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World braces for WikiLeaks flood of US cables

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Governments around the world on Saturday braced for the release of millions of potentially embarrassing US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks as Washington raced to contain the fallout.

A screengrab of the Wikileaks page, taken in October.

The whistle-blower website is expected to put online three million leaked cables covering US dealings and confidential views of countries including Australia, Britain, Canada, Israel, Russia and Turkey.

US diplomats skipped their Thanksgiving holiday weekend and headed to foreign ministries hoping to stave off anger over the cables, which are internal messages that often lack the niceties diplomats voice in public.

“WikiLeaks are an absolutely awful impediment to my business, which is to be able to have discussions in confidence with people. I do not understand the motivation for releasing these documents,” said James Jeffrey, the US ambassador to Iraq.

“They will not help, they will simply hurt our ability to do our work here,” he told reporters.

The top US military commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, meanwhile urged WikiLeaks to stop its “extremely dangerous” release of documents, according to a transcript of a CNN interview set to air Sunday.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley also condemned WikiLeaks’ plans.

“It will place lives and interests at risk. It is irresponsible,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had contacted leaders in Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, France and Afghanistan over the issue, he added.

Russia’s respected Kommersant newspaper said that the documents included US diplomats’ conversations with Russian politicians and “unflattering” assessments of some of them.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed the impending file dump on “little thieves running around the Internet,” the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

WikiLeaks has not specified the documents’ contents or when they would be put online, but Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said officials were expecting a release “late this week or early next week.”

The website has said there would be “seven times” as many secret documents as the 400,000 Iraq war logs it published last month.

Turkish media said the planned release includes papers suggesting that Ankara helped Al-Qaeda militants in Iraq and that the United States helped Iraq-based Kurdish rebels fighting against Turkey — potentially explosive revelations for the two allies.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey did not know what the documents contained.

“This is speculation,” he said on CNN Turk. “But as a principle, tolerating or ignoring any terrorist action that originates in Turkey and targets a neighboring country, particularly Iraq, is out of the question.”

Israel has also been warned of potential embarrassment from the latest release, which could include confidential reports from the US embassy in Tel Aviv, Haaretz newspaper said, citing a senior Israeli official.

The US ambassador in Canada telephoned Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon about the leak, a ministry spokeswoman said, adding that the Canadian embassy in Washington was “engaging” with the State Department on the matter.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told parliament that US diplomats informed him “that the person responsible for leaking the information has been arrested.”

The government meanwhile said that it was alarmed about “possible negative repercussions for Italy” from the release of the cables.

Officials in Australia, Britain, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden also said they had been contacted by US diplomats regarding the release.

Australia on Saturday condemned the whistle-blower website, saying the planned release could be a national security risk.

“The reckless and large-scale exposure of classified material by WikiLeaks could put at risk individuals named in these documents and harm the national security interests of the United States and its partners,” an Australian foreign affairs spokesman said.

US officials have not confirmed the source of the leaked documents, but suspicion has fallen on Bradley Manning, a former army intelligence agent.

He was arrested after the earlier release of a video showing air strikes that killed civilian reporters in Baghdad.

Wired magazine said Manning confessed to the leaks during a webchat in May. He was quoted as saying he acted out of idealism after watching Iraqi police detain men for distributing a “scholarly critique” against corruption.

WikiLeaks argues that the first two document dumps — US soldier-authored incident reports from 2004 to 2009 — shed light on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including allegations of torture by Iraqi forces and reports that suggested 15,000 additional civilian deaths in Iraq.

WikiLeaks is the project of Australian hacker Julian Assange. Sweden recently issued an international warrant for his arrest, saying he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual molestation.


Source: SGGP

London braces for Underground train strike

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2010 at 5:42 am

France braces for another pension reform protest

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm

France braced for another day of street rallies against pension reform Saturday as rolling strikes cut the fuel pipeline to Paris airports and shut down most of the country’s oil refineries.

High-school students have increasingly joined the protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, with riot police firing tear gas and arresting over 200 at student rallies on Friday.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has told police to “limit the use of force to what is strictly necessary” when dealing with the students ahead of Saturday’s protests, the fifth in less than six weeks.

