Archive for May, 2006

Chavez says US working for coup in Bolivia

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

TIWANAKU, Bolivia (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday bluntly accused the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia of trying to stir up military rebellion against his leftist ally Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Chavez, at the forefront of a leftist shift that is challenging U.S. influence in Latin America, routinely trades insults with Washington, which he blames for a short-lived coup that briefly toppled his own government in 2002.

“The (U.S.) embassy in Bolivia is already whispering in the ears of the Bolivian military to turn them against the government of Evo Morales,” said Chavez, wearing a traditional red poncho and bead necklace, at the sacred pre-Inca ruins of Tiwanaku high in Bolivia’s Andean plateau.

“There’s a plan against Bolivia, and the U.S. ambassador in Bolivia is the head of this plan,” he said during his weekly Venezuelan television show, broadcast from Tiwanaku in front of an audience of Bolivian indigenous leaders.

With Illegal Immigrants Fighting Wildfires, West Faces a Dilemma

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

SALEM, Ore. The debate over immigration, which has filtered into almost every corner of American life in recent months, is now sweeping through the woods, and the implications could be immense for the coming fire season in the West.

As many as half of the roughly 5,000 private firefighters based in the Pacific Northwest and contracted by state and federal governments to fight forest fires are immigrants, mostly from Mexico. And an untold number of them are working here illegally.

Mexico After NAFTA
On April 17, the Washington Post ran an article about Mexico’s economy and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect on January 1, 1994. Part of the focus was on market forces and the flight of some Mexicans to the U.S.

“Still, the past 13 years haven’t been all bad economic news for Mexico,” wrote Manuel Roig-Franzia of the Post’s Foreign Service. “Spurred by NAFTA, Mexico’s gross domestic product has ballooned, multiplying nearly seven-fold, from $108 billion in 1993, the year before NAFTA implementation, to $748 billion in 2005.”

If the Post’s data for Mexico’s GDP, or the market price of all goods and services produced within the country annually, was correct, it would be a world record for economic growth, according to economist Dean Baker, co-director of Center for Economic and Policy Review. Thus, economists and staff at the CEPR repeatedly contacted the Post concerning the assertion that Mexico’s GDP grew at a 17.5 percent annual rate over the past 13 years.

In fact, Mexico’s GDP grew at a 2.9 percent annual rate since 1993, the International Monetary Fund states on its Web site. Mexico’s per person GDP growth was 1.3 percent per year from 1993 to 2005 versus GDP growth per person of nearly 4.0 percent per year between 1960 and 1980, Baker adds.

Crucially, the Mexican economy as measured by GDP grew at an annual rate six times slower than what the Post reported for the 13 years ending in 2005. This is no small error for the top paper in the capital city of the U.S.

Olmert’s (and Elie Wiesel’s) Roadmap: Countdown to Apartheid

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s address to both houses of Congress was perhaps the most skilled use of Newspeak since George Orwell invented the term in his novel /1984/. (He had help: author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel reportedly drafted large sections of the speech.) Just as Orwell’s totalitarian propagandists proclaimed WAR IS PEACE and Israeli government signs placed at the Wall (sorry, fence) at the entrance to Bethlehem greet Palestinians with the blessing PEACE BE UNTO YOU, so Olmert declared in Washington: UNILATERAL REALIGNMENT IS PEACE.

Because of Olmert’s use of Orwellian language (can anyone, including President Bush or members of Congress, explain to us what “convergence” and “realignment” mean?), we must listen carefully to what is said, what is not said and what is meant.

What was said sounds fine if taken at face value. Olmert, extending “my hand in peace to Mahmoud Abbas, the elected president of the Palestinian Authority,” declared Israel’s willingness to negotiate with him on condition that the Palestinians “renounce terrorism, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, accept previous agreements and commitments, and recognize the right of Israel to exist.” If they do so, Olmert held out Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution.

What wasn’t said? While reference to a Palestinian state sounds forthcoming, two key elements set down in the Road Map defining that state were missing: an end to the Israeli Occupation and the establishment of a /viable/ Palestinian state.

There’s No Escape

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

Eight African countries, which escaped the debt trap as a result of a novel debt-forgiveness arrangement last year, have raked up new debts that are equal to the amounts that were forgiven. This was disclosed by a new report from the World Bank, released this month. All the eight countries, the World Bank/International Monetary Fund report says, were part of the Highly Indebted Poor Country program. The eight countries are Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali. Nigeria was excluded from the HIPC list, despite the pleas of her officials then, because her creditors said she was not a low-income country. The report entitled, ‘An Evaluation Update of the HIPC Initiative Debt Relief for the Poorest Countries’, was prepared by the World Bank Independent Evaluation Group. It says the affected countries’ debt to export ratios (a measurement of a country’s level of indebtedness) have outgrown the HIPC debt-safety threshold of 150 per cent.

‘The Enhanced HIPC Initiative has reduced $19 billion of debt in 18 countries, thereby halving their debt ratios. But in 11 of 13 post-completion-point countries for which data are available, the key indicator of external debt sustainability has deteriorated since completion point. In eight of these countries, the ratios once again exceed HIPC thresholds. The effect of improved exports and revenue mobilisation on debt ratios has been offset by new borrowing,’ the report says.

