Tuesday, June 23, 2009

President Medvedev arrives in Egypt for tour to revive relations

Once it would have been Cold War rhetoric and “fraternal greetings” to Marxist guerrillas. Yesterday Russia returned to Africa in a scramble to restore its Soviet-era influence — only this time with profits and natural resources in mind.

President Medvedev arrived in Egypt at the start of a four-nation tour to a continent where communist ideology and Cold War alliances shaped its post-colonial landscape.

Now Russia is keen to revive relations in a region where it still has several old friends, and some, albeit faded, influence.

Vladimir Putin visited South Africa and Morocco as President in 2006 but Russia currently lags far behind China in winning access to the region’s resources. In the past few years China has invested huge sums to buy influence in Africa and gain access to the raw materials it needs.

During the 1970s the Soviets spent billions of dollars backing Marxist guerrilla movements in places such as Ethiopia, Mozambique and Angola, where military aid included airlifting 20,000 Cuban troops to support rebel forces.

By the middle of that decade almost 35,000 Soviet political and economic “advisers” worked in Africa, many of them KGB officers.

Communist ideals helped to inform policy throughout the region, from Tanzania under Julius Nyerere in the east to the socialist ideals of the outlawed African National Congress in South Africa.

In a first step signalling Russia’s intent to compete in the scramble for African resources, President Medvedev signed a ten-year “strategic co-operation” pact with his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo yesterday.

Like much of its once-extensive influence in Africa, Moscow’s traditionally close relationship with Egypt went into decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The two leaders also pledged to co-ordinate “foreign policy positions” and to press for “a new multipolar world order”, a favourite Kremlin phrase for challenging the US dominance.

Mr Mubarak threw his support behind a Russian proposal for a Middle East peace conference in Moscow, which Mr Medvedev said would be held by the end of the year. Russia is in the Middle East quartet — with the European Union, the US and the United Nations — that is negotiating with Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel and the US have been lukewarm on the idea.

Mr Medvedev was due to speak at an Arab League session and to meet its Secretary-General, Amr Moussa, during his two-day stay.

Trade is also at the top of the agenda. Egypt is now one of the most popular tourist destinations for Russians, with two million visitors last year, and even though annual trade between them is worth a relatively modest $4.1 billion (£2.5 billion) it is now Russia’s largest trade partner in Africa.

Nuclear power forms a key element of Mr Medvedev’s four-day visit to Egypt, Nigeria, Namibia and Angola. He is accompanied by his Energy Minister and the head of Rosatom, the state nuclear power corporation, as well as a host of other business leaders.

Rosatom is pushing hard to win a $1.8 billion tender to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant. It was also expected to sign an agreement to search for uranium deposits.

Today Mr Medvedev will go on to Nigeria, where Rosatom hopes to sign a nuclear co-operation agreement. The Russian energy group Gazprom already has contracts in Nigeria to develop gasfields and search for oil reserves.

Then he will finish the tour with visits to Namibia and Angola, two countries entwined historically with Russia through its sponsorship of one of the longest-running conflicts during the Cold War period: the South African Bush War.

It will be the first visit by a Russian leader to Namibia. Several Russian companies are already part of joint ventures to exploit Namibia’s uranium reserves. Moscow has also offered to sell its controversial technology for building floating ship-based nuclear reactors to help Namibia to overcome chronic electricity shortages.

Mr Medvedev completes his African tour later tomorrow in Angola, which currently holds the presidency of Opec. Angola has vast oil reserves while the Russian state diamond miner, Alrosa, is involved in two joint ventures in the country.

Army in final stage of Swat offensive

ISLAMABAD: The army said on Monday it had completed the exercise of pre-positioning forces and equipment in South Waziristan to launch a decisive action against Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsood and his network.

Military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas told a press briefing that the preparatory manoeuvring phase had already started to clear a key road in Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan.

The objective of the operation would be to dismantle ‘suicide attack schools’ being run by the Mehsud network, he said.

According to him, a large number of foreign terrorists were holed up there.

