News & Current Affairs

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.”

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July 11, 2009

Obama speaks of hopes for Africa

Obama speaks of hopes for Africa

US President Barack Obama, on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, has said Africa must take charge of its own destiny in the world.

Mr Obama told parliament in Ghana during his one-day stay that good governance was vital for development.

Major challenges awaited Africans in the new century, he said, but vowed that the US would help the continent.

The US president’s trip comes at the end of a summit of eight of the world’s most powerful nations, held in Italy.

Ghana was chosen as the destination for the president’s visit because of its strong democratic record.

Mr Obama headed from parliament to Cape Coast Castle, a seaside fortress converted to the slave trade by the British in the 17th Century. He was accompanied by his wife, Michelle, a descendant of African slaves, and both of his young daughters.

People crowded into a public area outside the fort to greet Mr Obama, with those unable to get a place in the throng climbing onto nearby roofs and filling balconies just to catch a glimpse of the US leader.

Africa’s choice

Mr Obama spoke to parliament shortly after a breakfast meeting with Ghanaian President John Atta Mills.

He wore a broad grin as he was greeted at the podium by a series of rousing horn blasts from within the chamber.

US President Barack Obama speaks to the Ghanaian parliament
Development depends upon good governance. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans
US President Barack Obama

“Congress needs one of them,” Mr Obama joked, before turning to more serious matters.

“I have come here to Ghana for a simple reason,” the US president said: “The 21st Century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Ghana as well.”

Delivering a message that “Africa’s future is up to Africans”, Mr Obama conceded that the legacy of colonialism had helped breed conflict on the continent.

“But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants,” he added.

He praised Ghana’s own progress, governance and economic growth, saying Ghana’s achievements were less dramatic than the liberation struggles of the 20th Century but would ultimately be more significant.

“Development depends upon good governance,” Mr Obama told legislators. “That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long.

“And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”

‘Yes you can’

Expanding on his message, Mr Obama said four key areas were critical to the future of Africa and of the entire developing world, citing democracy, opportunity, health and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

ANALYSIS
Andrew Harding, BBC News, Accra
Andrew Harding, BBC News, Accra

The speech has gone down extremely well. This is a country that has been enormously proud to play host to Mr Obama and referred to him as a brother. People say endlessly that he is part of the family and they are expecting a great deal of him.

It was a very broad-ranging speech but Mr Obama has an ability because of his heritage, his Kenyan father, to reach out and speak to Africans in a way that I think most foreign leaders would find very difficult.

There are very few barriers for Mr Obama in this conversation that he is trying to initiate with Africans and I think that this speech will have ticked many, many boxes.

This is Mr Obama trying to link Africa into the international community.

He hailed Ghana’s democratic society, calling for strong parliaments, honest police, independent judges and a free press across Africa.

However, there were some blunt words directed at other countries, many of which have been undermined by despotic leaders and corrupt politicians.

“Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions,” Mr Obama told his audience.

“No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny.”

He pledged to continue strong US support for public healthcare initiatives in Africa, and called for sensible use of natural resources such as oil in the face of the threat of climate change.

“Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war,” Mr Obama added. “But for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. He described wars as a “millstone around Africa’s neck”.

“You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people,” Mr Obama said, describing freedom as Africa’s “inheritance” and urging the continent to beat disease, end conflict and bring long-lasting change.

In an echo of his presidential election campaign, he drew his speech to a close with a version of his trademark slogan: “Yes you can,” he told the gathered legislators.

Tight security

On the streets of Accra, many billboards welcoming Barack Obama have been erected, including one showing an image of the president and wife with the words: “Ghana loves you”.

A young supporter listens to Barack Obama's speech

Barack Obama’s speech was welcomed by Ghanaians of all ages

People have poured into Accra for a glimpse of the president during his 24-hour stay in Ghana.

But security is tight for the president’s visit, and few ordinary Ghanaians will have the chance to glimpse the first African-American President of the United States.

Mr Obama arrived in the capital late on Friday, fresh from the G8 summit in Italy where heads of state agreed on a $20bn (£12.3bn) fund to bolster agriculture – the main source of income for many sub-Saharan Africans.

