Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dutch court to hear Shell case




A district court in The Hague has agreed to hear petitions filed by four Nigerian men who allege that Royal Dutch Shell was negligent in cleaning up a 2005 oil spill that damaged their farms and fisheries.

The Anglo-Dutch oil company had argued the court should not have jurisdiction over the matter, since the alleged damages were caused by a company which is majority-owned by the Nigerian government and subject to that country's law.

Shell, which has a 30 per cent stake in the subsidiary, said it was disappointed by Wednesday's ruling.

The plaintiffs, supported by Friends of the Earth, said they turned to Dutch courts because it was impossible to get a fair hearing in Nigeria.

'Initial victory'

Geert Ritsema, a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Netherlands, said: "For years, these people have been trying to get Shell to clean up its mess and stop polluting their habitat.

"However, again and again they have come away empty handed. That is why they are now trying to get justice in the Netherlands.

"The court decision is an initial victory for all Nigerians that have been fighting for years for a cleaner habitat and justice."

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Ritsema said that Shell did not want the case heard in The Hague because "they [Shell] think in Nigeria they can get away with polluting the environment without paying compensation".

Ritsema said: "They [Shell] are quite aware that in the Netherlands, in front of a Dutch court, it will be much harder for them to escape liability."

The plaintiffs are farmers and fishermen and come from the villages of Oruma, Goi and Ikot Ada Udo, all three located in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

According to Friends of the Earth Netherlands, the oil spills are not incidents but represent a pattern of systematic and serious pollution and contempt for the rights of the local population that has been going on for decades.

The substantive hearing of the first lawsuit will focus on the village of Oruma.

Still unfit

Friends of the Earth Netherlands said that as a result of an oil spill from a high-pressure oil pipeline in June of 2005, the fish ponds and farm land of Alai Efanga, a plaintiff from Oruma, are still unfit for use today.

Efanga said: "Our village was pleased with the decision of the Dutch court. We hope that Shell will now quickly clean up the oil pollution so that we can resume growing food and fishing."

According to Shell, the leak was caused by "sabotage" and did not result from bad maintenance of the pipeline, as the plaintiffs claim, and the oil firm also says the leak had "a limited impact" on the environment.

Oil firms operating in the Niger Delta have long been subject to attacks and sabotage by local armed movements claiming to want better living standards and a share in the oil wealth for local people.

A spokeswoman for the court said the trial would begin on February 10.


Source: Agencies

Cuba seeks 'sustainable socialism'


By Tom Fawthrop

In 2010, Cuba marks the 51st anniversary of the revolution that transformed the Caribbean nation from a sleazy centre of casinos run by US gangsters, to the only outpost of socialism in the Americas - defying US superpower only 90 miles from the shores of Florida.

That Cuba's defiant brand of socialism has survived so many upheavals in the world and a crippling US trade embargo has surprised most observers.

During the last 50 years the small island nation has impressed with its achievements in education and in creating a comprehensive and free public health system staffed by excellent doctors.

But its citizens are growing increasingly impatient with hard times, suffocating bureaucracy and the badly-run state economy.

Public debate

In 2010, Cuba marks the 51st anniversary of its revolution [EPA]
In 2006, ill health forced Fidel Castro to hand power over to his younger brother, Raul.

The new Cuban president has been encouraging a wide-ranging public debate on how to fix and reform the ailing economy, without abandoning some of the socialist ideals and principles that inspired the revolution.

He has also exhorted citizens to engage in a national dialogue on the future of the country's socialism under the control of the ruling Communist party.

International media usually reports that Raul Castro, suitably impressed by his visit to China and Vietnam where major economic reforms were introduced long ago, favours a similar acceptance of a market-based economy.

However Mariela Castro, the president's daughter, does not believe Cubans want to adopt a foreign model.

"Cuban people are asking for a much more sustainable socialism, not a return to capitalism," she explains. "They want a permanent system of consultation, better mechanisms of participation to work for a democratic socialism."

Hard times

Many observers predicted that the revolution was doomed when the Soviet bloc collapsed; by 1991 Cuba had lost 80 per cent of its trading partners and 100 per cent of all economic aid.

At the same time Washington tightened the screws on its economic embargo hoping to precipitate the regime's collapse.

But, against the odds the revolution survived.

However, the country is now reeling from devastating hurricanes, the US trade embargo - which has been renewed under the Obama administration - and the global economic crisis, with a reported $2bn hard currency trade deficit incurred since 2007.

After a period of recovery during the last decade, hard times and belt-tightening beckon again.

Raul Castro is calling for an overhaul of the system to cut back on imports, and public spending while calling on Cubans to improve efficiency, grow more food and increase productivity.

He has already scrapped free canteen lunches for all state employees as a cost-saving measure.

Soviet legacy

Mariela Castro says Cubans want more sustainable socialism [Tom Fawthrop]
Mariela, who heads the country's national sex education commission and is a prominent gay and lesbian rights activist, is well-known as an independent voice within Havana's ruling elite.

"The Soviet legacy is a problem," she says, referring to the alliance Cuba forged with the former Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

Inside the Communist leadership, she says "some segments think in very rigid and dogmatic ways".

"Yes they have blocked reforms, [but] they coexist with sectors searching for new ideas and methods."

Rafael Hernandez, the editor of Temas, a critical quarterly journal, says: "The control by the central bureaucracy, this is stupid and it can't run things efficiently."

But like many Cuban intellectuals, Hernandez rejects the simple dichotomy of Western analysts that the only alternative to the state-run command economy is to turn towards capitalism and switch to a market economy.

He argues that there is a place for the market but that "we need socialism with markets not market socialism - more democracy in workplaces, more market mechanisms with social control, otherwise the market will swallow the system".

The world food crisis which has pushed up prices for the import of food has drastically hit Cuba, which imports 70 per cent of its food and fuel.

It is a strange contradiction that the island that has become one of the top 10 countries in biotechnology - exporting vaccines and cutting edge cancer treatments around the world - is strangely unable to feed its 11.5 million population from its own agricultural production.

But despite attempts to liberalise agriculture, provide more land to cooperatives and private farmers, overall agricultural yields are still low and even these modest reforms are stymied by bottlenecks in supply and distribution.

The new leadership is under increasing pressure to deliver higher living standards at a time when revenues have dropped in several sectors, including tourism and exports of nickel.

Driving Cuba's economy

Will Cuba's youth lead the charge for more participatory socialism? [Tom Fawthrop]
Future prospects pinned to Cuba's medical resources are, however, very positive, with biotechnology and vaccine production pharmaceutical exports and medical services contributing an estimated 40 per cent or more to hard currency earnings.

Cuba has international medical teams working in 70 countries, receiving just food and basic accommodation from their host countries

However, in the case of oil-rich Venezuela and a few others, there are reciprocal benefits.

In return for more than 20,000 doctors and other health workers, Venezuela provides subsidised oil and cash payments for the doctors, which has helped to keep Cuba afloat and also sustain their massive commitment to serving the health needs of the poor in the developing world. Although the exact figures have never been made public the total value to the Cuban economy, including the oil supplies and all medical sales and services, is estimated at nearly $2bn.

Cuba's biotech industry has just launched CimaVaX EGF, a lung cancer vaccine, and Germany, Malaysia, China and India have all signed joint venture agreements for the marketing and use of Cuban cancer treatments.

In the future, Cuba potentially stands to earn billions from their medical expertise.

"If we get access to the Western market, then this hi-tech sector could become the locomotive of the entire Cuban economy," says Dr Rolando Perez, a research director at Cuba's Centre of Molecular Immunology (CIM).

But with such vaccines taking many years to pass rigorous international clinical trials, it is doubtful that Cuba can wait for this breakthrough.

In the ongoing debate engaging the nation, it is clear that the small group of US- supported dissidents have no monopoly on criticising policy failures and blunders by the state.

But in demanding political change, economic reform and more participatory socialism, the body of critics attacking the bureaucracy, seeks to enhance the socialist system, not to dismantle it.

The big question for Cuba in 2010 is can the clamour of ordinary Cubans, intellectuals and, above all, the youth of the nation, effect such novel changes?

