Russia Opposes U.S. Missile Shield

ANKARA, Turkey, July 28 (UPI) — A planned U.S. missile shield in Turkey’s Black Sea region drew opposition Thursday from Russia, which said U.S. officials want to “shake their weapons.”

“The Black Sea has always been a sea of friendship and cooperation and it should remain so in the future,” Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO, was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying.

Speaking in Ankara as part of a NATO capitals tour for NATO missile defense talks, Rogozin said Russia opposes Black Sea region deployment of naval forces from countries “that shake their weapons and have no relation to the Black Sea basin.”

The U.S. plan calls for deploying sea-based missiles and radars as part of its European missile shield.

Russia and NATO have agreed to work on a missile shield but NATO favors two independent systems that exchange information. Russia, by contrast, wants a joint system.

NATO plans radar connected to the U.S. missile defense system in Turkey, Rogozin said.

“As a country that has outlets in the Mediterranean and Black seas, Turkey would have to decide on whether to allow American sea-based missiles to be deployed there or not,” he said.

Russia has expressed opposition to U.S. missile defense systems near its borders, calling them a security threat. U.S. officials counter the shield is to defend NATO member countries against missiles from North Korea and Iran and would not target Russia.

Australia Funds Research In Virus Outbreak

BRISBANE, Australia, July 28 (UPI) — Authorities in Australia have announced a fourfold increase in funding for research on a bat-borne virus that is potentially fatal to horses and humans.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced the increase in funding for hendra virus research after a crisis meeting in Brisbane prompted by more than 10 outbreaks of the virus in horses in Queensland and New South Wales over the past month, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday.

On Tuesday it was confirmed a dog had also tested positive for the virus at a property near Brisbane where three horses have died.

Scientists say despite the infected dog there’s no evidence the hendra virus is mutating.

Dr. Martyn Jeggo, director of the Animal Health Laboratory, said it is unlikely humans can catch hendra from dogs.

“All the evidence we have today is that horses become infected from bats and then humans become infected from horses,” he said. “There’s absolutely no evidence that bats infect humans.”

“Therefore, I think it’s reasonable to surmise in this case that the dogs became infected from the horse.”

The governments of Queensland and New South Wales said they would increase research funding into the hendra virus by $6 million over the next three years.

Ex-soldier Creates Bin Laden Chess Set

TORONTO, July 28 (UPI) — A former Canadian soldier said his chess sets featuring Osama bin Laden on one side and U.S. or British officials on the other is a hit with armed forces.

Jeffrey Train, 48, of Toronto, said he came up with the idea for the chess sets while serving at Afghanistan’s Kandahar Airfield in 2006 and designed U.S. and British versions when his tour of duty ended, Sky News online reported Thursday.

Train said the chess sets, which have become popular with soldiers serving overseas, feature Osama bin Laden as the king and a burqa-clad woman as the queen.

The British version of the set features former Prime Minister Tony Blair as the king and Queen Elizabeth II as the queen.

The former soldier said there are two versions for the United States, one featuring former President George W. Bush and one with current President Barack Obama.

Cautious Optimism About Sudan’s Abyei

UNITED NATIONS, July 28 (UPI) — More than 500 peacekeepers were deployed to the disputed Abyei region of Sudan though a U.N. envoy said the troops have encountered regional problems.

South Sudan became the world’s newest independent nation July 9. Its secession from Sudan came through a peace deal reached in 2005 that ended a civil war in the region.

Issues like citizenship, the sharing of oil revenue and border demarcation are unsettled. Border conflicts centered on Abyei and South Kordofan state threaten the principles of the peace agreement.

Alain Le Roy, U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, told the U.N. Security Council that more than 500 peacekeepers deployed to Abyei in Sudan as part of the U.N. Interim Security Force for Abyei.

He said both parties to the conflict in Sudan appear committed to avoiding an escalation of violence and both sides are committed to working with UNISFA.

“However, the deployment is facing difficulties as we work with the government of Sudan to clarify the use of the El Obeid logistic base,” which was used by the defunct U.N. Mission in Sudan, Le Roy said.

