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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hamas is not al-Qaida

The New Statesman's interview with Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, was one of the most significant interviews with the leading figure in a movement that has been demonised and excommunicated by most of the western world and its media. The fact that Meshal realises that his words will be scrutinised by his allies and supporters as closely as his adversaries confirms that he speaks of the official position of Hamas on a number of crucial issues which the pro-Israel propaganda apparatus has managed to manipulate for so long.

Arguably, the most important assertion made in the interview, conducted by Ken Livingstone, is that in which Meshal clearly stated that the Palestinian struggle was anything but a conflict between Muslims and the Jewish people. He insisted that the Palestinians were fighting against the occupier who had dispossessed them of their homes and lands, regardless of religion, creed or race. He also went on to confirm that the concept of coexistence was largely present in the Palestinian psyche, and that genocide, as suffered by Jews in Europe (and which he described as "horrible and criminal") was alien not only to the Palestinians but to the inhabitants of the region as a whole.

His statement that Jews, Muslims and Christians had for centuries lived side by side – implying there was nothing intrinsic to prevent this happening again in the future – is crucial. This mirrors Ismail Haniyeh's response, after he became prime minister in 2006, to the question of whether the Palestinians wished to throw the Jews into the sea: "Does a besieged people that is waiting breathlessly for a ship to come from the sea want to throw the Jews into the ocean? Our conflict is not with the Jews, our problem is with the occupation."

This unequivocal stand is one that ought to be welcomed by Jewish communities around the world. Rather than the fear-mongering tactics of the Israeli media machine, particularly during the Gaza attack earlier this year, warning Jews of imminent attacks against them and their facilities, Meshal was sending a clear message of assurance that the Palestinian struggle was political rather than religious and about real political grievances and not against the Jewish people per se. This comes after Meshal had himself publicly rejected any attack committed anywhere in the world which exploited the premise of the Palestinian struggle.

His comments on democracy were equally enlightening. He explained that since the Palestinian people included the entire political, religious and ideological spectrums, Hamas would abide by the outcome of their vote, respect the rights of different faiths and political views, and refrain from imposing Islamic law against the wishes of the people. This position has been condemned by al-Qaida and the leading Salafi-jihadi theologian Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi who stated that they and Hamas shared "neither ideology nor doctrine".

Meshal's interview was denounced by Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis on grounds that would equally exclude the government from talking to Israel were it not for the double standards applied to Palestine and the Middle East. Indeed, the very fact that Ivan Lewis should be made a minister with responsibility for the Middle East, given his clear bias as a former deputy leader of the Labour Friends of Israel, is a sad indication of how little interest it displays in convincing people of any kind of fairness in its approach to this part of the world.

The British government led the way in proscribing Hamas when the Islamic movement won the majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament in January 2006. More recently it is reported that the British government has been heavily involved in training and supporting the security forces of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which have been accused of imprisoning, torturing and physically abusing members of Hamas and other political factions. While finding time to condemn an interview in a weekly magazine, neither Ivan Lewis nor the British government as a whole has accepted the finding of the authoritative UN report on Gaza authored by a committee led by a South African judge well known for his support for Israel, which condemned Israel for war crimes and possibly even crimes against humanity in Gaza.

A few weeks ago in Oxford, the foreign secretary, David Miliband, spoke promisingly on the Palestinian issue, making clear that al-Qaida and Hamas were quite different. On that he was right. When the Twin Towers were attacked in September 2001, the Palestinian intifada was at its peak and people around the world were gripped by the resolve and tenacity of the Palestinian people. Visiting South Africa at the time, I found most universities had unions supporting the Palestinian struggle and comparing it to their own successful struggle against apartheid.

However, one immediate reaction to the collapse of the towers and the death of almost 3,000 Americans was the mobilisation of the Israeli propaganda machine which claimed that the fight it was engaged in on the streets of Palestinian towns and villages was the same as that which the US and its people had horrifically come face to face with. The message was that Hamas, which was in the forefront of the Palestinian struggle, was one and the same as al-Qaida, and that their persecution of Hamas was simply part of the global war on terror. The radical different policies and methods of Hamas and al-Qaida, not least the refusal of Hamas to take up arms outside Palestine, were dismissed.

Even the most superficial examination exposes these lies. Al-Qaida has four main features: it has called for a "global war on the Crusaders and Jews"; it sees any target anywhere around the world that serves its cause as legitimate; it dismisses democracy as an affront to Islam and a satanic system of rule; and it believes in enforcing Sharia law in all Muslim countries, if not beyond.

As Gideon Levy, a columnist for the popular Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, explains in the New Statesman, Hamas is totally different. In fact, Hamas supports democracy, is the democratically elected majority representative of the Palestinian people and takes up arms solely within Palestine because there is no alternative against an illegal occupying power that confiscates its people's lands and destroys their livelihoods. In similar circumstances, as Israeli leaders have themselves admitted, any people in the world would do the same.

It is high time that we act assertively to resolve the 61-year Palestinian tragedy and end the ongoing crisis. It is time for the British government to stop discrediting itself by blatant double standards and to listen to many, including the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, and to recognise and speak directly to those whom the Palestinian people have chosen to represent them: Hamas.

Meshal: reconciliation accord to be signed next month in Cairo

Hamas Politburo's Head Khaled Meshal has declared that Cairo is crystallizing the final formula of national reconciliation and all the Palestinian groups would be invited to sign the accord next month.
Speaking in a press conference followed his meeting with the Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman in Cairo, Meshal said :"Hamas positively dealt with the Egyptian paper as a suitable ground base for achieving reconciliation".
"Not sending a written reply by Hamas on the Egyptian paper is due to our keenness on coming to Cairo to affirm our stance that supports sealing a reconciliation deal to end Palestinian division", Meshal added.
He appealed to Fatah to open a clean slate to confront occupation, protect Jerusalem and guarantee refugees' right to return.
Hamas Leader called for halting security coordination between Palestinian authority and Israel and returning to resistance choice.
On the other hand, Meshal called on Arab and Islamic states to shoulder their responsibility towards Jerusalem cause, warning against response to the US call for normalization with Israel in exchange for rewards.
In this context, member of Hamas Politburo Mahmod al-Zahhar stressed that positive reply on the Egyptian paper does not mean concession but an actual attempt to heal the rift and to reach a deal.
The attempt to coordinate response of the Palestinian groups in Damascus on the Egyptian paper was failed because number of groups (Popular and Democratic Fronts, and Islamic Jehad Movement) separately sent their replies to the Egyptian leadership.

US urges Israel to probe Gaza

US urges Israel to probe Gaza crimes to boost peace.