Congo deports foreigners held over coup plot

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Congo has released a group of South Africans, Nigerians and Americans arrested over what the government said was a suspected coup plot ahead of elections in July, diplomats said on Sunday.

Congo said on Wednesday it had detained the 32 foreigners for planning a coup ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls. Security sources said the arrests were linked to domestic political rivalries and that there was never a serious threat to the government.

South African officials said the Democratic Republic of Congo had deported 19 of its citizens arrested in connection with the plot allegations.

“They have been released and … all charges have been dropped,” Sisa Ngombane, South African ambassador to Congo, told Reuters in Kinshasa.

South African Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said a plane carrying the men had taken off from Kinshasa airport en route to South Africa.

Most of the 19 were employees of a Pretoria-based security firm and had been providing security training for Congo’s National Transport Authority.

But some were advising a Congolese presidential candidate, Harvard-trained doctor Oscar Kashala, one of 32 contenders vying with President Joseph Kabila for the country’s top job.

“The Americans were released and left on a flight last night. The Nigerians have also been released,” said a Western diplomat in Kinshasa who asked not to be named.

The Congolese government was not immediately available to comment.

The July 30 polls will be the first multi-party elections in four decades in the former Belgian colony, a nation roughly the size of Western Europe lying in the heart of Africa.

International donors on Friday accused Congo’s government of exploiting the alleged coup plot to harass political opponents.

US covert operations underway in Somalia; resource conflict escalates over Horn of Africa

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

According to a May 16 report in the Washington Post, US analysts of Africa policy and officials of Somalia’s interim government say that the Bush administration is secretly supporting secular Somali warlords, whose groups are battling Islamic groups for control of Mogadishu.

While the Bush administration has continued to dodge questions about what appear to be ‘classic’ covert operations (similar to those taking place in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Colombia, etc.), Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari has unequivocally declared ‘the US government funded the warlords in the recent battle in Mogadishu, there is no doubt about that. This cooperation . . . only fuels further civil war.’

Somalia is considered a “terrorist haven,” as well as a potential ‘hotbed of al Qaeda activity.’ It is no surprise that in recent press conferences, new White House spokesman and propaganda mouthpiece (former Fox News pundit) Tony Snow repeatedly referred to ‘al Qaeda terrorists.’

A senior US intelligence official quoted in the Washington Post article (who asked not to be named) says that Somalia presents “a classic ‘enemy of our enemy’ situation” (but ‘not an al Qaeda safe haven yet’), while former Clinton administration Africa specialist John Prendergast (now a senior advisor for the George Soros-funded International Crisis Group think tank) notes that ‘the US relies on buying intelligence from warlords and other participants in the Somali conflict, and hoping that the strongest of the warlords can snatch a live suspect or two” [for interrogation or rendition-LC].’

Competing Geostrategic and Energy Interests in Somalia

Somalia is of geostrategic interest to the Bush administration, and the focus of operations and policy since 2001. This focus is a continuation of long-term policies of both the Clinton administration and the George H.W. Bush administrations. Somalia’s resources have been eyed by Western powers since the days of the British Empire.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, Somalia currently has no proven oil reserves, and only 200 billion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, and no hydrocarbon production. But this has not dimmed continuing interest in Somalia’s untapped and unexplored potential, and the possibility of an energy bonanza following any resolution of the country’s ‘internal security problems.’ The Somalian regime currently welcomes oil interests. Conoco, Agip, Amoco, Chevron, and Phillips held concessions in the area. Of more immediate logistical and military interest, Somalia is situated on a key corridor between the Middle East and Africa, strategically located on the coast of the Arabian Sea, a short distance from Yemen.

Civilians Die as Taliban Fights US-Led Troops

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

KABUL – A sudden upsurge in Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan has seen casualties mount daily among combatants and the civilian population.

The rebels, who were ousted from power by U.S.-led coalition forces in late 2001, have regrouped in the southern provinces to ambush and strike government and military targets nearly every day.

Caught in the crossfire are civilians. Sixteen people were confirmed killed in U.S. air strikes on Taliban hideouts in a village in Kandahar province on May 22. A concerned International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned the warring sides to “exercise constant care in the conduct of military operations.”

“The ICRC is deeply concerned about the worsening situation and its effects on civilians. In particular, ICRC urges the parties (involved in conflict) to exercise constant care in the conduct of military operations,” a statement issued in Geneva on the day of the U.S. air raids stated.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an inquiry. He paid a surprise visit to Azizi village in Panjwayee district and met the survivors on May 25. The U.S. military claimed that among the dead were 60 rebels.

However, villagers told Pajhwok Afghan News that most of the victims were civilians.

U.S. traffic accident sparks Afghan riot
KABUL, Afghanistan – A deadly traffic accident Monday involving U.S. troops sparked the worst rioting in the Afghan capital since the fall of the Taliban regime, with hundreds of protesters looting shops and shouting “Death to America!” At least eight people were killed and 107 injured, an official said.

Hundreds of Afghan army troops and NATO peacekeepers in tanks were deployed around the city, as chanting protesters marched on the presidential palace and rioters smashed police guard boxes, set fire to police cars and ransacked buildings, including the compound of aid group CARE International. Computers were set on fire and smoke billowed from the buildings, according to an Associated Press reporter.

Witnesses said that Afghan and U.S. troops opened fire to quell protesters. A U.S. spokesman said American troops shot into the air, and AP Television News video showed a machine gun on a Humvee firing over the crowd as the vehicle sped away. But a Kabul police chief said U.S. troops had fired into the crowd.

The AP reporter saw several demonstrators pull a man who appeared to be a Westerner from a civilian vehicle and beat him. The man escaped and ran to a line of police, who fired shots over the heads of the demonstrators.

The spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition expressed regret for any deaths and injuries, and said there would be an investigation. Afghan President Hamid Karzai appealed for calm, branding rioters “agitators” and saying in a national address that Afghans must stand against those who loot and destroy property.

“We will recognize as the enemy of Afghanistan these people who do these things,” he said in the televised speech. “Again, you should stand up against these agitators and not let them destroy our country again.”

Dadullah claims control of southwestern Afghanistan
DOHA: The Taliban have regained control of all southwestern provinces of Afghanistan, Al Jazeera television quoted the group commander, Mullah Dadullah, as saying.

In his first interview with Al Jazeera since reports of his arrest spread across the world last week, the Taliban leader threatened to attack North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) troops deployed in the south of the country, the channel reported.

Dadullah accused the United States of fighting Islam and Muslims. He condemned the US attack on civilians in southern Afghanistan and said that Washington viewed all Afghans as its enemies and therefore killed civilians.

Terror alert as Caspian oil pipeline opens

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

In the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, a long line of broken mud cuts across the meadows. If you go anywhere near it, camouflaged guards carrying automatic weapons emerge from the forest beyond.

These guards in the Borjomi region of Georgia – trained by US army and SAS veterans – are pawns in a new great game gripping Central Asia: their job is to protect the oil pipeline buried 10ft below.

‘A terrorist attack is the greatest threat we face,’ says the guards’ commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Giorgi Pantskhava, an energetic Georgian in desert fatigues and aviator shades.

The $4bn (2.2bn) BTC – Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan – pipeline comes on stream today It is key in American plans to reduce dependency on Opec oil producers in the turbulent Middle East. Pumping oil 1,000 miles from the Caspian sea to the Mediterranean through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, it will avoid Russia – increasingly seen by the US as a resurgent superpower prepared to use control of energy resources as a political weapon.

The pipeline – 70 per cent funded by the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and export credit agencies – took three years to build and will carry up to one million barrels of oil a day to western markets. Yet its position on the faultline between Russia and its estranged former Soviet neighbours makes it a shaky bet.

The fiercely pro-Washington government of Georgia’s president, Mikhail Saakashvili, welcomed the BTC with open arms, saying transit payments would help to kick-start the economy of the faltering ex-Soviet state.

Iranian-backed militia groups take control of much of southern Iraq

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

BASRA, Iraq – Southern Iraq, long touted as a peaceful region that’s likely to be among the first areas returned to Iraqi control, is now dominated by Shiite Muslim warlords and militiamen who are laying the groundwork for an Islamic fundamentalist government, say senior British and Iraqi officials in the area.

The militias appear to be supported by Iranian intelligence or military units that are shipping weapons to the militias in Iraq and providing training for them in Iran.

Some British officials believe the Iranians want to hasten the withdrawal of U.S.-backed coalition forces to pave the way for Iran-friendly clerical rule.

Iranian influence is evident throughout the area. In one government office, an aide approached a Knight Ridder reporter and, mistaking him for an Iranian, said, “Don’t be afraid to speak Farsi in Basra. We are a branch of Iran.”

Iran Pledges $1b for Iraq Projects
NAJAF, Iraq, May 28–Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Saturday his country was ready to help Iraq with an economic investment plan totaling $1 billion, according to Turkish Press.

‘We are planning seven projects in the fields of oil, electricity, hospital construction and other services,’ he told reporters during his visit to the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.

‘The Islamic Republic has set aside nearly one billion dollars to help Iraq,’ he said, adding that the Iranians were ready to implement the projects.

He said the projects could be implemented in the southern Shiite provinces or in the northern Kurdish ones.

While in Najaf, Mottaki prayed at the Imam Ali shrine, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest sites.

He also met a number of religious leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani and radical cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, who are influential on Iraqi politics.

Mottaki was in Baghdad on Friday where he pledged his support for Iraq’s new government and promised to aid its reconstruction effort.

Iraqis flee war for haven in Jordan

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

AMMAN, Jordan — Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq more than three years ago, as many as 1 million Iraqis have fled to Jordan to escape lawlessness or to find jobs.

The flight has created an exile community that is well in evidence at the Mecca Mall, where many of Amman’s well-heeled go to shop. Rich Iraqis float in and out of the stores while poorer Iraqis are working 12-hours shifts to finish a new addition to the shopping center.

The Mecca Mall???