Saturday, May 29, 2010

US reprimands six over deadly air strike in Afghanistan


The US military has reprimanded six operators of an unmanned drone, which mistakenly attacked a civilian convoy in Afghanistan killing at least 23.

Warnings that the convoy was not an attacking force were ignored or played down, while the ground-force commander was not sure who was in the vehicles, an investigation found.

The deadly assault took place in Uruzgan Province in February.

Civilian deaths in strikes have caused widespread resentment in Afghanistan.

A Nato statement at the time said it was thought the convoy contained Taliban insurgents on their way to attack Afghan and foreign military forces.

Inadvertently killing or injuring civilians is heartbreaking and undermines their trust and confidence in our mission

Gen Stanley McChrystal Air strike kills Afghan civilians

However, troops then found "a number of individuals killed and wounded", including women and children.

A US military investigation said the order to attack was based on inaccurate information from the crew monitoring the convoy from an Air Force base in Nevada and on flawed analysis by Nato commanders.

The reports said poorly functioning command posts "failed to provide the ground-force commander with the evidence and analysis that the vehicles were not a hostile threat".

The commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, said letters had been issued reprimanding four senior and two junior officers in Afghanistan.

He said: "Our most important mission here is to protect the Afghan people; inadvertently killing or injuring civilians is heartbreaking and undermines their trust and confidence in our mission.

"We will do all we can to regain that trust."

The botched strike happened despite Gen McChrystal's introduction of much tougher rules of engagement in a bid to minimise such casualties.

Treasury Minister David Laws 'should step aside'

David Laws David Laws said he regretted the situation "deeply"

David Laws has faced a call to "stand aside" from his post as Chief Treasury Secretary after he admitted claiming expenses to pay rent to his partner.

Former Commissioner for Standards in Public Life Sir Alistair Graham said Mr Laws should remove himself while an investigation is carried out.

Mr Laws has apologised and said he will pay back the money which the Daily Telegraph said totalled £40,000.

The Lib Dem MP said he wanted to keep his relationship with the man private.

In a statement Mr Laws said he "deeply" regretted the situation. He told a newspaper the revelations had given him "the most difficult day of [his] life".

The Yeovil MP has referred himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner - a decision supported by Prime Minister David Cameron.

One Labour backbencher called on Mr Laws to resign, but his fellow Liberal Democrats - including former party leader Lord Ashdown - gave him their backing.

Lord Ashdown described the story as a "personal tragedy".

Mr Laws fell foul of parliamentary rules introduced in 2006 banning MPs from "leasing accommodation from a partner".

'Protect privacy'

According to the Daily Telegraph, he claimed up to £950 a month for eight years to rent a room in two properties owned by his partner, James Lundie.

Mr Laws said he claimed back the costs of sharing a home in Kennington, south London, with Mr Lundie from 2001 to June 2007.

He said his partner bought a new home, in London, in June 2007 and he continued to claim back his share of the costs until August 2009.

My hunch is that he will keep his job but lose something else he valued much more - his privacy and a reputation for being a representative of a new and different politics

Nick Robinson BBC political editor Nick's blog: 'The mess' David Laws finds himself in

The minister said he extended the mortgage on his Somerset property to help Mr Lundie purchase the new property.

Sir Alistair said it was a shame to see expenses back in the news.

"I think all of us hoped that after the General Election, a line could be drawn - we've got a new independent Parliamentary standards authority - that we would be in a new era of transparency and cleanliness as far as our politics are concerned. Now there's a bit of a question mark."

He added the revelations made Mr Laws's position very difficult.

"At a minimum he should step aside while the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards carries out his investigation and reports to the Committee on Standards and Privileges."

Mr Laws said: "At no point did I consider myself to be in breach of the rules which in 2009 defined partner as 'one of a couple… who although not married to each other or civil partners are living together and treat each other as spouses'.


Norman Smith

David Laws is well liked and highly regarded at Westminster.

Many Tories view him as their favourite Lib Dem - a deficit hawk; the ideal man to get to grips with government waste.

But politics is a brutal business. And so far Downing Street have been careful not to give him its unequivocal support.

The critical calculation those inside Number 10 will be weighing up is whether the damage to Mr Laws's credibility and standing is such that he no longer has the authority to force through difficult spending cuts.

If so, then he is unlikely to survive.

In Mr Laws's favour though is the fact Number 10 will be deeply reluctant to lose such a pivotal member of the coalition.

There may also be a desire not to be rocked by the media so early on in the life of this coalition government and a temptation to try and tough this out.

"Although we were living together we did not treat each other as spouses - for example we do not share bank accounts and indeed have separate social lives.

"However, I now accept that this was open to interpretation and will immediately pay back the costs of the rent and other housing costs I claimed from the time the rules changed until August 2009."

He added: "My motivation throughout has not been to maximise profit but to simply protect our privacy and my wish not to reveal my sexuality.

"I regret this situation deeply, accept that I should not have claimed my expenses in this way and apologise fully."

In an interview with the Times newspaper, Mr Laws said it had been the most difficult day of his life.

He said: "I apologise to James [Lundie], and to all my family, friends and constituents who I have not been honest with about who I am over all the years of my life."

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said: "The prime minister has been made aware of this situation and he agrees with David Laws's decision to self-refer to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner."

Labour backbencher John Mann urged Mr Laws to resign, saying his position was "untenable".

"Nick Clegg was meant to have carried out an audit of his MPs in the last parliament. These things should have been out in the open," he said.


Housing allowance must not be used to meet the costs of renting a property from:

  • yourself;
  • a partner or family member (including a spouse or civil partner);
  • a close business associate; or an organisation or company in which you or a family member have an interest (other than as an ordinary investor).

*Source: The Green Book

Fellow Labour MP Alan Whitehead, a member of the standards and privileges committee in the old parliament, said Mr Laws's position would become "very difficult" if it was decided that serious breaches of the rules had been made.

And Labour MP for Newport West, Paul Flynn, said the evidence against Mr Laws was "damning".

He wrote on his blog that Mr Laws would be judged more harshly because the Lib Dems had been "the most accusatory and self-righteous of all parties in the expenses scandal".

But former Lib Dem leader, Lord Ashdown, said the revelations were a "personal tragedy" for Mr Laws, describing him as "Mr Integrity".

Mr Laws's parliamentary colleague, the Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton Deane Jeremy Browne, said the matter was "a human story, not a financial story" about a "deeply private man".

"This is not about David being motivated by money," he said.

Mr Laws was one of five Liberal Democrats named in Mr Cameron's coalition cabinet following the election, working with Chancellor George Osborne at the Treasury.

A press release on Mr Laws's website, dated 18 June last year, said he had not "gained" through the taxpayer from buying a property because he rented accommodation in London.