June 20, 2009

Iran protests ‘to go ahead’

Iran protests ‘to go ahead’

An Iranian man holds a poster of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the conclusion of the Friday prayers, in Tehran, Iran on Friday

Many thousands of Iranians attended the Supreme Leader’s Friday address

A key rally against Iran’s presidential elections will go ahead on Saturday – in defiance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei – opposition sources say.

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

Mr Mousavi later announced he would be giving a statement imminently.

Police warned they will arrest the leaders of any protest rallies, which they said would be illegal.

The warning follows an order from Ayatollah Khamenei on Friday that street protests should cease.

LATEST FROM TEHRAN
Jon Leyne
Jon Leyne

The opposition leader Mir Hussein Musavi has not made the direct statement himself but his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, who has played a key role in his campaign, has said on her facebook site that the rally is going ahead.

If so, this will be the most direct challenge to the authority of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A huge turnout is expected. Iran and the world will be watching to see how the Iranian security forces respond.

On her page of the social networking website Facebook, Mr Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard said the rally would go ahead.

An aide to Mr Karroubi also told the news that a rally would take place and that it would be attended by Mr Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami – the former president, key reformist and ally of Mr Mousavi.

But the BBC’s Jon Leyne in Tehran says events are moving quickly, with the website of Mr Mousavi’s Kalameh newspaper saying he was due to make an imminent announcement.

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 on Saturday.

But Iranian media reports suggest that neither Mr Mousavi nor Mr Karroubi turned up for the meeting.

Our correspondent says that, if true, it might suggest they have abandoned their legal challenge to the election results.

The Council, which is the body which certifies the election, had only offered a partial recount of disputed ballots from the election.

Police warning

Iranian officials have warned protest leaders not to launch fresh demonstrations.

Abbas Mohtaj – head of Iran’s State Security Council and also deputy interior minister – issued a direct warning to Mr Mousavi.

Iranian pro-government supporters burn a US flag in Tehran

“Should you provoke and call for these illegal rallies you will be responsible for the consequences,” he said in a statement.

State TV also broadcast a warning by a senior police commander warning that police would not countenance any more street protests.

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

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

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

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.

“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.

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.


Are you in Iran? What do you think of the current situation? What do you think of the ayatollah’s speech?

If you have any information you would like to share with us

April 4, 2009

Gunman kills 13 in New York siege

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:03 am

Gunman kills 13 in New York siege

A gunman has killed 13 people after taking dozens hostage in the US state of New York.

The suspected gunman was later found dead inside the immigration centre in Binghamton, police officials said.

Nearly 40 people escaped from the building but four were critically injured in the shooting, north-west of New York City, police said.

President Barack Obama, in Europe for a Nato summit, said he was “shocked and saddened” by the “senseless violence”.

Mr Obama said his administration was “actively monitoring the situation” and that Vice-President Joe Biden was in touch with officials in Binghamton.

The town’s police chief, Joseph Zikuski, told a news conference that 14 people had been found dead in the American Civic Association (ACA) buildings.

The man believed to have carried out the attack was found dead with an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, he said. Ammunition, two more hand guns and a hunting knife were recovered from the scene.

Democratic Congressman Maurice Hinchey told AP the gunman had entered a room where people were sitting exams for US citizenship.

“It was in the middle of a test. He just went in and opened fire,” said Mr Hinchey, whose congressional district includes Binghamton.

The BBC’s Matthew Price in Binghamton says people in the town are struggling to deal with the horror of what some have described as an “unbelievable” attack.

Wounded

Witnesses reported seeing a man entering the ACA building during the morning. He was described as being of Asian appearance, in his 20s, and wearing a bright green nylon jacket and dark-rimmed glasses.

The gunman, believed to have been a Vietnamese-American, used his car to barricade the building’s back door before bursting in the front door, firing his weapon, said officials.

Jon Donnison, BBC News, Binghamton
Binghamton is the latest American town trying to come to terms with a mass shooting. Last week it was Carthage, North Carolina. The week before Samson, Alabama.

With the red and blue lights of police cars flashing through the drizzle, smokers huddle in doorways on Main Street. There is only one topic of conversation. “It’s a very good area, I would never think that it would happen here,” said Martine Youmans.

