President of Darfur Charged With Crimes Against Humanity

July 14, 2008

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed genocide charges Monday against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of masterminding attempts to wipe out African tribes in Darfur with a campaign of murder, rape and deportation.

The filing marked the first time prosecutors at the world’s first permanent, global war crimes court have issued charges against a sitting head of state, but al-Bashir is unlikely to be sent to The Hague any time soon. Sudan rejects the court’s jurisdiction, and senior Sudanese officials said the prosecutor was politically motivated to file the charges.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked a three-judge panel at the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir to prevent the slow deaths of some 2.5 million people forced from their homes in Darfur and still under attack from government-backed janjaweed militia.

“Genocide is a crime of intention — we don’t need to wait until these 2.5 million die,” he told The Associated Press.

“The genocide is ongoing,” he added, saying systematic rape was a key element of the campaign. “Seventy-year-old women, 6-year-old girls are raped,” he said.

Moreno-Ocampo was undeterred by concern that his indictment against al-Bashir might ignite a storm of vengeance against Darfur refugees and spur Sudan to shut out relief agencies and possibly peacekeeping troops. Al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party on Sunday warned of “more violence and blood” in the vast western region if an arrest warrant is issued against the president, state TV reported.

“I am a prosecutor doing a judicial case,” Moreno-Ocampo said. He filed 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. Judges are expected to take months to study the evidence before deciding whether to order al-Bashir’s arrest.

Al-Bashir “wants to end the history of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa people. I don’t have the luxury to look away. I have evidence,” the prosecutor said in a statement after submitting his case to the judges.

One victim cited by prosecutors said rapes are woven into the fabric of life in Darfur.

“Maybe around 20 men rape one woman. These things are normal for us here in Darfur,” she said. “I have seen rapes too. It does not matter who sees them raping the women — they don’t care. They rape girls in front of their mothers and fathers.”

Moreno-Ocampo said the rapes were producing a generation of so-called “janjaweed babies” and “an explosion of infanticide” by victims.

The head of Sudan’s Bar Association and ruling party stalwart, Fathi Khalil told The Associated Press that Sudan was not a member of the International Criminal Court and was not bound by Moreno-Ocampo’s decision.

“The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court with his announcement demanding the arrest of President al-Bashir has proved that he is playing a political role, not a legal one,” Khalil said.

Khalil said the decision came after international pressure on the court, undermining its reputation and independence. He said neither the ICC nor the U.N. Security Council have the right to refer a country that is not a member to the ICC to the court.

The Sudanese Liberation Movement-Unity, a rebel group in Darfur, offered to help arrest and extradite any war criminals from Sudan.

If judges issue an arrest warrant, they will effectively turn al-Bashir into a prisoner in his own country. In the past, Interpol has issued so-called Red Notices for fugitives wanted by the court, meaning they should be arrested any time they attempt to cross an international border.

In the United States, which is not part of the ICC, American officials said they were examining the indictment.

“We make our own determinations according to our own laws, our own regulations with respect to who should be subject to war crimes, genocide related statutes. The ICC is a separate matter and we are not part of the ICC. All of that said, we certainly stand for accountability,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Moreno-Ocampo said most members of the three targeted ethnic African groups were driven from their homes by Sudanese forces and the janjaweed in 2004. Since then, the janjaweed have been targeting the camps aiming to starve the refugees.

“These 2.5 million people are in camps. They (al-Bashir’s forces) don’t need gas chambers because the desert will kill them,” Moreno-Ocampo said, drawing comparison’s with Nazi Germany’s most notorious method of mass murder during the Holocaust.

The refugees “have no more water, no more food, no more cattle. They have lost everything. They live because international humanitarian organizations are providing food for them,” he added.

An estimated 300,000 people have died in Darfur since conflict erupted there in 2003 when local tribes took up arms against al-Bashir’s Arab-dominated government in the capital, Khartoum, accusing authorities of years of neglect.

Moreno-Ocampo said the international community needs to act.

“We are dealing with a genocide. Is it easy to stop? No. Do we need to stop? Yes,” he told AP.

“The international community failed in the past, failed to stop Rwanda genocide, failed to stop Balkans crimes,” he added.

There are fears that the fresh Darfur case could spark a backlash against the 9,000-strong U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.

The prosecutor said it was up to the U.N. Security Council, which asked Moreno-Ocampo in 2005 to investigate crimes in Darfur, to “ensure compliance with the court’s decision.” Achieving unanimous backing for any action will be fraught with problems since two of the council’s members, China and Russia, are Sudan’s allies.

A spokeswoman for the force said it had not suspended any military operations.

