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8500News in Brief

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  • Zafar Khan
    Feb 3, 2008
      Allah's name in Kashmir Sky


      West Embraces "Sham" Democracies


      CAIRO — Europe and the United States increasingly
      tolerate autocrats posing as democrats in countries
      such as Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria and Russia out of
      pure self-interest, Human Rights Watch said on
      Thursday, January 31.
      "It's now too easy for autocrats to get away with
      mounting a sham democracy," Kenneth Roth, the HRW
      executive director, said in a press release.

      "By allowing autocrats to pose as democrats, without
      demanding they uphold the civil and political rights
      that make democracy meaningful, the US, the EU and
      other influential democracies risk undermining human
      rights worldwide."

      The watchdog's World Report 2008 said the US and
      Europe do not press governments on the key human
      rights issues that make democracy function such as a
      free press, peaceful assembly and a functioning civil

      It separately reviewed rights situations in more than
      75 countries, identifying many troubling cases such as
      atrocities in Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic
      of Congo, Ethiopia's Ogaden region, Iraq, Somalia, Sri
      Lanka, and Sudan's Darfur region.

      The report voiced concern at closed societies or
      severe repression in Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea,
      Libya, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

      It accused the Bush administration of failing to push
      for all governments to respect human rights.

      "The Bush administration has spoken of its commitment
      to democracy abroad but often kept silent about the
      need for all governments to respect human rights."

      In 2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq, Bush
      advocated democracy in the Middle East in a series of
      bold statements and speeches.

      But the reform tone died down as Washington was
      getting deeper and deeper into the Iraq quagmire,
      needing the help of repressive regimes in the region.

      In 2005, Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
      again played the democracy tune, vowing support for
      "the democratic aspirations of all people."

      Little has changed since then.

      Israeli Embassy in Mauritania Attacked


      NOUAKCHOTT — Gunmen opened fire on the Israeli embassy
      in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott early Friday,
      February 1, wounding five people, amid growing public
      anger at the stifling Israeli blockade of the Gaza

      "At 2:20 this morning, there was shooting at the
      Israeli embassy in Nouakchott," Israeli ambassador
      Boaz Bismuth told Reuters.

      "It only happened a few hours ago, but a shooting on a
      foreign embassy is a very serious incident."

      Bismuth said all the embassy staff, Israeli and
      Mauritanian, are safe.

      Witnesses said six men wearing boubous – long flowing
      African gowns – and turbans got out of a vehicle and
      walked towards a restaurant near the embassy.

      After a few minutes "they said loudly in Arabic 'let's
      go' then shouted 'Allah Akbar' (God is Greatest) and
      opened fire" at the embassy, said one witness, who was
      at the restaurant when the attack took place.

      Footage showed the embassy undamaged, but there were
      three bullet holes in the windscreen of a vehicle
      parked outside.

      The gunmen also sprayed bullets at a nightclub about
      50 meters (yards) from the embassy on the same street.

      Five people, including a French woman, were injured in
      the two attacks.

      Friday's attack also came just weeks after the 2008
      Lisbon-Dakar rally, which was due to have passed
      through Mauritania, was cancelled due to a security
      alarm caused by two December attacks claimed by

      Al-Qaeda's North African branch claimed responsibility
      for the killings last month of a number of Mauritanian
      soldiers and four French tourists.

      Public Anger

      The attack comes as pressure increases within
      Mauritania against the presence of an Israeli embassy

      The president of the national assembly, Messaoud Ould
      Boulkheir, called Sunday for the country to
      "reconsider" its "shameful" relations with Tel Aviv
      following its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

      It was up to parliamentary "deputies and the
      Mauritanian people to urge the government to
      reconsider the shameful ties with an entity that kills
      our brothers, occupies their land and keeps them under
      the blockade," Ould Boulkheir told the National
      Assembly earlier this week.

