Monthly Archives: January 2019

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Anniversary of Rwanda genocide

Rwandans are still grief-torn and angry over the failure by the international community to stop the killing.

Only a handful of international leaders have travelled to capital Kigali to attend a memorial service.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has repeatedly criticised the outside world for failing to intervene to stop the 100-day slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, despite warnings that Hutu extremists were planning the massacres.

Human rights groups say it will be impossible to ensure such genocides never happen again while powerful nations remain apathetic about impoverished countries in turmoil.

“The risk of genocide remains frighteningly real,” said United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

“The world must be better equipped to prevent genocide and act decisively to stop it when prevention fails.”

The trauma of the genocide continues for many Rwandans, most of whom eke out a subsistence living as peasant farmers.

Many women were infected with AIDS during mass rapes, and hundreds of thousands of children were left orphaned.

Skulls and bones are still being unearthed in latrines or ditches.

“After they’ve been cleaned, we’ll take them to a memorial site,” said worker Faustin Ngango as workers cleaned bones in plastic bowls full of soapy water.

“The memorial will teach future generations what took place and made sure that genocide never happens again in this country.”

The US, Belgium, France and Britain were singled out for blame at a conference in Kigali earlier this week. Mr Annan, who headed the UN peacekeeping unit during the genocide, also received criticism.

“I would like to say very clearly here that I consider that this is a disgrace that he had the Nobel peace prize,” said Belgian senator Alain Destexhe.

France has rejected the criticism, saying the allegations are groundless and scandalous.

Belgium’s Prime Minister Guy Verhfstadt is attending the memorial ceremony, along with US ambassador at large for war crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper, and a number of African leaders.

Hamas leader killed

A senior Hamas leader said: “War is open” with Israel.

“They know it’s opened, there will be no revenge, it’s an open war,” said Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi.

Reprisal attacks are expected to follow.

According to an anonymous called to a Middle Eastern television station, militant group the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is planning a retaliatory strike on Israel “in the coming hours” (AEDT 1830).

Sheikh Yassin was killed while leaving a mosque in his wheelchair, after three rockets fired by an Israeli helicopter hit nearby.

The Israeli army has confirmed the killing.

A number of others were also killed in the attacks, including Yassin’s two bodyguards.

Thousands of angry and tearful Palestinians have taken to the streets, calling for revenge attacks against Israel.

The Hamas leadership, announcing Yassin’s death over mosque loudspeakers, said: “Sharon has opened the gates of hell, and nothing will stop us from cutting off his head.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly personally supervised the attack.

A report on Israeli radio said Mr Sharon had given the go-ahead to Yassin’s elimination, and supervised the operation.

Hamas’ military wing, the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades, has issued a statement vowing “immediate reprisals, like an earthquake that will hit everywhere to destroy the Zionist presence.”

Yassin, who was in his late sixties, was wheelchair-bound and partially blind.

A witness to the attack described what he saw after the first explosion.

“I looked to see where Sheikh Yassin was,” he said.

“He was lying on the ground and his chair was destroyed. People there darted left and right. Then another two missiles landed.”

His body was taken to Gaza City’s Shifa hospital.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the attack.

“This is a crazy and very dangerous act,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie.

“It opens the door wide to chaos. Yassin is known for his moderation and he was controlling Hamas, and therefore this is a dangerous, cowardly act.”

But Israel’s deputy defense minister Zeev Boim said that Yassin had deserved to meet his fate after overseeing hundreds of attacks by the movement.

“Sheikh Yassin deserved to die for all the terrorist attacks committed by Hamas,” Mr Boim said, speaking on Israeli radio.

He hinted that more attacks on Palestinian militant leaders are possible, saying that “no terrorist leader will be immune”.

Israel’s security cabinet last Tuesday decided to step up military operations against Hamas and its leadership following the twin suicide attack in the port of Ashdod.

Israel has sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring Palestinians from entering the Jewish state.

Iraq peace rallies across Australia

There have been peace rallies across Australia Saturday as part of a global day of action to mark the anniversary of the start of United States-led military action in Iraq.

About two thousand people gathered to protest in Melbourne.

They were addressed by Terry Hicks, the father of terrorist suspect David Hicks who was detained without charge by the US during its campaign in Afghanistan.

Mr Hicks says David has been held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for far too long.

“The meaning of that is that David, if he had done anything wrong, should have been charged or released two years ago.”

In Sydney thousands of people have gathered to mark the global day of action against Iraq’s occupation

Brandishing placards and banners, they chanted slogans against the US-led occupation of Iraq.

