India names special envoy for U.S. nuclear deal
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India named its outgoing foreign secretary on Thursday as special envoy for negotiations with the United States over a controversial civilian nuclear cooperation deal that is yet to be approved by the U.S. Congress.
Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, a career diplomat who heads the foreign ministry and has led talks with Washington over the deal, will take over as special envoy after his retirement from his current post on September 30, a government statement said.
The Indian envoy to Pakistan, Shiv Shankar Menon, will succeed Saran as the next foreign secretary, said the statement from the prime minister's office.
The landmark India-U.S. nuclear deal aims to overturn three decades of sanctions against New Delhi and supply atomic fuel and equipment to help meet its soaring energy needs.
The deal has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, while the Senate is due to vote on it next month.
It then needs to be jointly approved by the two houses and also get the backing of the Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations that regulate global atomic trade.
Nuclear non-proliferation activists in the U.S. and their supporters in Congress have been critical of the deal saying it encourages arms proliferation by India which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Some Congressmen have sought to introduce changes to the deal before they approve it but New Delhi has warned Washington that tinkering with the pact could destroy it.
The deal has also run into criticism in India with political groups and nuclear scientists accusing Washington of trying to shift the parameters of the deal and curb New Delhi's atomic weapons program.
But Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to allay those fears by reaffirming that his government would not accept any changes to the deal, agreed in principle in July 2005.
Singh's statements this month had reassured the nuclear establishment, India's top nuclear scientist said.
"We had concerns with both the House bill and the Senate bill," Anil Kakodkar, head of the Department of Atomic Energy, told reporters in Mumbai. "That is why the prime minister made the statement.
"This will clear many things and address the concerns raised," he said.
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Brazil's Lula assailed for graft but gains in poll
BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil's opposition candidates stepped up attacks on Thursday against President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva over corruption in an effort to trim the former union leader's solid lead in the presidential election race.
The heightened rhetoric follows a series of opinion polls this week, the latest on Thursday night, that showed Lula cruising to victory in the October 1 election over his nearest rival, former Sao Paulo state Gov. Geraldo Alckmin.
"The Lula government is a phone book of corruption," Alckmin said on Thursday in O Globo newspaper, referring to a series of political scandals ranging from embezzlement to illegal campaign funding involving politicians mostly from Lula's ruling coalition.
Allies had criticized Alckmin, who is favored by wealthier voters and the business community, for being too soft on Lula. But the latest ad in a TV campaign that began August 15 lists more than half a dozen Lula aides who were accused of fraud.
"So many ministers in the Lula government charged with corruption and Lula didn't know about anything? Lula doesn't deserve your vote," a woman says in the TV spot.
Firebrand Sen. Heloisa Helena, the third-placed candidate, said in her ad that opinion polls must be mistaken.
"I cannot believe that the honest Brazilian people would elect political bandits," she said.
Television and radio are vital to reach most of the 125 million registered voters in this continent-sized country.
In the latest poll by Vox Populi, Lula extended his lead over Alckmin, taking 50 percent of the vote. The previous Vox Populi poll three weeks ago had given him 45 percent.
Alckmin inched up 1 percentage point to 25 percent while Helena dropped 2 percentage points to 9 percent.
In line with other polls, the Vox Populi survey meant that Lula should secure a first-round victory by taking an absolute majority, avoiding a run-off second round.
Lula has bounced back from a scandal in which his Workers' Party was accused of using illicit funds to finance election campaigns and pay off legislators. His comeback was helped by popular social welfare programs, higher income, and his charismatic appeal.
The scandal forced top aides to resign and brought calls for his impeachment.
Lula, who promised more social spending on the poor in his manifesto released on Tuesday, focused his TV ads on brighter prospects for economic growth.
"Brazil will no longer be a country of the future but a power of the present," Lula said in his broadcast.
Early on Thursday, however, the government announced economic growth of only 0.5 percent in the second quarter, well below market expectations.
"This is the result of the incompetence of President Lula and his team," said senator Jorge Bornhausen, head of the right-wing Liberal Front Party, which is allied to the PSDB.
Lula hit back at a later meeting with teachers and human rights activists. Economic development had to be linked to social improvements, he said.
"There are insensitive people who get worked up over macroeconomic figures and who don't see that a nation is made up men, women, children and old folk living with a different understanding," he said.
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Libya's Gaddafi urges backers to "kill" enemies
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, marked the 37th anniversary of the coup d'etat that brought him to power on Thursday by urging his supporters to "kill enemies" if they asked for political change.
The hardline comment, made in a speech on state television, runs counter to recent hopes of political reform in the North African country of 5 million.
Opponents abroad had said they hoped that Gaddafi might hint at political change in Thursday's speech.
His influential son Saif al-Islam recently told Libyans their country was in a political impasse and needed reforms to free it from what he called the grip of "Libyan mafia" which monopolizes power and wealth.
But Gaddafi said those who hope for political change in Libya see its people as "ignorant and immature".
"Thanks God. Our revolution has won ... and the whole world accepts our revolutionary project as it benefits all peoples across the world," he said.
"Our enemies have been crushed inside Libya and you have to be ready to kill them if they emerge anew," he said.
"Our political path is the correct one as it grants freedom to the whole people, sovereignty, power and wealth to the whole people," Gaddafi said, referring to Libya's Jamahiriya direct democracy system, which opposes Western liberal democracy and criminalises the creation of opposition parties.
Gaddafi's comments appeared to be aimed at energizing his supporters following a flurry of speeches in which he severely criticized the country's economic and social performance.
"If the enemy shows up you must finish it off because the enemy appears to exterminate you. We can not tolerate that the enemy undermines the power of the people and the revolution," Gaddafi said in a clear reference to political opponents, most of them based abroad.
He also called on Libyans to make their country more prosperous. "We have to set money aside to make the 1.1 million relatively poor Libyans rich," he said.
Gaddafi proposed that poor Libyans set up oil services companies to replace foreign firms in the country.
"Foreign services companies working in Libya earn millions. Why do we not earn these millions which currently go to foreigners?" he asked.
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U.N. votes for force in Darfur; Sudan says "no"
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Thursday voted to create a United Nations peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region to avert a new humanitarian disaster, but the Khartoum government rejected the resolution as "illegal."
The vote to send the force to Darfur once Sudan has agreed to its deployment passed with 12 votes in favor, none against and abstentions from Russia, China and Qatar, the only Arab council member.
The United Nations wants to replace and absorb an African Union force in Darfur, which has only enough money to exist until its mandate expires on September 30. It has been unable to halt the humanitarian catastrophe in the west of the country.
The resolution calls for up to 22,500 U.N. troops and police officers and an immediate injection of air, engineering and communications support for the 7,000-member African force.
The measure, drafted by Britain and the United States, is designed to allow planning and recruitment of troops for an eventual handover as well as to put pressure on Khartoum.
"It is imperative that we move immediately to implement it fully to stop the tragic events unfolding in Darfur," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said. "Every day we delay only adds to the suffering of the Sudanese people and extends the genocide."
The Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003, when non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government. In response, the government mobilized Arab militias known as Janjaweed, who have been accused of murder, rape and looting.
Fighting, disease and hunger have killed some 200,000 people and driven some 2.5 million into squalid camps.
Rebel groups have splintered and are now also conducting atrocities. Bloodshed has only increased since the government signed a peace agreement with one rebel group in May and Sudan is planning to send some 10,500 troops into Darfur, which the West fears will lead to full-scale war.
US OPTIMISTIC OF SUDAN CONSENT
In Washington, the State Department's top official on Africa, Jendayi Frazer, who met Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir this week, said she believed he would eventually consent to the U.N. force.
But in Khartoum, Ali Tamin Fartak, a presidential adviser, told Reuters, "Our stand is very clear, that the Sudanese government has not been consulted and it is not appropriate to pass a resolution before they seek the permission of Sudan."
Another presidential adviser, Majzoub al-Khalifa, told Al Jazeera television that the resolution was "illegal."
Still, Britain's deputy U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce said, "The test before the council today was whether it was prepared to act to mandate that U.N. mission and assume its responsibilities to the people of Darfur. The adoption of this resolution shows that it is"
Russia and China supported the force but said Sudan's consent was needed first. Qatar pointed to Sudan's plan to send troops to Darfur, which it called positive.
A senior State Department official, Kristen Silverberg, said it was "inexplicable" that Russia and China had abstained "in light of the very grave and serious and deteriorating security situation."
The resolution allows U.N. troops to use force to protect U.N. personnel and facilities and prevent attacks and threats against civilians.
U.N. officials have warned of a catastrophe if help does not come soon. Jan Egeland, the emergency relief coordinator, said the people driven into camps are in danger from both pro-government militia and rebel groups.
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Mexico leftist sees rival becoming president-elect
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's leftist opposition leader acknowledges a court will soon declare his conservative rival Felipe Calderon president-elect even though he believes the July 2 election was fraudulent, an aide said on Thursday.
Mexico's top electoral tribunal this week rejected most of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's claims of vote fraud, almost guaranteeing Calderon the presidency.
Manuel Camacho Solis, one of Lopez Obrador's top advisors, said the leftist believed the court would rule in the next few days that the election was clean and formally announcing Calderon as the winner.
"Yes, that's the evaluation. That's the way it will be," he told Reuters.
Calderon, a Harvard-educated former energy minister, won the election by less than one percentage point. The court must announce a president-elect before a September 6 deadline.
Lopez Obrador has paralyzed central Mexico City with protests and sit-ins to complain about what he says was fraud at the presidential vote.
