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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Boeing delivers biggest 747 to secret VIP buyer

Tue, Feb 28 19:49 PM EST
image

By Bill Rigby and Kyle Peterson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Boeing Co handed over the first passenger version of its upgraded and extended 747 to a secret VIP customer, who sent the gleaming, all-white plane along to a modification center to transform it into the "jewel of the sky."

The delivery of the 747-8 Intercontinental - Boeing's largest and most recognizable commercial airplane - caps a development delay of more than a year.

Boeing, the world's second-largest plane-maker marked the milestone with an understated ceremony, keeping the media at arm's length to safeguard the identity of its customer, thought by industry insiders to be the state of Qatar.

"The 747 is the most iconic airplane in the world, and I know customers are going to love what we've done to enhance its performance," Jim Albaugh, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a statement.

"The Intercontinental is fast, efficient and quiet, offering real savings and a great flying experience," he said.

Boeing, which competes for orders with rival Airbus, has taken 36 orders - nine from non-airline customers - for the aircraft, which lists at $332.9 million. The airplane is more than 12 months behind its initial delivery schedule and some experts say the order book is puny.

The Intercontinental is an elongated, upgraded version of the classic 747, which first flew more than 40 years ago. The 747 was the world's largest airplane until 2005, when Airbus unveiled its A380.

Only one A380 has been ordered by a wealthy individual, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

"The 747-8 has been slow to take off, and the success of the aircraft is still questionable given so few orders," said Alex Hamilton, an aerospace analyst and managing director at EarlyBirdCapital.


Boeing had delayed the delivery to 2012 from the fourth quarter of 2011. The company blamed delays in flight testing and the time required to incorporate flight-test driven changes.

A delay of a year or more is not unusual for modern commercial plane launches. Both Airbus' massive A380 and Boeing's carbon-composite 787 suffered multi-year delays.

Boeing does not identify VIP customers, but past buyers of customized planes have been multimillionaires and heads of state.

The first airline set to receive the plane is Germany's Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which has ordered 20. Boeing has not set a delivery date for Lufthansa's first Intercontinental.

EXTENSIVE MODIFICATIONS

VIP customers for planes as large as the 747 often request extensive modifications such as bedrooms or bathrooms to accommodate the special needs of the primary passengers and their entourages. These modifications typically are done outside of Boeing, but the company must sign off on the changes.

Boeing Business Jets president Steve Taylor, who was set to fly the airplane from Paine Field near Seattle, said it will spend about six months at Boeing's Wichita facility - the plant that modified Air Force One - for basic modifications.

From there it goes to a facility in Hamburg where it will spend two years receiving customer-specific outfitting like bedrooms, dining rooms and galleys, he said.

Taylor said the unnamed customer wants the new Intercontinental to be the "jewel of the sky."

The Intercontinental incorporates some of the technology of the lightweight, carbon-composite 787 Dreamliner. It can seat 467 passengers, 51 more than the current version of the 747, but fewer than the competing 525-seat A380.

By some estimates, the new 747-8 is 8 to 10 tonnes overweight. Elizabeth Lund, 747 program manager, acknowledged the plane is heavier than originally planned. But she said a redesigned wing makes up for the weight in terms of performance.

Additional weight can reduce the distance a plane can fly or the amount of cargo it can carry.

Boeing said the plane would meet the original performance commitments it made in the sale catalog by 2014.

The freighter version of the 747-8 was first delivered in October. Orders for the freighter have been strained by an economic downturn that has dampened cargo markets.

Boeing delivered its first 787 Dreamliner last year after three years of delays. The 787 represents a bigger leap in technology than the 747-8.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle and Kyle Peterson in Chicago; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Tim Dobbyn and Carol Bishopric)

==

Boeing exec: 787 long-term build rate on track
Fri, Mar 02 18:27 PM EST

By Bill Rigby

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Boeing Co will build 10 787 Dreamliners per month by the end of 2013, the head of the plane-maker's commercial airplanes division said on Friday, shrugging off industry concerns that a glitch in the fuselage will put the goal out of reach.

"It shouldn't," Jim Albaugh said on the sidelines of an event marking the 1,000th delivery of Boeing's widebody 777. Dubai-based Emirates Airline will receive the plane this month.

Last month, the world's second-largest commercial plane-maker after EADS unit Airbus, reported signs of "delamination" on the rear fuselage of some 787s. Delamination occurs when repeated stress causes laminated composite materials to separate.

Boeing has said the problem would affect the first 55 787s that were assembled but that the issue is now contained and will not be repeated. The company says the repair will take 10 to 14 days per plane, but will be done concurrently with other work.

"It's going to have a short-term impact on production and deliveries, but we think for the year we'll be in good shape," Albaugh said.

The light-weight, carbon-composite Dreamliner is popular among airline customers, which have ordered about 870. The plane, which entered commercial service last year, is about three years behind its original schedule.

The company said it increased the 787 production rate to 3.5 per month from 2.5 on Thursday. Boeing has delivered only five 787s so far, all to its launch customer All Nippon Airways. The company delivered no 787s in February.

Last week, Boeing swapped the heads of its 787 Dreamliner and 777 programs, in hopes that the long-time 777 leader Larry Loftis can keep the Dreamliner production rate on track.

Boeing is raising production rates on all of its commercial airplane programs to meet increased demand.

The 777 production rate went up from five to seven per month in 2011 and is headed to 8.3 in the first quarter of 2013. Boeing, meanwhile, intends to update the popular 777 but has not disclosed specific plans.

Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline & Group, said at the Boeing celebration that he would be "very interested" in the next version of 777.

When asked when the new version of the 777 would be in service, Albaugh said: "We're talking late in the decade."

According to Boeing's website on Friday, Emirates has taken delivery of 53 777s and has another 86 on order. Boeing has 373 unfilled orders for 777s on its books.


(Reporting By Bill Rigby in Seattle and Kyle Peterson in Chicago. Editing by Gunna Dickson)

===

Boeing has inspected five 787s for fuselage flaw
Mon, Mar 05 17:50 PM EST
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SEATTLE (Reuters) - Boeing Co has inspected five 787 Dreamliners for a recently discovered flaw in the fuselage and remains on track to build 10 of the airplanes per month by the end of 2013, the new head of Boeing's 787 program said on Monday.

The plane maker is inspecting the first 55 787s built before the problem was discovered and will repair them as needed, Larry Loftis told Reuters before a groundbreaking ceremony for a new delivery center at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

"We will touch every single airplane," said Loftis, the former leader of Boeing's successful 777 airplane program.

The Dreamliner is the world's first commercial airplane with an airframe made largely of light-weight carbon composites. It boasts unprecedented fuel-efficiency and is a hit among customers who have ordered about 870 of the planes.

However, the plane is about three years behind its original development and production schedule. The Dreamliner's development was disrupted several times by problems with suppliers, such as a delay in the availability of a Rolls-Royce engine needed for the final phases of flight testing.


Boeing, the world's second-largest commercial plane-maker after EADS unit Airbus, made first delivery of a Dreamliner last year to All Nippon Airways and is ramping up the production rate to 10 per month, a target many experts believe to be unattainable.

Last month, Boeing reported signs of "delamination" on the rear fuselage of some 787s. Delamination occurs when stress causes layered composite materials to separate.

Boeing has said it will take 10 to 14 days per plane to repair. The problem caused some experts to again question the production rate target. Boeing has said the repair may affect deliveries in the first part of 2012, but not in the longer term.

The company increased the 787 production rate to 3.5 per month from 2.5 last week. The plane-maker has delivered only five 787s so far, all to All Nippon Airways, and delivered none in February.

Last month, Boeing swapped the heads of its 787 Dreamliner and 777 programs, in hopes that the long-time 777 leader Loftis can keep the Dreamliner production rate on track.

Boeing is raising production rates on all of its commercial airplane programs to meet increased demand.

(Reporting By Laura Myers in Seattle; Writing by Kyle Peterson; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

===========

Mansourieh- first of its kind

Start working in the field of gas Mansourieh
February 28, 2012 Leave a Comment

Source: Neno’s Place – A Community of Reality
URL: http://www.nenosplace.com/showthread.php?54578-Start-working-in-the-field-of-gas-Mansourieh&goto=newpost

Start working in the field of gas Mansourieh

On: Wednesday 29/2/2012 8:09

Diyala / agencies
Began a consortium of three companies work officially in the field Mansourieh gas in Diyala province, and included action steps the first cleaning and tuck mines and waste existing military within the borders of the field. Was a coalition of three companies, consisting of companies (T. Me. Any. Or) Turkish and (Kocaz) Korean, and (Kuwait Energy) Kuwaiti

Won a tour of third licensing set up by the Iraqi Oil Ministry in late 2010 to invest in the field that was discovered in 1979 in terms of Mansourieh of Khalis, at a distance of 50 km east of Baquba, and a length of 52 km and 5 km wide, and includes four dug wells, and estimated inventory the gaseous B (4.5) trillion cubic meters of gas.

The first deputy governor of Diyala Furat al-Tamimi said the contract between the foreign companies operating in the oil and gas, and the Oil Ministry, is the first of its kind in the province, adding that the security file is the most important factor in the success and sustainability of the investment companies at work in the province, and pointed out that there Directorate of the protection of investors and investment companies under the command of the Diyala police take it upon themselves since the protection of sites and investment companies in Diyala.

For his part, said district director Mansourieh Abdul Khaliq al-Azzawi said the atmosphere of the field is safe, not to worry, explaining that representatives from the companies met him and a number of tribal sheiks, referring to the elders and notables of the clan pride, which is the field gas within the areas of their presence, have pledged support and backing for investment companies, and offer all of the work would succeed.

