|Scandal at the Vatican
abuse flak ‘like anti-Semitism’
Attacks on the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict over a sex
abuse scandal are comparable to “collective violence”
against Jews, the pontiff’s personal preacher has said.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa drew the parallel at a Good
Friday service, the day Christians commemorate Jesus’
The sermon, which was attended by the Pope, drew sharp
criticism from both Jews and victims of sexual abuse by
It further raised tensions over the abuse scandal,
forcing even the Vatican spokesman to distance himself from
Cantalamessa, the only person authorised to preach to the
Noting that this year the Jewish Passover and Christian
Easter fell during the same week, he said Jews throughout
history had been the victims of “collective violence” and
drew comparisons between Jewish suffering and attacks on the
As the pope listened, Cantalamessa read the congregation
a part of a letter he received from an unnamed Jewish
friend, who said he was “following with disgust the violent
and concentric attacks against the Church, the Pope.”
“The use of stereotypes, the shifting of personal
responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of
the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism,” he quoted from
Elan Steinberg, the vice-president of the American Gathering
of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said: “Shame
on Father Cantalamessa.
“The Vatican is entitled to defend itself but the
comparison with anti-Semitic persecution is offensive and
unsustainable. We are sorely disappointed,” he added.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said: “This
should not be interpreted as an official position of the
But some Jewish groups demanded a personal apology from the
pope for the words read by his preacher.
“These hurtful remarks were made in the presence of the pope
and the pope himself should take responsiblity and apologise
for them,” Rabbi Marvin, the heir of Simon Wiesenthal
Centre, the international Jewish human rights group, said.
The Pope, both at the service where Cantalamessa preached
as well as at a “Way of the Cross” service for thousands of
people later at the Colosseum, made no reference to the
This week’s celebrations leading up to Easter Sunday have
been clouded by accusations that the Church in several
countries mishandled and covered up episodes of sexual abuse
of children by priests, some dating back decades.
ghosts come back to haunt Russia
The dark years where Russian troops were facing near defeat
in Chechnya and Moscow was dealing with waves of suicide
bombings were assumed to have been over with the current
Prime Minister while he was serving as the
Commander-in-Chief ordered a brutal crack-down on Islamist
insurgents in the Caucasus region. Yet the twin suicide
bombings in Moscow last Monday which Islamic militants from
the North Caucasus claim to have carried out have once again
refocussed attention on the violence which had not reached
the capital for many years. The rush-hour attacks Monday on
the Moscow subway killed over 40 people and left nearly 90
hospitalised. One of the metro stations, Lubyanka is a
symbol of government power. It’s beneath the headquarters of
Russia’s Federal Security Service, the modern-day KGB and
the branch of government that produced Russia’s all-powerful
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. As the President, Putin
spearheaded the move to crush the bloody rebellions in the
Islamic regions of Russia. The symbolism of bombing Lubyanka
which amounts to a direct attack on Putin’s prestige was not
lost to many.
Monday’s bomb attacks on the Moscow subway bear the
hallmarks of an operation carried out by female Chechen
suicide bombers called “Black Widows,” who in the 90’s were
responsible for similar devastating attacks on a Moscow
cinema which killed hundreds. Photographs of a young woman,
obtained by Reuters from a law-enforcement official showed
her dressed in a black hijab and holding a grenade. Another
photograph showed the woman holding a pistol. Officials
named her as Dagestani-born Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova, the
widow of 30-year-old Umalat Magomedov, a prominent insurgent
killed by Russian forces on December 31.
On Wednesday, Doku Umarov, the Chechen militant leader,
claimed responsibility for the subway attacks, defying Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin’s promises of the past several years
that he would shut down the Chechen rebellion. Umarov’s
claim appeared in a web-video claiming Monday’s twin suicide
attacks were in revenge for the earlier killing of Chechen
civilians by Russian security forces. Umarov’s Internet
statement came after Putin threatened to “drag out of the
sewer” the terrorists who plotted the subway bombings.
