Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SINGAPORE : Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Singapore may not host the 2013 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games as planned, due to delays in the completion of the Sports Hub.
  • The S$1.87-billion Sports Hub in Kallang is slated to be the main venue for the SEA Games.
  • When completed, it is expected to feature a suite of world class sporting facilities like a 55,000-capacity stadium and an indoor Aquatic Centre, as well as business and retail space.
  • But the project has been repeatedly delayed due to high construction costs and the global economic downturn.
  • Construction is now expected to begin only early next year and will take at least four years to complete.
  • That means it could miss the 2013 deadline, when Singapore is expected to host the SEA Games.
  • Dr Balakrishnan said: "The reason for the delays is because we have been so careful about spending money. If we had insisted on rushing through the project in the early part of this year, interest rates would have been exorbitant.
  • "I don't want to spend more than a cent than necessary. And I'd rather be cautious and deliberate, move forward but not be rushed into making hasty decisions or making decisions that would cost the taxpayers more in the long run."
  • Some 3,500 athletes aged 14 to 18 years who will be in Singapore for the 2010 Youth Olympics are expected to take part in the Culture and Education Programme (CEP).
  • But he gave the assurance that the Sports Hub project will not be cancelled.
  • Channel NewsAsia understands that the company responsible for the project, the Singapore Sports Hub Consortium, is unlikely to face penalties for the delays.
  • Many in the sports industry said hosting the SEA Games without the spectacle of the Sports Hub would not give Singapore the same impact of success it deserves.
  • A decision on whether Singapore will eventually host the 2013 SEA Games or the following one in 2015 is expected to be made soon.
  • Dr Balakrishnan was speaking at the launch of the Youth Olympic Games' Culture and Education Programme (CEP) pictograms, which represent the seven activities to promote the Olympic spirit.
Source: CNA
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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

PADANG, Indonesia - A strong earthquake of magnitude 7.9 struck off the city of Padang on the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island on Wednesday, damaging houses, bringing down bridges and starting fires, a witness said.
  • The quake was felt around the region, with some high-rise buildings in the neighbouring city state of Singapore, 275 miles (440 km) away, evacuating their staff.
  • A regional tsunami warning was issued, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and Japan's meterological agency said. It was unclear if there were any casualties.
  • "Hundreds of houses have been damaged along the road. There are some fires, bridges are cut and there is extreme panic here maybe because water pipes are broken and there is flooding in the streets," said a Reuters witness in the city.
  • The depth of the tsunami was measured at 85 km, the United States Geological Survey said.
  • Indonesia is situated in a belt of intense seismic activity known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire". The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 7.9.
  • A series of tsunamis earlier smashed into the Pacific island nations of American and Western Samoa killing possibly more than 100 people, some washed out to sea, destroying villages and injuring hundreds, officials said on Wednesday.
Source: Reuters
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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan – A spacecraft carrying Canadian circus tycoon Guy Laliberte and two crew mates lifted off from the Kazakh steppe on schedule Wednesday headed for the International Space Station.
  • The Soyuz capsule carrying the Cirque du Soleil founder, U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev shed its rocket stages and entered orbit minutes after shooting up from the Baikonur launch facility atop a tower of flame.
  • Friends and family on the ground waited anxiously and then burst into cheers when an announcement that the ship was in orbit came over the loudspeaker. There were ecstatic hugs, sobs of relief and chants of "Guy! Guy!" They then broke into a rendition of Elton John's "Rocket Man."
  • "I'm very happy for him. It's amazing," said Laliberte's partner, former model Claudia Barilla, tears streaming down her face as she cradled her youngest son. "Now we know he's up there."
  • Footage from the capsule showed Surayev and Williams strapped in, operating controls and waving occasionally for the camera. A mission control official communicating with the astronauts said they were in excellent spirits, and a NASA TV announcer said they were "safely in orbit."
  • The are scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station, orbiting 220 miles (355 kilometers) above Earth, on Friday.
  • Laliberte, who paid $35 million for his trip, plans to use it to help publicize the world's growing shortage of clean water. But he's also doing his best to make the serious, risky business of space travel fun: Before the launch, the entertainer donned a bulbous red clown nose, blew kisses to supporters and held both hands over his heart in a mime's show of affection.
Source: AP
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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa – A powerful Pacific Ocean earthquake spawned towering tsunami waves that swept ashore on Samoa and American Samoa early Tuesday, flattening villages, killing at least 34 people and leaving dozens of workers missing at devastated National Park Service facilities.
Cars and people were swept out to sea by the fast-churning water as survivors fled to high ground, where they remained huddled hours later.
Hampered by power and communications outages, officials struggled to assess the casualties and damage.
The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck around dawn about 20 miles below the ocean floor, 120 miles (190 kilometers) from American Samoa, a U.S. territory that is home to 65,000 people, and 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Samoa.
Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet high roared ashore soon afterward, reaching up to a mile inland.
Holly Bundock, spokeswoman for the National Park Service's Pacific West Region in Oakland, Calif., said Reynolds spoke to officials from under a coconut tree uphill from Pago Pago Harbor and reported that the park's visitor center and offices appeared to have been destroyed.
Source: AP
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

