"Am I therefore become your enemy,because I TELL YOU THE TRUTH...?"
(Galatians 4:16)

Bush: Gulf Coast govs to have full federal support

WASHINGTON-President Bush, confronted with the prospect of a second monster hurricane striking the still-battered Gulf Coast, checked in with governors and federal officials Saturday to make sure Washington was doing all it can.The president called state leaders in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas in the early morning from the White House before heading out for a 90-minute bike ride, spokesman Scott Stanzel said. Those states are in the potential path of Hurricane Gustav, which has been cutting a deadly route through the Caribbean and swelled into a fearsome Category 4 hurricane Saturday.It was expected to cross Cuba's cigar country before moving into the Gulf of Mexico, where it could gather even more strength. Gustav could reach the U.S. by early Tuesday, anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to Texas. But just three years after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans, a calamity from which the city still is not nearly recovered, it appears very likely to get slammed again, by at least tropical-storm-force winds if not worse.Bush also received regular updates from aides about the storm's path and the government's preparations.The president asked each governor what was needed from the federal government, Stanzel said. Bush praised them for mobilizing their states so effectively to get ready."He told each of the governors that federal officials were monitoring Hurricane Gustav very closely," Stanzel said. "President Bush pledged the full support of the federal government."
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Gustav swells to dangerous Cat 4 storm off Cuba

HAVANA - Gustav howled into Cuba's Isla de Juventud as a monstrous Category 4 hurricane on Saturday while both Cubans and Americans scrambled to flee the path of the fast-growing storm.Forecasters said it could gain yet more power, becoming a top-scale hurricane with 160 mph winds in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, before weakening a little ahead of a likely collision on Monday with the U.S. coast.More than 240,000 Cubans were being evacuated — some hurriedly — as the storm bore down on the nation's tobacco-rich western tip. Across the Gulf of Mexico, Americans made wary by Hurricane Katrina streamed out of New Orleans and other coastal cities.Gustav already has killed 81 people by triggering floods and landslides in other Caribbean nations.Lights flickered in Cuba's capital as shrieking winds blasted sheets of rain sideways though the streets and whipped angry waves against the famed seaside Malecon boulevard. State television stations went dark several times.The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Gustav had sustained winds of 145 mph — with higher gusts — as the heart of the storm began hitting Cuba's outlying island province of Isla de Juventud, where officials cut power to many areas."The rain is not so intense, but there is a lot, a lot of wind," said Isabel Alarcon from Nueva Gerona, the largest city on the island of 87,000 people. "The officials, they have told us the wind will be bad first but then the rain could cause flooding into the night."The government's AIN news agency said officials were evacuating some 190,000 people from low-lying parts of westernmost Cuba, Pinar del Rio province, where the tobacco for Cuba's famed cigars is grown. AIN reported that 50,000 already had been evacuated farther east.Cuba halted all buses and trains to and from Havana where some shuttered stores had hand-scrawled "closed for evacuation" signs plastered to their doors. At those still open, residents formed lines to stock up on bread. Authorities boarded up banks, restaurants and hotels and cars waiting to fill their tanks stretched from gas stations."It's very big and we've got to get ready for what's coming," said Jesus Hernandez, a 60-year-old retiree who was using an electric drill to reinforce the roof of his rickety front porch.By Saturday afternoon, Gustav was about 110 miles south of Havana and it was moving northwest near 14 mph.Hurricane force winds extended out 70 miles in some places.The U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, was hundreds of miles to the east, out of the storm's path.Gustav rolled over the Cayman Islands Friday with fierce winds that tore down trees and power lines while destroying docks and tossing boats ashore, but there was little major damage and no deaths were reported.Haiti's Interior Ministry on Saturday raised the hurricane death toll there to 66 from 59 and Jamaica raised its count to seven from four. Gustav also killed eight people in the Dominican Republic early in the week.Gustav was projected to hit the U.S. Gulf coast roughly around Louisiana on Monday, though forecasters cautioned that the track could vary.People poured out of New Orleans along highways Saturday and the government announced plans for broader evacuations.Meanwhile, the hurricane center said Tropical Storm Hanna was projected to near the Turks and Caicos Islands late Sunday or on Monday, then curl through the Bahamas by early next week before possibly threatening Cuba. It had sustained winds near 50 mph Saturday and the hurricane center warned that it could kick up dangerous rip currents along parts of the southeastern U.S. coast.
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Nagin Encourages Everyone to 'Get Out'

Egypt opens Rafah border crossing

Hundreds leave Gaza as Egypt opens border

GAZA-Egypt opened its border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Saturday, allowing hundreds of people to leave the Hamas-controlled territory, Palestinian officials said.Egyptian security and border sources said the Rafah crossing would stay open for two days to allow Gazans with foreign residence permits and humanitarian cases to cross into Egypt.Egypt closed Rafah after the Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip more than a year ago, and hundreds of Egyptian citizens have been stuck in the coastal enclave.With the reopening, some 500 people have crossed into Egypt and 700 have returned home to Gaza, the Egyptian sources said.Palestinian officials said more than 1,000 Egyptians and Gazans with foreign residency permits had crossed into Egypt.Hamas wants Egypt to open Rafah permanently to ease the Israel-led blockade on Gaza, but under a U.S.-brokered accord it cannot do so without the consent of Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah movement is Hamas's rival."The opening of Rafah for a few days will alleviate the suffering of our people," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.Hamas routed Abbas's forces in June 2007 to take over the Gaza Strip. Abbas, in response, dismissed the Hamas-led government and appointed a new administration in the occupied West Bank where his Fatah faction holds sway.
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Egypt: Arab force for Gaza may help stop violence

CAIRO-Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Saturday an Arab force for the Gaza Strip could help stop violence there, and the idea should be taken seriously, Egypt's state news agency MENA reported.But Aboul Gheit, whose country is sponsoring unity talks between rival Palestinian groups, stopped short of directly calling for such a force in the Hamas-controlled territory."The presence of Arab forces on the ground can help in preventing the fighting and stopping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Aboul Gheit told Egypt's October magazine, according to excerpts that ran on MENA ahead of the magazine piece, due out on Sunday."The matter has not been studied yet, but it is an attractive idea that deserves to be taken seriously when we consider that Egypt and the Arab League may play a role in this matter," he added.Aboul Gheit said the issue of an Arab force for Gaza would only be brought up in Palestinian talks after Palestinians achieved unity and following "appropriate study".Representatives of rival Palestinian groups have been meeting in Cairo in recent days seeking reconciliation, but officials familiar with the talks said agreement looked unlikely.Hamas routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's forces in Gaza in June 2007. In response, Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led government and appointed a new administration in the occupied West Bank where his Fatah group holds sway.Aboul Gheit's remarks also came as Egypt opened its border crossing on Saturday to allow hundreds of people to leave Gaza, either for humanitarian reasons or because they hold foreign residence permits.Hamas wants Egypt to open Rafah permanently to ease the Israeli-led blockade on Gaza, but under a U.S.-brokered accord it cannot do so without the consent of Israel and Abbas, whose Fatah group is a Hamas rival.

As in the days of Noah...