To the Chief of the Investment Authority in Diyala Engineer Mjul Mahdi that the process of conclusion of contract oil and gas is the responsibility of the Ministry of Oil and not for the body’s role in it, but he wished to proceed with other foreign companies working and investing in the province, noting that in Diyala province, promising investment opportunities in all fields of agriculture, trade, industrial and housing and transportation, but the foreign companies are still reluctant to come to the province because of poor security situation, which earned the conservative image inherent to them.

and hopes of many young people and the unemployed that are available to them job opportunities in the field Mansourieh gas after he began work formally, and the young man says Sari Abdullah, one of the inhabitants of hand Mansourieh he hoped to get a job in the field so that the allowance of his family, he said, adding that he and some time looking hard for work to no avail.

The citizen Omar Jubouri said that the entry of investment companies to maintain a source of hope for the youth and the unemployed, so they can help themselves and their families and escape from the specter of unemployment that threatens their future.

Gunmen open fire on bus in Pakistan, 18 killed

28 Feb 2012 06:42

Source: reuters // Reuters

(Adds details, background)

By Jibran Ahmad

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Gunmen opened fire on a passenger bus in the northern Pakistani district of Kohistan in an apparent sectarian attack on Tuesday, killing 18 people, police officials said.

"All the people on board were Shi'ites, and at the moment it looks like they were targeted by armed men from the local Sunni community," a senior police official told Reuters.

The bus was traveling from central Pakistan city of Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, to the northern town of Gilgit.

Police officials said the bus came under attack in an area inhabited by two Sunni tribes about 165 km (102 miles) north of Islamabad.

The majority of Pakistanis are Sunni Muslims, with Shi'ites accounting for around 15 percent of a population of around 180 million.

Both communities largely live in peace with each other but militants from the two sides have killed thousands of people in tit-for-tat attacks since the beginning of Islamist militancy in the country in the 1980s.

Shi'ite Muslims are a minority sect of Islam, arising from a dispute over the successor to the Prophet Mohammad 1,400 years ago. Many extreme Sunni Muslims consider them apostates. (Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in DERA ISMAIL KHAN; Writing by Rebecca Conway; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Sanjeev Miglani)

===

Sectarian violence: Jundallah claims responsibility for Kohistan bus attack
By Web Desk / Our Correspondent / Agencies
Published: February 28, 2012

18 victims, most of them Shia pilgrims, were returning home when attack took place. PHOTO: AFP/ FILE

PESHAWAR / DI KHAN: Outlawed terrorist group Jundallah has claimed responsibility for an attack a bus on Karakoram Highway in the Kohistan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which killed 18 people on Tuesday.

Jundallah’s commander Ahmed Marwat, who contacted media persons soon after the attack, claimed responsibility for the assault.

The attack took place when gunmen opened fire on the bus which was en route to Gilgit from Rawalpindi with 39 passengers on board. The bus was owned by Mashaburum private bus service.

Seven armed men stopped two buses and a coaster. The armed men were reported to be in Army uniform. They asked the passengers to get off the bus and shot them after checking their CNICs.


Most of the victims were pilgrims who were going back to their native areas after visiting holy shrines in Iran.

A source in the district administration in Dassu told The Express Tribune that residents of Tangir’s Darkai valley, Commander Abdul Qayyum, Saddar Shariat and Burhan Shariat, sons of Gul Shahzada: Abdul Karim and Abdul Qadeem, sons of Abdul Ghafoor are suspected to be involved in the massacre.

Driver Muhammad Younus of Nagar valley, Najibullah, Suhail Ahmed are among the deceased.

“All the people on board were Shia, and at the moment it looks like they were targeted by armed men from the local Sunni community,” a senior police official had earlier told Reuters.

“Armed men hiding on both sides of the road attacked the bus,” local police chief Mohammad Ilyas said.


“Initial reports said 18 people have died and eight wounded,” he added.

Police officials said the bus came under attack in an area inhabited by two Sunni tribes about 165 km (102 miles) north of Islamabad.

The ambush happened near the town of Harban Nullah. DCO Chilas confirmed the incident.

The bodies of the deceased have been kept at Shatial hospital.

Local MP Abdul Sattar Khan linked the ambush to the murder of two Sunni Muslims a few days ago in Gilgit.

“The people of the area had vowed they would take revenge,” Khan told AFP by telephone.


Rehman Malik constitutes three-member investigation team

Interior Minister Rehman Malik constituted a three-member investigation team which will be supervised by the Deputy Inspector General of Hazara Division.

The team will comprise members from Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and police officials.

The team will produce an investigation report within three days.

President Zardari takes notice of the attack

President Asif Ali Zardari, while taking notice of the attack said that the injured admitted in the hospital should be facilitated with the best treatment.

President Zardari also sought an investigative report of the attack.

Schools in Gilgit to remain closed for three days: CM G-B

While speaking to Express News, Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Syed Mehdi Shah said that he was in contact with the chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and that investigations were underway.

“We [G-B government] have alerted the army, Frontier Corps and police so that no other incident could take place,” said Shah.

He said that section 144 has been imposed in Gilgit, while schools will remain closed for three days.


==

Pakistani Shias hold demos

Sat, 03 Mar 2012 03:32:17 GMT

Thousands of Pakistani Shia Muslims have staged demonstrations across the country to condemn Tuesday’s massacre in a northern town that left 18 people dead, Press TV reports.

Demonstrations were held after Friday prayers in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, and many other cities and towns across the country.

The gatherings were organized by the Imamia Student Organization (ISO), the All Pakistan Shia Action Committee (APSAC), and Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan (MWMP), a Press TV correspondent reported.

The demonstrators shouted slogans against the government and censured the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

They also denounced the Saudi policy of funding extremist groups in Pakistan who commit acts of violence against other Muslims.

The Shia Muslims were killed when a bus carrying passengers from Rawalpindi to the northern town of Gilgit came under attack in the mountainous region of Kohistan.

The bus was carrying 39 people, mostly Shia pilgrims, returning to their hometowns after visiting holy shrines in various Iranian cities.

The outlawed terrorist group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the attack.

Talking to Press TV, protest leader Abbas Kumaili strongly condemned the incident and said he held the government responsible for failing to maintain law and order. Other speakers criticized the US-Israeli-Saudi troika for fomenting chaos in the country.

Following Tuesday’s incident, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced the formation of a special team comprised of high-ranking police and intelligence officials to investigate the incident.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence and extended his condolences to families of the victims of the “abhorrent attack.”

============
Former Malir Bar president, son killed in shooting
By Web Desk
Published: March 24, 2012

Salahuddin Haider and his son were driving to work when unidentified gunmen opened fire on them. PHOTO: INP/ FILE

KARACHI: Salahuddin Haider, former president of the Malir Bar association, and his son were killed by four unidentified gunmen who opened fire on them in the Memon Goth area on Saturday, Express News reported.

Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah called for an immediate arrest of the perpetrators, while chief justice of Sindh High Court also took notice of the incident.

Haider and his son were driving to work when four gunmen on two motorcycles opened fire on their vehicle, injuring both of them. The victims died on the way to the hospital.

The motive of this attack is still unknown, although there has been speculation that it was an act of terrorism.

Afaq Ahmed’s security squad attacked, 2 policemen injured

Unidentified men fired at Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM-Haqiqi) chairman Afaq Ahmed’s vehicle, injuring two security policemen in the Landhi 6 area on Saturday.

According to reports, the security squad was exiting a petrol pump after refueling when suddenly unidentified men opened fire on the car, injuring two policemen. According to DSP Mirza Majeed, it has not yet been confirmed whether the unidentified men were robbers or terrorists.

The injured policemen have been taken to Jinnah Hospital whereas the unknown gunmen fled the scene.

Operations to take place against target killings, extortion: Manzoor Wassan

Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wassan, speaking to the media in Karachi, said that the Sindh government has decided to carry out operations against target killings and extortion in the city.

“Police will work further to end sectarian killings… like the target killing of former Malir Bar association president today,” he said.

He added that the police will be assisted by the Rangers in eliminating the practice of extortion in the city.

=============

Saturday, February 25, 2012

UPDATE 2-Blackstone names Gray to board as real estate money piles in

Fri, Feb 24 16:53 PM EST

* Gray youngest member of Blackstone board

* Latest real estate fund passes $10 bln -source

* Real estate fund likely to reach $12 bln -source

* Shares up more than 2 percent

By Ilaina Jonas and Greg Roumeliotis

Feb 24 (Reuters) - Blackstone Group LP named Jonathan Gray to its board on Friday, elevating the co-head of its real estate business at a time when the private equity giant's latest real estate fund looks set to surpass a fundraising record.

Blackstone Real Estate Partners VII, part of the business that Gray oversees, has surpassed the $10 billion mark and is likely to reach $12 billion by the time it closes in February next year, a source familiar with the situation said.


Blackstone's previous real estate fund raised $10.9 billion, which was also a record for real estate, the source said.

Blackstone spokeswoman Heather Lucania declined to comment on fundraising. The Wall Street Journal earlier reported the fund's status on Friday.

Gray, 42, is seen as the force behind Blackstone becoming one of the world's largest owners of commercial real estate. Blackstone's real estate arm is active in nearly every major sector of commercial real estate, owning offices, warehouse and distribution centers, shopping centers and hotels.

The business has added to the company's profits especially at a time when private equity business has been slow and prompted rivals in the industry to follow suit.

Real estate contributed $1 billion towards Blackstone's reported 2011 economic net income of $1.4 billion, a measure of the firm's profitability. This is despite real estate making up just a quarter of the firm's $166 billion assets under management as of Dec. 31.


