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re:israel arms PAL police

~Israel's premier approved a shipment of Russian arms to police in the West Bank, overriding objections of his own security forces to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas going into next week's U.S.-sponsored peace conference, Israeli officials said Wednesday.~


re:iran produces nuclear fuel,,which when 'spent' is usable for weaponry

Iran Says It Made Nuclear Fuel Pellets

Published: 11/24/07, 2:25 PM EDT


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said Saturday that the country had produced its first nuclear fuel pellets for use in a heavy water reactor, which is still under construction.

The uranium oxide pellets are made using a process separate from the uranium enrichment at the heart of a standoff between Iran and the U.S., which accuses the clerical government of secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

But the Arak reactor, which began construction in central Iran in 2004, is a concern to the West because the spent fuel from a heavy-water facility can be used to produce plutonium, which in turn can be used for a nuclear weapon. U.N. inspectors last visited the reactor in July, and Iran has said it hopes to have Arak up and running by 2009.

"Fuel pellets to be used in the 40-megawatt Arak research reactor have been produced," Iranian Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Iran is developing Arak parallel to its better-known light-water reactor program, like the one being built with Russian help at Bushehr. Such light-water reactors use enriched uranium that, at far higher levels of enrichment, can also be used to produce the fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

Iran insists its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, had no comment Saturday.


re:saudis call handshakes w/israelis 'theatrics' and make it plain they are 'lock stepped' w/other Islamic Empire nations in the continuation of the 67 war w/Israel

~Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations decided Friday to attend next week's U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference. But the Saudi foreign minister said he would not allow "theatrics" such as handshakes with Israeli officials, insisting the meeting make serious progress.~

~"I'm not hiding any secret about the Saudi position. We were reluctant until today. And if not for the Arab consensus we felt today, we would not have decided to go," al-Faisal said. "But the kingdom would never stand against an Arab consensus, as long as the Arab position has agreed on attending. The kingdom will walk along with its brothers in one line."

He insisted that the meeting deal with substantive issues.

"We are not prepared to take part in a theatrical show, in handshakes and meeting that don't express political positions," al-Faisal said.~

~Saudi Arabia and Syria attended the 1991 Madrid peace conference that brought together Israel and Arab countries. But the kingdom and other Arab nations have been cautious over any steps that would be seen as "normalization" with Israel before it returns Arab lands seized in the 1967 war.

The Arab League decision, made after intense discussions late Thursday and Friday, meant that the members of a league committee tasked earlier this year with dealing with the peace process will attend Annapolis. Those countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

Much of the day's talks were focused on trying to persuade Syria that the conference would at least in some way address the Golan issue. The league gathering sent a joint letter to Washington demanding that the conference deal with relaunching negotiations between Israel and Syria, which wants the full return of the Golan in return for peace.

At Friday's Arab League meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the inclusion of the Syrian track at Annapolis.

According to Arab diplomats, while Washington's invitation did not specifically call for resumption of negotiations on the Golan, it referred to U.N. resolutions concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which calls for a return for Arab lands seized in 1967 in return for full peace with Israel.~


re:court of appeals says fetus death can be considered murder

~Court: Fetus death can bring murder charge

AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- The death of a fetus can be prosecuted as homicide, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled.

In a ruling Wednesday, the state's highest criminal court said such cases may involve homicide charges even if a fetus is too undeveloped to survive outside the womb, The Austin American-Statesman reported Thursday.

The court said Texas law regards a fetus as an individual -- eligible for protection under homicide statutes --but the state law does not conflict with U.S. law protecting abortion rights, the newspaper said.

"The (U.S.) Supreme Court has emphasized that states may protect human life not only once the fetus has reached viability but 'from the outset of the pregnancy,'" the Texas court found. "The Legislature is free to protect the lives of those whom it considers to be human beings."

The ruling came in Lawrence vs. State of Texas, involving a 2004 slaying in Dallas County. Terence Lawrence was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of capital murder in the death of his girlfriend, Antwonyia Smith, and her 4- to 6-week old fetus.

Lawrence had told another girlfriend he would "take care of" the problem after he learned Smith was pregnant with his child, the American-Statesman reported, and then shot and killed Smith.

Copyright 2007 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.~


re:drug companies NOT tickled over NON embryonic stem cell procurement

~Drug Firms Cool to Stem Cell Findings

Email this Story

Nov 20, 8:02 PM (ET)


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Despite excitement among some scientists - and at the White House - about an embryo-free technique for creating human stem cells, reaction from companies that might turn the research into treatments was muted.

In two papers published Tuesday, researchers reported successfully programming ordinary human skin cells to behave like embryonic stem cells, which can theoretically be transformed into a variety of human tissues.

Biotech executives said the announcement is scientifically interesting. But they said the new technique of creating stem cells is even less likely to yield meaningful results soon than is the method using embryonic cells - which requires destroying embryos.

One executive, whose company's stem-cell treatments may soon enter human clinical trials, noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is unlikely to quickly approve a regimen that requires a separate treatment be developed for each patient.

At South San Francisco-based Genentech Inc. (DNA), one of the country's oldest and largest biotech companies, researchers did not seem poised to change course and leap on the new findings.

"We don't use stem cells, not because we're for them or against them, just because the way we make therapeutics doesn't require their use," said Robin Snyder, a Genentech spokeswoman.

The technique isn't likely "to bear any fruit," said Tom Okarma, president and chief executive of Geron Corp. (GERN), a California biotech drug developer that has spent $100 million on human embryonic stem cell research.

"Most of the people who are doing this work and make the claim that this is going to change the therapeutic field really know nothing about cell therapy," Okarma said.

The scientists who pioneered the new approach have said that reprogramming an individual's own cells to mimic stem cells provides a way to create individually tailored transplant tissue unlikely to be rejected by that person's immune system.

But the process of getting the FDA to approve personalized treatments for medical use would ultimately prove far more expensive than using tissue grown from embryonic cells, Okarma said.

Menlo Park-based Geron hopes to start clinical trials next year for its long-promised stem cell treatment for spinal cord injuries. The company's stock fell six percent Tuesday following the research announcement.

At Advanced Cell Technology, Geron's chief rival in the race to create medical therapies using stem cells, the head of research hailed the new technique as revolutionary, though he advised calm.

Dr. Robert Lanza, chief science officer at Advanced Cell Technology, called the breakthrough the biological equivalent of the Wright Brothers' first airplane.

Still, he said any medical uses of stem cells developed using the new technique were many years away.

"I can't overemphasize the use of caution here," Lanza said. "These are not ready for prime time."

Large drug companies appeared far from ready to embrace the new stem cells.

