Wednesday, April 15, 2009

U.S. to go after pirate funds

MOMBASA, Kenya — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced new efforts Wednesday to freeze pirate booty, part of a series of diplomatic steps by the Obama administration to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia.
Clinton said the administration would call for immediate meetings of an international counter-piracy task force to expand current naval coordination against pirates. The administration also will send an envoy to a Somali donors conference scheduled for next week in Brussels, and will attempt to organize meetings with officials of Somali's transitional government as well as regional leaders in Somali's semiautonomous Puntland.Clinton acknowledged that the diplomatic steps she outlined will not necessarily address piracy's root causes — endemic instability and insecurity on the ground in Somalia. But she said the moves were critical given the rising number of ship hijackings."You've got to put out the fire before you can rebuild the house," she told reporters at the State Department. "And, right now, we have a fire raging."The steps come as French forces raided a pirate supply ship and detained 11 brigands off the coast of Kenya on Wednesday and as pirate attacks and counterattacks racheted up tensions in one of the world's most important shipping lanes.The French forces launched their early morning attack after observing the pirates overnight. A French surveillance helicopter spotted the pirates' vessel Tuesday, the French Defense Ministry said in a statement.The raid thwarted the sea bandits' planned attack on a Liberian-registered vessel, the ministry said. The ship was intercepted 550 miles east of the Kenyan city of Mombasa.

Sharia law rules as Pakistan divides Swat Valley

PAKISTAN entered a potentially dangerous new era yesterday after its parliament ratified a bill establishing a separate Islamic legal code for the Swat Valley, dividing the country into areas ruled by the state and those by sharia law.

The bill, passed unanimously by parliament and signed off late on Monday night by pro-US President Asif Ali Zardari, is the culmination of a controversial peace deal signed in February with Taliban militants who have waged a bloody 18-month campaign for control of the former tourist region.

The Nizam-a-Adl regulation effectively cedes control of the entire Malakand province, less than 200km north of the capital Islamabad, to Islamic extremists in exchange for a ceasefire between the security forces and local Taliban militants who have terrorised the community.

Mr Zardari had delayed signing the bill, saying he wanted to see peace restored to the valley first, but relented under pressure from his own party and the hard-line Muslim clerics who brokered the deal but accused the Government last week of reneging on it.

The legislation has been greeted with alarm by analysts and human rights groups, who warn it will further diminish the authority of the weak civilian Government and embolden the militants to move their writ beyond the Swat.

Retired general Talat Masood said the Government had chosen "the path of least resistance, which has dire consequences for the future of Pakistan".

"It will change the entire complexion of the country," General Masood said, warning that the issue would not be confined to Malakand. "My view is (Islamic extremism) will probably spread over all the country west of the Indus. No one is defining what Pakistan should be - there's no ideological or intellectual clarity."

Pakistan was probebly headed into a violent Islamic cycle in which the country would be ruled once again by right-wing forces with religious links, he said.

Even before parliamentary approval, judges trained in Islamic law had begun hearing cases in Swat, and Taliban fighters are said to be in control of much of the region. A video smuggled out of the area last month showed a young woman being publicly flogged for allegedly leaving her house in the company of a man who was not her blood relative.

Since the February deal, Taliban militants have reportedly been pouring into the Swat Valley. US officials say the deal has given the Taliban and its al-Qa'ida allies an advantage in their long-running battle against Pakistan's military.

"This is a rest stop for the Taliban, it's nothing more," one Washington official told The Wall Street Journal.

Pakistani and US officials estimate as many as 8000 militants are now based in Swat, nearly double the number in the area at the end of last year.

The militants have begun to spread - at least 13 were killed in clashes with security forces and local militiamen in neighbouring Buner last week after tribal elders there failed to convince Taliban infiltrators to leave.

Pakistan's English-language newspaper The Dawn reported yesterday that 120 Taliban, including a group of militants who had taken over the local police station and an important Sufi shrine, left Buner at the weekend.

Taliban militants warned before the parliamentary vote that MPs who opposed the pact were guilty of apostasy - a crime punishable by death in parts of the Muslim world.

Talking to the local media after the bill was passed, Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said Pakistan's parliament had proved it was brave and Islam-friendly.

China launches second "Compass" satellite for global navigation system

BEIJING -- China successfully launched its second navigation satellite early Wednesday, as part of the country's independent global satellite navigation system.

