Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tunisians speaking out as shackles of silence fall

How does it feel to speak your mind in public for the first time — and make a difference?
Tunisians silenced for the last 23 years are wasting no time finding out, now that the strongman who muzzled the nation has fled.
There is no letup in street protests, partly spurred by Facebook and cell phone mobilization, that helped push President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile. Journalists at a major state-run newspaper have staged a mutiny. Everywhere, people vow to guard their newfound freedom of expression whatever the price.
"The people decided to speak and the people have spoken," said a well-known cartoonist at La Presse, a major state-run daily. Lotfi Ben Sassi helped lead the charge to push the old guard executive editor out the door this week. "I've never lived in a democracy and I'm 51 years old."
There is a pervading sense among Tunisians that they are, at last, on the doorstep of democracy and this opportunity to get it right must not be missed. Street demonstrations small and large, often dispersed in chaos by police firing tear gas, funnel the joy, anger and fear of Tunisians trying to ensure that their "people's revolution" doesn't stop.
Tunisia is a nation of contradictions. With few natural resources and only 10 million people, it has made its population its main resource, developing an educated middle class and strong tourism economy. Few visitors would recognize the repression that kept the nation silent.
Beneath that veneer of stability and modernity, journalists or others who challenged the authorities under Ben Ali faced intimidation, arrest, or worse. Less than two weeks ago, reporters who wrote about police shooting at protesters in the provinces were summoned by communications authorities to answer for their actions.This North African country, a former French colony where tourists come to soak up the Mediterranean sun, has been turning the pages of history at blinding speed since Friday when Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia.
In the four days that followed, an interim president was named after some stumbling, the nation's first modestly multi-party government was appointed and less than 24 hours later, four ministers resigned amid cries from the street to dismantle the entire system of the former ruling party.
"We don't believe this," said Saida Ferjani, 56, chatting Tuesday at a table in a sidewalk cafe about politics — impossible under Ben Ali's reign. "We think it's a movie. We feel like we're dreaming .... Before, when we talked, it was quietly at home. We were afraid to express ourselves."
Ferjani, like many others, credits online media and social networks for breaking the barrier of silence.
"It's thanks to the Internet and Facebook that we could topple this government. It's the young who did it," she said.
For weeks, mainstream newspapers and the state-controlled TV and radio paid virtually no attention to riots around the country that preceded Ben Ali's downfall. The protest movement began in a provincial town where a young university graduate set himself on fire Dec. 17 in despair over bleak job prospects.
It spread to other towns as Tunisians were constantly updated via blogs and Facebookers like one called the "Tunisian Girl," photos shot on cell phones and posted online, and satellite TV — particularly Al-Jazeera. Twitter has made less of an impact and video-sharing YouTube and Daily Motion were censored until last week.
A testimony to the power of bloggers was the appointment Monday of a just-released jailed blogger to the government, Slim Amamou, now minister of youth and sports. He was briefly imprisoned, then freed, in the final days of Ben Ali's regime.
Only a day before fleeing to Saudi Arabia did Ben Ali commit himself to freedom of the press, Internet and expression in general. Too late.
The press watchdog Reports Without Borders has repeatedly listed Ben Ali among the world's 40 top "predators" of the media.
"Journalists and human rights activists are the target of constant bureaucratic harassment, police violence and surveillance by the intelligence services," the group says in its 2010 report. Independent journalists suffered reprisals, and foreign journalists are assigned minders by a regime "almost obsessive about control of news and information."
Such pressures were a daily reality for journalists at the state-run paper La Presse. Inspired by the new climate, they revolted and dismissed their boss, Gawhar Chatty, and set up their own interim committee to run the paper.
When Chatty showed up at the office Monday after a call advising him to stay home, cartoonist Lotfi marched into his office for the final farewell.
"We informed him (by phone) that we're taking charge of the paper and if he comes in we'll break his face, excuse the expression," managing editor Faouzie Mezzi told AP Television News.
The other leading French language paper, Le Temps, tried to save its honor in its Friday edition, out before news of Ben Ali's quick exit — conceding that there has been a "system within a system ... a hidden lock" that kept journalists from doing their job.
The transition from silent fear to speaking out isn't automatic for everyone, and some Tunisians still prefer the shadow of anonymity or whispers.
"We made a revolution in a month and in six days we can't all demonstrate," said a woman calling herself only Malika, worried about the repercussions of having her full name published.
Facebook sites remain mostly anonymous, often using a version of the red and white Tunisian flag as a profile picture. But they have friends: 380,742 on Tuesday for a page calling itself "RCD Get Out," a reference to Ben Ali's party. Other Tunisian Facebook sites attract similar numbers.
Yes, says Ferjani, the housewife, "We're happy and we're free."

