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Suicide vest is vital clue after Uganda blasts

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm

KAMPALA (AFP) – A suicide bomber carried out at least one of the two bomb attacks that killed 76 people as they watched the World Cup final in Kampala restaurants and arrests have been made, a minister said Wednesday.


A Somalian Al-Qaeda inspired group has claimed the attacks and police have already found an unexploded suicide vest at an another site, seen as evidence of a botched plan for a third bomb strike.

People look for survivors at an Ethiopian-owned restaurant in the Kabalagala area of Kampala. AFP

One militant blew himself up at an Ethiopian restaurant in Kabalagala, a southern Kampala district, where crowds had gathered to watch the football match on Sunday night.


“We can confirm at least for the case of Kabalagala that it was a suicide bomber,” State Minister for Internal Affairs, Matia Kasaija, told AFP.


“We have arrested some suspicious characters. These are people of interest. Some are Ugandans, some are Somalis,” he added.


The second attack at the same time was on a crowded bar in the Ugandan capital. The blasts have been claimed by Shebab insurgents in Somalia, who said it was in retaliation for the presence of Ugandan troops in an African Union force in Somalia.


US President Barack Obama said that groups like Al-Qaeda did not care about African lives as he condemned the Kampala attacks.


Obama, leveraging his African heritage, took direct aim at Shebab and Al-Qaeda over the attacks.


“What you?ve seen in some of the statements that have been made by these terrorist organizations is that they do not regard African life as valuable in and of itself,” Obama told the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).


“They see it as a potential place where you can carry out ideological battles that kill innocents without regard to long-term consequences for their short-term tactical gains,” said the US leader, whose father was Kenyan.


Ugandan police have not given details of the identities of those arrested.


But national police chief Kale Kayihura said Tuesday that a suicide vest — laden with explosives and fitted with a detonator — had been found packed in a black laptop bag at a club in Kampala’s Makindye district on Monday.


“We have established that what was found at the discotheque was in fact a suicide vest, and it could also be used as an IED” or improvised explosive device, he told reporters.


While the bombers’ actions appeared to support the Shebab’s claim of responsibility, the police chief pointed a finger at a homegrown Muslim rebel group known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).


“Shebab is linked with ADF,” he said. “ADF is composed of Ugandans, Shebab and ADF are linked to Al-Qaeda.”


Ismael Rukwago, a senior ADF commander based in Democratic Republic of Congo, denied any involvement. “We are not part of this thing, we are absolutely denying. We have no reason, these are innocent people,” he told AFP by telephone.


The bombings were the deadliest in East Africa since Al-Qaeda attacks against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1988.


They were the first by the Shebab outside Somalia, marking an unprecedented internationalisation of Somalia’s 20-year-old civil conflict.


Shebab’s top leader had warned in an audio message this month that Uganda and Burundi would face retaliation for contributing to an African Union (AU) force supporting the western-backed Somali transitional government.


The Shebab accuse the AU force (AMISOM) of killing civilians during its operations around the tiny perimeter of Mogadishu housing President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s embattled administration.


The Ugandans were the first to deploy to Somalia in early 2007.


Many of the injured from the Kampala attacks remain in hospital and not all of the bodies have been identified. It is known that a US national and an Irish woman were among the dead.

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Source: SGGP

US blasts BP as Gulf oil spill hits two-month mark

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm

US outrage is mounting against BP as the oil spill reached its two-month mark and an internal BP document showed up to 100,000 barrels of oil could be gushing daily into the Gulf of Mexico.


The latest round of recriminations came after a week of White House arm-twisting prodded BP to agree to a 20-billion-dollar fund to pay claims and a stepped up oil recovery effort in the Gulf.


Media reports of CEO Tony Hayward attending a yacht race off the Isle of Wight, the day after he stepped down from managing the oil leak on a daily basis, set off one of the sharpest expressions yet of administration anger with BP.


“Well, to quote Tony Hayward, he’s got his life back, as he would say,” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said, referencing the BP boss’s now-notorious slip.


“And I think we can all conclude that Tony Hayward is not going to have a second career in PR (public relations) consulting,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”


“This has just been part of a long line of PR gaffes and mistakes.”


