Thursday, June 30, 2011

Venezuela's Chavez says he was treated for cancer

(Reuters) - Venezuela's flamboyant socialist leader Hugo Chavez said on Thursday he had undergone a successful operation in Cuba to remove a cancerous tumor and was on the road to full recovery.
The announcement, which confirmed rumors swirling for nearly three weeks, threw the South American OPEC nation's politics into confusion ahead of a 2012 presidential election.

Looking grave and emotional in his speech, Chavez gave no indication when he would return to Venezuela and did not name a temporary substitute to lead the country of 29 million people.

"They confirmed the existence of a tumorous abscess, with the presence of cancerous cells, which required another operation to extract the tumor completely," he said in his first address to the nation since surgery in Havana on June 10.

Chavez said he was on the road to "full recovery."

"I deeply appreciate the demonstrations of solidarity by Venezuelans and other brotherly people," he added, standing at a lectern by a Venezuelan flag and a painting of his hero, South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Analysts say a prolonged absence could prompt infighting among his allies -- none of whom possess Chavez's charisma or national appeal -- and possibly bring calls for an early election by opposition parties gearing up for a 2012 poll.

"From the president's speech, it is impossible to deduce if he will or will not be in a physical state and the right mood to go into the 2012 campaign," local analyst Luis-Vicente Leon said.

Until Thursday, the official line had been that he was recovering well from an operation to remove a pelvic abscess and would return soon.


Inheriting former Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro's mantle as Washington's main irritant in Latin America, Chavez has become one of the world's most well known leaders during his 12 years in power.

Comparing his health problem to a previous dark moment for Chavez -- a short-lived 2002 coup against -- the president promised he would be back in typically grandiose language.

"I want to talk to you about the rising sun, I think that we have emerged," he said.

Chavez supporters reacted to his speech with disbelief but vows of solidarity.

"My comandante doesn't have cancer. It can't be true. He is the best president we have had, a strong man. He is not ill," said Santiago Valledare, a driver watching the speech and saluting the screen on a TV in a Caracas bar.

Chavez's ministers gave a joint appearance minutes after his speech ended, pledging to deepen his wide-reaching socialist reforms even in his absence and saying the government would remain united.

"This is not the time to go backward, it's time to advance," Vice-President Elias Jaua said.

Chavez's appearance followed the release of a video on Wednesday of him walking and chatting with Castro, his friend and mentor.

"For now and forever we will live and we will conquer. Until my return," Chavez said, ending his speech.


His government has canceled a July 5-6 summit coinciding with Venezuela's 200th anniversary of independence. That was a heavy blow for supporters who wanted the charismatic but authoritarian president -- who loves to grandstand at such big events -- back home in time for the national party.

"This development may open a period of unprecedented social and political uncertainty in Venezuela," Goldman Sachs analyst Alberto Ramos said in a note to clients.

Under the constitution, vice-president Jaua would replace Chavez if he were incapacitated.


Protesters in Jordan pelt parliament with eggs

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) - Dozens of Jordanians have pelted the parliament with eggs, demanding the dismissal of the prime minister and all parliament members.

The police briefly scuffled with the egg-hurling protesters, after which the rally ended peacefully.

Protests inspired by Arab uprisings have spread to Jordan but on a lesser scale.

Thursday's protesters were angered that lawmakers this week cleared Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit of involvement in a casino scandal during his previous 2005-2007 term.

At the time, his Cabinet approved the country's first gambling house in violation of Islamic law.

The parliament implicated al-Bakhit's ex-tourism minister, but acquitted the premier. The protesters say al-Bakhit is also responsible. They plan more demonstrations for Friday.


The Navy Bought Fake Chinese Microchips That Could Have Disarmed U.S. Missiles

Last year, the U.S. Navy bought 59,000 microchips for use in everything from missiles to transponders and all of them turned out to be counterfeits from China.

Wired reports the chips weren't only low-quality fakes, they had been made with a "back-door" and could have been remotely shut down at any time.

If left undiscovered the result could have rendered useless U.S. missiles and killed the signal from aircraft that tells everyone whether it's friend or foe.

Apparently foreign chip makers are often better at making cheap microchips and U.S. defense contractors are loathe to pass up the better deal.

The problem remains with these "trojan-horse" circuits that can be built into the chip and are almost impossible to detect -- especially without the original plans to compare them to.

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) is now looking for ways to check the chips to make sure they haven't been hacked in the production process.

Expect to see a whole lot more funding directed to this goal. Or, considering IARPA is the research and development section of the intelligence community -- expect the money to be spent -- don't expect to see where.

Business Insider

Iran’s president denounces arrests of his allies

TEHRAN, Iran - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday denounced the arrests of several allies, as a months-long power struggle within Iran’s ruling system flared between the president and rival hard-liners.

Authorities arrested four senior government officials in the past week in a clear challenge to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. Critics of Ahmadinejad accuse him of trying to set up the controversial Mashaei or another loyalist to succeed him in elections in 2013.

The four arrested officials, who have been accused of corruption, are close to Mashaei, who is despised by hard-line clerics and others who believe he is seeking to undermine the ruling system.

Clerics describe Mashaei as the head of a “deviant current” that seeks to elevate the values of pre-Islamic Persia and promote nationalism at the cost of clerical rule.

“These moves (arrests) are politically motivated. It’s clear to us that it is aimed at pressuring the government,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying Wednesday.

The four arrested officials include Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, who was forced to resign as deputy foreign minister for financial and administrative affairs. The others are Ali Reza Moghimi and Ali Asghar Parhizkar, who both headed free-trade zones, and Deputy Industry Minister Afshin Roghani.

All of them deny the corruption allegations.

Seeking to limit the damage, the president warned against the arrest of any senior members of his Cabinet, calling that a “red line.”

Ahmadinejad has strongly defended Mashaei, whose daughter is married to the president’s son, saying attacks against Mashaei are actually directed at him.

Ahmadinejad and Mashaei have been accused of seeking to control the next parliament and plotting to manipulate parliamentary elections slated for March 2012.

The power struggle surfaced in April, when Ahmadinejad publicly challenged Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei by dismissing the intelligence minister without Khamenei’s approval. Khamenei reinstated the minister in a public slap to the president.

Ahmadinejad boycotted Cabinet meetings for 10 days before finally giving in to Khamenei’s order. Since then, the president has been under increasing attack by his rivals in Iran’s conservative camp.

Khaleej Times

'Israel warns Assad: Attack us, we'll hit you personally'

The government sent a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad in recent days, warning him that if he started a war with the Jewish state in order to divert attention from domestic problems, Israel will target him personally, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported on Tuesday.

According to the report, the personal warning was sent through Turkey following intelligence reports of unusual Syrian troop movements, including the moving of long-range ballistic missiles that could be used to attack Israel.

The report added that the IDF has increased its preparedness on the northern border out of fear that Hezbollah may try to again kidnap soldiers or civilians along the Lebanese border.

Last month, following deadly attempts to breach the Golan border, US-based Syria experts accused the Assad regime of being behind the Naksa Day protests on the border in order to distract from the uprising challenging Syria’s rulers.

On Wednesday, violence in Syria continued as troops shot dead four villagers, an activist said. Authorities pressed on with a tank-led assault that has already driven thousands of refugees into Turkey.

“The four died in random firing on the village of Rama from tank machine guns, which has become customary in these unjustified assaults. The tanks started firing on surrounding woods, then directed their fire on the village,” Ammar Qarabi, president of the Syrian National Human Rights Organization, told Reuters from exile in Cairo.

The assault on Jabal al- Zawya, a region 35 km. south of Turkey that has seen spreading protests against Assad’s 11-year rule was launched overnight, a day after the authorities said they would invite opponents to talks on July 10 to set a framework for a dialogue promised by the Syrian president.

Opposition leaders have dismissed the offer, saying it is not credible while mass killings and arrests continue. The Local Coordination Committees, a main activists’ group, said in a statement on Wednesday that 1,000 people have been arrested arbitrarily across Syria over the past week alone.

“Jabal al-Zawya was one of the first regions in Syria where people took to street demanding the downfall of the regime. The military attacks have now reached them and they will likely result in more killings and in more refugees to Turkey,” said Qarabi, who is from the northwestern province of Idlib.

He said he based his information on several witnesses’ testimony.

A resident of Jabal al-Zawya said he heard heavy explosions overnight around the villages of Rama and Orum al- Joz, west of the highway linking the cities of Hama and Aleppo.

“My relatives there say the shelling is random and that dozens of people have been arrested,” he said.

Another local said 30 tanks went to Jabal al-Zawya on Monday from the village of Bdama on the Turkish border, where troops broke into houses and burned crops.