The carrier rocket, Long March 3C, blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province at 0:16 a.m..

An official with the National Engineering Center of Satellite Navigation told Xinhua, the successful launch of the geostationary Earth orbit satellite was of great importance as it was the second one of the country's satellite navigation system independent from foreign technology.

The system, code named "COMPASS", is a crucial part of the country's space infrastructure for providing navigation and positioning services in transportation, meteorology, petroleum prospecting, forest fire monitoring, disaster forecast, telecommunications and public security among others. It can bring significant social and economic benefits, the official said.

The system can help clients know their location at any time and place with accurate longitude, latitude and altitude data, and will offer "safer" positioning, velocity, timing communications for authorized users.

Previous reports said China planed to complete its independent global satellite navigation system by launching about 30 more orbiters before 2015, with 10 navigation satellites into the space in 2009 and 2010. The current Compass system only provides regional navigation service within China and neighboring regions.

The second "Compass" satellite and its carrier rocket were respectively developed by the China Academy of Space Technology and the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology which are under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

It is the 116th flight for the country's Long March series of rockets.

China launched the first "Compass" navigation satellite into geostationary orbit in April 2007 to build up its own positioning system following the United States' Global Positioning System (GPS), the Galileo Positioning System of Europe and Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS).

Iran says has new plan to end nuclear standoff

TEHRAN/WASHINGTON - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday Iran had ready proposals to end a standoff with six world powers as Washington insisted it would not drop a demand that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment work.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said major powers had not had a response yet from Tehran for talks over its nuclear program and she had not seen "any kind of proposal" from Iran to resolve the stalemate over its nuclear plans.

"We have prepared a package that can be the basis to resolve Iran's nuclear problem. It will be offered to the West soon," Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech in Iran's southeastern province of Kerman.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said last week they would ask European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana to invite Iran to a meeting to find "a diplomatic solution to this critical issue."

It marked a significant shift in U.S. policy under President Barack Obama, whose predecessor, George W. Bush, shunned direct talks with Tehran as long as it pressed ahead with uranium enrichment that the West believes is aimed at building a bomb but Iran says is for peaceful purposes.

The Obama administration has said it will meet Iran "without preconditions" but Clinton, who met Solana in Washington on Wednesday, made clear the United States had not given up pushing for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.

"We have not dropped or added any conditions," she said, without elaborating.


While seeking to engage Iran, the Obama administration has also warned of moves to impose tougher sanctions if Tehran keeps defying U.N. demands to halt sensitive nuclear work.

"We will stand behind the sanctions that have already been implemented and we will look for new ways to extend collective action vis a vis Iran's nuclear program," said Clinton.

"We will continue to work with our allies to make it clear that Iran cannot continue to pursue nuclear weapons."

On Monday, Iran welcomed a "constructive" dialogue with the six world powers, in its clearest signal that yet it would accept an invitation for talks on its nuclear activity.

It was unclear whether Iran's counter-offer would be essentially different from previous ill-fated exchanges. Ahmadinejad did not give details of the new package, but said the world could not be ruled by "using force."

"This new package will ensure peace and justice for the world. It respects rights of all nations," he said.

The six world powers originally offered Iran economic and political incentives in 2006 to suspend enrichment. Iran's response hinted at some flexibility but ruled out suspension as a precondition for talks as stipulated by the powers.

Last June the six improved the offer while retaining the precondition. In reply, Iran said it wanted to negotiate a broader peace and security deal and rejected any "condescending" formula to shelve its nuclear program.

Western officials said Iran's second response endorsed talks for talks' sake and was useless because it again sidestepped the suspension issue.


They felt Iran was trying to buy time to expand and make irreversible its nuclear program.

An Iranian official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that "suspension is out of the question" but that Iran did want to get talks rolling with major powers.

"Eventually Iran may agree to accept the (U.N. nuclear watchdog's) Additional Protocol," the official said.

The protocol, which expands on the basic nuclear safeguards accords many countries have with the International Atomic Energy Agency, permits short-notice IAEA inspections beyond declared nuclear sites, to help verify no covert activity is going on.

Iran stopped voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol in 2006 in retaliation for initial U.N. sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.

Underlining Iran's intention to continue with its nuclear drive despite Western pressure, Ahmadinejad on April 9 inaugurated its first nuclear fuel fabrication plant and said the country had now mastered the entire fuel cycle.

Obamas release 2008 tax return

The first family's income dropped to $2.7 million from $4.2 million the previous year. The president and first lady paid $855, 323 in federal taxes.
The first family released its 2008 federal tax return today, showing household income dropping to $2.7 million, from $4.2 million the previous year.But while many Americans had a bad financial year, President Obama recorded a net profit from book sales of $2.5 million, according to a copy of the tax return released this afternoon by the White House.He and First Lady Michelle Obama paid $855,323 in federal taxes, while making $172,050 in charitable contributions to 37 different charities. The largest reported gifts were $25,000 to both the United Negro College Fund and the relief organization CARE."The president sold a lot of books last year, no doubt, and paid a hefty amount in federal income tax," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.As president, Obama now is paid $400,000 a year.Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill reported adjusted gross income of $269,256 from salaries from the U.S. Senate, Widener University and Delaware Technical & Community College and royalties from the audio rights to the vice president's book. They paid $46,952 in federal income taxes.A year ago, then- President George W. Bush reported taxable income of $719,274 for the 2007 tax year. He and Laura Bush paid $221,635 in federal income taxes that year.The Obamas contributed $6 in 2008 to the federal fund that provides public financing of presidential campaigns, a program the Democratic nominee bypassed himself.The first family's personal wealth has soared over the last few years, following the same trajectory of Obama's rapid political rise.Their annual household income fluctuated around the $250,000 mark during the first half of this decade, before his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004. Millions in book royalties and advances started rolling in during 2005.Before entering the Senate, Obama signed two book deals worth nearly $2.3 million. He received about $1.2 million of the advance money in 2005, helping the couple afford their purchase that year of a $1.65-million house in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood.From 1997 through 2004, Obama earned dual paychecks for his work as a state lawmaker and as a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.Over the same period, Michelle Obama worked first for the University of Chicago and then for the University of Chicago Hospitals. Their household income was also augmented in most years by thousands of dollars that her husband earned from practicing law, giving speeches and serving as a director of charitable foundations.The Obamas have only recently dug deeply into their own pockets to support charitable causes. In 2002, the year before Obama launched his U.S. Senate campaign, the couple reported income of $259,394 and $1,050 in deductions for gifts to charity, below the national average of $1,872.

Bomber sows terror in Charsadda; 16 killed

CHRASADDA: Nine police personnel, including a DSP and an SHO, and seven passers-by were killed while 10 others were injured after a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a police checkpost on Wednesday evening.The incident took place at a checkpost where police had erected barricades after the Charsadda DPO alerted the police to presence of two explosive-laden vehicles in the district.The dead police personnel were identified as Tangi DSP Bahadar Khan, Mandani SHO Jehangir Khan, ASIs Qayyum Khan and Sher Mohammad, constables Mukhtiar, Amin Jan, Izzat Khan Shouab, and Sardar Ali.The injured were taken to the Charsadda DHQ hospital, Tangi hospital and Jamalabad hospital. The seriously injured were referred to Peshawar.Charsadda DPO Mohammad Riaz and Peshawar CCPO Safwat Ghayur oversaw the rescue operation. The heavy rains accompanied with hailstorm and power disruption, hindered the rescue work.Police and FC were called out in the area. Rumours began circulating late in the night that another suicide bomber might strike ‘any time and any where’, setting off panic throughout the area.According to unconfirmed reports, two explosive-laden vehicles were used in the attack. Another suspected vehicle (AKA-1041) was found near the scene of the explosion. A movie camera and a hand-grenade were recovered from the vehicle.The CCPO said that about 100 kilograms of explosives were used in the explosion. An eyewitness said that the explosion was so powerful that a number of houses were partially damaged.

Afghan women attacked for protesting marriage law

Dozens of young women braved crowds of bearded men screaming "dogs!" on Wednesday to protest an Afghan law that lets husbands demand sex from their wives. Some of the men picked up small stones and pelted the women. "Slaves of the Christians!" chanted the 800 or so counter-demonstrators, a mix of men and women. A line of female police officers locked hands to keep the groups apart.

The warring protests highlight the explosive nature of the women's rights debate in Afghanistan. Both sides are girding for battle over the legislation, which has sparked an international uproar since being quietly signed into law last month.

