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  • NYT - Iraq Contractor in Shooting Case Makes Comeback

    After an intense public and private lobbying campaign, Blackwater appears to be back to business as usual.

    The State Department has just renewed its contract to provide security for American diplomats in Iraq for at least another year. Threats by the Iraqi government to strip Western contractors of their immunity from Iraqi law have gone nowhere. No charges have been brought in the United States against any Blackwater guard in the September shooting, either...

    State Department officials said Friday that they did not believe they had any alternative to Blackwater, which supplies about 800 guards to the department to provide security for diplomats in Baghdad... "We cannot operate without private security firms in Iraq," said Patrick F. Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management. "If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq."

USA

  • AP - Blackwater unlikely to face charges in Iraq shooting

    Blackwater Worldwide, the security contractor blamed by an angry Iraqi government for the shooting deaths of 17 civilians, is not expected to face criminal charges — all but ensuring the company will keep its multimillion-dollar contract to protect U.S. diplomats.

    Instead, the seven-month-old Justice Department investigation is focused on as few as three or four Blackwater guards who could be indicted in the Sept. 16 shootings, according to interviews with a half-dozen people close to the investigation.

    The final decision on any charges will not be made until late summer at the earliest, a law enforcement official said. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation.

    The State Department publicly raised the question of Blackwater's corporate liability last month when it extended the company's contract by one year. The contract could still be canceled if criminal charges are brought, but the department said it was unlikely to penalize the corporation if only its employees were charged.
  • WaPo - 'Blue Dog' Democrats Join Republicans in Opposing Speaker's War Funding Bill

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday postponed consideration of a bill that would continue funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a bloc of conservative Democrats balked at the high cost of including several of Pelosi's favored domestic spending programs...

    The Blue Dogs have objected to the creation of a program that would guarantee veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan a year of in-state college tuition for each year served in the war zones. The Blue Dogs said the House had not found any additional money, through spending cuts or tax increases, to pay for the program, a violation of pay-as-you-go rules imposed by House Democrats in early 2007...

    House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) yesterday called the domestic add-ons "unnecessary extra spending" and ... Bush has announced his opposition to any bill that contains veterans' benefits and unemployment insurance in addition to the war funds.
  • The Hill - Ag secretary says farm bill veto could hurt Republicans

    U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said the "politically expedient" move might be for President Bush to sign the farm bill, but added that he is "proud" that Bush is sticking to his principles in promising to veto it.

    In response to a direct question, he said it is "a possibility" that Republican candidates running for the House in rural areas could be hurt by a veto.

  • WaPo - Judge Plans To Review Opinion on CIA Tactics

    U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York said in an order yesterday that on Monday he intends to review an Aug. 1, 2002, memo on specific CIA interrogation techniques, marking an unusual review outside the executive branch.

    The 2002 memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel accompanied a broader document on the definition of torture that has already been released publicly and disavowed by the administration.

    The second, still-classified memo focuses on the specific interrogation techniques that were deemed legally permissible at the CIA, according to court documents and intelligence officials. The memo was authored by then-OLC deputy John C. Yoo and includes discussion of waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning that the CIA has acknowledged using on three al-Qaeda suspects in its custody, officials have said.
  • NYT - Pentagon Drops Post in Pakistan for Top General

    When the Pentagon announced in March that Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood would become the senior American officer based in Pakistan, it reflected the military’s aim to put a crisis-tested veteran in a critical job at a pivotal time in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

    But nearly two months later, the military has quietly canceled the assignment of General Hood, a 33-year Army veteran who was excoriated in the Pakistani news media for one of his previous jobs: commander of the United States prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

  • LA Times - U.S. Army's 'stop-loss' orders up dramatically over last year

    The number of soldiers forced to remain in the Army involuntarily under the military's controversial "stop-loss" program has risen sharply since the Pentagon extended combat tours last year, officials said Thursday...