Stem cells generally may have "high potential" for creating more effective medicines, said Laura Woodin, a spokeswoman for AstraZeneca PLC, known for its blockbuster anti-cholesterol drug Crestor and its anti-psychotic Seroquel. She too advised caution.

"It is too early to say how the studies announced today might affect any research we pursue in this area," Woodin said. ~


re:problems of new technique held high

~Hurdles Remain After Stem Cell Advance

Published: 11/21/07, 5:47 PM EDT


NEW YORK (AP) - For all the excitement, big questions remain about how to turn this week's stem cell breakthrough into new treatments for the sick. And it's not clear when they'll be answered.

Scientists have to learn more about the new kind of cell the landmark research produced. They have to find a different way to make it, to avoid a risk of cancer. And even after that, there are plenty of steps needed to harness this laboratory advance for therapy.

So if you ask when doctors and patients will see new treatments, scientists can only hedge.

"I just can't tell you dates," says James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the scientists in the U.S. and Japan who announced the breakthrough on Tuesday.

"The short answer is: It's still going to be years," Dr. John Gearhart, a stem cell expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was familiar with the work, said Wednesday.

Such a delay isn't unusual. It can often take a long time for medical payoffs to flow from basic scientific findings.

For example, the inspiration for a group of cystic fibrosis drugs now being tested in people or animals goes back 18 years to a genetic discovery. And more generally, gene therapy - the notion of fixing or replacing defective genes - has been studied in people for more than 15 years without much success.

At least, federal money for research into the new kind of cell won't be a problem, said Story Landis, head of the National Institutes of Health's Stem Cell Task Force. The task force is about to invite scientists to apply for new grants for such work, she said.

This week's advance has apparently solved a supply problem for the study of embryonic stem cells. These cells are valued for their ability to morph into any of the cell types of the body. Scientists had long searched for a way to produce embryonic cells that carry the genes of a particular person.

Such cells could be used for at least three purposes. The most highly publicized one is to create transplant tissue for treating disease. In the shorter term, they could be used to create "diseases in a dish," colonies of cells bearing illness-promoting genes that could reveal the vulnerable roots of medical conditions. And finally, scientists could use such cells for rapidly screening potential medicines in the laboratory.

Until this week's announcement, scientists who wanted to make such cells looked to an expensive, cumbersome cloning process that destroyed embryos, making it an ethical lightning rod. And it hadn't yet worked with human embryos.

The new technique is much simpler. It makes human skin cells behave like embryonic stem cells without using embryos at all.

End of problem? Not unless these altered skin cells can truly replace embryonic cells, and that's not clear yet, a prominent scientist says.

Paul Berg, a Stanford University Nobel laureate who helped establish federal guidelines for human research on genetically manipulated cells, said the celebration over this week's announcement is premature.

"I'm amazed at the ethicists" saying the problem of needing embryos has been solved, Berg said. "We're not in the clear - this is a first step."

So what are the next steps?

The first basic question to solve is how similar iPS cells are in behavior and potential to the embryonic cells that scientists have studied for nearly a decade.

"My guess is that we'll find that there are significant differences," said Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, which has been trying to produce stem cells from cloned human embryos. "I'd be surprised if these cells can do all the same tricks as well as stem cells derived from embryos."

Another big question is how to make iPS cells in a different way. The breakthrough technique treats skin cells by using viruses to carry in a quartet of genes. Those viruses disrupt the DNA of the skin cells. When that happens, there's a risk of cancer.

That's show-stopper when it comes to creating tissue to transplant into people. So scientists have to figure out a way to make iPS cells without those DNA-disrupting viruses.

Scientists should be able to find other ways to slip the genes into the skin cells, Thomson said. Other scientists suggest that a purely chemical treatment, not inserting genes at all, might be able to get the same result.

The cancer-risk problem should be solved quickly, maybe within a year or so, said Doug Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

Before then, iPS cells could be used in lab studies to study the early roots of genetic disease or to screen drugs. But of course, it's anybody's guess when a useful treatment would result from that.

Even with the cancer problem solved for transplant uses, there's another big hurdle:

The whole idea of using embryonic stem cells or iPS cells for treating people with conditions like diabetes and Parkinson's disease via transplant is itself far from proven. Scientists will need to learn how to turn iPS cells into the right kind of tissue, and how to use that tissue in a way that will treat a person's disease.

Such studies, in the lab, animals and finally people, will take years.

As far as that obstacle goes, Thomson said, the breakthrough announced this week changes nothing.

"We have a lot of work to do."


AP Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione contributed to this story from Milwaukee.~


re:new cops made to stay 'smoke free'

~Sheriff: Ban New Deputies From Smoking

Nov 20, 10:49 PM (ET)

DELAND, Fla. (AP) - The Volusia sheriff has a new idea on how to keep deputies fit: Ban them from smoking.

Sheriff Ben Johnson proposed barring new hires from lighting up while on the job or at home. Johnson said it's important for his deputies to be in good shape for their physically demanding jobs. He is also proposing routine physical fitness tests.

Union representative Jeff Candage says the level of personal intrusion is disturbing and wonders how the agency would enforce the policy.

Information from: Orlando Sentinel, ~

(through 'insurance' considerations and pee tests?check for other 'proscribed' substances and genetic proclivity and do a battery of psyche tests every week too!!!)


re:islamic empire curriculuum being taught in America

~Islamic Academy Under Attack

Published: 11/24/07, 2:05 PM EDT


ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - Its most virulent critics have dubbed it "Terror High" and 12 U.S. senators and a federal commission want to shut it down.

The teachers, administrators and some 900 students at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax County have heard the allegations for years - after the Sept. 11 attacks and then a few years later when a class valedictorian admitted he had joined al-Qaida.

Now the school is on the defensive again, with a report issued last month by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom saying the academy should be closed pending a review of its curriculum and textbooks.

Abdalla al-Shabnan, the school's director general, says criticism of the school is based not on evidence but on preconceived notions of the Saudi educational system.

The school, serving grades K-12 on campuses in Fairfax and Alexandria, receives financial support from the Saudi government and its textbooks are based on Saudi curriculum. Critics say the Saudis propagate a severe version of Islam in their schools.

But al-Shabnan said the school significantly modified those textbooks to remove passages deemed intolerant of other religions. Among the changes, officials removed from teachers' versions of first-grade textbooks an excerpt instructing teachers to explain "that all religions, other than Islam, are false, including that of the Jews, Christians and all others."

At an open house earlier this month in which the school invited reporters to tour the school and meet students and faculty, al-Shabnan seemed weary of the criticism.

"I didn't think we'd have to do this," he said of the open house. "Our neighbors know us. They know the job we are doing."

