|IRAN ‘OPEN TO NEW
Ahmadinejad’s 9/11 comments rapped by US
NEW YORK (AFP) - Iran and the UN both said they were open
to a new round of nuclear talks, but their fierce enmity was
again revealed by a war of words over the September 11
US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad were both in the spotlight, though they never
met, at the UN General Assembly meetings, on a day of
duelling rhetoric and diplomatic jockeying for position.
Ahmadinejad said an Iranian official may meet European Union
foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton next month in a bid
to open new international talks on a program which the West
says is a quest for nuclear weapons.
He said some of the six powers negotiating on the nuclear
dispute -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the
United States -- had had contacts with Iranian Foreign
Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the UN this week.
Ahmadinejad inisted it was up to Ashton to initiative moves
for what he said was a meeting in October scheduled under a
“If Ms Ashton contacts the Iranian representative she can
set a time for talks,” the Iranian leader told a press
Denis McDonough, chief of staff of Obama’s National
Security, noted that Ashton reached out to Iran earlier this
year, but never heard back.
“When she hears back, we will know whether they are serious
or not,” he said.
A day after telling Iran that the door for diplomacy was
still open, Obama told the BBC Persian service that a
genuine dialogue could see tough new sanctions on Iran
removed, along with the fear of armed confrontation.
“Our strong preference is to resolve these issues
diplomatically. I think that’s in Iran’s interest. I think
that is in the interest of the international community,”
“I think it remains possible, but it is going to require a
change in mindset inside the Iranian government.”
Obama targeted Ahmadinejad over his tirade to the UN
Security Council on Thursday, in which he suggested the US
government staged the September 11 attacks in 2001.
“It was offensive, it was hateful,” Obama said, slamming
Ahmadinejad’s remarks, and bemoaning the fact the outburst
occurred in Manhattan, so close to the Ground Zero footprint
of the felled World Trade Center twin towers.
Sudan vote: Fate of
millions of people ‘hangs in the balance’
NEW YORK (AFP) - US President Barack Obama and UN chief
Ban Ki-moon led international warnings to Sudan that votes
which could lead to the breakup of Africa’s biggest nation
must be on time and without violence.
Amid fears of a new conflict blowing up in one of the
world’s most unstable regions, Obama told a special UN
meeting: “At this moment, the fate of millions of people
hangs in the balance.
“What happens in Sudan in the days ahead may decide whether
people who have endured too much war, move towards peace or
slip backwards to bloodshed.”
He asaid events between North and South Sudan and in Darfur
“matters to all of sub-Saharan Africa and it matters to the
Obama and the UN chief gave the same stern message to the
Khartoum government and its rival in southern Sudan that
they must accelerate preparations for the January 9 votes in
South Sudan and the small region of Abyei.
Diplomats say preparations for the referenda are seriously
behind schedule. They fear that South Sudan could declare
unilateral independence if there is a delay, sparking a new
civil war in the country.
The international community has “clear expectations” of the
governments in the North and South, Ban Ki-moon told the
“We expect the referenda to be peaceful, carried out in an
environment free of intimidation or other infringements of
“We expect both parties to accept the results, and to plan
for the consequences.”
The UN chief said the “stakes are high for Sudan, for Africa
and for the international community.”
Two decades of civil war between the North and South up to
2005 left two million dead. The self-determination votes in
South Sudan and Abyei, both key oil producers, were part of
a peace accord that ended the conflict.
With Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir facing an
international warrant on war crimes charges, two vice
presidents represented the divided country: Ali Osman Taha,
who speaks for the Khartoum government, and Salva Kiir, the
leader of Southern Sudan.
Quietly, US military opens up to Sikhs
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Growing up near the air force base in
Dayton, Ohio, Tejdeep Singh Rattan knew he wanted to serve
in uniform. When the military discouraged him, he persisted
but again got a cold shoulder.
When he was turned away a third time, Rattan -- an observant
Sikh with a turban and beard -- became suspicious.
“I was, like, I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “I was
very introverted at the time. I never felt the need to fight
back. But I said I really want to do this, and you guys are
sending me out again and again.”
