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Family, and dog, escapes Baghdad bombing

A family, and their dog, have had an amazing escape from Tuesday’s coordinated bomb attacks in Baghdad.


Liza, the ginger-coloured mutt, was stranded alone chained to a railing atop the bombed-out ruins of her Baghdad home.

She was reunited with her owners on Wednesday, bringing a few smiles after the Iraqi capital’s latest day of sorrow.

Presumed dead

Farouq Omar Muhei, his wife and children had been presumed dead, buried under the bricks and jagged plaster that rained down after their neighbourhood was struck in a wave of suicide bombings on Tuesday.

So neighbours were stunned when Muhei and his 14-year-old son, Omar, showed up on Wednesday on their wrecked street.

“Lots of neighbours thought I was dead,” he said. So did Iraqi police and rescue officials, who initially listed Muhei and his family among the 127 victims of the blasts.

Muhei and Omar were the only ones home when an explosives-rigged ambulance blew up near the Finance Ministry. They quickly crawled from the rubble, leaving neighbours to assume that the silence underneath the two metre high pile of wreckage meant the family was dead.

Their 6-year-old German shepherd mix had been spotted perched on a narrow section of wall, but the precarious location made it too dangerous for rescue workers and onlookers to try to quickly free her.

So Liza spent the night chained to a crumpled railing on the narrow L-shaped bit of wall, her empty water bucket beside her.

Muhei, his face laced with cuts and a large bandage covering his head, came directly from the clinic on Wednesday.

“I came back to rescue my dog,” said Muhei who sells candy in the local market. “After we crawled out of the rubble of our home, I said to my son, ‘The dog is dead.’ But my son said, ‘No, I saw her.”‘

And there she was, sitting on the crumbling wall with her front paws crossed.

Rescue mission

Muhei’s brother, Fuad, volunteered for the rescue climb. He was the only one with sturdy shoes.. Muhei wore sandals.

The brother quickly made it to the section of standing wall. But from there it was slow going as he picked his way along the loose debris, kicking away bricks and bits of metal, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

The dog yawned nervously as he approached, her tail between her legs.

Finally reaching the dog, Fuad paused to take a drag of his cigarette and then tried to unbuckle Liza’s leather collar. Someone yelled from the ground… just unclip the chain. He did and Liza’s tail wagged.

Fuad tried to grab Liza under her front legs but she resisted at first. “Liza, Liza!” Muhei yelled from below, and the dog relaxed.

She allowed Fuad to lift her up in a kind of bear hug, her nose brushing his neck. Muhei waited below, his arms outstretched.

Liza turned to him, shaking with joy as she was passed to her owner. Muhei whispered into her ear as he stepped over broken bricks, then put Liza down.

Her tail never stopped wagging as Muhei rubbed her neck and ears as she lapped water from a muddy puddle.

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Erupting undersea volcano filmed

Scientists have recorded the deepest erupting undersea volcano ever seen, some 1,200 metres beneath the Pacific Ocean.


A submersible robot witnessed the eruption in May during an underwater expedition near Samoa, and the high-definition videos were presented today at a geophysics conference in San Francisco.

Scientists hope the images, data and samples obtained during the mission will shed new light on how the earth’s crust was formed.

The research could also help explain how some sea creatures survive and thrive in extreme environments and how the earth behaves when tectonic plates collide.

“It was an underwater Fourth of July,” said Bob Embley, a marine geologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a news release.

“Since the water pressure at that depth suppresses the violence of the volcano’s explosions, we could get the underwater robot within feet of the active eruption.”

The eruption was a spectacular sight. Video showed bright-red magma bubbles releasing a smoke-like cloud of sulphur, then freezing almost instantly in the cold sea water, causing black rock to sink to the to the sea floor.

The submersible hovered near the blasts, its robotic arm reaching into the lava to collect samples.

Eighty percent of the earth’s volcanic activity occurs in the sea, making scientific observation difficult.

