News & Current Affairs

September 18, 2008

Yemen faces new Jihad generation

Yemen faces new Jihad generation

Aftermath of attack on US embassy

New recruits actively target the Yemeni regime and its supporters like the US

The deadly car bombing outside the US embassy in Yemen represents an escalation in attacks against Western targets and shows al Qaeda-inspired jihadis are growing in ability and determination.

Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 16 people, but it is possible that other groups will come forward in the next few days.

There is a complex network of over-lapping splinter cells and claims of rival leadership within Yemen.

Extremist violence in Yemen has been on the rise since February 2006, when 23 prominent militants tunneled their way out of a high-security jail.

Ten Europeans and four Yemenis have died in attacks on tourist convoys in the past 15 months.

In March, a misfired mortar strike hit a girls’ school next door to the US embassy by mistake.

A subsequent bombing campaign in the capital – against an expatriate residential compound and oil company offices – prompted the US state department to evacuate all non-essential embassy staff from Yemen.

US employees had just started to return to their embassy desks at the end of August – so the timing of the latest attack is significant.

Crackdown

During July, Yemeni security forces killed five al-Qaeda suspects, disrupted a second cell and arrested more than 30 suspected al-Qaeda members.

Map of Yemen

In August, a prominent Islamic Jihad figure was arrested.

But this attack shows that effective leadership remains intact and operational capacity has not been disrupted.

Two Saudi passports were found among documents seized in the July raids and interrogations were said to have uncovered plans to launch attacks in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Yemen subsequently extradited eight Saudi nationals to Riyadh.

The raids underlined the importance to Saudi Arabia of Yemen’s internal security. But Yemen is also paying the price for the northern kingdom’s muscular clampdown on its own insurgents.

In March, a Saudi militant fundraiser said al-Qaeda had been defeated in Saudi Arabia and he called on his remaining associates to flee to Yemen to escape capture or assassination by the Saudi authorities.

The current migration of Saudi jihadis to Yemen coincides with the emergence of a transnational structure calling itself al-Qaeda in the South of the Arabian Peninsula.

Yemen’s mountainous terrain and the weak presence of state structures outside Sanaa have long fostered close ties between jihadis in these neighboring states.

Public education

Cash-strapped Yemen lacks the financial resources to tackle terrorism in the same robust manner as the Saudis; its per capita gross domestic product of $2,300 is dwarfed by the $23,200 seen across the northern border.

The government is moving to a policy of direct confrontation with the younger generation
Analyst Ahmed Saif

In recent years, the Yemeni government has pioneered a dialogue programme and poetry recitals to influence violent jihadis and tribesmen.

The most recent initiative is a two-hour feature film intended to educate the public about Islamic extremism.

The film, called The Losing Bet, follows two Yemeni jihadis who return home after being radicalized abroad.

They are directed by an al-Qaeda mastermind to recruit new members and carry out a “martyrdom operation”.

News footage from the aftermath of a real suicide bombing is edited into scenes of this creative new drama – written and produced by a popular Yemeni director.

The film was launched in August, at a five-star hotel that has previously been an intended target of foiled terrorist plots.

It comes as the government faces a new generation of violent Islamists who are blowing the old, inclusive consensus apart.

The young generation appears to be immune to the standard tactic of negotiation and compromise that President Ali Abdullah Saleh used with the Yemeni mujahideen who returned home at the end of Afghanistan’s war against the Soviet Union.

The Afghan veterans supported the northern tribes against the former socialist South Yemen during the 1994 civil war in return for a reputed “covenant of security” deal – where the government guaranteed protection inside Yemen as long as violence occurred outside the boundaries of the state.

But new recruits are actively targeting President Saleh’s regime, citing as provocation the torture and humiliation of captive al-Qaeda members.

In July, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a police station in Hadramaut. In a subsequent statement, a splinter cell pledged to continue attacks against security and intelligence structures.

Such an explicit declaration means there is no longer scope for dialogue, according to Ahmed Saif, director of the Sheba Centre for Security Studies.

