Friday 17 July 2009

Obama in Ghana Parliament

The full speech of US president Barack Obame at the Parliament of Ghana in Accra. 11 July 2009

Thursday 16 July 2009

Soldiers speak of Gaza war crimes

A new report into the actions of Israel's soldiers during the Gaza war suggests civilian Palestinians were used as humans shields and soldiers were urged to "shoot first and worry later".

No-one knows how many Palestinian civilians died in the Gaza war.

Palestinian organisations say there were almost one thousand victims while the Israeli Army insists there were less than 300.

Either way it was a bloody conflict and now an Israeli group called Breaking the Silence is accusing the Army of endangering civilians unnecessarily.

Their evidence - interviews with 30 Israeli soldiers who took part in operation Cast Lead.


"At any obstacle, any problem, we open fire and don't ask questions. Even if it's firing in the dark, firing aimed at unknown target, firing when we don't see, deterrent fire, no problem with that, etc. A vehicle that's in the way - crush it, a building in the way - shoot at it. This was the spirit which was repeated throughout the training."

Another soldier described using civilians as human shields and making them check buildings for booby traps.


"Civilians were simply instructed to break walls. And in some cases there was actually entrance with the civilian, who would walk in front of the soldier while the soldier places his gun barrel on the civilian's shoulder."

Breaking the SIlence's 112-page report claims the Army fired white phosphorus into Gaza's streets, ordered the destruction of homes to create a "sterile area" and told soldiers there were "no innocents."

Yehuda Shaul is one of their members.


"I think one of the most disturbing things in 'Cast Lead' was the big concept of going in full force, like a war, without putting our troops in danger. Ok? The concept of we don't put our troops in danger, we don't take any risks, we prefer the mistakes to be on their body count than on ours. These are actual sentences that were said by battalion officers, by company officers, in the briefings that soldiers received before they went into Gaza."

Not so - says Israel's Defence Force.


"The IDF Spokesperson Unit regrets the fact that yet another human rights organization is presenting to Israel and the world a report based on anonymous and general testimonies, without fully investigating their details or credibility. Furthermore, this organization denied the IDF the minimal decency, of presenting the report to the IDF and allowing it to investigate the testimonies prior to the report's publication."

The Army insists its troops respected international law.

But Breaking the Silence says its report gives them the right to at least question the credibility of such assurances.

John Mastrini, Reuters.

Romanians fight for jobs in Hungary

Mounting recession in Hungary is eating away at jobs in the country's extensive black and grey economy, and illegal Romanian workers are getting squeezed.

Illegal builders gather in Budapest's Moscow Square looking for a day's work.

Most of them are from Romania.

Until last year they enjoyed regular work.

But the recession has crippled Hungary's construction industry.

Workers in the unregulated, so-called 'grey economy', are becoming increasingly desperate.

Sandor Macsek is one of those forced to scrap for employment - quite literally.


"There are often fights. People get into brawls over who gets to work."

The number of registered unemployed has risen to more than 10 per cent of Hungary's population.

But life for the hundreds of thousands of illegal workers is even tougher, with no state benefits on offer.

Bela Varga is another struggling Romanian.


"I've never seen anything like this. Last year was better, we could usually find some work, but now we find nothing at all. I came with my family but I don't know what the future will bring. I guess the end will not be happy."

Unregistered workers face a double whammy.

Those lucky enough to find employment are increasingly being exposed in raids by the authorities.

With so many Hungarians jobless, the government is desperate to clamp down on illegal employment.

Prospects for job seekers show little sign of improvement.

The global economic crisis led to Hungary receiving an IMF bailout last October.

The cash injection helped the country narrowly avoid economic meltdown.

But without a sustained world economic improvement life is likely to stay bleak for Hungary's illegal workers.

Jim Drury, Reuters

Wednesday 15 July 2009

We Choose the Moon. Apollo 11 - 40 Years Later

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Forty years ago, millions gathered around grainy black and white television images as the first man set foot on the moon, in what remains for many the pinnacle of manned spaceflight.

That moon landing on July 20, 1969, was the first of just six times that any human being has visited the Earth's nearest celestial neighbour, and it has been more than 30 years since any person has been there.

In the decades since Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first touched the surface of the moon in the Eagle lander, the moment has become one of the iconic images of the 20th century. At the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, many of the visitors old enough to remember that day tell their children and grandchildren about where they were when man first set foot on the moon as they point at the Columbia spacecraft that carried the astronauts there.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

ICC prosecutor says Joseph Kony and Sudan's Bashir must be arrested and face trial

The ICC's chief prosecutor says Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony will never agree to a peace deal and urges the world to focus on arresting him. He also calls for the arrest of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has said attempts to draw Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony into peace talks will not work and that international efforts should refocus on arresting the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader.

Previous mediation efforts in 2007 and 2004 failed and served only to allow Kony, who has led a brutal 22-year rebellion in northern Uganda, to recruit and re-arm, ICC chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said late on Monday (July 13).

