Gates Continues His Farewell Tour in Afghanistan

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 12:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is wrapping up his last official visit to American troops in Afghanistan with a visit to a base in Paktika province, near the border with Pakistan.

Secretary Gates is retiring at the end of the month. He has used this trip to outline his recommendations for a soon-to-begin U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. In comments made Sunday at a base in southern Helmand province, Gates said he would prefer that support troops, not combat soldiers, be pulled out first.

The defense secretary also warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai that his country needs to increase security, and that failure to do so would put the smooth withdrawal of U.S. forces at risk. He said he sees a possible end in sight to the nearly 10-year war, thanks to security gains made over the past 18 months. However, he said it is too early to know the impact that the death of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden will have on military efforts in the country.

In violence Monday, Afghan officials say unknown gunmen killed 11 people, including at least one Afghan soldier, in central Logar province.

A NATO service member was killed when an improved explosive device went off in southern Afghanistan. On Sunday, a British soldier was killed in a bomb blast while on patrol in Helmand province.

And in Nimroz province, insurgents attacked an Afghan checkpoint, killing two police officers and abducting five others.

Later in the week, Secretary Gates travels to Brussels for a NATO security conference. One of the topics will be the situation in Afghanistan.

At a recent security conference in Singapore, Gates said there could be peace talks with the Taliban within a year. However, he cautioned the talks will occur only if NATO's ground advances in Afghanistan continue to put pressure on the insurgents.

Suspected US Drone Strikes Kill 18 in Pakistan

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 12:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Pakistani intelligence officials say three U.S. drone strikes have killed at least 18 militants in the country's northwest tribal region.

All of Monday's strikes were in South Waziristan, near the Afghan border. Officials say missiles hit a compound, an Islamic seminary and a vehicle near the main town of Wana. Foreign militants, including Arabs and Uzbeks, were said to be among those killed.

The attacks come just days after the reported death of senior al-Qaida operative Ilyas Kashmiri in a U.S. drone strike in same tribal area.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik both said Monday they were confident Kashmiri is dead. But unnamed U.S. defense officials told new agencies they still have no confirmation of his killing.

The United States has designated Kashmiri a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” and offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture. The al-Qaida operative is accused of involvement in several attacks on Western targets, the 2008 terrorist siege on the Indian city of Mumbai and the recent attack on a Pakistani naval base in Karachi.

This was the second time Kashmiri has been reported to have been killed. Pakistani officials said Kashmiri was killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike in September of 2009.

The United States has stepped up drone attacks since U.S. special forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on May 2 in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

U.S. officials have never publicly acknowledged the use of drones inside Pakistan, but have privately confirmed the strikes to various news outlets.

Pakistani leaders protest the attacks as a violation of the country's sovereignty, but Pakistani intelligence is believed to provide the U.S. information for the strikes.

Humala Wins Peru Presidential Runoff

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 11:45 am (UTC-5)
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Former Peruvian army officer Ollanta Humala has won the country's presidential runoff, with a narrow lead over Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori.

With 89 percent of Sunday's vote counted, the former leftist officer was ahead with more than 51 percent support, compared to Fujimori's 48.6 percent.

The latest presidential campaign focused largely on continuing Peru's rapid economic growth of recent years, while ensuring that the poor also see some of that increased prosperity.

Peru's stock market plunged nearly nine percent Monday, prompting authorities to halt trading.

In the first round of balloting in April, Humala won 32 percent of the vote, falling short of the majority needed for an outright win. Fujimori, a conservative candidate, took 24 percent.

Participating in elections is mandatory for Peru's nearly 20 million eligible voters.

Some voters expressed concern that if she won Fujimori would try to free her father, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for his role in death squad killings in the 1990s. Fujimori has apologized for mistakes and crimes committed while her father was president from 1990 to 2000.

Humala led an uprising against Alberto Fujimori in 2000, but lost a runoff election to current President Alan Garcia in 2006. Humala was outspoken during that campaign about his admiration for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but he has since distanced himself from the leftist leader.