* U.S. urges Israel to conduct credible probes of war crimes

* Says confidence-building measure would boost peace process

* UN rights council debates Goldstone report on Gaza crimes

* Goldstone says MidEast impunity has reached "crisis point"

GENEVA, Sept 29 (Reuters) - The United States called on its close ally Israel on Tuesday to conduct credible investigations into allegations of war crimes committed by its forces in Gaza, saying it would help the Middle East peace process.

Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said that Hamas leaders also had a responsibility to investigate crimes and to end what he called its targeting of civilians and use of Palestinian civilians as human shields in the strip.

The U.N. Human Rights Council was holding a one-day debate on a recent report by Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist and former U.N. war crimes prosecutor.

His panel found the Israeli army and Palestinian militants committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during their December-January war. Israel did not cooperate with the U.N. inquiry and has rejected the report as biased.

"We encourage Israel to utilise appropriate domestic (judicial) review and meaningful accountability mechanisms to investigate and follow-up on credible allegations," Posner said in a speech to the Geneva forum.

"If undertaken properly and fairly, these reviews can serve as important confidence-building measures that will support the larger essential objective which is a shared quest for justice and lasting peace," he said.

The United States joined the Council, set up three years ago, for the first time earlier this year.

Posner reiterated Washington's view that the Council paid "grossly disproportionate attention" to Israel, but said that the U.S. delegation was ready to engage in balanced debate.

Earlier, Goldstone said a lack of accountability for war crimes committed in the Middle East has reached "crisis point", undermining any hope for peace in the region. [ID:nLT514167]


"A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long," Goldstone told the Council.

"The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible war crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence."

Israel says its offensive was intended to stop militants firing rockets at Israel. Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says 773 of 1,387 Palestinians killed were civilians. Israel says 709 combatants and 295 civilians were killed. Thirteen Israelis, 10 soldiers and three civilians, died.

Goldstone's report urges the U.N. Security Council to refer the allegations to the International Criminal Court in the Hague if either Israeli or Palestinian authorities fail to investigate and prosecute those suspect of such crimes within six months.

"Our primary recommendation is that Israel and the authorities in Gaza should carry out good-faith, transparent investigations. International courts are courts of last resort, not first resort," he said on Tuesday.

Israel's ambassador Leshno Yaar rejected the report as "shameful" and "one-sided". It was "based on carefully-selected incidents, cherry picked for political effect".

Israel had opened more than 100 investigations, including damage inflicted on U.N. centres and medical facilities in Gaza, 23 of which had resulted in criminal proceedings, he said.

It faced "an enemy that intentionally deploys its forces in densely populated areas, stores its explosives in private homes and launches rockets from crowded school yards and mosques".

Ibrahim Khraishi, ambassador of the Palestinian delegation, urged the Council to adopt the report which he called objective.

"My people will not forgive the international community if the criminals are left without punishment," he said.

By Stephanie Nebehay

Facebook pulls Obama death poll

Facebook Inc. reportedly took down a poll Monday that was launched by a member which asked if President Barack Obama should be killed.

The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Secret Service launched an investigation into the online survey that appeared on the Palo Alto, Calif.-based social networking site that asked whether people thought Obama should be assassinated.

The choices on the poll were no, maybe, yes, and yes if he cuts my health care.

AP said Facebook took down the poll and disabled the application that was used to create it.

"We're working with the U.S. Secret Service, but they'll need to provide any details of their investigation," AP quoted Barry Schnitt, Facebook's spokesman for policy, as saying.

We'll change world again - Brown

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged Labour to "change the world again" as he makes his make-or-break speech to the party's annual conference.

He said voters at the election, due to be held by next June, would have the "biggest choice for a generation".

He unveiled a string of policies including in what is being seen as a make-or-break Labour conference speech.

These included more free childcare for poor families paid for by ending tax breaks for better-off families.

In a repeat of last year, wife Sarah delivered a heartfelt tribute to her husband from the conference stage.

She told delegates Mr Brown was "no saint" but they had "been together through some tough times, and some great times, and we will be together forever".

And she added: "I know he loves his country and I know he will always, always put you first."

Tories 'wrong'

Mr Brown set out the differences between Labour and the Conservatives on the economy in an address seen as vital to ending threats to his leadership and lifting party morale.

He said: "Our country confronts the biggest choice for a generation. It's a choice between two parties, yes. But more importantly a choice between two directions for our country."

And in a hard-hitting attack on "right wing" ideology, he told delegates: "The Conservative Party were faced with the economic call of the century and called it wrong."

He vowed to protect the "squeezed middle" of low and middle income earners from global market forces.

"In a crisis what the British people want to know is that their government will not pass them by on the other side but will be on their side," he said.

Before the speech, Downing Street sources said the PM would commit to provide within five years 10 hours of free childcare a week for 250,000 two-year-olds from families "on modest or middle incomes".

The plans would be paid for by scrapping existing tax relief for childcare called the Employer Supported Childcare scheme which can save basic rate taxpayers as much as £962 a year, rising to £1,195 for top rate payers.

The sources refused to say how it defined "middle or modest incomes" and claimed the existing scheme benefited richer families too much saying about a third of the total - went to top rate taxpayers.

Spirits among the Labour delegate in Brighton will not have been boosted on Tuesday morning with the news that an Ipsos Mori survey suggests the Conservatives are on 36%, Labour on 24% and the Liberal Democrats on 25% - the first time since 1982 that this polling firm has recorded Labour in third place.

'Lawless minority'

Mr Brown is continuing the "fight-back" theme of the conference after Business Secretary Lord Mandelson urged the party faithful to be "fighters, not quitters".

On anti-social behaviour the prime minister will tell delegates: "We will not stand by and see the lives of the lawful majority disrupted by the behaviour of the lawless minority.

"Because the decent, hard working majority are getting evermore angry - rightly so - with the minority who who will talk about their rights but never accept their responsibilities."

As part of a wider package of crime measures, he will announce moves to combat "problem families" he will claim are causing misery in communities with fourfold increase in the use of Family Intervention Projects.

These are binding contracts which require parents of children guilty of anti-social behaviour to accept one-to-one support or else lose their benefits.

He will also pledge to force the courts to issue more Drinking Banning Orders - so-called drink Asbos - against anyone convicted of a crime who was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

But Conservative leader David Cameron said the government had made it harder for police to tackle anti-social behaviour.

"They hardly spend any time on the streets," he said. "They spend all their time at their desks, filling in orders from the Home Office.

"We've got to get rid of police paperwork, we've got to get them back on the streets and we've got to make them feel empowered to intervene and clear these people off the streets.

"And [we've got to] make them accountable locally so there are consequences if they don't deliver."

Mr Brown is also thought to be ready to take part in a series of TV debates with David Cameron not just during the general election campaign but before it, the BBC understands.

