News & Current Affairs

April 10, 2010

Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash

Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash

President Lech Kaczynski and scores of other senior Polish figures have been killed in a plane crash in Russia.

Polish and Russian officials said no-one survived after the plane apparently hit trees as it approached Smolensk airport in thick fog.

Russian media reports said the pilots ignored advice from air traffic control to divert to another airport.

Poland’s army chief, central bank governor, MPs and leading historians were among more than 80 passengers.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the crash was the most tragic event of the country’s post-World War II history.

The Polish delegation was flying in from Warsaw to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles by Soviet forces during WWII.

Lech Kaczynski, file image

Obituary: Lech Kaczynski

The BBC’s Adam Easton, in Warsaw, says the crash is a catastrophe for the Polish people.

He says Prime Minister Tusk was reportedly in tears when he was told.

After an emergency meeting of ministers, Mr Tusk, who runs the day-to-day business of government, said a week of national mourning had been declared with two minutes of silence on Sunday at midday.

Mr Tusk added: “The Polish state must function and will function”.

Flowers and candles laid outside presidential palace in Warsaw -  10 April 2010

Thousands have gathered outside the presidential palace in Warsaw

A government spokesman said that according to the constitution there would be an early presidential election, and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, would be acting president.

In Warsaw, people gathered outside the presidential palace to lay flowers and light candles.

“I’m all broken up… it cannot be expressed in words,” Ewa Robaczewska told Reuters news agency.

Pilot error?

The Russian emergencies ministry told Itar-Tass news agency the plane crashed at 1056 Moscow time (0656 GMT) as it was coming in to land.

Smolensk regional governor Sergei Antufiev told Russian TV that no-one had survived.

Thousands of people have gathered outside the presidential palace to pay their respects.

There has been a spontaneous outpouring of grief, no matter what people thought of Lech Kaczynski. He was a divisive figure in Polish society, especially among younger Poles.

People are just stunned, visibly moved and in tears, whether they agreed with the president’s political views or not.

The largest church bell in Poland, at Krakow Cathedral, has been rung.

It never tolls generally, only for very, very solemn occasions. The last time it did so was for the death of the Polish pope, John Paul II, five years ago.

“According to preliminary reports, it got caught up in the tops of trees, fell to the ground and broke up into pieces,” he said. “There are no survivors in that crash.”

Polish TV worker Slawomir Wisniewski said he had seen the crash from his hotel near the airport.

“I saw through the fog, the aeroplane flying very low with the left wing pointing to the ground,” he said.

“I heard something being broken and then that thudding sound. Two flashes of fire next to each other.”

Russian media carried claims that the plane’s crew were at fault for the crash.

“Flight controllers… suggested that the plane be forwarded to Minsk but as far as we know the crew took an independent decision to land the plane in Smolensk,” Smolensk regional government spokesman Andrei Yevseyenkov told Russian TV.

Russian officials said 97 people were killed in the crash, including eight crew.

Polish officials said that 89 people had been scheduled to fly in the delegation to the Katyn commemoration, but one person missed the flight.

Mr Putin visited the crash site, after saying he would personally oversee the investigation into the crash.

“Everything must be done to establish the reasons for this tragedy in the shortest possible time,” he said.

He was to meet his Polish counterpart, Mr Tusk, in Smolensk.

Russian officials said all the bodies had been recovered from the scene and were being taken to Moscow for identification.

Russia’s Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu said both of the plane’s flight information recorders had been found and were being examined.

Controversial figure

The president was flying in a Tupolev 154, a Soviet-designed plane that was more than 20 years old.

SENIOR FIGURES KILLED
National leader:
President Lech Kaczynski and wife Maria
Other politicians:
Wladyslaw Stasiak chief of the president’s chancellery; Aleksander Szczyglo chief of the National Security Office; Slawomir Skrzypek National Bank of Poland chairman;
Jerzy Szmajdzinski deputy speaker of the lower house; Andrzej Kremer Foreign Ministry’s undersecretary of state; Stanislaw Komorowski deputy minister of national defence; Przemyslaw Gosiewski Law and Justice party deputy chair;
Military chief:
Franciszek Gagor chief of the General Staff
Cultural figures:
Andrzej Przewoznik head of Poland’s Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites; Tomasz Merta chief historical conservator

Source: TVP1, Warsaw

Our correspondent says there had been calls for Polish leaders to upgrade their planes.

