US forces clash with protestors in W. Afghanistan
Compiled by Greg White
Sept. 15 (AGR) At least seven supporters of a deposed
Afghan governor have been killed in pitched battles with police
and US forces in the streets of Herat in western Afghanistan.
On Sept. 11, protests erupted in the provincial capital after
President Hamid Karzai dismissed powerful local leader Ismail
Khan as Herat governor.
On the night of Sept. 11, hundreds of protesters filled the streets
to protest the dismissal, chanting death to Karzai and the
Several hundred of Khans backers on Sept. 12 ransacked the
office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and
the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Parts of both
buildings were set ablaze.
The protesters broke into the UNAMA compound, where they hurled
stones and set fire to at least one UN vehicle after chanting
slogans outside for about half an hour, said UN spokesman Manoel
de Almeida de Silva.
He said about 10 UN staff members were in the compound at the
time, but he had no reports of injuries.
US soldiers were injured by rocks as they helped evacuate dozens
of UN staff and relief workers to their small base in the city,
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said.
The office of a Danish aid group was burned down and protesters
wrecked the local branch of the Afghan human rights commission.
Witnesses reported bursts of gunfire as smoke from burning cars
and other wreckage rose over the center of Herat. A doctor at
Hearts central hospital said seven protesters bodies
had been brought in on Sept. 12. Dozens were reported to have
been wounded. One of the wounded told an Associated Press Television
News reporter in the hospital that his leg and facial injuries
were caused by shrapnel.
I was standing in the street with a few others when national
army and American troops were running along the street. Suddenly,
one of them threw a hand-grenade at us, said Bismillah,
a 41-year-old man who goes by one name.
The US military claimed that there were no casualties. Interior
Minister spokesman Latfullah Mashal also denied reports of the
He claimed that soldiers fired warning shots into the air and
killed no one.The inauguration ceremony for the man Karzai has
appointed as his new governor, Mohammed Khair Khuwa, was punctuated
by the sound of gunfire outside. Eyewitnesses said framed pictures
of President Karzai were smashed in the street.
There was no suggestion that Khan had orchestrated the protests
-- previous attempts to install new governors in other provinces
have foundered in the face of violent protests.
Khan, the long-term governor of Herat, was dismissed by Karzai
who named him as a minister in the central government instead.
Khan, who controls an unknown number of soldiers in Herat city
and province and is popular among the people, has said he will
refuse to take up the post.
The so-called Lion of Herat had ruled the city and a swath of
surrounding provinces as his personal fiefdom since 2001, making
millions of dollars from the lucrative transit trade with Iran
and dispensing justice from a court held in his palace.
The silver-haired and luxuriantly bearded self-styled emir has
a long and dramatic record in Afghan politics, which began when
he sparked an anti-Soviet uprising in Herat in which Red Army
officers and their families were butchered. He then fought the
Taliban, who jailed him for several years before his triumphant
return to power in 2001.
Ismail Khan ruled Herat city with an iron fist, and was accused
of cracking down hard on his opponents. Although he has significant
local support and ran Herat as the most efficient Afghan city,
with rare services such as garbage collection, he was also reputed
to be a religious fundamentalist with views similar to the Taliban.
Human rights groups complained that he subjected girls to so-called
virginity tests. He has been at loggerheads with Kabul over his
reluctance to remit taxes on an estimated monthly income of up
to $9 million to the cash-strapped central government.
Furthermore, relations between Khan and Karzai have soured since
Khans son, Civil Aviation Minister Mirwais Sadiq, was killed
in a clash with government troops in March.
The move was also intended to solve a power struggle in western
Afghanistan. Tank battles between private armies began last month
when a rival commander nearly overran the city. Khan was only
saved then by US intervention after his forces were pushed back
almost to the city limits. One militiaman was skinned and several
others beheaded in the worst fighting in 12 months, which saw
almost 70 deaths.
Additionally, Ismail Khans replacement is being seen as
an attempt by Karzai to strengthen his position ahead of the October
elections. Hundreds of Afghan government troops were flown to
Herat in US aircraft to bolster security ahead of the announcement.
In other news, on Sept. 15 three Americans were sentenced to up
to 10 years in jail after being found guilty by an Afghan court
on charges including torture, running a private prison, and illegal
Jonathan Jack Idema, a former US Green Beret, was
arrested in July along with another ex-serviceman, Brent Bennett,
and documentary film-maker Edward Caraballo.
