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    04 July 2009

    Army rewards volunteers with US citizenship

    US Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq for some special independence day events, notably the taking the oath of allegiance for over 200 members of the armed forces at a Naturalisation ceremony.

    The newly-minted Americans were mostly Mexican, Phillipino, and Iraqi, although 59 nations in all were represented.

    “You know as corny as it sounds, damn I’m proud to be an American. It’s a wonderful thing. Thanks for choosing us. You are the reason why America is strong. We’re all immigrants,” said Biden.

    The ceremony took place in one of Saddam Hussein’s grandest former palaces, the Aw Faw, which is now part of Camp Victory in Baghdad, and later Biden was able to have lunch with his son Beau’s Tactical Signal brigade.

    Taliban hit back in Afghanistan

    The Taliban have struck back against a US-led offensive against insurgent forces in Afghanistan. Two American soldiers died in an attack on an army base which military sources described as ‘complex.’ Two Afghan policemen and 10 militants also died.

    The attack came after thousands of US and British troops launched Operation Khanjar to drive the Taliban out of southern Helmand province.

    The attack on Zirok base in Paktika province sparked a two-hour battle. Violence in next-door Kandahar saw a Canadian soldier and seven Afghan policemen killed.

    The attacks prove the Taliban’s continuing ability to strike. And, in another worry for the Americans, a US soldier is believed to have been kidnapped after walking unarmed out of his base in Paktika province.

    “The only information I have is that a US soldier did go missing from his unit on June 30th. We’re exhausting all available resources to determine his whereabouts and bring him back safely,” said a liason officer.

    The deteriorating situation has forced President Obama to order 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan. By the end of the year, there will be 68,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan, double the figure of a year ago.

    Bulgaria voters’ day of reflection

    The right-wing GERB party is set for victory in Bulgaria tomorrow, frustration with the recession and widespread corruption expected to harm the ruling Socialists. Led by the charismatic mayor of Sofia, Boiko Borisov, GERB’s lead rose to double figures as campaigning ended on Friday.

    Three opinion polls this week all point to the same result, with GERB expected to win more than 30 per cent of the vote, and the Socialists around 20 per cent. The global financial crisis has hit Bulgaria hard, and the Socialists have appeared unable to react. Public anger has grown over low living standards and continuing corruption. One poll said four out of five voters want change.

    Over the past four years the Socialists raised pensions and salaries, but also earned Bulgaria the tag of being the poorest and most corrupt state in the European Union.

    Chechen police killed in Ingushetia

    In the worst attack of its kind in months nine Chechen police officers have been killed and another 10 wounded by assault rifle and grenade fire in Ingushetia.

    The Chechen forces have been helping the Ingush police since late June when an attack seriously injured the Ingush president. He came out of a two-week-long coma yesterday.

    Both Caucasian republics suffer from low-level insurgencies blamed on Islamic radicals, who have also claimed responsibility for the recent murder of neighbouring Dagestan’s Interior minister.

    In all 55 policemen were traveling in a six-vehicle convoy on a side road when it was ambushed in the early hours of the morning. According to witnessess the ambush was well-prepared, with fire from three directions.

    Anti US base protest turns violent

    There have been violent clashes between riot police and demonstrators protesting against the planned extension of a US military base in Italy.

    The latest protest over the Dal Molin project was planned to coincide with American Independence festivities and comes just days before a G8 summit opens in Italy.

    Some 300 out of several thousand demonstrators hurled stones and bottles at police who replied with tear gas.

    The extension plan was drawn up under the Bush administration. Its opponents say the arrival of Barack Obama has not changed anything.

    A referendem showed locals did not want the deal which they fear will damage the environment and threaten the nearby renaissance town of Vicenza.

    But authorities say it will create jobs and boost the economy.

    Ban fails to meet Aung San Suu Kyi

    The head of the United Nations has admitted his deep disappointment at his failure to meet Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was made to wait overnight for a decision, but eventually the military junta refused permission.

    “I urged them to stop the prosecution of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders,” said Ban. “It is a setback to the international community’s efforts to provide a helping hand to Myanmar at this time.”

    Ban spent 30 minutes in talks with Myanmar’s senior leader Than Shwe which ultimately proved fruitless. Aung San is on trial for breaching the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder to spend the night at her home. The Generals refused Ban’s request to meet her, saying it could affect the judicial process.

    Train crash overshadows French getaway

    France’s annual summer getaway has been overshadowed by a train crash in the centre of the country which left 13 people injured, one critically.

    A cross-country train travelling at 110 kph came off the rails after hitting a trailer full of hay which had fallen onto the line. SNCF technicians worked all night to clear the wreckage.

    The accident happened just south of Limoges. The line was completely blocked and services between Paris and the southwest were severely disrupted.

    This weekend sees the start of the summer break, as the so-called Juilletistes, those who go away in July, head for the sun. Nearly one and a half million holidaymakers are expected to use France’s high-speed TGV and local trains this weekend alone.

    Six people including baby killed in London blaze

    A fire has killed six people including three children after sweeping through a tower block in southeast London.

    A three-week-old baby and youngsters aged six and seven were among the victims.

    The blaze spread rapidly after apparently starting on the fourth floor.

    Around 30 people were rescued. At least 20 were taken to hospital, many suffering from the effects of smoke.

    Residents described their rush to safety as flames engulfed the 12-storey block of flats run by the local authority in Camberwell.

    “I heard people screaming out from the corridors, so my brother’s wife and baby and I just rushed out,” said one man. “I was in bed, as you can see, I don’t have anything on. I just borrowed a top from someone.”

    More than 100 firefighters were needed to bring the blaze under control. A systematic floor by floor search followed to ensure all those inside were accounted for. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

    N.Korea test fires a sixth missile

    North Korea is reported to have test-fired a sixth missile today, said to be a ‘Scud’ type rocket with a range of about 500 kms. It further stokes tensions on the Korean peninsula, which were already high after the North’s nuclear weapons test in May. Similar launches on Thursday were seen as simple military drills, but today’s rockets may be more overtly political as the North’s leading critic, America, celebrates Independence Day.

    Military experts are analysing the launches, and Tokyo said one of them may have been a mid-range Rodong, powerful enough to threaten all of South Korea and even Japan. The view from Seoul is that the North’s increasing bellicosity is aimed at strengthening leader Kim Jong-Il’s control and keep the military on-side as he prepares his succession, possibly handing power to his third son.

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