In reply to a question, Gen Abbas said there was no authentic information about the encirclement of Baitullah Mehsud. However, he added, the main leadership of militants was being continuously targeted and many of them were reported to have been killed and secretly buried at unknown places. ‘We, however, do not have evidence in hand.’

Maj-Gen Abbas said the Swat operation had entered a final phase. The last stronghold of terrorists in Biha valley had been secured and Shamozai area was being cleared, the ISPR chief said.

He said that search operations were continuing in the secured areas to ensure safe return of the displaced people. He said that all areas, except Kabal and Shamozai, were safe for government employees and hence they had been asked to return to their duty.

‘A security cover will be available for government employees and there is no cause of concern that could hinder their return.’

He said that 1,592 terrorists had been killed and over 60, including foreigners, captured since the operation began last month.

The spokesman said that success had been achieved on the basis of information provided by the arrested militants and intelligence reports.

Photographs of over 50 dead militants, secret tunnels and hideouts and arms and ammunition recovered during the operation were screened during the briefing.

Maj-Gen Abbas said the level of preparation by insurgents was astounding as tunnels, hideouts and the quantity of arms recovered spoke volumes for their preparation for a ‘full-scale war’.

He said that troops had neutralised a number of improvised explosive devices and destroyed several tunnels.

Meanwhile, the ISPR said 22 militants had been killed and five captured during an operation in Malakand division on Sunday and Monday. Fourteen militants were killed on Shamozai bridge alone.

Eight IEDs left on the bridge were defused.

Security forces have cleared Biha valley and Bartana, south of Chuprial. Three small tunnels were destroyed in Loi Namal.

A jirga handed over a militant to security forces in Bahrain. Four militants were caught in Wanai, Shalkosar, Bashkhela and Drushkhela.

Eight militants were killed and one was injured during clashes with a tribal lashkar in Lower Dir.

Relief goods’ sale in market

HASANABDAL: Relief goods including flour, ghee, rice, pulses and other edibles even electric fans are being sold in the open market in Hasanabdal.

The News has learnt that internally displaced persons (IDPs) Hindus and Sikhs who were migrated here from troubled Swat valley packed up with relief goods and now they are selling the commodities in open market to get some money.

When contacted, Dr Suran Singh, leader and the spokesman of the IDPs, disclosed that the IDPs here had the right to retain the relief goods or sell it in the open market to get some cash.

Iran sets date for Ahmadinejad to take oath of office

TEHRAN: After winning a landslide victory in Iran's closely-contested and disputed 10th presidential election, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be sworn in before parliament between July 26 and August 19.

On Tuesday, parliament's board of directors set July 26 to August 19 as the period for the president's swearing-in and the introduction of the new cabinet, Iranian media reported.

Parliamentary deputies will also review the credentials of the proposed ministers during the same period.

Iran's Interior Ministry declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the winner of the June 12th election with almost two-thirds of the vote.

The defeated candidates, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezaei, have cried foul once the results were announced and reported over 600 irregularities in the electoral process to the Guardian Council.

However, the council which is tasked with supervising the elections ruled out the possibility of nullifying the presidential election, saying there has been no record of any major irregularity.

Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman of the council, said late on Monday that most of the complaints reported irregularities before the election, and not during or after the vote.