Cheering for Mass Murder

"There is heavy security around Kabul. A “ring of steel,” as they call it, which is under Afghan authority. I’ve been driving around Kabul for several weeks and have never seen a foreign guard, and seldom see US or other forces on the roads. I’ve been walking around town, shopping in shops and eating in restaurants. All day yesterday and today I was out in the city with no weapon and no troops. I wear Western clothes and sunglasses and seldom get an extra look while driving around in various sorts of taxis and private cars. Expats are out past midnight at the few local restaurants that sell alcohol. This is not Baghdad. Fighting there was nearly constant and often sustained. If this were Baghdad, I’d have been dead the first day. Any ideas that Kabul is falling are remarkably wrong. There are, however, some dangers and occasional suicide attacks that are nakedly designed to get press.

Last night, as I was preparing for bed, a message arrived from a US military officer cautioning about an ongoing attack with approximately six suicide bombers. I am staying off base so the military was just making sure all was okay. I responded immediately to affirm all is okay. I am far from the attack. I had not even heard any explosions or gunfire. Six minutes later, Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mojahid emailed me. My normal translators were asleep, so I sent it back to the US military asking for a translation, and they were kind enough to help:"
Michael Yon

Haqqani leader who supported Kabul attack killed in precision airstrike

KABUL, Afghanistan – The International Security Assistance force confirmed today a top Haqqani Network leader suspected of providing material support to the Kabul suicide bomb attack June 28, was killed in a precision airstrike in Gardez District, Paktiya province, yesterday.

Ismail Jan was the deputy to the senior Haqqani commander inside Afghanistan, Haji Mali Khan. Jan and several Haqqani fighters were killed in strike.

The Haqqani Network, in conjunction with Taliban operatives, was responsible for the Tuesday night attack on the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel which killed 12 people, including a provincial judge.

Jan also served as an insurgent leader in the Khost-Gardez Pass area, along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, and moved into Afghanistan from Pakistan in late 2010. During this time he led approximately 25 to 35 fighters in conducting attacks against Afghan and coalition security forces.

In addition to the hotel attack, the Haqqani Network is responsible for several high-profile attacks, including the assassination of a long standing governor, Taj Mohammad Wardak. Wardak was assassinated in a massive explosive-device attack as he left his compound in September 2008.

The security force tracked his location after receiving several intelligence reports from Afghan government officials, Afghan citizens and disenfranchised insurgents. After planning to avoid civilian casualties and mitigate collateral damage, the precision airstrike was conducted, killing Jan and several other insurgents.

Afghan-led security forces have captured or killed more than 80 Haqqani leaders and facilitators since January, primarily in the Paktika, Paktiya and Khost areas. Initial reports indicate no civilians were harmed in the airstrike.


U.S. drone targets two leaders of Somali group allied with al-Qaeda, official says

A U.S. drone aircraft fired on two leaders of a militant Somali organization tied to al-Qaeda, apparently wounding them, a senior U.S. military official familiar with the operation said Wednesday.

The strike last week against senior members of al-Shabab comes amid growing concern within the U.S. government that some leaders of the Islamist group are collaborating more closely with al-Qaeda to strike targets beyond Somalia, the military official said.

The airstrike makes Somalia at least the sixth country where the United States is using drone aircraft to conduct lethal attacks, joining Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. And it comes as the CIA is expected to begin flying armed drones over Yemen in its hunt for al-Qaeda operatives.

Al-Shabab has battled Somalia’s tenuous government for several years. In recent months, U.S. officials have picked up intelligence that senior members of the group have expanded their ambitions beyond attacks in Somalia.

“They have become somewhat emboldened of late, and, as a result, we have become more focused on inhibiting their activities,” the official said.“They were planning operations outside of Somalia.”

Both of the al-Shabab leaders targeted in the attack had “direct ties” to American-born cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, the military official said. Aulaqi escaped a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in May.

The White House declined Wednesday night to respond to questions about the attack.

But Obama administration officials have made repeated references to al-Shabab in recent weeks, indicating that the group has expanded its aims and its operations. In a speech Wednesday unveiling the administration’s new counterterrorism strategy, senior White House aide John O. Brennan included Somalia among the countries where the administration has placed a new focus on al-Qaeda affiliates.

“As the al-Qaeda core has weakened under our unyielding pressure, it has looked increasingly to these other groups and individuals to take up its cause, including its goal of striking the United States,” said Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser. “From the territory it controls in Somalia,” he said, “al-Shabab continues to call for strikes against the United States.”

And earlier this month, in a hearing to confirm him as Obama’s new defense secretary, CIA Director Leon Panetta told senators that the agency had intelligence on al-Shabab “that indicates that they, too, are looking at targets beyond Somalia.” Panetta said al-Qaeda had moved some of its operations to “nodes” in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa. The CIA, he said, was working with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command in those areas “to try to develop counterterrorism.”

The Special Operations Command carried out last week’s Somalia strike, the military official said, and it has been flying remotely piloted planes over Yemen for much of the past year. It has taken the lead in operations in Yemen, where Aulaqi, a senior figure in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is based.

U.S. aircraft and Special Operations commandos have carried out other attacks in Somalia against militants linked to al-Qaeda, but the strike last week appears to have been one of the first U.S. drone attacks in Somalia.

It was not immediately clear what kind of unmanned aircraft was used in the attack or where the drone originated.

The airstrike appears to be one piece of a larger effort to step up offensive action against al-Shabab militants with ties to al-Qaeda in Somalia. Somali media have reported numerous rumors in recent months of U.S. airstrikes on militant camps.

On April 6, an al-Shabab commander was reported to have been killed by an airstrike in Dhobley, a border town in southern Somalia, according to the Web site Long War Journal.

This month, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the alleged architect of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa, was killed in a shootout in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, Somali officials said. Mohammed was a founder of al-Shabab and was considered the most-wanted man in East Africa.

The United States conducted a DNA analysis to confirm Mohammed’s demise, a U.S. official said. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described it as “a significant blow to al-Qaeda, its extremist allies and its operations in East Africa.”

In last week’s attack, local officials told the Associated Press that military aircraft struck a convoy carrying the militants as they drove along the coastline of the southern port city of Kismaayo late Thursday. Other local residents told journalists that an air attack had taken place on a militant camp near Kismaayo, an insurgent stronghold. Several residents were quoted as saying that more than one explosion had occurred over a period of several hours and that they thought that at least helicopters had taken part in the attack.

An al-Shabab leader confirmed the airstrike and said two militants were wounded. Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig, Somalia’s deputy defense minister, said the attack was a coordinated operation that killed “many” foreign fighters.

“I have their names, but I don’t want to release them,” he told the AP.

In the early days of the Obama administration, officials became concerned about Somali extremists and debated whether al-Shabab, despite some ties to al-Qaeda,posed a threat to the United States or was primarily focused on Somalia. Some administration and intelligence officials said the group’s objectives remained domestic and argued against any preemptive strike on its camps.

Over the past year, al-Shabab has focused more openly outside Somalia in its statements and targets. In July, the group carried out suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 76 people, including one American. Uganda is one of the countries providing troops to a peacekeeping force that protects the U.S.-backed government in Somalia.

In August, the Justice Department charged 14 people in this country with providing support to al-Shabab. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the indictments “shed further light on a deadly pipeline that has routed funding and fighters to al-Shabab from cities across the United States.”


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Senegalese youths burn church, destroy bar

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) - Hundreds of Muslim protesters descended on a Jehovah's Witness temple and a bar in a conservative Muslim neighborhood of the Senegalese capital on Sunday, setting the buildings on fire in a rare instance of religious extremism in the predominantly Muslim nation.

Thierno Mbeugne, spokesman for the local imam association, said the head imam in the conservative Yoff district of Dakar had asked the youths to march on Sunday against what they considered "acts of aggression against their faith." They were targeting the temple because they claim its members were proselytizing, and the bar because it was selling alcohol.

He said the Islamic religious leaders did not endorse the violence, "but they do think that the youths were right" to destroy the church and the bar.

One of the rioters Mame Faye, 24, explained that the mob set upon the temple while churchgoers were praying inside before setting upon the bar.

Other witnesses, however, said that the hundreds of protesters burst into the establishment and began drinking the cans of beer. They then stripped the building, making off with the refrigerator, the air conditioners and the furniture. Then they set it on fire.

A doctor who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press said his clinic had treated 37 people, including several wounded police officers. One had a stab wound. The police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Mbeugne claimed that the head of the temple had been actively trying to convert locals. He said that under the cover of teaching English, she had started handing out crosses and Jehovah's Witness literature.

Crosses? JW's Handing out Crosses..How stupid is this guy

Bin Laden raid has fallout for Pakistani students

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan (AP) - A group of British schools, fearing negative publicity, cut off a partnership with teachers and students in this town where Osama bin Laden was killed, upsetting Pakistani participants who note that a key purpose of the program was eradicating stereotypes.

The partnership's demise is an unusual example of fallout from the May 2 U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaida chief, an operation that has deeply shaken the U.S.-Pakistan relationship because it was carried out without Pakistani government knowledge.

"Abbottabad residents and students had nothing to do with Osama or any of his activity," said Zafar Abbasi, an Abbottabad school official. "Linking them with Osama is regrettable, and depriving students of the program is even worse."

