Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pres. Obama pays tribute to 9/11 victims


Nine Septembers have come and gone and yet, the many days that separate America now from a chilling day in its history did not dull remembrance Saturday.

Once again, the nation paused in silence to mark the times when hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and nearly 3,000 lives were lost in a matter of minutes.

But this year, a national debate over a proposed Islamic center near ground zero hovered over the day's heart-stopping sorrow, and the president once again pleaded for the tolerance that has come to define America.

At Manhattan's Zuccotti Park, adjacent to the September 11 memorial site, thousands gathered, wanting to be as close as they could to hallowed ground.

As has become customary, the names of the 2,752 who perished at the World Trade Center were read out aloud -- each belonging to a mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife, a friend, or even a stranger.

"We have returned to this sacred site to join our hearts together with the names of those we loved and lost," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the start of the ceremony.

"No other public tragedy has cut our city so deeply," he said. "No other place is as filled with our compassion, our love, and our solidarity."

Silence befell New York at 8:46 a.m., the time when the first plane struck the North Tower. Another moment of quiet followed a few minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., when a second jet pierced through the South Tower.
Shortly after the second moment of silence, Vice President Joe Biden read a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

"Build today, then strong and sure with a firm and ample base; and ascending and secure shall tomorrow find its place. "

With each toll of the bell, an emotional chord struck hearts. Family members stepped forward to talk about those who were lost. And with each word, hot tears rolled down cheeks.

A woman remembered her mother, Larissa Ceylon Taylor.

"Although I was 11 years old when you passed, you were my best friend and the greatest mom. We all love you and we miss you. God bless you, Mom. I love you."

Another spoke of her sister, Deborah Ann Dimartino. "We will hold you close to our hearts."

And a brother, Christopher Epps, who was a Star Wars fan.

"Christopher, so handsome and, oh, so fine. With a heart of gold, why, oh why did you have to leave us behind? And I said to myself, I know why. God was looking for a captain of a ship, someone who qualifies as a jedi. So go on, dear brother, don't be shy. Your ship awaits you with 2,000 and more to stand by your side, to travel with you on your journey into the sky. May the force be with you, Christopher Epps. We love you and you are embedded in our hearts forever."

In his weekly address, President Barack Obama highlighted the scope of America's loss.

"We think about the milestones that have passed over the course of nine years -- births and christenings, weddings and graduations -- all with an empty chair," he said.

"On this day, we also honor those who died so that others might live: the firefighters and first responders who climbed the stairs of two burning towers; the passengers who stormed a cockpit; and the men and women who have, in the years since, borne the uniform of this country and given their lives so that our children could grow up in a safer world," Obama said.

Later, Obama laid a wreath at the Pentagon, where American Airlines Flight 77 struck and killed 184 people, and sounded again a message of tolerance, keenly aware that this anniversary was cast under a different light.

Beyond the outpouring of grief on this day lay rising anti-Muslim sentiment and furious controversy over a proposed Islamic center two blocks away from where the World Trade Center once soared. It's an issue that has even split the families and survivors of the 2001 attacks.

The night before, supporters rallied in support of the center. New York police beefed up security as Americans again prepared to voice their opinion Saturday afternoon with planned rallies at the site.

Obama reiterated that America is not at war with Islam but with al Qaeda's "sorry band of men which perverts religion."

"They may wish to drive us apart but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice," he said. "The perpetrators of this evil act didn't simply attack America, they attacked the very idea of America itself.

"And so the highest honor we can pay those we lost, indeed our greatest weapon in this ongoing war, is to do what our adversaries fear the most -- to stay true to who we are as Americans, to renew our sense of common purpose, to say that we define the character of our country and we will not let the acts of some small band of murderers who slaughter the innocent and cower in caves distort who we are," he said.

Fueling further controversy, a Florida pastor had threatened to burn a Quran on this fateful day.

But just before the ceremonies began, the Rev. Terry Jones said he was canceling the Quran burning planned for 6 p.m.

"We will definitely not burn the Quran," Rev. Terry Jones told NBC's "Today" on Saturday. "Not today, not ever."

Police planned, however, to keep a close watch on Jones while he was in New York.

In Shanksville, first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush led the commemoration for the victims of Flight 93, which crashed and burned as passengers and crew fought hijackers determined to strike the U.S. Capitol.

