Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, November 30, 2007

Vietnamese-American activist group calls for release of prisoners in Viet Nam

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a U.S.-based group, released a protest letter Tuesday regarding the sentences of human rights lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan. The sentences for both Dai and Nhan were reduced during an appeals trial, but upheld by the court. Dai and Nhan were sentenced for spreading propaganda under “article 88” of the criminal code.

The letter states: “The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) strongly protests the sentences of lawyers Le Thi Cong Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai’s appeal trial and the use of brutal force to attack and prevent pro-democracy activists who came to attend the appeal trial…”

The PDP also mentions the recent arrest of democracy activists, saying the arrests “have confirmed to the international community that Vietnam is still under a totalitarian regime where the freedom of expression is neither respected nor tolerated.”

The group also called for the release of other “article 88” victims, including Dr. Le Nguyen Sang, Journalist Huynh Nguyen Dao, Lawyers Nguyen Bac Truyen, Tran Quoc Hien, Father Nguyen Van Ly, Nguyen Phong, and Nguyen Binh Thanh.

To read the full letter, click here.
For the AFP article on the case, click here.

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Newspaper editors in Egypt sentenced for reporting 'false information' on presidential succession

The editors of four newspapers were given year-long sentences in Egypt for reporting “false information” that President Hosni Mubarak intended to his son succeed him, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

Egypt’s next presidential elections take place in 2011. Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son, was recently named to the National Democratic Party’s Supreme Council. Only council members are allowed to run for president, putting Gamal in place for the 2011 elections.

“Anything can happen in Egypt now, and there’s a certain amount of fear,” said Nabil Shawkat, a writer and commentator. “There’s no pressure on the government to democratize. It can do whatever it wants.”

President Bush said in 2004 that Egypt would set the democratic standard in the Middle East. When presidential elections were held in 2005, however, Mubarak began to crack down, beginning with the prosecution of his primary challenger, Ayman Nour. Nour was convicted of falsifying papers to legalize his Tomorrow party.

The editors were sentenced on September 14, but released on bail, pending appeal.

According to Human Rights Watch, “Press freedom does not exist in a country where the state can put you in prison simply for criticizing the president.”

Mubarak defended the prosecutions, telling the weekly Osboa newspaper, “Going too far in publishing lies and false information are issues that have nothing to do with freedom of the press but aim at causing chaos.”

For the full article, click here.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Egyptian anti-torture activist suspended from YouTube

Wael Abbas, a leading Egyptian anti-torture activist has now been suspended from the Web site YouTube after sharing videos that showed police brutality, Reuters reported Tuesday.

According to the article “Wael Abbas said close to 100 images he had sent to YouTube were no longer accessible, including clips depicting purported police brutality, voting irregularities and anti-government demonstrations. YouTube, owned by search engine giant Google Inc , did not respond to a written request for comment. A message on Abbas’s YouTube user page, http://youtube.com/user/waelabbas, read: ‘This account is suspended.’”

“They closed it (the account) and they sent me an e-mail saying that it will be suspended because there were lots of complaints about the content, especially the content of torture,” Abbas told Reuters in a telephone interview. Abbas won an international journalism award for his work earlier this year. He said that of only 12 or 13 of the images he sent to YouTube depicted violence in Egyptian police stations.

“Abbas was a key player last year in distributing a clip of an Egyptian bus driver, his hands bound, being sodomised with a stick by a police officer – imagery that sparked an uproar in a country where rights groups say torture is commonplace,” the article says. “That tape prompted an investigation that led to a rare conviction of two policemen, who were sentenced to three years in prison for torture. Egypt says it opposes torture and prosecutes police against whom it has evidence of misconduct.”

The article later adds that: “YouTube regulations state that ‘graphic or gratuitous violence’ is not allowed and warn users not to post such videos. Repeat violators of YouTube guidelines may have their accounts terminated, according to rules posted on the site.”

