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Archive for August, 2011

Egypt releases Iranian diplomat after spying investigation: MENA

CAIRO, May 29 (Xinhua) — Egypt released on Sunday an Iranian diplomat arrested over spying charges after the Foreign Ministry confirmed his diplomatic status, state news agency MENA reported. The Iranian diplomat, identified as Qassem al-Husseini, was released by the Higher State Security Prosecution where he was questioned earlier on Sunday.

Husseini was arrested by Egyptian security authorities a few days ago in Cairo on charges of spying. He worked at the Iranian diplomatic mission in Egypt.

Initial investigation showed that he has been gathering and sending to Tehran the economic, political and military intelligence information of Egypt after the political unrest, in addition to that of other Gulf countries and Yemen, according to MENA.

He was part of a spy network that was trying to recruit agents in Arab Gulf countries, the official Al-Akhbar newspaper reported.

Egypt and Iran have had no normal diplomatic relation since 1979 when Cairo signed the peace treaty with Israel and offered asylum to Iran’s deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

After 30 years of strained ties, Egyptian and Iranian officials voiced their hope for normalization and improving long-frozen relations between the two Islamic countries after the anti- government protests ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year ruling in Egypt.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi met his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi last week on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Indonesia, and discussed the possibility of exchanging ambassadors with Iran.

Source: Xinhua.
Link: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2011-05/29/c_13900107.htm.

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French ex-Minister in Libya, would defend Gaddafi

By Peter Graff
Sun May 29, 2011

(Reuters) – Former French foreign minister Roland Dumas visited Libya as a lawyer to prepare a legal case on behalf of victims of NATO bombing and said he was prepared to defend leader Muammar Gaddafi if he is sent to The Hague.

Dumas, who served as foreign minister under socialist President Francois Mitterrand, said he had seen several civilian victims of NATO bombing in a hospital and had been told by a doctor there that there were as many as 20,000 more.

NATO says it has struck only military targets. Despite repeated promises by Gaddafi’s media officials, Western journalists based in Tripoli have been shown no evidence of large numbers of civilians killed or injured by NATO bombing.

“This is brutal, brutal aggression against a sovereign country,” Dumas told a news conference in a Tripoli luxury hotel on Sunday, attended by people introduced as family members and supporters of relatives of civilian casualties.

“At the moment we have been retained, we have a mandate on behalf of the victims of the military bombardment of NATO, who carried out their military action against civilians with the artificial — very artificial — cover of the United Nations,” Dumas said.

“Following an approach by the government of Libya, we have decided to make this trip to see for ourselves the condition of the victims and the situation,” he said.

“UNMASK THOSE ASSASSINS”

Dumas was accompanied by prominent French defense lawyer Jacques Verges, who said his goal was to “unmask those assassins” responsible for NATO air strikes. Verges said he had wept in hospital upon meeting civilians wounded “solely because they are Libyans.”

Verges — whose clients have included Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie — and Dumas had been among lawyers expected to defend ousted Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, who is being investigated for alleged human rights abuses during the conflict sparked by the disputed 2010 presidential election.

Their names were dropped from the most recent list of Gbagbo’s lawyers.

Dumas was not able to describe the exact nature of the case he intended to launch on behalf of the wounded victims, but told Reuters he would make a more detailed announcement after returning to France and studying the case in more depth.

The Western alliance is leading an air campaign against Libya under a United Nations resolution permitting force to prevent Gaddafi’s forces from killing civilians.

Human rights groups say scores of people were killed by Gaddafi’s forces cracking down on demonstrators before the air strikes began, and hundreds have since died as a result of government troops’ siege of the rebel-held city of Misrata.

Dumas, long an opponent of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said he would be prepared to defend Gaddafi if the Libyan leader were forced to appear before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, although he described such a scenario as unlikely.

“If he asked me, yes, of course. Yes of course. (But) I don’t think it is going to happen,” he told Reuters.

