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Aid Agencies Say Congo Fighting Has Split Families



24 November 2008


Aid agencies say recent fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo has led to the widespread separation of family members. More than 250,000 people are believed to have been displaced since fighting resumed between rebels and government forces in August. Derek Kilner has more from VOA's East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.


A demonstrator carries a flower tribute during a silent walk through London to the Rwandan embassy as people mark the human tragedy in the Congo, 21 Nov 2008

Humanitarian organizations, including Save the Children and Oxfam, say more than half the civilians displaced by recent fighting in eastern Congo may have lost contact with family members.

Save the Children emergency officer George Graham spoke to VOA from Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in Eastern DRC.

"The survey was conducted by four British aid agencies who went into the camps around Goma. We interviewed almost 300 people and found that of those people, two thirds had lost a family member, whether that be a parent or a husband or a wife, or indeed a child," said Graham. "About a quarter of the people we surveyed had lost children."

With its limited sample size, the survey does not provide conclusive figures, but the organization says it provides an indication of the scale of the problem.

"The villages have been attacked completely by surprise. Families have found themselves in the middle of the night having to gather their possessions, gather all their family members together and flee to safety," he added. "And in the chaos of this situation, we are finding numerous reports of families ending up separated."  

The aid agency CARE has also said that up to one-fifth of displaced families around Goma are headed by single mothers.

Sporadic fighting has plagued eastern Congo since the official end of the country's civil war in 2003, but the violence has intensified since late August. The heaviest clashes have pitted the rebel National Congress for Defense of the People, led by Laurent Nkunda, against government forces. But several other armed groups have been involved in attacks.

The U.N. Security Council last week approved the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops for the peacekeeping mission in the Congo, known by the French acronym, MONUC. With 17,000 troops it is the world's largest peacekeeping mission, but its forces are spread across a large area and have had difficulty preventing clashes.

Government troops stopped a U.N. convoy Sunday near the Kibati refugee camp outside Goma and removed 23 people being transported by the United Nations. The men were taken despite the apparent objection of the peacekeepers. U.N. officials say they included members of the Mai Mai militia, who have traditionally been allied with the government, but government soldiers accused the men of being rebels.

After the incident, civilians threw stones at the U.N. convoy, the latest manifestation of local frustration with the operation. But for the most part, a tentative ceasefire has been holding in the region.

Last week, Nkunda's forces pulled back from front lines near the town of Kanyabayonga, north of Goma. MONUC military spokesman Jean-Paul Dietrich says that so far the peacekeepers have encountered few problems.

"The situation has been calm for about a week in this region. There was some attempt of incursion on Thursday, when a group of about 70 Mai Mai tried to enter Rwindi, which was left by CNDP on Tuesday evening," said Dietrich. "But we finally convinced them not to continue towards Kiwanja, I think this was their plan, and they returned from where they came."

Nkunda says he is protecting the region's ethnic Tutsi community from Rwandan Hutu militia operating in the area, and has demanded direct negotiations with the Congolese government. The government maintains negotiations must involve all of the numerous armed groups operating in the country's east.

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US Hits IAEA's El-Baradei Over Syria Nuclear Assistance



24 November 2008


The Bush administration has rebuked International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Mohamed ElBaradei over the U.N. agency's plans to help Syria with a civilian nuclear-power program. The State Department said such assistance, at a time when the IAEA is investigating a suspected secret Syrian nuclear reactor, is wholly inappropriate. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department has delivered an unusual public rebuke to the IAEA chief, after Mohamed ElBaradei said technical assistance to Damascus on civilian nuclear power should go forward despite an ongoing agency inquiry into Syrian activities.


International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed el Baradei (file photo)
The IAEA has been investigating a remote facility in northern Syria that was bombed and destroyed by Israeli warplanes in September of last year. The United States subsequently released aerial photos of the site and other evidence suggesting the building was a partially-completed nuclear reactor, perhaps being built with North Korean help.

IAEA officials in a preliminary report last week said the wrecked building strongly resembled a nuclear reactor, and that traces of uranium had been discovered amid the ruins.

Nonetheless, ElBaradei said Syria has a right to IAEA help on a proposed civilian power reactor, and that there is no legal basis for denying Syria a $350,000 assistance package from the U.N. agency.

