News & Current Affairs

July 16, 2009

Pakistan and India in terror vow

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:51 pm

Pakistan and India in terror vow

Taj Mahal hotel under attack in November

A total of 166 people died in the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008

India and Pakistan will work together to fight terrorism, the countries’ prime ministers have announced.

Meeting in Egypt, they said the fight against their “main threat” should not be linked to wider peace talks.

However, India’s Manmohan Singh later said no dialogue would start until those behind last year’s attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) were “brought to book”.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated after the attacks in which militants killed more than 160 people.

India has accused Pakistan-based fighters from the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba of carrying out the attacks.

Pakistan has admitted they were partly planned on its soil – and vowed to do all it can to bring the suspects to justice.

Climb-down ‘denied’

ANALYSIS
Jill McGivering, BBC News
Jill McGivering,Courtesy
BBC News
Broadly speaking the prime ministers emerged in positive mood. Both sides found agreement on some basic principles.

Crucially, they also agreed to separate their debate about action on terrorism from more general dialogue. That was a key demand from Pakistan – and may make it possible for the mechanism of talks to be revived, independent of India’s continuing demands for tougher action on militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group India blames for the Mumbai attacks.

That apparent concession from India was offset by some tough statements on terrorism. Mr Singh has to face an Indian public which is still angry about the Mumbai attacks and frustrated that, so far, Pakistan has done little to convict those responsible.

Prime Ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan and Manmohan Singh of India made the pledge after meeting in Egypt.

The talks on Thursday – on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Egypt – were the third high-level meeting between the two nuclear-armed neighbours since the Mumbai attacks last November which brought an abrupt halt to peace talks.

“Both leaders affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and co-operate with each other to this end,” the joint statement of the talks said.

“Prime Minister Singh reiterated the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice and Prime Minister Gilani assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.”

The two prime ministers agreed to co-operate on the investigation.

Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani meeting in Egypt
Both leaders agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries
Joint statement

“Pakistan has provided an updated status dossier on the investigations of the Mumbai attacks,” their statement said.

The two leaders also agreed to “share real-time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threat”.

Last week Pakistan said the trial of five men suspected of involvement in the attack on Mumbai’s Taj Hotel was likely to start this week.

In a move likely to please Islamabad, the prime minister’s joint statement said action on terrorism “should not be linked to the composite dialogue process” – which includes talks on the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says many in India will see this as a major climb-down in Delhi’s stance.

And moments after the joint statement had been issued, Mr Singh appeared to contradict the joint statement.

He told a news conference dialogue “cannot begin unless and until terrorist heads which shook Mumbai are properly accounted for, (the) perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to book”.

Advertisements

July 15, 2009

Israel soldiers speak out on Gaza

Israel soldiers speak out on Gaza

Israeli soldiers deployed on the Israel-Gaza border 28 Decmeber 2008

Soldier testimonies appear to contradict official Israeli statements

A group of soldiers who took part in Israel’s assault in Gaza say widespread abuses were committed against civilians under “permissive” rules of engagement.

The troops said they had been urged to fire on any building or person that seemed suspicious and said Palestinians were sometimes used as human shields.

Breaking the Silence, a campaign group made up of Israeli soldiers, gathered anonymous accounts from 26 soldiers.

Israel denies breaking the laws of war and dismissed the report as hearsay.

The report says testimonies show “the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians” was a result of Israeli military policy, articulated by the rules of engagement, and encouraged by a belief “the reality of war requires them to shoot and not to ask questions”.

One soldier is quoted saying: “The soldiers were made to understand that their lives were the most important, and that there was no way our soldiers would get killed for the sake of leaving civilians the benefit of the doubt.”

Paul Wood
From Paul Wood,Courtesy
BBC Middle East correspondent:

Until now, Israel always had a ready answer to allegations of war crimes in Gaza. Claims were, they said, Palestinian propaganda. Now the accusations of abuse are being made by Israeli soldiers.

The common thread in the testimonies is that orders were given to prevent Israeli casualties whatever the cost in Palestinian lives.

