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Saturday, October 15, 2005

BBC NEWS | Africa | Nigerian e-mail frauds targeted

BBC NEWS | Africa | Nigerian e-mail frauds targeted Nigerian e-mail frauds targeted
Microsoft and the government of Nigeria have joined forces to crack down on e-mail scams, many of which are known to originate from the African country.

In the most common type of fraud, email recipients are asked to pay a fee in return for a much larger sum of money - which they never receive.

The new agreement involves training and sharing information.

Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is currently investigating hundreds of suspects.

Nuhu Ribadi, executive chairman of EFCC, welcomed the partnership.

"They (Microsoft) will help us with one of the difficult areas, particularly when it comes to technology, and we will do the physical work of enforcement," he told the BBC.

"We have worked with them for the last six months now, and as a result of the work we have done, we are now going to bring a couple of companies to justice. Some people are being prosecuted right now."

'Generous' reward

The Nigerian government is also considering making spamming a criminal offence punishable with jail terms of up to three years.

The EFCC says that many of the fraudsters have fled the country and are now based abroad, mainly in Spain and the Netherlands, making it more difficult for the Nigerian authorities to prosecute them.

In the most common e-mail scam, criminals send out millions of emails asking people to pay an advance fee or give their bank account details to help move large sums of money abroad.

In return, they are promised they will receive a share of it.

Mr Ribadi advices recipients of such scam letters not to reply, but to forward them to law enforcement authorities in their own country who, in their turn, will forward the messages to the EFCC.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Japan Today - News - Rove testifies again on CIA leak - Japan's Leading International News Network

Japan Today - News - Rove testifies again on CIA leak - Japan's Leading International News NetworkRove testifies again on CIA leak

Saturday, October 15, 2005 at 07:37 JST
WASHINGTON — U.S. President George W Bush's top aide Karl Rove testified for a fourth time before a grand jury about the leaked identity of a CIA agent, which opponents call politically motivated.

Rove entered a federal courtroom in Washington early Friday and left in the early afternoon after four hours with a prosecutor specially assigned to the case, Patrick Fitzgerald.

Rove declined to speak to a crowd of reporters waiting outside.

"The special counsel has not advised Mr Rove that he is a target of the investigation and affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges," Rove's attorney Robert Luskin said in a statement.

"The special counsel has indicated that he does not anticipate the need for Mr Rove's further cooperation," the statement said.

Fitzgerald has tried for two years to find out who in the Bush administration leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and the grand jury will decide whether a federal crime was committed.

With suspense building as to whether Rove or other top officials will be indicted, a White House spokesman was asked if the case had become a distraction for the Bush administration.

The president and his team of advisers were focused on priorities such as Iraq and the economy, spokesman Scott McClellan said at a news conference.

"And while there are other things going on, the White House doesn't have time to let those things distract from the important work at hand," McClellan said.

The case dates back to July 2003, when a conservative commentator with close ties to the Republican party, Robert Novak, published Plame's name.

The CIA agent is the wife of Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador who publicly questioned the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq.

Under U.S. law, knowingly revealing the identity of an undercover CIA agent is a federal crime, though it remains unclear if the Plame case fell into that category.

The opposition Democrats called the leak an act of political revenge and demanded the White House reveal who had divulged the agent's name.

Wilson promptly pointed to Rove as the likely source.

"At the end of the day, it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs," Wilson said.

"And trust me when I use that name, I measure my words."

Speculation is mounting over whether Rove, known as the mastermind behind Bush's political strategy and election campaigns, will be indicted or emerge unscathed.

The prosecutor has called in numerous officials from the Bush administration to testify and sent a journalist from The New York Times to prison for refusing to reveal who she spoke to in the White House.

The reporter, Judith Miller, who never wrote a story, was freed last month after 85 days in jail. She said her source gave her permission to discuss their conversation before a grand jury.

Miller has identified one of her sources as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Another reporter, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, said in July that Karl Rove told him Wilson's wife was a CIA agent.

Bush has described Rove, 54, as the "architect" of his victorious re-election campaign last year. He has earned a reputation for political savvy and for employing sometimes ruthless tactics against his opponents.

Any indictment of Rove would deliver a damaging blow to Bush, who is already facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. (Wire reports)

Polls Close in Iraq's Constitutional Referendum - New York Times

Polls Close in Iraq's Constitutional Referendum - New York Times
October 15, 2005
Polls Close in Iraq's Constitutional Referendum

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Saturday, Oct. 15 - Iraqis walked through silent streets this morning to begin voting on a new constitution that, if passed, would mark a major step toward the formation of the country's first full-term government since the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Some of the voters marched to polling centers with their closest friends or family members, others alone. Blue-uniformed Iraqi policemen with Kalashnikovs guarded the centers, mostly schools, and frisked people while American troops sat in tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles nearby. In Baghdad, helicopters buzzed low over dun-colored rooftops.

Virtually all civilian cars had been banned from the streets because of strict security rules mirroring those put in place during elections last January.

The voting started hours after Baghdad and parts of southern Iraq began emerging from a blackout caused by a disruption to a northern power line, possibly due to an explosion and perhaps an insurgent act of sabotage.

That had little effect on the voting. After the country's 6,100 polling centers opened their doors at 7 a.m., people began lining up to get the paper ballots, check off "yes" or "no" for the constitution and drop the sheets into boxes. They then stamped their index fingers with purple ink to show they had voted.

"I came to vote for Iraq," said Fayek al-Ani, a businessman in a collared shirt walking into a polling center in downtown Baghdad. "The most important thing is that I came to vote."

Passage of the constitution, whose final draft was approved only this week after months of tough negotiations among Iraqi political parties, is seen as crucial for moving the democratic process forward.

The Bush administration says such progress in turn would lead to greater stability and a partial reduction of the approximately 140,000 American troops here.

In the Yarmouk neighborhood of Baghdad, a representative of the Iraqi election commission, Ismael Abdul Kareem, said there were six election units at his polling station, each consisting of four to five officers, who were checking identification and helping people vote. Several people said they would vote against the charter, including Bashar Ahmed, 30, who said “I wrote no for there are a lot of clauses that contradict each other, which gives the idea it is not solid. Also, I found that the federalism is not for unity but to divide Iraq.’’

In Najaf, south of Baghdad, four people interviewed said they would vote yes, two because it was the recommendation of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the most respected Shiite cleric in Iraq.

“During the Saddam regime I lost two sons,’’ said Saliema Khidher, 50. “I have only one daughter left, I am here today to vote with yes for the sake of Iraqi people because I consider them my sons. She added: “Even if I have no idea about’’ the constitution, “I would say yes because al-Sistani said yes to it.’’

Saleh Mahdie, 42, a food shop owner, said that even if there were gaps or mistakes in this new constitution “they could fix them, while the chaos we are in, no one could put an end to it, so I say yes to help my country.’’

In Falluja, a former hotbed of the insurgency in the so-called Sunni triangle, Khaleel Abdulla Ahmad, 45, a car mechanic, was resolute in his opposition to the charter as he voted in the Resala neighborhood in the southern part of the city. “We came to vote in response to the call of our religious leaders,’’ he said. “I voted no because our leaders said that this constitution is not suitable for our community and our country.’’

The document is expected to serve as a legal foundation for wide-ranging issues, from the Islamic character of the state to the powers of lawmakers and government officials. Its approval would lead to elections in mid-December for a full-term parliament with the power to appoint a government.

This morning an improvised explosive device went off as a police patrol went by in the Amiriya neighborhood of West Baghdad, wounding two policemen. The attack took place as the patrol was heading for a polling center on Al-Mudeef Street.

Several bombs exploded across Baghdad and other cities on Friday, but those assaults and a handful of potshots and mortar attacks at polling stations resulted in few casualties, and by late afternoon the streets of the capital had mostly emptied of people.

The blackout began just as Iraqis were breaking the daily fast that is traditional during Ramadan. It resulted from a disruption, possibly an explosion, on a power line between Bayji and Kirkuk. The electricity minister, Mohsen Shlash, said he was not sure if it was an insurgent attack; guerrillas have sabotaged electrical lines before.

"In the morning, we'll find out more," Mr. Shlash said. "We suspect it was an explosion."

An occasional police patrol drove down Baghdad's wide boulevards, cloaked in darkness except for homes lighted by generators.

Silence blanketed mosques that hours earlier were the sites of fierce exhortations by clerics, their opinions and advice on how to vote generally divided along ethnic and sectarian lines.

At noon Friday, the imam of Baratha Mosque, a prominent Shiite institution west of the Tigris River in Baghdad, stood before a crowd of hundreds gathered beneath the scorching sun and spoke with little subtlety about the upcoming vote.

"Tomorrow, we will have a date with the dawn," the white-turbaned imam, Jalaladeen al-Sagheir, a powerful member of Parliament, told his followers at the sermon. "Tomorrow, we will open the door to freedom."

At moments, the worshippers broke into frenzied chanting, reaching a crescendo with, "Yes, yes to the constitution!"

Across the Tigris, an equally impassioned scene played out, as the imam of Abu Hanifa Mosque, a Sunni Arab stronghold, urged his congregation to reject the document. After the sermon ended, hundreds of worshippers poured into the streets to denounce those few Sunni Arab politicians who had said this week they were supporting the constitution. Iraqi policemen surrounded the crowd and blocked off the streets.