The rally, which at one point swelled to about six thousand people, included a large contingent of Muslims as well as other protesters dressed as George W. Bush and Prime Minister John Howard.

The former Australian intelligence expert turned federal political candidate, Andrew Wilkie, told protesters Iraq will continue to be unstable until all foreign troops are withdrawn.

Mr Wilkie, who is standing as a Greens candidate against the Prime Minister in the seat of Bennelong, says for every reported soldier’s death in Iraq, dozens of civilian deaths go unreported.

And he says it is not just Al Qaeda terrorists causing the violence, even though this is what the Australian and US governments would have people believe.

“Instead it is a complex combination of jihadists coming in, as they did come into Afghanistan during the 1980s when the Soviets occupied that land. But there is also a guerilla war against an army of occupation and we’re on the cusp of a genuine civil war, caused directly by the invasion.”

And around 1,000 anti-war protesters have gathered in Brisbane to demand an urgent withdrawal of troops
from Iraq.

Among the speakers at the rally was the federal Labor president Dr Carmen Lawrence, who warned Australia was paying a price for its involvement in the war.

But the Federal Defence Minister Robert Hill has defended Australia’s involvement in Iraq.

Senator Hill says he has never doubted the government’s decision to join the war in Iraq.

He says the war has made the world a safer place and given the Iraqi people the prospect of a better future.

Troops killed as Iraqi chaos deepens

The US military is struggling to contain the insurgency, with violence spreading to numerous towns in Shia and Sunni areas.

The man wanted for inciting the violence, firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has gone into hiding in the holy city of Najaf, where he remains surrounded by thousands of his supporters.

The Pentagon said Iraqi insurgents have launched a major assault on its forces in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing as many as 12 marines.

A Pentagon spokesman said dozens of insurgents took part in the Ramadi attack and there were significant casualties among them.
Ramadi lies in the “Sunni triangle” – a hotbed of anti-coalition activity.

More than 20 people were reported killed in a US air strike on Fallujah, another centre of Sunni resistance west of Baghdad.

Foreign troops have fought pitched battles with followers of Moqtada al-Sadr – his followers have vowed to persist with the uprising that has claimed more than 130 lives in three days.

The bloody clashes with Shiites are a new front for US-led forces already fighting an insurgency in Sunni areas and trying to pacify Iraq.

The US has set June 30 for a handover of sovereignty to an Iraqi government.

Qays al-Khazali, one of Mr Sadr’s aides, has compared the uprising to a 1991 Shiite rebellion eventually crushed by Saddam Hussein. He said it will go on until the cleric’s demands are met.

He said: “The uprising will continue and we will not negotiate unless they fulfil our demands, which are a withdrawal from populated areas and the release of prisoners.”

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, in London for talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said thousands more troops might be needed to maintain order.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that if commanders on the ground request additional forces, they will be sent.

“They will decide what they need and they will get what they want,” he said.

Amid the increasing insecurity, Iran has warned its nationals not to travel to neighbouring Iraq, even for brief pilgrimages to Shia Muslim holy sites, Iranian state media reported.

The unrest was triggered by the closure of Mr Sadr’s al-Hawza newspaper a week ago on the grounds that it was inciting violence.

A statement by the cleric, quoted by Reuters news agency, said: “This insurrection shows that the Iraqi people are not satisfied with the occupation and they will not accept oppression.”

High death rate among Korean war veterans

The study covered most of the 17-and-a-half-thousand Australian men who returned home after serving in the War, between 1950 and 1953.

It found at least 17,700 were dead, representing a mortality rate 21 per cent higher than expected in the general male population.

Gerry Harrison, president of a Korean War veterans’ group in South Australia, says he agrees with the study’s suggestion that part of the reason is exposure to excessive quantities of pesticides, solvents and other chemicals.

“We were faced with a lot of chemical sprays in Korea, which was never considered by the Australian government. When we took over positions from previous units, we found that a lot of the living areas were contaminated by lice, fleas, you name it, it was there.

“We had to use a lot of chemicals to kill them off. Sometimes, we even used to have to resort to using flame throwers.”

Mr Harrison says another reason for the veterans’ high mortality rates was combat stress — a factor only recognised after Australian troops returned from the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.

“In the 1950s, that was called war neurosis, shell shock, battle fatigue. You know, it had a lot of different names. It didn’t have “post-traumatic stress” as a name. It was only since the studies done by the Vietnam veterans that it’s been recognised as a prime concern for a lot of guys, being mentally stressed.”

The federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Dana Vale, says the study found increased mortality among the Korean veterans from cancer — and circulatory, respiratory and digestive diseases.

