Weekend News Digest is an Open Thread
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1 Euro currency turns 10; seen fulfilling promise
By MATT MOORE and GEORGE FREY, AP Business Writers
4 mins ago
|FRANKFURT, Germany – Ten years ago, Europe launched its grand experiment with a shared currency – and watched it plunge in value before recovering.
But as the anniversary approaches of the Jan. 1, 1999, arrival of the euro, economists say the new currency is finally fulfilling its promise as a way to lower borrowing costs, ease trade and tourism, boost growth and strengthen the European community.
And doing it amid a global financial crisis that, for the moment, underlines the safety in numbers that comes from joining one, big currency.
2 Pakistan: Marriott reopens as bomber kills 34
By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 24 mins ago
|ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A suicide bomber pretending to need help with his car killed 34 people in northwest Pakistan on Sunday while the target of another recent attack, the Marriott in Islamabad, partially reopened three months after a brazen truck bombing at the luxury hotel left 54 dead.
The Marriott building was badly damaged by the September blast – blamed on a Pakistani militant group accused of killing U.S journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 – but renovations, a security overhaul and the addition of a giant bombproof wall meant the hotel was ready to welcome guests again, the owner said.
“We have expressed our resolve that we will not bow before the enemies of Pakistan,” said owner Saddaruddin Hashwani.
3 Anger, sadness over fabricated Holocaust story
By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer
1 hr 28 mins ago
|NEW YORK – It’s the latest story that touched, and betrayed, the world.
“Herman Rosenblat and his wife are the most gentle, loving, beautiful people,” literary agent Andrea Hurst said Sunday, anguishing over why she, and so many others, were taken by Rosenblat’s story of love born on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence at a concentration camp.
“I question why I never questioned it. I believed it; it was an incredible, hope-filled story.”
Oprah gets punk’d again.
4 Chicago’s newspapers facing troubled futures
By F.N. D’ALESSIO, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 33 mins ago
|CHICAGO – A little more than a century ago, Chicago boasted 11 daily English-language newspapers.
The fierce competition among them, immortalized in the 1928 play “The Front Page,” even turned bloody at times, and that drive to outdo one another led to 35 Pulitzer Prizes, journalism’s highest honor.
Today, only two major dailies remain in this city of 3 million, and both are in serious trouble from declining circulation, plummeting ad revenue and a new kind of competition that threatens to make newsprint itself obsolete.
5 Presidential runoff vote goes smoothly in Ghana
By FRANCIS KOKUTSE, Associated Press Writer
39 mins ago
|ACCRA, Ghana – Ghana’s presidential runoff vote appeared to go smoothly Sunday, observers and analysts said, even though the West African nation’s ruling party and opposition traded allegations of rigging.
Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling party faced opposition candidate John Atta Mills, whose campaign maintains that the country’s economic growth has not been felt in people’s wallets.
“On the whole, the election has been peaceful, with just some queues at some of the polling stations too long and too slow,” said Kwesi Jonah, a scholar-in-residence at the Institute of Democratic Governance, an independent thinktank.
6 Thailand: Thaksin followers begin 3-day protest
By DENIS D. GRAY, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 31 mins ago
|BANGKOK, Thailand – Thousands of supporters of Thailand’s exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra began converging on Parliament Sunday, vowing to stage demonstrations until the new government holds elections.
But the group said it would not block lawmakers from entering Parliament on Monday, easing fears that the country was in for a repeat of the mass demonstrations that paralyzed the government for months and culminated in an eight-day seizure of the capital’s airports by yellow-clad protesters.
This time, it was Thaksin loyalists instead of his opponents who took to the streets.
7 Tens of thousands mark anniversary of Bhutto death
By ASHRAF KHAN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Dec 27, 8:42 pm ET
|GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH, Pakistan – Wailing and beating their chests, tens of thousands of people paid homage to Benazir Bhutto Saturday on the one-year anniversary of her assassination – an event that dashed U.S. hopes the moderate Muslim politician would regain power and galvanize the campaign against al-Qaida.
The commemoration came amid heightened tensions with India over the Mumbai terror attacks and a Pakistani troop buildup along their shared border, though Pakistan’s leaders used the occasion to call for peace.
“We don’t want to fight, we don’t want to have war, we don’t want to have aggression with our neighbors,” Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a televised speech.
8 Hospitals ill from more bad debt, credit troubles
By LINDA A. JOHNSON, AP Business Writer
Sat Dec 27, 9:31 pm ET
|TRENTON, N.J. – Gainesville’s first community hospital has been on life support since the Shands Healthcare system in northern Florida bought it a dozen years ago.