Since 2008, four government schools and one private school in Abbottabad were partnered with four government schools in Blackburn, a British town that has experienced tensions between white and South Asian residents in the past.

The British Council, the British government's international cultural relations body, oversaw the relationship under its Connecting Classrooms program, allocating about 30,000 pounds ($48,000) for it, said a person familiar with the arrangement, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The exchange began strong, with students on both ends participating in such activities as sending poems to one another, setting up "cultural corners" in their schools, and exchanging greetings on national holidays.

In recent months, the pace of activity had slowed down, the source said, and funding was running out. But the British Council decided to try to re-energize the program, and a visit to Blackburn by five Abbottabad teachers was scheduled for mid-May.

Then bin Laden was killed in a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs, putting Abbottabad on the world map of infamy.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press indicate school leaders in Blackburn were aghast at the possibility of publicity in the British press if Abbottabad teachers suddenly showed up in their sometimes racially tense town, where the anti-immigrant British National Party has been active.

Pakistani teachers involved in the program said not only was the May trip canceled, but Blackburn officials also wouldn't conduct a planned video conference with them and told them they were severing ties. The Pakistanis had expected up to six months more of contacts.

"It was a good project in terms of enlightening our students, but tragically it was cut off for the wrong reason," said Rafia Naz, an Abbottabad teacher. "Our students were happy that they were in a project which was helping clear their country's name," so often linked to terrorism.

In reply to numerous AP emails and phone calls seeking comment, Blackburn issued a statement Monday saying British Council funding was supposed to end "around this time."

"A decision was taken in consultation with headteachers to wind down the scheme slightly earlier," said Harry Devonport, the town council's director of education.

One email obtained by the AP, sent to participating Pakistanis and Britons by a Blackburn official, suggested the post-bin Laden aftermath made things too touchy for even a video conference.

"I am sorry to say that a decision has been taken that the Blackburn cluster must distance itself from the partnership in Abbottabad in order to avoid sensitive political issues, therefore neither the video conference nor the visit can go ahead," wrote Carole Grady, whose title is "manager."

A British Council statement said the Blackburn-Abbottabad link expired "after the completion of the three-year funding cycle." It did not explain why there were plans for a trip in May.

It stressed that the Connecting Classrooms program, which involves partnerships among thousands of schools worldwide and has reached millions of students, was devoted to "developing understanding and trust between young people."

For Abbottabad students, trust and understanding appeared shaken.

"We want to tell the world, 'We're not terrorists, we are students, and we should be treated likewise,'" said Maryam Bibi, a 10th-grader. "This was a good project, a good activity for us, and it should have been continued, not disconnected like this."


Well maybe they should have known more about just who lives in their town and who their governments allow to live comfortably in their country. Parties over.

Miqati: Lebanon Unanimous on Rejection to Naturalize Palestinians

Premier Najib Miqati reiterated on Tuesday Lebanon’s “unanimous” decision to reject the naturalization of Palestinians but vowed to provide them with the “necessary attention” to resolve their plight.

During talks with the Palestinian president’s envoy, Azzam al-Ahmed, Miqati said: “The Lebanese government will work to give the humanitarian and social issues of Palestinians in the refugee camps the necessary attention in cooperation with involved international agencies.”

Miqati said however that “Lebanon unanimously rejects the naturalization of Palestinians in Lebanon and holds onto their right of return home to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Warning about the Israeli danger, the prime minister said the Jewish state’s “violations and attacks should provide the Lebanese with the incentive to heed the continued danger that Israel poses on Lebanon and push them towards national unity.”

He told the envoy that the Palestinian cause should be at the top of the priorities of Arab and Islamic countries.

Palestinian unity also gives the different factions the required “immunity” to confront Israel, Miqati said.


Pakistanis aware of Omar`s whereabouts: US general

WASHINGTON: The Pakistanis know that Mullah Omar is in Pakistan and are ignoring US requests to find him, two senior US military commanders told Congress on Tuesday.

The two commanders, who will now oversee all US military operations in the Pak-Afghan region, also said that Pakistan was protecting the Haqqani network of militants and had not acted when asked to destroy Taliban weapon factories in Fata.

“We believe he is,” said Admiral William McRaven when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asked him if Mullah Omar was hiding inside Pakistan.

Lt-Gen John Allen said Pakistan lacked the desire and the capability to act against the militants.

Their responses enabled senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to demand retaliatory actions against Pakistan if it continued to protect the militants.

“Do we believe Mullah Omar is there with the knowledge of the ISI and the upper echelons of the army?” asked Senator Graham.

“Sir, I believe the Pakistanis know he is in Pakistan,” said Admiral McRaven, President Barack Obama`s nominee to head the US Special Operations Command. Admiral McRaven also was in charge of the May 2 raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“If they tried for about a week, do you think they could find him?” asked the senator. “I don`t know whether they could or not, because I don`t know exactly where Mullah Omar is,” Admiral McRaven replied.

“Have we asked them to find him?” Senator Graham asked. “I believe we have,” Admiral McRaven replied.

Senator Carl Levin, who heads the Armed Services Committee, “and I are both asking Pakistan to help us find Mullah Omar,” said Senator Graham.

The senator then asked Lt-Gen Allen, the future head of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, if the Americans were `certain` that explosive devices used against their soldiers were coming from Pakistan.

“Yes, we are,” said the general.

“Have we given that information to the Pakistanis?” the senator asked. “That`s correct, sir,” said the general.

“And have they responded effectively?” the senator asked. “They have not,” the general said.

“Well, I`m with Chairman Levin on this. This has got to stop,” said Senator Graham while concluding his questions.

But this did not end what looked like Pakistan`s indictment in the US Congress, which began soon after Senator Levin introduced the two nominees to the panel.

“The safe haven in Pakistan continues to provide the Haqqani network the freedom to launch attacks against US and coalition troops in Afghanistan,” remarked Senator Levin.

“Now you both have talked to Pakistani military leaders. Why do they refuse to take on the Haqqani network? And in your judgment is that going to change?” he asked.

“It`s a function probably of capacity. But it might also be a function of their hedging, whether they have determined that the United States is going to remain in Afghanistan, whether our strategy will be successful or not,” Gen Allen said.

“At some point, as we have emphasised to the Pakistanis, we`ve got to bring pressure to bear on this insurgent safe haven. And in the end what we would hope is that they would listen to our desires for them to do that.”

“Is Pakistan`s attitude likely to change in the near term?” Senator Levin asked Admiral McRaven.

“I don`t think it is likely to change,” Admiral McRaven said. “It is both a capacity issue for the Pakistanis and I think potentially a willingness issue, recognising that the situation in Fata is difficult for them to deal with,” the admiral said.

“Well, something`s got to give, something`s got to change, `cause it just can`t continue this way`,” Senator Levin remarked.

At another point, Gen Allen assured the lawmakers there was also “a bright spot in the many different facets” to this relationship.

“And that bright spot is the tripartite planning committee where on a regular basis US, Afghan and Pakistani military officers sit down and go through the process of planning for how they will conduct cross-border operations.”


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Russian officer guilty of betraying spy ring in US

MOSCOW (AP) - The cover of the highly placed U.S. mole in the Russian intelligence service was blown.

Col. Alexander Poteyev had betrayed his ring of 10 sleeper spies - including Anna Chapman, the red-haired agent with the lingerie-model looks - and the FBI was about to nab them. Now he was at risk of being arrested by Russian authorities.

Poteyev's plight last summer was so precarious that he had to rush from a meeting in his office for a train station to flee the country. He later texted his wife by cellphone that he was "leaving not for some time, but forever."

The details of Poteyev's escape and farewell message to his wife were included in a summary of evidence read in the Moscow District Military Court by a judge who convicted him in absentia Monday of high treason and desertion, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. The 59-year-old colonel also was stripped of his rank and state medals.

Chapman, one of the 10 agents deported from the U.S. in July 2010, testified at the closed trial that only Poteyev could have provided the information that led to their arrests, Russian news agencies reported, citing a summary of the evidence read by the judge as he issued his ruling.

Chapman testified that she was caught after an undercover U.S. agent contacted her using a code that only Poteyev and her personal handler knew, the reports said. She said she immediately felt that something was wrong and called her handler in Moscow, who confirmed her suspicions. Chapman and the others were arrested not long after that, on June 27, 2010 - a year ago Monday.

The agents were deported in exchange for four suspected Western agents who had been imprisoned in Russia. It was the biggest spy swap since the Cold War.

The court said Poteyev apparently got word that the agents were being rounded up in the U.S. and had to hurry out of Russia, the Interfax news agency reported. It said Poteyev fled to Belarus, crossed the border into Ukraine and then moved west to Germany and, finally, on to the United States using a passport in a different name.

Poteyev's grown son and daughter reportedly have been living in the United States for years.

The daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets said Poteyev's wife accompanied him to a Moscow train station where he took the Belarus-bound train for what he said was a business trip.

The next day, she got the farewell phone text message, which read: "Mary, try to take this calmly. I'm leaving not for some time, but forever. I didn't want to, but I had to. I will start my life from scratch and will try to help the children."

