Sunday, June 20, 2010

London denies claims of mistreatment of Iraqi refugees


LONDON — London rejected allegations Friday from the UN refugee agency that Iraqis deported this week to Baghdad might have been mistreated, and insisted it had the right to send them back. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has recently criticised London for sending Iraqi refugees home, said it was looking into claims by some of the 42 men deported Wednesday that they were beaten.

"We reject all allegations that Iraqi returnees removed from the UK were mistreated by our staff," said David Wood, strategic director of the criminality and detention group of the UK Border Agency.

He confirmed that 42 Iraqis were removed from Britain on a chartered flight to Baghdad on Wednesday, saying: "All detainees had no right to remain in the UK and their appeals were dismissed by the courts."

"We would prefer that those with no basis of stay in the UK left voluntarily. However, where they refuse to do so, we will take steps to enforce their departure," he added.

The refugees included 24 failed asylum seekers and 17 people who had been convicted of crimes including drugs offences, grievous bodily harm and sexual offences, a spokesman for the Home Office said.

He told AFP that none of the men had been handcuffed until they got on the plane, when two were cuffed "to prevent harm to others or themselves", while one had to be carried on board but "offered no resistance".

When they arrived in Baghdad, about 30 refugees refused to get off but when one of them was taken by the arm and led off, the others followed, he said. The whole journey was filmed and two top officials were on board as witnesses.

The UNHCR has warned Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden against deporting Iraqi refugees to Baghdad, pointing to persistent security threats in central regions of the country, but Britain insists it is safe enough.

Obama continues Bush's Mideast policy

 Press TV

The Muslim world's confidence in US President Barack Obama has dropped drastically, according to results of a new poll conducted in seven Muslim countries. The poll results released by the Pew Global Attitudes project, shows that more than eight out of ten people in Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan do not trust the United States and its president.

The poll indicates Obama's failure to have a new beginning with the Muslim world, despite his vow to do so in a speech in Egypt last year.

Press TV has conducted an interview with Jennifer Loewenstein, from the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on the issue.

Press TV:In many area's, especially in the Muslim world, Obama's approval ratings now stand at about the same place as George Bush's. Is that surprising to you? What change have we seen in Obama compared to Bush in relation to problems in the Middle East?

Loewenstein:I do not think Obama can't do anything about the Middle east. I think he does not want to do anything. I think if you look at the US foreign policy in the past six or seven decades, you will see that a consistent trend has been perpetuated by every administration. If there is anything disappointing about Obama, is that he is worse than George W. Bush. Because he claims that he is going to have a new opening with the Muslim world, that he cares for people there, but in fact in his decisions he takes a step beyond George Bush, such as when he allowed Bagram Air Base trials to go ahead without giving habeas corpus to the prisoners.

I mean there lots of such policies that have gone worse. It is not because he cannot do anything, it is because he does not want to. Bill Clinton was extremely pro-Israel throughout both of his terms in presidency. He always sided with the Israelis; he blamed Yasser Arafat for failure of Camp David talks. The same is true with Obama. Obama was giving keeno speeches at AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) two years before he announced his candidacy for the presidency. In other words he was preparing to have to deal with the kind of influence and pressure from here home not just from AIPAC but also from the Christian right, also from corporations who want to maintain the US hegemony in the Middle East.

You know, when Operation Cast Lead was going on, Obama founded it in to comment on every other domestic matter in the United States. In other words the only people he was looking out for were the Israelis who were victims of home-made primitive pipe bombs, not the Gazans who were getting the brunt of the forces of the most powerful military in the world. This was not an act of self-defense. It was an act of sheer aggression that broke every international law on this matter. It shows perfect continuity with the US policy since the Second World War.

We heard about the Yemenis terrorist who tried to blow up a plane ostensibly, on and around Christmas day this year. We saw that in the media that was hyped up as usual. What we did not see, and what we do not hear and what we are still not hearing is that how the United States in involved in the bombing of the civilians in Yemen, repeatedly now since last fall and the number of displaced people there and the number of civilians who have died. This is what Americans do not get here.

