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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Politicians slam foreign minister for Arctic meeting absence

Lene Espersen’s absence from a critical Arctic meeting to go on holiday with her family is being called a serious neglect of duty by politicians

After only a month in her new position as foreign minister, Lene Espersen has by nearly all accounts committed a major blunder when she bailed out of an important meeting over the Arctic.

In particular, passing up the chance to get to know and form a close working relationship with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has been criticised by the media and politicians as not only a missed opportunity, but something the US can view as an outright snub.

Prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen sent justice minster Lars Barfoed in Espersen’s place. But Espersen had booked her family vacation for this week and so the critical meeting took a back seat.

The foreign minister’s decision has raised the ire of many politicians – including those in government ally the Danish People’s Party, whose foreign affairs spokesman called it an ‘incomprehensible prioritisation’.

Former foreign ministers Uffe Ellemann-Jensen (Liberals), Niels Helveg Petersen (Social Liberals) og Mogens Lykketoft (Social Democrats) have all come out with strong criticism against Espersen for not attending the meeting.

But this week is not the first that the foreign minister has skipped an important event to instead go on holiday.

In 2006 while she was justice minister, Espersen chose to travel to Spain at the height of the Mohammed cartoon affair. In 2009 she rubbed her boss, then prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, decidedly the wrong way by going to Portugal with her family the week he was stepping down from his post.

Rasmussen got the last word, however, ordering her to fly back to Denmark on a charter that reportedly cost the state 180,000 kroner.

The Social Democrats have now requested a formal response from the prime minister’s office about why Espersen was not forced to attend the Arctic meeting.

‘Does the prime minister agree with the foreign minister’s down-prioritising of the Arctic meeting with the US, Canada and Russia’s top foreign policy diplomats, where vital Danish interests were part of the discussions?’ asked Jeppe Kofod, the party’s foreign affairs spokesman, in the official request.

The Copenhagem Post

King Abdullah's initiative can promote world peace, says Indian academic

By P. K. ABDUL GHAFOUR | ARAB NEWS


JEDDAH: A renowned Indian journalist and academic has emphasized the need for spreading Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah's message of tolerance to promote world peace and stability.
"King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue initiative will usher in a new golden age of Islam," said Professor Madhav Das Nalapat, UNESCO peace chair and director of the Department of Geopolitics at Manipal University in India.
Speaking to Arab News, he described Islam as a tolerant religion. "King Abdullah's initiative indicates that Islam is a religion of tolerance and accommodates others views. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was extremely humane and tolerant while dealing with other people. He never imposed his point of view on anybody. King Abdullah's initiative is in line with the tenets of Islam and is a healthy development," he said.
He said the king's message should be spread to more countries in Asia, Africa and South America besides Europe and North America. "We have to carry this message to every single community. This is essential to remove the misconceptions about Islam".
He called for holding the next interfaith conference in Kerala, adding that the south Indian state is a model for peaceful coexistence of different faiths.
In his interview with Arab News, Nalapat said the Kashmir issue, which claimed the lives of thousands of people on both sides and caused losses to the tune of billions of dollars, could be solved once the two Asian neighbors establish closer relations in economic, social and cultural spheres. "Once their relations are normalized, it will be relatively easy to solve the Kashmir problem." He said the civil societies in both countries wanted peace.
"We have to think of one Asia and follow the example of Europe," he said and commended Saudi Arabia for its look-east policy.
The Indian journalist blasted the US and other Western forces for occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. “I was happy to see Saddam Hussein, who was a dictator, removed from power. At the same time, I was shocked to see an American occupation in Iraq. America should learn from India. After operations in Bangladesh, Indian forces withdrew within two months." He said the Iraqis and Afghans should be given full freedom to determine their future. He said Afghan national army should be given modern warplanes and weapons like those of NATO forces.
Asked about the standoff between Iran and the West on Tehran's controversial nuclear program, Nalapat said: "It would be a big mistake if they attack Iran, because Iran is not Iraq. Those in power are ruthless and will not hesitate to go to any extent. It will be very risky to go after Iran. The entire region will be in turmoil. It will be far better if they deal directly with the Iranian people. If they are given dignity and respect they would be peaceful and if you abuse or insult them they would become hostile".
According to Nalapat, reports about communal tension in India were exaggerated. "India is a very secular country where different communities live peacefully with dignity. There may be some exceptions. Some atrocities have been committed against minorities in Gujarat. At the same time, we should not forget that minorities in Kashmir are also persecuted. Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, one of the richest Indians, is a Muslim. There are so many prosperous Muslim business families in Kerala".
He called for changing the country's outdated Police Act in order to contain abuse by police forces "whose victims are not only members of a particular community." He said no community should isolate itself from the rest of India, adding that all should work together to find common solutions for their problems.
Professor Nalapat, who is the eldest son of the famous novelist and poetess Kamala Surayya, who was short-listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature on the strength of her poetry collection "Summer in Calcutta," said his mother had embraced Islam in 1980s. She was a Muslim for more than 25 years of her life. "She felt that the Qur'an is the word of God and Islam is a moderate and tolerant faith. She always told me that we could learn the qualities of compassion, tolerance and graciousness from the Qur’an. The Islam my mother embraced is not the Islam of fanaticism or terrorism or extremism. It's the Islam of peace, love and tolerance. She was happy in Islam to the last breath of her life". He denounced the demonization of Islam by its enemies in different parts of the world.
Nalapat said he had read the Qur’an several times and was convinced that it is the authentic word of God. "My only doubt is whether we are interpreting it correctly. I cannot agree with many hard-line interpretations. What is important now is that everybody should try to understand the exact meaning of the words that was conveyed during that time. We should also consider that the language and context have changed," he said and criticized the attitude of some scholars who think they know everything and what they say is final. "We should understand that we are very small in relation to the Almighty and in relation to the truth. We should make more efforts to understand the truth".
Arab News

