Anti-Colonial Agitator

Friday, May 30, 2003

European critics of the Iraq war expressed shock at remarks by a senior U.S. official playing down Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as the reason for the conflict. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz cited bureaucratic reasons for focusing on Saddam Hussein's alleged arsenal and said a huge reason for the war was to enable Washington to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia. He said one reason for going to war against Iraq that was almost unnoticed but huge was the need to maintain American forces in Saudi Arabia as long as Saddam Hussein was in power. Those troops were sent to Saudi Arabia to protect the desert kingdom against Hussein, whose forces invaded Kuwait in 1991, but their presence in the country that houses Islam's holiest sites enraged Islamic fundamentalists, including Osama bin Laden. Within two weeks of the fall of Baghdad, the United States announced it was removing most of its 5,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and would set up its main regional command center in Qatar. However, those goals were not spelled out publicly as the United States sought to build international support for the war. Instead, the Bush administration focused on Hussein's failure to dismantle chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. The failure of U.S. forces to locate extensive weapons stocks has raised doubts in a skeptical Europe whether Iraq represented a global security threat. Wolfowitz's comments followed a statement by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who suggested that Saddam Hussein might have destroyed his banned weapons before the war began.

The SARS virus can survive for as long as three days on plastered walls, glass, plastic and other surfaces, Hong Kong researchers have said. The findings, in a study from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, are based on samples taken from a hospital with SARS patients. The university said the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome could survive for 72 hours on surfaces such as stainless steel, plastered walls, glass, plastic and formica in a hospital setting. The findings come as Hong Kong said SARS had infected four more people in the city. The victims were believed to have caught the disease from SARS patients in the same hospitals. SARS has killed 274 people in Hong Kong since the epidemic began in March 2003 and infected 1,736. The virus surfaced in southern China in November 2002 and has been spread around the world by air travelers. Doctors worry that the long life of the virus outside a host would make infections easier. Many of those who recently caught the disease in the city are believed to have picked it up from other hospital patients before the latter showed obvious SARS symptoms. The latest findings come after the World Health Organization said earlier that the SARS virus could live for days in the stool and urine of patients.

Donald Rumsfeld, US defense secretary, is spearheading efforts to make regime change in Iran the official policy goal of the Bush administration, but his campaign is meeting with considerable resistance from other senior figures, according to officials and analysts. A reassessment of US policy towards Iran coincides with an initiative launched by powerful conservative figures within the Islamic republic to engage the US in an attempt to restore relations and thereby preserve the clerical regime in Tehran. Media reports from Tehran claim that Mohsen Rezaei (a former Revolutionary Guards commander who is close to the former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani) has made a tentative approach to Washington. According to one official, Condoleezza Rice has stepped in to freeze the fierce debate within the Bush administration over Iran. For the moment, the policy of limited diplomatic engagement with Iran remains in place, although President George W. Bush bracketed Iran with Iraq and North Korea in his axis of evil speech. If regime change were to become official policy, then the US would cut off diplomatic contacts, lend support to opposition groups and intensify economic pressure.

Some excellent insights on current events in the north of Ireland from Brian Feeney and Jude Collins.

The number of people believed to be infected with the SARS virus in the Canadian city of Toronto has jumped from 12 to at least 33. The dramatic rise has been largely attributed to a change in the way health officials define cases of SARS. Meanwhile, the number of people under quarantine for possible exposure to SARS in Toronto has more than doubled, with more than 7,000 people now in isolation. Twenty-nine people have died from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in the Toronto area, making it the worst-hit place outside Asia. China, where the pneumonia-like illness originated, reported seven new Sars cases and one fatality recently. More than 300 people have died from the virus in China since the first suspected case there in November, 2002. Toronto health officials have brought the way they define SARS cases in line with World Health Organization recommendations. Previously, officials diagnosed SARS based on deteriorating breathing problems; now the definition has been broadened to include patients with pneumonia, the cause of which cannot be explained. Health officials had been accused of deliberately underestimating the number of cases so as to avoid another travel warning from the WHO. Earlier, the WHO had placed Toronto back on its list of SARS-affected places, 12 days after it was taken off. The provincial public safety officer, Dr Jim Young, said the number of SARS cases in Toronto could reach at least 70.

Handsome men have the best sperm, a new study reveals. The researchers showed that men with the healthiest, fastest sperm were rated as the most facially attractive by women. The characteristics of a person's face have long been regarded as an indicator of health. But this is the first direct evidence to suggest a man's reproductive quality correlates with his facial characteristics, say the authors. Maria Sancho-Navarro, a team member at the University of Valencia, Spain, said that symmetrical faces were rated as more attractive by the women. And other studies have shown that people with more symmetrical features are less likely to suffer ill health. The researcher team examined 66 male students from Valencia. They showed frontal and side photos of the men's faces to 66 women, who rated their attractiveness. The men's semen quality was measured according to World Health Organization guidelines. In the second part of the study, 12 men from the good, normal and bad semen groups were selected and their photos rated by two independent sets of women. The women's perception of a man's good looks corresponded to better sperm motility and morphology in both groups. However, there was no relationship between attractiveness and sperm concentration. Although other factors like social and economic status influence women's final choice of a partner, say the researchers, they do seek attractive partners who are healthy and able to father children.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

AN Iranian Kurdish man living in Nottingham, England has sewn up his eyes, ears and mouth in protest at his treatment by the British Home Office. Abas Amini, 33, has been on hunger strike for a week and doctors say he could die within days. He was granted asylum previously but his protest was triggered by a recent British Home Office decision to appeal the decision. If he is sent back to Iran, he says he will be executed for his political past. Tania Branigan, a journalist who has been following his case, says his claims of being tortured in Iran are genuine. Amini is reported to be threatening to burn himself to death if anyone forces him to eat. Amini fled jail in Iran for Britain in 2001, where he applied for asylum. A Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture report backing his torture claims was submitted with his application. But the asylum process has been difficult for Amini, who at one stage was denied benefits because he refused to move house. His wife and three-year-old son have remained in Iran. After five adjournments, an immigration tribunal said he could stay, but the Home Office disagreed and decided to appeal. Now Amini is refusing all medical attention, including antibiotics and painkillers, despite developing an eyelid infection. He says he will stop his protest if the British government withdraws its appeal. Sam Azad, of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees, said Amini had told him he was taking a stand for all the people in Britain suffering from a lack of human rights.

The White House has announced that President George Bush will hold a joint summit with the Israelis and the Palestinians in Jordan. Bush will also meet Arab leaders in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, in Egypt. The move follows the decision by the Israeli cabinet to narrowly approve the US-backed Middle East peace plan, known as the road map, which envisages the step-by-step creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. It is expected Bush's summit with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmud Abbas, will take place after the meeting in Egypt. It will be Bush's most high-profile intervention in Middle East peace efforts and his first face-to-face meeting with Abbas, who only recently rose to power.