The words and the scenes are increasingly familiar for Americans. On local talk radio stations the chatter has already turned to gun law, still as divisive an issue as ever. One caller’s plea: “Don’t let them take away our guns.”

He shot two receptionists, one of whom managed to call the police, before walking down a corridor towards classrooms.

Police were on the scene in minutes – people in nearby apartments, a school and a care home were told to stay in their buildings and some streets were sealed off.

Mr Zikuski said 26 people took refuge in the building’s basement after hearing gunshots.

Eyewitnesses described seeing some people fleeing the building.

“About 15 or so employees of the Civic Association came out crying with their hands behind their heads,” one witness told Binghamton’s WNBF Radio.

“They were escorted by the police and they took them to ambulances and took them away,” he said.

Two other people were seen being led away by police in plastic handcuffs during the incident but officials later said they were not suspects.

Police later raided the home of the suspected gunman and removed items including computer hard drives and a rifle bag, reports said.

‘Profound outrage’

Local hospitals have said about 30 people are being treated.

A spokeswoman for Our Lady of Lourdes hospital told the BBC several people had been admitted with serious injuries.

The governor of New York state, David Paterson, said it had been “a tragic day for New York”.

“This is a horrible situation. There’s actually no reason or excuse for this kind of shooting and brutal attack on innocent people right here in New York state,” he said.

Mr Paterson told a news conference there was “a profound sense of outrage at this senseless act of violence in which many innocent people were killed, injured and probably traumatised for some time to come”.

He said many of the victims were not from the US and police were in the process of contacting their families living abroad.

New York State would offer any assistance to the victims, who had “wanted to be part of the American dream and so tragically may have had that hope thwarted today”, said Mr Paterson.

“There still is an American dream and all of us who are Americans will try to heal this very, very deep wound in the city of Binghamton.”

Our correspondent said police were picking through evidence in the building trying to determine what had happened and why.

Bob Joseph of WNBF Radio told the town had never experienced an incident on such a scale before.

The ACA says on its website that it assists immigrants and refugees with personal and immigration counselling.

Map

March 30, 2009

US to consult Pakistan on strikes

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 2:35 am

US to consult Pakistan on strikes

US President Barack Obama has said he will consult Pakistan’s leaders before targeting militants in that country.

“If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we’re going after them,” Mr Obama told CBS television.

But Mr Obama ruled out deploying US ground troops inside Pakistan.

On Friday, the US leader announced a major policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying the situation on their border was “increasingly perilous”.

Kabul and Islamabad have welcomed the review, but Pakistan has urged the US to halt recent cross-border missile strikes by unmanned Predator drone aircraft.

Pakistan accountability

Mr Obama told CBS television’s Face the Nation that the main thrust of US policy was “to help Pakistan defeat these extremists”.

He noted that Pakistan was a sovereign nation and added: “We need to work with them and through them to deal with al-Qaeda. But we have to hold them much more accountable.”

US drone

Unmanned drone strikes have triggered fury in Pakistan

Senior US military officials have alleged links between Pakistan’s military intelligence, the ISI, and militants on the country’s borders with both Afghanistan and India.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says Mr Obama’s remarks suggest the US may be willing to take the one-year-old Pakistani civilian government on board regarding a highly sensitive issue.

On Saturday Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari said his country would not allow anyone to violate its sovereignty, although he did not specifically criticise the US missile strikes as he has done in the past.

He also said Pakistan would not allow use of its soil for militant activity.

Meanwhile, gunmen killed five people, including a district police chief and former local mayor in the troubled North-West Frontier Province, Pakistani officials said.

Abductions

The incident occurred in Lower Dir, near the Afghan border, as militants attacked police chasing them after an attempted kidnapping, said a government official.

In a separate attack in the same province, officials said 11 police officers had been abducted from a checkpoint in the Bara area, near the Khyber Pass.

Tribal areas map

It came a day after Pakistan’s army said troops, backed by artillery and helicopter gunships, had killed 26 militants in the Mohmand area of the restive province.

