US Firm’s Teargas Used at Tahrir Square

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Egypt’s military junta fired CS gas cartridges made by Combined Systems Inc of Pennsylvania, say demonstrators

By Jack Shenker in Cairo and Luke Harding

The teargas used by interior ministry troops in Cairo’s Tahrir Square is supplied by a US company. Demonstrators say cartridges retrieved from the scene are branded with the name and address of Combined Systems Inc (CSI).

The firm is located in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. It specialises in supplying what it calls “crowd control devices” to armies and “homeland security agencies” around the world. It also manufactures lethal military equipment.

Protesters say the CS gas seems more powerful than that used by Egyptian police during the country’s last popular uprising in February. “It’s stronger, it burns your face, it makes you feel like your whole body is seizing up,” one witness said. He added: “It doesn’t seem to be combated by Coke or vinegar.”

Experts told the Guardian the gas was likely to be standard CS gas, but the effects could be exacerbated by physical exertion.

As well as the effects of the teargas, protesters have suffered grave injuries to their heads and faces from rubber bullets. There are also reports of live ammunition being used. Dozens of people have been taken to makeshift hospitals after inhaling the choking gas fired by the Central Security Forces.

The export of teargas to foreign law enforcement agencies is not prohibited. CSI has also sold teargas to the Israeli police, where it has been deployed against Palestinian demonstrators, as well as, reportedly, to the regime of Tunisia’s ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Nevertheless, the revelation that people are being gassed and hurt by US-manufactured projectiles is embarrassing for the Obama administration.

“We have seen the illegitimate and indiscriminate use of teargas,” Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Cairo, said, of Egypt’s most recent street protests, as well as the original revolution in February. “There are a few cartridges from Italy but the vast majority are from the USA.”

She said teargas did not constitute direct military aid, since it was sold to the interior ministry rather than the army. But she added: “Ideally governments should be verifying who they are selling teargas to.”

Morayef said the gas was having a devastating effect on its victims, with everyone left choking, and hundreds forced to seek medical treatment. Protesters have also retrieved 12mm rubber bullet cartridges made in Italy. “One person I know ended up coughing up blood,” she said. Human Rights Watch intended to examine the canisters to discover exactly what kind of gas was being used, she added.

Alastair Hay, professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University, said police in Cairo were almost certainly using conventional CS gas. “It’s a standard riot control agent which has been around for a very long time,” he said.

Hay said its effects were extremely unpleasant. “It’s an eye and respiratory tract irritant, largely. It will also cause skin irritation.”

The chemical compound used in CS gas – 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile – was “perfectly legitimate”, with many commercial companies involved in selling it, and domestic governments willing to make use of it in riot situations, he added.

US army trials showed CS gas had a far more serious effect on people taking part in physical activity than those sitting passively, sometimes leaving its victims needing intensive care afterwards. The way to get rid of it was “constant irrigation” to wash away the affected areas, Hay said.

There was no immediate comment from CSI.

The company’s website says it was founded in 1981. It adds: “Combined Systems Inc (CSI) is a US-based firm that supports military forces and law enforcement agencies around the world. CSI is a premier engineering, manufacturing and supply company of tactical munitions and crowd control devices globally to armed forces, law enforcement, corrections and homeland security agencies.

“[…] In addition to its military products, CSI markets its innovative line of less lethal munitions, tactical munitions and crowd-control products to domestic law enforcement agencies under its law enforcement brand name, CTS. CSI also supports its wide base of international military and law enforcement customers with its line of non-lethal munitions.”

guardian.co.uk

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End in Sight to Lebanon’s Crippling Internet Problem

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Oliver Holmes

2011-10-05T172718Z_162890397_GM1E7A6045E01_RTRMADP_3_LEBANON-INTERNET

An engineer is seen working on Microwave seamless connectivity equipment, at the rooftop of TerraNet heaquarters, an Internet Service Provider (ISP), in Beirut October 5, 2011. On Saturday, the Ministry of Telecommunications introduced a new, high-speed and cheaper Internet plan for private Internet Service Providers (ISP) to sell on to customers. The plan aims to reduce end-user prices for digital subscriber lines (DSL) by 80 percent, while raising speeds up to eight times. 

REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

BEIRUT, Oct 5 (Reuters) – For Sara Darwiche, it has been more than problematic running her fast-paced Internet company out of Lebanon, a country with Internet access that is among the worst in the world.

The “invite only” website ChouChic.com gives its members the opportunity to buy surplus stocks of fashionable clothes at discounted prices. It works on the idea that the scarcity of the clothes coupled with the time limit on sales — 48 hours to a week — will nurture impulse buying and push up sales. The strategy is called flash selling.

But for ChouChic’s main customers, who are Lebanese, there is nothing flashy about buying online here.

“Sometimes the website cuts and people think the sale is over. It really affects the quality,” she told Reuters. “We open our sales everyday at noon and for some reason the Internet usually cuts out then for five minutes.”

For a company aiming to sell the majority of stock in the first ten minutes of a sale opening, connectivity issues can be devastating.

“We needed a lot of modifications to compensate for the slow Internet,” she said, adding that the website was now hosted in the United States. “For luxury fashion, it needs to look like the goods are in front of you so the resolution of the photos needs to be high. But we had to lower the resolution as upload speeds were too slow.”

Lebanon is regarded as a fortress of Arab entrepreneurship, with a vibrant services sector and a business community that is famed for its unyielding tenacity even during the depths of war. But sluggish and expensive Internet has been an embarrassing blot on the economy, and Internet-based companies such as ChouChic are rare.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Telecommunications introduced a new, high-speed and cheaper Internet plan for private Internet Service Providers (ISP) to sell on to customers. The plan aims to reduce end-user prices for digital subscriber lines (DSL) by 80 percent, while raising speeds up to eight times.

