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Sep. 14th, 2008


New Delhi blasts death toll rises to 21

 NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- The death toll in a string of explosions that ripped through busy marketplaces in India's capital has risen to 21, police said Sunday.
Relatives of a bomb explosion victim grieve at a market area Saturday in New Delhi, India.

Relatives of a bomb explosion victim grieve at a market area Saturday in New Delhi, India.

The number of people wounded in the Saturday blasts also went up to 97, said New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat.

Bhagat said police have not made any arrests in the attack, for which the Muslim militant group Indian Mujahedeen took responsibility.

Five minutes before the first blast, CNN-IBN -- CNN's sister network in India -- received an E-mail from the group warning of an impending strike.

At least five explosions ripped through the Karol Bagh market, Kailash Market and Connaught Place -- a popular tourist destination, Bhagat said. Two other bombs found near a movie theater and near central park in the Connaught Place area were defused, he said. 

An eyewitness told CNN that one of the bombs at Connaught Place was hidden near a public trash can at the market. He said the force of the blast blew a small vehicle from one side of the street to the other.

"It was terrifying," he said, adding that the small automobile rickshaw had blood all over it.

Bhagat refused comment about who might have carried out the attack.

India's Home Minister Shri Shivraj Patil blamed the attack on "anti-national elements" who he said "have been trying to disturb peace and create panic among the people in various parts of the country."

"The government will continue to deal firmly with such elements," Patel said in a written statement. "I am confident that security agencies will soon be able to get to the bottom of these incidents and the culprits will be brought to book."

Indian Mujahedeen claimed responsibility for 17 blasts that struck the western Indian city of Ahmedabad on July 26, killing 49 and wounding more than 100 others. The blasts struck within about an hour of each other within a six-mile (10 km) radius.



Indian Mujahedeen also claimed responsibility in May for near-simultaneous bomb attacks that killed 63 people in the northwest city of Jaipur. In the Jaipur claim, the group declared "open war" against India in retaliation for what it said were 60 years of Muslim persecution and the country's support of United States policies.

Sep. 6th, 2008


Swazis hold 40th birthday of king, independence


Associated Press Writer

AP Photo
AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam


MBABANE, Swaziland (AP) -- The Swazi king, bare-chested and wearing a traditional leopard skin loin cloth, celebrated his 40th birthday and his nation's 40th independence day in lavish style Saturday - hosting an extravaganza that contrasted sharply with the biting poverty of his subjects.

King Mswati III toured the national stadium in an open-topped BMW to cheers and fluttering flags. Tens of thousands of Swazi maidens who had performed for the king last weekend at the annual Reed Dance were at the festivities, which included traditional dancing and Zulu drumming, as well as a full military parade.

Visiting heads of state were whisked into the stadium in a long convoy of luxury cars, purchased specially for the occasion. The loudest cheer was reserved for Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who climbed out of a car with a "Zimbabwe" license plate to a standing ovation. The 84-year-old autocrat is popular in the region because he is seen as standing up to the West.

"I'm aware that many in the world might be wondering why we are so excited about the celebrations of our 40th anniversary," Mswati told the crowd. "The answer is simple. We are celebrating our nationhood."

Mswati is Africa's last absolute monarch. He is widely revered, but there is anger about the luxurious lifestyle practiced by him and his 13 wives.

The so-called 40-40 party was preceded by demonstrations against its excessive cost - officially put at $2.5 million, but widely believed to be at least five times more - in a country where 70 percent live below the poverty line.

Only one in four Swazis can expect to reach 40, according to the latest U.N. estimates, because of the AIDS virus that has infected nearly 40 percent of adults - the highest in the world - and left a generation of orphans.

For Celane, Menzi and Thembelinwe Sifundza, Saturday was a day like any other: rising at dawn to collect firewood, making the trek to the river for water and scraping together a meager meal. The three children, aged 15, 13 and 11, have coped on their own since the death of their mother and then their father in 2002.

