Anti-Colonial Agitator

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said the U.S. economy is poised to grow at a better pace in the second half of 2003 now the Iraq war is over, provided business spending picks up. The Fed chief told a House of Representatives panel that conditions looked in place for a faster recovery with consumers feeling more confident and factories already facing enough orders to cause backlogs. Economists expect the Fed to keep an especially watchful vigil on the economy until more concrete signs of a rebound emerge, without ruling out an emergency interest rate cut if economic growth seems in danger of faltering again. So far in 2003, the US economy has shed nearly half a million jobs outside the farming sector.

The death rate from SARS, currently 6%, is rising and looks likely to reach 10% though it is too early to be sure, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official has said. Mark Salter, who heads the clinical network of the Geneva-based body, told journalists that SARS was still in its early stages and that it was normal for death rates to increase in such circumstances. He said the mortality rate appeared to be higher in places with developed health services, such as Canada or Singapore. But the reason was still a mystery. According to the latest WHO figures, 20 people have died in Canada out of 148 SARS patients, but in China the death toll stands officially at 159 from 3,460 registered cases. The flu-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which started in southern China in late 2002, has killed at least 372 people worldwide and infected nearly 6,000 in 29 countries.

The man who carried out the suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv beachfront pub was a British citizen according to a report. A second guerrilla who managed to flee when his explosive device didn't detonate was also British according to Israeli media. The Haaretz newspaper says police have named the second man as Omar Khan Shariff. He scuffled with bystanders at the pub and police have named him in a request to the public to help them find him. Two men and one woman were killed and 35 wounded when the suicide bomber blew himself up at a beachfront bar. The bar, Mike's Place, is located close to the United States embassy, and is popular with tourists. The British bomber, who was killed in the blast, set off the explosives at the entrance to the pub after the security guard on duty at the door physically prevented him from entering. The security guard was seriously wounded in the blast, and is receiving treatment at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Army Radio reported.

The National Committee on American Foreign Policy says it is convinced Irish republicanism has committed itself to a complete cessation of all activities inconsistent with the Good Friday Agreement. It says it is now time for the unionist political parties to carry out the responsibilities they undertook when they signed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It is asking the unionist community to demand that their political leaders and loyalist terrorists take the necessary steps for a peaceful settlement of the British-created conflict.

If the unilateralist hawks in the Bush administration were hoping that the easier than expected military victory in Iraq would bring the US public closer to their views, they are likely to be very disappointed by the latest polling. It shows that much of the public appears to be more in tune with the views of "Old Europe" than with those of the neoconservatives around Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld . While 75% of US adults say they now believe the war was right strong majorities reject a more military-oriented role for the United States in the future and continue to see the United Nations as the best mechanism for dealing with international crises. Most striking is the degree to which the public rejects the kind of international role that neoconservatives in Washington have proposed for the United States, in which it is not constrained by international mechanisms such as the UN Security Council or alliances from taking unilateral action when it deems necessary. Even more unexpected was the response to the question of whether the Bush administration should have tried to get Security Council authorization for taking military action against Iraq, a notion with which neoconservatives strongly disagreed. About 88% chose the UN route. The public is evenly split on whether Washington or the UN should temporarily govern Iraq and build a new government. A small majority (54%) prefer a UN police force to US military forces for maintaining civil order, while 57% believe that the UN, rather than the United States, should direct humanitarian relief and economic reconstruction.

Beijing, acknowledging mass panic had hit the SARS-infected city, quarantined more residents, but Toronto was jubilant after a warning against travel to Canada's financial capital was lifted. Nearly 10,000 people in the Chinese capital were under quarantine after the city confined residents of one building in the heart of the capital and another in a northern suburb, state media said. Beijing has been the hardest-hit area in the world, with nearly 1,350 reported cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and 66 deaths. Canada, the only country outside Asia where people have died of the flu-like virus that has no cure, also promised tougher steps, including screening of its airports. Health officials expect travelers to continue spreading the scourge in an increasingly interconnected world and say that diseases such as SARS are likely to become endemic. It is increasingly unlikely that SARS will go away, said Dr Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She added other diseases would emerge the way SARS has done. So far SARS has infected nearly 5,800 people in 29 countries, killing over 350 around the world.

The first public attempt by Tony Blair to heal the diplomatic wounds of the Iraq war suffered a humiliating rebuff when Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, refused to lift UN sanctions and mocked the possibility that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq. Putin also clashed with Blair by demanding UN weapons inspectors be allowed back into Iraq and challenged Blair's vision of a new world strategic partnership, arguing it would be unacceptable for the US to dominate the international community. The public dressing down for Blair came during a press conference at Putin's private residence near Moscow. The two men had a fabled special relationship and Blair had high hopes he would be able to wean Putin away from his new anti-war alliance with France and Germany. But Putin said Russia and its anti-war partners "believe until clarity is achieved over whether weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq, sanctions should be kept in place".

A Belgian lawyer is planning to press ahead with a war crimes lawsuit against US General Tommy Franks, despite American anger. The suit, brought by 19 Iraqis, accuses General Franks of war crimes during the Iraq conflict. Lawyer Jan Fermon, who is acting on behalf of the Iraqis, described the plaintiffs as victims of cluster bombs and of US attacks on ambulances and civilians. Fermon said there were 17 specific incidents in which US soldiers and commanders had violated the law. Bush administration officials are making it plain they would regard a prosecution of General Franks as a major diplomatic incident - an example of political harassment. A senior administration official has warned that even the issuing of indictments would result in diplomatic consequences for Belgium.

PSNI/RUC detectives in the north of Ireland are questioning a man about leaked transcripts of telephone conversations between Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness and senior members of the British government. The man being questioned about the leak of telephone conversations is a former police Special Branch officer, security sources have said. The PSNI/RUC swooped following newspaper reports which alleged that military intelligence tapped McGuinness's home phone while he was education minister in the suspended Stormont Assembly. The leaked transcripts, which it is claimed came from MI5, included conversations in which British Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell described a leading anti-Good Friday Agreement Ulster Unionist as "an ass". A PSNI/RUC spokeswoman confirmed: "As part of our Police Service of Northern Ireland investigation following the publication in some newspapers of alleged transcripts, a 48-year-old man has been arrested and is being detained. Police are examining a number of items seized during a house search."

The Provisional IRA will not in any way undermine the peace process or the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said. In a statement on the IRA's future, Gerry Adams said: "The IRA leadership makes it clear in its statement that it is determined that its activities will be consistent with its resolve to see the complete and final closure of the conflict." The Sinn Fein president said there was now a need for the British and Irish governments to publish their joint declaration on the future implementation of the Good Friday agreement.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The world economy continues to face risks after the Iraq war, International Monetary Fund managing director Horst Koehler has warned. "The world economy continues to face uncertainty," Koehler told a Council of the Americas conference. The IMF's World Economic Outlook has predicted a modest pickup in the global economy to growth of 3.2% in 2003, with activity picking up in the second half of the year. The IMF says that the global economy grew 3.0% in 2002. Koehler also said the world must reduce its dependence on the US economy to power economic growth, a tendency that has led to widening imbalances. "This calls for higher growth in other advanced economies. Europe and Japan, in particular, must do more to tackle long-standing structural impediments to growth," he said.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of President Bush's Iraq policy, said that the ouster of Saddam Hussein has had a "shaming effect" on the Arab and Muslim world where other tyrannical rulers exist. He specifically mentioned Syria and Iran, both U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorism, as places where political reform is needed. He said Iran has the potential for a democratic revolution, but he sees less of a chance in Ba'athist-ruled Syria. The Pentagon's No. 2 official, a highly influential thinker in neoconservative quarters, called the allied ouster of Ba'ath Party rule in Iraq an "enormously important event." Wolfowitz, along with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, was a strong advocate for removing Saddam Hussein by force.

