Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Angelina Jolie meets flood victims in Pakistan

Hollywood actress and the goodwill ambassador of UNHCR, Angelina Jolie visits a camp setup for people displaced by heavy floods, in Mohib Banda near Peshawar, Pakistan on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010

JALOZAI, Pakistan – American movie star Angelina Jolie met flood victims in northwestern Pakistan and appealed to the international community to provide aid needed to help the country recover from its worst natural disaster.
The flow of aid money has stalled in recent days, and officials expressed hope the two-day visit by Jolie — who serves as a "goodwill ambassador" for the U.N.'s refugee agency — will convince foreign countries and individuals to open their wallets.
The 35-year-old actress said Tuesday she met with many people whose lives have been devastated by the floods, including mothers who lost their children and an elderly Pakistani couple who feared they would never be able to rebuild the home they lost.
"I am very moved by them and I hope that I am able to, today and tomorrow, be able to do something to help bring attention to the situation for all of the people in need in Pakistan," Jolie told reporters after visiting a refugee camp in the Jalozai area.
She toured the area wearing a long black robe and a black headscarf adorned with a thin red stripe — the kind of conservative clothing worn by many Muslim women in Pakistan.
The floods began in the northwest at the end of July after extremely heavy monsoon rains and slowly surged south along the Indus River, swallowing up hundreds of villages and towns and killing more than 1,700 people. Another 17 million have been affected by the floods, and many will need emergency assistance to survive.
The United Nations issued an appeal for $460 million in emergency funds on Aug. 11, but only $294 million, or 64 percent, has been received so far, and donations have more or less dried up in recent days.
Ajay Chhibber, a U.N. assistant secretary general, said he hopes Jolie's visit will have "a very big impact" on the inflow of aid money and will keep people focused on the crisis.
"We need more ... well-known figures who can keep the spotlight and focus because people tend to forget internationally," said Chhibber, who is also the U.N. development agency's regional director for Asia. He spoke to reporters during a visit to Islamabad.
Associated Press writer Sebastian Abbot contributed to this report from Islamabad.

Top US commander: Burning Quran endangers troops

KABUL, Afghanistan – The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warned an American church's threat to burn copies of the Muslim holy book could endanger U.S. troops in the country and Americans worldwide.
Meanwhile, NATO reported the death of an American service member in an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday.
The comments from Gen. David Petraeus followed a protest Monday by hundreds of Afghans over the plans by Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center — a small, evangelical Christian church that espouses anti-Islam philosophy — to burn copies of the Quran on church grounds to mark the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States that provoked the Afghan war.
"Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence," Petraeus said Tuesday in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed those sentiments Tuesday, saying any burning "would be in a strong contradiction with the all the values we stand for and fight for."
Muslims consider the Quran to be the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is deeply offensive.
In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging interrogators at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Quran in washrooms and flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk. Newsweek later retracted the story.
Responding to Petraeus' comments, Dove World Outreach Center's senior pastor Terry Jones acknowledged Petraeus' concerns as legitimate but said the church still planned to go ahead with the burning.
"We are at this time not going to cancel it. We're still considering it and praying about it," Jones told The Associated Press. "We are also just also concerned and wondering, when do we stop? How much do we back down? ... Instead of us backing down, maybe it's to time to stand up."
The church, which last year distributed T-shirts that said "Islam is of the Devil," has been denied a permit to set a bonfire but has vowed to proceed with the burning. The congregation's website estimates it has about 50 members, but the church has leveraged the Internet with a Facebook page and blog devoted to its Quran-burning plans.
The American's death brings to at least six the number of U.S. forces killed in Afghanistan this month, along with at least four other non-American members of the international coalition.
Engagements with insurgents are rising along with the addition of another 30,000 U.S. troops, bringing the total number of international forces in the country to more than 140,000.
At least 322 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan so far this year, exceeding the previous annual record of 304 for all of 2009, according to an AP count.
Petraeus is asking for 2,000 more trainers and field troops for the international force, NATO officials said Monday. It was unclear how many would be Americans.
Also Tuesday, authorities confirmed the ambush killing of a district chief by suspected insurgents in the northern province of Baghlan on Monday afternoon. Nahrin district chief Rahmad Sror Joshan Pool was on his way home after a memorial service for slain anti-Soviet guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud when rocket-propelled grenades hit his vehicle, setting it on fire, said provincial spokesman Mahmood Haqmal.
Pool's bodyguard was also killed, and one militant died and two were wounded in the ensuing firefight with police, Haqmal said.
Five children were killed and five wounded in Yaya Khil district in the southern province of Paktika when an insurgent rocket fired at an Afghan army base hit a home Monday evening, provincial government spokesman Mokhlais Afghan said.
Kidnappers also seized two electoral workers and their two drivers in the western province of Ghor, according to deputy provincial police chief Ahmad Khan Bashir.
Insurgents have waged a campaign of violence and intimidation to prevent Afghans from voting, especially in rural areas, while some pre-election violence has also been blamed on rivalries among the candidates.
Associated Press writers Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Travis Reed in Miami, Mitch Stacy in Tampa, Florida, and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Son: Iran woman who faced stoning to be lashed

