News & Current Affairs

July 11, 2009

Most of Xinjiang dead ‘Chinese’

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Most of Xinjiang dead ‘Chinese’

Chinese security forces line uop on a square in Urumqi, 11 July

Security forces continued to patrol Urumqi on Saturday

Some three-quarters of the victims of the violence in China’s western Xinjiang region were ethnic Han Chinese, the official death toll shows.

Of 184 people known to have died, 137 were Han Chinese, 46 were from the indigenous Uighur community and one was an ethnic Hui, local officials said.

Beijing flooded the regional capital Urumqi with security forces to stem the violence which erupted last Sunday.

Correspondents say some Uighurs believe their own death toll was much higher.

“I’ve heard that more than 100 Uighurs have died but nobody wants to talk about it in public,” one Uighur man in Urumqi who did not want to give his name told the Associated Press news agency.

Uighurs living in exile outside China have also disputed the Chinese figures. Rebiya Kadeer, the US-based head of the World Uighur Congress, said she believed about 500 people had died.

According to the Chinese death toll released by state media, 26 of the 137 Han Chinese victims were female, while all but one of the 45 Uighurs killed were male.

The single death recorded in the Hui community, which is similar to the Uighurs ethnically and religiously, was that of a male.

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July 6, 2009

Scores killed in China protests

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:23 pm

Scores killed in China protests

Violence in China’s restive western region of Xinjiang has left at least 140 people dead and more than 800 people injured, state media say.

Several hundred people were arrested after a protest, in the city of Urumqi on Sunday, turned violent.

Beijing says Uighurs went on the rampage but one exiled Uighur leader says police fired on students.

The protest was reportedly prompted by a deadly fight between Uighurs and Han Chinese in southern China last month.

Our correspondent  in Shanghai says this is one of the most serious clashes between the authorities and demonstrators in China since Tiananmen Square in 1989.

‘Dark day’

Eyewitnesses said the violence started on Sunday in Urumqi after a protest of a few hundred people grew to more than 1,000.

Xinhua says the protesters carried knives, bricks and batons, smashed cars and stores, and fought with security forces.

Wu Nong, news director for the Xinjiang government, said more than 260 vehicles were attacked and more than 200 shops and houses damaged.

Most of the violence is reported to have taken place in the city centre, around Renmin (People’s) Square, Jiefang and Xinhua South Roads and the Bazaar.

The police presence was reported to be heavy on Monday.

Adam Grode, an American studying in Urumqi, told Associated Press: “There are soldiers everywhere, police are at all the corners. Traffic has completely stopped.”

UIGHURS AND XINJIANG
Uighurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims
They make up about 45% of the region’s population. 40% are Han Chinese
China re-established control in 1949 after crushing short-lived state of East Turkestan
Since then, large-scale immigration of Han Chinese
Uighurs fear erosion of traditional culture
Sporadic violence since 1991
Attack on 4 Aug 2008 near Kashgar kills 16 Chinese policemen

A witness in the Xinjiang city of Kashgar told AP there was a protest there on Monday of about 300 people but there were no clashes with police.

It is still unclear who died in Urumqi and why so many were killed.

The Xinjiang government blamed separatist Uighurs based abroad for orchestrating attacks on ethnic Han Chinese.

But Uighur groups insisted their protest was peaceful and had fallen victim to state violence, with police firing indiscriminately on protesters in Urumqi.

Dolkun Isa, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) in Munich, disputed the official figures, saying the protest was 10,000 strong and that 600 people were killed.

He rejected reports on Xinhua that it had instigated the protests.

Xinhua had quoted the Xinjiang government as blaming WUC leader Rebiya Kadeer for “masterminding” the violence.

But Mr Isa said the WUC had called on Friday only for protests at Chinese embassies around the world.

