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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 attacks.
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 longstanding plan.
“If Ms Ashton contacts the Iranian representative she can set a time for talks,” the Iranian leader told a press conference.
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,” Obama said.
“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 world”.
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 meeting.
“We expect the referenda to be peaceful, carried out in an environment free of intimidation or other infringements of rights.
“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 enlist.
“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; everybody clapped.”
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 and India.
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 conservative.”
Army spokesman George Wright said that it evaluated each Sikh soldier’s request based on “unique facts and individual circumstances.”
“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 China.
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 islands.”
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 day.”
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 collapsed.
And the rescue operation will add millions of dollars to its debts. The company reportedly owes creditors more than $10 million.
An appraiser has been asked to report back to creditors in a month’s time on whether the company should be declared bankrupt.

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 Pakistan.
“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.




Chinese anti-terrorism police SWAT members take part in an excercise on the outskirts of Beijing

Arctic row: The new ‘Cold War’

By Thanapathi
In the 19th century, European colonial governments divided Africa among themselves like family members dividing up an inherited estate.
The Berlin Conference of 1884–85 regulated European colonisation and trade in Africa during the new Imperialism period.
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 claim.
A 21st century’s scramble may about to enter a decisive phase.
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 globe.
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 evidence.
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 2014.
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 territory.
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 limit.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rejected talk of an impending battle for control of the Arctic region’s mineral resources.
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 international law.
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 Arctic.
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 Assembly.
“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 negotiations.”
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

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 Siddiqui.
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 jihadist circles.
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 Building.

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.


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 heist.
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.