The good news is that the Pentagon has finally found weapons of mass destruction. The bad news is that the weapons are not in Iraq but buried in a US Army base 50 miles from Washington DC. Investigators at Fort Detrick in Maryland have unearthed more than 2,000 tons of hazardous waste including 100 vials of anthrax and other dangerous bacteria. They are believed to be left over from a US germ warfare programme that was ended in 1969. The discovery comes as US forces in Iraq are struggling to find any firm evidence of Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction that were the justification for toppling his regime. The Pentagon said it had no record of the biological agents dumped at the US site, which is being excavated as part of a clean-up of the area. The Army expected to find mostly laboratory chemicals, debris and incinerator ash when they started digging at the site. Instead, they uncovered vials of live bacteria like Brucella melitensis, which causes the virulent flu-like disease brucellosis and Klebsiella pneumoniae, a cause of pneumonia. They also found a nonvirulent form of anthrax. The potent form of the disease was brewed by the gallon at Fort Detrick until the weapons program was shut down by President Richard Nixon. Another 50 pressurised cylinders of gases and liquids found at the site are still awaiting analysis.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair faces the threat of fresh unrest on Labor's backbenches after US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Iraq's weapons of mass destruction may never be found. Blair has faced persistent questions from Labor MPs over what happened to the weapons that formed the primary justification for war. He has repeatedly said he is confident coalition troops will find the arsenal he once said could be ready for use in 45 minutes. Former minister Glenda Jackson warned that the British government is now standing on shaky ground over its justification for the war. The rebel MP raised concerns that the Prime Minister knew Iraq had destroyed any weapons of mass destruction prior to the decision to send troops to fight in the conflict. Donald Rumsfeld has said the search for hidden weapons would continue and it would take time to investigate hundreds of suspected sites. It is thought that Rumsfeld's remarks were the closest the Bush administration has come to admitting that weapons of mass destruction may never be found in Iraq.

Hundreds more people in Canada have been told to quarantine themselves at home due to possible exposure to a new cluster of SARS cases in Toronto, health officials have said. The nine probable cases and 23 suspected cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome identified recently put Canada's largest city back on a World Health Organization list of SARS-affected areas. Three more probable cases from the initial Toronto outbreak also remained in hospital. Still reeling from the biggest SARS outbreak outside of Asia in March and April, Toronto now faces further harm to the crucial convention and tourism industry because of the renewed cases. The WHO designation is routine for places with new cases of SARS, and a spokesman for the UN health agency said Toronto was nowhere near another WHO warning against travel to the city. Canadian health authorities scrambled to limit any further spread while investigating how the new cases slipped through monitoring and reaction systems designed to halt the spread of SARS. In response to the new cases, health authorities re-imposed strict controls on Toronto-area hospitals such as closing those where new cases were found and limiting access to emergency rooms, with staff required to wear protective masks and gowns and to take the temperature of anyone entering. Dr Colin D'Cunha, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said that authorities told an additional 1,200 people to quarantine themselves at home for 10 days due to possible exposure to the new SARS cluster. The additions raised the overall quarantine figure to 3,442 and included 70 in the Muskoka-Parry Sound area, 100 miles north of the city. The new cases included two deaths. A third death, that of a patient who had been sick for months, raised the overall toll in the Toronto area to 27 dead among about 150 cases.

Irish Environment Minister Martin Cullen has raised concerns about safety of the Sellafield nuclear plant with British Energy Minister Brian Wilson. The two men met in Dublin to discuss radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea, access to Sellafield for the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland and reports of a leaking roof at a radioactive waste storage facility at the plant. Speaking afterwards, Cullen said the Irish government was still not satisified that the British had adequately addressed concerns about Sellafield.

A convicted loyalist terrorist has claimed RUC detectives urged him to murder Irish human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson. Trevor McKeown, 41, said two RUC officers gave him details of where Nelson parked her car. He said the approach came while he was being quizzed in custody about the Loyalist Volunteer Force murder of 18-year-old indigenous Irish Catholic Bernadette Martin in 1997. Nelson, who was a mother of three children, was murdered on March 15, 1999. She died when the Loyalist Volunteer Force planted a bomb under her car in Lurgan, County Armagh. McKeown has described how RUC officers directed him to the spot where Rosemary Nelson parked her car and urged him to shoot her there. A senior security source said that McKeown's claims will cause a huge outcry. The Red Hand Defenders, a cover-name for the Loyalist Volunteer Force, claimed responsibility for Nelson's murder. Since her death there have been persistent allegations of security force collusion in the murder, which is now the subject of three major investigations. McKeown said that after the approach in custody he was charged with the murder of teenager Bernadette Martin. Ironically, McKeown's trial for murdering Bernadette Martin, who was shot dead in Aghalee as she slept beside her Protestant boyfriend, started the day Rosemary Nelson was murdered on March 15 1999.

A man and a woman have been arrested in connection with the murder of Irish human rights lawyer Pat Finucane, Britain's Scotland Yard has confirmed. The man aged 40 and the woman aged 45 were detained at an address in Sussex in England by members of the Stevens team supported by Sussex police and members of the PSNI/RUC. The man, believed to be top loyalist terrorist Ken Barrett who has been in hiding, was taken to a police station in the north of Ireland for further questioning. The woman was being questioned at a police station in Sussex. A police spokesman confirmed the arrests were in connection with the murder of Pat Finucane by the Ulster Freedom Fighters, a cover name for the UDA, in front of his family at his home in North Belfast in February 1989.

The future trend for Irish economic growth is likely to be between 4% and 5% for GDP and a touch lower for GNP, according to the OECD's latest economic survey of Ireland. The report also said that the deterioration in growth from the heyday of the Celtic Tiger, while inevitable, was exacerbated by a worsening of Irish cost competitiveness. According to the OECD, a moderation in income expectations is crucial to guarding against deterioration in international competitiveness, while prudent public finances are required to ensure fiscal sustainability and the maintenance of a growth-supportive tax environment.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

A leading Israeli politician has accused Israeli soldiers of gross violations of human rights in the occupied territories, and the army high command of indifference to the abuses. The unprecedented accusations came from Michael Eitan, a former cabinet minister and leader of Ariel Sharon's Likud party, as he chaired hearings of the Knesset's law committee. Although Israeli and foreign human rights groups have long documented evidence of systematic abuses by soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza, including murder, indiscriminate shooting, aiming at children, torture and use of human shields, such accusations have generally been dismissed by the authorities as driven by anti-Israeli motives. But Eitan's charges drew blood when he astonished the military at the start of the hearing by alleging widespread abuses and wondering if Israeli army leaders knew of it. In March 2003, the Israeli army claimed that about 18% of more than 2,000 Palestinians killed in the past two-and-a-half years of intifada were innocent civilians, but said most were just caught in the crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters. Human rights groups dispute the claim, saying soldiers make civilians a target almost with impunity. They say that charges against troops who shoot illegally are usually levelled only when such killings draw public attention, as happened when a soldier shot dead a 95-year-old Palestinian woman in December 2002. The soldier was initially sentenced at an administrative hearing to just 35 days' imprisonment for the shooting, but, after widespread criticism, the army ordered a court martial.

Palestinians postponed a second summit meeting between Israeli and Palestinian premiers, putting off high-level contacts over implementing a U.S.-backed Mideast peace plan. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was behind the delay, said a senior Palestinian official. According to the official, Arafat wanted to send a message that he, and not Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, is in charge of negotiations with Israel. Arafat met with the PLO executive committee, where Abbas is his deputy. The official said Arafat wanted to discuss the latest Israeli proposals for security arrangements before approving another summit. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas met on May 17, the first Israeli-Palestinian summit meeting since the violence erupted in September 2000. Abbas took office April 30; Israel is boycotting Arafat, charging that he is involved in terrorism. Officials are arranging a three-way summit with U.S. President George W. Bush, Sharon and Abbas in early June, possibly in Jordan. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that concrete results could be expected.

The so-called Royal Irish Regiment is to be axed in the north of Ireland as part of a major plan to cut British troop numbers in the occupied Six Counties. Military authorities plan to scrap all three Home Service battalions, comprising of nearly 3,000 soldiers under a new deal to break the deadlock in the peace process. British army chiefs have already drawn up a redundancy packages and held talks with trade union representatives to discuss the future of civilian staff affected by the move. An internal draft document circulated among senior staff by the GOC in the north of Ireland, Lieutenant General Truesdale, has set out the impact of the demilitarization program code-named operation Banner.

