Friday, February 4, 2011

Pakistan trio to face UK criminal charges

LONDON: Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir will face criminal charges in Britain over allegations they conspired with bookmakers to fix a match last year against England.
The trio have protested their innocence to the International Cricket Council but Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service said on Friday they and their agent have been summoned on charges of conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments and conspiracy to cheat.
The players have been suspended from all cricket since Sept. 3 after a British tabloid alleged they bowled no-balls at prearranged times during August’s fourth test at Lord’s to fix spot betting markets.
It was alleged 150,000 pounds ($241,000) was forwarded through businessman Mazhar Majeed.
CPS head Simon Clements said the organisation, which was responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by British police, believed it had enough proof to convict the players.
”We are satisfied there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute,” Clements said.
”The International Cricket Council tribunal is due to announce its decision tomorrow, but criminal proceedings are active now.”
Clements said the CPS will apply for extradition orders against Butt, Asif and Amir —the latter of whom has apologized for bowling five overs in a friendly last week —if they do not return to Britain next month.
Majeed is due to appear for an initial hearing at London’s City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on March 17.
”I would remind everyone that these men are entitled to a fair trial and should be regarded as innocent of these charges unless it is proven otherwise in court,” said Clements, whose organization received a file of evidence from Metropolitan Police on Dec. 7.
”It is extremely important that nothing should be reported which could prejudice the trial.”
An ICC anti-corruption tribunal, which questioned the players for more than 45 hours in Doha last month, is expected to deliver its own verdict on the players’ cricket future on Saturday in the sport’s biggest fixing scandal of the past decade.
”I think now the situation is very bleak for all the three cricketers,” former test fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz said. ”I won’t be surprised if tomorrow the ICC anti-corruption tribunal gives them tough punishments.”
But Amir’s lawyer Shahid Karim hopes for a positive judgment for his 18-year-old client, who troubled England and Australia batsmen until the scandal broke following an investigation by the News of the World.
The Pakistan Cricket Board has said it might consider the three players for the World Cup if they are exonerated.
On the request of the ICC, Pakistan one-day captain Shahid Afridi, coach Waqar Younis and former security manager Kahwaja Najam Javed also recorded statements at the Doha hearing.
”The appearance of these three is a clear indicator that the decision would not be in the cricketers’ favor,” Nawaz said.
A new group of cricket fans calling themselves the International Organization for Justice in Cricket, asked in a statement on Friday for the hearing to be halted while British police investigate.
The group claims to include hundreds of cricket fans from South Africa to Pakistan.
”The tribunal is at best a kangaroo court and a simple formality to ensure that the careers of the cricketers are ended and the country disgraced,” the group said in Dubai.
”The real culprits, the corrupt and those incompatible to the honor of cricket, will carry on well after this tribunal.”
Nawaz said Asif and Amir could escape tough punishments only if they could prove that they did not take money and bowled no-balls on the directives of captain Butt.
”Otherwise it will be difficult for them to get any favors from the tribunal,” he said. Nawaz urged tough action against the players if the tribunal finds them guilty.
”I have no doubt that all three will now go to London for March 17 hearing,” Nawaz said. ”They have to; they have no choice.”

Iran could make nuclear weapon in 1-2 years: IISS

LONDON: Iran may be able to make a nuclear weapon in as little as one or two years if it chose to do so, an influential think-tank said on Thursday.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said in a report that evidence showed “beyond reasonable doubt” that Iran was seeking the capability to produce nuclear weapons should its leaders decide to go down that route.
However, allegations that Iran had carried out prohibited chemical or biological weapons activities “cannot be determined from the available public information and may have been exaggerated,” the IISS said in a 128-page report on “Iran’s nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities”.
Iran is locked in a standoff with the United States and other powers over its nuclear programme, which Tehran says is peaceful but the West suspect’s aims to develop a nuclear bomb.
The United Nations Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran over the programme. Estimates of when Iran might be able to produce a nuclear bomb are important because of speculation that Israel or the United States might launch military strikes to prevent it from doing so.
The London-based IISS said Iran’s current stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) would, if further enriched, be enough for one or two nuclear weapons.
If the 4,000 centrifuges that appeared to be working well at Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant were used for weapons purposes, and they continued to perform at their maximum output to date, “a little over a year and seven months would be required for the first bomb’s worth of HEU (highly enriched uranium),” it said.
Quicker Method
Producing HEU for subsequent bombs would be quicker than the first one – taking a minimum of 32 weeks each, the report said.
In theory, a quicker method, called a batch enrichment process, could be used, allowing the first weapon’s worth of HEU to be produced in six months and sufficient quantities to make subsequent bombs in four months.
However, this method had never been used in practice and it seemed unlikely Iran would choose it, the report said.
Whichever method was used, at least six more months would be required to convert the HEU from gas form into metal and fashion it into a weapon, the report said.
“The minimum timeline then for the first weapon is over two years under the Pakistan method and one year for the batch method,” the report said. Developing a means to deliver a nuclear weapon — a missile — added to the timeline, it said.
The report chimes with comments made this week by British Defence Secretary Liam Fox who said Western powers should work on the assumption that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by next year.
The IISS said that for Iran to have a credible nuclear deterrent, one bomb would not be enough.
“Given the need for a replacement in case of bomb failure, as well as the presumed requirement for a second-strike capability and possibly for a test, it would seem foolhardy for a nation to go for broke, with the international reaction this would entail, before it could manufacture at least a handful of weapons,” the report said.
That would multiply the amount of weapons-grade uranium and time that would be needed, it said.

