|30 DEAD IN IRAQ HOTEL
Guests leapt desperately to their deaths
from upper-floor windows as a fire tore through a hotel in
northern Iraq killing 30 people, 14 of them foreigners,
police and medics said on Friday.
Citizens of Australia, Britain, Canada and several Asian
and South American countries were among those killed in
Thursday night’s blaze in Sulaimaniyah, which raged for
seven hours before being brought under control, officials
said. A preliminary report prepared by the city’s hospital
said people from 12 nations had died and a medical official
said the bodies of the foreigners were identified by
colleagues from the respective companies they worked for.
Visiting telecommunications engineers from Sri Lanka, the
Philippines and Cambodia, were among the victims, according
to hospital officials and the chairman of the telecoms
“The number killed is 30, among whom there are 14
foreigners,” said Rikot Hama Rasheed, the director of
Sulaimaniyah hospital, following the fire, which rose
rapidly from the second floor of the six-level Soma hotel.
“The regional government will contact the embassies of the
foreigners who were killed,” said Rasheed, listing Iraq,
Ecuador, Venezuela, Lebanon, South Africa and Bangladesh as
among the victims’ nationalities.
He said 22 survivors were receiving treatment at the
hospital. Witnesses told AFP at least three of those who
died did so after leaping from the hotel’s windows in a
desperate bid to save themselves as flames and smoke
engulfed their rooms.
Mirwan Saeed, 30, who was visiting friends in the hotel,
broke both his legs after making his way to the roof and
jumping towards a nearby lower building to save his life.
“We were in the hotel when the smoke started coming in,” he
told AFP from his hospital bed. “I had no choice but to
Colonel Araz Bakr, chief of Sulaimaniyah rescue services,
confirmed the death toll and said 42 people were injured,
including seven firefighters. He said most of those who died
were suffocated by smoke. A city council official said an
electrical fault caused the blaze, which also damaged
several adjacent buildings.
“Women and children are among the victims of the incident
which happened in the Soma Hotel,” said the official, Razgar
Sulaimaniyah, 270 kilometres (170 miles) north of Baghdad is
the capital of one of three northern provinces that make up
Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. It is popular with
tourists and business has flourished in recent years as it
is peaceful, unlike much of Iraq which remains wracked by
violence seven years after a US-led invasion toppled now
executed dictator Saddam Hussein.
The victims from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Cambodia
worked for telecoms operator Asiacell, one of three major
mobile communications companies in Iraq. (AFP)
“We lost four engineers from our company, one of them a lady
from the Philippines, and three of them men from Sri Lanka,
Cambodia and Iraq,” said Faruk Mula Mustafa, chairman of
Two other Iraqi employees were injured in the fire, he said.
A US embassy spokesman in Baghdad said two American citizens
received medical treatment after the fire, but none were
West, Israel for suicide bombings
blamed the West and Israel on Saturday for twin suicide
bombings which killed at least 27 people, despite
condemnation of the attack by the European Union, the United
Nations and the United States.
“This blind terrorist act was carried out by the mercenaries
of the world arrogance (the Western powers),” state
television’s website quoted Deputy Interior Minister Ali
Abdollahi as saying.
“The agents of this crime were trained and equipped beyond
our borders and then came into Iran,” Abdollahi said.
“Those who planned this crime and equipped those who carried
it out should know that they are responsible for this
incident,” he added.
Sunni militant group Jundallah claimed it carried out
Thursday’s bombings which targeted members of the elite
Revolutionary Guards at a mosque in the restive southeastern
province of Sistan-Baluchestan.
Tehran has long charged that Washington has provided support
to the group as part of efforts to destabilise the Islamic
regime by fomenting unrest among ethnic minorities in
sensitive border areas. But on Friday US President Barack
Obama condemned the “outrageous terrorist attacks,” while UN
chief Ban Ki-moon blasted a “senseless act of terrorism” and
European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton
condemned “these cowardly terrorist attacks.” (AFP)
Arrests over World Cup
Police in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand
arrested more than 5,000 people in a coordinated swoop
against illegal football betting during the World Cup,
Interpol said Friday.
