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Pakistan braces for fresh floods

(AFP) - Pakistan was on red alert Saturday as fresh floods threatened hundreds of communities in its farming heartland, with 12 million people already affected by the catastrophe.
Authorities were busy evacuating the densely populated southern province of Sindh, warning that a major deluge in the fertile basin along the swollen Indus river was expected to exacerbate the worst floods in the country’s history.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appealed for immediate international help to cope with the disaster as authorities evacuated half a million people from risk areas in the south.
“I would ask international community to support and help Pakistan alleviate sufferings of flood-affected people,” Gilani said in a televised address to the nation.
“Pakistan has been hit by worst floods of its history,” he said.
The nearly two-week-old disaster across the largely impoverished country - hard hit by Taliban-linked violence - has washed away entire villages and killed at least 1,600 people, according to UN estimates.
Bedraggled women, children and elderly men in shabby clothes were deposited on the banks of the Indus by rescue boats criss-crossing a giant lake dotted by tree tops in the village of Durrani Mehar in northern Sindh.
The meteorological office issued a red alert overnight, warning of an “imminent” and “extreme” flood threat to Sindh, especially along the Indus, as flooding spread to Indian-held Kashmir, where more than 110 people have now died.
Torrential rains were also forecast in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the disaster management authority warned people who have returned to partially damaged homes or those living along rivers to be careful.
Head of the flood relief operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Major General Ghayoor Mehmood, told reporters in Peshawar that the floods killed some 1,400 people in the province, with 213 still missing.
“The scale of the needs is absolutely daunting,” said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
More than 252,000 homes are thought to have been damaged or destroyed across Pakistan, and 1.38 million acres (558,000 hectares) of crop land flooded, and it could take weeks before electricity is fully restored.
“Our cattle died and the cotton crop destroyed,” said Mohammad Bakhsh, 50, a resident of Qasim Ghot village.
“I’ve got calls on my mobile saying 20 to 25 children from our family are stranded in the village and are holding on to tree branches.
“We are begging the authorities to rescue them. Two of my children have drowned and we don’t know where they are,” Bakhsh said.
The flooding has threatened electricity generation plants, forcing units to shut down in a country already suffering a crippling energy crisis.
Survivors have lashed out at authorities for failing to come to their rescue and provide better relief, piling pressure on a cash-strapped administration straining to contain Taliban violence and an economic crisis.

Terror blast hit Japanese tanker

(AFP) An explosives-laden boat carried out a “terrorist attack” that damaged a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz last week, the United Arab Emirates said on Friday, raising security fears for the vital waterway.
“The investigation and examination conducted by special teams have shown the tanker was attacked with explosives, prepared using traditional methods, which were loaded on a boat that approached the ship,” a UAE coastguard spokesman said on the official WAM news agency.
“UAE explosives experts... found a dent on the starboard side above the water line and remains of home-made explosives on the hull,” when they inspected the ship off the UAE port of Fujairah, the official said.
“Probably the tanker had encountered a terrorist attack from a boat loaded with explosives,” he was quoted as saying on the agency’s English-language website.
In Tokyo, Japanese Transport Minister Seiji Maehara said he had instructed ministry officials to ask the UAE authorities for details of the investigation, as requested by the prime minister.
“Without prejudgment, we will carry out our analysis on the cause of the incident,” Maehara was quoted as saying by Jiji Press.
Japan “should take a firm stance” in response to such incidents because they threaten the country’s oil imports, the minister added.
The world’s second largest economy sources some 90 percent of its oil from the Middle East, much of it from the Gulf, where the tanker was sailing from.
Jihadists on Tuesday claimed a suicide bomber had struck the ship owned by Mitsui OSK Lines, which reported that tanker the M Star appeared to have been hit by a blast on July 28 in international waters between Iran and Oman.

