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Monday, July 16, 2007

Air Asia flight lands safely in Cambodia after circling with stuck landing gear

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - An Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur landed safely in the Cambodian capital Monday after being forced to circle around the airport for about 10 minutes when its landing gear initially failed to deploy, an aviation official said.

There were 130 passengers on board the Airbus A320 which landed at about 4:30 p.m., said Keo Sivorn, head of Flight Safety Operations at Cambodia's Secretariat of Civil Aviation.

«The plane had to circle, flying for about 10 minutes around the airport before its landing gear worked properly,» he said. «Now it has landed safety and all the passengers are fine.

The plane was operated by Malaysia-based Air Asia.
Four fire trucks were standing by in case the plane had trouble on landing, Keo Sivorn added.

He said technicians were inspecting the plane to find out why the landing gear failed and see if it had any other problems.

On June 25, a Russian-made An-24 plane crashed during a storm while flying to the southern coastal town of Sihanoukville, killing all 22 people on board. It had taken off from Siem Reap, the country's main tourist hub and site of the famed Angkor Wat temple complex.

The plane was operated by PMT Air, a small Cambodia airline that began flights in January from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, a new route launched to spur the country's burgeoning tourism industry.

The last major air accident in Cambodia was in 1997, when a Vietnam Airlines TU-134B crashed while trying to land during a rainstorm at Phnom Penh International Airport, killing more than 60 people.
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Govt welcomes Cambodian anti-terror laws

The federal government has welcomed news that the Cambodian government has passed anti-terrorism laws.

In a joint statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the Australian government had provided advice to Cambodian officials on drafting the law.

"This is an important step for Cambodia and the region in the fight against terrorism," said Mr Ruddock.

"This is an important step for Cambodia and the region in the fight against terrorism," said Mr Ruddock.

"The law will provide a comprehensive legislative basis for counter-terrorism efforts in Cambodia."

Mr Downer said the law complemented the extensive counter-terrorism assistance Australia was delivering to its South-East Asian allies.

The law passed Cambodia's national assembly on June 26 and its Senate on July 10, and has to be signed by the King before coming into effect.
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Cambodia to host its first international golf tournament

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: The impoverished nation of Cambodia will host its first international golf tournament at a course near the famed Angkor temples, the Asian Tour announced Monday.

The inaugural US$300,000 (€217,000) Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open will be played at the newly opened Phokeethra Country Club, which is also a main tournament sponsor. The event, slated to run from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 in the northwestern province of Siem Reap, is likely to draw many of Asia's top golfers, organizers said.

Asian Tour Executive Chairman Kyi Hla Han said the tournament, which is one of seven new events on the schedule this season, proved that the game was thriving in the region.

"The game continues to prosper in Asia and with a new initiative in Cambodia, our next plan of action will be to help new golfing nations to develop the game," Han said.

"One of the best ways to attract new golfers is to expose them to international-class competitions and I believe the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open will provide a launch pad for exciting talents to emerge from Cambodia," he said.

Cambodian Tourism Minister Thong Khon, present at Monday's ceremony in Siem Reap announcing the tournament, said it would boost tourism.

"When we have a golf tournament like this, we can show the world and all the tourists that we have something new for them at the Angkor Wat site," he said. "Before, if golfers wanted to visit Angkor Wat, they were hesitant to come, but now they are happy to come to see the temples because they can see the temples and can play golf too."

Touted as the only international-standard course in Cambodia, Phokeethra is part of a campaign by the Cambodia government to boost its tourist revenues. The 18-hole, 72-par course is 23 kilometers (14 miles) outside Siem Reap town.

Cambodia now has three golf courses, including two near Phnom Penh, the capital. A fourth, also in Siem Reap, is under construction.

Tourism is a major foreign currency earner for cash-strapped Cambodia. There were 1.4 million foreign arrivals last year, with the largest number of visitors from South Korea, Japan and the United States. More than half of the tourists visited the Angkor temples.