Campaign against child abuse launched in Dubai


A campaign was launched here to highlight the issue of child abuse, WAM news agency reported.

The month-long 'Protect Childhood Campaign' was unveiled Wednesday by the NGO Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC).

The NGO stressed the importance of maintaining vigilance to protect children from various abuses, including sexual assault.

The awareness campaign each week will be conducted at different venues, such as Dubai Mall, Children's City, Al Ghurair Centre and Arabian Centre.

Afra Al Basti, CEO of DFWAC, said: 'Children are extremely vulnerable, as their innocence and immaturity means that they are not equipped with the skills to deal with or recognise danger from those who would harm them'.

'It is important to educate adults about violation against children so that they can spot warning signs in advance. The subject is one that we need to face up rather than shy away if we are to protect our children properly,' she added.

Sify News

Police minister 'shocked' at NZ's level of violent crime



Violence and drug-related offences are largely responsible for increased crime rates, according to 2009 crime statistics released by police today.
The figures show a 4.6 per cent increase in recorded crime in 2009, with 451,405 offences recorded last year compared to 431,383 in 2008.
Police Minister Judith Collins said the figures showed the scale of the problem New Zealand faced.
"In the 18 months that I have been police minister I have been shocked at the level of violent and anti-social behaviour in our society," Ms Collins said.
"There is a section of our community that has no respect for other people and no respect for the law. We are seeing it in the frequent attacks on police and innocent members of the public.
"The crime figures released today show that in areas where the Government has concentrated resources and police are trialling new approaches to policing, crime statistics are starting to show improvement".
Assistant Police Commissioner Grant Nicholls said while the figures showed an increase in crime, the police resolution rate, at 47.8 per cent, was the highest it had ever been.
"We're disappointed that crime has gone up, but are particularly pleased with the resolution rate we've achieved," Mr Nicholls said.
Violent offending continued to be a concern, Mr Nicholls said, with a 9.2 per cent increase to 65,465 offences being recorded.
The recorded homicide offences jumped from 23 to 134, with 65 recorded murders in 2009 compared to 13 in 2008. The increase in violent crime was driven largely by family violence, which increased 18.6 per cent (5061 offences), Mr Nicholls said.
"Family violence is unacceptable in any form and communities are showing their intolerance to it.
"Public safety is a high priority for us; working with communities and other agencies is vital in breaking the cycle of violence".
The 23 cases of sexual offending increased by 0.6 per cent, less than the 1.1-per cent increase in the population, however Mr Nicholls said police knew not all incidents of sexual offending were being reported.
Dishonesty offences, which made up about half of all offences, increased by 2.6 per cent.
New drug offending increased by 19.9 per cent, which Mr Nicholls said reflected the greater focus on methamphetamine.
Cannabis offences were responsible for the largest increase within drugs and anti-social offences, up 20.7 per cent.
Breaches of liquor bans continued to rise with 11,663 offences in 2009 up 21.2 per cent from 2008, and recorded increases in nine of the 12 districts.
"Alcohol misuse remains a key aggravator of offending and victimisation, and a significant driver of police resources," Mr Nicholls said.
"We are putting significant effort into reducing alcohol and drug related harm including enforcing liquor bans, operating mobile and compulsory breath-testing, running controlled purchase operations and taking more enforcement applications to the Liquor Licensing Authority".
Labour law and order spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said the increase showed National's law and order policies had come to nothing.
"The John Key Government has now become the government of excuses on law and order issues," Mr Cosgrove said.
"A staggering increase of 25 per cent in the number of murders and 9.2 per cent in violent crime in 2009, National's first full year in office, is incredibly embarrassing for John Key and frightening for Kiwis who put their faith in him".
Mr Cosgrove said the real tragedy in terms of violent crime was that the blowout during National's first year followed years of low or even negative growth in overall crime statistics.
"Labour's law and order programme, particularly the funding of 1250 more police over its final three years in office, was having a real impact on crime statistics".
The New Zealand Herald

