Is the Arab world soft on the Palestinian cause?
Yes No Can't say



24 Carat
Dhs. 35.25
22 Carat
Dhs. 33.00


My E-mail is:

05 September 2002. 27 Jamadi Al Thani, 1423.

Seven killed in Urals factory blast: Russian emergencies ministry

MOSCOW - Seven people were killed and three injured on Thursday in a fire caused by a blast in the Urals city of Tolyati in central Russia, a spokesman for the Russian emergencies ministry said.

The explosion occurred during renovation work at a local factory's sports complex, the Interfax news agency quoted the spokesman as saying. An inquiry has been launched into the causes of the incident. - AFP


Three dead, 11 injured in Indonesia blast

JAKARTA - Three people were killed and 11 others injured on Thursday in an explosion inside a soccer stadium in the eastern Indonesian city of Ambon in the Malukus, the police said. The Maluku islands, of which Ambon is the main city, has been the scene of fighting between Muslims and Christians which has left more than 5,000 dead since 1999 and the latest violence could threaten a fragile peace pact signed in February.

The three, one of them a woman, died in hospital of their injuries, a policeman named Eddy told AFP by phone from Ambon. The victims were injured by pieces of concrete seats that fell on them following the blast at the Merdeka Stadium in downtown Ambon. Another policeman who identified himself as Kamal said the explosion also injured 11 others, some seriously. He said the victims were both Muslims and Christians.

The blast is believed to have been caused by a homemade bomb, police said. Ambon has seen intermittent violence since the peace pact was signed, the worst of which was in May when unidentified attackers raided a Christian village and massacred 13 people. A state of civil emergency is in effect in Ambon as part of efforts to halt the violence, which has largely subsided elsewhere in the Malukus. - AFP


Indonesians sue Japan over aid-funded dam

TOKYO - Nearly 4,000 Indonesians sued the Japanese government on Thursday, demanding compensation for a dam funded by aid from Tokyo that they say has destroyed their livelihood and damaged the environment.

The suit, the first against a project funded by Japan's official development assistance (ODA), was filed in the Tokyo District Court by 3,861 Indonesians who said they were forcibly resettled to make way for the Kotopanjang Dam in Sumatra, lawyers for the plaintiffs said. The plaintiffs demanded five million yen ($42,430) each in compensation from the Japanese government and its foreign assistance body, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, for damage to their lifestyle, including a lack of fresh water and jobs in the area where they were resettled.

"This move was not made by choice. They became developmental refugees," said Fumio Asano, one of the group's lawyers. "The compensation is not the main thing. They would like Japan to take measures to help them regain the lifestyle they had before they had to resettle." Also named in the suit were the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), a semi-governmental bank that provides loans to foreign countries and overseas projects, and Tokyo Electric Power Services Co, an affiliate of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), Japan's largest utility.

The hydroelectric dam, completed in 1997, was built in central Sumatra at a cost of some 31 billion yen. Plaintiffs say it has damaged the natural environment and that wild animals in the area, including elephants, face starvation, Kyodo news agency said. The Foreign Ministry had no official comment on the suit, but Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Yukio Takeuchi was quoted by a spokeswoman as telling reporters on Monday that such projects are decided by both nations and Japan then gives its assistance. "We will study the petition carefully and consider our response," he was quoted as saying.

The Japan Bank of International Cooperation said in a statement that it would consult with the other defendants on what possible response to make after studying the lawsuit. Japan was the world's top aid donor in dollar terms for most of the 1990s but lost that position to the United States in 2001, mainly due to a dive in the value of the yen. - Reuters


China, Germany deal on N Korean school standoff

BEIJING - China and Germany have "reached consensus" over what to do about the 15 North Korean refugees sheltering in a German embassy school in Beijing, the Chinese government announced on Thursday.

"China and Germany have reached consensus on a proper settlement of this problem and the consensus is being implemented," foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan said without specifying what the solution involved. - AFP


Earthquake jolts northeastern Taiwan

TAIPEI - An earthquake measuring 4.1 on the Richter scale rocked northeastern Taiwan on Thursday, seismologists said. There were no reports of casualties or damage.