      "Gaza is aching at the massacres of its sons and at
      the blockade," he told the opening of a special
      parliamentary session, referring to Israel's total
      lockdown since January 17 of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

      Ould Boulkheir, who is constitutionally the most
      powerful man in the west African country after the
      head of state and Senate president, became the first
      senior politician publicly and officially to question
      relations established with Israel in 1999, under the
      regime of Maaouiya Ould Taya.

      The speaker is the leader of the Progressive Popular
      Alliance, now in power, which has always called for
      Mauritania to break off those ties sealed with the
      Hebrew state, in solidarity with the Palestinians.

      Domestically, the government of President Sidi Ould
      Cheikh Abdallahi has pursued a policy of freeing up
      the press and working for reconcilation among the
      traditional rulers and the black African population.

      Last week, leaders of parties in an increasingly
      active opposition and some allied with the government
      sent a letter to Abdallahi calling on him to sever
      relations with Israel.

      US Army Suicides Spike


      WASHINGTON — The number of US army soldiers committing
      suicides after deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan
      continued to spike in 2007, hitting levels not seen in
      more than a quarter century, army data has shown.

      "We are perturbed by the rise despite all of our
      efforts," Colonel Elsbeth Ritchie, psychiatric
      consultant to the army's surgeon general, told Agence
      France-Presse (AFP).

      Ritchie was part of a team that reviewed suicide
      prevention efforts in Iraq in October after Lieutenant
      General Raymond Odierno raised concerned about
      suicides among deployed soldiers.

      Data released by the army Thursday, January 31, show
      the numbers of suicides and attempted suicides spiked
      in 2007 with 89 confirmed suicides and another 32
      deaths awaiting confirmation as suicides.

      In 2006, 102 active duty soldiers committed suicide,
      almost double the number in 2001.

      According to the figures, more than 2,000 soldiers
      tried to take their own lives or injure themselves in
      2006, compared to about 375 in 2002.

      Most suicides are young males between the ages of 18
      and 24, but the army experts are also starting to see
      higher numbers of suicides among older soldiers and

      Ritchie said 11 female soldiers killed themselves in
      2006. "That's the highest number of females we've ever
      seen," she said.

      Conflict spells disaster for whole of East Africa


      Kenya's political meltdown is threatening its economic
      lifeline to Somalia and other neighbouring countries
      and disrupting the supply of desperately needed relief

      The economies of landlocked states such as Uganda,
      Rwanda and Burundi, which rely on Kenya's trade links
      via its Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, are already
      being hit by the effects of the unrest.

      Goods are piling up in Mombasa amid fears of blockages
      along the main road to Nairobi. Other arteries
      including the roads from the capital to the western
      city of Kisumu and the highway between Nakuru and
      Eldoret have also been blocked. Guillermo Bettocci,
      the Somalia representative of the UN High Commissioner
      for Refugees, expressed concern about the cancellation
      of flights at Nairobi airport, which is used to fly
      out supplies to Somalia.

      He described the situation in Somalia, where fierce
      fighting has resumed between Islamic fighters and
      Ethiopian forces sent to prop up a transitional
      government, as "the world's worst humanitarian
      disaster" which he said had now overtaken Darfur in
      terms of a humanitarian emergency. A total of one
      million people have been displaced inside Somalia by
      the conflict, including 250,000 in Mogadishu alone.

      One of Bin Laden's top six aides is killed in
      suspected US strike

      · Abu al-Libi dies in attack on Pakistan compound
      · Leader of Afghan militants targeted Cheney last year


      senior al-Qaida figure in Afghanistan, described by
      Western officials as one of Osama bin Laden's top six
      lieutenants, has been killed, it was reported
      Abu Laith al-Libi was "martyred along with a group of
      his brothers on the territory of Islamic Pakistan"
      according to a statement on Ikhlaas.org, a website
      that often posts communiques from Islamists in
      Afghanistan and Iraq.

