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November 30, 2010

Wikileaks cable disclosure shows Arab fears of Iranian ambitions

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Wikileaks cable disclosure shows Arab fears of Iranian ambitions

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

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Sunday night’s release of leaked United States diplomatic cables shows widespread concern in the Arab world over Iran’s ambitions to build a “Persian Empire in the 21st Century”.

Wikileaks, so far, have released under 300 of the quarter million plus diplomatic communications posted to them on a memory stick. The small sample shows, over several months, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Bahrain asserting that further sanctions against Iran will likely have no effect.

File photo of US General David Petraeus.

Early November last year, General David Petraeus discussed the situation with King Hamad of Bahrain, who argued for the use of force to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions; stating: “The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”

In that meeting concern was expressed that more Arab involvement in Iraq was needed to frustrate Iranian plans. Petraeus was told Bahrain sought Egyptians and Saudis support, but talks with the latter revealed no interest in taking a leading rôle.

The King did welcome the prospect of India becoming involved in the region as a stabilising influence.

A mid-December meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the UAE and US Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman saw the subject brought up again. In a discussion that touched on the two countries renewable energy plans, and reliable movement of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, the Prince asserted Iran saw itself as spearheading a campaign for a “Persian Empire in the 21st Century.” Alleging Iran has established “emirates” in Kuwait, Bahrain, Eastern Saudi Arabia, Southern Iraq, Yemen, and South Lebanon, his picture of Iranian nuclear ambitions is “Al-Qaeda is not going to get a nuclear bomb; Iran is a matter of time.”

File:Iran strait of hormuz 2004.jpg

Map of the Strait of Homuz.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The Prince was keen to stress that those in power are the same people who, in 1979, seized the US embassy in Tehran.

Subsequent talks between a congressional appropriations sub-committee and UAE’s Foreign Minister were the scene of equally serious predictions. The sub-committee, consisting of Nita Lowey, Tom Cole, Barbara Lee, and Donna Edwards, heard from Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan that if Iran became a nuclear state the rest of the region would likely follow suit.

Plans to keep the fifteen-millions-plus barrels of oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz each day moving were discussed. Whilst keen to weaken Iranian ties with China, Sheikh Abdullah stressed the US$50 billion in trade between the two; this being considered an obstacle to China backing, and enforcing, a stronger sanctions regime.

The sub-committee’s Emirates host, like many in the region, stated progress on the Israeli peace process was a good route to de-escalation.

A meeting in February this year with Kuwaiti Interior Minister Jaber Al-Khaled Al Sabah was the scene of comparable warnings. Alongside discussions on travel restrictions to be enforced against former Guantanamo Bay detainees, he described Iran as the “beating heart” of Islamic Extremism.

Concerns over Iran’s involvement in Yemen were discussed, with the minister saying Iran is intent on exporting its revolution; that its nuclear ambitions can only be thwarted by force.

Updating the US on perceived Iranian actions, he claimed they were attempting to infiltrate Egypt by recruiting the poor. And, they were becoming involved in the drugs trade, shipping narcotics into Yemen to fund militants.

The cable on the Kuwait meeting closes referring recipients to a wiki page: http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Kuwait. Wikinews has been informed this is a page on the US intelligence community’s Intellipedia; an internally-maintained project, based on the same technology as Wikipedia, and intended for use in building intelligence dossiers on countries, regions, their politicians, diplomats, plus political and terrorist groups.

A cable originating in London from January this year is corroborated by later U.S. news reports; hinting that the Iranian government may indeed be using tactics more reminiscent of the cold-war.

In the opening weeks of the year, London-based Voice of America commentator, Ali Reza Nourizadeh was advised that Mohammed Reza Sadeqinia intended to target him for assassination, along with others. Sadeqinia was previously arrested in California, and prosecuted for attempting to hire a hit man. The target at that time was reported to be Iranian-American broadcaster Jamshid Sharmahd, one of the main figures behind Tondar — a loose collection of in-exile Iranians opposed to the current regime.

Tehran insists Tondar is a terrorist organisation, accusing it of being responsible for a 2008 bombing that killed 14.

Sadeqinia, who worked as a painter in Ann Arbour, was arrested on July 28, 2009 near Los Angeles International Airport in possession of thousands of dollars and an Iranian passport. FBI investigations into his possible Iranian government ties were still ongoing a month before his scheduled release in July this year.

Found guilty by Los Angeles Superior Court of attempting to hire someone to murder Sharmahd, he had been expected to spend around a year in jail. Tondar spokesman Iman Afar, in the lead up to Sedeqina’s release, expressed concern for his own safety and that of others in the L.A. area.