He has vowed to continue to hound Calderon and President Vicente Fox with street protests and political pressure, but says he will not resort to violence.
"He will never recognize (Calderon) but neither is he going to begin a violent people's movement," said Camacho Solis.
Leftist deputies will try to prevent Fox from making his final state of the nation address in Congress on Friday.
Protesters will also probably disrupt Fox's independence day speech in the Zocalo square on September 15 and Calderon's inauguration on December 1, the aide said.
The election was Mexico's most bitter in decades and split the country only six years after Fox became a hero for ending seven decades of single-party rule.
Lopez Obrador, a former Indian welfare officer in the swampy state of Tabasco, says Fox illegally used government resources to back Calderon in the election campaign.
"Without all the support of the government he would never have won the election. There was a state strategy to prevent him becoming president," Camacho Solis said.
The left, the second force in Congress, is now debating its future.
"There are two ways. One is hardening the opposition and the other is creating initiatives for political change that will decrease the tension," Camacho Solis said.
Lopez Obrador followers will hold a convention in mid-September and may set up an "alternative government" headed by the leftist and strengthen links between the three parties that support him, the aide said.
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Iran seen having problems with nuclear program
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran appears to be encountering technical difficulties with its uranium enrichment but this does not diminish the fact that it has nuclear ambitions and is acting on them, U.S. officials and experts said on Thursday.
"Have they encountered technical difficulties? Absolutely, because this is a very difficult thing to do," Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph, the top U.S. non-proliferation official, told Reuters.
"But there is no sense -- in terms of what we see in the (U.N.) report and the statements of Iranian leaders -- that there is any intentional slowdown," he added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, reported that Iran failed to stop nuclear work by a Thursday deadline, thus clearing the way for possible sanctions by the Security Council due to Western fears Tehran could be trying to make atom bombs.
Iran insists it is only trying to produce nuclear power for electricity, although it hid sensitive research from U.N. inspectors for almost 20 years and has since hindered U.N. investigations.
Drawing on the U.N. report and diplomatic sources, former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright believes that Iran made "limited progress" at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant, installing and operating fewer gas centrifuges than expected.
Centrifuges are rapidly rotating cylinders used for enriching uranium for nuclear fuel.
In a written analysis, Albright said U.S. and IAEA officials expected Iran to have installed five cascades or networks, each with 164 interconnected centrifuges, in a pilot plant at Natanz by August 2006 but "it now appears Iran has not begun to operate the second and third cascades."
The second and third cascades "may be close to completion" but the fourth and fifth cascades appear to be behind, he wrote.
The one operating cascade has not been run consistently over a sustained period, which Iran must do to achieve proficiency, he wrote.
Also, while Iran told the IAEA of plans to begin installing the first 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz's underground halls by the last quarter of 2006, "it now appears that Iran will also not meet this deadline," he wrote.
HIGHLY ENRICHED URANIUM FOUND
Albright, who heads the Institute for Science and International Security think tank, wrote that senior diplomats in Vienna believe it is possible that Iran is deliberately delaying its nuclear work while diplomacy is underway.
But Jacqueline Shire, Albright's associate, told Reuters: "I would put somewhat less stock today in Iran's slowing down for political reasons because of the information in the IAEA that they are continuing to enrich."
The IAEA report said Iran fed uranium hexaflouride, the feedstock for uranium enrichment processes, into the 164-centrifuge cascade for short periods in June, July and August and recently launched a heavy-water production plant.
Inspectors in mid-August found traces of highly enriched uranium, of potential use for atom bombs, in a container at Iran's Karaj Waste Storage Facility, the IAEA said.
Given these developments and Iran's repeated refusal to forsake its nuclear ambitions, the fact that Tehran may have technical difficulties is "cold comfort," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a news briefing.
Determinations about Iran's level of nuclear capability are crucial to decision-making by the United States and its partners. U.S. intelligence has said it could be years before Iran produces a weapon, but other experts say Tehran must not be allowed to achieve its target of 3,000 operating centrifuges because that would provide a critical capability.
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China foils oilfield and power plant bombings
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have seized explosives and foiled attempts by separatists to blow up oilfields, power plants and highways in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, a Beijing-funded Hong Kong newspaper said on Wednesday.
Uighur militants, whom Beijing calls terrorists, have been struggling for decades to make the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang an independent state called East Turkestan.
More than 41 tonnes of explosives had been seized since 1990 in the fight against the "three forces" of religious "extremism, separatism and terrorism", the Ta Kung Pao daily quoted Xinjiang's public security deputy chief Wang Lexiang as saying.
"We've forcefully dealt a blow to the 'three forces' and maintained stability in Xinjiang," Wang was quoted as saying. He did not give a figure for the number of arrests.
Police had also confiscated 6,540 grenades and 4.15 metric tons of raw materials to make explosives during the period, Wang said, adding that plans by separatists to bomb power plants, highways and railways had been thwarted.
Police had intensified a crackdown on illegal possession of explosives since July, Wang said without elaborating.
"The social situation is still grave," he said, adding that the number of violations of rules governing explosives increased by 195 percent last year.
Separatists successfully bombed barracks of the paramilitary People's Armed Police and a rail line in 2004, Wang said without saying how many were killed or wounded.
Turkic-speaking Uighurs account for about 8 million of the 19 million people in Xinjiang, which borders the former Soviet Central Asian republics, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Beijing has waged a long campaign against Uighur separatists, whom it accuses of staging a series of bombings, riots and assassinations since the 1980s and training and fighting alongside the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.
But human rights groups accuse Beijing of using its support of the U.S.-led war on terror to legitimise a crackdown on Uighur activists and of systematically violating Uighurs' rights, including arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, torture and religious discrimination.
Judges from Shanghai Cooperation Organisation members -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- will meet in Shanghai next month to discuss extradition procedures and cross-border work to fight the "three forces".
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UN STAFF ARRESTED FOR AIDING ERITREANS TO FLEE NATION
MISNA: An 'unspecified number' of staff from the United Nations peace mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) were arrested in Asmara for attempting to smuggle people out of the country, as reported in a statement by the Information ministry on the government website. MISNA instead learned from sources of the UNMEE that for the moment only one was arrested, a staff member originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He was headed in a vehicle toward the border with Ethiopia, in direction of Adigrat, with onboard some Eritreans attempting to illegally flee the nation, when the police stopped and arrested all of them. The UN mission has so far been denied any access or contact with its staff member. �We are not sure if our colleague had decided to take the Eritreans over the border as a favour or on payment, or even if they had hidden in his vehicle�, stated to MISNA a UNMEE source, requesting anonymity. �Such action on the part of members of the UN peacekeeping mission in violation of their mandate constitutes a grave crime and, as such, the apprehended UNMEE members will face justice�, said the Eritrean statement. Eritrea had already protested over similar episodes in the past. Relations between the government and UN mission � that monitors a truce reached in 2000 after two years of war with Ethiopia � have been strained for months due to a flight ban imposed by Asmara. Tens of thousands of Eritreans flee with every means from the regime of President Isaias Afewerki, where the majority of men between the ages of 18 and 40 are recruited for permanent military service. Many flee across the Mediterranean toward Europe, or others to the Arabic peninsula.
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Romania plans to reduce power of secret services
BUCHAREST, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Romania plans to reform its secret services before joining the European Union, increasing state control over agents and limiting their power to run undercover activities, a senior official said on Thursday.
Local media and pro-democracy groups have repeatedly criticised current legislation for giving the secret services excessive power, fuelling corruption and rights violations.
Many Romanians believe the corrupt practices are a legacy of the communist-era Securitate secret police, which recruited hundreds of thousands of Romanians as spies, creating an atmosphere of repression and fear.
Romania hopes to join the EU next year but faces a possible one-year delay if the bloc decides the poor Black Sea state needs more time to reform.
"Under current legislation a secret agent can put his boots on a man's neck and kill him, and nothing happens to him because he was on a mission. What world are we living in?" Marius Oprea, the prime minister's adviser on national security issues, told Reuters.
The government is expected to clear the draft legislation at a meeting next week and send it to parliament for approval.
The proposals include merging some secret service agencies, focusing on telecommunications and the protection of top officials, and putting them under the control of ministries.
Secret agents will have to obtain a court order before carrying out most activities, except for those related to fighting terrorism, and will no longer be able to infiltrate the media, courts, state institutions or religious organisations.
"The law will improve efficiency, boost state control over the services and reduce costs," Oprea said.
The draft also bans secret services from economic activity. At present, agents can set up businesses to help fund their operations, and local media have been awash with allegations that some companies are fronts for the secret service.
In recent weeks, a wide-ranging debate has started in Romania about the legacy of the Securitate.
Independent groups and some politicians have put pressure on the state institute which holds former agents' files to speed up checks on whether many public figures collaborated with the secret service.
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Syria, Iran Still Try to Smuggle Arms to Hezbollah
Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Iran and Syria are still trying to smuggle arms to Hezbollah across the Syrian-Lebanese border, an Israeli official said, as United Nations chief Kofi Annan headed for Damascus to bolster the southern Lebanon cease-fire.
Syria and Iran have been attempting to send the Shiite Muslim group Russian-made anti-tank missiles, Syrian and Iranian-made rockets and Iranian rocket-launchers, said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
``The air and naval blockade continues to stop any smuggling attempts but the land route is not sealed,'' she said in a telephone interview. ``Israel continues to stress the centrality of the embargo as an integral part of Resolution 1701 and the necessity to find a way to stop any arms smuggling through the Syrian-Lebanese border.''
