Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Iraq - Another weekend of death

Two aircraft crashed in Iraq Monday killing nine. In the first incident an Iraqi Air Force plane crashed 150 km north of Baghdad during a sandstorm, according to an Iraqi Ministry official. Four US personnel and the Iraqi pilot were killed. In the second incident an Italian military helicopter crashed near Nassiriya killing all four on board.

Uncertainty still surrounds the where and when for the trial of former dictator Saddam Hussein. Leading Iraqi politicians have said several times that the trial could start within months. But Iraqi prosecutors and their U.S. advisers say a trial is more likely in 2006. And the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, has released a statement on a website claiming that he was injured but is now recovering and ‘overseeing operations’.

Al Qaeda in Iraq were claiming responsibility for two devastating attacks on Iraqi army recruits as they queued for medical checks, yesterday. The US Military say there have been a record 430 suicide attacks in May. Running street battles were reported in parts of western Baghdad as the US/Iraqi forces launched ‘Operation Lightning’. And one British soldier was killed in a roadside bomb 160 km north of Basra. Lance Corporal Alan Brackenbury, 21, was the 89th Briton to die in Iraq.

May death tolls – US – 76 / British – 2 / Italian – 4 / Bulgarian – 2 / Iraqi – 269 /
Civilian death toll – over 700 [Iraq Body Count report a total of 21,000 + since the start of hostilities in March 2003]

[16:18 GMT 31/05/2005]

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Jackson - 'rebuttal' proceedings over

After a short rebuttal by the prosecution in the Michael Jackson child molestation case, the proceedings are now at a finish. On Friday a film was shown to the jury in which Gavin Arviso talks to police for the first time, outlining the accusations which brought Jackson to the dock. The defence had threatened to recall Arviso and others, but in a surprise move, late Friday afternoon, they rested their case. All that remains is for the two sides to give their closing arguments. This will be delayed due to the Memorial Day holiday on Monday. But it is expected the jury will be sent out by the end of next week.

Weather brief

A brief hot spell in the UK as temperatures soared above 25Âș C. A power cut, apparently caused by a fire at an electrical substation, brought chaos to Moscow, shutting down the underground train system and causing air conditioning systems to fail. Moscow is currently seeing the hottest May in 22 years.

Iraq and the Middle East

As the violence in Iraq continues, George W Bush has been holding court to middle east leaders Arial Sharon, Israeli PM, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Leader. There is still no clear ‘roadmap’ and scepticism is still strong with many issues yet to be resolved. Sharon still has to appease his own people in regards to pulling back from part of the ‘occupied territories’ and dismantling Israeli settlements. These concessions, however, will do little to soften Hezbollah’s position. But the appearance of Abbas in the ‘Rose Garden’ in Washington D.C, is a sign to some that progress may be on its way.

Iraq has seen continued attacks throughout the week. Today [Saturday] saw two suicide bombs in northern Iraq killing at least five people. Friday saw nearly forty killed in similar attacks around the country. A Japanese businessman, Akihiko Saito, kidnapped on the 8th May, was confirmed dead after a video showing his ‘execution’ was posted on an insurgent internet site. He was the sixth Japanese citizen to be killed in Iraq. At least 200 foreigners kidnapped since 2003, around 30 have been killed by their hostage takers.
The US led counter-insurgency drive continued with battles seen near Hillah and Baquba. A US helicopter was reportedly downed by small arms fire, according to the BBC, Thursday. The two OH-58 Kiowa single engined aircraft were on a reconnaissance mission when they came under fire. Two persons on board were killed the US confirmed Friday.
And the confusion continues as regards the status of Abbu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. As members of the new Iraqi government contradicted each other a statement was issued on the insurgent website suggesting Zarqawi was ‘recovering’ after ‘being treated by doctors’ and was said to be ‘overseeing the battle’ against the Americans.
[18:56 GMT 28/05/2005]

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Jackson Trial - Defence ends

The Jackson case has ended after Chris Tucker, a comedian and close friend, was the last to take the stand. Yesterday Jay Leno appeared, but failed to give testimony the defence expected. It was stated in the defence’s opening statements that Jay Leno was asked for money from the Arviso family. Leno however said this was not the case and he only gave the family merchandise from his show. So as for the summary, in brief the defence have attacked Janet Arviso, the boy accusser’s mother. But has the defence done enough to get Jackson off? According to Steve Corbett of the Santa Maria Times speaking to Sky News, “They may well have done just that”. “Mostly they have attacked the mother, they have trashed the mother” he says. The reputation of the mother has been attacked primarily in order to keep away from the “sordid descriptions provided by the prosecution witnesses about the sexual molestation that Michael Jackson has [allegedly] committed.” The defence do not want to revisit the evidence from Gavin Arviso and the other ‘victims’ from 10 years ago, “they’d much rather attack the mother and make her into the evil demon” he adds. The testimony from the boys is “very crucial” says Corbett. Guilty or not guilty? “We will have to let the American justice system run its course,“ says Steve Corbett, “if you want it from me, I believe Michael Jackson committed this crime of child molestation, there you have it.” The Sky reporter responds, “Steve, I’m not sure we should have asked you that question, thankyou very much there, live from Santa Maria.” The camera leaves Steve Corbett with a wry smile on his face.
Opinions vary but it is expected the jury will be deliberating the case by next Wednesday.
[18:19 GMT 25/05/2005]

