Saturday, May 27, 2006
The death toll in Indonesia’s earthquake has risen to more than 3000. The tremors with hit the Yogyakarta area of Java at around 6 a.m local time, were measured at 6.2 on the richter scale. It is the latest in a series of catastrophes to hit the islands. Meanwhile the Merapi volcano remains a high risk for those nearby. It erupted shortly after the quake sending debris down its western side [BBC]
On Thursday Tony Blair made his eighth visit to the United States since 9/11. In a 55 minute press conference, and after three years of war in Iraq, the British Prime Minister was upbeat and positive. He acknowledged the decision to remove Saddam was divisive but having talked to the leaders in Iraq he was resolute in providing support to the Iraqi people until the mission was complete. He seemed however to have forgotten the original reason the war was initiated. It was not about regime change, but for reasons of world security because of threat from Iraq’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Weapons which were never subsequently found. The situation has moved on since then, and a new government has now been formed. Asked by Sky’s Adam Bolton whether he hoped for a United Nations which might offer the option of pre-emptive action, Mr Blair said: “There are threats in the world today which require us to act earlier and more effectively…but I think when we look at this global terrorism which we face there is, to me at any rate, a very clear link between the terrorism that is affecting virtually every country in the western world, the Middle East and the terrorism in Iraq in Afghanistan, and we must be as determined to defeat the terrorism as much as they are determined to see us fail. And if we do succeed, as I believe that we will, in Iraq and Afghanistan, then the whole of international terrorism will suffer a defeat.”
George Bush quickly interjected: “I would like to see a United Nations that is more effective, one that joins us to rid the world of tyranny, one that is willing to advance human rights and human dignity, one that’s unabashed in their desire to spread freedom, that’s what I’d like to see. Because I believe that freedom will yield the peace, I also believe that freedom is universal, I don’t believe that freedom is just a concept for the United States or Great Britain, it is a universal concept. And it troubles me to know that there’s people locked up in tyrannical societies that suffer. And the United Nation ought to be clear about its desire to liberate people from the clutches of tyranny.”
“We have spent a great deal of time talking about the Iranian issue, and one of the goals that Tony and I have is to convince others in the world that Iran with a nuclear weapon would be very dangerous. We want to convince the Iranians that the coalition we’ve put together is very serious, one option is the United Nations Security Council if Iran won’t suspend as we have asked them to. And it is their choice right now. They are the ones who have walked away from the negotiating table,” the President emphasised. He added that he’d read Ahmedinejad’s letter: “It was 16 or 17 single spaced, typed pages, but he didn’t address the issue of whether or not they are going to press for a nuclear weapon, that’s the issue at hand.” And he said he’d keep up the pressure on the country. Blair backed the President and said that Iran “must understand that the obligations upon them must be adhered to.”
Returning to Iraq, President Bush described al-Qaeda as a threat to not only the west but also the neighbouring Muslim countries: “These are Islamic fascists, and a free Iraq will see an end to the threats we face”.
As the pressure builds towards a new conflict with Iran, questions over whether the coalition had made mistakes in the continuing War on Terror were raised. “Sounds like a bit of a familiar refrain here,” George Bush said. “Saying ‘Bring it On’, the kind of tough talk that sent the wrong signal. I learnt some, er, lessons about presenting myself in a more sophisticated manner. You know, ‘wanted dead or alive’, that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted. I think the biggest mistake, at least from our country’s point of view, in Iraq is Abu Ghraib. We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time” Tony Blair said that in retrospect “de-baathification” was a mistake.
Pressure on the Blair government at home precipitated a question to the Prime Minister, “This is probably your last visit to Washington as Prime Minister…”, but the President quickly interjected, “Wait a minute, back to back disses..” The journalist continued, “Well, at least the beginning of the end of a special relationship, will you miss the President, and what will you miss about him, and to the President what will you miss about Tony Blair and what are you looking for in an eventual replacement?” The President spoke with full support, as well as his usual wit, “I’ll miss those red ties, I say just one thing… don’t count him out, I know a man of resolve and vision and courage. My attitude is that I want him here so long as I am President.” The Prime Minister could only grin, adding, “Well, what more can I say? Probably wise not to say anything more at all” He then urged the British delegation of journalist to ask a few serious questions. George Bush ended proceedings with this, “Mr Prime Minister, can I buy you dinner.
