Daily Archives: March 23, 2011

Bomb rocks Jerusalem bus stop, 1 dead 25 wounded

Israel Rescue workers and paramedics work next to a pool of blood following an explosion at a bus stop in Jerusalem, Wednesday, March 23, 2011. A bomb exploded near a crowded bus, wounding at least eight people in what appeared to be the first militant attack in the city in several years. A woman was killed and more than 30 people were wounded when a loud explosion shook a busy street in Jerusalem as the evening rush hour began on Wednesday, authorities said. Several of the wounded were critically injured in the first serious bombing in Jerusalem in four years, authorities said. Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the "cowardly terrorist attack" in which "innocent people were hurt." (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM, March 23 ,2011 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP) – A bomb struck a crowded bus stop in central Jerusalem Wednesday, wounding some 25 people in what authorities said was the first major Palestinian militant attack in the city in several years, AP reported on Wednesday.

The bombing brought back memories of the second Palestinian uprising last decade, a period in which hundreds of Israelis were killed by suicide bombings in Jerusalem and other major cities.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Israeli police blamed Palestinian militants. The attack comes as tensions have been escalating between the two sides. In recent days, Hamas and other armed groups in the neighboring Gaza Strip have been firing rockets and mortars into Israel, prompting Israeli reprisals.

“We are talking about a terror attack,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, told Channel 2 TV that the bomb was about four pounds (one to two kilograms) and was planted in a small bag on the sidewalk. He said security services were on alert for additional attacks.

The 3 p.m. attack occurred near the main entrance to Jerusalem, next to the city’s central bus station, an area that is crowded with travelers and passers-by at all hours of the day.

The blast reverberated throughout Jerusalem and blew out the windows of two crowded buses. Rescuers removed bloodied people from the area on stretchers, as sirens from speeding ambulances wailed in the background.

Israel’s national rescue service said 25 people were wounded, including four in critical condition. No deaths were reported.

Jerusalem’s police chief, Aharon Franco, said there were no firm leads but authorities were investigating a possible link to a small bombing earlier this month that wounded a garbage collector as he removed the device from a trash can.

Meir Hagid, one of the bus drivers, said he heard a loud explosion as he drove by the site, located near the main entrance to Jerusalem and its central bus station.

“I heard the explosion in the bus stop,” he said. He halted his vehicle and people got off. He said nobody in his bus was hurt.

Police said the bomb had been planted next to a payphone.

Samuel Conik, 20, said he ran to the scene when he heard the explosion and saw fire coming out of a phone booth. Nearby was a badly burned man with bloody legs and his skin peeling off.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the Israeli leader had decided to postpone a planned trip to Moscow on Thursday to deal with the crisis.

Police, accompanied by sniffer dogs, broke into cars near the site to search for evidence and possible additional explosives.

In the Gaza Strip, the Islamic Jihad militant group, which has carried out dozens of attacks, said it was not connected to the blast. But spokesman Khader Habib said the group “applauds all efforts to respond to the crimes committed daily against our people.”

Jerusalem suffered dozens of suicide bombings that targeted buses and restaurants during the second Palestinian uprising last decade. But the attacks have halted in recent years. Jerusalem last experienced a suicide bombing in 2004, and the last suicide bombing in Israel occurred in 2008 in the southern town of Dimona.

Even so, the city has experienced other deadly violence. In early 2008, eight students at a Jerusalem seminary were killed when Palestinian gunmen entered the school and opened fire.

Palestinians also carried out several attacks with construction vehicles against Jerusalem in the past few years that ended with fatalities when the drivers rammed their vehicles into bystanders.

Earlier this month, five members of a family in a West Bank settlement were knifed to death as they slept. (*)
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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in World News



Gaddafi: US bound for dustbin of history

Muammar Al Gaddafi

LIBYA, March 23, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM) — Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi predicts that the US-led military alliance attacking the North African country will end up in “the dustbin of history.”

As reported by Iranian Television PRESS TV Channel, Gaddafi was addressing a crowd of supporters at his residence near the capital, Tripoli.

“This assault … is by a bunch of fascists who will end up in the dustbin of history,” Gaddafi said in a speech followed by fireworks in Tripoli.

The compound was targeted by Western forces on Sunday night and came under attack in 1986 from the US Reagan administration.

The defiant ruler has pledged that fighting will continue. He also promised his supporters victory over revolutionary and foreign forces.

