Saturday, October 9, 2010

Police Prepare for Battles in Manchester

 The News

The city of Manchester is bracing itself for a bitter street tussle — possibly running battles — as supporters of sworn enemies Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif converge on the city on Saturday in a show of force.

Now leading the newly-formed All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), Musharraf has personally chosen Manchester, known all over the world for its famous Manchester United football club, as the last leg of his Pakistani community engagement after launching the party on Friday.

But after Musharraf launched vicious personal attacks on former premier Nawaz Sharif, whom he ousted from power in 1999 and exiled him to Saudi Arabia and London, the tension between the two camps has soared to fever pitch.

Greater Manchester Police are believed to have put hundreds of policemen on the spot to prevent the two sides from engaging in a Pakistani-style free-for-all brawl.

A GMP spokesman said the police force was aware of the planned visit of Musharraf on Saturday 9. He added: “The GMP is currently planning for the visit and working with event organisers to ensure an appropriate policing operation is in place.”

Sharif has found the attacks nerve-twisting and there is every indication that the former president of Pakistan will lambaste Sharif at every possible opportunity, especially using the western and Pakistan media.

A highly agitated Sharif, according to a PML source, has taken Musharraf’s attacks so seriously that he will be present in London to ensure a large-scale protest outside the invitation-only venue of Musharraf’s public meeting and also to mobilise his party activists.

It is not yet clear whether Sharif will himself lead the protest rally in Manchester, but his party activists are urging him to announce his own participation in the rally to increase the participation.
The news has learned on authority that the PML-N leadership in Pakistan has also asked the UK chapter to step up the fight against Musharraf’s activities in London. Top PML-N leaders are now personally involved in the preparation for October 9 protest.

But the PML-N leaders are facing a difficult task in assembling a large number of people in the city, where Chaudhry Altaf Shahid and Asif Shahzad, two known and skilled political organisers, are hoping to bring out at least 3,000 people to cheer Musharraf on.

Zubair Gull, PML-N’s UK leader, told The News his party was organising a demonstration in Manchester to show “solidarity and support to the victims of cruel regime of ex-dictator Musharraf in Pakistan”.

Gull said the decision to hold the demonstration against Musharraf was a local decision and the orders had not come from the above. “We will be holding the demonstration to expose Musharraf to the world. After selling Pakistanis for dollars while he was in power, these days he is speaking the language of the Indian establishment. He has insulted the feelings of millions of Kashmiris and Pakistanis and we will be there to show our true feelings to him.”

Chaudhry Altaf Shahid and Asif Shahzad said in a statement that the success of the AMPL launch in London and the Birmingham event, where over 1,500 people attended the public address, had given them the confidence that Musharraf’s message was being received well.

They said every effort was being made-especially after the Birmingham rally incident in which two protesters agitated during Musharraf’s speech. They alleged that Punjab government was using money to bring people to Manchester against Musharraf.

Italy to become next European country to ban burka after government report recommends forbidding it in public

 Daily Mail

Italy is set to become the next European country to ban the burka after a government report ruled in favour of the proposed legislation.

MPs from the anti-immigration Northern League party, a member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling right wing coalition, have presented the proposal in a bill.

It comes just weeks after France banned the wearing of burkas and other forms of face veils – a decision which prompted al Qaeda terrorists to vow revenge.

An Interior Ministry report now being considered by the Constitutional Affairs Commission says that if introduced the law should make clear burkas and other face coverings were being banned not for ‘religious reasons but for security reasons.’

As part of their investigation the Interior Ministry heard from several leading Muslims on the use of the burka and several pointed out there was no mention of its use at all in the Koran.

Ejaz Ahmed, of the Italian Islam Committee said: ‘The use of the burka and the niqab does not have its origins in the Koran – in fact it is not even mentioned in the Koran.

‘The burka has nothing to do with religion and was being worn even before Islam was founded – it was worn by the Romans, Byzantines and Persians and wearing it is not a religious obligation.

‘There is no connection between the burka and the niqab with the Islamic religion – the burqa should be banned to respect women’s dignity and the safety of the public given that in Pakistan many suicide bombers have hidden devices under burkas.’

However others from the Islam Committee ruled that the burka was part of Muslim culture.

Ahmad Gianpiero Vincenzo said: ‘The government risks inflaming Islamophobia by introducing this law.

‘They think that by saying it is for public safety they are washing their hands of it but any ban of the burka will simply be exploited.’

The Interior Ministry report to the Commission said: ‘The law should consider public safety and consider that wearing such clothing prevents immediate recognition by the forces of law and order and, if necessary being described by witnesses.

‘Recognition of a person must be guaranteed especially in light of the risk from international terrorism.

‘The law should avoid any reference to Islam or religion in order so as not to fuel controversy.’
Italy has more than one million Muslims but it is rare to see women wearing the full burka.

There have been incidents, especially in northern cities such as Milan and Verona, where women wearing it have been asked to remove at least the face veil.

Technically it is illegal to be seen in public wearing anything that prevents immediate identification and there have been several cases in recent months of zealous officials fining burka wearing women.
Earlier this year Amel Marmouri, 36, was fined £430 for wearing a burka at her local post office in Novara and her husband Ben Salah Braim said he would keep her indoors rather than let her go out uncovered.

There has also been a backlash against the ‘burkini’, a bathing costume that is suitable for Islamic dress.

Several Muslim women who have used swimming pools wearing burkinis in Italy have been asked to leave, with officials claiming the garments are ‘unhygienic’.

The Northern League’s proposal aims at amending a 1975 law, introduced amid concern over domestic terrorism, which bans anyone wearing anything which makes their identification impossible.

The Constitutional Affairs Commission is expected to report back later in the autumn and the law is unlikely to go through parliament until next year at the earliest.

Geert Wilders trial suspended after he attacks judge

 The Telegraph

Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam politician, told a Dutch court that he stood by his opinions that the Koran is a “fascist book” and Islam is as dangerous as Nazism, as he went on trial for inciting racial hatred.

The flamboyant, peroxide blond MP, who holds the balance of power in the Netherlands after coming third in recent national elections on an anti-Muslim platform, told judges that he had no regrets over the comments.

Mr Wilders is being prosecuted for describing the Koran as “fascist” and for comparing it to Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, a text that is banned in the Netherlands.

In March 2008, he released a film called Fitna, Arabic for Strife, which linked the verses in the Koran to anti-Semitism, terrorist attacks in New York and London and urged that, like Nazism, “Islamic ideology has to be defeated”.

Prosecutors pointed to a series of quotes and remarks he has made in recent years. In one opinion piece he wrote: “I’ve had enough of Islam in the Netherlands; let not one more Muslim immigrate,” adding “I’ve had enough of the Koran in the Netherlands: Forbid that fascist book.”

Last year, the Dutch Court of Appeal ruled that, despite the case being dropped by prosecutors, that it considered “criminal prosecution obvious for the insult of Islamic worshippers” being compared to Nazis.

Mr Wilders faces five charges of inciting racial hatred between Oct 2006 and Mar 2008. If found guilty, Mr Wilders faces over a year in prison or a £6,600 fine.

Speaking at his trial yesterday, Mr Wilders said: “I am sitting here as a suspect because I have spoken nothing but the truth. I have said what I have said and I will not take one word back.”

Throwing down an open challenge to the court, Mr Wilders, 47, attacked the three judges sitting in the Amsterdam court for prosecuting him for “stating my opinion in the context of public debate”.
“I can assure you, I will continue proclaiming it,” he said.

However, proceedings were suspended for 24 hours, after Mr Wilders demanded that the court’s presiding judge be replaced.

After an opening statement by Mr Wilders, Bram Moszkowicz, his lawyer told the court that the defendant would exercise his right to silence and would not answer questions during the trial.

Jan Moors, the presiding judge then noted that Mr Wilders has been accused of being “good in taking a stand and then avoiding a discussion” of the issue. “By remaining silent, it seems you’re doing that today as well,” he said.