Their two-roomed house in a desolate village is devoid of furniture, save an old table and two chairs. There's just a mattress and mat on the floor covered by two dirty blankets, with two iron cooking pots in the corner. The single candle holder doesn't even have a candle.

Thembie Manana, a neighbor who tries to help the children even though she struggles to feed and clothe her own family and is herself weakened by AIDS, laughed bitterly when asked about the celebrations.

"That's not for us," she said. "There's nothing for us."

Hundreds of HIV-positive women took to the streets last month in fury at a Dubai shopping spree by eight of the king's 13 wives to purchase birthday outfits, and the fleet of luxury cars bought to carry VIPs around.

Mswati made no reference to the unhappiness among his subjects in his 45-minute address. Instead, he urged the southern African nation's 1 million people to redouble efforts to boost the nation's growth and tackle the scourge of AIDS.

He also told foreign investors that Swaziland was a calm, peaceful and safe place for their money, and invited more tourists to visit the small nation surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique.

"We are telling a world full of prejudices that we are a happy nation in spite of the challenges that face us," he said.

Swaziland holds parliamentary elections later this month, but critics have dismissed them as a sham because political parties are banned. Voters have to choose from a list of individuals with no strong political platform.

Mswati urged residents to vote for people who can tackle Swaziland's huge problems. Many previous government officials have been criticized for serving only their own personal interests.

"We need people who take their responsibilities seriously," he said.

One in five Swazis now depend on international food aid, partly because AIDS has devastated rural areas and led to an explosion in child-headed households who can't tend the fields.

Life expectancy has nearly halved since 1998 because of the AIDS epidemic and is now less than 31 years, according to U.N. figures.

Nowhere was the gulf between the haves and have-nots more striking than at the "garden party" hosted by the king at the Queen Mother's palace after the stadium celebrations.

The sirens of high-speed police convoys pierced the late afternoon calm and a long procession of luxury cars lined up for the parking lot as southern Africa's elite made their way to a gourmet meal in a large marquee.

Just across the dusty road an even longer line of girls and young women - who have stayed in the Queen Mother's grounds since taking part in last weekend's Reed Dance - waited hungrily for their meal.

Fourteen-year-old Sonia Fakudza was typical. She said her father was dead and her mother tried to look after herself and her two brothers. Her house has water but no electricity and she walks miles to get to school.

Despite the deprivations, she said she was proud of her Swazi culture and enjoyed dancing bare breasted for the king at last weekend's Reed Dance and at Saturday's ceremony.

"It's been a lot of fun," she said, a big beam lighting up her face.


Thailand Prime Minister: 'I Will Not Resign'

As Protests Continue for a Second Week, PM Samak Sundaravej Refuses to Step Down

BANGKOK, Thailand Sept. 5, 2008
After his security detail sweeps the building, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is ushered through a back entrance and enters the interview room alone.

Outside, protesters call on Samak to resign, and they refuse to leave the grounds of the Government House, the equivalent of the White House, which they have occupied for more than a week.

Samak, who says he has only been in office for seven months and has the right to stay for four years, refuses to resign.

"I will not resign. No reason, groundless," Samak tells ABC News. "A group of people stage a rally on the street and finger-point that the prime minister must resign. You are kidding. You will destroy the monarch."

Demonstrators accuse Samak of corruption and of being a puppet of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accusations Samak dismisses. The protestors call themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), although what they are seeking is less democracy, in fighting for more appointed positions rather than elected ones.


"I must stay to keep the country in a good shape and to protect the law and order, and to keep the system of the country," says Samak, who was educated in the United States.

"Now they say that they won," Samak says. "We ask, won [what]? These group of people, they [rouse] the people, and they are just like a cult, like in America," the 73-year-old says, making a comparison to the David Koresh congregation raided by federal agents in Waco, Texas, in 1993. "Everybody believes without reason."

Thailand plans to hold a national referendum to address the political turmoil, though details of what this will entail are not yet known.

Earlier this week, pro- and anti-government protests led to violence, and three people were killed, according to Samak. Video of the violence, which included people kicking and beating others with sticks, was broadcast around the world.

