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    Tuesday, April 1, 2008

    Velvet revolver

    Me not make more good music, no?

    Reuters - China tells Paulson strategic talks building trust

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    China tells Paulson strategic talks building trust

    Wednesday, Apr 02, 2008 4:43AM UTC

    By Glenn Somerville

    BEIJING (Reuters) - China reaffirmed its commitment on Wednesday to regular high-level talks with the United States that visiting Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson hopes will help to pry open Chinese markets and speed the yuan's rise.

    Paulson began two days of talks in the Chinese capital by meeting newly promoted Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, who is taking charge of the U.S.-China "Strategic Economic Dialogue" (SED) that the Treasury chief was instrumental in launching in 2006.

    Wang told Paulson that the new Chinese government, formally installed last month by the annual session of parliament, highly valued constructive and cooperative ties with the United States.

    China attached particular importance to the twice-yearly SED, which addresses a spectrum of long-range issues ranging from energy saving to financial liberalization, said Wang, a former mayor of Beijing.

    "We have reached a lot of common understandings, increased our mutual strategic trust and also made important contributions to promoting the steady growth of China-U.S. business relations and China-U.S. relations as a whole," Wang said of the three SED sessions that have taken place so far.

    Paulson, speaking before reporters were ushered out of the room, said he looked forward to working with Wang and to preparing the next two rounds of the SED.

    The next meeting is scheduled for June in Washington.

    While economic issues are the focus of Paulson's visit, U.S. officials have said the touchy issue of Tibet will also come up.

    In Washington on Tuesday, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, left open the possibility that heads of state should boycott the opening ceremony of August's Olympic Games in Beijing because of the way China has dealt with recent deadly rioting in Tibet.

    YUAN ON THE RISE

    Paulson is due to meet President Hu Jintao later on Wednesday, but U.S. officials have offered no guidance about specific issues he will raise with the Chinese leader, who has said security for the Olympics is a top priority.

    Paulson was a China veteran long before taking over the helm of the Treasury in mid-2006, making dozens of trips when he was chief executive of Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs, and enjoys exceptional access to China's leaders.

    The Treasury chief has emphasized the need to use diplomacy to convince China that it is in its own interest to open its markets wider and let the yuan rise more swiftly.

    The Chinese central bank has in fact let the yuan climb much more quickly in recent months.

    The currency gained 4 percent against the dollar in the first quarter, compared with 6.86 percent in all of 2007, as China used a stronger exchange rate as one of the tools to fight inflation, which is at a near 12-year high of 8.7 percent.

    However, Tao Wang, head of Greater China economics with Bank of America in Beijing, said she did not expect this pace to last.

    "Once the current inflation pressure abates and weak export numbers become obvious, the yuan/dollar adjustment is expected to slow," she said in a report released on Wednesday.

    Nor was any major change to China's exchange rate policy likely to be announced either during Paulson's visit to China or at next week's meetings in Washington of the International Monetary Fund and the Group of Seven industrial nations.

    "Given the uncertainties regarding the dollar and U.S. financial market, the exchange rate-related discussions in these meetings will likely be much more centered on dollar movements than yuan appreciation," Wang wrote.

    (Reporting by Glenn Somerville; Writing by Alan Wheatley; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree)

    Reuters - Velvet Revolver splits with rocker Scott Weiland

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    Velvet Revolver splits with rocker Scott Weiland

    Tuesday, Apr 01, 2008 10:59PM UTC

    By Steve Gorman

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Four founding members of the rock
    band Velvet Revolver said on Tuesday they were splitting with
    the group's troubled singer, Scott Weiland, citing his
    "increasingly erratic" behavior.

    The announcement came in a terse statement from the group's
    management company as Weiland, 40, and his recently reunited
    original band, Stone Temple Pilots, were set next week to
    announce plans for a highly anticipated summer tour.

    The Pilots, also known by their acronym, STP, already have
    confirmed a handful of upcoming dates, beginning with the Rock
    on the Range festival in Columbus, Ohio, on May 17-18.

