Friday, November 30, 2007

More Americans believe in devil than Darwin.

I find this rather surprising. Maybe this explains why in a recent survey of 15 year olds globally that studied science skills the US scored 29th. Most of the developed world as the article mentions certainly does not share US attitudes. In spite of these attitudes among the majority of Americans the US is still a world player in scientific research. However, Germany under the very unscientific Nazi ideology managed to function quite well for the most part as far as certain types of scientific research were concerned. In the US religion does block certain research to some degree such as that on stem cells.
It is rather weird that only thirty percent of Protestants believe in the theory of evolution whereas more than 40 per cent of Catholics do. The Catholic Church historically has often fought against Darwinism in spite of Teilhard de Chardin. As far as I know only the fundamentalist Protestants are concerned about evolution.


Poll finds more Americans believe in devil than Darwin
Thu Nov 29, 2007 5:56pm - .By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters Life!) - More Americans believe in a literal hell and the devil than Darwin's theory of evolution, according to a new Harris poll released on Thursday.

It is the latest survey to highlight America's deep level of religiosity, a cultural trait that sets it apart from much of the developed world.

It also helps explain many of its political battles which Europeans find bewildering, such as efforts to have "Intelligent Design" theory -- which holds life is too complex to have evolved by chance -- taught in schools alongside evolution.

The poll of 2,455 U.S. adults from Nov 7 to 13 found that 82 percent of those surveyed believed in God, a figure unchanged since the question was asked in 2005.

It further found that 79 percent believed in miracles, 75 percent in heaven, while 72 percent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Belief in hell and the devil was expressed by 62 percent.

Darwin's theory of evolution met a far more skeptical audience which might surprise some outsiders as the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin's theory which largely informs how biology and related sciences are approached. While often referred to as evolution it is in fact the 19th century British intellectual's theory of "natural selection."

There are unsurprising differences among religious groups.

"Born-again Christians are more likely to believe in the traditional elements of Christianity than are Catholics or Protestants. For example, 95 percent believe in miracles, compared to 87 percent and 89 percent among Catholics and Protestants," according to the poll.

"On the other hand only 16 percent of born-again Christians, compared to 43 percent of Catholics and 30 percent of Protestants, believe in Darwin's theory of evolution."

What is perhaps surprising is that substantial minorities in America apparently believe in ghosts, UFOs, witches, astrology and reincarnation.

The survey, which has a sampling error of plus or minus two percent, found that 35 percent of the respondents believed in UFOs and 31 percent in witches.

More born-again Christians -- a term which usually refers to evangelical Protestants who place great emphasis on the conversion experience -- believed in witches at 37 percent than mainline Protestants or Catholics, both at 32 percent.

Kyoto framework still best

The Canadian Prime minister, Stephen Harper, has allied himself more closely with the US on many issues than the former Liberal Government. Anderson was in the former government. Although the government signed on to Kyoto it did little and in fact emissions grew. So the former govt. took the moral high ground and then in practice made the environment worse. Stephen Harper blows hot air at very high temperatures and his idea of fairness is to not do anything as long as developing countries such as China and India do not sign on to targets even though as the article points out they certainly have quite legitimate complaints and suspicions about the US and Canada idea of fairness.

Kyoto framework is still best hope for the world

Nov 30, 2007 04:30 AM
David Anderson

The major objective of President George Bush and Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Bali Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol that begins Monday is to replace the emission reduction Kyoto targets for the developed countries with an agreement that also includes targets for the developing countries.

Unfortunately, by abandoning the Kyoto approach of starting global reductions of greenhouse gas emissions with the developed industrial nations, Bush and Harper make the chances of getting the developing countries to accept emission reduction targets less likely, not more so.

The starting point for the developing countries is their firm and correct understanding that the increase in the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the past two centuries overwhelmingly has been caused by the use of fossil fuels in the developed countries of the world.

The global warming problem thus is a problem created by those developed countries, not by them. This belief then leads to the not unreasonable conclusion that if the atmosphere now has a dangerous level of greenhouse gases, then those responsible for those emissions should be the first to step up to the plate and do something about it.

The position of Bush and Harper, by contrast, is not based on that increase in the contamination level of the past two centuries, but rather on the emissions currently occurring. It is not a two-century buildup of the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that they focus on; instead, they talk of the current rate of flow of contaminants into the atmosphere. Thus, the responsibility of the developed nations for the acute nature of the current problem is not, in their view, relevant to the current question of reducing emission levels today.

We have a dialogue of the deaf. Canada and the U.S. are talking of current flows of greenhouse gas emissions, while the developing countries are talking of accumulated stocks of greenhouse gas emissions. As long as each ignores the argument of the other, the likelihood of agreement is nil. One is talking of the contaminated pond, the other of the contaminating stream.

The Kyoto process bridged this gap by introducing a staged approach to emission reductions. The developed countries that ratified (essentially the European Union countries, Japan and Canada under the Chr├ętien government) agreed that the developed nations of the world should be the first to implement serious reductions. Then, after their good faith in dealing with a problem that they were responsible for had been demonstrated through significant reductions in emissions, discussions would take place on emission reduction programs for developing countries as well.

The key was overcoming the suspicion of developing countries that international greenhouse gas emission reduction programs would be used to hamper the development of their economies and their efforts to provide a better life for their citizens.

An important component of the developing countries' argument was the issue of international fairness. The atmosphere surrounding our world is equally necessary to the survival of each and every one of us. Therefore, fairness dictates that we each have an equal share of this common resource. Why then, they ask, are the per capita emissions of the developed countries so flagrantly in excess of the global averages and why are the developed countries not reducing their per capita emissions to that global average?

The question of equal share of the common global resource was sidelined by the agreement of the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions, as the reduction targets they accepted implicitly recognized the validity of the fairness claim of the developing countries.

Without Kyoto, this fairness or moral question will come once more to the fore. Indeed, the failure to achieve the Kyoto emission reduction targets that we in the developed world committed ourselves to 10 years ago will increase the suspicion of the developing countries that emission targets are not in their interests, and make this issue even more difficult to handle than ever.

The Kyoto Protocol was the result of extremely difficult negotiations, took a very long time, was a compromise, and is by no means perfect. Unfortunately, it was and still is the best the international community, working together, has been able to come up with.

The central problem with Harper's and Bush's proposed changes for a system with emission targets for all countries is that if they return to that starting point and ignore the difficult factors that Kyoto took into account through so many painstaking compromises, they will likely achieve far less in Bali than was achieved at Kyoto. The Kyoto approach, imperfect though it may be, is still the world's best hope.



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David Anderson is director of the Guelph Institute of the Environment at the University of Guelph. He served from 1999 to 2004 as the federal minister responsible for the climate change file, and during that time represented Canada at the international meetings on climate change.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Coup staged from Luxury Hotel in Manila fizzles out.

Apparently there is quite a bit of unrest within the AFP so perhaps this group thought that they could just call for the armed forces to rise up against Arroyo and their superiors and have some chance of success. However some of these people were already on trail for mutiny. Trillanes and a couple of the military officers involved are more or less experts by now on how to fail at coups. I wonder who pays for repairs to the hotel. Although no one seems to have been hurt I imagine there was considerable property damage.



Botched coup bid in Philippines ends, no casualties


By Karen Lema and Raju Gopalakrishnan

MANILA, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Philippine military and police teams stormed a luxury hotel in Manila on Thursday to end a short-lived coup attempt by a small group of soldiers and others who had called on the army to mutiny.

Government forces fired teargas into the lobby of the Manila Peninsula Hotel and used an armoured personnel carrier (APC) to batter down its glass doors before storming in under cover of repeated bursts of fire in the air.

There were no casualties.

The rebel soldiers, a senator and a handful of priests who had occupied the plush icon in the sprawling city of 12 million people surrendered and were arrested.

"We are going out for the sake of the safety of everybody," their leader Senator Antonio Trillanes earlier told reporters. "For your sake, because we will not live with our conscience if some of you get hurt or get killed in the crossfire. We cannot afford that."

It was the latest in a series of coup attempts to plague the Southeast Asian nation since dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted two decades ago.

Thursday's drama attracted hundreds of curious onlookers, but no one voiced any support for those inside the hotel, and there were no reports of unrest within the military. Most of the guests had been evacuated before the assault, but over 100 people, including hotel staff and journalists, were caught in the midst of the action.

Trillanes, who led a failed mutiny in 2003 against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and was elected to the upper house in May, was hauled away in plastic wrist restraints.

Fellow mutineers, including around two dozen soldiers, a priest and a retired bishop, were also arrested along with scores of journalists.

Authorities said the journalists would be freed after identity checks.

"The wrong ways of some does not speak well for the nation or the armed forces and the police," Arroyo said in a brief television address.

"Just like before, we will impose the full force of the law strictly and without favour."

LATEST COUP ATTEMPT

The drama started when Trillanes and some other soldiers walked out of their own trial for the 2003 mutiny, escorted by guards assigned to keep them from escaping.

They marched to the Peninsula Hotel in Manila's Makati financial district and took over the building, calling for the overthrow of Arroyo.

"We have been witness and victims of the kind of ruthlessness this administration is giving to the people. Now, like soldiers we are going to face this," Trillanes told reporters, when asked if he was ready to face fresh charges over this incident.

Journalists trying to do live phone-ins spluttered and covered their faces with handkerchiefs as the tear gas rose from the lobby to higher floors.

Government forces closed down virtually the entire Makati area, and surrounded the Peninsula with troops and trucks. Five armoured personnel carriers were used in the assault on the hotel.