As the Prime Minister and the President sat down to dinner, bombs continued to kill dozens in Iraq. At least 13 were killed as suicide bombers targeted market places in Baghdad [BBC] and more than 60 were injured. Paranoia created panic in Washington later on Friday after a worker using an air hammer sparked a security scare at the Rayburn House Office Building [CNN / Sky News]. And on a trip to Cuba, MP George Galloway caused further consternation after he suggested it was ‘morrally right’ if Prime Minister Blair was targeted for assassination by those fighting the coalition’s invasion of the country [BBC / CNN]. With regards mistakes in the fight against terrorism, further troubles were revealed Friday when it was announced that several Marines faced charges over the deaths of up to two dozen Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November. Haditha is about 225 km [140 miles] northwest of Baghdad. The military has said 15 civilians were killed, while a senior Republican lawmaker last week put the number at about 24.
The Los Angeles Times reported that military investigators had concluded that a dozen Marines acted improperly in an incident in which U.S. troops, after a Marine was killed by a roadside bomb, wantonly killed unarmed civilians, including women and children, and then tried to cover up the incident [Reuters].
A strong earthquake has struck the Indonesian island of Java, leaving several people dead [BBC]. At least 50 were injured according to CNN. The earthquake hit a densely-populated area on the southern coast of Java at 22:54 GMT/UTC, 05:54 local time [8.01S 110.29E]. The US Geological Survey said it measured 6.2. The depth was 17 km. There are reports of many casualties and severe damage to some buildings in the Yogyakarta area.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
A massive fire has occured at Istanbul's main airport. Reports suggest the cause was a short circuit in the cargo area and thousands have been evacuated. CNN are providing continuing Live coverage. The airport is closed in inbound and outbound air traffic. There are no reports at this time of any fatalities or injuries.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The President of Israel, Ehud Olmert, and the President of the United States of America, George W Bush, have made clear their alliance in an address at the White House. Speaking in Washington, President Ehud Olmert said there were great difficulties in finding a peaceful resolution to the troubles in the Middle East. “Unfortunately Hamas, who refuse to recognise the right of Israel to exist, will not abandon terrorist activities. We cannot negotiate with such a party…and if they do not abandon terrorism we must try a different route,” Olmert said. He reiterated his stance during a question and answer session. He said he wanted “serious talks” with Mahmoud Abbas, but with the proviso that Hamas disarmed, renounced terrorism and recognised the right of Israel to exist. George Bush iterated his support for Israel and said that should Israel be attacked, the United States would come to their aid. Both leaders made their concerns as to Iran’s nuclear policy with President Bush stating that he would prefer a “diplomatic solution”. He spoke of some countries lack of cohesive support, particularly Russia and Germany, adding: “We’re on the cusp of going to the UN Security Council, but I’d obviously like to solve the issue peacefully, but as more countries are seeing that Iran are not working in good faith, they are coming together”.