The UN Security Council resolution calls for an international force of 15,000 soldiers to police Lebanon's border area with Israel alongside a Lebanese Army contingent of equal size. European Union nations have pledged about 7,000 soldiers to the expanded UN Interim Force in Lebanon. The resolution ordered a cease-fire that went into effect Aug. 14.
Israeli forces today transferred the first section of Lebanon's border area to Lebanese and UN troops since the Aug. 14 cease-fire that ended hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the Associated Press said, citing Israel's army. The territory is near the Israeli border town of Metulla, AP reported.
In Jordan, Annan denounced Israel's use of cluster bombs during the fighting and said he asked Israel to give maps locating them, Agence France-Presse said.
``Those kinds of weapons shouldn't be used in civilian and populated areas,'' AFP cited Annan as saying. It's necessary to ``move very quickly to disarm them,'' he said.
Hezbollah, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel, is refusing to lay down its weapons in defiance of UN Resolution 1559, approved in 2004, which calls for the disarming and disbanding of militias in Lebanon. The group has been blamed for rocket attacks on Israel, bombings in Beirut in 1983 that killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French soldiers, and an attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people. It denies involvement in the bombings.
As many as 100,000 ``bomblets'' spread by cluster bombs lie unexploded in southern Lebanon, Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, told reporters in New York yesterday. Most were dropped in the final 72 hours of the fighting, as the cease-fire approached, in a ``completely immoral'' act, he said.
The Israeli army spokesman's office said in a faxed statement that ``all weapons and munitions used by the Israel Defense Forces are legal under international law and their use conforms with international standards.''
Israel wants UN soldiers deployed on the Lebanese-Syrian border to stop Hezbollah receiving weapons from Syria and Iran. Israel sees the Syrian border deployment as ``the most reasonable solution'' to enforce an arms embargo, said Eisin, Olmert's spokesman. She said the issue was raised with Annan in Jerusalem yesterday.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Aug. 23 that putting international troops along the border with Lebanon would create a ``state of hostility.''
Annan in Syria
Annan today visits Syria, one of the main backers of Hezbollah, after Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. Annan is meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem today and Assad tomorrow, the Israeli daily Haaretz said, citing unidentified officials in Damascus.
Lebanon's neighbors must cooperate on implementing the UN resolution and Israel should lift the blockade it imposed on Lebanon during the conflict, Annan said yesterday.
Olmert, at a news conference in Jerusalem yesterday with Annan, didn't give dates for an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon or for lifting the blockade.
Annan said today that Israel will pull out of southern Lebanon once the UN force has reached 5,000 soldiers and Lebanon has deployed 16,000.
``We agreed that with 5,000 UN troops and 16,000 Lebanese soldiers who will go down south, it would be a credible force to allow the Israelis to pull out entirely,'' Annan told Europe 1 radio. The UN peacekeeping force should grow to 5,000 soldiers within 10 days from now, Annan told the French station.
Eisin said Israel agreed to withdraw when an ``efficient and effective'' force is in place and did not link its withdrawal to a specific number.
Germany will provide more than 1,200 naval personnel to back up the UN force, Unifil, a German Defense Ministry spokesman who declined to be identified said today. Germany's Cabinet is scheduled to meet Sept. 4 to give tentative approval to the German contribution.
The UN force will have 4,500 soldiers inside Lebanon by the end of September, French Defense Ministry spokesman Jean- Francois Bureau told reporters in Paris today. A French unit of 900 troops with Leclerc battle tanks, last used in Kosovo in 1999, will arrive in Beirut on Sept. 15, he said. France, which is sending a total of 2,000 troops, is the second biggest EU contributor after Italy, which is sending 2,500.
The conflict began July 12 when Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack, prompting Israeli air and ground attacks in Lebanon. Hezbollah fired rockets that struck towns and cities in northern Israel. The fighting killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon and 159 people in Israel.
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THAILAND: SYNCHRONISED BANK BOMBS HIT THE SOUTH
Bangkok, 31 August (AKI) - More than a dozen bombs exploded, nearly simultaneously, at banks in predominantly Muslim southern Thailand on Thursday, killing at least one person and wounding scores of others, local authorities said. The attacks occurred at commercial banks in downtown Yala and others in outlying districts. Police said homemade bombs, triggered by mobile phone signals, were placed in rubbish bins, at newspaper stands and near seats. "This is a coordinated operation. It happened within the same hour," a Thai army officer was quoted as saying. "It caught us by surprise."
The army chief in the south, Lieutenant General Ongkorn Thongprasom, said some of the devices were hidden in women's handbags or inside books carried by students.
A review of close-circuit video showed that some explosives were planted by women, police said.
The Islamic Bank of Thailand was among those attacked, according to reporters at the scene. The bank, set up in five southern provinces by the government, was created according to Muslim law, which prohibits interest.
"It's scary. We can't estimate the damage yet," said Pridiyathorn Devakula, head of the Bank of Thailand, the country's central bank, in Bangkok.
Army intelligence officials have been warning civilians in Thailand's three southernmost, provinces of possible terrorist acts on Thursday, which marks National Day in neighbouring Malaysia.
More than 1,300 people have been killed in Thailand's three Muslim-dominated provinces -Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat - since a resurgence of a violent separatist movement in January 2004.
In Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, the majority of the population is Malay, the language used is Yawi (a dialect of Malay). The three provinces are among the poorest in the country, with an unemployment rate of respectively 35, 28 and 25 percent against the national average of 14 percent.
Most analysts claim that Muslim militants fighting for independence are responsible for only part of the unrest reported which they say is also caused by criminal groups attempting to control the territory and by corrupt politicians and parts of the army.
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Security developments in Iraq, Aug 31
Aug 31 (Reuters) - Following are security and other developments in Iraq reported on Thursday, as of 1120 GMT:
Asterisk denotes new or updated item.
*BAGHDAD - A car bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol killed four police commandos and wounded 11 people, including five policemen, Interior Ministry sources said. The bomb in eastern Baghdad'd Mashtal district went off by a petrol station, where a line of cars was waiting for petrol.
*RAMADI - A former Iraqi Air Force commander under toppled leader Saddam Hussein was gunned down in the western city of Ramadi on Thursday, police said. Lieutenant-General Wajeeh Thirar Hneyfish was the commander of the Habbaniya Air Force base when Saddam was in power.
ANBAR PROVINCE - A U.S. soldier was killed in action on Wednesday by a roadside bomb explosion in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said in a statement.
FALLUJA - Three people were wounded, including one policeman, when gunmen threw hand grenades at a communication centre in central Falluja, 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad, police said. One of the attackers was killed, police said.
BAGHDAD - A convoy of British diplomats and guards was blasted by a roadside bomb in western Baghdad on Thursday but the British embassy said no one was injured. Iraqi police sources said two people were hurt in the attack in the Mansour district, close to the Green Zone.
BAGHDAD - A car bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol killed two civilians and wounded nine in the eastern New Baghdad neighbourhood on Thursday, police said. An Interior Ministry source said the blast killed one person and wounded 15.
SAMARRA - Turkey al-Duleimi, a civilian judge in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, was found dead in the town of Samarra, 100 km (62 miles) north of Baghdad, medical sources said. They said he had been kidnapped four days ago.
JBELA - One man was killed and eight others wounded when a bomb exploded at a wedding party in the small town of Jbela, 65 km (39 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.
BAGHDAD - Eight people were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their minivan in the Mustansiriya District, northern Baghdad, an Interior Ministry source said.
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GERMANY: PROPOSAL TO TURN 'JOBLESS INTO ANTI AL-QAEDA FIGHTERS'
Berlin, 31 August (AKI) - A proposal by Germany's tranpsort minister, Wolfgang Tiefensee, to recruit unemployed people to patrol railway stations for possible terrorism threats, has stirred controversy, with one parliamentarian, describing it as "hiring the jobless to fight al-Qaeda." Tiefensee's proposal came in the wake of recent attempted terrorist attacks in Germany - two supects, later arrested, were filmed by security cameras on 31 July at Cologne railway station and police later found two bombs on separate trains.
The transport minister, suggested last week that employing long-term job seekers in domestic anti-terror efforts might be a way to create much needed jobs and help passengers feel safer.
But the idea has drawn a raft of criticism from members of the government, the opposition and labour market experts.
Fighting terrorism "is not for amateurs, but for people who know what they are doing," Sebastian Edathy, from Tiefensee's own Social Democratic Party (SDP) said.
Wolfgang Bosbach a top member of the Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party agreed that security should be left to security officials.
The secretary general of the the opposition Free Democratic (FDP) party dismissed the proposal as "populist nonsense" while The Greens, another opposition party disparigingly described the proposed marshalls as "Tiefensee-Cops".
But the transport minister has defended his proposal saying it was "about making passengers feel safer, and not sending welfare recipients to fight terrorism or eve al-Qaeda."
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Iran Started New Uranium Enrichment Days Ahead Of Deadline Report Diplomats
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE | Thu, August 31st, 2006, 12:26
Vienna: Iran started a new round of enriching uranium only days ahead of the United Nations deadline on Thursday for it to stop the strategic nuclear fuel work or face possible sanctions, diplomats told AFP.
"They put in small quantities of (feedstock) uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas last week," into a cascade line of 164 centrifuges in Natanz which enrich uranium, a diplomat close to the UN-watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Wednesday.
A second diplomat, who like the first asked not to be named, said the Iranians were doing this "to underscore the point that they are not going to stop enrichment-related activities."
The UN Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities by August 31, amid US-led concerns that Tehran's nuclear programme is a cover for an attempt to produce an atomic bomb.
