Friday, August 8, 2008

President Musharraf of Pakistan to be impeached

Pakistan’s political crisis came to a head yesterday after the country’s ruling coalition moved to impeach President Musharraf, dealing a potentially critical blow to a key Western ally in the War on Terror.

The decision, which would take Pakistani politics into uncharted territory, heightens pressure on the beleaguered President to step down from office. Mr Musharraf has said that he would rather resign than face impeachment but he does retain the power to dismiss Parliament to prevent such proceedings.

Announcing the decision after three days of crisis talks, Asif Ali Zardari, head of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which leads the coalition Government, accused Mr Musharraf of conspiring with opposition parties to undermine the country’s transition to democracy. “Musharraf has brought Pakistan to a critical impasse,” said Mr Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister who was assassinated in December.

Speaking at a press conference with Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League faction, he said that Parliament would be summoned this month to begin impeachment against the former general, who has ruled the country for more than eight years. Mr Sharif, who was ousted as Prime Minister in 1999 after Mr Musharraf came to power in a bloodless coup and is the leader of the second-largest coalition party, said that the process of impeachment would start in the next few days.

The leaders said that a charge sheet outlining Mr Musharraf’s performance as President was to be drawn up and circulated in Parliament in the coming days, to be signed by at least half of all MPs. His re-election as President last October while he remained head of the army — in apparent violation of the Constitution — is likely to form the basis of his impeachment. The President cancelled his visit to China to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics after the impeachment decision and spent the day consulting legal advisers and his political allies. Yousaf Raza Gilani, the Prime Minister, will represent Pakistan instead.

Mr Musharraf, 65, is expected to fight the impeachment. “I will defeat those who try to push me to the wall,” he said. “If they use their right to oust me, I have the right to defend myself.”

Mr Zardari said that MPs would also push for Mr Musharraf to face a vote of confidence. The judges removed by Mr Musharraf during his brief emergency rule in November last year would be restored if impeachment were successful. “It is good news for democracy,” said Mr Zardari.

The thorny issues of Mr Musharraf’s removal and the restoration of deposed judges have dominated Pakistani politics since the formation of the coalition Government four months ago.

Despite the loss of parliamentary support Mr Musharraf has resisted pressure to resign, insisting that he was willing to work with the new Government. But Pakistani political circles are rife with speculation that he is manoeuvring towards this scenario. Yesterday his critics cautioned against such a move. “It will be his last act if Musharraf tries to dismiss the Parliament,” Mr Sharif said.

The army, which Mr Musharraf had headed for more than nine years, is not expected to come to his rescue. Top commanders met in Rawalpindi to review the security situation in the country but did not release a public statement on their conclusions. Some senior defence analysts said that while the army might not intervene directly, it would not allow its former commander to be humiliated.

The ruling coalition claimed that it had the two-thirds majority in Parliament required to remove the President. Mr Zardari said: “We hope that 90 per cent of lawmakers will support us.” But his supporters insisted that the impeachment move was bound to fail. “They certainly don’t have the numbers,” Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a former federal minister, said.

Mr Musharraf, a key US ally, stepped down as army chief in December after he was elected President. His allies were defeated in elections in February that resulted in a civilian coalition Government led by the PPP, the party of the late Ms Bhutto.

Turbulent times

March 2007 Musharraf suspends the Supreme Court justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, provoking protest rallies across the country

July Supreme Court reinstates Chief Justice Chaudhry

October Musharraf wins presidential election. Benazir Bhutto returns from exile

November Supreme Court meets to decide if Mr Musharraf was eligible to stand for re-election while still army chief. Mr Musharraf imposes emergency rule. Ms Bhutto placed under house arrest. Election declared for January 8. Nawaz Sharif returns from exile

December State of emergency lifted. Constitution restored. Ms Bhutto assassinated

January 2008 Election postponed to February 18

February Election victory for Ms Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party, and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League

March Mr Sharif and Mr Zardari form a coalition

August Ruling coalition says it will launch impeachment proceedings

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Rowan Williams: gay relationships 'comparable to marriage'

Rowan Williams believes that gay sexual relationships can “reflect the love of God” in a way that is comparable to marriage, The Times has learnt.

Gay partnerships pose the same ethical questions as those between men and women, and the key issue for Christians is that they are faithful and lifelong, he believes.

Dr Williams is known to be personally liberal on the issue but the strength of his views, revealed in private correspondence shown to The Times, will astonish his critics.

The news threatens to reopenbitter divisions over ordaining gay priests, which pushed the Anglican Communion towards a split.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams recommitted the Anglican Communion to its orthodox position that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture at the Lambeth Conference, which closed on Sunday.