The Israeli military says past allegations of wrong-doing in Gaza were the result of soldiers recycling rumours.

But Breaking the Silence has a long – and to many, credible – record in getting soldiers to talk about experiences which might not reflect well on the army.

Another says: “People were not instructed to shoot at everyone they see, but they were told that from a certain distance when they approach a house, no matter who it is – even an old woman – take them down.”

Many of the testimonies are in line with claims made by human rights organisations that Israeli military action in Gaza was indiscriminate and disproportionate.

Amnesty International has accused both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in charge in Gaza, of committing war crimes during the 22-day conflict which ended on 18 January.

Israeli officials insist troops went to great lengths to protect civilians, that Hamas endangered non-combatants by firing from civilian areas and that homes and buildings were destroyed only when there was a specific military need to do so.

‘Ill discipline’

Other allegations in the testimonies of the 14 conscripts and 12 reserve soldiers include:

• Civilians were used as human shields, entering buildings ahead of soldiers

You can’t identify too much at night and anything that moves you engage in order not to take risks. It was not defined this way officially, but it was obvious
Anonymous Israeli soldier

• Large swathes of homes and buildings were demolished as a precaution or to secure clear lines of fire for the future.

• Some of the troops had a generally aggressive, ill-disciplined attitude

• There was incidents of vandalism of property of Palestinians

• Soldiers fired at water tanks because they were bored, at a time of severe water shortages for Gazans

• White phosphorus was used in civilian areas in a way some soldiers saw as gratuitous and reckless

• Many of the soldiers said there had been very little direct engagement with Palestinian militants.

The report says Israeli troops and the people who justify their actions are “slid[ing] together down the moral slippery slope”.

“This is an urgent call to Israeli society and its leaders to sober up and investigate anew the results of our actions,” Breaking the Silence says.

Israel said the purpose of Operation Cast Lead had been to end rocket fire from Gaza aimed at its southern towns.

Palestinian rights groups say about 1,400 Palestinians died during the operation. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict, including 10 soldiers serving in Gaza.

According to the UN, the campaign damaged or destroyed more than 50,000 homes, 800 industrial properties, 200 schools, 39 mosques and two churches.

Investigations

Reacting to the report, Israeli military spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Leibovich said:

“The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] regrets the fact that another human rights organisation has come out with a report based on anonymous and general testimony – without investigating their credibility.”

She dismissed the document as “hearsay and word of mouth”.

“The IDF expects every soldier to turn to the appropriate authorities with any allegation,” Lt Col Leibovich added. “This is even more important where the harm is to non-combatants. The IDF has uncompromising ethical values which continue to guide us in every mission.”

There have been several investigations into the conduct of Israel’s operation in Gaza, and both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that runs the territory, have faced accusations of war crimes.

An internal investigations by the Israeli military said troops fought lawfully, although errors did take place, such as the deaths of 21 people in a house that had been wrongly targeted.

A fact-finding team commissioned by the Arab League concluded there was enough evidence to prosecute the Israeli military for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that “the Israeli political leadership was also responsible for such crimes”.

It also said Palestinian militants were guilty of war crimes in their use of indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilians.

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

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

Back to story


Are you in Iran? What do you think of the current situation? Are you taking part in the demonstrations?

If you have any information you would like to share with

February 13, 2009

Five children shot in Afghanistan

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:01 am

Five children shot in Afghanistan

Map of Afghanistan

Australia is investigating an incident involving its troops in southern Afghanistan in which five children are reported to have been killed.

An official statement said Australian special forces clearing houses in Uruzgan province in a hunt for militants, and came under attack.

They fired back at Taleban insurgents, and five children were among the dead.

Australia’s military has about 1,100 soldiers in Afghanistan, based mainly in Uruzgan province.

The incident took place on Thursday.

No Australian soldiers were injured, but a suspected militant was killed.

Two other adults and two more children were wounded.

The Australian defence department said in a statement it was “obviously concerned about any loss of life.