If the debates took place they would be the first ever televised prime ministerial debates to be held in Britain.

Death Toll Hits 240 in Philippine Flooding

All Maximo Merioles Jr. could think about were his two children. As the floodwaters that had swamped his neighborhood came close to submerging him, he grabbed his two kids, ages 12 and 10, and swam toward another house, clambered up to the third floor, jumped between roofs and climbed down a wall to safety across the street.

Mr. Merioles’s heart sank Saturday as he watched not just the flood but also a raging fire eat up most of the houses in Tatalon, a slum area in Quezon City, one of the cities that make up Greater Manila.

As residents dealt with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ketsana, the government was facing criticism on two fronts: Did it provide enough warning before the floods, and was it doing enough to help people recover?

To help with the recovery, the government on Monday appealed for international help as the death toll rose to at least 240.

The American Embassy deployed Navy personnel to help out in the rescue and relief operations and also promised $50,000 in immediate disaster aid.

“The system is overwhelmed, local government units are overwhelmed,” Anthony Golez, a spokesman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, told reporters during a briefing on Monday. “Our assets and people are spread too thinly.”

In Tatalon, unlike the other areas that were ravaged by the storm, what the flood did not destroy, the fire did. Seven residents died in Tatalon, officials said.

Mr. Merioles and the others interviewed in his neighborhood said electrical power remained in their area even as the floodwaters rose above four feet. No one knows exactly how the fire started. “Either you die from the fire or from the flood,” said Mr. Merioles, a stocky electronics repairman.

The tropical storm arrived in the Philippines over the weekend, releasing the largest amount of rainfall in nearly half a century and flooding 80 percent of Greater Manila before moving on to Vietnam, where it has killed at least 23 people, The Associated Press reported Tuesday morning.

Nearly 2 million people in the Manila area were affected, including more than 100,000 who were displaced after the storm dumped 16.7 inches of rain in just 12 hours on Saturday.

In Pasig City, one of the hardest-hit suburbs near the heavily silted and polluted Pasig River, the floodwaters in many communities hardly decreased. “The water is not moving,” a tearful Nene Monfort, 71, told ABS-CBN television in a live interview. She said she and her family, who have been holed up on the second floor of their apartment, could not come down because of the water.

The Health Department warned Monday of a possible spread of infectious diseases, especially in the refugee centers of Manila, which number more than 200.

And as the affected residents tried to rebuild their lives, they were seeking answers as well.

Many, like Rene Anselmo, 57, a retired driver in Tatalon whose three-story house was burned down except for about 5 feet of browned concrete and singed wood, wanted to know “why there was no warning about a flood this big.”

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, the government’s weather bureau, denied in local reports that it had been negligent in warning people, saying it had issued warnings as early as Thursday, even raising storm alert levels the next day.

In an attempt to help deal with the aftermath of the storm, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo decided to open a portion of the grounds of the presidential palace to refugees. “The president has allowed the use of Malacanang itself, her own home, to be a center of relief operations,” said her press secretary, Cerge Remonde. He said the first family would be transferred to another area in the presidential compound.

The government also had declared a “state of calamity” in metropolitan Manila and 25 storm-hit provinces, including many that had not flooded before, allowing officials to use emergency funds for relief and rescue.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier announced that her government would not relent in its efforts to help those hurt by the storm.

Criticism of Mrs. Arroyo’s response could affect the presidential election, which is eight months away. The administration’s candidate is Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, who also leads the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

In the narrow streets of Tatalon, residents spent Monday taking out burned trash, dumping it on the main street outside of the slum, where mounds of black debris had been piled, practically blocking the street. Filthy floodwaters snaked beneath the rubbish.

Zoraya Tera, a 39-year-old homemaker, spent hours scrubbing her floor tiles and cleaning up her burned utensils. “Nothing is left, as you can see, but I am glad that none of my children were hurt,” she said, gesturing at what remained of her home, which had nothing in it except the burned and now rusting galvanized iron roofs.

Congress: Public option day

It's public option day at the Senate Finance Committee. The big mystery: Will Olympia Snowe offer her plan -- a public option trigger -- as an amendment? “The Senate Finance Committee is expected to consider whether the government should offer its own insurance plan for the middle class in competition with private carriers. A public option is the top goal for liberals, but it has no Republican support and moderate Democrats say the Senate will never go along.”

“So Tuesday's debate is expected to pit Democratic liberals against moderates. Although the public plan isn't expected to get a majority of the panel, supporters say at least they'll know where everybody stands.”

The Hill breaks down the Senate Finance Committee mark-up. There are 13 Dems and 10 Republicans. “Apart from Snowe, the GOP is lined up strongly against the legislation. Baucus can afford to lose one Democrat when the final vote comes -- or two if Snowe jumps aboard.”

Schumer’s influence: “Sen. Charles Schumer has revived the prospect of a public insurance option in the Senate’s version of healthcare reform. Whether it ultimately passes may depend on a handful of first-term Democrats who owe their seats, in significant measure, to the support they received from Schumer (D-N.Y.) when he headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) in 2006 and 2008.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's health care leadership seems to be in the media's crosshairs of late. Yesterday, it was about how he's relying on the White House to cut the big deals needed to get 60 votes. And today, the New York Times focuses on how he's gotten a Medicaid exception of Nevada in the Finance Committee bill.

The Washington Times has a good analysis of the GOP strategy in the Senate which, surprisingly to some, has meant the party will NOT offer a policy alternative and instead will continue to strategically target the bill on things like, transparency. "But the Republican strategy, so far, doesn't have much to show for it. One of the most substantial Republican arguments - and one that shows signs of resonating with the public - came from Mr. Bunning. It called for the entire bill to be posted online in legislative text for three days before the committee casts its final vote. The Congressional Budget Office would also have to submit a full analysis of the bill - requiring two weeks of work."

The Democratic-leaning group Americans United for Change is running a new TV ad ($25,000 buy in Orlando, Louisville, and DC) targeting health insurer Humana.

by Mark Murray

Iran Offers Eventual Inspection of Nuclear Plant

PARIS — One day after it said it test-fired missiles capable of striking targets 1,250 miles from its soil, Iran said Tuesday it would soon offer a timetable for international inspectors to visit a hitherto secret nuclear enrichment facility, but was not prepared to renounce its nuclear program or debate its “rights” to operate the previously undeclared plant.

The existence of the facility near the holy city of Qum was revealed last Friday by President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain, at the same time as the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency’s announced that Tehran had informed it of the plant’s existence earlier in the week.

Coming only days before the first direct contact between the United States and Iran at international talks in Geneva on Thursday, the disclosure sharply raised tensions between Tehran and Washington, fueling suspicions that Iran is secretly seeking a nuclear weapons capacity — a charge it has long denied.