Researchers from NOAA and the National Science Foundation had studied deep-sea volcanoes extensively but never witnessed an eruption.

The mission’s chief scientist, Joseph Resing, last year detected volcanic material in the water in the area and realised it was erupting.

In May, the researchers travelled to the area and sunk the submersible robot, called Jason, hoping to make scientific history.

Scientists said the water around the volcano was more acidic than battery acid, but that shrimp and certain microbes seemed able to thrive.

Biologists will study these creatures to see if they are unique to this volcanic environment.

Researchers will also continue to monitor the changing West Mata volcano, about 250 kilometres southwest of Samoa.

Earth and ocean scientists also said the eruption allowed them to see the real-time creation of a rock called boninite, which had previously been found only in samples a million or more years old.

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Shredder offers good riddance to ’09

Forget New Year’s resolutions, scores of New Yorkers came to Times Square on to put their bad memories through the shredder at the third annual Good Riddance Day.


Ben Winnick, of Connecticut, shredded a newspaper story about the New York Giants’ 41-9 loss on Sunday to the Carolina Panthers, which ended the Giants’ playoff hopes.

“Hopefully, next season will be better,” he said.

Roxanne Rodriguez of Manhattan shredded a piece of paper with “Writer’s block” written on it. She intends to buckle down and write a musical.

“This is going to be the year I’m going to be dedicated and focused and I will get something down on the page every day,” she promised.

12 year-old prize winner

The winner of a $250 prize for most creative item shredded was 12-year-old Alissa Yankelevits of Los Angeles, who is visiting her grandparents in New York. She shredded the memory of a counsellor on a school trip who was later featured on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted.”

“I just spent a week with him,” Alissa said. “It was really terrifying because I just found that out.”

Good Riddance Day was organised by the Times Square Alliance as part of the build-up to Thursday’s ball-drop celebration.

Participants lined up near the booth where discount theatre tickets are sold and pitched their bad memories into an industrial-sized shredder. A Dumpster and a sledgehammer were available for items that couldn’t be shredded, which included an old computer and a tin of fattening office snacks.

Some shredded reams of bills and correspondence while others sought to banish the memory of former boyfriends and girlfriends.

Gillian Lyons broke up with a man she calls “the Beastmaster” and said she’s been waiting for him to return her possessions for two years. “He won’t give me back the TV I paid for,” she complained.

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Rudd: Joyce ‘irresponsible’ for comments

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this morning accused Opposition finance spokesman Barnaby Joyce of irresponsibility following suggestions by Joyce that the US may default on its debt.


Yesterday, Joyce said Australia must prepare for the fallout that may occur were the US to default on its debt.

“What will be the effect then on the demand for Australian resources?” Joyce asked.

“Obviously that would go through the floor, and you know, how would Australia go forward in a position where the dynamics of the global economy are all changed?”

Joyce also wants a ban on Chinese state investment in Australia.

“There has to be consideration as to what extent you want a state-owned enterprise, China or otherwise – a state-owned enterprise will be the owner of your mineral wealth, our nation of Australia’s sovereign wealth in the ground,” he said.

But Mr Rudd says Joyce is making up policy as he goes along. “That’s shooting from the lip, making it up on the run, I think being very, very irresponsible about basic Australian interests.”

“For someone, as the alternative finance minister of Australia, to run around the place saying America could default, Australian state governments could default, that’s not responsible economic policy,” he said.

Joyce aims for big four

Yesterday, Joyce also floated the prospect of introducing divestiture laws aimed at improving competition in the banking sector.

Senator Joyce said banks were riding rough shod over consumers due to reduced competition in the sector and that the federal government was doing nothing to stop it.

“Westpac under the cover of darkness have jacked up rates way beyond where the RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) has done it and have done because they can,” he told Sky News.