Israel tightens grip on West Bank's Jordan Valley

MASKIYOT, West Bank-They live just a couple of miles from each other along a country road winding through parched fields, but they are worlds apart.Avinadav Vitkon, an Israeli freelance writer, is putting down roots in this strip of West Bank land known as the Jordan Valley, helping to establish a new Jewish settlement with his government's backing. Palestinian farmer Jasser Daraghmeh is barely hanging on to the 10 acres he says have been in his family for years.Vitkon, 29, lives in a trailer, but will eventually move with his wife and four young children into one of 20 homes to be built on an adjacent hill. Daraghmeh, a 34-year-old father of six, expects the Israeli military to demolish his family's wooden shack because it was built without a permit.Their differing fortunes are the product of a struggle for control of this valley alongside the Jordan River—biblical terrain which Israelis and Palestinians both say they need for national survival.Human rights groups say Israel has systematically fostered Jewish communities at the expense of Palestinian growth in several areas of the West Bank it wants to keep, and the Jordan Valley is among the hardest hit. Israelis move freely through the valley, while Palestinians are hampered by building restrictions and roadblocks, one of which even keeps them from nearby Dead Sea beaches.The West Bank was captured by Israel from the kingdom of Jordan in the 1967 war. The Jordan Valley is ill-defined geographically, but by some measures is roughly one-fourth of the West Bank. Palestinians regard it as the breadbasket of the state they hope to achieve, and the only place big enough to absorb large numbers of refugees.Israel says it needs the Jordan Valley as a buffer against Arab attack.Today, the valley has a distinctly Israeli feel, with Jewish settlements, Hebrew billboards, war memorials and a Jewish seminary lining a sleek highway packed with Israeli motorists.Some 6,000 Israeli settlers live in 25 communities sprinkled across the area, whose West Bank sector stretches about 60 miles north to south, ending at the Dead Sea.Dubi Tal, a settler leader, says Israelis in the region are confident enough in the future to be investing in date palms, which take years to bear fruit.Still, the fate of the settlements is on the table again in peace talks. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Israel appears willing to cede the settlements while keeping troops in the area, possibly to be replaced by international border monitors."They don't want to keep the Jordan Valley, but they want certain arrangements," Erekat said of his Israeli counterparts, who would not speak publicly about plans for the region.After the 1967 war, Israel adopted the view that the valley was vital to deter Arab attack from the east. But today Israeli strategists are divided.Proponents of compromise note that Israel and neighboring Jordan have been at peace for 14 years and that Iraq is not the formidable foe it was under Saddam Hussein. Besides, they say, the bigger threat comes from ballistic missiles, not the conventional ground forces that fought in 1967.Also, any peace deal would entail a land swap, and given how small Israel and the West Bank are to begin with, the valley may be too large to trade.However, some warn that giving up the strategic area and with it direct control over the West Bank's border crossings would allow weapons and militants to reach the Palestinian territories, as happened after Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005."In all likelihood, were Israel to abandon the strategic barrier of the Jordan Valley, shoulder-fired missiles capable of taking down a 747 jumbo jet would soon appear on high ground in the West Bank that dominates (Israel's international) Ben Gurion Airport," said Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.All the same, peace is preferable, counters Shaul Arieli, an Israeli former negotiator."Strategic depth is very important for Israel, but Israel can have better security with a peace agreement than by keeping the West Bank," he said.Israel hasn't built a settlement in the valley since the 1980s, according to the Israeli settlement watchdog group Peace Now. So why build Maskiyot?Some think it has less to do with security than with internal maneuverings between the Israeli government and the powerful settler movement now that peace talks with the Palestinians have resumed.At the moment, talk of peace sounds wishful because leadership is lacking on both sides.Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is largely paralyzed by his rivalry with the Islamic militant Hamas, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, plagued by corruption scandals, says he will step down next month.Vitkon and his family headed to Maskiyot, 25 miles south of the Sea Of Galilee, after being evacuated from Gaza, along with some 8,500 other settlers, in 2005. In February, the Vitkons and eight other settler families, all but two from Gaza, moved into trailers at Maskiyot.Construction of permanent homes is to begin in the fall, said Tal, the settler leader. The government will pave an access road, and hook up the homes to water and electricity.Just two miles away, Farsiyeh has dwindled from about 100 families before 1967 to about 20 living in far-flung shacks, according to Daraghmeh, the farmer.Some 53,000 Palestinians live in the Jordan Valley, about half in the ancient city of Jericho where Palestinians run their own administration. The rest live under full Israeli control, squeezed between settlements, military zones and off-limits nature reserves.
Daraghmeh says it's getting harder to water his crops. He points to a pile of black plastic pipes, remnants of his irrigation system. The Israeli military says it destroyed the pipeline running from a nearby spring to his fields because it was illegal.His legal aid lawyer, Abdallah Hamad, said farmers in the area have traditionally used the spring and are allowed by Israel to draw water but can't use pumps and pipes.Daraghmeh said he is determined to stay because, with his siblings gone in search of better jobs, he's the last of his family to farm the land. He said he is switching to crops he can grow with brackish water from nearby hot springs.The farmer unfolded a piece of paper—an order in Hebrew to demolish the shack he built two years ago.
"People know that even if they apply for a permit, they won't be able to obtain it," said Hamad, his lawyer. "That's why they keep building ... without applying for permits."

As in the days of Noah...

Israel Won't Allow a Nuclear Iran

Israel will not allow Iran to attain nuclear capability and if time begins to run out, Jerusalem will not hesitate to take whatever means necessary to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear goals, the government has recently decided in a special discussion.According to the Israeli daily Ma'ariv, whether the United States and Western countries succeed in thwarting the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions diplomatically, through sanctions, or whether a US strike on Iran is eventually decided upon, Jerusalem has begun preparing for a separate, independent military strike.So far, Israel has not received American authorization to use US-controlled Iraqi airspace, nor has the defense establishment been successful in securing the purchase of advanced US-made warplanes which could facilitate an Israeli strike.The Americans have offered Israel permission to use a global early warning radar system, implying that the US is pushing Israel to settle for defensive measures only.Because of Israel's lack of strategic depth, Jerusalem has consistently warned in recent years that it will not settle for a 'wait and see' approach, merely retaliating to an attack, but will rather use preemption to prevent any risk of being hit in the first place.Ephraim Sneh a veteran Labor MK(picture left) who has recently left the party, has reportedly sent a document to both US presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama. The eight-point document states that "there is no government in Jerusalem that would ever reconcile itself to a nuclear Iran. When it is clear Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, an Israeli military strike to prevent this will be seriously considered."According to Ma'ariv, Sneh offered the two candidates the "sane, cheap and the only option that does not necessitate bloodshed." To prevent Iran's nuclear aspirations, Sneh wrote, "real" sanctions applied by the US and Europe were necessary. A total embargo in spare parts for the oil industry and a total boycott of Iranian banks would promptly put an end to the regime, which is already pressured by a sloping economy and would be toppled by the Iranian people if they have outside assistance, he said.The window of opportunity Sneh suggests is a year and a half to two years, until 2010.Sneh also visited Switzerland and Austria last week in an attempt to lobby them against the Iranian threat. Both countries have announced massive long-term investments in Iranian gas and oil fields for the next decade. "Talk of the Jewish Holocaust and Israel's security doesn't impress these guys," Sneh said wryly.Hearing his hosts speak of their future investments, Sneh replied quietly "it's a shame, because Ido will light all this up."He was referring to Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, the recently appointed IAF commander and the man most likely to be the one to orchestrate Israel's attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, should this become a necessity."Investing in Iran in 2008," Sneh told his Austrian hosts, "is like investing in the Krupp steelworks in 1938, it's a high risk investment." The Austrians, according to Sneh, turned pale.In related news, a top official said Friday thatIran had increased the number of operating centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant to 4,000.Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Reza Sheikh Attar, who visited the Natanz plant last week, said that Iran was preparing to install even more centrifuges, though he did not offer a timeframe."Right now, nearly 4,000 centrifuges are operating at Natanz," Attar told the state news agency IRNA. "Currently, 3,000 other centrifuges are being installed. "Meanwhile, the pan-Arabic Al Kuds al Arabi reported Friday that Iran had equipped Hizbullah with longer range missiles than those it possessed before the Second Lebanon War and had also improved the guerrilla group's targeting capabilities. According to the report, which The Jerusalem Post could not verify independently, Hizbullah was planning a massive rocket onslaught on targets reaching deep into Israel's civilian underbelly in case Israel launches an attack on Iran.
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Iran Warns Any Attack Would Start 'World War'

