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Britain to deport radical cleric The Home Office won an appeal against a court ruling preventing Qatada’s deportation to Jordan, where he has been convicted on terrorism charges. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith welcomed the ruling by Britain’s Law Lords — a small group of members of the upper house of Parliament, the House of Lords — and said she would move immediately to deport him. “I’m delighted with the Lords’ decision today… My top priority is to protect public safety and ensure national security and I have signed Abu Qatada’s deportation order which will be served on him today,” she said. “I am keen to deport this dangerous individual as soon as I can.” Qatada’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, condemned the decision as a “backwards step” in Britain’s willingness to confront torture and her client would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. “This judgment will pour a dose of cold water on our belief that we have indeed advanced in our willingness to confront the ugly issue of the use of torture,” she said. In Amman, an official said Qatada faced retrial on return to Jordan. Qatada is wanted there for funding a terrorist network known as Reform and Challenge (Al Islah Wal Tahhadi) that was dismantled in 1999. “By law, he will be put on trial again once he arrives in Jordan because he was sentenced in absentia in 1998 and 2000 for 15 years of hard labour for terrorist activities,” the official told AFP. Jordan’s Minister of Justice Ayman Odeh said: “If he is deported, he will get a fair trial in line with Jordanian legislation.” Rights group Amnesty International voiced concern that the ruling could be taken as a green light to deport people to countries where they could face mistreatment. “It would be deeply worrying if the Law Lords’ decision were taken by the UK government as a green light to push ahead with deporting people to countries where they will be at risk of abuses such as torture and unfair trials,” said Amnesty’s Nicola Duckworth. A Memorandum of Understanding between London and Amman, which Britain says provides assurance against Qatada’s mistreatment in Jordan, was worthless, she argued. “Diplomatic assurances are completely unenforceable and as such cannot be relied upon. No-one should be deported to face a risk of torture, whatever they might be alleged or suspected to have done,” she added. The 48-year-old — whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman — has been convicted of terrorism charges in Jordan but Britain was unable to deport him due to a court ruling in May which found that he could face mistreatment there. Qatada — who was labelled Bin Laden’s “right-hand man” by leading Spanish anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzon — gained refugee status in Britain in 1994 and has been in and out of prison since. He was released most recently in June on a strict form of bail, but in December he was ordered back behind bars after breaching his bail terms. The British government says firebrand Qatada had “long-established” links to extremists across the world, including Al-Qaeda and armed Islamist groups in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Others said to have sought his advice include “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and the “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man convicted in connection with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Qatada was also said to be a “spiritual leader” to the Al-Tawhid movement, whose head Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was seen as Al-Qaeda’s representative in Iraq and responsible for attacks in Europe and Iraq until his death in June 2006. Lord David Hope, one of the five Law Lords who ruled unanimously against Qatada, said ordinary people might question why Qatada had been able to resist deportation for so long. “Why hesitate, people may ask. Surely, the sooner they are got rid of, the better? On their own heads be it if their extremist views expose them to the risk of ill-treatment when they get home,” he said, while insisting that Qatada was entitled to the protection of the law.

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18 rescued after chopper ditches A helicopter carrying 18 people to an oil rig crashed into the North Sea but British coastguards rescued everyone onboard from the rough seas. The Super Puma helicopter carrying 16 passengers and two crew went down just before it reached the platform about 125 miles (200 kilometres) east of Aberdeen, sparking a major rescue operation. “All 18 people who were travelling on board a Super Puma Bond helicopter on a routine crew change trip have been recovered … (they) are safe and undergoing medical checks,” said a spokesman for Britain\’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The alarm was raised by people on the oil platform who saw the helicopter go down. The coastguard immediately sent out two helicopters, and two Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft were also deployed. A number of vessels joined the search, and they were guided to the helicopter in the darkness by flares and lifejacket lights, where they found all 18 urvivors huddled in two liferafts. Three people were winched up by a helicopter but this had to be stopped because of worsening weather, so the remaining 15 were taken by sea to the oil rig, where all 18 underwent medical checks. No serious injuries were reported. Police said a helicopter carrying three people “who are described as walking wounded” landed in Aberdeen late Wednesday. “The remaining 15 are being transferred by vessel and are expected to arrive at Aberdeen Harbour around 5:00 am (0500 GMT) on Thursday,” a spokesman said. James Lyne, a spokesman for the RAF base at Kinloss on the northeastern Scottish coast, could not explain why the helicopter went down but said an investigation was underway. He said all those on board would have been wearing immersion suits that would have protected them from the cold of the sea for some time, adding: “They all managed to get out safely. It is a very good result.”

