30 April 2012

Breivik takes stand in Norway massacre trial

The man accused of killing 77 people in bomb and gun attacks inNorwaylast July has defended his actions during his trial inOslo.

‘I have carried out the most spectacular and sophisticated attack on Europe since World War II,’ Anders Behring Breivik told the court, adding that he would ‘do it all again’.

Although he admits the bombing and attack on a youth camp, he has pleaded not guilty to terror and mass murder.

‘These acts are based on goodness, not evil,’ he claimed. He had acted to defendNorway, he said, and asked to be acquitted.

Geir Lippestad, Brevik’s lawyer, said he understood concerns by victims’ families that Breivik would use his trial as a pulpit, but added that Breivik had a right to explain himself. His testimony would not be broadcast.

Breivik’s evidence will be crucial in working out if he is criminally insane and psychiatrists in court have been observing him closely.

His comments have ranged from vehement criticisms of liberalism and multiculturalism to claims that he ‘supports the model inSouth KoreaandJapan’.

Such assertions aboutNorwayfit in with his belief that liberal ideals are ruiningNorwayand are the reason why he attacked the governing Labour party summer camp on Utoeya island and government offices.

Breivik – who claims to have developed a ‘dehumanisation strategy’ towards those he considers ‘legitimate’ targets – said he was speaking as a representative of a Norwegian and European ‘resistance movement’.

The entire trial is expected to last ten weeks.

Sun Mark Ltd wins award for fourth consecutive year

Sun Mark Ltd has been awarded the most prestigious Queens Award forEnterprisein International Trade from Her Majesty the Queen for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year, demonstrating that it surely is the best. This extraordinary achievement means that it has a unique place in British business history and has broken all records.

Previously, Sun Mark was the only company inBritainto have won three consecutive Queens Awards forEnterpriseand set a new record. Now, by winning a fourth consecutive Queens Awards, it has set its standards even higher.

Dr Rami Ranger MBE, the company’s founder and chairman, puts this success down to his upbringing, where he was taught by his mother to strive for excellence in all tasks he performed, no matter how small. He is also grateful to the British sense of tolerance and fairplay, which has allowed an ordinary immigrant like him to realise his ambitions and become an asset to his family and adopted country.

Sun Mark Ltd exports British supermarket products to over 100 countries with staggering results. The company was set up in 1995 to market FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) products made by companies such as Unilever, Cadburys, Premier Foods, Fox’s, Nestle, Weetabix, Twinings, Heinz and many others.

India PM says internal security a major challenge

India’s internal security remains a major challenge and the threat from Maoist rebels requires constant attention, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said.

He told a key meeting of state chief ministers that although the internal security situation had improved since February 2011, dangers remained.

Mr Singh said that ‘terrorism, religious fundamentalism and ethnic violence’ needed to be tackled firmly. Co-operation from states was necessary to combat such threats, he added.

‘The so-called “protracted people’s war” waged by the left-wing extremists against the state and society continues to target civilians and security forces, and economic infrastructure such as railways, mobile communications and power networks,’ Mr Singh said in his inaugural speech at the conference on April 16.

‘In the recent past, Maoists have also resorted to abducting foreign nationals,’ the prime minister said, referring to the recent kidnapping of two Italian tourists in Orissa state. The hostages have now been released.

The prime minister also warned that ‘terrorist groups are today more nimble, more lethal than ever and increasingly networked across frontiers’.

Home Minister P Chidambaram described the left-wing extremism of Maoist rebels as ‘the most formidable security challenge facing the country’ even as the traditional insurgencies in Indian-administeredKashmirand the north-east have declined.

Many of the states have criticised the home minister’s proposal last year to set up a national counter-terrorism centre, saying it was against the spirit of the federal system in the country. But Mr Chidambaram says it is needed to fight various security threats in a unified way.

Cleric Abu Qatada gets last-minute reprieve

Radical cleric Abu Qatada has thwartedBritain’s attempt to deport him by lodging a last-minute appeal.

He was arrested on 17 April after a deal was struck to see him sent back to hisJordanhomeland to face terror charges. Home Secretary Theresa May believed Qatada’s appeal deadline had expired the day before his arrest, but the European Court of Human Rights disagreed, accepting his appeal at 11.30pm on Tuesday 17 April, just half an hour before the cut-off point.

Qatada’s case will now go to theStrasbourgcourt’s grand chamber, with a final decision on his future likely to be months away.

The European Court of Human Rights blocked his deportation toJordanin January, saying evidence obtained by torture might be used against him. Ministers have been seeking assurances fromJordanthis will not be the case.

The Home Office had previously said it was making ‘good progress’ in obtaining those guarantees fromJordan, where he faces charges of plotting bomb attacks.

May travelled to Jordan in March for talks with the king and ministers on the case of the 51-year-old Palestinian-Jordanian, whom ministers have described as ‘extremely dangerous’.