    The number of soldiers held in the Army under the stop-loss program reached a high in March 2005 of 15,758. That number steadily declined through May 2007, when it hit 8,540. But since then, the number of soldiers subjected to stop-loss orders began to increase again, reaching 12,235 in March 2008.

  • WaPo - Senator McCain Pushed Land Swap That Benefits Backer

    Sen. John McCain championed legislation that will let an Arizona rancher trade remote grassland and ponderosa pine forest here for acres of valuable federally owned property that is ready for development, a land swap that now stands to directly benefit one of his top presidential campaign fundraisers.

    Initially reluctant to support the swap, the Arizona Republican became a key figure in pushing the deal through Congress after the rancher and his partners hired lobbyists that included McCain's 1992 Senate campaign manager, two of his former Senate staff members (one of whom has returned as his chief of staff), and an Arizona insider who was a major McCain donor and is now bundling campaign checks.

    When McCain's legislation passed in November 2005, the ranch owner gave the job of building as many as 12,000 homes to SunCor Development, a firm in Tempe, Ariz., run by Steven A. Betts, a longtime McCain supporter who has raised more than $100,000 for the presumptive Republican nominee. Betts said he and McCain never discussed the deal.
  • NYT - Senator Shelby’s Ties to Real Estate Draw Criticism

    He has made millions as a title insurance executive, landlord and real estate developer in this college town, where the economy, despite trouble nationwide, is still growing nicely. Now, as a United States senator, with the mortgage mess fueling a national economic slowdown, Richard C. Shelby has more say over the revamping of housing finance laws than almost anyone else in Congress...

    As the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, he is using his clout and the Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate to help determine what gets in, or almost as important, what is left out, of legislation...

    Mr. Shelby’s ties to the mortgage industry and the Alabama real estate market, and the generous campaign donations he receives from financial services companies, have distorted his perspective and led him to delay critical legislative remedies.
  • WaPo - Big Oil Launches Advertising Campaign.

    The American Petroleum Institute, the industry's main lobby, has embarked on a multiyear, multimedia, multimillion-dollar campaign, which includes advertising in the nation's largest newspapers, news conferences in many state capitals and trips for bloggers out to drilling platforms at sea.

    The intended audience is elected officials and the public, with an emphasis on the latter. The industry is trying to convince voters -- who, in turn, will make the case to their members of Congress -- that rising energy prices are not the producers' fault and that government efforts to punish the industry, especially with higher taxes, would only make pricing problems worse.

  • NYT - Judge Drops General From Trial of Detainee

    In a new blow to the Bush administration’s troubled military commission system, a military judge has disqualified a Pentagon general who has been centrally involved in overseeing Guantánamo war crimes tribunals from any role in the first case headed for trial.

    The judge said the general was too closely aligned with the prosecution, raising questions about whether he could carry out his role with the required neutrality and objectivity...

    The judge, Capt. Keith J. Allred of the Navy, directed that Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann of the Air Force Reserve, a senior Pentagon official of the Office of Military Commissions, which runs the war crimes system, have no further role in the first prosecution, scheduled for trial this month.
  • AP - Guantanamo detainees spead word to boycott trials

    The message travels among Guantanamo detainees in whispers between recreation areas and shouts through slots in cell doors: Don't trust the Americans. Boycott...

    Six detainees currently at Guantanamo have appeared before a military judge, and five of those have joined the boycott, which is expected to spread as more suspected terrorists are arraigned. The mass action threatens to give America's first war-crimes trials since the World War II era the appearance of perfunctory proceedings and reduce the image of justice being served.

Europe

  • LA Times - Putin assumes role of Russia's prime minister

    Former President Vladimir Putin was appointed Russia's new prime minister Thursday, securing a new place in power a day after leaving the Kremlin. His appointment was the final stroke in a precisely choreographed transition that allows the former KGB officer to leave the Kremlin without completely relinquishing authority.

    Forced out of the presidency by constitutional term limits, Putin on Wednesday handed off his title to Dmitry Medvedev, a longtime protege, who in turn nominated his old boss as prime minister.