PORLAMAR, Venezuela – Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi called on Monday for a new global definition of terrorism.
  • Meeting a day after the end of a summit of African and South American leaders in Venezuela, the two men signed a declaration urging a global conference be held to sketch out new terms defining terrorism.
  • Neither spoke publicly about the document, which rejects "attempts to link the legitimate struggle of the people for liberty and self-determination" with terrorism, according to a Venezuelan government website.
  • Chavez, has faced U.S. and Colombian charges he backs FARC Marxist rebels in Colombia. He denies the allegations.
  • Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for 40 years professing "Islamic socialism," has been accused of harboring terrorists. But he has sought to improve relations with the United States after he said he was abandoning his country's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs in 2003.
  • Chavez repeatedly feted Gaddafi during the Libyan leader's first visit to Latin America.
  • The two rallied hundreds of Venezuelans on Monday on Venezuela's Margarita Island, where Chavez presented Gaddafi with a replica of a sword of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
  • "We're writing new pages of history. We are here to change history and create a new socialism, a new world," Chavez said.
  • On Monday, Gaddafi could be seen shopping on Margarita wearing an African-motif shirt, occasionally stopping to mingle with ordinary Venezuelans.
Source: Reuters
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia – Police today said that the policemen involved in the death of A.Kugan are likely to face charges either today or within this week at the Petaling Jaya Magistrate court.
  • “We will know tomorrow,” Selangor police chief Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar told The Malaysian Insider tonight.
  • However, he could not say how many policemen would be charged and what charges the men would be facing because police will only get the documents from the deputy public prosecutor tomorrow morning.
  • The 22-year-old, who was detained on suspicion of being a car thief, died on Feb 20 after five days in police custody.
  • His mother N. Indra, 40, today told The Malaysian Insider that she would not be satisfied unless the policemen responsible were charged with murder.
  • “We will continue to fight and not let the matter rest if they are not charged with murder,” she said.
  • Ironically, Indra, who has been waiting eight months to see justice for her son, said she cannot be in court tomorrow to see the faces of the men who caused his death.
  • “I work in housekeeping at a hotel. No one told me they would be charged so I could not take leave,” she said. However she said Kugan’s uncle, N. Ravi would be able to go.
  • When contacted, Ravi also said he wanted the suspects to be charged for murder.
  • A total of 11 policemen with the ranks of constables and lance corporals were transferred to desk duty at the Selangor Police headquarters following Kugan’s death in January.
  • His death had called into question police interrogations methods and caused wide spread resentment especially among the Indian community.
  • To make matters worse for the authorities, two post-mortem reports on his body had significant differences, including descriptions of the extent of injuries and the actual cause of death, and these discrepancies have given rise to concerns about an attempted cover-up.
  • The case was initially classified as voluntarily causing hurt to extort a confession but was reclassified as murder after public outcry.
  • Kugan was suspected to be involved in several cases of theft of luxury cars and was detained at the Taipan police station in USJ, Subang Jaya, he collapsed and died.
Source: The Malaysian Insider
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia : The United States wants a productive relationship with Malaysia, which it regards as a progressive and moderate Islamic nation, and is hoping that Malaysia can play a role in engaging other countries in inter-faith dialogues.
  • This was the message relayed to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak by the US Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg when the two met Monday morning.
  • “The message from the Obama administration is that they want to have a productive relationship with Malaysia, which they regard as a model nation.
  • “The US Government also noted that we are a progressive and moderate nation in the way we practise Islam and hoped that we can play a part in engaging other countries in the question of greater dialogue between different faiths,” Najib told reporters Monday when asked about his meeting with Steinberg.
  • The Prime Minister also said that Steinberg had raised several issues which were of concern to the United States, including the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, human trafficking, terrorism, and trade and investment.
  • “We also discussed developments in Afghanistan, and the United States has asked that Malaysia play its part in resolving issues such as Iran and North Korea,” he said.
  • In KUALA LUMPUR later Monday, Steinberg said that the United States had expressed its appreciation over the Malaysian Government’s strong stand in response to North Korea’s provocative missile and nuclear tests.
  • “We expressed appreciation for the fact that the Government here has made very clear its condemnation of the actions of North Korea, and its support for Resolution 1874 of the UN Security Council on nuclear non-profileration,” he told a press conference.
  • “We discussed some of the practical aspects of the enforcement of the resolution. I think we have a good partner here working on those issues,” said Steinberg, who was on a two-day working visit to Malaysia.
  • Steinberg said Malaysia could be a good partner for the United States in view of its crucial role in key institutions including Asean, the Organisation of Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement.
  • To a question on whether the United States would resume Free Trade Agreement talks with Malaysia, Steinberg said right now, the US administration was reviewing its overall approach to bilateral and multilateral agreements to fit into its trade strategy.
  • “As we are doing so, we’d like to continue dialogue with Malaysia and make some specific decisions about the right format in which to pursue trade,” he said.
Source: mStar
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Monday, September 28, 2009
BANGKOK, Thailand - U.N climate talks kicked off Monday in Bangkok with leaders calling for delegates to break the deadlock over a global warming deal and warning failure to act would leave future generations fighting for survival.
  • Negotiations on a new U.N. climate pact have been bogged down by a broad unwillingness to commit to firm emissions targets, and a refusal by developing countries to sign a deal until the West guarantees tens of billions of dollars in financial assistance — something rich countries have so far refused to do.
  • "Time is not just pressing. It has almost run out," U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said, with a clock nearby showing there were 70 days until world leaders are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen to finalize a pact. "If we don't realize Plan A, the future will hold us to account," he said.
  • Some at the conference pointed to the tropical storm that tore through the Philippines over the weekend, leaving scores dead, as a glimpse into the kind of turbulent weather that could be unleashed by global warming.
  • "We are asking the negotiators to look outside these walls. They should realize that it is the people's lives at stake," said Dinah Fuentesfina, a Philippine activist from the Global Campaign for Climate Action Asia who was in Manila when the storm struck Saturday.
  • Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for climate and energy whose country will host the talks in December, told delegates the world was watching and urged them to build on the momentum that came out of last week's U.N. climate summit where 100 world leaders pledged their support for an agreement.
Source: AP
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Monday, September 28, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Polygamy is legal for Muslims in Malaysia, though not widespread. The Ashaari clan believes it should be.
Last month it launched a "Polygamy Club" that claims the noble aim of helping single mothers, reformed prostitutes and women who feel they are past the marrying age.
  • "We want to change the way people perceive polygamy, so that it will be seen as something beautiful instead of something disgusting," said Hatijah Aam, the founder of the club. She is the fourth wife of Ikramullah's father, Ashaari Muhammad.
  • Polygamy may seem out of place in an Asian democracy proud of its skyscrapers, high-tech skills and go-getter economy.
  • Ashaari, the family patriarch, used to head an Islamic sect that was banned in 1994 as heretical because it projected Ashaari as an absolver of sinners.
  • Most of the Polygamy Club members belonged to the sect, and there's nothing illegal about how they live now, so long as they're Muslims.
  • For the one-third of the population that isn't Muslim, polygamy is unlawful.
  • The practice used to be more common but has dwindled to an estimated 2 percent of all Muslim marriages as women have become freer and careers have opened up for them.
  • "Some people treat polygamy as a laughing matter because they do not fully comprehend it," says Ikramullah, a jovial businessman and son of his father's first wife.
  • The club claims to number 300 husbands and 700 wives. It hopes to cultivate examples of happy households to counter women's rights activists who say some spouses and children suffer in polygamous marriages.
  • Club members say polygamy deters adultery and would improve the marriage prospects of ex-prostitutes if more men were available to marry them.
  • But Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the Muslim female minister in charge of family policy, says polygamy "is not a culture that is encouraged in our society."
  • Sisters in Islam, an advocacy group campaigning against polygamy, says it isn't good for women.
  • "If people choose to be monogamous, there are enough men for every woman," it said in a statement to The Associated Press.
  • One opponent of polygamy is a 42-year-old business executive who asked to be identified only as Sharifah.
  • She said she threatened to divorce her husband of nearly 15 years after he told her last year that he had fallen in love with a divorced mother of three, felt she needed help, and wanted to marry her.
  • "I felt like my fairy tale had ended," Sharifah said.
  • "He was my soul mate. I couldn't believe it was happening. Then I started to scream at him." She said some people told her that agreeing to a second wife would secure her place in heaven.
  • But Sharifah, the breadwinner for her two children and jobless husband, refused to give in. The couple underwent marriage counseling and Sharifah's husband has promised not to marry the other woman.
  • Kartini, 41, says polygamy has served her well; while she was busy arguing court cases, her husband's first wife would cook, clean and look after the children.
  • "The wives can complement each other," she said.
  • "Of course, you miss your husband and there are natural feelings of competition and jealousy at first.
  • But after a while, you try to become friends and you learn that you can share your problems with each other."
  • The club says most of its husbands keep each spouse in a home of her own unless the women agree to live under one roof. Many husbands rotate their days among households.
  • The tight-knit family is concentrated in Rawang, a town outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city.
  • The club is funded by the family's grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses. It plans to offer matchmaking, wedding planning and marriage counseling.
Source: AP
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Monday, September 28, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – Rescuers plucked bodies from muddy floodwaters and saved drenched survivors from rooftops Sunday after a tropical storm tore through the northern Philippines and left at least 106 people dead and missing.
  • It was the region's worst flooding in more than four decades. The government declared a "state of calamity" in metropolitan Manila and 25 storm-hit provinces.
  • Tropical Storm Ketsana roared across the northern Philippines on Saturday, dumping more than a month's worth of rain in just 12 hours. The resulting landslides and flooding have left at least 83 people dead and 23 others missing, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said.
  • Many parts of the capital remained flooded Sunday, although waters were fast receding.
  • TV footage shot from military helicopter showed drenched survivors still marooned on top of half-submerged passenger buses and rooftops in the suburbs of Manila. Some dangerously clung on high-voltage power lines while others plodded through waist-high flood waters.
  • Authorities deployed rescue teams on boats to save survivors sighted during the aerial check.
  • More than 330,000 people were affected by storm, including some 59,000 people who were brought to about 100 schools, churches and other evacuation shelters, officials said.
Source: AP
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