Unions want to pummel the government into backing down on its pension reform plans, staging strikes on weekdays and mass demonstrations in cities at the weekend. Over 230 rallies are planned for Saturday, the CGT union said.

The strikes have shut down 10 out of 12 of France’s oil refineries, despite riot police being dispatched to keep the fuel flowing amid reports of panic buying.

The government has given oil companies permission to tap into their own emergency stocks, but has resisted calls to open the part of the French strategic fuel reserve controlled by a government committee.

Lack of supply forced the shutdown of the fuel pipeline to Paris’s two main airports as well as depots outside the capital.

The main Paris air hub, Roissy Charles de Gaulle, only has enough aviation fuel to last 48 hours, La Tribune financial daily reported, and authorities have advised planes arriving there to bring enough fuel for the return flight.

“Aviation companies are worried. Air France expecially,” the paper said.

Because of a Belgian railway workers’ strike over deadlocked negotations, all high-speed Thalys trains between Paris and Brussels will be cancelled. Eurostar trains travelling under the Channel will be unaffected.

National railway operator SNCF said that on average two out of three high-speed TGV trains would be running in and out of Paris, although only one TGV in four will run outside the capital.

The Paris metro will be running normally, with operator RATP saying that only five percent of its workers were on strike on Friday.

Unions and the Socialist opposition have vowed to defend the right to retire at 60. They accuse Sarkozy of making workers carry the burden for the failure of the financial sector, and have proposed increasing taxes on the rich.

A nationwide day of strikes and demonstrations last Tuesday brought more than a million people on to the streets, and workers in some sectors have kept up their stoppages since then. Another mass strike is planned for next Tuesday.

Despite the ongoing strikes and protests, the government showed no sign of retreating from what is a cornerstone of Sarkozy’s reform agenda as he prepares for his likely re-election battle in 2012.

Key sections of the reform have been passed by the upper house Senate and the government hopes for it to be passed in its entirety by the end of the month.

Source: SGGP

Flood-devastated Pakistan braces for more storms

In Uncategorized on August 4, 2010 at 7:19 am

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – Pakistan holds crisis talks Wednesday as the country braces for more storms that threaten to deepen a humanitarian disaster after the worst floods in living memory.

With over three million people hit by the flooding, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is to chair an emergency cabinet meeting to speed up the relief work and estimate the damage — expected to run into millions of dollars.

Onlookers perched on a damaged bridge watch a Pakistani flood survivor climb a rope to cross a river in Pakistan’s Swat valley’s Chakdara. AFP

Record rains last week triggered floods and landslides that washed away entire villages and ruined farmland in one of the country’s most impoverished and volatile regions, already hard hit by Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked violence.

The international community has mobilised with offers of aid after the flooding that has claimed the lives of up to 1,500 people and affected 3.2 million, including 1.4 million children, according to UN and Pakistani figures.

“This is a serious humanitarian disaster,” the UN humanitarian coordinator for Pakistan, Martin Mogwanja, told AFP, saying that discussions were under way to determine whether the situation warranted a fresh appeal for donor aid.

Anger was at boiling point among impoverished survivors complaining they had been abandoned by the government after their livelihoods were swept away and protesting at a “joy ride” visit to Europe by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Pakistan has issued new flood warnings, threatening to compound the misery of hundreds of thousands of desperate victims. Many have been forced to flee disaster areas, their belongings piled into donkey carts and cars, or take refuge in mosques.

The United Nations said clean drinking water and sanitation were urgently needed to stop disease spreading after Pakistan’s worst floods in 80 years following relentless monsoon rains.

“People immediately need food, water, shelter, health facilities, medicines and sanitation,” UN World Food Programme spokesman Amjad Jamal told AFP.

Nadeem Ahmad, chairman of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, estimated that roughly three million people were affected — 1.5 million in the northwest and the same number in the central province Punjab.

Authorities in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa issued an alert to people living around Warsak Dam, one of the country’s biggest dams and lying outside Peshawar, as water levels rose.

Pakistan’s weather bureau forecast widespread rains in the southern province of Sindh, Punjab, Pakistani-held Kashmir, the hard-hit northwest and southwestern Baluchistan over the next three days.

Flash flooding was expected in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Baluchistan, it warned, with heavy thunderstorms in the capital Islamabad.