According to the article: “Elijah Zarwan, a prominent blogger and activist in Egypt, said he thought it was unlikely that YouTube had come under official Egyptian pressure, and was more likely reacting to the graphic nature of the videos.”

“I suspect they are doing it not under pressure from the Egyptian government but rather because it made American viewers squeamish,” he said. “But to shut them down because some people might find the truth disturbing is unconscionable.”

For the full article, click here.

Afghan women choose self-immolation over forced marriage

The women in the new burn unit in Herat tell stories about how they got injured during cooking mishaps or other kind of accidents at home. However, doctors say that the reality is something else - they say that the severe injuries that the women have could only have been caused by self-inflicted burns, CanWest News Service reported Tuesday.

Herat, which lies in western Afghanistan, has the only burn unit in the country because the need is at its greatest there. According to the article: “Setting oneself on fire, or self-immolation, is the preferred method of suicide for Afghan women under age 20 – it’s increasingly seen in Kandahar and common in Herat.”

“This year alone the Herat unit has seen about 70 cases of women setting themselves alight. Some burns at the unit are genuine accidents, but self-inflicted burns make up about 20 per cent of the cases the unit doctors see,” the article says.

The article notes that “Self-immolation is commonly seen among girls and women who have a forced engagement to a man they don't want to marry, or have married into a family where they are beaten or intimidated -- by their husband or in-laws,.” It later adds: “Almost three in five Afghan girls are married before the legal age of 16, according to statistics from the ministry of women’s affairs and women’s organizations. And between 60 and 80 per cent of all marriages are believed to be “forced” – a term that covers a range of practices including marrying off girls to repay debts or resolve conflicts between families, according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.”

One medical staffer at the unit, Ebrahim Mohammadi, has his own theory about why even men are turning to self-immolation. “After 28 years of war in Afghanistan, so many people have so many psychological problems.”

For the full article, click here.

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Campaign against gender-violence launched in Africa

November 23 marked the beginning of a 16-day campaign against gender violence, which for 2007 has the theme: “Demanding Implementation, Challenging Obstacles: End Violence Against Women,” IRIN reported Monday.

At the launch of the campaign in Nairobi, Kenya, Fartun Abdi Ahmed, a Nairobi-based community outreach worker, described her personal experience with female genital mutilation, which she underwent while living in Somalia. “One cannot imagine the pain, the fear and the stress I went through; thank God it was a rural area and so we did not get some of the infections that are common nowadays,” such as HIV. She called FGM the most prevalent form of gender-based violence in Somalia, and said the practice leads to complications such as infections and the need for additional surgery during childbirth, which may lead to the death of the baby or mother.

Men and boys “must be engaged at the grassroots level in order to come up with community-based solutions” to gender-based violence, said Eddie Gedalof, the acting representative of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Besida Tonwe, the head of U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ regional support office in Nairobi, said that: “Sexual violence is widespread in central and eastern Africa; in conflict areas such as eastern [Democratic Republic of] Congo, it has reached almost grotesque proportions.” She added: “Sexual and gender-based violence should be addressed robustly on several fronts simultaneously, not least because the violence does not end when armed conflict ends – it must be addressed also in post-conflict settings.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in a statement made Sunday (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women), said: “Violence against women is always a violation of human rights; it is always a crime; and it is always unacceptable. Let us take this issue with the deadly seriousness that it deserves – not only on this International Day, but every day.”

The campaign ends on December 10, International Human Rights Day, to reinforce the message that violence against women is a human rights abuse.

For the full article, click here.

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Viet Nam rejects moves by Western nations to place sanctions on Burma

Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet on Wednesday expressed opposition to efforts by Western countries to punish Burma through economic sanctions, saying Viet Nam remembered the pain economic sanctions brought, Agence France-Presse reported today.

“Vietnam experienced war and was slapped with economic sanctions,” Triet said.

“We fully understand the agony people that felt at the time,” he said. “Therefore, we will not support economic sanctions on Myanmar, which are merely a means of making people suffer.”