Mr Kaczynski himself had suffered scares while using the plane in late 2008, when problems with the aircraft’s steering mechanism delayed his departure from Mongolia.

“Any flight brings with it a certain risk, but a very serious risk attaches to the responsibilities of a president, because it is necessary to fly constantly,” he was quoted as saying at the time.

But the head of Russia’s Aviakor aviation maintenance company told Russian TV the plane was airworthy, after his plant fully overhauled it in December.

As well as the president and his wife, Maria, a number of senior officials were on the passenger list.

They included the army chief of staff Gen Franciszek Gagor, central bank governor Slawomir Skrzypek and deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer.

World leaders including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered their condolences to Poland.

Mr Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, a former prime minister and now head of the main opposition party, was said to be “devastated”, an aide told AFP news agency.

Lech Kaczynski, who had fewer powers than the prime minister but had a significant say in foreign policy, was a controversial figure in Polish politics.

He had advocated a right-wing Catholic agenda, opposed rapid free-market reforms and favoured retaining social welfare programmes.

Map of crashed flight
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July 20, 2009

Honduran crisis talks break down

Honduran crisis talks break down

Supporters of Manuel Zelaya in Tegucigalpa, Honduras (14 July 2009)

Mr Zelaya’s supporters say he remains the rightful leader of Honduras

Honduras’s interim government has rejected a proposal to solve the country’s political crisis, in effect ending talks with the ousted president.

The delegation’s head said Costa Rica’s proposal, which would see Manuel Zelaya return as leader of a unity government, was “absolutely unacceptable”.

Mr Zelaya’s representatives said they would no longer negotiate with the interim leaders’ current delegation.

Mediators have asked both sides to resume talks in three days.

“It was not possible to reach a satisfactory agreement,” said President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, who is leading mediations and has presented both parties with a seven-point proposal.

“The Zelaya delegation fully accepted my proposal, but not that of Don Roberto Micheletti.”

Their take on power is based on terror and force instead of peace and reason
Manuel Zelaya

Mr Arias has warned of possible civil war if the talks fail and urged both sides to continue.

“My conscience tells me that I cannot give up and must continue working for at least three more days and that is what I propose to do,” he said.

Mr Zelaya, who is currently in Nicaragua, said one “must never close the door on actions of good faith” but that he doubted the mediators could achieve much.

“I do not think that efforts with coup-mongers, just as with terrorists and kidnappers, will work,” he told Reuters news agency.

“Their take on power is based on terror and force instead of peace and reason.”

He later said his supporters were “organising internal resistance” in preparation for this return to the country, which he indicated could happen at the weekend.

Mr Zelaya called on the international community to act in his support and to “back us in restoring democratic order”.

The US, which has supported Mr Zelaya, urged the political rivals to reflect on the “significant progress” made at the talks and to “commit themselves to their successful conclusion”.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the Organisation of American States (OAS) and other interested parties “underscore their commitment to the peaceful resolution of political disputes through dialogue”.

‘Dialogue over’

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and representatives of Honduras talks in San Jose (19 July 2009)

Mr Arias has warned of possible civil war if the situation is not resolved

“I’m very sorry, but the proposals that you have presented are unacceptable to the constitutional government of Honduras,” said Carlos Lopez, the head of the interim government, led by Roberto Micheletti.

He said Mr Micheletti’s side objected in particular to the first point of Mr Arias’s plan, which proposes “the legitimate restitution” of Mr Zelaya as the head of a reconciliation government until early elections are held in October.

Mr Arias also proposed an amnesty for political crimes committed before and after the 28 June coup.

Mr Zelaya’s representatives had previously said they accepted the proposal for reinstating the deposed leader and were “willing to discuss all the other points”.

But following Sunday’s statement from the interim government, the delegation said the talks were effectively over, although it had not ruled out future talks with the coup leaders.

“This dialogue with this commission of the de facto, military coup government is finished,” said Rixi Moncada, one of Mr Zelaya’s representatives.

Mr Zelaya was forced into exile on 28 June. The interim government has said he will be arrested if he comes back.

It prevented an earlier attempted homecoming on 5 July.

On Sunday, Mr Zelaya said it was his right as a Honduran to return to the country and “absolutely no-one” would stop him, Reuters reported.

He later suggested he would return at the weekend, saying by then his supporters would have “all the necessary activities” in place, “as laid out in the law and the constitution and international mandates,” the agency quoted him as saying.