If it is implemented smoothly, the plan will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Internet users and could boost economic growth. But for years to come, the economy may bear the scars of the political bickering, vested financial interests and negligence that kept Lebanon in the slow lanes of the information superhighway.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

“While other countries in the region have capitalised on (the Internet), we have missed it,” said Nassib Ghobril, chief economist of the Byblos Bank Group.

“They have moved ahead of us and now have a comparative advantage. A lot of companies that rely on the Internet look elsewhere to base themselves.”

Ookla, a company that tests Internet speeds around the world, has often ranked Lebanon last on its global Net Index, and the country has generally been lower down than many less developed nations such as Afghanistan and Burkina Faso.

“Lebanon is a services economy and society. Not having Internet is like not having foreign languages,” Khaldoun Farhat, CEO of private ISP provider Terranet, said at his offices opposite Beirut’s port.

Farhat has repeatedly tried to bypass what he calls a “narrow view” of the Internet by the Ministry of Telecommunications. He bought Internet capacity from satellites, made failed requests to buy bandwidth from nearby Cyprus, and tried to import his own Internet equipment which got stuck at customs, he says, for over a year.

“When I wake up, the first thing I think about is, will we get increased capacity today?” he said.

Businessman Mark Daou spent the last few months campaigning for faster internet through a Facebook group titled “Lebanese Want Fast Internet”, which has almost 50,000 supporters.

“Slow speeds affect me in the advertising business as all our resources are on the Internet. Especially now as many of our clients are asking for a lot of online advertising,” he said.

“I have to wait for Saturday night, when Internet usage is low, to upload files to Saudi and Dubai.”

Lebanon has long had the physical capacity to supply cheap, high-speed Internet; in December 2010 a 13,000 km (8,000 mile) submarine fiber optic cable linking the country to India, the Middle East and Western Europe began operating. But access to the cable was delayed until July by bickering between the Ministry of Telecommunications and Ogero, the government’s land-line provider, over usage rights.

The dispute was considered politically motivated as the ministry and Ogero are controlled by opposing sides of Lebanon’s political spectrum, which is deeply divided by religion, sect and economic ideology.

“In the telecoms sector, everyone wants a piece of the pie. It’s a cash cow,” Daou said. “The sector is almost completely controlled by the government. It has 80 percent of the market and the private sector cannot buy fixed licences. Private companies have to renew their Internet licence every year.”

A lack of revenue sources in other economic sectors, Daou said, has made the government see the Internet as an important source of funds. “The government was the only supplier. They needed the money to finance the treasury. It was generating money and nobody was complaining,” he said.

Lebanese Minister of Telecommunications Nicolas Sehnawi told Reuters that successive governments were unable to push through laws to cheapen and speed up connectivity.

“Other (fiber optic) cables in the region were connected before. In those countries, the internal governments have more manoeuverability. We have had big periods of paralysis.”

Last week, a 1 megabit per second (Mbps) connection, the second-fastest option at the time, cost around $76 per month. Under the new pricing plan, a 1 Mbps connection will be the slowest option available and cost around $16.

Economists and business leaders say the economic benefits could be considerable. They quote a 2008 report commissioned by the Ministry of Finance which estimated 10 percent growth in broadband penetration would increase gross domestic product by as much as 1.5 percent.

ChouChic’s Darwiche said she was looking forward to upgrading her website. “We are going to add many functions and the images are going to be a lot clearer.”

Two major ISPs which rely on Ogero for bandwidth supply, Terranet and IDM, have already upgraded their Internet services to comply with the new plan.

Even now, however, there is still concern among some private ISPs that Ogero, which controls around 80 percent of Lebanon’s Internet cables, will delay further in providing the upgraded service.

“There is not a single person in the country that can obstruct the decision. It will be implemented in a matter of hours and days,” Sehnawi said on Saturday in response to such allegations.

But a poll conducted by the “Lebanese Want Fast Internet” Facebook group found only 11 percent of the 1,631 people who replied said they had their DSL packages upgraded to higher speeds over the weekend.

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“The Israelis are Coming! The Israelis are Coming!”

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

San Francisco–July 28th–Before your narrator begins his tale, he would like to unequivocally state that he supports the now overwhelmingly Islamic Palestinian (sub-) nationality within their seized State.  Your reporter like the grand majority of the people there and most of us support a two-State solution, but time is ticking, and the ball is in Tel Aviv’ court.  The issue has gained an increasing pungency with the bid of the Palestinians for recognition of their statehood status at the United Nation (U.N.’s) headquarters in New York City this coming September.

J Street, who invited your scribe to this event, is pro-Israel with a progressive vision, but at the same time is strongly in favor of a two-State solution.  (Of course, our reasoning is different their “whys” rom ours, but they are not so far away from our aspirations that we could not negotiate with them towards a middle ground.)   J Street was the sponsor of this evening as part of their national (U.S.)tours targeted at their Jewish-American constituency of (retired) political officials, diplomats, and (that even included four) military generals, who disapprove of their current government’s out-of-hand rejection of the (U.S.) Obama’s Administration proposals to base future negotiations  between the two contentious  sides over the pre-1967 borders with agreed swaps.   In the sponsor’s words:  “…increased tensions in the region [which is] undergoing rapid transformation [i.e., the ‘Arab Spring’]…is a critical time” for Israel, too.

I am urging my colleague in the Southland (that’s what we call Southern California from the North to balance my reporting with hers dedicated to the Palestinian perspective) whose cause she has so fervently espoused! 

