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.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

100 Russian skinheads attack concertgoers

MOSCOW – Scores of bare-chested skinheads attacked a crowd of about 3,000 people at a rock concert in central Russia on Sunday, beating them with clubs, media reports said.
Dozens of people were left bloodied and dazed in the attack, television and news agencies reported, and state news channel Rossiya-24 said a 14-year-old girl was killed at the concert in Miass, 900 miles (1,400 kilometers) east of Moscow.
Fourteen ambulances were called to the scene, the channel said, citing witness accounts. The motive for the attack was not known, and authorities couldn't be reached for comment. The ITAR-Tass agency said local police had refused comment.
Many of Russia's top rock acts were attending the "Tornado" rock festival, the agency said.
Russia has an ingrained neo-Nazi skinhead movement. Attacks on dark-skinned foreigners in Moscow and St. Petersburg have been relatively common in recent years. The January 2009 murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasiya Baburova prompted a Kremlin crackdown on ultranationalists, who were blamed for the killings.
In April, a Moscow court banned the far-right Slavic Union, whose Russian acronym SS intentionally mimicked that used by the Nazis' infamous paramilitary. The group was declared extremist and shut down. Then the group's leader, Dmitry Demushkin, told The Associated Press it tried to promote its far-right agenda legally and warned that the ban would enrage and embolden Russia's most radical ultranationalists.
Russia's ultranationalist movement is so deeply embedded in the country's culture that militant groups have sprouted up around Russia to fight it. Anti-racist groups regularly spearhead attacks on ultranationalists, sparking revenge assaults in an intensifying clash of ideologies.
Neo-Nazi and other ultranationalist groups mushroomed in Russia after the 1991 Soviet collapse. The influx of immigrant workers and two wars with Chechen separatists triggered xenophobia and a surge in hate crimes.
Racially motivated attacks, often targeting people from Caucasus and Central Asia, peaked in 2008, when 110 were killed and 487 wounded, an independent watchdog, Sova, said. The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights estimated that some 70,000 neo-Nazis were active in Russia — compared with a just few thousand in the early 1990s.

New video shows emotional trapped Chilean miners

SAN JOSE MINE, Chile – A new video released Sunday of 33 men trapped in a mine under Chile's Atacama Desert shows them sending greetings to their families, talking about how they are doing better since receiving food and breaking into tears as they talk about loved ones.
In the video, the men are shirtless because of the heat in the mine and wearing what look like white surgical pants, special clothing sent down to help keep them dry.
Most are upbeat, expressing gratitude to their families and the rescuers for the support they are receiving via handwritten notes sent to them through three small bore holes. Authorities also send food, water, medicine and other goods to them through the three holes.
But when it comes time to speak about their wives and children, many of the men break down.
"I'm sending my greetings to Angelica. I love you so much, darling," said 30-year-old Osman Araya, as his voice chokes and he begins to cry. "Tell my mother, I love you guys so much. I'll never leave you, I will fight to the end to be with you."
Araya and 32 fellow miners were trapped by the Aug. 5 collapse of the main shaft of the San Jose gold and silver mine in northern Chile. They only gained contact with the outside after 17 days — during which they rationed 48-hours worth of food and dug for water in the ground. On Monday, the men will equal a mark set by three miners who survived 25 days trapped in a flooded mine in southern China last year. Few other rescues have taken more than two weeks.
One miner explains to the family of 28-year-old Ariel Ticona that he didn't want to appear on camera — apparently because he is shy — but that he was sending his love to them and that, according to an unidentified speaker, he "is super happy and he is super, super, super well!"
This video, in contrast to the first 45-minute video released by the government on Thursday, shows little of the men's surroundings. Instead, it appears meant as a video postcard for loved ones, as each of the 12 men who speak to the camera are given about 30 seconds to talk.
At one point, the camera pans to a larger group of men, and several animated, joking voices can be heard throughout the tape.
One unidentified man, who squints in the light shone on his face as do most of the miners, said he is thankful "for all your efforts out there."
One man shown says he is doing much better because of the food and water the miners have received.
Throughout the interviews, as the men start to choke up when speaking about their families, a voice behind the camera urges them on. "Let's go, let's go! You can do it!" the unidentified man said.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Politician raffles breast implants

