BANGKOK - Some 30,000 supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra gathered in Bangkok Saturday to rally against the new Thai government they accuse of illegitimately assuming power. More than 5,000 police were deployed to a city park where the crowd gathered ahead of a planned march to Government House, adopting the tactics of their rivals, who occupied the main government offices for three months last year. But rally leader Jatuporn Prompan told the cheering crowd they would stop short of entering the main government office compound. "We have to go to Government House tonight no matter what happens. We are not afraid of the police they deploy or the soldiers either," Jatuporn said, describing the rally mood as "relaxed". Police said they would not interfere with the rally so long as it remained peaceful. "There are around 30,000 protesters gathered at Sanam Lung now but so far there's no sign of violence," police area commander General Anan Srihiran told AFP. Mean while in Davos Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Saturday he believed "the mood" of the Thai people is turning against opposition protesters but that he could order a second economic stimulus package. "I think the mood of the people now is that they very much want to move forward, they want to get over the current divisions, they want to see a government that works hard, that deals with people's concerns and has the honesty and integrity that has been missing for so long," he said. Source: AFP
UPDATED BREAKING NEWS Most Gazans lack regular water supplies because of a shortage of diesel.
Israel has refused to allow a French-made water purification system into Gaza amid a drinking water crisis in the Palestinian strip. The French Foreign Ministry said Friday that Tel Aviv had blocked the entry of a much-needed water purification station into Gaza and had forced its repatriation.Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Eric Chevallier said the move has sparked an outcry in the Elysée, prompting it to summon the Israeli ambassador to Paris to explain why the system was denied access. "There were a very great number of steps taken at all levels to try to get the water purification station into Gaza," he said, adding that Israel's explanation was not satisfactory. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently warned that Israel's 23-day onslaught on Gaza has pushed its sewage system on the brink of collapse and thus increased risks of groundwater contamination in the Palestinian territory. "The most dangerous thing is the contamination of drinking water with sewage. We need an international organization like the World Health Organization to investigate the matter," said Monther Shoblak, head of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU). According to the UN, Israel's three week-long saturation bombing of the Palestinian territory has seriously damaged pipes and has left drinking water in very short supply. Warning of the serious public health risks, the World Bank has urged the Israeli government to allow enough fuel into Gaza to operate some 170 water and sewage pumps there. The bank called on Israel to allow maintenance crews to shore up a sewage lake in northern Gaza before it overflows at the expense of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the area. Source: Press TV
Erdogan, who offered Ankara's services in negotiating the release the kidnapped Israelisoldier Gilad Shalit, reiterated his fierce criticism of Israeli policy towards Hamas."The world has not respected the political will of the Palestinian people," the premier told The Washington Post. "On the one hand, we defend democracy and we try our best to keep democracy in the Middle East, but on the other hand we do not respect the outcome of . . . the ballot box. Palestine today is an open-air prison. Hamas, as much as they tried, could not change the situation. Just imagine, you imprison the speaker of a country as well as some ministers of its government and members of its parliament. And then you expect them to sit obediently?" "There had not been any casualties in Israel since the cease-fire of June 2008," Erdogan said. "The Israelis claim that missiles were being sent [from Gaza]. I asked Prime Minister Olmert, how many people died as a result of those missiles? The United Nations Security Council makes a decision, and Israel announces it does not recognize the decision. I'm not saying that Hamas is a good organization and makes no mistakes. They have made mistakes. But I am evaluating the end result." "We have a serious relationship with Israel," Erdogan told the Post. "But the current Israeli government should check itself. They should not exploit this issue for the upcoming elections in Israel." Peres called Erdogan on Friday following the blow-up at the World Economic Forum in Davos in a bid to soothe the tensions. On Thursday, Erdogan stormed off the stage after he was cut off by the forum moderator and barred from responding to Peres' defense of Israel's 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip. Turkish media outlets reported that Peres had apologized to Erdogan during their five-minute phone conversation, but Peres' office denied the report, saying that the purpose of the telephone call was simply to ensure that the "crisis won't deteriorate." SOURCE: WP