“We will defeat them by any means … We are ready for the fight, whether it will be a short or a long one … We will be victorious in the end,” he said.

“We will not surrender.”

In other remarks, Gaddafi said he was ready for battle and that he was not afraid of rockets or missiles. He further called for mass protests against the US-led attacks in Libya.

Meanwhile, latest reports say two explosions have been heard in Tripoli before dawn. The blasts were followed by a barrage of anti-aircraft gunfire believed to have come from forces loyal to Gaddafi.

As the US-led NATO bombing campaign against Gaddafi continues, Americans are worried about another extended military mission and some members of Congress are angry they were not consulted by the White House.

US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen has acknowledged that the US-led military invasion of Libya could lead to a deadlock in the North African country.

Mullen, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CBS news in an interview on Sunday that the Western military operation could end in a stalemate with Gaddafi.

The top military commander added that the end-game of the military action in Libya was “very uncertain.”  (*)
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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in World News


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Ke Rusia Netanyahu Berkunjung, Bentrok Israel Dan Hamas Seakan Tak Berujung

Dokumentasi Foto : President Rusia Dmitry Medvedev bersalam dengan Perdana Menteri Israel Benjamin Netanyahu yang datang berkunjung ke Rusia, 15 Februari 2010. ( LIFE.COM)



Jakarta, 23 Maret 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM) Setelah menerima kunjungan dari Presiden Palestina Mahmoud Abbas pada hari Selasa ( 22/3/2011), Presiden Rusia Dmitry Medvedev dijadwalkan akan menerima juga kunjungan dari Perdana Menteri Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. Tentu selain bertemu dengan Medvedev, Netanyahu juga akan bertemu dengan Perdana Menteri Rusia Vladimir Putin.

Kunjungan Netanyahu ke Rusia, cukup menarik untuk dicermati secara khusus.

Pertama karena Rusia adalah satu satu mata rantai yang penting dalam Kelompok Kwartet yang selama ini sangat keras mengkritik berbagai isu yang mencuat dalam proses perdamaian antara Israel dan Palestina.

Bersama dengan Amerika, Inggris dan Perserikatan Bangsa-Bangsa (UN), Rusia termasuk yang sangat tegas menolak rencana pembangunan perumahan bagi warga Israel di Tepi Barat.

Israel juga sangat mengkuatirkan penjualan misil dari Rusia ke Syria.

Lalu, berbeda dengan Israel yang tak akan pernah bisa “berdamai” dengan Iran, Rusia justru bisa menjalin hubungan yang stabil dan baik dengan Iran.

Tahun 2010 lalu, sehari setelah kunjungan PM Netanyahu ke Rusia, Moscow mengumumkan penundaan pengiriman rudal pertahanan udara S 300 ke Iran.

Israel memang begitu gigih mengajak semua pihak untuk secara tegas memberikan sanksi kepada Iran.

Sehingga bisa dispekulasikan bahwa agenda pembicaraan yang akan dibahas dalam kunjungan PM Netanyahu ke Rusia, tidak akan jauh dari kekuatiran ( dan keinginan Israel ) agar Rusia tidak mengizinkan terjadinya transaksi pembelian misil dari pihak Syria kepada Rusia.

Lalu tentang pentingnya Rusia ikut menekan Iran terkait proyek nuklir dan hal ihwal tentang pembangunan perumahan Israel di kawasan Tepi Barat yang sangat kontroversial.

Dan khusus soal Iran, PM Netanyahu harus bisa lebih bijaksana bahwa dalam menyelesaikan masalah nuklir Iran pendekatannya jangan difokuskan pada pendekatan keamanan.

Tidak dibutuhkan sanksi-sanksi lain ( bahkan aksi militer ) ke Iran. Sebab pendekatan keamanan terhadap sebuah negara, hanya akan memperburuk dan memperparah situasi yang ada.


Dokumentasi foto : Perdana Menteri Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (Kiri) berjabatan tangan dengan Perdana Menteri Rusia Vladimir Putin. Pertemuan yang terakhir dari kedua perdana menteri ini adalah tanggal 16 Februari 2011, saat PM Netanyahu berkunjung ke Rusia. Mereka akan bertemu kembali dalam kunjungan PM Netanyahu ke Rusia pada pekan ini.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu skeptical on Palestinian unity deal


Bibi ( panggilan Netanyahu ) memang seakan memperjelas dan mempertegas kepada dunia bahwa Israel memang tidak sungkan-sungkan untuk menyatakan diri sebagai musuh paling berat dari Iran.

