Australians volunteer to be human shields
Melbourne: As demonstrations to military action with Iraq rocked major Australian capital cities Friday activists are set to travel to Baghdad to prevent a US military strike on Iraq.
In revolt against Australia committing SAS forces to a US onslaught on Iraq activists are considering travel to Iraq to shield `the palaces', defend the Iraqi people and break the devastating UN sanctions crippling Iraq.
The president of the South Movement, David Muller confirmed that the Melbourne based Non-aligned Nations support group is one of many Australian organisations considering an open invitation from foreign affairs bureau of Iraq's Arab Socialist Baath Party to send people to Iraq. He said, "the invitation was for Australians to see the effect of seven years of sanctions on Iraq, and discuss the danger of American threats of military strikes against Iraq". However one passionate volunteer said, " I dont have a problem with being a human shield".
About 300 people gathered at Melbourne's GPO to protest against Australia sending troops to the Gulf. The rally is one of several across the country. About 200 protesters in Sydney have condemned Australia's involvement in a possible military strike against Iraq in a rally outside the US consulate.
The protests organised by peace, socialist and youth organisations, also criticised the US for leading the threatened strike, and demanded an end to sanctions against Iraq. In 1991 Australians peace activists were well repesented in the peace camp on the Iraq/Saudi border.
"We'll keep on going with more actions to involve more and more people to get more and more people out onto the streets to show that the Australian public doesn't agree with the decisions of the Australian Government." said Kerryn Williams from the socialist youth group Resistance. "So there'll be more meetings to discuss the issues, there'll be more rallies, there'll be more marches and so on", she said at Melbourne's GPO demonstration.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, Iraqis officially commerated the seventh anniversary of 400 people killed by a surgical strike on a civilian shelter. On January 13, 1991, the 28th consecutive night of bombing against Baghdad, two precision-guided laser bombs hit a shelter in the district of Ameriya, killing 400 mainly women and children. The United States claimed the shelter was being used as a military command center, and denied any knowledge of a civilian presence.
At the same time United Nations Spokesman Eric Falt told reporters that United Nations staff who are abroad on annual leave have been asked to stay out of Iraq. Currently, there are 319 staff involved in the oil-for-food programme, including 174 in Baghdad and 145 in the three northern districts.
Asked if threats of military action were impeding the implementation of the oil-for-food programme, Mr. Falt said United Nations humanitarian operations were affected to a limited extent. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the situation, observers in central and southern Iraq were limited to day trips from Baghdad, and "there are a few less bodies to man the entire operation".
Mr. Falt described progress in the humanitarian relief effort, particularly in the area of demining, which he said was "coming to life" in northern Iraq. A team of five experts from the United Nations Office of Project Services has been deployed to provide technical oversight, administration and logistical support. Actual demining is expected to start in early April.
On Thursday Eric Falt said that a military strike on Iraq could disrupt the flow of supplies under the country's oil-for-food programme ``Of course we greatly fear that the flow of commodities could be interrupted at some stage if hostilities break out.''\
In London nine people were arrested as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the gates leading to Prime Minister Tony Blair's Downing Street office to demonstrate against British plans to support a possible U.S. military strike.
Organizers The National Peace Council said the Iraqi people had suffered
long enough from harsh economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion
of Kuwait. "Military action has been ineffective in seriously influencing
the Iraqi regime in the past and there is no reason to suppose it will
be any more effective now," the group said in a statement.
Sydney: Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan urged Australia today to reverse its decision to support any U.S. military action against Iraq over U.N. weapons inspections saying the US was becoming a ``merchant of death''
``Iraq has done nothing to Australia. Iraq does not threaten Australia,''
he told Muslims at a mosque in suburban Lakemba. ``I pray that your great
leadership will rethink its decision and not send any warships into the
Gulf to join in bombing a people that are already dying of starvation,
malnutrition and disease,'' he said.
At the Mosque, he told Muslim supporters Australia had nothing to gain by supporting the United States in the looming conflict in Iraq.
He says the United States is threatening a military strike against Iraq to force the ousting of its leader, Saddam Hussein. He said the people of Iraq should be allowed to choose their government, and not the US and its allies like Australia.
He ridicules the notion that Iraq still has weapons of mass-destruction saying "If she does have them, what have you been doing there in your inspections for seven years?"
On Thursday, Farrakhan agreed to abide by Australia's racial vilification laws as part of visa conditions placed on a planned visit there.Farook Hadid, President of the Lebanese Muslim Association, said Farrakhan had been invited to Lakemba because Australian Muslims needed to hear his views first hand.
"He's a converted Muslim and he's been defending Islam against all rumors
which give Islam a bad name and we are interested to hear what exactly
he has to say," Hadid told ABC national radio. "We've read a lot about
him in the newspapers and we believe what has been written about him ...
is a little bit misrepresented."
In New Zealand, a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Max Bradford
said: "Mr. Bradford is expecting it to be a low-key visit and expected
Mr. Farrakhan would honor this." She said Farrakhan would not need to apply
for a visa in advance because U.S. citizens could enter New Zealand for
up to three months on a visitors permit, which is granted on arrival.
Catholics against Iraq strike
Washington : U.S. Roman Catholic leaders said Friday that an attack on Iraq would be ``difficult, if not impossible, to justify.''
A letter to Clinton signed by all seven active American cardinals and the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops said: ``We write ... to urge that instead of using the military option, you reinforce the diplomatic initiatives by widening the participation of other governments, especially Arab states, in the concerted effort to bring about Iraqi compliance on these issues.''
Earlier this week the United States Catholic Conference urged the U.S. government to tackle the danger posed by Iraq without resorting to force. ``We fear that the use of military force in this case could pose an undue risk to an already suffering civilian population, could well be disproportionate to the ends sought and could fail to resolve legitimate concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction,'' Theodore McCarrick, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Newark, said in a public letter to Albright.
On Thursday, Bishop Tom Gumbleton was among 26 were arrested as 300 demonstrated in front of the White House.
On Jan 20 Catholic bishops urged President Clinton to work for the ``immediate cessation'' of the embargo asserting that U.N. sanctions over the past seven years have caused the deaths of more than a million Iraqis, . ``For us this is a moral question,'' said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit. ``We are killing people and it has to stop.''
Meanwhile at a grassroot level Arab American Father Labib Kobti petition to gather 22 millions signatures to lift UN Sanctions against Iraq and support an appeal for the Pope to visit Iraq is gaining strength.
"I have gotten ten of thousands of letters and we are getting more and more signatures from all over the world: USA, Canada, Swizerland, Austria, Australia, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, France, Italy, Finland, United Kingdom, Mexico, Spain, Malysia etc", Father Labib Kobti said
He further commented,"Children are dying. People are starving. Enough
is enough". "The petition should aim for the number of the inhabitants
of Iraq. A signature of each of our innocent friends," he said. He called
on the faithful to "contact their priests, bishops, Cardinals from differnt
confessions and countries and sign a paper to be sent to the Nuntius of
the Pope in Washington and to the Vatican."
Related : 54
Catholic US Bishop's statement
Fermentation beat up confirmed
Baghdad: Iraq confirmed the fiction of a Washington Post story that it had sought to buy equipment from Russia to make biological weapons on Friday.
An Iraqi government spokesman denounced Thursday's report by the Washington Post that U.N. inspectors had found evidence of a Russian deal to sell Iraq equipment, including a 1,100-gallon fermentation vessel that could be used to develop biological weapons.
"The U.S. administration aims, by leaking this report to the Washington Post, to thwart the intense efforts Russia is making...to achieve a diplomatic solution to the current problem between Iraq on one side and the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the United States on the other," a Culture and Information Ministry spokesman said.
The spokesman, quoted by the Iraqi news agency on Thursday night, said
the "leaking of this false information" amounted to "media and diplomatic
terrorism" against Russia.
A "crude invention." was what Russia described the Washington Post story on Thursday. "Russia has never made any deals with Iraq that would violate international sanctions, moreover deals involving supplies of banned technologies," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Tarasov told reporters in Moscow.
The Iraqi news agency quoted Lieutenant-General Amer Saadi, a presidential adviser, as saying: "Iraqi industrial parties planned in 1995 to build a factory for animal feed and contacted Russian companies to supply them with a fermentation reservoir of 2,000 cubic meters...
"This size is suitable for producing industrial animal feed and is not practicable for other dangerous purposes," he said.
Saadi said the steps had been taken with the knowledge of UNSCOM and
under its supervision. There had been no concealment by Iraq, he added.
Saadi said the deal had not gone beyond the initial contact, with no contract
signed or meeting held to discuss it.
IMF gets it wrong in Indonesia
Jarkarta: World Bank president, Mr James Wolfenshon, on Wednesday conceded the bank "got it wrong" in Indonesia failing to predict the economic meltdown. In a heated meeting, a group of independent economists blamed the World Bank for encouraging "overconfidence" by foreign and domestic investors and challenged Mr Wolfenshon to aknowledge the bank's role in perpetuating economic policies which contributed to the crisis.
"There is no doubt we got it wrong: the current changes have taken us by surprise," Mr Wolfenshon said, before leaving for a tour of slum areas. "The issue is now human, it is life and death."
Ten towns in Java and Sulawesi have been hit by sporadic riots over the past week as angry mobs attacked shops in protest against price increases.
In the outer islands, the drought is continuing and eastern Indonesia is facing food shortages as crops fail and distribution networks break down.
A field report completed for the Asian Development Bank said: "In parts of Flores people talked about losing three crops in a row. Some farmers planted rice after some promising rain but soon found that follow-up rains did not come and the rice turned yellow. "People are hungry and scared," the report said.
The report said average daily wages on the riot-torn island were about
3500 rupiah ($US3.50), but prices have risen so sharply that rice costs
1600 rupiah a kilogram and vegetables about 2000 rupiah.
Chanting "Freedom" and "Lower the prices," about 200 people gathered to vent their anger over Indonesia's economic crisis and demand that the country's leaders be held accountable. Since the rupiah began dropping in value last year, unemployment and prices of basic commodities have soared.
President Soeharto claimed that Indonesia is the victim of a plot by outsiders to destroy the economy. "There are [parties] trying to engineer the fall of the rupiah to the 20,000 level [against the dollar]. It does not make sense. Therefore, we must be cautious and find ways to deal with this," Mr Soeharto said while inaugurating an industrial complex in West Java.
The Indonesian President did not name the parties he thought were responsible
but has recently criticised foreign currency speculators for forcing down
the rupiah's value.
Australian concerns continue
Perth: Anti-war protesters went to the SAS Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne today to urge Australia to think again about committing troops to any war against Iraq.
The Coalition for Peace in Iraq described the small protest as an 11th hour peace action to "hold back the SAS" from the proposed Middle East conflict. Spokesperson and former Senator Jo Vallentine said many people could not understand why Australia was being so quick to agree to support Bill Clinton in a war against Iraq.
Senator Vallentine says she does not believe diplomatic solutions have been exhausted. "I want people to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes, to shout it from the rooftops," she said. "[They should be asking]: 'What are you doing threatening to use nuclear weapons to get at other weapons of mass destruction - they're all bad news."
In Melbourne antiwar activists on Saturday after yesterday's succesful protest consolidated their activities into an organisation called "People against War in Iraq" and will hold an expanded protest demonstration and rally next Friday at the GPO at 5pm.
In Adelaide today the head of the Anglican Church of Australia, Keith Rayner, has called on the Federal Government to try to settle the Gulf crisis without direct military action. Dr Rayner told the Church's general synod there are some arguments in favour of supporting a US military strike against Iraq. But Dr Rayner says the concern is the selectiveness with which breaches of United Nations resolutions are taken seriously. He said he was concerned "American foreign policy may be largely influenced by a desire to divert attention from current domestic concerns in the US".
In Canberra trade officials worry that Australian live cattle export trade to Libya is on the chopping block in retaliation for Australia's decision to send troops to any U.S.-led attack against Iraq.
The booming Australian exports of live cattle to Libya surged in 1997 to 97,525 head, worth A$51 million (US$34 million), from just 7,700 head a year earlier are a gave blow.
The Libyan trade threat came after the Australian government said on
Tuesday it had committed to send up to 250 military personnel and two air-to-air
refuelling aircraft to Iraq.