News in Brief
- Central Asian elections criticised
The weekend general elections in the former Soviet
central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were
condemned by Organisation for Security and Cooperation
in Europe monitors yesterday as marred by pressure on
the independent media and court orders barring some
opposition candidates. In Kyrgyzstan the president's
son Aider Akayev - with 80% support - was among only
31 of the 75 candidates to gain a first-round
British would-be shoe bomber admits plot to blow up
A British would-be suicide bomber yesterday admitted
plotting to blow up a packed passenger plane in midair
with an explosive device hidden in his shoe.
Saajid Badat, 25, agreed to board and destroy an
American-bound flight from Europe, three months after
the 9/11 hijackers killed thousands in New York and
Tel Aviv bomber's family shunned
Scores of chairs lined the rooms and corridors, and
jugs of coffee and water and trays of figs were ready
to welcome men paying their respects. But the family
of Abdullah Badran, the 21-year-old who blew himself
up at the entrance to a Tel Aviv nightclub on Friday,
killing five Israelis, were left alone in their grief.
For seven days after a burial a Palestinian family
receives mourners, normally a big social event
involving colourful banners and patriotic music.
Critics doubt Thai PM's openness on Muslim south
By Nopporn Wong-Anan BANGKOK, March 1 (Reuters) - Thai
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has sought rare
advice from critics of his tough stance towards unrest
in the Muslim far south but is unlikely to change
tack, analysts and Muslim leaders said on Tuesday.
Normally intolerant of any criticism, Thaksin has
surprised his opponents by inviting academics and
villagers to come up with proposals to end the
violence peacefully. Nearly 600 people have been
killed in the Thai south in just over a year.
British Muslim admits plot to blow up plane
A British-born Muslim has admitted plotting to blow up
an aircraft bound for America in the first major
prosecution of an al Qaeda terrorist in Britain since
the September 11 attacks. Saajid Badat, 25, had
planned to set off a bomb at the same time as the
British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who is serving a
life sentence in the United States. But Badat changed
his mind and dismantled his shoe bomb, which was
seized by police at his home in Gloucester in November
British-born Muslim admits plot to blow up airliner
A British-born Muslim has admitted plotting to blow up
an aircraft bound for America in the first major
prosecution of an al-Qa'ida terrorist in the UK since
the 11 September attacks.
Jubilation in Beirut after pro-Syrian government
The embattled Prime Minister of Lebanon, Omar Karami,
announced the resignation of his government yesterday.
The surprise decision was greeted with a roar of
triumph from a crowd gathered in Beirut's Martyrs'
Square to demand the withdrawal of Syrian troops.
Police success leaves Muslim leaders in shock
SAAJID BADATS guilty plea to conspiracy to destroy,
damage or endanger an aircraft was hailed as a major
success by counter-terrorist detectives and left many
Muslim leaders shocked.
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- 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
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
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.
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
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
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'
Wednesday January 30, 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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."