As they finished talking, a new tape of Usama bin Laden surfaced, CNN reported. In it he stated that Zacarias Moussaoui did not have any part in the 9/11 terror attacks. Moussaoui, often referred to as the 20th hijacker, was recently convicted in the US and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Graphic - an RF-4 and F-16 collide over Greece
A Greek jet and a Turkish reconnaissance plane have collided above the Aegean sea near Greece. The ‘accident’ occurred close to the island of Kaparthos earlier today as the planes became involved in a ‘dogfight’. The BBC reported that the two countries often engaged in mock dogfights in the disputed area. There have even been tense stand offs as the two countries have come close to armed conflict. The planes involved in today’s incident were a Greek F-16 and a Turkish RF-4 reconnaissance plane. According to CNN the pilot of the Turkish jet had been rescued, but that the pilot of the Greek plane was still unaccounted for.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Blair meets Iraq's new President as the Middle East
descends further into chaos
Gaza inches closer to civil war after gunfire between Hamas and Fatah troops saw the death of at least one individual who CNN reported as being a Jordanian national [CNN]. Two Palestinian policemen were shot in the legs during the exchange of fire near the parliament building and police headquarters, officials said. A Hamas gunman was also wounded. The BBC reported up to 6 injured as well as one dead. It is the latest in a series of incidents indicating a power struggle in the war torn region. On Saturday a bomb was found which it believed had been placed to target Rashid Abu Shbak, a commander loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [BBC]. Hamas, the militant Islamic group that won Palestinian parliamentary elections earlier this year, put its own security force on the streets last week, despite Mr Abbas' insistence that all Palestinian security report to him. Meanwhile Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, speaking on CNN continued to condemn the ‘terrorist organisation’
The US led coalition launched air strikes in Afghanistan on Sunday into Monday. There are conflicting stories as to who was killed but there are strong indications that many civilians were killed in the attacks on Taliban strongholds in the Kandahar province, the third in a week. The coalition insisted that up to 80 Taliban had been killed in the raids [CNN] but a local governor claimed that 16 civilians were killed and 16 injured in the attacks. This was the latest in an upsurge of violence in the country. On Saturday Taliban fighters ambushed an Afghan army convoy setting off a gun battle that resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and 15 insurgents. Clashes elsewhere killed 15 others, including two French soldiers and a U.S. soldier [Washington Post]. Six American soldiers were wounded just days after a 24-hour surge of violence across Afghanistan killed about 120 people. The fighting was some of the heaviest since the crushing of the Taliban by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
In Iraq, Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, made a surprise visit to Baghdad two days after the inauguration of the new Iraqi government [BBC]. “This is a new beginning,” the Prime Minister said, adding that it was important that “Iraq and the Iraqi people write the new chapter of Iraqi history for themselves” [BBC]. George Bush, speaking in Chicago [Reuters] described the forming of a new Iraqi government as a “watershed” moment in history. He claimed that Zarqawi was on the run and that the new government would see further stability throughout the country. But aside of all the rhetoric, the violence continued. Four police were killed in a bomb attack on their patrol vehicle 50km (31 miles) south of Baghdad. At least three died in a bomb attack on a Baghdad market. Two were killed in a car bomb attack on a police patrol in the city's Zafaraniyah district and a mobile phone company employee was shot dead in Baqouba. AFP news agency reported four more deaths in separate attacks in the Baquaba and AP reported that gunmen had killed a police colonel and wounded another officer in Samarra. Channel 4 News reported at least 27 dead in Monday’s violence. Monday’s programme also highlighted a rise in ethnic cleansing initiated, it was claimed, by Iraq’s new armed forces as well as terror organizations and largely ignored by the Iraqi authorities. Richard Holbrook, a former US Ambassador to the UN, was pessimistic and described the situation in Iraq as a civil war and “the toughest situation we’ve seen in my life time… and Afghanistan isn’t going too well either”. He said of George W Bush’s ‘War on Terror’, “It’s not a war on terror, it’s a war on al-Qaeda and its supporters and we need to face up to the situation that we’re fighting an ideologue” he said. A war of ideology is also about to be fought in the cinema box offices throughout the west as two controversial films get set for release. Both film deal with the events of 9/11 which triggered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. World Trade Centre, by Oliver Stone [imdb / trailer], follows the story of two police officers caught up in the day’s events. But as the Washington Post reported, there is no conspiracy or sense of controversy on Stone’s latest epic. Here the director who has made films about the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam war, traces the steps of Sgt. John McLoughlin (played by Nicolas Cage) and rookie officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), were the last two men pulled alive from the wreckage. Paul Greengrass’s film Flight 93 has also stirred emotions with its first showing at Cannes where it has received a mixed response [CBS].