Thousands flee volcanos in Ecuador and Guatemala

Footage of the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala spitting stones and ash

Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes as two volcanos erupted in Guatemala and Ecuador.

In Guatemala, the Pacaya volcano began spewing lava, rocks and debris on Thursday, killing at least two people and injuring more than 50 others.

In Ecuador, the Tungurahua volcano forced the evacuation of seven villages and shut the airport and schools in Guayaquil, the country's largest city.

There is no suggestion the upsurge in volcanic activity is related.

In Guatemala, at least 1,700 people have fled the eruption, some 30km (19 miles) south of the capital city.


President Alvaro Colom has declared a state of emergency in Escuintla region, Guatemala City and areas surrounding the capital.

He said two people had died and three children were missing.

One man was killed when he fell from a building while sweeping up the ash. A TV reporter also died while covering the eruption.

In the village of Calderas, close to the eruption, Brenda Castaneda said her family hid under furniture as molten rocks fell on her house.

"We thought we wouldn't survive. Our houses crumbled and we've lost everything," she told the Associated Press from a temporary shelter.

The volcano has covered parts of Guatemala City in ash - up to 7cm (2.7in) thick in some areas - forcing the closure of the country's main international airport.

Seismologists have warned of more eruptions "in the coming days" from Pacaya - one of the most active volcanos in Central America.

Health concerns

In Ecuador, the Tungurahua volcano sent ash plumes six miles (10km) into the air.

The Tungurahua volcano erupts in Ecuador Several thousand people have been evacuated near Tungurahua

Several thousand people have evacuated their homes in the area, 95 miles (150km) south-east of the capital Quito.

Strong winds blew the ash over the country's most populous city, Guayaquil, and forced aviation officials to close the country's main airport.

Julio Castro, who lives in Guayaquil, said he was worried about the health of children.

"Suddenly, without warning, the ash started to fall, and it was heavy, some even got into my eyes," he told the Associated Press.

"I can't see well now, it is annoying and we are worried for the children, above all."

There were reports that the ash cloud was dissipating as it drifted out over the Pacific Ocean.

Actor Dennis Hopper dies aged 74 after cancer battle

Clips from some of Dennis Hopper's films

Hollywood actor Dennis Hopper has died at the age of 74 following a battle with prostate cancer.

Known for such cult classics as Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet, Hopper embodied the image of the Hollywood icon.

Hopper died on Saturday morning surrounded by friends and family at his home in Venice, California.

He was last seen in public in March when he was honoured with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

Hopper directed the 1969 counter-culture road movie Easy Rider, which he co-wrote with and starred alongside Peter Fonda. The pair were nominated for a best screenplay Academy Award.

Dennis Hopper

Hopper was seen as a Hollywood hell-raiser

Obituary: Dennis Hopper

Following a promising start to his career, with a role in James Dean's Rebel Without a Cause, Hopper developed a reputation as a hell-raiser with a penchant for drink and drugs.

Following his success with Easy Rider, and the disastrous The Last Movie, his on-set clashes with directors and fellow actors saw him effectively blacklisted by Hollywood.

It took nearly 10 years for Hopper to win back starring roles, with his critically acclaimed role in David Lynch's Blue Velvet marking a turning point in his career, although his personal life remained turbulent.

Wed five times, his final marriage, to Victoria Duffy, turned into an acrimonious split in 2010 when she accused his family of trying to cut her out of his life.

In April a judge ruled that Duffy, who shared a young daughter with Hopper, could remain at the marital home.

It was during the court hearings that it was revealed Hopper was terminally ill with prostate cancer, following his diagnosis last year.

Malawi pardons jailed gay couple

Tiwonge Chimbalanga, right, and Steven Monjeza, middle, are led from court in Blantyre on 20 May 2010 Aid donors had put pressure on the government to free the pair

A gay couple jailed in Malawi after getting engaged have been pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Mr Mutharika, speaking as UN chief Ban Ki-moon visited his country, said he had ordered their immediate release.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were given 14-year jail terms earlier this month after being convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts.

The case has sparked international condemnation and a debate about homosexuality in the country.

Mr Ban hailed the president's decision as "courageous".

"This outdated penal code should be reformed wherever it may exist," he said.

The BBC's Karen Allen, in Lilongwe, says Mr Ban is trying to put pressure on parliamentarians to reform anti-homosexuality laws that date back to colonial times.

'Culture of hate'

Correspondents say Malawi is a deeply conservative society where religious leaders equate same-sex liaisons with Satanism.


The president has certainly gone against public opinion in pardoning the gay men. What we have seen recently is a boldening of public opinion against gay rights.

But this issue is causing friction between Western governments and several African nations which have similar legislation.

It will be interesting to see what the reaction is on the rest of the continent. There is talk of constitutional change in a number of countries across Africa which, theoretically at least, could see gay people protected.

But so far, South Africa is the only country on the continent to legislate for gay rights. If public opinion does not change, it is unlikely many other countries will follow their lead.

Mr Mutharika, who has in the past dismissed homosexuality as alien, said he had set them free on humanitarian grounds.

"In all aspects of reasoning, in all aspects of human understanding, these two gay boys were wrong - totally wrong," he said after meeting Mr Ban.

"However, now that they have been sentenced, I as the president of this country have the powers to pronounce on them and therefore, I have decided that with effect from today, they are pardoned and they will be released."

Monjeza, 26, and Chimbalanga, 20, were arrested in December 2009 after celebrating their engagement. They have been in custody ever since.

Their lawyers say the two men are likely to be freed by Monday.

Our correspondent says there are plenty of people who were not sorry to see the men go to jail, many of whom will be slightly puzzled at the president's announcement.

Gift Trapence, from the campaign group Centre for the Development of People, welcomed the decision.

"We're very happy and we praise the president for his maturity, but there is still a long way to go to end the culture of hate," he said.

External pressure

Aid donors and human rights groups have been putting pressure on his government to respect the rights of minority groups.

The UK government, Malawi's biggest donor, said it was dismayed by the sentencing, and the US labelled it a step backwards for human rights.

Malawi map

On Saturday, British popstar and Aids campaigner Sir Elton John wrote an open letter to Mr Mutharika in the UK's Guardian newspaper pleading for the release of the pair.

"Their trial and harsh sentencing will have a perilous effect on our continuing efforts to combat Aids in Malawi and potentially reverse the gains we have achieved," he said.

The two men were convicted under a law dating back to colonial rule by Britain.

Many of Britain's former colonies have similar laws outlawing homosexuality; India overturned its anti-homosexuality law last year.

In Uganda, MPs are debating whether to strengthen the laws to include the death penalty for some gay people - a move which has infuriated Western governments and rights campaigners.