The firm's fund-raising power for real estate investments comes in stark contrast to the overall lack of appetite institutional investors have shown for private equity real estate investment. According to a January survey by Preqin, which tracks private equity fund-raising, the level of private fund commitments is the lowest in two years.

Only 36 percent of the investors surveyed said they were likely to commit to real estate funds through January, according to the survey released on Friday. That's down from 45 percent in January 2011 and 47 percent in January 2010.

"If you look at the real estate businesses, the economic net income, they have been the biggest contributor to ENI over the past couple of years," Sandler O'Neill analyst Michael Kim said. "That just reinforces the success that they have had as well as the growth of that business over the last few years."

YOUNGEST MEMBER

Gray's addition to the private equity firm's board increases the number of directors to eight. He is also the youngest executive member of the board, possibly putting him among candidates to eventually take the top job at the private equity firm.

Other Blackstone executives on the board include Steve Schwarzman, the firm's 65-year-old co-founder and chief executive; Tony James, Schwarzman's anointed successor and 61-year-old chief operating officer; and Tom Hill, the 63-year-old head of the firm's hedge funds group.

Gray joined Blackstone in 1992 and became a senior managing director in 2000. In 2005, he was named co-head of real estate.

Under his leadership, Blackstone became the largest owner of hotels in the world, engineered the biggest real estate acquisition with its $20 billion buy of Equity Office Properties, and raised the biggest real estate fund so far.

Blackstone clinched last year's biggest buyout thanks to its real estate arm, when it bought 600 U.S. shopping malls from Centro for $9.4 billion. Centro, one of Australia's high-profile victims of the 2008 global financial crisis, had run up a heavy debt load with an ill-timed expansion into the United States.

At the end of last year, Blackstone also bought 82 suburban office properties in the Midwest and southern United states for $1.06 billion.


Shares of Blackstone on Friday closed up 2.4 percent at $15.98 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nacala coal terminal work to begin -Mozambique PM

Wed, Feb 22 22:49 PM EST

TOKYO, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Mozambique's Prime Minister Aires Aly said in Tokyo on Thursday his nation plans to start construction of a coal terminal at the northern port of Nacala in the next few months, aiming for it to be operational in two to three years.

Brazil's Vale plans to spend $4.4 billion to build the terminal and a 912 km (570 mile) rail line connecting its coal mine with the port. The line and the port will initially have a capacity of 18 million tonnes to meet Vale's rising demand for exports.

Train Crash in Buenos Aires Kills At Least 49

February 22, 2012, 1:47 pm

By JENNIFER PRESTON and ROBERT MACKEY
Video broadcast by C5N, an Argentine news channel, of the moment a train hit a barrier in a station in Bueons Aires on Wednesday.

Updated | 2:09 p.m. A 7-year-old boy was among the first of the 49 people confirmed killed in a train crash in Buenos Aires that also left at least 550 people injured, according to local media reports, including the Buenos Aires Herald.

A packed train derailed at the Once Station, one of the city’s busy central train stations, and crashed at the end of the track about 8:30 a.m., trapping hundreds of commuters.

“There are people still trapped, people alive, and there may have been fatalities,” Argentina’s transport secretary, Juan Pablo Schiavi, told reporters before rescue workers, began removing the dead from the wreckage of twisted metal and shattered glass. According to Mr. Schiavi, the train was traveling at too high a speed when it approached the station, hitting the barrier at the end of the platform, crumpling the front engine and collapsing commuter rail cars behind it. Most of those killed were in the first two cars.

Video posted online by C5N, an Argentine news channel, showed security camera footage of the moment the train hit the barrier. The Argentine newspaper La Nacion’s report on the crash included two video clips shot from the platform shortly after the accident that show the damage to the train and passengers leaving the scene.

One of the passengers told reporters, according to local media reports: “I had people piled on top of me, none of us could move.”

Several witnesses appear to have recorded images of the scene in the immediate aftermath of the crash. One injured man even showed a television crew video he shot on his phone, as he waited for treatment.

This is the second deadly train crash in Argentina in recent months. In September, a train flew through the air after hitting a bus and smashed into another train, killing at least 11 people and injuring 250. A security camera at the train station captured video of that accident as well.

===============

Mar. 4, 2012 4:58 AM ET
2 trains collide in Poland killing 15
VANESSA GERA, Associated Press THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES

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The wreckage of collided trains lies, in Szczekociny, southern Poland, Sunday, March 4, 2012. Polish prosecutors have opened an investigation into how a train ended up on the wrong tracks after two engines collided head on late Saturday, killing 15 people and leaving 54 in hospitals. (AP Photo/Michal Legierski) POLAND OUT
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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Two trains running on the same track collided head-on in southern Poland late Saturday, leaving 15 people dead and 56 injured — the country's worst train disaster in more than 20 years.

Several of the passengers were foreigners, including people from Ukraine, Spain and France, but none of them appeared to be among the dead or badly injured, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said.

An unnamed passenger interviewed on the all-news station TVN24 said he felt the force of the collision.

"I hit the person in front of me. The lights went out. Everything flew," he said. "We flew over the compartment like bags. We could hear screams. We prayed."


Rescue workers were bringing in heavy equipment Sunday to try and free a corpse from the mangled wreckage of the train, while the injured are being treated in several area hospitals. A doctor in one, Szymon Nowak, said many of the injured were in a serious condition, with some in artificially induced comas.

"It's a very, very sad day and night in the history of Polish railways and for all of us," Tusk said.

The accident in the southern town of Szczekociny comes less than three months before millions of football fans will start crisscrossing the country — many by train — to watch matches at the Euro 2012 football championships, which is being co-hosted by Ukraine.

Poland, which is still recovering from decades of communist rule, doesn't have the high-speed trains of Western Europe. However, it does offer fairly speedy service between some key cities, and trains are generally seen as safe and used by many in the country of 38 million.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into how one of the trains ended up on the wrong track, but Tusk said it was too soon to draw any conclusions.

One train was traveling from the eastern city of Przemysl to Warsaw, while the other — on the wrong track — was heading south from Warsaw to Krakow. Maintenance work was being done on the tracks before the accident happened, officials said.


Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski also visited the site on Sunday.

The tragedy was the worst involving trains since 1990, when 16 people were killed in a collision involving two trains in the Warsaw suburb of Ursus. Since then, the most serious Polish rail accident was in 1997, when 12 people were killed in Reptowo.

The country's most deadly train disaster dates back to 1980, when 65 people were killed when a freight train collided with a passenger train near Otloczyn.


=========

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

PRESS DIGEST - Wall Street Journal, Financial Times

PRESS DIGEST - Wall Street Journal - Feb 22
Wed, Feb 22 02:01 AM EST

Feb 22 (Reuters) - The following were the top stories in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.

* The Obama administration will propose lowering the top income-tax rate for corporations to 28 percent from 35 percent, but would raise overall tax revenue by eliminating dozens of deductions in an effort to restructure corporate taxes.

* The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said it will target bank overdraft fees, aiming to help consumers avoid unexpected charges.

* Greece's bailout and debt deal will leave it with a huge debt burden and presents implementation challenges that may derail the program and prevent a return to growth.

* Citigroup is facing a multibillion-dollar write-down as it begins unwinding its minority investment in the Morgan Stanley Smith Barney brokerage.

* Johnson & Johnson picked Alex Gorsky to be its next chief executive. He will take over from longtime leader William Weldon in April.

* A federal judge dismissed a foreign bribery case against 16 business people arrested in a sting involving a phony military contract as the Justice Department quit the case after two trial setbacks.

* Beer heavyweights including Anheuser-Busch InBev NV , on the hunt for assets in faster-growing markets, are examining a possible purchase of the owner of Czech lager Staropramen in a deal that could be valued at as much as $3 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

===

PRESS DIGEST - Financial Times - Feb 22
Tue, Feb 21 22:47 PM EST

Financial Times

WELLS FARGO TO BUY ENERGY LOAN PORTFOLIO

Wells Fargo has agreed to buy an energy loan portfolio from BNP Paribas with a historical value of $11 billion.

BC PARTNERS RAISES 6.5 BLN EUROS FOR NEW DEALS

London-based buy-out firm BC Partners has completed one of the largest private equity capital raisings since the global financial crisis by collecting 6.5 billion euros ($8.62 billion)for its latest European fund.

GREEK RACE TO UNLOCK BAILOUT

The Greek government is racing to complete a lengthy checklist of reforms demanded by international lenders before the end of February to unlock a 130 billion euros bailout agreed in the early hours of Tuesday after months of high-stakes bargaining.

UK POLICE INVESTIGATE THREADNEEDLE ROGUE TRADE ATTEMPT

Police in London are investigating a suspected $150 million trading fraud attempted by a former trader at the British investment house Threadneedle.

UK'S OSBORNE URGED TO CUT TAXES ON BUSINESS

British finance minister George Osborne has come under renewed pressure from some members of Britain's ruling Conservative Party to cut business taxes and simplify labour laws in next month's budget.

WELDON TO STEP DOWN AS J&J CHIEF

William Weldon will retire as chief executive of Johnson & Johnson, marking an end to a tenure that has been marred by an embarrassing string of product recalls.

SINGER CHURCH SET TO SETTLE HACKING CASE

Singer Charlotte Church is on the verge of settling her phone-hacking case against the News of the World, raising the prospect that Rupert Murdoch's newspaper group will face no High Court trial over the scandal, it emerged on Tuesday.

M&B HOMES IN ON CHIEF EXECUTIVE

Mitchells & Butlers has drawn up a shortlist of three candidates to be chief executive after the job was spurned by three high-profile industry executives amid concerns at the influence wielded by the pub group's dominant shareholder, Joe Lewis.