Alluding to the talks on Thursday, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told reporters in Tehran on Tuesday: “We are not going to discuss anything related to our nuclear rights, but we can discuss about disarmament, we can discuss about non-proliferation and other general issues.”

“The new site is part of our rights and there is no need to discuss it,” he said, adding Tehran would not abandon its nuclear activities “even for a second,” Reuters reported.Western concerns over the nuclear program and its hostile potential deepened on Monday when Iran said that its Revolutionary Guards had test-fired missiles with sufficient range to strike Israel, parts of Europe and American bases in the Persian Gulf.

“Iranian missiles are able to target any place that threatens Iran,” a senior Revolutionary Guards official, Abdullah Araqi, was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Fars news agency.

The reported tests were of the liquid-fueled Shahab-3 and the solid-fueled Sejil-2 missiles, which can travel up to 1,250 miles. The test-firings recalled a debate among spy agencies in the United States, Germany and Israel over whether Iran planned to build not only a nuclear weapon but also the means to launch it.

Press TV, Iran’s English-language satellite broadcaster, also quoted Mr. Salehi on Tuesday , as saying the government was preparing a “timetable for inspection of its recently-announced nuclear facility.” Mr. Salehi was speaking in an interview late Monday, Press TV said. It did not say when the international weapons inspectors would be permitted to view the plant, which is not yet in operation, according to Iranian accounts.

Mr. Salehi repeated Iranian assurances that the new plant will “produce enriched uranium of up to 5 percent, consistent with its nuclear energy program.” That level of enrichment is far less than required for nuclear weapons.

“Salehi noted that the plant is under construction within the framework of the I.A.E.A. regulations,” Press TV said. It quoted the official as saying, “Iran has taken all the precautionary steps to safeguard its nuclear facilities.”

Mr. Salehi accused Western leaders of politicizing Iran’s nuclear activities but promised that Iran would seek to resolve the dispute over the newly disclosed plant “both politically and technically” with the I.A.E.A. and with the outside powers that deal with the issue — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

Mr. Salehi described as “baseless” accusations that Iran was planning to use the hitherto secret plant to make weapons-grade material. According to Press TV, he said it was “against our ethics and religion” to build nuclear weapons.

“It is against our tenets, it is against our religion to produce, use, hold or have nuclear weapons or arsenal, how can we more clearly state our position? Since 1974 we have been saying this,” Mr. Salehi was quoted as saying.

Despite such protestations, the Obama administration is now working to assemble a package of tougher sanctions, which could include a cutoff of investments to the country’s oil and gas industry as well as restrictions on many more Iranian banks, senior administration officials said Sunday.

A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said at a news conference Monday that Iran’s missile tests had been planned for some time and were not linked to the nuclear dispute, Press TV reported.

Less than two weeks ago Mr. Obama canceled a plan from the administration of George W. Bush to station a radar facility in the Czech Republic and 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland as part of what had been described as a shield against potential missile attacks from Iran.

The Obama administration now plans to deploy smaller SM-3 interceptors by 2011, first aboard ships and later in Europe, possibly in Poland or the Czech Republic.

The military exercise and escalating tensions with the West coincide with a period of political uncertainty in Iran, in the aftermath of Iran’s disputed June 12 election.

On Monday a protest erupted at Tehran University, the first of the new school year and the first since the demonstrations that had followed the vote, when opponents accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of falsifying results.

The Revolutionary Guards were essential to safeguarding the president’s victory and led the violent crackdown after the election that opposition leaders say killed at least 72 people.

The force, which also runs the country’s missile program, remains close to Mr. Ahmadinejad and accountable only to the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Revolutionary Guards, in addition to being part of Iran’s military, has in recent years become one of the largest conglomerates in the country. It has been awarded more than 750 construction, oil and gas contracts and has its own ports.

On Sunday, in a deal that underlined its expanding economic and political power, the Revolutionary Guards purchased just over 50 percent of Iran’s Telecommunication Company in a $7.8 billion deal.

The organization’s political influence has also increased, with many of its members elected to Parliament in 2003 or appointed as cabinet ministers in 2004.

Now, the Revolutionary Guards’ hold on the country’s telecommunications systems will give it further control over land-line, Internet and cellphone services. On election day, the country’s text messaging service was cut off; the cellphone network was disconnected during the unrest that followed. Opposition leaders accused the government of misusing state-run services.

The deal announced Sunday was part of the government’s plan to privatize business sectors. But critics have complained that the government is awarding institutions close to it while the real private sector is excluded. The Revolutionary Guards’ unit involved in the deal competed only with a company affiliated with the Basij, a paramilitary organization that assisted the Revolutionary Guards in putting down the postelection protests.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Obama to Attend Olympic Vote

WASHINGTON — President Obama will travel to Copenhagen later this week to support Chicago’s bid to play host to the 2016 Summer Games, the White House and the Chicago organizers announced on Monday. It will be the first time an American president attended an International Olympic Committee vote and lobbied in person for an American city to become host of the Games.

Mr. Obama had initially said that the pressing issue of health care reform would prevent him from making the trip to Copenhagen, where one of four cities — Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo — would be named the host city after Friday’s vote. Mr. Obama said he would send his wife, Michelle Obama, a lifelong Chicagoan, in his place. But there were signals last week that Mr. Obama was likely to make the trip after all, and the White House sent an advance team to Copenhagen to prepare the way. The final decision was made public early Monday morning.

“President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama symbolize the hope, opportunity and inspiration that makes Chicago great, and we are honored to have two of our city’s most accomplished residents leading our delegation in Copenhagen,” Mayor Richard M. Daley said in a statement. “Who better to share with members of the International Olympic Committee the commitment and enthusiasm Chicago has for the Olympic and Paralympic Movement than the President and First Lady.”

The Chicago bid leader, Patrick G. Ryan, said he was honored that Mr. Obama would join the bid team “for the pinnacle moment in our bid.”

The host city will be announced Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, after each city delivers a 70-minute final presentation to the 100-plus I.O.C. members. Mr. Obama is expected to be a part of that final presentation. Heads of state from Brazil and Spain are also expected to be present in Copenhagen.

The competition to become the host city for the 2016 Games is said to be the tightest in years. Rio, trying to become the first South American city to play host to the Games, is thought to have a slight lead over Chicago. The vote may be won by one or two votes, so Mr. Obama’s presence there is “very critical” because he is likely to sway votes Chicago’s way, said Robert Livingstone, the producer for the Web site, which follows the business of Olympic bids.

Mr. Obama and his wife will join a large delegation that will be in Copenhagen, including more than two dozen Olympians and Paralympians. Oprah Winfrey, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also will make the trip.