Israel rejects Middle East nuclear talks plan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli leaders do not comment on the country's nuclear status

Israel says it will not take part in a conference aimed at achieving a nuclear-arms free Middle East, proposed at a UN meeting in New York.

Nearly 200 nations, signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), backed plans for the meeting in 2012.

In a document agreed at the talks, Israel was singled out for criticism.

Israel, which has not signed the NPT, dismissed the document as "deeply flawed" and "hypocritical".

"It ignores the realities of the Middle East and the real threats facing the region and the entire world," the Israeli government said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency.

We strongly oppose efforts to single out Israel, and will oppose actions that jeopardise Israel's national security

Barack Obama US president Iran narrowly wins nuclear battle Israel deflects nuclear pressure

"Given the distorted nature of this resolution, Israel will not be able to take part in its implementation."

The statement was issued in Canada, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting.

In the past, the Israeli government has refused to comment on rumours that Israel has a stockpile of nuclear weapons.

In April, Mr Netanyahu pulled out of a US summit on nuclear arms after learning that Egypt and Turkey intended to raise the issue.

'Insignificant' document

Some 189 nations agreed to the 28-page document following a month-long conference on strengthening the NPT, the cornerstone of global disarmament efforts.

The document urged Israel to sign the NPT, but did not mention Iran, a nation widely suspected of having a nuclear-weapons programme.

Analysts say this was a diplomatic victory for Iran, which denies seeking a nuclear weapon.

The US was among the nations who agreed the document, but President Barack Obama warned that he did not agree with Israel's treatment.

"We strongly oppose efforts to single out Israel, and will oppose actions that jeopardise Israel's national security," he said.

Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon promised that his country's co-operation with the US would remain unchanged, but he condemned the document as "insignificant".

"Iran has signed [the treaty], Iraq has signed it... Syria has signed it, and we see that it hasn't stopped them from seriously breaking the treaty and from trying to bypass it," he said.

Israel also questioned why India and Pakistan - declared nuclear states who have not signed the treaty - were not singled out for mention.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Allergies slash risk of cancer: study

Allergies slash risk of cancer: study
Updated at: 0908 PST, Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Allergies slash risk of cancer: study AUSTIN: Allergy sufferers are far less likely to contract cancer than everyone else, say scientists.

They believe that adverse reactions stimulate the immune system, helping to ward off other potentially fatal conditions.

They found that asthmatics were 30 per cent less likely to get ovarian cancer than others, and children with allergies to airborne substances were 40 per cent less likely to develop leukemia than other youngsters.

Aishwarya, Akshay team up in Action Replay

Aishwarya, Akshay team up in Action Replayy Updated at: 1336 PST, Thursday, May 27, 2010
Aishwarya, Akshay team up in Action Replayy MUMBAI: It looks like the year 2010 will be the year of comeback for actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. After teaming up with hubby Abhishek Bachchan and Vikram in Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan teamed up with Bollywood’s Khiladi No.1, Akshay Kumar in Vipul Sah directed, Action Replayy, a romantic comedy.

This is the first movie of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan with Vipul Shah and second outing with Akshay Kumar. Previously, they worked in action movie, Khakee where Aishwarya Rai played a negative character.

The story of the movie is set in the 1970s which is considered to be the golden period in the history of Hindi cinema.

Already the first look of the movie has been unveiled which shows Aishwarya Rai and Akshay Kumar in the retro 70’s look. Akshay Kumar dons long hair, wears floral pink shirt and checked bell bottom pants which was very popular at that time. Aishwarya Rai wore a boot with a pink short dress printed with flower prints. They were sitting on a Lambretta Vespa scooter with hearts.

The movie has a theme of time travel. Aksyha Kumar and Aishwarya Rai played Kishen and Mala, two bickering senior citizens who rekindle their love life on their 33rd Anniversary after their son put them in rewind mode.

Akshay was very excited about the idea because it was a time when his father-in-law Rajesh Khanna was the superstar. He said, “Ash and I had a brief romantic interlude in Raj Kumar Santoshi's Khakee, but Action Replayy is our first romantic comedy together. Believe me, I was blushing through the making and there's a lot I wish to tell my audience about. But Vipul wants me to keep things under wraps for the moment.”

Vipul Shah said, “Akki and I have an impeccable box office record. We enjoyed success with Ankhein, Waqt -- Race Again Namastey London and Singh is Kinng. Action Replayy is a film where the two of us return after a gap of almost three years. And believe me, it is a great way to return.”

Taliban leader Fazlullah killed in Afghanistan?

Updated at: 1234 PST, Thursday, May 27, 2010
Taliban leader Fazlullah killed in Afghanistan? KABUL: Taliban leader Maulvi Fazlullah has been killed in a clash with Afghan forces near the border, Geo News quoted Afghan border police as claiming Thursday.

Maulvi Fazlullah, the head of a Taliban faction in Pakistan's Swat Valley, was reportedly killed along with six of his comrades in the Barg Matal district of Afghanistan's Nuristan province, which lies close to the border with Pakistan, said Mohammad Zaman Mamozai, chief of the Afghan border force for the eastern region.

"Maulvi Fazlullah was killed in direct clash with Afghan border police...last night," he said.

He did not have further details. The Afghan Taliban have confirmed the fighting, but insist no foreign militants were involved.

The news of Fazlullah's death comes after reports of several days of clashes between Afghan forces and militants in Barg Matal.

Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, who heads a Pakistani Taliban faction based in the Bajuar tribal region, denied media reports that Fazlullah was leading any assault in Afghanistan.

"He could be in Nuristan because the Taliban have been moving back and fourth along the (Pakistan-Afghan) border," he said prior to reports of Fazlullah's death.

"He may be living in Nuristan but he is not engaged in any fighting there," he said.

In a BBC interview in November, Fazlullah said he had escaped to Afghanistan after a Pakistani military offensive against the Taliban in his Swat Valley stronghold in April last year.

Facebook reveals 'simplified' privacy changes

Mark Zuckerberg: "We don't sell your information and we have no plans to"

Social network Facebook has said it will offer a one-stop shop for privacy settings in response to user concerns.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg admitted the settings had "gotten complex" for users.

It follows a storm of protest from users over a series of changes on the site that left its members unsure about how public their information had become.

"We needed to simplify controls," he told a press conference.

"We want people to be able to share information in the way that they want," he told BBC News.

"Our goal is not to make your information more private or more open."


On the face of it, Mark Zuckerberg has delivered on his promise to make the privacy settings simpler.

One button which will change everything is certainly an advance on what went before.

There's also the opportunity to opt out completely from sending your data out of Facebook to other applications.

But questions remain - the recommended settings still look designed to encourage users to share just about everything.

And I'm still working out just how I can stop my list of friends being visible to the whole world.

Experience shows that every change at Facebook seems innocuous at first - and creeps up later to bite some users and the company itself.

