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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Osama's Crusade in Darfur - New York Times

Osama's Crusade in Darfur - New York TimesApril 25, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Those of us who want a more forceful response to genocide in Darfur should be sobered by Osama bin Laden's latest tape.

In that tape, released on Sunday, Osama rails against the agreement that ended Sudan's civil war with its Christian and animist south and accuses the U.S. of plotting to dispatch "Crusader troops" to occupy Darfur "and steal its oil wealth under the pretext of peacekeeping." Osama calls on good Muslims to go to Sudan and stockpile land mines and rocket-propelled grenades in preparation for "a long-term war" against U.N. peacekeepers and other infidels.

Osama's tape underscores the fact that a tougher approach carries real risks. It's easy for us in the peanut gallery to call for a U.N. force, but what happens when jihadis start shooting down the U.N. helicopters?

So with a major rally planned for Sunday to call for action to stop the slaughter in Darfur, let's look at what specific actions the U.S. should take. One reader, William in Scottsdale, Ariz., wrote to me to say that he had called Senator John McCain's office to demand more action on Darfur. "The lady on the phone asked me for suggestions," he said — and William was short on suggestions.

The first step to stop the killing is to dispatch a robust U.N. peacekeeping force of at least 20,000 well-equipped and mobile troops. But because of precisely the nationalistic sensitivities that Osama is trying to stir, it shouldn't have U.S. ground troops. Instead, it should be made up mostly of Turks, Jordanians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and other Muslims, and smaller numbers of European and Asian troops. The U.S. can supply airlifts, and NATO can provide a short-term bridging force if necessary.

Second, the U.S. and France should enforce a no-fly zone from the French air base in Abéché, Chad. American military planners say this is practicable, particularly if it simply involves destroying Sudanese aircraft on the ground after they have attacked civilians.

Granted, these approaches carry real risks. After we shoot up a Sudanese military plane, Sudan may orchestrate a "spontaneous" popular riot that will involve lynching a few U.S. aid workers — or journalists.

But remember that the Sudanese government is hanging on by its fingernails. It is deeply unpopular, and when it tried to organize demonstrations against the Danish cartoons, they were a flop.

The coming issue of Foreign Policy magazine publishes a Failed States Index in which Sudan is ranked the single most unstable country in the entire world. If we apply enough pressure, Sudan's leaders will back down in Darfur — just as they did when they signed a peace deal to end the war with southern Sudan.

A no-fly zone and a U.N. force are among the ways we can apply pressure, but another essential element is public diplomacy. We should respond to Osama by shining a spotlight on the Muslim victims of Darfur (many Arabs have instinctively sided with Sudan's rulers and have no idea that nearly all of the victims of the genocide are Muslim).

The White House can invite survivors for a photo-op so they themselves can recount, in Arabic, how their children were beheaded and their mosques destroyed. We can release atrocity photos, like one I have from an African Union archive of the body of a 2-year-old boy whose face was beaten into mush. President Bush can make a major speech about Darfur, while sending Condi Rice and a planeload of television journalists to a refugee camp in Chad to meet orphans.

Madeleine Albright helped end the horrors of Sierra Leone simply by going there and being photographed with maimed children. Those searing photos put Sierra Leone on the global agenda, and policy makers hammered out solutions. Granted, it's the fault of the "CBS Evening News" that it gave Darfur's genocide only 2 minutes of coverage in all of last year (compared with the 36 minutes that it gave the Michael Jackson trial), but the administration can help when we in the media world drop the ball.

The U.S. could organize a summit meeting in Europe or the Arab world to call attention to Darfur, we could appoint a presidential envoy like Colin Powell, and we could make the issue much more prominent in our relations with countries like Egypt, Qatar, Jordan and China.

Americans often ask what they can do about Darfur. These are the kinds of ideas they can urge on the White House and their members of Congress — or on embassies like Egypt's. Many other ideas are at savedarfur.org and at genocideintervention.net.

When Darfur first came to public attention, there were 70,000 dead. Now there are perhaps 300,000, maybe 400,000. Soon there may be 1 million. If we don't act now, when will we?

30 Are Killed in Sinai as Bombs Rock Egyptian Resort City - New York Times

30 Are Killed in Sinai as Bombs Rock Egyptian Resort City - New York TimesApril 25, 2006

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

DAHAB, Egypt, Tuesday, April 25 — Three blasts tore through Dahab, a crowded resort town on the Sinai Peninsula, on Monday night, killing at least 30 people and wounding more than 115.

The attack, the third at a popular Sinai resort in two years, once again raised the specter of one of the United States' closest allies in the Arab world facing a homegrown terrorist threat trying to destabilize the government.

There was confusion in the hours after the blasts, but what was clear was that this resort town on the Gulf of Aqaba, a quaint tourist spot frequented by back-packers and scuba divers, was awash in blood on one of the most popular holiday weekends of the Egyptian calendar.

It was the third time that terrorists struck near a national holiday. It is on this day that Egypt celebrates the anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Sinai in 1982.

