Tony Blair Reads Qur`an

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The envoy and former prime minister, 58, says he reads Qur’an every day

By Tim Adams

2352TonyBlairSometimes it feels strange not to be prime minister – if you are at an occasion like the Obama speech, for example. But then you also have to remember what it was really like: the enormous responsibility, the huge daily pressure. I had 10 years of that, and I am not at all into looking backwards.

I’ve met Michael Sheen, and I watched the Brian Clough film, which I thought was brilliant. But I haven’t seen him playing me. I know I’d just be screaming at the TV: “It wasn’t like that at all!”

I have always been very certain about my ethical values, but I have always tried to have the appropriate level of self-doubt about the solutions they suggest.

I was in Brazil working at the time of the royal wedding. They have their protocols and it didn’t trouble me in the least that I wasn’t there. I was absolutely fine about it. Really. And that’s the honest truth.

People still ask me if military decisions in Iraq or Afghanistan were based on some kind of divine instruction. It’s rubbish. Of course not. Just as I couldn’t go into a corner and pray to ask God what the minimum wage should be.

I was a child of the 70s, not the 60s. It’s a very important difference. I came out of university in 1975. Life had got tougher. Idealism wasn’t enough; we were far more practically focused.
To be faith-literate is crucial in a globalised world, I believe. I read the Bible every day. I read the Qur’an every day. Partly to understand some of the things happening in the world, but mainly just because it is immensely instructive.

Reports of my wealth are greatly exaggerated.

The experiment that said “the bigger the state, the more just the society” clearly failed. There is no point pretending that it didn’t.

I would never have used Peter Mandelson’s phrase about being relaxed about people getting filthy rich. But should Lionel Messi – or an investment banker – earn more in a week than a nurse earns in five years? You can debate that, but I don’t know the answer. One thing I am sure of is that the way to make poor people better off is not just to target a wealthier group of people and take their money off them.

The most fascinating thing to me now is learning about the places where I work. In the Israeli-Palestinian situation, for example, my understanding is significant layers deeper and better than it was when I was prime minister.

People always used to say to me: listen to the people. That was a fine idea, of course, but unfortunately the people were all saying different things.
The social media, I know, is having an enormous impact in places like the West Bank and Gaza. But I’ve not tweeted. Wouldn’t know how.

I was a very different prime minister at the beginning to the one I was at the end. The irony is I was probably best at the job at the end, but least popular in doing it.

A Journey by Tony Blair (Arrow, £9.99) is out now in paperback and is also available as an ebook.

The Observer / Guardian UK

13-25

Israel Government ‘Reckless and Irresponsible’ Says Ex-Mossad Chief

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Meir Dagan attacks Binyamin Netanyahu for aggression towards Iran, and for failing to make any progress with the Palestinians

By Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem

meir-dagan--126656584152243800The former head of Israel’s spy service has launched an unprecedented attack on the country’s current government, describing it as “irresponsible and reckless”, and has praised Arab attempts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Meir Dagan stepped down as the head of Mossad six months ago but has gone on the offensive in a series of briefings with journalists and public appearances because he feels that Israel’s security is being mismanaged by Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and Ehud Barak, the defence minister.

One newspaper quotes him as saying that he, as head of Mossad, Yuval Diskin, the head of Sin Bet – the internal security agency, and Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the army, could prevent Netanyahu and Barak from making mistakes but all three have left their positions and have been replaced by men chosen by the current government.

“I decided to speak because when I was in office, Diskin, Ashkenazi and I could block any dangerous adventure. Now I am afraid that there is no one to stop Bibi [Netanyahu] and Barak,” said Dagan.

Upon leaving his post, Dagan publicly warned against Israel attacking Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In his latest comments, he said that if Israel attacks Iran, it will find itself at the centre of a regional war that would endanger the state’s existence. Dagan’s intervention is dangerous for Netanyahu because it comes from the right wing of Israeli opinion rather than the left, where the prime minister would expect criticism.

Dagan has been in charge of aggressive Israeli actions abroad in recent years, that have included assassinations in Lebanon, Syria and Dubai and an air attack on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. He also criticised Israel’s failure to offer any initiative to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.

The absence of any workable plan, he said, will leave Israel in a dangerous and weak situation if the Palestinians push for UN recognition of a state later this year.

Dagan also endorsed Saudi Arabia’s peace plan which offered Israel normal relations with all Arab countries if it reaches a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Leading columnist Ari Shavit summarised Dagan’s point of view in the Ha’aretz newspaper: “Dagan is extremely concerned about September 2011. He is not afraid that tens of thousands of demonstrators may overrun the settlements. He is afraid that Israel’s subsequent isolation will push its leaders to the wall and cause them to take reckless action against Iran.”

