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  Nation World  


 

A nation is born
JUBA (AFP) – Celebrations erupted across Juba at midnight as crowds marked South Sudan’s long-awaited independence day on Saturday, when the chronically underdeveloped region became the world’s newest nation.
“The people of south Sudan have achieved their dream. The UN and the international community will continue to stand by South Sudan. I am very happy to be here,” UN chief Ban Ki-moon told reporters on arrival at the city’s UN airport on Friday.
Last-minute preparations have been taking place throughout Juba in anticipation of a historic ceremony due to be attended by 30 African leaders and top-ranking foreign officials.
It will be the largest international gathering ever seen in Juba, a war-damaged former garrison town on the White Nile that lacks even basic infrastructure, including reliable power, water and sewage systems.
On the eve of independence, which comes exactly six months after a referendum saw southerners vote almost unanimously to split with their former civil war enemies in north Sudan, Khartoum announced its official recognition of the new country.
For decades, until a peace agreement was signed in 2005, southern rebels fought two wars with successive northern governments for greater autonomy and recognition, leaving the region in ruins, millions of people dead and a legacy of mutual mistrust.
Saturday’s main ceremony is to be held at the mausoleum of the late rebel leader John Garang, who died just months after signing the peace accord that ended Africa’s longest-running conflict and opened the door to eventual nationhood.
Military parades, prayers and a performance of the new national anthem are to take place from 0815 GMT, followed by the declaration of independence, the raising of the Republic of South Sudan’s flag and the new country’s first president, Salva Kiir, taking the oath of office.
Southern officials have said the chief guest of honour at the celebrations will be Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has already said he will try to avoid an encounter with Bashir.
But the fledgling nation needs all the help it can get to overcome the vast challenges of building a stable and prosperous future.
For this, it must strike a cooperative relationship with the Sudanese leader, given the strong ties that continue to bind the two countries, and despite the strain on bilateral relations caused by the deadly conflict in the border state of South Kordofan. North-south negotiations in Addis Ababa, aimed at disentangling the key unresolved issues between the two sides prior to partition, such as the future status of Abyei, how to manage the country’s oil sector and citizenship, have so far failed to do so.
 
More Syria deaths as half a million flood Hama

DAMASCUS (AFP) – Syrian security forces killed at least 15 people, activists said, as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime accused the US envoy of inciting violence in Hama, where nearly half a million people protested.
Opposition activists on Friday reported five deaths in the central city of Homs, two in the capital’s commercial neighbourhood Medan and six in the Dmeir area east of Damascus.
Security forces machine-gunned protesters at Maaret al-Numan in the northwest, killing one and wounding five, an activist said.
Soldiers also fired at a family car on the Hama-Aleppo road near Maaret al-Numan, killing a man and wounding his wife and two daughters, the activist added.
In Homs, “at least five people were killed in the Al-Khalidya neighbourhood by security forces who opened fire against demonstrators,” said Abdel Karim Rihawi, president of the Syrian League for Human Rights.
“Security forces shot dead two demonstrators in the neighbourhood of Medan in Damascus.”
London-based Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said six people were killed in Dmeir and that at least 24 people had been injured in Homs, some gravely.
Abdel Rahman said a record 450,000 Syrians rallied after Friday prayers in Hama, an opposition bastion, under the banner “No to dialogue” with Assad’s regime and called for its fall.
Both US envoy Robert Ford and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier visited the city on Thursday.
“The US ambassador met with saboteurs in Hama... who erected checkpoints, cut traffic and prevented citizens from going to work,” an interior ministry statement said.
The foreign ministry called Ford’s presence in Hama “obvious proof of the implication of the United States in the ongoing events, and of their attempts to increase (tensions), which damage Syria’s security and stability.”
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she was “dismayed” by such criticism and stressed that Syrian authorities knew of the visit in advance.
The ambassador met “average Syrian citizens” and “certainly did not incite anyone to anything,” US embassy press attache JJ Harder told AFP.

 
EU defence ambitions stuck in no-man’s land

BRUSSELS (AFP) – Europe’s grand defence project, already wounded by divisions over Libya, is stuck in a political no-man’s land as Polish ambitions to revive it face indifference among allies.
Poland had signalled for months that breathing new life into European Union defence would be a centrepiece of its six-month presidency of the 27-nation EU before it took over from Hungary on July 1.
But in the face of little enthusiasm among partners, most surprisingly France, usually the most ardent backer of EU defence, Warsaw agreed to scale down its programme for more modest goals, a European diplomat said.
Poland had hoped to seize on provisions in the nearly two-year-old Lisbon Treaty that foresee the deepening of military cooperation between EU states, with the ultimate goal of building a common security and defence policy.
Instead, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on July 18 will merely review a report presented by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on possible ways for states to pool and share military capacities.
Cracks emerged when France and Britain spearheaded an air war in Libya to stop Moamer Kadhafi from crushing a rebellion, while Germany and Poland refused to join the battle despite their prominent roles within the EU and NATO.
While the 28-nation NATO alliance has led air strikes since March 31, the EU as an organisation has been left on the sidelines militarily.
“What revival of European defence policy are you talking about,” said a senior German official. “European defence does not exist today and this has little chance of evolving (in the short-term).”
A Polish official lamented that France and Britain chose the bilateral track when they struck a major military cooperation treaty between the two nations in November 2010.
“They chose to go it alone,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “The signal is clear to us. If you do not have the two biggest military powers in the EU on your side, it is difficult to do European defence.”
While Britain is seen as a roadblock to deeper EU military integration, France has until now been as its biggest champion.
“We are having a hard time following the French line on European defence at the moment,” said a European military official who fears that “the passion is no longer there at the highest level in Paris.”
Backers within the French military of greater cooperation with the United States, NATO’s superpower, appear to be winning the argument over those who favour a European defence agenda.
For supporters of a trans-Atlantic approach, the official said, France’s return to NATO’s military structure in 2009 has paid off, whil the Libyan war shows that Europeans can take a leading role in a NATO operation.
The dwindling defence budgets among European nations, strongly criticised by former US defence secretary Robert Gates, has also fueled this euroscepticism.
Britain and France are among a handful of nations that meet NATO’s desire for member states to spend two percent of their gross domestic product on defence.
“One can wonder if we won’t just go back to promoting a European defence pillar within NATO,” a senior alliance military official told AFP, referring to an idea that dates back to the 1980s and 1990s.

