Thursday, November 04, 2004

Spotted in Kashmir?

Rumors that bin Laden has been spotted in Kashmir:

The latest rumour emerged via India's Star Television, which has been carrying a report saying a 10-car convoy believed to be carrying bin Laden was spotted in eastern Pakistan by an Indian reconnaissance plane.

It sourced the information to intelligence analyst and former US Justice Department Prosecutor John Loftus, who was speaking on Star's sister channel America's Fox News.

Loftus said India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, had tipped off the FBI after the pilot of the surveillance aircraft reported the convoy.

The chances of an Indian pilot flying over the territory of arch-foe and neighbour Pakistan are slim. But the rumour has nevertheless gained traction.

Additional surveillance aircraft were called in and identified the al Qaeda leader on the move with a 10-vehicle convoy of black Japanese minivans, it said. Four of the vehicles turned up again on Oct. 22 heading east towards the China border.

The report echoed a similar claim made by Pakistani Urdu-language newspaper Khabrain last month, suggesting bin Laden could have taken refuge in northern Kashmir, in the barren mountains straddling the India-Pakistan-China frontier.

Indian officials have not commented and Indian defence analysts voiced doubts about the veracity of such reports.

Pakistan military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan scoffed at the suggestion, which he termed media speculation. "There's nothing to my knowledge on this -- it sounds absurd."

Diplomats say no evidence exists to suggest bin Laden's capture is imminent -- or that he is anywhere other than Afghanistan or the lawless tribal areas inside the Pakistani border -- despite a report in the latest edition of Newsweek that US intelligence agents recently thought they were on the verge of a breakthrough.

"It looked like we were really close, maybe one or two people away," it quoted one official as saying. "There was a lot of optimism around here."

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

State Upset with Chinese Deputy PM

The State Department is upset with China's Deputy Prime Minister and has spoken with the Chinese Ambassador in Washington:

The State Department yesterday summoned Chinese Ambassador Yang Jiechi to complain about comments by one of China's elder statesman calling U.S. foreign policy "arrogant."

The remarks, attributed to former Deputy Prime Minister Qian Qichen, prompted the State Department to call Mr. Yang to a meeting with James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

The meeting, however, failed to clarify what Mr. Qian said and how much his remarks reflected the views of the Beijing government, officials said.

Mr. Kelly "expressed concern, disappointment and puzzlement" over the comments, which were reported Monday in the English-language China Daily, a State Department official said.

Mr. Qian, who is also a former foreign minister, blamed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq for increasing the number of terrorist attacks, and accused an "arrogant" United States of trying to "rule the world."

"The philosophy of the 'Bush Doctrine' is in essence force," he was quoted as saying. "It advocates the United States should rule over the whole world with overwhelming force, military force in particular."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the article should not have appeared on the eve of yesterday's presidential election and issued an opaque statement.

"Qian Qichen did not accept any interviews from China Daily or other Chinese media nor did he write any articles for China Daily," spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said.

But neither he nor any other officials, including those at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, denied the authenticity and substance of Mr. Qian's remarks.

In fact, Miss Zhang spoke yesterday against unilateralism, albeit in general terms.

"It is not enough to rely on one or two countries to resolve all kinds of challenges and crisis," she told reporters in Beijing.

China, as in most countries, has refrained from making comments that could be interpreted as taking sides in the U.S. election.

But U.S. officials expressed doubt that Mr. Qian's remarks were a coincidence. They noted that there is no free press in China, and the article in question hardly could have slipped past the censors.

Monday, November 01, 2004

An American soldier in a burqa

An American soldier in a burqa sparks a suicide-bomb panic in Kabul:

A female American soldier wearing a burqa over an ammunitions belt on a walk through a ladies-only bazaar in Kabul unwittingly sparked a security scare yesterday, when Afghan police mistook her for a potential suicide bomber.

“A woman entered the Women’s Garden and the security forces got suspicious because she was wearing an ammunitions belt under her burqa,” the capital’s police chief, General Baba Jan, said.
“After she was stopped and searched she was found with weapons.