    For Weiland, whose career has long been overshadowed by
    heroin addiction, Rock on the Range will mark his first show
    with STP since the band played 13 concerts to promote its last
    album of new material, 2001's "Shangri-La Dee Da."

    Following the breakup of STP, Weiland was welcomed as lead
    singer for Velvet Revolver, the newly formed grunge rock band
    founded by three former members of Guns N' Roses -- guitarist
    Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum -- along
    with second guitarist Dave Kushner.

    Velvet Revolver was confronted from the start with
    Weiland's drug and legal problems as it juggled performance
    schedules, recording sessions and promotional work to
    accommodate his court dates and rehab.

    Last month, Weiland pleaded innocent to a charge of driving
    under the influence of drugs stemming from his arrest on a Los
    Angeles freeway ramp in November. He is free on $40,000 bail
    and is due back in court for a pretrial hearing on Friday.

    A public feud between Weiland and Velvet Revolver's drummer
    already had cast doubt on the band's future when the statement
    on behalf of Sorum, Slash, McKagan and Kushner was issued under
    the headline "Velvet Revolver to Part Ways with Singer."

    "This band is all about its fans and its music, and Scott
    Weiland isn't 100% committed to either," Slash was quoted as
    saying. "Among other things, his increasingly erratic on-stage
    behavior and personal problems have forced us to move on."

    There was no immediate comment from Weiland, Stone Temple
    Pilots or their representatives.

    (Editing by Dan Whitcomb)

    Reuters - State centers tap into personal data: report

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    State centers tap into personal data: report

    Wednesday, Apr 02, 2008 4:33AM UTC

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Intelligence centers run by U.S. states have access to personal information about millions of Americans, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

    Citing a document obtained by the newspaper, the report said resources used by dozens of the centers in the northeastern United States rely far more on access to commercial and government databases than had previously been disclosed.

    A survey conducted last year shows the centers have subscriptions to private information-broker services that maintain records about Americans' locations, financial holdings, associates, relatives, firearms licenses and other information, the newspaper said, citing officials familiar with the material.

    Pennsylvania buys credit reports while analysts in Rhode Island have access to car-rental databases. Authorities in Maryland use a data broker called Entersect, which claims it maintains some 12 billion records about 98 percent of Americans, the Post reported.

    The newspaper said dozens of the intelligence organizations known as "fusion centers" were created after the September 11, 2001 attacks to identify potential threats and improve information sharing among state and federal authorities.

    (Reporting by Joanne Allen; Editing by Eric Walsh)

    Clinton is Rocky. H. A. !

    Clinton is Rocky? Rocky did not win against Creed did he? And he is a work of fictio

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    Image of nokia n10

    I make internet happy

    Who won in Zimbabwe

    Did I get to vote?

    Reuters - Microsoft promises full Web browser for mobile

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    Microsoft promises full Web browser for mobile

    Tuesday, Apr 01, 2008 7:31PM UTC

    LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp said on Tuesday it would offer full Web browsing for cell phones this year, following the footsteps of Apple Inc's iPhone, which has won praise for the way it displays Web sites as they would appear on a computer.

    Microsoft said at CTIA, the annual U.S. mobile show, that it will make Internet Explorer Mobile available to phone makers in the third quarter with the first phones to go on sale by year end.

    Microsoft has been gaining ground with its operating system for smartphones with computer-like features such as e-mail, but it faces stiff competition from the likes of Apple, Blackberry maker Research In Motion and Palm Inc.

    Before the iPhone was launched last June with a combined phone, browser and music player, cell phones mostly showed stripped-down versions of Internet sites as they were easier to view on tiny screens. Full graphic-heavy Web sites often take a long time to download and are hard to read.

    Now other developers are following suit.

    Microsoft also announced a new version of its mobile operating system, Windows Mobile 6.1, that would make it easier for users to navigate the feature menus in their phones.

    The company has said it expects license sales of its mobile operating system to outpace smartphone market growth in the next few years. It expects the market to quadruple in size in 3 to 4 years to around 400 million handsets.

