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Archive for May, 2011

Arab League elects Nabil al-Araby as new secretary general

Sun, 15/05/2011

The Arab League has elected Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Araby as the body’s new secretary general, replacing Amr Moussa in the post, according to reports on Egyptian state television.

The body’s Council of Foreign Ministers elected al-Araby into the post by a unanimous vote, after the withdrawal of the two other contenders for the role, Mostafa al-Fiqqi and Abdul Rahman al-Attiyah.

The way was opened for Araby when the Egyptian government’s first choice, Fiqqi, who was a former member of the dissolved National Democratic Party, managed to gain the support of only 12 member nations, against the nine secured by Attiyah, who had been put forward by Qatar.

According to the Arab League Charter, a candidate needs the support of at least 15 nations in order to assume the post.

The vote is seen as a victory for Egypt’s revolutionary forces, who supported Araby in assuming the role of foreign minister in Essam Sharaf’s cabinet in March. Araby enjoys a good reputation in Egypt, as well as on the Arab and international stages.

The vote also comes as a blow to supporters of Fiqqi, who was generally seen as representing forces loyal to the ousted Mubarak regime. He served as information secretary for the deposed Egyptian president from 1985 until 1992, and as chairman of the dissolved Shura Council’s Arab Affairs Committee.

He was accused of rigging the 2005 parliamentary elections in his favor against the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate.

Although not mentioned in the charter, Egyptians have traditionally occupied this post since the founding of the league in 1945, except for a period when it was moved to Tunisia after Egypt signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979.

Source: al-Masry al-Youm.

Algeria to free jailed militants: Islamist leaders

Sun May 15, 2011

By Lamine Chikhi

ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika will soon release several thousand Islamists from prison to help draw a line under a conflict that killed an estimated 200,000 people, two prominent Islamists told Reuters.

Bouteflika is trying to stop revolts in other Arab countries from spreading to Algeria, and needs to ensure the backing of Islamists, who represent an influential social force.

Most of the thousands jailed during Algeria’s nearly two-decade conflict between Islamist insurgents and government forces have already been freed under an amnesty but a hard core did not qualify for release.

Two Islamist leaders who have campaigned for the release said sources in the presidential administration had told them Bouteflika would sign an order freeing the prisoners, who they say number about 7,000.

“We consider the decision that president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the high military hierarchy will take very shortly by granting a general amnesty to prisoners of the national tragedy a good and courageous decision,” the two Islamists said in a letter to Bouteflika, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

The letter was signed by Sheikh Abdelfateh Zeraoui, a well-known Salafist preacher, and Sheikh Hachemi Sahnouni, one of the founders of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a radical Islamist party.

A senior government official, contacted by Reuters, said he did not want to comment on any prisoner release.

The majority of former Islamist militants in Algeria have renounced violence, though a rump of about 1,000 fighters affiliated to al Qaeda is still active.


Farouk Ksentini, a lawyer and a chairman of a human rights body sponsored by the government said: “If true, this is great news which I welcome because it will help put an end to Algeria’s tragedy.”

Algeria was plunged into chaos after the military-backed government scrapped the 1992 legislative elections, which the FIS was poised to win.

For the next two decades, the country witnessed a conflict between government forces and Islamist insurgents.

There are still sporadic ambushes and kidnappings by militants, who now operate as al Qaeda’s north African wing, but the violence has subsided significantly.

As part of a program of national reconciliation, Bouteflika a decade ago offered a partial amnesty to insurgents, provided they were not involved in massacres, rapes or explosions in public places.

Several thousand accepted the amnesty and surrendered to authorities.

Bouteflika has resisted pressure so far to extend the amnesty to cover all militants because, observers say, it could provoke an angry backlash from the families of people killed by the insurgents.

Radical Islamists do not take part in Algeria’s politics but they have considerable influence over the country’s social, economic and religious life.

The Salafist movement, an ultra-conservative branch of Islamic thought with links to Saudi Arabia, has hundreds of thousands of followers who control most of the vast underground economy, observers say.

When Bouteflika’s opponents, inspired by uprisings in other Arab countries, launched a wave of protests, the Islamists stayed on the sidelines and the demonstrations lost momentum after a few weeks.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

Source: Reuters.

Blackwater forms spy group in US

Fri May 13, 2011

The notorious military contractor formerly known as Blackwater along with intelligence operations program Able Danger has formed a new spy firm called Jellyfish Intelligence.

Xe Services LLC and Able Danger claim the Jellyfish Intelligence is a “law-abiding” firm, which aims to sell intelligence to wealthy corporations, a Press TV correspondent reported.

“We realize that this is an extremely transitory time. Nothing is predictable. What we have set out to do is to make the key intelligence available to companies who just like battlefield commanders, have to maintain successful operations,” Chief Legal Officer of Jellyfish Intelligence, Kathleen Robertson said during a press conference held on discussing the new agency’s mission.

Blackwater changed its name to Xe after the contractor’s reputation was tarnished following a series of scandals, most notably the 2007 murder of dozens of Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked shooting spree.