Random check helps police catch violent offender

BY STEPHANE MASSINON, CALGARY HERALD


Henri Jean Rusk, 52, is in the Calgary area after serving a three-year sentence for sexual assault. He is bound by a court order that allows authorities to monitor him and place conditions on his whereabouts and activities

Photograph by: Handout, Calgary Police Service




CALGARY - A random police check helped catch a violent repeat sex attacker moments after he allegedly assaulted a woman he’d just befriended.

Police have charged Henri Jean Rusk, 52, with another sex assault after showing up at his home Monday.

They encountered a woman who was trying to leave, police say.

“He was caught during the commission of the offence,” said Staff Sgt. Todd Zelensky of the high-risk offender program.

“We were able to step in and intervene”.

Rusk is back behind bars and facing additional charges of breaching his release conditions. He is one of two offenders outfitted with GPS ankle bracelets who are being monitored by police.

Police say Rusk met and quickly befriended the woman at an LRT platform before bringing her to his home.

“It appeared to be a very fresh friendship,” said Zelensky.

In February, police warned Calgarians about Rusk when he was freed from jail after his sentence was up.

Rusk served a three-year sentence for a 2006 sex assault on a quadriplegic woman who had cerebral palsy.

The incident began when Rusk was picking bottles near an inner city Safeway store and met the victim as she finished her shopping. He struck up a “pleasant conversation” as he accompanied her on her way home.

Rush followed his victim to the entrance of her apartment building, made suggestive comments and began to assault her despite ongoing verbal protests.

The attack only ended because passersby stepped in to help the woman.

Rusk has a lengthy record of violent offences against women, including a 1979 conviction for attempted murder.

In 1985, he was convicted of sexual assault causing bodily harm, gross indecency and unlawful confinement.

A sexual assault in 1997 netted him six years in prison.

Rusk also has convictions for two robberies, as well as weapons and property offences.

He was on probation for a 2005 conviction for breaking and entering when he attacked his wheelchair-bound victim.

Although Rusk has finished his sentence, he is bound by a short-term court order that allows police to monitor him and place conditions on his whereabouts and activities.

Police said his risk of offending is increased when he drinks alcohol or uses drugs.

