Jun 23, 2009

Most Want Health Reform But Fear Its Side Effects




majority of Americans see government action as critical to controlling runaway health-care costs, but there is broad public anxiety about the potential impact of reform legislation and conflicting views about the types of fixes being proposed on Capitol Hill, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Most respondents are "very concerned" that health-care reform would lead to higher costs, lower quality, fewer choices, a bigger deficit, diminished insurance coverage and more government bureaucracy. About six in 10 are at least somewhat worried about all of these factors, underscoring the challenges for lawmakers as they attempt to restructure the nation's $2.3 trillion health-care system.


Part of the reason so many are nervous about future changes is a fear they may lose what they currently have. More than eight in 10 said they are satisfied with the quality of care they now receive and relatively content with their own current expenses, and worry about future rising costs cuts across party lines and is amplified in the weak economy.

President Obama, in a news conference yesterday, sought to leverage that apprehension.

"Premiums have been doubling every nine years, going up three times faster than wages," he said. "So the notion that somehow we can just keep on doing what we're doing, and that's okay, that's just not true."
Debra Matherne, a 43-year-old lawyer in Pennsylvania, agreed, saying she is contemplating leaving a job she loves because health insurance premiums for her family have jumped to $2,000 a month.

"That's just a crazy figure," she said.

The midday news conference was part of an orchestrated attempt by the White House to draw public attention to the need for landmark health legislation. Earlier in the day, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a report documenting the growing financial burden that medical bills are placing on families.

On Wednesday, Obama will host a health-care meeting with a bipartisan group of governors and later participate in a televised town hall session dedicated to the issue.

Obama also used yesterday's news conference to rebut criticism of one of the more contentious ideas being considered: creation of a government-sponsored health insurance program that would compete with private firms.

Insurers and many Republicans warn that the "public option" included in bills filed in the House and Senate "would dismantle employer-based coverage, significantly increase costs" and add to the federal deficit.

"If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business?" Obama said. "That's not logical."
After months of cordial relations between the industry and the White House, Obama's comments were the sharpest to date and come at a time when there is widespread debate and confusion over what the public wants. One of the reasons is the complexity of the issue, something not easily captured in a poll question.
Survey questions that equate the public option approach with the popular, patient-friendly Medicare system tend to get high approval, as do ones that emphasize the prospect of more choices. But when framed with an explicit counterargument, the idea receives a more tepid response. In the new Post-ABC poll, 62 percent support the general concept, but when respondents were told that meant some insurers would go out of business, support dropped sharply, to 37 percent.

Support for an "individual mandate," requiring every American to carry health insurance, ranges from 44 percent to 70 percent depending on the specific provisions.

"The president needs to understand that this is about patients and preserving their options," said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), a key player in bipartisan negotiations in the Senate. "Losing their health insurance is not the kind of change Americans were hoping for."

Even as Obama and the insurers ratcheted up the tenor of the discussion, both sides made clear there is still plenty of room for compromise.
"We are still early in this process, so we have not drawn lines in the sand," Obama said.

Karen Ignagni, head of America's Health Insurance Plans, said that she sensed an opening in the president's enthusiasm to create a government-sponsored plan modeled after the private-market plans from which federal workers choose.

In the poll, 58 percent said they see government reform as necessary to stall skyrocketing costs and expand coverage for the uninsured, while 39 percent said they fear any federal action would do more harm than good. The numbers split sharply along partisan and ideological lines: Ninety-two percent of liberal Democrats said they see government intervention as essential, compared with 19 percent of conservative Republicans.

Beyond general backing for governmental action, a few specific provisions under consideration on Capitol Hill receive significant levels of public support, including higher taxes on households with incomes above $250,000, a limit on medical malpractice amounts and, under certain conditions, a law requiring all Americans to carry health insurance. A large majority, 70 percent, opposes a new federal tax on employer-paid health insurance benefits that exceed $17,000 a year.

Majority support for certain new government action, however, does not come with high hopes: Half of all Americans said they think the quality of their health care will stay about the same if the system changes, and 31 percent expect it to deteriorate.

"We're spending a lot and not necessarily getting the bang for our buck," Philip Arms, 58, of Northwest Washington, said in a follow-up interview. Despite his desire for reform, "I'm not necessarily convinced it won't make things worse."

The poll was conducted by telephone June 18 to 21, among a national random sample of 1,001 adults; results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.


Time frame set for Ahmadinejad's inaugural




The state-owned Press TV channel's website reports that Iran's president will be sworn in between July 26 and Aug. 19. Iran's Guardian Council says it found no 'major' irregularities in his election.
Reporting from Tehran -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be sworn in to his second term before the end of August after Iran's Guardian Council today ruled out the possibility of nullifying a disputed election, saying it could find no evidence of any "major" irregularities, according to the state-owned English-language Press TV satellite news channel.


"Fortunately, in the recent presidential election, we found no witness of major fraud or breach in the election," said Abbas-Ali Kadkhodai, the council's spokesman, according to the report. "Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place."
He said most of the irregularities alleged by the defeated reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi occurred before the election, which he suggested were outside the scope of the Guardian Council's authority.

The swearing-in ceremony will take place between July 26 and Aug. 19, according to a report posted on Press TV's website.

Mousavi sent the council a lengthy letter last week detailing election-day irregularities as well as alleged abuses of power by Ahmadinejad before the vote. Kadkhodai did not address Mousavi's allegation that ballot boxes were taken to military bases at one point on election day, where they were beyond the view of poll observers.

The rejection of a new vote came as Britain announced that it was expelling two Iranian diplomats after Tehran ordered out two of its embassy staff members in Iran. Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the British House of Commons that Iran took the "unjustified step" over allegations that he called "absolutely without foundation," the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Iranian authorities have blamed the West for stirring up protests. In public statements and television broadcasts, they have particularly targeted Britain, which launched the popular BBC Persian-language news channel this year.

Following threats and the expulsion of the BBC Tehran bureau chief, the British Embassy ordered the families of its expatriate staff out of the country Monday.

"CNN and the BBC have set up a psychological war room," Hasan Qashqavi, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told reporters at a news conference broadcast on state television.

"As for BBC Persian and the VOA [Voice of America], their case is obvious," he said. "Their objectives are, A, to weaken national solidarity and, B, to threaten Iran's territorial integrity and divide Iran. This is the approved agenda that was promulgated to the VOA and BBC Persian, after their budgets were approved by the British Parliament and the U.S. Congress."

Authorities, meanwhile, stepped up their crackdown on protesters. Officials announced plans to set up a special court and warned that anyone who encouraged more demonstrations -- including Mousavi -- is subject to arrest.

In some of its sternest remarks yet, the Revolutionary Guard announced that anyone who continued to confront the security forces "will be considered a threat" to the system, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"The guardians of the Islamic Revolution and the courageous Basiji," a pro-government militia, "are determined to act strongly to return peace and tranquillity to society . . . and to clean the country of these plotters and hooligans," said the statement, according to the agency.

Despite the warnings, Mousavi called on his supporters Monday to gather their strength and continue peaceful protests, sharpening his conflict with the government.

"The protest against vote-rigging and untruth is your right," he said in a statement carried on a news website affiliated with his presidential campaign. "In your protest keep avoiding violence and be like kind, brokenhearted parents to poorly behaving children in the law enforcement forces."

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered the protesters to halt their marches and ridiculed the vote-fraud allegations as he stood strongly behind Ahmadinejad in his Friday prayer sermon.

But the Guardian Council, whose members are appointed directly or indirectly by Khamenei, had earlier indicated that the vote count was indeed problematic. An initial probe showed that the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of registered voters in 50 locales, a discrepancy affecting 3 million votes or more.

Chatham House, a British think tank, published a study over the weekend in which it found irregularities by comparing Iranian presidential voting in 2009 and 2005 against the 2006 census published by the official Statistical Center of Iran. The report finds that two conservative provinces reported turnouts of more than 100% and that in a third of all provinces, this year's official results would have meant Ahmadinejad won not only all the conservative voters from 2005, but also the centrist voters from then and all new voters -- as well as 44% of reformist voters.