  • Spiegel - Russia Displays its Military Pomp on Red Square

    For the first time since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow has put on an arms parade to celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany. Russians are impressed with the military show of strength, but in Eastern Europe the parade has reawakened old fears.

    In the days running up to the parade, things in Moscow looked a bit strange. Tanks rolled down the streets in the direction of Red Square while fighter jets flew over the office blocks in the heart of the Russian capital. To Western observers, these scenes were anachronistic. If it weren’t for the hundreds of billboards and luxury boutiques, it would almost seem as if things had jumped back in time to the Soviet Union in 1990.

    That was when the last parade with military hardware took place -- almost 18 years ago. Back then, Moscow was gray and the Soviet Union was bankrupt.
  • Independent - Berlusconi imposes his authority with cabinet of cronies and beautiful women

    Silvio Berlusconi's new government was sworn in yesterday afternoon, completing a changing of the guard from the government of Romano Prodi transacted at blinding speed by Italian standards...

    Over three weeks of talks, Mr Berlusconi has left his coalition allies, the post-Fascist National Alliance and the secessionist Northern League, in no doubt that this time around he will be the boss. The top jobs go to Berlusconi loyalists. Another sure sign of the Forza Italia leader's deciding vote is the fact that all four women in the cabinet are strikingly good looking, and include the former show girl Mara Carfagna, 32 (who has a law degree) as Equal Opportunities Minister.

  • McClatchy - Democracy on trial in Serbia's elections

    Serbians head to the polls Sunday for crucial parliamentary elections, still bitterly divided between nationalist anger and tentative optimism about a European future.

    With the breakaway province of Kosovo's Feb. 17 declaration of independence still a fresh wound, however, the fragile pro-democracy forces that have governed this remnant of the former Yugoslavia since 2000 could be swept out of power by a nationalist coalition led by a party once allied with former strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

  • DW-World - European Parliament Moves to Curb Power of Lobbyists

    The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favor of tightening rules regulating the 15,000 lobbyists that gravitate around the EU institutions.

    By an overwhelming majority, EU lawmakers adopted a report recommending a mandatory public register for lobbyists that seek to influence decisions at the European Union's institutions.

  • Reuters - Belgian prime minister survives showdown on regions

    Prime Minister Yves Leterme of Belgium survived a showdown in Parliament on Friday, winning time to avert a fresh crisis for the linguistically divided nation and to forge a deal to give more powers to the regions.

    Flemish lawmakers, including Leterme's Christian Democrats, carried out their threat to advance a bill to redraw the electoral boundaries around Brussels after Leterme failed to persuade French-speaking parties to accept the demands of the Flemish.

    The Dutch-speaking Flemish majority pushed the bill onto the agenda in a vote in the early hours of Friday, but the session was suspended before debate could begin after French-speaking parties introduced stalling amendments.
  • Guardian - Part of Guinness's Dublin brewery to close

    The home of Guinness for the past 250 years got a reprieve yesterday when Diageo said it would continue to brew the black stuff in Dublin. But the drinks group will close half its famous brewery as part of a £520m modernisation plan that will cost hundreds of jobs.

    After a year of uncertainty, the drinks group announced yesterday that it plans to build a new factory on the outskirts of Dublin. Two smaller breweries, in Kilkenny and Dundalk, will close, as will 50% of the St James's Gate site. The rest of the plant will be revamped.

Africa

  • NYT - New Signs of Zimbabwe Attacks as Mbeki Arrives

    President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa held talks in Zimbabwe on Friday with the country’s longtime leader, Robert Mugabe, as fresh evidence emerged that forces sponsored by Mr. Mugabe’s government were accelerating their attacks on the political opposition.

    With an election runoff looming between Mr. Mugabe and the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, the question diplomats are confronting is not just whether a free and fair election is possible under the current circumstances, but also how to stop the increasing violence.