“It is for this reason that Australian forces operate under strict rules of engagement that aim to avoid and minimise civilian casualties.”

December 30, 2008

Gaza air campaign ‘a first stage’

Gaza air campaign ‘a first stage’

Israel’s air assault on Gaza is “the first in several stages” of operations aimed at ending militant rocket fire, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said.

As bombing continued for a fourth day, another top official said Israel was ready for “long weeks of action”.

Palestinian officials say more than 360 people have been killed since Saturday. Four Israelis have died in rocket fire.

As EU officials prepared to discuss the crisis, some reports from Israel said it was considering a temporary truce.

Mr Olmert was set to discuss the idea of a 48-hour suspension, suggested by France, with his officials later in the day, the French news agency AFP said.

But Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer warned a truce would allow militant group Hamas – which controls Gaza – “to regain strength… and prepare an even stronger attack against Israel”.

US President Bush agreed in a telephone conversation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that for any ceasefire to be effective it had to respected by Hamas, the White House said.

A BBC reporter says Israeli tanks and troops are massed along Gaza’s border.

Correspondents say this could be a prelude to ground operations, but could also be intended to build pressure on Hamas.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana called for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of crossings to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, as EU foreign ministers prepared to discuss the crisis in Paris.

‘Defenseless population’

On Tuesday, Israeli jets attacked more targets linked to Hamas, hitting a number of government buildings and security installations.

At least 10 people were killed and 40 said to have been wounded in the raids.

One air strike killed two sisters, the eldest aged 11, riding in a donkey cart in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, Palestinian medical sources said.

Palestinian children search the ruins of a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip, 29 December 2008

The UN has called for an investigation into the attacks, which are causing heavy civilian casualties. It says at least 62 of the Palestinians killed so far were women and children.

Richard Falk – the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories – said the international community must put more pressure on Israel to end its assault.

“Israel is committing a shocking series of atrocities by using modern weaponry against a defenceless population – attacking a population that has been enduring a severe blockade for many months,” Mr Falk said in a BBC interview.

But Israeli officials said there was more to come.

The Israeli military “has made preparations for long weeks of action”, deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai said.

Mr Olmert’s statement that the bombardment was “the first of several stages approved by the security cabinet” was quoted from a briefing he gave to President Shimon Peres on Tuesday.

Separately, Israeli naval vessels confronted pro-Palestinian activists seeking to break the Gaza blockade by boat. The activists said one vessel rammed them; their boat made port in Lebanon with heavy damage on one side.

Rocket fire

The Egyptian-Gaza border was due to be opened to permit more trucks carrying aid to enter the territory, and for wounded Palestinians to be transported to Egyptian hospitals.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, under popular pressure to open the crossing fully, said that could not happen while Hamas, rather than the Palestinian Authority, led by its rival Fatah, controlled the border.

Demonstrators in Yemen, angered by Egypt’s co-operation with the blockade on Gaza, briefly stormed the country’s consulate in Aden, where they burned an Egyptian flag and hoisted a Palestinian one.

There have been angry protests against the Israeli offensive in many other cities across the Arab world and in several European capitals.

Hamas has pressed on with rocket and mortar assaults, killing three Israeli civilians and a soldier in areas that have not previously suffered such fatalities.

Israeli military officials said rocket attacks landing more than 25 miles (40km) from Gaza put nearly 10% of Israel’s population of seven million within range.

Israeli political leaders have been under pressure to act against rocket fire with a general election looming in early February.

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu has backed the offensive, telling the BBC that “Israel is using a fraction of its power to try to target surgically the terrorists”.

The strikes began less than a week after the expiry of a six-month-long ceasefire deal with Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

Correspondents say short of a full-scale invasion of Gaza, it is unlikely Israel will be able to prevent rocket fire permanently.

Israel dismantled its strategic settlements and military bases in Gaza in 2005 but has kept tight control over access in and out of the narrow coastal strip and its airspace.