“The government is moving to a policy of direct confrontation with the younger generation,” he says.

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Livni wins Israel party primary

Livni wins Israel party primary

Tzipi Livni after casting her vote on Wednesday

Critics have accused Tzipi Livni of lacking political experience

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has won the leadership of the governing Kadima party, putting her on track to succeed Ehud Olmert as prime minister.

Ms Livni beat Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz by just 431 votes, or 1.1%, the central electoral commission said.

In a victory speech, Ms Livni announced that she wanted to form a new cabinet “as quickly as possible in the face of the serious threats” facing Israel.

She has 42 days to do so, during which time Mr Olmert remains prime minister.

He announced he would step down in July after facing growing pressure over multiple corruption investigations.

The senior Palestinian Authority negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said he hoped the result would lead to a return to stability.

‘Great reverence’

Correspondent in Jerusalem says that for much of Wednesday night, Ms Livni’s supporters in the Kadima party cheered at what they believed had been an emphatic victory, predicted by a series of exit polls on Israeli TV.

KADIMA PRIMARY RESULTS
Tzipi Livni: 43.1% (16,936 votes)
Shaul Mofaz: 42% (16,505)
Meir Sheetrit: 8.4% (3,327)
Avi Dichter: 6.5% (2,563)

Mr Olmert phoned his foreign minister to congratulate her and promise his full co-operation after she appeared on track to win with about 48% of the vote. Then the balloon slowly deflated as the results rolled in, our correspondent says.

According to the final results released by Kadima, Ms Livni won the election with 43.1%, or 16,936 votes. Mr Mofaz, a former defence minister and chief of staff of the Israeli military, came in a close second with 42%, or 16,505 votes.

The two other candidates, cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit and former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter, lagged far behind with 8.4% and 6.5% respectively.

Mr Mofaz’s supporters have warned that they may lodge an appeal against the result. His campaign headquarters has reportedly already demanded the ballot in the southern town of Ashkelon be disqualified.

Supporter of Shaul Mofaz (17 September 2008)

Supporters of Shaul Mofaz said they might appeal against the result

In a victory speech early on Thursday morning, Ms Livni said that she would seek to form a new coalition government “as quickly as possible” and called for party unity.

“All the people who came to vote today expressed what they wish to happen in this country,” she said. “The national responsibility [bestowed] by the public brings me to approach this job with great reverence.”

If she can form a fresh governing coalition within the next six weeks, Ms Livni will become Israel’s first woman prime minister since Golda Meir stepped down in 1974.

Our correspondent says that will be no easy task, and if it were to end in failure, general elections will follow in a further three months.

‘Mrs Clean’

Ms Livni is seen as less hawkish than Mr Mofaz when it comes to the Palestinians and to dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Ehud Olmert formally resigns as prime minister and his cabinet resigns with him
President consults parties to pick a Knesset member to form a new cabinet – expected to be the Kadima leader
The MK has 42 days to form a coalition acceptable to parliament
If no coalition is formed, another MK may be asked to try to form a government, or a general election may be called
If a general election is called, it must be held within 90 days
Mr Olmert remains caretaker prime minister until the Knesset approves a new government

Critics say Ms Livni, a former lawyer and Mossad agent, also lacks political experience.

Her supporters say she represents a break with the past. Ms Livni is untainted by the kind of allegations of corruption and bribery that led to Mr Olmert’s resignation and have damaged the reputation of Israeli politics.

“[She] is a good choice as far as Israel’s foreign relations are concerned, but there is still the tension with Iran. I am not so sure how much experience she has for such matters and if she will be able to take the right decisions,” said Shmuel Sandler, professor at the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies.

“She looks like ‘Mrs Clean’… but she will still have to form a coalition,” he told the Reuters news agency. “It is very difficult to predict whether she will be a strong prime minister.”

Kadima was formed three years ago when former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon split from the centre-right opposition party, Likud, to draw together support from left and right for his policy of unilateral withdrawals from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

But its poll ratings fell after a stroke left Mr Sharon in a coma.