It would not be hard for Mr Zelaya to cross the long and mountainous border between Nicaragua and Honduras, but there is great concern that it will lead to bloodshed if he does.

Mr Arias said he was concerned that a “good part” of the Honduran population own firearms.

“What happens if one of those arms shoots a soldier? Or if a soldier shoots an armed civilian?

“There could be a civil war and bloodshed that the Honduran people do not deserve,” he said.

‘No return’

Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in Managua, Nicaragua (17 July 2009)

Mr Zelaya said it was his right to return to Honduras

Speaking to the EXPRESS in Nicaragua on Saturday, Mr Zelaya said he would not agree to anything that gave concessions to the people who ousted him from office.

Arturo Corrales, representing Mr Micheletti, had accused Mr Zelaya of bad faith.

He said Mr Zelaya’s insistence on forming a unity government went against the spirit of the talks and showed “a wish in Honduras to keep violating our constitution and our laws”.

The negotiations in Costa Rica have benefitted the interim government by buying it time, and also because it has been treated with an equal status to the elected leaders, says our correspondent.

Mr Micheletti heads a military-backed government, which ousted Mr Zelaya amid a dispute with Congress and the courts.

Mr Zelaya had planned to hold a non-binding public consultation to ask people whether they supported moves to change the constitution.

His critics said the move was unconstitutional and aimed to remove the current one-term limit on serving as president and pave the way for his possible re-election.

Iran bails UK embassy employee

Iran bails UK embassy employee

Protesters in Tehran, Iran, on 17 July 2009

The election sparked weeks of protests by critics of President Ahmadinejad

Iran has released on bail the last of the British embassy employees arrested in Tehran in connection with last month’s election protests.

Hossein Rassam – the embassy’s chief political analyst – was one of nine local embassy staff originally held.

He was charged with inciting the unrest over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election and is due to stand trial.

Britain has denied Tehran’s accusations that embassy staff had been involved in instigating mass demonstrations.

Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, a lawyer for the released employee, said he had left Tehran’s Evin prison, and that bail had been set at about $100,000 (£61,000).

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband welcomed Mr Rassam’s release, adding: “The detention of Embassy staff was completely unjustified.”

Protest ban

Violent street protests broke out after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected in the 12 June vote.

At least 20 people are thought to have died during weeks of clashes.

IRAN UNREST
12 June presidential election saw incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 63% of vote
Main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi called for result to be annulled for electoral fraud
Street protests saw at least 17 people killed and foreign media restricted

All gatherings were banned and the protests have died down in recent weeks.

Iran has repeatedly accused foreign powers – especially Britain and the US – of stoking the demonstrations.

Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi says the vote was rigged in favour of Mr Ahmadinejad.

The president and Iran’s main election body, the Council of Guardians, have rejected the charge.

On Friday former President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani called for the release of jailed protesters.

Speaking at Tehran University, he also said many Iranians still doubted the election results, and that the media should be allowed to discuss the dispute openly.

“It is not necessary to pressure media. We should allow them to work freely within the law,” he said.

As Mr Rafsanjani spoke, thousands of opposition supporters rallied near the university – the first opposition demonstration for more than a week.

July 19, 2009

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta

Tributes are left for those killed in the hotel attacks

Indonesian officials say there are “strong indications” a key wanted fugitive was behind Friday’s deadly attacks on two hotels in Jakarta.

Noordin Mohamed Top is wanted for plotting the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and other Indonesian attacks.

Nine people, including two suicide bombers, died in the attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott.

At least four of Friday’s victims are said to be foreigners but have not all been formally identified.

Police in the Indonesian capital are studying DNA and other evidence to try to identify those behind the attacks.

The anti-terror chief, Ansyaad Mbai, has told the News he believes there are strong indications that Noordin was the mastermind behind the blasts.

NOORDIN MOHAMED TOP
Noordin Top (archive image)
Born in Malaysia, fled to Indonesia after 9/11
Wanted for planning bombings on Bali in 2002 and 2005 and other attacks
Said to have split from Jemaah Islamiah over strategy disagreements and set up new group
Main accomplice Azahari Husin killed by police in 2005
Escaped police raid in 2006 and continues to evade capture

Noordin was said to be a key financier for the Jemaah Islamiah militant group but is now thought to have set up his own splinter group.

Jemaah Islamiah has links to al-Qaeda and has a long track record of bomb attacks in Indonesia including the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

Friday’s bombs contained nails, ball bearings and bolts, identical to ones used by Jemaah Islamiah, police said.