Thai protesters gather in Bangkok

(AFP) Thai royalist “Yellow Shirts” rallied in Bangkok on Saturday as the influential movement seeks to pressure the government over a territorial row with Cambodia.
Thai police said around 1,200 people - many wearing yellow and waving national flags - gathered at a sports stadium after protesters shied away from confrontation with authorities by abandoning plans to meet at Government House.
Political gatherings of more than five people are banned under a state of emergency imposed in Bangkok in April during mass anti-government protests.
The Yellows, known as the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), have previously allied themselves with the current Thai political leadership but the protest is the latest sign that the group is flexing its political muscle.
Last minute talks with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva secured the venue compromise, although around 300 demonstrators did turn up at the government compound, and the Thai leader is now expected to speak at the rally.
Chamlong Srimuang, a senior PAD leader, told reporters that demonstrators simply wanted to press the government for information on its progress on the thorny Cambodian land issue.
“Today is not a protest against government,” he said.
The PAD has criticised the governing Democrat party for signing up to a deal with Thailand’s neighbour in 2000 that the Yellows believe paved the way for recognition of a Cambodian land claim.
The group has demanded that Thailand tear up the memorandum of understanding, eject Cambodian citizens from the disputed 4.6 square kilometre (1.8 square mile) area, and try to regain control of the Preah Vihear temple.
The Yellow Shirts, who are backed by the Bangkok-based elite, are a force to be reckoned with in Thailand’s colour-coded political landscape.
Rallies in 2006 helped trigger the coup that unseated fugitive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, hero of the mostly poor, working class “Red Shirts”, whose mass protests in Bangkok this year culminated in deadly clashes with troops.
Red Shirts have complained of double standards in the way authorities treat their movement.

Wildfires choke Moscow

(AFP) Russia struggled Saturday to battle wildfires which have claimed 52 lives and choked Moscow, as the US, Germany and France asked citizens avoid travel to the capital and other stricken areas.
Moscow moved to protect military and nuclear sites from the onslaught of its worst ever blazes in modern history and launched an appeal for volunteers to help stem the relentless march. The emergency situations ministry is seeking the help “of all people who can pitch in”, a spokesman told AFP. The defence ministry ordered the evacuation of missiles from a depot outside the smothered capital as authorities warned of the risk of fires reactivating contamination in an area hit by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Germany closed its embassy until further notice and advised citizens against “non-essential” travel to the affected regions while the US State Department asked nationals to seriously review travel plans.
“Forest fires and extreme high temperatures in the Moscow region and surrounding areas of central Russia have produced hazardous levels of air pollution and caused numerous flight delays and cancellations in Moscow,” the department said in a warning set to expire September 5.
“The hazardous air quality means that persons with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low. Everyone should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors,” it added.
The French foreign ministry also asked citizens to avoid travel to nine affected regions and announced it was sending experts to determine “the most adequate aid” it could offer.
Moscow’s iconic landmarks such as the spires of the Kremlin towers or the onion domes of Orthodox churches were largely invisible from a distance on Friday as a heavy smog hung over the city after the worst heatwave in decades broke out in July.
“I woke up this morning, looked out of the window and saw a monstrous situation,” declared President Dmitry Medvedev. “We all want this heatwave to pass but this is not in our hands, it is decided above.”
He called on Moscovites to show patience, although he acknowledged “we’re suffocating, you can’t breathe”.
The emergencies ministry said the total area ablaze was down slightly at 179,600 hectares (444,000 acres) and for the first time it was putting out more fires than were appearing.