The comments follow a decision by Westpac to hike its mortgage rates by 0.45 of a percentage point, almost twice the

25-basis-point rise in the official rate handed down by the Reserve Bank last week.

“The government stood by and watched St George and Westpac amalgamate, BankWest and CBA amalgamate,” Senator Joyce said.

“The government has stood by and watched the centralisation in the banking market and now we’re seeing the fruits of that.”

Earlier this year, Westpac bought St George while the Commonwealth Bank acquired BankWest.

Senator Joyce said the centralisation of the banking sector had put the banks in a very strong position where they could basically do what they wanted in terms of interest rates.

Joyce: Give government the power to break up merged banks

The opposition finance spokesman said divestiture laws could be introduced that would allow the government to break up the merged banks if they abused their market position.

“You don’t even have to break them apart. You have to suggest to them that those powers could be in place to do that if they are not more diligent in how they respect the Australian community,” he said.

“Sometimes these powers are like a Sword of Damocles and they keep people in check because they know the government has the capacity to influence how they do business if they get out of control.”

The federal government stood back and watched the big banks gain market share and as a result consumers were being exploited with no checks or balances.

“We would certainly look at competition in the banking sector and we would certainly be far more diligent about what the effects would be to the marketplace prior to these mergers going through,” he said.

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Polanski ‘finishing movie under house arrest’

Roman Polanski is finishing the edit of his latest movie, Ghost, while under house arrest in Switzerland, surrounded by family and bombarded by telephone calls of support, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy says in an interview.


Levy, a friend of the 76-year-old director, has told the Lausanne-based weekly Le Matin Dimanche he visited Polanski in his chalet in the luxury Swiss resort of Gstaad about 10 days ago and found him like “a rock”, working and confident, even though his family is worried about the US extradition request hanging over him.

“It’s in fact very impressive. He is in the process of finishing at a distance the editing of his next film, which I understand will be in the official selection at the next Berlin festival,” Levy said in the weekly on Sunday.

He said he was able to have a friendly dinner with Polanski in the chalet. Being able to entertain at home was one of the privileges the director received after his December 4 transfer to house arrest from a Swiss jail after more than 60 days of detention.

Polanski has to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle to guard against his leaving the grounds of the chalet, but he is able to receive guests inside or outside the house, work on his films, make telephone calls and send emails as much as he likes.

“The telephone doesn’t stop ringing; the messages of support are pouring in, especially from his Swiss friends,” Levy said.

He said Polanski told him Swiss officials were only doing their job in arresting him on September 26 and holding him in detention, but that all of them had treated him with kindness and appeared “extraordinarily embarrassed” by what he was going through.

Swiss authorities have said they will decide early next year whether to extradite Polanski to the US, where he is wanted in Los Angeles for sentencing for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl.

If Polanski breaks the conditions of his house arrest, the Swiss government would confiscate the $US4.5 million ($A5.1 million) bail he deposited. That substantial amount was a key element in granting the house arrest – a first in Switzerland for a detainee in an extradition case.

Polanski’s two children – Elvis, nine, and Morgane, 16 – and his wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, have been staying in the chalet with him.

The Oscar-winning director of Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist was arrested as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award at a film festival.

Polanski was initially accused of raping the girl after plying her with champagne and a Quaalude pill during a 1977 modelling shoot. He was indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molestation and sodomy, but he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse.

In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sent him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. The evaluator released Polanski after 42 days, but the judge said he was going to send him back to serve out the 90 days.

The filmmaker fled the US on February 1, 1978, the day he was to be formally sentenced. He has lived since then in France, which does not extradite its citizens.

Polanski has been getting help from his victim in the California case in a bid to have sex misconduct charges against him dismissed.

The lawyer for Samantha Geimer, who long ago publicly identified herself, argued earlier this month for an end to the case, saying she has repeatedly said she wants it dropped.

The California Second District Court of Appeal is being asked to decide if it should order a lower court to consider dismissing the case without Polanski’s attendance in court.