World weather wrap

Weather throughout the world. China is seeing heavy floods in the Shenzhen region. India is suffering a heatwave with temperatures rising to 45° C. In the north of the UK heavy rain is predicted bringing with it the risk of floods. Much of Europe remains fine. And London saw temperatures of 25° C.

US troops in Iraq for 'ten years'

In Iraq today and the suicide attacks on US troops and Iraqi patrols continue. In the west of the country the US forces were engaging insurgents in an offensive named ‘New Market’. John Burns from the New York Times, gives credence to the reports that Zarqawi is injured. But his removal may not quell the insurgency and US troops may not leave for at least 5 years. “Realistically we’re talking years, possibly ten” before troops can leave he says.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Zarqawi 'injured', 3 US dead and Oil exports cut

Today [Tuesday], a website attributed to Al Qeada in Iraq reported the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Al Zarqawi as being injured. Of course, as many reporters have pointed out, there is no real way of confirming this. CNN also iterated a number of previous statements which seemingly turned out to be false. One such ‘rumour’ was that Zarqawi had died. Besides messages posted on websites and statements issued by US authorities, there is little information surrounding this individual. In fact the first time his name came to light was when the US authorities named him as a wanted insurgent back in 2003. Since then an unseen man, claiming to be Zarqawi has issued statements via a website. The veracity of these claims can only be the subject of speculation.

In other news from the region a Georgian soldier was injured by a mine during a journey to Bakuba from Baghdad. There are currently 850 Georgian servicemen in Iraq. Three US soldiers were killed in a suicide car bomb attack in central Baghdad and a police convoy was also targeted elsewhere in the city killing two civilians and injuring eight others. Also in Baghdad, Nassir Sa'ed Al-Sayfi, an employee of Oman's embassy, was kidnapped but no message from his captors thus far. In Mosul an Iraqi bomb disposal engineer was killed whilst attempting to defuse an explosive device. Three others were injured in this incident. The total US losses now stand at 1,644. CNN

And ABC reports a suspension of oil exports to Turkey. They have halted due to low outputs in the Kirkuk oil fields. The northern pipeline and facilities are regularly sabotaged by insurgents. In the south, Iraq's oil output has fallen by nearly 190,000 barrels a day since Monday “because of technical problems”, said an Oil Ministry official, who “asked not to be named for security reasons”. Oil exports from the south have been averaging 1.4 million -1.5 million barrels a day. Northern oil production has been averaging 500,000 barrels per day.
[18:34 GMT 24/05/2005]

Monday, May 23, 2005

Iraq - Violence returns with a vengeance

After a recent lull in attacks, violence has returned with a vengeance in Iraq. A top aide to the Iraqi government was killed on Monday and a series of suicide attacks and car bombs have caused many deaths in Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and Samarra. In one of the more serious attacks more than 70 people were injured and at least 3 people killed when a suicide attacker launched his vehicle into a crowded restaurant in northern Baghdad. In the Kirkuk attack, four died and at 10 were injured when a car bomb hit the government headquarters. Details of the other attacks were not widely reported but CNN said at least 3 US marines were injured in a triple suicide attack in Samarra.
Meanwhile the US military says it has captured 300 suspected insurgent in Operation Squeeze Play which saw a US/Iraqi offensive on Sunday and Monday in the Abu Ghraib area, south of Baghdad. Three US marines were also killed Sunday in a number of roadside bomb attacks in northern Iraq. A fourth died in a vehicle accident. On a lighter note, three Romanian hostages have returned to their home country following their release. The details behind their release are, however, still unclear. Their plane touched down this morning in Bucharest and besides a tyre bursting on landing all were declared safe. The Iraqi translator with which the Romanians were held hostage is “in US custody” due to the “intelligence material he may possess”, the US authorities have said. The freed hostages are Eduard Ohanesian, a correspondent for the Romania Libera newspaper, Marie Jeanne Ion, a journalist with Prima TV, her cameraman Sorin Miscoci, and their guide Mohamed Munaf. [12:38 GMT 23/05/2005]