The World Health Organization said it would lift its warning against unnecessary travel to Toronto imposed because of the risk of people being exposed to the SARS virus. The decision was announced at a news conference by WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland after talks with Canadian officials. Unfortunately, the SARS situation seems to be getting worse in China.

The British National Health Service is chronically and consistently racist in its handling of patients and staff according to the head of the Commission for Racial Equality. Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, made the claim at the Royal College of Nursing's Annual Congress in Harrogate. He said minority patients suffered because their conditions were not given the same priority as those of white patients. Phillips said discrimination adversely affected patients with conditions such as thalassemia and sickle cell anaemia. The Royal College itself reported that two thirds of black and ethnic minority nurses had experienced racial harassment from patients and a third also said they had experienced racial problems with other nurses.

A new PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll finds that, while endorsing the war with Iraq, the public does not support a changed US role in the world. Majorities reject a militarily-oriented approach to dealing with world problems in general, as well as dealing with weapons of mass destruction. Some 75% approve of US policy on Iraq and Americans show confidence that the consequences of the war will be positive. Majorities said that, as a result of the war, Iran (68%) and Syria (62%) would be less inclined to make weapons of mass destruction, though for North Korea the response was more divided. Asked what role the US should play in the world only a small minority (12%) opted for the US being ''the preeminent world leader,'' while 76% said ''the US should do its share in efforts to solve international problems together with other countries.'' About 62% believe, ''The US plays the role of world policeman more than it should.'' Only 38% agree that ''The US has the right and even the responsibility to overthrow dictatorships.''

The outbreak of the SARS virus in China is a grave and long-term problem, the country's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has said. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the spread of the disease has peaked in all affected countries but China, which has been worst-hit and has more than 3,300 cases. Thousands remain under quarantine in the capital Beijing. China has reported 9 new SARS deaths - bringing its total to 147 - and 202 new cases. In addition, Hong Kong reported 12 more deaths and 15 new cases of the disease. Elsewhere, South Korea and New Zealand have both reported their first probable SARS cases. The WHO has said that China is "the key" to finding out whether SARS can be eradicated. Many leading Asian economies have been badly hit by fears over SARS, with economists warning of a drop in growth rates for 2003 and hotels and airlines facing a slump in customers.

European Central Bank (ECB) executive member Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa has warned that the SARS illness could have more of a negative impact on world economic growth than the Iraq war. In an interview in Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper, he said that geopolitical uncertainties would continue to weigh on the world economy despite the military victories of the US in Iraq. "If it is true that to have a vaccine (for SARS) will take a couple of years, the effects on the world economy of this new illness could be higher than those of the Iraq war," he said. On global uncertainty, he said this started with September 11, and the end of the Iraq hostilities has not taken it away. This uncertainty will continue for some time, he said, noting how his recent meetings in Washington did not give indications the US economy would see a swift return to high economic growth.

The Good Friday Agreement must be destroyed, the Rev Ian Paisley has said at the launch of the election campaign for his so-called Democratic Unionist Party. Paisley claimed the assembly election in the north of Ireland would put "the searchlight of scrutiny" on David Trimble's leadership within unionism. He claimed the Ulster Unionist MP's record was one of "surrender" to republicans. Meanwhile, the irony of elections going ahead for an assembly both dissolved and suspended was queried by Trimble, to whom the government must explain how the assembly will function once it is elected. Pat Doherty, vice-president of Sinn Fein, said his party was asking both the Irish and British governments and David Trimble to make it clear that they would not pull the plug on the May 29 elections.

An Irishman wrongly convicted of "terrorist crimes" 25 years ago has had his conviction quashed in the Court of Appeal. John Boyle, 45, was jailed for 12 years in 1977 after being convicted of possessing a gun with intent and membership of the Provisional IRA. The father of five, from the Markets area of Belfast, served nine years but had always denied the charges. In 1999, his case was taken up by the Criminal Cases Review Commission - the body set up to investigate miscarriages of justice. An independent expert engaged by the commission said scientific tests on police interview notes revealed the notes of one interview had been re-written. At the hearing, Lord Chief Justice Robert Carswell said the fact that there was re-writing meant the conviction was unsafe and would have to be quashed. Outside the court, Boyle said he was delighted with the ruling after such a long time and that a miscarriage of justice had finally been recognised.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Street protests by thousands of Iraqis and a boycott by leading Shia Muslims marred US-sponsored talks on the formation of a new government in Baghdad. Retired US general Jay Garner, who is responsible for the country's post-war reconstruction, opened the meeting - on Saddam Hussein's 66th birthday - by telling the participants that they bore a heavy responsibility in launching a new era for Iraq. Garner, who assured Iraqis that US forces would leave their country as soon as possible, plans to oversee the immediate reconstruction of Iraq and then hand over to an interim government before a democratic election. The delegates included clerics from the Shia majority and the traditionally dominant Sunni Muslims, as well as Kurds from the northern mountains. But the main Shia group - the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) - turned down its invitation in protest at US involvement in the formation of a new government.

The outbreak of a new respiratory disease called SARS has inflicted the greatest blow to the Chinese economy since the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989, causing a sharp drop in retail sales, a slump in demand for some Chinese exports and major problems for domestic and foreign tourism. J.P. Morgan Chase, which has extensive investment banking operations in China, estimates that after expanding at a torrid annual rate of 9.9% in the first quarter, the Chinese economy is actually shrinking at an annual rate of 2% in the second quarter of 2003. The initial impact has fallen most heavily on businesses that provide services, which are most dependent on consumer spending and make up a third of the Chinese economy.

The Israeli ambassador in Washington called for regime change in Iran and Syria through diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions and what he called ''psychological pressure.'' Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said the U.S. invasion of Iraq with the subsequent defeat of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had helped to create many great opportunities for Israel but it was ''not enough. It has to follow through. We still have great threats of that magnitude coming from Syria, coming from Iran,'' he told a conference of Israel supporters from the Anti-Defamation League. He criticized the European Union for encouraging commercial relations with Iran. ''I don't think this is the way to deal with them, because the more the regime is isolated, the shorter its days and, as I mentioned, there is fertile ground in Iran to have a regime change there,'' he said. Ayalon spoke less about Syria, which held peace negotiations with Israel until 2000, but to most of his comments on Iran he added that the same applied to Syria.