The envoy, however, said U.N. forces had received agreements from both sides to withdraw once UNISFA troops deploy.

Can Syria’s Assad Stop Opposition?

WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can delay opposition in his country through brutal repression but he can’t stop it, U.S. diplomats said.

Damascus has unveiled a series of political reforms meant to address grievances expressed by anti-government protesters. Recent measures include electoral reforms and a proposal to allow opposition groups to form political parties.

Despite those pledges, however, Syrian forces continue to assault anti-government forces. Human rights groups have reported killings and torture by Syrian security forces. Snipers have allegedly deployed along rooftops of several Syrian towns.

Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for human rights, and Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, told a House subcommittee on the Middle East that despite the repressive tactics by the Assad regime, the Syrian people have continued to act out against the government without fear.

“Beyond demonstrations, we have also seen the opposition organize itself and begin to articulate an agenda for Syria’s future, recognizing that the strongest Syria is one in which all citizens, regardless of faith or ethnicity, are equal participants,” they said in a joint written statement.

U.S. lawmakers have criticized the action of Robert Ford, the U.S. envoy to Damascus who remains active in the country. Both officials said Ford’s work in Syria was vital in order to express U.S. concerns on the ground.

Despite the engagement, it’s up to the Syrian people to chart their own future, they said.

“President Assad can delay or obstruct it but he cannot, however, stop it,” they testified.

Troops, Militants Engage In Gunfight In Afghanistan

TARIN KOWT, Afghanistan, July 28 (UPI) — At least 22 people were killed Thursday before elite Afghan forces repelled an insurgent attack on a market in the southern province of Uruzgan.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack in Tarin Kowt, which was carried out by eight people, three of them suicide bombers, the BBC reported. All eight were killed.

The attack appeared to be aimed at senior officials in Tarin Kowt, the provincial capital. An aide to the governor told CNN in a phone interview that the governor remained in hiding in his compound..

The dead included two Afghan soldiers, three women and Ahmed Omed Khpulwak, a reporter for the Pajhwok news agency and the BBC Pashto service. Khpulwak died with several other people when a building housing a radio and television station was attacked.

At least 40 people were hurt, health officials said.

The attackers entered the market from all four sides, witnesses said. Elite Afghan troops quelled the attack, while NATO said it provided air cover.

Mohammad Dadu, a butcher at the market, said the attack was so sudden he did not have time to close up.

“It feels like doomsday,” he said. “Every day people came to the market to shop. But today people are here collecting the dead and injured bodies of their relatives. There is blood, smoke from explosives, and everyone has fled the area.”

Peter Horrocks, the BBC’s global news director, paid tribute to Khpulwak.

“The BBC and the whole world are grateful to journalists like Ahmed Omed who courageously put their lives on the line to report from dangerous places,” he said.

Situation Tense, But Calm, On Kosovo

PRISTINA, Kosovo, July 28 (UPI) — Though officials in Kosovo blamed Serbians for a flare up of border violence, the Serbian president said diplomacy was the best way to resolve any conflict.

NATO’s Kosovo Force said border positions in northern Kosovo were attacked by unknown assailants. Both sides were urged to exercise restraint after Kosovo sent a police unit to the northern border to enforce a trade embargo on Serbia.

NATO forces were deployed to the region to quell the violence. Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci blamed Serbia for the skirmish though Serbian President Boris Tadic was quoted by Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti as saying his country “will not go to war” over border violence.

The news agency adds that unknown gunmen had fired on helicopters carrying Croatian peacekeepers though no injuries were reported.

KFOR officials in a statement praised the people of Kosovo “because they haven’t been led into violence or aggression.”

One border crossing is closed because parts of the infrastructure there are heavily damages.

“Small private cars may cross the boundary on their own risk,” the NATO force said in a statement. “However they will be checked by KFOR and searched for weapons and other prohibited goods.”

