Muslim cleric suspected of terrorism loses bail appeal in London

Abu Qatada, a A Muslim cleric imprisoned on suspicion of terrorism in Britain and convicted in absentia in Jordan on similar charges, will remain in a British jail while awaiting a hearing on his appeal of an extradition order, a judge said
LONDON -- A Muslim cleric imprisoned on suspicion of terrorism in Britain and convicted in absentia in Jordan on similar charges will remain in a British jail while awaiting a hearing on his appeal of an extradition order, a judge said Monday during a bail hearing.

Judge John Mittings of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission said at the hearing that Abu Qatada's case against deportation to Jordan, his homeland, would be heard in mid-October, with a final verdict a month later. In the meantime, the cleric will remain in a high-security jail, the judge ordered.  

Qatada's defense lawyers said they would need until late September to assemble further evidence, delaying the British Home Office's efforts to deport the 51-year-old cleric any sooner.

The bail hearing was conducted behind closed doors as the court heard reports from intelligence officers. The judge eventually ruled that he could not risk releasing the cleric during the next few months while London is hosting the Summer Olympics.

A Home Office statement said: "Qatada is a dangerous man and we are pleased the court agreed with us that he should remain behind bars before he is deported."

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Argentina stirs Falkland Islands furor with Olympics ad [Video]

Argentina has stirred up its perennial debate with Britain over the Falkland Islands by airing a television ad showing one of its Olympic athletes sprinting and doing push-ups on the disputed South Atlantic archipelago, including at a war memorial.

"To compete on English soil, we train on Argentine soil," the ad concludes. Besides appearing on Argentine television, the ad has been viewed more than 500,000 times on YouTube.

Argentina and Britain have disagreed over who owns the islands since the 19th century. The dispute has heated up again this year as both countries marked the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of a war over the Falklands that cost hundreds of lives. Argentina wants Britain to negotiate over the islands; Britons say it is up to the islanders themselves, who have resisted Argentine claims to the territory.

British officials called the Olympic ad insensitive and disrespectful. Falkland Islanders said it had been filmed without their knowledge and condemned the video as an attempt to politicize the Olympics.

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Londoners go to the polls in mayoral elections for Olympic city

Boris-johnson

LONDON -- London's voters went to the polls Thursday to choose their next mayor from among seven candidates in what has largely become a clash between two oversized personalities: extroverted Conservative incumbent Boris Johnson and his archrival, combative Labor Party politician Ken Livingstone, who became the city's first elected mayor in 2000.

Local elections were going on across Britain, but the eye-catching show was the fight for London’s leader. With the city this summer hosting the Olympic Games and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations amid rising prices, unemployment, housing shortages and social benefit cuts, the future mayor faces an uphill task. Among the challenges: regulating policies and budgets for the city’s police, transportation and emergency services, education, housing and business development.

Latest polls by market research company YouGov put Johnson ahead with 53% of the vote to Livingstone's 47%, a contrast to national polls that show the Conservatives under Prime Minister David Cameron lagging well behind the opposition Labor Party.

Results in London were not expected to be announced until Friday.

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Russian town hosting Olympics learns English, one word at a time

The Russian resort town of Sochi is determined to learn English -- one word at a time.

Sochi, which is scheduled to host the Winter Olympics in two years, has reportedly embarked on a plan to teach its residents more than 600 words of English to help tourists visiting for the Games.

To do so, it will display a new English word and phrase every day, posted throughout the city in supermarkets, buses and played on the radio, Russian news reports said. The average Sochi resident is expected to run into their new English word five times in a day.

“Every resident of the city of Sochi will be able to greet guests, say kind words and give directions," Sochi education chief Olga Medvedeva was quoted in Kommersant.

The very first bit of English that people in Sochi learned this week? "Welcome."

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Saudi Arabia won't endorse female Olympians, official says

Jidda Kings United soccer team

Countering the earlier words of a Saudi prince who said that women could represent his country at the Olympics, Saudi Arabia's sports minister said his country won’t officially support female athletes.

"Female sports activity has not existed and there is no move thereto in this regard," Prince Nawaf Faisal said Wednesday at a news conference in the Saudi city of Jidda, according to Human Rights Watch. "At present, we are not embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics or other international championships."

