News & Current Affairs

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

Advertisements

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 1, 2009

Iran ‘disqualifies’ EU from talks

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:09 pm

Iran ‘disqualifies’ EU from talks

13 June

Britain has denied allegations of involvement in the Iranian riots

The EU is no longer qualified to take part in talks on Iran’s nuclear programme, Iran’s military chief says.

Maj Gen Hassan Firouzabadi, Iran’s chief of staff, accused the EU of “interference” in riots which followed June’s disputed presidential elections.

The EU has for the past few years been involved in talks to try to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

EU states, meanwhile, are considering withdrawing their ambassadors from Iran in a growing diplomatic row.

External pressure

Britain has proposed the step, after Iran detained nine of its embassy staff in Tehran last week. Eight have since been released.

The diplomatic correspondent says the diplomatic signalling seems to have had an effect, and EU governments will now be looking for the remaining detained staff member to be released.

He adds that the problem more generally is that any external pressure tends to be used by the Iranian government to bolster its own narrative of outside interference.

In the wake of mass street protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s relection, Iran’s Basij militia has called for the defeated opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi to be prosecuted.

‘Nine offences’

The semi-official Fars news agency said the militia – a volunteer force of Islamic government loyalists – had accused Mr Mousavi of nine offences, including propaganda against the state, and complicity in disrupting national security.

It is our historic responsibility to continue our complaint and make efforts not to give up the rights of the people
Mir Hossein Mousavi
Iranian presidential candidate

In a letter to the chief prosecutor, the militia said Mr Mousavi had been involved in the street protests, in which about 17 protesters and a number of militia members were killed.

The Iranian presidential elections, held on 12 June, returned President Ahmadinejad to power for a second term in office.

But the opposition disputed the result, saying the vote had been rigged.

Both Mr Mousavi, and another defeated opposition candidate Mehdi Karoubi, have issued statements on their websites describing any government led by President Ahmadinejad as “illegitimate”.

Mr Mousavi wrote: “It is our historic responsibility to continue our complaint, and make efforts not to give up the rights of the people.”

And he called for the release of the “children of the revolution” – a reference to the hundreds of reformist figures detained during the unrest.

‘Hostility’

In his statement, reported by Fars, army chief of staff Gen Firouzabadi accused some EU members of supporting the riots, and demonstrating their hostility to the Iranian people.

The EU has yet to comment, but earlier urged Iran to avoid conflict with the international community.

Previously, Iran had aimed its allegations at Britain in particular and at the weekend detained the local employees of its embassy. Five were released on Monday, and a further three on Wednesday.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for power plants, but some Western countries suspect it plans to build nuclear weapons.

Three EU countries – Britain, France and Germany – have led negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, along with the United States, Russia and China.

‘Non-negotiable’

At their last talks, they offered Iran a package of incentives if it would stop its nuclear activities.

But Iran insists that its right to enrich uranium is non-negotiable.

In a separate development, officials in Tehran said President Ahmadinejad had cancelled his trip to an African Union summit in Libya.

Mr Ahmadinejad’s office did not give any reason for the decision.

June 24, 2009

Protesters ‘in new Iran clashes’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:33 pm

Protesters ‘in new Iran clashes’

Iranian riot police are reported to have clashed with demonstrators defying government decrees to stop street protests over disputed elections.

Eyewitness reports say there have been clashes near the parliament building in the capital Tehran, in the streets around Baharestan Square.

Reporting restrictions in Iran mean the we cannot verify the reports.

The new protests came hours after Iran’s supreme leader said it would “not yield” over the election result.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei again said the result would stand, despite days of protests in which at least 17 people are reported to have died.

The ayatollah has repeatedly demanded that the protests stop, but his calls have gone largely unheeded.

Witnesses told the Associated Press that police beat protesters with batons, fired tear gas and shot into the air to disperse the crowd on Wednesday.

Although some demonstrators fought police, others fled to another square about a mile (2 km) to the north, the witnesses said.

The main protest leader, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, has not been seen in public for days, but his website quoted his wife saying protests would continue.

January 31, 2009

Iraqis vote in landmark elections

Iraqis vote in landmark elections

A man casts his vote in Baghdad, Iraq (31/01/2009)

Voters had to pass through strict security to cast their ballots

Iraqis are electing new provincial councils in the first nationwide vote in four years, with the Sunni minority expected to turn out in strength.

Sunnis largely boycotted the last ballot. Correspondents in Baghdad, where there has been a total ban on vehicles, said voting started slowly.

The vote is seen as a test of Iraq’s stability ahead of the next general election later this year.

Security is tight and thousands of observers are monitoring the polls.

Up to 15 million Iraqis are eligible to cast votes.

“This is a great chance for us, a great day, to be able to vote freely without any pressure or interference,” a Baghdad voter identified as Hamid told Reuters news agency.

