Jul 3, 2009

US marines face a 'hell of a fight' in Helmand surge

US Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade wait for helicopter transport as part of Operation Khanjar at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province in Afghanistan on July 2, 2009. Photo: GETTY

United States Marines storming into southern Afghanistan are facing a "hell of a fight" in some districts while others are "suspiciously" quiet, their commander has said.
By Ben Farmer in Kabul
After meeting little resistance in the first day of Operation Khanjar, or 'sword strike', he said units south of Garmsir were involved in heavy fighting.

American marines lost a single soldier during the first 24 hours of the 4,000-strong assault on the Taliban heartlands of southern Helmand province.
The operation is the first big push of President Barack Obama's surge strategy which has seen 21,000 reinforcements ordered to the country this year.

Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said on Friday the 2/8 infantry battalion was meeting resistance at Toshtay, 16 miles south of Garmsir.

He said: "For 2/8, there is a hell of a fight going on in the southern quarter of the sector. 2/8 are going to face some challenges.

"An enemy-controlled baseline just south of Garmsir was crushed yesterday but that doesn't mean all the enemy have gone.

"In the next few days the enemy will observe us to see what we are doing. Then they will come back with a vengeance."

He added: "Nawa is quiet, too quiet. Something is eerie. The enemy has gone to ground, shuras [councils of elders] are being set up."

The American marine offensive entered its second day as British troops north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah began a third wave of their own Operation Panchai Palang or Panther's Claw.

Around 800 Light Dragoons drove north after the Welsh Guards spent ten days capturing 13 crossings along the Shamalan canal a British military statement said.

On Friday it was announced Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, the first British commanding officer to die in combat since the Falklands, had been killed by a roadside bomb during the operation.

The British said they hoped to allow free movement for next month's presidential elections by securing the road between Lashkar Gah and Gereshk.

American marines were ferried into Garmsir and Nawa districts by a fleet of dozens of helicopters and armoured convoys in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Khan Neshin, further south where Islamist militants were said to have set up a shadow government, was overrun later in the day.

A Taliban website, which in the past has exaggerated and fabricated coalition casualties, said 15 foreign and Afghan soldiers died on the first day of the assault.

A statement said: "In every locality they faced bloody attacks by the Mujahideen, as a result of which the enemy suffered heavy casualties.

It continued: "As a result, so far 15 foreign and internal enemy soldiers have lost their lives in the fighting." After an aggressive 36-hour opening phase, the operation was predicted to slow as American marines attempted to win local 'hearts and minds'.

First Lieutenant Kurt Stahl, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said: "When Marines go out into towns, they are always looking for opportunities to talk to village elders and explain why they are here."

"The intention is to understand each other, elders can express their concerns and an open flow of communication is secured."

US Troops Push Further into Southern Afghanistan

U.S. Marine takes a position next to piles of dried poppy bulbs in the village of Noghara in the Nawa district in Afghanistan's Helmand province,

By VOA News

U.S. Marines pushed further into southern Afghanistan Friday, meeting little resistance as they moved to capture villages and population centers controlled by Taliban militants.
The U.S. offensive is being led by 4,000 Marines who poured into southern Helmand province on Thursday. The operation is aimed at driving out militants and securing the area ahead of presidential elections August 20.

Marine spokesman Bill Pelletier says U.S. troops have engaged in only sporadic fighting, but he warned that could change. He said the U.S. is focused one keeping the Taliban militants out and winning the people's trust.

The U.S. military says one Marine has been killed and several others wounded in the offensive. Hundreds of Afghan soldiers and police are also taking part in the operation.

Separately, U.S. officials say the military is using all its resources to find an American soldier believed to have been captured by militants in eastern Paktika province on Tuesday.

The offensive in the south marks the first major operation under U.S. President Barack Obama's revamped strategy to defeat an increasingly violent Taliban insurgency.

Pakistan has re-deployed some of its troops to the border with Afghanistan to stop insurgents who may be fleeing the offensive in Helmand province.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

Inside Michael Jackson's 'Vibrant' Last Rehearsal

Video of shows a seemingly energetic Michael Jackson at rehearsal two days before his death.

his is a rush transcript from "On the Record," July 2, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Now, you are looking at Michael Jackson two days before he died. This was his very last rehearsal, the last known video of Jackson. Our next guest was right there at the Staples Center, photographing Jackson. He has been photographing Jackson for 30 years. Kevin Mazur joins us. Good evening, Kevin.


VAN SUSTEREN: Kevin, now there's a lot of focus, of course, on the last 24 hours, up until the time that Michael Jackson was found non- responsive. When did you last see him?

MAZUR: I saw him at that performance. It's sad to watch that video. I mean, I still can't believe it. I'm in such shock still, to this day.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, you're a still photographer, right?

MAZUR: Yes. I've been shooting concerts for a good, you know, 30 years, and Michael Jackson was one of my ultimate favorite artists to photograph through the years.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you notice anything unusual or different about him that night, since you've known him for over 30 years?

MAZUR: No. I mean, he was the same Michael Jackson. When Michael hit the stage, I was, like, Wow! The same Michael Jackson I've photographed through the years, full of energy, full of life, having fun, very upbeat. You know, he's totally -- he was going toe-to-toe -- I mean, look at it, he's going toe to toe with 20-year-old dancers.

VAN SUSTEREN: How close did you get? What size lens were you using that night?

MAZUR: Well, I was -- you know, I shoot with a variety of lenses. I shoot from wide angle to telephoto because, you know, like, I'm there to document this for Michael Jackson. And so I have an array of lenses that I'm using to shoot wide to document the whole production, then to shoot close, you know?
VAN SUSTEREN: So were you close -- did you actually have a conversation with Michael that night?

MAZUR: No, I didn't have any conversations because when Michael arrived, I was already photographing, you know, doing casual shots of the band rehearsing and the dancers rehearsing. So when Michael Jackson got there, you know, he hit the stage, and you know, smiled at me and waved and then just got right to work.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's your reaction to hearing the news now -- and maybe -- maybe you had other information, inside information, that there seems to have been a drug problem or a drug issue over some time? Did you ever in the 30 years see anything?

MAZUR: No. I mean, this -- - what you're seeing in this video is the Michael Jackson that I've seen through the years. If you -- all the times I've been around Michael, there was no way I would ever even think that he was on any type of drug.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did he -- did you see -- was the doctor around him? He had -- you know, he has a doctor who's living at his home. Did you see any doctors with him that night?

MAZUR: No. When I saw -- you know, when I saw Michael that night, Michael came from the side of the stage, you know? The bodyguards didn't even come up on the stage with him. Michael came up by himself, got right to work with the -- you know, talked to the band members, said hi to everybody and then just got right back to work. You know, Michael's a true professional. When it comes down to the music, he's a musical genius. He's very into detail. He documents everything. He's very aware and very focused when it comes to his performance. He's extremely focused.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who's actually in charge? You get the sense that he's running and he's choreographing these concerts, or is there someone else that's sort of the -- you know, the designer or the choreographer?

MAZUR: Well, he worked with Kenny Ortega, who's worked with him many years. And between Kenny and AEG and the choreographer -- forgive me, I forgot his name -- they -- you know, it's a team effort. They put everything together. But Michael is very focused when it comes to his performance and very on and very hands-on with everything.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, when he's -- when he's on the stage, as a viewer or as a fan, he seems to own it. Then we hear this sort of reclusive, timid personal life. Did you see that side of him? Did you ever see him in a non-professional setting?

MAZUR: Oh, yes. You know, I've worked with him numerous times. You know, one time that -- you know, he's very quiet, but when he hits that stage, he is full of energy. I mean, he's a totally different person. But off-stage, he's very quiet. Like right there, you see that when we were doing the record-signing, looking at the video right now. You know, he's very soft-spoken, but you know, he's very aware and very loving to the fans. He would lean into me when we were doing that record-signing, and it was, like, Kevin, get this photo. You know, there's a really cute fan that was dressed up with a fedora and had the white glove and the suit and stuff. You know, he -- very, very into the fans.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how did you hear that he had died?

MAZUR: I was in London, photographing Elton John's White Ball and tiara AIDS event, and Elton happened to tell me. He was, like, Michael Jackson passed away. And I was, like, Oh, it's just got to be a rumor because there's always so many rumors around Michael. And then later on that night, another person came up to me and said, No, all the news organizations, legitimate news organizations, are saying he passed away.