Emanuel then assailed BP for its response to the worst oil spill in US history, saying it had to be forced to do more, faster at every step since the April 20 explosion that ripped through the Deepwater Horizon rig it had leased, killing 11 workers.


President Barack Obama wants to “get these claims paid. Get them paid quickly,” said Ken Feinberg, who was named to run the fund announced under US pressure following complaints by fishermen and small businesses of BP foot-dragging in paying off claims.


Over the past week, the British energy giant has called in more ships and equipment to the area, announced it was ahead of schedule in drilling the relief wells — seen as the best chance at killing the well — and said it would significantly boost the amount of oil captured from its busted well.


But a key US congressman released an internal BP document that showed the energy giant’s own worst-case scenario put the amount of oil that could be leaking into the Gulf at 20 times more than its early public estimates.


Ed Markey, a vocal critic of BP and its handling of the disaster, lit out at the firm he said was “either lying or grossly incompetent.”


“First they said it was only 1,000 barrels, then they said it was 5,000 barrels, now we’re up to 100,000 barrels,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”


US government estimates now put the leak at 30,000 to 65,0000 barrels a day.


BP rejected Markey’s charge, noting that the conditions it had stated for the worst-case scenario to develop were not in place then, and are not in place now.


“It’s completely misrepresenting what were saying,” BP spokesman Robert Wine told AFP. “We were saying that if two conditions were met simultaneously — one that we got the modeling restrictions wrong and if the blowout preventer were removed — then we could have 100,000 barrels of oil.”


He said the estimate “has nothing with the amount of oil that’s actually escaping at the moment.”


BP also raced to defend Hayward’s vacation outing with his son in Britain, which a spokesman called his “first non-working day since this started.”


“Still, no matter where he is, he is always in touch with what is happening within BP,” another company spokesman John Curry said.

Asked about Hayward’s yacht outing, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “all of these guys could use a better PR advisor, but the point is we need to get the oil leak stopped and keep as much as the oil off the shore as we can.”

“Clearly, not enough is being done. All the local officials on the Gulf are frustrated as they can be,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

Oil-stained pelicans are seen atop a boom in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, one of the four Gulf Coast states sullied by brownish tides of oily mixture thick as cake batter, called Hayward’s appearance at the yacht race “the height of arrogance.”

The controversy capped a nightmare week for BP, whose public image is in tatters after its shares slumped on the stock market, its credit worthiness was slashed and its top executives were hauled to the White House.

BP said it captured about 21,040 barrels of oil on Friday, slightly lower than in previous day after its main oil-collecting vessel had to be temporarily shut down to clean a flame arrester and wait out a lighting storm. Its current collection system can collect or burn up to about 25,000 barrels a day.

Source: SGGP

31 dead in Russian mine blasts, 59 trapped

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2010 at 4:45 pm

MOSCOW, May 10, 2010 (AFP) – Rescuers made a desperate push Monday to find 59 miners and rescuers trapped inside a Russian mine amid fading hopes they were still alive more than a day after methane gas blasts killed 31 people.


Salvage workers overnight through Monday recovered the bodies of 18 fellow rescuers who had gone in to save miners after a first explosion late Saturday but were caught themselves by a second blast hours later.


But conditions remained treacherous for rescuers at the Raspadskaya mine, Russia’s largest underground coal mine in the Kemerovo region of southwestern Siberia, with high gas concentrations and a risk of further blasts.

Emergency workers walk inside a building destroyed by an underground explosion at the Raspadskaya mine on May 10, 2010. AFP photo

Rescue officials said 31 people had died in the blast and 59 others were still missing, Russian news agencies reported.


But hopes of finding people alive dimmed. A miner who survived the blast told Russian radio: “They were late in pumping air into the shafts. They will only carry out corpses now.”


“We got out but still had time to breath a lot of gas,” he said, adding it took him almost two hours to climb out from blocked and coal dust-filled shafts after the explosion.


The missing men were trapped about 490 metres (1,600 feet) deep in the shafts, an official at the Raspadskaya mine was quoted as saying.


A dozen miners were confirmed dead in the initial blast. Rescue work then had to be halted throughout Sunday with officials saying the mine was so dangerous that sending people in would be a virtual death sentence.


The first blast went off late Saturday while 370 people were working underground and the second around two hours later — after rescuers had entered the mine to bring survivors to the surface.


Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said salvage work continued but admitted it was hampered by poor air in the shaft. Rescuers had to limit oxygen flows to the mine against the risk of further explosions, he said.


“We are continuing searches and still hope to save people,” Shoigu said.


“Unfortunately we have very many restrictions about where (in the mine) we can work and where we cannot,” he said, adding that electricity and ventilation had been restored allowing the salvage effort to resume.


Despite there being no contact with those trapped, officials insisted there was still hope of finding people alive.


Images on state television showed the explosions had been so powerful that even surface infrastructure was reduced to a smoking wreck.


Loved ones of the miners waited in tears and agony outside the mine’s management offices in the town of Mezhdurechensk where a list of the missing had been pinned up.


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered compensation of 32,900 dollars (25,600 euros) to the families of victims killed in the blast and smaller payments to those injured in the tragedy, the government said.


A criminal investigation has been launched for negligence of security rules.


But mine officials on Monday insisted readings showed accepted methane concentration levels in the shafts at the time of the blast.


“All instruments show methane levels were within the norm at the time of the explosion. At present, there could be many different versions of the cause,” said Vladimir Goryachkin, the mine deputy general director, quoted by Russian agencies.


Raspadskaya is part-owned by steelmaker Evraz, a company 36 percent-owned by Chelsea Football Club’s billionaire chief Roman Abramovich.


A company source had earlier said there had been a sudden build-up of methane gas in the shafts and miners had no time to escape before the explosion.

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Source: SGGP

12 dead, 83 trapped after blasts hit Russian mine

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2010 at 4:49 am

Rescue workers scrambled to save 83 people trapped in Russia‘s largest underground coal mine after two explosions killed at least 12 people and injured dozens more, officials said. Among those still trapped early Monday were rescue workers who had entered the Siberian mine after the first blast.


A high level of methane gas after Sunday’s second, more powerful blast raised fears of further explosions and prevented more rescuers from going into the mine for the rest of the day.


Only early Monday was the first rescue team sent down to try to bring out five miners whose location had been established, said Valery Korchagin, a spokesman for the Emergency Ministry. It was not clear, however, whether the miners were still alive, he said.


The second explosion destroyed the main air shaft and all of the mine’s above-ground structures, the governor of the Siberian region of Kemerovo told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a meeting with emergency officials, according to a government transcript.

A man cries near a monument to the perished miners with candles lit in memory of the victims of the recent Raspadskaya mine explosions, in the city of Mezhdurechensk, in the west Siberian region of Kemerovo, Sunday, May 9, 2010.

More than 500 emergency workers from around the country struggled throughout the day to ventilate the mine and rebuild mine shafts so the search for those trapped could resume, Korchagin said by telephone from Kemerovo, about 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometers) east of Moscow.


By late Sunday, it was still too dangerous to enter the mine because of high levels of methane gas, said Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu, who flew to the scene from Moscow to take charge of the operation. “Now we have to do everything possible to avoid a third explosion,” the state news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as telling miners’ families.


Shoigu said emergency workers had identified two areas where those trapped were most likely to be and promised to send in rescuers as soon as an opportunity appeared.


The first blast, believed to have been caused by methane, hit the Raspadskaya mine just before midnight Saturday and the second about 3 1/2 hours later. There were 359 workers below ground at the time of the first explosion, the Emergency Ministry said. A total of 58 people were injured.


Most managed to get out, but after the second blast, 64 miners and 19 rescue workers were trapped underground and all communication with them was lost, Shoigu said earlier during the meeting with Putin, parts of which were televised.


“It’s clear the situation is difficult,” Putin said “We could even say very difficult, tragic. Dozens of people remain in the mine. … Their fate is unknown. And the saddest thing is that additional rescuers cannot be sent into the mine right away.”


He ordered emergency workers to use all means available to ventilate the mine as quickly as possible.


The mine is 500 meters deep and has 370 kilometers (220 miles) of underground tunnels, said Aman Tuleyev, the Kemerovo governor.


The Raspadskaya mine produces about 8 million tons (8.8 million short tons) of coal a year, according to the company’s website.


There was no immediate information on what set off the blast. Mine explosions and other industrial accidents are common in Russia and other former Soviet republics, and are often blamed on inadequate implementation of safety precautions by companies or by workers themselves.