The court’s prosecutor has called for indictments against Gaddafi, one of Gaddafi’s sons and the head of Libyan intelligence, for killing civilians and other offenses.

Libyan officials said Dumas and Verges had offered their services “as volunteers” to represent the civilian victims of NATO bombing. Dumas declined to say whether they planned to accept payment from Gaddafi’s government for their services.

Asked if he had received money from Gaddafi’s government, Dumas told Reuters: “No, no. Nothing for the moment.”

Asked if that implied he would accept money from Gaddafi’s government in the future, he said: “We are working as a lawyer. Like the English lawyer or the American lawyer. Okay?”

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)

Source: Reuters.
Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/29/us-libya-france-dumas-idUSTRE74S2UA20110529.

Libyan opposition’s treasury almost empty

BENGHAZI, Libya, May 29 (Xinhua) — The Libyan opposition’s financial and oil representative said Sunday the rebel is running out of cash to fund its war economy and some friend countries have not realized the urgency of the situation.

Ali Tarhouni, who is in charge of the finance for the opposition’s National Transitional Council, said finding sources of income is really a tough challenge although he believes the opposition would finally win.

“I don’t have any resources. Not a single dinar came in to the treasury on Sunday,” the former economics lecturer at the University of Washington told a press conference, adding “we only exported one shipment (of oil) and got 150 million U.S. dollars for that. So far we’ve spent 408 million dollars on fuel. It’s not a good number.”

He told Xinhua that the top priority of his job now is to help the besieged areas and the refugees in Tunisia. However, the oil export, which was expected to be a major source of income, would not be resumed until the safety of the oil fields is ensured.

In a complaint that many countries that pledged aids actually do not understand the urgency of the situation, Tarhouni said, “we are besieged. People are dying every day. I’m not sure that this simple straight message is even reaching our friends.”

But he singled out Qatar and Kuwait, saying he appreciated the aid from the Gulf friends and is expecting more help from them.

Asked whether the donated money would be used to spent on armament, Tarhouni said the mechanism has safety measures and transparency to make sure the assets would be used to buy fuel, food and medicine, not arms, “although I wish we have the money to buy arms.”

Tarhouni has recently returned to the opposition bastion Benghazi from a trip to Europe and the United States seeking financial aids.

Source: Xinhua.
Link: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2011-05/30/c_13900131.htm.

Shuttle Endeavor prepares to leave space station

By Kerry Sheridan (AFP) – May 29, 2011

WASHINGTON — The US space shuttle Endeavor on Sunday prepared to undock from the International Space Station and jet back to Earth, wrapping up its final journey before entering retirement, NASA said.

Endeavor’s last mission is the penultimate flight for the 30-year US shuttle program, which will end for good after the Atlantis mission to the orbiting research lab in July.

The six-member crew of the Endeavor bid farewell to three astronaut colleagues on board the space station (ISS) and closed the hatches between the shuttle and station at 7:23 am (1123 GMT), NASA said.

The astronauts were to spend the afternoon sleeping in preparation for the late night undocking set for 11:55 pm (0355 GMT), NASA said.

Endeavor’s 16-day mission began with the shuttle’s launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 16 and will conclude when the shuttle lands back on Earth early on June 1.

The team spent a total of 10 days, 23 hours, and 45 minutes at the space station.

During that time, the crew delivered and installed a massive physics experiment, the Alpha-Magnetic Spectrometer-2, that will be left at the space station to scour the universe for clues about dark matter and antimatter.

They also brought up a logistics carrier with spare parts for the orbiting lab and performed some maintenance and installation work during four spacewalks, the last to be done by an American shuttle crew.

A spacewalk is planned during Atlantis’s mission in July but it will be done by space station crew, not astronauts who arrive aboard the US shuttle.

Endeavor is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center at 2:35 am (0635 GMT) on Wednesday, carrying its crew of five US astronauts and Italian Roberto Vittori.

