'Tea Party' Organizers Plan Anti-'Obamacare' Rallies Across the Country

If Democratic lawmakers thought all the furor over President Obama's health care plan expressed this month at town hall meetings was dying down, they might be in for a surprise Saturday.

That's when citizens are planning anti-"Obamacare" rallies across the country Saturday in all 435 congressional districts.

And their message is clear: We will not stand for socialized, government-controlled health care.

The same groups who made the "tax tea parties" possible in April are behind this weekend's movement. American Liberty Alliance, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity are working with The Sam Adams Alliance, among others, to stage the rallies.

Click here for more information on the rallies.

They come as town hall clashes between Democratic lawmakers and protesters of Obama's health care plan have captured national attention. Some Democrats have dismissed those protesters as "mobs" organized by special interests. But many protesters have said they attended the town halls out of genuine concern.

Now they can express their concerns at Saturday's rallies.

"Obviously the idea behind this was to have a unified day for those concerned about government-controlled health care to talk outside their representatives' offices," said Paul Miller, spokesman for The Sam Adams Alliance, a Chicago-based political organization which is one of several groups promoting the event through new media.

Miller said this is a personal issue for many opponents, including himself, a 22-year cancer survivor. Miller, who was diagnosed with a rare cancer at the age of 14 and had his right arm amputated to save his life, says he would not have received the same specialized and speedy medical care if the government was in control.

"There isn't this great conspiracy to say there shouldn't be health care reform," Miller told FOXNews.com. "People just want to make their own decisions and keep their insurance if they like. When government's get involved, they never do anything right."

Eric Odom, executive director for American Liberty Alliance, the lead group behind the tea parties and the new rallies told FOXNews.com that the rallies differ from the tea parties in that they are being organized from the bottom up.

"We didn't want to try and do what we did on April 15 because the logistics was a nightmare," he said, explaining that local organizers now have more control over the rallies and have only received basic information from the top.

"People at the local level have taken it and created their own animal with it," he said. "This is more bottom heavy."

Odom shrugged at the fact that most of the lawmakers won't be present at their offices on a Saturday because he said the ultimate goal is to get more people politically engaged.

"This Saturday is symbolic," he said, adding that his group will e-mail information to rally-goers on how to air their concerns to their representatives. "Most of these people have never done anything political in their lives."

Phil Kerpen, director of policy for Americans for Prosperity, cautioned that it's "impossible to predict" the turnout at these rallies "because it's very decentralized."

"It could be another big success," he said, or the crowds could be scaled back. Kerpen said the packed town halls this month don't provide much indication either.

"I think there's no better place to make your voice heard and make an impact when you get face to face with your congressman," he said. "The impetus is greater to show up there than here."

Jacki Schechner, spokeswoman for Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a coalition of groups supporting Obama's health care plan, said the rallies are a waste of time.

"There is no government-controlled health care on the table," she said. "They're protesting something that doesn't exist.

"There's a lot of people out there feeding lies and misinformation and trying to get people hyped up about something that doesn't exist. They're wasting their energy."

Odom found irony in the objections raised by proponents of health care reform.

"It's interesting that the world's most professional organizers are upset that we're organizing communities," he said.

But Odom said he hasn't gotten a lot of pushback.

"Surprisingly, I don't think they take this very seriously," he said. But he said what separates his organizers from many of Obama's supporters, including Health Care for America Now (HCAN), is the passion.

"For them it's business as usual. It's what they're paid to do," he said.

Schechner said the differences between the two sides goes beyond money.

"We didn't pop up over night," she said, noting that the group's campaign began last summer. "We don't scream. We're not angry."

She rejected the notion that community organizers who are paid lack passion. "There are different kinds of passion," she said.

Schechner added, "I don't discount their passion. I don't ever want to undermine their passion. But I really wish they would take a moment to really understand what this legislation is about, because a lot of people would be helped by it."

But Kerpen said it's clear that Obama's plan would lead to a government takeover.

"Read the legislation that's been proposed," he said, adding that the House bill has been "designed as an achievable way to reach a single-payer system," in which the government acts as the sole middle man with greater leverage to negotiate prices. "A lot of people are playing games, as we would expect them to."

Karzai campaign declares victory in vote

The leading rivals in Afghanistan’s presidential election both claimed they were headed for victory on Friday, raising the risk of a dispute over the results that could undermine US President Barack Obama’s attempts to portray the polls as a success.

Aides to President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since 2001, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister viewed as his closest challenger, both said their analysis of voting showed their candidates were headed for an outright majority.US officials were already bracing themselves for a contested result from the ballot, which was marred by dozens of attacks by militants and what observers described as a significantly lower turnout than the last presidential polls in 2004.

”We always knew it would be a disputed election,” said Richard Holbrooke, Mr Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I would not be surprised if you see candidates claiming victory and fraud in the next few days.”

The Independent Election Commission said on Friday it was too early for any candidate to claim to have won.

Preliminary returns from Thursday’s poll are expected to start emerging over the weekend, although definitive results could take several weeks to compile. Afghanistan is due to hold a run-off in early October if no candidate wins a clear majority.

Mr Obama’s administration is banking on credible elections to show Afghans that the more than 100,000 Western troops in the country are helping Afghanistan achieve more accountable government and reverse gains made by Taliban insurgents in the past year.

That hope was undermined by scenes of deserted polling stations reported by observers in many areas where disenchantment with Mr Karzai’s progress in tackling poverty and insecurity, as well as fear of insurgents’ bombs, prompted many people to stay at home. At least 26 people are estimated to have been killed in a spate of attacks on polling day.

Analysts say any dividends Mr Obama’s administration may reap from the elections in its attempts to stabilise Afghanistan will hinge to a large extent on the ability of the country’s electoral complaints commission to resolve claims of fraud in a transparent manner.

Reports of attempts to stuff ballots and evidence that unusually high numbers of women voters were registered in some of Afghanistan’s more culturally-conservative areas have added to concerns over the scale of attempted rigging. Insecurity made independent monitoring impossible in many areas. Mr Karzai has sought to win outright partly through making deals with powerful warlords whose forces were accused of major human rights violations during years of civil war but who may be capable of delivering large blocs of voters.

Mr Abdullah is relying on a support from the ethnic Tajik minority in northern Afghanistan, where observers believe turnout was higher than in the east and south, the focus of the Taliban insurgency.

The International Republican Institute, a US organisation which monitors elections worldwide, said the threat of attack was the main factor ensuring that turnout had been significantly lower than in 2004.

“I went to over 20 [polling] stations yesterday and more than half of them, when I was there, were ghost towns,” said Richard S. Williamson, who led the IRI delegation.

“The insurgents didn’t win yesterday because millions went to the polls. They didn’t lose either.”

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At home with the Lockerbie bomber

Is he the evil perpetrator of the deadliest terrorist attack in British history, or a sick old man, a loving father and grandfather, who has suffered a terrible miscarriage of justice? Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi put on a virtuoso performance when The Times came calling yesterday.

His house, in the Dimachk area of Tripoli, was not hard to find. Policemen stood guard outside. The road was lined with the BMWs of smartly dressed friends and relatives who had come to pay their respects. The high outer walls were festooned with fairy lights and with pictures of the Lockerbie bomber as he looked when he left Libya more than a decade ago. In the garden stood a marquee where he had evidently been welcomed home the previous night.

We sent in our business cards and waited, more in hope than expectation. But ten minutes later we were ushered into the spacious hall of the distinctly plush villa where chandeliers hung above a marble floor — a far cry from the Scottish prisons where al-Megrahi has spent the past eight years. His family bought the house a couple of years ago with help from the Libyan Government.

The man himself was waiting in a reception room at the top of a wide and curving staircase; the curtains were drawn against the fierce afternoon sun and tropical fish swam in illuminated tanks. He looked weak and grey, far older than his 57 years and scarcely recognisable as the man I last saw at his trial in the Netherlands in 2001. He was supporting himself on a walking stick. Like everyone else he wore flowing Arab robes of spotless white — “not what I wore in prison”, he joked in a soft voice and fluent English. He was seeing us, he explained, “because you came to our house. It is our culture.”

We sat on sofas. No tea was offered because it is Ramadan. To be free, he said, was “something amazing. I’m very, very happy.” When the doctors had told him he had just a few months left to live “this was my hope and wish — to be back with my family before I pass away . . . I always believed I would come back if justice prevailed”.

His mother, 86, had not stopped crying, he said. “I told her, ‘You should laugh, not cry’. She doesn’t know I’m ill.” He asked us not to tell her.

Engineers have rigged up a video link next to a large black plasma television so that al-Megrahi could talk to prison officers in Scotland every two weeks — one of the conditions of his release.