So this idea somehow that Barack Obama means well and that he wants to do something for the Palestinians is crab. I am sorry to be so blunt. If he wanted to do something, there could have been a Palestinian state in place.

No Gaza optimism over easing blockade


Mr Helo used to run a business making steel doors in the Gaza Strip. Before the blockade he was able to import metal from Israel and would produce more than 300 doors a month. "I don't need ketchup or mayonnaise from Israel. I need my business back," says Nasser al-Helo standing on a busy street in Gaza City.

Mr Helo used to run a business making steel doors in the Gaza Strip. Before the blockade he was able to import metal from Israel and would produce more than 300 doors a month.

"Now, it's a big zero," he says. "I've lost $300,000 in the past three years."

Private industry has been devastated by Israel's blockade, which was tightened in 2007 after the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the coastal territory.

Factories making anything from furniture to textiles, floor tiles to biscuits have gone under.

The Israeli blockade has starved them of the raw materials they need to produce their goods.

Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. The United Nations estimates unemployment is at 40% in Gaza. Mr Helo used to employ 32 people at his factory. Now there are only four.
'Not enough'

The overwhelming feeling among Gazans is that Israel's announcement on Thursday that it is "easing the blockade" is simply not enough.

The details of how the blockade will be "liberalised" are still not clear, but reportedly the Israeli authorities will allow more civilian goods to enter, including all food items, toys, stationery, kitchen utensils, mattresses and towels. Construction materials for civilian projects will be allowed in under international supervision.

"Of course it's not enough," says Omar Shabban, an economist at the Gaza-based think tank PalThink.

"What about the blockade on people for starters?" he asks.

"One-and-a-half million people are trapped in a prison unable to leave."

Israel maintains tight control of the border with Gaza, only allowing out a limited number of people to seek medical treatment. Israel says this is needed to protect itself from "terrorist" attacks.

The Rafah crossing into Egypt has also been closed since 2007, although special medical cases are also sporadically allowed to pass through it.
Desperate vendors

Mr Shabban argues that what is really needed in Gaza is not a few more food items - many of which are already available through smuggling tunnels running under the Egyptian border - but a total lifting of the blockade to allow people to work in Israel, as over 100,000 people used to do.

Gaza also used to export many goods to Israel and beyond. Strawberries and flowers are still two of Gaza's most famous products, but most of them never get beyond the barrier into Israel.

Instead, in strawberry season in January they are sold dirt-cheap off huge wheelbarrows on street corners, the vendors desperate to sell them at any price before they rot.

Israel has argued that the blockade is necessary to put pressure on Hamas.

The group came out top in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, but the EU, the US and Israel refused to recognise Hamas in government unless it renounced violence and its commitment to destroy Israel.

Then in June 2007, Hamas ousted its secular rival, Fatah, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority security forces from Gaza.

Over the past decade, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel, killing more than 20 Israelis.

But since Israel's major offensive on Gaza in 2009, which devastated the territory and left more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead, the number has dropped dramatically. One person - a Thai farm worker - has been killed in southern Israel by a rocket fired from Gaza in the past 12 months.

Hamas has tried to rein in rocket fire, but it does not control all the militant groups in Gaza and sporadic, usually ineffective rocket fire continues.

Israel says it is the responsibility of the Hamas authorities to stop all rocket attacks, and that the blockade is necessary to stop weapons being brought into Gaza.

But at least until now the list of items banned from entering Gaza has gone far beyond weapons. Coriander, chocolate and children's toys have famously been excluded.
Low expectations

In actual fact, such things are readily available in the supermarkets in Gaza.

Millions of dollars worth of goods are smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt.

There is food on the shelves and in the markets but the blockade means it is too expensive for most people to afford. A kilo of beef smuggled from Egypt costs around $15, more than most Gazans earn in a day.

"We are living on a black-market economy," says Mr Shabban.

Gazans have little faith in Israel's announcement. At best, they will wait and see if anything changes in the coming weeks and months.