The position drew a sharp rejoinder from State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack:

"It is wholly inappropriate, we believe, given the fact that Syria is under investigation by the IAEA for building a nuclear reactor, outside the bounds of its international commitments. And for the IAEA to be involved in providing technical information concerning nuclear activities would seem to be contradictory, it not ironic," he said.


This undated image released by senior US officials shows Syria's alleged nuclear reactor, which was hit by an Israeli strike
Syria denies concealing nuclear activities. But the preliminary IAEA report last week said Syria had not heeded requests for documentation on the building destroyed by the Israelis, and refused repeated requests for IAEA personnel to visit three other sites believed linked to the alleged reactor.

U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Greg Schulte said last Friday the report reinforced the U.S. assessment that Syria was secretly building a nuclear reactor in violation of IAEA safeguards obligations.

The Bush administration has had a tense relationship with the IAEA's ElBaradei, who U.S. officials say often takes a benign view of reports indicating secret nuclear weapons activity by Iran.

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Armenia Urges Turkey to Reopen Border



24 November 2008


Efforts to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia have taken another step forward with a visit to Istanbul by Armenia's foreign minister. The purpose of the visit is the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Committee, but the minister's trip also provided him an opportunity to meet with his Turkish counterpart. The two countries have no diplomatic relations, but in the past month there have been growing bilateral efforts to normalize ties. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

Speaking at a news conference, Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian urged Turkey to reopen its border with Armenia.

"Armenia is ready to re-establish diplomatic relations without any preconditions and we are waiting [to see] from [the] Turkish side the same approach," he said.

In 1993, Turkey closed its border with Armenia after Armenian forces occupied territory of Turkey's ally Azerbaijan during a war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Ankara has made the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijan a key condition for reopening the border.


Armenian FM Edward Nalbandian (L), is welcomed by his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan in Istanbul, 24 Nov 2008
Relations between Turkey and Armenia remained frozen until last month, when Turkish President Abdullah Gul accepted an invitation from his Armenian counterpart Serge Sarkisian to watch Turkey play a World Cup football qualifier in Yerevan. Since then there have been several diplomatic meetings between the two countries.  

Mr. Nalbandian said the opening of the border would facilitate the resolution of problems.

"In the world there are many countries, many neighboring countries having different problems to be solved," he said. "But they have diplomatic relations, they have open borders, they are open to each to other, and in this condition it is much easier to talk."

One major problem dogging Armenian-Turkish relations is history. Armenia accuses Turkey of committing genocide against its Armenian minority during World War I, a charge strongly denied by Ankara. The Turkish government is calling for the dispute to be resolved by a panel of historians, a call rejected by Yerevan.

While Turkey's eastern provinces have been hit hard by the economic embargo, Armenia is believed to have suffered more. The embargo has been seen in Ankara as an important tool in extracting concessions from Armenia.  Although the the two sides appear to be increasingly engaged, experts say there appears to be little concrete progress.

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South Africa Warns Situation in Zimbabwe Dire



24 November 2008


South Africa's two most powerful leaders, the president and head of the ruling party, have warned the situation in Zimbabwe is dire and that urgent steps are needed to avoid a collapse in the country. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from Johannesburg, where the leaders met with a delegation of individuals from a group called, The Elders, who were recently denied entry into Zimbabwe.


South African President Kgalema Motlanthe speaks to journalists after meeting The elders, 24 Nov 08
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe warned that Zimbabwe could collapse, unless the root cause of the political crisis in that country is addressed. He said Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change need to move speedily to establish an inclusive government under the terms of an agreement brokered by regional leaders in September.

"The parties agreed on the distribution of ministries, and once they pass this amendment 19, and established an inclusive government, that government would be a single government; it would be a government of Zimbabwe," said Motlanthe. "They are not going to establish a ZANU-PF government and an MDC government; it will be one government for all the people of Zimbabwe."

Despite repeated mediation efforts by regional leaders, the two sides have failed to agree on the composition of a unity government in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Motlanthe said that former South African President Thabo Mbeki, a key mediator in the Zimbabwe talks, will soon announce a date for a resumption of those negotiations. However, Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai has already indicated he may boycott the meeting.