The (former) Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Ilan Baruch, resigned from his nation’s Foreign Service early from his post as the Ambassador there.  (Formerly, he was Tel Aviv’ representative in Manila.) His action was prompted because of his inability to argue his nation’s policies to an international audience with whom his homeland was becoming ever more isolated and looked down upon as a pariah entity.

Ambassador Baruch served in the Israeli Foreign Ministry for more than thirty years.  Besides his exalted duties as Israel’s (former) Ambassador to the Philippines and South Africa, he worked in their embassies in London, Copenhagen and Singapore.   He, also, led the Bureau for Middle Eastern Economic Affairs and was the Deputy Head of the Peace Process within the Middle East Department and founded and served as first Director of the Palestinian Autonomy Division within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which position he became acquainted and worked with the (now) President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.  They bounded as life-long friends.  They make regular personal contact over the phone, and Ilan recently visited him at his home (fifteen minutes away!).  Such integral relationships are central to resolution of the enmeshed friction between these two neighbors.

Baruck is one of most conspicuous of the high-ranking former members within previous Israeli Administrations who have come forward in opposition to the Netanyahu regime’s policies – especially in regards to the peace process.

His Excellency’s presentation, which was largely fielding questions, took part at a Synagogue within this Pacific-rim City.

J Streets’ Northwest’s Regional Director, Gordon Gladstone, began by stating that 57% of American Jews support the two-State resolution.  Strategic opinion holds to Obama’s proposals to negotiate along the lines of the pre-1967 boundaries with agreed land swaps are defensible (counter to their Prime Minister [PM’s] protests). 

Baruch noted that to be an Ambassador did not allow you to express your own opinion within hearing:  It is “…a total project” in and of itself.  His rather dramatic public resignation was made as a matter of principle.  Therefore, he emphasized that his words at the end of last month in no way represented the positions of his PM’s government.  His views are from the opposing side of the Israeli Establishment and their Society, but they represent a good deal of Civil Society’s unvoiced body political there opining.  

The contemporary Hebrew State is more complex than is apparent to its observers in the West. 

Baruch unequivocally uttered that “I am not with government [now], but have created governmental policy in the past.”  Unfortunately, the last several Israeli regimes “have been right-wing …[reflections] of their societies [electorates].”  The present, alas, does represent the will of the people, but often they merely have become e a voice for the Settlers at that. 

To a Jewish-American audience, he reiterates that so much of West Jerusalem’s security resides within their relationship with the United States.  Your relator’s audience would be pleased to hear that he believes much of this relationship is eroding away (because of his admin’s mismanagement).

The principle of “Land for Peace” means [succinctly]the end of…the Occupation…with Occupation we cannot achieve peace,” but Netanyahu disagrees.  Thus, there is no trust by the other side (us) to negotiate.  

The Netanyahu reign demands Israel remain as a Jewish State.  Also, the Palestinians look upon the West Bank and Gaza together as one (potential) State wherein Tel Aviv perceives them as separate.  This could become an issue with the current or similar-minded future Hebrew governments.     

In questioning, he fell into the standard Israeli (and American) position that the Gazans were at fault for the token scud attacks upon Israeli soil from the micro-“State’s” territory that led to Israel’s disproportionate reaction of Operation Cast Iron (December 2008-Januay 2009) when in fact it was instituted by non-State actors that Gaza City could not or would not control.  This refusal to acknowledge a popular uprising there and blame the State(s) instead (that they had set up as supposed puppets nonetheless) and punish their innocent citizens for the actions of others that their elected governments were not able to contain, must cease if there is ever to be peace.   He, then, asserted that the principle of “Land for Peace” cannot work without commitment, (but, conversely, commitment has been so poorly lacking by those series of Tel Aviv’ right-wing governments that he mentioned previously above).

It is sheer ideology that is driving Netanyahu.  The Prime Minister knows what the right thing to do is, but he does not possess the courage to do it!

The Ambassador believes that (Palestine)Statehood will be vetoed (by the American States, but that is only if it goes directly to the Security Council before the General Assembly [GA].  There are complicated legal questions if the Palestinian bid is accepted by the one and not the other.)  There is a long-standing legal differentiation between a “disputed” and an “occupied” territory that is being argued domestically within Israel herself at the moment.

Baruch pointed out that Kadima, a Centrist/Liberal (Party) within their Knesset (Parliament), towards whom he appears to lean, and who holds the largest block of seats there.  Yet they were forced from the present coalition – still, they have the greatest chance of forming a future Israeli government, deems that it is necessary to allow a neighboring State of Palestine to be formed as soon as possible.

In summation, Palestinians – largely Islamic with a vibrant Christian minority therein – have common interest with liberal political elements within Israel herself as well with a majority in the American Jewish community and others over the West. 

The American government should be cultivating these elements within the  Israeli military and their Civil Society to pressure their Middle Eastern “ally” to accept President Barrack Hussein Obama’s Administration’s proposals for bi-lateral dialog towards peace.  Influential former members of past Tel Aviv governments support our hopes and aspirations for peace in our mutual Abrahamic homeland. 

Not all Israelis or Jews are our enemies.  We should, subsequently, embrace those whom we can as friends and allies, and ask how we can work together for our common good!

13-32

Egypt Police & Youths Clash; Over 1,000 Hurt

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick Werr and Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) – Police in Cairo fired tear gas on Wednesday at hundreds of stone-throwing Egyptian youths after a night of clashes that injured more than 1,000 people, the worst violence in the capital in several weeks.

Nearly five months since a popular uprising toppled long-serving authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s military rulers are struggling to keep order while a restless public is still impatient for reform.

The latest clashes began after families of people killed in the uprising that ousted Mubarak held an event in a Cairo suburb late on Tuesday in their honor.

