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Putin calls embattled doctor in show of support

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2010 at 9:56 am

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called an embattled doctor who is under pressure after his complaints of “window-dressing” unleashed a torrent of criticism, his spokesman said on Saturday.

The powerful Russian prime minister called cardiologist Ivan Khrenov on his mobile phone late Friday in a show of support, his spokesman told AFP.

“So are they putting the squeeze on you?” the premier asked the doctor in remarks confirmed by his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

“Well, you do not worry, we will not leave you in the lurch. Call us if anything,” Putin told the doctor.

Khrenov, a young cardiologist from the central Russian town of Ivanovo, has become a reluctant national celebrity after he complained about “window dressing” at local hospitals during Putin’s recent visit.

He told Putin during a live call-in show this week that officials had told doctors to lie about their salaries. He also said medical equipment had been temporarily brought to a regional hospital from elsewhere.

Officials vehemently denied the accusations, with Ivanovo region governor Mikhail Men saying equipment like a CT scan could not have been removed from other hospitals simply because it is too big.

The General Prosecutor’s Office said on Friday the doctor’s report was being verified and local prosecutors said they planned to call in Khrenov for questioning.

Putin has expressed bewilderment at the report and said it had to be thoroughly checked.

Anecdotal evidence regularly emerges in Russia that local officials thoroughly prepare for Putin’s visits and often take it to extremes in order to please the top boss.

His marathon call-in show was seen as a reaffirmation of his status as the true Russian number one, even after handing the presidency to his protege Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.

Speculation is buzzing that he may be planning to return as head of state in 2012 elections.


Source: SGGP

Embattled Sarkozy cozies up to successful Obama

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2010 at 5:01 am

PARIS, March 28, 2010 (AFP) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy takes a break from a sea of troubles at home this week to sit down in Washington with Barack Obama, who looks more of a winner after his health care reform success.

Obama and his wife Michelle will welcome the French president and glamorous first lady, supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni, to the White House for a private dinner on Tuesday evening.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks during a press conference at the European Union summit at the European Council headquarters on March 26, 2010 in Brussels. AFP file

The honour extended to the Sarkozys is seen as a fence-mending exercise after Obama bowed out of a European summit and reports of bad chemistry between the French and American leaders.

The political fortunes of the two leaders could not be more different as they meet in Washington to compare notes on world problems, from global finance reform to the war in Afghanistan.

Sarkozy has fallen on hard times, forced to backtrack on some of his signature reforms as his popularity sinks and his party reels from defeat in regional elections.

By contrast, Obama last week signed into law a reform bill that has become the centrepiece of his presidency, providing health coverage to 30 million Americans and the most far-reaching US social legislation in decades.

“Obama has this victory and Sarkozy, well, doesn’t really have anything to show,” commented analyst Philippe Moraud-Desfarges from the French Institute of International Relations.

The White House visit will seek to dispel talk of a rift between Sarkozy — once considered the most pro-American French president in decades — and Obama, who will hold one-on-one talks at the Oval Office ahead of the dinner.

“The dinner is an intimate thing,” said a western diplomat. “You invite an important statesman at a state dinner, but you invite a friend into your home.”

Much has been written in the French press about Sarkozy’s supposed bitterness at not being Obama’s go-to man in Europe and his dashed hopes of forging a special relationship to supplant the London-Washington axis.

The visit follows months of whispers from the Elysee aired in the French press and directed at Obama, who is dismissed as an indecisive leader who most notably failed to push for a deal at the Copenhagen climate change summit.

“Sarkozy has been disappointed by his ‘buddy’ Obama,” wrote Le Parisien daily. The French leader “believes that world opinion is way too soft toward Obama, who has not accomplished much, in his eyes.”

French officials lament that Obama has little interest in Europe, citing his decision to skip a US-EU summit in Madrid in May, and say he is focused too narrowly on Asia.

“What this shows is that Franco-American relations are still difficult and complicated and the big rapprochement that Sarkozy wanted has turned to dust,” said Moraud-Desfarges.

One bone of contention to be discussed by the leaders is a huge US military contract to supply 179 tanker planes. France has accused Washington of protectionism by seeking to favour Boeing over Europe’s Airbus.

After angrily dropping out of the competition, Airbus’ parent company EADS has opened talks with the Pentagon on extending the deadline for bids for the 35-billion-dollar (26-billion-euro) contract.

Obama will renew a US request to Sarkozy to send more French military and police trainers to Afghanistan and discuss his new push for nuclear disarmament ahead of the Washington summit next month.

Obama’s political success — possibly short-lived as he heads for mid-term elections in November — has led to questions about whether Sarkozy should stick to a single reform project instead of a multi-pronged approach.

As polls show Sarkozy’s approval ratings hitting an all-time low, the president has spoken of a “pause” in his reform drive and singled out pensions as the key problem to be addressed in the second half of his mandate.