Now, because of the recession, the plug is being pulled on 80-year-old, money-losing Shands AGH. Next fall, its eight-hospital not-for-profit parent company will shut the 220-bed hospital and shift staff and patients to a newer, bigger teaching hospital nearby as part of an effort to save $65 million over three years across the system.
Like many U.S. hospitals, Shands is being squeezed by tight credit, higher borrowing costs, investment losses and a jump in patients – many recently unemployed or otherwise underinsured – not paying their bills.
9 Analysis: Kennedy’s shine obscures other hopefuls
By MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press Writer
Sat Dec 27, 9:24 pm ET
|ALBANY – Officially, Gov. David Paterson’s main focus is the state’s fiscal crisis, not the decision about whom to appoint if, as expected, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state.
Privately, his advisers say that’s close to true – he’s spending more time on the state’s severe economic woes than on the Senate selection.
Still, while the Democratic governor has said he won’t pick a replacement until after Clinton is confirmed, his time also is taken up talking to top Democrats in New York and Washington about the potential replacements who include Caroline Kennedy.
10 As Taliban nears Kabul, shadow gov’t takes hold
By JASON STRAZIUSO and AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writers
Sat Dec 27, 3:20 pm ET
|WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Two months ago, Mohammad Anwar recalls, the Taliban paraded accused thieves through his village, tarred their faces with oil and threw them in jail.
The public punishment was a clear sign to villagers that the Taliban are now in charge. And the province they took over lies just 30 miles from the Afghan capital of Kabul, right on the main highway.
The Taliban has long operated its own shadow government in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, but its power is now spreading north to the doorstep of Kabul, according to Associated Press interviews with a dozen government officials, analysts, Taliban commanders and Afghan villagers. More than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, the Islamic militia is attempting – at least in name – to reconstitute the government by which it ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
11 Cash-strapped states weigh selling roads, parks
By MARTIGA LOHN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Dec 27, 3:39 pm ET
|ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota is deep in the hole financially, but the state still owns a premier golf resort, a sprawling amateur sports complex, a big airport, a major zoo and land holdings the size of the Central American country of Belize.
Valuables like these are in for a closer look as 44 states cope with deficits.
Like families pawning the silver to get through a tight spot, states such as Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois are thinking of selling or leasing toll roads, parks, lotteries and other assets to raise desperately needed cash.
12 Video captures deaths of 14 Afghan students
By JASON STRAZIUSO and AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
20 mins ago
|KABUL, Afghanistan – A single-file line of school children walked past a military checkpoint Sunday as a bomb-loaded truck veered toward them and exploded, ending the lives of 14 young Afghans in a heartbreaking flash captured by a U.S. military security camera.
The video shows an SUV slowly weaving through sand bag barriers at a military checkpoint just as a line of school children, most wearing white caps, comes into view. They walk along a pathway between the street and a wall, several of them pausing for a few seconds in a group before moving forward again. The vehicle moves toward the security camera while the children walk in the opposite direction, nearly passing the SUV when the footage ends in a fiery blast.
Photos of the bombing’s aftermath showed bloodied text books lying on the ground beside small pairs of shoes. Afghan officials said the kids were attending a final day of class for the year to find out whether they would move up to the next grade.
13 Car bombs in Iraq kill at least 25, wound 64
By CHELSEA J. CARTER, Associated Press Writer
Sat Dec 27, 2:15 pm ET
|BAGHDAD – A pair of car bombs killed more than two dozen people on Saturday, shattering a recent period of calm and serving as a grim reminder that recent gains remains fragile as Iraq prepares to take over security responsibilities for much of the country.
The attacks included one in the Iraqi capital – the first major attack in more than a week – that killed at least 22 people and injured 54.
In other violence, a suspected al-Qaida in Iraq fugitive was killed in a gunbattle with police in the western city of Ramadi, police said. He was one of four suspected insurgents who escaped during a jailbreak and ensuing riot at a Ramadi police station on Friday that left six policemen and seven insurgents dead.
14 Polar plunge fundraisers proliferate
By CLARKE CANFIELD, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 8 mins ago
|PORTLAND, Maine – The Lobster Dip was launched 21 years ago as Maine’s first happening where people could raise money for a good cause by stripping down in the freezing winter air and running half-naked into the bone-chilling ocean.
These days, it seems as if everybody’s taking the plunge, and that’s threatening to saturate the fundraising field.
Cold-water charity events have even spread as far as Hawaii, where volunteers last fall plunged into a pool filled with iced-down water to raise money for Special Olympics Hawaii.