The shuttle commander is Mark Kelly, whose lawmaker wife Gabrielle Giffords is recovering from a bullet wound to the head. The Arizona congresswoman was shot by a lone gunman during a meeting with local voters in January. Six people were killed.

Giffords was granted leave by her rehabilitation doctors to watch the launch from Kennedy Space Center along with other astronaut family members two weeks ago, but is not expected to return for the middle-of-the-night landing.

After the final shuttle missions, the three spacecraft in the flying fleet and the prototype Enterprise will be sent to different museums across the country.

Discovery, the oldest in the group, was the first shuttle to retire after its final journey to the ISS ended in March. Endeavor is the youngest, and flew its first space mission in 1991. STS-134 marks its 25th and final mission.

Endeavor is the sixth US space shuttle ever built, and was commissioned after the Challenger exploded in 1986.

The other original members of the fleet include Enterprise, a test model that never flew in space, and Columbia which disintegrated on its return to Earth in 2003.

A total of 14 astronauts were killed in the Columbia and Challenger disasters.

With the US shuttle program closing, the world’s astronauts will rely on Russia’s space capsules for transit to the ISS at a cost of $51 million per seat until a new American spacecraft can be built by private enterprise, possibly by 2015.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

Bahrain renames former Pearl Roundabout

Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief
May 29, 2011

Al Farooq Junction is new name for area that used to be the location for the 300-foot monument in Bahrain.

Manama: Bahrain has renamed the area of the former Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Roundabout, popularly known as the Pearl Roundabout, as the Al Farooq Junction.

The 300-foot monument, six swords representing the six GCC countries holding a pearl at the top, erected in 1982 in tribute to the GCC as Bahrain hosted, for the first time, the annual Gulf summit, was turned into the epicenter of demonstrations and protests in February and March.

However, the authorities on March 18 demolished the monument and removed the huge roundabout, replacing it with a crisscross of roads where the movement of vehicles is to be controlled by traffic lights.

In comments about the demolition of the roundabout, Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s foreign minister, said that the monument had been brought down because “it was a bad memory.”

“We are not waging war, we are restoring law and order,” Shaikh Khalid said.

The roundabout was used initially as a symbol of Manama, the capital, but was superseded in 2008 by the Bahrain World Trade Center, the first skyscraper in the world to integrate wind turbines into its design.

Source: Gulf News.
Link: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/bahrain/bahrain-renames-former-pearl-roundabout-1.814302.

Malaysia’s new rare earth plant provokes radiation fears

By Julia Yeow
May 29, 2011

Kuala Lumpur – In the quiet town of Gebeng in Malaysia’s central state of Pahang, a new rare earth plant has evoked fears of radiation contamination as residents desperately seek to stop the construction of the world’s largest such refinery.

The plant is expected to meet up to 30 per cent of the world’s demand for rare earths outside China.

Rare earth elements, a group of 15 metals, are used in electronic devices for the defense, alternative energy and communications industries.

The 700-million-ringgit (233 million dollars) refinery is being constructed by Australia’s Lynas Corp, which plans to ship rare earth ore mined from Western Australia’s Mount Weld to the Gebeng plant by September.

News of negotiations between the Malaysian government and Lynas began surfacing in 2008, but it was only earlier this year that public outcry peaked after it was discovered that construction had already begun on the 20-hectare plant.

The main concern is the possibility of contamination from low-level radioactive waste from the rare earth refining process.

Gebeng is an industrial town of 10,000 people located 265 kilometers from Pahang’s capital of Kuantan.

While the Malaysian government and Lynas have stressed that the facility will have state-of-the-art technology for contamination control, opponents claim crucial questions remain unanswered especially regarding the safe disposal of radioactive waste.

‘We have read the facts, we know about the risks, and we have simply decided that this is not what the people of Pahang want in our backyards,’ said Jonathan Wong, the spokesman for the Stop Lynas citizen’s movement.