And then I called my contact at AEG to find out and she told me, and I was devastated. I was shocked. I couldn't believe it, especially after the performance that I saw, you know, earlier that he put on during rehearsal. He was 100 percent, you know, and really on and focused and -- I was so taken aback, I had to, like, walk out of Elton's even and just compose myself and -- you know, and take a moment for myself.

VAN SUSTEREN: Kevin, thank you.

MAZUR: Thank you.

U.S. soldier captured by insurgents in Afghanistan; American Marines launch major offensive in area

BY Brian Kates and Stephanie Gaskell
U.S. troops are scouring eastern Afghanistan for an American soldier captured by insurgents, military officials said.

A Taliban spokesman said the terror group had the missing soldier - and vowed to release a video of him with their demands.

"Our leaders have not decided on the fate of this soldier," said a commander with the Taliban's hard-line Haqqani faction, according to Agence-France Press. "They will decide on his fate and soon we will present video tapes of the coalition soldier and our demand to media."

The Haqqani network is believed to control large swaths of eastern Afghanistan.

The soldier's identity has not been released, but officials said his family had been notified of his capture. It is the first time a U.S. soldier has been captured in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.

"We are using all of our resources to find him and provide for his safe return," said military spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias. "We are not providing further details to protect the soldier's well-being."

A Taliban commander told CNN the soldier was kidnapped along with three Afghan soldiers after he got drunk during a visit to a local military post in the Yousaf Khel district. But a U.S. military official denied that claim and said he went missing in the Mullakheil district of Patika.

"The Taliban are known for lying and what they are claiming is not true," the source said.

A U.S. official said the soldier was discovered missing when he didn't show up for morning formation, but said it's highly unlikely he would have left the base on his own.

The capture came as 4,000 U.S. Marines launched a major offensive in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold. About 650 Afghan forces also are involved.

Dubbed Operation Khanjar or "Strike of the Sword," the fast-moving operation is the biggest Marine offensive since the bloody battle in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.

The operation was waged in an attempt to clear and hold the area ahead of Aug. 20 presidential elections.

"Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces," Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson said in a statement.

U.S. forces have stepped up their presence in Helmand, where Taliban have been able to operate freely.

"We are kind of forging new ground here," said Capt. Drew Schoenmaker, of Greene, N.Y., commander of Bravo Co., 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
"We are going to a place nobody has been before."

A roadside bomb early in the mission wounded one Marine, but he was able to continue fighting, said U.S. military spokesman Capt. Bill Pelletier. Officials said the mission took the Taliban by surprise and many had retreated.

Operation Khanjar is part of U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy to focus on securing the Afghan people with the hope that they will reject Taliban influence.

"The measure of effectiveness (in Afghanistan) will not be the number of enemy killed, it will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence," McChrystal, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said last month.

With News Wire Services

Michael Jackson's farewell will be like few others before

Michael Jackson performs on stage during is "HIStory" world tour concert in Auckland, New Zealand.

BY Joe Kemp In Los Angeles and Rich Schapiro In New York
A public memorial service for Michael Jackson will be held Tuesday in what could easily be the greatest farewell ever to an American entertainer.

Fans who want to attend the memorial in the 20,000-seat Staples Center in Los Angeles must register for free tickets, said the Jackson family's spokesman, Ken Sunshine. Details on how to do that will be announced today.

Although only 11,000 tickets will be available - and there will be a huge rush on them - it's expected many thousands of fans will gather outside the center and on the streets leading to the arena in a massive outpouring of sorrow.

The venue is fitting: Jackson rehearsed at the arena two days before he died.

As plans for the event were being finalized, Jackson's brother Jermaine, his eyes welling with tears, revealed the heartbreak of the final moments he spent with the body of his legendary kid brother at the UCLA Medical Center.

"I kissed him on his forehead, and I hugged him, and I touched him, and I said, 'Michael, I'll never leave you. You'll never leave me,'" Jermaine Jackson told NBC's "Today" show.

"To see him there, lifeless and breathless, was very emotional for me. ... He went too soon. I don't know how people are going to take this, but I wish it was me."

Details of the superstar's funeral were still being worked out but it's expected to be in private after Tuesday's ceremony at the Staples Center.

Several reports said he will be buried at the celebrity-filled Forest Lawn Mortuary in Hollywood Hills - even though Jermaine said he wished his brother could be buried at his Neverland Ranch, and state officials said that wasn't out of the question.

The King of Pop died last Thursday after being found unresponsive at his rented mansion.

The LAPD, along with agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, are probing Jackson's doctors amid allegations he was done in by prescription drugs.

In the day's other developments:

# A video of Jackson's final rehearsal emerged, showing Jackson preparing for his upcoming London concerts at the Staples Center two days before he died.

In the clip, obtained by CNN, Jackson appears relatively fit as he dances to his hit track, "They Don't Care About Us."

# President Obama spoke out about Jackson for the first time, saying he "will go down in history as one of our greatest entertainers."

# Jackson will be laid to rest in the same kind of $25,000 solid bronze casket used for James Brown, TMZ.com reported. Called a Promethean, the 14-karat gold-plated casket has a blue velvet interior.

MySpace cyber-bulling conviction tentatively dismissed

Lori Drew helped create a fake MySpace profile to draw in an acquaintance of her daughter’s.

A federal judge tentatively throws out guilty verdicts in a hoax that led to a teen girl's
A federal judge in Los Angeles on Thursday tentatively threw out the conviction of a Missouri woman for her role in a cruel Internet hoax on a teenage girl who ended up committing suicide.

The decision by U.S. District Judge George H. Wu, which will not become final until he files a written ruling, was a blow to prosecutors who had hoped to send the message that cyber-bullying is a crime. Wu had repeatedly delayed sentencing to consider a defense motion to dismiss the entire case.

U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O'Brien, whose office prosecuted the woman, said after the decision was announced that the law needed to be strengthened.

"We call it cyber-bullying and we don't have a law to address it," he said at a news conference.

O'Brien, who was personally involved in the case, has earned a reputation for aggressive prosecutions in the nearly two years he has headed the Central District of California.

His decision to prosecute Lori Drew, 50, surprised many because the suicide and MySpace hoax that led up to it took place in Missouri, where local and federal prosecutors had decided they could find no applicable statute.

O'Brien said his office determined that the case could be prosecuted in Los Angeles because MySpace is based in Beverly Hills.

Prosecutors here invoked a criminal statute more commonly used to prosecute hackers or defendants who have improperly accessed computers for financial gain, to charge Drew for her part in setting up a MySpace account in the name of a fictitious 16-year-old boy.

Prosecutors said Drew, her 13-year-old daughter, Sarah, and an 18-year old employee used the fake profile to lure Megan Meier into an online relationship, initially to find out whether Megan had been spreading rumors about Sarah.

Megan, 13, hanged herself with a belt in October 2006 after getting a message, purportedly from the boy, telling her that "the world would be a better place without you."

A federal jury convicted Drew in November of three misdemeanor computer crimes but deadlocked on a felony conspiracy charge that would have carried a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Wu took the unusual step of delaying sentencing to consider the defense's contention that the case should be dismissed because prosecutors failed to prove that Drew, whose family lived four doors away from the Meiers in the St. Louis suburb of Dardenne Prairie, had intentionally violated MySpace rules when creating the bogus profile.

At a May hearing, Wu grilled Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Krause at length about whether the government had prosecuted Drew under the appropriate laws when they asserted that violating MySpace's terms of service amounted to a crime.

On Thursday, he again expressed concern that if Drew's conviction stood, anyone who violated the site's terms of use could also be convicted of a crime.

"The implication was that anyone on the Internet would be a criminal if they filled out a website registration using a fake name or using the wrong age," said Matt Zimmerman, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"And I think that was a path the judge was not terribly interested in going down."

Legal experts have been grappling with cyber-bullying for years.

Although the anonymity available on the Internet creates opportunities for abuse, attempts to restrict cyber-bullying raise thorny issues about free speech.

"Ultimately I think Congress has to deal with this issue," said former Assistant U.S. Atty. Laurie Levenson, now a professor at Loyola Law School.