As al-Megrahi was flying home in one of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s personal jets on Thursday, President Obama sought to add another condition. He said that al-Megrahi should live out his days under house arrest. Al-Megrahi laughed. “He knows I’m a very ill person. You know what kind of illness I have. The only place I have to go is the hospital for medical treatment. I’m not interested in going anywhere else. Don’t worry, Mr Obama — it’s just three months.”

He did not come across as bitter or angry but continued to insist on his innocence, as he has done from the day of his conviction. He abandoned his appeal, he said, not because he was guilty but to give himself the best possible chance of going home before he died. He had applied to be freed on compassionate grounds and also to be transferred to a Libyan prison under the terms of an agreement Britain and Libya signed in April. One of the conditions of the latter was that all legal proceedings had to be finished.

He denied reports that he had been pressured to drop the appeal by a Scottish or British government terrified that such a hearing would expose a grave miscarriage of justice, but he added: “If there is justice in the UK I would be acquitted or the verdict would be quashed because it was unsafe. There was a miscarriage of justice.”

Al-Megrahi promised that before he died he would present new evidence through his Scottish lawyers that would exonerate him. “My message to the British and Scottish communities is that I will put out the evidence and ask them to be the jury,” he said. He refused to elaborate.

Hurricane Bill Weakens to Category 1

(CBS/AP) Forecasters have downgraded Bill to a Category 1 hurricane as it nears the U.S. coast, but tropical storm watches and warnings are still in effect for the Massachusetts coast and parts of Canada.

Bill was churning up rough seas, creating dangerous rip tides and closing beaches to swimmers up and down the eastern seaboard, including President Obama's vacation spot, Martha's Vineyard.

It was expected to pass the mainland well off New England, but was still packing high winds and waves that had safety officials urging extreme caution.

On Saturday evening, Bill had maximum sustained winds near 85 mph and was about 300 miles south-southeast of Nantucket, Mass., and about 585 miles south-southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Bermuda is still recovering from torrential downpours that have battered the tiny island, as Hurricane Bill roared offshore, causing flooding and generating 35 foot high waves. The first hurricane of the season continues to move north off the U.S. coast today. Bill is not expected to hit land but is expected to create dangerous, deadly rip currents. Officials began closing beaches in its path Friday.

"Concern is if the surf is much bigger," one official said.

Winds clock in now at 105 mph, but the damage it caused earlier this week is still being felt up and down the coast.

"When the storm was well out over the Atlantic, it was a category 4. It takes a while for that wave action to eventually reach the coastline," said David Bernard, a meteorologist for CBS News station WFOR in Miami.

Waves may go up to 23 feet in Massachusetts.

The storm was expected to reach Canadian waters early Sunday, and the Canadian Hurricane Center on Saturday issued a hurricane watch for areas of Nova Scotia, where wind speeds could hit 74 mph with gusts of 87 mph.

At Robert Moses State Park in New York, the beach was shut down as the high tide submerged the sand, though the beach opened later Saturday for sunbathing. Along some beaches in Delaware and New Jersey, no swimming was allowed.

"It's just too dangerous right now," Rehoboth Beach Patrol Capt. Kent Buckson said.

At mid-afternoon Saturday, the storm was about 370 miles south of Nantucket and losing strength as it moved over cooler waters, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. But the storm was still carrying maximum winds of 100 mph.

A tropical storm warning was issued Saturday for Massachusetts, including the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, meaning tropical storm-force winds of 40 mph or more could hit the coastline in the next 24 hours.

The worst of Bill was expected to pass about 150 to 200 miles east of Martha's Vineyard before President Obama's scheduled arrival on Sunday, and there was no word from the White House that the Obamas were changing vacation plans.

On Saturday, nearly all south-facing beaches on the island were closed to swimmers and large signs blocked roadways to shorefronts. Meanwhile, lifeguards used caution tape to rope off access points, and police patrolled the beach to enforce the closings.

"The concern we have now is that the riptides are very strong," said lifeguard James Costantini. "There's a very strong undertow."

Longtime Vineyard vacationer Jack DeCoste, 69, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, was unimpressed with the storm as he lounged in a beach chair in Edgartown.

"I don't think it's going to impact things that much," DeCoste said. "I think it'll be in and out of here fairly quickly."

The high waves that worried safety officials had surfers buzzing. Scott Fisher, 38, was at Nantasket Beach in Hull, where the morning's moderate waves were expected to build throughout the day.

"People wait all summer for this," he said.

In Canada, Marine Atlantic suspended ferry service between Port aux Basques, Newfoundland and North Sydney, Nova Scotia, beginning Sunday morning, saying the risks were just too high.

About 200 people were evacuated as a precaution from an offshore natural gas production platform off Nova Scotia, said Exxon Mobil spokesman Merle MacIsaac.

In Nova Scotia, provincial parks have been shut down and people advised to stay clear of beaches.

"The waves, they're very pretty to look at but very dangerous," Barry Manuel of the Halifax Emergency Management Office said Saturday.

The stormy conditions were expected to last through the weekend in the northeastern U.S.

"It takes a while for the ocean to relax" after strong storms, said Gary Conte, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "Until it does, riptides will make dangerous sport" for surfers and swimmers.

Hurricane Bill moved past Bermuda earlier Saturday, leaving behind sunny skies, debris and flooding, but no casualties.

The storm mostly spared the pink-sand shores, though it cut power to about 3,700 customers and flooded some roads along the northern coast. The airport was closed overnight and expected to reopen Saturday afternoon. All ferry service was canceled until Sunday.

Bermudians and tourists awoke to some water on the roads, rain and gusting winds.

"It was something to behold. I've never been in a hurricane before," said ESPN sportscaster Kenny Mayne, who hoped to return to the U.S. on Sunday.

A government spokeswoman said the British territory's hospitals had no storm-related patients.

© MMIX, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bill prompts tropical storm warnings in Nova Scotia

HALIFAX -- The Canadian Hurricane Centre has issued its first tropical storm warnings and hurricane storm watch stemming from hurricane Bill.

The centre has issued tropical storm warnings for the Halifax area and parts of Nova Scotia including the Lunenburg, Queens and Shelburne counties.

A tropical storm warning means that sustained winds of 65 kilometres per hour are expected in those regions within the next day, and implies the threat of local flooding from heavy rainfall.

Areas further east along the province, including Cape Breton, have been placed under a hurricane watch, meaning that a hurricane poses a possible threat to those areas within the next 36 hours.

Meanwhile, Marine Atlantic announced they are suspending service between Port aux Basques, N.L. and North Sydney, N.S. beginning Sunday morning because they are expecting severe weather conditions.

The last ferries are sailing tonight at 8 p.m.

John Majchrowicz, vice-president of operations, said it's too high of a risk to have the ferries in the water and the suspension will be in effect for at least 24 hours.

Rainfall warnings have been issued for all of Nova Scotia and eastern Prince Edward Island for Sunday, with total amounts ranging from 75 to 150 millimetres.

As of 9 a.m. Atlantic time today, the centre said hurricane-force winds of 120 km/h, with gusts to 140 km/h, are expected to affect eastern Nova Scotia and southern Cape Breton.

Government faces questions over Lockerbie bomber

The Government are under fresh pressure this morning over an alleged trade deal behind the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Opposition MPs say claims made by Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son raise ‘serious questions’ over the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said negotiations over al-Megrahi’s release had always been tied up with the oil and gas business and Col Gaddafi himself also appeared on TV hugging Megrahi, who was this was this week released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds, and thanking ‘my friend’ Gordon Brown.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has described any suggestion of a trade deal as a ‘slur’and insisted the Scottish government acted independently. However the opposition are now calling for a Downing Street to answer the allegations directly.

Tory leader David Cameron has already written to Gordon Brown asking whether British ministers had intervened in the release of Megrahi, who is terminally ill with cancer.

Speaking on BBC’s Today programme this morning Shadow foreign minister David Lidington said: “I think there are some serious questions to be asked.”

“I am sure that the Libyans were pressing for Megrahi to be released and I think that what both Col Gaddafi and his son have said in the last 24 hours makes it even more important that Gordon Brown, our Prime Minister, answers the questions that David Cameron has put to him.

“It is very important, I think, for the reputation of our institutions of justice that it is made clear beyond any doubt that this was not connected with some political trade.”

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey suggested that the UK and Scottish government may have been ‘willing partners’ in an unwritten diplomatic deal with Libya.

“They are dancing around each other, not criticising each other. I don’t think any pressure was actually put from Westminster on Holyrood. I think they are willing partners in this,”

“The new-found compassion is welcome on one level, but one does remember that there are billions of pounds of oil, gas, and bank contracts behind it.

“There is some evidence to suggest that, while there may not have been a written deal, we all know that diplomacy and trade operate in rather more subtle ways.”