Ben Caspit of the Maariv newspaper wrote: “He is one of the most rightwing militant people ever born here … who ate Arabs for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“When this man says that the leadership has no vision and is irresponsible, we should stop sleeping soundly at night.”

Dagan was quoted in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth describing Netanyahu and Barak as “irresponsible and reckless individuals”.

Dagan’s criticism of Netanyahu comes when the prime minister is enjoying popular support following his trip to Washington and his speech to Congress.

Opinion polls suggest that Netanyahu has a nine-point lead over his nearest challenger and his Likud party is the most popular in the country.

However, Dagan’s intervention suggests that while Netanyahu is seen as an able performer in public, he believes that behind the scenes he is less astute.

A spokesman for the prime minister said that he would not discuss Dagan’s comments. However members of the cabinet told the Israeli media: “Dagan was out of line on the Iranian issue. This damages deterrence, because the military option must be on the table as a credible option after sanctions.

“If you come and say, ‘we can’t attack Iran, it’s impossible,’ you project weakness to the Iranians and make it look like you don’t have the courage to do it, and that they can do whatever they want.
“More seriously, it sends a message to the world that they can take their foot off the gas pedal of sanctions.”

The Guardian (UK)

13-24

Pak MP’s Refuse Body Scan

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Shah-Mehmood-Qureshi
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says he had raised the issue with US authorities during his recent visit to Washington.

Pakistani MPs abandon US visit over body scanning

Pakistani lawmakers belonging to different political parties have refused to visit the United States amid a row over body scanning at American airports.

A senior member of the Pakistani Parliament told Press TV on condition of anonymity that 18 lawmakers had rejected official invitation extended by the US embassy in Islamabad.

The lawmakers say they would not visit the US until their exemption from scanning at US airports.

Earlier this month, a six-member Pakistani parliamentary delegation, protesting full body scanning in Washington, cut short their official US visit immediately to return home.

The US state department had invited them to Washington to discuss security in the troubled tribal regions of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says he had raised the issue with US authorities during his recent visit to Washington.

The X-ray machines show naked images of passengers.

Under the new rules, citizens from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen must receive an extra check of their body and carry-on bags before boarding a plane.

12-15

Obama Snubbed Netanyahu

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Telegraph UK

The snub marked a fresh low in US-Israeli relations and appeared designed to show Mr Netanyahu how low his stock had fallen in Washington after he refused to back down in a row over Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.

6
File picture:  Bibi Netanyahu and Barack Obama

The Israeli prime minister arrived at the White House on Tuesday evening brimming with confidence that the worst of the crisis in his country’s relationship with the United States was over.

Over the previous two days, he had been feted by senior Republicans and greeted warmly by members of Congress. He had also received a standing ovation from the American Israel Public Affairs Affairs Committee, one of the most influential lobby groups in the United States.

But Mr. Obama was less inclined to be so conciliatory. He immediately presented Mr. Netanyahu with a list of 13 demands designed both to the end the feud with his administration and to build Palestinian confidence ahead of the resumption of peace talks. Key among those demands was a previously-made call to halt all new settlement construction in east Jerusalem.

When the Israeli prime minister stalled, Mr. Obama rose from his seat declaring: “I’m going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls.”

As he left, Mr. Netanyahu was told to consider the error of his ways. “I’m still around,” Mr. Obama is quoted by Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper as having said. “Let me know if there is anything new.”

For over an hour, Mr. Netanyahu and his aides closeted themselves in the Roosevelt Room on the first floor of the White House to map out a response to the president’s demands.

Although the two men then met again, at 8.20 pm, for a brief second meeting, it appeared that they failed to break the impasse. White House officials were quoted as saying that disagreements remained. Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, added: “Apparently they did not reach an understanding with the United States.”

It was the second time this month that Mr Netanyahu has been at the receiving end of a US dinner-time snub.

A fortnight ago, Joe Biden the US vice president, arrived 90 minutes late for a dinner Mr. Netanyahu hosted in Jerusalem after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new homes in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish settlement in the city’s predominantly Arab east.

Erupting in fury, the United States described the decision to expand Ramat Shlomo as an “insult” that undermined Mr. Biden’s peace making efforts and demanded that it be reversed. Palestinians see east Jerusalem, captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, as their future capital and regard any Jewish building there as a barrier to a peace settlement.

Mr Obama’s mood further soured in the minutes before his meeting with Mr. Netanyahu after it emerged that approval had been given for an even more contentious Jewish building project in the heart of one of east Jerusalem’s Palestinian suburbs.

Sending a clear message of his displeasure, Mr. Obama treated his guest to a series of slights. Photographs of the meeting were forbidden and an Israeli request to issue a joint-statement once it was over were turned down.