Iran, under pressure from the West for its pursuit of advanced nuclear technology and support of Arab militant groups opposed to Israel, continues to reel from days of protests that culminated in chaotic fighting Saturday between security forces and demonstrators.

The fighting came after Khamenei ordered demonstrators off the streets in a prayer sermon interpreted as a call to semiofficial pro-government vigilantes to crack down on the rallies.

9 fatalities confirmed in D.C. Metro train crash





WASHINGTON -- Nine fatalities have been confirmed in the worst accident in the history of Washington's Metro subway system, authorities said Tuesday morning.

The updated casualty count came after rescue workers toiled through the night and into daylight this morning near the D.C.-Maryland line, where a Metro train rear-ended a stopped train during Monday evening's rush hour.
A spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates Metro, confirmed shortly after 10:30 a.m. that the death toll had reached nine. Among the dead was the operator of the train that crashed into the stopped train. Jeanice McMillan, 42, of Springfield, Va., had been a Metro train operator since 2007. Identities of the remaining victims have not been released.


The victims included seven women and two men, according to Candace Smith, a Metro spokeswoman. Smith said aournd 11:15 a.m. that recovery operations have concluded; five bodies were recovered Monday and four more on Tuesday, she said.

Earlier, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty said that two people remain in critical condition at local hospitals. A total of 76 people were treated at local hospitals. A third injured passenger has been upgraded from critical condition, the mayor said at a morning news conference not far from the crash site.

Although the D.C. Fire Department has worked throughout the night, the scene is still being processed as a rescue effort, Fenty said.

A heavy crane was brought in during the night to assist with the rescue operations. The first car of the train that rammed into the stopped train was as much as 75 percent compressed in the accident, according to D.C. Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin.

Debbie Hersman, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, said the crash-worthiness of subway train cars has been a concern of the NTSB for some time.

Hersman, recently nominated by President Barack Obama to head the board, said at the news conference that the federal government had made crash-worthiness recommendations to make sure that train operators and passengers are protected as much as possible.

Obama expected to tackle Iran, health care in news conference




WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With his young administration suddenly facing a series of stiff head winds in foreign and domestic policy, President Obama will try to recapture political momentum Tuesday with a midday news conference tackling a range of contentious issues.
he president is expected to address questions being raised about his approach to the crackdown in Iran and North Korea's recent missile tests. Closer to home, he is likely to use the occasion to take on congressional critics of his health care plan as well as to discuss broader economic concerns.

Obama's news conference will air on CNN and CNN.com at 12:30 p.m. ET.

The No. 1 issue may be Obama's Iran policy, which has received intense scrutiny in recent days amid growing concerns over Tehran's violent crackdown on street protests.

The Iranian demonstrators believe the country's June 12 presidential election was a sham. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama "continues to have concerns and questions ... about how that election was conducted."


Obama has called on Iran to stop violent and unjust steps that stifle free speech, but some Republicans have criticized him for not siding more strongly with the demonstrators.

Gibbs said Monday that Obama's statements have been intended to prevent Iranian leaders from claiming that the protests were a U.S.-backed attempt to bring down the regime.
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"This isn't about a foreign policy that makes us feel good," Gibbs said. "This isn't about a statement that makes us feel good or sound good on television."

On the domestic front, overhauling health care remains a top presidential priority, but the initial proposals to reach Congress last week received a rocky reception.

The Congressional Budget Office determined that either of two similar bills by Senate Democrats would cost more than $1 trillion, which was significantly higher than expected.

Republican opponents immediately slammed the measures, and the Senate Finance Committee delayed scheduled hearings on one of the bills. Hearings by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on the other measure began amid intense partisan bickering, with hundreds of amendments proposed by Republican opponents.

At issue is how best to reduce the cost and increase the reach of the health care system, which officials say is draining personal, corporate and government budgets while leaving 46 million Americans without health insurance.

Obama has warned that a failure to act soon will bring far worse economic difficulties than the costs of plans under discussion. He has further raised the political stakes by saying he expects to sign a comprehensive reform bill this year.

The president tried to demonstrate new momentum for his approach Monday by showcasing a decision by the nation's pharmaceutical industry to agree to a deal cutting drug costs for elderly Americans.

Obama called the agreement an example of the kind of compromise required for successful national health care reform.

The deal "marks a major step forward, but it will only be meaningful if we complete the journey," Obama said.

"I have to repeat and revive an old saying we had from the campaign: Yes, we can. We are going to get this done."

Both parties in Congress agree on the need to slow the increase in health care costs while ensuring that all Americans can get health insurance, but they differ sharply on how to proceed.

The biggest sticking point so far: Democrats generally favor a government-funded "public option" to compete with private insurers. Republicans are adamant that such a step will lead to a government takeover of health care, which they oppose.

Republicans also accuse Obama and Democrats of trying to rush through what they say is flawed legislation in 2009 before the politics of midterm elections in 2010 and the 2012 presidential race.

Adding to the charged health care debate are indications of increased public anxiety over the growing federal deficit.

Obama, who signed a $787 billion stimulus bill this year, has said that short-term deficit spending is necessary to boost the sagging economy.

A June 12-15 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, however, showed that 58 percent of adult Americans believe the president and Congress should be more concerned with deficit reduction than economic growth.



Obama administration complains to WTO about China

China's being unfair to U.S. steel producers by restricting access to raw materials, the U.S. says. The complaint is the first to be filed after Obama promised aggressive action in his campaign.
Reporting from Washington -- The Obama administration today demonstrated its intent to be tougher on major global trading partners, filing a complaint against China for restricting access to raw materials important for U.S. producers of steel, aluminum and chemicals.



The request to the World Trade Organization to begin dispute resolution talks is the first trade complaint by the administration after President Obama promised more aggressive action on such issues during the campaign. It accuses China of placing unfair export restraints on nine materials that it is a major producer of, including coke, a key component to making steel.
The restrictions have driven up the prices of those materials for U.S. manufacturers while reducing the costs to Chinese companies, said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

"China's policies on these raw materials seem to be a giant thumb on the scale in favor of Chinese producers. It's our job to make sure we remove that thumb from that scale," Kirk said at a news conference. "Today's action is proof of our commitment to level the playing field in this area."

The European Union also filed a WTO complaint against China today on the same issue.

Kirk said the U.S. decided to act after talks with China during the past two years over the issue failed to lead to the removal of the export restrictions.

Those talks were largely conducted by the Bush administration, which had opted against filing a formal complaint with the WTO, which governs global trade among nation's who are members. Since China joined the WTO about 10 years ago, the United States has filed 7 cases against the country. China has filed four cases against the United States during that time.

Kirk said that ensuring countries do not impose unfair trade practices is crucial as the United States tries to emerge from the severe recession.

"Now more than ever trade is essential to keeping America's economy afloat," Kirk said.

As an example of the impact of China's trade practices on the materials, Kirk cited coke, which is a key component to producing steel. In 2008, China was the world's leading producer, with 336 million metric tons. But export duties the reached 40% limited annual exports to 12 million metric tons, he said. The restrictions meant that the world price for coke in August of 2008 was $740 per metric ton while in China it was only $472 per metric ton.

China has said WTO rules allow it to place the restrictions on the materials, which also include zinc, magnesium and yellow phosphorous, because they are exhaustible natural resources of the country.

Iran Accuses UN Chief of Meddling in Election Dispute

Iran is accusing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of meddling in its affairs after he urged the Islamic state to stop its crackdown on opposition protesters.
Iranian state media quote the Foreign Ministry as saying Tuesday Mr. Ban is contradicting his duties and ignoring the facts about Iran's June 12 presidential election. Iran's government also accused the U.N. chief of being influenced by unspecified foreign powers.

Mr. Ban released a statement Monday urging Iran's conservative government and reformist opposition to peacefully resolve their dispute over this month's election. Official results gave a landslide victory to the conservative incumbent, Mahmoud Ahamdinejad.