15 Bad harvest, low demand threaten Pacific fishermen
By TERENCE CHEA, Associated Press Writer
11 mins ago
|HALF MOON BAY, Calif. – An unusually weak Dungeness crab harvest is compounding the financial woes of West Coast fishermen who were already struggling with depressed consumer demand and the unprecedented collapse of the Pacific chinook salmon fishery.
Commercial fishermen in California, Oregon and Washington are struggling to stay afloat financially. They say the downturn could force fishermen who depend heavily on crab and salmon to leave the shrinking ranks of the region’s fishing fleet.
“With this crab season being slim at best, it’s going to be pretty hard to make it through to the next one,” said 58-year-old Duncan MacLean, a commercial fisherman since 1972. “I would suspect there are going to be lots of people falling by the wayside.”
16 Ask why: States seek efficiency via Japanese way
By JULIE CARR SMYTH, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 20 mins ago
|COLUMBUS, Ohio – The time it takes to get a complaint decided at Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has plummeted from an average of 142 days to 34. Licensing a snowmobile in Iowa involves 90 percent fewer steps today than it did two years ago.
A growing number of cash-strapped states are attacking bulky, frustrating and time-consuming bureaucracies with a Japanese weapon: the notion of kaizen, or continuous improvement.
“It has taken off like wildfire around the country,” said Teresa Hay McMahon, performance results director in Iowa, where kaizen was first used in state government about five years ago.
17 UK’s Brown defiant on economy, sees new U.S. alliance
By Jodie Ginsberg, Reuters
Sun Dec 28, 5:49 am ET
|LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Gordon Brown will use his New Year address to call for a “coalition for change” with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama in a speech intended as a rallying call to Britons.
Brown, who frequently uses the comparison of the Second World war to describe the current global financial crisis, will tell Britons they have the strength of resolve to tackle a recession.
“Today the issues may be different, more complex, more global. And yet the qualities we need to meet them the British people have demonstrated in abundance before,” Brown says in excerpts of the speech released by his office on Sunday.
18 Iraq tries Saddam officials for crushing opponents
Sun Dec 28, 10:51 am ET
|BAGHDAD (Reuters) – An Iraqi court on Sunday opened a new trial against Tareq Aziz and the man known as ‘Chemical Ali,’ right-hand men to Saddam Hussein, on charges of crushing opposition from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party.
Aziz, a former deputy prime minister, and Ali Hassan al-Majeed, dubbed ‘Chemical Ali’ for his role in gassing Saddam’s enemies, were in a Baghdad court charged with quashing political parties under Saddam’s Baath party government.
Majeed has already been sentenced twice to death and is being tried on separate charges over a 1988 gas attack that killed 5,000 of Iraq’s minority Kurds. Disputes within Maliki’s government have so far stalled Majeed’s execution.
19 Tick tock … tick – Extra second added to 2008
By Jim Wolf, Reuters
Sun Dec 28, 8:09 am ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Those eager to put 2008 behind them will have to hold their good-byes for just a moment this New Year’s Eve.
The world’s official timekeepers have added a “leap second” to the last day of the year on Wednesday, to help match clocks to the Earth’s slowing spin on its axis, which takes place at ever-changing rates affected by tides and other factors.
The U.S. Naval Observatory, keeper of the Pentagon’s master clock, said it would add the extra second on Wednesday in coordination with the world’s atomic clocks at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC.
20 Dictator Stalin strong contender for most popular Russian
Sun Dec 28, 6:31 am ET
|MOSCOW (Reuters) – Soviet dictator Josef Stalin remains one of Russia’s most popular historical figures despite the purges that marked his rule, according to the latest results in a nationwide poll.
The Georgian-born Stalin is in third place in the poll of most popular Russians run by Rossiya state television channel and which will close on Sunday night with a final vote.
Millions of Soviet citizens perished from famine during forced collectivization, were executed as “enemies of the people” or died in Gulag hard labor camps during Stalin’s rule which lasted for almost 30 years until his death in 1953.
21 Phoenix opens $1.4 billion light-rail system
By David Schwartz, Reuters
Sat Dec 27, 5:49 pm ET
|PHOENIX (Reuters) – With a hearty “All Aboard,” Phoenix launched a sleek new $1.4 billion light-rail system on Saturday amid uncertainty people will hop out of their cars and onto the train.
About 75 people became the first riders of the 20-mile (32-km) system that snakes through a sprawling desert metropolitan area that includes the cities of Tempe and Mesa.
Planners project building 30 additional miles of light-rail lines by 2025, but it has yet to be determined if the area’s love of cars will trump trains.
