Archive for March, 2007

Dealing From Weakness

March 31, 2007

The Islamic Mullahs arrayed against the infidels know they will win because their enemy is so weak…..So jihad makes perfect sense to them…..

By John E. Carey
The Washington Times
March 31, 2007

From the news headlines on Wednesday, March 28, 2007 we have these stories:

–The U.S. Senate voted to agree with the U.S. House of Representatives to establish a date certain for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Senator Chuck Hagel said, the war “is not worth one more drop of American blood.” You think this is taken as a sign of strength striking fear into those waging the terror war against us; those that engineered the attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon? Or do the terrorists believe they are winning and we are weak?

— On Tuesday, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island said, “This is a strong message which amplifies the action of the House and reflects the overwhelming sentiment of the American people. It’s a message that must be heeded by the president and by the government of Iraq.” Well, sir, it may be a “strong message” from the Congress to the President. But how do you think the terrorist view yesterday’s Senate action?

The terrorist already view the U.S. Congress as a very weak elected body. The vote yesterday is hardly a message of national “strength” to the Taliban or other terror groups.

On 9/11, many Americans woke up to the fact that a deadly enemy is arrayed against us and that effective counterterrorism is critical to our national security. America responded like a lion; now it seems ready to throw in the towel and become the lamb.

–British sailors and marines, in international waters or in Iraqi territorial waters, conducting boarding and search operations authorized by the United Nations, allowed themselves to be taken prisoner by Iran, without firing a shot. Strength or weakness?

–Iran now threatens to try these captive British sailors and marines as “spies.” As the sailors and marines were uniformed members of Britain’s armed forces, trying them as spies would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions. A nation would threaten this provocation because it was counting on the strength or weakness of its adversary?

–In the capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul, a Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated a blast on Wednesday near the car of a senior Afghan intelligence official, killing four civilians. A bold act of terrorism because the Taliban believes its position in Afghanistan to be strong or weak?

–Radical Islamic separatists have caused so much trouble in southern Thailand that the Thai government, for the first time, is choosing to train women soldiers in counter insurgency. Who’s stronger? The insurgents or the Thai government?

–In Islamabad, Pakistan, female Islamic students on an anti-vice drive abducted an alleged brothel owner and have locked her up at their radical fundamentalist Muslim seminary in the Pakistani capital.

–In Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, gunmen on a motorbike hurled grenades and opened fire on an army vehicle in a Pakistani tribal area Tuesday, killing five members of the military’s spy agency, officials said. The attack happened in the rugged Bajaur region bordering Afghanistan, where Pakistan authorities and tribesmen had signed on Monday a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants.

The Taliban doesn’t honor the agreement for two days because it feels strong or weak?One has only to read some of the doctrine and ideology of the radical terrorists to see that there is deep distain for western society and culture.

Americans and Europeans are especially weak, degenerate and filled with cowardice. Terrorism is justified to return the world to a holy caliphate.What are we doing in our nations now to turn this terrorist thought process around? We are advocating a pull-out. Maybe an across the board surrender.And what do we think will happen next?

Because a terrorist inspired war is already active or simmering in Lebanon, the Gaza, some former Soviet Republics, the Horn of Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines and elsewhere. Now we have further provocations from Iran.Senator John McCain said yesterday, “Every second year cadet at the U.S. Military Academy will tell you you don’t win by telling the enemy when you plan to leave.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said that yesterday’s vote effectively sets a “surrender date” in the war.”Setting a date for withdrawal is like sending a memo to our enemies that tells them to rest, refit and re-plan until the day we leave,” he said.

“It’s a memo to our friends, too, telling them we plan to walk away and leave them on their own, regardless of what we leave behind.”

Yet those that have voted to set a date certain for war’s end have refused to take responsibility for their actions by carrying out their Constitutionally stated responsibility in war: to fund the war they support and to reduce or end funding when they no longer support war.Does this look like strength or weakness to you? To the terrorists?

And what would any intelligent observer say of what Americans were doing on Wednesday morning? Reviewing last night’s “American Idol” competition show, which must be viewed to the believers of radical Islam as sexual, a decadent waste of time and filled with gay boys singing pop songs for teenage girls.

These guys on “Idol” are the very image of the weak American to the Islamist-terrorist.