Cambodia is one of the poorest in Asia, which is in part a legacy of the years when the communist Khmer Rouge ruled the country in the late 1970s, imposing radical communist policies that led to the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodian through execution, malnutrition, medical neglect and overwork.
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In Iraq bills, a Vietnam echo

By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff July 16, 2007

WASHINGTON -- In December 1970, Congress passed historic legislation revoking the 1964 Tonkin Gulf resolution, which had authorized military force in Vietnam, and banning the deployment of ground troops in Cambodia. War opponents hoped Congress was on the verge of forcing a quick end to the bloody quagmire in Indochina.

"The president, in our judgment, now lacks legitimate authority to keep on prosecuting the war," said Senator Frank Church , Democrat of Idaho, in a 1971 speech. "Under these circumstances, a great opportunity is presented to Congress -- the chance to fill this constitutional vacuum with a disengagement policy that could help unite the country again."

War opponents' hopes were dashed. Despite signing the bills, President Nixon said he had independent authority as commander in chief to keep combat in Vietnam going. For the next two years, Congress failed to agree on further restrictions, and nearly 3,000 more American soldiers died. Nixon finally ended the war on his own terms with a cease - fire agreement in January 1973.

In the coming months, some 34 years after the Vietnam War shuddered to a halt, Congress will again attempt to do something unprecedented: stopping a war before a president is ready. Scholars agree that Congress has the power to force a shift in the conduct of the Iraq war, but the path will be difficult in the face of uncompromising opposition from President Bush.

Julian Zelizer , a Princeton history professor, said that there has always been a gap between what Congress can theoretically do to end a war and what is politically achievable. The ugly consequences of withdrawals, coupled with procedural rules that allow a group of 40 senators to block votes, have proved to be steep obstacles to winning enough votes to stop combat.

"Once you are in a war, it's hard to get out of it," said Zelizer. "When the messiness of war is combined with the messiness of Congress, the result is that it is very hard to get congressional opposition under way."

Congress is considering such proposals as repealing the Iraq war authorization, moving troops out of cities, narrowing their mission from policing the sectarian strife to hunting terrorists, and limiting troop rotations. Last week, the House passed a measure that would require a withdrawal to begin within 120 days and be completed by April .

But such measures face additional hurdles in the Senate, where Republicans can use the procedural tactic known as a filibuster to block a vote on anything that does not have the support of 60 senators. On Wednesday, for example, 41 senators blocked a vote on a proposal to require troops to receive additional time at home before being redeployed.

There is ample historical precedent for Congress imposing limits on what presidents can do with US troops in the midst of a war, specialists say. But in all previous such cases, Congress was working with a president who was willing to sign its bills into law, usually as a negotiated compromise.

In Vietnam, for example, Congress banned ground combat troops from Laos and Thailand in 1969, and from Cambodia in 1970. And in July 1973, when the combat in Vietnam was over anyway, lawmakers cut off funds for further military action in Indochina -- a gesture that prevented the United States from restarting the war after the North Vietnamese broke the cease-fire agreement in 1975.

Congress has also repeatedly imposed limits on what presidents can do with forces on peacekeeping missions. In 1983 and in 1993, it imposed deadlines for pulling out of Lebanon and Somalia, respectively. Congress also banned further covert paramilitary aid to anti-Marxist fighters in Angola in 1976, and in Nicaragua in 1984.

But Bush has promised to veto any legislation that limits his flexibility in how to conduct the Iraq war -- as he did in May when he vetoed a funding bill that included a timetable for withdrawal. And, analysts note, Bush is in a far different political situation than were Nixon in 1971, Gerald Ford in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1983 and 1984, or Bill Clinton in 1993.

In those prior cases, presidents had years of governing ahead of them -- or at least believed that they did. But Bush's presidency will soon be over and Vice President Dick Cheney is not running to replace him. Thus, the White House has less reason to compromise with Congress -- or to worry about public opinion polls.