Indeed, many people familiar with the school say the accusations are unfounded. Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald Hyland, whose district includes the academy, has defended it and arranged for the county to review the textbooks to put questions to rest. That review is under way. The academy's Alexandria campus is leased from Fairfax County.

Schools that regularly compete against the academy in interscholastic sports - many of them small, private Christian schools - are among the academy's strongest defenders.

Robert Mead, soccer coach at Bryant Alternative High School, a public school in the Alexandria section of Fairfax county, said the academy's reputation has been unfairly marred by people who haven't even bothered to visit the school.

"We've never had one altercation" with the academy's players on the soccer field, Mead said. "My guys are hostile. Their guys keep fights from breaking out."

The academy opened in 1984 and stayed out of the spotlight until the Sept. 11 attacks. Criticisms were revived in 2005, when a former class valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was charged with joining al-Qaida while attending college in Saudi Arabia. He was convicted on several charges, including plotting to assassinate President Bush, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Most recently, the religious freedom commission - an independent federal agency created by Congress - issued its report, saying it was rebuffed in its efforts to obtain textbooks to verify claims they had been reformed.

The commission recommended that the academy be shut down until it could review the textbooks to ensure they do not promote intolerance.

Since the commission's report, the academy has given copies of its books to the Saudi embassy, which then provided them to the State Department. The commission is waiting to get the books from the State Department.

On Nov. 15, a dozen U.S. senators, including Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., wrote a letter to the State Department urging it to act on the commission's recommendations. And on Tuesday, Reps. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced legislation to write the commission's recommendations regarding the academy into law.

Michael Cromartie, the commission's chairman, said he does not question the character of the student body or the faculty, most of whom are Christian. The commission is focused specifically on the textbooks, and has legitimate concerns given the problems that have been endemic in the Saudi curriculum, he said.

"It's not about whether the students are civil to their opponents on a ball field. It's about the textbooks," he said.

At the open house, seniors said they worry that news accounts will hurt their college applications. Most students said they were shocked that the government panel had recommended closing the school.

Omar Talib, a senior, said the school caters to students from across the Muslim world, not just Saudis. It makes no judgments on other religions or against Shiite Islam, as some critics have contended.

"I have four children at this school. I've never heard them say 'Mom, today we learned we should kill the Jews,'" said Malika Chughtai of Vienna. "If I heard that kind of talk, I would not have them here."~


re:saudi arabias sharia law in action

~The Saudi judiciary on Tuesday defended a court verdict that sentenced a 19-year-old victim of a gang rape to six months in jail and 200 lashes because she was with an unrelated male when they were attacked.

The Shiite Muslim woman had initially been sentenced to 90 lashes after being convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's rigid Islamic law requiring segregation of the sexes.

But in considering her appeal of the verdict, the Saudi General Court increased the punishment. It also roughly doubled prison sentences for the seven men convicted of raping the woman, Saudi news media said last week.

The reports triggered an international outcry over the Saudis punishing the victim of a terrible crime.

But the Ministry of Justice stood by the verdict Tuesday, saying that "charges were proven" against the woman for having been in a car with a man who was not her relative.

The ministry implied the victim's sentence was increased because she spoke out to the press. "For whoever has an objection on verdicts issued, the system allows an appeal without resorting to the media," said the statement, which was carried on the official Saudi Press Agency.

The attack occurred in 2006. The victim says she was in a car with a male student she used to know trying to retrieve a picture of her. She says two men got into the car and drove them to a secluded area where she was raped by seven men. Her friend also was assaulted.

Justice in Saudi Arabia is administered by a system of religious courts according to the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Judges have wide discretion in punishing criminals, rules of evidence are vague and sometimes no defense lawyer is present. The result, critics say, are sentences left to the whim of judges. A rapist, for instance, could receive anywhere from a light sentence to death.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack avoided directly criticizing the Saudi judiciary over the case, but said the verdict "causes a fair degree of surprise and astonishment."

"It is within the power of the Saudi government to take a look at the verdict and change it," McCormack said.

Canada's minister for women's issues, Jose Verger, has called the sentence "barbaric."

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the verdict "not only sends victims of sexual violence the message that they should not press charges, but in effect offers protection and impunity to the perpetrators."~


re:islamic empire member states,,except syria,,agree to meet with israel,yet refuse to shake hands,,just like a klansman does to 'niggers'

~In a sign of the skepticism, even among close U.S. allies, the Saudi foreign minister cautioned that there would be no public handshakes with Israeli officials at the gathering Tuesday in Annapolis, Md.

Still, the Arab League's decision to participate marked a success for the United States, which had pushed hard for regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia to attend the conference.

It was unclear whether another key player, Syria, would show up, even though it was part of the Arab League's collective decision to participate.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his government was waiting to see if the agenda addressed its priority issue - the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. U.S. officials have said Syria would be free to raise any issue it wants.

The meeting will include discussions on a "comprehensive" Arab-Israel peace deal. But it is mainly intended to launch Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations after a lull of seven years, and Washington had pushed for a strong Arab presence to show support.

Arab leaders made clear they were on board in part to ensure that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does not make any damaging concessions to Israel in any negotiations on a final peace deal. Israel has dangled the possibility of an accord as early as the end of 2008.

Asked if Abbas has a free rein to negotiate a deal, Arab League chief Amr Moussa underlined that Arab countries would not back an agreement deal that did not meet an Arab peace plan calling for a return of all lands Israel seized in the 1967 war.

"I repeat again and again that we are governed by the Arab initiative in all behaviors and ... and in our agreement to end the Arab-Israeli conflict," he told reporters after the foreign ministers of the league's member states decided to go to Annapolis.

Arab countries - particularly Saudi Arabia, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel - have worried that the conference would corner them into a high-profile meeting with Israel without securing any commitments about the future shape of a peace deal.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said that while he was going to Annapolis, he would not join in any Arab-Israeli handshakes like those stage-managed by U.S. officials at past conferences, such as the one between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1993.

"We are not prepared to take part in a theatrical show, in handshakes and meetings that don't express political positions. We are going with seriousness and we work on the same seriousness and credibility," he said after the meeting.

"I'm not hiding any secret about the Saudi position. We were reluctant until today. And if not for the Arab consensus we felt today, we would not have decided to go," he said.

Saudi Arabia wants the conference to produce a promise that negotiations will tackle the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - the borders of an independent Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. It also seeks a timetable for talks, a mechanism to ensure progress and a commitment to the Arab peace plan.

But the Arabs were unable to get any such promises on paper.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said this week that negotiations would address the core issues and that a deal could be reached in 2008. But Israel opposes a formal timetable or a specific mention of the major issues in a joint declaration expected to be issued at Annapolis.