China's southern province of Guangdong has ordered a ban on the eating of wild animals like civet cats, after scientists said that the SARS virus could have jumped from the animals to humans. The ferret-like animal is considered a delicacy in China, but it was included in a ban against the consumption, trading and husbandry of wild animals. Beijing has also ordered controls on civet cats. The city's only civet cat farm was closed and its 242 animals put under observation for signs of SARS, while the nine civets at the Beijing Zoo were quarantined. An official from Guangdong's agriculture department said other provinces in the country would likely adopt similar measures, as China seeks to control the spread of Sars, which has killed more than 300 of the country's citizens.

The United Nations health agency has put Toronto, Canada back on the list of areas with recent local transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) following new reported clusters of 26 suspect and eight probable cases of the deadly disease linked to four area hospitals. The announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) did not include a new recommendation for travel restrictions to Toronto. The agency had removed the city from the local transmission list after 20 days had passed since the last isolation of a locally acquired case of SARS. Recently, it had also lifted its advisory against non-essential travel to Toronto after an improved outlook there. Canada has a cumulative case record of 148 suspected infections with 26 deaths. Worldwide, SARS has infected 8,202 with 725 deaths so far. Although results of laboratory and epidemiological investigations are pending, sufficient information is available to determine that the index, or first, case in the present outbreak has transmitted infection to others in more than one generation of local transmission, WHO said. Toronto is therefore classified as having “pattern B” transmission. This is defined as more than one generation of local probable SARS cases. Inclusion of countries and areas in this list does not mean that WHO recommends travel restrictions to the country or area, and the agency said it was not at present recommending any restrictions on travel to Toronto. Local transmission of SARS is of greatest concern, in terms of risks to both local populations and international travellers, when a new case cannot be traced back to contact with another case, or turns out to have been a contact of a case but was not placed in isolation. Both situations increase opportunities for local spread to others.

The United States will not allow an Iran-style Islamic republic to be established in Iraq, according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld's comments were made ahead of a meeting of senior U.S. officials to discuss Iran, branded by Washington as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and North Korea. One of the political forces competing for influence in postwar Iraq is the Iranian-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), whose leader recently returned to Iraq after years of exile in Tehran. U.S. policymakers were due to gather at the White House to discuss Iran, with the Pentagon reportedly pushing for a tougher stance including actions that could lead to toppling Iran's clerical leadership through popular uprisings. Washington, which broke diplomatic ties with Tehran shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution, has grown steadily more critical of Iran since the end of the Iraq war.

Friday, May 23, 2003

The chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said he was starting to suspect Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction in advance of the war on Iraq. "I am obviously very interested in the question of whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, and I am beginning to suspect there possibly were none," Blix told the German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. If that were the case, Iraq's evasive behaviour in recent years could have been due to Saddam Hussein's fixation with Iraqi honor and a wish to dictate the conditions under which people could enter Iraq. Blix pointed to statements made by Lt Gen Amer al-Saadi, who officials say led Iraq's unconventional weapons programs before surrendering to US-led forces. The US justified its invasion of Iraq on the belief that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction and had active programs to produce even greater quantities of biological and chemical weapons. UN inspectors had not found any stocks of chemical or biological weapons by the time they were forced to leave the country on the eve of the US-led attack. Washington has been carrying out inspections of its own, which have so far failed to turn up evidence of WMD stocks. The White House has resisted a resumption of the UN inspections.

Albert Doyle on the Irish Intifada.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams are to meet the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern in Dublin to challenge him to demand the full publication of the Stevens Report into collusion between loyalist terrorists, the British Army and the PSNI/RUC. Sinn Fein says, at the very least, the Irish government should be given a full uncensored copy of the Stevens Report and ultimately persuade London to open the files of the secret agencies that were active in the north of Ireland over the past 35 years. McGuinness said he was shocked to hear Ahern say he was no wiser after asking questions of British ministers about collusion than he had been before. Martin McGuinness said it was now becoming clearer that previous British governments were aware of what their secret services were doing in Ireland and were steering loyalist killers towards the murder of Irish citizens in the Six Counties, including the victims of the Dublin Monaghan bombings.

Four possible new SARS cases dealt a blow to Canada's efforts to recover from an outbreak it thought was over, and raised the specter that travelers may again stay away from hard-hit Toronto. Health officials, who announced the possibility of new cases, were gathering information on how the four could have contracted the deadly disease. The only link among the four appears to be a Toronto rehabilitation hospital, and authorities asked people who had visited the center to put themselves in voluntary quarantine. One is a health care worker, one recently returned from Asia, and two of the four are related, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate medical officer of health for Toronto, said. It was not clear which of them were related. Canada is the only place outside Asia where people have died from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, with 24 deaths in the Toronto area. The illness, which started in southern China and was spread by travelers, has killed nearly 700 people worldwide, most of them in China and Hong Kong. Tourism officials said news of the possible cases was a blow in that it came just as Canada's largest city was touting hotel specials, cheap flights and tax breaks to revive a sagging economy. Occupancy rates at Toronto hotels were 46.6% in April, down from 68% in April of 2002. Toronto hotels have lost $125 million (US $90.6 million) because of cancellations since SARS reached the city in March. The announcement of possible new cases, more than a week after the World Health Organization said SARS was no longer spreading in Canada, helped to depress the Canadian dollar, already under pressure from news about mad cow disease in Canada and on a tame inflation report that reduced the chance of further hikes in Canadian interest rates. Dr. Jim Young, Ontario's commissioner of public safety, said the risk of SARS remains as long as people travel.

The belief that the Scots are descendants of Irish settlers who crossed from Antrim in the sixth century is being dismissed as a myth by an eminent archaeologist. In a detailed research paper published by Glasgow University, Ewan Campbell argues that the alleged migrations of the Irish into Argyll can be attributed to a set of elite origin myths that have no basis in archaeological evidence. Ewan Campbell has been concerned for many years that the belief that Scottish kings were descended from Irish invaders was not based on actual historical events. He has concluded that any migration between the west coast of Scotland and the north of Ireland was in the opposite direction to that previously thought. The doubts were planted in his mind when he took part in a excavation at the royal fort at Dunadd in Argyll in the 1970s. The dig uncovered strong evidence that this was the inauguration site of the early Scottish kings but gave little indication of any Irish influence. At this time, the kingdom of the Scots, which was called Dalriada and consisted of Argyll and some of the west coast islands, was a center of civilization and trade. Campbell said: "Looking at the site made us wonder, how did it start? It made us look at the original legends. If they were true you would expect to see Irish types of settlements and artefacts. When we looked for evidence of the Irish origin, there was none." He said of the accepted view of an Irish invasion: "This apparently incorrect account was done by medieval spin doctors for political reasons - to further the claims to the Scottish throne of descendants of Kenneth MacAlpine. It was an early example of an Orwellian rewrite of history."

A senior British army officer is being investigated over alleged war crimes in Iraq, according to UK defense officials. British defense sources identified the officer as Lt. Col. Tim Collins, whose stirring speech to troops on the eve of battle drew praise from Prince Charles and U.S. President George W. Bush. The sources said the British Army's Special Investigations Branch is investigating allegations that Collins may have broken the Geneva Convention in his treatment of Iraqis. The Sun newspaper, which reported the allegations, said Collins was being accused of punching, kicking and threatening Iraqi prisoners of war and pistol-whipping an Iraqi civic leader. Collins, 43, was commanding officer of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment during the Iraq war. He galvanized his troops on the eve of battle with a speech in Kuwait in which he urged them to do their duty while treating the enemy with respect. Prince Charles was so impressed by the speech that he wrote a personal note to Collins to say how profoundly moved he was by Collins' words. President Bush was reported to have had a copy of the speech pinned to the wall of the Oval Office in the White House. Recently, human rights group Amnesty International said it had received about 20 complaints from Iraqi civilians and soldiers accusing British and American troops of torture. The group said it was still collecting witness statements and had not corroborated reports of beatings and electric shock treatment or raised the matter with the authorities.

