Diplomat snatched in Gaza

September 30th, 2019

The man, named by Egyptian officials in Gaza City as Hossam al-Musseli, was heading toward his office in Gaza City’s Al-Rimal

neighbourhood when masked gunmen surrounded his car and forced him into a separate vehicle, police said.


The kidnappers then took off on a coastal road heading toward the southern Gaza Strip.

Egyptian officials said Mr Musseli worked as a military adviser in the diplomatic mission.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ordered an urgent manhunt for the captors and the diplomat, as police erected barricades across the territory.

“This action is foreign to the traditions of the Palestinian people,” Mr Abbas said.

“We will not allow anyone to damage brotherly relations between Palestine and Egypt.”

An Egyptian delegation has been in the Gaza Strip for several months to help the Palestinian Authority reorganise its security forces following Israel’s pullout from the territory last September.

About 30 Egyptian military instructors left the territory last week at the end of their mission.

The radical movement Hamas, which won a landslide victory in parliamentary polls last month, also condemned the kidnapping.

“Those who carry out such acts are seeking to hurt our people and damage distinguished relations that link the Egyptian and

Palestinian people,” said Hamas’s spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu


Amr Mussa, secretary general of the Arab League, termed the kidnapping as “unacceptable”.

The kidnapping of a diplomat from “a country which has always supported the Palestinian people harms Palestinian interests,”

Mr Mussa said in a statement.

No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

Kidnappings of foreigners have become a frequent occurrence in the Gaza Strip amid the security chaos fostered by armed militants.

The kidnappings have been largely concentrated in the southern

Gaza Strip, close to the border with Egypt.

All those abducted have been released unharmed, usually within a matter of hours.

Mr Abbas has repeatedly failed to fulfill vows to address the security chaos in the Palestinian territories, especially in Gaza, where gunmen from a plethora of armed factions often operate above the law.

The kidnappings, which are usually accompanied by demands for either jobs or payment, have served to frighten off investment in Gaza, one of the most impoverished and overcrowded strips of land in the world.

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Brown blames White House

September 30th, 2019

Michael Brown, who was the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on last August, told a US Senate panel investigating the government’s slow response to the disaster that he had personally alerted the White House on the night the storm hit.


He dismissed claims by agency officials that they did not know about the severity of the damage until the day after he did.

Mr Brown said he had phoned White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin on Monday night, telling him of the destruction under way after a FEMA official had reported seeing breached levees during helicopter overflights of the Louisiana city.

“I think I told him that we were realizing our worst nightmare, that everything we had planned about, worried about, that FEMA, frankly, had worried about for about 10 years was coming true,” he said.

Mr Brown, who quit under fire days after the storm hit, said he agreed with descriptions of himself as a scapegoat.

He suggested that the administration’s fixation with fighting terrorism could be in part to blame for the slow government response, describing natural disasters as the “stepchild” of the Department of Homeland Security.

He said if there had been a report that a terrorist had blown up the 17th Street Canal levee, then action would have been taken immediately.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was told that Mr Brown had fought for emergency aid for New Orleans and was “as frustrated as everyone” over the slowness of the response.

“I was screaming and cussing,” he said, adding that he had pushed the appropriate officials to do everything they humanly could.

Homeland Security officials have told the committee they did not know the extent of the disaster until Tuesday, however Mr Brown dismissed the assertions as “disingenuous” and “baloney”.

Much of the blame for the mishandling of the disaster fell to Mr Brown in the days after the hurricane struck.

Critics say the administration’s response was too little and too late, and contributed to the loss of more than 1,300 lives in four states, including 1,100 in New Orleans and the state of Louisiana.

The debacle undermined public confidence in President Bush’s leadership abilities and contributed to a decline in his opinion poll ratings.

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US hostage in new video

September 30th, 2019

Ms Carroll, dressed in a headscarf and speaking directly to the camera, urged US authorities to comply with hostage-takers’ demands “as quickly as possible”, without elaborating.


“I’m fine, please just do whatever they want,” said the 28-year-old journalist, who was freelancing for the Christian Science Monitor when she was abducted on January 7.

“There is very short time,” she said, at first saying the video was being recorded on February 6 before correcting herself and saying it was February 2, 2006.

The video was aired on Al Rai TV, a private Kuwaiti channel, unlike two previous videos of Ms Carroll issued by her captors, which were handed over to the more widely watched al-Jazeera.

The video was delivered to the station’s Baghdad office, said Hani al-Srougi, an editor at the station’s headquarters in Kuwait.

It was accompanied by a letter written by Ms Carroll, which the station is holding.