22 Bangladesh poll brings hope with a dash of doubt
By Anis Ahmed, Reuters
Sun Dec 28, 3:07 am ET
|DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh holds a parliamentary election on Monday that may be its most-honest ever and will move it back to democracy after two years of emergency rule by an army-backed interim government.
Bangladeshi hopes are high that the vote for the country’s ninth parliament will be credible and put in place a stable civilian government that can attract much-needed aid and investment to the impoverished country of more than 140 million.
But whether the results will be accepted remains a worry due to past post-election experiences and the accusations the two main contenders, former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia, have hurled at one another.
23 Ugandan army says rebels kill 45 people in Congo church
1 hr 30 mins ago
|KAMPALA (AFP) – The Ugandan army on Sunday accused Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels of hacking to death 45 people in a church in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
An aid official speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity confirmed Friday’s massacre, saying the killings took place in a Catholic church in the Doruma area, around 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Sudanese border.
“There are body parts everywhere. Inside the church, the entrance and in the church compound,” the aid official said.
24 Potential collapse of US automakers caps turbulent year
by Mira Oberman, AFP
2 hrs 59 mins ago
|CHICAGO (AFP) – The potential collapse of the Detroit Three carmakers capped a turbulent year in the global automotive industry in which worldwide sales crashed and iconic brands swapped hands.
Cash-strapped General Motors and Chrysler managed to secure a last-minute lifeline of up to 17.4 billion dollars in government-backed loans after weeks of wrangling in Washington.
But analysts warned it could be a just temporary reprieve amid a perfect storm of a global credit crisis, rapidly falling demand for vehicles and a global economic slump.
25 Clock ticks down to new Russia-Ukraine gas conflict
by Olga Nedbayeva, AFP
1 hr 10 mins ago
|MOSCOW (AFP) – Time is running out for Russia and Ukraine to reach a last minute deal by midnight at New Year to prevent a Russian cut of gas deliveries to its neighbour and a possible bitter diplomatic conflict.
Instead of awaiting the traditional champagne toasts for New Year, Russian and Ukrainian gas executives have cancelled their holiday plans as the sides try to strike a deal over Kiev’s two billion dollars of unpaid gas debts.
Russian energy giant Gazprom has warned it will cut off supplies to Ukraine if the debt is not settled, saying that a new contract needs to be signed by January 1 and no deal can be inked without the money being paid.
26 No Honda F1 buyout, says Mexican billionaire
2 hrs 55 mins ago
|MEXICO CITY (AFP) – Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has not bought the Honda Formula One team and is not even in negotiations for the Japanese outfit, a source at the businessman’s industrial and financial empire said on Sunday.
“There is no deal for the Honda team. There is neither agreement nor negotiations,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Honda, with an annual racing budget of around 400 million dollars, pulled out of the Formula One world championship earlier this month and was put up for sale with the Japanese manufacturer struggling in the current global economic slowdown.
27 Guinea’s junta blocks mining contracts in anti-corruption drive
by Laurence Boutreix, AFP
Sat Dec 27, 4:29 pm ET
|CONAKRY (AFP) – Guinea’s new military leader promised to renegotiate mining contracts and crack down on corruption Saturday as he met with local people as part of a charm offensive after leading a bloodless coup.
Guinea, the world’s top bauxite exporter, will renegotiate all mining contracts and freeze gold extraction until further notice, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara said.
“We have blocked the mining sector,” he told around 1,000 representatives of civil society at the junta’s base in Conakry. “There will be a renegotiation of contracts.”
28 German FM in favour of state aid for automakers: report
Sat Dec 27, 3:02 pm ET
|BERLIN (AFP) – Germany’s foreign minister and Social Democrat rival to conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel says he is in favour of state aid for German automakers, a German Sunday newspaper reported.
The German auto industry is “the spinal cord of our economy,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Welt am Sonntag, according to advance copies. It is Germany’s largest industry and biggest export.
“We must also stimulate the purchasing of automobiles with state incentives,” such as a tax break, said Steinmeier, a member of Germany’s “grand coalition” government and expected rival to Merkel in next year’s general election.
29 Qaeda ’emirs’ flee in deadly Iraq jailbreak
by Bassem al-Anbari, AFP
Fri Dec 26, 11:21 am ET
|RAMADI, Iraq (AFP) – A local Al-Qaeda chief known as “Imad the killer” escaped in a pre-dawn breakout from an Iraqi police station on Friday, triggering a wild shootout that left 13 militants and policemen dead.