Hernandez says: "Now the only way to rule Cuba is to allow power to the people."
Source: Al Jazeera

Israeli officers fear UK arrest




A group of Israeli military officers have delayed an official visit to Britain over fears they could be arrested on war crimes charges.

Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, said on Tuesday that four officers invited to the UK by the British army would not be travelling "as we do not have a 100 per cent guarantee that they will not become objects of criminal lawsuits".

The officers, who hold ranks from major to colonel, are the latest in a string of Israeli politicians and military officials to call off travel to Britain due to fears over possible legal action.

Last month, Tzipi Livni, the leader of Israel's opposition Kadima party and foreign minister during last year's Gaza war, cancelled her UK trip after an arrest warrant was issued by a British court.

The warrant was issued under the concept of universal jurisdiction, which empowers judges to issue warrants for a visitor accused of commiting war crimes anywhere in the world.

'Duty to prosecute'

Pro-Palestinian activists have sought to use the concept to press charges against Israelis involved in military operations in the Palestinian territories, particularly since Israel's offensive on Gaza last year, which killed about 1,400 Palestinians.

"There's no reason why Israel should be singled out for special treatment. If they're accused of war crimes, we have a duty - and legislation - to prosecute"

Inayat Bunglawala, Muslim Council of Britain
Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, has voiced determination to change the law, which has strained relations with Israel.

Ayalon, who discussed the matter with Britain's attorney general on Tuesday, said such warrants "would impede normal bilateral ties".

"This legislation is often misused," he said.

"It initially targeted Nazi criminals, but terrorist organisations like Hamas are today using it to take democracies hostage.

"We have to put an end to this absurdity, which is harming the excellent bilateral relations between Israel and Britain."

But pro-Palestinian groups have condemned moves to change the law, saying Britain has a duty to prosecute those accused of war crimes.

"There's no reason why Israel should be singled out for special treatment. If they're accused of war crimes, we have a duty - and legislation - to prosecute," Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, told The Associated Press news agency.

The threat of arrest has also forced several former security officials to call off trips to London, including a former general who remained holed up on an airplane at Heathrow Airport in order to avoid arrest.

Last year, Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, fended off an arrest attempt by successfully arguing he had diplomatic immunity.


Source: Agencies

Iceland leader rejects payout bill




Iceland's president has refused to sign a bill that would compensate the British and the Dutch governments over the failure of Icesave bank, calling a national referendum on the issue instead.

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said on Tuesday he had decided "to refer this new act to the people," adding that the public must "determine the future course".

"The involvement of the whole nation in the final decision is therefore the prerequisite for a successful solution, reconciliation and recovery," he said.

The Icesave bill calls for the payout of $5.4bn to Britain and the Netherlands after its respective governments compensated more than 320,000 customers who lost money in the collapse of the internet savings bank.

'Domestic distate'

The Dutch government said it was "extremely disappointed" at the decision and called for an explanation.

"The Netherlands maintains that Iceland is compelled to pay back the money," Ruud Slotboom, a Dutch finance ministry spokesman, told the AFP news agency.

"The Netherlands maintains that Iceland is compelled to pay back the money"

Ruud Slotboom,
Dutch finance ministry spokesman
"We expect of the government of Iceland to give us an explanation in the short term of the situation now created and the steps to be taken."

The compensation bill has sparked anger in Iceland, which was hit by a financial meltdown in October 2008.

About 60,000 people - about one-quarter of the country's electorate - have signed a petition protesting against the bill and calling for the issue to be put to a referendum.

Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull, reporting from London, said "the domestic distate for this bill stems from the feeling among many Icelanders that they don't want as taxpayers to be paying for the sins of their banks.

"They feel that their country is in no position .. to pay for the £5bn to Britain and the Netherlands."

Aid fears

Analysts said that Grimsson's rejection of the unpopular bill put aid from international lenders at risk.

"You can't hold a referendum in three days and this issue is pressing. The IMF will have to put on hold payment of any future tranches of aid until we have a 'yes' vote," Lars Christensen, and analyst at Danske Bank, said.

A Finnish official said the decision was likely to delay a loan of $2.6bn from Nordic countries.

It could also put Iceland's aspirations to join the European Union in serious jeopardy, with Britain and the Netherlands having veto power over the membership bid.

US detainees remanded in Pakistan




Five US citizens detained in Pakistan have denied that they planned to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as a court granted police two weeks to prepare terrorism charges against them.

The young Muslim men from Washington were arrested early last month during a raid on a house in the eastern Pakistani city of Sargodha.

Police officials said emails showed that the detainees had contacted the Taliban, and that the group had planned to use them for attacks in Pakistan.

A lawyer for the the men, who are aged 19 to 25, said that they denied that they had ties with al-Qaeda or other such groups.

Police have said they plan to seek life sentences for the men under the country's anti-terrorism law.

Mohammad Amir Khan, a defence lawyer for the men, said: "The five men denied having been in contact with al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammad [a Pakistani group] or any other militant group.

"They told the court they wanted to go to Afghanistan to help their Muslim brothers, like those needing medical or financial assistance, and had no plans to carry out any
activity in Pakistan."

'Jihad not terrorism'

Addressing journalists as he entered the courtroom in Sargodha on Monday, Ramy Zamzam, one of the detainees, said: "We are not terrorists. We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism."

The court remanded the men, named in addition to Zamzam as Umar Farooq, Waqar Khan, Ahmed Minni, Aman Hassan Yemer, to prison for 14 days to give police time to prepare their case.

"We have told the court that police have completed their investigation and have enough evidence against the five suspects to try them under anti-terrorism law," Matiullah Shahani, a police officer, said.

Officers have not said what they believe the group's intended target was, but authorities say the men had a map of Chashma Barrage, a complex located in Pakistan near nuclear power facilities that includes a water reservoir and other structures.

It lies in the province of Punjab, about 200km southwest of Islamabad, the capital,

Officials in both countries have said they expect the men to eventually be deported back to the US, though charging them in Pakistan could delay that process.

The US embassy has declined to comment on the potential charges the men face in Pakistan.


Source: Agencies

Iraq to take Blackwater to court


raq will file lawsuits in US and Iraqi courts against Blackwater, a private security firm, after an American court threw out charges against five of its guards accused of killing 14 civilians in Baghdad.

Making the announcement, Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, in a statement on Monday said his government "rejects the ruling issued by the American court acquitting the company of the crime of killing a number of citizens".

Last week, a US federal judge threw out the murder charges against the guards, saying prosecutors violated the defendants' rights by using incriminating statements they had made under immunity during a US State Department probe.

The guards, who had been part of a convoy of armoured vehicles, had been charged with killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians and wounding 18 others in September 2007 at a busy Baghdad roundabout using guns and grenades.

But the guards claimed they acted in self-defence after a convoy they were protecting near Nisour Square came under attack.

However, witnesses and victims say the guards shot indiscriminately.

The Iraqi government called the US court ruling "unacceptable and unjust" and promised to support a lawsuit in US courts filed by victims of the shooting or their relatives.

Blackwater pulled out of Iraq in May, after the US state department refused to renew its contracts.

The company changed its name to Xe Services last year.

White Power USA




Almost a year ago the inauguration of President Barack Obama was hailed as a turning point in US race relations. The country was said to be entering a new era of post-racial politics, on the path to a future of greater diversity and tolerance.

But while crowds flocked to Washington to witness the swearing in, others were refusing to join the party. Racially motivated threats against Obama rose to new heights in the first months of his presidency, with the US seeing nine high-profile race killings in 2009.

Meanwhile white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups claim their membership is growing and that visits to their websites are increasing.

Is the racial undercurrent that has long structured US politics reasserting itself?

Child soldiers used in Yemen war


Child soldiers used in Yemen war

At first, it is difficult to see the boy sitting behind the rows of microphones, spotlights shining down on him as cameras roll from all sides of the packed hotel conference room.

Above the table where Akram sits hangs a huge poster showing a Yemeni boy dressed in a traditional brown robe, holding a detonator in one hand, while with the other he lifts his gown to reveal packages strapped to his legs.

The Arabic reads: "No to the exploitation of children for destructive operations and terrorism."

Prior to the press conference a text message from the government had alerted journalists and aid workers to the shocking news: A nine-year-old suicide bomber had been arrested carrying a bomb through the Old City of Saada, the north Yemen region that has served as the stronghold of the powerful Houthi clan.