And what are some of the topics of American discussion? Gay marriage, removal of religious icon from courthouses and other public places, and other “hot button issues.”

On the “Today” show: a report on the Pope in Rome (nobody much is listening to him) and even on the Fox News Channel a report on infidelity world-wide. This in the “adultery” form, but the terrorists just call us all “infidels.” That covers all sins.

Also in America: most believe in a woman’s right to “choose” (abortion). Most men who follow Islam think this is crazy.

So you can think or say that these radicals are uninformed, naive, gay and woman hating thugs. But what if they “win.” By win I mean what if they keep this blood letting from terrorism and fear going for a decade? Is that good for us? Can we maintain our prosperity while allowing them to come to us?

And in Europe? Muslim immigrants in almost every country feel they have been the victim of at least a little discrimination (that is why we saw rioting in France a year and a half ago and an ugly melee between police and immigrants at a Paris train station just yesterday) and the Christian Churches are all but empty on Sundays.

Germany is even enacting laws to boost its non-Muslim birth rate.The terrorist generally believe their ideology has been proven correct and that the West is weak and worthless to them. The terrorist can see hope that they will “win.”

Mr. Carey is former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc. and a frequent contributor to the Washington Times.

On Iran holding the British sailors and marines:

“Weakness is provocative.”

Ambassador John Bolton
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
March 31, 2007

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First sandstorm of year hits northern China

March 31, 2007

BEIJING (AFP) – Northern China was blanketed in dust on Saturday as the first sandstorm of the year struck the region, including the capital Beijing, state media reported, citing the national weather service.

Visibility was low in the capital due to the storm, but meteorologists said the sand was likely to blow out of town by nightfall due to strong winds, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The mild storm was caused by a cyclone which developed over Mongolia and then moved eastward toward parts of Inner Mongolia and northern Hebei province, said Sun Jun of the China Meteorological Administration, quoted by Xinhua.

Authorities urged residents to stay indoors and cover up if venturing outside to protect themselves from the floating dust.

Other sandstorms are in the forecast for Gansu, Liaoning, Ningxia and Shaanxi provinces, along with Inner Mongolia and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, meteorologists said.

Northern China suffered from more than a dozen dust storms last year which were attributed to desertification in China’s northwestern regions, including Qinghai province. A similar number has been predicted for this year.

China has around 1.74 million square kilometers (696,000 square miles) of desertified land, or 18 percent of its total land area.

Despite the sandstorms, the Chinese government has insisted that it will intensify its efforts to clean the air and prepare for the 2008 Olympics by planting broad belts of trees around the capital.

Vietnam: Dissident Priest Sent to Prison

March 31, 2007

The Thua Thien-Hue Provincial People’s Court sentenced the Rev. Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly, a Roman Catholic priest and one of the best-known members of Vietnam’s small dissident community, to eight years in prison for antigovernment activities. The half-day trial came as the Communist government has stepped up a crackdown on dissidents. As the proceedings opened, Father Ly, 60, who previously spent more than a decade in prison for criticizing the government, shouted, “Down with the Communist Party of Vietnam!” A police officer quickly covered his mouth, then moved him to a nearby room where the proceedings were broadcast on a loudspeaker.

http://www.viettan.org/article.php3?id_article=3087

Black WWII pilots honored by Congress

March 30, 2007

By Ben Evans

WASHINGTON – President Bush and Congress awarded the Tuskegee Airmen one of the nation’s highest honors Thursday for fighting to defend their country even as they faced bigotry at home.

“For all the unreturned salutes and unforgivable indignities … I salute you for your service to the United States of America,” Bush told the legendary black aviators, standing in salute as some 300 of them stood to return the gesture.

At a ceremony in the sun-filled Capitol Rotunda, Bush then joined congressional leaders and other dignitaries in awarding the veterans — most of them in their 80s — the Congressional Gold Medal.

“We are so overjoyed,” said Ret. Capt. Roscoe Brown Jr., after he and five other airmen accepted the medal on behalf of the group. “We are so proud today, and I think America is proud today.”

Nearly 1,000 fighter pilots trained as a segregated Army Air Corps unit at the Tuskegee, Ala., air base. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had overruled his top generals and ordered that such a program be created.

Even after the black airmen were admitted, many commanders continued to believe they didn’t have the intelligence, courage and patriotism to do what was being asked of them.