Facebook privacy: Your comments Picture guide: Facebook privacy Q&A: Facebook privacy changes

The new system will offer users one privacy page with a list of all their applications and a choice of three settings for each.

The redesigned privacy page allows users to see all their information in one grid and apply privacy settings to each. Facebook will suggest defaults.

As with the changes made in December, users will be able to choose to share their applications with just friends, friends of friends or everyone.

"We've focused on three things: a single control for your content, more powerful controls for your basic information and an easy control to turn off all applications," said Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at Facebook's Palo Alto headquarters.

People who want more "granular control" will still be able to access existing settings.

Facebook has also reduced the amount of information that is visible to everyone. People will now be able to control who sees their interest pages and friends lists.

Users will also be able to turn off applications to ensure no information is shared without consent.

One of the things users found complicated was the need to apply new settings to every new feature introduced on the site.

From today, whatever setting users choose for "Sharing on Facebook" will now automatically be applied to any new products.

Initial reactions to the changes questioned whether Facebook had gone far enough.

Big battle

"The vast majority of people don't use privacy settings so the reforms are not likely to have as great an impact," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International.

silouthette of someone in front of facebook sign The site has had to make changes to its privacy policy before

"If the default is for less information then we've really made a step forward," he said.

With European privacy commissioners calling for companies to set defaults for the minimum sharing of information, the big battle could be "yet to come", he warned.

"That's where the rubber hits the road at a legal level."

Andrew Walls, a research director at analyst firm Gartner wondered how the changes would affect Facebook's business model.

"Some questions not really answered were issues around the sharing of personal data with advertisers for doing targeted ads based on profile content. That's a tricky one - how do you make money if you can't sell targeted ads? How do you compete with Google?"

"They want sufficient privacy to attract users into service and take advantage of it but some sharing of data is also required in order for Facebook to make money," he said.

But Mr Zuckerberg told BBC News that it was a "misconception" that the site relied on people sharing information to make money from adverts.

"No information is sold to advertisers. For the business part of Facebook, it makes no difference what your privacy settings are."

Mr Zuckerberg said that developers had "worked weekends, camped out in the conference centre" in order to overhaul its privacy settings.

"The number one thing we've heard to that the settings have gotten complex and hard for people to use," he said.

"It is something we take very seriously," he added.

Infographic showing word count of safety policies

He spent time explaining how Facebook has evolved from a very basic system when it was launched in 2004 to the 400m user site it is today.

"When we started Facebook, we built it around a few simple ideas. People want to share and stay connected with their friends and the people around them. When you have control over what you share, you want to share more. When you share more, the world becomes more open and connected," he said.

But since then the site has rolled out hundreds of new features and, alongside them, a raft a privacy settings.

Changes made to the site earlier this year and in December 2009 infuriated users and led to formal complaints from privacy groups.

The European Commission described the changes as "unacceptable".

Obama security strategy highlights domestic terrorism

Crosses and flags marking victims of the Fort Hood shooting, November 2009 At Fort Hood 13 people were killed

The US president's national security strategy highlights home-grown terrorism for the first time, an adviser to Barack Obama says.

John Brennan said the document unveiled on Thursday explicitly recognised the threat posed by "individuals radicalised here at home".

The issue has grabbed headlines since the Fort Hood shooting last year and the Times Square bombing attempt.

Domestic terrorism did not feature highly in previous strategies.

Presidents use their national security strategy to set broad goals and priorities for keeping Americans safe, the Associated Press notes.

Empowering communities to stop radicalisation is one of the initiatives the government will pursue to ensure the security of US citizens and its allies, the document says.

Bill Clinton did not mention the domestic terrorism issue in his 1998 strategy, despite the Oklahoma City bombing three years earlier, while George W Bush made only passing reference to the issue in his 2006 document.

A gunman killed 13 soldiers and wounded dozens more at the Fort Hood army base in Texas in November 2009. Army psychiatrist Maj Nidal Hasan, an American Muslim of Palestinian descent, has been charged with murder in the attacks.

In May this year, New York City police defused a car bomb parked in Times Square, one of the city's busiest tourist areas.

The main suspect, Pakistan-born US citizen Faisal Shahzad, was arrested two days after the failed attempt.


  • Key initiatives to advance US national interests:
  • Strengthening security at home by empowering communities to prevent radicalisation
  • Defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere
  • Pursuing a world without nuclear weapons by presenting 'a clear choice' to Iran and North Korea
  • Advancing peace in the Middle East with a secure Israel, a Palestinian state and a stable Iraq

National security strategies have far-reaching effects on spending, defence policies and security strategy, AP adds.

President Bush's 2002 strategy, for example, which spelled out a doctrine of pre-emptive war and talked of "stopping rogue states", was followed a year later by the invasion of Iraq.

Other key initiatives outlined in Mr Obama's strategy include the dismantling of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan and around the world and pursuing a world without nuclear weapons.

The security of Israel and peaceful Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side is described as one of the main interests of the US, the document states.

'Delegitimise the enemy'

Mr Brennan, deputy national security adviser for counter-terrorism and homeland security, described the new strategy in an address to Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.

This is the new phase of the terrorist threat, no longer limited to co-ordinated, sophisticated, 9/11 style attacks

John Brennan US deputy national security adviser for counter-terrorism and homeland security

"We've seen an increasing number of individuals here in the United States become captivated by extremist activities or causes," he said.

"We've seen individuals, including US citizens, armed with their US passport, travel easily to terrorist safe havens and return to America, their deadly plans disrupted by co-ordinated intelligence and law enforcement," Mr Brennan added.

He argued that "unprecedented" pressure on al-Qaeda since Mr Obama took office had severely limited the militant network's ability to operate.

Now, he said, it was relying on poorly trained "foot soldiers" who might be able to slip past US defences because they did not fit the conventional profile of a terrorist.

Barack Obama meets a graduate at West Point, 22 May Mr Obama outlined his vision on a visit to West Point

"This is the new phase of the terrorist threat, no longer limited to co-ordinated, sophisticated, 9/11 style attacks," Mr Brennan said.

"As our enemy adapts and evolves their tactics, so must we constantly adapt and evolve ours, not in a rush driven by fear, but in a thoughtful and reasoned way that enhances our security and further delegitimises the actions of our enemy."

He stressed that the US was at war not with Islam but "al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates".

AP says Mr Obama is breaking with the go-it-alone Bush years, counting more on allies to tackle terrorism and other global problems.

Mr Obama touched on many of the themes in the new strategy during a commencement address on Saturday to graduating cadets at West Point, it adds.

He said the US must shape a world order relying as much on the persuasiveness of its diplomacy as the might of its military.