They had denied the charges and insisted they were in Afghanistan
with US and Afghan government sanction to help track down al-Qaida
and Taliban extremists.
Eight Afghans were found in a private jail apparently being run
by Idema. One of those was Ghulam Sakhi, who claimed he had been
Idema claims that the Pentagon denied links with him because they
feared being accused of more prisoner abuse in the wake of the
Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.
Sources: Agence France-Presse, Al-Jazeera,
AP, BBC, Independent (UK), Reuters
Russian assault on press
during Beslan crisis
Compiled by Shawn Gaynor
Sept. 12 (AGR) As the hostage crisis
in Beslan unfolded several outspoken Russian journalists attempting
to report on the story were interfered with by both state authorities
and unknown assailants.
The incidents happened in the middle of last week as the panic-stricken
Russian officials tried to play down the siege, claiming there
were as few as 300 people in the school.
Anna Politkovskaya, one of the most outspoken critics of Vladimir
Putins policy on Chechnya, was on her way to the siege in
Beslan from Moscow when she collapsed mysteriously.
According to the Moscow Times, Politkovskaya was flying
from Vnukovo Airport to Rostov-on-Don and fainted on the plane.
Immediately after landing, she was taken to a local hospital,
where doctors found she had been poisoned, Novaya Gazeta editor
Dmitry Muratov told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Writing for the Guardian this week, Politkovskaya told how the
nurse in the hospital she was taken to had told her she had been
The nurse tells me that when they brought me in I was almost
hopeless. Then she whispers, My dear, they tried to
poison you. All the tests taken at the airport have been
destroyed -- on orders from on high, say the doctors.
Politkovskaya has written repeatedly about Russias brutal
war in Chechnya, much to the fury of the Putin regime. She claims
to have seen video footage that shows Chechen prisoners being
treated the same way as those in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq but
says no Russian TV channel would show it. When her paper published
pictures no other papers followed up the story.
Earlier this year she accused the rest of the Russian media of
acting as black propaganda agencies.
Andrei Babitsky, of US sponsored Radio Liberty, was arrested at
Moscows Vnukovo airport on Sept. 3 and stopped from flying
south as police searched his bag, claiming he might have explosives.
After they had finished, two strangers came up and started a scuffle.
They and Babitsky were detained and Babitsky was charged with
hooliganism. The next day he was sentenced to five days in prison.
Politkovskaya and Babitsky, both award-winning reporters known
for hard-hitting coverage of the Kremlins war in Chechnya,
believe they were prevented by the Russian government from reaching
the North Ossetian city near the border with Chechnya.
Press freedom organization Reporters without Borders also reported
that two employees of the independent Georgian TV station Rustavi
2, Nana Lezhava and cameraman Levan Tetvadze, were held by the
According to RWB, the local authorities claimed Lezhava and Tetvadze
did not have the required visas and accreditation.
But this was challenged by Rustavi 2 news editor Eka Khoperia,
who said they were residents of Kazbegi, a town on the border
between Georgia and the Russian republic of North Ossetia, and
as such can enter Russia without a visa under an agreement between
the two countries.
Nana Lezhava of Rustavi-2 said she had slept for 24 hours while
in the custody of the Russian authorities after being given coffee
in her cell, and felt ill when she woke up.
On Monday evening I was offered coffee. I drunk it and woke
up only at 8pm next day. I dont remember how I was carried
into the isolation ward of federal security service, she
said in the interview.
Gela Lezhava, the head of the oversight board at a Georgian drug
research institute, told a news conference that urine samples
taken from the reporter showed traces of tranquillisers. He said
he suspected that the journalist was drugged by the Russian authorities.
Both Rustavi-2 journalists were released on Sept. 8 after the
Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, personally contacted
Russia leader Vladimir Putin. No charges have been brought against
them and their employers claim their detention was a gross
violation of their human rights.
Russian authorities detained the Moscow bureau chief of the satellite
TV channel al-Arabiya Sept. 7 on his way to Moscow from Beslan,
where he was covering the hostage crisis.
Amro Abdel Hamid, an Egyptian who holds Russian citizenship, was
stopped at the airport in the southern Russian city of Mineralniye
Vody, according to reports.
Al-Arabiya was informed the journalist would be held for two days,
but was not told why he was being detained.
The events were followed by the apparent sacking of Izvestias
editor, Raf Shakirov, in the wake of graphic accounts of the disaster
in the newspaper.