The Irish government wanted a United Nations peacekeeping force sent in as the north of Ireland slid into chaos in 1969 - but the British would have none of it, according to recently released official papers. External Affairs Minister Patrick Hillery raised the matter at a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart on August 1, 1969. He raised the matter again two weeks later with junior foreign office minister Lord Chalfont, this time proposing as an alternative a joint Anglo-Irish force. But each time he was told that the British regarded the matter as for its own internal jurisdiction, according to the papers, published by the National Archives, formerly the Public Record Office. Stewart wrote in a memo to the British Embassy in Dublin: "HMG (Her Majesty's Government) have considered the request of the Government of the Irish Republic that they should apply to the United Nations for the despatch of a peacekeeping force to Northern Ireland. They take this opportunity of reaffirming that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and that events there are consequently an internal matter."

The case for invading Iraq to remove its weapons of mass destruction was based on selective use of intelligence, exaggeration, use of sources known to be discredited and outright fabrication, according to The Independent on Sunday newspaper. A high-level UK source said that intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic were furious that briefings they gave political leaders were distorted in the rush to war with Iraq. "They ignored intelligence assessments which said Iraq was not a threat," the source said. Quoting an editorial in a Middle East newspaper which said, "Washington has to prove its case. If it does not, the world will for ever believe that it paved the road to war with lies", he added: "You can draw your own conclusions." UN inspectors who left Iraq just before the war started were searching for four categories of weapons: nuclear, chemical, biological and missiles capable of flying beyond a range of 93 miles. They found ample evidence that Iraq was not co-operating, but none to support British and American assertions that Saddam Hussein's regime posed an imminent threat to the world.

Iraqi civilians are preparing to take Allied commander General Tommy Franks to court in Belgium, accusing him and other US military officials of war crimes in Iraq, it has been reported. The complaint will say coalition forces are responsible for the indiscriminate killing of Iraqi civilians, the bombing of a Baghdad market, the shooting of an ambulance and the failure to stop hospitals being looted, said Jan Fermon, a Brussels-based lawyer. He is representing about 10 Iraqis who say they were victims of, or eyewitnesses to, atrocities committed during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Fermon said the complaint will ask an investigative magistrate to look into whether indictments should be issued against General Franks. If an indictment is filed against the general and other US officials, they could be convicted and sentenced by a Belgian court.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair of indulging in word games over his speech about the an end to the Provisional IRA's activities. "I am told he zeroed in on me using the word 'should'. He said I should have used the words 'will be'. I actually use those words. I said the IRA leadership has stated its determination to ensure that its activities will be consistent with its resolve to see the complete and final closure of the conflict," Adams said. He said Blair was absolutely clear about the Provisional IRA's position and his real problem was with the intention of Ulster Unionists. "Mr Trimble at this time isn't satisfied to go into the institutions. He doesn't want an election and is now making it clear that even after the elections he will not be involved in nominating UUP people to any new Executive," he added.

The German government is to cut its economic growth forecast for 2003 to 0.75% from 1%, according to German Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement. The new growth forecast will form the basis for preparation of revised tax revenue estimates and the government's budgetary planning for the rest of 2003. It will be the third time the German government has cut its 2003 growth forecast. However, many economists say even the new forecast is highly optimistic. Germany's six leading institutes have lowered their 2003 growth forecast to 0.5%. The OECD forecast that German growth would only be 0.3% in 2003. Further evidence of the fragility of the Eurozone's largest economy emerged with the publication of the closely watched Ifo survey. The key indicator showed that business confidence in Germany fell to its lowest level in 16 months in April. The Ifo index fell to 86.6 from 88.1 in March, against forecasts that it would rise for the third time in four months, to 88.6.

The spread of SARS has peaked in most countries, but is still on the increase in China, according to the World Health Organization. WHO chief of communicable diseases David Heymann said that outbreaks of the pneumonia-like disease had peaked in all other areas of the world known to have been affected as of 15 March. China's health ministry has reported eight new SARS deaths and 203 new cases, bringing the nationwide death toll to 139 and the total cases to more than 3,000. Hong Kong's Government said a further five people had died from the disease - bringing its death toll to 138 - and there were reports of the first SARS death in Indonesia. Dr Heymann, asked if he was confident that the worldwide spread of SARS could be stopped, said: "No we are not. We are hoping. China is the key and it's the unknown question in the whole formula, because if China cannot contain it then it can't be removed."

Two PSNI/RUC police officers were recovering from gunshot wounds after British loyalist rioting erupted in a sectarian flashpoint area of Belfast. They were hit by shotgun pellets during British loyalist rioting in the Limestone Road area but their injuries were not thought to be life-threatening, the PSNI/RUC has said. The violence erupted despite appeals from loyalists to their community to ensure that the weekend passed off peacefully ahead of the Old Firm soccer match between Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic. A number of police officers were injured and a bus had a window broken during the violence, a PSNI/RUC spokeswoman has said. North Belfast councillor Gerard Brophy said the violence flared when a group of British loyalists tried to attack indigenous Irish children going to the shops. "There have been disturbances along the Hallidays Road and Newington Street involving about 50 loyalists," he said. "This is street violence orchestrated by the Ulster Defence Association, similar to the disturbances we have had in recent weeks." Two police officers sustained injuries from shotgun pellets fired by British loyalists and were taken to hospital.

Friday, April 25, 2003

A federal judge in Los Angeles has handed a stunning court victory to file-swapping services Streamcast Networks and Grokster, dismissing much of the record industry and movie studios' lawsuit against the two companies. In an almost complete reversal of previous victories for the record labels and movie studios, federal court Judge Stephen Wilson ruled that Streamcast - parent of the Morpheus software - and Grokster were not liable for copyright infringements that took place using their software. The ruling does not directly affect Kazaa, software distributed by Sharman Networks, which has also been targeted by the entertainment industry. "Defendants distribute and support software, the users of which can and do choose to employ it for both lawful and unlawful ends," Wilson wrote in his opinion. "Grokster and StreamCast are not significantly different from companies that sell home video recorders or copy machines, both of which can be and are used to infringe copyrights."

It looks increasingly - and alarmingly - as though SARS may deal a bigger blow to the world economy than the Iraq war, according to the Independent's Hamish McRae. Until recently the disease was only seriously affecting one set of industries, travel and tourism, and one region of the world, East Asia. But now the spread to Canada and in particular the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning about travel to Toronto, raises the possibility of Sars having a true global impact. But unlike the shock created by the Iraq war, where the probability of lower oil prices has now appeared, this is a shock that can have no pluses, only minuses.

War's sobering realities never reached American TV screens during the recent U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, according to NBC News correspondent Ashleigh Banfield. She said many U.S. television viewers were treated to a non-stop flow of images presented by "cable news operators who wrap themselves in the American flag and go after a certain target demographic." Since 9-11, Banfield has frequently reported news stories relating to the Bush administration's "war on terrorism" from the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Israel and Lebanon. According to Banfield, U.S. broadcasters do not accurately inform the American public of the basic reason behind widespread Islamic distrust of the U.S. -- the American government's continued unwillingness to treat Israelis and Palestinians as equal partners in the future of Israel.