A senior Iranian military commander has warned that any US or Israeli attack on the Islamic republic would start a new world war, the state news agency IRNA reported on Saturday."Any aggression against Iran will start a world war," deputy chief of staff for defence publicity, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, said in a statement carried by the agency.Iran is under international pressure to halt uranium enrichment, a process which lies at the core of fears about Iran's nuclear programme as it can make nuclear fuel as well as the fissile core of an atom bomb."The unrestrained greed of the US leadership and global Zionism... is gradually leading the world to the edge of a precipice," Jazayeri said, citing the unrest in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Georgia."It is evident that if such a challenge occurs, the fake and artificial regimes will be eliminated before anything," he said, without naming any countries.Iran does not recognise Israel, which is often described by officials in Tehran as a "fake regime."The United States and its staunch ally Israel, the region's sole if undeclared nuclear armed nation, accuse Iran of seeking atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme.Iran has vehemently denied the allegations, insisting its nuclear drive is aimed solely at providing electricity for a growing population when its reserves of fossil fuels run out.The United States has never ruled out military action against Iran over its defiance of international demands for an enrichment freeze, but so far is pursuing the diplomatic route with calls for more sanctions.Iran has repeatedly vowed a crushing response to any attacks and it has flexed military muscles in recent years by holding war games and showing off an array of home-grown weaponry and missiles.Another top military commander said Iran was prepared to "take the enemies off-guard" and would unveil more weapons in case of an attack." Some of the equipment of our armed forces have been announced but there are important things hidden whose effect would be shown on the day (of any attack)," deputy army commander Abdolrahim Mousavi told Fars news agency.During war games in July which provoked international concern, aides to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Iran would target US bases and US ships in the Gulf as well as Israel if it was attacked.Iran also test-fired its Shahab-3 missile which it says puts Israel within range.Iran is under three sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its refusal to freeze enrichment and risks further sanctions for failing to give a clear response to an incentives package offered by six world powers in return for a halt to the sensitive work.Iranian officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of freezing enrichment and that the country is currently operating about 4,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges and installing several thousand more.
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UK:Economy at 60-year low, says Darling. And it will get worse

Britain is facing "arguably the worst" economic downturn in 60 years which will be "more profound and long-lasting" than people had expected, Alistair Darling, the chancellor, tells the Guardian today.In the government's gravest assessment of the economy, which follows a warning from a Bank of England policymaker that 2 million people could be out of work by Christmas, Darling admits he had no idea how serious the credit crunch would become. His blunt remarks lay bare the unease in the highest ranks of the cabinet that the downturn is making it all but impossible for Gordon Brown to recover momentum after a series of setbacks.His language is much starker than the tone adopted by the prime minister, who aims to revive his premiership this autumn by explaining how he will help struggling families through the downturn.The chancellor, who says that Labour faces its toughest challenge in a generation, admits that Brown and the cabinet are partly to blame for Labour's woes because they have "patently" failed to explain the party's central mission to the country, leaving voters "pissed off". In a candid interview in today's Guardian Weekend magazine, Darling warns that the economic times faced by Britain and the rest of the world "are arguably the worst they've been in 60 years". To deepen the sense of gloom, he adds: "And I think it's going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought."The economic backdrop presents Labour with its toughest challenge since the 1980s. "We've got our work cut out. This coming 12 months will be the most difficult 12 months the Labour party has had in a generation," he says. But Labour has been lacklustre. "We've got to rediscover that zeal which won three elections, and that is a huge problem for us at the moment. People are pissed off with us."We really have to make our minds up; are we ready to try and persuade this country to support us for another term? Because the next 12 months are critical. It's still there to play for."
By Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
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DICTATORSHIP WATCH:Zimbabwe Lifts Ban on Aid Groups, but Its Effects Linger

A 17-year-old H.I.V. patient in a rural Zimbabwe hospital. The suspension of aid operations deprived more than a million people of assistance, aid donors said.
JOHANNESBURG-Zimbabwe lifted an almost three-month-old ban on the work of aid groups on Friday.The government had imposed the ban because it claimed some of the groups had been backing the opposition during a bitter election season in which President Robert Mugabe was fighting for his political survival.The suspension of the groups’ field operations deprived more than a million orphans, schoolchildren, the elderly and other impoverished Zimbabweans of food and other basic assistance, according to the nations that donated the aid.The effects of the aid restrictions will linger. The United Nations World Food Program had planned to feed 1.7 million Zimbabweans next month, but was unable to deploy its partners on the ground, the suspended aid groups, to identify and register the needy this month.“We will not be able to reach most of those 1.7 million people,” said Richard Lee, a spokesman for the World Food Program. “We will try to reach as many as possible, but we haven’t even begun to do the essential preparatory work.”The groups have long said they provide aid based solely on need, not politics. But Zimbabwe’s minister of information, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, on Friday reiterated the government’s charge that some of the international aid groups had backed the opposition against Mr. Mugabe, providing food only to opposition supporters and funneling aid money into the coffers of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.“During the elections they were monsters,” he said. But now, he added, “since there are no elections, we hope they will now go back to their core business.”“I hope some have now repented,” he said.The aid groups have challenged the government to prove its case. Asked which nongovernmental organizations had used food for political purposes, Mr. Ndlovu declined Friday to name any. “They know themselves,” he said.The United States, which last year provided $171 million in food aid to Zimbabwe, said that it was Mr. Mugabe’s government that used food for political ends. This week, the American ambassador to Zimbabwe, James D. McGee, wrote to the social welfare minister, Nicholas Goche, demanding that the United States government be reimbursed for the theft of 20 metric tons of American-donated food. The aid had been meant for schoolchildren, but was instead confiscated by the authorities and handed out at a ruling party political rally.In the letter, Mr. McGee also said that 170,000 schoolchildren had been denied food donated by the United States because of the ban, while 455,000 people had missed out on water, sanitation and public health programs. Mr. McGee said the government must immediately lift the restrictions and stop harassing aid workers.“However, if you choose not to act, we will hold you personally responsible for the inhumane suffering caused by this ban,” Mr. McGee wrote.Mr. McGee said in an interview Friday that the government’s restrictions on aid groups were a crime against Zimbabwe’s people. “This is purely politically motivated,” he said. “To talk about NGOs being politicized to get support for the opposition, it’s garbage.”Aid officials had expected the government to end the ban after the June 27 presidential runoff, which was widely denounced as a sham. The opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, dropped out days before it was held, citing state-sponsored violence against his supporters. Zimbabwean political analysts said they believed that the government instituted the ban to clear the rural areas of aid workers who could have witnessed the worst of the state-sponsored violence against the opposition.But the ban dragged on for two more months after the runoff, prompting a plea from Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, for restrictions to be lifted to avert what he called “a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.”There was much speculation about why the government kept the ban in place for so long. Aid groups have been able to creep back to work in some parts of the country, but most of their field work remained suspended.Some aid officials suspected that the aid restrictions had become a bargaining chip in power-sharing negotiations between Mr. Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, in office since 1980, and the opposition. Mr. Tsvangirai, has repeatedly demanded that restrictions on aid be lifted. His party wanted help for its supporters displaced by the political violence.Mr. Mugabe’s deep suspicion of the United States and Britain, both harshly critical of him, may also have rubbed off on aid groups financed by the two nations and made him more resistant to lifting the restrictions.What is indisputable is the suffering of Zimbabwe’s people. Unemployment stands at more than 80 percent. Inflation is running at more than 11 million percent. And the United Nations forecasts that 45 percent of Zimbabwe’s population, some 5 million people, will need food aid by the hungry season, from January to March.Already, the United Nations has collected anecdotal accounts of people’s desperate strategies for survival.Beyond eating fewer meals,they are foraging for wild seeds and fruits. They are selling off their belongings — cows, bicycles, pots and pans — for money to buy scarce and ever more expensive food.And their coping abilities are stretched thin, especially since this is the sixth year in which millions of them have needed food aid in a country that used to be southern Africa’s bread basket.“We’re hearing these anecdotes widely and early in the year, and that indicates the situation in many areas is already serious,” said Mr. Lee of the World Food Program.Economists say the government’s policies are to blame, while the government claims that Western sanctions on the country’s elite have ravaged the economy.
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Drug war terror spreads in Mexico as bodies are dumped in tourist areas