Former British premier Tony Blair says in order to reach peace in the Middle East Hamas members should be included in any peace talks. “I do think it is important that we find a way of bringing Hamas into this process, but it can only be done if Hamas is prepared to do it on the right terms,” the Middle East envoy for the quartet of Mideast peace negotiators told The Times of London on Saturday. In a U-turn in his policy regarding Hamas leaders, he said, “a basic predisposition is that in a situation like this you talk to everybody,” The Times wrote on its website. “Yes, we do need to show through the change we are making on the West Bank that the Palestinian state could be a reality. The trouble is that if you simply try to push Gaza to one side then eventually what happens is the situation becomes so serious that it erupts and you deliver into the hands of the mass the power to erupt at any point in time,” he added. Asked if he was surprised by the devastating events during the Israel war against Gaza, he said, “I have been saying for some time that what was needed was a completely different strategy.” However, according to the published interview, he still supports the West's long-standing position that Hamas must first recognize Israel's right to exist before Hamas can be given a seat at the negotiation table. Following the shaky ceasefire after the war in Gaza, and while elements in the international community are attempting to file lawsuits against Israel for committing war crimes, efforts are under way to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The US and the EU supports the Fatah administration of Mahmoud Abbas the West Bank, while democratically elected Hamas in the Gaza Strip, has been ignored in the Mideast peace process to date. Source: Press TV
The new US envoy to the UN says Israel must investigate the allegations that its army has committed war crimes during the war on Gaza."We expect Israel will meet its international obligations to investigate", Ambassador Susan Rice said in her debut speech before the UN Security Council. The use of controversial chemical white phosphorous shells and depleted uranium munitions, indiscriminate firing during the offensive in the densely-populated coastal sliver, the shelling of a UN school turned refugee camp, as well as the question as to whether other Israeli military tactics were in breach of humanitarian laws are among the issues Tel Aviv has been charged with. Israel however rejects the war crimes allegations, saying that it is fighting a 'noble war' against Hamas -- the democratically-elected ruler of the Gaza Strip. She also accused Hamas of violating international law "through its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians in southern Israel and the use of civilian facilities to provide protection for its terrorist attacks." Gaza fighters say the rocket launches are retaliatory measures in response to Israel's deadly blockade on the costal strip and the frequent overnight incursions by Israeli troops, who kill or kidnap Palestinians in the area. Source: Press TV
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka's president has urged the Tamil Tiger rebels to allow the estimated 250,000 civilians trapped in the northern war zone to flee to safety following reports of heavy casualties among noncombatants stuck in the shrinking territory. Human rights groups have accused the rebels of holding the civilians hostage and used the military of launching heavy attacks in areas filled with civilians, including a government-declared "safe zone" in the north. A senior U.N. official said both sides appeared to have committed "grave breaches of human rights" The rebels and the military deny the charges. In the appeal published Friday on a government Web site, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said the rebels' refusal to let noncombatants leave was endangering their lives. He accused the rebels known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of putting their heavy artillery inside the "safe zone" and using it as a "launching pad" for attacks on government troops. "I urge the LTTE, within the next 48 hours to allow free movement of civilians to ensure their safety and security. For all those civilians, I assure a safe passage to a secure environment," he said. Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. the president's statement did not amount to a unilateral 48-hour truce and said the offensive was proceeding Friday. The Red Cross said there was still fighting in the north Friday, but it welcomed Rajapaksa's announcement that the government would allow civilians safe passage. "As far as we are concerned, we will try to seize the opportunity to evacuate more people, especially the wounded with their families," said Sarasi Wijeratne, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross Dr. Thurairajah Varatharajah, the top health official in the war zone, said his hospital in the rebel-held town of Puthukkudiyiruppu was overflowing with patients with shell blast injuries. Many of them had no beds and were forced to stay in the hallway, he said. The rebels, who have been fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in northern Sri Lanka since 1983, were ousted from all major towns after heavy battles in recent months and are now cornered in a 115-square mile (300-square kilometer) area of jungle and villages in the northeast Source: AP
Israeli President Shimon Peres says the war on Gaza was not "an ugly story", insisting that the global condemnation of Tel Aviv is unjust. "They try to make the Israeli policy an ugly story," a frustrated Peres was quoted by the Associated Press at a session of the World Economic Forum on Thursday night.
He explained that his outburst was the result of repeated criticism over Israel's Gaza operation. The Israeli president, however, maintains that Tel Aviv is fighting a noble war against Hamas, the democratically-elected ruler of the Gaza Strip. "Israel is a democracy. It is fighting one of the most dangerous, terroristic, dictatorial groups. All of a sudden to be a humanitarian is to support dictators, to support terror, to support killing innocent people," he said at the forum. An angry exchange between President Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had forced the latter to storm off the stage at the World Economic Forum. Erdogan had become incensed after the moderator curtailed his response to Peres' angry remarks regarding the recent Israeli military campaign. The Turkish premier has vowed never to return to the annual gathering. Source: AP
GAZA:Palestinian HAMAS movement issued a statement in support of Turkish Prime Minister Receb Tayyib Erdogan.Hamas has announced that they were very pleased by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's reaction expressed during the Davos World Economic Forum panel, "Gaza: A Model for Peace in the Middle East," and for getting up and walking out.