Attacking “scandalous” remarks, Mr Wilders and his lawyers asked for the court to be dissolved. “With this presiding judge and such a panel of judges, a fair trial isn’t possible anymore,” he said.
If the court rules in favour of the objections, new judges will need to be appointed, delaying proceedings.

He also accused the Dutch authorities of putting on trial the 1.5 million voters who backed his anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) during June elections, making Mr Wilders a kingmaker in Dutch politics.

He and his party’s 23 other MPs have lent their support to a minority conservative government in return for key policy concessions, such as a Dutch burka ban and new curbs on immigration.

“I am on trial, but on trial with me is the freedom of expression of many Dutch citizens,” he said.
Mr Wilders launched his political crusade against Islam after resigning from the centre-right VVD party in 2005 over its support for EU membership for Turkey.

He then polarised the country by making the first European call for full Islamic dress to be banned. In 2005, he was given police protection after the exposure of an Islamist terrorist plot on his life.

Malaria threatens 2 million in Pakistan as floodwaters turn stagnant

 The Guardian

Pools of standing water in southern Sindh province potentially home to disease-carrying mosquitoes that breed and hatch.

More than 2m cases of malaria are expected in Pakistan in the coming months in the wake of the country’s devastating floods, aid workers have warned.

Two months into the crisis, large areas remain submerged in southern Sindh province, creating stagnant pools of standing water that, combined with the heat, are powerful incubators of a disease spread by mosquitoes that breed and hatch in the pools.

More than 250,000 cases of suspected malaria, including some of the fatal falciparum strain, have been reported, according to the World Health Organisation.

Aid agency Plan International worries the figure will surpass 2m. “The most vulnerable are women and children,” said its Pakistan director, Haider Yaqub.

The malaria threat is part of a wider health emergency, with more than 20 million people affected by the floods struggling to cope as the winter approaches.

Last night the UN reported 881,000 cases of diarrhoea, 840,000 cases of skin diseases and almost 1m cases of respiratory disorders. Dr Dana van Alphen of the WHO said: “There are no epidemics yet – it’s not Goma in 1994. But we have to be very careful.”

Increasing UK aid to £134m recently, the international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, warned of extremely serious public health dangers.

The floods have devastated Pakistan’s flimsy public health system. More than 500 clinics have been damaged, while the government estimates that 30,000 “lady health workers” – a programme that is the backbone of the community health system – have been made homeless.

Pregnant woman are a particular concern. An estimated 50,000 flood-affected woman will give birth in the coming month, 7,500 of whom will require surgery for pregnancy-related complications.

The floods have highlighted the poor health of many rural people even before the flood. Doctors with the Pakistani Medical Association found that almost all women in Sindh and Punjab are clinically anaemic – half of them seriously so.

Midwives at refugee camps in Karachi, housing about 50,000 people, say many women had never previously been seen by a trained doctor. Pakistan already has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality, with 276 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The UN has requested more than $2bn to meet the humanitarian crisis, its largest appeal ever; so far about one-third of that amount has been pledged or donated. “We desperately need donors… These people have lost so much, but they still could lose more,” said Jane Cocking of Oxfam.

So far UN agencies have treated five million flood victims; however, the onset of winter may make it harder to reach the remaining stricken victims. Access to the most northerly areas, in the Hindu Kush, will soon be restricted. Meanwhile, in southern Sindh province continued flooding means wide swaths are accessible only by boat or helicopter.

MoD manual reveals ‘execution’ of prisoner by Afghan soldier


Details of shooting by Afghan soldier on UK base in Helmand province revealed by MoD as part of Baha Mousa inquiry

A prisoner has been “executed” on a British base in Helmand province by an Afghan soldier, Ministry of Defence documents have disclosed.

The shooting of the detainee on the small UK-controlled patrol base in Musa Qala in March was revealed in an MoD training manual for troops deploying to Afghanistan. The manual was released as part of the Baha Mousa public inquiry into abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

British troops did not directly witness the killing but were, it is believed, nearby at the time. They handed the Afghan soldier over to local authorities but it is not known what then happened to him, despite a subsequent inquiry into the affair.

The revelation came as the MoD admitted having paid £102,000 to the families of at least 35 Afghan civilians killed as a result of Nato operations in Afghanistan.

Compensation claims relating to the deaths of another 17 Afghans are still under investigation, according to data released by the MoD in response to a freedom of information request.

Campaigners have long expressed concerns about the treatment of Afghan prisoners captured by British forces. In June, anti-war activist Maya Evans won a partial victory in her high court challenge against Britain’s policy of transferring Taliban suspects to the Afghan authorities.

She said the policy had led to “horrible abuse” of detainees in violation of international law and human rights.

The MoD training manual, which has a “restricted” security classification, outlines how UK forces should treat detainees captured during operations. Referring to the current situation in Afghanistan, it says: “Allegations of detainee abuse by ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] and Isaf [the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force] troops continue – some reported to ICRC [the International Commission of the Red Cross] … Alleged that during Mar 10 a [sic] ANA [Afghan National Army] soldier ‘executed’ a detainee who was in their custody within a British-controlled PB [patrol base].”

Musa Qala was under the control of soldiers from the Household Cavalry at the time the detainee was shot dead. The district was handed over to the US Marines shortly afterwards and a programme to expand the Afghan security forces introduced.

Concerns have, however, been expressed about the quality and allegiance of some of the new recruits. In July an Afghan soldier murdered three British troops from 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles at a base near Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah.

An MoD spokesman said: “UK forces were in the vicinity when a member of the ANA shot and killed a detainee at a patrol base in Musa Qala in March this year.”

“UK investigators provided immediate assistance at the scene and passed evidence gathered to the Afghan National Army, as was appropriate, for further investigation.

“Working as part of Isaf, we will continue to offer support, advice and mentoring to the ANA on the proper treatment of those in their custody.

“The overwhelming majority of soldiers serving in the ANA are loyal, courageous and professional.
“The ANA is developing well as a fighting force in Afghanistan and is becoming increasingly capable of participating in operations with Isaf forces as is shown by their growing independence in operations.”
He added: “We will continue to work closely with the government of Afghanistan and the international community to build the capacity of the ANA and police.”

Meanwhile, a multimillion-pound compensation deal has been agreed with the families of crewmen who died when their Nimrod aircraft exploded over Afghanistan.

The MoD declined to reveal the exact figure but it is believed to be in the region of £15m according to the Mail on Sunday.

The deal comes two years after the families first raised legal action over the 2006 crash which killed 14 crewmen and prompted a scathing review which accused the MoD of sacrificing safety to cut costs.

They asked about Osama Bin Laden, then took my DNA

 Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of British Muslims leaving and returning from holidays abroad face harassment and intimidation by security forces when they pass through UK airports and seaports, an investigation has found.

One man interrogated by police over his British credentials was asked whether he watched Dad’s Army, while another was questioned over the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

New figures seen by this newspaper show that the number of innocent people stopped and questioned at airports and other points of entry to the UK has doubled in the last four years, raising serious concerns about racial profiling. Many British Muslims have cancelled future vacations rather than risk being questioned and held for up to nine hours by anti-terrorist officers.

Senior Muslim police officers are also understood to be concerned about the overuse of the special powers granted under the Terrorism Act 2000. The frequent searches at ports and borders have been criticised by Lord Carlile QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who argues that the number of cases can be “reduced in number without risk to national security”.

Earlier this year the Home Secretary, Theresa May, scaled back section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which gives police officers the power to stop and search members of the public without any reasonable suspicion. But under Schedule 7 of the same legislation, police officers have greater powers to stop and detain travellers leaving and entering Britain, including taking samples of their DNA.

Figures obtained by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) under the Freedom of Information Act show that the number of people stopped and questioned has risen from 1,190 in 2004 to 2,473 in 2008. The most recent numbers of Schedule 7 cases of stopping, questioning and searching last year show that, between January and September, police and Special Branch officers carried out 1,773 operations.

In the last five years 1,110 people were held and questioned by the police for up to nine hours. And despite a total of 10,400 “stops” carried out over the same period, only 99 people have been arrested. Of these, 48 were charged with terrorist or terrorist-related offences.