Retired U.S. general Jay Garner should invite independent monitors to check on human rights progress in the reconstruction of Iraq, Human Rights Watch has said. In a letter to Jay Garner, who will oversee the initial stages of Iraq's transition, Human Rights Watch drew lessons from the organization's experience monitoring post-conflict programs in other places, including Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch stressed the obligation of the occupying forces to restore and ensure public order and safety. The occupying forces may need to rely on some elements of the existing local police and security forces to maintain security in the immediate situation, Human Rights Watch said. But longer-term, occupying forces need to screen and vet all local officials, police and other security personnel to remove any human rights abusers from their ranks. Human Rights Watch called on the United States and its allies to invite the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to deploy independent human rights monitors throughout Iraq. Human Rights Watch also stressed that humanitarian agencies should be allowed to operate independently in Iraq, and that the United Nations should be given the lead role in coordinating the provisions of humanitarian assistance.

The Philippines has reported its first deaths from SARS and authorities in Taiwan have quarantined over 1,000 doctors, nurses and patients in a hospital to halt the spread of the deadly flu-like disease. A World Health Organisation official said SARS could become a horrifying epidemic if it spread in China's provinces or in nations like India and Bangladesh, where people live cheek by jowl and medical facilities are poor. SARS, a respiratory infection for which there is no known cure and which has a mortality rate of about six percent, has killed at least 276 people and infected about 4,800 in 25 nations. SARS is spread by droplets from sneezing and coughing but may also be transmitted by touching contaminated objects such as elevator buttons.

There were positive signs for the future of the Irish economy as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicted strong growth in 2004. The OECD said they expected growth in the Irish economy to be cut almost in half, down from 6% in 2002 to 3.25% in 2003, but the economy would bounce back with 4.25% growth in 2004. Its views on the economy bear out the earlier findings of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) that the economy would have a soft landing. Stronger export growth will boost next year's performance, the OECD said. While inflation is projected to fall it is set to stay above Euro averages due to persistent service sector price pressures. In its latest assessment of the global outlook, the OECD says the recovery post-war on Iraq will be "unspectacular".

As panic about SARS spreads in hard-hit Beijing and throughout China's underdeveloped interior, Shanghai has so far appeared strangely untouched by the mystery virus. Local health officials in Shanghai reported only two confirmed cases and 16 suspected cases, of which two are foreigners. In contrast, Beijing has reported more than 750 confirmed SARS cases. Wary that foreign investment might flee Shanghai the way it has from Hong Kong, central government officials early this week sent a directive to Shanghai municipal authorities asking city officials to continue promoting what has been touted as essentially a "SARS-free city," a vice-mayoral aide has said. But is Shanghai really in the clear? Doctors in this city of 16 million have begun voicing doubts about the veracity of the government figures. Local medical staff also allege that World Health Organization experts, who are concluding a monitoring trip to Shanghai, are being shown what one doctor at the No. 6 People's Hospital describes as "a sanitized version of Shanghai's SARS problem." A doctor at the Shanghai Contagious Diseases Hospital has said that there are more than 30 suspected cases that have been admitted to their hospital's facilities, nearly double the official suspected caseload for the whole city. He and other doctors also say that Shanghai's requirements for diagnosing SARS are much more stringent than elsewhere in the world and that if the standards used in, say, Hong Kong were applied in Shanghai, many of the suspected caseload would be shifted to confirmed cases.

The US economy managed to grow at the tepid rate of 1.6% during the first three months of 2003. The growth, albeit modest, eased fears that the US economy may be plunged back into a recession by the war in Iraq. But economists were still disappointed as many had predicted growth of above 2%. The relatively swift war in Iraq and no spike in global oil prices had led some analysts to hope for a full scale revival. The update on the US comes after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said the global economy would probably expand by 1.9% in 2003. The British economy also grew slower than estimated during the first three months of 2003 according to preliminary figures released from the UK's National Statistics.

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says there will not be a cleric-led government in Iraq similar to the one in Iran. The comment comes at a time when Washington is worried about Iraq's majority Shia population and its new-found religious freedom. Recently the US warned Iran not to try to destabilise the Shia community in Iraq, something it believes could interfere with Iraq's road to democracy. Rumsfeld said the Iraqi people needed time to determine for themselves how to organize a new government and elections. His words seem to contrast with earlier statements by US President George Bush, who said it was up to the Iraqi people to decide who should rule them.

Three indigenous Irish Catholic families have left their homes in south Belfast after being threatened by loyalist terrorists. The families left after receiving death threats from the Ulster Freedom Fighters, a name used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The families all lived in the same street, which adjoins a working-class loyalist area dominated by the Ulster Defence Association. Peter O'Reilly, an SDLP councillor who helped the families move out, said they were terrified after police informed them that their lives were in danger from loyalist terrorists. Alec Maskey, the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast, described the situation as a disgrace.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

President Bush promised a democracy in Iraq, but if democratic elections are held, they might deliver instead a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy at odds with nearly every strategic aim of the U.S.-led invasion. There have been large Shiite demonstrations in southern Iraq as well as violent power struggles between competing Shiite clergy. With Shiites making up approximately 60% of Iraq's population, experts warn of the potential for a fundamentalist, anti-American regime. If democratic elections are held they could produce a potentially anti-democratic theocracy. Many Middle East experts are urging the Bush administration to seek international help to share responsibility for the enormous task of rebuilding Iraq's political institutions, economy and physical infrastructure -- or face growing internal resistance to what many Iraqis view as American colonialism.

The Commission on Human Rights has adopted ten (10) resolutions under its agenda items on racism and racial discrimination, and civil and political rights. With regards to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the Commission decided that a Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action would convene its future sessions for an initial period of three years. They also decided that the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent should reconvene for an initial period of three years. The Commission requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit an analytical report to the next session of the Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action assessing the effectiveness of current regional and international standards and instruments to combat racism. There were thirty-eight (38) Member States in favour of the decision, and thirteen (13) abstentions. The United States of America was the only Member State to vote against these measures, and the United Kingdom was one of the thirteen abstentions.

The National Institutes of Health is calling on the drug makers of the United States to develop a vaccine, drug or immunotherapy to combat the deadly SARS virus. The formal process began with the publication on a federal business opportunities Web site seeking "capability statements" in what amounts to a call for help to deal with the SARS virus. The deadline for feedback is May 17, but there are two major roadblocks for both the United States government and drug manufacturers - figuring out the science and what might work for a new virus that has burst on the global health scene in the past month and the huge costs. The Department of Health and Human Services will accept proposals from drug makers through May 17. After that, the next formal step would be to explore specific proposals with an emphasis on finding safe treatments for SARS that could be brought to the market place quickly.

More than a month after the United States and its allies launched their attack on Iraq, they still have not found any weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), which were a prime reason for going to war in the first place. The White House says it is confident that they will be discovered, as the search is stepped up and Iraqis involved in suspected weapons programmes come forward with information. But some critics of the military action say the absence of so-called WMDs reinforces their belief that Iraq simply did not have the banned weapons, at least not on the scale alleged by the United States. In his State of the Union speech earlier this year, Mr Bush listed the banned weapons that Iraq had failed to account for. So far, they have not shown up.

