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Archive for July 8th, 2011

Greece stops Gaza-bound boat, immobilizes flotilla

Posted by Admin on July 8, 2011

By Renee Maltezou | Reuters – Thu, Jul 7, 2011

ATHENS (Reuters) – The Greek coastguard intercepted a small French boat with Pro-Palestinian activists aboard on Thursday, the third flotilla ship to be prevented from sailing to Gaza to challenge an Israeli blockade.

Greece, just over a year after nine people were killed when Israeli marines stormed a pro-Palestinian flotilla, imposed a ban on all Gaza-bound ships saying it feared for the safety of the activists who are now trying to find a way to set sail.

The boat with about 10 activists aboard, including French politicians, an MEP and a journalist, sailed from Corsica. Activists had said it was in international waters waiting to join the rest of the flotilla, now confined in Greek ports.

The “Dignity” was detected in the early morning near the southern Greek island of Crete as it was refueling at sea and was towed to the port of Sitia for checks, the coastguard said.

“We are still checking their papers. We haven’t spotted any problem so far. They have not disclosed their destination, maybe because they have not decided yet,” said a coastguard official in Crete, on condition of anonymity.

There were no arrests, activists and the coastguard said.

The 10-ship flotilla, with about 350 passengers, was supposed to take drugs, food and building materials to Gaza by the end of June, but a priority was to challenge the blockade.

But the chances that they will reach their destination has faded due to the vigilance of the Greek coastguard which has intercepted three of their ships so far and is closely watching the other seven, moored in ports across Greece.


“We are still waiting. We know that the days are going by but we are waiting to see what will happen. So far, we can’t move,” said Dimitris Plionis, one of the activists.

On Friday, the Greek coastguard intercepted the U.S. ship “Audacity of Hope” just a short while after it set sail from Piraeus port, and arrested its captain. Three days later, armed coastguards boarded the Canadian ship “Tahrir” which set sail from Crete and escorted it back. Three people were detained.

Although all four detainees were freed, they face charges for defying the Greek ban, which can only be lifted if the Greek Citizen Protection Ministry issues a new order. Nine ships are being confined in Greek ports and all 10 are accounted for.

Israel says its blockade of Gaza is aimed at stopping weapons from reaching the enclave’s rulers, Hamas — an Islamist group that is branded a terrorist group by some Western nations.

In an effort to calm the activists, Greece offered to ferry the aid to Gaza in cooperation with the United Nations. The activists turned the offer down saying this was “insufficient” as their mission was also about the rights of the Palestinian people and not just about aid.

“It is an offer that is always on the table and is still on the table,” said Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinides on Thursday in Vienna.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou in Athens and Michael Shields in Vienna, editing by Peter Millership)

Posted in Press Releases | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

South Sudan capital sweeps up, cracks down before split

Posted by Admin on July 8, 2011

By Alexander Dziadosz | Reuters – Thu, Jul 7, 2011

JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) – Southern Sudanese in the country-in-waiting’s capital are sprucing up streets, confiscating black market guns and trying to impose order on frenetic traffic to make sure independence day goes smoothly on Saturday.

For many southerners, the split from the country’s north represents a moment of long-awaited triumph and fresh optimism after decades of brutal civil war and perceived marginalization.

It also brings a raft of challenges as the rickety boomtown of Juba receives scores of foreign dignitaries and the government tries to enforce its writ across a territory roughly the size of France wracked by internal rebellions and awash with guns.

Men and women with straw brushes are sweeping leaves and dust from the southern capital’s streets and men in paint-stained jumpsuits are whitewashing walls. Celebratory banners hang across the city.

“They’re doing a very good job. Visitors from all over the world will come and see that the town is very clean,” Kisereko Charles, a 51-year-old engineer, said in central Juba.

A red digital display in a nearby roundabout is counting down the seconds to independence. “Free at last,” one message on the display flashed.

North and south Sudan have warred over ideology, religion, ethnicity and oil for all but a few years since the country’s independence. An estimated 2 million people – most of them southerners – died in the conflict.

A 2005 peace deal that brought an end to the war promised southerners the chance to vote for independence. About 98 percent chose to split when the referendum was held in January.

