DRESDEN, Germany

France, Germany oppose U.S. resolution

France and Germany refused yesterday to support a U.S. draft
resolution that would spread the burden of running postwar Iraq,
but said they believed a compromise was possible.

French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder demanded that Washington give the United Nations more
influence in Iraq’s political future. Their stance threatened to
reopen a barely healed trans-Atlantic rift over their ardent
opposition to the Iraq war.

Under the draft resolution circulated Wednesday at the United
Nations, Washington seeks money and troops from other countries but
would not cede political or military control in Iraq.

Chirac seemed particularly critical of the U.S. initiative and
was adamant that the draft foresee the United States’ giving up
control of the political process in Iraq. France is one of five
permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, meaning it has veto
power over council actions.

Yet Chirac and Schroeder, meeting in Dresden for informal
consultations, struck a conciliatory note. They said they saw a
chance to negotiate a compromise at the United Nations, where talks
over the draft are expected to be tough and lengthy.

Schroeder also said the proposal fell short, but welcomed it as
“showing there is some movement.”

“We are naturally ready to study it in the most positive
manner,” Chirac told reporters. “But we are quite far removed from
what we believe is the priority objective, which is the transfer of
political responsibility to an Iraqi government as quickly as
possible.”

Schroeder added – “I agree with the president when he says – Not
dynamic enough, not sufficient.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that Chirac and Schroeder
didn’t present a timetable for Iraqis to take control of their
country. Still, he said Washington is “more than happy to listen to
their suggestions.”

“I don’t sense from their statement that they said what exactly
they are looking for or who they would turn it over to if we were
turning it over right away,” Powell said in Washington.

The United States favors having Iraqis themselves come up with a
political transition plans, Powell said.

Chirac and Schroeder sidestepped questions about whether they
might send troops to Iraq under any condition.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Yesterday he would
not rule out sending peacekeepers to Iraq as part of an
international force, a strong signal that Moscow’s stance was
edging closer to Washington’s.

“It all depends on a specific resolution. I wouldn’t exclude it
outright,” Ivanov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news
agency.

France, Russia, India and other countries, including Arab
nations, have ruled out contributing soldiers to Iraq unless the
United Nations authorizes a a multinational force.

Germany has said it is ready in principle to help rebuild Iraq
but has no plans for a military engagement in Iraq.

Addressing the point more directly, German Defense Minister
Peter Struck, speaking in Strasbourg, France, said no German troops
would be sent in under the current U.S. proposal.

“For the German side, I can say that the situation has not
changed even with this reflection by the Americans,” Struck told a
news conference. “So long as the legal situation in Iraq has not
changed … there is no point in discussing this subject” of German
troops.

Syria, a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq and the only Arab
member of the Security Council, cautiously welcomed the U.S.
proposal, saying it should be looked at positively. But the
commentary on state-controlled Damascus Radio also called the draft
“inadequate” for insisting on keeping U.S. military control of
postwar Iraq and refusing to give the United Nations a “full
role.”

At the United Nations, Germany’s Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said
the U.S. draft was a good basis for negotiations, a view shared by
many other Security Council members.

“We will see in the negotiations in the next days how far we can
get,” Pleuger said. “It’s a good working basis but it certainly can
be improved.”

Echoing the French and German position, many council nations
stressed that the key issues will be the U.N. role in Iraq and the
degree of power the United States will be prepared to
relinquish.

Mexico’s U.N. Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, whose country
opposed the war, said the thrust of a new resolution must be “the
restoration of the full sovereignty of Iraqis.”

“I think the issue of the U.N. role is going to be an important
source of discussion,” he said. “The philosophical view of Mexico
is that this is a job for the United Nations.”

 

RAMALLAH, West Bank

Abbas confronts Palestinian parliament

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas asked parliament
yesterday to either support him or strip him of his post, saying
infighting is keeping him from making progress on a U.S.-backed
peace plan.

Weakened by a power struggle with Yasser Arafat, Abbas told
legislators he must be given full power to carry out reforms
required by the “road map” peace plan. If the demand is met, Abbas
would have a stronger hand against militants he is pressing to stop
attacks against Israelis. Abbas, summing up his first 100 days in
office, stopped short of seeking a vote of confidence that could
topple him, but said he is leaving his future in parliament’s
hands.

“I am not attached to this post and I am not (making) and will
not make any effort to keep this post. It is a difficult mission
that many describe as impossible,” Abbas said.

At the start of the parliamentary session, about 200 activists
in Arafat’s Fatah movement demonstrated in support of their leader.
Seven masked men from the crowd broke down a door to the building
and smashed windows before unarmed guards forced them out.