"No one in that White House is destined for an accountability moment," said Harvard law professor David Barron . "Under normal circumstances a president would have incentives to bring [a war] to a close -- consistent with the wishes of the legislature, but somehow still on his own terms. But there doesn't seem to be any interest in doing that."

Bush's lame-duck status, Barron said, also may make GOP lawmakers more willing to break with the White House because their political futures are no longer entwined with the president's.

Such a dynamic raises the possibility that Congress could pass some kind of war restriction over Bush's veto -- only to see Bush defy the law anyway.

Prompted in part by Cheney, the Bush administration has championed an aggressive view of executive power under which Congress cannot restrict the commander in chief's options, short of cutting off funds for the troops. This constitutional interpretation, which is disputed by many legal scholars, has surfaced repeatedly in recent months.

On May 1, when Bush vetoed the Iraq timetable bill, he told Congress that it was unconstitutional "because it purports to direct the conduct of the operations of the war in a way that infringes upon the powers vested in the presidency by the Constitution, including as commander in chief of the armed forces."

Last Tuesday, Bush sent Congress a letter threatening to veto any defense bill that restricted his options not only for dealing with Iraq, but also with Iran. His letter asserted that the Constitution "exclusively" commits to him alone the power to decide how to use military or covert force in such national security situations.

And in a news conference Thursday, Bush repeated again his view that Congress can only decide whether to fund the war -- but that all other decisions were for the commander in chief.

In that news conference, Bush also said he would not want to establish a precedent by agreeing to let Congress share in setting troop levels. If Bush refuses to obey laws restricting his conduct of the war, scholars said, it could take months for Congress and the courts to strike back -- a process that might take too long to complete before he leaves office.

"If the executive branch is determined to push its powers to the brink of what they can get away with, the problem for the other branches is that any response they can make within a system of checks and balances takes time," said Peter Shane , an Ohio State law professor.

Added Barron: "It's a perfect storm for a constitutional crisis."

History has shown that it can be politically difficult to force presidents to obey restrictions on their use of the military. In May 1975, for example, the Cambodian Navy seized an American freighter called the Mayaguez and kidnapped its crew. Without consulting Congress, Ford ordered US Marines to attack an island where the crew was believed to be held.

Ford's move drew fire because of the ban on using ground troops in Cambodia, as well as a 1973 law requiring presidents to consult with Congress before sending troops into combat. In an Oval Office meeting, Speaker of the House Carl Albert , Democrat of Oklahoma, told Ford: "There are charges on the floor that you have violated the law."

But, a transcript shows, Ford cited his power as commander in chief to say that he had acted within his legal rights: "It is my constitutional responsibility to command the forces and to protect Americans."

The Mayaguez crew was rescued. The operation was portrayed by the media as a feel-good victory in the wake of the humiliating fall of Saigon. Congress lacked the political will to challenge Ford.

Months later, after the controversy faded, it emerged that the rescue operation was not such a success. Instead of one Marine dead and 13 missing, as early reports said, 41 died assaulting the island. Worse, the crew had already been released and was floating out to be picked up by the Navy when the assault began.

In his memoirs, Ford said he "felt terrible" about the "high toll," but believed he had done the right thing. He wrote: "We had recovered the ship, we had rescued the crew, and the psychological boost the incident had given us as a people was significant."
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Gravel Responds To Harsh Criticisms

Long-Shot Democratic Hopeful Shoots Back At McCain And Biden

At times taking notes and chuckling, Mike Gravel watched – for the first time – video of harsh criticisms made against him by fellow presidential contenders on the Senate floor the previous day.

During a Senate debate Tuesday over the defense reauthorization bill, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, read remarks made on December 15, 1970 by then Sen. Gravel, D-Alaska. McCain said the current push for a "precipitous withdrawal" from Iraq in order to protect American forces is reminiscent of the argument Gravel made for U.S. withdrawal from Cambodia.

