United Nations Declaration (Articles 1 - 30):

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Incoming UN chief names three women to top posts

Incoming UN chief names three women to top posts
Nigerian Minister of the Environment Amina Mohammed, seen in 2015, will be the UN's number two official (AFP Photo/Mireya ACIERTO)
Sustainable Development
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."
"Update on Current Events" – Jul 23, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) - (Subjects: The Humanization of God, Gaia, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Benevolent Design, Financial Institutes (Recession, System to Change ...), Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Nuclear Power Revealed, Geothermal Power, Hydro Power, Drinking Water from Seawater, No need for Oil as Much, Middle East in Peace, Persia/Iran Uprising, Muhammad, Israel, DNA, Two Dictators to fall soon, Africa, China, (Old) Souls, Species to go, Whales to Humans, Global Unity,..... etc.)
(Subjects: Who/What is Kryon ?, Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" Managed Business, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)


The Declaration of Human Freedom

Archangel Michael (Via Steve Beckow), Feb. 19, 2011

Every being is a divine and eternal soul living in a temporal body. Every being was alive before birth and will live after death.

Every soul enters into physical life for the purpose of experience and education, that it may, in the course of many lifetimes, learn its true identity as a fragment of the Divine.

Life itself is a constant process of spiritual evolution and unfoldment, based on free choice, that continues until such time as we realize our true nature and return to the Divine from which we came.

No soul enters life to serve another, except by choice, but to serve its own purpose and that of the Divine from which it came.

All life is governed by natural and universal laws which precede and outweigh the laws of humanity. These laws, such as the law of karma, the law of attraction, and the law of free will, are decreed by God to order existence and assist each person to achieve life’s purpose.

No government can or should survive that derives its existence from the enforced submission of its people or that denies its people their basic rights and freedoms.

Life is a movement from one existence to another, in varied venues throughout the universe and in other universes and dimensions of existence. We are not alone in the universe but share it with other civilizations, most of them peace-loving, many of whom are more advanced than we are, some of whom can be seen with our eyes and some of whom cannot.

The evidence of our five senses is not the final arbiter of existence. Humans are spiritual as well as physical entities and the spiritual side of life transcends the physical. God is a Spirit and the final touchstone of God’s Truth is not physical but spiritual. The Truth is to be found within.

God is one and, because of this, souls are one. They form a unity. They are meant to live in peace and harmony together in a “common unity” or community. The use of force to settle affairs runs contrary to natural law. Every person should have the right to conduct his or her own affairs without force, as long as his or her choices do not harm another.

No person shall be forced into marriage against his or her will. No woman shall be forced to bear or not bear children, against her will. No person shall be forced to hold or not hold views or worship in a manner contrary to his or her choice. Nothing vital to existence shall be withheld from another if it is within the community’s power to give.

Every person shall retain the ability to think, speak, and act as they choose, as long as they not harm another. Every person has the right to choose, study and practice the education and career of their choice without interference, provided they not harm another.

No one has the right to kill another. No one has the right to steal from another. No one has the right to force himself or herself upon another in any way.

Any government that harms its citizens, deprives them of their property or rights without their consent, or makes offensive war upon its neighbors, no matter how it misrepresents the situation, has lost its legitimacy. No government may govern without the consent of its people. All governments are tasked with seeing to the wellbeing of their citizens. Any government which forces its citizens to see to its own wellbeing without attending to theirs has lost its legitimacy.

Men and women are meant to live fulfilling lives, free of want, wherever they wish and under the conditions they desire, providing their choices do not harm another and are humanly attainable.

Children are meant to live lives under the beneficent protection of all, free of exploitation, with unhindered access to the necessities of life, education, and health care.

All forms of exploitation, oppression, and persecution run counter to universal and natural law. All disagreements are meant to be resolved amicably.

Any human law that runs counter to natural and universal law is invalid and should not survive. The enactment or enforcement of human law that runs counter to natural and universal law brings consequences that cannot be escaped, in this life or another. While one may escape temporal justice, one does not escape divine justice.

All outcomes are to the greater glory of God and to God do we look for the fulfillment of our needs and for love, peace, and wisdom. So let it be. Aum/Amen.



Pope Francis arrives for historic first US visit

Pope Francis arrives for historic first US visit
Pope Francis laughs alongside US President Barack Obama upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, on September 22, 2015, on the start of a 3-day trip to Washington (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Today's doodle in the U.S. celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech on its 50th anniversary (28 Aug 2013)

'Love is love': Obama lauds gay marriage activists in hailing 'a victory for America'

'Love is love': Obama lauds gay marriage activists in hailing 'a victory for America'
The White House released this image, of the building colored like the rainbow flag, on Facebook following the supreme court’s ruling. Photograph: Facebook
"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

Merkel says Turkey media crackdown 'highly alarming'

Merkel says Turkey media crackdown 'highly alarming'
Reporters Without Borders labels Erdogan as 'enemy of press freedom'

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cambodia leader cries for victims

BBC News

The chief interrogator of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge has wept while visiting a prison he commanded where at least 14,000 people were killed.

Kaing Geuk Eav, also known as Duch, cried during the visit to the S-21 prison, a day after he wept while visiting a mass grave at Choeung Ek.

The visits were led by judges from a UN-backed tribunal which has charged Duch with crimes against humanity.

The Khmer Rouge are blamed for more than one million deaths in the 1970s.

Duch is the first of five senior Khmer Rouge officials to be charged by the tribunal, but a date for the trial has yet to be set.

Torture chambers

Both visits, described by officials as re-enactments, were closed to the public and the media, but a witness told the BBC that Duch cried on Wednesday when touring S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng.

A number of survivors - of only a handful to have left the prison alive - also wept as they took part in the visit.

Tuol Sleng is now a genocide museum and is normally one of the busiest tourist attractions in Phnom Penh, says the BBC's Guy De Launey in the Cambodian capital.

For Duch's visit with dozens of investigating judges, police cordoned off the museum and the surrounding area.