Earlier on Saturday, the Taleban destroyed 12 parked trucks laden with supplies for Nato personnel in Afghanistan – the latest in a series of similar attacks – near Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province.

Broadcast on Sunday, Mr Obama’s CBS interview was filmed on Friday as he unveiled his new strategy for the region.

He said the border area was a haven for al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters and the most dangerous place in the world.

The strategy includes plans for 4,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan, as well as increased development aid for border areas of Pakistan.

It also sets out what analysts say is an ambitious goal of boosting the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 troops by 2011.

February 24, 2009

US recession ‘may last into 2010’

US recession ‘may last into 2010’

US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke has warned Congress that without the right policies from the government, the US recession could last into 2010.

But he said if the Obama administration and the central bank can restore some measure of financial stability, 2010 could be a year of recovery.

Mr Bernanke made the comments to the Senate Banking Committee.

He also warned that the global nature of the downturn was a threat because exports would be hit.

In its attempts to revive the economy, the Federal Reserve has cut its key interest rate to nearly zero, while the Obama administration has recently signed a $787bn (£546bn) economic stimulus package.

Mr Bernanke said that the potential economic turnaround would hinge on the success of such measures in getting credit and financial markets to operate more normally again.

“Only if that is the case, in my view there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery,” he said.

Vicious circle

Mr Bernanke reassured legislators that he was, “committed to using all available tools to stimulate economic activity and to improve financial market functioning”.

But he also outlined long-run predictions for the economy, which he said reflected “the view of policymakers that a full recovery of the economy from the current recession is likely to take more than two or three years”.

He described a vicious circle of rising unemployment and shrinking house prices and savings forcing consumers to cut back, which would in turn increase unemployment.

“To break that adverse feedback loop, it is essential that we continue to complement fiscal stimulus with strong government action to stabilise financial institutions and financial markets,” he said.

Speaking of the concern about bankers benefiting from bail-outs, he added that the country “ought not abstain from saving the financial system just because it rewards people who erred”.

Sliding confidence

Mr Bernanke’s testimony came shortly after data showed that consumer confidence in February had fallen to the lowest level since the Conference Board began reporting the figures in 1967.

Its sentiment index fell to a much worse-than-expected 25.0 in February from January’s figure of 37.4.

“We just got the worst consumer confidence number ever on record,” said Matt Esteve, a foreign exchange trader at Tempus Consulting in Washington.

“Following yesterday’s awful sell-off in the stock market, it just highlights the risk that there is right now.”

House prices

There were also figures showing that the decline in US house prices had accelerated.

The S&P Case Shiller house price index showed the price of a single-family home had fallen 18.5% in December, compared with the same month of 2007.

It was the biggest drop since the index began being calculated 21 years ago.

“There are very few, if any, pockets of turnaround that one can see in the data,” said David Blitzer, chairman of S&P’s index committee.

“Most of the nation appears to remain on a downward path.”

January 24, 2009

Obama lifts ban on abortion funds

Obama lifts ban on abortion funds

US President Barack Obama has lifted a ban on federal funding for foreign family planning agencies that promote or give information about abortion.

The US is one of the biggest supporters of family planning programmes globally, but former president George W Bush blocked funds for abortion services.

Powerful anti-abortion groups in the US have criticised the lifting of the ban.

But aid agencies welcomed the move, saying it would promote women’s health, especially in developing countries.

A White House spokesman said Mr Obama signed the executive order without asking for coverage by the media late on Friday afternoon.

The issue of abortion services remains controversial in the US, pitting pro-life conservative groups against more liberal, pro-choice Americans who back a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

This may be why President Obama signed the order with so little fanfare.

Highly contentious

Organisations that had pressed Mr Obama to make the abortion-ban change were jubilant.

They called the funding ban the “gag rule” because it cuts funds to groups that advocate or lobby for the lifting of abortion restrictions.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America hailed the president for “lifting the stranglehold on women’s health across the globe with the stroke of a pen.”

“No longer will health care providers be forced to choose between receiving family planning funding and restricting the health care services they provide to women,” the organization said in a statement.

But anti-abortion groups were quick to criticise the reversal of the funding ban.

“President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but today he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

A 1973 decision by the US Supreme Court legalised abortion.