The rebel soldiers, who had earlier stopped people from leaving the hotel lobby as a 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) deadline for them to end their mutiny passed, later relented and let them go.

"I haven't been to bed yet," said Dave Anderson from Anchorage, Alaska, who had flown in overnight to Manila.

"They came and beat on my door and told me to leave by 3 p.m. They told me to take my bags, so here I am sitting in the lobby because I can't go out," he said before being allowed to leave.

Arroyo, deeply unpopular due to long-running corruption allegations, has survived at least two coup plots and three impeachment bids because the jaded middle class is sick of political instability, and she has a huge majority in the lower house.

She has also been buoyed by a strong economy.

The stock market and the peso currency pared earlier gains on the soldiers' actions but the main index still finished up 1.17 percent and has risen nearly 20 percent this year.

The peso is Asia's top performing currency, up 14.80 percent since the start of 2007.

"It hurts the whole country," said Vivian Yuchengco, a director of the Philippine Stock Exchange. "People like that should be thrown in jail."

The government imposed a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. in Manila and two surrounding regions on Friday, a government holiday. Officials called it a precautionary measure.

Markets were unlikely to be much affected when they reopen on Monday, barring any further unrest, economic analysts said. (Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Manny Mogato; Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Jerry Norton)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Afghan MPs in mass walk-out

This is from the BBC.
It seems that many of the casualties were the result of guards firing into the crowd. The whole bombing is somewhat of a mystery. The Taliban have denied responsibility. They are usually not shy about accepting responsibility even when the carnage has been rather indiscriminate.


Afghanistan MPs in mass walk-out
Afghanistan's Speaker has led a walk-out of parliament, followed by nearly half the country's deputies.
Yunus Qanuni left the assembly because he said the government of President Hamid Karzai was ignoring parliament.

Many MPs want senior officials in Baghlan province to be suspended after a bombing there earlier this month.

Nearly 80 people were killed in the attack, including six MPs and about 60 children. The government has said it is still investigating the bombing.

Correspondents say much is still unclear about the bombing in Baghlan.

Some reports say many of the victims died from gunshot wounds and appear to have been shot by the MPs' bodyguards.

Sharif urges Bhutto to boycott vote

It is surprising that Musharraf let Sharif back into Pakistan. I wonder if he was pressured to do this by the US. I am not sure the US would be happy if Sharif actually won. The US would prefer Bhutto. Perhaps there will still be some understanding between Bhutto and Musharraf. Notice that Sharif is the one calling so strongly for re-instatement of the chief justice and others. He is right that the court is now stacked with Musharraf supporters. As with other leaders Sharif is saddled with corruption charges. Before he can run they must be dropped or ignored so he can probably run only if Musharraf thinks it is a good idea! Sharif is wise enough not to be too principled. If Bhutto decides to run he will also in spite of his denouncing of the election. These chaps sound very much like Western politicians.


Sharif urges Bhutto to boycott vote
(AFP)

27 November 2007



LAHORE, Islamabad - Pakistani ex-premier Nawaz Sharif called on Tuesday on rival opposition leader Benazir Bhutto to join his party in boycotting upcoming general elections.


Sharif, who returned home from exile Sunday, said he had been in telephone contact with Bhutto three or four times in the last few days as they consider their strategy against President Pervez Musharraf.

A Bhutto party aide earlier said the two had not spoken.

‘I shall try to convince Benazir Bhutto to boycott the polls,’ Sharif told reporters in his home city of Lahore, in eastern Pakistan, adding that he had already asked her to take a ‘firm stance’ against the vote.

He said Musharraf wanted to rig the January 8 polls in order to secure a sufficient majority in parliament that would indemnify him over his imposition of emergency rule and his sacking of many of the nation’s top judges.

Bhutto and Sharif, both two-time former premiers and now Pakistan’s main opposition leaders, are jockeying for position as they seek to lead a united front against Musharraf.

Sharif will preside a meeting Thursday of a broad coalition of opposition groups to decide whether they should boycott the polls, senior party leader Raja Zafarul Haq said.

Bhutto’s party, however—the largest opposition party in Pakistan—is not part of the alliance and is widely expected to take part in the vote.

Her spokesman Farhatullah Babar said Bhutto sent flowers to Sharif with a message welcoming him home Sunday.

But he said there had been no telephone contact, and that while Bhutto was ready to meet Sharif, nothing had been planned.

‘If they meet they will discuss how to make the elections free and fair or whether they should boycott the vote,’ Babar told AFP.

However a formal electoral alliance is out of the question, and observers believe neither will want to cede electoral advantage to the other.

Sharif has said he would be ready to boycott the elections if there is a consensus to do so—code for saying that if Bhutto takes part, so will he.

He is a religious conservative while Bhutto, a secular leader, is seen by the United States—anxious to preserve Pakistan’s role in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taleban—as pro-Western.

Monday, November 26, 2007

New Australian PM signals Iraq pullout.

I don't know why Rudd would be called a Tone Clone. Perhaps it is his Third Way policies modeled after UK labor. However, Rudd will pull out from Iraq and will sign onto Kyoto moves that will hardly please Bush et al. I doubt that Blair is a republican. I expect that he supported the monarchy!! This is from the Times on Line.

New Australian PM signals Iraq pulloutPaul Ham, Sydney
AUSTRALIA’S new prime minister Kevin Rudd will mark his arrival on the international stage by announcing the withdrawal of his country’s combat troops from Iraq and signing the Kyoto treaty on climate change.

Rudd, a republican and former diplomat, swept to power as his Labor party stormed to a landslide victory in yesterday’s elections.

Official figures showed Labor had won more than 53% of the vote, compared with just under 47% for the ruling Liberal coalition of John Howard, who had served four terms as prime minister but lost his seat. Computer projections forecast that Labor would secure 86 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.

Rudd, 50, who has been called a “Tone Clone” for his similarities to Tony Blair on policy, told cheering supporters that the electorate had decided to “write a new page in our nation’s history”.

Howard, who dominated Australia’s political scene for more than a decade, was accused of misreading the mood of voters who wanted change despite a booming economy.

Clearly shaken by the scale of the defeat Howard, 68, told demoralised supporters that he may soon retire. “This is a great democracy and I want to wish Mr Rudd well,” Howard said. “We bequeath to him a nation that is stronger and prouder and more prosperous than it was 11½ years ago.”

While Howard is a monarchist, Rudd favours a plebiscite on the question of whether the Queen should remain head of state. As one of his first acts, Rudd plans to bring home most Australian troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, both deeply unpopular wars.

Gordon Brown telephoned from the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, to congratulate Rudd, who emphasised his determination to reverse Australia’s long-standing resistance to the Kyoto treaty

and told Brown he would work hard to achieve a fresh agreement at an international climate change conference in Bali next month.

Rudd’s deputy prime minister will be Julia Gillard, 46, who emigrated with her parents from Barry, South Glamorgan, 41 years ago.

The daughter of a retired policeman, she trained as a lawyer and first came to public attention as leader of the Australian Union of Students. She is now the most powerful woman in Australian politics.

The Biggest Gas-Guzzler of them All.

There is never a peep about this matter. The US taxpayer seems to worry about the cost of social programs and about fuel consumption of private cars and commercial jets but the huge consumption by the US military doesn't merit a mention.


The Biggest Gas-Guzzler of them All
Sunday, November 25th, 2007 in News, Empire, Military spending, Politics, US Military by Tim Swanson| Comment |

After Al Gore won the Peace Prize I mentioned that he did next to nothing to dismantle or even criticize military intervention during his terms as a senator and Vice President.

Yet, despite his fawning over a government controlled “green” world, neither he nor the rest of the political class have done anything to stymie the worlds largest oil consumer: the Department of Defense.

And unsurprisingly, despite substantially higher oil prices, “the needs” of the military will go undeterred for the foreseeable future.

Lawyers in residential school case make big bucks.

There is no mention of Frank Iacobucci, chair of the Iacobucci Inquiry, who received 2.5 million as fees for his role in the cases. See this site. The lawyers certainly have done well but probably without them the settlement would have been much lower. The payout to the claimants seems to be slower than that to the lawyers!

Ottawa pays $45.6M to lawyers involved in residential school cases
Last Updated: Monday, November 26, 2007 | 9:35 AM CT
CBC News
More than $45 million has recently been paid to residential school lawyers — one of the largest legal bills in Canadian history.

According to federal officials, a government cheque for $45.6 million has been sent to a consortium of lawyers — most of them in Alberta and Ontario — who had been involved in the Indian residential schools class action.

Former students like Roy Sanderson aren't impressed that, in some cases, lawyers are getting paid first.

"That hurts me. Why did they get paid first, get the money first and we never got nothing yet — the survivors, a lot of us," said Sanderson, who went to a residential school in the 1950s.

Over the past two decades, more than 12,000 former students have filed legal claims against the federal government and the churches that ran the schools for much of the 20th century. Many of the claims alleged physical and sexual abuse and said that the schools caused them to lose their language and culture.

Under a $2-billion compensation plan approved earlier this year, every student who went to school is entitled to $10,000 plus an extra $3,000 for each year the student attended.



Sanderson said he didn't benefit much from his education at the school.

"I was stuck in Grade 4 for many, many years for no reason," he said. "They put you in the barns and we used to work. They didn't give you a proper education."

Sanderson is among more than 50,000 former students who have asked for settlement money and are still waiting.