“All essential peacekeeping operations are being carried-out by troops,” Shereen Zorba told The Associated Press in an e-mail from Khartoum.

However, she said: “a limited number of operations that carry security risk to civilian staff are temporarily restricted.”

Other international courts have indicted Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor of Liberia while they were in office. Milosevic died in custody in The Hague in 2006 shortly before the end of his trial, while Taylor is on trial for orchestrating atrocities in Sierra Leone.

Article by Mike Corder
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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Miss Venezuela Wins Miss Universe

July 14, 2008

Miss Venezuela was crowned Miss Universe 2008 on Monday in a contest marked by the spectacle of Miss USA falling down during the evening gown competition for the second year in a row.

The new Miss Universe, Dayana Mendoza, was once kidnapped in her homeland and says the experience taught her to remain poised under pressure.

Tension got under the skin of Miss USA, Crystle Stewart of Texas, who tripped on the train of her bejeweled evening gown as she made her entrance.

During the 2007 Miss Universe contest in Mexico City, Miss USA Rachel Smith also tumbled during the evening gown competition and became an unintended star on YouTube, where the video was shown over and over again.

At a news conference after this year’s event, a beaming Mendoza said she wasn’t yet sure where her upcoming year of whirlwind appearances would take her. But after a quick stop in New York, she wants to see her family again, enjoy some of her mom’s home cooking and give everyone hugs.

“When I go back to Venezuela I will jump on my family and they will jump on me,” said Mendoza.

In the meantime, Mendoza said, she is simply looking forward to taking off her high-heeled shoes and massaging her feet.

She declined to discuss her kidnapping, which occurred a year and a half ago, but took advantage of the occasion to call for global peace.

“I want to raise my voice and tell the world that violence is not the answer,” she said.

Mendoza, 22, is a 5-foot, 10-inch (178-centimeter), green-eyed beauty who enjoys learning languages and photography. She appeared at the news conference in the flowing yellow dress and dangling turquoise earrings that she wore during the evening gown competition in which Stewart took her spill.

Stewart, 26, is a motivational speaker and former track and field star who is working on a book called “Waiting to Win.” The Houston native plans to open a character-development school for young children and has worked with students with autism in the Texas schools.

During a weekend interview with the Associated Press, Stewart said she felt very confident going into the show and couldn’t imagine experiencing the same calamity as her predecessor.

“All I can offer to the world and to America is to do my best,” Stewart said. “Nerves don’t play a part in this.”

The final five contestants included four from Latin America: Miss Mexico, Miss Dominican Republic, Miss Colombia and Miss Venezuela. Rounding out the final five was Miss Russia.

Miss Colombia finished second behind Mendoza.

Miss Thailand won the prize for best national costume and Miss El Salvador was chosen by her peers as Miss Congeniality.

The NBC show was hosted by talk show star Jerry Springer and Spice Girl Melanie Brown and broadcast live to hundreds of millions of viewers in 170 countries.

The tuxedoed Springer made a grand entrance on a motorbike – the vehicle of choice in Vietnam, where the streets are teeming with millions of the speeding two-wheelers.

Eighty contestants gathered in the seaside city of Nha Trang, Vietnam, vying to succeed previous Miss Universe Riyo Mori of Japan.

Sporting yellow, green and orange bikinis, the 15 semifinalists strutted across the stage during the swimsuit competition to the sounds of Lady Gaga, who belted out the pulsating “Just Dance” in a platinum blond wig. Miss Vietnam, Lam Thuy Nguyen, was greeted with a roar from the Vietnamese audience.

The final 10 then competed in the evening gown event.

They performed in front of a panel of judges that included international fashion experts and Donald Trump Jr., whose father, the real estate magnate and TV star, co-owns the pageant with NBC.

This year’s contestants spanned a wide range of experiences and aspirations.

Miss Albania was a professional basketball player. Miss Argentina says she has paranormal experiences. Miss Antigua & Barbuda is fascinated by snakes. Miss Angola was in a plane crash while trying to escape a conflict during her country’s civil war.

Article by Ben Stocking

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Iranian President Says War with Israel or US Not Possible

July 8, 2008


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that he sees no possibility of a war between his country and the United States or Israel.

“I assure you that there won’t be any war in the future,” Ahmadinejad told a news conference during a visit to Malaysia for a summit of developing Muslim nations.

Ahmadinejad’s comments came less than 24 hours after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards announced that its forces were carrying out a military drill involving “missile squads” and warned that the country would retaliate against any military strike by targeting Tel Aviv and U.S. warships in the Gulf.