Mohamed Nur, 26, was stopped at Heathrow airport in June after returning from a holiday in Dubai. He was held for nine hours and forced to give DNA samples and fingerprints. During the questioning, one of the police officers asked about his British credentials. “He asked me ‘Do you consider yourself to be English?’ I said I consider myself to be British, rather than just English,” Mr Nur said.

“He said ‘How do you consider yourself to be British when you have no historical links with Britain? It’s like me going to Somalia and living there and people still not considering me to be Somali because of the way I look.’

“I said ‘I’ve lived most of my life in Britain so that’s why I’m British’. Then he asked me about Dad’s Army, and whether I watched it or not. I said ‘Yes’. He said ‘Do you find it funny?’ and I said ‘Yes’. Then he said ‘I consider you British’.”

Mr Nur’s complaint is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.

Asif Ahmed, 28, a property developer from Renfrew in Scotland, was stopped at Edinburgh airport as he returned from Stansted airport with his wife. The couple were collecting their bags when two plain-clothed officers approached them. They were taken to an interrogation room, separated and questioned for more than an hour. During the questioning Mr Ahmed claimed: “I was asked if I knew where [Osama] bin Laden was.”

Zin Derfoufi, civil liberties officer for FOSIS, told The Independent: “Schedule 7 is the most wide ranging ‘stop’ power in the UK but it is also the least transparent. This new information will not only assist the public’s understanding of how this power is being used but, significantly, 10 years after it was first introduced, it is also the very first step in empowering us all to be able to monitor its use and to hold the police to account.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Stopping people at airports is, on occasion, a necessary activity to protect public safety. These figures cover from 2004 to 2009. No figures are kept on ethnicity of individuals who are stopped and it is therefore not possible to conclude if any particular group is targeted unfairly.”

Adil Hussain, 26: Detained and quizzed on beliefs for six hours
The PhD computer student at Imperial College London was stopped by police at Dover in April this year at the start of his walking holiday in the Alps.

Although Mr Hussain and his companions protested that they were simply spending the weekend on a short break, anti-terrorist officers told them that some of the terrorists who attacked Britain were also well educated and enjoyed hill walking.

They were held for six hours, during which time they were searched and had their phones confiscated. At first the group believed their detention would last no longer than a few minutes.

Mr Hussain said: “Half an hour or so passes and one of the officers comes by for me to sign a paper outlining my rights and declaring that I have been held under the Anti-Terrorism Act. I am asked whether I would like anything to drink or eat – they have halal food. It turns out to be lamb curry and I think they must have a lot of Muslim visitors. They even have a prayer mat. I am reminded that I do not have the right to remain silent – if I refuse to answer any questions I could be arrested. ”

For the next six hours the men were separately interrogated about their interest in Islam, their friends in the UK and their views on British and American troops in Afghanistan. Finally they were released, but all their electronic equipment was confiscated.

Mr Hussain added: “My being singled out randomly for a ‘pat down’ and for my car to be inspected for dangerous materials is understandable – all of this delaying me an hour or so.

“However, I find it wholly unacceptable to be held a further five hours late into the night simply for the officers to profile me, questioning my religious and political views and threatening to charge me for refusing to answer any questions. I find this outrageous and do not see why I have to be subjected to such treatment merely on account of my ethnicity and religion.”

Pakistan: Key NATO supply route could reopen soon


ISLAMABAD — Pakistan indicated Sunday that its closure of a key NATO supply route into Afghanistan, shut down after a NATO helicopter attack killed three Pakistani soldiers, is a short-term measure.

Pakistan closed the Torkham border crossing in the country’s northwest on Thursday in an apparent protest of the NATO helicopter attack on the frontier. It was the third such incursion into Pakistan in less than a week.

Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said, however, that the route had been closed because of public reaction in the area to the NATO strikes, and that it would be reopened once things normalize.

“The supply has been suspended because of security reasons and it will be resumed as soon as these reasons are addressed,” he told The Associated Press. He did not elaborate on when the route might be reopened.

The Torkham border crossing along the fabled Khyber Pass is used to bring fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing and other non-lethal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s other main route into landlocked Afghanistan, in Chaman in the southeast, has remained open.

While NATO and the United States have alternative supply routes into Afghanistan, the Pakistani ones are the cheapest and most convenient. Some 80 percent of the coalition’s non-lethal supplies are transported over Pakistani soil after being unloaded at docks in Karachi, a port city in the south.

Earlier Sunday, the bullet-riddled bodies of three men were found by a road in the restive northwestern tribal region, killed by suspected Pakistani Taliban militants in apparent retaliation for recent U.S. drone strikes in the area, officials and a villager said.

The corpses were discovered in North Waziristan alongside the Miran Shah-Data Khel road that leads to Afghanistan. A note under a rock next to the bodies said “Anyone who dares spy for the Americans will meet the same fate,” according to two intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Local government official Asghar Khan confirmed the report, but refused to give further details or release the identities or nationalities of the victims.

The slayings came the day after two suspected U.S. missile attacks killed 16 people in the region, part of a recent surge in drone strikes in Pakistan along with stepped-up NATO operations along the frontier. The strikes have been targeting Taliban and al-Qaida militants taking shelter across the porous border in Pakistan out of reach of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan.

Over the past five weeks, the U.S. is suspected of having launched at least 22 missile strikes in Pakistani territory, an unprecedented number. Western officials have said some of the CIA-controlled, drone-fired strikes have been aimed at disrupting a terror plot against European cities.

U.S. officials rarely discuss the covert program, but have described it in the past as a highly successful tool that has killed some top militant leaders.

While the Pakistani leadership has quietly accepted drone strikes over the last three years and even provides intelligence for some of them, closing the border crossing was a clear signal it will not compromise on allowing foreign troops or manned aircraft inside its territory.

Polls show deep opposition among Pakistani citizens to the strikes, along with a belief that they kill large numbers of civilians.

Akhtar Nawaz, a local villager, said he did not know who the three slain men were, but that people in the area were convinced they were killed by Taliban militants in response to the American attacks.
“This is because of the high number of drone strikes these days,” he said.

Troops’ Afghan tour records wiped

Computer records from British forces’ tours of Afghanistan are wiped when they return to the UK, the Ministry of Defence has admitted.

The department said it was “not possible” to give assurances that there were no longer gaps in the storage of information created on operations overseas.

A solicitor representing more than 100 Iraqis who claim they were abused by British troops said the military’s failure to retain copies of electronic files from foreign deployments “smacked of cover-up”.

The public inquiry into the death of hotel worker Baha Mousa, 26, in the custody of UK soldiers in southern Iraq in 2003 is looking at defence officials’ record-keeping.

Inquiry staff have encountered difficulties in obtaining copies of commanders’ directives and establishing who held what post at the time.

Katherine de Bourcier, the MoD’s departmental records officer, was asked to comment on whether adequate records of military deployments are now being kept so relevant personnel and orders can be traced if investigations are launched later.

She admitted there was a “significant” risk that the deletion of data held by Army headquarters and units returning from foreign tours did not follow proper records management procedures. “It is not possible at this stage to provide assurance that there are no longer information gaps in records created on operations,” she said in a statement to the inquiry.

The Royal Navy, Army and RAF have separate guidelines for keeping records from deployments for “historical purposes”, but this amounts to only a small proportion of the information created on operations.

Phil Shiner, from Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers, has fought legal battles to force the MoD to disclose documents relating to alleged mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq by UK forces. In one case a British Army officer threw two laptop computers storing pictures of 20 dead Iraqis overboard from a cross-Channel ferry, the High Court heard last year. Mr Shiner said: “This is absolutely reckless. For them to wipe them all just smacks of cover-up. I cannot believe that there is some benign explanation for bringing computers home and then purging them. It’s a bit like chucking them off a cross-Channel ferry.”

The inquiry will resume on Tuesday, when it will examine how the military can ensure prisoners are properly looked after in the future.

Police surveillance of Muslims set up with ‘no regard for law’


Police covered up counter-terrorism unit’s £3m camera operation which spied on Muslims in Birmingham.