Mr Mbai said he believed the aim of the attacks was to embarrass Indonesia’s government at a time when the country was enjoying a greater degree of stability than it had in the past.

The Indonesian people have been truly shocked by these attacks as they thought they had put events like this behind them.

Investigators on Friday recovered an unexploded bomb and other explosives material from what they said was the “control centre” for the attacks – room 1808 in the Marriott.

The attackers paid to stay at the hotel and smuggled in the explosives before detonating them in two restaurants on Friday.

CCTV footage showed one attacker wearing a cap pulling a bag on wheels into the Marriott restaurant, followed by a flash and smoke.

Security has been tightened across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, with 500 troops put on standby to support police in the capital.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

A New Zealander, businessman Tim Mackay, has been confirmed killed.

I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones
Barack Obama

Indonesian police say Australians Nathan Verity and Garth McEvoy also died.

Their countryman, diplomat Craig Senger, was at the same breakfast meeting. He is missing and feared dead.

A health ministry report said a Singaporean and an Indonesian were also confirmed dead.

At least 17 foreigners were among the wounded, including eight Americans.

Other foreign nationals wounded included visitors from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the UK.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the attacks as “cruel and inhuman”.

US President Barack Obama said: “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is due to arrive in Jakarta on Saturday.

He said he wanted to stand “shoulder to shoulder with Indonesia at this terrible time”.

The Manchester United football team had been booked to stay in the Ritz-Carlton next week ahead of a game in Jakarta.

The team has cancelled the Indonesian leg of their tour.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for the series of bombings more than five years ago.

Jakarta map

Court in Pakistan acquits Sharif

Court in Pakistan acquits Sharif

Nawaz Sharif

Mr Sharif is one of the most popular politicians in Pakistan

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted opposition head Nawaz Sharif of hijacking charges, removing the final ban on him running for public office.

Mr Sharif was found guilty of hijacking then army chief General Pervez Musharraf’s plane in 1999, when he ordered it to be diverted.

Mr Sharif was then toppled as prime minster in a coup led by Gen Musharraf.

He was convicted by the Sindh High Court but he has always maintained that the charges were politically motivated.

Mr Sharif’s government had ordered officials to divert Gen Musharraf’s plane away from Karachi and to a smaller city in Sindh.

While he was imprisoned, Mr Sharif agreed to go into exile under a deal with Gen Musharraf who had taken over as Pakistan’s president.

Mr Sharif ended his exile ahead of the 2008 elections but was prevented from contesting due to the court conviction.

Pakistan’s president and prime minister were swift to congratulate Mr Sharif on the court ruling.

Mr Sharif’s acquittal will be viewed as a positive development which helps strengthen democracy.

It also puts Mr Sharif on an even keel with President Asif Ali Zardari of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Charges against him were withdrawn from court by the earlier Musharraf government in the name of “national” reconciliation.

But the court verdict restores to the political stage a potentially formidable opponent to Mr Zardari, correspondents say.

Mr Sharif has held office previously and can point to substantial political support across the country.

‘Set aside’

In its ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court said there was no evidence to support the charge of hijacking and acquitted Mr Sharif.

A judgement given by a kangaroo court nine years ago has been nullified by an independent and sovereign apex court
Siddique-ul-Farooq, PML-N spokesman

“Looking at the case from any angle – the charge of hijacking, attempt to hijack or terrorism – does not stand established against the petitioner,” news agency AFP quoted from the Supreme Court ruling.

“The conviction and sentence of the appellant are set aside and he is acquitted,” the order said.

The “petitioner had neither used force nor ordered its use and undisputedly no deceitful means were used,” it added.

The five-judge court headed by Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani heard the petition in June, but initially reserved judgement.

Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party has welcomed the order.

“A judgement given by a kangaroo court nine years ago has been nullified by an independent and sovereign apex court in the light of the constitution, law and evidence on record,” PML-N spokesman Siddique-ul-Farooq was quoted by AFP as saying.

In May, the Supreme Court had overturned a ban that prevented Mr Sharif and his brother Shahbaz from running for political office.

The ruling meant that Mr Sharif would be able to stand in elections due in 2013 or a parliamentary by-election before then.

The former prime minister and leader of the PML-N party is one of the most popular politicians in the country.

July 17, 2009

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

At least nine people have been killed, including two suspected suicide bombers, in two blasts at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

One explosion hit the Ritz-Carlton, ripping off its facade, and the other the JW Marriott. As many as 50 people were hurt, including many foreigners.