Other bereaved relatives arrived to complain that names of their own dead were not mentioned at the ceremony. Fighting broke and moved toward the capital’s central Tahrir Square and the Interior Ministry, according to officials.

The Health Ministry said 1,036 people were injured, among them at least 40 policemen.

The ruling military council said in a statement on its Facebook page that the latest events “had no justification other than to shake Egypt’s safety and security in an organised plan that exploits the blood of the revolution’s martyrs and to sow division between the people and the security apparatus.”

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf told state TV he was monitoring developments and awaiting a full report on the clashes.

A security source quoted by the state news agency MENA said 40 people were arrested, including one U.S. and one British citizen, and were being questioned by military prosecutors.

Some said those involved were bent on battling police rather than protesting. To others, the violence seemed motivated by politics.

“The people are angry that the court cases against top officials keep getting delayed,” said Ahmed Abdel Hamid, 26, a bakery employee who was at the scene overnight, referring to senior political figures from the discredited Mubarak era.

By early afternoon, eight ambulances were in Tahrir, epicenter of the revolt that toppled Mubarak on February 11, and the police had left the square. Dozens of adolescent boys, shirts tied around their heads, blocked traffic from entering Tahrir, using stones and scrap metal.

Some drove mopeds in circles around the square making skids and angering bystanders. “Thugs, thugs… The square is controlled by thugs,” an old man chanted.

“I am here today because I heard about the violent treatment by the police of the protesters last night,” said Magdy Ibrahim, 28, an accountant at Egypt’s Banque du Caire.

Treating Wounded

The clashes unnerved Egypt’s financial market, with equity traders blaming the violence for a 2 percent fall in the benchmark EGX30 index, its biggest drop since June 2.

First-aid workers treated people mostly for inhaling tear gas in overnight violence. A Reuters correspondent saw several people with minor wounds, including some with head cuts.

Mohsen Mourad, the deputy interior minister for Cairo, said the security forces did not enter Tahrir overnight and dealt only with 150-200 people who tried to break into the Interior Ministry and threw stones, damaging cars and police vehicles.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political party warned Egyptians that remnants of Mubarak’s rule could exploit violence to their ends. Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei called on the ruling military council to quickly clarify the facts surrounding the violence and to take measures to halt it.

U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, visiting Cairo, said he hoped an investigation into the clashes would be “fair and thorough.”

Young men lit car tyres in the street near the ministry on Wednesday, sending black plumes of smoke into the air.

“There is lack of information about what happened and the details are not clear. But the certain thing is that Egyptians are in a state of tension and the reason behind this is that officials are taking time to put Mubarak and officials on trial,” said political analyst Hassan Nafaa.

Sporadic clashes, some of them between Muslims and the Christian minority, have posed a challenge to a government trying to restore order after many police deserted the streets during the uprising against Mubarak. In early May, 12 people were killed and 52 wounded in sectarian clashes and the burning of a church in Cairo’s Imbaba neighborhood.

A hospital in central Cairo’s Munira neighborhood received two civilians and 41 policemen with wounds, bruises and tear gas inhalation, MENA said. All were discharged except one civilian with a bullet wound and a policeman with concussion, it said.

Former interior minister Habib al-Adli has been sentenced to jail for corruption but he and other officials are still being tried on charges related to killing protesters. Police vehicles were stoned by protesters at Sunday’s hearing.

The former president, now hospitalized, has also been charged with the killing of protesters and could face the death penalty. Mubarak’s trial starts on August 3.

(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Sherine El Madany; Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Peter Graff)

13-27

Saudi Bans Domestic Workers from Indonesia, Philippines

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday it would stop granting work permits to domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, following hiring conditions imposed by the Asian countries.

The ministry of labour said it would “stop issuing work visas to bring domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, effective from Saturday” due to “the terms of recruitment announced by the two countries,” according to a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

“The ministry’s decision coincides with its great efforts to open new channels to bring domestic workers from other sources,” said the statement in English quoting the ministry’s spokesman Hattab bin Saleh al-Anzi.

Last week Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono denounced the beheading in Saudi Arabia of an Indonesian maid and accused Riyadh of breaking the “norms and manners” of international relations.

His comments signaled Indonesia’s growing anger over the treatment of its manual laborers in the Gulf countries, after a spate of cases of abuse and killings.

Ruyati binti Sapubi, 54, was beheaded on June 18 after she was convicted of killing her Saudi employer, prompting Indonesia to recall its ambassador in Saudi Arabia for “consultations.”

Indonesia also announced a moratorium on sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia, where hundreds of thousands of Indonesians toil as maids and laborers.

Saudi Arabia and the Philippines have also clashed over the working conditions of Filipina domestic workers in the oil-rich kingdom.

Earlier this year the Philippines asked Saudi Arabia to guarantee higher pay for Filipina housemaids but the request was turned down.

The Philippines demanded $400 in monthly wages for for housemaids but Saudi authorities offered a base monthly salary of $210, Filipino labor official Carlos Cao had told AFP in Manila in May.

Manila had also demanded proof that that Saudi households employing Filipina housemaids would pay and provide humane working conditions.

Rights groups say millions of mostly Asian domestic workers are regularly exposed to physical and financial abuse in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states due to poor or absent labor laws.

13-27

Allies Debate Libya Ceasefire, China Shifts Ground

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Robinson

2011-06-22T194132Z_1920063541_GM1E76N0AA801_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

Rebel fighters drive their vehicle on the frontline in Ajdabiyah June 22, 2011. A split opened within the NATO-led air campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Wednesday as France and Britain rejected an Italian call for a halt to military action to allow aid access. 

REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – Signs of discord emerged on Wednesday in the NATO alliance over the air campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, as Italy said it favored a ceasefire and political talks while France dismissed the idea.

