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The question though is exactly what question to ask.

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Difficult, right?

And so there we go again getting ourselves in a tough-to-break circle and not knowing quite where to start.

That’s partly because the question definitely not to ask after a taking a hit like this is whether or not it is time to pull out of Afghanistan.

This kind of talk often occurs any time there’s tragic news about an Australian casualty as if – surprise! – it was always thought there was a military presence in Afghanistan for fun or that Australia should only be involved if it is convincingly ‘winning’.

Guess what?

Afghanistan is a mess and will probably always be a mess while a government cannot control a country where Taliban are considered by some to be a preferable alternative to rule from Kabul.

So the question should not be ‘Is it time to withdraw Western military forces?’ but more ‘What kind of condition can the country be left in to give Kabul’s government and the West an end game?’

The weekend’s attack underlined two points.

The first is pretty obvious.

Afghanistan is a dangerous place for anyone and everyone.

(That 22 of the dead were members of Seal Team Six, the unit that led the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound, killed by a lucky-to-have-hit RPG shot, also demonstrates how successful that extremely risky operation into Pakistan really was.)

Second, Kabul’s government (and, by proxy, the West) has no control over large sections of the country. The reality is that insurgents rule parts of the country ten years after George W. Bush pushed the button to invade Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC.

“It was not as bad… two years back, but recently it has deteriorated dramatically,” Nafisa Hejran, a member of the Logar Provincial Council told the New York Times.

The newspaper reported that two weeks ago Hejran received a death threat from insurgents telling her to “quit her job”. Most members of the provincial council in Logar no longer attend council meetings because it is too dangerous.

“The Taliban are setting up checkpoints on the main road, searching peoples’ pockets for ID cards and documents that indicate they work either for Afghan government or the international forces,” she said. “If they find something, then they behead the person on the spot to create fear and terror among the people.”

Yes.

Well.

That would have that effect, wouldn’t it?

So the circle continues. Foreign troops supposedly working to make Afghanistan (and the rest of the world) a better place are killed by extremists who will chop the heads off other locals trying to establish some form of functional government.

Wait.

What was the original question again?

It seemed like old times when the “Welcome Back Lethal” banner was unfurled in the Gabba stands on Sunday night.

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But Brisbane hardly looked like Matthews’ premiership-winning teams of old, squandering a 57-point lead before holding on for a tense seven-point 15.10 (100) to 13.15 (93) AFL win over a resurgent Western Bulldogs.

A week after reeling from coach Michael Voss’ shock departure, the Lions lined up on Sunday night with yet another major distraction hanging over their heads.

Indeed their final home match of the year had become an after-thought after ex-mentor Matthews jumped on a rival ticket hoping to topple Lions chairman Angus Johnson as the race for master coach Paul Roos heated up again.

And a quick glance at the banner amongst the Gabba faithful on Sunday night would only have reminded the Lions players of the looming boardroom stoush.

However, at first the Lions seemed oblivious as they romped to a 13.2 (80) to 4.6 (30) halftime lead.

Brisbane were flying high after Dayne Zorko’s second consecutive running goal – and the Lions’ fifth straight – blew the deficit out to 57 points in the second term before settling for 50 by the main break.

Remarkably the Lions would only kick 2.8 for the rest of the game as the Bulldogs came roaring back.

At one stage the visitors kicked eight out of nine goals to reduce the deficit to just 10 points in the final term.

Lions tagger Andrew Raines appeared to boot a settling major for the hosts to blow the lead back out to 16.

But the Bulldogs’ Luke Dahlhaus made up for a point blank shank by kicking truly for a major moments later before Daniel Giansiracusa received a dubious 50m penalty to make it a five point game in the dying moments.

Somehow the 20,130-strong Gabba faithful willed the Lions to the gripping win – their sixth straight home victory of the year.

The Lions’ sixth win in eight games avenged their surprise 68-point opening round loss to the Bulldogs.

Brisbane had won only five first quarters in 2013 – the equal fewest of the any side.

However, the Lions jumped out of the blocks to lead 7.1 (43) to 2.5 (17) at the first break thanks to back-to-back goals to Daniel Merrett.

But the tide starting turning after Merrett was stretchered off early in the third term with a suspected ankle complaint.

