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9The Independent Weekly
January 29 - February 4, 2010
Including The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Independent and AAP
HALABJA: Hundreds of Kurds
took to the streets of the Iraqi town
of Halabja this week to celebrate
the execution of "Chemical Ali",
hanged for the gassing of some 5000
of its residents in 1988.
"The execution is just and it
fills me with a joy that I cannot
describe," said Kulala Mohammed,
40, whose two brothers died in the
"I went to pray at the grave of my
brothers and to tell them: You can
now rest in peace. Your enemy has
gone forever and Halabja can be
Ali Hassan al-Majid, better
known by his macabre nickname,
was hanged on Monday after being
convicted of the Halabja attack, the
fourth death sentence handed down
against the infamous henchman
of executed Iraqi dictator Saddam
on Iraqi televi-
said in a
Ali Majid, another black page in the
book of repression, genocide and
crimes against humanity has been
Later, state television broadcast
two pictures of Majid. One showed
him in an orange-red jumpsuit with
his face uncovered. In the second
photo, Majid wore a black hood and
was flanked by two masked men.
In Halabja s cemetery, relatives
gathered at 11.35am, the exact time
22 years ago that Majid s forces
launched their deadly cocktail of
mustard gas and the nerve agents
Tabun, Sarin and VX on the small
Aras Abed, vice-president of the
association of Halabja victims who
lost 12 family members, said he was
"swimming in happiness."
"The enemy of the Kurds and of
all humanity got what he deserved,"
Karwan Adham, who represented
some of the victims at the trial, said:
"Everyone who commits such crimes
and who murders should suffer the
same fate as Ali Hassan al-Majid."
Three-quarters of the victims at
Halabja, thought to have been the
deadliest ever gas attack against
civilians, were women and children.
In March 1988, as Iraq s eight-
year war with Iran was coming to
an end, Kurdish peshmerga rebels,
with Tehran s backing, took over
the farming community of Halabja,
near the border.
The Iraqi army responded by
bombing the area, forcing the rebels
to retreat into the surrounding
hills, leaving their families behind.
Iraqi jets then swooped over the
small town and for five hours
sprayed it with nerve agents.
A close cousin of Saddam, Majid
had already been sentenced to
death for genocide over the Kurdish
offensives that left an estimated
182,000 Kurds dead in the 1980s, and
for war crimes committed during
the ill-fated 1991 Shi ite uprising in
In March last year, the Iraqi High
Tribunal handed down a third
death sentence for the 1999 murders
of dozens of Shi ites in Sadr City
COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President
Mahinda Rajapakse has won a
bruising re-election battle, but the
result was rejected by his opponent
who spent the day holed up in a hotel
surrounded by troops.
The election commissioner said
Rajapakse had secured 57.9 per cent
of the popular vote in the presiden-
tial poll -- the first since a victory
over separatist Tamil rebels last May
ended a decades-long civil war.
"This is a victory for the people,"
Rajapakse said on Wednesday. "I
thank those who voted for me and
those who did not. I will work for all
His main challenger, former army
chief Sarath Fonseka, received 40.1
per cent of the vote, but he vowed to
challenge the result in court.
In a day of high drama that fol-
lowed a bitter and vitriolic contest
between the former allies, Fonseka
was surrounded by heavily armed
soldiers in a luxury hotel in central
Colombo where he checked in on
The 59-year-old claimed he was
unable to leave because he would
be arrested or assassinated, but
he slipped out unimpeded late on
Wednesday evening, heading for a
safe house in the Sri Lankan capital.
"The victory has been taken away
from us by election-rigging and the
violation of electoral laws," he told
reporters soon after the verdict was
The contest had been a straight
race between the two men who
engineered the decisive victory over
the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE), who fought for 37
years for a Tamil homeland.