China also signaled a shift in its stand on the conflict, describing the rebels as a “dialogue partner,” while Libyan television said that “dozens” of people had been killed in Zlitan after NATO ships shelled the town.

Four months into the uprising, and three months since NATO war planes began bombing Libya, the rebels are making only slow gains in their march on the capital Tripoli to topple Gaddafi.

“The need to look for a ceasefire has become more pressing,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told parliament. “I believe that as well as the ceasefire, which is the first stage toward a political negotiation, a humanitarian stop to military action is fundamental to allow immediate humanitarian aid.”

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero reacted sharply to Frattini’s comments, which reflected Italian anxiety for some time over the NATO operation.

“The coalition was in complete accord two weeks ago at the contact group meeting in Abu Dhabi: We have to intensify the pressure on Gaddafi. Any pause in operations would risk allowing him to gain time and reorganize himself,” Valero told reporters.

In Rome, a foreign ministry spokesmen played down Frattini’s comments, saying this was not an Italian proposal and that it had been discussed among others at a Cairo meeting on June 18 of European Union, U.N., African and Arab officials.

“There is no specific Italian proposal on this. What Minister Frattini said in parliament this morning is that Italy is interested in looking at all ideas which could relieve civilian suffering,” the spokesman said.

He said the ceasefire, an idea the United Nations has been pushing without success for some time, could apply to rebel-held Misrata and the Western Mountains region.

At the same time, the African Union chief said in Addis Ababa that the West would eventually have to accept an AU ceasefire plan, saying the air bombardments were not working.

“(The bombing campaign) was something which they thought would take 15 days,” Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, told Reuters. “The stalemate is already there. There is no other way (than the AU plan). They will (endorse it).”

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), a Saudi-based grouping of 57 Muslim countries, also said it had sent a delegation that arrived in Libya on Wednesday to mediate.
It would meet the rebels in Benghazi and Gaddafi officials in Tripoli, a statement said, but gave no more details.

China Shifts Ground

The debate over a ceasefire comes as Libya’s rebels, who have made steady progress winning support abroad and isolating Gaddafi on the international stage, secured Beijing’s recognition as a “dialogue partner.”

“China sees you as an important dialogue partner,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Mahmoud Jibril, diplomatic chief of the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council in Beijing. The comments were published in a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website (www.mfa.gov.cn).

“(The Council’s) representation has been growing stronger daily since its establishment, and it has step-by-step become an important domestic political force,” Yang said, adding that China was worried about the Libyan people’s suffering.

Winning international recognition could eventually help the rebels to secure access to frozen Libyan funds, and the right to spend money earned by exporting oil.

China is the only veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that has yet to call for Gaddafi to step down, after Russia joined Western countries last month in calling for him to leave power.

Beijing, never very close to Gaddafi, hosted Libya’s Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi this month. Courting the rebels has marked a policy adjustment for China, which generally avoids entangling itself in other nations’ domestic affairs.

NATO and the rebels are hoping that Gaddafi’s diplomatic and economic isolation will eventually bring his government down.

Misrata Attacks

Gaddafi’s forces were able to shell the rebel stronghold of Misrata on Tuesday, landing rockets in the center of the town for the first time in several weeks.

No one was reported hurt by that strike, but it undermined a relative sense of security among residents who believed that a siege on the city had been broken last month.

More rockets fell later in the sparsely-populated El-Araidat neighborhood near the port. Residents said no one was hurt and a Reuters reporter saw only several dead sheep lying in a field after the attack.

“Everyone is worried. We don’t know where to go anymore. Only when I die will I be safe,” said Mohammed Mabrouk, who lives near one of two houses hit by the first rocket rounds in Misrata. Two more landed in open areas.

At least three explosions were heard in Tripoli on Wednesday morning and again in the afternoon but it was not clear where or what caused them.

In a sign of the increasing impact of the crisis on daily life, Gaddafi’s state media issued instructions that ordinary people should follow “to deal with the fuel shortage.”

They called on people to use public transport instead of cars, avoid using air conditioning when driving and stick to 90-100 kph as the ideal speed. They also asked Libyans to be patient when queuing at petrol stations.

Exports of oil have ceased, depriving Gaddafi’s government of the funds it used during peacetime to provide the population with heavily subsidized food and fuel. Petrol queues in Gaddafi -held areas now stretch for miles.

Rebels have been trying to advance west toward the town of Zlitan, where Gaddafi’s soldiers are imposing a tight siege. Libyan television said on Wednesday that “dozens” of people were killed in Zlitan after NATO ships shelled the town.

The report could not be independently verified because foreign reporters have been prevented from entering Zlitan. NATO normally comments on its Libya operations the following day.

If the Libyan television report is confirmed, it could further complicate the mission of the NATO-led military alliance, whose credibility has been questioned after it admitted on Sunday killing civilians in a Tripoli air strike.

Gaddafi’s government says more than 700 civilians have died in NATO strikes. However, it has not shown evidence of such large numbers of civilian casualties, and NATO denies them.

A rebel spokesman called Mohammed told Reuters from Zlitan that NATO had been hitting government military targets in the town on an almost daily basis. He said Gaddafi’s soldiers used artillery positions in Zlitan to fire salvoes toward Misrata.

“We hear the sound of artillery fire every night,” he said.

13-26

The General and the Lawyer

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Let us continue our discussion with The IDF (Israeli Defense Force’s) Retired General and their Ministry Of Justice Official

Last week (May 30th-June June 5th), the Yemeni unrest has broken out into a full-fledged civil war with tribal groups on one side opposing the government in Sana’s Army seriously wounding the nation’s President.  Today (124 Yemeni Army personal were reported as casualties of the battle while the NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) perceives the situation with alarm because of the large concentration of Al-Qaeda on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.  While in Libya the consternation still converges, with NATO’s overwhelming air forces backing the rebels in Benghazi a resolution to the clash looks far away.  The Arab “Spring” has degenerated into an ugly Middle Eastern / North African clash of wills.