Tuol Sleng was once a school, but the Khmer Rouge surrounded the outside with barbed wire and turned the classrooms into tiny cells and blood-spattered torture chambers.

Thousands of people were tortured there until they admitted to crimes against the revolution.

Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities, said the site was a "living nightmare" for Cambodians.

On Tuesday, Duch wept while touring Choeung Ek, one of Cambodia's notorious killing fields, where some 16,000 people were killed and buried in shallow mass graves after being tortured at Tuol Sleng.

Reach Sambath, a tribunal spokesman, said Duch cried as he "explained what happened ... when he was the chief of S-21", the Associated Press news agency reported.

"We noticed that he was feeling pity, tears were rolling down his face two or three times," he said.

Duch was especially moved, he said, when he stood before a tree with a sign describing how executioners disposed of their child victims by bashing their heads against its trunk.

He is also reported to have cried when confronted by a pile of human skulls.

Duch was arrested and detained in July 2007.

Those also facing charges include Nuon Chea, second-in-command of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, the former foreign and social affairs ministers Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, and former head of state Khieu Samphan.

Indonesia wants Suu Kyi in Myanmar democracy process

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia wants to see democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi included in the political process in military-ruled Myanmar, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said Wednesday.

Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win last week confirmed to his Southeast Asian counterparts that the military's new constitution would bar widow Aung San Suu Kyi from running in elections that have been slated for 2010 as she had been married to a foreigner.

Wirayuda said that Indonesia, the largest member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- to which Myanmar also belongs -- should along with ASEAN still engage with the regime to push for an inclusive political process.

Indonesia welcomed the announcement of the May constitutional referendum and 2010 elections, "but Indonesia is still advocating an engagement by ASEAN with Myanmar," Wirayuda was quoted by AFP as telling a press briefing.

He said Indonesia supported the mission of UN envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari, who is UN chief Ban Ki-moon's pointman on promoting national reconciliation in Myanmar.

"But Myanmar, being a member of the ASEAN family, we see the importance of ASEAN or Indonesia, at least, to engage Myanmar so we can ensure that the process that they are now undertaking... could result in the solution that is also acceptable to the international community," Wirayuda said.

"That's why our concern is how to make the process in Myanmar more credible, meaning to make the process more inclusive by allowing the participation of groups including Madam Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD (her National League for Democracy party), as well as minority groups... in the coming process," he added.

Wirayuda was speaking after meeting with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was on a one-day visit to Indonesia.

Gambari visited Indonesia earlier this week and said he would raise the banning of Aung San Suu Kyi with the junta when he next returns in early March.

The visit will be Gambari's third since September, when the military junta violently crushed the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years.

Wirayuda has said in the past that Jakarta could play a significant role in Myanmar's democratic process by sharing its experience of transition from a military government to full democracy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Gates seeks closer ties with Indonesia

By Lolita Baldor, Associated Press

Last updated: 5:33 a.m., Monday, February 25, 2008

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates vowed Monday to help Indonesia reform its military, saying the U.S. was ready to help provide airlift and other maritime capabilities the country needs.

And in what appeared to be a response to previous Indonesian criticism that the United States can be overbearing in its foreign and military policies, Gates said the U.S. can play a supportive role as countries like Indonesia map out their own futures.

"From time to time, we have strayed from our ideals and we have been arrogant in dealing with others," Gates said in a speech to the Indonesian Council on World Affairs. "In the end, we have always realized that our own democracy's strength ultimately depends on the strength and independence of other democracies around the world -- including new ones such as Indonesia."

He emphasized America's ongoing commitment to the region, but also said nations in the area must also work more together.

"Countries have sometimes found it hard to work with us, or with each other," Gates said. "But we believe that the nations of the region must move in a more multilateral direction in order to deal with the most pressing threats in this era."

Gates said that while the U.S. and Indonesian government have been through some rocky times, he knows that "the American and Indonesian peoples share the same principles of tolerance, pluralism, and religious freedom."

He also said that regional cooperation would be played out against a backdrop of the rise of India, the growth in China's military might and the ongoing threats from North Korea.

Those challenges, he said, are complicated by the rise of rogue nation states, terrorism threats, continued piracy problems on the high seas, and the emergence of deadly diseases -- which could include avian flu.

Facing those challenges will require countries to work on a broad cooperative basis, not just with individual partners, he said.

After 13 years of estrangement, the United States has been trying to improve military relations with Indonesia, which can play a key role in a region dominated by worries about North Korea's nuclear ambitions and China's military buildup.

Senior defense officials traveling with Gates said that lingering suspicions of Indonesia's connections to terrorist networks do not reflect significant changes in recent years.

This is not, said one senior official, "your father's Indonesia" that was known primarily for its Jemaah Islamiyah terror network, military dominance in government affairs and human rights abuses.

Instead, there will be efforts to allay Jakarta's concerns that the U.S. could again pull back, risking future military sales.

And they said Gates is looking to acknowledge Indonesia's leadership role in the region, and discuss possible increased military sales to Jakarta. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of Gates' meetings with Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Asked earlier about terror links, Gates acknowledged that Indonesia-based terrorists may continue to have contact with al-Qaida.

Read More ....


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Muslim group backs SBY-JK for 2009

Desy Nurhayati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

One of the pioneer organizations of the United Development Party (PPP) has thrown its weight behind the incumbent president and vice president to run in the 2009 presidential election.

Chairman of the Indonesian Muslims Brotherhood (Parmusi) Bachtiar Chamsyah said here Friday the group would support President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla on the basis of their success in handling the country's problems.

"Terrorism, corruption and other big problems have been handled strictly. That's why we should allow them to continue their leadership for the next term, so they can really settle the problems," Bachtiar, who is also the social services minister, said at the opening of Parmusi's national congress.

He said it would be impossible to completely settle the country's mounting problems in only five years.

In response, Yudhoyono told the congress participants not to be premature in making their choices for the upcoming election.

"There's no need to be in a hurry, just follow the political process," he said.

"I would rather focus on dealing with this country's problems than campaigning for the next election."