Iranian officials have been issuing a mix of conciliatory and bellicose statements in recent weeks about the possibility of a clash with the U.S. and Israel.

Ahmadinejad also predicted Israel would collapse without Iranian action.

The Israelis “are a complex political group, but you should know this regime will be eventually destroyed and there is no need of any measure by Iranian people,” he said when asked to comment on whether he has called for the destruction of Israel.

Ahmadinejad has in the past called for Israel’s elimination. But his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” but others say that would be better translated as “vanish from the pages of time” – implying Israel would disappear on its own rather than be destroyed.

Ahmadinejad also said Tuesday that the next U.S. administration “would need at least 30 years in order to compensate, renovate and innovate the damages done by Mr. Bush.”

“Today, the government of the United States is on the threshold of bankruptcy – from political to economic,” Ahmadinejad said.

“The greatest threat in the Middle East and the whole world … is the United States’ intervention in other countries,” Ahmadinejad said.

He urged Washington to heal its image by “relying on (the) basis of justice, humanitarian acts and respect for human beings.”

For months, Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have said they don’t believe the U.S. will attack because of its difficulties in Iraq, domestic worries and concerns over the fallout in the region. At the same time, Tehran has stepped up its warnings of retaliation if the Americans – or Israelis – do attack it, including threats to hit Israel and U.S. Gulf bases with missiles and stop oil traffic through the vital Gulf region.

The Web site of the elite Iranian force posted a statement late Monday quoting guard official Ali Shirazi as saying that Iran would retaliate against any military strike by targeting Tel Aviv and U.S. warships in the Gulf.

“The Zionist regime is pushing the White House to prepare for a military strike on Iran,” Shirazi was quoted as saying.

“If such a stupidity is done by them, Tel Aviv and the U.S. naval fleet in the Persian Gulf will be the first targets which will be set on fire in Iran’s crushing response.”

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev would not comment on Shirazi’s warning other than to say “his words speak for themselves.”

State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said such statements by Iran were “unfortunately…not out of the norm.”

“We continue to stress our desire to resolve this issue diplomatically,” Gallegos added.

Israel’s military sent warplanes over the eastern Mediterranean for a large military exercise in June that U.S. officials described as a possible rehearsal for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which the West fears are aimed at producing atomic weapons.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, headquartered in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, is responsible for patrolling the Gulf, the Suez Canal and parts of the Indian Ocean.

Shirazi is a cleric who represents supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the guards’ naval force. Khamenei has the final say over all state matters.

The Guards’ Web site also announced late Monday that forces were carrying out a military drill involving “missile squads,” but did not say where it was taking place.

Iran’s guards and national army hold regular exercises two or three times a year, but the statement did not say whether this drill was one of them or if it was a special exercise.

Article by Vijay Joshi

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Bush Encourages World Toward Sanctions in Zimbabwe

July 7, 2008

President George W. Bush has urged the international community to punish the Zimbabwe government for suppressing its political opponents and using violence at the ballot box

“I care deeply about the people of Zimbabwe,” Bush told the G-8 annual summit in Hokkaido Toyako, Japan. “I am extremely disappointed in the elections, which I labeled a sham election.”

Incumbent Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe maintained power as the only candidate in last month’s election. His only challenger, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrew from the race.

Tsvangirai said his Movement For Democratic Change party decided not to participate because of an ongoing campaign of political intimidation and violence at the hands of Mugabe supporters.

Tsvangirai won the most votes in the March 29 election, but not enough — according to official figures — to avoid a runoff.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, also at the G-8 summit, said Monday that he believes “there is growing support for sanctions against the Mugabe regime” because very few countries recognize his government.

The British prime minister added that there is growing support for a U.N. envoy to be dispatched to “to make sure that the parties in Zimbabwe know that we’ve got to work for a transition so that there is a legitimate government, one that we can support, and one, when it does exist, we will want to help with the reconstruction (of Zimbabwe).”

Jakaya Kikwete, president of Tanzania and current head of the African Union, is one of seven African leaders at the summit. AP reported him as saying on the issue of Zimbabwe “that the only area that we may differ is on the way forward.

“We are saying no party can govern alone in Zimbabwe, and therefore the parties have to work together in a government and look at the future of their country together.”

Meanwhile UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband Monday called on South Africa to support a “way out” for neighboring Zimbabwe that includes a transitional, opposition-led government.

“I believe this is an agenda that is not a British agenda or a Western agenda but a humanitarian agenda around which the world can unite,” said Miliband in a speech at the University of South Africa in Pretoria.

The UK has been a harsh critic of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who Miliband blamed for turning “the weapons of the state against his own people” in order to retain his grip on power.

Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s only leader since independence in 1980, before which it was called Rhodesia and ruled by the UK. Britain is one of many countries that do not recognize Mugabe’s reelection.

Miliband has called for the current Mugabe government to be replaced by a transitional government to be led by Tsvangirai. He is visiting South Africa, a member of the U.N. Security Council which is expected to consider a sanctions resolution against Zimbabwe.

“The world community needs to unite at the U.N. this week not just to condemn violence but to initiate sanctions on the regime and send a human rights envoy to Zimbabwe,” Miliband said.

Story originally found @ CNN.com

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Watch Out For The Atom Smasher

June 28, 2008

In Meyrin, Switzerland, the most powerful atom-smasher ever built could make some bizarre discoveries, such as invisible matter or extra dimensions in space, after it is switched on in August.
But some critics fear the Large Hadron Collider could exceed physicists’ wildest conjectures: Will it spawn a black hole that could swallow Earth? Or spit out particles that could turn the planet into a hot dead clump?

Ridiculous, say scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French initials CERN – some of whom have been working for a generation on the $5.8 billion collider, or LHC.

“Obviously, the world will not end when the LHC switches on,” said project leader Lyn Evans.

David Francis, a physicist on the collider’s huge ATLAS particle detector, smiled when asked whether he worried about black holes and hypothetical killer particles known as strangelets.

“If I thought that this was going to happen, I would be well away from here,” he said.

The collider basically consists of a ring of supercooled magnets 17 miles in circumference attached to huge barrel-shaped detectors. The ring, which straddles the French and Swiss border, is buried 330 feet underground.

The machine, which has been called the largest scientific experiment in history, isn’t expected to begin test runs until August, and ramping up to full power could take months. But once it is working, it is expected to produce some startling findings.

Scientists plan to hunt for signs of the invisible “dark matter” and “dark energy” that make up more than 96 percent of the universe, and hope to glimpse the elusive Higgs boson, a so-far undiscovered particle thought to give matter its mass.

The collider could find evidence of extra dimensions, a boon for superstring theory, which holds that quarks, the particles that make up atoms, are infinitesimal vibrating strings.

The theory could resolve many of physics’ unanswered questions, but requires about 10 dimensions – far more than the three spatial dimensions our senses experience.

The safety of the collider, which will generate energies seven times higher than its most powerful rival, at Fermilab near Chicago, has been debated for years. The physicist Martin Rees has estimated the chance of an accelerator producing a global catastrophe at one in 50 million – long odds, to be sure, but about the same as winning some lotteries.

By contrast, a CERN team this month issued a report concluding that there is “no conceivable danger” of a cataclysmic event. The report essentially confirmed the findings of a 2003 CERN safety report, and a panel of five prominent scientists not affiliated with CERN, including one Nobel laureate, endorsed its conclusions.

Critics of the LHC filed a lawsuit in a Hawaiian court in March seeking to block its startup, alleging that there was “a significant risk that … operation of the Collider may have unintended consequences which could ultimately result in the destruction of our planet.”

One of the plaintiffs, Walter L. Wagner, a physicist and lawyer, said Wednesday CERN’s safety report, released June 20, “has several major flaws,” and his views on the risks of using the particle accelerator had not changed.

On Tuesday, U.S. Justice Department lawyers representing the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation filed a motion to dismiss the case.

The two agencies have contributed $531 million to building the collider, and the NSF has agreed to pay $87 million of its annual operating costs. Hundreds of American scientists will participate in the research.

The lawyers called the plaintiffs’ allegations “extraordinarily speculative,” and said “there is no basis for any conceivable threat” from black holes or other objects the LHC might produce. A hearing on the motion is expected in late July or August.

In rebutting doomsday scenarios, CERN scientists point out that cosmic rays have been bombarding the earth, and triggering collisions similar to those planned for the collider, since the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago.

And so far, Earth has survived.

“The LHC is only going to reproduce what nature does every second, what it has been doing for billions of years,” said John Ellis, a British theoretical physicist at CERN.

Critics like Wagner have said the collisions caused by accelerators could be more hazardous than those of cosmic rays.

Both may produce micro black holes, subatomic versions of cosmic black holes – collapsed stars whose gravity fields are so powerful that they can suck in planets and other stars.

But micro black holes produced by cosmic ray collisions would likely be traveling so fast they would pass harmlessly through the earth.

Micro black holes produced by a collider, the skeptics theorize, would move more slowly and might be trapped inside the earth’s gravitational field – and eventually threaten the planet.