The deadly SARS virus most probably jumped to humans from an exotic mammal called the civet cat, say researchers in Hong Kong and mainland China. Genetic analysis shows that virus samples from civet cats are very similar to the coronavirus that causes SARS in humans. This is according to research carried out by Kwok-Yung Yuen, head of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, in a joint study with the Shenzhen Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Civet cats are considered a culinary delicacy in China's Guangdong province, where the killer virus first surfaced in November of 2002. The disease spread rapidly across the globe, and has now caused over 8100 infections and nearly 700 deaths. Yuen and colleagues isolated coronavirus from the faeces and respiratory secretions of a species called the masked palm civet (Paguma larvata). A statement from the University of Hong Kong says that to prevent any further jumps of SARS from civets to humans, the animals should be reared on farms that regularly test the animals and use a vaccine as soon as one is developed. Yuen points out that the team could not exclude the possibility that the SARS virus originated in another smaller animal, which infected the civet before it in turn infected humans. In a separate development, two new epidemiological studies have concluded that SARS is contagious enough to cause a global pandemic if it was not controlled. The researchers tried to calculate how fast SARS spreads, and what might stop it, by analysing data from Hong Kong, Singapore and other outbreaks. Both studies found that in the absence of isolation and other control measures, each SARS case causes on average two to four more cases. In a commentary on the research, the WHO's Chris Dye and Nigel Gay note that a few people, dubbed super-spreaders, shed large amounts of virus and have been known to infect up to 300 people by themselves. That results in a different type of epidemic from one caused by people who infect only two to four others.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Brian Feeney provides an informative analysis of the current state of the peace process in the north of Ireland.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who planned and commanded the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has decided to retire, US defense officials have said. Franks won high praise from President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for his handling of the operation to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The 57-year-old native of Midland,Texas, comes to the end of his three-year term as head of the military's 25-nation U.S. Central Command in July, but it was not immediately clear when he would leave. No replacement has been nominated. Franks had been considered a leading candidate for the top Army job of chief of staff, which opens in June, but associates doubted he would want the position. Franks is credited with developing a war plan that efficiently defeated the Iraqis with fewer U.S. casualties than many had expected. He also ran the 2001 war against Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban regime and ended Afghanistan's role as a haven for the al-Qaida terrorist network. It's not clear who will succeed Franks as Central Command commander, but one likely candidate is Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, who was Franks' top deputy at Camp As Sayliyah during the war.

Iran said U.S. allegations it harbored al Qaeda members were based on faulty intelligence, but vowed to arrest any militants who might have entered the country without its knowledge, IRNA agency has reported. The United States said it told Iran to crack down on suspected al Qaeda members that Washington believes are operating in the country. Tony Blair said the British government had also warned Iran that harboring al Qaeda operatives would be entirely unacceptable. Iran has vowed to expel any al Qaeda members it might find, as it already has with some 500 people suspected of ties to Osama bin Laden's network, which is blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Media reports said U.S. officials believe Iran-based al Qaeda members may have been involved in recent bombings in Saudi Arabia, which killed 34 people, including eight Americans. Iranian officials have denied charges of helping al Qaeda, saying Iran opposed al Qaeda and their former Taliban hosts in neighboring Afghanistan long before the U.S. war on terror.

A disease expert from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who was investigating SARS in Taiwan is returning to the United States after developing symptoms of the virus, a Taiwan health official has said. The official said the illness was not confirmed, but if the epidemiologist does have the respiratory virus, it would be the first time a disease investigator has become ill from SARS since Dr. Carlo Urbani died from SARS in the early days of the epidemic, according to the World Health Organization. The CDC employee, who was not identified, reported fever and muscle pain while staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Taipei, said Su Yi-jen, chief of Taiwan's Center for Disease Control. Taiwanese officials listed the epidemiologist as a suspected case although he has not tested positive for the new type of coronavirus believed to cause SARS. Doctors also did not find evidence of pneumonia, which is another SARS symptom, after doing chest X-rays. The CDC official was expected to return to the United States by charter jet, according to Taiwanese officials. CDC officials have not commented on the case.

A senior congressional Middle East analyst has predicted that an Iranian-backed cleric who is a protege of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini will become the most powerful leader in postwar Iraq. Congressional staff believe that Iran's influence in the region is likely to be greatly enhanced and that a confrontation between the United States and Iran is likely, said Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service. There is also concern that Iran eventually could rearm Iraq, even with weapons of mass destruction. Katzman's predictions came as Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian official in Iraq, said selection of an interim government would be delayed from June until at least mid-July. The delay has angered the Iraqi opposition. Speaking at the U.S. Institute for Peace, a study center created by Congress, Katzman said the United States will intervene to prevent Iran's advanced nuclear weapons development program from succeeding. That intervention could be in the form of sanctions against Iran, operations designed to achieve regime change or even military action against Iran's nuclear facilities. Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, the Khomeini protege, recently returned to Iraq after two decades of exile in Iran. One reason the previous Bush administration cited for not overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Persian Gulf War was the possible rise of a Shia leadership friendly to Iran. The U.S. government, particularly the Pentagon, has been openly helping Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shia Iraqi who in recent years has lived in exile, as an alternative to al-Hakim. While al-Hakim has declared that U.S. troops should leave Iraq immediately, he has also said that Iraq should be an Islamic democracy, not a theocracy.

The number of new SARS cases in China rose again to 26 from just 12 in the previous 24 hours, the lowest since the Chinese government began giving daily updates on the epidemic. China has steadily reported a decrease in new SARS cases since a peak on April 28, when 203 new cases were recorded over a 24 hour period. Senior schools in Beijing reopened after a month-long shutdown to stop the spread of SARS. 1.7m students were sent home in April when the number of infections spiked. Taiwan's SARS crisis escalated after a record 65 new cases and eight deaths were recorded in the wake of an island-wide travel alert issued recently. The new cases, which were nearly double the previous daily record, took Taiwan's toll to 483 infections and 60 fatalities. Hong Kong recorded just three more SARS cases, but officials expressed concern over a new case at a hard-hit housing estate. Officials there were continuing to lobby the WHO to lift its travel warning, issued on 2 April, as three women, aged between 70 and 85, became the latest to die. Elsewhere, the WHO representative in Cambodia reported the first suspected case of the disease there which was of a 16-year-old boy who had returned from studying in China. According to astrobiologists in Britain and India, SARS may have originated in outer space. In a letter that will appear in Saturday's issue of the medical weekly The Lancet, they say the idea for this came from experiments carried out in January 2001 in which a tethered sterile balloon collected samples from the stratosphere. According to the scientists, large quantities of viable micro-organisms were captured at an altitude of 41,000m. The sheer volume of this stream of micro-organisms raises the possibility that some of them will survive and a few may prove to be bacteria or viruses that are dangerous for humans. The letter says that the great flu pandemic of 1918-19, which killed tens of millions of people, may have been just such an example of a disease sown from space.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Health officials and experts have cautioned against complacency over SARS as North American cases wane, warning that the disease is highly likely to reemerge next winter with potentially serious consequences. SARS has sickened an estimated 7,900 people worldwide, killing 662 people, according to the World Health Organization. The epidemic has largely spared the U.S., where just 67 probable SARS cases have been recorded with no fatalities. Even in Canada, where an outbreak caused the WHO to issue a warning against travel to Toronto, concern has softened as officials show that they have controlled the disease's spread. However Bush administration officials made clear on Capitol Hill that the U.S. may have dodged a bullet, and that public health authorities must work to prepare for the return of SARS. Public health experts have extensive experience with flu, measles and other infectious illnesses that, like SARS, are brought about by respiratory viruses. Those diseases tend to follow a cyclical pattern, waning in warmer months and waxing when weather turns colder and dryer. Meanwhile, the disease has shown few signs of abating in Asia, where most cases have occurred. Authorities in Taiwan reported 12 new deaths and 39 probable new cases. The virus's persistence in developing nations with poor sanitation and little public health infrastructure signals that SARS has found a hospitable reservoir that can continue to export the illness for years to come, said Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Osterholm likened SARS to the emergence of HIV more than 20 years ago. Then, many experts expected the virus to peter out without causing a major public health impact. Neither disease has an effective vaccine, which experts consider essential to ultimately stopping their spread.

