April 2007


 

Colombo: The Sri Lanka air force bombed targets in the northern part of the country after guerrillas dropped four bombs close to fuel tanks in the suburbs of Colombo, triggering panic and pandemonium among residents.

Air Force spokesman, Group Captain Ajantha Silva said fighter jets shelled targets in the Vishvamadu and Iranamadu areas, including guerrilla air strip located in the northern Wanni region.

He said the aircraft involved in dropping bombs at the oil installations at Kolonnawa, 6 kilometres east of the capital and at Muthurajawela, 10 kilometres north, had landed in Iranamadu, prompting them to bomb the area.

Downplayed

In Colombo the Defence Ministry downplayed air raids by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) saying they had "missed the target", but residents in Colombo and the outskirts have expressed fears that more attacks could follow.

Finding a way

"It may take a couple of months for us to find a way to overcome the air attacks by the LTTE," Acting Media minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said.

The night sky was set aglow with flares and anti-aircraft gun fire for more than 45 minutes as electricity was switched off as a precaution in Colombo city and outskirts.

The surprise attack by the LTTE and the retaliatory attacks by the military meant that cricket fans were deprived of witnessing the live coverage of the World Cup cricket finals in the Caribbean between Sri Lanka and Australia.

Those watching the coverage on giant screens in open grounds within the city were seen running towards the gates amidst rumours the port or airport had been bombed.

Unidentified men fatally shot a reporter for a Tamil-language newspaper in Sri Lanka’s troubled northern Jaffna peninsula yesterday.

Selvaraja Rajivarman, 24, worked for the Jaffna-based Uthayan newspaper, which is considered neutral but has good access to information from Tamil Tiger rebels fighting a separatist war with the government.

The identity of the attackers and their motive were not immediately known. There have been a growing number of unsolved killings and abductions in Jaffna, regarded as the heartland of Sri Lanka’s 3.1 million ethnic-minority Tamils.

The Defence Ministry’s information centre said it was unaware of the killing.

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Manila: The Philippine air force grounded its Vietnam War-era Huey helicopters yesterday after one crashed on a busy street while landing in a central city after combat training, killing nine people, officials said.

The UH-1H plummeted out of control while landing and crashed on a street outside an air base in Lapu-Lapu city on the central island of Mactan on Saturday afternoon, pinning a motorcycle taxi and hitting another near a public market, air force officials said.

All seven people riding the motorcycle taxi with a sidecar were killed while a driver and a commuter were wounded in the other. The crash killed one of two veteran pilots and one of two crewmen of the helicopter. It had been involved in advanced combat training in a nearby mountainous area, the officials said.

Most of those who died on the ground were commuters on their way home, and included a fresh college graduate looking forward to starting her first job. The air force said it would shoulder the cost of their burial and extend other help to their families.

TV footage showed the wreckage of the helicopter lying in the middle of a street as ambulances, their sirens wailing, arrived. Nearby, a man covered with newspapers a pile of bodies near a flattened motorcycle as throngs of residents watched.

Brigadier General Arthur Mancenido, commander of the 205th Helicopter Wing in Mactan, said 41 Hueys nationwide – the air force’s work horses – were indefinitely grounded pending an investigation to determine the cause of the crash.

Officials refused to speculate on the cause of the crash but an air force officer said the pilots suddenly encountered engine trouble at an altitude of about 122 metres.

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that President Bush will reject any attempt by Congress to require the Iraqi government to meet benchmarks as a condition for US troops remaining in Iraq, in a blow to emerging efforts to craft a compromise war-funding bill.

Bush, who plans this week to veto a measure that would require a troop withdrawal to begin by this fall, wants a bill that gives American officials complete flexibility in conducting military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq, Rice said.

"What we don’t want to do . . . is to tie our own hands so that we cannot act creatively and flexibly to support the very policies in Iraq that we’re trying to enforce," she said on ABC’s "This Week."

Though Democratic leaders in Congress are not yet sure how they will respond to the president’s veto, Rice’s comments represent an effort by the Bush administration to shape that debate.

Bush is scheduled to meet with Democratic leaders at the White House on Wednesday, shortly after he vetoes a $124 billion measure that would require troop withdrawals by Oct. 1 as a condition of keeping funding flowing to troops. The appropriations bill includes more than $90 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democrats say they are determined not to cut off funding to troops, but they face strong pressure from the party’s liberal base to fund the war only in conjunction with binding efforts to hasten a troop withdrawal.

