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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Zimbabwe Issues Warning to Remaining Journalists - New York Times

Zimbabwe Issues Warning to Remaining Journalists - New York TimesJanuary 28, 2006
Zimbabwe Issues Warning to Remaining Journalists

JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 27 — Zimbabwe's security minister was quoted Friday in a government-controlled newspaper as saying that "the net will soon close" on those remaining journalists whose criticism of the government threatens the nation's security.

The warning from the official, Didymus Mutasa, followed the arrest this month of employees and directors of Voice of the People, a news organization based in the capital, Harare, that had broadcast uncensored reports into Zimbabwe via a shortwave transmitter in Madagascar operated by the Dutch government.

The police in Mutare, in eastern Zimbabwe, also seized a well-known journalist on Jan. 18 and held him for three days on charges of violating the state's media laws. The journalist, Sidney Saize, was released last Saturday, but prosecutors indicated that he would still face charges.

Mr. Mutasa suggested that more arrests were coming, saying that some Zimbabwean journalists have worked for foreign news organizations under pseudonyms but that the government "had since identified them from their closets."

The journalists were "driven by the love for the United States dollars and British pounds, which they are paid by the foreign media houses to peddle lies," he was quoted as saying in a report in The Manica Post, a state-run newspaper in Mutare.

Independent journalists have been under assault in Zimbabwe since 2003, when the government closed down the biggest newspaper, The Daily News, which often criticized President Robert G. Mugabe's government. Only two weekly newspapers of significance remain outside government control, and all broadcast outlets are state-run.

Civil liberties advocates in Zimbabwe said in interviews on Friday that the latest comments might signal a new effort by the government to close down the remaining channels for disagreement with official policy.

Otto Saki, a lawyer with the advocacy group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said the government appeared to be carrying out proposals made at a December conference of the governing Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, to suppress dissent.

That party conference singled out independent journalists, human-rights groups and civic organizations as "weapons of mass destruction" that presented a threat to the state.

"This is the culmination of various efforts and statements by government officials on their intentions to possibly rein in individual organizations that are in the fore of critiquing human rights and general governance," Mr. Saki said in a telephone interview from Harare. "It's a well-calculated policy which is going to be orchestrated with the help of various arms of the government."

In December, the police arrested the director of Voice of the People and several of its journalists on charges of broadcasting without a license. Recent arrests center on the station's six directors.

Arnold Tsunga, director of Mr. Saki's organization and a board member of Voice of the People, was among those arrested in the police sweep.

Andrew Moyse, who coordinates the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, a press watchdog, also criticized the arrests. They are , he said, "just a further erosion of the democratic space in Zimbabwe.

"Most of the foreign correspondents are gone," he said. "Those who remain, their accreditation is under investigation, and the Media Commission hasn't yet approved their accreditation. So there just aren't very many people left."

Friday, January 27, 2006

Kerry Gets Cool Response to Call to Filibuster Alito - New York Times

Kerry Gets Cool Response to Call to Filibuster Alito - New York TimesJanuary 27, 2006
Kerry Gets Cool Response to Call to Filibuster Alito

WASHINGTON, Jan 27 — Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts could not attend the Senate debate on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Thursday. He was in Davos, Switzerland, mingling with international business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum.

But late Thursday afternoon, Mr. Kerry began calling fellow Democratic senators in a quixotic, last-minute effort for a filibuster to stop the nomination.

Democrats cringed and Republicans jeered at the awkwardness of his gesture, which almost no one in the Senate expects to succeed.

"God bless John Kerry," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the Judiciary Committee. "He just cinched this whole nomination. With Senator Kerry, it is Christmas every day."

Steve Schmidt, a White House spokesman working on the nomination, said Mr. Kerry's move "says a lot less about Alito than it does about the Iowa primary in 2008," suggesting that Mr. Kerry, who lost the presidential race in 2004, was playing to his party's liberal base in a bid to recapture its nomination.

Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, sounded almost apologetic about Mr. Kerry's statements.

"No one can complain on this matter that there hasn't been sufficient time to talk about Judge Alito, pro and con," Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor. "I hope that this matter will be resolved without too much more talking."