Sanderson's lawyer is Regina-based Tony Merchant, who is not among the group that has been paid. Federal officials said Merchant's legal bill, which will be at least $25 million, is still under dispute.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Oxfam: Too much aid to Afghanistan wasted.

This is from common dreams. From the point of view of corporations that get paid for projects and locals who benefit from a corrupt system the waste is quite profitable. A consultant can make up to 500,000 a year. I was not aware as this article claims that there has been a change in the process of authorising air strikes so that the numbers have gone down. I thought the opposite was the case.


Too Much Aid to Afghanistan Wasted, Oxfam Says
by Jon Hemming
KABUL - Too much aid to Afghanistan is wasted — soaked up in contractors’ profits, spent on expensive expatriate consultants or squandered on small-scale, quick-fix projects, a leading British charity said on Tuesday.

Despite more than $15 billion of aid pumped into Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, many Afghans still suffer levels of poverty rarely seen outside sub-Saharan Africa.

“The development process has to date been too centralised, top-heavy and insufficient,” said a report by Oxfam.

By far the biggest donor, the United States approved a further $6.4 billion in Afghan aid this year, but the funds are spent in ways that are “ineffective or inefficient”, Oxfam said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allocates close to half its funds to the five largest U.S. contractors in Afghanistan.

“Too much aid is absorbed by profits of companies and sub-contractors, on non-Afghan resources and on high expatriate salaries and living costs,” the report said.

A full-time expatriate consultant can cost up to $500,000 a year, Oxfam said.

More money needed to be channelled through the Afghan government, strengthening its influence and institutions.

Aid also needed to be better coordinated to avoid duplication, it said.

Only 10 percent of technical assistance to Afghanistan is coordinated either with the government or among donors.

SECURITY DETERIORATES

Spending on development is dwarfed by that spent on fighting the Taliban. The U.S. military is spending $65,000 a minute in Afghanistan, Oxfam said.

The report called for the 25 provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) run by the armies of 13 different nations across the country to withdraw where the security situation is stable enough and carry out relief work only where there is a critical need.

The PRTs, Oxfam said, “being nation-led are often driven more by available funding or the political interests of the nation involved rather than development considerations”. The result was “a large number of small-scale, short-term projects”.

“Given the historic suspicion of foreign intervention, such efforts to win ‘hearts and minds’ are naive. It is unsurprising that the huge expansion of PRT activities has not prevented the deterioration of security.”

Violent incidents are up at least 20 percent since last year, according to U.N. estimates, and have spread northwards to many areas previously considered safe.

More than 200 civilians have been killed in at least 130 Taliban suicide bombs and at least 1,200 civilians have been killed overall this year — about half of them in operations by Afghan and international troops.

Oxfam called on the 50,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan to take greater care not to hurt civilians, particularly in air strikes. The lower number of troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq — less than a third as many in a much bigger country with a larger population — leads to a greater reliance on air power.

There are four times as many air strikes in Afghanistan as in Iraq, Oxfam said.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan says it takes every effort to avoid civilian casualties and has already modified procedures for launching air strikes resulting in fewer civilian deaths.

(Editing by Richard Meares)

© 2007 Reuters

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Syria to join US led Middle East Conference.

Syria seems determined to reach out to the US perhaps in the vain hopes that it will help settle the Golan Heights situation. Syria has also helped out considerably in the war on terror being a common destination for suspects rendered for torture in Syria's infamous prisons. There were some rumblings about an alternate meeting with Hamas and others opposed to the Annapolis meeting in Syria but obviously Syria decided it was in its interests to be at the Bush meeting. The Arab peace initiative got nowhere since the US and Israel were unwilling to recognise the coalition government. Now that the Hamas controls Gaza and there is a "new" Palestinian govt. without Hamas the US hopes that some way forward can be found. However, it is doubtful. Neither side is in any position to deliver much but lofty sounding words that are basically hot air.



Syria to join U.S.-led Middle East conference
Sun Nov 25, 2007 10:18 AM EST



By Jeffrey Heller

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Syria said on Sunday it would attend a U.S.-led conference aimed at launching talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, giving another boost to U.S. efforts to enlist wide Arab support a new peace drive.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington two days before the meeting in Annapolis, Maryland. But all sides have played down the prospect of any breakthrough at the conference or afterwards.

Ending weeks of uncertainty, the official Syrian news agency said Syria "has accepted the American invitation and will send an official delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Fayssal Mekdad."

A spokeswoman for Olmert welcomed the announcement, calling the decision to send a high-ranking member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government a positive move.

The spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, said the Israeli-Palestinian track would remain the main focus of the conference, although Syria's participation "could open additional avenues to peace in the Middle East."

Syria, Israel's neighbor to the north and a long-time foe, had insisted the meeting also deal with the future of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, speaking to reporters on Olmert's flight to Washington, said the issue could be raised in a forum at the conference in which "comprehensive peace in the Middle East" would be discussed.

Israel and Syria last held peace negotiations in 2000, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, but could not reach a deal on the Golan, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee, the Jewish state's main reservoir.

ARAB PARTICIPATION

"We consider the Annapolis conference a launching pad for final status negotiations that will lead to the realization

of the Palestinian people's dream of establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters after the Palestinian leader's arrival.

But Abbas has lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas Islamists and Olmert is unpopular with voters, not least due to corruption accusations, and faces opposition to concessions within his coalition. President George W. Bush has little over a year left in power.

In the run-up to the conference, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have so far failed to agree on a joint document on how to proceed with negotiations.

Abu Rdainah said they would meet again in Washington on Sunday and Livni told reporters on Olmert's plane she expected the two sides to agree on a document to "launch the (peace) process, not solve (the conflict)."

The mere attendance at talks with Israel of Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Syria, which have had cold-to-hostile relations with the Jewish state, is likely to be hailed in Israel and Washington as a major achievement at Annapolis.

Livni said the Arab presence boosted chances for success, and that without support from other Arabs, there was not "a single Palestinian" who could reach a deal with Israel.

The prospect of better ties with Arab neighbors could also help Olmert, whose governing coalition includes right-wing partners, sell any deal.

At Annapolis, Israel and the Palestinians are expected to reaffirm commitments under the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace, agreed in 2003.

Israel has made any final deal conditional on Abbas carrying out a commitment to rein in militants. Palestinians demand Israel fulfill its promise under the plan to halt "settlement activity" in the occupied West Bank.

The Annapolis meeting will be held seven years after a summit at Camp David hosted by Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton collapsed and a Palestinian uprising erupted.

Faced with the legacy of an unpopular war in Iraq, the conference will give Bush a chance for diplomatic success in the Middle East -- an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal all sides say they hope to achieve before he leaves office in January 2009.

Olmert told reporters on his plane he hoped Annapolis would launch serious negotiations on "all the core issues that will result in a solution of two states for two peoples."

Non-Arab Iran, which the United States has ostracized for developing nuclear technology, has not been invited.

Iran said on Sunday the conference would erode Palestinian rights. Hamas's armed wing vowed to keep fighting Israel and said any concessions would be tantamount to "treason."

In Jerusalem, Israeli police set up roadblocks to try to avert violence after a security alert. Israeli troops killed three Palestinian gunmen in raids in Gaza and the West Bank.

(Additional reporting by Wafa Amr in Ramallah and Avida Landau in Jerusalem, writing by Rebecca Harrison, editing by David Storey)



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© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Australia's PM-elect Rudd vows better global ties

Perhaps Rudd will better ties with some other countries but the US ties may be strained to say the least. Rudd will sign on to Kyoto and withdraw troops from Iraq. Domestically he will have more pro-labor parties. Labor is also in power in the six Australian states.


Australia's PM-elect Rudd vows better global ties
Sat Nov 24, 2007 8:02 PM EST



By Rob Taylor

BRISBANE (Reuters) - Incoming Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, has pledged closer Australian ties with overseas allies and unity at home after ending 11 years of conservative rule under John Howard.

Rudd, 50, presented himself as a new-generation leader by promising to pull about 500 frontline Australian troops out of Iraq and sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, further isolating Washington on both issues.

"To our friends and allies around the world, I look forward as the next Prime Minister of Australia to working with them in dealing with the great challenges which our world now faces," he told cheering supporters at a victory party late on Saturday.

The surge to Labor left Howard battling to win even his own parliamentary seat, which he has held since 1974. He was in danger of becoming the first prime minister since 1929 to lose his constituency.

As part of Rudd's promised "fresh thinking," he also teamed with a female deputy, former lawyer Julia Gillard, who will be Australia's first woman deputy prime minister.

"King Kevin the new conqueror," said the Sun-Herald newspaper in Howard's home town of Sydney on Sunday. "It's Labor in a Ruddslide," said the national newspaper the Australian.

Up to six government ministers, including Howard, looked likely to be ejected in only the sixth change of government since World War Two. Labor is set to hold up to 86 seats in the 150-seat parliament.

Rudd is expected to forge closer ties with China and other Asian nations and has said he wants a more independent voice in foreign policy, with past Labor governments more supportive of an energetic United Nations and global organizations.

U.S. TIES

But he has also promised to maintain Australia's close alliance with the United States as the cornerstone of Australia's foreign and strategic policy.

"Rudd will have to open negotiations soon with the United States about the withdrawal of Australia's combat troops from Iraq. This is a delicate operation because it will be Labor's first testing of the alliance," veteran political commentator Michelle Grattan wrote in the Sun-Herald.

President George W. Bush congratulated Rudd on his election victory, and praised Howard's leadership.

"The United States and Australia have long been strong partners and allies and the president looks forward to working with this new government to continue our historic relationship," the White House said in a statement.

