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  Nation World  


 

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 The Hague.

“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 deadline.
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 government.”

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 The political collapse all but guarantees the Dutch troops will be withdrawn at the end of their mandate in August.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

By Thanapathi
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.

Balancing act
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 military spokesman.
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 said.

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 station said.
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 operations.
The king also ordered the reconstruction of the minaret “keeping to its original form”, the interior ministry statement said.
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 anger

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 Congress.

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 UN post.
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
demonstration

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
‘spy suspect’

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