Six world powers have also proposed talks on Iran receiving trade, technology and security benefits if it suspends enrichment.
Uranium enrichment makes fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but in highly refined form can serve as the raw material for atom bombs.
The diplomat said the amount of UF6 gas being fed was very small, "under 10 kilos", and that the work was continuing this week.
IAEA inspectors were in Iran as late as Wednesday. The UN watchdog is expected to confirm in a report Thursday that Iran has failed to freeze enrichment, opening the door to possible Security Council sanctions against Tehran.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said senior officials from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States would meet in Europe early next week to begin discussing sanctions against Iran.
But discussions on specific language for a possible UN sanctions resolution would take place at UN headquarters in New York involving US Ambassador John Bolton and his counterparts from the permanent members of the Security Council, McCormack said Wednesday.
Iran has made clear that it intends to pursue nuclear fuel work.
"Production of nuclear fuel is one of Iran's strategic objectives," Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said Sunday.
Russia and China are reluctant to impose sanctions, even though US officials said these two countries have promised to honor a commitment to crack down on Iran if it refuses the conditions for the international benefits package.
Diplomats have said a compromise solution was being floated to allow Iran to not actually enrich uranium but only work with "dry running" centrifuges.
But US officials have said that even spinning centrifuges dry, with inert gas for example, would help Iran move towards the so-called "break-out capacity" of having the technology needed to make nuclear weapons.
Diplomats said Iran had paused in actual enrichment until last week as it had been running centrifuges dry, without the feedstock gas.
Iran had started rounds of feeding the 164-cascade Natanz in April and in June, producing small amounts of enriched uranium, far below the quality and quantity needed for weapons, the IAEA has reported.
Iran is also running a 10-centrifuge and a 20-centrifuge cascade, as it researches techniques for using centrifuges to enrich uranium, a diplomat close to the IAEA said.
A diplomat said Iran had been feeding the cascades "periodically", even though they could have been doing this work continuously.
"They want to show that they are doing enrichment but they don't want to upset the applecart by sticking it in the face of the West," the diplomat said.
The IAEA is also expected to report Thursday that Iran is not fully cooperating with its inspections.
Iran earlier this month blocked IAEA inspectors from visiting a key underground site and diplomats said Iranian authorities are making life increasingly difficult for its investigators in other ways, even if the UN watchdog is still able to monitor the country's nuclear programme.
But one diplomat said IAEA inspectors were able this week to see the underground site at Natanz, where there are no centrifuges yet installed but which is destined to house tens of thousands of the machines.
The 164-centrifuge pilot cascade is above ground at Natanz.
Source(©): AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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Russia to Deploy 24-satellite Navigation System by 2010
Mosnews | Thu, August 31st, 2006, 12:33
Russia’s 24-satellite navigational and global positioning system, Glonass, will be fully deployed by 2010, the country’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday, RIA Novosti news agency reports.
The ministry’s press office said the development and use of Glonass was discussed in Moscow at a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and members of a government military commission.
“In his introductory speech, Sergei Ivanov said Glonass was extremely important to the country’s defense and its economic development, and was ranked among the strategically vital elements of the country’s infrastructure,” the office said.
Also discussed were ways to improve the competitiveness of navigational services, the mass production of navigational equipment for consumers, as well as legal issues.
Glonass is a Russian analogue of the United States Global Positioning System, which is designed to allow users around the globe to receive signals from satellites to identify their position in real time.
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New “judicial police” launched in Iran capital
Tehran, Iran, Aug. 31 – Hundreds of new “judicial police” have begun to roam the streets of Tehran starting from earlier this week, even before Iran’s Majlis (Parliament) approved the dubious judicial-security body that they represent.
The new organ, officially called “Judicial Services Police” (JSP), began monitoring people in the streets of the Iranian capital on Tuesday, arresting those who the judiciary suspected of “illegal activities”.
The JSP was set up by the judiciary in coordination with the State Security Forces (SSF), Iran’s paramilitary police. However, in late 2005 Majlis refused to approve a law granting it authority to carry out its work.
Among senior judicial officials who attended its inauguration at the Imam Khomeini Judicial Centre in the Iranian capital was Tehran’s chief prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi who gained infamy after it was discovered that he may have been personally responsible for the murder of Canadian-Iranian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2003.
“These people will be based in JSP units in police precincts and are tasked with carrying out the orders issued by judiciary officials”, Mortazavi said.
Other officials at the opening ceremony included the Deputy Judiciary Chief and the Deputy Commander of the SSF.
The JSP is already believed to have some 800 cadre in its command, and security officials claim that the organ will soon widen its sphere of operation to cover the entire nation.
The JSP was originally set up in the early days of the 1979 Islamic Revolution but it was dismantled 10 years later and its forces distributed among the judiciary and the SSF, with officials citing an overlap of its activities and that of Iran’s other security agencies as the reason for its closure.
In recent years, the judiciary under the control of Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi had been pushing hard for it to resurface as a fully-functioning force capable of arresting those on its watch-list and placing them straight into its designated prison cells. It argued that this method would by far lead to the fastest prosecutions and sentences for offenders.
Some analysts say that it is only a matter of time before Shahroudi is replaced as Iran’s Judiciary Chief.
The deployment of the new judicial paramilitary force will likely add to the already repressive atmosphere in the streets of Tehran and may bring about a backlash of social dissent.
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Firm sees profit in homeland security
By Robert Weisman, Globe Staff | August 28, 2006
ANDOVER -- Raytheon Co., whose military radars scan the skies to spot hostile aircraft and missiles, is readying a new system that will help US border authorities peer into trucks, rail cars, and shipping containers to thwart the smuggling of nuclear materials.
The nuclear detection system, called an advanced spectroscopic portal, or ASP, is part of a Raytheon push into the growing homeland security market. And its partnership with a Canadian company on the screening program is pioneering a new collaboration model, enabling the Waltham defense contractor to rapidly adopt emerging technologies to use in homeland security.
``There's a lot of ways we can use technology to make our country safer from terrorist attacks," said Michael A. Sharp , the ASP program director at Raytheon's Integrated Defense Systems unit here.
Raytheon began testing new software for the ASP system last week at the Chalk River, Ontario, site of its partner, Bubble Technology Industries. Under a $28 million contract Raytheon won in July from the Department of Homeland Security, the ASP partners are building six engineering development models for government testing and 26 working portals for airports, seaports, and border crossings.
But the contract is seen as only the first step in what could become Raytheon's largest nondefense program by the end of the decade. Homeland security officials, who'd like to deploy the new portals at more than 600 ports of entry, have estimated the program could be worth more than $1 billion over the next five years.
The work would be divided among Raytheon, which has based its program in Andover, and two other contractors: Waltham's Thermo Electron Corp., which runs its portal program out of New Mexico, and the European-owned Canberra, which has its program in Connecticut. The technology also carries the potential for substantial foreign sales.
Adoption of the program could be slowed, however, by competing homeland security demands and bureaucracy within the homeland security department and the various port authorities and municipalities that control US ports, securities analysts warned.
``It's a huge market opportunity, but it's a matter of how quickly the Department of Homeland Security moves in funding the effort," said Peter J. Arment , vice president and analyst for JSA Research in Newport, R.I. ``And the ports all move at their own pace."
In the ASP program, and other programs such as Project Athena, a maritime defense system, and an airport perimeter detection system, Raytheon has been repurposing technologies, such as sensors and signal processing, that it first developed for Pentagon applications.
``This technology is not new to us," said Mary D. Petryszyn , vice president of joint battlespace integration at Raytheon's defense unit. ``Radiation detection is just a different kind of detection capability."
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, many ports installed radiation monitoring systems based on older technology. While the systems can detect radioactive materials, they often generate false alarms from naturally occurring radiation in containers loaded with products like bananas, fertilizer, and cat litter. ``The current systems can detect the presence of radiation, but they can't discriminate between a threat source and an innocent source," said Lianne D. Ing , vice president of business development at Bubble Technology Industries.
Nuclear physicists from Bubble Technology, a 50-person commercial spinoff of Canada's nuclear research laboratory, developed a more sophisticated nuclear detection system, working initially with the Raytheon-backed Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems at Northeastern University in Boston.
When the new systems measure energy, they convert it into electronic signals. Raytheon engineers, with their signal processing expertise, can examine the signals and differentiate between hazardous and benign radioactive signatures.
At its integrated defense systems complex here, Raytheon, prime contractor and systems integrator for the ASP team, has set up a new production line for the 7-ton portals, which look like giant stereo speakers. Raytheon will produce different versions of the portals to screen cargo and rail cars at border crossings, as well as mobile versions that could be trucked to sites where there are terror threats.
About 50 of Raytheon's employees are now working on the ASP program here, with another five posted at the Bubble site in Ontario, and the program is expected to grow in coming years, said Sharp, the program manager. ``I've told the customer on numerous occasions that I'll never say no to the number of systems they want to order," he said.
Sharp said the partnership with Bubble represented a new model -- forging alliances with smaller and more nimble technology companies -- that could help Raytheon grow in the changing homeland security environment.
``We hope to use this model in the area of chem-bio protection," he said. ``There's a lot of little companies that come out of universities, and that's where the technology can well up."
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TERRORISM: LOCAL MANPOWER KEY TO NEW AL-QAEDA STRATEGY, EXPERT
Belgrade, 30 August (AKI) - This month's foiled air terror plot in Britain is the latest reminder to Europe and the United States of their vulnerability, but a leading Serbian terrorism expert warns that scrutinising every Arabic or Asian face at airport security checks is pointless. "Terrorists are among us, and what has been smuggled across the border is invisible, the poisonous ideology which perceives the West as an emanation of evil" Darko Trifunovic told Adnkronos International (AKI). Trifunovic says the new al-Qaeda strategy is to "indoctrinate or poison the hearts and minds of youngsters to motivate them for the future terror operations."