Mr. Ban expressed dismay about Iran's post-election violence and urged Iranian authorities to "immediately stop" arrests and the use of force against opposition activists.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says Washington believes recent mass protests over the election mark the "beginnings of change" in Iran, as he put it.

U.S. President Barack Obama has sharpened his criticism of Iran's government in recent days while trying to avoid the appearance of meddling. He is expected to address Iran's political crisis again in a news conference Tuesday in the White House Rose Garden.

Some opposition Republican lawmakers have criticized Mr. Obama's handling of the issue, saying the he is not taking a strong enough stand.

Gibbs told the U.S. television network (NBC) Tuesday Mr. Obama does not want to become a "political football" that Iran's government uses against Iranians who seek justice. He says the Obama administration will not endorse Iranian opposition calls for a general strike.

In another development, several European nations summoned Iranian ambassadors Tuesday to condemn Iran's crackdown on the protests.

The French government says it summoned the Iranian ambassador in Paris for the second time in eight days and complained about what it called Iran's "brutal repression" of demonstrators.

The Finnish government says it told Iran's ambassador to Finland that Tehran must release opposition leaders, recount votes and resolve the election dispute peacefully.

The Czech presidency of the European Union urged EU member states Monday to summon Iranian envoys to protest the crackdown.

Iranian officials have accused France, Britain, the United States and other Western nations of provoking Iran's post-election unrest - a charge they deny.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

White House: Obama Has No Plan to Alter Tone on Iran Protests



President Obama, who is expected to hold his first Rose Garden press conference on Tuesday, does not want the U.S. to become a "political football" or "foil" to the demonstrators who are protesting Iran's disputed election outcome, the White House said.
President Obama has no plans to alter his tone in response to Iran's bloody crackdown on post-election demonstrations, the White House said Tuesday.

"He'll continue to speak out in support of those that are seeking to demonstrate and do so in a way peacefully," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told FOX News. "We don't want to inject our government in the place of the reformers in this equation."



The president has faced mounting pressure from the GOP in recent days to toughen his measured response to the violent protests in the country over Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election victory -- a victory many Iranians, including the president's rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, claim is fraudulent. Many Republicans have charged Obama with taking a passive tone and being too timid in his response to the violence.

Obama, who is expected to hold his first Rose Garden press conference on Tuesday, does not want the U.S. to become a "political football" or "foil" to the demonstrators who are protesting Iran's disputed election outcome, said Gibbs.

But the White House left open the possibility Tuesday that it would intervene should the violence in Tehran escalate.

"Obviously if a tremendous escalation happens -- if tanks happen -- we would respond to that immediately," Gibbs said.

Iran's supreme leader has ordered demonstrators off the streets and the feared Revolutionary Guards continue to threaten an increased crackdown. At least 17 people have been killed during near-daily demonstrations, which have drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters.

Members of the Revolutionary Guard, the Basij militia and other Iranian security forces in riot gear have been deployed across Tehran, preventing gatherings and ordering people to keep moving. A protest of some 200 people Monday was quickly broken up with tear gas and shots in the air.

Gibbs said Obama will also address several other pressing issues during Tuesday's news conference, including the possibility that North Korea may fire a long-range ballistic missile toward Hawaii in early July.

"The president and the Pentagon have done and are doing everything humanly possible to ensure the safety of all Americans should the North Koreans decide to test fire another missile," he said. "That is our main concern."

Gibbs added that the U.S. is taking aggressive steps -- including strong sanctions -- to prevent North Korea from transporting nuclear material and weapons to another regime.

An American destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, continues to keep a close eye on North Korean vessel Kang Nam, which is suspected of carrying illicit weapons through waters off Shanghai en route to Myanmar. It is the first ship being monitored under the U.N. sanctions imposed earlier this month following North Korea's defiant underground nuclear test in May.

Fresh delay for Boeing Dreamliner




Boeing has announced that it will delay the maiden flight of its new Dreamliner 787 aircraft, the latest postponement to befall the project.

The flight had been due to take place on 30 June, but the US company said it had now been delayed due to a need to reinforce a side section of the plane.
Only last week, Boeing told the BBC that the Dreamliner would have its first flight "in a couple of weeks".

Boeing said in April it would have to postpone its first deliveries.

Boeing is due to give more details about the latest postponement at a news conference later.

Before the latest announcement, the long-range, medium-sized Dreamliner was already 15 months behind schedule.

Best seller

Boeing had received 802 orders for the Dreamliner by the start of 2008, which made it the plane-maker's fastest selling model.

The company's first completely new aircraft since 1995, the Dreamliner takes advantage of new technology that allows much of it to be made of lighter, plastic composites instead of aluminium.

Boeing claims that as a result, it will consume 20% less fuel than other, similar-sized planes.

It also has a greater range than similar-sized planes, which Boeing hopes will mean it can open up new, direct long-haul routes.

More Than 75 Injured in Metro Accident Taken to Area Hospitals




At least 76 people were taken to area hospitals last night for treatment of injuries that ranged from minor to critical. Most went to Washington Adventist Hospital, Washington Hospital Center and Howard University Hospital, officials said.

Officials described a chaotic scene in which hospitals braced for mass casualties, and media crews and relatives of potential victims descended upon waiting rooms and parking lots, searching for any scrap of information about what had happened.

The bulk of the injured seem to have gone to Washington Adventist, near the crash site. Officials at Washington Hospital Center say seven patients were treated there. One required surgery. Six have non-life-threatening injuries.

Even early this morning, said Ron Harris, a spokesman at Howard: "Our phone lines are still flooded with people looking for relatives from the crash."


Harris said the hospital got a call from two parents in New York who hadn't heard from their daughter and feared the worst. It turns out she was still out of the country on a trip in Switzerland, Harris said.

D.C. police said people looking for information about where crash victims might have been taken should call this number: 202-727-9099.

Among the victims at being treated at Howard was Lanice Beasley 14, who had multiple fractures to both of her lower legs and extremities and was taken to surgery. Two men, ages 51 and 20, were also treated for less severe injuries. The younger of the two was Jamie Jiao, 20 of Vienna. He was discharged shortly after 11 p.m., and recalled his experiences to a Washington Post reporter.
iao, a psychology major at the University of Virginia, said he was riding the Metro home from his summer job at the America Sleep Apnea Association, located near the Takoma station. He took the escalator up to the platform, which dumps him at the front of the train when it pulls into the station. Not thinking anything of it, he boarded the first car, headed west toward Metro Center. "It's just habit at this point," he said.

The train chugged along. "At one point it stopped moving for a bit." A voice came over the speaker system and said that train was stopped to wait for another train to move. "It was perfectly normal. Then we started moving again."

Jiao said from his seat three rows back in the first car he could see the other train in front of them. Again, he wasn't concerned, given the earlier announcement. A split second later, he said, there was a crash and a loud sound, like an explosion. "What happened after that was pretty blurry."

The impact knocked his glasses off. Both his topsider shoes were gone from his feet. He briefly lost consciousness. When he came to, "I started feeling pain in my lower back and foot." Jiao said he was bleeding under his chin and on his arms and legs. He thought, Did I hit my head? Did I break any bones? He looked around and saw someone near him, lying down and not moving.

"It was strange because I was sitting in the third row and there were people in front of me" before the crash, he said. After the crash, "other than that person who wasn't moving, everyone else was just gone. I don't know where they were or what happened to them, or what happened to the driver."

"I thought 'wow, this is crazy, I can't believe this has happened.' I thought, 'I'm lucky to be alive. I'm lucky that I didn't hit anything or break anything.' "

He crawled out of the rail car, in fear that it might come crashing down. "It was split open." He heard frantic passengers make 911 calls from their cell phones. "People behind me were trapped and calling for help."

Jiao said he sat on top of the other train "for a while. They me just to sit there." Firefighters told him they wanted to get to the people who were trapped before tending to him. They eventually got a ladder up and got him down.