A Gallup poll conducted last year showed that 54% of Americans think abortion should be allowed under certain circumstances, 28% believe it should be legal under any circumstances, while 17% back a total ban.

See-saw issue

The policy has become a see-saw issue between Republican and Democratic administrations.

Former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, repealed the policy when he took office in 1993 and George W Bush reinstated it in 2001.

The ruling is also known as the Mexico City Policy, because it was first introduced at a UN conference there in 1984 by former Republican President Ronald Reagan.

In a move related to the lifting of the abortion rule, Mr Obama is also expected to restore funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in the next budget, the AP news agency reported.

The Bush administration contended that the fund’s work in China supported a Chinese family planning policy of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilisation, claims the UNFPA has vehemently denied.

In a separate move earlier on Friday, US regulators cleared the way for the world’s first study on human embryonic stem cell therapy.

While the decision of the US Food and Drug Administration is independent of White House control, Mr Obama is widely expected to adopt a more pragmatic and science-oriented approach to stem cell research.

January 7, 2009

UN chief demands Gaza ceasefire

UN chief demands Gaza ceasefire

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate end to fighting in the Gaza Strip during a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York.

The US and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have backed a French-Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

Israel says it has agreed to set up a humanitarian corridor to allow aid into the Gaza Strip.

On the ground in Gaza, explosions were heard through the night. Israel says it carried out more than 30 air strikes.

Mr Ban criticised both Israel for its bombardment of Gaza and Hamas for firing rockets into Israel and urged Security Council members in New York to act “swiftly and decisively to put this crisis to an end”.

Map

“We need urgently to achieve Palestinian unity and the reunification of Gaza with the West Bank within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority,” he added.

More than 600 Palestinians are now believed to have been killed since Israel began its offensive 11 days ago. Palestinian health ministry officials say at least 195 children are among those killed.

An Israeli attack on Tuesday on a school building, which Israel says was sheltering militants, left at least 30 people dead and 55 injured, UN officials say.

Israel, which has vowed to reduce rocket attacks from Gaza on its territory, has lost seven soldiers on the ground. Four people within Israel have been killed by rockets.

In another development, Venezuela ordered the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador in protest at the Gaza offensive and its “flagrant violations of international law”.

Support for truce

The ceasefire plan proposed jointly by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy would bring together all the main parties and take all measures to end the conflict in Gaza.

The plan envisages the resumption of the delivery of aid to Gaza and talks with Israel on border security, a key issue for Israel as it says Hamas smuggles its rockets into Gaza via the Egyptian border.

Welcoming the proposal, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a “ceasefire that can endure and that can bring real security”.

The contours of a possible diplomatic agreement are in place, the BBC’s Laura Trevelyan reports from the UN.

GAZA CRISIS BACKGROUND
Smoke rises over Gaza (06/01/2009)

However, if Israel continues to control the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza and can choose to stop it at any time this seems unlikely to command the support of Hamas, she notes.

Thus frenetic diplomacy in New York and in the Middle East is likely to continue.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, did not say whether Israel would accept the proposal but said it would take it “very, very seriously”.

Israel has proposed suspending attacks in specified parts of Gaza to allow people to stock up on essential goods.

The military will open up “areas for limited periods of time, during which the population will be able to receive the aid”, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said.

Andrew Whitley of the UN relief agency told the BBC that any relief in the conditions of the people of Gaza could only be a good thing:

“People have been weakened by 18 months of blockade and siege. They’ve been getting very little food, electricity or heat for a long time, and so they are in a very weakened condition.”

School carnage

UN officials have said that the al-Fakhura school in the Jabaliya refugee camp was being used as a refuge for hundreds of people when it was hit by Israeli shell-fire.

The Israeli military said its soldiers had come under mortar fire from Hamas militants inside the school. A spokesman for Hamas denied there had been any hostile fire coming from the school.

In all, at least 70 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers were killed on Tuesday.

Israel says its offensive is stopping militants firing rockets but at least five hit southern Israel on Tuesday, injuring a baby.

