Friday, February 25, 2005

Pope has surgery to aid breathing

Pope John Paul spent a restful night in hospital after throat surgery and was breathing unassisted but doctors have advised him not to speak for several days, the Vatican said on Friday. (Reuters)

The latest health scare has sparked further debate about whether the ailing 84-year-old, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease and arthritis, should stand down. (Telegraph)

Pope John Paul II was off his respirator and breathing on his own on Friday, Italian news agency ANSA reported. The Vatican said late Thursday that the pontiff was conscious and serene after surgery to cut a small hole in his neck and insert a tube. (Times of India)

Catholics around the world are praying for the Pontiff's health, but there's increasing concern about the leadership of the Church with its leader silenced and unable to perform normal duties. (ABC)

The news of the pope's second hospitalization in so short a time sparked expressions of concern, from his hometown, Wadowice, Poland, to Africa, Southeast Asia, as well as in Gemelli hospital, about two miles from the Vatican. "It is not a good sign that he is back," said Paula Ferrara, 32, a doctor at Gemelli who is not involved in the pope's treatment. "People with Parkinson's are very sensitive to breathing problems, and any spasm in his throat, even something like a bad cough, could stop him from breathing." (New York Times)

Reuters:, UK:
Times of India, India:
ABC Online, Australia:
New York Times:

Thursday, February 24, 2005

US and Germany bury differences

Bush's visit Wednesday to the city of Mainz in southern Germany provoked a range of emotions across the country. But the one most evident was a sense of resignation. Germans turned out by the hundreds of thousands to protest the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. They stewed in anger as the war was fought and were bewildered at Bush's reelection in November. (LA Times)

President Bush of course is not the first president named Bush to come to this town on the Rhine, but the very physical circumstances of this president's stopover here on Wednesday suggest how different, how less automatically warm, German-American relations are now than they were when his father stopped in Mainz 16 years ago. Most conspicuous was the lack of contact between ordinary Germans and an American president visiting what could almost have been a stage setting: a town with buildings but no people, the shops and restaurants in the center of town closed, and only uniformed police officers on the streets. Compare that with the main event of the first President Bush's trip here in 1989: a speech to an enthusiastic audience of 3,500 people gathered in a flag-draped hall, thrilling to Mr. Bush's declaration that Germany and America are more than "firm allies and friends," they are "partners in leadership." (NY Times)

US President George W. Bush and Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, yesterday promised to work together on an environmental programme in a carefully choreographed effort to enforce a spirit of reconciliation at their summit. The result was a meeting in Mainz which avoided inflaming old animosities, but only just. The programme seeks to promote "joint activities with the aim of improving environmentally friendly and efficient technologies", as well as measures to "combat air pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our countries and worldwide". Mr Schröder said the climate action plan was a "practical step to reduce climate damage", but accepted that Berlin and Washington still had "different views" on the Kyoto climate protection protocol. The US still refuses to ratify Kyoto, preferring to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels. Although the chancellor offered to increase support for the training of Iraqi officials, a central US demand, he insisted it would continue to take place outside Iraq.
The two leaders avoided the issue of Germany's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council because Mr Bush had signalled that he was unwilling to speak out publicly in Berlin's favour, according to a German government official familiar with the contents of yesterday's talks. (Financial Times)

The US president, George Bush, and Germany's chancellor Gerhard Schröder yesterday put an end to an era of bitterness over Iraq when they pledged to work together on a range of international issues including climate change and Iran. During his first visit to Germany since the Iraq war, President Bush yesterday held talks with Mr Schröder in the picturesque Roman garrison town of Mainz on the banks of the Rhine. Speaking after the meeting Mr Bush praised Germany's "vital" contribution to training Iraqi policeman. He said he "fully understood" Mr Schröder's "limitations" - his refusal to send troops to Iraq. Mr Schröder said Germany and the US had finally buried their differences. "Nobody wants to conceal that we had different opinions ... but that is the past," he said. Speaking in Mainz's baroque electoral palace, as snow fell outside, President Bush appeared to rule out the possibility of an immediate pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. He stressed instead that "diplomacy was just beginning" with steps being taken by Britain, France and Germany. (Guardian)

IT WAS neither a love-in nor a bust-up. George W. Bush and Gerhard Schröder found a third way during the American President’s nine-hour visit to Germany yesterday — an agreement to disagree amicably and, where possible, in private. “We have agreed that we are not going to constantly emphasise where we’re not agreeing,” the German Chancellor said. “We want to focus on where we do agree.” Not all Herr Schröder’s compatriots agreed. Thousands of his countrymen marched through the centre of Mainz carrying banners reading “Warmonger” and “No 1 Terrorist”. Nor did the two leaders display the same affection for each other that Mr Bush’s father and Helmut Kohl exhibited when they took a boat ride down the Rhine from Mainz in 1989. However, the two men did set aside the bitterness caused by the Iraq war and by what Mr Bush saw as Herr Schröder’s personal betrayal during the 2002 German election campaign, when he fanned his country’s anti-Americanism to boost his own appeal. (Times)

Los Angeles Times, CA:,1,103759.story?coll=la-headlines-world&ctrack=1&cset=true
New York Times:
Financial Times, UK:, UK:,2763,1424090,00.htmlTimes Online, UK:,,3-1497758,00.html

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Bush seeks to mend fences with EU

U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac, meeting in Brussels before European Union and NATO summit talks tomorrow, called for Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon. ``We urge full and immediate implementation'' of a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon, the two leaders said in a statement. ``We have the same approach to the situation which is prevailing in Lebanon,'' Chirac said before a dinner with Bush. (Bloomberg)