"The challenge is to draft legislation that . . . isn't so broad that it chills people's 1st Amendment rights and is enforceable."

Drew's lawyer, H. Dean Steward, said outside court that his client was relieved by the tentative outcome but "like the rest of us, continues to be saddened by the death of a teenage girl."

Steward, who has called the prosecution a misguided effort to seek vengeance, said Thursday that charges should not have been filed in Los Angeles in a case that was rejected by prosecutors in Missouri.

"The cynic in me says that Tom O'Brien wanted to make a name for himself or to keep his job," Steward said.

O'Brien acknowledged that prosecuting Drew under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was a risk, but he said, "I am proud to be involved in a case that sought justice for a 13-year-old little girl."

O'Brien said prosecutors would consider their options, including a possible appeal, when they receive Wu's written judgment, which could be filed as soon as next week. Megan's parents, Ron and Tina Meier, were in court Thursday and briefly addressed the news conference.

Although they expressed disappointment at the judge's tentative reversal of Drew's conviction, they said the case had served a purpose by drawing attention to the danger of cyber-bullying.

Fighting back tears, Ron Meier said: "A jury of her peers did convict her, and that is a victory in itself."

Chinese Netizens Celebrate Green Dam Delay

Customers surf the Internet at an Internet cafe in Beijing,

By Alison Klayman
Many Internet users in China are celebrating after Beijing delayed implementing its order that Internet-blocking software be installed in all new computers.
News of the delay turned a scheduled Internet boycott into an all-day celebration on Wednesday. Hundreds of opponents of the plan flowed in and out of a tucked-away restaurant in Beijing's Caochangdi art district.

The well-known artist and activist Ai Weiwei organized the event. Dressed in neon pink, he walks around posing for photographs and signing T-shirts with slogans protesting the plan. Ai had proposed a 24-hour Internet boycott for Wednesday, the day the plan was to go into effect, and used online tools such as Twitter to invite people to gather at the restaurant near his home.

"It's just to let people know what our attitude is towards this kind of censorship," Ai said.

By lunchtime the party already had over 200 guests enjoying free food and alcohol. Ai says he expects over 1,000 people from all over China to join the party before the day is over.

"They traveled to Beijing many of them," Ai said. "The guy on the phone there is from Hangzhou, some people are from the northeast, some are from different provinces. I was so surprised. Some are fans of mine, some are Internet activists, [and] some are human rights activists."

Last month, the government said that all new computers sold in China would have to have Internet-blocking software installed. The government said the software, called the Green Dam Youth Escort program, would protect young Internet users from pornography, but many critics say it also would have blocked access to Web sites containing politically sensitive information or allowed the government to track what people view on the Internet.

Ai says citizen protests may have influenced China's decision to delay the software's implementation, but also says the government faces greater pressure than activists.

For weeks, foreign officials and industry groups expressed opposition to the Green Dam software, for political, commercial and technical reasons. Twenty-two chambers of commerce and trade groups asked Premier Wen Jiabao not to go through with the plan. Computer-makers Dell and Hewlett-Packard said they might complain to the World Trade Organization.

Many of these groups welcomed the implementation delay. The American Chamber of Commerce in China called it a "positive development" for Chinese consumers, the government and the business community.

While partygoers in Beijing say the delay is positive, many do not believe it will be permanent. Miao Shiming attended Wednesday's party after reading about it online. He thinks the government will go forward with Green Dam, since it has already invested money in it.

Miao says he believes China will implement the Green Dam requirement when there is less attention focused on the issue.

But for the rest of the day at least, Chinese netizens celebrate their victory.

Jul 2, 2009

Britain Rolls Out New Flu Strategy


A CDC Image of H1N1 influenza virus

By Tom Rivers
Containing the H1N1 virus in Britain is no longer an option and the country is moving to a new treatment phase. Health Secretary Andy Burnham outlined the new approach, effective immediately, which includes doctors diagnosing and prescribing medication over the phone to those suspected of having contracted the virus. The disease infection rate is roughly doubling every week in Britain.

The United Kingdom is already experiencing the highest number of swine-flu cases in Europe and that number is expected to grow exponentially now that the virus is firmly entrenched.

Officially, Britain has recorded nearly 8,000 confirmed cases of H1N1, but the real total is thought to be much higher as symptoms for most are mild and they simply go undetected.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Health Secretary Andy Burnham acknowledged that the initial strategy of containing the virus that is believed to have first arrived in April, was no longer a viable option.

"We could see over 100,000 cases per day by the end of August, though I stress this is only a projection," Burnham said.

Since the virus is new, many people have no immunity, so it is spreading rapidly.

Although three people have died of the flu in Britain, most deal easily with the mild symptoms and get over it with or without anti-viral treatment in a few days.

Initially, everyone in Britain who thought they might have picked up swine flu was tested. Those individuals and those close to them were given a course of anti-viral medication.

Now that the number of cases is rising, that overriding strategy is being scrapped.

People who think they might now have the virus are being urged to call their doctor and describe their symptoms over the phone. The doctor or general practitioner can then issue a prescription voucher that a friend of the affected person can pick up.

Andy Burnham says that new approach speeds everything up.

"GPs (general practitioners) will now provide clinical diagnosis of swine flu cases rather than awaiting laboratory test results and primary care trusts will now begin to establish anti-viral collection points where necessary," Burnham said. "This new approach will also mean a move from the daily reported figures of laboratory confirmed cases from the Health Protection Agency to more general estimates of spread."

The move will remove growing pressure on the health system.

Burnham underlines that the virus is not becoming deadlier, only that it is becoming more widespread.

Although there are enough anti-viral drugs for everyone in Britain, some health experts say they should be targeted only at the most vulnerable, because an overuse of the medication could lead to a virus resistance to treatment.

Michael Jackson transformed Neverland Ranch much as he did music

LONG WALK: Fans park their cars behind a police roadblock for a 1 ƒ¦1/2ƒ§-mile trek to the gates of Neverland Ranch.

The architecture on his Santa Barbara County property reflects his androgynous, perpetually childlike model of superstardom -- and his unique if disjointed take on the celebrity compound.
July 3, 2009

It was while I was bumpily making my way across a rope bridge in a quiet corner of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch on Thursday morning -- next to an elaborate treehouse crowned with a ship's wheel, and overlooking a bronze sculpture of smiling children -- that I finally figured out what the late entertainer's compound represents from an architectural point of view.

Jackson didn't commission Neverland's Tudor-style main house. That 13,000-square-foot structure, which sits nestled under a collection of magnificent oak trees, was built in 1981 by real estate developer William Bone, from whom the singer bought the property for $19.5 million in 1987. But the changes Jackson made to the 2,600-acre property over the years -- notably, adding a slew of kid-friendly attractions -- markedly changed the place, softening it and shrinking it to less than full-grown scale.

At the height of his popularity, Jackson bent the music industry toward an androgynous, perpetually childlike model of superstardom. He managed a similar trick in transforming the architecture of this classic Santa Barbara County ranch property.

UN Chief Arrives in Burma

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (file)

By VOA News
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is in Burma to press the ruling military government to release its political prisoners.
Mr. Ban arrived in the main city of Rangoon Friday, and was scheduled to fly to the remote administrative capital of Naypyitaw. His arrival occurred on the same day the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was set to resume. But the court hearing the case issued another postponement, this time until July 10.

Her lawyer, Nyan Win, says the judge postponed Friday's hearing because the Supreme Court did not send the case files to the lower court.

Aung San Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest and is facing a five-year prison term.

The international community has condemned the trial as a sham intended to keep her in prison through next year's election.

Ban Ki-moon is expected to meet with the country's top military leaders, including Senior General Than Shwe, during his mission. It is not clear if he will meet with Aung San Suu Kyi.

The U.N. chief said he would push for the release of all political prisoners in Burma, an estimated 2,000, and urge the country's leaders to include all parties in the political process ahead of the 2010 elections.

Amnesty International's representative in Bangkok Benjamin Zawacki says opposition members are sentenced to extraordinarily long prison terms and sent to the furthest borders of the country to be silenced.

Human Rights Watch has said that U.N. envoys have had very little influence over Burmese leaders so far. The New York-based group warned Thursday that Burma's military leaders could use the U.N. chief's visit to legitimize next year's elections.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters



Emmett McHenry, general manager of the Sokha Angkor Resort, was taken aback to hear that his hotel is the crux of a sensational conspiracy theory regarding the resignation of Co-prosecutor Robert Petit from the Khmer Rouge tribunal last week.