The tremor struck at 12:43 pm from an epicenter 13.1 kilometers northeast of Taiwan's northeastern town Nanao. It originated 11.5 kilometers below the earth's crust. A quake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale on March 31 killed five people and its aftershock on May 15, with a magnitude of 6.2, left a three-month-old boy dead. - AFP


Australia launches new force to combat terrorism

SYDNEY - With the first anniversary of September 11 looming, Australia's military on Thursday launched a new force to counter terrorist attacks with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Defence Minister Robert Hill presented the 300-member Incident Response Regiment (IRR) at Sydney's Holsworthy Barracks, where the unit will be based alongside a new special forces Tactical Assault Group (TAG) trained to battle terrorists in civilian areas. As TAG commandos carried out a noisy live-fire demonstration on the base, Hill said the Incident Response Regiment would be capable of acting anywhere in the world where terrorists threaten Australian interests.

The two units, he said, "are highly-trained soldiers with the skills to deal with the worst that terrorists could endeavour to inflict on the Australian community." "The lesson of September 11 is that we can't take any chances -- the potential consequences of an attack are just too catastrophic to ignore," Hill said, referring to last year's devastating airliner attacks on New York and Washington.

The government has committed 121 million Australian dollars ($66 million) to developing the IRR and last week announced it was recruiting a dozen scientists with expertise in germ, chemical and nuclear weapons to join. "The Incident Response Regiment will be called out only in extreme cases where police and emergency services do not have the capability to deal with a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive threat," Hill said.

"Their training means they will be able to conduct high-risk searches with detection equipment and dogs, disarm and dispose of a device, decontaminate victims and the exposed area and analyse the hazardous material on site," he said. The TAG force, which matches a similar Special Air Services unit stationed in the west of the country, will be able to deploy "at short notice to respond to a terrorist incident, such as a hostage siege", he said.

"The raising of a second Tactical Assault Group to complement the existing group based in Western Australia ensures that we have the capability to respond to simultaneous and geographically separate terrorist incidents," Hill said. - AFP


Bush declares September 11 'Patriot Day'

WASHINGTON - Exactly one week before the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, President George W Bush on Wednesday declared that dark day in US history "Patriot Day," in honor of those killed.

The more than 3,000 people who died in the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and outside Washington "will forever hold a cherished place in our hearts and in the history of our nation," Bush declared in a statement.

"We will not forget the events of that terrible morning, nor will we forget how Americans responded in New York City, at the Pentagon and in the skies over Pennsylvania -- with heroism and selflessness, with compassion and courage and with prayer and hope," he said. "As we mark the first anniversary of that tragic day, we remember their sacrifice and we commit ourselves to honoring their memory by pursuing peace and justice in the world and security at home."

Bush called on US citizens to fly their flags at half-staff every September 11 and to observe a moment of silence at 8:46 am (1246 GMT), the exact moment at which the first hijacked plane slammed into the World Trade Center. He also urged people to participate in commemorative ceremonies, memorial services and candlelight vigils in remembrance of those killed. "Inspired by the heroic sacrifices of our firefighters, rescue and law enforcement personnel, military service members and other citizens, our nation found unity, focus and strength" after the attacks, Bush declared.

He added that "from the tragedy of September 11 emerged a stronger nation, renewed by a spirit of national pride and a true love of country." Less than half of the people polled by CNN and Time magazine late last month said September 11 should be commemorated with a national holiday. Forty-four per cent of the 1,004 adults surveyed on August 28 and 29 said the day should be a holiday, while 51 per cent said it should not be.

However, some 61 per cent of the 1,176 youngsters between the ages of eight and 18 polled by Time magazine and Nickelodeon television late last month said they believed the day would be designated a national holiday.

Showing their patriotic colors, more than three-quarters of the youths said they would most likely mark the first anniversary of the attacks by flying the US flag. - AFP


Bitterness mars summit finale

JOHANNESBURG - The Earth Summit ended here yesterday amid bitterness and acrimony as world leaders adopted what was described by many as a watered-down declaration aimed at protecting environment and combating poverty.

The 'Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development' was adopted after environmentalist heckled and jeered US Secretary of State Colin Powell and staged a walkout.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, chairing the session, said the draft had gone through numerous revisions. It acknowledges that goals set at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 have not been met and pledges the leaders "to combat terrorism, organised crime and corruption, singly and collectively ... "

The declaration commits the leaders to building "a human, equitable and caring global society cognisant of the need for human dignity for all". "The deep fault line that divides human society between the rich and the poor and the ever-increasing gap between the developed and developing worlds pose a major threat to global prosperity, security and stability," it says.