Argentine-U.S. Ties Reach New Low

BUENOS AIRES, July 28 (UPI) — Argentina’s relations with the United States risk reaching a new low after the South American country received angry criticism from U.S. lawmakers over its style of government.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner faced renewed condemnation of government measures that are seen to be suppressing freedom of expression and undermining democratic institutions in the country.

Underlying U.S. lawmakers’ criticism is lingering annoyance over Argentina’s seizure of a U.S. Air Force jet — a Buenos Aires move that surprised and irritated Washington and took nearly a month of patient diplomacy to reach resolution.

The latest reproof for Argentina came after a U.S. House of Representatives committee heard requests to remove Argentina from a list of countries entitled to receive State Department financial support for promoting good governance and related programs.

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., said he was in favor of supporting Latin American countries that foster democratic values and moving away from countries that failed to fulfill that role.

“Let’s get close to our allies and friends and stop supporting organizations and countries which perpetuate the destruction of freedom and democracy,” Mack said.

Mack indicated he saw no place for Argentina in the group of countries that abide by international law and promote democratic value. He has already singled out Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela as countries that have “no interest” in promoting democratic values or freedom.

Earlier, Democrats in Congress issued similar warnings about Argentina, citing the government’s suppression of the media. In previous congressional committee meetings, too, Argentina was omitted from the group of “democratic leaderships” in the Latin American region.

Argentina’s final agreement in June to surrender cargo and effects it seized from an alleged U.S. spy plane put at rest a bitter diplomatic row but raised key questions on governance in the country.

The dispute surprised diplomatic analysts who saw the Argentine rhetoric accompanying the February seizure of the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster as a classic blunder pursued through the populist media for no apparent gain.

The seizure triggered a bitter diplomatic confrontation and was followed by weeks of negotiations on how best to backtrack — mainly to save Fernandez unwelcome attention in the news media already critical of her style of government.

In June the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires announced agreements that led to the return of the plane’s cargo and other contents by Argentina.

After it seized the plane in February, Argentina presented a formal protest to the embassy. Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman urged the U.S. administration to assist local authorities in the investigation, called for an official apology and warned that the seized material would never be handed back.

U.S. President Barack Obama raised the subject when he visited the region in March.

Argentine-U.S. tensions rose through the spring and early summer and Argentine officials feared the U.S. anger over the incident might influence the Paris Club of country creditors, courted by Fernandez as part of her campaign to restore Argentina’s credit worthiness in international financial markets.

U.S. administration departments suspended or downgraded links with the Argentine administration as talks for the return of the cargo stalled.

The latest setback to Argentina in the U.S. Congress indicated the incident delivered lasting damage to Argentina’s standing as a country adhering to normal diplomatic conduct and rule of law, analysts said.

Press Chief Shot Dead In Dagestan Capital

MAKHACHKALA, Russia, July 28 (UPI) — The press service chief of Dagestan was shot dead Thursday and police sealed all exit roads from the capital, Russian officials said.

Garun Kurbanov was shot as he headed to his car in Makhachkala, RIA Novosti reported.

“We are using all our resources to close down the city,” said Interior Minister Abdulrashid Magomedov.

“Unidentified gunmen opened fire on Kurbanov’s car,” a police spokesman said.

Kurbanov’s driver was also killed during the incident, Novosti reported.

Indo-Pak Talks Positive, U.S. Says

WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) — Regardless of the outcome, any dialogue between India and Pakistan is viewed as constructive by Washington, a U.S. State Department official said.

New Delhi hosted bilateral talks with Pakistani officials this week. Both sides agreed to modest concessions on trade initiatives in Kashmir, a source of contention between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

Though both sides emerged with few concrete results, leaders from both countries said their relationship was moving in the right direction.

Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said during his regular briefing that Washington saw any contact between Islamabad and New Delhi as constructive.

“Always a positive step, always a productive or constructive in our view to see the two countries talking,” he said. “And it’s constructive for the region. It’s constructive for both those countries.”

The talks followed a triple bombing in Mumbai that Indian officials said were meant to derail the talks. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in New Delhi the week after the July 19 attack, though Toner said Washington didn’t have a role in the Indo-Pak talks.