The 31-year-old is now US Army Captain Rattan, since July
the head dentist at the Fort Drum base in New York.
In what appears to be a quiet shift, the US military since
last year has allowed Rattan and two other Sikhs to serve
while retaining their turbans and beards, which are required
by their faith.
Rattan and another Sikh who received approval last year --
Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, a doctor -- said in
interviews that their superiors had welcomed them warmly.
Kalsi, 34, said that on his first day of training at Fort
Sam Houston in Texas, a first sergeant pulled him out of the
crowd and told the soldiers about the Sikh’s long ordeal to
“These were his words: ‘The Army is made up of different
shades of green, and if you have any objection to him being
here, you need to tell me now,’” Kalsi said. “It was great;
The US Sikh community -- estimated at more than half a
million -- suffered hate crimes after the September 11, 2001
attacks by assailants who falsely associated the religion
founded in India with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“I think the only way for that perception to be eliminated
is when young Sikhs come up and say: I want to serve in the
military,” Rattan said.
“For me, I said whatever it takes, I’m going to fight this
thing -- I’m going to serve. Maybe if nothing else comes out
of it, people will know who Sikhs are,” he said.
Sikhs have a historic military culture and have long kept
their articles of faith in the militaries of Britain, Canada
Small numbers of Sikhs for years served in the US armed
forces without incident. But in the 1980s, the post-Vietnam
War military moved to increase conformity and banned
displays of religious identity for new recruits.
The Supreme Court in 1986 upheld the military’s right to
prohibit a Jewish officer from wearing a yarmulke. In
response, Congress approved a law requiring the military to
approve soldiers’ religious apparel if it is “neat and
Army spokesman George Wright said that it evaluated each
Sikh soldier’s request based on “unique facts and individual
“It is the Army’s policy to accommodate religious practices
as long as the practice will not have an adverse impact on
military necessity,” Wright said.
But lawyers for the men believe the US military has
developed guidance -- a general guideline, but short of an
official policy -- to accommodate Sikhs.
Most recently, the Army on August 30 accommodated a new
recruit, Simran Preet Singh Lamba, after initially denying
him. Lawyers closely watched his case as he will undergo
rank-and-file training and is not in the medical field.
|Japanese dailies critical over release
of Chinese skipper
TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese
dailies yesterday warned the release of a Chinese fishing
boat captain whose arrest sparked a bitter row between the
two countries gave the impression that Tokyo will yield to
diplomatic pressure. Japan early yesterday freed the Chinese
skipper who was arrested on September 8 after his boat
collided with two Japanese coastguard vessels near a
disputed island chain, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by
Zhan Qixiong’s release “has possibly given an impression to
China that Japan will yield to pressure”, the influential
Asahi Shimbun daily said, warning that the government must
learn from a “bitter lesson”.
The best-selling Yomiuri Shimbun also expressed concern
about the release, saying: “The Japanese coastguard’s
authority may have been undermined against Chinese fishing
boats illegally operating in Japanese waters off the Senkaku
Japanese prosecutors cited the deepening rift between
Beijing and Tokyo in their decision to release the captain,
while the centre-left government said it was taken by
prosecutors alone, and not because of political pressure.
Suu Kyi ‘can vote in election’
YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar officials said detained opposition
leader Aung San Suu Kyi would be entitled to vote in the
upcoming election, despite earlier statements that she would
be barred from taking part.
Raising confusion over the Nobel Peace laureate’s rights and
the interpretation of the electoral laws, an official said:
“Aung San Suu Kyi and her two live-in maids will get the
right to vote.
“But they will not get permission to go outside on election
The official suggested: “The authorities might ask them to
vote in advance.”
Washington dismissed the move, saying the elections were not
“free or fair”.
“We don’t think it has any merit,” US State Department
spokesman Mark Toner said of the gesture.
Later Friday, an AFP correspondent saw Suu Kyi’s name on the
electoral roll at the Election Commission office in Bahan
Township in Yangon, where the 64-year-old lives under house
arrest in her lakeside mansion.