The Bundesbank has warned that the euro's rise could put an additional brake on the already slow German economy. It is the first time that the Bundesbank has so directly and publicly expressed concerns about the damaging consequences for the German economy from the spectacular rise in the value of the single currency. The comments could be seen as another indicator that the European Central Bank might be preparing to cut interest rates in the not-too-distant future. Earlier, Bundesbank President Ernst Welteke hinted that there might be room for further monetary easing in the 12-country euro zone, not least because of the seemingly unstoppable rise in the euro. In its May monthly report, the Bundesbank similarly expressed concern about the negative effects of the euro's rise for the single currency area as a whole. In the case of Germany, the euro zone's biggest but worst-performing economy, the advantages for exports from the weakness of the euro in the past had faded, the Bundesbank noted. The German central bank appeared gloomy overall about the prospects for growth in 2003, suggesting that the German government's growth forecast of 0.75% would not be achievable. It did not provide an alternative forecast, but the Bundesbank's chief economist said at the end of the March that German gross domestic product might grow by only around 0.5% in 2003 after near-stagnant growth of 0.2% in 2002.

Baghdad's most powerful Shia cleric warned that he would use an iron hand to impose an extreme vision of Islam that could seriously challenge America's secular ambitions for Iraq. Sheikh Mohammed al-Fartousi, a youthful hardliner, said he would enforce a new fatwa that bans alcohol, commands women to wear veils and orders cinemas to close. The sheikh appears to have considerable popular support in the vast, impoverished Shia district in eastern Baghdad formerly known as Saddam City, where his supporters stepped in swiftly to fill the power vacuum after the war. Sheikh Fartousi, 31, admitted having up to 1,000 armed, former soldiers under his control, several of whom were guarding his office at the small al-Hekma mosque. While US troops continue to patrol most of Baghdad, none was in evidence in the Shia district. Several alcohol factories were attacked hours after the sheikh issued his fatwa. Sheikh Fartousi said Baghdad's sizeable Christian population would also be expected to follow his religious commands and a committee from the mosque would be sent to the house of any who refused to obey. Although a relatively young cleric, Sheikh Fartousi is a leading figure in the al-Sadr movement, based around the followers of Imam Mohammed al-Sadr, a senior Shia cleric who was executed by Saddam in 1999. It is one of several Shia factions vying for power in the new Iraq, though its influence is evident in the decision to rename the Shia suburb of eastern Baghdad Sadr City.

The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, has condemned the leaks and anonymous briefings concerning the alleged British mole inside the Provisional IRA. Speaking in London, he said the leaks appeared intended to destabilize the peace process in the north of Ireland. Brian Cowen was echoing what both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have already said about the Stakeknife affair, that it's timing at a critical point in the peace process and the anonymous leaks fuelling it, seemed suspicious. Asked about the possibility of an inquiry, he suggested that the report on collusion now being prepared by retired Canadian Judge, Peter Cory, could provide a context. Cowen reiterated the Irish government's determination to overcome the various disagreements and setbacks in the peace process. He claimed both governments were now setting up a pro-active agenda which would work to end the political impasse.

Sinn Féin is to stage rallies in 30 cities and towns on both sides of the border to protest over the postponement of the north of Ireland Assembly elections on 29 May. Announcing his party's plans, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness appealed for a peaceful summer on the streets. He said all armed groups should bear in mind that politicians needed to be allowed the space to sort out the current difficulties.

The World Health Organization has extended a travel warning in place for Taipei to the rest of Taiwan because of the spread of SARS. The United Nations agency said it was recommending that travelers postpone unnecessary visits to the island, which has the third highest number of SARS infections in the world. High-ranking officials from the Geneva-based World Health Organization said they issued the alert after being informed of more infections in the south of Taiwan, where outbreaks could be more difficult to contain because medical facilities are less advanced. Taiwan, which WHO says is experiencing the world's fastest growing outbreak, has reported 35 new cases and sent health experts to the southern part of Taiwan to try to contain the outbreak there. The total number of probable SARS cases rose to 418, the highest in the world after mainland China and Hong Kong, but the death toll stayed at 52, Taiwan's Department of Health has said. The virus began to spread to the south recently, when the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital and Kaohsiung Medical University's Chung Ho Memorial Hospital reported scores of infections and isolated more than 130 medical workers. About 20 people are suspected to have died from SARS in the two hospitals so far. A third hospital in the south, the Chi Mei Foundation Medical Center, has also reported a suspected SARS outbreak, with six patients showing symptoms of the illness and 30 medical staff under home quarantine. Cabinet spokesman Lin Chia-lung said the Chang Gung and Chung Ho hospitals had failed to report their cases promptly to health authorities and were fined the maximum penalty of $43,000 each. The government said cover-ups by medical centers, doctors and even patients (who hid their medical history out of fear of discrimination) had led to a slew of hospital infections that account for more than 90% of Taiwan's SARS cases. In Taipei, where thermometers and face masks are now part of daily life, Mayor Ma Ying-jeou said residents with temperatures of over 37.5 degrees Celsius would be urged to stay under home quarantine for 72 hours. In another drastic move, the Department of Health ordered drugstores not to sell antipyretic pills for bringing down fever, which could prevent possible SARS patients from seeking proper treatment.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of a Baghdad suburb to demand an Iraqi government and the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The demonstration by mainly Shi'ite Muslims underscored rising discontent with Iraq's Western administration and dissatisfaction with the speed at which power is being handed back to Iraqis since the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Iraq's Shi'ite majority faced persecution under Saddam's Sunni-dominated administration. While many are relieved Saddam has gone, they are horrified by looting, lawlessness and the breakdown of essential services that has followed the war. U.S. administrator Paul Bremer has insisted he is pushing ahead with the creation of an Iraqi interim authority, but Iraqi groups have accused Washington of backing away from its promises to hand real power to Iraqis. Bremer said during a visit to the northern city of Mosul that he would hold more talks with Iraqi political leaders on the establishment of the authority and dismissed U.S. media reports that the process had been delayed. Senior Iraqi political figures who have returned from exile have in any case expressed deep suspicion of the term "interim authority" rather than a more powerful "interim government" to pave the way for elections. They said an "authority" was unlikely to grant Iraqis full control over sensitive ministries and foreign policy.