The international police agency, which helped coordinate the
month-long operation, said officers had raided more than 800
illegal gambling dens that had handled more than 155 million
dollars (119 million euros) in bets.
“The results we have seen are impressive,” said Interpol
executive director for police services Jean-Michel
Louboutin, in a statement released by the agency’s
headquarters in Lyon, central France.
“As well as having clear connections to organised crime,
illegal soccer gambling is also linked with corruption,
money laundering and prostitution,” he said, declaring a
blow had been struck against underworld gangs.
The operation ran between June 11 and July 11, during a time
when hundreds of millions of fans around the globe were
glued to their television screens, following the action from
the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Many supporters were also tempted to gamble on the results,
sometimes legally and sometimes with unlicensed and often
In the operation, police seized 10 million dollars in cash
along with other alleged criminal assets such as cars, bank
cards, computers and mobile phones, Louboutin said in his
“The information gathered will now be reviewed and analysed
to determine the potential involvement of other individuals
or gangs across the region and beyond,” he warned.
“The experience and expertise developed in each of these
types of operations provides an even stronger base from
which police can work,” he said, praising the close
cooperation between the Asian police forces.
The World Cup operation was dubbed SOGA III, following two
previous but smaller series of raids.
In all, these operations have led to nearly 7,000 arrests,
the seizure of more than 26 million dollars in cash and the
closure of illegal gambling dens which handled more than two
billion dollars’ worth of bets, Interpol said. Friday’s
announcement came a week after Hong Kong, one of the Chinese
territories which took part in the SOGA III operation,
announced that it had smashed a huge illegal football
Officers arrested 93 people from Hong Kong and the mainland
in a joint operation, broadcaster RTHK said. A large amount
of betting slips were seized, including seven billion yuan
(1.03 billion dollars) from the mainland. (AFP)
Vatican to fast-track priest
sex abuse cases
(AFP) - The Vatican moved Thursday to fast-track “urgent”
priest sex abuse cases - with some to be handled by the pope
himself - but drew criticism for sidestepping the issue of
turning abusers in to the courts.
Announcing new rules in a bid to fend off accusations of
complacency, the Roman Catholic Church said it would
accelerate internal investigations and extended by a decade
the statute of limitations in abuse cases.
The new steps provide for referring “the most grave cases to
the Roman pontiff with regard to dismissal from the clerical
state,” or defrocking a priest, in a codification of an
already existing channel of punishment.
And for the first time, a priest may be defrocked through an
“extra-judicial decree” - effectively without a hearing.
But the rules notably do not deal with handing abusers over
to civil criminal authorities, a key demand of advocacy
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said they “exclusively
concern the Church” and compliance with civil law was
already contained in guidelines published in April at the
height of the abuse scandals sweeping the Church.
The new rules contain “more rapid procedures to deal with
the most urgent and serious situations more effectively,”
the Vatican said in a statement.
“Critics will say (the Vatican is) rearranging the deck
chairs on the Titanic,” said Vatican expert John Allen of
the US-based National Catholic Reporter.
“Their point of view is that the system is basically working
and they are just tweaking it,” Allen told AFP.
One of the most outspoken victims’ support groups, the
Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), was
quick to slam the new rules, issuing a statement saying they
could be “summed up in three words: missing the boat.”
Da Vinci’s light touch on Mona Lisa
French scientists have shone new light on the painting
technique that allowed Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci
to give the Mona Lisa such an extraordinary delicate charm.
Working with an X-ray scanner, scholars at the Louvre were
able to detect each layer of glaze, paint and pigment in
seven of Leonardo’s masterpieces, and reconstruct his
painstaking shading technique, known as “sfumato”.
“Minute observations, optical measurements and
reconstitutions have already described the ‘sfumato’, but
new analysis can confirm the procedure of this technique,”
said a statement from the state CNRS research institute.
One of the reasons why the Mona Lisa remains renowned to
this day as a great portrait is the lifelike shadows and
tones that give her enigmatically smiling face a sense of
depth and reality.