MAZDA PLANS $2.1 BILLION CAPITAL RAISING

Mazda, the Japanese carmaker, is planning to raise about 170 billion yen ($2.1 billion) in capital to expand its production network overseas, according to people familiar with the matter.

Middle-East's first drive-thru bank opens in Dubai

Posted by: Alice Haine

Tags: tellers , security , recipes , drive-thru , cheques , cash , bank , UAE , Hilal , Dubai , Al , ATM , transactions

Feb, 20 2012
> WEB-pf25fe-alice-blog.jpg
> We've all heard of drive-thru wedding ceremonies, drive-thru burger joints and even drive-thru funeral parlours. Now, Dubai has its very own drive-thru bank.
> Al Hilal, an Abu-Dhabi based Islamic bank, launched the Middle East's first "money-station" this week at its new Jumeirah bank on Dubai's Al Wasl Road.
> The customer simply drives into a lane, speaks to the teller onscreen and then inserts cash, application forms or cheques into a specially designed plastic capsule and presses send. The transparent capsule then shoots - sci-fi style - up a transparent tube to the teller.
> You can then bop along to the radio while your transaction is dealt with and wait until the capsule shoots back down the tube with your receipts, cash or new bank card in it. Crazy, but true.
> It's the first service of it's kind in the Middle East, with the tube-banking concept inspired by similar services in the US, but is Dubai, or even the UAE, ready for such a concept?
> "Dubai is a city that has always been at the forefront of innovation and this is another innovation that fits very well within its DNA " says Mohamed Berro, the group chief executive of Al Hilal bank. "Customers can carry out complete banking transactions without getting out of the car.
> With three drive-thru lanes to choose from and the option to still go into the bank if you want a face-to-face meeting, this should avoid any queues.
> And for those worried about security, Mr Berro says the risk of having your transaction interrupted by a hardened criminal are about as high as they would be at any ATM, plus there will be security on hand outside the bank.
> As someone with two young children, I can certainly see huge advantages with something like this. Imagine not having to unload and then reload the children while you pay in cheques or apply for a car loan. Sounds like bliss to me.
> And, of course, in a very competitive consumer banking market, it makes sense for Al Hilal to have a gimmick like this up its sleeve.

US apologizes to Afghans for Quran burning & Massacre

http://youtu.be/s9kAVlnGMTU

Associated PressAssociated Press – 9 hrs ago

Video: Quran burning sparks angry Afghan protestAP 1:18 | 3926 views
Protesters throw stones toward US soldiers standing at the gate of Bagram airbase . The US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, apologised and ordered an investigation into a report that troops "improperly disposed of a large number of Islamic religious materials which included Korans"View Gallery

Protesters throw stones toward US soldiers standing at the gate of Bagram airbase …

Article: Taliban: Changed, but still a potent threat

Sat, Feb 11, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is apologizing for the burning of Muslim holy books in a pile of garbage at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

Press secretary Jay Carney says it was a "deeply unfortunate incident" that does not reflect the respect the U.S. military has for the religious practices of the Afghans.

Carney echoed military officials Tuesday in saying that the Quran burning at Bagram Air Field happened unintentionally, and an investigation was being undertaken to understand why it did and ensure it would not happen again.

A Western military official said the Qurans were removed from a library at a nearby detention center because they contained extremist messages. Carney did not address those specifics, referring questions to defense officials.

He said the administration was following the matter closely.

=======

U.S. Embassy in Kabul on lockdown amid protests
Wed, Feb 22 02:08 AM EST
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KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said on Wednesday its staff were on lockdown and all travel was suspended amid violent protests across the capital over the burning of Korans at NATO's main base in Afghanistan.

"The embassy is on lockdown; all travel suspended. Please, everyone, be safe out there," the embassy's official Twitter feed said of the protests where demonstrators screamed "Death to America!"

Police fired shots as around 1,000 protesters gathered for a second day of violent clashes after copies of Islam's holy book were burned on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Michael Georgy)

==============

Taliban urge Afghans to kill "invaders" after Koran burnings
Thu, Feb 23 01:16 AM EST
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KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban urged Afghans on Thursday to target foreign military bases and "beat and kill" Westerners in retaliation for burnings of copies of Islam's holy book, the Koran, at NATO's main base in the country as a third day of protests began.

Thousands of demonstrators rallied across the country on Wednesday, some chanting "Death to America!" and demanding U.S. and foreign military forces leave Afghanistan, Reuters witnesses and local officials said.

"Our brave people must target the military bases of invader forces, their military convoys and their invader bases," read an e-mailed Taliban statement released by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

"They have to kill them (Westerners), beat them and capture them to give them a lesson to never dare desecrate the holy Koran again."

The U.S. government and the American commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan apologized for "unintentional" burnings after Afghan laborers found charred copies of the Koran while collecting rubbish at the huge Bagram Airbase, about an hour's drive north of Kabul.

The largest protests on Thursday were in eastern Laghman province, with others erupting in the eastern city of Jalalabad and in the capital Kabul.

Six people were killed and dozens wounded in demonstrations on Wednesday across the country, prompting President Hamid Karzai to urge calm.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Rob Taylor and Nick Macfie)

===================

Feb. 23, 2012 10:12 AM ET
US official: Afghan soldier kills 2 US troops
AMIR SHAH, Associated Press
PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES

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Afghan security forces arrive at the scene of an anti-U.S. demonstration at a NATO military base in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. Anti-American demonstrations continued for a second day Wednesday in Afghanistan over what the U.S. has said was the inadvertent burning of Muslim holy books at a NATO military base. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
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US official: 2 NATO troops killed by Afghan soldier during Quran protests were American

Feb. 23, 2012 10:01 AM ET
Afghan president's office: Obama has sent a letter formally apologizing for Quran burning

Feb. 23, 2012 7:47 AM ET
UN panel compiles list of top Syrian officials who could face 'crimes against humanity' probe

Feb. 23, 2012 5:03 AM ET
Officials: Death toll in attacks across Baghdad and Iraq provinces rises to 48

Feb. 23, 2012 3:57 AM ET
Police say death toll from bus terminal bombing in northwest Pakistan has risen to 8

Feb. 23, 2012 1:49 AM ET

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A U.S. official says both international troops killed by a man in an Afghan army uniform were Americans.

NATO reported Thursday that the two service members were killed by a man dressed as an Afghan soldier in eastern Afghanistan.

Mohammad Hassan, a local Afghan leader in Nangarhar province, says the shooting occurred outside an American base in the province during a riot against the Quran burnings. He says the gunman was an Afghan soldier.

President Barack Obama has apologized for the burning of Qurans and other religious texts earlier this week at Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul. The incident has sparked violent demonstrations across the Muslim nation.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan president's office says it has received a letter from President Barack Obama formally apologizing for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

The statement from President Hamid Karzai's office says the U.S. ambassador delivered the letter on Thursday.

In the letter, which is quoted in the statement, Obama expresses his "deep regret for the reported incident" and offers his "sincere apologies."

According to the statement, Obama wrote: "The error was inadvertent; I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible."

=========

Feb. 23, 2012 10:12 AM ET
US official: Afghan soldier kills 2 US troops
AMIR SHAH, Associated Press
PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES

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Afghan security forces arrive at the scene of an anti-U.S. demonstration at a NATO military base in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. Anti-American demonstrations continued for a second day Wednesday in Afghanistan over what the U.S. has said was the inadvertent burning of Muslim holy books at a NATO military base. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
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US official: 2 NATO troops killed by Afghan soldier during Quran protests were American

Feb. 23, 2012 10:01 AM ET
Afghan president's office: Obama has sent a letter formally apologizing for Quran burning

Feb. 23, 2012 7:47 AM ET
UN panel compiles list of top Syrian officials who could face 'crimes against humanity' probe

Feb. 23, 2012 5:03 AM ET
Officials: Death toll in attacks across Baghdad and Iraq provinces rises to 48

Feb. 23, 2012 3:57 AM ET
Police say death toll from bus terminal bombing in northwest Pakistan has risen to 8

Feb. 23, 2012 1:49 AM ET

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A U.S. official says both international troops killed by a man in an Afghan army uniform were Americans.

NATO reported Thursday that the two service members were killed by a man dressed as an Afghan soldier in eastern Afghanistan.

Mohammad Hassan, a local Afghan leader in Nangarhar province, says the shooting occurred outside an American base in the province during a riot against the Quran burnings. He says the gunman was an Afghan soldier.

President Barack Obama has apologized for the burning of Qurans and other religious texts earlier this week at Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul. The incident has sparked violent demonstrations across the Muslim nation.


THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan president's office says it has received a letter from President Barack Obama formally apologizing for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

The statement from President Hamid Karzai's office says the U.S. ambassador delivered the letter on Thursday.

In the letter, which is quoted in the statement, Obama expresses his "deep regret for the reported incident" and offers his "sincere apologies."

According to the statement, Obama wrote: "The error was inadvertent; I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible."

===

Twelve killed in protests across Afghanistan
Fri, Feb 24 15:25 PM EST
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By Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) - Twelve people were killed on Friday in the bloodiest day yet in protests that have raged across Afghanistan over the desecration of copies of the Muslim holy book at a NATO military base with riot police and soldiers on high alert braced for more violence.

The burning of the Korans at the Bagram compound earlier this week has deepened public mistrust of NATO forces struggling to stabilize Afghanistan before foreign combat troops withdraw in 2014.

Hundreds of Afghans marched toward the palace of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, while on the other side of the capital protesters hoisted the white flag of the Taliban.

Chanting "Death to America!" and "Long live Islam!," protesters also threw rocks at police in Kabul, while Afghan army helicopters circled above.

Friday is a holy day and the official weekly holiday in Afghanistan and mosques in the capital drew large crowds, with police in pick-up trucks posted on nearby streets.

Armed protesters took refuge in shops in the eastern part of the city, where they killed one demonstrator, said police at the scene. In another Kabul rally, police said they were unsure who fired the shots that killed a second protester.

Seven more protesters were killed in the western province of Herat, two more in eastern Khost province and one in the relatively peaceful northern Baghlan province, health and local officials said. In Herat, around 500 men charged at the U.S. consulate.

U.S. President Barack Obama had sent a letter to Karzai apologizing for the unintentional burning of the Korans at NATO's main Bagram air base, north of Kabul, after Afghan laborers found charred copies while collecting rubbish.

Muslims consider the Koran to be the literal word of God and treat each copy with deep reverence. Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy.

Afghanistan wants NATO to put those responsible on public trial.

In neighboring U.S. ally Pakistan, about 400 members of a hardline Islamist group staged protests. "If you burn the Koran, we will burn you," they shouted.

To Afghanistan's west, Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami said the U.S. had purposely burned the Korans. "These apologies are fake. The world should know that America is against Islam," he said in a speech broadcast live on state radio.

"It (the Koran burning) was not a mistake. It was an intentional move, done on purpose."


Most Westerners have been confined to their heavily fortified compounds, including at the sprawling U.S. embassy complex and other diplomatic missions, as protests that have killed a total of 23 people, including two U.S. soldiers, rolled into their fourth day. The embassy, in a message on the microblogging site Twitter, urged U.S. citizens to "please be safe out there" and expanded movement restrictions to relatively peaceful northern provinces, where large demonstrations also occurred Thursday, including the attempted storming of a Norwegian military base.

The Taliban urged Afghan security forces Thursday to "turn their guns on the foreign infidel invaders" and repeatedly urged Afghans to kill, beat and capture NATO soldiers.

Germany, which has the third-largest foreign presence in the NATO-led war, pulled out several weeks early of a small base in the northern Takhar province Friday over security concerns, a defense ministry spokesman said.

(Additional reporting by Amira Mitri in TEHRAN, Imtiaz Shah in KARACHI, Sabine Siebold in BERLIN, Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Michael Georgy and Ed Lane)
==============

Afghan protesters torch 20 NATO trucks

LAST UPDATE

Fri, 24 Feb 2012 17:39:57 GMT

Angry protesters in Afghanistan burn 20 NATO oil tankers on the fourth day of protests against the desecration of the Qur'an in a US-run military base in the country, Press TV reports.

The incident occurred on Friday in the southeastern province of Khost where Afghan protesters attacked a convoy of trucks supplying oil to US-led NATO forces in the country.


The attack took place during a demonstration near a US military base near the provincial capital city of Khost, leaving a number of people killed and injured.

There were no immediate reports specifying the number of casualties.

Earlier in the day, more than a dozen protesters were killed in clashes with Afghan law enforcement across the country.

Fatalities were caused in the capital city of Kabul and three more provinces including Herat, where police opened fire on demonstrators after they tried to storm the US consulate.

At least 36 people, including two American troops, have been killed since anti-US protests erupted in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

The violence was triggered by the burning of copies of the Holy Qur’an and other Islamic texts at the US-run Bagram Airbase, southeast of the city of Charikar in Afghanistan's Parwan Province.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has sent a letter to his Afghan counterpart Karzai, apologizing for the burning of copies of the Holy Qur’an by American forces in Afghanistan.

Obama told Karzai that the incident, which has sparked angry protests against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was not intentional.

Afghans have rejected the apology and demanded an immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from their country.
========American officers killed in Afghan Interior MinistrySat, Feb 25 16:52 PM ESTimage 1 of 10 By Hamid Shalizi and Amie Ferris-RotmanKABUL (Reuters) - Two American officers were shot dead at close range in Afghanistan's Interior Ministry on Saturday, a U.S. official said, as rage gripped the country for a fifth day over the burning of the Muslim holy book at a NATO base.NATO recalled all staff working at ministries in the Afghan capital, Kabul, following the attack, with its top commander in Afghanistan calling the killer a coward."For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF (NATO's International Security Assistance Force) personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul," said General John Allen, adding that the attacker's actions "will not go unanswered."The two American officers, advisers to the ministry, were fired on at close range, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they did not know the identity of the shooter and that there was no known witness to the crime.The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shootings, which it said were in retaliation for the desecration of copies of the Koran by foreign troops at NATO's Bagram air base. Afghan security sources said the two dead were a U.S. colonel and major with NATO forces.U.S. President Barack Obama has sent a letter to his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, apologizing for what Washington says was the unintentional burning of the Korans, after Afghan laborers found charred copies while collecting rubbish.The Koran burnings ignited anti-Western fury. Thousands have taken to the streets and at least 27 people have been killed in the protests. Two American soldiers were shot to death on Thursday by an Afghan national army soldier who joined the rallies.Obama spoke with Allen after Saturday's shootings and the White House said the president supported the steps taken to protect U.S. service members in Afghanistan."We welcome President Karzai's statement this morning encouraging peaceful expressions and his call for dialogue and calm," the White House said in a statement. "The United States remains committed to a partnership with the government and people of Afghanistan."HIGH SECURITY CLEARANCEAn Afghan security source said the American officers killed on Saturday had been found dead with gunshot wounds deep inside the heavily fortified Interior Ministry."There is CCTV (closed-circuit television) there and special locks. The killer would have had to have the highest security (clearance) to get to the room where they were killed," the source told Reuters.U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called on the Afghan government on Saturday to take decisive action to protect NATO forces and the curtail violence sweeping the country.Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, in a phone call with Panetta, apologized and said Karzai was assembling religious leaders, parliamentarians, justices of the Supreme Court, and others in an effort to curb violence, according to a Pentagon description of the conversation.In Kabul, Allen met with Afghan Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi, who pledged his complete cooperation with the investigation, the Pentagon said.ISAF declined to say if the shooter was a member of the Afghan security forces.If the shootings are linked to Afghan forces, new questions will arise about Taliban infiltration as well as their ability to secure Afghanistan once NATO combat forces withdraw in 2014.NATO is supposed to be moving away from a combat role to an advise-and-assist mission as early as next year. That will require NATO to place more staff in ministries."The fact that NATO is recalling staff from ministries suggests they are worried about a deep malaise in the Afghan security forces, that they expect more of these attacks," said Kamran Bokhari at STRATFOR global intelligence firm.The Koran burnings have underscored the deep cultural mistrust between Afghans and the foreign troops who invaded a decade ago to oust the Taliban from power.Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement four high-ranking Americans had been killed. The Islamist group often exaggerates and inflates claims of casualties."The attack came from the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate in revenge for the American soldiers' repeated desecration of our religion, especially the latest intentional incident in the Bagram airfield which they burnt Korans," Mujahid said, using another name the group calls itself.DESECRATIONAn Afghan security source said the shooting of the two Americans in the Interior Ministry could be connected to the burning of the Korans.Muslims consider the Koran to be the literal word of God and treat each copy with deep reverence. Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy.Hundreds of people tried to overrun a compound in the northern Kunduz province housing workers from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, but were held back by police, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.In April last year, protesters angry about the burning of Korans by an obscure pastor in the United States stormed a U.N. compound in northern Balkh province, killing seven people.The protests could dent plans for a strategic pact that Washington is considering with Kabul that would allow a sharply reduced number of Western troops to stay in the country well beyond their combat exit deadline.There have been several instances of Afghan troops and forces turning on NATO troops. NATO servicemen and staff live and work primarily at their bases but also frequent the barricaded Afghan ministries dotted around Kabul on official business.(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in Kabul, Phil Stewart and Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Michael Georgy and Bill Trott)

==========

Afghan policeman suspect in killing of U.S. officers: sources
Sun, Feb 26 05:29 AM EST
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By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan authorities said on Sunday they believe an Afghan police intelligence officer may have been involved in the shooting deaths of two U.S. officers inside the interior ministry a day earlier, prompting NATO to recall all its staff from ministries.

Abdul Saboor, 25, is the main suspect in the killing, which took place at close range well inside the heavily fortified ministry in the centre of the capital, Kabul, senior security sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"Abdul Saboor is at large right now. He is the main suspect for us but we can not draw any conclusions over whether or not he is the killer," one of the sources said, adding that CCTV footage shows that Saboor had access to the Command and Control Centre where the slain Americans were found.


The killing of the American officers took place as rage gripped the country for a fifth straight day over the burning of the Muslim holy book at a NATO base, despite an apology from U.S. President Barack Obama.

If the shootings are found to be linked to Afghan forces, new questions will arise about Taliban infiltration as well as their ability to secure Afghanistan once NATO combat forces withdraw in 2014.

The Taliban took responsibility for the American deaths.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai repeated his plea for calm and restraint on Sunday. "I hope people will be calm and be assured that we are seriously pursuing this matter," he said of the burning of the Korans.

Riots across the country killed 29 people and wounded 200 more, Karzai said, including the shooting of two U.S. soldiers by an Afghan army officer who joined the protests earlier in the week.

(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Ed Lane)

============

Only burning White House will compensate for burning Quran: Iran military official

Sunday, 26 February 2012
Commander of Iran’s Basij force, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi said nothing short of burning the White House and hanging American military commanders can compensate for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. (File photo)
Commander of Iran’s Basij force, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi said nothing short of burning the White House and hanging American military commanders can compensate for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. (File photo)
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By Al Arabiya

In a move likely to irk tension between Iran and United States, a top Iranian military commander said on Saturday that nothing short of burning the White House and hanging American military commanders can compensate for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan last week.