Also yesterday, Palestinian gunmen shot and killed an Israeli
soldier in an ambush near the West Bank town of Jenin. The Al Aqsa
Martyrs’ Brigade, an armed group loosely linked to Fatah, claimed
responsibility.

Parliament scheduled a closed-door session Saturday to meet with
Abbas again and discuss his demands, after which legislators were
to decide whether to hold a confidence vote – possibly by next
week. Several legislators said they feared a vote would be too
divisive and said one might not be called at all.

Abbas’ appeal is the latest chapter in a power struggle that
began just after Arafat, under strong international pressure,
appointed him in April. The two wrangled over Abbas’ Cabinet
choices and Arafat has refused to give him complete control over
Palestinian security forces.

Abbas would have more sway over militant groups like Hamas and
Islamic Jihad if he fully controlled the armed services, but Arafat
doesn’t want to give up one of his last concrete sources of
power.

In his speech, Abbas only hinted at his conflict with Arafat,
saying there were “problems” between his government and the
Palestinian leadership.

Yet, he said that “without a legitimate force in the hands of
one authority … we will not advance one step on the political
track” – a reference to the road map, which foresees Palestinian
statehood by 2005.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher
praised Abbas for pursuing progress on the peace plan and seeking
to unify security forces. The Palestinians, Boucher said, “can only
get a state by ending terrorism.”

At the United Nations, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in
a statement yesterday the road map “remains, if fully and fairly
implemented, the best way to reach an independent and viable
Palestinian state.”

“We must not allow the renewed cycle of deadly violence to
divert us from it,” the statement said. It was read by Kieran
Prendergast, undersecretary-general for political affairs, to a
forum organized by the U.N. Committee on the Inalienable Rights of
the Palestinian People.

The road map requires that the Palestinians dismantle militant
groups. Abbas has said he wants to persuade them to disarm, but
told parliament he will not order a crackdown.

“This government does not deal with the opposition groups with a
policing mentality, but with a mentality of dialogue,” he said.

Getting parliament’s support would help Abbas in his
confrontation with Arafat. Defeat would allow him to step down
without being blamed for the consequences, such as the possible
collapse of the road map.

Though Abbas has little support among Palestinians, there
appears to be a widespread understanding that his ouster could deal
a heavy blow to efforts toward statehood.

Israel has warned of dire consequences if Abbas is ousted,
saying it will not do business with a government picked by Arafat.
Several Palestinian legislators have said U.S. diplomats told them
Washington might lower its profile as a Mideast mediator if Abbas
is toppled.

Abbas portrayed a unilateral cease-fire, declared by the armed
groups June 29, as his main achievement so far. He accused Israel
of sabotaging the truce with arrest raids, and of evading its
obligations under the peace plan.

Militants carried out reprisal bombings for the Israeli raids,
including one Aug. 19 in which 21 people were killed on a bus.
Israel, in response, killed a senior Hamas leader in a missile
strike, prompting Hamas and Islamic Jihad to abandon the truce.

Abbas said the United States did not do enough to stop what he
called “Israeli provocations” during the period of relative
calm.

Israel also has not frozen Jewish settlement construction in the
West Bank and Gaza, or dismantled settlement outposts established
since 2001, as called for by the road map.

Abbas assured legislators he respects Arafat’s position as
elected leader. He renewed a call for the United States to rethink
its policy of refusing to work with Arafat, who has been confined
to his West Bank headquarters by Israeli troops for nearly two
years.

The Palestinian U.N. representative, Nasser al-Kidwa, said the
Palestinians remain committed to the road map.

“What is necessary now is to revitalize the road map,” he said.
“It needs a new beginning – but a serious beginning, involving the
genuine commitment on both sides to comply with the road map. We
are ready to do that.”

Also Yesterday, Abbas announced the appointment of legislator
and Arafat confidant Saeb Erekat as chief of negotiations with
Israel. In May, Erekat resigned as Cabinet minister in charge of
negotiations after Abbas excluded him from a summit with Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In the West Bank near Jenin, meanwhile, Palestinian youths
hurled stones at troops who were searching for militants, and
soldiers returned fire with rubber bullets, witnesses said. One
14-year-old boy was wounded in the abdomen, hospital officials
said.

 

WASHINGTON

House approves pay raise for Congress

The House approved a 2.2 percent pay raise for Congress
yesterday – slightly less than average wage increases in private
business but enough to boost lawmakers’ annual salaries to about
$158,000 next year.