“There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage,” Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported. “Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea.”

It is not the first time that Mr. Netanyahu has been involved in a dinner-time snub, although he is arguably more used to delivering, rather than receiving, them.
In 1998, during his first term as Israeli prime minister, Mr. Netanyahy angrily cancelled a dinner he was due to give with the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.
Mr. Cook had earned his host’s ire after he briefly visited a new Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem with a Palestinian official and called for an end to all settlement construction in the parts of the city Israel occupied after the Six-Day war.

12-14

Gujarat Carnage: Modi Summoned!

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is in news again, but not for the reasons he or his party associates appreciate. Eight years after Gujarat-carnage, in which of thousands of Muslims in the state were killed and/or injured, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) has summoned Modi. Created by Supreme Court in March 2008 to probe into 2002-Gujarat riots, the SIT has summoned Modi to appear before it on March 21. Modi, if he appears before the SIT, is expected to face questions over the murder of Congress legislator Ehsan Jaffrey. He and more than 50 other Muslims were killed by extremist Hindu rioters in Gulbarg Society, a residential complex in Ahmedabad (February 28, 2002). Modi and at least 60 others have been blamed and criticized for not doing enough to check the communal violence and protect the state’s Muslim citizens.  

“Yes, we have summoned Mr. Modi,” R.K. Raghavan, SIT head said. “On 21 March, we will ask him a few questions. Then we will send a report to the Supreme Court,” he said.

The Supreme Court is taking action on a petition filed by Jaffrey’s widow, Zakia. In her petition, she named Modi and 62 others, alleging that they conspired to “let Hindus vent their anger” after the Godhra-incident. The Godhra-incident refers to fire on Sabarmati Express, in which around 60 Hindus died. While fire’s cause was said to be an accident, extremist Hindu groups alleged that it was started by Muslim protestors because of which they reacted leading to Gujarat-carnage, with Hindu rioters targeting Muslims.

Following Zakia’s petition, the Supreme Court directed SIT to probe the alleged role of persons she had named as responsible for the riots, including Modi and 62 others. Though it is not clear, whether summoning of Modi will lead to any judicial action against him or not, according to Zakia: “I have not slept properly ever since the incident. Now, he (Modi) will also have sleepless nights.” “I hope justice will be given to us. It has been a long journey. I am very happy that Modi has been summoned,” she said.

Elaborating on the petition filed against Modi, Zakia’s son Tanveer Jaffrey said: “This is a step to file an FIR (First Information Report) against Modi. Until an FIR is filed you cannot say where the investigation will lead to.” Tanveer is hopeful, that “this will open up other cases too.”

“The summoning should have happened long ago as the chief minister of Gujarat and his government presided over the worst ‘pogram’ against minorities in independent India,” Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari said in New Delhi. The Congress felt that it would be appropriate for Modi to resign as chief minister.

The Congress in Gujarat has not yet too made too much noise about Modi facing summons. Justifying the cautious stand taken by his party, Gujarat Congress spokesperson Arjun Modhvadiya said: “The SIT must have strong evidence to issue a summon. We hope that the team carries out further investigations in right earnest and bring him to justice.” Modhvadiya, former leader of Opposition in the State Assembly, also voiced demand for Modi’s resignation inside and outside the House.  Modi should tender his resignation on “moral grounds,” he said as the summons were based on Supreme Court’s directives and on the basis of evidence collected by SIT.

Dismissing Congress demand for Modi’s resignation, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “The summons to Modi by SIT are a part of the legal process which shall be dealt with as per the process of law.”

The BJP is considering legal options to save Modi from facing a tough legal battle. “What our strategy is something that we don’t want to discuss on camera. But it takes long term planning in such cases,” Gujarat government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said. The Congress was “day dreaming,” by thinking that Modi would resign following the summons, Vyas said. “The party may wish for anything but there is no reason for Mr. Modi to quit,” he said.

Survivors of Gujarat-carnage are fairly pessimistic on whether summoning of Modi would spell any major development in speeding action against the rioters. “What we are going to witness on March 21 is a high-voltage drama when the chief minister appears before the SIT to respond to allegations leveled against him by various witnesses. That is it. It is going to be an eyewash,” according to Mukhat Ahmad, a riot victim-turned-rights activist.

Dismissing the summons as a “hype,” a senior officer said: “What can deposition achieve? The SIT is not in a position to interrogate, grill anyone or Modi. Can it force him or anyone to say something that one chooses to hide? So what will this achieve except create a hype?” Asserting that Zakia’s petition cannot force legal action against Modi, analysts said: “There is no direct evidence against Modi.” A chief minister cannot be held as directly responsible as, they said: “There are no constitutional or legal liabilities on the CM or the political head of the state in a riot-like situation. The direct-action duty lies on the police head and local officers of the disturbed area.”

