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White House declines to confirm death of Taliban chief in Pakistan

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File photo of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in 2004. The United States declined on Friday to confirm reports that Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban chief in Pakistan, has likely been killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a drone strike, Aug. 7, 2009.

White House declines to confirm death of Taliban chief in Pakistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) — The United States declined on Friday to confirm reports that Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban chief in Pakistan, has likely been killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a drone strike.

“The United States cannot confirm that he has been killed in a drone attack, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

However, the spokesman said that “There seems to be a growing consensus among credible observers that he is indeed dead.”


1bFile photo of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in 2004. The United States declined on Friday to confirm reports that Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban chief in Pakistan, has likely been killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a drone strike, Aug. 7, 2009.

“Baitullah Mehsud is somebody who has well earned his label as a murderous thug. … He has killed scores of innocent men, women and children and is supposed to have plotted the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. If he is dead, without a doubt, the people of Pakistan will be safer as a result,” Gibbs said.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in Islamabad on Thursday that the Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mahsud was killed in the missile attack on Wednesday. He said “We have some information, but they don’t have material evidence to confirm it.”

Mehsud has been the leader since 2007 of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a coalition of Taliban factions loyal to Afghanistan’s Taliban leader, Mohammad Omar. An ally of al-Qaida, Mehsud commands as many as 20,000 fighters in Pakistan’s rugged northwestern frontier region and has directed or supported numerous suicide bombings in Pakistan, including a deadly attack in 2008 on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

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Vatican, White House: Abortion one topic of Obama-pope chat

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Vatican, White House: Abortion one topic of Obama-pope chat

U.S. President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI discussed current affairs, the Catholic Church’s teachings and abortion as they met for the first time Friday, according to the White House and the Vatican.

The president also handed the pontiff a letter from Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was diagnosed with brain cancer last year, and asked that the pontiff pray for the senator, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said.

Kennedy, 77, a Democrat, received the diagnosis after suffering a seizure in May 2008.

Obama and the pope spent about a half-hour talking, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Obama told the pope he understands the church’s teachings and said, as he has before, that he would like to reduce the number of abortions in the United States, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told CNN.

He said his sense was that the two “discussed abortion and stem cells. They discussed a range of those issues.”

In a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, on May 17, the president urged a search for “common ground” on abortion.

No matter how much Americans “may want to fudge it … at some level the views of the two camps are irreconcilable,” Obama said.

He urged supporters and opponents of abortion rights to “work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term.”

The commencement ceremony was boycotted by a number of graduates dismayed by the Catholic university’s decision both to tap Obama as its commencement speaker and to give him an honorary degree.

The president and the pope also discussed the pontiff’s recent encyclical — which criticized the current practice of capitalism as being shortsighted and unethical — as well as the Middle East, Cuba and the situation in Honduras, McDonough said.

Obama had been in L’Aquila, Italy, for the G8 summit. He headed to Ghana after the meeting.

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Obama in Ghana on first sub-Saharan Africa visit

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Obama in Ghana on first sub-Saharan Africa visit

ACCRA  – President Barack Obama was given a hero’s welcome in Ghana on Friday on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office as the first black president of the United States.

It was a poignant moment for Africans as the leader of the world’s most powerful country, the son of an African immigrant, and his wife Michelle, the descendant of Africans shipped to America as slaves, stepped onto the red carpet in Accra.

In Ghana, he is expected to deliver a message on the importance of good governance in a country that defies stereotypes of a continent blighted by conflict, coups and crisis.

“Part of the reason that we’re travelling to Ghana is because you’ve got there a functioning democracy, a president who’s serious about reducing corruption, and you’ve seen significant economic growth,” Obama said before leaving Italy.

Obama, his wife and two daughters were met at the airport by President John Atta Mills, elected in a peaceful, transparent vote last December that set an example for the continent.

Economic reforms in the cocoa and gold producing country, set to begin pumping oil next year, also helped bring unprecedented investment and growth before the impact of the global financial crisis.

Obama shook hands with local dignitaries, some in the colourful traditional kente cloth. To cheers, he moved briefly to the beat of the traditional drummers in the humid evening air of the coastal capital.

“He could hear the music before we opened the doors,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “This is both a special and an important visit for him personally as president but also for our country to articulate a vision for Africa.”

HOPE

Ghanaians packed the dark streets around the airport, hoping for a glimpse of the president, who was driven quickly to his hotel without making any public statement.

“It’s a great moment for Ghana and Africa. We have to celebrate our own,” said driver Emmanuel Tsawe, who covered his 43-seater bus with Obama posters.

“I believe he has good intentions for the continent and we must cooperate with him,” he said.

But Africa has not been a top priority for an administration grappling with the global financial crisis.

Few expect a shift in policy and the main message will be on the importance of good governance and the wise use of aid, such as the G8 commitment made in Italy to spend $20 billion on improving food security in poor countries.

Obama, whose father is from Kenya, drew on his own background to stress the importance of transparency and strong institutions in bringing change.

“My father travelled to the United States a mere 50 years ago and yet now I have family members who live in villages — they themselves are not going hungry, but live in villages where hunger is real,” he said.

“If you talk to people on the ground in Africa, certainly in Kenya, they will say that part of the issue here is the institutions aren’t working for ordinary people. And so governance is a vital concern that has to be addressed.”

Obama was due to address parliament on Saturday before visiting Cape Coast Castle, a fort used in the transatlantic slave trade. He and his family will spend less than 24 hours in Ghana before returning to the United States.

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