The law says a husband can demand sex with his wife every four days, unless she is ill or would be harmed by intercourse. It also regulates when and for what reasons a wife may leave her home without a male escort.

Though the law would apply only to the country's Shiites, who make up less than 20 percent of Afghanistan's 30 million people, many fear its passage marks a return to Taliban-style oppression of women. The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, required women to wear all-covering burqas and banned them from leaving home unless accompanied by a male relative.

Governments and rights groups around the world have condemned the legislation, and President Barack Obama has labeled it "abhorrent." Afghan President Hamid Karzai has remanded the law to the Justice Department for review and put enforcement on hold.

A host of Afghan intellectuals, politicians and even a number of Cabinet ministers have come out against the law. But those who decry the legislation face quick criticism from conservative Muslim clerics and their followers, as Wednesday's protests showed.

"You are a dog! You are not a Shiite woman!" one man shouted to a young woman in a head scarf.

The woman, who held a banner reading "We don't want Taliban law," replied quietly: "This is my land and my people."

The demonstrators chose a risky spot to hold their protest — in front of the mosque of the legislation's main backer — and were easily outnumbered by supporters of the law. They said many women had been stopped on their way to the protest.

In the end, more women demonstrated in favor of the law than against it: A few hundred Shiite women marched with banners to join the angry men. They blamed foreigners for inciting the protests.

"We don't want foreigners interfering in our lives. They are the enemy of Afghanistan," said 24-year-old Mariam Sajadi.

Sajadi is engaged to be married, and said she plans to ask her husband's permission to leave the house as put forth in the law. She said other articles — such as the one allowing husbands to demand sex — have been misinterpreted by Westerners prejudiced against Islam. She did not elaborate.

On the other side of the shouting, Mehri Rezai, 32, urged her countrymen to reject the law.

"This law treats women as if we were sheep," she said.

Both sides say they're defending their constitutional rights — but Afghanistan's constitution is unclear. It defers to Islamic law as the highest authority, but also guarantees equal rights for women.

Abbas Noyan, a Shiite lawmaker who opposes the law, said he is hopeful it will be changed. But others are less sure, and even the country's minister of women's affairs, who is female, has declined to comment on the law.

New York-based Human Rights Watch maintains that the judicial review ordered by Karzai is unlikely to be truly independent because those leading the process come from a conservative Shiite background.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Taliban execute eloping young lovers in Afghanistan

A young couple who tried to elope in one of the most lawless and conservative parts of Afghanistan have been publicly executed by Taliban gunmen after their parents handed them over to be tried by insurgents.

Officials from the south-western province of Nimroz say Gul Pecha, in her late teens, and her boyfriend Abdul Aziz, 21, were shot by a firing squad outside a mosque in their home village of Lokhi on Monday.

The couple had fled to a nearby village and were planning to start a life together without the permission of their parents, according to the province's police chief Abdul Jabar Pardeli.

But they were found by their parents and turned over to the Taliban, who held them for four days in Lokhi's mosque before putting them on trial.

Ghulam Dastageer Azad, the governor of Nimroz, said the couple's execution was "against Islam, against the law and against the constitution".

An unofficial justice system, often dispensing brutal punishment to people found guilty of petty crimes or breaking the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic values, has become the hallmark of areas where insurgents enjoy a high degree of influence.

A recent report by a human rights group said the Taliban systematically terrorise civilians with threatening "night letters", executions and limb amputations in order to force communities not to support the government.

Taliban commanders are even issued with manuals telling them what techniques to use and who to target.

Officials say the couple's home district of Khash Rod is under almost complete Taliban control.

Sadiq Chakhansor, the head of the provincial council, said he thought the couple were intending to flee to Iran, where many young people from the region grew up as refugees, enjoying a relatively liberal environment before returning to their much more restrictive homeland.

Although the provincial governor, chief of police and leader of the local council all claimed Taliban gunmen were responsible for the murders, a spokesman for the movement denied Taliban involvement.

"I have contacted our fighters in the area and I can say that none of them were involved," said Qari Yousuf Ahmadi. "But it was a very bad thing for these people to escape from their homes without permission and it is right that they should be punished according to Sharia law."

There are almost no Afghan or foreign troops in Khash Rod, which is seen as a resting area and a passageway for militants moving through into neighbouring Helmand province where most of Britain's effort in the country is directed.