Pedestrians pass a burned out car in Urumqi, 6 July

More than 260 vehicles were destroyed in Urumqi, officials said

Alim Seytoff, the vice-president of another Uighur group – the US-based Uighur American Association – condemned the “heavy-handed” actions of the security forces.

“We ask the international community to condemn China’s killing of innocent Uighurs. This is a very dark day in the history of the Uighur people,” he said.

When asked about the rioting, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that all governments must protect freedom of speech and “the life and safety of civilian populations”.

A spokesman for UK PM Gordon Brown said Britain was urging “restraint on all sides”.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said he had raised the issue of human rights with visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao in Rome.

Internet blocks

The Uighurs in Urumqi were reportedly angry over an ethnic clash last month in the city of Shaoguan in southern Guangdong province.

A man there was said to have posted a message on a local website claiming six boys from Xinjiang had “raped two innocent girls”.

June 30, 2009

US soldiers leave Iraq’s cities

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:28 am

US soldiers leave Iraq’s cities

Iraqi soldiers carry the national flag and a banner that reads in Arabic "Parade to Mark the Iraq Pride day" in the city of Karbala

US and Iraqi commanders say Iraqi forces are ready to take over security

US troops have withdrawn from towns and cities in Iraq, six years after the invasion, having formally handed over security duties to new Iraqi forces.

A public holiday – National Sovereignty Day – has been declared, and the capital, Baghdad, threw a giant party to mark the eve of the changeover.

Hours before the midnight deadline, four US soldiers were killed in combat.

US-led combat operations are due to end by September 2010, with all troops gone from Iraq by the end of 2011.

The US military said the four soldiers served in Baghdad, but did not provide further details before families had been notified. They died as a “result of combat related injuries”, the military said.

Iraqi and US troops have been on the alert for insurgent attacks during the handover.

Despite the pullback from cities and towns, due to be completed on Tuesday, US troops will still be embedded with Iraqi forces.

We think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready
Christopher Hill
US Ambassador to Iraq

Both American and the Iraqi commanders say they are expecting al-Qaeda in Iraq and other groups to attempt to re-ignite sectarian tensions.

BBC defence and security correspondent Rob Watson says that while the pullback is significant, the actual withdrawal of US combat troops in 2010 will pose a greater challenge.

The success of that depends on Iraq’s political leaders and their ability to tackle the country’s many outstanding problems and tensions, he says.

Some 131,000 US troops remain in Iraq, including 12 combat brigades, and the total is not expected to drop below 128,000 until after the Iraqi national election in January.

‘Now is the time’

Iraqi soldiers paraded through Baghdad’s streets on Monday in vehicles decorated with flowers and Iraqi flags, while patriotic songs were played through loudspeakers at checkpoints.

Signs were draped on some Baghdad’s concrete blast walls reading “Iraq: my nation, my glory, my honour”.

US commanders have said security and stability is improving, and that Iraqi forces are now ready to take over security operations.

The US Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, said there would be no major reduction in forces until 2010 but the pullback was a “milestone”.

“Yes, we think Iraq is ready and Iraq thinks Iraq is ready,” he said.

“We have spent a lot of time working very closely with Iraqi security services… and I think there is an understanding that now it is the time.”

Mr Hill stressed that there would still be “a lot of US combat capabilities in Iraq for months to come”.

“After 30 June, with US combat forces out of cities and villages, localities, we’ll still be in Iraq,” he said.

“We will still have a very robust number of US troops in Iraq and, in fact, those troops will not begin to withdraw from Iraq until probably several months from now.”

The pullback comes two years after the US “surge” of extra troops between February and June 2007, which took US troop levels in Iraq to 168,000.

There was a decline in violence, but recent months have seen an upsurge.

In the past 10 days nearly 170 people have been killed and many more injured in three attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk.


Did you attend Monday’s celebrations in Iraq? Send your comments or pictures

June 22, 2009

Iran Guards vow protest crackdown

Iran Guards vow protest crackdown

Tear gas on the streets of Tehran (20 June)

Weekend violence has led many to abandon protest plans

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have threatened to crack down on any new street protests against the results of the country’s presidential election.