And on Friday, Senator Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee who voted against Mr. Alito there, said he would not support a filibuster and doubted one would happen.

Speaking in a televised interview on CNN, Mr. Biden said that he thought the Republicans would inevitably force a decision, so Democrats should use their votes to "make a statement" without seeking a delay.

Mr. Kerry's call for a filibuster, an effort to stop confirmation by refusing to close debate and hold a vote, was joined by his fellow Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy.

Under Senate procedures, their objections blocked the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders from setting Tuesday as the date for a vote on confirmation.

Instead, the Senate will vote Monday on whether to close debate. Sixty votes are required for a full Senate vote on Judge Alito. More than 60 senators have already pledged to support him, and the leaders of both parties said they expected to hold the full vote on Tuesday.

Mr. Kerry offered an explanation for his position in a post on a liberal blog, the Daily Kos.

"People can say all they want that 'elections have consequences,' " he wrote. "Trust me, more than anyone I understand that. But that seems like an awfully convoluted rationale for me to stay silent about Judge Alito's nomination."

Mr. Kerry was celebrated by leaders of the coalition of liberal groups opposing Judge Alito's nomination.

"Senator John Kerry has called for a filibuster of the Alito nomination, heeding your calls to do everything possible to defeat it," People for the American Way cheered in an e-mail message to its supporters.

Mr. Kennedy said a filibuster might help focus attention on the nomination and give its opponents a last chance to sway the public and the Senate.

He acknowledged some "divisions in the caucus" over the advisability of a filibuster, but he said the effort had the support of a few others, including Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip.

A spokesman for Mr. Durbin confirmed that he would vote against closing debate.

"It is an uphill climb at this point," Mr. Kennedy said of a filibuster. "But it is achievable."

Asked if Mr. Kerry's absence from the Senate would hinder their efforts, Mr. Kennedy said, "We'll do the best we can and make a good fight of it."

Mr. Kerry has been rallying his supporters against the nomination for weeks in mass e-mail messages and on his Web site.

And when the Democratic caucus met Wednesday to discuss the nomination, he gave an impassioned plea that the party should try to stage a filibuster even if it failed, people present said, speaking only if granted anonymity because the meeting was private. Some senators at the meeting said an unsuccessful filibuster would leave the party weakened for future battles.

Some said a messy and unsuccessful filibuster fight would distract from the Democratic focus on other issues like corruption in government and wiretapping by the Bush administration.

In the end the party leaders were not persuaded by Mr. Kerry's appeal.

Judge Alito's confirmation was looking increasingly certain Thursday. Two more Democrats, Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, said they would break party ranks to vote for confirmation.

Mr. Byrd said his constituents had told him they were "appalled" by the harsh questioning Judge Alito received from the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearings, calling them "an outrage and a disgrace."

With Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Byrd bring the number of Democrats pledging support for Judge Alito to three. The vote on confirmation is expected to hew closely to party lines. No Republicans have said they will vote against him.

Two Republican supporters of abortion rights, Senators Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, have not declared how they will vote.

Shortly after 7 p.m., Mr. Kerry issued a statement saying, "Judge Alito's confirmation would be an ideological coup on the Supreme Court."

"The president has every right to nominate Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court," Mr. Kerry said. "It's our right and our responsibility to oppose him vigorously."

A few moments later, April Boyd, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kerry, sent a postscript saying that "as things played out over the course of the day today" he had decided to fly home. "Kerry will be back in Washington tomorrow," Ms. Boyd said.


Study Says 80% of New Orleans Blacks May Not Return - New York Times

Study Says 80% of New Orleans Blacks May Not Return - New York TimesJanuary 27, 2006
Study Says 80% of New Orleans Blacks May Not Return

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — New Orleans could lose as much as 80 percent of its black population if its most damaged neighborhoods are not rebuilt and if there is not significant government assistance to help poor people return, a detailed analysis by Brown University has concluded.

Combining data from the 2000 census with federal damage assessment maps, the study provides a new level of specificity about Hurricane Katrina's effect on the city's worst-flooded areas, which were heavily populated by low-income black people.