Terrorism puts future of 3.6m students at stake: Report

PESHAWAR: The fresh wave of terrorism in the province has put the future of around 3.6 million students of government schools at stake, according to a report of Education Department.
The state-run schools remain the main target of the miscreants in fresh strings of terrorism incidents in the province, report added.
It further said that more than 350 public sector schools were affected in terrorism acts in the province putting the future of thousands of students in jeopardy.
Insurgents have been targeting schools in Peshawar, Swat, Bajaur, Malakand and Khyber agency and are not sparing any opportunity to hit schools especially government educational institutes.
The security guards deployed at government schools are not properly trained and equipped to counter terrorist attacks, the report observed, adding that the rising incidents of terrorism have increased the need for initiating such trainings for the security staff.
It is worth mentioning here that at least 20 schools, most of them for girls, were blown up alone in provincial metropolis in the year 2010.
Though government claims to have taken steps for protecting educational institutions, yet it has failed to prove the claim.
No doubt, the number of subversive activities in urban areas has decreased as compared to the previous year but it seems that militants have focused on destruction of educational institutions.
A group of Taliban has claimed responsibility for attacks on schools and warned that they would continue to destroy educational institutions.

Turning beer into alcohol is a delicate brew in Russia

Washington Post

MOSCOW - Russia's Duma deputies might find it easier to turn lead into gold than make beer into alcohol.

Creating gold requires only the magic of alchemy, but the fate of a proposal to legally define beer as an alcoholic drink will depend on the even more challenging art of politics.

Russian law treats beer as a food - it could just as well be a package of pasta - and anyone who makes and sells it only has to prove that conditions are sanitary. This lack of regulation and attendant attitude, critics say, has contributed to young people starting to drink as early as age 13, paving the way to the nation's unbridled alcoholism.

Even so, approval looked far from certain when the government last week asked the Duma to pass a law defining beer as alcohol, so it could be banned at children's events and limited at the ubiquitous street kiosks where it's now practically interchangeable with soda.

Duma deputies are up for election in December, deputy Anton Belyakov pointed out, and too many of them depend on the well-off beer industry for financing.

"It's billions and billions of dollars a year," said Belyakov, a member of the minority Fair Russia party. "I want to repeat: A significant part of that financial flow goes into the building where I work."

The proposed law is relatively mild - beer could still be made without a license - and it was cast as furthering a goal set by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev to cut the nation's alcohol consumption in half by 2020.

"There are a lot of public statements about anti-alcohol measures," said Belyakov, who said he has unsuccessfully introduced about 15 such measures over the last two years, "but nothing really happens to decrease alcohol consumption."

Russian officials frequently offer horrifying statistics about the damage from alcohol: The number of children aged 10 to 14 who drink rose 15.4 percent in 2008, to 10.8 million; the population of 140 million has 2 million alcoholics; more than 23,000 people die of alcohol poisoning annually; and 500,000 die from crimes, accidents and illnesses related to alcohol.

"Frankly speaking," Medvedev has said, "alcoholism in our country has become a national tragedy."

Beer, which is usually less than 5 percent alcohol, does not rank in the public imagination with "real" alcohol, such as vodka, at 40 percent. But Belyakov said marketing beer toward young people starts a habit that is deeply ingrained by the time they turn 30 or so and begin consuming stronger drinks.

Vadim Drobiz, director of the Research Center for Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets, said that as the beer market was developing here in the 1990s, officials hoped it would prove a healthier alternative to hard liquor.

But instead, without dropping the ubiquitous vodka toast, Russians also developed a thirst for beer that required considerable slaking, contributing to a prodigious consumption of alcohol. The World Health Organization calculated that in 2005, Russians over 15 were drinking the equivalent of 15.7 liters of alcohol per capita per year. The U.S. figure for that year was 8.4 liters, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Those figures are determined by the amount of alcohol in each type of beverage: drinking 2.5 liters of vodka, for example, would amount to 1 liter of alcohol consumed.

"If you convert this into bottles of vodka," Medvedev said at a 2009 forum, "it torments the soul."

Converting it into beer, Drobiz said that Russians consume about 81 liters per capita per year, and that beer consumption in 2007 was 51/2 times greater than in 1995.

Members of the Union of Russian beer producers, who say they do not market to teenagers, say beer should not be blamed for alcoholism when it makes up only a quarter of the alcohol being consumed. They suggest that officials fix social problems first.

The drinking age is 18, but Pavel Shapkin, head of the Center for Development of a National Alcohol Policy, says even that is not strictly enforced.

"Of course beer is sold to minors," he said. "Nothing is monitored, nothing is controlled. Beer is very accessible. So if we are talking about the government trying to decrease consumption at least twice by 2020, how can you do this without restricting the consumption of beer?"

Whether the Duma will find a way to turn beer into alcohol remains unclear, but everyone agrees that lobbyists will find much to occupy them.

Jordan protesters inspired by Tunisian ripple

Nearly everyone you talk to in this little desert kingdom reacts the same way. They break into a broad smile at the mention of Tunisia.
"Everybody is happy," said one young Jordanian man huddling under his sweatshirt hood for warmth. "Because [deposed Tunisian president] Bin Ali was a bad man."
"When we saw what was happening in Tunisia it was contagious!" exclaimed Adel Shamayleh, a real estate broker who lived for years in California. "People start to go "hey, why don't we do like what the Tunisians do?""
Long before Tunisians took to the streets, Jordan was already mired in a deep economic downturn that prompted a series of protests.
But when several hundred demonstrators peacefully gathered outside the parliament in Amman last Sunday, they added a new slogan to their often-repeated complaints about government corruption and the soaring cost of living. "A salute," they shouted, "from Amman to proud Tunis."
Businessman and political commentator Labib Kamhawi said many Jordanians identify with the hardships that led Tunisians to rise up against their president.
"The Tunisians revolted against problems that exist in Jordan, exist in Egypt, exist everywhere.

Dalbandin: Two-hundred houses damaged by quake

The earthquake of 7.2 magnitude which rocked large parts of Balochistan after Tuesday midnight damaged at least 200 mud-houses in Dalbandin but caused no casualties.

“Only a woman patient suffered a heart attack when the quake struck Quetta and later died. Four people suffered light injuries in Dalbandin when roofs of their houses collapsed, an official said.

“Most of the mud-wall houses were damaged in and on the outskirts of Dalbandin town,” Deputy Commissioner of Chaghai district Dr Saeed Jamali told Dawn by phone. He said the villages of Killi Qasim Khan, Killi Khuda Bakhsh, Killi Baz Mohammad, Killi Daudabad, Chater and Yakmach were affected. A number of government offices were damaged.

“Walls of the deputy commissioner’s house, tehsil office, Levies police station and other offices were damaged,” Mr Jamali said.

He said that many people did not want to return to their damaged homes because of fears of aftershocks. “We have requested the departments concerned to send tents, blankets, food packets and other items of daily use for the affected families,” Mr Jamali said, adding that the local administration was providing maximum help to the people.

“I feel bad that my home has been damaged, but I am happy that we did not suffer any loss of life,” said Ali Dost, a resident of Dalbandin.

Some houses in Kalat and Surab were also damaged.

However, the situation in Kharan, which is close to the epicentre of the quake, was different and no damage was reported from any part of the town, except some cracks in walls.

In Quetta, people aware of the devastation caused by the 1935 earthquake in the area, spent the entire night outside their homes in freezing minus-seven degree cold.

“We cannot put our lives at risk as aftershocks are shaking the earth,” 50-year-old Mohammad Amaz told this correspondent.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani held a meeting with the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority in Islamabad on Wednesday and asked him to arrange relief goods for affected areas of Balochistan and remain on alert to meet any emergency.

An NDMA spokesman said that necessary relief goods, including food, tents, medicines and blankets, had been rushed to affected areas through two C-130 aircraft of PAF.

The Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Army are on high alert and two air missions are assessing needs in quake-hit areas. In addition, a Bell and MI-17 helicopters of the Pakistan Army and a Cessna aircraft are in Quetta with three medical teams to be deployed on short notice.

Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, who was in Islamabad, directed the Provincial Disaster Management Authority to immediately dispatch relief goods for the affected people in Dalbandin.

He directed all deputy commissioners of Balochistan to conduct a survey to assess losses caused by the quake.

The Governor of Tabuk province of Saudi Arabia, Prince Fahad Bin Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, who was in a desert area of Dalbandin when the earthquake hit the region, is safe. The prince is in the area for hunting houbara bustard.

“Prince Fahad Bin Sultan and people of his entourage are safe, Chaghai Deputy Commissioner Dr Saeed Jamali told Dawn, adding that the Saudi prince was in his saloon when the earthquake jolted the area.He said the Saudi governor and his entourage had now moved to Nokundi area.

Karzai Delays Afghan Parliament as Vote Crisis Deepens

New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai ordered a month’s delay in seating a new Parliament on Wednesday, heightening a constitutional crisis that threatens to fuel bitter infighting and potentially even violence among the country’s rival factions.

The move leaves Afghanistan without a Parliament five months after its September election, with the prospect of even further delays. It also puts Mr. Karzai squarely at odds with his international backers, who insist the elections were valid after investing heavily in them as a way to promote Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy.

Mr. Karzai made his decision at the request of a special court he personally appointed to hear complaints from losing candidates, who say fraud and insecurity left large parts of the population excluded from the vote. Many are from the heavily Pashtun south, where the insurgency is most intense and Mr. Karzai maintains his main political base.

Their reduced representation in the new Parliament, which was scheduled to be inaugurated Sunday, threatens to drive more Pashtun regions into the arms of the Taliban insurgency, some have warned. But Mr. Karzai’s decision — which moved the country one step closer to undoing the election — contained real risks of its own and underscored the paucity of good options since the disputed vote.

While the losing candidates say the skewed results could lead to a new dimension of violence in Afghanistan, the winning candidates are unlikely to accept any reworking of the results and threaten violent protests of their own if they are deprived of their seats.

In addition, the Karzai administration’s effort to redress the complaints have precipitated a crisis of its own and drawn charges that the president is trying to engineer a more favorable outcome for himself.

A range of Afghan and international officials consider the special court he appointed to be unconstitutional, insisting that Afghanistan’s election commission has final say over the election. The commission, which has certified the results as legitimate, has refused to cooperate with the court.

The former Parliament adjourned before the balloting last September, and as the dispute lingers Mr. Karzai has ruled by decree, further worrying his international backers.

Furious efforts had been underway on Wednesday by Western diplomats to persuade Mr. Karzai to ignore the court’s demands and inaugurate the Parliament as scheduled on Sunday, but the president rebuffed their pleas.

“We cannot afford a country without a Parliament,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid offending Afghan politicians.

“I see a two-fold danger, a constitutional crisis and how it will affect stability in the country,” the diplomat said. “For Western taxpayers who are hungry for good news — this looks awful.”

In a news conference on Wednesday attended by scores of losing candidates who have been pressing for new elections, Sediqullah Haqiq, the chief judge of the special court, said that the elections were tainted by “huge fraud,” and that he needed at least another month — possibly longer — to rule on the elections. He suggested the court might have to order recounts in some provinces.

While the losers were jubilant at Judge Haqiq’s declaration, winning candidates, who expected to take their seats at Parliament’s inauguration Sunday, were indignant.

“The instability and insecurity you see now will grow ten times over and it will not be like regular violence, it will be worse,” said Qazi Nazir Ahmad, a newly reelected member of Parliament from Herat Province.

Western officials speaking on condition of anonymity, said that delaying the inauguration of Parliament or, even worse, annulling the election, would unravel the country’s nascent democracy. “Is a delay the endgame, or is it no parliament for another year that’s the endgame, or is it a throw-out of the Parliament altogether?” said a Western official in Kabul.

Judge Haqiq complained that when his court wrote to Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission asking for information to help its inquiries, it was rebuffed. The commission’s reply was short and to the point:

“No other organization can question anything about the elections. If you or anyone else wants to know anything else about this, you can go to our website,”

The Electoral Complaints Commission, which has already reviewed 6,000 formal complaints from the polling, similarly rejected the ad hoc court’s attempted intervention, also inviting it to view its own Web site,, where the results of its work were published, according to Ahmad Zia Raffat, the commission’s spokesman. “According to the country’s laws and constitution, the special court is totally illegal,” he said.

Judge Haqiq said he viewed “with great sadness” the election commissions’ refusal to cooperate with the court.

“In the whole country, there was no province from which we did not receive any complaints,” said Judge Haqiq. “The whole world should know that there was a huge, enormous fraud in these elections.”

No one disputes that the parliamentary elections were badly tarnished. The election commission threw out nearly a fourth of the total votes recorded as fraudulent or tainted, which invalidated the election of many candidates — particularly members of the most numerous ethnic group, the Pashtuns.

The commissions, however, supported by the international community, ruled that their certification of the results was valid once they removed the problem voting districts and candidates in a process that was legal and transparent.

“Unfortunately losers in Afghanistan will never accept that they are losers,” said one of the winning candidates, Abdul Zuhair Qadir, who was attending orientation sessions for the new Parliament.

The special court’s actions appeared to be just the latest in moves by Mr. Karzai’s government to discredit the work of the two election commissions.

In December, 10 members of the election commission, including all seven of its commissioners and three high-ranking staffers, were indicted by the attorney general on unspecified electoral fraud and abuse of authority charges, according to Abdullah Ahmadzai, the election commission’s chief electoral officer and one of the indictees.

In addition, the attorney general indicted four prominent members of the complaints commission on the same charges, including all three of its Afghan commissioners, Mr. Ahmadzai said.

President Karzai appointed all of the election commissioners and the three Afghan complaints commissioners; the other two complaint commission members were foreigners appointed in consultation with the United Nations. They have not been charged.

“This is all happening because they feel the results need to be changed and they can’t change them,” Mr. Ahmadzai said. The election commission’s certification of the results is final and there is no legal mechanism for changing that, he said.

Obama says 'positive' U.S.-Chinese ties good for U.S.

Pakistan, Afghanistan Promote Stronger Ties in Effort to End Violence

Pakistan and Afghanistan have recently concluded high-level talks aimed at accelerating the process of reconciliation and reintegration with Taliban insurgents to try to bring an end to the near decade-long Afghan conflict. The United Sates, which plans a phased withdrawal of its combat troops this summer, has welcomed the increased interaction between Kabul and Islamabad, which it believes is crucial for bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Karzai Efforting Peace with Taliban

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is trying to make peace with Taliban insurgents who are ready to denounce violence and cut ties to terrorist groups. He recently created a 70-member High Peace Council in which almost all sections and ethnic groups in Afghan society are represented.

A 25-member delegation headed by council leader Burhanuddin Rabbani travelled to neighboring Pakistan this month for the first time to seek Islamabad’s cooperation for the Afghan reconciliation process.

Members of the Afghan peace delegation held extensive discussions with top Pakistani civilian and military leaders for almost four days. Both sides have agreed to promote the Afghan reconciliation process at a people-to-people level by holding a traditional jirga meeting.
Pakistan Commits Support to Effort

But a major outcome of the delegation’s visit is an agreement to create a joint governmental commission to promote the Afghan reconciliation process.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says his country will support the process as long as it is led and owned by Afghans themselves.

"They have to determine what they want from Pakistan, and Pakistan will facilitate. They wanted a bilateral [joint commission] to oversee the whole process and Pakistan has given a nod of approval to that. So Pakistan is serious because Pakistan feels that you need more than military operations to achieve peace, you need political engagement, you need governance, you need capacity building, and Pakistan will support Afghanistan."

Building Mutual Trust

Pakistani and Afghan officials say their primary objective is to build mutual trust and make joint efforts to try to assure insurgent groups that U.S.-led international forces are not occupying Afghanistan.

Afghan delegation member Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai says Afghanistan and Pakistan have stopped blaming each other for the security problems facing the two countries. Stanekzai says that in the past two years bilateral political and economic ties have improved, leading to the formation of the joint reconciliation mechanism.

The Afghan delegate says Pakistan’s role is important because insurgent groups fighting on both sides of the border are interlinked.

"[Pakistan] can play a role because they are sharing a long border with Afghanistan. Those who were with Taliban they mostly had spent time in Pakistan. They (Pakistan) have their political and religious leaders, who have contact with them (insurgents). Our jihadi leaders have contact with them. I do not think that their (Pakistan) contacting them (insurgent groups) will be a difficulty, but the difficulty will that how we can build confidence to overcome the misunderstandings (among Taliban groups) that Afghanistan is not occupied."

The insurgents' Pakistan connection

U.S. and Afghan officials widely believe some key leaders of Afghan insurgent groups are hiding in Pakistan and have links to Pakistani militant groups and elements within the country’s intelligence network. Analysts like international relations professor Hassan Askari believe that despite pressure from the United States and other Western allies, Pakistan may not want to cut ties to some Afghan insurgent groups.

"These ties are going to be helpful. I think the U.S. will have to reconsider its emphasis on severing all connections. Pakistan will pursue a policy that would serve its interest and on this point I think the divergence between Pakistan and the U.S will continue. It is not practical (for Pakistan) to pick up confrontation with each and every Taliban group if reconciliation is to be promoted."
US welcomes interaction

Coinciding with the Afghan High Peace Council’s visit was the arrival in Islamabad of the acting U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Frank Ruggiero. After meeting with leaders of the Afghan delegation and Pakistani officials, Ruggiero said Washington welcomes the increased interaction between Kabul and Islamabad to tackle the insurgency.

"The United States has encouraged the government of Pakistan, the government of Afghanistan to increase their interactions and to improve their relationship. And from all that we have been able to ascertain from this visit and from what we are hearing back in Washington is that there has been progress in the bilateral relations."

Despite recent violent attacks in southern Afghanistan, Ambassador Ruggiero reported progress in the military campaign against Taliban insurgents, but he acknowledged the international effort to bring peace to the country faces serious challenges.

"As you see the increase of American forces go into these places, and southern Afghanistan has been the primary area where American forces have gone, I think overall you have seen an increased improvement in the security situation. You have started to see some enhanced levels of governance that remains, frankly, a very critical challenge for us. I mean Afghanistan is a society that suffered through 30-years of civil war, so trying to find that governance structure that can work with the Afghan security forces, the American security forces, is just a challenge."

While the U.S special envoy and members of the Afghan peace delegation sounded optimistic about recent talks in Islamabad, it is still not clear how Pakistan will position itself to use its influence with some of the Afghan insurgent groups to bring them to the negotiating table. But Pakistani officials have indicated behind-the-scenes work is already underway.

No Major Damage Reported After Powerful Pakistan Quake

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook southwestern Pakistan early Wednesday, jolting residents of cities as far away as the country's largest city of Karachi and the Indian capital, New Delhi.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was centered 55 kilometers west of the town of Dalbandin in Baluchistan province, which is the country's most sparsely populated area.

Local officials said the earthquake damaged some homes in Dalbandin, but there were no reports of any injuries or casualties.

The Pentagon said U.S. troops in southwestern Afghanistan felt the tremor, but there were no injuries or impact on U.S. military operations in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

U.S. officials also said Pakistan has not asked for assistance with quake relief.

Earthquakes are common in the region. A magnitude 7.6 quake on October 8, 2005 killed more than 70,000 people in northwestern Pakistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, and left more than 3 million people homeless.

President Hu kicks off landmark US visit

President Hu Jintao arrived in Washington Tuesday afternoon (local time) for his four-day highly-exposed state visit to the United States.

Hu is expected to lay out his blueprint on US policy during his three days in Washington, where he'll meet with President Barack Obama, top legislators and business executives, followed by a stop in Chicago.

The US has made grandeous reception for Hu, with the White House busy preparing for a State banquet on Wednesday night, prior to a private dinner given by Obama to Hu on Tuesday night.
Chicago mayor Richard Daley also said it is a "big big big deal" for Hu to come to his city for a visit, where Chinese-funded enterprises have played a considerable role in the revival of the local economy through the financial crisis.
On arriving at Andres Air Force Base, Hu said in a written speech that "vast as it is, the Pacific Ocean has not stood in the way of the friendship between the Chinese and American people."

The international situation is undergoing profound and complex changes, and China and the US have growing common interests and responsibilities and enjoy broader prospects for cooperation, according to Hu.

"The purpose of my visit is to enhance mutual trust, promote friendship, deepen cooperation and move forward the positive, cooperative and comprehensive China-US relationship for the 21st century," said Hu.

Hu said he looks forward to have in-depth discussions with President Obama on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of shared interest.

"The long-term, sound and steady growth of China-US relations is conducive to the fundamental interests of the Chinese and American people and to world peace and development," said Hu.

"China stands ready to work with the United States to actively develop China-US relations on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit and join all other countries in a common effort to build a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity," said Hu.

US experts have also voiced their optimism for a constructive leadership summit.

President Emeritus of Asia Society Nicholas Platt said strategic trust is something both sides should be striving for.

"We should also look below the surface to what Chinese and Americans are actually doing together before making judgment of whether we have trust or not," said Platt.

According to Douglas Spelman, deputy director of Kissinger Institute on China and the United States (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), both sides now have to give priority to the underlining common interests and not let the differences override common interests.

"One other thing I think the visit is a good opportunity not just for the leaders and other officials to get together, but for people in China and the United States to feel that this is an important relationship. It has a public aspect as well as talk among themselves," said Spelman.

According to Knneth Lieberthal, director of John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution, inevitably economic and trade issues will loom very large in the leadership talks.

According to Lieberthal, China is beginning a period of economic reconstruction at home, and Americans are doing exactly the same thing. And frankly, China and the US have enormous interest in the success of the other one in their reconstruction effort.

"So I think understanding those efforts better, figuring out how we can coordinate and be mutually helpful, those efforts are very important," said Lieberthal.

Lieberthal also reminded that the two countries share some security interests, especially the issue of nuclear proliferation.

In order to solve some existing issues between two militaries, Lieberthal suggested the two countries need to string out rules and have more effective communication between the two militaries.

Hu, Obama vow to deepen China-US ties

Obama held a 3+3 highly private dinner on the very night of Hu's arrival in Washington, with State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Assistant National Security Donilon on the US side, and State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the Chinese side attending the dinner.

Obama and Hu made positive evaluation on the progress made on bilateral ties, and said they are ready to further advance the existing positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship, according to a Chinese foreign ministry press release after the dinner.

Hu said he comes to the US for the goals of enhancing bilateral understanding and mutual trust, and enlarging exchanges and cooperation, according to the press release.

Hu also comes for the goals of strengthening effective coordination between the two countries on major regional and international issues, and to embark on new era in China-US relation.

"I look forwards to exchanging in-depth views with Mr President Obama tomorrow, and jointly discuss blueprint of China-US cooperation," said Hu.

President Hu's visits U.S.

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