"I do not think it is a coincidence that this attack happens amid celebration of Sinai Liberation Day," the interior minister, Habib al-Adli, said on Egyptian television. "The other two attacks in Taba and Sharm el Sheik also took place during celebration of national occasions; that raises question marks.

"We will catch all those responsible very soon."

Egyptian authorities at first said the bombs appeared to have been detonated by remote control. Later a local official said the explosions appeared to be the work of suicide bombers. An investigator at the scene on Tuesday morning said that the bombs were all timed explosive packs, and that there was no evidence of suicide attackers.

The bombs started going off at about 7:15 p.m., in the center of the city, where the streets were packed with tourists also celebrating the Coptic observance of Easter on Sunday and the ancient Egyptian spring festival of Sham el Nessim.

The commerical strip of this tiny resort center stretches along the azure waters of the bay, and those who planted the bombs set their deadly packages from one end of the walkway to the other.

First hit was the Nelson Restaurant, then the Aladdin Cafe and then the Ghazala Supermarket, all within five minutes. The blasts were not huge, but large enough to spread destruction up and down the walks, which were stained with blood.

As survivors ran for cover, television images showed a grisly scene with charred body parts, and merchants trying to cover the blackened boardwalk with newspaper. Ambulances rushed in a procession from Cairo, more than six hours away, to help carry the wounded to hospitals.

"Bodies were everywhere," said Ahmed el Tabakh, who said he ran into the middle of the chaos moments after the blast near the supermarket. "We carried bodies until the government came."

The wounded were ferried by cars to the local hospital, and then to a larger hospital in Sharm el Sheikh, two hours away.

By morning, as the sun rose over the bay, people had begun to clean up the mess and sort through the rubble. The windows of shops catering to tourists with names like Lotus Flower and Mona Lisa were smashed.

Investigators worked carefully scooping up forensic evidence, sweeping ashes and charred debris into bags.

"With the sound of the explosion we thought it was Judgment Day," said Addal Ramadan, who was working in a mobile phone shop near the site of one of the blasts. He said he saw at least 30 people on the ground.

Officials said that the bombings did not appear to be sophisticated, and that the blasts did not appear as powerful as attacks in Taba in October 2004 and in Sharm el Sheikh in July 2005. The Taba attack killed 34 people and the Sharm el Sheikh bombing left at least 60 dead.

"Our initial investigation proved that this operation was not sophisticated, and the explosions were not very strong," said Mr. Adli, the interior minister. "The explosives were done in a very basic way."

Dahab, which means gold in Arabic, is more out of the way than the popular Sharm el Sheik or Taba. It is effectively two villages, a Bedouin village in the south and the administrative center in the north. Like other areas in the Sinai, Dahab remains popular among Israelis. Last week, many Israelis visited during the long Passover weekend, but most had left by Wednesday.

When terrorists first struck in 2004, the government said the attack appeared to be an extension of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. When bombers struck again in Sinai, the government acknowledged that the two attacks were linked, and that they had been carried out by residents of the northern Sinai. For months, Egypt's security forces chased suspected terrorists in the craggy mountains there.

Now Egypt is once again acknowledging a pattern, though officials said it is far too soon to determine if the three blasts on Monday were connected with the earlier attacks. The one in Taba occurred one day after a holiday commemorating the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The one in Sharm el Sheik occurred on July 23, or Revolution Day.

President Hosni Mubarak called the blasts a "sinful terrorist action" and vowed to track down those responsible.

In Washington, President Bush also condemned the attacks, as did the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, the militant group that recently won control of the Palestinian government.

Early reports said that at least four foreigners had been killed in Dahab, along with many Egyptians.

Amr el-Choubaki, a military analyst with the government-financed Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said the three bombings in two years demonstrated that there are small, liked-minded if independent cells of terrorists operating in Egypt.

"Since Taba we are starting to see new clusters of cells that don't have a comprehensive project," he said. "They are cries of objection aiming to harm and pain the regime."

But he also said the attacks demonstrated a failure on the part of state security, which he says has focused too much of its energy on political opposition. "The security structure is distracted and busy confronting opposition parties, judges and journalists," he said, "and is not making combating terrorist organizations its primary goal."

The attack came one day after Al Jazeera television network broadcast an audiotape said to be of Osama bin Laden. There was no evidence that Mr. bin Laden or his Qaeda network was connected to the attacks.

Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting for this article.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Runoff Election Is Set for New Orleans Mayor's Race - New York Times

Runoff Election Is Set for New Orleans Mayor's Race - New York Times
By ADAM NOSSITER

NEW ORLEANS, April 22 — Mayor C. Ray Nagin made a strong showing Saturday in the city's first mayoral election since Hurricane Katrina but failed to escape a runoff election next month in which he will face Louisiana's lieutenant governor, Mitch Landrieu.

With 94 percent of the city's 442 precincts reporting, Mr. Nagin had 39 percent of the vote, ahead of Mr. Landrieu, who had 28 percent. A third leading candidate, Ron Forman, a local businessman, had 17 percent.

