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Monday, March 17, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Monday March 17 2008 - (813)

Monday March 17 2008 edition
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McCain's Mixed Signals On Foreign Policy
2008-03-17 02:52:03
Sen. John McCain is well-known for scorching denunciations of Democrats, who he says would raise the "white flag of surrender" by cutting off funds for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Yet 15 years ago, it was McCain himself who startled colleagues by proposing to cut off money for a struggling and embattled U.S. force in another perilous place: Somalia.

On the campaign trail today, McCain is seen as an unyielding hawk but, before his first presidential run in 2000, he declared he would work with the Democratic Party's brain trust to devise his foreign policy.

While he now describes himself as a "foot soldier in the Reagan revolution," he infuriated Republicans as a freshman congressman in 1983 by trying to thwart President Reagan's deployment of troops in Lebanon.

The presumptive Republican nominee for president, McCain - who leads a congressional delegation to Europe and the Middle East this week - has adopted a surprising diversity of views on foreign policy issues during his 25 years in Congress. It is a pattern that brings uncertainty to the path he would take if elected.
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Major Stock Markets In Asia Take Sharp Fall
2008-03-17 02:51:34
Major Asian stock markets fell sharply in early trading on Monday as pessimism continued to spread despite the Fed’s dramatic moves over the weekend, sending Tokyo’s benchmark index to a three-year low.

The markets responded negatively to the purchase of Bear Stearns over the weekend by JPMorgan Chase. The acquisition, backed by the Federal Reserve, underscored the severity of the credit crisis in the United States and the weakness of the American economy.

In Tokyo, the region’s largest stock exchange, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index was trading at an almost three-year low. By midday, the index dropped 4.2 percent to 11,726.99, falling below 12,000 for the first time since August 2005.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index was also down 2.4 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index fell 2.4 percent, and in New Zealand, the NZX 50 index dropped 1.9 percent.

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Britain's CO2 Emissions May Be 12% Higher Than Stated
2008-03-17 02:50:24

Britain's climate change emissions may be 12% higher than officially stated, according to a National Audit Office investigation which has strongly criticized the government for using two different carbon accounting systems. There is "insufficient consistency and coordination" in the government's approach, said the NAO.

Using one system, which the government presents to the United Nations and in public, Britain emitted 656 million tons of CO2 in 2005, and claims an improvement on 1990 figures. However, the lesser-known but more accurate data in the government's national environmental accounts show emissions to be in the region of 733 million tons in 2005, a NAO report said Monday.

"There are two different bases on which the government reports emissions: that required for the U.N., and the environmental accounts prepared for the Office of National Statistics ... [which are] more comprehensive as they include aviation and shipping emissions. They present U.K. progress in reducing emissions in a markedly different light", says the report.

The report says there have been "no reductions in U.K. emissions" if measured by the national accounts method.

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Fisheries Experts Come Up Dry On Why Chinook Salmon Vanished Without A Trace
2008-03-17 02:49:23
Where did they go?

The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations - and coming up dry.

Whatever the cause, there was widespread agreement among those attending a five-day meeting of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council here last week that the regional $150 million fishery, which usually opens for the four-month season on May 1, is almost certain to remain closed this year from northern Oregon to the Mexican border. A final decision on salmon fishing in the area is expected next month.

As a result, Chinook, or king salmon, the most prized species of Pacific wild salmon, will be hard to come by until the Alaskan season opens in July. Even then, wild Chinook are likely to be very expensive in markets and restaurants nationwide.

“It’s unprecedented that this fishery is in this kind of shape,” said Donald McIsaac, executive director of the council, which is organized under the auspices of the Commerce Department.

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Rising Gas Prices Affect Local Government Budgets
2008-03-16 16:13:13

The pain at the pump is hitting local governments, too.

Skyrocketing gas prices are adding to the pressure on spending plans being hammered by the real estate slump. Officials are being forced to budget more money to keep tens of thousands of police cars, ambulances and school buses on the roads. They are also looking for ways to cut back on gas use.

