News & Current Affairs

September 18, 2008

Uganda seeking miniskirt ban

Uganda seeking miniskirt ban

A woman wearing a miniskirt in Uganda

The minister said wearing a miniskirt was akin to going naked

Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister says miniskirts should be banned – because women wearing them distract drivers and cause traffic accidents.

Nsaba Buturo told journalists in Kampala that wearing a miniskirt was like walking naked in the streets.

“What’s wrong with a miniskirt? You can cause an accident because some of our people are weak mentally,” he said.

journalists found the minister’s comments extremely funny.

Wearing a miniskirt should be regarded as “indecent”, which would be punishable under Ugandan law, Mr Buturo said.

And he railed against the dangers facing those inadvertently distracted by short skirts.

“If you find a naked person you begin to concentrate on the make-up of that person and yet you are driving,” he said.

“These days you hardly know who is a mother from a daughter, they are all naked.”

Vice list

According to the minister, indecent dressing is just one of many vices facing Ugandan society.

“Theft and embezzlement of public funds, sub-standard service delivery, greed, infidelity, prostitution, homosexuality [and] sectarianism…” he said.

Earlier this year, Kampala’s Makerere University decided to impose a dress code for women at the institution, our reporter says.

The miniskirt and tight trousers ban has yet to be implemented, but our correspondent sought the opinions of women on campus about the minister’s opinions.

“If one wants to wear a miniskirt, it’s ok. If another wants to put on a long skirt, then that’s ok,” one woman said.

But others had more sympathy with Mr Buturo.

“I think skimpy things are not good. We are keeping the dignity of Africa as ladies and we have to cover ourselves up,” one woman, called Sharon, told.

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September 16, 2008

Palin’s appeal to white women

Palin’s appeal to white women

What is it about Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin that appeals to women voters? The BBC’s Paul Moss has been finding out in the US state of Illinois.

Sarah Palin in Anchorage, Alaska, 13 Sept

Many women admire Mrs Palin for her hard work as a mother-of-five

It was hard to tell who was most disappointed. A torrential downpour meant the American football game at Barrington High School had to be canceled.

The kids stared at the cloudy skies and grumbled. But some of their mothers seemed even more crestfallen.

“We look forward to the game,” one told me. “Everyone gets really into it, screaming, yelling. It is disappointing.”

I had traveled to Barrington, out in Cook County, Illinois, to meet some of America’s “football moms” – the army of women who turn out every weekend across America, to cheer on their sporting sons and daughters.

They are loyal, they are dedicated. And now, many of them are also big fans of Sarah Palin.

“She says it like it is,” I was told, a common description of the young governor from Alaska. “She’s hard-working, and I think she has strong moral values.”

Mrs Palin’s large family formed the basis of many compliments from the “football moms”.

“She’s doing great things, supporting her church and supporting her family. Five children is a lot in this day and age.”

‘Pioneer woman’

This is all sweet political music to the ears of the US Republican Party. The choice of 44-year-old Mrs Palin as its vice-presidential candidate was always meant to secure the support of women voters, as well as religious conservatives.

WHITE WOMEN VOTERS’ SWING
ABC/Washington Post: 7 Sept – 53% for McCain, 41% for Obama (20 point swing to McCain since 22 Aug)
NBC/Wall Street Journal: 9 Sept – 52% for McCain, 41% for Obama (11 point swing to McCain since Aug)
Quinnipiac University: 9 Sept – Pennsylvania, 5 point swing to McCain since 26 Aug; Ohio, four point swing to McCain since 26 Aug; Florida, two point swing to Obama since 26 Aug

And since she appeared on the scene, some polls have shown white women swinging away from Democrat Barack Obama to Republican John McCain.

One, an ABC/Washington Post poll conducted earlier this month, suggested Mr McCain’s standing with white women had improved by 20 points since Mrs Palin was brought on board.

“Women see themselves reflected in her image,” according to Christine Dudley, a long-time Republican campaigner, based now in Chicago.

She argues that to understand Mrs Palin’s popularity, you have to realise that the US still sees itself as a nation of frontier dwellers.