    Zimbabwean doctors treating victims of violence and torture released a report on Friday documenting what they called "a dramatic escalation" of attacks directed and carried out by agents of the ruling party and the government.

    The number of wounded has exceeded 900 since the disputed March 29 elections, with 22 confirmed deaths, the doctors said.
  • BBC News - Army seeks Senegal ear-choppers

    The Senegalese army has launched an offensive against rebels in the southern Casamance region, after 16 villagers had their left ears cut off.

    A military spokesman said the operation was aimed at protecting villagers from attack during the cashew-nut harvest. The MFDC rebel group, which has waged a long separatist campaign in the region, has denied links to the mutilations.

    Senegalese human rights groups say the attack threatens the relative calm in the area in recent months.

  • Reuters - Somali insurgents briefly seize police base

    Fighting in Mogadishu killed six more people on Friday, including four orphans, a day after Islamist rebels firing grenades briefly seized a major police base in the heart of Somalia's capital.

    At least 25 people have died in two days of fierce battles between the insurgents and allied Somali-Ethiopian troops that raised even more doubt over prospects for rare peace talks.

  • NYT - Shift From Savannah to Sahara Was Gradual, Research Suggests

    Six thousand years ago, northern Africa was a place of trees, grasslands, lakes and people. Today, it is the Sahara — a desolate area larger area than Australia.

    Lake Yoa, in northeastern Chad, has remained a lake through the millennia and is still a lake today, surrounded by hot desert. Although little rain falls, Lake Yoa’s water is replenished from an underground aquifer.

    By analyzing thousands of layers sediment in a core drilled from the bottom of this lake, an international team of scientists has reconstructed the region’s climate as the savannah changed to Sahara.

    In Friday’s issue of the journal Science, the researchers, led by Stefan Kröpelin, a geologist with the Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Cologne in Germany, report that the climate transition occurred gradually. In particular, the changing types of pollen that fell on the water and drifted to the bottom tell a story of how the surrounding terrain shifted from trees to shrubs to grasses to sand — "where today you don’t find a single piece of grass," Dr. Kröpelin said.

Middle East

  • SMH - Hezbollah tightens its grip on Beirut

    Hezbollah gunmen took control of large areas of Beirut in a third day of fighting between the pro-Iranian group and fighters loyal to the US-backed governing coalition.

    Security sources said at least 11 people had been killed and 30 wounded. The thud of exploding grenades and crackle of automatic gunfire echoed through Thursday night in the worst internal strife since the 1975-90 civil war.

    Saudi Arabia called for an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers over the crisis, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported.
  • McClatchy - In big concession, militia agrees to let Iraqi troops into Sadr City

    Followers of rebel cleric Muqtada al Sadr agreed late Friday to allow Iraqi security forces to enter all of Baghdad's Sadr City and to arrest anyone found with heavy weapons in a surprising capitulation that seemed likely to be hailed as a major victory for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

    In return, Sadr's Mahdi Army supporters won the Iraqi government's agreement not to arrest Mahdi Army members without warrants, unless they were in possession of "medium and heavy weaponry."

    The agreement would end six weeks of fighting in the vast Shiite Muslim area that's home to more than 2 million residents and would mark the first time that the area would be under government control since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.
  • WaPo - Man Held is Not Leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq

    A U.S. military spokesman said a man detained Thursday in northern Iraq is not wanted terrorist Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, the leader of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
  • LA Times - Israeli prime minister denies taking bribes

    Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday acknowledged receiving regular contributions for years from a Jewish American businessman but denied that any of the money constituted a bribe.

    His statement came after an Israeli court partially lifted a nearly week-old gag order blocking the country's news media from revealing details of the case. They immediately reported that prosecutors were investigating whether the prime minister had received tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from millionaire Morris Talansky of Long Island.

    "I look each and every one of you in the eye and say I have never received a bribe and I have never taken a penny for my own pocket," Olmert said at a brief news conference.