Page last updated at 11:08 GMT, Thursday, 27 May 2010 12:08 UK * E-mail this to a friend * Printable version By Caroline Hawley BBC News S

Sri Lankan troops. File photo Sri Lanka is resisting UN attempts to investigate its conduct in the war

Amnesty International has criticised the "politicisation of international justice" in its annual report, which documents torture in 111 countries.

The human rights group accuses powerful governments of subordinating justice to political self-interest and of shielding allies from scrutiny.

It expresses particular concern over possible war crimes committed during fighting in Sri Lanka last year.

The report also criticises the UN for its failure to intervene.

Thousands of people were killed during the war, and a UN spokesman described the situation in northern Sri Lanka at the time as a "bloodbath".

But Amnesty says that "power plays" at the UN Human Rights Council led to member states approving a resolution drafted by the Sri Lankan government, complimenting itself on its success against the Tamil Tigers.

"By the end of the year, despite further evidence of war crimes and other abuses, no-one had been brought to justice," Amnesty's Secretary General Claudio Cordone says. "One would be hard pressed to imagine a more complete failure to hold to account those who abuse human rights."

'Landmark event'

In its report, Amnesty also cites the United States and European Union for using their position with the UN Security Council "to continue to shield Israel from strong measures of accountability for its actions in Gaza".

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on 3 March 2009 Omar al-Bashir says the charges reflect Western hostility towards Sudan

But it says that there have been positive developments over the past year as well.

In Latin America, it notes the conviction of former President Alberto Fujimori of Peru for crimes against humanity, and Argentina's last military President Reynaldo Bignone for kidnapping and torture.

And it hails the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, on war crimes charges as a "landmark event".

However, it is disappointed by the African Union's failure to co-operate with the ICC, despite a "nightmare of violence" in Darfur affecting hundreds of thousands of people. This, it says, is a "stark example of government failure to put justice before politics".

And it calls on all G20 countries - including the US, China and Russia - to sign up to sign up fully to the ICC.

Pressure on Britain

Amnesty is also highly critical of the previous British government for "stonewalling" on repeated calls for an independent investigation into allegations that UK intelligence officials were complicit in torture, "rendition" and secret detention.

The organisation is also concerned about the UK relying on "diplomatic assurances" when carrying out deportations to countries such as Algeria and Jordan.

Last week, new Foreign Secretary William Hague promised that an inquiry would be held into allegations of complicity in torture. But few details were released, and the Foreign Office says the issue is still being discussed by ministers in the National Security Council.

Amnesty has welcomed Mr Hague's pledge.

"We look forward to an inquiry that is truly independent and looks not only at potential criminal responsibility but also at Britain's co-operation agreements with the United States and other countries," says Mr Cordone. "It should leave no stone unturned."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Europe seeks new levy on banks to create crisis funds

American activist (March 2009) Taxpayer-funded bank bail-outs sparked protests around the world

A network of national funds should be introduced so the cost of bank failures are not met by the taxpayer, the EU internal market commissioner has said.

Michel Barnier said such funds would provide part of a broader system aimed at preventing future financial crises.

Banks would be required to pay a levy into the funds which would not be used to bail out failing banks, but manage failures in "an orderly way".

Mr Barnier said: "I believe in the 'polluter pays' principle."

"It is not acceptable that taxpayers should continue to bear the heavy cost of rescuing the banking sector. They should not be in the front line," he said.

And the EU report said that any levies that banks were made to pay should not be passed on to their customers in the form of higher charges.

'Common approaches'

Michel Barnier: 'No one is protected from a potential crisis'

Mr Barnier said the financial sector should pay the cost of banking crises in future.

"That is why I believe that banks should be asked to contribute to a fund designed to manage bank failure, protect financial stability and limit contagion - but which is not a bail-out fund."

He added: "Europe must take a lead in developing common approaches and providing a model for co-operation which could be applied globally."

Rather than seeking to impose a pan-European fund the EU is backing a "harmonised set of powers and rules" which would allow regulators in each country to take measures to deal with insolvent banks.

'Moral hazard'

The proceeds of funds would remain within national borders, but there are some national disagreements about whether the money should go into a special ringfenced fund or wider national coffers.

However, the EU recognises that setting up funds could lead to "moral hazard" concerns, with banks potentially taking excess risks as theyfeel they are partially insulated from the consquences of their actions.

Economy graphics Eurozone crisis in numbers

And Angela Knight of the British Bankers Association said that having large resolution funds, as the EU proposes, could help facilitate the next crisis.

"It would surely increase moral hazard by curtailing the consequences of a bank failure," she said.

Instead, she proposes that each country should strengthen its regulation and supervision, with a national intervention authority, being the Bank of England in the UK.

"And each country needs to put in place arrangements so that if intervention is required, then this is paid for by the industry and depositors are protected," she added.

However, the EU proposal states that it would be made "clear and unambiguous" to shareholders and uninsured creditors that resolution funds would not be used as an insurance policy against bank failure.

The commission said that at this stage it was not its intention to provide precise details about how bank resolution funds would be expected to operate, or how large they would need to be.

Its proposals will be presented to EU finance ministers, heads of state, and the G20 in June 2010.

A draft EU law would be proposed in early 2011, which would need European Parliament approval.

Independent commission

The move is among the global attempts to tighten up banking regulation.

UK Chancellor George Osborne has favoured a banking levy but would prefer national governments to have more freedom to decide how the money is spent.

In the UK, an independent commission is being established to look at breaking up banks into their retail and investment banking arms to reduce risk.

Meanwhile, EU ministers recently voted to curb the activities of hedge funds and certain other investment funds.

Failed firms

A Senate bill in the US containing the biggest overhaul of banking regulation since the 1930s is awaiting approval by the House of Representatives.

Both the Senate and House have put forward bills that would give the government more power, if a bank does fail, to break it up.

The House bill would create a $150bn fund, financed by big financial firms, which would be used to dissolve failed firms, sparing the tax payer the cost of saving failed firms.

However, there have been fears that regulators may be tempted to use the fund to save failing firms.

So the Senate bill also includes measures under which a firm could be dissolved, and the bill for the work paid for by a levy on large financial companies.

The Senate and House bills have to be merged before being sent to President Barack Obama for signing into law.

Atlantis shuttle lands at Kennedy

Atlantis shuttle lands at Kennedy


Atlantis space shuttle lands at Kennedy Space Center

The Atlantis shuttle has landed at the Kennedy Space Center after what looks to have been its final mission.

The vehicle touched down on runway 33 at the Florida spaceport at 0848 local time (1248 GMT).

Atlantis, with its six-person crew, has just delivered a Russian mini-module and spare equipment to the International Space Station (ISS).

The orbiters are due to be retired this year, and just two more outings are planned - for Discovery and Endeavour.

"That looked pretty sweet," Mission Control radioed Atlantis commander Ken "Hock" Ham after the wheels of the orbiter had come to a stop.