Still, al-Faisal said the Arabs were attending because they saw a real chance for peace. "For the first time, we felt real seriousness (from Israel) - not out of good intentions but of out of real public opinion that they want real peace in the region," he said.

The United States had pressured the kingdom heavily to send al-Faisal, rather than a lower-level figure, with President Bush speaking by phone with Saudi King Abdullah earlier this week. The U.S. already had won Egypt's endorsement of the conference, securing its help in bringing Saudi involvement.

Israel welcomed the news that al-Faisal would attend, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev calling it a "positive development."

"We hope this is only the beginning and that we will see greater and broader Arab involvement in the peace process," he said. "For this process to succeed, both Arabs and Israelis will have to take bold steps."

Saudi Arabia, as well as Syria, attended the 1991 Madrid peace conference that brought together Israel and Arab countries. But the kingdom and other Arab nations have been cautious over any steps that would be seen as "normalization" with Israel before it returns Arab lands.

After intense discussions late Thursday and Friday, Arab League members agreed the meeting should be attended by a committee set up earlier this year to deal with the peace process - Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

Despite the collective decision to participate, Syria's foreign minister was keeping Washington guessing about whether he would show up.

"We haven't made a decision to participate until we receive the agenda of the conference and read it to find an item addressing the Syrian-Israeli track, meaning the occupied Golan Heights," al-Moallem told reporters.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said there would be room at Annapolis to discuss the Golan Heights.

Asked about Syria, Moussa said "final arrangements" had to be made. He said the Arab foreign ministers would meet again in Washington on Monday, a day before the Annapolis conference.

While positive signals emanated from Cairo, strong opposition against Annapolis was being voiced in the Gaza strip.

Gaza's militant groups, including the strip's Islamic rulers, Hamas, rallied thousands of their supporters Friday to protest against the US-sponsored meeting, saying it cannot deliver Palestinian rights.

Demonstrators in the southern city of Khan Younis marched following Friday prayers chanting "Death to Israel" and waving banners reading: "Bush is a war criminal not a peacemaker."

In Lebanon, a Hezbollah statement blasted the government for deciding to go to Annapolis, saying the conference was a "conspiracy" and "a step toward liquidating the Palestinian cause~


re:psychotic murderers target 'pet market' in Iraq

Market Bomb Blamed on Iran-Backed Groups

Published: 11/24/07, 2:05 PM EDT


BAGHDAD (AP) - The U.S. military on Saturday blamed the deadly bombing of a pet market in Baghdad on Iranian-backed Shiite militants, raising concerns that escalating activity by Shiite extremists could jeopardize a relative calm that has offered new hopes for Iraqis after years of turmoil.

The bomb, which was hidden in a box of small birds, exploded Friday morning as Iraqis were strolling past animal stalls and bird cages at Baghdad's al-Ghazl market. The market had recently re-emerged as a popular venue as security has increased, raising hopes for calm in the capital after years of turmoil.

Police and hospital officials said at least 15 people were killed and 56 wounded, including four policemen, making it the deadliest in Baghdad in more than two months.

U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith said the bomb was packed with ball bearings to maximize casualties, and bore the hallmarks of a so-called special group, the military term for Shiite militia fighters who have been trained by Iran and have broken with radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who called on his supporters to stand down in August.

He said the military believes the Shiite extremists were hoping al-Qaida in Iraq would be held responsible for the attack so Iraqis would turn to them for protection.

"In raids overnight, Iraqi and coalition forces were able to identify and detain four members of a militia extremist group we assess as responsible for this horrific act of indiscriminate violence," Smith said at a news conference. "Based on subsequent confessions, forensics and other intelligence, the bombing was the work of an Iranian-backed special groups cell operating here in Baghdad.

However, he stressed he was not blaming Iran for the blast, saying it remained to be seen if Tehran was honoring a pledge to halt the flow of weapons into Iraq. U.S. military commanders have said they continue to find Iranian munitions in Iraq but cannot be sure if they have been recently sent or leftover from previous shipments.

"I'm not saying that yesterday Iran ordered the bombing of the pet market," Smith said. But, he said, the attack had the "fingerprints" of a group that had been trained, equipped and facilitated through Iranian connections.

The allegation followed recent statements from U.S. commanders expressing cautious optimism about a decline in Shiite violence along with claims that Iran has begun limiting its support of Shiite extremists and al-Sadr's cease-fire order. Tehran denies charges it is fomenting violence in Iraq, saying it is trying to help stabilize its fellow predominantly Shiite neighbor.

The prospect of renewed Shiite violence underscores fears that al-Sadr may renege on his pledge as the U.S. military and the Iraqi government face anger over recent raids against supporters in the Shiite southern heartland, particularly in the volatile city of Diwaniyah.

"There have been detentions and aggressions committed against the Sadrists and these acts should be stopped. We give our last warning, the raids should be stopped and all detainees should be released, otherwise for any actions there is a reaction," Sadrist cleric Abdul-Hadi al-Mohammedawi said Friday during his sermon in the Shiite holy city of Kufa, an al-Sadr stronghold.

Thousands of al-Sadr's followers rallied in the capital's main Sadr City district on Saturday in support of the youthful cleric. Men lined up to have their fingers pricked so drops of their blood could be used for a sign pledging allegiance to al-Sadr.

The U.S. military has credited al-Sadr's cease-fire order, along with a troop buildup ordered by President Bush and a surge in anti-al-Qaida sentiment among Sunnis, for what it says is a 55 percent decline in violence nationwide since this summer.

But it is unclear how much control he wields over disaffected followers angry at being taken out of the fight.

Smith said the military was maintaining a "reserved optimism" about the decreased levels of violence but reiterated warnings that extremists from both sides of the sectarian divide remain a serious threat.

"While Iraqi and coalition forces continue to make sustained progress against these terrorists, al-Qaida and other militia extremist groups remain a dangerous enemy of Iraq," he said at a news conference.

At least 54 people killed or found dead Friday, the deadliest day this month, in attacks including the bombing of a police checkpoint in the northern city of Mosul.

Smith said the Mosul attack was a double suicide bombing and blamed al-Qaida in Iraq, saying 21 people, including 10 civilians, were killed, eight more than the initial figure provided by local police.

"Yesterday in Mosul, al-Qaida in Iraq conducted two suicide attacks against Iraqi police, the first against a checkpoint and the second against first responders," he said.

With the outbreak in violence, Smith issued a cautious note on media coverage of Iraq.

"There are good stories to tell here in terms of returning Iraqis. There are economic developments that are occurring that need to be reported. But I would do it in a measured pace," he said.

Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, imposed a daylong curfew in the northern city of Kirkuk and surrounding areas as security forces launched a major offensive against militants in the oil-rich area.

Kirkuk has seen a recent rise in violence that authorities have blamed in part on insurgents who fled security crackdowns in Baghdad and surrounding areas as well as an argument over the city's status as Kurds seeking to incorporate it into their semiautonomous zone.~


re:mexicos concern for poor illustrated during Tabasco flood

~The tragedy was reminiscent of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005, when levees failed and swamped much of New Orleans, forcing people to flee by wading through dirty waters. In Tabasco, days of relentless rain - not a hurricane - were to blame.~

~Nadia Gomez, the 24-year-old wife of a car mechanic in a slum on the outskirts of Villahermosa, said the government didn't do enough to protect low-lying neighborhoods.

"Maybe if they had built more defenses it would have been all right. But they only care about the rich people of Tabasco, not the poor," Gomez said, standing with her three children outside her flooded shack.

Both the state and federal government acknowledge Tabasco wasn't prepared for unusually heavy rains that hit in October, even though a flood-control plan had been drawn up after flooding in 1999 left tens of thousands homeless and caused $375 million in damage.

In 2003, officials announced the Integral Project Against Flooding, which called for building 110 miles of levees and 120 miles of drainage canals along the Grijalva, Carrizal and Samaria rivers.

But state officials admit they never finished the levee project, 72 percent of which was funded by the federal government.

It's not known what happened to the money earmarked for the project. State officials say the federal government didn't deliver all the money. Congress members responsible for allocating the funds left office last year and it isn't clear who was responsible for overseeing that part of the budget.

Gilberto Segovia, the Tabasco spokesman for the National Water Commission, said about 70 percent of the levees and drainage canals were built. Although the original plan called for all to be completed by 2006, former Gov. Manuel Andrade, who left office last Dec. 31 and was largely responsible for carrying out the levee project, had extended the deadline to 2012.

Fingers also are being pointed at the Federal Electricity Commission.

Critics say it waited too long to let begin letting water out of a dam upstream, forcing workers to release a huge amount in a short time when the reservoir level surged. The agency also gave little warning to people downstream about the impending disaster, critics contend.~



re:u.n. demands 10 bill per yr for water in arab/muslim countries

~UN Calls for Improved Sanitation

Published: 11/21/07, 10:05 PM EDT


UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The United Nations proposed Wednesday that nations invest $10 billion a year in supplying clean water and sanitation for the third of the planet's population who lacks them.

"The international community has failed to deliver on this basic right. Today, more than 2 billion people around the world lack access to basic sanitation services," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in naming 2008 the U.N.'s International Year of Sanitation to highlight the problem.

Some 90 percent of the human sewage in developing countries goes untreated and is allowed to pollute the public's water supplies, for lack of sewage treatment plants, according to U.N. figures.

"An estimated 42,000 people die every week from diseases related to low water quality and an absence of adequate sanitation. And this situation is unacceptable," Ban said.

At the current pace of development, it could take another 100 years to improve sanitation in sub-Saharan countries "which means that an additional 133 million African children will die if nothing changes," said Dutch Crown Prince Willem Alexander, who heads Ban's advisory board on water and sanitation issues.

Sha Zukang, the U.N.'s undersecretary-general for economic and social affairs, called it "a silent crisis" afflicting the environment globally.

"The silence stops today," he said.

Fixing the problem isn't cheap. Since the U.S. Congress passed the Clean Water Act 35 years ago it has spent at least $72 billion to build waste water treatment plants, in one of the nation's biggest public works projects ever.

Ban said investing $10 billion a year globally could provide basic toilet facilities by 2015 for as many as half of the 2.6 billion people who currently lack them.

The money would come from the U.N.'s 192 member nations, international finance organizations, and partnerships with businesses.

The announcement included a ceremony with bowls and towels for Ban and others to wash their hands - a simple act that U.N. officials tied to educating children.

"In order for us in developing countries to put as many girls as possible to schools, we have to target sanitation," said singer Angelique Kidjo, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, who is from the West African nation of Benin.~




re:illegal immigrant becomes cop using dead persons name and SS#

(does that make you feel safe?)

Immigrant Takes Cousin's ID, Becomes Cop

Published: 11/23/07, 10:45 AM EDT


MILWAUKEE (AP) - Oscar Ayala-Cornejo followed the path that leads many red-blooded Americans to law enforcement.

His family lived next to a crack house in Milwaukee, where he says he often heard gunshots and came home to find thieves had stolen the things that his father had worked hard to provide for his mother, older brother and sister.

So he got excited when two officers visited his high school to recruit police aides. The doe-eyed 15-year-old decided he wanted to become a cop, maybe make things a little better than he had it growing up

"I wanted to change my neighborhood, to change other people's neighborhoods, so they could feel safe, you know," says Ayala, now 25. "Because I didn't feel safe."

He wanted that, it turns out, badly enough to break the law.

Though Ayala's family moved to Wisconsin in 1992 from Guadalajara, Mexico, he says he didn't realize until after he'd made up his mind to wear a badge that he was in the country illegally. He didn't know it until his father, Salvador, told him that if he wanted to be an officer, he would have to go back to Mexico and apply for citizenship, a process that can take at least 10 years.

Ayala cried and soon his father, mother and brother wept, too.

A few days later, his father found another option - one that would help Ayala get his dream job, but also would take it away and could cost him his freedom.

His father's cousin, Carmen, who lived in Chicago, would allow Ayala to take the identity of her son, Jose Morales, who was born five months after Ayala in Illinois and died of stomach cancer when he was about 7.

"That was the only option we had if we wanted to stay together," Ayala told The Associated Press recently.

Before his junior year, Ayala - calling himself Morales - switched high schools. The 16-year-old cut his hair, replaced his glasses with contacts and got braces

In public, he called his parents aunt and uncle and his brother and sister cousins.

It wasn't easy adjusting to a new name and birthday. But the toughest part was not identifying his mami and papi in front of others.

"That really hurt," he says. "Those are my parents."

He was nervous that his true identity would be discovered when he applied to be a police aide at 17, but he had also established a work history at two clothing stores and an electronics store.

After he graduated in 2001, he entered the police aide program and stopped looking over his shoulder.

"Everybody at work, people at school, everyone I met would call me Jose so eventually that was me," he says. "Besides my family, no one else called me Oscar."

He became an officer in December 2004, about 10 months after his father died of leukemia. Eventually, he worked in the same district as his brother, Alex, a fellow officer who was born in the U.S.

And he found it rewarding.

Ayala and his partner once took a knife from a suicidal man on Christmas, he says. Another time, he found a 2-year-old boy walking alone and went door to door until he found his parents. He was helping people, and doing it by the book - except for his secret.

Ayala says he never told anyone about his true identity. But on Feb. 20, an anonymous caller informed Special Agent Russell Dykema of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that officer Jose Morales was really Oscar Ayala-Cornejo, an illegal immigrant.

Dykema spent more than two months comparing data in immigration databases and school records. He even compared yearbook photos.

Ayala was arrested May 31 by two sergeants who took him to the training academy and eventually the immigration office with shackles and handcuffs, where Dykema and another agent explained what they knew.

"I thought I was going to retire and live happily ever after, pay my taxes and all," he says. "It didn't cross my mind at all ... not until that moment."

He sat in jail for a few days, his mind racing: "Who told? Why are they doing this to me? What will happen next? What will happen to my family? How long will I be here? Will someone know I'm a cop in here? What would my father think?"

When he couldn't answer the questions, he started sobbing.

Ayala was charged with falsely representing himself to be a citizen. Two weeks later he agreed to a plea deal.

He could get a year in a federal prison when he is sentenced Monday, or he could get probation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Johnson said Ayala's position gave him access to weapons and confidential information, although there was no indication he had abused either privilege.

"When our identity systems lack integrity it's a serious issue," ICE spokesman Tim Counts said. "It's a community safety issue. It's a national security issue."

No one from the Milwaukee Police Department is commenting because Ayala is no longer employed there.

His brother likely will be out of a job soon, too.

Alex Ayala-Cornejo, who had worked at the department for five years, was fired in September for withholding information about his brother. He's appealing.

Oscar Ayala once wondered who the informant was and what the motives were. He didn't think he had an enemy.

Now, he accepts the consequences.

After he leaves prison, he will be permanently deported. His girlfriend of a year plans to follow him to Mexico.

"The cards that we were dealt just weren't the best ones," he said. "If I wouldn't have done this, I would still be in Mexico waiting to see if I could ever see my family."~



re:latino cops group complains about a RAND report

~Latino Group Criticizes Arrest Study

Published: 11/22/07, 4:25 PM EDT


NEW YORK (AP) - A national Latino law enforcement group on Thursday blasted an outside report that concluded the New York Police Department demonstrated no clear racial bias with its aggressive "stop-and-frisk" policy.

The policy resulted in more than 500,000 stops of pedestrians last year, most of them black or Hispanic, but the report said RAND Corp. researchers found only "small racial differences in the rates of frisk, search, use of force and arrest."

The National Latino Officers Association of America said the report confirmed what it already knew: "You get exactly what you pay for."

"This study is comprised of endless excuses, statistical justifications," the association said.

"If left unchallenged, it is the justification for racial profiling, abuse and discrimination," the group added.

The NYPD, which has long denied allegations of bias, responded on Thursday with a statement referring to the Latino group's executive chairman, Anthony Miranda.

"Not surprisingly, this statement is riddled with inaccuracies and exposes Miranda's deep ignorance of the statistical process employed by RAND, a nationally respected nonprofit, which subjected its research to rigorous peer review," police spokesman Paul Browne said in a statement.

The majority of the people stopped last year, 53 percent, were black; 29 percent were Hispanic and 11 percent were white.

The study acknowledged that black pedestrians were stopped at a rate 50 percent greater than their representation in the census, but it claimed using the census as a benchmark was unreliable because it didn't factor in higher arrest rates and more crime suspect descriptions involving blacks and Hispanics.~



re:would this be a hate crime over here?

~"The spark that caused the flare-up was never properly identified but on any view it was pretty inconsequential."

During the trial the court heard that when Mr Page bumped into Campbell, he resorted to some "shouting and posturing".

He then went into a kebab shop and minutes later the three chased off Mr Page's friends and cornered him.

The three also robbed Mr Page of his gold bracelet

They then kicked him until he collapsed.

The gang returned soon after to steal a gold bracelet from Mr Page and launched another attack on him.

The court heard that all three had previous convictions for various offences of theft, threatening behaviour and assault. ~



re:former press secretary writes 'tell all' yet says Bush 'didn't lie,,but was duped'.

~Public Affairs Books editor Peter Osnos said McClellan didn't think Bush deceived anyone. Rather, Osnos said, Bush himself was misled by White House aides.

"He's not suggesting the president himself had lied," Osnos said, adding, "Scott's not a guy who's pursuing any sort of agenda or being vindictive."~




re:similisexual sub content in 'superhero' comics'


re:monkeys that AIDS/HIV spread from being smuggled to America under 'religious' motivations

(the story makes out like it has something to do with Christianity)

~Monkey Meat at Center of NYC Court Case

Published: 11/24/07, 2:05 PM EDT


NEW YORK (AP) - From her baptism in Liberia to Christmas years later in her adopted New York City, Mamie Manneh never lost the longing to celebrate religious rituals by eating monkey meat.

Now, the tribal customs of Manneh and other West African immigrants have become the focus of an unusual criminal case charging her with meat smuggling, and touching on issues of religious freedom, infectious diseases and wildlife preservation.

The case "appears to be the first of its kind relating to that uniquely African product," defense attorney Jan Rostal wrote in a pending motion to dismiss. "Unfortunately, it represents the sort of clash of cultural and religious values inherent in the melting pot that is America."

At the center of the case in federal court is a modest woman with nine children and a history of domestic discord.

Manneh, 39, is serving a two-year sentence in state prison for trying to run over a woman she suspected of sleeping with her husband, Zanger Jefferson. If convicted of the federal charges she faces up to five more years in prison and deportation.

"The government's taking a woman away from her children," complained Jefferson, who's struggling to raise the children alone. "It's very depressing, especially with the holidays right around the corner."

The federal prosecution also has dampened spirits at the church in Staten Island where Manneh and other African immigrants once packed the pews to practice a religion blending Christianity and tribal customs.

One of the few worshippers left, Leona Artis, says the congregation's appetite for monkey meat is deeply misunderstood.

Take Thanksgiving.

"Where some people have turkey, we'll have monkey meat," Artis said. "Nobody ever ate it, got sick and died from it. I've been eating it all my life. It's delicious."

The monkey meat case dates to early 2006, when federal inspectors at JFK Airport examined a shipment of 12 cardboard boxes from Guinea.

They were addressed to Manneh and, according to a flight manifest, contained African dresses and smoked fish with a value of $780.

Instead, stashed underneath the smoked fish, the inspectors found what West Africans refer to as bushmeat: "skulls, limbs and torsos of non-human primate species" plus the hoof and leg of a small antelope, according to court papers.

Three days later, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents were at Manneh's door, where she told them she ran a smoked fish importing business.

According to the agents, she initially denied ordering any bushmeat from Africa or ever eating it while in the United States.

But after she consented to a search, the agents came across a tiny, hairy arm hidden in her garage.

"Monkey," she explained, claiming the arm was sent to her out of the blue "as a gift from God in heaven."

Federal prosecutors hit Manneh with smuggling charges that accused her of violating import procedures and suggested she was a menace to man and beast alike.

A criminal complaint cited evidence that the illegal importation of bushmeat encourages the slaughter of protected wild animals.

More ominously, the complaint warned of "the potential health risks to humans linking bushmeat to diseases like Lassa fever, Ebola, HIV, SARS and monkeypox."

Defense attorney Rostal has countered by accusing the government of picking on a poorly educated immigrant.

Her client's only offense, she said, was her inability to grasp Western attitudes and highly technical regulations regarding bushmeat.

Defense papers also argue that the U.S. demand for the meat involved in the Manneh case - from Africa's green monkey population - is "too small to have any significance for conservation."

Manneh testified last year that before arriving in the United States more than 25 years ago, monkey meat was critical to her religious upbringing.

At age 7, "I was baptized and they used that for the baptizing ceremony," she told a judge.

Baptisms, Easter, Christmas, weddings - all are occasions for eating monkey, Manneh's supporters said in a sworn statement filed with the court.

The statement was vague about how the meat is obtained, but explains that it always arrives dried and smoked. Once blessed by a pastor, "we usually prepare it by cooking it for several hours into a stew," they said.

For them, the exotic import is more than just food.

"We eat bushmeat," they said, "for our souls."~


re:U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon takes lead on 'global socialistic/communistic' agenda

~Early Climate Change Victim: Andes Water

Published: 11/23/07, 1:25 PM EDT


EL ALTO, Bolivia (AP) - Twice a day, Elena Quispe draws water from a spigot on the dusty fringe of this city, fills three grimy plastic containers and pushes them in a rickety wheelbarrow to the adobe home she shares with her husband and eight children.

But the water supply is in peril. El Alto and its sister city of La Paz, the world's highest capital, depend on glaciers for at least a third of their water - more than any other urban sprawl. And those glaciers are rapidly melting because of global warming.

Informed of the threat, Quispe, a 37-year-old Aymara Indian, shows alarm on her weathered face. "Where are we going to get water? Without water how can we live?"

Scientists predict that all the glaciers in the tropical Andes will disappear by mid-century. The implications are dire not just for La Paz-El Alto but also for Quito, Ecuador, and Bogota, Colombia. More than 11 million people now live in the burgeoning cities, and El Alto alone is expanding at 5 percent a year.

The melting of the glaciers threatens not just drinking water but also crops and the hydroelectric plants on which these cities rely. The affected countries will need hundreds of millions of dollars to build reservoirs, shore up leaky distribution networks and construct gas or oil-fired plants - money they simply don't have.

"We're the ones who've contributed the least to global warming and we're getting hit with the biggest bill," laments Edson Ramirez, a Bolivian hydrologist who coordinates U.N., French- and Japanese-sponsored projects to quantify the damage exacted on fragile Andes ecosystems by richer nations that use more gas and create more pollution.

Bolivia, South America's poorest country, is responsible for just 0.03 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions that scientists blame for global warming, says Ramirez. The United States, by contrast, contributes about one quarter.

President Evo Morales, in an Associated Press interview earlier this month, said he'll seek legal remedies if rich countries don't agree to pay for the damage they've wreaked on the developing world:

"It's not a question of cooperation. It's an obligation," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging that a new global treaty on climate change provide funding to help poor countries adapt to its damaging effects. Ban made the recommendation recently when U.N. scientists released a report saying the 40 leading industrial countries produced 46 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2004.

Starting in 2009, demand for water will outstrip supply in La Paz-El Alto, the government estimates. Without urgent, expensive projects - only now in initial planning stages - sustaining even the current population of 1.7 million will be impossible, said Oscar Paz, director of Bolivia's climate change program.

Similar fears are heard in Quito, which gets less than 10 percent of its water directly from the Antizana and Cotopaxi glaciers but much more from watersheds they feed. The Ecuadorean capital is expected to run short in 2015, even with a battery of projects already under way, including new reservoirs.

So Quitenos plan to cut a $1.1 billion tunnel through the cordillera and get Amazon basin runoff, says Edgar Ayabaca, director of the city's so-called "Western Rivers" project. He said work on the tunnel needs to begin by 2010 if supply is to continue to meet demand.

Bogota's fate is less clear. Bogota gets 70 percent of its water from alpine paramo, a fragile sponge of soil and vegetation often shrouded in clouds, which could dry up in higher temperatures.

Average temperatures in El Alto and its surrounding high plains have risen by as much as 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 30 years, estimates Felix Trujillo, head meteorologist at Bolivia's National Meteorological and Hydrological Service. And the melting of Andean equatorial glaciers has accelerated threefold since 1980, studies of Bolivian, Ecuadorean and Peruvian glaciers show.

These glaciers serve as natural shock absorbers for rain, accumulating it in the wet season and releasing it in the dry season. Their loss will lead to less rain because they help pry precipitation loose from moist air rising up from the Amazon basin, scientists say.

"All these ecosystems are changing very quickly. In fact, every year they change at a faster pace, which has all of us very alarmed," said Walter Vergara, the World Bank's lead climatologist for Latin America.

Signs of impending ecological confusion are already evident. Two years ago, Ramirez said, he discovered mosquitoes, flies and even butterflies for the first time at the base of one of the glaciers.

Another first: malaria, a lowland disease, has been reported in El Alto, which is 2 1/2 miles above sea level and gets occasional dustings of snow. An hour away at Zongo glacier, a rocky shoulder that cradled the glacier in 1991 is now 250 feet above it.

Down in El Alto, tens of thousands of the 850,000 residents lack running water. How many exactly depends who you ask. Public works director, Edwin Chuquimia, says it's more than half. The public water utility, EPSAS, says it's far less.

The city's two mostly dried-up rivers, trickling rivulets in wide washes, are putrid open sewers. Homemade wells abound. Forty percent of El Alto's water supply is lost to leaky pipes and theft, about the same rate as in Quito and Bogota.

The golden rule of the leftist Morales' government: No one profits from water sales. But critics argue that such a philosophy doesn't provide enough cash for badly needed investments.

Infrastructure projects totaling $60 million can guarantee El Alto-La Paz enough water for the next decade or so, said EPSAS director Victor Rico, but the utility has no more than $1.5 million a year to invest. Rico has secured a $5.5 million Venezuelan loan and said he has promises of a $5 million grant from the European Union, the possibility of $8 million in mixed Canadian financing, and possibly some Japanese and InterAmerican Development Bank money.