HAMAS Spokesman Fevzi Berhum made a written statement on the events during the panel “Gaza: The Case for Middle East Peace”, expressing satisfaction with Erdogan’s position and his leaving the meeting. “HAMAS faithfully welcomes the brave behavior of Receb Tayyib Erdogan, who defended victims of Zionist attacks against our children and women. We appreciated his leaving the panel as a support to the victims of genocide committed by the Zionists”. HAMAS is planning to hold a meeting in Gaza in support of Turkish Prime Minister. The spokesman also wrote; "We regard his walking out on he panel as a show of support for the victims of this Zionist massacre." Source: APA
UPDATED BREAKING NEWS Johanna Sigurdardottir, Former air hostess to be sworn in as Icelandic premier after economic collapse
The first government collapse of the global economic crisis is about to yieldthe world's first openly-gay leader. Johanna Sigurdardottir, a former air hostess, is expected to be sworn in as Iceland's Prime Minister by the end of the week.
Her moment in the international spotlight comes at the most horrendous moment in her nation's recent history. As the global meltdown began, the collapse of Iceland's grossly over-leveraged economy was followed smartly by the implosion of its banks and currency. Now its government has gone the same way, the first to succumb to the backwash from the crisis. Ms Sigurdardottir's party, the Social Democrat Alliance, was asked to form a new government but its leader is taking a leave of absence to recover from treatment for a benign tumour. And so, "Saint Johanna", as she has come to be known, has been propelled from the social affairs ministry – which she has presided over for a decade – to take centre stage in a choice hailed as "unexpected but brilliant". The 66-year-old politician lives with her partner, Jonina Leosdottir, a journalist and playwright. The couple were joined in a civil ceremony in 2002. Don't expect them to show up togetherfor photocalls, however – that's not the Icelandic way. Though she is famous across the island, having been a top politician for years, her lesbian union was no big deal in this calmly progressive nation of only 300,000 people. "Johanna is a very private person," said an Icelandic government source. "A lot of people didn't even know she was gay. When they learn about it people tend to shrug and say, 'Oh'. That's not to say they are not interested; they are interested in who she's living with – but no more so than if she was a man living with a woman. Source: THE INDEPENDENT
Head of the UN nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei has welcomed US President Barack Obama for seeking to open direct talks with Iran."President Obama has said he is ready to speak to Iran without preconditions. This is the way to go. It is long overdue," ElBaradei said at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday.He also said that previous US policy on Iran was a "total failure", urging the beginning of talks between both sides without any "preconditions". Western countries accuse Tehran of working toward obtaining atomic bombs. Iran categorically rejects the allegations, insisting the country's nuclear facilities are regularly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran has also been urged to suspend its uranium enrichment activities in exchange for certain economic incentives. Iranian officials say they are open to talks but will not accept any precondition such as halting nuclear activities. In an apparent shift from the Bush administration's policy on Iran, President Obama has promised to engage in direct dialogue with Iranian officials. In a Monday interview, President Obama said that it was "important" to the new US administration "to be willing to talk to Iran". Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday responded to this message by welcoming the idea of change but said that the Obama administration should move to adopt "real change" rather than a mere shift in tactics. ElBaradei also called on Iran to answer "technical questions" over its nuclear program to remove any misunderstanding. Iran says it has answered all questions from the IAEA which has so far confirmed the country's non-diversion toward nuclear weapons program. The UN nuclear watchdog, which is responsible for monitoring Iran's nuclear activities, inspects the country's facilities on a regular basis. Source: Webmaster
BREAKING NEWS Turkey's prime minister has returned home from the World Economic Forum in Davos to a warm welcome after he stormed out of a debate over Israel's war on the Gaza Strip.