Court freezes Chile mine assets
COPIAPO, Chile: A court in Chile has frozen the assets of
the company which owns the mine where 33 men have been
trapped for 50 days.
The move was requested by the Chilean government, which
wants the company to repay the cost of the miners’ rescue.
The San Esteban mining company was in financial trouble even
before the main access tunnel to its copper and gold mine
And the rescue operation will add millions of dollars to its
debts. The company reportedly owes creditors more than $10
An appraiser has been asked to report back to creditors in a
month’s time on whether the company should be declared
Floods ‘great catch’ for fishermen
SHAH BUNDER, Pakistan (AFP) - Millions of people may be
struggling to survive after Pakistan’s worst humanitarian
disaster in history, but fishermen are hoping to reel in the
catch of a lifetime.
Villagers who eke out a basic existence in the Indus river
delta near the Arabian Sea see a glimmer of rare hope --
more fish in the water after devastating floods that
affected an area the size of England.
“The river has met the sea,” said Abdur Rehman, 45, who owns
a small fishing boat in the sparsely populated village of
Shah Bunder, 210 kilometres from Karachi in the far south of
“It will increase the size and number of fish, which means
we will have a great catch in the future,” said Rehman.
The UN has issued a record two-billion-dollar appeal for
funds to deal with the aftermath of the disaster, which UN
agencies say affected 21 million people and left 12m in need
of emergency food aid.
Torrential rain began falling in northern Pakistan in late
July and the floods have since moved slowly south, wiping
out villages and farmland.
|POLICE HONE COUNTER-TERRORISM
Chinese anti-terrorism police
SWAT members take part in an excercise on the outskirts of
Arctic row: The new
In the 19th century, European colonial governments divided
Africa among themselves like family members dividing up an
The Berlin Conference of 1884–85 regulated European
colonisation and trade in Africa during the new Imperialism
What was later known as the scramble for Africa saw
artificial border lines being drawn across the map of
Africa, dividing existing nations and communities and
bringing together ones that were remotely connected under
newly established states.
The riches of Africa were at stake and they were up for
grabs among European nations who had the power to make the
A 21st century’s scramble may about to enter a decisive
Several nations laying claim to the riches of the Arctic met
in Moscow this week to work out the partition of the North
pole and the surrounding Arctic Circle.
Similar to the scramble for Africa a century ago, the same
resource driven national forces are driving the latest power
struggle for the Arctic.
The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue International Forum that
is currently underway in Russia is to discuss the Arctic’s
mineral resources. It also represents a strategic move by
Russia in a new battle for the northern most part of the
The shrinking polar ice caps, making the territory more
accessible, is fuelling a scramble by neighbouring countries
for a slice of its underground minerals. Russia, Norway,
Canada, Denmark and the US have all laid claims to territory
in the region.
The scramble for resources has been set in motion partly by
global warming which has caused the polar ice to melt and
making the extraction of the natural resources far easier.
One-quarter of the Earth’s untapped energy riches are
believed to be buried in the Arctic sea floor.
Unlike the southern Antarctic, the Arctic is not a continent
but a permanently frozen sea of ice.
The melting of the polar ice has meant that the sea lane
through the region is now more accessible for a longer
period of the year than ever before.
This has given access to Russian and Canadian shipping lines
the options of reaching the Pacific Ocean and subsequently
the bustling Asian markets through the Bering Sea rather
than sailing half way across the globe.
A US Geological Survey study released last year pegged the
Arctic’s resources at around 90 billion barrels of oil and
1.7 trillion cubic feet of gas.
The study added that about 30% of the gas yet to be
discovered in the world lies north of the Arctic Circle,
with most of it in Russian territory.
The melting ice in the Arctic has fuelled a modern day gold
rush with many multinational oil giants vying for the
spoils. India’s state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation
(ONGC) is among six global companies that have bid for
exploiting the giant oil deposits in Russia’s Arctic region
Russia, Canada and Denmark are all seeking scientific proof
that the ridge is an underwater extension of their
continental shelf. In 2001, Moscow submitted a territorial
claim to the UN which was rejected because of lack of
It plans to resubmit the claim in 2012-13 after spending
some 2 billion roubles ($64m) on research, according to the
Associated Press news agency.