"Yeah, there was an argument that prohibited the United States from being involved in Cambodia," McCain said. As a result, "three million people were slaughtered, one of the great acts of genocide in modern history."

Repeating the phrase, "I've seen this movie before," McCain said he had "seen this movie before from the liberal left in America" who "share no responsibility for what happened in Cambodia."

In his rebuttal of McCain's remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, rejected McCain's use of the term "precipitous withdrawal" to characterize the stance of those in favor of withdrawing from Iraq. Biden also took issue with McCain's use of Mike Gravel as a representation of the Democrat's stance on the war. Drawing from his recollections as a young senator, Biden said, "Nobody agreed with Gravel! Give me a break! Quoting Gravel as a voice of the left! He was the voice of his voice!"

After watching the video at CBS News on Wednesday, Mike Gravel said McCain had taken a debate he had with Senator Bob Dole out of context.

"I embarrassed the heck out of Dole," said Gravel. "For a very simple reason, which I pointed out. We're the ones who invaded Cambodia. We're the ones who bombed them and caused 8,000 deaths ... We deposed their legitimate leader King Sihanouk. We overthrew him, put in our puppet."

Gravel continued, "All I got to do is say ... John McCain, go back to the beginning of the movie to understand what's happening. 'Cause he wasn't there to see the beginning – well he was there to see the beginning of the movie. He was bombing people, and he was shot down. Well, what have we accomplished by bombing Agent Orange in Vietnam? What have we accomplished? You as an American can now go to Hanoi and buy Baskin ice cream, Baskin Robbins ice cream."

Gravel has repeatedly said Congress should make it a felony to stay in Iraq, which could enable the Senate and House to override the President's veto and withdraw U.S. forces. Gravel said he isn't advocating for a precipitous withdrawal, but what he calls a "proper withdrawal."

"If we're going to withdraw, let's withdraw," said Gravel. "Because, what happens to the Americans between now and next year? What do you tell those families? 'Oh, we want to withdraw. We just didn't want to do it in a hurry to save your son or your daughter's life'."

Regarding Biden's comments, Gravel acknowledged that he does not make popular decisions. Gravel said that when he filibustered for the draft and released the Pentagon papers, he "was marginalized by the American media. And now, when we look back, 'my, wasn't the senator courageous'."

Gravel said it was the "Communist government of Vietnam who came in and had to deal with the Pol Pot killing fields" after the U.S. withdrew. He said that Iran could have a similar role in stabilizing Iraq.

"Most Americans forget, including Joe Biden, that Iran helped us two years ago to get the Taliban in Afghanistan," Gravel said. "And after they did that, after they helped us, George Bush calls them the Axis of Evil. These people want stability in the area more than we do. We want an empire."

Asked about whether he thinks he can win the presidency, Gravel responded, "That's up to the American people."

"I will carry it as a badge of honor the fact I haven't raised these multi-million dollars from the insurance industry, from the pharmaceutical industry, from the military industrial complex, from the trial lawyers," said Gravel.
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N.J. businessman set for trial in test of ``sex tourism'' law

Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- Seven years ago, Russian courts convicted a wealthy American motel owner of molesting children and sent him to prison, but later decided to just expel him.

The experience did little to keep Anthony "Mark" Bianchi stateside. Over the next few years, he traveled to Moldova, Romania, Cambodia and Cuba _ trips all designed, U.S. officials say, to recruit destitute boys for sexual trysts.

Bianchi, 44, of North Wildwood, N.J., was scheduled to go on trial Monday on charges he assaulted nearly a dozen minors on foreign soil. And this time _ under a largely untested 2003 law designed to thwart "sex tourism" _ he will be tried in federal court in Philadelphia.

More than 50 cases have been brought under what's known as the Protect Act, and so far, more than 30 of the defendants have been convicted, the Justice Department says. But only one federal appeals court has reviewed the law, upholding it in a 2-1 ruling.

