News & Current Affairs

November 18, 2008

Hijacked oil tanker nears Somalia

Hijacked oil tanker nears Somalia

The Sirius Star oil tanker (undated image)

The Sirius Star’s cargo has an estimated value of $100m

A giant Saudi oil tanker seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean is nearing the coast of Somalia, the US Navy says.

The Sirius Star is the biggest tanker ever to be hijacked, with a cargo of 2m barrels – a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s daily output – worth more than $100m.

The vessel was captured in what the navy called an “unprecedented” attack 450 nautical miles (830km) off the Kenyan coast on Saturday.

Its international crew of 25, including two Britons, is said to be safe.

The ship’s operator, Vela International, said a response team had been mobilized to work towards ensuring the safe release of vessel and crew.

Map showing areas of pirate attacks

The hijacking was highly unusual both in terms of the size of the ship and the fact it was attacked so far from the African coast.

The seizure points to the inability of a multi-national naval task force sent to the region earlier this year to stop Somali piracy, he says.

The US Fifth Fleet said the supertanker was “nearing an anchorage point” at Eyl, a port often used by pirates based in Somalia’s Puntland region.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the pirates involved were well trained.

“Once they get to a point where they can board, it becomes very difficult to get them off, because, clearly, now they hold hostages,” he told a Pentagon briefing in Washington.

Oil price rises

Hijackings off the coast of East Africa and the Gulf of Aden – an area of more than 1m square miles – make up one-third of all global piracy incidents this year, according the International Maritime Bureau.

THE SIRIUS STAR
The Sirius Star oil tanker (image from Aramco website)
Length of a US aircraft carrier
Can carry 2m barrels of oil
Biggest vessel to be hijacked

They are usually resolved peacefully through negotiations for ransom but, given the value of the cargo in this instance, a military response has not been ruled out, our correspondent says.

At least 12 vessels – including the Ukrainian freighter MV Faina, which was seized in September – remain captive and under negotiation with around 250 crew being held hostage.

This month alone, pirates have seized a Japanese cargo ship off Somalia, a Chinese fishing boat off Kenya and a Turkish ship transporting chemicals off Yemen.

War-torn Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991.

The South Korean-built Sirius Star was seized as it headed for the US via the southern tip of Africa, prompting a rise in crude oil prices on global markets.

The route around the Cape of Good Hope is a main thoroughfare for fully-laden supertankers from the Gulf.

With a capacity of 318,000 dead weight tonnes, the ship is 330m (1,080ft) long – about the length of a US aircraft carrier.

Owned by the Saudi company Aramco, it made its maiden voyage in March.

As well as the two Britons, the ship’s crew members are said to be from Croatia, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia.


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September 12, 2008

Poland’s former leader on trial

Poland’s former leader on trial

General Wojciech Jaruzelski. File photo

Gen Jaruzelski remains a highly controversial figure in Poland

Poland’s last communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, has gone on trial accused of committing a crime by imposing martial law in 1981.

Eight other former officials will also be tried for the clampdown against the opposition Solidarity movement, during which dozens of people were killed.

Gen Jaruzelski, who is now 84 and in poor health, says he had to act to prevent a Soviet invasion of Poland.

If found guilty he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Although there is little public clamor in Poland to send Mr Jaruzelski to prison, a crowd of journalists and members of the public packed the courtroom as the trial began.

Gen Jaruzelski and three of his co-defendants were identified before a panel of judges.

Four of the eight accused men were absent, citing poor health.

‘Lesser evil’

Reading the charges, the prosecutor said the men had violated their own communist constitution when they created what he called a “criminal military organization” to implement martial law in December 1981.

The trial, in Warsaw, marks the first time Poland has held its former communist leaders criminally responsible for imposing martial law.

Immediately after the fall of communism in 1989, the new Solidarity government rejected calls for political retribution.

But in recent years moves to bring the senior communist party leaders to account for martial law have hastened.

Gen Jaruzelski has always maintained he chose the lesser evil when he ordered tanks onto the snowbound city streets on that night in 1981.

If he had not acted against Solidarity, he says, Soviet troops would have.

According to surveys, many Poles believe him.