GAZA VIOLENCE 27-30 DECEMBER
Map of attacks in and around Gaza

1. Ashdod: First attack so far north, Sunday. Woman killed in second rocket attack, Tuesday
2. Ashkelon: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Monday
3. Sderot: rocket attacks
4. Nevitot: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Saturday
5. Civilian family reported killed in attack on Yabna refugee camp, Sunday
6.
Israeli warplanes strike tunnels under Gaza/Egypt border, Sunday
7. Three brothers reported killed in attack on Rafah, Sunday
8. Khan Younis: Four members of Islamic Jihad and a child reported killed, Sunday. Security officer killed in air strike on Hamas police station, Tuesday
9. Deir al-Balah: Palestinians injured, houses and buildings destroyed, Sunday
10. Tel al-Hawa – Interior ministry and Islamic University badly damaged, Monday. At least three buildings in ministry compound hit, Tuesday
11. Gaza City port: naval vessels targeted, Sunday
12. Shati refugee camp: Home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniya targeted, Monday
13. Intelligence building attacked, Sunday
14. Jebaliya refugee camp: several people killed in attack on mosque, Sunday 15. Beit Hanoun – two girls killed in air strike, Tuesday
16. Israeli soldier killed at unspecified military base near Nahal Oz border crossing – five other soldiers wounded in same rocket attack, Monday night.

December 25, 2008

Eight killed in Ukraine explosion

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:30 am

Eight killed in Ukraine explosion

Rescuers carry a man from a destroyed apartment building after a gas blast in the  Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk in 13 October 2007

A gas explosion in Dnipropetrovsk last year caused many casualties

Rescue teams are working in the rubble of an apartment building in southern Ukraine, where an explosion has killed at least eight people.

Local officials in Yevpatoria, in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, say as many as 30 other people may have been buried under the debris.

Two entrances to the five-storey building were blocked by falling concrete following the explosion.

The cause of the blast is thought to have been a gas leak.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s emergency ministry said 19 people had been rescued, with four of them being treated in hospital.

Correspondents say casualties caused by gas explosions in often crumbling apartment buildings are common occurrences in former Soviet states, particularly in the winter, when residents use more heating.

One such blast in October 2007 killed 23 residents in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk.

December 14, 2008

Shoes thrown at Bush on Iraq trip

14bush5_6001

A surprise visit by US President George Bush to Iraq has been overshadowed by an incident in which two shoes were thrown at him during a news conference.

An Iraqi journalist was wrestled to the floor by security guards after he called Mr Bush “a dog” and threw his footwear, just missing the president.

The soles of shoes are considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture.

During the trip, Mr Bush and Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki signed the new security agreement between their countries.

The pact calls for US troops to leave Iraq in 2011 – eight years after the 2003 invasion that has in part defined the Bush presidency.

Speaking just over five weeks before he hands over power to Barack Obama, Mr Bush also said the war in Iraq was not over and more work remained to be done.

His previously unannounced visit came a day after US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told US troops the Iraq mission was in its “endgame”.

‘Size 10’

In the middle of the news conference with Mr Maliki, a reporter stood up and shouted “this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog,” before hurtling his shoes at Mr Bush, narrowly missing him.

PREVIOUS BUSH VISITS TO IRAQ
President Bush serves Thanksgiving dinner to US troops in Baghdad - 27/11/2003
Nov 2003: Serves Thanksgiving dinner to troops in Baghdad
June 2006: Meets new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki
Sept 2007: Visits Anbar province – former stronghold of Saddam Hussein

“All I can report is a size 10,” Mr Bush said according to the Associated Press news agency.

The shoe thrower was taken away by security guards and the news conference continued.

Correspondents called it a symbolic incident. Iraqis threw shoes and used them to beat Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad after his overthrow.

‘American security’

Mr Bush’s first stop upon arriving in Baghdad was the Iraqi presidential palace in the heavily-fortified Green Zone, where he held talks with President Jalal Talabani.

“The work hasn’t been easy but it’s been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace,” Mr Bush said during his talks with Mr Talabani.

The Iraqi president called Mr Bush “a great friend for the Iraqi people, who helped us liberate our country”.