Denmark enjoys sovereignty over the massive landmass of
Greenland and is at the negotiating table to lay claims to
the territories stretching from Greenland to the North Pole.
Canada is likely to hand its file to the UN around 2013
while Denmark plans to put forward its details by the end of
Under international law, no country currently owns the North
Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea states that the five
coastal nations bordering the Arctic can claim exclusive
economic rights to natural resources on or beneath the sea
floor up to 200 nautical miles (370km) beyond their land
But if the continental shelf extends beyond that distance,
the country must provide evidence to a UN commission which
will then make recommendations about establishing an outer
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rejected talk of an
impending battle for control of the Arctic region’s mineral
He told the international conference in Moscow he was
confident the region’s resources could be exploited in a
spirit of partnership.
Putin has told the conference there have been a lot of
predictions about a looming battle, but he says none of
these frightening scenarios have real foundation.
He says any territorial disputes will be resolved under
The prime minister’s speech was much anticipated given
Russia’s claim to control more than 1 million square
kilometres beyond its current territorial waters, all the
way to the North Pole.
On August 2, 2007, a Russian expedition called Arktika,
using submersibles, for the first time in history descended
to the seabed at the North Pole.
They planted the Russian flag and took water and soil
samples for analysis, continuing a mission to provide
additional evidence related to the Russian claim to the
mineral riches of the Arctic.
This was part of the ongoing 2007 Russian North Pole
expedition within the programme of the 2007–2008
International Polar Year.
The US and Canada scoffed at the Russian flag planting on
the North Pole, calling it a mere show that did not justify
Russia’s claim to the North Pole.
In reaction to the Russians Canada answered by announcing
its plans to spend up to $7.12 billion to build and operate
eight patrol ships to help protect its sovereignty in the
Wishing not to be left out at the table of “great game for
the Arctic” China has also made its own claim for resources
in the region. Currently on a worldwide metals and energy
shopping spree, China clearly has no intention of being
dealt out of the Great Arctic Energy Game.
Beijing has already gained observer status at the Arctic
Council and has opened research stations in Norway.
It also owns the world’s largest, Soviet-bought, icebreaker,
with which it already plies Arctic waters.
China has a keen interest not only in gaining stakes in new
oil and gas fields, but also has a strategic interest in
newly navigable Arctic waterways that could significantly
reduce the length of China’s westbound trading routes.
The high stakes game for the arctic is now on. Just like the
colonial governments carving out Africa in the 19th century,
today’s power brokers are busy making their claims for the
resource rich Arctic.
Though communities and nations are not as risk of being
thrown around an artificial map in the scarcely populated
Arctic Circle, the present day great game can have
consequences for the whole of humanity for decades to come.
With most of the world’s freshwater and a quarter of its oil
resources at stake, the scramble for the Arctic is bound to
be anything but civil.
|Fatah, Hamas in key talks
DAMASCUS (AFP) - Leaders of the two rival Palestinian
movements Fatah and Hamas held reconciliation talks here and
said they wanted the discussions to continue.
Exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Fatah representative
Azzam Al Ahmad met in Meshaal’s Damascus office “in a
fraternal and friendly climate with the aim of ending their
divisions,” a joint communique said after the meeting.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah which controls
the West Bank “reviewed the points of disagreement” and
agreed on “a process and measures to advance toward
reconciliation,” the statement said.
The two movements decided to “hold a meeting shortly” to
reach a formula for a definitive understanding and then to
“go to Cairo to sign a reconciliation agreement”.
Egypt has for several months been brokering an accord
between Fatah, the movement of Palestinian president Mahmoud
Abbas, and Hamas, which have been deadly enemies since the
Islamist movement took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier failed to
break the deadlock in Arab-Israeli peace talks when she met
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in New York but both planned
to resume the effort.
