From I.E. Breaking News, two theaters in India have had bombs go off in them, reportedly while "both theaters were showing a controversial Hindi-language film that has been condemned by Sikh religious leaders for denigrating their faith. Police declined to comment on whether any Sikh group was suspected of involvement in the blasts. " At least 20 people are injured and at least one is dead. "The film, titled Jo Bole So Nihal, was released more than a week ago, but it was pulled from most cinemas shortly afterwards in northern India after Sikh groups demanded a ban on it." (That's a summary of four reports at I.E. Breaking News. Click on links to learn more.)
From Australia's ABC (AFP report), "Kyrgyzstan turns back fleeing Uzbeks:"
"From May 13 to 22, following the disorder in Andijan, Kyrgyz border guards have returned to the Uzbek authorities 84 Uzbek citizens who illegally crossed the border," the border guards department said.
Also from Australia's ABC, Pru e-mails Reuters' "UK Govt to go halves with first-home buyers:"
Up to 100,000 people will be given help buying their own home under plans to be announced later this week, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown says.
Under a shared-ownership scheme announced in Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party manifesto before the May 5 election, couples currently unable to afford a home would be able to share the cost with the Government and a mortgage lender.
Seth notes that "The charm offensive isn't working" and sends "Laura Bush Jeered in Jerusalem" from Aljazeera:
Protesters heckled Laura Bush during her visit to religious sites in Jerusalem, part of a Mideast tour meant to defuse growing anti-American sentiment in the region.
As she approached the Dome of the Rock in the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) on Sunday, Muslim worshippers shouted, "How dare you come in here, and why are you hassling Muslims?" As she entered the Noble Sanctuary, one man said, "None of you belongs in here."
Israeli police formed a human chain around Bush, pressing together to push away protesters.
From The Independent, Gareth e-mails, same topic, Eric Silver's "Arab and Jewish hecklers target Laura Bush on visit:"
Laura Bush, America's first lady, was treated to a lesson in the strident realities of Middle Eastern street politics, as both Arab and Jewish protestors heckled her during a visit to Jerusalem's holiest sites.
The White House had hoped a visit by Mrs Bush, whose political stock has never been higher in Washington, would help assuage anti-American sentiment in the region, but the locals are not soothed that easily.
As she was touring Al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine, and the neighbouring Dome of the Rock, two members of the radical Islamic Liberation Party shouted: "You are not welcome here. How dare you come here? You kill Muslims." Israeli police closed ranks around her, keeping them at bay and forcing back a gang of Palestinian youths trying to reach Mrs Bush, who had been welcomed to the site by Adnan Husseini, its Muslim custodian.
Brenda e-mails Noor Khan's "Six workers on US scheme assassinated" (from Scotland's The Herald):
GUNMEN ambushed and killed six Afghans yesterday on a highway in the country's troubled south in the second fatal attack in two days on employees of a US-funded anti-drug project, officials said.
The company managing the project has said it is withdrawing employees from southern Afghanistan, the US State Department said.
The victims were transporting the body of one of five people killed in the earlier assault to the capital, Kabul, when militants stopped their vehicle and shot everyone in the head, said a doctor in Qalat town, where the bodies were taken.
In other Afghanistan news, from Scotland's The Sunday Herald, Robert Birsel's "Karzai to call for return of prisoners:"
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for all Afghan prisoners, and control over US military operations, to be passed to his government following a US Army report on abuse of detainees in Afghanistan.
The abuse described in the report, including details of the deaths of two inmates at the US base at Bagram, north of Kabul, happened in 2002 and emerged from a nearly 2000-page file of US Army investigators, the New York Times reported on Friday.
"It has shocked me and we condemn it," Karzai told a news conference. "We want the US government to take very, very strong action, to take away people like that."
Karzai, a staunch ally in the US-led war against terrorism, is due to leave on a trip to America later today. He will meet President George W Bush for talks this week.