At least one attacker was a guest at the JW Marriott, police said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has visited the scene and condemned “the cruel and inhuman attack”.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts. One foreign national has been confirmed dead – a New Zealander.

Indonesia suffered a number of bomb attacks – mainly linked to the militant group Jemaah Islamiah – in the first years of the century, but has since been praised for its campaigns against militants.

‘Barbaric’

President Yudhoyono said Friday’s attacks were carried out by a suspected terrorist group, though he said it was “too early to say” if Jemaah Islamiah was involved.

He added: “Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law.

I heard two sounds like ‘boom, boom’ coming from the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton – then I saw people running out
Eko Susanto, security guard

“This act of terrorism… will have wide effects on our economy, trade, tourism and image in the eyes of the world.”

The attacks, with homemade bombs, were on the basement car park of the Marriott and a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, police said.

Police said that two suicide bombers were involved, and at least one attacker, and possibly more, was staying at the Marriott.

An unexploded bomb and other explosives material were found in room 1808, which officials said was the “control centre” of the attacks.

National police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said: “We still don’t know who booked room 1808.”

Gen Wahyono said a suicide bomber was suspected of carrying out the car park attack as a severed head was found there.

AT THE SCENE
Karishma Vaswani
Karishma Vaswani,Courtesy
BBC News, Jakarta

It was a scene of confusion and chaos outside the Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott hotels this morning. Ambulances and security forces arriving at the hotels came to rescue the injured and treat anyone who was hurt.

People milled around outside, onlookers wondering what had happened as hotel staff and guests stood around shocked on the streets. The blasts took place at breakfast time in one of the most prestigious areas in Jakarta’s commercial centre.

Many Indonesians we spoke to this morning told us how shocked and upset they were by what had happened here today and how worried they are about the damage this will do to the reputation of their country.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key confirmed a New Zealand national was among the dead.

Reuters news agency named him as Tim Mackay, president director of PT Holcim Indonesia, quoting the company’s marketing director Patrick Walser.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd condemned the attacks as “barbaric”.

He said he had “grave concerns” for an embassy official and two other missing Australians.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said they were “senseless” and that the threat of terrorism remained “very real”.

The Manchester United football team was due to arrive in Indonesia on Saturday and was booked to stay at the Ritz-Carlton.

The team have now called off the Indonesian leg of their tour, saying they “cannot fulfil the fixture in Jakarta” against an Indonesia Super League XI on 20 July.

The two blasts, in Jakarta’s central business district, occurred at about 0730 (0030 GMT).

INDONESIA ATTACKS
Dec 2000 – Church bombings kill 19
Oct 2002 – Bali attacks kill 202, many Australian
Dec 2002 – Sulawesi McDonalds blast kills three
Aug 2003 – Jakarta Marriott Hotel bomb kills 12
Sept 2004 – Bomb outside Australian embassy in Jakarta
Sept 2005: Suicide attacks in Bali leave 23 dead, including bombers

Businessman Geoffrey Head, who was in the Ritz Carlton, told the BBC he did not hear the blast but that his colleagues had called him after it happened to tell him to leave the building.

“I looked out of the window – I could see down to ground level and I saw there was a lot of broken glass. I thought it was time to actually get out.”

Mr Head said there had been no warning to evacuate the building.

“The surreal thing was going down in the elevator and walking through the lobby and looking across to my left and noticing the cafe was completely blown out,” he said.

A 50-year-old South Korean man, Cho In-sang, was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

“I don’t remember exactly but suddenly the ceiling is falling down and the sound was big,” he said.

Anti-terror training

Consular staff are trying to track their nationals, and Australia issued a warning against unnecessary travel to Indonesia.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for a series of bombings more than five years ago.

Attacks on two nightclubs in Bali in October 2002 killed 202 people, most of them Australian.

The Marriott Hotel was the target of a bomb attack in August 2003 in which 13 people were killed.

Since then, a combination of new laws, anti-terror training, international cooperation and reintegration measures have kept Indonesia peaceful, analysts have said.

Jakarta map


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July 12, 2009

US president sets Afghan target

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:07 am

US president sets Afghan target

A US Marine helicopter delivers supplies in Helmand province, 11 July

Thousands of new US troops are boosting the effort in Afghanistan

The increasingly deadly conflict in Afghanistan is a “serious fight” but one essential for the future stability of the country, the US president says.