Al-Megrahi, was released this week after serving less than eight-years in a Scottish prison for killing 270 people aboard a transatlantic airliner in 1988.

Despite calls from Gordon Brown and US president Barack Obama, he has been given a 'hero’s welcome' since arriving back in Libya.

Col Gaddafi embraced al-Megrahi at his home on Friday and thanked British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Queen Elizabeth for“encouraging” Scotland to release him.

He said: “This step is in the interest of relations between the two countries and of the personal friendship between me and them and will be positively reflected for sure in all areas of cooperation between the two countries.”

Afghanistan election: President Hamid Karzai claims victory

President Hamid Karzai's campaign team has claimed victory in the violence-scarred election in Afghanistan - a claim disputed by his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah. The president's campaign manager said preliminary results showed there would be no need for a second round run-off.

"Initial results show that the president has got a majority," Deen Mohammad told Reuters, although he said it was the duty of the election commission to announce the official results. "We will not got to a second round. We have got a majority."

Mr Mohammad said the estimate of victory was based on reports from nearly 29,000 monitors the campaign had at polling stations throughout the country.

However, a spokesman for his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, dismissed the claim, based on partial results they had received.

"It isn't true," said Fazl Sangcharaki. "We also say, 'Maybe we don't need a second round and Abdullah has won.'"

Mr Karzai, who is the favourite to win, must gain more than 50 per cent of the vote to avoid a second round run-off.

The Afghanistan Independent Election Commission said preliminary results would be announced on Tuesday, but full official results would not be available for several weeks.

The victory claims came after a wave of Taliban attacks across the country appeared to have frightened away voters on Thursday as observers predicted turn-out for the presidential elections could be as low as 10 per cent in some regions.

Co-ordinated assaults, rockets and bombs killed 26 people, including nine civilians, nine police and eight soldiers.

But officials said they were “satisfied” with the numbers voting nationwide and hoped the final turn-out would reach 50 per cent.

Gen David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, which covers Afghanistan, said the elections went “reasonably well”, adding that it was “premature” to make a final judgment on turn-out.

Speaking during a visit to London, Gen Petraeus said that of Afghanistan’s 6,519 polling stations, about 6,200 had been able to open and operate normally. But he conceded that election day was marked by “higher levels of violence than has been the case in recent days”.

Up to 17 million Afghans were eligible to choose from more than 30 candidates challenging President Hamid Karzai.

Observers said the turn-out in the most violent parts of the Pashtun tribal south could be 10 per cent. Pashtuns make up Afghanistan’s biggest ethnic grouping and the backbone of the insurgency. Their reluctance to vote could seriously undermine any new government.

One election observer said the numbers casting votes in the second city of Kandahar were “definitely very, very low” and significantly lower than in the more stable Tajik north.

A colonel in the Afghan army said voting in the southern border province of Paktika had been confined to town centres.

In Helmand, where British troops took heavy casualties during Operation Panther’s Claw to secure Taliban strongholds for voting, an observer said the turn-out was well below levels seen in the previous presidential election.

Zabul, another Pashtun province, was described as “eerily quiet” by one monitor.

In recent weeks the Taliban has called for a national boycott of the poll and threatened attacks on polling stations. People were told that they would have their fingers - stained with ink to show they had voted – cut off.

Rocket attacks were launched in Kandahar, Kunduz, and Wardak provinces as the polls opened. Militants stormed the northern town of Baghlan Afghan but were routed by Afghan security forces after heavy fighting.

The Afghan government tried to impose a media blackout on election day violence, fearing it would deter people from voting.

Mr Karzai said there were 73 security incidents in 15 provinces.

“The Afghan people dared rockets, bombs and intimidations and came out to vote,” he said.

“We will see what the turnout was. But they came out to vote – that’s great.”

He denied that a low turn-out would undermine the legitimacy of the poll.

Hanif Atmar, the minister of the interior, said: “We are satisfied with the participation of our people in the elections.

“Police assessments show that in more than 70 per cent of the country’s provinces, we observed the best kind of turn-out.

“In 30 per cent of provinces, despite threats, our people participated bravely in the elections.”

In the capital Kabul, where militants had launched three major assaults in six days, polling stations were quiet and the streets were empty of vehicles as security forces set up scores of checkpoints.

A total of 300,000 Afghan and international forces took part in the operation to secure the poll.

US President Barack Obama said: “We had what appears to be a successful election in Afghanistan despite the Taliban’s efforts to disrupt it.”

Gen Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary-general, said: “Seen from a security point of view, the election has been a success. It has been conducted effectively.”

Рамадан в Україні: місяць посту і молитви

мусульман розпочався священний місяць Рамадан. Згідно мусульманських регілійних канонів, упродовж місяця віруючі зобов'язані протягом світлового дня відмовитись від їжі, води та інтимних стосунків задля духовного очищення.

В Україні регіоном, де найбільш поширений іслам, є Крим. Тут Рамадан розпочався для тисяч мусульман. Протягом тридцяти днів вони за допомогою посту будуть зміцнювати свою духовність і зв'язок з Богом.

Рамадан і його приписи

Рамадан або з турецької Рамазан є дев'ятим месяцем мусульманського календаря. І вважається найпочеснішим у мусульман. Від п'ятниці і впродовж 30 днів триватиме мусульманський піст або ураза.

Згідно з релігійними канонами, в цей час віруючі не повинні у світлий добовий час вживати їжу, напої та утримуватимуться від інтимних стосунків. У Криму більшістю мусульман є кримські татари. За офіційною статистикою меджлісу кримських татар, лише 25% з них дотримується суворого посту. Загальна частина кримських мусульман або просто постять, але без п'ятиразового намазу (молитви). Або ввечері годують тих, хто постить, святковою вечерею, що також є невід'ємною частиною урази.

Такий невеликий відсоток суворих шанувальників урази пояснюється тим, що зараз більшість кримських татарів віддають перевагу так званому світському ісламу. Це більш лояльна форма мусульманської релігії, яка не передбачає примусу чи контролю мусульманина у слідуванні релігійним канонам.

Рамадан по-європейськи

Більш ортодоксальних мусульман у Криму дуже мало. Переважно вони живуть у Туреччині та країнах Азії, розповідає представник меджлісу кримськотатарського народу і депутат кримського парламенту Шевкет Кайбуллаєв. Сам він близько 12-ти років дотримується урази. Однак не завжди при цьому виконує намази.

Шевкет Кайбуллаєв: "Ми - за світський іслам. Який не змушує, не регулює усі хвилини твого життя. Приміром, п'ять разів на тиждень здійснювати намаз. Я не роблю цього п'ять разів. Тобто для нас це більше, ніж просто механічне виконання цих ось ритуалів. Ми сприймаємо Аллаха у душі і орієнтуємося на той іслам, який розвивається у Туреччині, у Європі."

Прожити день без води та їжі не так складно, як здається, стверждує Шевкет Кайбуллаєв. Головне, каже він, не піддаватися спокусам у вигляді сигарети чи кави.

"Якщо ви правильно розрахували свої фізичні можливості - нічого страшного немає. Просто ближче до четвертої години відчуваєш втому. Особливо якщо ти працюєш. Бо зазвичай палиш, каву п'єш - і день проходить нормально. А тут звичних речей немає, відчувається потяг до сигарети, до кави. Але - уявіть - десь за годину, як цей світловий день завершується, дуже цікаво, але ці бажання зникають." Самі члени меджлісу, за словами Шевкета Кайбулаєва, у більшості своїй дотримуються урази. Однак ще кілька років тому цей відсоток був дуже не значним. "Цей процес у нас повільний. Я пам'ятаю, ще у 90-х роках, коли ми сюди повернулися, обрали меджліс. І із понад 300 членів меджлісу посту, здається, лише двоє дотримувалося. Потім четверо. І досі у нас таких свідомих - небагато. Десь 16 осіб."

Рамадан - повернення до витоків?

Серед кримськотатарської молоді відсоток тих, хто дотримується суворих канонів Рамадану, також невеликий. І це у меджлісі знов таки пояснюють слідуванням світському ісламу.

Проте у молоді на це - своя точка зору. Молодий підприємець Ельдар Адаманов стверджує, що і сам 15 років дотримується посту, і молодших родичів навчає. Він стверджує, що кількість молодих людей, які поважають традиції мусульманства, поступово збільшується. Каже, віра дає сенс життя. І наводить приклад - своїх друзів.