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Truth and Lies

In a week of lies and half truths it can be difficult to take stock. Last week the Georgian authorities informed the media that a grenade was thrown at President Bush during his visit to Tblisi, Georgia. Then, that it was dropped or placed at the scene. Firstly it was a dud grenade, then a dummy grenade that was used in training exercises. Now, US authorities [specifically the FBI attachĂ© at the US Embassy in Georgia] have released a statement saying that it was a real grenade after all. This nugget of ‘information’ comes in the wake of accusations in Newsweek magazine that US military personnel at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran [Qur’an]. Within days of the article being published, riots and protests had killed many in Afghanistan. The US military said they would look into the allegations and Condolizza Rice issued a statement saying that the United States “do not disrespect any holy book”. The magazine suddenly released an apology followed by a retraction of the article, saying that the source to the allegations was now “not sure” of what he had seen. All of this did little to appease the rising anger throughout the Muslim world and protests have been seen in the West Bank and in London’s Grosvenor Square outside the US Embassy. And in fresh allegations leaked to the New York Times, and published yesterday, there were harrowing stories of torture leading to the death of Afghan prisoners at Bagram airbase. According to the report, seven US soldiers are facing criminal charges. And if this were not enough to stir the hornets nest of insurgency that is becoming ever more deadly, The Sun [in Britain] published pictures of the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, in his underwear. He was after all the reason we went to war, along with the other reasons; the weapons of mass destruction, 45 minute warnings, 9/11 links and so on! The truth may be out there but getting at it is another thing entirely. [15:39 GMT 21/05/2005]

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Galloway launches attack on America as Queen’s speech is buried.

45 bills have been proposed by Blair’s new Labour government as the Queen's speech today outlined. This headline was, however, buried beneath the vociferous attack on the American Senate by George Galloway M.P.

He arrived yesterday in the USA to answer to allegations that he had been involved in the so called ‘oil for food scandal’. For over 15 minutes the anti-war politician berated the US Government, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the Senate. “Everything I said about Iraq, I was right and you were wrong, and a hundred thousand people have paid with their lives”, he said. Broadcast throughout the world via satellite, he said, "I am not now or ever been an oil trader and neither has anyone on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anybody on my behalf."
The senate hearing was covered by CNN, Al Jazeera, ITN, BBC24, and Sky News. Euronews, Abu Dhabi and CCTV 9 did not cover the hearing live, though some bulletins did carry parts of the speech. In Iraq today a US marine was killed by an 'Improvised Explosive Device' and another was injured. And a Sunni cleric was shot today by unknown gunmen in western Baghdad. The drive against the current insurgency also continued in Mosul as US and Iraqi forces were reported to have been involved in 'heavy clashes' in the western part of the city AP reports. [0:48 BST 18/05/05]

Monday, May 16, 2005

Uzbekistan riots as Iraq is 'forgotten'

As Iraq continues to spiral out of control, the world media reports on a number of other issues. Mahmoud Abbas is in Japan, CCTV9 reports. Israel’s P.M, Ariel Sharon, has apparently refused an invite to attend talks. It is the 25th anniversary of the current Palestinian/Israeli troubles. At least 500 are dead following clashes in Uzbekistan. A ferry has sunk in Galachipa, in Bangladesh. Twenty five were reported dead and there were 25 survivors. A Turkish airline has been banned in a number of countries throughout Europe over safety grounds. And Joe Satriani has performed to a large audience in Bombay [Mumbai], India. CCTV 9 play out with beautiful Islamic art from Uzbekistanian culture.

The BBC also report on the Turkish Budget airline which has been banned from Germany, Holland & France

On CNN the major stories this weekend – The main news issues are a Pro-Democracy demonstration in Nepal and anti-Japanese protests in the far east and the continuing tension between Muslims and America over allegations surrounding the ‘desecration of the Koran’, as reported in Newsweek magazine.

The article and its repercussions have left at least 15 dead. The magazine has said it got some of the ‘details wrong’. A Newsweek spokesperson said to the BBC, “We are sorry for the way it turned out” and we’re “sorry for the incidents…”

Regards Uzbekistan, the BBC reports 'many hundreds possibly' killed after soldiers fired upon demonstrators. Jack Straw, British Home Secretary, said, ”We have to have transparency” on what is going on.

CBS are dealing mainly with domestic politics. And ‘sport’ also predominates; with the recent take over bid of Manchester United F.C. The team that made Beckham famous.

