Sunday, May 20, 2012

NATO summit: The Taliban's view

The Taliban issued a statement ahead of today's NATO summit in Chicago, expressing frustration with the coalition's moves to 'prolong the occupation.'?

By Ben Arnoldy,?Staff Writer / May 20, 2012

Hours before the start of a major NATO summit in Chicago, the Taliban's main spokesman released a lengthy statement signaling the insurgency was open to a political solution to the conflict but accused NATO of "wavering in their stance" on negotiations.

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"The Islamic Emirate has left all military and political doors open,"?read the statement, written in English and attributed to spokesman?Zabihullah Mujahid. "[H]owever the invaders are utilizing a one step forward, two steps backwards tactic. They are conjuring artificial excuses to prolong the occupation of Afghanistan, are wavering in their stance and do not seem to have a clear strategy for a political solution."

Until NATO stops wavering, the statement continues, the Taliban considers the coalition's calls for talks to be "meaningless."

It was the Taliban who suspended negotiations in March following the burning of the Quran on a US base and a shooting spree by a US soldier.?But the US and NATO have continued to talk of seeking a negotiated settlement to the 11 year conflict.

Most recently, President Obama backed negotiating on a visit earlier this month to Afghanistan. However, he also outlined a new strategic pact with the US-backed government in Kabul that would let some American soldiers stay in Afghanistan past 2014 until 2024.?

Obama's two-pronged message of peace talks but prolonged troop presence unsettled what appeared to be a Taliban strategy of running out the clock?on the US withdrawal target of 2014. The Taliban's statement today suggests the insurgency is irked by the move to "prolong the occupation."

Whether Obama's gambit pushes the Taliban to publicly return to negotiations remains to be seen. While today's statement signaled openness again to negotiations, it also expressed doubts about NATO's sincerity in wanting to leave.?

"The foreigners should forgo prolonging and complicating the Afghan issue for their colonialist objectives," the statement reads.

It goes on to remind NATO that, despite the 2024 extension, there are domestic pressures to wrap up the war soon. The statement cites a recent?CBS News/New York Times poll in which 69 percent of respondents?said the US shouldn't be involved in Afghanistan. Indeed, Monitor polling on the new US-Afghanistan strategic pact found nearly two-thirds of?Americans reject the broad outlines of the deal.?

The Taliban statement also reiterated the group's stance that they were not involved in the 9/11 attacks and will not allow Afghan soil to be used to launch attacks on other countries.?

"The Islamic Emirate once again declares that it holds no agenda of harming anyone nor will it let anyone harm other countries from the soil of Afghanistan hence there is no reason for the occupying countries including America to continue the occupation of Afghanistan under the pretext of safeguarding its own security," the statement reads.?

NATO helped overthrow the Taliban government in 2001 after the regime failed to hand over Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.?

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

US stocks edge lower on Europe worries

It's going to take more than Facebook's initial public offering to push the stock market higher.

U.S. stock indexes were flat-to-down slightly in early afternoon trading Friday. Facebook made its Wall Street debut, fashionably late, after a computer glitch. Facebook shares were supposed to start trading at 11 a.m. Eastern, but started about half an hour late. Nasdaq said it had trouble delivering trade execution data related to the IPO.

The glitch sent shares of Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., parent company of the Nasdaq market, down 2.9 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average has been on a prolonged slump over the past two weeks as traders saw an escalating risk that Greece could leave the euro. It has fallen 11 out of the past 12 days and is down 6 percent in May. The Dow hasn't had a losing month since September.

On Friday, the Dow was down 13 points at 12,429. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.74 points to 1,308. The Nasdaq fell nine points to 2,804.

Hewlett-Packard Co. was the biggest decliner on the Dow, falling 2 percent on news that it was considering major layoffs.

News out of Europe did little to encourage investors.

After an election in Greece that brought in political parties opposed to bailouts for the beleaguered country, the Fitch ratings agency dropped the nation to the lowest possible grade for a country not in default Thursday. Fitch said that if elections next month do not reverse the political trends in Greece, that the country's departure from the euro "would be probable."

Also, ratings agency Moody's downgraded 16 Spanish banks late Thursday, three days after downgrading Italy's, noting they are vulnerable to huge losses on government debt.

Representatives of the G-8 are meeting this weekend at Camp David, looking for assurances that leaders in Europe can contain damage if Greece leaves the euro.

European shares edged lower, following several days of big losses. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.1 percent, Germany's DAX lost 0.6 percent and France's CAC-40 fell 0.1 percent.

In the U.S., shares of jumped 10.6 percent after the maker of web-based business software reported better-than-expected earnings and raised its guidance for the year. Gap fell 0.9 percent after dropping 3 percent earlier in the day, even though it issued higher guidance for the year.

Shares of Yahoo Inc. rose 5.3 percent after Dow Jones' tech website reported that the web portal is close to a deal to sell a large part of its stake in China's Alibaba Group. Many investors view the Alibaba stake as Yahoo's most valuable asset.

Foot Locker Inc. rose 10 percent after its quarterly profit jumped 36 percent, sprinting past Wall Street predictions and setting a company record for quarterly earnings.

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Vinyl Flooring ? Thoughts On Just how To Create The Best Possible ...

