Current Events

“Ethiopia Is Now Trapped”

BBC News reported on April 28:

“The Somali capital Mogadishu has this week seen some of its worst fighting for 16 years. A fragile transitional government there has been trying to destroy groups of fighters left over from the so-called Islamic Courts group which was in control of much of the country last year… The capital has been devastated in the past two weeks by intense fighting.

“Ethiopian forces in support of the transitional government, rooted out militia loyal to the Union of Islamic Courts at the turn of the year. In the past fortnight they have unleashed a devastating artillery and rocket barrage on obdurate remnants of Islamic Court fighters in the capital. The Islamists are fighting alongside members of a powerful Somali clan, the Hawiye, who are enemies of those controlling the transitional government…

“It is a complicated and bloody struggle. In the past few days more than 300 have been killed and since the turn of the year 2,000 have died, most of them civilians caught in crossfire. Many thousands have been injured. The appalling violence has led to one of the largest mass migrations in recent times. Hundreds of thousands of people who were living in Mogadishu have grabbed what few possessions they could carry and headed for places of safety.

“Some have moved to the outskirts of the capital away from the fighting. Others have gone out into the Somali hinterland. They have travelled into an environment that cannot sustain them, into villages dotted along dusty roads in the scrubby, scruffy bush of southern and central Somalia, into communities which were hit in the past year, first by drought and then by flooding. There is little stored food, goat and cattle herds are only just recovering and the capacity to feed and care for thousands of displaced people does not exist. And in the past few days the annual rains have started.

“At the best of times Somalia poses huge problems for aid agencies. Now it is, as one aid worker put it to me, ‘a total nightmare’… Cholera is now seeping through the displaced thousands, picking off the young and the weak. In the rain and misery, hundreds have died… Just a few months ago, Mogadishu and much of Somalia were enjoying their most stable period for 16 years. Under the brief control of the Islamic Courts Union, the grip of the warlords was loosened and some of the basic expectations of an organised life were being restored. Schools were opening, police were being trained, roadblocks were removed and litter was even collected from the streets. Many Somalis were unhappy with the more extreme rules of the Islamic Courts: closing down the cinemas, banning music and insisting women [wear] veils.

“But the Islamists were able to spread their power steadily through more of Somalia and this alarmed the government in neighbouring Ethiopia who have long feared a radical Islamic group in control of the country. It worried the Americans too, who feared the Islamic Courts were harbouring al-Qaeda elements. So with tacit American approval and with other international governments looking on, Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to support the weak transitional government.

“Ethiopia is now trapped. It wants to get out of Somalia, but cannot go until what it calls the ‘Islamist threat’ is eliminated. But every moment Ethiopian troops spend in Somalia stirs up more resentment and their presence acts as a compelling recruiting sergeant for insurgents, who say they will die trying to rid their country of the Ethiopian invaders. “

Pandemic Influenza Overdue

The Coloradoan reported on April 30:

“Larimer County officials are turning their efforts to community involvement and awareness as they try to prepare residents for a potential pandemic flu… Officials believe a pandemic flu, or an outbreak of severe disease that affects a large amount of people worldwide, could occur if H5N1, the virus that causes avian flu, mutates into a human transmissible virus. Although H5N1 isn’t the only virus that could cause a pandemic, it is highly pathogenic and has caused the largest number of detected cases of severe disease and death in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“‘Pandemic influenza usually occurs about three times a century,’ said Jane Viste, spokeswoman for the health department. ‘We are overdue.’

“The flu partnership met last week to brainstorm ways to get Larimer County citizens on board with the emergency plan, believing most people would be unprepared for a pandemic. ‘I would be surprised if 5 percent of the population of Larimer County would be prepared for a severe pandemic if it were to happen,’ said Dr. Adrienne LeBailly, director of the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.”

Virus Might Cause Disaster for American Freshwater Fish

USA Today wrote on April 29:

“A deadly Ebola-like virus is killing fish of all types in the Great Lakes, a development some scientists fear could trigger disaster for the USA’s freshwater fish.

“Because of a lack of genetic resistance to viral hemorrhagic septicemia, fish populations could be damaged in the same way the smallpox virus struck Native Americans and Dutch elm disease decimated elm trees, says Jim Winton, chief of fish health at the U.S. Geological Survey in Seattle.

“The disease has been found in Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Niagara River and an inland lake in New York. The aggressive virus, which causes fish to hemorrhage, was unexpectedly found in the Great Lakes in 2005. Last year, it resulted in large fish kills that struck at least 20 species. Scientists are watching to see whether the disease returns in mid-May when water in the lakes warms to temperatures at which the virus attacks.