Indeed, like most places in the world, people here are more preoccupied with the World Cup. The cafes of Gaza City on Friday were full of people cheering on Algeria as they thrashed out a dire draw with England.

The beaches in Gaza are packed this weekend with thousand of children enjoying summer camps and frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea.

But as they play in the water, a reminder that the blockade of Gaza is still very much in place - the sound of machine-gun fire just a few kilometres off the coast.

Israeli navy ships, which continue to occupy and control Gaza's territorial water, regularly open fire on Palestinian fishing boats that stray beyond the limits of where Israel allows them to fish.

Yet most of the children did not even bat an eyelid at the gunfire.

The blockade here has been come a way of life. Few people are optimistic that will change.

Spy Cameras for Muslims could sweep Britain

SPY cameras which residents claim are targeting Muslims in the West Midlands could soon sweep Britain, it is feared.

Campaigners last week won their battle to have 216 "terror" cameras covered up after complaining they were being used to spy on Muslims rather than prevent crime.

Protest leader Steve Jolly is convinced the cameras, a third of which were hidden in trees and lampposts, will be back.

Mr Jolly, a public relations officer, said yesterday: "This will spread across the whole country and I've heard rumours that a similar spy scheme is in operation in Leeds and Bradford."

He was instrumental in getting the authorities to halt the surveillance in the Birmingham districts of Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook, which are ­predominantly Muslim.

Plastic bags have temporarily been placed over the CCTV and automatic number plate recognition cameras, and consultation over their use will begin on Tuesday.

Mr Jolly, 40, who has a camera 200 yards from his home, said: "They sneakily put up the cameras and hoped no one would find out. They have been covered up, not removed.

"About 50,000 people have had their streets saturated with cameras, making it impossible to get in or out without being tracked. It's a gross invasion of ­privacy. We do want to be protected against terrorism, but this is the wrong way to do it."

The cameras were installed by the Safer Birmingham Project, a partnership of police, the city council and other agencies, which said it had received £3million from the Home Office.

It has since emerged that the cash had come through the Terrorism and Allied Matters fund, administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Uzbeks in desperate plea for aid as full horror of ethnic slaughter emerges

A combination of clan feuds, corruption and indifference in the west is creating a lethal cocktail in Kyrgyzstan. In one town, 5km from the border, the charred ruins of a school bear witness to the violence unleashed by mobs and the army

Luke Harding

The classroom where the children once learned English had miraculously survived. On the wall was a large sign that read: "England, London and Great Britain." Inside a glass cabinet was a neat folder marked "irregular verbs"; next to the blackboard were three vases of flowers - now withered. The students had given them to their teacher, Mrs Raimsanova, on the last day of term.

But the rest of the Lev Tolstoy high school in the Kyrgyz town of Osh was a blackened ruin yesterday. Bullet holes marked the walls of the kindergarten class, the corridors were full of rubble and the head's office was a wrecked shell. Sandbags indicated where the Uzbek parents had tried to barricade the front gate against a murderous Kyrgyz mob.

"They're not people, but animals," said Gulamov Shakhobiden, 31, a former pupil. He described how Kyrgyz soldiers arrived at their street at 8pm on Friday 11 June, punching through a makeshift barricade in an armoured personnel carrier. The men carried automatic weapons. Behind them came women and boys hurling homemade petrol bombs.

The people of the Shark neighbourhood fled in terror, he said: "Those who didn't run were killed. Those who fell had petrol poured on their heads and were burned alive." Three or four men with Kalashnikovs burst into the school, followed by others lugging cans of petrol.

"Term had finished, but we had gathered the kids in the classrooms earlier that afternoon because we thought they would be safe there. We only just got them out in time," he said. "They had snipers, were firing at everybody, and we had to run. We managed to save the English class, but none of the others. This was an organised, prepared attack." According to Gulamov, the slaughter of civilians and the arson of the school, where the Uzbek language was taught, could only be described in one way. "It was genocide," he said.