A secret police operation to place thousands of Muslims living in Birmingham under permanent surveillance was implemented with virtually no consultation, oversight or regard for the law, a report found today.

Project Champion was abandoned in June after an investigation by the Guardian revealed police had misled residents into believing that hundreds of counter-terrorism cameras installed in streets around Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath were to be used to combat vehicle crime and antisocial behaviour.

In fact, the £3m project was being run from the West Midlands police counter-terrorism unit with the consent of security officials at the Home Office and MI5.

The network of CCTV and automatic number plate reading (ANPR) cameras, which were weeks away from being switched on, were intended to monitor people entering and leaving the predominantly Muslim suburbs.

Revealing the findings of her damning report into the project, Sara Thornton, chief constable of Thames Valley police, revealed how:

• Police devised a “storyline” that concealed the true purpose of the cameras. Counter-terrorism insignia was removed from paperwork as part of a deliberate strategy to “market” the surveillance operation as a local policing scheme to improve community safety.

• Top police officers failed to ask questions about the operation’s “proportionality, legitimacy, authority, necessity, and the ethical values inherent in the proposed course of action”. The report documented 11 instances when “oversight” mechanisms offered limited or no scrutiny.

• Police assurances that security cameras would be used for local policing were highly misleading. Although ANPR data was to be shared on regional and national databases, the network was controlled by the counter-terrorism unit. There was “no local facility to view the cameras” and “nobody in place to monitor them”.

• Attempts by police to conceal the true purpose of the project caused “significant damage to community relations” in the West Midlands. One community leader was quoted as saying the project had “set relations back a decade”.

• Officers failed to comply with national CCTV regulations or conduct proper consultation. They did not obtain statutory clearance for the use of covert cameras and, Thornton said, there was “very little evidence” that police had even considered their legal obligations.
Sir Christopher Rose, the chief surveillance commissioner, confirmed in a statement that 29 covert cameras had been removed. Police had planned a total of 218 cameras in the area, 72 of which would be covert.

The West Midlands chief constable, Chris Simms, said in a statement that he fully accepted Thornton’s findings. “I am sorry that we got such an important issue so wrong and that it has had such a negative impact on our communities.”

His force has declined repeated requests for an interview with a senior officer since June. Today the force again declined to provide a senior officer to answer the Guardian’s questions.

There have been no resignations or disciplinary action over Project Champion. The West Midlands police authority, the force watchdog, is considering complaints from councillors who say they were misled by senior police officers.

Assistant chief constable Anil Patani, who had overall responsibility for Project Champion, is not known to have made any public statement about the fiasco. The project was removed from his command in July.

Thornton said the scheme was funded out of a counter-terrorism fund administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) as a direct response to the perceived concentration of terrorist threats in 2007. In their proposal police said they intended to place a surveillance “net” around two Birmingham neighbourhoods identified as containing a high proportion of terror suspects.
The bid for the funding was submitted in January 2008 and the following month the project received the backing of the police authority, which Thornton said failed to ask the obvious question: “Is this the right thing to do?”

In January 2009 the project was well underway and senior officers turned to public relations. Minutes from meetings chaired by Patani reveal officers decided to “formulate a narrative” that concentrated on tackling crime.

Seeking to find “a storyline on which to hang the project”, it was decided to remove the counter-terrorism “badge” from documentation. The logos were replaced with a new brand – the Safer Birmingham Parternship (SBP) – which was given nominal responsibility for the cameras.

Senior officers were aware of the dangers. “We are not going to install 150 plus cameras without questions being asked,” the officers noted.

The live-apartners: How one million couples live in separate homes

 Daily Mail

Sharing your life with someone used to mean sharing your home with them.

But one in 20 couples now chooses to live separately, according to research.

The number of men and women ‘living apart together’ has increased by 40 per cent in the last decade, and it is thought that around one million couples now keep separate properties.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter, 44, and film director Tim Burton, 52, are among them, living in adjoining apartments in Hampstead, North London.

The couple, who have been together for more than 10 years since meeting on the set of Planet of the Apes, have separate kitchens, their own televisions, chintzy decor for her and gothic furnishings for him.

The survey, carried out for Halifax Home Insurance, suggests that young couples live apart because they are reluctant to sacrifice their independence, while those who are older have accumulated too much furniture and too many possessions to squeeze into one home.

But there is an ongoing debate between politicians and economists over whether the phenomenon is down to growing independence – or increasing benefit dependence.

Many are thought to stay apart because of the ‘couple penalty’, which means that a man and a woman face losses in tax credits and means-tested benefits if they live together.


The bias against couples in the benefits system means that, according to calculations by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, a single mother misses out on an average of £100 a week if she moves in with a partner, and this can rise as high as £200 a week.

But the Halifax report suggests that men are more likely to want to delay cohabitation than women, and those who live in cities are more likely to share a home than countryside dwellers.

The price of living apart may be higher than many couples realise, with those who commute between each other’s homes three times more likely to be burgled than those who share a property.

The research, based on a survey of 2,000 respondents, found that nearly one in five of couples living apart are over 35. It said: ‘The primary reason for adopting this living situation differs by age.

‘Younger couples mainly fear rushing in to live together, while over-35s are most likely to resist a life under one roof because they have too many joint possessions to fit into either property.’

The Office for National Statistics has put the official number of couples ‘living apart together’ at 1.2million.

It delayed publication of its analysis in the mid-1990s, largely because of concerns over the political impact of the high numbers when there were growing fears that the benefit system was promoting single parenthood.

A study for the Royal Economic Society last year connected tax credits with marriage break-ups, saying that divorce rates had risen among low-income couples since the introduction of the credits in 1999.

Magistrates order pregnant Muslim to remove veil

Magistrates ordered a pregnant Muslim woman to remove her veil while she gave evidence against her violent ex-partner.

By Andy Bloxham
Georgina Richards, 36, initially refused for religious reasons but reluctantly agreed when JPs said they might not accept her evidence if they could not see her "facial expressions".

The case at Leicester Magistrates Court on Thursday was held up for over an hour while magistrates agreed to hear her evidence from behind a screen.

Lawrence Faulkner, one of the magistrates, told her: "We need to see a person's facial expressions to assess the evidence they are giving.

"If you refuse to remove your veil we may not be able to accept your evidence."

Miss Richards, who is heavily pregnant, gave evidence against her ex-partner Ismail Mangera, 30, from behind a screen in the courtroom.

Mangera was found guilty of punching Miss Richards in the face and scrawling abuse on her front door.

But after the hearing, Miss Richards criticised the magistrates for forcing her to remove her veil.

She said: "I was a bit unhappy that he told me to take my veil off.

"They put screens up next to me but I didn't really want to do it but I thought the case would be dropped if I didn't take it off.

"It just made me feel uncomfortable. They wanted to see the expression on my face but I don't think it really matters, I think I could have done it with my veil on."

Miss Richards told the court that her religion said she could not remove her veil in front of men in public.

The magistrates heard that Mangera attacked Miss Richards, mother to three of the couple's children and eight months pregnant with their fourth, between April 1 and April 30.

The magistrates warned Mangera he was facing jail and sentencing was deferred until October 20 to allow a probation report to be produced.

The wearing of Islamic dress has become increasingly controversial in recent years.

Jack Straw was criticised in 2006 after requesting that women lift their veil at his surgeries in his Blackburn constituency.

Mr Straw then forced a Manchester magistrate called Ian Murray to attend a course in sensitivity training after he walked out of a case where a Muslim woman defendant, Zoobia Hussain, refused to remove her veil when giving evidence.

Should we fear Islam?

By Congressman Keith Ellison
At a time when our nation is seeing a rise in intolerant behavior, crossing every cultural line, whether based on race, religion or sexual orientation, we seem simultaneously stuck with a national news media that is preoccupied with conflict and controversy when we desperately need one that weighs facts and reports fairly. A recent national news program reinforced these concerns. Let me explain what I mean.

Imagine a respected TV show or news magazine article with the title, "Should Americans Fear Black People?"

