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Archive for Friday, February 11, 2005

Briefly - Nation

February 11, 2005

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Iraq

Insurgent violence kills more than 50

A car bomb detonated by remote control exploded Thursday in Baghdad, killing two Iraqis but missing a U.S. military convoy as insurgent violence claimed more than 50 lives. Clashes between Iraqi police and rebels erupted along a major highway southeast of the capital.

With violence on the rise after the Jan. 30 election, Iraqi officials announced they would seal the country's borders for five days this month around a major Shiite religious holiday. Last year during the holiday, about 180 people were killed in suicide attacks at Shiite shrines.

Most of the violence Thursday targeted Iraq's security forces, part of an apparent insurgent campaign to undermine public confidence after police and soldiers managed to prevent catastrophic attacks during the elections.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived this morning in Iraq for a daylong visit to review Iraq security forces and meet with Iraqi and American leaders.

France

NATO OKs expansion of Afghan mission

NATO defense ministers agreed Thursday on an expansion of the alliance's peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan and will send troops into the western parts of the country, the alliance's top official said.

The decision was made after Italy, Spain and Lithuania agreed to send hundreds of troops under NATO command.

Some 900 troops will be deployed to Herat and three other western cities, including 500 fresh troops and 400 deploying from elsewhere in Afghanistan. NATO currently operates only in Kabul and in the north with a total force of about 8,400 troops.

The planned deployment marks a significant step in plans for NATO to extend its operation across Afghanistan by early 2006, integrating itself with the U.S. force that invaded the country in 2001 to topple the hard-line Taliban regime.

French Lt. Gen. Jean-Louis Py, who commands the NATO force, said the move should be completed at least a month before Afghan elections in July.

Jerusalem

Palestinian leader fires three security chiefs

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fired three of his top security chiefs Thursday after Hamas militants defied a truce he had declared with Israel by launching dozens of mortar rounds and homemade rockets at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas dismissed Abdel Razzak al-Majaida, chief of public security in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Police Chief Saeb al-Ajez and Omar Ashour, commander of the security forces in the southern Gaza Strip.

The move was a signal by Abbas that he was determined to enforce the declaration of a halt to hostilities he made with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday at a summit meeting.

Venezuela

Flooding kills 16, strands thousands

Venezuela sent helicopters and navy ships to evacuate thousands of people stranded by floodwaters Thursday as torrential rains began to ease. The death toll from three days of floods and landslides rose to 16 with thousands left homeless.

Army helicopters landed at the country's main international airport in La Guaira, bringing hungry and shivering victims rescued from the Caribbean coast. Some covered themselves with wet blankets, while others carried babies.

More than 5,000 people were rescued the mountainous coast in Vargas state, said Defense Minister Gen. Jorge Garcia Carneiro. He said about 2,000 remained to be evacuated from coastal areas blocked by overflowing rivers.

Five years ago, catastrophic floods and mudslides in the same coastal state of Vargas killed at least 6,000.

Indonesia

Images reveal ruptures near tsunami epicenter

The first images Thursday of the seabed battered by the earthquake that triggered Asia's catastrophic tsunami revealed huge ruptures spanning several miles.

A British naval ship collecting data off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island produced the digital images using sonar, and they could be used to help develop a tsunami early-warning system for the Indian Ocean region.

The seabed maps show the 9.0-magnitude quake caused the tectonic plates to clash "like the rumpling up of a carpet," according to Steve Malcolm, the commanding officer of the HMS Scott.

The images show "scars" more than six miles wide resulting from the Dec. 26 quake. They depict the line where the Indian tectonic plate suddenly collided with, and was pushed underneath, the Burma plate.

The Dec. 26 quake was caused by a sudden movement of the two plates, which in turn caused the ridge of the Burma plate to spring up about 30 to 60 feet. That sent water surging up and out, creating the devastating waves. The main collision zone was some 12,000 feet below the ocean surface.

Washington, D.C.

9-ll panel: FAA received al-Qaida warnings

The Federal Aviation Administration received repeated warnings in the months prior to Sept. 11, 2001, about al-Qaida and its desire to attack airlines, according to a previously undisclosed report by the commission that investigated the terror attacks.

The report by the 9-11 commission detailed 52 such warnings given to FAA leaders from April to Sept. 10, 2001, about the radical Islamic terrorist group and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

The commission report, written last August, said five security warnings mentioned al-Qaida's training for hijackings and two reports concerned suicide operations not connected to aviation. However, none of the warnings pinpointed what would happen on Sept. 11.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown on Thursday said the agency received intelligence from other agencies, which it passed on to airlines and airports.

The unclassified version, first reported by The New York Times, was made available Thursday by the National Archives.

Virginia

Baggy pants bill falls short in state Senate

A proposal to impose a $50 fine on people who reveal their underwear in public died Thursday in the Virginia Senate, but according to young people who might have been affected, that "jont" was killed long ago.

Translation: The baggy pants trend already is fading on its own -- and the state legislature was a little late catching on.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted unanimously Thursday against the bill, which the House of Delegates had approved Tuesday. Proposed by Del. Algie T. Howell Jr., D-Norfolk, it was aimed at anyone who publicly and intentionally "displays his below-waist undergarments, intended to cover a person's intimate parts, in a lewd or indecent manner."

Howell's aides declined to specify what kind of underwear was being targeted, how many exposed inches might be deemed lewd, or who would decide what constituted an offense. But the proposal was broadly understood to refer to a tendency, generally among young men, to wear baggy pants that hang several inches below the waistline, exposing the top -- and sometimes a lot more -- of boxer shorts.

California

Schwarzenegger ousts four board appointees

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday abruptly fired four appointees to the nation's largest teachers retirement system -- a week after the four voted against the governor's plan to privatize the state's public pension system.

Last month, Schwarzenegger proposed turning the state's two huge public pension plans into a system more like a 401(k) savings plan, in which workers make defined contributions.

The California State Teachers Retirement System and its board manage $126 billion. The California Public Employees Retirement System, the nation's largest public fund, manages $182 billion.

The Feb. 3 vote to oppose the privatization plan was advisory only. Those prevailing in the 10-2 vote said the change would undermine the fund's structure by pulling money out and reducing investment earnings for thousands of retirees.

Washington, D.C.

Officials: Pakistani urged al-Qaida to obtain nukes

A wealthy Pakistani businessman who's being held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp for suspected terrorist ties urged al-Qaida operatives to acquire nuclear weapons for use against U.S. troops and said he knew where to get them, according to American investigators.

The allegation, contained in documents filed recently in U.S. District Court in Washington, also identifies Saifullah Paracha, 57, who has an import business in New York, as a participant in a plot to smuggle explosives into the United States and to help al-Qaida hide "large amounts of money."

There are few details about the smuggling plot and little additional information about what the businessman, a permanent U.S. resident who's been held 19 months without charges, may have known about how to obtain nuclear weapons.

Top American officials have warned that al-Qaida has sought nuclear materials and that a network of Pakistani scientists sold nuclear technology and expertise to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

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