Ireland is developing a sound research base in the areas of biotechnology and information and communication technologies (ICT), despite institutional and funding barriers, concludes a recent report by the national policy and advisory board for enterprise, trade, science, technology and innovation (Forfás). The report focuses, in particular, on the level and quality of ICT and biotechnology research and the capabilities of the Irish research base, compared with best practices worldwide, during the period 1991 to 2000. The report is expected to help the science foundation of Ireland (SFI) assess what initiatives are needed in order to stimulate the growth of robust, competitive and sustainable scientific centers in Ireland.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has forecast that the current weak trend in Irish economic growth is likely to continue for the rest of 2003, with partial GDP recovery for 2004. "After unexpected resilience in 2002, real gross domestic product growth is forecast to slow to 3.25% in 2003, before rebounding to 4.25% in 2004 with the strengthening of export market growth," according to the twice-yearly OECD Economic Outlook. Its medium-term forecast suggest that Ireland's economic growth rate will remain among the highest in the OECD area until at least 2008, and will outperform other EU Member States for the near future. GDP growth in the euro-zone is forecast to expand by only 1% in 2003 and by 2.4% in 2004. The OECD forecasts that global economic growth will pick up slowly in the second half of 2003 and 2004 with the US leading the upturn.

The deadly SARS virus and the aftermath of the war in Iraq are likely to knock almost one-sixth off economic growth in Asia in 2003, the World Bank has warned. The World Trade Organisation voiced similar fears, saying that growth in trade would remain below par this year after having shrunk in 2001. And the OECD club of rich nations warned in its semi-annual economic outlook that the economic impact on the region could be "significant", especially in the tourism and retail sectors. SARS has killed more than 250 people and almost 5,000 cases have been reported. There were "great uncertainties" about its impact, the Bank said and cut its prediction for expansion in East Asia this year to 5% from 5.8%.

Michael Finucane, son of defense lawyer Patrick Finucane, whose death the Stevens Report said was preventable and in which agents of the British state were complicit, said his father was just one of many victims of collusion. Criticizing the Stevens Report, Finucane said it was flawed at its heart because it presumed there was a "systems fault", an examination of what went wrong in the north of Ireland and how that can be prevented in the future. "But nothing went wrong. The 'system' worked exactly as intended and, in the British government's eyes, it worked perfectly. The policy was - and may yet be - to harness the killing potential of loyalist paramilitaries, to increase that potential through weapons and information and to direct those resources against selected targets so that the government could be rid of its enemies," he said. Michael Finucane said Sir John Stevens had insisted that his publication would be extensive and frank. "Despite this, the completion and publication of the report has been postponed a number of times, giving rise to concerns that the report itself was subject to political pressure. The latest Stevens report is an embodiment of broken promises and dishonored commitments. It carries the hallmark of all of Stevens' work in Northern Ireland: secrecy and repression. We are convinced beyond any doubt that Britain's policy included amongst its victims one lawyer the rule of law could not stop. I refer, of course, to my late father, Patrick Finucane. His murder is just one example of what the British government was prepared to do in order to further its own ends, but he is not the only casualty. My family and I call upon the British government once again to establish a full independent judicial public inquiry into the murder and the policy of collusion," Finucane said. "Many people were murdered by these agents of the British state and this is the real price of Sir John Steven's report. It has been paid for not just with public money but with the lives of many people and it is for them and their families that the truth must be known."

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The U.S. economy remained ''lackluster'' in March and early April as the war in Iraq dampened consumer spending and a mysterious Asian virus (SARS) cut into international airline travel, the Federal Reserve has reported. The Fed's latest nationwide survey of business conditions depicted an economy still struggling to emerge from a pronounced slowdown that began at the end of 2002. The central bank said there had been few signs of improvement with most of its regions reporting that ''the pace of economic activity continued to be lackluster during March and the first two weeks of April.'' The survey, known as the ''Beige Book'' for the color of its cover, will be used by policymakers when they meet on May 6th to set interest rates. Analysts say if the economy shows no further improvement by that time, there is a strong probability that the Federal Reserve would have to lower interest rates again.

The British government has abandoned its anti-racist agenda since David Blunkett became Home Secretary, claims the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence. In February, Doreen Lawrence told the Unite Against Racism gathering that she had challenged the Home Secretary about why the British government was no longer interested in race issues. Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death a decade ago when he was attacked by a gang of white youths in South East London. His mother told the conference that she had thought that Britain was "going to turn a corner" after his death, which led to a report criticizing the Metropolitan Police as institutionally racist. But she now feels that Britain has become complacent again on the issue of racism and discrimination in the British police.

Scientists searching for a cure for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have suffered a setback after finding that the virus blamed for the potentially fatal disease was not present in most patients taken ill. The World Health Organisation announced recently that the corona virus - responsible for the common cold - was at the root of the epidemic of a virulent strain of pneumonia. But Dr Frank Plummer, scientific director of the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, refuted the claim after weeks of intensive research into the disease that has killed over a dozen people in Toronto. "Only 40% of the people with what we call SARS have the corona virus. We have found no other virus but the connection between SARS and corona is actually very weak," he said. These findings have coincided with an emergency meeting between Canadian health officials and senior officials from the American Centres for Disease Control. American officials have become increasingly worried about the spread of SARS over the US-Canadian border.

Ireland tops the list of countries seen by European tech executives to have the most potential to be the Silicon Valley/Technology capital of Europe, according to a new survey. Almost 19% backed Ireland followed by Germany at 14% and the UK at 8%. The report, by specialist technology group Eurocom PR Network in association with its Irish partner, Simpson Financial & Technology PR, was conducted in the first quarter of 2003 and covered 147 senior executives in technology companies in 12 countries in Europe including Ireland. "The results are significant as respondents were not allowed to vote for their own country," said Ronnie Simpson of Simpson Financial & Technology PR. "This suggests that the Government's policy of positioning Ireland as a major European high tech center is working."

Protests against the US presence in Iraq have been staged by Shias in the city of Karbala at the climax of a pilgrimage that has attracted up to one million people. Groups of marchers chanted slogans against a US-imposed government and called for unity among Shias. Some marchers even carried banners with slogans such as "No to America, no to Israel, yes to Islam." To make matters worse, a prominent Shia cleric claims to have been beaten by US soldiers after being detained near Baghdad. Sheikh Mohammed al-Fartusi condemned US methods as worse than those employed by Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile US officials have said they had underestimated the strength and organization of the Iraqi Shia and now feared the rise of anti-American Islamic militancy.