Obama win preferred in world poll

Obama win preferred in world poll

Sen Barack Obama in Flint, Michigan, on 8 September 2008

Most thought US relations would get better under a president Obama

People outside the US would prefer Barack Obama to become US president ahead of John McCain, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

Democrat Mr Obama was favored by a four-to-one margin across the 22,500 people polled in 22 countries.

In 17 countries, the most common view was that US relations with the rest of the world would improve under Mr Obama.

If Republican Mr McCain were elected, the most common view was that relations would remain about the same.

The poll was conducted before the Democratic and Republican parties held their conventions and before the headline-grabbing nomination of Sarah Palin as Mr McCain’s running mate.

The results could therefore be a reflection of the greater media focus on Mr Obama as he competed for the presidential candidacy against Hillary Clinton.

Pie chart

The margin of those in favor of Mr Obama winning November’s US election ranged from 9% in India to 82% in Kenya, which is the birthplace of the Illinois senator’s father.

On average 49% preferred Mr Obama to 12% in favor of Mr McCain. Nearly four in 10 of those polled did not take a view.

On average 46% thought US relations with the world would improve with Mr Obama in the White House, 22% that ties would stay the same, while seven per cent expected relations to worsen.

Only 20% thought ties would get better if Mr McCain were in the Oval Office.

The expectation that a McCain presidency would improve US relations with the world was the most common view, by a modest margin, only in China, India and Nigeria.

But across the board, the largest number – 37% – thought relations under a president McCain would stay the same, while 16% expected them to deteriorate.

In no country did most people think that a McCain presidency would worsen relations.

Sen John McCain in Sterling Heights, Michigan, on 5 September 2008

Some 30% of Americans expected relations to improve under Mr McCain

Oddly, in Turkey more people thought US relations would worsen with an Obama presidency than under Mr McCain, even though most Turks polled preferred Mr Obama to win.

In Egypt, Lebanon, Russia and Singapore, the predominant expectation was that relations would remain the same if Mr Obama won the election.

The countries most optimistic that an Obama presidency would improve ties were US Nato allies – Canada (69%), Italy (64%), France (62%), Germany (61%), and the UK (54%) – as well as Australia (62%), along with Kenya (87%) and Nigeria (71%).

When asked whether the election as president of the African-American Mr Obama would “fundamentally change” their perception of the US, 46% said it would while 27% said it would not.

The US public was polled separately and Americans also believed an Obama presidency would improve US ties with the world more than a McCain presidency.

Forty-six per cent of Americans expected relations to get better if Mr Obama were elected and 30% if Mr McCain won the White House.

A similar poll conducted for BBC World Service ahead of the 2004 US presidential election found most countries would have preferred to see Democratic nominee John Kerry beat the incumbent George W Bush.

At the time, the Philippines, Nigeria and Poland were among the few countries to favor Mr Bush’s re-election. All three now favor Mr Obama over Mr McCain.

In total 22,531 citizens were polled in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE and the UK. A parallel survey was conducted with 1,000 US adults.

Polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes carried out the survey between July and August.

Putin defends Georgia offensive

Putin defends Georgia offensive

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Sochi (August 2008)

Mr Putin said Russia was prepared to work with Western partners

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has made an impassioned defence of Russia’s military intervention in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Mr Putin accused the Western press of an “immoral and dishonest account of what happened”.

He said Russia had had no choice but to intervene following what he alleged was Georgian aggression.

And he went on to dismiss out of hand European criticism of Russian force as “disproportionate”.

“What did you want us to do? Wave our penknives in the air and wipe the bloody snot off our noses?” he asked, adding: “When an aggressor comes into your territory, you need to punch him in the face – an aggressor needs to punished.”

He added that Russian tanks had, after all, only been 15km from Tbilisi and could easily have taken the Georgian capital and ousted President Mikhail Saakashvilli if they had wanted to.

Mr Putin also accused the US of behaving like the Roman Empire by believing it could pursue its own interests and extending its influence to the Caucasus without regard for Russia’s point of view.

“God forbid that we should tread on US toes in its backyard,” he said, expressing frustration that the United States seemed to think it was alright to arm Georgia on Russia’s border – a move which he repeatedly argued had provoked Georgia to take up military action.