"I haven't read the constitution because it's devoted to sectarianism, denominationalism and the break-up of Iraq according to American and Israeli instructions," said Othman Raheem, 40, a mechanic taking part in the protest. "I'm going to vote against this odious constitution with a 'no.' "

Many Sunni Arabs, who make up about a fifth of Iraq and ruled the country for decades, fear the constitution will allow oil-rich Shiite and Kurdish areas to break off into virtually separate regions, leaving the Sunni Arabs with little more than impoverished land.

At dawn Friday, a bomb detonated at the Baghdad headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a prominent Sunni group that had said earlier this week that it was supporting the constitution. The party's office in Falluja was also set on fire, but no one was hurt in either attack.

The last-minute backing by that party's officials and by the Sunni Endowment, responsible for maintaining Sunni religious sites across Iraq, has given American officials more assurance that the constitution will pass, a likely prospect in any case given that Shiites and Kurds generally support the document and make up about 80 percent of the population.

A study released Friday by the International Republican Institute, a conservative research group in Washington, said the vast majority of Iraqis planned to take part in the referendum no matter what their views: 87 percent of those polled this week in 17 of the 18 provinces said they would vote on Saturday.

But even if the constitution passes, the future of the American enterprise in Iraq faces immense challenges.

For one thing, the constitution is open to the prospect of far-reaching amendments and does not address the thorniest political issues dividing Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs, like the separation of powers between the central and regional governments, and the allocation of oil resources and revenues. For expediency's sake, the constitution's writers left these up to the next parliament.

By one count, at least 55 issues in the constitution are put off for future debate with the phrase, "And a law shall organize this."

Just as important, the question remains whether the ongoing political process will damp the Sunni-led insurgency, which has been growing in strength and sophistication.

Statistics released Thursday by the American command show that the number of attacks per week has steadily increased since the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, despite the transfer of sovereignty in mid-2004 and the election of a transitional parliament in January 2005, major political events that were aimed at co-opting the insurgents.

In February and March 2004, the American military counted just under 200 attacks per week on average; that number doubled a year later. The first week of October, the military counted 723 attacks, with 165 of those killing or injuring someone.

"I would not want to say realistically that the referendum is going to deal a death blow to the insurgency," said a Western diplomat in Baghdad who has been closely monitoring the political process and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wants to lessen any perception of foreign involvement. "I don't think that's true."

Fears of the power of the insurgency were reflected in the security preparations being put in place on Friday.

The constitution can be defeated by a two-thirds "no" vote in three provinces, and American and Iraqi officials say there is a chance, though slim, that violence aimed at Shiite and Kurdish areas in some provinces could hinder turnout by those voters, allowing Sunni Arabs voters there opposed to the constitution to achieve the two-thirds benchmark. Officials say this possibility exists in Salahuddin, a Sunni-dominated province, and Nineveh and Diyala, both mixed provinces. (Anbar, an overwhelmingly Sunni Arab province and the heart of the insurgency, is expected to vote "no.")

"I will take part tomorrow and vote 'no,' and the reason for that is the rejection by Sunnis of the draft, despite the approval of the Iraqi Islamic Party," Basil Abdel Mawjood, a 44-year-old former government employee, said as he sat in his home in Mosul, the capital of Ninevah Province. "I respect clerics a lot, but not all politicians. I think division is Iraq's future. It's obvious in the constitution and in daily life and in the government."

The commander of American forces in western Diyala Province, which includes the provincial capital, Baquba, checked on security centers near polling stations on Friday and spoke with American officers advising Iraqi troops and police. The commander, Col. Steven Salazar, said the Iraqis had deployed 8 to 12 police officers to each of western Diyala's 268 polling sites, and that two brigades of the Iraqi Army, totaling 6,000 soldiers, were on hand.

"Is there anything that can threaten the success of this operation?" he asked. "No."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Kirk Semple in Baquba, Iraq; Robert F. Worth in Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk.

NPR : Million Man March, 10 Years Later

NPR : Million Man March, 10 Years Later

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by John McWhorter

All Things Considered, October 14, 2005 · Commentator John McWhorter reflects on the 10 years since the Million Man March and comes to the conclusion that life for African-Americans hasn't changed much.

Friday, October 14, 2005

NPR : Roundtable: African-American Wealth

NPR : Roundtable: African-American WealthRoundtable: African-American Wealth

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News & Notes with Ed Gordon, October 13, 2005 · Farai Chideya continues a special series of roundtable discussions dedicated to issues of class. Thursday's conversation is focused on African-American wealth. Guests: Eddie Brown, president of Brown Capital Management, Inc.; Mary Spio, scientist, inventor and publisher of One 2 One Living magazine; and Farrah Gray, author of Reallionaire: Nine Steps to Becoming Rich from the Inside Out.

NPR : Poll: Bush's Ratings Drop on Nearly All Fronts

NPR : Poll: Bush's Ratings Drop on Nearly All FrontsPoll: Bush's Ratings Drop on Nearly All Fronts

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by Michele Norris

Bush during a White House press conference, Oct. 4, 2005.
Kevin LaMarque

All Things Considered, October 13, 2005 · President Bush's approval ratings are in a steep decline, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. The survey found that only 38 percent of Americans think the president is doing a good job, down from 50 percent in January. For the first time in his presidency, the numbers show most people think Bush will be judged as an unsuccessful president.

"That's a pretty bleak assessment," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. "The numbers for President Bush are really going from bad to worse." In September, a Pew poll found that Bush's approval rating dropped as a response to what was considered to be a poor handling of the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina's victims. The latest Pew poll, a national survey of 1,500 adults conducted Oct. 6 to Oct. 10, shows that his numbers are continuing to slip.

The dissatisfaction is reaching into the Republican base. The party still remains loyal, said Kohut, with 80 percent approving of Bush's performance. But that number has dropped from 90 percent earlier in the year. And only 62 percent of Republicans surveyed think Bush will go down in history as a successful president.

The poll also examined 11 issues, such as health care, the federal budget deficit, the economy and taxes, asking participants whether Bush had made conditions better or worse. On seven of the issues, most people said Bush's decisions or policies had had a negative impact. Bush only fared well in one area -- national security.

The struggle in Iraq is having a major impact on Bush's numbers, according to Kohut. There was a significant decline since earlier in the year in support for keeping troops in Iraq, and fewer people think Bush made the right decision by engaging in a war there.

"He has a lot of political problems," said Kohut, "and as a consequence, the Republican Party, looking forward to the midterm elections, has a lot of problems... Every time a president is unpopular or is judged as performing poorly, his party takes it on the chin in the midterm elections."

A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released Wednesday found similar results, putting the president's job approval rating at 39 percent.

Related NPR Stories

NPR : Alabama Desegregation Pioneer Dies

NPR : Alabama Desegregation Pioneer DiesNPR : Alabama Desegregation Pioneer DiesAlabama Desegregation Pioneer Dies

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by Michele Norris

Vivian Malone Jones was one of the first two African Americans to enroll at the University of Alabama in 1963. And in 1965, she became the first African American to graduate from the school. University of Alabama

All Things Considered, October 13, 2005 · Vivian Malone Jones, the first African-American student to graduate from the University of Alabama, has died at age 63. Malone was one of the students Gov. George Wallace tried to block from entering the university in 1963.

E. Culpepper Clark, author of The Schoolhouse Door, a book about the last stand for segregation in Alabama, discusses Jones' life and legacy. Clark is also dean of communications and information sciences at the University of Alabama.

CBS 46 Atlanta - Slain judge's widow sues sheriff, deputies

CBS 46 Atlanta - Slain judge's widow sues sheriff, deputiesSlain judge's widow sues sheriff, deputies
Oct 13, 2005, 03:40 PM

ATLANTA (AP) -- The wife of the judge killed in the shooting rampage at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta has filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Myron Freeman and other members of his staff.

The wrongful death suit, filed yesterday on behalf of Claudia Barnes, singles out eight sheriff's employees.

They are accused of violating department policies and failing to protect her husband -- Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes.

Rape suspect Brian Nichols is charged with killing Barnes, the judge in his trial at the time, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau and Sergeant Hoyt Teasley. He's also accused of shooting and killing federal agent David Wilhelm in Buckhead later that day.

Former deputy Sergeant Jerome Dowdell, who lost an appeal to get his job back this week, is among those named in the suit.

The lawsuit is expected to seek (m) millions of dollars, although an amount was NOT mentioned in the suit.

The suit alleges that deputies failed to properly monitor cameras in the Fulton County Courthouse or investigate an incident in which metal devices were found on Nichols two days before the shootings.

It also claims they did NOT have the proper number of deputies guarding Nichols, a former college football player and martial artist.

Nichols is accused of overpowering 51-year-old Deputy Cynthia Hall and stealing her gun.

BBC NEWS | Africa | Seizure order on SA white farm

BBC NEWS | Africa | Seizure order on SA white farm Seizure order on SA white farm
South Africa is for the first time forcing a white farmer to sell his land under a redistribution plan.

The government served an expropriation order on Hannes Visser.

The move came after failed talks between Mr Visser and the Land Claims Commission, set up to return to black people land they lost under apartheid.