“Vote for dignity,” one sign left over from the poll reads, displaying a facsimile of part of the ballot: an open hand with the word “secession” printed in Arabic and English.


South Sudan, with at least seven internal rebel militias according to a U.N. count, will begin life as an independent country in a region known for political turmoil that can erupt in terrible bloodshed.

Neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a devastating war in the late 1990s after Eritrea split away. Kenya exploded in violence after a disputed election in late 2007.

Suicide bombings ripped through Uganda‘s capital during the 2010 football World Cup. The militant group that claimed responsibility is based in Somalia, a country that has not had an effective central government for about two decades.

Analysts and aid workers say independence might encourage renegade militias in the new Republic of South Sudan to step up their challenge to a government the rebels say is corrupt and autocratic.

Interior Minister Gier Chouang Aloung, acknowledging security worries, told reporters that “enemies of the south” would not be allowed to spoil the celebrations.

Security forces were continuing a sweep-up of illegal guns and were registering people trying to buy new firearms, he said.

Authorities were issuing regular statements to discourage harassment and abuse of power among security forces.

Even celebratory gunfire would not be tolerated on July 9, he said.

“There will be no shooting. The only shooting will be the 21-gun salute,” Aloung said. “Any other shooting is illegal and it will be taken care of.”

Authorities have started cracking down on traffic, too. The former insurgents charged with policing Juba’s streets have been blocking the city’s ubiquitous motorcycle taxis, or “bodas,” from main roads.


The secession has been a temporary boon for the fruit and vegetable markets on the capital’s sprawling edges as southerners stock up on food ahead of the celebration.

“These days they are really buying,” said Gift Kadija, a 38-year-old vendor, who is from Uganda like many of the sellers there.

“They buy tomatoes, Irish potatoes, beans, rice, cooking oil for the celebrations. They are preparing.”

Hundreds of thousands of southerners have already returned home ahead of independence, and many more are streaming back. A flight from Khartoum last week was full of southerners carting bulging suitcases wrapped up with tape.

They were greeted in Juba by a one-room terminal crammed with passengers jostling to collect their bags. Arrival times of flights were jotted on a white marker board on the wall. Down the main road to town, pickup trucks packed with men flew South Sudan’s new flag and bullhorns blasted the new national anthem.

“We have chosen to be first class citizens,” one banner read.

“I’m very happy, very excited,” Edward Roji, a 48-year-old government worker standing near the banner, said. “I was born in this war, and I grew up in this war — over 40 years of war.”

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Posted in War Quotient | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

TV report of China leader's death fuels political rumor mill

Posted by Admin on July 8, 2011

By Benjamin Lim and Sui-Lee Wee | Reuters – 23 hrs ago

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese state media denied rum ours on Thursday that former president Jiang Zemin had died after a Hong Kong television station said he had, sparking a wave of speculation about a leadership transition due next year.

“Recent reports of some overseas media organizations about Jiang Zemin’s death from illness are pure rumor,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted “authoritative sources” as saying.

Jiang, 84, is in poor health. Three sources with ties to China’s leadership told Reuters that he is in intensive care in Beijing at the No. 301 military hospital after suffering a heart attack.

In the opaque world of Chinese politics, the health of a leader is fodder for rumors about how the balance of power is shifting at the highest levels of the government.

Current President Hu Jintao retires from office from late next year in a sweeping leadership overhaul, and the rumors about Jiang’s health underscore the uncertainties around this.

Hong Kong’s Asia Television interrupted its main newscast on Wednesday evening to announce solemnly that Jiang had died, and followed with a brief profile. It kept up the news for several hours on a ticker and then said it would air a special report on Jiang’s life late in the evening.

It later canceled the report, and withdrew the ticker after failing to get official confirmation.

On Thursday afternoon, the television station issued a statement to apologize to its audience and Jiang’s family.

“Asia Television has taken note of this afternoon’s report from Xinhua and has withdrawn last night’s report about Mr. Jiang Zemin’s death and would like to apologize to our audience and Mr. Jiang Zemin’s family,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Shandong News website ( in northeast China posted a black banner with white characters, saying “Our Respectable Comrade Jiang Zemin Is Immortal.” The site was no longer accessible on Thursday.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei deflected numerous questions about Jiang at a regular news briefing, saying Xinhua had already made a full explanation and that he had nothing further to add.