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Tony Blair debates religion with Christopher Hitchens in Canada

Tony Blair debates religion with Christopher Hitchens in Canada

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Photo of Blair and Hitchens at the debate.

Last Friday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair debated the role of religion with atheist author and journalist Christopher Hitchens at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto, Canada. Organised under the auspices of the ‘Munk Debates’, the motion was: “That religion is a force for good in the world”.

Hitchens argued that religion is “a cruel experiment whereby we are created sick and ordered to be well” and that the omnipresent, omniscient God supposed by many world religions was “a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea”.

Blair — who in 2008 established the Tony Blair Faith Foundation — conceded whilst religion is not necessary for everybody to act morally, it was still helpful for many despite violent interpretations of texts by extremists. He said the world religions unite in a moral mission to, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, describing “a spiritual presence, bigger, more important, more meaningful than just us alone, that has its own power separate from our power, and that even as the world’s marvels multiply, makes us kneel in humility not swagger in pride.”

Continuing, Blair stated: “If faith is seen in this way, science and religion are not incompatible, destined to fight each other, until eventually the cool reason of science extinguishes the fanatical flames of religion.”

Hitchens listed numerous aspects of religion he thought were negative, arguing “is it good for the world to appeal to our credulity and not to our scepticism? Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs? To appeal to our fear and to our guilt, is it good for the world? To our terror, our terror of death, is it good to appeal?”

Pressing his points, Hitchens asserted: “To preach guilt and shame about the sexual act and the sexual relationship, is this good for the world? And asking yourself all the while, are these really religious responsibilities, as I maintain they are? To terrify children with the image of hell and eternal punishment, not just of themselves, but their parents and those they love. Perhaps worst of all, to consider women an inferior creation, is that good for the world, and can you name me a religion that has not done that?”

Blair responded, “I don’t think we should think that because you can point to examples of prejudice in the name of religion, that bigotry and prejudice and wrongdoing are wholly owned subsidiaries of religion.”

Before the debate, the audience opposed the motion 57% to 22% (21% undecided). Post-debate, the motion was opposed by 68% of the audience and supported by 23%.



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Gibraltarian Chief Minister suggests joint sovereignty with Spain

Gibraltarian Chief Minister suggests joint sovereignty with Spain

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

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Celebrations with the flags of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom
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Chief Minister of Gibraltar Peter Caruana has been discussing the possibility of the British overseas territory having joint sovereignty with Spain. He suggested that Gibraltar take an Andorra-style status.

Caruana’s suggestion has caused controversy in both Gibraltar and the United Kingdom. Many people in Gibraltar have said they want to remain British and Gibraltarian. The media in Gibraltar has also spoken out against the move using the phrase “Give Spain an inch and they will take a mile!” His decision has come as a surprise; in 2002 Caruana announced a referendum against joint sovereignty. If the plan goes ahead, another referendum would be held.

Andorra received their joint sovereignty in 1993. The move forced the European Union to change its constitution. Andorra has a joint deal with Spain and France.

Some Spanish politicians are worrying that the suggestion will be too heavily looked into during the 2012 Spanish general election. Trinidad Jiménez, Spain’s minister for foreign affairs, has asked that it not be a part of their election agenda.

Liberal member Dr Joseph Garcia also commented on the event. He said “The Spanish claim to Gibraltar has always featured to a greater or lesser extent in every general election in Gibraltar and the next ones are not likely to be any different.”

He added that “There is serious concern on the Rock at the number and scale of Spanish incursions into Gibraltar’s territorial sea. We had pointed out that the Guardia Civil were becoming increasingly reckless and cavalier in their intrusions into Gibraltar’s waters. This was seen at the end of last year when they entered the Port of Gibraltar and actually landed on Gibraltar soil. There was also another extremely serious incursion in September of this year where the Guardia Civil removed a suspect who was about to be arrested by the Royal Gibraltar Police inside our territorial waters. They have shown a complete lack of respect for British sovereignty, jurisdiction and control over Gibraltar’s territorial sea and it is imperative that these incursions cease forthwith before the matter escalates even further. Spain must understand that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Gibraltar is legally entitled to claim territorial waters of its own.”



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European Commission to investigate anti-competitive allegations against Google

European Commission to investigate anti-competitive allegations against Google

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

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The European Union’s executive body, the European Commission, has started investigating web search giant Google over anti-trust allegations by price comparison service Foundem and French legal services website ejustice.fr. At stake are allegations that Google’s AdWords results are manipulated to prioritise certain advertisers.