Not allowed to practice or fight with their white counterparts, the Tuskegee Airmen distinguished themselves by painting the tails of their airplanes red, which led to them becoming known as the “Red Tails.”

Hundreds saw combat throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, escorting bomber aircraft on missions and protecting them from the enemy. Dozens died in the fighting; others were held prisoners of war.

“You caused America to look in the mirror of its soul and you showed America that there was nothing a black person couldn’t do,” said Colin Powell, a retired Army general and Bush’s former secretary of state. Powell, who is black, thanked the airmen for paving the way for his career.

Charles “A-Train” Dryden, 86, a retired lieutenant colonel from Atlanta, expressed mixed feelings that the honor came so long after the war and that many of his colleagues had died without knowing that Americans appreciated their service.

Just a couple of days ago, he said, a fellow pilot was hospitalized in Atlanta and couldn’t attend the ceremony.

“So many of the guys have passed on,” he said.

Dryden recalled his pride in returning from Africa and Europe after serving in Tuskegee’s original 99th Fighter Squadron, only to be stationed in Walterboro, S.C., where he saw German prisoners of war get privileges in theaters and cafeterias that were denied to black soldiers.

“That was the low point of my career,” said Dryden, who uses a wheelchair.

Thursday’s medal has helped convince him that the country recognizes the airmen’s contributions.

“It’s really something,” he said at a breakfast before the ceremony.

Congress has awarded gold medals to more than 300 individuals and groups since giving the first one to George Washington in 1776. Originally, they went only to military leaders, but Congress broadened the scope to include authors, entertainers, notables in science and medicine, athletes, humanitarians, public servants and foreign officials.

The medal for the airmen, made possible through legislation by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and signed last year by Bush, will go to the  Smithsonian Institution for display. Individual airmen will receive bronze replicas.

“It means a lot to a lot of people,” said Ret. Maj. George M. Boyd, 80, of Wichita, Kan., a Tuskegee pilot and adjutant who served 28 years in the military, including in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. “There was so much resting on our success or failure.”

State Dept. warns: Be careful overseas

March 30, 2007

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON – As if you needed reminding: It’s dangerous out there. And if your parents’ warnings that the world is full of malevolent people and mishap-prone places didn’t stick, the State Department is ready to fill the void.

From the spectacular to the mundane, while terrorism grabs headlines, most problems faced by Americans abroad have nothing to do with al-Qaida but rather cutthroat con artists, corrupt officers and dismal drivers.

The colorful quirks of foreign lands, be they unscrupulous cabaret girls in Cyprus or the arbitrary enforcement of unwritten laws in Laos, are laid bare each year in safety and security reports compiled by State Department analysts for every country on Earth.

The department puts them online, mainly for employees of U.S. firms doing business abroad but are available to anyone. According to this year’s updates:

-“Driving in Qatar is (like) participating in an extreme sport.”

-“Police involvement in criminal activity is both legendary and true in Mexico.”

-“Be aware of drink prices” in Croatia’s gentlemen’s clubs, where tourists can “unknowingly run up exorbitant bar bills, sometimes in the thousands of dollars.”

These little publicized assessments venture beyond the bland, carefully worded travel advice the State Department is normally known for, and are often downright undiplomatic.

The Mexican Embassy in Washington, for example, objected to the characterization of police corruption, calling it an “unfortunate cliche.” “Things are changing in Mexico for the good,” spokesman Rafael Laveaga maintained.

But unflattering descriptions of countries are not uncommon.

“The tragedy of Haiti is that Haitians have become great leaders in every profession and in every country, with the exception of Haiti,” says the report for the impoverished Caribbean nation, warning that trained personnel are lacking to respond to any emergency.

In deadpan fashion, another report praises Maltese authorities at the expense of the Mediterranean island’s closest neighbor. “Despite Malta’s geographic proximity to Italy, organized crime is almost nonexistent,” it says.

Although deadly, the Mafia, along with natural disasters and terrorists, should be the least of your worries outside the United States.

Automobile accidents cause the biggest portion of non-natural, non-combat deaths of Americans abroad, accounting for nearly a third of the more than 2,000 cases reported to the State Department between 2004 and 2006.

Thus, the department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council places heavy emphasis on local motoring mores in the reports.

In the oil-rich Gulf nation of Qatar, the population of fewer than 900,000 racks up an astounding 70,000 traffic accidents per year, its report says.

