Reuters | Oct 23, 2010 | 7:18pm IST
WikiLeaks said on Saturday its release of nearly 400,000 classified U.S. files on the Iraq war showed 15,000 more Iraqi civilians died than previously thought. Uploaded on the WikiLeaks’ website, the files detailed gruesome cases of prisoner abuse by Iraqi forces that the U.S. military knew about but did not seem to investigate. In Baghdad, Iraqi officials responded to WikiLeaks’ move by pledging to probe any allegations that police or soldiers had committed crimes and any culprits would be prosecuted.
The whistle-blowing website’s founder, Julian Assange, who was sharply criticised by the Pentagon for publishing the secret reports, said the release should throw light on what had happened in Iraq, thwarting an official "attack on the truth". "We hope to correct some of that attack on the truth that occurred before the war, during the war and which has continued on since the war officially concluded," he told a news conference in London.
Working with Iraq Body Count, a group run by academics and peace activists that estimates Iraq casualties, WikiLeaks had calculated that the documents revealed about 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths, Assange said. "Adding in the combatant deaths reported in these logs … we are now able to say that more than 150,000 people have been killed in total since 2003, of which about 80 percent were civilians," Iraq Body Count co-founder John Sloboda said. The Pentagon decried the website’s publication of the secret reports — the largest security breach of its kind in U.S. military history, far surpassing the group’s dump of more than 70,000 Afghan war files in July.
PENTAGON DEPLORES LEAK
U.S. officials said the leak endangered U.S. troops and threatened to put some 300 Iraqi collaborators at risk by exposing their identities. "We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. Britain’s Ministry of Defence condemned the release of classified material, saying it could put the lives of British soldiers at risk.
BBC | 21 October 2010 | 11:29 GMT
A United Nations agency has suspended plans to grant a prize sponsored by Equatorial Guinea President Teodor Obiang Nguema.
UNESCO said its executive board agreed to suspend the life sciences prize. It said it would continue consultations on the award’s future.
Rights groups had urged UNESCO to abandon the prize, accusing Mr Obiang of abuses, rigging elections and corruption. He has previously denied such charges.
Yahoo | Indian Express | Oct 11 2010 | 01:12 PM
India is all set to get a seat on the Security Council as a non-permanent member after a gap of 19 years through the elections to be held on Tuesday in the United Nations General Assembly. India is expecting an easy win after Kazakhstan pulled out from the race earlier this year and there is no other challenger from the region.
While the Asian, African and Latin American seats are going uncontested with only one candidate each, the two seats for Western Europe and others Group are being fought for by Canada, Germany and Portugal. South Africa is a shoo-in for the African seat, which leads to a configuration of three emerging economies — India, Brazil and South Africa – being on the Council at the same time.
In the run-up to the elections, Indian envoy to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri pointed out that BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations will occupy places in the Security Council in the coming year, and could present a united front on several contentious international issues. "BRIC coordination in the Security Council becomes a fact of life," Puri had said.
Indian diplomats have been canvassing for the spot for the past three years. To win, India needs two-thirds of the General Assembly vote, which adds up to about 128 giving the green light to India. India’s last stint on the Security Council was in 1992. The five new countries will be replacing Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey and Uganda. Colombia is expected to come in place of Mexico.
Reuters | 08 Sep 2010 | 13:14 GMT
Pakistan, whose economy has been battered by the worst floods in its history, needs to abide by terms of an IMF bailout loan by enforcing fiscal austerity, the chances of which happening appear close to zero. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank are still assessing damage but three things are clear — the fiscal deficit target will be missed, inflation will rise and annual economic growth could be knocked back to between zero and 2 percent. Before the floods, which killed more than 1,700 people, displaced millions and caused an estimated $43 billion in damage — almost one quarter of the South Asian nation’s 2009/10 gross domestic product — Pakistan had forecast growth of 4.5 percent.