A small human rights NGO claims that Petit was forced to resign after Prime Minister Hun Sen held his family captive at the Sokha Angkor Resort one month ago. The Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity Network (CACJE) made the accusation in a letter to ECCC trial chamber Judge Silvia Cartwright, which was posted on Cambodian news site Khmerization last Friday. The letter states that according to "witnesses", Petit's family members were "held against their will ... in Siem Reap city" one month before Petit gave notice. "They were locked in the five-star Sokha Hotel. But they were not authorised to leave." The letter, as posted by the site, states that "Hun Sen police" paid all expenses for the Petit family. But McHenry told the Post the story was nonsensical. He said government officials and security were present at the hotel about one month ago, but rather than taking part in a kidnapping they were there for the 18th technical session of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor - an exhaustive two-day pow wow about temple research overseen by UNESCO and the Apsara Authority.

If Hun Sen really wanted to exact cruel and unusual punishment on the Petit family, he would have dragged them to the Sokha Hotel and forced them to sit through the conference.

The Centre for Friends Without a Border this Friday is to launch its latest exhibition, "Ideology in Paradise", featuring the work of award-winning photographer Hiroshi Watanabe.

Los Angeles-based Watanabe's exhibition presents a vivid, unbiased account of North Korean culture and everyday life.

Watanabe made several trips to North Korea between 2006 and 2007, intrigued by the myths told of the North Koreans during his childhood.

Watanabe's innate curiosity drew him to North Korea to investigate the legitimacy of these claims. While travelling there, Watanabe consciously put aside preconceived notions in order to capture truly representative photos.

Critics have praised "Ideology in Paradise", and Lesley Martin wrote, "... the experience of looking at Hiroshi Watanabe's images is eerily like stepping into a social realist painting: the ruddy-cheeked young girl playing the accordion, the traditional gowns in brilliant pinks and greens of dancers swirling beneath the omnipresent image of the dear leader and the DPRK flag. One is quietly lulled into the sense that life in North Korea might, in fact, be just as it appears within the frames of these images - normal. Watanabe has published eight books and his work is displayed in the permanent collections of several major US museums.

The annual hotel general manager reshuffle is under way, with the most surprising news coming from Richard Yap, the Malaysian GM of Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, who is to return to Singapore to continue his MBA studies. He said he expects to leave in late July and that a replacement GM has been earmarked from another Raffles Hotel but not yet confirmed. "There's no particular reason why I'm leaving. It's not because the market is bad or anything," he said. "I've been with the hotel for seven years, and I feel like it's time to move on."

Hanno Stamm, the German former GM of the Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa Hotel in Vietnam, replaced Raphael Guillien as head of the Victoria Angkor Hotel two weeks ago. Guillien is taking leave before starting a new job in Phnom Penh as overall chief of the FCC group.

As reported last week, popular Hotel de la Paix GM Nick Downing confirmed he will be replaced some time this year.

Meanwhile, at the Prince D'Angkor Hotel, yet another GM has quit, once again in almost record time.

Following the rapid departure of Australian Ken Williams, his replacement, Swiss appointee Eugen Diethelm, has also suddenly quit, leaving the hotel without a GM for the third time in less than a year.

Dr Joost Hoekstra is running what he says he believes is Siem Reap's first and only private practice operated by a Westerner. The Naga Healthcare International Medical Centre opened in early June, and he said he's already attracted an appreciative patient roster of French expats. The Dutch doctor has been in Cambodia for 11 years and has worked with the Angkor Hospital for Children and the Naga Clinic in Phnom Penh, as well as consulting for NGOs. Before landing in Asia, the doctor spent five years in South America, four-and-a-half years in Africa and three years in Holland. Cambodia, he said, is his last stop.

Hoekstra was hoping to treat a steady parade of limping, temple-hopping tourists suffering from sprained ankles and diarrhoea. But setting up in the off-season means that he's mainly dealing with expats suffering from high blood pressure or stomach bugs. "For me, Cambodia is an easy country," said Hoekstra, "especially compared to Africa and South America."

A MAN suspected of illegally gathering ancient artefacts from a compound at Angkor Wat was sent to Siem Reap provincial court on Wednesday, Heritage P

A MAN suspected of illegally gathering ancient artefacts from a compound at Angkor Wat was sent to Siem Reap provincial court on Wednesday, Heritage Police officials said.

"We sent him to the provincial court already, but we don't know how long it will be until the court charges him," said Li Hok Seng, a deputy director of the Heritage Police.

Chea Sophart, also a deputy director of the Heritage Police, said Sunday the 34-year-old Banteay Meanchey man identified only as Ryn was arrested while using an electric-powered machine to collect artefacts about 400 metres northeast of Takeo temple on Sunday.

Police quoted Ryn as saying that on 10 previous occasions he had collected statues and other artefacts from the Banteay Chhmar temple compound in Banteay Meanchey province, which he sold to Thai clients.

"We always allow our Heritage Police to check the forest every two days because we are afraid that we'll have people gathering ancient artefacts," said Li Hok Seng.

Pheoung Chindareth, head of Penal Police in Siem Reap, said an investigation into a suspected gang of artefact thieves was now under way and that it wasn't the first case of thievery at the temple.

"At present, we still have people who are illegally trafficking ancient artefacts, but we haven't found them yet," he added.

According to Chea Sophart, Ryn could face a prison term of between one and three years if convicted.

Court says it will consider defamation charges against Ho Vann, who is currently overseas, whether the lawmaker is present or not.

Kong Sam Onn (left) at a press conference in April.

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court is set to begin trial proceedings later this month in a defamation case filed by 22 high-ranking army officials against opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ho Vann.

According to a court citation issued Friday by Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, Ho Vann has been summoned to appear at the court on July 17.

Ho Vann faces charges under Article 63 of the UNTAC penal code and Article 10 of the 1995 Press Law, according to the citation. Although he is currently overseas, Ho Vann will be tried whether he is present or not.

"In case the person concerned does not appear before Phnom Penh Municipal Court as scheduled, the court will take the name of Ho Vann to judge the defamation charges in absentia," the citation reads.

Ho Vann was sued for defamation by 22 senior RCAF officials after he made comments to a local newspaper allegedly denigrating the quality of the academic degrees they received from a Vietnamese military institute.

Despite claiming he was misquoted by the newspaper, the National Assembly voted to suspend Ho Vann's parliamentary immunity last week, allowing the charges to be brought against him.

Ho Vann's lawyer Kong Sam Onn said Wednesday he had received the citation from the court. But he said he would request a postponement if his client could not appear on the scheduled date.

"It is not a proper time for us. I will discuss with my client first to ask for postponing the hearing," he said, adding that the court should not consider the charges without his client present.

"If they judge my client in absentia, I will reject the judgement and file a countersuit, so they will be forced to try him again," Kong Sam Onn said.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Wednesday that Ho Vann was preparing to respond to the court but could not say whether Ho Vann would return in time for the proceedings.

He said the trial process was set up to punish Ho Vann whether he was present or not.

"I dare to predict that the court will not find justice for Ho Vann. Whether he is present at the court or not is not important because they have already prepared [the verdict]. This is an attempt to intimidate and silence the opposition party's voice," he said.

Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

DESPITE years of judicial reforms aimed at establishing a respected court system, many Cambodians still prefer to send their complaints to NGOs rather

Dey Krahorm residents wait for a judicial ruling outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court prior to their eviction earlier this year. Many in Cambodia say they have lost faith in the Kindom's court system and prefer seeking the help of non-governmental organisations to resolve legal disputes.

DESPITE years of judicial reforms aimed at establishing a respected court system, many Cambodians still prefer to send their complaints to NGOs rather than place their trust in the judicial system, which many say remains under the control of politicians.

"The courts do not solve problems for us because the people who we want to sue are party members, so I don't want to spend my time suing them anymore," said Saren Ket, 48, who claims local politicians cheated him of his land in Kratie.

"We want to sue a thief, but if they are all thieves, how can they help us?"

Even though donor funding continues to go into improving the judicial system, rights groups have not seen a drop in demand for their services.