In the tape, Ms Carroll mentions the letter and suggests that her captors issued a letter in her handwriting previously.

“I am with the mujahadeen (holy warriors). I sent you a letter written by my hand, but you wanted more evidence, so we are sending you this letter now to prove I am with the mujahadeen,” she said.

Emotional plea

Ms Carroll is being held by a group calling itself the Brigades of Vengeance, which has called for the freeing of all female prisoners from Iraqi jails as a condition for her release.

Ms Carroll was first seen in a video released on January 17 which showed her wearing a grey sweatshirt with her long brown hair loose.

Her captors made a threat to kill her unless their demands were met by January 20.

That deadline passed with no word on her fate until a new video appeared on al-Jazeera on January 30, showing Ms Carroll — now in an Islamic veil — weeping and making an emotional plea.

In late January, more than 400 Iraqi detainees, including five women, were released from US and Iraqi-run prisons, but authorities denied the move was linked to Ms Carroll’s case. Fifty more detainees, all men, were released last week.

The US military said it would also release a fresh batch of about 450 more people detained in Iraq, but did not specify whether any of them would be women.

Ms Carroll was abducted in Baghdad by armed men who shot dead her interpreter.

She had visited the office of a prominent Sunni political figure, Adnan al-Dulaimi, whom she hoped to interview.

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Egypt tomb discovery unveiled

September 30th, 2019

The previously unknown single-chamber tomb contains five sarcophagi, believed to contain mummies, surrounded by about 20 pharaonic jars.


“This is the first tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings since that of Tutankhamun 84 years ago,” Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawas told journalists at the recently excavated site.

Researchers from the University of Memphis made the discovery, and are yet to enter the tomb.

They found the entrance to the tomb by accident while working on a nearby tomb, said team leader Edwin Brock.

“It was a wonderful thing. It was just so amazing to find an intact tomb here after all the work that’s been done before. It was totally unexpected,” said Mr Brock.

He said it does not appear to be a pharaoh’s tomb, but rather one of a court member.

Mr Hawas said they might be royals or nobles moved from original graves to protect them from grave robbers.

He said the tomb, buried under three metres of limestone and pebbles, has to be cleaned before any attempt is made to open the sarcophagae and identify the mummies.

Based on their style, he said the jars appear to date to the late 18th Dynasty of around 1500 BC to 1300 BC.

The tomb is located near that of Tutankhamun, the last new burial site to be discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

Despite being one of Egypt’s least significant kings, Tutankhamun has been surrounded by mystique because of the legend of the curse released when the tomb was opened, supposedly leading to the deaths of Carter and other members of his team.

Mr Brock said the coffins appear to have suffered some termite damage, and conservation work will be needed.

The clay pots, which bear pharaonic seals but whose contents are as yet unknown, were arranged haphazardly, suggesting the burials were made in haste.

The Valley of the Kings was used as a burial site for royalty and nobles to the west of present day Luxor, around 700 kilometres south of Cairo.

Archaeologists say the latest discovery may reverse previously-held notions that there is nothing new left to discover in the valley.

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Senior Kenyan ministers quit

September 30th, 2019

President Mwai Kibaki said accepted the resignations of Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi and Education Minister George Saitoti.


The resignations come after another cabinet minister quit this month over two alleged schemes to milk state coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars, after Finance Minister David Mwiraria stood down on February 1.

“I have today accepted the request by (Saitoti) to step aside from his responsibilities … to pave the way for investigations into the issues raised in the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Goldenberg affair,” he said.

“I have further accepted the request by (Murungi) to step aside from his responsibilities … in order to allow full investigations into allegations made against him in regard to the Anglo Leasing affair,” he said.

“I urge all Kenyans to exercise patience as the relevant arms of the law carry out investigations into these issues,” he said.

Mr Murungi is alleged to have been involved in trying to block an inquiry, and was allegedly recorded asking Kenya’s former top anti-corruption investigator to slow down a corruption inquiry that became known as the Anglo Leasing scandal.

John Githongo resigned his post and fled to Britain around a year ago, citing death threats.

In January he implicated several top officials, including Mr Murungi and current vice president Moody Awori in Anglo Leasing.

An inquiry into an alleged US$600 million under the previous government called for Mr Saitoti to be investigated.

Vice President Awori has thus far refused to step down over Anglo Leasing, which involved the payment of more than $200m to fake firms.

As public anger mounted over Githongo’s revelations, the government last week released long-awaited report from an inquiry panel in the Goldenberg scandal in the 1990s.

The so-called Goldenberg affair involved huge sums of public money in a bogus gold and diamond export operation

While the scam predates the existing administration, the report implicated Me Saitoti who served as finance minister under the former president.