Insisting that US and allied troops have pushed back the Taliban, Barack Obama said the immediate target was to steer Afghanistan through elections.

The country is due to hold a presidential vote in August.

Mr Obama spoke to Sky News as concern grew in the UK at the rising British death toll in Afghanistan.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was also forced on Saturday to justify British involvement in Afghanistan.

Mr Brown said the UK’s military deployment there was aimed at preventing terrorism in the UK.

Fifteen British troops have died in the past 10 days, pushing the country’s number of deaths in Afghanistan past the number killed in action in Iraq.

‘Extraordinary role’

Speaking during a day-long visit to Africa, Mr Obama also told Sky News that the battle in Afghanistan was a vital element in the battle against terrorism.

He said the continued involvement of British troops in the conflict was necessary, right and was a vital contribution to UK national security.

US President Barack Obama in Ghana, 11 July

Barack Obama has boosted troop levels and is hoping for tangible results

“This is not an American mission,” Mr Obama said.

“The mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much if not more of a stake in than we do.

“The likelihood of a terrorist attack in London is at least as high, if not higher, than it is in the United States.”

He praised the efforts of all troops currently fighting the Taleban in gruelling summer heat, singling out British forces for praise when asked if their role was still important.

“Great Britain has played an extraordinary role in this coalition, understanding that we can not allow either Afghanistan or Pakistan to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda, those who with impunity blow up train stations in London or buildings in New York.

“We knew that this summer was going to be tough fighting. They [the Taliban] have, I think, been pushed back but we still have a long way to go. We’ve got to get through elections.”

‘Core mission’

Since taking office in Washington in January of this year, Mr Obama has announced a troop “surge” in Afghanistan.

British soldiers carry the coffin of a comrade, 10 July

British troops have endured a deadly week in Afghanistan

The US has said it is sending up to 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan this year to take on a resurgent Taleban. They will join 33,000 US and 32,000 other Nato troops already in the country.

He also replaced the incumbent US commander in the country, ousting Gen David McKiernan less than a year into his command.

The new US chief in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, has a stellar reputation from his days commanding special forces operations in Iraq.

He has been tasked with the mission of outsmarting the Taliban, who continue to win support among ordinary Afghans often caught in the crossfire of the bitter fighting.

High numbers of Afghan civilian casualties have become an issue of major concern to the US. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has regularly called on the international forces to reduce the numbers of Afghans killed in its operations.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Obama said although forces were currently engaged in heavy fighting, new strategies for building bridges with Afghan society would be considered once the country had held its presidential election.

A young girl in Afghanistan, 10 July

Afghan civilians often bear the brunt of the conflict with the Taliban

Afghanistan needed its own army, its own police and the ability to control its own security, Mr Obama said – a strategy currently being implemented in Iraq, where security is being handed over to Iraqi forces.

“All of us are going to have to do an evaluation after the Afghan election to see what more we can do,” the president said.

“It may not be on the military side, it might be on the development side providing Afghan farmers alternatives to poppy crops, making sure that we are effectively training a judiciary system and a rule of law in Afghanistan that people trust.”

“We’ve got a core mission that we have to accomplish.”

July 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.

July 9, 2009

Mystery surrounds Jackson burial

Mystery surrounds Jackson burial

Michael Jackson

Jackson died on 25 June, weeks before a series of comeback shows

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Michael Jackson’s body and plans for the singer’s burial following his emotional memorial service.

It is not clear where his golden coffin was taken to after it was removed from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

And, in the absence of an announcement by his family, speculation is mounting over where he will be buried.

Meanwhile, figures show that his memorial service was watched by 31.3 million people in the US.

Resting place

On Tuesday, family members attended a short funeral service at the Forest Lawn cemetery before Jackson’s coffin was taken in a hearse for the 10-mile trip to the Staples Center.

After the coffin was taken out, the hearse was seen leaving the centre but its destination has not been made public.

Los Angeles County records show that Forest Lawn is officially the temporary location of the body. But the coffin has not been seen returning to the cemetery.

Some reports suggest that Jackson could be buried at Forest Lawn – the last resting place of celebrities including Liberace, Bette Davis and actor David Carradine, who was found dead in a Bangkok hotel room last month.

Last week, Jackson’s brother Jermaine said he wanted the body to be buried in the grounds of the singer’s former home – the sprawling Neverland ranch, 150 miles north-west of Los Angeles.