Polanski claims that the US judge and prosecutors acted improperly in his case.

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Hostages freed amid Philippines violence

Tribal gunmen have freed 47 hostages in the southern Philippines, but the region continues to be wracked by violence as suspected Islamic radicals free dozens of inmates, including comrades accused of beheading marines, during a deadly jail break.


The three-day hostage standoff in Agusan del Sur province and the jail raid on Basilan island come on the heels of a political massacre last month in a nearby frontier region in which 57 people were killed. The back-to-back crises underscore the complexity of conflicts raging in the country’s south, an impoverished region awash with firearms, outlaws, political warlords and Muslim insurgents.

The remaining 47 hostages freed on Sunday were among the more than 75 people, including children, snatched on Thursday by gunmen trying to evade police serving warrants for a string of charges, including murder.

The kidnappers’ jungle encampment had been surrounded by troops and snipers. Vice-Governor Santiago Cane of Agusan del Sur said the gunmen – former government-armed militiamen – gave up their hostages and weapons after negotiators pledged not to have them arrested on the past charges or the abductions.

Several women and children were freed immediately after the kidnapping, leaving those still held crammed in small bamboo huts that leaked when it rained. Some had fever when they walked free.

“I’m happy that it’s over,” said 35-year-old Josafer Bautista, who was taken with the other freed hostages for a checkup at a hospital in Agusan del Sur’s capital of Prosperidad, about 830 km

southeast of Manila.

The gunmen still have to be investigated and undergo questioning before they are turned over to a Catholic bishop while their murder cases are reviewed by a tribal court, regional police commander Lino Calingasan said.

Joebert Perez, the leader of the hostage-takers, denied the murder charges, which arose from a violent land dispute with a rival clan.

Government negotiators, invoking a law that protects the rights of ethnic groups, agreed to Perez’s demand to have his case handled by a tribal court instead of a regular tribunal. Police promised to disarm his rivals, whom Perez has accused of killing some of his relatives, officials said.

On southern Basilan island, a new security dilemma unfolded early Sunday when about 70 suspected Islamic radicals stormed their way into the provincial jail with a sledgehammer, boltcutters and guns, provincial Vice Governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul said.

They freed several insurgents, including a rebel commander and another guerrilla accused of involvement in the beheading of 10 marines in a 2007 clash. The jail assault – in which a total of 31 inmates were freed – sparked a brief clash that killed a jail guard and one of the attackers, he said.

Among those who escaped were five militants from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a large Muslim rebel group engaged in peace talks with the government, and 12 from the smaller but more violent Abu Sayyaf group, which has been linked to al-Qaida, regional military commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino said.

“All these are high-risk prisoners,” Sakalahul said, adding that troops, backed by air force helicopters, were closing in on some of the fleeing inmates. None had been caught by late Sunday.

Meanwhile, more than 4,000 army troops backed by special police forces continued a massive crackdown on a powerful clan blamed for last month’s massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists and their staff, in Maguindanao.

More than 100 militiamen loyal to the clan were being hunted for allegedly helping with the killings.

The involvement of former and active militiamen in the hostage-taking and the Maguindanao massacre have sparked calls for the disbanding of paramilitary forces, which have been armed by the government to help in counter-insurgency assaults.

The militias, drawn from the ranks of the unemployed, landless farmers, former rebels and ex-soldiers, have become notorious for abusing civilians, looting homes or ending up as private armies of political warlords.

The underfunded military, one of Asia’s weakest, has found itself in a dilemma, fearing that disarming the some 55,000 militiamen – considered crucial “force multipliers” – will undermine the ability of its 120,000 troops to combat Muslim and communist insurrections and the threat posed by al-Qaeda-linked militants.

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Missing Dutch teen sailor found

Laura Dekker, a 14-year-old Dutch girl who was barred by a court from sailing around the world solo, was found on a Caribbean island, two days after she ran away from home, police said.