The United States and European Union have placed sanctions on Burma due to its crackdown on protestors and activists. Countries in Asia, however, have preferred to focus on engaging the military junta, although Japan has cancelled nearly 5 million dollars in aid to the country.

Both Ibrahim Gambari, United Nations special envoy on Myanmar, and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fakuda have asked Viet Nam to support U.N. efforts to resolve the crisis in Burma, with Gambari saying Viet Nam is among the states closest to Myanmar’s regime.

Triet explained that Viet Nam is concerned with the situation in Burma. “We want to try hard to resolve the issue smoothly through cooperation among Vietnam, ASEAN and the United Nations,” he said.

For the full story, click here.

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Iranian Supreme Court orders new investigation into death of journalist

A new investigation has been launched – by an order from the Iranian Supreme Court – into the death of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who was killed in Tehran in 2003, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Alireza Jamshidi, spokesman for the court, said that the court objected to the 2004 acquittal of the intelligence agent accused of killing Kazemi. “The Supreme Court found flaws,” he said, adding that it had questioned the investigation by a different court. “It has sent the case to a new court for investigation.”

Kazemi was arrested while taking pictures outside of Tehran’s Evin Prison. At first, authorities claimed she had died of a stroke, but they then said she had fallen and hit her head.

In the first trial, intelligence agent Muhammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi was charged and acquitted of semi-intentional murder, however, lawyers of the Kazemi family believe he was just a scapegoat. They have accused prison official, Muhammad Bakhshi, of inflicting the final blow.

In the Canadian Parliament, Helena Guergis, the secretary of state for foreign affairs, supported the new investigation, saying “Iran has an obligation to the Kazemi family to ensure that the perpetrators of this terrible crime are brought to justice and the rights of the family are upheld.”

For the full article, click here.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Oxfam calls on U.S. to spend more on development aid in Afghanistan

The money that the United States spends on aid work in Afghanistan is much less than what is spent by the American military and too much of it simply pays the high salaries of expatriate employees, the international aid agency Oxfam said on November 20, as reported by The Associated Press the same day.

According to the article: “Though the government aid arm U.S. Agency for International Development has spent more than $4.4 billion in Afghanistan since 2002, British aid agency Oxfam said that figure is dwarfed by U.S. military spending here — some $35 billion in 2007 alone.”

“As in Iraq, too much aid is absorbed by profits of companies and subcontractors, on non-Afghan resources and on high expatriate salaries and living costs,” said the report, which was prepared for a British parliament committee. “Each full-time expatriate consultant costs up to half a million dollars a year.”

“The report said ‘urgent action’ is needed to avert humanitarian disaster and that millions of rural Afghans face ‘severe hardship comparable with sub-Saharan Africa,’” the article says.

The report also called for donors to improve the efficiency of aid work through greater use of Afghan resources. “Some two-thirds of U.S. foreign assistance bypasses the Afghan government that officials say they want to strengthen,” Oxfam said.

According to the article: “The group said the education and health sectors in Afghanistan have improved dramatically since 2001, but that more work needs to be done. It noted that though school enrollment is up, only 50 percent of boys and 20 percent of girls attend primary school. The numbers drop to 20 percent and 5 percent, respectively, for high school classes.” It adds: “Of 220 schools in Daykundi province, it said, only 28 have buildings. Of 1,000 teachers, only two are professionally qualified.”

There have been record levels of violence in Afghanistan this year, with more than 6,000 people have been killed in insurgency related violence, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

For the full article, click here.

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Egyptian editor sentenced to year in jail after publishing ‘indecent’ photo

An Egyptian court on Monday sentenced a newspaper editor to one year in jail, after he published a front-page photograph of an Egyptian television and film actress that was deemed indecent, Reuters reported.

“The verdict against editor Hatem Mamdouh Mahran was the latest in a string of rulings that have handed jail terms to at least 12 journalists since September on charges ranging from defaming President Hosni Mubarak to misquoting the minister of justice,” the article says. “The sources said Mahran’s al-Naba weekly newspaper, known for testing conservative Egyptian sensibilities, had published a picture in January of actress Hala Sidky that prosecutors said ‘reveals a sensitive part’ of her body. They did not say which part of her body.”