Umarov fought in both of Chechnya’s separatist wars and has
become the effective leader of the rebel movement, taking
over after the Russians killed his predecessor, Abdul-Khalim
Sadulayev. Umarov became even more important after the
Russians killed Shamil Basayev, who was apparently
responsible for the hostage-taking at the school in Beslan,
another troubled Islamic province in the Caucasus, six years
ago that killed more than 200 children.
On Wednesday same day two suicide bombings in Dagestan
killed 12 people, including nine policemen, a frequent
target of attacks in part because they represent Russian
authority. Another explosion Thursday killed two suspected
militants and wounded a third in Dagestan near the border
with Chechnya. Police said the men may have been
transporting a makeshift bomb. The suicide bombings in
Moscow and Dagestan follow a surge of violence over the past
year in the patchwork of North Caucasus republics, where
Russia has fought two wars against Chechen separatists since
the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
The new series of suicide bombings in Moscow is the first in
the capital in six years and will inevitably be perceived as
a shocking wake-up call for Russians who had been able to
convince themselves they were walled off from the ongoing
violence in the Caucasus, after the reign of terror attacks
in the capital of nearly a decade earlier.
Chechens, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, regard
the region as their ancient homeland, while Moscow fears the
creation of an independent Muslim-majority state in its
midst and has refused to grant any real autonomy. In the
1990s, the Chechen rebels had managed to force the
withdrawal of tens of thousands of Russian troops who had
earlier been sent to the region to prevent Chechnya
declaring its independence. Then in 1999, the Russians came
back with more than 90,000 troops and carried out a
scorched-earth campaign that killed an estimated 30,000 to
40,000 civilians. Ordinary guerrilla tactics and
hostage-taking, key to ousting the Russians the first time,
now took the rebels nowhere and so the insurgents sought out
new tactics, such as a suicide bomb campaign, with those
women in black as a crucial part of the effort.
Both president Dimithri Medvedev and premier Putin have
insisted that taking a hard line against insurgents is
essential. Medvedev has described extremism in the North
Caucasus as a cancerous tumor that simply must not spread.
However Medvedev has been an advocate of addressing what he
has termed “the root causes” of terrorism in the Caucasus,
including poverty and corruption, in contrast to the tougher
tone of his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Critics, though, say Russia’s hard-line policy has
failed. They point to two Russian wars in Chechnya which
were not able to prevent consistent attacks by insurgent
groups. Critics say the Russian government has only stoked
more anger and that, in turn, has helped insurgent groups to
recruit. Many minority groups in Russia, especially Muslim
communities now fear retribution for the attacks.
Russians have been fighting Islamist terrorist and
insurgents long before such groups became a problem to the
West. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan since 1979
till the end of the next decade the United States armed and
trained the numerous Mujahideen fighters that fought against
the occupying forces. It is these same Mujahideen who would
later fan out and flare up insurgent movements in the
predominantly Islamic Russian provinces. After nearly two
decades of fighting several groups the Russians do not seem
any closer to defeating the insurgents and terrorists. The
reality has been that these troubled regions have been laid
to waste by the Russians without any development while the
rest of the country has seen considerable progress since the
break up of the Soviet Union. President Medvedev, despite
his harsh rhetoric seems to have grasped that there will be
no end to terrorism of the nature seen in Moscow this week
unless the route causes of the problem are addressed. For
decades Russians have refused to grant any degree of
autonomy for the troubled region while they have also not
bothered on any form of economic development. The former KGB
agent turned politician, Prime Minister Putin takes a harder
line in the approach towards the troubled North Caucasus
region. He advocates an uncompromising crushing of the
rebellions. This hardline stance though will provide some
tangible results in the short run it would no doubt sow the
seeds of hatred and mistrust for terrorism to continue for
years to come.
|‘Signs of life’ in China mine
(Al-jazeera) Rescuers at a coal mine in China’s northern
Shanxi province have heard signs of life from the flooded
mineshaft where 153 workers are trapped.
State television showed rescuers cheering as they heard a
faint response to knocking on pipes running into the mine on
Friday afternoon, six days after it flooded.