A British judge had ended Abu Qatada’s six-yearUKdetention in February, weeks after the European Court of Human Rights blocked his deportation.

Abu Qatada has never been charged with any offence in theUKbut British authorities have previously said he gave advice to those who aimed ‘to engage in terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings’.

He faces a re-trial inJordanfor plotting bomb attacks against American and Israeli tourists during the country’s millennium celebrations, offences he was convicted of in his absence.

Human rights ‘crisis’ inBahraindespite reform pledge

Human rights are still being violated inBahrain, despite promises of reform, according to Amnesty Internationa, which warns ‘no-one should be under any illusions that the country’s human rights crisis is over’.

Violent clashes between police and protesters on the outskirts of the capitalManamaprecededBahrain’s preparations for the Formula 1 Grand Prix on 21 April. Demonstrators had called for the sporting event to be cancelled and sprayed walls with anti-Formula 1 graffiti. InLondon, two protesters climbed onto the roof ofBahrain’s embassy to draw attention to the fate of imprisoned opposition activists.

In another protest incident during the lead-up week, a member of the Force India team had to return home after four fellow team members were caught up in clashes between police and protesters on their way back from the Bahrain International Circuit. A Molotov Cocktail landed in the vicinity of their vehicle, which had not been specifically targeted, but there were no casualties.

Bahraininsists it is ‘very much committed to implementing’ the recommendations of its own report into the handling of protests in 2011, in which more than 40 people died and 1,600 were arrested. But Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui saysBahrain’s reforms have ‘only scratched the surface’.

‘The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests,’ said Ms Sahraoui.

Amnesty details the case of an 18-year-old student, Hassan ‘Oun, arrested earlier this year, who was forced to stand for 11 hours and had his feet beaten with a hosepipe. Amnesty says it recognises the security forces are sometimes faced with violence, but is urging them to respect international human rights law.

Missile launches India into elite club

India has test-fired a long range missile capable of reaching deep into China and Europe, thrusting the emerging Asian power into an elite club of nations with intercontinental nuclear weapons capabilities, including the US, Britain, France, Russia and China.

The Agni-V ballistic missile – which was launched on April 19 from Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha, but can be launched from anywhere in the country – has a strike range of over 5,000 km, and is the country’s most powerful missile.

‘The mission was successful. The missile hit the target inIndian Oceanin a perfect way,’ said Chief of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), V K Saraswat.

Further tests over the next couple of years will be needed before the new missile can be introduced into the country’s nuclear arsenal, but V K Saraswat has referred to its development as a ‘game-changer’.

However, while the launch has cheered up Indiaat a time of domestic difficulties, Chinahas not been especially generous in its reaction. Although it said the two developing Asian nations were not ‘rivals’, various Chinese media organs have made scathing comments about the missile, with the Gangzhou Daily calling it ‘a threat to both China and Pakistan’ and The People’s Daily warning that the recent progress in India-China relations ‘could be easily disrupted because China and India remain suspicious of each other’.

YetIndiainsists that it is committed to the doctrine of No First Use, and the missiles are not weapons of war but rather weapons of deterrence.

Pakistani army chief urges India on glacier withdrawal

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, has suggested thatIndiaandPakistanshould withdraw troops from the contested Siachen glacier, where earlier this month 139 people, including 125 Pakistani soldiers, were buried by an avalanche in the region.

It is claimed by bothPakistanandIndia, and the two countries each have thousands of troops stationed there.

During a visit to the area with President Asif Zardari, Gen Kiyani said the issue ‘should be resolved’. But he added ‘how it is resolved the two countries have to talk about’ – a recognition that there have been many unsuccessful attempts to tackle the issue in the past.

The tragedy has renewed debate inPakistanabout whether the troops should be there at all. Critics say the glacier has already claimed too many lives.

The president and the general were flown to the site of the avalanche which struck a battalion headquarters on 7 April.

The area around the camp is surrounded by some of the world’s highest mountains and is located 15,000ft (4,570m) above sea level in Kashmir’s Gayari district, near the border withIndia.

Syriaviolence continues despite pledges to end it 

Fighting inSyriais continuing despite announcements from the Syrian government that it will comply with a UN-backed truce and has withdrawn troops and heavy weapons from cities and towns, the UN political affairs chief has said.

More than 9,000 people have died inSyriaduring 13 months of fighting sparked by a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

‘The cessation of armed violence remains incomplete,’ Lynn Pascoe, UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, told the 15-nation Security Council during an open debate on theMiddle East.

‘Too many lives have been lost, human rights violations are still perpetrated with impunity. It is our hope that the deployment of observers will help to stop the killing and consolidate the calm,’ she said.

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution that authorized an initial deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers toSyriafor three months to monitor a shaky truce implemented earlier this month.

But the resolution conditions the deployment of observers on a UN assessment of compliance with the truce, reflecting US and European concerns thatDamascus’ failure to halt the violence, return troops to barracks and withdraw heavy weapons from towns makes the prospects for success slim.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem has written to UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan, who brokered the truce, to inform him thatDamascushas now withdrawn heavy weapons and troops from Syrian cities, according toSyria’s UN envoy, Bashar Ja’afari.

Annan is due to brief the Security Council on April 24, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will also brief the Security Council every 15 days about developments inSyriaand submit to the Security Council proposals as needed for adjusting the mandate of the observer mission, to be called UNSMIS.

Other nations must take stand on China, say Philippines

The Philippine foreign secretary called on other nations to take a stand onChina’s new aggressiveness in a simmering territorial dispute over a shoal in theSouth China Sea.

Albert del Rosario warned in a statement that other nations would be affected byChina’s claim over the mineral-rich area if they did not speak up now, as thePhilippinesis doing.

‘Since the freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce (in the South China Sea) are of great import to many nations, all should consider what China is endeavouring to do in the Scarborough Shoal,’ del Rosario said, adding that China’s efforts to claim the entire South China Sea as its territory was ‘clearly baseless’.

The statement came amid increased tensions after China deployed ships near the Scarborough Shoal, an outcropping in the South China Sea just about 140 miles from the Philippines’ main island of Luzon.

The nearest Chinese land mass from Scarborough Shoal is Hainan province, 750 miles to the northwest, according to Philippine naval maps given to the media.

Chinaclaims all of the South China Sea as its own on historical grounds, even waters approaching the coasts of thePhilippinesand other Southeast Asian countries. ThePhilippineshas been actively urging its fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take a firmer stance onChina’s claim over theSouth China Sea.

The rival claims have been a source of regional tensions for decades, and thePhilippinesas well asVietnamhave accusedChinaover the past year of becoming increasingly aggressive in asserting its position.

Pakistani students to face compulsory interview for UK visas

Every Pakistani student applying for a visa to come to study inBritainwill face a compulsory interview with consular officials following a secret pilot study indicating that up to 40% could be ineligible.

Theresa May, the home secretary, is to announce soon that ‘bogus’ students will be blocked from enteringBritainwhen the measures are introduced. ‘Britainis open for business to the best and the brightest,’ one government source said. ‘But our message to bogus students is clear: you will be found out and you will be stopped from coming. This is an important way of weeding out bogus students.’

The home secretary’s plan, which, at first will be run on a short-term basis, is likely to lead to a big increase in resources atBritain’s consular operations inPakistan, where for the past five to 10 years visas have been approved via paper applications. At present, on the paper applications, 20% of Pakistanis applying for student visas are found to be ineligible. The pilot study, which was carried out by the UK Border Agency, suggests that 40% of applicants for student visas fromPakistanare likely to prove ineligible for the document. The main reason will be their inability to speak English.

 

The pilot study was extended to 13 overseas posts, ranging fromIndiaandChinatoNigeria. Of 2,300 applicants interviewed, the study points to 17% being ineligible for theUKvisa. The pilot study found 38% of applicants fromBangladeshwould be considered ineligible for a student visa and projected 29% inIndia, 28% inEgyptand 27% inSri Lanka.

As a first step, compulsory interviews will be held inPakistan. The decision comes after the National Audit Office found that up to 50,000 people could have enteredBritainto work on student visas without proper checks being in place.

EU to suspend sanctions against Burma

The European Union has decided to suspend its sanctions againstBurmafor one year, retaining only its embargo on arms sales. The decision, to be reviewed in October, is expected to lift sanctions targeting more than 800 companies in the logging, timber and mining sectors to allow investment in about 50 companies close to the government, and to end visa restrictions and travel bans affecting nearly 500 people.

It follows similar moves by the US and Australia, and was taken on April 23, the same day Burma’s newly elected parliament convened, without any members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

The party is boycotting attendance because of a dispute over one word in the parliamentary oath, which currently requires all parliamentarians to ‘safeguard the constitution’, a phrase Suu Kyi’s party dislikes as the constitution reserves 25 per cent of all parliamentary seats for unelected military officers, and was drafted during an era of army rule. The NLD has promised to amend the 25 per cent regulation once it takes its parliamentary seats. Meanwhile, it wants the word ‘safeguard’ to be replaced with ‘respect’.

The dispute risks triggering tensions between Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party and the military-ruled Union Solidarity and Development party, which maintains about 80 per cent of the seats in parliament. President Thein Sein, who has instigated many reforms since his inauguration in 2010, told reporters that he was open to discussing changes to the oath. ‘It is possible to make a revision if it serves the public’s interest,’ he said.

But some have questioned the EU’s decision, taken on the very day the 66-year-old Nobel laureate should have been taking her parliamentary seat along with 42 other members of the NLD. ‘The timing does highlight the fact that the EU seems to want to move faster than the pace of reforms inBurma,’ said Mark Farmaner of Burma CampaignUK. ‘Not one repressive law has been repealed, human rights abuses have increased in the past year and hundreds of political prisoners are still in jail,’ he added.