Let us continue with the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) Retired General Sharoni and Ms. Taras Hassan of her nation’s Ministry of Justice Department reaction to (U.S.) President Obama’s speech of a fortnight ago on establishing a basis for negotiations between Israel and Palestine based on (U.S.) President Barrack Obama’s proposals for peace dialogues.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, who is domiciled here in Washington, is the Executive Director of J-Street joined the conversation by the miracles of the Internet.  Both the two influential progressive Israelis and a liberal Jewish-American thinker shared an alternative vision for Tel Aviv’ State which includes an independent Palestinian State on their borders: A vision that would guarantee their country as a majority Jewish entity, but with better integration into the Middle Eastern environment.  Such individuals are the only hope for that nation’s survival since their citizen’s are threatened by their government’s policy of “Eternal War” which cannot be kept up indefinitely without eventual disaster. A progressively political Israeli government could be trusted to confer trustfully and honestly with the opposing side.    

Your writer is always interested in the comments of a military man like the general.  If you remember this author wrote several pieces on these pages regarding the retired American Marine Corps General Anthony Zini.  Because he was no longer on active duty, he was free to criticize (his) President Bush’s morality and his Administration conduct of the Iraq War.  Sharoni is in the exact same position in respect to his (Israeli) Prime Minister (P.M’s) policy towards the suppression of the Palestinian’s rightful desire for nationhood.  After all, unlike the Judaic ultra-Orthodox, who are not required to serve because of their long curled hair; yet, they are among the most conservative within the Hebrew body politic. (Strange, because the Sikhs, who have a reputation for being among the best soldiers in the world — are required by their religion never to cut any of their body hair; nevertheless, they have consistently served honorably, and are considered among the best soldiers in the world.  Sometimes being “shoot at” will encourage one to settle social conflicts short of war if possible.)  General Sharoni had an honorable career as a man of arms often risking his own life throughout his career.

The two people, who were in Jerusalem — contrary to their Prime Minister, were advocates, along with (U.S.) President Barrack Obama, that the basis of negotiation should begin at the acceptance of the pre-1967 borders with certain mutually concurred land exchanges resolved between the two parties through bargaining amongst themselves.  This is necessary because of the pattern of the Settlements.

(The United States or any other third foreign delegation should not impose its own will upon the principal actors, but should be there to aid the two groups to find a middle ground between them.)

The upcoming U.N. (United Nations’) vote to decide upon Palestine independence is on the Israeli liberals “radar.”  Several progressive Israeli organizations support and have already made a public endorsements in favor of this vote in favor of the Palestinians. In fact, on the fourth, a major demonstration of 5,000 residents was held in Tel Aviv in favor of Obama’s peace proposals.

The retired Major-General Sharoni is of the opinion that the only way to keep the “democratic” Motherland for the Jews is the two-State solution.  (Your author, of course, is of a slightly different opinion.  I envision a multi-sectarian State upon the territory of the present-day Israel.  The ultra-conservative Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman proposal to genetically cleanse the Hebrew State – mainly of the Palestinian Arabs — is not a positive sign for the peace process to proceed nor is the P.M.’s rejection of the (U.S.’) proposition.  Your commentator would not object to non-coercive policies to keep Israel a Jewish Majority State, though.)  The General, differing, presumes it is of the utmost urgency that Israel must remain an ethnic nation-state for Jewry.  Therefore, to assure its Jadishness, he reasons this terrain on the Mediterranean should continue as a nation-state for the Jews, and the best way to ensure this is to create a homeland for the Palestinians on their borders.  Further, that this will be advantageous to the Arabs there, too.  (What he does not factor is that Palestine is a bi-sectarian body.  In pre-Partition Palestine, the Christians were the largest congregate.  Now, they represent a mere 7% of the population, and the Muslims overwhelmingly make up most of the remaining populace.  If, the right of return is recognized the percentage of Christians should go up, but Islam would still dominate the State.)

Ms. Abbas of the Justice department reasons that there is flexibility amongst the Israelis.  It must become a de-militarized – (especially its nuclear arsenal should be reduced to the threat that is present.)  On the other hand, she believes it will be hard for the Arab’s to be flexible, whatever.

We are coming to the end of the column inches dedicated to your contributor for this week, and the comments within this international phone conversation are very rich, indeed; therefore, your evaluator will continue with his evaluation of this encounter in future segments of this study.

Especially, while writing, this piece, a sizeable Palestinian demonstration was held at the Israeli–Syrian Hebrew border on the sixth a large group of Palestinian citizens marched to Syria’s border with Israel on the Golan Heights, but were driven back with deadly force leaving twenty-three dead Arabs dead.

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Iraq Tries to Revive Ailing Date Industry

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khalid al-Ansary

2011-04-28T103424Z_793582934_GM1E74S1FL501_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-DATES2011-04-28T103730Z_2056488549_GM1E74S1FU001_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-DATES2011-04-28T104353Z_626090504_GM1E74S1FZA01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-DATES

BAGHDAD, April 27 (Reuters) – Standing in the middle of what was once a date palm oasis overlooking the Tigris River, Salim Abdulla al-Salim sees little hope in Iraq’s quest to relive its heyday as the world’s leading producer of dates.

Once, before its 1980s war with Iran, Iraq had 30 million date palms producing 1 million tonnes of dates annually.

But Saddam Hussein’s military campaigns and decades of neglect savaged the industry, cutting the number of trees in half and yearly production to 420,000 tonnes.

