|Britons go to polls
The worst kept secret in British politics is now officially
confirmed and the UK will go to the polls for a general
election on May 6 to elect 650 members of the House of
It will be a far closer contest than many had expected a
year ago. Then a huge lead for the Conservative Party, led
by David Cameron, made it look a racing certainty that the
Tories, as they are known, would be heading back to
government for the first time since 1997.
The depths of the recession, the unpopularity of
Britain’s rather dour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the
parliamentary expenses scandals -- which the public seemed
to blame more on the ruling Labour Party, although all were
tainted -- had led to widespread predictions of a
But over the past few months the opinion poll gap has
closed. As an election approaches people think less “Do I
like the present government?” and more “Who do I trust to
run the country for the next five years?” as they answer
UK’s next leader?
David Cameron has spent more than four years tipped as a
prime minister in waiting as leader of the opposition
Conservative Party -- a period he has called “the longest
job interview in the world.”
But with the election campaign finally under way, polls
suggest Cameron -- credited by his supporters with
rehabilitating his center-right party after three successive
defeats -- has yet to seal the deal with British voters.
When Cameron launched the Conservatives’ election campaign
in January by calling for a “year for change,” it seemed the
political pendulum was poised to swing in his favor.
Polls indicated a comfortable advantage for the
Conservatives over a Labour Party showing all the wear and
tear of its 13 years in government and itself apparently
still unconvinced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s merits as
Even with his party needing to gain more than 100
additional seats -- a near-seven percent landslide -- to
secure a winning majority in the House of Commons, Cameron
appeared on course for Downing Street.
But recent polls suggest the gap between the UK’s two main
parties has narrowed.
|Iran calls for new nuclear body
(Al-jazeera) Iran’s president has called for the formation
of a new international body to oversee nuclear disarmament
as the country opened a two-day summit on civilian nuclear
energy in the capital, Tehran.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the call on Saturday at a summit
seen as a counterpoint to a major conference in Washington
earlier this week, in which Barack Obama, the US president,
outlined his nuclear strategy.
Ahmadinejad said his proposed organisation would provide a
balance to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“An independent international group which plans and oversees
nuclear disarmament and prevents proliferation should be set
up,” he said.
“This group should act in a way where all independent
countries and governments could have a say and role in
running the affairs of that group.
“Until now the presence and political domination of the
agency has prevented them from carrying out their duties and
has diverted the agency from performing its legal
As such, Ahmadinejad said the US should not be allowed to be
on the IAEA’s board of governors.
“[Those who] possess, have used or threatened to use nuclear
weapons [should] be suspended from the IAEA and its board of
governors, especially the US which has used a weapon made of
atomic waste in the Iraq war,” he said.
The head of the North American Studies department at the
University of Tehran Mohammad Marandi said Ahmadinejad’s
speech was targeting a global audience.
“Most countries in the world do feel that the UN Security
Council as well as the IAEA board of governors is not
democratic, so it is something that most people in the south
have a great deal of sympathy with,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The problem that Iran is facing right now is the fact that
western countries are very much biased against the country.
“So he is using this opportunity to point out Iran’s
position and show that it is a very reasonable and logical
one and the reason that Iran is unable to get its voice
across is because these bodies are undemocratic,” he added.
Twenty-four foreign and deputy foreign ministers were
expected to attend the summit, dubbed “Nuclear Energy for
All, Nuclear Weapons for No One”, state media reported.
The names of the countries represented were not given in the
report, but European and other Western officials were not
thought likely to attend.
Speaking to Al Jazeera in advance of the meeting, Manouchehr
Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, said that the Iranian
government was stressing the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
“Last week, we celebrated successful steps in nuclear
activities for Iran, and in that meeting with Ahmadinejad
[the president], we stressed that nuclear energy must be for
everybody,” he said.
|She could have been alive today
(CNN) Not only did Pakistani authorities fail to provide
former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto the security that could
have saved her life, but elements within the powerful
military establishment may even have played a role in her
December 2007 assassination. Those are some of the chilling
conclusions of a U.N. inquiry, published Friday, April 16,
into the killing that rocked Pakistan in the final months in
power of former military ruler President Pervez Musharraf.
The three-member U.N. investigation panel — appointed by the
international organisation at the request of the Pakistani
government — concluded that Pakistani authorities had
“severely hampered” police investigation of the case.
