This is an Open Thread:
so you look into the land and it will tell you a story
story ’bout a journey ended long ago
if you listen to the motion of the wind in the mountains
maybe you can hear them talking like I do
White House ties troop levels to Iraqi elections
A senior official says withdrawals must stop this summer to ensure security at the polls. Doubts are also cast on Army plans to shorten combat tours.
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration believes a halt in troop reductions in Iraq after July is needed in part to ensure a large enough force is present to provide security for local elections, a senior administration official said Friday.
By tying troop levels to Iraq’s provincial elections, officials in effect established a new milestone to guide U.S. policy during President Bush’s last months in office. And by linking them to the elections, the administration is increasing pressure on the Iraqis to actually hold the balloting.
Iraq’s presidency council, consisting of three top officials, vetoed legislation this week that set plans for the provincial elections, which the U.S. regards as one of the benchmarks of political progress in Iraq.
White House blocks inquiry into construction of $736m embassy in Iraq
The Bush administration is blocking an inquiry into the delay-plagued construction of the $736m US embassy in Baghdad, a senior Democrat in Congress said today.
Henry Waxman, who is chairman of the oversight committee in the House of Representatives, asked US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice today to explain why her department certified the embassy as “substantially completed” in December despite inspections that reveal continued deficiencies in the facility’s water, fire alarm and kitchen systems.
The Baghdad embassy, which stands to become the largest US diplomatic facility in the world, had an original opening date of mid-2007. But the project stalled amid ballooning cost estimates as well as charges of corruption and shoddy work by the private contracting company overseeing the project.
Obama Walks a Difficult Path as He Courts Jewish Voters
As he battles for the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama is trying to strengthen his support among Jewish voters and in doing so, is navigating one of the more treacherous paths of Democratic politics.
The challenge of meeting the concerns of the Jewish electorate, a cornerstone of the Democratic base, was evident Tuesday when Mr. Obama was asked at the Democratic debate in Cleveland about Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who has endorsed him.
Mr. Obama called Mr. Farrakhan an anti-Semite and denounced his support, but was pressed to go further by his rival, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, an experienced hand at Democratic politics who herself has been on the defensive with Jewish voters after an encounter in 2000 with Suha Arafat, the wife of the Palestinian leader.
Airbus, Northrop Grumman win Air Force tanker contract
WASHINGTON – A European aerospace consortium and the Northrop Grumman Corp. Friday won a $30 billion to $40 billion contract to begin replacing the Air Force’s aging fleet of aerial tankers.
The decision to use an airplane built in Europe was a stunning setback for The Boeing Co. and it ignited an instant firestorm on Capitol Hill. Chicago-based Boeing, which has built the Air Force’s tankers for the past half-century, gave no indication whether it would appeal the award but said it was exploring its options.
New Israeli raids on Gaza kill 18
Israeli forces have carried out further attacks on the Gaza Strip, killing at least 18 Palestinians.
Medical staff said two children aged nine and 10 were among the dead, who included Palestinian militants.
There was also a clash between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli forces inside Gaza, after tanks entered three areas in the north of the territory.
The raids came as Israel said it might launch a full-scale attack on Gaza in response to militant rocket attacks.
Turkey urges PKK to end struggle
Turkey’s prime minister has called on Kurdish PKK rebels to lay down their arms and embrace democracy.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments came within hours of an announcement that Turkish forces had returned from an offensive against rebels in north Iraq.
“One cannot reach anywhere by the way of terror,” he said in a TV address. “Our democracy is mature enough to embrace all kinds of differences.”
Kremlin accused of fixing presidential poll
· State workers ordered to vote for Putin’s protege
· Ballot boxes ‘to be stuffed’ after polls close tomorrow
The Kremlin is planning to falsify the results of tomorrow’s presidential election by compelling millions of public-sector workers to vote and by fraudulently boosting the official turnout, the Guardian has been told by independent sources.
Governors, regional officials and even headteachers have been instructed to deliver a landslide majority for Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s first deputy prime minister, whom President Vladimir Putin has endorsed as his successor.
Officials have been told they need to secure a 68-70% turnout in this weekend’s poll, with about 72% voting for Medvedev. Independent analysts believe the real turnout will be much lower, with 25-50% of the electorate taking part.