Jacob Zuma, head of South Africa's ruling African National Congress party, said he will send a delegation to meet with the political parties in Zimbabwe in an attempt to move the process forward. Zuma said it was unfortunate that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe had refused entry to a delegation from The Elders group to assess the current humanitarian crisis in the country. The delegation includes former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, and international rights campaigner Graça Machel.  


The Elders, former US president Jimmy Carter (L), former UN secretary- general Kofi Annan(C), and rights advocate Graca Machel (R), in Johannesburg, 24 Nov 2008
On Sunday, the delegation visited a church in downtown Johannesburg, where hundreds of Zimbabweans have sought refuge. Mr. Annan offered a gentle response to Mr. Mugabe, who cited Zimbabwe's sovereignty in rejecting the visit by the delegation.

"But sovereignty also comes with the responsibility of looking after the people and protecting them, and this is a message that I don't think we on this continent have internalize," he said.

Mr. Carter said Monday he believes the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe is worse than he originally feared, especially due to the crumbling economy and collapsing health system.

Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a severe outbreak of cholera across the country. The World Health Organization said about 6,000 people have been infected, and about 300 have died.

Hundreds of people have fled to South Africa for treatment. The South African government is increasing health services at the border area, and warned hospitals throughout the country to be on the alert. South Africa is also sending a team to Zimbabwe to try and shore up medical services there.

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Revising TV Ads To Relay Anti-Smoking Message



24 November 2008


In November, the American Cancer Society sets aside a day it calls "The Great American Smokeout". The smokeout is designed to encourage smokers to quit for one day. In addition to the smokeout, researchers have been trying to find a more effective way of discouraging people from using tobacco products. In this report, Carol Pearson looks at the effect of anti-tobacco ads.




Some of the ads use disturbing images to play on young people's fears of contracting a tobacco-related disease
Anti-tobacco commercials have been around on television for decades. Their purpose is simple: to encourage people to quit smoking or not ever start.


Some of these ads, directed at young people, use disturbing images or play on their fears of contracting a tobacco-related disease.

Researchers at the University of Missouri looked at how viewers of these ads absorb the message.  

Paul Bolls and fellow researcher Glenn Leshner at the University of Missouri studied the effects of repulsive images in the ads watched by young people.

By attaching electrodes to their facial muscles and monitoring their heart rates, they measured their responses.

"The combination of telling individuals that tobacco kills you and trying to intensify that fear with disgust-evoking images backfires," Bolls said.

The study took place at the university laboratory which evaluates the effect that information portrayed in the media has on people.

By attaching electrodes to their facial muscles and monitoring their heart rates, the researchers measured their responses
"What happens in this case I think is that emotional response is increased so much that people actually withdraw from the message, so anything really that occurs after the point at which they withdraw is not going to be remembered."

The researchers found that the viewer's attention and recollection increased when the ad was limited to either a repulsive image or something that evoked fear. Ads that had a combination of both were overwhelming.

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Putting Leftovers to Work for The Homeless



24 November 2008
Robert Egger used to manage a night club. But 20 years ago, he created a kitchen in Washington DC that feeds the hungry. DC Central Kitchen collects food that otherwise would go to waste and turns it into nutritious meals for the homeless. VOA's June Soh takes you there and reports on how founder Robert Egger also creates opportunities for the underprivileged.

Robert Egger founded D.C. Central Kitchen 20 years ago.
In a bustling kitchen in Washington, D.C., two tons of surplus or leftover food are reprocessed every day. About 4,500 meals are prepared and distributed to homeless shelters, drug treatment and senior citizen centers in the DC area.

Robert Egger founded D.C. Central Kitchen 20 years ago. He was a night club manager when the idea for the kitchen came to him. He had volunteered one night to deliver food to the homeless.

"I went out and asked simply where did food come from," Egger said. "And I found that was purchased. And I kept thinking, I was working in restaurants all my life. We throw away a lot of food. That is good food. If they go get that food, they would probably feed more people better food."

Soon after, D.C. Central Kitchen was born. The kitchen retrieves unused meats, vegetables and other ingredients and makes complete meals from them.

The kitchen retrieves unused meats, vegetables and other ingredients and makes complete meals from them
"Every single day we have refrigerated trucks go out to restaurants, hotels, hospitals, universities and safely pick up the food that they have left over," said Egger.