The prince reportedly said Saudi Arabia would cooperate with Saudi women living abroad who wished to participate in the Olympic Games to ensure their actions "comported with Islamic law," but said the Saudi National Olympic Committee would not officially back the inclusion of women.

Saudi Arabia is one of three countries -- along with Brunei and Qatar -- that has never sent a woman to the Olympics. Human Rights Watch issued a scathing report earlier this year on the gauntlet of obstacles Saudi Arabia puts up to female athletes, including not holding gym classes for girls and shuttering private gyms for women.

Last month, Prince Nayef ibn Abdulaziz said women could stand for Saudi Arabia at the Olympics this summer as long as they didn't contradict Islamic law. Dalma Rushdi Malhas, a Saudi horseback rider raised in Italy who won a bronze medal at the Youth Olympics, was a widely rumored choice.

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Saudi prince says female athletes OK at Olympics

Female soccer players in Jidda, Saudi Arabia

Prince Nayef ibn Abdulaziz has said women can represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics this summer as long as they don't contradict Islamic laws, a sign of change after human rights activists campaigned against the exclusion of Saudi women from sports.

But Human Rights Watch, which has lobbied the International Olympic Committee to make sure Saudi Arabia includes women in athletics, says sending a few women to the Games doesn’t solve the problem.

“You cannot pull a token woman out of your hat to say everything is hunky-dory,” said Christoph Wilcke, the lead researcher behind a scathing Human Rights Watch report on female athletes in Saudi Arabia. “This is a good step -- but we need to start a sporting culture for women in Saudi Arabia.”

His report last month laid out obstacles Saudi women face in playing sports. They include public schools not holding gym classes for girls and the government shuttering private gyms for women, allowing only “health clubs” that are too expensive for many women and offer fewer activities. The report argued that Saudi Arabian rules were incompatible with the Olympic charter banning discrimination.

Saudi Arabia is one of three countries that have never sent a woman to the Olympics. The IOC has been in talks with the country over including women, but has shied away from ultimatums or deadlines that would hitch Saudi involvement in the Games to changing its ways.

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Afghan women fight it out in Herat

Afghan martial arts

Every day on World Now, we choose a remarkable photo from around the world. On International Women's Day, we spotted this striking shot of Afghan women doing martial arts, part of a celebration in Herat.

"Many people may think that these activities are only for men, especially in such a country," Sakhi Attaee and Rooz Zia wrote on the WomentoBe.org website. "However, they are indeed very popular in Afghanistan, particularly among young women."

Afghanistan is far from a feminist paradise. Last year, gender experts ranked it as the most dangerous country for women in the world. Yet Afghan women say there has been progress.

Martial arts is one bright spot: One of the first Afghan women to participate in the Olympics, Friba Razayee, was a judo competitor. She went to the games in 2004 along with runner Robina Muqimyar. Her martial arts training began in Pakistan, where her family had fled after the Taliban took control.

This year, the country is sending a female boxer to the Olympics in London -- 17-year-old Sadaf Rahimi.

"I will try to show that an Afghan girl can enter the ring and achieve a position for Afghanistan," Rahimi told the Associated Press.

Not all countries are making the same strides toward including female athletes: Human Rights Watch is pressing the International Olympic Committee to set firm rules before Saudi Arabia can participate in the Games. The country has never sent a female athlete to the Olympics.

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Photo: Afghan women perform during a martial arts competition as they mark International Women's Day in Herat, Afghanistan. Credit: Jalil Rezayee / European Pressphoto Agency

 


Olympics urged to press for Saudi female athletes

Olympic

This story has been updated. See the note below for details.

The Saudi government discriminates against female athletes, kowtowing to fears that sports are “steps of the devil” that will lead girls into immorality, Human Rights Watch says in a new report. It argues that Olympic officials should demand changes before letting Saudi Arabia participate in the Olympic Games.

"The glaring absence of a Saudi female athlete at the Olympics cannot go on much longer," Human Rights Watch researcher Christoph Wilcke said in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Inequality in sports is just one of many obstacles facing women in Saudi Arabia. Yet bringing women into sports “is very achievable,” Wilcke said. “Government clerics are saying, ‘We should do this.’ Even if they take small steps, that still has the potential to alter lives of women who get out of the house, meet other women -- every bit helps.”