Eleven decapitated bodies have been found outside the city of Merida on the Yucatan peninsula, heightening fears that Mexico's recent descent into violence has reached even heavily protected tourist areas.All the bodies showed signs of torture and were tattooed with star signs and the letter “Z”, suggesting that they had fallen victim to the country's growing drug war, which has left more than 2,700 dead so far this year.Merida is a popular stop-off point for tourists on their way to visit the Mayan pyramids at Chichen Itza. On the other side of the Yucatan peninsula is Cancun, a Las Vegas-style holiday destination popular with US tourists; an hour or so farther south of Cancun is the resort town of Playa del Carmen, where many US hotel chains have built five-star properties.Perhaps inspired by the insurgency in Iraq, Mexican drug gangs have started to use mass beheadings as a macabre public relations tool.In an incident two years ago, several severed heads were rolled across the floor of a nightclub in the southern state of Michoacan. Earlier this week, four decapitated bodies were found in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego.The aim, according to government officials, is to create “an atmosphere of terror”.Jose Guzman, a Yucatan state prosecutor, said that the heads from the bodies found in Merida were still missing. “We believe that the executions were an isolated incident and not part of a strategy to destabilise the state,” he added.Critics say this is wishful thinking. The resurgence of drug overlords in Mexico — along with endemic corruption in the police force and military - has led to a near-nationwide collapse in security. In May, the country's chief of police was murdered and, according to a recent study, Mexico now has more kidnappings than Iraq and Columbia.So far, Mexico's most notorious drug overlord, Joaquín “Shorty” Guzmán, remains at large. According to popular legend, Mr Guzmán pays $2 million (£1 million) in cash wherever he stays to ensure protection, never uses a mobile phone twice, and once managed to conceal 7.3 tonnes of cocaine in cans of chilli peppers.In another incident, he paid off a police commander with $1 million in cash and five Dodge Ram SUVs, in exchange for permission to land a cargo plane without interference.Public outrage over Mexico's soaring crime levels reached a new intensity a fortnight ago after the killing of a boy aged 14 after his businessman father paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom money.It was later alleged that a corrupt police detective was part of the plot.The only consolation for Mexicans has been that the drug war had left the tourist industry unaffected. No longer: the discovery of the 11 decapitated bodies on the Yucatan peninsula has already made headlines all over the world.In addition to those bodies, another decapitated body was found 50 miles to the east of Merida, in a town called Buctzotz. Like the others, it showed signs of torture.President Calderón responded to Mexico's rapidly deteriorating security situation last week by signing a national security pact, including a promise to purge corrupt police officers.He said that “a cancer of criminality” had spread across the country, adding: “It's not about looking for who was guilty in the past. We're all responsible.”Analysts say that this marked an important change of strategy. Since coming to power in 2006 after a contentious election, President Calderón has used the military to chase down drug overlords, a policy that has been criticised for being too one-dimensional. After all, the protection of drug traffickers by the police and military — to many, Joaquín “Shorty” Guzmán is a Robin Hood figure — has made successful prosecutions extremely difficult, if not impossible, even with financial support from the United States.
By Chris Ayres in Los Angeles
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Rally against Taiwan's China policy

No Voice Is Too Small for a China Still Nervous About Dissent

Zhang Wei, a Beijing resident who wanted to publicize the demolition of her home, was detained during the Olympics/AP
WANGGANG, China-As this nation savors its historic haul of gold medals and grapples with a post-Olympics malaise, Gao Chuancai sits captive in a run-down hotel 700 miles from Beijing. One of the people detained during the Olympics was Gao Chuancai, a farmer who sought to denounce corruption in his village, at one of the official protest zones in Beijing.Guarded by three policemen, Mr. Gao, a 45-year-old farmer detained after he sought to demonstrate in one of the official Olympic protest zones, is serving an open-ended sentence for “suspected extortion,” according to the Harbin public security bureau, whose officers seized him two weeks ago in the Beijing bathhouse where he was sleeping.“I’m doing fine,” he shouted through a barred window as his son and two visitors approached on Wednesday. “They’re treating me well.”Even as he spoke, his smile not entirely convincing, guards who had been tugging at his waist and legs wrested him away from the window. Shouts and scuffling sounds followed from inside the room.In a country where petitioners and protesters are regularly jailed, the detention of Mr. Gao is not especially notable. At least 220,000 people are serving “re-education through labor” sentences — one- to three-year terms that are meted out by the police without trial — and scores of other dissidents live under house arrest or with the unceasing surveillance of the Public Security Bureau.But the decision to take Mr. Gao into custody reflected the extreme irritability to even minor protest actions that gripped China’s capital during the Olympics. Mr. Gao is also part of a cadre of tireless petitioners, many of them inured to harassment and disappointment, who tried to protest anyway.He was among at least a half-dozen people detained after they applied for legal permits to stage a demonstration in designated protest zones. The zones were established by the Chinese authorities, nominally to show their openness to divergent views during the Games. No protests ever took place in the zones.“Anything that could threaten social stability makes the government very nervous,” said Jia Ping, the director of China Global Fund Watch Initiative, an organization that advocates on behalf of people infected with H.I.V. Among those detained during the Games were Zhang Wei, a Beijing resident who was seeking to publicize the demolition of her home, and Ji Sizun, a democracy advocate whose foray to the protest application office ended with his disappearance into a large black car.Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying, two elderly women whose requests to protest yielded one-year “re-education through labor” sentences, seem to have fared better. Human Rights in China, a rights watchdog group, reported on Friday that authorities in Beijing had formally rescinded the sentence imposed on the two women during the Games. Ms. Wu’s son, Li Xuehui, said the police also bought the family a new television set.Like Ms. Wu and Mrs. Wang, Mr. Gao is fearless, a man who seems to grow bolder with each detention.Here in Wanggang, the dusty agricultural town where he is lauded by many residents and loathed by the authorities, he has waged a decade-long campaign against officials he says routinely pocket money meant to compensate farmers whose land has been confiscated for public projects. Broken bones, smashed teeth and irreversible impotence, he said, are among the repercussions of his 12 detentions. “He is so stubborn,” said his sister, Gao Xiuzhi, 55. “Nothing will stop him, unless he is killed."Last May his wife died after drinking a bottle of pesticide at the local government office. Family members said she could not afford treatment for her breast cancer and thought a dramatic gesture might move officials to hand over some of the money they owed her.The police blamed Mr. Gao for her death, but the town rallied to his defense and the charges were eventually dropped.After her death, Mr. Gao became even more relentless.In recent years, he has taken on the cause of six rural towns whose farmland was overtaken by a new highway. “The government eats our meat, but that’s not enough — so they drink our blood and consume our bones,” said Huang Qihe, 43, a farmer.Last week, when Mr. Huang and his neighbors heard a rumor that Mr. Gao had been arrested in Beijing and shipped back to Wanggang, they marched to the police station and demanded to see him. They were told he was not there, so they came back again. And again.After a week, the police finally handed over the slip of paper officially acknowledging Mr. Gao’s detention and accusing him of extortion. Infuriated, Dong Mingying, 45, and about 20 of her neighbors have been showing up at the station every day or two and threatening to go to Beijing if Mr. Gao is not released. “I think we are making them nervous,” she said proudly.Reached at the Wanggang police station, an officer declined to comment on Mr. Gao’s case, saying it was being handled by the Nangang District Public Security Bureau. A man who answered the phone at the bureau insisted the matter was the responsibility of the Wanggang police.Mr. Gao’s 23-year-old son, Gao Jiaqing, is not especially proud of his father. When he was 12, his father sent him to another province so he would not be exposed to the constant chaos wrought by his endless wars with the authorities. “At this point I’m numb,” he said, sitting on a bed piled high with his father’s documents.Still he walks every day to the back of the crumbling hotel operated by the Wanggang Agricultural Cultivation Bureau where his father is being held and tries to cheer him up.On Wednesday, before he was yanked away from the window, Mr. Gao, whose thin face has grown even gaunter, managed to slip some scraps of paper to his son. On them, he provided details of his detention and the names of the officials who had ordered him locked up. At the bottom, in tiny characters, he wrote: “I didn’t ask for money. I just wanted justice.”
Tang Xuemei contributed research.
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ENVIRO WATCH:Methane gas oozing up from Siberian seabed:Swedish researcher