Furthermore, it concluded that the Pakistani authorities’
failure to effectively examine Bhutto’s death had been
“deliberate.” Drawing on a nine-month period of interviews
and study of evidence, the commission’s 65-page report does
not finger anyone for the murder. Its heavily circumscribed
parameters were never going to allow for that. But its
findings suggest that there had been a determined effort to
deny her adequate security, prejudice the investigation,
withhold evidence and block access to key officials.
The report’s claims against the Musharraf government have
been denounced by Musharraf’s spokesman as a “pack of lies.”
After twin suicide bombers attacked Bhutto’s homecoming
procession in October 2007, killing 149 people, the threats
to her life were plain to see. But according to the report,
the Musharraf government, though “fully aware and tracking”
such threats, did little more than pass them on “to her and
to provincial authorities, and were not proactive in
neutralising them.” The Musharraf government also failed to
provide Bhutto the security it granted two other former
Prime Ministers from Musharraf’s party.
“Not giving Benazir Bhutto adequate security was a deeply
cynical, deliberate decision,” says a respected analyst
Cyril Almeida with the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “The
assassins may have been intent, but they were given an
Bhutto might have survived the attempt on her life had
proper security measures been in place, the report says; it
places particular emphasis on the chief police officer Saud
Aziz on duty in Rawalpindi that day. Arrangements made by
him were deemed “ineffective and insufficient.” The security
plan drawn up on Dec. 27, 2007, the day of her
assassination, was “flawed” and in many respects not even
implemented. Too few police officers had been deployed to
the political rally where she delivered her last speech and
there was poor coordination with her Pakistan People’s Party
(PPP) security. The PPP’s security arrangements — headed by
Rehman Malik, now the Interior Minister — are also heavily
criticised in the U.N. report.
|Thai protest leaders to surrender, but
the rally goes on
Morning Herald) Leaders of Thailand’s anti-government “Red
Shirt” protesters said Saturday they would surrender to
police next month, but refused to end their rally in the
capital’s commercial heartland.
One week on from deadly clashes between the Red Shirts and
security forces, the protesters said they expected a new
push by the army to disperse them after its chief was put in
charge of security in the strife-torn capital.
“On May 15, 24 of us will surrender. All of the leaders,”
said one of the top Red Shirts, Nattawut Saikuar. “For now
the 24 of us will keep rallying to show sincerely that we
won’t run away,” he said.
“I’m sure the order to suppress us will come out soon.”
The Red Shirts, who are seeking immediate elections, have so
far ignored repeated calls by authorities to disperse from
the capital’s commercial heartland, despite arrest warrants
outstanding against core leaders.
They support fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra and
accuse the government of elitism and being undemocratic as
it came to power after a parliamentary vote that followed a
court verdict ousting Thaksin’s allies.
Late Friday embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva put
his army chief Anupong Paojinda in charge of security, after
a bungled operation to arrest some protest leaders at a
hotel in Bangkok’s northern outskirts.
“There will be an effort to retake the area. We can’t allow
protests there because it damages the country,” army
spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd told reporters late Friday.
Abhisit said that he was replacing his deputy as head of
security operations in the capital, giving Anupong broader
powers to tackle “terrorism”.
The decision came after commandos earlier Friday stormed a
hotel where leaders of the Red Shirt protest movement were
hiding, but the mission ended in dramatic failure after the
suspects managed to flee.
One Red Shirt leader climbed down an electric cable from the
third floor of the hotel in Bangkok’s northern outskirts
before being rushed away by jubilant supporters, despite the
presence of dozens of riot police nearby.
The operation “was not a success but the government will
carry on”, Abhisit said.
|Crowds gather for Polish crash
(CNN) Thousands of people gathered to
mourn publicly Saturday in the Polish capital for the 96
victims of last weekend’s plane crash.
The crash killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife,
dignitaries and top military leaders.They were on their way
to a service commemorating Polish prisoners of war massacred
in Russia during World War II when their plane crashed in
An estimated 1.5 million people are expected to turn out
Sunday to bid farewell to Kaczynski, first at a state
funeral and then at a church service in the historic city of
Polish national unity blossomed after the crash but discord
surfaced over a decision to bury the late president and his
wife in a crypt previously reserved for monarchs and saints.
There was concern also about worldwide air traffic
disruptions cause by the volcanic ash from Iceland.
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But the funeral Sunday will proceed as scheduled, said
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsky.
Images of Poland’s collective grief
The services “will not be postponed, but they will be
affected,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
“The papal legate who was supposed to lead the funeral mass
has apparently canceled,” he said. “And quite frankly we
can’t blame people for not wanting to take even the smallest
risk to the security of air traffic in the circumstances.”
U.S. President Barack Obama still plans to attend.