However, in an exchange of letters with an evangelical Christian, written eight years ago when he was Archbishop of Wales, he described his belief that biblical passages criticising homosexual sex were not aimed at people who were gay by nature.

He argued that scriptural prohibitions were addressed to heterosexuals looking for sexual variety. He wrote: “I concluded that an active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness.” Dr Williams described his view as his “definitive conclusion” reached after 20 years of study and prayer. He drew a distinction between his own beliefs as a theologian and his position as a church leader, for which he had to take account of the traditionalist view.

The letters, written in the autumn of 2000 and 2001, were exchanged with Deborah Pitt, a psychiatrist and evangelical Christian living in his former archdiocese in South Wales, who had written challenging him on the issue.

In reply, he described how his view began to change from that of opposing gay relationships in 1980. His mind became “unsettled” by contact as a university teacher with Christian students who believed that the Bible forbade promiscuity rather than gay sex.

Dr Williams, who was ordained a priest in 1978, became a lecturer at Cambridge two years later and was appointed Dean of Clare College in 1984.

He told Dr Pitt that by the end of the 1980s he had “definitely come to the conclusion” that the Bible did not denounce faithful relationships between people who happened to be gay.

He cited two academics as pivotal in influencing his view. One of them was Jeffrey John, the celibate homosexual whom he later forced not to become Bishop of Reading after an outcry from conservatives.

In his 1989 essay The Body’s Grace, Dr Williams argued that the Church’s acceptance of contraception meant that it acknowledged the validity of nonprocreative sex. This could be taken as a green light for gay sex.

Liberals have been bitterly disappointed that a man whom they regarded as chosen to advance their agenda has instead abided by the traditionalist consensus of the majority.

In the correspondence Dr Williams wrote of his regret that the issue had become “very much politicised” and was treated by many as “the sole or primary marker of Christian orthodoxy”.

Asked to comment yesterday, Lambeth Palace quoted a recent interview in which the Archbishop said: “When I teach as a bishop I teach what the Church teaches. In controverted areas it is my responsibility to teach what the Church has said and why.”

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Don't blame Saddam for this one

The current spate of anthrax attacks on media and government buildings in the United States has heightened the undercurrent of concern since September 11 about the possibility of links between the perpetrators and the Iraqi regime. However, fears that the hidden hand of Saddam Hussein lies behind these attacks are based on rumour and speculation that, under closer scrutiny, fail to support the weight of the charge.

First, there is the history of UN weapons inspections in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. It is true that Iraq has not fully complied with its disarmament obligation, particularly in the field of biological weapons. However, this failure does not equate to a retained biological weapons capability. Far from it. Under the most stringent on-site inspection regime in the history of arms control, Iraq's biological weapons programmes were dismantled, destroyed or rendered harmless during the course of hundreds of no-notice inspections. The major biological weapons production facility - al Hakum, which was responsible for producing Iraq's anthrax - was blown up by high explosive charges and all its equipment destroyed. Other biological facilities met the same fate if it was found that they had, at any time, been used for research and development of biological weapons.

M oreover, Iraq was subjected to intrusive, full-time monitoring of all facilities with a potential biological application. Breweries, animal feed factories, vaccine and drug manufacturing facilities, university research laboratories and all hospitals were subject to constant, repeated inspections. Thousands of swabs and samples were taken from buildings and soil throughout Iraq. No evidence of anthrax or any other biological agent was discovered. While it was impossible to verify that all of Iraq's biological capability had been destroyed, the UN never once found evidence that Iraq had either retained biological weapons or associated production equipment, or was continuing work in the field.

Another mitigating factor is purely scientific: Iraq procured the Vollum strain of anthrax from American Type Culture Collection, a company based in Rockville, Maryland, which provides commercially available viruses - such as anthrax - to consumers worldwide. While Iraq had investigated other strains, including those indigenous to the country, it was the Vollum strain that Iraq mass-produced for weapon use. It is a unique, highly virulent form of anthrax, and its use would represent the kind of link needed to suggest Iraq as a likely source. That is not to say that the presence of a Vollum strain would automatically indict Iraq, or that a non- Vollum strain clears Iraq. However, federal investigators currently think that the anthrax used in New York and Florida is the same strain, most probably the Ames strain, a variety native to the US. The strain used in Washington is as yet unidentified, but it has been assessed as non-weapons grade and responsive to antibiotics. Based upon this information, it would be irresponsible to speculate about a Baghdad involvement.

There is also the political factor. Despite the ongoing efforts of the US and Great Britain to maintain economic sanctions, Baghdad has been very successful in developing a political and diplomatic momentum to get them lifted since weapons inspectors left three years ago. The events of September 11 brought this anti-sanctions momentum to a halt. It makes absolutely no sense for Iraq to be involved in a bio-terror attack that, in one fell swoop, undermines what has been Iraq's number one priority over the past decade: the lifting of economic sanctions.