The military and riot police were immediately brought in to handle the situation. The police have made a point of being unarmed.

"This time the military knows [how] they should perform," says Samak, referring to examples in the past when the use of force has backfired.

"I understand, I can feel their difficulties. I myself must be very soft and gentle," he explains, saying he will use the law to resolve this matter. "I cannot smash on any kind of thing. It might not be please to everyone, but I must do."

The protest area is filled with music and food stalls, with people selling souvenirs and T-shirts. Samak says he is in no rush to remove people from the Government House, adding that he has been able to conduct business elsewhere.

"When we put just a deadline, that is the hard way. Soft way, we try to solve," Samak explains. "[With a] soft way, we talk to the one who has responsibility, the commander in chief of the army. We talk and we say that we do agree. It takes time.

"Now this group [is] in the place, we [lost] face on that, that's OK [...]," Samak says to ABC News. "But now they know, we can seal them."

To "seal" the protesters, the military and police plan to surround the grounds of the Government House and allow the protestors to leave, but not go back in.

"I make a proclamation for the emergency, and we think we solve the problem. The military says that no, this time we must kick the ball out of the field first," says Samak, referring to declaring Bangkok in a state of emergency on Tuesday and stressing the need to be patient.

"We need time, we must consult by the side of the field. We'll come back again. The game must end, the game must end," he says. "Give me time."

While the protest area has primarily been isolated to one area in the capital -- surrounded by barbed wire, barricades and, at times, the military and police -- the Bangkok Post reported that on Thursday night two students were shot and injured while marching with a protest group about four miles from Samak's residence. Publicly absent from these events is King Bhumibol Adulaydej, who has intervened in the past to bring about a resolution to political crises. Samak visited the king last weekend and provided him with a report, the contents of which have been kept private.

"Give me time," Samak tells ABC News. "We must do it soft and gentle, because it's not only the Thai who are looking at this, it's the whole world, it's the whole world."


Afghan attack kills Canada troops


(BBC) Three Canadian soldiers have been killed and five more injured in an attack in Afghanistan.

A senior military source said the soldiers' vehicle had come under attack by insurgents during a routine patrol in Kandahar province.

There are 2,500 Canadians based in the south of Afghanistan as part of Nato's mission to fight the Taleban.

Two weeks ago, three Canadians died when a roadside bomb went off in the south of the country.

Two of the injured soldiers in the latest attack were reported to be in a serious condition and one had been treated and released.

Brig Gen Denis Thompson, the top Canadian commander in Kandahar, said the men were attacked while conducting a security patrol and had returned fire.

He told a televised news conference in Kandahar that the soldiers were close to the end of their tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"It saddens me to think of their loved ones who were expecting them to return home this month," he said.

The latest deaths bring the total number of Canadians killed in the conflict to 96. 


Fireworks, spectacle open Beijing Paralympics

 BEIJING, China (AP) -- The Paralympic Games opened in Beijing on Saturday with a burst of fireworks as China welcomed another chance to cement its role as a global player to an international audience.
Fireworks at Beijing's National Stadium greet the opening of the 2008 Paralympics.

Fireworks at Beijing's National Stadium greet the opening of the 2008 Paralympics.

Thousands of cheerleaders and dancers in puffy, rainbow-colored suits performed a dance routine in the center of the field at the National Stadium before athletes from 148 countries were introduced. The crowd cheered and waved flags as China's Communist Party leaders and foreign dignitaries looked on.

The guest list included Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, German President Horst Koehler and South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo.

Earlier Saturday, they shook hands and posed for photos with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's legislature in the heart of Beijing. Hu gave a brief speech and toasted the games.

"Caring for the disabled is an important symbol for social civilization and progress," Hu said before raising his glass.

"China's people and government have always attached great importance to the cause of the disabled," he said in remarks televised on state television. "We insist on putting people first, carrying forward a humanitarian spirit and advocating equality and opposing discrimination."

Opening just two weeks after the Beijing Olympics ended, the Paralympics are designed to be a parallel games for athletes with a wide range of physical disabilities. The 10-day competition begins Sunday.