"That was a suiting end to an incredible mission. I'm sure the station crew-members hated to see you leave, but we're glad to have you back. You guys executed [the mission] flawlessly and not only that, you had a great time doing it."

Commander Ham then said he was ready to put Atlantis "back in the barn for a little bit".

The ship will not go straight to a museum. It will instead go back to the Obiter Processing Facility at Kennedy.


Atlantis (Nasa)
  • First flight: 3 October 1985
  • Total number of flights: 32
  • Distance travelled: 195 million km
  • Total number of days in orbit: 294
  • Total number of orbits: 4,648

There, it will be prepared as a standby shuttle ready to go rescue the astronauts on the remaining flights should they get into trouble.

And the US space agency (Nasa) has also not excluded the possibility that it could yet fly out this standby Atlantis to take additional spares and supplies to the space station.

In addition, some members of the US Congress are still trying to get the shuttle programme extended.

They oppose President Barack Obama's new exploration policy.

He wants the shuttles retired and the business of taxiing astronauts to and from the ISS passed to private companies. He believes the US space agency should concentrate its efforts on developing vehicles that can reach more distant targets, such as asteroids and Mars.

The shuttles, which have been working in space since 1981, cannot fulfil that role because their systems restrict them to near-Earth operations.

Atlantis's crew launched on 14 May fully expecting their mission to be the last for the ship. Their mission badge could be interpreted as the shuttle flying into the sunset.

First flown on 3 October 1985, Atlantis has now completed 32 missions and travelled about 195 million km (120 million miles).

BP to make decision on 'top kill' plan to stem oil leak


Underwater video shows tests on the seabed ahead of a plan to plug the leak

The oil company BP is to decide on whether to carry out a new plan to try to stem the leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well, the chief executive has said.

Tony Hayward said the procedure would begin on Wednesday if considered safe.

Teams have been carrying out diagnostic tests to ensure the "top kill" method - in which mud is pumped into the well - is feasible and will not backfire.

Meanwhile, a congressional memo has revealed warning signs were present in the hours before the rig exploded.

According to the document, BP officials told congressional investigators on Tuesday that a decision to continue drilling after unusual pressure readings may have been a "fundamental mistake".

BP said the buildup of pressure was an "indicator of a very large abnormality" in the well, the memo by representatives Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak said.

Problems were also identified with equipment including the blowout preventer - meant to shut down the well in the case of emergency - and potential gas leakage in the hours prior to the 20 April explosion, the memo said.

Heavy fluids

BP is under intense pressure to succeed with its latest attempt to stem the leak, after previous measures failed.

"Later this morning I will review that with the team, and I will take a final decision as to whether or not we should proceed," Mr Hayward told the US network NBC's Today show.


  • Drilling mud pumped from surface
  • Goes into blowout preventer
  • If pressure and density sufficient, oil and gas flow stops
  • Well then filled with cement
What is a 'top kill'?

"I have to say that it will be a day or two before we can have certainty that it's worked."

If the new procedure is used, heavy drilling fluids - such as mud - will be injected into the well about a mile (1.5km) underwater.

Engineers hope to follow this with cement, designed to seal the well.

The company has said they estimate a 60-70% chance of success.

Officials say the method has been used before in other areas of the world, but not at the depths required to stem the oil from the Deepwater rig, which sank after an explosion last month.

If the operation goes ahead, it can be watched via a live video stream of the site, which currently shows plumes of oil and gas escaping from the well.

A conservative estimate of the amount of oil escaping is about 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons, 795,000 litres) a day while some scientists say it could be many times greater.

The US government has declared a "fishery disaster" in the seafood-producing states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

A massive containment and clean-up operation is under way, as the oil reaches the beaches and vulnerable marshlands of a 150-mile stretch of coast.

Some workers involved in the operation are complaining of health problems after contact with oil and chemical dispersants, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The fishermen, who say they are suffering from nausea, dizziness and breathing problems, told the paper they were not issued with special equipment but were simply told by BP not to pick up oil waste.

Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon has urged the federal government to set up mobile clinics in rural area to treat those affected, the paper reports. BP has said conditions are being monitored.

'Plug the hole'

President Barack Obama is due to make his second visit to the Gulf of Mexico region on Friday.

Ultra-deepwater rigs and other equipment being assembled at the oil spill site, 21 May Ultra-deepwater rigs and other equipment are at the site

Aides quoted him as telling senior government officials: "Plug the damn hole."

In the tests which began on Tuesday, five spots on the well's crippled five-story blowout preventer were being checked to make sure it could withstand the heavy force of the injection.

A weak spot in the device could blow under the pressure, causing a brand new leak.

Oil industry experts quoted by Reuters news agency gave the "top kill" procedure a 50-50 chance of working.

BP has been drafting plans for the "top kill" for weeks but had to delay it several times as crews scrambled to assemble the equipment at the site 50 miles (80km) off the Louisiana coast.

Peru frees US 'rebel' Lori Berenson after 15 years

Lori Berenson Ms Berenson's affiliation with the MRTA has been disputed by her parents

Lori Berenson, an American citizen who has served 15 years in a Peruvian prison for aiding leftist rebels, has been freed on parole.

Ms Berenson, 40, was arrested in 1995 for her alleged role in a plot to attack the Peruvian Congress.

A military court found her guilty of collaborating with the left-wing Tupac Amaru rebel group and sentenced her to life imprisonment, later reduced to 20 years in prison.

She has always denied the charges.

The judge ordered her to stay in Peru for five years in order to serve out the remaining years of her sentence on conditional release.

The daughter of university professors, Ms Berenson broke off her studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston to travel to Central and South America.

'Kidnap plot'

During her travels, she is believed to have made contact with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, a Marxist rebel group active in Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.

Tupac Amaru guerrillas became notorious for taking more than 70 people hostage in the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in 1996 and holding them for 126 days.


  • 1995: Arrested
  • 1996: Military trial, jailed for life
  • 2000: Conviction overturned, civil retrial ordered
  • 2001: Convicted and sentenced to 20 years
  • 2002 Supreme Court upholds sentence
  • 2010: Freed on parole

Ms Berenson was arrested after she gained access to the Peruvian Congress on false journalist credentials alongside the wife of MRTA leader Nestor Cerpa.

Military prosecutors accused her of gathering information for a rebel plot to kidnap members of Congress and exchange them for imprisoned rebel leaders.

Her original life sentence was reviewed by a civil court in 2001.

She was convicted on the lesser charges of terrorist collaboration and her sentence reduced to 20 years.

In 2003, Ms Berenson married fellow prisoner Anibal Apari, who was serving 13 years for his affiliation to the same rebel group. She gave birth to their son a year ago. Mr Apari is also her lawyer.