The key issue at present is exactly how American troops will withdraw within the next three years and what sort of Iraq they will leave behind.

The US media has just published details of a US government report saying that post invasion reconstruction of Iraq was crippled by bureaucratic turf wars and an ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society.

The report is circulating among US officials in draft form, says the New York Times.

It reveals details of a reconstruction effort that cost more than $100bn (£67bn) and only succeeded in restoring what was destroyed in the invasion and the widespread looting that followed it, the newspaper said.

Troop promises

Mr Bush’s visit, unannounced in advance and conducted under tight security, follows the approval last month of a security pact between Washington and Baghdad that calls for US troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011.

US troops are first to withdraw from Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, by June next year.

Defence Secretary Gates said on Saturday that “the process of the drawdown” had begun.

US troops near Mosul

The end in sight for US troops in Iraq?

“We are, I believe, in terms of the American commitment, in the endgame here in Iraq,” he told US troops at an airbase near Baghdad.

Mr Gates has been picked to stay on as defence secretary by President-elect Barack Obama.

President Bush leaves the White House in less than six weeks. He said in a recent interview with ABC News that the biggest regret of his presidency was the false intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Finding these was one of the key justifications for the invasion. None were ever found.

Mr Obama has promised to bring home US combat troops from Iraq in a little over a year from when he takes office in January.

More than 4,200 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and security personnel have been killed since the invasion in 2003.

There are currently about 149,000 US soldiers in Iraq, down from last year’s peak of 170,000 after extra troops were poured in to deal with a worsening security situation.

As Mr Bush arrived in Baghdad, Gen David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, which includes Iraq, said attacks in the country had dropped from 180 a day in June 2007 to 10 a day now.

In a sign of modest security gains in Iraq, Mr Bush was welcomed with a formal arrival ceremony – a flourish that was not part of his previous three visits.

He arrived in the country on Air Force One, which landed at Baghdad International Airport in the afternoon, after a secretive Saturday night departure from Washington on an 11-hour flight.

November 5, 2008

Obama wins historic US election

Democratic Senator Barack Obama has been elected the first black president of the United States.

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight… change has come to America,” the president-elect told a jubilant crowd at a park in Chicago.

His rival John McCain accepted defeat, saying “I deeply admire and commend” Mr Obama. He called on his supporters to lend the next president their goodwill.

The BBC’s Justin Webb said the result would have a profound impact on the US.

“On every level America will be changed by this result… [it] will never be the same,” he said.

Mr Obama appeared with his family, and his running mate Joe Biden, before a crowd of tens of thousands in Grant Park, Chicago.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” he said.

He said he had received an “extraordinarily gracious” call from Mr McCain.

He praised the former Vietnam prisoner of war as a “brave and selfless leader”.

“He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine,” the victor said.

He had warm words for his family, announcing to his daughters: “Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.”

Congratulations… You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life
President George W Bush

But he added: “Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep… But America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”

From red to blue

Mr Obama captured the key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, before breaking through the winning threshold of 270 electoral college votes at 0400 GMT, when projections showed he had also taken California and a slew of other states.

HAVE YOUR SAY

I find myself strangely emotional about this. I want to go wake up my neighbours and hug them

Amy Scullane, Boston

Then came the news that he had also seized Florida, Virginia and Colorado – all of which voted Republican in 2004 – turning swathes of the map from red to blue.

Several other key swing states are hanging in the balance.

In Indiana and North Carolina, with most of the vote counted, there was less than 0.5% between the two candidates.

However, the popular vote remains close. At 0600 GMT it stood at 51.3% for the Democratic Senator from Illinois, against 47.4% for Arizona Senator McCain.

The main developments include:

  • Mr Obama is projected to have seized Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada – all Republican wins in 2004.
  • He is also projected to have won: Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Delaware, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Rhode Island, California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon.
  • Mr McCain is projected to have won: Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming, Georgia, Louisiana, West Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, South Dakota.
  • Turnout was reported to be extremely high – in some places “unprecedented”.
  • The Democrats made gains in the Senate race, seizing seats from the Republicans in Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Colorado. They also increased their majority of the House of Representatives.
  • Exit polls suggest the economy was the major deciding factor for six out of 10 voters.
  • Nine out of 10 said the candidates’ race was not important to their vote, the Associated Press reported. Almost as many said age did not matter.