Ельдар Адаманов: "Я справді бачу, наприклад, як проста людина, що кримські татари відходять від дезорієнтованого стану пострадянського періоду. Тобто, життя починає набувати якогось сенсу... "

Під час святкових вечерь молодь, за словами Ельдара Адаманова, активно обговорює релігійні теми. І головний плюс урази полягає у єдності людей. Навіть ті, хто не бачився багато років, у ці дні обов'язково зустрічаються. "Ми відчуваємо руку інших мусульман і їхню співучасть у нашому святі. Багато знайомих, приміром, у Туреччині, багато знайомих в інших країнах, і саме у цей період ми більше спілкуємося, постійно ведемо розмови. Саме у Рамазан. Кожного дня вітаємо один одного. Згуртування відбувається."

"Гендерний" Рамадан

Місяць Рамадан є особливим і для жінок-мусульманок. У цей період їхні права з чоловіками є рівними. І іноді вони навіть мають право упродовж місяця не братися до хатньої роботи, розповідає помічниця головного редактора кримськотатарської газети "Авдет" Лейля Сеіт-Аріф:

"Чоловік під час посту не має права вимагати від жінки виконання усіх хатніх обов'язків. Максимально вирівнюються права. І це прописано саме у наших книгах. Під час посту ми абсолютно усі рівні. Я взагалі не готую їжу під час урази. І лише увечері ми з мамою можемо щось приготувати на вечерю."

А от роботи подібна лояльність не стосується, каже Лейля Саіт-Аріф. Робочий графік під час урази не відрізняється від звичного. Лише доводиться відмовитися від обідів та кави. Присвячувати Рамадан, каже вона, треба особисто собі. Щоб переосмислити сенс свого їснування і наблизитися до Аллаха. І вона знайшла деякі істини.

Лейля Сеіт-Аріф: "Ти встаєш рано, встаєш разом із сонцем ... саме відчуття таке .. мабуть, людський організм так влаштований, як і природа: природа пробуджується рано, і людині це властиво, разом із сонцем. Мабуть, у цьому є якесь божественне одкровення, коли ти починаєш жити у тому ж ритмі, що і природа. І починаєш щось відчувати і розуміти нове для себе.

Ураза, згідно з мусульманськими традиціями, завершується святом Рамаданом-байрамом, який починається із заходом сонця в останній день Рамадану. Його святкують три дні. Мусульмани готують багату трапезу і пригощають нею родичів, сусідів та знайомих, не зважаючи на віросповідання. А також роздають милостиню і відвідують могили померлих.

Rivals claim success in Afghan vote

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai's campaign team claimed Friday he was on track for victory in the country's presidential election, while his close rival Abdullah Abdullah also said he was leading the vote. Their claims came as election officials said the results of the vote, seen as a judgment on the Karzai government's efforts in tackling Taliban insurgents, poverty and corruption, would be rolled out starting August 25.

Wahid Omar, campaign manager for Karzai, told CNN that based on information gathered from supporters in the field, his team believed they were on track to win the election first round and prevent an October run-off.

Meanwhile Abdullah, seen as Karzai's main challenger, told Associated Press Television that he believed he was leading, characterizing the vote count as "promising" despite what he described as sporadic "rigging" across the country.

Thursday's election, the country's second since the 2001 fall of the Taliban, was held amid a climate of fear as militants threatened to violently disrupt the process. Violence on voting day killed 26 Afghans and injured scores more.

U.S. President Barack Obama offered strong praise Friday for the election, calling it "an important step forward" in Afghanistan's struggle for democracy in the face of ideological extremists.

"The future belongs to those who want to build, not ... destroy," Obama said at the White House, adding that he was struck by the "courage in the face of intimidation" demonstrated by the millions of Afghans who went to the polls.

He also emphasized that the United States does not favor any particular candidate. "Our goal is clear: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and their extremist allies," he said.

The European Commission on Friday offered congratulations to Afghanistan for staging "successful" elections, but cautioned candidates "to respect the electoral process and refrain from premature announcements on possible outcomes." Watch how counting is underway in Afghan provinces Video

The International Republican Institute, an international election observation group with over 60 monitors on the ground said in a statement that there were "many credible reports that voter registration cards were sold" raising concerns about multiple voting and that security concerns had repressed turn-out.

IRI also criticized Karzai for the unfair use of of state resources which it said were "used during the campaign despite legal prohibitions; for example, the state run media did not provide balanced coverage of the presidential race, heavily favoring the incumbent." Because of these and other problems, IRI said, the elections were brought to "a lower standard than the 2004 and 2005 Afghan elections" but concluded that based on its observations that "the process so far has been credible."

The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan said Friday it expects to announce preliminary results piecemeal from August 25 to September 5.

Zekeria Barakzi, the deputy chief electoral officer for the IECA told CNN the counting was complete in 30 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

Barakzi said that after September 5 there would be a period of accepting objections and complaints about the elections. Asked how long this period would be, Barakzi said possibly a month.

Prior to the election the IECA had stated that it would announce preliminary results on September 3 and final certified results on September 17.

A spokeswoman for the American Embassy in Kabul said the United States has "every confidence that they [IECA] will be able to finish this part of the electoral process in a transparent fashion."

Guaranty Bank shuttered, assets sold to BBVA

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Friday closed Texas lender Guaranty Bank and sold its assets to Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria , allowing Spain's second-largest bank to expand its reach in the U.S. market.

Guaranty, a unit of Guaranty Financial Group Inc , is the 81st U.S. bank failure this year and represents another sizable hit to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp's fund used to protect customer accounts.

Guaranty had assets of about $13 billion and deposits of $12 billion, and will cost the FDIC's insurance fund about $3 billion, the agency said.

It is about half the size of Colonial Bank, which last week became the largest failure of 2009, with assets of $25 billion, the most dramatic among a recent surge in bank failures, especially among larger regional banks.

BBVA bought the assets of Guaranty through Alabama-based bank BBVA Compass, which BBVA bought in 2007 and resulted in the Spanish bank more than tripling its U.S. branch base.

Guaranty was the largest of four bank failures on Friday. Regulators also closed three small banks: Atlanta, Georgia-based ebank; Newman, Georgia-based First Coweta; and Birmingham, Alabama-based CapitalSouth Bank.

In total, the four banks are expected to cost the FDIC's insurance fund $3.3 billion.

The agency entered into a loss-share agreement with BBVA Compass in which the FDIC agreed to share the risk that a pool of $11 billion of Guaranty's assets could further deteriorate.

Guaranty is considered a desirable buy for BBVA as it tries to extend its reach into the Spanish-speaking market of the United States, which complements its operations in Mexico where BBVA owns the country's biggest bank, Bancomer.

At the time of closing, Guaranty operated 162 branches in Texas and California with a focus on real estate construction lending and financing to middle-market businesses.

(Reporting by Karey Wutkowski; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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Guaranty Bank shuttered, assets sold to BBVA

BlizzCon 2009: World Of Warcraft: Cataclysm announced

Vice President of creative at Blizzard, Chris Metzen says that World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will change the face of Blizzard's massive online multi-player game. No release date as been set for Cataclysm but

The new expansion pack boasts a host of new features including a character level cap increased to 85, two new playable races for both the Alliance (Worgen) and the Horde (Goblins) factions, seven new playing zones, new character classes, new monsters and literally hundreds of new quests.

Perhaps the biggest new feature is that the WoW environments have been partially revamped as the expansion pack's dramatic storyline has impacted on the game physically.

Attendees at BlizzCon 2009 were treated to a stunning trailer which showed the WoW environment partially in ruins, torn apart by tsunamis, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions caused by a dragon rising from beneath the earth.

Another major announcement was the news that Blizzard's science fiction real-time strategy game (RTS), Starcraft II will finally see the light of day.

Nearly 10 years after the release date of the last Starcraft expansion pack, Starcraft II is scheduled to hit stores in 2010. BlizzCon attendees were also treated to a trailer and in-game footage of the new 'monk' character class in Blizzard's forthcoming sword and sorcery adventure, Diablo III.

Time is running out for Barack Obama to have healthcare Bill passed

With his all-out push for healthcare reform in peril and time running out to get it through Congress, the young Democratic President delivered an impassioned plea to the US public.

“Don’t let the fearmongers, don’t let the dividers, don’t let the people who disseminate false information frighten the United States Congress into walking away from the opportunity of a lifetime,” he declared.

The words are almost identical to the message that has been preached by President Obama in recent days as his healthcare reform plans become mired in the quicksands of politics. But they were uttered on August 1, 1994, and the man delivering them was Bill Clinton. Within weeks he would see his dreams of reforming the US health system expire as Congress killed off the legislation.

The question facing Mr Obama is whether he is destined to follow in Mr Clinton’s footsteps and see his plan for universal health coverage wither and die on Capitol Hill. Despite Mr Clinton’s defeat on healthcare he was re-elected in 1996. Yet the circumstances now are different. It is only eight months since he was sworn in on a January morning filled with hope and optimism, but the noise and fury surrounding the healthcare debate today are danger signs for Mr Obama’s presidency.