Mideast Quartet seeks to bridge widening gulf

JERUSALEM: The Middle East Quartet meets on Saturday in a bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks, as Israel fears for its peace treaty with Egypt and the Palestinians seek international recognition for statehood.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are to convene in Munich, Germany to help “find a solution to the present deadlock,” as Ashton has said.
Talks between Israel and the Palestinians, relaunched on September 2 after a long hiatus, fell apart weeks afterward after Israel refused to renew a temporary ban on building settlements in the West Bank.
The Palestinian leadership refuses to resume negotiations as long as Israel builds on land wanted for a Palestinian state.
In an address to the Israeli parliament on Wednesday overshadowed by events in Egypt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated a call to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to drop his demand for a freeze.
“I hope that president Abbas will regard the changes taking place in the region as an opportunity to sit down with us and discuss peace without preconditions,” Netanyahu said.
“It is possible, they say, that the gap between Israel and the Palestinians may be too wide to bridge. They might be right, but if we do not try, we will surely not succeed.”
He went on to criticise “unilateral measures” – a reference to Palestinian efforts to win the widest possible international recognition for a Palestinian state comprising the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat on Tuesday called on the Quartet to “take an historic decision to recognise the state of Palestine” based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
In a statement on Thursday, prominent Palestinian parliamentarian Hanan Ashrawi appealed for “a qualitative shift in the way the Quartet does business.”
“It is far too late for the Quartet to simply issue statements without enactment or intervention, and to repeat the mantra of a return to bilateral negotiations,” she said.
Shaul Mofaz, chairman of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee and former head of the armed forces, said uncertainty in Egypt added to the urgent need for accommodation with the Palestinians.
“Because of the strategic change in our region, we have to move forward with the Palestinians,” he said. Failure to do so, he said, could lead to an Israel that was “one state for two peoples, close to a new war with its neighbours.”
In the New York Times on Thursday, columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that “Netanyahu … is in danger of becoming the Mubarak of the peace process” – a reference to offering too little too late in the way of concessions.
“Israel has never had more leverage vis-a-vis the Palestinians and never had more responsible Palestinian partners,” Friedman said. “But Netanyahu has found every excuse for not putting a peace plan on the table.”
US President Barack Obama “should put his own peace plan on the table, bridging the Israeli and Palestinian positions, and demand that the two sides negotiate on it without any preconditions,” the journalist added.
Paris will host a new international donor conference in June for a Palestinian state, ministers from donor countries and the Quartet said following talks in the French capital on Thursday.
“At the request of the PA, a new international donors’ conference for the Palestinian State will be held in Paris in June 2011,” a statement released after the talks said.
The group also “call on Israel to take more ambitious, structural measures to continue to ease access and movement” of Palestinians.

Raymond Davis’ diplomatic status ‘dubious’: govt sources

Raymond Davis

ISLAMABAD: Sources in the Pakistan government said that Raymond Davis’ diplomatic status was dubious, DawnNews reported.
They further said that the Foreign Office had not issued the ‘diplomatic card’ to Raymond Davis, a US consular employee who was arrested a week ago for shooting dead two motorcyclists in Lahore in what he said was self-defence.
Earlier on Thursday, the United States government, in a diplomatic note to the Pakistan government, admitted that not all administrative and technical staffers of embassies and consulates in Pakistan were given the diplomatic status.
The note further stated that although not all embassy and consulate staffers in Pakistan have the diplomatic status, it could not be concluded that this annulled their diplomatic immunities under the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations.
The US government further demanded Pakistan to clarify the situation and to not leave the resolution of the issue to the courts.
The US government emphasised that if Raymond Davis’ diplomatic status cannot be established then the issue should be resolved bilaterally.

Six Afghans killed by roadside bomb blast: Nato

KUNDUZ: Six civilians, including two children, were killed when their rickshaw struck a roadside bomb in northern Afghanistan on Thursday, the Nato alliance said.
Afghan police and coalition forces secured the area and were investigating the blast site in Kunduz province, Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said, giving no further details.
It is the latest attack of the deadly Taliban insurgency that has gripped the country for the past nine years.
Afghan police earlier reported that a father and his young son were killed when a bomb blew up their car near the city of Kunduz.
“A father and his 10 or 12-year-old son who were driving to the city were killed,” deputy provincial police chief Abdul Rahman Aqtash told AFP.
He did not give details of any further injuries from the roadside blast.
It was unclear whether the incidents were the same.
A string of similar attacks have killed civilians in Afghanistan in recent weeks.
Separately, Isaf said it was investigating an incident in Lashkar Gah district of southern Helmand province, in which it said two Afghan civilians were accidentally killed and one injured.
According to initial reports an Isaf unit came under attack and returned fire at a van that it believed was part of the attack, an Isaf statement said.
Following the incident, Isaf forces found two dead civilians and one wounded civilian in the van. The wounded civilian was evacuated to an Isaf medical facility.
A human rights watchdog said Tuesday that 2010 was the deadliest year for ordinary Afghans since a US-led invasion, with more than 2,400 civilians killed.
Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for more than 60 per cent of the dead, the report by the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) said, blaming the US-led force for 21 per cent of the casualties.
The Taliban are battling 140,000 Nato-led international troops based in Afghanistan.
The troops are due to start a limited, conditions-based withdrawal from July and Afghan security forces are due to take control of security in their own country from 2014.