A land use dispute in El Alto has already killed a $2 million Swiss-funded initiative in March that would have built two waste water treatment plants in El Alto, said Thomas Hentschel, the project manager.

"It really hurt me, there was such need," he said. "Everything there was left up in the air."


AP writers Dan Keane in El Alto, Bolivia, and Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador, contributed to this report.~


re:chavez provides preview of leftist/ANSWER/WWP agenda for America

Chavez: No Risk to Private Property

Published: 11/23/07, 10:05 PM EDT


CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - President Hugo Chavez insisted his pending constitutional revisions pose no risk to private property, trying to counter critics who warn his government intends to increase seizures of buildings, lands and businesses.

If approved in a referendum Dec. 2, the reforms would enshrine socialist ideology in Venezuela's constitution and create a new class of collective property to be managed by communities and worker cooperatives.

Chavez said in a speech Thursday night that Venezuelans should not be afraid of the changes.

"How can someone believe that we're going to eliminate private property, personal property, if what we're doing is multiplying it?" he said, accusing opponents of spreading disinformation.

"They've spread fear like never before," Chavez told supporters. "Our campaign has to be more intense - them sowing fear and us erasing it."

His opponents say their worries are justified, because of Chavez's record and what is written in the proposed reforms, which say the state will place "common interests above the individual."

"It seems the government intends to make private business progressively disappear," said Nelson Maldonado, president of Consecomercio, one of Venezuela's main business chambers. "There is no democracy without private property, without free initiative - much less if there is no clear, reliable, and permanent respect for the right to property.

In recent years, mayors allied with Chavez have expropriated apartments for public housing, while the national government has expropriated a smattering businesses from a sugar refining plant to a paper plant, pledging fair compensation.

However, such expropriations have not been widespread, and private businesses in general is flourishing amid strong economic growth.

Chavez also has used soaring oil revenues to fund nationalization, buying shares of electric utilities and a telecommunications company.

The government has transferred more than 2.5 million acres of farmland to poor farmers, saying it was underused or that owners did not have adequate titles.

Many of the have-nots applaud these changes. Amid a decades-old housing shortage, squatters regularly seize unoccupied land and buildings.

"It can't be that there are houses empty when there are so many people without a roof over their heads, living in shacks," said Ana Inojoso, 29, a street vendor who rents a bare brick "rancho" in a Caracas slum. She supports Chavez's reforms, which also would eliminate presidential term limits.

Poor slumdwellers have been building shacks in a new squatter settlement next to the capital's horse racetrack, escaping crowded shantytowns where more than two families are often crammed into a single home.

On the plywood of her new shack, one woman painted the word "Yes!" to show support for Chavez.

In affluent areas, some concerned homeowners are trying to sell, particularly those with second homes who fear future legal changes. So far, however, such fears are based largely on rumors and not any concrete actions by the government.

Julio Rivas, 55, a Spaniard who has lived in Caracas for years, plans to sell his two homes and move back to Spain soon. "The guarantees taken for granted in any normal country have totally disappeared," he said.

Home sales rose 20 percent in Caracas last year, and are to increase an additional 17 percent in 2007, according to the Venezuelan Real Estate Chamber.

Other homes remain on the market, finding few buyers, as real estate analysts say increasing numbers of wealthy Venezuelans now prefer to buy in places like Panama or Florida

Another of the reforms would allow the state to provisionally occupy property for expropriation "during the legal process" - before a court has ruled. Critics say that would recognize the government's current practices.

When Chavez refused to renew the license of opposition-sided television station RCTV six months ago, the Supreme Court ordered the temporary seizure of its broadcasting equipment, including transmitters, to be used by a new public channel.

The equipment is worth $140 million, but RCTV has yet to receive any compensation, said Oswaldo Quintana, RCTV's vice president of legal affairs. "That's theft," he said.

The business group Fedecamaras expresses concern about a newly worded anti-monopoly clause it calls ambiguous. It applies to businesses in "a position of dominance," and Fedecamaras president Jose Manuel Gonzalez said under that definition "the most successful and efficient businesses could be punished."

"There are reasons to be alarmed," he said. "We see how there are confiscations, state takeovers, and there is no one who can limit the state's voracity."

Chavez, who has often clashed with business leaders, insists private enterprise will keep playing a key role alongside state-run businesses and expanding cooperatives.

"It's not about nationalizing all the economy," he says. "Our socialism accepts private property, just that private property should be in the framework of a constitution, laws and social interest."


Associated Press Writer Sandra Sierra contributed to this report.


re:chavez uses insinuation to 'intimidate' opponents

~Chavez: Only a 'Traitor' Will Vote No

Published: 11/23/07, 6:25 PM EDT


CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - President Hugo Chavez warned his supporters on Friday that anyone voting against his proposed constitutional changes would be a "traitor," rallying his political base before a referendum that would let him seek unlimited re-election in 2012 and beyond.

Brandishing a little red book listing his desired 69 revisions to Venezuela's charter, Chavez exhorted his backers to redouble their efforts toward a victorious "yes" vote in the Dec. 2 ballot.

"He who says he supports Chavez but votes 'no' is a traitor, a true traitor," the president told an arena packed with red-clad supporters. "He's against me, against the revolution and against the people."

His speech followed the recent high-profile defection of his former Defense Minister Gen. Raul Baduel, a longtime ally who called the president's proposed reforms a "coup." Others have also broken with the Chavista movement in recent months, including politicians of the small left-leaning party Podemos.

Chavez's opponents accuse him of concentrating power and seeking to be president-for-life like his close friend Fidel Castro of Cuba. Chavez insists he will only stay on as long as Venezuelans continue to vote for him.

"If you don't approve (the referendum), maybe we'll have time for a parachute jump in five years," Chavez, a former paratrooper, told the crowd. "But if you wish - if you approve the referendum - I will stay as long as God wills! Until the last bone of my skeleton dries out!"

The proposed revisions would do away with presidential term limits, extend terms from six to seven years, let Chavez appoint regional vice presidents and eliminate Central Bank authority, among other changes.

Critics warn he would also have the power to shut down Venezuelan newspapers, television and radio stations by declaring a state of emergency, and the government could detain citizens without charges during such a period.

Chavez insists the reforms are meant to deepen democracy and give Venezuelans more of a voice in government, especially through neighborhood-based "communal" councils.

He said he plans to increase funding for the councils to 5 percent of his government's 2008 budget, or $3.2 billion, that will go toward neighborhood projects from public housing to road paving.~



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