In a statement, the guards vowed to react in a “revolutionary” way to suppress unauthorised demonstrations.

The Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s elite security force, have close ties to the country’s supreme leader.

On Friday Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned protests, prompting street violence in which at least 10 people died.

The streets of Tehran were quieter on Sunday but new protests are planned for Monday.

Opposition supporters passing messages online said they planned to carry candles at a rally in Tehran in the evening in memory of those killed.

‘Revolutionary confrontation’

In a statement posted on their website, the Guards said their troops would break up street protests and force protesters from the streets.

“Be prepared for a resolution and revolutionary confrontation with the Guards, Basij [pro-government militia] and other security forces and disciplinary forces,” the Associated Press news agency quoted the Guards as saying.

The clashes are getting bloodier every day
Behrooz, student, Tehran

The plain-clothed Basij militia was involved in quelling earlier protests during more than a week of demonstrations against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The weekend violence led many Iranians to abandon protest plans. One regular protester, a 20-year-old student called Behrooz contacted by the BBC several times in recent days, said he was concerned he would be attacked if he took part.

“My mother went to the demonstration on Saturday. She wasn’t hurt, but she saw guards attacking people and hitting them with batons,” he said.

“She is the bravest of us all, but I don’t think she will go out this afternoon (Sunday), because the clashes are getting bloodier every day.”

Media ‘vandalism’

Results showed Mr Ahmadinejad won the 12 June election by a landslide, taking 63% of the vote, almost double that of Mir Hossein Mousavi, his nearest rival.

Following complaints, the powerful Guardian Council, which oversees the electoral process, now says it has found evidence that more votes were cast in some constituencies than there were registered voters.

But the number had “no effect on the result of the elections”, a council spokesman said on Monday.

Speaking at a news conference, foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi accused Western governments of explicitly backing violent protests aimed at undermining the stability of Iran’s Islamic Republic.

“Spreading anarchy and vandalism by Western powers and also Western media… these are not at all accepted,” he said.

The BBC and other foreign media have been reporting from Iran under severe restrictions for the past week. The BBC’s permanent correspondent in Iran, Jon Leyne, was asked to leave the country on Sunday.

January 31, 2009

Iraqis vote in landmark elections

Iraqis vote in landmark elections

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

Voters had to pass through strict security to cast their ballots

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

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

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

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

Up to 15 million Iraqis are eligible to cast votes.

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

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

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

Security tight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting the stage

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

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

PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS
Baghdad prepares for Saturday's election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 25, 2008

Pope appeals for Mid-East peace

Pope appeals for Mid-East peace

Pope Benedict XVI has used his traditional Christmas Midnight Mass to call for an end to “hatred and violence” in the Middle East.

Addressing a huge congregation at the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica, he appealed for a new understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.

Thousands of pilgrims celebrated the start of Christmas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, amid tight security.

The Pope will deliver his Christmas Day message from St Peter’s later.

Appealing for new efforts to end the cycle of violence in the Middle East, Pope Benedict urged people to pray that “hearts will be opened, so borders will be opened”.

The 81-year-old pontiff plans to visit Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories next May, although final details of his trip have yet to be worked out.

Also in his homily, Pope Benedict appealed for an end to child abuse.

“Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home, of those children who are brutally exploited as soldiers and made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace,” he said.

“Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatised to the depths of their soul.

Children being blessed by Pope Benedict during Midnight Mass at St Peter's Basilica, Vatican

The Pope blessed a number of children in his congregation

As Midnight Mass began, Pope Benedict, dressed in white and gold-coloured vestments, walked up the main aisle of the flood-lit St Peter’s Basilica, smiling and stopping several times to shake outstretched hands and bless children.

For those unable to enter, giant screens were set up in St Peter’s Square.