Nevertheless, all are waiting for March 21. Will Modi face the summons? If he does, what will be developments? Or will he seek a change in the date, citing some prior engagement, and thus evade the March 21 summons! 

12-12

Iraq Awaits Election Results

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The first results of Iraq’s parliamentary elections are expected to be released on Wednesday, officials have said, in a vote seen as a test of democracy in the country.

But none of the political blocs contesting Sunday’s vote are expected to win a decisive victory, and talks to form a coalition could take months.

Figures showed that more than 60 per cent of eligible voters took part in Sunday’s elections, despite numerous attempts to disrupt the process.

The independent electoral commission, IHEC, said on Monday that roughly 11.7 million voters had cast their ballots on election day.

The 62.5 voter turnout did not include ballots cast by security forces and others in early voting or the 275,000 Iraqis voting abroad.

Hamdiyah al-Husseini, a senior official with IHEC, told reporters that turnout was particularly high in the country’s autonomous northern Kurdish region, with 80 percent of voters in Dohuk casting ballots.

Informal tallies showed prime minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition had polled well in Shia provinces while a secular, cross-sectarian bloc led by former premier Iyad Allawi appeared to be strong in Sunni areas of the north and west.

Sami al-Askari, a member of Maliki’s coalition, said his coalition took about 45 per cent of the vote in Baghdad, the capital, and would win about half the seats in the Shia holy city of Najaf. He added that it was running third in some northern areas behind Iraqiya and the Kurdish Alliance, he said.

“We will be the biggest bloc in the next parliament and according to the constitution we will be the bloc that will nominate the next prime minister,” he said. “But definitely we will need to ally with one or two other lists.”

Mike Hanna, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Baghdad, said the first preliminary results would be based on just 30 per cent of the votes and may not be that representable.

“The prime intention is to get a governing bloc within the parliament which has 50 per cent plus one seat, which would then enable that particular bloc to form a government and nominate a prime minister.”

Final results, certified by the supreme court after hearing appeals, were expected within about a month of the election.

More than 6,000 candidates from 86 political groups were competing for the 325 seats in parliament.

Despite tight security arrangements, the vote was marred by violence as a series of explosions left at least 38 people dead and 89 others wounded in the capital.

The bloodiest toll was from an explosion that destroyed a residential building in the Shaab district of northern Baghdad, killing 25 people and wounding at least eight more.

Source:     Al Jazeera and agencies

12-11

As in the Days of the USSR

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sara Daniel, Le Nouvel Observateur

Shahnawaz Tanaï, former defense minister for Najibullah’s pro-Soviet government, compares the two occupations of Afghanistan.

In the last presidential election, he came in sixth out of 41 candidates. A good showing for a man who was once defense minister to Najibullah, the former pro-Soviet president of Afghanistan, murdered by the Taliban. Shahnawaz Tanai nostalgically evokes the “good old days” of the Soviets, which he seems not to be the only one to miss. According to him, there are many commonalities between NATO’s occupation of Afghanistan and the Soviet period. First of all, the Russians, like the Americans, relied on warlords of evil repute in order to take over power. Then Russia, like NATO today, was unable to pacify the country because of the open border with Pakistan, which assured the Mudjahadijn a rear staging base. “In 1985, six years after the beginning of the Soviet invasion, the debates began in Russia, exactly like today in the West, on the legitimacy of the government in place in and on the Soviet Union’s economic troubles …The Russian Army’s morale was at a nadir and people in Moscow were wondering about the opportunity of sending more soldiers: Brejnev was for, the KGB was against …” In 1988, Najibullah sent his defense minister to Moscow to convince Gorbachev to stay in Afghanistan: “I gave him the advice I could give the Americans today: to envisage the stages of a withdrawal, you must first secure the major axes and the principle cities, Mazar, Herat, Kabul, and give the army logistical support.” Najibullah’s former minister remembers a meeting between Najibullah and Fidel Castro: “Castro advised Najibullah to appear less dependent on Gorbachev. Karzai should also put some distance between himself and the Americans …”

11-52

YSR’s Death Raises Questions

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI/HYDERABAD:  The sudden passing away of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (60) in a chopper crash last Wednesday (September 2) has raised intriguing questions about certain crucial issues. One is instantly forced to deliberate on loopholes present in the security actually provided to political VVIPs and apparent negligence displayed towards ensuring that helicopters used by them have no technical flaws and are capable of handling weather problems. If as initial reports indicate that the helicopter had technical problems, why was it retained in service to be used leading to Reddy’s death and of four others on board? The same helicopter had developed a technical snag earlier this year, while Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama was flying from Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) to Gulbarga in Karnataka. The Dalai Lama was told during the flight that the helicopter was experiencing technical problems. The pilot managed to land the Bell-430 chopper safely at its destination. The Dalai Lama used a different chopper on his return flight.