The military, Pakistan’s most powerful institution, said more than 54,000 people had been rescued from flood-hit areas and moved to safer places, with 40 helicopters and 450 army boats mobilised.

The United States, which has pledged 10 million dollars in aid, said it was sending in army helicopters to help with the relief effort.

Canada announced two million dollars in emergency aid while China said it was sending in 1.5 million dollars of supplies, in addition to pledges of aid from the United Nations and Britain among others.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity on a UN terror blacklist and considered a front for the group blamed by India for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, said it was helping with the relief effort, sending in 10 truck-loads of goods and nine medical teams to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Survivors are living in desperate conditions under open skies or sheltering from heavy rains in mosques without clean drinking water and food.

The local government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has said up to 1,500 people have died as a result of the floods, although there are fears the toll could rise further.

The United Nations has also said around 980,000 people had lost their homes or been temporarily displaced.

Anger was growing among disgruntled survivors as Zardari pressed on with a visit to Europe — including a trip to his family’s stately home in the French countryside on Tuesday.

“Zardari should visit the flood-hit areas and take steps for the welfare of the stranded people instead of taking joy rides to France and the UK,” said Sher Khan, 40, in Majuky Faqirabad, one of the worst affected villages.

Zardari arrives in London on Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister David Cameron this week, with a row over the British leader’s comments accusing Pakistan of supporting terrorism top of the agenda.

Some British lawmakers of Pakistani origin pulled out of a planned lunch with the president amid anger that the trip was a waste of scarce money that could be better spent on flood relief.

Source: SGGP

Northern region braces for season’s next tropical storm

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Northern region braces for season’s next tropical storm

QĐND – Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 21:1 (GMT+7)

The National Hydro-Meteorological Forecast Centre on July 20 said the second storm of this year, Chanthu, would be 210 km northeast of China’s Hainan Island at 7pm on July 21.

The eye of the storm would be positioned over Hainan, with wind gusts near the eye of the storm reaching up to 117 kph and the dangerous wind gust area spread over 250 km.

The storm was forecast to travel northwest at between 10 -15 kph towards China ’s Guangdong province in the next two days.

The storm would bring strong winds and rough seas to the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago and heavy rain-fall across the country.

Between the next 48 and 72 hours, the storm would continue moving northwest and weaken into a tropical low.

The Ministry of Health on July 20 sent an urgent message to health departments in coastal areas from central Da Nang city to Khanh Hoa province to promptly evacuate patients at storm-prone hospitals and clinics, especially in low-land areas to safety.
Hospitals and health clinics were asked to prepare for emergencies and free of charge first aid provision.

Ministry agencies have been asked to prepare medicine, disinfectants and other medical facilities to support localities to deal with the storm.

Source: VNA

Source: QDND

Slum problem as Philippines braces for more floods

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 at 4:49 am

MANILA, June 25, 2010 (AFP) – Hundreds of thousands of slum dwellers remain living in flood-prone areas of the Philippine capital as the rainy season builds despite pledges to move them after a barrage of deadly storms last year.

A month into the tropical nation’s annual rainy season, entire communities that were hit hard by the disasters that killed about 1,000 people are vigorously resisting government efforts to move them to safer places.

At the Arenda estate, a 200-hectare (494-acre) swamp in eastern Manila, the holdouts prefer to park dugout boats on their yards, ready to jump in with their meagre belongings should the floods return.

“The surroundings might be miserable, but we don’t have to pay rent,” Elvie Edaos, an unwed 52-year-old mother-of-four who barely earns a living by making dresses, told AFP.

“We can eat swamp cabbage, we can gather clams for free, and we can collect driftwood with which to cook them.”

Linked by flimsy wooden footbridges, the crowded shanties on the shore of Laguna Lake are warrens of plywood and metal sheets sitting precariously on thin stilts above the garbage-flecked water hyacinth beds.

In this handout photo taken and released on June 23, 2010 by the Office of the Press Secretary, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo delivers her farewell address in a nationwide broadcast from Malacanang palace in Manila. AFP

Some sections lie below the lake’s water level, and the government says the community, colonised by poor city migrants in the mid-1990s soon after the government turned the swamp into an open dump, is a double-barrelled problem.