Condolezza Rice, on a secret visit to Iraq said, “Our promise is to bring stability” and “we want it to bring it as soon as possible…“.
But the troubles continue…[01:00 GMT 16/05/05]

Thursday, May 12, 2005

'Dimwits' cause panic in Washington D.C

Security scare in Washington makes US look like frightened hares. As a light Cessna flew too close to the Capitol building, everybody panicked. In six minutes journalists, senate members and tourists were unceremoniously evacuated. The pilots of the plane; one Jim Schaeffer & Troy Martin from Smokestown. The novice airman from the Vintage Air Club were making their way to an air show. One expert said on CNN’s Newsnight that “they didn’t plot their course properly”. You ain’t kiddin’! Federal Authorities however said, “No charges are being sought at this time.” But “what of the cost of defending the skies” says Aaron Brown.
How could it be that a Cessna 150 could create so much chaos. Once clear of the airfield, communications are optional. So it is easy for a small plane to stray into a restricted area if, say, one is lost; since there is no constant instruction from radio communications unlike large carriers. "Crazy days," says Aaron Brown.

RED, RED, GREEN; a lazer beam pulsates to warn pilots flying near central Washington to ‘retreat’. It can be ‘aimed at rogue aircraft’ and ‘protect the skies’ reports Jeanne Meserve. But what if a commercial aircraft is hijacked? How will the military react. The broadcast to the F-16s may be sent, ‘7500’ the code for ‘hijack’ which may lead to “think the unthinkable”. The shooting down of a civilian plane. Did the pilot of the plane sent to intercept this Cessna get that order? According to CNN, no. And he was persuaded to land through communications via the standard 121.5 mayday frequency. 2 F-16s and 1 Black Hawk were scrambled in the alert which occurred at Noon [16:30 GMT] on Wednesday. This sums it up, The Daily News [NYC]: “AIR HEADS: Two dimwits fly plane near White House causing panic in D,C”

In other US news: A Black Hawk helicopter crashed in New Mexico, resulting in 1 death. It was on route to a Vietnam memorial. And another memorial took place today at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. In this event hundreds took part in remembering those who died in the tsunami disaster of Boxing Day [26th December] 2004. And two people have died in riots in Afghanistan. They were triggered after a Newsweek article, conveyed by Afghani radio, which described the desecration of the Koran [Qu’ran] at Guantanamo Bay. [03:05 GMT / 04:05 BST / 20:05 PDT]

Jackson - Macaulay Culkin testifies

Macaulay Culkin has denied claims that Michael Jackson molested him. The former child star, now 24, said the allegations were “absolutely ridiculous”, when he finally made the much talked about appearance at ‘the trial of the century’. The British media were suddenly ‘interested’ again. BBC 24 Live at 08:29 [LA time] had a reporter commented that, “Macaulay Culkin has been seen in the Santa Barbara area” and a “large black car” had been seen “heading toward the court.” Jackson had, as he always does these days, ever since the ‘pyjamas episode’, turned up on time. Eight seventeen on the dot. Even his dress has toned down these days. Today a black arm band. And no sign of the British regimental medals much criticized in the UK tabloids. Later on Wednesday, jurors watched footage filmed by a member of Jackson's staff at the same time as a documentary being made on the star by British journalist Martin Bashir. Defence lawyers say the tape represents an unedited version of the documentary “Living With Michael Jackson”, in which the singer admitted sharing a bed with a child. On the tape Jackson talks about his charity work, noting that Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn and Danny Kaye have died, leaving no one to speak for the "voiceless." Jackson also says he would often hug or play with his deer and chimpanzee, Bubbles, to relax after a hard day's work. Asked why he loves children, Jackson says that in the Bible the apostles ask Jesus which of them he favors and Jesus points to a child and says the child is the most humble and innocent. "Why is it weird to want to be humble and innocent," Jackson says. "Not childish, but childlike? I see God in that." – The evidence the defence are presenting has not however, as yet, created the sensational headlines the prosecution brought us. The stars of stage and screen but is there any real substance to the ‘evidence’ the Merereau camp are showing to the jury? As they say – The trial continues…