Imagine staccato hip-hop music for the teaser, with clips of black gang members toting guns, hanging around urban scenes, looking scary. Imagine the zoom-in close up of a shoulder tattoo, proclaiming "Thug for Life."

As the host (some household name) opens the show, imagine that the white expert opining about the root causes of urban decay is a nationally recognized racist, like for instance, David Duke. With a straight face, and no sense of irony, the host solicits Duke's views, who proceeds to declare, "when the American people saw the LA riots, they received a peek into their future."

Imagine the television cameras going in search of voices of 'real' black people. Where do they go? The 'hood of course! I mean, where else do black people live?

The intrepid host invites regular Americans to ask the experts to explain black pathology: "Why is their rap music so degrading to women?" Cynthia from Wyoming wonders. "Why are so many blacks at the bottom of the economic and educational ladder?" Chuck from New York State muses.

Is this starting to get a little uncomfortable? Of course, it is. Just ask Don Imus about the wisdom of indulging in racial stereotyping against blacks. Add Jews, Catholics, gays and others as well. Not a good idea.

Now replace black with Muslim, and that's just about how ABC News treated Islam and Muslims this past weekend, on 20/20 and This Week with Christiane Amanpour.

There were the obligatory clips of terrorist training camps, the planes flying into the twin towers, the victims of so-called 'honor killings.' The Muslim experts - looking officially 'Islamic' in their long beards and hats - included one declaring that one day the flag of Islam would fly over the White House. The non-Muslim experts - Robert Spencer (leading anti-Muslim advocate in the Park51 Project controversy), Ayaan Hirsi Ali (prolific anti-Muslim writer), and Franklin Graham (said Islam "is a very evil and wicked religion") - are well known, even famous, for spewing anti-Muslim hate. Of course, these characters emphatically agreed with the caricatures with long beards and white hats, repeating the propaganda that Islam requires its adherents to dominate people. Among the 'normal' Muslims interviewed were a woman in niqab (fewer than 1% of Muslim women in America wear the full face veil and accompanying robes), and Muslims in the Muslim 'hood', cities, like Dearborn, MI, and Patterson, NJ.

Do some Americans fear black people? For sure. But we don't validate those fears by allowing them to be expressed with fake innocence on respected news shows. Why are fears of Muslims validated by television airings? 

Are there criminals in America who are African-American? Yes, again. But they're not presented as representative figures of the community by reputable news programs. Why do such shows go out of their way to find the scariest, most cartoonish Muslims possible and present them as spokespeople for Muslims?

No serious journalist would ask a random black guy with a briefcase on the street to explain the pathology of an African American criminal because of the coincidence of shared skin color. But serious journalists called on ordinary Muslim Americans to explain the behavior of homicidal maniacs and extremists, thereby making the link between the crazies and the mainstream community.

Are there people willing to offer all sorts of racist theories about black crime, from problems in black genes to deficiencies in black culture? Plenty. But the only time they show up on mainstream news shows are as examples of racism, not as experts on race.

We are having a national conversation about belonging. The threatened Qur'an burning in Florida and the controversy over the proposed Islamic Center in lower Manhattan are examples of this national conversation about whether America can stretch her arms wide enough to embrace Muslims too. Irresponsible and sensational depictions of Muslims in the popular media are not the cause of Islamophobia, but they certainly can make it worse. Recent news shows and media reports do nothing to shed light or understanding on this national conversation, which is too bad.

But the conversation must continue. And I hope it continues in our mosques, churches, synagogues and other holy places, with Americans of all faiths talking face to face about differences and about our shared humanity - free of the stereotypes that, lately, are so prominent in our TV shows and magazines.

PML-N protest to greet Musharraf in Manchester

By Murtaza Ali Shah
LONDON: The city of Manchester is bracing itself for a bitter street tussle -- possibly running battles -- as supporters of sworn enemies Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif converge on the city on Saturday in a show of force.

Now leading the newly-formed All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), Musharraf has personally chosen Manchester, known all over the world for its famous Manchester United football club, as the last leg of his Pakistani community engagement after launching the party on Friday.

But after Musharraf launched vicious personal attacks on former premier Nawaz Sharif, whom he ousted from power in 1999 and exiled him to Saudi Arabia and London, the tension between the two camps has soared to fever pitch.

Greater Manchester Police are believed to have put hundreds of policemen on the spot to prevent the two sides from engaging in a Pakistani-style free-for-all brawl.

A GMP spokesman said the police force was aware of the planned visit of Musharraf on Saturday 9. He added: "The GMP is currently planning for the visit and working with event organisers to ensure an appropriate policing operation is in place."

Sharif has found the attacks nerve-twisting and there is every indication that the former president of Pakistan will lambaste Sharif at every possible opportunity, especially using the western and Pakistan media.

A highly agitated Sharif, according to a PML source, has taken Musharraf's attacks so seriously that he will be present in London to ensure a large-scale protest outside the invitation-only venue of Musharraf's public meeting and also to mobilise his party activists.

It is not yet clear whether Sharif will himself lead the protest rally in Manchester, but his party activists are urging him to announce his own participation in the rally to increase the participation.
The news has learned on authority that the PML-N leadership in Pakistan has also asked the UK chapter to step up the fight against Musharraf's activities in London. Top PML-N leaders are now personally involved in the preparation for October 9 protest.

But the PML-N leaders are facing a difficult task in assembling a large number of people in the city, where Chaudhry Altaf Shahid and Asif Shahzad, two known and skilled political organisers, are hoping to bring out at least 3,000 people to cheer Musharraf on.

Zubair Gull, PML-N's UK leader, told The News his party was organising a demonstration in Manchester to show "solidarity and support to the victims of cruel regime of ex-dictator Musharraf in Pakistan".

Gull said the decision to hold the demonstration against Musharraf was a local decision and the orders had not come from the above. "We will be holding the demonstration to expose Musharraf to the world. After selling Pakistanis for dollars while he was in power, these days he is speaking the language of the Indian establishment. He has insulted the feelings of millions of Kashmiris and Pakistanis and we will be there to show our true feelings to him."

Chaudhry Altaf Shahid and Asif Shahzad said in a statement that the success of the AMPL launch in London and the Birmingham event, where over 1,500 people attended the public address, had given them the confidence that Musharraf's message was being received well.

They said every effort was being made-especially after the Birmingham rally incident in which two protesters agitated during Musharraf's speech. They alleged that Punjab government was using money to bring people to Manchester against Musharraf.

30 NATO tankers torched in Pakistan

Unidentified gunmen in southwestern Pakistan have attacked 30 NATO tankers carrying fuel for US-led foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Gunmen set fire to more than two dozen tankers on Saturday, Reuters quoted an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying.

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants have stepped up attacks on convoys carrying supplies for US-led forces since an unauthorized US drone attack on September 30 in northwestern Pakistan left three Pakistani soldiers dead.

Meanwhile, Pakistan blocked the main NATO supply route to Afghanistan for the tenth successive day on Saturday.

Pakistani officials have said the key border post will stay closed for the time being in retaliation for the non-UN-sanctioned US drone attack at an outpost near the Afghan border, despite a formal apology by the US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, for the numerous incursions and violations.

Hundreds of NATO vehicles, including tankers and container trucks, are currently parked in various parts of northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border.

U.S. Believes Arab States Won't Scuttle Mideast Talks

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration believes it has persuaded Arab states not to scuttle the fledgling Middle East peace negotiations, officials said Thursday, despite the Israeli government's refusal to freeze Jewish settlements and a vow by the Palestinians to walk away if Israel did not.

With the Arab League's meeting on Friday expected to deliver a pivotal decision on the future of the talks, the United States has appealed to Jordan and other Arab nations to stop short of pushing the Palestinians to break off the negotiations.

After days of intensive diplomacy by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the administration's special envoy, George J. Mitchell, the administration now expects the meeting in Libya to produce a stream of vitriol against Israel and an insistence that the two sides cannot talk while settlement building is under way, American and Israeli officials said, but no formal declaration that negotiations should be abandoned.