The clan has for the past five years led an armed rebellion against the government in the capital Sanaa.

Strapped up with explosives around his legs and a detonator in his hand, the photograph appeared to embody the cruelty of the increasingly bitter war, a child made into a bomb by rebels who would stop at nothing to inflict casualties and terror.

Propaganda?

A government poster depicting Akram wearing explosives and holding a detonator [Flamand]
The government said Akram had been stopped by police in Saada before he could reach his target. At the police station the boy was photographed and the media was called in to report on the young would-be suicide bomber.

Akram and his father were then driven to Sanaa to tell their story to the assembled crowd of Yemeni officials, children's rights groups and journalists.

Standing, Akram takes a microphone in his small hand and delivers his message: "To use children in war is wrong."

A day after the press conference, Akram's father told Al Jazeera that his son never carried explosives. "Bomb? There was never any bomb. There were thirty detonators, but no explosives," he said.

Akram said he was asked by a distant cousin to deliver a package of wires to a friend in Saada's Old City. "He said, 'This is just wires.' He tied the bags to my legs and put something in my pocket," said Akram.

One local NGO worker, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal, told Al Jazeera that he had been contacted by the government who asked if he would talk to Akram and persuade him to confess to being a suicide bomber.

"I knew immediately the poster was a fake," he said. "The children need help, not this. We are independent and will not get involved in government propaganda."

Children in conflict

Whatever the truth about what Akram was carrying, his exploitation as a child soldier in Yemen is far from unique. A culture of under 18s carrying arms is ingrained in Yemen's tribal society.

Rights groups estimate that several thousand child soldiers have been involved in armed combat.

"We have a saying here," said Ahmed al-Gorashi, the chairman of Seyaj, a local NGO working to prevent the use of child soldiers. "If you are old enough to carry the jambiya [a curved dagger traditionally worn in the belt of Yemeni men] then you are old enough to fight with your tribe. And children carry the jambiya from the age of 12."

Across Yemen's countryside, it is a common site to see boys of 13 or 14 years old carrying Kalashnikovs as they ride with members of their tribe in the back of pick-up trucks.

The government accuses the Houthi rebels of using children as soldiers and of recruiting young boys from schools in Saada into their 'Believing Youth' movement.

"The Houthis use children to recruit other children from schools. They send the children leaflets and books to read saying joining Believing Youth is a way to become closer to God," said Mariam al Shwafi, the manager of Shawthab, a local children's rights organisation.

Although the official minimum age for joining the army is 18, the tribes which the government arms and finances to fight the Houthis alongside the army also often use children.

"The government is not knowingly recruiting underage soldiers into the army, but the tribal militias they are signing up are using child soldiers," said Andrew Moore, the country director of Save the Children in Yemen. "It's a deep cultural issue, but if we don't talk about it, it's never going to change."

UN investigating

in depth

Profile: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Opinion: The $30bn pair of underpants
Opinion: Neither wars nor drones
Video: Suspect 'a gentleman, not fanatic'
Video: Yemen - New frontline for US wars?
Riz Khan: Yemen - A failed state?
Inside Story: Yemen - An international quagmire?
Blog: Air security beyond borders
No accurate figures exist for the number of children being used as soldiers in Yemen.

In a country of 25 million people, there are believed to be up to 60 million guns.

Abdul-Rahman al-Marwani, the chairman of the Dar as-Salaam Organisation to Combat Revenge and Violence, a local NGO, reports that as many as 500 to 600 children are killed or injured through direct involvement in tribal combat in Yemen every year.

Seyaj estimates that under 18s may make up more than half the fighting force of tribes, both those fighting with the Houthis and those allied with the government.

The problem of child soldiers in Yemen is now grabbing the attention of the international community and Unicef, the UN's children's rights agency, has been tasked with reporting on the issue.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN's special representative of the secretary-general on 'Children and Armed Conflict', said she is extremely concerned that "large numbers" of teenage boys have been dragged into the fighting.

Yemen is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and ratified in 2007 both its optional protocols which "require states to do everything they can to prevent individuals under the age of 18 from taking direct part in hostilities".

Persistent failure to prevent children taking part in conflict is considered a war crime by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.

Retaliation

The day after his name and face appeared on Yemeni TV, Akram's house in Saada's Old City was targeted by a bomb. Retaliation, so the government said, by the Houthis. Akram's younger brother was at home when the explosion struck and pieces of shrapnel shot into his face and chest.

At the time of our interview, the boy had yet to receive surgery for his injuries and was being cared for by his grandmother, Akram's mother having died last year, while his father had been driven to Sanaa with government officials before he could return home to help.

Though furious with the cousin who used his son as a child soldier, Akram's father said the hurt had been compounded by the government's effort to turn the story into a propaganda campaign.

"The government has put our family in a bad situation. I am too scared to go back to Saada now," he said. "We feel used."

As for Akram, like so many child soldiers manipulated at the hands of adults, he appears to understand little of who or what he was supposed to be fighting for. But as to the consequences of the conflict he has been caught up in, Akram is only too painfully aware.

"I miss my grandmother and I'm worried about my brother," Akram said.

"I'm not together with all my family and I want to see them again, but I can't because of this war."


Source: Al Jazeera

Iraqi linked to UK hostages 'freed'




Iraq has released a Shia Muslim leader linked to the kidnapping of five Britons in 2007, an interior ministry spokesman has said.

"According to the information available to us, Qais al-Khazali was released the day before yesterday," Alaa al-Taii, the head of the interior ministry's media division, said on Tuesday.

Qais al-Khazali is the leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, which last week freed Peter Moore, a British computer specialist who was seized along with four bodyguards.

Three of the bodyguards were killed, but the fate of the fourth, Alan McMenemy, remains unclear despite British officials indicating that they believe he is also dead.

Al-Khazali's reported release will raise hopes that McMenemy will either be released or his body returned.

Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, said earlier this week that he expected McMenemy would be handed to British authorities in Baghdad within the coming days, but did not specify whether the bodyguard was dead or alive.

Brother freed

Neither Iraqi nor British officials have publicly linked the release of Asaib Ahl al-Haq leaders to efforts to free or recover the bodies of the hostages, but Khazali's brother Laith was freed in June shortly before the bodies of two of the guards were handed to British authorities.

A spokesman for the Asaib Ahl al-Haq was reported as confirming Qais al-Khazali's release to the AFP news agency, but an Iraqi politician claimed his case was still being considered.

"He is still in jail and his file is in front of the Iraqi judiciary system ... he faces many arrest warrants and the judges must examine these charges," Sami al-Askari, a member of parliament's foreign affairs committee and a government liaison on the hostage issue, told Reuters news agency.

Al-Khazali was transferred into Iraqi custody last month after being held by the US military since 2007 for suspected involvement in the killing of five American soldiers.

Analysts suggested that the release of Asaib Ahl al-Haq leaders and the handover of Moore were part of an attempt to move the group away from armed activity before parliamentary election in Iraq later this year.

Britain's foreign office has denied any deal was done for Moore's release, saying the US transferred Khazaali into Iraqi custody under the terms of a bilateral agreement between Baghdad and Washington.

Source: Agencies

US spies in Afghanistan 'ignorant'




A senior US military intelligence official in Afghanistan has lambasted Washington's spy networks, calling them ignorant of the situation in the country.

Major-General Michael Flynn, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence for the US and its Nato allies in Afghanistan, said in a withering report on Tuesday that the intelligence services were out of touch with the Afghan people.

In the report published by the Centre for New American Security think-tank, Flynn said the intelligence community had been only "marginally relevant to the overall strategy" in Afghanistan since the war began eight years ago.

Flynn said in the report that US intelligence officials in Afghanistan were "ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced ... and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers".

Pentagon: Irregular report

The Washington DC-based think-thank that published the report was co-founded by Michele Flournoy, who was appointed undersecretary of defence for policy in February.

The Pentagon expressed surprise on Tuesday at the criticism, calling it an "unusual and irregular way to publish a document of this nature".

"I think it struck everybody as a little bit curious, yes ... My sense is that this was an anomaly and that we probably won't see that [in the future]," Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

Whitman did not question the substance of the report but cautioned that officials were still reviewing it.