“Here is a woman in the most remote of states, she shoots guns and fishes… she really is a pioneer woman in the modern sense.”

Sore point

But Mrs Palin’s claim to champion the position of women is not universally welcomed among America’s feminists.

It is true that some have argued the very fact of her candidacy is a step forward for women’s equality.

Nancy Matthews

Nancy Matthews says Mrs Palin appeals to American notions of individualism

But Nancy Matthews, a professor of Women’s Studies at Illinois University, sees her appealing more to American notions of individualism.

“You have people who say they believe that women should have the right to be in all kinds of positions in government, but that won’t carry over into the ideology of the women’s movement,” she argues.

The fact that Mrs Palin is against women’s right to an abortion (unless the mother’s life is at risk) is a particularly sore point for Professor Matthews and other feminist writers. Mrs Palin, they argue, stands for traditional values, not for social change.

But faux-feminist or not, Sarah Palin undoubtedly presents a challenge to the Democratic Party.

It is really impossible to that at the end of the day, Hillary [Clinton] voters or independent voters are going to look to Sarah Palin as somebody they believe in
Lisa Madigan
Attorney general for Illinois

It normally polls better among women than men, a trend that Mr Obama was continuing. The party needs to win them back, if they are going to have any chance of victory in November.

“What’s critical, as far as Democrats are concerned, is that they stay focused on issues,” says Lisa Madigan, attorney general for Illinois.

The war in Iraq, energy policy – these are the areas she believes will expose Mrs Palin as lacking sufficient knowledge for the job.

“It is really impossible to believe,” Ms Madigan says, “that at the end of the day, Hillary [Clinton] voters or independent voters are going to look to Sarah Palin as somebody they believe in.”

But it is not so impossible to believe, if you listen to the football moms of Barrington High. I asked Mrs Palin’s supporters there if there were any specific policies of hers they admire. None could name a single one, but that did not seem to dampen their admiration.

“She’s interesting, she’s hard-working,” I was told. “I think she’s going to do a great job.”

September 12, 2008

Sarah Palin: 10 things we’ve learnt

Sarah Palin: 10 things we’ve learnt

It has been a week since Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was catapulted from relative obscurity to center stage as US Republican John McCain’s choice for running mate. Here are 10 things we now know about her.

Images of Sarah Palin, past and present

1. Her five children are named Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and, last but not least, Trig Paxson Van Palin. According to the Washington Post newspaper, Track was named after the course of the sockeye salmon the family fishes off the town of Dillingham, while her eldest daughter’s name comes from Bristol Bay, an area known for its salmon fisheries. The name Willow relates to the state bird, the willow ptarmigan, and a nearby town, the paper says, while daughter Piper shares her name with the family’s small plane. Trig is the Norse word for “brave victory”, the Post adds.

2. Her rimless glasses are now a style phenomenon. The titanium Kawasaki 704 frames – designed in Japan, where they sell for $300 – are apparently flying off the shelves. Her upswept hair-do is also reportedly spawning imitators. LA Times fashion writer Booth Moore writes: “The untidiness of her updo has a can-do spirit that says, ‘I have more important things to do than worry about my hair, so I just twirled it into this clip so I could get to the real business of governing and shooting caribou and having babies and taking them to hockey practice.'”

3. John McCain picked someone who not only appeals to “Wal-Mart Moms” but is one herself, shopping for the family in a local branch. Not only that, writes New York Times columnist William Kristol, but “he picked someone who, in 1999 as Wasilla mayor, presided over a wedding of two Wal-Mart associates at the local Wal-Mart”.

4. Mrs Palin enjoys moose-hunting and salmon-fishing – and has said her favorite dish is moose stew. Former Republican senator and one-time presidential hopeful Fred Thompson described her as “the only nominee in the history of either party who knows how to properly field-dress a moose”. Cindy McCain, in her speech to the party’s national convention, said her husband John had “picked a reform-minded, hockey-mommin’, basketball-shooting, moose-hunting, salmon-fishing, pistol-packing mother-of-five for vice-president”.