Calgary Herald

Sudan opposition mulls boycotting elections


KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudanese opposition parties threatened on Wednesday to boycott their country's first multiparty election in a quarter century, saying fair contests were not possible.
Over a dozen northern opposition parties met and delayed their final decision over boycotting the April 11 vote until Thursday to agree on a unified position.
The opposition maintains that overwhelming government control of the media and election monitoring bodies as well as biased legislation make a fair vote impossible.
The United States, Norway and Britain also expressed worry Wednesday in Washington about reports of restrictions on political freedoms, saying in a statement that all parties must make sure peaceful and credible elections are held next month.
The junior partner in the governing coalition, the southern Sudan People's Liberation Party, said it would back the opposition's decision — throwing its relations with the president's party into jeopardy.
The elections are a crucial step in the 2005 north-south peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war and paves the way for a referendum when southerners would decide whether they will opt for secession from the Muslim-dominated north.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir already struck back threatening to cancel the south's cherished referendum in which they hope to become an independent state.
"If they (the south) say there will be no elections, we will say there will be no referendum — will they accept this?" he said in a rally Monday.
Pagan Amum, the secretary general of the southern SPLM, told the Associated Press Wednesday that al-Bashir's threats are "unacceptable".
"He should be advised to cease to make such statements. It impacts the country's image and his own," Amum said. "Self-determination was not a gift ... The southern Sudanese people have the capacity to defend themselves and their referendum."
Some 2 million people died during the war. It is separate from the Darfur conflict which erupted in 2003 and has left 300,000 people dead. No comprehensive peace deal has been reached for Darfur.
In an apparent fence-mending tactic, Amum said his party was not calling for a postponement but was asking al-Bashir to consider the northern opposition demands.
Al-Bashir's National Congress Party has been accused by the opposition of using state resources in campaigns, limiting others' access to the media and controlling the national election commission.
International observers have said all signs point to a flawed process with the election commission overseeing the process unlikely to deliver a free, fair and timely process.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group in a report issued Tuesday said the ruling party is taking all measures to win the elections in a desperate effort to legitimize al-Bashir, who is wanted by an international court for committing war crimes in Darfur.
"Because of the fundamentally flawed process, the international community ... should acknowledge that whoever wins will likely lack legitimacy," and prepare for the next steps to ensure a peaceful referendum (in the south) and peace in Darfur.
Also, the northern opposition parties are divided over the boycott and appear ill-prepared to lodge a real challenge to the NCP. Over a dozen, out of 72 parties taking part in the elections, are considering the boycott.
Sadiq al-Mahdi, presidential candidate and the last democratically elected prime minister, said it is in Sudan's interest to postpone the elections to fix laws obstructing free elections, and he warned of postelection violence.
But he said his party may decide to participate now that a delay seems unlikely.
"I think that 50 percent fairness is enough for us to have impressive results," he told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper Wednesday.
Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo
Associated Press

Family 'the key to Megrahi's survival'


Lockerbie victim's father says bomber's health has benefited from going home
By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

The survival of the Lockerbie bomber seven months since his release from prison on compassionate grounds after being given only three months to live may be due to his return home to his family, the father of one of his victims says.
Jim Swire, a retired GP whose daughter Flora died in the 1988 attack, has defended the decision by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi – who has terminal prostate cancer – from prison in Scotland last August.
Megrahi's release and subsequent return to Libya provoked a crisis in relations between Britain and the US. He had been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in 2001 of murdering 270 people by blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie 13 years earlier.
Responding to allegations that, as Megrahi, 57, has now survived seven months, his illness was fabricated or exaggerated for political motives and that the doctors advising the Justice Secretary had in some way been "bought", Dr Swire writes in the British Medical Journal that this ignores the medical reality of cancer.
"Two major changes have taken place since [his release]. Firstly, Mr Megrahi has been returned to his own country and is with his own loving family. We know that a major reduction in stress will sometimes induce a major remission, even in terrible progressive illness such as his.
"Secondly, he has undergone a course of treatment in Tripoli with one of the taxol series of drugs, together with palliative radiotherapy. These can be associated with remissions of many months. Presumably they had not been given in Scotland for some reason".
Dr Swire, who met Megrahi in prison, led the relatives' campaign for the perpetrators of the bombing to be brought to justice for more than a decade. But he had serious doubts about whether Megrahi, who has always protested his innocence, was genuinely involved and has pointed to a number of weaknesses in the case against him.
Megrahi lost his first appeal in 2002 but was due to have a second appeal heard when he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer which had spread to his bones. By August 2009, he was gravely ill and the consensus of two Scottish consultants and a professor of oncology accompanied by two English consultants was that his likely prognosis was about three months. Dr Swire writes: "My own medical knowledge of the case is confined to meeting Mr Megrahi in prison and observing his physical decline and is without any professional involvement, except for discussion with the oncologist. Nevertheless, I wish to support the advice that my distinguished medical colleagues gave to Mr MacAskill. Readers will be able to confirm that the two major changes in Mr Megrahi's circumstances might well explain the dramatic and welcome improvement in his condition".
He concludes: "When I last met this quiet and dignified Muslim in his Greenock cell he had prepared a Christmas card for me. On it he had written: 'To Doctor Swire and family, please pray for me and my family'. It is a treasured possession by which I shall always remember him. Even out of such death and destruction comes a message of hope and reconciliation for Easter".