Of the 354,000 people who lived in New Orleans neighborhoods where the subsequent damage was moderate to severe, 75 percent were black, 29 percent lived below the poverty line, more than 10 percent were unemployed, and more than half were renters, the study found.

The report's author, John R. Logan, concluded that as much as 80 percent of the city's black population might not return for several reasons: their neighborhoods would not be rebuilt, they would be unable to afford the relocation costs, or they would put down roots in other cities.

For similar reasons, as much as half of the city's white population might not return, Dr. Logan concluded.

"The continuing question about the hurricane is this: Whose city will be rebuilt?" Dr. Logan, a professor of sociology, writes in the report.

If the projections are realized, the New Orleans population will shrink to about 140,000 from its prehurricane level of 484,000, and the city, nearly 70 percent black before the storm, will become majority white.

The study, financed by a grant from the National Science Foundation, was released Thursday, 10 days after the mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, who is black, told an audience that "this city will be a majority African-American city; it's the way God wants it to be."

Mr. Nagin's remark was widely viewed as an effort to address criticism of a proposal by his own rebuilding panel, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, that calls for a four-month building moratorium in heavily damaged areas. He said later that he had not meant to suggest that white people would not be encouraged to return.

"Certainly Mayor Nagin's comments reflected a concern on the ground about the future of the city," Dr. Logan said. "My report shows that there is a basis for that concern."

The study coincides with growing uncertainty about what government assistance will be available for property owners and renters. Louisiana will receive $6.2 billion in federal block grants under an aid package approved by Congress in December, part of which will be used to help homeowners. But that will not be enough money to help all property owners in storm-damaged areas, Louisiana officials say.

Those officials have urged Congress to enact legislation proposed by Representative Richard H. Baker, Republican of Louisiana, creating a corporation that would use bond proceeds to reimburse property owners for part of their mortgages, then redevelop the property. But the Bush administration has said it opposes the bill, out of concerns that it would be too expensive and would create a new government bureaucracy.

Asked Thursday about his opposition to the measure, President Bush told reporters that the $85 billion already allocated for Gulf Coast restoration was "a good start." He added that he was concerned that Louisiana did not have a clear recovery plan in place.

But Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana, a Democrat who has clashed frequently with the White House, said Mr. Baker's bill provided a clear plan.

"Administration officials do not understand the suffering of the people of Louisiana," Ms. Blanco said in a statement.

Demographers are divided over the likelihood of a drastic shift in New Orleans's population. William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who has studied the hurricane's impact on the city, called Dr. Logan's projections "a worst-case scenario that will come about only if these evacuees see that they have no voice in what is going on."

But Dr. Frey also said low-income evacuees might indeed begin to put down roots in cities like Houston or Dallas if they did not see movement toward reconstruction in the next six months.

Elliott B. Stonecipher, a political consultant and demographer from Shreveport, La., said that unless New Orleans built housing in flood-protected areas for low-income residents, and also provided support for poor people to relocate, chances were good that many low-income blacks would not return.

"If they didn't have enough resources to get out before the storm," Mr. Stonecipher said, "how can we expect them to have the wherewithal to return?"

New Poll Finds Mixed Support for Wiretaps - New York Times

New Poll Finds Mixed Support for Wiretaps - New York TimesJanuary 27, 2006
New Poll Finds Mixed Support for Wiretaps

Americans are willing to tolerate eavesdropping without warrants to fight terrorism, but are concerned that the aggressive antiterrorism programs championed by the Bush administration are encroaching on civil liberties, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

In a sign that public opinion about the trade-offs between national security and individual rights is nuanced and remains highly unresolved, responses to questions about the administration's eavesdropping program varied significantly depending on how the questions were worded, underlining the importance of the effort by the White House this week to define the issue on its terms.

The poll, conducted as President Bush defended his surveillance program in the face of criticism from Democrats and some Republicans that it is illegal, found that Americans were willing to give the administration some latitude for its surveillance program if they believed it was intended to protect them. Fifty-three percent of the respondents said they supported eavesdropping without warrants "in order to reduce the threat of terrorism."