“Drivers often maneuver erratically and at high speed, demonstrate little road discipline or courtesy, fail to turn on their headlights during hours of darkness or inclement weather, and do not use seat belts,” it says.

Sound bad? Well, it may be worse in Tunisia.

“Among their many traits, local drivers rarely use lanes designated for turns, often cut across multiple lanes of traffic, rarely look before changing lanes, do not yield the right of way when merging, commonly run through red lights without stopping, and generally drive oblivious to other vehicles on the road,” the Tunisia report says.

“Driving in Egypt,” meanwhile, “can be a harrowing experience and not for the faint-hearted,” the analysts opine.

In the historic center of the French city of Strasbourg, cars face nonmoving threats as “vehicle arson has come into vogue here with an unofficial New Year’s Eve competition” among vandals wrecking numerous autos each December 31, the report for France says.

After accidents, assaults, suicides and drownings are the next leading causes of U.S. civilian deaths overseas, according to the State Department. Terrorist attacks claim far fewer American lives, it says.

Yet there are perhaps less well-known dangers lurking beyond U.S. borders.

Even the staid environs and clockwork efficiency of Switzerland can be risky, the analysts say.

“Being surrounded by the majestic, snow-covered Alps, combined with a pervasive sense of orderliness, it is understandable that travelers might forget that the city of Geneva and the adjacent cantons are not immune from crime,” the report on Swiss security says.

Elsewhere, the lacing of drinks with date-rape drugs is common, but even without such adulteration, visits to watering holes far from home can be perilous, the reports say.

The U.S. embassy in Cyprus has ordered staff to avoid “cabaret girls,” or “artistes,” who work with unscrupulous bar owners to overcharge patrons in search of female companionship, the analysts say.

They add that the usually diligent Cypriot police are generally unsympathetic to victims.

But at least Cyprus has capable and respected law enforcement officers.

In nearby Greece, “police have limited ability to deter criminals” and “receive little support from the Greek government and even less respect from the Greek population,” the analysts say.

In Laos, authorities may simply make up the rules, the analysts say, noting that “while the country does have published laws forming the basis of its law enforcement mechanism, the population is also beholden to unpublished laws and proclamations.”

Closer to home, Mexico is not a place to rely on the local constabulary, they say.

“Reporting crime is an archaic, exhausting process in Mexico, and is widely perceived to be a waste of time.”

China stands firm against Olympic critics

March 30, 2007

by Charles Whelan

BEIJING (AFP) – China is standing firm against critics hoping to use the Beijing Olympics to pressure the communist government on human rights, with tensions expected to rise as the Games draw closer.

China has been forced in recent days to repeatedly defend itself against moves to link its policies on individual freedoms and rights, as well as its rule of Tibet, to the hosting of the world’s biggest sporting event from August 8-24 next year.

Beijing’s latest defensive efforts came in response to a boycott call from a French politician and an appeal from a Hollywood star who said the Beijing Olympics risked being remembered as the “genocide games”.

French presidential candidate Francois Bayrou said last week that if Beijing continued to block UN Security Council resolutions condemning Sudan, then “France will do itself honour by refusing to take part in the Olympic Games“.

US film star and UN Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow this week urged firms sponsoring the Olympics to press China over its ties to the Sudan government, which is accused of involvement in genocide in its Darfur region.

Farrow’s appeal, in a commentary published in the Wall Street Journal, focused on Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg, a special artistic consultant to the Beijing organising committee, as well as corporate Olympic sponsors.

She accused Spielberg, famous for his Nazi holocaust blockbuster “Schindler’s List,” of helping to “sanitize Beijing’s image” for the Games.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Thursday that calls for a boycott and efforts to link the Games to China’s support for the Sudan government were totally wrong.

“People who try to connect the Olympics with Darfur in an attempt to win ballots or increase their prestige or reputation are totally wrong,” Qin said.

The week before, Liu Jianchao, China’s most senior foreign ministry spokesman suggested that Bayrou and others were ignorant about China’s policies on Sudan.

“The people who put forward such a proposal are not very clear on China’s position on the Darfur issue,” Liu said when asked about Bayrou’s boycott call.

China has previously rebuffed other attempts to try to use the Olympics to force it to improve its domestic human rights record.