Not only are its residents at risk from future floods, their homes also prevent floodwaters from receding.

President Gloria Arroyo declared the slum unfit for habitation and sent in demolition teams when last year’s floodwaters finally receded, but 50,000 shanties housing nearly a quarter of a million people still stand months later.

Mother-of-two Marites Lerion lives in constant fear of both the demolition crews and the slimy water lapping at her floorboards.

“One time my son fell through the floor. He could have easily drowned,” Lerion said.

But her family cannot afford to flee because doing so would mean having her husband give up his job of driving a pedicab, which earns him 150 pesos (about three dollars) a day.

Aside from killing 1,000 people, Tropical Storm Ketsana and Typhoon Parma severely affected 9.3 million others in Manila and areas to the north, according to a World Bank report that assessed rehabilitation costs.

“Coupled with the likely impacts of climate change, the drainage system can be expected to be overwhelmed again within the lifetime of most victims,” it said.

The report urged Manila to consider larger investments, particularly in flood control and housing for informal settlers who bore the brunt of the calamities.

Manila should consider building high-rises so flood victims would live closer to their jobs, instead of uprooting them wholesale, it said.

Corazon Cruz, deputy planning chief of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, said the slums complicate the body’s main jobs of managing traffic, controlling floods, and dealing with other disasters in the city of 12 million.

Cruz said there were at least 2.7 million squatters in Manila, and the number was growing.

The World Bank report indicated the problem was much worse, listing half of Manila’s population as squatters.

Of most concern are about half a million people living in dangerous areas such as underneath bridges, atop open sewers, swamps, riverbanks, and beside railroad tracks, according to Cruz.

The rest squat on private or government lots.

“They should not be there in the first place and there have been efforts to move them out, but they go back, or others take their place,” Cruz told AFP.

Evicting them should be the work of local governments, according to Cruz.

But some local officials will not lift a finger because they treat the slums as a rich source of votes during elections, she said.

“It’s also a political problem, we’re all familiar with that,” Cruz said.

The post-flood wrecking crews removed about 600 Arenda shanties, but most of the relocated families have filtered back in, said village elder Nestor Narciso.

“The government should have more compassion for these people,” said Narciso, a district councillor. “The jobs are in Manila, so most came back.”

The local government in the area agreed. Instead of helping relocate them, it is now building a dyke around the community in hopes of keeping the waters at bay, Narciso added.

Source: SGGP

Ireland braces for crunch vote on European treaty

In World on October 1, 2009 at 7:49 am

Irish voters cast their ballots Friday in a closely-watched second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which EU leaders hope will reverse last year’s ‘no’ vote and clear Europe’s political deadlock.

Electoral officers deliver the referendum ballot box on Inishfree Island, Donegal, Ireland, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen is leading the campaign in support of the reforming treaty, and warned this week that another rejection would damage Ireland’s recovery from deep recession.

Opinion poll results suggest his side will win this time. The latest survey on Sunday put support for the treaty at 55 percent, compared to 27 percent who said they were planning to vote against it.

European leaders are also anxiously awaiting the referendum results, hoping for an end to the constitutional deadlock the EU has been in ever since last June when Irish voters rejected the treaty by 53.4 percent.

Ireland is the only EU country constitutionally obliged to put the treaty to a referendum, and a ‘yes’ vote is required if the document — already ratified by 24 of the 27 member states — is to pass into law.

Dublin agreed to hold another poll after securing guarantees on key policy areas which it said were behind last year’s decision.

Specifically, its EU partners gave assurances on Catholic Ireland’s abortion ban, its military neutrality and its tax-setting right, while pledging that every EU state will continue to have a commissioner in Brussels.

Cowen said Wednesday that the referendum was “one of the most important decisions in our recent history” and vital to Ireland’s economic future.

“Will we move forward together with Europe or will we take an uncharted and more uncertain road?,” he said.

“A Yes vote marks an essential step for recovery. Only with a Yes will we ensure investor confidence in Ireland, protect our influence in vital economic decisions and reform Europe so that it is more dynamic and effective.”

This year Ireland’s GDP is set to shrink a record eight percent, while the jobless toll could exceed 15 percent, three times its June 2008 level.