Such an outcome would allow the peace process to survive another tricky deadline but leave the negotiations basically where they have been since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, first sat down in Washington last month: stuck in the starting gate, with no further meeting scheduled until the issue of settlements is resolved.

Palestinian officials have not commented on the prospective Arab League decision, and on Thursday were holding fast to their position that talks could not continue if settlement building did. But the Arab League's carefully calibrated response would at least allow the lines to remain open.

The United States continues to haggle with Mr. Netanyahu over a package of security guarantees in return for a one-time 60-day extension of the freeze, Israeli and American officials said. But there are no ministerial meetings planned in coming days to consider extending the freeze, and it cannot be extended without ministerial approval.

The United States signed an agreement on Thursday to sell 20 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Israel. Officials said the deal was long in the making and not related to the effort to get the Israelis to extend the freeze, though the United States might throw in an extra plane as a sweetener for Mr. Netanyahu, they said.

In Israel, there was every indication that the Arab League meeting would pass without any announcement on settlements from the prime minister. A leader of the settler movement said Thursday that his group, Yesha Council, no longer saw the need to run advertisements pressing the government not to renew the construction freeze.

"We have pulled back our campaign and don't feel that the coming days will be dramatic," the group's executive director, Naftali Bennett, said in an interview.

In Washington, the Israeli finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, said that a deal would be "very difficult to deliver." Mr. Steinitz, a member of Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, said the prime minister faced almost insurmountable political hurdles within his coalition to extend what he had promised would be a one-time construction halt.

"He made it very clear, with U.S. backing, that this is a one-time unilateral gesture for 10 months, and since it is unilateral, it is not negotiated," Mr. Steinitz said in an interview.

He acknowledged that the United States had offered Israel incentives, which other officials said ranged from military hardware to support for a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley. And Mr. Steinitz left open the possibility that the deal could be made tempting enough to sway Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Netanyahu insisted on Thursday that the world's attention should be focused not on his building policy but on keeping the Palestinians in the talks.

"Today the question has to be put to the Palestinians, ‘Why are you leaving the talks?' " he said on a visit to the central city of Lod. " ‘Why are you turning your backs on peace? Stay in the talks.' "

Most of the American diplomacy this week has focused on the Arab world. Mrs. Clinton spoke Thursday with Mr. Abbas and on Tuesday with Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh. Mr. Mitchell's lieutenants spoke with officials from Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Oman and Kuwait. On Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton met with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who represents the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers: the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

"We want to see a positive signal come out tomorrow," said Mark A. Toner, the acting State Department spokesman. He declined to say whether that should be an expression of support for the talks or merely an agreement not to call for them to be scrapped.

A senior Palestinian official expressed pessimism on Thursday that there would be further negotiations with the current Netanyahu government.

"There will be no serious political process while Netanyahu's government pursues settlements," the official, Yasir Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Mr. Abbas, said on Voice of Palestine radio. "I can go further and say that there will be no serious political process with Netanyahu's government."

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas met three times between Sept. 2 and the end of Israel's 10-month settlement moratorium on Sept. 26. But the Palestinians say there is no point in meeting if the freeze is not renewed. Since there is no next meeting scheduled, there is nothing specific for Mr. Abbas to withdraw from in the coming days.

During his Thursday visit to Lod, Mr. Netanyahu also spoke about the new language he wants to bring to a loyalty oath for non-Jews seeking Israeli citizenship. On Sunday he will ask the cabinet to approve a law requiring non-Jews to declare loyalty to "the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic state." The move is largely aimed at Palestinians who seek Israeli citizenship through marriage to Israeli Arabs.

"There is a great struggle today to annul and blur Israel's identity as the national state of the Jewish people and say that it does not belong to the Jewish people in a national sense," Mr. Netanyahu said.

Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is an advocate of a loyalty oath, and there is speculation in Israel that Mr. Netanyahu, who originally favored a softer version of the oath, was seeking to placate Mr. Lieberman to get him to accept a freeze extension.

A top aide to Mr. Netanyahu denied on Army Radio that there was any such connection.

Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem.

'Defence leagues' plan Amsterdam show of support for Geert Wilders


  • Hate speech trial is focus of far right anti-Islam protest
  • English Defence League to defy Leicester march ban
Matthew Taylor and Lizzy Davies in Paris
Far right groups modelled on the English Defence League have been set up across Europe and are planning to demonstrate in Amsterdam in support of the Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

French and Dutch "defence leagues" will join the EDL and several other anti-Islamic organisations on 30 October to coincide with the end of Wilders's trial for hate speech and inciting racism.

About 2,000 EDL supporters are expected to demonstrate in Leicester tomorrow. Home secretary Theresa May banned marches in the city this week but the EDL said its protest would go ahead, raising fears of unrest.

The EDL, formed in Luton last year, has become the most significant far-right street movement in the UK since the National Front. It claims to be a peaceful, non-racist organisation protesting against "militant Islam". Many of its demonstrations have descended into violence and Islamophobic and racist chanting, attracting known football hooligans and far right extremists. At its most recent demonstration in Bradford, in August, 1,600 police officers tried to contain EDL supporters as bricks, bottles and smoke bombs were thrown. There were 13 arrests.

Critics say the demonstration in Amsterdam is a sign of the EDL's growing influence among far right and anti-Islamic groups in Europe and the US, and part of its self-proclaimed "international outreach work and networking".

The EDL refused to answer the Guardian's questions today but its leader, who uses the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, wrote on the group's website that the Amsterdam demonstration would "take the English Defence League global".

"The EDL has been in contact with our European brothers and sisters and we have decided that on Saturday 30th October the European defence league will be demonstrating in Amsterdam in support of Geert," Robinson wrote. "We hope that all of you will be able to join us for this, what promises to be a landmark demonstration for the future of the defence leagues."

The Amsterdam protest will see EDL supporters join other activists from countries including Germany, Belgium and Switzerland for the launch of what is being called the "European Defence League".

One group planning to attend is the French Defence League, or Ligue de Defense Fran├žaise. It was formed in July and one of its co-founders confirmed it was modelled on the EDL. "We were indeed inspired by their [EDL's] statutes and by the spirit of openness which enlivens them," a spokesman wrote in an email to the Guardian.

Like the EDL, the French group denies it is racist or violent and says it aims to fight the "threat" Islam poses to France's values and customs. "We who wish to keep our values and our liberties must unite and fight those who are willing to sell the nation and our country for a politician's sash," the spokesman said.

The growth of the EDL and similar groups is of growing concern, says the Labour MEP for London, Claude Moraes, who chairs the all-party European parliament group on anti-racism.

"The EDL's racist and Islamophobic message is resonating across Europe as we can see from the formation of these groups," he said. "This is particularly dangerous because they are using this virulent Islamophobia as an excuse to promote what is a dangerous agenda of hate and division."

The European connections are part of a number of international links forged by the EDL in the past year. In August it emerged that the EDL had received endorsements from Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, opponents of a Muslim community centre being built near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York. In one of her blogs Geller wrote: "I share the EDL's goals ... We need to encourage rational, reasonable groups that oppose the Islamisation of the west and not leave it solely to fringe groups like the BNP."

Last month Robinson and at least seven other EDL supporters flew to New York to attend a protest against the community centre near "ground zero".

In April EDL supporters attended a demonstration in support of Wilders in Berlin, and in June EDL delegates spoke at a "counter-jihad" conference organised by the International Civil Liberties Alliance in Zurich, where they gave a presentation entitled The Anatomy of an EDL Demo.

Nick Lowles of anti-fascist organisation Searchlight said: "The EDL is operating on two levels. There are the violent street demonstrations that have brought fear and division to towns and cities across the country, then there is the political wing of the organisation that is partly inspired by Christian fundamentalism and is making links and inspiring other groups in Europe and elsewhere."

Nato chief backs defence deal between Britain and France

French engineers could maintain UK nuclear warheads in agreement called 'the way forward' for straitened times

Ian Traynor
Anglo-French defence co-operation on everything from nuclear warheads to transport aircraft, helicopters and aircraft carriers would bolster the future of a cash-strapped western military alliance, Nato's secretary general has said.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen threw his support behind suggestions that London and Paris were exploring a radical departure in defence policy, in seeking a deal under which French engineers maintain British nuclear warheads. David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy will hold a summit in three weeks at a UK naval base with military collaboration high on the agenda.

A breakthrough between the UK and France could provide the model for sustaining Nato at a time of financial crisis and slashed defence budgets, Rasmussen told a group of journalists, including the Guardian, in Brussels. "It's very much what I said is the way forward, to identify assets and capabilities that could be shared," he said. Paris and London should pool resources on "laboratories, shared services, and maintenance", he added, in reference to proposals that Britain's 160 nuclear warheads should be transported to France for servicing by French atomic scientists and engineers.

Rasmussen also warned that looming British defence budget cuts must not impair the UK's ability to be a military force beyond its borders. He said: "I feel confident the British government will make sure it primarily cuts fat while also building up muscle."

With the defence secretary, Liam Fox, fighting chancellor George Osborne over the scale of defence cuts that could reach up to 20% over four years, Rasmussen said the slashed budget must not affect Britain's "deployable assets, transport and hi-tech capabilities" and added: "It's an essential part of British security policy to continue to defend its interests beyond the UK's borders." Earlier he warned that western prosperity would be imperilled if defence cuts went too far, saying: "There is a point when you're no longer cutting fat, you're cutting into the muscle and then into the bone."

Cameron and President Sarkozy are to meet next month for a summit amid growing speculation about pioneering new military pacts. In recent weeks ideas about sharing nuclear submarine patrols and aircraft carriers have been floated, only to be promptly dismissed. The mutual nuclear warhead maintenance is the latest signal of attempts to seal an agreement.

"There's a pattern," said Tomas Valasek, a defence analyst at the Centre for European Reform. "France and the UK have the same problems, both with nuclear forces and the full spectrum of military capability. They face the dilemma of dramatic spending cuts while trying to retain European superpower status. If they don't want to reduce capabilities they need to seek savings through collaboration. That's the conclusion they're coming to."

A paper last week by a leading French security analyst for the Royal United Services Institute called for far-reaching decisions on defence collaboration if both countries were serious about the "long-term strategic survival of their militaries". "The negative trends of economic austerity, defence inflation and a demanding strategic environment are rapidly converging into a downward spiral that, if nothing is done, will prove the end of the defence game for the two middle powers in Europe," wrote Etienne de Durand. "British and French military capabilities will rapidly diminish beyond repair."

Valasek said that while the notion of Anglo-French nuclear co-operation might raise hackles in Washington, the Americans were more worried about declining military capacities "among some of its best allies", notably Britain.

"[Liam] Fox got an earful from the Pentagon in Washington recently."

Before Cameron and Sarkozy stage their summit, Osborne's public spending review and the MoD's strategic defence review are to be unveiled, revealing the potential scope of budget cuts.

Chinese dissident wins Nobel Prize

Peace prize for Liu Xiaobo angers China, which calls decision to honour the jailed activist an "obscenity".

Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Chinese rights activist, has won the 2010 Nobel Peace prize, prompting a strong reaction from China.

Announcing the award in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, on Friday, Thorbjoern Jagland, the Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman, said Liu was a symbol for the fight for human rights in China.

"China has become a big power in economic terms as well as political terms, and it is normal that big powers should be under criticism,'' he said .

Liu is in prison for helping to organise and disseminate a document called Charter 08, which calls for sweeping political reforms in China, including freedom of assembly, expression and religion. The 54-year-old literary critic and former professor was sentenced last Christmas Day to 11 years in jail for subversion.

In response to the Oslo announcement, China said that giving the prize to "criminal" Liu ran contrary to the principles of the award, and warned ties with Norway would suffer. It summoned the Norwegian ambassador in Beijing to protest against the committee's decision.

"This is an obscenity against the peace prize," Ma Zhaoxu, a foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement.

Ragnhild Imerslund, a spokeswoman for Norway's ministry of foreign affairs, defended the Nobel Committee, saying it is "an independent" body "which makes decisions independently of the Norwegian government".

"So any decision made by the committee should not be seen as an official reaction or comment on what's going on [in China]," she told Al Jazeera.

Imerslund said it was "normal in diplomacy" for Chinese officials to contact Norwegian diplomats.

"The meeting was conducted in a constrcutive tone and we emphasised ... that Norway is eager to continue bilateral relations with China," she said.

'Chinese warnings'
Jonas Gahr Stoere, the Norwegian foreign minister, earlier emphasised that the award should not cause a hostile Chinese reaction.

"There are no grounds to direct any measures against Norway as a country, and I think it would have a negative effect on China's reputation if it did," he told the Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

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Reacting to the award, France, Germany and Taiwan's main opposition party urged China to free Liu.
The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader who won the Nobel Peace prize in 1989 but is seen as a traitor by China because of his struggle for a more autonomous Tibet, congratulated Liu and called for his release.

Liu has called for the reform of China's one-party Communist system and was jailed for 21 months for taking part in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

In 1996, he served another three years in a "re-education" camp for seeking the release of prisoners jailed in the Tiananmen demonstrations.

Jagland, the Nobel Committee chairman, said Liu had become a symbol for the struggle for human rights in China.

"The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad," he said.

"Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China."

Vincent Brossel, head of the Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders, told Al Jazeera that Liu deserved the award because "he's a very peaceful advocate of freedom of expression and democracy". He added that Liu is a unique representative of the struggle between dictatorship and democracy.

"Xiaobo is a gentle and brave person, he will probably give away the award to all political prisoners in China and all over the world," Brossel, who has met Liu several times, said.

Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan, reporting from Beijing, said Liu is well known in China.

"Most people in China actually know his name. The thing with Chinese human rights activists is that they tend to be known outside their country more than they're known inside their country, because of the censorship issues for example," she said.

"But Liu was a prominent writer before he became an activist.

"Not only is he known in the intelligentsia and the academic world. His political manifesto, Charter 08, has picked up more than 10,000 signatures and these Chinese who have signed on to this charter say they are from all walks of life."

Never sought fame
Nicholas Bequelin, senior Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that even though Liu is imprisoned, "he will be comforted when he learns about it (the prize), but it won't really change him".

Bequelin described Liu as "someone who is ready to go to prison for his ideas and he knew it when he signed this document, this Charter 08 ... he has never sought international fame".

Bequelin said that Liu was likely awarded the prize because he "really stands for all the activists and political prisoners in China. He really represents every single one of them because his key struggle has been for freedom of expression and freedom of expression is the basis of any advocacy and any efforts towards greater human rights protection".

At least four former peace prize winners - Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, the Dalai Lama and the Czech politician Vaclav Havel - had been among those calling for Liu to get the Peace Prize.
Barack Obama, the US president, has also called for Liu's release.

Wife 'excited'
After hearing about Liu's award, his wife thanked his supporters and called for his release.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

2009: Barack Obama, US president
2008: Martti Ahtisaari, former Finish president and peace mediator
2007: Al Gore, US politician and climate activist, shared the prize with the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change
2006: Muhammad Yunus shares the prize with the Grameen Bank he founded, providing loans to the rural poor of Bangladesh
2005: Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, shares the prize with the International Atomic Energy Agency

"I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I don't know what to say," Liu Xia told the news agency AFP.

"I strongly ask that the Chinese government release Liu Xiaobo."

Before the official announcement on Friday, Liu had been the advance favourite in the guessing-game for the award.

This year, the Nobel Committee considered a record 237 individuals and organisations for the prestigious prize.

The Nobel prizes were established by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite, and were first handed out in 1901.

According to Nobel's will, the peace prize should be given to the person who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

The award of $1.5m will be handed out in Oslo on December 10, while the other Nobel prize ceremonies are held in Sweden, in line with the founder's wishes. Sweden and Norway were joined in a union during his lifetime.

The Norwegian parliament appoints the five voting members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selects the laureate for the Peace prize.

Each year, the committee invites qualified people to submit nominations for the prize.

Four Arabs on Forbes most powerful women list

PARIS (Kamal Qubeissi)
Four Arab women, three of whom from the Gulf region, were included in the worlds' 100 most powerful women list released Wednesday night by Forbes magazine.

The 2010 list, topped by U.S. first lady Michele Obama, ranked Queen Rania al-Abdullah of Jordan 76 for her campaigns in the fields of education, women issues, and human rights as well as her role in bridging the gap between the U.S. and the Arab world, according to Forbes website.

Queen Rania of Jordan is the only Arab woman outside the Gulf region on the listQueen Rania is described as the "queen of social media" as more than 1.3 million people follow her on Twitter and more than 300,000 are her fans on Facebook. This is in addition to her website and You Tube channel. Queen Rania ranked 95 in the 2009 list.

Apart from Queen Rania, the other three Arab women on the list are from the Gulf region. Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi, the Minister of Economy in the UAE, ranked 70 for being the first woman to hold such a position in the country in addition to running an online auction company and managing the agency in charge of the automation of the government. She is also known as a women's rights activist. Qasimi ranked 94 in last year's list.

Qatar's first lady Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al-Missned ranked 74 for her efforts in the fields of education, women, and children. She is specifically known for her campaigns against domestic violence, child labor, and the marginalization of the disabled. This is Missned's first time in Forbes's 100 most powerful women list.

Maha al-Ghunaim, managing director and cofounder of Kuwait's Global Investment House, ranked 94 for successfully running one of the region's most famous investment companies and playing a major role in boosting the economy of Kuwait. Ghunaim was included in Forbes's 2006 list, the same year she was named Businesswoman of the Year by the UAE magazine Arabian Business.

Politics, media, and business
Michelle Obama is Forbes's most powerful woman for year 2010The top 10 featured a diversified group of women. In the field of politics, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ranked fourth and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ranked fifth whereas in the field of media and entertainment talk show host Oprah Winfrey ranked third, singers Lady Gaga and Beyonce Knowles ranked seventh and ninth respectively, and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres ranked tenth.

In the field of business, chief executive of Kraft Foods Irene Rosenfeld ranked second, chief executive of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi ranked sixth, and chief executive of Westpac ranked eighth.

Michele Obama made a huge leap from place 40 in 2009 to number one in this year's list for her rising popularity among the American public as well as her championing of several causes like school nutrition and her famous Let's Move! Campaign against child obesity and which influenced several companies, like Coca Cola and Kellogg's, to pledge reducing the calories in their products by the year 2012.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

Afghan Talks May be Underway, But Peace Is Not at Hand

Nine years after the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, a flurry of reports this week confirm one of the worst-kept secrets of the conflict: the protagonists on all sides - and in various combinations, depending on which reports are to be believed - have begun negotiating over a political settlement. But nobody ought to hold their breath until all the parties with irons in the Afghan fire manage to forge an agreement.

History has demonstrated that the onset of negotiations does not necessarily bring an end to fighting. Often, both sides seek to reinforce their hand at the table by strengthening their position on the battlefield. For example, the U.S. and North Vietnam began negotiating an end to the Vietnam war in May of 1968; the Paris Agreement formalizing peace terms were signed by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in January of 1973; and the war only really ended in March of 1975, on terms quite different to those envisaged in the peace deal. And there are far more players with competing agendas and an ability to influence events in the Afghan theater than there ever were in Vietnam. (See photos of a civilian casualty in Afghanistan.)

It is hardly surprising, then, that the reports suggest there are multiple conversations currently underway among longtime antagonists. President Hamid Karzai's government has been meeting with representatives of the Taliban leadership in talks blessed by the movement's leader, Mullah Omar, according to the Washington Post. Earlier reports had suggested that exploratory talks between representatives of Karzai and of the Taliban leadership had been held late last year under the auspices of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. (See photos of U.S. troops deep in the Taliban heartland.)

Pakistan, mindful of its strategic interests in Kabul, will work hard to avoid being cut out of any peace deal. Last year, in a rare departure from its hands-off approach to Afghan Taliban leaders on its turf, Pakistani authorities arrested Mullah Baradar, a Taliban commander believed to have opened his own talks with Karzai. But Karzai and the U.S. are also reported by Britain's Guardian to have begun exploratory talks (indirect in the case of the U.S.) with the Haqqani network, the most feared insurgent group which remains close to the Pakistani intelligence service and which also has the strongest ties with al-Qaeda of any of the Afghan groups. A third insurgent group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, also historically close to both Pakistan and Iran, has been negotiating openly with the Karzai government.

But even if everybody's suddenly talking, the formal preconditions set by the two main players preclude any serious negotiations. The Taliban says it won't talk until all foreign troops have left Afghanistan; the U.S. says the only basis for a negotiated peace is if the Taliban agrees to cut ties with al-Qaeda, lay down arms and respect Afghanistan's constitution. But each of those positions is unrealistic unless the side holding it believes the other side can be militarily vanquished. Even if it kept to President Obama's summer of 2011 deadline to begin reducing troop levels, the U.S. is not about to cut and run from Afghanistan. Still, the Taliban are reportedly open to talking on the basis of a timeline for U.S. withdrawal. Similarly, while a number of reports suggest Taliban leaders are willing to prevent al-Qaeda operating from Afghanistan, they're unlikely to lay down arms and embrace the Afghan constitution. That constitution, after all, was negotiated largely under NATO auspices at the Bonn conference in 2002; the Taliban had no say in it. And they're hardly likely to lay down their arms and adopt it - in other words, to surrender - when they believe, not without good reason, that they're winning the war. (Is the U.S.-Pakistan border spat crippling the Afghanistan campaign?)

While Bob Woodward's latest book, Obama's Wars, has revealed that many in the Obama Administration concur with most U.S. allies in Afghanistan that the war cannot be won, General David Petraeus and others in the military still believe that the balance of forces can be made more favorable through a counterinsurgency strategy. The Taliban, they argue, will only be ready to settle on terms acceptable to the U.S. if it is pummeled to standstill. Until then, reconciliation efforts should focus on reintegrating Taliban elements willing to change sides.

So, while everyone in Washington accepts the need to combine military action in Afghanistan with peace talks, where they place the emphasis in that combination - and the terms they set for such talks - will be settled in the Administration's ongoing debate. While President Obama has ordered a review of Afghanistan strategy at the end of 2010, the expected surge of the G.O.P. in November's election and the prospect of his own reelection campaign may restrain the President from picking a fight with his top general - indeed, by Woodward's account, the President ducked such a battle last year, when he was politically far stronger than he is now.

The Taliban, to the extent that one can talk of it as a single entity, is also likely divided on the question. The most powerful element of the insurgency currently is the Haqqani network, which operates independently of the Quetta-based leadership of Mullah Omar. Hekmatyar, who has historically had relations with both Pakistan and Iran, has proven the most amenable thus far of insurgent commanders. Reports on the purported Pakistani-Saudi mediated talks suggest that the Taliban is ready to break with al-Qaeda and to accept some form of power-sharing, although the insurgent movement is unlikely to have a single coherent approach to these questions.

President Karzai has established a High Peace Commission to reach out to the Taliban, a move pilloried by his many political critics in Kabul because of the heavy presence in the commission of warlords who have been the Taliban's most ferocious opponents. But Karzai may be operating from the assumption that peace with the Taliban will need buy-in from precisely those longtime enemies of the Taliban in the north of the country who have threatened a civil war if Karzai agrees to share any power with their hated foe.

At the onset of President Bush's Afghan war nine years ago, Pakistan had been holding out for a different scenario: a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan without al-Qaeda. And while it may have given up on the prospect of restoring a Taliban monopoly on power, it certainly aims to restore the influence of its Pashtun allies in Kabul and curb that of its chief rival, India, which is a key ally of the Northern Alliance factions that make up the core of the Karzai government. For that reason, Pakistan can be expected to play a spoiler role in any talks from which it is excluded.

The end game in Afghanistan is clearly underway, and its outcome won't resemble either side's best-case. But just what that outcome will be comprised of is a chapter that will be written on the battlefield, at the negotiating table and in the corridors of power in Washington, Kabul, Islamabad and other more discreet venues over the next couple of years.