According to the scientists who were able to study the
layers of work that went into the paintings without damaging
them by extracting actual samples, the shadows were built up
by dozens of translucent layers of glaze.
Each layer was only one of two micrometres thick, but each
contained a carefully dosed amount of pigmentation.
This was a new technique in the Renaissance, and part of the
reason Leonardo and his contemporaries were able to make
what had been the once flat images of the Middle Ages appear
to leap from their frames into photo-like reality.
“The results obtained in this study help to understand Da
Vinci’s search towards making his art look alive,” the
In addition to the Mona Lisa, the scientists studied
Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, Saint John the Baptist,
Annunciation, Bacchus, Belle Ferronniere, Saint Anne and the
Virgin and the Child.
In each case they were able to probe the 500-year-old
masterworks without even taking them down from the walls of
the famous Louvre Gallery in Paris, by beaming an X-ray
fluorescence spectroscope at the canvas.
The research was carried out by Laurence de Viguerie,
Philippe Walter, Eric Laval, Bruno Mottin and Armando Sole
of the French national museums service, and published in the
scholarly review Angewandte Chemie International Edition.
|Argentina legalises gay marriage
Argentina on Thursday became the first nation in Latin
America to legalise same-sex marriage, turning aside
protests from the Roman Catholic Church to give gay couples
the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts.
The Argentine Senate approved the measure in a hard-fought
33-27 vote, with three abstentions. President Cristina
Fernandez de Kirchner has indicated that she will sign it
into law quickly.
The 4:05 a.m. vote came after an exhaustive debate that
dragged on for more than 14 hours. Hundreds of supporters of
the law, waiting outside Congress in freezing temperatures,
erupted in cheers and tears of joy when news of the vote
reached them.(Los Angeles Times)
Amnesty slams French face
Amnesty International condemned a vote by French
lawmakers to ban the wearing of face-covering veils in
public, saying on Tuesday it violated the rights to freedom
of expression and religion.
The London-based human rights group had written to all
French parliamentarians urging them to reject the bill,
which now goes to the Senate in September.
“A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate
the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those
women who wear the burka or the niqab as an expression of
their identity or beliefs,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s
expert on discrimination in Europe.(AFP)
Mexican drug cartel’s
newest weapon: Cold War-era grenades made in U.S.
Grenades made in the United States and sent to Central
America during the Cold War have resurfaced as terrifying
new weapons in almost weekly attacks by Mexican drug
Sent a generation ago to battle communist revolutionaries
in the jungles of Central America, US grenades are being
diverted from dusty old armouries and sold to criminal
mafias, who are using them to destabilise the Mexican
government and terrorize civilians, according to US and
Mexican law enforcement officials.
The redeployment of US-made grenades by Mexican drug
lords underscores the increasingly intertwined nature of the
conflict, as President Felipe Calderón sends his soldiers
out to confront gangs armed with a deadly combination of
brand-new military-style assault rifles purchased in the
United States and munitions left over from the Cold War.
Grenades have killed a relatively small number of the
25,000 people who have died since Calderón launched his US
-backed offensive against the cartels. But the grenades pack
a far greater psychological punch than the ubiquitous AK-47s
and AR-15 rifles - they can overwhelm and intimidate
outgunned soldiers and police while reminding ordinary
Mexicans that the country is literally at war.
There have been more than 72 grenade attacks in Mexico in
the last year, including spectacular assaults on police
convoys and public officials. Mexican forces have seized
more than 5,800 live grenades since 2007, a small fraction
of a vast armoury maintained by the drug cartels, officials
According to the Mexican attorney general’s office, there
have been 101 grenade attacks against government buildings
in the past 3 1/2 years, information now made public for the
To fight back, US experts in grenades and other explosives
are now working side by side with Mexican counterparts. On
Thursday, assailants detonated a car bomb in downtown Ciudad
Juarez, killing two federal police officers and an emergency
medical technician and wounding seven. (The Washington Post)
The majority of grenades have been traced back to El
Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, according to
investigations by agents at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and their Mexican
counterparts. ATF has also found that almost 90 percent of
the grenades confiscated and traced in Mexico are more than
20 years old.
