Tuesday, May 26, 2009

North Korea fires two short-range missiles

- North Korea fired on Tuesday two short-range missiles on its east coast. South Korean officials say this whips up tensions even further following a second nuclear test, which North Korea conducted on Monday.

“The North continues brandishing its arms,” a government source stressed. He did not explain whether those had been test launches.

According to officials from the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, North Korea declared on Tuesday the sea area off its northwestern coast closed for ships. Officials in Seoul believe this ban can be also connected with possible missile launches to the Yellow Sea.

A source in the South Korean government said the missiles fired on Tuesday had the range of 130 kilometers. One of them was an antiaircraft missile and the other one - an anti-ship missile. On Monday, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test and fired three small-range missiles. The U.N. Security Council condemned those moves.

Barack Obama names Hispanic Sonia Sotomayor as new Supreme Court judge

President Obama has named Sonia Sotomayor, the federal appeals judge, as America’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, a woman with a remarkable personal story that began on a housing project in the south Bronx.

If confirmed by the Senate Judge Sotomayor, 54, whose parents came from Puerto Rico, will also become only the third woman to serve on America’s highest court. Within minutes of the announcement conservatives said that they were preparing to do battle over a judge they accuse of being a liberal activist.

Judge Sotomayor, who was inspired to become a judge after watching the Perry Mason courtroom dramas as a child, had diabetes diagnosed at 8 and lost her father, a factory worker, the following year. She and her brother were raised by their mother, a nurse in a methadone clinic, in the Bronxdale housing project. She graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude in 1976, and from Yale Law School in 1979. She is divorced with no children.

In making the first Supreme Court nomination by a Democratic president in 15 years, Mr Obama has said that the most important quality he was looking for was someone with empathy for ordinary citizens. Announcing his choice in the White House he said: “Even as she has accomplished so much in her life she has never forgotten where she began, never lost touch with the community that supported her. What Sonia will bring to the court is not only the experience acquired over the course of a brilliant legal career but the wisdom accumulated from an inspiring life’s journey.”

Judge Sotomayor said that Mr Obama’s decision to pick her was “the most humbling honour of my life” and that “never in my wildest childhood imaginings did I ever envision this moment”.

Barring an unexpected scandal she is expected to be confirmed by the Senate without a bruising fight, mainly because, faced with a Democratic majority of 59 seats, Republicans will be unable to muster the 60 votes needed to mount a blocking filibuster.If confirmed she will replace David Souter, who is retiring. She will not significantly alter the finely balanced ideological make-up of the court, as he was a reliable liberal.

Yet Judge Sotomayor, a court of appeals judge from New York, has strong critics from both the Left and Right, with conservatives decrying the choice. They are particularly animated by a videotape of Judge Sotomayor, taken during a panel discussion four years ago in which she said, half-joking: “Court of appeals is where policy is made. And I know — and I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don’t make law, I know.” The most provocative thing for conservatives that a judge could say is a claim to make policy from the bench — a breach of the separation of powers under the Constitution.

Wendy Long, of the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, said: “Judge Sotomayor is a liberal activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written. She thinks that judges should dictate policy.” Mike Huckabee, a 2008 presidential candidate, said: “Sotomayor comes from the far left and will likely leave us with something akin to the ‘Extreme Court’.”

From her 1998 Senate confirmation for the appeals court, 18 Republicans who voted in that process still sit in the upper chamber; 11 voted against her and seven in favour. Yet some will be wary of voting against the Supreme Court’s first Latino. Politically Mr Obama’s pick was shrewd. Hispanics are now America’s biggest minority, and a powerful voting bloc in the new electoral battleground that has opened up in the West.

Some liberals claim that Judge Sotomayor lacks the intellectual clout to take on the court’s conservative heavyweights. Some lawyers who have appeared before her say that she can be a bully. Yet her 17-year record shows a woman with liberal tendencies who is also a pragmatist.

Pakistanis in Swat "face catastrophe"; clashes spread

ISLAMABAD - Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani civilians trapped by an offensive against the Taliban in Swat face catastrophe, a rights group said on Tuesday, as fighting flared in another militant-plagued region.

The offensive in the Taliban bastion of Swat, about 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, is the military's most concerted effort to roll back a spreading Taliban insurgency that has thrown the nuclear-armed country's future into question.

The offensive has sparked an exodus of 2.3 million people, according to provincial government figures, but about 200,000 people are believed to be still in the valley.

Severe shortages of food, water and medicine were creating a major humanitarian crisis for the trapped civilians, the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said.

"People trapped in the Swat conflict zone face a humanitarian catastrophe unless the Pakistani military immediately lifts a curfew that has been in place continuously for the last week," Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said in a statement.

The army launched the offensive this month after the militants, emboldened by a controversial peace deal in Swat, pushed out of the former tourist valley into neighbouring districts, including one just 100 km (60 miles) from Islamabad.

The United States, which needs Pakistani action against militants in its northwest to defeat al Qaeda and disrupt support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, had criticised the pact as tantamount to "abdicating" to the militants.

The United States, which is pouring thousands of extra troops into Afghanistan to try to reverse Taliban gains, has welcomed the army's bid to clear Swat.

But the flight of so many civilians poses not only a major burden for an economy being kept afloat by a $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan, but could also undercut public backing for the military action.

Human Rights Watch said it was getting persistent reports of civilian casualties from army shelling and air attacks, as well as reports of summary executions of civilians by Taliban.

The government should take all possible measures including air drops of food, water, and medicine to alleviate the suffering and both sides should allow a humanitarian corridor through which civilians could escape and aid groups could help, it said.

Military spokesmen were not available for comment.


In the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, army helicopter gunships attacked Taliban positions, killing six militants, intelligence officials and residents said.

Speculation has been mounting that the army would soon turn its attention to South Waziristan, the headquarters of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and a major base area for his Afghan Taliban allies battling Western forces in Afghanistan.

South Waziristan has been a militant hub for years and the United States and Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government have long pressed Pakistan to root out militants from border strongholds.

Frustrated by Pakistani inaction, the United States has been attacking militants in both South and North Waziristan with missile-firing drone aircraft.

Tension has been building in South Waziristan since President Asif Ali Zardari told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper just over a week ago that the military would move against militants in Waziristan after clearing Swat.

Although Zardari is reported to have later denied that, military officials say an all-out offensive against militants in South Waziristan looks inevitable.

"We're ready for an operation in South Waziristan. Now it's just a matter of time," a senior intelligence official said. With tension rising, about 10,000 people have fled from South Waziristan in recent days, a senior government official said.

Separately, gunmen killed three policemen in bid to free four foreign women detained last week over suspected links with militants.

The women, who police said appeared to be Afghan or Uzbek, managed to flee when gunmen attacked police at the house where they were being held 30 km (20 miles) northwest of Islamabad, but they were detained again, said police officer Fazal Khan.

The violence has worried stock market investors and the main index .KSE has dipped over the past couple of weeks. It was marginally lower at 7,166.59 points at 0933 GMT in afternoon trade.