JERUSALEM – Israeli police used stun grenades Sunday to disperse Palestinian rioters at a volatile Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims, police said.
  • The incident took place during a visit by a Jewish group to the compound in Jerusalem's Old City known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Deadly violence has erupted there several times in the past.
  • Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said around 150 Palestinians threw stones at the Jews visiting the site, which is open to non-Muslims at certain hours.
  • Jews regularly visit the compound and it was not immediately clear what sparked the violence.
  • Police dispersed the rioters using stun grenades, and two policemen were lightly injured. Two protesters were also lightly hurt before police restored order, Ben-Ruby said. Sunday's incident ended without serious injuries.
  • Religious and nationalist sentiment connected with the site have made it a flashpoint for violence in the past. A visit in 2000 by Ariel Sharon, then an Israeli opposition leader, helped ignite violence that engulfed Israel and the Palestinian territories for several years.
  • Jews venerate the Temple Mount as the location of two Biblical Temples, and consider it their holiest site. Jews pray at the foot of the compound at one of its supporting walls, known as the Western Wall.
  • The compound is home to the gold-capped Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, and Muslims see it as their religion's third-holiest site after the Saudi Arabian holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
  • The site has been under Israeli control since 1967, but is administered by a Muslim religious body.
Source; AP
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – Nearly a month's worth of rain fell in six hours Saturday as Tropical Storm Ketsana slammed ashore in the Philippines, killing five people and stranding thousands on rooftops in the capital's worst flooding in more than 42 years.
  • The government declared a "state of calamity" in metropolitan Manila and about two dozen storm-hit provinces, said Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, who heads the National Disaster Coordinating Council. That allows officials to withdraw emergency money for relief and rescue.
  • President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had to take an elevated commuter train to the disaster council office to preside over a meeting because roads were clogged by vehicles stuck in the floodwaters.
  • Two people were reported killed in suburban Muntinglupa and three others in Quezon city, said deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez. He gave no details.
  • The mayor of Cainta in nearby Rizal province, who was stranded atop a dump truck on a road that was neck-deep in water, told ABS-CBN television by phone that many residents climbed onto roofs to escape.
  • "The whole town is almost 100 percent underwater," Mayor Mon Ilagan said.
  • About 13.4 inches (34.1 centimeters) of rain fell on metropolitan Manila in just six hours, close to the 15.4-inch (39.2-centimeter) average for the entire month of September. The previous record was 13.2 inches (33.4 centimeters) recorded during a 24-hour period in June 1967, chief government weather forecaster Nathaniel Cruz said.
  • ABS-CBN television showed a dramatic video of more than a dozen people perched on roofs of damaged houses being swept away by the suburban Marikina River. They smashed against the pillars of a bridge and were separated from each other in the rampaging river. It was unclear whether they were rescued.
  • Cruz said seasonal monsoon rains were intensified by Tropical Storm Ketsana, which packed winds of 53 mph (85 kph) with gusts of up to 63 mph (100 kph) when it hit land early Saturday about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Manila. It was moving westward toward the rice-producing Central Luzon region at 12 mph (19 kph).
  • Stranded residents called radio and television stations for help.
  • Popular actress Cristine Reyes tearfully appealed on ABS-CBN television from the roof of her two-story home, saying she and her mother and two young children had been waiting there for rescue for over six hours.
  • Manila airport operations chief Octavio Lina said the runway had been flooded, delaying international flights for hours. Floodwaters also caused some electrical outages.
  • Hundreds of vehicles were stalled in flooded streets around the capital, and nearly 2,000 passengers were stranded in ports in several provinces south of Manila after the coast guard suspended ferry operations.
Source: AP
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