In one case China launched a counter-attack against Amnesty International after the human rights group issued a report critical of the country’s record on freedoms ahead of the Games.

In another case Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based press freedom advocate, lifted a boycott call of the Games after China pledged to remove some reporting restrictions on the foreign media during the Olympics, while maintaining curbs on the domestic press.

Brian Bridges, a specialist in sports politics at Hong Kong’s Lingnan university, said that more campaigns will inevitably be launched in the lead-up to the Games, but that they will have little impact on China or sponsors.

“China has its own national interests which are predominantly about energy and national resource supplies, and I think those protests related to the Olympics are not likely to seriously disturb Chinese policy,” he said.

In her commentary Farrow targetted Olympic sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Macdonald’s by name, as well as Spielberg.

“This commentary will make the sponsors and Spielberg sit up and listen,” said Bridges.

“But they already know that China has a rather dismal domestic human rights record and have already factored that in to the decision, thinking the commercial positives or other benefits outweigh the negatives.”

Vietnam dissident priest sentenced for eight more years

March 30, 2007

by Frank Zeller

HUE, Vietnam (AFP) – A dissident Roman Catholic priest in Vietnam was jailed for eight years Friday, yelling defiance to the last as the court convicted him of spreading propaganda against the communist state.
Pro-democracy activist Father Nguyen Van Ly, 60, was found guilty together with four other political activists in a swift, half-day trial in the central city of Hue.

The priest, who was jailed once before for 14 years, was dragged into the courtroom in handcuffs and shouted angrily as a police officer hastily covered his mouth.

He was later ejected and sentenced while being held securely in a separate room.

It was the first of several trials expected over the coming months against prominent civil liberties advocates, also including Hanoi human rights lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan.

Prosecutors said Father Ly was a founding member of the banned “Bloc 8406” pro-democracy coalition, named after its April 8 launch last year, and also a driving force behind the outlawed Vietnam Progression Party (VPP).

The four other defendants, all members of the VPP which Ly helped found in September, were given lesser punishments ranging from an 18-month suspended sentence to six years behind bars.

In the ruling, Judge Bui Quoc Hiep said their “criminal behaviour is very serious, damaging the sustainability of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, undermining national security and splitting relations between church followers and the people.”

Authorities took the unusual step of allowing foreign media and diplomats into the courtroom for the first and last few minutes of the trial and letting them follow proceedings via closed-circuit television.

But the audio to the observers’ room was briefly cut after a gaunt-looking Ly loudly criticised the “communist court” and labelled the trial the “law of the jungle,” among other angry but unclear shouts.

Foreign diplomatic observers swiftly condemned the trial.

“The United States remains concerned about recent actions by the Vietnamese government against dissidents,” said US Deputy Consul Kenneth Chern, one of several Western diplomats there.

“We call upon the Vietnamese government to allow individuals to peacefully exercise their legitimate right to freedom of speech without fear of recrimination.”

The three other defendants all admitted to being members of the VPP, one of several illegal grassroots organisations to emerge last year in Vietnam.

Police raided Ly’s residence on February 18 and seized computers, mobile phone cards and other equipment that was exhibited as evidence in court.

Ly’s co-defendants — party founding committee chairman Nguyen Phong, 32, technical advisor Nguyen Binh Thanh, 51, office secretary Hoang Thi Anh Dao, 21, and teacher Le Thi Le Hang, 44 — were convicted of the same charges.

Phong received six years in jail, Thanh five, and Dao and Hang suspended sentences of two years and 18 months respectively.

The judge said earlier that the five could defend themselves, but he and prosecutors repeatedly cut them off after a few sentences or when they sought to present their political views.

Phong said he had written a “call for the establishment of non-communist political parties” in Vietnam, citing documents published online.

He told the court: “For the Vietnamese nation, I will continue to fight for the values of freedom and democracy.”

Thanh, asked if he had a final message, said, “What I did exactly followed international treaties and law.”

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders had urged the court not to jail the dissidents, calling it “a very important test for the credibility of the Vietnamese judicial system.”

“Vietnam’s constitution protects free expression, but the Communist Party does not tolerate criticism. We call on the judges to adhere to the law and acquit the defendants.”

http://www.viettan.org/article.php3?id_article=3087

Nepal’s Maoists set to enter government

March 30, 2007

by Sam Taylor

KATHMANDU (AFP) – Nepal was expected to unveil a historic new government later Friday that includes Maoist ministers, amid last-minute wrangling over which cabinet posts should go to the former rebels.