Mr Kibaki was elected in 2002 on an anti-corruption platform, and has faced criticism for failing to crack down on rampant graft within the government.

His personal assistant, Alfred Gitonga, has also been implicated in the Anglo Leasing scandal, and his contract has not been renewed, according to officials.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), a coalition of parties opposed to Mr Kibaki, has welcomed the resignations and pressed for prosecutions.

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Haiti clashes turn deadly

August 30th, 2019

Supporters of presidential candidate Rene Preval set up roadblocks and stormed a hotel to demand he be declared the winner.


Television pictures showed the lifeless body of a man wearing a bloodied t-shirt showing Mr Preval, and several people interviewed by the station blamed UN peacekeepers — in particular, Jordanian troops.

However UN mission spokesman David Wimhurst denied that peacekeepers were involved in the incident, saying while the peacekeepers were at the site of the incident, near the international airport, “they only fired two shots in the air.”

“It is impossible that they shot anybody, we have strict orders to only shoot in the air,” he said, blaming the casualties on “unknown persons.”

Senior Haitian police official Michael Lucius confirmed to AFP that they had been informed on one death.

The incident comes as the prospect of a second round runoff vote firms.

With nearly 90 percent of votes counted, Mr Preval reportedly had 48.7 percent — just short of the 50 percent required for an outright victory.

Mr Preval, a former president and ally of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is leading more than 30 presidential candidates.

Protests in capital

Massive crowds of protesters took to the streets of Port-au-Prince Monday, on setting up flaming barricades and demanding that Mr Preval be declared president.

The death reportedly occurred in the Tabarre neighbourhood, where witnesses said Jordanian UN troops in a jeep opened fire on protesters.

Meanwhile in the Petionville neighbourhood, thousands of people descended on the Montana Hotel, which is being used as an election centre, however no violence was reported.

The UN mission, known as MINUSTAH, deployed armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles, as well as helicopters throughout the capital, while UN special envoy Juan Gabriel Valdez held talks with Mr Preval, who returned to the capital from his hometown of Marmelade.

MINUSTAH was deployed in Haiti in 2004 after Jean Bertrand Aristide resigned the presidency and fled the country as it descended into chaos.

Since then, the force has lost nine of its men to violence in Haiti, while residents of the capital’s violent slums have accused MINUSTAH of killing numerous civilians.

The Brazilian general who commanded the force, Urano Texeira da Matta Baceilar, committed suicide in January, amid mounting criticism of the peacekeepers.

Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim has asked his US counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, to arrange a UN Security Council meeting on the Haiti tensions.

Voting irregularities

Meanwhile about 125,000 of the 2.2 million votes cast have been declared invalid due to irregularities.

Protesters have claimed that results are fraudulent and Mr Preval won the poll fairly and squarely.

The electoral council had said final results would be made public on Sunday but are yet to release the results.

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SAfrica Sophiatown returns

August 30th, 2019

The town’s best known sound, vibrant 1950s African jazz, greeted its former residents who cheered and swayed to the music at the suburb’s naming ceremony.


Elizabeth Kallesen could not contain her excitement, while others swayed and clapped their hands in time, she leapt to the floor and started swinging her hips like the young tap dancer she once was.

“I feel I can dance the whole day because they are singing the songs from Sophiatown,” the 64-year-old said with a grin.

Old men in sharp suits and women in flowing skirts and berets hugged each other and reminisced about old times, when Sophiatown was the heart and pulse of black urban culture.

“I’m feeling ecstatic about it. When we were thrown out we lost hope that we would ever be able to come back,” said jazz diva Abigail Kubeka, who started her singing career in Sophiatown.

When South Africa’s white regime took control of the Sophiatown in 1955, the suburb was renamed “Triomf” (Afrikaans for triumph).

“We are here today to rename Triomf to Sophiatown,” said city mayor Amos Masondo as he unveiled a signboard bearing the original name in bold black letters.

“There is no need to say how deeply divisive the name Triomf has been to our nation,” Mr Masondo told a crowd of some 500 people.

Forcibly removed

Around 65,000 black residents were forcibly removed from the working class area in western Johannesburg by the white minority government in 1955.

In February of that year, apartheid police armed with machine guns and truncheons surrounded the multi-racial suburb before homes were bulldozed and people’s possessions loaded onto open trucks.

It was one of the apartheid government’s biggest population removals under the Group Areas Act that defined where people lived according to their race.

Most residents dumped in a new township called Meadowlands, later incorporated into Soweto, about 10 kilometres to the south, where bleak rows of roughly constructed two-room houses awaited them.