UFO buffs and believers in space aliens are celebrating the CIA’s clearest acknowledgement yet of the existence of Area 51, the top-secret Cold War test site that has been the subject of elaborate conspiracy theories for decades.

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For a long time, US government officials hesitated to acknowledge even the existence of Area 51.

CIA history released on Thursday not only refers to Area 51 by name and describes some of the activities that took place there, but places the US Air Force base on a map, along the dry Groom Lake bed in the Nevada desert.

It also talks about some cool planes, though none of them are saucer-shaped.

The recently declassified documents set the tinfoil-hat contingent abuzz on the internet, though there’s no mention in the papers of UFO crashes, black-eyed extraterrestrials or staged moon landings.

“I’m thinking that they’re probably testing the waters now to see how mad people get about the big lie and cover-up,” said Audrey Hewins, a woman from Maine who runs a support group for people like her who believe they have been contacted by extraterrestrials.

“We’re hoping the CIA is leading up to disclosure” of the existence of space aliens on Earth.

“It’s not something you can look at us and lie about, because we know that they’re here and have been here for a long time.”

George Washington University’s National Security Archive used a public records request to obtain the CIA history of one of Area 51’s most secret Cold War projects, the U-2 spy plane program.

National Security Archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson first reviewed the history in 2002, but all mentions of the country’s most mysterious military base had been redacted.

So he requested the history again in 2005, hoping for more information. Sure enough, he received a version a few weeks ago with the mentions of Area 51 restored.

The report is unlikely to stop the conspiracy theories.

The 407-page document still contains many redactions, and who’s to say those missing sections don’t involve little green men?

Some UFO buffs and others believe the most earthshattering revelations will come from Area 51 workers, not an official document.

“The government probably will not release what it knows,” UFO researcher Robert Hastings said.

“My opinion is that whoever is flying these craft will break the story and will reveal themselves at some point in the future. The CIA is not going to release anything they don’t want to talk about.”

It’s not the first time the government has acknowledged the existence of the super-secret installation.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush referred to the “location near Groom Lake” in insisting on continued secrecy, and other government references date to the 1960s.

But Richelson as well as those who are convinced “the truth is out there” are taking the document as a sign of loosening secrecy about the government’s activities in the Nevada desert.

The site is known as Area 51 among UFO aficionados because that was the base’s designation on old Nevada test site maps.

The CIA history reveals that officials renamed it “Paradise Ranch” to try to lure skilled workers, who can still be seen over Las Vegas flying to and from the site on unmarked planes.

Beginning with the U-2 in the 1950s, the base has been the testing ground for a host of top-secret aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird, F-117A stealth fighter and B-2 stealth bomber.

Some believe the base’s Strangelovian hangars also store alien vehicles, evidence from the “Roswell incident” – the alleged 1947 crash of a UFO in New Mexico – and extraterrestrial corpses.

The CIA history mentions an “unexpected side effect” of the high-flying planes: “a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects.”

The U-2 and Oxcart planes, which flew higher than civilians believed possible, accounted for half of UFO sightings during the 1950s and ’60s, according to the report.

A likely story, said Stanton Friedman, a self-described Ufologist from Canada.

“The notion that the U-2 explains most sightings at that time is utter rot and baloney,” he said.

“Can the U-2 sit still in the sky? Make right-angle turns in the middle of the sky? Take off from nothing? The U-2 can’t do any of those things.”

Even for those who do not believe, the mystery surrounding the site – situated about 160km northwest of Las Vegas, across kilometres of empty desert speckled with Joshua trees and sagebrush – has been a boon.

One Nevada bicycle event company produces an “X Rides” event that incorporates mountain and road biking near a certain heavily guarded patch of Nevada desert. Las Vegas’ minor league baseball team is called “the 51s.”

Small-town restaurants along State Route 375, officially designated the Extraterrestrial Highway, sell souvenir T-shirts to tourists making their way to the boundary of Area 51, which consists of a no trespassing sign, a surveillance camera and an armed guard on a hill.

This comes after the US Congress approved it, voting 203-58 after a three-hour debate.

The law means Mrs Schiavo’s feeding tube could be reattached following a hearing by a federal district judge.

Terri Schiavo, 41, has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, after her heart stopped beating temporarily in 1990.

The Senate unanimously passed the same measure late on Sunday.