With few Republicans now supporting their efforts to attach conditions to war funding, Democratic leaders know they are far short of the two-thirds majorities needed to override a presidential veto in the House and Senate.

Some party leaders have expressed hope that they could get larger numbers of Republicans to agree to requiring benchmarks for progress, in place of a specific timetable for troop withdrawal.

The president cited the need for clear benchmarks — agreed to in consultation with the Iraqi government — when he announced his troop "surge" plan earlier this year, but Rice made clear yesterday that the White House believes such benchmarks should not be made law.

"The problem is that if you try and make consequences about these benchmarks, you’re tying the hands of General [David] Petraeus and the hands of Ambassador [Ryan C.] Crocker," Rice said.

Still, Democrats showed no signs yesterday of backing down in their high-profile confrontation with the president. Representative John P. Murtha, the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees defense spending, said the president should have no problem with agreeing to the same benchmarks for political progress that his administration has offered.

"The benchmarks — the Iraqis agreed to it, the president agreed to it," Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said on CBS’s "Face the Nation." "We’re saying to them, ‘Well, let’s put some teeth into the benchmarks.’ "

Murtha said that if the president refuses to compromise with Democrats, Congress should approve a measure that would fund the war for only a limited period of time. That would force the president to come back to lawmakers soon for additional funds — at a time when the political environment could be different if fewer Republicans remain strongly supportive of the war.

"Fund it for two months instead of a year, and then look at it again," Murtha said.

With public support for the war waning in polls , Rice appeared on three Sunday talk shows — on ABC, CBS, and CNN — to deliver a message that while the president is eager to find common ground with Democrats, he won’t capitulate on the issue of attaching strings to war funding.

The president and the administration are still prodding the Iraqi government to meet its goals for political progress and quelling sectarian violence, but the Bush camp does not want deadlines for them to be enshrined into law, she said.

"The benchmarks that are anticipated here, of course, [are] benchmarks that the Iraqis themselves have adopted. They are benchmarks that they need to meet," Rice said on CNN’s "Late Edition." "We are telling them all of the time that their national reconciliation is moving too slowly [and] needs to move more quickly."

Yet Democrats are clearly growing impatient, and say they are no longer willing to hand the president all the money he is asking for without strict limits that influence policy.

Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat and a fierce critic of the war, said on ABC that he was stunned that the administration is continuing to ignore the will of the public and the Congress to start to bring the war to a close. "The American people want us to provide the funds the president has asked for, but they want us to end this war," Feingold said. "I don’t think we should back down. . . . American troops are dying for no good reason at this point. They are in a situation where they are being sacrificed because people want political comfort in Washington."

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Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh

President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has arrived on Sunday in Washington for talks with the White House on how to deepen bilateral relations.

Saleh is to meet with President Bush and other U.S. officials to discuss ways of increasing cooperation between the two countries, the Yemen news agency Saba reported Monday.

Saleh would hold talks with senior officials in the Senate, the Congress and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) regarding the situation in the Middle East, the efforts to support the Arab Peace Initiative, the USA’s role as member of the Four-member Committee in dealing with the latest developments in Palestine, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia.

The talks would focus on developing the cooperation between Yemen and USA in several fields such as economic, trade and investment.

Saleh arrived at Andrews Air Force Base Sunday night and was greeted by the base commander, the chief of protocol for the White House and various representatives of Yemeni diplomats serving in Washington.
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BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that Venezuela hopes to gradually sell off its refineries in the United States and build a new network of refineries in Latin America, part of a plan to offer his leftist allies in the region a stable oil supply.

Chavez also raised the idea of issuing a regional bond to raise funds for social spending as he hosted a summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA, a leftist bloc and trade group that includes Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

"I proposed that we issue an ALBA bond. I hope that we can do it…. And that we issue it here in Venezuela, like we did with Argentina, and bring in $1 billion," said Chavez, addressing leaders Sunday on final day of their talks. Chavez said the money acquired would be put in a fund to provide credit for ALBA nations.

Chavez and other leaders signed accords for Venezuela to supply fuel under preferential terms and join up with other countries for cooperative projects in education, telecommunications, mining and other areas.

He said Venezuela will guarantee to supply 100 percent of the energy needs for ALBA members as well as Haiti. ALBA was created in 2004 by Cuba and Venezuela as a counterproposal to U.S. backed free-trade plans.