Another voter said he had not slept in order to be first at the polling station.

“I want this experience to be a success, and that there will no fraud,” said Adnan al-Janabi.

Security tight

Voters had to pass through stringent security checks to reach the polling stations, which were mostly set up in schools.

As voting got underway, several mortar rounds landed near polling stations in Tikrit, hometown of late ruler Saddam Hussein, but no casualties were reported.

Hundreds of international observers are monitoring the vote, as well as thousands of local observers from the various political parties.

We didn’t vote and we saw the result – sectarian violence
Khaled al-Azemi
Sunni speaking about 2005 boycott

At least eight of the 14,000 candidates have been killed in the run up to the election.

Three of the candidates – all Sunni Muslims – were killed on Thursday, in Baghdad, Mosul and Diyala province.

While the recent level of violence around Iraq is significantly lower than in past years, Iraq’s international borders have been shut, traffic bans are in place across Baghdad and major cities, and curfews have been introduced.

Hundreds of women, including teachers and civic workers, have also been recruited to help search women voters after a rise in female suicide bombers last year, according to the Associated Press.

Iraqi and US military commanders have in recent days warned that al-Qaeda poses a threat to the elections.

Setting the stage

Sunnis largely boycotted the last ballot, a general election which resulted in Shia and Kurdish parties taking control of parliament.

Despite intimidation, many Sunni voters say they will vote this time.

PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS
Baghdad prepares for Saturday's election

Some, like Khaled al-Azemi, said the boycott last time had been a mistake.

“We lost a lot because we didn’t vote and we saw the result – sectarian violence” he told the News.

“That’s why we want to vote now to avoid the mistakes of the past.”

The drawing of alienated Sunnis back into the political arena is one of the big changes these elections will crystallise.

On the Shia side, the results will also be closely watched amid signs that many voters intend to turn away from the big religious factions and towards nationalist or secular ones.

If they pass off relatively peacefully, these elections will set the stage for general polls at the end of the year and for further coalition troop withdrawals, our correspondent says.

The election is also being seen as a quasi-referendum on the leadership of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Saturday’s elections are being held in 14 of the country’s 18 provinces, with more than 14,000 candidates competing for just 440 seats.

There is no vote in the three provinces of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of the north and the ballot has been postponed in oil-rich Kirkuk province.

Iraq’s provincial councils are responsible for nominating the governors who lead the administration and oversee finance and reconstruction projects.

September 18, 2008

Police hold Swazi poll protesters

Police hold Swazi poll protesters

Union and anti-government protesters hurl stones at police during a rally in Manzini, Swaziland, 3 September 2008

Pro-democracy activists held protests earlier this month

Police in Swaziland have detained a number of pro-democracy activists planning a border blockade ahead of parliamentary elections in the kingdom.

Several union leaders were bundled into police vans at the main border crossing with South Africa, organizers of the planned blockade said.

Political parties are banned in Swaziland, one of the world’s last absolute monarchies.

There have been recent protests calling for change and multi-party democracy.

A government spokesman has said the planned blockade was unnecessary.

But the secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Labor, Vincent Ncongwane, said protesters wanted to demonstrate that Friday’s elections would not be inclusive.

“We still have in Swaziland this myth that you can have a democracy where there isn’t the participation of other political parties,” he told.

Landlocked Swaziland is almost entirely surrounded by South Africa.

September 8, 2008

German FM to run for chancellor

German FM to run for chancellor

Frank-Walter Steinmeier - 7/9/2008

Opinion polls indicate the SPD are lagging far behind their CDU rivals

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) have chosen Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as candidate for chancellor in next year’s federal election.

The choice means he will run against the current chancellor, Angela Merkel, of the Christian Democrats (CDU).

Mr Steinmeier is the foreign minister and vice-chancellor in the “grand coalition” of the SPD and CDU in Ms Merkel’s government.

Polls indicate the SPD is far behind the CDU in voter opinion.

The SPD has lost support in recent years to the Left Party, made up of defectors from the SPD and communists from the former East Germany.

In a party shake-up, former SPD chairman Franz Muentefering was chosen by party officials to resume the role after Kurt Beck announced his resignation.

“The party needs strong leadership and a strong centre and I believe that today’s decision sets the course for this,” Mr Steinmeier said after the party’s meeting.

He served as chief of staff in Gerhard Schroeder’s ruling coalition with the Greens from 1998-2005.

After the 2005 elections left neither the CDU nor the SPD with enough votes to form a government, he became foreign minister in the coalition the two parties formed.

Mbeki bids to save Zimbabwe talks

Mbeki bids to save Zimbabwe talks

Morgan Tsvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai said no deal was better than a bad one

South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki is due in Harare to revive Zimbabwe’s deadlocked power-sharing talks.

Both Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai claim to have won this year’s elections.

Since South Africa-brokered crisis talks broke down last month, both sides have hardened their positions.