Intensified crackdown mutes protests in Iran

CAIRO – Overwhelmed by police and left with limited alternatives, Iranian demonstrators resorted Tuesday to more subtle ways of challenging the outcome of the presidential election: holding up posters, shouting from rooftops and turning on car headlights.
But the restrained expressions of discontent appeared to be scattered as Iran's ruling clerics dealt the opposition new setbacks, making clear they have no intention of holding a new vote and setting up a special court to deal with hundreds of protesters arrested in more than a week of unrest.
Iran also expelled two diplomats from Britain — a nation it bitterly accuses of meddling and spying — and Britain in turn sent two Iranian envoys home.
The latest moves, and a fresh deployment of riot police and militia to break up any street gatherings, signaled the regime's determination to squelch dissent and mute the voices of those whose protests have been the largest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"People are calmly protesting, more symbolically than with their voices," a Tehran resident said in a telephone interview, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government retribution.
No rallies were reported Tuesday. Many in Tehran seemed hesitant to confront the feared Revolutionary Guard and members of the Basij militia, suggesting the harsh response wrought by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to large and boisterous demonstrations may have weakened the opposition's resolve.
In Tehran's sprawling Grand Bazaar market, shopkeepers said customers frightened away by the violent crackdown were venturing back outdoors.
"These past few days the situation was not good," said a vendor who gave his name only as Ali because he feared retaliation. "People were scared because there was not any security and people didn't come out. But thank God, in the past two or three days the situation has gotten much better and business is good."
Severe restrictions on reporters have made it almost impossible to independently verify reports on demonstrations, clashes and casualties. Iran has ordered journalists for international news agencies to stay in their offices, barring them from reporting on the streets.
President Barack Obama said the world was "appalled and outraged" at Tehran's use of violence, and other nations expressed grave concerns as the standoff fueled an increasingly acrimonious international dispute on how to engage Iran — a country the U.S. and its allies have accused of covertly trying to build a nuclear weapon.
"I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering in Iran's affairs," Obama said. "But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place."
Iran's Foreign Ministry said it expelled the two Britons for "unconventional behavior," state television reported without elaborating. Tensions between Iran and Britain, which has urged the Islamic regime to respect human rights, have soared in recent days.
During Friday prayers at Tehran University, Khamenei lashed out against Western countries he said were displaying their "enmity" against the Islamic state, "and the most evil of them is the British government." Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has accused Britain of sending spies to manipulate the June 12 election.
Iran's expulsions came a day after Britain sent home a dozen dependents of diplomatic staff because of the unrest.
"I am disappointed that Iran has placed us in this position but we will continue to seek good relations with Iran and to call for the regime to respect the human rights and democratic freedoms of the Iranian people," said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
About 100 hard-line students protested outside the British Embassy in Tehran, where they burned U.S., British and Israeli flags, pelted the building with tomatoes, and chanted: "Down with Britain!" and "Down with USA!" state TV reported.
Iran also accused U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of interfering in its domestic affairs after he demanded an immediate end to "arrests, threats and use of force."
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi says he was the true winner of the election. Iran's electoral commission declared Ahmadinejad the winner by a landslide, ignoring Mousavi's claims of widespread and systematic vote fraud. Mousavi has been out of sight in recent days, but a short message posted on his Web site asserted that "all the reports of violations in the elections will be published soon."
State TV reported that Ahmadinejad would be sworn in sometime between July 26 and Aug. 19.
Another opposition figure, reformist presidential candidate Mahdi Karroubi, called for a day of mourning for at least 17 people killed in protests since the election. Some social networking sites suggested that the mourning would take place Thursday.
Amid the crackdown, there was one small concession Tuesday from Khamenei, whose word is law in the Islamic Republic. State TV said he agreed to extend by five days a deadline for registering complaints about the election.
Yet the regime made it clear that it stood by the results and there would be no rerun of the disputed vote.
State-run Press TV quoted Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman for Iran's top electoral body, the Guardian Council, as saying it found "no major fraud or breach in the election."
"Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place," he was quoted as saying.
On Monday, the council had acknowledged in a rare step that it found voting irregularities in 50 of 170 districts, including ballot counts that exceeded the number of eligible voters. Still, it said the discrepancies, involving some 3 million votes, were not widespread enough to affect the outcome.
Iran has 46.2 million eligible voters, one-third of them under 30. The final tally gave 62.6 percent of the vote to Ahmadinejad and 33.75 percent to Mousavi, a landslide victory in a race that was perceived to be much closer. The huge margin went against the expectation that the record 85 percent turnout would help Mousavi.
In a boost for the regime, Russia said Tuesday it respects the outcome. Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has longtime political and economic ties with Iran, where it is helping build a nuclear power plan at Bushehr. In his only trip abroad since the vote, Ahmadinejad went to Russia last week for a conference, where he met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Meanwhile, Ebrahim Raisi, a top judicial official, said a special court has been set up to deal with detained protesters.
"Elements of riots must be dealt with to set an example. The judiciary will do that," he was quoted as saying by state-run radio. The judiciary is controlled by Iran's ruling clerics.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting Rome, praised the courage of Iranian protesters "in facing bullets in the streets."
Two prominent Iranian opposition figures took their case to Europe on Tuesday.
Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi asked European Union officials in Brussels not to negotiate or hold meetings with Iranian leaders until the crackdown stops.
In Rome, Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf said he had been asked by Mousavi aides to spread the word on what is happening in Iran. Makhmalbaf said that even if Ahmadinejad manages to govern for the next four years, "he will not have one day of quietness," with protesters resorting to general strikes and civil resistance.
A number of journalists have been detained since the protests began, although there have been conflicting accounts. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders put the figure of reporters detained at 34.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 13 were in custody, including Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari. State-run TV confirmed the arrest of Iason Athanasiadis, a Greek national reporting for the Washington Times.

Tribesmen join cricket celebrations

LANDIKOTAL: The euphoria of Pakistan’s victory in the final of the World Twenty20 against Sri Lanka spread to the far reaches of the country, with the tribesmen in Landikotal celebrating with massive aerial firing.

However, whereas the sound of gunshots has become commonplace in the North West Frontier Provinces loud bursts of folk music accompanied by frenzied dancing broke the tension and brought people some much needed relief.

‘The people here are very happy that Pakistan won the World cup and it proved that Pakistan was a sports crazy and peace loving country,’ Bilal Khan, a local villager said.

‘Shahid Afridi, a tribal man, already has a record to his name and earned a great honour worldwide for Pakistan with another amazing display,’ he said.

The victory of the Pakistani cricket team was celebrated everywhere in Pakistan including Balochistan and the whole of the tribal belt, another local, Arshad Ali, said.

‘We are happy that our players earned a good name for Pakistan,’ he said.

The tribesmen vowed to keep the Pakistani flag hoisted high and play their part for the development of the country.

‘Pakistan is our motherland and its love is a part of our faith,’ Ali said.

Thousands of people across the embattled North West Frontier Province and other part of Pakistan, congregated at markets, parks and streets throughout the country, dancing, waving cricket bats and shouting ‘Long Live Pakistan’ -- an unusual sight in a nation cowed by suicide attacks by Taliban militants.

Pakistan Zardari:UK must do more to combat militants

LONDON- Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari said on Tuesday Britain has to tackle its own issues of deprivation to stop the radicalisation of British Muslims.

In an interview with ITV's "News at Ten", he rejected the suggestion it was Pakistan's role to win the hearts and minds of radicalised British Muslims, although he said his country would arrest any radical Briton visiting Pakistan and send them back to the UK.

"The appeal has to be on the other side," he was due to say in the programme to be aired on Tuesday evening.

"I think Britain has to take the responsibility and make sure that they do not feel the deprivation they have been. Because we all know this is a state of mind that comes up from some kind of this.

"And one has to fight it in Britain and not in Pakistan."

British security services say there have been Pakistani links to almost all of the dozen major terrorism plots foiled since 2001, including the London bombings in 2005.

Sky News, citing unnamed sources, earlier this year said Pakistan's intelligence service had identified more than 20 Britons who had been trained by militants in Pakistan and had returned to Britain, where they posed a security threat.

In the interview, Zardari denied any knowledge of militant training camps in Pakistan and said it was an "old thought" among British intelligence that thousands of radicals were arriving in Britain.

"I don't think there are any known camps that you know of or we know of or British intelligence know of that exist," he said.

"Of course they exist underground -- the mafia exists underground in Britain -- and wherever we find it we crush it ... but I don't think there is a particular place which we know of that still exists."

The president also rejected British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's description of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan as the "crucible for global terrorism".

"I think sometimes people say things they don't understand or mean but I think his concern is genuine and I appreciate the concern," Zardari said.