On that day, Poteyev's agency also began searching for him when he failed to show up at work, the paper said.

To prepare his exit, the colonel had previously told his bosses that he had a mistress in Odessa, Ukraine, who had just given birth to a child and he needed to see her urgently, Moskovsky Komsomolets said.

Once in Belarus, he got a passport in another name and a train ticket for western Ukraine, it said.

His court-appointed lawyer, Andrei Kucherov, said Poteyev's wife believes he is innocent and wants to join him in the U.S.

Mikhail Lyubimov, a veteran Soviet spy, described the court's ruling against Poteyev as "symbolic."

"He must be rubbing his hands together and laughing at that together with his family somewhere in the U.S.," Lyubimov said, according to Interfax.

The court said Poteyev had overseen the Russian sleeper agents in the U.S. as deputy head of the "S" department of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service.

In addition to Chapman, other agents also confirmed that only he had access to the sensitive information that allowed the U.S. authorities to apprehend them, the RIA-Novosti news agency said.

The court said Poteyev had begun working for U.S. intelligence around 1999-2000 - betraying the agents, their means of communication and financial information. It said Poteyev had sought to hamper the agents' work by forcing them to meet in places that were unsafe and providing them with inferior equipment.

The CIA may have recruited Poteyev in the 1990s when he did two stints at Russian diplomatic missions in the United States, the newspaper Izvestia reported.

Poteyev was a veteran of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, where he served with an elite KGB commando team code-named "Zenith" in the 1980s.

The Russian spies were welcomed as heroes when they returned home, and in October President Dmitry Medvedev bestowed them with the nation's highest awards.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a 16-year veteran of the KGB, sang patriotic songs with the spies to celebrate their return. Putin warned in December that traitors come to a bad end and "whatever equivalent of 30 pieces of silver they get, it will get stuck in their throats."

Unlike other members of the spy ring who have stayed out of the limelight, Chapman has basked in the attention. She has stripped down to lingerie for a photo shoot by the Russian edition of Maxim under the caption "For Your Eyes Only," become the new celebrity face of a Moscow bank, joined the leadership of the youth wing of the main pro-Kremlin political party, and hosted a TV program.


Iran 'showed Russia downed US drones'

IRAN has shown Russia US drones it shot down over the Gulf, Revolutionary Guards aerospace commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hadjizadeh was quoted as saying.
"Russian experts requested to see these drones and they looked at both the downed drones and the models made by the Guards through reverse engineering," the official IRNA news agency quoted Hadjizadeh as saying.

Hajizadeh did not elaborate on the number or type of unmanned US aircraft it had shot down, or when or where it had done so.

Iran announced on January 2 that its forces had downed two US drones after they "violated" Iranian-controlled territory.

It later said it would put the aircraft on public display.

"The planes that were shot down are among the most modern US navy drones and have a long-range capability," the Fars news agency quoted the commander of the Guards' naval forces, Ali Fadavi, as saying at the time.

The US navy's Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, just across the Gulf from Iran.
Washington never confirmed Tehran had shot down any of its drones.

The US military and Central Intelligence Agency routinely use drones to monitor military activity in the region.

They have also used them to launch missile strikes in Yemen as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan's lawless tribal belt.

On several occasions, the Iranian military has shown off drones which it says it manufactured itself using the latest technology.

Washington has expressed concern about Tehran's possession of the aircraft.

Herald Sun

Turkish soldier killed in Kurdish rebel ambush

ISTANBUL: A Turkish soldier was killed and three others wounded in an ambush by Kurdish separatist rebels close to Turkey’s border with Iran late on Sunday, security sources said.

Tension is rising in the mainly Kurdish southeast region of Turkey after a pro-Kurdish party threatened to boycott parliament. Kurdish rebels killed two Turkish police officers last week in the eastern province of Tunceli.

The Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which won 36 seats in a June 12 vote, said it would not attend parliament unless an elected deputy is allowed to take his seat.

Turkey’s election board last week disqualified Hatip Dicle due to a past conviction for spreading “terrorist propaganda.”

The move, which has sparked street protests in Kurdish areas, could force a by-election.

Three newly elected BDP candidates protested with scores of others in central Istanbul on Sunday. Stone-throwing protesters clashed with police who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. Authorities detained 40 people.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) ended a six-month cease-fire in February and declared what it calls an “active defense” stance, whereby its fighters will defend themselves if under threat but will not stage attacks.

A PKK insurgency, seeking an independent Kurdish area in the southeast, began in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, the majority of them Kurds.

Arab News

Vet Checks Wrong Box, Faces Charges

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Elisha Dawkins graduated in August from nursing school in Jacksonville.

He put on hold his plans for taking the board exams because the Navy called him into action as a photographer.

Dawkins photographed happenings at Guantanamo Bay, an act that's evidence he's a trusted member of the military with top secret clearance.

Now, Dawkins, a Navy reservist and decorated Army combat photographer who served in Iraq, is in jail, charged with passport fraud. He's facing 10 years in prison for what could be a simple misunderstanding.

"Suddenly, he's picked up and thrown in jail? Then it's time for this senator to start asking questions," U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson., D-Fla., said.

Nelson has questions echoed by Dawkins' friends, including Dianne Rinehardt.

"It's a travesty, and we're trying to stop it," Rinehardt said.

Rinehardt went through nursing school with Dawkins and is a veteran herself. She's upset about the trouble her friend is in. In sharing his story with other vets, Rinehardt said that lots of people who don't know Dawkins can't believe it.

"We're all appalled that, how can you serve this country and be more dedicated to the ideals of this country, and serve this country and then be told, 'Guess what, you made a little clerical error. You're out of here.' And that's a travesty," Rinehardt said.

A federal indictment states that Dawkins started to fill out a passport application in 2004, didn't complete it, then filled out a new application two years later.

On that new application, he checked a box "no" for the question, "Have you ever applied before?" according to the indictment.

Dawkins got the passport, but three months ago, the government issued a warrant for his arrest. He was taking photos for the Navy at the time.

When Dawkins got back to the U.S. in April, he was arrested about a week later and has been in jail for two months since.

"The state department is implying there's something more. I want to know, and that's why I've written them," Nelson said.

"We've sent emails through our standard home, family email chains throughout the country," Rinehardt said. "The more attention we bring to this, the more people will see this as a disservice."

Dawkins' attorney calls the case an "absurd prosecution," saying that filling out a "no" box "did not merit criminal charges."

Because the trial is scheduled for next month, if Dawkins is still in jail at that point, he will insist on going to trial.

A pretrial hearing Tuesday in Miami is the next step.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Generating 'Green' Electricity: Waste Heat Converted to Electricity Using New Alloy

ScienceDaily (June 27, 2011) — University of Minnesota engineering researchers in the College of Science and Engineering have recently discovered a new alloy material that converts heat directly into electricity. This revolutionary energy conversion method is in the early stages of development, but it could have wide-sweeping impact on creating environmentally friendly electricity from waste heat sources.

Researchers say the material could potentially be used to capture waste heat from a car's exhaust that would heat the material and produce electricity for charging the battery in a hybrid car. Other possible future uses include capturing rejected heat from industrial and power plants or temperature differences in the ocean to create electricity. The research team is looking into possible commercialization of the technology.

"This research is very promising because it presents an entirely new method for energy conversion that's never been done before," said University of Minnesota aerospace engineering and mechanics professor Richard James, who led the research team."It's also the ultimate 'green' way to create electricity because it uses waste heat to create electricity with no carbon dioxide."

To create the material, the research team combined elements at the atomic level to create a new multiferroic alloy, Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10. Multiferroic materials combine unusual elastic, magnetic and electric properties. The alloy Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10 achieves multiferroism by undergoing a highly reversible phase transformation where one solid turns into another solid. During this phase transformation the alloy undergoes changes in its magnetic properties that are exploited in the energy conversion device.

During a small-scale demonstration in a University of Minnesota lab, the new material created by the researchers begins as a non-magnetic material, then suddenly becomes strongly magnetic when the temperature is raised a small amount. When this happens, the material absorbs heat and spontaneously produces electricity in a surrounding coil. Some of this heat energy is lost in a process called hysteresis. A critical discovery of the team is a systematic way to minimize hysteresis in phase transformations. The team's research was recently published in the first issue of the new scientific journal Advanced Energy Materials.

Watch a short research video of the new material suddenly become magnetic when heated:

In addition to Professor James, other members of the research team include University of Minnesota aerospace engineering and mechanics post-doctoral researchers Vijay Srivastava and Kanwal Bhatti, and Ph.D. student Yintao Song. The team is also working with University of Minnesota chemical engineering and materials science professor Christopher Leighton to create a thin film of the material that could be used, for example, to convert some of the waste heat from computers into electricity.

"This research crosses all boundaries of science and engineering," James said. "It includes engineering, physics, materials, chemistry, mathematics and more. It has required all of us within the university's College of Science and Engineering to work together to think in new ways."