The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush
sent 300,000 hand grenades to friendly regimes in Central
America to fight leftist insurgents in the civil wars of the
1980s and early 1990s, according to declassified military
data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the
Federation of American Scientists.
Not all grenades found in Mexico are American-made. Many
are of Asian or Soviet and Eastern European manufacture, ATF
officials said, probably given to leftist insurgents by Cuba
and Nicaragua’s Sandinistas.
One of the most common hand grenades found in Mexico is the
M67, the workhorse explosive manufactured in the United
States for American soldiers and for sale or transfer to
foreign militaries. Some 266,000 M67 grenades went to El
Salvador alone between 1980 and 1993, during the civil war
Now selling for $100 to $500 apiece on the black market,
grenades have exploded in practically every region of Mexico
in recent years. (The Washington Post)
|Mandela under pressure
to make appearances
As South Africa hosted the continent’s first football
World Cup, the former president was beseiged with requests
for audiences from world leaders and celebrities.
His family repeatedly stressed his age and frailty when
asked if he would appear in public and even issued a sharp
rebuke to the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, when he
suggested Mandela present the tournament trophy to the
victorious Spanish team.
As he celebrates his 92nd birthday this weekend, the Nelson
Mandela Foundation has appealed to the hundreds of thousands
of his followers around the world to grant him his wish for
a quiet celebration away from the public gaze.
While concerts, exhibitions and sporting events will take
place documenting his greatest moments, he will drink tea
and eat birthday cake at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg,
with his large family.
The foundation is yet to confirm whether President Jacob
Zuma will be allowed to proceed with a planned visit today.
Verne Harris, of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and
Dialogue, said that despite a sprightly appearance when he
is in public, the 91-year-old recognises that he is “ebbing
“He has been signalling for a long time now but in the last
six months very determinedly that he wanted to step away
from public life,” he said.
“He loves to be remembered for what he has done and he loves
to see people but in very tightly controlled, small segments
The Nelson Mandela Foundation receives endless requests from
businesses seeking to “Disney-fy” the Mandela brand and
selling everything from Viagra to fridge magnets. They are
constantly turning down invitations for him to speak or open
During the World Cup and the run up to his birthday, it
sought to quell the appetite for a new glimpse of the
world’s most famous man, with an Intimate Moments exhibition
showing him at home and off guard, and the occasional
personalised statement. (Telegraph.co.uk)
Human Rights activists slam
During a decade in power, Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad has not delivered on promises of greater freedoms
or rights for his people, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
Assad “has not delivered on his promises to increase public
freedoms and improve his government?s human rights record
during a decade in power,” HRW said in a report on the eve
of the anniversary of his accession.
“Whether President al-Assad wanted to be a reformer but was
hampered by an entrenched old guard or has been just another
Arab ruler unwilling to listen to criticism, the outcome for
Syria’s people is the same: no freedom, no rights,” HRW’s
Sarah Leah Whitson said in a statement. (AFP)
threatens more attacks
Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab Thursday vowed further
attacks after two deadly bombings in Uganda, as Kampala said
it would send more troops to boost the African Union force
Sunday’s bomb attacks on entertainment spots in Kampala
where crowds were watching the World Cup final killed at
least 73 people and underscored the risk posed by the Somali
rebel movement to the entire region.
“What happened in Kampala is just the beginning,” elusive
Shebab leader Mohamed Abdi Godane said in an audio message
broadcast on several Mogadishu radio stations.
The Shebab - fighting Somalia’s Western-backed transitional
government - said the blasts were in retaliation for the
presence of more than 3,000 Ugandan troops in the embattled
African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
“We are telling all Muslims and particularly the people of
Mogadishu that those martyred in AMISOM shelling will be
avenged,” he added.
Godane said the Kampala attacks were carried out by a unit
named the Saleh Nabhan Brigade after a Kenyan-born Al-Qaeda
operative allegedly behind 2002 anti-Israeli attacks in
Mombasa and killed in a suspected US air raid last year.