It is remarkable how much political capital Mr Obama has burnt through on healthcare, only to unify the Republicans in opposition and to split his own party. In a change from polls a month ago most Americans now oppose reform. His approval rating has dropped to 50 per cent. Nearly two thirds believe that the $787 billion (£475 billion) economic stimulus package that was passed in February is having no effect or is making the economy worse. His cap-and-trade legislation to curb global warming looks set to die in the Senate.

The polls indicate that he is in danger of losing the electorally vital centre: the elderly, independents and suburban women — critical swing voters — are deserting him.

There are two fundamental reasons for his troubles: the economy — unemployment continues to rise — and signs that Mr Obama might have overinterpreted his mandate.

A Gallup poll released this week showed that conservatives outnumbered liberals in all 50 states and that 40 per cent of voters described themselves as conservative, compared with only 21 per cent who said that they were liberal. The US, in other words, is still ideologically a centre-Right country. A majority in the poll were against the idea of massive government intervention and spending.

When he took office Mr Obama and his aides made myriad comparisons with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. Yet in 1932 Roosevelt won 42 of 48 states. Last year Mr Obama won 28 but, believing that the scale of the recession compelled him to act boldly, he announced a domestic agenda of staggering ambition, with healthcare as its cornerstone.

He has been telling the public that he can expand coverage and cut healthcare costs at the same time. The independent Congressional Budget Office has contradicted that assertion and an increasing number of voters are sceptical.

Projections of the federal deficit keep rising and the scale of government debt is a significant concern for voters. Mr Obama has made rough outlines of his plans and left the drafting to Democrats on Capitol Hill as he attempts to learn lessons from Mr Clinton, whose White House-drafted Bill was rejected by Congress.

The result is a swirl of competing ideas as the President tries to sell legislation that does not exist. Voters are confused and he is losing the debate.

Mr Obama may still have some form of watered-down legislation by the end of the year. The White House has signalled that it could be willing to ram something through Congress without Republican support. If he gets a Bill he will sign it to great fanfare, declare victory and his fortunes will improve. If the economy picks up next year and jobs are created, this turbulent period might merely look like a bump in the road.

When Congress reconvenes in September, however, there will be other problems.

Mr Obama will have three months to honour his pledge to close the Guantánamo Bay detention centre; the death toll in Afghanistan will probably still be climbing; and he must also decide whether to get tough with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Winning an election is one thing. Governing, as Mr Obama has discovered, is tougher.

US powerbrokers gather as rumours of Chelsea Clinton wedding increase

It would not be Martha’s Vineyard if it did not have a grapevine. On this millionaires’ playground off the Massachusetts coast the islanders are abuzz with anticipation that Chelsea Clinton may get married here today — and that President Obama could be the surprise guest.

The official denials of the happy event are strenuous, but locals insist that the wedding will bring together a mix of celebrities and power brokers — including the Obama, Clinton and Kennedy families — in a major gathering of the Democratic Party establishment.

Mr Obama is officially due to arrive on the island known as The Rock tomorrow for a week-long holiday with his wife and daughters. But Michelle Obama and the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia, are apparently already here. According to one source, they took a cruise this week in the schooner Alabama, which is for hire from a local harbour.

Mr Obama’s official schedule called for him to fly from Washington to Camp David last night. The White House told the Vineyard Gazette that he and his family would fly to Otis air force base, on nearby Cape Cod, on Sunday aboard Air Force One and transfer to Vineyard by helicopter. But islanders expect Mr Obama to arrive early so that he can attend the wedding, said to be taking place on a secluded estate near where the Obamas are staying. One elected official said that the Secret Service was increasing its presence from 120 yesterday to a full complement of 180 today in preparation for the nuptials. “They will have a president and a former president,” the official said. “We understand Oprah Winfrey is going to come for it.” Another resident claimed that Chelsea Clinton’s wedding was the real reason why the Obamas had chosen to spend their summer holiday on Martha’s Vineyard, a Democratic bastion often derided as elitist.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State and former First Lady, has flatly denied reports that Chelsea, 29, is getting married this weekend to the Goldman Sachs investment banker Marc Mezvinsky, 31, the son of two former members of Congress. But locals in Martha’s Vineyard say preparations have been under way for months for the wedding, to be held at the home of Cheers TV star Ted Danson and his actress wife Mary Steenburgen.

More sightings and reports have fuelled the rumours. Bill Clinton was seen this week shopping for presents at Midnight Farm, the eclectic island boutique co-owned by the singer Carly Simon. He and Hillary then jetted off to Bermuda — where Chelsea was conceived — on Thursday evening.

But if Sunday comes and Chelsea is still unmarried, the excitement nevertheless conveys the sheer glamour of Marthha’s Vineyard, which sees its year-round population of 15,000 swell to more than 100,000 in the summer.

President Kennedy’s daughter Caroline, who inherited her mother’s waterfront estate on Martha’s Vineyard, usually spends all of August on the island. This season she has been hopping to Hyannisport on Cape Cod to see her uncle, Edward Kennedy, as he battles a brain tumour.

Senator Kennedy has deteriorated to the point that he was unable to attend the funeral of his sister, Eunice Shriver, this month. Mr Obama, who received key backing from the Democratic elder during the presidential campaign, is expected to visit him at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport during his stay.

Mr Obama will become the tenth US president to visit Martha’s Vineyard. Bill Clinton has made four trips in his eight years in power. “Clinton was such a celebrity that he brought that celebrity to the Vineyard,” said Tina Miller, general manager of Plum TV, a local network. “Some people would say it’s a bad thing. I think it’s a great thing. This place was so poor in the Seventies. It’s a great crowd now. You go to a party with the billionaire and the gardener. Everyone mixes.”

Mr Clinton was known for appearing suddenly around the island — buying ice cream, playing miniature golf, browsing bookshops, and even at one point buying presents for Monica Lewinsky at the Black Dog shop.

Friends say that Mr Obama, who visited twice before becoming President, is seeking a quieter time. He reportedly already has a tee time for a round of golf with the Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan — who played against Mr Clinton this week.

Mr Obama’s few public appearances are expected to include a game of basketball with schoolchildren in Edgartown, the largest town. He may also appear at a fundraiser for his friend and political ally Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. Secret service agents have scouted out several local restaurants, including Deon’s, where he could top up on goat curry. One bar has created the “Obamarita” cocktail, while another is serving a Hawaiian-style pineapple-and-coconut Obama muffin.

Dog-lovers, meanwhile, have organised a parade in honour of Bo, the presidential dog. They are hoping that the Obamas will bring their Portuguese water dog to tomorrow’s dog show at the island’s agricultural fair. Some are even wearing “Bobama” T-shirts.

Martha’s Vineyard voted 75 per cent for Mr Obama and islanders are thrilled to see the Obamas, particularly those among the well-integrated, upper-middle-class black community.

“I met them here two years ago in a private house. They were down to earth. I would expect them to be down to earth again,” said Zita Cousens, who runs an art gallery in the town of Oak Bluffs. “I hope that they have some peace and quiet. I hope that they have some rest,” she said. “For three years he has been pretty busy. He needs to sleep and go swimming.”

The Obamas originally wanted to rent a house in East Chop from a lawyer whose son went to university with Mrs Obama. It would have put them close to the historical black community in Oak Bluffs. But the Secret Service vetoed the idea because the house was too close to a main road.

Charles Ogletree, the black Harvard law professor and Obama friend, is also a fixture of the Vineyard. “He [Mr Obama] is very exhausted,” Mr Ogletree told Plum TV. “I hope, as much as people expect to see him a lot, there won’t be many Bill Clinton moments. He’s not going to be at Mad Martha’s having a sorbet at 11.30 at night. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

“Knowing Barack Obama, the antsiness [nervousness] for about three or four days will have him not just out on the golf course but maybe out doing some fishing . . . I don’t know how the fish will bite with 30 Secret Service agents with AK47s. The bass will say, ‘Oh my God, they’re bringing guns now’.”

'Cash for Clunkers' Program to End Monday Night

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration plans to end the popular $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program on Monday, giving car shoppers a few more days to take advantage of big government incentives.

The Transportation Department said Thursday the government will wind down the program on Monday at 8 p.m. EDT. Car buyers can receive rebates of $3,500 or $4,500 for trading in older vehicles for new, more fuel-efficient models.

"It's been a thrill to be part of the best economic news story in America," Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "Now we are working toward an orderly wind down of this very popular program."

Through Thursday, auto dealers have made deals worth $1.9 billion and are on pace to exhaust the program's $3 billion in early September. The incentives have generated more than 457,000 vehicle sales. Administration officials said they have reviewed nearly 40 percent of the transactions and have already paid out $145 million to dealers.