If the concerned aviation staff was aware of the technical problem in chopper, why was it made available for use by Reddy? The helicopter crashed over Nallamala while flying to Chittor from Hyderabad. It has also been said that chopper ran into rough weather and then crashed. This implies that the chopper may have crashed because the pilot was not given the right information about weather problems, he may have over-estimated the plane’s weather-handling capacity and/or despite being aware of these risks he took the chance, as he did not want to refuse on flying the VVIPs. The pilots face the risk of losing jobs on refusing to fly top dignitaries, even if their stand is backed by strong reasons such as bad weather.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is looking into whether the local Met office gave the correct weather report before the VVIP flight took off. The hard fact of weather being unpredictable cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, this does not minimize importance given to checking vital air safety checks of helicopters being used in India. It may be noted here that DGCA has only one part-time inspector to conduct safety checks of more than 200 helicopters deployed across the country. Even if this inspector was engaged full-time in conducting safety checks, it is certainly not a one man’s job to thoroughly inspect 200 helicopters all over the country. As it takes two days to thoroughly inspect one helicopter, it would be impossible for him to inspect all 200 helicopters even in a year’s time. Considering the new importance being given by politicians to use helicopters, isn’t it time that they paid some attention to safety of choppers they use and weather conditions. Not too long ago, an angry state chief minister ordered the transfer of a pilot simply because the latter had refused to fly the VVIP because of bad weather.

Reddy’s death has also exposed a dark side of Indian political culture once again. Though there is nothing surprising about it but one is certainly amazed at how chaotic and stormy Indian politics can get in the race for political chairs. This has been exposed with Reddy’s death being followed by confusion and political battling on who would succeed him as the chief minister. While the confusion has ended for the time being, with swearing in of Reddy’s Financial Minister K. Rosaiah as the caretaker chief minister (September 3), the political heat has not yet settled down. A new set of ministers was sworn in to form the state’s new cabinet (September 6). But the battle is still on with their being a heated campaign in favor of Reddy’s son Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy as the next chief minister. A letter signed by 36 ministers in the late Reddy’s cabinet has urged Congress president Sonia Gandhi to consider him for the post. The letter said: “Just like Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Jaganmohan Reddy has a good following among the masses from grass-roots level and is acceptable to all sections, particularly the downtrodden and weaker sections, for the post of chief minister.”

Several former ministers stated that they would join the cabinet only if Jaganmohan was made the chief minister. It is pathetic that supporters of Jaganmohan have even disrupted condolence meetings being held in his father’s memory. Shouting shrill slogans they forced early end of a condolence meeting being held in Hyderabad in the presence of acting Chief Minister Rosaiah, Union Minister Jaipal Reddy and state Congress president D. Srinivas. The three leaders had to be quickly escorted to safety by security personnel as Jaganmohan’s supporters tried to mob them (September 6). Considering that Jaganmohan’s entry into Lok Sabha this year is only his first step onto the Indian political stage, one is forced to wonder whether his supporters are considering him as the “right” candidate only because he happens to be late Reddy’s son? Shouldn’t he be first given time to prove his political mantle as his father did?

Circumstances leading to Reddy’s death and the political storm over who would be next chief minister have exposed two dark sides of Indian politics. One is negligence of needed air safety measures even for political VVIPs. The second is inherent instability leading to confusion and chaos when leader at the top suddenly moves off the political stage. If entering Indian politics is being treated like a cakewalk, as Jaganmohan’s supporters seem to, it would certainly provide rivals of Congress enough political ground to rise again in the state!

11-38

Turkey FM Urges Iranians to Accept Election

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Hurriyet

hurriyet
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu

ANKARA – Breaking a week’s silence on the deadly rift in Iran following the recent controversial events, Turkey has contradicted the Western position and advised Iranian people not to overshadow “the dynamic and well-attended” political elections.

FM urges Iranians to accept election “We believe that the problems in Iran will be solved via its inner mechanisms, with the best possible result. In this context, we truly hope that the dynamic and well-attended political election will not be shadowed by the recent developments, and we send our best regards to the people of Iran with the strong conviction that they will reach the best conclusion in a short time,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters Monday during a meeting with visiting United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdallah bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan.  

Turkey has become one of the first countries to congratulate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the general elections, where he defeated reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, without considering the opposition’s assertions of fraud in the vote counting. It has been tight-lipped since the beginning of the demonstrations in Iran, where at least 10 protesters have died. Davutoğlu, known as a Middle East expert, in his first statement late Sunday, said he discussed regional developments with his Azerbaijani counterpart at a surprise meeting in Istanbul.