‘Anti-Russian hysteria’

On wider relations with the West, he insisted that current tensions did not amount to the start of a new Cold War, and dismissed arguments that Russia might suffer diplomatic or economic isolation because of the crisis.

SOUTH OSSETIA & ABKHAZIA
BBC map

But he also said Russia was prepared to work with Western partners and wanted a constructive relationship with the European Union but only if what he called “realities” were taken into account.

Russia, said the prime minister, should be treated as an equal partner and all sides agree on new common rules of behavior based on international law.

“The problem is not with us,” Mr Putin said, “it lies with political groups in the West who use old phobias to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.”

However, he warned that tensions between Russia and the EU may well worsen if, as expected, US missiles are deployed in Poland as part of the controversial missile shield.

He said he expected that to be the moment that Russia would reposition its missiles to point at European targets.

“Why have you placed missiles under our nose?” he said, and warned it would ratchet up an extra notch the nuclear arms race in Europe.

UK relations

Mr Putin also indicated that relations with Britain were unlikely to improve while Russian emigres remained in the UK despite Russia’s requests to extradite them to stand trial – an apparent reference to the Russian business tycoon Boris Berezovsky and the former Chechen spokesman, Ahmed Zakayev.

Vladimir Putin (L) talks with George Bush in Beijing (8 August)

Putin said the US had not intervened early on in the Georgian crisis

“Why do you allow UK territory to be used a launching pad to fight Russia?” he asked.”Imagine if we gave sanctuary to armed members of the IRA – that’s why its not possible to build normal relations with Britain,” he said.

Mr Putin also threw new light on the crisis in South Ossetia.

On 8 August, when he was in Beijing for the start of the Olympic Games, he had spoken to US President George W Bush soon after hearing of the attack by Georgian troops on the South Ossetian capital – but the United States had failed to intervene.

In Beijing, he had already raised the question of Russia recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent territories with the Chinese government, and told them Russia did not expect Chinese support.

This is an interesting comment that suggests Russia was already planning to recognise the two enclaves from very early on in the crisis.

September 7, 2008

Poles first in Euro dance contest

Poles first in Euro dance contest

Polish Eurovision Dance Contest winners Marcin Mroczek and Edyta Herbus

The Poles beat 13 other couples to win the Eurovision title

Poland claimed first place in the Eurovision Dance Contest, which was held in Scotland on Saturday.

Actor Marcin Mroczek and dancer Edyta Herbus won the votes of watchers throughout the continent with a routine set to Michael Jackson’s music.

Russia finished second and Ukraine were third, while hosts UK finished ninth out of 14 competitors.

A television audience of millions watched the 135 minute program, which came from Glasgow’s SECC.

Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman hosted the show, which featured 14 couples from Austria, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

Each couple – one celebrity and one professional dancer – performed a freestyle dance with a national flavor which could have elements of Latin and Ballroom.

Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman

The show was fronted by Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman

A panel of expert judges as well as the TV audience voting from home then decided on the winner.

The UK was represented by Vincent Simone and Eastenders actress Louisa Lytton.

It is the second time the contest has been run. Finland won last year’s vote.

“With this competition, we created a fantastic new Eurovision tradition, which we are confident will last for many years to come,” said Bjorn Erichsen, Director of Eurovision TV.

September 6, 2008

Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:35 am

Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

Bajm

Bajm were popular across Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain fell

Eight of Poland’s top pop and rock acts perform in front of a 10,000-strong crowd at Wembley Arena on Sunday. Billed as the biggest ever Polish music event on foreign soil, what does it mean for Britain’s Polish community?

Crowds of adoring fans will pack Wembley Arena on Sunday to see their favorite superstars perform to a full house.

But it will not be Madonna, Oasis or Jay-Z entertaining more than 10,000 people.

Bajm and Lady Pank may be largely unheard of in the UK but are household names in Poland, where four million viewers are expected to watch the London Live show’s highlights on state channel TVP2.

Tabloid hellraiser

Described as Poland’s answer to Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers, their albums have sold three million copies.

Alongside Bracia’s modern grungy-rock and Natalia Kukulska’s soulfull R’n’B, the show even has its own tabloid hellraiser in Doda, who has posed for Playboy and courted controversy by spitting on stage.