“The U.S. has committed such an ugly act and burnt Qurans because of the heavy slap it has been given by Islam,” commander of Iran’s Basij force, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi told the semi-official Fars news agency.


U.S. President Barack Obama wrote a letter of apology to his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai on Thursday, in an effort to quell furor among Afghans who have been protesting for five days after charred remains of the Muslim holy book was found at the Bagram air base outside of Kabul.

However in response to Obama’s apology, Nagdi said “nothing but burning the White House can relieve the wound on us, the Muslims, caused by burning the Quran.”

“Their apology can be accepted only by hanging their commanders; hanging their commanders means an apology,” he added.

According to Fars, Nagdi stressed that Muslims can no longer give consent to U.S. apologies, since the Americans have made numerous mistakes in Afghanistan and continue to so only to then offer an apology and “this is simply not acceptable.”


Nagdi’s comments came after two U.S. military advisers took the death toll from raging anti-U.S. protests in Afghanistan to around 30.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Saturday's shooting, saying it was in revenge for the burning of Qurans

Karzai issued a statement urging demonstrators and Afghan security forces to exercise restraint, saying the government was pressing Washington “on the need to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crime”.

On Friday, the prayer leader in Tehran said the burning of the Quran was intentional and proves American aggression towards Islam.

“Based on reports by reporters, this was an intentional move prompted by the hatred of American statement for Islam,” Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said.

“I announced with a loud voice, the world should know that the U.S. administration is hostile to Islam; Americans’ insult was not a mistake, rather deliberately because Washington rulers are hostile to Islam.”


On Saturday, Karzai issued a statement urging demonstrators and Afghan security forces to exercise restraint, saying the government was pressing Washington “on the need to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crime.”

====

Two U.S. soldiers killed at base in Afghanistan
Thu, Mar 01 15:21 PM EST

By Michael Georgy

KABUL (Reuters) - Two U.S. soldiers were shot and killed on Thursday in an attack involving at least one Afghan believed to be a soldier and a civilian, Western and Afghan officials said, the second such incident in a week and one likely to deepen doubts about Afghanistan's security forces.

The killings at a base in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan came after two senior U.S. officers were gunned down in the Afghan Interior Ministry on Saturday by what Afghan security officials say was a police intelligence official.

At least five NATO soldiers have been killed by Afghan security forces since the burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base last month triggered widespread anger and protests.

Western and Afghan officials initially said the attack had been carried out by one man in an Afghan military uniform and a second in civilian clothes.


But the Pentagon said later it appeared three Afghans were involved, including two soldiers who were killed by members of the International Security Assistance Force and a civilian who may have been an instructor at the base. It was not immediately clear whether the civilian had escaped or not.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said the motive for the attack was not initially clear. About 70 members of the NATO-led force were killed in 42 insider attacks from May 2007 through the end of January this year.

Some of these incidents have been carried out by Afghan security forces reacting to the recent Koran burning, some have been due to private grievances and others have been carried out by the Taliban insurgency.

The killing of the U.S. officers in the Interior Ministry on Saturday stunned NATO and cast doubt on its strategy of replacing large combat units with advisers as the alliance tries to wind down the war, now in its 11th year.

NATO immediately moved to withdraw all its advisers from Afghan ministries in Kabul. Britain, Germany and Canada then withdrew their advisers.

Some NATO staff have been allowed to go back to the ministries, said Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, the spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.


"STAYING THE COURSE"

Little disputed suggestions that the recent killings mean the alliance's strategy is not working. He said that Afghan soldiers themselves have been killed in the past week while trying to tamp down the violence provoked by the Koran burnings at an ISAF base where detainees are held.

"I strongly reject the notion that our strategy in Afghanistan is failing," he said. "There have been suggestions this week that the wheels on the bus are falling off and that is simply not the case."

When viewed broadly "the overall trends are positive," Little said, adding, "we are staying the course in Afghanistan."

Despite such assurances, Afghan officials worry that further attacks by Afghan forces on Western troops could damage ties with NATO.

Such incidents became more frequent after the United States sent tens of thousands of more soldiers to Afghanistan as part of a surge to fight in Taliban strongholds.

"There are Taliban sympathizers in uniform inside Afghan security forces who are not in fact sent or recruited by the Taliban," said an Afghan government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Despite tighter vetting procedures, such unfortunate incidents do occur. This problem will not go away. We need more time, more resources and manpower."


Some of Washington's partners have shown even greater sensitivity to insider attacks. In January, French President Nicolas Sarkozy suspended training and support operations and announced that France would withdraw entirely by the end of 2013 after four French troops were killed by a rogue Afghan soldier.

The United States hopes Afghan forces will be able to confront the Taliban and handle security on their own before NATO combat troops' scheduled departure by the end of 2014.

"Unfortunately, this situation is a point of concern for us," General Afzal Aman, head of the operations department at the Ministry of Defence, told Reuters, referring to the insider killings of NATO troops.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi in Afghanistan and David Alexander in Washington, Editing by Robert Birsel and Xavier Briand)

=========

Six killed in attack on US base

LAST UPDATE

Wed, 29 Feb 2012 15:28:56 GMT

At least six people have been killed in an attack on the US Nangarhar base in eastern Afghanistan amid growing public fury over the desecration of the Qur'an by American soldiers, Press TV reports.

No one has claimed responsibility yet, but some sources say locals attacked the base in retaliation for the Qur’an burning at the US-run Bagram Airbase.

Earlier on Wednesday, a car bomb ripped through a group of US-led foreign troops in Lashkar Gah in the troubled southern province of Helmand.

Witnesses said the blast left a number of casualties among US-led foreign forces and civilians.

Police officials and witnesses said the blast left at least seven people injured, including members of the US-led foreign forces and some Afghan civilians.

Afghans have been holding rallies for over a week against the desecration of the holy Qur’an by US troops in Afghanistan on February 21.

Following the Qur’an desecration US President Barack Obama sent a letter to his Afghan counterpart Hamed Karzai, apologizing for the actions of American forces in Afghanistan. Obama told Karzai that the incident was not intentional.

Afghans have rejected the apology and demanded an immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from their country. The incident has sparked angry protests against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries.

==

Try Qur'an burners in public: Clerics

Fri, 02 Mar 2012 18:04:02 GMT

Top Afghan clerics have demanded a public trial for those involved in the burning of copies of the Holy Qur’an at the US-run military airbase in Bagram.

Members of a senior council of Afghan clerics made the demand after a meeting with President Hamid Karzai on Friday.

The Ulema Council "insists that such a devilish act is not forgivable by apologies and that the perpetrators of this crime should soon be publicly tried and punished", the president’s office said in a statement.

"The council strongly condemns the heinous, inhumane, barbaric act of disrespecting the Koran and other religious books by American forces in Bagram base."

The clerics reiterated Karzai’s calls for the handover of the US-run prison at Bagram to Afghan control and an end to night raids, noting that the US-led foreign militaries have failed to positively respond to the “righteous demands."

On February 21, US troops in the Bagram airbase torched copies of the Muslim holy book they had collected from the Afghan prisoners in there.

The desecration ignited days of anti-US protests in which some 40 people died in Afghanistan, plunged relations between the US-led forces and their Afghan allies to an all time low and forced US President Barack Obama to apologize.

Afghans have, however, rejected the apology and demanded an immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from their country.

The incident has also sparked angry protests against US and NATO forces in other Muslim countries, such as Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia.

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US rejects Afghan trial in shooting spree

LAST UPDATE

Mon, 12 Mar 2012 17:39:57 GMT

The Pentagon says the US military will prosecute the American soldier responsible for the killings of at least 17 Afghan civilians, rejecting calls for his trial to be held in Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesman George Little on Monday rejected calls for the prosecutions of the American soldier "before the people of Afghanistan."

Little said that investigations and the prosecutions of US service members were governed by "agreements in place with the government of Afghanistan.”

"The United States military has very strong means to address wrongdoing," he added.


Earlier, Afghan lawmakers called for the public trial of the American troops involved in the recent massacre of 17 civilians, including women and children.

"We seriously demand and expect that the government of the United States punish the culprits and try them in a public trial before the people of Afghanistan," the lawmakers said in a Monday statement.

On Sunday, a US soldier opened fire on Afghan civilians inside their homes, killing at least 17 and injuring several others in the district of Panjwaii in southern Kandahar Province.

In November 2005, a massacre in the Iraqi town of Haditha by US soldiers left 24 civilians dead. Later, US military trials cleared seven of the accused soldiers and sentenced an eighth soldier to 90 days in prison but not required to serve any time.

Last year, Washington decided to pull out all its troops from Iraq, after Baghdad refused to agree to give US military personnel immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts.

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Afghan government team attacked, Taliban fume over massacre
Tue, Mar 13 08:18 AM EDT
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By Rob Taylor and Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) - Suspected insurgents opened fire on Tuesday on senior Afghan investigators of the massacre of 16 civilians by a lone U.S. soldier, Afghan officials said, just hours after the Taliban threatened to behead American troops to avenge the killings.

The gunmen shot from long range at two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers, Shah Wali Karzai and Abdul Qayum Karzai, and security officials at the site of the massacre in Kandahar's Panjwai district.

Karzai's brothers were unharmed in the brief battle, which began during meetings with local people at a mosque near Najiban and Alekozai villages, but a soldier was killed and a civilian wounded. The area is a Taliban stronghold and a supply route.

The Taliban had earlier threatened reprisals for the weekend shooting spree, which came weeks after deadly riots across the country over the burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. troops at NATO's main base in the country. That violence led to calls to accelerate a 2014 goal for the exit of most foreign combat troops.

"The Islamic Emirate once again warns the American animals that the mujahideen will avenge them, and with the help of Allah will kill and behead your sadistic murderous soldiers," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement, using the term by which the Islamist group describes itself.

The grim warning, which was unlikely to have any impact on heavily-protected NATO soldiers on the ground, followed the February beheading of four Afghan men by insurgents in a country where such killings are relatively rare.

Tuesday's attack, which was carried out despite tight security around Karzai's siblings, Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa and Tribal Affairs Minister Asadullah Khalid, underscored the insurgents' ability to strike at fledgling Afghan government forces.

The first protests over Sunday's massacre also broke out in eastern city Jalalabad, where around 2,000 demonstrators chanted "Death to America" and demanded President Karzai reject a planned strategic pact with Washington that would allow U.S. advisers and possibly special forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

An unnamed U.S. soldier -- reported to have only recently arrived in the country -- is accused of walking off his base in Kandahar province in the middle of the night and gunning down at least 16 villagers, mostly women and children.

A U.S. official said the accused soldier had suffered a traumatic brain injury while on a previous deployment in Iraq.

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking after a phone call with Karzai -- who is said to be furious over the latest deaths -- said the shootings had only increased his determination to get American troops out of Afghanistan as planned.

However, Obama cautioned there should not be a "rush to the exits" for U.S. forces who have been fighting in Afghanistan since late 2001 and that the drawdown set for the end of 2014 should be done in a responsible way.

The soldier, from a conventional unit, was based at a joint U.S.-Afghan base used by elite U.S. troops under a so-called village support program hailed by NATO as a possible model for U.S. involvement in the country after the 2014 drawdown.

Such bases provide support to local Afghan security units and provide a source of security advice and training, as well as anti-insurgent backup and intelligence.

"CAN NO LONGER BE CALLED ROGUE"

A spokesman for the Kandahar governor Wesa said tribal elders in the area of the massacre would urge against protests and work to dampen public anger if the investigation process was transparent.

"They are supporting the government and will accept any conclusion by the investigators. Today we have meetings with people in the area and all will become clear," spokesman Ahmad Jawid Faisal said.

NATO officials said it was too early to tell if the U.S. soldier would be tried in the United States or Afghanistan if investigators were to find enough evidence to charge him, but he would be under U.S. laws and procedures under an agreement between U.S. and Afghan officials.

Typically, once the initial investigation is completed, prosecutors decide if they have enough evidence to file charges and then could move to an Article 32 or court martial hearing.

NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, Marine General John Allen, has promised a rapid investigation of the massacre, while security was being reviewed at NATO bases across the country.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Monday that the death penalty could be sought in the U.S. military justice system against the soldier, but portrayed the shooting as an isolated event that would not alter withdrawal plans.

While Afghan MPs in parliament called for a trial under Afghan law, Karzai's office was understood to accept that a trial in a U.S. court would be acceptable provided the process was transparent and open to media.

Afghan MPs protested against the shooting for a second day in the capital Kabul by walking out of a session.

Analysts said the incident would complicate U.S. efforts to reach agreement with the Afghan government on a post-2014 security pact before a May summit in the U.S. city of Chicago on the future size and funding of Afghan security forces.

Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network said that despite NATO and White House references to the killings as the work of a "rogue" soldier, similar events had happened before, including a "kill team" apprehended in Kandahar in 2010.

"In the stress of an environment of escalated violence - by both sides, but particularly after Obama's troop surge in early 2009, it looks as if most soldiers simply see Afghanistan as a whole as 'enemy territory' and every Afghan as a potential terrorist. This can no longer be called 'rogue'," Ruttig said.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kimball; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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Crashed vehicle causes scare for Panetta at Afghan base

14 Mar 2012 22:25

Source: reuters // Reuters

(Adds details)

* Afghan man drove stolen vehicle onto runway ramp

* Pentagon chief was arriving in Afghanistan

* Incident underscores troubled security situation

By Phil Stewart

BASTION AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, March 14 (Reuters) - An Afghan man driving a stolen pickup truck sped onto a runway ramp at an air base in southern Afghanistan and then emerged from the vehicle ablaze at around the time U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was arriving aboard a military plane, U.S. officials said.

The Pentagon chief, making an unannounced visit at a time of high tensions after a U.S. soldier massacred 16 Afghan villagers on Sunday, was not hurt in the incident at Bastion Airfield, a British base, and continued on with his schedule of events.

The Afghan man, a civilian who was not believed to be carrying explosives, was being treated at the base for severe burn injuries, U.S. officials said. No explanation was given for how the man caught on fire.


The pickup trunk apparently approached the runway ramp - where aircraft park - at high speed before ending up in a ditch, officials said.

U.S. officials did not rule out the possibility that the incident in southern Helmand province was an attempted attack on Panetta, but said there was no indication that this was the case. They said an investigation was ongoing.

"There is no evidence right now that the driver had any idea who was on that aircraft," U.S. Navy Captain John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters in Washington.


The incident was a reminder of the tense security situation in Afghanistan more than a decade after U.S. forces invaded to topple the Taliban rulers who had harbored the al Qaeda network responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

QUESTIONS REMAIN

Many questions about the incident remained after briefings by U.S. officials.

The Afghan man's vehicle neither caught fire nor exploded, and there were not explosives there either - raising questions about how he came to be on fire, Pentagon spokesman George Little said in Afghanistan, denying Afghan media reports.

"For reasons that are totally unknown to us at this time, our personnel discovered that he was ablaze," Little said.

"Base personnel put the fire out and he was immediately treated for burn injuries and is still being treated. He sustained considerable burn wounds," Little added.

One NATO service member was injured in the apparent car-jacking, U.S. officials said. This service member's nationality was not disclosed.

"A coalition member was injured in the theft of the vehicle," Kirby said. "... My understanding was (that the service member was) pulled out and potentially hit by the vehicle, too."


Tensions are high in Afghanistan in the wake of Sunday's massacre and the furor over the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, at a NATO base last month.

Reporters traveling with Panetta on his aircraft were not told about the incident for about 10 hours after it took place shortly before 11 a.m. local time. Panetta carried on with his schedule, talking to troops at Camp Leatherneck about the importance of the decade-old war effort.

Shortly before he arrived to speak, U.S. troops and other allies were told to put their weapons outside the tent - a highly unusual move that officials downplayed later. The commander in Helmand, U.S. Major General Mark Gurganus, said he wanted foreign troops to be unarmed since Afghan troops would be.

Little said the removal of the firearms and the incident involving the pickup truck were "absolutely not" linked.

Panetta's team apparently became aware that something was amiss shortly before landing at Bastion but details only came later.

"We did know that we were diverted to a different runway. And we learned soon after landing that there may have been an incident," said Little, who was traveling with Panetta.

"Again, the security of the secretary was never in question. He carried on during the event." (Additional reporting by David Alexander and Missy Ryan in Washington; Editing By Warren Strobel and Will Dunham)

======

Robert Fisk: Madness is not the reason for this massacre


Robert Fisk Author Biography

Saturday 17 March 2012
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I'm getting a bit tired of the "deranged" soldier story. It was predictable, of course. The 38-year-old staff sergeant who massacred 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, near Kandahar this week had no sooner returned to base than the defence experts and the think-tank boys and girls announced that he was "deranged". Not an evil, wicked, mindless terrorist – which he would be, of course, if he had been an Afghan, especially a Taliban – but merely a guy who went crazy.

This was the same nonsense used to describe the murderous US soldiers who ran amok in the Iraqi town of Haditha. It was the same word used about Israeli soldier Baruch Goldstein who massacred 25 Palestinians in Hebron – something I pointed out in this paper only hours before the staff sergeant became suddenly "deranged" in Kandahar province.

"Apparently deranged", "probably deranged", journalists announced, a soldier who "might have suffered some kind of breakdown" (The Guardian), a "rogue US soldier" (Financial Times) whose "rampage" (The New York Times) was "doubtless [sic] perpetrated in an act of madness" (Le Figaro). Really?
Are we supposed to believe this stuff? Surely, if he was entirely deranged, our staff sergeant would have killed 16 of his fellow Americans. He would have slaughtered his mates and then set fire to their bodies. But, no, he didn't kill Americans. He chose to kill Afghans. There was a choice involved. So why did he kill Afghans? We learned yesterday that the soldier had recently seen one of his mates with his legs blown off. But so what?


The Afghan narrative has been curiously lobotomised – censored, even – by those who have been trying to explain this appalling massacre in Kandahar. They remembered the Koran burnings – when American troops in Bagram chucked Korans on a bonfire – and the deaths of six Nato soldiers, two of them Americans, which followed. But blow me down if they didn't forget – and this applies to every single report on the latest killings – a remarkable and highly significant statement from the US army's top commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, exactly 22 days ago. Indeed, it was so unusual a statement that I clipped the report of Allen's words from my morning paper and placed it inside my briefcase for future reference.

Allen told his men that "now is not the time for revenge for the deaths of two US soldiers killed in Thursday's riots". They should, he said, "resist whatever urge they might have to strike back" after an Afghan soldier killed the two Americans. "There will be moments like this when you're searching for the meaning of this loss," Allen continued. "There will be moments like this, when your emotions are governed by anger and a desire to strike back. Now is not the time for revenge, now is the time to look deep inside your souls, remember your mission, remember your discipline, remember who you are."

