Iran's Ahmadinejad dismisses Wikileaks cables release

Mr Ahmadinejad shrugged off the leaked reports of regional animosity

 

November 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / BBC) — Iran’s president has dismissed as propaganda the leaking of US cables detailing Arab calls for Washington to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the release by the Wikileaks website of thousands of extracts from US diplomatic messages was simply psychological warfare against Iran.

He said the release would not affect Iran’s relations with other countries.

The US said the release was “reckless” and put the lives of diplomats at risk.

The Obama administration has been scrambling to make sure similar leaks do not happen again.

Government agencies have been ordered to tighten their procedures for handling classified information, ensuring that employees only have access to such documents as they need to do their jobs.

The Pentagon said it was making its computer systems more secure to prevent future leaks.

And Attorney General Eric Holder said there was an “active and ongoing criminal investigation” into the release of the documents and anyone found responsible would be prosecuted.

 

Wikileaks

* Website with a reputation for publishing sensitive material
* Run by Julian Assange, an Australian with a background in computer network hacking

* Released 90,000 secret US records of US military incidents about the war in Afghanistan and 400,000 similar documents on Iraq
* Also posted video showing US helicopter killing 12 people – including two journalists – in Baghdad in 2007
* Other controversial postings include screenshots of the e-mail inbox and address book of US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin

 

The founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, said the US authorities were afraid of being held to account.

European nations have roundly criticised the leaks, with France saying they represent a threat to democratic authority.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, condemned what it called “the irresponsible disclosure of sensitive official documents”.

Among the revelations is a report that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had urged the US to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Political goals

Mr Ahmadinejad shrugged off the leaks at a televised news conference on Monday, saying no-one should waste time reviewing the information.

“We don’t think this information was leaked,” he said. “We think it was organised to be released on a regular basis and they are pursuing political goals.”

On one level, the release of the Wikileaks documents may be highly damaging for Iran, says the BBC’s Iran correspondent, James Reynolds.

For the first time – in black and white – we have proof that Arab countries have actively encouraged the United States to attack Iran, adds our correspondent, and from what we can tell, the documents paint a picture of Iran as isolated and under threat.

If this worries the Iranian government, it will not say so in public. Instead, adds our correspondent, Mr Ahmadinejad’s response appears to conform to his overall world view – that every action of the United States is highly organised and aimed at promoting discord among Muslim nations.

Wikileaks has only posted some 200 of the 251,287 messages it says it has obtained. However, the entire bundle of cables has been made available to five publications, including the New York Times and the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

The leaked cables written by US diplomats posted overseas contain blunt appraisals of their host governments, and unflattering pen portraits of world leaders.

US officials are said to have described Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as feckless, vain and ineffective, sharing a close relationship with the “alpha dog” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is said to be thin-skinned and authoritarian, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel is described as risk-averse.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is referred to as “extremely weak” and susceptible to conspiracy theories.

One US diplomat was said to be shocked at the “rude behaviour” of the British queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, when abroad.

Meanwhile, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya always travels with a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse, according to one of the cables.

Concerns aired include the security of Pakistani nuclear material that could fall into the wrong hands, allowing militants to make an atomic weapon. The widespread use of computer hacking by China’s government is also reported.

Other issues reportedly covered in the cables are:
Iranian attempts to adapt North Korean rockets for use as long-range missiles
Corruption in Afghanistan with concerns heightened when a senior official was found to be carrying more than $52m (£33m) in cash on a foreign trip
Bargaining to empty the Guantanamo Bay prison camp – including Slovenian diplomats being told to take in a freed prisoner to secure a meeting with President Barack Obama
Germany being warned in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for CIA officers involved in an operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was abducted and held in Afghanistan
US officials being instructed to spy on the UN leadership by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime, with intelligence agencies using underworld bosses to carry out operations
Yemen’s president talking to General David Petraeus (while he was responsible for US military operations in Central Asia and the Middle East as head of US Central Command) about attacks on Yemeni al-Qaeda bases and saying: “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours”
Faltering US attempts to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon

 

Shedding light on wars?

 

The leaked embassy cables are both contemporary and historical, and include a 1989 note from a US diplomat in Panama City musing about the options open to Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega and referring to him as “a master of survival” – the author apparently had no idea that US forces would invade a week later and arrest Noriega.

In a statement, the White House said: “Such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government.

“President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal.”