Local rights group Licadho says it has already received 918 complaints in 2009, which puts them on pace to inch past the 1,748 lodged last year.

Thon Saray, a coordinator with rights group Adhoc, said that authorities have lost the trust of their communities because too many government figures have given money and powerful positions to their family members while ignoring the plight of others.

"The government doesn't pay attention to people, and they help only their relatives. That's why most people don't trust them anymore," he said.

Another Adhoc coordinator, Thim Narin, said that many are afraid of using the courts to complain about issues that might involve the government.

"Some villagers don't want to complain about the local authorities or the governors in their areas because their complaints could be answered with violence or they could be forced to take what they don't want," he said.

Saren Ket said that by trying to use the courts to deal with an issue in which the government is complicit has put him in physical danger.

"I am really afraid of the authorities' threats to me, but I think that if I am afraid or not afraid, I could still suffer," he said.

After exhausting all other avenues, Saren Ket turned to a local rights NGO for help.

Sao Savon, 64, a retired military officer in Banteay Meanchey, said that despite the promises from local officials, he believed the judiciary was unable to help him.

In his experience, the only groups that have come to his aid without asking for any money are NGOs.

"Organisations not related to the Cambodian government are my angels because they pay attention to me and make me have hope with them," he said.

"They have never used bad words to me or taken money from me."

Suy Mongleang, secretary general of the General Secretariat for Legal and Judicial Reform in the Council of Ministers, said last month that the Cambodian judiciary was not perfect but that it was improving.

"If you ask whether we have got there 100 percent yet, we have not got there," he said. "We are in the middle of the process of getting what everybody wants."

Suy Mongleang said that the judicial framework is not the problem, but that the reforms were imposed so quickly that attitudes have yet to catch up.

"I blame the country for having reformed too quickly," he said.

"It is human beings. You blame people for having Land Cruisers and big cars. You tell me from the heart: Do you want that or not?"

Thailand still undecided on Preah Vihear stance

News Desk
The Nation (Thailand)

The Thai government has yet to discuss whether Thailand should ask Cambodia to jointly register the ancient Preah Vihear temple on the ThaiCambodian border as a World Heritage Site, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.

A joint submission for the registration of the temple as a World Heritage Site would only create more confusion because border demarcation in the area is still unclear, he said.

Abhisit said questions could be raised regarding ownership of the area adjoining the temple. However, he suggested, a settlement could be made on condition that neither Thailand nor Cambodia claim ownership of the disputed area.

So far the Cambodian government has not considered applying for jointly registering the site with Thailand, he said.

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) accepted Cambodia's application to designate Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site last July.

However, last month Unesco agreed at a meeting in Seville, Spain, to delay the formal registration until February next year as the organisation still has a number of other matters to implement.

Delaying the formal registration came after complaints from Thailand said the temple listing had led to several armed clashes near the temple and urged the UN agency to review its decision.

With regard to negotiations about reducing troops near the Preah Vihear area, Abhisit said concerned officials from the two countries were still looking for ways to reduce tension and solve the problem in a peaceful manner.

Development plan for Cambodia border provinces approved

ietNamNet Bridge - Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has recently approved building plans for provinces that border Cambodia. The plans aim to develop the area into a nationally important economic region by 2020, and the world by 2030.
By: BangkokPost.com

The area bordering Cambodia includes ten provinces. Among them, Kon Tum , Gia Lai, Dac Lac and Dac Nong are located in the Central Highlands, the others are to be found in the southeastern region, consisting of Binh Phuoc, Tay Ninh, Long An, Dong Thap, An Giang and Kien Giang.

It is estimated that by the end of 2020, the total population of the region will reach 16.51 million, of which, between ten to 11 million will be of employable age.

According to the plans, by the end of 2020, the region will be built into a key economic center of the whole country, serving as a springboard for the development of agriculture, forestry and hydroelectricity

It will not only become an important gateway for road, river and air traffic in the west and southwest region of Vietnam, but also a major economic hub, where goods, commodities, services and tourism will be traded among Mekong Delta countries and the East Sea region.

By 2030, the region will be developed into a key national and international marine economic center.

Its important position will have a special influence on regions in the Central Highlands, especially those located in the central and south Vietnam and those lying along the coastline of Thailand gulf.

The region will also see the largest nature reserves, as well as the largest center that preserves national cultural values of the whole country and serves as one of the key tourism centers in the ASEAN region.

Subject to the plans, the region will be built in two separate sub-regions.

One is in the west eastern Vietnamese –Cambodian border and the other in the Central Highlands with big urban centers in Buon Me Thuot, Pleiku and Long Xuyen cities.

The plan also specifies the building and development of necessary infrastructure in the sub-regions and provides for investment incentives.


Troop reductions near Preah Vihear

Thailand and Cambodia will today begin reducing troop levels along the border near Preah Vihear temple, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said on Friday.
By: BangkokPost.com

Mr Suthep said this should help ease the tension along the sensitive frontier.

He and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had agreed during talks last weekend that the border dispute should be settled by peaceful means.

The deputy prime minister will tomorrow leave for Phnom Penh for another meeting with Mr Hun Sen.

Mr Suthep refused to comment when asked about senior Democrat MP Suthas Ngernmuen's threat yesterday to quit the party if the Bhumjaithai Party and Newin Chidchob were put in charge of the government's political actvities in the Northeast region.

Suwit defends his Preah Vihear role

Preah Vihear

By: BangkokPost.com
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti on Thursday insisted he was able to get Thailand about one year of extra time to raise its concerns over the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (Unesco) listing of Preah Vihear temple as a world heritage site.

Mr Suwit admitted Preah Vihear had already been listed as a world heritage site, as Pongpol Adireksarn, former chairman of the Thai World Heritage Committee, had said.�

But Cambodia had yet to formally complete its obligations by �presenting a management plan �for safeguarding and developing the temple, �including a map of the buffer zone around the site.

Because of Thailand's opposition to the listing, coupled with Cambodia's inability to submit its plan by February this year, the WHC decided to give Cambodia until next February to do so.�

This has given Thailand the opportunity to raise its concerns over its border dispute with Cambodia, said Mr Suwit.

Mr Suwit said Unesco has been told the two countries have not been able to settle their border dispute.� "We need to explore ways of settling the dispute to end the Thai-Cambodian conflict over the listing of Preah Vihear," he added.

Asked whether Thailand would try to seek a bilateral listing of the temple, Mr Suwit said this could be done only after the disputed border has been clearly demarcated. �

US Marines hit Taliban heartland as part of Barack Obama's 'big surge'

Thousands of United States Marines have swept into a Taliban heartland in the first big drive of President Barack Obama's Afghanistan surge strategy.

housands of United States Marines have swept into a Taliban heartland in the first big drive of President Barack Obama's Afghanistan surge strategy.

By Ben Farmer in Kabul
More than 4,000 marines and 600 Afghan soldiers backed by helicopters and jets stormed Taliban-held districts to drive out the militant fighters.

Commanders hope the offensive by thousands of newly arrived troops will be a turning point in the eight-year-battle against a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency.
t also represents a major test of Mr Obama's surge strategy, with Washington strongly hinting it will not send any further reinforcements to the country.

The offensive took place as it was revealed a US soldier in eastern Afghanistan had been captured and was being held by militants.

US commanders said the audacious marine assault, which involved the biggest helicopter landing by US marines since Vietnam, was a "big, risky plan".

The troops, borne by helicopters and vehicle convoys, were expected to quickly clear militant strongholds in a 36-hour blitz.

'Operation Khanjar' or 'sword strike' met little early resistance as waves of helicopters ferried marines into the lower Helmand valley in the early hours of Thursday.

Armoured convoys also stormed into the districts of Nowa and Garmsir, which are covered in fields of opium poppy, criss-crossed by canals and dotted with mud-brick walled compounds.

Marines said many insurgents had been taken by surprise as Marines landed by helicopter.

Capt Drew Schoenmaker, of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, said: "We are kind of forging new ground here. We are going to a place nobody has been before."

Taliban fighters had launched sporadic small arms attacks and then drifted away in the face of overwhelming numbers, they said.

No casualties were reported on either side.

In a sign of growing regional cooperation, Pakistan deployed its own soldiers in Baluchistan to cut off fighters fleeing across the porous border.

A spokesman for the provincial governor said Nowa and Garmsir had been out of control for three years and also harboured foreign militant fighters.

