British Army uses mosques on UK firing range
The UK army was accused of gross insensitivity yesterday for putting up seven mosque-like structures on a firing range. Muslim leaders said the replicas were used as symbols of danger and reinforced negative stereotypes of Islam. The fake buildings - complete with green-domed roofs - were installed on the Black Beck range at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire. During training exercises, soldiers are instructed to fire at wooden targets mounted on rails which emerge from behind the 'mosques'. Last night, the British Ministry of Defence apologised and said it had 'no intention of offending religious sensibilities'. But a spokesman said it was crucial that the 'generic Eastern buildings' were put up to replicate conditions in Afghanistan ahead of future deployments.
US worried about Russian- Venezuelan arms deal
The United States Department last week questioned Venezuela's need to buy billions of dollars in weapons from Russia, voicing concern that the arms may end up elsewhere in Latin America. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley on Monday said that while Russia and Venezuela have the right to pursue relations, the United States is hard-pressed to see what legitimate defense needs Venezuela has for the equipment. If Venezuela is going to increase its military hardware, the U.S. does not want to see the weapons migrate into other parts of the hemisphere, said Crowley. The U.S. has previously cautioned Venezuela against its arms build-up, warning its actions could endanger regional stability. Earlier Monday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said his country could sell as much as US$5 billion worth of weapons to Venezuela. Mr. Putin visited Venezuela last week to sign military and financial agreements with President Hugo Chavez.?The two countries also formalized a deal to establish a joint venture for oil and gas exploration in eastern Venezuela.
Turkish PM Erdogan says Israel is threat to peace
This week Turkey's Prime Minister has described Israel as the main threat to peace in the Middle East. Recep Tayyip Erdogan was speaking during a visit to Paris.. Relations between the two countries have been worsening since the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip in 2009, made worse by a recent diplomatic row. Mr Erdogan was speaking to journalists before meeting the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. "It is Israel that is the main threat to regional peace," he said. "If a country uses disproportionate force, in Palestine, in Gaza, uses phosphorus bombs we are not going to say 'well done.'" Mr Netanyahu said he regretted the Turkish prime minister's comments. "We are interested in good relations with Turkey and regret that Mr Erdogan chooses time after time to attack Israel," he told reporters in Israel. The countries have been allies in the past. But earlier this week, the Turkish ambassador to Israel was recalled by Ankara, weeks after being humiliated in public by the Israeli deputy foreign minister. Ambassador Oguz Celikkol was called into the Israeli foreign ministry in January and rebuked over a Turkish television series that showed Israeli intelligence agents kidnapping children. Mr Celikkol was made to sit on a low chair while being lectured by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Mr Ayalon later apologised for the rebuke. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has compared Mr Erdogan to Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Kyrgyzstan: a Russian revolution?
This week the UK Guardian Newspaper reported that The US is on the back foot in Central Asia after Vladimir Putin appears to be winning a round in the new Great Game. Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin moved quickly today to recognise the new powers-that-be in Kyrgyzstan while disavowing any role in the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's regime. "Neither Russia, nor your humble servant, nor Russian officials have any links whatsoever to these events," Putin said in a typically sardonic statement that invited disbelief. As far as he was concerned, he said, opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva was "the new head of government". But if Moscow were found to have had a hand in this latest upheaval, it would hardly come as a shock. Machiavellian Russian machinations in Kyrgyzstan, as in the other former Soviet republics of central Asia, has become the norm in the Putin era. Competition with China and the US for control of strategically important energy resources and transit routes is one key motivator. More fundamentally, Moscow still unfashionably insists on regarding this vast region as falling within its sphere of influence. Evidence of Russian meddling in Kyrgyzstan is not hard to find. Financial and commercial blandishments dangled by Putin during a visit to Moscow by Bakiyev last year, including a $2bn loan, preceded a decision by the then president to evict the US from its Manas air base, a key staging and supply route to Afghanistan. Only some nifty footwork by the Obama administration, and a sudden Bakiyev volte-face, allowed the US to hang on to Manas.
Zardari stripped of constitutional powers
The parliament of Pakistan has voted unanimously in favour of measures which limit key presidential powers. The measures transfer certain powers from the office of the president to the prime minister and take away his power to dismiss elected governments. Supporters say the legislation will strengthen parliamentary democracy, weakened by periods of military rule. The bill was approved unanimously by Pakistan's National Assembly. It now needs approval from the upper house. The constitution as it stands confers vast powers on the president, including the power to appoint military chiefs. That will end, as will the president's ability to dismiss all or any of the central or provincial governments in Pakistan.
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