The kitchen also runs cooking classes, on site. Egger said that the classes are for "unemployed men and women, men and women out of prison, older people who need new work. We offer a chance during a course of 12 week job training program to learn basic skills."   

Many of the students used to receive free food. Now, while they learn to cook, they work in the kitchen, contributing to the community.

Michael Robb was a drug dealer. He is also the father of two young daughters. He completed the culinary program two years ago.

"I learned how to make an honest living," Robb said. "It means a whole bunch to me. This education is my family."

The kitchen also uses volunteers. Each year, about 8,000 people help out.

Each year, about 8,000 volunteers help out the kitchen

Courtney Raneri is a student at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. She and other Gettysburg students came during school break.

" It is a great experience," Raneri said. " I am part of this because I think it is a great cause and a great organization."

Twenty years later, DC Central Kitchen is prominent. Egger often receives visitors from across the country and overseas: Today, it's from India.

"They are interested in something a little bit different from charity," Egger said.  

Egger's childhood dream was to own a great night club. He says the kitchen is like a club. It helps people with food instead of music.

"It is a really exciting place," Egger added. "I don't think I could ever work anywhere else."

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North Korea Shuts Down City Tour



24 November 2008


North Korea has taken more steps to restrict crossing of its border by South Koreans, warning it may soon sever contacts with the South, completely. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, the latest steps involve tourism and freight trains, but many South Koreans fear the shutdown of a joint North-South industrial park is in the near future.


South Korean tourists listen to North Korean guide, right, during visit to Kaesong, 22 Nov 2008
North Korea says it is serious about a warning it issued this month to further restrict crossings of its border by South Koreans on the first of next month.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun says Pyongyang took several major steps Monday to restrict border crossings.

He says North Korea is suspending a tour program operated by South Korea to the Northern city, Kaesong. Daily railroad crossings by South Korean freight trains are also to be curtailed.

North and South Korea have remained technically at war for 55 years.  A 1953 armistice, signed three years after North Korea invaded the South, has maintained a fragile peace along their heavily fortified border.

An historic 2000 North-South summit warmed ties and opened floodgates on a wide range of aid and economic cooperation projects funded by the South. The two showpieces of the South's engagement efforts were a joint tourism zone at the North's Mount Kumgang and an industrial park near Kaesong.

The Kumgang project was suspended after North Korea's military shot an unarmed South Korean tourist to death in July, then refused to cooperate in an investigation.  North Korea says it will partially expel staff from both the Kaesong and Kumgang zones.

Spokesman Kim quotes a North Korean official who says it is up to South Korea whether Kumgang's operations resume.

North Korea's public disposition toward the South has markably worsened since the January inauguration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. His election ended ten years of liberal presidencies that were criticized for policies toward North Korea that were overly generous and one-sided.

North Korea has repeatedly referred to Mr. Lee as a "traitor" and threatened to turn South Korea into "debris" unless he continues on his predecessors' policies.

The next major freeze in North-South relations may come on December 1 - when North Korea has vowed to seal off the inter-Korean border completely. Analysts say that would effectively put an end to the Kaesong industrial park.

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President-elect Barack Obama Names His Economic Team



24 November 2008

President-elect Barack Obama introduced the senior members of his economic team on Monday, naming New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner as his Treasury Secretary. Kane Farabaugh has more on the story from Chicago.


President-elect Barack Obama, right, introduces Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner and Council of Economic Advisers Chair-designate Christina Romer
With U.S. stock markets at five year lows, U.S. automakers on the verge of collapse and millions of Americans affected by job cuts and home foreclosures, President-elect Barack Obama underscored the importance of putting his financial team in place early.

"We are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions," he said. "Our financial markets are under stress. New home purchases in October were the lowest in half a century. Recently, more than half a million jobless claims were filed - the highest in 18 years. And if we do not act swiftly and boldly, most experts now believe that we could lose millions of jobs next year."

New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner is Mr. Obama's pick to head the U.S. Treasury Department. Geithner has broad experience in many different areas of the U.S. banking industry. The President-elect hopes his appointment sends a message that the incoming administration understands the issues plaguing the financial sector.