Other bid cities will have their own large group of supporters in Copenhagen. But in the recent past, the presence of the heads of states made the difference.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain set the bar high in 2005, when he and his wife, Cherie, traveled to the I.O.C. meeting in Singapore to lobby for London’s bid for the 2012 Games. London won those Games in an upset over Paris. Mr. Blair’s last-minute efforts were said to have won the day.

At the next vote to choose a host city, in 2007, Vladimir Putin, who was then president of Russia and is now prime minister, addressed the I.O.C. membership in Guatemala City in English, pushing for the resort city of Sochi, Russia, to host the 2014 Winter Games. Sochi was chosen.

For China, Iran uranium plant no game changer

By Emma Graham-Harrison - Analysis

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's distaste for sanctions and appetite for Iran's oil may hamper Western efforts to ramp up pressure on Tehran after disclosure of the country's second uranium enrichment plant.

The United States and Western European powers want greater force behind demands that Iran come clean on its nuclear plans, following last week's revelation of the new nuclear facility.

China may be persuaded to back some sanctions, especially if Russia joins U.S. and European calls for action, experts say.

But Beijing is likely to flex its power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to dilute any proposed resolution that could threaten its ties with Tehran.

"On the one hand China knows that relations with the United States and Europe are very important, but on the other hand it has substantial diplomatic, strategic and energy interests in Iran," said Shi Yinhong, professor of International Relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

"China is in the middle ground so it will go some way to meet the West, but less than half way. It will make some criticism and censure of Iran, but this will be very soft."

The United States and its Western allies have made clear they will focus on Iran's nuclear program at rare talks with Iranian officials in Geneva on Thursday, which China will attend.

Iran has offered wide-ranging security talks but says it will not discuss its nuclear "rights." Adding to tensions, Iran test-fired mid-range missiles on Monday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the new nuclear facility was legal and open for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

U.S. officials said work began on the covert plant as an alternate site for possible weapons development as scrutiny at a first plant made it hard to conduct such activities there. Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful power generation purposes.

The news has triggered calls from Western capitals for additional "sanctions that bite" if Tehran does not come clean on its nuclear plans and address international concerns.

Even Russia -- previously reluctant to go along with further penalties -- showed greater willingness to consider such action.

Yet for China, which has long insisted it does not interfere in other nations' affairs, there has been no change in stance beyond a hint of frustration with Tehran.

Even with neighbor North Korea, which poses a more immediate security threat because it has exploded two nuclear devices, Beijing has been consistently wary of tightening sanctions.

"A political solution to the Iranian nuclear issue is in the interests of the world," said the popular Global Times tabloid, owned by Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily

Iran flexes muscle ahead of talks with major powers

TEHRAN, Sept 28 (Reuters) -

Iran test-fired missiles on Monday which a commander said could reach any regional target, flexing its military muscle before crucial talks this week with major powers worried about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The missile drills of the elite Revolutionary Guards coincide with escalating tension in Iran's nuclear dispute with the West, after last week's disclosure by Tehran that it is building a second uranium enrichment plant.

News of the nuclear fuel facility south of Tehran added urgency to the rare meeting in Geneva on Thursday between Iranian officials and representatives of six major powers, including the United States, China and Russia.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who says any military action against Iran would only "buy time" and stresses the need for diplomacy, mentioned possible new sanctions on banking and equipment and technology for Iran's oil and gas industry.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said there was no link between the missile manoeuvres and the nuclear activities.

"This is a military drill which is deterrent in nature," spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference broadcast by English-language Press TV. "There is no connection whatsoever with the nuclear programme."

Press TV said the Shahab 3, a surface-to-surface missile with a range of up to 2,000 km (1,250 miles), was "successfully" test-fired on the second day of an exercise that began on Sunday, when short and medium-range missiles were launched.

Such a range would put Israel and U.S. bases in the region within striking distance. Television footage of the launches showed missiles soaring into the sky in desert-like terrain, to shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest).

"All targets within the region, no matter where they are, will be within the range of these missiles," said General Hossein Salami, commander of the Guards' air force.

Salami said the exercise was over and had achieved its goals. "All the test-fired missiles managed to hit their targets without any errors and with precision," the forces website quoted him as saying.


The tests sparked swift international condemnation.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the missile test was "part of an annual provocation" by Iran and should not distract from the pending Geneva talks.

"On Thursday (Iran will) need to ... show that they are serious about ensuring that their civilian nuclear power programme does not leak into a military programme," Miliband told Britain's Sky News.

European Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, who will head the Western delegation in the Geneva talks, said "everything that is done in that context is a concern."

He said the aim of Thursday's talks was "engagement".

When asked what sanctions Iran should face if it failed to comply with Western demands over its nuclear programme, Solana said "now is not the time to talk about that".

France called on Iran "to choose the path of cooperation and not that of confrontation by immediately ending these profoundly destabilising activities and by immediately responding to the requests of the international community in order to reach a negotiated solution on the nuclear dossier."

The United States and its Western allies have made clear they will focus on Iran's nuclear programme at the Geneva meeting. Iran has offered wide-ranging security talks but says it will not discuss its nuclear "rights".

Washington, which suspects Iran is trying to develop nuclear bomb capability, has previously expressed concern about Tehran's missile programme. Iran, a major oil producer, says its nuclear work is solely for generating peaceful electricity.


The Pentagon chief told CNN he hoped the disclosure of the second facility would force Tehran to make concessions. "The Iranians are in a very bad spot now because of this deception, in terms of all of the great powers," Gates said.

"There obviously is the opportunity for severe additional sanctions. I think we have the time to make that work."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran must present "convincing evidence" at the Geneva meeting.

"We are going to put them to the test on Oct. 1," Clinton told CBS' "Face the Nation. "They can open their entire system to the kind of extensive investigation that the facts call for."

Both interviews were taped before Iran started the two-day missile exercise, designed to show it is prepared to head off military attacks by foes like Israel or the United States.

Iran's state broadcaster IRIB said "upgraded" versions of Shahab 3 and another missile, Sejil, had been tested. Officials have earlier said Sejil has a range of close to 2,000 km (1,250 miles). They were powered by solid fuel, IRIB said.

Neither the United States nor its ally Israel have ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear row.

Iran has said it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests in the region and Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for world oil supplies.

Iran's defence minister warned Israel on Monday against launching any attack on the Islamic Republic, saying it would only speed up the Jewish state's own demise.

"If this happens, which of course we do not foresee, its ultimate result would be that it expedites the Zionist regime's last breath," Ahmad Vahidi said on state television.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday the discovery of a secret nuclear plant in Iran showed a "disturbing pattern" of evasion by Tehran. He warned Iran on Friday it would face "sanctions that bite" unless it came clean.