Rudd promised to sign the Kyoto climate pact immediately and lead his country's delegation to next month's U.N. climate summit in Bali, which is expected to kick-start talks on a post-Kyoto deal to slash greenhouse gas emissions globally.

He also pledged unity at home, vowing to shut down controversial offshore detention of illegal immigrants and to take care of Aborigines in the wake of a conservative intervention to seize control of remote indigenous communities with troops and police.

"I will be a prime minister for all Australians, a prime minister for indigenous Australians, Australians who have been born here and Australians who have come here from afar," he said.

Family Minister Mal Brough, responsible for the Aboriginal intervention to stop rampant sexual abuse of children and "rivers of grog" in remote outback towns, was a high-profile casualty of the Labor win, losing his Queensland seat.

HOSTILE SENATE

But Labor could be frustrated by a hostile upper house. The conservatives will have a Senate majority until July next year, possibly delaying Rudd's agenda and his promise to dump unpopular labor laws which supercharged his victory.

Centre-left Labor will have to negotiate with diverse minor Senate parties including the left-leaning Australian Greens and the conservative, Christian values Family First party.

The election was fought mainly on domestic issues, with Labor cashing in on anger at labor laws and rising interest rates which put home owners under financial pressure at a time when Australia's economy is booming.

The result puts Labor in power nationally and in all of Australia's six states and two territories. The lord mayor of the northern city of Brisbane is now the senior-ranking elected official in Howard's Liberal Party.

Outgoing Foreign Minister Alexander Downer glumly said it had been hard for the conservative government to present itself as fresh and new after more than 11 years, despite 16 years of economic expansion and unemployment at 33-year lows.

"I think at the end of the day, people just thought it was time for a change," Downer told local television on Sunday.

(Additional reporting by James Grubel in Sydney, editing by Roger Crabb)



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.

Middle East Peace Conference Begins in Annapolis

This article points out the many difficulties facing any peace talks. Without Hamas there is little hope of any agreement being honoured but there is not likely to be an agreement in any event. No one mentions any more that Hamas was actually the elected government and that the negotiations are in effect with a rump of parliament that the West finds more acceptable. Anyway most in Israel will not accept a peace agreement acceptable to even Abbas I expect.

Briefing: Middle East peace conference begins in Annapolis
Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State, is said to be serious about solving the conflict. Will she succeed where so many others have failed?
By Donald Macintyre
Published: 25 November 2007
The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has invited all the main Middle East regional players except Iran to Annapolis, Maryland, this week in an effort to get serious peace talks going for the first time in seven years.

How did we get here?

The summit was the one item of news in President George Bush's speech on the Middle East in July, in the wake of the bloody infighting which ended with Hamas's seizure of internal control in Gaza. The idea – crude or not – was that the subsequent outlawing of Hamas by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, provided a new "opportunity" for negotiations on a two-state solution to the conflict with the emergency, Hamas-free, government Abbas had appointed in the West Bank. And the summit was to kick-start those negotiations.

So are we going to see the framework of a deal on Tuesday?

No. The two sides are unlikely even to engage gears in Annapolis on the big issues which need to be resolved: Jerusalem, borders, and the families of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. Even if there were to be a joint Israeli-Palestinian statement on Tuesday, it wouldn't be much more than an agreement to talk about the key issues after the conference, in the the hope of some kind of deal being made by the end of the Bush presidency.

And what are the chances of that?

This is certainly the first real push for a deal since the collapse of negotiations at Camp David in 2000 and the bloodshed of the past seven years. But there are huge obstacles. Hamas, which has resisted almost two years of international pressure to recognise Israel, won't be at Annapolis or in any talks that follow. Yet controlling Gaza as it does, and with a substantial if currently subdued presence in the West Bank, it remains a formidable force which would have to be contained if any agreement between Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, could be turned into a real peace plan.

So the problem is all on the Palestinian side?

Hardly. Olmert may well believe that talks with Abbas afford a better chance for a two-state solution than anyone who could succeed him. But he is beset by forces who want to prevent him making a deal, let alone implement it: the right-wing parties threatening to walk out of his coalition, the 250,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank who want to stay put, and quite possibly his own, apparently deeply sceptical, Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, who wants to succeed him as Prime Minister.

How can these problems be overcome?

With great difficulty. Much now depends on President Bush, who has shown little interest until recently in solving the conflict; and whether – after the debacle in Iraq and in the face of a possible confrontation with Iran – he now really needs to offer something to his Arab allies. Palestinians who have been in and out of the State Department recently believe Rice is serious, and even that she has the backing of Bush.

Should we be looking for any surprises at Annapolis?

The Syrians could be the ones to watch. Assuming they show up, the US will find it less easy to continue regarding them as associate members of the "Axis of Evil". Given their policies towards Iran, both the US and Israel may have an interest in detaching Damascus from Tehran. Some Israeli analysts argue it would be better to talk first to President Bashir Assad, who might deliver, while Abbas might not. But the question is still whether Olmert would have the political strength to pay the price for Syria's ending support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad: handing back the Golan Heights, seized in 1967.

Chomsky On US and Iran

This is an interview. A video and transcript is available at ICH.
As usual Chomsky is his caustic self and refuses to go along with the ordinary framing of discourse in which the US is somehow not interfering in Iraq even though it invaded and overthrew the existing government whereas Iran a neighbour is if it interferes in any way with the US occupation!

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: ElBaradei, is the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, stated quite definitively there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. The recent resolution—the Kyle-Lieberman amendment—and the recent U.S. sanctions against Iran, which one of the charges is that Iran has been helping what they call insurgents in Iraq. There's practically no evidence of that either. Based on what we know as evidence, there's not a lot of reasons for U.S. policy to be as aggressive right now towards Iran as it is, certainly not for the stated reason. What really does motivate U.S. policy towards Iran?

NOAM CHOMSKY, PROFESSOR OF LINGUISTICS, MIT: Well, if I can make a comment about the stated reasons, the very fact that we're discussing them tells us a lot about the sort of intellectual culture and moral culture in the United States. I mean, suppose it was true that Iran is helping insurgents in Iraq. I mean, wasn’t the United States helping insurgents when the Russians invaded Afghanistan? Did we think there was anything wrong with that? I mean, Iraq's a country that was invaded and is under military occupation. You can't have a serious discussion about whether someone else is interfering in it. The basic assumption underlying the discussion is that we own the world. So if we invade and occupy another country, then it's a criminal act for anyone to interfere with it. What about the nuclear weapons? I mean, are there countries with nuclear weapons in the region? Israel has a couple of hundred nuclear weapons. The United States gives more support to it than any other country in the world. The Bush administration is trying very hard to push through an agreement that not only authorizes India's illegal acquisition of nuclear weapons but assists it. That's what the U.S.-Indo Nuclear Pact is about. And, furthermore, there happens to be an obligation of the states in the Security Council and elsewhere to move towards establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. Now that would include Iran and Israel and any U.S. forces deployed there. That's part of Resolution 687. Now to your question. The real reasons for the attack on Iran, the sanctions, and so on go back into history. I mean, we like to forget the history; Iranians don't. In 1953, the United States and Britain overthrew the parliamentary government and installed a brutal dictator, the Shah, who ruled until 1979. And during his rule, incidentally, the United States was strongly supporting the same programs they're objecting to today. In 1979, the population overthrew the dictator, and since then the United States has been essentially torturing Iran. First it tried a military coup. Then it supported Saddam Hussein during Iraq's invasion of Iran, which killed hundreds of thousands of people. Then, after that was over, the United States started imposing harsh sanctions on Iran. And now it's escalating that. The point is: Iran is out of control. You know, it's supposed to be a U.S.-client state, as it was under the Shah, and it's refusing to play that role.

JAY: The sanctions that were just issued recently [are] the beginnings of a kind of act of war, this ratcheting up of the rhetoric right at a time when the IAEA is saying, in fact, Iran's cooperating in the process. But it's all coming down to this question of does Iran even have its right to enrich uranium for civilian nuclear, which in fact it has, under the non-proliferation treaty. But Bush in his last press conference, where he had his famous World War III warning, has said even the knowledge of having nuclear weapons we won't permit, never mind a civilian program. This puts U.S. policy on a collision course with the IAEA, with international law.

CHOMSKY: Just a couple of years ago, from 2004 through 2006, Iran did agree to suspend all uranium enrichment, halt even what everyone agrees they're legally entitled to. That was an agreement with the European Union. They agreed to suspend all uranium enrichment. And in return, the European Union was to provide what were called full guarantees on security issues—that means getting the United States to call off its threats to attack and destroy Iran. Well, the European Union didn't live up to its obligation, [as] they couldn't get the U.S. to stop it. So the Iranians then also pulled out and began to return to uranium enrichment. The way that's described here is-- the Iranians broke the agreement.

JAY: The experts are saying, including ElBaradei and others, that if you can enrich uranium to something just under 5%, which is apparently what's needed for civilian purposes, you're most of the way there towards the technology of having a bomb, that once you have that enrichment technology, you're not that much further towards a bomb.