Imad Ahmed Farhan, who police say has admitted to murdering at least 100 people, is on the run with two other “emirs” or local leaders of Al-Qaeda who broke out of their cells in a police station in the western city of Ramadi.
“During an exchange of fire between prisoners trying to escape and police officers in the station, six policemen and seven prisoners were killed,” provincial police chief Tareq al-Dulaimi said.
30 Promoting peace in Afghanistan – with a lighter touch
By Danna Harman, The Christian Science Monitor
Fri Dec 26, 3:00 am ET
|Barge Matal, Afghanistan – A provincial reconstruction team (PRT) has landed in remote Barge Matal, and everyone – from the elders up the mountain trails to the girls who usually spend their days hidden from view – wants to make requests, lodge complaints, and generally be part of the action.
Born out of the mantra that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won by military means alone, the mission of these small units – 26 in total – is to coordinate with local leaders and do development work – thus winning Afghan hearts and minds.
It was not always like this. As the war here began in October 2001, there was much talk about the need for reconstruction. But a RAND Corp. study found that, even as President Bush was promising a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan, the country received less assistance per capita than postconflict Bosnia, Kosovo, or Haiti, and less than half of what later would be spent in Iraq.
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31 Child maid trafficking spreads from Africa to US
By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, Associated Press Writer
29 mins ago
|IRVINE, Calif. – Late at night, the neighbors saw a little girl at the kitchen sink of the house next door.
They watched through their window as the child rinsed plates under the open faucet. She wasn’t much taller than the counter and the soapy water swallowed her slender arms. To put the dishes away, she climbed on a chair.
But she was not the daughter of the couple next door doing chores. She was their maid.
32 Cold War humanitarian program had covert side
By ARTHUR MAX and RANDY HERSCHAFT, Associated Press Writers
2 hrs 25 mins ago
|BAD AROLSEN, Germany – In the locked attic of a German archive is a dusty file that harks back to a long forgotten chapter of the Cold War – a humanitarian endeavor that, it now emerges, also had a covert side.
Marked “Escapee Program,” it contains a list of thousands of names of people who, through cunning, bravery and luck, slipped through the Iron Curtain that divided Europe after World War II and found freedom in the West.
President Harry Truman’s administration launched the program in 1952 to rehabilitate and resettle refugees from Eastern Europe, feting them as heroes who defied communist tyranny.
33 Key Somali official says president to quit Monday
By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN, Associated Press Writers
Sun Dec 28, 11:21 am ET
|MOGADISHU, Somalia – Somalia’s president will resign Monday to try to end government infighting before the country’s Ethiopian allies leave, a senior ally said Sunday in the latest in a series of conflicting statements on the leader’s future.
President Abdullahi Yusuf will address a special session of the country’s parliament to announce his retirement from politics, said Abdirashid Sed, a confidant of Yusuf and the most senior figure to comment so far on the president’s plans.
“He decided to step down because he does not want to be seen as an obstacle to peace in Somalia,” Sed told The Associated Press. “He wants to give a chance to the younger generation.”
34 Guinea coup leaders demote all generals
By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, Associated Press Writer
2 hrs 30 mins ago
|CONAKRY, Guinea – Coup leaders in Guinea issued a declaration on state radio Sunday saying all military generals of the former regime had been demoted, raising the specter of instability in the country.
The demotions included more than 20 military heads, including those who ran the country’s army, navy and air force. The list also includes security force chiefs.
Coup spokesman Nouhou Thiam said the demotions were effective immediately and added that the military heads of the regime under longtime dictator Lansana Conte would be reassigned to other jobs in the army.
35 Swiss nuclear smuggling suspect freed from prison
By FRANK JORDANS, Associated Press Writer
Sun Dec 28, 8:07 am ET
|GENEVA – A Swiss man suspected of involvement in the world’s biggest nuclear smuggling ring has been released from prison after more than four years of investigative detention, his family said Sunday.
Urs Tinner, 43, was freed several days ago, his mother Hedwig Tinner told The Associated Press by telephone from eastern Switzerland.
His brother Marco Tinner, 40, remains in detention while prosecutors appeal his release to the federal criminal court in Bellinzona, she said, refusing to comment further on the case.
36 Volunteers spend a week on horse rescue in Canada
Sat Dec 27, 10:53 pm ET
|MCBRIDE, British Columbia – Two frostbitten, emaciated horses were recovering inside a warm barn on Saturday thanks to volunteers who spent the week before Christmas digging the animals out of snow in the mountains of northeastern British Columbia.
Birgit Stutz said Saturday that she and other rescuers cheered when they finally finished digging a half-mile escape route through the snow for the animals. The horses had been abandoned by a hunter and faced almost certain death.