In December, nine people were killed in an explosion at an iron-ore mine in the Urals Mountains region that was blamed on faulty transportation of explosives.


The deadliest explosion in Russia’s coal mines in decades occurred in March 2007, when 110 miners were killed in Kemerovo.


The United States was hit with its worst coal mining disaster in 40 years when 29 miners died April 5 in an explosion at a West Virginia mine.


In China, where the mining industry is the world’s deadliest, at least 33 miners died after a mine flooded on March 28. The flood trapped 153 miners, but most were eventually rescued.

Source: SGGP

Top US Republican blasts Obama on Iran, Russia

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2010 at 8:38 am

A top US Republican lawmaker on Tuesday made a sweeping election-year attack on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, blasting a landmark nuclear cuts treaty with Russia and efforts to engage Iran.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) conference at United Nations headquarters, Monday, May 3, 2010

With six months before November mid-term elections, Representative Eric Cantor urged US voters to back Republicans at “a pivotal time for America to restore its credibility by pursuing peace through strength.”


“That’s why conservatives must win in 2010. And when we retake Congress we will stand with defense-minded Democrats to stop the hemorrhaging of America’s defenses,” said Cantor, the number two House of Representatives Republican.


Cantor delivered the broadside in remarks prepared for delivery to the conservative Heritage Foundation think thank in Washington. AFP obtained excerpts of the speech.


The Virginia lawmaker vowed that “a Republican Congress will turn back harmful treaties like START,” which Obama signed in April and now faces a ratification test in the sharply divided US Senate.


Cantor praised Obama for not seeking an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and for “behind the scenes” victories against Al-Qaeda, notably through strikes by unmanned drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


But he sharply assailed Obama’s efforts to polish the US image in the Muslim world, tarnished under predecessor George W. Bush by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amid a lack of progress in talks to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.


The lawmaker, the only Jewish Republican in the US Congress, said Obama should not “pick fights” with Israel — a reference to spats over new settlement construction in Jerusalem — and condemned outreach to Iran.


“What has engagement with Iran brought us?” he asked. “US calls for dialogue with the regime only strengthened Tehran’s hand. It’s no wonder Iran blithely continues to export terrorism and oppress its people with impunity.”


Cantor, who said a similar approach with Syria had also failed, attacked Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo to reset Washington’s relationship with the Muslim world, saying: “What does America have to be sorry for?”


The lawmaker also assailed Obama’s handling of terrorism, citing growing complacency amid “warning signs” in the failed attacks against a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day and in Times Square over the weekend.


Cantor complained that the public “goes on heightened alert” after such incidents for “hours and days rather than permanently” and that Obama aides “tend to give these warnings due attention only in limited spurts.”


“As a result, America is at risk of slipping into the type of false sense of security which prevailed before that September morning,” he said, referring to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Source: SGGP

Discovery blasts off for International Space Station

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2010 at 11:29 am

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, April 5, 2010 (AFP) – The US space shuttle Discovery blasted off at dawn Monday toward the International Space Station for a mission that will put more women in orbit than ever before.

NASA’s STS-131 astronauts led by Commander Alan Poindexter (R) wave as they walk out of the operations and checkout building at Kennedy Space Center on April 5, 2010. AFP Photo

Discovery lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 6:21 am (1021 GMT) as scheduled.


The two booster rockets, which account for 80 percent of the shuttle’s lift during takeoff, peeled away as planned 120 seconds after the launch, falling into the Atlantic Ocean, where they will be subsequently recuperated and reused.

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Source: SGGP

Discovery blasts off for International Space Station

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2010 at 11:28 am

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, April 5, 2010 (AFP) – The US space shuttle Discovery blasted off at dawn Monday toward the International Space Station for a mission that will put more women in orbit than ever before.

NASA’s STS-131 astronauts led by Commander Alan Poindexter (R) wave as they walk out of the operations and checkout building at Kennedy Space Center on April 5, 2010. AFP Photo

Discovery lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 6:21 am (1021 GMT) as scheduled.


The two booster rockets, which account for 80 percent of the shuttle’s lift during takeoff, peeled away as planned 120 seconds after the launch, falling into the Atlantic Ocean, where they will be subsequently recuperated and reused.