This undated file image made available by Amnesty International in London on Thursday, July 8, 2010, shows Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a mother of two who was sentenced to death by stoning in Iran on charges of adultery.

TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery is now facing a new punishment of 99 lashes because a British newspaper ran a picture of an unveiled woman mistakenly identified as her, the woman's son said Monday.
There was no official confirmation of the new sentence. The son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, 22, said he did not know whether the new lashing sentence had been carried out yet, but heard about it from a prisoner who had recently left the Tabriz prison where his mother is being held.
The lawyer who once represented Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in Iran said from Paris that the situation was not clear.
"Publishing the photo provided a judge an excuse to sentence my poor mother to 99 lashes on the charge of taking a picture unveiled," Qaderzadeh told The Associated Press.
The Times of London said in its Monday edition it had apologized for the photo, but added that the new sentence "is simply a pretext."
"The regime's purpose is to make Ms. Ashtiani suffer for an international campaign to save her that has exposed so much iniquity," said the piece.
Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men after the death of her husband a year earlier and was sentenced by a court back then to 99 lashes. Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned to death, even though she retracted a confession that she claims was made under duress.
Iran suspended that sentence in July, but now says she has been convicted of involvement in her husband's killing and she could still be executed by hanging.
Her former lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, said in a news conference in Paris that he said it was not at all certain if there really had been a new conviction and sentence over the photograph.
"I have contacted my former colleagues at the court who told me nothing was clear on this situation," he said following a news conference with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. "There isn't any punishment for this act in our law."
Kouchner called the sentence to death by stoning "the height of barbarism" and said her case has become a "personal cause," and he was "ready to do anything to save her. If I must go to Tehran to save her, I'll go to Tehran."
Ashtiani's two children remain in Iran and her son is a ticket seller for a bus company in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz. He said he and his younger sister Farideh, 18, have not seen their mother since early August.
"We have really missed her," he said. "We expect all influential bodies to help to save her."
The stoning sentence for Ashtiani has prompted international outcry over the past months with both Brazil and Italy asking Iran to show flexibility in the case.
The Vatican on Sunday raised the possibility of using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save her life as well.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why Are the Feds Suing Brash Arizona Sheriff?

Joe Arpaio

As he attends an unrelated news conference, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio hands back to one of his deputies an Associated Press news report stating the U.S. Justice Department is suing Arpaio saying the Arizona lawman refused for more than a year to turn over records in an investigation into allegations his department discriminates against Hispanics, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010, in Phoenix. … Read more »
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