Funding for early research on the alloy came from a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research (involving other universities including the California Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, University of Washington and University of Maryland), and research grants from the U.S. Air Force and the National Science Foundation. The research is also tentatively funded by a small seed grant from the University of Minnesota's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

Science Daily

Heat mining, HEAT MINING!

Christians, Muslims clash over new church in Egypt

CAIRO (AP) - A security official says Christians and Muslims have clashed in southern Egypt over the construction of a church.

A local security chief, Assem Hamza, says Muslim residents of the Awlad Khalaf village rallied Saturday outside Christian-owned land where construction of a church was under way.

Hamza said the construction was illegal. Security forces deployed as Muslim residents, including ultraconservative Salafis, moved in with bulldozers to try to bring down the construction.

Hamza said Christians fired gunshots and the two sides scuffled. Three Muslims were shot, including one in serious condition. A Christian has stab wounds.

Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt's population and complain of attacks by increasingly assertive Salafis.


Obama slips DREAM Act amnesty past Congress

A new enforcement memo handed down by the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week has some accusing the White House of running around Congress to implement the DREAM Act – and consequent amnesty for some illegal immigrants – by executive fiat.

The new memo, penned by ICE Director John Morton, directs ICE agents, attorneys and directors to exercise "prosecutorial discretion" – meaning less likelihood of deportation – for illegal aliens who have been students in the U.S., who have been in the country since childhood or who have served in the American military.

Critics have pointed out the new leniency standards parallel the provisions of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, which could not pass the Senate, despite several votes over the past decade, including three failed attempts at passage last year.

"This is outright lawlessness on the part of the administration," argued syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer on a discussion panel with Fox News' anchor Chris Wallace. "Whatever the politics of this, we do have a Constitution. And under it, the Legislature, the Congress enacts the laws and the executive executes them. It doesn't make them up.

"The DREAM Act was rejected by Congress," Krauthammer continued. "It is now being enacted by the executive, despite the express will of the Congress. That is lawless. It may not be an explicit executive order; it's an implicit one."


If it true, it's wrong, and first for WND

Iran Denies EU Charges Linking Revolutionary Guards to Syria Crackdown

Iran on Sunday reiterated that it does not interfere in the affairs of its regional Arab ally Syria and accused the European Union of leading a "baseless" campaign against Tehran by imposing sanctions.

"The baseless EU claims in connecting events in Syria to the Revolutionary Guards reveal the bloc's efforts to create a campaign against the Islamic republic and to distort reality," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also told reporters on Sunday that "Syrians are capable of resolving their issues."

The EU imposed sanctions on three Revolutionary Guard commanders, including its chief Brigadier Mohammad Ali Jafari, accusing them of aiding the crackdown in Syria, the EU's Official Journal showed on Friday.

Jafari was hit by an assets freeze and travel ban for "providing equipment and support to help the Syria regime suppress protests in Syria," the Journal said.

The same accusations were lodged against Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Guards' Qods unit, and Hossein Taeb, deputy commander for intelligence.

In contrast to its vocal support for uprisings that have swept the Arab world, Iran has been cautious in its stance on the anti-regime protests in Syria.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 1,342 civilians have been killed in the government's crackdown and 342 security force personnel have also lost their lives since it erupted mid-March.

Ankara estimates that some 12,000 Syrians have fled across the border to seek refuge in Turkey.

Earlier this month, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned Tehran's arch-foe the United States for "meddling" in Syria. Tehran has also accused the foreign media of exaggeration in their reports of events in Syria.

Washington and Syrian opposition groups have accused Tehran of helping President Bashar al-Assad violently repress the uprising.

Officials have repeatedly denied allegations of Iranian involvement, and said the events in Syria are being fomented by Israel and Washington to weaken the Damascus regime which, like Iran, remains a staunch opponent of the Jewish state.


Intern'l judges order arrest of Moammar Gadhafi

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his son and his intelligence chief for crimes against humanity in the early days of their struggle to cling to power.

Judges announced Monday that Gadhafi is wanted for orchestrating the killing, injuring, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of an uprising to topple him from power after more than four decades, and for trying to cover up the alleged crimes.

The warrants turn Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi into internationally wanted suspects, potentially complicating any efforts to mediate an end to more than four months of intense fighting in the North African nation.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Enter the dragon 'to save the euro’

As Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, stepped off his plane in Birmingham on Saturday, it was difficult to avoid the feeling that the UK, and Europe, have never looked weaker in Chinese eyes.

In private, senior Chinese diplomats are now openly scornful of Britain’s economic prospects and have even asked why Mr Wen should grace such a weak trading partner with three days of his time.

Indeed, it is telling that the first stop on Mr Wen’s tour is Longbridge, the old MG Rover car factory that passed into Chinese hands in 2005. Once a byword for poor productivity, wildcat strikes and trade union power in its British Leyland and Austin Rover days, the plant is now host to China’s biggest industrial presence in the UK. Owned by Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation, the factory designs and assembles MG cars in the UK made from car parts manufactured in China.

However, the Longbridge site remains the only major example of Sino-British co-operation, something that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, whose advisers have helped co-ordinate the visit, is determined to change.

On Mr Cameron’s visit to China last year, a target was announced for increasing bilateral UK-China trade to $100bn by 2015, from its 2010 total of $63bn and Number 10 sources said yesterday that they believe that “progress has been made” on hitting that figure.

The Diplomat: Japan’s Stealth Fighter Gambit

Whether much more can be achieved depends partly on the success of the visit, which includes a formal summit in London tomorrow with a 35-strong Chinese delegation including China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi, vice-minister for foreign affairs, Fu Ying, and minister of commerce, Chen Deming.

In formal business and personal conversations between Mr Wen and the British trade minister and former HSBC chairman Lord Green, who is accompanying the premier around Longbridge today, the UK message will be about further strengthening state and business ties with a view to achieving growth and sending that bilateral figure higher.

Meanwhile, Culture, Media and Sport Cabinet minister, Jeremy Hunt, who is accompanying Mr Wen to William Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon, will be seeking to set up a formal structure of future summits to develop better “people” relationships between the countries with a particular focus on education, science and culture.

In London, where Mr Wen may go, apparently, for a jog in Hyde Park, the main topics for discussion will be the weighty topics of climate change (China is now one of the world’s leaders in green technology), the global economy, international security and development.

While Number 10 was refusing to comment yesterday on what else could be on the agenda, the Middle East and the economic crisis in Greece are also expected to come up for discussion.

Yesterday, at the start of his European visit in Hungary, Mr Wen gave a strong pledge of China’s support for the embattled euro, saying that China will buy Hungarian government bonds and “consistently” support the euro as Europe attempts to fight its way out of a sovereign debt crisis. “China is a long term investor in Europe’s sovereign debt market,” he said at a press conference with the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban. “In recent years we have increased by quite a big margin our holdings of government bonds. We will consistently continue to support Europe and the euro.”

Whilst in the UK, the Chinese are determined to be aggressive with their British counterparts in private discussions during three days, demanding access to every area of UK technological expertise. China feels it now has the whip hand, after years of eyeing the West with suspicion. The West’s need for Chinese goods and investment (China has a significant current account surplus) are increasingly outweighing concerns about the way China does business or the low value of its currency. The UK knows it has to compete for business with other EU members as well as North and South America, the rest of Asia, Australia and Africa.

Now only 3pc of export licences fall foul of the European Union’s “dual-use” regulations, which forbid goods to be sent to China that could conceivably be also used for military purposes.

Instead, it is British companies themselves who have held back their technology, worried that it will simply be pirated once it has arrived in China, and concerned that the playing field for foreign companies in China is still not level.

For Chinese leaders, who are used to instructing their state-owned companies in how to conduct business, the apparently laissez-faire attitude of the British Government towards its companies, is a black mark.

Similarly, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, has called for China to be handed the contracts to build the UK’s new high-speed rail link. “There’s a lot of talk about getting more Chinese investment but we need more action,” he said ahead of the visit.

“Chinese businesses will compare why they should invest in the UK and not in France or Germany. We need to identify flagship projects and high-speed rail might be one of them”.

Again, there seems to be a culture gap. “They are very keen to do the rail link, and they do not really understand our tender process,” said one source close to the negotiations.

China also has its own issues to contend with. Economic analysts at Credit Suisse last week revised down their forecast of China’s GDP growth for 2012 from 8.9pc to 8.5pc, still well above European levels. They said they believed that persistent inflation, slowing growth and continued fiscal tightening are likely to play out not only in the second half of this year but also well into 2012.

They also expect the financial stress in China’s small and medium size enterprise sector to spread to other parts of the economy. If the situation does not improve soon, they expect weakened demand and rising debt.

The export outlook has dimmed recently and the analysts say they would not be surprised to see zero growth in exports in the second half of this year. Meanwhile, the report expects inflation to peak soon, but say it is likely to stay at elevated levels as services inflation takes off.