After hearing the sounds, rescuers lowered pens and paper
into the shaft, along with glucose and milk.
About 3,000 rescuers are working round the clock to pump
water out of the Wangjialing mine, but experts warn it could
still take days to reach the miners.
Government officials have said the flood was triggered when
workers digging tunnels broke through into an old shaft
filled with water.
More than 100 workers were able to escape as the
floodwaters rushed in but the rest were trapped underground.
Miners who had escaped told the Reuters news agency that
the number of trapped miners given by authorities was too
“We sent 10 tramcars down to the pit before the flooding and
each car usually carries 44 miners and a driver,” a tramcar
driver who was working on the day of the accident said.
“Only one car came back up the shaft, plus a few dozen
miners who escaped on foot,” he said. If true, nearly 450
people could have been underground at the time of the flood.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from the mine site,
said the mining company had been criticised for not
taking necessary security measures.
|Teenage widow behind Moscow blast
The 17-year-old widow of a North Caucasus fighter has been
confirmed by Russian security officials as one of the
suicide bombers who attacked the Moscow metro system on
The blasts at quick succession at two stations during
morning rush hour killed 39 people and injured more than
“One of the female suicide bombers, who blew herself up at
the Park Kultury metro station, was Dzhanet
Abdullayeva,” said a statement from the National anti-terror
committee, carried by Russian news agencies.
The committe comprises chiefs of top ministries and state
“She was born in 1992 and lived in the Khasavyurtsky
region of Dagestan,” the official said.
“The material has been sent to the investigative committee
of Russian prosecutors,” the official added.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Moscow Neave Barker said:
“Police said that they had identified an apartment building
that had been rented out by two suspected accomplices of the
female suicide bombers. “They say these two men may have
accompanied the women to a metro station in the southwest of
the city where they handed them the bomb belts,” he added.
“The men are then believed to have gone back to the
apartment building, as the female suicide bombers went on to
their final destination.It was the men in the apartment
building, at a distance, that then detonated the explosives
by remote [control],” they added.
“The investigators say they found traces of explosives, some
traces of preparation, within the apartment building. These
men are known to them and they have been put on a wanted
list,” he said.
Abdullayeva had been married to Umalat Magomedov, a
high-ranking Dagestani anti-government fighter, who was
killed by Russian security forces last year.
Russian media has described Abdullayeva as a “Black Widow”,
the name given to suicide bombers whose partners have been
killed by Russian forces in areas such as Chechnya, Dagestan
Obama confident of securing
support for more sanctions against Iran
(Washington Post) President Obama said Friday that ‘all
evidence indicates’ Iran is pursuing the capacity to develop
nuclear weapons, but he expressed confidence that the United
States could muster broad international support for a new
round of U.N. sanctions designed to curtail Tehran’s atomic
The remarks followed an hour-long phone discussion Obama
held late Thursday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who
will travel to Washington to participate in anuclear
security summit April 12 and 13. In their conversation, the
two discussed the ‘importance of working together’ on Iran,
the White House said.
China has long resisted American calls for U.N. sanctions
against Iran, but this week, for the first time, it agreed
to begin discussions on a possible resolution, according to
U.S. and European diplomats.
A senior U.S. official said Washington hopes to get a
vote on a sanctions resolution in April. But U.N. diplomats
cautioned that they expect protracted negotiations with
China over the substance.
“I think the idea here is to keep on turning up the
pressure. The regime has become more isolated since I came
into office,” Obama said in an interview Friday with CBS’s
“Early Show.” “We’re going to continue to ratchet up the
pressure and examine how they respond. But we’re going to do
so with a unified international community that puts us in a
much stronger position.”
Repeating assertions the administration has made
previously, Obama said Iran’s emergence as a nuclear weapons
power would create ‘huge destabilising effects in the region
and will trigger an arms race in the Middle East.’ He said
it would also harm Iran’s political standing in the world.