Dekker was found “safe and sound” on the Dutch island of Sint Maarten, said Bernhard Jens, spokesman for the police in the central Dutch city of Utrecht, which is near the girl’s hometown.

“She was recognised by an island resident who was aware of the media attention surrounding Laura’s disappearance,” Jens told AFP.

The police spokesman said the girl, who was reported missing on Friday, had run away from her home in the Netherlands but it was unclear how she ended up on the island.

Jens said: “We still have a lot of questions: When did she leave the Netherlands? Why? How did she arrive in Sint Maarten? Was she helped and was she alone?”

Dekker will soon be sent back to the Netherlands, he said.

She lives with her father in the Dutch town of Maurik, near Utrecht.

Disappearance sparked alarm

The teen’s boat, Guppy was still moored at its usual berth when she was reported missing, Utrecht police spokesman Bernhard Jens told The Associated Press.

Dutch authorities had alerted neighbouring countries to monitor airports before Dekker was found.

Dekker has joint Dutch and New Zealand citizenship because she was born on a yacht in New Zealand waters.

She said earlier this year she might try to go there if Dutch authorities refused to let her sail.

Jens would not comment on a report in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant that Dekker withdrew 3,500 euros ($A5,660) from her bank account a few days ago.

Safety concerns prompted ban

Last October the youth court in Utrecht prohibited Dekker from setting off on an around-the-world solo yacht trip for at least eight months, citing concerns about her safety.

It also placed the teenager — whose father Dick Dekker supported her ambitions, but whose mother expressed doubts — under the protection of child care officers until July 1 next year.

Last August a 17-year-old Briton, Mike Perham, became the youngest person to complete a solo voyage around the world, albeit with assistance.

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Clue to Tassie devil deaths

The news could be a key step in the race to save Australia’s snarling marsupial from impending extinction.


Tasmanian devils spread a fast-killing cancer when they bite each other’s faces; Since the disease’s discovery in 1996, their numbers have plummeted by 70 per cent.

Last spring, Australia listed the devils – made famous by their Looney Tunes cartoon namesake Taz – as an endangered species.

There is no treatment, and little hope of finding one until scientists better understand what is fuelling this bizarre “devil facial tumour disease”.

So an international research team picked apart the cancer’s genes, and discovered that it apparently first arose in cells that protect the animals’ nerves.

Hopes for vaccine

The surprise finding, reported in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, has led to development of a test to help diagnose this tumour.

Next, scientists are hunting the mutations that turned these cells rogue, work they hope could one day lead to a vaccine to protect remaining Tasmanian devils, or perhaps treatments.

“The clock’s ticking,” lead researcher Elizabeth Murchison of the Australian National University said. “It’s awful to think there could be no devils here in 50 years because they’re dying so quickly.”

The devils, known for powerful jaws, fierce screeches and voracious consumption of prey, are the world’s largest marsupial carnivores. They do not exist in the wild outside Tasmania.

What triggered this cancer, which causes tumours that grow so large on the face and neck that the animals eventually can’t eat?

It did not jump from another species, said Murchison.

Tasmanian devils, for unknown reasons, are prone to various types of cancer.

Genetic mutations

This tumour’s genetic signature suggests that probably no more than 20 years ago, mutations built up in some animals’ Schwann cells – cells that produce the insulation, called myelin, crucial for nerves – until the first devil fell ill with this new type.

Those mutations went far beyond a typical cancer.

When one sick animal bites another, it transplants living cancer cells that form a copy of the first animal’s tumour.

Murchison’s team tested 25 tumours gathered from devils in different parts of Tasmania, and found the tumours were essentially identical to one another.

It’s one of only two forms of cancer known to spread this way, Murchison said; the other is a sexually transmitted cancer in dogs. (That is quite different from people’s transmission of a few cancer-causing viruses, such as the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer.)