Atom bombs on Hiroshima, Nagasaki

Man’s inhumanity to man

It was over in half a heartbeat. There was a blinding flash, a new molten sun in the sky, and death everywhere. Steel warped. Concrete melted. People were vapourised, leaving scorched outlines on stone walls and steps. Suddenly, Hiroshima became a flattened, burning grave. And a black rain fell. Days later, Nagasaki too lay in ruins.
Debate rages to this day about the legitimacy of the American atomic attacks that ended the war with Japan that raged from 1941 to 1945. But there is no debating the appalling human cost: More than 200,000 people died, while those who survived faced agonising radiation sickness, crippling injuries, chronic disease. Never had so much suffering been meted out in an instant.
About 140,000 people were killed or died within months when the American B-29, Enola Gay, bombed Hiroshima. Three days later about 80,000 people died after the US attacked Nagasaki on August 9. Japan surrendered on August 15, ending the Second World War.
As the world marks the 65th anniversary of Hiroshima’s bombing today, the memory remains a powerful summons to sanity, and an accelerated approach to the scrapping of nuclear weapons.
Representatives from 75 nations were among thousands of spectators who gathered to remember the moment
For the first time, a representative of the United States, which dropped the bomb on the city, is attending.
Washington’s decision to send its ambassador to Tokyo, John Roos, is being seen by some in Japan as a sign that President Barack Obama may decide to visit Hiroshima when he comes to Japan.
If so, he would be the first sitting US president to visit the city.
Speaking in Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US was committed to ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
“President Obama, is very committed to working toward a world without nuclear weapons. He has said many times he recognises this is a long-term goal.”
Britain and France, both nuclear powers, are also making their first appearances at a Hiroshima commemoration.
Japan, the only country to have been attacked with nuclear weapons, has been pushing for their abolition. Hiroshima was obliterated by the bomb, and the centre of the city now hosts the Peace Memorial Park where the anniversary commemoration takes place.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in the city and said on arrival: “The only way to ensure that such weapons will never again be used is to eliminate them all”.
“There must be no place in our world for such indiscriminate weapons.”
Mr Ban, who presented flowers at the Eternal Flame in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, said this year’s memorial would send a strong signal to the world that nuclear weapons must be destroyed.
“Life is short, but memory is long,” he said. “For many of you, that day endures... as vivid as the white light that seared the sky, as dark as the black rains that followed.”
Mr Ban said the time had come to move from “Ground Zero, to Global Zero” - a world without any nuclear arms.
(Toronto Star/Press Association/BBC news)


Plane disaster drill that fooled the world

Journalists are long used to taking the word of Zimbabwean authorities with more than a generous pinch of salt. But, as black smoke billowed over Harare airport yesterday and ambulances screeched towards it, the worst was expected.
“A 767 plane from London has had an accident at Harare airport,” the head of Zimbabwe’s Civil Aviation Authority told the press. “I can confirm there has been an accident, but I cannot give details right now.”
Soldiers, paramilitary police and security agents sealed off all approaches to the airport and guarded the perimeter. Military helicopters hovered above the smoke. At the capital’s Parirenyatwa hospital, distressed relatives gathered and extra medical staff were rushed in. All nervously waited for the arrival of casualties from the airport.
But, as news of the disaster spread on the internet, the patients never appeared. As the smoke cleared, more details emerged. The “distressed relatives” had been “actors”, and the entire situation a drill.
“Telling the media was part of the exercise,” Civil Aviation Authority chief, David Chawota told a press conference. “We wanted to see how our media would react. All our systems worked perfectly. Police, security and hospital staff reacted swiftly.”
Chief of the national carrier Air Zimbabwe, Peter Chikumba said, he had also been kept in the dark. He told the media that an emergency helpdesk had been set up for victims and their families.
Journalists who arrived at the scene saw smoke rising from a runway, and were taken to a room where they were told to wait. The “accident” comes just over a year since the ban on foreign media was lifted.

Pentagon pressures WikiLeaks for
military files

US defence department warns it will find ways to compel whistleblowers’ site to ‘do the right thing’ over Afghan war logs
The Pentagon has demanded that WikiLeaks immediately erase the huge cache of secret US military files about the Afghan war it has posted online and hand over another 15,000 classified records in its possession.
Condemning the whistleblowers’ website for inciting the leaking of military secrets, the Department of Defence warned it would examine ways to compel WikiLeaks to “do the right thing” if it did not do so voluntarily.
“The only acceptable course is for WikiLeaks to take steps to immediately return all versions of all of those documents to the US government, and permanently delete them from its website, computers and records,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said yesterday.
“If doing the right thing is not good enough for them, then we will figure out what alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing.”
Although the Defence Department has no independent power to enforce its demands, its increasingly threatening language is seen as a bid to deter WikiLeaks from releasing the 15,000 Afghan war records it has not published, as well as an encrypted file recently added to the site entitled “insurance”.
The publication of the files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, was one of the biggest leaks in US military history. Morrell said, public disclosure of secret documents had already threatened the safety of coalition troops and Afghan informants, a charge which WikiLeaks’s founder, Julian Assange, denies. Morrell said disclosure of any further material would “only make the damage worse”.
He said a task force of about 80 government intelligence experts was examining the files already published on WikiLeaks, and were doing “proactive” work to assess the risk posed by the other 15,000 records, which Assange has said the site held back to protect innocent people from harm. (Guardian)