The no-nonsense approach taken by leading Irish republicans to the latest efforts to break the impasse in the peace process provides the public with the first hint of why the latest Hillsborough Declaration has come to nought. For many Irish republicans, there just hasn?t been enough progress on policing to suggest that they should sign up for the new force. And with the latest Stevens report highlighting the ongoing collusion between the British Army, Special Branch, British Intelligence and the loyalist terror groups, there are many Irish nationalists who will feel equally shortchanged by the "new" policing arrangements. In his recent comments, Gerry Adams noted that hundreds of lives have been saved by the IRA ceasefire. That's a statement which neither the two governments nor the other political parties can contradict. Yet, in pushing the IRA for yet more concessions to the British colonists of unionism, the governments have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. The British acknowledge that the latest IRA position paper goes further than ever before but not quite far enough in their opinion. Unfortunately, until the British are willing to enact real policing reforms and not the cosmetic ones that they have engaged in, neither the republican movement nor the indigenous Irish nationalist population have any reason for asking the IRA to go any further.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

George Bush plans to spend as much as $200 million on his re-election campaign which will begin just before the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it has been reported. Bush will double the budget from his disputed 2000 election victory over Al Gore, despite facing no serious rival for the Republican nomination. He is preparing for a sprint campaign that would officially start with his acceptance speech for the nomination on September 2, 2004, at the Republican convention in New York, two months before election day. Advisers are hopeful that his high approval ratings following the Iraq war would help him to a huge victory similar to the 1984 re-election of Ronald Reagan, who defeated Walter Mondale in all but one US state. Democrats are expected to attack Bush on the flagging economy, hoping for a repeat of the 1992 election when his father was defeated after the Gulf War because of his failure to tackle the recession.

A decade after the failed investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the head of the Metropolitan Police's anti-racism unit says she believes the force remains institutionally racist. Commander Cressida Dick, head of the Met's diversity directorate, said that some progress had been made but that: "It's very difficult to imagine a situation where we will say we are no longer institutionally racist...the point about racism is it's about the structure of society and power differential and how big institutions operate." One example of racism in the British police is that black people in Britain are still eight times as likely as whites to be stopped and searched, according to British Home Office figures. Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old A-Level student, was stabbed to death as he waited at a bus stop in Eltham in south-east London. An inquiry by William MacPherson found British police had failed to investigate the murder properly because of institutional racism and also revealed widespread failings in the British criminal justice system's approach to crimes against minority groups. The family of Stephen Lawrence subsequently brought a failed private prosecution against the suspects but no-one has been convicted of the murder.

Britain has been classified as a SARS-affected area following the news that a British businessman who had not traveled to Asia (or other affected regions) was being treated for symptoms of the disease at a London hospital. The Health Protection Agency said this was the first known probable case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Europe where the patient had no recent history of travel and appeared to have been infected locally as a result of close person-to-person contact. The businessman - the sixth case of suspected SARS in Britain - had a two-hour meeting in London with a Hong Kong man who was diagnosed as a probable SARS case when he returned home after also visiting Germany and Spain.

More on the Stevens Report:

Stevens and Stalker
Security forces colluded in murder
Stevens Enquiry
London's Secret War
Murder in Ireland

The virus thought to cause SARS is constantly changing form, say scientists - which will make developing a vaccine difficult. The Beijing Genomics Institute reported that the virus is "expected to mutate very fast and very easily". Other experts have warned that, once established, it could be particularly difficult to prevent the SARS virus causing problems. So far SARS has killed over 200 people, mainly in China, Hong Kong, Canada and Singapore. There have now been almost 4,000 probable cases, according to the World Health Organization. Scientific teams are racing to produce a vaccine against the new strain, but have warned that this may take years.

The success of the Irish economy over the past 15 years is based solely on market forces while European Union subsidies, rather than stimulating growth, may actually be holding Ireland back from growing faster, according to an article published by the Cato Institute, a leading US economic think-tank. The article by Benjamin Powell, entitled "Economic Freedom and Growth: The Case of the Celtic Tiger" goes on to recommend that Ireland's continued growth will depend on maintaining free-market conditions and on a move in population from the countryside to the city.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Afro-Caribbeans in Britain are more than 27 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched under a special police power designed to tackle ravers and football thugs, according to new research. The use of the power has increased dramatically, and it has been branded "a new sus law", a reference to hated police powers used in the 1970s in Britain to target black people without reason. The power allows stop and searches without an officer having reasonable grounds of suspicion. It is contained under section 60 of the Crime, Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and was introduced by the British Conservative home secretary, Michael Howard, to tackle noisy ravers and football louts, who are mostly Anglo-Saxon. According to research by the criminologist Ben Bowling, the power is 18 times more likely to be used against Asians than whites, and 27.5 times more likely to be used against Afro-Caribbeans.

The retired US general sent to lead an interim administration has begun assessing the damage the war inflicted on Baghdad, where large parts of the population are still without water or electricity. Jay Garner flew into Baghdad insisting he was a "facilitator not a ruler", but opposition appeared to be growing to the invading forces taking a leading role in the reconstruction. A Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, said he objected to any "foreigner" leading an administration for Iraq. Groups representing the majority Shia Muslim population have already said they will not co-operate with a US administration and are boycotting talks led by Garner. Many Shia clerics have already demanded the immediate withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq.

Apologists for the British security apparatus are engaged in a desperate damage limitation exercise following publication of the third report by London Metropolitan Police Commissioner, John Stevens, into collusion between the British security forces and loyalist terrorists in the north of Ireland. There have been predictable calls to limit the scope of further inquiries that should flow logically from the damning Stevens findings. But nothing should be allowed to distract from the appalling conclusions of Stevens. And efforts to frustrate remedial measures that should be implemented must not be countenanced. The Stevens team has produced a commentary on British institutions that is one of the most shocking ever released. Effectively, a climate existed in which indigenous Irish Catholics could be murdered with near impunity. There was a culture of institutionalised collusion. When Stevens and his colleagues sought to rip back the covers and expose the squalid reality to the light, they were obstructed, intimidated and had their offices torched in an arson attack. That such conditions would prevail in a state ruled by a totalitarian regime would be appalling. For them to exist in an area that the British government tells the world is part of a modern democratic state is unspeakable. The sordid tale of state-sponsored terrorism, murder, collusion and obstruction exposed by Stevens is a fearful indictment of the rule of law as it seems to have been understood by the British establishment and security forces.

Syria said it wanted a "serious and constructive dialogue" with Washington and welcomed remarks by President Bush in which he noted Damascus was heeding U.S. calls for cooperation. A spat between Damascus and Washington over U.S. allegations that Syria may be developing chemical weapons sparked fears in the Arab world that Syria could be the Pentagon's next target after the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Syria has denied the U.S. charges and argued that Israel, which is widely believed to have about 300 nuclear warheads, posed a threat to its neighbors. The Jewish state's policy is never to discuss the issue.

Arab-American activist Nawar Shora checked his e-mail one day and found scores of angry messages asking why he hated Americans and Jews. The messages were responding to e-mails marked as coming from him. Only one big problem: Shora never sent the hate mail. Shora, a legal adviser to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was the victim of a new form of harassment in which fake e-mail is sent using real addresses. By exploiting the simplicity and openness of the Internet's mail protocols, unidentified provocateurs have been sending incendiary messages posing as Shora and other Arab-Americans. The tactic, known as e-mail spoofing, requires little technical know-how and no illegal computer break-ins. Yet it has caused a lot of trouble -- wasting time, damaging reputations and even leading to the suspension of e-mail accounts. The messages harassing Arab-American activists began in 2002 and intensified as the conflict in Iraq dominated headlines. Some groups reported another increase after the United States' invasion of Iraq.