Stutz said the horses eagerly accepted being bridled and seemed to know they were safe as volunteers led them on a seven-hour hike down the mountain in freezing temperatures on Tuesday. She said about 40 or 50 people took part in the rescue over the course of a week.
37 Vietnam whistle-blower suffers for war on graft
By BEN STOCKING, Associated Press Writer
Sat Dec 27, 2:39 pm ET
|HANOI, Vietnam – The thugs came after dark, as Do Viet Khoa and his family were getting ready for bed.
He says they punched him, kicked him, stole his camera and terrified his wife and children.
Khoa, a high school math and geography teacher, thinks the message was clear: Stop blowing the whistle on school corruption – or else.
38 Moderate Islamists seize two central Somali towns
By Abdi Sheikh, Reuters
1 hr 25 mins ago
|MOGADISHU (Reuters) – A moderate Islamist group captured two towns in central Somalia on Sunday from al Shabaab, a hardline militia on the U.S. list of terrorist groups, residents and Islamists said.
The Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, a government-allied Sunni Islamist group, vowed on Saturday to seize towns controlled by al Shabaab after retaking Gurael, a trading town north of the capital Mogadishu.
Most of the south and center of Somalia except Mogadishu and Baidoa is controlled by various Islamist factions opposed to the Western-backed transitional government and to its Ethiopian military allies.
39 Turkish jets hit PKK targets in N.Iraq-army sources
Sun Dec 28, 10:17 am ET
|ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish guerrilla targets in northern Iraq on Saturday and Sunday, Turkish army sources said.
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in the Hakurke region of northern Iraq were hit on Saturday night and several other targets near the Iraqi-Turkish border were bombed on Sunday afternoon, the sources said.
The strikes in a mountainous border area claimed no civilian casualties, said Lieutenant-Colonel Ihsan Kamal, commander of the border guards’ operation room in Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdistan region.
40 Belgium parliament speaker Van Rompuy named to form new govt
1 hr 20 mins ago
|BRUSSELS (AFP) – Belgium’s King Albert II brought an end Sunday to a new phase of potentially-damaging political limbo, asking parliament speaker Herman Van Rompuy to form a new government.
The move came 10 days after Prime Minister Yves Leterme stepped down in the so-called “Fortisgate” scandal, with his aides accused of trying to influence a court case leaked to the break-up of the major bank Fortis.
“The king has charged Mr Van Rompuy to form a government. He has accepted the mission,” said a short statement, after the speaker had held almost 90 minutes of talks with the monarch.
41 Kashmir poll turnout ‘a victory for democracy’: Indian PM
by Izhar Wani, AFP
Sun Dec 28, 8:47 am ET
|SRINAGAR (AFP) – Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the higher than expected turnout in elections in disputed Kashmir a “vote for democracy” Sunday, as results showed no one party dominated the polls.
Despite a boycott call by separatists and armed rebels, more than 60 percent of voters participated in the multi-stage elections which came after a period of direct rule from New Delhi.
“The large turnout is a vote for democracy. It is a vote for national integration. Therefore, we are all happy,” Singh told reporters in New Delhi.
42 Senator trades suit for uniform in Iraq, Afghanistan
By James Rosen, McClatchy Newspapers
Sat Dec 27, 1:50 pm ET
|WASHINGTON – In Afghanistan a few weeks ago, a U.S. fighter pilot asked visiting Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Rives which of the Washington dignitaries was Sen. Lindsey Graham .
Rives, the Air Force’s top lawyer, nodded toward a man in military camouflage near the pilot.
The man was Col. Lindsey Graham , an Air Force Reserve attorney and the only member of Congress who’s served on active duty in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Liberal Media Bias.
43 Baghdad bombing underscores fear that security gains are fragile
By Laith Hammoudi and Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers
Sat Dec 27, 2:17 pm ET
|BAGHDAD – A car bomb ripped through a historic Shiite Muslim district of Baghdad Saturday, killing at least 24 people and wounding at least 46, Iraqi police said. The U.S. military put the death toll at 18.
The bombing in Kadhimiyah, a holy area for Shiite Muslims and the home to the tombs of two Imams, or spiritual leaders, underscores fear that the security gains of the past year are fragile and easily reversible, even in the country’s capital.
Only a month ago, the bridge between Kadhimiyah and the Sunni neighborhood Adhamiyah was a scene of joy. In a sign that the worst had passed, the bridge between the Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods, which had been closed for years, was reopened.