The complainants allege price comparison sites receive a lower ‘quality score’, thus being knocked out of fully automated, unpaid-for results; or, being required to pay more for advertising through the search giant’s AdWords program. Google rejects Foundem’s allegations, arguing the majority of content on price comparison sites is duplicated from other sites, asserting Foundem “duplicates 79% of its website content from other sites, thus adding no value.” The company line is, “[w]e have consistently informed webmasters that our algorithms disadvantage duplicate sites”.

The European Commission has a history of carrying out anti-trust investigations involving technology companies. Microsoft was ordered to pay substantial penalties for ‘bundling’ Windows with their Media Player; and, within the EU, must distribute a version of Windows that does not have said bundled software. A similar battle was fought over the automatic inclusion of Internet Explorer with their operating systems.

Google has previously been the subject of anti-trust allegations and investigations. United States authorities blocked Google from buying Yahoo!, citing concerns over a near-monopoly in search; Google’s purchase of mobile advertising company AdMob was also subject to anti-trust scrutiny by the US prior to being allowed to go ahead.



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November 29, 2010

US economist tells Portugal to seek bailout

US economist tells Portugal to seek bailout

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Monday, November 29, 2010

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Nouriel Roubini said that it is becoming “increasingly likely” that Portugal will need international monetary assistance.
Image: Kjetil Ree.

American economist Nouriel Roubini has said that Portugal should consider seeking a bailout because of its weak growth and high amount of debt. Roubini made the comments to the Diario Economico newspaper. He said that it is becoming “increasingly likely” that Portugal will need international help. His comments came after Ireland received a €85 billion bailout from the European Union.

Portugal has become the second most likely eurozone country to require a bailout after Ireland, but it has paid all its insurance debt for this year. After news about Ireland’s bailout became available, the euro rose around $1.33. After trading at $1.3181 in Asian trade, it sank to its lowest level since September 21.

Roubini also commented on the situation of Spain, the fourth largest economy in Europe. He said that the country is “too big to bail out.” Nicholas Smith, the director of equity research at MF Global in Tokyo said: “The one to really watch is Spain, as the eurozone’s fourth largest economy, bigger than Greece, Ireland and Portugal put together. The question is whether the Union has the capital firepower to rescue Spain in the way it has for Greece and Ireland.”

He commeted on the euro zone as a whole. He said “The economic outlook over the next few quarters, the next few years, is going to be weak economic growth … The policy consequence is going to be more monetary easing,” Roubini added. “The only central bank officially against further quantitative easing is the European Central Bank, but the pressure coming on sovereigns and the pressure coming on the financial sector in the euro zone are going to force the ECB to provide liquidity and increase base money.”



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Pope Benedict XVI to visit Benin in 2011

Pope Benedict XVI to visit Benin in 2011

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Monday, November 29, 2010

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Pope Benedict in 2010

It has been announced that Pope Benedict XVI will make a three day visit to Benin, Africa. Starting on November 18 next year, it will be his second Papal visit to Africa, the continent where the Roman Catholic Church is growing fastest.

An announcement made by The Vatican on Friday says the Pope will deliver guidance for the Church of Africa to several Catholic leaders. The document had been discussed at the synod of African Bishops last year.

The pontiff’s prior African trip was to Angola and Cameroon last year. That garnered controversy after he said condoms were complicating anti-AIDS efforts. Recently he has accepted their use to be morally justifiable in some circumstances to prevent spread of the disease.

So far four visits have been announced for the Pope, with visits to Croatia, Spain, and his homeland of Germany as well as Benin planned next year.



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Canadian-born actor Leslie Nielsen dies aged 84

Canadian-born actor Leslie Nielsen dies aged 84

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Monday, November 29, 2010

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Leslie Nielsen in 2008
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Leslie Nielsen, a Canadian-born US actor, has died at the age of 84. Nielsen appeared in over 100 films in which he played several different roles ranging from romance and drama to comedy. The cause of death was announced as pneumonia. His death was announced by his agent, John S. Kelly. Nielsen was in Fort Lauderdale being treated for the illness at the time of his death.

Born February 11, 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Nielsen started his film career in the 1950s. He starred in the science fiction film Forbidden Planet in 1956 and went to on gain several other roles including the captain in The Poseidon Adventure in 1972. One of his biggest appearances was in the 1980s disaster-parody Airplane!. After that appearance he gained more of a reputation as a comic actor.

One of his most notable roles came in 1988 when he played Lt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad. He also appeared in the The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear in 1991 and The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult in 1994.

Nielsen was the younger brother of Erik Nielsen, who was deputy prime minister of Canada from 1984 to 1986. Erik died in 2008. Leslie Nielsen is survived by his fourth wife Barbaree Earl, and his two daughters from his second marriage, Maura Nielsen Kaplan and Thea Nielsen Disney.