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Netanyahu tipped for Israeli PM role Hawkish Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is in pole position to become Israel\’s next prime minister after his attempt to form a government was backed by an ultra-nationalist faction. Support from Avigdor Lieberman\’s Yisrael Beitenu party means Netanyahu, a former premier popularly known as Bibi, can count on the support of 65 of the 120 members of parliament. “We have two proposals. The first: we recommend Bibi Netanyahu, but (second) only as part of a wider government,” Lieberman told President Shimon Peres. Peres was meeting with parliamentary factions on Thursday, before deciding who will be tasked with forming a governing coalition. “We are not talking of a government with a restricted majority,” said Lieberman, a Soviet immigrant whose party displaced Labour as the third largest parliamentary faction in last week\’s elections. “To govern the country, we need a government with the three largest parties, Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beitenu. Power-sharing deal “Those that want to join (the coalition) can do so later,” he added. Peres held talks with Likud and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni\’s governing Kadima party on Wednesday and was holding talks with the other 10 factions on Thursday. “Netanyahu will be prime minister, but it will be a Bibi-Livni government,” said Lieberman. “Bibi must get used to the idea it will be a broad government,” he told Peres. Kadima had suggested a power-sharing deal with Netanyahu similar to the one Israel had in 1984 after another close ballot, when the two top parties each held the post of prime minister for two years. But Lieberman said that “Livni must give up the idea of a rotation as such a solution would cause instability.” Factional horse-trading Netanyahu has also rejected the rotating premiership option and made it clear he favours a broad coalition including Kadima, rather than an alliance with parties to the right of his own. Kadima won 28 seats in the February 10 election, just one more than Likud, but has far fewer potential coalition allies than its right-wing rival. Both Kadima and Likud have been courting other factions in a bid to obtain the majority support needed to form a government coalition. Right-wing parties made dramatic gains overall in the election, which was held in the wake of Israel\’s deadly 22-day offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and was dominated by security concerns. Under Israeli law, the task of forming a government does not automatically go to the party that garnered the most votes but to the one most likely to be able to form a majority coalition. Peres was to announce his decision on Sunday or Monday, his spokeswoman Ayelet Frish said. Peace talks stalled The Kadima delegation on Wednesday pressed the president, who is himself drawn from Livni\’s centrist faction, to give the party the first go at attempting to forge a governing coalition, but Likud insisted that Netanyahu was better placed to lead a new government. The overall shift to the right in the election has raised concern over the future of already hobbled peace talks with the Palestinians. The talks have remained stalled as Livni and Netanyahu bid separately to form a workable governing coalition. The person tasked by Peres to form a government will have 28 days to put together a coalition. If necessary Peres can extend the deadline by 14 days. The election was called after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert handed in his resignation in September after being questioned by police over a series of graft scandals. He has stayed on as acting premier.