German Cabinet Approves Nuclear Phase-out Plan

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 11:30 am (UTC-5)
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Germany's Cabinet has approved a plan to phase out the country's nuclear plants by 2022, becoming the first major industrial power to give up atomic power and rely entirely on other sources of energy.

The Cabinet on Monday passed legislation detailed last week by Chancellor Angela Merkel that foresees shutting down the country's 17 atomic reactors by the end of 2022 and boosting investment in renewable energies.

The bill was drawn up after the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami that hit the country in March.

The decision marks a reversal in Mrs. Merkel's policies, from wanting to extend the life of Germany's nuclear plants to phasing out nuclear power.

Germany relies on nuclear power for 22 percent of its energy needs.

The plan must still be approved by parliament.

Environmentalists, including the Green Party, wanted the nuclear power industry shut down sooner, but pro-business groups warned that could cause power shortages that would cripple the country's industrial sector.

In a separate development, Mrs. Merkel is en route to the United States Monday for a three-day visit that will include talks with President Barack Obama on the Middle East and the global economy. During her three-day visit, Mr. Obama will present the German leader with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Bahrain Charges Doctors and Nurses With Helping Protesters

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 11:25 am (UTC-5)
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Doctors and nurses in Bahrain who treated wounded protesters during recent anti-government uprisings have appeared in court to face charges of attempting to overthrow the kingdom's rulers.

Twenty-three doctors and 24 nurses have been detained since March under martial law. Even though Bahrain lifted its emergency law last week, the professionals remain under detention.

While Monday's court appearance was closed, Western media reported that the professionals were formally charged, and they they will face another hearing June 13.

Their detention has drawn outrage from human rights groups internationally who say the medical personnel were carrying out their moral and professional duties to treat the injured.

Indian Supreme Court Questions Crackdown on Protest

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 11:20 am (UTC-5)
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India's Supreme Court said Monday it wants the government to explain why it sent hundreds of police to end the peaceful hunger strike of a popular yoga guru and thousands of his supporters.

Baba Ramdev's mass fast, staged in a huge tent in New Delhi, was part of a populist campaign to fight corruption.

His protest was broken up in a pre-dawn raid Sunday by police, who used batons to disperse tens of thousands of people. Dozens were injured and the guru was briefly detained.

On Monday, India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party joined the Supreme Court in questioning the crackdown on the protest.

BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani demanded the government convene a special parliamentary session to explain the police action.

Baba Ramdev began his hunger strike to demand the government bring back money illegally stashed overseas and introduce tough anti-corruption legislation. He wants the death penalty for corrupt officials.

Police say Baba Ramdev did not have permission to hold such a large protest, and the massive gathering could have posed a law and order problem. The government says the guru went back on promises to call off the hunger strike.

Baba Ramdev is continuing his campaign in Haridwar, the Hindu holy town in northern India where he was taken by police after being detained. He vowed Monday to build his campaign into a national movement.

Baba Ramdev's protest began two months after the government was caught unaware by massive popular support for another anti-graft campaign started by a social activist (Anna Hazare) in April.

India's ruling Congress party has been under pressure following a series of corruption scandals. Authorities are currently investigating whether the organizers of last year's Commonwealth Games in New Delhi received kickbacks amounting to billions of dollars. And the Indian government says it lost up to $40 billion in revenue due to the sale of mobile phone licenses at below-market prices.

Yemen VP: President Saleh Coming Back ‘In Days’

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 11:00 am (UTC-5)
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Yemen's vice president says President Ali Abdullah Saleh will be returning to Yemen “in days” after undergoing surgery in Saudi Arabia for a shrapnel wound.

Yemen's state media quote Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur Hadi Monday as saying the president is recovering well. The vice president is serving as the country's acting leader in Mr. Saleh's absence.

Mr. Saleh was wounded in a rocket attack Friday on his presidential compound. Ruling party officials insist Mr. Saleh will return to Yemen, but analysts say it is not clear whether his Saudi hosts will allow him to go back home as president.