The Irish economy has a bright future according to a leading British writer and has made major strides in the past 30 years. He dismissed the view that the Irish economy is destined to hit very difficult times in the next 12 to 18 months. It will continue to benefit from European Union membership and foreign direct investment as globalization of the world economy continues. "I believe the ESRI’s assertion that the Irish economy will have a soft landing, a very soft landing," said Will Hutton former editor in chief of the Observer newspaper and chief executive of the Work Foundation in the UK. Ireland has emerged as an economy with the capability of the strengths of economies such as Denmark, Finland and Holland. He was less optimistic about future prospects for the United States and believes it will be stuck with below par growth for the foreseeable future as it is forced to come to terms with the slump in the high technology sector.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says there has been another sudden jump in officially reported cases of SARS infections in China. Four further deaths have been recorded, as well as 132 new cases in one day, most of them in the capital, Beijing. The pneumonia-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has now spread to four previously unaffected provinces. It has killed 86 people in China. In Hong Kong, the authorities have said six more people have died there, bringing the death toll from SARS to 94 - the highest in the world. Citing Chinese health ministry figures, the WHO said there were now 1,959 confirmed cases of SARS in the country. There is no cure or vaccine for the virus, and China's efforts are seen as vital to controlling the epidemic, which has hit business and travel in Asia. The death rate from SARS infections is put at about 4%.

The retired judge who will help decide if there is a public inquiry into collusion between the British security forces and loyalist terrorists in the north of Ireland objected to the release of the Stevens Report, according to political sources. They say Judge Peter Cory believed it intruded on his role which is to recommend whether there should be judicial inquiries into the murders of Pat Finucane and five other cases in which collusion has been alleged. The Canadian judge, who was appointed by the government to look into the cases, has refused to comment on the claims. In the report, the UK's most senior police officer, John Stevens, found members of the RUC and British Army colluded with the largest loyalist terrorist group, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), to murder indigenous Irish Catholics. Nationalist politicians have called on Judge Cory to bring forward the publication of his own report.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

A senior British Army officer is among six people who may be prosecuted over claims that British security forces colluded with loyalist terrorists to murder indigenous Irish Catholics in the north of Ireland. Evidence against Brigadier Gordon Kerr, now the military attaché in Beijing, and other serving and former police and Army officers has been sent to Crown prosecutors in Britain's longest-running criminal investigation. John Stevens, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, found that a covert Army unit, commanded by Brigadier Kerr, then a colonel, in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as RUC Special Branch officers, colluded with British colonial death squads to kill Irish Catholics. Evidence for possible charges ranging from conspiracy to murder, to perverting the course of justice and breaches of the Official Secrets Act is contained in the report from which Alasdair Fraser, QC, director of public prosecutions for the north of Ireland, will make a decision. Stevens concluded that members of the Force Research Unit (FRU) ran a rogue operation in the north of Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s that led to murders. The FRU passed information to loyalist terrorists, mainly through Brian Nelson, an agent who infiltrated the Ulster Defence Association. Details passed included those of Pat Finucane, a Belfast solicitor who defended indigenous Irish Catholics. Finucane was murdered in front of his family by loyalist terrorists in 1989. Steven's inquiry found widespread collusion between loyalist terrorists and British security forces. Of the 100 key witnesses his officers questioned, two thirds were found to be agents or "touts" of the Army and former RUC, with three being handled by MI5.

A former Conservative minister who sparked controversy by linking solicitors in the north of Ireland to the IRA was "compromised" by information fed to him by police officers, a report into paramilitary collusion has found. Douglas Hogg, a British home office minister in 1989, told MPs in the Commons that some of the norith of Ireland solicitors were "unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA" just weeks before Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane was murdered. John Stevens, author of a major report into collaboration between British security forces and loyalist terrorists, said Hogg's comments had not been justified when he made them during a Commons anti-terrorism legislation debate on 17 January 1989. Hogg, who went on to be Cabinet member and remains a Conservative MP, made his remarks after a briefing from senior Royal Ulster Constabulary officers. In his report into collusion, Stevens said his conclusion was that a branch of UK army intelligence and police officers in the north of Ireland actively helped a loyalist terrorist group to murder indigenous Irish Catholics in the late 1980s.

Families in Scotland may be able to blame a form of inherited cancer on the Vikings who began to arrive with Ivarr the Boneless and Halfdan Wide-Embrace more than 1,000 years ago. And a form of the disease found in British Unionists living in the north of Ireland may have been spread during the Elizabethan plantation of Ulster in the 16th century. Researchers have reported in the British Journal of Cancer that they tracked 107 families through genetics clinics in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Belfast, and found nearly 400 cases of breast cancer and 150 cases of ovarian cancer. In each case, they sequenced two key genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2 which have been linked with inherited cancers. Just 10 types of genetic damage - five in each gene - accounted for half of all the mutations detected. This was a much narrower spread than in England and Wales. It looked as though the mutations had common ancestries, preserved in the more closely knit Scottish and Ulster Unionist societies. One of these matched a mutation common in Scandinavia, and it could be traced back to Viking raiders or Scandinavian fishermen and merchants who settled in Britain before the Norman conquest.

A full independent inquiry into collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces must be established immediately, SDLP chairman Alex Attwood has said. The latest report, called Stevens Three, found that members of the RUC and British Army colluded with the largest loyalist terrorist group, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), to murder indigenous Irish Catholics. Speaking after the publication of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner's report, Attwood said there would be outrage that Catholics were not told about threats against them. He said an independent inquiry should also focus on the activities of the Force research Unit - a secretive branch of Army intelligence. Amnesty International, British Irish Rights Watch and the Committee on the Administration of Justice urged the establishment of a judicial hearing.

The Irish economy will continue to perform under par with growth of 3.0% in real GDP forecast for 2003, according to the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI). In its Spring bulletin the think tank said, "While the outlook for the economy remains uncertain, we forecast that the Irish economy will continue to grow below its potential this year and next. In 2003 growth of 3.0% in real GDP and 2.5% for real GNP is forecast, followed by rates of 3.7% and 3.5% respectively in 2004." ESRI economists forecast the unemployment rate will continue rising to average 5.3% in 2003 and 5.5% in 2004.

The European Union is expected to close ranks on the future of Iraq by agreeing that the United Nations should have a central role. Leaders of the 15 member states are discussing the matter at their summit in Athens. A joint statement is expected, with differences widely expected to be set aside to state agreement on a central role for the global body. The statement - being worded carefully to avoid divisions that emerged over the war - will reaffirm the EU's willingness to help in the reconstruction of Iraq. The UN secretary general Kofi Annan has been urging the United States and European countries to bury the hatchet on Iraqi policy in order to allow the rebuilding of the country.