Mr Visser said he would challenge the decision in court. The government says it wants to hand over about a third of white-owned farm land by 2014.

But progress has been slow, as the policy until now, has meant that both the seller and buyer have to agree on the terms, the BBC's Peter Biles in Johannesburg says.

Protracted negotiations

Mr Visser has the 500-hectare (1,250-acre) cattle and crop farm in Lichtenburg in North West province.

His family bought it in 1968, but a black family has lodged a claim to the property dating back to the 1940s.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, Mr Visser and the Land Claims Commission have been trying to negotiate, but failed to agree on the value of the property.

The government had offered to buy the farm for $275,000 but Mr Visser says it is worth almost twice as much.

Mr Visser now has 21 days to respond to the notice of expropriation.

In the 11 years since the end of apartheid, less than 4% of farmland has been transferred from white to black ownership, he says.
Story from BBC NEWS:

CBS 46 Atlanta - Georgia congressman issues call to action for young

CBS 46 Atlanta - Georgia congressman issues call to action for youngGeorgia congressman issues call to action for young
Oct 13, 2005, 10:06 PM

LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- Noted civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis called on a new generation of young Americans to become more active in shaping the future of the nation.

Lewis, the son of Alabama sharecroppers who founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that played a key role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, said students today could be much more effective agents for change because they are more informed.

"We believed that if we would say something, the government would respond. There's a sense now in America that maybe no one is listening. We need to find a way to build that sense of hope, to tap into the energy and sense of vigor and vitality on the part of young people," he said in an interview. "We need young people to be inspired. We need to call upon the best in them."

He remembered drawing on inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

"They created an age of great expectation. We expected more," he said. "We need people to get out there to inspire us again, all of us. That's why I enjoy speaking to students and people not so young, and trying to inspire them to stand out and speak up."

Lewis was in Arkansas to lecture on racial reconciliation at the Clinton School of Public Service, where 16 students from 11 states and two foreign countries are participating in the only master's degree program of its kind in the nation.

The congressman said he is inspired every time he comes to Little Rock, site of the 1957 school desegregation crisis that became the nation's first test of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the doctrine of separate-but-equal public schools for black and white.

In September 1957, then-President Dwight Eisenhower ordered federal troops to escort nine black students through angry white mobs to classes at Central High School after then-Gov. Orval E. Faubus blocked the nine from enrolling at the all-white flagship high school

"The first time I visited Central High, I cried. To walk through the doors, I felt like I was walking on holy ground," Lewis said. "In 1957, I was 17 years old and I followed the drama of Little Rock, and it inspired me, along with the Montgomery bus boycott, to find a way to get involved in the civil rights movement."

Lewis went on to organize sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters and participated in freedom rides across the South. Always, he and others were prepared to die for what they believed in, he said.

"If you believe in something that is so dear and so necessary, you come to that point where you say 'I'm going to give it my best. So you beat me, you throw me in jail, but I'm going to get out and be mended, patched up and get back out there,"' he said. "You keep going back."

Lewis also called for a new war on poverty to help the poor, whose plight was exposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He urged more emphasis on educating poor children, providing affordable health care and improving wages.

Japan Today - News - Bomb, not Katrina, broke dikes: Farrakhan - Japan's Leading International News Network

Japan Today - News - Bomb, not Katrina, broke dikes: Farrakhan - Japan's Leading International News NetworkBomb, not Katrina, broke dikes: Farrakhan

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Friday, October 14, 2005 at 07:50 JST
WASHINGTON — Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on Thursday claimed that explosives, not Hurricane Katrina, broke New Orleans' dikes and flooded poor African American neighborhoods.

"A member of the Army Corps of Engineers saw burn marks on the concrete," Farrakhan told reporters, describing an email he had received.

BBC NEWS | Europe | US presses Iran on nuclear talks

BBC NEWS | Europe | US presses Iran on nuclear talks US presses Iran on nuclear talks
The US secretary of state has urged Iran to resume talks with the European Union on its nuclear programme.

Condoleezza Rice was speaking after talks with French leaders, who along with Britain and Germany have tried to engage Iran in dialogue.

The US has accused Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons - a charge Tehran vehemently denies.

The US is threatening to refer Iran to the UN Security Council if it fails to scrap plans to enrich uranium.

"There is always the course of negotiation ... but there is also the course of the Security Council," Ms Rice said.

"It is therefore important that Iran negotiate in good faith."

Russia talks

Last month the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), supported a resolution threatening Iran with referral to the UN Security Council.

Russia has helped Tehran develop nuclear reactor facilities.

Ms Rice will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Saturday before heading to London for talks with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Minister Jack Straw.

Negotiations between Iran and three European powers - Britain, France and Germany - remain deadlocked.

IAEA discussions

Since August, Tehran has threatened to resume uranium enrichment.

Last month, the IAEA adopted a resolution which called on Iran to suspend enrichment again. Russia abstained in that vote.

The IAEA will meet again next month but it is still not clear if there is enough backing to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.

This week, Tehran said it would welcome the resumption of talks with the Europeans without preconditions.

Franco-US thaw

When Ms Rice was last in Paris eight months ago, she spoke of opening up a new chapter in Franco-American relations, to heal the rift over the US-led war in Iraq.

Both sides insist they have put all major disagreements behind them and stress they are working together on a range of issues, including foreign policy.

France has pleaded with Washington to take a pragmatic approach to Iran, hoping that despite the current stalemate, diplomacy will eventually win out.

A spokesman for President Jacques Chirac said he and Ms Rice agreed that "the perspective of an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons is unacceptable," the French news agency AFP reported.
Story from BBC NEWS:

BBC NEWS | Europe | US presses Iran on nuclear talks

BBC NEWS | Europe | US presses Iran on nuclear talks US presses Iran on nuclear talks
The US secretary of state has urged Iran to resume talks with the European Union on its nuclear programme.

Condoleezza Rice was speaking after talks with French leaders, who along with Britain and Germany have tried to engage Iran in dialogue.

The US has accused Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons - a charge Tehran vehemently denies.

The US is threatening to refer Iran to the UN Security Council if it fails to scrap plans to enrich uranium.

"There is always the course of negotiation ... but there is also the course of the Security Council," Ms Rice said.

"It is therefore important that Iran negotiate in good faith."

Russia talks

Last month the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), supported a resolution threatening Iran with referral to the UN Security Council.

Russia has helped Tehran develop nuclear reactor facilities.

Ms Rice will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Saturday before heading to London for talks with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Minister Jack Straw.

Negotiations between Iran and three European powers - Britain, France and Germany - remain deadlocked.

IAEA discussions

Since August, Tehran has threatened to resume uranium enrichment.

Last month, the IAEA adopted a resolution which called on Iran to suspend enrichment again. Russia abstained in that vote.

The IAEA will meet again next month but it is still not clear if there is enough backing to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.

This week, Tehran said it would welcome the resumption of talks with the Europeans without preconditions.

Franco-US thaw

When Ms Rice was last in Paris eight months ago, she spoke of opening up a new chapter in Franco-American relations, to heal the rift over the US-led war in Iraq.

Both sides insist they have put all major disagreements behind them and stress they are working together on a range of issues, including foreign policy.

France has pleaded with Washington to take a pragmatic approach to Iran, hoping that despite the current stalemate, diplomacy will eventually win out.

A spokesman for President Jacques Chirac said he and Ms Rice agreed that "the perspective of an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons is unacceptable," the French news agency AFP reported.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Japan Today - News - Republican Senate leader Frist subpoenaed - Japan's Leading International News Network

Japan Today - News - Republican Senate leader Frist subpoenaed - Japan's Leading International News NetworkRepublican Senate leader Frist subpoenaed

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Friday, October 14, 2005 at 07:53 JST
WASHINGTON — Senate Republican majority leader Bill Frist has been subpoenaed by the Security and Exchange Commission to turn over personal records and documents in a probe over possible insider trading, The Washington Post said Thursday.

Issued within the past two weeks, the subpoena involves documents of Frist's sale in July of his shares in the Hospital Corporation of America — a chain founded in 1968 by his father and brother, weeks before its stock plunged.

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Quake rescue mission winds down

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Quake rescue mission winds down Quake rescue mission winds down
The many thousands of homeless urgently need tents and blankets
Rescue operations in Pakistan and Kashmir are being scaled back as hopes fade of finding anyone alive nearly a week after a devastating earthquake.

As thousands of survivors spent a sixth night in the open, a powerful aftershock sent them running into the streets in panic early on Friday.

At least 25,000 people are known to have died, but the UN relief chief says the final figure could exceed 40,000.

Days after the earthquake struck, hundreds of villages remain cut off.

The Pakistani government is planning to set up temporary tent cities to shelter up to two million people estimated to have been left homeless by the quake.

Pakistan's disaster response chief Maj Gen Farooq Javed said it would take many years to rebuild north-east Pakistan, where the earthquake flattened scores of towns and villages.

Hopes fading

Maj Farooq Nasir, spokesman for the army's emergency relief operation in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, said it was unlikely anyone else would be found alive under the rubble.

Disasters Emergency Committee (UK)
World Food Programme
Kashmir International Relief Fund
Red Cross/ Red Crescent
"The technical teams have told us the chance of survival is now less than 2%," he was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

The BBC's Dumeetha Luthra in Muzaffarabad says search and rescue teams are pulling out of the area to make way for relief to take the priority.