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Accused acquitted in Politkovskaya trial A Moscow jury on acquitted all the accused in the trial over the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya after three months of hearings that failed to shed light on the crime. None of the four accused had been charged with pulling the trigger or being the mastermind of the 2006 killing of the investigative reporter who was highly critical of Russia\’s strongman and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. “They have neither found the person who ordered the killing, the organisers nor the people who committed the crime,” the Politkovskaya family\’s lawyer, Karinna Moskalenko, complained after the verdicts were announced. State prosecutor Yulia Safina said the prosecution planned to go to the court of appeal to “complain about the infringements that took place in the course of the court\’s examination of the case.” Accused rejoice Relatives of the accused cried of “Bravo, well done!” and “Thank you!” as the verdicts were read out. By contrast, Politkovskaya\’s son and daughter listened to the verdicts in silence. The defendants hugged each other inside the courtroom cage where they had followed proceedings before being released immediately, an AFP correspondent said. “Justice has been done,” said defence lawyer Murad Mussayev. “The jury showed their principles and there has been an honest verdict.” The acquitted were Chechen brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, who had been accused of driving the killer to the scene of the murder of the Kremlin critic. A third defendant acquitted was Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former police investigator, who had been charged with providing logistical assistance for the murder. Also acquitted was Pavel Ryaguzov, a former agent of the FSB security service who was not directly accused of being part of the murder but of extortion in another aspect of the case. ‘Incomplete enquiry’ International press watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders, RSF) said the trial had been marked by “incoherence and opacity” from the outset. “This decision is the consequence of an incomplete enquiry that was handed over prematurely to the courts. It is impossible to know who ordered this crime and why. Everything is still to do,” it said in a statement. Her family criticised the verdicts, saying they believed that all four men were implicated in the crime. “I think that all four of them are linked to the murder of my mother in one way or another,” her son Ilya Politkovsky told a news conference alongside his sister Vera. “Their degree of culpability needed to be proved in court. The prosecution was not able to do this.” Politkovskaya was shot dead in the lift of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006 in an apparent contract killing after returning from a shopping trip to a Moscow store. She had been critical of the actions of then-president Putin in war-torn Chechnya, making numerous trips to the ravaged republic to uncover human rights abuses. The journalist had written dozens of articles and a book called “Putin\’s Russia” accusing the Russian strongman of using the Chechen conflict to strangle democracy in the country. During the hearings the defence team pointed out that the suspects\’ DNA had not been found on the weapon and that phone calls made by the accused at the time did not prove their presence at the murder scene. Second journalist attacked Politkovksaya\’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper was one of the few media outlets to voice criticism of the Kremlin. Her death was not the only time the publication has seen one of its journalists attacked. Last month a young journalist working as an intern on the paper, Anastasia Baburova, was gunned down in central Moscow as she emerged from a news conference with a prominent rights lawyer. “I want to say that nothing has been closed (with the verdict) and the main investigation still lies ahead,” the newspaper\’s chief editor Dmitry Muratov said, according to the Interfax news agency. Putin had described Politkovskaya\’s murder as an “unacceptable crime that cannot go unpunished” but also commented that her “ability to influence political life in Russia was extremely insignificant.”

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Liberal divisions grow as Turnbull sacks Bernardi Divisions within the Liberal Party have widened after Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull sacked a junior conservative over “disparaging” remarks about a leading moderate. Compounding what has been a torrid week for the opposition, former minister Tony Abbott had to be pulled into line after appearing to contradict the party position on a rise in the aged pension. Mr Turnbull confirmed late last night South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi had been stripped of his job as shadow parliamentary secretary because of “disparaging” remarks about a colleague, widely interpreted as being Chris Pyne. “As leader of the opposition I will not tolerate members of the shadow executive disparaging their colleagues in such a personal and gratuitous fashion,” Mr Turnbull said. Opposition attempts to take on the government have been starved of oxygen this week because of internal tensions, as well as frenzied speculation over whether Peter Costello was given first dibs on the shadow treasurer job. Friction between Liberal conservatives and moderates has been growing since a frontbench reshuffle on Monday, when Julie Bishop caved to carping about her skills in the treasury portfolio and quit the key post. Mr Turnbull elevated Joe Hockey to treasury and Mr Pyne to the crucial role of managing opposition tactics in the House of Representatives. Mr Abbott and former Howard minister Peter Dutton, both from conservative ranks, were reported to have their eye on the job given Mr Pyne. There was also disquiet over perceived attempts by Mr Turnbull to displace Alan Stockdale as Liberal Party federal president and install former Howard ally, Shane Stone. Tensions spilled over when Senator Bernardi questioned the commitment of an unnamed MP to the Liberal Party. “Around 14 years ago, I was invited by the aforementioned parliamentarian to play golf at the Royal Adelaide Golf Club where he was a member,” Senator Bernardi wrote in a widely circulated email newsletter. “In response to my question of why he joined the Liberal Party the MP blithely responded: `I live in a Liberal seat so I had to be a member of the Liberal Party to get into parliament. If I lived in a Labor seat I would have joined the Labor Party\’.” Mr Pyne said it was “utterly preposterous” to suggest he had ever considered joining a party other than the Liberals. “Anyone who knows me, or my history, knows I possess a lifelong loyalty to the Liberal Party,” he said. Senator Bernardi accepted Mr Turnbull\’s decision but warned the opposition leader had set a new benchmark for behaviour by frontbenchers. “I\’ve lost my shadow parliamentary secretary responsibilities as a result of me referring to a personal anecdote that had a key impact on my political life and career and involvement,” he told AAP. “I\’ve gone to great pains … not to identify the individual concerned. “He\’s set a very high benchmark and I would expect it to be lived up to by all.”

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