 
Malaysia arrests hundreds ahead of democracy demo

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysian police arrested more than 400 people on Saturday and used tear gas as a massive lockdown was imposed on the capital to thwart an opposition-backed rally demanding electoral reforms.
Police spokesman Ramli Mohamed Yoosuf told AFP the arrests were made from midnight around Kuala Lumpur. Police have declared the protest illegal, warning of chaos in the streets.
“They were arrested mainly for illegal assemblies around various points in the capital,” Ramli said, insisting that no violence used in the 441 arrests.
Despite the detentions, about 1,500 people, many of them shouting “Reformasi” (Reforms) and “God is Great” marched towards a mosque near the downtown Merdeka Square, an AFP reporter saw.
About 300 others who gathered at a railway station were dispersed by police who shouted and ordered them to leave, resulting in scuffles and shouting as some who resisted were put into police vans, an AFP photographer said.
Downtown Kuala Lumpur, normally a hive of activity on weekends, was deserted as major roads into the commercial and tourist district were sealed off.
Hundreds of policemen, many armed with batons and anti-riot gear and backed by water cannon, have been deployed in strategic locations around the capital.
Several shops in the main shopping and commercial district surrounding the landmark 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers were closed.
Public transport plying city routes was diverted, while long-distance buses were halted at terminals outside Kuala Lumpur.
Fears of violence have been highlighted because of plans by pro-government groups to hold a counter-rally.
The police barricades created huge traffic jams overnight as officers checked every vehicle for protesters attempting to sneak in ahead of the rally, which comes ahead of polls due by early next year.
“The police will take whatever action within their power to guarantee that safety and public security is maintained in this country,” federal police chief Ismail Omar warned late Friday.
But rally organisers said they will not back down and would gather outside the iconic Merdeka Stadium in downtown Kuala Lumpur at around 0600 GMT in the hope police would allow them to enter the stadium to preserve safety.
The protest is spearheaded by Bersih, a broad but loose coalition of groups, including non-governmental organisations and opposition political parties.

 
Death toll hits 91 in Karachi

KARACHI (AFP) – At least 91 people have died in political violence sweeping Karachi, which has led to Pakistani troops being given the power to shoot-to-kill those involved in the unrest, officials said Saturday.
“The death toll in the violence has risen to 91,” home ministry spokesman Sharafuddin Memon told AFP.
“More than 100 suspects, many of them with weapons, have been arrested,” he said, noting that paramilitary troops were in control and patrolling streets in troubled parts of the southern port city, Pakistan’s largest.
Many people who were stranded due to unrest for four days were now going out safely, Memon said.
Police and hospital officials confirmed the toll and arrests.
The unrest has been blamed on loyalists of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the dominant local party that represents Pakistanis who migrated from India, and the Awami National Party (ANP) of Pashtuns from the northwest.
In the worst incident, gunmen opened fire on two buses on Thursday, killing 12 people, including a six-year-old girl overnight, a security official said.
The latest bout of violence comes just days after the MQM walked out of the federal government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), a move which some analysts said made it harder for the government to intervene.
The worst affected areas are impoverished, heavily populated neighbourhoods in western Karachi, dotted with construction sites where armed men of different ethnicities have exchanged gunfire.

 
High levels of caesium found in Fukushima beef

TOKYO (AFP) – More than six times the legal limit of radioactive caesium has been found in beef from Fukushima prefecture, home to Japan’s crippled nuclear plant, an official statement said Saturday.
The meat was taken from one of 11 cows shipped to Tokyo from a farmer in Minamisoma city, according to the statement by the Tokyo metropolitan government.
The 11 cows all showed high levels of radioactive caesium, ranging from 1,530 to 3,200 becquerels per kilogram, compared with the legal limit of 500 becquerels, the Tokyo statement said.
It was the first time excessive levels of radioactive caesium have been found in meat, according to a Tokyo official.
“All the meat from the cows is kept in the laboratory and has not entered the market,” a separate statement said.
The city of Minamisoma lies on the outskirts of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which has leaked radioactive substances into the environment after the March 11 tsunami and earthquake crippled its cooling systems.
The 11 cows were raised and shipped by a single farmer in the city’s district just outside of the 20-kilometre no-go zone around the plant, the statement said.