LOSSES AND GAINS
Key states
Projected gains for Obama in former Republican states of Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Nevada
Senate seats
Virginia: Democrat Mark Warner replaces retiring Republican John Warner
New Hampshire: Democrat Jeanne Shaheen unseats Republican John Sununu
North Carolina: Democrat Kay Hagan replaces Republican Elizabeth Dole
New Mexico: Democrat Tom Udall replaces retiring Republican Pete Domenici

Several states reported very high turnout. It was predicted 130 million Americans, or more, would vote – more than for any election since 1960.

Many people said they felt they had voted in a historic election – and for many African-Americans the moment was especially poignant.

John Lewis, an activist in the civil rights era who was left beaten on an Alabama bridge 40 years ago, told Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church: “This is a great night. It is an unbelievable night. It is a night of thanksgiving.”

Besides winning the presidency, the Democrats tightened their grip on Congress.

The entire US House of Representatives and a third of US Senate seats were up for grabs.

Democrats won several Senate seats from the Republicans, but seemed unlikely to to gain the nine extra they wanted to reach the 60-seat “super-majority”, that could prevent Republicans blocking legislation.

September 20, 2008

Dozens killed in Pakistan attack

Dozens killed in Pakistan attack

A bomb attack has hit the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, killing at least 31 people.

The blast created a 20ft (6m) deep crater, and destroyed the entire front section of the hotel.

She says the building is engulfed in flames, and rescue workers are carrying out bloodied victims and bodies.

Police say the blast occurred as a lorry approached the hotel and they suspect it was a suicide attack.

Police estimate that the blast was caused by more than a tonne of explosives. They are warning that the hotel could collapse.

Heavy security

Our correspondent says that the centre of the blast was at the front of the building close to the area where security checks are carried out.

Employees flee from the foyer of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad
I don’t understand what it was, but it was like the world is finished
Hotel employee Mohammad Sultan

She says that about two-thirds of the 290-room hotel is on fire, and the wounded and dead are still being brought out, on stretchers or wrapped in sheets.

She says the emergency services have been unable to reach the upper floors of the hotel, where more people are feared to be trapped.

A hotel employee, Mohammad Sultan, said he was in the reception when something exploded, forcing him to the ground.

“I don’t understand what it was, but it was like the world is finished,” he told the Associated Press news agency.

There are reports that the explosion brought down the ceiling of the banquet hall, where some 300 people were sharing a meal to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

The Marriott is located near government buildings and diplomatic missions. Security there is tight, with guests and vehicles subject to checks.

The hotel is popular with foreigners visiting Pakistan or members of the expat community, and has previously been the target of militants.

Last year a suicide bomber killed himself and one other in an attack at the hotel.

Insurgency

The bomb attack comes just hours after Pakistan’s newly installed President, Asif Ali Zardari, said he would not allow Pakistan’s territory to be violated by terrorists or foreign powers fighting them.

Asif Ali Zardari (file photo)

Pakistan has been a key ally of the US in its “war on terror”

In his first speech to MPs since he replaced Pervez Musharraf in August, he vowed instead to “root out terrorism and extremism wherever and whenever they may rear their ugly heads”.

He was speaking in Islamabad, just several hundred metres to the east of the Marriott.

Pakistan has been a key ally of the US in its “war on terror”, but relations have become strained over tactics.

In recent months, Pakistan has voiced growing disquiet over US raids targeting militants in its territory, launched from neighbouring Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda and Taleban militants based in Pakistan’s north-west tribal region have repeatedly carried out attacks across the border in Afghanistan.

Militants have also carried out waves of attacks in Pakistan in recent years.

 


Are you in the area? Did you see what happened? Send us your comments and eye witness accounts

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.