"I think it's a candid assessment of some of the shortcomings there [in intelligence] and the challenges that face us," he said.

Fundamental questions

Intelligence agents need to ascertain a greater volume and breadth of information at a local level, according to the report, authored by Flynn and Matt Pottinger, his chief adviser.

The report, which highlighted tensions between the military and intelligence agencies, said too great a focus had been given to gathering information on opposition groups and an "anti-insurgency campaign" to capture mid and high-level opposition agents.

Consequently fundamental questions about "the environment in which US and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade" were left unanswered, it said.

Less than a week ago, a suspected al-Qaeda double agent from Jordan killed seven CIA agents in Afghanistan in a suicide bomb attack.

It was the second-highest loss of life the CIA has suffered in a single attack in its history.

Last month, Barack Obama, the US president, assigned a further 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, to focus on training local forces to replace American personnel in the country.

'Resources spread thin'

Richard Schoeberl, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counter-terrorism official, told Al Jazeera: "We're almost a decade into this war ... the problem is the right information that needs to be gathered is not being gathered or its being gathered but not disseminated properly."

Schoeberl said there were not enough analysts on the ground and those there were not in the necessary areas because the areas were too dangerous.

And the intelligence databases of the many different nations operating in Afghanistan were incompatible, according to Schoeberl.

"We've got the Jordanian database, which we don't have access to, then the UK's, the US's ... then it's separated with the FBI, the CIA," he said.

"It's hard to filter through all this information, find the right information and get to the people on the ground and to the people higher up who are actually making the decisions.

"The fact is there are not enough people to do the amount of work needed to be done. We are spread thin in the intelligence community and the armed forces to conduct the type of operation we are trying to conduct."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

News Middle East Yemeni troops target al-Qaeda




Yemen has sent thousands of soldiers to battle al-Qaeda fighters in three provinces, amid growing fears that the organisation is planning attacks across the country.

The military launched new campaigns in Shabwa and Maarib, as well as the capital Sanaa, an official said on Tuesday, in addition to ongoing operations against al-Qaeda fighters in the southern Abyan province.

The announcement came as the US reopened its embassy, which had been closed for two days in response to what officials said were al-Qaeda threats.

US officials said they felt secure enough to restart working in the country after a Yemeni military raid in the area of Arhab, 40km north of Sanaa, on Monday killed two suspected al-Qaeda fighters and led to the arrest of five others.

"Successful counter-terrorism operations conducted by government of Yemen security forces January 4 north of the capital have addressed a specific area of concern, and have contributed to the embassy's decision to resume operations," the US embassy said in a statement.

The British and French embassies, which had also been closed, resumed operations but remained closed to the public, diplomats at those embassies said.

'Severe manner'

Hakim al-Masmari, the editor of the Yemen Post newspaper in Sanaa, told Al Jazeera: "The operations started two days ago. Our sources said that the government has sent over 10,000 troops there.


"They are trying to force tribesmen there to make them understand that those who talk or help al-Qaeda leaders or members will be faced in a very severe manner."

Concerning the two people killed in raids on Monday, al-Masmari said: "Our sources say that they have no links to al-Qaeda whatsoever.

"No matter what the government says there is no proof whatsoever that they are al-Qaeda or have any links to them at all."

Al-Masmari said that the US and UK were not involved in any of the actions against suspected al-Qaeda fighters, except in providing intelligence information to Sanaa.

International focus has shifted to Yemen in the wake of an attempted bombing of a US-bound airplane on Christmas Day.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attempted attack and Barack Obama, the US president, said that the man accused of trying to ignite explosives as it arrived in Detroit had received his training and explosives in Yemen.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Monday that Yemen posed a global threat and offered support for the country's security forces.

"Obviously, we see global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al-Qaeda in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region," she said.

Clinton praised the Yemeni government for its efforts to combat al-Qaeda in Yemen, but said it was "time for the international community to make it clear to Yemen that there are expectations and conditions on our continuing support for the government".

Her comments sparked debate over the nature of US intervention in Yemen.

Yemen warning

Earlier Abu Baker al-Qirbi, Yemen's foreign minister, made clear that while Yemen was happy to received "development assistance", any military intervention by the US would cause more harm than good.

"Yemen is going to deal with terrorism in its own way, out of its own interests and therefore I don't think it will counter-fire," he told Al Jazeera, ahead of Clinton's comments to the media.

As well as the threat from al-Qaeda in the Arabain Peninsula, Yemen is currently battling Shia Houthi fighters in the north, as well as a secessionist movement in the south.

Analysts have warned against direct US intervention in Yemen.

Mark Perry, a Washington-based independent military and foreign policy analyst, said Clinton needed to approach the situation more diplomatically.

"The escalation in the rhetoric seems to have happened overnight," told Al Jazeera.

"Hillary Clinton has looked in her toolbox and pulled out a lecture for the Yemeni government that they have to do something and do something now because a single airplane on American tarmac with an unsuccessful bomber has made Yemen an international threat."

'Increasingly destabilised'

He said that while Yemen has become "increasingly destabilised", al-Qaeda, whose affiliate in Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, combines both Yemen and Saudi fighters, was far from the major reason for the instability.

"You need to turn the environment against them [al-Qaeda], you need to make the environment against their beliefs and ideology"

Riad Kahwaji,
founder of Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis
"The Houthi rebellion in the north is the key issue here and it can only be solved diplomatically. We're not going to go into Yemen with the 10th Mountain division or the 82nd Airborne and help the Yemenis in their own country. We're only going to destabilise if we do that," he said.

"This is the time for Hillary Clinton to stop lecturing and start working on diplomacy."

Riad Kahwaji, the founder of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said any engagement in Yemen needed to be seen as a long-term strategy.

"Al-Qaeda in Yemen are Yemenis, they're not foreign fighters ... They have sympathy and support from tribal leaders in parts of Yemen, which is enabling them to move around and function freely," told Al Jazeera.

"You need to turn the environment against them, you need to make the environment against their beliefs and ideology, otherwise military strikes will have very limited results."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

CIA base bomber 'was double agent'




A suicide bomber who killed eight people when he attacked a US base in Afghanistan has been identified as a "double agent" working for Jordanian intelligence, according to US media and intelligence reports.

Al Jazeera sources in Afghanistan on Tuesday said that the man, identified as Hammam Khalil al-Balawi, had been brought to the base in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, by car, from across the border in Pakistan.

Al-Balawi, also known as Abu Dujana al-Khorasani, is believed to have offered the CIA new information on the whereabouts of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda second in command.

He had apparently duped his employers into believing that statements he had made in the past on websites about wanting to die as a martyr were part of his cover.

The bombing, which occurred last Wednesday, killed seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer, identified by Jordan's state news agency Petra as Captain Sharif Ali bin Zeid.

Al-Qaeda connection

Former CIA officers said Zeid, who was related to the Jordanian royal family, was al-Balawi's reporting officer.

"The bomber allegedly was sent by Ayman Zawahiri himself to conduct the attack and claimed he had information on Zawahiri"

Bruce Riedel,
former CIA officer
Al-Balawi, who had in the past been imprisoned in Jordan, is thought to have been recruited by Jordanian intelligence to help track down al-Zawahiri because of his connections with al-Qaeda.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and White House adviser, said that according to unconfirmed intelligence reports, al-Zawahiri himself had ordered al-Balawi to carry out the attack using the pretext of information about his whereabouts.

"The bomber allegedly was sent by Ayman Zawahiri himself to conduct the attack and claimed he had information on Zawahiri," Riedel was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.

The Jordanian government has not responded to requests for comment on the story.

'Double agent'

Nisreen el-Shamayleh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Amman, the Jordanian capital, said: "In the past al-Balawi had been imprisoned and tortured in Jordanian prisons for participating in al-Qaeda meetings. That was way back in the past.

"After being released from prison, he was summoned several times by Jordanian intelligence and it is believed that during that period, and because of al-Balawi's valuable knowledge of al-Qaeda, he may have then been recruited by Jordanian intelligence," she said.

"We do know that he wasn't actually recruited by the Jordanian intelligence for very long."