“Iran is of utmost importance to us. It is one of our most important neighbors with which we share common history. We believe that Iran will solve its problems within itself in the framework of healthy consultation and one-on-one negotiations. Iran’s stability is vital for the entire region’s stability. Turkey will respect all decisions made in this respect,” he said.

Davutoğlu did not touch on the fact that the police were using disproportionate force against protesters and the rights of assembly and to demonstrate were disregarded by Ahmadinejad’s regime. The foreign minister’s statement reveals that Turkey’s sole interest is in maintaining regional stability through favoring the status quo in Iran, according to diplomatic sources. For many, Turkey’s current foreign policy does not prefer a change of regime in Iran for strategic purposes.

According to Semih İdiz, a columnist for daily Milliyet, President Abdullah Gül’s “reflexive” congratulation call to Ahmadinejad just after the elections has raised many questions.

“Those who are skeptics are not only the Westerners. The diplomats of countries who are closely observing the recent developments with concern, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Egypt, are also curious about the same things,” he wrote in his column on Monday.

Grasping developments

“By this approach Turkey has been doomed to a position where it hasn’t been able to grasp the recent developments in Iran. Our ignorance of this neighboring country is clearly seen when we observe the fact that most of our people choose to state the most common and simple argument, yet once again, that suggests that the United States and EU are involved in the recent developments in Iran.”

11-27

Indonesia Minister, Clerics Clash over Hajj Swine Vaccine’ Requirement

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

JAKARTA, June 15 — The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and the health minister are now at odds over a requirement for hajj pilgrims to take an anti-meningitis vaccine which allegedly contains a swine enzyme before travelling to the Holy Land, Antara news agency reported.

“Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari’s statement that MUI has no right to decide whether meningitis vaccine is ‘halal’ (allowed in Islam) or ‘haram’ (banned) can mislead and create unrest among Muslims,” MUI Chairman Amidhan, said yesterday.

According to the MUI chairman, the health minister as a state official should not have made the statement as it would create unrest among Muslims. The minister made the statement at a meeting of the Aisyiyah women wing of the Muhammadiyah Muslim organisation in Yoyakarta yesterday.

“I read her statement in the running text of a television broadcast Sunday morning,” Amidhan said.

MUI has the authority to decide whether or not a product is halal or haram based on Law No. 7 / 1996 on Food. One of its articles clearly stipulates that the halal certification of a product would be issued by MUI.

MUI is equipped with two institutions in this case. One is the Institute for Assessment of Food, Drug and Cosmetics (LPPOM) and the other one is the Commission on Edicts and Legal Affairs.

“Before MUI decides whether a product is halal or haram, its team will check it in the field and test it in a laboratory, the results of which would be taken to and discussed with the edict commission. We have the experience to handle such a problem for 20 years,” Amidhan said.

At the Aisyiyah meeting, Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said that Indonesian would-be hajj pilgrims were obliged to receive a meningitis vaccine before they left for Saudi Arabia because the Saudi government had decided to oblige pilgrims to have one.

“The Saudi government obliges all hajj pilgrims to have meningitis vaccine in order to protect them from cerebral membrane inflammation,” the minister said. She was responding to a rejection by a hajj pilgrim organiser group to provide meningitis vaccine as the vaccine was suspected to contain swine enzyme.

The minister said that the requirement set by the Saudi government to have meningitis vaccine for would-be hajj pilgrims was final. Pilgrims should be injected with the vaccine if they wanted to travel to Saudi Arabia.

“I have told the Saudi health minister about the pros and cons on the use of the meningitis vaccine which was suspected to contain swine enzyme but the Saudi government maintained its policy and required meningitis vaccination for hajj pilgrims,” the minister said.

Therefore, Indonesia’s would-be hajj pilgrims should receive meningitis vaccine injection in the first place before they could depart to Saudi Arabia. Without taking the meningitis vaccine, a would-be hajj pilgrim would not be allowed to go to the Holy Land.

“So far, there is only one kind of meningitis vaccine used by hajj pilgrims. This vaccine is produced by a US pharmacy. So far, no other pharmacy has produced meningitis vaccine,” the minister said.

The minister said that the US company was going to produce another type of meningitis vaccine. They claimed the new product was an innovative version of the previous one.

“Therefore, the price of the new vaccine which was claimed to be free from pig enzyme is far higher than that of the previous vaccine,” the minister said.

With regard to the present vaccine, the minister said that the institution that had the right to assess the substance of the vaccine was the ministry of health, not the MUI. So, MUI had neither right nor authority or competence to assess the substance of the meningitis vaccine and decided that it was halal or haram.

“MUI may decide that swine is halal or haram, but as far as a vaccine is concerned, the institution which has the right and competence to assess its substance is the health ministry,” Minister Supari said.