Because no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote, Mr. Nagin and Mr. Landrieu will compete in a runoff on May 20.

Mr. Landrieu's showing Saturday put him in a strong position to become the first white mayor of New Orleans since his father, Moon Landrieu, left office in 1978. He is likely to pick up most of Mr. Forman's vote, almost exclusively concentrated in white precincts. In addition, Mr. Landrieu apparently picked up as much as 20 percent of the vote in black precincts, according to analysts on local television stations.

Mr. Nagin, however, the only major black candidate, polled better than expected, setting up what is likely to be an intense campaign between the two men over the next month.

With turnout apparently low in black precincts, Mr. Nagin appealed for unity after the results were in.

"If we don't come together as men and women, we will perish as fools," he said. "We must become comfortable with one another."

Some black voters interviewed here Saturday, dissatisfied with the slow pace of recovery, said they were supporting Mr. Landrieu.

"We have no direction right now," said Marvin Keelen, who had journeyed from Baton Rouge to vote. "We can't make any decisions."

Nonetheless, it appeared that Mr. Nagin, who had not previously been popular in black neighborhoods, would pick up a large share of the black vote.

Mr. Landrieu, in a speech to supporters Saturday night, invoked his biracial support. He said the city's different racial and ethnic groups "almost in equal measure came forward to propel this campaign," and he promised to "push off the forces of division."

His campaign hopes to draw on the popularity of his political family among black and white voters. Mr. Landrieu's sister, Mary, is a Democratic United States senator from Louisiana.

State officials went to elaborate lengths to involve the tens of thousands of people still displaced from this damaged city. But for months, civil rights groups have challenged the very notion of holding an election now. Officials accepted ballots mailed and faxed in at the last minute, and the state set up voting places all around Louisiana.

Throughout the day, New Orleans citizens streamed past piles of debris to vote in improvised polling places. The hurricane's floodwaters had destroyed dozens of voting sites, forcing state officials to cobble together giant makeshift ones.

Some had traveled hundreds of miles to cast their ballots, piling into buses in Atlanta for an overnight trip, or getting into cars bleary-eyed for a long morning voyage from the rural hinterlands.

Many came to a giant warehouse on Chef Menteur Highway in flood-ravaged eastern New Orleans, where officials had combined 50 precincts and 27 voting places into the biggest of the makeshift precincts. Citizens cast their ballots under signs bearing the names of destroyed voting places in the Ninth Ward: "7925 Alabama St.," or "St. Mary's Academy," or "Schaumberg Elementary School."

In a festive atmosphere, voters greeted relatives and friends they had not seen since the storm and spoke of what they said was the imperative of appearing in person to vote.

"This is New Orleans; this is my home," said Frank Echols, who said he had driven all morning from Mississippi, over 100 miles. His home in eastern New Orleans was heavily damaged in the flooding.

"I could have voted by mail, but I wanted to be part of this," said Mr. Echols, a retired official with the city's mass-transit agency. "We don't know what the future is going to hold, but we're going to be part of it."

Melva Pichon had driven nearly eight hours from Conroe, Tex. "This determines the future of our city," Ms. Pichon said. Saying she had opted for the incumbent, she added: "I want to make sure that the person who gets in has experienced this before."

State election officials described turnout as steady all day. Before Saturday, some 20,000 people had already voted by mail or at early voting centers set up throughout the state.

With the massive task of reconstruction here stalled, citizens said repeatedly before Saturday's tally that they were looking for the city's chief executive to present a clear way forward.

Throughout the truncated mayoral campaign, the leading candidates largely avoided confronting the central issue: whether some neighborhoods were so inherently vulnerable to flooding that they should not be rebuilt. That issue, so tied up with sensitive questions of race and class, seemed too hot to handle in the current campaign, though analysts speculated it might now be taken up in the runoff.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iran 'has Russia enrichment deal'

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iran 'has Russia enrichment deal' Iran 'has Russia enrichment deal'
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Iran has struck a basic deal to enrich uranium with Russia, Iranian state radio has reported.

The details have still to be worked out. Tehran claimed a similar deal in February, when a Russian nuclear chief visited Iran.

Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Iranian radio he had struck a basic agreement.

Tehran is under pressure from the UN Security Council to freeze enrichment.

Mr Soltanieh said the joint enrichment company would operate on Russian soil.

Russian compromise

But Mr Soltanieh added there was still some technical, legal and financial issues to resolve.

This is almost exactly the same thing Iran said in February. It is an attempt to revive an old Russian compromise plan which proposed moving all Tehran's sensitive nuclear work to Russia.

The problem is, Iranian officials have in the past adamantly ruled out halting enrichment research on their own soil.

The only thing that has changed now is that Iran says it has successfully managed to enrich uranium - something yet to be independently verified.

There have been some signs Iran now feels it is in a position of strength, having mastered basic nuclear technology and therefore might be more willing to consider a compromise.

But the question is whether the West is willing to bargain or insist Tehran capitulate in a way that looks humiliating to Iranians.
Story from BBC NEWS: