|Dutch cabinet falls
over Afghan row
Al Jazeera - The Netherlands’
coalition government has collapsed after the two largest
parties failed to agree on whether to withdraw Dutch troops
from Afghanistan later this year, as had been planned.
The cabinet of Jan Peter Balkenende, the prime minister,
fell apart early on Saturday following 16 hours of talks in
“Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work
together. There is no road along which this cabinet to go
further,” Balkenende said.
Balkenende’s centre-right Christian Democrat (CDA), the
bigger partner in the coalition, had suggested keeping a
reduced force in Afghanistan for a year past the August 2010
That was met with opposition from the Labour Party of Wouter
Bos, the deputy prime minister. Bos said: “A plan was agreed
to when our soldiers went to Afghanistan. Our partners in
the government didn’t want to stick to that plan, and on the
basis of their refusal we have decided to resign from this
The Dutch mission, based Afghanistan’s Uruzgan
province, began in August 2006. Since then, 21 Dutch
soldiers have been killed there. The political collapse all
but guarantees the Dutch troops will be withdrawn at the end
of their mandate in August. James Bays, Al Jazeera’s
correspondent reporting from Afghanistan, said that if the
Dutch troops were to pull out it would cause problems for
the current operations against the Taliban and prompt other
nations to consider leaving.
Charade continues with
Dalai Lama-Obama meeting
In what is now a well choreographed drama US President
Barack Obama met with the spiritual leader of Tibet the
Dalai Lama last week at the White House. Since 1990 every US
President has met with the Dalai Lama and ever since then
the meetings have gone according to an almost identical
script. The Chinese would vehemently oppose the meeting, the
US would go ahead anyway, usually without much pomp and
pageantry usually associated with a head of state, there
would be a few days of protest and counter protest and
usually things would go back to normal, nothing much would
happen in Tibet for its people or for their aspiration to be
free of Chinese occupation or the ties between China and the
US would not be damaged beyond a few heated editorials. This
time around too the charade seems to be going according to
the normal script which is most likely is going to be
forgotten in a few weeks time.
President Obama spent more than an hour with the Dalai Lama
during his meeting which was held in the Map Room of the
White House which is considered less formal than the Oval
Office and reporters and cameramen were banned. Officials
issued a single photo of the two men. This is in contrast to
a visit by a head of state where the White House carries out
a different set of protocol rules. The message is clearly a
balancing act. The meeting is intended for a domestic
audience which for years have identified with the Tibetan
course and human rights activists who demand that the US
should be doing more to bring China in line with
internationally accepted human rights standards in its
handling of the Tibetan issue. On the other hand, the US and
especially its ruling administration has to live in the real
world. It is a world in which China is its largest trading
partner and more importantly its biggest lender. Simply put,
it is on Chinese goods that America drives its consumer
driven economy and it is fueled by Chinese credit which is
pumped in to the US economy to service the country’s massive
debt. Human rights or domestic politics cannot allow the US
to forget these realities of life.
During the meeting President Obama voiced support for
“Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity
and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the
People’s Republic of China” and encouraged the Dalai Lama to
continue seeking dialogue with China. However, after the
meeting the Dalai Lama called the Chinese Government’s
policy towards Tibet “childish” which he said has limited
the approach to Tibetan efforts for greater rights within
China. For many years the spiritual leader of the Tibetan
people have given up on a call for independence from China
in exchange for greater autonomy for the region and for the
preservation of the Tibetan culture and traditions. Neither
of these calls has been heeded by the Chinese. The Dalai
Lama says he is not frustrated that there has been so little
progress on Tibetans’ demands for greater autonomy. He says
that Tibetans will never give up on their cause, even if
progress comes after his lifetime.
Non-violent approach for self-determination
For at least 1500 years, the nation of Tibet has had a
complex relationship with its large and powerful neighbour
to the east, China. Tibet emerged from an obscure history to
flourish in the 7th century A.D. as an independent kingdom
with its capital at Lhasa. The Tibetan kingdom was
associated with early Mahayana Buddhism, which the scholar
and mystic Padmasambhava fashioned into Tibetan Buddhism.
Toward the end of the 12th century many Indian Buddhists,
fleeing before the Muslim invasion, went to Tibet. The
country maintained its traditional seclusion for many
centuries. In the early 20th century Britain recognised
China’s suzerainty over Tibet, a move which was meant to
impede the territorial expansion of Russia. Tibet was truly
independent for a few decades after 1912 after the monarchy
in China was overthrown. After years of tensions the Chinese
eventually invaded the territory in 1959 forcing the current
Dalai Lama, 14-years-old at that time to flee to India. He
has never set foot in his homeland since but to this day in
the spirit of the teachings of the Buddha he professors a
non-violent approach for self-determination. He personifies
the essence of Buddhist teaching which has won him millions
of supporters in the west but has delivered little progress
towards autonomy in Tibet.
At the Dalai Lama’s last reception by a US president in
2007 George W. Bush presented him with the Congressional
Medal of Honour. His father President George H. W. Bush
allowed no photos of his 1991 talks with the Dalai Lama.
Bill Clinton avoided formal sessions altogether, favouring
drop-bys into the Dalai Lama’s other meetings. George W.
Bush kept his meetings under wraps, too — though in 2007, he
broke with tradition and appeared in public with the Dalai
Lama when he presented him with the Congressional Gold
Medal, at the Capitol.
Predictably China issued a protest against President
Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, demanding that
Washington take steps to improve ties strained by the
encounter. Voicing its protest the Chinese warned that the
meeting has “seriously damaged” Sino-U.S. ties. The Chinese
government on Friday summoned the U.S. Ambassador to China,
Jon Huntsman, in Beijing, lodging “a solemn representation”
to express its displeasure at the U.S. “obstinately”
arranging the meeting. China has branded the Nobel Peace
prize-winning Tibetan leader as a “separatist” seeking to
remove Tibet from Chinese rule, and objects strongly to
contacts between him and international leaders.
Interdependence of China and the US
Political analysts in Beijing have dubbed this week’s
sparring “the Dalai round of tensions” – only the latest in
a growing list of spats the year has seen, including Chinese
anger over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Washington criticising
China’s valuation of its currency and the cyber-attacks on
Google, which the U.S. says originated from China.
And while U.S.-Chinese relations have been strained for
years over currency and military disputes and other issues,
Beijing’s rapid growth of late has the two powerhouses
moving closer to equals. With the Chinese government holding
nearly $800 billion of federal U.S. debt, Beijing has
extraordinary leverage in the relationship. Most recently,
the Obama administration’s approval of a multibillion-dollar
arms sale to Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island
that Beijing claims as its own, has raised tensions.
Yet with all the sabre rattling the Sino US relations are
too mutually intertwined for either party to allow them to
deteriorate beyond a certain point. The Obama-Dalai Lama
visit helped to raise the issue of Tibet to the world stage
once again, albeit for a very brief moment, it is not
expected to achieve anything else. The reality of the
interdependence of China and the US is much more important
in determining the future of Tibet than the legality,
morality and the justness of the Tibetan cause.
|Pakistan air strike ‘kills 30’
At least 30 militants have been killed in Pakistani air
strike near the Afghan border, the military says.
It says a militant “hideout” was hit in the Shawal mountains
of South Waziristan, following a tip-off. The army launched
an offensive in South Waziristan last October to root out
militants blamed for bombings.
The offensive was closely monitored by Pakistan’s NATO
allies in Afghanistan, who say the area is a haven for
al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Pakistan’s government said
the operation had been completed in December, but fighting
in the area has continued.
“The hideout in Shawal was targeted after we were tipped off
that terrorists were hiding in the mountains,” said a
The strike came 10 days after Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar,
the Taliban’s top Afghan military commander, was captured in
Karachi. - BBC News
|Deaths in Morocco minaret collapse
At least 36 people have been killed and dozens more injured
after a minaret collapsed at a mosque in northern Morocco.
The accident occurred during Friday prayers in the historic
city of Meknes, leaving at least 71 people injured, the
state news agency (MAP) reported.
Interior ministry officials blamed the incident on heavy
rain that had weakened the minaret at the Bab Berdieyinne
mosque. Heavy rain battered the city on Friday, and more
rain has been forecast for the next week.
Alaoui Ismaili, a local civil defence commander, said the
rescue operation was slow because of the narrow streets in
the old city medina district where the collapsed mosque
minaret is located.