Stanislaw Trzcinski, president of promoter STX Records, said: “This is like the O2 Festival, except for Polish music.”

Natalia Kukulka. Photo Wojciech Wojtczak
Performing at Wembley is a great honor
Natalia Kukulska

Guests on stage include Jan Tomaszewski, the goalkeeper whose heroics at the old Wembley Stadium in 1973 helped secure a 1-1 draw to send Poland to its first World Cup at England’s expense.Mr Trzcinski said: “The name Wembley brings back happy memories for Polish people and it remains a special place, so it was the perfect location.”

Kukulska, 32, has performed with tenor Jose Carreras and duetted with British R’n’B star Lemar at the Sopot festival in Poland in 2005.

She said: “Performing at Wembley is a great honor. I hope I will draw energy from the people who have played there in the past.”

After picking up influences of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston during a year in the US, she blended them with her own style to sell 2.5 million records at home.

Free tickets

“I’m very excited because this is the first time a lot of artists from Poland are performing abroad together,” she added.

Costing almost £1m to stage, the event has been advertised on 30 London buses and is being beamed back to Poland in high definition, thanks to a 100-strong production crew. Tickets were free to those who registered.

More than one million people voted in an internet talent competition giving bands the chance to perform on a second stage outside the arena, where they will be joined by top acts from the UK and Ireland’s Polish communities.

The show’s arrival reflects the remarkable influx of Poles into Britain.

After the Second World War, the Polish Resettlement Act allowed around 200,000 people to remain in the UK. They were mainly Polish troops, who had fought alongside the British, and their dependents.

By 2001, the census recorded just 60,680 Polish-born people living in Britain.

But since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, those numbers have swollen to the 405,000 estimated by the government last year, although the numbers arriving has dropped in recent months.

Appetite for rock

At least 100,000 settled in London, with many basing themselves around established Polish communities in western districts like Hammersmith.

There, the Posk cultural centre boasts the largest library of Polish books outside Poland, a gallery, restaurant and 350-seat theatre.

Supermarkets across Britain have started stocking Polish goods and delicatessens have sprung up in many towns.

THE PERFORMERS
Doda
Bajm: Six-piece rock outfit, formed in 1978, their 13 albums all went gold or platinum
Wilki: Hard-rock band, named “Wolves”, have performed in New York and London
Doda (pictured): Daughter of an Olympic weightlifter, gave up athletics to be a pop tearaway
Natalia Kukulska: Began singing aged seven and sold 1.5 million records as a child star
Kayah: Was a backing singer before her solo career in soul, jazz and R’n’B took off
Bracia: Their grunge-rock style made this band – “The Brothers” – favourites with younger fans
Monika Brodka: Her soulful voice was inspired by her idols Erikah Badu and Lauren Hill
Lady Pank: These punk survivors formed in 1982, playing 400 gigs to promote their debut album

But Piotr Grzeskiewicz, station director at Hammersmith-based Polskie Radio Londyn, said there had been little to feed young migrants’ appetite for rock and pop.

“Hundreds of thousands of Polish people in Britain have limited access to modern Polish culture and this is their best opportunity in many years to see some really big Polish bands,” he said.

Organizers hope many Britons will be at Wembley.

However, Mr Grzeskiewicz said: “The language barrier is huge. Only a few of these bands have played abroad and usually only for Polish fans.”

Warsaw-based bank PKO BP financed the event to promote its central London branch, which opened last December to cater both for migrants and British businesses investing in Poland.

Branch manager Katarzyna Cal said the move demonstrated the growing confidence in Poland’s economy and the number of investors keen to do business in the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Jan Mokrzycki, chairman of the UK’s Federation of Poles, admits he prefers the classical works of Chopin to today’s rock.

Vibrant

But the 75-year-old said the event would help build understanding between the established and newly-arrived Polish communities.

Initial tensions between the groups are diminishing, said the dental surgeon whose mother – a former Nazi concentration camp detainee – brought him to Britain in 1948 to escape communism.

“A combination of their youth, enthusiasm and education and our knowledge of the laws and customs of Britain is helping integration,” said Dr Mokrzycki.