The floods have impacted 30 percent of all farmland, a massive blow to a mainstay of the economy. The economic problems are of concern to the United States which relies on a stable Pakistan in its fight against terrorism. "The future of the economy is a big question mark, as there is no policy response from the government so far," said Muzzamil Aslam, an economist at JS Global Capital Ltd. "Doom, gloom and despair are spreading fast," said Ashfaque Hasan Khan, dean at NUST Business School in Islamabad. Part of the problem, he said, was the government’s focus. "The economy is not on the radar screen," said Khan. But the government has to abide by International Monetary Fund demands that focus on narrowing the fiscal deficit and raising tax revenue.
The IMF said last week it would give Pakistan $450 million in emergency flood aid and disburse funds in September but the status of the release of the sixth tranche of an $11 billion bailout loan is unclear. It seems to have been delayed at least until November. There’s no evidence that Pakistan will be able to meet the reform targets soon as the
Deutsche Welle | 25/08/2010
German federal prosecutors said Wednesday they have charged three German citizens with supporting groups linked to al-Qaeda. One of those indicted, 28-year-old Filiz G. is the wife of a man convicted in March of planning a series of car bombs targeting Germans and US soldiers. She has been in custody, along with the 21-year-old Alican T., since February. Authorities are still searching for a second male suspect, the 31-year-old Fatih K.
The German authorities say the three allegedly remitted 4,300 euros ($5,458) from November 2009 to February 2010 to Islamic terror groups abroad. They are also accused of spreading radical Islamist videos on the Internet with Filiz G. allegedly making around 1,000 posts to a leading web forum for Islamists in Germany. Continue reading
Reuters | AlertNet |
Scant international donations to flooded Pakistan are being driven by a multitude of factors ranging from the financial crisis, donor fatigue, a low death toll and scepticism that the government can translate the contributions into effective aid, say relief workers and analysts. The disaster, which has killed up to 1,600 people and affected around 20 million, is one of the biggest humanitarian crises in recent years – bigger than the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 or the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, according to the United Nations. Yet despite the television images broadcast across the world showing large swathes of land submerged, villages and towns decimated and hundreds of thousands of people living in makeshift camps with no food and water, the world has been slow to react to calls for aid.
While some donations in cash and kind have been provided bilaterally or channeled via smaller appeals, only around 50 percent of the $459 million of the main U.N. appeal has been met by international donors – far less than in other recent disasters. “It’s pretty much fair to say that there has been a lot less money generated for the Pakistan floods than the other major disasters that it has been compared to, like Haiti and Kashmir earthquakes or the tsunami,” said Jan Kellett, leader of Global Humanitarian Assistance, a programme that monitors trends in humanitarian financing run by British-based Development Initiatives. “For example, on day 16 after the tsunami, commitments of aid were more than $1.4 billion, whereas the Pakistan flooding has received $200 million over the same period. So there is a huge difference.” He does however add that comparisons between crises at such an early stage are notoriously difficult. Continue reading
BBC News | 15 August 2010 | 19:46 GMT
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has described as “heart-wrenching” the destruction he witnessed on a visit to flood-devastated Pakistan. Mr Ban said the scale of the disaster was greater than anything he had seen before. He again urged the world to speed up aid to the country, saying shelter and medicine were desperately needed. The Pakistani government says up to 20 million people have now been affected by the monsoon floods. At least 1,500 are known to have lost their lives. Health experts are warning that the threat of epidemics in flood-hit areas is growing.