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is leaking from the permafrost under the Siberian seabed, a researcher on an international expedition in the region told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter on Saturday."The permafrost now has small holes. We have found elevated levels of methane above the water surface and even more in the water just below. It is obvious that the source is the seabed," Oerjan Gustafsson, the Swedish leader of the International Siberian Shelf Study, told the newspaper.The tests were carried out in the Laptev and east Siberian seas and used much more precise measuring equipment than previous studies, he said.Methane is more than 20 times more efficient than carbon dioxide in trapping solar heat.Scientists fear that global warming may cause Siberia's permafrost to thaw and thereby release vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere. The effects of global warming are already most visible in the Arctic region.
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Louisiana Home Oxygen Therapy Community Braces for Hurricane Gustav:Providers Work Together to Prepare State's Vulnerable Oxygen Patients for Storm's

WASHINGTON-As Hurricane Gustav approaches the Gulf Coast, home oxygen providers across Louisiana are implementing plans and procedures in advance of a potential healthcare crisis, threatening to disrupt immediate access to area patients' lifesaving oxygen therapy. In preparation for this pending disaster scenario, the home oxygen community throughout Louisiana is working vigorously to ensure that any patients in need of care as the storm hits are quickly located, identified and provided the equipment, supplies and services they require to maintain their therapy throughout the duration of the crisis.All home oxygen patients have unique needs that require different oxygen treatments, which can become complicated when planning delivery schedules before a hurricane. Providers across the state have completed their delivery routes and have been supplied extra carts of cylinders for emergency use. If power goes out in any branch, phones will be remotely routed to other areas so patients have access to 24-hour emergency response service. Providers are also constantly monitoring the storm and will advise their drivers individually when reports of high winds exceed recommended levels for delivery trucks to stay on the road."We have addressed emergency plans in each location and have contacted high acuity patients to make sure they are safe and understand their own evacuation plans," said Andy Ingram, Apria Healthcare's Vice President of Operations, Mid South Region. "We have also connected those patients with other locations around the region. We have contacted all our oxygen patients and explained to them that we have set up at least 12 depots in local towns where they can come by and get supplies, if needed."The effects of a hurricane can wreak havoc on home oxygen patients, leaving thousands of oxygen users in need of emergency respiratory assistance to access life-saving oxygen therapy. Many patients will remain at home during this hurricane and widespread blackouts could leave them without the use of their stationary oxygen concentrators, which generate the medically-pure oxygen they require from ambient room air. If patients are unable to maintain their oxygen therapy as prescribed, they can become oxygen deficient and require hospitalization to stabilize their condition. If this should happen, patients are encouraged to contact emergency services."With the lessons we learned from Katrina and other hurricanes, we feel that we are prepared to handle anything that is thrown at us," added Ingram.The Council for Quality Respiratory Care is a group of the nation's leading home oxygen therapy providers and manufacturers. CQRC members include AirSep Corporation, American HomePatient, Apria Healthcare, Invacare, Lincare, Pacific Pulmonary Services, Praxair, Inc., ResMed, Inc., Respironics, Inc., Rotech Healthcare Inc. and Sunrise Medical, Inc.
SOURCE The Council for Quality Respiratory Care
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Gustav Swells to 'Dangerous' Category 3

Hurricane Gustav's Path

Residents begin leaving Gulf Coast ahead of storm

NEW ORLEANS - Hurricane Gustav strengthened into a dangerous storm Saturday, and as city officials started evacuation plans, some residents weren't waiting to be told to leave.Cars packed with clothes, boxes and pet carriers drove north among heavy traffic on Interstate 55, a major route out of the city. Gas stations around the city hummed. And nursing homes and hospitals began sending patients farther inland."I'm getting out of here. I can't take another hurricane," said Ramona Summers, 59, whose house flooded during Katrina. She hurried to help friends gather their belongings. Her car was already packed for Gonzales, nearly 60 miles away to the west of New Orleans.Gustav swelled into a major hurricane south of Cuba and could strike the U.S. coast anywhere from Mississippi to Texas by Tuesday.Forecasters said if Gustav follows the projected path it would likely make landfall on Louisiana's central coast, sparing New Orleans a direct hit. But forecasters caution its still too soon to say exactly where the storm will hit. "Any little jog could change where it makes landfall," said Karina Castillo, a hurricane support meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center said.Mayor Ray Nagin's spokeswoman said buses and trains would begin Saturday taking the city's estimated 30,000 residents who are disabled, elderly or need help leaving the area to shelters in central and northern Louisiana, as well as out of the state."We will start moving residents from the 17 pickup areas that are located throughout the city," Nagin spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett said.Police and firefighters were set to go street-to-street with bull horns over the weekend to help people direct people where to go. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, there will be no shelter of last resort in the Superdome. The doors there will be locked.Those among New Orleans' estimated 310,000 to 340,000 residents who ignore orders to leave accept "all responsibility for themselves and their loved ones," the city's emergency preparedness director, Jerry Sneed, has warned.Officials plan to announce a curfew that will mean the arrest of anyone still on the streets after a mandatory evacuation order goes out. Police and National Guardsman will patrol after the storm's arrival, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he requested additional search and rescue teams from other states.Evacuation of coastal parishes was likely to start on Saturday, Jindal said. In St. Mary Parish, which hugs the coastline, the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival — the state's oldest chartered harvest festival usually held over the Labor Day weekend_ has been canceled, officials said.Meanwhile, Jindal said the state would likely switch interstate lanes on Sunday so that all traffic would flow north, in the direction an evacuation would follow.For the third day in a row, Jindal stressed that people with the means should stock up on food, water and other essentials, and prepare to head away from the coast."We all still have personal responsibility," he said. "Now's the time to begin making evacuation plans." Gustav strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane early Saturday with top sustained winds near 120 mph as it headed for western Cuba. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said it was a dangerous storm and could strengthen once it gets over the warm waters of the Gulf bound for the U.S. coastline early next week.The storm has already killed 71 people in the Caribbean, and forecasters said it had become the second major hurricane of the Atlantic season, following Bertha in July.At 8 a.m. EDT, Gustav's center was about 225 miles east-southeast of the western tip of Cuba .New Orleans has taken steps to make sure everyone has a chance to leave. The state has a $7 million contract to provide 700 buses to evacuate the elderly, the sick and anyone around the region without transportation.LSU's Health Care Services Division began moving patients Friday from its hospitals to facilities north of Interstate 10. A complete evacuation from Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma and Dr. Walter O. Moss Regional medical Center in Lake Charles should be finished by Saturday evening. Partial evacuations are scheduled for hospitals in Bogalusa and New Orleans and University Medical Center in Lafayette has been placed on alert.The entire Louisiana National Guard, over 7,000 members, was activated on Friday. Over 1,500 were sent to New Orleans to assist with evacuations and prevent looting. Jindal sought to reassure New Orleans residents, who recall rampant looting during Katrina, that the guard and New Orleans police would fight any recurrence."We don't want folks worrying about their property. It is time for people to be worried about their personal safety," Jindal said.
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Indian floods leave victims helpless

High waters,heavy rain hamper Indian flood relief

PATNA,India-Indian authorities, hampered by heavy rain and damaged roads, were struggling on Saturday to get aid to millions of displaced villagers in the eastern state of Bihar, hit by the worst flooding in 50 years.The Kosi river burst a dam in neighboring Nepal earlier this month, deluging Bihar and drowning village after village in its path as authorities failed to evacuate millions in time.About 85 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced by floodwaters that have smashed houses and destroyed 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres)of farmland. "Rains are killing our rescue and relief efforts," Bihar disaster management department minister Nitish Mishra told Reuters."Our helicopters were barely able to fly for most of the day yesterday as it continued raining heavily till 4 p.m.," he said.On Friday, an overcrowded army boat carrying dozens of flood victims overturned in the swollen river, drowning at least 20 people and leaving 10 unaccounted for. Some 350,000 people have been evacuated over the past 10 days and thousands are marooned, said Pratyay Amrit, a Bihar disaster management official.Army officers were putting up sandbags and wire mesh along roads in an attempt to fix embankments and prevent the swift flowing river from inundating new areas, said a Reuters witness in the flood-hit district of Saharsa.The witness also saw more than 1,000 people from nearby villages walking to the city, where they hoped to find food and shelter. Some villagers who chose to stay, built temporary bamboo shelters on high ground, eating uncooked rice and flour mixed with polluted water.
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QUAKEWATCH:Southwest China Quake Kills 22,Hurts 126

SHANGHAI-An earthquake hit southwest China's Sichuan and Yunnan provinces on Saturday, killing 22 people and injuring about 126 as homes in rural villages collapsed, state media reported...
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UN does have double standards

Putin: Russia won't be isolated

Chinese police kill six in Xinjiang clash: reports

Chinese police killed six people and arrested three others during a clash in the restive Muslim northwest region of Xinjiang, state media reported on Saturday. Police carried out an operation late Friday in Kashgar prefecture in the far west of Xinjiang against a group of people suspected of involvement in an attack on August 12 in which three security guards were killed, the Xinhua and China News agencies said.They discovered the nine suspects armed with knives in a corn field, where they resisted arrest and injured two members of the security forces, the agencies said.The police fought back, killing six of the suspects and wounding the three others.Local police contacted by AFP Saturday refused to comment on the reported clash in the remote region which borders Central Asia.Xinjiang has suffered a wave of violence over the past month, with 16 policemen killed on August 4 in Kashgar in the most deadly attack.Six days later, an attack on a police station in Kuqa resulted in the deaths of 10 of the attackers and a security guard.In the August 12 incident, three security guards were killed and a fourth wounded by knife-wielding assailants during an attack on a checkpoint at Yamanya, a town 30 kilometres (about 20 miles) from Kashgar.On Wednesday two policemen were killed and five wounded while searching a corn field near Kashgar for a suspect connected with an earlier attack.Analysts have said Xinjiang is enduring its worst violence in years, partly triggered by separatists wanting to raise publicity while the world spotlight was focused on China for the Beijing Olympics, which ended on Sunday.Many of Xinjiang's 8.3 million Turkic-speaking ethnic Muslim Uighurs say they have suffered decades of repression under communist Chinese rule.Chinese authorities have blamed much of the recent violence on Xinjiang's East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is listed by China and the United Nations as a terrorist organisation.
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Moscow denies rumored Kremlin plan to use oil weapon

Russian energy minister Sergei Shmatko and LUKOIL denied Friday, Aug. 29, rumors circulating in Moscow that Russian oil companies were told to stand ready to cut off supplies to Europe Monday, Sept. 1 in retaliation for any sanctions passed at an emergency European Union summit in Brussels and NATO’s actions in the Black Sea. “We are doing everything we can to keep European consumers with enough oil,” said the minister in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan. LUKOIL is delivering the same amount of oil and oil products to Western Europe as before the Georgian crisis flared.Any such step by Russia, the world's second-largest oil exporter, over Georgia, a key oil and gas transit zone, would further escalate inter-power tensions and cause mayhem in global energy and financial markets. Fuel prices would shoot up. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov called this talk the product of a “sick imagination.”

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Iran says 4,000 atomic centrifuges working: report

TEHRAN-Iran has 4,000 working nuclear centrifuges, an official said in remarks published on Friday, in line with a number verified by the U.N. atomic watchdog but lower than a figure cited by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.Iran says it is installing centrifuges to enrich uranium so it can make fuel for nuclear power plants. But the West accuses Tehran of seeking to master technology so it can enrich uranium to much higher levels for use in nuclear warheads. Ahmadinejad said last month Iran had more than 5,000 centrifuges running. But a diplomat close to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which routinely checks Iranian nuclear sites, said soon afterward Ahmadinejad appeared to have overstated the number by at least 1,000."There are currently close to 4,000 centrifuges active at Natanz enrichment facility... Another 3,000 centrifuges are being installed," Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Sheikh Attar told state television, the official IRNA news agency reported.The last IAEA report on Iran, issued in late May, said Iran was in the processing of setting up 3,000 more centrifuges beyond 3,000 already operating.Vienna diplomats said recently Iran's expansion of enrichment seemed to be relatively slow and the operation remained well short of "industrial" capacity producing enough fuel to run power stations or make bombs, if Iran so chose.World powers have offered Iran a package of trade, nuclear and other incentives to halt its sensitive nuclear work, but Tehran has repeatedly said it will not do so.The United States and its Western allies are pushing for more U.N. sanctions, after three sets were imposed since 2006.

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Kremlin announces that South Ossetia will join 'one united Russian state'

The Kremlin moved swiftly to tighten its grip on Georgia’s breakaway regions yesterday as South Ossetia announced that it would soon become part of Russia, which will open military bases in the province under an agreement to be signed on Tuesday.Tarzan Kokoity, the province’s Deputy Speaker of parliament, announced that South Ossetia would be absorbed into Russia soon so that its people could live in “one united Russian state” with their ethnic kin in North Ossetia. The declaration came only three days after Russia defied international criticism and recognised South Ossetia and Georgia’s other separatist region of Abkhazia as independent states. Eduard Kokoity, South Ossetia’s leader, agreed that it would form part of Russia within “several years” during talks with Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian President, in Moscow.The disclosure will expose Russia to accusations that it is annexing land regarded internationally as part of Georgia. Until now, the Kremlin has insisted that its troops intervened solely to protect South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgian “aggression”.Interfax news quoted an unidentified Russian official as saying that Moscow also planned to establish two bases in Abkhazia. Sergei Shamba, Abkhazia’s Foreign Minister, said that an agreement on military co-operation would be signed within a month.The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that agreements on “peace, co-operation and mutual assistance with Abkhazia and South Ossetia”were being prepared on the orders of President Medvedev. Abkhazia said that it would ask Russia to represent its interests abroad.Georgia announced that it was recalling all diplomatic staff from its embassy in Moscow in protest at the continued Russian occupation of its land in defiance of a ceasefire agreement brokered by President Sarkozy of France. The parliament in Tbilisi declared Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be under Russian occupation.Gigi Tsereteli, the Vice-Speaker, dismissed the threat of South Ossetia becoming part of Russia, saying: “The world has already become different and Russia will not long be able to occupy sovereign Georgian territory.“The regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should think about the fact that if they become part of Russia, they will be assimilated, and in this way they will disappear.”Lado Gurgenidze, the Prime Minister of Georgia, scrapped agreements that had permitted Russian peacekeepers to operate in the two regions after wars in the early 1990s. He called for their replacement by international troops.Vyacheslav Kovalenko, Moscow’s Ambassador to Georgia, described Tbilisi’s decision to sever relations as “a step towards further escalation of tensions with Russia and the desire to drive the situation into an even worse deadlock”.Russia attacked the G7 after the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan condemned its “excessive use of military force in Georgia”. In a joint statement, they had called on Russia to “implement in full” the French ceasefire agreement.The Foreign Ministry said that the G7 was “justifying Georgian acts of aggression” and insisted that Moscow had met its obligations under the six-point agreement.Having been rebuffed on Thursday by China and four Central Asian states, Russia will seek support next week from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) for its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The CSTO comprises Russia and the former Soviet republics of Armenia,Belarus,Kazakhstan,Kyrgyzstan,Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The signing of the military agreement with South Ossetia will take place the day after an emergency summit of European Union leaders to discuss the crisis. The French presidency of the EU said that sanctions against Russia were not being considered, contradicting an earlier statement by Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister.Russia told the EU that any sanctions would be damaging to both sides. Andrei Nesterenko, a Foreign Ministry official, said: “We hope that common sense will prevail over emotions and that EU leaders will find the strength to reject a one-sided assessment of the conflict...Neither party needs the confrontation towards which some countries are being energetically pushed by the EU.”Russia also lashed out at Nato, saying that it had “no moral right” to pass judgment on the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Foreign Ministry said: “Further sliding to confrontation with Russia and attempts to put pressure on us are unacceptable, as they can entail irreversible consequences in the military-political climate and in stability on the continent.”The US confirmed that the flagship of its Sixth Fleet, the USS Mount Whitney, would deliver aid to Georgia next week. Two other warships are moored off Georgia’s Black Sea port of Batumi, and Russia has ordered its fleet to take “precautionary measures”.Mr Medvedev has accused the US of shipping weapons to Georgia along with aid, a claim dismissed as “ridiculous” by the White House.
By Tony Halpin in Moscow
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Georgia cuts diplomatic ties with Russia

TBILISI-Georgia said on Friday it was cutting diplomatic ties with Russia over the Kremlin's recognition of two Georgian rebel regions as independent states."We have received instructions at the Foreign Ministry and we will cut diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told reporters."The final decision has been made," he said.Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Tuesday after rolling tanks and troops over its southern border to repel a Georgian offensive to retake South Ossetia, which like Abkhazia threw off Georgian rule in the early 1990s.In its initial response, Tbilisi had said it would recall all but two diplomats from its embassy in Moscow. The Georgian ambassador was recalled in July after Russia admitted to sending fighter jets into Georgian airspace.The Georgian parliament adopted a resolution on Thursday urging the government to cut ties completely, and to declare Russian troops on Georgian soil as "occupying forces"."Georgia's interests in Russia will be represented by the embassy of a third party," Vashadze said, adding that consultations were underway with several countries.He said a consul, vice-consul and technical staff would remain in Moscow.Russia's Foreign Ministry said that Moscow regretted Tbilisi's decision to cut ties, Interfax news agency reported.

Russian admiral: Our Black Sea fleet can destroy NATO’s group in 20 minutes

Former Russian Black Sea Fleet commander, Adm. Eduard Baltin was quoted by Moscow media as saying Friday, Aug. 29: “Despite the apparent strength of the NATO naval group in the Black Sea… a single salvo from the Moskva missile cruiser and two or three missile boats would be enough to annihilate the entire group. Within 20 minutes, the waters would be clear.”Adm. Baltin added: "We will not strike first, and they do not look like people with suicidal tendencies."The Russian Fleet deploys 16 warships in the Black Sea compared with 10 NATO vessels – three American, Polish, German and Spanish frigates, and four Turkish warships, soon to be augmented by another six, including the USS Mount Whitney, which is considered one of the most advanced warships in the world.In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino rejected Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin’s assertion that US personnel were in the combat zone during the war in Georgia and “someone in the United States” provoked the conflict to help one of the candidates in the American presidential race.In his first major remark since the Georgian crisis erupted, Putin quoted information provided by the Russian military but offered no evidence. Perino called his allegations “patently false and “not rational.”

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Russia says will ensure oil to flow to Europe

DUSHANBE/MOSCOW-Russia's energy minister and a top oil company denied on Friday they were preparing to cut oil flows to Europe in response to threatened sanctions, a step Moscow never took even at the height of the Cold War.As Europe prepared its response to Russia's invasion of neighboring Georgia, the energy minister said Moscow was doing everything it could to ensure stable oil supplies on its key supply line to Europe, the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline."We are doing everything we can so Druzhba can keep working stably and supply European consumers with enough oil," Sergei Shmatko told reporters in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.Britain's Daily Telegraph reported on Friday that the Russian government had told at least one oil company to prepare to cut deliveries to Europe if sanctions were imposed.European Union heads of state meet on Monday to formulate a response to Russia's invasion of Georgia, which was attempting to retake two Russia-friendly separatist provinces, as well as a Kremlin decision to recognize the rebels as independent states.A senior French diplomat, who could not be identified, said sanctions were not imminent. A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany believed Russia would honor its contracts.Energy markets have been nervously watching the dispute between Europe and Russia, the world's second-largest oil exporter, over Georgia, a key oil and gas transit zone.Oil prices were up 1 percent or $1.16 at $116.75 a barrel.
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Russia tests out new lethal nuke

RUSSIA last night provoked fresh fears of a Cold War by boasting it has tested a new long-range nuclear missile.
Moscow’s military chiefs revealed their Topol intercontinental stealth rocket had been fired successfully.The chilling declaration was aimed at sparking international alarm about the conflict in the Caucasus, diplomats claimed.Foreign Secretary David Miliband tried to calm the crisis by saying no country wants “all-out war” with Russia.But he admitted the invasion of Georgia has brought an end to peace in Europe.Russia’s Interfax agency said:“The experimental warhead section of the rocket hit its pre-determined target with high accuracy at the firing range.”The RS-12M Topol, designed to dodge defence systems, has a range of 6,125 miles-enough to reach Britain-with a 550-kiloton warhead capable of devastating a 14-mile wide area.It was launched from the spaceport at Plesetsk to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Far East. But Russia’s own allies condemned leaders Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin.The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation slammed the Kremlin for its aggression against neighbouring Georgia.The SCO, made up of China and Black Sea states, said: “Relying on the use of force has no prospects and hinders a settlement of local conflicts.“We urge the sides to solve problems peacefully.”The EU talked of sanctions unless Moscow backs down.Britain postponed September’s military exercises in Georgia-a day after Moscow warned such moves could be tantamount to a declaration of war.But Russia last night accused the UK of direct involvement in helping Georgia’s armed forces.General Anatoly Nogovitsyn alleged the charity Halo Trust, once linked to Princess Diana, is training bomb technicians.The conflict in Georgia continues with South Ossetia claiming to have shot down an unmanned Georgian spy plane.
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Lebanon appoints new army chief: source

BEIRUT-The Lebanese government appointed a new military commander on Friday, a government source said, filling a post which has become a stepping stone to the presidency.Jean Kahawaji, a Maronite Christian, replaces General Michel Suleiman, who was elected president in May as part of a Qatari-mediated deal that ended Lebanon's political crisis.The decision was taken at a meeting of Lebanon's new national unity cabinet, which was also formed as part of the Doha agreement. Kahawaji, who currently commands an army brigade, will be promoted to general from his current rank of brigadier general.Suleiman's predecessor as head of state, Emile Lahoud, had also been army chief before becoming president-a post reserved for a Maronite in Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.The army, whose make-up reflects Lebanon's sectarian mix, has played a crucial role in maintaining civil peace during more than three years of political turbulence since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.Kahawaji's candidacy was agreed upon by U.S.-backed politicians and an alliance of rival groups led by Hezbollah, an Iranian- and Syrian-backed military and political group which is more powerful than the army.Strengthening the army has been part of U.S. policy towards Lebanon. Washington, which views Hezbollah as a terrorist group, says it has committed over $410 million in security assistance to the army since 2006, including training and supplying vehicles and ammunition.

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Gustav grows back into hurricane

GEORGE TOWN-Gustav strengthened back into a hurricane in the warm Caribbean on Friday as it left flooded Jamaica and churned toward the Cayman Islands, headed for the Gulf of Mexico on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's deadly strike on New Orleans.The storm, which killed at least 72 people in the Caribbean, plowed toward superheated waters south of Cuba where it could absorb enough energy to strengthen into a major hurricane before ripping through the heavy concentration of U.S. oil and natural gas platforms off Louisiana.New Orleans was still squarely in the storm's sights. The most likely long-range track forecast had it going ashore west of the city on Tuesday morning as a Category 3 storm on the five-stage Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.Oil prices climbed in the face of Gustav's threat to the 4,000 Gulf platforms that produce a quarter of U.S. oil and 15 percent of its natural gas. Energy companies evacuated offshore workers and shut production in preparation for the most serious storm since the devastating 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. "The cyclone will have more than 24 hours over the very warm waters of the northwestern Caribbean...so strengthening seems imminent and could even be rapid," the National Hurricane Center said.The Miami-based hurricane center said Gustav strengthened back into a Category 1 hurricane as it neared the wealthy Cayman Islands on Friday and could grow into at least a Category 3 storm before reaching western Cuba on Saturday.By midafternoon, Gustav was 125 miles east-southeast of Grand Cayman Island and was moving west-northwest at 11 mph (19 km per hour).Its top sustained winds had strengthened to 75 mph (120 kph) and were projected to rise to 120 mph (193 kph) within 72 hours.

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Hizballah high-up falls to his death at rocket pad on Israeli border

The geography of the accident Tuesday, Aug. 26, belied the reiterated claims of Israeli ministers and UN officials that Hizballah’s rockets had been pushed back from the Lebanese-Israeli border, under the terms of the Resolution 1701 ceasefire which ended the 2006 Lebanon War.Jamal Amin Salah, 51, a Hizballah operations executive, stood on the rooftop of a building at the Lebanese Yaroun village, less than half a kilometer from the Israeli border. He was discussing with his men how far inside Israeli territory the rockets installed at the launch pads in the village could reach, when he fell to his death.DEBKAfile’s military sources confirm that, not only has Hizballah returned to its old positions on the Israeli border - contradicting statements by prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Ehud Barak - but the Iran-backed Shiite terrorists are working feverishly on the construction of a new line of fortified military positions, including rocket-launching pads, right on top of the Israeli border fence.Neither Israeli Defense Forces nor UN peacekeepers have interfered with this barefaced violation of international agreements. Wednesday, Aug. 27, Israel’s security cabinet convened to discuss homeland defenses in an emergency.Dep. defense minister, Matan Vilnai, told an interviewer that every corner of Israel was now within range of enemy missiles. He reaffirmed that Syrian and Hizballah arsenals hold tens of thousands of rockets and missiles, which he described as an even greater danger than Iranian missiles. He said the new National Homeland Defense Authority which he heads would soon present proposals for improving security on the home front. They would be “primarily legislative,” he said.That is the root of the problem, say DEBKAfile’s military sources.New laws will not keep the civilian population safe from missile attack; nor will any purely defensive measures. The Israeli army’s passivity, enforced by the government, has left Syria and Hizballah free to amass tens of thousands of missiles and constantly augment their fortified launching sites in places like Yaroun.The 40,000 missiles now in Hizballah’s hands were delivered by ships and trucks across routes starting in Syria and ending in Lebanon. Senior military sources ask: Why were Israeli forces not instructed to destroy these convoys and blow up the missile dumps? Surely not because of the farcical indirect Israel-Syrian “peace talks.” Israeli ministers talked Wednesday about protecting the population by “legislation,” while admitting that every part of the country is now vulnerable to missile attack.
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Islamic Jihad warns of rising Fatah-Hamas tensions

RAMALLAH, West Bank-A top Islamic Jihad leader said on Friday a rift between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas could trigger more violence if it is not resolved by January, the target date for a presidential poll.The groups disagree on dates for holding parliamentary and presidential elections. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement says the polls should be held on the same date. Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, says Abbas's term ends on January 9 but parliamentary elections are not due until 2010."If we get to January 9 without reaching an agreement that would end the state of schism, then we would certainly be heading to a new chapter of conflict that will be more tragic," Ramadan Shallah of the Islamic Jihad militant group was quoted as saying in the London-based al-Hayat newspaper.Shallah, who was in Cairo attending the most recent round of reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas, urged Arabs, in particular Egypt, to help the two sides resolve their differences.Previous attempts by Arab leaders to reconcile Abbas and Hamas have ended in disagreement over whether Hamas should cede control of Gaza. Hamas also opposes Abbas's U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel.Hamas Islamists seized control of Gaza in June 2007 after routing Fatah forces. Abbas later dismissed a Hamas-led government and appointed a new administration in the occupied West Bank, where Fatah holds sway.Abbas argues that Palestinian election law, approved before Hamas's rise to power, allows for the contests to be held at the same time.Egyptian officials have recently been meeting with representatives from different Palestinian factions to settle the Fatah-Hamas rift, but officials familiar with the talks said they did not expect the sides to reach agreement.
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Hundreds Of Palestinian Prisoners Released While Gilad Schalit Spends Third Birthday In Captivity

Today IDF soldier Gilad Schalit will spend his third birthday in captivity in Gaza.Aged 22, Schalit's parents accuse the government of being too preoccupied in internal politics rather than working towards setting Gilad free.

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Abbas to hold further talks with Israel's Olmert

JERUSALEM-Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet again with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.The next round of talks in Jerusalem will come days after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that made little progress toward a goal of a limited peace accord before President George W. Bush leaves office in January.Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters on Friday Abbas and Olmert would meet to "review the negotiations and the final status issues".The leaders would also discuss a Western-backed peace "road map" that demands Israel halt settlement building in occupied territory and that Palestinians rein in militants, Erekat said.An Israeli official confirmed the talks would take place, saying they would be held in Jerusalem.The leaders last met on August 6. Israel freed 198 Palestinian prisoners from its jails on Monday, in a gesture that sought to boost the Western-backed Abbas, who faces challenges from the Islamist Hamas group that seized control of Gaza last year.Analysts doubt Washington's goal of a quick peace deal will be met, as Olmert, weakened by a corruption probe, has vowed to step down once his Kadima party chooses a new leader next month.Though Olmert could remain in power for weeks afterwards as a caretaker prime minister, his weakened political stature would likely hamper his clout to make critical diplomatic decisions.

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