Then she was identified as an American soldier working for the coalition forces.” Rumours flew through the Afghan capital, already jittery after the abduction of three UN workers and a suicide bomb attack last week, that a suicide bomber had been thwarted in the Women’s Garden, a cosmetics and lingerie bazaar set up in a city park for women only.

Peacekeepers from the International Security Assistance Force sent a team to investigate the reports.

“ISAF are on the site and are investigating a possible threat of a suicide bomber,” a spokesman for the multinational force said earlier yesterday.

Peacekeepers and Afghan police sealed all roads leading to the park, as security forces searched the woman. She was later escorted by police out of the park with a burqa, an all-enveloping garment worn by most Afghan women, still over her military uniform.

Foreigners in Kabul have been advised to keep a low profile and restrict their movements as they become increasingly targeted.

“After security incidents involving foreigners the American lady, who only recently arrived in Afghanistan, thought that by wearing a burqa, with her ammunition belt and uniform underneath, she would be safe to go anywhere she wants,” Jan said.

“She acknowledged that she had made a mistake using a burqa to get into the women’s garden. She wanted to go to the women’s market dressed in the traditional Afghan way and see the shops and buy things.” A spokesman for the US-led coalition said he was unaware of the incident.

“I don’t have any information on that,” US Major Mark McCann said.

"Why not be friendly to Syria?"

"Syria rejects image as terrorist hotbed and calls for US friendship"

To the European cultural tourists who flock here, the place seems an oasis of calm and tolerance - certainly not a hotbed of terrorist sympathisers. Yet this, much to the annoyance of the Syrian authorities, is how they feel they are being portrayed.

America has repeatedly warned Syria for harbouring Palestinian terror groups and for failing to stop fundamentalist fighters from crossing the border with Iraq. Earlier last year it backed up its words with economic sanctions, and has told Syria it will remain under intense scrutiny.

Western diplomats give Syria some credit for tightening up frontier controls and co-operating with efforts to trace millions of dollars exported by Saddam Hussein. But United States officials stress that pressure will be maintained, whoever wins the presidential election. "They've been told that any president is going to be tough on terrorism and those who harbour terrorists," said one.

Such admonishments irk the government. "We don't take orders from outside," said Mahdi Daklallah, the Syrian information minister.

Syria also feels it is blamed for a problem of America's making. "They want to make the world think that the problem is on our border when the problem is in Iraq and what they are doing there," said Bouthaina Shaaban, minister for expatriates.

The country is in the middle of a reform process - albeit slow - for which it feel it gets insufficient credit. "Why not be friendly to Syria?" asked Dr Shaaban. "After all this is one of the few parts of the region where people live together in harmony."

European envoys say that under 39-year-old Bashar Assad, who took over as president from his father Hafez in 2000, the political atmosphere has lightened. There has been a loosening of the state's control of the media. Court proceedings are more visible and foreign diplomats have been allowed to attend hearings.

"There is a genuine feeling that it's becoming less of a police state," said one.

"There is less fear of the mukhabarat [state security] and people are not looking over their shoulders so much. But it's a change in the atmosphere rather than of the institutions."

The structures that sustained the authority of the old regime may be weakened next year when the ruling Ba'ath party holds a special congress that is expected to result in it abandoning the leading role granted it in the constitution.

And for all the prickliness felt in Damascus towards Washington, there is an acceptance that America has to be accommodated. The authorities say they have arrested several hundred fundamentalists trying to make their way into Iraq and have earned the praise of Colin Powell. Palestinian Hamas leaders exiled in Damascus are believed to have been told not to promote any operations that might provoke Israeli retaliation.

Ordinary Syrians emphasise that they like America. Many have family in the United States.

SK fires on NK naval boat

South Korea fires on a North Korean naval boat:

South Korea says its patrol boats fired on North Korean naval vessels after they crossed a disputed maritime border.