Hiroshima remembrance underscores urgency for disarmament

By Thanapathi
It took the United States over six decades to bring itself to the memorial of the bombing of Hiroshima. This year, representatives from 75 nations - including the US, for the first time - were among thousands of people who gathered to remember the moment when an American bomber dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city 65-years-ago on the morning of August 6, 1945. An estimated 140,000 people were killed or died within months of the bomb being dropped in the final days of World War II. Japan surrendered after a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later on August 9.
Thankfully, the world has not seen the use of nuclear bombs since the end of World War II, even though it has come very close on several occasions. Yet, nuclear disarmament remains one of the most desired, but illusive goals for humanity. Many emerging and rogue nations alike have viewed the acquisition of nuclear weapons as the ultimate status symbol or insurance policy, depending on its own assessments.
After the initial race to develop these deadly weapons, soon after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world came to its senses that nuclear weapons were not for everyone. Since the nuclear non proliferation agreement coming into force in 1970, the development of nuclear weapons has been brought under stricter controls, while five nations, namely the US, Soviet Union/Russia, UK, France and China had declared by then to possess ‘the bomb’, were allowed to keep it.
Despite the many nuclear non proliferation treaties, countries other than the official five, have tried and succeeded in getting the most destructive of all weapons developed by humans. Though countries such as South Africa, that once possessed nuclear weapons, have voluntarily given them up, and Libya and Iraq had been forced to do so, there are many more who still aspire to become members of that exclusive club of nuclear armed nations. Israel, for years, is believed to possess nuclear weapons, though it has never admitted to it. North Korea is now accepted as a nuclear armed nation with up to maybe a dozen warheads, and a delivery system which can, in theory, reach most of Asia and even the western coast of the United States. India and Pakistan developed their own bombs in the 1970’s, while Syria and Iran are currently accused of carrying out clandestine projects to do the same. The Iraqi ambition of building nuclear weapons was shattered in 1981, when Israeli planes bombed its research facilities. A suspected Syrian nuclear facility was bombed by the Israelis in 2007, but no one really knows whether that programme is actually delayed or finished. Iran, of course, is the biggest headache for the West, with many suspecting the Islamic Republic of carrying out a weapons programme in guise of the civilian nuclear programme it has professed to be working on.
Despite the dismal outlook on nuclear non proliferation, the present maybe the best time in decades to seriously address the issue. With the Cold War over for 20 years and the US, for the first time in many years, having a US president committed to reducing that country’s nuclear stockpile, the globe may finally be due for some good news in nuclear non proliferation. Despite threats of Iran developing a nuclear weapon, and North Korea using the ones that it has, under the presidency of Barack Obama, the larger nuclear nations have indicated that they are willing to reduce their stockpiles, providing incentive for others.
President Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in April this year, which assured that both countries will reduce their nuclear arsenals. The treaty is seen as the most important non proliferation document in decades. However, President Obama faces an uphill battle to get the treaty ratified through his country’s Senate.
It is hoped that nuclear disarmament will work in the reverse logic of the arms race to build the deadly weapons. Once the US and Russia reduce their weapons, it is hoped that China will consider disarming. With the Chinese reduction, India will have less of an excuse to pile up nuclear weapons. In theory, this would lead to Pakistan being less agitated of a nuclear strike from its neighbour, and would follow suite. With regard to Iran, Syria and Israel, there is less of a chance of either of these countries reducing their military capabilities, nuclear or otherwise, until there is permanent peace in the region.
In 1945, US President Harry Truman gave the order to drop the atomic bombs on Japan, and since then, US leaders have not ruled out the use of nuclear weapons, but only as a last resort. Yet, the allure of possessing nuclear weapons is not something US leaders have been shy about. Even in the recent US presidential election primary, then candidate Hilary Clinton, when asked whether she would use a nuclear strike against Iran to protect US ally Israel, answered in the affirmative. However, now, in her capacity as Secretary of State, Clinton said this week, that the US was committed to ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
“This president, President Obama, is very committed to working toward a world without nuclear weapons. He has said many times he recognises this is a long-term goal” she said, confirming that the US will, for the first time, participate in the Hiroshima commemorations.
Nuclear non-proliferation has many hurdles to cross. The world is far from becoming free of these deadly weapons. There are many intellectuals across the globe who argue that it was nuclear weapons that prevented World War III. The Mutually Assured Destruction (with the appropriate abbreviation MAD) is the governing concept of nuclear deterrent. In theory, two nations would almost, never use their nuclear weapons, since they will be assured of massive retaliation. This deterrent is the driving force behind the move to stall the US-Russian treaty to reduce nuclear stockpiles, while countries such as North Korea and Iran actively seek to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.
A world without nuclear weapons may still be a distant dream, but at least, on the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, there is hope that we may have come just a little bit closer.