‘Lynas itself has not seen the people, they have not even come up with a solid plan to manage the waste, and they expect us to just accept that they know best,’ Wong told the German Press Agency dpa.

Those opposing the Gebeng plant have pointed to the Asian Rare Earth plant built in the northern state of Perak in the 1980s by Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp as an example of the refinery being a ‘disaster in the making.’

That facility was blamed for the unusually high number of birth defects and leukemia cases among the 11,000-strong population living nearby. It ceased operation in 1992 after protests from locals and environmentalists.

The owners were never sued and no compensation has been paid to the plant’s alleged victims.

Almost a decade later, Mitsubishi is still cleaning up the radioactive waste from the area in a project estimated to cost at least 300 million ringgit.

Lynas has been quick to distance itself from that disaster by stating that different ores of lower radioactivity would be used in Gebeng, but critics complained of the apparent lack of transparency in the mining company’s dealings with Malaysian authorities.

‘There has been no full public disclosure of this proposed project,’ said SM Mohamed Idris, president of the Friends of Nature environmental group.

‘A detailed environmental impact assessment was not required due to a loophole in our law,’ he said.

The government is keen to continue with the Lynas project as the refinery is expected to generate up to 5 billion ringgit (1.67 billion dollars) a year in exports as well as hundreds of jobs.

Protesters insist that radiation contamination is too high a price to pay for any economic gain.

‘If the government failed to regulate the Asian Rare Earth plant, what makes us believe it will be different now?’ said Wong.

‘They are asking us to take a gamble with our lives and those of our children.’

Authorities eager to allay public fears said last month that the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was assessing the threat of contamination from the planned plant.

The government assured the public it would only approve the operation based on the findings of the agency’s nine-member panel scheduled to visit the proposed site on Sunday for six days.

But the move has failed to win over the critics, who claim that officials from the nuclear watchdog would be pro-nuclear and therefore fail to produce a fair assessment of the Lynas plant.

Calls for local and environmental groups to be represented in the monitoring team have also gone unheeded, critics said.

‘While it is agreed that IAEA scientists are experts in many fields, we believe their findings will be a biased report and on that ground, we reject it,’ Wong said.

‘Whatever their findings, our final agenda – which is our ultimate goal – is to stop Lynas.’

Source: Monsters and Critics.
Link: http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/business/news/article_1642157.php/Malaysia-s-new-rare-earth-plant-provokes-radiation-fears.

Al-Qaida declares Yemen’s southern city as capital of its “Islamic Emirate”: residents

SANAA, May 28 (Xinhua) — The Yemen-based al-Qaida wing on Saturday declared the provincial capital city of southern Abyan province as the capital city of its “Islamic Emirate” in a statement the group read in front of local residents.

The al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has almost taken over all parts of Abyan province after it seized the province capital city of Zinjibar on Friday, according to the residents.

A local government official told Xinhua that the “fighters of AQAP took over the whole city of Zinjibar on Friday and on Saturday the group seized 30 police cars after two police camps surrendered to AQAP.”

“They (AQAP) transported the 30 police cars to the neighbor city of Jaar, which is believed to be the stronghold of the group, ” he added, requesting anonymity.

Meanwhile, a doctor of al-Razi Hospital in Jaar told Xinhua that the death toll among al-Qaida militants from the Friday’s clashes with government forces rose to four as dozens of the militants were still suffering serious injuries.

Residents from several cities of Abyan said blackouts have hit the majority part of the province since earlier Friday.

An aid to the Abyan governor said the governor was not available to reach for security reasons.

Late on Friday, the AQAP militants gunned down five Yemeni policemen, including a high-ranking officer, hours after they took over several government buildings and two state-run banks in Abyan, according to a local security official.

Since the eruption of the four-month-long anti-government protests aimed at ousting Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, the AQAP has launched sporadic heavy attacks on Zinjibar.

Source: Xinhua.
Link: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2011-05/28/c_13899125.htm.

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