Some 4,000-plus athletes will use many of the same Olympic venues, with 148 countries represented and 472 medal events contested -- 170 more than the Olympics. 

Hosting the Olympics and the Paralympics is a source of national pride for China and a way to showcase the country on the international stage. The Aug. 8-24 Olympics was overshadowed at times by human rights and censorship disputes surrounding the event.

China is keen to use the Paralympics to underscore what is says it has done for the country's 83 million disabled citizens. 

The official Xinhua News Agency said Beijing used much of its US$100 million budget for the Paralympics to improve handicapped facilities in competition venues, airports, the public traffic system, hotels, hospitals and tourist attractions like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

An editorial on the front page of the ruling Communist Party's People Daily newspaper hailed the games as a "stage for the world's handicapped people to realize their dreams."

"Remarkable progress has been made in basic living standards, medicare, education and employment for the disabled," the editorial said, "and the preparation for the Beijing Paralympics ... recorded fresh achievement made by China in promoting the cause for the disabled."

But the country has also had a contentious history with dealing with its disabled population.

The government has long advocated sterilizing mentally handicapped people. In the early 1990s, a draft law was presented to the legislature to reduce the number of disabled through abortion and sterilization, a move that unleashed international criticism.

In 1994, China ratified a law calling for the abortion of fetuses carrying hereditary diseases and restrictions on marriages among people suffering mental problems or contagious diseases.

More recently, Beijing Olympic organizers issued an apology in June for clumsy stereotypes used to describe disabled athletes in an English-language manual compiled for thousands of volunteers.

One section described the physically disabled as "isolated, unsocial and introspective; they usually do not volunteer to contact people. They can be stubborn and controlling." 


Malaysia deploys navy to Somalia


(BBC) Malaysia is sending three navy ships to the coast of Somalia to protect merchant vessels from piracy.

The ships, carrying troops and helicopters, are expected to begin patrolling in the Gulf of Aden in the next few days.

Two Malaysian tankers from the shipping line MISC Berhad were seized last month by Somali pirates.

The seas off Somalia, close to busy shipping routes, have some of the highest rates of piracy in the world.

The country has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered from continual civil strife.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said the ships being deployed would provide protection for five MISC Berhad vessels, and would not launch rescue operations.

Counting ships

Officials in the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland say the ships are being held at the port of Eyl, a lawless outpost controlled by gangs.

Puntland's minister for mines, who is leading a delegation to investigate the hijackings, told the BBC Somali Service from a hill overlooking the port that he could count eight captured vessels.

He said another two were reported to be on their way to Eyl.

The delegation had spoken to local elders, he said, but it had not approached the pirates.

The latest vessel to be hijacked was an Egyptian ship which was reported missing on Thursday.

Earlier this week a French sailing boat with two crew was seized.

Pirates holding that boat are reportedly seeking a ransom of more than $1m (£0.56m).

Puntland's ports minister said after the capture of the French boat that pirates in the region were well-armed and employ a lot of people.

He said there was little co-ordination between those trying to tackle them.

In June, the UN Security Council voted to allow countries to send warships into Somalia's waters to tackle the pirates, but the ports minister complained that international vessels "don't intervene". 


Sudan army attacks Darfur towns

(BBC) Sudanese government troops have launched attacks on two towns in Darfur, three rebel groups in the region have said.

The rebels said the troops, backed by militias, helicopters and planes, had attacked Disa and Birmaza in North Darfur state early on Saturday.

The joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur said it was investigating the reports.

There has been no comment on the rebel claims from the Sudanese military.

'String of attacks'

"There are many dead, both civilians and some of our soldiers too," a commander of a faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, Ibrahim al-Helwu, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

"The fighting is still going on, they are inside the town and are looting," he said from Disa.

Commanders of two other rebel groups also said their forces in the area, north of the town of Kutum, were also involved in the fighting.



Rebel groups have accused government forces of launching a string of attacks on insurgent-held areas in North Darfur in recent months.