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
In what can only be described as bizarre, news networks described pictures of the attack on the Pentagon in 2001 as ‘newly released’. Sky News, the BBC and CNN. However, the pictures had in fact surfaced over 4 years ago and were shown on TV networks across the world and can be seen on CNN's archive. The more recent footage without the spurious date of 09/12/2001 will do little to curb the many conspiracy theories [The Powerhour.com] that are abound the internet, least of all due to the length of time it has taken to release these ‘new’ pictures. French author Thierry Meyssan in his books L’Effroyable Imposture and Le Pentagate, alleged that Flight 77 did not crash into the Pentagon and suggested a truck bomb or missile caused the damage. The pictures show very little other than a ‘silvery object’ seen bearing down on the Pentagon followed by a massive explosion. There were a few additional pictures not previously released, but they themselves reveal anything new. The Justice Department handed over the tapes showing American Airlines Flight 77 striking the building outside Washington to Judicial Watch, a public interest group that requested the video. CNN did clarify by way of their website that not all the images were new. “Previously released still photographs from those cameras show the Pentagon on fire, but no images of the Boeing 757 striking the building have ever been made public. The video released Tuesday was the source of those still photos.” The website stated. Tom Fitton, of Judicial Watch said, “We had fought hard to obtain this video”, adding that he thought it “important to complete the public record with respect to the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001.
Monday, May 15, 2006
The Saddam Hussein trial resumed today [Monday]. Defendants were asked to enter pleas but Saddam Hussein refused to enter any plea. “I do not recognise the traitors who were brought in…therefore I cannot answer you with a yes or no”, the former leader told the judge. The judge said the plea was a formality only and then stated to the court that the defendant had refused to enter a plea. When Saddam’s trial began over 7 months ago it was required viewing by many Iraqis. But many Iraqis now see it as a side show to the daily attacks that kill scores of people every day.
Meanwhile, the troubles continue on the ground as the coalition of the willing take more casualties in further unrest. More British soldiers were injured in Basra on Sunday and a wave of attacks around the rest of the country saw more than 40 Iraqis killed. Three soldiers were injured in attacks in Basra when their camp came under attack and the MOD released further details of those killed on Saturday by a roadside bomb [BBC]. The Ministry of Defence named them as Private Joseva Lewaicei, 25, from Fiji, and Pte Adam Morris, 19, both of 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment. The latest deaths increased the number of British military casualties in Iraq since 2003 to 111. Meanwhile the US death toll rose again after four marines were killed near Karma in the Anbar province [CNN]. The deaths resulted not as a result of enemy action, according to military sources, but was caused when their M1A1 Abrams tank rolled off a bridge. In an attempt to discredit the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Major General Rick Lynch showed a ‘complete’ video of Zaqarwi which had been uncovered by US authorities [CNN]. Lynch showed parts of the "complete video" that pictured the militant leader and what he called "supposedly competent" aides after al-Zarqawi was seen firing the machine gun. Al-Zarqawi is seen walking toward a white pickup truck in "New Balance tennis shoes" with associates around him, called "his trusted advisers" by Lynch. They "do things like grab the hot barrel of a machine gun and burn themselves," Lynch said, narrating the video to reporters. Lynch said the images he showed indicate that al-Zarqawi "tends to have a problem" with mastering his own weapons system and with finding capable and competent aides. "Why he's their leader, I don't know." But the question perhaps is why the US has been unable to capture or kill a terrorist of such apparent incompetence.