Al-Balawi, who was from the Jordanian town of Zarqa, is also known to have trained and worked as a doctor in a hospital in Amman.

The US monitoring service Site Intelligence said that so-called jihadist websites had reported al-Balawi's arrest in December 2007 without specifying where he had been arrested.

'Love of jihad'

Site also reported that al-Balwai was a prolific contributor to such websites, even after his release from custody when he was supposed to be working as a Jordanian agent, the monitoring group added.

In a September 2009 posting on a site run by al-Qaeda, he wrote: "If [a Muslim] dies in the cause of Allah, he will grant his words glory that will be permanent marks on the path to guide to jihad, with permission from Allah," according to Site.


"If love of jihad enters a man's heart, it will not leave him even if he wants to do so. Indeed, what he sees of luxurious palaces will remind him of positions of the martyrs in the higher heaven."

El-Shamayleh said the attack would likely damage relations between the CIA and Jordanian intelligence.

"For many years Jordanian intelligence has been one of the CIA's closest and most useful allies in the Middle East. The attack could be embarrassing for the [Jordanian] government," she said.

"Jordan has always tried to present itself as an ally and a partner with the US in its 'fight against terror'."

In 2006, Jordanian intelligence helped track down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed in an air raid in Iraq in June that year.

Taliban claim

The new details of attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman run contrary to earlier claims that the Taliban were behind the attack.

Soon after the blast Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said in an email: "This deadly attack was carried out by a valorous Afghan army member when the officials [Americans] were busy gaining information about the mujahideen."

The Afghan government later rejected the claim that the bomber had been from the Afghan army.

The attack in Khost was the worst single loss of life for the CIA since the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in 1983.

Following the attack, the base was locked down. An Al Jazeera source said that about 150 mostly Afghan labourers at the base were detained for three days.

The CIA has not released the names of those killed or provided details about the work its agents had been carrying out, citing "the sensitivity of their mission and other ongoing operations".
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Indebted Dubai opens tallest building


CCTV

Dubai's ruler opened the 1.5 billion US dollar tower on Monday. The 828-meter structure, with 200 storeys, surpasses the next tallest inhabited building, Taipei 101 in China's Taiwan, by more than 300 meters.

Emaar properties, developers of the Burj Dubai, say the building delivers a new message: hope for the future.

Mohamed Alabbar, Chairman of Emaar properties, said, "The message is very simple, the message is that, you know, we build for tens of years to come. Crises come and go and the world has gone through two years of difficult times. We have some hope and optimism that we must move on and I think this is a message that, you know, this is, I hope that this is the beginning of a gradual move forward."

The developer says the tower is billed as a "vertical city" of luxury apartments and offices. But the gleaming glass-and-metal tower, has now been renamed "Burj Khalifa", after Abu Dhabi's leader. Dubai's neighboring oil-rich sheikdom came to its rescue during the financial meltdown. It provided direct and indirect injections of cash totaling 25 billion US dollars.

With the reality that thousands of jobs have been lost and projects worth billions of dollars have been either cancelled or delayed, it remains to be seen whether the so-called "desert flower" can bloom as gracefully as its developers hope.

Embattled Dubai fulfils tallest order


Shanghai Daily/Agencies

Dubai opened the world's tallest structure yesterday in a glitzy ceremony putting a brave face on crushing debt woes and leading some to wonder whether the tower is the emirate's crowning glory or its last hurrah. [coverage about Dubai debt crisis]

The US$1.5 billion tower reaches 828 meters, 200 stories into the sky, exceeding the next highest structure, Taipei 101, by about 300m.

Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum renamed the tower Burj Khalifa after the president of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of the neighboring emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

Abu Dhabi has provided US$25 billion in bailout funds for Dubai in the past year, fueling expectations that Dubai will make concessions or cede some of its commercial power to its neighbor.

Concerns about Dubai's US$100 billion debt pile, which has made its stock exchange one of the world's worst performing, overshadowed the ceremony and boasts by the builder, Emaar Properties, that the Burj heralds a new dawn.

"The worry for Dubai is that the event will be remembered as a second bout of hubris," said David Butter, regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Economist Intelligence Unit.

The first bout was in November 2008, two months after the collapse of Lehman Bros, when Dubai spent US$24 million on the opening ceremony of the Atlantis Hotel, an event that did more to highlight a taste for extravagance than assuage fears that the economic crisis was not being taken seriously.

Emaar said property prices had now stabilized, confounding wider expectations for stress in the sector.

"You have to ask, 'why we are building all this?' To bring quality of life and a smile to people and I think we should continue to do that," said Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar, the Arab world's largest listed developer.

"Crises come and go," Alabbar told reporters. "We build for years to come ... We must have hope and optimism."

From the 124th floor observation deck of the tower, viewers can see 80 kilometers on a clear day.

The air is noticeably cooler and fresher on the terraces compared to the stifling heat and humidity at ground level during Dubai's summer.

Terraces are located at setbacks spiralling up the tapered tower, which is based on the "geometries of the desert flower and the patterning systems embodied in Islamic architecture," according to its promotional literature.

China rejects UK criticism over smuggler case


China on Tuesday expressed its strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to Britain's accusation of its handling of a British drug smuggler.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu made the comments at a regular press conference, in response to relevant questions.

Akmal Shaikh, a British national who was convicted of smuggling drugs into China, was executed by lethal injection on Tuesday in Urumqi, capital of northwestern Xinjiang Ugyur Autonomous Region, after approval from China's Supreme People's Court (SPC).

"Such accusation was groundless, to which China expressed its resolute opposition," Jiang said. "We urge the British side to correct its wrongdoing to avoid causing damages to bilateral relations."

Jiang said the case was an individual criminal case, and Chinese judicial authorities had always handled the case independently in accordance with China's law and legal procedures.

She said the defendant's litigation rights and legitimate treatment had been fully guaranteed in the trial.

China attached great importance to its relations with Britain and hoped this case would not affect the bilateral relations, Jiang said, noting "We hope the British side can rationally treat the case, and not create new obstacles for the bilateral relations."

China is a country under the rule of law. The judicial authorities of China handle cases in strict accordance with law and China's judicial independence brooks no interference from the outside, said Jiang.

China, Nepal to advance bilateral ties


China-Nepal ties entered a new phase with the two nations having decided to establish a comprehensive partnership of cooperation, said Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing on Wednesday.

"We will work with Nepal to make concerted efforts for the in-depth development of our relationship," Hu said in a meeting with Nepalese Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.

China and its southwestern neighbor Nepal on Tuesday agreed to lift their bilateral relationship to a higher level by establishing a comprehensive partnership of cooperation.

The decision came when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao held talks with Nepal, who was here on his first official visit to China since he took office in May.

The newly-established comprehensive partnership of cooperation signals closer ties between China and Nepal, which have enjoyed a good-neighborly partnership in the past.

President Hu told Nepal that the two nations should consolidate their political basis for the bilateral ties, increase high level visits, and continue supporting each other in major issues.

Hu proposed the two neighbors promote cooperation in the areas of economy, infrastructure construction, agriculture, human resources, tourism and border trade, and strengthen people-to-people exchanges.

He also hoped the two sides would enhance coordination in international and regional affairs and jointly cope with global challenges such as climate change, energy and food security.

"We should work together to safeguard regional and world peace and development," Hu said.

China's top legislator Wu Bangguo also met with Nepal earlier on Wednesday.

"The decision to establish a China-Nepal comprehensive partnership of cooperation is a strategic one," said Wu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC).

According to a joint statement issued Wednesday, the two sides decided to establish and develop a Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation featuring close friendship on the basis of the five principles of peaceful coexistence.

Wu said this accords with the realistic and long-term need of the development of China-Nepal ties, and is also a common aspiration of the two peoples.

China and Nepal established diplomatic ties in 1955. "We will work with Nepal to constantly enrich the content of our bilateral relationship and carry forward our traditional friendship," Wu noted.

Wu also said the NPC would increase friendly exchanges and cooperation with the Constituent Assembly of Nepal to contribute to the comprehensive growth of China-Nepal ties.

During his meeting with Hu and Wu, Nepal spoke highly of China's remarkable economic and social progress.

China's prosperity and stability is in line with the interests of Nepal and the world at large, he noted.

