Monday, January 25, 2010

Osama warns Obama

DUBAI - AL-QAEDA chief Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the botched Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner and vowed further strikes on American targets, in an audio message broadcast on Sunday.

The message aired by Al-Jazeera television warned US President Barack Obama the attack was meant as a similar message to Sept 11, 2001 when Al-Qaeda militants hijacked and crashed passenger jets into iconic American buildings.

The recording said it was a message from 'Osama to Obama', and IntelCentre, a US group that monitors Islamist websites, said it contained 'language used by bin Laden... in advance of attacks'. In the message, bin Laden praised as a 'hero' Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who allegedly tried to detonate explosives on a Northwest Airlines plane approaching Detroit on Dec 25 but was foiled by passengers.

'The message that was conveyed through the (attacked) plane of the hero Umar Farouk is to stress earlier messages delivered to you by the heroes of the 11' Sept attack, he said.

'That (message) is, that America should not dream of security until we enjoy it as a reality in Palestine.' The authenticity of the recording could not immediately be verified, but Al-Jazeera said the voice was bin Laden's and IntelCentre said it appeared to be genuine.

'From Osama to Obama: Had we been able to deliver our messages to you in words, we would not have sent them by planes,' the statement said. 'It is not fair that you (America) enjoy a good life while our brothers in Gaza endure the worst standard of living. Therefore, God willing, our attacks against you will continue as long as you maintain your support to Israel.' IntelCentre said it considered bin Laden's choice of the phrase 'Peace be upon those who follow guidance' as 'a possible indicator of an upcoming attack' in the next 12 months. -- AFP

'Turkey belongs in Europe'

BERLIN - EUROPEAN Union president Spain feels that Turkey belongs in the 27-country bloc, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said in an interview published on Sunday.

Mr Moratinos said negotiations to admit candidate Turkey could be successfully completed if it met the so-called Copenhagen criteria - covering such areas as democracy, human rights and the rule of law - which is required for membership.

'It would bring Europe more advantages than drawbacks. There may be difference of opinions between EU member states (over Turkish membership), but all have agreed to wait and watch the negotiations,' Mr Moratinos told Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Spain, which holds the EU presidency until the end of June, hopes to open accession talks with Ankara in four new policy areas and see progress in a dispute between Turkey and Cyprus which is blocking Ankara's bid.

'Turkey is a part of the European family of peoples. It is better to have Turkey inside the EU than to leave it standing outside,' Mr Moratinos said.

He added that the EU considers Turkey a partner of high strategic importance, specifically mentioning its diplomatic network in the Middle East and central Asia. -- REUTERS

Boy, 7, raises $113k for Haiti

LONDON - A SEVEN-YEAR-OLD British boy told on Sunday how he raised more than 50,000 pounds (S$113,000) in a day for survivors of the Haiti earthquake by doing a sponsored bike ride.

Charlie Simpson set out to collect just 500 pounds for a UN Children's Fund (Unicef) appeal by cycling five miles (eight kilometres) around his local park in London - but his efforts inspired hundreds of people to donate online.

He started his fundraising efforts after seeing shocking images of children being pulled alive from the rubble in the Caribbean nation. 'I just think it was quite sad when I saw the pictures on the TV,' said the youngster.

His mother, Leonora, helped him create a sponsorship form and said the document quickly spread around the Internet and the enormous sum was donated in one day. 'He really felt strongly about this and thought that something had to be done,' she said. 'But what started off as a little cycle round the park with his dad has turned into something a lot bigger than that and we can't believe it.

'I am extremely proud of our Charlie, he's done really well. He's worked hard and he's raised a phenomenal amount of money so we couldn't ask for anything more.' Donations from his JustGiving website go to Unicef, which is leading emergency relief efforts on water, sanitation, education and nutrition as well as supporting child protection.

Unicef said it was the first time anyone had collected 50,000 pounds in one day for the fund and the money would make 'a huge difference'. 'It's always heartwarming when any child starts to respond and there's something quite special about a child in the UK reaching out to the children of Haiti,' said spokesman Michael Newsome. -- AFP

Haiti cops prepare for calamity

PORT-AU-PRINCE - POLICE in the Haitian capital counted their loses and gathered their forces on Sunday, preparing for a surge in crime they are certain will follow the devastating Jan 12 earthquake.

Police leaders are still trying to determine how many officers can report for work and how many police stations are still operational.

Looting is widespread in this city struggling to recover from the powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake, but police say they have yet to see a wider rise in violent crime.

This hiatus is likely to be short-lived: the quake shattered the walls of the city's main prison, granting freedom to some 4,000 convicted criminals.