Young Iraqis, needed to scale the tall palms to hand-cut and lower bunches of golden fruit to the ground, see no future in it and are leaving the orchards for government jobs with better salaries and fewer hardships, Salim said.

“The industry is not viable any more. The revenues don’t cover the money spent on preparing the palms for production,” said Salim, a date farmer with 6,000 trees.

“In the past, the young generations were adopting their ancestors’ jobs, but now they have shifted to police, army and civil jobs, abandoning the date industry,” said Salim, standing in his dusty palm orchard in Baghdad’s Doura district of Doura.

Iraq, which relies on its vast oil and gas fields for most of its economy, now ranks only 7th among world date producers, according to Kamil Mikhlif al-Dulaimi, head of the Agriculture Ministry’s date palm board.

But the ministry has an ambitious $80 million plan to rebuild the date palm inventory up to 40 million trees in 10 years and to introduce more marketable varieties.

“We are working now to change the date palm map, and to produce the species the world wants,” Dulaimi said.

Ninety percent of Iraq’s production is one variety of date, the Zehdi. The ministry is expanding the menu to include the Hillawi, Khadrawi, Sayer, Maktoom, Derrie, Ashrasi and Barhee varieties.

It is also introducing new types of laboratory-produced trees that will bear fruit in two years instead of the four or five it usually takes.

The ministry recently signed a $17 million contract to buy seven crop-spraying helicopters to fight orchard pests.

“Having these helicopters means a big step forward for the agriculture sector,” Deputy Agriculture Minister Ghazi al-Abboudi said in an interview.

Boosting Production

The government’s hope is to double production to more than 800,000 tonnes annually in two years’ time, Abboudi said.

Dulaimi’s goal appears more modest — to boost the industry to 800,000-1 million tonnes in ten years.

In the 1970s Iraq sent 700,000 tonnes of dates abroad each year but last year exported only 200,000 tonnes, according to Mohammad Sulaiman, head of the Iraqi government’s date processing and marketing company.

Domestically, Iraq consumes about 100,000 tonnes yearly, and farmers in a depressed industry grumble about imports of foreign dates. “I wonder why the government allows imported dates in? Don’t we have dates?” asks Salim, the date farmer.

His groves are filled with weeds. Many of his trees have brittle brown fronds hanging limply, and clumps of dried fruit that should have been picked months ago. Salim said he didn’t bother because it would not have been financially worthwhile.

Iraqi date palms produced 150-200 kg (330-440 pounds) per tree in the 1990s, when water quality, fertilizers, pollination and pest control were better. Output is now down to just 50 kg, according to Salim.

The government is trying to help farmers boost production via subsidies for fertilizers and crop-dusting helicopters, agriculture officials say, and offers soft loans for processing and storage facilities.
“We started to give loans to investors to build warehouses, and they are increasing. We have now around 80 warehouses in Iraq,” Abboudi said.

The ministry also buys dates at $385 a tonne and sells to exporters at half that price to shore up the industry, he said — effectively subsidising farmers to keep them cultivating dates.

But farmers like Salim say they would rather sell to a private middle man at $300 a tonne than face the Iraqi government’s tangled bureaucracy for the extra $85.

Feroun Ahmed Hussein, the owner of 4,000 palms in Baghdad’s Doura district, said many farmers are selling off their land for housing projects despite farm-protection laws enacted before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that are still on the books.

“Some people figured that the government is not in a strong position and started to sell these agricultural lands to turn them into residential,” Hussein said.

Agriculture contributes about 10.2 percent to gross domestic product, according to government statistics, a relatively small slice of an emerging economy dominated by oil.

Iraq has signed deals with oil companies that it hopes will vault it into the top rank of world producers in six years.

But Dulaimi said Iraq should not rely only on oil.

“We are an agricultural country … it is not in our policy to keep depending on oil,” he said. “Oil will run out one day.”

(Editing by Jim Loney and Mark Heinrich)

13-21

Iraqi Fights Graft, Crime in Interior Ministry

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Missy Ryan and Muhanad Mohammed

2010-01-13T225914Z_513309992_GM1E61E0J8I01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-MINISTRY

Interior Ministry Inspector General, Aqeel al-Turaihi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad January 11, 2010. Outside the office of Aqeel al-Turaihi, inspector general at what is seen as a corrupt country’s most corrupt government agency, hangs a ‘Board of Honour’ showing photos of slain colleagues. Since he began probing theft, human rights abuses and police infiltration by militias in Iraq’s Interior Ministry in 2006, more than 40 members of Turaihi’s team have been assassinated. Picture taken January 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Outside the office of Aqeel al-Turaihi, inspector general at what is seen as a corrupt country’s most corrupt government agency, hangs a ‘Board of Honour’ showing photos of slain colleagues. Since he began probing theft, human rights abuses and police infiltration by militias in Iraq’s Interior Ministry in 2006, more than 40 members of Turaihi’s team have been assassinated.

“We are targeted from two sides: by terrorists because we are part of a security agency and by unscrupulous officials because we fight corruption,” he said.

Assailants have tried several times to kill Turaihi himself, an amateur poet and one-time activist against dictator Saddam Hussein, including a bomb attack on his convoy two years ago. The most recent threat on his life was less than a month ago.

Yet, Turaihi said, big strides had been made in combating malfeasance in the ministry, a vast bureaucracy that includes more than 300,000 police and about 200,000 other employees.

“There has been a big improvement. When we talk about the problems that might exist in the ministry, we need to note that we’re watching them closely and working hard to correct them.”

As Iraq battles a stubborn insurgency and takes on greater responsibility for security from U.S. troops, it must face not just corruption but allegations police or soldiers take bribes from militants or even collude in bloody attacks on civilians.