Iran has rejected Western accusations that the plant was meant to be secret because it did not inform the U.N. nuclear watchdog as soon as plans were drawn up, saying the facility near the holy city of Qom is legal and can be inspected.

"Nothing has been illegal. It has been absolutely based on law," said the Foreign Ministry's Qashqavi. "All activities are transparent ... we are prepared to clarify other aspects."

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the BBC he had had a couple of meetings with IAEA inspectors and it was agreed they would be given access to the site "in the near future". He gave no date. (Reporting by Tehran and Washington bureaux, Avril Ormsby in London; writing by Samia Nakhoul; editing by Dominic Evans)

By Fredrik Dahl and Hossein Jaseb

Iran to test fire missile capable of hitting Israel

Iran announced plans today to test-fire a long-range missile capable of hitting Israel as it adopted a defiant stance over its nuclear capability.

It also fired several short-range missiles using a multiple rocket launching system for the first time during military exercises by the regime's Revolutionary Guards.

General Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, said that Iran would test medium-range Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles on tonight and long-range Shahab-3 missiles on Monday, during drills set to last several days.

It is thought the Shahab-3 now has a range of up to 1,200 miles.

General Salami said that Fateh, Tondar and Zelzal missiles were test-fired today. All are short-range, surface-to-surface missiles.

The official English-language Press TV showed pictures of at least two missiles being fired simultaneously and said they were from Sunday’s drill in a central Iran desert. In the clip, men could be heard shouting “Allahu Akbar" as the missiles were launched.

“We are going to respond to any military action in a crushing manner and it doesn’t make any difference which country or regime has launched the aggression,” General Salami said.

Iran has had the solid-fuel Fateh missile, with a range of 120 miles, for several years. It also has the solid-fuel, Chinese-made CSS 8, also called the Tondar 69, which has a range of about 93 miles.

The multiple launcher used for the first time today is designed for the Zelzal missile, which has a range of up to 185 miles.

The tests came two days after the US and its allies disclosed that Iran had been secretly developing a previously unknown underground uranium enrichment facility and warned the country it must open the nuclear site to international inspection or face harsher international sanctions.

The newly revealed nuclear site in mountains near the holy city of Qom is believed to be inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the Revolutionary Guard.

After the strong condemnations from the US and its allies, Iran said yesterday that it would allow UN nuclear inspectors to examine the site.

David Miliband warned that the Middle Eastern regime must take "concrete steps" to allay fears that it is building a nuclear arsenal.

The Foreign Secretary insisted that the focus remained on a diplomatic solution but he repeatedly declined invitations to describe military intervention as "inconceivable".

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, is under pressure over the covert site.

Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that Tehran could have nuclear weapons in a year's time.

He said: "If they decided today to go for a nuclear weapon and they didn't care about anybody knowing about it, it's possible they could do it in a year. Probably longer, but if all the steps went like clockwork then maybe a year.

"It's likely that they have some secret facilities and how far along they are in those facilities is a guess.

"If they were to develop a nuclear weapon they would probably do it at a clandestine facility so that they wouldn't trigger the obvious trip wire."

Iranian officials will meet representatives of the E3+3 group of Britain, France, Germany, the US, Russia and China in Geneva next Thursday.

Questioned about the likelihood of military force against Iran, Mr Miliband said: "No sane person looks at the military question of engagement with Iran with anything other than real concern.

"That's why we always say we are 100 per cent committed to the diplomatic track."

But, questioned on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Miliband declined to describe military action as "inconceivable" – the word used by Jack Straw when he was Foreign Secretary.

"I always say to people look at what I do say, not at what I don't say, and what I do say is that we are 100 per cent focused on a diplomatic resolution of this question," Mr Miliband said.

"It's vital that we remain so, it's vital that in the very short term in a meeting next Thursday that the Iranians take practical and concrete steps to address the outstanding questions."

Mr Ahmadinejad said that the new facility would not be operational for 18 months so he had not violated any requirements.

He maintained that Iran opposed nuclear weapons as "inhumane"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

World Digest: Israel Rejects Probe Of Gaza War Conduct

Israel on Wednesday rejected a U.N. panel's call to open an independent inquiry into its wartime conduct in the Gaza Strip and launched a diplomatic campaign to thwart any prosecution of its soldiers in an international tribunal.

Officials said President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other senior ministers were telephoning counterparts abroad in an effort to discredit a harshly critical report by the fact-finding panel. The report concluded that both sides committed war crimes during an Israeli offensive last winter that took aim at rocket-firing militants in the Palestinian enclave but also left hundreds of civilians dead.

Peres declared at a news conference that the report, issued Tuesday by South African judge Richard Goldstone, is one-sided and "makes a mockery of history."

"It draws no distinction between the attacker and the attacked," Peres said. "The report essentially grants legitimacy to acts of terrorism, shooting and killing, and ignores the right and duty of any country to self-defense, as outlined in the U.N. charter."

Israel's assertive response reflected official concern that the 22-day assault on Gaza was a diplomatic and strategic defeat for the Jewish state, even though it has sharply reduced rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled territory.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hamas pair killed in Gaza Strip

Hamas pair killed in Gaza Strip


Two fighters from Palestinian militant organisation Hamas have been killed in the Gaza Strip, the group says.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, initially said an Israeli airstrike killed the men near Jabalya, then blamed Israeli army shelling across the border.

However, an Israeli spokeswoman said: "There was no attack by the Israel Defence Forces in the Gaza Strip."

Israel and Hamas have been observing a ceasefire since January, when three weeks of fighting ended.

Attacks against Israel by Gaza-based Palestinian militants have dropped in recent months.

The Israeli military says about 700 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel since the start of the year - which includes most of Israel's 22-day military offensive in December and January.

Israel says the operation and its intensive blockade of Gaza are aimed at ending rocket fire and weakening the Hamas movement, which controls the enclave.

Discussion of Changes to Gaza Curriculum Sparks Concern Within HamasDiscussion of Changes to Gaza Curriculum Sparks Concern Within Hamas

JERUSALEM, Sept. 1 -- The prospect of United Nations-run schools in the Gaza Strip teaching children about the Holocaust has sparked fierce resistance this week from leaders of the militant group Hamas and forced international officials to confront a situation fraught with political risk.

U.N. officials say they are only discussing changes to a school program on human rights and have not commented directly on whether any new curricula will reference the Holocaust. But Hamas leaders, saying any such reference would "contradict" their culture, are moving quickly to head off the possibility.