Police have doubled night patrols in Cite Soleil, a squalid Port-au-Prince slum with a population of one million people located next to the airport. 'They came back here, we know, but they are hiding in the alleys,' said Chief Inspector Rosemond Aristide, referring to gang leaders. 'There is no way to trap them - right now,' said Inspector Aristide, the top official at the Cite Soleil police station.

Looting, an ongoing activity in downtown Port-au-Prince, picked up on Sunday as excavators removed large chunks of debris, exposing both rotting cadavers and valuables. -- AFP

Climate group ups pressure

NEW DELHI - FOUR nations led by China pledged on Sunday to meet an end-month deadline to submit action plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions and challenged rich countries to come up with funding to help fight global warming.

Environment ministers and envoys from Brazil, South Africa, India and China met in New Delhi in a show of unity by countries whose greenhouse gas emissions are among the fastest rising in the world. The bloc was key to brokering a political agreement at the Copenhagen talks in December and its meeting in India was designed in part to put pressure on richer nations to make good on funding commitments.

'We have sent a very powerful symbol to the world of our intentions,' the Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said at a joint press conference after seven hours of talks.

The group discussed setting up a climate fund to help nations most vulnerable to the impact of global warming, which it said would act as a wakeup call for wealthier countries to meet their pledges on financial assistance and give US$10 billion (S$14 billion) in 2010.

Rich countries have pledged US$30 billion in climate change funding for the 2010-12 period and set a goal of US$100 billion by 2020, far less than what developing countries had wanted.

The group in New Delhi said releasing US$10 billion this year would send a signal of the rich countries' commitment. The four said they were in talks to set up an independent fund for the same purpose, but gave no timeline or figure. 'When we say we will be reinforcing technical support as well as funds to the most vulnerable countries, we are giving a slap in the face to the rich countries,' Brazil's Environment Minister Carlos Minc said through a translator. -- REUTERS

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Biden: U.S. to appeal Blackwater dismissal

The U.S. will appeal a court decision dismissing manslaughter charges against five Blackwater Worldwide guards involved in a deadly 2007 Baghdad shooting, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday.

Biden's announcement after a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani shows just how diplomatically sensitive the incident remains nearly three years later. A lawyer for one guard, noting that word of the intended appeal came in Iraq, accused the Obama administration of political expediency and said the U.S. was pursuing an innocent man, rather than justice.

Blackwater security contractors were guarding U.S. diplomats when the guards opened fire in Nisoor Square, a crowded Baghdad intersection, on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen people were killed, including women and children, in a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq.

'Hope for Haiti' raises $58 million and counting

Friday night's star-studded "Hope for Haiti" telethon has raised a record-breaking $58 million, with more donations continuing to pour in from around the world, the benefit's organizers announced Saturday.

The preliminary figure is a record for donations made by the public through a disaster relief telethon, according to a news release from telethon organizers.

Additionally, the "Hope for Haiti Now" album, a compilation of the night's musical performances made available on Apple's iTunes, was the No. 1 album in 18 countries Saturday. Sales figures for iTunes are still being calculated, and the preliminary figure of $58 million does not include donations from corporations or large private donors.

People will be able to make donations to "Hope for Haiti" via phone, Web, text messaging and regular mail for the next six months, according to the news release.

A moving performance by Alicia Keys opened Friday night's telethon, and actor George Clooney, serving as the Los Angeles host for the event, made the first appeal for donations to raise money for relief efforts after last week's devastating earthquake.

Video: 'Hope For Haiti Now'
Video: 'Hope for Haiti' Coldplay
Video: 'Hope for Haiti' Beyonce
Video: Clooney talks of telethon

* Haiti
* George Clooney
* Yele Haiti Foundation

"The Haitian people need our help," Clooney said. "They need to know they are not alone. They need to know that we still care."

The show was one of the most widely distributed prime-time televised benefits in history, appearing simultaneously on more than 25 networks -- including CNN, where Anderson Cooper reported live from Haiti during the event.

More than 100 actors, musicians and other celebrities answered phones in New York and Los Angeles after professional operators first talked to donors.

"Thank you so much for your donation," actress Reese Witherspoon told one caller. "You can't imagine how much love and great, wonderful energy is here today. People are doing everything they can to make a difference in these people's lives."

Several other calls were aired live, including with Julia Roberts, Steven Spielberg, Taylor Swift and Stevie Wonder.

Swift and Wonder were among the evening's musical performers. Others included Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Shakira, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Coldplay, Christina Aguilera, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban, Jennifer Hudson, Madonna, Dave Matthews and Neil Young.

Other celebrities appearing on the telethon included Jon Stewart, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Ben Stiller, Clint Eastwood and Denzel Washington.

Proceeds from the telethon will benefit Oxfam America, Partners in Health, the Red Cross, UNICEF, the U.N. World Food Programme, Yele Haiti Foundation and the Clinton Bush Haiti Foundation.

Track down agents to locate missing Indian nationals

Track down agents to locate missing Indian nationals Recently, when government announced that approximately 40,000 Indian nationals went missing once their visas-on-arrival expired, it has sparked concerns from various parties including the non-governmental organizations Tenaganita and Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF).

Tenaganita director Dr Irene Fernandez commented that instead of focusing solely on these missing citizens, perhaps government should also track down the agents who are responsible in bringing them into the country. This is largely due to the fact that some of these Indian nationals were given inaccurate information by the agents when they first enter the country.

It is commonly known that certain illegal workers in the country are conned by the agents as they were often convinced to pay large sum of money since the conman usually sweet-talked them into believing that there are high salary jobs available in the country.

Once they arrived in the country, the workers realized that they have been conned. Left with no other option, these foreigners are forced to stay without visa or permit. Dr Irene said government must act wisely by tracking down the agents to find the missing Indian nationals. Most of the time, Indian nationals ended up working at restaurants or in plantation industry.

She pointed out that government must get to the core of the problem to solve it once and for all. Besides Dr Irene, MEF executive director Samsudin Baradan also pointed out that harsh punishments are needed to curb human trafficking problem in the country.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Haiti: Sea, land access improves; Two more aftershocks strike

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Jan 22, 2010) : Sea and land access for aid deliveries to Haiti improved Thursday as the United Nations along with the United States and other countries pledged long-term assistance to rebuild the quake-shaken country.

Two aftershocks with magnitudes 4.8 and 4.9 struck nine minutes apart in the region around Port-au-Prince, sending people running on land and rocking the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier anchored offshore.

Capital residents foraged for life's essential, standing in lines for food from the US 82nd Airborne in downtown Port-au-Prince or seeking refuge in the Stade Silvio Catore, once the scene of boisterous football matches.

Nepalese peacekeepers secured the drop zone for 14,000 individual meals and 14,000 litres of water, parachuted into an outlying suburb by the US military at one of the expanding aid distribution points.

A Haitian woman trapped for eight days without food or water was extracted from death's jaws by French rescue workers, bringing to at least 122 the number of those rescued by foreign teams since the Jan 12 magnitude-7 earthquake, US officials said.

Haitian Justice Minister Paul Denis had been reported killed in the rubble of his ministry building. But the Haitian ambassador to Berlin, Jean Robert Saget, said Thursday he was only injured.

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that efforts to get aid to victims were improving, but at least one million people were homeless and "living on the streets."

In the football stadium, a few hundred people have taken up residence and even put up tents, but they remain desperate for food, even as some supplies were arriving in other parts of the city.

"We want to eat, just a little bit. We want a few sips of clean water. Is that too much to ask for?" asked Roberson Joseph, a tour operator who ferried tourists between the Dominican Republic and Haiti until the quake.

"Right now we are living from day to day, to eventually die."

With 150 planes landing daily at Port-au-Prince airport, where the capacity has been vastly expanded under US military coordination, there was heavy congestion, and "finding free slots for large aircraft is still a challenge," said the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Tensions have risen around the US military's control of the airport, and officials have greeted the news that routes for aid delivery by sea and land were opening up.

French and US divers have partially opened part of the port, opening the way for the arrival of the first ship carrying 123 metric tons of food, water and medical supplies, UN and US officials said.

On land, a humanitarian corridor protected by 150 Dominican Republic troops was opened from Santo Domingo, easing the flow of relief supplies, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in New York. Peruvian peacekeepers from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) are also guarding the route.

For the first time, several bars and cafes opened in Petionville, an affluent neighbourhood that sits at a slight elevation and suffered less damage.

A supermarket reopened under the heavy guard of a private security force, surely to deter looters. In stark contrast, a large encampment of people left homeless is just steps away from the store.

A rum factory in the same neighbourhood remained closed, but Rhum Barbancourt was already for sale again from street vendors.

Several bars and cafes have reopened in Petionville.

One cafe served pizza and local Prestige beer, while a boy and his grandfather ate ice cream. The clientel slowling trickling in were generally affluent Haitians and foreigners, including many journalists, who are present in enough numbers to infuse some cash into a flat-lined economy through hotels, interpreters, drivers and money changers.