Rosa Otunbayeva, the head of Kyrgyzstan's interim government, visited Osh on Friday for the first time since ethnic riots erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan 10 days ago. The killing began in Osh late in the evening of Thursday 10 June, possibly ignited by a row in a casino between Uzbek and Kyrgyz youths. It then spread last weekend from Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second biggest city, to the Uzbek-dominated town of Jalal-Abad, 45 kilometres away.

Otunbayeva conceded that the death toll from almost a week of savage violence, in what was once central Asia's most democratically inclined country, was at least 2,000. Previously, her administration put the figure at 191, in an apparent attempt to deflect international condemnation and accusations of state involvement in ethnic cleansing.

In the past week, survivors have given the same account - that armoured personnel carriers and Kyrgyz men in military uniforms led the pogroms on Uzbek districts. It is hard to conceive how these attacks could have been carried out without the connivance of the Kyrgyz military, the police and local administration. The government, however, is turning its ire on the western media, which it accuses of one-sided reporting.

Yesterday, a handful of Uzbek men stood forlornly outside the Lev Tolstoy school, in a desolate alley of empty firebombed homes and a smashed-up Lada. Their women and children were in camps in Uzbekistan, they said. Non-governmental agencies last week estimated that the violence had displaced 400,000 people, with 100,000 in Uzbekistan, 5km from Osh. No one knows the precise figure, but, with Uzbekistan having closed the border to refugees, it is clear that this is a major humanitarian catastrophe.

So far, the world appears not to have taken much notice. Even America and Russia - which have air bases in the north - have failed to send significant aid. Uzbeks said that none has reached them, claiming all of it has been given to the Kyrgyz. Davron, 32, said this was in spite of 98% of the victims being Uzbek. "So far, we've got nothing - not even a pair of socks," he said. He asked Britain and the US to distribute aid urgently.

Locals complained that they had been unable to bury their dead according to Muslim tradition. Returning several days later, Davron discovered the charred remains of his friend Farkhat, aged 25. "They poured petrol on his head," he said. Further down the road, bloodstains showed where Solijan, Shark's 60-year-old plumber, had been shot and killed. "Solijan was a lovely man. He fixed things for people. He would never hurt anybody," Davron said.

Superficially, Osh was yesterday returning to normal. The curfew was relaxed, trolleybuses were running again and cleaners sent in by the authorities were scrubbing out graffiti that read, embarrassingly: "Uzbeks fuck off", or "Death to Uzbeks". But the scale of the devastation was hard to conceal. In the centre, every Uzbek enterprise had been destroyed. The town is now divided into Uzbek and Kyrgyz cantons, with the Kyrgyz army and checkpoints camped menacingly next to Uzbek areas.

Near the school, Kyrgyz residents blamed their Uzbek neighbours for starting the trouble. Dzusujev Amonovich said an Uzbek sniper shot him in the chin on Monday as he was on his way to Osh's airport. Others described the Uzbeks as greedy, proud and capricious. Invariably, Osh's Uzbeks were better off than their once nomadic Kyrgyz counterparts, running most businesses and living in bungalows with courtyards and apricot trees.

Kyrgyzstan is home to numerous nationalities - Kyrgyz and Uzbeks make up 15% of the 5.6 million population, but there are also Tajiks, Chechens, Turks, Tatars and even Volga Germans. But in its latest incarnation as a post-Soviet independent state, it has failed to build a multi-ethnic society. The army, police and government apparatus remain exclusively Kyrgyz - a source of resentment among potentially separatist-minded Uzbeks.

As well as local and historical animosities, Kyrgyzstan's unstable politics appears to have played a role. The government took over in April after street protests in the capital, Bishkek, ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The country's new leadership blames Bakiyev and his son Maxim - who was arrested in Britain last week - for financing the ethnic slaughter. He may indeed be behind it, but it could also be the work of shadowy nationalist forces determined to crush increasing demands for autonomy from the Uzbek minority.