His successor, Mr Olmert, faced strong criticism of his handling of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war and he was investigated in several corruption scandals.

Polls now suggest Likud could win a potential general election, which would take place if a coalition government cannot be formed in the wake of the Kadima leadership vote.

The Kadima election comes as the US government is continuing its push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal before President George W Bush leaves office in January.

Mr Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held talks on Tuesday. An Israeli spokesman said the two would continue to meet until a new government was sworn in.


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Mrs Sarkozy meets Metallica on TV

Mrs Sarkozy meets Metallica on TV

Singer Carla Bruni, the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has given a rare performance, appearing alongside rock bands Metallica and Kings of Leon.

The acts were all on UK music TV show Later… with Jools Holland, where Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy told the host her husband was “very kind” about her music.

“I play it at home and I disturb him with it in the middle of the night,” the 40-year-old former model said.

She married Mr Sarkozy in February and released her third album in July.

The TV show, starting its 33rd series, is renowned for its eclectic mix of music.

Metallica, Carla Bruni and Jools Holland (far right)

Metallica provided a contrast to Carla Bruni on Jools Holland’s show

Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy tapped her foot and clapped as heavy metal monsters Metallica performed tracks from their number one album Death Magnetic.

But their music could not be further apart, with Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy’s sultry, breathy chanson style evoking Parisian cafes, while Metallica normally soundtrack sweaty stadiums.

As well as the French first lady and Metallica, the program also featured the group at the top of the UK singles chart – Tennessee blues-rockers the Kings of Leon.

One edition of the show went out live on Tuesday, while another extended version was filmed to be broadcast on BBC Two on Friday.

Jools Holland, the former Squeeze musician turned TV host, interviewed Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy for both shows.

Her appearance came just days after she met Pope Benedict XVI, while she has also accompanied Mr Sarkozy meeting dignitaries such as the Queen and the Dalai Lama in recent months.

During the live episode, Holland asked what it was like mixing her roles as a singer-songwriter and president’s wife.

Carla Bruni
It’s not so hard – it’s just like playing in a film
Carla Bruni on being the French first lady

“I don’t really mix them up – I separate them,” she replied. “I play my music and then I go with my husband when he needs me.”

He was involved in her music but did not act like a critic or a fan, she said – and it did not “drive him mad” when she played it in the middle of the night.

“It’s just a very different world for him,” she said. “But he’s very kind and he listens to all my doubts.”

Asked whether she wrote songs about her husband – who was not present for the TV show – she simply replied: “Well, I write songs about my life.”

Wearing an elegant trouser suit, Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy performed one song, Tu Es Ma Came, on the live show.

She translated it variously as: “You’re my junk, you’re my type, you’re my cup of tea.”

It was about “being addicted to someone in a toxic way and in a lovely way”, she said.

During the recorded show, she also performed L’Amoureuse, or The Woman in Love, with a chorus that repeats the line: “Je suis l’amoureuse.”

Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy with Pope Benedict XVI

Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy met Pope Benedict XVI last week

But she has said 95% of her latest album was written before she met Mr Sarkozy.

During the interview for Friday’s show, she gave further insights into her new life.

“I have my husband’s world,” she said. “It’s like I just try to be with him and be cool about it and not change everything I know and my way of living.

“It’s not so hard. It’s just like playing in a film.”

She then accompanied Holland on a version of US blues singer Bessie Smith’s song Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.

Security fears

Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy’s latest album, Comme Si De Rien N’Etait, went straight to number one in France.

It came six years after her first release, Quelqu’un M’a Dit, which sold two million copies around the world.

She had previously said she would not play any more live shows for security reasons until her husband leaves his job.

Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy was given a warm reception, but the biggest cheer of the night went to Metallica, who closed the recorded show with their 1991 piledriver Enter Sandman.

The other acts on the bill were UK rapper Sway, New Jersey singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins and British pop newcomer VV Brown.