The results suggest that Americans' view of the program depends in large part on whether they perceive it as a bulwark in the fight against terrorism, as Mr. Bush has sought to cast it, or as an unnecessary and unwarranted infringement on civil liberties, as critics have said.

In one striking finding, respondents overwhelmingly supported e-mail and telephone monitoring directed at "Americans that the government is suspicious of;" they overwhelmingly opposed the same kind of surveillance if it was aimed at "ordinary Americans."

Mr. Bush, at a White House press conference yesterday, twice used the phrase "terrorist surveillance program" to describe an operation in which the administration has eavesdropped on telephone calls and other communications like e-mail that it says could involve operatives of Al Qaeda overseas talking to Americans. Critics say the administration could conduct such surveillance while still getting prior court approval, as spelled out in a 1978 law intended to guard against governmental abuses.

The findings came in a poll conducted as Mr. Bush prepares to deliver his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday. It found that Mr. Bush will face a nation that has grown sour on Washington and skeptical that he will be able to achieve significant progress in health care, the economy, the Iraq war and the cost of prescription drugs for older patients before he leaves office in three years.

The poll also signaled concern for Republicans as they prepare to defend their control of the House and the Senate in midterm elections this November. Investigations into Congressional corruption are taking a toll as the elections approach: 61 percent of Americans now hold an unfavorable view of Congress, the highest in 10 years.

This finding holds particular peril for Republicans as the party that has been in charge. More than half of the respondents said they believed that most members of Congress would exchange votes for money or favors.

Republicans were seen as more likely to be unduly influenced by lobbyists. And the Republican Party is now viewed unfavorably by 51 percent of the nation, its worst rating since Mr. Bush took office. By contrast, 53 percent said they held a favorable view of Democrats.

The telephone poll was conducted with 1,229 adults, starting Friday and ending Wednesday. Its margin of sampling error was plus or minus three percentage points.

The poll found that Americans were to a large extent perplexed as they weighed conflicting forces: the need presented by Mr. Bush to take extraordinary action to fight terrorism, and a historical aversion to an overly intrusive government.

The poll found that 53 percent of Americans approved of Mr. Bush's authorizing eavesdropping without prior court approval "in order to reduce the threat of terrorism"; 46 percent disapproved. When the question was asked stripped of any mention of terrorism, 46 percent of those respondents approved, and 50 percent said they disapproved.

At the same time, 64 percent said they were very or somewhat concerned about losing civil liberties as a result of antiterrorism measures put in place by Mr. Bush since the attacks of Sept. 11. And respondents were more likely to be concerned that the government would enact strong antiterrorism laws that excessively restrict civil liberties than they were that the government would fail to enact antiterrorism laws.

The poll was conducted just as the White House commenced an elaborate campaign to defend the surveillance program, and thus may have been too early to offer a full measure of that campaign's effectiveness. There were no measurable changes in the poll findings from one day to the next.

The findings, and follow-up interviews with some participants, clearly suggest that Mr. Bush has an opportunity to make the dispute over the program play to his political advantage. He has been pointing to the threat of another terrorist attack to justify the eavesdropping program and is trying, for the third election in a row, to suggest that he and his party are more aggressive about protecting the nation than are Democrats.

"Say they're targeting someone in Al Qaeda outside the country, and that person then calls someone in the United States about a plot or something really bad: I don't have a problem with that phone being monitored," Debbie Viebranz, 51, a Republican from Ohio, said in a follow-up interview. "But I don't think they should do it for no reason."

Donnis Wells, 69, a Republican from Florence, Miss., said: "I don't think civil liberties are the more important thing we need to handle right now. I think we need to protect our people."

Still, interviews reflected clear apprehension about the program. "If there is a warrant and done by the courts, I would agree," said Robert Ray, 54, an independent from Kentucky. "But they're trying to do it without using the courts. I just don't trust them."

In the poll, 70 percent of respondents said they would not be willing to support governmental monitoring of the communications of "ordinary Americans"; 68 percent said they would be willing to support such monitoring of "Americans the government is suspicious of."