    He pledged to resign if indicted by Atty. Gen. Menachem Mazuz.
  • CS Monitor - An Arab veteran of 1948 recalls Palestinian 'catastrophe'

    Mahmoud Jadallah recalls the 1948 Arab-Israeli war as if it were yesterday. As he guides a visitor through the village he once defended against Israeli forces, the names of outposts and passwords his Arab fighters used trip off his tongue. But the day that the Jordanians told them to stop fighting is clearest...

    While Israelis kicked off the 60th anniversary of their independence Thursday, in celebrations that are expected to continue in the coming weeks, Palestinians are beginning to mark the same series of events as the nakba, or catastrophe.

  • WaPo - Iran Accuses U.S., Britain In Fatal Blast

    Iran's Intelligence Ministry has accused the United States and Britain of involvement in an April 12 bomb attack at a religious center in the city of Shiraz that killed at least 12 people and wounded 202.

    The suspects "have ties to the U.S. and Great Britain," Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei told local reporters on Wednesday. "Iran's Foreign Ministry had previously notified these countries, but no action was taken to prevent their terrorist activities, and they were instead supported," he said, referring to the suspects.

  • Guardian - Another record as oil passes 126 dollars a barrel

    The oil cartel Opec said today it would consult on a possible increase in production after the price of crude rose for a fifth successive day and traded above $126 a barrel for the first time.

South Asia

  • Times of India - India needs nuclear submarines, says navy chief

    Naval chief Sureesh Mehta on Friday said India was in need of nuclear submarines and that apart from building them, it would also be ordering another six conventional nuclear submarines from outside...

    "Right now we need nuclear submarines with conventional weapons," he told the media at the end of the three-day Naval commanders conference in Mumbai.

  • BBC News - Pakistan tests ballistic missile

    Pakistan has carried out a second successful test of a cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons, its military said. Hatf-VIII (or Raad, "thunder" in Arabic) was first tested last year. It has a range of 350km (220 miles) and it has been developed exclusively for launch from the air.

    On Wednesday, India tested a ballistic missile with a range of over 3000km (1,865 miles). The two neighbours routinely carry out missile tests. Tension between Pakistan and India has decreased in recent years amid a series of bilateral overtures.

  • Reuters - Pakistan coalition fails to break judges deadlock

    Pakistan's ruling alliance failed to break the deadlock on reinstating judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf during talks in London on Friday, rekindling speculation the month-old coalition might collapse.

    The restoration of the judges has been the top issue for the coalition, led by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto since its inception.

  • AP - Cease-fire in Pakistan's Swat Valley

    Pakistani authorities and pro-Taliban militants declared a cease-fire Friday in the volatile Swat Valley in the latest bid to curtail an explosion of violence along the Afghan border, officials said.

    The cease-fire followed talks between representatives of the North West Frontier Province government and militant leader Maulana Fazlullah, whose armed followers grabbed control of much of the valley last year.

    Pakistan's army responded with a military operation that drove militants to the mountains and left scores dead. It was a sign of the instability in Pakistan's northwestern frontier regions, where Islamic militants have challenged the government's authority.
  • NYT - Witness to a Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan

    Two days after the April 27 assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, the photojournalist Stephen Dupont and the writer Paul Rafael, both Australian, were traveling with an opium eradication team in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province when a suicide bomber attacked their convoy. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 15 and wounded 14. Both journalists were among the injured; Mr. Dupont suffered minor injuries to his head, and Mr. Rafael serious ones.

    Afghanistan is again expected to have a bumper poppy crop this year, and Afghan eradication teams like the one they were traveling with have come under increasing attack from the Taliban or other armed groups, who use the profits from the opium trade to fuel the insurgency against American and NATO forces. The following is an account of the attack by Mr. Dupont, who was working for Contact Press Images and on assignment for Smithsonian magazine, at the time. You can view a slide show of images taken by Mr. Dupont before and after the attack.