Venezuelan opposition candidate for a National Assembly position, Gustavo Rojas with a contestant     
CARACAS (Reuters) – A Venezuelan politician is offering breast implants as a prize in a raffle to raise funds for his parliamentary election campaign.
"Some people raffle TVs and we decided to offer this. It's an interesting prize and there's a lot of interest," Gustavo Rojas, an opposition candidate for a National Assembly position, told Reuters while campaigning in Caracas.
Cosmetic surgery, especially breast enlargement, is widespread in image-conscious Venezuela, whose beauty queens have won numerous international pageant titles.
Even a recession has not diminished Venezuelans' appetite for cosmetic surgery, with many people taking out loans for operations.
Rojas, of the opposition First Justice party, said he was not too worried about potential feminist criticism or the medical details of his offer.
"The raffle is a financing mechanism, nothing else. It's the doctor who will do the operation, not me," he said.
"When someone raffles a TV, some people think it's a good TV but others don't like it. It's the same. I'm not showing disrespect to anyone."
Venezuelans vote on September 26 for a new parliament.

NKorean leader appears to be headed home

 A Chinese paramilitary police man gestures for a photographer to stop shooting pictures

CHANGCHUN, China – North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il apparently headed home Saturday after a secretive and surprise trip that reportedly included a meeting with China's top leader to appeal for diplomatic and financial support for a succession plan involving his youngest son.
Reporters have followed a motorcade — apparently used by the reclusive Kim — around several cities in northeast China. The 35-vehicle convoy accompanied by police cars with flashing lights was seen headed to the train station in Changchun.
Kim rarely leaves North Korea and when he does he travels by special train. South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported the train left the station, although it did not give a destination.
North Korea does not announce Kim's trips until he returns home, and China has refused to say if he is in the country, even though a Japanese television station had a grainy picture of him.
Kim was reportedly accompanied by his son, Kim Jong Un, believed to be in his 20s. Many North Korea watchers predict the son will be appointed to a key party position at a ruling Workers' Party meeting early next month — the first such gathering in decades.
To pull off the event with sufficient fanfare, North Korea will need Chinese aid, particularly following the devastating floods that battered the country's northwest this month, analysts said.
"The convention needs to be festive with the party giving out food or normalizing day-to-day life for its people, but with the recent flood damages they are not able to," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank outside Seoul.
"The most important thing on Kim's agenda is scoring Chinese aid, which will ensure that the meeting will be well received by the people."
Asked whether Kim was visiting China, a duty officer with the press office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: "China and North Korea consistently maintain high-level contacts. We will release the relevant information in good time."
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi sidestepped a question from his visiting Japanese counterpart about widespread reports saying Kim was visiting China, Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Satoru Satoh said. Yang made no response to the query but said China will continue cooperating with Japan on the North Korea issue, Satoh said.
South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper and Yonhap both reported that Kim was believed to have met Chinese President Hu Jintao in Changchun on Friday.
The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report, saying the two are believed to have discussed the North's succession, the resumption of six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program, and ways to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation.
China, as North Korea's biggest diplomatic ally and a major source of food aid and oil, would expect to be kept in the loop about major political transitions in the North, but the Beijing leadership is not likely to be enthusiastic about the prospect of another dynastic succession next door, said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University's Center for International and Strategic Studies.
Kim also badly needs Chinese aid because of flooding earlier this month that damaged or destroyed more than 7,000 homes, and inundated 17,800 acres (7,200 hectares) of farmland close to the border with China, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported this week.
KCNA said China has already agreed to deliver some aid to help North Korea cope with the disaster but didn't give specifics.
The North faces chronic food shortages and has relied on outside aid to feed much of its 24 million people since a famine that is believed to have killed as many as 2 million people in the 1990s.
In an attempt to improve its meager economy, it has experimented with limited market reforms and sought foreign investment, mostly from China and South Korea. But tensions with the South have caused trade and joint economic projects with the South to wither and raised the importance of Pyongyang's ties to Beijing.
Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and Scott McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.