She says help is arriving but the problem is the outlying areas - hundreds of villages have yet to be reached by road or even helicopter.

People are dying from a lack of basic medical care, and wounds that have been untreated for days are turning gangrenous.

Neighbouring India, where at least 1,400 people died in the quake, has sent a second consignment of aid to Pakistan.

On Wednesday, India flew 25 tons of supplies to Pakistan - the first such airlift between the traditionally hostile countries in decades.

'Race against time'

The UN's top humanitarian official Jan Egeland is due to meet Pakistani leaders in Islamabad to discuss relief efforts.

I fear we are losing the race against the clock
Jan Egeland
UN relief chief
Mr Egeland warned that the final death toll could soar and that time was running out to save survivors.

"I fear we are losing the race against the clock in the [isolated] small villages," Mr Egeland said after touring the disaster areas by helicopter on Thursday.

The Pakistani army has been using helicopters - including 20 lent by the international community - to drop supplies to remote villages.

But our correspondent says there simply are not enough helicopters to cover the scale of the devastation.

Where valleys are too narrow for helicopters to fly, mule-trains are being used to carry food, blankets and tents to quake-hit communities in desperate need before winter sets in.

Story from BBC NEWS:

At Least 85 Slain as Rebels Attack in South Russia - New York Times

At Least 85 Slain as Rebels Attack in South Russia - New York TimesOctober 14, 2005
At Least 85 Slain as Rebels Attack in South Russia

NALCHIK, Russia, Friday, Oct. 14 - Insurgents attacked at least nine police and security buildings on Thursday in this southern Russian city in coordinated daylight raids, witnesses and the authorities said, further spreading Russia's battle beyond its roots in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Russian officials said at least 85 people had been killed, most of them insurgents.

One band of the masked gunmen overwhelmed a police station and captured hostages, including police officers, and held them into the night. Two gun shops were also sacked. On Friday morning, a senior official for the Interior Ministry said all the hostages had been freed, and the terrorists who had held them had been killed in an early-morning action.

Russian officials cautioned that the military operation was continuing and that the death count could rise. According to initial tallies, 12 police officers and 12 civilians were among those killed.

There were also signs of a planned Russian sweep of areas suspected to hold more gunmen, as a senior government official announced that President Vladimir V. Putin had told the authorities to block the routes in and out of Nalchik, and had ordered the destruction of any insurgents who resisted. A local radio station called on residents to stay in their homes.

"The president has ordered us to keep every militant within Nalchik and to eliminate any armed person resisting detention," said First Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin. "The order of the president will be fulfilled."

Armored vehicles and a heavy presence of Russian troops set up checkpoints. The city, which was almost fully under the authorities' control by late afternoon, fell mostly quiet at night.

The attacks, in Russia's Caucasus region, took place in a city that had remained free until now of the worst violence that has stalked southwestern Russia since war began in nearby Chechnya in 1994, and cast fresh doubts on the Kremlin's insistence that the region has been stabilizing and returning to its control.

Violence this year had already flared anew in Dagestan, where insurgents have been killing police officers and soldiers with near regularity, and last year guerrillas and terrorists conducted large operations in the nearby republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia, where 331 people died in the school siege in Beslan.

A Web site that often carries messages from the Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev, who planned the school siege in Beslan, said the attackers were Islamic fighters aligned with Chechen separatists. It said the attacking bands included local cells as well as fighters from elsewhere who had traveled to the republic for battle.

The fresh attacks sent ripples through the region. The president of the Kremlin-installed government in Chechnya announced that his local forces had been put on alert, as did leaders in Ingushetia. Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of an irregular force of former Chechen guerrillas that is at least publicly loyal to Moscow, offered to send his fighters to Nalchik's aid.

Nalchik itself, a city of about 275,000 and the capital of the internal Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkariya, was crowded with reinforcements, including special Russian Army units. Late Thursday night, convoys of trucks carrying soldiers and an armored personnel carrier were also visible on the roads north of the city, heading toward it.

The attacks on Thursday were also reminiscent of a raid in June 2004 in nearby Ingushetia, when Mr. Basayev led hundreds of guerrillas in simultaneous attacks against police and security offices and barracks. Nearly 100 people were killed, and hundreds of weapons stolen before Mr. Basayev and his gunmen slipped away.

Kabardino-Balkariya, a small and principally Muslim republic with a stagnant economy and about 800,000 residents, has been destabilized in recent years by what the authorities describe as the growing presence of Islamic guerrillas and terrorists, who have had several smaller skirmishes with the authorities.

Its long-serving president, whose recent management of the republic was criticized for corruption and a repressive police force, was replaced only two weeks ago by a Moscow businessman and Kremlin loyalist, Arsen Kanokov.

Mr. Kanokov, 48 and an ethnic Kabardin, arrived at a time when the insurgency had deepened. Late last year, an Islamic group, Yarmuk, was accused of seizing a drug police post, executing four officers, and then escaping with a cache of arms and munitions. Early this week, the police announced the discovery of a large bomb laboratory here.

Marina Kyasova, spokeswoman for the republic's Interior Ministry, said Thursday's violence began when law enforcement officers raided an apartment in Belaya Rechka, an area on the outskirts of the city, at 3 a.m., trapping several suspected Islamic terrorists inside.

The men, who were suspected of being connected to the recently raided bomb laboratory, resisted fiercely, she said. And at 9 a.m., as the fight in Belaya Rechka continued, the police realized they were being attacked elsewhere throughout the city, she said.

Insurgents attacked three police district buildings, she said, as well the headquarters of the Interior Ministry, the office of the special riot police, a police foot-patrol command, a counterterrorism center, an office of the corrections department, and a building used by the F.S.B., or Federal Security Service, one of Russia's successors to the K.G.B.

Two gun shops were also struck at the same time, in an effort by the insurgents to gather weapons.

Liuan Gunzhafov, 26, a lawyer who lives above the Arsenal gun shop on Kirova Street, said he saw a car and a tractor carrying a total of seven masked men arrive at the store at 9 a.m. With several insurgents with Kalashnikov assault rifles standing guard, others tied ropes and cable to the shop's window bars, and used the tractor to tug the bars free of the window frame.

After masked men climbed through the window to try stealing the store's contents, he said, two traffic police officers arrived. A gunfight ensued. One police officer was killed, he said, but not before three insurgents were also shot and the other four had fled. Blood was pooled in the parking lot, where two black ski masks had also been left behind.

The masked men, who spoke Russian, had seemed uninterested in the civilians who peered at them or drove past, Mr. Gunzhafov said. They simply warned people to stay clear. "I leaned over the balcony to watch and one wagged his finger at me," he said.

At government buildings, however, the insurgents fought. The F.S.B. said it had turned back the assault on its building, although one officer was killed.

Most of the other attacks were rebuffed as well, Ms. Kyasova said, but Police District No. 3 was overrun, and at least seven gunmen remained inside with hostages.

Ms. Kyasova said the ministry had confirmed that there were hostages because it had spoken to some of them by telephone. The area around the building was surrounded by police officers in the night.

The Interior Ministry declined to say how many hostages were inside, or their condition. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he said he was forbidden to speak publicly about a continuing operation, said police officers were among them.

As the authorities regained control of the city, the initial tallies indicated the 61 insurgents had been killed, as were 12 law enforcement officers and 12 civilians, Ms. Kyasova said. Many more civilians and security officers were wounded, she said.

It was not clear how many insurgents had attacked; some officials said as many as 300. But Ms. Kyasova said the ministry estimated that 80 or 100 fighters had attacked.

She said some were local men, but "there are also those who are from somewhere else." She declined to elaborate. She also said about half the insurgents wore civilian clothes, and the rest were in camouflage.

Nikolai N. Zakharov, deputy spokesman for the F.S.B., said in a telephone interview that it was too soon to know the number of attackers, or their precise affiliations. There were scattered reports that at least one school had been seized, but that was denied by the pro-Chechen Web site,, and as well as by Dmitry Kozak, the Kremlin envoy in the region.

Similarly, the Interior Ministry said early reports that the airport had been attacked were incorrect; rather, two ministry officials said, airport security forces had assisted the police in a skirmish nearby.

Sophia Kishkovsky and Andrew Kramer contributed reporting from Moscow for this article.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Democrats See Dream of '06 Victory Taking Form - New York Times

Democrats See Dream of '06 Victory Taking Form - New York TimesOctober 13, 2005
Democrats See Dream of '06 Victory Taking Form

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 - Suddenly, Democrats see a possibility in 2006 they have long dreamed of: a sweeping midterm election framed around what they describe as the simple choice of change with the Democrats or more of an unpopular status quo with the Republican majority.

That sense of political opportunity has Democratic operatives scrambling to recruit more candidates in Congressional districts that look newly favorable for Democratic gains, to overcome internal divisions and produce an agenda they can carry into 2006, and to raise the money to compete across a broader field. In short, the Democrats are trying to be ready if, in fact, an anti-incumbent, 1994-style political wave hits.