Now this was an extraordinary plea to come from the US commander in Afghanistan. The top general had to tell his supposedly well-disciplined, elite, professional army not to "take vengeance" on the Afghans they are supposed to be helping/protecting/nurturing/training, etc. He had to tell his soldiers not to commit murder. I know that generals would say this kind of thing in Vietnam. But Afghanistan? Has it come to this? I rather fear it has. Because – however much I dislike generals – I've met quite a number of them and, by and large, they have a pretty good idea of what's going on in the ranks. And I suspect that Allen had already been warned by his junior officers that his soldiers had been enraged by the killings that followed the Koran burnings – and might decide to go on a revenge spree. Hence he tried desperately – in a statement that was as shocking as it was revealing – to pre-empt exactly the massacre which took place last Sunday.

Yet it was totally wiped from the memory box by the "experts" when they had to tell us about these killings. No suggestion that General Allen had said these words was allowed into their stories, not a single reference – because, of course, this would have taken our staff sergeant out of the "deranged" bracket and given him a possible motive for his killings. As usual, the journos had got into bed with the military to create a madman rather than a murderous soldier. Poor chap. Off his head. Didn't know what he was doing. No wonder he was whisked out of Afghanistan at such speed.

We've all had our little massacres. There was My Lai, and our very own little My Lai, at a Malayan village called Batang Kali where the Scots Guards – involved in a conflict against ruthless communist insurgents – murdered 24 unarmed rubber workers in 1948. Of course, one can say that the French in Algeria were worse than the Americans in Afghanistan – one French artillery unit is said to have "disappeared" 2,000 Algerians in six months – but that is like saying that we are better than Saddam Hussein. True, but what a baseline for morality. And that's what it's about. Discipline. Morality. Courage. The courage not to kill in revenge. But when you are losing a war that you are pretending to win – I am, of course, talking about Afghanistan – I guess that's too much to hope. General Allen seems to have been wasting his time.


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Several Thousand Salafists Demonstrate for Islamic Law, Attack Dramatists in Tunis
Ahmed Ellali | 25 March 2012 | 16 Comments

Salafist demonstrators wave Caliphate flag on top of Tunis clocktower

A group of several thousand Salafists and their supporters demonstrated in downtown Tunis today in support of the Koran, claiming that the Muslim holy book was under threat by more secular elements of Tunisian society. Demonstrators climbed the clock tower of Tunis to fly black caliphate flags from the top of the tower and chanted slogans such as “the people want a new caliphate.”

At the same time and on the same street, the Tunisian Association for Drama Arts held a celebration for the upcoming World Day of Theater (usually March 27th) in front of the Municipal Theater. As the Salafist protest came to a close, a number of Salafist demonstrators attacked the Theater celebration.

According to Yassine Ouni, a student from the Higher Institute for Drama, the Ministry of Interior was responsible for the confrontation because they gave permits for both events knowing there would be a conflict. “The Tunisian Association for the Drama Arts event and the Salafist demonstration was held at the same time. We want to hold the Interior Ministry accountable since it gave permission to the two movements on the same day and the Ministry knew there would be tension since Drama is sacred for all artists and religion is sacred for every citizen.”

Salafists gather in front of the Municipal Theater

The permit given to the dramatists was supposed to allow them to celebrate theater in the space between the municipal theater and the Africa Hotel while the Salafists had a permit to demonstrate by the Tunis clock tower. While the Salafist organizers agreed to separate the events at first, a group of Salafists later came and damaged equipment, disrupted outdoor performances and threw eggs, empty bottles and sharp objects at those celebrating theater.

Fawzi Guara, one of the demonstrators at the Salafist organized event for supporting the Koran blamed the theater celebration organizers for the confrontation. “Some Tunisians are not respecting our religious sanctity, campaigns against our religion confirm that there are elements here who want to provoke us. They don’t respect our views.”

Members of the Tunisian Association for Drama Arts in front of the Municipal Theater

Guara admitted that the Tunisian Association for Theater had received permission to hold an event first, but he said the Koran was more important than theater. “We knew they got permission before us, but they should give priority to defending the Koran and our religion. Anarchy can happen at any time, and simply by calling themselves ‘Theater of Resistance’ they are provoking us, resistance to whom? Did we sell out our country?”

For Guara, his demonstration was necessary because he sees Islam as being under attack. “Today Tunisia is witnessing a historical day. Tunisians went to the street to show their disapproval against the desecration of the Koran in Ben Guerdene, against the six pointed star on the wall of the Al-Fateh Mosque.”

He added that opponents of Salafists have been making a big deal out one Salafists’ desecration of the Tunisian flag at Mannouba University, just to give them a bad name. “We do love our country and our flag but the priority is for our religion and what is sacred. Islam does not oppose civility. We are here today to express our love for the Koran, for the prophet, for our holy sites. Our slogans are in support of the Koran, defending that which is sacred and rejecting discord and strife between Tunisians,” Guara said.

Kouichi Shirayanagi contributed to this report

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Afghan gun massacre families paid compensation
Mon, Mar 26 01:22 AM EDT
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S. authorities have given cash compensation to the families of Afghans killed in a shooting rampage allegedly carried out by an American soldier in Kandahar province, a family member and a tribal elder said on Sunday.

The families received around $50,000 for each person killed and about $10,000 for each wounded in the shootings in two villages in Panjwai district earlier this month. Afghan officials say 16 people, including nine children and women, were killed in the attacks.

"We were invited by the foreign and Afghan officials in Panjwai yesterday and they said this money is an assistance from Obama," Haji Jan Agha, who said he lost his cousins, told Reuters, referring to U.S. President Barack Obama.

The U.S. embassy directed all questions to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which is fighting the war in Afghanistan.

An ISAF spokesman said he was in not in a position to either confirm or deny whether compensation was given, and if so how much.

Lieutenant Commander Brian Badura said that as a matter of policy ISAF does not make restitution for losses resulting from combat, combat-related activities or operational necessity.

"Individual troop contributing nations may participate in some form of restitution consistent with the cultural norms of Afghanistan," he said. "Settlement can come in a number of forms which may (be) but is not always financial."

"As a settlement of claims in most cases is a sensitive topic for those who have suffered loss it is usually a matter of agreement that terms of settlement remain confidential."

The United States normally pays up to $2,500 for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, a 2010 report by Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict said. Other countries with soldiers in Afghanistan have paid different amounts.


On Friday, U.S. authorities investigating the killings charged Staff Sergeant Robert Bales with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Initial reports from Afghanistan put the death toll at 16 people, and it was not immediately clear where the extra count came from.

The killings have further damaged U.S.-Afghan relations that were already under severe strain, and come at a time when foreign forces are preparing to hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces ahead of a planned withdrawal by the end of 2014.

"The Americans came to Panjwai and handed over compensation to the families," said Haji Agha Lalai, an influential tribal elder and member of the provincial council.

(Reporting by Ismail Sameem; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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Lawyer says U.S. blocks investigation of Afghan massacre
Fri, Mar 30 20:45 PM EDT
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By Bill Rigby

SEATTLE (Reuters) - The lawyer defending the U.S. soldier accused of murdering 17 Afghan civilians claims U.S. authorities are blocking his ability to investigate the incident.

John Henry Browne, the lawyer for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, said U.S. forces in Afghanistan have prevented his team from interviewing injured civilians at a hospital in Kandahar, and are allowing other potential witnesses to scatter, making it difficult to track them down.

"When prosecutors don't cooperate, it's because they are concerned about the strength of their case,"
said Browne at a press conference at his downtown Seattle office on Friday.

Bales was formally charged last week with the murders of eight adults and nine children in a pre-dawn shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan on March 11, which further eroded U.S.-Afghan relations already strained by a decade of war.

He could face the death penalty if convicted.

No date has been set for a trial, but U.S. military prosecutors are putting together their case while Browne is preparing his defense.

Browne said he has a team of investigators in Afghanistan now, but they are receiving little cooperation from military prosecutors who filed the charges.

"We are facing an almost complete information blackout from the government, which is having a devastating effect on our ability to investigate the charges preferred against our client," he said in a statement released earlier on Friday.


A reliable account of the events of the night of the massacre has not yet emerged. A recent report indicated Afghan villagers doubt Bales acted alone. Other reports suggest Bales left his base twice during the night.

"I don't believe that's the case, but we don't know for sure at this point," Browne said on Friday.


Browne said his investigators had spoken to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan but had not managed to contact any witnesses.

DENIED ACCESS

"When we tried to interview the injured civilians being treated at Kandahar Hospital we were denied access and told to coordinate with the prosecution team," Browne said in the earlier statement.

"The next day the prosecution team interviewed the civilians injured. We found out shortly after the prosecution interviews of the injured civilians that the civilians were all released from the hospital and there was no contact information for them." That means potential witnesses will scatter and could prove unreachable, Browne said.

Prosecutors had not shared their investigative findings with his team, and would not share images captured by a surveillance camera on a blimp above the base which the Army says shows Bales returning to the camp after the alleged shooting, he said.

The next step in the case is for Bales - who is being held at a military detention center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas - to undergo a mental assessment by Army doctors independent of both the prosecution and defense, to determine if he is fit to stand trial, known as a "sanity board" in the Army.

That could take several months, Browne said.

After that has occurred, the military justice system requires a preliminary hearing, known as an "Article 32" hearing, to establish whether there is a strong enough case to proceed to a court martial.

Browne said it was too early to say whether post-traumatic stress disorder would feature in his defense against the charges. "I don't know whether it will at all," said Browne.

"First thing we have to find out is whether the government has a case. Until we're convinced the government has a case, we're not going to start speculating on what our defenses are going to be."


(Reporting By Bill Rigby; Editing by Todd Eastham and Paul Simao)

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