One rebel commander, Sherif Harir, from the Sudan Liberation Movement - Unity faction, said Khartoum was trying to wrest control of key transport routes and oil reserves in the area, Reuters news agency reported.

The five-year conflict in Darfur has led to the deaths of more than 300,000 people and the displacement of two million others, according to UN estimates.

The violence began in 2003 when rebel groups complaining of discrimination against black Africans began attacking government targets. 


Bhutto widower Zardari elected Pakistan's new president

 ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- The widower of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has won the election to be the country's next president, Pakistani media reported Saturday.
Supporters of Asif Ali Zardari celebrate his presidential election success in Karachi Saturday.

Supporters of Asif Ali Zardari celebrate his presidential election success in Karachi Saturday.

Asif Ali Zardari, 53, had been the front-runner in the race to replace former President Pervez Musharraf, who was forced to resign last month.

The election was not by public vote, but rather by lawmakers in the two houses of the National Assembly and in the four provincial assemblies around the country. Under Pakistan's constitution, the president is elected by a majority vote.

Pakistan's PTV reported that in parliament, Zardari received 281 votes. Retired Chief Justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui received 111 votes and Senator Mushahid Hussein received 34, PTV reported.

The pro-American Zardari will rule a nuclear power threatened by Islamic militancy and economic turmoil. The Taliban are resurgent in Pakistan and the country's economy is tanking.

Zardari took over Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) after her death late last year. His party had been confident of a win, saying Zardari had the support of three of the four provincial assemblies -- which would be crucial in helping Zardari forge the alliances he needs to tackle the country's main problems.

Hussain, who was a close aide to the ex-president, was representing Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q. The party had painted him as a candidate who represented the middle class and has a clean track record -- in contrast to Zardari, who spent 11 and a half years in jail on corruption charges that he refutes.

Siddiqui was nominated by the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Musharraf resigned under intense political pressure last month as the ruling coalition began taking steps to impeach him. He had swept to power in 1999 in a bloodless coup.

The chairman of the upper house of the assembly, Mohammedmian Soomro, has been acting president in the meantime.

Saturday's election came one day after Pakistan's Supreme Court reinstated three of its judges who Musharraf ousted in November, following his imposition of emergency rule.

The PPP had formed a coalition with Sharif's party, the PML-N, but the coalition split apart August 25. The PML-N had set that date as a deadline for the government to honor its promise to reinstate the judges who were fired.

The PPP, which led the coalition, said it believed the coalition should focus on picking a successor for Musharraf before it decided on reinstating the judges.

At least 60 judges were arrested after Musharraf issued his order. Some were jailed, others placed under house arrest.

Security around the National Assembly building in Islamabad was tight, with police on the roof and at the gates and riot police on site.

As the voting took place, a suicide car bomb exploded in northwestern Pakistan, killing 16 people, including 10 police officers, a local police spokesman said. Fifty others, mostly civilians, were wounded.

The explosion happened at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. The province is near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and is rife with Islamic extremists.

  • Asif Ali Zardari, widower of ex-PM Benazir Bhutto, elected Pakistan president
  • At least 16 dead following explosion in turbulent NW Pakistan region
  • NEW: The pro-U.S. Zardari will rule a nuclear power threatened by Islamic militancy
  • Pervez Musharraf resigned last month as ruling coalition took steps to impeach him



Rockslide kills at least 18 in Egyptian shanty town

 CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Massive boulders peeled away from a cliff and buried dozens of homes in an Egyptian shanty town Saturday, killing at least 18 people, authorities said. Rescuers were digging by hand to reach any survivors.
Crowds search for victims of the rockslide, which buried a shanty town in Cairo Saturday.

Crowds search for victims of the rockslide, which buried a shanty town in Cairo Saturday.

At least eight boulders, some the size of a small house, fell from the towering Muqattam cliffs outside Cairo and buried about 50 homes in the village of Manshiyet Nasr, one of many densely populated slums ringing Africa's most populous city.