Beyond surveillance, the poll found that Americans hold unfavorable views of the president and the Republican-controlled Congress as Mr. Bush prepares to give his State of the Union speech. Americans, while declaring themselves generally optimistic about the next three years under Mr. Bush, do not expect him to accomplish very much in that time.

When Mr. Bush leaves office, respondents said, the deficit will be larger than it is today, the elderly will be being paying more for prescription drugs, and the economy and the health care system will be the same as today, or worse.

Mr. Bush is viewed favorably by 42 percent of the respondents, statistically the same as in the last Times/CBS News poll, in early December, a lackluster rating that could hamper his ability to rally public opinion behind his agenda and push legislation through a divided Congress. Beyond that, nearly two-thirds of the country thinks the nation is on the wrong track, a level that has historically proved to be a matter of concern for a party in power.

A majority said they were dissatisfied with the way Mr. Bush was managing the economy and the war in Iraq. Public approval for his handling of the campaign against terrorism, once one of his greatest political strengths, has rebounded somewhat from last fall, but remains well below where it was for the first two years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Most strikingly, the poll found abundant evidence of public unhappiness with Congress. While it is risky to draw conclusions about Congressional elections from national measurements of discontent — for example, more than half of all Americans said they were satisfied with the job their member of Congress was doing — the findings underscored the tough electoral environment that has led some analysts to predict significant Republican losses this fall.

The corruption investigations appear to account for a lot of the dissatisfaction. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said that the kind of influence-peddling revelations that have emerged in the investigation of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff reflected the "way things work in Congress" and were not isolated incidents. More than 50 percent said most members of Congress "accept bribes or gifts that affect their votes."

"It seems like the integrity of Congress members in the last few years has just gone to pot," said Donald Pertuis, 54, an independent voter from Hot Springs, Ark. Mr. Pertuis added: "In the last 20 years, greed has accelerated. People expect more, I suppose, and want to work less."

Marjorie Connelly, Marina Stefan and Megan Thee contributed reporting for this article.

After Crushing Defeat to Hamas, Fatah Militants Protest in Gaza - New York Times

After Crushing Defeat to Hamas, Fatah Militants Protest in Gaza - New York TimesJanuary 27, 2006
After Crushing Defeat to Hamas, Fatah Militants Protest in Gaza

GAZA, Jan. 27 -- In the wake of a crushing electoral defeat for the ruling Fatah party, young militants from the group staged an angry demonstration Friday evening and fired guns in the air outside the home of the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who was not present at the time.

In contrast, the Islamic faction Hamas, which scored a resounding victory in Wednesday's parliamentary poll, staged celebratory rallies while group leaders said they were ready to meet Mr. Abbas for talks on forming the new government.

In the two days since the vote, Palestinian political tensions have been on display, though they have not spun out of control.

Several hundred protesters from Mr. Abbas's own Fatah party marched in the street outside his home in Gaza City. Gunmen fired automatic rifles into the air and the crowd chanted, "Go away Abu Mazen, go away Abu Mazen," referring to Mr. Abbas as he is commonly known.

Mr. Abbas was in the West Bank at the time of Friday's incident. Still, it reflected the internal Fatah friction between the old guard and the young militants, who may be even less tolerant of Mr. Abbas's leadership in the wake of Fatah's election defeat.

The gunmen also marched into the courtyard of the nearby parliament building and set several cars ablaze.

Muhammad Dahlan, one of the best-known Fatah leaders of the younger generation, and a former security chief, arrived at the scene and urged the Fatah men to disperse.

In the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis, Fatah and Hamas supporters clashed with stones and guns, leaving three people wounded, according to witnesses and medical workers.

Throughout Gaza, thousands of Hamas supporters wearing green baseball caps and waving green flags took part in noisy, but peaceful rallies after midday prayers.

Mr. Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority a year ago, and is post is not affected by the election. However, he will be greatly weakened politically with Hamas in charge of the government.

Ismail Haniya, a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said his group was seeking to meet Mr. Abbas as soon as Sunday to begin talks on a new government.

With 76 of the 132 seats in parliament, Hamas has a solid majority on its own and does not need any partners. But the group says it wants to work with other factions, including Fatah.

"It will not be just our government," Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, another top Hamas leader, said Friday as he emerged from midday prayers at the mosque across the street from his Gaza City home. "We will work with Fatah and independents and other factions to make it a national government."

Hamas should be able to assemble a government in two to three weeks, according to Dr. Zahar.

But several leaders in Fatah, which has dominated Palestinian political life for four decades, have said they would prefer to be in the opposition and rebuild the party rather than join with Hamas.

Hamas participated in parliamentary elections for the first time on Wednesday, and has no experience in the Palestinian Authority.

Until now, Hamas has refused to take part in the Palestinian government because it emerged from a 1993 interim peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which Hamas rejected.

Hamas still does not recognize Israel, and says it will not change its charter calling for Israel's destruction.

"Why are we going to recognize Israel?" Dr. Zahar said. "Is Israel going to recognize the right of return of Palestinian refugees? Is Israel going to recognize Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital?"

But Dr. Zahar and other leaders say that Hamas would not rule out limited contacts with Israel under certain circumstances.

"If Israel has anything to bring to the Palestinian people, we will consider this," he said. "But we are not going to give anything for free."

Israel's acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and other senior government officials say Israel will not deal with Hamas. Israel, along with the United States and the European Union, label Hamas a terrorist organization.

The financially strapped Palestinian Authority receives much of its money from the United States and Europe, as well as tax money that is collected by Israel and passed on to the Palestinians. Hamas's ascension to power has raised questions about whether the flow of funds might be slowed or cut, but Hamas professes not to worry.

Hamas says it will seek additional assistance and to develop business ties in the Arab and Muslim world. The group also says that much of the past aid wasted due to endemic corruption in the

Palestinian Authority.

"All the money from Europe and American went into the pockets of corrupt men," Mr. Zahar said, who cited Palestinian security chiefs as a leading example. "The leaders of these services became multi-millionaires. We are going to reform these services. This is our mission."

As Hamas prepares to form a government, the new cabinet and the new legislature will face great challenges in simply getting members together in the same place.

In Wednesday's election, 31 Palestinian candidates were in prisons, according to the Central Elections Commission. Fifteen of them accounting for more than 10 percent of the new parliament won seats, the Jerusalem Post reported Friday. Israel has said that the election will not bring any change in their status or any reduction in their sentences.

In addition, other election winners are wanted by Israel for suspected involvement in violence. Most are in semi-seclusion, and fear arrest if they try to travel to Ramallah, the site of the Palestinian parliament in the West Bank.

The Palestinians also have a parliament building in Gaza City, but since Israeli troops left Gaza last summer, Palestinians in Gaza face no restrictions when moving inside the territory.

In the past few years, the Palestinian parliament has held numerous sessions with a video conference connecting West Bank lawmakers in Ramallah and the Gaza legislators in Gaza City.

The new Palestinian cabinet could face a similar problem. Most senior Hamas leaders are in Gaza, though the cabinet is sure to have ministers from the West Bank as well.

Israel has generally allowed Palestinian cabinet ministers to travel between Gaza and the West Bank. But Israel appears unlikely to do the same with government ministers from Hamas.

Steven Erlanger reported from Ramallah for this article, and Greg Myre from Gaza. John O'Neil contributed reportingfrom New York.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Anticipating Hamas Victory, Palestinian Cabinet Resigns - New York Times

Anticipating Hamas Victory, Palestinian Cabinet Resigns - New York TimesJanuary 26, 2006
Anticipating Hamas Victory, Palestinian Cabinet Resigns

RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, and his government submitted their resignations Thursday as the radical Islamic faction Hamas appeared to have scored a major upset and defeated the ruling Fatah party in parliamentary elections.

However, no official results were expected until Thursday evening.

Fatah, which has dominated Palestinian politics for decades, was favored in Wednesday's election and exit polls released after the polls closed projected Fatah as the winner by a narrow margin.

But on Thursday morning, Hamas leaders claimed their own count showed that the group was winning an outright majority in the 132-seat Palestinian Legislative Council. Sixty-seven seats are needed for a majority, and Ismail Haniya, a senior Hamas leader, said the group expected to at least 70.