The House members decided to allow themselves a fifth straight
cost-of-living raise after rejecting them for several years during
the 1990s. Their annual pay has risen from $136,700 in 1999 to
about $158,000 in 2004, if the legislation clears Congress and is
signed by the president. Their salary this year is $154,700.

As in past years, the congressional COLA was automatically
included as part of pay increases that all federal civilian and
military employees will receive. According to the Bureau of Labor
Statistics, wages among all non-government workers rose an average
2.7 percent from July 2002 through June 2003.

Both the House and Senate, ignoring a White House recommendation
that civilian pay raises be held down next year, have decided on
4.1 percent raises for almost all federal workers.

The pay increases are part of an $89.3 billion spending bill for
the 2004 budget year for Transportation and Treasury Department
programs. A vote on the spending bill was expected late yesterday.
The spending bill has yet to reach the Senate floor.

Only one House member – Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) – voiced
objections to the congressional increase during the debate.

“We are fighting terrorism on numerous fronts and our economy is
in serious trouble, unemployment is at record high levels and our
future budget deficits are predicted to be the highest in the
history of this great nation,” Matheson said. “Now is not the time
for members of Congress to be voting themselves a pay raise.”

By a 240-173 vote, the House rejected Matheson’s procedural
attempt to get a direct vote on the pay raise for lawmakers.

Without counting outside sources of income, the earnings of
members of Congress rank within the top 5 percent of the
nation.

The 2.2 percent increase – calculated through a formula – would
also apply to the vice president, congressional leaders and Supreme
Court justices. This year, Vice President Cheney, top leaders in
the House and Senate and the chief justice receive $198,600.
Associate justices of the Supreme Court get $190,100 and the House
majority and minority leaders receive $171,900.

President Bush’s $400,000 salary is unaffected by the
legislation.

Lawmakers’ salaries were frozen at $133,600 from 1993 to 1997,
stood at $136,700 the next two years and have risen annually since
then.

The 4.1 percent raise for military personnel and more than 1
million civilian workers more than doubles the 2 percent
recommended by President Bush, who cited the costs of the war on
terrorism last month in seeking a lower rate. Members of Congress,
who have the final say unless Bush vetoes the legislation, have
long argued that there should be parity between military and
civilian pay raises.

The White House, in a statement, said the proposed 4.1 percent
increase exceeds the president’s request by $2.1 billion, exceeds
the inflation rate “and even exceeds the average increase in
private-sector pay.”

It also said the administration was “extremely disappointed”
that the bill does not fund Bush’s request for a $500 million fund
to target pay raises to employees demonstrating high
performance.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, whose Maryland district
includes many federal workers, opposed the president’s proposal,
saying that “his decision to invoke a national emergency to provide
an inadequate pay raise for the very men and women who are
confronting that emergency on a daily basis smacks of
indifference.”

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who has contested congressional pay
raises in the past, intends to oppose it again when it reaches the
Senate floor, his office said.

 

WASHINGTON

Democrats contest limits on gay unions

Democratic senators said yesterday they opposed a constitutional
amendment to preserve the definition of marriage as a man-woman
union, saying the law defining marriage as such is not at risk.
They were responding to witnesses in a Judiciary subcommittee
hearing who pushed for an amendment because they believe the law
may soon be challenged in court.

“No courts have questioned that law … I don’t think anyone has
seriously suggested that law is in danger,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy
(D-Vt.).

The law, known as the Defense of Marriage Act, was passed in
1996. It denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and
allows states to ignore same-sex unions allowed elsewhere. Some
politicians, including President Bush, have been concerned that
U.S. courts might overturn the federal law.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said he organized the
hearing to determine whether more laws were needed to strengthen
the Defense of Marriage Act. He insisted it was not intended to
consider a constitutional amendment.

But Democrats said it is the ultimate goal of some
Republicans.

Though no amendment has been proposed in the Senate, a measure
was introduced in the House.

Supporters of an amendment said it is needed to protect children
and to help stem the disintegration of families.

Maggie Gallagher, president if the Institute for Marriage and
Public Policy, testified that marriage is a key social institution
for the protection of children.

Other witnesses said it is only a matter of time before the
traditional marriage definition is challenged, particularly as
states pass laws recognizing gay marriages. The Supreme Court
recently struck down a Texas law that made homosexual sex a crime,
overturning an earlier ruling that said states could punish
homosexuals for having sex.

Among the opponents of an amendment was Keith Bradkowski, the
partner of Jeff Collman, an American Airlines pilot who was on the
first of the four planes hijacked by terrorists in the Sept. 11
attack.