On the same topic, Gareth e-mails (from The Independent) Rupert Cowell's "UN joins Karzai in calling for Bagram abuse inquiry:"
On the eve of a tense US-Afghan summit, the United Nations condemned as "utterly unacceptable" the alleged abuse prisoners at the main American base in Afghanistan.
The UN joined Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, in demanding that the Pentagon agree to an independent investigation of conditions at Bagram airbase by local human rights investigators.
In a harshly worded statement, Jean Arnault, the special UN representative in Kabul, insisted those responsible for such "inexcusable crimes" must be punished.
Mr Karzai, who meets President George Bush at the White House today, said in a US television interview that he would demand custody of all detainees in his country, as well as control of US military operations.
Rory e-mails, from The Scotsman, Brian Brady's "Secret UK troops plan for Afghan crisis:"
DEFENCE chiefs are planning to rush thousands of British troops to Afghanistan in a bid to stop the country sliding towards civil war, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Ministers have been warned they face a "complete strategic failure" of the effort to rebuild Afghanistan and that 5,500 extra troops will be needed within months if the situation continues to deteriorate.
An explosive cocktail of feuding tribal warlords, insurgents, the remnants of the Taliban, and under-performing Afghan institutions has left the fledgling democracy on the verge of disintegration, according to analysts and senior officers.
The looming crisis in Afghanistan is a serious setback for the US-led 'War on Terror' and its bid to promote western democratic values around the world.
Defence analysts say UK forces are already so over-stretched that any operation to restore order in Afghanistan can only succeed if substantial numbers of troops are redeployed from Iraq, itself in the grip of insurgency.
At Aljazeera, we'll note that they have an interview with former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murrary. Here's the introduction pargraphs and first question and answer from Roshan Muhammed Salih's "The West should wash its hands of Karimov:"
The killing of hundreds of protesters in Uzbekistan by government troops has focused the world's attention on the strategic Central Asian nation.
The violence began on Friday after a pro-democracy protest and a jailbreak involving men accused of "Islamic extremism" in the eastern city of Andijan.
Since then, President Islam Karimov's government and its human rights record have come under the spotlight, and the possibility that he will be the second Central Asian leader to be toppled this year has been raised.
The US, which has a military base in the country, and Russia argue that Karimov is a stabilising force, a bastion against the spread of Islamic extremism, and a valuable ally in the war on terror.
But Craig Murray, who was sacked in October 2004 as UK ambassador to Uzbekistan after he spoke out against rights abuses, says the Uzbek government is beyond the pale and the West should wash its hands of it.
In an interview with Aljazeera.net, London-based Murray predicts that Islam Karimov will maintain his position; but says Uzbekistan will continue to suffer internal violence as long as he is in charge.
Aljazeera.net: The Uzbek government has closed down the towns of Andijan and Korasuv amid reports of popular uprisings. What do you think is happening?
Craig Murray: The regime will be cracking down now as harshly as possible. They will probably just be arresting and shooting people. This is a hideous and ruthless regime, and the fact that they are closing down towns and not letting journalists in is an ominous sign.
From Scotland's Sunday Herald, Lori e-mails Trevor Royle's "Karimov escapes regime change as America pursues the 'great game'" which is also on Uzbekistan:
A GLANCE at the map confirms the strategic importance of Uzbekistan, not just in regional terms but also as it is viewed from Washington.
To the south and southwest are Afghanistan and Iran, a fact which inspired President Islam Karimov to push himself into contention as a useful ally in President Bush’s war on terror.
The US operates an air base with 1000 ground troops at Khanabad outside the Uzbek capital Tashkent. The former Soviet facility is used for operations in Afghanistan, and to date the US has supplied the country with some $800 million in military and humanitarian aid.
More to the point, Uzbekistan has a key role to play in supporting Washington’s wider interests. Khanabad is part of the ring of air force bases, or "lily pads" as defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls them, which are used to project US authority over the surrounding countries and keep a close watch on the oil and gas supply lines running through the Caucasus and old Soviet central Asian republics.