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger defended his newspaper’s publication of leaked information, saying it was “not the job of the media to worry about the embarrassment of world leaders who have been caught saying different things in public or private, especially some of these Gulf states that don’t have a free press”.

No-one has been charged with passing the diplomatic files to Wikileaks, but suspicion has fallen on US Army private Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst arrested in Iraq in June and charged over an earlier leak of classified US documents to Mr Assange’s organisation.

The cables release was the third mass Wikileaks release of classified documents since it published 77,000 secret US files on the Afghan conflict in July, and 400,000 documents about the Iraq war in October.

Wikileaks argues the release of the documents has shed light on the wars, including allegations of torture and reports that suggest 15,000 additional civilian deaths in Iraq. (*)

 

Saudi King urged U.S. to attack Iran: WikiLeaks

President Barack Obama (left) & King Abdullah

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November 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / Reuters) – Saudi King Abdullah has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran‘s nuclear program and China directed cyberattacks on the United States, according to a vast cache of diplomatic cables released on Sunday in an embarrassing leak that undermines U.S. diplomacy.

The more than 250,000 documents, given to five media groups by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, provide candid and at times critical views of foreign leaders as well as sensitive information on terrorism and nuclear proliferation filed by U.S. diplomats, according to The New York Times.

The White House condemned the release by WikiLeaks and said the disclosures may endanger U.S. informants abroad. WikiLeaks said its website was under attack and none of the underlying cables was visible there Sunday night, though some were posted by news organizations.

Among the revelations in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which also received an advance look at the documents along with France’s Le Monde, Germany‘s Der Spiegel and Spain’s El Pais, King Abdullah is reported to have “frequently exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program.”

“Cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, quotes the king as saying during a meeting with General David Petraeus in April 2008.

The leaked documents, the majority of which are from 2007 or later, also disclose U.S. allegations that China’s Politburo directed an intrusion into Google’s computer systems, part of a broader coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by Chinese government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws, the Times reported.

MEDVEDEV “PLAYS ROBIN TO PUTIN’S BATMAN”

As described by German news weekly Der Spiegel, the cables contain tart comments such as a U.S. diplomat’s description of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as someone who “avoids risk and is seldom creative.”

Another document described by The New York Times cites a U.S. embassy cable raising the possibility that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi may have had a romantic relationship with his Ukranian nurse, who is described as a “voluptuous blonde.”

The newspaper said many of the cables name diplomats’ confidential sources, from foreign lawmakers and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a warning: “Please protect” or “Strictly protect.”

Comments such a description of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s head of state, as playing “Robin to (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin’s Batman,” are sure to embarrass the Obama administration and to complicate its diplomacy.

The White House said the release of the documents could endanger the lives of people who live under “oppressive regimes” and “deeply impact” the foreign policy interests of the United States, its allies and partners around the world.

“To be clear — such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

“By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals,” he said.

“DEVASTATING”

Security analysts tended to agree that the release of the documents was a severe blow to U.S. diplomacy, undermining the confidentiality that is vital for foreign leaders and activists to talk candidly to U.S. officials.

“This is pretty devastating,” Roger Cressey, a partner at Goodharbor Consulting and a former U.S. cyber security and counter-terrorism official, said in an e-mailed comment.

The U.S. government, which was informed in advance of the leaked cables’ contents, contacted governments including Russia, and in Europe and the Middle East, to try to limit damage.

The White House also warned readers that the field reporting in the documents is often incomplete and does not necessarily reflect, or even shape, U.S. policy decisions.

Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the dramatic revelation that Saudi King Abdullah counseled a U.S. strike on Iran may have been exaggerated for diplomatic effect.

“It’s very possible that the Gulf states have in private adopted very aggressive rhetoric just to stress the urgency of the issue,” Hokayem said. “But I personally doubt that there is an appetite for war as such.”

Among the disclosures reported by The New York Times were:

— suspicions Iran has obtained sophisticated missiles from North Korea capable of hitting western Europe, and the United States is concerned Iran is using those rockets as “building blocks” to build longer-range missiles;

— allegations that Chinese operatives have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002;

— talks between U.S. and South Korean officials about the prospects for a unified Korea should the North’s economic troubles and a political transition lead the state to implode;

— the South Koreans considered commercial inducements to China to “help salve” Chinese concerns about living with a reunified Korea that is in a “benign alliance” with Washington, according to the American ambassador to Seoul;

— reporting that Saudi donors remain chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December;

— Since 2007, the United States has mounted a secret and so far unsuccessful effort to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor out of fear it could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.  (*)

Medvedev to visit Poland December 6-7 – Kremlin

Russian Presiden Dmitry Medvedev

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November 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI)  — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will pay an official visit to Poland on December 6-7, the Kremlin said on Monday.