Uganda could provide 2,000 more soldiers for the African
Union force, an army spokesman said Thursday, following a
decision this month by a regional body to bring AMISOM to
its full strength of 8,100.
“We are capable of providing the required force if other
countries fail to do so,” spokesman Felix Kulayigye told
AFP. “I should say, however, that I think it is appropriate
that other countries contribute.”
The United States welcomed Uganda’s decision and pledged to
boost its own aid to the force, the main obstacle preventing
the Shebab from seizing full control of Mogadishu.
“We have reviewed, since Sunday, the support that we’re
providing to AMISOM. We are going to beef that up,” State
Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
He also said 63 FBI agents assisting in the probe of
Sunday’s attacks had arrived in the region.
The Kampala attacks, the deadliest in the region since the
1998 bombings against the US embassies in Nairobi and Dares
Salaam, spoiled the continent’s World Cup party and drew
global condemnation. (AFP)
ban on bin Laden film
Pakistan was Friday
reviewing a decision to ban an Indian Bollywood comedy
poking fun at Osama bin Laden, which censors said was a
threat to security and offensive to Muslims.
Pakistani censors banned “Tere bin Laden” (Without you,
Laden) shortly before it was due to open at cinemas
nationwide this month.
The film is a spoof about a Pakistani reporter who wants to
migrate to the United States and hopes that an interview
with a bin Laden look-alike can get him the visa he has long
Pakistani pop singer Ali Zafar plays the starring role, but
the board of censors said the film could incite revenge
attacks in a country already suffering Islamist militant
bombings weekly if not daily.
Censors said the film ridiculed Pakistani society, was
offensive to Muslims, portrays bin Laden as a “coward and
ridiculous”, contained vulgar language and could fan
hostility among “fanatic and fundamentalist elements” in
The nuclear-armed country has struggled to contain Islamist
Bombs and attacks blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked
militants have killed more than 3,500 people since
government troops besieged a radical mosque in Islamabad in
But the film’s promoters appealed the ban as a violation of
freedom of expression, forcing government officials to
review the decision.
“I’m astonished they did this,” said promoter Nadeem
“There are many TV programmes in Pakistan criticising the
president, prime minister and everybody else in a comic way.
Our society has become tolerant.”
Government officials on Friday attended a private screening
of the film in order to decide whether to uphold the ban or
release it for public consumption, said Abdul Sattar
Khokhar, acting chairman of the Central Board of Film
A decision was expected later Friday, he said.
“This movie is anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan and there is a
security threat,” Khokhar told AFP, in comments indicating
that the ban was likely to be upheld.
Pakistan has a relatively free media, but authorities in May
briefly shut down YouTube and Facebook over blasphemous
content on the Internet. Internet links to material
considered offensive are still blocked.
The “Tere bin Laden” controversy comes after a number of
Gulf States banned a hard-hitting Bollywood film that claims
to tell the true story behind violence in the
Muslim-majority region. (AFP)
US hands over last Iraq jail
The U.S. military handed over its last prison in Iraq on
Thursday, ending an ignominious chapter of the 2003 U.S.
invasion that saw thousands detained without charge and
triggered outrage after disclosures of abuse.
At a ceremony in a hangar at Camp Cropper detention centre
near Baghdad airport, U.S. military officials gave their
Iraqi counterparts a giant, symbolic key and said they were
confident no prisoner maltreatment would occur under Iraqi
They also acknowledged some past mistakes.
“To be perfectly frank we have learned from our experiences
here,” the U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Major General
Stephen Lanza, told reporters before the handover ceremony.
“We have learned from our experiences here in terms of
detainee operations and from our inability to be prepared
for what we encountered,” he said.
Nearly 90,000 people have been rounded up by U.S. forces in
the last seven years as suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents
or members of Shi’ite militia.
Never charged, they were held for months or years in prisons
like Cropper, or Camp Bucca, a sprawling compound in the
southern desert near Kuwait that was closed down last year.
Disclosures in 2004 that U.S. jailers had abused and
sexually humiliated Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison on Baghdad’s
outskirts outraged many Iraqis and may have contributed to a
growing insurgency at the time. (Reuters)
Several journalists, including a Reuters photographer and
cameraman, have spent months in U.S. military detention
without ever being told what they were suspected of.