Mount Merapi in central Java, Indonesia, is creating increased concern for residents on the Pacific island as it continues to exude voluminous quantities of dust and smoke. At night the lava flow can be clearly seen and authorities are attempting to persuade residents to leave the area. Previous eruptions have killed scores in recent years. 100 volcanic tremors in the last 24 hours has heightened the possibility of a major eruption. Merapi has erupted a least a dozen times in the last 100 years making it one of the most active volcanoes in the region [CNN]
Further concerns with the world’s supply of fuel were heightened Friday after a pipeline in Nigeria exploded killing up to 200 [BBC]. The blast was believed to have been triggered after thieves attempted to tap illegally into the high pressure pipeline. It is not the first time that such an incident has occurred in the African state. Similar incidents have killed 2000 people in recent years. The oil industry has been the subject of continued unrest in the country with rebels belonging to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta mounting attacks citing that the Nigerian people “were not benefiting from the riches under their feet.” Major-General Godswill Tamuno told the BBC that M.E.N.D was fighting for "total control" of the Niger Delta's oil wealth, saying local people had not gained from the riches under the ground and the region's creeks and swamps [BBC]. The wave of attacks on oil installations and kidnapping of foreign oil workers has reduced output by 25%. One country which has heavily invested in the Nigerian oil industry is China. In April this year a deal was struck to invest in excess of $4 billion into the country’s oil infrastructure [BBC]. China has made a commitment to buy a controlling stake in Nigeria's 110,000 barrel-a-day Kaduna oil refinery and build a railroad system and power stations. Nigeria, Africa's top oil exporter, has long been viewed by China as a partner. China’s state run oil company CNOOC saw its shares drop 2.36% on Monday, though how much might be attributed to the blasts in Nigeria is unclear. Sinopec, China’s second largest oil company, may also see dips in share prices. In 2003 Sinopec commenced operations in the Stubb Creek field in the Niger Delta with an annual output in excess of 200,000 tonnes or 4,000 barrels per day. Lower oil prices also affected other prices worldwide with Brent Crude down and stocks in the US affected. President Olusegun Obasanjo has launched an inquiry into the blasts [BBC]
Dec 2004: At least 20 killed in Lagos
Sept 2004: At least 60 killed in Lagos
June 2003: At least 105 killed in Abia State
Jul 2000: At least 300 killed in Warri
Mar 2000: At least 50 killed in Abia State
Oct 1998: At least 1,000 killed in Jesse
Friday, May 12, 2006
UK Press coverage of Afghan hijacker ruling
Bush’s war on terror has been under strong criticism over the last few days with trouble brewing over phone taps on US citizens. CNN reported that there had been a long running relationship between the telephone companies and the US government. The companies involved included AT&T, Verizon & Bell South. Bit some companies have resisted calls for the requested number lists. In an ABC television poll only 25% believed the privacy invasions were unjustified. In Europe the EU has launched investigations into secret prisons run by the US, and a German citizen, Al Masri, has said he was tortured by US authorities in Afghanistan after an earlier abduction within European borders. The so called 20th hijacker in the 9/11 terror plot, Zacarias Moussaoui, has launched an appeal and withdrawn his guilty plea. He was sentenced to life imprisonment last week for his part in the US terror attacks. It has also been reported that Moussaoui was saved from the death sentence by a lone juror. Meanwhile in Britain a report released this week suggested the attacks of July 7th 2005 could have been prevented if more money had been available [BBC]. And there was fresh controversy after a judge ruled that a number of hijackers and their dependents can stay in the UK and seek employment. The 9 men were part of a 4 day stand-off at Stansted airport, north of London. The Ariana airlines jet had been hijacked in Afghanistan and had diverted via Moscow to the London airport in January 2000. The cost to the British tax payer has exceeded £15,000,000. The police operation at the time cost close to £2,500,000 with a further £135,000 spent on the deployment of SAS marksmen. Hotel bills for the hijack victims fell close to £18,000 over £3,000,000 has been spent on benefits for the 51 passengers who remained in the UK seeking asylum. Trials, appeals and legal hearings has cost the taxpayer upwards of £5,000,000. Tony Blair was said to be flabbergasted by the ruling and described it as an “abuse of common sense” [BBC]. "We cannot have a situation in which people who hijack a plane are not able to be deported back to their country," Mr Blair said. The Home Office also criticized the ruling saying that those involved in terrorism “should not be rewarded with leave to remain in the UK” Many of Thursday’s newspapers were just as vociferous in their condemnation of the ruling by the law courts. The Sun devoted three pages to the story including the front page describing it as the “Scandal of Afghan Terrorists”.