“‘VHS is the most important and dangerous fish virus known worldwide,’ Winton says. ‘Its discovery in our fresh water is disturbing and potentially catastrophic.’ ‘What’s so disturbing is that it’s killing fish from so many species and with amazingly high mortality levels,’ says Paul Bowser, professor of aquatic animal medicine at Cornell University. The virus does not threaten humans, Bowser says. ‘If you cook the fish, heat will kill the virus,’ he says.

“How VHS got into the Great Lakes is unclear. The dumping of ocean water from an international cargo ship is a suspected cause. Also not ruled out: spawning fish swimming upstream or a bird carrying a diseased fish. Genetic tests show that the strain of VHS found in the Great Lakes probably originated in the Atlantic Ocean, near New Brunswick, Canada…

“VHS thrives in water of 40 to 59 degrees. Most water in the Great Lakes, which contain about 20% of the world’s fresh water, has not hit that temperature yet this year. ‘The best-case scenario is that the virus becomes something that lurks in the background and attacks only when conditions are ripe,’  [Gary] Whelan says [who runs the state’s hatcheries]. ‘I’m not expecting that, but I am hoping.'”

EU-Russian Relations Continue to Deteriorate

The EUObserver reported on April 30:

“German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has warned of a risk of a new east-west conflict following a sharp deterioration in relations between Moscow and western states in recent months.

“Reacting to the news that Russia wants to suspend a key arms treaty, Mr Steinmeier said this was a ’cause for concern’ and ‘goes in the wrong direction. We must prevent this. It cannot be allowed to come to a new spiral in mistrust between the west and Russia,’ he told Germany’s Bild newspaper on Sunday… ‘It is in the urgent interest of Europe to avoid an escalation,’ he said.

“His words come after Russian president Vladimir Putin during his state of the nation address last week said Moscow would suspend compliance with a treaty on conventional arms in Europe. In place since the end of the Cold War, the treaty puts limits on the number of conventional weapons and foreign troops that can be deployed in the signatory countries.

“The catalyst for the sharp rhetoric coming out of Moscow is Washington’s decision to build a new missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, which it says will block threats from countries such as Iran and North Korea… Although the tone has sharpened up in the last few days, the rift in east-west relations comes in the context of more long-term problems including EU worries over energy dependency on Russia, Russian trade relations with some eastern European EU states and western criticism of Russia’s democratic standards.

“The EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, last week even remarked that relations had sunk to levels not seen since the Cold War.”

Turkey Just A Few Steps Away From Chaos

The EUObserver stated on April 30:

“The European Union has warned Turkey’s military to stay out of politics and show respect for democracy, after the army indicated it could step into a political row over the country’s next president to defend secular values… The turmoil came after foreign minister Abdullah Gul announced he would continue running for president, despite having failed to win sufficient support in the first parliamentary ballot on Friday (27 April)… Hundreds of thousands of people took to the [streets] of Istanbul on Sunday (29 April) – also in support of secularism, waving pictures of the father of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk, and shouting ‘Turkey is secular and will remain secular.'”

Der Spiegel Online added on April 30:

“Turkey has plunged into a political crisis over a presidential election that has pitted the Islamist-rooted government against secular protesters… The Europe Union and the United States have called for a democratic resolution and the Council of Europe, a group of 46 countries aimed at promoting democratic values, said it was shocked at the army’s behavior and said the armed forces ‘should stay in their barracks and keep out of politics.’

“German media commentators blame the army for plunging Turkey into a crisis that has lessened the country’s chances of joining the EU. The military, commentators write, is trying to preserve its own power…

“Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“‘It seems to be a special Turkish art form to plunge itself into political crises. The country has to choose between returning to the dark ages of the distant past or moving towards a democratic future. This is about nothing less than that, and about whether Turkey will at some point be able to find its place in the EU or simply doesn’t fit into Europe.’…

“Conservative Die Welt writes:

“‘The fifth coup [of the Turkish army] is now happening. The army wants to stop the governing AKP party from making one of its leaders state president. In one way or another the army will take action if the government defies it. It may be that this course of events is the Turkish way of doing things. But it’s clear that we’re seeing a political culture here that is light years away from being brought into harmony with the European mindset in any respect. Ankara’s EU dream is over.’…

“The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

“‘Turkey is just a few steps away from violence and chaos … With the generals’ threat of a coup and mass demonstrations on the one hand and the government’s uncompromising insistence on making its candidate the president on the other, the final stage of escalation has been reached before the outbreak of violence. Anyone with political responsibility, be it the government, the opposition or the military, who does not now seek a compromise wants to see blood spilled.'”