Bibi seakan tak berhenti mengkampanyekan kepada dunia tentang perlunya komunitas internasional menekan Iran untuk menggagalkan proyek nuklir Iran yang dikuatirkan akan dapat mengancam keselamatan dunia ( jika Iran dibiarkan menjadi sebuah negara yang sangat canggih kekuatan nuklirnya ).

Hal yang tak lazim juga dilakukan oleh Bibi menjelang kunjungannya ke Rusia.

Ia memberikan wawancara eksklusif kepada media televisi Amerika yaitu CNN untuk menanyakan begitu banyak hal yang sangat penting ( sehingga akibat terlalu melebarnya wawancara yang tidak fokus tersebut, CNN seakan kehilangan peluang untuk mengorek hal=hal yang penting dari kebijakan-kebijakan Israel menyangkut proses perdamaian dengan Palestina ).

Mengapa wawancara itu disebut tak lazim ?

Ya, karena negara yang akan dikunjungi oleh Bibi adalah Rusia.

Tetapi ia memilih media raksasa dari Amerika sebagai media yang dapat menjadi mercu suar bagi berbagai pemikirannya yang sangat tegas tentang Iran, Libya dan proses bersatunya dua kelompok paling penting di Palestina yaitu Fatah dan Hamas.

Bibi menyampaikan dalam wawancara itu bahwa rencana dari Presiden Mahmoud Abbas untuk merangkul Hamas dalam sistem pemerintahan di Palestina adalah sesuatu hal yang akan dapat menggagalkan perdamaian antara Israel dan Palestina.

Bibi mengingatkan bahwa Fatah ( dalam hal ini Mahmoud Abbas ) harus memilih antara 2 pilihan yang sulit.

Mau memilih berdamai dengan Israel, atau bersatu dengan Hamas ?

Bagaimana mungkin Mahmoud Abbas diminta untuk memilih secara hitam putih seperti itu ?


Dokumentasi foto : Presiden Palestina Mahmoud Abbas dan Perdana Menteri Benjamin Netanyahu.


Tentu saja Mahmoud Abbas harus tetap melanjutkan proses damai dengan Israel ( sebab komunitas internasional mengawasi betul setiap perkembangan mengenai proses perdamaian ini ).

Tetapi sesungguhnya yang harus dimengerti oleh Israel, Mahmoud Abbas juga harus membuka terobosan dalam merangkul Hamas agar tidak terus menerus terjadi perpecahan didalam internal Palestina sendiri.

Tak mungkin Mahmoud Abbas diminta memilih seperti itu, ” Anda memilih kami ( Israel ), atau memilih mereka ( Hamas ) ?”.

Sebab sesungguhnya, Mahmoud Abbas ( atas nama Fatah ) memerlukan keduanya.

Perdamaian dengan Israel diperlukan.

Persatuan dengan Hamas juga diperlukan.

Sebab Hamas memang salah satu komponen politik yang harus secara tegas diakui eksistensinya.

Mereka bukan elemen yang datang dari unsur halusinasi.

Hamas adalah sebuah kekuatan politik yang nyata dan terbukti bisa menguasai wilayah Jalur Gaza.

Hanya sayangnya, Hamas tak bisa menyelaraskan antara keberadaan mereka sebagai kekuatan politik riil di Palestina, dengan tingginya tingkat militansi mereka yang tak lepas dari semua unsur persenjataan.

Hamas seakan menjadi jagoan yang bisa kapan saja melemparkan mortar-mortar ke wilayah Israel.

Hamas seakan menjadi jagoan yang bisa sewaktu-waktu melakukan tindakan radikal apa saja yang mengancam keselamatan Israel dan warganya.


Inilah Keluarga FOGEL yang dibunuh secara brutal di Itamar, Nablus : Sang ayah UDI FOGEL (36 tahun), isterinya Ruth ( 35 tahun) dan ketiga anak mereka : Yoav ( 11 tahun), Elad ( 4 tahun ) dan Hadas ( 3 bulan ). Mereka dibunuh secara brutal tanggal 11 Maret 2011.


Kerasnya perlawanan dan balasan dari Israel selama hampir dua minggu terakhir ini ke arah Gaza, juga berawal dari provokasi Hamas atas tragedi pembunuhan di Itamar.

