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Daily Archives: February 22, 2008

Zimbabwe dialogue is “dead”, opposition

Zimbabwe's main opposition party announced yesterday the end of its dialogue on political reform with President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF ahead of next month's elections.
"The dialogue mandated on March 2007 is dead," said Welshman Ncube, secretary-general of one of the factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
He was flanked at a press conference in Johannesburg by Tendai Biti, leader of the main MDC faction.
"That dialogue was about creating the conditions for free and fair elections and incontestably the dialogue has failed," Ncube said.
The talks had been mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.
In a statement handed to journalists after the briefing, the MDC said the legislative and presidential elections set for March 29 "cannot by any stretch of the imagination yield a legitimate outcome".
Biti is secretary-general of the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai, who will challenge Mugabe for the presidency.
Ncube's faction, led by Arthur Mutumbara, has thrown its weight behind the candidacy of former finance minister Simba Makoni.
Mugabe, 84, is hoping to secure a sixth term of office as leader of the former British colony which he has ruled since independence in 1980.
Mbeki was last March appointed by the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) to mediate between the MDC and the ZANU-PF on political conditions necessary for free and fair polls.
Mbeki has repeatedly come under fire for his "softly, softly" approach towards Mugabe.
The elections are to take place against a backdrop of economic meltdown in Zimbabwe, which has an official inflation rate of more than 100,000 percent — the highest in the world.
Unemployment stands at around 80 percent, even basic foodstuffs are scare, and the general infrastructure is rapidly crumbling.

US shoots down defunct spy satellite

by Jim Mannion*

A US Navy cruiser hit a defunct US spy satellite with a single missile late Wednesday in a successful interception 133 nautical miles in space over the Pacific, the US Defence Department said.
A network of radars and satellites designed for the US missile defence system confirmed that the interception occurred at approximately 10:26 pm eastern standard time (11:26 am in Macau).
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was informed in a conference call with senior military officials "that the mission was a success, that the missile had intercepted the decaying satellite," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
"The secretary was obviously very pleased to learn that, and he congratulated General (James) Cartwright and General (Kevin) Chilton as well as their teams on a job well done," he said.
A senior Pentagon official later said the missile appeared to have struck a tank on the satellite containing a hazardous fuel, hydrazine, that the Pentagon said could threaten humans if the tank survived re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
"All indications are that the mission was a complete success. The missile appears to have destroyed the fuel tank. We will need some time to confirm the extent of destruction, but it looks good," the official said.
Gates had given the generals the go-ahead for the shoot down several hours earlier as he flew from Washington to Honolulu, a base for the three Aegis warships involved in the intercept attempt.
Morrell said Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Chilton, the head of the US Strategic Command, told Gates "the conditions were ripe for an attempt."
Seas were initially believed to be too rough but they calmed down later in the day as a six hour window opened for the attempt.
The USS Lake Erie, a guided missile cruiser, fired a single modified tactical SM-3 missile, "hitting the satellite approximately 247 kilometres (133 nautical miles) over the Pacific Ocean as it travelled in space at more than 7,000 miles (44,000 kilometres) per hour," the Pentagon said.
The objective was to hit a tank on the schoolbus-sized satellite containing 1,000 pounds of hydrazine, a fuel that the Pentagon said could pose a hazard to humans if the tank survived re-entry and landed in a populated area.
"Confirmation that the fuel tank has been fragmented should be available within 24 hours," the Pentagon statement said.
Satellite debris will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere immediately because of the relatively low altitude at which the satellite was intercepted, and most will burn up on re-entry within two days, the Pentagon said. But it could take up to 40 days for all the debris to re-enter, it said.
There was no immediate reaction from Beijing on the shoot down. China caused an international outcry when it shot down one of its own weather satellites on January 11, 2007 in what was widely seen as an anti-satellite test.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said, "The Chinese government is highly concerned over the developments and has requested that the US fulfil its international obligations in earnest and ensure that the security of outer space and relevant countries will not be undermined."
Russia's defence ministry said Sunday that it looked like a veiled weapons test and an "attempt to move the arms race into space."
US officials have insisted that the aim was to prevent potential risk to humans on Earth from the de-orbiting satellite, and not to test an anti-satellite weapon or keep its secrets from falling into the wrong hands.
Admiral Timothy Keating, the head of the US Pacific command, acknowledged similarities with the Chinese shoot down but said this one was significantly different because the United States gave public notice first.
"They just shot, they didn't tell anybody about it. Not even all of them knew about it," he said of the Chinese.
Keating said he has been in contact with his counterparts in the region about the operation.
Their response has been, "Thanks for the call, good luck, keep us posted," he said.
The Lake Erie was carrying two missiles in case the first attempt failed. The USS Decatur, an Aegis destroyer, was armed with a third missile, while the Aegis destroyer USS Russell tracked the event from pierside in Pearl Harbour.
The warships are equipped with powerful radars capable of tracking a medium range missile warhead in space, and are armed with SM-3 interceptor missiles.
Software changes were made to the missile used in the shoot down so that it could recognize a satellite as its target rather than a ballistic missile.