But from close allies on the battle-
field they turned into irreconcilable
enemies after Fonseka, a political
novice, decided to challenge his
former boss at the ballot box on an
Independent election monitors
have criticised the abuse of state
resources by the government for
campaigning, as well as violence,
on election day. Four people were
killed and more than 1000 cases
of election-related violence were
reported to police in the lead-up
to Tuesday s contest. Another two
people were reported dead in attacks
PARIS: The Islamic full-body veil
should be banned from French public
offices, hospitals, trains and buses,
according to a parliamentary investiga-
tion which reported this week.
In a bad-tempered final session, the
committee of inquiry angered many
members of President Nicolas Sarkozy s
ruling centre-right party by rejecting
their demands for an outright ban on
the burka or niqab. After a muddled
and heated six-month investigation, the
committee decided that such a ban might
be declared unconstitutional.
Instead, a narrow majority of the
32 members accepted a compromise
suggested by Mr Sarkozy and the
Prime Minister, François Fillon. They
called for a solemn, but unenforceable,
parliamentary motion declaring the
full-length veil to be "un-French".
They said this should be followed soon
by a law forbidding people to cover
their faces in "official" public spaces.
Initially, the idea was supported by
President Sarkozy. More recently, he
has been trying to contain a surge of
anti-Islamic feeling unleashed by his
call for a "debate on national identity".
He has let it be known that he opposes
legislation to ban the burka outright.
ROME: Pope John Paul II whipped
himself with a belt and slept on
the floor as acts of penitence and
to bring him closer to Christian
perfection, according to a new book.
The book, Why He s a Saint, is
written by the Polish prelate spear-
heading his sainthood case. It also
includes previously unpublished
speeches and documents written by
John Paul, including one 1989 signed
memo in which he said he would
resign if he became incapacitated.
The book was written by
Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the
postulator, or main promoter, for
John Paul s canonisation cause
and was released this week. It is
based on the testimony of the 114
witnesses and boxes of documenta-
tion Oder gathered on John Paul s
life to support the case. Mgr Oder
defended John Paul s practice of
self-mortification, which some
faithful use to remind them of the
suffering of Jesus on the cross.
"It s an instrument of Christian
perfection," he said, responding to
questions about how such a practice
could be condoned considering
Catholic teaching holds that the
human body is a gift from God.
In the book Mgr Oder wrote
that John Paul frequently denied
himself food -- especially during
the holy season of Lent -- and
"frequently spent the night on the
bare floor," messing up his bed in
the morning so he wouldn t draw
attention to his act of penitence.
"But it wasn t limited to this.
As some members of his close
entourage in Poland and in the
Vatican were able to hear with their
own ears, John Paul flagellated
himself. In his armoire ... was a
belt which he used as a whip and
which he always brought to Castel
Gandolfo," the papal retreat where
John Paul vacationed each summer.
LONDON: For 50 years, scientists
have scoured the skies for radio
signals from beyond our planet,
hoping for some sign of extrater-
restrial life. But one physicist says
there s no reason alien life couldn t
already be lurking among us -- or
maybe even in us.
Paul Davies, an award-winning
physicist who previously worked
at the University of Adelaide and
is widely known for his popular
science writing, said this week that
life may have developed on Earth
not once but several times.
Davies said the variant life forms
-- most likely tiny microbes -- could
still be hanging around "right under
our noses -- or even in our noses".
"How do we know all life on earth
descended from a single origin?"
he told a conference at London s
prestigious Royal Society.
The idea that alien micro-
organisms could be hiding out here
on earth has been discussed for a
while. Davies earlier laid out the
idea in a 2007 article published in
Scientific American in which he
asked: "Are aliens among us?"
So far, there s no answer. And
finding one would be fraught with
difficulties, as Davies himself
acknowledged. Unusual organisms
abound -- including chemical-eating
bacteria which hide out deep in
the ocean -- but that doesn t mean
they re different life forms entirely.
"How weird do they have to be
suggest a second genesis as opposed
to just an obscure branch of the
family tree?" he said.
Elated Kurds celebrate
Chemical Ali execution
Inquiry declares full-body veil 'un-French' President
in bitter Sri
Are aliens among us?
Pope John Paul II 'whipped himself'
in 1986. A
Ali Hassan al-Majid
was hanged this week.
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