Mr Ban said at a press conference, stood alongside President Asif Ali Zardari.”I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. “In the past I have seen scenes of natural disaster around the world, but nothing like this. The scale of this disaster is so large. So many people in so many places in so much need.” He announced a further $10m (£6.4m) from the UN’s central emergency response fund, making a total of $27m from the fund so far, and repeated his calls for the international community to come to Pakistan’s aid. “The people of Pakistan need food, emergency shelters, medicines, clean water,” he said. “We are all deeply concerned about the spread of diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases. All our combined medical capacity will be needed to provide the right drugs and care.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged foreign donors to speed up aid to Pakistan after the country’s worst floods in decades disrupted the lives of more than a tenth of its 170 million people. Swelled by torrential monsoon rains, major rivers have flooded Pakistan’s mountain valleys and fertile plains, killing up to 1,600 people and leaving two million homeless. Six million people still need food, shelter and water and medicine, the United Nations says. But with an area roughly the size of Italy hit by floods, government and foreign aid has been slow in coming and the United Nations has warned of a second wave of deaths among the sick and hungry if help does not arrive. The U.N. has reported the first case of cholera amid fears that disease outbreaks could spread with survivors sleeping in makeshift tarpaulin tents. Some beg or loot.
Bridges have collapsed, highways have been snapped in two by torrential rains and villages have been cut off from the outside world in what was already one of the poorest countries in Asia. Only a quarter of the $459 million aid needed for initial relief has arrived, according to the United Nations. “I am here … to share my sympathy and solidarity of the United Nations together with the people and government of Pakistan at this time of trial,” Ban said on arriving in Pakistan. “I am here also to urge the world community to speed up their assistance to Pakistan.” Ban met both Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari, who has been a lightening rod for popular anger after travelling to Europe as the catastrophe unfolded and not cutting short his trip.
MSN news | 11/08/2010
Zardari’s return to Pakistan recently has only heightened and primed the growing political and social discontent. Like his sojourn, his return was also inauspicious. His arrival back to Pakistan came as thousands fled a major city in central Pakistan threatened by swollen rivers, and as the United Nations said the nationwide aid response needed to be scaled up “massively.” The world body says it is working on a response plan that will likely require hundreds of millions of dollars in initial international assistance. However, the Pakistani Taliban, which is allied to al-Qaeda and is fighting for the overthrow of the Pakistani state, urged the government not to accept any Western aid for flood relief. Spokesman Azam Tariq said the group would itself fund relief efforts. The Taliban have attacked Western aid groups in Pakistan and called for them to leave the country, saying they are trying to implement a Western agenda. “Pakistan should reject this aid to maintain sovereignty and independence. “There are also fears that the Taliban and the other terrorist organisations are using the tragedy by rushing help and providing relief to the flood-affected better and more efficiently than the Pakistan state agencies – for instance, banned organisation like the Jamat-ud-Dawa, the charitable organisation fronting for the dreaded LeT Continue reading
BBC News | 11 August 2010 | 18:08 GMT
The head of Israel’s military has defended its troops’ use of live ammunition during a deadly raid on an aid flotilla sailing to Gaza in May. But Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi told an Israeli inquiry they underestimated the threat and should have used more force to subdue activists before boarding. Nine people were killed on board the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, as it tried to breach an Israeli naval blockade. Meanwhile, there is disagreement over a separate UN inquiry into the incident. Israel has agreed it will co-operate only if its soldiers do not have to give evidence to investigators, who have begun work in New York. However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has denied making such a deal. There was widespread international criticism of Israel’s actions, which severely strained relations with its long-time Muslim ally, Turkey.
Testifying before the Turkel Commission in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Gen Ashkenazi said he took full responsibility for the army operation and was “proud” of the commandos who took part. He said they had not prepared to meet violent resistance on board the ships, and that live fire was used only after the troops were fired on by pro-Palestinian activists and attacked with knives, clubs and metal rods. But the general said “accurate weapons”, rather than stun grenades, should have been employed to incapacitate people on the deck of the ship before the commandos rappelled onto it. “We should have ensured sterile conditions in order to dispatch the forces in a minimum amount of time,” he said. “It would have lowered the risk to our soldiers but it would not have prevented the tension… Once the decision was made to stop the ship, the conflict was inevitable.”