The Independent

Prosecutor: Agent infiltrated Christian militia


DETROIT — An undercover federal agent infiltrated a Christian militia group that authorities say plotted to incite violent revolt, and the agent built explosives under the direction of the group's suspected ringleader, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Arguing for the detention of alleged Hutaree leader David Brian Stone, 44, and six other members, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Waterstreet said the agent accompanied Stone and others in a van as they tried to attend a Feb. 6 meeting of militias in Kentucky.
They turned back in Indianapolis because of bad weather, but the agent recorded Stone reading a speech, Waterstreet said. In the recording, played in U.S. District Court in Detroit, a speaker identified as Stone says "now it's time to strike and take our nation back so we will be free of tyranny".
Prosecutors say the group planned to make a false 911 call, kill responding police officers, then set off a bomb at the funeral to kill many more. An indictment said that after the attacks, the group planned to retreat to "rally points" protected by trip-wired explosives for a violent standoff with law enforcement personnel.
Several defense attorneys objected to Waterstreet's testimony Wednesday. "All they're saying is my client has an opinion and knows how to use his mouth," Stone's lawyer William Swor said before Waterstreet played the tape.
Later on the drive back to Michigan, Waterstreet said the van carrying the militia members passed a car on the side of the road with a Hudson, Mich. police car behind it, and Stone said "We're going to pop him — guaranteed".
Nine suspected members of Hutaree, self-proclaimed "Christian warriors" who trained themselves in paramilitary techniques in preparation for a battle against the Antichrist, were arrested after a series of raids across the Midwest.
All have been charged with seditious conspiracy, or plotting to levy war against the U.S.
Federal officials said they began monitoring the militia last summer and believed an attack was planned for April. Waterstreet said Hutaree was planning training that month where they would kill people that "came upon them." Court documents said the undercover FBI agent and a cooperating witness were part of the federal probe.
Eight suspects were arraigned Wednesday in Detroit. U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Donald A. Scheer entered not guilty pleas on behalf of seven who stood mute to the charges, including David Brian Stone. Stone's eldest son, 21-year-old Joshua Matthew Stone, was the only one who spoke up. He pleaded not guilty.
Detention hearings for six defendants followed, but the judge didn't issue a ruling. Two more are scheduled for Thursday.
The ninth suspect appeared in court in Indiana but no plea was entered.
In arguing for detention, Waterstreet told the court the suspects' conduct was at issue.
"It's not about a religious group," Waterstreet said. "It's not about the militia. It's about a group who decided to oppose by force the U.S. by using violence and weapons".
Waterstreet described the hierarchy of Hutaree, saying David Brian Stone led the militia and Joshua Matthew Stone was a squad leader. He said David Brian Stone Jr., the elder Stone's 19-year-old son, was in charge of detonations and explosives.
He said Kristopher Sickles, 27, of Sandusky, Ohio led the militia in that state and others charged in the case had responsibilities including communications and recruitment. He said Michael David Meeks, 40, and Thomas W. Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Ind. were "heavy gunners" in charge of "laying down heavy fire" in encounters with the enemy.
Meeks was one of those expected to face a detention hearing Thursday. A lawyer for Meeks said evidence would be presented that distinguishes him from the other defendants, and that he denied involvement in any plot to overthrow the government.
In Indiana, Judge Paul Cherry ordered Piatek held without bond and that he be transferred to Michigan to face weapons and conspiracy charges with the other defendants.
A federal prosecutor testified that FBI agents found 46 guns and 13,000 rounds of ammunition in Piatek's home in Whiting, Indiana.
Defense attorney Jerry Flynn said Piatek denies he planned to participate in the alleged plot.


Associated Press writers David Runk in Detroit and Tom Coyne in Hammond, Ind. contributed to this report
Associated Press