    (Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Brian Moss)

    Reuters - Nokia unveils N810 mobile Internet tablet for WiMax

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    Nokia unveils N810 mobile Internet tablet for WiMax

    Tuesday, Apr 01, 2008 6:15PM UTC

    By Sinead Carew

    LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Nokia's N810 mobile Internet tablet will be one of the first devices designed for a new high-speed wireless network that Sprint Nextel Corp will launch commercially in April.

    Nokia on Tuesday unveiled a version of the handheld device, which has a 4.13-inch touch screen, for WiMax -- the emerging wireless technology that Sprint is betting on for its next generation of high-speed services.

    WiMax promises to blanket cities with mobile Web links that are five times faster than today's speeds. Like the first N810, which went on sale in the fall, the new version will also work on Wi-Fi, a short-range wireless technology used in hotspots such in coffee shops.

    "The difference with WiMax is that you can move out of that hotspot," Mark Louison, head of Nokia's North American business, said in an interview ahead of the CTIA annual U.S. wireless show in Las Vegas.

    Sprint, which has been seeking outside funding to expand WiMax beyond an initial three markets, has promised to open the network to a wide array of devices, such as music players or cameras, which consumers could buy from any store. The three initial markets are Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Sprint has said it would have 10 WiMax devices at launch.

    Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone maker, has trailed Motorola Inc and Samsung Electronics in the United States as it has won little business with U.S. carriers, which tightly control the phones that work on their networks.

    There has been uncertainty about the U.S. future of WiMax. Sprint, which is losing customers from its existing service, has said it is re-examining its commitment to spend $5 billion on WiMax by 2010.

    Sprint and Clearwire Corp, a smaller WiMax provider, are in talks to combine their WiMax assets in a venture with investment by other companies such as Comcast Corp, Intel Corp and Google Inc, sources familiar with the talks said last week.

    Asked if Nokia would consider joining such a venture, Louison said: "Our business model is focusing on building devices and applications that run on devices ... We've never invested in an operator."

    Even if the U.S. WiMax market evolves more slowly than expected, Louison said Nokia was confident it would find a market for the N810 overseas.

    "WiMax is bigger than Sprint," he said.

    The WiMax N810 will be available from Nokia's online store and its shops in New York and Chicago for $479, Nokia said.

    (Editing by Maureen Bavdek)

    Reuters - Microsoft wins document format standards battle

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    Microsoft wins document format standards battle

    Tuesday, Apr 01, 2008 6:40PM UTC

    By Georgina Prodhan and Laura Macinnis

    FRANKFURT/GENEVA (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> has won a battle to have a key document format adopted as a global standard, improving its chances of winning government contracts and dealing a blow to supporters of a rival format.

    The OpenDoc Society, which had argued Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format was unripe for ratification by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), published the results showing Microsoft's win on its Web site.

    Microsoft welcomed the decision, which was leaked on Tuesday ahead of an official ISO statement expected on Wednesday, saying it created a "level playing field" for OOXML to compete with other standards.

    Supporters of rival Open Document Format (ODF), which is already an ISO standard and widely used, said multiple formats defeated the purpose of having standards and that the result would help Microsoft tighten its grip on computer users.

    Tom Robertson, Microsoft's head of interoperability and standards, said: "Open XML joins the ranks of PDF, HTML and ODF among the ranks of document formats. I think it makes it easier for governments to offer users choice."

    "The control over the specification now moves into the hands of the global community. This is going to be one of the most, if not the most important document format around the world for years to come," he added in a phone interview.

    James Love, director of Knowledge Economy International, which campaigns for fairer access to knowledge, told Reuters: "We are disappointed."

    "Microsoft's control over document formats has destroyed competition on the desktop, and the fight over OOXML is really a fight over the future of competition and innovation."

    Microsoft, shepherded through a fast-track ISO approval process by European standards organization Ecma, lost a first ISO vote in September. Under the process, a second vote was allowed after a so-called ballot resolution meeting last month.

    In the second voting period that closed on March 29, Microsoft won the approval of 86 percent of voting national bodies and 75 percent of those known as P-members. A two-thirds majority of the P-members was required.