Hailing the profound friendship between the two peoples, Nepal said his country is ready to work with China to expand cooperation in various sectors and increase coordination in global issues.

Nepal also pledged to increase exchanges between the two governments, parliaments and political parties, in a bid to push forward Nepal-China relations.

Nepal reiterated that his country understand China's core interests and would unswervingly adhere to the one-China policy.

The Nepalese side firmly supports China's effort to uphold state sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity and believes Tibet is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory, the prime minister said, adding that Nepal would not allow any force to use Nepal's territory to engage in any anti-China or separatist activities.

Nepal left Beijing for China's financial hub Shanghai on Wednesday afternoon, the last leg of his visit. He previously visited Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, and Xi'an.

Profits drive soccer gambling scandal


CCTV

Several football clubs have been involved in gambling scandals, as a nationwide campaign continues to crack down on these type and match-fixing crimes. People may wonder why so many players and club managers choose to walk down this road? Let's look at a soccer team in the coastal city of Qingdao, and explore the reasons why.

Football fans in Qingdao were once proud of having two professional teams in the Chinese football league. But the two teams now have different destinies.

Qingdao Hailifeng football club is under police investigation. Its managers and players are suspected of manipulating match results for gambling.

Qingdao Zhongneng football club is not feeling the impact from Hailifeng. But its manager points out the problem that could have played a key role in dragging Hailifeng down.

Yu Tao said, football club in China makes little profit. Despite having some social impact, it's hard to transfer it into real profits."

As one of the most popular games in the country, football teams spend a lot of money, but that doesn't always translate into big profits. To afford players' and coaches' salaries as well as renting fields, that needs strong financial support. Football clubs depend heavily on companies for sponsorship.

Once the company cannot provide a sufficient financial commitment, the club may no longer guarantee payments to its coaches and players.

Mu Zhilei, coach of Qingdao Hailifeng Football Club, said, "We were in those conditions before. It's a public secret."

This is part of the reason for Qingdao Hailifeng's road for match-fixing and gambling. Other teams face the same problems.

Yu Tao, mamager of Qingdao Zhongneng Football Club,said, "We need to spend thirty to forty million yuan each year, but profits may only amount to three million yuan."

Yu Tao says a third of investment will go to player salaries, another third is spent on buying foreign players. Renting fields also costs hundreds of thousands of yuan, annually.

To avoid the same mistake as Hailifeng, Zhongneng can only depend on self-discipline.

Yu Tao said, "There is something that is not on the table regarding club incomes. What we should do is abandon bad customs on the pitch."

Apart from self-discipline, the Chinese football industry is learning from other countries in terms of profit-making. In Japan and Italy, TV broadcasting takes up the majority of club's income. But in China, a complete system for profit-making and balancing expenditures needs to be set up.

China may rebuild demolition rule after suicide


China Daily,

Ten days after five legal scholars claimed in an open letter that the country's urban housing demolition regulation was "a breach of the Constitution", the State Council Legislative Affairs Office said yesterday it is working on fixing the problem.

"We'll speed up revising and issuing a new regulation to improve the current urban housing management system and better safeguard citizens' rights," said Gao Fengtao, deputy director of the office, which issued the regulation.

China may rebuild demolition rule after suicide

"The State Council is very concerned about problems caused by the current regulation and has been working on a new regulation ever since the Property Law came out in 2007," he said. "But please, give us a bit more time because there are many issues related to this."

Gao made the remarks after meeting nine law professors yesterday morning at a Beijing hotel to solicit opinions about a possible revision.

Four of the nine were among the professors who wrote the open letter to the National People's Congress (NPC) on Dec 7 urging the country's top legislature to review the legitimacy of the urban housing demolition regulation.

The regulation allows the government to seize homes and land if they are needed for important projects.

In China, the NPC drafts laws and the State Council Legislative Affairs Office issues regulations. Laws have more legal weight than regulations.

In the letter, the professors said the regulation violates the basic principle of the Constitution and Property Law.

The open letter caused heated discussion across the country, especially in the light of the death of Tang Fuzhen, from Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province, who shocked the nation by setting herself on fire on Nov 13 to protest the forced demolition of her former husband's garment processing business and living space above it.

Tang died from her injuries 16 days later at a local hospital. The building she wanted to save has been torn down.

On Monday afternoon, Xi Xinzhu, from Beijing's Haidian district, set himself on fire in a similar incident after a demolition crew arrived to move out his family and start tearing down their home. Doctors said 10 percent of Xi's body was burned and he remained in hospital last night.

The NPC has not made any public comments about the open letter but Shen Kui, a law professor with Peking University who was among the five who sent the letter, said yesterday the NPC forwarded relevant materials to the State Council Legislative Affairs Office and suggested a revision.

The move triggered the meeting between the legal experts and the State Council Legislative Affairs Office yesterday.

"They (the scholars) offered many valuable opinions about the revision," Gao said after the meeting. "We will go on to hear opinions from relevant officials and individuals before we make a final draft public."

Shen praised the response from the NPC and the State Council.

"Most experts agree on general principles but more discussions are needed for some details," he told China Daily. "We all agree that the government should only confiscate land if it is in the public interest. The question is, how do you define public interest?"

Shen said discussion at the meeting also covered acceptable procedures for confiscating property and offering compensation.

He said everyone agreed compensation should be decided by the market and not by the government, as it is now.

Despite the fact that some details remain undecided, the revision of the regulation is likely to be another example of how civil input can push forward legislation.

In 2003, three scholars wrote an open letter to the NPC, calling for the scrapping or revision of a regulation allowing the relocation of urban vagrants and beggars. The letter followed the death of Xu Zhigang, a young college graduate, who was tortured and died in an asylum in Guangzhou.

The regulation was later abolished.

ChiNext should not be turned into a casino


By Yi Xianrong

China.org.cn

China's Nasdaq-style Growth Enterprise Market (GEM), also known as ChiNext, opened on October 30, making it easier for start-up companies to raise money on the capital markets.

Before its launch, the China securities regulator drew up strict rules to prevent excessive speculation and warned investors of the high risk of investing in the market. Despite these moves, ChiNext has turned out to be a far cry from what the regulator wanted to see. By the close of the first day of trading, the 28 listed companies had almost doubled in value. Investors scrambled for listed stocks as share prices were inflated by feverish buying.

On the second day of trading, 27 of the 28 stocks on the newly-launched market had dropped by their 10 percent permitted daily limit, a signal that money was being withdrawn from GEM and transferred to the main board.

The average GEM-listed company has a price-to-earnings ratio of about 100. That means investors have to pay about $100 for every $1 of 2008 earnings. By comparison, the average price-to-earnings ratio on NASDAQ stands at a relatively-modest 26.

The wave of speculation was, in large part, a wild buying spree by individual investors. A survey showed that institutional investors bought 11.429 million shares on the first trading day, just 2.62 percent of the traded shares, while individual investors bought the remaining 97.37 percent.

This raises the question: Is ChiNext a stock market or a casino? If it is a casino, how long can it last?

I always disagreed with opening GEM in such a hurried manner. ChiNext is more vulnerable to speculation and manipulation than the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges. And apart from America's NASDAQ, GEM-style markets have failed in most other countries. Considering the existing capital markets system on the Chinese mainland, it will be no easy task to create a stock market on the lines of NASDAQ.

Not a few investors have asked me whether they should put money in GEM, and I told them the market is certain to be very volatile and they should be very cautious. My view is that if investing in GEM turns into a form of gambling, the market is unlikely to last long because the majority of players will eventually pull their money out.

The creation of GEM was intended to provide an alternative source of financing for innovative companies. Most of the newly-listed companies work in the fields of biotechnology, information technology, agriculture and the Internet. They are mostly too small to be able to compete with companies listed on NASDAQ.

Of course, I do not expect each of the listed companies to grow into a giant like Microsoft, but they should at least be held accountable to the investors who have pinned their hopes on potential earnings and future growth. In fact, some companies are there just to grab money from the market. By the end of the first trading day on Friday, the 28 newly listed companies had managed to raise more than US$2 billion from the market, producing fortunes for their founders and investors.

The truth is that the current capital markets system is fundamentally flawed and allows companies to take advantage of its weaknesses. Often, companies go public simply for the purpose of cashing in on the stock market.

