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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto killed!

Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister, has been killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack at an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi.

At least 16 others were also killed in Thursday's attack with another report saying at least 20 bodies were seen after the explosion which triggered violent protests across the country.

Bhutto,54, was proclaimed dead after she was taken to the Rawalpindi General Hospital. "

At 6:16pm [13:16 GMT], she expired," Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), present at the hospital, said.

Police said a suicide bomber fired at Bhutto as she was leaving the rally venue in a park before blowing himself up.

"The man first fired at Bhutto's vehicle. She ducked and then he blew himself up," Mohammad Shahid, a police officer said.

Rising anger
Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, reportedly chaired an emergency cabinet meeting after the blast.

Bhutto's supporters vented their anger
after her killing [AFP]
He later appealed to the nation to remain calm "so that the evil designs of terrorists can be defeated," state TV reported.

But as news of Bhutto's death spread, supporters at the hospital in Rawalpindi smashed glass doors and threw stones at cars.

Angry supporters also took to the streets in the northwestern city of Peshawar as well other areas, and raised anti-Musharraf slogans.

Thousands also gathered on the streets of Karachi, the capital of Bhutto's native Sindh province.

In Rawalpindi, at the site of the attack, Bhutto's supporters burned election posters from the ruling party and attacked police, who fled from the scene.

The interior ministry respondend by putting its forces on red alert.

Grieving nation

Following the blast, body parts and flesh were strewn across Liaqat Bagh park where Bhutto had spoken.

Police cordoned off the street with white and red tape, and rescue workers rushed to carry victims in to ambulances.

Nawaz Sharif, also a former Pakistani prime minister, told grief-stricken Bhutto supporters outside the hospital: "I assure you that I will fight your war from now on."

He said he shared the grief of "the entire nation".

Javaid Manzoor, the president of Bhutto's PPP party, told Al Jazeera: "We are shocked. We are stunned. Every single one of us is mouring the loss of our leader."

Al Jazeera's Sohail Rahman said questions would now be raised about security there.

Hospital anguish

The killing is likely to deepen the political crisis in Pakistan, where radicals had vowed to disrupt the vote and Musharraf's opponents, including Bhutto, accused him of planning to rig the result.

Manzoor said he believed the poll, sheduled for January 8, would now be cancelled.

Bhutto had served twice as Pakistani prime minister between 1988 and 1996.

She had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on October 18.

Her homecoming parade in Karachi was also targeted by a suicide attacker, killing more than 140 people.

On that occasion she narrowly escaped injury.

Sharif rally

Earlier on Thursday, four people were shot dead and three wounded at an election rally of Sharif in Rawalpindi.

Sharif blamed supporters of the party that backs Musharraf.

The attacks are the worst directly related to the January 8 polls since campaigning intensified in mid-December.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

US judge orders CIA tapes hearing

A US judge has overruled Bush administration objections and ordered a hearing into whether the CIA violated a court order when it destroyed videotapes of interrogations.

US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy scheduled a court hearing on the tapes for Friday.

The federal judge had in June 2005 ordered the administration to safeguard "all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States naval base at Guantanamo Bay".

Five months later, the CIA destroyed the interrogation videos.

The recordings involved al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

Not covered

The justice department argued that the videos were not covered by the order because the two men were being held in secret CIA prisons overseas, not at the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Lawyers for a group of Guantanamo Bay inmates contesting their detention had requested the hearing to learn whether the government had complied with the preservation order.

They cited reports that information obtained from the interrogations implicated five unnamed Guantanamo detainees.

"We hope to establish a procedure to review the government's handling of evidence in our case ... and generally to require an accounting from a government that has admitted that it destroyed evidence," said David Remes, a lawyer for the group of inmates.

The CIA, pre-empting a news report, admitted on December 6 that it had destroyed hundreds of hours of interrogation tapes, prompting an outcry from congressional Democrats and human rights activists.

The tapes are believed to have shown interrogation methods that included simulated drowning known as waterboarding, which has been condemned as torture.

The CIA said it destroyed the tapes lawfully and did so out of concern for the safety of agents involved if the recordings were ever made public.

The White House has repeatedly denied that the US uses torture.

The justice department declined to comment on the judge's hearing order but the department last week urged Kennedy not to investigate the videotapes.

It also said that in light of other government probes into the tapes, a judicial inquiry into the destruction was inappropriate.

The government has also sought delays in congressional attempts to investigate the tapes' destruction, saying they would hamper a joint investigation by the justice department itself and the CIA.

"Plainly the government wants only foxes guarding this henhouse," Remes wrote in a court filing.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tension in Bolivia

Political divisions appear to have deepened in Bolivia after four provinces controlled by the opposition put forward plans for greater autonomy from the central government.

The move comes as large rallies were held in the country both in support and opposition of Evo Morales, the president.

Thousands of Morales supporters marched through the city of La Paz to celebrate the unveiling of a new constitution that has divided public opinion in the country.

"This is a historic day ... the people will never again be marginalised," Morales told crowds outside the presidential palace after the president of the constitutional assembly submitted a copy of the new charter.

Morales accused his opponents of seeking to split the nation. "We're not going to let anyone divide Bolivia," he said.

The president has said a declaration of autonomy in the eastern city of Santa Cruz is illegal and unconstitutional.

Autonomous celebration

Led by the economic hub of Santa Cruz, the four provinces oppose the new constitution and made separate declarations of autonomy to extend the power of their regional governments.

A Santa Cruz "autonomy statute," which voters in the state would have to approve in coming months, would create a separate police force and insist on state control of lands.

In Santa Cruz, hunger strikers called off their days-old protest against the constitution and headed to a city park for a rally to celebrate the declaration of autonomy.

A similar event was staged in natural gas-rich Tarija, and others were planned in the Amazon provinces of Beni and Pando.

"We're going to celebrate the birth of the autonomous regions," Roberto Gutierrez, a pro-autonomy leader in Santa Cruz, said.

The constitutional reform has deepened long-standing divisions between the more affluent east and the highlands, where the indigenous population strongly supports Morales, the country's first leader of Indian descent.

Leaders of the four lowland regions, home to Bolivia's natural gas fields, have called the new constitution an illegal power grab since it was passed by Morales supporters during an opposition boycott.


"In no way do we accept that the text that's being submitted represents the Bolivian people, because not all Bolivians have taken part in its drafting," Lourdes Millares, an opposition member of parliament, said.

Tensions rose ahead of Saturday's declarations of autonomy and Morales, has ruled out declaring martial law but government officials have said he could use force if any attempt is made to divide the country.

It was unclear whether the autonomy declarations would be ratified in provincial referenda.

The new national constitution, which lets presidents seek two consecutive terms and increases the state's role in the economy, must still pass two referenda to take force.

Morales says the constitutional rewrite will empower the poor, Indian majority.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oil spill in Korea

Contamination from South Korea worst-ever oil spill has spread to affect more than 50 kilometres of coastline, killing wildlife and devastating communities that rely on fishing and tourism.

Reporting from the hard-hit fishing town of Eui Hang, Al Jazeera's correspondent Marga Ortigas said that by early Monday the length of coastline affected had more than doubled overnight as tons of crude was washed ashore.

Earlier South Korea's environment minister warned the huge clean-up effort was likely to drag on for at least two months

The area around Mallipo relies
heavily on fishing and tourism
Kang Moo-Hyun said the spill, caused by a collision between a tanker and barge on Friday, had caused serious contamination along a large stretch of coastline, with the oil sludge either glued onto beaches or sinking to the seabed.

The pollution has devastated wildlife and dozens of businesses along the coast of Taean county, where fishing, seafood farming and tourism are the major industries.

Oyster farms say they have seen their stocks completely destroyed while hotels which rely on tourist trade to what had been some of the country's most scenic beaches are reporting cancelled bookings.

Ortigas said that it will take at least a decade to rebuild the oyster farms which had lost their stocks.

Many people are now calling for the government to provide urgent compensation.

South Korea oil slick numbers

10,500 tons of oil leaked into the sea from supertanker Hebei Spirit

263,000 tons of crude carried on the tanker

50 km of coastline affected by slick

$6.5m in initial clean-up funds released by government

8,800 police, troops and volunteers involved in clean-up efforts

138 ships working to contain remaining slick at sea

5,000 tons of oil leaked in South Korea's previous worst spill in 1995, costing $104m to clean up
At Mallipo, one of South Korea's best known beaches, waves of contaminated sea water have dumped a thick, stinking slick of crude oil along the shore.

The area is an important stopover for migrating birds and conservationists say the spill is likely to kill thousands of them.

About 10,000 tons of oil have leaked from the Hong Kong registered supertanker, Hebei Spirit.

The tanker was holed on Friday in a collision with a South Korean-owned barge which came unmoored from its tug in rough seas.

The Hebei Spirit is a single-hulled tanker, considered less safe than modern double-hulled tanker which are more difficult to hole.

An international ban on single-hulled tankers is due to take effect in 2010.

By Sunday officials said the holes in the Hebei Spirit had been plugged and the remaining oil removed from the ship.

Offshore coast guard, navy and fishing boats, backed up by helicopters, led efforts to contain the remaining slick.

Government officials have said they are considering declaring the region a special disaster area.

Such a move would enable the central government to give financial aid to the local government to cover the cost of the clean-up, provide tax cuts to residents and allow them to delay loan payments to banks.

The slick is the word's biggest oil spill in more than four years, since the taker Tasman Spirit leaked about 27,000 tons at the port of Karachi in Pakistan in 2003.

Friday, December 7, 2007

CIA destroyed 'waterboarding' tapes

The CIA has admitted destroying video tapes showing what is described as the "harsh interrogation" of al-Qaeda suspects.

The interrogations of two suspects were taped in 2002 and the tapes were destroyed in 2005, after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq surfaced.

Michael Hayden, the CIA director, told his staff on Thursday that the tapes were destroyed so identities of interrogators would not be compromised.

Scrutiny and scandal

Hayden said congressional intelligence committee leaders were informed of the existence of the tapes and the CIA's intention to destroy them.

He said the agency's internal watchdog had watched the tapes in 2003 and verified that the interrogation practices recorded were legal.

But Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said the methods were actually torture and the fact that the CIA had the tapes but did not surrender them when a US commission to look into the 9/11 attacks and congress asked for such information, raised questions about whether the CIA obstructed justice.

The destruction of the tapes comes amid scrutiny over the CIA's "rendition" programme, where suspects were allegedly detained and interrogated in secret locations outside the US.

Amnesty International on Firday called for the destruction of the tapes to be part of that inquiry.

The rights group said in a press release that "the destruction of the tapes falls into a pattern of measures taken by the government that block accountability for human rights violations".
Surprise expressed

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mark Agrast, of the Centre for American Progress, said: "The timing is very disturbing because they [the tapes] appear to have been destroyed at precisely the time that the Abu Ghraib photographs had come out and the stories of highly coercive interrogation practices were becoming known."

During the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004, leaked pictures of US forces abusing Iraqi prisoners caused an international outcry.

Members of the US 9/11 commission and congress have expressed surprise that the tapes existed, saying that the CIA repeatedly claimed it did not record the interrogation of detainees.

Agrast told Al Jazeera: "There will be congressional investigations, because this story was not shared with the house and senate intelligence committees that by law are supposed to be informed of activities of this kind."

Hayden's revelation appeared to be an attempt to pre-empt the New York Times, which informed the CIA on Wednesday evening that it planned to publish a story about the destruction of the tapes.

Hayden said he was informing staff because the press had learnt about the destruction of the tapes.


Protesters outside the US justice department
re-enacted waterboarding in November [EPA]

Hayden's revelation comes a day after the US congress agreed to ban techniques such as waterboarding – where a detainee undergoes similar conditions as drowning – a method of interrogation believed to be filmed on the tapes.

He said the CIA began taping the interrogations as an internal check on the programme after George Bush, the US president, authorised the use of harsh questioning methods.

The methods included waterboarding, government officials said.

"The agency was determined that it proceed in accord with established legal and policy guidelines. So, on its own, CIA began to videotape interrogations," Hayden said in a written message to CIA employees.

The CIA - headed at the time by Porter Goss - also decided to destroy the tapes in "the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them", Hayden wrote, adding that videotaping of the interrogations stopped in 2002.

"The tapes posed a serious security risk. Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the programme, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qaeda and its sympathisers," Hayden's message said.

Guantanamo suspects

The CIA says it only taped the interrogation of the first two suspects it held, one of whom was Abu Zubaydah, who told CIA interrogators about alleged September 11 accomplice Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bush said in 2006.

Al-Shibh was captured and interrogated and, together with Zubaydah's information, he led to the 2003 capture of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the suspected al-Qaeda operative held at Guantanamo who has claimed to be behind the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US.

Meanwhile, witness testimony has been heard for the first time since the US began prosecuting Guantanamo suspects.

A US major testified that Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, was driving a car that contained two small rockets when he was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001.

The hearing will determine whether Hamdan, who says he is not an al-Qaeda member or fighter, an "unlawful enemy combatant" who should be tried before a military tribunal.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

US admits shooting Iraqi civilians

One Iraqi civilian has been killed and another three wounded after US troops opened fire on a car north of Baghdad, the US military shas aid.

The US military said in a statement on Tuesday that the shooting took place a day earlier after a vehicle approached troops at Tarmiyah, 60km north of Baghdad.

"Coalition forces fired warning shots to get the vehicle to stop, but it continued to maneouvre towards them at a high rate of speed," it said.

"A second set of warning shots was fired, but the driver again did not comply."

'Perceived hostile intent'

The statement added: "Perceiving hostile intent, coalition forces engaged, wounding the four passengers inside the vehicle.

"The four individuals were evacuated to a military medical facility to receive treatment, but one died during transport."

Major Anton Alston, US military spokesman, said the deaths were "regrettable".

The incident came one week after nine civilians, including three women and a child, were reported killed by US forces firing on vehicles in three separate incidents.

Meanwhile, the SITE Intelligence Group said that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq, had ordered in a new bombing campaign in an audio message broadcast on the internet.

'Fictitious leader'

"This campaign should be based on explosives and its target should be the apostates ... wearing uniforms and all those who fight alongside the occupiers," he said.
"Every soldier is to detonate at least three bombs by the end of the campaign."

The message is his first since Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, in October called on the leaders of Iraq groups to bury rivalries and unite to fight against the US-led coalition.

The US military has said that the group only exists on the internet and al-Baghdadi was a "fictitious leader" created to give an Iraqi face to an organisation led by foreigners.

Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have been facing increased opposition from Sunni "Awakening Councils" in recent months as they have formed neighbourhood police forces supported by the Americans.

Casualties have dropped sharply in the past two months and attacks have reportedly fallen by 55 per cent.

The US military says the improvement is partly as a result of 30,000 extra US troops which became fully operational in mid-June.