“Part of the reason that we reached out to them was to say,
‘You’ve got a path. You can take a path that allows you to
rejoin the international community, or you can take a path
of developing nuclear-weapons capacity that further isolates
you.’ And now we’re seeing them further isolated. Over time,
that is going to have an effect on their economy,” Obama
Beijing’s decision to engage in negotiations on Iran
signaled a willingness to move beyond disputes with
Washington over a range of issues, including U.S. arms sales
to Taiwan, Obama’s recent meeting with the Dalai Lama and
differences over currency rates. The issue is delicate for
China in part because it maintains deep commercial ties with
|Protesters rally to oust Thailand’s
(AFP) Thousands of anti-government
protesters launched their fourth weekend march in the
streets of the Thai capital Saturday, groping for tactics
that have yet to force the prime minister to dissolve
parliament and call new elections.
The mainly poor, rural Thais that make up the so-called
Red Shirts were concentrating their Saturday protests in the
heart of commercial Bangkok, studded with glitzy shopping
malls and upscale hotels. They previously have failed to
oust the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva
through both mass peaceful marches and talks with government
Jatuporn Prompan, a protest leader, said the demonstration
would continue through Monday and that Saturday’s rally
would be brief.
“Today’s another day when commoners will declare war to
bring democracy to the country. There is no end until we win
this battle,” he said as marchers made their way toward the
shopping zone, beating drums and chanting ‘Dissolve
The Red Shirt movement — known formally as the United Front
for Democracy Against Dictatorship — consists largely of
supporters of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and
pro-democracy activists who opposed a 2006 military coup
which ousted Thaksin.
Protest leaders have portrayed the demonstrations as a
struggle between Thailand’s impoverished, mainly rural
masses — who benefited from Thaksin policies of cheap health
care and low-interest village loans — and a Bangkok-based
elite impervious to their plight.
Thaksin’s allies won elections in December 2007, but two
resulting governments were forced out by court rulings. A
parliamentary vote brought Abhisit’s party to power in
December 2008. The Red Shirts say his rule is undemocratic
and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai
Israeli air raids wound
(Al-Jazeera) Three Palestinian children have been wounded
after Israeli planes and helicopters launched a string of
air attacks on the Gaza Strip overnight.
The Israelis claimed that the air raids were in response to
rocket fire from Gaza, but Hamas which runs the Palestinian
enclave blamed the Israelis for the escalating tensions.
According to Palestinian medical sources, at least seven
missiles targeted various Gaza sites.
Four air attacks early on Friday destroyed two caravans near
the town of Khan Younis. A fifth missile hit a cheese
factory in Gaza City, setting it on fire, witnesses and
Hamas officials said.
Moawiya Hassanein, head of the Palestinian emergency
services in Gaza, said three Palestinian children - aged
two, four and 11 - were hit by flying glass in the raid.
Helicopters struck twice in the central refugee camp of
Nusseirat, destroying a metal foundry, but no one was
An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the attacks, saying
they had targeted two weapons-manufacturing plants and two
arms caches. There was no independent confirmation of the
Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, blamed Israel for
the increase in tensions.
“We in the Palestinian government condemn this escalation
and call on our Arab brothers in particular and the
international community in general to intervene in order to
stop targeting our people and the escalation against them
everywhere, particularly in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
A Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, told Al Jazeera that
Hamas held the Israeli government led by Binyamin Netanyahu
responsible for the “escalation” and said the air raids had
been expected because of threats by Ehud Barak, the defence
minister, and other ministers.
Scientists in sleeping sickness ‘breakthrough’
Scientists say they have identified a potential treatment
for sleeping sickness, a killer disease that infects about
60,000 people in Africa a year.
British and Canadian experts say drugs could attack an
enzyme the parasite causing the illness needs to survive.
They say the orally-administered drug could be ready for
human clinical trials in about 18 months.
The disease, spread by the bite of a tsetse fly, is caused
by a parasite attacking the central nervous system.
It has similar symptoms to malaria, making it difficult to
diagnose. Left untreated, it moves to the spinal column and
brain, resulting in mental confusion and eventual death.
The ‘breakthrough’ came at the University of Dundee in
Scotland where scientists were funded to research diseases
neglected by major drugs companies.