"The global environment continues to suffer. Loss of biodiversity continues, fish stocks continue to be depleted, desertification claims more and more fertile land, the adverse effects of climate change are already evident, natural disasters are more frequent and more devastating and developing countries more vulnerable, and air, water and marine pollution continue to rob millions of a decent life...

"We reaffirm our pledge to place particular focus on, and give priority attention to, the fight against the worldwide conditions that pose severe threats to the sustainable development of our people ... (including) foreign occupation ... "

The action plan to cut poverty and protect the planet was adopted following the environmentalists' walk-out in disgust on the last day of the marathon conference. Earlier they shouted down Mr Powell during his speech to show their disapproval of US policies.

They said a string of compromises had gutted the 65-page Plan of Implementation and left big business free to pollute the planet. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told journalists: "You must not expect a conference like this to produce miracles but it must generate political commitment... Johannesburg is not the end of everything, it is a beginning."

Security guards hauled a protester out of the plenary chamber as Mr Powell spoke, and demonstrators unfurled a banner reading: "Betrayed by governments". Mr Powell told the demonstrators, "thank you very much, I've now heard you. I ask that you hear me," and was then able to finish his speech. The United States has been under intense fire at the summit, mainly for its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which looks set to become a treaty after Russia's announcement here that it would ratify it "in the very near future".

The protocol is designed to reduce the emission of "greenhouse gases" which prevent heat from radiating out into space, causing temperatures to rise worldwide, with resultant droughts and the melting of ice caps, causing sea levels to rise.

The protest erupted at a point in Mr Powell's speech where he referred to the worsening food shortages that have afflicted six drought-stricken southern African countries, and blasted Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for his controversial seizure of white-owned farms. "In one country in this region, Zimbabwe, the lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law has exacerbated these factors, to push millions of people forward towards the brink of starvation," he said.

"In the face of famine, several governments in southern Africa have prevented critical US food assistance from being distributed by rejecting biotech corn which has been eaten safely around the world since 1995. "We are committed not just to rhetoric and to various goals, we are committed to a billion-dollar programme to develop and deploy advanced technologies to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions," Mr Powell said, to loud jeers of protesters. - AFP


Bush campaign to convince sceptics

WASHINGTON - US President George W. Bush announced a campaign yesterday to convince sceptics at home and abroad that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction and needed to be "dealt with". Shortly before Mr Bush unveiled plans to press his case, shipping sources said the US planned to ship tanks and heavy armour to the Middle East this month, raising the spectre of a military attack on Iraq.

But Saddam appeared unbowed by threats of war and pressure for him to let weapons inspectors in, vowing his nation would defeat any military action and repeating that Iraq wanted an overall solution to the crisis based on UN resolutions.

At a White House meeting with congressional leaders, some of whom have voiced fears of a protracted military engagement, Mr Bush said that at the appropriate time he would ask Congress to approve any action on Iraq "necessary to deal with the threat. Doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option." He will meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Saturday at Camp David. - Reuters


UK accused of violating rights of suspects

LONDON - Britain has used emergency laws to ride roughshod over the human rights of terror suspects in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, Amnesty International said yesterday.

The human rights watchdog said in a report entitled "Rights denied: The UK's response to 11 September 2001" that detainees at Belmarsh high security prison were locked up for all but two hours a day and denied proper health care and legal help. "The regime under which detainees are held can lead to serious physical and mental deterioration," Amnesty researcher Livio Zilli said. - Reuters


'Inspections or not, Saddam must go'

WASHINGTON - The United States yesterday dismissed as a ploy Iraq's latest offer to allow UN weapons inspectors to return and said it was committed to ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein regardless of whether the inspections resume.

Iraq is unlikely to allow the thorough inspections needed to ensure Baghdad is not developing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. "I haven't seen any indication on their part to agree to anything, except as a ploy from time to time," Mr Rumsfeld said.

"There might be inspections. The inspections might be this, that or the other thing. And then you'll find at the last moment, they'll withdraw that carrot or that opportunity and go back into their other mode of thumbing their nose at the international community."

Mr Rumsfeld and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Washington wanted Iraq to live up to its commitment to allow inspections mandated by UN Security Council resolutions, but both insisted that would not be enough to satisfy the United States. "The policy of the United States is regime change with or without inspectors," Mr Fleischer said.

