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Nation World


OMAR AL-BASHIR Sudan’s wanted man

KHARTOUM (TIME) – Sudan’s President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, reckons that being on the run is easy. In March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the conflict in Darfur, where at least 200,000 people have died since 2003 in a campaign that the Bush Administration described as government-sponsored genocide. The ICC indictments, the first to be handed down against a sitting head of state, obligate the world’s nations to arrest al-Bashir on sight. And yet, he points out, he has attended summits and meetings in seven African and Arab countries over the past few months. “I have not felt [any] restrictions of movement,” al-Bashir told TIME in an interview that took place in the colonial-era presidential palace in Khartoum in early August. “A President has his deputies, assistants and his specialized ministers, so it’s not necessary for [him] to travel to every country. But I have traveled all necessary travels.”

The ICC sees things differently. Going after rulers like al-Bashir may not lead to an immediate arrest, says the court and its backers, but it makes them pariahs and isolates them. Since the indictment, al-Bashir hasn’t set foot in any country that takes its obligation to the court seriously, and although the 52-member African Union last month declared solidarity with al-Bashir against the ICC, a small but growing number of African countries — Uganda is the latest — say they could arrest him if he tries to cross their borders. “It could take two months or two years,” says the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. “But President Bashir’s destiny is to face justice.”

Sitting in a gilded chair upholstered in white leather, al-Bashir didn’t appear worried. The former paratrooper came to power as part of a 1989 military coup that introduced a strict Islamic legal code to Sudan. Since then, he has survived U.S. bombings (ordered by President Bill Clinton on suspicion that Khartoum had ongoing ties to Osama bin Laden), accusations that Sudan practices slavery, a long-running civil war and the bloody conflict in Darfur. It helps that the country’s fast-growing oil industry, closer ties to China and a peace deal to end the civil war have fueled strong economic growth over the past few years. If it weren’t for the Darfur crisis, al-Bashir might now be reaping the rewards of a rapprochement with the West.

The President said the problems in Darfur, a vast western province inhabited by both Arabs and Africans, began when rebels attacked government offices and security forces. “Any government in the world, when facing an armed rebellion, has a constitutional, legal and moral obligation to resist those militants,” he said. Mistakes have been made, he conceded, but the commanders responsible have been tried and punished. “The U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan mistakenly bombed a wedding and killed 147 civilians. But you cannot say that the U.S. President should be tried for this because he is the Commander in Chief of U.S. forces,” al-Bashir told TIME. “Not even the [U.S.] head of Chiefs of Staff would be put to trial.” The ICC, he said, “is a tool to terrorize countries that the West thinks are disobedient.”

That’s rubbish, says Moreno-Ocampo. “Al-Bashir killed thousands of people saying ‘You’re black, you’re African’ ... The shame would be if this court ignored the victims of Darfur.”

There’s another reason to go after al-Bashir: to put pressure on him. Over the past few months, Sudan has begun to play ball with the West, even as it has shouted that it isn’t doing so. The government has entered new peace talks on Darfur and in June announced that it would allow nongovernmental organizations back into the region following a three-month ban. At the same time, Washington has relaxed a few of its positions on Sudan. Special envoy Scott Gration recently told Congress that there was no evidence to support the U.S. designation that Sudan is a state sponsor of terrorism. Gration has also said that the situation in Darfur is no longer a genocide but only the “remnants” of one.

Assuming he stays out of the ICC’s reach, al-Bashir faces a public trial of a different sort next year: a presidential election. Insiders say he wants to step down but that those around him want him to stay for another term. “Political work in Sudan, as I see it, is not a comfortable task,” he said. “It is tiring, exhausting and with great responsibilities. I used to tell some Presidents whose periods had ended that the best thing is to be a ‘former President’ — someone who is respected, appreciated and without any responsibilities.” Andrew Natsios, who was a special envoy to Sudan during the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency, says al-Bashir’s power inside Sudan’s ruling political faction has ebbed over the past couple of years. There are things he doesn’t control. “It is not possible for a President in a country like Sudan, the size of Sudan, with the immense problems of Sudan, to administer and manage everything,” said al-Bashir. “I don’t follow the details. No one can follow the details in a country like Sudan.” Of course, denying control is a useful argument when you’re wanted on war-crimes charges.