Parmusi was initially established as the Indonesian Muslims Party in 1968. Three years later, the Soeharto-led New Order regime merged the party with the largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the Indonesian Tarbiyah (Education) Union and the Islamic United Party to form the (PPP).

In the late 1990s, Parmusi declared itself a non-political Muslim organization.

In the 2004 elections, Parmusi allowed its members to vote for any political parties besides the PPP.

They were also allowed to vote for any presidential candidates other than Hamzah Haz, who was supported by the PPP.

Some Parmusi members have since joined different political parties, with the majority still supporting the PPP.

Attending the event were PPP chairman Suryadharma Ali, Religious Affairs Minister Muhammad Maftuh Basyuni, Minister for Administrative Reforms Taufik Effendy, Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie and Communication and Information Minister Muhammad Nuh.

Constitutional Court president Jimly Asshiddiqie, deputy speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly AM Fatwa and deputy chairman of the Regional Representative Council Irman Gusman were also present.


FRIENDLY MATCH: Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin (right) greets U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Cameron Hume before the kick off of a friendly soccer match between Muhammadiyah and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta on Friday. JP/R. Berto Wedhatama


Saturday, February 23, 2008

AP Interview: UN Myanmar envoy frustrated at slow progress in reforms

The Jakarta Post

JAKARTA (AP): A U.N. envoy said Friday he is frustrated with Myanmar's slow progress toward democracy, but is hopeful that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to take part in planned elections.

Ibrahim Gambari is on a tour of Asia aimed at encouraging regional leaders to do more to press for change in Myanmar. He made the remarks after meeting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono shakes hands with UN envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari at the presidential office in Jakarta (2/22).(FOTO ANTARA/Rumgapres/Haryanto)

"Sometimes, I myself am frustrated that the tangible results are not faster or we have not achieved more, but we have to build on what we have and continue to press for more results," Gambari said in an interview.

He said he expected to visit Myanmar in the first week of March to resume talks with the country's military rulers, but complained of the restrictions the junta placed on him when he was there on previous trips.

"I'm asking to be allowed to see more people, with more freedom and to stay longer, that's my wish," he said.

In a surprise announcement earlier this month, Myanmar said it will hold a May referendum on a new constitution written under military guidance, and will hold elections in 2010 - the first specific dates for steps in an earlier-announced "roadmap to democracy."

Under the new constitution, Suu Kyi would not be allowed to run in the election because she was once married to a foreign citizen - her late husband was British - and enjoyed the privileges of a foreign national.

The plans have been widely criticized for failing to include any input from Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, which complained Monday that the junta's recent moves toward reform were not enough.

Gambari said he "hoped" that Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, would be allowed to take part in the polls. He said Thursday he would raise the issue with the junta during his upcoming visit.

Suu Kyi's party won general elections in 1990 but was not allowed by the military to take power. She has been under house arrest or in prison for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

Myanmar sparked global outrage in September when the junta crushed protests led by Buddhist monks. The U.N. estimates at least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained in the crackdown.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Turkish troops enter north Iraq

BBC

Turkish ground forces have rolled across the border into northern Iraq to target Kurdish rebels said to be sheltering there.

Thousands of soldiers are thought to be involved in the operation which, the army says, began on Thursday evening after an air and artillery bombardment.

Turkey promised its force would "return home in the shortest time possible after its goals have been achieved".

The US military says it believes the operation is "of limited duration".

But a US official quoted by Reuters news agency appeared to express concern about the scale of the Turkish operation.

It was "not the greatest news" and marked "a whole new level", Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza said in Brussels.

While supporting Turkey's right to fight "terrorism", the EU has asked Turkey to "refrain from taking any disproportionate military action".

The Americans are strong allies of Turkey but are also anxious not to see any action which might destabilise Iraq, BBC world affairs correspondent Nick Childs says.

The Kurdish government in the north has been a particularly valuable partner for the US, he adds.

'Unusual timing'

"A cross-border ground operation backed by the Air Force was launched at 1900 [1700 GMT on Thursday]," the military said.

A PKK fighter at a camp inside Iraq, near the Turkish border, in December 2007

PKK fighters are known to use the northern Iraq as a base

Turkey has carried out at least one, smaller ground incursion, as well as frequent air and artillery strikes, against suspected PKK targets in Iraq since parliament authorised the army to act in October 2007.

After Turkish broadcaster NTV reported that 10,000 soldiers had crossed the border on Thursday, a Turkish military source confirmed for Reuters news agency that two brigades had been deployed.

A brigade numbers up to 5,000 troops, the agency notes.

The operation's timing is unusual as the mountainous border area is still covered with heavy snow, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports from Istanbul.

Nor have there been any major PKK attacks inside Turkey for some time, she adds.

More than 30,000 people have been killed since the PKK began fighting for a Kurdish homeland in south-eastern Turkey in 1984.

Baghdad confusion

As news of the operation broke, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the BBC he was not aware of any incursion since speaking to BBC correspondent Jim Muir late on Thursday.

The minister, himself a Kurd from northern Iraq, said he had been in touch with people in the north and in Istanbul, as well as being in close contact with the US.

However, the office of Turkish President Abdullah Gul said the leader had phoned his Iraqi counterpart, Jalal Talabani, about the operation on Thursday evening.

"During the call, our president conveyed information on the objective of the ground operation," Mr Gul's office said.

Rear Adm Smith said the US supported Turkey's "right to defend itself from the terrorist activities of the PKK" and encouraged it to "co-ordinate closely with the government of Iraq".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Rare cooperation to save gorillas

Three countries have come together for the first time, to try to save the mountain gorillas of central Africa.
Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have launched a project to improve security for the great apes.

The slaughter of mountain gorillas in 2007 shocked the world

One of the world's most endangered species, they live at the point where the three countries meet.
There are only about 700 gorillas still left in the world. Numbers have been badly affected by poaching.
They have also been hit by the deadly ebola virus and the destruction of the mountain forests - their natural habitat.
The volcanic Virunga mountains that straddle Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the heartland of these great apes.
A census carried out in 2004 estimated that 380 mountain gorillas, more than half of the world's population, lived in the Virunga national park and surrounding region.
More than 300 also live in southwest Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest reserve.
They are often poached for bush meat. Last July, five gorillas were killed - shot dead execution style - inside the Virunga national park.
More recently, rebel forces loyal to the dissident Congolese general Laurent Nkunda, took over large areas of the park, forcing out the rangers and leaving the gorillas vulnerable to poachers.
The BBC's Sarah Grainger in Kampala says the wildlife authorities of all three countries are well aware of how important the gorillas are as they represent an important revenue earner.
Tourists pay $500 each for a permit to track the animals, raising $5m annually for the three countries.
The 10-year conservation project, which was launched in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, is to focus on greater security and ways of discouraging local communities from destroying the region's forests.
It aims to give them a share of the money made from gorilla-trekking permits.
"For the first time, the three countries have decided to protect the great apes which are threatened with extinction and insecurity in the region," Moses Mapesa, the head of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, told a news conference at the launch of the project.
The first four years of the project are being funded by the Dutch government at a cost of $6m.

Younger Castro hints at 'more democratic' Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- Raúl Castro has lived all his life in the shadow of his older brother Fidel.

Raúl Castro has a reputation for ruthlessness but pushed for a move toward more capitalism in Cuba.

Even when Fidel Castro underwent intestinal surgery in 2006 and Raúl Castro became Cuba's acting president, Raúl didn't make a public appearance for two weeks, until after photos assured the country that Fidel was alive.

Cuba's President Fidel Castro, left, votes in favor to the modification on the Cuban Constitution, as his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, looks at him during an extraordinary National Assembly session in Havana, in this June 26, 2002 file photo. Ailing leader Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's president early Tuesday Feb. 19, 2008, after nearly a half-century in power, saying he will not accept a new term when the newly elected parliament meets on Sunday. (Washington Post) (AP Photo/Cristobal Herrera)

Smaller, less imposing and less charismatic than his brother, Raúl Castro has known for years that he was the man designated to take over. Yet the world knows fairly little about the longtime Cuban defense minister -- or what he would do as Cuba's new president.

"Is there going to be a transition here toward something?" Raúl Castro once commented to reporters asking about post-Fidel Cuba. "Yes, toward a better form of socialism and -- here's something you'll like -- toward a more democratic society."

What did he mean by "more democratic society"? The world may soon know. Video Watch how Raúl Castro has helped shape Cuba »

On Tuesday, Fidel Castro announced plans to resign as president and commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces after 49 years in power. It's widely expected that Raúl Castro will be named as the country's new president when the 31-member council of ministers meets Sunday.

Always together

Fidel and Raúl Castro planned the Cuban revolution together.

The brothers were born in Biran, the sons of a Spanish immigrant -- a rich landowner -- and the housemaid he eventually married. Raúl Castro was always by his older brother's side.

Together, they plotted the 1950s uprising that became the Cuban revolution, brought Fidel Castro to power and gave birth to the first communist nation in the Western Hemisphere.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, which left Cuba on the brink of bankruptcy and starvation, it was Raúl Castro who insisted on allowing free enterprise farmers markets. He declared that "beans have as much importance as cannons, if not more."

Analysts say the world may see more of that pragmatism.

Six months ago, Raúl Castro began a "national debate" on the problems of the country, acknowledging high unemployment and other economic concerns.

Raúl Castro is "a man who's quite capable of showing flexibility when needed and quite capable of being hard-line when needed," said Harold Klepak, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada. "So it will be what is best for Cuba. What's best, I think, in his mind for the revolution and its continuity."

Different personalities

Known as a fiery public speaker, Fidel Castro is said to be rather stiff in social situations.

Raúl Castro is seen as the more down-to-earth brother. He has a more common touch and enjoys parties and a good joke, according to those who have known him well. He's considered more the family man.

And sister Juanita, who defected to the United States in 1964 and lives in Miami, says it is Raúl, not Fidel, who is the patriarch of the Castro clan.

"He's kept the family together," said Ann Louise Bardach, author of "Cuba Confidential." "[Juanita] said he remembers everybody's birthday. He remembers everybody's anniversary. He goes to the graduations. He takes care of the gifts."

Still, in many ways, Raúl Castro is seen as more of a hard-liner than Fidel Castro.

During the early years of the revolution, the younger Castro earned a reputation for being ruthless with his enemies. Grainy black-and-white video shows him making impassioned speeches in the early days of the revolution.

Even before his brother announced his retirement, Raúl Castro said Fidel would be a hard act to follow.

"No one will ever again have as much authority as Fidel Castro has had, because of who he is, because he made a true revolution," 76-year-old Raúl Castro said.

Still, he says only the Communist Party can guarantee continuity.

And, as the architect of the Cuban army and its leader for 50 years, Raúl Castro has the military firmly behind him.

Monday, February 18, 2008

No more discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians: President

Desy Nurhayati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reiterated on Sunday his call for all government offices and state officials to provide Chinese-Indonesians the same level of service afforded all citizens.

In a speech marking the national commemoration of the Chinese New Year here, Yudhoyono said Chinese-Indonesians, as citizens, were entitled to the same government service as all Indonesians.

"In this nation, with its variety of cultures, ethnic groups and religions, we are all one," the President said. "Therefore, I remind the entire state administration not to discriminate against Chinese-Indonesians in public services. Treat them just like any other citizens."

The celebration, organized by the 52-year-old Supreme Council for Confucianism in Indonesia, was also attended by Religious Affairs Minister Muhammad Maftuh Basyuni, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Widodo AS, Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo, House of Representatives Speaker Agung Laksono, Constitutional Court Chairman Jimly Asshiddiqie and Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo.

Organizing committee chairman Peter Lesmana said the Confucian community thanked the government for allowing the public celebration of the Chinese New Year, which had been banned for decades under Soeharto's New Order regime.

This is the ninth year since the collapse of Soeharto's regime that Chinese New Year has been celebrated as a national event.

Chinese-Indonesians faced discrimination during the New Order, with the government requiring ethnic Chinese to obtain an official letter declaring their Indonesian citizenship.