The Sept. 4 issue of privately-owned Izvestia featured shocking
pictures of wounded and dead children and other victims of the
Izvestia was one of the first Russian media outlets to cast doubt
on the governments now disproved claim that only about 350
hostages were being held captive in the school -- less than a
third of the actual number.
Now it seems Shakirov may have lost his job over the line his
Raf Shakirov lost his job after the paper questioned the fact
that officials claimed the number of hostages was only 350, reported
that parents of the hostages were the first to enter the school
ahead of the security forces, and published a powerful column
denouncing the censored coverage of the events by state TV.
In an interview with Radio Liberty, Shakirov, credited with building
the former government newspaper into one of the countrys
most outspoken publications, said he had been forced by the newspapers
owner to resign for what he called his emotional coverage
of the siege.
Commenting on Shakirovs dismissal, Viktor Loshak, the editor
of the popular magazine Ogonyok, told the radio station: This
scares me because we are moving far away from the country that
we had been trying to build for the past 10 years.
Research released this week showed that just 13 percent of Russians
trust media reports about the tragedy, in which at least 335 people
Eighty-five percent of respondents expressed disbelief in the
reports, according to the poll conducted across Russia by the
St. Petersburg-based Independent Analytical Center last weekend.
Since Putin assumed the presidency in 2000, he has muzzled all
four major television channels, turning daily TV news programs
into a parade of positive stories about the government and his
daily agenda, critics say. The printed press, on the other hand,
has been freer to criticize the government.
Some analysts fear the Russian government may further tighten
its grip following the school siege and other attacks in recent
days blamed on Chechen separatists.
The fear of the Russian population will be used to justify
further restrictions on the media, said Luitgard Hammerer,
of Article 19, a London-based free speech group.
This creates an atmosphere in which journalists dont
feel free to report critically any more, so it has a strong chilling
effect on the media, she said.
Sources: Guardian (UK),
San Francisco Chronicle, Sydney Morning Herald
EU approves biotech seeds
Compiled by Liz Allen
Sept. 15 (AGR) The European Union approved on Sept.
8 the first biotech seeds for planting and sale across EU territory,
flying in the face of widespread consumer resistance to genetically
modified (GM) crops and foods.
The European Commission also dropped a proposal on how much GM
material may be tolerated without labeling in batches of conventional
seed a controversial law that has bounced between the Commissions
various departments for over a year.
The commission authorized 17 different seed strains of maize engineered
by US biotech giant Monsanto from a parent crop that won approval
for growing just before the EU began its biotech ban in 1998 that
lasted nearly six years. The seeds will now be entered into what
is called the Common Catalogue, the EUs overall seed directory
that compiles all national seed catalogues. The parent maize seed,
known as MON 810, has been engineered to resist certain insects.
Adrian Bebb, who campaigns against genetically altered food for
the environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE) said
the decision to list the 17 varieties in the common European catalog
of varieties of agricultural plants was unwise because most member
countries have not yet passed rules on how genetically modified
crops and conventional crops should co-exist.
Denmark is the only country to have passed such a law. Germany
is debating one. Other countries have not even begun drafting
Before the Sept. 8 decision six varieties of Monsantos MON
810 corn were already listed in French agriculture ministry catalogs.
None of them, however, are being grown in France at present, according
to FoE. The remaining 11 varieties are registered for use in Spain.
The EUs ban meant that only farmers in those countries could
buy and plant them.
The maize has been thoroughly assessed to be safe for human
health and environment, Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner
David Byrne said in a statement.
It has been grown in Spain for years without any known problems,
he said, adding that it would be clearly labeled as GMO maize
to give farmers a choice.
This decision will make it possible for these varieties
of GM corn to spread across the union, but it is unlikely to happen
immediately, a commission spokeswoman, Beate Gminder, said.
So far, the Commission has insisted that EU states should be responsible
for how their farmers segregate the three farming types: an issue
known in EU jargon as coexistence.
The move angered greens, who say it is irresponsible to allow
the widespread use of GMO seeds while many EU countries have no
laws on how farmers should separate organic, GMO and conventional
crops to minimize cross-contamination.
Friends of the Earth described the decision as a recipe
for disaster, saying it would cause widespread contamination
of Europes food, farming and environment and remove consumers
ability to avoid GMOs.
Polls show that more than 70 percent of European consumers oppose
biotech foods because of health and environment worries.
European member states must step in where the Commission
has failed and ban these GM seeds, said FoEs GMO campaigner
Geert Ritsema in a statement.
And without coexistence rules, the widespread contamination
of conventional crops is highly likely, posing a massive threat
to Europes food, farming and environment, he said.
The Commission said it had failed to reach consensus on the purity
of seed batches containing GMOs and the issue will be passed on
to the new commission in November.
The commission was expected to agree upon a new rule that would
allow a batch of 1,000 conventional seeds containing three or
less genetically modified seeds to be sold without informing food
manufacturers and consumers of the presence of the organisms.
Ten of the 25 commissioners, however, opposed that move at a meeting
in Brussels, including Romano Prodi, the president, and 5 commissioners
were undecided. Spokesman Reijo Kemppinen said a more detailed
economic impact assessment was needed as well.
Leaving the decision to the incoming commission is a golden
opportunity for a new commission to get into line with public
opinion, which is distrustful of GM food, said Bebb.
Friends of the Earth Europe wants just one seed in 1,000 to be
the cut-off point for declaring the presence of genetically modified
organisms. Bebb said that he hoped to have an ally in the incoming
agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel of Denmark..
Lobbyists on behalf of the genetically altered food industry were
disappointed by the commissions failure to make a decision
on Sept. 8.
In April the commission lifted a six-year long moratorium on the
importing of genetically modified foods, after its scientists
concluded that they do not pose a threat to human health, and
after it passed strict laws ensuring that foods containing genetically
altered organisms be clearly labeled as such.
Since then, several genetically altered products have been approved
for import. In each case, however, national governments in Brussels
have been unable to agree, because of fears of losing support
from their voters, and have left the final approval each time
to the commission on a case by case basis. So far, all the altered
foods have been approved.
The United States government has complained to the World Trade
Organization in Geneva about the moratorium, arguing that it is
a protectionist measure that harms US farmers who export genetically
Gminder denied that the commission is out of touch with consumers
and national governments.
Sources: International Herald Tribune,
New York Times, Reuters
Violence in Iraq casts doubt
Compiled by Josh Ferguson
Sept. 15 (AGR) -- In a renewed surge of violence in
Iraq, over 200 people have been killed in the past week of violence
between Iraqi insurgents and US military forces.
As international questions arise as to the plausibility of a
scheduled January election, increasing violence on both sides
shows few signs of progress towards a stable Iraq by the end
of the year.
On Sept. 9, US and Iraqi military forces penetrated the northern
city of Samarrah for the first time in a month in an attempt
to recapture territory that has slipped out of coalition control
in recent weeks.
The operation was part of a three-pronged assault on insurgent
strongholds including aerial bombardment of targets in Fallujah
and Tal Afar, a city on the border with Syria taken over by
US and Iraqi authorities lost control of Fallujah after US Marines
ended three-week siege five months ago and turned the city over
to a US-sanctioned force, the Fallujah Brigade. The Brigade
has since disbanded after months of general inefficiency and,
in some cases, cooperation with the insurgents.
The bombardment of Fallujah, where US patrols have been unable
to operate for three weeks, was an attempt at a precision
strike at a building reportedly occupied by Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, described by the US military as a leader of the
The target was a building frequently used by terrorists
at the time of the strike, a US statement said. Three
Zarqawi associates were reported to be in the area. No other
individuals were present at the time of the strike.
As with many other US air strikes described as precisely targeting
terrorists, local doctors disagreed. Dr. Rafi Hayad said eight
people were killed by the air attacks, four of them children
and two women.
Reuters pictures showed several children, heavily bandaged and
covered in blood, being treated in Fallujah hospital. But a
US statement said initial assessments indicated
that there had been no non-combatant casualties.
The US air assault on Tal Afar, a northern city east of Mosul,
killed 57 insurgents, US military sources said. But Rabie Yassin,
the provincial health chief, said 27 civilians had been killed
and 70 wounded. In addition, blockades preventing traffic into
Tal Afar have delayed ambulances and supply trucks from getting
through to the city.
The situation is critical, Dr. Yassin added. Ambulances
and medical supplies cannot get to Tal Afar because of the ongoing
On Sept. 12, at about 2am, US military vehicles entered Haifa
street in the center of Baghdad, firing stun grenades into the
street. A US armoured vehicle was set ablaze, and as a group
of Iraqi men gathered around the burning vehicle, US helicopters
swooped in and fired machine guns and missiles at the crowd,
killing 12 Iraqis and injuring 61 others. Journalists present
at the time reported all casualties to be civilians. A number
of residential buildings were also damaged and US helicopters
have continued to hover over the area, opening fire repeatedly.
Meanwhile, as US-led forces continue to bombard Baghdad and
the Al-Anbar province (the province which includes Fallujah
and Tal Afar), insurgents have continued their campaign of car-bombings
and attacks on Iraqi police and US military forces.
In Baghdad a car bomb close to an Iraqi police station killed
47 people and injured 100 others on Sept. 14. It was the deadliest
such attack in Iraq since July, when 68 people were killed by
a car bomb outside a police station in Baquba.
Hours after the Baghdad explosion, gunmen opened fire on a police
minibus in Baquba killing 12 policemen and one civilian.
Dozens of smaller attacks have been carried out as well, targeting
mostly Iraqi police vehicles and buildings.
Secretary of state Colin Powell told NBCs Meet The Press
that the insurgency will be brought under control
its not an impossible task.
However, questions remain as to the possibility of elections
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that The timetable
really depends at the end of the day on the security situation.
However, he then added that we are going in this direction
[of national elections] without hesitation.
US military forces, however, are not so optimistic.
Lieutenant General Thomas F. Metz, operations chief of more
than 150,000 mostly US troops in Iraq, said anti-US militancy
in places such as Fallujah would not derail the national elections.
A contingency plan, Metz said, is to bypass Fallujah, and perhaps
other violent enclaves, and concentrate on ensuring electoral
security in Baghdad and other population centers where the hostility
Wed have [partial] elections before we let one place
like Fallujah stop elections, said Metz, the number two
US military official in Iraq. The rest of the country
can go on about a process that heads right for an election.
Still, Metz cautioned that the participation of Iraqs
three largest cities Baghdad, Mosul in the north, and
Basra in the south was essential to any election.
Metzs statements are among the strongest to date by US
or Iraqi officials conceding that the security situation is
so perilous that some areas may not be pacified in time for
elections. While bypassing some cities could allow officials
to stick to their timetable, doing so could detract from the
elections credibility, foment discontent in Iraq, and
leave other countries reluctant to acknowledge any government
chosen in the vote.
The elections scheduled for January are the next major milestone
for Iraq as the nation follows a US- and UN-backed plan for
its transition to democracy. The country became sovereign under
a US-backed interim government on June 28, almost 15 months
after Saddam Husseins regime fell.
How to provide security at some 9,000 projected polling places
is among the challenges facing Iraqi and Western officials trying
to craft an election blueprint for the nation of 24 million.
Theres no scenario being ruled out, said one
US official in Baghdad. The idea is that people in one or two
cities cannot be allowed to veto an election.
Excluding polling booths from an entire city or cities, though,
might be perilous. The plan would probably alienate those who
are excluded from voting most likely minority Sunni Muslims,
who have spearheaded the insurgency in several Iraqi cities.
It could also detract from the international legitimacy of the
In other news, senior US army generals said last week that the
United States may have secretly held dozens of detainees at
the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The army generals, however, said that they dont know the
exact number of so-called ghost detainees being
held, accusing the CIA of not providing needed information and
not cooperating with their investigation into abuses.
The situation with the CIA and ghost [detainees] is beginning
to look like a bad movie, said Sen. John McCain, R-AZ.
The presence of ghost detainees held by the CIA without registration
was a key finding of the Army generals investigation,
completed last month. Failure to register prisoners with the
International Committee of the Red Cross is a violation of the
One of the generals said that up to 100 ghost detainees were
being held; another said that there are only several dozen.
Also released recently, as of Sept. 14, 1,018 members of the
US military have died since the beginning of military operations
in Iraq in March 2003, according to the Defense Department.
Of those, 768 died as a result of hostile action and 250 died
of non-hostile causes. The figures include three military civilians.
Since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat
operations in Iraq had ended, 877 US military members have died
-- 656 as a result of hostile action and 221 of non-hostile
causes, according to the militarys latest numbers. Since
the start of US military operations in Iraq, 7,245 US service
members have been wounded in hostile action, according to the
Defense Departments weekly tally.
Although US prohibitions on Iraqi death counts make a tally
of such deaths difficult, private estimates project between
15,000 to 30,000 Iraqi deaths since the conflict officially
started in 2003.
Sources: Al-Jazeera, AFP, AP, BBC,
Democracy Now!, Independent Digital (UK), LA Times, NY Times,