The formation of the new government would be a major step forward for the impoverished Himalayan nation’s peace drive, which is aimed at bringing the Maoists into mainstream politics after their deadly, decade-long insurgency.

“There’s a high possibility of the formation of the interim government by this evening,” Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat told AFP.

The announcement of a new cabinet has been expected for several weeks, but officials said the seven parties in central government and the Maoists had yet to reach full agreement on who should hold key portfolios.

Media reports also said talks were still ongoing on whether to have one or three deputy prime ministers. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has proposed three to keep all sides happy, the Maoists said.

“The eight parties are yet to sort out differences on the ministerial portfolios but today’s (Friday’s) meeting is expected to lead to a consensus on these issues,” Mahat said.

The Maoists joining the government “is a step forward in mainstreaming the Maoists, and bringing them into the constitutional process,” he also said.

The Maoists and seven-party government signed a peace deal in November 2006. The former rebels, who pledged to end violence and register their army with the United Nations, have already been given seats in a new parliament.

Leaders from the seven parties in government and the leftists arrived at the prime minister’s residence Friday morning to hammer out the final details of the new cabinet’s structure.

“The eight-party (seven parties and Maoists) meeting this morning is expected to finalize the agreement on the structure of the interim government, which is likely to be formed today (Friday),” Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara told AFP.

Koirala “seemed optimistic about resolving all differences over the distribution of the ministerial portfolios by Friday morning,” said Mahara.

As part of the landmark peace deal, the rebels have registered just over 31,000 Maoist fighters and 3,430 weapons with a UN monitoring team, a key part of the peace accord.

But despite renouncing violence with the signing of the peace deal, the rebels have frequently been accused of continuing to extort cash and using violence.

Earlier this month, Nepal’s business community shut down their enterprises for three days in protest at the Maoist abduction and beating of a hotelier.

At least 13,000 people were killed in the Maoist’s decade-long Maoist “people’s war” that also severely damaged the nation’s already fragile economy.

The new cabinet will have the task of overseeing crucial elections slated for June, when the country will vote to elect a constituent assembly.

This assembly will rewrite the country’s constitution and decide on the fate of embattled King Gyanendra and the monarchy as a whole.

The Maoists are lobbying hard for the country to be declared a republic.

Gyanendra was forced to relinquish direct rule after months of mass protests organised by an alliance of the political parties and the Maoists.

Mogadishu: Samali Violence Continues

March 30, 2007

By Sahal Abdulle

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Shells rained down on Mogadishu and a helicopter was hit in a second day of battles on Friday as Ethiopian and Somali troops sought to flush out militant Islamist insurgents in the worst fighting for months.
After around 30 people died on Thursday, terrified residents said there was no let-up in the fighting across the bullet-scarred city on the Indian Ocean coast.

“A mortar has just fallen into the house next to me. We can hear crying and can see smoke,” Faisal Jamah, a resident of south Mogadishu, said by telephone. “We barely slept last night. The sky was lit up by shelling all night.”

Ethiopian troops supporting the interim Somali government again used tanks and helicopters against the rebels.

A Reuters witness said he saw from the roof of his house two Ethiopian helicopters firing at an insurgent stronghold, before one was hit by a missile. “The sound of the engine changed, then a trail of white smoke came out as it lost altitude fast. I lost sight of it in the direction of the airport,” he said.

At least 100 people were wounded on Thursday, and the toll of deaths and injuries looked certain to rise. Smoke billowed from houses, and explosions sounded around the city.

“There are a lot of wounded, but there is no way to take them to the hospitals due to the fighting on the roads,” Jamah added as gunfire echoed around the streets on Friday morning.

With some of the clan militia who used to run the lawless city fighting alongside the Islamists, the violence has left a ceasefire between the Ethiopian military and the city’s main clan, the Hawiye, in tatters.

Analysts said Ethiopia appeared bent on an all-out push against the insurgents, who have been emboldened by recent strikes including the downing of an airplane serving an African peacekeeping mission, and the killing of various soldiers.

Local broadcaster Shabelle said machine-gun fire was echoing since dawn around the area of Mogadishu’s football stadium, where Ethiopian soldiers and insurgents had dug trenches just a few meters from each other.