As Taiwan struggles to contain the SARS virus sweeping across the country, public health officials say the fact that the island is not a member of the World Health Organization has made their task harder. Indeed, it took seven weeks after Taiwan's first SARS case before the WHO dispatched two experts, and then, only with Beijing's permission. Taiwan now has the third-highest number of SARS victims behind China and Hong Kong. Taiwan's health minister Twu Shiing-jer quit his post over criticism of the way authorities have handled the outbreak. His decision came after numerous complaints about disorganization, lack of effective crisis management planning, and political bickering. Dr. Lee Ming liang, who heads Taiwan's anti-SARS effort, says that Taiwan being out of the WHO loop during a critical time made a bad situation worse. The island's hospitals have been particularly hard hit, with three reporting clusters of SARS patients. Hundreds of doctors and patients have been quarantined. A number of doctors quarantined have been respiratory disease specialists. Taiwan has been seeking WHO entry, or at least observer status, long before SARS. But Beijing, which views the island as a renegade Chinese province, has consistently blocked such efforts. Despite the outbreak, the signs indicate Taiwan's application for WHO observer status will be rejected at the meeting of the organization's administrative body in Geneva. It is likely that deference to Beijing's political sensitivities will outweigh public health concerns as the SARS epidemic in Taiwan continues to spiral out of control.

No charges will be brought against British police officers in connection with the two botched investigations of the 1997 murder of the black musician Michael Menson, even though the police complaints authority found negligence and racism in the investigations. It has emerged that the British crown prosecution service has written to his family saying there is insufficient evidence to bring charges against former and serving members of the Metropolitan police. The investigations of Menson's death have been compared with that of Stephen Lawrence as an example of how institutional racism in the British police prevented them from doing their job properly. Menson, who had a history of mental illness, was racially abused and set alight in Edmonton, north London in January 1997. He died nearly three weeks later. The British police treated the case as suicide, even though in hospital he told several people, including his brother and a female officer, that he had been attacked by four white youths. It was only when an inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing in September 1998, and after Menson's family met the British home secretary, Jack Straw, two months later, that a third set of investigators, led by the race and violent crime task force, were appointed and three suspects charged. A three-year investigation for the police complaints authority by Cambridgeshire police has found that the first two investigations were unprofessional, uncoordinated, in part negligent, and at best inept. It also found examples of institutional racism. The family were checked with special branch to see if "political motivation might be at play". The unreleased report also found that at the inquest a British police officer told a pathologist: "I don't know why they're worried - this only concerns a fucking black schizophrenic."

News from Ireland:

Britain takes a leafout of Hitler's book

Freddie Scappaticci breaks his silence

US website owners deny responsibility for Stakeknife story

Cops No Show

Stakeknife character does not exist: IRA

Stakeknife spin a last attempt on republicanism?

Journalist John Pilger and other speakers addressed a Free Palestine rally in London's Trafalgar Square. Organizers the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) estimated 6,000 people had attended the demonstration, which had speeches from former Labor MP Tony Benn and Palestinian figures. The rally was called to mark the 55th anniversary of the Nakba, or the expulsion of Palestinians at the birth of the state of Israel, and to demand an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The event was also sponsored by the Muslim Association of Britain and the Stop the War Coalition among others, with other speakers including actors Juliet Stevenson and Corin Redgrave and MP Jeremy Corbyn.

The World Health Organization has warned that all nations must tighten their defenses against infectious diseases because other potential killers like SARS are sure to come along. A new influenza pandemic, similar to those that killed millions in the 20th century, is overdue and countries need to be ready. The WHO officials said the battle against SARS, which was slowly being brought under control, at least outside China, showed what could be done when international health authorities acted together. China was initially criticized by WHO for being slow to provide details of an outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in the southern province of Guangdong, where the virus is believed to have originated. But the WHO officials stressed that China, which has been the hardest hit by SARS, was now cooperating fully with the U.N. agency. SARS, for which there are no treatments other than intensive care and which is fatal in approximately 15% of cases, has killed 642 and infected 7,860 worldwide, with China and Hong Kong accounting for the bulk of the cases.

Friday, May 16, 2003

The PSNI/RUC are stepping up security in the Waterside area of Derry after a number of families were ordered to leave their homes because of a loyalist feud. Tensions have arisen from a power struggle within the local leadership of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Loyalist sources in the city say they believe a power-struggle has developed within the UVF following an attempted coup. The struggle for the leadership of the terrorist organization has led to between eight and 10 families being ordered out. PSNI/RUC Acting Chief Superintendent Dawson Cotton, said patrols in the city had been stepped up in an effort to thwart those involved. In a statement, he asked community leaders to use their influence to help bring loyalist criminal activity to an end.

The European Union economy stagnated in the first three months of 2003, as the region's Gross Domestic Product showed no growth for the first time in almost two years, according to estimates from the EU's statistics agency. Germany's economy shrank by 0.2%, the Netherlands' by 0.3%, and Italy's by 0.1%. The overall estimate for the bloc was pushed up by Britain, which registered 0.2% growth, and Greece with 2.9% growth. Gerassimos Thomas, an EU spokesman, blamed the gloomy data on the Iraq conflict, but said the early end of the war should help the European economy bounce back in the second half of 2003 and meet the EU's forecast of 1% growth over the year. The falling growth rate adds to pressure on the European Central Bank to cut interest rates to boost the economy by making it cheaper to borrow money.

China has suspended the adoption of children by foreigners in a bid to help curb the spread of SARS. The state-run China Center of Adoption Affairs is still processing adoption applications, but has stopped sending out documents authorising new parents to come to China to collect the children. Thousands of Chinese children are adopted by foreign parents every year. The announcement comes amid mounting Chinese measures to control the spread of SARS, which has killed at least 275 people on the country's mainland. The UN's World Health Organization and several foreign governments are advising travellers to avoid non-essential trips to China. The Chinese government is discouraging its own people from travelling. Foreigners who are working in China and have already submitted adoption applications will be allowed to continue the process. Travel documents issued for foreign parents to come to China to be matched with children would have their validity extended for six months.

Fine Gael deputy leader Richard Bruton has admitted the party is disappointed with its ratings in a new poll. Fine Gael has lost its position as the second party in Ireland to Labor. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny's approval rating was down three points to 26%. His party was also overtaken by Labor as the second most popular choice with support for Labor rising to 22% and Fine Gael's falling to 20%. Satisfaction with the Bertie Ahern-led Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats Government has also declined and now stands at its lowest point since Ahern took power in 1997. Ahern was overtaken in the poll by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, Labor leader Pat Rabbitte and Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Mary Harney. The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern was well behind Pat Rabbitte, with 49% of voters pledging their support for Rabbitte. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams saw a four-point increase in satisfaction ratings to 48%, with just 25% dissatisfied with him and 27% having no opinion. Tánaiste Mary Harney was supported by 45% of respondents, although 43% were dissatisfied with her performance. On the issue of the north of Ireland, just over a third of the Irish electorate said the Irish Government had delivered on its promises, while 51% said it had not and 13% had no opinion.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has demanded that the British Government come clean about all its operations in the north of Ireland amid the ongoing Stakeknife spy controversy. As he broke his silence about allegations that West Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci was the British Army's top spy inside the Provisional IRA, Adams also accused journalists of being conned by the claims. Scappaticci has rejected the allegations that he informed on the Provisional IRA to military handlers within the shadowy Force Research Unit. Even though he has admitted to being in the republican movement until 13 years ago, the 57-year-old builder insisted he had never provided any information to the British military. Adams said that it was time the spotlight was turned on the authorities in London. He added: "The British Government need to be brought to the point of publicly disclosing what they have been doing in our country for the last 30 years, and of publicly outlining the methods, the techniques, and the lengths that they have gone to, to try to suppress us."

The Japanese economy struggled to make headway in the first three months of 2003 and economists are predicting more gloom ahead. The world's second largest economy reported flat Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to March 2003 and has been teetering towards reverse since then. GDP showed zero growth in the three month period to March after four straight quarters of solid, but slowing, rises. Exports, which account for 11% of Japan's GDP, took the biggest hit, largely due to poor car exports to the US. But analysts warned the current SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic could hit exports again in the current three month period to June. Consumer spending, which remained positive to March, is also expected to slide in coming months. A 3.5% drop from a year ago in the GDP deflator (the broadest measure of deflation) is another headache. The government's economist minister Heizo Takenaka said the figures showed the government needed to push harder to get prices rising again.