Crude oil prices hit a record $108.75 a barrel last week, as a result of global financial instability and political tensions in the Middle East. AAA Mid-Atlantic reported that Washington area residents are paying $3.23 a gallon for self-service gas, up from $2.49 a year ago.

Fairfax County, Virginia, which has been forced to consider raising taxes to balance its budget, expects its fuel costs in the coming fiscal year to be $33.4 million, up $8 million from last year. In Montgomery County, Maryland, the budget for fuel for the Department of Public Works and Transportation has climbed 75 percent in the past four years to about $13.5 million.

"It's continually going up," said Ed Mandley, director of Alexandria's Department of General Services, which fields 825 vehicles, including about 400 police cars that cruise the city's streets 16 hours a day. "It's like a crapshoot what prices we'll pay each month."

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U.S. Embassy Workers Among Casualties In Islamabad Restaurant Bombing
2008-03-16 16:12:43
A bomb blast Saturday at an Italian restaurant popular with foreigners in Pakistan's capital killed at least one person and injured 11, including five U.S. Embassy workers, according to police and hospital officials.

The explosion ripped through the back patio of Luna Caprese at 8:45 p.m., leaving a crater across from a busy outdoor mall. The blast could be heard several miles away.

The attack occurred just two days before Pakistan's newly elected Parliament is scheduled to convene.

The injured were rushed to two nearby hospitals. An official at the Islamabad Poly Clinic said seven people were treated there, including two Pakistanis listed in critical condition and four Americans in stable condition, said Iftikhar Naroo, the hospital's assistant executive director. A Canadian and a Japanese were also injured.

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Dalai Lama Won't Stop Tibet Protests
2008-03-16 16:12:08
The Dalai Lama said Sunday that he would not instruct his followers inside Tibet to surrender before Chinese authorities, and he described feeling “helpless” in preventing what he feared could be an imminent blood bath.

“I do feel helpless,” he said in response to a question at a wide-ranging, emotionally charged news conference here in what has served as the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile for nearly 40 years. “I feel very sad, very serious, very anxious. Cannot do anything,”

His aides said they had received reports from Tibet of 80 killings on Thursday and Friday alone, in and around the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, including 26 slain just outside a prison called Drapchi. Chinese state media has reported 10 deaths and characterized most of them as shopkeepers ”burned to death” during protests.

Tibetan exiles here said they had also received news of at least two Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire as an act of protest; that claim could not be independently confirmed.

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Police Official Wants Children Put On DNA Database If They Behave Like They Might Become Criminals
2008-03-16 04:02:47

Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behavior indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain's most senior police forensics expert.

Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five.

"If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large," said Pugh. "You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won't. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society."

Pugh admitted that the deeply controversial suggestion raised issues of parental consent, potential stigmatization and the role of teachers in identifying future offenders, but said society needed an open, mature discussion on how best to tackle crime before it took place. There are currently 4.5 million genetic samples on the U.K. database - the largest in Europe - but police believe more are required to reduce crime further. "The number of unsolved crimes says we are not sampling enough of the right people," Pugh told The Observer. However, he said the notion of universal sampling - everyone being forced to give their genetic samples to the database - is currently prohibited by cost and logistics.

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Melting Glaciers Start Countdown To Climate Chaos
2008-03-16 04:01:08

For centuries, writers, painters and photographers have been drawn to the wild and seemingly indestructible beauty of glaciers. More practically, they are a vital part of the planet's system for collecting, storing and delivering the fresh water that billions of people depend on for washing, drinking, agriculture and power. Now these once indomitable monuments are disappearing. And as they retreat, glacial lakes will burst, debris and ice will fall in avalanches, rivers will flood and then dry up, and sea levels will rise even further, say the climate experts. Communities will be deprived of essential water, crops will be ruined and power stations which rely on river flows paralyzed.