Critics, including dissenting 9th U.S. Circuit Judge Warren J. Ferguson, charge that Congress reached too far in giving international police power to the U.S. government. Ferguson asked if U.S. agents should likewise round up Americans who buy marijuana in Amsterdam or Cuban cigars in Timbuktu.

"It is a very unusual theory to say that you can prosecute an American citizen in this country for actions taken completely in another country," said Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official who is now a University of California law professor. "This is not a crime against America, although it's a crime against universal morality."

The majority in the 9th Circuit case found the law to be an appropriate extension of the Constitution's Foreign Commerce Clause, since money changed hands.

The case involved Michael L. Clark, a 70-year-old veteran from Seattle who in 2004 became the first person prosecuted under the law. Clark pleaded guilty to molesting boys in Cambodia, while reserving the right to challenge the law itself.

Beyond the constitutional issues, defense attorneys say the cases are a logistical nightmare to defend, in part because they lack the diplomatic and political clout of the U.S. government.

Before Clark's plea, the defense traveled to Cambodia to interview the reported victims.

"To do this in a foreign country, you have to send an investigator over there, and that person has to make contacts in the community. That may not be possible, given the language differences and cultural differences," said Michael Filipovic, an assistant federal public defender in Seattle.

Investigators believe Clark may have molested as many as 50 children. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal of the 9th Circuit ruling, leaving him to serve a 97-month sentence.

Other Americans charged to date include a teacher, an anesthesiologist, a Peace Corps volunteer and an 85-year-old man in a wheelchair, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

Bianchi's trial, before U.S. District Judge Bruce W. Kauffman, is expected to last three weeks. It is being held in Pennsylvania rather than New Jersey because he flew out of Philadelphia for the alleged sex trips.

Prosecutors charge that Bianchi, through a local translator who helped procure the boys, assaulted nearly a dozen teenagers in exchange for money, liquor, gifts and trips, including trips to Cuba and Romania.

The translator, Ion Gusin, is serving a 20-year sentence in Moldova on related charges, and won't be available to testify in person in Philadelphia.

Prosecutors do plan to bring about 20 potential witnesses to the downtown courthouse from remote parts of Moldova and Romania, seven time zones away. Few speak English.

"Americans go to these countries and create a pretty bad image," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Levy, a prosecutor in the case. "A hundred dollars can buy a lot of food for a pretty long time for a lot of these families. ... This is the kind of case that shows why there's a need for this (law)."

Mark Geragos, the high-profile lawyer representing Bianchi, said the discovery process has shown what defense attorneys are up against in trying to secure a fair trial.

"The majority of potential defense witnesses live in a Moldovan village where indoor plumbing is a luxury, and much of the transport is by horse and carriage," he wrote in a pretrial motion.

"The idea of coming to the U.S. would be akin to an American citizen contemplating a voyage to the moon," he said.

Records make it difficult to even verify the age of the reported victims, he said. He plans to argue that several of the boys recanted their accusations.

Prosecutors said it was Geragos who canceled recent depositions in Moldova that the U.S. government had arranged for him, after a hurried exchange of diplomatic letters. Geragos said authorities had not arranged a video hookup for his jailed client.

Bianchi asked the U.S. to pay his investigative costs. He said the case has left him penniless after 19 months in prison. But prosecutors charge he was worth $2 million before he starting moving assets to family members.

The judge apparently agreed, ordering Bianchi to bear most of his discovery costs.

Little, the law professor, believes defendants face real challenges under the Protect Act that Congress may soon have to sort out, perhaps through new rules of criminal procedure.

Filipovic, the public defender from Seattle, offered another solution.

"I've always wondered why it wouldn't be more efficient to simply help the foreign governments to address these problems themselves," he said.

"The statement you're making when you don't do that is that the governments are so corrupt they can't do it. To me, that's sort of paternalistic."
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