Saudi Arabia, along with Brunei and Qatar, have never sent a female athlete to the Olympics. Although their charter says discrimination is “incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement,” Olympic officials have said they won’t require Saudi Arabia to send women, preferring dialogue over ultimatums, the Human Rights Watch report says.

Human Rights Watch argues that the International Olympic Committee should set clear benchmarks and timelines for including women in sports as a condition for keeping Saudi Arabia in the Games. IOC officials were not immediately available for comment when the report was released Wednesday.

[Updated 5:00 p.m. Feb. 15: IOC spokeman Mark Adams wrote in an email to The Times, “We've seen from previous cases that persuasion is more effective. We've already seen them send a woman athlete to the Youth Olympic games so we are confident that we will make progress.”]

The report lays out the problems that have kept women from pursuing sports. Public schools don’t have gym classes for girls. The government shuttered private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010, angering women who protested with the slogan “Let her get fat.” It now allows “health clubs” for women, but the clubs are too expensive for many women and don’t offer the same range of activities.

Government sports facilities and clubs are all limited to men. Official Saudi sporting organizations don't offer any competitive sports for women or support them in regional or international competitions.

Religious leaders have argued that sports create a slippery slope toward immorality. One group of religious scholars argued that swimming, soccer and basketball were too likely to reveal “private parts,” which includes large areas of the body. Another professor said it could lead to “mingling with men.”

“They say it’s too masculine or too aggressive or not really feminine,” said Lina Almaeena, a Saudi woman who plays on a private basketball team called Jeddah United, speaking by telephone. She is one of the few Saudi women who do manage to play sports, albeit under tight restrictions.

Yet there are also Saudi religious leaders who argue in favor of women playing sports. One sheik declared women playing sports was an “Islamic necessity.”

Wilcke said Wednesday that demographics alone are likely to shift attitudes in Saudi Arabia because of a "youth bulge" of younger Saudis.

The Olympics have grappled with human rights issues before: South Africa was banned from taking part in the Games from 1964 to 1992 because of its apartheid policy. Afghanistan was shut out in 1999 because of discrimination against women under the Taliban; it was reinstated in 2002.

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Photo: The chairman of the International Olympic Committee Coordination Commission, Jean-Claude Killy, holds a news conference Tuesday in Sochi, Russia. Credit: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP/Getty Images


Italy can't afford to host Olympics, won't bid

Italy Prime Minister Mario Monti announces decision on Olympics bid.
REPORTING FROM ROME –- Hosting the Olympics in 2020 is a luxury that Italy cannot afford in times of economic uncertainty, Prime Minister Mario Monti said Tuesday, a day before bids were to be formally tendered to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Monti said after a Cabinet meeting that his 3-month-old government “did not feel it would be responsible, considering Italy’s current financial condition, to undertake this commitment.”

This government, Monti told reporters, “has had to ask for very serious sacrifices from much of the population,” and therefore “could not risk losing the benefits expected from such sacrifice.”

Monti and his Cabinet of technocrats were called in to replace the government of Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned Nov. 16 amid sex scandals and a precipitating financial crisis.

Monti said that Italy’s economic difficulties will continue for many years and therefore “we couldn’t take on the risk of an Olympic budget in the red.”

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Britain to deploy up to 13,500 troops for London's Summer Olympics

Olympic stadium
REPORTING FROM LONDON –- The British government will deploy as many as 13,500 troops to help secure next year’s Olympics Games in London, augmenting a massive planned contingent of police and private security guards.

The troops are expected to help protect the competition venues and to provide backup for the Metropolitan Police Service, or Scotland Yard, for the two-week event next July. British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond on Thursday called it “the biggest security challenge this country has faced for decades.”

Hammond told the BBC that the troops “will add resilience and robustness to what will be a civilian-led operation,” adding: “It’s a significant commitment.”

The military deployment will be part of a security detail whose estimated cost has ballooned from about $440 million to nearly $863 million. The cost overruns come as Britons steel themselves for sharp cuts in other government spending.

The military deployment for the Olympics will exceed the size of Britain's contribution of forces in Afghanistan.

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Photo: London's Olympic Stadium, shown in July, under construction for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Credit: Anthony Charlton / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images


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