14 militants, 2 policeman killed in Russia

NALCHIK, Russia – At least 14 suspected militants and two police officers were killed during security raids in Russia's volatile North Caucasus, police said Saturday.
Nine suspected militants were killed in two separate shootouts with police in the Kabardino-Balkariya republic late Friday, a police spokesman Roman Golubev told The Associated Press. Two of those killed were suspected of organizing a bombing in May that killed one man and wounded dozens, Russia's Investigative Committee, the country's main investigative body, said in a statement.
Separately, five suspected militants and two police officers were killed in another shootout Friday in the nearby republic of Dagestan, local police spokesman Magomed Tagirov said.
Those militants allegedly had ties to warlord Magomedali Vagabov, who was behind the Moscow metro bombings in April that 40 killed people and left scores wounded, the investigative agency statement said. Vagabov himself was killed in a shootout with security forces in Dagestan last week, authorities said.
Security forces were searching the mountains outside the village of Gubden on Saturday for the group's remaining members, Dagestan police spokesman Vyacheslav Gasanov said.
Russia has been fighting an Islamic insurgency in its southern regions following two wars in Chechnya in the past 15 years. The militants say they seek an Islamic emirate across the North Caucasus. While violence has subsided in Chechnya, militants are becoming increasingly active in neighboring regions.
More than 30 militants have been killed in raids in North Caucasus this month and a number of "terrorist attacks" have been prevented, federal security chief Alexander Bortnikov told President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday in remarks broadcast on state-run television.
Rights activists say the militants' attacks have been provoked in part by extrajudicial killings, torture and kidnappings allegedly carried out by police under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
Dagestan's leader appealed to Medvedev earlier this month to bolster security forces in the republic, citing a surge in terrorist activity.
Associated Press writers Sergey Venyavsky in Rostov-on-Don and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

Afghan militants in US uniforms storm 2 NATO bases

 KABUL, Afghanistan – U.S. and Afghan troops repelled attackers wearing American uniforms and suicide vests in a pair of simultaneous assaults before dawn Saturday on NATO bases near the Pakistani border, including one where seven CIA employees died in a suicide attack last year.
The raids appear part of an insurgent strategy to step up attacks in widely scattered parts of the country as the U.S. focuses its resources on the battle around the Taliban's southern birthplace of Kandahar.
Also Saturday, nearly 50 female pupils and teachers were rushed to the hospital after an apparent toxic gas attack at a Kabul high school, the government said. It was the second case of poisoning at a girls' school in the capital this week. Officials suspect the Taliban, who oppose female education.
The militant assault in the border province of Khost began about 4 a.m. when dozens of insurgents stormed Forward Operating Base Salerno and nearby Camp Chapman with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, according to NATO and Afghan police.
Two attackers managed to breach the wire protecting Salerno but were killed before they could advance far onto the base, NATO said. Twenty-one attackers were killed — 15 at Salerno and six at Chapman — and five were captured, it said.
Three more insurgents, including a commander, were killed in an airstrike as they fled the area, NATO said.
The Afghan Defense Ministry said two Afghan soldiers were killed and three wounded in the fighting. Four U.S. troops were wounded, NATO officials said.
U.S. and Afghan officials blamed the attack on the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based faction of the Taliban with close ties to al-Qaida. Camp Chapman was the scene of the Dec. 30 suicide attack that killed the seven CIA employees.
Afghan police said about 50 insurgents took part in the twin assaults. After being driven away from the bases, the insurgents approached the nearby offices of the governor and provincial police headquarters but were also scattered, said Khost provincial police Chief Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai.
"Given the size of the enemy's force, this could have been a major catastrophe for Khost. Luckily we prevented it," he said.
Small-arms fire continued through the morning, while NATO helicopters patrolled overhead. The dead were wearing U.S. Army uniforms, which can be easily purchased in shops in Kabul and other cities, possibly pilfered from military warehouses.
The twin attacks appeared to be part of a growing pattern of insurgent assaults far from the southern battlefields of Kandahar and Helmand provinces, which have been the main focus of the U.S. military campaign. Last December, President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan, most to the Kandahar area where the Islamist movement was organized in the mid-1990s.
Late Friday, insurgents stormed a police checkpoint in Takhar province near the northern border with Tajikistan. The Interior Ministry said nine insurgents were killed and 12 wounded with no losses on the government side. The day before, Taliban fighters killed eight Afghan policemen in a raid on a checkpoint outside the northern city of Kunduz.
And on Wednesday, an Afghan police driver with family links to the Taliban killed three Spaniards — two police trainers and their interpreter — at a training center in the northern province of Badghis.
Although the Afghan capital is relatively secure, incidents apparently directed at female students have raised concern about Taliban intimidation within the city.
The Health Ministry said 48 pupils and teachers at the Zabihullah Esmati High School were rushed to hospitals after falling ill with breathing problems and nausea. All but nine were treated and released after blood samples were taken to try to determine the cause.
On Wednesday, dozens of students and teachers at another Kabul girls' school became sick when an unknown gas spread through classrooms, education officials said. The cause of that incident has not been determined, but officials fear the apparent poisonings could be part of an insurgent campaign to frighten girls from attending school.
Also Saturday, the government criticized U.S. media reports that alleged numerous Afghan officials had received payments from the CIA. A presidential office statement did not address or deny any specific allegations, but called the reports an insult to the government and an attempt to defame people within it.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the CIA had been paying Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for Afghanistan's National Security Council, who was arrested last month as part of an investigation into corruption. The Washington Post reported the next day the agency was making payments to a large number of officials in President Hamid Karzai's administration.
"Afghanistan believes that making such allegations will not strengthen the alliance against terrorism and will not strengthen an Afghanistan based on the law and rules, but will have negative effects in those areas," the statement by Karzai's office said, without commenting on the substance of the reports.
"We strongly condemn such irresponsible allegations which just create doubt and defame responsible people of this country," it said.
Meanwhile, NATO issued a statement saying coalition helicopter pilots were not responsible for the deaths of three Afghan policemen killed Aug. 20 in what had been considered a friendly fire incident in Jowzjan province's Darzab district.
It said the helicopters showed up hours after fighting began and it was possible the three had been killed earlier.
All Afghan forces had also been ordered to remain inside compounds at the time the two helicopters fired a missile and 80 30-millimeter rounds at an insurgent firing position, NATO said.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Violence targets police, media in Mexico massacre