The U.S. military lost the right to detain Iraqis under a
bilateral security agreement signed in 2008 that paves the
way for a full U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011.
Camp Cropper will remain open for at least two years under
Iraqi control but will be renamed Camp Al Karkh.
Torture and abuse are commonplace throughout the general
Iraqi detention service, where prisons are overcrowded and
confessions are the basis of convictions rather than
But Human Rights Minister Wijdan Michael said she was
comfortable with her ministry’s ability to monitor prisoner
treatment at Cropper and other former U.S. prisons.
The transfer of control meant an end to a system of military
justice under which soldiers detained people for security
reasons alone rather than for crimes, she said.
“Now there is some rule of law,” Michael told Reuters at the
handover ceremony, speaking in English.
“This is something that is very great for us, very
historical for us, that we are changing the rule of all
these facilities from American or foreign countries to
The U.S. military will not be out of the prison business
entirely in Iraq.
At the request of the Iraqi authorities, U.S. wardens will
continue to guard around 200 of Cropper’s 1,500 detainees,
including al Qaeda militants and henchmen of ousted dictator
“Obviously there are former regime elements in this
population, there are al Qaeda in this population, there are
very dangerous detainees that have been identified in this
population,” said Major General Jerry Cannon, deputy U.S.
commander of detainee operations in Iraq.
Neither Cannon nor Iraqi Justice Minister Dara Nur Addin
provided an explanation for why the 200 had been singled
Eight of the 200 are former officials of Saddam’s government
who have been sentenced to death. Other Saddam confidants,
including former Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz, have already
been handed over to Iraqi prison authorities.
“Those who stayed with the U.S. forces might be handed over
to us. Maybe they want to see the formation of a new
government, maybe they will be handed over within days,”
Addin said at the handover ceremony. “The issue is not clear
Iranian scientist was CIA asset inside
The Iranian scientist who spent 14 months in the United
States in mysterious circumstances had been a CIA informant
inside Iran for years, The New York Times reported Friday.
“Shahram Amiri described to American intelligence officers
details of how a university in Tehran became the covert
headquarters for the country’s nuclear efforts,” the report
said citing unnamed US officials.
“While still in Iran, he was also one of the sources for a
much-disputed National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s
suspected weapons programme, published in 2007,” it further
cited the officials as saying.
Indeed it was “for several years” that “Amiri provided what
one official described as ‘significant, original’
information about secret aspects of his country’s nuclear
programme,” the US officials were quoted as saying.(AFP)
|SKorea, US to stage naval drills
South Korea and the United States will stage a series of
naval exercises this year to deter North Korea following the
sinking of one of Seoul’s warships, the defence ministry
The ministry also announced that a separate
anti-proliferation naval drill would be held off South Korea
in October, as part of Seoul’s military response.
The South and its US ally, citing findings of a
multinational investigation, accuse the North of torpedoing
the Cheonan warship in March and killing 46 sailors.
The North angrily denies involvement and says a UN Security
Council statement on July 9 - which condemned the attack
without specifying the culprit - proves its point.
Seoul and Washington are going ahead with war games this
month to deter Pyongyang. But the defence ministry says the
venue has been switched from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of
Japan (East Sea) following complaints from China.
In addition, a ministry spokesman told AFP, “there will be a
series of joint naval drills around the peninsula, probably
10, with US forces this year”.
Some would be part of regular annual joint exercises and
others were newly scheduled, he said, adding that none have
so far been planned near the disputed Yellow Sea border with
The ministry said it would host a Proliferation Security
Initiative (PSI) exercise on October 13-14 off the southern
port city of Busan.
The United States, Australia, Japan and Singapore will also
be among those taking part.
The PSI, launched in 2003 by then-US President George W.
Bush, aims to halt the shipping by sea or air of weapons of
The North, which has been accused of exporting missiles and
nuclear know-how as well as conventional weapons, has
described the South’s involvement in the drill as a
declaration of war. (AFP)