"I come here as an American, filled with a sense of awe at the heroism of my fellow citizens," Michelle Obama said. "I come as a wife, a daughter, and a sister, heartbroken at the loss so many of you have endured."

Laura Bush said the hijackers of United Flight 93 had other targets in mind, but the crash spot near Shanksville "was chosen by the passengers, who spared our country from even greater horrors."

Before his wife's comments, George W. Bush issued a statement recalling the day that came to shape his presidency.

"On September 11, 2001, Americans awoke to evil on our shores," he said. "We recall the many acts of heroism on that day, and we honor those who work tirelessly to prevent another attack."

In New York, the ninth September 11 anniversary was also different in another way: for the first time people gathered amid signs of rebirth rising from the ashes.

Next year, on this day, a new memorial is expected to open and on Saturday, the families of those who died were able to see some tangible progress of the structures that are being erected to honor their loved ones.

The planned memorial includes six skyscrapers, a museum, two waterfalls in the footprints of the twin towers, a performance center and a rail terminal.

The first 16 oak trees of more than 400 that will line the memorial have already been planted. They will surround the acre-size waterfalls around which will be the names of the dead, etched in bronze.

Earlier this week, workers installed two 50-ton steel columns that once ringed the north tower at what will be the entrance to the memorial and museum.

And there is a reflecting pool, around which police, firefighters and dignitaries gathered, and later throngs of people stopped to toss a solitary long-stemmed rose.

By the time the ceremonies came to a close Saturday, it had turned into to a plush blanket of bloom.

Swat, No firewood, no hot food

A few kilometres outside Mingora, Swat Valley’s principal city, a group of village women discuss the various problems they have been facing in the wake of the recent devastating floods including the lack of firewood, without which they cannot cook.
“Finding timber to light our wood stoves is hard. The flood waters that swept down slopes tore away many of the smaller trees and the woody shrubs we collected and carried home, as well as branches that fell to the ground,” Saadia Bibi, 30, told. “For us, firewood is everything.”
“We sometimes have to search for over two hours, going further and further afield to collect enough fuel to cook a single meal,” she said, adding that for her and other women, even grasing animals was hard as so many bushes had been destroyed, reports IRIN, the UN information unit.
There are signs of increasing desperation: “We have had people who have nearly drowned after jumping into a river to get floating wood brought in to us by the currents. They are so poor they are ready to risk their life for a little firewood,” Sabine Nirmajer, who works with the Paris-based charity Médecins Sans Frontières in Mingora, told.
Several women said deforestation in the Swat area had made their work harder with wood difficult to find.
“Damp wood is no good, and the rains have left wood too wet to make a good fire,” said one woman.
The link between deforestation and the recent floods has been highlighted by Ali Habib, director-general of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, who told from Lahore that deforestation had exacerbated the floods.
“Had there been trees, they would have lessened the intensity of the thrust of initial peaks of flood,” he said.
About 4.1 percent of Pakistan’s land area is forest, according to the government. At current rates of deforestation (2-2.4 percent), forest cover would be down to half of its 1995 extent by 2019-2024, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The floods in Swat occurred at a time when the peach crop was ready for picking, but many trees were destroyed or had the fruit knocked off them. The media report farmers saying around 60 percent of local fruit and vegetables have been lost to the floods.
“I had a small orchard of peach and apple trees. Most of the 50 or so trees that stood around areas cleared for vegetable plantation have been badly damaged, and some felled totally,” said Hassan Gul, 50, a farmer in the Matta sub-district of Swat, one of the areas worst hit by the floods.
The floods have also affected other food sources: “We used to collect some edible wild greens from the forests around here, but now they have gone,” said Fyza Bibi.

Pakistan: Fresh rains affect rescue and relief efforts Bolan river spate claims three

Three persons, including EDO Education, Kachhi, were killed and two others injured by flash flood in Bolan River near Mach, some 70 km east of here, on Friday.

Sources said that Executive District Officer Education Kachhi Bolan Babo Imdad Hussain along with other personnel arrived in Mach to hand over monthly salary of female teachers. His vehicle was washed away by flash flood in Mach stream while returning back to Dhadar. As a result, he himself, his brother Niaz and the driver Wilson Masih died on the spot. Two other persons suffered serious injuries who were identified as Muhammad Akbar and Qazi Muhammad Jan. The bodies and injured were shifted to Civil Hospital Mach and later, the injured were referred to Quetta based hospital. The vehicles had to be turned to alternative route passing through Mach stream as construction work of a small bridge on Mach stream was suspended for the last three years. The contractor who was said to be the brother of a federal minister was avoiding to restart and complete the construction work.