However, it was reported that MUI had received the very information on the swine enzyme substance in the meningitis vaccine from the health ministry itself, namely its Advisory Council on Health and Religious Legal Affairs (MPKS).

Amidhan said that MUI had the information from the MPKS which held a meeting with the meningitis vaccine producer. It was learnt from the results of a meeting between MPKS and the vaccine producer Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK), that the vaccine contained swine enzyme.

The producer even admitted that the meningitis vaccine contained swine enzyme.

“That is why we say that the vaccine is haram,” the MUI chairman said. MUI has sent a letter to the Saudi government with regard to the requirement for pilgrims to have meningitis vaccine.

The highest Islamic regulating council took the step because all parties involved in the organization of hajj pilgrimage in the country had agreed that the vaccine contained pig substance.

“We are waiting for a response from the Saudi government. However, if the Saudi government insists on its decision to require pilgrims to take meningitis vaccine, then we will use it based on the principle of emergency. Of course this would continue to create unrest,” Amidhan said. — Bernama

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Minister: Indonesia, Egypt to Boost Trade Cooperation

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda said the visit of Mohamed Elzorkany, Egypt`s assistant foreign affairs minister for Asia, was aimed at boosting bilateral trade cooperation between the two countries.

The bilateral relations between Egypt and Indonesia was limited to the political field so far, and therefore the ties would be expanded to include economic, social and cultural fields.

“The close political relations between Indonesia and Egypt will be intensified and translated into cooperation in other fields, including trade,” Wirajuda said.
Elzorkany visited Jakarta as parts of his Asian tour which included China, Mongolia, and Malaysia.

During his two-day visit in Indonesia, the Egyptian official held meetings with Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda, Trade Minister Marie Elka Pangestu, and National Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo.

Elzorkany at a dinner reception hosted by the Egyptian ambassador to Indonesia, here on Monday evening, said that Egypt and Indonesia had big potential to intensify the bilateral cooperation in the trade and investment fields.

Indonesia and Egypt had close bilateral relations and both nations had set up a joint commission to improve cooperation in various fields, especially trade and investment, he said.

Egypt which recorded an economic growth at 7.1 percent last year, was a gate to Africa, Europe and other Arab countries, he said, hoping that Indonesia could use his country`s potential to penetrate those regional markets.

The bilateral trade value of the two countries reached US$1.1 billion, with Indonesia enjoyed a surplus of US$900 million.

Egypt`s exports to Indonesia include phosphates, cotton, fruits, and carpets, while its imports from Indonesia are among other things crude palm oil (CPO), rubber, paper, and tires.

Elzorkany believed that the two nations had huge potentials to achieve progress in the future.

Indonesia and Egypt as developing countries also supported each other in various international forum including in G-15, he said.

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Thousands March in Baghdad Against U.S. Pact

October 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Waleed Ibrahim

2008-10-18T100826Z_01_BAG301_RTRMDNP_3_IRAQ

Demonstrators wave Iraqi national flags during a protest march in Baghdad’s Sadr City October 18, 2008. Thousands of followers of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took to the streets on Saturday in a demonstration against a pact that would allow U.S. forces to stay in Iraq for three more years.  

REUTERS/Kareem Raheem

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Thousands of followers of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took to the streets on Saturday in a demonstration against a pact that would allow U.S. forces to stay in Iraq for three more years.

Iraq’s foreign minister said a draft of the agreement hammered out after months of negotiations was now final and being reviewed by political leaders. Parliament would be given a chance to vote for or against it, but not to make changes.

The agreement “has been presented as a final text by the two negotiating teams. The time now is time for a decision,” Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told a news conference. “I believe the next few days will be crucial for the Iraqi leaders to make a political decision and a judgment on this agreement.”

At the demonstration across town, marchers waved Iraqi flags and chanted “Yes, yes Iraq! No, no to the occupation!”

A white-turbaned cleric read out what he described as a letter from Sadr calling on parliament to vote down the pact.

“I reject and condemn the continuation of the presence of the occupation force, and its bases on our beloved land,” the letter said, calling the pact “shameful for Iraq.” Marchers set fire to a U.S. flag, but the atmosphere appeared mostly calm.

“It is a peaceful demonstration, demanding that the occupier leave and the government not sign the pact,” Ahmed al-Masoudi, a Sadrist member of parliament, told Reuters.

Iraqi authorities said the demonstration was authorized and security had been increased to protect the protesters, who were marching from Sadr’s stronghold of Sadr City in the east of the capital to a nearby public square at a university.

“They have permission from the prime minister and the interior minister to hold a peaceful demonstration,” the government’s Baghdad security spokesman Qassim Moussawi said. “It is a part of democracy that people can protest freely.”