More than 5,000 people, many waving Palestinian and Turkish flags, greeted Recep Tayyip Erdogan after his aeroplane touched down early on Friday. Erdogan walked out of a televised debate on Thursday with Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, after the moderator refused to allow him to rebut Peres' justification about the war Before storming out, Erdogan told Shimon Peres, the Israeli president: "You are killing people." At least 1,300 Palestinians were killed during Israel's 22-day aerial, naval and ground assault on Gaza. Thirteen Israeli citizens died over the same period. Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League and former Egyptian foreign minister, said Erdogan's action was understandable. "Mr Erdogan said what he wanted to say and then he left. That's all. He was right," he said, adding that Israel "doesn't listen". Turkey has in recent months brokered indirect talks between Israel and Syria over the Golan Heights region, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. Source: Al Jazeera
UPDATED BREAKING NEWS Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad strongly backed the Saudi call for a probe into Israeli war crimes,
RIYADH:Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad strongly backed the Saudi call for a probe into Israeli war crimes, and said that the UN must set up a war crimes tribunal against Tel Aviv to investigate what he called the genocide of innocent Palestinians. Speaking to Arab News, Mahathir said he supported the Arab peace initiative of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.“King Abdullah’s peace plan is a good initiative, but we are dealing with certain countries — especially Israel — that do not care about world opinion and peace,” he said. “So any effort to establish peace and to bring the warring parties together will fail, but that does not mean that there should not be any effort to resolve the issues.” Mahathir said that a Malaysian NGO is working to set up a tribunal to try, expose and punish several world leaders, especially the Israeli leadership, for their acts of terrorism. “The Malaysian tribunal, for which we are now trying to find judges from different countries, will pronounce punitive judgment which may not be carried out because the culprits are high-profile world leaders,” said Mahathir. He blamed the US for backing Israeli aggression against innocent Gazans, saying it makes the US a bigger culprit than Israel. Speaking about the changes in the American policy with Barack Obama at the helm, he cautiously welcomed the closure of Guantanamo prison and said: “It remains to be seen how effective these steps would be.” Source: Arab News
Erdogan walked off in front of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other panel members complaining that his comments on the conflict were cut short by the Washington Post's moderator David Ignatius. The Turkish premier noted to reporters following the incident that he was treated unfairly by the moderator who allowed him only 12 minutes to make his points while giving Peres a full 25 minutes to deliver an impassioned defense of Israel's 22-day offensive that devastated Gaza. Arab League chief, Egypt's Amr Moussa rose to shake his hand as the prime minister made his exit. "I do not think I will be coming back to Davos after this because you do not let me speak," the prime minister shouted as he left, though he said later he could reconsider. Erdogan criticized the audience of international officials and corporate chiefs for applauding Peres' emotional defense of Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead. Erdogan, who leads one of the few Muslim countries to have diplomatic ties with Israel and who has sought a peacemaker's role in the Middle East conflict, said Israel had carried out "barbaric" actions in Gaza. "I find it very sad that people applaud what you have said because many people have been killed," he shouted at Peres before being cut off by Ignatius. Erdogan and Peres spoke by telephone after the debate and the 85-year-old Israeli president apologized for the events, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported. Source: Press TV
The great fear of Israel's Zionist leaders is that ordinary people in all of historic Palestine, no matter what their religion, will define the struggle against Zionism not as Jew versus non-Jew but as a struggle by those who seek equality under the law for all people, no matter what their religion, versus those who oppose that goal. Thus Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert once said: WASHINGTON - "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Haaretz Wednesday, the day the Annapolis conference ended in an agreement to try to reach a Mideast peace settlement by the end of 2008. "The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us," Olmert said, "because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents." There are five million Jews in Israel and three-hundred million Americans in the United States. Most of these people want to live in a world where people are not at war with one another, and where the principle of equality prevails. People support the kind of governmental terrorism that Israel inflicts upon its enemies only when they are convinced that an enemy with very different values threatens them and it is kill-or-be-killed. Zionism’s core strategy requires winning the ideological war in Israel and the United States. Israeli leaders promote Hamas so that they can frame the conflict as a religious war. The job of good people everywhere in the world is to prevent Israel's leaders from winning this ideological war, by explaining to our fellow citizens that no matter what Hamas leaders may say or do, the conflict in Palestine is most definitely not a religious war. Finally, this videomade January 13, 2009, reports: "Since beginning its offensive in the Gaza Strip Israel has repeatedly declared it will maintain attacks to smash what it calls the Hamas terrorist machine. However, as Israel's bombardment continues, the appeal of Hamas in the Arab world appears to be growing. Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reports on how the war has left Hamas gaining popular support." Source: Amazon.Com