Resultantly, after torrential rains in hill areas, Mach stream experiences high flood which had claimed a number of lives during last few years. Rain hinders rescue efforts in flood-hit Sindh: Fresh rains hampered rescue efforts in Sindh on Friday as thousands of people trying to leave flood-threatened towns remained stranded, a provincial irrigation minister said. "Fresh rains have affected rescue and relief efforts and thousands of people are still stranded in different towns of Dadu district," said Sindh's irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo. He said that more rain was due Saturday, further endangering the strained river embankments as officials, military and local residents worked to bolster the defences around Dadu district. "Dadu district and the town of Johi are still in danger of flooding, but rain is hampering our mobility to reach out to the maximum people," he added.

The devastating floods have left 10 million people without shelter nationwide, according to UN figures, with UN spokesman Maurizio Giuliano describing it as "one of the worst humanitarian disasters in UN history". Advancing floodwaters continue to threaten parts of Sindh province, with 19 of its 23 districts deluged and 2.8 million people displaced, according to provincial authorities.

Meanwhile, "our life is worse than death. Eid is for the living, but we are neither alive nor dead," says a solemn 15-year-old Rukhsana, approaching this year's Muslim holiday with sad defeat. "We have no clothes, no food, no shoes and no home. My brother is small, he can't fight the looters who snatch all the food from the aid trucks," she says. Abandoned by her father after her mother died, the teenage refugee will spend Saturday's Eid holiday with her grandmother and 10-year-old brother in a makeshift camp 450 kilometres south of her hometown of Garhi Khero. While most of the Muslim world celebrated Eid on Friday, the festival falls on Saturday in Pakistan.

Afghan youths go house-to-house raising HIV awareness

HIV/AIDS is the focus of a door-to-door campaign carried out by young people in the south-eastern province of Nangarhar.

Youth groups have recently conducted nearly 400 awareness-raising sessions across six districts, including the provincial capital, Jalalabad.

Azizullah Noor, UNICEF's child protection office who works to support this initiative of the Department of Youth and the Department of Public Health, said that the campaign had been conducted in Momandara, Durbaba, Lalpura, Kama, Surkhrod and Behsud districts.

In the Kampoona neighbourhood of Jalalabad city youth educators met people in the streets and shared information about the HIV virus and AIDS, handing out flyers and pasting posters on walls.

Nur Agha Zwak, director of the Nangarhar Department of Youth said his department trained young people to conduct this community-based awareness-raising.

"The message was conveyed, and people who were covered by the campaign are now aware of the danger of HIV and the safeguards needed to protect themselves from its infection," he said.

According to Afghanistan's National AIDS Control Programme, 504 individuals have been documented as HIV-positive as of November 2008. But UNAIDS has reported that the actual number of cases is likely significantly higher.

Low levels of surveillance and testing – and a heightened sense of taboo and stigma – has made it almost impossible to document the reality of the epidemic, said UNICEF in its website, adding that it has been working since 2003 with the Ministry of Public Health to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and its contributing factors and risks.

Afghan youths go house-to-house raising HIV awareness

HIV/AIDS is the focus of a door-to-door campaign carried out by young people in the south-eastern province of Nangarhar.

Youth groups have recently conducted nearly 400 awareness-raising sessions across six districts, including the provincial capital, Jalalabad.

Azizullah Noor, UNICEF's child protection office who works to support this initiative of the Department of Youth and the Department of Public Health, said that the campaign had been conducted in Momandara, Durbaba, Lalpura, Kama, Surkhrod and Behsud districts.

In the Kampoona neighbourhood of Jalalabad city youth educators met people in the streets and shared information about the HIV virus and AIDS, handing out flyers and pasting posters on walls.

Nur Agha Zwak, director of the Nangarhar Department of Youth said his department trained young people to conduct this community-based awareness-raising.

"The message was conveyed, and people who were covered by the campaign are now aware of the danger of HIV and the safeguards needed to protect themselves from its infection," he said.

According to Afghanistan's National AIDS Control Programme, 504 individuals have been documented as HIV-positive as of November 2008. But UNAIDS has reported that the actual number of cases is likely significantly higher.