The researchers created a diagnostic test, based in part on a myelin-related protein called periaxin that was present in all the facial tumours but not in other cancers.

Also, the team compiled a catalogue of Tasmanian devil genetic information.

Among the next goals is to determine which of those genes most influence the spread and severity of this cancer.

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Does Obama make a worthy peace prize winner?

In its 108-year history, the Nobel Peace Prize has been taken home by all sorts of deserving individuals.


On other years, entire organisations have received the coveted award.

Despite its seemingly egalitarian aspirations, Western men have on the whole dominated the prize pool over the years. This year, the prize went to another Western man: US President Barrack Obama. Critics were quick to pounce. “Why should the president of a country at war win the prize?” was the question on many lips. “What has he actually achieved?”, asked others.

To his credit, Obama’s acceptance speech in Oslo acknowledged these points.

“My accomplishments are slight”, Obama conceded, when comparing himself with previous winners.

The issue of the US’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – which Obama continues – were also on the minds of audiences around the world . He met these concerns head on.

“The instruments of war,” Obama said, “do have a role to play in preserving the peace.”

“War is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human feelings.”

Your Say: Do you think Obama makes a worthy winner? have your say below.

For a full list of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, click here.

Worthy winners

There have been some worthy winners over the years, taking in the gamut of peace campaigners, refugee advocates, ‘freedom fighters’ and religious leaders.

Obama himself namechecked Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King.

Mandela – who won the prize with South Africa’s last white president, Fredrick Willem De Clerk in 1993 -led South Africa out of apartheid.

Mother Teresa, an Indian citizen born in the Ottoman Empire, beatified by Pope John Paul II, was renowned for her humanitarian work helping the poor and needy. She won in 1978.

And Martin Luther King was the leader of the non-violent African-American civil rights movement in the US. For his work, King was honoured in 1964.

Obama also namechecked 1952 winner Albert Schweitzer, the great missionary surgeon and hospital founder who worked in Gabon.

In its inaugural year, the prize was shared between Jean Henri Dunant, founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Frederic Passy, founder and president of the first French peace society.

A number of organisations have been honoured collectively, including the Red Cross on several occassions, as well as Amnesty International, Medecins Sans Frontieres and UNICEF.

Many other individual ‘greats’ have taken home the prize in the last half century.

South African bishop Desmond Tutu, The Dalai Lama, former UN Head Koffi Annan and Burmese Opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi have all won.

The Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev arguably played a greater role than any other individual in ending communist rule in the USSR and its satellite states, and was rewarded with the prize in 1990.

Seven years earlier, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa took home the prize.

People who have played a significant role in helping the poor have often been honoured: Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank most recently pleased the committee for ‘microfinancing’ poor borrowers in Bangladesh.

Honouring leaders with a taste for war

With these previous winners in mind, debate was always going to rage over a first-term president with few achievements under his belt – not to mention the fact that the US finds itself embroiled in two major wars.

But Obama is also far from being the first winner with a questionable approach to ‘peace’.

Way back in 1917, US President Woodrow Wilson won the prize in 1917 for his work in setting up the League of Nations, predecessor to the UN. Yet Wilson took the US to war in Europe in 1917, implemented the draft for the first time since the US civil war, and passed laws to shut down anti-war sentiments.

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, an emminent Soviet nuclear physicist, worked against nuclear proliferation, for which he was rewarded in 1975. Ironically though, Sakharov had already played a key role in the development of the hydrogen bomb.

In 1973, North Vietnamese military leader and politician Le Duc Tho was jointly awarded the prize with US President Henry Kissinger. Le Duc Tho had led the communist insurgency against the South Vietnamese government, and both men played important roles in bringing about a peace agreement.

Le Duc Tho refused the award, saying that in reality, there was no peace in his country, while Kissinger accepted, and continued to advise succesive US presidents on military policy, playing an important role in subsequent bombings of Laos and Cambodia.