Mahran was also fined 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($3,600) and granted bail of 5,000 pounds. He said he would appeal.

Mahran argued that the photo of the Christian actress was a shot from a recent film, and that al-Naba had neither taken the picture nor altered it.

According to the article “It was the second time a member of Mahran’s family has been ordered jailed for media offences. His father Mamdouh was sentenced to three years in jail in 2001 after he enraged Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority by publishing a sexually explicit report and photographs about a Coptic monk’s alleged sexual affairs. Mamdouh Mahran died in while serving his term.”

For the full article, click here.

More and more Iraqi children are being abandoned

Nine-year old Faleh Muhammed awoke one April day last year to find that his family had deserted him, leaving him alone with three other families in the abandoned building in Baghdad that they had shared. The other parents did not have the money to take care of Faleh so he had to start begging on the streets. One day he had a serious headache and fainted. He was brought to Yarmouk hospital by passers-by and eventually diagnosed with leukemia. Felah’s story is described in a November 21 IRIN article.

“I remember my father saying I was useless because I was rotten from the inside and I never understood why, but now I know that the reason for abandoning me was my disease,” Faleh said, adding that his father was poor and could not afford the treatment.

Today, Faleh is receiving treatment and being looked after by the local NGO Keeping Children Alive (KCA), which estimates that 700 children in Baghdad have been abandoned by their families since January 2006. However, KCA does not have the resource capacity to help Faleh and other children in his situation obtain the proper treatment that they need.

“The problem is even more serious among new-born babies and there are many cases of children aged 1-12 abandoned,” said Mayada Marouf, a spokesperson for KCA. “Most of them have a life-threatening disease and their families cannot afford treatment.”

“Abandoned children carry long-term psychological effects. There is a strong possibility that they could change their behavior after feeling ostracized,” Dr Ibrahim Abdel-Rahman, a psychiatrist at the Iraqi Aid Association (IAA), another NGO, said.

Today, over 1.6 million children under the age of 12 have become homeless in Iraq, according to the country’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. That number comprises nearly 70 percent of the estimated 2.5 million Iraqis who are homeless inside the country.

“There are no reliable estimates of how many orphans and abandoned children are in Iraq today but we believe, according to some data collected by local NGOs, that over 8,000 children are in the same or a similar situation to that of Faleh,” Mayada said.

For the full article, click here

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Vietnamese dissidents remain defiant after receiving reduced jail term

Two pro-democracy activists received a reduction in their jail terms, although the convictions against them of spreading propaganda, which falls under article 88 of the criminal code, were upheld in an appeals court, Agence France-Presse reported today.

In an unusually charged appeal hearing, human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, 38, had his sentence cut from five years to four, while his colleague Le Thi Cong Nhan’s sentence was decreased from four years to three. The activists, however, continued to reject the charges against them as they left the court room.

“I reject both trials because they never would have brought a fair and objective sentence for me,” said Dai, flanked by two police officers. “The reason for my struggle is the lack of democracy and human rights in Vietnam.”

Nhan also challenged the court saying, “Even if I had been freed today, it would have been like being moved from a small to a big prison.”

“I would continue to express my opinion,” she added.

Defense lawyer Dang Trong Dung said that citizens have the right to freedom of expression, and that “it is necessary to reconsider article 88. It is necessary to redefine the notion of propaganda.”

The activists were arrested in March and sentenced in May for their Internet writings, interviews with foreign media, and meetings held with students to discuss democracy.

For the full article, click here.

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Human rights group condemns Iran for crackdown on activists

The rights group of Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi has reported a noticeable increase in pressure from the Iranian government on student activists, unionists and teachers in the past few months, Agence France-Presse reported Monday.