Jiao's left ankle was badly bruised and swollen. Since his shoes were lost in the crash, he emerged from the hospital wearing a surgical shoe both on the injured foot and other the other foot as well. He was still wearing the white "patient disaster tag" authorities had put around his right wrist, a cheat sheet for the emergency responders arriving on the scene, to quickly gauge on the scene the level of his injuries.

The director of the office from his summer texted him right after the crash to ask him if he was on the train and was okay. As soon as he could, he called his parents, Haying Jiao and Jiazhen Yang, to tell them of the crash.

"I'm still in shock. I'm also pretty hungry, I haven't eaten since lunch," Jiao said late last night. "I'm thankful that not anything too serious happened to me. I was just lucky."




Jun 22, 2009

Europeans pressure Iran to end protest crackdown




AMSTERDAM (AP) — Europe has stepped up pressure on Iran to end its bloody crackdown on street protests, feeling less constrained to speak out than President Barack Obama — who has made engagement with the Islamic Republic a keystone of U.S. foreign policy.

But like Obama, European leaders have tempered their reaction, wary of crossing a line that could make matters worse for the dissenters in Tehran and undermine efforts to contain Iranian nuclear ambitions.

There has been no talk of diplomatic sanctions or curtailing business ties, which could rebound against Europe at a time when Iran is increasingly seen as an essential partner in dealing with regional issues from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Arab-Israeli conflict.


In a coordinated action Monday, European countries summoned Iranian diplomats to their foreign ministries to deliver stern warnings against continuing the violence meted out to demonstrators who allege that the outcome of Iran's June 12 presidential election was rigged.

The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation European Union, rejected Iranian claims of interference, telling the country's ambassador in Prague that the EU has the right to question "whether the objective criteria of a transparent and democratic electoral process have been upheld in any country."

The Czech Foreign Ministry also expressed "revulsion at the documented police violence against peaceful protesters," and asked all EU countries to pass on the same message through diplomatic channels.

The European response is an attempt to strike a balance. They must respond to public pressure at home, where Iranian expatriates and their supporters have demonstrated by the thousands in European capitals, while avoiding any perception of fomenting riots inside Iran and prompting Iran to take even tougher measures.

The United States has little leverage with Tehran. Formal relations were broken off after hardline students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, and the U.S. has imposed trade sanctions on all but humanitarian goods and basic foodstuffs.

The Europeans, who have extensive trade ties with Iran, are the lead negotiators in trying to rein in Iran's nuclear program to prevent it from producing weapons, and they are reluctant to use their economic leverage over the election protests.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Iran to recount the votes of the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but stopped short of alleging electoral fraud. She also urged Iran to stop using force against demonstrators, free detained opposition members and allow free media reporting.

On Monday, her spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm rejected Tehran's charges of European meddling in Iran's domestic affairs. "We have instead demanded that international laws be upheld," he told reporters in Berlin.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been outspoken in his criticism of Iran's response to the demonstrations, but said doors must remain open to continue talks on the country's nuclear program.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, criticized Iran's expulsion of a British reporter and the prevention of coverage of the protests by foreign media.

Such tough talk has allowed Europe to take the heat for the U.S., which would otherwise be an easy target for the Iranian regime.

The Obama administration has refrained from commenting on Iran since last week, when the president challenged Iran's government to halt a "violent and unjust" crackdown on dissenters. Republican members of Congress criticized his response as timid and questioned why he was allowing the Europeans to take the lead.

"The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States," Obama said in an interview taped Friday and broadcast Monday. "We shouldn't be playing into that."

That suits the Iranian leadership, which also doesn't want a fight with the American president, says Clara O'Donnell, a research fellow at the European Institute for Policy Reform in London.

Iran's wrath has been particularly fierce against Britain, she said. At Friday prayers, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Western countries of blatant interference, singling out Britain as "the most evil among them."

"It's interesting that the U.K. is being targeted, not the U.S.," said O'Donnell. "The Iranian regime doesn't want to close off that avenue completely, and it's easier to portray the U.K. as the problem because at the end of the day they know the real country they need to deal with is the U.S."

On Monday, Britain became the first country to order the evacuation of families of diplomatic staff in Tehran, saying they were unable to lead normal lives in the strife-filled city. A Foreign Office statement said staff members were not being withdrawn, and it was not advising other British citizens to leave.

Europeans are expected to continue collaborating on their response, and the Iranian issue will be up for discussion in coming meetings. Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, whose country heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said developments in Iran were sure to be come up at an OSCE meeting this weekend on Corfu.

Iran's first direct confrontation with Europe could come at a foreign minister's meeting this week in Italy of the Group of Eight industrialized countries and several other nations, to which Tehran is invited.

But in a sign of testiness with Iran, Italy said Monday it will consider Iran's G-8 invitation rejected if the country does not reply by the end of the day.

Italy has instructed its embassy in Iran to provide humanitarian aid to protesters wounded during the clashes, pending a EU-wide proposal to coordinate assistance, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari. The Italian Embassy has received no such requests for assistance, he said.

AP Correspondents Melissa Eddy in Berlin, Alessandra Rizzo in Rome, Elena Becatoros in Athens and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

IRAN: Obama showing 'right degree of restraint,' analyst says




nthony Cordesman, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says President Obama is showing the “right degree of restraint” in his public comments about Iran.

Obama has come under domestic pressure to respond more forcefully to the disputed presidential election there. He says he does not want to give Iranian authorities grounds to claim that the protests are the result of U.S. meddling. In a statement Saturday, Obama called on the Iranian government to “stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people” and said the “United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights."


Cordesman writes:

The situation would be different if the United States or any outside power had a magic wand, or if any of the lies regarding foreign interference being told by [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei and [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad were true. The fact is, however, that the United States cannot suddenly intervene in Iran, American political rhetoric is not going to change Iranian facts on the ground, and there is no clear opposition outside Iran worth backing.

Read the full commentary below.

--Alexandra Zavis in Los Angeles

“What’s Next With Iran?”

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2009 – The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy Anthony H. Cordesman has written a new commentary, “What’s Next With Iran?”

Please find the full commentary below:

It is hard to counsel patience, particularly in a climate of artificial deadlines, instant media, and steadily larger gaggles of squawking heads. So far, however, President Obama has shown the right degree of restraint, while laying the groundwork to react as the outcome of events in Iran become clear enough to decide on the best policy.

The situation would be different if the United States or any outside power had a magic wand, or if any of the lies regarding foreign interference being told by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad were true. The fact is, however, that the United States cannot suddenly intervene in Iran, American political rhetoric is not going to change Iranian facts on the ground, and there is no clear opposition outside Iran worth backing.

It is one thing to do everything possible to support a successful change in power if a new and more pragmatic government does emerge out of Iran’s turmoil. It is quite another to put Iran’s people and internal opposition at risk by rushing out to either encourage them to take risks out of the belief outside help will come or to delegitimize their efforts because this plays well in American domestic politics.

A Time for Transparency and Truth

So what can the United States, the West, and outside powers do to help? One key action is to take a public stance of continued restraint. Let Khamenei and Ahmadinejad further discredit themselves with false claims and xenophobic nonsense. Wait to take open action until it is clear what kind of official action can really make a difference.

What can be done more quietly, however, is to encourage the world’s media and Internet services to provide the most realistic and detailed coverage possible, and to fight every Iranian effort to close off Iran and suppress the facts on the ground. In some ways, this is best done by encouraging other governments to encourage their media. The best and most objective U.S. coverage will always be suspect until U.S.-Iranian relations put an end to decades of official mistrust.

At the same time, this is the moment to provide background briefings on any special intelligence insight into the legitimacy of the vote; to explain how undemocratic Iranian “democracy” really is; and to provide the facts on Iran’s economy that its leadership downplays or ignores and data on its efforts at arrests and repression.

This is not a time for rhetoric and propaganda, but it is a time for transparency and truth. The United States should do everything it can to help the world’s media understand the facts, both now and in the weeks and months to come. It is also a time to trust the media to use that data and supplement it on its own. The United States should not try to manage information operations; it should seek to provide information.