Mr Mugabe has said he is ready to form a government alone, while Mr Tsvangirai over the weekend said there should be new elections if a deal is not reached.

South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said Mr Mbeki would meet both men, as well as Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a smaller opposition faction.

‘Surrender powers’

Before talks broke down the two rivals had agreed that Mr Tsvangirai would be named prime minister while Mr Mugabe remained president, but they could not agree on how to share powers.

The MDC wanted Mr Mugabe to become a ceremonial president, while the ruling Zanu-PF party insisted he retain control of the security forces and the powers to appoint and dismiss ministers.

Robert Mugabe

Mr Mugabe has threatened to form a government without the MDC

“The issue that we are facing here is that Mugabe must accept to surrender some of his powers for the power-sharing arrangement to work,” Mr Tsvangirai told a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rally in Gweru, in central Zimbabwe on Sunday.

“We would rather have no deal than a bad deal,” Mr Tsvangirai said.

He also said he would not bow to pressure from Mr Mbeki, who has been acting as a mediator in the crisis.

The MDC leader gained more votes than Mr Mugabe in March elections but official results show he did not pass the 50% threshold for outright victory.

Mr Tsvangirai pulled out of the June run-off, saying some 200 of his supporters had been killed and 200,000 forced from their homes in a campaign of violence led by the army and supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF.

Zanu-PF has denied the claims and accused the MDC of both exaggerating the scale of the violence and being responsible for it.

Mr Mugabe said on Thursday that the opposition MDC had one week to agree a power-sharing deal, or he would form his own government.

Hong Kong democrats keep veto

Hong Kong democrats keep veto

Pro-democracy candidates Emily Lau of The Frontier Party celebrates

Pro-democracy candidate Emily Lau of Frontier Party celebrates

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp has won more than a third of seats in elections in the territory, and so retains a key veto over future major legislation.

The pro-democracy opposition won 23 out of the 30 elected seats in the Legislative Council.

The other 30 seats in the council are not directly elected, but allocated to special interest groups.

The Pro-Beijing camp had expected to make gains at the polls due to a surge of patriotism after the Olympics.

In fact, even some people on the pro-democracy side had been predicting that they would suffer heavy losses.

Some candidates issued statements on Sunday saying the situation was critical. Others were in tears, expecting to lose.

Analysts had believed pro-government parties would make significant gains after the surge in pro-China patriotism sparked by the Beijing Olympics and the Sichuan earthquake.

China had also promised the region some form of universal suffrage by 2017, blunting the democratic camp’s campaign.

Pro-business resignation

Leading figures such as Emily Lau, Audrey Eu and Leung Kwok-hung, also known as Longhair, each fought off stiff competition to keep their seat.

The pro-government party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, or DAB, has also done well, thanks to its strong organization.

And the pro-China independent Regina Ip won her seat.

But the pro-business Liberal party leader, James Tien lost his, and has resigned.

September 7, 2008

MDC challenges Mugabe to new vote

MDC challenges Mugabe to new vote

Morgan Tsvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai said no deal was better than a bad one

Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has challenged President Robert Mugabe to hold a new election if he is not prepared to share his powers.

Mr Tsvangirai said he would withdraw from power-sharing talks if a satisfactory deal could not be reached.

Mr Mugabe has said he will form a government without the MDC if they do not agree to a power-sharing deal being mediated by South Africa’s president.

Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai both say they won elections earlier this year.

“The issue that we are facing here is that Mugabe must accept to surrender some of his powers for the power-sharing arrangement to work,” Mr Tsvangirai told a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rally in Gweru, in central Zimbabwe.

Talks deadlocked

At talks mediated by South Africa, the two rivals have agreed that Mr Tsvangirai would be named prime minister while Mr Mugabe remained president, but they cannot agree on how to share powers.

The MDC wants Mr Mugabe to become a ceremonial president, while the ruling Zanu-PF party insists he retain control of the security forces and the powers to appoint and dismiss ministers.

“We would rather have no deal than a bad deal,” Mr Tsvangirai said.

Robert Mugabe

Mr Mugabe has threatened to form a government without the MDC

He also said he would not bow to pressure from South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been acting as a mediator in the crisis.

Mr Mbeki is due to return to Zimbabwe’s capital Harare on Monday to continue the search for a solution to the political impasse.

The MDC leader gained more votes than Mr Mugabe in March elections but official results show he did not pass the 50% threshold for outright victory.

Mr Tsvangirai pulled out of the June run-off, saying 200 of his supporters had been killed and 200,000 forced from their homes in a campaign of violence led by the army and supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF.

Zanu-PF has denied the claims and accused the MDC of both exaggerating the scale of the violence and being responsible for it.

Mr Mugabe said on Thursday that the opposition MDC had one week to agree a power-sharing deal, or he will form his own government.

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.