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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Michael's Afternoon 7 - 3 June

It is important to note that "if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world". So says President Barack Obama. Or I should say: Barack Hussein Obama. That's right: Barack Hussein Obama. Say it proud. Say it out loud. The middle moniker that dared not speak its name during the election campaign is now front and centre of the US president's attempt to woo the Muslim world, the theme of his visits to Riyadh on Wednesday and Cairo on Thursday. Petrified of the potential political fallout of being branded a Muslim, Candidate Obama - a practicing Christian - never used the name "Hussein" and its use was frowned upon as a forbidden code for the nutty accusation that he was some kind of Islamic Manchurian candidate. No more. To say Barack Hussein Obama - BHO for short - now appears to be the height of political correctness. In an interview with France's Canal Plus released on Tuesday evening, he suggested that the United States might be a Muslim country. If we assume there are six million Muslims in the US, that makes it only the 34th biggest Muslim country in the world - behind Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, China, Ethiopia, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Tanzania, Syria, Malaysia, Niger, Senegal, Ghana, Tunisia, Somalia, Guinea, Kenya, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Burkina Faso and Tajikistan.

As president Barack Obama began an historic visit to the Middle East, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden accused the American leader of following the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush in "antagonising Muslims". A voice message attributed to Bin Laden was broadcast on the Arab network, Al-Jazeera, as he arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. "He has followed the steps of his predecessor in antagonising Muslims ... and laying the foundation for long wars," Bin Laden purportedly said in the tape. "Obama and his administration have sowed new seeds of hatred against America." Bin Laden said in an apparent reference to what he claimed to be US support to Pakistan in its offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley. Bin Laden warned the American people against the risk of extended war conducted by different US administrations. "Let the American people prepare to 'harvest the crops' of what the leaders of the White House plant in the next years and decades," he said. Earlier, Bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged Egyptians to shun Obama, saying his Middle East trip was at the invitation of the "torturers of Egypt" and the "slaves of America". In a taped message released overnight, al-Zawahiri dubbed Obama a "criminal" who "is not welcome in Egypt".

North Korea has started to assemble a long-range missile which is capable of reaching the United States. The missile is believed to be a version of the rocket which North Korea fired in April. It has a range of up to 65,000 kilometers, which would put the American state of Alaska within reach. U.S. military officials also confirm that an intercontinental ballistic missile was being prepared at the base in the north-west of the country. But the Pentagon says American anti-missile defense systems are capable of intercepting the North Korean rocket.

Archaeologists are currently exploring, trying to map and preserve one of the oldest known submerged cities in the world, the ancient town of Pavlopetri located near Neapolis, the southernmost town of mainland Greece in the Peloponnese. The site is submerged in about three to four meters of water, and covers an area of about 500 square metres, about 50-60 metres offshore. There are about 15 buildings made up of three or four rooms, some streets, rock-cut tombs and courtyards – and there could be more underneath, because so far there has been no excavation. Some ruins date from at least 2800 BC, but we think the town Pavlopetri itself dates from the Mycenaean period, about 1600–1100 BC. Pavlopetri was presumably once a thriving harbour town where the inhabitants conducted local and long distance trade throughout the Mediterranean — its sandy and well-protected bay would have been ideal for beaching Bronze Age ships. As such the site offers major new insights into the workings of Mycenaean society.

Authorities from Belgrade and Pristina have pledged to do more to address the problem of persons unaccounted for in connection with the events that took place in Kosovo between January 1998 and December 2000. The commitment was made during today's meeting in Belgrade of the working group on people unaccounted for in Kosovo, which is chaired by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). During the meeting, both sides provided information on potential new gravesites that may contain the remains of missing persons, and reaffirmed their resolve to further address this pressing humanitarian issue. According to the working group's provisional list, the number of persons unaccounted for in connection with the Kosovo conflict stands at 1,904. In June 2007, the figure stood at 2,047. In addition to the delegations from Belgrade and Pristina, today's working group meeting was attended by representatives of the European Union, Germany, the International Commission for Missing Persons, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Russia and the United States, and by representatives of family associations and the Red Cross.

In May the Russian Federation performed the functions of the President of the UN Security Council. The Russian presidency was aimed at strengthening the Council’s role in the maintenance of international peace and security and at increasing the promptitude and effectiveness of its efforts in the conditions of the new threats and challenges confronting the international community. The work of the UNSC under Russian chairmanship was intensive and embraced a broad range of problems. Approximately thirty Council meetings took place. Two resolutions were adopted along with six official Presidential Statements. One of the important events in the work of the UNSC in May was the open meeting on counterterrorism. The debate contributed to solving the tasks in improving the sanctions regime against the Taliban and Al-Qaida; suppressing terrorist elements’ access to WMD; reinforcing the UN legislative and administrative mechanisms and streamlining their coordination. An important resolution, to extend the mandate of the UN Forces in Cyprus, was adopted. It reaffirms the principles for settling the Cyprus problem on the basis of the appropriate Security Council resolutions, and expresses support to the negotiation process being conducted between the Cypriot communities’ leaders.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will start visiting other local Orthodox churches in early July, a spokesman for the Secretariat for Inter-Orthodox Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, said. "These visits will be performed in line with the authorized list, the diptych," he told Interfax-Religion on Wednesday. By tradition, the head of one Orthodox Church visits the territories of others as they are listed in the diptych. The diptych currently has 15 Church jurisdictions: the Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russian, Georgian, Serb, Romanian, Bulgarian, Cypriot, Greek, Albanian and Polish Orthodox churches, the Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and Slovakia, and the Orthodox Church in America.