Earlier Mr Rumsfeld had dismissed any split as 'baloney'."...what's important is what the president says, and what's important is what the president decides," he said. Two senior Iraqi officials earlier hinted at a resumption of inspections amid a flurry of diplomatic activity designed to avert a possible US strike.

Visiting Cairo for Arab League meetings on the possibility of a US attack, Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said a "return of inspectors is part of UN Security Council resolutions, and we call for the application of these resolutions."

In Johannesburg, Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said Iraq was ready to cooperate with the United Nations in endingthe standoff with the United States. President George W. Bush has labelled Iraq part of an 'axis of evil' and said it threatens world peace by supporting terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq has used chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels, and UN inspectors had found evidence of nuclear and biological weapons programmes before leaving Iraq ahead of US-British airstrikes in December 1998. Iraq has not allowed the inspectors to return.

Mr Bush's stance was echoed in London by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who offered to provide proof Baghdad continues to develop such weapons, in spite of assurances to the contrary. "There needs to be some more work, some more checking done, but I think probably the best thing to do is to publish that within the next few weeks... We will produce whatever we have," Mr Blair said.

Mr Rumsfeld said the Bush administration could soon offer its own case against Saddam, perhaps at upcoming congressional hearings on Iraq, as lawmakers discussed when to schedule such hearings. - AFP


Powell admits US divided over tackling Iraq

JOHANNESBURG - US Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday admitted there are differences in the US administration over how to tackle Iraq but insisted President George W. Bush was engaged in 'serious' consultations on what action to take.

Mr Powell was also insistent that the weapons programme being conducted by Iraq under President Saddam Hussein was a real 'danger' to the international community.

The secretary of state, a moderate in the US administration, acknowledged the sharp debate as he spoke to reporters on a plane taking him to the Earth summit in Johannesburg.

Iraq "is a very serious issue and we discuss it in a very serious way. There are lots of views in the administration, outside the administration, up on the Hill, throughout the talk shows, the media, and throughout the international community.

"The president is considering it all, and in due course he will let you know how he plans to pursue this problem." Mr Powell said of the differences within the US leadership: "Some are real, some are perceived, some are overhyped."

US allies have expressed concern at the prospect of the United States taking military action without international backing. And the secretary of state has hinted in recent days at differences with Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over Iraq.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Mr Powell said that the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq should be a 'first stage' while Mr Cheney has advocated a more aggressive approach including the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Staying in line with Mr Bush, who has also called for a return of weapons inspectors, Mr Powell also said that new inspections of Iraq's arms developments would not give all the necessary guarantees about Iraq's actions.

"The point the vice-president was making, and he made it very powerfully and very vividly is that inspections (by themself) may not give you the insurance you need. Mr Powell said "the issue is not inspectors. the issue is disarmament. The (UN) resolutions call for disarmament, not inspection.

"Inspections are one way of getting at that question. Whether it's the only way, or there are other ways that have to be used to get at the question of disarmament, is the debate that we are having within the entire international community." "We are discussing Iraq, and we are discussing every aspect of the issue. We are discussing the threat that this regime presents to he rest of the world.

"We are discussing the simple reality that for almost 12 years now the Iraqi regime has refused to comply with a number of UN resolutions and dozens of conditions they were supposed to meet."

He went on: "There is no question that he (Saddam) continues to pursue these kinds of weapons of mass destruction. Mr Powell said the final decision would be the US president's. "He is consulting widely, he will approach this patiently, and he has not made any decision either of a unilateral nature or of a multilateral nature. - AFP


'Foreign policy to blame for Sept. 11'

CHICAGO - A majority of Europeans believe that US foreign policy is partly to blame for last year's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC, according to a poll released yesterday.

All told, 55 per cent of Europeans believe the attacks by the radical Al Qaeda group on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were a product of US policy overseas to some degree.

Many Europeans, as well as Americans, are critical of President George W. Bush's handling of foreign policy issues, according to Worldviews 2002, a survey of more than 9,000 Europeans and Americans.

The massive survey, billed as the most comprehensive survey ever of US and European foreign policy attitudes, was undertaken jointly by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Only one-fifth of the respondents thought Bush was doing a good job handling the Arab-Israeli conflict and/or the standoff with Iraq over weapons inspections.