Medvedev will come to Poland at the invitation of his Polish counterpart Bronislaw Komorowski.

Komorowski over the weekend expressed hopes that Medvedev’s visit would contribute to a rapprochement in Russian-Polish relations.

The Polish president also hopes to discuss the 1940 Katyn massacre with Medvedev.

According to official data, over 20,000 Polish officers were killed in 1940 by the NKVD – the Soviet secret police. The executions took place in various parts of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The largest massacre occurred in the Katyn forest near the Russian city of Smolensk.

Deputies from the lower house of Russia’s parliament on Friday approved a declaration recognizing the 1940 Katyn massacre of Polish officers as a crime committed by Stalin’s regime.

Komorowski hailed the recognition of the massacre. “I believe this is a positive signal that came from Moscow before the upcoming visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Warsaw. We must accept this document with great satisfaction keeping in mind that this is an official document by the [Russian] parliament,” he said.  (*)

MOSCOW, November 29

President Lee Myung-bak calls N. Korea's attack 'inhumane,' calls for national unity

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak

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SEOUL, Nov. 29 (Yonhap) — South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Monday strongly condemned North Korea’s recent shelling of a South Korean border island, saying an attack against civilians is an “inhumane” crime strictly prohibited even during a war.

“I can’t contain my anger over the North Korean regime’s cruelty that ignores even the lives of children,” Lee said in a televised speech.

He pledged that Seoul will make Pyongyang pay a price corresponding to any future provocations.

Lee said the North’s deadly artillery strike on Yeonpyeong Island, where about 1,400 people resided, shows that it would be hard to expect the communist nation to abandon its nuclear program and military brinkmanship.

Lee appealed to the South Korean people for unity, saying a “unified people” would take national security to its strongest level.  (*)

China calls for North Korea talks

The USS George Washington is taking part in joint US-South Korean military exercises over the next few day in the Yellow Sea. Photograph: Charles Oki/EPA

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Time not right for six-way meeting in Beijing, says Seoul, amid military muscle flexing by North and South Korea.

November 28, 2010 (KATAKAMI / GUARDIAN.CO.UK) — China has called for emergency international talks over North Korea as Pyongyang reportedly prepared missile batteries and the US and South Korea launched joint military exercises.Tensions on the Korean peninsula are as severe as they have been at any time since the end of the Korean war in 1953, and a senior official in Beijing today suggested emergency talks between the six countries that had taken part in talks on Pyongyang’s disarmament.

Wu Dawei, the Chinese envoy to the peninsula, said representatives from Pyongyang and Seoul, China, the US, Russia and Japan, who have been meeting over the last seven years to discuss North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, should convene in Beijing early next month “to exchange views on major issues of concern”.

The talks themselves, moribund for two years after North Korea walked out, look unlikely to be resumed, with Seoul’s presidential office saying it was not the right time for such a move. But such an urgent intervention from China, North Korea’s only significant ally and the sole outside country with any sway over its actions, is significant, not least in underlining the gravity of the situation.

The Seoul-based Yonhap news agency reported that Pyongyang had placed surface-to-surface missiles on launch pads along its Yellow Sea coastline. The North’s military is also aiming surface-to-air missiles at South Korean fighter jets flying near the western sea border, the agency added.

Two South Korean marines and two civilians died on Tuesday when the North unleashed, without warning, an artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong island, which hosts both a military garrison and a small fishing community. The attack, seen as the most serious single military incident since the end of the war, destroyed dozens of homes , injured another 18 people, and set the South on a war footing.

North Korea described the civilian deaths as “regrettable” but blamed the South for placing residents on the island, which Pyongyang insists is North Korean territory, as human shields. The North also condemned a major US-South Korea military drill in the Yellow Sea, which began today.

The four-day exercise, involving the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, is believed to be taking place about 100 miles south of Yeonpyeong. While Seoul insists the exercise is both routine and pre-planned, the North’s National Peace Committee of Korea described it as “pretext for aggression and ignite a war at any cost”.