      Libi's death may be linked to what is suspected to be
      a US missile strike in Pakistan's North Waziristan
      region earlier this week, in which 12 people - several
      Arabs and central Asians, as well as local Taliban
      members - are believed to have died. Locals told
      reporters that they heard US Predator drones flying in
      the area shortly before the explosion at a compound,
      and a Pakistani daily newspaper, The News, reported
      that the attack was targeted at Libi and another
      senior figure, Obaidah al Masri.

      Pakistani officials said they had "no information"
      indicating that Libi was dead, but the Associated
      Press quoted a "knowledgeable western official"
      confirming the death: "It appears that Al-Libi has met
      his demise."

      Letters: British Muslims
      Muslims should not be surprised at backlash against


      Robert Fisk: The curious case of the forged biography

      When Robert Fisk heard that his life of Saddam Hussein
      was selling well, one thing bothered him: he had never
      written one. His investigation took him to the
      murkiest corners of Cairo


      It arrived for me in Beirut under plain cover, a brown
      envelope containing a small, glossy paperback in
      Arabic, accompanied by a note from an Egyptian friend.
      "Robert!" it began. "Did you really write this?"

      The front cover bore a photograph of Saddam Hussein in
      the dock in Baghdad, the left side of his head in
      colour, the right side bleached out, wearing a black
      sports jacket but with no tie, holding a Koran in his
      right hand. "Saddam Hussein," the cover said in huge
      letters. "From Birth to Martyrdom." And then there was
      the author's name – in beautiful, calligraphic
      typeface and in gold in the top, right-hand corner.
      "By Robert Fisk."

      So there it was, 272 paperback pages on the life and
      times of the Hitler of Baghdad and selling very well
      in the Egyptian capital. "We all suspect a well-known
      man here," she added. "His name is Magdi Chukri."

      Needless to say, I noticed one or two problems with
      this book. It took a very lenient view of the
      brutality of Saddam, it didn't seem to care much about
      the gassed civilians of Halabja – and it was full of
      the kind of purple passages which I loathe. "After the
      American rejection of the Iraqi weapons report to the
      UN," 'Robert Fisk' wrote, "the beating of war drums
      turned into a cacophony..."

      Danish library plans to house cartoons of prophet

      · Controversial works will be secure, says spokeswoman
      · Muslim society vows to ignore 'provocation'

      Robert Tait
      Wednesday January 30, 2008
      The Guardian


      Denmark's national library is to risk re-opening an
      international political storm by housing the cartoon
      images of the prophet Muhammad that provoked violent
      convulsions throughout the Islamic world two years
      The royal library in Copenhagen - founded in the 17th
      century by King Frederik III and home to many historic
      treasures - has declared the drawings to be of
      historic value and is trying to acquire them for
      "preservation purposes".

      The library, widely acknowledged as the most
      significant in Scandinavia, has agreed to take
      possession of the caricatures on behalf of the museum
      of Danish cartoon art, a spokesman told the Art

      UK lacks counter-terror policy, says Musharraf

      · Pakistani president hits back at British critics
      · Your Islamist militants are home-grown, Brown told


      Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, claimed
      yesterday that Britain lacked a long-term
      counter-terrorist strategy and argued that Islamist
      extremism was a home-grown problem for Britain rather
      than his country's responsibility.
      Speaking before meeting Gordon Brown in Downing
      Street, and in response to persistent British
      criticism of his record on counter-terrorism,
      Musharraf set out the shortcomings he sees in the UK's
      efforts to deal with militant young Muslims, pointing
      out that all the July 7 2005 bombers were born in the

      "We have adopted a five-point strategy. You need to
      adopt a similar strategy to curb this kind of tendency
      in youngsters, who tend to become terrorists, because
      merely getting hold of them and punishing them legally
      does not solve the problem or get to the root of the
      problem," he said.
      He listed the five elements of Pakistan's
      counter-terrorist strategy: curbing the propagation of
      extremism in mosques; restricting the publication of
      extremist literature; banning extremist organisations;
      stopping the teaching of militant Islam in schools;
      and bringing madrasas (religious schools) into the

      Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Why is racial abuse now
      considered acceptable?