5. A month before her fifth child, Trig, was due, Mrs Palin’s waters broke while she was in Texas to address a conference. She delivered her speech nonetheless and embarked on the long flight back to Alaska – changing planes in Seattle – before traveling an hour by road to hospital to give birth. She says she was not in “active labor” and her doctor said it was fine. Alaska Airlines allows women to travel in the late stages of pregnancy. Husband Todd – a commercial fisherman – is quoted by the s Anchorage Daily Newas saying: “You can’t have a fish picker from Texas.” Three days later, Mrs Palin was back at work.

6. As governor of Alaska, Mrs Palin ditched plans for a “bridge to nowhere” – a federally-funded project to link a handful of Alaskans to an airport at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. In her speech to the Republican National Convention, she said she had told the US Congress “thanks, but no thanks”. But US media say she appeared to support the project while running for governor in 2006, though she said the proposed design was too “grandiose”. And when she announced the cancellation of the bridge a year ago – after it gained notoriety as an example of wasteful spending – she hardly seemed to be turning down federal funds out of thrift. She explained the decision by saying, “It’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island.” The federal funding was diverted to other projects in Alaska.

Sarah Palin with one of her daughters on a fishing trip (handout)

Mrs Palin enjoys hunting, shooting and fishing for salmon

7. In a line that has gone down well at the Republican National Convention and on the campaign trail, she boasts of putting the previous governor’s “luxury jet” on eBay as a measure to cut wasteful spending. That is true. But what she has not always explained to her audience is that the plane failed to sell on the internet auction site and so aides had to broker a deal with a buyer.

8. She was baptised a Catholic as an infant but attended a Pentecostal church in Wasilla – her hometown since her parents moved to Alaska from Idaho when she was three months old – for many years. She now attends Wasilla Bible Church, a non-denominational, evangelical church. The Associated Press reports that the church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer.

9. As hunters sometimes do, Mrs Palin has incurred the wrath of wildlife-lovers. It’s not just that she shoots moose and caribou, she has also backed legislation to encourage the aerial hunting of wolves, as a “predator control” measure. Plus, she has opposed the US government’s listing of a variety of animals as endangered, including the polar bear and the beluga whale. Unlike Mr McCain and to the horror of many environmentalists, she actively supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

10. She is a self-described “average hockey mom”; a biography published a few months ago was entitled Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska’s Political Establishment on Its Ear. The hockey mom branding could prove useful come November in the swing states of Michigan and Minnesota, where ice hockey is a big game. Her best-known joke so far? “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.”

Women ‘more prone to nightmares’

Women ‘more prone to nightmares’

Woman sleeping

Dreaming occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep

Women experience significantly more nightmares than men and have more emotional dreams, research suggests.

In a study of 170 volunteers asked to record their most recent dream, 19% of men reported a nightmare compared with 30% of women.

Researcher Dr Jennifer Parker of the University of the West of England said there was no difference in the overall number of dreams reported.

Other research has shown women tend to have more disturbed sleep than men.

One factor which has been linked to this is changes in a woman’s body temperature during her monthly cycle.

Women’s sleep tends to be more disrupted and they have more insomnia
Dr Chris Idzikowski, Edinburgh Sleep Centre

Dr Parker, a lecturer in psychology, said it has been known for a long time that pre-menstrual women report more vivid and disturbing dreams.

“The consistent finding in this research was that women report more unpleasant dreams than men.”

Traumatic

Women taking part in the study were much more likely to report dreaming about very emotionally traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one.

She added: “In terms of processing emotional information, women may be more prone to taking unresolved concerns into their sleep life.”

Dr Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre said he was not surprised the research showed a gender difference but what is difficult to pick out is whether women are having more nightmares or remembering them better.

“This fits in with what’s in the literature.

“Women’s sleep tends to be more disrupted and they have more insomnia.

“And more frequent wakening could cause them to pick up on the dream.

“But it could be that disturbed sleep is contributing to the fears.”