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Source: SGGP

China state media blasts Google for ‘huge’ mistake

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm

BEIJING, March 24, 2010 (AFP) – China’s state media on Wednesday belittled Google’s decision to effectively shut down its Chinese search engine, saying the Internet firm had made a huge mistake in the world’s largest online market.

The Google logo is pictured outside the company’s China head office in Beijing on March 23, 2010. AFP photo

The newspapers said the company would earn little sympathy from loyal users in China, as it had turned its dispute with Beijing over government web censorship and cyberattacks into a political issue.


Google on Monday stopped filtering search results in China and re-routed traffic from google.cn to an uncensored site in Hong Kong, but said it would maintain its sales and research and development teams on the mainland.


“With its action to shift its search service from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong yesterday, the world’s top search engine has made a huge strategic misstep in the promising Chinese market,” the Global Times said.


The paper touted the improvement in China’s business climate and warned foreign firms that they could face “unprecedented” competition from homegrown companies, urging them to adapt to the “transitional Chinese society”.


“A win-win situation is in the interests of both China and foreign businesses. Google’s ‘new approach’ does not work,” it said in a commentary.


Beijing has repeatedly said foreign businesses are welcome as long as they abide by Chinese law. Google says its shift of search traffic to google.com.hk is “entirely legal”, as Hong Kong is not subject to mainland censorship laws.


The China Daily relished the “moment of peace” created by Google’s decision, two months after the eruption of the dispute, which has added to strains in relations between China and the United States.


“Google’s efforts to make this issue into a political spat have naturally met with strong opposition and criticism from the Chinese government and society,” the English-language newspaper wrote in a commentary.


“With the company’s credibility among Chinese netizens now plummeting, Google will be greeted with less sympathy and fewer parting sentiments from Chinese Internet users,” it said.


The paper slammed Google for offering China’s 384 million web users access to “pornography and subversive content”, saying the Chinese web would “continue to grow in a cleaner and more peaceful environment” without google.cn.

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New NASA satellite blasts off on space-map mission

In World on December 15, 2009 at 5:37 am

 NASA launched Monday a new breed of satellite called WISE on a mission to orbit Earth and map the skies to find elusive cosmic objects, including potentially dangerous asteroids.


The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) will use infrared rays to map the locations and sizes of roughly 200,000 asteroids and give scientists a clearer idea of how many space rocks loom and what danger they pose.


“When we find them, we will give the information to policy-makers to decide what to do to try to prevent these near-Earth asteroids colliding with our planet,” NASA public affairs officer J. D. Harrington told AFP.








This NASA handout photo shows the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, satellite as it launches

The launch, which had been delayed from Friday after problems were discovered in a rocket booster steering engine, went ahead flawlessly at 6:09 am (1409 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.


WISE, which has been called “the most sensitive set of wide-angle infrared goggles ever,” will orbit 300 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth’s surface for 10 months as it hunts for and collects data on dim objects such as dust clouds, brown dwarf stars and asteroids in the dark spaces between planets and stars.


The satellite will map the cosmos in infrared light, covering the whole sky one-and-a-half times — one orbit of Earth will take six months — and snapping pictures of everything from near-Earth asteroids to faraway galaxies bursting with new stars.


“The last time we mapped the whole sky at these particular infrared wavelengths was 26 years ago,” Edward Wright of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), who is the principal investigator of the mission, said on NASA’s website.


Infrared technology has come a long way since then. The old all-sky infrared pictures were like impressionist paintings — now, we’ll have images that look like actual photographs.”


Harrington explained that previous infrared satellites had only 62 pixels per “camera”, while WISE has a pixel capacity of four million, which will make for much sharper images.


WISE is expected to detect infrared emissions from the most active star-forming regions, which would help scientists understand how rapidly stars are formed during galactic collisions.


It will map “failed stars” called brown dwarfs in the Milky Way, and help to improve understanding about the structure and evolution of Earth’s galaxy.


Scientists also expect the satellite to make some new discoveries.


“When you look at the sky with new sensitivity and a new wavelength band, like WISE is going to do, you’re going to find new things that you didn’t know were out there,” Wright said.


After a month during which scientists will check out and calibrate equipment on WISE, the satellite will begin in January snapping pictures every eight seconds as it orbits Earth.