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November 28, 2010

Files will risk \’countless\’ lives, Obama administration warns Wikileaks

Filed under: Internet,Journalism,Wikileaks — admin @ 5:00 am

Files will risk ‘countless’ lives, Obama administration warns Wikileaks

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

In a letter to Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, the Obama administration said that releasing the documents would risk “countless” lives.
Image: Martina Haris.

The United States government has urged Wikileaks not to publish new files because they will risk “countless” lives. In a letter to Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website, the Obama administration said that releasing the documents, rumoured to be seven times the size of the Iraq War Logs, would be in breach of U.S. law, and would result in “grave consequences.” Assange replied by stating that the U.S. did not want to be held to account.

It is thought that the files will include correspondence between U.S. diplomats around the world. Wikinews reported on Saturday that officials in Washington were contacting embassies around the world to warn diplomats of the leak. The letter to Assange came after he questioned who would be at risk from the publication of the documents. In the letter, Harold Koh, the US state department’s legal advisor, ordered Wikileaks to return the documents. “We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained US government classified materials,” Koh wrote, adding that the documents could jeopardize counter-terrorism operations.

Analysts have said that the letter reflects the U.S. administration’s concern over possible publication of the files, which may contain American diplomats’ opinions of other politicians, some of which may be candid and embarrassing. It is not known when the documents will be published, but Koh said in the letter that he had spoken to The Guardian, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel about the documents. Earlier this year, Wikileaks released 70,000 documents detailing military actions in Afghanistan.



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  • “Wikileaks to release thousands of secret documents; ‘international embarrassment’ likely” — Wikinews, November 27, 2010

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Felix Loch wins season opening World Cup luge race in Austria

Felix Loch wins season opening World Cup luge race in Austria

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

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Felix Loch (center), who won the season-opening race of the 2010 World Cup, at the 2008 FIL World Luge Championships.
Image: Hagen Frey.

Reigning Olympic luge champion Felix Loch has won season-opening race of the 2010 World Cup in Innsbruck Igls, Austria. Loch defeated fellow German David Moeller for a 1–2 German finish. This is Loch’s second World Cup race win, the first being last season in Altenberg, Germany. Italian Armin Zoeggeler came in third.

Loch is still competing with a hip injury. “As a consequence of my injury I’m still wasting some vital fractions of a second at the start,” he said. “One cannot force an overall World Cup victory but I’ve enough time to make a go at it. However, it would be nice to win some more World Cup events this season.”

The first ever team competition also took place this year. The German team of Tatjana Huefner, Andi Langenhan, Tobias Wendl, and Tobias Arlt won the event. Canada came in second, while Italy came third.



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November 27, 2010

Teen charged over \’bomb attempt\’ at US Christmas celebration

Teen charged over ‘bomb attempt’ at US Christmas celebration

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cquote1.svg The threat was very real. Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale. Cquote2.svg

—Arthur Balizan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon

A 19-year-old Oregon, U.S. resident has been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction after a sting operation; authorities say Mohamed Osman Mohamud, born in Somalia, tried to detonate a van bomb using a mobile phone at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland.

Portland was the scene of an alleged bombing attempt.
Image: Jamidwyer.

The device, police stated, was fake; he reportedly obtained it from undercover agents during a sting operation. Reports say Mohamud, a US citizen, had been in regular contact with somebody in north-west Pakistan.

Authorities intercepted e-mails they say were between Mohamud and this contact in August 2009. Holton reassured Oregon residents, adding that there was “no reason to believe there is any continuing threat arising from this case”. Mohamud allegededly told an FBI agent “I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured.” Dwight Holton, a U.S. attorney, described Mohamud’s “chilling determination” as a “stark reminder that there are people—even here in Oregon—who are determined to kill Americans.”

An FBI agent told reporters “[t]he threat was very real. Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale. I want to reassure the people of this community that, at every turn, we denied him the ability to actually carry out the attack.” On the day of the tree lighting ceremony, he drove a vehicle to the area where the event was to be held, and was arrested, prosecutors said, twenty minutes before the tree was to be lit. He kicked at agents as they tried to apprehend him and shouted “Allahu Akbar!” (God is great!).

Court papers indicated that an undercover agent told Mohamud that he was an associate of the Pakistani contact. When the agent and Mohamud discussed the plan, Mohamud said that he wanted a “huge mass that will be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays”. Mohamud told the agent that he had wanted to carry out a jihad (holy war) against the U.S. since he was fifteen years old.



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