Daily Archives: November 10, 2008

Arrest of Thai academic for insulting royalty raises free speech fears

bhumibol_royals_2006

His comments were broadly critical of government spending on the lavish 2006 celebrations for King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Golden Jubilee.

Reuters | Nov 7, 2008

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK (Reuters) – The arrest of a renowned academic on charges of insulting Thailand’s king in a lecture a year ago is a blow to freedom of speech and makes debate of the country’s political problems more difficult, analysts said on Friday.

Sulak Sivaraksa, 75, was taken from his Bangkok home late on Thursday and driven 450 km (280 miles) to a police station in northeast Khon Kaen province to be charged with lese majeste for a university speech he gave there in December, his lawyer said.

His comments were broadly critical of government spending on the lavish 2006 celebrations for King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Golden Jubilee. After an hour of questioning, he was freed on bail and allowed to return to Bangkok, his lawyer told Reuters.

The Welsh-educated scholar of Buddhism is no stranger to the lese majeste law, which could land him in jail for 15 years, although on the two previous occasions he has been charged, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was acquitted.

However, it is the timing of his arrest, amid a struggle between the royalist, military “old guard”, represented loosely by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) street campaign, and forces loyal to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, that has caused most concern.

Thailand’s revered royals are officially above politics, even though the 80-year-old king, by his own admission in a 1989 interview with the New York Times, “must be in the middle and working in every field”.

But claims to royal neutrality have been questioned since Queen Sirikit attended the funeral last month of a PAD protester killed in clashes with police, giving explicit royal backing to the campaign to oust the elected government.

“The more clear it becomes that the monarchy is caught up in politics, the more they are attempting to clamp down on local and international discussion of this role,” said Thailand researcher Andrew Walker of Australian National University in Canberra.

“It seems that the authorities are trying to keep a lid on discussion of this political role,” he said.

The PAD, a group of royalist businessmen, academics and activists, accuses Thaksin and his allies in the current administration of wanting to turn the kingdom into a republic — a charge they deny.

Under pressure from the protest movement, army chief Anupong Paochina has urged the police and government to leave no stone unturned in rooting out critics of the royal family, triggering little short of a lese majeste witch-hunt.

Police have set up a task force to monitor web sites that might defame royalty, and the Telecommunications Ministry has told Internet service providers to block offending web pages or face criminal action.

David Streckfuss, a lecturer from the University of Wisconsin at Madison who has studied the law, said he expected the number of lese majeste cases to rise as both the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps try to appear more royalist than their rivals.

The long-term impact on the palace is only likely to be negative, Streckfuss said, as it would make the monarchy “more of a focal point” and “put it under greater scrutiny by the people.”

“Maybe the genie is out of the bottle, and it is impossible to put the genie back,” he said.

Rival Christian monks clash in brawl at Holy Sepulchre of Jesus

MIDEAST-JERUSALEM-RELIGION-HOLY SEPULCHRE-CONFLICT

Israeli policemen break a fight between Armenian and Greek Orthodox clergy men at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s old city on November 9, 2008, after violence broke out between them during the Armenian feast of the Holy Cross. Greek and Armenian Orthodox faithful kicked, punched and hit each other with candles today in the Holy Sepulchre, the church built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was buried and resurrected. Custody of the church itself is shared by the Greeks, Armenians and Roman Catholics, all of whom jealously guard their responsibilities under a fragile network of agreements hammered out over the centuries.

AP | Nov 9, 2008

Monks brawl at Christian holy site in Jerusalem

By MATTI FRIEDMAN

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police rushed into one of Christianity’s holiest churches Sunday and arrested two clergyman after an argument between monks erupted into a brawl next to the site of Jesus’ tomb.

The clash between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks broke out in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

The brawling began during a procession of Armenian clergymen commemorating the 4th-century discovery of the cross believed to have been used to crucify Jesus.

The Greeks objected to the march without one of their monks present, fearing that otherwise, the procession would subvert their own claim to the Edicule — the ancient structure built on what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus — and give the Armenians a claim to the site.

The Armenians refused, and when they tried to march the Greek Orthodox monks blocked their way, sparking the brawl.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police were forced to intervene after fighting was reported. They arrested two monks, one from each side, he said.

A bearded Armenian monk in a red-and-pink robe and a black-clad Greek Orthodox monk with a bloody gash on his forehead were both taken away in handcuffs after scuffling with dozens of riot police.

