly injured when an improvised explosive device detonated in the village of Nawa.

Nawa and nearby Garmsir – south of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah – are key targets in the operation, as the area is considered a refuge for militants and no US or Nato troops have previously operated there in large numbers.

Capt Pelletier said the US military was prepared for casualties, but stressed that “it is absolutely essential that no civilians be harmed”.

Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal predicted the operation would be “very effective”.

“The security forces will build bases to provide security for the local people so that they can carry out every activity with this favourable background, and take their lives forward in peace.”

Troop numbers

I am convinced that the addition of those [US] troops is going to improve the security situation
General Jim Dutton
Commander of UK forces

As of June 2009, Nato’s International Security Assistance Force had 61,130 personnel from 42 countries including the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, Jordan and New Zealand.

The US is the largest contributor, providing 28,850 soldiers.

It also has troops under Operation Enduring Freedom – mostly in the east of Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan – that are not under Isaf’s command.

In December 2008 they numbered 17,100.

President Obama has pledged to send an additional 21,000 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, many of them redeployed from operations in Iraq, to help with training Afghan security forces and to tackle the insurgency.

Last week the commander of UK troops in Afghanistan, General Jim Dutton, denied that the battle against the Taliban was “a losing campaign”.

Gen Dutton welcomed the planned increase in US troop numbers.

“I am convinced that the addition of those [US] troops is going to improve the security situation,” he said.

June 20, 2009

Iran police disperse protests

Iran police disperse protests

Police at Enghelab Square, Tehran, 20 June, 2009, from Persian TV

Witnesses sent pictures of police near Enghelab Square

Iranian police have used water cannon, batons and tear gas to disperse protests over the presidential election, witnesses in Tehran say.

Police had earlier warned protesters not to gather, but many people made their way to the central rally site.

Our correspondent at Enghelab Square said there was a huge security operation, including military police, anti-riot police and Basij militia.

There were also reports of a bombing at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Two Iranian news agencies reported that the suicide bomber died and two people were injured in the bombing near the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 revolution.

There was no evidence to support the report, the BBC’s Jon Leyne says from Tehran.

The country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei had warned protesters a day earlier not to continue their rallies, but correspondents say the warning appears to have made some protesters more determined.

1320GMT TEHRAN
Silhouette
BBC CORRESPONDENT

I’m in the centre of Tehran close to Enghelab Square where the demonstration was supposed to have been held. But there’s a huge security presence here, thousands of men from every possible service: police, revolutionary guard, military police, the riot police in full riot gear, and the much-feared Basij – religious paramilitaries who see themselves as the shock troops of the Islamic revolution.

It’s impossible for any groups of people to get through these to Enghelab Square and hold their demonstration.

If this continues and the opposition can’t find some way around fierce security then the protests against the results of the presidential election will have been defeated.

It was unclear if political leaders had backed their supporters gathering.

People contacting the BBC from Tehran spoke of a heavy security presence in the area around Enghelab Square.

One witness told AFP news agency that he saw police beating people trying to reach the rally site.

There were also between 1,000-2,000 protesters in front of Tehran University, near Enghelab Square, AFP quoted witnesses as saying.

The reports could not be independently confirmed, and foreign news organisations – including the BBC – have been subjected to strict controls which prevent reporters from leaving their offices.

Confusing signals

Early on Saturday, the wife of defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and an aide to another rival candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, said the rally would go ahead.

But later reports said first that Mr Mousavi would be making a statement – which still has not been delievered – and then an aide to Mr Karroubi said his party had cancelled the protest.

Speaking on state TV, deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan warned police would “certainly fight against any form of illegal gathering and protest”. He also said protest organisers would be arrested.

It seems this may be the big moment of confrontation, our correspondent says.

Tensions have mounted over the previous week, with scores of people arrested and tough restrictions imposed on foreign media, including the BBC.

Recount offer

Official results of the 12 June presidential poll gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a resounding 63% of votes, compared to 34% for his nearest rival, Mr Mousavi.

Iranian pro-government supporters burn a US flag in Tehran

The result triggered almost daily street protests – a challenge to ruling authorities unprecedented since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Mr Mousavi had been expected, along with fellow challengers Mr Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, to discuss more than 600 objections they had filed complaining about the poll at a meeting of the Guardian Council, which certifies elections, on Saturday.

But neither Mr Mousavi nor Mr Karroubi attended the meeting – which suggests, our correspondent says, they have abandoned their legal challenge to the election results.

State TV quoted the Guardian Council as saying it was “ready” to recount a randomly selected 10% of ballot boxes.

It had previously offered a partial recount of disputed ballots from the election, rather than the full re-run of the election demanded by protesters.

The human-rights group Amnesty International says it believed about 10 people had been killed in the protests.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama warned Iran that the “world is watching” events there. He expressed concern at “some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made”.

Ayatollah’s address

A new rally on Saturday would directly challenge an order from Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader and highest authority.

‘The Islamic Republic would not cheat’

“Straight challenge is not acceptable after the election,” Ayatollah Khamenei told thousands of Iranians who massed to hear him on Friday.

“This is challenging democracy and election itself. I want every side to put an end to this method. If they don’t then the responsibility of its consequences, the riots should be shouldered by those who do not put an end to it.”

The ayatollah insisted the Islamic Republic would not “cheat voters” – and blamed foreign powers, in particular the UK, for fomenting the unrest.

He said “bloodshed” would result if the protests went ahead.

The rally was attended by President Ahmadinejad. But former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – a close associate of Mr Mousavi, and open critic of President Ahmadinejad – did not attend.

But correspondents say the ayatollah’s warning only appeared to incite protesters, and the nightly chants of “God is great” – which have echoed from rooftops around Tehran in a call to protest – became louder on Friday night.

Although the Supreme Leader controls many levers of power, Mr Rafsanjani heads the Assembly of Experts, which has the power to elect the leader, supervise him, and theoretically even to dismiss him, our correspondent says.

Behind the scenes, he says, there appears to be both a political battle between two veterans of the Islamic Revolution, but also a titanic dispute about the whole future of Iran, whose outcome no-one can predict.

Map

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