September 7, 2008

Global economy woes shake markets

Global economy woes shake markets

Japanese stock market trader

Japanese shares felt the force of the economic uncertainty

Fears about a global economic slowdown, heightened by worsening US job figures, have continued to undermine stock markets around the world.

London’s FTSE 100 index lost 2.3% – taking its weekly decline to 7% – its biggest since July 2002.

Markets in Paris and Frankfurt fell by 2.5% as economy concerns spread.

On Wall Street the Dow Jones index clawed back early losses to edge higher despite figures showing the US economy shed 84,000 jobs last month.

But the benchmark US index still had its worst week since May.

Earlier, Japan’s main share index fell nearly 3% while markets in Hong Kong, China, Australia and India all slid 2%.

‘Ugly’ data

The US labor market figures – which showed the unemployment rate rising to 6.1% – were a further jolt to investors who have had to swallow a slew of poor economic data in recent days.

Economists had been expecting 75,000 jobs to be lost while the government also revised upwards.

“This was an ugly number that pretty much confirms that our economy continues to trend downward,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank.

“This just knocks the legs out of any hope of seeing much economic improvement right now.”

‘Uncertainty’

Amid the uncertainty, few investors are willing to buy
Masayuki Otani, Securities Japan

The FTSE 100 closed down 2.3% at 5,240.70 points. The last time it lost so much value in a week was more than six years ago in the wake of financial scandals such as Enron and WorldCom.

Markets in Paris and Frankfurt continued their recent downward trend, both the Cac-40 index and the Dax-30 dropping about 2.5%.

The Dow Jones index, which lost 3% on Thursday, rose 32.73 points, or 0.3% to 11,220.96, but still ended down 2.8% on the week.

“Given the fact we were down so much yesterday we’re seeing a bit of a reflex rally with investors wanting to take advantages of some of the bargains,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at Morgan Asset Management.

The Nasdaq index slipped 3.16 points, or 0.1% to 2,255.88, ending the week 4.7% lower.

Earlier Japan’s benchmark Nikkei index fell 361.54 points to 12,196.12 amid a widespread sell-off of shares in Asia.

The Hang Seng index fell more than 3% in Hong Kong while markets also fell sharply in China, Australia and India.

“Amid the uncertainty, few investors are willing to buy,” said Masayuki, Otani, chief market analyst at Securities Japan.

“Several bad things happened at once,” he added, explaining the fall.

Gloom

Worries about inflation have prevented central banks in Europe from cutting interest rates to help forestall a slowdown.

But analysts believe this could change soon with economic forecasts across Europe looking increasingly gloomy.

The European Central Bank cut its 2009 growth forecast from 1.5% to 1.2% on Thursday while the UK economy stalled in the second quarter.

In a separate development, the Russian rouble fell against the dollar a day after Russia’s central bank intervened to support the currency amid concerns about a flight of foreign capital after the conflict with Georgia.

The central bank sold up to $4bn in reserves, the Financial Times reported, after the rouble slipped to its lowest level since February 2007.

July 31, 2008

Surveys: Many people are now watching TV online

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Surveys: Many people are now watching TV online

As much as 20 percent of all TV viewing in the US now happens online, says a survey released this week by Integrated Media Measurement Inc. (IMMI), supporting other recent research which also indicates that the Internet is fast turning into the top choice for many.

For the first time this year, a significant part of the online audience for primetime TV episodes is not watching some portion of the show on TV, according to IMMI’s new survey results. Recent launches of sites like Hulu, offering full episodes of programs, is surely bolstering the trend.

For some shows, online viewing is higher than DVR playback. Yet the IMMI researchers also contend that only about one-third of American households own DVRs, whereas about 82 percent of them have Internet access.

About 29 percent of “traditional live TV viewers” use a DVR frequently, in contrast to just 22 percent of online TV viewers.

Around 50 percent of all online viewing was characterized by IMMI’s respondents as “TV replacement,” whereas 31 percent of the time, it was described as “catch-up viewing,” and 18 percent of the time as “fill-in viewing.”