So what can we expect to be achieved from the Wen visit, the fourth by a senior Chinese leader to Europe in the past six months? There will be plenty of hand-shaking and even a new slogan: “Partners for Growth”. Officials from both sides will earnestly discuss the “mutual complementarities” of the Chinese and British economies. Some deals will be signed. The Chinese have said they will leave the UK with a bounty of $4 billion worth of deals. The UK, meanwhile, says the actual value is “several hundred million pounds”.

There has been no word on whether a key deal by Diageo, the drinks company, to buy a Chinese spirits maker, will finally go through. Despite ticking all the boxes, and intense pressure from George Osborne, the Chancellor, the deal has been stalled for years by Chinese obsfuscation which some say is tantamount to protectionism.

The portents for summits in between EU and China in recent years have been anything but auspicious, however, as Raffaello Pantucci points out in a paper for ISN Insights. He recalls that a 2008, summit was “spooked” by tensions during the Beijing Olympics and attitudes to Tibet. When the French and sitting EU President, Nicolas Sarkozy, made time to meet the Dalai Lama in December 2008, the Chinese responded by pulling the plug on that year’s summit.

2010 also proved tricky when Mr Wen – who believed that China would be granted the long-awaited Market Economy Status, conferring EU recognition that China is a market economy and providing some anti-dumping protections – was instead handed a list of demands during his Brussels visit. The meeting collapsed and a planned press conference was cancelled.

This time, the constant theme of how to resolve Europe’s debt crisis will run behind the diplomacy. China, which has invested heavily in Greek infrastructure, is likely to cast itself as a magnanimous saviour.

Making sure that “certain European nations” overcome their difficulties is “extremely important for us”, said Fu Ying, the vice foreign minister, last week.

But while the Chinese media will sell any intervention as a grand favour to impoverished Europe, it is worth remembering that Europe remains China’s biggest export market. And with the latest surveys indicating that Chinese factories have slowed to almost flat growth, China needs Europe to keep on buying its goods or face difficulties in what remains one of the key pillars of its economy. China may be the world’s fastest-growing major economy, but it still needs moribund old Europe.


The Diplomat: Japan’s Stealth Fighter Gambit

"It’s an arms race Beijing claims it doesn’t want, Russia can’t afford, the United States believes it can’t afford and Japan probably isn’t prepared for on its own.
All the same, the intensifying competition to build radar-evading jet fighters has had a powerful effect on the politics, industry and military forces of the Pacific’s four greatest powers – and none more so than Japan’s."
War is Boring

Baghdad: 8 years later

"I can't recognize this city anymore. What a sad sad reality. I can't recognize streets because of the concrete walls, and I don't know anymore here anymore. All my friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and coworkers have fled the country.

The ten words I could think of to describe Baghdad are: Garbage, checkpoints, barb-wires, concrete walls, armored vehicles, flak jackets, bodyguards, personal security detail (PSD), corruption, and death.

Let me see if i can use all 10 words in a sentence..."
Raed in the Middle

U.S. Plans Stealth Survey on Access to Doctors

WASHINGTON — Alarmed by a shortage of primary care doctors, Obama administration officials are recruiting a team of “mystery shoppers” to pose as patients, call doctors’ offices and request appointments to see how difficult it is for people to get care when they need it.

The administration says the survey will address a “critical public policy problem”: the increasing shortage of primary care doctors, including specialists in internal medicine and family practice. It will also try to discover whether doctors are accepting patients with private insurance while turning away those in government health programs that pay lower reimbursement rates.

Federal officials predict that more than 30 million Americans will gain coverage under the health care law passed last year. “These newly insured Americans will need to seek out new primary care physicians, further exacerbating the already growing problem of P.C.P. shortages in the United States,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a description of the project that it submitted to the White House.

Plans for the survey have riled many doctors because the secret shoppers will not identify themselves as working for the government.

“I don’t like the idea of the government snooping,” said Dr. Raymond Scalettar, an internist in Washington. “It’s a pernicious practice — Big Brother tactics, which should be opposed.”

According to government documents obtained from Obama administration officials, the mystery shoppers will call medical practices and ask if doctors are accepting new patients and, if so, how long the wait would be. The government is eager to know whether doctors give different answers to callers depending on whether they have public insurance, like Medicaid, or private insurance, like Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Dr. George J. Petruncio, a family doctor in Turnersville, N.J., said: “This is not a way to build trust in government. Why should I trust someone who does not correctly identify himself?”

Dr. Stephen C. Albrecht, a family doctor in Olympia, Wash., said: “If federal officials are worried about access to care, they could help us. They don’t have to spy on us.”

Dr. Robert L. Hogue, a family physician in Brownwood, Tex., asked: “Is this a good use of tax money? Probably not. Everybody with a brain knows we do not have enough doctors.”

In response to the drumbeat of criticism, a federal health official said doctors did not need to worry because the data would be kept confidential. “Reports will present aggregate data, and individuals will not be identified,” said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the plan before its final approval by the White House.

Administration officials said the survey would yield an enormous benefit to the government while imposing an extremely limited burden on doctors.

The new health care law includes several provisions intended to increase the supply of primary care doctors, and officials want to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of those policies.

Federal officials said the initial survey would cost $347,370. Dr. Hogue said the money could be better spent on the training or reimbursement of primary care doctors.

Most doctors accept Medicare patients, who are 65 and older or disabled. But many say they do not regard the government as a reliable business partner because it has repeatedly threatened to cut the fees paid to doctors treating such patients. Congress usually steps in at the last minute to avert such cuts.

In many parts of the country, Medicaid, the program for low-income people, pays so little that many doctors refuse to accept Medicaid patients. This could become a more serious problem in 2014, when the new health law will greatly expand eligibility for Medicaid.

Access to care has been a concern in Massachusetts, which provides coverage under a state program cited by many in Congress as a model for President Obama’s health care overhaul.

In a recent study, the Massachusetts Medical Society found that 53 percent of family physicians and 51 percent of internal medicine physicians were not accepting new patients. When new patients could get appointments, they faced long waits, averaging 36 days to see family doctors and 48 days for internists.

In the mystery shopper survey, administration officials said, a federal contractor will call the offices of 4,185 doctors — 465 in each of nine states: Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. The doctors will include pediatricians and obstetrician-gynecologists.

The calls are to begin in a few months, with preliminary results from the survey expected next spring.

Each office will be called at least twice — by a person who supposedly has private insurance and by someone who supposedly has public insurance.

Federal officials provided this example of a script for a caller in a managed care plan known as a preferred provider organization, or P.P.O.:

Mystery shopper: “Hi, my name is Alexis Jackson, and I’m calling to schedule the next available appointment with Dr. Michael Krane. I am a new patient with a P.P.O. from Aetna. I just moved to the area and don’t yet have a primary doctor, but I need to be seen as soon as possible.”

Doctor’s office: “What type of problem are you experiencing?”

Mystery shopper: “I’ve had a cough for the last two weeks, and now I’m running a fever. I’ve been coughing up thick greenish mucus that has some blood in it, and I’m a little short of breath.”

In separate interviews, several doctors said that patients with those symptoms should immediately see a doctor because the symptoms could indicate pneumonia, lung cancer or a blood clot in the lungs.

Other mystery shoppers will try to schedule appointments for routine care, like an annual medical examination for an adult or a sports physical for a high school athlete.

To make sure they are not detected, secret shoppers will hide their telephone numbers by blocking caller ID information.

Eleven percent of the doctors will be called a third time. The callers will identify themselves as calling “on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” They will ask whether the doctors accept private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare, and whether they take “self-pay patients.” The study will note any discrepancies between those answers and the ones given to mystery shoppers.

The administration has signed a contract with the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to help conduct the survey.

Jennifer Benz, a research scientist at the center, said one purpose of the study was to determine whether the use of mystery shoppers would be a feasible way to track access to primary care in the future.

The government could survey consumers directly, but patients may not accurately recall how long it took to get an appointment, and their estimates could be colored by their satisfaction with the doctor, researchers said.


Evil bastards

Whales, plankton migrate across Northwest Passage

AMSTERDAM (AP) - When a 43-foot (13-meter) gray whale was spotted off the Israeli town of Herzliya last year, scientists came to a startling conclusion: it must have wandered across the normally icebound route above Canada, where warm weather had briefly opened a clear channel three years earlier.

On a microscopic level, scientists also have found plankton in the North Atlantic where it had not existed for at least 800,000 years.

The whale's odyssey and the surprising appearance of the plankton indicates a migration of species through the Northwest Passage, a worrying sign of how global warming is affecting animals and plants in the oceans as well as on land.

"The implications are enormous. It's a threshold that has been crossed," said Philip C. Reid, of the Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science in Plymouth, England.

"It's an indication of the speed of change that is taking place in our world in the present day because of climate change," he said in a telephone interview Friday.

Reid said the last time the world witnessed such a major incursion from the Pacific was 2 million years ago, which had "a huge impact on the North Atlantic," driving some species to extinction as the newcomers dominated the competition for food.

Reid's study of plankton and the research on the whale, co-authored by Aviad Scheinin of the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center, are among nearly 300 scientific papers written over the last 13 years that are being synthesized and published this year by Project Clamer, a collaboration of 17 institutes on climate change and the oceans.