“Today, I signed into law a bill that will allow federal courts to hear a claim by or on behalf of Terri Schiavo for violation of her rights relating to the withholding of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life,” said Mr Bush in a statement.

“In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favour of life,” he said.

Mrs Schiavo’s husband Michael, who is her legal guardian, has been petitioning to let her die by removing her feeding tube, saying she had in the past indicated that to be her wish.

The tube was removed on Friday after a long-running legal battle.

However her parents and siblings have campaigned strongly for seven years for her right to live, saying she is still able to live a fulfilling life.

“We are hopeful that the federal courts will follow the will of Congress and save my sister’s life,” said Mrs Schiavo’s sister Suzanne Vitadamo immediately after the vote, according to CNN.

Mr Bush had returned early to Washington DC from his Texas ranch to deal with the matter.

While it was accepted that the legislation would be approved, the case reignited debate over issues including the sanctity of life, states rights and the delineation of constitutional powers.

“The legal issues, I grant everyone, are complicated, but the moral ones are not,” said House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

“Terri Schiavo is not brain-dead, she talks and she laughs and she expresses happiness and discomfort.”

The feeding tube has been removed twice in the past, but both times campaigners successfully launched moves to have it replaced.

Six weeks after the release of results from the landmark January 30 elections, Iraq still has no new government, but talk of a breakthrough is imminent.

“We have set next Thursday (March 24) as a preliminary date for the national assembly to reconvene,” said Jawad al-Maliky, a member of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).

“We have agreed on the principles of the government, but we do not have yet a final deal on the make-up of the government. We hope that will happen before the assembly meets.”

Fawzi Hariri, an aide to foreign minister and Kurdish negotiator Hoshyar Zebari, suggested: “Within a week to 10 days the whole thing should be done.”

The new parliament held its first session on Wednesday.

Mr Zebari said the Kurdistan Alliance, with 77 seats in the 275-member parliament, had finally agreed on the terms of forming a coalition government with the UIA, the biggest victor with 146 seats.

“All the principles have been agreed upon by all the parties.”

Zebari’s faction of the Kurdish list, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), had pressed last-minute demands on the Shiites over the status of the northern, ethnically divided oil city of Kirkuk and their peshmerga militia.

The deadlock contributed to the failure this week of MPs to choose an executive body or to schedule a second session.

The sides have drafted a written agreement, which is meant to assure the Kurds that their virtual autonomy in the north after years of suffering under former dictator Saddam Hussein will be protected.

It also commits the next government to taking concrete steps under Iraq’s interim constitution to solving the problem of Kirkuk, from which Saddam expelled tens of thousands of Kurds.

“The issue of Kirkuk has been addressed satisfactorily based on procedures and measures mapped out in the transitional law,” Mr Zebari said.

He said the new government is committed to resettling displaced Kurds in the city and arbitrating property disputes between the Kurds and the Arabs who were brought into Kirkuk to replace them.

But the sides will ink the written agreement, formalising their alliance, only after wooing other parties to sign as well, Zebari’s aide, Mr Hariri said.

The Kurds and Shiites have started courting the secular ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi and leading politicians like outgoing Sunni president Sheikh Ghazi
al-Yawar.

The UIA and Kurdistan Alliance met Allawi’s Iraqi list on Thursday and presented it with the agreement.

“We asked the Iraqi list to give us their vision and idea on whether they will participate in the new government or not. They have given us a positive response,” Mr Zebari said, adding that their participation now hinged on cabinet posts offered to them.

A senior member of Allawi’s list, Imad Shibib, confirmed the talks were progressing.

One stumbling block is finding ministerial posts for the Sunni Arabs, who had been the ruling elite for most of Iraq’s modern history. The embittered minority is seen as fuelling the insurgency and widely boycotted the elections.

“It’s neither in our interest or yours that you do not take part in the political process, because your absence will perpetuate the occupation and terror and will bring down the house on everyone,” UIA-allied cleric Sadreddin al-Kubanji said in his weekly sermon in Najaf.

Meanwhile, the group of Iraq’s Al-Qaeda front-man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on Thursday that killed two people and wounded 15, including six US soldiers, in Mosul.

As the chief architect of the US-led invasion of Iraq and leading White House neo-conservative, he is being viewed as a controversial choice.