"I think it is the first time everyone is in agreement: Kony has to be arrested. It is not a war because Kony replaced the soldiers killed, Kony will abduct more children if you just kill soldiers, so it is not about attack the group as such, it's arrest Kony himself and I think we never tried, no one tried this: arresting Kony himself and that has to be the operation we are trying to support," he told Reuters Television in Kampala.

Kony has said he will surrender only if the ICC warrants, issued against him in 2005 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, are withdrawn.

"This is fantasy, I'm sorry. Kony will never make peace. Kony....five times...when he is weak he calls for peace negotiation, then he gets money, he gets food, he buys weapons and he attacks again. How many times he will cheat? Look, in September 2007 in the middle of the negotiations Joseph Kony killed Vincent Otti, the number two, because Otti was more engaged in the peace negotiations. In 2004 it was the same because Kolo was involved in the peace negotiations and then he was attacked and he had to escape, so why do people believe that Kony wants to make peace?" the chief prosecutor said.

Following a Ugandan-led assault on LRA camps in eastern DR Congo late last year, the rebels have carried out numerous reprisal attacks on civilians, killing over 1,000 and capturing thousands more.

The multinational offensive, launched with logistical and intelligence support from the United States, failed in its attempt to destroy Kony's army.

Uganda was the first country to refer a case to the ICC when it secured indictments for Kony and four other LRA lieutenants.

Moreno-Ocampo also called on Uganda on Monday to act on an ICC arrest warrant against Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir if he comes to Kampala for an international conference at the end of the month. He cited the case of South Africa where he said the possibility of detention stopped Bashir attending President Jacob Zuma's inauguration in May.

"I think the way to do it is the way South Africa did it: yes they invite President Bashir but also they inform President Bashir that they have an obligation under the Rome Statute to arrest him, so Bashir decided not to go and probably Bashir will decide not to come," he told Reuters Television.

Media in the region say Bashir has been considering attending a global affairs meeting, called Smart Partnership Dialogue, along with other heads of state, at the end of July.

Sudanese officials seldom confirm his trips in advance.

Uganda is a signatory to the ICC, so a visit by the Sudanese leader would force Kampala to decide if it implements or ignores the arrest warrant, which has stirred controversy across Africa.

The ICC has indicted Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.

Elsewhere in Africa, former UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan was involved in negotiating a settlement after the violence that broke out in Kenya after the 2007 general elections. He recently gave an envelope with details of the alleged funders and organisers of the violence to the ICC and Moreno-Ocampo said he was deciding what course of action to take.

"I will receive the material this Thursday but I will tell you what I will do: I will open the envelope, I will read, I will understand what the commission was discussing and then I will seal it again, I will not use it again, because I have to make my own conclusions, I have to collect my own evidence and make my own conclusions. I appreciate very much the information they collected, I will see also what the Kenyan government collected, and I will see, because if the Kenyan authorities conduct national proceedings I will not intervene. If they are not conducting, I will intervene, so this is just preparation for me, it is just preparation, but the envelope is just an advice, it is not mandatory for me at all," he said.

About 1,500 people were killed and hundreds of thousands made homeless after the post-election violence in Kenya. The opposition Orange Democratic Movement claimed that President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity had rigged the elections to stay in power.

Obama's teleprompter breaks during his speech

U.S. President Barack Obama had to improvise during one of his speeches on the economic stimulus plan on Monday (July 13) when one of his teleprompter screens came loose, crashed to the floor and shattered into pieces.
The loud fall surprised Obama, who uses a teleprompter during most of his speeches.

"Oh, goodness. I'm sorry about that, guys," Obama said as the audience broke into laughter.

The glass plate hit the floor in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is a large building within the White House compound. Obama went back to finish his remarks by apparently using his notes and another teleprompter screen that was in the room.


Protesters clash with police in Paris suburb

Protesters clashed with riot police in the Paris suburb of Montreuil on Monday night (July 13).
Waving placards and banners that vented anger over police tactics used to evacuate residents from a squat, the demonstrators gathered for what they had described as a peaceful protest.

Shortly after it started at 1900 local time (1700GMT), clashes with police unfolded on the streets.

Tear gas was aimed towards the demonstrators who argued with police in riot gear.

Mayor of Montreuil, Dominique Voynet, said the degree of police intervention was disproportionate.

"The violence used to expel the people from the protest was completely not worth it," she said.

It has been reported in local media that one man - Joachim Gatti, 34 - lost an eye after being hit with a flash-ball, used by police during an expulsion of people from squats in the area on July 8.


Monday 13 July 2009

Using effective aid to tackle poverty

A simple and effective idea

Pelosi to NAACP: 'In Advancing African Americans Issues of Social Justice and Opportunity, You Advanced Our Nation'

WASHINGTON, July 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the opening session of the NAACP's Centennial Convention last night in New York City. Below are the Speaker's remarks as prepared:

"Thank you, Roslyn [Brock]. Roslyn is following in the NAACP's 100-year tradition of strong leadership, and leading the way into the future. Congratulations Roslyn for being the youngest person to serve as the Vice Chair of NAACP's Board of Directors.