Ms Vale says the high mortality rate is despite the veterans’ access to comprehensive medical treatment.

The mortality rate study follows one which found a higher-than-average cancer rate among Australian Korean War veterans.

Ms Vale says the government will respond appropriately on completion of one more study — covering the general health of surviving veterans.

UK ‘chemical bomb plot foiled’

Intelligence and security services are said to have intercepted communications between members of a group thought to be sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

The group is reported to have been trying to obtain a combination of explosive and a highly toxic substance called osmium tetroxide.

However, the police have refused to comment on the story in any way – the story emerged in the USA and has been widely reported on both sides of the Atlantic.

Without naming its source, the BBC said the potential target was thought to be areas in which there would be concentrations of people, possibly within a confined space.

Osmium tetroxide is used mainly in research laboratories. It can attack soft human tissue and could blind anyone who breathed in its fumes or cause them to choke to death in agony, according to British and US press reports.

Britain’s Sky News network reported that intelligence sources, which it did not name, had confirmed a plan to launch a chemical attack in Britain had been prevented.

Sky added the security services were alerted after a mention of osmium tetroxide was picked up by a UK Government electronic listening centre in Cheltenham, southwest England.

Like the BBC, it did not say when the alleged plot had been thwarted.

Britain, a key ally of the United States in Iraq and in its “war on terror”, remains on a heightened state of alert against a feared attack on its soil, particularly following the Madrid bombings.

In another development, the Czech Republic said it was setting up a NATO-backed camp for foreign military to be trained in combating chemical attacks of the kind feared in London.

Before the end of the year, some 400 foreign military personnel – including Austrians, Estonians and Greeks – will attend the Vyskov camp, believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

Europe alert to terror threat

As Britain’s most senior police officer warned an attack was “inevitable”, France’s justice ministry said an unknown Muslim group had threatened to attack France and French interests abroad, triggering an official inquiry.

Le Parisien, the newspaper that received the threat, said the group had threatened reprisals because of a law banning Islamic headscarves from state schools.

French President Jacques Chirac said France was not currently a specific target, “but like all democracies, it is not immune from terrorist acts.”

And an opinion poll in Britain revealed Britons feel vulnerable because of their nation’s role in Iraq.

The opinion poll has indicated 75 percent of Britons feel vulnerable to attack, because of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s stance on Iraq.

It also found just one percent think Britain joining the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has made their country a safer place.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens, said police and security services have dramatically stepped up their anti-terrorist efforts, and London remains on a high state of alert. He has also urged all citizens to be vigilant.

He said: “We are talking about the tubes and the rail systems but we’re also talking about London generally.

“We’re talking about buses and we’re talking about anything of suspicion that is seen in clubs, nightclubs and the like.”

Sir John said he knew that police and security services had already stopped attacks from happening.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone said, “It would be miraculous if, with all the terrorist resources arranged against us, terrorists did not get through.”

The European Union’s Irish presidency has also bumped terrorism onto the agenda of an EU summit late next week.

The attacks in Madrid led to a surprise win for the Socialist Party and Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero lost no time in declaring he would pull Spanish troops out of Iraq in line with the vast majority of public opinion.

“If that is their decision, we can adapt readily to compensate for the loss of those forces,” said Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the top US commander in Iraq.

But President George W Bush, without directly mentioning Spain, called on foreign troops to stay.

“It’s essential that we remain side by side with the Iraqi people as they begin the process of self-government,” he said.

The FBI in Washington offered help in tracking down the Madrid killers, but said it was up to Spain to invite assistance.

In Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ordered the extension of anti-terrorism surveillance patrols across the entire Mediterranean, saying the move had been long planned but had taken on special relevance as a result of the Madrid bombings.

Spanish socialists win election

The Popular Party (PP) was headed for defeat in Sunday’s plebiscite after an official count of nearly 75 percent of the ballots showed the opposition Socialists with a clear lead.

The figures showed the PP with 37.1 percent and the Socialists (PSOE) with 43.3 percent, according to figures from the interior ministry.

The vote was played out against the highly emotional aftermath of last week’s Madrid railway massacre in which 200 people were killed.

PSOE secretary Jose Blanco said “it’s a clear victory in terms of votes and seats,” sparking euphoria at the party headquarters in Madrid.

The conservative Popular Party of outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, which was ahead in the polls only a week ago, apparently took a pasting because of its support for the United States in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Only a week ago, four public opinion polls predicted the Popular Party would win with a reduced majority.

The elections came three days after a series of bomb blasts on four Madrid commuter trains that provoked high emotions among many voters against the government.