The head of the World Bank is traditionally chosen by the US, but still requires approval from European members.

France says it will examine the nomination, which it calls a “proposal”, while Germany’s develop minister says “the enthusiasm in old Europe is not exactly overwhelming.”

Britain is reserving its response but British finance minister Gordon Brown has described Mr Wolfowitz as “a very distinguished person”.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair says Britain will hold consultations on any appointment.

“It’s for the Bank’s board to take the decision on the appointment of the president of the Bank, and we are not going to get into a commentary on that selection process,” he said.

But Iraq war critic and Britain’s former international development secretary Clare Short was vehement.

She told British television that the nomination was like giving “two fingers to the world”.

“This is really shocking. It’s as though they (the Americans) are trying to wreck our international systems,” she said.

Meanwhile Greenpeace says Mr Wolfowitz would be a “disaster for sustainable development” because they believe he will only serve US interests, while the World Development Movement says it’s a “truly terrifying appointment”.

The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development is apprehensive.

“If you look at Africa, for instance, his main concern has been the war on terrorism,” CAFOD’s George Gelber said.

“As far as development is concerned, he is an unknown quantity.”

But Japan and China have offered their public backing to Mr Wolfowitz who says he will work in the interests of the world’s poor.

Human rights groups have accused the Libyan government of concocting the charges to cover up unsafe practices in its hospitals and clinics.

Relatives of the victims and two of the infected youngsters, demonstrated outside the court during the preliminary hearing, waving banners demanding “Death to the child killers”.

The case has provoked tensions between Libya and Bulgaria, but the nurses’ lawyer says he is “optimistic”.

The six health workers were sentenced to death last March for infecting 380 children with the HIV virus through contaminated blood at a hospital on Libya’s Mediterranean coast.

Forty-seven children at the paediatric hospital have died of the disease.

The defendants, who have already spent six years in jail, all maintain their innocence.

Two nurses and the doctor initially confessed to the charges, but later claimed police extracted their confessions with torture, including beatings and electric shocks.

Two of the five female nurses said they were raped.

During last year’s trial, Luc Montaignier, the French doctor who first isolated the HIV virus, testified he believed the children were infected in 1987 – more than a year before the Bulgarians were hired.

Instead the court based its verdict on a report by Libyan experts that placed the blame on the foreign health workers.

The Bulgarian press said the six have been made “scapegoats” in a bid to calm the public outrage that the epidemic has provoked in Libya.

But the lawyer for families of the children, Ramadan al-Futuri, told AFP after the hearing that “we are asking the court to confirm the death sentences.”

Fears for the fate of the nurses rose further last week when Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, criticised Western attempts to win their release.

Tripoli has said that in exchange for the freedom of the nurses, it wants compensation equal to that paid by Libya to relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie plane bombing carried out by its secret service in 1988.

But Bulgarian authorities have rejected the demand, saying giving in would amount to acknowledging the guilt of the six.

A spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), said the indictment against former Macedonian interior minister Ljube Boskovski and his former bodyguard Johan Tarculovski, for the murders of Albanian civilians during the 2001 Macedonia conflict, would be the court’s last.

The ICTY, set up in February 1993 by the United Nations, has charged more than 120 suspects, including top politicians and army officers, from the former Yugoslavia for war crimes and human rights violations during wars in the 1990s.

Of those 120 suspects, 37 have been convicted.

The tribunal is now under pressure to wrap up all trials by 2008 and appeals by 2010.

It has netted some big fish, including former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, whose trial has been dragging on since 2002.

Despite a flurry of surrenders recently as former Yugoslav republics seek to curry favour with the expanding European Union, 17 indicted suspects are still at large, including former Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, accused of genocide for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Croatian authorities said the indictment against Boskovski, who is currently been held in a Croatian jail since his arrest last August, had been received and have promised to hand him over.

But the EU is likely to delay the planned start of EU entry talks with Croatia this week because it says Zagreb is giving its full cooperation in the hunt for another key war crimes suspect, retired general Ante Gotovina.

Despite the court deadline to wrap up its work, its president, US judge Theodor Meron, said the tribunal would stay open until Karadzic and Mladic are brought to justice.

Some 200,000 people were killed in the Balkans ethnic conflicts, which spanned a decade after spreading from one republic to another, from Croatia (1991-1995), to Bosnia (1992-1995), to Kosovo (1998-1999).