Changes in the oceans' chemistry and temperature could have implications for fisheries, as species migrate northward to cooler waters, said Katja Philippart, of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research who is coordinating the project funded by the European Union.

"We try to put the information on the table for people who have to make decisions. We don't say whether it's bad or good. We say there is a high potential for change," she said.

The Northwest Passage, the route through the frigid archipelago from Alaska across northern Canada, has been ice-free from one end to the other only twice in recorded history, in 1998 and 2007. But the ice pack is retreating farther and more frequently during the summers.

Plankton that had previously been found only in Atlantic sea bed cores from 800,000 years ago appeared in the Labrador Sea in 1999 - and then in massive numbers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence two years later. Now it has established itself as far south as the New York coast, Reid said.

The highly endangered gray whale sighted off the Israeli coast in May 2010 belonged to a species that was hunted to extinction in the Atlantic by the mid-1700s. The same animal - identified by unique markings on its fluke, or tail fin - appeared off the Spanish coast 22 days later, and has not been reported seen since.

Though it was difficult to draw conclusions from one whale, the researchers said its presence in the Mediterranean "coincides with a shrinking of Arctic Sea ice due to climate change and suggests that climate change may allow gray whales to re-colonize the North Atlantic."

That may be good for the whales, but other aspects of the ice melt could be harmful to the oceans' biosystems, the scientists warn.

Plankton is normally the bottom of the marine food chain, but some are more nutritious than others. Plankton changes have been blamed for the collapse of some fish stocks and threats to fish-eating birds in the North Sea, the studies show.

The migration of a solitary whale and two species of plankton is not of much concern so far, Reid said. "It's the potential for further ones to come through if the Arctic opens. That's the key message."


Story of a raid: US night operations anger Afghans

PUL-I-ALAM, Afghanistan (AP) - The American soldiers stormed into the Afghan family's compound in the middle of the night, kicking in doors and shouting. They ordered everyone into the yard, bound their hands, covered their heads and interrogated them for hours before taking away three men who had done nothing wrong.

At least that's the way the Afghans tell it.

NATO has a different account of the raid: A force led by Afghans was searching for a Taliban leader and got a tip from residents that three insurgents were living in the compound. The force struck at night when the suspects were likely to be home and took all three away for further questioning. The troops were as respectful as they could be, given that they had to make sure no one started shooting at them.

This happens in Afghanistan nearly every night. Sometimes the men turn out to be bombmakers or fighters, sometimes ordinary civilians. But in every case there are angry family members who feel violated or mistreated.

The U.S. will likely rely more and more on night raids as it shifts to a strategy of using special operators and drones to track down and kill Taliban leaders following President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday that 30,000 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by next summer.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly condemned night operations as unnecessary and humiliating.

Accounts of what happened at the Khosrawi family compound in eastern Logar province on June 8 show why night raids continue to be such a flash point, and why NATO may never be able to conduct them without making enemies.

This much everyone agrees on: Two of the men taken in the raid were released five days later. The third, a teenager, is still being held.

Relatives say even if all of them are eventually freed, they will still feel wronged.

"Even if he is a criminal, is it really necessary to charge into a man's house in the middle of the night when he is there with his children?" asked Samad Shah Khosrawi, a cousin of the detained men who works at the electric company in Kabul and has been trying to enlist powerful government allies to free the remaining detainee.

Nineteen-year-old Nooryalai Khosrawi, the older brother of the detained teenager, spoke to The Associated Press in Kabul a few days after the raid. He gave the following account:

The four families that live in the Khosrawi compound - 25 people in all - went to sleep in their separate houses as usual. Sometime in the middle of the night, soldiers started jumping over the property wall and into the yard.

Nooryalai Khosrawi said he woke up when a soldier broke down the door to his room. When he opened his eyes a man was standing over him with a gun.

The soldiers took everyone outside into the courtyard, tied their wrists and put hoods over their heads. Nooryalai Khosrawi's youngest brother started sobbing. He pushed him to the ground to stop the crying. He was afraid it would antagonize the soldiers.

The Americans took people to the corner of the compound one by one to ask them questions.

"They asked me, 'What did you do today and where did you go?' I said I went to school and back home," Nooryalai Khosrawi said. The Americans accused him of rigging one of the compound's motorcycles with explosives. He said it wasn't true.

Soldiers told him they had reports from elders in Sorayak village that insurgents were in the compound. He said the reports were wrong.

Although NATO says it conducts night raids only in partnership with Afghan forces and said numerous Afghan security forces were involved in the raid, Nooryalai Khosrawi said he saw only two Afghans in the force - and both were translators. The rest were American soldiers.

The Logar provincial police chief said only one Afghan security force member was involved in the operation, the district police commander.

"In special operations like this there are not a huge number of troops so we only sent one police representative," Ghulam Sakhi Rog Lewandi said in an interview in the provincial capital of Pul-i-Alam. He said he did not know how many U.S. troops were involved.

When they finished the questioning after two or three hours, the soldiers took the three men away with them, along with seven mobile phones they had confiscated. No one knew where they were going or if they'd see the captives again, Nooryalai Khosrawi said.

A NATO statement on the raid said that Afghan and international security forces went into the district in search of a Taliban leader who had overseen attacks against Afghan government officials and directed a bomb-making cell.

"The individuals were detained after the Afghan-led security force searched a suspected compound and questioned residents. The information provided led to their detention and the men were transported with the security force for additional questioning. No civilians were harmed during the night operation," NATO said.

Asked for further details on why the men were taken, a spokesman for the international coalition said such information was classified for security reasons.

"As a matter of security, we don't discuss what information led to their detention. The information obtained during initial questioning led to their detention and they were taken for further questioning," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jason Haag.

The next day, the family tried to find out where the men had been taken and what they were accused of. Village elders went to the governor's office to petition for their release.

Samad Shah Khosrawi, the cousin, said the elders were told that the men had been wrongly arrested and that the governor was working for their release. The governor's spokesman told the AP the same day that the governor was working on the request but could not make any judgment on their guilt. Gov. Atiqullah Ludin told the AP just hours later that he had not been informed of the raid.

The elders also went to the provincial council. The council's spokesman told the AP that he had notified the unit which coordinates between Afghan and international forces, and that this unit was going to track down the detainees. A spokesman for the unit told the AP that he had not received any information from the provincial council about a raid.

In Kabul, Samad Shah Khosrawi started asking anyone he knew in the government how he could track down his cousins and what he could to for their release. The two older men are shopkeepers, the younger is a student, he says he told them. They aren't Taliban. The Khosrawi family are ethnic Tajiks - a group less likely to be recruited into the insurgency than Pashtuns.

No one went to the police. Lewandi, the Logar police chief, said this likely meant the community knew they were guilty.

Samad Shah Khosrawi, the Kabul cousin, said no one in Sorayak has trusted the police since two years ago when police opened fire on villagers who went to try to help officers wounded when their vehicle struck a bomb.

"Three bullets killed my cousin's son," he said.

On June 13 - five days after the raid - the family got a call: The two older men had been released to Afghan intelligence officers and then freed altogether.

Bashir Ahmad Khosrawi was one of the men who was taken. A 35-year-old shopkeeper, he said in a phone call after he was freed that he didn't know why he was taken.

He said he was held for four days by U.S. forces in a cell in Logar. His brother Sayed Agha Khosrawi was in the next cell.

The soldiers showed Ahmad photos they had taken of his family and asked who the people were. They showed him a map and asked him to point out specific villages. They went through the numbers in the mobile phones and asked who everyone was. They tested his hands for gunpowder residue.

"They thought we had someone from the enemy in our houses. I told them we were sleeping and you barged in at midnight and searched my whole house," he said. "They were trying to find some proof. But they couldn't find any proof."

He said he was treated well - no one so much as tapped him on his shoulder. Soldiers were friendly and asked after his health.

He was upset that they didn't return the captured mobile phones when they released him. But he said he wasn't going to go back and ask for them.

"We are just so happy to be free. We don't care about the mobiles," Bashir Ahmad Khosrawi said.

The men's release was a cause for celebration in Sorayak. People kept coming over to tell them that they thought the two brothers had disappeared for good.

They've yet to have any news of Noorzai Khosrawi, 16, who they assume must still be in the custody of U.S. forces.

"If he's innocent, he'll be released," said Lewandi, the police chief.

"I just want them to show me some proof," said Samad Shah Khosrawi. "If he is guilty of something, then fine, let them cut his throat."


The Debt Ceiling: Why Obama Should Just Ignore It

With a Republican-controlled House demanding large cuts in present and future spending in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling, the possibility that the federal government will have trouble financing and issuing new debt is becoming more frighteningly likely each day. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, CBO chief Doug Elmendorf, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have all encouraged Congress in strong terms to resolve the debt ceiling stand-off before the creditworthiness of the United States is jeopardized. But barring a timely resolution to the standoff, could President Obama simply ignore the debt ceiling and keep making good on the country’s obligations? As the deadline grows nearer, the question has been popping up on law blogs and other forums, and according to a number of legal experts with whom I spoke, the answer, surprisingly, appears to be yes—and it is conservative justices who have played the biggest role in making it possible.