      On the day my beloved son was born at the John
      Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, Margaret Thatcher gave a
      speech on how her kith and kin felt rather "swamped"
      by alien cultures and peoples. My child was branded –
      rejected, I felt – as he took his first breath. I
      never forgave the Iron Lady for inciting animosity
      against us.

      This Wednesday the boy, now a barrister, turns 30. His
      Britain is dynamic, diverse and – in spite of old and
      new fissures – remarkably at ease with itself, as is
      he. Though discrimination blocks talent and top jobs
      still go to white, clubbable chaps, opportunities have
      been prised open and a meritocracy operates in many
      professions. There is nowhere else I would choose to

      And yet, and yet, I see a return to some of the
      attitudes personified by Thatcher and Enoch Powell,
      cultural protectionists who wanted England to be their
      England and only theirs once again. There are also
      ominous signs that racial intolerance is breaking out,
      even among the usually civil middle classes. It is
      hugely upsetting that we blacks and Asians
      increasingly experience spit-in-your-face racism, even
      in London, the city made by strangers.

      Last Monday, I was speaking at an Evening
      Standard/YouGovStone public debate on what we wanted
      from the London Mayor. We were at Cadogan Hall in
      smart Sloane Square. The audience– many well-heeled –
      was lively and keen, a good sign of political
      engagement. Such debates can get fiery and that makes
      them real and exciting. Other panellists were Michael
      Eboda, the ex-editor of The Voice newspaper, the
      prolific and weighty columnist Simon Jenkins, and
      Boris Johnson. All went spiffingly well until I said
      we needed time-limited, affirmative action in
      recruitment and promotion for key institutions such as
      the police forces.

      In Northern Ireland, affirmative action has
      transformed the police force so it reflects the
      Catholic/Protestant population. Mr Eboda then directly
      interrogated Mr Johnson on some of his insulting
      assertions about black people. The Tory MP first
      huffed and puffed and then blew out a timid apology.
      Neither Mr Eboda nor I were rude or aggressive, yet we
      seemed to stir some pretty revolting feelings in a
      number of ladies and gents attending. There was much
      unruly shouting. I was called a "cunt" and told to go
      back to Uganda. Mr Eboda was also racially abused, as
      was anybody else, black and white, who stood up to the
      posh hooligans. Members of the Black Police Federation
      later told me they were actually afraid of the mob
      malevolence. Five years ago, few readers resorted to
      ugly, racist abuse. Now hundreds mug me via email.

      Talk to Al-Qaeda: French Expert


      PARIS — A French expert in terrorism and Islamic
      militancy is calling for a dialogue with Osama bin
      Laden's Al-Qaeda organization to refute its
      "unrealistic" ideologies as the security option has
      proved a "fiasco."
      "In talking to Al-Qaeda and its leaders, I'm sure we
      are able to counter their ideology with facts on the
      ground," Anne Giudicelli told IslamOnline.net in an

      "This will be the first step to face Al-Qaeda."

      Giudicelli, a former anti-terror adviser to the French
      Foreign Ministry, said a quite dialogue with Al-Qaeda
      leaders could help convince them that their ideas,
      like enforcing Shari`ah in European societies, simply
      do not work.

      "An in-depth dialogue will enable us convince Al-Qaeda
      leaders that their ideology is inapplicable and

      Giudicelli regretted European rejection of bin Laden's
      truce offer in 2004 in the aftermath of the deadly
      Madrid bombings claimed by his network.

      Artificial Life Under Fire


      WASHINGTON — An announcement by controversial US
      scientist Craig Venter of taking a major step toward
      creating the first ever artificial life form by
      synthetically reproducing the DNA of a bacteria has
      aroused heated scientific debate over the ethics of
      the lab trial and its success rates.
      "Venter is not God," Helen Wallace, a biologist and
      spokeswoman for GeneWatch UK, told Agence
      France-Presse (AFP).