"Despite reports of a rift between US and European governments," the survey "finds more similarities than differences in how the American and European publics view the larger world," said to Craig Kennedy, president of the German Marshall Fund.

"In facing a world transformed, there is fundamental agreement regarding friends, enemies, and the need for both the European Union and the United States to play cooperative roles in world affairs," he said.

The poll finds that Europeans believe terrorism is the number one foreign policy threat facing their continent. Large majorities of Europeans and Americans support the use of military force to combat terrorism; 75 per cent and 92 per cent respectively support the use of troops to wipe out terrorist camps, for example. Both Americans and Europeans regard an Iraqi regime that is developing weapons of mass destruction as a top international threat.

But majorities on both sides of the Atlantic agree that an attack on Iraq should only go forward where a strike has the backing of the United Nations and allies.

"Americans feel a great sense of vulnerability after 9/11 and are supporting with new vigor an active, multilateral foreign policy," said Marshall Bouton, president of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. "At the same time, Europeans share Americans' concerns about issues like terrorism, Iraq, and weapons of mass destruction, and are prepared to use force to combat them."

Some of that vulnerability can be seen in Americans' attitudes to Islam and immigration.

Four out of 10 Americans believe the September attacks "represented the true teachings of Islam," to a great degree, while 76 per cent of Americans favour tightening immigration from Arab or Muslim countries based on the events of last September, according to the poll.

On humanitarian issues, 88 per cent of Europeans polled support using troops to help a population struck by famine, a position 81 per cent of Americans polled support. And 80 per cent of Europeans support using soldiers to uphold international law, an issue that garners 76 per cent US support. - AFP


Russia slams Sudan rebel advance

MOSCOW - Russia on yesterday voiced concern and regret at the suspension of talks aimed at ending 19 years of civil war in Sudan, and at the resumption of military activities that caused it.

"It is obvious that one side's attempts to boost its military control not only do not help the peace process along, but puts its very continuation in doubt," the foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to an advance by the rebels of the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA).

"Moscow expects that concrete practical measures would be taken shortly to make the SPLA withdraw to its former positions, and urges the need to maintain the status quo that had been reached when the talks in Machakos were launched," the ministry added.

Sudan's government on Monday suspended peace talks between government and SPLA representatives to protest the capture by the SPLA of the town of Torit on Sunday. It ordered a massive army mobilisation to recapture areas they had lost to the SPLA.

Torit had been in the hands of the government since 1988. The talks at Machakos, 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Nairobi, started on August 12 and were due to end on September 14, with the possibility of extension, in a final attempt to end the war that has raged between government forces and SPLA since 1983. More than two million people have died in the conflict and more than four million others are either internally displaced or in exile. - AFP


Cash coming for pop space tourist: Hollywood

MOSCOW - Russia's space agency said yesterday it had scrapped plans by 'N Sync singer Lance Bass to join an October space mission after the US pop star failed to meet payment deadlines.

But the Hollywood producer behind the deal said a first slice of the reported $20 million fee would be handed over by tomorrow or next Monday, and said Bass "is not going to leave town."

Bass, 23, who is bidding to become the youngest person in space, was told to leave the Star City training center outside Moscow where he was preparing to join a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

"After failing to fulfill the conditions of his contract, Lance Bass has been told that his training at the Cosmonaut Training Center has ended and that his flight to the ISS is impossible," Russian space agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov told Reuters.

Bass's trip is being financed by a consortium of US companies and corporate sponsors led by Hollywood producer David Krieff. Krieff told Reuters on Tuesday he was confident the complex deal would go through. "My feeling is we'll have our first big payment this week and that will silence everybody.

"The money is all there. It was never a question of money, ever. The question is delivery of the money ... so that everybody is happy and that just in case, God forbid, the thing (rocket) blew up, what happens?" he said.

Krieff is planning to build a TV mini-series around Bass's adventure and said he has lined up six U.S. sponsors who have agreed to put up about $22 million collectively. He said he also has a deal with a US TV network he declined to name and broadcasting and sponsorship pacts in about 40 other countries. Bass is expected to sing during the trip.

Cash-strapped Russia says it needs payment to service its fleet of Soyuz craft. The fee for a single tourist is enough to cover the entire cost of launching a manned craft.