The pair met in New York after US officials bluntly told
both the Israelis and Palestinians not to wreck the
fledgling peace negotiations.
Abbas had earlier rejected an Israeli suggestion on Friday
that a compromise may be possible ahead of the scheduled end
of a moratorium on Jewish settlement building that threatens
to derail the peace talks.
“The meeting lasted 25 minutes. Our efforts will continue,”
Clinton spokesman Philip Crowley said after Abbas and the
chief US diplomat met on the sidelines of the UN General
“Nothing new until now,” Abbas told AFP after emerging from
his evening meeting with Clinton, before he added that he
would have “another meeting with Hillary” on Saturday.
Crowley said a meeting at that time is “probable.”
Abbas advisor Nabil Abu Rudeina said: “We’re discussing
American efforts about the continuation of the
Clinton has sought to use her clout to bring renewed impetus
to the flagging peace process, and has persuaded the two
sides to go back to the negotiating table for the first time
after a 20-month hiatus.
|Diverse group protects religious
harmony in Singapore
SINGAPORE (AFP) -
Seated near the head of a long table, Roman Catholic nun
Theresa Seow led 14 other people in silent prayer before the
meeting was called to order.
Clad in a white habit topped by the light-blue veil of the
Canossian order, she sat with turbaned Sikhs, a Taoist
wearing an embroidered shirt as well as Muslims and Hindus
in more conventional business attire.
The purpose of the gathering in a run-down office building
quickly became clear when their vice-president and Jainism
representative Ashvin Desai recited the group’s credo.
“We resolve to strengthen religious harmony through mutual
tolerance, confidence, respect and understanding,” says the
declaration of the council members of the Inter-Religious
Organisation (IRO) of Singapore.
Founded in 1949 and priding itself as “one of the oldest if
not the oldest inter-faith organisation in the world,” the
IRO’s objectives include promoting Singapore’s religious
harmony and safeguarding it against extremism.
The organisation is an embodiment of its goals: religious
and community leaders from 11 faiths meet every six weeks to
discuss issues of mutual concern at the same table, a sight
unthinkable in many parts of the world.
The IRO’s 31 council members include leaders from
Singapore’s six main religions -- Buddhism, Taoism,
Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Catholicism -- as well as
Jews, Jains, Baha’i Faith followers, Zoroastrians and Sikhs.
In a 2000 census, 42.5 percent of Singapore residents over
15 years old identified themselves as Buddhist, 14.9 percent
Muslim, 14.6 percent Christian or Catholic, 8.5 percent
Taoist and four percent Hindu
|cold-blooded terrorist or victim?
NEW YORK (AFP) - Aafia Siddiqui was being sentenced to 86
years in prison for trying to shoot US officers. But the
frail Pakistani scientist had a more immediate problem in
court: one of her teeth had come out.
“Most of my teeth are not my own. I got beaten many times,”
Siddiqui, 38, explained to the federal court in New York as
she apparently pushed back in the false front tooth.
“Sometimes they fall out when I speak.”
The incident -- and the disturbing reference to beatings --
provided a tantalising glimpse into the mysterious past of
For US prosecutors, Thursday’s sentencing draws a line under
the career of a once brilliant science student who excelled
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston and
Brandeis University, then returned to Pakistan and fell into
Pakistan said it would petition the US to repatriate the
Pakistani mother of three after a jury found her guilty in a
two-week trial of an attempted attack with a US serviceman’s
M4 rifle in Afghanistan in 2008.
And explaining his harsh sentence, Judge Richard Berman
stressed Siddiqui was no ordinary assailant.
Just prior to the confrontation in an Afghan town, she had
been arrested while carrying a poisonous liquid and
documents describing mass casualty attacks against US
targets, including New York landmarks like the Empire State
|Machines sell cool bananas
TOKYO (AFP) - They sell umbrellas, flowers and cooked meals,
cough up cool drinks after earthquakes and even try to read
your mind: they are Japan’s five million vending machines.