Most of the world’s 2.1 billion Christians mark Christmas this week.

Others, chiefly from among the 200 million Orthodox Christians who use the Julian Calendar for their feast days, celebrate the Nativity on 7 January.

Across the world, believers have been attending Christmas church services and, in some countries, families gathered for a traditional festive dinner at midnight on Christmas Eve.

‘Explosion of love’

There was a heavy security presence in the West Bank town of Bethlehem as thousands of Christian pilgrims celebrated the start of Christmas.

Bethlehem is like the soul of the universe
Stefano Croce
Italian fashion photographer

Among those who attended the service in Bethlehem, which Christians believe is the birthplace of Jesus, were about 200 worshippers from the Gaza Strip whom Israel granted special permission to make the journey.

Extra Palestinian security personnel were deployed to Bethlehem from the West Bank towns of Ramallah and Jericho to safeguard visitors.

Correspondents in the town met elated pilgrims, gathering around nightfall outside the Church of the Nativity, considered the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

A dozen believers from India, Canada, Britain, the US and other countries sung impromptu renditions of Christmas carols, the Associated Press reported.

US citizen David Bogenrief, 57, played the trumpet, telling a gaggle of local children who were listening: “Jesus was the prince of peace, and he can bring that peace to you. We pray for you.”

In Manger Square, vendors sold roasted peanuts and Santa Claus hats to the crowds, among whom were some local Muslims out enjoying the annual international fuss over their town.

Correspondents say a relative lull in violence in the Middle East seems to have encouraged pilgrims to return to the “Holy Land”.

“Bethlehem is like the soul of the universe, and it’s like an explosion of love here,” said Italian fashion photographer Stefano Croce, 46.

In his traditional Christmas Day “Urbi et Orbi” speech – Latin for “to the city and to the world” – from the balcony of St Peter’s, Pope Benedict is expected to touch on current events and issues of concern to the Vatican.

He will then issue Christmas greetings to the faithful in more than 60 languages.

November 27, 2008

Troops confront Mumbai attackers

Troops confront Mumbai attackers

Employees and guests of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel are rescued by fire crews

Employees and guests of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel are rescued by fire crews

Indian security forces have been exchanging fire with gunmen holding dozens of hostages in two luxury hotels in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay).

Troops surrounded the premises shortly after armed men carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks across the city, killing 101 people and injuring 287.

The hotels were among several locations in the main tourist and business district targeted late on Wednesday.

Police say four suspected terrorists have been killed and nine arrested.

The situation is still volatile in two of the most high-profile targets of Wednesday’s attacks – the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi Trident hotels, where armed men are believed to be holding about 40 hostages.

Flames and black smoke billow from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Mumbai

There are reports of intermittent exchange of fire between security forces and the armed attackers barricaded inside both hotels.

Correspondents say security personnel have so far not stormed the premises perhaps for fear of endangering the lives of hostages, some of whom could be Westerners.

There are also unconfirmed reports that five gunmen have taken hostages in an office block in the financial district of Mumbai.

The city’s main commuter train station, a hospital, and a restaurant were among at least seven locations caught up in the violence.

In other developments:

• Fire crews evacuate people from the upper floors of the Taj Mahal Palace, where police say a grenade attack caused a blaze

• Israel says it is concerned for the safety of its citizens in Mumbai, as a rabbi and his family are feared captured by gunmen

• The head of Mumbai’s anti-terrorism unit and two other senior officers are among those killed, officials say

• The White House holds a meeting of top intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, and pledges to help the Indian government

• Trading on India’s Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange markets will remain closed on Thursday, officials say.

Gunmen opened fire at about 2300 local time (1730 GMT) on Wednesday at the sites in southern Mumbai.

“The terrorists have used automatic weapons and in some places grenades have been lobbed,” said AN Roy, police commissioner of Maharashtra state.

Local TV images showed blood-splattered streets, and bodies being taken into ambulances.

One eyewitness told the BBC he had seen a gunman opening fire in the Taj Mahal’s lobby.

“We all moved through the lobby in the opposite direction and another gunman then appeared towards where we were moving and he started firing immediately in our direction.”

One British tourist said she spent six hours barricaded in the Oberoi hotel.

BOMB ATTACKS IN INDIA IN 2008
30 October: Explosions kill at least 64 in north-eastern Assam
30 September: Blasts in western India kill at least seven
27 September: Bomb blasts kills one in Delhi
13 September: Five bomb blasts kill 18 in Delhi
26 July: At least 22 small bombs kill 49 in Ahmedabad
25 July: Seven bombs go off in Bangalore killing two people
13 May: Seven bomb hit markets and crowded streets in Jaipur killing 63

“There were about 20 or 30 people in each room. The doors were locked very quickly, the lights turned off, and everybody just lay very still on the floor,” she said.

Eyewitness reports suggest the attackers singled out British and American passport holders.

If the reports are true, our security correspondent says it implies an Islamist motive – attacks inspired or co-ordinated by al-Qaeda.

A claim of responsibility has been made by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.

Our correspondent says it could be a hoax or assumed name for another group.

There has been a wave of bombings in Indian cities in recent months which has left scores of people dead.

The timing and symbolism of the latest attacks could not have been worse.

By choosing to target the richest district of India’s financial capital in such a brazen and effective manner, he says those behind the attacks have perhaps dealt the severest blow to date to the morale and self esteem of the Indian authorities.

The attacks have come amidst elections in several Indian states and exposes the governing coalition to the charge that it has failed to combat terror, our correspondent says.

Aerial map of Mumbai showing sites of shootings


Are you in the region? Have you witnessed the attacks? Send us your comments

November 20, 2008

Fatal blast hits Bangkok protest

Fatal blast hits Bangkok protest

Protesters react after the explosion in Bangkok, Thailand, 20 November 2008

The pre-dawn blast rocked an area where demonstrators had set up camp

An explosion in Bangkok has killed at least one anti-government protester and wounded more than 20.

The pre-dawn blast rocked an area where demonstrators had set up camp in the city’s Government House compound.

Protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) group have occupied the area since late August.

They are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat’s government, saying it is too close to ousted former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

The demonstrators said a grenade had exploded near the main stage of their protest site at about 0330 (2030 GMT Wednesday).

The protests have seen some of the worst street violence since pro-democracy activists challenged Thailand’s army in 1992.

Abuse of power?

The PAD has proved a remarkably resilient movement, forcing the resignation of a prime minister and two cabinet ministers, and nearly provoking a military coup.

Anti-government rally in Bangkok on 30/10/08

Anti-government rallies have been held in Bangkok for months

While the protesters have been targeted by small bomb attacks in recent weeks, the latest explosion could herald the start of more aggressive efforts to dislodge them, our correspondent adds.

An alliance of conservative and staunchly royalist academics, activists and business people, the PAD accuses Mr Somchai and his recently-ousted predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, of simply being proxies for Thaksin.

The PAD wants to replace Thailand’s one-man, one-vote system with one in which some representatives are chosen by professions and social groups rather than the general electorate.

Thaksin, Mr Somchai’s brother-in-law, was forced from office in a military coup in 2006 and remains in exile overseas.

The new government says it wants to start negotiations with the PAD. But it is also pushing ahead with controversial plans to amend the constitution – a key grievance of the protesters who see it as part of a plan to rehabilitate Thaksin.

It accuses him of corruption and abuse of power while he was in office, and has suggested he and his allies have a hidden republican agenda – a serious charge at a time when the country is beset by anxiety over the future of the monarchy.

Thaksin was last month convicted in absentia of violating conflict of interest rules, and still faces several other charges.


Are you in Bangkok? Have you seen the protests? Did you witness the blast? Send us your comments

September 16, 2008

Leaders debate Bolivia turmoil


Leaders debate Bolivia turmoil

President Evo Morales speaks on arrival at Santiago airport on 15 September 2008

Mr Morales wants to give more rights to Bolivia’s indigenous community

An emergency summit of South American leaders has opened in Chile to address deepening tensions in Bolivia.

In the last week, at least 30 people have been killed in violence between government supporters and opponents.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has likened the unrest in opposition-controlled regions of his country to an attempted coup.

He said the meeting was important as democracy had to be defended not only in Bolivia but all of South America.

The unrest represents the most serious challenge to Mr Morales since he took office almost three years ago.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called the emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) on Sunday, to help resolve the crisis.

Energy fears

Arriving in Santiago, Evo Morales said he had come “to explain to the presidents of South America the civic coup d’etat by governors in some Bolivian states in recent days”.

“We’ve seen looting, the ransacking of institutions, attempts to assault the police and the armed forces,” he said

The unrest centers on his decision to hold a referendum on a new constitution in December.

Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia (right) opposition leader Mario Cossio (left) hold talks in La Paz

The Bolivian vice president has held talks with an opposition representative

Mr Morales says he wants to re-distribute Bolivia’s wealth and give a greater voice to the large indigenous community.

But opposition leaders oppose the plan and demand greater autonomy as well as more control over natural gas revenues in their areas.

Trouble has flared in several eastern provinces and cities, with opposition supporters occupying government buildings. On Friday, Mr Morales declared martial law in the Pando region, which has seen deadly clashes between rival factions.

Most of the leaders of Unasur’s 12 member-nations are attending the summit in a bid to solve the crisis.

The correspondent in the region says that no one in South America wants the situation in Bolivia to escalate.

Neighboring Brazil and Argentina are particularly worried about their supplies of natural gas, which come from the east of the country where the dispute is at its most severe.

But, our correspondent adds, it is not clear what the meeting in Chile can achieve. Representatives of Bolivia’s opposition are not attending the summit.

map

There have been some talks between the two sides, however.

On Sunday night Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia met opposition representative Mario Cossio, the governor of Tarija province. They agreed to hold more talks when Mr Morales returns from Chile.

The unrest in Bolivia has triggered a downturn in relations with the US.

Last week Bolivia accused the US of supporting the opposition and expelled its ambassador. Venezuela followed suit to show solidarity and Honduras has refused to accept the credentials of a new US envoy.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the unrest in Bolivia was “a conspiracy directed by the US empire”, likening it to the 1973 CIA-backed coup which ousted Chile’s President Salvador Allende.

The US says it regrets the recent diplomatic expulsions and has rejected Bolivia’s allegations against its ambassador.

September 14, 2008

Turkmen violence ‘drug related’

Turkmen violence ‘drug related’

A Turkmen policeman in Ashgabat in February 2007

Bordering Afghanistan, Turkmenistan is a known route for the heroin trade

Authorities in Turkmenistan say they have “neutralized” a gang of drug traffickers in a security operation overnight in the capital Ashgabat.

The statement contradicted earlier media reports that security forces had been engaged in heavy gun battles with Islamist militants.

Some reports said at least 20 police officers had died in the fighting.

The claims are extremely difficult to confirm, as Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most tightly controlled states.

‘Sealed off’

The Central Asian nation borders Afghanistan to the east and is a known route for the global heroin trade.

In what analysts said was a rare confirmation of unrest in the ex-Soviet republic, the Turkmen foreign ministry said in a statement that “a criminal group involved in the illegal drug trade” had been “neutralized”.

The ministry did not say whether there were any casualties, or if any traffickers had been detained.

Foreign media organizations earlier said that Islamic militants were involved in the fighting, though the ministry made no reference to this.

The neighbourhood where the fighting took place, in Ashgabat’s northern suburbs, was sealed off until Sunday morning, an AFP reporter said.

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