And they weren’t the only formerly warring leaders awarded the prize simply on the basis of discontinuing war – Egypt’s Anwar Al-Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin were awarded the prize for signing a peace treaty between the two countries – after three decades of a continuous state of war. Al-Sadat was assasinated, while Begin went on to authorise the bombing of Lebanon in 1982.

In 1994, many were surprised when the the prize was awarded jointly to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Foreign Minister Shim Pires, and Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister. Fifteen years later, inhabitants of the region are still awaiting lasting peace.

Obama talks the talk – even if he is yet to walk

But it is worrth considering that for all the criticism, what prize founder Alfred Nobel wanted was the prize to go to the person who had done “the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

In the wake of the announcement, the comment ‘he’s not George Bush’ was frequently given to explain the reasons for Obama’s honouring.

Despite the rise of China, there is still only one superpower with the military might to move mountains, without getting in existential trouble for it.

As such, it seems as if the mere election of a president in that country who talks the talk of peace and reconciliation seems to go a long way with judges in Oslo.

Whether Obama wins again in a few years – once he’s walked the walk as well – remains to be seen.

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Iran denies involvement in UK hostages

Britain and Iran are downplaying a report that the 2007 kidnapping of a British computer expert and his bodyguards in Iraq was led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, who took the men to Iran.


Peter Moore was freed unharmed Wednesday after a two-and-a-half year ordeal in which all four bodyguards are thought to have died. A first photo since his release showed him looking relaxed in the grounds of Britain’s Baghdad embassy.

But there is speculation a deal was done after it emerged the leader of the group which took Moore from a government building in Baghdad was being transferred from US to Iraqi custody, with the Guardian’s investigative film leading the way, and Britain’s Channel 4 News coming up with further claims.

Iran has dismissed as “baseless” reports of its involvement, saying they were motivated by British “anger” over a crackdown on opposition protests.

“They emanate from the British anger towards the rallies in which millions of Iranians took part to condemn British interference in (Iran’s) internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by state-controlled news channel Al-Alam.

Britain added it had “no evidence” to support the report in the Guardian newspaper that the Revolutionary Guard led the operation and took the five to Iran within a day of their abduction.

The BBC also quoted the US’s former commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, as saying he was “90 percent certain” that the group was held in Iran for part of their time in capitivity.

The Guardian claim that Moore was targeted because he was installing a computer tracking system that would show how international aid money to Iraqi institutions was diverted to Iran’s militia groups in Iraq.

Several sources repeat Iran-connection claims

A former unnamed Revolutionary Guard said the five were held in two camps. “It was an Iranian kidnap, led by the Revolutionary Guard, carried out by the Al-Quds brigade,” he was quoted saying.

An unnamed Iraqi government minister backed up the claims, telling the Guardian: “This was an IRG (Iranian Revolutionary Guard) operation”.

But Sami al-Askari, an Iraqi lawmaker who the Guardian suggested had flown to Iran to meet the kidnappers, denied this to the BBC, while acknowledging that he was involved in talks with the hostage-takers in Iraq.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it has “no evidence” to support the reports of an Iranian link.

“We have seen speculation that Iran is directly involved in this case,” a spokesman said. “Iran of course has an influence in Iraq, but we have no evidence to substantiate claims of direct involvement in this case.”

US transfers kidnap leader to Iraqi custody

Amid speculation, denied by Britain, that a deal was done to secure 36-year-old Moore’s release, the US confirmed Thursday that the leader of the group behind the kidnapping was being transferred to Iraqi custody.

“The United States has complied with an Iraqi government request in accordance with the US-Iraqi Security Agreement and the rule of law to transfer AAH (Asaib al-Haq) members, to include Qais al-Khazaali, from US custody to Iraqi custody pursuant to an Iraqi arrest warrant,” the US spokesman said.

Although it was not immediately clear if Khazaali was still in US custody, the BBC reported that he had been handed over “very recently”.

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