"Talk about the holocaust and the execution of the Jews contradicts and is against our culture, our principles, our traditions, values, heritage and religion," Jameelah al-Shanti, a Hamas legislative official, said in a statement distributed Tuesday after a meeting among elected leaders of the group and the head of the Hamas-run Education Ministry in Gaza.

Hamas Education Minister Mohammed Askol used similar language in criticizing the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, saying it was not respecting Hamas's "sovereignty" over Gaza. He said he planned to ask for a meeting with agency officials to "assure the necessary coordination."

His remarks came a day after Hamas spiritual leader Younis al-Astal said teaching children about the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II would be "marketing a lie," and characterized the possible introduction of the subject into Gaza schools as a "war crime."

UNRWA provides food, education and other services for about half of Gaza's population, including about 200,000 children. It has clashed previously with Hamas on a variety of issues, including whether to support mixed-gender summer camps.

In the latest dispute, the agency risks being caught between its usual practice of deferring to local officials on school curricula and overlooking central facts about world history.

There is currently no mention of the Holocaust in schools run by UNRWA in Gaza, according to Karen Abu Zayd, the agency's commissioner general.

UNRWA follows the curriculum set by local officials but has been supplementing it with lessons on human rights it developed on its own, according to an agency official. Abu Zayd said a program on the details of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being developed for Gaza middle schools. Though still in draft form, the lesson "will go into some history," she said.

The Universal Declaration was issued by the United Nations in December 1948, in the aftermath of World War II and in recognition of Nazi atrocities.

"It is very much a draft," Abu Zayd said, adding that before its introduction into classrooms, it would be circulated among community groups for reaction.

The content of school curricula is a volatile part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and has taken on a heightened pitch in recent months. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu considers Israel's historical claims central to reaching a peace agreement, and has said he would support creation of a Palestinian state only if Palestinian leaders acknowledge Israel as a legitimate Jewish homeland.

Israeli Arabs have complained of recent moves by the Education Ministry to remove the word "nakba" -- or catastrophe -- from lessons taught in Arab schools about the events surrounding Israel's creation, while Jews feel that the texts prepared by the more moderate Palestinian Authority still diminish the Jewish experience.

Palestinian Authority textbooks, used in the occupied West Bank, refer to Nazi massacres and anti-Semitism as part of high school lessons about World War II but don't go into detail about the scope of the genocide, according to Israelis and Palestinians familiar with the texts.

On both sides, "there is really no mention of the other story -- of how the other side sees it," said Gershon Baskin, chief executive of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, a think tank that has studied textbooks on both sides. Baskin is on an advisory panel for a U.S.-funded study, announced on Tuesday, in which Israelis and Palestinians will review each other's textbooks, while U.S. experts perform a computer analysis of the language used in them.

Although both Palestinian and Israeli schools could do a better job, Baskin said, Hamas's outright denial of the Holocaust, as well as opposition to its mention in Gaza schools, was "a step beyond."

Israeli air strike kills 2 Hamas gunmen in Gaza - medics

GAZA, Sept 1 (Reuters) - An Israeli air strike killed two Hamas gunmen who were on guard duty in the Gaza Strip's northern frontier on Tuesday, the Palestinian Islamist group and medical officials said.

Israel had no immediate comment on the incident, which would constitute a breach of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that ended its December-January war with Hamas. Palestinian rocket salvoes since have drawn mostly limited Israeli reprisals.

Crews hopeful over LA wildfire

Emergency crews in California say they are optimistic they can control an intense wildfire that has been burning since Wednesday north of Los Angeles.

The fire is still spreading but forest official Mike Dietrich said crews had done "fabulous work" to slow it down.

The blaze has spread over 190 sq miles (492 sq km), destroying 53 buildings and threatening 12,000 more - causing damage already estimated at $13m (£8m).

Two firefighters died on Sunday after their vehicle was overrun by flames.

Some 3,600 personnel have been battling the blaze, which broke out in the Angeles National Forest and has spread to Los Angeles's northern suburbs, 15 miles (25km) from the centre.

A resident in Tujunga, 01/09

The fire is just 5% contained, but Mr Dietrich said he expected that figure to rise very quickly.

Crews have been spraying fire retardant on at-risk houses in the Tujunga suburb, and they have dug a 12-mile line in the scrub to stop the fire's progress.

A squadron of aircraft, including eight air tankers and 13 helicopters, have been deployed to bombard the blaze.

"I'm feeling a lot more optimistic today than I did yesterday," Mr Dietrich told journalists on Tuesday.

"The crews are doing fabulous work out there on the ground, but the bottom line is that they're fighting for every foot."

More than 10,000 residents have fled the flames, and some 6,600 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency and urged people to comply with evacuation orders.

He paid tribute to the efforts of the emergency services, saying they were the "most well-trained, courageous firefighters in the world".

As well as co-ordinating the fight against the blaze, he said officials must now also help residents rebuild their lives.

Uncertain future

Many people left everything behind as they fled, unsure whether there would be anything to return to.

Bert Voorhees and his son salvaged several cases of wine they had left in their swimming pool for safekeeping - all they could manage before fleeing their home.

"You're going to be living in a lunar landscape for at least a couple of years, and these trees might not come back," the 53-year-old told the Associated Press.

"Are enough of our neighbours going to [come back and] rebuild?"

Wildfires are a feature of the Californian summer, but it is unusual for them to break out so close to major population centres.

The latest fire is not being fanned by the Santa Ana winds that typically kick up in October. Instead, it is being fuelled by extremely dry brush that has not burned in more than 40 years.

A number of other fires are also burning in southern and central California.

A blaze in Placer County, north-east of the state capital, Sacramento, has destroyed 60 structures, many of them homes in the town of Auburn.

Swine Flu Spreads Easily in Ferrets, Doesn't Become Super Bug

Swine Flu Spreads Easily in Ferrets, Doesn’t Become Super Bug

By Rob Waters

Sept. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Swine flu spread faster than seasonal influenza strains after researchers infected ferrets with the viruses. The different strains didn’t combine to create a more-resistant super bug.

The study findings suggest that swine flu may be better suited than other strains to thrive inside humans and is likely to dominate the 2009 flu season, said Daniel Perez, a University of Maryland researcher who led the research. Preliminary results were published today in the journal PlOS Currents: Influenza.

“The good news” is that swine flu “is unlikely to recombine with seasonal flu to create a super bug, a more virulent strain,” Perez said in a telephone interview today. “The bad news is that it will be highly transmissible and we should be aware that we do need to vaccinate against this virus to prevent its spread.”

Ferrets respond to flu much as humans do and are considered predictors of how influenza strains will reproduce in humans and affect health, Perez said.

Swine flu, also known as H1N1, outperformed two strains of seasonal influenza by replicating more extensively within the animals, the researchers from University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, found. Other ferrets exposed to the infected animals developed flu symptoms and elevated levels of swine flu.