The show of strength was a reminder of public hostility to the pact, which would give the U.S. troops a mandate directly from Iraq’s elected leaders for the first time, replacing a U.N. Security Council resolution enacted after the invasion in 2003.

Support Not Assured

Support for the accord in Iraq’s fractious parliament is far from assured, even though Iraq won important concessions from Washington over the course of months of negotiations.

U.S. officials have yet to explain the pact in public, but Iraqi leaders disclosed its contents this week.

The pact commits the United States to end patrols of Iraqi streets by mid-2009 and withdraw fully from the country by the end of 2011 unless Iraq asks them to stay, an apparent reversal for a U.S. administration long opposed to deadlines.

“This is a temporary agreement. It is not binding. It doesn’t establish permanent bases for the U.S. military here in the country,” Zebari said. “We are talking about three years, and it is subject to annual review also.”

The pact describes certain conditions under which Iraq would have the right to try U.S. service members in its courts for serious crimes committed while off duty, an element that was crucial to winning Iraqi political support.

In Washington, officials in the administration of President George W. Bush briefed members of Congress about the pact on Friday and sought to reassure them that it protects U.S. troops.

“I think there is not reason to be concerned,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters, adding that top military brass were happy with the legal protections in the accord.

The administration says it does not need congressional approval for the pact, but has nonetheless sought political support. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefed the two U.S. presidential candidates on the pact on Friday.

Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Dominic Evans

http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE49E6BY20081018?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&sp=true

Olmert: Israel Should Pull out of West Bank

October 9, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ethan Bronner

2008-10-06T214005Z_01_BTRE4951O7000_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-ISRAEL-IRAN

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem October 5, 2008.

REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM—PM Olmert said in an interview published on Monday that Israel must withdraw from nearly all the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem to attain peace with the Palestinians and that any occupied land it held onto would have to be exchanged for the same quantity of Israeli territory.

He also dismissed as “megalomania” any thought that Israel would or should attack Iran on its own to stop it from developing nuclear weapons, saying the international community and not Israel alone was charged with handling the issue.

In an unusually frank and soul-searching interview granted after he resigned to fight corruption charges — he remains interim prime minister until a new government is sworn in — Mr. Olmert discarded longstanding Israeli defense doctrine and called for radical new thinking in words that are sure to stir controversy as his expected successor, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, tries to build a coalition.

“What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me,” Mr. Olmert told Yediot Aharonot newspaper in the interview to mark the Jewish new year that runs from Monday night till Wednesday night. “The time has come to say these things.”

He said traditional Israeli defense strategists had learned nothing from past experiences and seemed stuck in the considerations of the 1948 Independence War.
“With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless.”

He added, “Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

Over the last year, Mr. Olmert has publicly castigated himself for his earlier right-wing views and he did so again in this interview. On Jerusalem, for example, he said, “I am the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city. I admit it. I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.”

He said that maintaining sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem, Israel’s official policy, would involve bringing 270,000 Palestinians inside Israel’s security barrier. It would mean an ongoing risk of terrorist attacks against civilians like those carried out earlier this year by Jerusalem Palestinian residents with a bulldozer and earth mover.

“A decision has to be made,” he said. “This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years.”

The government’s public stand on Jerusalem until now has been to assert that the status of the city was not under discussion. But Mr. Olmert made clear that the eastern, predominantly Arab, sector had to be yielded “with special solutions” for the holy sites.

On peace with the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert said in the interview: “We face the need to decide but are not willing to tell ourselves, yes, this is what we have to do. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories. We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace.”

Elsewhere in the interview, when discussing a land swap with the Palestinians, he said the exchange would have to be “more or less one to one.”

Mr. Olmert also addressed the question of Syria, saying that Israel had to be prepared to give up the Golan Heights but that in turn Damascus knew it had to change the nature of its relationship with Iran and its support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia.

On Iran, Mr. Olmert said Israel would act within the international system, adding, “Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself.”

Reaction from the Israeli right was swift. Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party, said on the radio that Mr. Olmert was “endangering the existence of the State of Israel irresponsibly.”

He added that those who thought Israel’s problem was a lack of defined borders — as Mr. Olmert stated in the interview — “are ignoramuses who don’t understand anything and they invite war.”

Palestinian negotiators said it was satisfying to hear Mr. Olmert’s words but said the words did not match what he had offered them so far. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official, told Palestinian Radio that it would have been better if Mr. Olmert had taken this position while in office rather than while leaving, and that Mr. Olmert had not yet presented a detailed plan for a border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

In theory, Mr. Olmert will continue peace negotiations while awaiting the new government. But most analysts believe that, having been forced to resign his post, he will not be able to close a deal.

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