Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fountain of vodka to be built in Georgia

An unusual fountain is expected to appear in the city of Batumi, Georgia, at the end of the upcoming summer. A tower to be erected in Gogebashvili Street will be pumping flavored vodka, known as chacha, or grape brandy, instead of water once a week for 10-15 minutes. The goal of the project is to attract tourists. The authors of the project say that the fountain will be "erupting" the vodka made only by local Georgian companies, Business Georgia website said. In addition to the fountain, the tower will house an information tourist center, four open-air swimming pools and other facilities. "It will be a 25-meter-high building in Asian style. One a week, the fountain will be shooting vodka instead of water. The main function of the tour is to advertise the city and attract tourists," Irina Shervashidze, the head of the press service of the municipal administration said, Rosbalt reports. Chacha is a strong alcohol beverage made from grapes. The beverage is widely popular in Georgia. Many Georgians like to make chacha from the grapes that they grow themselves.

Pakistan backs open communication with US

Pakistan called Thursday for open dialogue with the United States even before parliament wraps up a protracted debate on repairing an anti-terror alliance that nearly ruptured over a series of crises. "Pakistan attaches enormous value to its contacts with the US," said foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit, just days after the highest-level contacts between the two countries since the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden. "While the parliamentary process is on and we expect it to complete as soon as possible, it is also important to keep channels of communications open." US President Barack Obama and Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani
met Tuesday at a nuclear summit in Seoul for talks that an Obama aide said "made important progress" in both sides hearing from one another. On Wednesday, the top US generals overseeing the Afghan war, John Allen and James Mattis, also met Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Kayani for the first time since US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. Those strikes prompted a furious Islamabad to shut NATO supply lines into Afghanistan and evict US personnel from an airbase reportedly used as a hub in America's drone war against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. Despite this week's talks, no date has been announced for Pakistan to re-open the Afghan crossings to NATO supplies and officials admit privately that the process may take longer than initially thought. "The quick resumption of NATO supplies to Afghanistan is linked to an apology over the attack," a senior Pakistani security official told AFP on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to media. "Pakistan wants an apology but they (the US) are not willing to do so," he added. US drone strikes are the other major thorn in relations. Pakistan wants them to stop, arguing that they are counter-productive because they kill civilians, exacerbate anti-US sentiment and violate sovereignty. Frequency of attacks has diminished in recent months, but US officials are believed to consider them too useful in terms of killing Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives to discontinue them altogether. "We have already conveyed to them that instead of sending drones to our tribal regions, they should identify targets and let us know and we are fully capable of taking them on," said the Pakistani official. He claimed Pakistani warplanes have been "quite successful in neutralising targets" in the northwestern border areas with Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have strongholds. Pakistani lawmakers on March 20 demanded an American apology, an end to US drone strikes and taxes on NATO convoys, but debate on the package has been slow to start and is now likely to be more protracted than once thought. The New York Times reported last weekend that the US military had decided no service members would face disciplinary charges for the air strikes, which a Pentagon investigation blamed on mistakes made by both sides.

Afghanistan: Attack on convoy could signal start of new fighting in Afghanistan The spring “fighting season” in Afghanistan may have begun. In one of the first large-scale assaults since temperatures began warming up across the country, dozens of insurgents armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades staged a bold attack on a NATO supply convoy in western Afghanistan, Western and Afghan officials said Thursday. At least three Afghan security guards were killed in Wednesday’s ambush in a mountainous area of the Gulistan district of Farah province, according to Rauf Ahmadi, a regional spokesman for the Afghan army. He said the assault was successfully repelled and about 30 insurgents were killed. NATO aircraft responded to appeals for help from those in the convoy, the NATO force’s western command said in a statement. The attack took place along a major highway, local officials said. The desperate call for Western air power underscored the challenges faced by Afghan security forces and private security personnel as they prepare to take over responsibility for safeguarding much of the country. The NATO force is seeking to largely wrap up its combat role in the coming year. Meanwhile, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force reported the death of a service member on Thursday in a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan. Although Western and Afghan forces managed to reclaim large swaths of territory in the south over the last two years, the insurgents have been filtering back into the region, the Taliban’s traditional heartland. Fighting in Afghanistan between insurgents and Western troops usually tapers off during the colder months and resumes with the arrival of spring and the melting of the snow in mountain passes.

US missile shield fosters Asian arms race

The US has announced that it is seeking to build a missile defense system in Asia and the Middle East, following a similar step in Europe. This will no doubt create disturbance and tension in the region, as it has in Europe. Japan, South Korea and Australia, which are invited to join the system, must seriously ponder the consequences. North Korea and Iran are named by Washington as the targets of the missile defense system, though it is clear the real targets are China and Russia. China should firmly oppose it. This is not a fresh idea for the White House. The concept was raised during the Clinton administration. The impact it brings today is much worse than back then. China needs to assess what long-term damage this system will impose on China's strategic security. The system will be deployed on the soil of Japan, South Korea and Australia. It is widely agreed that China has little chance to stop it. The pessimistic view holds that China can do nothing about it. But China can balance out the system's impact. North Korea's plan to launch a satellite next month has been used by Washington to install a missile defense system. It is a wise move. China can copy it and upgrade its nuclear weapon capability due to the possible threats posed by the US system. Specifically, China can improve its nuclear weapons in both quantity and quality as well as develop offensive nuclear-powered submarines. China's ballistic missiles should be able to break the interception capability of the US system. Among the nuclear powers, China has the smallest number of nuclear weapons. It is also the only country to make a 'no first use' commitment. Installing a missile defense system in Asia disrespects China's nuclear policy. The US is seeking to shift the regional balance. A strong response from China should be expected. An overarching missile defense system would force China to change its long-held nuclear policy. If Japan, South Korea and Australia join the system, a vicious arms race in Asia may follow. It is not what China wants to see, but it will have to deal with it if the arms race happens. The US is creating waves in Asia. The region may see more conflicts intensify in the future. China should make utmost efforts to prevent it, but prepare for the worst.

'Guardian angels' assigned to watch over US troops in Afghanistan US military commanders in Afghanistan have assigned "guardian angels" to watch over troops as they sleep, among a series of other increased security measures, in the wake of rogue Afghan soldiers targeting Nato forces. The added protections are part of a directive issued in recent weeks by Gen John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, to guard against insider threats, according to a senior military official. The so-called guardian angels provide an extra layer of security, watching over the troops as they sleep, when they are exercising, and going about their day. Among the new measures introduced, Americans are now allowed to carry weapons in several Afghan ministries. They have also been told to rearrange their office desks so they face the door. Although Gen Allen did not detail the new measures in a briefing earlier this week, he acknowledged changes had been made. "We have taken steps necessary on our side to protect ourselves with respect to, in fact, sleeping arrangements, internal defences associated with those small bases in which we operate," Gen Allen said, adding that now someone is "always overwatching our forces."The security measures come after the US military mistakenly burned Korans last month, triggering a wave of anti-American demonstrations and riots. On February 25, two US military advisers were gunned down following the Korans at their desks inside a Kabul ministry building. So far this year, 16 Nato service members have been shot and killed by Afghan soldiers and policemen or militants disguised in their uniforms. In two separate incidents on Monday, Afghan security forces shot and killed one American and two British troops.

Ethnic killings flare angry protests in Balochistan The atmosphere in Balochistan province turned tense Thursday as angry demonstrations were held protesting the killings of five Hazara Shias, in what police described as the latest sectarian attack in the volatile southwest province. Enraged protestors resorted to arson and destruction of public property in many areas. A motor-cycle was torched outside the PMC and business centres and market shut down after the attack. Angry Shia protesters shot dead a policeman in the Hazara Town neighbourhood of Quetta, where police tried to break up a road block erected by a mob, local police station chief Ameer Mohammad Dasti told AFP. “Some protesters fired in the air in anger and one of the bullets wounded a policeman, who was taken to hospital but died,” Dasti said. Dozens of other Shia muslims also demonstrated in Quetta’s main Meezan Chowk square and outside the provincial police chief’s office, witnesses said. The Hazara Democratic Party condemned the attack and announced a ‘shutter down’ strike call for Friday, 30th March. Eight people lost their lives in separate incidents of firing by unidentified armed men in the province on Thursday. The first attack took place in Kali Mubarak area near Spini road, Quetta, where five people including a woman were killed and six people were injured, when some unknown armed men opened fire. According to police sources, a Suzuki pick up was on its way to the city, from Hazara town when it was ambushed by armed gunmen on Spini Road near Kali Mubarak. The indiscriminate firing killed two on the spot, while three of the injured lost their lives on their way to the Combined Military Hospital. The condition of three other injured was also believed to be critical. The victims belonged to the minority Shia Hazara ethnicity. The second attack took place in Mastung district of Balochistan, where the vehicle of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization came under attack. The gunmen opened fire on the UN staff as they were riding in a car through Mastung district, killing two people, said police officer Rustam Khan. “A driver and a staff member of FAO were killed and another staffer wounded after gunmen fired at their vehicle,” police official Shakir Ullah told AFP. It was not immediately clear why they were targeted and so far no one has claimed responsibility, he said. The two killed included a member of the group’s project staff and a hired driver, said a UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Another staff member was wounded, he said. The injured was shifted to Civil Hospital Mastung and was said to be in critical condition. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.