|Children ‘armed’ to teeth in
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Try as he might,
Baghdad businessman Ibrahim Georges can’t persuade his
11-year-old daughter Sandy to lay down her arms in favour of
something less hostile, such as a doll.
“She loves her gun,” Georges said as Sandy, short-haired and
dressed in long trousers and T-shirt, proudly displayed a
menacing GC toy automatic rifle that, according to a bold stamp
on the side, was made in China.
“She never plays with dolls,” added Georges ruefully, outside
their home in a quiet residential street in the relatively calm
western Karrada suburb.
“It has laser and can fire on regular or on automatic,” said
Sandy, brandishing the gun that can spit out 6mm BB pellets hard
enough to take out an eye and is sold in a box carrying a
warning, “The best for 18 and up.”
“All the children in the streets have toy guns,” said Georges
with a shrug, pointing to a gang of boys with whom he said his
daughter plays “cops and robbers.”
“They see adults carrying guns all the time. Who can blame
Children’s make-believe war games, which often reflect the
sectarian conflict raging across Iraq, have alarmed some parents
and educators, and the government has expressed concern at the
flood of toy weapons on the streets.
Earlier this year, Trade Minister Abed Falah al-Sudani
considered banning the toys because they look so realistic.
However, given the seeming impossibility of the task, he appears
to have shelved the idea.
Whether invented by parents to scare their children or whether
it really happened, children all know the reason it would,
perhaps, not be a good idea to point a plastic weapon anywhere
near a US soldier.
“One boy was killed by an American soldier who mistook his toy
for a real gun,” said one of Sandy’s friends, who gave his name
as Zain and his age as 12, parroting the correct answer.
According to shopkeeper Uday Mohammed, the incident really did
happen “about a year ago in Diyala province,” which is why he
warns children buying guns from his store to be ultra careful
about displaying them in public.
Mohammed said toy guns are his biggest sellers by far, and that
there had been a run on imitation weapons during the just-ended
Eid al-Fitr Muslim festival, when children are given new clothes
“I normally sell 10 to 12 guns a day,” he said, pointing to a
range of weapons in boxes ranging from plastic pistols and crude
weapons that shoot rubber darts, to an ultra-sophisticated
automatic rifle that boasts laser, an “infrared callimater” and
“But over Eid we sold many, many more,” he said. “If the
children were not coming in to buy guns, they were coming in to
Prices range from 5,000 to 40,000 dinars (four to 32 dollars),
but the favourite, according to 24-year-old Mohammed, is the
MP7AI rifle, reasonably priced at 10,000 dinars.
“It is cheaper and it is the type of rifle children see in
American movies; that’s why it is so popular,” said the computer
engineer who is selling toys because he cannot find work in his
own specialised sphere.
He said he was concerned at the increasing demand for toy guns,
even though it was helping keep the tills jingling.
“I don’t think it is good; children become aggressive when they
play with guns,” he said. “Children are seeing too many people
with guns -- from the police to the army to the militias.”
The only psychological study carried out in Iraq since the
US-led invasion in 2003 was on children by the Association of
Psychologists of Iraq (API) early last year. It found that the
violence was profoundly affecting them.
“The only things they have on their minds are guns, bullets,
death and a fear of the US occupation,” said API spokesman
Marwan Abdullah when he released the report.
Up in Baghdad’s northeastern suburb of Al-Shab, a Shiite bastion
of the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical anti-American cleric
Moqtada al-Sadr, young children too are pre-occupied with guns.
“I like toy guns; they are nice. We play cops and robbers
chasing each others. All of my friends are carrying toy guns
too,” said Riyadh, eight.
He added, with a shy smile, that he feels a hero carrying a gun,
“just like the heroes in ‘Space Toon’ television.”
His neighbour, 10-year-old Haider, has another reason to play
with his toy gun.
“I love it. I like holding it and going outside to kill
evildoers. I like to go outside at night like my uncle (a member
of the Mahdi Army),” said the boy wearing a ragged T-shirt.
Not far away in Sadr City. In the vast ghetto where Sadr is
considered a hero and his militia calls the shots, children in
their war games reflect the bitter sectarian divides -- one side
gets to be Shiite militiamen, the other Sunni insurgents.
In other neighbourhoods, it’s police versus “terrorists”, or
army versus Al-Qaeda, according to local news reports.
Another vendor, Hassan, 27, runs a stall in Bab al-Sharji in the
centre of Baghdad. He confirmed that guns are the all-time
favourites with children, male or female.
“Children prefer guns to trains, balls or radios,” he said.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator resigns
(AFP) - Iran’s top negotiator on its controversial
nuclear programme, Ali Larijani, has resigned, the state news
agency IRNA reported on Saturday, quoting the Islamic republic’s
“Larijani had resigned several times and finally the president (Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad) accepted his resignation,” Gholam Hossein Elham was
quoted as saying.
“The appointment of Larijani’s replacement is under study,” he
Elham added that Iran’s meeting with EU foreign policy chief
Javier Solana will go ahead “as scheduled with the new head of
supreme national security council,” which was headed by Larijani
as his official title.
Larijani said earlier this week that he would hold fresh talks
with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana next Tuesday in Rome
on Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West.
On Friday, Iranian media reported that President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad denied his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has
made a proposal over Iran’s atomic programme, contradicting
Larijani had said on Wednesday that Putin made a special
proposal to break the deadlock over the nuclear programme in
talks with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his
landmark visit to Iran this week.
But Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars
news agency: “There was no nuclear proposal.”
Ahmadinejad did not explain his contradiction of the remarks by
Larijani, an influential figure in the Islamic republic who is
also an ex-head of state broadcasting.
Despite several meetings during the past year, Larijani and
Solana have not overcome the deadlock over Tehran’s refusal to
suspend its sensitive uranium enrichment activities.
Solana must report to major world powers Britain, France,
Germany, Russia, China and the United States before mid-November
on Iran’s willingness to give up uranium enrichment in exchange
for political and trade incentives.
The West, led by the United States, believes that Iran’s nuclear
programme is cover for a drive to develop an atomic bomb, but
Tehran insists it is for civilian objectives only.
Suspected pedophile was ‘person of
interest’ in Canada
(AFP) - Canadian schoolteacher accused of sexually
abusing boys across Southeast Asia and arrested in Thailand
Friday was a “person of interest” for police in his native
province of British Columbia, officials said.
“It appears that he was a person of interest since 2004,” Annie
Linteau, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP),
“We’re certainly interested here, but we are unable to confirm
or deny that there is an ongoing investigation,” Linteau added
Local media reported that federal authorities have received
complaints from residents of the Vancouver area, saying they
have been victims of sexual harassment on the part of
Christopher Paul Neil.
CBC television reported many young boys have complained about
Neil’s sexual advances, but no formal charges had been filed.
If sexual assault of harassment charges are brought against Neil
in Canada, Ottawa could ask for his extradition.
A worldwide search for Neil began just 10 days ago with an
appeal from Interpol for the public’s help in tracking down the
man seen in 200 photos on the Internet that appeared to show him
abusing a dozen young boys.
Neil, who is from the Vancouver suburb of Maple Ridge, was
arrested in Thailand’s third-largest city, Nakhon Ratchasima.
Myanmar under fresh pressure after new US
YANGON (AFP) - Military-run Myanmar was under renewed
pressure Saturday after the United States announced a new round
of sanctions following the junta’s bloody crackdown on dissent
US President George W. Bush’s new penalties targeted the
country’s military leaders late Friday and also urged China and
India, Myanmar’s neighbours and main allies, to step up pressure
on the military government.
It is the second time in four weeks that the United States has
increased sanctions on the junta following the regime’s
clampdown on protests.
State media in Yangon has yet to speak about the latest US
action, while detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s
opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), also
declined to comment on the move.
However, a Yangon-based diplomat voiced scepticism over the
impact of the latest US sanctions designed to pressure the junta
into ending its repression of pro-democracy activists.
“The junta leaders may feel nervous because the United States
was stepping up pressure very quickly,” said the diplomat, who
declined to be named.
“But the impact of the latest US sanctions is limited at best. I
don’t think Myanmar’s top leaders still hold vast assets in the
United States,” he said.
The military government has been under international pressure
since it violently put down peaceful protests, led by Buddhist
monks, in Yangon on September 26, killing at least 13 people and
detaining some 3,000 people.
In the wake of the violence, the United States ordered a freeze
on the assets of 14 top officials, including Myanmar’s junta
leader General Than Shwe.
On Friday, Washington further tightened sanctions by adding 11
more junta leaders, including 10 government ministers, to the
existing list of 14 officials whose US assets have been frozen.
Anti-junta rallies began in August following a massive hike in
fuel prices and snowballed into the biggest challenge to the
iron-fisted regime in nearly two decades.
The bloody crackdown sparked global outrage against the junta,
with the United States and the European Union tightening
sanctions, while the United Nations also urged the regime to
open talks with Aung San Suu Kyi.
The United States has imposed sanctions due to Myanmar’s rights
abuses, including the detention of 62-year-old Nobel peace prize
winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the past 18 years
under house arrest in Yangon.
Aung San Suu Kyi has publicly discouraged foreign investment in
Myanmar in a bid to pile pressure on the military, which has
ruled the Southeast Asian country since 1962.
But the impact of the sanctions has been weakened by the
eagerness of China, India and Thailand to tap Myanmar’s rich
natural wealth to fuel their own growing economies.
Criminal’ Blackwater must leave, others can
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq repeated a call for US firm
Blackwater to leave on Saturday almost five weeks after its
guards killed as many as 17 civilians, but said it had no
problem with other companies that obeyed the law.
“The Iraqi government doesn’t want Blackwater to stay in Iraq,”
said a statement from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s spokesman
Ali al-Dabbagh. “There is popular anger against this company
because of the crime they committed.”
On September 16, Blackwater guards protecting a US State
Department convoy unleashed a hail of bullets in a crowded
Baghdad square and killed as many as 17 civilians when they
thought they were being ambushed.
Blackwater boss Erik Prince has rejected an Iraqi report that
said the killings were unprovoked, insisting that his men were
“The government is not against security contractors as long as
companies stick to the law,” Dabbagh’s statement said.
The Baghdad government, which since the Blackwater incident has
drafted a law that would regulate the activities of private
security contractors, said there must be criteria to punish such
companies if they mess up.