Vibrant past

Often called the “Harlem” or “Greenwich village” of South Africa, Sophiatown was a contrasting but vibrant mix of red-roofed brick homes and tin shacks.

Liberation politics, illegal drinking dens, or shebeens, and music became the hallmarks of Sophiatown, which was surrounded by white suburbs.

Artists mixed with township ‘tsotsis’ (gangsters) who belonged to gangs like the Berliners and the Americans, adopting the names of American movie stars like John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart.

There were bands like the Boston Stars, the Manhattan Brothers and the Pitch Black Follies and famous ‘shebeens’ (illegal beer houses) like Aunt Babe’s and The House on Telegraph Hill where these bands used to play.

It was here where South African international music stars like trumpet maestro Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Abdullah Ibrahim first made a name for themselves.

Mr Masekela told AFP on Saturday that although he was happy that Sophiatown had got its name back, he still lamented the demise of what was once considered Johannesburg’s cultural heart.

“For me it’s sad. It’s almost like the unveiling of a tombstone – you relive the past and you commemorate,” he said.

“But can never bring back its glories,” Mr Masekela added.

Sophiatown was also a hotbed of liberation politics, and here where former President Nelson Mandela first called for the now ruling African National Congress (ANC) to take up armed resistance against racial segregation.

“Despite the poverty, Sophiatown had a special character; for Africans it was the Left Bank in Paris, Greenwich Village in New York, the home of writers, artists, doctors and lawyers. It was both bohemian and conventional, lively and sedate,” Mr Mandela recalled in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

Promised return

The ANC had promised after winning power in 1994 to return Sophiatown to its former name.

The City of Johannesburg decided to return the suburb to its original name in 1997, but local authorities were unable to meet the costs at the time and it took another nine years to complete the process.

In recent years multi-racial people have moved back into what had become new subsidised white housing, and some say the area is once again becoming a friendly multi-racial neighbourhood.

A few current residents emerged from their homes to be drawn into the renaming festivities.

Among them, 37-year-old Stander Kotze, a struggling white mechanic, and his two young children.

Mr Kotze, who grew up in the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement, was delighted by what he saw.

“You get spoon-fed to hate other people just because they are different,” he said. “But this is change. It’s beautiful and it can only get better.”

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AWB inquiry: shocking evidence

August 30th, 2019

A new document has been tabled proving that AWB executives were aware of the payments five years ago.


The market reports dating back to 2001, emerged overnight and may have been passed on to the Wheat Export Authority in 2003, as “Commercial in Confidence” documents.

The Cole inquiry is now attempting to find what information the was passed to the government regulator, the wheat export authority, three years ago.

Counsel Assisting the inquiry John Agius described the details of the documents, saying “…inland transport fees are paid to Alia, who then paid the Ministry of Transport in iraq. The fees are approved by the UN.”

Mr Agius was frustrated that AWB had taken so long in producing the most significant evidence to be submitted to inquiry so far, adding that the inquiry had now lost the opportunity to examine the eight witnesses that have already been called.

“These delayed productions impact not only on this inquiry…more broadly on the Australian community and AWB.” He said.

More important material expected

AWB’s legal defence team said it too was deeply concerned about the delay in evidence submissions and admitted it isn’t confident that everything relevant to the inquiry has been produced.

“Even as we arrived this morning we became aware of additional material that is likely to arrive today that is pertinent to this inquiry.” A spokesman for AWB’s legal team said.

AWB’s Marketing Manager Chris Whitwell became the ninth person to give evidence at the Cole Inquiry, and said Alia’s connection to the Iraqi regime was well known within the company.

AWB shares are now in a trading halt having tumbled 30 per cent since the Cole Inquiry started.

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EU chief on Mideast mission

August 30th, 2019

After arriving in Saudi Arabia, Mr Solana held a meeting in Jeddah with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference’s (OIC) secretary general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.


The OIC had earlier urged the EU to combat what it termed “Islamophobia” which it said should be equated with xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

“We have been talking today on how we can send a message to the people in both communities, the Islamic and European, that we need this not to happen again,” Mr Solana said in reference to Muslim anger over the publication of the cartoons in European newspapers.

After the meeting the parties said they would back United Nations action to stop “defamation of religion”.

The OIC is lobbying for the UN to include language against blasphemy in the tenets of a new human rights body.

“We agreed to take different measures including at the level of the United Nations to guarantee these acts will not be repeated,” Mr Ihsanoglu said.

Mr Solana’s four-day tour will include visits to Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel.

The cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, first published in a Danish newspaper, have triggered a wave of violent protests across the Muslim world.

Call for dialogue

Egypt’s foreign minister meanwhile has called for urgent dialogue between the West and Muslim countries to avert a clash of civilisations.

“We are witnessing the early signs of a campaign and a clash between the West and Islam,” Abul Gheit told a conference on security in the Middle East co-sponsored with NATO.

Thousands of students gathered on Monday at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University to protest against the cartoons and encourage a boycott of Danish products.

There were also demonstrations in Pakistan, where police in the northwest of the country fired teargas to disperse around 4,000 protesters.

Hundreds of Palestinian students demonstrated in the West Bank city of Hebron against the publication of the cartoons.

In Copenhagen, Denmark’s prime minister said the spread of false pictures, stories and rumours have tarnished the country’s image in the Muslim world.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, after meeting with moderate Muslim leaders, insisted Denmark was an open and tolerant country that respects all faiths.

“We have seen Denmark portrayed as a closed and intolerant society,” he said.

“The truth is the opposite. Denmark is an open and tolerant society, a tolerant society which respects all faiths.”

Tolerance urged

Meanwhile, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said it will meet with its Mediterranean Partners and representatives on tolerance and non-discrimination in Vienna on Thursday to appease the controversy over the cartoons.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, who holds the rotating OSCE presidency, has invited all 55 member-states — including Central Asian countries with a majority Muslim population — and its 11 Partners for Co-operation, among them Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, the OSCE said in a statement.

“The participating states show a profound attachment to freedom of expression; but equally to tolerance and mutual respect between people of different opinions and beliefs,” the Chairman of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Bertrand de Crombrugghe, said.

The OSCE promotes human rights, democratisation and conflict prevention in its 55 member states in Europe, North America and Central Asia.

Cartoons reprinted

A Canadian political magazine meanwile published eight of 12 controversial cartoons in a special edition on Monday, prompting censure from Muslim leaders there.

Ezra Levant of the conservative Western Standard, based in Calgary, said he reprinted the cartoons to support free speech and poke North American media which largely avoided the polemic.

“We’re not publishing them for their editorial merits or because we share their views. They’re actually boring compared to normal political cartoons, they’re bland,” he said.

Islam prohibits depictions of the Prophet.

Mohamed Elmasry, leader of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said he would press for criminal charges to be laid against the magazine for distributing hate literature under Canadian law.

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Brokeback wins four BAFTAs

August 30th, 2019

But the movie’s Australian star Heath Ledger, again missed out on the best-actor prize which went to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his depiction of troubled writer Truman Capote in Capote.


Brokeback Mountain beat a strong best-picture shortlist that included literary biopic Capote, LA story Crash, 1950s drama Good Night, and Good Luck and British favourite The Constant Gardener.

The Constant Gardener, a spy thriller and love story that went into the ceremony with 10 nominations, took only one award, for editing.

Memoirs of a Geisha won three awards, for cinematography, music and costume design.

Ang Lee was named best director for Brokeback, which is up for eight Academy Awards on March 5.

Jake Gyllenhaal won the best supporting actor prize for playing Jack Twist, one of two cowpokes who fall in love over the course of a Wyoming summer.

Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, who adapted Annie Proulx’s short story, won the adapted screenplay prize.

Reese Witherspoon was named best actress for playing June Carter Cash, wife and muse of country great Johnny Cash, in Walk the Line.

Thandie Newton took the best supporting actress award for Crash, an edgy depiction of racial divisions in modern-day Los Angeles.

The film, which had nine nominations, also won the prize for best original screenplay.

Red carpet soaked

A host of stars brought Hollywood glitz to rainy London as they walked a sodden red carpet in Leicester Square before the ceremony.

George Clooney, Charlize Theron, Desperate Housewives’ Felicity Huffman, The O.C.’s Mischa Barton and Crash star Matt Dillon were among the performers cheered by hundreds of fans huddled under ponchos and umbrellas against the downpour.

Clay-animation romp Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was named best British film, beating nominees including The Constant Gardener and Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice director Joe Wright won the award for best first-time writer, producer of director.

De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arrete (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) – an acclaimed French film about a man torn between a love of music and a life of crime – was named best film not in the English language.

Clooney went home empty-handed despite three nominations, as director for his study of repressive 1950s anti-Communism, Good Night, and Good Luck, and as supporting actor for that film and for political thriller Syriana.

But he said he was pleased that political cinema was undergoing a renaissance.

“In our country we hadn’t talked about politics or anything interesting since Watergate,” he said on the red carpet.

“Now you go to a coffee shop and people are talking about politics. It’s good.”

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