Kasus pembunuhan Itamar ( Itamar Killings) adalah tragedi penyerangan terhadap sebuah Keluarga UDI FOGEL dar iketurunan Yahudi di permukiman Israel di kawasan Itamar di Tepi Barat.

Pembunuhan sadis ini terjadi pada Jumat malam, 11 Maret 2011, di mana akibat pembunuhan itu lima anggota keluarga mati ditikam sampai mati di tempat tidur mereka.

Satu keluarga  mati dibunuh secara brutal.

Ada dua anak lain yang juga di rumah tetapi mereka tidak celaka.

Pembunuhan itu bisa ditemukan saat anak perempuan tertua dalam keluarga itu (Tamar)  tiba di rumahnya.

Pembunuhan ini dikecam oleh Perserikatan Bangsa Bangsa dan komunitas internasional lainnya.

Israel juga memberi sinyal kemarahan yang seakan hendak memberitahukan kepada Hamas khususnya secara terang-terangan ( dan memberitahukan kepada pihak manapun juga ) bahwa Israel sangat murka atas pembunuhan di Itamar.

Satu persatu muncul “balasan” dari Israel.

Dari mulai mengizinkan rencana pembangunan sekitar ratusan perumahan baru di Tepi Barat, sampai ke prosesi balas membalas serangan militer antara Israel dan Hamas.

Eskalasi keamanan menjadi sangat meningkat tajam sejak tragedi pembunuhan Keluarga Fogel.

Sampai akhirnya militer Israel ikut juga menembaki warga sipil Palestina.

Perserikatan Bangsa Bangsa mengecam tindakan brutal Israel yang mengakibatkan jatuhnya korban sipil dari serangan militer Israel (IDF) di kawsan Jalur Gaza pada hari Selasa 22 Maret 2011.


Perdana Menteri Israel Benjamin Netanyahu


Ini memang menjadi dilema bagi Mahmoud Abbas.

Di saat ia menawarkan persatuan dengan Hamas, di saat itu jugalah Hamas terus menerus menantang Israel untuk terlibat dalam konfrontasi militer secara nyata.

Bagaimana Israel bisa berdiam diri jika ternyata elemen Hamas ada didalam kepresidenan atau kabinet Palestina, sementara di lapangan wilayah teritorial Israel terus menerus mendapat “sapaan” Hamas lewat ledakan-ledakan mortar.

Pertanyaannya, apakah ada negara lain didunia ini yang akan berdiam diri dan mau mempersilahkan pihak asing untuk menganggu stabilitas keamanan negara mereka secara nyata ?

Apakah itu Perserikatan Bangsa-Bangsa, Amerika, atau negara mana saja, yang secara langsung dan tidak langsung mendukung keberadaan Hamas, apakah anda mau kalau negara anda dikirimi mortar-mortar yang membahayakan ?

Artinya, setiap saat warga negara anda mendapat ancaman fisik secara nyata akibat ancaman keamanan itu.

Dengan memahami latar belakang tentang adanya gangguan pada stabilitas keamanan di Israel, barangkali semua pihak bisa mencoba memhami mengapa Perdana Menteri Netanyahu sangat amat keras memberikan peringatan atau balasan kepada Hamas.

Sebagai pemimpin, ia diwajibkan untuk melindungi bangsa, negara dan rakyatnya.

Netanyahu akan dipersalahkan oleh rakyatnya  jika ia dianggap gagal melindungi rakyatnya sendiri.

Sehingga, setiap bentuk ancaman dan gangguan keamanan, sudah pasti akan sangat direspon oleh Netanyahu.


Presiden Rusia Dmitry Medvedev dan Presiden Palestina Mahmoud Abbas berjabatan tangan dalam pertemuan mereka di kediamanan kepresidenan Rusia di wilayah Gorki, Rusia, tanggal 22 Maret 2011. Setelah bertemu dengan Presiden Mahmoud Abbas, Presiden Medvedev juga akan bertemu dengan Perdana Menteri Israel Benjamin Netanyahu


Kunjungan Netanyahu ke Rusia, janganlah menjadi sia-sia.

Baik Israel ataupun Rusia, harus sama-sama menyadari bahwa kedua negara ini memang memiliki kemampuan dan pengaruh masing-masing yang dapat disinergikan menjadi kerjasama dan relasi yang saling menguntungkan.

Rusia juga harus mengingat bahwa Israel sudah terlalu sering dan sudah terlalu banyak mendapatkan begitu banyak tekanan internasional.

Sehingga untuk bisa menjalin dialog yang konstruktif maka cara pendekatan yang harus dilakukan kepada Israel haruslah pendekatan yang dibuat “agak berbeda” dari pendekatan standar yang selama ini selalu ditujukan kepada Israel.

Pendekatan yang melulu hanya berisi dengan tekanan, hujatan, kutukan dan segala sesuatu yang berbentuk sinisme ( ini seakan sudah menjadi santapan harian Israel dari komunitas internasional ).

Ajaklah Israel bicara dengan pendekatan yang lebih baik.

Dan Bibi tak boleh meninggalkan “bom waktu” di negaranya, sepanjang ia melakukan kunjungan ke mancanegara.

Artinya, situasi keamanan di perbatasan Israel dan Gaza harus terkendali.

Kendali itu sepenuhnya ada di tangan para pemimpin dari masing-masing pihak yaitu Israel dan Hamas.

Jangan hanya menyalahkan dan terus menerus mengutuki Israel.

Segala sesuatu memiliki unsur sebab dan akibat.


Kepala Staf Angkatan Darat Israel, Letnan Jenderal Benny Gantz (nomor 4 dari kanan) melakukan kunjungan mendadak untuk meninjau lokasi yang mendapat serangan mortar dari Hamas di perbatasan antara Israel dan Gaza tanggal 19 Maret 2011 lalu.


Tentu serangan demi serangan dari Israel ini mempunya latar belakang dan alasannya.

Artinya, janganlah lagi Hamas melakukan berbagai provokasi yang secara nyata mengancam keselamatan dari warga Israel. Jangan ada tragedi-tragedi berdarah lainnya. Jangan ada mortar-mortar yang bisa seenaknya mendarat di wilayah Israel.

Ini yang terus menerus terjadi !

Apakah dianggap bahwa Israel adalah bangsa dungu yang harus diam tak bergeming bagaikan kerbau yang dicucuk hidungnya, jika seandainya wilayah mereka mendapat serangan-serangan mortar ?

Balas membalas, tak akan pernah berakhir kalau dari masing-masing pihak tak bisa mengendalikan diri.

Jika tak ingin diserang, janganlah menyerang.

Janganlah melakukan kepada orang lain, apa yang kita tidak ingin agar orang lain melakukan hal itu kepada diri kita.

Perdana Menteri Netanyahu bersiap “terbang” ke Rusia.

Ia harus memberikan jaminan kepada komunitas internasional bahwa Israel akan bisa mengendalikan diri.

Jadi, lihatlah semua permasalahan dalam kerangka yang utuh dan menyeluruh. Faktor pemicu dari bentrok yang berkepanjangan ini, bukan pada Israel. Mereka hanya memberikan respon. Seakan nyawa harus dibayar dengan nyawa. Barangkali tragedi pembunuhan ini juga dianggap sebagai tantangan yang serius dari Hamas.

Tapi, sekali lagi, situasi yang sudah sangat menyeramkan dan mengkuatirkan ini harus dihentikan.

Jadi, ketika Netanyahu memang harus berkunjung ke Rusia, aksi balas membalas antara Israel dan Hamas harus segera berujung.

Eskalasi keamanan antara Israel dan Hamas jangan lagi dibiarkan semakin meningkat tajam.

Harus dituntaskan.

Harus dihentikan.

Harus diakhiri.

Dan yang bisa melakukan itu adalah Presiden Shimon Peres dan Perdana Menteri Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sudahi semua aksi serang menyerang dan balas membalas ini secara cepat dan tepat.

Jangan lagi ada korban sipil yang berjatuhan.

Demi perdamaian yang sedang diupayakan semua pihak terhadap Israel dan Palestina, maka apapun juga yang bisa menjadi batu penghalang harus disingkirkan.

Damai, berdamailah, sebab itu yang sungguh diharapkan oleh semua pihak.




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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in World News


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OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu says Nowruz, an incentive to build unity

Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu

March 23, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM) — Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu says Nowruz highlights the significance of strengthening unity among Muslim people across the world, Iranian Television PRESS TV Channel reported on Wednesday.

The OIC chief has extended his sincere congratulations and greetings to the people of the world, particularly those celebrating the happy occasion of Nowruz and the new Iranian calendar year of 1390.

“Nowruz, as a custom that carries with it historical importance and cultural significance since ancient times, reminds us of the need for unity and solidarity in celebrating our festivities and cherish our civil heritage,” he said in his message.

“On the same occasion, our brothers and sisters in some of the OIC member states observe the beginning of the new solar year based on the migration of our beloved Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) from (the Saudi holy city of) Mecca to Medina,” he added.

Ihsanoglu prayed to God Almighty to grant Muslim people “many happy returns of this festival when they have restored their distinguished position among other world nations, and have achieved the peace, progress, success and prosperity it aspires.”

The International Day of Nowruz was registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on February 23, 2010.

The first day of spring and the renewal of nature, Nowruz, is mostly celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Nowruz is an ancestral festivity that promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among different peoples and communities.  (*)
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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in World News



Photostream : Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (R) meets Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Algiers March 22, 2011 REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (R) receives a letter by Russia's President Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting at the presidential palace in Algiers March 22, 2011. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika reads a letter from Russia's President Dmitri Medvedev at the presidential palace in Algiers March 22, 2011 REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in World News


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Photostream : Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) shakes hands with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in the presidential residence in Gorki, outside Moscow, March 22, 2011. Medvedev and Abbas reviewed the current situation in the Middle East and topical issues of the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue. The prospects of bilateral cooperation, in particular the development of trade and economic ties, were also discussed. ( Photo : Kremlin.Ru )

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting at the presidential residence in Gorki, outside Moscow March 22, 2011. Photo : Kremlin.Ru

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) & Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the presidential residence in Gorki, outside Moscow, March 22, 2011. ( Photo : Kremlin.Ru)

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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in World News


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Cuba's Castro: I quit as party chief 5 years ago

FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2010, file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro delivers a speech during the 50th anniversary of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, CDR, in Havana, Cuba. Castro said Tuesday, March 22, 2011, he resigned five years ago from all his official positions, including head of Cuba's Communist Party, a position he was thought to still hold. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)

HAVANA, March 23, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP)– Fidel Castro’s surprise announcement that he stepped down as head of the Communist Party five years ago — despite widespread belief he remained in charge — marks the bizarre end of an era for a nation, and a man, whose fates have been intertwined for more than half a century, AP reported on Tuesday.

The 84-year-old revolutionary icon made the revelation Tuesday — with word of the resignation thrown in as an aside halfway through an opinion piece that otherwise focused on President Barack Obama.

The declaration raises fundamental questions about just how much power Fidel has been wielding behind the scenes since his 2006 illness, and to what extent his 79-year-old brother has had freedom to make his own decisions as he pushed the country to enact sweeping economic reforms.

It also gives the Castros an opportunity to tap a possible future successor with their naming of a new party No. 2 — one without their famous last name.

They might select from a cadre of younger leaders who could carry the fiscal changes forward, and perhaps even reboot relations with the United States. Alternatively, the brothers could look to the past by promoting a loyal-but-weathered veteran of the revolution that brought them to power in 1959.

The answer will likely become apparent through a high-level game of musical chairs that Fidel’s departure will engender in the upper reaches of the Communist Party hierarchy during a crucial Communist Party Congress next month.

In Tuesday’s opinion piece, Castro said that when he got sick in 2006, “I resigned without hesitation from my state and political positions, including first secretary of the party … and I never tried to exercise those roles again.”

He said that even when his health began to improve, he stayed out of state and party affairs “even though everyone, affectionately, continued to refer to me by the same titles.”

In the opinion piece, Fidel indicated that, with or without formal titles, he will always be an intellectual force in the revolution, a refrain he has uttered several times in recent years.

“I remain and will remain as I have promised: a soldier of ideas, as long as I can think and breathe,” he writes.

The article, which was published on the state-run Cubadebate website overnight and in newspapers Tuesday morning, caught many people by surprise.

“It’s incredible. Nobody can believe it,” said Magaly Delgado, a 72-year-old Havana retiree who was clutching a copy of Granma, the Communist Party daily. “I always thought he was still in charge. … He never said he had resigned.”

The Cuban government had no immediate comment on the revelation, which appeared to tweak history. Fidel stepped down in 2006 due to a serious illness that almost killed him. In an official proclamation released on July 31, 2006, he provisionally delegated most of his official duties to his brother — including the presidency and head of the party.

In February 2008 he announced he was officially stepping down as president, and Raul Castro was formally picked to succeed him by the country’s parliament a few days later. But no reference was made to Fidel leaving his party post, and Cuban officials and ordinary people have referred to him as the party leader ever since.

Even after the announcement, the Communist Party website on Tuesday listed Fidel as first secretary, with Raul as second secretary.

It is widely expected that Raul will formally be named to the top spot at the April congress, and analysts say the choice of second secretary will say a lot about how the brothers envision a transition to an eventual post-Castro era.

“They could send a startling message by picking somebody young or out of the party, or somebody whose name is not easily recognized,” said Robert Pastor, a professor at American University and longtime adviser on hemispheric affairs. “Most people would guess, however, that they will pick … an octogenarian who fought in the revolution.”

While the government historically has focused on the day-to-day running of the country, the party is tasked with guiding the Cuban people on their path to communism. In practice, no major policy can be passed without the party first agreeing.

There are a scattering of young leaders including Lazaro Exposito, the fast-charging Communist Party chief in Santiago de Cuba, and Lazara Lopez Acea, the 47-year-old top party leader for Havana, as well as Bruno Rodriguez, the 53-year-old foreign minister, and Marino Murillo, the 50-year-old economy minister.

But none appears ready to step into such a high-profile role, and neither Fidel nor Raul has ever indicated publicly that one is favored over the others. Since taking office, Raul has also elevated a number of generals to high-ranking jobs at state-run entities, but they are technocrats largely unknown to the public.

Some young politicians might be reluctant to step into such a senior position, conscious that the career path of those who have flown too high, too fast, has usually been short. In 2009, Raul suddenly fired two of the island’s rising political stars: Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, then 43, and Vice President Carlos Lage, who at 57 was relatively youthful given the advanced ages of most government officials. Both were captured on a secret video tape drinking whiskey and joking about the country’s old leaders.

“The truth is Raul’s experience with young leaders hasn’t been very good these past few years, so I think he will name a historic figure,” said Eduardo Bueno, a professor of international relations at Mexico’s Iberoamerican University. “That said, if the younger generation could take a step forward it would be a great signal, including for Raul, that things are finally moving and the country’s long paralysis is over.”

The safest choice for the No. 2 party spot would probably be Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a strict disciplinarian of unquestioned loyalty who has been with the Castros since their guerrilla days in the Sierra Maestra mountains and once extracted a bullet from Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s foot.

Machado Ventura, 80, is already Raul Castro’s first vice president and holds several other key posts in the government.

Another old-timer who could get the nod is Ramiro Valdes, 78, who is vice president of Cuba’s supreme governing body, the Council of State, and oversees the crucial ministries of telecommunications and construction from a new position carved out for him in January.

But neither choice is likely to shake things up politically, or result in improved relations with the United States, which has maintained an economic embargo on Cuba for 48 years.

Bilateral ties have plunged into a deep freeze recently due to the conviction earlier this month of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who received a 15-year prison sentence for bringing satellite equipment into the country illegally.

A congressional staffer involved in U.S.-Cuba relations said Fidel’s official departure from the party will not lead, at least in the short term, to improved relations with Washington.

“It will not have much of a political impact on bilateral relations because Raul has the same last name,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. He said it would take the death of one or both of the two brothers to change perceptions in the United States.

“His stepping down will be a watershed on the island, for sure, and it will be seen as such by most in Washington,” he said. “But some people will still say Fidel is calling the shots, whether or not it is really the truth anymore.”

However the party shake-up plays out, it is likely to leave Raul with more room to transform the island’s ever-weak economy.

The Communist Party Congress at which Fidel’s successor is likely to be picked has been called to set a new economic path for the country, one which Raul has been pushing since he took office.

Many of the changes Raul has already embraced, like allowing Cubans to go into business for themselves, rent homes and even hire employees, have long been anathema to his brother.

There has been speculation — impossible to confirm in Cuba’s hermetically sealed political culture — that Raul Castro would have moved the reforms along faster if not for his older brother’s larger-than-life presence and continued influence behind the scenes.

Tomas Bilbao, the executive director of the Washington-based nonprofit Cuba Study Group, which supports increasing economic and academic exchanges with the island, said the impact of Fidel’s resignation cannot be overstated.

“I think it’s significant because if nothing else it’s Fidel Castro sending a clear message that his brother is in charge of the country,” he said. “It’s a big boost in credibility for Raul and the reforms he’s trying to push.”   (*)
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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in World News


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