“We are using only manpower, not equipment as we cannot
bring heavy equipment through these streets,” he said. “We
are moving with great cautiousness also because the walls of
houses and shops adjacent to the mosque are fragile
especially after the heavy rains of the past days,” Ismaili
Khaled Rahmouni, a Meknes, whose home is near the
mosque told the Reuters news agency: “About 300 worshippers
gathered inside the mosque for the Friday afternoon mass
prayers. When the imam (preacher) was about to start his
sermon, the minaret went down.” The lightly injured were
hospitalised in Meknes while those with serious injuries
were taken to Fes, 60km north of the town, state television
King Mohammed VI sent the interior minister and religious
affairs minister to Meknes, about 120km east of the capital,
Rabat, to visit the injured and supervise the rescue
The king also ordered the reconstruction of the minaret
“keeping to its original form”, the interior ministry
Neglected buildings in the old quarters of the country’s
cities collapse fairly often, but the fall of a minaret is
rare. - Al Jazeera
|Dalai Lama awarded in US despite China
The Dalai Lama was bestowed with a US
award for his commitment to democracy, the latest honour for
the Tibetan spiritual leader despite China’s angry protests
over his White House welcome.
One day after President Barack Obama met the exiled monk at
the White House in defiance of Chinese warnings, the
National Endowment for Democracy on Friday gave the Dalai
Lama a medallion before a packed crowd at the Library of
The Endowment, which is funded by the US Congress, hailed
the Dalai Lama for supporting a democratic government in
exile and his willingness to even abolish a centuries-old
spiritual position if Tibetans so choose.
“By demonstrating moral courage and self-assurance in the
face of brute force and abusive insults, he has given hope
against hope not just to his own people but also to
oppressed people everywhere,” Endowment president Carl
Gershman said before placing the Democracy Service Medal
around the monk’s neck.
The Dalai Lama, who fled his Chinese-ruled homeland for
India in 1959, voiced admiration for US and Indian democracy
and said China’s authoritarian system was unsustainable.
“The Chinese Communist Party, I think, did many wrong
things. But at the same time, they also made a lot of
contribution for a stronger China,” he said.
The Dalai Lama pointed to the growing interest of many
Chinese in getting rich. Calling himself a Marxist in his
support for a strong social safety net, the Dalai Lama
joked: “Sometimes I feel my brain is more red than those
Chinese leaders.” (AFP)
News in brief
Clashes erupt at West Bank protest
Israeli security forces have fired tear gas and munitions at
a group of Palestinians staging a protest in the West Bank
town of Bi’lin to mark the fifth anniversary of a separation
wall built by Israel.
Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera’s correspondent, said Israeli
forces reacted strongly after a number of demonstrators
managed to cross a fence and threw empty gas canisters at
soldiers. - Al Jazeera
UN in record appeal for Haiti aid
The United Nations has launched its largest appeal ever for
a natural disaster to help millions of Haitians displaced by
last month’s earthquake.
The appeal for nearly $1.5bn made on Thursday is almost
three times the world body’s initial request made on January
15. Donors have already pledged $673m, the UN said.
According to the UN, more than 1.2 million Haitians need
emergency shelter and urgent sanitation facilities, with up
to 2 million more in need of food.- Al Jazeera
Egyptians welcome ElBaradei home
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations
nuclear watchdog, has received a hero’s welcome upon his
return to Egypt.
ElBaradei, who arrived in Cairo on Friday, is seen as a
potential presidential candidate and has repeatedly called
for democratic change in Egypt since stepping down from his
One local opposition newspaper had printed flight details
for his arrival under the headline “Baradei Returns” to
rally people to meet him at the airport. Ahead of his
arrival, there were media speculation that the authorities
could ban public receptions for him. - Al Jazeera
Deaths in Ivory Coast
Police in Ivory Coast have fired on hundreds of
demonstrators at an anti-government rally, killing three
people and wounding a dozen others in the latest protest
since the president dissolved the government last week.
Moussa Dembele of the opposition RDR party said the protest
took place in Gagnoa, about 200km northwest of Abidjan, the
country’s economic capital.- Al Jazeera
Dubai murder strains Israel ties
Tensions between Israel and its European allies have mounted
in the wake of the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior
Hamas commander, in a Dubai hotel room.
The January 19 killing, which Dubai police have linked to
Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, has caused concern in Europe
as suspects in the murder apparently used European passports
to travel to Dubai.- Al Jazeera
US urges Cuba to release
American diplomats have called on Cuba to release a US
citizen held since December without charge.
The release of Alan Gross, 60, was discussed during talks
about migration in Havana, the US said.
Cuba’s president has accused him of spying, but his family
say he was distributing communication equipment to Jewish
groups. The issue has overshadowed the resumption of
high-level talks between the Cold War adversaries.
- BBC News