“Because of the backgrounds of some of the individuals, someone might want to make it into a controversy, but we have no interest in the business of guns, gates, and guards,” Jellyfish Intelligence CEO, Keith Mahoney told Press TV.

Some intelligence analysts have stressed their opposition to such privatizations, arguing that it would endanger the country’s national security, as top-security information will become more accessible.

Source: PressTV.

Blackwater to form secret army in UAE

Sun May 15, 2011

The founder of the notorious security company Blackwater is reportedly hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to form a secret mercenary army in the UAE.

The billionaire Erik Prince, who relocated to the UAE in 2010 in the wake of mounting legal problems in the United States, received over USD 500 million to organize an 800-member battalion of foreign troops in the Persian Gulf state, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Posing as construction workers, dozens of Colombian men entered the UAE last November and were stationed in an Emirati base called Zayed Military City.

The Colombians, along with South African and other foreign troops, are recruited and trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion, the daily said.

Documents show the force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks, and quell possible uprisings across the state, it added.

The UAE is a close ally of the US and officials in the Obama administration said that Washington was informed about the program.

“The [Persian] Gulf countries and the UAE in particular, don’t have a lot of military experience. It would make sense if they looked outside their borders for help,” said one Obama administration official.

“They might want to show that they are not to be messed with.”

However, legal experts doubt that the project has the US official blessing as the company is already enmeshed with a series of scandals related to operations in Iraq, Afghanistan.

Blackwater, which was later renamed Xe Services, came to spotlight after its forces killed over a dozen civilians and injured many more in Iraq’s capital Baghdad in 2007.

Blackwater mercenaries were hated by the Iraqis as they were able to kill many civilians with impunity.

Source: PressTV.

Several injured in Jordan Nakba protest

Mon May 16, 2011

A number of people have been reportedly injured as Jordanian police clashed with demonstrators trying to approach Jordan’s border with the West Bank.

Police used batons and fired tear gas to disperse the protesters, some of whom tried to pick up the canisters and hurl them back towards the police. In the ensuing clashes, a number of people were injured, AP reported.

The protests were held on Sunday in solidarity with the Palestinians to mark the anniversary of the 1948 occupation of Palestine by Israeli forces.

Palestinians refer to May 15, 1948, as the “Nakba” or catastrophe in British-mandate Palestine.

More than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and other countries in the world.

Thousands of Jordanian protesters rallied to show support for Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes forcefully taken by Israeli occupying regime back in 1948.

Waving Palestinian flags, protesters gathered at the Al-Karameh border crossing, a few hundred meters from the border, and chanted slogans in favor of the Palestinians.

However, they were barred from reaching the crossing point on the Jordan River for a second day in a row.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops clashed with Arab protesters along three border crossings on Sunday leaving at least 15 people dead and dozens more wounded, reports say.

Source: PressTV.

Anti-Israel Arab protests turning point in Mideast conflict: analysts

by Emad Drimly, Saud Abu Ramadan

GAZA, May 15 (Xinhua) — Palestinian politicians and analysts said on Sunday that the Palestinian and Arab protests, rallies and demonstrations against Israel, which marked 63 years for the Nakba Day, or Catastrophe, might be a turning point in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Saeb Erekat, former chief negotiator and a member of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) told Xinhua that the Palestinians and the Arabs “reiterated in one united voice that there are no concessions over the stable legitimate rights despite the various Israeli crimes and brutal practices.”

“Israel insisted today on its policy that it only deals with the Palestinian cause by gunfire and bullets,” said Erekat, adding “the Palestinian cause has to be supported by the peaceful movement inside and outside Palestine in order to achieve the goals of this cause.”

He also condemned what he termed as “the barbarian Israeli policy practiced against the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and inside Israel as well as on the Syrian and Lebanese borders.” These movements were made to mark 63th anniversary for Nakba.

Meanwhile, Islamic Hamas movement said that today’s events in the Palestinian territories and at the borders with Israel which coincided with marking the Nakba Day “a turning point in the history of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs.”

“Today’s demonstrations an evidence that the Palestinian people want to end the occupation and achieve their return back home. This right is a stable right that will never be dropped whatever the price is,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas held Israel responsible for killing dozens of Arabs and Palestinians. Abu Zuhri called for organizing the largest campaign of condemnation to the Israeli crimes “which were committed against innocent civilians during peaceful protests.”

“The Nakba anniversary is bringing for us significant positive changes in the Palestinian territories and in the Arab region,” said Abu Zuhri, adding that “the international isolation of the Zionist entity is growing and we have to invest all the factors of powers to achieve our goals and dreams.”

Taher al-Nouno, spokesman of Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip said in a press statement that the massive protests and demonstrations “are evidence that the Allah’s (God) promise of victory and return to our holy sites and to our homes are imminent. ”

“As we condemn the Zionist attacks on armless demonstrators, we consider the new Israeli crimes evidence that Israel is confused and concerned over any popular movement carried out by our people, ” said al-Nouno, adding “Israel is really unable to confront such huge protests.”