The Yes camp likes to point out that, without the 120 billion euros (175 billion dollars) injected by the European Central Bank, Irish banks would probably have had to close.

However, there are concerns that some voters will use the referendum — backed by all the mainstream parties bar the republican Sinn Fein — to kick Cowen’s unpopular government.

Declan Ganley, the millionaire businessman who spearheaded the successful “no” campaign last year, has argued that the “only job that the Lisbon Treaty will save is Brian Cowen’s”.

He warned the treaty imposes a “Brussels democracy”, putting more power into the hands of unelected leaders who are unaccountable to citizens.

Voting is already underway in five Atlantic Ocean islands, which start early in case weather delays the transportation of the ballot boxes to the mainland, while eight islands off western County Mayo and County Galway vote Thursday.

Source: SGGP

Philippines braces for more storms

In World on September 30, 2009 at 4:24 pm

MANILA, Sept 30, 2009 (AFP) – Philippine flood survivors were warned Wednesday to brace for another potentially deadly storm, as the number of people affected by the heaviest rains in decades soared past 2.2 million.

Four days after tropical storm Ketsana ravaged Manila and neighbouring areas, parts of the nation’s capital remained submerged in murky water, while people crowding into shelters were desperate for food, water and other aid.

A Filipino boy is carried to safety through floodwater in Manila on Sep. 27 (AFP photo)

The storm killed at least 246 people, although the number is expected to rise higher than the official toll as many people remain missing.

Amid the chaos of the relief operation, authorities warned that another storm lurking to the east of the Philippines could slam into the country on Thursday or Friday.

“We still don’t know how big this typhoon will be, but the best way for us is to prepare for the worst case scenario,” said the secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, Gwendolyn Pang.

“Our message to the public is to really get out of the way of the typhoon. Our lives are important.”

Pang said those still in their flood-ruined homes should evacuate to government-run shelters.

“We are advising them to go to higher ground, stay with relatives or go to the nearest evacuation centre. Those who are in the centres, remain there,” she told AFP.

Meanwhile, anger and hunger among the flood survivors continued to build, with the government appealing for calm after people blocked food convoys, apparently because they were missing out on the relief.

“We are receiving reports that some relief goods, especially those from private donors, are being blocked by people or are being pelted,” Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said on national radio.

While appealing for calm, he warned that anyone caught blocking food convoys would be arrested.

“We understand many are hungry. All of us are working to feed you, and help those in need,” Teodoro said.

“(But) we will not allow this thing to happen, even in a crisis.”

Private individuals and companies who want to donate relief goods were advised to coordinate with the national government, while police have been asked to provide additional security escorts to delivery trucks, he said.

In its latest update on Wednesday morning, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said 2.25 million people had been affected by the floods, up about 300,000 from the previous day.

Of the total affected, 389,616 people were crammed into 561 evacuation camps around the capital Manila and its eastern regions.

Another 346,581 people were staying with their relatives or friends, the council said.

The death toll remained the same as Tuesday at 246, but 42 people remain officially missing and there may be others who have not been reported to authorities yet.

Ketsana dumped the heaviest rain in more than 40 years on Manila and its neighbouring areas on Saturday, submerging 80 percent of the nation’s capital.

Damage to infrastructure has been heavy, with government admitting it would likely set back economic growth this year. Hospitals were destroyed, and impoverished communities along riverbanks erased.

International aid has started to trickle in after the Philippines issued an appeal for aid, but the amount of work has simply overwhelmed aid workers and rescuers who themselves have been flood victims, Pang said.

“Rehabilitation and relief has been slow,” Pang said. “We have been overwhelmed, caught by surprise.”

“Another challenge is the logistics and trying to get the goods to the area,” Pang said, stressing that many areas were only reached days after the disaster struck.

At the Jose ‘Amang’ Rodriguez Hospital in eastern Manila, doctors said operations went back to something like normal only two days after the storm.

Medical equipment and medicines were rendered useless by the deluge that swamped the hospital’s first floor, and about 200 patients were hastily transferred to the second level.

“We’re still in the clean-up process but we are already providing outpatient and emergency services, including emergency surgery,” Dr Joanna Remo told AFP at the hospital’s crowded emergency ward.

Source: SGGP