44 Christmas with Baghdad’s Dwindling Christians
By ABIGAIL HAUSLOHNER / BAGHDAD, Time Magazine
Fri Dec 26, 1:45 am ET
|The Catholic Church of Mar Yousif is modest and unassuming from the outside. On Christmas morning, a maze of cars obstructed the street in front, presenting a hundred-foot long physical barrier to any would-be car bomber. The faithful have learned to be cautious: their church is nestled in the Mansur district of Baghdad that was formerly home to some of the city’s worst insurgent activity.|
45 The Shoe-Thrower Becomes an Issue in Iraq Election
By ABIGAIL HAUSLOHNER / BAGHDAD, Time Magazine
Fri Dec 26, 4:20 am ET
|Iraqis go to the polls next month in provincial elections that promise to be the most fiercely contested thus far, as the post-Saddam era moves to open a post-U.S. chapter. And one major issue will undoubtedly be case of shoe-tossing journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, who became a hero on the streets of Iraq and much of the Arab world after his failed attempt to bean President Bush at a press conference. Zaidi is to stand trial on New Year’s Eve, Abdul Satar Birqadr, the spokesman for Iraq’s High Judicial Council said Monday, on charges of “assaulting a foreign head of state visiting Iraq.” Even if putting Zaidi on trial appears to risk igniting public hostility, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki may yet seek to make the case work to his a political advantage ahead of next month’s poll, for which some 17.5 million are registered to vote.|
46 Why Guinea’s People Welcomed the Coup
By VIVIENNE WALT / PARIS, Time Magazine
Fri Dec 26, 8:00 pm ET
|If military vehicles rolled through the capital of your country during the chaotic days following the president’s death, and soldiers brandished weapons and declared themselves the new government, you might assume there would be widespread panic. But if you live in the mineral-rich West African nation of Guinea, that assumption would be wrong.|
47 What’s the Best Way to Curb Forced Marriages?
By DEENA GUZDER, Time Magazine
Sat Dec 27, 12:20 am ET
|When Humayra Abedin left the U.K. on Aug. 2 with a round-trip ticket to Bangladesh after hearing that her mother was sick, she had no idea the “illness” was a ruse to lure her home to marry a suitor of her parents’ choice. But on Dec. 17, Abedin, a 32-year-old doctor who has lived in Britain for the past six years, confirmed in a statement that she had been held captive for four months in her native country and coerced into a marriage by her mother and father. “I was forced to marry a person of my parents’ choice,” it read. “I entered the marriage ceremony under duress. I did not consent to the marriage.”|
48 Will Bosnia Test the Obama Administration?
By DEJAN ANASTASIJEVIC, Time Magazine
Sat Dec 27, 1:15 pm ET
|Could an old triumph be coming back to haunt the Clintonites who are joining President-elect Barack Obama’s staff? If there’s one foreign policy achievement that Clintonites are proud of, it’s Bosnia. Some 13 years ago, during Bill Clinton’s second term, a U.S.-led military intervention stopped the carnage in the former Yugoslav republic, followed by a peace deal forged by then Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke and signed in Dayton, Ohio. The deal, which carved Bosnia into two ethnically based statelets while retaining a weak common government, was so successful that vice-president-elect Joe Biden suggested it should be used as a model for ending the sectarian war in Iraq.|
49 A Year After Bhutto: Tears and Troop Movements
By OMAR WARAICH / ISLAMABAD, Time Magazine
Sun Dec 28, 10:45 am ET
|Thousands of people were on the move in Pakistan this weekend, marching in two distinctly different directions, with two different yet intertwined agendas. One group carried large party flags and raised mournful slogans. These were the supporters of the late Benazir Bhutto, who converged on the former Prime Minister’s grave in the southern province of Sindh to mark the first anniversary of her assassination on Saturday. The other large mass movement was composed of Pakistani troops fanning out along the border with India – many reportedly abandoning their positions near the Afghan border – as the drumbeat of potential war between the two nuclear-armed south Asian countries grew louder. And as soldiers and the political faithful took their positions, mourning, anxiety and a measure of defiance merged. For chaotic, crisis-wracked Pakistan, it was a time to mourn and, perhaps, almost a time to fight.|
|From Yahoo News U.S. News|
50 Flight 93 families ask Bush to OK land seizure
By BOB LENTZ, Associated Press Writer
Sun Dec 28, 12:20 am ET
|PHILADELPHIA – Relatives of those who died aboard United Airlines Flight 93 want the Bush Administration to seize the land needed for a memorial where the plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa., in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Families of Flight 93 sent a letter earlier this month asking President George W. Bush to empower the Secretary of the Interior to take the land in dispute from a homeowner who had been in negotiations with the National Parks Service, said Patrick White, vice president of the families’ organization.