Her parents have been fighting for her release since her arrest and have always maintained her innocence.

Australia T20 squad for Pakistan series, Clarke retained captain

Australia T20 squad for Pakistan series, Clarke retained captain
Updated at: 2054 PST, Monday, May 24, 2010
Australia T20 squad for Pakistan series, Clarke retained captain SYDNEY: Michael Clarke was Monday retained as skipper of Australia's Twenty20 squad for July's series with Pakistan in England despite his below-par batting performances in T20 cricket.

Clarke admitted his place in the team was under threat after a poor run of form continued in a seven-wicket World T20 final loss to England in Barbados earlier this month.

Clarke's top score was just 27 in the Caribbean tournament and he ended the event with 92 runs at a meagre average of 15.33.

But selectors Monday stayed with Clarke as skipper of a 14-man squad to play Pakistan in two T20 internationals at Edgbaston on July 5 and 6.

Wicketkeeper Tim Paine was dropped from Australia's squad which played in the West Indies.

"Paine has been omitted since the selectors felt it wasn't necessary to have a second keeping option for such a small number of matches," Hilditch said.

"While it was disappointing to lose the ICC World Twenty20 final, Australia has made great progress in Twenty20 cricket in the last 12 months, winning an extremely high percentage of our games and of course being the only undefeated side in the tournament until the final."

Opener Shaun Marsh was selected in the national one-day squad to play in England and Ireland in June-July, replacing fellow West Australian Adam Voges, after recovering from injury.

Ricky Ponting will lead the ODI team after standing down from T20 cricket.

The Australian squad for Tests against Pakistan at Lord's and Headingley in July will be chosen late next month.

Afridi to lead in Asia Cup, England series

Afridi to lead in Asia Cup, England series
Updated at: 1512 PST, Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Afridi to lead in Asia Cup, England series LAHORE: All-rounder Shahid Afridi will lead the national side in Asia Cup and during England tour; thus, he will captain team in tests as well after captaincy sprint in Twenty20 and one-dayer.

Chairman Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Aijaz Butt that Afridi will lead the team in all three formats in the Asia Cup and the English tour.

He said that Afridi had the confidence of all players during the world cup and that is the reason he is made the captain now. "It is a quality of a captain that he fosters cooperation and good relations among the players while following the rules and regulations of the game. And Afridi has done all that," said Butt.

He said that the names of the 30 players playing in the English tour will be announced in the upcoming meeting.

The training camp for the preparation for the series will start from June 1 in Lahore.

The Asia Cup will be played from 15th June to 25th June in Sri Lanka.

The series against Australia and England will be played between July and August in England.

Yousuf likely to play England series

Yousuf likely to play England series
Updated at: 0926 PST, Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Yousuf likely to play England series LAHORE: The prospects of Muhammed Yousuf’s comeback in international cricket has become brighter as a result of Pakistan cricket team captain Shahid Afridi, Geo News reported Wednesday.

It is expected that Yousuf will take back his decision regarding retirement.

According to sources, Afridi a day earlier contacted Yousuf and talked to his friends as well.

Shahid Afridi said Yousuf’s elders assured that Yousuf would review his decision on retirement.

The new captain Afridi said he wanted Muhammed Yousuf to be part of the Pak squad during England series.

Meantime, middle order batsman Muhammed Yousuf said he made up his mind on retirement at the behest of his elders, adding, ‘If they want me to withdraw the decision, I may make a comeback in the cricket world.’

FIA files interim challan in BB murder case

FIA files interim challan in BB murder case Updated at: 1243 PST, Wednesday, May 26, 2010
FIA files interim challan in BB murder case RAWALPINDI: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) filed interim challan against five accused at a local special court in Benazir Bhutto murder case, Geo News reported Wednesday.

Rifaqat, Hasnain, Aitezaz Shah, Abdur Rasheed and Sher Zaman are behind bars for the case.

According to sources, the interim challan said suicide attacker stayed at Hasnain’s residence.

According to the statements of the accused and evidences, it was Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud who hatched the plot for Benazir’s assassination.

The special court adjourned the trial till June 12.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Iraqi Airways drops Europe flights in row with Kuwait

Iraqi Airways staff protest at the treatment of Kifah Jabar Hassan, 5 May The detention of the Iraqi Airways chief in the UK caused indignation

Iraqi Airways has dropped flights to London and Sweden after a row with Kuwait over war reparations.

When the airline's first jet to fly to London in more than 20 years arrived last month, Kuwait tried to have it confiscated.

The state-owned airline's chief was temporarily stranded in the UK on the basis of a UK court order.

Iraqi Transport Minister Amer Abdul-Jabbar is expected to decide on Wednesday on the airline's future.

"We will announce whether or not we will dissolve the company," he told Reuters news agency after meeting cabinet colleagues in Baghdad.

Passport seized

Iraq and Kuwait are locked in a dispute over billions of dollars in reparations from Baghdad, including about $1.2bn (£0.8bn) related to aircraft and parts seized during Saddam Hussein's 1990-91 invasion.

Iraqi Airways planes at Baghdad international airport (image from 2003) Iraqi Airways has regular flights to Beirut, Dubai, Tehran and other cities

The historic Iraqi Airways flight to London on 25 April was delayed nine days by Europe's volcanic ash cloud crisis, but it was already nearly a year behind schedule.

Touching down in London's Gatwick Airport, the jet was impounded on the basis of a court order obtained by a lawyer for state-owned Kuwait Airways.

The lawyer said the order from the High Court in London included freezing the assets of Iraqi Airways worldwide "subject to frequent judicial review".

It required the director general of Iraqi Airways, Kifah Jabar Hassan, to provide a statement on the airline's assets, remain within the jurisdiction of the court and surrender his passport.

He was later allowed to leave Britain.

Mr Hassan confirmed on Tuesday that the London and Sweden routes would be cancelled.

The transport minister said Kuwait had been stepping up its efforts against Iraqi Airways in recent days.

"Our planes that land in Sweden, London and Germany, they are blocking supplying them with food, fuel and water," he said.

He suggested that if Iraqi Airways were to be declared bankrupt, Kuwait would have to drop its claims.

"We can establish another airline company and put an end to this case," he added.

"With this, the Kuwaitis will get nothing.

Iraqi Airways drops Europe flights in row with Kuwait

Iraqi Airways staff protest at the treatment of Kifah Jabar Hassan, 5 May The detention of the Iraqi Airways chief in the UK caused indignation

Iraqi Airways has dropped flights to London and Sweden after a row with Kuwait over war reparations.

When the airline's first jet to fly to London in more than 20 years arrived last month, Kuwait tried to have it confiscated.

The state-owned airline's chief was temporarily stranded in the UK on the basis of a UK court order.

Iraqi Transport Minister Amer Abdul-Jabbar is expected to decide on Wednesday on the airline's future.