      Hamilton Smith, from the J.Craig Venter Institute, in
      the study published Thursday in Science magazine, that
      through a five-year research effort showed that
      building large genomes is now feasible so that
      important applications such as biofuels can be

      The move is seen as the penultimate stage in the
      endeavor to create an artificial life in the form of a
      bacteria based entirely on a man-made DNA genome.

      The research has been carried out at the laboratories
      of Venter, who has hailed artificial life forms as a
      potential remedy to illness and global warming.

      The chromosome which Venter and his team has created
      is known as Mycoplasma laboratorium and, in the final
      step of the process, will be transplanted into a
      living cell where it should "take control,"
      effectively becoming a new life form.

      The bacteria, which causes certain sexually
      transmitted diseases, has one of the least complex DNA
      structures of any life form, composed of just 580
      genes. In contrast, the human genome has some 30,000.

      Beirut Blast Kills Senior Officer


      BEIRUT —A senior intelligence officer was killed with
      three other people in a car bombing in the Lebanese
      capital, Beirut, on Friday, January 25, in the second
      bombing targeting an official at the security and
      military establishments in as many as days.
      "Captain Wissam Eid, a member of the Internal Security
      Forces, and his bodyguard were killed in the blast," a
      security official told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

      Desert state channels oil wealth into world's first
      sustainable city
      Lord Foster designs car-free, solar-powered project
      for 50,000 people


      In an expanse of grey rock and dust in one of the
      harshest environments on earth, the United Arab
      Emirates is about to build what is being described as
      the world's first sustainable city, designed by
      British architect Lord Foster.

      The site is far from promising. Miles from a polluted
      sea, a fierce sun raises temperatures to 50C (120F) in
      the summer, and there is no fresh water, no soil and
      no animals. But tens of billions of petro-dollars will
      be poured into these seven square kilometres of desert
      on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

      Called Masdar - "the source" in Arabic - the walled
      city is intended to house 50,000 people and 1,500
      businesses. It will have no cars and be
      self-sufficient in renewable energy, the majority of
      which will be solar energy.

      The formal unveiling of the desert eco-city will be
      made today at a summit on future energy sources in Abu
      Dhabi, attended by the UK business secretary, John
      Hutton, and Prince Andrew.

      "It's extremely ambitious," said Gerard Evenden,
      senior partner in Lord Foster's architecture practice
      in London, which has had a team working on the design
      for nine months. "We were invited to design a
      zero-carbon city. In this harsh place we needed to
      look back at history and see how ancient settlements
      had adapted to their environments." The buildings will
      huddle together as in a casbah, and will be cooled by
      wind towers which will collect the desert's breezes
      and flush out hot air. No building will be more than
      five storeys high; the city is to be oriented
      north-east to south-west to give the optimum balance
      of sunlight and shade.

      'To impose democracy from outside is inherently

      Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, tells Simon
      Tisdall in a rare interview that western policy in the
      region is ill-informed and at times arrogant


      Western countries should stop trying to browbeat
      Kenya's warring political leaders into submission and
      do more in practical terms to prevent poverty, lack of
      opportunity, and Islamist terrorism from further
      destabilising the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia's prime
      minister, Meles Zenawi, has told the Guardian.
      "The threat of western sanctions as a response to the
      current crisis in Kenya is very, very misguided,"
      Meles said. "If it is presumed that the Kenyans will
      democratise in order to eat the peanuts of development
      assistance from the European Union, for example, it
      would be a big mistake."

      Placing pressure on resources to influence the
      post-election process, which has degenerated into
      violence amid claims of government-engineered fraud,
      would not work and could be counter-productive, he

      "What it does do is give the impression that Africans
      democratise in response to development assistance and
      all you have to do is close the taps and they will sit
      up and behave like proper schoolchildren. That is very
      unfortunate and quite demeaning."
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