A Senate committee approved legislation that sets a path for Native Hawaiians to form a government and seek sovereignty from the United States. Hawaii's senators unveiled a new version of their bill to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which passed it by voice vote after a few minutes of discussion. The legislation creates a formal process for Native Hawaiians to gain federal recognition, a component the Bush administration had complained was missing. But even with a revised process where Native Hawaiians would register with the Department of Interior to form a new government, the administration declined to endorse the measure. Bill author Sen. Daniel Akaka, D - Hawaii, said the new legislation factors in concerns of Native Hawaiians who have opposed mandating details of the sovereignty process. Any Native Hawaiian government would be decided by Native Hawaiians through a referendum under the new bill, and then the interior secretary would consider the results in the formal recognition process. The elected government would be a candidate for federal recognition by the Interior Department, giving Native Hawaiians the ability to negotiate with the federal government for funding and land programs.

The top Palestinian negotiator with Israel Saeb Erekat has resigned. Palestinian officials say the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has asked Erekat to allow him one week to respond to his letter of resignation. No reason for the resignation has been given but there is speculation in Palestinian circles that Erekat was angered over the decision not to include him in the Palestinian delegation that is to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Erekat is known as a Yasser Arafat loyalist and it appears his resignation may mark a split between senior Palestinian politicians who remain close to Arafat, and a new guard who are more closely aligned with the new prime minister. He has been a leading Palestinian negotiator with Israel for the last 10 years. The resignation comes as the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has been leading an intense round of diplomatic activity to promote the so-called roadmap towards peace in the Middle East.

More "Stakeknife" related stories:

Local man comes out of hiding to rubbish Stakeknife stories

The cover-ups, the lying, the deceit, the whitewash and the shame continue

Stakeknife is as real as the toothfairy

The story of Stakeknife is full of holes

A filthy episode

Killer’s story supports SF claims

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Taiwanese officials and medical experts expect Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, to return periodically even if the current epidemic is brought under control. "We are preparing for the worst", Ma Ying-jeou, Mayor of Taipei, said, adding that "we have to assume SARS will come back next year and we might have fresh outbreaks every winter." Deng Jou-fang, president of the Taiwan International Medical Alliance, supported this view, saying that "SARS is here to stay." Lee Yuan-teh, superintendent of National Taiwan University hospital, said his institution would shift more staff and research to focus on infectious diseases in preparation for a long-term fight on SARS. The comments come as the island faces fresh infections among medical staff and patients in four major hospitals in three cities, making the outbreak worse than in Hong Kong. Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei closed its emergency room and put dozens of people under quarantine after it reported four medical staff and three patients as having caught SARS. Chungshan Hospital in Taichung also reported infections among its medical personnel. Changgung Memorial Hospital in the southern port city of Kaohsiung and NTU hospital in Taipei, the two leading medical centres on the island, are also battling hospital outbreaks. The death toll rose by three to 34, and probable cases increased by 26 to 268, the biggest jump since Taiwan reported its first SARS infection. Chiu Shu-ti, Taipei City Health Commissioner and a doctor herself, said the chain of hospital outbreaks in Taipei Municipal Ho Ping Hospital was caused by a strain of coronavirus different from the one responsible for the first wave of infections. "Among the imported infections and sporadic local transmissions in March and April, there were no fatalities. But the death rate among those infected in or since the Ho Ping outbreak will be above ten per cent", Chiu said. Some Ho Ping patients did not fit the known definition of typical SARS symptoms, said Yeh Chin-chuan, Chiu's predecessor, who was sent into Ho Ping Hospital to monitor the outbreak. The pace of infections also suggested the virus seemed to be more virulent than before, said Yeh, who will present a report on transmission patterns. Against this background, experts voiced concerns that the current outbreak is far from over. "I fear this could prove to be something similar to the big flu pandemic of 1918", said Hsu Su-ming, vice superintendent of NTU hospital.

Iraq's new U.S. civil administrator, Paul Bremer, said U.S.-led forces would put thousands of criminals released by Saddam Hussein back in jail and break the grip of lawlessness on Baghdad. At his debut news conference, Bremer also said he would shortly issue orders to remove Hussein's Baath party officials who have crept back into power and eradicate their ideology from Iraq which is a demand advocated by other Iraqi political groups. Iraqis say they lack security and order in their country following the ousting of Saddam Hussein in the U.S.-led war. Many are suspicious of the U.S. soldiers, whom they accuse of not doing enough to stop looters and criminals. Paul Bremer said thousands of Iraqi police officers, backed and trained by U.S. forces, were back on the streets and had detained 300 suspects. He said U.S. troops had mounted new patrols in the capital Baghdad and awaited reinforcements of up to 4,000 military police and thousands of other troops.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said that the British government has given those who oppose change in the north of Ireland an advantage by creating a political vacuum. Speaking ahead of a hunger strike rally in Belfast, Adams warned the political process was in great danger. Referring to the flood of allegations about west Belfast builder Freddie Scappaticci, the Sinn Fein president said British securocrats were also trying to undermine the peace process with an avalanche of briefings to a largely compliant and unquestioning media. Scappaticci has denied allegations that he was a British Army spy operating in the Provisional IRA. Adams said the British and Irish governments had a duty to stop those people within their systems who were trying to undermine the peace process. In particular, the west Belfast MP insisted British Prime Minister Tony Blair would have to stand up to those in the British system intent on wrecking the peace process. Adams also called for the truth to be revealed about the involvement of the British security services in the killings of civilians during the Troubles.

The German economy shrank slightly during the first three months of 2003, pushing Europe's largest economy yet again to the brink of recession. Weak exports were mainly to blame for the economy's poor performance, according to the Federal Statistics Office. The total value of goods and services produced in Germany fell by 0.2% between January and March. This follows a minus 0% growth in the last quarter of 2002. A recession is usually defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. The figures are worse than expected, with most analysts having forecast a poor but at least positive growth rate of 0.1%. The state of the economy has pushed unemployment in Germany well above the 4 million mark and hurt the electoral fortunes of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his fellow Social Democrats. Official data show that Germany's economy now provides nearly half a million fewer people with work than it did a year ago. The German economy makes up about a third of the economy of the 12-country eurozone.

The group Justice for the Forgotten is calling on the British and Irish governments to tell the truth about atrocities committed by British loyalist terrorists in the Republic during the 1970s. The group represents families of victims of the Dublin and Monaghan explosions, which killed 33 people. May 17, 2003 marks the 29th anniversary of the blasts, three of which killed 26 in Dublin, with a blast later that day in Monaghan claiming seven lives. Though it has never been publicly resolved who carried out the bombings, it has long been suspected that the bombings were carried out by the UVF with British military assistance. The group says that the British government is not helping the current Barron Inquiry into the deaths.