Chavez said Venezuela eventually plans to help build a network of refineries in Nicaragua, Haiti, Ecuador, Bolivia and Dominica, as well as refurbishing Cuba’s Cienfuegos refinery, to provide a stable supply of oil – and the earnings it generates – to countries in Latin America.

He noted that Venezuela’s Citgo Petroleum Corp. has seven refineries in the U.S. and said that "part of our plans is to sell those refineries."

Under special oil deals offered by Venezuela, ALBA member nations will be able to finance 50 percent of the bill for fuel under low-interest loans, and 25 percent of the total bill will go into a special "ALBA Fund" to support local projects through loans, he said.

Leaders attending included Haitian President Rene Preval, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage, as well as officials from Uruguay, Ecuador, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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Blind microlight pilot Miles Hilton-Barber of Great Britain reacts after landing at Sydney’s Bankstown Airport after completing his flight from England to Australia, Monday April 30, 2007. Hilton-Barber, 58, who has been blind for 25 years, and his co-pilot Richard Meredith-Hardy left London on March 7 on their 13,200 miles journey to Australia. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — A blind British adventurer touched down in Sydney Monday to end an epic 13,500-mile flight by microlight aircraft from London.

Miles Hilton-Barber braved snowstorms, freezing temperatures and torrential downpours during his 54-day journey under the supervision of sighted co-pilot Richard Meredith-Hardy.

"It’s the fulfillment of an amazing dream," Hilton-Barber, 58, told reporters at Sydney’s Bankstown airport. "I’ve wanted to be a pilot since I was a kid. Now I’m totally blind and I’ve had the privilege of flying more than halfway around the world."

Hilton-Barber, who lost his eyesight to a hereditary condition about 20 years ago, is hoping the trip will raise $2 million for the charity Seeing is Believing, which works for the prevention of blindness in developing countries.

He took to the skies from Biggin Hill air base in south London on March 7 in a microlight aircraft, which looks like a cross between a tricycle and a motorized hang-glider, with the aid of an audio device that reads out navigational information such as air speed and altitude.

Hilton-Barber also has conquered Mount Kilimanjaro and Mont Blanc, run marathons in the Sahara and Gobi deserts, and even attempted to reach the South Pole, hauling a sledge over 250 miles of Antarctic ice.

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On the Net:

Miles Hilton-Barber’s blog

Seeing is Believing

NEW YORK (AP) — Robert Rosenthal, a World War II bomber pilot who twice survived being shot down in raids over Europe and later served on the U.S. legal team that prosecuted Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, has died at age 89.

Rosenthal, who lived in Harrison, N.Y., died April 20 of multiple myeloma, according to a son, Steven Rosenthal, of Newton, Mass.

With 16 decorations including the Distingushed Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for heroism, Rosenthal was a quintessential example of the young Army pilots, some barely out of their teens, who defied seemingly hopeless odds to carry out daylight strategic bombing raids against Germany’s industrial war machine from 1942 to 1945.

Despite being able to absorb punishment, the B-17 Flying Fortresses, carrying 10 crew members, took staggering losses over Germany, especially when flying raids beyond the range of their England-based fighter escort.

Rosenthal’s 52 missions included one, on Oct. 10, 1943, in which his aircraft was the only one of 13 to return from a raid on Munster, the rest having been downed by anti-aircraft fire and waves of Luftwaffe fighters. Rosenthal’s B-17 reached England with two of its four engines gone, severe wing damage and two wounded crew members.

His bomber was dubbed "Rosie’s Riveter," a play on both his name and the sobriquet given to women working in U.S. defense factories. He also flew other B-17s, including "Royal Flush," when "Rosie’s Riveter" was being repaired, Steven Rosenthal said in a telephone interview.

Rosenthal’s plane was disabled by flak over France in September 1944 and he suffered a broken arm and other injuries in a forced landing, but was helped to safety by French resistance fighters. Five months later, he was shot down again during a raid over Berlin, and got home with the aid of Russian troops, via Poland, Russia, Iran, Egypt, Greece and Italy.

Born in Brooklyn on June 11, 1917, Rosenthal was football and baseball team captain at Brooklyn College, a summa cum laude graduate of Brooklyn Law School and was working at a Manhttan law firm when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He enlisted the next day and insisted on being trained for combat.

"I couldn’t wait to get over there," he told Donald Miller, author of the 2006 book, "Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany."