If Iran’s Leadership Does Change

If the turmoil in Iran does produce a major change in the leadership, the United States should be prepared to react immediately. It should go beyond a call for dialogue. It should offer immediate positive benefits and not focus on the issues that have divided Iran and the United States.

Both nations have a clear and immediate interest in focused cooperation in dealing with Afghanistan and Iraq in ways that help them achieve stability and independence and defeat the kind of religious extremism that is a common threat to the Iran, the United States, every Arab state, and all of Iran’s other neighbors. A sudden, “grand bargain” seems likely to be impossible, but real progress may be an option in more limited areas.

The United States should immediately and formally recognize the importance of the change in regime, state that Iranian affairs are a matter for Iran, and call for relations based on full recognition of Iran’s right to security. The United States should offer to ease or lift economic sanctions, particularly those that put more pressure on Iran’s people than its regime. It should not ease sanctions that affect Iran’s arms and nuclear imports, and should resist any such efforts by other countries. It should, however, make it clear that it recognizes Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear power and nuclear enrichment as long as this occurs under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection and the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It should also encourage the Gulf states, including Iraq, to hold a security dialogue with Iran.

What it should not do is underreact to a real shift in the regime simply because it will be so difficult to characterize the new leadership, and because that leadership will inevitably be drawn from within elements of Iran’s current power structure. It is one thing to wait in mid-crisis and another to let uncertainty turn into paralysis once a key turning point has actually occurred. Moreover, making such offers has minimal risk. It takes time to implement them. If Iran takes real advantage of such openings, then everyone wins—including all of Iran’s neighbors. If Iran’s new leader games or ignores such U.S. actions, the United States will have ample time to react, and Iran’s neighbors will see that it was not the United States that failed Iran, but rather Iran’s new neighbors.

This does not mean ignoring Iran’s nuclear activities, hostility to Israel, opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace process, interference in Iraq, ties to Syria and nonstate actors, and buildup of irregular warfare capabilities, or temporarily taking them off the table. These are issues the United States can discuss with Iran as soon as Iran is ready. It does mean giving Iran’s new leadership time and immediate reason to believe that it can actually deal with the United States.

Strategic patience is the prelude to real, lasting, and more serious progress. So is the understanding that the United States may also not get all it wants—particularly in terms of Iran’s nuclear and military programs, and its actions toward its neighbors and Israel. The United States may well have to settle for making things “better,” but this will be far more productive than waiting for “perfect,” particularly if the United States makes progress with Iran that is firmly grounded in realism rather than in hope.

And if It Does Not...

Sadly, the most likely scenario is that the regime remains the same. If so, the continued rule of Khamenei, and Ahmadinejad’s continued role in the presidency, will mean that the United States, Iran’s neighbors, and the world will face all of the problems with Iran they faced before the election. If so, this will require a different kind of strategic patience.

One thing that Obama administration should not do is return to the illusion of trying to change the regime directly from the outside or through some covert backing of opposition movements inside Iran. The only outside exile movements that begin to have meaningful status are centered on the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) (aka People’s Mujahedin of Iran or PMOI), which is affiliated with the National Council of Resistance of Iran. This is a movement with a long history of terrorism, including the murder of U.S. officers and officials during the time of the Shah. It served as a tool for Saddam Hussein, and now is a cult centered on its leaders, the Rajavis. Like some Iraqi exile groups in 2003, it has no real strength or credibility, and in spite of its domestic political efforts, it is a movement that only the stupidest and most irresponsible members of Congress and think tanks could support.

What the Obama administration should do is keep up a constant effort to expose the true nature of the regime, its repression, and its failures. Once again, it will be far better to help the world’s media provide truth and transparency independently than by trying to run a propaganda effort or information operation. Such an effort should also be continuing, as open as possible, and uncompromising. It should not preclude dialogue with Iran’s existing regime. The United States gains nothing from isolating Iran and loses a great deal in terms of a lack of contact with Iran’s people. However, any dialogue should be narrowly focused on areas of clear mutual interest, and the United States should make no compromises over its truth and transparency efforts to obtain short-term gains in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gulf.

If there is any effort that the United States should take directly aimed at the regime, it is to encourage both Shi’ite and Sunni Islamic scholars to come more directly with the legitimacy of the concept of a “supreme leader.” What did Khomeini actually do, aside from creating social repression and extending the Iran-Iraq War for four extra, bloody years? How did a weak and inadequate religious scholar like Khamenei come to be supreme leader? What does any of this do to advance any aspect of Shi’ite and Islamic beliefs, and is the record to date better than the tradition of “quietism” except when the regime commits major abuses? These are not questions any non-Shi’ites or non-Muslims can answer. They are questions that the actions of Iran’s supreme leaders to date have given the entire world the right to ask.

More broadly, the United States should make it clear that it will not compromise its key interests in the region. The United States should work with its allies, key states like Russia and China, and the other Gulf states to show that the security measures the United States takes in the region are only intended to deal with the excesses of the Iranian regime. There are positive actions the United States should take. It should reevaluate its sanctions and legislation to make it clear that it is doing everything possible to help the Iranian people in spite of such a regime. It should show that there are real, detailed, and major incentives available if the regime changes its conduct. It should also make it clear that the United States will not invade Iran or exercise any military options until it is clear to the world that Iran actually has a nuclear force that is a major threat.

At the same time, the United States should prove to the region that it is keeping a strong forward U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) presence in the Gulf, and that it is working with the Gulf states to contain Iran, and with the Arab states to check Iran’s influence in dealing with Hezbollah and Hamas. It should show that it will support a secure Israel while it seeks a full Arab-Israeli peace. It should offer the region missile defenses and extended deterrence to counter the threats and opportunism that come out of Iran’s regime. In doing so, it should demonstrate that Iran’s existing leaders cannot “win” through any of their actions; they can only escalate the level of containment and risks to Iran. In doing so, the United States should also demonstrate that it is constantly listening to the states in the region, and key outside states, and is treating such efforts as a partnership and not as policies it is seeking to impose.

There are no quick and easy answers to the present regime in Iran, if it survives. This does not mean there are not effective answers if the United States acts decisively and consistently over time.

###

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions; accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in these publications should be understood to be solely those of the authors.

Obama signs landmark tobacco legislation into law





ASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law a landmark bill that gives the U.S. government broad regulatory power for the first time over cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Obama, who said he began smoking as a teenager, said the law would curb the ability of tobacco companies to market their products to children.

"It will force these companies to more clearly and publicly acknowledge the harmful and deadly effects of the products they sell," Obama said, adding that he knew how hard it was for people to give up smoking.


"I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it's been with you for a long time."

The law marked the culmination of a quest by tobacco industry foes in Congress dating back more than a decade to put cigarettes under the control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The bill allows the FDA to put stringent new limits on the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products but stops short of banning cigarettes or their addictive ingredient nicotine.

Nearly 20 percent of Americans smoke, and tobacco use kills about 440,000 people a year in the United States due to cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other ailments, officials say.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Editing by Sandra Maler)


Obama: US Ready for Any Threat from N. Korea




U.S. President Barack Obama said his administration and the U.S. military are "fully prepared for any contingencies" involving North Korea -- including the possible launch of a long-range missile toward Hawaii.

In a television interview with CBS News that aired Monday, Mr. Obama said he hopes that Pyongyang will take a path toward rejoining the international community. But he said his administration will not reward "belligerence and provocation."


His comments followed reports that North Korea plans to fire a ballistic missile toward Hawaii in early July, and as U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, tracked a North Korean ship suspected of smuggling missiles or related parts in violation of United Nations sanctions.

Reports citing unidentified intelligence sources in South Korea said the vessel, the Kang Nam, appears to be heading to Burma by way of Singapore.

Also Monday, the newspaper of North Korea's ruling party, Rodong Sinmun, described the country as a "proud nuclear power" and threatened to hit back at the United States if attacked.

South Korean Unification Minster Hyun In-taek told the Reuters news agency that the North's recent provocative actions are related to rising domestic social unrest and a possible succession by leader Kim Jong Il.

The Kang Nam is the first North Korean ship to be monitored under the terms of a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted earlier this month.

The resolution authorizes U.N. members to inspect North Korean cargo ships for illicit missile-related technology. North Korea has said it would consider any such move an act of war.

The U.S. military has not indicated any plans to search the vessel, which belongs to a fleet of ships that U.S. officials say have been used in the past to transport weapons.

nternational Criticism of Iranian Government Actions Grows




International criticism of Iran's handling of a disputed presidential vote and subsequent protests is mounting, after Iranian media reported the arrest of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani's eldest daughter.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel added her voice to a growing chorus of Western leaders demanding respect for civil liberties in Iran.

"Human rights and citizens' rights are inseparable, and that is why Germany stands behind the people, and peaceful demonstrations in Iran, who want to make use of their freedom of speech and who want to gather peacefully. I, therefore, demand that Iran's leaders allow peaceful demonstrations, allow free reporting of events, stop the use of violence against demonstrators and free imprisoned people."


Ms. Merkel urged a full recount of Iran's contested presidential vote. Official results showed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning re-election in a landslide.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denounced Western criticism as "treacherous" and "unjust," and accused foreign governments of fomenting unrest in his country. Responding, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he "categorically" rejects any suggestion that foreign countries are manipulating protesters in Iran.

Meanwhile, authorities in Tehran say they have arrested Faezeh Hashemi - the eldest daughter of former President Rafsanjani. Last week, Hashemi was seen addressing supporters of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who alleges massive fraud in the June 12 ballot and is calling for a new election.
Saturday saw clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the capital. Thousands rallied in Tehran, despite a warning by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to stop demonstrations about the disputed election. News organizations around the world have come to rely on reporting, photographs and video from ordinary Iranian citizens, as foreign journalists have been expelled from the country or confined to their hotels.

Scores of demonstrations have been mounted around the world in support of protesters in Iran. Many of those taking part have relatives in the country.

"They're killing our kids over there," said one Iranian demonstrator in California. "So I don't know. We can't do anything else. Just I believe this is the most [i.e., best] thing that we can do. And anytime that they need us, we are going to be there for them."

On Saturday, President Barack Obama issued his strongest statement to date on the Iranian situation. He called on the Iranian government "to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people" and said the United States "stands by all who seek to exercise" the universal rights to assemble and speak freely.


Eyewitnesses Say Iranian Police Use Force to Break Up Protest




Witnesses say Iranian riot police have fired tear gas to break up a new opposition rally in the centre of the capital Tehran, hours after a stern warning to protesters.

According to eyewitness reports, Iranian police Monday attacked hundred of demonstrators attending an opposition rally in a Tehran square with tear gas.
Demonstrators had gathered on Haft-e Tir Square despite the warning from Iran's Revolutionary Guards against holding unapproved rallies.
Earlier, Defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi urged his supporters to continue demonstrating, but "with restraint."


"The country belongs to you," Mr. Mousavi told supporters on his Web site Kalam, adding that "it is your right to protest lies and fraud," in reference to disputed election results which gave a landslide victory to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards, however, vowed to crush further protest rallies, telling opposition supporters to be ready for a "revolutionary confrontation" if they continue to demonstrate.

Iran analyst Mehrdad Khonsari with the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies says that government tactics to quell demonstrations is having limited results.

"The authorities are succeeding in trying to prevent a mass congregation in one place, which means they're stopping people coming to a central location or a central point from various avenues, but they have not succeeded in preventing people from coming out, so instead they're trying to control the crowds arriving at that central point from a number of other streets and locations," said Khonsari. "This tactic has been successful in preventing huge numbers from gathering in one place, but this does not mean that the demonstrations have fizzled out or that people have lost their enthusiasm."

He also notes that there are similarities between the period leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and events of today.

"There are similarities in appearance, but what separates the two is that the government at that time did not have the resolve to want to quell the rebellion at any price, and the Shah was seeking to make compromises with the opposition," he continued. "This time, the regime is bent on quashing the rebellion, and they don't want to make any compromises, whatsoever. Finally, the revolution was sort of aimed at opposing forces of modernity in favor of traditional religious values. This time, you see the forces of modernity challenging conservative religious forces."
Iranian state radio reported earlier that at least 457 people were arrested Saturday, a day marked by clashes between security forces and demonstrators that resulted in the deaths of at least 10 people.



3 Killed in Baghdad Roadside Bombing




Police in Iraq say at least three people were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near a mini-bus in Baghdad's Shi'ite neighborhood of Sadr City.


At least 13 others were wounded in the explosion Monday.

Overall violence has declined in recent months in Iraq, but sectarian strife has been evident in the capital recently.

Earlier this month, the head of the main Sunni bloc in Iraq's parliament, Harith al-Obeidi, was killed after leading Friday prayers at a mosque in Baghdad.

An Iraqi security official has said a suspected member of the group al-Qaida has been arrested in connection with that killing.

The violence comes as U.S. combat troops prepare to pull out of Iraqi cities by the end of this month.

Pakistan faces challenge of cementing victory against Taliban




The campaign against Taliban forces in the northwest has impressed observers, but they point to the next, equally important, task for the government, to address issues that help foster militancy.
Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan -- The Pakistani army has exceeded expectations in its offensive against Taliban fighters in northwestern Pakistan, effectively marshaling arms, tactics and political support. But the tougher challenge will be preventing the extremists from returning, or from regrouping elsewhere.


"The key question is whether the army can hold the ground afterward," said Urmila Venugopalan, a South Asia expert with the defense analysis group Jane's.
The early results, which come at a huge humanitarian cost, have bolstered at least temporarily the reputation of a military sometimes accused of fostering militancy to further its long-standing fight with India over the disputed region of Kashmir.

Analysts, however, pointed out that early military victories are only a first, easy step in an effective counterinsurgency campaign. The government must also address the sources of discontent on which the extremists thrive, including government corruption, inadequate services and a sclerotic legal system.

"It's never a solution to the problem," said Shaukat Qadir, a retired Pakistani brigadier general. "People have complaints, which need to be addressed sooner or later."

Some also believe the army remains halfhearted about fighting militancy and continues to see India as the "real" enemy.

"I'm still not sure if this was all done to please the Americans," said Shireen Mazari, a defense analyst. "People who die don't have Taliban printed on their foreheads. It could mostly be civilians."

The army has deployed more than 20,000 troops against an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Taliban fighters. A rule of thumb holds that armies need a 10-to-1 advantage in fighting insurgencies, said Farrukh Saleem, executive director of Islamabad's Center for Research and Security Studies.

Military experts sometimes refer to the type of fighting going on in the Swat, Buner and Dir districts as "asymmetric warfare." Put simply, most armies aren't great against scrappy, highly motivated, mobile militants.

Since the offensive was launched in late April, Taliban fighters have avoided head-on conflict with a superior military force, engaging in hit-and-run, harassment and scare tactics, and, when all else failed, hiding or fleeing, hoping the army would lose interest. That's exactly what happened in Swat in late 2007, late 2008 and early this year.

They've also focused on softer targets, such as police stations and government offices, in a bid to create fear among the civilian population.

What's potentially different this time around, analysts said, is the greater public support for the army, provided it holds. That could be tested as more retaliatory suicide attacks hit Pakistani cities, such as the recent strikes on a security headquarters in Lahore and a five-star hotel in Peshawar.

Although most Pakistanis had gone along with a controversial February deal allowing the Taliban to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, in Swat, the Taliban's expansion into Buner, a mere 60 miles from Islamabad, the capital, set alarm bells clanging at home and abroad.

"I think the army played it very intelligently," said Tasneem Noorani, a former minister. "Everyone begged them to come in. So people can't complain during the next election. It's a popular operation."

Targeting Buner and Dir first also made strategic sense. By attacking two districts that bracket Swat, analysts said, the army forced militants inward, letting the military effectively employ its air power and artillery against a more lightly equipped adversary using rocket launchers, machine guns, explosives, light artillery and small arms.