There is another side to the political equation. America's policy towards Iraq continues to be one of abject failure, and President Bush's administration exhibits the same level of frustration and impotence shown by its predecessor in trying to piece together aviable plan for dealing with Saddam's continued survival. Washington finds itself groping for something upon which to hang its anti-Saddam policies and the current anthrax scare has provided a convenient cause. It would be a grave mistake for some in the Bush administration to undermine the effort to bring to justice those who perpetrated the cowardly attacks against the US by trying to implement their own ideologically-driven agenda on Iraq. Those who have suggested that Iraq is the source of the anthrax used in the current attacks - including Richard Butler, a former chairman of the UN weapons inspection effort - merely fan the flames of fear and panic. There is no verifiable link whatever and it is irresponsible for someone of Mr Butler's stature to be involved in unsubstantiated speculation. His behaviour has, it seems, been guided by animosity towards Baghdad, rather than the facts.

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Freddie Mac Reports Loss of $821 Million

Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE) , the second-biggest provider of U.S. residential mortgage funding, on Wednesday posted its fourth consecutive quarterly loss and set plans to slash its common stock dividend amid the steepest U.S. housing market slump since the Great Depression.

The McLean, Virginia-based company, which affirmed a commitment to raise capital, reported a second-quarter loss of $821 million, or $1.63 cents per share in the quarter, compared with a profit of $729 million, or 96 cents per share, a year earlier. It follows a $151 million loss in the first quarter of 2008, which was lessened by an accounting change.

Freddie Mac and rival Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM) faced a storm of stock selling last month as investors speculated the companies would fall short of the capital needed to offset losses sustained from delinquent mortgages. The turmoil led U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to arrange emergency measures that bolstered government backing for the companies.

The companies own or guarantee more than $5 trillion in mortgages, or nearly half of all U.S. home loans.

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Post office posts $1.1 billion loss in 3rd quarter

The Postal Service had a net loss of more than a billion dollars in the third quarter of the fiscal year, the agency said Wednesday.

For the quarter ended June 30, the loss was $1.1 billion, which officials blamed on reduced mail volume in the slowed economy, coupled with rapidly rising transport costs because of high fuel prices.

The post office is working to deal with its losses by cutting costs. The agency has reduced its staff by about 100,000 since 2000 and is offering early retirement to some clerks,

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A Gold-Medal Market

More than 17 million people live in Beijing, China, the host city for the Summer Olympics that open Friday. That is more than the population of the past four host cities — Athens, Sydney, Atlanta and Barcelona — combined. China counts 1.3 billion residents, more than any country on Earth.

Never before has an Olympics been staged in a market so big — and so underserved. Though capitalism has been a fact of life in China for years, no brand category has been captured the way, say, Wal-Mart dominates the U.S. retail market. Which means: Olympic sponsors are staring at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage and snare the Chinese consumer. Do it right, and the payoff could be massive.

According to IEG, a sponsorship tracking firm in Chicago, the host organizing committee in Beijing has secured about $740 million in sponsorship revenue — only $56 million shy of the combined amount brought in by the 2004 Athens committee and the 2002 Salt Lake City committee during the Winter Olympics. Sponsorships handed out by The Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, or BOCOG, are coveted because they give the companies rights to use the Olympic name when promoting their products within China.

That's only part of the cost for major sponsors like Adidas, which paid an estimated $80 million, according to IEG, and Anheuser-Busch, which paid $20 million to $30 million. Add tens of millions more for marketing expenses, television commercial costs, travel, accommodations for staff and other expenses, like Adidas' costs for opening its biggest store ever this month in Beijing.

These marketers believe the price of an Olympic tie-in is worth it. Reports this summer already have offered evidence. According to, a survey by China's largest market research firm uncovered that more than two-thirds of the respondents "consider Olympic sponsorship a stamp of approval with regard to the quality of a company's products." About half planned to buy products made by an Olympics sponsor. Among the 2,000 people surveyed, Coca-Cola stood out as the brand most associated with the Games.

Based in Atlanta, Coca-Cola has served as an Olympic corporate partner since 1928. Its current contract with the International Olympic Committee — with an estimated cost of $65 million to $75 million for each four-year cycle — runs through 2020. Kevin Tressler, the company's director of sports and entertainment marketing, says the Games help drive market share and volume.

"China is one of our key markets," said Tressler. "The opportunity is huge to amplify our brand messages."

Two commercials to be broadcast globally — one featuring NBA basketball stars Yao Ming and LeBron James, and the other focusing on Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium — will run throughout the Games, along with other advertisements that will run strictly in China. As the Games approach, Olympic sponsors such as Coca-Cola have a lot of advantages.

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