It will pause four times a day to download the collected data to a processor.


The data will be sent to a depository and analyzed by scientists before any images are made public.


“We have to make sure… that the data is sound, before we release anything,” Harrington said, adding that NASA hopes to make the first pictures from WISE public in the spring.


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Iraqi leaders come under fire over Baghdad blasts

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2009 at 1:36 pm

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi leaders were set to come under fire Wednesday, having failed to prevent a spate of attacks in Baghdad that killed 127 people, the third major set of bombings to hit the capital since August.


The blasts undermined the government’s claims of improved security and MPs quickly demanded that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the government’s security ministers answer for any failings that led to the attacks.








Iraqi rescue workers remove a body at the scene of a bomb blast near the Finance Ministry in Baghdad. (AFP photo)

The United States, United Nations, Arab League and Britain, meanwhile, led international condemnation of Tuesday’s bombings, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon calling them “horrendous” and “unacceptable.”


Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, whose department is responsible for police forces across Iraq, welcomed being questioned by lawmakers in the Council of Representatives over the attacks, which a senior security spokesman said bore “the touch of Al-Qaeda.”


“I am ready to go to parliament on the condition that the session be public,” Bolani told AFP.


The bombings all struck Baghdad within minutes of each other on Tuesday morning.Related article: Emergency workers soldier on.


One suicide attacker detonated his payload at a finance ministry office, another struck at a tunnel leading to the labour ministry and a third drove a four-wheel-drive car into a courthouse.


A fourth suicide bomber in a car struck a police patrol in Dora in southern Baghdad, causing 15 deaths, 12 of them students at a nearby technical college, an interior ministry official said.


Another car bomb hit interior ministry offices in central Baghdad.


An interior ministry official said 127 people had been killed and 448 wounded in the bombings.


Maliki called Tuesday’s attacks a “cowardly” attempt “to cause chaos… and hinder the election,” and said they were deliberately timed to come after MPs on Sunday agreed on a new electoral law.


He blamed “foreign elements” who backed Al-Qaeda.


The courthouse bombing destroyed a large part of the building, with falling concrete killing several people, emergency workers said.


Mangled wrecks of cars, some flipped on their roofs, lined the street opposite the courthouse, and several parked vehicles were crushed by collapsed blast walls.


Near the finance ministry, several houses were completely destroyed and a two-metre (6.5-foot) deep crater marked the site of the explosion.


Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, the timing of the blasts and the fact that three targeted government buildings suggested an Al-Qaeda operation.Related article: Recent bloodshed in Iraq


“This has the touch of Al-Qaeda and the Baathists,” Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for security operations in Baghdad, told AFP, referring to the outlawed Baath party of now executed dictator Saddam.


Both groups were blamed for bloody attacks — including truck bombings of the finance, foreign and justice ministries — in Baghdad in August and October that killed more than 250 and punctured confidence in Iraq’s security forces.


“Such attacks are war crimes,” London-based rights group Amnesty International said in a statement.


Those caught up in the devastation described scenes of horror.


“I heard the sound of the explosion, I fainted, then I found myself on this bed covered with blood,” Um Saeed, who was wounded in the face and arms by the courthouse blast, told AFP at a local hospital.


Jamal Amin, who works at a restaurant near the finance ministry, said: “I was standing in front of the restaurant. People started to shout, ‘suicide bomber, suicide bomber!’


“I saw a mini-bus, and then the explosion happened and I lost consciousness. I woke up in the hospital.”


An official at Medical City hospital said many of the 39 bodies they had received “had been blown apart.”


Violence across Iraq dropped dramatically last month, with the fewest number of deaths in attacks recorded since the invasion in 2003. Official figures showed a total of 122 people were killed in November.


Both the Baghdad government and the US military have warned of a rise in attacks in the run-up to the election.


Presidential chief-of-staff Nasser al-Ani told Iraqi state television on Tuesday the election will be on March 7, after the presidency council said earlier that March 6 had been chosen as the date for the vote.


Despite Tuesday’s attacks US forces remain on track to begin withdrawing from Iraq in large numbers next year, the top US military officer said.


Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that while the withdrawal of US forces in Iraq was “on a balance” with the buildup in Afghanistan, nothing that has happened so far would upset plans.


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