President George W. Bush yesterday delivered a wide-ranging speech in Brussels, setting out his idea of what the new transatlantic foreign policy agenda should be. But the passage that got loudest applause from his audience of European Union and Nato leaders was his promise of US support for a strong and united Europe. This was not surprising. For what sowed most discord in Europe during Mr Bush's first term was not only the war in Iraq but the US's attempt to exploit differences inside Europe. European leaders were caught between Washington and their respective publics' hostility to the US war in Iraq. Supporters of the war such as Tony Blair have not enjoyed being on the wrong side of their public opinion any more than opponents such as Jacques Chirac, the French president, or Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, enjoyed being in Washington's bad books. (Financial Times)

Bush's blunt warnings to Syria to get out of Lebanon and to Iran to end its nuclear ambitions — and to both to stop what he called their support for terrorism — struck a tough tone that may alarm European publics which strongly opposed the Iraq war. "Just as the Syrian regime must take stronger action to stop those who support violence and subversion in Iraq and must end its support for terrorist groups seeking to destroy the hope of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Syria must end its occupation of Lebanon," he said. He praised diplomatic efforts by Britain, France and Germany to persuade Iran to end nuclear enrichment that could enable it to build a bomb, but offered no US incentive to Tehran to comply, as European Union leaders have sought. Instead, he renewed a veiled threat of military action, saying "no option can be permanently taken off the table." (Times of India, India)

Mr Bush used the keynote address of his European visit to lay out tough terms for Israel before peace could be established in the Middle East. He said that Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, must stop all settlement activity in the West Bank. And he went further than ever before in insisting that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank had to be large-scale rather than piecemeal. Referring to the resulting Palestinian state, Mr Bush said: “A state of scattered territories will not work.” The line produced one of the biggest rounds of applause, which was polite if hardly enthusiastic, from the audience of 300 European dignitaries in Brussels. (Times)

Three days before he was to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bush scolded Moscow over a series of recent steps widely seen as autocratic and explicitly tied democratic reforms to Russia's relations with the West. "And the United States and all European countries should place democratic reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia," said Bush, who was to hold talks with Putin in the Slovak capital Bratislava on Thursday. Alarm bells rang in the United States after Putin's moves against the oil giant Yukos, a clampdown on the media, new Kremlin authority to appoint regional officials and alleged interference in Ukraine's presidential election. (Turkish Press)

A few thousand left-wing and environmentalist demonstrators protested peacefully against Bush's visit outside the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy in Brussels, carrying banners such as "Stop Bush" and "Stop the United States of Aggression." Organizers said 10,000 people took part but police put the crowd at about 3,000. (...) EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana welcomed Bush's tone, saying: "The music is very good and the content is very good. A lot of what he said belongs to what we are saying as well." "The president hit many of the right buttons for a European audience," analyst Fraser Cameron of the European Policy Center said, citing the commitment to pursue Middle East peace. (Reuters)

Honestly, Bush's speech doesn't have much value for Europeans as noboby believes he has really changed his ways. Let us just imagine if this speech was taking place before the US elections. He would have been on the left of John Kerry.
What matters most for Europeans is that the Bush administration finally realized the US can't afford to have an "anti-Bush" European Union for 4 more years. That's really what matters.


Financial Times, UK:
Times of India, India:
Times Online, UK:,,11069-1494973,00.html
Turkish Press, Turkey:

Iraq, Then and Now - By BOB HERBERT - NYT - Published: February 21, 2005

I can't help publishing this editorial. It says a lot about the failures of the US foreign policy.


"I remember going to Washington in mid-March 2003, nearly two years ago, to cover a demonstration by tens of thousands of protesters who were clinging to the last, tissue-thin strands of hope that they could bring the Bush administration to its senses and prevent the invasion of Iraq.
But it was already clear that nothing would deter President Bush from his war. I filed a column that said, "We're about to watch the tragedy unfold."
Even more clearly than the protests that weekend, I remember the ominous stories in the press about the likelihood that a war in Iraq would embolden Islamic terrorist organizations and strengthen their recruitment efforts. The Times ran a front-page article on Sunday March 16, in which a senior counterintelligence official said: "An American invasion of Iraq is already being used as a recruitment tool by Al Qaeda and other groups. And it is a very effective tool."
On the same day The Washington Post reported that "specialists inside and outside the government question whether a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would deliver a significant blow against international terrorism. Experts warn that war and occupation could also have the opposite effect by emboldening radical Islamic groups and adding to their grievances."
All warnings were given the back of the administration's hand. Mr. Bush launched his invasion and many thousands died. Now fast-forward to last week's testimony of top administration officials before the Senate Intelligence Committee. If the war in Iraq was supposed to stem the terrorist tide, the comments of these officials made it clear that it hasn't worked.
Porter Goss, the C.I.A. director, told the committee, "Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists." He added, "These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focus on acts of urban terrorism."
The war, said Mr. Goss, "has become a cause for extremists." In his view, "It may only be a matter of time before Al Qaeda or another group attempts to use chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons."
Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said: "Our policies in the Middle East fuel Islamic resentment. Overwhelming majorities in Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia believe the U.S. has a negative policy toward the Arab world."
An article in last Friday's Washington Post said the radical group Ansar al-Islam, which has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Iraq, is recruiting young Muslims across Europe to join the insurgency.
So tell me again. What was this war about? In terms of the fight against terror, the war in Iraq has been a big loss. We've energized the enemy. We've wasted the talents of the many men and women who have fought bravely and tenaciously in Iraq. Thousands upon thousands of American men and women have lost arms or legs, or been paralyzed or blinded or horribly burned or killed in this ill-advised war. A wiser administration would have avoided that carnage and marshaled instead a more robust effort against Al Qaeda, which remains a deadly threat to America.
What is also dismaying is the way in which the administration has taken every opportunity since Sept. 11, 2001, to utilize the lofty language of freedom, democracy and the rule of law while secretly pursuing policies that are both unjust and profoundly inhumane. It is the policy of the U.S. to deny due process of law to detainees at the scandalous interrogation camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where prisoners, many of whom have turned out to be innocent, are routinely treated in a cruel and degrading manner.
The U.S. is also engaged in the reprehensible practice known as extraordinary rendition, in which terror suspects are abducted and sent off to be interrogated by foreign regimes that are known to practice torture. And the C.I.A. is operating ultrasecret prisons or detention centers overseas for so-called high-value detainees. What goes on in those places is anybody's guess.
It may be that most Americans would prefer not to know about these practices, which are nothing less than malignant cells that are already spreading in the nation's soul. Denial is often the first response to the most painful realities. But most Americans also know what happens when a cancer is ignored."

To be fair, this editorial doesn't mention some unexpected benefits of the war on Iraq: The start of a democratization policy. But this achievement was also brought by pressures from the international community to force the Bush administration to hand over sovereignty to the Iraqi people sooner that it wanted to.
Bob Herbert is right to remind NYT readers that Bush had been warned the invasion would boost terrorism. Because terrorist organizations have gained strength, the world is less safe in 2005 than in 2003.


Monday, February 21, 2005

Spain voters approve EU charter

Spaniards yesterday voted overwhelmingly in favour of a constitution for the European Union, but the low turnout was likely to send worrying signals to nine other member states that will be submitting the EU charter to referendums over the next 18 months. With 90 per cent of the ballot counted, 77 per cent voted Yes, according to official figures. About 17 per cent of voters rejected the treaty. However, participation was 42.4 per cent, the lowest electoral turnout since the restoration of democracy in 1978, and an indication of the Spanish government's failure to ignite interest in the referendum campaign. The Basque region registered turnout of only 35 per cent, the lowest in the country. (Financial Times)

Spain has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the European Union since it became a member in 1986. Nearly 60 percent of Spaniards identify themselves as European as well as Spanish, according to a study by the Royal Elcano Institute, a research organization in Madrid that focuses on foreign affairs. In the rest of the Union, by contrast, only about 45 percent of the people put their European identity on par with their nationality. The broad support for the EU reflects a common belief in Spain that the country's recent economic development is rooted to a large degree in the decision to join the Union in 1986. (International Herald Tribune)

Turnout was 42.4 percent, short of the already low 45.9 percent turnout in elections to the European Parliament in June. The opposition Popular Party said turnout was the second lowest among 29 referendums held in the European Union and blamed Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. "You have to acknowledge reality. ... When a lot more Spaniards don't vote than do, it's a failure for the person who called the referendum and that was the Prime Minister," said Angel Acebes, number two in the Popular Party. European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, a Spanish Socialist, said the turnout was "more than acceptable" and showed Spaniards realised their future lay with Europe. (Reuters)

All 25 EU countries must ratify the constitution for it to take effect. Three have already done so through parliamentary votes, and Spain is the first of 10 to hold a referendum. Both of Spain's major parties back the charter, and its approval was expected. No date has been set for parliament to vote on the constitution. The document approved by EU ministers in October is designed to streamline decision-making as the bloc expands eastward, making it more efficient and giving it global clout on par with its economic might. (Guardian)

Voters in some nations planning referendums are less enthusiastic about the EU treaty, which gives the bloc a permanent president and strengthens the European Parliament. Rejection in any one country may kill the constitution. ``The Danish and French referenda will be the defining tests,'' said Marco Incerti, a fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. Should those countries vote in favor, ``we may have a smooth ride until the U.K. referendum in 2006.'' (Bloomberg)

Spaniards gave a strong seal of approval to the new European constitution in a Sunday referendum, with four in five of those casting ballots backing the text, exit polls showed. More than 14 million people voted, lifting participation to 40-42 percent of the electorate, proving wrong analysts' forecasts which had feared a showing of below 40 percent. Around 11 million voted in favor of the constitution, which is designed to facilitate decision-making in the expanding European Union and which was approved by EU government leaders last year. (Deutsche Welle)

Background: "The European Union is the framework for economic and political co-operation between 25 European countries. It began as a post-war initiative between six countries pooling control over coal and steel to guarantee a more peaceful future for Europe. But it now manages co-operation on issues as wide-ranging as the environment, transport and employment, and wields increasing influence in defence and foreign policy. EU member states: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lituania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom" (BBC)
The European Constitution is one more step towards a stronger form of political union for EU member states. One shortcoming of the EU is its perceived unefficiency / bureaucracy. The constitution has the role to make it more efficient for decision-making.
The European Union is the first world economic power with a GDP worth US$12.5 trillion.


Financial Times, UK:
International Herald Tribune, France:, UK:
Guardian, UK:,1280,-4814389,00.html
Deutsche Welle, Germany:,1564,1495316,00.html

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Blasts target Iraq's Shia Muslims

Suicide bombers, some wearing difficult-to-detect explosive vests, struck two crowded Baghdad mosques and other targets Friday on the eve of the Shiite Muslim holy day of Ashura, killing nearly 30 people and wounding dozens.A car bombing and other violence took 10 more lives amid rising sectarian rhetoric and uncertainty about who will lead the country's next government. (LA Times)

Five explosions rocked Iraq yesterday, killing at least 39 people, officials said, in the deadliest day of violence since the landmark elections last month. Suicide bombers struck at two Shiite mosques just before Friday prayers ended, another explosion occurred near a Shiite religious procession and a fourth attack, also carried out by a suicide bomber, blasted an Iraqi police and National Guard checkpoint in a Sunni neighborhood. A fifth attack, a car bomb in the southern town of Iskandariyah, left at least seven people dead and 10 wounded outside a Shiite mosque, doctors said. The blast took place at about 7 p.m. in the predominantly Shiite town, 50 kilometers south of Baghdad. The attacks — the deadliest since last month’s elections — recalled bombings a year ago that killed at least 181 at this time. (Arab News)

The election saw power shift to Shiites after decades of oppression under Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime. (...) Friday's attacks recalled Ashura last year, when 170 people were killed in a series of suicide bombings in Baghdad and Kerbala, a holy city to the south of Baghdad where the Ashura ritual, commemorating a 7th century martyr, is most intense. Dressed in black for mourning and holding aloft green banners bearing the name Hussein, the martyred grandson of the prophet Mohammed, thousands filled central Baghdad for the Ashura march, some of them flailing themselves with chains. Most members of the Sunni Muslim sect that had dominated Iraq for decades until a US-led invasion overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003 did not vote in the poll and they will barely be represented in the new 275-seat National Assembly.
Mohsen al-Hakim, political adviser to Abdul-Aziz, said he expected more attacks on Shiites during Ashura. But he said the community would not be provoked into a violent response. (ABC)

The interim Iraqi government has repeatedly said that supporters of ousted leader Saddam Hussein who lost their status when the Sunni-dominated regime fell, and followers of al-Qaeda operatives, are leading an insurgency and trying to foment religious tensions. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the Washington Post yesterday that he feared for Iraq's unity following the Jan. 30 vote. ``If the right decisions are not taken, yes, the country could really head into severe problems,'' Allawi, 60, said in the interview with the Post. (Bloomberg)

Twelve Iraqis and two US soldiers died in violence not obviously aimed at Shiites elsewhere in the country since Thursday evening. Most of the violence targeted Iraqi security forces north of Baghdad, while south of the capital the bodies of two sons of Najaf's police chief were found. (Turkish Press)

Amid increased security, Shiite Muslims in Iraq marked their holiest day of the year on Saturday, one day after a wave of bloody attacks killed 36 people in the deadliest violence to hit this insurgent-wracked nation since the Jan. 30 national elections. (...) Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie, the national security adviser for the interim government, accused Jordanian-born terror suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and former Baath party members of trying to provoke a sectarian civil war. ``It's a paradoxical idea when they claim that they are fighting the infidels and at the same time, they kill Muslims during Friday prayers,'' he said. He said Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the population, would not call for retaliation against the minority Sunnis who were favored by Saddam Hussein's regime. (Guardian, UK)

This bloodshed comes during a major religious Shia celebration and follows a power shift from the Sunni minority to the Shia majority. These attacks confirm that the current insurgency is led by Sunni radical groups using terrorism as a mean to destabilize a new Shia Iraqi administration and aims to widen a sectarian civil war.


Los Angeles Times, CA,0,4300327.story?coll=la-home-headlines
Arab News, Saudi Arabia:
ABC Online, Australia:
Turkish Press, Turkey:
Guardian, UK:,1280,-4811941,00.html

Friday, February 18, 2005

Shia majority for Iraq parliament

"The clergy-backed Shia United Iraqi Alliance has been officially declared the winner of the Iraqi general election, taking 140 seats of the new 275 seat National Assembly. The Kurdish parties came second with 75 seats and the party of the interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia with a pro Washington stance, took 40 seats. The Assembly will now choose a president and two vice-presidents, who in turn pick a prime minister and cabinet. The new government will be in power for ten months and is charged with drafting a new constitution." (Times)

"The United Nations praised Iraq's first post-Saddam Hussein election on Thursday and said that even if it was not perfect, it was extremely good. The United Nations was given the task or organising the election early last year and said at the time that the timeframe was extremely tight. There were calls for the election to be postponed, but Iraq's Electoral Commission, formed with the help of the United Nations, refused to delay it. Despite calls for a boycott from many Arab Sunni parties and threats of intimidation from insurgents, more than 8.5 million Iraqis, or 58 percent of eligible voters, turned up to vote on Jan. 30." (Reuters)

"Members of the Shiite alliance party have been meeting this week to discuss their candidate for prime minister and the current interim vice-president, Ibrahim Jaafari, was an early favorite, the report said. While Iraq's electoral commission announced the election results Sunday, it has spent the last four days considering 47 complaints arising from the elections. Election Commission spokesman Farid Ayar told al-Arabiya television most of the complaints had been resolved." (New Kerala, India)

"A meeting of candidates of the Shiite alliance later failed to reach agreement on who should be their candidate for prime minister. “The meeting was spent looking at possible candidates for the prime minister’s job as well as candidates for ministerial portfolios,” said Nuri Kamel Mohammed, a political adviser to Dawa, one of the two main parties on the winning list.
“Nominations have been left to another meeting,” he said following talks at the offices of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the other main party on the list backed by Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani." (Arab News)

"Chalabi is one of two politicians being considered as prime minister by the main Shiite alliance, which won a majority in the new 275-seat National Assembly. His main rival is Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who like Chalabi is a Shiite who lived in exile in London for years. (Related story: Shiites win majority of new Iraq assembly) The U.S. government paid Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress millions of dollars over the years. The group was one source for intelligence on the state of Saddam's weapons programs and atrocities committed by his regime. But last year U.S. and Iraqi officials raided Chalabi's Baghdad home amid reports that he shared U.S. military information with contacts in Iran. He says the charge is false." (USA Today)

The elections appear to be a success even if it may take weeks before a legitimate governement can be established.
The election process started in October 2003 when the "UN Security Council approved amended US resolution on Iraq giving new legitimacy to US-led administration but stressing early transfer of power to Iraqis." (BBC)
US-backed Shia secular parties (led by interim PM Iyad Allawi) have been defeated and the future government will be led by Shia religious groups and Kurdish parties.