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Iraq - operation Matador

Today in Iraq at least 54 people have died in a series of explosions in Tikrit. Some 96 were injured according to CNN. The four car bombs, according to one source, came in the wake of a concerted effort by US and Iraqi forces to crush the insurgency in the Anhar province near the Syrian border. It is claimed that many insurgents are crossing from Syria into Iraq. In these continuing battles several US soldiers have lost their lives and many insurgents killed. As for numbers, details are sketchy. A family confirmed the loss of a son on Tuesday and expected to learn more soon. Lance. Cpl. Stephen Baldwyn, from Mississippi was serving in the second platoon weapons company of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines in the 2nd Marine Division, his family said. The operation, codenamed ‘Operation Matador’, has met stiff resistance according to many news sources. The LA Times reporter embedded with the offensive said the insurgents appeared well-prepared, having sandbag bunkers piled in front of some homes and that fighters were strategically positioned on rooftops and balconies. The paper also reported that a Marine walking into a house was killed by a rebel hiding in the basement who fired through a floor grate. Another Marine who was retrieving a wounded comrade inside a house suffered shrapnel wounds when a grenade was thrown through a window. The report said the ‘anti-occupation fighters’ were using boats to transport weapons from one side of the Euphrates River to another, and that some were wearing body armor. It said a Marine suffered a broken back and at least two were wounded Sunday when a land mine hit their tank. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighters dropped two 500-pound laser-guided bombs and fired 510 20-millimeter cannon rounds Sunday against anti-occupation fighters around Al Qaim and that Marine F/A-18 fighters fired 319 20-millimeter cannon rounds. An AP journalist said fighting was reported in Obeidi, 160 km west of Baghdad, and the two nearby towns of Rommana and Karabilah, adding that large numbers of Qaim residents were fleeing the area. [13:25 GMT/UTC/ZULU - 14:25 BST 11/05/2005]

Grenades, Storms and Banana Skins

Officials played down reports that a grenade was found near to President George W. Bush on Tuesday during his visit to Ltsiga, Georgia. Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Guram Donadze described the device as a "non-combative" grenade used in military training and said it did not contain explosives. It was ‘placed’ in the crowd and ‘not thrown’ as previous reports had suggested. It is not the first security threat to rattle the US administration however. On April 26th President Bush was rushed to a secure underground White House bunker and Vice President Dick Cheney was whisked outside the compound, because of a "radar anomaly" - perhaps a flock of birds or pocket of rain - that was mistaken for a plane flying in restricted airspace. The following day and Prime Minister Tony Blair's election campaign plane was been struck by lightning during a flight. BBC Radio Five Live presenter Peter Allen, who was on board, said it was hit as it approached London. The plane was not damaged and landed safely. "All I remember was a red and white flash just in my mind which woke me up with a start," he said. Mr Blair's plane has been hit by lightning before, during a trip to Washington. And after the pinched line from Bananas in Pajamas, Michael Howard certainly looks like his campaign slipped on banana skins. “Are You Thinking What We’re Thinking? Bananas in Pajamas”…”time for bed”, said Zebedee…

Monday, May 09, 2005

'Nuclear accident' at Sellafield

A nuclear leak has occurred in the UK according to an article in The Guardian and also reported on Channel 4 News tonight. The leak of highly radioactive nuclear fuel dissolved in ‘enough concentrated nitric acid to half-fill an Olympic-size swimming pool’ and has forced the closure of a controversial British reprocessing plant. Channel 4 News reported that the news was ‘kept secret’ until after the election. It was discovered last month during an automated inspection at the $5.4 billion Thorp reprocessing plant in northwest England. Repairing the pipes and recovering the spilled liquids are expected to take months and may need special robots, which will have to be built, the Times reported. The newspaper calculated that 200kg of plutonium in the leaked solution was enough to make 20 nuclear weapons. [0:49 BST 10/05/2005]

For a perspective on what it's like to live near a major nuclear accident visit Elena Filatova's blog. She lives close to the scene of the Chernobyl nuclear power station, near Kiev in the Ukraine. In her story, she describes a desolate place as she travels through the 'Land of Wolves'

Nuclear Map

VE Day celebrations as Iraq chaos continues

George W Bush is continuing his tour of the eastern block, today arriving in Georgia. President Putin made a speech in VE Day ceremonies in which he made reference to Bush’s critical remarks from the previous day. “We do not make distinction between those who took part in the liberation of Europe”, he said, and continued by mentioning them by name, France Britain and America. Victory in Europe anniversary celebrations have continued today in St Helena in the Channel Islands. In Iraq meanwhile the US say they have killed 50 insurgents in fighting near the Syrian border. It is not clear whether this is the same incident referred to by Iraqi army sources yesterday, in which ’20 insurgents were killed’. The hostage taking continues as a Japanese national was taken by the Army of Ansar Al-Sunna. In a statement released on their website, the insurgents claimed the death of 4 other contractors and 12 Iraqi guards who were travelling with Akihiko Saito, 44. One of the posted ID cards belonging to Saito which identified him as a security manager of Hart GMSSCO, a British-based security firm. Hart CEO Simon Falkner said in London that there was an ambush with casualties Sunday night involving Hart personnel, but would not confirm whether Saito was an employee and if he had been seized. Insurgents say they ambushed the convoy near Hit, west of Baghdad, and said a fierce battle erupted between the fighters and those in the convoy. Hit is located about 110 km from where U.S. forces say they have launched a major offensive against militants near the Syrian border. It was not known if this offensive had any connection to the ambush.

As the deadline for an Australian hostage comes to an end, no word has yet been heard from his captors. Sixty three year old Douglas Wood, who was working in Iraq as an engineer, has not been seen since his capture apart from a video posted by insurgents on their website. Meanwhile a senior Muslim cleric in Australia, Sheikh Taj Al-DinAl-Hilali, has flown to Iraq in an attempt to secure his release. Australian PM John Howard has said he will not accede to the hostage-takers demands.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Cabinet changes in UK govt.

Cabinet changes all round as Blair ‘gets on with the job’. David Blunkett was returned to the cabinet and given a new job as Work & Pensions Secretary. He set to work immediately to meet some pensioners; after he had heard there was a protest march about to take place. In the Conservative camp Michael Howard has announced that he will stand down as leader, saying that he was ‘too old’ to lead them [the Conservative Party] into the next election. The Lib Dems are happy in that they achieved an increased number of seats.

Election Map
[source - BBC]

Iraq - over 30 dead in weekend violence

Iraq, Saturday, and seven US soldiers have died in three incidents. In Samarra one soldier was killed and another injured when their patrol came under attack. In Khaldiyah, west of Baghdad, two further troops died in an explosion during ‘combat operations’. And in Hadithah, 260km north-west of Baghdad, three US soldiers were killed in a suicide bomb attack. Saturday also saw more than 22 dead in a series of explosions in central Baghdad. U.S. military sources said the two suicide attackers crashed their explosives-packed cars into a three-vehicle convoy in Tahrir Square, known for its shops and a large statue of ‘Iraqi soldiers breaking through chains to freedom’. Over 300 civilians Iraqi armed forces, police and US soldiers have been killed in the last 10 days alone.
But the fight to put down the increasing insurgency has brought some results. An aide to insurgent leader Abu Musab Al Zarqawi has been captured by Iraqi security forces according to US military sources, CNN report today. In a statement issued Saturday, the U.S. command said an April 26 raid ‘netted a suspect’ described by the U.S. military as a ‘key associate of Iraq's most wanted militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’. The captured man, Ghassan Muhammad Amin Husayn al-Rawi is said to have helped al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq group, arrange meetings and move foreign insurgents into the country. And Iraqi military sources reported at least 25 insurgents dead and several ‘key militants’ captured, after fighting near the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Meanwhile George W Bush has been continuing his ‘march to freedom’ as he visits Russia. He may encounter a rather cold reception from President Putin following his strong comments in Latvia on Saturday. In a speech he made in the Latvian capital Riga, Bush called the Cold War division of Europe after 1945 one of the "greatest wrongs of history" and referred to the "occupation and communist oppression" of the Baltic states.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Election Night - and sleep deprivation

A night after the night before. All over the country as news coverage continues on electoral analysis, there are many journalists and photographers that are attempting to catch up on lost sleep. In every constituency, journalists gather in order to convey the numbers across to the Press Association, ITN the BBC and other news desks across the country. But there is often a long wait. With a later closing time at the polls, that wait increased. The first two hours usually drifts along quite quickly. But as the hours tick by, the fatigue sets in. In the 2001 election at one count I attended, the bar was open until beyond 2 a.m. It provided a comfortable area in which people could gather and discuss the developing picture across the country as we watched BBC 24. In a constituency I was working at this year, there was nothing. The bar was shut and a small table provided expensive warm bottled water, rank coffee and orange juice. There was no TV. And as such, there were a bunch of hungry journalists getting ever hungry for information about what was occurring elsewhere. The bar was filled however, with smokers. At 3:11 a.m the Castlepoint results come in and are filed as quickly as possible. But there are still the County Council Election results to come. It was time for a quick visit to the local 24 hour service station. Not until 5:30 did I leave. And by the time pictures were filed it was gone 7 a.m. In Harlow the second recount was abandoned and is set to resume on Saturday morning. There’s got to be a better way to do the count. Electronic voting has got to be the way forward. Though it would mean a large number of journalists being denied the ‘fun’ of election night. Today and the bickering continues on Sky News as Sir Teddy Taylor and Tony Banks appear on the Bolton Factor.
20:27 BST [19:27 GMT] 06/05/2005


Tony Blair and the Labour Party win an 'historic' third term. The predicted majority is reported by Sky as being around 70. George Galloway takes a seat from Labour for his 'Respect Party' in what is seen as a reaction to Blair's policy on Iraq. The Lib Dems have made some gains as have the Conservatives. Sky News are currently reporting 351 Labour, 190 Con., 57 Lib Dem and 12 others. ITN report 347 Labour, 189 Con., 59 Lib Dem and 13 others. BBC & CNN are not currently showing figures as Tony Blair having made his way back from Sedgefield by plane to Luton Airport, has arrived in London. As he make his way to the stage an almost 'Republican style chant' of "Four More Years" can be heard. It's all smiles on Tony Blairs face with the usual praise and thanks to his leading cabinet members; Prescott, Brown, et al. There'll be much debate and analysis of the facts surround the relatively high turnout and the results of this election. On a local note, the south-east has maintained or shifted to an increased Conservative presence. Brentwood & Ongar is held by Eric Pickles (C), besides a strong campaign by the Martin Bell Legacy Group & Gavin Stollar's Liberal Democrat campaign. Bob Spink (C) retains his Castlepoint constituancy. Hornchurch has switched to the Conservatives from Labour. Harlow is still on a recount. This reporter's now off to bed as the election coverage comes to an end. Goodnight all. 06:30 BST UK / 05:30 GMT/UTC/ZULU 06/05/2005

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Election day

Polling day in the UK has started with a bang. A bomb blast occurred in New York in the early hours outside the British Consulate. The reported time of the explosion was at 3:35 in the morning in 3rd Avenue. FOX5 reports that the devices were “toy grenades, made to explode by someone putting gunpowder in them”. No injuries were reported and only minor damage was reported to the building. In Iraq several attacks have killed at least 23 people. In one attack a gunman killed 9 police officers in west Baghdad. In another attack a suicide bomber blew up his device in a recruitment centre, killing 13, the BBC reported today. Sky News reported 17 dead at the recruitment centre.
11:34 GMT 05/05/2005

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Voters in the UK head to the polls

Voters finally head to the polling booths today at the end of an election campaign dubbed as being one of the most boring elections in recent history. The result of which one can still only speculate. Commentators on Sky News, BBC's Newsnight and ITV news were all hesistant to lay their bets on a final result. Some think it will be 'A day for the Lib Dems', not so much a change of government but an increase of seats. The polls were wrong last time and they don't measure the so called 'floating voter'. General predictions were of a reduced majority Labour government. But stranger things have happened.

2005 election campaign comes to an end

End of the campaign trail as polls open

Judge rejects 'guilty plea'

In BREAKING NEWS, Pte. Lynndie England's guilty plea has been rejected by the judge. In a quote read on BBC, the judge is believed to have said, 'If you don't believe you are guilty, you cannot plead guilty'. He is believed to have come to this decision after evidence given by Grainer, already convicted of the Abu Ghraib abuse for which she also stands accused.

Iraq & Afghanistan

Another day of violence in Iraq . Some reports suggest up to 60 police recruits were killed this morning in Irbil [or Erbil], northern Iraq, when a suicide bomber set off his device in the queue. The number of injured stands at around 150. The numbers are so far sketchy with some reports from a reporter in Erbil suggesting 90 dead. In Afghanistan US military has said that 21 insurgents were killed in an operation. No US casualties have been reported. The US death toll for the continuing Afghanistan campaign stands at 180. On Tuesday the U.S. military installed a new commander in Afghanistan, a fresh Army general who pledged to be relentless in combating insurgents still dogging the country more than three years after the fall of the Taliban. Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry took over from Lt. Gen. David Barno in a ceremony at the U.S. military headquarters in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

LA Freeway shootings escalate

Authorities have confirmed the seventh shooting on Southern California freeways in the past two months. Four people have died and three wounded in the shootings that began in mid-March. Official records show there 36 freeway shootings in 2004, with one fatality. In 2003, there were 46 shootings and four fatalities. USA Today

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Weapons of Mass Destruction

LIVE on CNN the new Iraqi government is being sworn in today. Meanwhile a Nuclear Non-Proliferation conference is underway at the United Nations. Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian foreign minister, has asserted its right to use nuclear technology for ‘peaceful purposes’. He said it was ‘unacceptable’ for nuclear technology to be used only by an ‘exclusive club’. He added that “Iran is determined to pursue all legal paths” to ensure their nuclear industry continues. This comes in the same week that the Independent newspaper, in the UK, ‘revealed’ that Tony Blair was to ‘upgrade Britain’s nuclear weapons’. Of the 32 known nuclear states in the world, only 5 are recognised in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Of the 32 counties believed to have reactors capable of making a nuclear device, only India and Pakistan have declared to possess such weapons. Israel is believed to have up to 200 warheads and North Korea and Iran are suspected by many governments to have possession or be in the process of developing such weapons.

Non-Proliferation Treaty Members:
USA – 7,068 warheads / UK – 185 / France – 348 / Russia – 8,232 / China – 402

Countries not in the NPT:
Israel – 200 [estimated] / India – 30-40 [estimated] / Pakistan – 30-50 [estimated]
North Korea – 2 ? / Iran – unknown, believed to be developing weapons.
[source: SIPRA/CTBT Treaty]

Further reading: Nuclear Guide
Nuclear Power Stations

Iraq - Violence increases

Iraq has become an ever stronger issue as the British political parties campaign for the last few days leading up to Thursday’s poll. Further leaks have surfaced over the weekend adding further pressure on the Blair administration to explain their decisions over the war. The 88th British soldier to die in the continuing conflict over the weekend was named as 24 year old Anthony Wakefield from Newcastle upon Tyne. The soldier died in a bomb attack Monday in Al Amarah, north of Basra. The weekend also saw many suicide bomb attacks throughout the country. Two bombs exploded in Baghdad, Monday, killing a least four people. The first bomb exploded in the Huriya district of northwest Baghdad as a small convoy of vehicles carrying Major General Fuleih Rasheed, the commander of a police commando unit linked to the Interior Ministry, was passing. Several bodyguards were injured. The second car bomb exploded in the Karrada district, a busy neighbourhood in the south of the capital. It detonated outside an electrical goods store on a major shopping street, damaging an apartment building and half a dozen cars. Four were killed and at least 12 injured. A suicide bomb was also reported to have killed several people in the northern city of Mosul. In the latest developments, a US pilot has been killed another missing, presumed dead, in what the US military describe as a possible mid-air collision. The two F-18 were on patrol in an, as yet, unspecified area. Centcom also announced the death of one US soldier and another injured from an ‘IED’ attack late Monday. The bomb detonated at around 9:45 p.m near to Baghdad’s International airport.
This is an airport where Air Scotland, a small carrier, wish to start a new service. The flights would start at Glasgow Airport and then stop off at Stansted, London en route before flying to Baghdad. The service could begin as early as November. Chairman of Air Scotland, Iraqi born Dhia El-Ani said, “I believe there is tremendous interest and a massive need because I have already heard from a lot of people wanting flights."
In November 2003 another carrier, DHL, halted flights after one of their planes was hit by a missile near the airport.

Lynndie England, who has come to symbolize the abuse of Iraqi POWs at Abu Ghraib prison, has pleaded guilty in an attempt to get a reduced sentence. Some commentators have said those on trial are scapegoats for widespread abuse which went higher up the command structure.

Strong criticism of the US government comes today from the Italian’s as a report criticizes actions taken by the US military which led to the death of Italy’s ‘007’. Nicola Calipari, an Italian agent, was killed by US soldiers as the car, in which he was traveling, made its way towards a US checkpoint. He was on a mission to rescue a journalist who had been held hostage for several months. The report blames the troops' stress and inexperience, and says the US authorities should have signalled that there was a checkpoint on the road.

Another hostage, that of an Australian Douglas Wood, 63, remained at risk after Australian PM John Howard rejected “any wind down of troops” in the country. The engineer working for a US company was kidnapped by the Shura Council of the Mujahidden of Iraq.

US death toll for April – 51
UK death toll for April – 0
Iraqi Police/Military death toll for April – 199
Civilian deaths – unknown
Contractors death toll for April – 19

Afghanistan - explosion kills 28

In Afghanistan, 28 were killed and 70 injured Monday when an ammunition dump, which contained mortar bombs, artillery rounds and other ordnance, exploded. It belonged to a militia commander called Jalal Bajgaye. The cause of the blast in Pajga village in Baghlan province, 120 km (80 miles) north of the capital, Kabul, is a yet unknown.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Attacks in Iraq, Arrests in Egypt, Tests in N Korea

In Egypt, authorities have detained nearly 200 people from villages where the three people, responsible for yesterday’s attacks, resided.
In Tal Afar, in northern Iraq, 20 people died after a suicide bomb detonated at a Kurdish funeral. In earlier attacks, in Baghdad,13 Iraqis died and 12 were injured. US and Iraqi troops meanwhile detained a number of insurgents in a southern suburb of Baghdad. According to US sources, some have ‘confessed’ to the abduction and killing of Margaret Hassan, a CARE worker who hasn’t been seen since November 2004. North Korea is believed to have tested a new missile CNN reports. And Laura Bush brings the house down as she made fun of her husband George W. Bush. On a broadcast shown on the BBC and other networks, She said, “We are opposites, I'm quiet, he's talkative. I'm introverted, he's extroverted. I can pronounce nuclear..."