Overstretched British forces have been locked in stalemate further north in Helmand for three years, with too few troops to hold the province's enormous plains.

Once the districts have been cleared, the marines will remain in the area, building bases as part of their 'clear, hold and build' strategy. They will also attempt to provide security for next month's presidential elections.

Brigadier Gen Larry Nicholson, who commands the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said the offensive involved "great risks and amazing opportunities".

He said "These are days of immense change for Helmand province. We're going down there, and we're going to stay - that's what is different this time." He added: "The intent is to go big, go strong and go fast, and by doing so we are going to save lives on both sides."

Around 8,500 US marines have arrived in Helmand in recent weeks as part of 21,000 reinforcements ordered to Afghanistan by Mr Obama earlier this year.

US troops are also destined for neighbouring Kandahar province, with the total US deployment set to reach 68,000 troops by Christmas.

However, earlier this week, James Jones, the US National Security Adviser, hinted commanders would have no more extra troops to work with.

He said: "This will not be won by the military alone. We tried that for six years."

"The piece of the strategy that has to work in the next year is economic development. If that is not done right, there are not enough troops in the world to succeed."

General Stanley MacChrystal, the incoming commander of the Nato-led coalition, has said forces should concentrate more on protecting Afghans rather than killing the enemy.

The launch of the operation was welcomed by Gulab Mangal, the Helmand governor.

"The security forces will build bases to provide security for the local people so that they can carry out every activity with this favourable background, and take their lives forward in peace," he said.

Critics had questioned how a meaningful national election could be held when Taliban militants controlled so much of southern Afghanistan.

Senior American officers have said the operation will also aim to win hearts and minds of Afghans who have been living under Taliban control by explaining why they are there and gaining their trust.

Despite the lack of resistance, Taliban commanders threatened to fight the advance and US commanders said they expected fighters to regroup.

Mullah Hayat Khan, a senior Afghan Taliban commander speaking from Pakistan said: "Thousands of Taliban mujahideen are ready to fight against US troops in the operation in Helmand province."

A spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade said previous offensives against the Taliban suggested they would regroup to launch guerrilla attacks and a roadside bombing campaign.

Person: Officials discuss possible Jackson event

AP – FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 27, 2003 file picture, Michael Jackson thanks the audience during the Radio …

By ANTHONY MCCARTNEY, AP Entertainment Writer Anthony Mccartney, Ap Entertainment Writer – 46 mins ago

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles officials are holding closed-door talks about a possible event for Michael Jackson on Tuesday at a downtown arena, a person with knowledge of the situation said Thursday.

The event would take place at the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers, said the person who wasn't authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

It wasn't immediately clear if a funeral or a public memorial was being discussed for the entertainer — or both.

All talks are preliminary, and no decisions have been made, the person said.

Another site that has also been discussed for a Jackson tribute is the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The discussions were held as the federal Drug Enforcement Administration joining the investigation into Jackson's death, and Jermaine Jackson said he would be "hurt" if toxicology reports showed his younger brother abused prescription drugs.

"In this business, the pressures and things that you go through, you never know what one turns to," Jermaine Jackson said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show.

The circumstances surrounding Jackson's death last week have become a federal issue, with the DEA asked to help police take a look at the pop star's doctors and possible drug use. Allegations have emerged that the 50-year-old entertainer had been consuming painkillers, sedatives and antidepressants.

Asked if he would be shocked or surprised if Michael's drug use was proven, Jermaine Jackson said, "I would be hurt." He said he had heard about prescription drug use in the 1980s when his brother was hurt in an accident filming a commercial but did not know if drug use was a possibility more recently.

"I don't know about these things, because I hate anything with drugs," he said, adding that it hurts the family for people to say things about drug use "because we don't know."

Psychic entertainer Uri Geller, a former Jackson confidant, said he tried to keep Jackson from abusing painkillers and other prescription drugs, but others in the singer's circle kept him supplied.

"When Michael asked for something, he got it. This was the great tragedy," Geller said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his suburban London home.

Jermaine Jackson said he would like Neverland Ranch to be his brother's final resting place. A person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity told the AP that permits for a burial at Neverland could not be arranged in time.

Jermaine Jackson said in the "Today" interview that he wishes he had died instead of his younger brother, and that Michael was "a gift from Allah."

The Los Angeles Police Department asked the DEA to help in the probe, a law enforcement official in Washington told the AP on condition of anonymity because of the investigation's sensitivity.

While the investigation into the singer's death deepened, passionate Michael Jackson fans spent another day in an uneasy limbo, awaiting word from the King of Pop's camp about where and when a memorial service might be held for their hero — and if they're even invited.

Speculation about the potential location of a memorial has ricocheted from the Staples Center to the Los Angeles Coliseum to the Nokia Theater. Jackson family spokesman Ken Sunshine said a public memorial was in the works but that it wouldn't be at Neverland.

The elimination of the proposed Neverland memorial came as a blow to many Jackson fans who had already descended on the estate in the rolling hills near Santa Barbara with the hope of attending a public viewing.

"We're terribly disappointed," said Ida Barron, 44, who arrived with her husband Paul Barron, 56, intending to spend several days in a tent.

On the legal front, Jackson's 7-year-old will was filed Wednesday in a Los Angeles court, giving his entire estate to a family trust and naming his 79-year-old mother Katherine and his three children as beneficiaries. The will also estimates the value of his estate at more than $500 million.

Katherine Jackson was appointed the children's guardian, with entertainer Diana Ross, a longtime friend of Michael Jackson, named successor guardian if something happens to his mother. A court will ultimately decide who the children's legal guardian will be.

Jackson's lawyer John Branca and family friend John McClain, a music executive, were named in the will as co-executors of his estate. In a statement, they said the most important element of the will was Jackson's steadfast desire that his mother become the legal guardian for his children.

The will doesn't name father Joe Jackson to any position of authority in administering the estate. Also shut out is ex-wife Debbie Rowe, the mother of his two oldest children.

The will, dated July 7, 2002, gives the entire estate to the Michael Jackson Family Trust. Details of the trust will not be made public.

Jackson owns a 50 percent stake in the massive Sony-ATV Music Publishing Catalog, which includes music by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers.

Jackson, who died June 25, left behind three children: son Michael Joseph Jr., known as Prince Michael, 12; daughter Paris Michael Katherine, 11; and son Prince Michael II, 7.

Rowe was the mother of the two oldest children; the youngest was born to a surrogate mother, who has never been identified.


AP writers Michael R. Blood, Noaki Schwartz and Ryan Nakashima in Los Angeles; John Rogers in Los Olivos; Michele Salcedo in Washington; Shawn Pogatchnik in London; and AP Entertainment Writer Erin Carlson in New York contributed to this story.

Putin has 'one foot in old ways,' Obama says

AP – President Barack Obama gestures during his interview with The Associated Press, Thursday, July 2, 2009, …

By JENNIFER LOVEN, AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven, Ap White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON – On the eve of a trip to Moscow, President Barack Obama chided Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday for keeping "one foot in the old ways of doing business." By contrast, he said Putin's handpicked successor as president understands that Cold War behavior is outdated.

In a White House interview with The Associated Press, the president said he will meet with both Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev on his trip, in hopes they can "move in concert in cooperating with us on some critical issues."

On an important domestic issue, Obama said the Supreme Court was "moving the ball" on affirmative action in this week's decision favoring white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., but he added that the court had not ruled out the use of racial preferences. "I don't think that hiring on the basis of race ... alone is constitutionally plausible," said Obama, a former teacher of constitutional law.

He spoke sympathetically at one point of the white firefighters, who said they had been discriminated against, and he added, "I've always believed that affirmative action was less of an issue or should be less of an issue than it has been made out to be in news reports."

Nearing the end of his first six months in office, the president said he had made some progress in stabilizing the economy, but he conceded too many jobs are still being lost.

He also expressed concern about his own policy on dealing with the prisoners now held at Guantanamo Bay, saying the idea of retaining at least some of the detainees indefinitely in different locations gives him pause. But he did not rule out issuing an executive order to that effect if Congress refuses to pass legislation.