Yudhoyono also thanked the Confucian community for their assistance for the poor and victims of natural and man-made disasters.

"Let's use this moment to improve the nation's unity. Don't create space between us. We should work together to build this nation toward prosperity and improvement," he said.

"Our country is in a transformation process, in which people are the main element. So, we should not let any policy or action of discrimination occur, as it violates human rights and will lead to disintegration."

Yudhoyono said the country was able to eliminate discrimination against ethnic Chinese following the issuance of the 2006 law on nationality, which stipulates all ethnic groups deserve equal treatment.

"We did have an unpleasant history, when there were conflicts among ethnic groups and discrimination against certain groups. But it's over now," the President said.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kosovo prepares for historic declaration of independence from Serbia

The Jakarta Post

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP): Kosovo's prime minister on Sundayannounced a special afternoon session of parliament where lawmakers planned to declare independence - a bold and historic bid for statehood in defiance of Serbia and Russia.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said the extraordinary session would convene at noon (1100 GMT), when the breakaway province's ethnic Albanian leadership would proclaim the Republic of Kosovo and unveil the new country's flag and national crest. "We are on the brink of a very crucial moment - an important decision that will make us one of the free nations of the world," Thaci said

Greek Cypriots vote for president

BBC

Greek Cypriots are voting in a presidential election seen as pivotal for efforts to reunite the island after decades of division.

Opinion polls show that the incumbent, Tassos Papadopoulos, has no clear lead over his two main challengers, Demetris Christofias and Ioannis Kasoulides.

All three claim to be best qualified to head negotiations with the breakaway Turkish north of the island.

No outright winner is expected, which would mean a run-off next Sunday.

All three candidates say they would push for the island's reunification.

But the BBC's Tabitha Morgan in Nicosia says Mr Papadopoulos is seen as the one likely to take the toughest stance towards Turkey.

Last month the International Crisis Group, a think tank, warned that if talks after the election failed, the likely outcome would be partition.

Cypriots living in Greece and Britain have been flown back to Cyprus on planes chartered by the main parties, so that they can vote.

Cyprus was partitioned after a Turkish invasion in 1974, which came shortly after a Greek Cypriot coup backed by the military junta ruling Greece at the time.

Shortly before joining the European Union in 2004 the Greek Cypriots rejected a United Nations plan to reunify the island.

Turkey recognises only the Turkish Cypriot authorities and keeps about 30,000 troops in the north of the island.

Machines 'to match man by 2029'

By Helen Briggs, BBC science reporter, Boston

Machines will achieve human-level artificial intelligence by 2029, a leading US inventor has predicted.

Humanity is on the brink of advances that will see tiny robots implanted in people's brains to make them more intelligent said engineer Ray Kurzweil.


Tiny machines could roam the body curing diseases


He said machines and humans would eventually merge through devices implanted in the body to boost intelligence and health.

"It's really part of our civilisation," Mr Kurzweil said.

"But that's not going to be an alien invasion of intelligent machines to displace us."

Machines were already doing hundreds of things humans used to do, at human levels of intelligence or better, in many different areas, he said.

Man versus machine

"I've made the case that we will have both the hardware and the software to achieve human level artificial intelligence with the broad suppleness of human intelligence including our emotional intelligence by 2029," he said.

"We're already a human machine civilisation, we use our technology to expand our physical and mental horizons and this will be a further extension of that."

Humans and machines would eventually merge, by means of devices embedded in people's bodies to keep them healthy and improve their intelligence, predicted Mr Kurzweil.

"We'll have intelligent nanobots go into our brains through the capillaries and interact directly with our biological neurons," he told BBC News.

CHALLENGES FACING HUMANITY

  • Make solar energy affordable
  • Provide energy from fusion
  • Develop carbon sequestration
  • Manage the nitrogen cycle
  • Provide access to clean water
  • Reverse engineer the brain
  • Prevent nuclear terror
  • Secure cyberspace
  • Enhance virtual reality
  • Improve urban infrastructure
  • Advance health informatics
  • Engineer better medicines
  • Advance personalised learning
  • Explore natural frontiers


The nanobots, he said, would "make us smarter, remember things better and automatically go into full emergent virtual reality environments through the nervous system".

Mr Kurzweil is one of 18 influential thinkers chosen to identify the great technological challenges facing humanity in the 21st century by the US National Academy of Engineering.

The experts include Google founder Larry Page and genome pioneer Dr Craig Venter.

The 14 challenges were announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, which concludes on Monday.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Zimbabwe inflation now 66,000 percent

CNN
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- The official rate of annual inflation in Zimbabwe tripled in the space of one month to 66,212 percent in December, by far the highest in the world but less than half the rate calculated by independent analysts.
The state Herald newspaper published the figures from the central bank Friday, showing a dramatic escalation from November's already dizzying rate of 24,470 percent.
In early October, the state central statistical office gave official inflation at just below 8,000 percent.
It then suspended its monthly updates on inflation because there was not enough in the shortage-stricken shops to calculate a regular basket of goods.
The National Incomes and Prices Commission, the government's price control body, this week allowed sharp increases in the prices of the corn meal staple, sugar, bread and other basics in a bid to restore viable operations by producers and return the goods to empty shelves.
But the new price of about 15 U.S. cents for about 2.2 pounds of corn meal at the dominant black market exchange was still half the price demanded on the black market and was unlikely to guarantee regular supplies to food stores.
Even the Herald predicted that "in most cases, the products will be available only immediately after the price increases" and would disappear again as production costs rise.
Independent analysts estimate the real annual rate of inflation is closer to 150,000 percent. They cite supermarket receipts showing the price of chicken rose more than 236,000 percent to 15 million Zimbabwe dollars, or about $2.15 for 2.2 pounds between January 2007 and January 2008.
Zimbabwe, a former regional breadbasket, is facing acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline and most basic goods in an economic meltdown blamed on disruptions in the agriculture-based economy after the often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms began in 2000.

Friday, February 15, 2008

'Thank you' song dedicated to President Bush

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) -- In a humid rehearsal studio, Liberia's pop queen is practicing her newest single -- a song called "Thank you" to be released for President Bush's visit here next week.
Her head tilted back, Juli Endee pulls the microphone close and belts out, "Thank you, George Bush."
"Thank you for democracy," she croons over the electric guitar, shaking her hips wrapped in yellow cloth. "Thank you for the rule of law," she sings. "Thank you for debt relief."
Bush is scheduled to head to Africa on Friday for a visit that will bring him to one of the few parts of the globe where people still have a favorable view of America. A recent Pew poll of 47 nations found that America's popularity is exceptionally high in Africa, where some hold the U.S. in higher regard than Americans do themselves.
America's popularity verges on exuberance in this nation founded in 1847 by freed U.S. slaves. "If you were to take a survey, you would find that there is not one Liberian that doesn't love George Bush," effuses pop star Endee, whose songs calling for peace were among the most played during Liberia's civil war.
The Bush administration has made Africa the centerpiece of its aid strategy. Twelve of the 15 countries receiving funding from the five-year, $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief are in Africa. Nine African countries are among the 16 drawing grants from Bush's Millennium Challenge Corporation, which provides support to nations that have reached benchmarks from stemming corruption to investing in immunizations.
Since Bush took office, U.S. development aid to Africa has tripled, funding for HIV programs have vaulted from under $1 billion to over $6 billion per year and garment exports from Africa to America, fueled by special trade deals, increased sevenfold, according to U.S. statistics.
"His Africa policy has taken us by surprise. None of us expected this," said Tom Kamara, editor-in-chief of the New Democrat, a leading Liberian daily.
Bush's focus on the continent, analysts said, stems from the realization that it's no longer just a case of Africa needing America, but of America needing Africa.
Today, a fifth of U.S. oil imports come from a single African nation -- Nigeria. By the end of the decade, one in five new barrels of oil entering the global market are projected to come from Africa, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The continent's vast, ungoverned spaces have been recognized as one of the new frontiers in the war on terror, with al Qaeda claiming responsibility for attacks in northern Africa and a radical Islamic group with alleged links to the terror organization waging a bloody insurgency in Somalia.
More than 1,200 U.S. troops are stationed in Djibouti, which hosts the base for an anti-terrorism task force in the Horn of Africa. Last year, the Defense Department announced the creation of a unified U.S. military command for the continent.
"Of course there is a strong element of self-interest in all this," said Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Virginia.
The U.S. approach to aid is no longer just about charity, but about helping emerging democracies evolve and secure their borders to prevent them becoming breeding grounds for terror, Pham said.
Bush's Africa itinerary -- his second trip to the continent since 2003 -- offers examples of countries whose progress toward democracy and economic stability has been rewarded by U.S. aid.
Benin, where Bush's trip will begin Saturday, received a $307 million grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation two years ago for its commitment to democracy. That commitment was especially apparent that same year when a shortage of government funds for election machinery nearly caused the polls to be canceled. They were saved by voters, who raised cash, lent computers and used their motorcycle headlights to illuminate ballot-counting centers.
Ghana, one of the most stable democracies in West Africa, was the recipient of $547 million 2006 -- "the largest grant ever to Ghana," according to Kwabena Anaman, director of research at Ghana's Institute of Economic Affairs. "Even though (former) President Clinton was a friend of Africa, I think President Bush has demonstrated evidence of caring in practical terms."
Rwanda, which is recovering from a 1994 genocide, has just qualified to receive funding under the Millennium Challenge program.
The administration's new approach to dispensing aid has its critics, including some in Africa.
Although the scale of funding under the Millennium Challenge is unprecedented, the program has been slow to take off, with only a fraction of the intended funds reaching the target countries six years after its launch.
"They built a great embassy here in Kigali, but if you go out to the countryside you don't see any signs of the American presence," said Venuste Karambizi, a dean at Kigali Independent University in Rwanda's capital.
Others say the set of indicators used to determine good governance are far from foolproof. For example, Bush has been expected to announce a $700 million grant for Tanzania. But last week, days before Bush's arrival, the prime minister resigned in a corruption scandal.
Nathaniel Heller, a former State Department official who now directs Global Integrity, a think tank that focuses on corruption, said international donors mistake Tanzania's "economic progress for governance progress."
But in the streets of Monrovia, these criticisms seem petty.
The memory of bodies piling up outside the American embassy in 2003 is still fresh, and so is the sight of U.S. warships on the horizon and Bush's call for former President Charles Taylor, accused of orchestrating war crimes, to leave. Liberians are also grateful to Bush for the recent cancellation of the country's debt.
Endee, the pop star, has no time to discuss critiques of Bush's foreign policy. In her studio, she is busy finishing not only her song, but also a welcoming dance. It begins with dancers asking each other, "Have you heard who's coming to Liberia?"
When one answers, "George Bush is coming to Liberia," they explode into dance.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Zuhairi Misrawi: Promoting religious tolerance, pluralism

Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It was during his university days at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, that young Muslim intellectual Zuhari Misrawi learned both the practical and philosophical essence of religious tolerance.

When he and his colleagues visited Egypt's Catholic Archbishop Youhanna Qaltah to interview him for the students' journal, Qaltah immediately halted the conversation when the azan (call to prayer) was heard.

"If you want to perform your wudhu (ablution before prayers), the place is located on the right side of the church. Please feel free to say your prayers ... this is the praying map with the kiblah direction," said Qaltah, gently indicating the map to his guests.

Zuhairi cannot hide his admiration.

"His understanding and respect are an acknowledgement of Muslims' very existence," Zuhari told The Jakarta Post during a recent interview on the sidelines of a discussion of his new book Al Qur'an Kitab Toleransi: Inklusivisme, Pluralisme dan Multikukturalisme (Koran, the Tolerant Holy Book: Inclusivism, Pluralism and Multiculturalism).

"This is in contrast to what I have always been taught that non-Muslims are unappreciative towards Muslims and are even willing to destroy Islam," he added.

