Rabu, 16 Juli 2008

Casino regulators got items meant for Katrina victims

(CNN) -- The agency that regulates Mississippi's casinos got pillows, stoves, dinnerware and other items meant for Hurricane Katrina victims, according to state records obtained by CNN.The Mississippi Gaming Commission was among 11 state agencies that received the household items from the state's surplus agency.

A breakdown of what each agency received shows the commission took a coffee maker, a case of pillows, wash kits, two dual-burner stoves, plates and utensils, two cases of hand sanitizers and 20 five-gallon containers.

Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, could not be reached for comment. But an aide, Becky Clark, said the agency is keeping the items "in case of another hurricane."

The Mississippi Department of Corrections also got 20 coffee makers, 15 tents, four cases of pillows, five cases of men's underwear and other supplies.

A CNN investigation revealed in June that for two years after Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency stored 121 truckloads of household items that were purchased or donated for Katrina victims. FEMA eventually declared the items surplus, saying it was too expensive to keep warehousing them, and then offered them to federal agencies and states. Sixteen states, including storm-ravaged Mississippi, took the items. However, CNN discovered that those items were given to the 11 state agencies, schools, cities and fire departments rather than being distributed to residents trying to rebuild their homes.

Leaders of nonprofit groups helping Katrina victims were astounded when CNN showed them photos of the FEMA supplies. All said they were unaware that such supplies were available.

In response to the CNN stories, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said he will hold a hearing on the matter. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, says he plans to ask FEMA officials why the supplies were stored for two years


US 'ponders Iran diplomatic base'

The US state department has refused to confirm or deny reports of plans to establish a US diplomatic presence in Iran for the first time in 30 years.

The UK's Guardian newspaper said the US would announce plans for an interests section in Tehran in the next month.

Officials said recently this was being discussed but not actively worked on.

The report coincides with another shift in US approach towards Iran, with a top US diplomat planning to attend talks in Geneva with the Iranians on Saturday.

With no official confirmation and crucially no denial about US plans to open an interest section in Tehran, it may well be that something is brewing.

It is an idea that has been floating around Washington for a few weeks already.

In response to this latest report, the state department sent out a note with past comments made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Last month, she simply said that while US policy towards Iran was known and unchanged, the Iranian people deserved better.

Ms Rice added that the US was determined to find ways to reach out to the Iranian people and wanted more Iranians to visit the US.

Conservative critics

While Washington still insists Iran must suspend uranium enrichment - a process the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons - there seems to be a significant change in US tone.

Tehran has an interests section in Washington, where it processes visa applications and which gives it a presence on the ground in the US.

But the US has not had a diplomatic presence in Iran since the hostage crisis in 1979 and Iranians have to go to Dubai to get US visas.

The talks in Geneva on Saturday will be the first time in 30 years that such a high-ranking US diplomat - the third-most senior in the US - has met Iranian officials.

Washington insists that US participation in the talks is a one-time deal and that the diplomat, Under Secretary of State William Burns, will be listening, not negotiating.

This has not stopped conservative observers in Washington from criticising the Bush administration for "going soft" on Tehran.


Malaysia's Anwar released on bail

Malaysian police have released opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on bail after he was arrested over allegations of sodomy.

His lawyers said he had left custody, but could still face charges.

He spent a night in detention having been arrested by police for questioning over the allegations, on which he had been due to make a statement.

Mr Anwar urged his supporters to remain calm. He denies the allegations, saying they are politically-motivated.

The former deputy prime minister is expected to hold a news conference at 1400 local time (0600 GMT).

His arrest is likely to exacerbate the political tensions that have emerged since the opposition's unprecedented gains in the general election of March 2008.

The 60-year-old has been in a tense stand-off with police since a former male aide accused him of sodomy two weeks ago.

Sodomy, even between consenting adults, is a crime in Malaysia and is punishable by 20 years' imprisonment in the Muslim-majority country.

Intense pressure

Mr Anwar's arrest will have been seen as provocative by Malaysian opposition groups, says the BBC's Robin Brant in Kuala Lumpur.

When he was arrested on similar charges 10 years ago, his supporters staged large demonstrations. They had promised to do the same this time but, so far, no big protests have taken place, our correspondent says.

Only a handful of supporters gathered outside the police headquarters where he was held overnight, Reuters reports, despite calls by the opposition for a show of support.

Mr Anwar has given a statement to police but refused to provide a DNA sample, the AFP news agency quotes his lawyers as saying.

Under the bail conditions, he is required to report back to police on 18 August.

Mr Anwar has said the allegations are part of a conspiracy to try to derail his efforts to bring down the government after his significant gains in the general election.

The sodomy accusations came only weeks after Mr Anwar said he was in a position to launch a challenge to the ruling coalition, with the help of government defectors.

The opposition leader made his claim at a time when Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is already under intense pressure to resign over poor election results and high fuel prices.

Mr Abdullah has said he will leave office in 2010, defying pressure to step down this December.