The Palestinian Central Elections Commission had not released any results as of Thursday afternoon, but said preliminary figures would be announced in the evening.

Fatah did not formally concede defeat, but in announcing his resignation, Mr. Qurei, seemed to indicate a Hamas victory was likely.

"If it's true, then the president should ask Hamas to form a new government," Mr. Qurei said. "For me, personally, I sent my resignation."

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah leader, was elected a year ago and his position is not affected by Wednesday's vote. However, Mr. Abbas, commonly known as Abu Mazen, wants to restart peace negotiations with Israel, and there is no realistic possibility of that happening if Hamas leads the next Palestinian government.

Israel calls Hamas a terrorist group and has always refused to deal with the organization. Contacts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are already limited and fraught with difficulty, and would only become more so with Hamas in the Palestinian government.

The acting prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, said on Wednesday that his country could not accept a situation in which Hamas would be part of the Palestinian Authority if the group remained armed with unchanged goals.

"I will not negotiate with a government that does not meet its most basic obligations to fight terrorism," Mr. Olmert said in a meeting with Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Democrat of Delaware. "We are prepared to assist the Palestinians and Abu Mazen very much but they must meet their commitments."

While claiming victory, Hamas leaders continued to be vague about their plans. If Hamas does have a majority in parliament, it could lead the government without any coalition partners. Hamas says it is willing to work with Fatah and other factions, but has not provided details.

Mr. Haniya said Hamas would hold "intensive discussions" with Mr. Abbas and Fatah. "The main principal of Hamas is political partnership. We should work together."

Mr. Haniya, who held the top position on the Palestinian election list, said that Mr. Abbas had nothing to show for his attempts to relaunch negotiations.

"After one year, what has Abu Mazen achieved? What has he been offered by the Israelis? Nothing," Mr. Haniya said in a press conference at his home in the Beach Refugee Camp in Gaza City. "The problem was not Hamas or the Palestinian resistance. The problem was with the occupation."

Hamas, which was formed nearly two decades ago, calls for Israel's destruction and has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in recent years. Hamas has largely abided by a truce announced early last year, though the group says it is not prepared to lay down its weapons.

Asked if Hamas was willing to consider negotiations with Israel, Mr. Haniya said, "The occupation must first recognize our rights and the international community must exert pressure on them."

After the polls closed Wednesday night, some Fatah supporters, thinking that their party had won, staged celebrations in the streets and fired guns into the air.

On Thursday, as it appeared that Hamas was winning, cities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were calm as of the afternoon.

The election itself went off smoothly, with little trouble at any of the more than 1,000 polling stations or in East Jerusalem, where Israel allowed Palestinians to cast "absentee ballots" in post offices.

About 900 foreign observers, including former President Jimmy Carter and the former Swedish prime minister, Carl Bildt, monitored the voting. In a preliminary assessment, an official from a United States delegation called the voting "generally smooth, with sporadic violence and a robust turnout."

The exit polls on Wednesday night, like the pre-election surveys, showed Fatah winning by several percentage points.

An exit poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed Fatah winning 42 percent of the national vote and Hamas 35 percent, with a margin of sampling error of 2 percentage points.

Another such survey from Birzeit University indicated that Fatah would get 46 percent of the vote to Hamas's 39 percent.

However, in some district election races, which account for half the seats in the new parliament, an official Fatah candidate and several independent candidates with Fatah links may have split the vote, allowing the Hamas candidate to win.

Eleven separate parties and blocs took part in the election, though it appeared Hamas and Fatah captured all but a handful of seats. The voting marked just the second Palestinian parliamentary election. In the first ballot, in 1996, Fatah was led by Yasir Arafat and faced no real competition.

Hamas boycotted that poll, calling the Palestinian Authority and its legislature a creation of the Oslo Accords, the 1993 interim peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which Hamas rejected.

Hamas maintained this position until last year, when it began competing in municipal elections and fared well with a promise to provide basic services that had been widely neglected by incumbents, most of them tied to Fatah. Encouraged by those results, Hamas decided to run in the parliamentary polls.