WASHINGTON, DC – Joe Arpaio, the famously truculent sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, is being sued by the U.S. Justice Department for refusing to cooperate with an investigation into discrimination and illegal searches. According to The Christian Science Monitor, "The Justice Department said it has been seeking documents relating to its civil-rights probe for 15 months and turned to a lawsuit only as a last resort." The blogosphere reacts:
  • Who Is This Guy?  Andrew Cohen at Politics Daily explains: "Arpaio often is applauded locally, and is well-known nationally for what he calls his "get tough policies," which include dying prisoners' clothes pink, feeding them at a cost of 15 cents a meal, and housing them in tent cities. His midnight raids on businesses, where he rounds up suspected illegal immigrants, have been scorned by his critics and applauded by his fans."
  • What a Hypocrite, writes Prerna La at Change: "Since Arpaio is a fan of asking immigrants for their papers, it is not unreasonable to expect the Sheriff to show his own 'papers,' or records of accountability to his supervisors, and especially since his office gets federal funding, which subjects him to investigations under Title VI and compliance reviews... No one is above the law. If we are going to put non-violent, non-criminal undocumented immigrants in detention centers for mere civil violations, why is Sheriff Joe Arpaio not in prison yet for obstructing a federal investigation?"
  • This Gels With the Administration's Goals on Arizona Law, writes Suzy Khimm at Mother Jones: "With the Arpaio investigation and accompanying lawsuit, the Justice Department is sending the message that it is willing to add civil-rights protections to its priorities for immigration enforcement—and go after authorities who refuse to take heed."
  • They've Got Nothing on Arpaio, writes Byron York at The Washington Examiner: "ICE officials evaluated how the sheriff's office performed [six months ago]... They found an 'excellent' working relationship between the sheriff's office and the feds. ICE talked as well to federal prosecutors in Phoenix, who described the cases brought by Maricopa County as 'high quality.' ...In all, it's a quite positive assessment of an operation that just six months later would come under the Justice Department's microscope for alleged civil rights violations. It also lends indirect support to Arpaio's contention that the Justice Department investigation is politically motivated."

Vatican: stoning in Iran adultery case 'brutal'

AP – Pope Benedict XVI, flanked by his secretary Georg Gaenswein, right.  

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican raised the possibility Sunday of using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save the life of an Iranian widow sentenced to be stoned for adultery.
In its first public statement on the case, which has attracted worldwide attention, the Vatican decried stoning as a particularly brutal form of capital punishment.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Catholic church opposes the death penalty in general.
It is unclear what chances any Vatican bid would have to persuade the Muslim nation to spare the woman's life. Brazil, which has friendly relations with Iran, was rebuffed when it offered her asylum.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of adultery. In July, Iranian authorities said they would not carry out the stoning sentence for the time being, but the mother of two could still face execution by hanging for adultery and other offenses.
Her son, Sajad, told the Italian news agency Adnkronos that he was appealing to Pope Benedict XVI and to Italy to work to stop the execution.
Lombardi told The Associated Press that no formal appeal had reached the Vatican. But he hinted that Vatican diplomacy might be employed to try to save Ashtiani.
Lombardi said in a statement that the Holy See "is following the case with attention and interest."
"When the Holy See is asked, in an appropriate way, to intervene in humanitarian issues with the authorities of other countries, as it has happened many times in the past, it does so not in a public way, but through its own diplomatic channels," Lombardi said in the statement.
In one of the late Pope John Paul II's encyclicals in 1995, the pontiff laid out the Catholic Church's stance against capital punishment.
John Paul went to bat in several high-profile cases of death-row inmates in the United States. One of the first was the case of Paula Cooper, who was convicted of murdering her elderly Bible teacher when she was 15 but spared the electric chair by Indiana in 1989.
But that same year, a papal appeal for clemency to Cuba to spare a war hero and three other Cuban officers convicted of drug trafficking from the firing squad went unheeded.
Meanwhile, Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, told the ANSA news agency that while Italy respects Iranian sovereignty and isn't in any way interfering, "a gesture of clemency from Iran is the only thing that can save her."
Italy has strong economic ties, primarily energy interests, in Iran.

my absense

 To all my followers and people who wander my site, i have been ill these past couple of days with the common cold. i feel much bettter now and will be posting news articles as frequently as before. anyways thanks for the support!



Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Unprecedented' challenge to save Chilean miners

By BRADLEY BROOKS, Associated Press Writer
SAN JOSE MINE, Chile – The effort to save 33 men trapped deep in a Chilean mine is an unprecedented challenge, mining safety experts said Tuesday. It means months of drilling, then a harrowing three-hour trip in a cage up a narrow hole carved through solid rock.
If all of that is successful, the freed men will emerge from the earth and "feel born again," said an American miner who was part of a group dramatically rescued in 2002 with similar techniques. But that rescue pulled men from a spot only one-tenth as deep.
"They're facing the most unusual rescue that has ever been dealt with," said Dave Feickert, director of KiaOra, a mine safety consulting firm in New Zealand that has worked to improve China's dangerous mines. "Every one of these rescues presents challenging issues. But this one is unique."
First, engineers must use a 31-ton drill to create a "pilot" hole from the floor of the Atacama Desert down 2,200 feet (700 meters) to the area in the San Jose mine where the men wait.
Then, the drill must be fitted with a larger bit to carve out a rescue chimney that will be about 26 inches (66 centimeters) wide — a task that means guiding the drill through solid rock while keeping the drill rod from snapping or getting bogged down as it nears its target.
Finally, the men must be brought up one at a time inside a specially built cage — a trip that will take three hours each. Just hauling the men up will itself take more than four days — if there are no problems.
"Nothing of this magnitude has happened before; it's absolutely unheard of," said Alex Gryska, a mine rescue manager with the Canadian government.
Gryska said he is confident Chile's state-run Codelco mining company, with its vast expertise in the world's top copper-producing nation, would successfully drill the hole out. But he said he is worried about the three to four months officials say it will take to do so — and the key role the miners themselves will play in their own rescue.
Chilean officials said the miners will have to remove upward of 3,000 tons of rock as it falls into the area where they are trapped. There is little danger to the men — the area includes a shelter and about 500 meters (yards) of a shaft outside that. But as the rock starts to fall a month from now, the men will work in nonstop shifts to remove it with wheelbarrows and industrial sweepers.
"The thing that concerns me is welfare of workers, their mental state. That will be real tough," said Gryska. "From a health perspective, it's hot down there. They're talking about working 24/7 in 85 degrees for two months. Their mental state for that work will be critical."

Chilean Miner

Early on, Chile's Health Minister Jaime Manalich said at least five of the men showed signs of depression. But spirits have improved with a supply of water, food, special clothes to keep them dry in damp conditions and the first verbal communication with loved ones this week.
Chilean officials met with four "life sciences" specialists from NASA on Tuesday in Santiago.
Michael Duncan, NASA's deputy chief medical officer who is leading the team in Chile, said his group had been asked to provide help in nutrition and behavioral health.
Duncan, speaking at a news conference in Santiago, said his team viewed two videos the miners made of themselves and their surroundings — and they clearly raised some concern about weight loss.
He said a priority was increasing the miners' caloric intake, getting them on a regular sleep schedule and ensuring they remain optimistic.
"These miners showed us tremendous strength in surviving as long as they did without any contact with the surface," he said. "What we want to try to avoid is any kind of situation of hopelessness on the part of the miners."
That could mean increasing their contact with the outside world — including bringing in celebrities or even astronauts who have survived long periods of isolation in space, Duncan said.
If the miners remain healthy during their long period underground and if the drilling goes as planned, they will then face the ordeal of being stuffed into a tubular, metal cage for three hours as they are slowly pulled up.
Experts say one of the few times such a technique was used was when nine U.S. miners were hauled out of the flooded Quecreek Mine near Somerset, Pennsylvania, in 2002. But those men were trapped for just three days 73 meters (240 feet) underground.
Quecreek survivor Mark Popernack noted the Chilean miners "already went through more than what we went through," but the Somerset, Pennsylvania, resident said no matter the method, "to come up is the best thing in the world."
"If they make it, if they get that hole drilled, when they come out of there, they'll feel like they're being born again," said Popernack.
"Enjoy the ride, that's my advice to them," he said. "It'll be a long ride, but they'll enjoy it. Because when they see the light of day, they're going to feel pretty good."
(This version CORRECTS in first paragraph that not all 33 miners are Chilean; one is Bolivian.)