Widespread security force collusion with loyalist paramilitary killers led to a number of murders in the north of Ireland, Metropolitan police commissioner John Stevens has confirmed. The murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in February 1989 by loyalist terrorists "could have been prevented" if the British security forces had not been involved in the plot, Stevens said. Stevens carried out a four-year inquiry into allegations of widespread collusion between Special Branch, British army officers and colonial terrorists known as loyalists. He found that there was damning proof of the use of British agents in the assassinations of indigenous Irish nationalists. Stevens, whose inquiries centered on the shooting of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane by the Ulster Defence Association in February 1989, said that Finucane's murder could have been prevented. He concluded that the RUC investigation of Patrick Finucane's murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Calls for a public inquiry into the death of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane are set to intensify ahead of a report into collusion between the British security forces and loyalist terrorists. Finucane, a high-profile indigenous Irish solicitor, was shot dead by loyalist terrorists of the Ulster Defence Association in front of his family at his home in 1989. Since 1989 John Stevens has been investigating allegations that elements within British military intelligence and the RUC's Special Branch were colluding with loyalist death squads. Central to what is the third Stevens report, is Finucane's murder and evidence that police special branch selected him for assassination by loyalists. Only one person has faced charges in connection with Finucane's murder, but the case against William Stobie was dismissed in November 2001 through "lack of evidence". Stobie, a self-confessed former Ulster Defence Association (UDA) quartermaster, was murdered by loyalists outside his home in the Glencairn area of Belfast a month later.

Scientists have confirmed the identity of the virus that causes the lethal new disease known as severe acute respiratory syndrome according to the World Health Organization, marking an important step toward developing new drugs to combat the disease commonly referred to as SARS. In experiments conducted at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands, scientists infected monkeys with the coronavirus suspected of causing of SARS and found that the animals developed the same symptoms of the disease that appeared in humans. The test was a crucial step in verifying the cause of the disease, which so far has killed 161 people worldwide, mostly in China and Hong Kong, and made 3,293 people ill in 22 countries.

Many of the same people who led the campaign for war against Iraq signed a report that called for using military force to disarm Syria of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to end its military presence in Lebanon. Among the signers are several senior members of the Bush administration including the chief Middle East aide on the National Security Council, Elliott Abrams; Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith; Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, and Michael Rubin and David Wurmser, senior consultants to both the State Department and the Pentagon on Iraq policy. Also signing were Richard Perle, the powerful former chairman of the Defense Policy Board; former United Nations ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick; Frank Gaffney, a former Perle aide who heads the Center for Defense Policy; Michael Ledeen, another close Perle collaborator at the American Enterprise Institute; and David Steinmann, chairman of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. The study, "Ending Syria's Occupation of Lebanon: The US Role", was co-authored by Daniel Pipes, who has been nominated by Bush to a post at the US Institute of Peace, and Ziad Abdelnour, who heads a group founded by him called the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL). The study was released by Pipes' group, the Middle East Forum. The USCFL, whose 67 "Golden Circle" members include virtually all of the 31 signatories of the report, has been a major force behind the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act that was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Eliot Engel, a USCFL member, and Ileana Ros Lehtinen. The legislation, which had 150 co-sponsors in the House, would impose far-reaching economic and diplomatic sanctions against Syria until it had stopped giving support to all "terrorist" groups and withdrew its troops from Lebanon and had taken other measures demanded by Washington.

A retired Canadian judge is halfway through his examination of some of the north of Ireland's most controversial murders. Peter Cory was appointed by the British and Irish Governments to investigate killings involving allegations of collusion by the security forces with paramilitaries on both sides of the Irish border. The former Canadian supreme court judge is determining the need for public inquiries into the murders, including Catholic solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

Former leader of the British House of Commons Robin Cook denounced Britain's pro-US foreign policy, saying it could cause a permanent rift within Europe. Writing in the New Statesman magazine, Cook, who resigned over Britain's policy in Iraq, writes that the fundamental foreign policy dilemma for Britain "is not Iraq. It is not even Europe. It is what kind of relationship we can maintain with the US while it is under neo-conservative management". In order to restore Britain's status as a European player, Cook argues, Blair needs to rethink his relationship with George Bush. This friendship - marked by dramatic foreign policy mistakes, especially in Iraq - has left Blair without any liberal allies in Europe. Cook compares the alliance between Blair and Bush to that of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. But he notes that while the Reagan-Thatcher partnership was built on shared ideology, no such similarity of view exists in the Blair-Bush alliance. Blair's mistake was in underestimating the depth of those political differences. Cook notes that the UK-US alliance has caused there to be little progress on making Britain an equal partner within Europe, with the added bonus of Britain being resented in the developing world because of the war in Iraq.

Six key pro-Western Gulf Arab states have called on the United States to stop threatening Syria in the wake of the war in Iraq. The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) - whose members control nearly half the world's known oil reserves - also said that setting up a transitional government in US-occupied Iraq was an urgent priority. US officials have accused Syria of harboring members of the former Iraqi regime and developing weapons of mass destruction - allegations that Damascus denies. Economic and diplomatic sanctions have been threatened, and some US Government spokesmen have refused to rule out military action. Speaking for the Gulf Co-operation Council, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani urged the US to moderate its tone against Syria. Both the UK and Spain, crucial US allies in the war in Iraq, have declined to support the US over Syria. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed concern that recent statements about Syria may further destabilise the Middle East.

Sinn Fein Assembly candidate Raymond McCartney has said that the case against the three Irish men on trial in Colombia has been destroyed by defence witnesses and called on the Irish government to intervene to secure their immediate release. Following the latest adjournment in the trial McCartney said: "It is clear now more than ever that the charges against these three men were based on halftruths, innuendo and pure fantasy. The Irish Government must now directly intervene to secure their immediate release and return to Ireland. It became very clear very quickly in the course of last week's trial of the Colombia Three that the prosecution case against them had absolutely collapsed. It is also clear now more then ever that the charges against these men were based on little or no evidence."

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan has voiced concerns that growing US criticism of Syria during the war on Iraq could further inflame the unstable Middle East. The statement from Annan came after Washington threatened sanctions over its charges that Damascus was harboring fleeing Iraqi leaders, developing chemical weapons and supporting terrorism. The United States and Britain infuriated many United Nations members by launching a war against Baghdad without first obtaining UN authorization in the form of a Security Council resolution. Responding to the US accusations, Syria has denied co-operating with the Iraqi government or having chemical weapons.

The United Nations' top human rights body has overwhelmingly condemned Israel's human rights record, accusing the country of "mass killings of Palestinians" and a host of other violations. By a 50-1 vote, the commission passed a resolution put forward by European countries voicing "grave concern'' because Israel has not halted settlements of Palestinian territory. It criticized restrictions on the movements of Palestinians and a barrier Israel is building to separate it from the Palestinian territories. A tougher, seven-page resolution sponsored by African and Arab nations criticized "the gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law'' in Israel.

A demand by the Israeli defense minister that Syria end its support for guerrilla groups bolstered accusations in the Arab world that the Bush administration's mounting pressure on Syria is part of a broader scheme to safeguard Israel. The dominant theme in commentaries coursing through the Arab media is that Israel has emerged as the big victor in the war against Iraq: Its longtime enemy has been destroyed; Israel is the only state in the region believed to have nuclear weapons; and Washington's implicit threat hanging over other Arab states is certain to minimize their opposition to Israel's policies toward the Palestinians. Iran, another longtime foe of the United States and Israel, has also shown signs of wariness in recent days. Key figures in the regime have floated the idea that Iran might want to normalize relations with the United States. Should such a reconciliation occur, one condition from Washington would probably be that Iran soften its policy toward Israel. Some analysts argue that while Arab leaders are keeping their heads down, they are also frustrated by an inability to halt the growing US influence over the region.