    Among those voting in favor of OOXML were the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan, according to the OpenDoc Society list. Opponents included China, India and Russia.

    The process tested ISO to its limits as national bodies waded through the 6,000 pages of code that define OOXML, then dealt with more than a thousand points of order at the ballot resolution meeting, which was designed to help reach consensus.

    ODF has just 860 pages of code, one of the reasons that many experts argue that translation between the two is too incomplete to allow true interoperability -- a concept that Microsoft has recently publicly embraced.

    Michiel Leenaars, who is on the OpenDoc Society board and chaired the Dutch committee in the first stage of the ISO process, said OOXML was not ready to be an international standard and that the 15-month ISO process had been too fast.

    "It was mission impossible," he told Reuters by phone. "The process wasn't meant for this type of thing."

    (Editing by David Holmes and Braden Reddall)

    Reuters - Zimbabwe opposition says on verge of power

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    Zimbabwe opposition says on verge of power

    Tuesday, Apr 01, 2008 8:55PM UTC

    By Macdonald Dzirutwe

    HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's opposition said they were on the verge of taking power on Tuesday after dismissing speculation that they would negotiate a managed exit for veteran President Robert Mugabe.

    Both opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe's government strongly denied feverish foreign media speculation that a deal had been reached to arrange the departure of Mugabe after 28 years of uninterrupted power.

    "There is no discussion and this is just a speculative story," Tsvangirai told a news conference when asked about reports that his aides and ruling ZANU-PF party officials had negotiated a deal.

    Brushing aside projections showing he would fail to win an absolute majority and would be forced into a runoff against Mugabe, Tsvangirai said: "Today we face a new challenge, that of governance."

    Speculation that Mugabe would stand down voluntarily rather than face a runoff began after ZANU-PF sources and independent monitors said that although Tsvangirai had won, he would fall just short of the 51 percent needed for outright victory.

    Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba described reports of an exit deal as "nonsense" and dismissed rumors that the president would address the nation on television on Tuesday night.

    Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 but faced an unprecedented challenge in the elections because of a two-pronged opposition attack and the economic collapse of his once prosperous country, which has reduced much of the population to misery.

    A senior Western diplomat in Harare told Reuters the international community was discussing ideas to try to persuade Mugabe to step down, "but I don't think there is anything firm on the table."

    There are fears both inside and outside Zimbabwe that the three-week hiatus before a runoff vote would spark serious violence between security forces and militia loyal to Mugabe on one side and MDC supporters on the other.

    PROJECTIONS

    Two ZANU-PF party sources said on Tuesday its projections showed Tsvangirai getting 48.3 percent against Mugabe's 43 percent, with former finance minister Simba Makoni taking eight percent.

    Latest results from the parliamentary election on Saturday showed ZANU-PF with two more seats than the mainstream MDC, and five seats going to a breakaway faction of the opposition. Some 161 seats have now been announced from a total of 210.

    Six of Mugabe's ministers have lost their seats.

    No presidential results have been announced three days after polls closed, fuelling suspicions that Mugabe is trying to avoid defeat by rigging.

    Tsvangirai, like many foreign governments, urged the electoral commission to speed up result announcements. He said the MDC would announce its own tally of the final result on Wednesday.

    The opposition and international observers said Mugabe rigged the last presidential election in 2002. But some analysts say the groundswell of discontent over an economy in freefall is too great for him to fix the result this time without risking major unrest.

    Zimbabweans are suffering the world's highest inflation of more than 100,000 percent, food and fuel shortages, and an HIV/AIDS epidemic that has contributed to a steep drop in life expectancy.

    The opposition is expected to unite behind one candidate if there is a runoff, which would be held three weeks after last Saturday's election.

    A senior Western diplomat told Reuters a re-run was likely. "We can all speculate about what they (ZANU-PF) did or did not do. But when you look at some of the projections by other observers ... they are pointing to a re-run," he said.