The Kremlin is planning to bridge the gap through widespread fraud, diplomats and other independent sources have told the Guardian. Local election officials are preparing to stuff ballot boxes once polls have closed, they believe, with regional officials giving inflated tallies to Russia’s central election commission.
Prince Harry withdrawn from Afghanistan after cover is blown
By Terri Judd and Kim Sengupta in Musa Qala, Helmand
Saturday, 1 March 2008
Prince Harry’s spell of “normal life” has come to an abrupt end, with the Ministry of Defence confirming yesterday that he was being withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately. Defence staff and Army chiefs said they had little choice but to end his tour in Helmand early, after foreign media broke a news blackout and revealed that Harry had been serving in the province since before Christmas.
The news will come as a blow to the 23-year-old, who considered resigning his commission last year after being told that he would not be deployed to Iraq for fear that he and those he served with would become a special target for insurgents.
Double jeopardy for Japanese ‘killer’
An unsolved murder mystery, a 20-year-old arrest warrant and a potentially calamitous slip on the chief suspect’s blog threaten to plunge the Japanese criminal justice system into crisis.
The surprise arrest in Saipan of Kazuyoshi Miura, a 60-year-old clothes importer, could, lawyers say, expose a string of failures that stretch from Japan’s blunder-prone police to the Supreme Court.
Mr Miura and his 28-year-old wife, Kazumi, were shot in a Los Angeles car park in November 1981. He was hit in the right leg, while she was shot in the head and died in a Japanese hospital a year later.
Pakistan court acquits Sharif brother
LAHORE, Pakistan – A Pakistani court on Saturday acquitted the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a murder case after the families of the dead suddenly withdrew their accusations, lawyers said.
The surprising turnaround came after the former premier’s party ended up second in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections. It is expected to form a ruling coalition with slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. It is also expected to form the government in the eastern province of Punjab after winning provincial assembly elections.
Shahbaz Sharif was the chief minister, or top elected official, of Punjab when five men were killed in what their families said were fake shootouts with the police in 1998.
More students say sorry for demeaning video
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) — Two more white students who were seen in a video allegedly mocking black housekeepers and serving them stew seemingly laced with urine apologized Friday, according to their lawye
Two other former students apologized late Thursday.
The University of Free State identified the last two students, who are no longer at the school, as Danie Grobler and Johnny Roberts.
In a brief statement released by attorney Nico Naude, Grobler and Roberts said they concurred with the apology made Thursday by Roelof Malherbe and Schalk van der Merwe.
There was no other information released Friday by Grobler and Roberts.
Naude represents all four men responsible for the video.
The video sparked an uproar on the campus and among human rights groups in South Africa.
In Kenya, U.S. Added Action to Talk of Democracy
WASHINGTON – Within hours of Thursday’s power-sharing deal between Kenya’s rival leaders, the State Department issued a rare statement from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, praising the pact and citing the United States for providing “intensive support” to bring it about.
Indeed, while Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, spent weeks in Kenya negotiating the agreement, many foreign policy experts also credit the Bush administration for putting action behind its talk of the need for democracy in Africa.
In Kenya, that meant pressing President Mwai Kibaki, whose supporters, many policy experts say, were most to blame for December’s disastrous elections and the ensuing fallout.
A Lawmaker Whose Nation Dislikes Her Friends
THOSE in search of a glimpse of the Casablancaesque feel of this city might go to the lobby of the Hotel Meliá these days. Jet-lagged Iranians arrive on the flight from Tehran. Commandos in red berets from the elite presidential guard stand by the piano. Businessmen from Belarus discuss deals over glasses of whiskey.
And of course, Piedad Córdoba, the Colombian senator at the center of negotiations here with Colombia’s largest rebel group, livens up this scene when she is in town. In neighboring Colombia, and now here in Venezuela, few politicians generate as much emotion or controversy.
Ms. Córdoba dines with guerrillas and dons their berets for photos. Shuttling between Bogotá and Caracas, she dances at salsa spots here like El Maní es Así. She wears turbans evoking her African roots, a rare distinction in a country like Colombia where politicians are often expected to be light-skinned men from the moneyed classes.