On the streets, women were selling paintings, huge canvases of city life before the quake, bursting with vibrant reds, oranges, greens and blues.

Street markets seem to be sprouting in every available space without rubble or burning garbage. Venders are selling bananas, pineapples and papayas, as well as green peppers, potatoes and even eggs, though most of the people now living on the street have no money to buy any of it.

Vehicle traffic, too, continues to build, though waits for fuel sometimes last half a day.

In some spots in feels like normal life, until the next aftershock.

The death toll of MINUSTAH troops and staff rose to 61, the worst losses ever for a UN mission. Another 180 troops and staff remain unaccounted.

US Air Force Commander Buck Elton, who heads the air operations in Haiti, headed off growing complaints by non-US aid groups that they have been shut out of the Port-au-Prince airport.

The French group Doctors Without Borders in particular had voiced frustration over being forced to divert to the Dominican Republic on Sunday despite its approved place in the landing scheme.

Speaking by telephone from Haiti, Elton said that the landing plan was divided with one-third each for international aid, US civilian aid and US military aircraft. Elton said the French plane in question had been scheduled to land at 3 pm Sunday, was diverted, and then came back and landed at 8 pm.

Elton said there are sometimes long delays on the ground, which force a diversion, caused by aircraft waiting for evacuees to arrive, or broken machinery. The airport, which in the pre-earthquake days handled 15 fixed-wing aircraft and 20 helicopters a day, is now handling 10 times that volume.

There had been reports that the US military was physically preventing Haitians from leaving the port, which US officials denied.

"The US government and the Haitian government have been advising Haitians not to try to cross from Haiti to the US ... in very unsafe craft in very rough seas," said Gordon Duguid, US State Department spokesman in Haiti.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the international community will continue its relief efforts, while planning to move to an early phase of recovery and reconstruction programmes in the impoverished nation. He met with US former president Bill Clinton, who is the UN special envoy for Haiti, to discuss the next phase after the humanitarian operation.

Clinton, who teamed up with US former president George W Bush to encourate private donations in the United States, said he would earmark some of the money raised to go to the reconstruction in Haiti. -- dpa

Storm-battered California hit with new deluge

LOS ANGELES (Jan 21, 2010): The fourth and strongest winter rainstorm in a week clobbered normally sunny Southern California on Thursday, canceling flights, pounding beaches with huge waves and threatening to bring torrents of mud down on pricey hillside homes.

Californians, who have rarely seen rain during a three-year drought that left the state rationing water, found themselves deluged -- forced to drive through flooded streets, bail out and sandbag their homes or in some cases evacuate.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown, acting in place of traveling Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, declared a state of emergency in five counties.

Officials said a silver lining of the worst storms the state had seen in five years was waist-high snow dumped on mountain ranges that could ease critical water shortages, although they stopped short of calling the drought over.

The heavy rain and high winds forced Southwest Airlines to suspend most of its flights from four area airports at least until Thursday evening.

Nearly 2,000 homes were evacuated in the foothills north of Los Angeles that were left blackened and barren by last year's wildfires, as authorities feared that days of steady rain would bring down entire hillsides of mud and boulders.

But several residents on one slide-prone cul-de-sac in the community of La Canada-Flintridge, scene of last summer's massive Station Fire, chose to stay put and help authorities channel swift-flowing, muddy water away from their homes.

"The idea is, don't let it pile up there but keep it moving," said 59-year-old George Witkor. "We're trying to keep it flowing as long as we can. If it gets too deep, we are out of here."

At least two houses in La Canada-Flintridge sustained damage from mud and debris but no injuries were reported.

Flood warnings were issued for low-lying areas and beaches, some which were slammed by 25-foot (7.6 metre) waves.

Witnesses reported a tornado in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, and authorities responding to the scene found a mile-long (1.6-km) path of destruction.

"One lady said her car hovered for a couple feet, spun around, then rammed into tree and blew out all the back and side windows," Ventura Police Sergeant Jack Richards said.

"I've been here for 25 years now and never saw a tornado hit like this before. We've had microbursts, I've seen water spouts, never had anything like this," Richards said.

Throughout the day, downed power lines knocked out power to more than 30,000 homes and businesses across California, and some schools also were closed or students kept indoors.

Interstate 5, the major artery connecting Southern California to northern parts of the state, was shut down because of snow at a mountain pass.

The desert resort city of Palm Springs has received half its average annual rainfall this week, and at least two deaths have been attributed to the storms, including a 21-year-old man crushed when a tall tree toppled on his house.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer declared a state of emergency after storms dumped snow on the high country, triggered flash floods and caused delays at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.-- REUTERS