Before the election, there was speculation that Hamas might take some cabinet positions in service or welfare ministries, thus joining the government, but in jobs that would not necessarily require contact with Israel.

But if Hamas's outright majority is confirmed, the group may want, and would be entitled to, a full range of ministries, including the prime minister's post.

The Palestinian Authority is committed, under the internationally backed peace plan known as the road map, to dismantling armed militias and "terrorist capabilities and infrastructure."

But inside the government or out, Hamas is considered likely to keep Mr. Abbas from pursuing serious negotiations with Israel on any basis that Israel is likely to accept.

The United States and the European Union also label Hamas a terrorist organization. While American and European officials say they will not meet or deal with Hamas officials, they will continue to have close relations with Mr. Abbas, much as they do in Lebanon, where Hezbollah, a radical Islamic party, has cabinet representation.

Mr. Abbas pressed for these elections against considerable opposition from inside Fatah, convinced that the only way to tame Hamas and turn it from an armed militia to a political party was through representative democracy.

A normally stiff and shy man, Mr. Abbas looked positively happy on Wednesday as he voted with his wife and then posed for the television cameras.

"We are so happy with this election festival," he said.

Palestinians were festive, too, coming out in large numbers to vote in an election they understood to be a vital moment for their own history. Turnout was estimated by officials at nearly 78 percent of the 1.3 million eligible voters.

Mr. Abbas also had words of calm for Israel on Wednesday. "The Israelis should have no reason to be fearful but rather pleased as we are building a democracy which can serve as a base for peace between us," he said. "I am always ready for negotiations with the Israelis although they must want them on their side."

Israel is engaged in its own election campaign and with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon still comatose after a massive stroke, it is not likely any time soon to talk to any government containing Hamas representatives. The Hamas showing and what should now be done will be a major issue in the Israeli campaign, which ends March 28.

Steven Erlanger reported from Ramallah and Greg Myre reported from Jerusaelm.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Genes record orangutans' decline

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Genes record orangutans' decline

Genes record orangutans' decline
By Rebecca Morelle
BBC News science reporter

The dramatic collapse of orangutan populations has been linked to human activity, new genetic evidence shows.

Researchers report that a population crash occurred during the past 200 years, coinciding with deforestation in the same area.

The study focuses on orangutans found in the forests of Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Malaysia.

Writing in the journal Plos Biology, researchers suggest that the outlook is "bleak" unless urgent action is taken.

Genetic profile

The team looked at 200 orangutans living along the Kinabatangan river. These animals are confined to fragmented patches of forest.

By collecting the orangutans' hair and faeces, the researchers were able to extract DNA to create genetic profiles, which could then be used to study genetic diversity.

If we don't put these changes in place... then the outlook is really very bleak indeed
Michael Bruford, Cardiff University
Professor Michael Bruford, a senior author on the Public Library of Science journal paper and a conservation biologist at Cardiff University, told the BBC news website of his surprise at the results.

"The genetic diversity of the population showed a very strong signal of a massive population decline," he said.

"This was interesting because we didn't expect it to show that the decline has happened so recently - within the last 200 years."

Improved corridors

The period in which the population collapse occurred correlates strongly with the time that the colonial power began to exploit the habitat.

When north Borneo became part of the British Empire in the late 19th Century, deforestation began in earnest.

In recent years, conservationists have linked the orangutans' decline to forest clearance for palm oil plantations, which produce the raw materials used for products like lipstick and soap.

However, the Malaysian authorities told the BBC in November that the plantations were mainly grown on land that had already been cultivated or in "secondary jungle".

Environmental impact studies were also carried out before any plantations were established, they added.

Orangutans numbers are now put at just 50,000, according to The World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation which is published by the UN's environment and biodiversity agencies.

Professor Bruford warns that the animals' habitat needs to be better preserved, and that steps should be taken to re-establish corridors between fragmented forest patches.

He says it may even be necessary to move orangutans around to prevent inbreeding.

"The important thing you have to remember is that Kinabatangan is just one area, but these problems are significant in all orangutan ranges.

If we don't put these changes in place throughout, then the outlook is really very bleak indeed," he urged.

Story from BBC NEWS: