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Daily Archives: June 29, 2007

‘Explosive device’ made safe at London landmark

by Phil Hazlewood*

Police cordoned off a London tourist hotspot yesterday after making safe what they called a "potentially viable explosive device".
There was widespread disruption across the centre of London because of the security alert which came just ahead of the second anniversary of the July 7, 2005 attacks that killed 56 people, and just two days into Gordon Brown's premiership.
Defence Secretary Des Browne told BBC radio: "It does appear to be a very serious incident."
Police said they were called to The Haymarket, near the Piccadilly Circus landmark and the British capital's main theatre district, just before 2:00 am (0100 GMT) because of a suspiciously parked car. "As a precautionary measure the immediate area was cordoned off while the vehicle was examined by explosives officers," they said in a statement.
"They discovered what appeared to be a potentially viable explosive device. This was made safe."
No details were released about the device. A spokesman said more information would be released later.
As the government's emergency contingencies committee, COBRA, prepared to meet, BBC and Sky News television said, without quoting sources, that the devices were gas canisters.
One unnamed eyewitness told Sky News that door staff at a nightclub on Haymarket alerted police after a large silver saloon car was driven erratically before smashing into bins outside a foreign currency exchange bureau.
The driver then left the scene.
The alert, in a zone normally packed with tourists, theatre-goers and revellers, brought heavy traffic congestion to the heart of London's West End and disruption on the London Underground.
A blue tent covering what is believed to be the car was in place behind police tape and what appeared to be plain clothes police were present, television pictures showed.
Britain has been on the second highest level of security alert — "severe" — since the British Islamist extremist bombers detonated homemade bombs on three Underground trains and a bus two years ago.
Two of the bombers justified the actions because of Britain's involvement in Iraq, where three British soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack Thursday.
The domestic intelligence service MI5 said a "severe" threat level means there is a "serious and sustained threat from international terrorism to the UK and UK interests overseas".
MI5 said on its website: "The most significant terrorist threat comes from Al-Qaeda and associated networks."
There is also threat from the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
But an unnamed intelligence source, quoted by Britain's domestic Press Association news agency, said: "All options, including the Irish, are open at this stage."
Britain's new Justice Secretary Jack Straw told BBC radio that the government, led by Brown since Wednesday, had been informed of the security alert.
Straw, a former home and foreign secretary, whose time in the latter post was dominated by the Iraq war, declined to comment further. "It's really for the police to make statement when they judge the time is right."


Disgraced Israeli president resigns

Disgraced Israeli president Moshe Katsav yesterday submitted his resignation, one day after he signed a controversial plea bargain that will see him convicted of sexual offences, an advisor said.
Katsav, who temporarily suspended himself from duty in January in the wake of the investigation, sent the letter of resignation to parliament speaker Dalia Itzik, a senior aide to Katsav told AFP.
"Katsav sent a letter to the Knesset speaker where he requests to quit the presidency in the wake of the plea bargain," the aide said.
The 61-year-old Iranian-born president on Thursday signed a plea bargain under which he admitted to a series of sex offences, including harassment and indecent acts but which dropped two rape charges, sparking a wave of protest. The bargain will nonetheless see the scandal-ridden Katsav become Israel's first head of state convicted of sex offences.
His resignation will take effect within 48 hours, after which Itzik will be named interim president and the state prosecution will indict Katsav.
He will end his full seven-year term some two weeks before Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres takes office as his successor, having been elected Israel's ninth president earlier this month.
Katsav agreed to a suspended prison sentence and a fine of 11,000 dollars in damages but dodged a possible jail term if convicted of rape.
The deal has been slammed as an injustice by the prosecution, women's activists and the local media.