Trifunovic, a professor at Belgrade University's Faculty of Security Studies, was among the first to warn about the changing tactics of the international terrorist network and the role of the so called “white Al-Qaeda” in exporting terrorism to Europe and the United States.
Terrorists no longer come directly from the Islamic countries, but use local youths who have previously been indoctrinated with radical Islam, says Trifunovic. Most of the London bombers were of Pakistani descent but had were full British citizens. Some white Americans and Australians had fought for Al-Qaeda in Iraq and were now being processed at Guantanamo American base in Cuba.
In this new strategy Bosnia, alleges Trifunovic, has proven to be an ideal place for such activities and hundreds of Muslim war orphans have gone through indoctrination courses and terrorist training camps, operated by the mujahadeen who stayed behind after the 1992-1995 Bosnia civil war, where there was an influx of foreign Muslim fighters.
"Can you imagine the motivation of a youth whose parents have been killed in the war? You can practically send them to any task and they will carry it out," says Trifunovic.
Trifunovic believes that Al-Qaeda already has "white cells" in every country with substantial Muslim population and that is what will make the fight against terrorism more difficult in the future.
"Last year’s London bombings and recently averted air plots have shown that a terrorist could be your neighbour, just over your backyard fence, who until yesterday seemed to be a ‘nice man’, going quietly about his business," says
According to Trifunovic, the most precious contribution of the mujahadeen who went to fight in Bosnia wasn’t in the battlefield but in the indoctrination of local Muslim youths, argues Trifunovic, who is also an associate of Washington-based International Strategic Studies Association.
Since September 11, 2001, U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia have been tracking radical Islamists who remained in the country after the war and many have been questioned for links to international terrorism. Six of them, all Algerians, were arrested and handed over to the US Government and are still believed to be held in Guantanamo base in Cuba, Trifunovic says.
Bosnian authorities are currently scrutinizing some 1,500 citizenships granted to foreigners, and 38 have already been revoked, Security minister Berisa Colak recently revealed.
Osama Bin Laden directly aided Bosnian Muslims financially, by procurement of weapons and by training, Trifunovic maintains, saying that aid was extended to the separatist ethnic Albanians in Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo and in Macedonia.
Last November Bosnian police arrested four local youths and a Turkish citizen, Abdukladir Cesur, on suspicion of plotting to bomb the embassy of a European country in Sarajevo. It later turned out they were connected with a similar group in Denmark. One local youth, Mirsad Bektasevic was only 18, and others were not much older.
Trifunovic says they shouldn’t be jailed but sent to some sort “re-indoctrination” to make them realize their mistakes. “Jailing these youths would only further radicalize them and prepare them to be martyrs for the Islamic cause,“ sys Trifunovic.
Apart from Bosnia, another “spring board for Islamizing Europe, according to Trifunovic, is Kosovo, whose majority ethnic Albanian Muslim population is seeking independence from Serbia.
Besides camouflaged Al-Qaeda cells, two new, until now unknown groups, Gjurma and Tablighijammat, have been noted there, preaching radical Islam. Behind all these activities is Iranian intelligence and mostly Saudi cash, Trifunovic believes.
On the local scale, each country might breed its own seeds of terrorism, which is fed on real or perceived injustice, like the Basque issue in Spain, or the Kurdish problem in Turkey, says Trifunovic. “But globally, it is a conflict of civilizations, in which Islamic extremists see the West and the United States as their deadly enemies.”
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Canadian-Iranian dissident accused of being U.S. agent released in Iran
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran on Wednesday released Canadian-Iranian liberal intellectual Ramin Jahanbegloo, who was accused of working with the U.S. to overthrow the government, a human rights activist said.
Ramin Jahanbegloo was released from Evin prison after four months of confinement, said Kouhyar Goodarzi, a member of the Student Committee of Human Rights Reporters of Iran.
Jahanbegloo was arrested in April but was not officially charged, and Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi said in July that he was involved in U.S. efforts to overthrow the government.
Azin Moalej, Jahanbegloo's wife, also confirmed that her husband was released on bail, but refused to provide details.
In May, the state-controlled IRAN Persian daily newspaper said that Jahanbegloo, who worked for the private Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran, had been arrested for espionage and violating security measures.
Jahanbegloo, 46, studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris and Harvard University.
From 1997 to 2001, he taught at the University of Toronto.
He has published some 20 books in English, French and Farsi and interviewed several global figures such as the Dalai Lama and famed linguist Noam Chomsky.
During his time in jail, many local and international scholars, including Chomsky, urged the government to release him.
In July, Ejehi said his ministry's counterespionage department had thwarted several plots in the past 10 months, alleging that Washington trained, supported and organized people to challenge Iran's Islamic system of government.
Three years ago, Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi was also accused of spying after taking photos outside the same prison where Jahanbegloo was held.
She died from head injuries sustained while being interrogated. Canadian government demands for justice were ignored.
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Ahmadinejad urges Europe not to seek sanctions
Iran's president on Wednesday urged Europe against resorting to sanctions, saying a day before a UN deadline for the country to halt uranium enrichment that punishment would not dissuade it from pursuing its nuclear program.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments reflected Iran's defiance up to the Thursday deadline, which threatens sanctions against Iran unless it suspends enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor but that the West fears will be used to build a warhead.
"Sanctions can not dissuade the Iranian nation from conquering the peaks of pride. So it's better for Europe to be independent in decision making and to settle problems through negotiations," Ahmadinejad said, according to state-run television.
He made the comments during a meeting with Felipe Gonzales, Spain's former premier, the television report said.
Iran has rejected the Thursday deadline as illegal and refused any immediate suspension of enrichment, though it says it is open for negotiations.
Iran continued to enrich uranium as recently as Tuesday, UN and European officials in Vienna said Wednesday.
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Bomb scare stops traffic near Dutch U.S. base
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A major road and railway in the south of the Netherlands were closed off briefly on Wednesday after a bomb scare at a U.S. military base, Dutch officials said.
"It was a false alarm," said a military police spokesman.
A bomb squad was called in after a suspicious package was found underneath a truck at the entrance to the base at Schinnen which provides logistics and support for the U.S. military.
Transport and security officials have been on heightened alert after this week's bomb blasts in Turkey, and after British police said earlier this month they foiled a plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic using liquid explosives.
"We took precautions and stopped traffic on the motorway for one hour," said Peter Tans, a spokesman for the local police. A major highway nearby connects Germany and Belgium through the southern part of the Netherlands.
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Morocco steps up airport security
MOROCCO has stepped up security at its airports after discovering that the wives of two pilots at national airline Royal Air Maroc had been funding a radical Islamist cell, Reuters reported on 29 August.
The government said earlier this month it had broken up the previously unknown Jamaat Ansar El Mehdi and seized explosives, propaganda material and laboratory equipment.
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Taiwan Confirms Budget For US Fighter Deal
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE | Wed, August 30th, 2006, 01:45
Taipei (AFP): The Taiwanese military confirmed Tuesday that it was setting aside funds for the purchase of a fleet of US-made F-16 fighters, a deal that has angered Beijing.
"The budget for F-16s has been budgeted in the next fiscal year," said vice defense minister Vice Admiral Kao Kuang-chi at a press conference to unveil the 2006 National Defense Report.
Kao offered no details of the deal, but local newspapers have said Taiwan is planning to replace its outmoded F-5 fleet with 66 F-16C/D Block 52s at a cost of at least 100 billion Taiwan dollars (3.1 billion US).
The new planes aim to reinforce the air force's combat capability before it can acquire so-called "third generation" fighters from the United States, the papers said.
The United States agreed in 1992 to sell Taiwan 150 less sophisticated F-16A/Bs, but refused to provide F-16C/Ds which have a longer range and powerful ground attack capability.
In addition to some 60 F-5 Tigers, Taiwan's air force consists of so-called "second-generation" aircraft -- 146 less sophisticated F-16A/B fighters, 128 locally produced Indigenous Defense Fighters and 56 French-made Mirage 2000-5s.
Taiwan's cabinet last week approved a draft bill proposed by the defense ministry calling for 323.5 billion Taiwan dollars in spending next year, a rise of 71 billion dollars, or 28.1 percent, from the current year.
The planned military spending, pending the legislature's final approval, would account for 18.7 percent of the government budget for 2007, up from 15.3 percent the preceding year.
Taiwan's 2006 National Defense Report warned of the threat from Beijing and called for the the purchase of eight conventional submarines, 12 P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft, and six PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile systems for around 340 billion Taiwan dollars (10.8 billion US).
Beijing in July warned Washington not to proceed with the reported deal to sell fighter jets to Taiwan, indicating it would impact on regional security and harm Sino-US relations.
China announced in March its military budget for this year would rise 14.7 percent to 35 billion dollars, the latest in a series of double-digit annual increases dating back to the early 1990s.
A Pentagon report last year estimated that China's defense spending was two to three times the publicly announced figure and that the cross-strait military balance was tipping in Beijing's favor.
China has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan should it move towards formal independence, prompting the island to seek more advanced weaponry.
Source(©): AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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New intel squadron turns aerial eye on terrorists
US Air Force | Wed, August 30th, 2006, 01:55
HURLBURT FIELD: Terrorists and their supporters around the world soon will be under the gaze of a powerful "unblinking eye" providing information on their whereabouts to a "brain" here.