In the latest incident along the tense frontier, the South Korean navy says its ships fired several warning shots after three boats from the North crossed the Northern Limit Line.

South Korean defense officials say the North Korean navy vessels did not respond to radio warnings to back off. They say the North's boats retreated after nearly an hour without firing a shot in return.

South Korean officials say there were about 80 Chinese fishing boats in the area at the time.

Bilal Hiyari found guilty

Bilal Hiyari, a "Jordanian businessman," has been found guilty in Jordan for "raising funds to help militant leader Abu Musab Zarqawi carry out assaults on U.S. forces in Iraq."

This nation's military court convicted a Jordanian businessman of raising funds to help militant leader Abu Musab Zarqawi carry out assaults on U.S. forces in Iraq, but acquitted him of conspiring in the actual attacks.

Bilal Hiyari, 34, was sentenced to six months in prison. As Chief Judge Fawaz Buqour read the sentence, Hiyari stood silently in a navy blue prison uniform.

"You are acquitted of conspiring to carry out terror attacks because specific details of the accusation could not be substantiated with hard evidence," Buqour told the defendant.

"Thank you," Hiyari responded.

Military prosecutors accused Hiyari of having collected unspecified amounts of money for attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and terrorist activities in Jordan planned by Zarqawi. The Jordanian-born militant leader last month announced his group's allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

Viktor Yushchenko vs Viktor Yanukovich

The recent election in the Ukraine should lead to a run off between the pro-Russia candidate and the pro-Western candidate. Also, there are report of voter fraud harming the pro-Western candidate.

Partial official results in Ukraine's bitterly fought presidential election Sunday gave Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich the lead, but he appeared headed for a runoff with a pro-West opposition leader.

With about 81% of voting districts counted, official results showed Yanukovich with about 42% of the votes. The prime minister has called for stronger ties with Moscow.

Viktor Yushchenko, regarded as a pro-Western democrat and free-market reformer, was second with 37% in a field of 24 candidates.

But high-profile exit polls — financed in part by the U.S. Embassy and other Western diplomatic missions and conducted by four of Ukraine's most respected polling companies — put Yushchenko in first place, as did a vote count conducted by his campaign observers.

Yushchenko rushed to claim victory.

"The democratic forces have won in Ukraine," Yushchenko told journalists and supporters early today.

"I'd like to thank the Ukrainian voters…. I thank you for this victory which we have today in Ukraine. It's a matter of great importance. We have been waiting for it for many years, and tens of millions of Ukrainians have been waiting for it."

Yushchenko said the vote count conducted by his supporters showed him with 50% to Yanukovich's 28%, with 31% of voting stations tabulated.

One of the exit polls, conducted with a secret ballot, showed Yushchenko with 45% and Yanukovich with 37%. The other, conducted through interviews, showed Yushchenko with 43% and Yanukovich with 39%. Many foreign observers and Yushchenko supporters were looking at exit poll data to evaluate the credibility of the official count.

If no one wins more than 50% of the vote, the two top finishers will face each other in a Nov. 21 runoff.

The winner will succeed President Leonid D. Kuchma, who has been in power for 10 years. Kuchma's election to a second term in 1999 was criticized by Western human rights groups for violating standards of fairness, as was Ukraine's 2002 parliamentary election.

For 13 troubled years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, this nation of 48 million has been torn between a desire for full acceptance by the West and a centuries-long tradition of integration with Russia.

Yushchenko has indicated that, as president, he would push the country toward warmer ties with Western Europe and the United States, whereas Yanukovich has pledged to make Russian a second official language and boost ties with Moscow.

Yushchenko supporters scheduled a rally today to back their candidate and demand a fair vote count.

"We shall not surrender our victory to anyone," Yushchenko told reporters after voting at a polling station in Kiev, warning authorities to count votes "honestly and in accordance with the law."

"If this procedure is violated by the authorities, we shall act accordingly," he said.

"We shall not yield to threats. …. God and justice are with us."