Perez and his team conducted their experiment in four groups of animals. In each group, one ferret was given a nasal spray containing the H1N1 virus and another seasonal flu strain. Another ferret was placed in the same cage and a third was put next door, on the other side of a wire mesh, so it breathed the same air.

Developed Symptoms

All 12 ferrets developed symptoms. Some of the animals that were infected with both the swine flu and a seasonal flu variant known as H3N2 developed diarrhea and weight loss as well as respiratory symptoms, the researchers found.

In the past, some influenza viruses have genetically recombined with other viruses to form newer, more dangerous strains. According to the team’s initial analysis, this didn’t happen in the ferrets, Perez said.

“Our study suggests that the H1N1 virus has everything it needs to transmit and doesn’t seem to require any additional recombination or modification to transmit efficiently,” Perez said.

Auto Industry Posts Best US Sales Of Year

4th UPDATE: Auto Industry Posts Best US Sales Of Year

The auto industry temporarily awoke from its slumber last month thanks to the U.S. government's "Cash for Clunkers" program, led by a 17% sales jump at Ford Motor Co. (F) and higher sales from Japan auto makers Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) and Honda Motor Co. (HMC).

Sales were jolted in the U.S. and foreign markets from government incentive programs promoting fuel-efficient cars, but a number of auto makers, including General Motors Co., Chrysler Group LLC and Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY) still reported lower sales.

The two largest Japanese auto makers - Toyota and Honda - reported single- digit increases as the clunkers program helped boost market share for some foreign auto companies. The Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Toyota Camry were the three most popular vehicles purchased under the program.

Toyota said Tuesday its vehicles accounted for 19% of sales within the program, saying "Cash for Clunkers" provided "tangible benefits" to the industry, as well as state and local economies.

Ford's gain was also helped by its trucks posting the first year-over-year sales increase in nearly three years. Meanwhile, Chrysler's 15% decline was in part due to a lack of inventory - most of the company's plants sat idle for almost three months as the auto maker dealt with its bankruptcy process.

"Cash for Clunkers," ended late last month, weeks earlier than expected, amid higher-than-expected consumer interest. The program, launched in late July, proved to be one of the fastest-acting stimulus programs to come out of Washington since the recession began, but higher sales in July and August are expected to be followed by weak demand in September.

Mike DiGiovanni, GM's sales analyst, said he expects the annualized selling rate to fall back to 10.5 million for the year from the mid-14 million vehicle range. He added that the auto maker expects the selling rate to jump to between 11.5 million and 12 million in 2010.

Ford's light-vehicle sales were 181,826. There were 26 selling days in August, one less than last year. Retail sales climbed 21% and Ford has gained retail market in 10 of the last 11 months. Despite a 13% rise in truck sales - the first since October 2006 - sport-utility vehicles continued to suffer with a 34% drop. Car sales jumped 25%.

GM reported 245,550 units sold, down 20%, as truck sales continued to slump, dropping 31%. Car sales declined 4.6%.

"We're very pleased with the sales performance in our Western region, where sales were up more than 41% compared with July," said Mark LaNeve, vice president of U.S. sales. He noted customers were responding to a pilot program it launched last month with online auction site eBay Inc. (EBAY). That effort will be extended through September.

For Toyota, sales were up 6.4%, to 225,088, topping Ford's total for a second straight month after three months of falling behind its U.S. competitor. Total passenger car sales were up 20%, while light-truck sales dropped 15%.

Honda posted a 9.9% jump, to 161,439 - the company's second-best month in the U.S. - as car sales grew 23% but truck sales dropped 9.3%. Nissan reported sales dropped 2.9% to 105,312, far better than projections, as car sales jumped 38% and truck sales slumped 48%.

Chrysler sales dropped 15% to 93,222 but rose 5% from July despite rapidly shrinking inventories.

And Hyundai Motor Co.'s (005380.SE) August sales surged 47% to 60,467 units, marking an all-time monthly sales record and the eighth-straight month of year- over-year retail increases. The company said its Alabama facility returned to a five-day work week and that inventories were being replenished.

Ford's shares were down 5.1%, to $7.21 in recent trading, amid a broad market decline, which was led by a drop in financials. American depositary shares for Toyota were down 0.8%, to $84.49, while Honda dropped 0.5%, to $31.19, and Nissan fell 9 cents to $13.86

New York City to offer students free H1N1 vaccines

NEW YORK, Sept 1 (Reuters) - All primary school-age children in New York City will be offered free vaccines for seasonal and H1N1 flu this fall and winter under a plan announced on Tuesday by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The vaccines are part of the city's strategy to combat the new H1N1 swine flu strain that hit the city hard during the spring, infecting as many as 800,000 people or nearly 10 percent of the population.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged state and local health departments to prepare vaccination plans ahead of an expected second wave of H1N1 as the northern hemisphere enters the fall and winter months.

Safety tests are being done on a vaccine for H1N1 and it is expected to be made available in the second half of October, according to the CDC. Those trials will determine whether one or two doses will be needed to provide immunity.

Five companies are making swine flu vaccine for the U.S. market -- AstraZeneca's (AZN.L) MedImmune unit, CSL Ltd (CSL.AX), GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L), Novartis AG (NOVN.VX) and Sanofi-Aventis SA (SASY.PA).

New York's plan calls for distributing both conventional shots and MedImmune's FluMist, which is sprayed in the nose.

H1N1 has killed at least 2,185 people globally, since it began quickly spreading among humans earlier this year, according to the World Health Organization.

Because this virus is new, more people are susceptible to it and the WHO has been predicting for months now that 2 billion people will likely become infected.

White House advisers warned on Aug. 24 that it could infect up to half the U.S. population, leading to as many as 1.8 million hospitalizations and 90,000 deaths -- more than double the number of fatalities seen in a typical flu season.

Swine flu disproportionately affects younger people, unlike seasonal flu which mainly burdens the elderly.

U.S. researchers said on Tuesday that the new virus also appears to outcompete seasonal flu, making it less likely to mix with other circulating flu viruses into a "superbug" as some had feared. [ID:nN01489207]

New York City's vaccination plan calls for each school or center in the city to hold two vaccination sessions, about four weeks apart, according to the city's education department. Timing and logistics will depend on the supply of H1N1 vaccine and the availability of staff to administer it.

The city will also turn some health clinics into specialized flu treatment centers and launch a web portal to track flu data such as listing schools that report five or more cases of influenza-like illness, officials said.

The city will also dispatch hundreds of volunteer "flu fighters" to senior centers, schools, houses of worship and other places as part of its public information campaign, which was developed by experts from 15 city agencies that met throughout the summer.