He was assigned to the 100th Bomb Group, based at Thorpe Abbott air base near Norwich, East Anglia. The unit would become known as the "Bloody Hundredth," and the base today has a museum, maintained by local residents and dedicated to the deeds of the WWII airmen, Steve Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal shrugged off reports that he had relatives in German concentration camps as "a lot of hooey." "A human being has to look out for other human beings or there’s no civilization," he told author Miller.

After Germany surrendered, Rosenthal was training to fly B-29 Super Fortresses over Japan when the war ended in August 1945. He returned home to a law practice but soon returned to Germany as part of the American legal team chosen for the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Aboard the ship bound for Germany he met Phillis Heller, another attorney whom he married in Nuremberg. During the trials he interviewed ex-Luftwaffe commander Herman Goering, the highest-ranking Nazi defendant, who would evade the hangman by committing suicide, and former general Wilhelm Keitel.

"Seeing these strutting conquerers after they were sentenced … was the closure I needed," he said. "Justice had overtaken evil."

Rosenthal is survived by his wife, son Steven and a second son, Daniel, of Weston, Conn.; a daughter, Peggy Rosenthal, of Manhattan; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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La Paz: Bolivian President Evo Morales said he was "sure" Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has been recovering from intestinal surgery, will resume power during May Day celebrations in Havana on May 1, a Bolivian television station reported on Saturday.

"I’m sure, my Cuban brothers, that on May 1 comrade Fidel will return to governing Cuba and Latin America," Morales said, according to the private Unitel network. "I’m convinced that comrade Fidel will return to continue governing and leading the Cuban people."

No official word

The Bolivian president said he had not received any official word from Cuban authorities about plans for Castro to return to power or that he might make his first public appearance in nine months at a workers parade on May 1.

In Havana, senior Cuban officials preparing for the mass rally in Revolution Square could not confirm whether Castro would show up, but said he was involved in all major government decisions.

"If it is possible he will be there, if it is not, he won’t be there," Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said at a news conference. "We all would like his fast recovery to be even faster so that he can be back with us," he said.

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Patna, India: Villagers at a wedding in eastern India decided the groom had arrived too drunk to get married, and so the bride married the groom’s more sober brother instead, police said on Monday.

"The groom was drunk and had reportedly misbehaved with guests when the bride’s family and local villagers chased him away," Madho Singh, a senior police officer told Reuters after Sunday’s marriage in a village in Bihar state’s Arwal district.

The younger brother readily agreed to take the groom’s place beside the teenage bride at her family’s invitation, witnesses said.

"The groom apologised for his behaviour, but has been crying that word will spread and he will never get a bride again," Singh said by phone.

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Fred Thompson

Washington: Ronald Reagan’s closest allies are throwing their weight behind the bid by the late president’s fellow actor, Fred Thompson, for the White House.

The film star and former Republican senator from Tennessee will this week use a speech in the heart of Reagan country, in Southern California, to woo party bigwigs in what insiders say is the next step in his coming out as a candidate.

A key figure in the Reagan inner circle has now given his seal of approval to Thompson, best known as a star of the television crime drama Law and Order.

As deputy Chief of Staff, Michael Deaver was a key member of the "troika" of aides who kept the Reagan White House on track. With the then Chief of Staff James Baker and special assistant Ed Meese, he was the master of image and presentation.

Deaver sees the same raw material in Thompson as was perceived in Reagan, describing him as someone "that could really make a difference". He added: "He is very popular in his party. He could change this whole thing and turn this primary system upside down.

"As Ronald Reagan used to say, after he stole a line from Al Jolson, ‘Stay tuned, you ain’t seen nothing yet’."

Thompson’s political and acting careers have been closely interwoven for more than 20 years. He originally worked as a lawyer and Republican campaign manager, and was a key legal counsel in the Watergate scandal.

He was then asked to play himself in a 1985 film about a real-life judicial corruption scandal in Tennessee, supposedly because the producers could not find a professional actor who could portray him plausibly. That launched his acting career, which he has maintained alongside stints as a senator and continued Republican campaigning.

Deaver voiced the views of many Republicans that the current crop of declared candidates is unsatisfactory. Of the front runner, the former New York mayor Rudi Giuliani, he said: "His popularity may be a mile wide and an inch deep. I’m sure that lead will shrink."

On Friday Thompson will address the 45th annual dinner of the Lincoln Club, which is billed as the "largest and most active political club in the United States". The invitation was one that other Republican candidates had tried to secure.

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