    That morning we set off from Jalalabad in a convoy of about eight vehicles, green Ford pickups and one small truck with 50 to 60 laborers. About 40 minutes later we came to a small town, Khogyani. The truck in front of us pulled up to the gate of a police barracks. We were at the edge of the town, the police buildings facing fields in a desert valley below...

Asia-Pacific

  • NYT - Burmese Junta Seizes Aid and Blocks Foreigners

    The military leaders of Myanmar seized a shipment of United Nations food aid on Friday intended for victims of a devastating cyclone, declaring that they would accept donations of food and medicine but not the foreign aid workers international groups say are in equally short supply there...

    The refusal of the country’s iron-fisted rulers to allow doctors and disaster relief experts to enter in large numbers contributed to the growing concern that starvation and epidemic diseases could end up killing people on the same scale as the winds, waves and flooding that destroyed villages across a wide swath of coastal Myanmar nearly a week ago.

    The International Red Cross estimated on Friday that the combined efforts of relief agencies and the Myanmar government have distributed aid to only 220,000 of up to 1.9 million people left homeless, injured or subject to disease and hunger after the storm.
  • SMH - Burmese junta impounds UN aid

    Burma's junta impounded two United Nations food aid shipments at Rangoon airport yesterday, officials said, triggering more outrage at the military regime's refusal to accept an international relief operation...

    The two shipments, 38 tonnes of high-energy biscuits, were enough to feed 95,000 people - a fraction of the estimated 1.5 million destitute survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which ripped into the country last Saturday...

    Despite the desperate needs of the survivors, the generals in charge of Burma are adamant that only they will distribute the emergency aid that is going in after the worst cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people were killed in Bangladesh. Frustration is growing at their defiant response to offers of help.
  • AP - Malaysian opposition leader faces sedition probe

    Police investigated an opposition party chief Friday after the prime minister accused him of sedition and insulting one of Malaysia's state sultans.

    Karpal Singh, chairman of the Democratic Action Party, sparked an uproar when he claimed earlier this week that Sultan Azlan Shah, the titular head of northern Perak state, acted beyond his authority by interfering with the firing of a religious official.

  • Bloomberg - Thailand's Rush to Grow Rice May Drain Water, Cut Future Yields

    [A] rush to profit from the global rice shortage may cause long-term pain for Thailand and world markets.

    Farmers trying to cash in now are depleting water supplies set aside for the dry season, which may curtail yields by as much as 75 percent later this year, said Prasert Gosalvitra, head of the government's rice department. More intensive farming also may make paddies less productive in the future, knocking Thailand from its spot as the world's biggest rice exporter, he said...

    The Royal Irrigation Department said April 10 that reservoirs were at 64 percent of capacity, down from 71 percent a year earlier. Two weeks later, it warned against planting a third crop in two northern provinces, citing limited reserves.

    Paddies are guzzling 20 percent more water than normal, said Theera Wongsamut, director general of the irrigation department.  
  • NYT - North Korea Gives U.S. Files on Plutonium Efforts

    North Korea has turned over to the United States 18,000 pages of documents related to its plutonium program dating from 1990, in an effort to resolve remaining differences in a pending agreement meant to begin the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Bush administration officials said Thursday...

    But the documents do not include information on two other areas about which North Korea has promised to be forthcoming — a uranium program that some officials in the Bush administration regard as another track toward weapons development, and North Korea’s involvement in the proliferation of nuclear material.

  • CS Monitor - At Tokyo meeting, China and Japan lay groundwork for better ties

    A carefully orchestrated visit this week to Japan by Chinese President Hu Jintao laid the groundwork for better relations after an extended chill between the two Asian powerhouses. But with both leaders eager to put to rest the extended chill between the two Asian powerhouses, the emphasis was on a "safe" summit that ducked contentious issues and sidestepped issues of global concern.