Many private equity funds have reportedly reaped enormous windfall profits from ChiNext. It is unknown whether this was the result of their insight or insider information. But one thing is for sure; behind the scenes there is government intervention and corruption. If the capital markets system remains unchanged, unreasonable trading and risky speculation are inevitable.

GEM should be an open, transparent, fair and just market, not a casino. Only an efficient market system can channel capital to the small but innovative enterprises that will help fundamentally reshape China's economy in the long term.

(This post was translated by He Shan.)

Gang leader executed, 4 lawmakers removed


A notorious gang leader was executed Thursday in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality after being convicted of organizing a crime ring that killed one person and intentionally injured eight others over the past 10 years.

Chen Ming, 36, from Rongchang County in the suburbs of Chongqing, was the first to receive death penalty in the city's crackdown on organized crime.

The Fifth Intermediate People's Court in Chongqing sentenced Chen to death in July 2008. The Supreme People's Court approved the death penalty on Thursday.

Penalties for the other 13 members of Chen's ring ranged from three years in jail to a suspended death sentence.

Members of the ring were also convicted of fraud, racketeering, drug trafficking and illegally running casinos in villages in Rongchang County, a court spokesman said.

In another development, the Chongqing Municipal People's Congress, the city's lawmaking body, decided Friday to remove four deputies who were allegedly involved in organized crime.

The four were Chongqing's former deputy public security chief Peng Changjian, former head of the city's traffic police Chen Honggang, former police chief in Dianjiang County Xu Qiang and businessman Li Qiang.

Peng and Xu have been arrested on charges of concealing organized criminal activities, and Chen is still under investigation.

Li Qiang was tried at a Chongqing court last month on charges of organizing and leading criminal gangs, disrupting public transportation, disturbing public order, concealing account books, bribery and tax evasion. The court is yet to hand down a ruling.

A spokesman for the municipal procuratorate said 700 people had been arrested this year in connection with gang-related crimes in Chongqing.

At least 50 others, including 28 judicial and police officers, had been investigated on suspicion of power abuse, including allegations of corruption, malfeasance and infringing people's rights, he said.

Netizens join probe into 'hide-and-seek' prison death


A 15-member investigation team arrived in Jinning County in southwest China's Yunnan Province Friday to probe the death of a man in police custody, which local police had said was an accident caused by "hide-and-seek" game by inmates.

Li Qiaoming, 24, of Yuxi City, was detained in Jinning on Jan. 30 for felling trees without authorization. He was hospitalized on Feb. 8 and died four days later from severe brain injuries.

The Jinning public security bureau said Friday Li was fatally injured while playing hide-and-seek with other inmates, one of whom supposedly reacted angrily when his hiding place was uncovered by Li.

According to the bureau, Li was kicked, punched on the head and struck an iron bar as he fell.

Li's parents and many netizens said they found the official account hard to believe. A story about the incident appeared in a local newspaper in the provincial capital of Kunming on Feb. 13.

"I've never heard of such a funny joke," said Liu Yun, a netizen from Kunming, on the www.163.com forum.

A 15-member truth-finding committee with five netizens, three reporters (including one from Xinhua), four public security and prosecutors' staff, two company employees and a college student, went to the Jinning Detention House affiliated with the county public security bureau on Friday.

Zhao Li, who writes a popular blog under the name Fengzhimoduan, and Dong Rubin, better known as the blogger Bianmin, were director and deputy director respectively of the committee.

The committee members held talks with officials from the Jinning county government, public security bureau and county procuratorate on Friday morning.

The inmates were forbidden to play games without permission. "Hide-and-seek" was purely an entertainment and they did it by themselves, said Yan Guodong, deputy head of the county public security bureau.

Jin Huayong, who allegedly kicked and punched Li, had no record of violence in the prison. "We will turn him over to the procuratorate after Li's autopsy report is done," said Yan.

The committee members visited cell number 9 room, which Li Qiaoming had occupied, at about 1 p.m. and studied documents on his personal details and behavior in the prison and his death certificate.

They held a news briefing at 2:40 p.m. at Sanhe Grand Hotel to discuss their findings.

"We're satisfied with the police attitude towards our investigation," said Fengzhimoduan.

"I am not a professional investigator. It's hard for us to discover the truth. But we're doing our best to establish the truth today," he said.

"The Internet magnified the incident," he added.

The Yunnan Provincial Publicity Department posted a notice on major Yunnan-based websites Thursday afternoon, seeking people to join in the investigation. About 510 people called or applied online.

"It's the first time in Yunnan, and even in China, for netizens to participate in an official investigation like this," said Gong Gei, a provincial publicity department official.

(Xinhua News Agency)

3,470 detained in online porn crackdown


Chinese police have detained more than 3,470 suspects this year in a harsh crackdown on Internet pornography.

The Ministry of Public Security said Friday that more than 1.25 million items of on-line lewd content and nearly 7,000 pornographic websites and columns were eliminated from the Internet this year. The police also cracked more than 3,500 erotic cases.

The ministry said they also busted several large-scale overseas pornographic website alliances, and detained more than 500 staff working on the mainland.

A new round of harsh crackdown on spreading pornographic content through Internet or mobile WAP sites, was initiated earlier this month through next May, to purify social environment and protect minors' mental health, the government said.

Untrained workers, poor materials caused bridge collapse


By Ren Zhongxi

China.org.cn

The bustling construction site where China's fourth-largest airport is being built came to a sudden standstill yesterday, when the local government ordered all work suspended pending safety reviews following Sunday's bridge collapse that killed seven workers.

Rescuers use life detectors to search for survivors in debris of a collapsed overpass at the new Kunming Airport Jan 3, 2009. [Xinhua]

Rescuers use life detectors to search for survivors in debris of a collapsed overpass at the new Kunming Airport January 3, 2009. Seven people were killed Sunday after an overpass under construction collapsed in southwest China's Yunnan Province, local officials said.[Xinhua]

The accident, which took place near Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province, also left 34 injured, eight seriously.

Exactly what caused a 38-meter section of an overpass under construction to plunge 7.5 meters to the ground is under investigation, said Wang Jinsheng, spokesman for the construction headquarters of the new airport, which is due to be completed by 2012.

But Wang dismissed speculation that the workers had rushed the construction work, giving safety and quality a backseat.

"They were not hurrying to finish the building of the overpass," said Wang speaking over the phone from the accident site.

But other voices told a different story. According to a Chongqing Evening News report today, a number of airport workers who were unwilling to reveal their names used the phrase "cheating on labor and materials" to describe the cause of the accident. A faulty steel frame was the main reason for the collapse, they said.

According to the workers, the horizontal support of the overpass steel frame should have been reinforced strictly in accordance with standards: all four sides should have been tightly fitted with connecting links every meter and the top and bottom parts should have been reinforced crosswise. A single unstable steel bar could cause the whole frame to collapse, they said.

The workers claimed that untrained women workers were recruited and participated in the building of the frame. They added that the project was sold and resold through multi-level contracting, reducing profit margins to the bare minimum. In order to break even, contractors cheated on labor and materials, including cutting down on steel reinforcements to increase "efficiency."

As a result, the steel frame looked normal but the inner section became loose. When tens of thousands of tons of concrete were added to the overpass, vibration transmitted by the machines caused the unstable frame to shake and collapse.

According to a spokesman for the Yunnan Construction Engineering Group, the main contractor for the airport construction, the results of the investigation might be available later today.

An estimated 20,000 workers were working on the construction site as of early December 2009, according to local media reports.

All those who died were migrant workers, five from Yunnan; one from bordering Guizhou Province and the other from northeast China.

The injured now are all out of danger.

The airport will become China's fourth-largest air transport hub after completion, targeting South Asian and Southeastern Asian countries, and will have an annual capacity of 38 million passengers and 950,000 metric tons of cargo by 2020.

More than 23 billion yuan (US$3.37 billion) will be invested in the airport, which covers 15.98 sq km.

Illegal trading volume of academic papers reaches US$146.4 mln


Trading academic papers has become big business in China. It has even evolved into an "industry chain" with an annual sales volume of one billion yuan last year, nearly 5.5 times the figure in 2007, Changjiang Daily reports.