When painting your walls, always make sure to correctly spread tarps or magazine over your flooring. You can also go as far as reducing open trash hand bags and laying them on the floor. Painting is actually messy and hard/impossible to remove from carpeting and wooden flooring. Take safety precautions before you start painting so that you don?t have to worry about the actual after effects.Replacing a new kitchen or bathroom floor is very easy if you use adhesive-backed vinyl flooring. Easier to handle when compared with rolled vinyl flooring and less unpleasant than regular vinyl tiles that require a desperate adhesive compound, this can be a quick way to improve your floor. It may take an individual longer to take the outdated flooring up than to put the new tiles down.Flooring can be a relatively simple home improvement project even for a beginner. Focus on putting floor tile in your kitchen and also bathrooms and change your carpet with wood flooring. Home improvement stores possess a wealth of information about how to create this process easy for you to complete.

New floor covering is a great way to update the look and feel of the room in your house. A professional flooring company can set up new hardwood, carpet, laminate or tile flooring within one day or visit your local home improvement store with regard to do it yourself options. If your home improvement project consists of moving appliances or another furniture in your house, ensure that you put something as a result of protect your floors. Particularly if you have hardwood flooring, obtaining large items can make a big mess along with scratch up your flooring. Taking a short while to protect your surfaces can save you a lot of money in the long run.Before spending a lot of money on so-called ?quality? supplies for virtually any home improvement, make sure to look around for better offers. Putting down brand new flooring can be costly and researching prices can help you obtain the best prices. There are discounted supply stores available as well as bargain looking places that can help. If you desire an inexpensive method of tiling a floor, try using vinyl as opposed to earthenware or stone tiles. Vinyl can be strong, durable, water repellent, and easy to install due to the adhesive that is integrated on the back. Vinyl flooring can be acquired a set of tiles, or perhaps as a sheet for covering larger regions at once.

Your tile can lose their luster after a while and check grungy. Mixing a remedy of water and apple cider vinegar can create a safe remedy for most flooring. Grab any bucket, fill it with your solution and you can mop your floors effortlessly. This will get rid of the muck and dust, making your flooring look gleaming along with new. When replacing flooring, think about the kind of foot-traffic that?ll be in the room. Stone and ceramic floors are perfect for higher traffic areas like the foyer and bathroom. Places in your home that have lower traffic, such as individual bedrooms, are better suited for flooring that is more appealing but harder to scrub.Choosing to use solid wood flooring instead of carpeting can save you a lot of hassle over time. Carpet can contain contaminants in the air and cleaning idea out of the question. The cost of tearing up and exchanging your carpet can nearly be as pricey as just placing down wooden flooring. Timber floors can be refinished and repainted as needed; also supplying a more rural and also cottage style atmosphere.


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Friday, May 18, 2012

China jails fugitive smuggling king for life

A Chinese court on Friday handed a life sentence to Lai Changxing, the head of a vast smuggling operation who spent 12 years on the run in Canada before being deported last year, state media said.

Lai was found guilty of smuggling luxury cars and cigarettes worth billions of dollars and of bribing officials, in a case that brought down senior military and police figures and tested relations between China and Canada.

The 53-year-old was sentenced at a court in southeast China's Xiamen, the city from which he directed his sprawling criminal empire before fleeing the country, the official news agency Xinhua said.

Once known as his country's most wanted fugitive, Lai would likely have been sentenced to death under different circumstances.

But in order to secure his extradition, China issued an unusual promise to the Canadian government not to execute him -- a pledge it stuck to with his sentencing Friday.

At least 14 death sentences were meted out to less important figures in the case when trials were held over a decade ago, bringing down national-level military and police officials and a swarm of local functionaries.

Television footage from Lai's trial last month showed him pale and expressionless, a far cry from the flamboyant businessman who once drove a bulletproof Mercedes that had previously belonged to former Chinese president Jiang Zemin.

The verdict was not given until Friday before the sentencing, which will see Lai spend the rest of his life in jail.

Lai was sentenced to life for smuggling, in addition to losing all his personal assets, according to Xinhua.

The court separately sentenced him to 15 years in jail for bribery, the agency said, giving no further details.

Lai's organisation smuggled luxury cars, cigarettes and other products worth a total of 27.4 billion yuan (4.3 billion dollars), evading 14 billion yuan in taxes, Xinhua said, quoting the verdict.

This was made possible by paying bribes in cash or in kind worth 39.1 million yuan to 64 different officials.

"The sums involved are unusually large, and the details are extraordinarily serious, meriting the double sentence," Xinhua quoted the court as saying.

Xinhua did not indicate whether Lai appealed the sentence. The Xiamen court declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

The case, one of the largest graft scandals in communist China's 62-year history, exposed a tight relationship between officials and entrepreneurs in the free-wheeling port city of Xiamen.

It has received huge attention in China, where corruption is one of the key causes of public discontent.

As the case unravelled in the late 1990s, Lai managed to escape to Canada on a tourist visa, but was deported back to China in July last year after a 12-year battle against repatriation.

He claimed the accusations against him were politically motivated and sought asylum, sparking a diplomatic tug-of-war that tested the countries' relations.

Lai's career in crime delivered the material for thousands of media reports and several books, delving into how he paid off officials and entertained them in a lavish private club known as the "red mansion".

At the time the People's Daily newspaper -- mouthpiece of the Communist Party -- said the club, with its sumptuous eateries, ballrooms, karaoke bars, saunas, cinemas and bedrooms, was where dozens of high-ranking officials "resigned themselves to degeneracy and became tools of Lai's group".

While he was reviled in the national press, Lai was also known to some as a modern-day Robin Hood who would lavish money and goods on local communities near Xiamen where he grew up in poverty.

The reaction to Lai's sentence on China's popular microblogs appeared to suggest many people still thought well of him.

"Smuggling isn't right, but people here still remember when petrol was just two yuan per litre," one Internet user said. Another responded: "You're right. He was a good guy. But only the locals know."

His trial was open to the public and numerous government officials and Lai family members attended, Xinhua said.

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