With the conflict area largely blocked to outsiders, however, many of the details remain unclear.

"The army spokesman stands up there at a press conference every day and tells us how many were killed yesterday," said Kamran Shafi, a retired Pakistani army officer and analyst. "But there are almost no pictures and little transparency."

Initially the military relied heavily on air power, claiming success against Taliban strongholds and ammunition dumps.

"The army couldn't just put boots on the ground and get slaughtered," said Talat Masood, an analyst and retired Pakistani general. "Once they soften them up significantly, and they're on the run, they can make better progress."

With the area ringed, ground troops were sent in to control mountain passes and other choke points, cutting off Taliban supply routes and hampering escape.

World Bank cuts 2009 global growth forecast




BEIJING (AP) — The World Bank has cut its 2009 global growth forecast, saying the world economy will shrink by 2.9 percent and warning that a drop in investment in developing countries will increase poverty.

"The global recession has deepened," the Washington-based multilateral lender said in a report.


Global trade is expected to plunge by 9.7 percent this year, while total gross domestic product for high-income countries contracts by 4.2 percent, the bank said. It said economic growth in developing countries should slow to 1.2 percent — but excluding relatively strong China and India, developing economies will contract by 1.6 percent.

The bank's latest forecast is a sharp reduction from its March prediction of a 1.7 percent global contraction, which it said then would be the worst on record.

Economic damage to developing countries "has been much deeper and broader than previous crises," warned the report, issued Sunday in Washington.

"Unemployment is on the rise, and poverty is set to increase in developing economies," it said.

The global economy should start to grow again in late 2009, but "the expected recovery is projected to be much less vigorous than normal," the report said. It said banks' ability to finance investment and consumer spending would be hampered by the overhang of unpaid loans and devalued assets.

"To break the cycle and revive lending and growth, bold policy measures, along with substantial international coordination, are needed," the World Bank said.

Investment and other financial flows to developing countries plunged by an estimated 39 percent in 2008 to $707 billion, the World Bank said. It said foreign direct investment in developing countries is projected to drop by 30 percent this year to $385 billion.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia have been hit hardest and the region's gross domestic product is expected to plunge by 4.7 percent this year, the bank said. It said growth should recover next year to 1.6 percent.

GDP in Latin America and the Caribbean should shrink by 2.3 percent this year before rebounding to expand by 2 percent in 2010, the report said.

In the Middle East and North Africa, growth is expected to fall by half this year to 3.1 percent, while that of sub-Saharan Africa will drop to 1 percent from an annual average of 5.7 percent over the past three years, the bank said.

East Asia should post a 5 percent expansion, supported in part by China's stimulus-fueled growth, the bank said.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Leading Russian survives assassination attempt




MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- The president of the troubled Russian republic of Ingushetia was wounded in an assassination attempt Monday when a blast hit his convoy.
Yunus-Bek Yevkurov suffered a severe brain concussion, fractured ribs and a ruptured liver, his spokesman said.

The president underwent surgery and his life was not in danger, spokesman Kaloi Akhigov said.


Yevkurov's motorcade was headed to his office Monday when a suicide bomber detonated explosives packed in a car parked by the side of the road, law enforcement officials told local media.

The blast killed Yevkurov's bodyguard and driver. Three others were seriously wounded.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the assassination attempt "a terrorist act."

"He did a lot to restore order and civic peace in Ingushetia and the bandits obviously didn't like that kind of activity," Medvedev said on Russian television.

Ingushetia is a small Russian republic bordering Chechnya in the North Caucasus, just north of Georgia.

An impoverished province of mostly Muslims, Ingushetia has suffered for almost a decade from overflowing unrest in neighboring Chechnya.

It is battling a low-level insurgency against Islamist rebels who launch frequent attacks on Russian servicemen and law enforcement officials.

In response, Russia has launched a counterinsurgency campaign that has been criticized by human rights group for abuses such as arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial executions.

Calm in Tehran; Authorities Confirm Hundreds of Arrests



Iran's capital appears tense but calm Monday, with no reports of the large-scale demonstrations and street violence that have gripped the city since the disputed June 12 presidential election.

Supporters of defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi are urging people to turn on their car headlights in the early evening as a sign of protest and a show of solidarity.

Iranian state radio reported Monday that at least 457 people were arrested Saturday - a day marked by clashes between security forces and demonstrators that resulted in the deaths of at least 10 people.



Tehran's police chief says those detained had provoked civil unrest.

Iran's official death toll from post-election violence now stands at 17. Other reports say the toll is considerably higher. None of the reports has been confirmed.

Meanwhile, Iranian media are reporting that Iran's Guardian Council has said voter irregularities have been documented in dozens of cities.

Iran's Press TV says the Council's spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei made the comment Sunday on Iranian television - Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Channel 2. The spokesman said the total number of votes in 50 cities surpasses the number of people eligible to cast ballots there, and more than three million votes could be in question.

But the spokesman also said the Guardian Council has not yet determined whether the election's outcome was actually affected. And he denied defeated candidates' allegations that such an irregularity occurred in more than 80 cities.

The disputed vote has triggered Iran's greatest unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Mr. Mousavi has issued a statement supporting further protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed election victory.

In a statement posted on the Internet Sunday, Mr. Mousavi - a former prime minister - said Iranians have the right to protest what he called lies and fraud. But he pleaded with his supporters to show restraint and refrain from violence.

Witnesses in Tehran said Mousavi supporters took to their rooftops Sunday after sunset to exchange chants of defiance against the government.

Iranian media say the daughter of one of Iran's most powerful figures, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, and four family members were detained during the protests but later released.

Video of the protests obtained by VOA's Persian News Network can be found YouTube.

You also can follow PNN's Twitter feed in Farsi.

S.Korean leader to visit Japan amid nuclear stand-off




SEOUL (AFP) — South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak will visit Japan on Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Taro Aso, Lee's office said, amid growing tensions over North Korea's nuclear programmes.

During his one-day visit Lee will exchange views on topics including the North's nuclear issue, the presidential office said in a statement.


Lee will also discuss the state of Korea-Japan relations and regional and international cooperation, it said.

The South Korean leader is expected to brief Aso on his summit last week with US President Barack Obama in Washington.

Obama warned that a nuclear North Korea is a "grave threat" and said he would not tolerate its strategy of extracting rewards with belligerent behaviour.

After the United Nations imposed sanctions for its May 25 nuclear test, the North vowed to build more nuclear bombs and to start a separate atomic weapons programme based on enriched uranium.

South Korea and Japan are members of a six-nation forum which was negotiating an end to the North's nuclear programmes.

The forum also includes China, the United States, Russia and the North itself. But Pyongyang announced on April 14 it was quitting the talks, in protest at UN censure of its long-range rocket launch early that month.

The senior South Korean and Russian nuclear negotiators will hold talks in Moscow this week to coordinate their approaches, Seoul's foreign ministry said.

Wi Sung-Lac will visit Russia from Tuesday to Thursday for consultations with his counterpart Alexei Borodavkin, said ministry spokesman Moon Tae-Young.

"The government has been in close consultations with relevant countries as part of international cooperation since North Korea's nuclear test," Moon said.

"The visit to Russia is part of such diplomatic efforts."

West 'seeks Iran disintegration'




Western powers are seeking to undermine Iran by spreading "anarchy and vandalism", the foreign ministry says.

A spokesman said foreign media were "mouthpieces" of enemy governments seeking Iran's disintegration.

He spoke as Tehran remained tense but quiet amid heavy security aimed at preventing new protests against the result of Iran's presidential election.

Iran's Guardian Council says it found irregularities in 50 constituencies, but denied that affected the result.


Challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi says the vote was rigged in favour of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and must be re-run.

Mr Mousavi has told his supporters, who have taken to the streets in their tens of thousands for more than a week, to continue their protests but not to put their lives in danger.
At least 10 people were reported to have been killed in clashes between protesters and police and militia forces on Saturday.

That violence followed a warning on Friday from Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that further demonstrations against the election result would not be tolerated.