AFTER almost 20 years of school promotion in Sabah, the Danish-founded Borneo Child Aid Society (BCAS) is responsible for the primary education of more than 8,400 students, mostly children of the immigrant workers from Indonesia and the Philippines on the many palm oil plantations nearby.
  • Subsequently, there has been an increasing amount of logistics to be taken care of from the headquarters of BCAS in Lahad Datu on Sabah's east coast.
  • The success of the school project has been quite a challenge for the small volunteer-based organisation.
  • "The rapid growth rate has been a pretty overwhelming, but we have had wide support from a various range of sponsors, ranging from Danish enterprises to the Finnish embassy, and good mutual understanding with numerous plantations," says BCAS manager Torben Venning from Denmark.
  • Venning is a former schoolteacher from Copenhagen and has been the day-to-day head of BCAS for the past six years, the last two years full time as his Philippine-born wife Rosalin and their four sons Mark, Michael, Martin and Mathias have joined him in Sabah, making Venning's Borneo stay a more permanent one.
  • "When we started out back in 1991, we ran one tiny school with room for 73 students. Now we have grown into being quite influential. This year we have registered almost 8,450 pupils.
  • "And after such a long time in the area we have earned a great amount of trust and respect for our work from the local authorities, so it has been a very rewarding venture," he adds.
  • Even though Venning loves his job, he is aware of the difficulties connected with being a foreign-run organisation. "It is not sustainable if all the expertise and decision making lies in the hands of the Danes, so right now we are in the in the process of training the local staff and teachers to take on the responsibility and management of BCAS," he explains.
  • One discomforting experience last year has underlined the importance of this goal. "Rosalin and I were both badly injured in a car accident, and while recovering in the hospital we couldn't help realising how problematic and precarious it is, that we are making all the decisions.
  • "Nobody should be indispensable in BCAS, we are all in this together."
  • For the vast majority of the young students, the BCAS-run schools are their only option to escape illiteracy, as they are prohibited to attend the public schools of Sabah.
  • "Most children enrolled in the schools are of Indonesian of Philippine origins. This means that they do not share the same privileges, such as access to the public school systems, as Malaysian children," he explains. This lack of national recognition has severe consequences for his students and their future opportunities.
  • "Many of our students are not to be found in any official register. Because they weren't born in the home-country of their parents, they are not regarded as Philippine or Indonesian citizens either.
  • "This is a big problem considering that an estimated number of around one million immigrant-descendants are in a legal sense without a native country.
  • "They literally do not exist in the eyes of the system and this makes it even more important that these children are educated so they are better equipped for the struggles they most likely will face later on," Venning explains.
  • According to the devoted school-supervisor, the children achieve more than just the standard exam requirements by attending school.
  • "In the bigger cities of Sabah the immigrant children are commonly known as the 'garbage-kids' of no value. In BCAS we believe that the school can teach them not to accept these terrible prejudges and that they can achieve the same as the Malaysian children. A big part of our work is to change this devastating mindset of being inferior," he says, adding that creating a common sense of equality among the youngsters is a fundamental goal for BCAS.
  • "This is also why BCAS puts so much emphasis in having school uniforms and graduation ceremonies. It is an important part of giving the kids an identity as being students, just like the other children in Malaysia, instead of considering themselves as outcasts," Venning adds.
Source: ScandAsia
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Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Taliban ambushes and roadside bombs have reportedly killed five more US soldiers in the troubled southern Afghanistan where insurgency has skyrocketed over the past months.
  • NATO forces said in a statement that two of the soldiers were killed outright and three died of their injuries in three separate incidents on Thursday, AFP reported.
  • The soldiers were killed across the volatile southern provinces in separate incidents over the past 24-hours
  • The remote-control bombs have become the scourge of the US-led troops across the war-torn country.
  • The alliance did not release the exact locations of the incidents in the South where there has been a surge in insurgency over the past weeks.
  • However, the alliance confirmed that two more soldiers were killed in attacks and ambushes by the insurgents
  • American forces in Afghanistan lost 77 troops in August, setting a new monthly record since the occupation began in 2001.
  • Foreign troop casualties in Afghanistan are at record levels, with at least 365 deaths reported in 2009.
  • The mounting number of western soldiers coming home in body bags has sent support for the war plummeting in Europe and the United States.
  • The insurgency has intensified in the eastern and southern provinces, as pressure is mounting on the US and its western allies to pull troops out of the country amid continuing troop causalities.
Source: Press TV
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Saturday, September 26, 2009

KUALA KANGSAR, Malaysia : Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno seemed a far cry from the distraught woman a few weeks ago when her caning punishment for drinking beer was deferred.
  • She greeted the media and even had her photograph taken with them.
  • The 32-year-old part-time model seemed to have put her troubles behind her and was seen enjoying herself at a Hari Raya open house at her father’s resort home in Kampung Jawang near here.
  • Kartika said she would decide whether to turn to acting only after her caning sentence is carried out.
  • “It is too far ahead. I can’t think of anything beyond my punishment at the moment,” said the mother of two.
  • She is still awaiting news from the Pahang Religious Department as to when she would face her punishment for drinking beer at a hotel in Cherating last year.
  • Kartika, however, admitted that she was approached by a producer to star in a movie on her ordeal over the Pahang Syariah Court’s decision to cane her six times for the offence.
  • It is learnt that the producer had met her personally at her father’s resort home last month.
  • Kartika also clarified that she was not jobless at the time of her arrest but was working as a hospital administrator in Singapore while modelling part-time.
  • She added that she had aborted her plans to further her studies in hospital administration when the court matter came up.
  • Her husband, Muhammad Afandi Amir, 38, a software engineer with Reuters, sat next to her throughout the time she spoke to the press.
  • “It has been a happy Raya despite the troubles. It has not affected our celebration one bit,” he said.
  • Kartika’s father Shukarno Abdul Mutalib said he had not invited the foreign press to his home but they were nevertheless welcomed.
  • Only last month, Kartika had been inconsolable and seemed on the brink of an emotional meltdown when the Pahang Religious Department made a U-turn on its decision to mete out the punishment.
  • Enforcement officers had picked up Kartika from her father’s home to take her to the Kajang prison but stopped by the roadside for some 40 minutes before eventually turning back.
  • Her reluctance to appeal her punishment sparked an outcry not only in the country but internationally.
  • Her lawyer, Adham Jamalullail Ibrahim, who was also present, reiterated to the local and foreign media that Kartika would like to go ahead with the punishment.
  • “We have written to the Pahang Syariah Court to provide us with proceeding papers of what had transpired in the court since 2008,” he said, adding that to date, no news had been received from the court.
  • “We have also written to the court to include us in whatever proceedings related to the matter. We want to be the fourth party,” he said.
  • He added that he also wanted to know the procedure to be implemented against Kartika and who would execute the caning.
Source: mStar
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Friday, September 25, 2009

BAGHDAD – U.S. aircraft and Iraqi patrols combined in a massive manhunt Thursday after the escape of 16 prisoners — including five al-Qaida-linked inmates awaiting execution — who apparently crawled through a bathroom window in a makeshift jail on a former compound of Saddam Hussein.
  • The jailbreak in Saddam's hometown Tikrit highlighted the struggles for Iraqi authorities to maintain control over an overcrowded prison system and absorb thousands of detainees turned over by U.S. forces as part of a broad security pact. At least two senior officials were fired after the late Wednesday escape.
  • Few details on the fugitives were provided by Iraqi security chiefs. But five were Iraqis who were sentenced to death for terrorism-related crimes and links to al-Qaida in Iraq, said a Tikrit police officer, said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation with media.
  • The other 11 escaped convicts were jailed on charges that include kidnapping and murder, and some were awaiting sentencing, the officer said. At least one — a 19-year-old inmate — was recaptured early Thursday and the others remained at large.
  • A full-scale curfew was imposed on the city of 250,000 after the escape and eased before sundown on Thursday. Soldiers, however, expanded checkpoints and displayed wanted posters with photos of the fugitives. Military units also sharpened their watch on Iraq's borders — particularly the western frontier with Syria — as the dragnet widened over sparsely populated regions outside Tikrit.
Source: AP
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Friday, September 25, 2009