Those on board the Mavi Marmara, where the activists were killed, say the commandos opened fire as soon as they boarded the vessel, which was in international waters at the time. The BBC’s Paul Wood in Jerusalem says Gen Ashkenazi’s remarks can be seen as part of the internal blame-game
Alternet.org | FAIR.org | 11/08/2010
For the last few years, the war in Afghanistan seemed to be an afterthought in the U.S. media. That all changed in a hurry with the publication of tens of thousands of classified intelligence documents by the website WikiLeaks. Those files were shared with several newspapers, each of which published extensive reports offering their interpretations of the documents. Suddenly, the chaos and violence of the Afghanistan War was back on the front pages and leading the network newscasts. For some in the media, though, the attention was unwarranted. These documents were not the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers, we heard everywhere–as if that were the standard for revelations worth paying attention to. The Washington Post boasted headlines like “WikiLeaks Disclosures Unlikely to Change Course of Afghanistan War” and “WikiLeaks Documents Cause Little Concern over Public Perception of War.” A few days later, USA Today reported that indeed the public was concerned–support for the Afghanistan war “plummeted,” according to their new poll.
What people learned from the WikiLeaks documents depended on what they were reading. The British newspaper The Guardian reported that the files are “a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents.”The New York Times, like many other U.S. outlets, downplayed the stories of civilian killings, a decision the paper’s executive editor defended by saying those incidents “had been previously reported in the Times.” Even some liberal columnists were sounding a similar note, filling out the media’s “We already knew this” chorus. Some even thought the WikiLeaks documents were proof that civilian killings were a small problem. A Washington Post editorial argued that the 195 deaths mentioned in the WikiLeaks files “do not constitute a shocking total for a four-year period.” This message was seconded by CBS correspondent Lara Logan, who explained that 195 deaths are nothing compared to the 2,000 deaths attributed to the Taliban. Logan actually suggested that the media should pay more attention to that fact. Continue reading
An international Christian aid group on Monday played down claims by the Taliban they had killed 10 members from one of the group’s medical teams, saying it was still unclear who was responsible. Dirk Frans, executive director of the International Assistance Mission (IAM), also told a news conference that an Afghan driver who was with the team was in custody at the Interior Ministry in Kabul. He did did not say if the driver, identified only as Safiullah, was a suspect. “Safiullah is in Kabul at Ministry of Interior facilities,” Frans said, adding he had been able to speak with him briefly. “He sounded quite okay. He is one of the witnesses, he is not the only witness. I know his relatives have had access to him.” An Interior Ministry spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
Frans’s comments, casting doubt about whether the Taliban were behind the attack, were in contrast to a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which directly blamed the Islamist group for what she described as a “despicable act of wanton violence”. On Saturday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for Thursday’s killings, saying the medical workers had been carrying bibles in Dari — one of Afghanistan’s two main languages — and were killed because they were promoting Christianity. Another Islamist group also said it had carried out the attack. But Frans said local police had initially raised the possibility of bandits, adding the team’s valuables were stolen. “There are very confusing reports,” he said, adding both Afghan and U.S. authorities are investigating the incident. “If armed opposition claims an attack it is (usually) within hours of it happening. That was not the case this time,” Frans said, playing down the Taliban’s claim. Continue reading
Deutsche Welle | 09/08/2010
It may sound like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster, but the drama is being played out at a trial in The Hague against former Liberian president Charles Taylor. On Monday actress Mia Farrow gave evidence at the trial. US actress Mia Farrow testified on Monday that model Naomi Campbell said she got a “huge diamond” from men sent by former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Speaking before the court in The Hague, Farrow contradicted parts of evidence given by Campbell last week. “What I remember is Naomi Campbell … said that in the night she had been awakened, some men were knocking at the door,” Farrow said. “They had been sent by Charles Taylor and they were giving a huge diamond.” Naomi Campbell was pressed on this issue by the prosecution in court last week. Campbell said she had received some “dirty stones” after a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1997, but she did not know who had sent them.
‘Dirty-looking stones’ or ‘a huge diamond’?