“Cultural events of the old community have been traditional, forged from our experiences of pre-war Poland, so involve mostly classical or folk music.

“The new culture is vibrant with jazz and pop and it’s important younger people have access to that.”

August 20, 2008

US and Poland sign defence deal

US and Poland sign defence deal

The US and Poland have signed a deal to locate part of the US’s controversial missile defence system on Polish soil.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travel led to Warsaw for the ceremony, after 18 months of negotiations.

The deal has angered Russia, which has warned the base could become a target for a nuclear strike.

says the system will protect the US and much of Europe against missile attacks from “rogue elements” in the Middle East such as Iran.

The agreement, which has yet to be ratified by the Polish parliament, was signed by Ms Rice and Poland’s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the negotiations had been “tough, but friendly”, adding that the deal would make both Poland and the US more secure.

Ms Rice said the signing of the document was an extraordinary occasion, adding that the agreement would help NATO, Poland and the US respond to “the threats of the 21st Century”.

Speaking during the signing ceremony at the presidential palace in Warsaw, she emphasized that the missile system was “defensive and aimed at no-one”.

‘Exacerbating tensions’

While Washington believes placing 10 interceptor missiles on a disused military base near Poland’s Baltic Sea coast will protect much of NATO against possible long-range attacks, Warsaw sees threats much closer to home.

That is why it demanded – in exchange for hosting the base – short-range Patriot missiles for its own air defences and a guarantee that the US will come to its assistance in the event of an attack, our correspondent adds.

INTERCEPTOR MISSILES
Missile Defense Agency)
Look like ordinary missiles, but warheads are not loaded
Intended to destroy target with kinetic energy
Closing speed at interception is 24,000km/h (15,000mph)

The demands had delayed the deal’s completion, but the conflict in Georgia gave the negotiations more impetus.

Both the US and Poland say the system is not aimed against Russia.

But the agreement has infuriated Moscow, our correspondent adds.

Russia’s deputy chief of general staff, Gen Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said last week the plans for a missile base in Poland “could not go unpunished”.

“It is a cause for regret that at a time when we are already in a difficult situation, the American side further exacerbates the situation in relations between the United States and Russia,” he said.

Moscow has argued the project will upset the military balance in Europe and has warned it will be forced to redirect its missiles at Poland.

But Polish President Lech Kaczynski stressed the missile defence shield was purely a defensive system and not a threat.

“For that reason, no-one who has good intentions towards us and towards the Western world should be afraid of it,” he said on Wednesday.

Before the conflict in Georgia there was a reasonable amount of popular opposition in Poland to the missile defence deal.

But new surveys show that for the first time a majority of Poles support it, with 65% expressing fear of Russia.

Hitting a bullet

The interceptors look like ordinary missiles, stored in silos, with highly automated warheads that are not loaded with any explosives.

If fired, the missile is intended to home in on and destroy its target, above the atmosphere, due to the kinetic energy of the collision.

But the closing speed of interceptor and target will be 24,000km/h (15,000mph), making the task more difficult than hitting a bullet with another bullet.

The US has spent more than $100bn (£54bn) in the last two decades on its controversial project to develop defences against ballistic missiles.

Critics say that, despite all that money, the Pentagon still has not proved the system can work in realistic conditions.

Last month, the US signed an agreement with the Czech Republic to base tracking radars there as part of the defence system.

Washington wants the sites to be in operation by about 2012.

US missile defences

August 19, 2008

One dead, many hurt in bus crash

One dead, many hurt in bus crash

 Crashed coach [BBC exclusive pic from Karen Taylor]

The passengers were foreign workers [BBC exclusive pic from Karen Taylor]

One man died and 70 others were injured when a coach carrying migrant workers rolled down an embankment and overturned in Staffordshire.

The vehicle collided with a car, crashed through a wall and ended up in a garden in Alton, near Alton Towers theme park, just before 1800 BST.

Those aboard were from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and South Africa.

Two people were flown to hospital and 29 others taken to hospital by road, ambulance officials said.

The man who died was 26 years old and from Poland, police said.

The passengers were reported to be living in the Peterborough area and to have been on a trip to Alton Towers.

Murray MacGregor, of West Midlands Ambulance Service, said the coach driver, a man from Lincolnshire, was also seriously injured.