RAIPUR, India – Rescuers searched desperately for survivors on Thursday in the rubble of a giant chimney that collapsed in central India, with a top union official saying more than 100 workers were feared dead.
  • Labourers had completed 100 metres (330 feet) of the planned 275-metre power plant chimney when the structure came crashing down in bad weather on Wednesday.
  • Police said 25 bodies had been recovered but dozens more were believed to be buried under a vast pile of concrete at the site in Korba, 200 kilometres (124 miles) from Raipur, the state capital of Chhattisgarh.
  • "I expect the number of dead will cross 100," said Vinod Kumar Sharma, general secretary of the workers' union at aluminium group Balco, a subsidiary of London-listed Vedanta, which was building the power plant chimney.
  • Sharma said his estimate was based on testimony from union members near the scene of the accident, who said workers were sheltering from heavy rain in and around the structure when it collapsed at about 3:45 pm (1015 GMT).
  • "Only nine people who are in hospital are alive. The others are dead," he said. "It is a major tragedy. It is very sad for the poor families."
  • Police and government officials said they were having difficulty establishing how many people were buried because the company has been unable to say how many workers were on the site.
  • A majority of the victims were migrant labourers from the eastern states of Jharkhand and Bihar, officials said.
  • "It is one of the worst accidents in India's recent construction history," Rajeev Sharma, South Asia head of Building and Wood Workers' International, told AFP.
  • K.C. Gupta, director general of the National Safety Council of India, said the disaster was the latest in a string of fatal accidents in the construction sector.
  • They include the collapse of a partially built bridge on the flagship Delhi Metro project that killed five in July and an accident during the construction of a flyover in the southern city of Hyderabad.
Source: AFP
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

DUBAI Al Qaeda’s number two Ayman al-Zawahri appeared yesterday in a new video apparently marking the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States, according to a US-based terrorism monitoring service.
  • Zawahri was among leading figures from the group who spoke in the 106-minute Arabic-language video, entitled “The West and The Dark Tunnel,” Site Institute said.
  • The video mentioned events of the past year including the global financial crisis and the election of US President Barack Obama. It was posted on websites often used by al Qaeda supporters.
  • On September 14, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden warned the American people over their government’s close ties with Israel in an apparently new audio tape posted on an Islamist website.
  • That message, entitled “A statement to the American people,” was around 11 minutes long.
  • Analysts suggested that the posting of the latest tape might have been delayed by nearly two weeks after the anniversary of the attacks because websites have been jammed or because al Qaeda is finding it harder to operate.
  • Bin Laden and Zawahri are thought to be in the mountainous territory along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where US forces and the Pakistani military are locked in conflict with militant groups allied to al Qaeda.
Source: Reuters
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

SYDNEY, Australia – The worst dust storm in decades hit Australia on Wednesday, blanketing Sydney in red dust, and snarling up the transport system as earthquakes, giant hailstones and even a tornado swept the east of the country.
  • Gale-force winds dumped thousands of tonnes of red desert dust on Australia's biggest city, shrouding it in an eerie orange haze and coating the iconic Sydney Opera House in a fine layer of powder.
  • The storm, reportedly the most serious since the 1940s, then spread 600 kilometres (375 miles) up the coast to Queensland and could even hit New Zealand, some 4,000 kilometres away, experts said.
  • Dust covered most of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, pushing air pollution to record levels and depositing about 75,000 tonnes of powder in the Tasman Sea every hour.
  • Sydney residents wore face masks and covered their mouths with scarves as they travelled to work under hazy skies. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper on major highways.
  • Air transport was severely disrupted with long delays at Sydney airport and many international flights diverted to Melbourne and Brisbane.
  • Flag-carrier Qantas urged passengers to cancel any non-urgent travel, while budget offshoot Jetstar offered free flight rescheduling and refunds.
  • Sydney Ferries suspended harbour services and police warned drivers to take extra care in poor visibility. Ambulance workers reported a sudden spike in respiratory problems.
  • Australia, in the grip of a decade-long drought, is emerging from an abnormally hot southern hemisphere winter including the hottest August on record.
  • Elsewhere in New South Wales, hail stones "the size of cricket balls" smashed windows as thunderstorms and gale-force winds lashed the state late on Tuesday.
  • Further north, Queensland imposed a ban on lighting fires across large parts of the state a day after a dozen bush blazes sprang up following a spell of hot, dry weather.
  • Tough water restrictions there are to be temporarily set aside to allow people to wash dust off their cars, homes and business premises, the Australian AAP news agency reported.
  • Victoria state was on alert for flash floods as heavy rains fell, following a pair of minor earthquakes on Tuesday. The 3.0- and 2.6-magnitude tremors did not cause any damage, officials said.
  • Police in southwestern New South Wales, bordering Victoria, reported bizarre conditions on Tuesday as dark red skies thick with dust cut visibility to just two to three metres in some areas.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

WASHINGTON – Asian leaders gathering at next week's economic summit in Pittsburgh will be demanding a greater voice in the way global financial institutions make crucial decisions. Likewise, the world's established powers will have some demands of their own for the rising Asian nations.
  • The Western countries who traditionally have wielded power at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations will want Asia to cut greenhouse gases blamed for dangerous climate change and to slash barriers that prevent free trade.
  • China, with its powerful economy and diplomatic and military strength, will be a leading player at the summit. The other Asian-Pacific G-20 nations — Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia — believe their growing importance deserves a bigger say in the world's financial decision-making. The G-20, which represents 80 percent of the world's economic output, is where they will make their case.
  • It remains to be seen how successful Asian countries will be at getting their points across at a gathering that features 20 leading rich and developing nations, all with competing national interests and often with little in common.
  • Asia has done well, comparatively, during the world economic crisis. But the region has been criticized for protecting its trade and agricultural industries from competition. At the Pittsburgh conference next Thursday and Friday, the West will want Asia to help jump-start stalled world trade liberalization talks, to increase imports and to reduce large trade surpluses.
  • Asia will also face questions over climate change. Many argue that if Asia does not make cuts to emissions, progress will stall. Pittsburgh marks one of the last chances world leaders will have to generate momentum before a U.N. conference in December in Copenhagen, Denmark. Countries hope to forge a new agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
  • Already some leaders worry that disputes among industrialized and developing nations over cuts to emissions threaten to ruin a deal in Copenhagen. Asia is seen as the key to any progress.
  • Japan also could make a splash on climate change. The Democratic Party of Japan, which won last month's national elections, has made bold promises to reduce the country's greenhouse emissions. The new government will be closely watched to see if it is more assertive than previous administrations, which tended to echo U.S. views.
  • Fast-developing India is seen as key not only in the climate discussions but in world trade talks as well.
  • India, along with Brazil, Russia and China, is hoping Pittsburgh will lead to an agreement on proposed new targets to shift voting power in both the IMF and the World Bank to developing countries.
  • In Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will seek international support for his plan to spend his country deep into debt to keep its economy buoyant. He has pointed to worsening unemployment data and declining retail spending in recent months as evidence that government spending remains critical to future growth.
  • In Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will be eager to show that newfound stability in the predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million will continue.
  • South Korea plans to urge advanced nations to extend greater help to poorer countries in their efforts to overcome the economic crisis.
  • Han Duk-soo, South Korea's ambassador to the United States, said Thursday that his country wants to host a G-20 summit next year. South Korea, he said in Washington, can bridge the divide between rich and poor countries, having gone, in a matter of decades, from a country devastated by war to one with a vibrant, thriving economy.
  • Steven Schrage, a former U.S. trade official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said it would be "a devastating blow to the credibility" of the G-20 if South Korea did not host a summit and "the outcome is that the old boys' club of the G-8 are the only ones that can host summits."
Source: AP
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Monday, September 21, 2009

CAIRO, Egypt – The holy month of Ramadan has brought out Egypt's cultural split personality, twisting Egyptians into knots over whether their society is secular, Muslim or a muddled mix.
  • Two furious debates have been raging through the season in the Arab world's most populous nation. On one hand, rumors that police arrested Egyptians violating the daily Ramadan fast raised dire warnings from secularists that a Taliban-like rule by Islamic law is taking over.
  • On the other, Ramadan TV talk shows on state-sponsored television featuring racily dressed female hosts discussing intimate sex secrets with celebrities have sparked outrage from conservatives, denouncing what they call the decadence that is sweeping the nation.
  • So is Egypt being taken over by sinners or saints? Egyptians have always been a boisterous combination — priding themselves on their piety, while determined to have a good time.
  • Ramadan, the final day of which is Saturday in most of the Islamic world, shows the contradictions. Egyptians widely adhere to the dawn-to-dusk fast, in which the faithful abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex from dawn until dusk. After sunset, while some pray into the night, many Egyptians party with large meals and a heavy dose of TV entertainment produced specially for the month.
  • But the confusion comes from the government as well. It has often promoted strict Islamic principles in an attempt to co-opt conservatives and undercut extremists whom the state has been battling for decades. But it also increasingly dominated by businessmen who this year are more heavily than ever promoting Western-style secular culture.
Source: AP
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Monday, September 21, 2009

SYDNEY – New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees unveiled a memorial in Sydney to children who suffered in care from the 1930s to the 1970s at an official ceremony attended by more than 500 former state wards.
Australian authorities delivered a formal apology Saturday to the many thousands of people who were abused in state-run orphanages and children's homes in decades past.

  • "To many sufferers and especially those who have joined us today I say on behalf of the government I am sorry for any hurt and distress you suffered in the care of the state," Rees said. "This should never have happened."
  • Thousands of poor children from Britain were shipped to Australian farms and institutions in a bid to populate the colony, and faced a lifetime of loneliness, hardship and sometimes abuse.
  • Some children were as young as four when they left home, and many never saw their families again, said former child migrant David Hill.
  • "For a lot of these children it was a terrible experience," Hill told state radio.
  • "Little kids of six years of age, boys and girls who had their heads held down toilets as punishment for bed wetting, girls who remember being first sexually abused at five years of age, little children who are being whipped with riding crops, little kids whose entire childhoods were spent living in fear."
  • Hill said, contrary to popular belief, most of the children weren't orphans but from dysfunctional and destitute families who believed sending them to Australia would offer them a better life.
  • "Most of these kids were short changed on a decent education, emotionally deprived, socially isolated and sent out into the world. There was nobody out there for them."
  • An estimated 500,000 people grew up in orphanages, children's and foster homes across Australia, almost half of them in New South Wales.
  • The centre-left Labor government is expected to deliver a national apology in November.
Source: AFP
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

KOROR, Palau – Two more Chinese Muslim detainees held at Guantanamo Bay have agreed to be relocated to the tiny Pacific nation of Palau, their lawyer said Saturday, bringing to six the total who will resettle.
  • Palau has offered 13 ethnic Uighurs held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba a chance to move there — an arrangement that would ease President Barack Obama's plans to close the contentious facility.
  • The men have been held by the U.S. since their capture in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001. The Pentagon determined last year they were not "enemy combatants" but they have been in legal limbo ever since. China regards the Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gurs) as terrorist suspects and wants them returned.
  • But Uighur activists claim the detainees face persecution or death if they are returned there, and U.S. officials have struggled to find a country to take them in.
  • "Two more of our clients have agreed to go to Palau as the U.S. continues to look for a permanent home for them," Eric Tirschwell, the U.S.-based lawyer for four of the detainees, told The Associated Press on Saturday.
  • Their acceptance means six of the detained Chinese Muslims have now decided to move to the mid-Pacific state, which offered in early June to take in the Turkic Muslims from far western China.
  • That same month, four Uighur detainees were resettled in Bermuda.
  • Five of the detainees have declined even to meet with Palau officials.
  • The relocation agreements need U.S. Congressional approval, a process that is expected to take about two weeks.
  • "We are hopeful that this long overdue move to freedom will happen as quickly as possible and are doing whatever we can to make that happen," Tirschwell said in an e-mail.
  • There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Palauan officials or from the U.S. State Department.
  • Palau is a developing country of 20,000 that is dependent on U.S. development funds.
  • No Uighurs currently live on Palau, which has a Muslim population of about 400, mostly migrant workers from Bangladesh.
  • Made up of eight main islands plus more than 250 islets, Palau is best known for diving and tourism and is located some 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean.
Source AP
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines – The leader of the Muslim insurgency in the southern Philippines said Saturday he would not turn over two of his commanders to authorities despite bloody attacks they launched last year.
  • However, Murad Ibrahim, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said his group was still keen on peace talks with Manila.
  • Speaking at a MILF camp outside the city of Cotabato, Ibrahim said the group would not give in to demands they turn over Ameril Umbrakato and Abdulrahman Macapaar who are blamed for attacks in Mindanao island in August, 2008.
  • "There is no way we can surrender them. The government has made the case against them but we don't recognise that case," he told AFP.
  • He said there should be an investigation of the incidents by a third party and if the two are found to have violated certain laws "then we have to sanction them based on our own laws."
  • He warned that "trust and confidence was completely shattered," after the Supreme Court last year junked a draft agreement with the MILF due to a widespread outcry from Christian communities.
  • The court's move sparked the attacks by Umbrakato and Macapaar against mostly-Christian towns in Mindanao that left scores dead and over half a million displaced.
  • The attacks broke a five-year ceasefire between the government and the MILF and halted the peace talks.
  • The government put a half a million-peso (104,000-dollar) reward on each of the commanders' heads and demanded that the MILF turn them over if they wanted the peace talks to proceed.
  • However Manila later softened this stance and on Wednesday signed an agreement allowing international peace brokers to be involved in negotiations aimed at ending the decades-old uprising.
  • Despite the violence, Ibrahim said he was committed to finding a peaceful solution to the problem but called on the government to show "political will".
  • The 12,000-member MILF has been waging a separatist rebellion since 1978 to carve out an Islamic state in the southern part of the largely Catholic Philippines.
Source: AFP
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