Professor Paul Wyatt, director of the programme, said, “This
is one of the most significant findings made in recent years
in terms of drug discovery and development for neglected
He said the research, published in the journal Nature,
represented ‘significant strides’ in the development of a
full blown drug against the disease.
The World Health Organisation estimates there are between
50,000 and 70,000 cases of the disease a year, with a
further 60 million people at risk of infection. The research
in Dundee was backed by partners at the University of York
in England and the Structural Genomics Consortium in
China faces a diabetes epidemic, with almost one in 10
adults having the disease while most cases remain
undiagnosed, researchers said.
Tests showed diabetes was more endemic than previously
thought, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
The figures suggest China has some 90 million diabetics, far
more than India.
Rapid economic growth has affected public health, through
urbanisation, changed diets and more sedentary lifestyles,
researchers said. Rigorous new tests suggested that more
than 92 million Chinese adults had diabetes and that nearly
150 million more were showing early symptoms, researchers
This represents a major public health problem for the
authorities in Beijing as diabetes is a major factor in
illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and kidney disease,
“In the last 10 years, with the country’s economy expanding
quickly and people’s standard of living improving, people’s
lifestyles have changed,” said Yang Wenying, one of the
report’s 20 authors, who is head of endocrinology at
Beijing’s China-Japan Friendship Hospital.
“China’s economic development has gone from a situation of
not being able to eat enough, of poverty, to having enough
food and warm clothes, and doing much less exercise,” she
told the AFP news agency.
X-rays ‘can miss many fractures’
X-rays fail to spot up to nearly a third of fractures in
the bones of the hip and pelvis, research suggests.
US doctors from Duke University warn that relying on
standard X-rays alone to give a clean bill of health could
lead to wrong diagnoses and law suits.
When they re-checked the X-ray results of 92 patients using
a more detailed scanner, called MRI, they found 35 fractures
that had been missed. The findings are published in the
American Journal of Roentgenology.
Dr. Charles Spritzer, who led the research, said, “The
diagnosis of traumatic fracture most often begins and ends
with X-rays of the hip, pelvis, or both.
“In some cases though, the exclusion of a traumatic fracture
In the study of patients complaining of pain after an injury
to the hip or pelvis, 13 with normal X-ray findings were
found to have a collective total of 23 fractures seen on MRI
(Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
Another 15 patients with abnormal X-rays had 12 additional
pelvic fractures seen on MRI that otherwise would not have
been identified. And in 11 patients, MRI showed no fracture
after X-rays had suggested there might be one.
The researchers say it is worth using MRI as well as an
X-ray if doctors are in any doubt, particularly since hip
patients tend to be frail and elderly with a higher than
average risk of complications and death.
HIV patients ‘need drug lifeline’
The opportunity to save tens of thousands of HIV patients
with a simple, cheap, drug treatment is being missed, say
Giving some newly-diagnosed patients an antibiotic would
significantly reduce the death toll in the early stages of
the disease, they say. A major study in The Lancet medical
journal found it halved mortality. The World Health
Organisation already endorses the treatment, but specialists
say many people are not given the drug.
Much of the focus of the pharmaceutical battle against HIV
has been on antiretroviral drugs, which can greatly extend
However, many patients are at greatest risk in the first
weeks after diagnosis, with a variety of infections ready to
take advantage of their weakened immune systems.
Studies have estimated that as many as a quarter of people
who enter antiretroviral drug treatment programmes in
sub-Saharan Africa will die in the first year.
But the addition of co-trimoxazole, an inexpensive
antibiotic, to the long-term treatment plan of those with
the worst affected immune systems appears to prevent many of
these deaths. The Lancet study, carried out among 3,179
Ugandan patients, suggested a fall of 59% over the first 12
weeks, and 44% between 12 and 72 weeks.
Its authors, from the Medical Research Council Clinical
Trials Unit and Imperial College in London, and centres in
Uganda and Zimbabwe, say the antibiotic is not available in
They say their findings reinforce the need for swifter
action by those responsible for drug treatment programmes.