Meanwhile, opposition tribesmen in Yemen say government snipers in the capital, Sana'a, have killed at least three supporters of tribal leader Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar.

The shootings Monday came a day after the vice president ordered government forces to vacate opposition-controlled areas of the capital, while al-Ahmar began to evacuate his militia from government buildings and called for an end to the fighting.

Scores of people have been killed in two weeks of clashes in Sana'a.

Mr. Hadi met with U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein Sunday to discuss cooperation with Yemen's opposition coalition. Mr. Hadi also met separately with military commanders, including several of Mr. Saleh's sons.

The Washington Post reported that U.S. and European diplomats, including Feierstein, urged Yemen's opposition to refrain from setting up interim government committees before Mr. Saleh is formally out of power. The newspaper cited a U.S. embassy spokeswoman as saying Washington is continuing attempts to push its onetime ally out of power.

Joyful celebrations broke out in Yemen Sunday, after word spread that the embattled Mr. Saleh had left the country. But expressions of concern also emerged about whether Mr. Saleh's 33 years in power have really come to an end.

Nearly 400 people have been killed since the popular uprising against Mr. Saleh began in January.

US Stocks Fall

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 10:50 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. stock market indexes fell in Monday's early trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped two-tenths of a percent, the S&P 500 slid four-tenths of a percent and the NASDAQ was off one-tenth of a percent.

European stock markets were mixed in afternoon trading. London's Financial Times 100 index rose two-tenths of a percent, the CAC-40 in Paris moved down seven-tenths of a percent, and the DAX in Frankfurt dropped four-tenths of a percent.

Earlier in Asia, Tokyo's Nikkei index fell 1.2 percent to close at 9,380. Hong Kong markets were closed for a holiday.

The price of gold rose more than $9 to trade at $1,551.75 an ounce.

The dollar was lower against the yen but gained value compared to the euro.

WFP: 3 Contractors Kidnapped in Darfur Freed

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 10:45 am (UTC-5)
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The World Food Program says three Bulgarian contractors kidnapped in Sudan's Darfur region have been freed after nearly five months in captivity.

The United Nations agency says the men appear to be in good health and will be flown to Sudan's capital, Khartoum, before traveling to Bulgaria.

In a statement Monday, WFP Regional Director Amer Daoudi thanked the Sudanese government for helping to secure the three men's release.

The men were working with the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service in Darfur when they were abducted by armed men on January 13.

The kidnapping took place at a landing strip about 60 kilometers southeast of the West Darfur state capital, El Geneina.

The agency says no ransom was paid to secure the Bulgarian crews' release.

Bandits and armed groups frequently kidnap U.N. and international aid workers in Darfur. The kidnappings have increased since March 2009, when the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in the region.

Most of the hostages have been released unharmed.

Darfur has experienced more than seven years of conflict since rebels took up arms against Mr. Bashir's government in 2003.

Former IMF Chief Pleads Not-Guilty to Sex Crimes

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 10:40 am (UTC-5)
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Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty in a U.S. court to charges that he attempted to rape a maid in a New York hotel last month.

Strauss-Kahn, who was accompanied by his wife and legal team, was greeted outside the court by a group of women in maid uniforms shouting “Shame on you!” His next hearing is set for July 18.

The Frenchman is accused of attacking a 32-year-old African immigrant last month when she came to clean his suite at the luxury Sofitel hotel in New York City.

Strauss-Kahn quit as IMF managing director a few days after his May 14 arrest in the first-class section of an Air France plane, minutes before he was to depart from New York to Paris. He has been under house arrest since being released from jail last month on $6 million cash bail and bond.

The 62-year-old faces 25 years in prison if he is convicted on charges of a criminal sexual act, attempted rape, sex abuse, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching.

Strauss-Kahn has weathered past sex scandals. In 2008, he apologized for what he termed an “error in judgment” for an affair with one of his subordinates.

Before the latest scandal, Strauss-Kahn was considered a leading contender to run as the Socialist party's candidate against President Nicolas Sarkozy in France's 2012 presidential election.