A recent Islamabad probe suggests that elements and agencies inside Pakistan were not involved in planning the Mumbai terror attacks. "An initial probe conducted by a three-member team set up by the Interior Ministry has concluded that the 26/11 attacks were planned outside Pakistan," Dawn News quoted sources as saying on Thursday. The Pakistani team also stated in its report that "no leads" had been found in Pakistan but did not elaborate on whether the probe had been able to determine where the attacks had been planned. The British intelligence service MI5, however, had affirmed earlier that it had uncovered links between the terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks and UK nationals. "We have looked at individuals' communications, where they have been and so on and found they have got connections with most countries including the UK...," said MI5 Director General Jonathan Evans in early January. On January 5, India provided Pakistan with data from satellite phones used by the attackers as well as what it describes as the "confession of a surviving gunman". Washington, New Delhi, and London hold Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant group responsible for the Mumbai attacks - which killed at least 179 people, including the nine militants. Pakistan has rejected the involvement of its government in the attacks, saying that "non-state actors" were involved in the incident. Source: DAWN NEWS
Caracas responds to a recent Tel Aviv decision to expel the Venezuelan chargés d'affaires, describing the Israeli move as "late" and "weak"."The response of the state of Israel is weak, late, and in any case for us it's an honor," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told the Qatar-based television network Al-Jazeera. "We're proud that the state of Israel that exists today, led by these criminals, made this decision." Israel issued an expulsion order for the Venezuelan diplomat on Tuesday, giving him until Friday to depart for Caracas. "Due to the decision of Venezuela to cut relations with us a few weeks ago, we told the Venezuelan charge d'affaires that he and his staff should leave Israel," said Israeli foreign ministry official Lior Hayat. "We told them they are declared persona non grata in Israel." Maduro, however, defended the Venezuelan decision to expel the Israeli diplomat, confirming that in his opinion Tel Aviv violated basic human rights with its military action. "Our decisions were just, correct, aligned with and adjusted with the spirit of our constitution, which mandates that we seek international peace," he said in a statement published on the foreign ministry website on Wednesday. Caracas expelled Israeli ambassador Shlomo Cohen and his staff on January 6 and broke off diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv on Jan. 14 in protest against the Israeli onslaught against Gaza. According to Maduro, the move was compatible with its support for the creation of a Palestinian state.
DAVOS:Both Turkish leaders and the Turkish public reacted harshly to what they call “Israel's devastating offensive in the Gaza Strip,” Turkey's English daily, Today’s Zaman, reports. Prime Minister Erdogan has recently called the IDF’s operations in Gaza “a crime against humanity.” In addition, Erdogan emphasized that Hamas was elected democratically in 2006 in its landslide victory, which shows that the Arab populace in Gaza has chosen Hamas as their elected officials. Erodogan is critical of world leaders for leaving Hamas out of the peace process. In addition, the Turkish prime minister has warned that the situation in Gaza could worsen if Western nations do not recognize Hamas as the legitimate leadership of the Palestinian Authority populace in Gaza. However, President Shimon Peres will try to patch up Turkey's frosty relationship with Israel when he meets with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan on Thursday evening as part of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It will be the first meeting between high-level Israeli and Turkish officials since Operation 'Cast Lead' ended. Turkey harshly criticized Israel during Operation Cast Lead for its military actions in Gaza. Peres told IDFArmy Radio on Thursday that his objective is to restore Israeli-Turkish diplomatic relations. The friendship between the nations was placed in jeopardy two weeks ago after the Turkish prime minister sharply criticized the IDF’s operations in Gaza. “He was mainly influenced by the visuals in Al-Jazeera. I will explain to him our version and we will repair the relationship. We won’t harm them,” Peres said, explaining that he will show Erdogan the Israeli side of the conflict, which Israel began after Hamas terrorists fired thousands of rockets at Israeli targets in the last eight years. Source: IsraelNN.com
Israel Air Force Commander Major General Ido Nehushtan said Wednesday that he doubted the long-term efficacy of Israel's bombing of the tunnels on the Philadelphi Route in southern Gaza.
In the first remarks on the outcome of Operation Cast Lead by a member of the Israel Defense Forces General Staff, Nehushtan said he recommended focusing on all means of weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip. Speaking at the Ilan Ramon Annual International Space Conference in Herzliya, Nehushtan attempted to reduce the importance of tunnels for smuggling arms, calling them "merely the spout of the toothpaste tube." Nehushtan said: "If we hit them today, they'll open again tomorrow and they'll be dug in the future, too." Nehushtan's remarks reveal the frustration of the IDF and the government that the Gaza offensive did not end the weapons smuggling, despite the destruction of the tunnels. The IDF has been highlighting the need to stop the weapons before they reach the tunnels in Sinai or the ships that bring them in from Iran. Nehushtan also said there was frustration about the West's failure, through international bodies and diplomacy, to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Source: HAARETZ