Scheduled to depart next week on a trip to Russia, Italy and Ghana, Obama praised Moscow for its cooperation in attempting to persuade North Korea and Iran to abandon their nuclear development programs. The United Nations recently approved "the most robust sanction regime that we've ever seen with respect to North Korea," he said.

The president said his agenda in Russia includes talks on a new treaty to curtail long-range nuclear missiles.

Asked why he intends to meet with Putin, Obama said the former president "still has a lot of sway ... and I think that it's important that even as we move forward with President Medvedev that Putin understand that the old Cold War approaches to U.S.-Russian relations is outdated — that's it's time to move forward in a different direction."

"I think Medvedev understands that. I think Putin has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new, and to the extent that we can provide him and the Russian people a clear sense that the U.S. is not seeking an antagonistic relationship but wants cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation, fighting terrorism, energy issues, that we'll end up having a stronger partner overall in this process," he said.

Obama expressed reservations about his recently announced policy that could lead to indefinite detention for some of the detainees currently at the Guantanamo Bay prison. "It gives me huge pause," he said, to the point where he may not see it through.

"We're going to proceed very carefully on this front, and it may turn out that after looking at all the dimensions of this that I don't feel comfortable with (it)," Obama said. The president has pledged to close the prison in Cuba and hopes to send most of those currently held there to other countries.

With joblessness rising, the president said he was "deeply concerned" about unemployment and conceded that too many families are worried about "whether they will be next." Still, he said that since he took office almost six months ago "we have successfully stabilized the financial markets," and "started to see some stabilization on housing."

"But what we are still seeing is too many jobs lost," said Obama, commenting after new government figures showed the unemployment rate had risen to 9.5 percent last month.

Since Obama signed the $780 billion economic stimulus bill in February, the economy has shed more than 2 million jobs.

Asked if he was resigned to Iran's possession of nuclear weapons, he said, "I'm not reconciled with that, and I don't think the international community is reconciled with that."

In his comments on the Supreme Court case, Obama said the 5-4 ruling was written narrowly, and "didn't close the door to affirmative action" to help minorities.

Obama said of affirmative action, "It hasn't been as potent a force for racial progress as advocates will claim and it hasn't been as bad on white students seeking admissions or seeking a job as its critics say."

On other topics:

• He said Michael Jackson was "one of our greatest entertainers" and "I still have all his stuff on my iPod." But he said Jackson's life had been tragic and in many ways sad.

• The president spoke enthusiastically of the White House pastry chef. "Whatever kind of pie you want, he will make it," Obama said, adding ruefully that that was a problem for him and wife Michelle in regard to their weight.

• Asked whether he was a bigger fan of Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, one the MVP of the National Basketball Association finals and the other a retired superstar, the basketball-playing president said without hesitation: "Michael. I haven't seen anybody match up with Jordan yet."

(This version CORRECTS Bryant MVP of NBA finals, not season)

Michael Jackson Memorial Planned For Los Angeles' Staples Center July 7

LOS ANGELES - A Michael Jackson public memorial service has been set and will take place on Tuesday, July 7, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, according to multiple media outlets

Planning is still under way, according to multiple media reports.
By Jayson Rodriguez, with additional reporting by MTV News staff
LOS ANGELES — A Michael Jackson public memorial service has been set and will take place on Tuesday, July 7, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, according to multiple media outlets. The memorial honoring the 50-year-old pop star will unfold at the 20,000-capacity arena after the holiday weekend, nearly two weeks after Jackson died after suffering cardiac arrest at his rented home in Los Angeles on June 25.

The arena is also the venue where Jackson was rehearsing for his 50-show "This is It" concerts, which were originally slated to kick off at London's O2 Arena on July 13. He rehearsed at the venue just hours before his death.

Randy Philips, president and CEO of AEG, which runs the facility, told KNBC that the service, which will be open to the public, will begin at 10 a.m. Arrivals are set to begin at 8 a.m.

According to Philips, the overflow crowd will be accommodated at Nokia Plaza outside the venue, where widescreen TVs will broadcast the proceedings inside.

"Details are still to be finalized when I meet with the Jackson family this afternoon," Philips said. "Everything is in preliminary stages except the place and time."

Representatives for the Jackson Family have yet to confirm the arrangements and had not responded to inquiries made by MTV News at press time.

On Thursday morning (July 2), preparations for the event were under way Chick Hearn Court, the street that runs in front of the Staples Center, had been closed down, and several police cars and television trucks were parked in front of the venue.

On Wednesday, in a prepared statement, the Jackson Family squelched reports that memorial and funeral services for the King of Pop would be held at his Neverland Valley Ranch, which was Jackson's home for many years.

"Contrary to previous news reports, the Jackson family is officially stating that there will be no public or private viewing at Neverland," the statement reads. "Plans are underway regarding a public memorial for Michael Jackson, and we will announce those plans shortly." Details of Jackson's will were revealed on Wednesday, but the 2002 document appeared to make no provisions for his burial or a memorial service.

Jackson's funeral is expected to draw thousands of fans from all over the world.

For complete coverage of the life, career and passing of the legendary entertainer, visit "Michael Jackson Remembered."

Share your Michael Jackson memories by uploading video and comments to Your.MTV.com or joining the discussion below.

Michael Jackson Memorial Planned For Los Angeles' Staples Center July 7


Michael Jackson

Photo: Michel Linssen/Redferns

LOS ANGELES — A Michael Jackson public memorial service has been set and will take place on Tuesday, July 7, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, according to multiple media outlets. The memorial honoring the 50-year-old pop star will unfold at the 20,000-capacity arena after the holiday weekend, nearly two weeks after Jackson died after suffering cardiac arrest at his rented home in Los Angeles on June 25.

The arena is also the venue where Jackson was rehearsing for his 50-show "This is It" concerts, which were originally slated to kick off at London's O2 Arena on July 13. He rehearsed at the venue just hours before his death.

Randy Philips, president and CEO of AEG, which runs the facility, told KNBC that the service, which will be open to the public, will begin at 10 a.m. Arrivals are set to begin at 8 a.m.

According to Philips, the overflow crowd will be accommodated at Nokia Plaza outside the venue, where widescreen TVs will broadcast the proceedings inside.

"Details are still to be finalized when I meet with the Jackson family this afternoon," Philips said. "Everything is in preliminary stages except the place and time."

Representatives for the Jackson Family have yet to confirm the arrangements and had not responded to inquiries made by MTV News at press time.

On Thursday morning (July 2), preparations for the event were under way Chick Hearn Court, the street that runs in front of the Staples Center, had been closed down, and several police cars and television trucks were parked in front of the venue.

On Wednesday, in a prepared statement, the Jackson Family squelched reports that memorial and funeral services for the King of Pop would be held at his Neverland Valley Ranch, which was Jackson's home for many years.

"Contrary to previous news reports, the Jackson family is officially stating that there will be no public or private viewing at Neverland," the statement reads. "Plans are underway regarding a public memorial for Michael Jackson, and we will announce those plans shortly." Details of Jackson's will were revealed on Wednesday, but the 2002 document appeared to make no provisions for his burial or a memorial service.

Jackson's funeral is expected to draw thousands of fans from all over the world.

For complete coverage of the life, career and passing of the legendary entertainer, visit "Michael Jackson Remembered."

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Cambodian Conservationist Looks to Save Fish

Chouly Ou, a conservationist and biologist, hopes to use her education to save the fish of the Mekong river. Her plan is to pursue a PhD to gain technical knowledge on fish population modeling.

By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
Chouly Ou, a conservationist and biologist, hopes to use her education to save the fish of the Mekong river. Her plan is to pursue a PhD to gain technical knowledge on fish population modeling.

“I plan to develop a model for sustainable management of the fish population in the Mekong river, the largest and most important river in Cambodia,” Chouly Ou said in an interview with VOA Khmer.

Chouly Ou was born and raised in Battambang province. After finishing high school, in 1999, she pursued an undergraduate degree in biology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

After graduating in 2003, she was given a scholarship to study for a master’s in natural resources management, at the Asian Institute of Technology, in Thailand. High marks earned her a fellowship at Roskilde University, Denmark, in 2005.

She returned to the Royal University, in 2006, this time as a lecturer at the department of environmental science.

She worked for a conservation organization, Birdlife International, monitoring the Biodiversity Conservation Corridor Initiative. This allowed her to conduct fieldwork in forest areas like the Cardamom mountains and the eastern plains of Mondulkiri province.