BANGKOK, Thailand - Police are out in force in the Thai capital, where anti-government protesters are marking the third anniversary of a coup they say was a major setback for the country's democratic system.
  • Many of the protesters gathering Saturday are supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted by the bloodless Sept. 19, 2006, takeover after being accused of abuse of power and disrespect to the country's constitutional monarch.
  • Thaksin, who became prime minister in 2001, won two major election victories due to his popularity among the country's rural majority, for whom he instituted generous social welfare programs. The protesters seek to have current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva step down, claiming he came to power undemocratically.
Source: mStar
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Saturday, September 19, 2009
TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today the Holocaust was a “lie” and a pretext to create a Jewish state that Iranians had a religious duty to confront.
  • “The pretext (Holocaust) for the creation of the Zionist regime (Israel) is false ... It is a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim,” he told worshippers at Tehran University at the end of an annual anti-Israel “Qods (Jerusalem) Day” rally. “Confronting the Zionist regime (Israel) is a national and religious duty.”
  • Since coming to power in 2005, Ahmadinejad has provoked international condemnation for saying the Holocaust was a “myth” and calling Israel a “tumour” in the Middle East.
  • His government held a conference in 2006 questioning the fact that Nazis used gas chambers to kill 6 million Jews in World War Two.
  • Ahmadinejad’s critics say his fiery anti-Western speeches and questioning of the Holocaust have isolated Iran, which is at odds with the West over its disputed nuclear programme.
  • The hardline president, who often rails against Israel and the West, warned leaders of Western-allied Arab and Muslim countries about dealing with Israel.
  • “This regime (Israel) will not last long. Do not tie your fate to it. This regime has no future. Its life has come to an end,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state radio.
  • European countries have criticised the hardline president for his views on Israel, which Iran refuses to recognise since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
  • Israel, the United States and their European allies suspect Iran of trying to use its nuclear programme to build an atomic bomb. Tehran insists its nuclear work is aimed at generating electricity.
  • Ahmadinejad said Iran rejected any Middle East peace plan that did not guarantee the rights of the Palestinians.
  • “The Palestinians should know that they owe everything to their resistance,” he said, rejecting any solutions based on compromises.
  • The hardline leader played down the importance of any protests he may face in New York during his upcoming trip to attend the UN General Assembly.
  • “These futile actions have no political value. The Iranian nation will not blink an eye over your actions,” he said to chants of “Death to Israel”.
  • Ahmadinejad railed against the United States during his previous appearances at the General Assembly, which takes place at the UN headquarters on international territory on the east side of Manhattan.
  • All world leaders are invited to the annual gathering in September, to the discomfort of the United States which has been forced over the years to allow in foes like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Ahmadinejad.
Source: Reuters
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Two US couples have been jailed for two years in Egypt for illegal child trafficking.
Seven other people were also sentenced in the case, the first of its kind in the country, which became public earlier this year after the US embassy in Cairo reported its suspicions of the couples after they tried to get their adopted children out of Egypt.
  • The four, Iris Botros and Louis Andros of Durham, North Carolina, and Egyptian-born Suzan Hagoulf and her husband Medhat Metyas, were also fined 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($18,150) each.
  • They went on trial in May on charges of child trafficking and forgery after being arrested in December.
  • The couples, all Christians, were trying to adopt children from a Christian orphanage that allegedly provided them with false documents that certified the children were born to them.
  • A lawyer for the couples said they planned to appeal against the verdict.
  • The other seven defendants sentenced in the case on Thursday, were all Egyptians, including a nun connected to the orphanage, orphanage employees and a doctor who provided fake birth certificates.
  • Four of the seven remain at large and were sentenced in absentia. The Egyptians were sentences to either two or five years imprisonment and their fines were equal to those of the Americans.
  • Two US embassy officials attended the trial but declined to comment.
  • Rights activists confirm trafficking in infants and young children takes place in the most populous Arab country, and infants in orphanages and babies of street girls are at the highest risk of being trafficked, often to infertile couples.
  • But there is also no practical legal mechanism for families - Christian or Muslim - to adopt children in Egypt, and Egyptians rarely gain guardianship of children not born to their families because of social, religious and legal strictures.
Source: Agencies
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Saturday, September 19, 2009
Michelle Bachmann, the US Republican Representative for Minnesota, tells a radio interviewer she believes Barack Obama, the US president, plans to set up mandatory "re-education camps" to indoctrinate young Americans.
  • Glenn Beck, a television personality working at the Fox news network, says on the air that Obama is a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people".
  • Comparing Obama to Adolf Hitler, an Iowa man named Tom Eisenhower speaks up at a town hall meeting held by Republican Senator Charles Grassley, and says "The president of the United States, that's who you should be concerned about."
  • "I'd take a gun to Washington if enough of you would go with me."
  • Retired FBI agent Ted Gunderson, a prolific writer and speaker about conspiracy theories involving devilish sex cults and the Illuminati, tells a gathering of right-wing "Patriots" in Florida that the federal government has set up 10,000 internment camps across the country and is storing thousands of guillotines for mass executions.
  • Mel Sanger, a self-described "political researcher", offers visitors to his website a $24.97-report full of "cutting edge evidence" that Obama is the biblical Antichrist.
  • Tens of thousands of right-wing demonstrators march on the US Capitol waving signs reading "Bury Obamacare with Kennedy" and calling Obama a "bloodsucking Muslim alien".
  • Steven Anderson, the pastor of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Arizona, preached a sermon last month entitled "Why I hate Barack Obama", in which he declared, "I'm going to pray he dies and goes to hell".
Source: The Agencies
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Friday, September 18, 2009