As a result, people will have to change their lifestyles, their farming, even move their homes, says Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). He also fears the problem could exacerbate tensions over inadequate supplies between neighboring states and countries, possibly spilling over into conflict.

"We're talking about a major transformation, from household livelihood to big industries," says Steiner. "While I'm always cautious about 'water wars', certainly the potential for water to become a trigger for more tension and, where there's already conflict, to exacerbate conflict is another issue that's not hypothetical."

The scale of the problem so alarms Lester Brown, a leading environmental thinker, that he fears huge populations dependent on glacier-fed rivers in Asia - 360 million on the Ganges in India and 388 million on the Yangtze in China alone - will not be able to feed themselves, with devastating effect on already rising global food prices.

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Concessions To Germany Threaten Plan To Combat Global Warming
2008-03-16 04:00:41

Europe's chances of spearheading a global post-Kyoto climate change accord were jeopardized Friday when Germany secured pledges that several of its heavy industries could be protected from international competition and exempted from the European Union's plan to combat global warming.

The concessions, agreed at a summit of European leaders in Brussels, Belgium will also complicate the chances of Europe delivering on its commitments to slash greenhouse gas emissions by a fifth by 2020.

Under intense pressure from German industrial lobbies, chancellor Angela Merkel won changes to the wording of the summit statement ordering the European commission to spell out how "energy-intensive industries" could be granted special treatment in the climate change package.

Britain and the commission had opposed German demands but, according to senior E.U. sources, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the head of the commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, brokered the deal with Merkel.

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In Atlanta, 2 Killed In Saturday's Storm, After Night Of Tornado
2008-03-16 04:00:00

Two people are dead and Atlanta is under a state of emergency as the city picks up from the first downtown tornado in history.

The latest developments:

-- A broad-reaching tornado watch spanning the upper half of the state has been issued until early Sunday morning. The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a tornado watch that stretches from Rome to Columbus. The watch, designating conditions favorable for one or more tornadoes, will last until 1 a.m.

-- Georgia nearly closed in on last year's record number of tornado reports, and 75 hail storms were reported Saturday. The NWS reported 10 possible tornadoes Saturday, all clustered in northern metro Atlanta and North Georgia, said forecaster Stephen Konarik.

"On March 1 last year, we had 14 tornados across the state," Konarik said. "That would be the bar in terms of most tornadoes in a single day."

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160 Feared Dead In Albania Explosion
2008-03-16 03:59:16

One hundred and sixty people, many of them Americans, are feared dead or injured after a series of large explosions at an army base on the outskirts of Tirana, the capital of Albania, said officials.

People suffering with burns, concussions and broken limbs were rushed to local hospitals following the blasts, believed to have begun while teams were dismantling munitions at a storage base. Many of the injuries were a result of flying glass or shrapnel.

"We do not know the exact number, but we fear the worst for the three teams, each of 21 people, working there at the time," said Juela Mecani, spokeswoman for the country's prime minister, Sali Berisha. "Several were U.S. citizens."

A spokesman for the Albanian interior ministry, Avni Neza, said army and police forces were trying to reach the area in armoured cars. "Helicopters have not yet managed to land because the explosions continue," he said.

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JPMorgan To Buy Bear Stearns For $2 A Share
2008-03-17 02:51:49
The deal, valued at $236 million, marks a stunning collapse for one of the world's largest investment banks.

Banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co. said Sunday that it would buy struggling brokerage Bear Stearns Cos., in a fire-sale deal clearly aimed at stemming broader panic in global financial markets.

The rescue announcement failed to stop a further slide in the dollar's value, which sank to a 12-year low of 97.01 Japanese yen in Asian trading Monday afternoon, from 99.21 on Friday. Asian stock markets also tumbled, although they were recovering somewhat late in the session, with the Nikkei-225 index in Tokyo down 3.1% at about 9:45 p.m. PDT.

The once-vaunted Bear Stearns, which last week neared collapse as some nervous investors and banks pulled their business away from the firm, is valued at a mere $2 a share under the stock-swap agreement with JPMorgan.

The company's stock closed at $30 a share on Friday. It was trading at $158 last April.
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Editorial: Science At Risk
2008-03-17 02:50:36
Intellpuke: This editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Monday, March 17, 2008.

Nobody was greatly surprised last week when Stephen Johnson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, proposed new limits on smog-forming pollutants that were weaker than those his scientists had recommended  - and more to the liking of industry. In the Bush administration, contests between politics and science are usually resolved in favor of politics.

The big surprise was Mr. Johnson’s proposal to rewrite the Clean Air Act to allow regulators to take costs into account when setting air quality standards. Since this would permanently devalue the role of science while strengthening the hand of industry, the proposal has no chance of success in a Democratic Congress.

It was, though, a revelatory moment: one last cry of frustration from an administration that, despite great effort, and persistent lashings from Vice President Dick Cheney, has been largely unsuccessful in undoing three decades of environmental law.

Mr. Johnson’s proposal would cut to the very heart of the Clean Air Act. As written in 1970, the act imposes one overriding obligation on the E.P.A. administrator: to establish air quality standards “requisite to protect the public health” with “an adequate margin of safety.” Economic considerations - costs and benefits - can be taken into account in figuring out a reasonable timetable for achieving the standards. But only science can shape the standards themselves.

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Commentary: The Iraq Experience Has Laid Bare The Limits Of Raw Power
2008-03-17 02:50:06
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by columnist Max Hastings and appeared in the Guardian edition for Monday, March 17, 2008. His commentary follows:

The Iraq war has shown how high is the pain threshold of the west. Five years after the 2003 invasion, the daily roll call of Iraqi suicide bombings, murders, firefights and body-bags has become as familiar a part of our landscape as traffic jams on the M1 and Los Angeles freeway.

The media class on both sides of the Atlantic is deeply engaged, indeed impassioned. The war is much discussed in the U.S. presidential election campaign. But most Americans and Europeans display vastly less interest in the Middle East than in troubles closer to home - the global banking crisis foremost among them.

They have grown used to Iraq in the way they do to a chronic personal ailment. It is there. It is nasty. They wish that it would go away, but it does not inflict the sort of agonizing pain that causes democracies to force urgent action upon their governments.

At this week's bleak anniversary, statisticians measure the cost. Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes tell us that the U.S.  faces a total bill of $3 trillion, and still counting. About 4,000 American soldiers, 171 British and anything between 200,000 and 600,000 Iraqis have died. It would be madness to describe these numbers as acceptable. Yet they have not proved so unacceptable that the U.S. or British government, or even the Iraqi administration in Baghdad, has found it necessary to adopt any radical shift of policy.
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French Voters Deliver Stinging Verdict On Sarkozy's First Year
2008-03-17 02:48:50

The French people's disenchantment with President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government was confirmed last night as the ruling UMP suffered significant losses in the final round of the local elections, just 10 months after his triumph in last year's presidential election.

Socialists retained control of Paris and won a string of towns and cities from Sarkozy's center-right party, including the key cities of Toulouse and Strasbourg.

They failed to win the biggest symbolic prize of the evening, France's third-largest city of Marseille, which the right just managed to hold, saving itself from total humiliation in the nationwide vote.

A survey published after the polls closed suggested the opposition Socialists and their allies had won 49.5%, compared to 47.5% of the vote for the center-right.

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Stolen Oil Profits Fuel Iraq's Insurgency
2008-03-16 16:13:02
The Baiji refinery, with its distillation towers rising against the Hamrin Mountains, may be the most important industrial site in the Sunni Arab-dominated regions of Iraq. On a good day, 500 tanker trucks will leave the refinery filled with fuel with a street value of $10 million.

The sea of oil under Iraq is supposed to rebuild the nation, then make it prosper. But at least one-third, and possibly much more, of the fuel from Iraq’s largest refinery here is diverted to the black market, according to American military officials. Tankers are hijacked, drivers are bribed, papers are forged and meters are manipulated - and some of the earnings go to insurgents who are still killing more than 100 Iraqis a week.

“It’s the money pit of the insurgency,” said Capt. Joe Da Silva, who commands several platoons stationed at the refinery.

Five years after the war in Iraq began, the insurgency remains a lethal force. The steady flow of cash is one reason, even as the American troop buildup and the recruitment of former insurgents to American-backed militias have helped push the number of attacks down to 2005 levels.

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Emergency Workers Continue Search After Crane Collapse In New York
2008-03-16 16:12:28

Emergency crews continued to search the wreckage of smashed buildings on the East Side of Manhattan on Sunday, a day after a gigantic crane toppled across a city block, killing at least four people and injuring more than a dozen others.

The collapse occurred at 2:22 p.m. on Saturday as the crane, about 22 stories tall and attached by girders to the apartment tower under construction at 303 East 51st Street, east of Second Avenue, broke away from its anchors and toppled south, across the block between 51st and 50th Streets, as workers at the site and people in high-rises for blocks around looked on, stupefied.

Witnesses told of a rising, thundering roar and clouds of smoke and dust as the crane - a vertical latticed boom for its base, topped by a cab and jib, the swinging arm that lifts building materials - fell across 51st Street and onto a 19-story apartment building at No. 300, demolishing a penthouse and shaking the building with the force of an earthquake.

The Buildings Department ordered 16 buildings vacated after the collapse and said at least six buildings - five on East 50th Street and one on 51st Street - sustained damage.

Workers were removing sections of the damaged crane to allow firefighters to search the rubble, a Fire Department spokesman said. The area around the collapse, 50th and 51st Streets between First and Third Avenues and Second Avenue between 42nd and 52nd Streets, remained closed to traffic on Sunday morning, the Department of Emergency Management said.

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Pope: Enough With The Slaughters In Iraq
2008-03-16 16:11:50
Pope Benedict XVI issued one of his strongest appeals for peace in Iraq on Sunday, days after the body of the kidnapped Chaldean Catholic archbishop was found near the northern city of Mosul.

The pope also denounced the 5-year-long Iraq war, saying it had provoked the complete breakup of Iraqi civilian life.

"Enough with the slaughters. Enough with the violence. Enough with the hatred in Iraq!" Benedict said to applause at the end of his Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square.

On Thursday, the body of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was found near Mosul. He had been abducted on Feb. 29.

Benedict has called Rahho's death an "inhuman act of violence" that offended human dignity.
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U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up Gun-Ban Case This Week
2008-03-16 04:01:17

Despite mountains of scholarly research, enough books to fill a library shelf and decades of political battles about gun control, the Supreme Court will have an opportunity this week that is almost unique for a modern court when it examines whether the District's handgun ban violates the Second Amendment.

The nine justices, none of whom has ever ruled directly on the amendment's meaning, will consider a part of the Bill of Rights that has existed without a definitive interpretation for more than 200 years.

"This may be one of the only cases in our lifetime when the Supreme Court is going to be interpreting the meaning of an important provision of the Constitution unencumbered by precedent,'' said Randy E. Barnett, a constitutional scholar at the Georgetown University Law Center. "And that's why there's so much discussion on the original meaning of the Second Amendment.''

The outcome could roil the 2008 political campaigns, send a national message about what kinds of gun control are constitutional and finally settle the question of whether the 27-word amendment, with its odd structure and antiquated punctuation, provides an individual right to gun ownership or simply pertains to militia service.

"The case has been structured so that they have to confront the threshold question," said Robert A. Levy, the wealthy libertarian lawyer who has spent five years and his own money to bring District of Columbia v. Heller to the Supreme Court. "I think they have to come to grips with that."