She is now working for a PhD on fish population modeling.

“I believe that the fish population modeling I aim to develop will serve as a guide for sustainable management of fishery resources in the country,” she said.

Later this month, the conservationist will travel to Cambridge, Mass., to attend a Fulbright Enrichment Science and Technology Seminar.

She will be among the first Cambodian students to pursue a PhD with Fulbright funding.

“Participating in the seminar, I will learn about applied sciences, micro-enterprises and research and development laboratories,” she said.

Before attending the seminar, she plans to spend one week visiting the US capital and New York City, she said.

North Korea Fires Short Range Missiles as Talks With South Sputter

S. Korean chief delegate Kim Young-tak, before leaving Kaesong at transit office in Paju, near border village of the Panmunjom, 02 Jul 2009

By Kurt Achin
A third round of talks over an embattled joint industrial zone between North and South Korea has produced no progress. The North apparently launched several short range missiles into the ocean even as South Korean delegates were making their journey back from the North's territory.

Reports of the latest North Korean missile launches came Thursday via South Korea's Yonhap news agency. The report said North Korea fired two short range missiles off its east coast between 5:20 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. local time.

That is about when North and South Korean delegates were wrapping up another round of unsuccessful talks about the Kaesong Industrial complex, located near the North Korean border city of the same name.

Military analysts say such short-range launches pose no serious regional threat, and are fairly routine for North Korea. However, Pyongyang's long-range missile test in April, nuclear weapons test in May, and almost daily stream of hostile rhetoric have raised tension in the northeast Asia.

North and South Korean delegates met in Kaesong to discuss the five-year-old joint industrial complex, where South Korean enterprises employ about 40,000 North Korean factory workers.

Kim Yong-tak, head of the South Korean delegation, says he revisited the issue of a detained South Korean executive known by his surname, Yu.

He says the South called on North Korea to provide information about Yu's health and his location. The North, he says, did not provide any response.
Yu, a manager in the Kaesong zone, has been detained for three months, isolated from other South Koreans. He is accused of making inflammatory comments about the North's political leaders, and possibly encouraging a female North Korean worker to defect.

Kim says the North Korean side simply repeated demands it made after canceling contracts for the zone in May.

Pyongyang is demanding the South more than triple workers' pay, and raise rental payments by a factor of 30. South Korean business operators say those kinds costs would make Kaesong a bad investment, compared with setting up factories in Vietnam or China.

Indian Court Decriminalizes Gay Sex in New Delhi

Gay rights activists cheer and celebrate after court passed ruling decriminalizing homosexuality in New Delhi, 02

By Anjana Pasricha
New Delhi
An Indian court has ruled that gay sex is not a crime, overriding a 19th century law dating back to the days when the British ruled India. Gay activists have welcomed the ruling, but several religious leaders have opposed it, saying homosexual relationships violate Indian culture.
Gay activists in the Indian capital erupted in joy when the Delhi High Court ruled sex among consenting adults of the same gender is not a crime in India's capital city.

The ruling came after a nine-year legal battle waged by gay advocacy groups, who had challenged an 1861 law that called homosexual sex "against the order of nature", and made it punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Homosexuals have long complained the colonial-era law exposes them to harassment from the police.

The High Court ruling says the existing law is discriminatory and a violation of fundamental rights under the constitution. It emphasized the need for equality, dignity and inclusiveness of all individuals.

Anjali Goplan is executive director of the Naz Foundation, a sexual health organization, which filed the petition. She says they could not have asked for more.

"I think it is historic," she said. "I think we have finally taken baby steps into the 21st century."

While the ruling is a gigantic step forward for the gay community, the battle may be far from over.

The ruling is only applies to the Indian capital, although gay activists hope it will set a precedent for the rest of the country.

Activists are also bracing for a possible appeal to the Supreme Court either by the government or religious groups.

Several leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities have staunchly opposed any changes to the old law, saying homosexual relationships violate Indian culture.

The government says it needs to study the ruling. It has firmly rejected petitions to change the law, but in recent weeks some officials have indicated the government may be prepared to discuss the subject.

A lawyer for the Naz Foundation, Tripti Tandon, says gay activists are prepared to fight on for their rights.

"We hope that they will not go in appeal, but if they do, then it means another long drawn legal battle which we certainly do not want, but we will be up for if the need arises," said Tandon.

Gay sex has long been a taboo subject in a country where even kissing and hugging between men and women in public is frowned upon. But in recent years, hundreds of activists have come out in the open to lead the battle for the rights of the gay community, and homosexuality has slowly gained acceptance in big cities.

Thailand Takes Tougher Line on Copyright Piracy

Thailand's Commerce Ministry launches public awareness program

By Ron Corben
Thailand's Commerce Ministry launches public awareness program
The Thai government is cracking down on sales of illegally copied goods, such as movies and clothes, but its campaign has met resistance. Piracy across the Asia-Pacific region is a multi-billion-dollar business fueled by demand for the latest and cheapest entertainment and software.

Deep in Bangkok's high-profile Patpong night club district, a thriving night market draws in tourists and residents alike.

A staple of Thailand's markets has long been cheap copies of everything from popular music to designer clothes.

But the government has come under increasing pressure, in particular from the United States, to curb copyright violations.

Among worst offenders: China, Russia

United States Trade Representative's office says that in the Asia-Pacific region, China, Russia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan are the worst offenders for intellectual copyright piracy.

But this year, the USTR put Thailand on its special watch list of countries failing to curb violations. Countries that do not address the problem could face U.S. trade sanctions.

The Intellectual Property Alliance says its members lost more than $400 million in Thailand in 2007, because of sales of illegally copied business software, video games, music and movies.

In May, the Thai government began cracking down.

One of the first targets was Patpong. When officials seized suspected goods, a riot erupted as vendors fought back with sticks, bottles and stones. Several people were injured. Some vendors say soldiers were involved in the raid.

One vendor, who asked not to be named, says most goods seized in the raid did not violate copyright laws.

"Police come, he take everything," he said. "You saw, you saw in the market we have a problem [of counterfeit goods] about 10 to 20 percent - 80 percent no problem. But he's not police, he is soldier. He takes everything you know, everything from my shop."

Piracy causes billions in losses

Sales of illegally copied software, movies and music across the Asia-Pacific region continue to rise. The Business Software Alliance, an international group, estimates software piracy alone caused losses of over $15 billion last year in the region.

Many governments, however, are taking a harder line on the trade.

Jeffery J. Hardee is the BSA's Asia-Pacific regional director. He says there are good economic reasons for doing so.

"In a place like Thailand, a 10 point drop in the piracy level could have an additional $1 billion to the gross domestic product of the country," said Hardee. "About half of that would remain in the country and it could create several thousand new jobs and add $55 million of additional tax revenues."

Government vows to continue crackdown

The government vows to continue the crackdown. Raids through June targeted other well known venues selling pirated software and entertainment.

Deputy Commerce Ministry Alongkorn Ponlaboot leads the effort. He dismisses vendors' complaints that authorities have been heavy handed, but says his agency will try to avoid problems such as the riot in Patpong, as it builds community support the crackdown. And he says the government hopes to show the USTR that it is serious about curtailing piracy.

"Hopefully, because of the Patpong crackdown, will be the reason for us to improve our program to promote what is intellectual property, that the public should know," said Alongkorn. "I think we get more understanding at least - the Commerce Ministry and USTR can say that they support our policy and our seriousness of our policy implementation."

New legislation envisioned

The government is drafting new legislation on intellectual property, which, among other things, would impose tough penalties on landlords if their tenants sell illegally copied goods.

But vendors are fighting back. They lodged a complaint against the government with the Thai Law Society. The president of the Lawyers Council of Thailand, Dej-Udom Krairit, says the government acted improperly in Patpong.

He says that affected companies must begin legal action against vendors for violating trade marks, not the government.

"You must have the complainer to lodge the complaint - you need to bring along those who are representatives of the interested parties - i.e. the owner of the copyright to identify which part of the good is pirated. Not send the troops to take charge, grab all those vendors or property without identifying the pirated one. You can't do that," said Dej-Udom.

The Thai government says its tactics are proper, and are important not only to meet international law, but also to protect Thailand's entertainment industry, which also loses money to pirates at home and abroad.