Born Feb. 5, 1977, in Sumenep, Madura, Zuhairi studied at the Islamic boarding schools al-Amien and Jami'iyyah Tahfidzil Qur'an.

He was raised in the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) tradition; the country's biggest Muslim organization that claims to have 35 million members.

After studying at Islamic boarding schools for almost six years, Zuhairi continued his education at the Ushuluddin Faculty of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt (1995-2000).

He became an editor for Terobosan bulletin and Oase journal at the university, allowing him to interview several foremost intellectuals, including Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, Sayyed Yasin, Halah Musthafa, Youhanna Qaltah, 'Athif 'Iraqi, Muhammad 'Abdul Mu'thi Bayoumi, Adonis and Nawal Saadawi.

After completing his studies in 2000, he returned home to Indonesia and immediately joined the Department of Research and Human Resource Development of NU as coordinator for the study and research division from 2000-2002.

He delved further in activism with NU.

Zuhairi helped publish Tashwirul Afkar journal as its editor and was also active with the Indonesian Society for Pesantren and Community Development as a coordinator for the Islamic Emancipation Program.

Despite of his tight schedule as an activist, Zuhairi still manages to write prolifically. His writing mainly covers contemporary Islam, politics, religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue.

Aside from writing for the national media, Zuhairi has also produced books, including Dari Syariat menuju Maqashid Syariat (From Sharia to Maqashid Sharia, 2003); Doktrin Islam Progresif (Doctrine of Islamic Progressive, 2004); Islam Melawan Terorisme (Islam against Terrorism, 2004); and Menggugat Tradisi: Pergulatan Pemikiran Anak Muda NU (Challenging Tradition: Struggle of Thoughts among NU Youth Members, 2004).

He also contributed chapters to several books, including Syariat Yes, Syariat No (Sharia Yes, Sharia No, 2003); Menjadi Indonesia; 13 Abad Eksistensi Islam di Bumi Nusantara (Becoming Indonesia; Thirteen Centuries of the Existence of Islam in the Archipelago, 2006); and Islam Mazhab Tengah: Persembahan 70 Tahun Tarmizi Taher (The Middle Mazhab of Islam: Dedicated for Tarmizi Taher on his 70th Birthday, (2007).

An adherent supporter of moderate-progressive Islam, Zuhairi showed his anxiety when asked about the increased Islamic radicalism in the country.

Zuhairi said many seemed unaware the power of love in Islam derives from bi-sm 'allaah ar-rah maan ar-rah em, which means "in the name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful".

He further cited his experience when he visited a mosque in Boston, U.S., where the Koranic verse al-Anbiya:107 is vividly displayed on its front wall: "And (thus, O Prophet,) We have sent thee as (an evidence of Our) grace towards all the worlds".

"This means God sent Prophet Muhammad as a blessing for all the worlds," said Zuhairi, who recently returned from a conference on democracy and pluralism in Brussels where he was a speaker.

He criticized the religious violence that has marked the country, which he said was an obvious diversion of the Prophet's teachings.

"Fortunately, what has saved our country from plunging into a situation like conflict-torn Pakistan is the role of NU and Muhammadiyah," Zuhairi said.

Muhammadiyah is the second biggest Muslim organization in the country, which claims to have 25 million members.

The two prominent Islam-oriented organizations are considered societal pillars in the country. They are not politically oriented; nonetheless, their leverage in Indonesia's political scene is undisputable, Zuhairi said.

The leaders of the two organizations have called on the government to take strong measures against Islamic hard-liners that campaign for the "elimination" of minority groups.

Young Islamic activists from the two organizations, including Zuhairi, unremittingly collaborate to promote a new Indonesia, which respects pluralism and democracy. He said pluralism, or al-ta'addudiyyah, is an inevitable fact due Indonesia's vast diversity.

He added sharia was a cultural product because it had been historically constructed.

"Sharia is attached to a specific territorial, geographical and socio-political culture. Hence, an idea has emerged to deconstruct the historicity of sharia to search for an inclusive dimension of Islam," said Zuhairi, who is married to Nurul Jazimah and has one daughter.

Zuhairi and his fellow activists from the two organizations work hand in hand to fight against corruption, which many say was further decentralized after the country embraced the era of regional autonomy.

When asked about the demand of some sections to establish an Islamic caliphate system of government, Zuhairi answered: "Historical evidence shows that the caliphate system was bankrupt since it was unable to overcome the problems of power sharing and distribution. They (the political elites) proved unable to detach themselves from authoritarianism.

"There is no obligation to implement a caliphate system, because all Muslims are automatically created by God to become caliphs. It means that every human being has to be responsible for all his deeds to God in the hereafter ... in the Koran, caliph is more a personal than collective calling," he said.

Zuhairi has participated in the activities of several other organizations, including Lingkar Muda Indonesia (Youth Indonesia Circle), Moderate Muslim Society and Lembaga Studi Islam Progresif (Islamic Progressive Study Institute).

And he shows no signs of slowing down.

In an apparent move to prepare himself to enter the world of politics, he became head of the Inter-Religious Division of the Executive Board of Baitul Muslimin of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle at the end of 2007. Last month he was officially inaugurated as a member of the political party.

Yet his activism goes beyond his country by showing his apprehension of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

"A holistic, not partial approach needs to be pursued," he said, adding the conflict could not be regarded as simply Israel versus Palestine or Israel versus Lebanon.

He added internal problems needed to be tackled first and that all Arab countries in the Middle East should put aside their respective interests and unite to boost their bargaining power with the U.S. and Israel in resolving the ongoing conflict.

In 2006, Zuhairi visited Israel on the invitation of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to provide a second opinion on Israel's policy towards Palestine.

"I said (to the Israeli government) that Israel should use 'soft' politics, not 'hard' politics with Palestinians because they (the latter) are already weak," he recalled his meeting with the Israeli officials.

He said he supported the establishment of relations between Indonesia and Israel.