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New planet displays exotic orbit

(BBC News) – Astronomers have discovered the first planet that orbits in the opposite direction to the spin of its star.
Planets form out of the same swirling gas cloud that creates a star, so they are expected to orbit in the same direction that the star rotates.

The new planet is thought to have been flung into its “retrograde” orbit by a close encounter with either another planet or with a passing star.

The work has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal for publication.
Co-author Coel Hellier, from Keele University in Staffordshire, UK, said planets with retrograde orbits were thought to be rare.
“With everything [in the star system] swirling around the same way and the star spinning the same way, you have to do quite a lot to it to make it go in the opposite direction,” he told BBC News.

The direction of orbit is known for roughly a dozen exoplanets (planets outside our solar system). This is the only example with a retrograde orbit. All others are prograde; they orbit in the same direction as the spin of their star.
Professor Hellier said a near-collision was probably responsible for this planet’s unusual orbit.

“If you have a near-collision, then you’ll have a large gravitational slingshot from that interaction,” he explained.
“This is the likeliest explanation. But it might be possible you can do it by gradually perturbing the orbit through the influence of a second planet. So far, we haven’t found any evidence of a second planet there.”
The new object has been named WASP-17b. It is the 17th exoplanet to have been discovered by the Wide Area Search for Planets (WASP) consortium of UK universities.

The gas giant is about twice the size of Jupiter, but has about half the mass.
WASP-17b was detected using an array of cameras set up to monitor hundreds of thousands of stars.
Astronomers were searching for small dips in light from these stars that occur when a planet passes in front of them. When this happens, the planets are said to transit their parent star.
A team from Geneva Observatory in Switzerland then looked for spectral signs that the star was wobbling due to gravitational tugs from an orbiting planet.

“If you look at how the spectrum of the star changes when the planet transits across it, you can work out which way the planet is travelling,” Professor Hellier added.
“That allows you to prove that it’s in a retrograde orbit.”
The size of the dip in light from the star during the transit allowed astronomers to work out the planet’s radius.
To work out how massive it was, they recorded the motion of the star as it was tugged on by the orbiting planet.

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India’s forgotten and abandoned patients

(BBC News) – Eastern India’s most prominent mental health institute, in the city of Ranchi, has recently published a list of 98 patients “abandoned” by their families. They were brought here for treatment and even though they are now stable, they are languishing because their families refuse to take them. The BBC’s Geeta Pandey reports.
A group of women stand in a hall, praying: “God, give us strength, to conquer our minds. Before we conquer others, let us conquer ourselves.”

Among the women is Laxmi Jaiswal. Her advanced age is etched in the lines of her face. “I’ve been here a very long time, at least 20 years,” she tells me. Hospital records show that it is even longer than that – 23 years and two months.
In the years that Laxmi has been incarcerated, she has not had a single visitor. She was initially diagnosed with schizophrenia. After she stabilised, several letters were sent to her address, but there has been no response from the family.
She doesn’t discuss her life with other inmates. “I keep it buried in my heart. If I were to tell anyone, will they be able to return me my family?” she asks.

Gently nudged by Sister Celine, the supervisor of the hospital’s female ward, she pours out her heart to me.
“My brother-in-law brought me here. He didn’t get along with my husband. I had children, whereas he didn’t have any. He didn’t like that. He snatched my children from me, and dumped me in this madhouse. My husband did not intervene,” she says.
Laxmi has spent a better part of her life in the institute, forgotten by her family and the outside world.
“We had a large farm in Bihar and my husband used to sell tobacco. I have no idea where he is now or why he never came to see me. He must have taken a second wife, or maybe a third one.”

Laxmi is mother to five boys and six girls. “They must be all grown up now. I miss them,” she says, tears clouding her eyes.
Although abandoned by her family, Laxmi is yet to abandon hope. Recently, she told the hospital staff that one of her sons was living in Ranchi’s Upper Bazar area.
“It’s a very congested area, we spent an entire day there, but the patient was unable to identify the house. She named a pond, then a market, then a by-lane, but we couldn’t trace her home,” Sister Celine says.
“She’s an old woman, she’s been here far too long. It can happen to us. Even if you or I go somewhere after a long time, we may not be able to recognise the place,” she says.

In this 500-bed hospital, Laxmi and Agnes are among the 98 people on the list of abandoned patients.
Clinical psychologist at the hospital Amul Ranjan Singh says the reason why families reject a patient is because in India there is a stigma attached to mental illness.

Most people believe that once a person develops a mental illness, he or she can never be cured.
“There’s a myth that a mental health patient cannot do day-to-day activities or earn a livelihood. And a majority of our patients come from poor families who believe that these people won’t be productive economically.”
Hospital staff say some patients are found wandering on the streets and are brought in by the police and there are no records of where they came from.

Then, it all depends on what the patient remembers once he or she is stable. Sometimes, they are able to remember and give their details, but sometimes memory lapses result in mistakes.
“Sometimes the families refuse, outright, to take the patient back. How do we tell a family that the patient is theirs if they refuse?” Sister Celine asks.

For the patients though, coping with rejection can be a very painful affair.
“They go into denial,” says Dr Singh. “And there are two ways of denial – either they deny the existence of their family, or they deny their attitude towards them.

“Specially the female patients never forget and they keep expecting that somebody will come for them. Males easily agree that probably there’s nobody around who will come, and they say, I don’t want to go back home.
“Sometimes after a few months, you find the same patient roaming in front of the institute. Their families come and leave them here. This is pathetic. We take them back in and try to give them a life of dignity here,” he says.
The hospital’s sprawling campus is divided into separate male and female wards - 150 places are reserved for women and the number of male patients is 350.

The male ward has nearly three dozen “abandoned” patients.
Here I meet Budhwa Munda, weaving cloth on a loom. He’s 62 and has spent 36 years in the hospital. “He has grown old here,” says caretaker Jehangir.
Budhwa was brought to the hospital in 1973 by the police and letters sent to the authorities have gone unanswered.
Budhwa doesn’t talk at all, he speaks only with gestures if he needs anything, and Jehangir says they have no idea about his family.

Working on the loom alongside Budhwa is Ramji. He was brought to the hospital by his family when he was a boy.
“When he came here, he had no facial hair. Today, he’s greying, so you can make out how long he’s been here,” says Jehangir.
At the time of his admission, his family wrote down a false address and no one has ever come to see him. Letters sent to the address have all come back.

“Please take me home,” Ramji appeals to me as soon as he sees me. “Send someone with me who will take me by the hand and put me on a bus. He can drop me home and come back. I’ll return a year later.”
I’m perhaps the only visitor Ramji has had in a long time. Or maybe ever. He follows me around as I move on to speak to others. His desperation, and the hope in his eyes, is gut wrenching.
For these abandoned men and women here, home’s a far away place, a chimera, a mirage. And it will perhaps remain out of reach for most of them, forever.

Laxmi, however, seems to have come to terms with her reality. “Since this is the place I have been mandated to live in, I will live here till the day I die. After that I will meet my maker.”

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Lockerbie: Families at war as dying bomber’s
planned release splits relatives

(Mail Online) – A furious transatlantic row raged last night between the families of the Lockerbie victims over plans to release on compassionate grounds the only man convicted of Britain’s worst terrorist attack.
The Scottish government is said to be close to announcing that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, a Libyan who is serving a life term with a minimum of 27 years, will be freed next week because he is gravely ill with terminal prostate cancer.

It is believed there are plans for the 57-year-old former intelligence officer, who was convicted of the 1988 bombing which claimed 270 lives, to be returned to Tripoli next week in time for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
There were immediate suspicions that the release had in fact been brokered behind the scenes last month during a meeting at the G8 summit in Italy between Gordon Brown and Libya’s one-time pariah leader Muammar Gaddafi.
He will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the revolution that swept him to power next month and there were fears he would use Megrahi’s return as a propaganda coup.