“We are pained to say that the ninth government has further tightened the space for political, unionist, press and student activists despite its populist slogans,” The Centre for Defenders of Human Rights, a small group of rights lawyers led by Ebadi, stated in its latest report.

Protests have been held by students at universities in Tehran regarding the detention of three of their peers for the publication of images deemed offensive to Islam in student publications.

Teachers also staged protests earlier this year over their working conditions, under which they receive a basic wage of between 200 and 300 dollars a month.

Along with arrests, many professors have been fired for “alternative thinking” and hundreds of students have been banned from studying for “political or ideological reasons.”

The Centre also expressed concern over the treatment of the Baha’i minority, who are considered to be apostates by the government and do not receive any of the rights awarded to minority Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians.

For the full story, click here.

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Rice called on to help secure release of U.S. activist arrested in Viet Nam

U.S. Representatives Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), Loretta Sanchez Grove (D-CA), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) have sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking her to help gain the release of two U.S. political activists arrested in Viet Nam, The Honolulu Advertiser reported on November 23.

The U.S. based pro-democracy group Viet Tan stated that Vietnamese police had detained six activists over the weekend, including two U.S. citizens, a French citizen and a Thai citizen.

“We are disappointed to hear that the government of Vietnam has arrested United States citizens in Vietnam for reportedly having a peaceful discussion,” the letter read.

“Not only do we ask you to work to return these United States citizens to the United States, but we ask you to convey to the government of Vietnam that the arbitrary detention of United States citizens is unacceptable.”

Reporters Without Borders also condemned the arrest of the activists, stating: “We call for their immediate release since they were only engaged in peacefully promoting freedom of expression.”

The U.S. Embassy confirmed the arrest of a U.S. citizen, and has requested an interview with him. An investigation into the reason for his detention is also being made.

For the full story, click here.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Join UNIFEM and ‘say NO to violence against women’

“We need to break through the wall of silence that surrounds violence against women. And we must turn legal norms into reality in women's lives.” - Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, November 19, 2007.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women, or UNIFEM, announced today that, together with UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman, it is launching an internet-based global advocacy initiative, according to Relief Web. “Say NO to violence against women” is a campaign that allows people to add their names to the “virtual” book on the web site www.saynotviolence.org.

The U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on VAW, Dr. Yakin Erturk, has also lent her support to the campaign, which will run until March 8, 2008 (International Women’s Day).

UNIFEM Afghanistan Programme Director, Ms. Meryem Aslan, invites everyone in Afghanistan to lend their support to this initiative with the message:

“Despite the fact that it is not sanctioned by any culture or religion, and is unacceptable to most men and women, across the world violence against women continues to cast a shadow on the ability of the human race to respect one of the most basic human rights – the right to a life free of fear and violence. This cannot be resolved unless all women and men, boys and girls of the world unite and say ‘NO’ to the violence that paralyzes the lives of millions of women across the world.”

According to the article “In Afghanistan, UN and other partners are providing support to the Inter-Ministerial Commission on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) in launching the 16-day campaign of ending violence against women. This is an international event that starts on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and continues until December 10, International Human Rights Day for a 16-day campaign, in order to emphasize that violence against women is a human rights violation.”

To support the campaign and “say NO to violence against women,” click here.

For the full article, click here.

Viet Nam leaders meet with EU about new bilateral pact

In a visit to Hanoi by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Union and Viet Nam today launched talks about a new cooperation pact, Agence France-Presse reported.

Barroso, the first head of the EU executive body to visit the communist country, has commended Viet Nam’s sharp economic growth and poverty reduction.

According to a joint statement made by Barroso and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, one of the aims of the discussion was to “facilitate deeper economic and commercial integration between the European Union and Vietnam preceding a future Free Trade Agreement between the EU and countries of ASEAN.”

The pact would cover areas such as trade, investment, education, culture, justice, security, the environment, and science and technology.

“The time has now come to establish a closer political partnership between the EU and Vietnam, enabling us to tackle more effectively some of the common global challenges we are faced with,” Barroso said.