Iranian state media said 457 people were detained over Saturday's violence.

International campaign group Reporters Without Borders says 23 local journalists and bloggers have been arrested over the past week.

Opposition supporters passing messages online said they planned to carry candles at a rally in Tehran on Monday evening in memory of those killed. However, heavy security on the streets meant it was not clear whether they would be able to gather freely.

The protests began after incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was named as the winner of the presidential election of 12 June.

Results showed Mr Ahmadinejad won the election by a landslide, taking 63% of the vote, almost double that of Mr Mousavi, his nearest rival.

Following complaints, the powerful Guardian Council, which oversees the electoral process, now says it has found evidence that more votes were cast in some constituencies than there were registered voters. But the number "has no effect on the result of the elections", a council spokesman said.

The BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, who is in Tehran, says this crisis has highlighted divisions within Iran's ruling elite.

Mr Mousavi saying the Islamic Republic needs root and branch reform, and it is hard to imagine Iran being the same place at the end of this crisis, our correspondent says.

'Contacting the enemy'

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi accused Western governments of explicitly backing violent protests aimed at undermining the stability of Iran's Islamic Republic.

"Spreading anarchy and vandalism by Western powers and also Western media... these are not at all accepted," he said.
He said the West was acting in an "anti-democratic" manner, instead praising Iran's commitment to democracy and stressing once again that the results of the presidential election were unimpeachable.

Iran has strongly criticised the US and UK governments in recent days, and Mr Qashqavi reserved special scorn for the BBC and for the Voice of America network, which he called "government channels".

The BBC and other foreign media have been reporting from Iran under severe restrictions for the past week. The BBC's permanent correspondent in Iran, Jon Leyne, was asked to leave the country on Sunday.

"They [the BBC and the VOA] are the mouthpiece of their government's public diplomacy," Mr Qashqavi said.

"They have two guidelines regarding Iran. One is to intensify ethnical and racial rifts within Iran and secondly to disintegrate the Iranian territories."

"Any contact with these channels, under any pretext or in any form, means contacting the enemy of the Iranian nation.

"How can they say they are unbiased when their TV channel is like a war headquarters and in fact they are blatantly commanding riots. Therefore their claims are absolutely wrong. Their governments have ratified decisions so that they can act in this way."

Iran hits out at 'meddling west,' acknowledges ballot discrepancy




TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iran on Monday accused the West of "meddling" in its disputed presidential election even as its election authority reportedly acknowledged that the number of ballots cast in dozens of cities exceeded the number of eligible voters in those areas.
Speaking to reporters, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi alleged that foreign media organizations, such as CNN and BBC, were mouthpieces of their respective governments that were exaggerating reports of police clashes with protesters who have demonstrated daily since the June 12 race.


He also said that government-run news sites, such as the Iranian Student's News Agency, had been hacked in recent days and implied foreign outlets were behind it.

"Isn't it a cyber war of the media with an independent government?" Qashqavi asked. "They ask people to use the DOS (denial of service) system to hack our Web sites."

Denial-of-service attacks make it difficult for users to access a Web site, either temporarily or indefinitely.

Qashqavi's comments came a few hours after government-funded Press TV said Iran's Guardian Council -- which approves all candidates running for office and verifies election results -- said excessive ballots were found in 50 cities.

However, council spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei said voting in those locations did not noticeably affect the outcome of the election.

The council declared incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of the election with 62.63 percent of the vote. His closest rival, Mir Hossein Moussavi received 33.75 percent, surprising many experts who expected him to win.

Moussavi rejected the election as fraudulent and has demanded a new one. Since then, tens of thousands of Iranians echoing the call have taken to the streets daily -- sometimes engaging in violent clashes with police and Ahmadinejad backers.
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On Sunday, thousands of riot police and militia lined Tehran's streets as large crowds marched through thoroughfares shouting, "Don't be afraid. We're together!" and "Death to the dictator!" Video Watch more about Iran's female protesters »

There were no immediate reports of violence, unlike on Saturday, when hospital sources said 19 people were killed in clashes. Press TV confirmed 13 fatalities, while unconfirmed reports put the number as high as 150.

The station also said police arrested 457 people Saturday who vandalized property.

Moussavi has called on Iranians to "exercise self-control," while still supporting their right to demonstrate.

"The country belongs to you. The revolution and the system is your heritage," a statement attributed to Moussavi said on the candidate's Web site. "Protesting against lies and cheating is your right. Be hopeful about regaining your rights. Do not allow anyone who tries to make you lose hope and frighten you make you lose your temper."

CNN has not been able to verify the authenticity of the site.

Though Moussavi supporters on social networking sites have accused police of brutality, Tehran police Chief Maj. Gen. Azizollah Rajabpour told Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency that officers do not have permission to use firearms in confronting protesters.

Allegations to the contrary are false and "spread by those who want to muddy the waters," Mehr said.

The foreign ministry spokesman leveled the same allegations, saying the West and its media were sowing discord in Iran.

The government has restricted international journalists from covering the rallies.

On Sunday, the BBC said Iran had expelled Jon Leyne, its permanent correspondent in Tehran. And the Tehran bureau of the Dubai-based Arab satellite station Al-Arabiya was ordered closed, the station said.

Qashqavi, the foreign ministry spokesman, said lawmakers were meeting Monday to discuss how to respond to foreign tampering.

"There is a heated debate in parliament right now," he said. "We will take necessary steps regarding the West's interference." Also Sunday, the daughter of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was released after her arrest while taking part in a protest.

Rafsanjani is chairman of the Assembly of Experts, which is responsible for appointing or removing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rafsanjani supports Moussavi, while Khamenei remained staunch in his defense of Ahmadinejad.

Meanwhile, various other prominent figures, including many who were part of the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago, issued conflicting statements, indicating that Iran's leadership was far from unified.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called the possibility of irregularities almost nonexistent. On the other hand, Iran's influential parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, accused the Guardian Council of siding with one candidate.
"Although the Guardian Council is made up of religious individuals, I wish certain members would not side with a certain presidential candidate," Larijani told the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting on Saturday, without naming whom he meant.

Larijani's statement was in direct contrast to that of Khamenei, who in a sermon Friday declared the elections a "definitive victory" for Ahmadinejad and rejected charges of vote-rigging.

Calm in Tehran; Authorities Confirm Hundreds of Arrests




Iran's capital appears tense but calm Monday, with no reports of the large-scale demonstrations and street violence that have gripped the city since the disputed June 12 presidential election.

Supporters of defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi are urging people to turn on their car headlights in the early evening as a sign of protest and a show of solidarity.


Iranian state radio reported Monday that at least 457 people were arrested Saturday - a day marked by clashes between security forces and demonstrators that resulted in the deaths of at least 10 people.

Tehran's police chief says those detained had provoked civil unrest.

Iran's official death toll from post-election violence now stands at 17. Other reports say the toll is considerably higher. None of the reports has been confirmed.

Meanwhile, Iranian media are reporting that Iran's Guardian Council has said voter irregularities have been documented in dozens of cities.

Iran's Press TV says the Council's spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei made the comment Sunday on Iranian television - Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Channel 2. The spokesman said the total number of votes in 50 cities surpasses the number of people eligible to cast ballots there, and more than three million votes could be in question.

But the spokesman also said the Guardian Council has not yet determined whether the election's outcome was actually affected. And he denied defeated candidates' allegations that such an irregularity occurred in more than 80 cities.

The disputed vote has triggered Iran's greatest unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Mr. Mousavi has issued a statement supporting further protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed election victory.

In a statement posted on the Internet Sunday, Mr. Mousavi - a former prime minister - said Iranians have the right to protest what he called lies and fraud. But he pleaded with his supporters to show restraint and refrain from violence.

Witnesses in Tehran said Mousavi supporters took to their rooftops Sunday after sunset to exchange chants of defiance against the government.

Iranian media say the daughter of one of Iran's most powerful figures, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, and four family members were detained during the protests but later released.

Video of the protests obtained by VOA's Persian News Network can be found YouTube.

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Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.