Meanwhile, Hani al-Masri, a Ramallah-based political activist told Xinhua that today’s protests, mainly on the borders between Israel and the Arab countries “have strategic dimensions in the conflict between Israel and the Arabs because it coincided with the new Arab revolutions.”

“Today’s events are just an introduction in the popular movements that aim at pressuring on Israel in the nearest future in case a peaceful settlement is not achieved in the region with Israel,” said al-Masri, adding “today’s events are extension to the revolutions in the Arab countries.”

The Israeli-Palestinian direct peace talks had stopped in October last year, just four months after it was launched in Washington. The talks were suspended after Israel refused to extend a moratorium over freezing settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignores the principle of establishing an independent Palestinian state beside the state of Israel. Netanyahu gives priority to the expansion of settlement on the expense of reaching any peaceful solution with the Palestinians.

A Palestinian was killed and more than 80 wounded on Sunday in the Gaza Strip by Israeli troops’ fire during protests and rallies the Palestinians organized all over the Palestinian territories to mark 63 years for the Nakba, or the day Israel was created in the United Nations.

Since the creation of the state of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes in their towns and villages, have been living in 52 refugee camps in the Palestinian territories, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Source: Xinhua.

Scientists plan to sail robot boat on methane lake of Saturn’s moon Titan

The Observer, Sunday 15 May 2011
Robin McKie, Science Editor

Open University team led by Professor John Zarnecki hopes Nasa will back project to explore chances of life beneath Titan’s surface.

Space engineers are planning to build the first extraterrestrial boat. They want to launch the craft towards Titan – Saturn’s largest moon – and parachute it on to the Ligeia Mare, a sea of methane and ethane on its surface.

The robot ship would sail around this extraterrestrial sea for several months, exploring its coastline and measuring the winds and waves that sweep its surface. “Waves on Titan’s seas will be far larger, but much slower, than on earthly oceans, according to our calculations,” said Professor John Zarnecki, of the Open University. “That suggests Titan is the best spot in the solar system for surfing. The only trouble is that the temperature there is -180C (-290F). Either way you look at it, it is clear the place is pretty cool.”

The mission to Titan – the only moon in the solar system with a thick atmosphere, of nitrogen and methane – would be the first exploration of a sea beyond Earth and could provide evidence about the possible existence of complex organic chemicals, the precursors of life.

“Methane is a gas on Earth, but because Titan is so cold it acts as a liquid there,” added Zarnecki, who is working with US scientists on the construction of the Titan boat probe. “It exists as a liquid, a gas and a solid, just like water on Earth, depending on conditions in a particular area. Methane also cycles between Titan’s surface and its atmosphere, just as water does on Earth. It drives the weather there.”

Ultraviolet radiation from the Sun reacts with this methane, causing it to form complex hydrocarbons that slowly fall back to the surface. In short, it rains petrochemicals on Titan. Rivers of the stuff wash down valleys and form lakes and seas. Over the past seven years, these petrochemical seas have been mapped by US robot spaceship Cassini. In addition, Cassini deployed a smaller probe, called Huygens – built by the European Space Agency – which landed on Titan in 2005. Many of the instruments for that craft were built by Zarnecki and his Open University team. This experience led to a request for them to join the Titan Mare Explorer, or TiME, project that is being funded by NASA and led by Ellen Stofan, a researcher with the science organization Proxemy Research.

According to her plans, the TiME probe would be fired at Titan on a billion-mile journey across the solar system. Once it enters the moon’s thick atmosphere the craft would parachute down towards the surface and then drop into the 300-mile-wide Ligeia Mare. It would then spend several months afloat on an oily sea taking measurements of waves, chemicals and other variables.

“The probe’s main instrument will be a mass spectrometer, which will tell us exactly what the lake is made of. However, we also want to do things like depth-sounding,” said Stofan. The instruments would be powered by a small nuclear generator, because Titan is so distant from the Sun that solar panels cannot be used to provide power for detectors or transmitters.

Titan is also thought to have an ocean of water deep underground. Complex organic chemicals, created on its surface, could be seeping down through fissures so that primitive lifeforms could have evolved in relatively warm waters beneath the moon’s surface. Hence scientists’ interest in studying Titan.

The TiME probe was originally selected as one of 28 missions that NASA was considering as future projects. Twenty-five of these candidate missions have now been rejected, and the Titan mission now has only two other competitors for the £300m funding that will be needed for its development and launch. The other two are a seismic monitoring station for Mars and a comet-hopping probe. Detailed plans for all three are now being worked out by scientists, and the winner will be chosen after a review in 2012. In the case of TiME, launch would be in 2016, with the ship arriving seven years later.

“When the proposal for the TiME mission went in, it had a one-in-28 chance of success,” said Zarnecki. “Now NASA have shortlisted it, it has a one-in-three chance – that’s getting serious. I didn’t think I had a chance of returning to Titan in my career. Now that’s all changed.”

Source: The Guardian.

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