American relatives of victims of the bombing of Pan Am 103 reacted with shock and disgust to the likely release. Their lawyers will examine if a legal challenge can be mounted to block Megrahi’s release.
Susan Cohen, of New Jersey, whose 20-year-old daughter Theodora died in the attack, said: ‘This is total, pure, ugly appeasement of a terrorist dictator and a monster.’
She said Gaddafi would feel vindicated if the convicted bomber could return to Libya.
‘Megrahi would be a star,’ she said, ‘and we will be left here in ashes and suffering. It makes me sick, and if there is a compassionate release then I think that is vile.’

Kathleen Flynn, also of New Jersey, who lost a son in the bombing, said: ‘It is terrible to think that someone who was responsible for the bombing could be released on compassionate grounds.’
Bob Monetti, a past president of the organisation Victims of Flight 103, who lost his 20-year-old son Richard, said: ‘We understand that Megrahi was just a tool in this.
‘We would really rather see Gaddafi in jail but Megrahi was the one who was convicted... so I am happy to see him in jail and not happy to see him anywhere else.’
The reaction of relatives in the U.S. was in marked contrast to their British counterparts – many of whom doubt that Megrahi is guilty and backed his release.

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died, said: ‘I am someone who does not believe he is guilty. The sooner he is back with his family, the better. Everything points to a miscarriage of justice in the case.
‘On reasonable human grounds it is the right thing to do and if it’s true that he is to be returned on compassionate grounds, then that would be more to Scotland’s credit than returning him under the prisoner transfer agreement.’
Martin Cadman, who lost his 32-year-old son Bill, said: ‘I think he is innocent and even if he were not, I still think it’s the right thing to do on compassionate grounds.’
He said Americans convinced of Megrahi’s guilt and sceptical of his illness should ‘get real’.
‘(They should) remember that the likely cause of the bombing was the shooting down by an American ship of an Iranian Airbus in 1988,’ he said.
awyers for the Libyan have launched a second appeal against the conviction and have requested his release on compassionate grounds.

A separate application has been made for him to be transferred to serve the rest of his sentence in a Libyan jail.
Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who has the final say on whether Megrahi should be transferred or released from Greenock prison, claimed yesterday that he had still to make the final decision.
It is understood that British and Libyan officials have held talks over how any release would be handled. A prisoner transfer request was made by Libya last May, less than a week after a treaty allowing prisoners to be transferred between the two countries was ratified.

Megrahi was convicted by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands in 2001. A second Libyan was acquitted.
Since his conviction, the dynamics of the relationship between Libya and the West have changed. A massive compensation package was paid to the families of those killed.
Gaddafi engineered a rapprochement with his former critics following the 9/11 terror attacks. In 2004 the then Prime Minister Tony Blair met Gaddafi twice, bringing him in from international isolation.

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Kids’ top searches include ‘porn’

(BBC News) – A survey of children’s web habits shows that “sex” and “porn” are among the top 10 most-searched terms.
The study logged webpage visits through security firm Symantec’s OnlineFamily.Norton, a web-monitoring service for parents.
Video website YouTube topped the list, as did search engines Google and Yahoo, along with social networking sites Facebook and MySpace.

The survey scanned 3.5 million searches between February 2008 and July 2009.
In a statement Symantec’s internet safety advocate, Marian Merritt, said that with the service, “parents can stay in the loop on what their kids are doing online”.
“It also helps identify ‘teachable moments’ when parents should be talking with their kids about appropriate online behaviour and other issues in their kids’ online lives.”
One unexpected term in the top 10 is “Fred” - the internet name for a young performer whose YouTube channel is a favourite among young web users.

Terms such as “sex” and “porn” often figure in strongly when searches are ranked by popularity - with a notable exception being a survey in 2008 showing that they did not reach the top ten among Google users in China. Ms Merritt said that the findings of the recent survey are not all that shocking.

“Any of us who have been teenagers are not surprised kids look for information about sex,” Ms Merritt told AFP news agency.
“I think we have all gotten over our shock that the Internet has porn.”

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