Azerbaijan, Serbia Plan Infrastructure, Energy Projects

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 5:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has concluded a two-day visit to Serbia aimed at boosting political, economic and cultural ties between the two countries.

President Aliyev and his Serbian counterpart Boris Tadic announced that a new strategic partnership between the two counties will result in concrete joint projects, such as the construction of highways, energy infrastructure and a railway through Serbia. Serbia has expressed interest in buying liquified gas from Azerbaijan.

On Thursday, the two leaders unveiled a monument to prominent Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyli in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad.

Mr. Aliyev Wednesday formally opened Azerbaijan's embassy in Belgrade, an event attended by the diplomatic corps. Mr. Tadic said the two countries support each other in international organizations and elsewhere because their territorial integrity has been violated. Mr. Aliyev expressed the position that no country can have its border changed without its consent.

Serbia's former province of Kosovo declared independence in 2008, which has been recognized by many countries including the United States. Azerbaijan is fighting independence moves by its Armenian-speaking enclave of Nagorno Karabakh.

Later Thursday, Mr. Aliyev began a two-day official visit to Slovenia at the invitation of Slovenian President Danilo Tuerk.

India’s “Picasso” Dies at 95

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 5:00 pm (UTC-5)
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India's most eminent artist, Maqbool Fida Husain, sometimes called “the Indian Picasso,” died Thursday in London at the age of 95.

Indian President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and artists and ordinary Indians paid tribute to Husain after news of his death spread across the country.

Husain began his career in India as a Bollywood poster artist and later developed a style combining Indian traditions with a Western-influenced Cubist style. He was also known for avoiding shoes, preferring to go barefoot.

But in 2006, the Muslim artist went into self-imposed exile in Dubai after being targeted by Hindu hardliners angered by his depiction of Hindu deities in the nude and India as a nude woman. Angry Hindu radical groups called the paintings an insult to their religion and offered a reward for his death.

Husain's decision to leave his homeland raised a debate about artistic freedom and tolerance in India. He refused to comment on the controversy, saying he remained deeply rooted to India and was living abroad only to do his work.

Among those who spoke up in Husain's defense was the Supreme Court, which said nudity is common in Indian art and should not be regarded as an obscenity.

US Stocks Close Higher

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 4:35 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. stock market indexes rose in Thursday's trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced six-tenths of a percent to end at 12,124. The S&P 500 rose seven-tenths of a percent to close at 1,289 and the NASDAQ composite index gained a third of a percent to finish at 2,685.

European stock markets were higher at the close of trading. London's Financial Times 100 index gained eight-tenths of a percent to end at 5,856. The CAC-40 in Paris moved up 1.1 percent to finish at 3,879, and the DAX index in Frankfurt jumped 1.4 percent to 7,160.

Earlier in Asia, Tokyo's Nikkei index gained two-tenths of a percent to close at 9,467. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost two-tenths of a percent to finish the day's trading at 22,610.

The price of gold rose more than $6 to trade at $1,544.20 an ounce.

The dollar was higher against the yen and the euro.

Militants Storm Pakistani Checkpoint, Killing Eight Soldiers

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 3:55 pm (UTC-5)
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More than 100 Taliban militants attacked a security checkpoint in Pakistan's South Waziristan region, triggering gunbattles that left eight soldiers dead.

The attack took place early Thursday morning in the Marabi area near the border with Afghanistan.

Officials say Pakistani forces killed at least 10 Taliban fighters. At least seven soldiers were also wounded in the firefight.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's army chief said Thursday that billions of dollars sent by the U.S. to fund the Pakistani military's fight against militants should instead be used to help Pakistani citizens.

General Ashfaq Parvaz Kayani told a meeting of top military commanders that the U.S. military assistance funds should be “diverted towards economic aid to Pakistan which can be used for reducing the burden on the common man.”

Kayani said only $1.4 billion of the U.S. aid Pakistan received over the last 10 years — which he said totaled $8.6 billion — had gone to Pakistan's army. He said a “relatively smaller amount” had gone to Pakistan's navy and air force, while the rest — approximately $6 billion — was kept by Pakistan's government.

Kayani also said that Pakistan has dramatically reduced the extent of intelligence sharing with the United States since the U.S. commando raid in northern Pakistan that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. He added that the army no longer receives any U.S. military training.

In other violence in Pakistan on Thursday, bomb attacks across the country killed at least seven people.

At least four people were killed in a bomb blast in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Officials say a roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying police officers in southwest Baluchistan province, leaving two dead and one injured.

In the northwestern Upper Dir district, at least one person was killed when a roadside bomb hit a vehicle.

No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.

9 Civilians, 2 NATO Troops Killed in Afghanistan

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 3:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Afghan officials say militants in eastern Nangarhar province have killed nine members of a wedding party.

Local authorities said the militants Thursday stormed a house in Dur Baba district where wedding guests had gathered. Reports say the groom, who was one of the victims, was a relative of the district chief of Dur Baba.

The Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan frequently target government officials as well as the army and police.