The group says ground must be broken early next year in time for a memorial to be build for the 10th anniversary of the crash in 2011.
51 TVA head pledges to test wells near coal ash spill
By KRISTIN M. HALL, Associated Press Writer
14 mins ago
|KINGSTON, Tenn. – The CEO and president of the nation’s largest public utility promised Sunday to address the health and safety concerns of a community near a major coal ash spill in eastern Tennessee.
Tom Kilgore, who heads the Tennessee Valley Authority, said the utility will pay to test local wells for contamination and would start air quality testing.
Kilgore spoke to between 200 and 300 residents who gathered Sunday to get answers about the environmental and economic impact of Monday’s spill.
52 Hollywood reels under strike, nervously braces for sequel
by Rob Woollard, Reuters
Sun Dec 28, 1:58 pm ET
|LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Hollywood recovered strongly from a devastating screenwriters walkout in 2008 and finished the year anxiously battling to avert a blockbuster sequel that few want: The Actors Strike Back.
The paralyzing 100-day work stoppage by writers ended in February with a historic deal that gave writers a slice of profits from new media and Internet sales, an area where they had once received nothing.
The deal negotiated by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) was described as a “groundbreaking” achievement by movie industry experts.
53 Bush’s $1 Trillion War on Terror: Even Costlier Than Expected
By MARK THOMPSON / WASHINGTON, Time Magazine
Fri Dec 26, 4:30 am ET
|The news that President Bush’s war on terror will soon have cost the U.S. taxpayer $1 trillion – and counting – is unlikely to spread much Christmas cheer in these tough economic times. A trio of recent reports – none by the Bush Administration – suggests that sometime early in the Obama presidency, spending on the wars started since 9/11 will pass the trillion-dollar mark. Even after adjusting for inflation, that’s four times more than America spent fighting World War I, and more than 10 times the cost of 1991’s Persian Gulf War (90 percent of which was paid for by U.S. allies). The war on terror looks set to surpass the cost the Korean and Vietnam wars combined, to be topped only by World War II’s price tag of $3.5 trillion.|
|From Yahoo News Politics|
54 Mrs. Bush, Rice: Bush presidency not a failure
By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer
Sun Dec 28, 2:55 pm ET
|WASHINGTON – The two most influential women in President George W. Bush’s White House – first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – are strongly defending the president’s legacy against critics who are calling his administration one of the worst in history.
“I know it’s not, and so I don’t really feel like I need to respond to people that view it that way,” Mrs. Bush said in an interview that aired Sunday. “I think history will judge and we’ll see later.”
Rice took a similar view in a separate interview, saying that claims that the Bush administration has been one of the worst ever are “ridiculous.”
55 Guinea coup serves as warning for Zimbabwe: US envoy
Sun Dec 28, 3:13 pm ET
|ACCRA (AFP) – This week’s coup in Guinea should serve as a warning as to what may happen in Zimbabwe if veteran leader Robert Mugabe is allowed to cling to power as the late Lansana Conte did in Guinea, a senior US official said Sunday.
“I think that (the coup in Guinea) should serve as a real warning to the region, to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) of what might happen if Robert Mugabe is allowed to cling to power and in fact die in office as he seems to want to do,” Jendayi Frazer, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs told reporters>
Frazer was speaking in the Ghanaian capital Accra where she had come to observe the presidential elections.
56 Defiant Cheney looks back: No regrets
by Laurent Lozano, AFP
Sun Dec 28, 1:01 pm ET
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President George W. Bush has expressed a few regrets as his eight tumultuous years at the White House draw to a close, but Vice President Dick Cheney…not so much.
On December 1, Bush said that his “biggest regret” was the massive US “intelligence failure” on Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction, the core of the public case for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Bush stopped well short of saying he should not have gone to war, and ducked a question on whether he would have taken a different route had he known that the late dictator had not possessed such arsenals.
57 NATO commander calls for new US troops for Afghanistan’s south
by Sardar Ahmad, AFP
Sun Dec 28, 1:19 pm ET
|KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – The NATO commander in southern Afghanistan called Sunday for most of the extra US troops due next year to be sent to his area, which he called the main military effort against extremists.
After a difficult 2008, the United States is expected to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan by next summer to add to the almost 70,000 international soldiers already here under NATO and US command.
Dutch Major General Mart de Kruif told reporters it was not yet clear how many of these reinforcements would be deployed in Regional Command (RC) South which includes Kandahar and Helmand provinces that see heavy fighting.