CHOMSKY: Yeah, but that's true of every developed country in the world. Why pick out Iran? It's true of Japan, it's true of Brazil, it's true of Egypt. And in fact, one could say—here I tend to agree with the Bush administration. In the non-proliferation treaty, there's an article, Article 4, which says that countries signing the NPT are allowed to develop nuclear energy. Well, okay, that made some sense in 1970, but by now technology has developed enough so that it has reached the point that you describe. When you've developed nuclear energy, you're not that far from nuclear weapons. So, yeah, I think something should be done about that. But that has nothing special to do with Iran. In fact, it's a much more serious problem for those nuclear weapons states who are obligated under that same treaty to make good faith efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. And, in fact, there are some solutions to that. ElBaradei had proposed a couple of years ago that no states should develop weapons-grade materials: all high enrichment should be done by an international agency, maybe the IAEA or something else, and then countries should apply to it. If they want enriched uranium for nuclear energy, the international agency should determine whether they're doing it for peaceful means. As far as I'm aware, there's only one country that formally agreed to ElBaradei's proposal. That was Iran. And there's more. I mean, there's an international treaty, called the Fissban, to ban production of fissile materials except under international control. The United States has been strongly opposed to that, to a verifiable treaty. Nevertheless, it did come to the General Assembly, the U.N. Disarmament Commission in the General Assembly, which overwhelmingly voted in favour of it. The disarmament commission vote was, I think, 147 to 1, the United States being the 1. Unless a verifiable fissile materials treaty is passed and implemented, the world very well may move towards nuclear disaster.

JAY: Do you think we're actually moving towards a military confrontation? Or are we seeing a game of brinksmanship?

CHOMSKY: Well, whether purposely or not, yes, we're moving towards a military confrontation.

Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at MIT. He is the author of over 30 political books dissecting U.S. interventionism in the developing world, the political economy of human rights and the propaganda role of corporate media.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Karzai: All private security firms must close

From time to time Karzai choses to show some backbone and not just do what the US says to do. Until Nov. 2005 Karzai used to be guarded by US Dyncorp corporation guards. He was strongly advised to get rid of them. They often were aggressive and offensive. Now he is going further and going after all private security firms. Dyncorp is still training the National Police Force. I doubt that they will be let go. There must be quite a few security firms linked up with ISAF and Enduring Freedom. I wonder what will happen with them. I suppose if they are associated with ISAF that will be under the rubric of the UN so they will be OK.

All private security firms must close: Afghanistan
1 day ago

KABUL (AFP) — Authorities in Afghanistan want to close down all private security firms operating in the country, many of them illegally, President Hamid Karzai's office said.

About nine unlicensed companies have already been shut down in a crackdown that has been under way in Kabul for weeks, according to city police.

Under the constitution "only the Afghan government has the right of having and handling weapons, so private companies are against the constitution," the president's spokesman Siamak Hirawi told AFP late Wednesday.

A cabinet meeting Monday argued that the dozens of private security firms were illegal and a source of criminality.

"The session decided that in the long term all private companies should be shut down," he said.

"But for the time being a small number of private companies which can prepare themselves to meet the regulations put in place by the ministry of interior will be allowed temporary licences."

Only a "handful" of such companies would be allowed to operate mainly for the use of international organisations and the United Nations, he said.

"In the long run, when Afghan security forces have the capacity to replace them, they will be replaced by government security personnel, police."

Insecurity in Afghanistan has sharply increased because of a rise in crime and an insurgency led by the extremist Taliban who held power until 2001.

A range of security companies are operating in Afghanistan, from US-based Blackwater to smaller Afghan firm, some of them linked to militias or former warlords.

They guard embassies and other premises or act as bodyguards, while some, like the US-based DynCorp, also train Afghan police.

A report released this month by the Swisspeace research institute said that while about 90 firms could be identified by name, only 35 had registered with the government.

Some are alleged to be involved in extortion, kidnapping and the smuggling of drugs, it said.

A plan to attack Iran swiftly and from above.

There seems to have been a little cooling down of the war of words between Tehran and Washington the last little while but this article points out that preparations are well under way for an attack. This is just part of the article at the Globe and Mail. The author mentions a supposed attack on nuclear facilities in Syria. This is nothing more than rumor and speculation. As has been shown by critics the satellite photos show no fence nor guards. Imagine a nuclear facility sitting in the wide open spaces with no fence nor guards!
Of course there is not a hint that a US attack might violate international law. International law is of no concern when the hegemon is involved. It counts only when enemies of the hegemon are involved.


A plan to attack Iran swiftly and from above
A bombing campaign has been in the works for months - a blistering air war that would last anywhere from one day to two weeks
PAUL KORING

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

November 22, 2007 at 5:11 AM EST

WASHINGTON — Massive, devastating air strikes, a full dose of "shock and awe" with hundreds of bunker-busting bombs slicing through concrete at more than a dozen nuclear sites across Iran is no longer just the idle musing of military planners and uber-hawks.

Although air strikes don't seem imminent as the U.S.-Iranian drama unfolds, planning for a bombing campaign and preparing for the geopolitical blowback has preoccupied military and political councils for months.

No one is predicting a full-blown ground war with Iran. The likeliest scenario, a blistering air war that could last as little as one night or as long as two weeks, would be designed to avoid the quagmire of invasion and regime change that now characterizes Iraq. But skepticism remains about whether any amount of bombing can substantially delay Iran's entry into the nuclear-weapons club.

Attacking Iran has gone far beyond the twilight musings of a lame-duck president. Almost all of those jockeying to succeed U.S. President George W. Bush are similarly bellicose. Both front-runners, Democrat Senator Hillary Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani, have said that Iran's ruling mullahs can't be allowed to go nuclear. "Iran would be very sure if I were president of the United States that I would not allow them to become nuclear," said Mr. Giuliani. Ms. Clinton is equally hard-line.

Nor does the threat come just from the United States. As hopes fade that sanctions and common sense might avert a military confrontation with Tehran - as they appear to have done with North Korea - other Western leaders are openly warning that bombing may be needed.

Unless Tehran scraps its clandestine and suspicious nuclear program and its quest for weapons-grade uranium (it already has the missiles capable of delivering an atomic warhead), the world will be "faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran," French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned.

Bombing Iran would be relatively easy. Its antiquated air force and Russian air-defence missiles would be easy pickings for the U.S. warplanes.

But effectively destroying Iran's widely scattered and deeply buried nuclear facilities would be far harder, although achievable, according to air-power experts. But the fallout, especially the anger sown across much of the Muslim world by another U.S.-led attack in the Middle East, would be impossible to calculate.

Israel has twice launched pre-emptive air strikes ostensibly to cripple nuclear programs. In both instances, against Iraq in 1981 and Syria two months ago, the targeted regimes howled but did nothing.

The single-strike Israeli attacks would seem like pinpricks, compared with the rain of destruction U.S. warplanes would need to kneecap Iran's far larger nuclear network.

Taliban leaders open to talks

I just wonder whether these are splinter groups or the main leaders of the insurgency. I doubt that the main group will negotiate unless there is some agreement that the foreign troops withdraw but who knows what sort of deal Karzai and they might be cooking up. What is so laughable about all this is that the US and other western government always cry out against negotiating with terrorists while Karzai is willing to take them into his government. Anyway it is probably a step up from some of the warlords that are already part of his government.

Taliban leaders open to talks

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


This is from the canoe site.


KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that his government has had increasing contact with Taliban insurgents this year, including several talks this week with militant leaders living in exile.

Karzai said militants in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan have increasingly approached the government in the last eight months, even as the country goes through its most violent phase since the ouster of the Taliban after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

"Only this week I've had more than five or six major contacts, approaches, by the leadership of the Taliban trying to find out if they can come back to Afghanistan," Karzai told reporters in Kabul after meeting NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Karzai did not specify which leaders he had spoken to or where the discussions took place.

"We are willing to talk. Those of the Taliban who are not part of al-Qaida or the terrorist networks, who do not want to be violent against the Afghan people ... those elements are welcome," he said.

In the past Karzai has offered to hold talks with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and to give militants a position in government in exchange for peace. Omar rejected those offers.

Afghan and Western officials believe many Taliban and al-Qaida leaders are living and organizing militant activities from across the border in the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan. Pakistan denies the allegation and says its doing its best to quell the insurgency.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence in 2007, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

Another Mall blast in the Philippines

This is from this site. Any malls that I have visited have security guards at entrances who will inspect bags. This package was left in a baggage check area on the outside of the mall where there might not be such checks. Given the location I just wonder if the person who was killed was actually the target of the device. While terrorists such as the Abu Sayyaf are often indiscriminate , they try to kill as many as they can. Given where this device was placed it was unlikely to cause that many casualties.


One dead, four injured in Philippines mall blast
(AFP)

22 November 2007



COTABATO, Philippines - An explosion ripped through a shopping mall in the southern Philippines on Thursday, killing one person and injuring four others, officials said.


The blast killed an 18 year-old man working at the baggage check-in counter of the KMCC mall in Kidapawan city on Mindanao island, said Chief Superintendent Leo Ajero, the city police chief.

Four other people were injured, he added.

“It’s most probably an improvised explosive device,” provincial governor Manuel Pinol told local radio in a telephone interview.

“They left it at the baggage counter,” he said. “It exploded, resulting in the death of one person and injuries to several others.”

Police were investigating whether the blast was linked to a scheduled visit to the area by President Gloria Arroyo next week, Pinol said.

A powerful bomb killed four people including Wahab Akbar, a congressman in the southern Philippines, at the House of Representatives in Manila last week. The authorities are investigating possible political rivalry as the motive.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Most polls predict Labor win in Australia

I wonder how "objective" the polling organisations are when they seem to vary a considerable amount. Overall the polls would indicate a clear Labor victory. Rudd is not all that different in many policies although he will withdraw troops from Iraq. The Australian labor party has swung quite far to the right. Almost every social democratic and labor party has opted for some variation of the third way so that there really is no sharp choice between right and left. This should be called the law of the exclusive middle!