He added that nightmares in everyone were probably more common than people realised as they are quickly forgotten about.

Bed sharing ‘drains men’s brains’

Bed sharing ‘drains men’s brains’

Image of a couple sleeping

Bed sharing disturbed sleep quality

Sharing a bed with someone could temporarily reduce your brain power – at least if you are a man – Austrian scientists suggest.

When men spend the night with a bed mate their sleep is disturbed, whether they make love or not, and this impairs their mental ability the next day.

The lack of sleep also increases a man’s stress hormone levels.

According to the New Scientist study, women who share a bed fare better because they sleep more deeply.

Sleepless nights

Professor Gerhard Kloesch and colleagues at the University of Vienna studied eight unmarried, childless couples in their 20s.

Each couple was asked to spend 10 nights sleeping together and 10 apart while the scientists assessed their rest patterns with questionnaires and wrist activity monitors.

The next day the couples were asked to perform simple cognitive tests and had their stress hormone levels checked.

Sharing the bed space with someone who is making noises and who you have to fight with for the duvet is not sensible
Professor Neil Stanley, a sleep expert at the University of Surrey

Although the men reported they had slept better with a partner, they fared worse in the tests, with their results suggesting they actually had more disturbed sleep.

Both sexes had a more disturbed night’s sleep when they shared their bed, Professor Kloesch told a meeting of the Forum of European Neuroscience.

But women apparently managed to sleep more deeply when they did eventually drop off, since they claimed to be more refreshed than their sleep time suggested.

Their stress hormone levels and mental scores did not suffer to the same extent as the men.

But the women still reported that they had the best sleep when they were alone in bed.

Bed sharing also affected dream recall. Women remembered more after sleeping alone and men recalled best after sex.

Separate beds

Dr Neil Stanley, a sleep expert at the University of Surrey, said: “It’s not surprising that people are disturbed by sleeping together.

“Historically, we have never been meant to sleep in the same bed as each other. It is a bizarre thing to do.

“Sleep is the most selfish thing you can do and it’s vital for good physical and mental health.

“Sharing the bed space with someone who is making noises and who you have to fight with for the duvet is not sensible.

“If you are happy sleeping together that’s great, but if not there is no shame in separate beds.”

He said there was a suggestion that women are pre-programmed to cope better with broken sleep.

“A lot of life events that women have disturb sleep – bringing up children, the menopause and even the menstrual cycle,” he explained.

But Dr Stanley added people did get used to sharing a bed.

“If they have shared their bed with their partner for a long time they miss them and that will disturb sleep.”

September 10, 2008

Narrow UK class gap, urges Harman

Narrow UK class gap, urges Harman

The class gap must be narrowed in an effort to improve people’s life chances, Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman has said.

She told the TUC annual conference that “equality matters more than ever” and “is necessary for individuals, a peaceful society and a strong economy”.

Ms Harman called for more “clarity of evidence” to suggest the government was making progress on the issue.

But the Conservatives accused her of re-opening the “class war”.

Union criticism

Ms Harman’s comments come after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in an interview with Monitor magazine that “social mobility has not improved in Britain as we would have wanted”.

They will be seen by many as an attempt by the government to rally the unions to Labour, after widespread criticism over the level of public sector pay and demands for a windfall tax on energy firms’ profits.

Ms Harman, who is also Commons leader and minister for women and equality, told delegates at the TUC conference in Brighton: “Equality matters more than ever and it is necessary for individuals, a peaceful society and a strong economy.

“We have made great progress on tackling inequality but we know that inequality doesn’t just come from your gender, race, sexual orientation or disability. What overarches all of these is where you live, your family background, your wealth and social class.

“While we have helped millions of people over the last ten years through policies like Sure Start, tax credits and the national minimum wage, we want to do more.

“To advance equality through our public policy, we need clarity of evidence and focus on the gaps in society and how they have changed over the last 10 years.”

Ms Harman announced that the government’s National Equality Unit would be headed by Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics.

She said: “The robust evidence base that the panel will produce will help us properly target measures to address persisting equality gaps and build on the good work that we have already done.”