US in talks over possible Mubarak departure


WASHINGTON: US officials said on Thursday they were discussing with Egyptians different scenarios for a transition of power, including one in which President Hosni Mubarak leaves office immediately.

“That’s one scenario,” said a senior Obama administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There are a number of scenarios, but (it is) wrong to suggest we have discussed only one with the Egyptians.”
The New York Times reported on Thursday the Obama administration was talking with Egyptian officials about a proposal for Mubarak to resign immediately.
The White House would not confirm the Times report but said discussions have been under way with Egyptians in an attempt to resolve the 10-day crisis in Egypt.
Violence has raged between pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators after Mubarak declared he would resist demands to leave now and would remain in power until September.
Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said President Barack Obama has said now is the time to begin “a peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition, with credible, inclusive negotiations”.
“We have discussed with the Egyptians a variety of different ways to move that process forward, but all of those decisions must be made by the Egyptian people,” Vietor said.
More than one option was under discussion, a senior administration official said.
Obama and his top aides have carefully avoided calling for Mubarak’s resignation, instead insisting that an orderly transition “must begin now” and raising doubts about Mubarak’s plans to stay in power until September.
The Times reported that under a proposal discussed with high-level Egyptian officials, Mubarak would turn power over to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Suleiman on Thursday and urged that “credible, inclusive negotiations begin immediately in order for Egypt to transition to a democratic government”.
Biden urged the Egyptian government to ensure no violence breaks out and appealed for the release of detained journalists and human rights advocates as the possibility of a new round of rioting loomed on Friday.
Senate calls for turnover
US lawmakers applied pressure on the long-time US ally, calling on Mubarak to transfer power to an inclusive caretaker government in a Senate resolution that went slightly beyond Obama’s public position.
Two influential senators, Republican John McCain and Democrat John Kerry, pushed the proposal, which expanded on Obama’s demand for a transition in Egypt to begin now. It was approved by the Senate on a voice vote.
The document calls for Mubarak to immediately begin an “orderly and peaceful transition to a democratic political system”.
This should include “the transfer of power to an inclusive interim government in coordination with leaders from Egypt’s opposition, civil society and military” to enact reforms needed to hold free and fair elections this year.
Kerry said on the Senate floor that the Egyptian government should move to an interim government “over these next days”.
McCain expressed fears of a bloodbath and emphasized that Egypt’s military was the most respected institution there but it risked turning people against it unless it acted “as a genuine peacemaker”.
Amid concerns that a wave of protests that erupted in Tunisia and then Egypt could spread to other Middle Eastern capitals, Obama phoned Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to follow up his pledges of reform with concrete actions.
The White House said Obama also told Saleh it is imperative that Yemen take forceful action against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Clinton spoke to Jordan’s King Abdullah — another close US ally — on Thursday to discuss Egypt and to express support for his own recent reforms, part of a wave of change by authoritarian governments across the Middle East seeking to head off Egypt-style unrest.

Government to make decision on smaller cabinet today

Cabinet meeting

ISLAMABAD: The government will decide on Friday how to reduce the cabinet, a ruling party official said, in a concession to the opposition which is unlikely to help garner support for wholescale economic reform as demanded by the IMF.
The main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) faction, has demanded a smaller cabinet as part of a 10-point economic agenda accepted by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in early January.
But the faction continues to oppose plans to impose a reformed general sales tax (RGST) – a key condition of the International Monetary Fund for continued financial aid.
A meeting of the PPP’s Chief Executive Committee, to be chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari, “will today decide the modus operandi of how to reduce the cabinet – to immediately dissolve it and form a new one or reshuffle it”, said Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, the president of Punjab chapter of the PPP.
The key ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Information and either Defence or Interior are likely to remain intact, the official said, indicating the government’s desire to maintain continuity in its dealings with the United States and the IMF.
“We have told them if the only purpose of the RGST is to raise revenue, then there are other ways to raise revenues,” said Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, Chairman the PML-N.
The IMF says widening the tax base and implementing the RGST is key for securing the next tranche of an $11 billion emergency loan, which has propped up Pakistan’s economy since 2008.
“The government thinks that if they demonstrate that they are reducing expenditure (by reducing the cabinet) they can mobilise support for the (RGST),” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst.
But the PML-N says Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is making too many concession to international donors.
Despite the planned cabinet reduction, the prospects of passing the RGST seems more remote than ever.
“This (reducing size of the cabinet) is one of the 10 issues, but there are other important issues where there has been no progress,” said Haq.
The PML-N has also demanded a 30 per cent cut in spending, the removal of corrupt officials and a plan to control inflation.
Gilani is likely to reduce his cabinet of 52 ministers, one of the largest in the world, to between 20 and 30, the senior party official said. Most of the shed portfolios will devolve to Pakistan’s four provinces under a recently pas
sed constitutional amendment.

Cabinet likely to be dissolved tomorrow

ISLAMABAD: The government is likely to dissolve the federal cabinet on Friday to meet a 45-day deadline given by the Pakistan Muslim League-N to implement its reforms agenda aimed at revival of the economy and austerity, sources told on Wednesday.
They said Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza will prorogue the current National Assembly session on Friday and the cabinet would be dissolved in the evening.
Sources in the Pakistan People`s Party said President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had given the final nod to the cabinet`s `rightsizing` during a meeting of the party`s core committee held at the presidency on Tuesday night.
They said the prime minister was waiting for proroguing of the NA session so that parliamentarians left the federal capital and thus were unable to start lobbying for inclusion in a new line-up.
Talking to newsmen after the fourth round of talks with the PPP, PML-N Senator Ishaq Dar also hinted at an early dissolution of the cabinet when he refused to give a direct reply to a question.
“I don`t want to pre-empt the government`s decision on cabinet rightsizing.”
The sources said that the plan to dissolve the cabinet had been finalised in a meeting of the core committee on Jan 23, but it was deferred after Law Minister Babar Awan made a premature disclosure of the plan while talking to journalists.
The PML-N had given a deadline to the government to implement its reforms agenda before Feb 23, calling for reduction in the cabinet size, to revive ailing economy and cut government expenses.
Old faces return
It has been learnt that mostly there would be old faces in the new cabinet and the return of disgruntled Muttahida Qaumi Movement`s ministers is also expected.
A PPP source said his party`s leader from Balochistan, Sardar Lashkar Raisani, was also offered a ministry but he refused to accept it, apparently because of some reservations over the Aghaz Haqooq-i-Balochistan package.
Five ministries have already been handed over to the provinces and another five — health, education, environment, women development and culture — will be given to them this month.
Eight more ministries will either be devolved to the provinces in the third phase or merged with other divisions.
Prime Minister Gilani had recently said that changes and cuts in the federal cabinet would take place as per the 18th Amendment, but the decision would be implemented after consulting members the PPP and its coalition partners.

Political reconciliation key to solving Pakistan’s problems: PM

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday said political reconciliation and understanding of each others’ points of view was the solution to Pakistan’s political, economic and security problems.
Speaking to Governor Punjab Sardar Latif Khosa here at the PM House, Gilani saidcooperation among the major political parties would help focus on real economic issues.
He said the people have gained democratic dispensation after a long and arduous struggle and now it was the responsibility of the political leadership to work for the betterment of the people instead of wasting time in political wrangling and mud slinging.
The Prime Minister also urged the Governor to coordinate with the Punjab administration on the early completion of reconstruction and rehabilitation in the flood affected areas.
He also asked the Governor to monitor the pace of work on projects announced by him for the development of backward regions during his visits to Punjab.
The Governor apprised the Prime Minister of his meetings with the political leadership of various parties. Political and administrative matters of the province were also discussed in the meeting.

Haiti announces run-off candidates

Election ballots lay on the street near a burning tire in Grande Riu Du Nord village, Haiti.
Haiti's election commission has named former First Lady Mirlande Manigat and singer Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly as candidates in a runoff vote for presidency.

In a television broadcast early Thursday, Haiti's Electoral Council spokesman Richard Dumel said the two would continue to the second round of the elections.

The two candidates will now face off in the second round of presidential voting scheduled for March 20.

The announcement, which was months overdue, comes as a breakthrough as the country was by an electoral impasse since November 28 when Haitians went to the polls.

A run-off election had been originally scheduled for January 16, but was postponed over a row on who should be running it.

Martelly and the former First Lady called for the first round of election to be annulled due to alleged fraud. In total, 12 of the 19 presidential candidates considered the first round results fraudulent.

According to December's first round results, Manigat took first place with 31 percent, while the ruling party's candidate, Jude Celestin, won 22 percent of the votes.

However, a leaked draft report drawn by the Organization of American States (OAS) suggested that Celestin should step aside instead of moving on to a runoff.

US, Israel to fill power vacuum in Egypt

A photo sent to Press TV's UReport by Qutab depicts Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (L) shaking hands with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman.
A media report says US and Israel are floating a plan to introduce newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman as President Hosni Mubarak's possible successor.

Suleiman was handpicked as vice president after President Mubarak sacked the cabinet amid ongoing massive rallies against his regime.

Suleiman, who may take over the presidency from Mubarak, was the country's longtime spy chief and is a close US and Israel ally.

A report appeared on the AOL News website said on Friday that the US and its allies view Suleiman, 74, as a reliable fix-it man in some of the Middle East's most sensitive disputes.

Suleiman has mediated Arab-Israeli talks and even aided the CIA when it needed a hand in interrogating so-called terror suspects, the report added.

"He has a long history of doing all the dirty work that needs to be done in Egypt. Both domestically, and we also know that he was involved with the infamous rendition affairs with the United States," Rime Allaf, a Middle East expert at London's Chatham House think tank, told AOL News.

"We've heard a lot of stories where he [Suleiman] would take a personal interest, either in the renditions or in anybody who was caught who he thought had links to Islamist groups. He was said to be personally involved in the interrogations and the torture," Allaf added.

"He's not a civilian, and he's not a pleasant person."

Suleiman has recently described the calls for Mubarak's resignation as calls for chaos.

Egypt has been ruled by four presidents since it was declared a republic back in 1953. All of them have been members of the country's most influential institution -- the military.

Experts say with former intelligence chief thought of as President Mubarak's possible successor, it seems like things in Egypt would not really change that much.

"But Suleiman is the choice of Israel obviously you know of the long history between Netanyahu and his government and the proceeding government and Suleiman is a bad choice, but it shows you where the power of politics lie in this. That is why the Americans and Israelis want him" Franklin Lamb, a professor at the American University of Beirut told Press TV on Friday.

The developments come as millions of Egyptians take to the streets demanding an immediate end to the Mubarak regime's rule.

Protesters have vowed to stand firm despite the deadly clashes that left several people dead over the past 11 days. Thirty protesters have been arrested on Friday alone.

According to the United Nations, at least 300 people have so far been killed and thousands more have been injured during nationwide protests in Egypt.

CEC gives Gilani go ahead to dissolve cabinet

ISLAMABAD: The Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Pakistan People’s Party on Friday authorised Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to dissolve the cabinet and form a smaller one.
The meeting here at the President House, chaired by Co-Chairman President Asif Ali Zardari authorised the Premier to reappoint a smaller cabinet with fewer ministers.
The decision was taken after the Co-Chairman invited members’ comments on his intention to install a ‘lean’ cabinet.
“President Zardari has given the authority to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani … to dissolve the cabinet whenever he wants,” PPP Secretary General Jehangir Badr told reporters after the meeting.
All the ministers, advisors, special assistants and those holding rank of ministers will cease to hold offices on a date to be decided soon by the prime minister.
Badr said it would be up to the prime minister to determine when the dissolution would happen.
The decision followed criticism that the cabinet, which had more than 50 ministers, is too bloated and costly for a country facing financial crunch.
The main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), had demanded a smaller cabinet as part of a 10-point economic agenda accepted by the ruling party in early January.

American writers and poets have held a gathering outside the White House to express their opposition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House vigil on Thursday was sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies and Split This Rock and included 16 minutes of silence in representation of every year of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Press TV correspondent reported.

“We are here as poets and writers to speak out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US occupation of those two countries and to call for self-determination for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Sarah Browning, Director of Split This Rock.

“We feel bound, as Americans in particular, to speak out for the people of Iraq and throughout the world to know that we oppose our government's position,” she added.

The gathering comes as former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in an autobiography to be released next week, has said he has no regrets for the Iraq war

In response, poet and activist Brenda Hillman said at the vigil, “The wars were started on fraudulent basis and I think it is contemptible that he had no regrets. He has not read the fact that his own administration uncovered at the end of its tenure there that there were no weapons of mass destruction, which was obviously the [US'] alleged reason for going to Iraq.”

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, at least 4,440 US soldiers have been killed and more than 31,830 others injured.

The devastating war has also left more than 1,300,000 Iraqi civilians dead and some 4.7 million Iraqis displaced, reports say.

Although NATO and the United States have close to 150,000 troops in Afghanistan, militant attacks are rampant in the war-torn country.

More than 2,000 civilians were killed in violence across Afghanistan last year, making it the deadliest year for civilians since the US-led invasion in 2001.

Labour leader warns over UK future

Ed Miliband, Britain's Labour leader, is to give a speech on the legitimate fear for the country's future, as there is to be fewer opportunities for prosperity.

To Miliband, there is a fear of less happiness and prosperity for the new British generation. According to him, getting an education, finding a job and owning a home would be hard in the near future of the country.

He is also to say that the British people should try more for a standard life.

According to a survey carried out by Labours, 71 percent of British people expect a harder life for their next generation and only 9 percent think that life would be easier.

Miliband is to say: "We may not have given it a name in the way that Americans talk about the 'American Dream' but it is there nevertheless.

"It is defined by the promise that each generation will pass on to the next a life of greater opportunity, prosperity and happiness. But for the first time in generations there is now a real and legitimate fear that the British promise will be broken and the next generation will have fewer opportunities and find it harder to get on than the last."

He will add: "We have always been about a society where the promise of Britain can go beyond the most affluent - that lower and middle-income families can guarantee a better future for the kids.

"So I am determined that this is the challenge which will be at the heart of the Labour Party I lead. A Britain which passes on better chances rather than worse ones to our children."

There are an increasing number of people who are pessimistic about the younger generation's lives, according to the Labours.

Among the 3,000 people questioned from, 63 percent of the women and 60 percent of the men under 45, were pessimistic about the future life. This figure raised to 76 percent of the women and 79 percent of the men over 45.

UK spent overseas aid on Pope visit

The British MPs have asked ministers to clarify the reason for spending £1.85 million of overseas development aid on the Pope's visit to England.

A prominent Commons committee has requested the UK ministers to explain the surprising transfer of £1.85 million from the Department for International Development (DFID) to the Foreign Office.

The international development select committee chairman Malcolm Bruce said that the MPs would resist finding out why the government has spent DFID money which was "supposed to be for overseas development aid.”

"Many people will be as surprised as we were to discover that UK aid money was used to fund the Pope's visit last year,” said Bruce.

“Ministers need to explain exactly what this was spent on and how it tallies with our commitments on overseas aid", he added.

The overseas development aid is one of the UK economic sections, which was kept away from the coalition government's cut plans.

Pope Benedict's visit to UK last September was predicted to cost £10 million for the Whitehall departments. The Roman Catholic churchgoers have also donated to the costs of Pope's visit.

The Department for International Development's representative said, "DFID was one of a number of Government departments part-funding the Pope's visit to the UK.

"Our contribution recognised the Catholic Church's role as a major provider of health and education services in developing countries.

"This money does not constitute official development assistance and is therefore additional to the coalition Government's historic commitment to meet the 0.7% UN aid target from 2013."

'US offering plan for Mubarak to quit'

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (L) and US President Barack Obama
The US is reportedly negotiating with Egyptian officials over a proposal for embattled President Hosni Mubarak to cede power immediately.

The Obama administration has offered the proposal for the 82-year-old Mubarak to step down in order to pave the way for formation of a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

Citing US administration officials and Arab diplomats, the report further stated that the transitional government will have the backing of Egypt's armed forces chief of staff Sami Enan and Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

The latest development comes as the US Senate approved a non-binding measure on Thursday, calling on Mubarak to quickly set up a caretaker government amid public outcry over his three-decade rule.

The resolution urged Mubarak to "immediately begin an orderly and peaceful transition to a democratic political system" by handing over power to a caretaker government "in coordination with leaders from Egypt's opposition, civil society, and military."

According to the report, the proposal echoes same calls on Mubarak and urges him to invite members from a variety of opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood to commence a process of constitutional reform in an effort to lay the groundwork for holding a free and fair election in September.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian vice president said on Thursday that the government has started dialog with the opposition parties and representatives of protesters to bring an end to the political impasse.

In an interview with state TV, Suleiman noted that the Muslim Brotherhood has been invited to meet with the government over the future path of the political situation in Egypt.

The remarks came as millions of Egyptian protesters are gearing up for the “Day of Departure” for Mubarak on Friday with plans to hold huge rallies in front of the presidential palace, where the embattled president lives.

According to the Congressional Research Service, Washington has given Cairo an average of $2 billion annually since 1979, making Egypt the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel.

The Obama administration has asked the Congress to approve similar sums for the 2011 fiscal year.

Former Israeli min. defends Mubrak

Former Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
Former Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has defended Egyptian President Hosni Mubrak, saying his collapse will be “tremendous loss” for Israel.

The former army general has praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for supporting Israel for thirty years, Israel's Arutz Sheva newspaper reported.

“When I watched his speech in which he said he would step down, it pained me to see his collapse," Ben-Eliezer said on Wednesday about Mubarak.

He criticized the American authorities for their handling of the crisis in Egypt saying "the Americans still don't realize the extent of the catastrophe into which they have pushed the Middle East."

Ben-Eliezer said Egypt's main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, will win if there are polls in the country.

He said that there will be a new Middle East if the Muslim Brotherhood wins elections in Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood has said that if the revolution in Egypt succeeds, the country will hold a referendum to decide the fate of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, during the Friday prayer sermons in Tehran, pointed to Mubarak as a “lackey of the Zionist Regime.”

London braces for huge protest rally

The UK trade unions are preparing for the biggest union event in decades in the form of nation-wide rallies and marches against the government's spending cuts.

The Trade Unions Congress (TUC), as the organization tasked with coordinating the unions' events, has kicked off work to distribute thousands of leaflets in which it has elaborated on the disputes surrounding the government's controversial austerity measures and called on people from all walks of life to attend the national protest in central London on March 26.

The TUC said it has also booked hundreds of coaches and chartered trains to transfer people from across the country to London for the march and rally.

The TUC has written in the leaflets that the UK's debt is lower than in most years of the last century, arguing that the country has no problem servicing its debt.

"The Government is therefore wrong to say that there is no alternative. The real job of closing the deficit will come from the increased tax raised by economic growth and getting people back to work. But this will require a longer timetable to close the deficit, as the deep rapid cuts imposed by the government will choke off economic recovery", says The Cuts Are Not The Cure leaflet.

“As the cuts begin to bite, the government has completely lost the argument that its cuts are fair. With the economy plunging back into negative growth, it is clear that the Government's economic gamble has failed”, said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

"More and more people are therefore looking at arguments for an alternative and for ways of showing their opposition to the coalition's deep, rapid cuts”, added Barber.

"It's clear that the TUC's march has captured the mood of the country and looks set to be the biggest event in our recent history", Barber said.

Israeli lawmaker backs Hosni Mubarak

Israeli lawmaker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
A senior Israeli politician has strongly defended out-of-favor Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, describing a revolution in Israel's southern neighbor as a loss for Tel Aviv.

Praising Mubarak for standing by Israel during his three-decade long rule, labor lawmaker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said on Thursday that Mubarak's possible collapse would be painful for Israel.

Ben-Eliezer, who has held several ministerial posts, including Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister, also criticized Washington's policy toward Egypt, saying by withdrawing its support from Mubarak's regime, the US has pushed the Middle East toward a catastrophe.

The Israeli lawmaker also predicted that if elections are held in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's Islamist opposition party, would win.

Tel Aviv is anxiously monitoring political developments in its powerful southern neighbor Egypt. Israeli officials have repeatedly warned that the implications of a regime change in Egypt, the country's only ally in the Arab world, would be enormous in Israel.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 following days of secret negotiations at Camp David, US. Many Egyptians, however, believe that the treaty did not end Israeli occupation and therefore are opposed to it.

Tel Aviv fears that the ongoing popular uprising against the Egyptian president could jeopardize its 31-year-old peace treaty with Egypt.

"Peace with Israel under its present terms can only be enforced by a dictator like Mubarak. Democracy will give the people a voice and their voice clearly demands that the peace accord be broken," Ray Hanania, an Israeli journalist, wrote in the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Egypt is one of the main suppliers of Israel's natural gas.

Israel also shares a long border with Egypt and both have a frontier with the Gaza Strip. For years, with the help of Cairo, Israel has managed to impose a crippling blockade on the Palestinian territory. Tel Aviv fears that a regime change in Egypt would spell the end of the Gaza siege.

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on Friday that the recent developments in North Africa are the result of the “Islamic awakening, which followed the great [Islamic] Revolution of the Iranian nation.”

The Leader also described Mubarak as the “lackey of the Zionist regime [of Israel].”

'Iranians' voice echoed in Muslim world'

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei says the Iranian nation's voice has resonated through Muslim countries, resulting in the Tunisia revolution and the Egypt uprising.

“Today, developments in North Africa, [including] Egypt, Tunisia and some other countries have a special meaning for the Iranian nation,” the Leader stated.

“This is what was always referred to as the Islamic awakening created by the victory of the great Revolution of the Iranian nation,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in the Friday Prayers sermons in Tehran.

Ayatollah Khamenei said the humiliation and contempt the Egyptians and Tunisians suffered under their statesmen prompted them to embark on an anti-government movement.

The Leader noted that Tunisia's former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was dependent on the US and even the CIA.

“In Tunisia, which is a Muslim nation with a long Islamic history with great Muslim scholars coming from Tunisia; people had to carry a special card to go to mosques under Ben Ali's rule, a card that the government did not give to everyone.”

The Leader further pointed to the Ben Ali regime's anti-Islam moves such as prohibiting collective and individual prayers in mosques and the hijab ban.

“As soon as this traitor (Ben Ali) fled, female students went to university wearing hijab,” Ayatollah Khamenei highlighted, saying the move indicates a deep Islamic motive among the Egyptians that Arab leaders have been trying to conceal.

The Leader described the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as the “lackey of the Zionist regime [of Israel].”

Ayatollah Khamenei said that the US and Israel have become helpless in the face of freedom-seeking Egyptians and noted that defeat awaits them in Tunisia and Egypt.

The Leader made a reference to Egyptians' fight for “dignity and honor” and noted that Mubarak's biggest crime was turning Egypt into tool in the hands of the US.

Ayatollah Khamenei recalled Egypt's glorious past before Mubarak rose to power and its remarkable role in leading the Arab world's efforts to defend the Palestinian nation against the Israeli enemy.

“Egypt in short periods in 1967 and 1973 was the first and largest country to engage in war over the issue of Palestine into was along with Syria. Other Muslim nations did not enter into these wars with Israel, but Egypt sent soldiers, army, people and aid to the battlefield but they were not succeed, however,” the Leader recalled.

“Egypt was a sanctuary for Palestinians and even many of the revolutionaries from other countries, but such a nation has been in the past 30 years in the hands of a person who does not support liberation but opposes seeking liberation, who is not anti-Israeli but a colleague, confidant, and lackey of the Zionists,” the Leader regretted.

Ayatollah Khamenei noted how the Israeli leaders relied on Mubarak in all their anti-Palestinian moves, including the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“On the issue of Gaza, if Mubarak did not help Israel, they would have never succeeded in besieging the territory.”

The Leader recalled how Mubarak prevented not only Egyptian aid convoys but also humanitarian fleets from other countries from crossing into the Gaza Strip while it was burning in the fire of an Israeli war in 2009.

“Of course the US and more than them Israelis are in great distress and are desperately seeking a solution to the crisis in Egypt, solution they will never find. Thus they have turned to deceiving people and pretend to support for people.”

Ayatollah Khamenei said that the Egyptian army would join the masses and line up against the enemy.

Addressing protesters in Egypt, the Leader called for solidarity and stability as the nations' weapon against oppressive rulers, warning against enemy plots to undermine their unity.

Ayatollah Khamenei said the Islamic Revolution in Iran obstructed plots by Western countries aimed at establishing weak and vulnerable regimes in the Middle East.

The Leader said Iran's enemies have been launching a psychological war against the country over for the past 32 years, pointing to the 2009 post-election events in Iran as the enemies' latest scenario to damage the Islamic Revolution.

Ayatollah Khamenei said their plots, however, would have no effect on the Iranian nation.

Millions stage anti-Mubarak protests

Millions of people have protested in Cairo and other major cities across Egypt against the country's out-of-favor President Hosni Mubarak.

Protesters chant a variety of slogans against the Mubarak regime in Cairo's Liberation Square, as reports flow in about fierce clashes between plainclothes police and protesters.

Protesters plan to march toward the presidential palace after the Friday Prayers, a Press TV correspondent reported.

Several thousand troops have been deployed at key locations across the city.

The opposition has called Friday the 'Day of Departure,' saying the planned massive rally aims to force Mubarak into stepping down. Civil groups have also called for massive protests in Alexandria and Suez.

The developments come as the government continues its harsh crackdown on journalists and media to prevent news coverage of the rallies.

In a recent interview with ABC News, Mubarak said he is fed up with being president and would like to leave office but fears there will be chaos if he steps down.

He denied that his government was responsible for the violence in Cairo's Liberation Square.

Vice President Omar Suleiman on Thursday described the calls for Mubarak's resignation as calls for chaos.

Suleiman said the government has urged all parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to engage in national dialog.

The Muslim Brotherhood rejected the government's offer in a statement released on Thursday.

Protesters have vowed to stand firm despite the deadly clashes that left several people dead and at least 1,500 others wounded in Cairo on Wednesday and the early hours of Thursday.

According to the United Nations, at least 300 people have so far been killed and thousands more have been injured during nationwide protests in Egypt.

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on Friday that the recent developments in North Africa are the result of the “Islamic awakening, which followed the great [Islamic] Revolution of the Iranian nation.”

The Leader also described Mubarak as the “lackey of the Zionist regime [of Israel].” 

Anti-Mubarak protests rise in Alexandria

An effigy of Egyptian President Mubarak hangs over opposition supporters during Friday Prayers in Liberation Square in Cairo on February 4, 2011.
Half-a-million Egyptians swarmed the streets of Alexandria, vowing to continue protests until out-of-favor President Hosni Mubarak resigns.

About 500,000 protesters in the Northern Egyptian city called on Mubarak to resign on Friday. Similar demonstrations are being held in Cairo, Suez, Aswan and Mansoura.

In Cairo, protesters said they would not leave Liberation Square until Mubarak's regime is ousted. They have called Friday the “Day of Departure,” saying the massive rally aims to force Mubarak into stepping down.

Latest reports say Arab League Chief Amr Mousa has entered Liberation Square to calm the tension.

Earlier in the day, Egypt's Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi visited anti-government demonstrators in Liberation Square and urged them to go home.

However, thousands are waiting in line behind army checkpoints near Liberation Square to join the rallies.

Protesters plan to march to the presidential palace following the rally in Liberation Square.

According to the United Nations, at least 300 people have so far been killed and thousands of others have been injured during nationwide protests in Egypt.

Protesters have vowed to stand firm despite the deadly clashes that left several people dead over the past days.

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on Friday that the recent developments in North Africa are the result of the "Islamic awakening, which followed the great [Islamic] Revolution of the Iranian nation."

The Leader also described Mubarak as the "lackey of the Zionist regime [of Israel]." 

'Victory within reach of Egypt protesters'

Anti-government protesters take part in Friday Prayers at Liberation Square in Cairo February 4, 2011.
The massive anti-government protests across Egypt are “gaining momentum” and will yield results in less than a week, says a professor at American University of Beirut.

Franklin Lamb told Press TV on Friday that the wave of protests indicates that embattled President Hosni Mubarak will inevitably have to give up power.

"I don't think it will take another week of protests. Today, important developments occurred at Liberation square in Cairo. Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa showed up and joined anti-Mubarak protests. Also, Al-Azhar Spokesman Muhammad Rifaa al-Tahtawi has resigned and joined the protests. He has vowed not to leave Liberation Square until Mubarak's regime is ousted," Lamb said.

His comments came as Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa joined anti-Mubarak protests in Cairo's Liberation Square.

Speaking on the possibility of running for president, the Arab League chief said, "I'm at the disposal of my country of course. But we will see the political developments."

Moussa was quoted by France's Europe 1 radio, as saying that he was "ready to serve as a citizen who has the right to be a candidate [for president]."

Meanwhile, several thousand troops have been deployed at key locations across Cairo.

The opposition has called Friday the 'Day of Departure,' saying the planned massive rally aims to force Mubarak into stepping down. Civil groups have also called for massive protests in Alexandria and Suez.

The developments come as the government continues its harsh crackdown on journalists and media to prevent news coverage of the rallies.

In a recent interview with ABC News, Mubarak said he is fed up with being president and would like to leave office but fears there will be chaos if he steps down.

He denied that his government was responsible for the violence in Cairo's Liberation Square.

Vice President Omar Suleiman on Thursday described the calls for Mubarak's resignation as calls for chaos.

Suleiman said the government has urged all parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to engage in national dialog.

The Muslim Brotherhood rejected the government's offer in a statement released on Thursday.

Protesters have vowed to stand firm despite the deadly clashes that left several people dead and at least 1,500 others wounded in Cairo on Wednesday and the early hours of Thursday.

According to the United Nations, at least 300 people have so far been killed and thousands more have been injured during nationwide protests in Egypt.

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on Friday that the recent developments in North Africa are the result of the “Islamic awakening, which followed the great [Islamic] Revolution of the Iranian nation.”

The Leader also described Mubarak as the “lackey of the Zionist regime [of Israel].” 
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