Ch Insp John Maddox, from Staffordshire Police, said officers were trying to establish what caused the crash.

“The bus was coming down a steep hill towards the bridge at the bottom, and from what I can see at the scene, that bus has not managed to go round the bend, and has careered through a wall and down a drop into a garden,” he said.

All people on the coach have been accounted for, he added.

The ambulance service said 44 walking wounded had been taken to Alton Towers for medical treatment.

Two air ambulances, 10 land ambulances, five rapid response vehicles and five fire engines were sent to the scene.

Ian Sloss, a spokesman for the Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said the scene was very difficult.

“There’s a bus in a difficult situation which crews have had to secure and obviously the crews are working very hard in difficult circumstances,” he said.

Two of the seriously injured were flown from the scene, one to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham and one to University Hospital North Staffordshire.

Terri Peachey, whose garden the coach crashed into, said she heard a sound “like thunder” when the accident happened and found injured people “bleeding”, screaming and “laying on the floor crying” in her garden.

Proposals have been made for alternative routes, but nothing’s ever been built
David Hughes

“It all happened so quickly,” she said, adding that the coach landed meters from her house.

Bradley Ford, who lives at the nearby Alton Bridge Hotel, told he had helped with casualties.

He said: “I heard this massive crash, rumble, of either crunching metal or what sounded to me initially as a thunderstorm as it was heavily raining before.

Walking wounded

“Then after that we heard shouts and screams so we obviously put it down to a crash.

“When I got to the scene there was a bus overturned, it looked like it had ploughed into a car and then down a neighbor’s driveway into the garden.

“It must have dropped about 20ft (6m). It was on a slope, it’s diagonal, not head-first.”

He added: “There were people climbing out of the fire exits on the bus. There were many walking wounded, all being seen to by the ambulance staff.”

Emergency services near the scene [James Hughes]

It is believed the bus was carrying foreign workers

The collision happened on Station Road, between Alton and the theme park, which is about one mile away.

Margaret Grice, who lives near the scene, said some of the injured banged on her front door.

She said: “I went to the front door and there was… there was about 12 to 15 people, all crying hysterically, blood running down their faces and their arms and… they couldn’t speak English but they were able to say “accident, accident” so at that point I then rang 999.”

Martin Bredda, who lives close to the scene of the crash, described the road as “an accident waiting to happen”.

“It’s a narrow country road. It’s mayhem, absolute mayhem. We had a torrential downpour of rain just before it happened.

“I was in the local pub when someone came in screaming for blankets and sheets.

“We all went to help but the area had been cordoned off by police.”

The staff canteen at the theme park has been set aside to provide shelter and refreshments.

The park sent a minibus to the scene to collect anyone who had been released by the ambulance crews, a spokeswoman said.

The bus was not connected to Alton Towers, she added.


Did you witness the crash? Send us your eye witness accounts

August 16, 2008

Russia signs up to Georgia truce

Russia signs up to Georgia truce

Russian troops

Moscow’s troops continue to operate deep inside the Caucasus republic

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a ceasefire agreement with Georgia after receiving it in Moscow.

The deal calls for all military activity to stop and for troops from both sides to pull back into pre-conflict positions.

The deal was signed on Friday by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

But Russian forces remain deep in Georgian territory, and correspondents say many obstacles remain in the way of full implementation of the peace deal.

At stake is the future of Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

US-backed Georgia has vowed it will not accept any loss of its territory, but Russia insists that following the recent violence, residents are unlikely to want to live in the same state as Georgians.

The crisis, which began nine days ago, saw Georgian forces launch a surprise attack to regain control of South Ossetia, only to be decisively repelled by Russian forces.

Russian ‘advances’

On the ground in Georgia, Russian forces had moved forward overnight.

Russian forces still control Gori, which lies some 15km (10 miles) from the border with South Ossetia.

Several tanks and armored personnel carriers were seen in Kaspi, west of Gori and some 35km north-east of the capital Tbilisi – an advance of some 15km on their previous position. Lorries of soldiers were seen heading towards the town.

Meanwhile, Russian troops were seen patrolling in Zestafoni, some 100km west of Gori along a major highway.