Two out of three polls back a Labor win
Friday Nov 23 09:43 AEDT
Two out of three polls released on the eve of the federal election predict a clear win for Labor, but a third shows John Howard still in with a chance.

The latest Galaxy poll has Prime Minister John Howard in with a chance, while a Nielsen poll has the coalition facing annihilation, and a Morgan poll says the ALP will win in a close contest despite a swing towards the coalition.

The telephone poll conducted by Roy Morgan research on November 21 and 22 showed that on a two-party preferred, support for the coalition had risen one point to 45.5 per cent, while support for the ALP had dropped one point to 54.5 per cent.

This represented a swing of 7.2 points to the ALP since the 2004 Federal election, spokesman Gary Morgan said.




However, in 22 key coalition marginal seats, where Labor needed to grabbed 16 seats to win government, the swing was less at 5.2 points to the ALP, he said.

Sixty-three per cent of voters polled thought the ALP would win Saturday's federal election, compared to 22.5 per cent who backed the coalition to win, while 14.5 per cent were undecided.

"With a day to go, the ALP is set to win the federal election," Mr Morgan said.

"Marginal seat polling in 22 coalition seats finds the ALP three per cent ahead: 51.5 per cent compared to (the coalition's) 48.5 per cent," he said.

"This suggests an ALP gain of between 14 and 20 seats even with the likelihood of Labor losing a seat in Western Australia."

The latest Galaxy poll of 1,200 voters was taken on Tuesday and Wednesday for News Ltd - before the revelations of a bogus leaflet scandal that threatens to hand a key marginal Sydney seat to Labor.

It found the coalition stands at 48 per cent with Labor on 52 per cent on a two-party preferred basis, with both parties even in the primary vote stakes on 42.5 per cent.

But the poll conflicts with the Nielsen poll of 2,071 voters taken between Monday and Wednesday for Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age newspapers.

It found Labor leads the primary vote by 48 per cent to 40 per cent, giving it a two-party preferred lead of 57 per cent to 43 per cent.

The figures represent a 10-point swing to Labor since the 2004 election, more than twice what Labor needs to win the 16 seats it must pick up to form government.

According to the Galaxy poll, 62 per cent of voters expect a Labor victory compared to 25 per cent who expect the coalition to win.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd was preferred prime minister on 51 per cent of the vote, compared to Mr Howard on 43 per cent.

Mr Rudd was also judged to have been the best on the campaign trail by 57 per cent of voters, with just a 27 per cent support for Mr Howard.

The poll also found half of voters questioned said they were better off than three years ago, 29 per cent said they were worse off and 44 per cent said they were under financial stress.


©AAP 2007

Pakistan top judge still retained

Musharaf seems to be confident of control. Even to leave the country he must have felt that there would be no move to toss him out. Significantly the chief justice is still under house arrest even though judges have been released. The chief justice has always been a thorn in the side of Musharraf. The spotlight seems to be off Bhutto for the moment. The US would be happy if Musharraf would make another deal with her but it doesn't seem likely given Bhutto's recent comments on Musharraf.

Pakistan top judge still detained
Pakistan's ousted chief justice remains under arrest, a day after officials said judges detained under emergency rule could move around freely.
Iftikhar Chaudhry tried to leave his Islamabad residence but was stopped from doing so by security forces.

Meanwhile, President Musharraf has amended the constitution to prevent future legal challenges to his actions.

His government has urged the Commonwealth to delay a decision on suspending Pakistan from its meetings.

Gen Musharraf imposed emergency rule on 3 November, saying the measure was needed to rein in the judiciary and fight extremists.

He is under pressure to end the state of emergency ahead of general elections promised for 8 January.

Judge held

Former Chief Justice Chaudhry was removed from his post on 3 November and has been under house arrest ever since.


On Tuesday, the government announced it had released more than 3,000 people jailed under emergency rule.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said judges would also be "free to go home if they so wish or desire".

"They are living in the judges colony of their own accord - they can leave if they want to," he said.

Mr Chaudhry tried to leave his residence on Wednesday but was stopped from going to the Supreme Court by large numbers of security forces ringing his residence.

Another judge, former presidential candidate Wajihuddin Ahmed, tried to visit Mr Chaudhry and was briefly detained along with a lawyer.

The release of political opponents has been a key demand of opposition parties who are threatening to boycott the January vote.

A number of leading political figures are still being held.

Late on Tuesday, about 170 journalists detained earlier in the day in the southern city of Karachi were freed.

Commonwealth talks

On Wednesday, President Musharraf flew back to Pakistan from talks in Saudi Arabia.


His visit had encouraged rumours that he would hold contacts with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or seek to prolong his exile there.

A presidential spokesman said Gen Musharraf had met King Abdullah and other officials but had had no contact with Mr Sharif.

Mr Sharif's party, meanwhile, was adamant he would not hold negotiations "with a military dictator".

On his return to Pakistan, Gen Musharraf issued an amendment to the constitution which says his declaration of the state of emergency cannot be over-ruled in court.

Analysts say the general's move is an another attempt to protect himself after he relinquishes the post of army chief, which he may do shortly.

Later on Wednesday, Pakistan announced it had asked the Commonwealth for "a short postponement" of its decision on whether to suspend it from its meetings.

Foreign ministers of the 53-nation grouping, mainly made up of former British colonies, are meeting in Uganda. Gen Musharraf has been given until Thursday to lift emergency rule.

Suspension would be seen as largely symbolic, observers say.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/7105923.stm

Published: 2007/11/21 15:22:13 GMT

© BBC MMVII

Philippines: Mitag grows into a typhoon

This could be quite bad. My wife has a house in Legazpi. It will probably be flooded again as it was last year. The recent rains and the huge amount of volcanic ash on Mayon will produce gigantic mudslides. There are always some people who refuse to relocate. After these typhoons it is often weeks and weeks before power gets back. My sister in law is in a low area of Legaspi so they will probably have to retreat to the second floor for a while or wade around in the kitchen! Lets hope there is little or no loss of life.

Mitag grows into a typhoon as it tracks toward the Philippines
Last Updated: Thursday, November 22, 2007 | 7:43 AM ET
The Associated Press
A tropical storm gained strength and developed into a typhoon Thursday as it headed toward an eastern Philippine region ravaged last year by flash floods and volcanic mudslides that killed more than 1,000 people, officials said.


A little girl sits with merchandise protected by an umbrella on a pushcart in Manila as typhoon Mitag approches the Philippines on Thursday.
(Pat Roque/Associated Press)
Typhoon Mitag was packing 120-km/h winds with gusts of up to 150 km/h as it blew westward from the Philippine Sea toward the Bicol region around midday, chief government forecaster Nathaniel Cruz said.

It could become a "super typhoon," with winds of more than 222 km/h, by the time it makes landfall, expected this weekend, he said.

Recent rains have already saturated the ground around Mayon volcano in Bicol, and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, worried about a repeat of last year's disaster, ordered mass evacuations in the typhoon's expected path and cut short her trip to Singapore, where she was attending an Asian summit.

Continue Article

"It's been raining for many days in some areas, and these are ripe for landslides," said Glenn Rabonza, administrator of the Office of Civil Defence.

Disaster officials said about 4,000 people already have moved to temporary shelters in four towns in Albay province and one town in nearby Sorsogon province, both of which are in Bicol.

Cedric Daep, executive officer of Albay's provincial disaster office, said full evacuation of the most threatened communities along the coastline and in the foothills of the Mayon volcano will begin Thursday afternoon.

Rabonza warned that storm surges from a powerful typhoon could generate waves three to nine metres high that could wreak havoc on coastal villages.

Cruz said if the typhoon doesn't change direction, it will make landfall in Bicol by Saturday morning. But the storm could also veer northwest and hit Quezon province, north of Bicol, the next day.

Officials estimate up to 200,000 people may have to be evacuated from Albay, which last year bore the brunt of typhoon Durian that triggered flash floods and unleashed tons of volcanic debris, wiping out entire communities and killing more than 1,000 people.

About the same number of people died in 2004 in Quezon when it was hit by successive storms and typhoons.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has suspended classes so some schools can be used as temporary shelters.

Vietnam also braced for tropical storm Hagibis, expected to hit the country's southern region Saturday, the government said.

© The

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Guards fire on civilians after Afghan blast

This article of which I just excerpt a small bit gives a glimpse into the problems within the Karzai government. It also shows that there are the same problems with private security contractors as in Iraq. Private contractors even provide security for Karzai himself.
The article also shows that it will be some time before the Afghan police will ever be able to provide security effectively on their own. It may also show that there are plots within the Karzai govt. to kill opposition politicians. The Taliban have claimed they are not responsible for the blast. They are usually not shy about these matters.

Karzai has been described as increasingly frustrated by the poor performance of the Afghan police, based in the Interior Ministry, and he has publicly accused the ministry of corruption and incompetence. He has also expressed exasperation at the tendency of foreign donors to bypass his government and deal directly with private contractors.

A particular source of complaint has been the dozens of private security companies that operate in Kabul and other cities with little oversight, often employing former Afghan guerrilla fighters. The Karzai government has raided several of these firms in recent weeks, seizing equipment and weapons.

"This bodyguard culture is killing Afghanistan, and we have to remove it," Karzai said in the interview.