When it comes to Congress’s ability to stop the Obama administration from ignoring the debt ceiling, legal experts note that the first obstacle standing in its way is the question of standing, or whether a certain party has the right to sue over an issue in the first place. Jonathan Zasloff, a professor at the UCLA School of Law who has discussed this idea on a blog that he writes with several other academics, told me that while an order from the president for the Treasury Department to continue issuing new debt sounded extreme, it was unclear who could prove sufficient injury from the decision that would qualify the person to sue the administration in court. “Who has some kind of particularized injury, in fact?” Zasloff asked, and he could not come up with a satisfying answer.

Part of the reason for Zasloff’s difficulty in identifying an appropriate plaintiff is that members of Congress have tried before to sue the president for diminishing their legislative and appropriating power and have typically failed. In 1997, for instance, a small group of congressmen sued Office of Management and Budget director Franklin Raines, arguing that the 1996 Line Item Veto Act diluted their voting power as members of Congress. But seven justices of the Supreme Court disagreed, and did so largely by drawing from an earlier opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia that denied environmental groups standing to challenge the government’s interpretation of the Endangered Species Act. In the majority opinion, then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote that because the congressmen had not shown that their injury was “particularized,” and that the action of the President had not affected the congressmen in a “personal and individual way,” they did not have standing to sue.

In the case of members of Congress suing the current administration over the debt ceiling, the issue of standing would likely fall the same way. Louis Fisher, an expert on the separation of powers who worked at the Congressional Research Service for over twenty five years, wrote in an email that “case law is quite clear that a member of Congress, even if joined by a dozen or two colleagues, cannot get standing in court to contest a constitutional issue.” A joint resolution from Congress could try to get an injunction from the D.C. District Court to stop the Treasury from issuing new debt, but that could be easily vetoed by Democrats in the Senate. Barring that, Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina who is a former special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, says that a legal representative of Congress, perhaps the House counsel, could bring forward a suit on behalf of Congress. But Gerhardt also adds that, if this happened, the Obama administration would likely argue that the case was analogous to the 1997 case against Raines,and therefore there should be no “institutional” standing.

Leaving Congress aside, it appears the only possible party to a suit challenging the administration’s ability to exceed the debt ceiling would be a character that almost seems designed to elicit zero public sympathy: those who purchased credit default swaps which would pay off in the event of government default. Charles Tiefer, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, told me that Congress could pass a statute that strengthened the ability of this group of investors to sue as an injured party. But this statute, of course, could be filibustered in the Senate or vetoed by the president. Moreover, it would force Republicans to defend the right of those who had hoped to profit from a national default or dip in creditworthiness to sue the government because their payouts had been prevented.

But even if standing could be established and the Obama administration gets taken to court, some legal experts note that an additional argument of surprising strength could be made: The government cannot legally default on its debts. Former Reagan official and maverick conservative budget wonk Bruce Bartlett has suggested as much by invoking Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned.” Although there has been little litigation or discussion of this section, it could be read to imply an absolute firewall against statutory limits on paying or devaluing the debt.

Garrett Epps, a legal journalist and professor at University of Baltimore School of Law, has made an even broader argument in a pair of articles for The Atlantic’s website. In an interview, Epps told me that there was a strong argument that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional because it exceeds the legislative branch’s power of the purse. The argument goes like this: Because Congress already appropriated the funds in question, it is the executive branch’s duty to enact those appropriations. The debt ceiling, then, is legislative “double-counting,” because the executive branch is obligated to spend the money Congress appropriates, without having to go back and ask again for permission.

Of course, Epps admits, a move like this would represent a major assertion of executive power. Moreover, conservative Supreme Court Justices, no matter their past views, would have to reckon with a Democratic president ignoring a Republican House and ruling that he was able to do so with their blessing. Many of the legal scholars I spoke to expressed skepticism that Scalia and the conservative wing of the Court could be expected to go to bat for the Obama administration when it comes to the question of standing, as well as the broad conception of executive powers. Tiefer, however, was more optimistic: “I, for one, think that conservatives on the Court are faithful to their conservative principles of jurisdiction and they don’t alter them merely because on the merits they might be partial to one side.” If the Obama administration chooses to ignore the debt ceiling, they’ll have to hope he’s right.


There would seem to be at least one more option that would fulfill the nations obligations, mainly cut somewhere else to pay the bills.

Le Figaro: Hizbullah Moving Arsenal from Syria to Lebanon

Hizbullah is moving its arsenal from Syria over fears that the anti-Assad demonstrations would lead to regime change, a Western expert closely following up Iranian-Syrian ties told the French daily Le Figaro on Saturday.

The expert confirmed that Western intelligence had monitored the movement of trucks from the Syrian border to eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa valley.

The trucks are allegedly transporting Iranian-made Zelzal, Fajr 3 and Fajr 4 rockets that the Shiite party had amassed in depots in Syria.

Le Figaro said that Hizbullah’s logistics units based in Syria were helping the party move its arsenal.

However, it said that Damascus and Tehran have lately doubted that the transfer of arms to Hizbullah has been monitored by U.S. and Israeli satellites.

In an effort to confront the surveillance, Syrian intelligence units and Iran’s al-Quds Force have established a central command at the Damascus airport, Le Figaro added.


Failed bomb attack on Red Cross office in Karachi

KARACHI: A bomb failed to explode outside the international Red Cross office in Karachi on Saturday, police said.

A small blast did take place from the detonator of the home-made bomb, which two motorcyclists left in a trash bin outside the main gate of the International Committee of the Red Cross office in Karachi’s Bahadurabad area.

“A detonator of a locally-made bomb exploded, but it failed to explode the bomb,” senior police investigator Omar Khitab told reporters.

“There were no casualties or damage,” he added.

Khitab said that the bomb resembled the one defused by police on Friday in the residential colony of Karachi’s Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre.

Provincial interior ministry spokesman Sharfuddin Memon confirmed the incident.

No one has so far claimed responsibility for the botched attack.

Karachi suffers from killings linked to political and ethnic tensions and crime, but militant violence is also on the rise in the city of 16 million people whose port is a hub for Nato supplies bound for Afghanistan.

Last month, it took the navy 17 hours to fight off a handful of militants who killed 10 security officials and destroyed two US-made aircraft at the only naval air base in Karachi.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

35 dead in Afghanistan hospital bombing

A HUGE car bombing at a hospital killed 20 and wounded 25 in Afghanistan today, days after US President Barack Obama said 10,000 US forces would leave the country this year.
The brazen suicide attack in Logar province, just south of the capital Kabul, killed women and children and was described as "unprecedented" in the history of the near-decade-long Afghan war by officials.

"We are correcting the casualty toll (which) was not as mentioned in the previous statement. At least 20 of our countrymen have been martyred and around 25 are wounded." the ministry of public health said in a statement.

"This inhumane act is unprecedented in the history of the conflict in our country and targeted a place where wounds are healed and patients receive treatment."

The statement also voiced "disgust and hatred towards the perpetrators."

Din Mohammad Darwaish, the Logar provincial spokesman, said the attack was a suicide car bombing.

The head of Logar's provincial council, Abdul Wali Wakeel, confirmed the toll and said local officials had contacted foreign forces to ask for help in evacuating the wounded.

A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul said he was "not aware" that ISAF had been approached for assistance.

The Taliban denied it was behind the attack, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying: "We condemn this attack on a hospital ... whoever has done this wants to defame the Taliban."

Militants in Afghanistan frequently target the Afghan police and other government employees as well as foreign forces in their near decade-long insurgency.

But civilians are the biggest casualties in the war, with 2777 killed last year, according to the United Nations.

The huge blast comes at the end of a week when Obama announced that 33,000 US forces would leave Afghanistan by the end of next summer.

All foreign combat forces are due to pull out of the country by the end of 2014. There are currently up to 150,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan, including around 99,000 from the US.

Some analysts fear that Afghan security forces may struggle to contain the insurgency, which has hit record violence levels, as withdrawals start to get under way.

Today's attack came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who issued a statement condemning it, told a counterterrorism summit in Tehran that militancy was on the rise in both his country and the region.

"Not only has Afghanistan not yet achieved peace and security but terrorism is expanding and threatening more than ever Afghanistan and the region," he told the opening session.

The two-day summit is being attended by the heads of state of six regional countries, including Afghan neighbours Iran and Pakistan.

The blast is the second major attack in Afghanistan in two days.

Yesterday, 10 people were killed by a bicycle bomb which went off in a busy bazaar in Khad Abad district of the northern province of Kunduz.

"Ten people were killed including a police soldier and 24 others were wounded including 18 men, five women and a police member," the Afghan interior ministry said in a statement.

The explosives were planted in a bicycle near an ice-cream shop, the statement added.