Krieff said negotiations had proved complex because of the ambitious entertainment aspects of the project. The two previous paying space tourists - US millionaire Dennis Tito and South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth were merely fulfilling their own personal dreams.

"Nobody has ever created a model for media in outerspace ... We are sitting on top of a goldmine for Russia and for the commercialisation of space. "My hope is that by next Monday, possibly by this Friday, everything will be in satisfactory order for the Russians and they will reopen their doors to the best publicity they have ever received," Krieff said.

Gorbunov, however, said the Russian space agency was now preparing to send a cargo container to the ISS instead of a third crew member. He said Bass was at Star City, "gathering his stuff and preparing to leave."

But both Krieff and Bass's publicist, Jill Fritzo, said Bass would remain in Russia while negotiations continued. Mir Corp, the company brokering Bass's flight, said it was confident he could still secure a seat aboard the Soyuz. Bass began preparing for the October Soyuz flight in the spring, allowing himself training time just short of the six months demanded by the ISS protocol. Bass is not the first pop star to nurture space dreams, after Russian pop group Na-Na bid to become the first to give a concert from orbit last year. Na-Na also underwent training, but never made it into space. - Reuters


Sept. 11 'brought Muslims and non-Muslims closer'

SINGAPORE - The terrorist attacks on the United States last year dented the image of the Islamic religion but at the same time helped bridge the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims, speakers told a forum on the impact of the attacks on global Islam here yesterday.

"In a sense, it has brought the Muslim world much closer to the rest of the world," Singapore's Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim told the forum organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

The religion undoubtedly suffered as a result of the attacks by the radical Al Qaeda militant group in New York and Washington, speakers said. Stereotyping of Islam was described as "both unfair and inaccurate", said Peter Riddell, a senior lecturer in Islamic studies and director of the London Bible College Centre for Islamic Studies.

But the increased global scrutiny on Islam presented an opportunity for the majority of Muslims who reject militancy to dispel misconceptions about their faith.

"The Muslim world has to accept the spotlight and embrace the moment of being in the spotlight to enlighten and explain what is going on," said Sharon Siddique, a specialist on ethnicity and development in Southeast Asia.

Siddique said the internal debate amongst Muslims, triggered by the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was a healthy sign with most Muslims rejecting radical followers of the faith.

"Moderate Muslims have found a voice... to condemn what has been done in the name of Islam," she said, adding that "radical Islam is on the defensive in the Muslim world and that itself is a very optimistic trend."

Shad Saleem Faruqi, assistant vice-chancellor for special functions and law at Malaysia's University of Technology, said "the international commentary on Islam has been unfair and unkind" since September 11.

But the "great positive development has been that radical terrorist groups have been ostracised by the community." Muslims must now face the urgent task of speaking up for the faith in order to counter wrongly held perceptions about Islam, he said.

"I think the pressing challenge for Muslims is to first of all confront these negative perceptions but confront it in a democratic and respectful way," he said. "The internal challenge is to not let the radicals, the fundamentalists, monopolise the discourse on Islam." Faruqi said the difficulty for most Muslims was being labelled a kafir, or non-believer, by the radical followers of the faith. - AFP


Earth Summit adopts action plan

JOHANNESBURG - The Earth Summit in Johannesburg adopted a controversial action plan on poverty and the environment on Wednesday after none of the world leaders assembled in Johannesburg raised any objection to it. South African President Thabo Mbeki, the conference chairman, then announced it was adopted.

Environmentalists slammed the 65-page Plan of Implementation as gutted by compromises, which left big business free to degrade the environment, and briefly shouted down US Secretary of State Colin Powell when he spoke Wednesday morning. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told journalists: "You must not expect a conference like this to produce miracles but it must generate political commitment ... Johannesburg is not the end of everything, it is a beginning." - AFP


Putin proud of KGB career, critical of Gorbachev era

MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin remains proud of his 16-year career with the feared Soviet KGB and thinks the Gorbachev era too pro-Western in foreign policy, according to a biography published on Wednesday. "The idea of being a "KGB man' never weighed on me because I never felt guilty of anything," the president is quoted as saying in Oleg Blotsky's book "Vladimir Putin: The Road to Power".

"I was sure of defending a just cause. I was working for my country, for Russia. I was working sincerely, from dawn until dusk. I knew I was doing something useful for my people," Putin added. Putin enrolled in the KGB secret service in 1975 after studying law in his native Saint Petersburg. Ten years later he was posted to East Germany, where he worked until 1990. A year later he resigned as KGB colonel.