‘Sidling up’

Ms Harman accused the Conservatives of being “false friends of equality” and of “sidling up to the unions”.

For the Conservatives, shadow leader of the Commons Theresa May said: “I am astounded that Harriet Harman is dismissing the equality issues around race and gender.”

She added: “I also find it surprising that she should raise issues of social equality when she’s part of government that has been in power for over 11 years, presiding over a 900,000 growth in the number of people living in severe poverty and over a country that has the lowest social mobility in the developed world.

“Labour has made poverty more entrenched and returning to the class warfare rhetoric of 20 years ago is neither helpful nor realistic.”


Do you agree with Harriet Harman? Has your child suffered due to a class gap? Has your family benefited through policies like Sure Start or tax credits?

Send your comments

September 9, 2008

US to review Afghan attack case

US to review Afghan attack case

US forces in Afghanistan are to review an inquiry into an air raid last month after new video evidence emerged indicating scores of civilian deaths.

The US had earlier said that no more than seven civilians died in the attack on the western province of Herat.

However, the Afghan government and the UN said up to 90 people were killed, including many women and children.

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says such attacks are eroding support for the government and foreign forces.

HRW says civilians deaths from international air strikes nearly tripled between 2006 and 2007.

Disturbing footage

The US general in charge of NATO-led troops (Isaf) in Afghanistan said at the weekend that he was requesting the US military’s Central Command to review the investigation into last month’s air raid.

Gen McKiernan said Isaf realized there was “a large discrepancy between the number of civilian casualties reported by US and Afghan National Army soldiers, and local people”.

The US and Nato need to dramatically improve their co-ordination with each other and with the government of Afghanistan
Rachel Reid
Human Rights Watch

The US military subsequently said it would “appoint a senior US military officer to review the investigation into the combined Afghan National Army (ANA) and US forces operation”.

A US military statement said: “This review will consider new information that has become available since the completion of the initial investigation.”

Disturbing video footage – apparently of the aftermath of the raid – has been seen by top military figures and diplomats in Kabul.

The shaky footage – possibly shot with a mobile phone – shows some 40 dead bodies lined up under sheets and blankets inside a mosque.

The majority of the dead are children – babies and toddlers, some burned so badly they are barely recognizable.

The covers are removed for the camera one by one: a little girl of perhaps four with brown curly hair; a boy with his eyes still eerily open; another girl with huge injuries on the side of her head.

Graves being prepared Azizabad for people killed in last month's attack by US forces

Villagers say up to 90 civilians died in last month’s attack by US forces

Another boy has his hand up as if to protect his face which was crushed under the rubble.

Clearly heard on the tape is the crying of relatives and the survivors of the bombing raid.

US forces had originally said seven civilians were killed in a “successful” US raid targeting a Taleban commander in Azizabad village in Herat’s Shindand district.

However, the UN, the Afghan government and an Afghan human rights group said the number of civilian deaths was far higher.

Their estimates of the number of civilians killed varied between 76 and 90, with the UN eventually concluding that children accounted for 60 of the dead.

The dispute over the figures had escalated into a fierce behind-the-scenes battle behind the UN and the Pentagon.

Warning over deaths

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday that decreased reliance on ground forces and greater use of air power was leading to “mistakes” that had “dramatically decreased” support for the Afghan government and international troops.

“Civilian deaths from air strikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taleban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan,” Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said in a statement.

Hamid Karzai visiting Azizabad

Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Azizabad after the air strike

The group found that in 2007 at least 321 Afghan civilians had been killed in international air strikes – a rise from at least 116 in 2006.

This figure was much lower than the number of civilians killed in militant attacks, the group said. Nearly 950 people were killed by insurgents in 2008, compared with 700 in 2006.

HRW said most of the air strike casualties occurred in unplanned raids, when air power was called to give support to troops on the ground.

“The US and Nato need to dramatically improve their co-ordination with each other and with the government of Afghanistan,” HRW’s Rachel Reid told the BBC.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly warned the US and Nato that civilian deaths undermine his government and damage the reputation of foreign forces in the country.

September 6, 2008

McCain is just part of Washington crowd, Democrats say

McCain is just part of Washington crowd, Democrats say

Sen. John McCain got one thing right Thursday when he said the Republicans had let Washington change them, Democrats said after his speech.

On Thursday, Democrats called John McCain "a Bush partisan 90 percent of the time."

On Thursday, Democrats called John McCain “a Bush partisan 90 percent of the time.”

The proof was in his voting record when he supported President Bush’s policies 90 percent of the time, they said.

That meant a McCain presidency would be four more years of Bush policies, said Barack Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton.

In his speech, McCain said that his party “was elected to change Washington” but that Republicans “let Washington change them.”

“He admonished the ‘old, do-nothing crowd’ in Washington but ignored the fact that he’s been part of that crowd for 26 years, opposing solutions on health care, energy and education, ” Burton said.

“He talked about bipartisanship but didn’t mention that he’s been a Bush partisan 90 percent of the time, that he’s run a Karl Rove campaign and that he wants to continue this president’s disastrous economic and foreign policies for another four years,” Burton said. “With John McCain, it’s more of the same.”

But with Obama, Americans can look forward to changes that will directly help them and fight special interests, Burton said.

“That’s not the change Americans need. Barack Obama has taken on the special interests and the lobbyists in Illinois and in Washington, and he’s won.,” Burton said. “As president, he’ll cut taxes for 95 percent of all working families, provide affordable health care to every American, end the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and eliminate the oil we import from the Middle East in 10 years.”

Robert Gibbs, Obama’s senior adviser, said that after days of speeches that included nothing regarding the economic policies Americans care so much about, he was waiting to see whether McCain would finally address those issues.

“I think, like me, a lot of those people are still sitting around wondering why they didn’t hear that tonight,” Gibbs said.

Hillary Clinton campaign manager Terry McAuliffe also attacked McCain’s speech, which pitted Obama’s proposed policies against his own. McCullough said that McCain distorted Obama’s record and that many of the statements he made were “patently false.”

Gibbs said that after hearing McCain’s policies, which he outlined in his speech, he is confident McCain is the wrong man for the job. iReport.com: Your thoughts on McCain’s big night

“I’ll put Barack Obama’s judgment against John McCain’s three decades in Washington any day of the week,” Gibbs said.

Clinton, who was praised for her achievements during the Republican National Convention, said in a statement that McCain’s speech put a cap on a convention drastically different than that of the Democrats the week before.

Clinton said that although Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, offered new ideas to solve America’s problems and bring change, the Republican ticket did not.

“After listening to all the speeches this week, I heard nothing that suggests the Republicans are ready to fix the economy for middle-class families, provide quality affordable health care for all Americans, guarantee equal pay for equal work for women, restore our nation’s leadership in a complex world or tackle the myriad of challenges our country faces,” Clinton said in the statement. “So, to slightly amend my comments from Denver: No way, no how, no McCain-Palin.”

September 5, 2008

Ukraine ‘must live without fear’

Ukraine ‘must live without fear’

US Vice-President Dick Cheney (r) and Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko

Mr Cheney aims to strengthen ties with Russia’s neighbours

US Vice-President Dick Cheney has said Ukraine has the right to live without fear of invasion, adding that the US stands by its bid for NATO membership.

Mr Cheney met both the prime minister and president in Kiev, the last stop of a tour aimed at underlining support for US allies in the former Soviet Union.

Mr Cheney reassured the president that the US had a “deep and abiding interest” in Ukraine’s security.

Analysts fear Ukraine could be the next flashpoint between Russia and the West.

“We believe in the right of men and women to live without the threat of tyranny, economic blackmail or military invasion or intimidation,” Mr Cheney said, in an apparent reference to Russia’s military intervention in Georgia.

‘Hostage’

Mr Cheney arrived in Ukraine just days after the country was plunged into political turmoil.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s party blocked a motion condemning Russia’s actions in Georgia, and sided with the opposition to vote for a curb on the president’s powers.

Members of President Viktor Yushchenko’s party walked out of the coalition government in protest, leading the president to warn that he could be forced to call a snap general election.

Mr Cheney urged the politicians to heal their divisions and be “united domestically first and foremost”.

“Ukraine’s best hope to overcome these threats is to be united,” he said following separate meetings with Mr Yushchenko and his former ally turned political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Mr Cheney expressed support for Ukraine’s bid to become a member of Nato.

Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko (image from February 25, 2008)

“Ukrainians have a right to choose whether they wish to join Nato, and Nato has a right to invite Ukraine to join the alliance when we believe they are ready and that the time is right,” he said.

Russia is strongly opposed to any further expansion eastwards of Nato, and is furious that Ukraine and Georgia have been told that, one day, they will be offered membership.

But Mr Cheney – recognizing Ukraine’s contributions to NATO missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo – said that no country beyond NATO would be able to block Ukraine’s membership bid.

President Yushchenko says Ukraine is a hostage in a war waged by Russia against ex-Soviet bloc states.

The strategically-located country is important to Russia, with pipelines that carry Russian gas to European consumers and its Black Sea port, home to a key Russian naval base.

Russia has a powerful tool at its disposal, namely the large ethnic Russian population in Ukraine’s southern province of Crimea.

Open aggression

Mr Yushchenko has restricted Russia’s naval operations, and insists Moscow must leave when an inter-state treaty expires in 2017.

Ukraine has said it is ready to make its missile early warning systems available to European nations following Russia’s conflict with Georgia.

Mr Cheney’s visit comes at an awkward time for President Yushchenko, with the country’s largely pro-Western ruling coalition divided in its attitude toward Russia.

The leaders’ faltering relationship has now boiled over into open aggression, with Mr Yushchenko threatening to dissolve parliament and call a snap election.

The president has been a staunch supporter of his Georgian counterpart, Mikhail Saakashvili.

But Ms Tymoshenko has avoided outright condemnation of Russia, leading analysts to suggest she may be hoping for Moscow’s backing in a possible bid for the presidency in 2010.

September 4, 2008

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistani soldier in South Waziristan

Tension in Pakistan’s north-west has increased in recent months

Pakistan has summoned the US ambassador to protest at an alleged cross-border raid which officials say killed at least 15 villagers in the north-west.

A number of civilians were reported killed in the raid, which Pakistan says was a violation of its sovereignty.

Correspondents say the raid appears to have been the first ever ground assault by foreign forces based in Afghanistan.

US-led and Nato forces said they had no reports of any such incursion. Border tensions have risen in recent weeks.

US aircraft have carried out air strikes in the region, but a ground assault would be unprecedented.

It is not clear who the target of any attack might have been.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan would not allow any foreign power to carry out attacks on its territory.

He was speaking hours after his motorcade was hit by sniper fire near the capital, Islamabad. Senior government officials say he was not in the car at the time.

‘Act of aggression’

Pakistani military and political officials say ground troops brought in by US-led coalition helicopters launched the attack in the South Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border early on Wednesday morning.

Map

Locals say soldiers attacked with gunfire and bombs. Women and children were among those reported killed.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said a “very strong protest” had been delivered to the ambassador, Anne Paterson.

“The ambassador said that she would convey it to her government,” he said.

The army called the attack an act of aggression which undermined the fight against militancy.

North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani, who is in administrative charge of the tribal areas, called the attack “cowardly”.

“At least 20 innocent citizens of Pakistan, including women and children, were martyred,” he said in a statement.

There is mounting US pressure on Pakistan – a key ally in the “war on terror” – to crack down on militants, who use the border region to launch raids into Afghanistan.

The Afghan government and Nato say the border region is a haven for al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Pakistan says it is doing all it can to curb militancy.

On Monday, Pakistan’s military suspended its operations against Taleban militants in the neighboring Bajaur tribal area.

The government said this suspension of fighting was to respect the fasting month of Ramadan.

Taleban spokesman Maulvi Omar welcomed the announcement, but he said militants would not lay down their arms.

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