A new report prepared for the United Nations by the group Swisspeace found that Afghan and foreign security firms in Afghanistan employ 18,500 to 28,000 men. It said that although the companies may provide security for their clients, they are viewed by the public as creating a "sense of distrust and insecurity." Reasons include their ties to local militia bosses, their heavily armed presence, their rudeness toward civilians and their alleged ties to crime.

In Baghlan, the security personnel at the scene of the bombing included a mix of local police and teams of bodyguards for each legislator and other officials; former militia commanders were among those in the crowd. When the blast occurred, witnesses said, gunfire erupted in many directions and lasted several minutes. When it was over, bodies were strewn across the scenic, tree-lined driveway and field surrounding the mill.

The protracted absence of a satisfactory official explanation of the incident has bred numerous rumors of political plots and counterplots. Many center on the most prominent victim, Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, 48, a member of parliament and former commerce minister who had recently become the spokesman for the main coalition opposing Karzai.

Kazimi was a rising political star from the country's long-suffering

"One million" homeless in Somalia

This is from the BBC.
This conflict is a direct result of the US use of Ethiopian proxy troops to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts. Ever since there has been conflict between Islamic insurgents and the provisional government in effect the Ethiopian invaders who prop up the government. There was some semblance of security during the reign of the Islamic Courts and it was supported by many because whatever its faults it was better than feuding warlords and the provisional govt. However, it was not acceptable to the US so it had to go.


'One million' homeless in Somalia

Some 600,000 have left Mogadishu this year
One million people are now living rough in Somalia, the UN refugee agency says.
The figure includes 60% of Mogadishu residents who have fled their homes - 200,000 in the past two weeks - leaving many districts empty, says UNHCR.

People have been forced out by renewed conflict between Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government forces.

Kenya's government has been strongly criticised for deporting 18 failed Somali asylum-seekers. "They are being sent to die," a rights worker said.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council says it will continue to plan for a peacekeeping mission to Somalia, despite the secretary-general's opposition.

Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month that it was too dangerous to send troops to the war-torn country.

He instead urged countries to help the existing African Union mission.

On Saturday, Islamist insurgents armed with machine guns and grenades attacked the AU base in Mogadishu. Only Uganda has sent troops to the AU force.

'Against the law'

UNHCR says those who have fled to the Afgooye area, 30km from Mogadishu, are living in desperate conditions.

They are using plastic bags and rags to patch up their flimsy mud and straw huts.


Uganda has some 1,700 soldiers in Somalia as part of the AU mission
UNHCR says landowners are charging them $1.5 a month for a tiny plot of land to erect their shelters.

The refugee agency says 600,000 people have fled Mogadishu this year - on top of 400,000 displaced by earlier rounds of fighting.

A Kenyan human rights group has strenuously condemned the deportation of 18 failed asylum-seekers back to Mogadishu.

Alamin Kimanthi, who heads the Muslim Human Rights Forum, said police forced the women and children into a plane destined to Mogadishu, despite their protests.

They are part of a group of 50, whose requests for refugee status were rejected in Uganda.

The other 32 are being held at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta airport.

"We condemn the decision to deport these people to Somalia because it is clear that they are just being sent to die," Mr Kimanthi told the BBC News website after visiting the airport.

"It is against the law and we call on the international community to act on this situation."

'Heart-breaking'

After discussing Mr Ban's report, the Security Council "underlined the need to continue to actively develop contingency plans for the possible deployment of a peacekeeping force as part of an enhanced UN integrated strategy in Somalia", said its president, Marty Natalegawa from Indonesia.

South Africa's UN ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said the situation in Somalia was "heart-breaking".

"The UN has to find a way to go in there," he said, according to the AP news agency.

"The [UN] Charter says maintain international peace and security everywhere," he said. "It doesn't say except in Somalia."

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991.

Violence has intensified this year after Ethiopia helped the government oust the Union of Islamic Courts last December.

In Mogadishu, Ethiopian and government troops conducted door-to-door searches for insurgents in the capital over the past week, sparking deadly clashes.

The United Nations says some 170,000 people fled the violence last week and hundreds of others have been injured in the crossfire.

Just 12 per cent of Poles favor troops in Iraq

The new Polish government has pledged to withdraw the troops by next year. With this type of poll they will probably be withdrawn sooner rather than later. The Law and Justice party which lost the recent election was probably not helped by its close connections with Bush.


Only 12 percent of Poles favor troops in Iraq
By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


WARSAW: Almost four-fifths of Poles want their country's troops out of Iraq, and a similar proportion hope Polish forces will be withdrawn from Afghanistan, according to a survey published Tuesday. The poll conducted by the ARC institute for the Polska newspaper found that 85 percent of respondents opposed Poland's deployment of 900 troops in Iraq, while only 12.1 percent were in favor of sticking with the US-led coalition. Poland has been one of Washington's most loyal allies over Iraq. Around 2,600 Polish troops took part in the 2003 invasion, a move which sparked a bitter verbal tussle with anti-war fellow members of the EU, notably France. US-Polish ties strengthened after the election in 2005 of Poland's previous conservative government of the Law and Justice party. But Law and Justice lost office in a snap election last month to the liberal Civic Platform, which has pledged to withdraw the Polish contingent from Iraq next year. A total of 22 Polish soldiers have been killed in Iraq since 2003. The poll also found that 84.3 percent of respondents opposed the Polish deployment in Afghanistan, where 1,200 troops are serving with NATO's 36,000-strong International Security Assistance Force which is battling a Taliban-led insurgency. Only 13.2 percent of respondents were in favor of the mission. Polish troops have been in Afghanistan since March 2002, and suffered their first fatality this year. The Afghanistan mission has also made headlines after Polish military prosecutors on November 14 charged six soldiers with murdering Afghan civilians during an incident in August. The poll of 802 people was carried out on November 16-18. - AFP

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Putin: Control of oil reserves among Iraq war goals.

This is from this Russian site. It is not surprising that Putin should say this but it is a little surprising that he should agree with Bush that the US should stay as long as the security situation requires it. Of course Putin along with many others think that the US should set a withdrawal date. The two positions are a bit contradictory unless the withdrawal date is just a motivator!


Control of oil reserves among Iraq war goals - Putin
16:53 | 18/ 10/ 2007



MOSCOW, October 18 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was mainly aimed at controlling the Gulf state's oil reserves.

During his annual televised question-and-answer session, the president responded to a request for his appraisal of the Iraq war by stating that, "One of the goals, in my opinion, was to establish control over the country's crude reserves."

He also said that the U.S. should fix a date for the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq.

"If the Iraqi authorities know the exact U.S. troop withdrawal date, they will work hard and consistently to enhance the country's own armed forces," Putin said, adding that they would otherwise remain inactive, feeling secure and protected "under the U.S. umbrella".

On the other hand, the president said he agreed with U.S. President George W. Bush that U.S. forces should remain in Iraq as long as their assistance is needed to ensure security.

"The U.S. contingent should only be withdrawn when the Iraqi leadership is capable of maintaining security and stability in the region," Putin said.

He called Iraq "a small country, which holds enormous oil reserves, but is hardly capable of protecting itself."

Putin also said that, "Some hotheads have come up with the idea of getting access to Russian oil reserves, particularly in east Siberia." He did not specify further.

Asked by a Siberian mechanic to comment on a statement, allegedly made several years ago by former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, to the effect that Siberia had too many natural resources to belong to one country, the president replied that "Russia has sufficient strength and means to protect its interests on its territory and in other regions of the world."

Pakistan releases 3,400 jailed under emergency rule

I imagine that the former chief justice is also still behind bars. It is interesting that Bhutto has never been put in jail. Even when her house is under siege she still manages news conferences!
I am a bit surprised that Musharraf would leave to visit Saudi Arabia during this time period. He must either feel that there is no danger of a takeover while he is gone or else he knows there is a takeover coming and has arranged a nice soft landing and retirement abroad.

Pakistan releases 3,400 jailed under emergency rule
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 | 8:44 AM ET
CBC News
More than 3,400 people jailed in Pakistan under the broadened powers of emergency rule have been released in recent days, the country's Interior Ministry said Tuesday.


Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said 3,416 prisoners have been released, while 2,000 still remain behind bars.

Many of those detained since President Gen. Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency on Nov. 3 were lawyers, human rights activists and political opponents who were arrested for defying a ban on public demonstrations.

Among those still detained are a number of high-ranking opposition party members and leaders, including former cricket star Imran Khan, who began a hunger strike Monday to protest emergency rule.

Under increasing international and domestic pressure, Musharraf has been rolling back some of his most unpopular measures.

Continue Article

The prisoner release came hours after Musharraf's hand-picked Supreme Court judges dismissed legal challenges to his disputed re-election as president while still holding his post as army chief.

The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that Musharraf end emergency rule, step down as army chief, end media restrictions and release opposition members.

Opponents have accused the military ruler of cracking down on dissidents rather than Islamic extremists, the reason he said he enacted an emergency state.

He has also been accused of imposing emergency rule and purging the Supreme Court ahead of a decision that was likely to find his presidency illegal.

Musharraf left for a visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for talks with King Abdullah.

The Pakistan president often visits Saudi Arabia, a close ally.

Some had speculated Musharraf might reach out to his staunchest opponent, Nawaz Sharif, while visiting Saudi Arabia.

Sharif was deposed by the general in the 1999 bloodless coup and then exiled.