MIDEAST-JERUSALEM-RELIGION-HOLY SEPULCHRE-CONFLICT

Greek orthodox monks with bruises and blood on their faces are seen at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s old city on November 9, 2008, after violence broke out between Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergy men during the Armenian feast of the Holy Cross. Greek and Armenian Orthodox faithful kicked, punched and hit each other with candles today in the Holy Sepulchre, the church built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was buried and resurrected. Custody of the church itself is shared by the Greeks, Armenians and Roman Catholics, all of whom jealously guard their responsibilities under a fragile network of agreements hammered out over the centuries.

Six Christian sects divide control of the ancient church. They regularly fight over turf and influence, and Israeli police are occasionally forced to intervene.

“We were keeping resistance so that the procession could not pass through … and establish a right that they don’t have,” said a young Greek Orthodox monk with a cut next to his left eye.

The monk, who gave his name as Serafim, said he sustained the wound when an Armenian punched him from behind and broke his glasses.

Father Pakrat of the Armenian Patriarchate said the Greek demand was “against the status quo arrangement and against the internal arrangement of the Holy Sepulcher.” He said the Greeks attacked first.

Archbishop Aristarchos, the chief secretary of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate, denied his monks initiated the violence.

After the brawl, the church was crowded with Israeli riot police holding assault rifles, standing beside Golgotha, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, and the long smooth stone marking the place where tradition holds his body was laid out.

The feud is only one of a bewildering array of rivalries among churchmen in the Holy Sepulcher.

The Israeli government has long wanted to build a fire exit in the church, which regularly fills with thousands of pilgrims and has only one main door, but the sects cannot agree where the exit will be built.

A ladder placed on a ledge over the entrance sometime in the 19th century has remained there ever since because of a dispute over who has the authority to take it down.

More recently, a spat between Ethiopian and Coptic Christians is delaying badly needed renovations to a rooftop monastery that engineers say could collapse.

US Heart Failure Hospitalization Rate Almost Tripled Over 3 Decades

Efflux Media | Nov 10, 2008

By Anna Boyd

A study presented Sunday at the American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans revealed that heart failure hospitalization rate has risen dramatically among seniors in the United States in the past 3 decades.

Heart failure is a chronic disease, which occurs when any part of the heart muscle weakens and the heart can’t supply the body’s cells with enough oxygen and nutrient-rich blood. The condition makes daily activities harder to deal with due to fatigue and shortness of breath. Nearly 5.3 million Americans live with heart failure and 660,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to estimates of the American Heart Association.

The study, led by Longjian Liu, M.D., Ph.D., M.Sc., associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics of the Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia, Pa., involved data on more than 2.2 million patients (age 65 or older) enrolled in the National Hospital Discharge Surveys between 1980 and 2006. It found the number of patients 65 and older who were hospitalized for heart failure increased 131 percent to 807,082 in 2006, from 348,866 in 1980.

For women, rates rose from 13.95 hospitalizations per 1,000 members of the population to 19.58 in 2006. For men, rates rose from 16.57 hospitalizations per 1,000 members of the population in 1980 to 22.87 in 2006. Moreover, patients ages 75-84 had twice the risk of being hospitalized for heart failure than those 65-74, while those age 85 or older had four times more risk of hospitalization for heart failure than those ages 65-74.

The increase needs to be stopped urgently, but this is not possible “unless innovative strategies are implemented. The prevention and treatment of heart failure has become an urgent public health need with national implications. The key is to prevent risk factors for the disease,” Liu said.

Risk factors include high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and lifestyle factors such as smoking, lack of physical exercise and a diet rich in fatty foods. Also, efforts should be made to prevent chronic kidney disease and pneumonia as they contribute to heart failure as well.

The situation appears to be out of control. Keeping in mind that the number of US adults age 65 and older is going to double to a projected 70 million and more than one in five will be 65 or older by 2030, the number of heart failures will see a major increase, which translates into higher costs for Medicare, the government’s health insurance program for the elderly.

“That’s our dilemma. With the present set of resources, this elderly population that we’re taking care of that we didn’t take care of before, plus the baby boomers, is a double demographic. We will not have the resources to care for them,” said Vincent Bufalino, clinical associate professor of medicine at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago.

According to the American Heart Association, heart failure is expected to cost $34.8 billion in the US this year. Making a quick account, it’s not hard to guess where that is going to lead in the years to come: economy failure.

Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda in Many Countries

A 2004 order permits attacks on terrorists outside war zones.

New York Times | Nov 9, 2008

By ERIC SCHMITT and MARK MAZZETTI

WASHINGTON — The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.

These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.

In 2006, for example, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected militants’ compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Officials watched the entire mission — captured by the video camera of a remotely piloted Predator aircraft — in real time in the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center at the agency’s headquarters in Virginia 7,000 miles away.

Some of the military missions have been conducted in close coordination with the C.I.A., according to senior American officials, who said that in others, like the Special Operations raid in Syria on Oct. 26 of this year, the military commandos acted in support of C.I.A.-directed operations.

But as many as a dozen additional operations have been canceled in the past four years, often to the dismay of military commanders, senior military officials said. They said senior administration officials had decided in these cases that the missions were too risky, were too diplomatically explosive or relied on insufficient evidence.

More than a half-dozen officials, including current and former military and intelligence officials as well as senior Bush administration policy makers, described details of the 2004 military order on the condition of anonymity because of its politically delicate nature. Spokesmen for the White House, the Defense Department and the military declined to comment.

Apart from the 2006 raid into Pakistan, the American officials refused to describe in detail what they said had been nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks, except to say they had been carried out in Syria, Pakistan and other countries. They made clear that there had been no raids into Iran using that authority, but they suggested that American forces had carried out reconnaissance missions in Iran using other classified directives.

According to a senior administration official, the new authority was spelled out in a classified document called “Al Qaeda Network Exord,” or execute order, that streamlined the approval process for the military to act outside officially declared war zones. Where in the past the Pentagon needed to get approval for missions on a case-by-case basis, which could take days when there were only hours to act, the new order specified a way for Pentagon planners to get the green light for a mission far more quickly, the official said.

It also allowed senior officials to think through how the United States would respond if a mission went badly. “If that helicopter goes down in Syria en route to a target,” a former senior military official said, “the American response would not have to be worked out on the fly.”

The 2004 order was a step in the evolution of how the American government sought to kill or capture Qaeda terrorists around the world. It was issued after the Bush administration had already granted America’s intelligence agencies sweeping power to secretly detain and interrogate terrorism suspects in overseas prisons and to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on telephone and electronic communications.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush issued a classified order authorizing the C.I.A. to kill or capture Qaeda militants around the globe. By 2003, American intelligence agencies and the military had developed a much deeper understanding of Al Qaeda’s extensive global network, and Mr. Rumsfeld pressed hard to unleash the military’s vast firepower against militants outside the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 2004 order identifies 15 to 20 countries, including Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and several other Persian Gulf states, where Qaeda militants were believed to be operating or to have sought sanctuary, a senior administration official said.

Full Story

France pushes for more EU engagement in Iraq

sarkozy_handsign_001

French President Nicolas Sarkozy would like to see more EU involvement in Iraq

EU Observer | Nov 7, 2008

France, currently chairing the six-month rotating European Union presidency, is pushing for the bloc to engage more and “without delay” in Iraq, a working paper seen by Financial Times Deutschland reads.

“Our common goal is to contribute to Iraq’s success. The EU is therefore ready to engage without delay in this country,” says the confidential paper on transatlantic relations discussed on Monday at an informal foreign ministers meeting in Marseille, the German daily reports.

According to diplomats close to the issue, the EU’s help is unlikely to be military, but rather in terms of training the Iraqi police and judiciary, with countries such as Germany and Italy already involved in similar programmes.

The eight-page-long “reflection paper” on transatlantic partnership is still subject to discussions and no decisions have been taken yet.

The timing of such a move serves the interests of the new US president, as he is set to shift the US focus in its War on Terror from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Aides to Mr Obama told the Wall Street Journal that the new administration is likely to deploy tens of thousands of additional US troops to Afghanistan, where security conditions have worsened in recent months. They said Mr Obama would also devote more attention to neighbouring Pakistan, whose support is seen as crucial against neo-Taliban insurgents and al Qaeda.

Alongside the 151,000 US troops, the UK and several eastern European countries still have soldiers in Iraq, mostly set to reduce their contingents or withdraw completely by next year.

Afghanistan meanwhile is a NATO operation. Its 50,700-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), contains 34,000 American troops. The German contingent makes up 3,220 soldiers, but has faced criticism from the Canadian and UK side for its non-involvement in dangerous zones as a result of the Bundestag’s mandate, which does not permit German soldiers to take part in combat operations.