In a new report, parliament’s security and defense committee charges security forces were at least indirectly responsible in recent attacks on state buildings that have added a new element of uncertainty before national elections in March.

Seven or eight members of security forces remain in police custody after those attacks, committee member Falah Zaidan said.

Ammar Tu’ma, another lawmaker on the committee, said security forces were infiltrated.

“There are elements complicit with terrorists in implementing these explosions,” he said.

While officials deny any systemic wrongdoing among uniformed Iraqis, they acknowledge shortcomings in keeping Iraqis safe and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed dire consequences for those taking part in such attacks.

EJECTING CRIMINAL ELEMENTS

In the bloody years after Saddam’s ooverthrow, when U.S. officials disbanded security forces and rebuilt them anew, the Interior Ministry was widely believed to be in the grip of Shi’ite militias that went after adversaries with impunity and targeted Iraqis from the once-dominant Sunni minority.

Turaihi said most criminal elements were ‘cleansed’ from the ministry.

“There was a time when the ministry may not have been so professional and its loyalties might have been weak, but those loyalties have now come together under a national banner.”

Critics are skeptical about how zealous Turaihi and other anti-corruption officials in Iraq have been in that fight.

Zaidan said Turaihi, whose 2,600 inspectors oversee a ministry of 500,000 employees, and his Defense Ministry counterpart were not up to snuff and may need to be replaced.

While graft is sure to be a hot issue in the March 7 national polls, Iraq’s record on going after iniquitous officials, especially those from senior levels, is poor.

Iraq is still ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries even as it stands on the verge of signing energy deals that could bring a flood of new oil revenue.

The Interior Ministry has been especially problematic. An independent panel reported there were more Interior employees convicted of corruption in 2008 than any other ministry.

The same year, senior officials shut down 135 suspected corruption cases across the government, and another 1,552 were abandoned because suspects were covered by an amnesty law that has been morphed to become a corruption shield.

Turaihi said he did not support a full cancellation of the controversial article that allows ministers to protect subordinates, but said it should be used only to protect prosecution of ‘unintentional’ crimes.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim, Suadad al-Salhy and Khalid al-Ansary; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

12-3

Israel Summons Norway Envoy to Protest Divestment from Arms Firm

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amira Hass and Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondents, and The Associated Press

The director general of the Foreign Ministry, Yossi Gal, on Thursday summoned the Norwegian ambassador to Israel, Jakken Bjørn Lian, to protest Norway’s decision to pull all of its investments from the Israeli arms firm Elbit.

Following the meeting, the Foreign Ministry relayed that, “Israel will consider further steps of protest in the future.”

Norway’s finance minister, Kristin Halvorsen, announced at a press conference in Oslo earlier in the day that the divestment was due to Elbit’s involvement in the construction of the West Bank separation fence.

According to a political source in Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry had planned to issue a harsh statement of condemnation immediately after the announcement, but following the meeting with Lian the ministry decided to tone it down.

The explanations for the divestment provided by the Norwegian envoy at the meeting were apparently the reason for the ministry’s moderation of its response.

At the press conference, Halvorsen said the decision was based on the recommendation of Norway’s Ministry of Finance council on ethics, whose role is to ensure that government investments abroad meet ethical guidelines.

“We do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law,” said the minister. She said the shares were sold secretly ahead of the announcement.

Elbit manufactures a monitoring system installed on several parts of the separation fence.

The recommendation submitted by the Ministry of Finance council on ethics stated that it considered “the fund’s investment in Elbit to constitute an unacceptable risk of complicity in serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.”

The council is thus referring to a 2004 International Court of Justice ruling, stating that the separation fence represented a breach of international law.

Israel erected the fence following a wave of Palestinian terror attacks at the height of the second intifada; it says the barrier is a necessary measure to stop Palestinian suicide bombers and protect settlers. The Palestinians oppose the fence’s route, saying it is designed to grab land they want for a future state.

Palestinian as well as Israeli anti-occupation groups, aided by Norwegian leftists, have all protested extensively against Norwegian involvement in companies involved in West Bank development and construction over last two years, which have seen an increase in Norway’s investment in Israeli firms.

Norway’s pension fund is invested in 41 different Israeli companies.

A research project by the Coalition of Women for Peace called “Who profits from the occupation” found that almost two thirds of those firms are involved in West Bank construction and development.

11-38

Iran Summons German Envoy for ‘Veil Martyr’

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Flag-Pins-Iran-Germany

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the German Ambassador to Tehran over the brutal murder of a Muslim Egyptian woman in a Dresden court.

Herbert Honsowitz was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry to hear the strong objection of the Islamic Republic to the brutal murder of Marwa el-Sherbini.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi on Thursday condemned el-Sherbini’s murder as a despicable act in violation of “all human rights and values.”

El-Sherbini, dubbed the “veil martyr,” was involved in a court case against her neighbor, Axel W., who was found guilty last November of insulting and abusing the woman, calling her a “terrorist.”

She was set to testify against Axel W. when he stabbed her 18 times inside the Dresden court in front of her 3-year-old son.

El-Sherbini’s husband, Elvi Ali Okaz, came to her aid but was also stabbed by the neighbor and shot in the leg by a security guard who initially mistook him for the attacker, German prosecutors said. He is now in critical condition in a German hospital.

Pointing to the German government’s delayed response to the incident, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said that it was Berlin’s responsibility to ensure the rights and security of minorities, especially Muslims, living in Germany.

The Muslim population of Dresden condemned el-Sherbini’s killing, expressing concern about the consequences of such terrorist attacks against Muslims.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry also blamed Western countries for their “double-standard” and “news boycott” regarding the case.

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