Ellis said doomsayers assume that the collider will create micro black holes in the first place, which he called unlikely. And even if they appeared, he said, they would instantly evaporate, as predicted by the British physicist Stephen Hawking.

As for strangelets, CERN scientists point out that they have never been proven to exist. They said that even if these particles formed inside the Collider they would quickly break down.

When the LHC is finally at full power, two beams of protons will race around the huge ring 11,000 times a second in opposite directions. They will travel in two tubes about the width of fire hoses, speeding through a vacuum that is colder and emptier than outer space.

Their trajectory will be curved by supercooled magnets – to guide the beams around the rings and prevent the packets of protons from cutting through the surrounding magnets like a blowtorch.

The paths of these beams will cross, and a few of the protons in them will collide, at a series of cylindrical detectors along the ring. The two largest detectors are essentially huge digital cameras, each weighing thousands of tons, capable of taking millions of snapshots a second.

Each year the detectors will generate 15 petabytes of data, the equivalent of a stack of CDs 12 miles tall. The data will require a high speed global network of computers for analysis.

Wagner and others filed a lawsuit to halt operation of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or RHIC, at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York state in 1999. The courts dismissed the suit.

The leafy campus of CERN, a short drive from the shores of Lake Geneva, hardly seems like ground zero for doomsday. And locals don’t seem overly concerned. Thousands attended an open house here this spring.

“There is a huge army of scientists who know what they are talking about and are sleeping quite soundly as far as concerns the LHC,” said project leader Evans.

Originally found @ AssociatedPress.com

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Which Country’s Politician Shot Our Troops with AK47?

June 23, 2008

A member of an Iraqi city council shot at U.S. forces Monday outside Baghdad, killing at least three soldiers, two Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said.

But the U.S. military said one coalition soldier and an “enemy” were killed and five others were wounded. The military said it is investigating.

The Iraqi official fired an AK-47 at U.S. troops after they entered the City Council building in al-Madaen, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, according to one Interior Ministry official. The councilman killed at least three people and wounded four, a ministry official said.

U.S. forces returned fire, killing the councilman, according to two Interior Ministry officials.

The shooting happened after U.S. soldiers and local officials had attended a ceremony to open a park in al-Madaen, also known as Salman Pak, an Interior Ministry official said.

“The attacker came out of his car with an AK-47 rifle in his hand and started firing on the American soldiers until he was killed by the return fire,” said Hussein al-Dulaimi, 37, who owns an agricultural machine shop across the street, according to The Associated Press.

In other violence, a mortar attack killed at least 10 people Sunday evening in northern Iraq, according to a military operations command in Diyala province.

Three mortars hit an office and checkpoint of the U.S.-allied predominantly Sunni fighters, known as the Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq.

The attack happened in al-Adhaim in Diyala, 31 miles (about 50 kilometers) north of Baquba, the province’s command said Monday.

The 10 slain were all members of Awakening Councils. Twenty-four members of the group also were wounded.

Awakening Councils, also called “Concerned Local Citizen” groups, are comprised of mostly Sunni fighters who have turned on al Qaeda in Iraq.

The mortar attack comes on the verge of a U.S. report that will say violence in Iraq declined in the early part of 2008, according to officials familiar with the report. The Pentagon’s upcoming report to Congress, which could be released as early as Monday, will cover events in Iraq from mid-February to mid-May.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Monday that Iraqi forces will continue “victorious security operations” against al Qaeda in Iraq and other suspected Sunni targets, including “gangs of the former regime,” in Diyala and the northern city of Mosul, according to a statement from al-Maliki’s office.

He spoke during a visit to the southern city of Amara, the capital of Maysan province, where Iraqi security forces are staging a major offensive against Shiite militants.

He met with tribal leaders from Maysan in Amara and vowed to “strike with an iron fist anyone who disobeys the law.”
Iraqi security forces started the push against militants last week in Maysan, a region that borders Iran. There has been speculation that weaponry destined for Shiite militias has come through Maysan from Iran.

Originally found @ CNN.com

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US Claims Venezuelan President Chazev is Aiding Terrorists

June 21, 2008

President Hugo Chavez says the United States is trying to bring him before an international court accusing the Venezuelan government is supporting the Lebanese group Hezbollah to “see if the world will make a move” against him.

The U.S. has charged a Venezuelan official and others with helping Hezbollah. Washington considers the armed group and political party in Lebanon a terrorist organization, and so the U.S. Treasury Department reports that it has frozen the accounts of two Venezuelans: Diplomat Nasr al Din and Lebanese-born businessman Fazwi Kan’an

Chavez spoke out against the accusations on Friday.