Monday, May 08, 2006
As the situation in Iraq worsens, a solution to the chaos seems ever more distant. News coverage of the developing crisis had all but dried up over the last week, but on Saturday the downing of a British helicopter rekindled interest, at least amongst the British media. The Lynx helicopter crashed after it was hit by what was described as a missile killing 5 British troops. The reaction of the local population in Basra was one of jubilation. Thousands poured onto the streets, some clashing with British soldiers who were attempting to make their way to the crash site. Some in the crowd were heard to declare their allegiance to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Medhi Army, a further worrying sign for the coalition. Hearts and minds have been lost in the continued insurgency and the hostility towards the coalition forces has spread from the predominantly Sunni insurgents to the majority Shi’ite population. But as the media concentrated on the story of the crashed helicopter, Iraqis were being killed and maimed all over Iraq. A suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi army uniform entered an Iraqi army base in Tikrit and detonated an explosives belt, killing three army officers. Two Iraqi policemen were injured by a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul. In Baghdad, two children were killed and a woman injured when a mortar landed on their house in the north of the city. On Friday 3 US troops were killed by a roadside bomb in Banil province, south of Baghdad [BBC]. This brought the US death toll to 2,418. The British death toll stands at 109 whilst the uncounted Iraqi death toll is estimated at upwards of 30,000. On Thursday at least nine died in a suicide attack near a court house in Baghdad, 46 were injured [BBC]. In another incident Iraqi sources said at least five civilians died in a US raid on a house in the city of Ramadi, although the US military would not confirm this. Hospital and police officials are quoted as saying the civilian deaths happened when US aircraft bombed a house in the Aziziyah area of the city, about 115km (70 miles) west of Baghdad. On Wednesday a suicide bomber targeted police recruits killing at least 15 in Fallujah [BBC]. The deaths were among dozens throughout Tuesday & Wednesday as insurgency and sectarian unrest gripped the troubled country. The bullet-riddled bodies of 14 men were recovered together in the Shaab district of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Four Shia students were pulled from a minibus and shot dead overnight. About 20 other corpses were found in Baghdad. And in another incident, a US contractor's car was hit by a roadside bomb near the southern city of Nasiriya, killing a civilian and two others in the vehicle. A governor was also targeted earlier in the week but only his guards were killed by the suicide attack [BBC]. The convoy carrying Maamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani was hit on the way to his office in the western town of Ramadi on Tuesday. Elsewhere, the US military said it killed 10 in a raid on an insurgent "safe house" near the town of Balad. Three of those who died in Balad, north of Baghdad, were wearing explosive suicide vests, the US said. Police said two people died and five others were injured when a bomb left inside a minibus exploded in a busy market in Shorja, Baghdad. Another Iraqi civilian and a US soldier were killed in separate roadside bomb attacks. On a more positive note, two German engineers held hostage in Iraq for 99 days returned to a military airport in Berlin. Thomas Nitzschke, 28, and Rene Braeunlich, 32, said they had feared for their lives while held captive. They were seized near an oil refinery in Iraq in January. They were last seen appealing for help in an internet video message released in April [BBC].
There were further worrying developments, little reported by most broadcasters, as Iran massed troops on the Iraqi border [BBC]. Turkish troops have also staged a build-up along their common border with Iraq. Recent weeks have seen a number of cross-border bombardments by Iranian troops along Iraq's north-east border, directed against Iranian Kurdish opposition groups taking refuge in the Iraqi Kurdish area. All this comes with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s insistence to continue uranium enrichment in defiance of the international community and the IAEA.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Zacarias Moussaoui has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the 9/11 terror attack on the United States of America. CNN brought viewers saturation coverage after the jury delivered their verdict after 7 days of deliberation. As Moussaoui left court he said, “America you lost…I won”, and clapped his hands.