The Russian army brought in a large number of irregulars, mercenaries… They go around drunk, aggressive, armed and do all these atrocities
Mikhail Saakashvili
Georgian president

Georgian officials also said Russian forces remained in the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, the site of a major oil shipment facility, and a major Russian military contingent is further inland, at Senaki.

The crisis began on 7 August, when Georgian forces launched a surprise attack to regain control of South Ossetia, which has had de facto independence since the end of a civil war in 1992.

The move followed days of exchanges of heavy fire with the Russian-backed separatist militias. In response to the Georgian assault, Moscow sent armoured units across the border into South Ossetia to intervene.

Obstacles ahead

Scores of people have been killed by the fighting and tens of thousands displaced.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia

The EU-brokered ceasefire agreement which both sides have now signed includes a pledge to pull all troops back to their pre-conflict positions.

It also contains a plan to begin international talks about the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in Tbilisi on Friday, has demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgian territory.

But Russia argues its forces are there to ensure civilians face no threat from Georgian troops.

Mr Saakashvili has accused the Russians of committing war crimes.

A displaced Georgian woman rests just outside the town of Gori (15/08/08)

The UN puts the number of those displaced in the conflict at 118,000

“The Russian army brought in a large number of irregulars, mercenaries,” he said. “They go around drunk, aggressive, armed and do all these atrocities.”

He criticized the West for not granting Georgia membership of Nato, saying it could have prevented the fighting.

Diplomats have said that the UN Security Council is expected to vote this weekend on a draft resolution formalising the ceasefire agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will meet the Russian permanent representative in New York, possibly on Saturday, because he has so far been unable to contact the Russian president, officials have said.

‘Watching with alarm’

President Bush is set to hold a video conference with some of his most senior staff, including Ms Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, to discuss the crisis in Georgia.

George Bush (file)
President Bush said Russia had to act to end the crisis in Georgia

On Friday, Mr Bush said Russia’s actions in Georgia were “completely unacceptable”.

“The world has watched with alarm as Russia invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatened a democratic government elected by its people,” he said.

He called upon Russia to end the crisis or risk its credibility on the global stage.

Mr Bush said he would send his secretary of state to Brussels next week to discuss how to deal with Russia with Nato foreign ministers and EU officials.

But the president did not respond to comments from Russia’s deputy chief of staff, who said Moscow would be justified in launching a nuclear attack if Poland went through with its agreement to base US interceptor missiles on its territory as part of Washington’s controversial defence shield.

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August 14, 2008

US and Poland sign defense deal

US and Poland sign defense deal

Missile Defense Agency)

The missiles would be similar to those based in Alaska and California

Poland has signed a preliminary deal with the US on plans to host part of the controversial US defense shield.

The proposal is for the US to base 10 missile interceptors in Poland in exchange for help strengthening Polish air defenses.

The US says the system will protect itself and Europe against long range missile attacks by “rogue states”.

Correspondents say the deal is expected to heighten tension between the US and Russia, which has condemned the plans.

Moscow has said the project would upset the military balance in Europe and warned it would have no choice but to point its own missiles at the installations.

Relations between Washington and Moscow are currently strained over Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Georgia.

The agreement is bound to anger the Russians, who vehemently oppose the system.

After Russia’s involvement in Georgia, Polish officials said, Washington has come round to their way of thinking.

Unlike the US, Poland sees Russia as a bigger threat to its security than so-called “rogue states” such as Iran, our correspondent adds.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was reported to have canceled a scheduled visit to Poland shortly after details of the deal with the US was made public.

Modernization

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced the agreement on national television shortly before it was signed by Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer and US chief negotiator John Rood.

Mr Tusk said Washington had agreed to meet Warsaw’s main demands in exchange for hosting the 10 interceptor missiles in a former military base near Poland’s Baltic Sea coast.

In return, the US has agreed to help modernise the Polish armed forces and locate Patriot missiles and a garrison of US servicemen in Poland to beef up its air defences, Mr Tusk said.

Poland is reported to have demanded the extra security help as part of the deal after Moscow threatened to target its missiles at any eventual bases.

The US signed an agreement with the Czech Republic in July to base tracking radars there as part of the missile defense system.

The US wants the sites to be in operation by about 2012.

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