After two revolutions in five years, and the worst ethnic unrest for two decades, Kyrgyzstan is on its way to becoming a failed state. Against a backdrop of western indifference, clan feuding and corruption within the new government, and a desire among Uzbeks for revenge, the conditions are set for a civil war.

The school playground and its basketball hoops survived the inferno. Improbably, so did the small garden: a vivid splash of tiger lilies and roses. The school tree, though, is split and charred.
Back in the English room, I leaf through a school project with pasted-in photos of scenic mountains and lakes. Its author, Alykul Osmonov, makes his own unwitting plea for unity: "Kyrgyzstan mountains are loved by all their people."

Iraq, Afghanistan wars cost UK £20bn

Britons have paid more than £20 billion for fighting and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan since April 2001, government figures have revealed.

The recently released figures -- which indicate that at least £9.24bn was spent on Iraq and £11.1bn on Afghanistan -- do not include troop salaries or care for those wounded.

There are currently ten-thousand British troops stationed in Afghanistan, meaning the total cost will continue to rise, the BBC reported.

"Simply maintaining thousands of people in such a location takes a lot of money on logistics before you have even started," Professor Malcolm Chalmers, a defense analyst for the Royal United Services Institute asserted.

People have begun questioning the government's credibility as it plans to cut more than £6bn in public spending, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs in the public sector, but refuses to make any cuts to defense spending.

"It is a disgrace that the coalition government plans to target low-paid public sector workers and those receiving welfare benefits in its emergency budget," said Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union.

Chancellor George Osborne will announce the government's emergency budget on Tuesday, June 22. Protests are expected outside of Downing Street calling for British troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan during the announcement.

Soldiers fire on Kashmiri protesters; 1 killed

SRINAGAR, India (AP) - Indian troops fired on hundreds of demonstrators who tried to torch a paramilitary bunker in Kashmir on Sunday, killing one person and wounding at least five, police said.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, in an angry protest against the death of a 25-year-old who died a day earlier after being beaten by soldiers in a demonstration last week.

The protesters threw rocks at security forces and tried to set a bunker belonging to paramilitary soldiers on fire, according to footage from AP Television News. A spokesman for the troops said they then fired in self-defense.

"We exercised maximum restraint. Our soldiers opened fire only in self-defense after the protesters tried to torch the bunker," said Prabhakar Tripathi, CRPF spokesman.

One person was killed and at least five wounded, said Farooq Ahmed, a top police officer.

The demonstration swelled after the shots were fired, when hundreds more people poured into the streets, chanting "We want freedom" and "Indian forces leave Kashmir."

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Muslim-majority Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and is claimed by both. Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Himalayan region's independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.

More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.

Extremism feared as Uzbeks flee

Amanda Hodge, South Asia Correspondent

DAYS of brutal ethnic pogroms in Kyrgyzstan have forced 400,000 people to flee their homes.
It has left the central Asian state more vulnerable to Islamic extremism, the UN has warned.

Close to one-12th of Kyrgyzstan's population -- almost all ethnic Uzbeks -- has been displaced by bloody clashes in the south. About 300,000 were in refugee camps within their own country yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said.

About 100,000 more have sought refuge over the border in Uzbekistan, prompting a humanitarian crisis in both countries.

The UN, Red Cross and the US sent emergency aid into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan this week and more airlifts were scheduled for the weekend. In camps on both sides of the border, a grim picture is emerging of mass rape and murder by Kyrgyz gangs loyal to former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, ousted in a popular uprising in April.

The official death toll stood at 223 yesterday but interim president Roza Otunbayeva admitted that the figure could be dramatically higher. "I would multiply by 10 times the official figures because there were very many deaths in the countryside, and our (Muslim) customs dictate that we bury our dead right away, before sunset," she said.

Human Rights Watch said it had documented evidence of rapes in the southern city of Osh, but had not determined the scale of sexual assaults.

However, Uzbeks in the city of Osh, where violence began eight days ago, said on one street alone ethnic Kyrgyz men sexually assaulted and beat more than 10 Uzbek women and girls, some as young as 12.