Middle East on the
brink of war?

Tuesday’s cross-border fire-fight between Israeli and Lebanese government forces may simply have been a misunderstanding. And the rockets fired from Gaza and the Israeli air-strikes on the besieged border territory over the past week could be viewed as periodic blips in business as usual on that front. By the same token, last Friday’s unprecedented joint visit to Beirut by the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Syria, could be viewed simply as a move to stop the conflict between their Lebanese proxies from turning nasty. And British Prime Minister David Cameron’s pleas to Turkey to keep open its communication channels with Israel’s leaders are quotidian diplomatic common sense. Viewed in a wider context, however, each of those events could be signs of why many in the Middle East believe that, despite the outward calm, the region may be on the brink of another catastrophic war.
A new report based on extensive conversations with regional decision-makers, released Monday, August 2, by the International Crisis Group, the respected mediation organisation of former diplomats, warns of the possibility of war. “The situation in the Levant is ... exceptionally quiet and uniquely dangerous, both for the same reason,” the Crisis Group warns. “The build-up in military forces and threats of an all-out war that would spare neither civilians nor civilian infrastructure, together with the worrisome prospect of its regionalisation, are effectively deterring all sides.” But, while Hezbollah and its regional backers, Syria and Iran, believe that the build-up in the Shiite militia’s arsenal and capabilities is deterring Israel from launching attacks on any of them, Israel views the acquisition by Hezbollah of a missile arsenal capable of raining destruction on Israeli cities, as an intolerable threat. “As Hezbollah’s firepower grows,” the Crisis Group notes, “so too does Israel’s desire to tackle the problem before it is too late ... What is holding the current architecture in place is also what could rapidly bring it down.”
Should a new war break out, Israel is determined to strike a devastating blow more quickly than it did during the last conflict, in which it failed in its objective of destroying Hezbollah. It has publicly warned that it would destroy Lebanese civilian infrastructure, and that Syria, as Hezbollah’s armourer, would not be off-limits. But Hezbollah believes its capacity to fire missiles into Tel Aviv is key to restraining Israel from returning to finish off the Shiite militia. And, of course, amid regional tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme, members of the self-styled “axis of resistance” — Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah — have deepened their alliance, raising the possibility of any one of those groups joining the fray, should any of the others come under attack from Israel or the US.
Although, all of the main players have good reason to avoid initiating another war right now, the Crisis Group warns that “tensions are mounting with no obvious safety valve.” At some point, Hezbollah’s growing deterrent could cross Israel’s red line. And the Western diplomatic boycott of the resistance camp is cause for alarm, because there are no effective channels through which the various antagonists can be made to understand how their actions could produce unintended consequences — in the tragic tradition of Middle Eastern wars that have erupted, in part, because the adversaries failed to understand one another’s intentions. Indeed, after proclaiming his movement’s “divine victory”, in standing up to Israel’s 2006 offensive, a feat that made him a hero on the streets of the Arab world, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah admitted that, had he known Israel would respond with a full-blown invasion, he would have avoided the provocation of snatching Israeli troops, which started the showdown.