The Russian president admitted nonetheless that his past in the secret service caused difficulties when he started working for Anatoly Sobchak, the reformist former mayor of Saint Petersburg, after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. "People were blackmailing me. They demanded I favour one company or another or face having details about my past leaked," said Putin. Such leaks would have harmed Sobchak at a time when revelations about KGB crimes were surfacing. Putin, 49, left the KGB on the day of the failed hardline putsch against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on August 20, 1991. "My moral obligations took precedence over my formal duties," he said.

But the Russian president conceded some sympathy with the coup leaders' dissatisfaction over Gorbachev's pro-Western foreign policy. "I went through a very difficult time during the putsch. I didn't agree with the way things had happened. A lot of the public statements made by people who went on to become top officials in our city, region and the country were wrong," he said.

"It was absolutely clear for me that unilateral disarmament was not good for us. Our ties with former geopolitical adversaries were acceptable up to a point but the people responsible for that did not know the limits," Putin added. Putin has been compared to Gorbachev by some political commentators for his dramatic decision after the September 11 attacks in the United States to throw Russia wholeheartedly behind the US-led anti-terrorism alliance, aligning himself with the Western camp. The policy shift has provoked criticism among hardline nationalists and military top brass, who accuse Putin of selling Russian interests down the river.

The Russian leader said he had mixed feelings about returning to the secret service when he was appointed in July 1998 as head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB. "Honestly speaking, I did not think I would return to the secret service. I did not think it would lead me anywhere. The secret services remained what they were," said the president.

Blotsky's book, which covers the period from 1975 to December 1999 and the abrupt resignation of former president Boris Yeltsin, is the second in a trilogy. A virtual unknown at the time of his appointment as prime minister in August 1999, Putin was catapulted into the post of acting president by Yeltsin's departure. He was elected in the first round of presidential elections three months later. - AFP


Germany, China begin mulling fate of 15 N Koreans

BEIJING - German diplomats got down to negotiations with Chinese officials on Wednesday over the fate of 15 North Korean asylum seekers holed up in the basement of a German school in Beijing. As the talks began, another group of 21 North Koreans who sneaked into the South Korean consulate over the last few weeks appeared set to follow dozens of their compatriots on the road to Seoul via the Philippines.

The latest group of North Korean asylum seekers to embarrass Beijing, one of Pyongyang's few friends, scaled a wall to enter the compound enclosing a German school and diplomats' apartments on Tuesday afternoon. German refugee activist Nobert Vollertsen, a doctor who worked in North Korea for more than a year, said they had spent two days on the streets of Beijing before entering the school "with the assistance of international human rights volunteers".

In an e-mail to news organisations, he gave no details of the group helping the North Koreans, but China deported a South Korean pastor last month after he had been found guilty of trying to help 12 North Koreans reach Mongolia. A German embassy official said the 15 North Koreans had spent the night in a basement changing room and had been given food and drink. "There are also toilets and everything that they need," he said. "The situation is calm now."

"We are trying to come to a conclusion to the situation," he said of talks with Chinese officials. The Chinese Foreign Ministry declined comment.


It remained unclear whether the compound came under the umbrella of diplomatic territory, which would effectively make it part of Germany, but Chinese police made no move to enter it.

The latest dramatic asylum attempt by escapees from the famished Communist country came a day after police dragged about a dozen North Koreans from a Beijing compound housing several embassies. So far this year the government has let more than 80 others who managed to get into foreign missions in China go to South Korea via a third country.

Manila has agreed to allow the 21 North Koreans in Seoul's consulate to fly there en route to South Korea and officials originally expected them to do so on Wednesday. But a diplomatic source in Manila said on Wednesday such an early departure was unlikely. A South Korean diplomat in Beijing said no decision had been made on their fate.

Classes at the German school were cancelled on Wednesday -- only a week after the new school year began -- and students did not know how long the unexpected break would last. "We've been told it could last anything from two days to two weeks," one student said. "We don't know. Everything could be OK tomorrow again, it's just not sure."

The police presence around the German compound had dwindled overnight after students were told to clear out on Tuesday as the North Koreans huddled on a metal staircase attached to the outside of their school. But a police van and several squad cars remained parked outside the gates and a handful of uniformed and plain clothed police remained close to the area.