Administration officials said applications for rebates will not be accepted after 8 p.m. EDT Monday and dealers should not make additional sales without receiving all the necessary paperwork from their customers. Dealers will be able to resubmit rejected applications after the deadline.

President Barack Obama said in an interview Thursday that the program has been "successful beyond anybody's imagination" but dealers were overwhelmed by the response of consumers. He pledged that dealers "will get their money."

Dealers have complained of delays in getting reimbursed and backlogs of vehicle paperwork getting processed in the program. Dealers have said they face a risk of not being reimbursed but LaHood has pledged that dealers will get paid for the incentives.

The administration has said it has tripled the number of staffers sorting through the dealer paperwork.

Lutheran church lifts ban on gays in clergy

The nation's largest Lutheran denomination today reversed a long-standing ban on the appointment of non-celibate gays to the clergy, becoming the second major Christian group in a month to liberalize its ministry policies.

Leaders of the 4.7-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meeting in Minneapolis, gave local congregations the authority to choose ministers or lay leaders who are in "lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

The decision follows a similar action last month by officers of the Episcopal Church, who lifted a de facto ban on the consecration of partnered gay bishops.

Theologians and church historians said both votes could influence other Protestant denominations -- including Presbyterians and United Methodists -- that are struggling to reconcile conflicts over homosexuality and the Bible.

"As these decisions get made, it's getting clearer where they're going," said Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, a professor of practical theology and religious education at Claremont School of Theology. "You can't partition justice."

Conservatives in the church said the new policy contradicted Biblical teachings about marriage and would divide the denomination. One prominent group called for Lutheran congregations to withhold money from the church and instead direct funds toward "faithful ministries" within and outside the denomination.

"We are confident that most ELCA Lutherans uphold Biblical standards for marriage and sexuality in spite of decisions made by this assembly," the Rev. Mark Chavez of the group Lutheran CORE said in a statement.

Lutherans voted on the ministry policy two days after they adopted a new social statement on human sexuality that reiterated the church's definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, but that also said the church had yet to reach consensus on same-sex unions.

Church representatives debated the clerical issue for more than five hours today before deciding to open the ministry to partnered gays and lesbians.

The Lutheran leaders also voted for resolutions that called for recognizing and supporting same-gender relationships, while also finding ways to respect differences within the church.

Advocates of the change applauded the actions of the Churchwide Assembly, saying they would lead to greater fairness.

"Today I am proud to be a Lutheran," said Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, a gay rights group in the church.

She said gay ministers would now be "free to claim who they are and to have the love and support of a lifelong partner . . . which is all we ever asked."

At home with the Lockerbie bomber

s he the evil perpetrator of the deadliest terrorist attack in British history, or a sick old man, a loving father and grandfather, who has suffered a terrible miscarriage of justice? Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi put on a virtuoso performance when The Times came calling yesterday.

His house, in the Dimachk area of Tripoli, was not hard to find. Policemen stood guard outside. The road was lined with the BMWs of smartly dressed friends and relatives who had come to pay their respects. The high outer walls were festooned with fairy lights and with pictures of the Lockerbie bomber as he looked when he left Libya more than a decade ago. In the garden stood a marquee where he had evidently been welcomed home the previous night.

We sent in our business cards and waited, more in hope than expectation. But ten minutes later we were ushered into the spacious hall of the distinctly plush villa where chandeliers hung above a marble floor — a far cry from the Scottish prisons where al-Megrahi has spent the past eight years. His family bought the house a couple of years ago with help from the Libyan Government.

The man himself was waiting in a reception room at the top of a wide and curving staircase; the curtains were drawn against the fierce afternoon sun and tropical fish swam in illuminated tanks. He looked weak and grey, far older than his 57 years and scarcely recognisable as the man I last saw at his trial in the Netherlands in 2001. He was supporting himself on a walking stick. Like everyone else he wore flowing Arab robes of spotless white — “not what I wore in prison”, he joked in a soft voice and fluent English. He was seeing us, he explained, “because you came to our house. It is our culture.”

We sat on sofas. No tea was offered because it is Ramadan. To be free, he said, was “something amazing. I’m very, very happy.” When the doctors had told him he had just a few months left to live “this was my hope and wish — to be back with my family before I pass away . . . I always believed I would come back if justice prevailed”.

His mother, 86, had not stopped crying, he said. “I told her, ‘You should laugh, not cry’. She doesn’t know I’m ill.” He asked us not to tell her.

Engineers have rigged up a video link next to a large black plasma television so that al-Megrahi could talk to prison officers in Scotland every two weeks — one of the conditions of his release.

As al-Megrahi was flying home in one of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s personal jets on Thursday, President Obama sought to add another condition. He said that al-Megrahi should live out his days under house arrest. Al-Megrahi laughed. “He knows I’m a very ill person. You know what kind of illness I have. The only place I have to go is the hospital for medical treatment. I’m not interested in going anywhere else. Don’t worry, Mr Obama — it’s just three months.”

He did not come across as bitter or angry but continued to insist on his innocence, as he has done from the day of his conviction. He abandoned his appeal, he said, not because he was guilty but to give himself the best possible chance of going home before he died. He had applied to be freed on compassionate grounds and also to be transferred to a Libyan prison under the terms of an agreement Britain and Libya signed in April. One of the conditions of the latter was that all legal proceedings had to be finished.

He denied reports that he had been pressured to drop the appeal by a Scottish or British government terrified that such a hearing would expose a grave miscarriage of justice, but he added: “If there is justice in the UK I would be acquitted or the verdict would be quashed because it was unsafe. There was a miscarriage of justice.”

Al-Megrahi promised that before he died he would present new evidence through his Scottish lawyers that would exonerate him. “My message to the British and Scottish communities is that I will put out the evidence and ask them to be the jury,” he said. He refused to elaborate.

Series of explosions strikes Baghdad, kills at least 95 people

BAGHDAD (AP) — A truck bomb exploded across the street from Iraq's Foreign Ministry near the Green Zone Wednesday, knocking out concrete slabs and windows and leaving a mass of charred cars outside as a wave of explosions around Baghdad killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 400.

A suicide truck bomber also targeted the Finance Ministry minutes earlier in the deadliest apparently coordinated attack in Iraq so far this year — a major challenge to Iraqi control of Baghdad. A steady escalation of attacks following the June 30 withdrawal of U.S. troops from urban areas has heightened fears that government troops are not ready to provide security.

PHOTO GALLERY: Bombings rock Baghdad

The attacks dealt a new blow to Iraqi government efforts to restore a sense of normalcy in the capital as the overall level of violence remains low compared with recent years. Iraqi security forces have promised to remove concrete blast walls from the main roads in Baghdad by mid-September with the aim of improving appearances and easing traffic congestion.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed Sunni insurgents for the attacks and said the Iraqi government must re-evaluate security measures — the first government acknowledgment of security failings following the recent uptick in violence.
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"These attacks represent a reaction to the opening of streets and bridges and the lifting of barriers inside the residential areas," al-Maliki said in a statement. He said an alliance of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Saddam Hussein loyalists was behind the attacks.

"The criminal acts that took place today require us to re-evaluate our plans and security mechanisms in order to confront the terrorist challenges and to increase cooperation between security forces and the Iraqi people," he added.

Iraq's army and police forces were put on high alert.

The U.S. military has warned that the terror network is trying to provoke new bloodshed to undermine public trust in the Shiite-led Iraqi government.

"The terrorists are trying to rekindle the cycle of violence of previous years by creating an atmosphere of tension among the Iraqi people," Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in a statement. "Our security forces must be more alert and firm. Also, the political groups must unite."

Sunni and Shiite extremists remain active in Iraq, and the U.S. military has detected some political violence ahead of next year's national elections. But truck bombs and suicide attacks bear the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"The security forces have failed to protect the government buildings despite tight security measures and advanced equipment and this reflects huge shortcomings," said Saeed Jabar, a 35-year-old government employee. "It is a message to Iraqi officials that they should stop their exaggerations about the stability of this country."

The most devastating strike blackened the facade of the Foreign Ministry, killing at least 59 people and wounding 250, according to police and hospital officials. Rescue workers dug through rubble and debris near the ministry, which is adjacent to the Green Zone, the most heavily protected part of the capital.

The explosives-laden truck was parked in a largely unguarded parking lot across the street, but the force of the blast tore through the 10-story building, which itself is surrounded by a concrete blast wall, as well as nearby apartment blocs.

Dozens of cars were charred and plumes of smoke rose into the sky.

That attack occurred just minutes after a suicide truck bomber took aim at the Finance Ministry in northern Baghdad, detonating his explosives near a joint Iraqi police and army patrol outside and causing part of a nearby overpass to collapse.

Hospital officials said at least 28 people were killed and 117 wounded in that blast.

Mortars also slammed into the Green Zone, Iraqi officials said, with one landing near the U.N. compound, briefly delaying a press conference being held to discuss humanitarian issues on the sixth anniversary of the Aug. 19, 2003, bombing at the world body's headquarters that killed 22 people, including top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The U.S. military, which turned over responsibility for securing the Green Zone to the Iraqis on Jan. 1 as part of a new security pact, said it could not confirm any mortar attacks.

Another blast in the commercial area of western Baghdad's Baiyaa district killed two people and wounded 16, while a bombing in the commercial district of Bab al-Muadham killed six people and wounded 24, authorities said.

An Interior Ministry official, speaking separately, put the total death toll at 88. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings in Iraq. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Monday that he wanted to deploy U.S. soldiers alongside Iraqi and Kurdish troops in northern Iraq where some of the worst attacks in recent weeks have been carried out.

U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq's cities on June 30 under a security pact that outlines the American withdrawal by the end of 2011. President Obama has ordered all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving a contingency of up to 50,000 U.S. troops in training and advising roles.

Odierno said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been receptive to the idea, though has not approved it.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Was U.S. terror alert used for political reasons?

Former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says pressure from fellow cabinet members to raise the nation's terror alert level just before the 2004 presidential election helped convince him it was time to quit working for former president George W. Bush.

In a new book, Mr. Ridge says that despite the urgings of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and attorney-general John Ashcroft he objected to raising the security level, according to a publicity release from the book's publisher.

In the end the alert level was not changed.

Mr. Bush's former homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend, said Thursday that politics never played a role in determining alert levels.

Two tapes were released by al-Qaeda in the weeks leading up to the election – one by terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and the other by a man calling himself “Azzam the American.” Terrorism experts suspected that “Azzam the American” was Adam Gadahn, a 26-year-old Californian whom the FBI had been urgently seeking.

Ms. Townsend said the videotapes contained “very graphic” and “threatening” messages.

Ms. Townsend said that any time there was a discussion of changing the alert level, she first spoke with Mr. Ridge and then, if necessary, called a meeting of the homeland security council comprising the secretaries of defence and homeland security, the attorney general and CIA and FBI directors. The group then made a recommendation to the president about whether the colour-coded threat level should be raised.

“Never were politics ever discussed in this context in my presence,” she said.

Asked if there was any reason for Mr. Ridge to have felt pressured, Ms. Townsend said: “He was certainly not pressured. And, by the way, he didn't object when it was raised and he certainly didn't object when it wasn't raised.”

Mr. Ridge's publicist, Joe Rinaldi, said Mr. Ridge was out of town and was not doing interviews until his book, The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... and How We Can Be Safe Again, is released on Sept. 1.

In 2004, Mr. Ridge explained why he didn't feel the alert should be raised. “We don't have to go to (code level) orange to take action in response either to these tapes or just general action to improve security around the country,” he said then.

In 2005, months after he resigned, Mr. Ridge said his agency has been the most reluctant to raise the alert level. “There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘For that?”' he said during a panel discussion in May, 2005. But his book appears to be the first time he publicly attributes some of the pressure to politics.

The Homeland Security Department, which Mr. Ridge was the first person to lead, faced criticism in 2004 from Democrats who alleged that raising the alert level was designed to boost support for the Bush administration during an election year.

Mr. Ridge, who resigned on Nov. 30, 2004, said the episode convinced him to follow through with his plans to leave the Bush administration.

A former Republican congressman and governor of Pennsylvania, Mr. Ridge was widely named as a potential running mate to John McCain in 2008 before the presidential candidate chose former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

U.S. cash for clunkers program to end Monday

The program that gives Americans up to $4,500 US to scrap their old gas guzzlers for new, more fuel-efficient cars will come to an end Monday, the U.S. government announced Thursday.

Since the "cash for clunkers" program began in late July, U.S. car buyers have traded in more than 457,000 vehicles in return for $1.9 billion US in rebates. The U.S. Congress has approved total funding of $3 billion US for the program.

"This program has been a lifeline to the automobile industry, jump-starting a major sector of the economy and putting people back to work," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said late Thursday in a release.

GM, Ford, Honda, Toyota and Chrysler have all announced production increases, citing the U.S. program's impact.

Figures show most consumers have traded in trucks and SUVs and bought passenger cars. The U.S. Transportation Department estimates that the resulting gas mileage improvements with the new vehicles have averaged 60 per cent.
Sales plunge anticipated

Analysts are predicting that vehicle sales in the U.S. will plunge once the program comes to an end. Many say offering cash for clunkers, while popular, merely brought forward sales that would have happened anyway in a matter of weeks or months.

"You may see such a collapse in the U.S. marketplace with the disappearance of the government money that the government may have to come back and put in more money," auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers told CBC News.

Critics also point out that the U.S. program has seen Japanese automakers benefiting the most. Of the top 10 cars consumers have been buying after trading in their clunkers, seven are Japanese models. GM and Chrysler — the two companies taxpayers spent billions rescuing from bankruptcy — have no models among the top 10.

Given the popularity of the U.S. measure, Ottawa is under some pressure to beef up Canada's more modest cash for clunkers rebate.

The current Canadian program — touted as a way to reduce air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions — offers incentives that include discounts on public transit passes, bicycles, memberships in car-sharing programs or $300 cash. The retired vehicles are turned over to scrap yards to crush and recycle.

The Retire Your Ride program has succeeded in scrapping about 12,000 vehicles since January. The program has an annual target of 50,000 a year. Analysts and the auto industry say the reward needs to be bigger to attract more interest.

Britain and several other European countries have announced cash for clunkers programs of their own. Like the U.S. program, they have proven to be very popular.

Hurricane Bill puts Bermuda on watch

High waves and hazardous currents are crashing into island communities in the Atlantic Ocean as Hurricane Bill continues its northward track.

Flood warnings were issued for Bermuda Friday as the hurricane continued on its northwest path at around 28 km/h about 680 kilometres south of the island.

The government urged islanders to secure boats and prepare for the storm by Friday afternoon.

The Category 3 storm's maximum sustained winds weakened slightly to about 195 km/h by 5 a.m. AT (4 a.m. ET) Friday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Data suggests the storm is becoming less organized but there is still the possibility it could regain strength over the next 24 hours, the hurricane centre said.

Hurricanes are categorized on the Saffir-Simpson scale from one to five, indicating the storm's intensity at a given time.

The storm's centre is expected to pass between Bermuda and the eastern U.S. coast on Saturday.

Dangerous waves and riptides are expected for the eastern U.S. coast over the weekend, the hurricane centre said.

"Those swells are known to be deadly," said Eric Blake, a storm specialist with the centre. "It's just going to be very dangerous this weekend."

The centre's five-day track shows Bill staying in the ocean off the coast of the U.S. until it reaches the Atlantic provinces, where it may make landfall, before veering back into the north Atlantic.

"Interests along the coast of New England and in the Canadian Maritimes should monitor the progress of Bill," the U.S. hurricane centre said.

The first effects of Hurricane Bill will be felt in the coastal areas of Nova Scotia Friday with swells of up to two metres, the Canadian Hurricane Centre said in an advisory.

The eye of the hurricane is expected to pass within 150 kilometres of Halifax and over the southern edge of Cape Breton before moving toward Newfoundland.

Two other storms of the Atlantic hurricane season, Ana and Claudette, have had little effect on mainland communities.

Tech giants unite against Google

Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo will sign up to the Open Book Alliance being spearheaded by the Internet Archive.

They oppose a legal settlement that could make Google the main source for many online works.

"Google is trying to monopolise the library system," the Internet Archive's founder Brewster Kahle told BBC News.

"If this deal goes ahead, they're making a real shot at being 'the' library and the only library."

Back in 2008, the search giant reached an agreement with publishers and authors to settle two lawsuits that charged the company with copyright infringement for the unauthorised scanning of books.

In that settlement, Google agreed to pay $125m (£76m) to create a Book Rights Registry, where authors and publishers could register works and receive compensation. Authors and publishers would get 70% from the sale of these books with Google keeping the remaining 30%.

Google would also be given the right to digitise orphan works. These are works whose rights-holders are unknown, and are believed to make up an estimated 50-70% of books published after 1923.

Comments on the deal have to be lodged by 4 September. In early October, a judge in the Southern district of New York will consider whether or not to approve the class-action suit.

In a separate development, the US Department of Justice is conducting an anti-trust investigation into the impact of the agreement.

'Open access'

Critics have claimed the settlement will transform the future of the book industry and of public access to the cultural heritage of mankind embodied in books.
Brewster Kahle Internet Archive
The Internet Archive scans around 1000 books a day at 30 cents a page

"The techniques we have built up since the enlightenment of having open access, public support for libraries, lots of different organisational structures, lots of distributed ownership of books that can be exchanged, resold and repackaged in different ways - all of that is being thrown out in this particular approach," warned Mr Kahle.

The non-profit Internet Archive has long been a vocal opponent of this agreement. It is also in the business of scanning books and has digitised over 1.5 million to date. All are available free.

As the 4 September deadline approaches, the number of groups and organisations voicing their opposition is growing. But with three of the world's best-known technology companies joining the chorus, the Open Book Alliance can expect to make headlines the world over.

Microsoft and Yahoo have confirmed their participation. However, Amazon has so far declined to comment because the alliance has not yet been formally launched.

"All of us in the coalition are oriented to foster a vision for a more competitive marketplace for books," said Peter Brantley, the Internet Archive's director of access.

"We feel that if approved, Google would earn a court-sanctioned monopoly and the exploitation of a comprehensive collection of books from the 20th Century."


Much of the focus of the proposed settlement has been on anti-trust and anti-competitive concerns, but just as many are worried about privacy.
Woman in bookshop
Privacy is a big concern for critics

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU of Northern California and the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group wrote to Google to ask the company to "assure Americans that Google will maintain the security and freedom that library patrons have long had: to read and learn about anything... without worrying that someone is looking over their shoulder or could retrace their steps".

"We simply don't like the settlement in its current form," said Consumer Watchdog advocate John Simpson.

"There are serious questions about privacy and Google seems to be taking the view 'let us put this in place and we will do the right thing down the road'. That is simply not good enough."

The American Libraries Association (ALA) agrees.

"We do think the product in essence is good but the proposed settlement asks us to trust Google and the other parties a little too much," the ALA's associate director Corey Williams told BBC News.

"When it comes to privacy, the agreement is silent on the issue and with regard to what Google intends to do with the data it collects. It's a great idea but it requires more trust than I think we feel comfortable being able to extend at this point," said Ms Williams.

'Brave new world'

In its defence, Google has argued that the deal brings great benefits to authors and will make millions of out-of-print books widely available online and in libraries.

In a statement, the company said: "The Google Books settlement is injecting more competition into the digital books space, so it's understandable why our competitors might fight hard to prevent more competition."
Michelle Richmond author
The author said she is not surprised by the reaction to the settlment

Despite the increasing tide of criticism over the settlement, there are some who believe there is not that much to fear.

Michelle Richmond is the author of New York Times best seller The Year of Fog, which is also being turned into a movie starring Rachel Weiss.

"The thing I keep hearing from authors is 'I don't know what this settlement really means'. But this is the brave new world and we don't really know where it is going," Ms Richmond told BBC News

"Most authors work for so little and start from the point of we are doing this for the love it. But when there is this company that has nothing to do with the creation of the book or its publication, I think a lot of authors are concerned about this being a portal to greater access to their work without compensation for writers."

Arctic Sea crew return to Russia

The crew and suspected hijackers of the Arctic Sea - the cargo ship found by Russia's navy off West Africa on Monday - have arrived in Moscow.

Members of the 15-strong Russian crew and eight suspected hijackers landed at a military airfield near Moscow.

The suspects, who were handcuffed to members of Russia's security forces, were then taken to a high-security prison, Reuters reported.

They had earlier been questioned aboard a Russian ship off Africa's coast.

Click here for a map charting reported sightings of the Arctic Sea
The Arctic Sea was said to have gone missing on 30 July as it rounded the north-western corner of France.

Russia said its navy reached the Maltese-flagged ship on Monday, 300 miles (480 km) off Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean.

Multinational investigation

Speculation about what happened to the ship has included suggestions of piracy, a mafia dispute, a commercial row, smuggling or trafficking.

Arctic Sea

What happened to the Arctic Sea?

Correspondents say that despite the details given by Russian officials, the case is still laden with mysteries.

Carrying timber reportedly worth $1.8m (£1.1m), the 4,000-tonne Arctic Sea sailed from Finland and had been scheduled to dock in the Algerian port of Bejaia on 4 August.

Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov says the hijackers attacked on 24 July.

They threatened to blow up the ship if their demand for a ransom was not met, Russian officials said.

Once on board, the hijackers threatened the crew with guns and forced them to turn off navigational and tracking equipment and sail south, the defence minister said.

Earlier reports said assailants had left the ship after 12 hours.

Moscow deployed vessels from its Atlantic fleet to find the Arctic Sea last week.

The hijackers were armed but abandoned their weapons when stopped, Russian officials say.

But the Malta Maritime Authority said the Arctic Sea had been "continuously tracked" from the moment it was reported to have been hijacked until the Russian navy said it had taken the ship on Monday.

Maritime officials in Malta, Finland and Sweden had not wanted "to jeopardise the life and safety of the persons on board and the integrity of the ship", it said.

Last weekend, a multinational investigation was launched after police in Finland said a ransom demand had been made, while emphasising that they could not confirm its authenticity.

Scotland to rule on Lockerbie bomber

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Scotland will say on Thursday whether it has agreed to the early release of a dying Libyan jailed for life for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people, most of them Americans.

British media reports said Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, will return to Libya on compassionate grounds, despite pressure from the U.S. government to keep him in prison.

Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill will make a statement on the former Libyan intelligence agent's fate at 8 a.m. EDT. The Scottish government, which has devolved powers from Britain on justice and other policies, would not confirm the reports that Megrahi will be released.

"People can be assured that the justice secretary's decisions have been reached on the basis of clear evidence and on no other factors," a government spokesman said.

Megrahi, 57, is the only person to be convicted over the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in mid-air above the Scottish town of Lockerbie. He lost an appeal against his conviction in 2002.

However, a Scottish review of his case ruled in 2007 that the case may have been a miscarriage of justice.

The United States and the relatives of many of the 189 American victims oppose Megrahi's early release and say he should serve his full life sentence in prison.

The families of many of the Britons killed in the bombing believe he should be allowed to go home to die. Some also say the evidence presented at his trial was too weak to find him guilty.


If Megrahi is released on compassionate grounds, he is likely to be warmly welcomed by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who has moved closer to the Western mainstream since dropping his nuclear weapons program in 2003.

The Megrahi case has become a millstone for the Scottish government as it balances a series of competing interests, among them the fact that British oil companies are trying to do more business in Libya and hope Megrahi's release might open doors.

British oil company BP ended a 30-year absence from Libya in 2007 when it signed its biggest exploration commitment through a bilateral deal. Royal Dutch Shell also wants to tap Libya's reserves, the biggest in Africa.

OPEC member Libya plans to nearly double crude oil production by 2012 with an investment of $30-$40 billion. It also wants to increase natural gas production.

London-based Algerian lawyer Saad Djebbar, who has worked with Libya on the Lockerbie case, said the expected release of Megrahi would do Britain a "great favor."

"This will enhance relations...Britain and Scotland will grow in the eyes of the Arab states," he told the BBC. "I assure you it will help British interests." Continued...

China's stocks slump 4.3% to two-month low

BEIJING, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- China's stocks fell 4.3 percent to a two-month low on Wednesday's close, as the real estate, non-ferrous metals and coal shares dropped more than 7 percent.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index lost 125.3 points to finish at 2,785.58. The Shenzhen Component Index dropped 4.79 percent, or 563.38 points, to end at 11,209.92.

Combined turnover rose to 191.07 billion yuan (27.96 billion U.S. dollars) from 180.2 billion yuan the previous trading day.

Losers outnumbered gainers by 799 to 78 in Shanghai and 685 to 64 in Shenzhen.

The Shanghai index had sunk more than 18 percent as of Wednesday from early this month, hitting the lowest point since it finished at 2,753.89 on June 5.

It rallied slightly on opening, but was dragged down below 2,900 by weakening steel, non-ferrous, and brokerage stocks. Heavyweights led the losses in the afternoon, with PetroChina Co. declining 2.33 percent to close at 12.99 yuan and China Construction Bank Corp. dropping 3.68 percent to end at 5.49 yuan.

The real estate sector posted widespread losses with nine companies falling by the daily limit of 10 percent. China Vanke, the country's largest developer by market value, dropped 5.58 percent to 11 yuan.

The brokerage sector dropped as its 10 stocks plunged more than 8 percent. Everbright Securities Co., which surged 29.8 percent on Tuesday's debut, tumbled by the daily limit to close at 24.66 yuan.

The slump in the benchmark index reflected investor anticipation that the government was preparing to alter its monetary policy to guide appropriate credit growth and to curb excess liquidity, dealers said.