Online TV as a “TV replacement” is certainly nothing new. As previously reported in BetaNews, in a study conducted by Burst during the recent Hollywood writer’s strike, almost half of those surveyed were spending more time than usual online, in order to avoid repeat programming on TV.

Although that particular study didn’t ask the TV defectors how they spent their time online, it’s probably a good bet that a lot of them were viewing videos.

Europe seems to be much further ahead of the US in watching TV online, according to a survey by Motorola. Even back in mid-2007, when that survey was published, 45 percent of respondents across the UK, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy claimed to be watching at least some TV online, with France taking the lead at 59 percent.

Given the choice, why do some people prefer watching TV online? Another recent survey — this one conducted by Simmons, a unit of Esperian — showed that viewers are 25 percent “more engaged” when watching TV online.

Released last December, the Simmons study defined “engagement” according to six characteristics that respondents identify with media: “personal time-out,” “social interaction,” “inspirational,” “trustworthy,” “life-enhancing,” and ad receptivity.

Although that could be, maybe people just find it interesting to get up off the couch, ditch the remote, and flip around between various Web sites – some showing TV programs, and others offering music, downloadable software, social networking, news, gaming, e-mail, search engines, and an endless array of other stuff.

Microsoft posts videos of users who liked Vista after thinking it was new OS

Microsoft posts videos of users who liked Vista after thinking it was new OS

Microsoft has posted actual videos from its “Mojave Experiment,” an effort to dispel negative stereotypes about Vista by making Windows users think they were running a newer operating system that was actually Vista.

While not referring to Mojave by name, Microsoft first talked about the project publicly during a meeting with financial analysts last week, when Bill Veghte, a senior VP, mentioned an experiment done by Microsoft among PC users who “have a negative perception relative to” Vista.

“They’re not using it, but they are predisposed to think about it in a negative way,” according to Veghte, who heads up Microsoft’s Online Services & Windows Business Group.

Veghte said the subjects in the experiment consisted of a focus group chosen through a phone survey based on random dialing. He then rolled video showing how users who’d voiced anti-Vista leanings in the survey — but were then duped into thinking they were looking at a new OS codenamed Mojave — liked what they saw, even though they were actually viewing Vista.

In practically the same breath, Veghte mentioned another survey done by Microsoft, this one conducted among existing Vista users. “We have 89 percent satisfied or very satisfied, and 83 percent of those customers would recommend it to friends, family, et cetera. That is a very good result when you compare and contrast the satisfaction levels on other products,” he contended at the meeting.

When early reports about Mojave emerged online late last week, BetaNews contacted Microsoft to find out more about the two surveys discussed at the analyst meeting, and whether their relationship — if any — to one another.

As it turns out, Mojave and Microsoft’s “Vista satisfaction” survey are not related — not directly, anyway.

“The source of the [Vista satisfaction] survey was Penn Schoen and Berland Associates, which is a different company than Microsoft is working with on Mojave,” a Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews today.

Mojave, on the other hand, was aimed at getting a better understanding of “the reactions of customers to Windows Vista, when they were not aware that they were using Windows Vista,” she said.

“The people we tested were were a collection of Mac, Linux, and Windows users who have not made the switch yet to Windows Vista,” BetaNews was told. “We look forward to showing them on July 29.”

BetaNews asked Microsoft whether the Mojave videos will be released in Microsoft ads. “We intend to use these videos as part of some upcoming Windows Vista marketing treatments. You can expect to continue to see ongoing product marketing efforts around Windows that communicates its value to our customers,” the spokesperson maintained.

Early Monday evening, prior to the posting of the anticipated Mojave videos, a teaser site established over the past few days spilled a few other details about Mojave.

The Mojave Experiment took place over “three days in San Francisco, July, 2008,” according to postings on the site.

“Subjects get a live 10-minute demo of “‘the next Microsoft operating system – codenamed Mojave – but it’s actually Windows Vista,” the teaser site proclaimed.

More than 120 computer users viewed the “Mojave” demo, presented on an HP Pavilion DV 2000 with 2GB of RAM.

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