Source: SGGP

Embattled UN rethinking Afghan-Pakistan role

In Uncategorized on November 6, 2009 at 11:13 am

The United Nations is sending about 600 foreign staff out of the country or into secure compounds because of the deadly Taliban attack on U.N. workers, warning the Afghan government Thursday that international support will wane unless it cracks down on corruption fueling the insurgency.

The decision follows a drawdown of U.N. operations in Pakistan, casting doubt on whether the world body can operate effectively in this region with war raging on both sides of the border. The moves come as the Obama administration nears a decision on whether to send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to try to curb the growth of the Taliban.

The U.N. insists the staff relocations — which affect more than half the organization’s foreign staff in Afghanistan and a modest number in Pakistan — are temporary.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai waves as he waits to meet U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Kabul November 2, 2009

Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, told reporters that “we are not talking about evacuation” — language similar to that used by U.N. spokesmen in 2003 when the world body announced a “temporary relocation” from Iraq after bombings against U.N. facilities. The drawdown lasted for years.

Nevertheless, insurgents can claim a psychological victory. Hampering the international community’s ability to carry out aid and development work makes it much harder to win the hearts and minds of the people, a key ingredient for success on the battlefield.

Reviving local economies and improving the effectiveness of local administrations are integral parts of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy.

Earlier this week, the U.N. announced it was pulling some expatriate staff from Pakistan after a deadly attack in the capital, Islamabad. It also suspended long-term development work in such fields as health, education, agriculture and the environment in key areas of the lawless border area with Afghanistan.

The Phase IV threat level the U.N. assigned to Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region and North West Frontier Province is only one level below full evacuation. The U.N. said the distribution of food would continue through non-governmental organizations.

In Afghanistan, the U.N. mission is still reeling from the pre-dawn assault Oct. 28 on a guest house in Kabul where dozens of U.N. staffers lived. Gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed inside, killing five U.N. workers and three Afghans. The three assailants also died.

The Taliban said they attacked the guest house because the U.N. was working on the Afghan election, which they viewed as a Western plot.

“It’s been a few very difficult, dramatic days for us as U.N. family,” said Eide, who visited the charred remains of the house where a blue U.N. flak jacket lay covered in ashes. “We have to get over it. We will, of course, continue our work here as we have promised.”

About 600 of the 1,100 international staff will be moved for three to four weeks to more secure locations both within and outside of Afghanistan while the world body works to find safer permanent housing, U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique said.

Only a minority of those 600 will be temporarily relocated outside Afghanistan, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.

Eide said a number of options were being considered for those who leave Afghanistan, including Dubai — a frequent destination for U.N. staff on rest breaks.

Although Eide insisted the U.N. was not abandoning Afghanistan, he made clear that the U.N. is concerned about the deteriorating situation in the country and the failure of President Hamid Karzai’s government to stamp out corruption.

“There is a belief among some that the international commitment to Afghanistan will continue whatever happens because of the strategic importance of Afghanistan,” Eide told reporters. “I would like to emphasize that that is not correct. It is the public opinion in donor countries and in troop-contributing countries that decides on the strength of that commitment.”

In Britain, public calls for a pullout of troops have intensified since an Afghan policeman shot and killed five British soldiers Tuesday. Britain is the largest contributor to NATO forces in Afghanistan after the United States, and its continued presence here is vital to Obama’s strategy.

Security in Pakistan is another key part of U.S. strategy in the region, partly because Taliban militants and their al-Qaida allies use the Pakistani side of the porous border as a base from which to plan attacks in both countries.

A surge of violence across Pakistan over the past month has killed more than 300 people, including 11 U.N. workers, and threatened to destabilize the nuclear-armed nation. In one particularly jarring attack, a suicide bomber struck the World Food Program’s headquarters in the heart of the capital.

The rise in attacks is believed to be partly a retaliation for an ongoing Pakistani ground offensive launched last month against the Taliban in South Waziristan, part of the tribal area.

“We have revved up security all over the world, but the risks are increasing because right now the United Nations is increasingly a target,” Montas said.

About 80 percent of the U.N. staff in Afghanistan are Afghans and will continue to work as usual, U.N. officials said.

The relocation order was the latest blow to the troubled U.N. mission, which had been overseeing the fraud-marred Afghan presidential election, which ended this week when the lone remaining challenger to Karzai dropped out and a runoff planned for Saturday was called off. The challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, said he could not be assured that the vote would be fair.

The top-ranking American in the U.N. mission here, Peter Galbraith, was fired in September after claiming Eide was not bullish enough in preventing fraud in the first-round presidential vote the month before.

Nevertheless, Eide lectured Karzai on Thursday on corruption and fraud.

“We can’t afford any longer a situation where warlords and power brokers play their own games,” Eide said. “We have to have a political landscape here that draws the country in the same direction, which is in the direction of significant reform.”

Defending Karzai, presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada called the Afghan leader a “unifying figure” who has brought together Afghans from all walks of life. He said the government and the international community must cooperate “to fight corruption in all its forms whether it’s in the Afghan bureaucracy or in the award of international contracts.”

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share