"We will announce whether or not we will dissolve the company," he told Reuters news agency after meeting cabinet colleagues in Baghdad.

Passport seized

Iraq and Kuwait are locked in a dispute over billions of dollars in reparations from Baghdad, including about $1.2bn (£0.8bn) related to aircraft and parts seized during Saddam Hussein's 1990-91 invasion.

Iraqi Airways planes at Baghdad international airport (image from 2003) Iraqi Airways has regular flights to Beirut, Dubai, Tehran and other cities

The historic Iraqi Airways flight to London on 25 April was delayed nine days by Europe's volcanic ash cloud crisis, but it was already nearly a year behind schedule.

Touching down in London's Gatwick Airport, the jet was impounded on the basis of a court order obtained by a lawyer for state-owned Kuwait Airways.

The lawyer said the order from the High Court in London included freezing the assets of Iraqi Airways worldwide "subject to frequent judicial review".

It required the director general of Iraqi Airways, Kifah Jabar Hassan, to provide a statement on the airline's assets, remain within the jurisdiction of the court and surrender his passport.

He was later allowed to leave Britain.

Mr Hassan confirmed on Tuesday that the London and Sweden routes would be cancelled.

The transport minister said Kuwait had been stepping up its efforts against Iraqi Airways in recent days.

"Our planes that land in Sweden, London and Germany, they are blocking supplying them with food, fuel and water," he said.

He suggested that if Iraqi Airways were to be declared bankrupt, Kuwait would have to drop its claims.

"We can establish another airline company and put an end to this case," he added.

"With this, the Kuwaitis will get nothing.

Hillary Clinton visits Seoul as Korean crisis mounts

Hillary Clinton visits Seoul as Korean

Hillary Clinton arrives in Seoul Military Airport, 26 May Mrs Clinton has been meeting leaders around Asia

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in South Korea after the North cut ties after being blamed for sinking a Southern warship.

Mrs Clinton, at the end of a week-long tour of Asia, met Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and was also due to see President Lee Myung-bak.

North Korea said it was severing all ties and banning South Korean ships and planes from its territory.

South Korea announced earlier it was suspending trade links with the North.

It is seeking a strong international response to the sinking of its ship, the Cheonan, which was torpedoed on 26 March with the loss of 46 sailors.

The South Korean government will be eager to hear the details of two days of discussions Mrs Clinton had in Beijing with her Chinese counterparts, the BBC's John Sudworth reports from Seoul.

America has lent its full weight to the conclusions of an international team of experts that last week produced what it called "overwhelming" proof that the warship was hit by a North Korean torpedo.

The US secretary of state has been pressing China to join the international condemnation but Beijing is taking a cautious line, calling for restraint, our correspondent says.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said on Wednesday his country was still evaluating information on the sinking of the Cheonan.

"We have always believed that dialogue is better than confrontation," he added.

Tank exercises

Mrs Clinton, nearing the end of her Asian tour, left Beijing for Seoul on Wednesday morning.

South Korean K1 tanks on exercises in Yeoncheon, 25 May South Korea's military have been on exercises

With tensions rising rapidly, the North has reacted angrily to trade and shipping sanctions announced by the South.

It said on Wednesday it would cut off a road link across the heavily defended border if Seoul resumed propaganda broadcasts, halted six years ago.

Earlier, the North said it would match Southern sanctions with its own, and sever the few remaining lines of communication between the two governments.

South Korean ships and planes would be banned from Northern territorial waters and airspace.

All South Korean workers in the jointly run Kaesong industrial park north of the border were expected to be expelled although they were allowed to enter on Wednesday, Reuters news agency reports.

Apart from Kaesong, there is little economic relationship left between the two states, their ties almost frozen since Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008, the agency notes.

"North Korea is not closing up Kaesong immediately because it is saving the cards it needs in order to play the game," said Jang Cheol-hyeon, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy.

The two states are technically still at war after the Korean conflict ended without an armistice in 1953.

South Korean K1 tanks could be seen on Tuesday conducting an exercise to prepare for a possible surprise attack by North Korea.

Scott McDonald omitted from Australia World Cup squad

Scott McDonald omitted from Australia World Cup squad


Watch highlights of Australia's World Cup qualifying campaign

Middlesbrough striker Scott McDonald is one of three players cut from Australia's World Cup squad after coach Pim Verbeek reduced the party to 28.

Also omitted are midfielder Nick Carle and Crystal Palace defender Jade North.

McDonald, 26, has not scored in 16 appearances for the Socceroos and also failed to find the target in Monday's 2-1 win over New Zealand.

It means the squad has only three strikers in Josh Kennedy, Harry Kewell and Nikita Rukavytsya.

McDonald was a prolific goalscorer at club level for both Motherwell and Celtic but his struggles at international level meant Verbeek decided to leave him out.

"Scotty is a typical two-striker player, and that's where he feels happy also," said Verbeek.

"But we don't play with two strikers. We play with one striker up top and wingers, so Scotty doesn't fit in this system.

"He knows it, and he tried everything."

Brett Holman, who scored the winning goal against New Zealand, can also play as a striker which may be key with Kewell and Kennedy suffering from groin and back injuries.

Do you have a photo with yourself and a star from Australia? Send us your photos to be in our World Cup Photo Album!

Verbeek has sought permission from Football Federation Australia to allow youngsters James Holland and Tommy Oar and keeper Eugene Galekovic to travel to South Africa.

But they will not be considered for selection unless another player is injured.

The 28-man squad will fly out to South Africa on Wednesday with Verbeek set to name his final 23-man group on 1 June when Australia play Denmark in the first of two friendlies prior to their first World Cup group game against Germany at the new Moses Mahiba Stadium in Durban on 13 June.

Australia squad:

Goalkeepers: Mark Schwarzer (Fulham), Adam Federici (Reading), Brad Jones (Middlesbrough), Eugene Galekovic(Adelaide United)

Defenders: Lucas Neill (Galatasaray), Craig Moore (unattached), Scott Chipperfield (Basel), David Carney (Twente Enschede), Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow), Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough), Shane Lowry (Aston Villa), Mark Milligan (JEF United), Michael Beauchamp (Al-Jazira)

Midfielders: Tim Cahill (Everton), Mark Bresciano (Palermo) Vince Grella (Blackburn), Brett Emerton (Blackburn), Jason Culina (Gold Coast), Harry Kewell (Galatasaray), Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar), Carl Valeri (Sassuolo), Mile Jedinak(Antalyaspor), Richard Garcia (Hull), Tommy Oar (Utrecht), Dario Vidosic (Nuremberg), James Holland (AZ Alkmaar)

Forwards: Josh Kennedy (Nagoya), Nikita Rukavytsya (Twente Enschede)