The reactivation of the 11th Intelligence Squadron here marks a milestone for Air Force Special Operations Command, which gains its first intelligence squadron. The 11th IS, commanded by Lt. Col. David Hambleton, is assigned to Air Force Special Operations Forces, AFSOC's warfighting headquarters.
The squadron's mission is to process, exploit and disseminate to commanders information gathered by AFSOC's MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles and other airborne intelligence and surveillance sources, Colonel Hambleton said. The Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft operated by the 3rd Special Operations Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.
Operators at Creech AFB use remote controls to fly Predators anywhere in the world, around the clock. That capability, when fully realized, will create what Army Gen. Doug Brown, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, calls an "unblinking eye" for special operations forces.
But even an unblinking eye is worthless without a brain to process the information the eye sees, said Col. Timothy Leahy, AFSOF vice commander.
"That's where the 11th IS comes in," he said.
"We're going to extract intel value from data streams coming off (reconnaissance aircraft), figure out what the bad guys are doing and provide information to special ops commanders so they can make combat decisions," Colonel Hambleton said. "Basically, the 3rd SOS will provide the data, and we'll tailor it for the SOF customer forward."
Special operations forces require SOF-specific intelligence, Colonel Hambleton said. So the entire data gathering-analysis-combat commander chain is specialized and unique compared to the way other Air Force commands process and disseminate data, he said.
For instance, AFSOC is the only major command where the intelligence weapons system, called the distributed common ground system, works hand-in-hand with the air operations center. In AFSOC, both the DCGS and AOC report to the AFSOF commander, Col. Michael Callan.
"I'm very excited to see the 11th IS a reality," Colonel Callan said. "Many dedicated members of the AFSOF and AFSOC staffs have worked very hard to make this day happen.
"Having the 11th IS provide dedicated intelligence support to our warfighters will make us better able to find, fix and finish our adversaries," he said. "I welcome Colonel Hambleton and his squadron members to AFSOF".
In the war on terrorism, tracking down elusive enemies is akin to what Lt. Gen. Michael W. Wooley, AFSOC commander, calls "finding the proverbial needle not in a haystack, but hiding among other needles."
Intel specialists of the 11th IS will "be able to discern what that needle among needles is doing," Colonel Leahy said.
"Once the operators of the 11th Intelligence Squadron find and fix the enemy, the world's best special operators, riding in the back of AFSOC aircraft, will go in and finish them," he said.
Source(©): US Air Force
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PKK Organizes Festival in Germany
Although the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK/KADEK) is widely accepted internationally as a terrorist organization, in Germany the subsidiary foundations of the terrorist organization continue their activities.
The terrorist organization PKK plans to turn the 14th Kurdish Cultural Festival in Germany into a freedom show for terrorist leader Abdullah Ocalan.
No German security force has so far attempted to intervene in the festival preparations, which plans to promote such slogans as “Freedom for Abdullah Ocalan” and “Peace for Free Kurdistan.”
It is reported that Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Department warned Germany that a festival supporting a terrorist organization and any billboard advertisements related to such an event should not be permitted in the country.
The subsidiary foundations of the PKK chose August, which is the month when the PKK increased funds and began its terrorist attacks for the first time in 1983.
Recently, eight leading members of the PKK were arrested.
In addition, two people were arrested for being the local leaders of the PKK in Baden-Wurttemberg and North Rhine Westphalia states of Germany.
Last week British authorities prohibited the activities of the PKK and its subsidiary foundations; the ban included wearing the organizations emblem and flying its flags.
Diplomatic sources close to the Turkish Foreign Ministry evaluated the PKK’s growth in Germany; with racketeering and other activities reaching a level that enables them to use billboard advertisements for its promotional purposes.
According to diplomatic sources: “It is impossible for the PKK to conduct its activities explicitly in Germany, and we have informed the German administration that such a festival nor any related billboard advertisements should be permitted to go ahead. It is not realistic to think that Germany ignores the activities of the PKK. The PKK has the potential reach of 50,000 people in Germany. The German authorities do not risk cracking down on this threat at once, so they tend to ignore some of their less extreme activities.”
Some Kurdish-origin intellectuals and politicians will participate in the festival and deliver speeches, which will be followed by a concert.
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Jeddah raids: two extremist cells disbanded
The Saudi security forces succeeded in disbanding two extremist cells in Jeddah early last week: one in Al-Ajwad district, the other in Al-Jamia district.
Latest reports from Jeddah suggest that special security units made successful raids against both cells and forced their members to surrender.
Security sources considered the raids a success as no one was killed or seriously injured. However, independent sources claim that two men of Al-Jamia cell died. They were rushed to hospital, but failed to survive their injuries. No other sources confirmed the story.
Available reports on both cells suggest that they were preparing to set up new cells in other neighborhood districts, notably near King Abdulaziz Airport, King Abdulaziz University, the Industrial District and the Seaport.
On the Al-Jamia cell, the same reports mention that it was lately watching Jeddah-Mecca main road. Two of its four members surrendered. The Saudi Police say they are Turki Al-Mutairi and Ghazi Al-Utaibi. Both were among seven prisoners who escaped from Riyadh’s Al-Malaz prison in July.
Note that Turki Al-Mutairi belongs to a family known to be close to the ruling Al-Saud family, but the extremists look to have gained some support among its members.
Sources close to the Saudi Interior Ministry say the raids in Jeddah took place as the Ministry was preparing to tighten security measures in Jeddah, Mecca, Medina and Riyadh.
These sources add the arrested men had Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades and anti-tank launchers. The security services believe the extremists smuggled these weapons from Iraq and Yemen into the Kingdom.
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Suspected rebels blow up train line in Pakistan
QUETTA, Pakistan, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Suspected militants blew up a railway line in Pakistan's gas-rich Baluchistan province on Wednesday while elsewhere, a protest turned violent as anger over the killing of a nationalist rebel chief simmered.
Violent protests have erupted across Baluchistan province since nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed on Saturday in a government assault on his cave hideout in the remote hills of Pakistan's biggest but poorest province.
Bugti led an increasingly violent campaign to win decades-old demands for autonomy and a greater share of profits from the province's resources. The campaign has included attacks on gas facilities, infrastructure and the security forces.
Police and railway officials said militants blew up a railway track in Mastung district, 50 km (30 miles) south of the provincial capital, Quetta.
Elsewhere, protesters set fire to a government savings office and half a dozen shops in Khuzdar town after prayers were held for Bugti, 79, a former provincial governor.
"Police fired into the air and used teargas to disperse the crowd," said witness Abdul Waheed.
Police said city officials had called in paramilitary troops to help restore order. There were no reports of casualties.
Analysts say Bugti's killing is likely to inflame opposition in Baluchistan.
It could also stir nationalist sentiment in other provinces and galvanise broad opposition to President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup.
Protesters also blocked main roads from Quetta to the rest of the country but residents of the city said it was quiet.
Some of the shops that have been closed since the weekend were opening for business, they said.
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Pakistani militants decapitate 2 men
MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan (AP)- Militants decapitated an Islamic cleric and an Afghan refugee accused of spying for U.S. and Afghan authorities in northwestern Pakistan, an intelligence official said Wednesday.
The men's beheaded bodies were found early Wednesday in two villages near Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region bordering
Afghanistan, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the secretive nature of his work.
Notes written in the local Pashtu language were left on the bodies accusing the men of being spies for the U.S. and Afghanistan, he said.
The cleric was an Afghan identified as 45-year-old Noor Wali. His decapitated body and severed head were dumped next to each other on a roadside in Khati Khel, a village near Miran Shah, the official said.
The body of the Afghan refugee, identified as Hak Nawaz, was found in Darpakhel village, on Miran Shah's western outskirts. Militants had cut off his head and placed it on his chest, leaving a note saying "this is a gift for Karzai," referring to Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, according to the official.
The bullet-riddled body of another Afghan refugee was found in North Waziristan on Monday with a note attached also accusing him of spying for the United States.
Suspected al-Qaida-linked militants and pro-Taliban tribal militants have been blamed for killing scores of tribesmen accused of spying or collaborating with Pakistani authorities in the volatile North and adjoining South Waziristan region.
Pakistan, a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, has deployed about 80,000 troops along its border with Afghanistan to track down militants.
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IRAN: AHMADINEJAD DECIDES TO IMPORT FUEL AFTER ALL
Tehran, 30 August (AKI) - The Iranian government has announced that fuel imports this year will increase by 42 percent compared to 2005 despite earlier statements by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Tehran would not import by-products of oil in the second semester of the Iranian year, which starts on 21 March. Though Iran is the world's fourth largest oil exporter, it imports almost half of the country's fuel needs. The refinery of Abadan in the south-east has not been re-built since it was destroyed in 1980 during the war with Iraq. It was at the time the world's largest oil refinery.
Iran imports approximately 40 per cent of the 73 million litres consumed on average every day by drivers.
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Mexico leftist to create parallel gov't
MEXICO CITY (AP)- Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, convinced he won't be awarded the presidency, has vowed to create a parallel leftist government and is urging Mexicans not to recognize the apparent victory of the ruling party's Felipe Calderon.
While his party lacks the seats in Congress to block legislation, Lopez Obrador can mobilize millions to pressure his conservative rival to adopt the left's agenda — or to clamp down and risk a backlash.
Both scenarios are possibilities as the former Mexico City mayor lays out plans to create his own government to rule from the streets, with the support of thousands who are already occupying protest camps throughout downtown Mexico City.