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Commentary: A Deluded Wall Street Threaten The World Economy
2008-03-16 04:00:56
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by columnist Will Hutton and appeared in the The Observer's online edition for Sunday, March 16, 2008. Mr. Hutton writes: "The United States is about to be trashed by perhaps the greediest, most arrogant, self-deluding financial class in the country's history." His commentary follows:

If you'd been in Volare restaurant in downtown Chicago, Illinois, on Monday night, you would not have thought a U.S.  recession was imminent; the place was packed, as, earlier, was most of Michigan Avenue, the principal shopping street, despite the freezing winds.

That was before Friday as news spread of the collapse of Bear Stearns, America's fifth largest investment bank. A mounting financial crisis threatens to undermine the economy that supports, among many others, the clientele of Volare. The United States is about to be trashed by perhaps the greediest, most arrogant, self-deluding financial class in the country's history.

It is an epic tragedy whose ramifications are bound to impact on Britain and the rest of the world, beginning with the sanguine economic assumptions - of only the mildest of economic slowdowns - that underpinned Alistair Darling's Budget forecasts last week. But whether in Britain or America, politicians and policy-makers seem frozen into inactivity (with the honorable exception of the U.S. Federal Reserve, America's central bank). Messrs Brown and Darling echo President Bush and US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson; as little as possible must be done to regulate or impede the operation of the titans of Wall Street and the City, whatever their recklessness. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, slugging it out for the Democratic presidential nomination, are happier to talk about the threat to American jobs from foreign trade than the mortal threat constituted by an out-of-control and broken financial system.

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Beijing Locks Down Lhasa, Tibet, As Crisis Grows
2008-03-16 04:00:17
At least 10, possibly dozens, killed in Tibet as violence spreads and international protests mount.

China flooded the streets of Lhasa with riot police, Saturday, as the international community urged an end to the bloodshed in Tibet that has already claimed at least 10 - possibly dozens more - lives.

Security forces were also used to regain control of a second community yesterday as a protest in Xiahe, Gansu province, followed the worst riots in Lhasa in almost 20 years. Thousands of protesters smashed government offices in Xiahe after marching through the streets chanting support for the Dalai Lama, according to overseas support groups. Observer correspondent Tania Branigan said the crowd was dispersed with tear gas, but quickly regrouped.

The disruption comes just months before the Olympic Games, when China's leaders had hoped to display a "harmonious society". However, chaos has gripped Xiahe, which is home to a large community that considers itself part of greater Tibet even though it is outside the Tibet Autonomous Region.

According to Sanjay Tashi of the Free Tibet Campaign, the city center was filled with tear gas, cars were set on fire, government buildings ransacked and the banned Tibetan flag flown over a school. Other witnesses said they saw 10 to 20 truckloads of riot police moving into the area. Police have fired tear gas rounds and arrested some protesters; ut the crowd stormed the jail and released the prisoners, said Tashi. However, other witnesses said the protests were mostly peaceful.

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Britain's MI5 Seeks Powers To Trawl Personal Records In New Terror Hunt
2008-03-16 03:59:42
Counter-terrorism experts call it a "force multiplier": an attack combining slaughter and electronic chaos. Now Britain's security services want total access to U.K. commuters' travel records to help them meet the threat.

Millions of U.K. commuters could have their private movements around cities secretly monitored under new counter-terrorism powers being sought by Britain's security services.

Records of journeys made by people using smart cards that allow 17 million Britons to travel by underground (subway), bus and train with a single swipe at the ticket barrier are among a welter of private information held by the state to which MI5 and police counter-terrorism officers want access in order to help identify patterns of suspicious behavior.

The request by the security services, described by shadow Home Secretary David Davis last night as "extraordinary", forms part of a fierce Whitehall debate over how much access the state should have to people's private lives in its efforts to combat terrorism.

It comes as the Cabinet Office finalizes Gordon Brown's new national security strategy, expected to identify a string of new threats to Britain - ranging from future "water wars" between countries left drought-ridden by global warming to cyber-attacks using computer hacking technology to disrupt vital elements of national infrastructure.

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