October 2006


SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has established secret towns with thousands of closely guarded residents whose sole mission is to develop nuclear weapons, a South Korean lawmaker said on Tuesday.

Up to 36,000 people, including the North’s top nuclear scientists and their families, live in the villages in complete isolation in the already reclusive country, Conservative Grand National Party lawmaker Song Young-sun said in a report.

“The areas where they reside are cut off from the outside — not only geographically but also in terms of contact and communication with outsiders,” Song’s report said.

“All actions are heavily monitored,” it said, adding that a special branch of the all-powerful ruling party was responsible for the top-secret project.

One of Song’s aides said the 20-page report was compiled by the lawmaker and her staff from information collected from various sources including government agencies.

Imagine living in a house “in complete isolation” in an “already reclusive country.”  I’ll bet that wreaks havoc on resale value.

See full article here.

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Happy Halloween, folks:

The federal government is investigating the takeover last year of a leading American manufacturer of electronic voting systems by a small software company that has been linked to the leftist Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez.

The inquiry is focusing on the Venezuelan owners of the software company, the Smartmatic Corporation, and is trying to determine whether the government in Caracas has any control or influence over the firm’s operations, government officials and others familiar with the investigation said.

The inquiry on the eve of the midterm elections is being conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or Cfius, the same panel of 12 government agencies that reviewed the abortive attempt by a company in Dubai to take over operations at six American ports earlier this year.

The committee’s formal inquiry into Smartmatic and its subsidiary, Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, Calif., was first reported Saturday in The Miami Herald.

Full article here.

Fully one quarter of Americans describe themselves as Evangelical Christians, and their support for the president remains rock solid.

Cornerstone Church, a vast squat white temple in San Antonio, is rapidly becoming the movement’s epicentre, thanks to the charismatic founder, Pastor John Hagee, the rising star of America’s TV evangelists. For these evangelists, the war in Iraq is not a disaster, but the beginning of the fulfilment of biblical prophecies that culminate, possibly very soon, in a mighty struggle between good and evil at Armageddon.

This belief lies at the core of the teachings of the bespectacled pastor, who argues that Christians and Jews must make common cause against forces of darkness he identifies as Arabs, Russians and even a future president of the EU. Christians who fail in their duty will be “left behind” when the obedient are summoned to heaven.

“Listen up, president of Iran,” booms the pastor. “We are going to be your worst nightmare, Mr Ahmadinejad. The pharaoh threatened Israel, he ended up fish-food in the sea. When you say Israel is going to disappear in a sudden storm you may be predicting the way you disappear.”

Full article here.

Via Reuters:

RIYADH, Oct 27 (Reuters) – Top world oil exporter Saudi Arabia said on Friday it was taking measures to protect its oil and economic installations from a “terrorist threat.”

Western naval forces in the Gulf have been deployed to counter a possible seaborne threat to Saudi Arabia’s Ras Tanura oil terminal.

“The terrorist threat to the kingdom’s economic installation exists and it is a declared goal of the straying faction to affect the interests of the Saudi citizen,” an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

“Saudi security forces are cooperating and coordinating with the Saudi navy to take the necessary security measures,” he told Reuters.

Meanwhile, from London:

Oil prices rose slightly Friday amid fears of terror attack on the Gulf oil terminals.

New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in December, climbed 39 cents to close at 60.75 dollars a barrel.

In London, Brent North Sea crude for December delivery rose 31 cents to settle at 61.08 dollars a barrel.

Full article here.

The dollar is still the world’s reserve currency, even though it hasn’t deserved this status for a long time. The devaluation of the dollar can’t be stopped — it can only be deferred. The result could be a world economic crisis.

Full article, “America and the Dollar Illusion” from der Spiegel, here.

NORTH Korea looks to be facing its worst winter since the mass famines of the mid-1990s and China must stand ready to accept a flood of refugees into its northeast, international agencies are warning.

Pyongyang’s restrictions on foreign relief work, foreign food-aid cutbacks, destructive summer floods and the indirect effects of international sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s October 9 nuclear test are combining to threaten the North with widespread starvation, possibly within three months.

The International Crisis Group, in a report to be released today, warns that conditions that have developed since late last year “could be the perfect storm presaging return to famine and a new exodus to China”.

See full article here.

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Angry villagers seized three Shell oil platforms in the volatile Niger Delta on Wednesday, forcing production to be shut down at each, the company said.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC officials declined to say how much oil had been cut off after the platforms were attacked. Chevron Corp. said it shut down a platform in the area as a precaution.

Shell said in a statement that members of the Kula community living near Shell’s Ekulama 1, Ekulama 2 and Belema oil pumping stations invaded the facilities Wednesday, accusing the oil giant of failing to meet the terms of an agreement to provide them aid.

“We had to shut the facilities,” the statement said, giving no other details.

Femi Odumabo, a spokesman for Chevron in Nigeria, said his company shut down its Robertkiri platform in the same area after protesters took over the Shell installations.

“Our action was pre-emptive. We shut down because we didn’t want them to take over our facility,” said Odumabo.

See full article here.

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