The government’s support for the US-led occupation of Iraq apparently proved a liability after a statement attributed to al-Qaeda said this was the reason for carrying out the devastating attacks, in which 1,500 people were wounded.

Up to 90 percent of the population was against the Iraq war and occupation, to which Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has contributed 1,300 Spanish troops.

Mr Aznar was stepping down after two terms as prime minister having handed over the PP reins to former deputy Mariano Rajoy, who was up against PSOE rival Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Mosul endures surge of violence

Two civilian security guards – a Briton and a Canadian – were killed in a drive-by shooting in Iraq’s north on Sunday.

Iraqi police said masked men attacked the guards as they were travelling in a two-car convoy towards a power station serving the east of Mosul where the foreigners worked.

Three British engineers in the first car managed to drive into the compound as the shooting began and escaped unhurt but the second car got caught up in the automatic weapons fire.

Meanwhile, the only woman in Iraq’s interim government has escaped an assassination attempt, also near Mosul.

Police say three of public works minister Nasreen Barwari’s bodyguards were killed when unknown assailants opened fire with assault rifles on her convoy. A fourth bodyguard was wounded.

The 37-year-old is one of five Kurdish ministers in the interim government that is also made up of 13 Shi’ite Arabs, five Sunni Arabs, one Turkomen and one Christian.

Last September a woman member of Iraq’s interim Governing Council was gunned down in Baghdad.

In another development four Iraqis were killed and two US soldiers wounded today during a shootout in Mosul.

Gunmen opened fire on a US military police vehicle in the al-Hadbaa neighbourhood in north Mosul, said the US military.

Four gunmen were killed and two US troops received “non life-threatening wounds” and were transported to hospital, said a spokesman.

Mosul has been a hotbed of anti-coalition violence with near-daily attacks on US troops and their Iraqi allies.

In further violence a police chief survived an assassination attempt on the outskirts of Mosul, but several people were hurt when his bodyguards traded fire with the assailants.

“There was an assassination attempt early this evening (Sunday) targeting Major General Mohammed Khairi al-Barhawi, the police chief of Nineveh governorate,” said Colonel Mozahem Khalaf Abdelrahman.

Unknown gunmen also shot and wounded a Lebanese telecommunications expert in the leg on Sunday in Mosul, Iraqi police and medical sources said.

Elsewhere, a US soldier and at least five Iraqis were wounded in separate bomb attacks across the country.

A roadside bomb near the flashpoint town of Fallujah seriously damaged one vehicle as a US military convoy passed by, a witness said.

In Baghdad, US administrator Paul Bremer turned over the keys of the first of Iraq’s 25 ministries to interim health minister Khidr Abbas, less than a fortnight before the first anniversary of the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

But hundreds of followers of a firebrand Shiite Muslim leader burned an American flag in an angry protest in the capital Sunday after the coalition shut down his newspaper for 60 days for inciting violence.

Mourning begins in Spain

Ten explosions ripped apart four commuter trains during rush hour in the worst terror attack in Europe since the Lockerbie airliner bombing in 1988 that killed 270.

Almost 24 hours after the blasts, around sixty victims had not been identified. A makeshift morgue has been set up in the exhibition centre in Madrid.

Meanwhile, the interior ministry published on its website a list of the names of 1,175 of the more than 1,400 people who survived with injuries. Around 370 of the injured remain hospitalized, 45 of them in a critical state and 15 in a very serious condition.

Madrid’s hotel association and two hotel chains have offered to accommodate families of the victims free of charge.

The Spanish government was quick to blame the Basque separatist group, ETA. Acting with unusual haste the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution blaming the group after diplomats said they accepted the accusation put forward by Madrid.

Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio today told French radio on Friday that “everything appears to indicate” that ETA was behind the blasts.

However, ETA has denied responsibility for the attack.

Investigatons continue and authorities have not ruled out the possibility that the attack was orchestrated by Al-Qaeda. A letter purporting to be from a group linked to Al-Qaeda was sent to a London newspaper claiming responsibility for the bombings.

Spanish authorities also found a van with detonators and an Arabic-language audiotape in Alcala de Henares, 15 miles outside Madrid. The vehicle was stolen from the city on 28 February.

Spain was a strong supporter of the US-led war on terrorism following September 11.

The possibility of Al-Qaeda involvement sent sharemarkets plummeting.

The Dow Jones index slid more than one percent, following European indices down. Share prices in Tokyo opened 1.18 percent lower on Friday and Australian shares also eased.

Meanwhile, leaders from around the world have expressed their condolences.

A nationwide rally will be held on Friday, beginning at 7pm local time which the Spanish government said would show solidarity “with the victims, with the constitution and for the defeat of terrorism”.


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