Scattered across the country, the automated stores are about
as ubiquitous as traffic lights and offer an ever-widening,
dizzying palette of goods.
Thanks to Japan’s low crime rate, companies have placed them
everywhere, from neon-lit city centres to the icy summit of
Mount Fuji, with little risk of them being burgled and
relieved of their rich coin vaults.
“They are so convenient, I wish I had one in my room,” said
18-year-old Tokyo resident Hibiki Miura, who like many
Japanese finds it hard to imagine modern civilisation
without the handy helpers.
Japan has 2.5 million vending machines that sell just
beverages -- about one for every 50 people. They generated a
staggering 27 billion dollars last year, says the Japan
Vending Machine Manufacturers’ Association.
NEWS IN BREAF
|Transgenic potatoes on way
MUMBAI (AFP) - Move
over, unhealthy French fries. Indian scientists have
genetically modified the world’s most popular vegetable to
make it more nutritious.
“Potato is a staple food in many countries,” Subhra
Chakraborty, one of the researchers, said.
“But the problem is that it does not have much protein.”
Scientists at the New Delhi-based National Institute of
Plant Genome Research took a gene from the edible amaranth
plant and introduced the gene to seven commercial varieties
of potatoes. The transgenic potatoes look like regular
potatoes but contain a well-rounded mix of proteins.
The scientists tested the potato plants at three locations
in India and found that they gave a bigger harvest.
GMO salmon awaits greenlight
ROCKVILLE, Maryland (AFP) - US experts held a second day of
hearings into whether to allow genetically modified salmon
to become the first so-called “Frankenfood” animal to be
served up on American dinner tables.
The meeting, which tackled the thorny issue of labelling,
came after a 14-member committee of independent experts
consulted by the Food and Drug Administration called for
further studies before any decision is reached.
Under the current laws, GM modified salmon would not have to
be labelled as transgenic food as it would be exactly the
same as other salmon.
‘Leave sharks in peace’
NEW YORK (AFP) - Tiny Palau and Honduras declared that their
ocean waters are shark-infested -- and they want the rest of
the world to jump right in.
The presidents of the two tiny countries met in New York to
sign a declaration urging other coastal nations to join them
in declaring their waters havens for the ocean’s
increasingly threatened predator.
“We cannot stand idly by while sharks are eradicated,”
Palau’s President Johnson Toribiong and Honduran President
Porfirio Lobo said in the declaration, coinciding with a UN
summit on poverty and biodiversity.
teller ‘strapped with bombs’
MIAMI (AFP) - Bank robbers in Miami kidnapped a teller from
his home, strapped explosives on him and forced him to
demand an undisclosed sum of money from the branch where he
works, in what an FBI agent called a most unusual bank
The successful robbery -- three suspects made off with the
cash in a car -- included at one point some hostages and
police swat teams surrounding the Bank of America branch in
Miami’s Coral Gables neighborhood, police said.
The bank teller, Diego Uscamayta, was freed from his
explosive-laced vest by police after he handed the money
over to the robbers.
New media curbs condemned
DURBAN, South Africa (AFP) - South Africa’s media are
nervously watching a key meeting of the ruling party this
week as delegates discuss new regulations that journalists
say are meant to muzzle the press.
Media watchdogs have been sharply critical of the ruling
African National Congress’ proposal for a Media Appeals
Tribunal that would hear complaints against the press and
have authority to impose legal penalties on journalists.
The ANC, which is discussing the measure in closed-door
sessions at a five-day policy review this week, says the
tribunal will protect South Africans against being slandered
in the media.
News website editor in trouble
BANGKOK (AFP) - Rights groups yesterday slammed the arrest
of a Thai news website editor as she returned from an
Internet freedom conference on charges of insulting the
monarchy and breaching computer law.
Immigration police detained Chiranuch Premchaiporn, who runs
the popular and independent Prachatai website, as she
arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport after attending
the international meeting in Hungary.
The 43-year-old was charged over messages posted on the site
under Thailand’s Computer Crime Act and strict lese majeste
rules, before being taken to a northeastern province and
bailed early yesterday, police said.