The official said 35 people were injured and, according to residents, there could be up to 500 people buried under the hundreds of tons of rock that fell. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

"My whole family is underneath the rock," sobbed Anwar Ragab by phone to the Associated Press as he watched a body being pulled from under the rock. "I don't know what to do, I can't do anything -- I just want my children back."

The town was covered by a thick layer of dust and the scene was chaotic as men and women screamed in grief. People tried to lift the massive rocks by hand, calling out the names of relatives and family members stuck under the debris.

Police using search and rescue dogs probed the rubble, but six hours after the disaster, there was no sign of heavy machinery to assist in clearing the rock.

Angry residents yelled at police and government officials at the site, blaming them for the tragedy.

The government issued a statement saying survivors would be transferred to new housing for the night and given all necessary aid.

"We are following the case step by step and providing the care and comfort for the residents," Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said in the statement. "We would like to remind people the danger of building informal housing in dangerous areas."

The boulders came crashing down at 7 a.m., when most residents were still sleeping after waking earlier to eat ahead of the daytime fast of Islam's holy month of Ramadan.

"I couldn't find my house this morning," said Mustafa Abdel-Fatah, who spent the night at a friend's house in a different neighborhood. "I could only see rocks on top of everything."

Haidar Baghdadi, the parliamentarian for the region, told Al-Jazeera news channel that buried residents were calling for help from under the rubble using cell phones.

The deputy added that the area was known to be dangerous and the residents were supposed to be resettled to government housing. He also criticized the lack of government emergency response.

"We should have removed these rocks five years ago to protect the people underneath or moved the people," he said, blaming the Housing Ministry for the disaster.

Rock slides periodically take place on the edges of the brittle Muqattam hills outside Cairo. The base of the cliffs are home to dozens of slums built by impoverished migrants from the countryside looking for work in the city.

In 1994, some 30 people were killed in another rock slide in the same area. 

  • Rockslide hits Egyptian village on outskirts of Cairo, at least 18 people killed
  • At least eight boulders, estimated to weigh at least 70 tons, bury 50 homes 
  • NEW: Official: Locals say up to 500 people may be buried under rubble
  • In 1994, some 30 people were killed in another rockslide in the same area

Sep. 5th, 2008


Aso confirms bid to lead Japan's ruling party


TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Japan's brash, right-leaning former foreign minister announced Friday that he would run for ruling party president in a move that would put him on track to take over as Japan's next prime minister.

Taro Aso's candidacy for the September 22 vote in the Liberal Democratic Party was widely expected.

Taro Aso's candidacy for the September 22 vote in the Liberal Democratic Party was widely expected.

Taro Aso, 67, is widely considered the front-runner to replace struggling Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who announced Monday that he would step down amid sagging poll numbers and troubles with the split parliament.

"I have a very heavy mission," Aso told reporters in a speech broadcast in part by NHK TV. Aso's parliamentary office confirmed reports by NHK and Kyodo News agency that he announced his intention to run in the same speech.

Aso's candidacy for the September 22 vote in the Liberal Democratic Party was widely expected.

The LDP election is expected to be followed on September 24 with a vote in parliament for prime minister. The party's hold on the powerful lower house all but guarantees that the LDP president will then be elected premier.

Three other candidates tipped to also run for LDP president are Yuriko Koike, a former defense minister and TV anchorwoman; Economic Minister Kaoru Yosano; and Nobuteru Ishihara, the son of Tokyo's governor.

The vote will take place amid political and economic uncertainty in Japan.

The opposition, which took over the upper house of parliament in elections last year, has been pushing noisily for snap lower house elections.

The Asahi, a major newspaper, said on Thursday that 56 percent of Japanese are in favor of dissolving parliament and holding general elections "as soon as possible," according to a telephone poll of 1,069 people. 

  • Taro Aso, 67, is widely considered front-runner to replace PM Yasuo Fukuda
  • Fukuda announced Monday he would step down amid sagging poll numbers
  • Also tipped to run for LDP president: Yuriko Koike, Kaoru Yosano, Nobuteru Ishihara
  • LDP election expected to be followed on September 24 with vote for prime minister



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