Low levels of surveillance and testing – and a heightened sense of taboo and stigma – has made it almost impossible to document the reality of the epidemic, said UNICEF in its website, adding that it has been working since 2003 with the Ministry of Public Health to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and its contributing factors and risks.

NATO denies firing mortars into Pakistan

The US embassy in Islamabad has denied claims that NATO soldiers in Afghanistan fired mortars across the Pakistan border, killing at least three people.

Officials in the militant-infested Pakistan region of North Waziristan on Friday claimed shells fired by coalition forces battling Taliban fighters in the Afghan province of Khost had smashed into houses in Saidgi village.

But in a statement issued on Friday, the embassy said the claims were "completely false".

Pakistani Cricketers at centre of scandal return , dodging angry protesters

The three cricketers at the centre of spot fixing allegations slipped back into Pakistan early this morning, avoiding angry scenes at Lahore airport where protesters gathered with rotten eggs and placards. Team captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir were led from their plane to a waiting bus and driven away through a cargo entrance within minutes of landing.
Their lawyers earlier said they had promised to co-operate with police investigations and would return to the United Kingdom if required.The three have already been suspended by the International Cricket Council and charged under its anti-corruption code.
They arrived home aboard a Kuwait Airways flight shortly after 4am in an attempt to avoid an angry confrontation.
An airport official said the three were in good spirits when they arrived.
"They were smiling and relaxed and were so fresh," he said. "Their body language was very positive. It seemed as if they had done something really great." A handful of protesters had waited for hours to greet their arrival. Some waved shoes while others brought rotten eggs.
Their numbers were soon swelled by taxi drivers and airport staff who started up an ironic chant of "Long live thieves and gamblers".
Malik abdul Ghaffar, 67, who travelled 50 miles with his son, brother-in-law and two nephews, said the players should be banned for life.
"They are traitors. They have brought a bad name to our country. They have destroyed our cricket," he said clutching a basket of eggs and putrid tomatoes.
"Their motive is wealth and only wealth." Police had to intervene at one stage to separate the demonstrators from a crowd made up of players' friends and relatives.
They tried to blame the English media for setting up the three cricketers.
They brought their own pro-player placards to the arrivals hall of Lahore airport, chanting and carrying posters of Butt that read: "Long live Salman Butt" and "Down to English media".
Shabat Basharat, 30, said: "They are our heroes and keep in mind that nothing has been proved against them. If they have done something wrong Scotland Yard would never allow them to return to Pakistan.
"We have come here to show our solidarity with the players." Scotland Yard detectives questioned the three over claims in the News of The World newspaper that they took money to deliberately bowl no-balls in a Test match at Lord's last month.
The players, who have denied any wrongdoing, were released without charge after being quizzed at a London police station on September 3.
Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik said the players had returned home for Eid after requests from their parents and the Pakistan Cricket Board.
Pakistan cricket has been beset by one crisis after another – from repeated match fixing allegations to drug use and ball tampering.
The latest scandal has unleashed an outpouring of anger at players many believe have let down their country at a time of national emergency, just as Pakistan was dealing with the worst floods in its history.
Angry fans threw tomatoes at donkeys named after the players as news of the spot-fixing broke.
The team and its management also face a summons to Lahore High Court where a lawyer has filed a petition accusing them of treason – a crime that carries the death penalty.
When Ijaz Butt, the team manager, returned to Pakistan earlier in the week he was greeted by cries of "Shame" and one demonstrator threw a shoe at him.
This time the Pakistan Cricket Board took no chances.
"To avoid any untoward situation, the players were sent home with security from a separate cargo gate," an airport official said.

The Karzai empire, villas in Dubai and fears over Afghan aid

The Daily Telegraph

The family of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has been linked to more than a dozen expensive homes in the Gulf, raising fears that Western aid money sent to Afghanistan is being misused.
The Daily Telegraph today reveals a property empire in Dubai assembled at a cost of £90 million that is owned or occupied by close relatives and associates of Mr Karzai.

The property holdings emerged as Mr Karzai, who leads one of the world’s poorest and most deprived countries, has struggled to salvage Afghanistan's biggest private bank, Kabul Bank, which bankrolled the purchases.
The centrepiece of the holdings is a portfolio of 14 villas on the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai’s showpiece property development, registered in the name of Sher Khan Farnood, the former chairman of Kabul Bank. Kabul Bank also owns an apartment, two business plots and a loss-making airline, Pamir Airlines, in Dubai.

Mahmoud Karzai, President Karzai’s brother and the third-largest shareholder in the bank, like Mr Farnood, 46, occupies a “Signature” villa valued at up to £4 million. Other properties are valued between £3 million and £1 million.

He also made a £500,000 profit following the sale of a Dubai bought with a loan from Kabul Bank.

Mahmoud Karzai is not the only member of an Afghan political family living in villas distributed across the development where David Beckham, Michael Schumacher, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are also owners.

Haseen Fahim, another Kabul shareholder and the brother of the ex-warlord vice-president, Mohammed Qasim Fahim, lives nearby.

Senior British government ministers are privately furious that Kabul Bank has been used to buy property in the Gulf.

Ministers will not directly comment on the Karzai family over its business interests, but MPs said the apparent corruption in Kabul is undermining Western attempts to stabilise the country.

Adam Holloway, a Conservative member of the Commons defence committee, said: “A lot of people have become very rich on money that was supposed to help Afghanistan.”

The Afghan government relies on international aid to provide more than half of the revenues it uses to finance public sector wages. President Karzai ordered that all salaries of 250,000 government employees, including teachers, medical workers and security forces, would be paid by direct debit to accounts with Kabul Bank two years after it was established in 2006.

Mr Farnood occupies a grand villa adorned at the front with statues of Roman legionaries, manicured lawns on all sides, a sweeping beachfront and a swimming pool in the back garden.

A Mercedes SUV sits in the driveway.

His current status is unclear. The poker-playing former exile resigned last week under orders to hand back the Dubai properties but he has not been charged with any offence.

Kabul Bank, which runs the payroll for Nato-backed security forces, has been deserted by thousands of depositors since the country’s Central Bank launched an investigation.

For his part Mr Karzai is thinking of moving on from the villa because his children have gone abroad to study and he is highly critical of his former partner’s failure to avoid the pitfalls of the boom. “The property here in Dubai was another big mistake. Sher Khan did it single-handedly. The thing is, he’s not sophisticated enough for today’s global economy,” he said.

There could be worse to come, he added, pointing to the still unvalued cost of the investment in Pamir Airlines and other ventures. “These two were running the bank,” he said. “They made risky investments, lending over the limit... it was hopeless.”

9/11: the day that changed America

The morning of Tuesday 11 Sep 2001 was bright and crisp as thousands of people made their way to work in New York and Washington.

Most people thought that a terrible accident had happened when a plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Centre just before 9am.

But within an hour, as thousands lay dead in the wreckage of the twin towers and the Pentagon, it was apparent that America had been the victim of a terrible terrorist attack that would change the country forever.

Sept. 11, 2010: The Right Way to Remember


Nine years after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, a memorial and a transportation hub are taking recognizable shape and skyscrapers are finally starting to rise from the ashes of ground zero.

That physical rebirth is cause for celebration on this anniversary. It is a far more fitting way to defy the hate-filled extremists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and to honor their victims, than to wallow in the intolerance and fear that have mushroomed across the nation. They are fed by the kind of bigotry exhibited by the would-be book burner in Florida, and, sadly, nurtured by people in positions of real power, including prominent members of the Republican Party.

The most important sight at ground zero now is Michael Arad’s emerging memorial. The shells of two giant pools are 30 feet deep and are set almost exactly in the places where the towers once were.

The huge waterfalls around the sides, the inscribed names of victims and the plaza are promised by the 10th anniversary next year. But two 70-foot tridents that were once at the base of the twin towers were installed last week. The museum will be built around them by 2012. And the first 16 of 416 white swamp oaks were planted on the eight-acre surface.

Surrounding that memorial will be a ring of commercial towers — eventually to be filled with workers, commuters, shoppers, tourists, the full cacophony of New York City. The tallest skyscraper is now a third of the way up. The developer Larry Silverstein has one of his skyscrapers taking shape — this one by the Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. The bases of two more are finally beyond the planning stage.

The first outlines of Santiago Calatrava’s elegant PATH station are visible. Giant white ribs and other structures that will support the birdlike hall are moving into place. The temporary PATH station shuttles 70,000 commuters a day through the construction site.

After years of political lassitude and financial squabbling, rebuilding at the site began in earnest two years ago. That was when Mayor Michael Bloomberg exerted his considerable muscle to make sure the memorial is finished by 2011. At about the same time, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey established more control of the site. The authority and the mayor turned out to be a good team.

That cooperation and the visible progress are such a contrast with the way some political figures have been trying to use the Sept. 11 attacks to generate antipathy toward all Muslims. For weeks, politicians — mostly but definitely not all on the right — have been fanning the public controversy over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks away from ground zero.

Then, Terry Jones, a minor preacher in Florida, managed to create a major furor by scheduling a ritual burning of the Koran for Sept. 11. Alarmed by hyperbolic news coverage, the top general in Afghanistan, the secretary of defense, the State Department and the president warned that such a bonfire would endanger Americans and American troops around the world.

It was bad enough to see a fringe figure acting out for cable news and Web sites, but it was deeply disturbing to hear John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, equate Mr. Jones’s antics with the Muslim center.

In both cases, he told ABC News, “Just because you have a right to do something in America does not mean it is the right thing to do.” The Constitution does, indeed, protect both, but they are not morally equivalent. In New York City, a group of Muslims is trying to build something. Mr. Jones and his supporters are trying to tear down more than two centuries of religious tolerance.

It is a good time to remember what President Obama said on Friday, echoing the words of President George W. Bush after the attacks: “We’re not at war with Islam. We’re at war with terrorist organizations.”

Obama remembers Sept. 11, calls for unity...US remains one nation

Barack Obama has called on Americans to observe religious tolerance and make sure "we don't start turning on each other".

Amid an atmosphere of unease, President Barack Obama wants Americans to mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks by recapturing the sense of common purpose felt on that dreadful day.
"If there is a lesson to be drawn on this anniversary, it is this: We are one nation — one people — bound not only by grief, but by a set of common ideals," the president said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address.
"By giving back to our communities, by serving people in need, we reaffirm our ideals — in defiance of those who would do us grave harm."
Obama himself was marking the day nearly 3,000 people died in terrorist jetliner attacks with a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City. The president also planned to attend a memorial service at the Pentagon and participate in a service project in the Washington area.
First lady Michelle Obama was to join former first lady Laura Bush in Shanksville, Pa., where the fourth plane crashed after passengers rushed the cockpit. Vice President Joe Biden is in New York for the service at ground zero.
But this year's remembrances take place in an unusually tense environment, amid growing public suspicion of Muslims and controversies over an Islamic community center and mosque planned near ground zero and a Florida pastor's threat to burn Qurans on Saturday.
By late Friday, it appeared the Rev. Terry Jones had backed off his plan to burn the Muslim holy book, following international condemnation. In New York, protests were planned for Saturday by supporters and opponents of the proposed mosque.
Obama alluded in his radio address to the contentious atmosphere, though without specifically addressing either controversy.
"This is a time of difficulty for our country," Obama said. "And it is often in such moments that some try to stoke bitterness — to divide us based on our differences, to blind us to what we have in common.
"But on this day, we are reminded that at our best, we do not give in to this temptation," Obama said. "We stand with one another. We fight alongside one another. We do not allow ourselves to be defined by fear, but by the hopes we have for our families, for our nation, and for a brighter future."
At a White House news conference Friday Obama denounced the threatened Quran burning, said Muslims have the same right as any other religion to build near ground zero and issued a full-throated appeal for religious tolerance, reminding Americans: "We are not at war against Islam."
In the GOP's weekly address, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., echoed Obama's plea for a common purpose. Kyl called for the country to "recapture the unity that allowed us to come together as a nation to confront a determined enemy."
But without mentioning the president by name, Kyl seemed to question the Obama administration's commitment to the war on terror begun by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama recently declared an end to combat missions in Iraq even as he pledged to renew efforts to prosecute the war in Afghanistan and pursue al-Qaida terrorists.
"The fact that none of the subsequent attempts to attack us have succeeded seems to have removed some of the urgency and commitment so necessary to succeed in war," Kyl said.

Sept. 11 observances

The three sites where nearly 3,000 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001, will be venues for memorial services Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Pentagon Memorial: President Obama will deliver remarks at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va. The memorial honors the 184 victims killed — 59 on American Flight 77 and 125 on the ground.

Flight 93 Memorial: First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush will speak at a ceremony in Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 crashed into a field after 40 passengers and crew members fought back against terrorists who had taken over the plane.

New York City: The names of the 2,752 victims killed at the World Trade Center will be read aloud and four moments of silence will be observed to mark the times that the planes hit the towers and the times that each of the two towers fell.

Obama to present Medal of Honor to soldier who displayed 'unwavering courage'

Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta rushed into enemy fire amid a Taliban ambush and pulled three wounded soldiers to safety. The president called Giunta to thank him for his 'acts of gallantry.'The first living soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in a conflict since the Vietnam War will receive the award from President Obama in a White House ceremony, the White House announced Friday.

Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, 25, will receive the nation's highest award for valor for rushing directly into enemy fire during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan on Oct. 25, 2007, and pulling three wounded soldiers to safety, according to a Pentagon account. Giunta had been knocked down by a bullet that slammed into a thick plate of his body armor, but recovered in time to fire his automatic rifle and hurl a grenade at the attackers.

Giunta first rescued two soldiers who had been wounded during the ambush along a wooded ridgeline in the rugged Korengal Valley in Kunar province, according to the Pentagon account. He then spotted two insurgents attempting to haul off a wounded American paratrooper and opened fire, forcing them to abandon the soldier and retreat.

"His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon's ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American paratrooper from enemy hands," the White House said in a statement.
Obama telephoned Giunta, who is stationed with an airborne unit in Vicenza, Italy, on Thursday to thank him for "acts of gallantry at the risk of his life that went above and beyond the call of duty," the statement said.

The Pentagon cited Giunta's "unwavering courage, in the midst of an ambush in which two American paratroopers gave their lives and several more were wounded."

The wounded paratrooper rescued by Giunta, who applied emergency medical aid to try to keep him alive, later died of his wounds, according to the Pentagon.

Giunta is the eighth service member to receive the Medal of Honor during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon. The other medals were awarded posthumously.

By contrast, 464 Medals of Honor were awarded for gallantry in World War II and 246 during the Vietnam War. A study by the Army Times last year found that there were two to three Medals of Honor awarded for every 100,000 service members during the earlier wars, compared with one in 1 million for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The disparity has led some members of the military and veterans' groups to complain that current troops are held to unfair standards. The awards process was tarnished in 2004 when Pat Tillman, a popular former NFL football player, was awarded a posthumous Silver Star after he was killed while serving in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials were accused of covering up the friendly fire that killed Tillman by creating a false account of heroism to justify the award.

The Korengal Valley has been one of the deadliest battlefields in Afghanistan for U.S. troops, who struggled to win the trust of local Afghans while a road was under construction to link the valley — just six miles long — to the rest of eastern Afghanistan. The troops operated from a remote outpost that regularly came under Taliban attack.

The isolated valley, home to tribesmen suspicious of outsiders, ultimately proved too costly to defend. In April, commanders in Afghanistan decided to shut down the mission in the valley after more than 40 U.S. service members died there over a five-year period.

Giunta, a 22-year-old specialist during the 2007 ambush, described his attempts to save paratrooper Sgt. Joshua Brennan to Elizabeth Rubin, who wrote an account of the battle in New York Times Magazine. He described killing one insurgent and chasing off the other as he rescued the badly wounded Brennan.

"He was still conscious. He was breathing. He was asking for morphine," Giunta told Rubin. "I said, 'You'll get out and tell your hero stories,' and he was like, 'I will, I will.' "

The battle is also described in the book "War" by Sebastian Junger.

"I didn't run through fire to save a buddy," Giunta told Junger. "I ran through fire to see what was going on with him and maybe we could hide behind the same rock and shoot together. I didn't run through fire to do anything heroic or brave. I did what I believe anyone would have done."

Giunta, of Hiawatha, Iowa, is a member of Company B, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, serving as a rifle team leader. He has served two tours in Afghanistan and has been awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

The White House did not announce a date for the award ceremony.

On Thursday, the White House announced that the president will award a posthumous Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller, a Green Beret from Harrisburg, Pa., for displaying "immeasurable courage" when drawing enemy fire during a Jan. 25, 2008, battle in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.

Obama says some progress seen on Afghan corruption

President Barack Obama said on Friday he has seen some progress in fighting corruption in Afghanistan but there was still much to be done.

"We're a long way from where we need to be on that," Obama told a news conference at the White House that ranged from the U.S. economy to foreign policy.

Obama cited some successes by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government in battling corruption, which is seen as a major factor undercutting the U.S.-led war against Taliban militants.

"And we're going to keep on putting pressure on them on that front. Is it going to happen overnight? Probably not," Obama said.

He said the U.S. military and other agencies operating in Afghanistan needed to ensure their own activities were not abetting corruption.

"We're reviewing all that constantly and there may be occasions where that happens," Obama said.

"Let's make sure that our efforts there are not seen as somehow giving a wink and a nod to corruption. If we are saying publicly that that's important, then our actions have to match up across the board."

US to Mark 9 Years Since September 11 Attacks

Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The country has planned a series of events to honor the nearly 3,000 people killed in the coordinated assaults by al-Qaida hijackers. The hijackers took over four commercial airliners, crashing two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The 110-story buildings collapsed, trapping and killing many employees and rescue workers.

Another plane hit the Pentagon, the U.S. military headquarters just outside Washington, while the fourth went down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers fought their hijackers. That plane is believed to have been destined for Washington.

President Barack Obama will commemorate the anniversary Saturday at a Pentagon memorial service, while Vice President Joe Biden will attend a ceremony in New York.

First lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush are scheduled to speak at a ceremony in Shanksville.

Added to this year's anniversary is bitter controversy about plans by a Muslim group to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center.

Opponents say the proposal is disrespectful to the victims of the 2001 attacks, while supporters say the center will help bridge differences between the West and the Islamic world.

President Obama has said he supports Muslims' right to build a place of worship near the site, known as Ground Zero, but he also said he would not comment on the "wisdom" of doing so. Critics, including some Republican lawmakers, accused him of being insensitive to the families of the victims.

Work continues at Ground Zero on a museum and memorial to pay tribute to those who died in the 2001 attacks. In 2008, an outdoor memorial opened at the Pentagon. A national memorial also is being built at the Flight 93 crash site in Pennsylvania.

Eid for 10,000 flood-affected families in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

PESHAWAR: Over 10,000 flood-affected families in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa celebrated Eidul Fitr in relief camps on Friday and received no special package for the festive day as the government failed to disburse the compensations even in those districts where the survey had been completed for the purpose.
The devastating floods hit the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on July 28 affecting over six million people in the province. Soon after the calamity, the provincial government set up 1,100 relief camps in schools and other government buildings accommodating 11,50,000 affectees.
The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) officials said the provincial government strived hard to resettle the affected families in their native areas before Eid, but this gigantic task could not be carried out for a variety of reasons.
They informed that 9,227 families housed in 647 schools and some in other camps are still shelterless and they spent their Eid in the relief facilities. The flooding badly affected the districts of Peshawar, Charsadda and Nowshera where thousand of families lost houses to the flood and 7,000 families of the three districts spent their Eid in the relief camps.
In Charsadda alone, 3,703 families celebrated their Eid in 189 schools where they were provided food and shelter only. There was no festivity in these relief camps.
In Nowshera, 3,677 families housed in 228 schools observed the Eid in relief camps, while in Peshawar district 547 families observe their Eid in 43 relief camps set up in schools.
The officials said that so far 6,147 food items had been distributed to all the 9,227 families. However, the shelterless affectees told this scribe that they received no Eid package; neither in cash nor in kind.
Besides these districts, the flood affectees also spent their Eid in camps established in Bannu, Swat, Mardan, Shangla, Lakki Marwat, DI Khan and Swabi.
Initially, the provincial government has decided to distribute Rs20,000 compensation for damaged houses on the eve of the Eid as a special package on the festive day. The assessment for the package was also completed in at least three districts, Nowshera, Charsadda and Dir Upper.
All arrangements were put in place for the disbursement of the compensation, but as other provinces changed the payment criteria for the compensations at the Council of Common Interests meeting in Islamabad on Monday, the provincial government deferred the payment. It said that as the data from all the affected districts could not be gathered before Eid, therefore, any package to the affectees was not possible.
They PDMA officials said that as the flooding also affected 55,425 teachers, students and other government officials, which affected the assessment of the losses and disbursement of the compensation.
During a visit to the camps in Charsadda it was found that government officials did not visit these camps. The affectees in the native village of the Provincial Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Barrister Arshad Abdullah said the minister had distributed Rs500 Eidee to each child of the village while in camps they anxiously waited for any special package even on the Eid day.
One Jamil living in one of the camps in the district said: “This is the most miserable and painful Eid for me. I used to give Eidee to relatives and the poor on Eid, but today I myself need it.”

Solider connects with Afghan kids

Experts fear Afghanistan may be teetering on brink of civil war