Britain's labor unions have voted to support a massive boycott movement on Israel in response to its December-January offensive in Gaza.
  • The boycott calls for a ban on goods from "illegal" Israeli settlements and an end to arms trading with Israel and disinvestment from some companies.
  • According to Union officials, the boycott would target products including dates, herbs, fruit and vegetables grown in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
  • "We will support a boycott of those goods and agricultural products that originate in illegal settlements through developing an effective, targeted consumer-led boycott campaign," the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said in a statement.
  • Meanwhile, the TUC has condemned the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip at the end of last year.
  • According to the TUC, the motion is the culmination of a wave of motions passed at union conferences this year and reflects massive growth in support for Palestinian rights.
  • The move was, however, criticized by Israel's ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor.
Source: Press TV
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Friday, September 18, 2009

CANBERRA, Australia – A group of prison guards dubbed the Facebook Five has gone to an Australian court to fight for the right to complain about their boss on the Internet.
  • The case has stirred debate in Australia about whether writing on social networking sites amounts to a chat between friends or a form of publishing.
  • New South Wales state prison authorities accused the five guards of misconduct and threatened to fire them last month over their disgruntled cyber exchanges about their superiors, including the man who runs the state's prisons, Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham, according to court documents.
  • Their union, the Public Service Association, has gone to the state Industrial Relations Commission to save their jobs.
  • The union also wants the court to change the prison guards' employment agreement to protect them from disciplinary action "in respect of out-of-work conduct intended to be private," according to the documents.
  • A hearing on the case began Wednesday and will continue next Tuesday. The Australian media have dubbed the three men and two women the Facebook Five.
  • Union official Stewart Little said the prison guards were letting off steam in their own time and within a private Facebook group that was closed to outsiders over plans by management to privatize a Sydney prison operated by the state government. It is unclear how prison authorities gained access.
  • The guards claim in their submission to the court that a senior official wrote them a letter saying he was considering disciplinary action against them that could include dismissal. They said letter alleged they had made "unauthorized public comment" on their department's work and "comment to the media without permission."
  • They were also accused of making offensive comments about Woodham and other senior officials.
  • The department declined Thursday to comment on the case. Little said the guards acknowledged that their comments — which have since been taken down — were disparaging toward Woodham, but insisted they were only meant to be shared with each other.
  • "We don't believe it constitutes misconduct," Little said. "It's more like people getting together in a pub and having a beer and bagging the boss because the boss wants to privatize their jobs."
  • Peter Black, a Queensland state University of Technology lecturer on Internet law, said that writing something unpleasant about someone online "is different from a conversation over a cup of coffee or a barbecue because there is always a record kept in the online environment which is usually searchable."
  • Lawyer Stuart Cole-Morgan said a conversation on Facebook or MySpace with colleagues or about colleagues could legally be considered work-related.
  • "I think the workplace would be considered to extend that far and certainly if we look at activity such as sexual harassment outside the workplace, that has been considered to impact on work," Cole-Morgan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
  • Facebook's reputation as a strictly social network was jolted in Australia last year when a court ruled that a mortgage lender could use it to break the news to a couple that they had lost their home.
  • Some people are concerned that such court-approved contacts with their social networks could amount to a violation of privacy.
Source: AP
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Friday, September 18, 2009

YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar's junta has granted amnesty to 7,114 convicts at prisons across the country, but it was not immediately known if they included political detainees.
  • State television, which announced the amnesty Thursday evening, said the prisoners would be released for good behavior and on humanitarian grounds.
  • Myanmar held more than 65,000 prisoners in mid-2007, according to the most recent figures available from the Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators.
  • Those to be released were not identified. Previous mass releases have usually included a handful of political detainees. They are usually identified when they report to opposition groups, which then announce their release.
  • The country's best-known political prisoner is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.
  • The United Nations and independent human rights groups estimate that the military regime holds more than 2,200 political prisoners, though the government insists that all detainees have been convicted of criminal offenses.
  • The government generally grants amnesties to mark important national days, but most of the recipients are petty criminals. The last release was in February this year when 6,313 prisoners were freed, including less than two dozen political prisoners.
  • It was not clear if the releases started Thursday. Friday is the 21st anniversary of the 1988 seizure of power by the current junta to quash vast pro-democracy demonstrations.
  • An amnesty had been expected since July, when Myanmar's envoy to the United Nations told the Security Council that the government was preparing such a move to allow prisoners to participate in elections next year, the first in two decades.
  • The amnesty comes just ahead of the opening of this year's U.N. General Assembly session, which will be attended by Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein, the highest-ranking government leader in recent years to participate.
  • The junta's powerful deputy chairman, Senior Gen. Maung Aye, attended the 50th anniversary General Assembly session in 1995, but the occasion is usually left to the foreign minister.
  • Human Rights Watch launched a campaign Wednesday for Myanmar's military government to release all political prisoners before the elections.
  • Among those imprisoned in the past two years include people involved in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in 2007 and in assisting the victims of a devastating cyclone in 2008. The group said some were handed decades-long sentences.
  • It said the country has 43 known prisons holding political activists and more than 50 labor camps.
Source: AP
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

HOBART, Australia – A cat named Clyde was reunited with his owner on Wednesday after a mysterious three-year odyssey in which the long-haired Himalayan strayed 2,400 miles (3,800 kilometers) into the Australian Outback.
  • Ashleigh Sullivan, 19, said she had given up hope of ever finding Clyde after he vanished when he was about one year old from her family home near Hobart city in Australia's island state of Tasmania.
  • "I'm positive he remembers. He's not acting like he's suddenly appeared somewhere and is frantic," Sullivan said as she tearfully held her contented cat.
  • A nurse found Clyde wandering at a hospital in the remote Queensland state town of Cloncurry and cared for him for four months before taking him to a local vet as she was leaving town and could not take the cat with her.
  • The vet, Donna Weber, traced Clyde's owner from an identification microchip that was imbedded under the cat's skin.
  • But no one has a clue how Clyde managed the 185-mile (300-kilometer) sea journey across the Bass Strait from Tasmania off mainland Australia's southeast coast, and then about more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) overland to Cloncurry, deep in the arid interior of the Outback.
  • An animal transport company returned the cat to Hobart for free, flying most of the way.
  • "It's pretty special to have him back." Sullivan said. "I'm overwhelmed."
Source: AP
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