"Tim's extensive international experience makes him uniquely suited for this work," said Mr. Obama. "Growing up partly in Africa and having lived and worked throughout Asia; having served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, one of many roles in the international arena; and having studied both Chinese and Japanese, Tim understands the language of today's international markets in more ways than one."

President-elect Obama also announced that former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, a veteran of the Clinton administration, is his pick to head the National Economic Council, a position that will make him one of Mr. Obama's top economic advisors.

Obama hopes that both men will quickly pass through Congressional confirmation hearings so they can immediately work on a plan to stimulate the U.S. economy and a financial aid package to rescue the ailing U.S. automotive industry.

But the change of administration is still two months away. Even so, President George Bush, just back from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru, says current Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is working closely with President-elect Obama as the government moves to inject $20 billion into cash-strapped financial giant CitiGroup.

"Paulson is working close with transition team," said President Bush. "It's important for American people to know there is close cooperation. Important for us to safeguard the financial system, as that's the first step needed."

President-elect Obama also announced two more appointments to fill out his financial team. Economic historian Christina Romer will serve as chairwoman of Obama's Council of Economic Advisors, and policy expert Melody Barnes will serve as Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

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2nd Phase of Elections Held in Indian-Controlled Kashmir



23 November 2008


The second phase of polling for the legislative assembly in Indian-administered Kashmir were held today amid heavy security arrangements. As Shahnawaz Khan reports, the polls that began on November 17 will be held in seven phases through December 24.


Kashmiri women wait to cast their vote outside a polling station in Lar, India, 23 Nov 2008
It was yet another day of an undeclared curfew in Srinagar and major towns of Indian-administered Kashmir. Heavy deployment of troops prevented people from coming out in response to an election-boycott march called by Kashmiri separatists.

In Ganderbal and Kangan constituencies voting picked up early. There were lesser crowds than seen in the first phase, but despite the boycott call by separatists many people voted.

Mehraj-uddin was waiting for his turn to vote in a long line in Watlar village of Ganderbal district.

He says the village has remained very backward in the past six years, and voters came out to choose a candidate who would bring some development to the area.

Apart from Kangan and Ganderbal, four constituencies of Jammu province also voted. Officials said 40 percent voting was recorded until afternoon.

At some places like Kurhama in Ganderbal district, anti- election protesters clashed with police and raised pro-freedom slogans.

The protesters accused police and troops of barging into their houses and beating residents.

The protesters chanted, "We want only freedom. We are boycotting the polls. We will not vote at any cost."

The separatist alliance, All Parties Hurriyat Conference, said authorities were using undemocratic means to suppress poll-boycott campaigns.

Authorities have detained more than two dozen separatists in recent weeks, some of them under the infamous Public Safety Act, which allows detention up to two years without trial. Calls for separatist marches or protests are met by undeclared curfews.

Saturday, police shot dead two anti-election election protesters in Baramulla, fueling further protests.

Kashmir has seen some of the biggest pro-freedom demonstrations in the past few months.

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Obama Envisions Massive Economic Stimulus



23 November 2008
With the reeling U.S. economy his top concern, President-elect Barack Obama will announce members of his economic team at a news conference Monday. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington, Mr. Obama and his aides are signaling their intention to lay the groundwork for swift action on the economic front when the new administration takes over in January.


A U.S. Secret Service agent, right, holds the door open for President-elect Barack Obama  
In his radio address Saturday, the president-elect spoke of his determination to jump-start the American economy and create millions of jobs through large-scale infrastructure projects and alternative energy initiatives. He has also pledged to cut taxes for middle-income workers and small businesses.

But while Mr. Obama must wait until Inauguration Day - January 20 - to begin implementing his economic program, he is moving quickly to form his economic team and craft proposals in consultation with congressional leaders.

David Axelrod, who served as Mr. Obama's campaign strategist and will be a senior advisor in the new administration, spoke on Fox News Sunday.

"The economic recovery plan we are going to bring in January has to be big enough to deal with the huge problem we face, to do the range of things we need to do - not just to get out of our problems in the short-term, but to build our economy in the long-term," said David Axelrod. "Our hope is the new Congress begins work on this as soon as they take office in January, because we do not have time to waste."