Searches on a popular Chinese micro-blogging site with terms ranging from “Jiang Zemin” to the Yangtze River (Jiang’s surname means “river”), are blocked, a sign that China’s censors are concerned about public debate about his health.

Premature reports about the demise of Chinese leaders are hardly new. In the 1990s, Hong Kong and Japanese media reported several times that paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had died.


Jiang Zemin’s passing — on the surface at least — would likely have limited impact on the direction of China’s politics and economic development.

He retired long ago, handing over the Communist Party’s top job to Hu in 2002 and his other posts over the next two years. Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao have since led the country on a decade-long charge that saw it grow from an economy the size of Britain to one that has surpassed Japan.

But the prospect of Jiang’s passing would add a breeze of uncertainty to a transition that is widely thought to hand power from Hu to a new generation led by Xi Jinping, currently vice president. That would take place at the 18th Communist Party Congress expected sometime in the autumn of 2012.

Xi, anointed as Hu’s heir apparent at the congress in 2007, was considered acceptable to both the Hu and Jiang camps.

But in China, the death of a senior leader can be cause for worry, and even spell disaster, for proteges and allies who are no longer protected.

Hu would no longer have Jiang acting as a counterweight to his influence over the future make up of the next leadership.

“New leaders are selected by old leaders,” Zheng Yongnian, professor of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore. “He’s one of the important selectorate. After he passes away, other current leaders will become more influential.”

He could also settle scores or take down other rivals with links to Jiang, if necessary.

Past leaders can have considerable clout in China. Deng wielded power as paramount leader despite having given up all his posts except the honorary chairman of the Chinese bridge association.

Jiang consolidated his own grip on power after Deng died in 1997. By the time Jiang retired his last post — as head of the military commission — in 2004, he had already stacked the Politburo with his people.

“Front and back, left and right, up and down. No matter where Hu looks, there is a Jiang man,” said one source at the time the leadership line-up was announced back in 2002.

In Jiang’s case, there are quite a few allies still in place in the leadership who might now have cause for concern, should Hu assert himself.

“If he dies, the situation becomes very delicate,” said one source with ties to leadership circles who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject.

Among the Jiang allies still in senior posts are: Wu Bangguo, parliament chief and the second ranking person in the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee; Jia Qinglin, who heads a parliamentary advisory body and is ranked fourth; and Li Changchun, who oversees propaganda and ideology and is ranked fifth.

How exactly it will play it out, is unclear. With the Party Congress only about 15 months away, Hu’s window to further consolidate his grip on power is considerably shorter than Jiang had as he prepared to step down.

(Writing by Brian Rhoads; Additional reporting by Alison Leung in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING,; Editing by Don Durfee and John Chalmers)

Posted in Geo-Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Massive dust storm descends on Phoenix area

Posted by Admin on July 8, 2011

Phoenix brushed itself off and returned to normal on Wednesday after a “historic dust storm” swept over the area, sending residents scrambling for cover, knocking out power and delaying flights.

Day turned into night as the billowy plumes of dust rolled over the mountains and clogged the skies over and around Phoenix in the late afternoon and into the evening on Tuesday, applying a good coat of dirt to the surroundings.

A wall of dust that towered over skyscrapers downtown swept across the desert from the south, and it appeared to be roughly 50 miles wide in some spots.

The storm was part of the Arizona monsoon season, which typically starts in mid-June and lasts through Sept. 30.

The National Weather Service says strong winds with gusts of more than 60 mph rapidly moved the dust cloud northwest through Phoenix and the cities of Avondale, Tempe and Scottsdale.

The storm downed trees, tossed yard furniture, and snuffed out visibility across an area of some 50 miles at its peak on Tuesday evening, although there were no reports of any fatalities.

Residents rushed inside as sand from the storm blasted the area in winds of up to 50 miles per hour. Near zero visibility forced drivers to stop on area roads until the worst of the storm passed.

Posted in Earth Changes | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

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