Kyrgyz community leaders have denied such allegations and accused Uzbeks of raping Kyrgyz women. Many refugees say they are too scared to return to Kyrgyzstan, where the state security forces have been accused of firing on Uzbek neighbourhoods and inciting violence among marauding Kyrgyz gangs.

Kyrgyz military chief Colonel Iskander Ikramov yesterday rejected the allegations, but conceded the army failed to stop the violence because its role was not that of a police force.

Large numbers of soldiers were finally visible in the southern cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh yesterday, however, as Kyrgyz authorities faced intense pressure to restore order.

While Russia and the US both have airbases in Kyrgyzstan -- the US Manas airfield is a crucial supply base for troops in Afghanistan -- both countries have ruled out military intervention.

But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday warned that Kyrgyzstan was in danger of being Balkanised and overtaken by extremists if the interim government could not restore order, pointing to the Taliban's rise in Afghanistan.

Southern Kyrgyzstan is home to the al-Qa'ida-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as well as elements of the radical Sunni Muslim Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a group committed to the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.

UN special envoy in Bishkek, Miroslav Jenca, also warned that the country's unrest provided fertile ground for extremism and predicted "big problems" if the 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks who fled across the border were denied a vote in the interim government's constitutional referendum scheduled for later this month.

Export ban placed by UK on rare Islamic rock crystal ewer

'Pakistan Times' Business & Commerce Desk

LONDON (UK): The British Government has placed a temporary export bar on a rare medieval Islamic ewer carved from a single block of rock crystal. The ewer, or jug, is richly carved and has exquisite gold mounts made in France in the nineteenth century.

The Government's decision follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).

The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the ewer is of outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance for the study of Islamic art.
The ewer is one of only nine other complete or nearly-complete Islamic rock crystal ewers known to have survived anywhere in the world.

It was made by an anonymous craftsman, almost certainly in Cairo some time between 970 and 1070 AD, during the Fatimid period (909-1171 AD).

It was carved from a single flawless block of rock crystal, hollowed out to a thickness of only one or two millimetres, and stands 30 cm high.

The design shows a stylised cheetah with a chain around its neck, a symbolic attribute of the Fatimid Caliphs as cheetahs were used for the courtly pastime of hunting. The ewer was a luxury item made for the upper stratum of Fatimid society, which at its height was the richest state in the Mediterranean.

Enamelled gold mounts forming the top, base and handle of the ewer were added in the mid-nineteenth century by Jean-Valentin Morel (1794-1860), a leading French lapidary and jeweller. These mounts enhance the ewer's interest, making it important for illustrating artistic taste in nineteenth-century Europe as well as in the Fatimid court.

The ban will remain enforced till October 27 this year. By that time the Reviewing Committee expects to raise twenty thousand pounds sterling to keep this beautifully crafted work of art in the United Kingdom.

WikiLeaks to expose US 'killing' of kids

The founder of whistle-blower website, WikiLeaks, says he will release a secret Pentagon video of a deadly airstrike on children in Afghanistan.

Julian Assange, the Australian-born man behind WikiLeaks, said Friday that the video shows how dozens of Afghan children are killed.

Assange is in hiding since reports revealed that the Pentagon is set on arresting him, after detaining a US military analyst alleged to have provided Wikileaks with a classified video of an American apache killing civilians in Iraq.

Bradley Manning, the US analyst, is also accused of having uploaded 260,000 pages of confidential diplomatic cables and intelligence assessments on the website.
Civilian death has become a major problem in Afghanistan with hundreds having been killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

A report by the UN says over 2,400 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2009, the largest number of civilian casualties since the 2001 US-led invasion.

Ninety five children were reported to have been among the 150 civilians killed in a US-led strike in the western province of Farah in May 2009. Afghan officials have confirmed the massacre.

The invasion of Afghanistan was launched with the official objective of curbing militancy and bringing peace and stability to the country. Nine years on, however, Afghanistan remains unstable and civilians continue to pay the price.