He hinted that since Israel is the only superpower in the Middle East, establishing relations with the country could pave the way for Indonesia as the biggest Muslim country to capitalize on its leverage over the ongoing conflict, which has cost millions of innocent lives.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bush condemns racial provocations

Honoring African American History Month, he says noose displays and lynching jokes 'have no place in America today.'
By James Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 13, 2008
WASHINGTON -- Responding to a rash of racial incidents in the last year, President Bush on Tuesday denounced displays of nooses and jokes about lynching, and said that as past racial injustice fades in memory, the nation risked forgetting the suffering it brought.
The president's remarks, at a White House program marking African American History Month, were among his most pointed in recent years on the subject of racial tensions.
They grew out of concern, his spokeswoman said, that even as the nation made progress toward overcoming racial inequality, symbols of past injustice still flared up.
The president's focus on race coincides with the attention being devoted to the role of race in politics, with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in contention to be the first African American candidate to receive a major political party's presidential nomination. He is drawing the support of a cross section of voters and is finding a deep well of votes in states with large white populations.
"The era of rampant lynching is a shameful chapter in American history. The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice. Displaying one is not a harmless prank. And lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest," Bush said.
"As a civil society, we must understand that noose displays and lynching jokes are deeply offensive," the president added. "They are wrong. And they have no place in America today."
Bush, who leaves on Friday for his second trip as president to sub-Saharan Africa, saluted four African Americans: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960s; former Transportation Secretary William T. Coleman Jr., the first black to clerk on the Supreme Court and the first to hold a Cabinet post in a Republican administration; Ernest Green, who with eight other African American students integrated Little Rock, Ark.'s Central High School in 1957; and Otis Williams of The Temptations, the singers who drew fans across racial lines.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, citing news accounts, said there had been more than 70 reports of nooses being displayed since December 2006.
The Justice Department said that the agency, along with state and local officials, had investigated "dozens" of noose displays and other racially motivated threats.
In perhaps the most infamous recent incident, the town of Jena, La., was roiled after three nooses were hung from a tree that had long been a gathering point of white students.
Bush said the reports of such activities had heightened racial tensions and "revealed that some Americans do not understand why the sight of a noose causes such a visceral reaction among so many people."
He noted that for decades it had been a tool of murder and intimidation directed at African Americans, when "summary executions were held by torchlight in front of hateful crowds," with law enforcement officers who were responsible for protecting the victims instead being "complicit in . . . their deaths."
james.gerstenzang@latimes.com
Times staff writer Richard B. Schmitt contributed to this report.

Australia apologizes for Aborigines' pain

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- The Australian government apologized Wednesday for years of "mistreatment" that inflicted "profound grief, suffering and loss" on the country's Aboriginal people.

New Prime Minister Kevin Rudd read the apology Wednesday to Aborigines and the "Stolen Generations" of children who were taken from their families.

"To the mothers and fathers, to the brothers and sisters we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation on a proud people and a proud culture we say sorry."

For 60 years, until 1970, the Australian government took mixed-race Aboriginal children from their families and put them in dormitories or industrial schools, claiming it was protecting them.

As a result of the policy, "stolen" children lost contact with their families and heritage, received poor education, lived in harsh conditions, and often endured abuse.

"There is nothing I can say today that will take away the pain... Words are not that powerful," Rudd said in the Australian Parliament.

He said that the apology was the start of a new approach towards Aborigines which included helping them find their lost families, closing pay gaps and a 17-year difference in life expectancy between Aborigines and white Australians.

He said new policies would be introduced to provide better healthcare and education to Aborigines.

"The mood of the nation is for reconciliation now," Rudd said.

The policy was largely a secret until a decade ago, when a government inquiry and high-profile movie exposed it. That sparked a mass movement, supported by many white Australians, demanding an apology.

Former Prime Minister John Howard refused to offer an apology, saying the current generation should not be held accountable for past misdeeds. He instead issued a statement of regret.

Rudd, who defeated Howard last November, made an apology part of his election campaign. Howard's successor as leader of the Liberal Party, Brendan Nelson, supported the apology Wednesday.

"The apology ... is ... very much just the first step," said a spokeswoman for Jenny Macklin, the minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

"We have serious inequalities between indigenous and nonindigenous Australians. The apology is symbolic, but there's a lot of hard work to be done to reverse those inequalities."

Mary Farrell-Hooker counts herself among the Stolen Generations and is now a spokeswoman for an Aboriginal activist group. The Stolen Generation became Australia's controversy (Video)

She is of mixed race and was one of 12 children of alcoholic parents. Her father was in jail for raping her sister when her mother was hospitalized after a suicide attempt.

"The police came to the school and told me they were taking me to the hospital to see my mom," Farrell-Hooker told CNN. "We never went to the hospital."

Instead, Mary, then 12, was taken to a series of foster centers. At one of them, she said, she was repeatedly raped by a white "house father."

"He would actually come into the room and force himself onto me, rape me, molest me," she said. "If I didn't do what he wanted, he would threaten to do the same to my sister and (threaten to) split us up."

Her parents came to find her, she said, but were repeatedly turned away. She tried to run away but said the police always returned her to her tormentor.

Aboriginal people have been waiting decades for an apology, and the Australian public appear to welcome the government's move, according to CNN's Jacqueline Head in Sydney.

Head said many Australians believe saying sorry is long overdue, but some doubts remain over what it will achieve in the long term -- whether it will help open doors for Aboriginal people seeking rights and compensation or whether it will fail to secure indigenous people a better future.

Some white Australians don't believe the apology will bring about reconciliation.

"I think Australians will be sorry for many generations for offering this apology now," said Piers Akerman, a conservative commentator.

He said Aboriginal compensation claims will now gain new vigor.

To symbolize what the government hopes will be a fresh approach to the future, a group of indigenous Australians performed a traditional welcome ceremony Tuesday of dancing and singing to mark the start of parliament's new session. As the traditional owners of the land which parliament sits on, the performers "welcomed" the lawmakers onto it.

"For thousands of years, our peoples have observed this protocol," said Matilda House, an Aboriginal elder at the ceremony. "It is a good and honest and decent and very human act to reach out to make sure everyone has a place and is welcome."