"The NAACP is invigorated by its youthful leaders. Chief among them is your new President and CEO, Ben Jealous. And I don't just say that because Ben is a former constituent in San Francisco. Congratulations, Ben, on leading your first convention - one of great importance not only to NAACP, but to our entire country.

"Your organization has been enriched by the transformational figures who made this centennial anniversary possible. I would like to recognize a past great NAACP Chairman, Julian Bond, this year's recipient of the Spingarn Medal. The Library of Congress rightly named him last year, 'a living legend.' Congratulations Julian!

"It is an honor for me to be here as Speaker of the House to bring greetings from the Congress. I also come here as a lifetime member of the NAACP San Francisco branch. I am pleased to be here with my California friends Amos Brown, Alice Huffman, and Willis Edwards.

"As some of you know, I was raised in Baltimore and in the D'Alesandro home, the names of Enolia McMillan and the entire Mitchell family, especially Parren and Clarence Mitchell, were revered.

"We are proud of Baltimorean Kweisi Mfume, a past president of NAACP, and Ben Jealous, the new president of NAACP who has strong Baltimore roots, as does Roslyn Brock.

"Two Members of Congress, Bobby Scott and Al Green, have served as former presidents of NAACP branches, so I hope you know that NAACP has friends in Congress and a friend in the Speaker's office.

"On behalf of all of your many friends in Congress, I am here to thank you for 100 years of NAACP success.

"In advancing African Americans issues of social justice and opportunity, you have advanced our nation. You have brought us closer to the ideal of equality that is both our nation's heritage and our hope. The NAACP has made America more American by helping us honor our pledge to the flag, one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.

"In your efforts, you have true partners in Congress.

"The United States Capitol is becoming a different place - a place that now celebrates exceptional leadership by all who have strengthened our nation.

"To salute the patriotic Americans who have worn our nation's uniform and kept America safe:

-- We finally awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Tuskegee Airmen,

who proudly defended America.

-- And last year, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the integration of

the Armed Forces.

"To recognize the contribution women have made to our nation:

-- We recognized the exceptional Dorothy Height and her lifetime of service

with the Congressional Gold Medal.

-- Rosa Parks was honored by our nation by lying in state in the Capitol

Rotunda; the first woman to be so recognized.

-- And just this spring, a magnificent bust of Sojourner Truth was welcomed

to the Capitol's marble halls by thousands of people.

"And because the Capitol should reflect the vibrant diversity of the American people, as the first woman Speaker of the House, I was proud to appoint the first African American Officer of the House: Clerk Lorraine Miller, President of the Washington branch of the NAACP, and a member of your national board.

"The U.S. Capitol is finally living up to its promise as a Capitol for all Americans.

"But the real work of the Congress is not the ceremonies we hold or the statues we build, it is what happens on the floor of Congress. That is where we have an opportunity to make progress for all Americans.

"As the NAACP begins its next 100 years, you have a Congress that is with you to achieve our shared priorities. We are now in a period of real change - and real opportunity.

"It is time, for as you say, 'Bold Dreams, Bold Victories.' And thank God we have Barack Obama as President of the United States to achieve that vision.

"In all our efforts in Congress, we are strengthened by the leadership:

-- Of our distinguished House Democratic Whip, Jim Clyburn,

-- Congressional Black Caucus, led by the dynamic Chairwoman Barbara Lee,

-- And we are informed by the wisdom of civil rights leader John Lewis.

"We are all proud of our chairman:

-- Charlie Rangel, Ways and Means

-- Ed Towns, Government Reform

-- John Conyers, Judiciary

-- Bennie Thompson, Homeland Security

"And we are enlightened by the priorities of the NAACP. I know creating jobs is your number one priority; it is the number one priority of our inspirational and visionary President, President Barack Obama, and it is the number one priority of the leaders in Congress.

"President Obama's and Congress's three pillars for economic growth and job creation are:

-- Education for our children from early childhood to lifelong learning.

-- Energy independence and environmental justice to create new clean energy


-- Health care for all Americans, which is a right not a privilege.

"It is a moral issue for our country to reduce health disparities whether in diabetes, asthma, heart disease, cancer and HIV AIDS.

"With that in mind, before the August recess, the House will vote on President Obama's comprehensive health care reform legislation.

"It will lower cost, bring greater choice, and ensure higher quality. It will reduce health disparities and offer stability and peace of mind. And it will have a public option that is necessary to remove the health insurance companies from coming between patients and their doctors.

"But in order to succeed, the leadership of all of you - in the NAACP - will continue to be called upon. We need you to partner with President Obama and Congress to take health care in a New Direction. We need each of you to contact your Member of the House and Senate.

"This is truly our moment. Together, we must be organized and unified to deliver the change Americans need.

"As our great President has said: 'We will look back on this moment as the time when the American people reclaimed together their future and wrote the next great chapter in American history.'

"We need this new generation of the NAACP to write the next chapter that addresses job creation, quality education and comprehensive health care for all.

"Congratulations, NAACP, for 100 years of progress, best wishes to you for another 100 years of success.

"Thank you, NAACP for helping America to achieve liberty and justice for all!

"God bless you. God bless America."

SOURCE Office of the Speaker of the House

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