The figure was released by a research team headed by Shen Yang, an associate professor with Wuhan University, which has focused on paper trading and illegal periodic publications for three years.

Rigid policy is the root

According to their study, the annual quota of academic papers in China's legal periodicals stands at 2.48 million, yet as many as 11.8 million people are burdened with the task of publishing academic paper, mostly at least one per year.

These people include university teachers, graduate and doctorate students, researchers, civil servants and other employees in special industries like agriculture, engineering and medical care.

Shen says this group is required to submit academic papers under a rigid policy before their graduation, promotion or gaining a professional qualification title. The evaluation of their performance is usually pegged to the amount of papers they published.

Conventional wisdom goes that the more high-quality research papers an organization produces, the more elevated a status it will enjoy among peers, which in turn helps the organization build up its reputation and ultimately garner more benefits.

Professor Shen believes this misguided policy is the underlying cause of the massive frauds in academic research and the thriving of unscrupulous enterprise. Even if people manage to produce the paper, they often have to pay hefty fees to legitimate publishing houses.

Profitable illegal periodicals

The disparity between the supply and demand of the legal paper quota has provided a breeding ground for illegal periodicals.

Surveys show that papers in these publications usually involve mixed topics and lack standard writing.

Shen Yang and his team found that each such book carried around 169 papers on average, most of whose first authors were from the college.

As for the content, 72 percent of the papers in 2007 were completely plagiarized, while 24 percent were partially copied, with only four percent classified as original, according to search results from samples through anti-plagiarism software.

Each false periodical is estimated to earn as much as 720,000 yuan each year due to their low cost and high fees.

Shen says sometimes a dozen illegal periodicals share only two staff members, while their illegal profits can exceed seven million yuan each year.

Paper trading popular among students

With the wide application of anti-plagiarism software at universities, the odds of potential plagiarists being caught have increased. Therefore the business of buying and selling academic papers has become a product of circumstance.

In order to better cater to the needs of customers, the suppliers guarantee the originality and quality of the papers. Hence more people are emboldened to join the ranks of buyers or resort to bogus publication houses, as limited slots with legitimate academic publications have virtually ended their hopes of seeing their papers published.

Take some of the key universities in Wuhan for example. PhD candidates must have one paper published in a top-flight periodic mainstream publication and two on a less influential publication before they can receive their degrees. Even masters and bachelors degree candidates face similar pressure.

To address the root problem, Shen suggests the "Chinese academic regulation" be set up to protect research achievements.

He also says the reform of the Chinese academic paper publishing system has reached a tipping point. To combat corruption in the academic community and efficiently allocate resources, the government should launch an online national academic paper publishing platform and encourage digitalized periodic publications to ensure easy access for peer review.

Lavish wedding banquet lands cop in hot soup


A senior police officer in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, has come under fire for hosting a lavish wedding reception for his daughter at a five-star hotel, with netizens and local media wondering how a public servant can acquire so much money.

There were more than 110 tables full of wedding guests at the party, which was held in a 1,000-sq-m banquet hall in the Kempinski Hotel on Sunday.

The menu included shark fin, grouper and abalone.

"I expected the media will report the way I celebrated my daughter's wedding. But I could not have cancelled the banquet, in which most of the guests were friends. Both the families have lived in Shenzhen for decades," Southern Metropolis Daily quoted the deputy director of Shenzhen public security bureau's airport branch, surnamed Liu, as saying.

Liu said "80 percent of the guests were merely friends".

Liu refused to reveal exactly how much the banquet cost him or how much money he received in hongbao (red envelopes).

It is still not clear if Liu's banquet went against local regulations.

The Shenzhen public security bureau could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"Officials like Liu know the purpose of such a party. They take the opportunity of a wedding or a funeral to collect hongbao, which has become a nationwide trend," Wang Yukai, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance, told China Daily.

"If they were not powerful officials, there wouldn't be so many people present at their dinner parties," he said.

The lavish banquet was held just five days after a top police officer in Guangdong province was suspended in the wake of allegations of receiving money from guests he invited to celebrate the purchase of his new villa.

Chen Xizhao, deputy-director of the public security bureau of Lianjiang county, organized a banquet for more than 1,000 people, including colleagues and owners of entertainment venues.

Chen allegedly arranged empty red envelopes for invitees to leave money, and treated the guests to Martell Cordon Bleu cognac wine, which costs 3,000 yuan (US$483) a bottle.

Last Thursday, the county's disciplinary supervision authority released a notice that prohibits local Party members and government officials from collecting hongbao even when they are hosts at weddings or funerals.

Officials will be dismissed immediately if they are found to have set more than 10 tables for guests at any party, Guangzhou Daily reported last Friday.

The education authority of Shaanxi province dismissed Wu Fengzhou, a high-profile schoolmaster of the Guanjia town center school in Ankang city, local Huashang Daily reported yesterday.

Most teachers of 13 middle and primary schools in town were at the wedding banquet of Wu's son. Therefore, classes for some 2,805 students had to be suspended on Dec 28.

"With no specific punitive measures, most crackdowns on such practices are of little consequence," professor Wang said.

"If the measures adopted by Lianjiang county turn out to be effective, people will increase their confidence in government officials. The measures may also be included in a national regulation."

Top 10 events that effected on China's stock market in 2009


By Yan Pei

China.org.cn

Following are the top ten events that have effected on China's stock market in 2009:

• MOF launches structural tax reduction policy

On January 6, China's Ministry of Finance (MOF) announced that it would carry on with the interest income tax exemption on savings deposits and settlement funds in the stock market. The MOF also lowered the stamp tax rate and continued to levy an independent stamp tax on securities trading.

• State Council adopts stimulus packages for 10 major sectors

The State Council approved stimulus packages for the 10 major industries of automobiles, steel, textiles, equipment manufacturing, shipbuilding, petrochemical, electronic information, non-ferrous metals, logistics and light industry. The stimulus plans covered employment, technology upgrades and structure adjustments of these sectors.

• Jan. new loans mark record high of 1.62 trillion yuan

According to statistics disclosed by the People's Bank of China, new RMB loans jumped to 1.62 trillion yuan in January, an increase of 814.1 billion yuan year-on-year. The credit jump in January marked the beginning of a loose credit policy, until the "dynamic fine-tune" of monetary policy proposed by the central bank in early August.

• SZSE issues share listing rules for ChiNext

After the approval of China Securities Regulatory Commission, Shenzhen Stock Exchange formally released the Share Listing Rules for the Growth Enterprise Market, which came into effect on July 1, 2009.

• Guilin Sanjin holds first IPO after nine months of hiatus

After Initial Public Offering (IPO) in the A-share market was suspended for nine months, Chinese drug manufacturer Guilin Sanjin Pharmaceutical Co. became the first company to raise money via IPO.

• SSF holds equivalent to 10% of SOE's initial offerings

On July 19, Ministry of Finance (MOF), State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) and National Council for Social Security Fund (SSF) announced that state-owned companies selling stock publicly for the first time after 2006 must hand over shares equivalent to 10 percent of the total offering to the nation's pension fund.

• Central bank: future monetary policy focuses on dynamic fine-tuning

On August 5, China's central bank said that it would use monetary policy flexibly to guide the moderate growth of loans. The central bank also said it would focus on using market-oriented measures to carry out dynamic fine-tuning, based on the domestic and international economic conditions and price changes.

• China starts review of first batch of IPO on GEM

China Securities Regulatory Commission announced that it would hold the first to the fourth review meeting on applicants for Growth Enterprise Market listing on September 17.

• Central Huijin increase shares of ICBC, CCB and BOC

On October 11, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Construction Bank (CCB) and Bank of China (BOC) announced in separate statements that Central Huijin Investment Ltd. had increased its shareholdings in them and planned to further increase its shareholdings in the secondary market in the next 12 months.

• State Council defines regulatory focus in the housing market

The State Council discussed policies and regulations to promote the healthy development of China's real estate market. The State Council announced it will initiate the renovation of hovels in urban areas nationwide as well as state-owned factories and mines. Furthermore, the State Council declared plans to step up supervision of house prices to prevent them from rising excessively in certain cities.

Chinese-story source: Shanghai Securities News