Pyongyang issued a series of warnings, and threatened to “give a shower of dreadful fire and blow up the bulwark of the enemies if they dare to encroach again upon [North Korea’s] dignity and sovereignty, even in the least.”

Seoul is being almost equally bellicose. At a funeral yesterday for the marines killed on Yeonpyeong, the South Korean military commander, Major-General You Nak-jun, laid flowers at an altar and vowed that his country would retaliate if there was a further attack from the North.

“Our marine corps … will carry out a hundred – or thousand-fold” in retaliation, he said at the ceremony. “We will put our feelings of rage and animosity in our bones and take our revenge on North Korea.”

Dozens of journalists have ignored South Korean military warnings about staying on Yeonpyeong, which is seven miles from North Korean territory. They and locals sought cover today after hearing new bursts of artillery fire. No rounds landed on the island.

Dai Bingguo, a senior Chinese foreign policy adviser, visited South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak. In unusually strong comments Lee made plain his concerns that Beijing was not exerting sufficient pressure on North Korea, calling on China to contribute to peace in a “more objective, responsible” manner.

The chairman of North Korea’s supreme people’s assembly, Choe Thae Bok, is due to visit Beijing from Tuesday, China’s official Xinhua news agency said.

Since the Korean war ended, with a truce rather than a formal treaty, tensions between the two sides have risen and receded many times. However, the past year has seen particularly intense pressures, notably after a South Korean warship was sunk in March, killing 46 sailors. An international team of investigators concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the vessel, although Pyongyang denies any involvement.

The latest crisis has already cost the South Korean defence minister, Kim Tae-young, his job amid accusations that the response to North Korea’s initial attack had been too weak. Now South Korea’s president has sent 4,000 troops as reinforcements to Yeonpyeong and other nearby islands with extra weapons and new rules of engagement that give them greater scope to respond if attacked.

Photostream : Cargo Plane Crashes in Pakistan

Pakistani officials examine the wreckage at the site of a plane crash in Karachi, Pakistan on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010. A cargo plane crashed in flames into a residential area in Pakistan's largest city soon after takeoff Sunday, killing all eight Russian crew and at least one person on the ground, officials said. (Getty Images / AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

Pakistani officials examine the wreckage at the site of a plane crash in Karachi, Pakistan on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010. A cargo plane crashed in flames into a residential area in Pakistan's largest city soon after takeoff Sunday, killing all eight Russian crew and at least one person on the ground, officials said. (Getty Images / AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

An overview of the wreckage of an airplane crash is seen early morning in Karachi November 28, 2010. A plane carrying eight people crashed early on Sunday in a residential area of Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, setting buildings on fire. Police chief Fayyaz Leghari said five people were killed. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Athar Hussain )

Rescue workers stand at the site of a plane crash in Karachi November 28, 2010. A plane carrying eight people crashed early on Sunday in a residential area of Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, setting buildings on fire. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Athar Hussain )

Pakistani firefighters extinguish fire caused by a Russian-made cargo plane that crashed in a fireball seconds after taking off from the Karachi's airport early November 28, 2010. The crash caused a massive blaze in the Dalmai neighbourhood, where the Pakistan Air Force and Navy have residential apartments and sensitive installations close to Jinnah International airport. The Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft had been bound for the Sudanese capital Khartoum, Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said. Police said there were injuries, but there was no immediate confirmation on casualty numbers or whether people had been hurt on the ground. (Photo by ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Rescue workers stand over bodies, retrieved from the wreckage of an airplane crash, after they were brought to a hospital morgue in Karachi November 28, 2010. A plane carrying eight people crashed early on Sunday in a residential area of Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, setting buildings on fire. Police chief Fayyaz Leghari said five people were killed. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Athar Hussain )

 

Death toll in Pakistan plane crash rises to 20 people – TV

Pakistan plane crash

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November 28, 2010 (KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — The death toll in Sunday’s plane crash in Pakistan has risen to 20 people, Pakistani TV channels reported.

Earlier reports said that a Russian-made Il-76 cargo plane had crashed early on Sunday in Karachi in Pakistan, killing all eight crewmembers. The plane burst in flames shortly after a takeoff from the Karachi International Airport heading for Khartoum, Sudan, and went down in an upscale housing complex for naval officers.

According to Pakistani TV channels, at least 12 people were killed on the ground, apart from the eight crewmembers. This information has not yet been officially confirmed.

Rescue workers said they had recovered the bodies of two construction workers who had been inside the building, on which the plane had crashed.

A spokesman for Russia’s consulate general in Karachi said on Sunday that one of the crewmembers killed in the air crash was a Russian national while the other crewmembers were presumably Ukrainians.

The plane belonged to the air company Sunway. (*)

NEW DELHI, November 28

Photostream : Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visits Iran

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (R) and Iran's first vice president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi (L) review the honour guard during the welcoming ceremony at Tehran's Saadabad Palace on November 27, 2010. (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (R) smiles while reviewing the honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at Tehran's Saadabad Palace on November 27, 2010. (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, walks during his official welcoming ceremony in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. (Getty Images / AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, listens to Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahim, during their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. An unidentified interpreter sits at center. (Getty Images / AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (L) shakes hands with Iran's first vice president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi (R) during the welcoming ceremony at Tehran's Saadabad Palace on November 27, 2010. (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia lends Venezuela $4 bln to buy weaponry — Chavez

 

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November 28, 2010. (KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — Moscow has recently loaned Venezuela $4 billion to buy Russian military hardware, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said.

Speaking at a ceremony to celebrate 90 years of Venezuela’s Air Force on Saturday, Chavez said the sides reached the loan agreement during his visit to Russia in October although no official statement was made at the time of the visit.

“We were in Russia not long ago and the Russian government gave us a $4-billion credit to help us with [building up] our defense capability,” the president said.

Moscow has already provided Caracas with several loans to buy Russian-made weaponry, including a recent $2.2-mln loan on the purchase of 92 T-72M1M tanks, the Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems and other military equipment.

Russia has also exported 24 Su-30MK2 Flanker aircraft, over 40 Mi-17 Hip transport helicopters and 10 Mi-35 Hind-E gunships as well as three Mi-26T Halo heavy transport helicopters to Venezuela.

Chavez did not specify the types of weaponry Venezuela was going to buy from Russia in the future.

He justified big spending on arms by his country’s need to defend the nation from potential external threats.

“We are simply doing the task of defending the fatherland from the threat of [U.S.] empire and its allies,” Chavez said.  (*)

MEXICO, November 28

Saudi King healthy and walking, says top prince

A handout picture released the Saudi Press Agency shows Saudi King Abdullah (C) sitting in a wheelchair as he arrives at his palace in Riyadh on November 19. King Abdullah is in good shape and was walking shortly after undergoing an operation last week, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said in newspaper reports on Sunday.

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November 28, 2010. (KATAKAMI/ FRANCE 24 / AFP) — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is in good shape and was walking shortly after undergoing an operation last week, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said in newspaper reports on Sunday.

Nayef, the king’s half-brother considered second in line to the throne, said the 86-year-old king was walking “outside” his New York city hospital on his own feet after his operation Wednesday for a herniated disc, the reports said.

The prince gave no indication of whether the king had been discharged from New York Presbyterian Hospital, nor when he would be returning to the Middle East oil powerhouse he has ruled for five years.

Abdullah left Riyadh on Monday for the operation.

Despite the unusual level of transparency about his ailment, the news sparked worries among the population over the reformist monarch’s long-term health and the make-up of the royal family dominated government overall.

The leading princes of the government, including Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, are mostly in their 70s and 80s and have held their jobs for decades.

Many are believed suffering chronic ailments that have not been reported publicly. (*)

Photostream : Nation mourns two marines killed by N. Korean attack

Nov. 27, SEONGNAM, South Korea -- South Korea holds a nationally televised funeral for two marines killed in an artillery clash with North Korea earlier this week, at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on Nov. 27. The two marines and two civilians were killed in the Nov. 23 North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island. (Yonhap)

Honor guards carry the coffins of two dead marines who were killed by North Korea's artillery shells attack on Yeonpyeong Island, during a funeral at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul November 27, 2010. Four people were killed when North Korea lobbed scores of artillery shells on a South Korean island near the disputed sea border on Tuesday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Lieutenant General Yoo Nak-Joon, commander of South Korean Marine Corps, salutes during the funeral ceremony for two marines killed during North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong Island, at a military hospital in Seongnam. South Koreans vowed revenge and a tough line against North Korea as the nation grieved for two marines killed in the regime's artillery strike that caused global alarm this week. (AFP/Jung Yeon-Je)