Given a contracting economy with rising unemployment and a plummeting stock market, Mr. Obama clearly believes that aggressive government action is required to reverse America's financial slide.

An economic advisor to the president-elect, Austan Goolsbee, says the amount of money Mr. Obama wants to commit to a stimulus program is much larger than what he envisioned during the campaign.

"It [the stimulus plan] has to be big," said Austan Goolsbee. "In the campaign, he [Obama] was looking at stimulus in the $175 billion range, and the economy has gotten substantially worse since then. We have got to make investments in the future of this country, and we have got to provide relief to ordinary Americans, to 95 percent of Americans. And that will be in the package."

Goolsbee was speaking on the CBS program Face the Nation.

The November 4 election increased the Democratic Party's majorities in both houses of Congress, which may make it easier for Mr. Obama to win passage of his economic plan. In the meantime, the outgoing Bush administration has signaled its willingness to consider some modest measures, such as an extension of federal benefits for the unemployed. There appears to be no consensus in Washington on how to rescue U.S. automakers, all of which could face bankruptcy in coming months.

Democratic congressional leaders say, in the weeks ahead, they will work with the Obama team to draft a stimulus plan they hope can be voted on and signed into law when Mr. Obama takes office.

New York Senator Charles Schumer, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, spoke on ABC's This Week program.

"I believe we need a pretty big [stimulus] package," said Charles Schumer. "First, I think Congress will work with the president-elect starting now and will have a major stimulus package on his desk by Inauguration Day. In my view, it has to be between $500 and $700 billion. And that is because our economy is in serious, serious trouble."

The president-elect has stated his desire to forge a bipartisan consensus on all major initiatives undertaken during his administration. When it comes to economic stimulus, Republicans have ideas of their own, including an extension of the tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration - some of which Mr. Obama has pledged to eliminate.

The ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama, is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding the Obama economic program.

"I would like to see the details of any stimulus package: what it would do, how it would work, and who would benefit from it," said Richard Shelby. "One thing we better be careful about is not just throwing money [at the problem], borrowing money and throwing it at deals. I want to support things that area meaningful for the economy."

Shelby was also speaking on This Week.

Meanwhile, numerous media reports say Mr. Obama has tapped Federal Reserve official Tim Geithner as the next Treasury Secretary, and picked New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to be Commerce Secretary. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers is expected to be named White House economic advisor.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton is widely reported to be Mr. Obama's first choice for Secretary of State, but no formal announcement has been made.

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Obama, Karzai Discuss Ways to Improve Afghan Security



23 November 2008


Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he has spoken with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama about the effort to improve security in Afghanistan next year. Meanwhile, U.S. military in Afghanistan says Afghan and coalition forces have killed 17 Taliban insurgents in air strikes on a "known insurgent safe haven" in southern Kandahar province.  VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Kabul the conversation is the first between the two leaders since Mr. Obama won the presidential election.


Hamid Karzai (file)
President Karzai's office released a statement Sunday saying Mr. Obama pledged to increase the U.S. commitment to fighting terrorism and improving security in the region.

Mr. Obama has long advocated boosting U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq.

The top U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, said last week he does not currently have enough troops to provide security in parts of the country. He urged Mr. Obama to speed the deployment of as many as 20,000 additional troops after he takes office.

The first additional U.S. brigade, numbering between 3,500 and four-thousand troops, is scheduled to arrive in January.

U.S. Spokesman Colonel Greg Julian says those forces are headed to eastern Afghanistan, an area the military calls R.C. East, which has seen a surge in Taliban attacks this year.

"They are going to move into areas that are currently not covered. We do not have enough forces to cover all of R.C. East, so they will be separated into areas where there are no existing forces," Julian said.

The harsh Afghan winter usually brings a lull in fighting, but U.S. and NATO forces say they plan to keep pressure on Taliban fighters during the coming months.

Commanders say they are re-training all Afghan border police in eastern Afghanistan and building 165 new posts along the so-called Durand Line that serves as a de-facto border.

NATO Spokesman Brigadier General Richard Blanchette says forces are also improving cooperation with Pakistani forces through a joint-mission called Operation Lionheart that targets militants in Afghanistan's Kunar province and Pakistan's Bajaur tribal region.