    (Additional reporting by Nelson Banya, Cris Chinaka, Stella Mapenzauswa and Muchena Zigomo; Writing by Barry Moody; editing by Tim Pearce)

    (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com)

    Reuters - CHRONOLOGY: Subprime crisis affects banks worldwide

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    CHRONOLOGY: Subprime crisis affects banks worldwide

    Tuesday, Apr 01, 2008 1:10PM UTC

    (Reuters) - UBS AG doubled its writedowns from the subprime crisis on Tuesday, dumped its chairman and sought more emergency capital in a second attempt to reverse its fortunes.

    UBS wrote down an additional $19 billion in ailing assets, bringing to $37 billion its hit from the subprime crisis.

    Here is a chronology of some of the major losses suffered by banks affected by the credit crisis:

    February 8, 2007 - HSBC - Europe's biggest bank HSBC Holdings blames U.S. subprime defaults for its first-ever profit warning.

    April 2 - NEW CENTURY - New Century Financial Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection amid a surge in homeowner defaults, the biggest mortgage lender to collapse in the slumping U.S. housing market. In March 2008 a federal bankruptcy judge cleared the way for New Century creditors to vote on a liquidation plan. According to the court, there were $35.1 billion of claims.

    July 30 - HSBC says its charge for bad debts was $6.35 billion in the first half of the year, up 63 percent from $3.89 billion in the same period last year due to U.S. subprime loans.

    August 9 - BNP PARIBAS - The French bank bars investors from redeeming cash in three funds as it was unable to calculate their value due to credit market turmoil.

    September 13 - NORTHERN ROCK - Britain's biggest casualty of the credit crisis suffers a bank run after needing emergency funding from the Bank of England and is nationalized five months later.

    October 15 - CITIGROUP, the largest U.S. bank by market value, says Q3 profit fell 57 percent due to losses, with net income down to $2.38 billion from $5.51 billion a year earlier.

    October 19 - WACHOVIA CORP - The fourth-largest U.S. bank posts a 10 percent decline in Q3 profit, to $1.69 billion from $1.88 billion a year earlier, having suffered $1.3 billion of writedowns due to credit market turmoil.

    October 24 - MERRILL LYNCH stuns Wall Street by writing down $8.4 billion in bad investments related to subprime lending.

    October 26 - COUNTRYWIDE - U.S. mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp posts a $1.2 billion third-quarter loss after writing down $1 billion in subprime loans.

    October 29 - MITSUBISHI UFJ FINANCIAL GROUP INC, Japan's largest bank, says it would write down subprime-related investments by as much as 30 billion yen ($260 million), six times more than previously announced.

    December 19 - MORGAN STANLEY posts a $3.59 billion Q4 loss and $9.4 billion of mortgage-related writedowns.

    January 15, 2008 - CITIGROUP - The largest U.S. bank posts its first quarterly loss since Citigroup's creation in 1998, hurt by $18.1 billion of subprime-related writedowns.

    Jan 17 - MERRILL LYNCH reports its worst-ever quarter, revealing around $16 billion in mortgage-related writedowns.

    February 14 - UBS says it is writing down $18 billion in bad loans.

    February 19 - CREDIT SUISSE marks down the value of asset-backed investments by $2.85 billion.

    - BARCLAYS - Britain's third-biggest bank raises its 2007 writedown to 1.6 billion pounds ($3.1 billion).

    February 20 - BNP PARIBAS - The French bank reveals 898 million euros ($1.3 billion) in writedowns in the fourth quarter.

    February 28 - DZ Bank, one of Germany's biggest financial groups, announces 1.36 billion euros in writedowns.

    March 3 - HSBC's investment banking arm takes a $2.1 billion writedown on assets tarnished by the subprime crisis.

    April 1 - UBS doubles its writedowns to $37.4 billion.

    - Deutsche Bank reveals a 2.5 billion euro writedown, equal to more than a third of its 2007 net profit.

    (Writing by Nagesh Narayana; Editing by David Cutler/Will Waterman)

    Reuters - Sprint bets on Samsung phone to help recovery

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    Sprint bets on Samsung phone to help recovery

    Tuesday, Apr 01, 2008 4:3PM UTC

    By Sinead Carew

    LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Sprint Nextel Corp <S.N> is betting on a touch-screen phone from Samsung Electronics Co Ltd <005930.KS> and more than $100 million of marketing to help the No. 3 mobile service provider regain cache among consumers.

    Sprint, which has been losing subscribers because of customer service problems, will unveil the Samsung Instinct phone during a keynote speech by Chief Executive Dan Hesse on Tuesday at CTIA, the annual U.S. wireless show in Las Vegas.

    The company will spend about three times more on marketing the Instinct than on its biggest phone launch last year. Sprint also took the unusual step of leading the design of the device's user controls, known as the user interface, with an aim to making the phone as easy as possible to use.

    "The iPhone set a bar for user interface," said Sprint product commercialization director David Owens. "We wanted to have an equivalent experience."

    Sprint said the Instinct should be a top seller this year and is a key part of a campaign to win back customers from rivals such as AT&T Inc <T.N>, the exclusive U.S. provider for Apple Inc's <AAPL.O> popular iPhone.

    "Our goal is clearly that it's large volume," Owens said.

    Sprint's shares have lost more than two-thirds of their value since hitting a year-high in June 2007. The company posted a $29.45 billion loss for the fourth quarter after a massive write-off and steep customer losses.

    Sprint has yet to finalize pricing for the Instinct's mid-June launch but said it would cost less than $300. In comparison, the cheapest iPhone costs $399 with eight gigabytes of storage and $499 for a model with twice as much memory.

    MARKETING CLARITY

    The phone will be sold to customers who sign up for Sprint's Simply Everything plan, which starts at $69 a month for 450 minutes of phone calls and unlimited data services. For $99 a month, the plan's subscribers receive unlimited voice and data.

    Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said that while one phone is not enough to save a carrier, Sprint's pairing of the Instinct with unlimited data plans could start to improve the company's often-criticized marketing strategy.

    "Everyone's going to offer you something that looks like an iPhone. Here's something that also offers you a lot of cool things to do with it at a flat rate," he said.

    Sprint's marketing is seen as unfocused compared with rivals, which have built their reputations on specific strengths. Verizon Wireless, a venture between Verizon Communications Inc <VZ.N> and Vodafone Group Plc <VOD.L>, boasts a reliable network, for example.

    AT&T boasts hot devices: besides being the first to sell the iPhone, it was also the first to sell Motorola Inc's <MOT.N> once-lauded Razr in late 2004.

    Sprint's work with privately held technology company Icon Mobile and its large ad spending on Instinct reflects its importance to the company, Owens said.

    As with the iPhone, users control Instinct by moving their fingers over a three-inch touch-sensitive display. They can also set up quick access to favorite features like Web surfing, video, driving directions and text-messaging key contacts.

    "We've had these services for years but haven't made them easy to discover or use. This device makes them easy to use and explore," said Owens.

    Last year Sprint's biggest phone launch was Samsung's Upstage, on which the U.S. carrier spent about $30 million on marketing. Its marketing budget for 2007 was $1.31 billion, according to research firm TNS Media Intelligence.

    Sprint will also throw in a memory card with extra storage for songs and a second battery for the device, which has four hours of talk time, compared with iPhone's eight hours.

    Other carriers have also introduced phones that resemble the iPhone. For example, Verizon Wireless has touch-screen phones from LG Electronics <066570.KS> with tiny keyboards.

    (Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

    Pansies are here

    videoWhat would it do to you

    Pansie

    Ha!

    Maliki claims victory

    I suck on victory

    USA TODAY - Iraqi PM calls Basra operation a 'success'

    This story has been sent from the mobile device of Bombastic4000@gmail.com. For real-time mobile news, go to m.usatoday.com.



    BAGHDAD

    The Iraqi prime minister said Tuesday that a week-long crackdown against militia violence in the southern city of Basra had been a "success," despite the violent backlash among followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

    The statement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, however, stopped short of declaring an end to the offensive as the Shiite leader faced criticism that the government had been unprepared for the ferocious resistance mounted by al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

    The British Defense Ministry also announced plans to put on hold a scheduled withdrawal of around 1,500 British troops from the area after the recent surge in violence.