Already, the response to Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq and soaring gasoline prices have taken a toll on the popularity of President Bush and Congressional Republicans; new polling by the Pew Research Center shows the approval rating for Congressional Republican leaders at 32 percent, with 52 percent disapproving, a sharp deterioration since March. (The ratings of Democratic leaders stood at 32 percent approval, 48 percent disapproval.)

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, released Wednesday night, showed that 13 months before the midterm election, 48 percent said they wanted a Democratic-led Congress, compared to 39 percent who preferred Republican control.

But for Democrats to step into the void, many strategists and elected officials say, they must offer more than a blistering critique of the Republicans in power, the regular attacks on what Democrats now describe as a "culture of cronyism and corruption."

What they need, many Democrats acknowledge, is their own version of the "Contract With America," the Republican agenda (tax cuts, a balanced budget, a stronger military and an array of internal reforms) that the party campaigned on in the 1994 landslide election, when it won control of the House and the Senate.

"I think Democrats understand we have a great opportunity," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "We've gotten much better at blocking some of the bad things the Republicans would do, but we know you can't be a party of long-term majorities unless you put forward the things you would do."

For all the Democratic optimism, important structural obstacles stand in the way of major Democratic gains, outside analysts and Republican campaign officials say.

Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said of the Democrats: "Look, we've heard this talk before. It was always talk then, and it's talk now. If you look at the competitive races, you'll find a playing field that is either relatively even or favors Republicans. They have a huge uphill fight, and there's no evidence they're climbing that hill."

To recapture the House, Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats. That is a difficult feat if - as some predict - the number of competitive seats is fewer than three dozen, thanks largely to redistrictings. To recapture the Senate, Democrats need to pick up six seats, also an extremely high bar given the seats up this year. And while the current political climate is bleak for Republicans, no one knows what it will be a year from now.

Moreover, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had an edge over its Republican counterpart in the last fund-raising reports, Republicans as a whole had a substantial financial advantage. And, Mr. Mehlman said, they will use it.

"There will be no higher priority for the Republican National Committee," he said, "than protecting the majority in the House and the Senate in 2006, meaning that we intend to be very helpful from a resource perspective, an advice perspective, an expertise perspective."

Charles Cook, the influential nonpartisan analyst of Congressional elections, said: "Right now, if I had to bet would the Democrats take the House and Senate back, I'd say no. But are the odds a heck of a lot better than they were three months ago or six months ago? Heck, yes."

Reflecting that shift in assessments, Democrats are preparing for a midterm with broad, national themes and possibilities - like 1982, 1986 and 1994. Democratic leaders from the House, the Senate, the national party and representatives of mayors and governors have met periodically to try to produce their own campaign agenda for 2006, which they hope to unveil early next year, strategists and senators said.

That agenda will deal with energy independence, broader access to health care and college education, government reform, economic security and - the most divisive issue for the Democrats - Iraq and national security, Democratic strategists say.

Whether to offer Democratic alternatives or simply critique the Republicans has been a long-running argument in the party during its years in the minority; earlier this year, that debate was engaged on Social Security. (The Democrats refused to put an alternative on the table during that fight, focusing on the Bush plan.) But several strategists said there was widespread consensus on the need for a general set of alternatives in 2006 to highlight Democratic values and priorities - and to step forward earlier than the Republicans did in 1994, when they unveiled their Contract with America in September.

In the meantime, Democrats are trying to set the stage for an anti-incumbent year, arguing, in a variety of venues: "America Can Do Better." Under that rubric, Senate Democrats have been holding events out in the country this week highlighting the problems of high energy costs as winter approaches.

On another front, Democratic campaign officials are racing to recruit more House candidates in places like Ohio and Kentucky. Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the Democratic whip and a leader in the recruitment effort, said he spent part of last week in Ohio with potential candidates, and his message is simple: "My basic premise is, I think this is the best context for Democrats to be running in for the House of Representatives since 1994."

Mr. Bush's approval ratings are, perhaps, the most closely watched political indicator at the moment. Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said, "In every midterm election season, a president with approval ratings as low as President Bush's has had his party taking it on the chin."

But much can change in 12 months. And Republicans note that while the popularity of Mr. Bush and the Congressional Republicans is down, the ratings for Congressional Democrats have not risen.

In the meantime, the different strategies of the parties are apparent. "These guys represent the status quo, and we are change," said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. His Republican counterpart, Representative Thomas M. Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, argued in a recent memorandum that, "in the end, Congressional elections have less to do with current events, opinions and polls, than they do with the fundamentals," which he defined as "money, message and members."

BBC NEWS | Technology | Apple iPod sets sights on video

BBC NEWS | Technology | Apple iPod sets sights on video Apple iPod sets sights on video
By Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website

Apple has set its sights on conquering the world of portable video with the launch of a sound and vision version of its iconic iPod.

It is looking to build on the success of its digital music player, having sold 28 million music-playing iPods since 2001.

"Because millions of people around the world will buy this new iPod to play music, it will quickly become the most popular portable video player in history," said Apple boss Steve Jobs at the launch of the device.

But the computer maker is coming late to the world of video on the go. There are several media players available from Microsoft and its hardware partners, as well as gadgets from rivals Creative and Archos.

And the Japanese electronic giant Sony recently entered the fray with its PlayStation Portable (PSP), which sports a large screen to play films on its UMD discs.

"Sony has the design skills to match its devices and, the PSP, with its added gaming appeal, could rival Apple," said Salman Momen, technology analyst at Capgemini.

Question of content

So far, portable video players have failed to make much of an impact. Many of the devices have been bulky and getting TV shows or films onto them has often proved frustrating.

While there are dozens of legitimate online music services, finding portable video is another story. Most video online is streaming media which means it cannot be downloaded, and copy protection on DVDs makes it hard to transfer the content to a portable player.

This is video as a feature on an iPod. When Apple are ready to do video, you will see something more complete and more video-focused
Nate Elliott, Jupiter Research
Instead many have turned to illegal file-sharing sites, where thousands trade copies of popular TV shows and Hollywood blockbusters.

Apple is addressing some of these shortcomings by providing more than 2,000 music videos through its popular iTunes online music store.

The deal with ABC and Disney means it can offer legal downloads in the US of TV hits like Lost and Desperate Housewives for $1.99 a day after the shows air.

"This is a learning process for Apple," said Nate Elliott, digital home analyst at Jupiter Research. "There is no mass market for portable video today and they understand that.

"That market will exist at some point in the future. It is never a bad idea to start learning about the technology and how consumers want to use video on the go, and start the relationships with the content providers."

"This isn't a video device," insisted Mr Elliott. "This is video as a feature on an iPod. When Apple are ready to do video, you will see something more complete and more video-focused. "

Familiar feel

The new iPod is thinner than previous models and sports a 2.5 inch (6.35cm) colour screen that is 320 by 240 pixels in size.

In the UK the 30GB version should cost £219 ($299 in the US) and the 60GB version £299 ($399).

"It is the first step towards what will become a proper portable video player but it is not there yet," said Graham Barlow, editor of MacFormat magazine.

"Ideally I would have liked a screen the size of the PSP. But Apple have kept the look and feel of the iPod and the screen is big enough to watch TV programmes on."

"As soon as you hold it, you have this feeling 'I want one of these', especially with the black one. The next step is to come out with different colours, especially for the female market," said Mr Barlow.

As well as launching the new iPod, Apple has also unveiled a new iMac G5 computer. It comes with a remote control and a software package called Front Row to let people use the machine as a digital entertainment hub in the home.

"For the iPod generation, the flexibility of being able to watch TV programmes on their own terms means broadcasters need to rethink what we do," said the BBC's head of new media, Ashley Highfield.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Amtrak Breakup Advances - New York Times

Amtrak Breakup Advances - New York TimesOctober 13, 2005
Amtrak Breakup Advances

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 - The Amtrak board has approved an essential step in the Bush administration plan to break up the railroad, voting to carve out the Northeast Corridor, the tracks between Boston and Washington, as a separate division.

The board, made up entirely of Mr. Bush's appointees, voted in a meeting on Sept. 22 to create a new subsidiary to own and manage the corridor, which includes nearly all the track that Amtrak owns.

The vote was not announced. It was reported on Wednesday in the newsletter of the United Rail Passenger Alliance of Jacksonville, Fla., an organization that has been highly critical of Amtrak management.

The plan, which would require action by Congress, is to transfer the corridor to a consortium including the federal government and the governments of the states in the region that would share the costs to maintain it.

That would relieve Amtrak from spending billions of dollars to build and rebuild bridges, rails and electrical systems, but still let the company run its trains.

The plan would also remove Amtrak from control of that sector, a condition that the railroad's senior executives say would doom high-speed long-distance service. Managers say they have to be able to give their trains priority over local traffic if they have any hope of keeping their schedules.

A large majority of trains in the corridor are shorter-distance commuter trains operated by state agencies in metropolitan regions, although Amtrak trains accrue a majority of the miles traveled.

The four-member board has shown ambivalence to some aspects of the administration's proposal.

On April 21, the chairman, David M. Laney, testified before a Senate committee, "We have concluded for now that the complexities and risks associated with such a split outweigh any benefits."

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Mr. Laney denied that the vote to make the corridor a separate operating division was a precursor to separating it from Amtrak entirely.