"In this clearing operation, Pakistani forces in Pakistan and Afghan and ISAF forces in Afghan are coordinating operations along the border applying pressure to any insurgents attempting to cross into or out of Bajaur," Blanchette said.

During his presidential campaign, president-elect Obama criticized President Karzai's government, saying it should work harder, and address corruption and the massive opium trade.

Following Mr. Obama's election win, Mr. Karzai also had strong words for the president-elect, demanding he end Afghan civilian casualties and focus on militant sanctuaries outside Afghanistan.

Sunday's statement from President Karzai's office did not say if the two discussed the criticisms.

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Palestinian President: Early Elections if No Reconciliation



23 November 2008


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will call for early elections in 2009 if reconciliation talks do not succeed between rival Palestinian factions. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Jerusalem.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (File)
The split between Mahmoud Abbas' moderate Fatah group and the militant Hamas faction has virtually paralyzed the Palestinians' political system.

President Abbas addressed leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Mr. Abbas said his faction wants dialogue and will do its best to keep the talks going. But he said that if that dialogue does not succeed, he will - at the beginning of next year - call for presidential and parliamentary elections.

The Palestinian leader, whose term technically ends on January 9, has previously threatened to call early elections if there is no deal between his group and Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since winning elections in 2006.  

Hamas rejected Abbas' calls.  

The group boycotted a meeting that was planned for earlier this month by Egypt, which is mediating reconciliation talks between the two Palestinian factions.

It is not clear how new elections would be conducted, since Abbas' Fatah governs only the West Bank, while the Gaza Strip has been under the firm control of Hamas.

The split has undermined the Palestinian Authority's peace efforts with the Israelis, who view Abbas as a moderate with whom they can negotiate. Israel rejects Hamas because it refuses to renounce violence and does not recognize the Jewish state's right to exist.

Some in Israel oppose early elections in the Palestinian territories out of concern that Hamas might win any new poll.  

An Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, published details of a defense paper to be presented next month, recommending that Israel prevent elections in the Palestinian territories.  

The document warns that the disappearance of Mahmoud Abbas from the Palestinian political scene might cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse, killing prospects for a two-state solution.

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Palestinian President: Early Elections if No Reconciliation



23 November 2008


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will call for early elections in 2009 if reconciliation talks do not succeed between rival Palestinian factions. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Jerusalem.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (File)
The split between Mahmoud Abbas' moderate Fatah group and the militant Hamas faction has virtually paralyzed the Palestinians' political system.

President Abbas addressed leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Mr. Abbas said his faction wants dialogue and will do its best to keep the talks going. But he said that if that dialogue does not succeed, he will - at the beginning of next year - call for presidential and parliamentary elections.

The Palestinian leader, whose term technically ends on January 9, has previously threatened to call early elections if there is no deal between his group and Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since winning elections in 2006.  

Hamas rejected Abbas' calls.  

The group boycotted a meeting that was planned for earlier this month by Egypt, which is mediating reconciliation talks between the two Palestinian factions.

It is not clear how new elections would be conducted, since Abbas' Fatah governs only the West Bank, while the Gaza Strip has been under the firm control of Hamas.

The split has undermined the Palestinian Authority's peace efforts with the Israelis, who view Abbas as a moderate with whom they can negotiate. Israel rejects Hamas because it refuses to renounce violence and does not recognize the Jewish state's right to exist.

Some in Israel oppose early elections in the Palestinian territories out of concern that Hamas might win any new poll.  

An Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, published details of a defense paper to be presented next month, recommending that Israel prevent elections in the Palestinian territories.  

The document warns that the disappearance of Mahmoud Abbas from the Palestinian political scene might cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse, killing prospects for a two-state solution.

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APEC Leaders Pledge Quick Action on Global Financial Crisis



23 November 2008

The annual summit of Pacific Rim leaders has ended in Lima, Peru with a show of support for trade liberalization, and a vow to overcome the current global financial crisis.  VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports it was the final summit for U.S. President George Bush.


Leaders of the countries that belong to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC, meet for a summit in Lima, Saturday, 22 Nov. 2008
The 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum say they believe the current global financial crisis can be overcome in 18 months.