“The sound of heavy artilleries could be heard in all parts of the capital city while panic-stricken civilians are still fleeing from the city,” Shabelle said on its Web site.

The private media network added that at least 30 people had died in Thursday’s fighting. Reuters verified at least 28.

RECONCILIATION?

Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said, however, that a reconciliation conference scheduled to start in mid-April was still on track. Moderate Islamists would be invited, he said.

“Those who renounce violence and recognize the Transitional Federal Charter can participate,” he told the BBC from Riyadh, referring to the charter under which his government was established in neighboring Kenya in 2004.

The mandate for the government, which was set up in the 14th attempt to restore central rule to Somalia since 1991, runs out in 2009, after which in theory there should be elections.

Gedi denied security was deteriorating even further in Mogadishu. “This is what the mass media is spreading, but the reality is different,” he said.

But reporters are witnessing ever more violent scenes.

The African Union (AU) has sent 1,200 Ugandan troops to help pacify Somalia. But they have also been attacked in a nation that defied a U.N.-U.S. peacekeeping mission in the early 1990s.

Other African nations are balking at sending further troops needed to boost the AU force to its planned strength of 8,000.

Tens of thousands of Mogadishu residents have fled the city, many piling their possessions onto donkey-carts.

N. Korea plant to be shut down dilapidated

March 30, 2007

By Richard Halloran
The Washington Times
March 30, 2007

The nuclear power plant that North Korea has agreed to shut down in return for oil and other concessions is in such poor operating condition that Pyongyang may not be unhappy to give it up, according to informants who have been in North Korea or who have access to intelligence reports.
    
The informants said the plant’s thick walls are crumbling, its machinery is rusting, and maintenance of the electric power plant, roads, and warehouses that sustain the nuclear facility has been neglected. North Korea’s impoverished economy, they surmised, just cannot support the operation.
    
Moreover, the North Korean plant’s technology is 50 years old and obsolete. It was acquired, possibly by Russian spies, by the Soviet Union from the British in the 1950s, then passed to North Korea in the 1980s.
    
No U.S. or U.N. official has visited the plant at Yongbyon since International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were barred from the site 60 miles north of Pyongyang in 2002, although the facility presumably is monitored by spy satellites.
    
The last Americans known to have visited the site were members of a civilian team that was shown evidence in January 2004 that used nuclear fuel had been removed from a cooling pond — presumably for reprocessing into weapons-grade plutonium.
    
Most experts think North Korea has extracted enough fuel from the site to produce up to a dozen nuclear devices, and that the material was used to conduct a partially successful nuclear weapons test in October last year.
    
“The reactor, storage pond and reprocessing facility were all functional” at that time, Jack Pritchard, a special envoy for negotiations with North Korea until September 2003 and a member of that team, said this week.
    
“They reminded [Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and another member of the team] of 1950s Soviet stuff, but still operational.”
    
Mr. Pritchard said a separate 50-megawatt reactor under construction nearby “looked dilapidated, and I have my non-technical doubts about the North Koreans’ ability to restart construction.”
    
North Korea agreed in a landmark Feb. 13 agreement with the United States and four other countries to shut down and eventually dismantle the Yongbyon reactor in exchange for deliveries of heavy fuel oil or the equivalent, and other inducements.
    
The deal, which reproduced some elements of an earlier agreement negotiated by the Clinton administration, angered some past and present members of the Bush administration including former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton, who had served earlier as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
    
Some of those U.S. officials, who declined to be identified while criticizing the administration, have cited assessments of the Yongbyon plant’s condition to argue that North Korea has given up very little in exchange for substantial benefits, which also include talks on diplomatic normalization with the United States.

A State Department official familiar with the negotiations with North Korea rejected that argument, saying in Washington that the Yongbyon plant remained dangerous regardless of its condition.
    
“The North Koreans are not rolling in money. It is true that the plant was built some time ago with not very modern technology. It is not pretty, but they do seem to be able to use it to do some very dangerous things,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.
    
The official said the U.S. intelligence community thinks North Korea has reprocessed fuel from the facility into weapons-grade plutonium, which was used in the October weapons test.
    
“So the idea that this facility doesn’t seem to pose a real threat has been implicitly disputed” by those intelligence assessments, the official said.
    
Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report from Seoul.