The two have no plans to meet, Sharif was quoted as saying in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper on Tuesday.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Philippines: Quick end to investigation leads to frame-up speculation

This is from the Manila Tribune. There is a great distrust of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the National Police, and politicians in the Philippines. In fact of the three the politicians though widely distrusted are ranked third of the three in level of distrust in a poll published a couple of years ago.
Even though the National Police account seems at least to me an outsider perfectly reasonable--after all the Sayaff group have every reason to target the congressman--many people think the investigation was all a frame-up. The National police are just not trusted as independent investigators but are thought to frame the evidence to conclude what they want to conclude. Of course this mode of investigation may not just be confined to the Philippines!! They seem to have exported it to many other countries as well!!


Swift end to Batasan attack probe raises frame-up posit



11/18/2007

The unusually swift resolution of investigations into the bombing at the Batasan Complex, which was uncharacteristic of previous police investigations, had fed doubts that the capture of supposed Abu Sayyaf members was made up by the police to bolster the angle of a kill plot on Basilan Rep. Wahab Akbar.

Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., short of expressing doubts over the quick end to police investigations over the bombing incident that happened last Tuesday, called the raid on the suspected Abu Sayyaf lair in Payatas “spectacular.”

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) spokesman Ka Roger Rosal, in a press statement sent to local dailies noted the “all-too-perfect coincidences” in the recovery of the deed of sale of the motorcycle used in the bombing, a number 8 vehicle plate reserved for vehicles of House of Representatives’ members and Congress staff T-shirts in the Payatas raid.

“According to the PNP (Philippine National Police) itself, the raid was carried out originally for an earlier unrelated case,” Rosal said.

Rosal said deep and widespread suspicions about the cover-up of the Arroyo regime’s hand behind the Glorietta mall blast carry over to similar suspicions of another cover-up of the Batasan bombing.

“There is widespread doubt that the ‘evidence’ was actually in the possession of the military and police and planted to mislead the public and hide the hand of the real bombers,” Rosal said.





“From the start, the PNP has been insisting that the Batasan bombing targeted only Congressman Wahab Akbar, one of four people killed, and was motivated by mere political rivalry or vengeance,” added Rosal.

“There now seems to be a dogged and concerted effort by Malacanang and Camp Aguinaldo to prove that the bombing targeted only Akbar in order to dismiss assertions that it was actually carried out to target some progressive members of Congress or was carried out with the general political aim of terrorizing the people,” he said.

The police, meanwhile, said the three suspected Abu Sayyaf members captured in the Payatas raid in Quezon City last Thursday were “very cooperative” and were providing investigators vital information on the deadly explosion at the Batasan Complex last Tuesday.

PNP chief Director General Avelino Razon Jr said the information provided by the three supported a police theory that the attack targeted Akbar.

Akbar was one of four people killed in the blast at the Batasan complex in Quezon City last Tuesday that also injured 13, including Representatives Luzviminda Ilagan and Henry Teves.

Information were taken from them. They (the Abu Sayyaf suspects) have been very cooperative,” Razon said in a radio interview.

Razon said police investigators are now relating the statements from the suspects with the physical evidence gathered from the House of Representative’s south wing entrance where the explosion happened.

The three suspected Abu Sayyaf members, Khaidar Awnal, Ikram Indama and Adham Kusain, were supposedly captured last Thursday after a shootout. Three other alleged Abu Sayyaf members were killed in the incident.

Police said that Redwan Indama was a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and former municipal councilor of Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.

Hataman also confirmed seeing Ikram Indama as driver of Salapuddin, a former commander of MNLF, during his stint as congressman of Basilan in the 13th Congress.

Ikram Indama’s identification card was recovered by the policemen during the raid. It stated that he was detailed with Salapuddin.

Aside from Ikram Indama, two other suspected Abu Sayyaf rebels, Khaidar Awnal and Adham Kusain, were also arrested.

In the same raid, Redwan Indama, his wife Saing, and Abu Jandal alias Bong were killed.

CPP’s Rosal said those killed and arrested were fallguys who used to work as government agents.

“People are highly suspicious that the police raid of a supposed Abu Sayyaf hide-out in Payatas, Quezon City was actually a setup, those killed and arrested mere scapegoats or actually fallguys who worked as agents of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP),” Rosal said.

Ka Rosal’s view that the attack may have been directed against left-wing partylist House members were shared Ilagan, who is a representative for partylist Gabriela.

Razon said investigators have so far not gathered any evidence to bolster Ilagan’s claim that she was the target of the blast because she supported an impeachment complaint against President Gloria Arroyo.

“We have not found any evidence to support Ilagan’s assertion,” Razon said on radio.

Batasan complex security guards, meanwhile, identified two of three suspected Abu Sayyaf members, Indama and Kusain, as being in the area when the blast occurred. Indama was a former driver of former Basilan Rep. Gerry Salapuddin.

Salapuddin, former House deputy speaker for Mindanao, however, denied having a hand in the Batasan complex bombing.

He voluntarily appeared yesterday before the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) to clear his name.

Salapuddin was dragged into the Batasan bombing investigations after his driver, along with two other suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf, was captured in Payatas.

Salapuddin admitted to knowing two of the three men who were captured, Ikram Indama and Adham Kusain. He, however, said that while Indama was his former driver, it does not mean that he has knowledge of their activities, the report said.

The former congressman also said that his driver has relatives who are Abu Sayyaf members who may have prodded Indama to commit to a plot against Akbar who allegedly founded the group.

Authorities earlier said that while investigators have established the link between Indama and Salapuddin, the former Basilan congressman has not been named a suspect in the explosion.

“I don’t deny that he (Ikram Indama) worked for me as a driver. But after my term, I don’t know what happened to him,” Salapuddin said.

Salapuddin lost to Basilan Governor Jum Akbar, one of the four widows of the late Basilan Representative Wahab Akbar.

Despite their political difference, Salapuddin said a grieving person’s normal instinct is to suspect a political rival as the killer. But my electoral protest was not against Wahab Akbar. My protest was against his wife.

Razon said the Philippine National Police (PNP) is now considering to persuade one of those arrested to become a state witness.

De Venecia said the reward money put up by President Gloria Arroyo and members of the House have led to the spectacular breakthrough in the Batasan bombing investigation of the police.

During a breakfast meeting at Malaca├▒ang Friday, de Venecia thanked the President for putting up P5 million in reward money, as police sifting through the debris found clues that may have established a link to three Abu Sayyaf suspects shot dead by police operatives.

Quezon City second district Representative Annie Susano offered another P2 million and House members, following a resolution filed by Manila Representative Benny Abante, contributed a total of P1.2 million for the early resolution of the attack that police theorized could have been meant for Akbar.

President Arroyo, meanwhile, ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to strictly enforce existing laws on the possession of explosives following the Batasan complex blast.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the President also called for an end to speculations on who the mastermind was and the motives behind the attack, adding that the public should wait for the PNP to issue its final report.

Bunye said Arroyo has commended the Armed Forces and the PNP for the raid in Payatas, which resulted in the death of three alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf and the seizure of equipment similar to those used in the Batasan bombing.

The President said the raid “provided a significant breakthrough in the Batasan blast investigation.”

Islamic leaders, meanwhile, are protesting insinuations implicating some Muslim personalities in the Nov. 13 bombing of the House of Representatives.

“Find first evidence supporting this claim before implicating such persons,” Philippine Muslim Council for Islam and Democracy (PMCID) lead convenor and ex-senator Amina Rasul said at the Kapihan sa Sulo forum.

She and PMCID co-convenor Nasser Marohomsalic made the call after former Mindanao Deputy Speaker Gerry Salappudin of Basilan province and Anak Mindanao partylist representative Mujiv Hataman were linked to the blast.

Rasul is concerned about such development as she noted there were leaks to media implicating both even if probe on this matter isn’t over yet.

“Normally, you don’t yet release such information especially if it’s politically sensitive,” she stressed.

Authorities are focusing on the theory Akhbar could have been the blast’s target allegedly for helping government’s anti-insurgency drive in Basilan where the rebel Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) he was once linked to operated.

Rasul said authorities must pursue other possible leads as well, however.

“They should perhaps study if a different group wants Akhbar out of the picture and if others were the blast’s real targets,” she said.

She also said authorities must look into whether the explosion was meant instead to trigger widespread fear among people.

Talks surfaced about Salappudin’s possible involvement after authorities said a witness identified Ikram Indama, an alleged ASG member who once worked for this solon, as among two motorcycle-riding persons who entered the Batasan Pambansa compound just hours before explosion hit the House’s south wing entrance.

Rasul said linking Salappudin to the blast defies logic because he will unlikely tarnish his reputation by helping mastermind such carnage, however.

“Why will someone of his stature be involved in this dastardly act perpetrated in a public place within the institution he once belonged to?” she asked.

Marohomsalic also expressed dismay Hataman’s name is being dragged into the controversy.

“I know him personally,” Marohomsalic said. “He’s ideological and neither a terrorist nor an anarchist. I don’t think he placed his fellow in danger. He knows he needs them. It’s out of character for Muslim leaders like him to do so.”

Marohomsalic also dismissed talks linking the blast to alleged political bickerings in Basilan, province of Salappudin and Akhbar.

“Basilan is the least prone to political violence and has no history of such,” he said.

He likewise pointed out it is unlikely for Salappudin and Akhbar to engage in violence since both belong to the Yakan tribe which is among Mindanao’s most peaceful groups.

Linking Muslims to violence merely because there’s strife in Mindanao is wrong, he continued.

To help promote a more thorough probe of the blast, Marohomsalic said an independent commission must be formed to undertake the work.

He said multi-sector representatives and multi-denominational religious leaders must comprise this commission since it’s unlikely they’ll allow a whitewashed probe. Tribune wires