He said it was a way to make the costs clear, for the Northeast corridor, other corridors around the country and for long-distance and transcontinental trains. Such clarity is needed, Mr. Laney said, so Amtrak could ask states for subsidies for operating costs or capital costs, without the states' believing that their money was going to pay for operations in other regions.

"The combination of federal and state support for intercity passenger rail is the only way it's going to be revitalized, in our judgment," Mr. Laney said. "But we've got to be able to deliver numbers to Congress, to the corridor states and the other states where we have operations."

Amtrak supporters saw darker motives in the board's vote. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, one of four main sponsors of a bipartisan bill to shore up the railroad, said separating the corridor was intended to package it for a change in ownership.

"The Bush administration wants to hold a fire sale on Amtrak and dump its best asset, the Northeast Corridor," Mr. Lautenberg said in a statement. "Selling the Northeast corridor is the first step in President Bush's plan to destroy Amtrak and intercity rail service in America."

At the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which lobbies for more subsidies for Amtrak, the executive director, Ross B. Capon, said that separating the corridor into a distinct business entity was a step toward moving it out of Amtrak entirely, but that the move would also have a second effect, insulating the commuter operations in the Northeast from Amtrak troubles. That, Mr. Capon said, would give more leverage to the Transportation Department, which has been leading the charge to close Amtrak or break it up.

"Their dream is an Amtrak crisis where the commuter trains are unaffected and, therefore, the political power behind the protest is that much smaller, and they can go ahead and do whatever they want with or too Amtrak," he said.

A spokesman for the Transportation Department had no comment.

Although the administration has proposed phasing out Amtrak unless major changes are enacted, the House has approved an appropriation of nearly $1.2 billion for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, about the same level as the previous year. The Senate may take up the appropriations bill next week. The version passed in committee calls for $1.45 billion.

$11 Million a Day Spent on Hotels for Storm Relief - New York Times

$11 Million a Day Spent on Hotels for Storm Relief - New York TimesOctober 13, 2005
$11 Million a Day Spent on Hotels for Storm Relief

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 - Straining to meet President Bush's mid-October deadline to clear out shelters, the federal government has moved hundreds of thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina into hotel rooms at a cost of about $11 million a night, a strategy local officials and some members of Congress criticize as incoherent and wasteful.

The number of people in hotels has grown by 60 percent in the past two weeks as some shelters closed, reaching nearly 600,000 as of Tuesday. Even so, relief officials say they cannot meet the deadline, as more than 22,000 people were still in shelters in 14 states on Wednesday.

The reliance on hotels has been necessary, housing advocates say, because the Federal Emergency and Management Agency has had problems installing mobile homes and travel trailers for evacuees and has been slow to place victims in apartments that real estate executives say are available throughout the southeast.

Hotel costs are expected to grow to as much as $425 million by Oct. 24, a large expense never anticipated by the FEMA, which is footing the bill. While the agency cannot say how that number will affect overall spending for storm relief, critics point out that hotel rooms, at an average cost of $59 a night, are significantly more expensive than apartments and are not suitable for months-long stays.

Officials in cities from Dallas to Atlanta, which are accommodating thousands of evacuees, give credit for getting 90 percent of the victims out of shelters. But they say they are frustrated by FEMA's record in helping place people in more adequate housing.

"Deplorable. Disappointing. Outrageous. That is how I feel about it," said the Atlanta mayor, Shirley Franklin, a Democrat, in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "The federal response has just been unacceptable. It is like talking to a brick wall."

Even conservative housing experts have criticized the Bush administration's handling of the temporary housing response. "I am baffled," said Ronald D. Utt, a former senior official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Reagan administration aide who is now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative research organization. "This is not incompetence. This is willful. That is the only way I can explain it."

Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the federal government was moving as quickly as it could to find temporary housing. But the scale of the catastrophe has made it difficult, she said.

"Clearly we have never encountered the size and scope of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina," she said. "Housing half a million people is a challenge by any standard."

The American Red Cross started the hotel program days after Hurricane Katrina struck, when it became clear that the shelters it had opened were not adequate to deal with the 600,000 to 700,000 families displaced by the storm, a spokeswoman, Carrie Martin, said.

The hotel program was intended to last a couple of weeks but has twice been extended by FEMA. Now Red Cross officials are saying there is no end to the initiative, which pays for 192,424 rooms in 9,606 hotels across the United States, in a range of cities as diverse as Casper, Wyo., and Anchorage, Alaska.

Congress last month appropriated a $62.3 billion for the relief effort, most of it designated for FEMA. The agency had told Congress that it expected to spend more than $2 billion to buy up to 300,000 travel trailers and mobile homes to house displaced residents. The agency also planned to give out $23.2 billion in assistance to victims for emergency needs and for temporary housing and housing repairs.

But the temporary housing program has been troubled since the start, observers say. Instead of setting up as many as 30,000 trailers and mobile homes every two weeks, as of Tuesday, just 7,308 were occupied. Even counting berths on the four ships that FEMA has leased and rooms on military bases and elsewhere, the agency has provided only 10,940 occupied housing units for victims in the three Gulf states.

FEMA, reacting to criticism that it might create super-concentrated slums, has scaled back plans to build so-called FEMAvilles with up to 25,000 trailers.

Even a less ambitious plan - complexes with 200 or so units - has been slow to unfold. FEMA officials cite the reluctance by some rural parishes or landowners to welcome evacuees.

But landowners and some state officials in Louisiana blame bureaucratic fumbles by FEMA. Bill BacquƩ, co-owner of a trailer park in Lafayette, La., said he offered property for 45 trailers within days of the storm. Negotiations with FEMA were still under way this week, he said. "Things do not move fast," Mr. BacquƩ said.

Late last month, FEMA began handing out $2,358 for three months so that families in shelters or hotels could rent apartments.

To date, more than 415,000 households have been approved for that aid, totaling $979 million. But FEMA officials cannot say how many families have used the money for apartments, or simply spent it on expenses while also living in a government-financed hotel room.

David Degruy, his wife, Debra, and their six children, of New Orleans, have done just that while staying in two rooms paid for by FEMA at the Greenway Inn and Suites in Houston.

"We're trying to save the money so that when do get in a house we'll be able to buy things," Mr. Degruy said. "We eat out sometimes, we buy clothes, personal hygiene things."

Some officials criticize FEMA for a passive approach in dealing with cities and hurricane evacuees.

Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who sits on a House panel that helps oversee the housing effort, complained that it was unreasonable for the federal government to expect that a family led by jobless parents, with no car, little savings and little familiarity with a new city could independently find an apartment.

"The administration's policy is incoherent and socially seriously flawed," he said in an interview.

Real estate officials say that although there are few available apartments in Louisiana, there are many vacancies in apartment buildings across the South, including perhaps 300,000 in Texas alone.

"What are these guys doing?" Jim Arbury, an official with the National Multi Housing Council, a group of building owners and managers, said of FEMA. "All of this housing is available now."

Some housing experts say the Bush administration should follow the approach taken after the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, when displaced residents were given prepaid housing vouchers instead of having to negotiate and pay a lease on their own.

"We are wasting money hand over fist because we did not deploy the right policy tools," said Bruce Katz, a vice president at the Brookings Institution, a liberal research group in Washington. "We could have thousands, if not tens of thousands of families, in stable permanent housing right now. And we would not have to turn to these costly measures, like hotels, motels and cruise ships."

Ms. Andrews, the FEMA spokeswoman, defended the housing policy. "The program is designed to give those who it affects the most the control over their own lives," she said.

Some cities, including Houston and San Antonio, have taken an active role in helping families find housing by creating their own voucher program, identifying vacant units, paying for six-month leases and then turning over the unit to the evacuees. FEMA has promised to reimburse the cities for the housing costs.

"You can't just give people a check and say, 'Good luck, we will see you,' " said San Antonio's assistant city manager, Christopher J. Brady. "It would not be a sufficient solution."

FEMA officials said other cities can set up similar programs. But Mayor Franklin of Atlanta and Mayor Laura Miller of Dallas have said they cannot do so without being paid in advance by the federal government.

Expressing frustration that she could not offer more help to the 39,000 displaced people who have come to Georgia, Mayor Franklin said FEMA's expectations that her city could advance housing money were unrealistic.

"Our government is not large enough to do that," she said. "We can't absorb the costs."

Thayer Evans contributed reporting from Houston for this article, Lily Koppel from Baton Rouge, and Andy Lehren from New York.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bush Reassures Conservatives Once Again on Court Nominee - New York Times

Bush Reassures Conservatives Once Again on Court Nominee - New York TimesBush Reassures Conservatives Once Again on Court Nominee

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 - President Bush sought again today to reassure conservatives about his Supreme Court nominee, Harriet E. Miers, and he said that Ms. Miers's religion was pertinent to the overall discussion about her.

"People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers," Mr. Bush said. "They want to know Harriet Miers's background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions.

"Part of Harriet Miers's life is her religion," Mr. Bush went on, in remarks that may be revived during Ms. Miers's confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee several weeks from now. "Part of it has to do with the fact that she was a pioneer woman and a trailblazer in the law in Texas."

The president went on to say, in a brief question-answer session with reporters at the White House, that Ms. Miers was "eminently qualified" to sit on the court, and that she would be a justice who "will not legislate from the bench but strictly interpret the Constitution."