Permission would be needed by authorities who would have to consider the implications of visiting fans on the transport infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Nielsen Media Research, the company that tracks viewing figures in the US, said that 31.3 million people watched the memorial service which was shown on a number of different networks.

This compared with the 28.9 million who watched the American Idol final in May and the 38 million who watched President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January.

Princess Diana’s funeral in September 1997 was watched by 33.2 million in the US.

Nielsen Media Research said Jackson’s memorial service was also watched by millions more on the internet.

It has emerged that the memorial service cost $1.4m (£860,000) to police and to provide traffic control and other services for.

Paris Jackson

Paris Jackson made an emotional tribute at the service

The amount included $1.1m (£680,000) in overtime pay for the 4,173 officers who worked around Forest Lawn, the Staples Center and other areas, the police department said.

The city council has set up a website asking people to make tax-free donations to help cover costs.

US music sales tracker Nielsen SoundScan, meanwhile, has revealed that 800,000 copies of Michael Jackson albums were bought last week – almost double sales for the previous week.

Compilation Number Ones was the best-selling album followed by 1982 album Thriller.

July 6, 2009

US and Russia agree nuclear cuts

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:16 pm

US and Russia agree nuclear cuts

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have reached an outline agreement to cut back their nations’ stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

The “joint understanding” signed in Moscow would see reductions of deployed nuclear warheads to below 1,700 each within seven years of a new treaty.

The accord would replace the 1991 Start I treaty, which expires in December.

Mr Obama said the two countries were both “committed to leaving behind the suspicion and the rivalry of the past”.

Separately, Russia also agreed to allow the US military to fly troops and weapons across its territory to Afghanistan, allowing it to avoid using supply routes through Pakistan that are attacked by militants.

On a range of issues, differences remain between us
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

The two countries also will set up a joint commission to co-operate over energy, and fighting terrorism and drug-trafficking. Military co-operation, suspended since last year’s conflict between Russia and Georgia, will be resumed.

However, on the contentious issue of US plans to base parts of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, the presidents merely said they had agreed to a joint study into ballistic missile threats and the creation of a data exchange centre.

‘Frank’ discussions

After three hours of talks at the Kremlin on Monday, Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev publicly signed a joint understanding to negotiate a new arms control treaty that would set lower levels of both nuclear warheads and delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles and bombers.

US-RUSSIA NUCLEAR DEAL
Each country to cut deployed nuclear warheads to 1,500-1,675 (currently 1,700-2,200)
Delivery systems to be within 500-1,000 range (currently 1,600)
Reductions so be achieved within seven years of new treaty
Treaty to be signed before Start I expires in December and include “effective” verification measures

“Within seven years after this treaty comes into force, and in future, the limits for strategic delivery systems should be within the range of 500-1,100 units and for warheads linked to them within the range of 1,500-1,675 units,” the document said.

Under the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, each country is allowed between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed nuclear warheads and 1,600 delivery systems – meaning each side might only be required to decommission a further 25 warheads.

Correspondents also point out that the proposed cuts would still leave the US and Russia able to destroy each other many times over.

A White House statement said the new treaty would “include effective verification measures” and “enhance the security of both the US and Russia, as well as provide predictability and stability in strategic offensive forces”.

Afterwards, Mr Medvedev said the talks had been “very frank and very sincere”, but that they had been, “without any doubt, the meeting we had been waiting for in Russia and the United States”.

“I would like particularly to stress that our country would like to reach a level of co-operation with the United States that would really be worthy of the 21st Century, and which would ensure international peace and security,” he said.

Russians spell out their hopes for Obama visit

But the Russian leader cautioned that there remained “differences on many issues”, most notably on the proposed US missile defence shield.

Mr Obama said he and Mr Medvedev were countering a “sense of drift” and were now resolved “to reset US-Russian relations so that we can co-operate more effectively in areas of common interest”.

“We must lead by example, and that’s what we are doing here today,” he said.

The US president said he was confident a legally binding disarmament treaty would be signed by the end of the year, when Start I expires.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama will meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

He said last week that he thought the former Russian president had “one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new”.

“I think that it’s important that even as we move forward with President Medvedev, that Putin understands that the old Cold War approaches to US-Russian relations is outdated, that it’s time to move forward in a different direction,” he told the Associated Press.

Mr Putin responded: “We stand solidly on our own two feet and always look into the future.”

Graph showing US and Russian nuclear weapon stockpiles
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