Casualty claims in Gaza cannot be independently verified. Israel is refusing to let international journalists into Gaza, despite a supreme court ruling to allow a limited number of reporters to enter the territory.


Are you or your friends or family in the region affected by the violence? Tell us your experiences

December 14, 2008

Shoes thrown at Bush on Iraq trip

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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 18, 2008

Is Barack Obama black?

Filed under: Business News, Latest, Politics News, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 2:49 pm

Is Obama black? It depends on who – and when – you ask.

For some of us, the heralding of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States seems a rather uncontroversial claim.

Obama isn’t black. ‘Black,’ in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves
Debra Dickerson

Not so for others. One well-known African American writer, Debra Dickerson, famously objected to calling Obama black arguing that because he is not descended from slaves, he is not of the people properly defined as “black.”

Ergo, he is not black – at all.

The bulk of the people protesting against references to Obama as a black man, however, grant that he is “part” black (by way of his father), but assert that because he also has a white mother it is not “accurate” to call him black. He he is “in fact” mixed-race, they say.

Opposing arguments

My first reaction to questions about the “correctness” or “accuracy” of Obama’s racial classification is to undermine the premise of the question itself. The search for the “correctness” of racial identity presumes that a definitive answer can be found.

Barack Obama and Stanley Armour Dunham

Barack Obama lived for many years with his white grandparents

It presumes that race is a real entity, something fixed, or natural. It seems to deny what scholars have laboured for decades to demonstrate – that the criteria used to classify people in racial categories, the categories used in a given society, and the uses to which those categories are put – vary by place and time. They are, as academics are fond of saying, “socially constructed”.

Yet the predilections of the scholar fail to satisfy those who claim to know what race Obama “is”, for these are really statements about what the speaker thinks he ought to be.

When people insist that Obama “is” black, they point to his self-identification as such, and the assertion that when most people look at him, they see a black man.

VIEWPOINTS
Kimberly McClain Dacosta
Kimberly McClain DaCosta is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and Social Studies at Harvard and the author of Making Multiracials: State, Family and Market in the Redrawing of the Color Line

Calling him “black” seems to acknowledge the connection between his rise and the struggles of a people.

When others argue that Obama “is” mixed-race, they point to the fact that he has a white mother, not only a black father, and was raised in an interracial family.

Calling him “mixed-race” seems to acknowledge that family, offering a corrective to centuries of denying our tangled genealogies.

De-stigmatisation

What I find most interesting about the question of what racial label to assign Obama, is that we are asking the question at all.

As recently as 20 years ago, the question of Obama’s racial position would be presumed settled before it was even asked.

Mama Sarah Obama

Obama’s Kenyan grandmother, Mama Sarah, will attend his inauguration

In keeping with the one-drop rule – the practice of categorising as black anyone with any known African ancestry – Obama’s identification as a black person would be expected, accepted and unremarkable.

The person suggesting that Obama be classified as mixed-race would quite likely have been met with suspicion or a confused look (“What’s that?”) since for most of US history, in most places, mixed-race identity has not been collectively recognised.

In the last 20 years, however, the collective efforts of mixed-race people in the US to de-stigmatise interracial families and garner public recognition of mixed race identity have been fairly successful (for example, the US government now enumerates mixed race identities).

Stares

Even so, the question whether Obama is black or mixed-race reflects a basic misunderstanding of the experience of those of us who have grown up in interracial families, particularly those of us of African descent, born in the post-Civil Rights period.

Many of us forged a black identity, one that was not at odds with being mixed-race, but arose out of our experiences as mixed people

We (I have an African American father and an Irish American mother) were raised on the front lines of racial change, where the new rules about interracial intimacy often clashed with the old – both in public and in our own families.

The affection we were so comfortable showing our white mothers at home drew stares, and worse, from both whites and blacks in public.

It was in our families where we first felt love and protection as well as the first sting of racial prejudice.

And many of us forged a black identity, one that was not at odds with being mixed-race, but arose out of our experiences as mixed people: from an awareness that the racial dilemma we were born into has its deepest roots in anti-black prejudice.

For us, being black and mixed-race are not mutually exclusive. We have learned to live with the contradictions.

Perhaps it’s time for everyone else to learn to live with them too.

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