Mr. Bush's allusion to Ms. Miers came shortly after the conservative James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, was quoted as saying on a radio program that he had discussed the nominee's religious views with the president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove.

Mr. Dobson said he talked to Mr. Rove on Oct. 1, two days before Mr. Bush announced his choice, and had been told that "Harriet Miers is an Evangelical Christian, that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life, that she has taken on the American Bar Association on the issue of abortion and fought for a policy that would not be supportive of abortion, that she had been a member of the Texas Right to Life."

Mr. Dobson went on to say that he and Mr. Rove had not discussed cases that might come before the court and that "we did not discuss Roe v. Wade in any context." The Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade established a woman's right to have an abortion.

The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, rejected any suggestion that Mr. Rove was speaking in "code," as one questioner put it, to reassure conservatives about the nominee's beliefs.

"What Karl emphasized in that conversation is that she is someone that has the qualifications and experience and the judicial philosophy that the American people want to see on our nation's highest court," Mr. McClellan said.

Mr. McClellan also tried to swat down a suggestion that the White House was "trying to calm a revolt on the right" over fears that Ms. Miers is not conservative enough. "It seems like the media want to focus on things other than her qualifications," he said.

A leading Democrat expressed unease over what Mr. Dobson said in his conversation with Mr. Rove. "The rest of America, including the Senate, deserves to know what he and the White House know," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking minority member on the Judiciary Committee. "We don't confirm justices of the Supreme Court on a wink and a nod. And a litmus test is no less a litmus test by using whispers and signals."

President Bush has said that he has no "litmus test" for judicial nominees, and that he has not discussed the Roe v. Wade decision with Ms. Miers.

The Miers nomination has already been greeted with wariness, even near hostility, by some conservatives Republicans, who have expressed doubts that Ms. Miers is really one of their own. The nominee has never been a judge and so has left no "paper trail" of opinions to dissect.

Critics on the right have also complained that Ms. Miers has given no sign that she has studied or even pondered the sort of constitutional issues that define the modern conservative-liberal divide, and that the White House bypassed conservative legal scholars and justices who had done so in favor of a presidential aide whose chief qualification appeared to be her proximity and loyalty to Mr. Bush.

Conservative Christians initially resisted discussion of religion when Judge John G. Roberts Jr., a Roman Catholic, was nominated for the Supreme Court. "We are going to be vigilant to make sure that there is not this religious litmus test imposed," Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, an evangelical Protestant group, said in August.

Judge Roberts told the Judiciary Committee that his private beliefs would not affect how he rules on matters of law. He was endorsed by the committee and confirmed overwhelmingly by the Senate as chief justice of the United States.

The liberal group People for the American Way condemned Mr. Bush's remarks today, accusing him and his aides of sending signals to conservatives that Ms. Miers would oppose abortion rights once she was on the bench.

"What's wrong for John Roberts can't be right for Harriet Miers," said Ralph G. Neas, the organization's president. "Her legal views on constitutional issues must be thoroughly explored. But whether they're shouting it from the rooftops or whispering into the ears of their right-wing supporters, Miers's personal religious beliefs should have no place in her nomination."

The White House spokesman, Mr. McClellan, was asked whether the White House was emphasizing Ms. Miers's religion more than it emphasized the religion of Judge Roberts.

"Harriet Miers is a person of faith," Mr. McClellan replied. "She recognizes, however, that a person's religion or personal views have no role when it comes to making decisions as a judge." He said it was necessary for the White House to convey information about the nominee because "Harriet Miers is not someone who has sought the limelight."

Japan Today - News - Japan stresses global nuke treaty in disarmament resolution - Japan's Leading International News Network

Japan Today - News - Japan stresses global nuke treaty in disarmament resolution - Japan's Leading International News NetworkJapan stresses global nuke treaty in disarmament resolution

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Thursday, October 13, 2005 at 07:13 JST
NEW YORK — Japan submitted a revised nuclear disarmament draft resolution to the United Nations on Wednesday, underscoring the importance of an effective framework for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The new draft resolution, which was submitted to the First Committee of the General Assembly, declares a renewed determination to call on all nuclear powers to reduce their nuclear arms in an irreversible, verifiable and transparent manner and eventually lead to a complete elimination of such weapons.

NPR : Iraqi Legislators Approve Compromise Deal

NPR : Iraqi Legislators Approve Compromise DealIraqi Legislators Approve Compromise Deal

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by Anne Garrels and Michele Norris

All Things Considered, October 12, 2005 · The Iraqi parliament backs a last-minute deal meant to reassure Sunni Arabs and gain their support for the draft constitution ahead of Saturday's nationwide vote on the document. Kurd, Shiite and Sunni leaders hailed the news as evidence that different groups can work together in Iraq.

African Food for Africa's Starving Is Roadblocked in Congress - New York Times

African Food for Africa's Starving Is Roadblocked in Congress - New York TimesOctober 12, 2005
Poverty Memo
African Food for Africa's Starving Is Roadblocked in Congress

It seemed like a no-brainer: changing the law to allow the federal government to buy food in Africa for Africans facing starvation instead of paying enormous sums to ship it from the American heartland, halfway around the world. Not only would the food get to the hungry in weeks instead of months, the government would save money and help African farmers at the same time.

The new approach had an impeccable sponsor in Republican-dominated Washington. The Bush administration, famous for its go-it-alone style, was trying to move the United States - by far the world's biggest food donor - into the international mainstream with a proposal to take a step in just this direction. A lot of rich countries had already done so, most recently Canada.

So why is this seemingly sensible, cost-effective proposal near death in Congress?

Fundamentally, because the proposal challenges the political bargain that has formed the basis for food aid over the past half century: that American generosity must be good not just for the world's hungry but also for American agriculture. That is why current law stipulates that all food aid provided by the United States Agency for International Development be grown by American farmers and mostly shipped on United States-flag vessels. More practically, however, it is because the administration's proposal has run into opposition from three interests some critics call the Iron Triangle of food aid: agribusiness, the shipping industry and charitable organizations.

Just four companies and their subsidiaries, led by Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, sold more than half the $700 million in food commodities provided through the United States Agency for International Development's food aid program in 2004, government records show. Just five shipping companies received over half the more than $300 million spent to ship that food, records show.

Members of Congress often applaud the benefits of food aid for American farmers, but that is not really how it works, as Christopher B. Barrett, a Cornell University economist and co-author of "Food Aid After Fifty Years: Recasting its Role," noted. "It's the middlemen who enjoy most of the gains," he said, "not the farmers."

Mr. Barrett's research has established a third side to the triangle of interests with a deep stake in the status quo: nonprofit aid organizations. He and his co-author, Daniel Maxwell, a CARE official, found that at least seven of them, including Catholic Relief Services and CARE itself, depended on food aid for a quarter to half their budgets in 2001. Those groups distribute food in poor countries. But what is less well known is that they have also become grain traders, selling substantial amounts of the donated food on local markets in poor countries to generate tens of millions of dollars for their antipoverty programs. Given that at least 50 cents of each dollar's worth of food aid is spent on transport, storage and administrative costs, selling food to raise money in, say, Africa, is an exceedingly inefficient way to finance long-term development, Mr. Barrett said. Better to just give nonprofit groups the money directly.

Had the Agency for International Development had the authority to buy food in Ethiopia in the mid-1980's, when a million perished, or in 1999-2000 when 20,000 died, it could have saved many more lives, said its administrator, Andrew S. Natsios, who added, "Speed is everything in a famine response."

He pushed within the administration for a proposal that would allow up to a quarter of his agency's food aid budget to be spent in developing countries. President Bush approved the idea, he said, and it was included in the proposed 2006 budget introduced in February.

Ed Fox, the agency's assistant administrator for legislative and public affairs, said the issue was deliberately given a low profile. Little was to be gained from putting members of Congress in the position of choosing between agricultural constituencies and starving children, he said.

But if the proposal was little noticed by the general public, it did not escape the attention of groups representing the so-called Iron Triangle, who argued that cash used to buy food was more likely to be misused or stolen than were in-kind food donations. They maintained that the administration's proposal should not come at the expense of a program "upon which American producers, processors and shipping companies rely," as a statement from an ad hoc coalition of 17 companies and associations put it.

The Coalition for Food Aid, which represents 16 nonprofit groups, also opposed it. While supporting the idea of buying food in poor countries, said Ellen Levinson, the coalition's lobbyist, its members favored a more limited pilot program paid for only with additional appropriations, not money from the agency's core budget.

Ms. Levinson criticized the administration for failing to spell out how its plan would work, and said a carefully monitored pilot was needed to ensure that food bought in poor countries was safe and that the purchases did not drive up food prices for the poor. She also cautioned that food bought near a crisis would not necessarily be quicker to arrive, noting that the European Union has been very slow to release cash for food in some cases.

But Oxfam, which accepts no direct American food aid and is not part of the coalition, has actively supported the administration's proposal. In testimony submitted to Congress, it pointedly noted that the current system offered too many opportunities "for a variety of private interests to skim off benefits in the procurement, packaging, transportation and distribution of commodities."

And CARE, the second largest distributor of United States food aid and a member of the coalition, had a change of heart. It has now given unconditional support to food purchases in developing countries.