Some predict his parallel initiative — which Lopez Obrador's supporters call the "legitimate government" — could turn those protest camps into the core of a violent revolt, especially if the government tries to shut it down.
Such violence broke out in the southern city of Oaxaca after Gov. Ulises Ruiz sent police to evict striking teachers. Outraged citizens' groups joined the protests, setting fire to buildings and public buses, seizing radio and TV stations and forcing the closure of businesses in a city known throughout the world as a quaint tourist destination.
"Everything we do, from property taxes to permits to natural resources, will go through the 'legitimate government,'" said Severina Martinez, a school teacher from Oaxaca camped out in a tent in Mexico City's main Zocalo plaza. "We won't have anything to do with the official government."
Some supporters took out a newspaper ad Tuesday, calling on Lopez Obrador to set up his own treasury department and said all Mexicans "should channel federal revenues to the new treasury department."
Lopez Obrador is encouraging his followers to disobey Calderon, whose 240,000-vote advantage was confirmed Monday by the country's top electoral court. The seven magistrates stopped short of declaring Calderon president-elect, but they have only a week to declare a winner or annul the election.
"We do not recognize Felipe Calderon as president, nor any officials he appoints, nor any acts carried out by his de-facto government," Lopez Obrador said after the court ruling, which he claims overlooked evidence of fraud in the July 2 elections.
Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, increased its number of congressional seats in those elections and became the second-largest bloc, behind Calderon's National Action Party, on Tuesday as new lawmakers were sworn in.
But it holds only a quarter of the seats — not enough to block legislation, especially if Calderon forges a likely alliance with the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party. That alliance would hold a majority in each house of Congress.
Lopez Obrador has ruled out negotiations with what he calls the "spurious" and "imposed" government. Because PRD legislators fear crossing him or his fervent followers, they can't cut deals to get their own legislation approved, making them even weaker.
"There is no possibility that we federal legislators in Congress will start any dialogue with the government," said PRD Senate leader Carlos Navarette, considered one of the party's moderates. "We will never forget that the leader and director of the Mexican people's action and the left is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador."
Lopez Obrador's plan is to have his government help the poor, oppose privatizations and make the news media — which he has accused of ignoring him — more "truthful and objective."
It's not clear how he plans to do that, but his supporters are already planning to hold an alternative swearing in ceremony to rival the official inauguration on Dec. 1.
People close to Lopez Obrador say he is assuming the role of his hero, 18th century President Benito Juarez, who led a roving, "unofficial" presidency from 1863 to 1867 during the French invasion, before driving out the invaders and executing the French-installed Emperor Maximilian.
"Juarez ran the government from a carriage and restored the republic," said Rosario Ibarra, a human rights activist who frequently shares the stage with Lopez Obrador at his rallies. "We just hope there won't be any need to shoot anyone."
So far, protesters have only scuffled with police. Some fear the movement could turn violent, although Lopez Obrador says it will remain peaceful.
The administration of President
Vicente Fox hopes it will all just boil down to some fiery rhetoric and posturing.
"We think this is a symbolic, political act that has no validity in the affairs of state," Fox's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said Tuesday. Asked about Lopez Obrador's plan to declare himself head of state, Aguilar noted that "in this country, everyone is free to say whatever they want."
There is no question that Lopez Obrador is taking his "legitimate government" or "government in resistance" — the exact title has yet to be determined — very seriously.
Asked whether Lopez Obrador would wear some version of the presidential sash during his swearing-in ceremony, PRD spokesman Gerardo Fernandez accused reporters of poking fun at the candidate. He also upbraided those who spoke of plans for an "alternative government."
"What Andres Manuel has suggested is not an alternative president," Fernandez said. "It will be a legitimate government with a legitimate president."
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Teams vie for U.S. border security contract
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Five industry teams are competing for a $2.1 billion contract to be awarded next month to help the U.S. Department of Homeland Security beef up security along over 7,500 miles of U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada.
The winning bidder will help unify existing technologies and install new tracking sensors and communications equipment so border agents can better monitor regions that range from urban centers to desert, to huge lakes and forested mountains.
"There are many different elements of border security already in place, but there is a need for an integrated approach to securing the borders," said Kia Evans, spokeswoman for the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) that was unveiled by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last November.
Evans said the department's Customs and Border Protection Agency would award the "SBInet" contract by September 30 and it would run for three to five years.
Bidding to tie all the pieces together are U.S. defense contractors, Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co., as well as Sweden's Ericsson.
Each has put together a team of U.S. and foreign companies specializing in everything from sensors to visual recognition technology to long-range cameras.
Boeing, teamed with L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., Unisys Corp. and others, on Tuesday explained its bid, which relies on over 300 radar towers along the borders, some supplemented by cameras developed by Israel's Elbit which can spot people at up to 14 kilometers and vehicles at up to 20 kilometers.
Boeing's SBInet program director Jerry McElwee stressed the company's low-cost, best-value approach and said the company's integration of other major programs, including the Army's Future Combat Systems, gave it the needed experience.
Lockheed Martin plans to announce its partners next week, said Jane Rudolph, vice president of business development for Lockheed's transportation and security division.
She said Lockheed was already involved in homeland security through its joint venture with Northrop to modernize the Coast Guard, and a customs modernization program begun before the September 11, 2001, hijacking attacks. Shortly afterward, she said Lockheed also mobilized 1,000 employees to revamp passenger checkpoints at 429 U.S. airports in about six months.
Raytheon says its experience on a $1.4 billion project to secure Brazil's Amazon region -- an area that would cover two-thirds of the continental United States -- makes it an ideal candidate for SBInet. Its teammates include IBM, BAE Systems and privately owned Bechtel.
Northrop, which won a smaller DHS contract for surveillance at land ports along the southwest border on Monday, has been providing information technology support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement since 2002.
Northrop spokesman Randy Belote said information technologies represented the largest source of revenue for the company, accounting for about 32 percent of total revenues, or $10 billion, in 2005.
Northrop's partners include General Dynamics Corp., L-3, and Anteon Corp. which is being taken over by General Dynamics.
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Kurdish rebels warn of "hell" after Turkey blasts
ANTALYA, Turkey (Reuters) - A shadowy Kurdish rebel group threatened on Tuesday to turn Turkey into "hell" after a two-day bombing spree which killed three people and wounded dozens of others at popular tourist resorts.
The Kurdish Liberation Hawks (TAK) said it bombed a busy shopping area in the coastal resort Antalya on Monday, killing three people and wounding dozens, including European and Middle Eastern tourists.
The blast followed four bombs in the Mediterranean resort of Marmaris and in Istanbul that wounded 27 people.
"We vow to turn the monstrous TC (Turkish Republic) into hell ... with our warriors who have pledged revenge," TAK said in a statement on its Web site. It was not immediately possible to verify its authenticity.
TAK and the larger outlawed hard-line separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) oppose Ankara's policies on the Kurdish region. The PKK, which TAK says it broke with 18 months ago, took up arms in 1984 with the aim of creating a homeland in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.
More than 30,000 people have since been killed in the separatist conflict.
TAK says tourism has helped feed the state, and warns visitors to stay away from European Union-aspirant Turkey.
Security has been stepped up at key tourist destinations, and although no major cancellations to Turkey have been reported some tourists and those in the sector were concerned.
Police have launched a hunt for two people suspected of planting the bomb in Antalya, Milliyet newspaper said on Tuesday, although police did not confirm the report.
The government has remained silent and Turkish media have largely ignored the attacks.
Turkish financial markets were unfazed by the bombings.
Eleven people were still being treated in hospital for their injuries, said police spokesman Akif Aktug. None of them were in a critical condition.
Police detained a PKK suspect in the port city of Izmir on Monday. TV footage showed him being led away by police and plastic explosives found in his possession. He was believed to have been planning an attack.
TAK has claimed a series of deadly attacks over the last year in tourist resorts and cities across the country. PKK guerrillas mainly carry out attacks against soldiers in the mountains of southeast Turkey from their bases in northern Iraq.
Turkey has repeatedly called on the United States and Iraq to clamp down on the PKK inside Iraq.
Tourism is worth an annual $18 billion to Turkey and has already been hit by other bombings and a bird flu outbreak.
"It's hard to judge whether we will stay. We'll have to see how it turns out. Terror in the world is growing and you feel so small, but there's nothing you can do," said Helen Schneider from Germany holidaying with her family.
The Firat News Agency, which has close ties to Kurdish rebels, said the PKK had condemned the bombings. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., EU and Turkey.
Turkey has improved rights for Kurds, but the EU wants more.
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Terrorism in Africa 'to climb'
Johannesburg - Terrorist attacks, operations and activities in Africa will increase in the short and long term, a counter-terrorism conference in Kyalami has heard.
David Radcliffe, regional director for Africa in the office of the United States secretary of defence, said the threat would be mainly from global terrorist groups seeking refuge from their operational bases now under attack.
Radcliffe emphasised that he was expressing his personal view and not the official stance of the US government.
He said: "They need the space to train, they need the space to operate, they need the space to recruit.
"They a need a refuge they can go to with reasonable certainty that they are not going to be targeted by military forces.
"Africa as a continent allows vast amounts of space: physical and non-physical; urban and non-urban ... ; maritime; air; cultural and social; virtual space; operational space... "
Exploitation of Africa's wealth
Africa was attractive as a base of operation, a source of recruits from a frustrated public, and fund raising from sympathisers or through exploitation of the continent's natural wealth.
As fast as this threat was being addressed, terrorists would adapt. Radcliffe said: "They're intelligent, they're smart, they can see what we are doing."
African economies were particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Countries without diversified economies and those dependent on tourism could face crippling financial problems if terrorists attacked key industries and infrastructure.
He said that it was not necessary to kill too many people to create the impression that the country was not safe.
Radcliffe said: "It only takes a handful of terrorists to cause major disruptions."
If governments were really serious about addressing the threat of terrorism, they would coordinate their approaches to their security, legal, financial, development and health care systems.
They would also have to ensure they concentrated on the basics in the law enforcement and financial sectors.
Radcliffe said: "The majority of breakthroughs in combating terrorism are going to be from that alert border security guard that sees something suspicious..."
Source: News24, South Africa
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Although Hizbollah has recently dominated the news for its recent war with Israel, the group is one of the most well-established modern terrorist organizations in the world. Its history dates back to the early 1980s, when it pioneered many of the methods that have been adopted by other groups, such as al-Qaida and Islamic Jihad.
By Jessica Ashooh and Michael Donovan for CDI (29/08/06)
Prior to 11 September 2001, Hizbollah could claim credit for taking more American lives in a single attack than any other terrorist organization. In October 1983, at the height of the Lebanese civil war, a truck laden with explosives smashed into the multinational force barracks in Beirut, killing 241 US Marines. A suicide bombing at the US Embassy in Beirut followed the next year in 1984, leaving 17 dead.
However, since the conclusion of the civil war in 1990 and the end of the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, Hizbollah has evolved in purpose and scope, taking on major political and social roles in postwar Lebanese society and becoming the foremost representative of Lebanon’s large and impoverished Shiite population.
The organization is a full political party in Lebanon’s consociational democracy and is currently represented in the national government by two cabinet ministers and 14 members of parliament (out of 128 total). This hybrid nature renders the group a difficult target in America's war against terrorism, particularly since there is not agreement between the United States and its closest allies in Europe on whether Hizbollah even constitutes a terrorist organization.
In the context of the tormented political and social upheaval endemic to Lebanon in the 1980s, the advent of Hizbollah was not remarkable. At the time, more than 30 militia groups were locked in combat and the addition of yet another might have gone unnoticed. Many of these groups reflected the nihilism that characterized the disintegration of the Lebanese state. But Hizbollah distinguished itself from rivals, such as the Amal movement, with a definite platform and a vision of a Shiite Islamic state.
However, in recent years, this vision has been somewhat complicated by the group’s pragmatism regarding the realities of politics in Lebanon. Although it has initiated de facto Sharia law in some of the heavily Shia areas that it controls, Hizbollah’s leadership has recently stated that it does not want to impose Islamic law throughout all of Lebanon. This can be seen as something of an adolescent “identity crisis” in the group as it ages and adapts to changing political realities. Its priorities at this time seem to be to gain as much legitimacy and popular following as possible in order to serve its main goal of antagonizing Israel, even if that means compromising some on its earlier Islamist ideals.
Hizbollah was born, with the assistance of revolutionary Iran, as a resistance movement against Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It maintains close financial and cultural links with Iran. Although much has been made about these ties, Hizbollah remains a fundamentally Lebanese organization, and assertions that it takes its orders directly from Tehran are probably not entirely accurate. The relationship is likely more nuanced. Due to the many goals and religious principles shared by the Islamic Republic and Hizbollah, it is more likely that there is a high degree of natural cooperation between the two without overt puppetry. However, Iran also gives extensive financing from its oil revenues and provides the group with missile technology and armaments; thus it can press its influence through these channels when it desires.
Syria is another major supporter of Hizbollah, albeit more for reasons of realpolitik. During the postwar Syrian occupation of Lebanon from 1990 to 2005, Damascus used the group as a proxy force to distract and antagonize Israel at politically strategic moments. Even after the 2005 withdrawal of Syrian military forces from the country, Syria still maintains virtually total control of the Lebanese border and a high degree of influence over the Lebanese government. As a result, Syria largely controls Hizbollah’s overland weapons supply routes.
Hizbollah's power base is in the Bekaa Valley, but its followers are drawn from the Shia communities in south Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut. From its founding, there was little possibility that the group would ever succeed in creating an Islamic state in Lebanon given the country’s extensive religious diversity, but Hizbollah's strength and reputation grew with every attack on the Israeli Defense Forces in the country. By 2000, the Israeli position in Lebanon had become untenable, in part because of the heavy toll exacted by Hizbollah attacks. Hizbollah took credit for the Israeli withdrawal and subsequently gained the distinction of being the only Arab military organization to force a retreat of the Israeli army.
Throughout the 1980s, Hizbollah pioneered the use of suicide bombings against Israeli and Western targets. The group was also responsible for a spate of kidnappings of Western citizens. Hizbollah has been connected with two attacks on Israeli targets in South America in 1992 and 1994, including the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. At present, however, Hizbollah's objectives are limited to striking at the Israeli presence in the Golan Heights and Shebaa Farms, securing the release of prisoners held by Israel and cultivating its political status in Lebanon.
Hizbollah maintains fundraising cells in North America and Europe. According to the Department of State, the group boasts several thousand supporters and several hundred militant operatives. Various sources estimate the group’s military capabilities as the fourth to sixth strongest in the region. For these reasons, the US government views Hizbollah as a foreign terrorist organization with "global reach."
Most recently, on 12 July 2006, after a period of relative quiet, Hizbollah fighters conducted a guerilla raid over the border into Israel, kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and instigating an international crisis. Israel responded with a total naval blockade and widespread bombing campaign against all of Lebanon, with particular emphasis on the Hizbollah dominated regions of the south, the Bekaa Valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut. This was followed by a major ground invasion of south Lebanon up to the Litani River.
While the military operation was undertaken with the intent to neutralize the Hizbollah threat once and for all, it was viewed by many as a failure due to the immense popularity that Hizbollah gained from again being viewed as a resistance force against perceived Israeli aggression. It also gained more notoriety for its military capabilities, as the Israeli Defense Forces operated with extreme difficulty against the entrenched guerilla techniques that Hizbollah fighters perfected. Their massive rocket and missile arsenals stunned Israel as rockets rained down as far south as Haifa a month into the hostilities, nearly unabated.
Although some Christian, Sunni and Druze Lebanese expressed displeasure with Hizbollah for drawing Lebanon into this conflict with punishing consequences, their ire has been directed more against the Israelis, who, as long as they continue to occupy southern Lebanon, will provide Hizbollah with a popular raison d’être for their continued existence as a military force in addition to a political party and welfare network.
The conflict catapulted the group’s spiritual leader, the charismatic Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, to immense popularity throughout the Arab world. Hizbollah continues to consolidate its popularity and power within Lebanon through rebuilding assistance in areas hit hard by Israeli artillery. It hands out large cash donations to those whose houses have been damaged or destroyed by the fighting and continues to provide essential hospital, school and clean water services to its constituency, strongly supplementing the few services that the weak Lebanese national government can provide.
Hizbollah also maintains and operates a satellite news channel, al-Manar, based in Beirut, which enjoys a significant viewer audience throughout Lebanon and the Arab world.
For these reasons, defeating Hizbollah will not be easy. It has transformed itself, in the eyes of many Lebanese, into a thriving political party that plays a role in the country’s precarious political equation. It has also garnered support throughout the Arab world, even amongst non-radicals. Many among the Lebanese government and people view its attacks on Israeli settlements and military installations as acts of legitimate resistance.
Furthermore, the group has grown conscious of the importance of its international image, especially in the West, and has not struck at American targets in a decade, insisting that its true enemy is Israel. The group's spiritual leadership quickly condemned the 11 September attacks in the United States, stressing that it did not share Osama bin Laden's goal of a clash of civilizations. The Lebanese national government in Beirut moved with determination, even before 11 September, against al-Qaida financial interests and personnel in Lebanon. It does not believe a similar approach against Hizbollah is justified.
Striking at Hizbollah would do much to alienate the Shiite population and inflame many of the sectarian passions that were responsible for Lebanon's long civil war, as has been observed during the most recent Israeli operation. The United States has thus far approached the issue cautiously while continuing to strongly and outwardly condemn the group. It is a dilemma found elsewhere in the region. Washington's definition of a foreign terrorist organization is not universally accepted, as evidenced by the many European Union countries that do not list Hizbollah on their official terrorist rosters, thus rendering comprehensive international efforts against the group’s financial dexterity significantly more difficult.
Arab governments and populations in particular will continue to distinguish between groups that "resist" Israel and “terrorist” organizations. And they will hesitate to strike at groups that straddle the often ambiguous line between terrorism and grass roots social and political organizations that exists in the Middle East.
For these reasons, it appears that the best approach to fighting Hizbollah is to diminish its political influence through means that do not further contribute to its popularity. This includes empowering the Lebanese government to extend sovereignty throughout its borders. It also entails facilitating relief and recovery efforts throughout Lebanon, so that Hizbollah is not viewed as the sole party concerned for the welfare of the everyday citizen. These efforts will go far to stem popular support for the group. And of course, standard techniques of financial disruption would also be effective tools.
Maintaining a strategic and conceptual model for combating the group within the context of the region is also critical. A lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is intrinsic to fighting Hizbollah, as much of its power of persuasion is rooted in exploiting this issue. With such a resolution and a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanese lands, Hizbollah’s status as an armed military force could lose a significant degree of popular support. However, it is unlikely that the group will ever cease to exist as a political entity unless Shia loyalties fall to a new party, a scenario which looks highly unlikely in the foreseeable future.
This article originally appeared on the Center for Defense Information (CDI) website. The CDI is a division of the World Security Institute (WSI), a 501(c)(3) public charity.
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