Soldiers salute for two dead marines who were killed by North Korea's artillery shells attack on Yeonpyeong Island, during a funeral at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul November 27, 2010. Four people were killed when North Korea lobbed scores of artillery shells on a South Korean island near the disputed sea border on Tuesday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The mother (R) of South Korean dead marine Seo Jung-woo, who was killed by North Korea's artillery shells attack on Yeonpyeong Island, cries during a funeral at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul November 27, 2010. Four people were killed when North Korea lobbed scores of artillery shells on a South Korean island near the disputed sea border on Tuesday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

MARINE Military officers escort the mother of South Korean dead marine Seo Jung-woo, who was killed by North Korea's artillery shells attack on Yeonpyeong Island, after a funeral at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul November 27, 2010. Four people were killed when North Korea lobbed scores of artillery shells on a South Korean island near the disputed sea border on Tuesday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Nov. 27, SEONGNAM, South Korea -- Families mourn as South Korea holds a nationally televised funeral for two marines killed in an artillery clash with North Korea earlier this week, at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on Nov. 27. Two civilians also died in the Nov. 23 North Korean attack on Yeonpyeong Island. (Yonhap)

President Lee checks follow-up measures after N. Korea's deadly attack

File : South Korean President Lee Myung-bak receives a briefing at the control centre of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Defence Ministry in Seoul November 23, 2010. North Korea on Tuesday fired dozens of artillery shells at a South Korean island, setting buildings on fire and prompting a return of fire by the South, Seoul's military and media reports said. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Jo Bo-Hee/Yonhap )

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SEOUL, Nov. 27 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was presiding over a security-related meeting on Saturday to check follow-up measures after North Korea fired a barrage of shots on a South Korean island earlier this week, officials said.

The meeting also comes one day before the U.S. and South Korea are set to begin military exercises in the Yellow Sea in a show of force that North Korea warned will take the peninsula to the “brink of war.”

Lee was discussing measures to counter another possible North Korean attack and studying ways to levy sanctions on the communist state, according to the officials.

On Tuesday, North Korea fired artillery on Yeonpyeong Island, a populated island in the Yellow Sea, killing four people, including two civilians.

The North Korea’s attack marked the first civilian deaths in an attack since the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987.

South Korea and the U.S. were set to launch large-scale naval exercises Sunday in another potent show of force against North Korea.

The nuclear-powered USS George Washington, with more than 6,000 sailors and 75 fighter jets aboard, prepared for the naval drills with South Korea in the Yellow Sea. The drills are set to run through Wednesday, and about 10 warships have been mobilized for the exercises.  (*)

SKorea mourns 2 marines killed in NKorea attack

Family members of Seo Jeong-woo, a South Korean marine killed in Tuesday's North Korean bombardment, cry during a funeral service at a military hospital in Seongnam, South Korea, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. South Korea honored two marines killed in the artillery attack that was one of the worst bombardments of its territory since the 1950-53 Korean War (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

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November 27, 2010 SEONGNAM, South Korea  (KATAKAMI / AP)  – South Korea’s marine commander vowed severe revenge at a funeral Saturday for two marines killed in a North Korean bombardment, as the country prepared military maneuvers with the U.S. that have enraged the North and concerned China.

The commander, Maj. Gen. You Nak-jun, said the retaliation would be “thousand-fold” as dignitaries and relatives laid white flowers at a funeral altar following Tuesday’s attack on a South Korean island, which also killed two civilians in one of the worst artillery attacks on the country’s territory since the 1950-53 Korean War.

As protesters in Seoul demanded their government take sterner action against North Korea, the North issued new warnings against the war games scheduled to start Sunday with a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea.

The North called the games an “unpardonable provocation” and warning of retaliatory attacks creating a “sea of fire” if its own territory is violated. The comments ran on North Korea’s state-run Uriminzokkiri website a day after the North’s warnings that the peninsula was on the “brink of war.”

China, under pressure from the U.S. and South Korea to rein in its ally Pyongyang, urged both sides to show restraint while Washington played down the belligerent rhetoric, noting that the weekend war games were routine and planned well before last week’s attack.

“The pressing task now is to put the situation under control and prevent a recurrence of similar incidents,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by phone, according to the ministry’s website.

The North’s artillery fire Tuesday destroyed civilian homes as well as military bases on Yeonpyeong Island in a major escalation of their sporadic skirmishes along the disputed sea border. The attack — eight months after a torpedo sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors — laid bare Seoul’s weaknesses in defense 60 years after the Korean War.

North Korea does not recognize the maritime border drawn by the U.N. at the close of the three-year war in 1953, and considers the waters around Yeonpyeong Island, just 7 miles (11 kilometers) from its shores, as its territory.

The heightened animosity between the Koreas comes as the nuclear-armed North undergoes a delicate transition of power from leader Kim Jong Il to his young, inexperienced son Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s and is expected to eventually succeed his ailing father.

Tuesday’s attack came days after North Korea revealed a new uranium enrichment program that could improve its ability to make and deliver nuclear weapons, sending the message that new regime is as tough and unpredictable as ever and highlighting the urgency of restarting disarmament talks with the North.

South Korea’s government, meanwhile, struggled to recoup from the surprise attacks, firing one defense minister and naming a new one Friday.

About former 70 special forces troops, wearing white head bands, scuffled with riot police in front of the Defense Ministry to protest what they called the government’s weak response to the attacks, pummeling the riot troops’ helmets with wooden stakes and spraying fire extinguishers.

“Let’s go!” the activists shouted.

The police, numbering several hundreds, pushed back with shields. Elsewhere in Seoul several hundred activists held a peaceful, but noisy rally to denounce North Korea.

China’s foreign minister met with the North Korean ambassador to Beijing, Chinese state media said — an apparent effort to trumpet China’s role as a responsible actor, and placate the U.S. and the South. China has expressed mild concern about the impending war games, in contrast to its strong protests over earlier rounds.

“The Chinese government is trying to send Pyongyang a signal that if they continue to be so provocative, China will just leave the North Koreans to themselves,” said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University’s Center for International and Strategic Studies.

China is impoverished North Korea’s biggest benefactor and one of its only allies.

In Washington, the Pentagon played down any notion that the weekend maneuvers with South Korea — set to include the USS George Washington supercarrier — were a provocation.

“We have exercised there regularly,” Capt. Darryn James, a Defense Department spokesman in Washington, said Friday. “And all of these exercises are in international waters.”

President Lee Myung-bak also has ordered reinforcements for the 4,000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, as well as top-level weaponry and upgraded rules of engagement.

Most of the islanders fled to the mainland after Tuesday’s hail of artillery set off fierce blazes that destroyed many of their communities. It will take six months to two years for island communities to rebuild, disaster relief official Kim Sang-ryul said.

Soldiers assembled toilets Saturday for temporary shelters being built on the island by teams of relief workers.

In Seongnam, near Seoul, South Korea’s prime minister and marine commander joined some 600 mourners attending the funeral for the two dead marines at a packed gymnasium at a military hospital.

As a brass band played somber music, they placed chrysanthemums — a traditional mourning flower — before framed photographs of the two men, posthumously promoted and awarded medals of valor. One marine’s mother pressed her hand to her mouth, and fell forward in her seat in grief.

“Our marine corps … will carry out a hundred- or thousand-fold” retaliation against North Korea for Tuesday’s attack, said You, the marine commander. He did not elaborate.

Passersby paused at Seoul’s main train station to watch funeral footage on a big screen.

“Once the enemy attacks us, it is our duty to respond even more strongly,” said student Jeon Hyun-soo, 19. “The South Korean people want this.”   (*)

Photostream : Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meets Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, welcomes Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych during their meeting in the Gorki residence outside Moscow, Friday, Nov. 26, 2010. (Getty Images / AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Dmitry Astakhov, Presidential Press Service)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) welcomes Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (C) at the Gorki residence outside Moscow on November 26, 2010 ahead of their meeting for interstates negotiations. Medvedev held talks with Yanukovych to press on with the rapid expansion of ties after the pro-Kremlin president's election earlier this year. (Photo by SERGEI CHIRIKOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych give a press conference at the Gorki residence outside Moscow on November 26, 2010. (Photo by SERGEI CHIRIKOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych exchange documents at a signing ceremony following their talks in the Gorki residence outside Moscow, Friday, Nov. 26, 2010. The talks are focused on energy and trade. The sign partly visible in the background says "Meeting of the Russian-Ukrainian intergovernment commission. Moscow, Nov. 26, 2010." (Getty Images / AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Dmitry Astakhov, Presidential Press Service)

Russian foreign minister to visit India next week

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

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November 25, 2010 (KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will travel to India on November 29 ahead of President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit in December, a ministry spokesman said.

Lavrov will meet with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna during his visit.

Russia-India relations have been blossoming in recent years, with India being one of the biggest importers of Russian military hardware.

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