The food aid debate will flare again later this year as global trade talks approach, with the European Union proposing that rich countries give a growing portion of their food aid as cash. But, for now, the administration's proposal is going nowhere. Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, still hopes Congress will ultimately allow up to 10 percent of food aid to be spent in poor countries. "It's a question of trying to save lives," he said.

But opposition remains strong. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who heads the House Agriculture Committee, said even Mr. DeWine's modest compromise "would break a coalition that has resulted in one of the most successful food aid programs in world history."

In Canada this year, the politics of food aid has unfolded in a starkly different way, with the leading nonprofit group, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the country's main umbrella organization of farm groups, supporting a sharp reduction of the amount of food bought in Canada. "Canadian farmers are not going to say you have to source food in Canada regardless of whether starving people are waiting for it," said the federation's president, Robert Friesen.

G.O.P. Aides Add Voices to Resistance Over Nominee - New York Times

G.O.P. Aides Add Voices to Resistance Over Nominee - New York TimesOctober 12, 2005
G.O.P. Aides Add Voices to Resistance Over Nominee

As the White House seeks to rally senators behind the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers, lawyers for the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee are expressing dissatisfaction with the choice and pushing back against her, aides to 6 of the 10 Republican committee members said yesterday.

"Everybody is hoping that something will happen on Miers, either that the president would withdraw her or she would realize she is not up to it and pull out while she has some dignity intact," a lawyer to a Republican committee member said.

All the Republican staff members insisted on anonymity for fear of retaliation from their supervisors and from the Senate leaders.

At two stormy meetings on Friday - the first a planning meeting of the chief counsels to Republican committee members and the second a Republican staff meeting with Ed Gillespie, the former Republican Party chairman who is helping to lobby for the nomination - committee lawyers were unanimous in their dismay over Ms. Miers's qualifications and conservative credentials, several attendees said.

Many lawyers were critical or hostile, these people said, although Michael E. O'Neill, chief counsel to the committee chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, tried to remain relatively neutral. Mr. O'Neill could not be reached for comment.

"You could say there is pretty much uniform disappointment with the nomination at the staff level," another Republican on the committee staff said. "It is clear there is quite a bit of skepticism, and even some flashes of hostility."

Another Republican aide close to the committee said, "I don't know a staffer who approves of this nomination, anywhere. Most of it is outright hostility throughout the Judiciary Committee staff."

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Specter emphasized that the senators would make their own decisions.

"I think those staffers, like anybody else, have a right to their opinions and to express them," he said. "Senators will make independent judgments. You have some pretty strong staffers on the committee, but you have got some stronger senators."

Of the 10 Republicans on the panel, Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma have expressed the most skepticism about Ms. Miers. Most decline to commit themselves.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for supporter on the committee, Senator John. Cornyn of Texas, said: "I think that the staff are all very well versed in the process and in this particular nominee, but so are the senators. I think you will see, and already have seen, quite a lot of support out of the senators."

The resistance among the panel lawyers reflects the challenge facing Mr. Bush in unifying his party and the conservative movement behind Ms. Miers.

On Tuesday, James C. Dobson, founder of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family, explained previous comments about confidential information that had influenced him to support Ms. Miers, a mystery that led some senators to threaten to call him to testify before the Judiciary Committee.

According to a transcript of his radio broadcast today, Mr. Dobson said he was referring to a confidential telephone conversation with Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, about Ms. Miers that occurred two days before Mr. Bush announced her selection. Mr. Rove gave Mr. Dobson permission to discuss the call, and much of the information has now become public, Mr. Dobson said.

In addition to telling Mr. Dobson about her membership in a conservative evangelical church and her past support for an anti-abortion group in Texas, Mr. Rove assured him that Ms. Miers was the kind of conservative jurist that the president had promised to appoint, and that "the president knew her well enough to say so with complete confidence," Mr. Dobson recounted.

Republican staff members on the Judiciary Committee usually research and prepare arguments to defend the president's nominees. But Republican staff members on the panel said committee lawyers were doing research to rebut the "talking points" the White House has provided for senators to support Ms. Miers's nomination.

For example, committee lawyers said, the White House has told senators and conservative activists that Ms. Miers, as White House counsel, deserves credit for helping Mr. Bush select many strongly conservative federal judges. But lawyers for the committee say Ms. Miers, who became White House counsel last year, had no role in the most significant nominations.

People at the meeting on Friday of the judiciary panel lawyers said Mr. O'Neill, Mr. Specter's chief counsel , argued that Ms. Miers deserved a chance to speak for herself, especially because staff members were unacquainted with her legal work.

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Aid floods into earthquake region

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Aid floods into earthquake region Aid floods into earthquake region
Aid is pouring into regions affected by Saturday's South Asian earthquake, after relief efforts were temporarily suspended because of bad weather.

But correspondents say there is concern about a lack of co-ordination, with supplies yet to reach remote areas.

UN officials have warned of a growing threat of disease, and are asking for aid delivery to be stepped up.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has announced she is to visit Pakistan to assess the devastation.

Ms Rice, who is on a scheduled tour of Central Asia and Afghanistan, will also meet President Pervez Musharraf.

Some four million people have been affected by the quake, which has claimed 23,000 lives, most in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

In the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, the authorities say at least 1,300 people are now known to have died, but the number is likely to rise.

Traffic jam

The 7.6 magnitude quake damaged sanitation facilities, destroyed hospitals and killed medical staff.

Many survivors have no access to clean water, making them vulnerable to diseases such as malaria, cholera and measles.

The BBC's Andrew North in Balakot, one of the worst hit areas, says the road into the town is jammed with vehicles bringing in blankets, food and tents, with more supplies coming in by helicopter.

World Food Programme
Kashmir International Relief Fund
Red Cross/ Red Crescent

But around the town there are still thousands living in the open without proper assistance, and many more in villages up the valley, he says.

There are complaints about people from unaffected areas stealing aid supplies and looting collapsed homes, as the authorities struggle to keep order.

Another BBC correspondent, Dumeetha Luthra in Muzaffarabad, says she has yet to see large-scale relief operations there.

She says people are still having to search for water, food and blankets in the cold and damp conditions.

Flies buzz around bodies still lying in the streets.

Health plan

Sewage has contaminated the river Neelum, the city's main source of drinking water.

"Health services have totally collapsed here and malaria, gastroenteritis and water-borne diseases have already spread in worst-hit areas of the city," said Khawaja Shabir, the province's health chief.

Mr Shabir said plans to avert a major health crisis were being drawn involving the immediate removal of bodies and aerial spray on all affected areas.

Ms Rice pledged to mobilise long-term international support to help Pakistan, an important US military ally, recover from the disaster.

"I do want to affirm with the Pakistani people that the international community and the US are with them in this terrible time," she said in Kabul after arriving from Kyrgyzstan.

Torrential rains on Tuesday briefly grounded helicopters and slowed the progress of relief trucks on the roads.

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BBC NEWS | Americas | US accused over young offenders

BBC NEWS | Americas | US accused over young offenders US accused over young offenders
The US must stop giving young offenders life sentences without the chance of parole, human rights groups have said.

A report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said such prisoners - numbering at least 2,225 in the US - must have access to parole processes.

The report says no more than 12 young offenders are serving life without parole in the rest of the world, where the punishment is largely outlawed.

The rights groups spoke to some 375 inmates and used data from many states.

The 157-page report, entitled The Rest of their Lives: Life without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States, was compiled over two years.

It found that 42 US states have laws allowing for offenders under the age of 18 to be sentenced to jail for life with no possibility of parole.

'Robbed of redemption'

Virginia, Louisiana and Michigan were found to be the most aggressive in imposing such sentences.

The practice is outlawed in many countries and by international law, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Kids who commit serious crimes shouldn't go scot-free. But if they are too young to vote or buy cigarettes, they are too young to spend the rest of their lives behind bars
Alison Parker
Human Rights Watch

The US and Somalia are the only two countries that have not ratified the treaty, the rights groups said.

Children too young to vote or buy cigarettes should also be considered too young to spend the rest of their lives behind bars, Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Alison Parker said in a statement.

The executive director of Amnesty International in the US, William F Schulz, said the judicial system must be changed.

The courts, he warned, were in danger of becoming "assembly lines that mass produce mandatory life without parole sentences for children, that ignore their enormous potential for change and rob them of all hopes of redemption".

Racial profile

The report claims that an increasing number of children are receiving life without parole, even as the number of children convicted of serious crimes such as murder has fallen.

It found that the vast majority - 93% - of young offenders serving the sentence had been guilty of murder.

However, some 26% of youths sentenced to life without parole were guilty of "felony murder", where they were deemed accomplices to murder, even if they did not directly kill anyone.

The report cited the example of a 15-year-old prisoner, Peter A, who received the sentence because he had stolen a van used by two older accomplices who committed a double murder during a robbery.

Across the US, black youth were found to be 10 times more likely to receive life without parole than white youth.

In Pennsylvania, Hispanic youth were found to be ten times more likely to receive the sentence than their white contemporaries.

A spokesman for Mark Warner, the governor of Virginia, told the Associated Press news agency the punishment had widespread public support in the state.

Kevin Hall told the agency the governor believes young offenders should be able to receive life without parole "for crimes so heinous that prosecutors present that as an option".

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