REYNOSA, Mexico – A car explodes outside a police station, another outside a television station. A drug gang is suspected of massacring 72 migrants. A prosecutor investigating those deaths suddenly disappears.
Mexico's drug cartels seem to be adopting the tactics of war zones half a world away.
The violence has contributed to fewer migrants crossing the border into the U.S., officials say, because they have to traverse some of Mexico's most dangerous territory to get to Texas. Mexican officials, meanwhile, warn there likely will be more bloodshed in the coming months.
"Violence will persist and even intensify," President Felipe Calderon said Friday at a forum on security where he vowed he would not back down.
The two car explosions happened early Friday morning less than 45 minutes apart in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of the northern state of Tamaulipas near where the slaughtered migrants were found.
The first exploded in front of the offices of the Televisa network and the second in front of transit police offices. There were no injuries, though both caused some damage to buildings, and the Televisa blast knocked out the network's signal for several hours.
The network described the explosion as a car bomb, but the state attorney general's office could not confirm that.
If the explosions were car bombs, it would mean a total of four so far this year in Mexico — a new and frightening tactic that officials say the cartels are using in the escalating drug war.
The prosecutor, Roberto Jaime Suarez, disappeared Wednesday, a day after the 72 bodies were discovered at a ranch outside the northern town of San Fernando, officials said. A transit police officer in the cartel-dominated town was also missing.
No drug gangs claimed responsibility for the violence.
But the massacre's lone survivor, 18-year-old Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, said the killers identified themselves as Zetas, a group started by former Mexican army special forces soldiers and is now a lethal drug gang that has taken to extorting migrants.
Lala, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the neck and is under heavy guard, told investigators the migrants from Central and South America were intercepted on a highway by five cars, according to his statement that The Associated Press had access to Friday.
More than 10 gunmen jumped out and identified themselves as Zetas, Lala said. They tied up the migrants and took them to the ranch, where they demanded the migrants work for the gang. When most refused, they were blindfolded, ordered to lie down and shot.
Lala's mother, who lives in the United States with her husband, said she spoke to her son Friday for the first time since the attack. She said she'd been trying to reach him since he didn't arrive at their home as scheduled.
"Every afternoon, I was buying phone cards to call the coyote (smuggler) and find out where my son is," she said. "I did nothing but call and call and call, and there was never an answer."
Then a Mexican hospital worker called and told them their son had been in "an accident."
The AP is not identifying the woman or her location because of potential danger.
Lala has been offered a humanitarian visa that would allow him to stay in Mexico, Immigration Commissioner Cecilia Romero said Friday. But his mother said he was pleading for her to help him get to the U.S.
Investigators have identified 31 of the dead migrants, whose bodies were taken to Reynosa, a city across the border from McAllen, Texas. Those identified include 14 Hondurans, 12 Salvadorans, four Guatemalans and one Brazilian.
The migrants were killed Sunday, Honduran Deputy Foreign Minister Alden Rivera said, citing a Mexican government report. The bodies were already decomposing when Mexican marines found them Tuesday, bound, blindfolded and slumped against a wall at the ranch outside San Fernando.
Rivera said only the 31 identified dead carried documents. Investigators are collecting DNA from the rest, but Rivera said it may be impossible to identify more.
Meanwhile, the bodies of 14 people were found dumped in various locations around the Pacific Coast resort of Acapulco on Friday, and the bodies of eight people who had been shot and burned were found in a car outside the border city of Ciudad Juarez.
The U.S. State Department issued a new warning for Americans living or traveling in Mexico, particularly in border cities. U.S. diplomats in the northern industrial city of Monterrey were told to move their children out of the area — which is also plagued by fighting between the Zetas and its rivals — after a deadly shootout last week in front of the American Foundation School, where many American students are enrolled.
The Mexican government, however, continued to stress that violence is limited to certain parts of the country.
Government security spokesman Alejandro Poire broke the wave of violence down to seven conflicts, and said 80 percent of more than 28,000 drug-related killings since late 2006 have been confined to just 162 of nearly 2,500 Mexican cities.
Kidnappings and attacks on government security patrols are rampant on the highways surrounding San Fernando. Last month, the bodies of 15 people were dumped in the middle of the road from San Fernando to Matamoros, a city across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
Drug gangs have terrorized news organizations in the area, where journalists have been killed and newspaper offices attacked to quiet coverage.
In Tamaulipas, many newspapers and TV stations have simply stopped reporting on the violence. The day after the massacre was discovered, local newspapers carried headlines about the new school year. Even the national Mexican media have covered the story without bylines, as did the Brownsville Herald in Texas.
Mexico's "increasing insecurity" has contributed to a sharp drop in the numbers of migrants in Mexico over the past year, the immigration commissioner said. But Romero said the U.S. economic slump and tighter border security are the main factors.
Mexican immigration agents have rescued 2,750 migrants this year, some stranded in deserts and others who were being held captive by organized crime gangs, Romero added. In Tamaulipas, alone, agents rescued 812 migrants kidnapped by drug gangs, she said. Many of those migrants told authorities the cartels tried to force them into drug trafficking.
"We perhaps saved them from being massacred like the 72 that we lost this time," she said.
Associated Press writers Olga R. Rodriguez, Katherine Corcoran and Alexandra Olson in Mexico, Juan Carlos Llorca in Guatemala and Samantha Henry in the United States contributed to this report.

PR police arrest runaway Russian in homicide case

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A Russian man who walked out of a Puerto Rico courtroom before a judge could consider a negligent homicide charge against him has been detained at the airport.
Authorities say Dodik Siyunov was not under guard when he left the court. He was arrested later Friday before boarding a plane at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport.
Prosecutor Ines Escobar says Siyunov's lawyer told the judge after his 27-year-old client left that he intended to travel back to New York, where he lives.
The judge approved the negligent homicide charge against Siyunov in absentia.
Siyunov is accused of running over a couple in Palmas del Mar on Aug. 10, killing a 21-year-old woman and injuring her 23-year-old husband.
(This version CORRECTS charge in headline to negligent homicide instead of murder.)

NKorean leader's trip spurs succession speculation

CHANGCHUN, China – North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il reportedly met top Chinese leaders on Friday in an apparent bid for Beijing's diplomatic and financial support for a succession plan involving his third and youngest son, who is said to be traveling with him.
Many North Korea watchers predict the son — Kim Jong Un, believed to be in his 20s — will be appointed to a key party position at a ruling Workers' Party meeting early next month — the first such gathering in decades.
To pull off the event with sufficient fanfare, North Korea will need Chinese aid, particularly following the devastating floods that battered the country's northwest this month, analysts said.
"The convention needs to be festive with the party giving out food or normalizing day-to-day life for its people but with the recent flood damages, they are not able to," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank outside Seoul.
"The most important thing on Kim's agenda is scoring Chinese aid, which will ensure that the meeting will be well received by the people."
Choi Jae-sung, an opposition lawmaker in South Korea's parliamentary intelligence committee, told The Associated Press that Kim Jong Il had breakfast Friday with a member of China's powerful Politburo Standing Committee in a hotel in northeast China's Jilin city, where he apparently stayed the night before.
Choi said Kim Jong Un accompanied his father, citing unidentified sources.
South Korea's MBC television reported Kim may later have met President Hu Jintao in Changchun, about an hour's drive from Jilin. It cited an unidentified diplomatic source in Beijing as saying Hu arrived in the afternoon and the two held talks at the city's South Lake Hotel.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited several unidentified diplomatic sources as saying Hu had gone to Changchun.
Asked whether Kim was visiting China, a duty officer with the press office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said late Friday that "China and North Korea consistently maintain high level contacts. We will release the relevant information in good time."
China, as North Korea's biggest diplomatic ally and a major source of food aid and oil, would expect to be kept in the loop about major political transitions in Pyongyang, but the Beijing leadership is not likely to be enthusiastic about the prospect of another dynastic succession next door, said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University's Center for International and Strategic Studies.
Kim has three sons but is said to favor the youngest, despite his youth and inexperience. However, little is known about Kim Jong Un. The only known photo of him was taken when he was a child. If he assumes power, it will continue a dynastic tradition that began when Kim Jong Il took over after the death of his father, the late President Kim Il Sung.
"No, I don't think that China will be pleased to see that sort of succession, with Kim Jong Il's third son also now taking over as prince heir," said Zhu. "We would like to see the transition of power go smoothly but I don't think China will show any admiration for this sort of succession."
Kim Jong Il received years of support from his father, who appointed him to crucial posts, purged opponents, fostered contacts with powerful members of the government and created a cult of personality for him. Kim Jong Un has received little of this preparation.
Yet, withholding support is not a real option for Beijing because stability in North Korea remains a strategic priority for the Chinese government, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.
"Whomever leads this regime, China has to accept it, and he will be at minimum a friend to China," Shi said. "I think China's relationship to this succession process is much simpler than most people around the world take into account."
"For China, this is an issue of having, at minimum, stability for its neighbor," he said.
Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee, Kwang-tae Kim and Sangwon Yoon in Seoul, South Korea, and Alexa Olesen in Beijing contributed to this report.