The most important of these is the Baku to Ceyhan pipeline, which runs from Azerbaijan through Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgia on to the Black Sea port of Ceyhan.
Small wonder then that the Bush administration has been so loath to criticise Karimov, apart from conceding that the US will be limiting operations from Khanabad during the present period of local unrest.
To re-use a well-worn US diplomatic cliché: Karimov may be a son-of-a-bitch, but at least he is our son-of-a-bitch.
As Craig Murray, formerly Britain’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, put it last week: "That strategic interest explains the recent signature of the US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement, as well as Bush's strong support for Karimov."
From The Economist, Alberto e-mails "The economy booms, the trees vanish:"
IF IT were simply a matter of passing strong laws to protect it, the Amazon rainforest--the world's largest tropical forest, around the size of western Europe--would be safe. Brazil, whose territory includes about two-thirds of the forest, has impressively tough laws that, on paper, set most of it aside as a nature reserve and impose stiff penalties for illegal logging. But the latest annual figures for deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, published by the government on Wednesday May 18th, have confirmed a disturbing recent trend: the destruction is accelerating despite all efforts to curb it. In the year to August 2004, more than 26,000 square kilometres (10,000 square miles) of forest were chopped down, an area larger than the American state of New Jersey.
The area deforested in the past year was up 6% on 2003, far worse than the Brazilian government's predictions that it would rise by no more than about 2%. It was the second worst year for the destruction of the rainforest since satellite surveys began (see chart). It is reckoned that almost a fifth of the Brazilian part of the forest has now been wiped out; if it were to continue at this rate, it would all be flattened within the next two centuries. Things are hardly any better in those portions of Amazonia that lie in neighbouring countries: Ecuador has lost about half of its forest, mainly due to illegal logging, in the past 30 years. Worse, tropical forests have been disappearing at an even faster rate elsewhere in the world, such as in Africa. The world’s greatest stores of biodiversity--and some of its main suppliers of the oxygen we breathe--are still being chewed up at an alarming rate, despite decades of talk among world leaders and environmentalists about the need to preserve them.
Lewis e-mails to note Geoffrey Lean's "Revealed: health fears over secret study into GM food"
from The Independent:
Rats fed on a diet rich in genetically modified corn developed abnormalities to internal organs and changes to their blood, raising fears that human health could be affected by eating GM food.
The Independent on Sunday can today reveal details of secret research carried out by Monsanto, the GM food giant, which shows that rats fed the modified corn had smaller kidneys and variations in the composition of their blood.
According to the confidential 1,139-page report, these health problems were absent from another batch of rodents fed non-GM food as part of the research project.
The disclosures come as European countries, including Britain, prepare to vote on whether the GM-modified corn should go on sale to the public. A vote last week by the European Union failed to secure agreement over whether the product should be sold here, after Britain and nine other countries voted in favour.
However, the disclosure of the health effects on the Monsanto rats has intensified the row over whether the corn is safe to eat without further research. Doctors said the changes in the blood of the rodents could indicate that the rat's immune system had been damaged or that a disorder such as a tumour had grown and the system was mobilising to fight it.
From The Independent, we'll also note Ben Russell's "PM has 'lost the authority to persuade voters:'"
Tony Blair has lost the authority to persuade voters to back the European constitution, according to a large-scale study of public opinion.
Labour supporters are less likely to back the constitution if they are told the Prime Minister is endorsing the treaty, according to the research by academics responsible for a study of attitudes in the run-up to the general election.
Pro-Europeans said they feared that the referendum could turn into a vote of confidence in Mr Blair.
The team from Essex University released the findings from the British Election Study, which has charted the public mood in every general election since 1964. They found that 41 per cent of Labour supporters from a sample of voters would back the EU constitution when asked a neutral question about the treaty.
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