THE INDEX — January 29, 2010

At least 15 people are dead and many more injured after Somali insurgents attacked government forces and peacekeepers in Mogadishu on Friday. Al-Shabaab (“the youth”), the African Islamist group with ties to Al Qaeda, attacked seven locations in the capital city, targeting government forces attempting to retake the capital and the UN-backed African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The attacks began at 2am local time and involved heavy artillery and automatic weapons. At “Kilometer Four,” an oft-targeted junction linking the Mogadishu port and airport, AMISOM troops used tanks to fend off Al-Shabaab. A spokesman for what many consider Al-Qaeda’s African proxy says two of its militants were among the dead; witnesses say it was the worst fighting they have seen for months and casualties are expected to rise. The attack comes shortly before the one-year anniversary of President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed’s government, which has struggled to maintain control over the country since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Recent reports say Al-Shabaab, which is also allied to Somali pirate groups, has been recruiting directly from U.K. campuses including the London School of Economics, Imperial College, and King’s College London. The group is said to control much of southern Somalia, including Mogadishu, where it imposes its own brand of Sharia law.
Despite his acquittal, former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is not yet in the clear—the Paris prosecutor is seeking a new trial, appealing the dismissal of charges that de Villepin was part of a conspiracy to smear political rival, President Nicolas Sarkozy. The prosecutor, Jean-Claude Marin, told Europe 1 Radio on Friday that he would be filing an appeal against the decision to acquit de Villepin of all wrongdoing in what has become known as the “Clearstream scandal.” Under French law, the appeal will mean a full retrial in about a year’s time. The scandal stems from an anonymous set of forged listings sent to an investigative judge in 2004 falsely showing President Sarkozy had received kickbacks—to accounts at the Luxembourg-based bank Clearstream—for the sale of six French frigates to Taiwan in 1991. De Villepin was cleared of wrongdoing in the forgery on Thursday and has accused Sarkozy of using the trial to tar a political rival. Regarding Marin’s intention to appeal the verdict, de Villepin said Friday the retrial shows Sarkozy will not bury the feud. The Times reports de Villepin saying, “The decision is a political decision and what it shows is that Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, prefers to continue in his relentlessness and hatred instead of assuming the responsibilities of his office.”
Peru says the remaining travelers trapped near the Machu Picchu ruins will be evacuated today following last weekend’s mudslides, the nation’s worst in almost 20 years. Al Jazeera reports that over 3000 travelers to the mountainous region were trapped by the heaviest rains in 15 years, which killed up to 10 people, swept homes away, and destroyed an important railroad, the only land route into and out of the area. Trapped for five days, tourists and locals say they slept outdoors and ate from communal pots; they accused local hotels and restaurants of hiking up their prices. Tourism Minister Martin Perez said clear skies helped a fleet of helicopters—including six from the U.S.—evacuate 1,402 people on Thursday. Only 800 travelers remain in the area. The evacuations, which began Monday, took the oldest and youngest first.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair defended his decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003, claiming Friday that the threat of weapons of mass destruction was impossible to ignore. Blair, the sixty-ninth witness in the U.K.’s Chilton Inquiry—the third and widest-reaching investigation the nation has made into the Iraq war—told the five-member panel and others gathered at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center: "I would not have done Iraq if I had not thought it was right. Full stop. It is a decision I would take again." The former PM said the Sept. 11 attacks had made real the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but claimed he told George W. Bush that Britain wanted all diplomatic options exhausted before any invasion was undertaken. Outside the hearing, hundreds of protesters gathered, chanting “Blair Lied, thousands died!” and wearing “Jail Tony” t-shirts. Many called on Blair to be arrested for war crimes. Britain withdrew its military from Iraq in 2009.

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