    During their meeting, Mr. Hu and Japanese President Yasuo Fukuda emphasized "friendship and cooperation" instead of rivalry, moving the nations further away from a period of sharp confrontations over wartime history. Indeed, Hu was careful to avoid inflaming nationalists in Japan, as former president Jiang Zemin did during a 1998 visit.

  • SMH - Revealed: young Rudd's China thesis

    Kevin Rudd famously stole the stage from John Howard last September by addressing China's president Hu Jintao in Mandarin at a state lunch during APEC.

    While Rudd was welcoming Hu in the Grand Ballroom of Sydney's Sofitel Wentworth Hotel, outside in Hyde Park a Chinese man called Wei Jingsheng warned a protest rally that attempts by Western leaders to win China's favour would only make Beijing's communist regime more dangerous...

    [Wei] was also a seminal influence on Rudd. Back in 1980, the 23-year-old Rudd handed in his honours thesis in Asian studies at Australian National University.

    The cover page contained two large Mandarin characters for the word "renquan": human rights. The next page sets out the title: Human Rights In China: The Case Of Wei Jingsheng.

    The topic of Mr Rudd's university thesis has been known for some time. But its content has so far not been reported. It turns out to be a compelling and highly detailed 300-page dissertation on human rights in China and Wei's role in the short-lived Democracy Wall protest movement which emerged in Beijing in 1978. Rudd's account is couched in neutral academic language. Yet it conveys a clear sense of Wei's courage and of the Machiavellian way China's then supremo Deng Xiaoping manipulated the democracy movement.

    And the long-ago writings of Rudd the honours student turn out to be highly relevant for understanding the approach of Rudd the Prime Minister to China...
  • SMH - Wong's dose of shock therapy

    The Climate Change Minister faces fierce lobbying from fossil fuel companies as she draws up detailed plans to reduce carbon emissions...

    The Government's plans for greenhouse gas reductions, the latest scientific predictions on global warming and the forceful arguments of Australia's fossil fuel industry are on a collision course.

    Some of the most powerful men in Australia, the leaders of the nation's booming coal, gas and oil companies, have decided to put the heat on [Penny] Wong. Throughout the summer she basked in the warm glow of the Bali climate talks and the ratification of Kyoto. Now the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases at home are demanding her full attention...

    One by one, the fossil fuel company executives have been knocking on Wong's door or using their lobbyists in a relentless campaign to shape the Rudd Government's two far-reaching plans to cut Australia's soaring greenhouse gas pollution.

Americas

  • AP - President Morales agrees to Bolivian recall vote

    President Evo Morales agreed Thursday to stand for election in a nationwide recall vote, gambling that Bolivians will re-elect him after just two years in office and shore up support for his pending reforms.

    Morales first proposed a nationwide recall referendum last December amid a fierce political battle over his draft constitution, which would give Bolivia's long-oppressed indigenous population greater power.

    The idea seemed to have been forgotten until Thursday, when an opposition-controlled Senate passed a bill ordering a referendum be held within 90 days. Morales pledged to sign the measure.
  • NYT - American Rancher Resists Land Reform Plans in Bolivia

    From the time Ronald Larsen drove his pickup truck here from his native Montana in 1969 and bought a sprawling cattle ranch for a song, he lived a quiet life in remote southeastern Bolivia, farming corn, herding cattle and amassing vast land holdings.

    But now Mr. Larsen, 63, has suddenly been thrust into the public eye in Bolivia, finding himself in the middle of a battle between President Evo Morales, who plans to break up large rural estates, and the wealthy light-skinned elite in eastern Bolivia, which is chafing at Mr. Morales’s land reform project to the point of discussing secession.

    After armed standoffs with land-reform officials at his ranch this year, Mr. Larsen made it clear which side he was on, emerging as a figure celebrated in rebellious Santa Cruz Province and loathed by Mr. Morales’s government, which wants to reduce ties to the United States.
  • Spiegel - Brazil Wants to Join OPEC

    Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva wants to get his country into OPEC -- a move that could lower the price of oil worldwide. With a booming biofuel business alongside new oil reserves, Brazil is poised to become a global energy leader.
  • McClatchy - Prosecutor in Brazil appeals acquittal in murder of U.S. nun

    A Brazilian prosecutor has appealed the controversial acquittal of a rancher convicted last year for ordering the murder of U.S. nun Dorothy Stang in this country's Amazon forest, extending an emotional trial that's made world headlines.