Also Thursday, NATO said two of its service members died in separate bomb blasts in southern Afghanistan. The coalition did not give details of the attacks or the nationalities of those killed.

Italy Condemns Brazil for Releasing Fugitive

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 3:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Officials in Italy are expressing outrage over Brazil's decision to free an Italian fugitive wanted for murder.

Victims and officials described as a slap in the face the ruling Wednesday by Brazil's Supreme Court to release former left-wing militant Cesare Battisti.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini promised to pursue his country's claims with the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Battisti left the Brazilian prison Thursday, where he had been held. The 56-year-old has long said he is innocent of any crime.

Italian prosecutors blame Battisti for four murders dating from the 1970s when he was a member of an armed communist movement.

He had been on the run since the 1980s, when he escaped from an Italian prison while awaiting trial. He was convicted in absentia of two of the murders, and was re-arrested in 2007 in Brazil.

Battisti faces possible life in prison if he returns to Italy.

In 2009, Brazilian authorities angered Italy when they granted Battisti political asylum, saying he risked persecution if extradited. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also decided last year to deny Italy's request for extradition.

Crude Oil Prices Rise

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 3:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Here are the prices of some key commodities traded in New York on Thursday:

Crude oil prices rose more than $1 to close at $101.93 a barrel.

Coffee prices gained 3 cents to finish at $2.67 per pound.

Copper prices lost a fraction of a cent to end the day's trading at $4.10 a pound.

Cocoa futures advanced $53 to reach $2,980 per ton.

Alabama Governor Signs Tough Illegal Immigration Law

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 3:30 pm (UTC-5)
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The governor of Alabama has signed into law a tough new illegal immigration measure that requires public schools to determine students' immigration status.

Republican Governor Robert Bentley signed the measure on Thursday and says it is the strongest immigration bill in the country. Critics agree.

The new law will not enable schools to deny illegal immigrants an education, but it says there is a “compelling need” to measure the illegal immigrant student population because of the impact the cost of their presence can have on publicly funded education.

The measure will also allow Alabama police to arrest anyone suspected of being in the country illegally when that person is stopped for any other reason.

It also will be a crime to knowingly transport or harbor someone who is in the country illegally, and employers will be required to use a federal system called E-Verify to determine the immigration status of new employees.

The law is scheduled to take effect September 1, but rights advocates say they will challenge it in court.

Alabama is the latest state to adopt an immigration law similar to the controversial measure passed in the southwestern state of Arizona last year. The Arizona law would have allowed police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

A federal judge blocked key parts of the Arizona law last year after the Obama administration filed a lawsuit against it. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who signed the legislation, has vowed to take the case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Arizona officials say the law is needed to crack down on violent drug trafficking they say is spreading over the border from Mexico.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold another Arizona law allowing the state to revoke the business licenses of companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The majority of the court's justices said states can control licensing issues.

Governor Brewer welcomed the decision, saying she was more “adamant than ever” that states have a role in enforcing immigration laws.

Key US Counterterror Chief Resigns

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 3:00 pm (UTC-5)
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The director of the U.S. National Counterrorism Center is leaving his post after four years on the job.

Officials said Thursday that National Counterterrorism Center Director Mike Leiter is resigning. He is expected to step down in July.

Leiter rarely played a public role in the war on terror during his tenure running the agency, but President Barack Obama praised what he called Leiter's “unwavering determination.”

Mr. Obama said Leiter put the country in a stronger position to confront terrorists threats at home and abroad.

Obama administration officials also said Leiter had played a key role in crafting a new counterterrorism strategy. They said the new strategy calls for a broad campaign against al-Qaida and other extremist groups.

Officials said the new strategy likely will be introduced in the coming months.

The National Counterterrorism Center is charged with collecting and analyzing intelligence on terrorist groups threatening Americans in the United States and around the world.

UN: Fighting Spreads in Sudan’s South Kordofan State

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 2:00 pm (UTC-5)
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The United Nations Mission in Sudan says fighting in a north-south border state has spread and the humanitarian crisis there has worsened.

In an interview with VOA Thursday, spokesman Kouider Zerrouk described the security situation in and around the capital of South Kordofan state as “volatile and tense.”

He said fighting between the north's Sudanese Armed Forces and elements of the south's Sudanese People's Liberation Army has spread to towns surrounding the capital, Kadugli. Sporadic gunfire was reported on Thursday in the towns of Kauda, Talodi and Dilling.

The spokesman said thousands of people have left their homes with few possessions, many fleeing to a U.N. mission compound in Kadugli and into the bush.

Zerrouk said wide-scale looting has taken place in towns left virtually deserted, including at U.N. facilities and the offices of aid agencies.

Escalating violence in South Kordofan and the disputed Abyei region have raised concerns that a new civil war may break out in Sudan.

The south will declare independence from the north on July 9, but the two sides remain split on several key issues, particularly the future of oil-rich Abyei.

North Sudanese forces seized control of Abyei in May.

South Sudan voted to split from the north in a January referendum. The referendum was part of a 2005 peace agreement that ended a 21-year civil war between the north and south.