In a joint declaration, participants in this year's APEC summit also say they want to breathe new life into stalled world-trade talks.  They say they are instructing their trade ministers to meet in Geneva next month to revive negotiations.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia pushed to have the language included in the declaration.


U.S. President George W. Bush (r) shakes hands with President Alan Garcia of Peru before their meeting at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima, Peru, Sunday, 23 Nov. 2008
As he closed the summit, he said the members of APEC - representing roughly one half of the world economy - will tackle the economic crisis together.

"Know that this crisis will be overcome by all of us," said President Garcia.

Best known, perhaps, for its group photo of leaders in the traditional dress of the host country, this year's APEC meeting had a serious tone from start to finish.

Leaders focused immediately on the spreading economic downturn, and reviewed steps already taken and proposed to spur economic growth. They showed their support for the plan of action adopted by the recent emergency meeting in Washington of 20 of the world's largest industrialized and emerging economies, including a one-year ban on all new barriers to trade.


US President George W. Bush (l) and Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Lima, Peru, Saturday, 22 Nov. 2008
President Bush came to Lima determined to win support for the principles adopted by the so-called Group of 20. Throughout his stay in Peru, he urged Pacific Rim leaders to work together to cure the world's economic ills instead of turning inward. In a speech to a gathering of business leaders, he sounded optimistic.

"As we look to the future, the tasks facing our nations are no doubt demanding," said President Bush. "Recovering from the financial crisis is going to take time. But we'll recover, and in so doing, begin a new era of prosperity."

This was Mr. Bush's final summit and may prove to be his last foreign tour in office before Barack Obama is sworn in as the new president of the United States on January 20.

Mr. Obama did not send a representative to Lima. But as Air Force One was taking off from Peru, plans were being made for next year's Pacific Rim summit in Singapore when the new U.S. president will make his APEC debut.

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Ukraine Remembers Victims of Famine 75 Years Later



22 November 2008


Leaders from around the world Saturday marked the 75th anniversary of the famine that the ripped through the Ukraine in the early 1930s, as Ukrainian leaders seek to bring more attention to the plight of the millions who died from hunger. But conspicuously missing from the honoring of Holodomor , or "death by hunger," were leaders from Moscow, who have objected to recent calls for the deaths to be labeled as genocide. Emma Stickgold has this report for VOA in Moscow.

The anniversary of Holodomor is traditionally marked in late November, when the food shortages began resulting in the death of millions. It was orchestrated by dictator Josef Stalin to force peasants to give up their land and join collective farms. Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, suffered the most.

Only recently, at the encouragement of the Western-leaning Ukrainian politicians, have survivors' harrowing tales of cannibalism and other desperate attempts to stay alive come to light.

Ukrainians say collectivization carried out in their country was an attempt to break the back of Ukrainian nationhood, and stamp out opposition to Soviet rule.


Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko (centre) and his children place candles during a commemoration service for Holodomor victims in a cathedral in Kyiv, 22 Nov 2008
At the opening of an 80-foot tall monument to mark the 75th anniversary, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko paid tribute to those who fell victim to the 1932 famine, which lasted until 1933.

"We bow our head in fraternal respect before all who suffered as we did from Stalin's regime - Russians, Belorusyns, Kazakhs, Crimean Tatars, Moldovans, Jews, and dozens and dozens of other nationalities," he said.

Moscow considers the intensified spotlight on the famine part of Ukraine's continued efforts to stick a wedge between Kyiv and Moscow. But Ukrainian officials say that Moscow is not being accused of engineering the famine.


Kostyantyn Hryshchenko

Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, Ukrainian Ambassador to Russia, speaking Saturday evening at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Moscow, said that Ukrainians want to reflect on the past together to building a more just and more modern world together.

"We do not consider that Russia and the Russian people - who themselves suffered huge losses; were also victims of Stalinist terror; and lost millions of individuals then - are in anyway to blame for this tragedy," he said.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev turned down an invitation to attend the Kyiv ceremonies, instead sending a letter that was posted on the Kremlin's Web site. He said that the events of the early 1930s, "are being used to achieve immediate short-term political goals," adding that, "In this regard, the thesis on the centrally planned genocidal famine of Ukrainians,' is being gravely manipulated." Still, he said, "The most difficult pages of our common history undoubtedly need to be fully explained."

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