EU-Vietnamese dialogue had broadened in recent years, Barroso added, “to include more political issues such as governance, human rights and anti-corruption.”

Barroso said he had discussed human rights with Dung, but did not elaborate on specific topics. A source also said members of the EU delegation raised concerns about the recent arrests of pro-democracy activists, including the November 17 detention of a U.S., French, and Thai citizen.

For the full article, click here.

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27 Kurdish women reported dead from honor killings in past four months

Over the past four months, at least 27 women have died in honor killings in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, an official from the regional government said Monday, according to Agence France-Presse.

According to the human rights minister Aziz Mohammed of the Kurdish regional government, 10 of the murdered women were from the Irbil, 11 from Dohuk and six from Sulaimaniya.

These are alleged honour killings. We can say that the violence against women continues in Kurdish Iraq,” Mohammed told AFP.

During the same four months, he said that a total of 97 women – 60 in Irbil, 21 in Dohuk and 16 on Sulaimaniya – have attempted suicide by self-immolation.

The article noted that: “The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq has regularly highlighted ‘honour killings’ of Kurdish women as among Iraq’s most severe human rights abuses.”

According to the article: “Aso Kamal, a 42-year-old British Kurdish Iraqi campaigner, says that from 1991 to 2007, 12,500 women were murdered for reasons of ‘honour’ or committed suicide in the three Kurdish provinces.”

For the full article, click here.

Coptic woman sentenced to jail because of her father’s beliefs

An Egyptian Christian woman has been sentenced to three years in jail because of her father’s conversion from Christianity to Islam 45 years ago, Agence France-Presse reported last week. Because of her father’s conversion, she legally became a Muslim, even though her official papers said she was a Christian, the women’s lawyer said November 22.

According to the article: “Shadia Nagui Ibrahim, 47, was charged with fraud for stating Christianity as her religion on her marriage certificate, unaware that her father's conversion to Islam in 1962 had made her officially a Muslim,” Michael Maurice told AFP.

Shadia’s father, Nagui Ibrahim left his home in 1962 when his daughter was only two years old. He converted to Islam and took on the Muslim name Mustafa. After three years, he returned home and re-converted to Christianity. In the process, he had someone forge his documents back to say he was a Christian.

“State reluctance to allow citizens to put their religion of choice on national identity cards means many seek forged documents that can result in criminal prosecution, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report earlier this month,” the article notes, adding: “In 1996, the man who forged Ibrahim’s documents was detained for falsifying dozens of documents and confessed to changing Ibrahim’s papers.”

Shadia Ibrahim was charged with “providing false information on official documents” for stating she was Christian on her marriage certificate in 1982.

“After a lengthy trial, she was sentenced to three years in absentia in 2000 but the case was subsequently dropped,” the article says, adding: “She was detained again in August this year and sentenced to three years on Wednesday after just one brief court session, her lawyer said.”

For the full article, click here.

Iran reprimands Saudi Arabia for participation in Middle East peace talks

Saudi Arabia’s participation in this week’s U.S.-hosted Middle East peace talks has drawn the ire of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Agence France-Presse reported today.

“The U.S. government, which is an accomplice to Zionist crimes, cannot play the role of savior by hosting the Annapolis conference,” Ahmadinejad told Saudi King Abdullah.

In a telephone conversation with King Abdullah, Ahmadinejad said that he wished Saudi Arabia was not attending the conference with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The conference will be the first time the kingdom will meet with Israel to discuss a peace agreement.

More than a dozen Arab countries have stated they will be sending representatives, including Israeli adversary Syria, a chief ally of Iran. Iraq has not confirmed its presence, and representatives from the Islamist Hamas movement will not be attending.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the conference, predicting that it was “doomed to failure.”

Non-recognition of Israel is one of Iran’s main ideological themes. In response to the meeting, Ahmadinejad has invited leaders of Palestinian factions to Tehran.

The conference will be held Tuesday in Annapolis near Washington, D.C.

For the full story, click here.

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