Bradkowski said he had a committed relationship with Collman
though they were never legally able to marry. He described his
difficulties proving his relationship with Collman after his death,
such as trying to obtain a death certificate. He said the
definition of marriage should be left to the states.

“Jeff and I only sought to love and take care of each other. I
do not understand why that is a threat to some people,” he
said.

 

NEWARK, N.J.

Officials note rise in freight-train robberies

Instead of six-shooters and horses, these modern-day train
robbers use two-way radios, night-vision goggles and bolt cutters.
Train robbery, a quintessentially 19th-century crime, is rolling on
into the 21st century.

But along with the technology, the targets have changed –
instead of gold and cash, today freight trains loaded with such
merchandise as electronics, cigarettes and tires are the lure.

“If you can sell it on the street easy, they’ll get it,” said
James Beach, a captain for the Union Pacific railroad police in
Fort Worth, Texas.

Recently, law enforcement agents launched a sting operation
along the U.S.-Texas border after Union Pacific suffered 122
robberies and 87 burglaries in nine months near El Paso, Texas.

Law enforcement authorities have responded with advanced
technology of their own. Just as Pinkerton men used the newfangled
telegraph to track Cassidy, yesterday’s railroad police use
computers to pinpoint where cargo disappeared, and infrared scopes
that reveal people hiding in rail yards.

Most freight bandits are hit-and-run artists whose strikes have
little planning, such as those conducted by street gangs in Chicago
and Los Angeles, or by Mexican gangs that dash across the border in
Texas and New Mexico.

Many such gangs do not measure up in sophistication to the
Conrail Boyz, a ring centered in northern New Jersey. It took its
name from a railroad that operated freight routes in the Northeast
up until the 1990s.

Steven Hanes, director of Norfolk Southern’s police force,
pronounced the Conrail Boyz the “largest single gang ever to attack
North American railroads.”

Conrail police had made dozens of arrests of Conrail Boyz since
1992, but mostly on relatively light charges, and they were back on
the streets quickly. Over the summer, though, 24 alleged members
were charged in a racketeering indictment and all but one of them
were rounded up.

The Conrail Boyz helped make Newark – which has the East Coast’s
busiest container port and is served by hundreds of trains – a
hotbed of train robbery.

Other lucrative areas for theft include Chicago, Dallas, East
St. Louis, Ill., and Memphis, Tenn., because the freight lines run
through poor and usually rough parts of town.

“Our trains have to move slowly through some areas, and these
young gang bangers will jump on moving trains, grab stuff, throw it
off, and run away,” Beach said. Engineers often cannot see the
thieves, because freight trains can be 150 cars long.

In the case of the Conrail Boyz, train jumpers would find out
which container cars had valuable cargo, then radio the information
to cohorts. The cohorts would then pose as rail workers and ask
dispatchers which siding the train was headed for. Once the train
had stopped, the thieves would toss the merchandise into
trucks.

The gang went for designer clothes and other merchandise. In one
brazen heist, members drove a container with 17,496 Sony
PlayStation units worth $5 million out of the Jersey City rail yard
in 2001, according to Norfolk Southern police. The gang then fenced
the stolen goods.

Train robberies are rare, considering the billions of dollars of
cargo rolling on 173,000 miles of rail in North America. Freight
losses to theft and pilferage have been conservatively estimated at
$9.5 million to $14.6 million a year over the past six years,
hitting $11.4 million in 2002, according to the Association of
American Railroads. That is just a fraction of a percent of the
industry’s 2002 revenue of $42.9 billion.

Beach said he believes that theft is more common now than in the
post-Civil War era of the James Gang, if only because the country
has grown in population and there is so much more track.

Violence is sporadic, a far cry from the Wild West days.
Strictly speaking, much of the railroad thievery these days is
burglary and not robbery. The Conrail Boyz did not carry guns in
order to avoid long prison sentences, investigators said.

One alleged member of the Conrail Boyz is charged with crashing
a getaway car into a vehicle driven by a Conrail sergeant, and
Mongon, 28, is accused of putting out a $1,000 contract to have
someone assault a Conrail lieutenant.

Mongon is awaiting trial. His lawyer, Arthur J. Abrams, declined
to comment.

A day before authorities busted the Conrail Boyz, two Mexican
men were sentenced in New Mexico to two years in prison for their
roles in a clash with two FBI agents during a foiled train robbery
along the border. The agents were pummeled with rocks and beaten
last year.

Law enforcement agents launched the sting operation along the
border after Union Pacific suffered 122 robberies, 87 burglaries
and 19 rock-throwing incidents in nine months in the area west of
El Paso, Texas.

– Compiled from Daily wire reports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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