China’s Communist Party Congress to close Sunday

BEIJING (AFP) - China’s most important political event in five years, the Communist Party Congress, is scheduled to close on Sunday with the new leadership expected to be announced soon afterwards.
At the close of the congress -- which determines the party’s future agenda and approves a new leadership -- a new central committee will be announced, who will then pick China’s top leaders for the next five years.
Members of the central committee -- around 200 senior cadres who can have a say in key party decisions -- are expected to choose members for the powerful Politburo and the elite Politburo Standing Committee in its first plenum on Monday.
State media said Saturday the Communist Party had granted its party council marginally more say in electing its leadership this year, hailing it as “a sign of progress of intra-party democracy.”
In line with the party’s election tradition, past congresses have allotted slightly more candidates than positions on the central committee and then a small number of officials will be eliminated after votes.
This year, the number of candidates exceeded the number of seats by eight percent, compared with last year’s 5.1 percent, Xinhua news agency said.
In President Hu Jintao’s opening speech on Monday, he emphasised the importance of “intra-party democracy,” meaning more transparency and competition within party ranks. Hu will however almost certainly receive another five-year term after the week-long meeting, which will produce possible successors to take over from him in 2012. Hu on Monday outlined the party’s major priorities, emphasising the need to pay greater attention to imbalances caused by China’s rapid development. He called for a peace agreement with rival Taiwan, a quadrupling of China’s economy by 2020, a crackdown on corruption, greater energy conservation and environmental protection and efforts to spread the economic boom’s benefits more fairly throughout society.


Dutch general urges extension of Afghan mission: report

THE HAGUE (AFP) - The head of the Dutch armed forces has advised the government to extend their military mission in Afghanistan for two years, in a confidential memo reported by a newspaper here Saturday.
At the same time, General Dick Berlijn called for the deployment to be cut to 1,200 to free up troops for other international military operations, De Telegraaf reported.
Some 1,500 Dutch troops have been deployed in the southern Afghan province of Oruzgan since August 2006 as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).


Iran to fire ‘11,000 rockets in minute’ if attacked

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran warned on Saturday it would fire off 11,000 rockets at enemy bases within the space of a minute if the United States launched military action against the Islamic republic.
“In the first minute of an invasion by the enemy, 11,000 rockets and cannons would be fired at enemy bases,” said a brigadier general in the elite Revolutionary Guards, Mahmoud Chaharbaghi.
“This volume and speed of firing would continue,” added Chaharbaghi, who is commander of artillery and missiles of the Guards’ ground forces, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
The United States has never ruled out attacking Iran to end its defiance over the controversial Iranian nuclear programme, which the US alleges is aimed at making nuclear weapons but Iran insists is entirely peaceful.
Iran has for its part vowed never to initiate an attack but has also warned of a crushing response to any act of aggression against its soil.
“If a war breaks out in the future, it will not last long because we will rub their noses in the dirt,” said Chaharbaghi.
“Now the enemy should ask themselves how many of their people they are ready to have sacrificed for their stupidity in attacking Iran,” he said.
Iranian officials have repeatedly warned the military would target the bases of US forces operating in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan in the event of any attack and already has these sites under close surveillance.
Chaharbaghi said that the Guards would soon receive “rockets with a range of 250 kilometres (155 miles)” whereas the current range of its rockets is 150 kilometres (91 miles).
“We have identified our targets and with a close surveillance of targets, we can respond to the enemy’s stupidity immediately,” Chaharbaghi added. He said that the Guards’ weapons were spread out throughout the country and so would not be affected by any isolated US strikes against military facilities.


Iraq parliament looks to condemn Turkey

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq’s parliament on Saturday discussed a motion condemning Turkey for threatening an incursion to crack down on Kurdish rebels as Baghdad and Ankara were said to be considering a joint operation.
Lawmakers failed to agree on the wording of the motion that would condemn Turkey’s parliament for authorising its military to cross the mountainous border to hunt down rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“The Iraqi parliament did not reach a final formula for the draft statement presented by the parliament presidency committee,” speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani said.
“The heads of the blocs at the parliament were asked to make other amendments and voting shall take place either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” he said.
The Turkish parliament on Wednesday approved a motion authorising military strikes for a one-year period against PKK rebels, ethnic Kurds who use northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks across the border in Turkey. Shiite lawmaker Samira Mussawi told AFP the disagreement in parliament stemmed from the fact that while many were angry at the developments in Turkey they did not want their motion to further inflame the situation.
“The parliament condemns the Turkish threats which cannot help in enhancing good neighbourly relations between the two countries,” said the original draft text being worked on, according to a copy obtained by AFP.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al-Maliki had proposed joint action to crack down on the PKK rebels.


Saner counsel from Europe

BEIRUT: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (L) gestures as he speaks to the press along with his Spanish counterpart Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos (C) and Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema (R) following their meeting with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. The three foreign ministers arrived in Beirut late yesterday in the latest international bid to end a standoff between the Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition that is preventing the election of a president (AFP)