War Report Blasts Israeli PM Ehud Olmert for “Serious Failure”

AFP reported on April 30:

“An Israeli government commission on Monday accused Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of ‘serious failure’ in the Lebanon war but he refused to step down despite the blow to his flagging leadership.

“Retired judge Eliyahu Winograd, reading from partial findings of an investigation, held Olmert, Defence Minister Amir Peretz and former army chief Dan Halutz principally responsible for the failings of last summer’s conflict. ‘If each or anyone of those would have acted better, the decisions and the results of the war would have been different or better,’ Winograd said of the war that began after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12. ‘The prime minister made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one,’ despite his lack of experience in foreign policy and military affairs. ‘He made a personal contribution to the fact that the declared goals were over-ambitious and not feasible,’ the report said, accusing Olmert of not properly considering political and professional reservations presented to him. ‘All of these add up to a serious failure in exercising judgement, responsibility and prudence,’ said the report.

“The devastating conflict, called the Second Lebanon War in Israel, lasted 34 days and killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers, according to government figures. It failed to retrieve the two Israeli soldiers or stop Hezbollah rocket fire that sent a million Israelis fleeing from the north…

“The United States moved swiftly to bolster its closest regional ally, as a White House spokesman told reporters that US President George W. Bush views Olmert as ‘essential’ to Middle East peace efforts. But his numerous critics immediately mounted calls for his government to resign, with a mass demonstration planned in Tel Aviv on Thursday… In Lebanon, meanwhile, a senior Hezbollah official said the damning report amounted to ‘an admission of Israel’s historic defeat’.

“Weakened by the war and a string of corruption scandals implicating him and senior members of his government, Olmert’s ratings have sunk to an historic low with just two percent of Israelis trusting him, according to opinion polls.”

Further Victory of Homosexuals in Europe

Roman Catholic News Agency, Zenit, reported on April 30:

“[Roman Catholic] Church officials criticized a European Parliament resolution that condemns ‘discriminatory comments’ made by political and religious leaders against homosexuals.

“The resolution, which passed 325-124, with 150 abstentions, condemns the ‘discriminatory comments formulated by politicians and religious leaders about homosexuals, as fermenting hatred and violence — even if they were later withdrawn — and it asks that the hierarchies of the respective organizations condemn them as well.’…

“The approved resolution invites member states to propose laws ‘that overcome discriminations suffered by same sex couples’ and ‘reminds all member states that the prohibition of the Gay Pride Parade and the lack of protection offered to its participants are against the principles of the European Convention of human rights.’ The resolution also proposes that an annual ‘International Day Against Homophobia’ be held on May 17.

“Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice and Cardinal Peter Erdo and Monsignor Aldo Giordano, president and secretary-general of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, respectively, defended the Church against accusations that it doesn’t respect homosexual persons. ‘There is no homophobia in the Catholic Church and it is time that all this ended,’ Cardinal Scola said… Referring to the European Parliament, he said: ‘There needs to be more respect for the orientation of our people. There is no need to tell lies.’

“Paolo Bustaffa, director of the Italian bishops’ SIR news agency, told Vatican Radio last Thursday: ‘It is clear that they are suspicious of the Church’s thinking in regard to these situations, these people, for whom — the Catechism of the Catholic Church says — the Church has a great respect. Respect for people, however, cannot nullify a problematic aspect,’ he added. ‘There must be understanding but in many cases there cannot be justification.'”

President Bush Supports World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz

USA Today wrote on April 30:

 “President Bush said Monday that Paul Wolfowitz should remain as World Bank president even as the embattled official denounced a ‘smear campaign’ over his handling of a promotion and pay raise for his girlfriend. Wolfowitz, a former Pentagon official and architect of the Iraq war, appeared Monday before a special bank panel investigating the case involving his companion, Shaha Riza, a fellow bank employee…
“Bush, at a news conference in Washington with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, was asked whether the Wolfowitz controversy and calls for his resignation were raised in his talks with the two world leaders… Bush said the topic did not come up but added, ‘my position is that he ought to stay.’… Wolfowitz vowed to fight for his job: ‘I will not resign in the face of a plainly bogus charge of conflict of interest.'”

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