    The appeal filed Thursday in the northern Brazilian city of Belem by prosecutor Edson Cardoso de Souza seeks to cancel Tuesday's acquittal and schedule a new trial for rancher Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, who was freed immediately after his acquittal.

  • NYT - Argentine Farmers Cut Off Exports

    Farmers in Argentina began cutting off grain exports on Thursday after the breakdown of talks to resolve a conflict over government agricultural policies.

    Farmers north of Buenos Aires in Gualeguaychú, a hot spot during crippling strikes in March, once again blocked major roads used by trucks to take corn, wheat and soybeans to other South American countries...

    Unlike during the 21-day strike in March, which caused widespread food shortages and crippled exports, farm leaders have vowed that this time they will not block food deliveries to Argentine citizens.
  • MercoPress - Volcanic ashes give Buenos Aires sunset grayish color

    A thin rain of ashes in suspension from the Chilean volcano Chaitén which became active last Friday and have blanketed vast areas of Chilean and Argentine Patagonia began reaching Buenos Aires City atmosphere on Thursday.

    Argentina’s Meteorological Office warned that air traffic might be distorted as a consequence but anticipating the situation American Airlines and United Airlines decided to cancel flights to Buenos Aires alleging the presence of volcanic dust which is extremely deteriorating for turbines.

  • Miami Herald - AFL-CIO opposes aid package for Mexico

    A major U.S. counter-drug aid package for Mexico is under attack by U.S. organized labor, which says Congress should reject the initiative unless tough human rights conditions are included, according to a letter revealed Friday.

    The opposition by the AFL-CIO and other labor groups adds another obstacle to a three-year, $1.4 billion program for Mexico known as the Mérida Initiative. It already faces cutbacks for budgetary reasons and objections by human rights groups that say Mexican security forces have a history of abuses.

  • LA Times - Drug cartel suspected in Mexico City killing

    The national coordinator of Mexico's battle against organized crime was slain Thursday by an assassin hiding in his home in what appeared to be the latest revenge killing by one of the country's most notorious drug cartels.

    Edgar Millan Gomez, 41, was the third leading federal security official to be killed in Mexico City in a week.

    Police sources said the so-called Sinaloa cartel was behind the attack on Millan Gomez, the nation's third-ranking police official and acting director since April 1 of the Federal Preventive Police, an elite, 22,000-member force.
  • Globe and Mail / Canadian Press - Woman dies mysteriously on Via train; others sick

    With hundreds of passengers aboard, many believed to be foreign tourists, a VIA Rail train remained under quarantine in a small northern Ontario town Friday afternoon after a 60-year-old woman was found dead in a passenger coach and six others complained of feeling unwell with a flu-like ailment.

    It was unclear, however, whether the two sets of circumstances were connected. "At present we do not believe they're related," Ontario Provincial Police Staff Sergeant Rob Knox said.

    He said the woman became ill on the train and subsequently died from an unknown illness. A second passenger who has been airlifted to Timmins and District Hospital, where she was diagnosed with a respiratory illness and listed in stable condition...

    "There is no evidence to support an outbreak of infectious disease aboard the train," said Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams at a news conference.
  • Reuters - Cuban rolls cigar said to be world's longest

    With music, dancing and rum, Cubans celebrated on Friday the likely return of a record they consider rightfully theirs -- the world's longest cigar.

    At just over 148 feet 9 inches, the thick stogie stretched like a long brown snake through a room and out its front and back windows at El Morro, the old Spanish fort overlooking Havana Bay.

Originally posted to Magnifico on Fri May 09, 2008 at 08:53 PM PDT.

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