Times Online, UK:,,7374-1488379,00.html
Reuters India, India:
New Kerala, India:
Arab News, Saudi Arabia:
USA Today:

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Iran to aid Syria against threats

"An embattled Syria yesterday turned to Iran for help, with the two countries declaring they would create a "common front" to confront threats. After meeting Naji al-Otari, Syria's prime minister, in Tehran yesterday, Reza Aref, Iranian vice-president, said it was necessary to build a united front because the two countries faced "several challenges". Syrian officials later sought to tone down the remarks made in Tehran, saying they had no intention of forming a common front against the US. "Syria is trying to engage constructively with the US. We are not the enemy of the US and we do not want to be drawn into such an enmity," Imad Mustafa, Syrian ambassador to the US, told CNN." (Financial Times)

"Regarded as rogue states by the White House, Iran is under pressure over its nuclear ambitions, while Syria came under renewed scrutiny over the assassination this week of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. (...) The potential for further conflict in the region was highlighted yesterday by the reaction of the financial markets to speculative reports of an explosion near a nuclear facility in Iran. Oil prices surged by more than a dollar. It later emerged that the explosion had been caused during construction of a dam." (Guardian)

"In a reaction to Iran and Syria's possible formation of a unified front to face threats, White House spokesman Scott McClellan called on the both countries to abide by the international commitments. "It is a fundamental misreading of the issue because their problem is not with the United States, it's with the international community," McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush to New Hampshire. "Both Syria and Iran have international obligations and they need to abide by the commitments they have made to the international community." (Reuters)

"In view of the special conditions faced by Syria, Iran will transfer its experience, especially concerning sanctions, to Syria," Mohammad Reza Aref, Iran's first vice president, said after meeting Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otari. " (Jerusalem Post)

"The Syrian ambassador to the United States when asked what the common front was, emphasised that it was not an anti-American alliance and that Damascus was trying to improve its relations with Washington. "Today we do not want to form a front against anybody, particularly not against the United States," Imad Moustapha said." (

More tension in the Middle East since this "common front" has been announced. This alliance is almost a proof that a war may be waged in the future by the US against both countries. It may also be an attempt to deflect calls for an international inquiry on the murder of Mr. Hariri.
The more tension there is in the region, the more diplomacy should be used to solve the causes of these tensions.
Meanwhile, the CIA quietly reports that the conflict in Iraq is fuelling terrorism.


Financial Times, UK:
Guardian, UK:,12858,1416319,00.html
Jerusalem Post, Israel:, UK:

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Beirut blast 'was suicide attack'

"In Beirut, large crowds went to the site of the explosion, which investigators said appeared to be the work of a suicide attacker who managed to drive in between cars of Mr. Hariri's motorcade. Another theory was that the bomb had been placed in a sewer or under the pavement. Though there were some in Lebanon who argued that the murder might have been engineered by Al Qaeda, presumably to punish Mr. Hariri for his ties to Saudi Arabia, demonstrators mobilized throughout the country to blame Syria." (New York Times)

"Defiant Syrian officials have claimed that smaller, weaker Lebanon, whose current president is staunchly allied with Syria, depends on Syrian soldiers and intelligence agents to keep the peace among various Lebanese factions.The bombing shattered the logic of that argument. With or without Syrian involvement, somebody managed to kill one of the nation's most celebrated politicians with some 300 kg of explosives in broad daylight in the bustling city center." (LA Times)

"The Bush administration last night withdrew its ambassador from Syria and expressed "profound outrage" at the assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri. (...) Opposition leaders also demanded that Syria withdraw all its 14,000 troops and called for the government's resignation. Marrouf Daouk, a senior adviser to Hariri, told the Guardian: "We don't want a war, we have had enough war. But the international people, they have to talk about this, and not just for a couple of days." (Guardian)

"The US secretary of state has warned Syria against interfering in Lebanon, following the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri by a car bomb. (...) State department spokesman Richard Boucher said the US was not blaming Syria directly for Mr Hariri's death. But he said the incident underlined what he called the distortions caused by the presence of 14,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon." (BBC News)

"Syria rejects allegations of involvement in Hariri's death as a ``sinister plot'' meant to tarnish the country, the Syrian ambassador to the U.S., Imad Moustapha, said yesterday on Cable News Network. ``What is happening in Lebanon is harming Syria and is contrary to Syria's interests.''
Lebanon's interior ministry yesterday released a statement saying Ahmad Abu Abas, a Palestinian born in 1982, killed himself in the bombing or caused the attack on Hariri. Seized videos, documents and equipment from his house in Beirut showed Abas was a follower of the radical Wahabi fundamentalist sect of Islam. " (Bloomberg)

"A little known group calling itself "Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria" has claimed responsibility, saying it carried out the suicide operation because of Mr Hariri's ties with Saudi Arabia. Members of the opposition say the claim is simply a subterfuge and have continued to point the finger at Syria, Lebanon's political master. "This is a way to divert attention. Suicide attack or car bomb, these are just means to kill a great man who said it was time to change our relationship with the Syrians," said Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze religious sect, an ally of Mr Hariri and a leading opponent of Syria's role in Lebanon." (Financial Times)

More than 24 hours after the murder of Mr Hariri, most of the Lebanese and international communauty put the blame on Syria, even though its responsability may only be "indirect". Meanwhile, the mood in Lebanon looks almost explosive.


New York Times:
Los Angeles Times, CA:,0,2210147.story?coll=la-home-headlines
Guardian, UK:,13031,1415357,00.html
BBC News, UK:
Financial Times, UK:

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Explosion kills former Lebanon PM

"An enormous car bomb blasted the motorcade of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Monday, killing him and 11 others in the most serious blow to the stability of Lebanon in more than a decade. Mr. Hariri, 60, a billionaire politician who resigned as prime minister in October to protest Syria's continuing influence here, was pronounced dead on arrival at the American University Hospital in Beirut." (New York Times)

"Lebanese and Syrian politicians have denounced the bomb blast in central Beirut that killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. While the government called for three days of mourning and a state funeral, Lebanese anti-Syrian opposition leaders demanded a three-day general strike, the resignation of the government and a Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon." (Al Jazeerah)

"Last September, under heavy pressure from Syria, the parliament extended Mr Lahoud's presidential term for a further three years. Without the extension, Syria's main ally in the country would have had to leave office last November. It proved deeply unpopular, and Mr Hariri (having reluctantly voted for the extension) stepped down, to be replaced by the pro-Syrian Omar Karami. Almost simultaneously, the UN security council approved resolution 1559, sponsored by the US and France, which in effect called on Syria to respect Lebanon's sovereignty. American interest in the issue had been stirred up by an alliance of Israel supporters, neo-conservatives and the wilder anti-Syrian Lebanese elements, but the involvement of France (which had earlier clashed with the US over Iraq) was more troubling for Syria. (...) All this points to Syria as the obvious suspect for Mr Hariri's assassination, but it may not be as simple as that. The Syrian president, Bashar al-Asad, no doubt sensing the serious diplomatic implication, was among the first to condemn the attack. "To create instability in Lebanon is certainly not in Syria's interests at this time," Mr Shehadi said. Rime Allaf, a Middle East expert at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, said: "The Syrians could not possibly have wanted this. "It would be a case of shooting yourself in the foot. It clearly is the pro- and anti-Syrian forces at play, but rationally and logically, whoever did this was trying to get the Syrians into more trouble." (The Guardian)

"The murderers of Rafik Hariri knew their target was among the most significant figures in Lebanon. The self-made billionaire helped reconstruct his country after a destructive civil war, knew all the top people in Washington and was a personal friend of French President Jacques Chirac and Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. "You can't go any higher than blowing up Hariri in the middle of Beirut in the middle of the day," said one analyst in Beirut. "It's a very powerful message to all the Lebanese, and to the opposition." (Jerusalem Post)

"A moderate Arab leader with close ties to Jacques Chirac, the French president, Mr Hariri had been seen by the international community as a force for stability in a fragile country under the effective control of Syria. Mr Chirac called for an international investigation into the killing.
Mr Hariri had resigned from his post in October after Damascus insisted he back an extension of the mandate of Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian president. His death comes amid growing opposition in Lebanon to the continued presence of Syrian troops in the country. Mr Hariri had been under pressure recently to join forces openly with the opposition, which has become more vocal in demanding an end to Syrian control. Pro-Syrian politicians had accused Mr Hariri of having lobbied for a United Nations resolution, jointly sponsored by the US and France, which demanded the dismantling of the militant wing of Hizbollah, the Shia Islamist group, and the withdrawal of Syrian troops. "They [the Syrians] accuse me of being behind all of it - the reaction of the whole international community. I'm flattered," Mr Hariri said in November.
The UN's 15-member Security Council planned a formal meeting today about the killing as well as its resolution on troop withdrawal. An unknown Islamist group claimed the killing in a video tape aired on the pan-Arab al-Jazeera television network, accusing Mr Hariri of supporting the Saudi Arabian regime." (Financial Times)

More troubles for Lebanon. Devastated by 15 years of civil war (1975-1990), this small country was still recovering from these disastrous years. Its tourism industry experienced a strong growth last year. This crime shatters all hopes for more political stability.


New York Times:, Qatar:
Guardian, UK:,3604,1414686,00.html
Jerusalem Post, Israel:
Financial Times, UK:

Friday, February 04, 2005

UN oil-for-food head criticised

"The chief investigator of the scandal-plagued UN oil-for-food program for Iraq has said that the program's procurement process was "tainted" and its former director Benon Sevan violated rules in selecting purchasers of Iraqi oil. Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker is due to release the first interim report on the probe into alleged fraud and corruption in the 67 billion-dollar oil-for-food program later in the day." (Xinhua)

"The program that was meant to help Iraq's poorest citizens survive international sanctions was reportedly rife with corruption and loopholes." (NPR)

"Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was instituting "disciplinary proceedings" against the aid program's former director, Benon Sevan, and another high-ranking United Nations official, Joseph Stephanides. Investigators said Mr. Stephanides had manipulated a contract.
"Should any findings of the inquiry give rise to criminal charges," Mr. Anan said in a statement, "the United Nations will cooperate with national law enforcement authorities pursuing those charges, and in the interests of justice I will waive the diplomatic immunity of the staff member concerned." He also said safeguards were being put in place to prevent recurrence of the abuses cited by the report." (New York Times)

"Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered disciplinary action against the head of the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq on Thursday, after a report sharply criticized Benon Sevan for "undermining the integrity" of the United Nations through a "grave conflict of interest." (San Diego Daily Transcript)

"Investigators found "convincing and uncontested evidence that the selection process was tainted by irregularities for each of the first three contractors selected". (...) The first contract awarded in connection with the operation was with Banque Nationale de Paris, a French bank now known as BNP-Paribas, chosen to handle the money passing through the programme. (...) The next two were with Saybolt Eastern Hemisphere BV, a Dutch firm picked to conduct on-site inspection of oil exports, and Britain's Lloyd Register Inspection Ltd, chosen to inspect goods bought with programme funds as they entered Iraq." (Al-Jazeera.Net)

"According to the investigative report, between 1998 and 2001 Mr Sevan sought vouchers for several million barrels of Iraqi oil on behalf of a small company called African Middle East Petroleum. In return, he was expected to make a case for Iraq receiving cash to upgrade its crumbling oil facilities, which he and several security council members did. The Panamanian-registered firm was believed to have made a $1.5m (£800,000) profit on the vouchers.
"The most distinct finding is the accumulation of evidence that [Mr Sevan] did in fact solicit oil allocations for a small trading company," Mr Volcker said. "The Iraqis ... certainly thought they were buying influence." In addition, Mr Volcker cited financial records which show that Mr Sevan received $160,000 (£85,000) in cash payments from 1999 to 2003. "

In the best interest of the UN, swift actions should be taken against these officials. I am particularly chocked that the French bank BNP-Paribas is involved in this scandal.
What is not clear yet is - out of $69bn - how much money would have been diverted. From what I understand, there was at least millions of US$.
The political implications of this scandal could be high for Kofi Annan. The White House and republican congressmen would be more than happy to see the UN secretary-general being troubled by this scandal... He dared say - in a very diplomatic maneer - that the Iraq war was illegal. (The worst thing was that the Bush administration could not rebuke him because he said the truth)
The White House should not make too much noise about this scandal as the current occupation of Iraq is far from transparent either.


Xinhua, China:
NPR (audio), D.C.:
New York Times:
San Diego Daily Transcript, CA:
Al-Jazeera.Net, Qatar:, UK:,2763,1405833,00.html

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bush sets out second-term goals

"Syria and Iran were singled out as nations that still exported terror.Returning to his inaugural address’ theme of spreading democracy, Bush hailed the success of Sunday’s elections in Iraq.“And the victory of freedom in Iraq will strengthen a new ally in the war on terror, inspire democracy reformers from Damascus to Tehran, bring more hope and progress to a troubled region,” he said. In a challenge to Iran’s government, he told the country’s citizens: “As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.” (Scotsman)

"President Bush, in his State of the Union address Wednesday night, outlined his plan for redirecting the Social Security system to navigate through demographic obstacles that lie just ahead. Bush's speech marks the beginning of a much-needed, much-delayed debate about not only the future of Social Security but also other government programs that provide benefits for an aging population." (Indianapolis Star)

"Initial age 55 cutoff: There would be no changes in the Social Security program for retirees or workers born before 1950. The age cut-off reflects the president's promises not to change Social Security for current or near-retirees. Participation for workers now younger than 55 would be voluntary. Phase-in: Beginning in 2009, participants born from 1950 to 1965 could enroll in private accounts. In 2010, workers born from 1966 to 1978 could join. All younger remaining workers could sign up in 2011. The phase-in would help with an orderly implementation and allow the oldest workers the possibility of earning investment returns sooner.
Size of investment: Workers eventually could invest 4 percentage points of the current 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax. But it also would be phased in: There would be an initial cap of $1,000, which would be increased $100 annually to the full 4-percentage-point ceiling." (Seattle Times)

The first paragraph of US President George W Bush's first State of the Union address of his second term set the tone with a sense of confidence buoyed by elections in Iraq. It further developed the idealistic vision that he set out in his inaugural address two weeks ago with continued calls for dramatic change in the Middle East and a commitment to re-engage with the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. And he laid out ambitious domestic plans including his call for reforms to Social Security, the public pension scheme. But his foreign policy ambitions will be limited by progress in Iraq and his ambitious plans at home will be limited by the mounting US debt. (BBC News)

``Democrats are all for giving Americans more of a say and more choices when it comes to their retirement savings. But that doesn't mean taking Social Security's guarantee and gambling with it,'' said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. (...) Senate Democrats were sending Bush a letter Thursday urging him to limit borrowing in crafting Social Security legislation, saying it would be immoral to pass this debt onto future generations.
Administration officials acknowledged that the private accounts do not solve Social Security's long-term financial woes." (Guardian)

Welcome to Bush-World... The US foreign policy is as "neo-conservative" as ever. Behind this beautiful rethoric, it would be tempting to write pages and pages about the differences between theses theories and the real world. Better to leave this task to the world press. Here is a fine media monitoring from the BBC:
About the social security reforms, P. Kruman's editorial is quite enlightening. Thanks to this economist for bringing the issue back to Earth.
"Freedom" and "Democracy" are meaningful words for the 95% of the Earth who are not Americans. The thing is... 95% of this planet's population understand the concepts in a very different perpective.
People should be free to do whatever they want until they restrict other people's freedom.
People should be free to think whatever they want and have different opinions.
People should be free from violence and the threat of being killed etc.
On "freedom", invading a country to liberate its people from dictatorship may be justified if
1> This dictator is attacking another country
2> A genocide is taking place and the population is calling for help
Is it the case for Syria or Iran? The populations of these countries are not calling the US to invade their countries. Are they?
On "democracy": The consensus in the west is that democracy is defined as a multi-party system where the country's government is elected through a fair electoral process without any form of discriminations. This is the so-called "Western-style democracy".
In Asia, this form of democracy is far from being reality. Have you heard of any US plans to invade Singapore? They should. It's a one-party autocratic government.
This form of government may also become reality in Thailand. Fortunately, the country probably won't be taken over by a "coalition of the willing". I'll let you know if it ever happens.

More seriously, an agressive US foreign policy is fueling terrorism and we all suffer from it.


Scotsman, UK:
Indianapolis Star, IN:
Seattle Times, WA:
BBC News, UK:
Guardian, UK :,1280,-4775105,00.html

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Nepal gripped by political crisis

"Nepal's King Gyanendra unveiled a new cabinet, a day after sacking the government and imposing an indefinite state of emergency in a move that has sparked international condemnation (...) The king announced he would head the new government after the previous administration failed to ensure security in the face of the Maoist rebellion that has claimed more than 11,000 lives since 1996 (...) The king's dismissal of the ruling coalition was condemned by the United States, United Nations, Britain and India as a setback for democracy" (Turkish Press)

"Gyanendra will head the cabinet, Nepal radio announced. The report gave no further details, other than to list the members of the cabinet, which is heavily dominated by the king's supporters. There was no immediate reaction from opposition parties, though phone lines throughout the country remain cut." (CBC News)

"Soldiers were seen surrounding the houses of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and other government leaders on Tuesday, while armored vehicles with mounted machine guns patrolled the streets of Kathmandu. (...) Even before the announcement, commentators said the king was unhappy with the prime minister for continually deferring elections -- a mandate given to him by the king when he appointed him to the post in June. Deuba found himself in a deep political bind -- caught between the king and other political forces. He was fired in October 2002, sparking massive street protests, and was reinstated with the task of holding elections. (...) The king acceded to the throne in 2001 after his brother King Birendra was killed in a massacre at the royal palace." (CNN)

"The United States said it was "deeply troubled" by the dismissal of premier Sher Bahadur Deuba's government in Nepal and termed the development "a step back from democracy", which could undermine the Himalayan kingdom's struggle against Maoist insurgency" (New Kerala)

"The Maoist rebels, who have been fighting to topple the constitutional monarchy since 1996, called for a three-day general strike from Wednesday to protest against the king's actions, PTI said. The rebel leader, Prachanda, who uses one name, said the king's action smacked of "medieval feudal autocracy." (...) Sacked Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was Nepal's 13th premier in 14 turbulent years as a constitutional monarchy. The country has had no parliament since 2002. Phone links with the impoverished country, snapped after the king's move, continued to be disrupted." (Reuters)

This political crisis adds up to the precedent ones: The start of an anti-monarchy maoist insurgency (1995), massacre of the king and other royal family members by the crown prince (2001). PM Deuba dismissed by the king, then re-appointed, then re-dismissed (2002, 2004 & 2005).
Nepal is an impoverished country with chronic political unstability and a civil war...
Whether the country's political system will become again a form of absolute monarchy or will turn into a maoist utopia is anyone's guess. If it ever joins the US list of "axe of evil" countries (recently rebranded as "outposts of tyrannies"), I will be surprised for one good reason: There is no oil in Nepal.


Turkish Press, Turkey:
CBC News, Canada:
CNN International:
New Kerala, India:

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Jackson in court for abuse trial

"Offering reasons ranging from the tragic to the bizarre, nearly half of the 300 people summoned as prospective jurors in Michael Jackson's child sex trial were excused. Judge Rodney Melville allowed 125 of the potential panellists to beg off duty in the celebrity case that will consume about six months of the lives of the 12 jurors and the eight reservists, or alternates, who are eventually chosen. " (Turkish Press)

"Race could be an issue in formation of the jury. Just 3% of the population of Santa Maria is African-American, although the jury is drawn from the wider Santa Barbara county. Jackson's father has already labelled the trial "racist". Just two of the jurors seen in the first session were black. One said: "I'm a long-distance truck driver. This doesn't suit me at all." (Guardian)

"Jackson has pleaded not guilty to engaging in lewd acts with a 12-year-old boy, Gavin Arvizo - with whom he was seen in a television documentary by the British journalist Martin Bashir in 2003 - administering alcohol to him, a conspiracy charge involving abduction and imprisonment and extortion.
His supporters say he is the victim of an extortion attempt and a vendetta by the district attorney, Thomas Sneddon." (Telegraph)

"Dressed in a bright white suit and a jewel-trimmed vest and belt, Michael Jackson on Monday stood before the first group of prospective jurors who could decide his fate on charges he molested a teenage cancer patient and plied the boy with alcohol at his Neverland Ranch." (ABC News)

"He remains a popular local figure, a fantastically wealthy and famous eccentric who chose to build his estate near here.
The city of Santa Maria, about a three-hour drive northwest of Los Angeles in a coastal farming area, has a population of 85,000, of whom nearly 60 percent are Latino and fewer than 2 percent are black. Many of the residents work in the fields of the surrounding Santa Maria Valley. Per capita income is $13,780, and more than 15 percent of the population lives in poverty." (New York Times)

It's a kind of embarrassment that so few articles list in details what charges are brought against Michael Jackson. Most of the attention is brought to his fan club and the eccentricity of his wardrobe.
Michael Jackson is a successful pop singer who became an icon figure. With stardom comes a form of power. People fear to judge him. Some fans consider him "god-like"
It is possible that he did abuse children by using such a power. If he is indeed found guilty, he should be punished like any other ordinary citizen.
His family pretends that the accusations are both the results of greed and racism (he is wealthy and he is black). If it is the case, they should prove it.


Turkish Press, Turkey:

Guardian, UK:,12271,1403028,00.html, UK:

ABC News:

New York Times: