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Israel will rely on war crimes vetoes

JERUSALEM: Israel will rely on the support of the permanent United Nations Security Council members Britain, France and the US to block the progress of a report accusing it of committing war crimes in Gaza.The report, by a South African judge, Richard Goldstone, was formally adopted by the UN’s Human Rights Council on Friday, and passed on for deliberation to the more powerful Security Council.The Human Rights Council’s resolution threatens strong action against Israel by the Security Council and the International Criminal Court should there be no serious internal investigations of evidence of war crimes cited by the Goldstone fact-finding mission.But the Security Council is considered unlikely to take action, as the US has indicated it will use its veto over the council’s agenda to block discussion of the report.Israeli leaders reacted angrily to the Human Rights Council’s vote and the accompanying resolution condemning Israeli violations of human rights in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and criticising Israel for failing to co-operate with the fact-finding mission.The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in discussions at the weekend that Israel should fight the criticism and make intense diplomatic efforts to ensure support for its opposition to the report.”The countries that voted in favour of the report voted against peace and for terror. We will delegitimise the delegitimisation [of Israel],” Mr Netanyahu said. ”War crimes? Israel’s only real crime is that it does not enjoy an automatic majority in the UN.”Israeli media reported that Mr Netanyahu told colleagues: ”I was an ambassador to the UN and I know well that an automatic majority against Israel can be mustered for even the most absurd decisions, and we know well how absurd this decision is. The report accuses us of war crimes, when, in fact, the truth is the precise opposite.”Israel’s security cabinet was due to discuss the Goldstone report yesterday to approve a Government-wide plan to deal with the repercussions of the Human Rights Council’s vote.Senior Israeli political sources were reported as saying that Mr Netanyahu was not ruling out forming an internal inquiry into Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza in December and January, as demanded by Justice Goldstone.A Foreign Ministry spokesman said: ”The council’s decision harms the efforts to respect human rights in accordance with international law, as well as attempts to promote the Middle East peace process. The decision provides encouragement for international terrorist organisations all around the world and harms world peace.”Of the 47 members of the rights council, 25 supported the measure, including China, Russia and India; six opposed it, 11 abstained and five cast no vote.On Saturday, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, boycotted an event held by the Chinese embassy in Tel Aviv to mark the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule in China.On Friday, Justice Goldstone himself criticised the council’s endorsement of his report.He told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps before the vote that the wording of the resolution was unfortunate because it included censure of only Israel, and not Palestinian groups which his fact-finding mission also believed had committed war crimes.
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Militants die as Pakistan hits Taliban strongholds

UP TO 20 hardliners were believed to have been killed as Pakistan military forces hit Taliban positions in the inhospitable mountain district of South Waziristan for a second day running yesterday.After months of planning the military began a big ground offensive against insurgents from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan – or Pakistan Taliban – in the lawless region bordering Afghanistan on Saturday.A force of about 30,000 troops was massed for the campaign backed by tanks, artillery, fighter jets and helicopter gunships. It is the biggest operation by the Pakistan military in six years.Government forces face as many as 12,000 Taliban fighters in South Waziristan who were reported to be offering stiff resistance in the face of the military’s onslaught.Pakistani forces pounded Taliban hideouts with artillery fire yesterday after advancing on three fronts. Between 17 and 20 militants had been killed so far in the operation, officials said.The Pakistan military confirmed that four soldiers were killed and 12 badly injured on the first day of fighting. Two soldiers died and four were injured in a gun battle with Taliban fighters at Mandana, and two more troops died during an exchange of fire at Saidullah.An army spokesman, Major-General Athar Abbas, said: ”The operation will continue until the objectives are achieved. The army has blocked all entry and exit points of Waziristan.”The army has a window of about six to eight weeks to make significant advances before the onset of a biting winter and snow. The campaign was opened at the end of a bloody fortnight in Pakistan in which more than 170 people were killed in a wave of terrorist strikes. The Pakistan Taliban, led by Hakimullah Mehsud, claimed responsibility for most of the attacks.The country’s big cities are on high alert in the fear that the Taliban could carry out revenge over the campaign.Hours before the offensive began, the Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, put out a statement saying ”the national consensus is reaffirmed to establish and maintain the writ of the state to weed out these elements”. The ground operation follows weeks of air strikes against militant targets in South Waziristan.In May the army staged a successful campaign against the Taliban in the Swat Valley of North West Frontier Province. But military analysts have warned that beating the Taliban in South Waziristan will be a much bigger challenge.The army faces an experienced and motivated enemy, and the mountainous terrain will make transport and intelligence gathering difficult.About 90,000 civilians have fled South Waziristan, normally home to 600,000 people, since August. A Pakistani Army official said: ”We estimate that around 100,000 more people can be displaced, say a total of around 150,000 to 200,000 people.”In addition to the estimated 10,000 to 12,000 fighters from the Pakistan Taliban in South Waziristan, there up to 25,000 across Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt, which has a history of fierce independence.with agencies
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A bit rich: the spy who came in for suspicion

Alexander Yevgenyevich Lebedev’s first foray into the British social scene, with his cheeky smile and laceless Converse trainers, was like a breath of fresh air to a nation that tended to associate visiting Russian businessmen with assassination attempts and hyper-inflation in the football transfer market.A former KGB spy he may have been, but he was so charming that his first major social outing – a £1.3 million ($2.28 million) party he hosted for the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation at Althorp, the childhood home of Princess Diana – attracted Salman Rushdie, Elle Macpherson, Quincy Jones and a smattering of minor royals.Last year his white-tie charity gala dinner switched to Hampton Court Palace, and guests included Lady Thatcher, Naomi Campbell and Elton John. And how he loved all the fuss.”When you’re sitting at a dinner with Tom Wolfe on one side and Tom Stoppard on the other, then obviously it’s enjoyable.”In the past 12 months Lebedev has bought the London Evening Standard, been invited to No. 10 Downing Street to meet Gordon Brown, and is said to be considering buying the British newspapers the Independent and the Independent on Sunday.But who is this man? Why did he join the KGB and what did he do when he was an agent in London? Is it true, as the Russian saying goes, that there is no such thing as a former spy? How did he make so much money in the 1990s in Moscow, a time and place that so closely resembled the wild west? And what is the nature of his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the modern Russian state?Lebedev was born in December 1959, the son of two members of the Soviet nomenklatura: Evgeniy Nikolaevich, a professor at the Bauman Technical University, and Maria Sergeyevna, an English professor at the elite State Institute of International Relations in Moscow. Lebedev graduated from the Institute in 1982 after studying English, economics and finance. In 1984 he graduated from the KGB’s Krasnoznamenniy Institute. Asked why he chose to join the KGB, Lebedev suggests he had little choice. ”Choose is not the right word – agreed,” he says.Lebedev was posted to London in 1988, ostensibly as a third secretary at the Soviet embassy in Kensington. One of his contemporaries recalls: ”He came as a junior diplomat. After a few days it was easy to establish that he was from the service, and that he didn’t come from our usual department, because he didn’t have the usual training.”One of Lebedev’s KGB contemporaries – a man who was eventually expelled from Britain – recalls him as ”a very average” spy. ”He was not a remarkable or influential agent. He was just doing his stuff: some financial or economic analysis. He is very talented in business, and as an economist, but as a person he is somewhat maverick and eccentric.”On the other hand, Leonid Zamyatin, who was the Soviet Union’s last ambassador to London, from 1986 to 1991, says: ”I remember Alexander Lebedev very well. An extremely diligent, very clever man. It was a pleasure to work with him … As a diplomat, he was responsible for following the political situation in the UK.”Lebedev has always insisted that he did little more than prepare economic analyses. Pressed about this he eventually conceded that his work in London also involved monitoring British ”political forces” and ”high level meetings”, arms control negotiations, trade talks and NATO. What Lebedev does not mention is that some of his contemporaries say he left the KGB under something of a cloud. For reasons that remain unclear, he is said to have come under investigation by the agency’s counter-intelligence division, both in London and in Moscow. He was recalled to Moscow and resigned from the KGB a short while later.Lebedev insists that he left the foreign intelligence service because ”there seemed to be no interest in foreign intelligence product inside the country”, and the world of business offered greater challenges.Almost immediately after leaving the KGB he turned up in Lausanne, where he had been offered work with a Swiss bank.After making money buying and selling South American and African bonds – high-risk, high-rewards deals that, by his own estimates, earned him about $US500,000 ($544,000) in commissions – he bought his own small finance house, the National Reserve Bank in 1995.He teamed up with two of his old neighbours from Earls Terrace, Kensington: Andrei Kostin and Anatoliy Danilitskiy, who had both been diplomats at the Soviet embassy, just as the starting pistol was being fired on a race to transform Russia.Old Soviet enterprises were being snatched up by a small number of private individuals; people were experimenting with capitalism for the first time – and some were making extraordinary fortunes. One company that they formed in London was called The Milith plc.However, there was one particularly messy dispute with a business associate in the US. Igor Fyodorov was a former officer in the Soviet submarine fleet who had settled in Virginia. When Fyodorov ran off with more than $US7 million of the National Reserve Bank’s money, Lebedev pursued him through the courts. But at the same time a number of Russians, and American private detectives, also began looking for him in the US. Fyodorov and his wife went into hiding in Texas, with the help of a private detective called Donald Danielson.Fyodorov counter-claimed against Lebedev and the bank in the US courts, and contacted the FSB, one of the successors to the KGB, to complain that his life was being threatened.A Russian journalist, Yulia Pelekhova, began to make her own inquiries about the dispute, travelling to the US to question Fyodorov, and subsequently complained that employees of a security firm called Konus, which was working with the NRB, were making threatening telephone calls to her newspaper, Kommersant. Shortly afterwards, while she was away from home, a sniper bullet was fired through her living room window, lodging in the opposite wall. Lebedev is dismissive of any suggestion that he was involved in any attempt to intimidate Pelekhova, pointing out that she was later convicted of blackmail over an unconnected matter.”This respected journalist Yulia Pelekhova was in fact arrested and spent a year in jail. I never fired at her apartment. She accused me of various crimes, amongst them poisoning her horse and stealing her car.”The Prosecutor-General of Russia, Yury Skuratov, and his staff pressed on with their inquiry into the dispute with Fyodorov, who died this year, despite Lebedev’s protestations. In the event the investigation went nowhere but the former KGB agent went from strength to strength once this episode was safely behind him.His business empire now embraces housing, boutique hotels, airlines – he owns about a third of Aeroflot, the part-privatised national airline – textiles, tourism, telecommunications and newspapers.One former colleague says the assets under his control are now probably worth $US2 billion. Although he spends most of his time in Moscow, he owns a stately home in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, homes in Italy and France, and travels by private jet.Lebedev is reported to be close to Mikhail Gorbachev, who is the co-owner of Novaya Gazeta, and whom he hails as ”one of the greatest politicians in the history of mankind”. But when Gorbachev was sought for his views, his chief press secretary said the former president’s ”schedule is too full”, and that he would be more likely to talk ”if you had a more serious subject”.Nor is Lebedev any longer close to Putin. Nevertheless, he remains one of the few prominent Russians who seems able to make personal attacks on Putin in public without fear of recrimination. Because of this, some speculate he is at the centre of a double bluff: he is actually the Kremlin’s man, a licensed opposition figure who knows that he can say what he likes, within limits.”Putin is always telling the oligarchs that they should go and invest in the West, and in Ukraine, instead of waiting for the West to come to Russia,” one close associate says. ”Lebedev wants to prove to Putin that he can control parts of the Western media, in order to project a better image of Russia. He has said to me many times that this is his motive.”Lebedev is a liberal, but in reality he’s not a supporter of the West. He’s a typical Soviet person: he’s a product of Soviet society.”So will this work, using his money to participate in Russia’s strategic investment in key Western industries? Will it win him the approval of Putin and the Kremlin that he is said to crave? Or could his high profile in the West have the opposite effect?Lebedev says the FSB has twice offered him protection, but he says he is untroubled by thoughts of any serious threat to his safety. He is also under investigation by the FSB, something he is aware of. ”These things are standard here. It may mean nothing, it could be business games of some FSB mavericks, could be something more serious, for example ‘the big man’, irritated by my outspokenness. Qui vivra verra. [We’ll have to wait and see].”Guardian News & Media
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Thai firm makes fourth attempt to fix Timor Sea oil spill

THE operator of an offshore well that has leaked tens of millions of litres of oil into the Timor Sea for the past eight weeks has failed for the third time to stop the spill.The Thai company PTTEP Australasia will now make a fourth attempt on Thursday after it failed on Saturday to plug the leak, which began when the Montara offshore drilling rig suffered a well-head accident on August 21.The spill, which is about 160 kilometres off the north-western coast of Australia, spread over 7000 square nautical miles at its peak. It crossed into Indonesian waters and came close to the marine reserves of Ashmore and Cartier reefs.The West Triton drilling rig, which reached the site five weeks ago after being towed from Singapore, is being used in attempts to intercept the leaking well, 2.6 kilometres under the seabed, and pump in heavy mud to block the leak.It has to intersect a 25- centimetre diameter casing, which is detected by sophisticated electro-magnetic ranging tools, before the plugging operation can proceed.A spokesman for the company said yesterday that the further delay in attempts to intersect the leaking well was necessary to calculate the last drill pass’s distance and direction from the casing.The company also had to ensure all safety procedures and equipment checks were carried out between each attempt to reach the leak, he said.The spill at the well-head platform, which began at an estimated rate of 400 barrels a day, could leak more than 37 million litres of oil into the Timor Sea before it is plugged.The spokesman said that while the company had agreed to pay the Federal Government’s costs of monitoring the spill, it was making no comment on that aspect of the operation.The oil slick has so far been carried north and has not reached the West Australian coast, but the federal Department of Environment says more than a dozen sea birds have died as a result of coming into contact with the slick.Fishermen in West Timor say the spill is responsible for mass fish deaths and is threatening their livelihood.They also say people have become sick after eating dead fish found on the Indonesian province’s beaches.The PTTEP spokesman said that if Thursday’s well interception succeeded, heavy mud to plug the leak would be pumped in immediately to displace the oil, gas and water in the well.A 24-hour safety stand-off period will be declared before the troubleshooting team from ALERT Well Control can board the well-head platform.While the leak would have already been stopped, two plugs would be sunk into the previously leaking well bore in an operation expected to take another week, the spokesman said.PTTEP has refused to comment on the cost of the spill to the company, other than to say it is ”substantial”. Industry estimates have put it as high as $100 million.AAP
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Year 12 comes down to earth

STUDENT enrolments in environmental and religious studies have increased in this year’s HSC exams, which begin tomorrow for a record 69,261 students – 1330 more than last year.Enrolments in the subject earth and environmental science have increased 10 per cent, to 1405. And economics enrolments have increased from 5491 last year to 6214.The president of the NSW Board of Studies, Tom Alegounarias, said the growth in economics ”is a reflection of an increasing community interest and understanding of economic matters”.”Our enrolments in the sciences are trending upwards, while they are declining around the rest of Australia,” he said.About 44 per cent of all students studied a science subject this year. Biology has increased its enrolments by 18 per cent since 2004 and chemistry is the eighth most studied subject.Studies of religion has boosted its numbers to 13,935 students – 300 more than last year – making it the fifth largest subject.Marianthe Varipatis, 17, of Bethany College in Hurstville, will sit for the studies of religion exam on Thursday. ”Studies of religion is compulsory at my school, but I’m glad I did it because it was very interesting,” she said.”I really liked it because you learn a lot about religions apart from your own. Business studies is something I want to go further in. I want to do business or commerce and law at university.”Business studies will be the first subject to be examined tomorrow morning, with classical Greek. Aboriginal studies, agriculture and electrotechnology will be tested in the afternoon. Exams for about 22 languages including modern Greek, Spanish, Vietnamese, Dutch, Hindi, Maltese, Khmer, Russian, Swedish and Ukrainian will also be held tomorrow.Students will sit for the first English examination on Wednesday and the second on Friday.Marianthe said she was feeling relaxed about the exams. ”I’m not too stressed because it has gone so quickly, and in three weeks’ time it will be over for me.”Mr Alegounarias said that for the first time exam papers would be printed on 13 million pages of recycled paper.Anthony Cleary, the director of religious education and evangelisation for the Catholic Education Office in Sydney, said 60 to 65 per cent of Catholic school students were enrolled in studies of religion, apart from the internal course on Catholicism.Recent criticism of religious studies had inspired curiosity about the subject, he said. “Often kids have a yearning for a greater understanding of the philosophical questions of life. Australia’s multicultural society has led to children studying more than their own religion. There is an interest in the roles of different religions.”This is the first year that students will be examined on the vocational automotive and electrotechnology courses. Of the 668 enrolled in electrotechnology, 38 are girls. There are just three girls among the 238 doing the automotive course.Enrolments in Aboriginal studies are up by 20 per cent to 340 students.
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