Prosecutors are trying to link Charles Taylor to so-called “blood diamonds,” illegal uncut diamonds used by rebel groups to finance wars. Naomi Campbell gave evidence at the trial last week. Taylor is accused of 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone’s civil war. He denies the charges. Farrow was pressed by the prosecution over whose suggestion it was that Taylor was involved in presenting the supermodel with the diamonds. “Only hers [Campbell’s]. I didn’t know anything about it,” Farrow replied. Continue reading
The U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon said on Wednesday Israeli soldiers were operating inside Israel when a deadly firefight broke out with Lebanese troops in the most serious border violence since a 2006 war. A day after a senior Israeli officer, two Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist were killed in a rare skirmish that raised fears of wider conflict, Israel’s military seemed keen to show it would not be deterred from activity in the area. There was no repeat of Tuesday’s clash when the Israeli army moved a crane back into the tense border zone to complete a tree-pruning mission that had drawn Lebanese army fire. Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which stayed out of the fighting, vowed to “cut off the hand” of Israel if it attacked the army again. But its leader doubted the incident would spark a war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Lebanon was responsible for the cross-border flare-up and threatened a forceful response to further attacks. “Our policy is clear, Israel responds and will continue to respond with force, to any attack against its citizens and soldiers,” Netanyahu said in a televised speech. In a diplomatic boost for Israel, the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) said Israeli soldiers were inside Israeli territory when the border clashes erupted. “UNIFIL established … that the trees being cut by the Israeli army are located south of the Blue Line on the Israeli side,” said UNIFIL military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Naresh Bhatt, referring to a border line drawn by the United Nations after Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000. A three-way meeting between the Lebanese and Israeli armies and UNIFIL was due to take place on Wednesday night.
LEBANON BLAMES “TREACHEROUS ENEMY”
Tuesday’s violence began after Israel soldiers used a crane to reach over a frontier fence to trim a tree whose branches, the Israeli military said, were tripping the fence’s electronic anti-infiltration devices. It said its soldiers had stayed within Israel and the tree was south of the Blue Line. Lebanese Information Minister Tareq Mitri acknowledged that the area was south of the line, but said it was still Lebanese territory. Israel and Lebanon dispute parts of the Blue Line. U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told reporters in New York that the Israelis were cutting down trees located south of the line but north of an Israeli-built technical fence at a disputed and undemarcated area near the Blue Line. Continue reading
NY mosque near Sept. 11 site wins approval – Yahoo! India News | Reuters | 04/08/2010 | 12:47 am IST
A New York city agency on Tuesday cleared the way for construction of a Muslim cultural center near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks. In a case that triggered national debate, the City Landmarks Commission voted unanimously to deny landmark status for an old building on the site of the planned center. Opponents of the Muslim center, which would include a mosque, say it will be a betrayal of the memory of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, which were carried out by the militant Muslim group al Qaeda with hijacked passenger planes. Critics had hoped to stall the project by having the 1857 Italianate building declared a landmark worthy of protection because pieces from one of the hijacked planes hit it.
Commission members argued the building, set among a row of businesses about a block from Ground Zero, had no historic value and their vote allows the old building to be demolished. At least one more legal challenge looms but the commission’s ruling will clear the way for construction of the Cordoba House, which will include a prayer room and a 500-seat auditorium as part of a 13-story Muslim cultural complex. “We are grateful to the Landmarks Commission,” said Sharif El-Gamal, chairman and CEO of Soho Properties, which owns the building. “It has been a whirlwind for the past four months, during which we have worked tirelessly to realize an American dream which so many others share.” The commission’s vote attracted several people with signs reading “This mosque celebrates our murders” and “Don’t glorify murders of 3,000.”
SURVIVOR GROUP APPROVES
But the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, founded by family of those killed in the 9/11 attacks, praised the commission for making its decision without caving in to politics and emotion. “We strongly support the establishment of the Islamic Cultural Center as we believe that welcoming the center, which is intended to promote interfaith tolerance and respect, is consistent with the fundamental American values of freedom for all,” the group said in a statement. The American Center for Law Continue reading