The Balkans wars saw the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.

A final episode of fighting broke out between the government of Macedonia and Albanian rebels in 2001.

Justice Minister Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin the people had been arrested in Darfur for human rights abuses and would immediately be sent to court.

“They are military people … from army, military and security,” Yassin said, adding all the accused were from these “disciplinary forces”.

Official Sudanese media said Khartoum planned to try at least 164 suspects in Darfur.

The news comes two days before the United Nations Security Council is expected to vote on resolution which would send those responsible for war crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Sudan opposes the idea of sending Sudanese nationals to a court outside Sudan, saying its judicial system is competent to prosecute those guilty of crimes.

“Now it is high time for us to prove ourselves and to prove how genuine we are and how seriously the Sudanese judiciary can do the job,” Yassin said.

“This is a start … it is not the end of it – they are progressing and doing a good job.”

The US, which had previously asked Khartoum to rein in its militia allies and stop the bloodshed in Darfur, reacted sceptically the report.

“In the past, nothing has been done to hold anyone accountable,” said Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.

“Our view is that if you want to have real accountability for the crimes that have been committed in Darfur, there has to be an international mechanism for that,” he told reporters.

“Based on their past performance, one cannot expect the government of Sudan to fulfil that responsibility.”

Washington has been pushing to set up a tribunal in Tanzania to prosecute alleged war crimes cases in Darfur.

Although an earlier enquiry determined that war crimes were likely committed in Darfur, the United States fiercely opposes the ICC.

It fears American soldiers could suffer politically motivated trials at the ICC levelled by those opposed to US policies.

Human rights groups have blamed Washington for blocking an ICC referral they say could help end the violence in Darfur, an area the size of France.

An estimated 180,000 have died and more than 1.8 million have been left homeless by the fighting in Darfur.

The Sudanese government has been accused of backing Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, who have committed atrocities such as systematic killing and mass rape against Darfur’s black African groups.

Khartoum denies backing the Janjaweed militias, and blames rebels for starting the conflict.

Sudan has arrested and convicted a small number of Janjaweed, but has not made significant steps to disarm Arab militias, as required by Security Council resolutions.

After a vocal debate in the Knesset, the bill was thrown out by a landslide majority of 72 to 39, removing the last obstacle to the pullout.

The result is a victory for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and deals a severe blow to those staunchly opposed to withdrawal.

A referendum would have seriously delayed the evacuation of 8,000 settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip, whose removal has already been sanctioned by parliament and the cabinet.

Prime Minister Sharon has repeatedly rejected calls for a national vote as a stalling tactic.

But the political manoeuvring over the referendum saw tension soar within Sharon’s right-wing Likud party, a third of which opposes the Gaza withdrawal, in a stand-off that has dogged the premier for months.

Likud rebels, including Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and settler lobby groups had desperately tried to persuade undecided MPs to back the referendum bill.

Demoralised by the defeat, settlers said they would move their fight into the streets, promising to bring 100,000 protesters to the settlements slated for evacuation to prevent the withdrawal.

Settlers, thousands of whom protested near the Knesset, are pinning their hopes on a Supreme Court challenge to the planned withdrawal.

Prime Minister Sharon, a masterful political survivor, has already crushed the last serious political threat to his planned evacuation by securing enough support to get the 2005 state budget through parliament.

He’s due to present the details of his pullout strategy to US President George W Bush at the president’s Texas ranch on April 11.

The evacuation of the Gaza Strip Jewish settlements and Israeli troops, and of four isolated settlements in the northern West Bank, is scheduled to begin on July 20.

Opinion polls show a large majority of Israelis back the withdrawal plan.

But Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said no workable Palestinian state could be established as long as Israel kept its settlements in the occupied West Bank.

“These blocs, which the American administration has legitimised by giving its support to Israel, make the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible,” he said.

His comments came a day after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated support for Jerusalem’s plans to keep large Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank after the withdrawal.

“This policy is completely incomprehensible,” Qureia told reporters.

Israeli officials have confirmed plans to build 3,650 homes around the Maaleh Adumim settlement near Jerusalem.

With the expansion and the construction of a separation barrier, Israel would effectively cut off east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ intended capital, from a future state in the West Bank.