    Sporadic fighting, meanwhile, continued in Baghdad and Basra despite a tense calm that followed a peace agreement by al-Sadr.

    A U.S. helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at gunmen attacking ground forces early Tuesday, killing six militants in Baghdad's Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, the military said, although Iraqi police and witnesses said three civilians were killed in the strike.

    Ground forces called for the airstrike after gunmen fired at a tank and rolled a burning tire in their direction, said Maj. Mark Cheadle, a military spokesman in Baghdad.

    Iraqi police also said three unarmed men were killed and six people wounded, including two children, when U.S. troops fired at them hours later in Sadr City. Cheadle denied U.S. forces were involved in such an incident.

    The fighting in the capital and cities to the south has helped make March the deadliest month for Iraqis since last summer, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press.

    DISPLACED IN IRAQ: Nearly 2.8 million uprooted

    At least 1,247 Iraqis, including civilians and security personnel, had been killed as of Monday, according to figures compiled from police and U.S. military reports. The figure was nearly double the tally for February and the biggest monthly toll since August, when 1,956 people died violently.

    Iraqi government figures showed a similar trend, with at least 1,079 people were killed in March 923 civilians, 156 security forces.

    That was an increase from 718 the month before, including 633 civilians and 85 security forces, according to figures compiled from data provided by officials at the health, interior and defense ministries.

    Underscoring the fragility of the peace agreement, Harith al-Edhari, the director of al-Sadr's office in Basra, demanded the government stop continuing random raids and detentions.

    Al-Edhari's complaint followed a raid by Iraqi commandos on the house of a wanted Mahdi Army battalion leader that prompted clashes in a northern section of the city, although the suspect was not home at the time.

    In ordering his militia to stop fighting on Sunday, al-Sadr also demanded concessions from the Iraqi government, including an end to the "illegal raids and arrests" of his followers and the release of all detainees who have not been convicted of any offenses.

    U.S. and Iraqi officials insisted the operation was directed at criminals and rogue militiamen some allegedly linked to Iran but not against the Sadrist movement, which controls 30 of the 275 seats in the national parliament.

    But the fighting mainly involved Mahdi Army fighters, provoking intense anger among al-Sadr's followers.

    The agreement said to have been brokered in Iran stopped short of disarming the militia and left Iraq's U.S.-backed prime minister politically battered and humbled within his own Shiite power base.

    However, al-Maliki insisted in a statement issued by his office that the operation launched a week ago Tuesday had achieved "security, stability and success" in Basra.

    He also announced a seven-point plan to stabilize the area, including recruiting 10,000 more police and army forces from local tribes and moving to enhance public services for the embattled population of some 2 million.

    Al-Maliki had promised to crush the militias that have effectively ruled Basra for nearly three years. The U.S. military launched airstrikes in the city to back the Iraqi effort.

    But the ferocious response by the Mahdi Army, including rocket fire on the U.S.-controlled Green Zone and attacks throughout the Shiite south, caught the government by surprise and sent officials scrambling for a way out of the crisis.

    The confrontation enabled al-Sadr to show that he remains a powerful force capable of challenging the Iraqi government, the Americans and mainstream Shiite parties that have sought for years to marginalize him. And the outcome cast doubt on President George W. Bush's assessment that the Basra battle was "a defining moment" in the history "of a free Iraq."

    With gunmen again off the streets, a round-the-clock curfew imposed in Baghdad last week was lifted at 6 a.m. Monday, except in Sadr City and two other Shiite neighborhoods. Streets of the capital buzzed with traffic and commerce.

    Iraqis also cautiously emerged on the streets of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, with peddlers selling fruit from stalls and men cleaning up huge piles of trash from the roadsides.

    Women shrouded in black and children also lined up to collect water and food from aid workers after days of curfew.

    Website address: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2008-04-01-iraq-tuesday_N.htm

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