China has threatened to execute or jail for life anyone who breaks SARS quarantine orders and spreads the virus intentionally. The Supreme Court and China's lead prosecutor set out the punishments in an interpretation of existing laws which regulate the containment of sudden disease outbreaks and the response to disasters. The move comes after China warned officials across the country that they would be punished if they covered up information about the spread of SARS. China was criticized for failing to reveal the true extent of the crisis to its people and the world, after the pneumonia-like illness was first reported in November of 2002. Recently, China reported four more SARS deaths and 52 new cases, taking its total death toll to 271 and the cumulative caseload to 5,163. And the SARS emergency worsened in Taiwan, which with 26 new incidents saw its biggest one-day jump in fresh cases as the disease spread to the southern part of the island. There have been about 7,700 cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome around the world, and more than 600 people have died. But there was relief in Canada, which had suffered 24 SARS deaths, after the UN health agency said the country had contained SARS, and lifted it from the UN list of affected areas. Human rights activists reacted with horror to news of China's latest crackdown, saying the death penalty ruling violated international human rights covenants. The World Health Organization said the draconian law could be counterproductive as it would deter possible SARS patients from going to hospital. The legal announcement said that intentionally spreading disease pathogens that endangered public security or lead to serious injury, death or heavy loss of public or private property was punishable by 10 years to life in prison, or death. The crackdown responds to concerns that China's under-resourced rural health care system would struggle to cope with a serious SARS outbreak in the countryside. The fact that at least 10% of cases in Beijing are among migrant workers has raised fears that the disease could spread within China's rural communities as workers return home.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A leading Western think tank, which helped set the agenda for the war against Iraq, has admitted to being surprised at the failure of US and British forces to find chemical weapons in Iraq. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London issued a report in September of 2002 about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, saying that Iraq probably had a few hundred tons of mustard gas, precursors for other agents and VX gas from earlier stocks. It was the first major report on Iraqi capabilities and proved helpful to Washington and London as they made their own cases against Iraq in the following weeks. At the launching of its annual Strategic Survey, Dr Gary Samore, one of the experts who wrote the Iraq report, accepted that neither chemical weapons nor the munitions to deliver them had been found, nor were likely to be found in large quantities, despite the predictions of the IISS and the British and US governments.

Alleged British Army agent Freddie Scappaticci came out of hiding and again protested his innocence against claims that he spied on the Provisional IRA. The west Belfast man, who has been at the center of allegations that he was the British Army agent known as Stakeknife, denied claims that he was involved in any criminal activity and has said that he was not in police, military or security custody. In a statement issued by Scappaticci's lawyer Michael Flanigan, he also threatened legal action over serious allegations that he operated as a spy at the heart of the Provisional IRA.

Ariel Sharon has rebuffed American warnings that the continued expansion of settlements is a major obstacle to a Middle East peace deal by saying that Israel will not surrender sovereignty of Jewish towns in the occupied territories. The Israeli Prime Minister further aggravated the issue by saying that the controversial security fence being constructed around the main Palestinian cities and towns on the West Bank will follow a route that in effect annexes some of the largest settlements into Israel. Sharon's comments reflect remarks from his allies dismissing the US Secretary of State Colin Powell's failed attempts to secure a commitment to the Road Map peace plan which envisages a Palestinian state by 2005. Sharon's statements come before his visit to the White House for talks that are expected to provide the crucial test of how serious the Bush Administration is about pushing the Road Map. The Israeli Prime Minister's statements reinforce what he told Powell during his visit to Israel when Sharon said there would be no curtailing of the expansion of settlements, let alone their closure. The head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said Sharon's comments are further evidence that he is intent on blocking the Road Map. The Israeli prime minister also repeated his demand that the Palestinians renounce the right of refugees to return to the areas they fled when Israel gained independence in 1948.

Singapore has reported a possible outbreak of SARS at its biggest mental hospital and Taiwan said the disease may have spread to the island's south, threatening hopes that the deadly virus was slowly coming under control. China, the world's worst affected country, intensified efforts to stamp out the widely prevalent practice of spitting in public as it announced the lowest daily tally of fresh SARS cases since the government began reporting accurate figures. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, for which there is no standard treatment, is spread mainly by droplets. More than 7,500 people in 30 countries have been infected and almost 600 have died. Researchers in Germany said they had found a weakness in the virus and a drug being tested against the common cold could be modified to battle SARS. Governments around the world have been battling to stem the spread of SARS, isolating those infected, confining anyone believed to have been exposed to the virus in quarantine and implementing stringent checks at air and sea ports. Those moves appear to have worked in Vietnam, where five people died, and recently the World Health Organization declared Vietnam to be free of SARS. Singapore, with some of the world's strictest anti-SARS measures, looked to be headed in the same direction until the government said 24 patients and three nurses at the Institute of Mental Health had been isolated with possible SARS and three other nurses had been quarantined. It was unclear how the patients might have contracted SARS. Most were more than 60 years old and suffering from mental ailments. With the world's fourth-highest SARS death toll, Singapore had gone 15 days without a new infection -- five days short of the WHO's target for being taken off a list of SARS-affected regions that includes China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Toronto. Singapore had quarantined more than 3,000 people at home, temporarily shut schools and barred visitors at hospitals while doing temperature checks at border posts. Khaw Boon Wan, a Singapore cabinet minister who is the head of a task force to tackle SARS, said the no-visitor rule at hospitals may be extended. There has been mounting concern about the economic impact of SARS on fast-growing China and other economies across the region. The world tourism industry, already in crisis, risks losing a further five million jobs, partly because of SARS, the International Labor Organization said. China reported sluggish retail sales figures for April and said economic expansion slowed in the month on a year-on-year basis compared with the first quarter. Hong Kong's chief came under political pressure with opposition lawmakers saying he had been too slow to act against SARS after it crossed from neighboring southern China, where it first appeared, and should resign. A motion calling on Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to quit is certain to fail because the chamber is packed with pro-China legislators. Hong Kong is the world's second worst SARS-hit area after mainland China. In just 10 weeks, 1,698 people have been infected in the city and 227 of them have died. Taiwan was relatively free of SARS until recently but cases have risen rapidly and about 240 people have been infected, mostly in the capital Taipei and other parts of the island's north. Officials have reported 19 suspected infections at a hospital in Kaohsiung in the south. They said it was likely a woman who visited a SARS-hit hospital in Taipei had spread the virus to 11 nurses and eight patients at the Kaohsiung hospital. An additional 110 health workers at the hospital had been placed in quarantine. But the biggest worry is China, where more than 5,100 people have been infected and more than 260 killed. The disease there has been confined to Beijing and other big cities but there are fears migrant laborers could spread SARS to rural areas, where two-thirds of the country's 1.3 billion people live, and where public health facilities are poor. The government has launched a campaign against spitting in public and discouraged internal travel.

Sinn Fein has accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair of denying democracy to the people of the north of Ireland by refusing to set a date for the Stormont elections. Conor Murphy, Sinn Fein leader in the north of Ireland Assembly, said there was deep anger right across Ireland about the elections being put off. Sinn Fein has expressed concern that a British government bill formally postponing the elections did not mention a new date, despite Tony Blair's earlier declaration that the poll would be held in the autumn. Blair's demand of more clarity from the IRA was a smokescreen designed to obscure the fact that the Ulster Unionists in general, and David Trimble in particular, did not want elections, Murphy pointed out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Many thousands of Muslims crowded together in the holiest Shia mosque to see one of Iraq's most powerful clerics stake a claim to a role in his country's political future. Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, paid his respects before the gold-encased shrine of the Imam Ali - the most revered figure in the Shia sect - as he returned to his home town of Najaf after 23 years in exile. Ayatollah Hakim rallied around him many of his 10,000-strong Badr Brigade militia who criticized the US military presence in Iraq and promised to provide their own nationwide security for the long-oppressed Shia majority. To the crowd, Ayatollah Hakim, who lost more than 40 of his own relatives to religious purges, is a hero and saviour. Although leading US officials have spoken publicly against the idea of an Islamic government in Baghdad, the Shia clergy enjoy a following and moral authority that secular figures such as Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon-backed Iraqi exile, cannot hope to muster. Ayatollah Hakim may have been in exile for nearly a quarter of a century but he remains a powerful cleric, not least because of the Badr Brigade militia. Many of the Badr Brigade men providing security to Ayatollah Hakim have spent the past decades in hiding in the marshes of southern Iraq, fighting Saddam's military.