China has stepped up security outside diplomatic missions in the wake of a rash of asylum attempts, which began in March. But it has regularly defended its treatment of North Koreans as economic migrants, refusing to regard them as refugees despite protests from human rights groups. Those groups say up to 300,000 North Koreans may be living clandestinely among ethnic Koreans in northeast China. - Reuters


Zimbabwe's Mugabe blames media for image problem

JOHANNESBURG - President Robert Mugabe, who has banned foreign reporters from Zimbabwe and enacted laws to muzzle domestic media, on Wednesday blamed the international media for his country's negative image. Visiting an exhibition on the sidelines of the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, he brushed aside questions about his war of words with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Leave Mr Blair alone. He is from England, I am from Zimbabwe," he joked to reporters asking about Blair's comment in Britain on Tuesday that Mugabe did not speak for Africa. Criticising the international media, he said they should "become part of our environment, and not continue to be instruments to be used by our former colonisers".

Mugabe's ZANU-PF, which has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, enacted tough new legislation this year to limit media criticism. At least 13 journalists have already been charged with publishing alleged falsehoods under the new laws. The government has set a deadline for all reporters to register with authorities, saying only Zimbabweans will be allowed to work in the country.

Mugabe, who lashed out at Blair in an address to the summit on Monday, said Africans had little to learn from their Western critics, and urged the international community to respect the boundaries of national sovereignty. "We must be proud that we are African...We must maintain our personality," he said.

The United States has branded Mugabe an illegitimate leader following the country's disputed presidential election earlier this year and has imposed sanctions banning him and his close associates from the country. US Secretary of State Colin Powell told the summit on Wednesday that mismanagement by Mugabe had fuelled a food crisis facing almost half of Zimbabwe's 13 million people.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela declined in a radio interview on Wednesday to comment on Mugabe's summit speech or his controversial programme to hand over white-owned farms to landless blacks without paying compensation. "I prefer to express my views on such sensitive matters to the multilateral organisation SADC (Southern African Development Community)," he said.

But he acknowledged that investor concern about Zimbabwe's future was hitting South Africa's rand currency, which plunged 37 percent against the dollar last year, before recovering partially this year. "People must be aware that Zimbabwe is not South Africa," he said. - Reuters


Thousands homeless in North Korea from Typhoon: aid agencies

BEIJING - Typhoon Rusa has left thousands of people homeless and destroyed tonnes of crops in famine-hit North Korea, international aid officials said on Wednesday citing newly release official figures. However the new information from the North Korean Red Cross Society did not mention any deaths, despite reports from official media that "scores" were killed when Rusa struck the east coast of the country over the weekend.

More than 7,000 people have been directly affected by floods caused by the typhoon, the UN quoted initial Red Cross reports as saying. In Kangwon province, the only one believed affected by the storm, 4,401 people were made homeless, said Brendan McDonald, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Most of the homeless were staying in community halls and schools.

Initial reports from Pyongyang's Flood Damage Rehabilitation Committee (FDRC) indicated that the worst-affected areas were the counties of Anbyon, Tongchon and Kosong, which received between 300 to 510 millimeters (12 to 20 inches) of rain on Sunday. The floods also caused damage to infrastructure including the road network, bridges, railway lines, electricity, schools and telephone lines.

The North Korean Red Cross also said 25 kilometers (16 miles) of roads and 24 bridges were destroyed, McDonald said. Total crop production losses for the entire province was 86,000 tonnes of mostly rice paddies and maize, the official figures said. However McDonald said it was unlikely the damage was this serious as the figure represented potential harvest loss, and officials tended to be over-optimistic in predictions.

The harvest was also one to two months away, and international experts believe crops will likely survive because they had received substantial amounts of fertilizer, he added. Based on what the international aid agencies saw when they were taken on a visit to two counties affected, the damage appeared to be localized, McDonald said, with flood damage to fields estimated by the agencies to be light.

"The government will likely be able to respond to the needs itself," McDonald said. The Red Cross is assisting almost 3,000 homeless people in Tongchon county by providing them with blankets, kitchenware, water containers and water purification tablets, he said.

There have been reports of increased incidences of diarrhea, which is common when water supply is contaminated with flood water, but there is no evidence it is serious, McDonald said. - AFP