Sierra Leone least interested in witness Campbell

Fourteen people were sitting in court number two at the pristine UN-backed war crimes court in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There was capacity for scores more, but only nine diehards had come to watch the live streaming of Naomi Campbell’s testimony in the trial of former Liberian president, Charles Taylor. The other five were security guards working at the court.
On the streets of Freetown, people were not sure who Campbell was, let alone that she had come to testify at a hearing relating to Sierra Leone’s diamond-fuelled civil war in the 1990s.
Some said that they had grown weary of the trial anyway, and wanted to move on. “The court and this trial have lasted for too long,” said Aiah Ngaujah, a victim of the war, who had both his arms hacked off by rebels allegedly backed by Taylor.
Conteh, another amputee, was convinced that the former Liberian president was guilty as charged. “He is living in luxury in Europe, while we suffer here,” he said, dashing to pick up 1,000 leones (about 16p) dropped for him from a passing car.
A journalist, Murtala Kamara said he was pleased to see Campbell in the witness box. “It was good she came, you know,” he said.
Spokesman for the court, Peter Andersen said the poor attendance could be attributed to a lack of publicity, uncertainty over when the model would appear, and the fact that proceedings were shown on satellite news channels, allowing people to watch from home – though very few homes here have access to satellite television.
A lawyer, Leon Jenkins-Johnston, who was in court to watch the online streaming of the event, was angry about the low attendance. “It’s a shame! A big shame,” he said, looking around the near empty courtroom. “We are pawns in this whole game.” (GUARDIAN)

Wyclef Jean: From musical stage
to political one in Haiti

Hip-hop star Wyclef Jean for president of Haiti

For international music superstar Wyclef Jean, old habits die hard.
After registering to run for the presidency of this earthquake-ravaged nation, he did what he has done frequently on visits to Haiti -- climb atop a music truck blaring Creole hip-hop.
‘’America, President Obama, Haiti has Wyclef!’’ Jean said amid cheers from hundreds of supporters. ‘’He is not a diaspora candidate. He speaks Creole!’’
Jean faces a battle of a lifetime in his bid to rule Haiti, but his actions on Thursday indicate that this will be no ordinary campaign.
Though born in a Port-au-Prince suburb, Jean left Haiti when he was 9, and must now prove to election officials that he meets the qualifications to be president, including five consecutive years of residency in the country.
He also must persuade voters to trust that he can govern a nation known for widespread corruption and financial mismanagement, despite problems handling his personal finances and running his own charitable organisation.
Still, the 40-year-old is confident.
When he made his rock-star arrival at the national election bureau, Jean finally put to rest months-long speculation over his eagerness to occupy the National Palace.
Whoever wins the presidential vote scheduled for November 28 will inherit one of the toughest jobs in the Western Hemisphere. As Haiti struggles to recover from January’s massive earthquake, the winner will have to lead reconstruction efforts, seek shelter for 1.6 million homeless people still living in makeshift camps, and remedy the country’s myriad woes.
Jean joins what’s expected to be a crowded field, including his uncle, Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s former US ambassador; Michel ``Sweet Micky’’ Martelly, a musician; and Wilson Jeudy, the mayor of Delmas.
President René Préval, who is barred from seeking another term, picked Jacques Edouard Alexis, a two-time prime minister who was ousted in 2008, in the aftermath of food riots. Alexis has become an immediate favourite for the job.
But Jean proved on Thursday that he could be a competent campaigner. When he arrived at commission headquarters, an entourage of bodyguards whisked him indoors to register. After exiting the building, he hoisted his baby daughter, wearing a white dress.Then Jean- who ditched his usual T-shirt for a dark suit, began to crowd surf and climbed atop the music truck to address the crowd.
‘’Haiti has Voudouisants, Catholics, Protestants,’’ he said. ‘’We should live together.’