Justice For All Malaysia

International

January 2, 2009
Israeli Strike on Gaza Kills Senior Hamas Figure
By ISABEL KERSHNER

JERUSALEM — Israel broadened the scope of its air offensive against the Hamas infrastructure in Gaza on Thursday, destroying important symbols of the government and, for the first time in its six-day-old campaign, killing a senior leader of the militant Islamic group.

With Israeli troops and tanks massing along the border with Gaza in preparation for a possible ground invasion, Israel also pursued diplomatic avenues to explain its positions.

The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, flew to Paris to meet with French leaders who are seeking ways to promote a cease-fire. Before she left, Ms. Livni suggested that Israel was seeking more time for its military operation, which officials say is intended to bring an end to the rocket fire from Gaza that has plagued southern Israel for years.

The Israeli Air Force on Thursday afternoon bombed the house of Nizar Rayyan, a senior Hamas leader, killing him along with his four wives and nine of his children, four of them under the age of 18, Palestinian hospital officials said. An Israeli military spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, described Mr. Rayyan as one of the “most extreme” figures of Hamas, which controls Gaza. The military said he had helped plan a deadly suicide bombing in Israel in 2004, had sent his own son on a suicide mission against Jewish settlers in Gaza in 2001 and was advocating renewed suicide missions against Israel in retaliation for the current offensive.

Mr. Rayyan was known in Gaza as a highly influential figure with strong links to the military wing of Hamas, particularly in northern Gaza, where he lived, and as a popular Hamas preacher who openly extolled and championed the idea of martyrdom.

The Israeli military said in a statement that there were many secondary explosions after the air attack, “proving that the house was used for storing weaponry.” It was also used as a communications center, the statement said, and a tunnel that had been dug under the house was used by Hamas operatives.

Most Hamas leaders in Gaza have been in hiding since the Israeli operation began, but Mr. Rayyan was said to have refused to leave his home on ideological grounds. In the past, he had been known to gather supporters to stand on the rooftops of other houses in Gaza that Israel had threatened to strike.

While hundreds of thousands of Gazans have received warnings in the form of telephone messages or fliers that their buildings are Israeli targets, Major Leibovich said she could not give details or specify whether Mr. Rayyan’s family had been warned.

Hamas called on Palestinians in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem to mark Friday as a “day of wrath” by holding marches after noon prayers, according to Agence France-Presse.

Hamas has so far responded to the Israeli military assault by firing yet more rockets deeper into the country. On Thursday, a rocket fired from Gaza struck an apartment building in the major port city of Ashdod, about 20 miles north of the Palestinian territory, causing extensive damage but no serious injuries.

Earlier on Thursday, Israeli warplanes and naval forces bombed Hamas security installations, militants’ houses and tunnels used for smuggling weapons, as well as symbols of the government like the legislative building — a Gaza landmark — and the Ministry of Justice, the Israeli military said.

In Gaza City, a large section of the main street around the destroyed legislative building was filled with rubble. Armed Hamas security officers in civilian clothes were out on the streets maintaining control.

Medical officials in Gaza said the number of Palestinians killed in the Israeli bombardment had topped 400. While many of the dead were Hamas security personnel, the United Nations said, a quarter of those killed were civilians. Some Israeli officials have put the number of Palestinian civilians killed at closer to 10 percent.

In France — which on Thursday handed over the rotating presidency of the European Union to the Czech Republic — Ms. Livni met with President Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for “an exchange of opinions and ideas” and to share information about Israel’s intentions and plans, an Israeli official said.

Ms. Livni, speaking from Paris, again rejected the idea proposed this week by Mr. Kouchner for a 48-hour lull in the fighting for humanitarian purposes.

“There is no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza, she said, “and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.”

The Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the French proposal, called it “unrealistic,” “hasty” and bordering on “offensive,” saying that Israel was already allowing relief supplies into Gaza every day.

The European Union has in the meantime issued a statement calling for an “immediate and permanent cease-fire,” including an “unconditional halt to rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel and an end to Israeli military action.”

But as she left for Paris, Ms. Livni told Israel Radio that Jerusalem would not agree to a cease-fire at this point and that it would continue with its military operation. “This is not a short battle and it is not a single battle, and we have long-range goals,” Ms. Livni said.

Mr. Sarkozy is now scheduled to stop in Israel on Monday during a tour of the Middle East.

Israel’s stated goal for its operation is to halt the rocket fire from Gaza and to create a new security situation in southern Israel, where three civilians and a soldier have been killed in rocket attacks in the past six days.

Israeli officials have been less clear about whether or not they hope to topple Hamas, which won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and then took full control of Gaza after routing forces loyal to the rival Palestinian Authority in June 2007.

But in attacking symbols of the government on Thursday, Israel seemed to be blurring the lines. The military said in a statement on Thursday that Hamas government sites “serve as a critical component of the terrorist group’s infrastructure in Gaza.”

Israel, like the United States and the European Union, classifies Hamas as a terrorist group. Ms. Livni has emphasized that Israel will not accept Hamas’s rule as legitimate unless the organization fulfills conditions set by the international community, including recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing all violence and accepting previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians — conditions that Hamas has so far rejected.

Israeli officials have said they will work with allies to build a durable, long-term truce while seeking to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza, a measure that will help prolong the Israeli military’s ability to act.

Israeli human rights groups on Thursday issued an urgent appeal to Ehud Barak, the defense minister, demanding that Israel restore fuel supplies to Gaza to ensure the proper functioning of hospitals, water wells and other vital humanitarian institutions.

Sari Bashi, the director of one of the groups, Gisha, which advocates the free movement of Palestinians, said that while food and medicine were coming into Gaza, the supply of fuel was “extremely minimal” for the past two months.

Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister, told Czech television that organizing a cease-fire would be the European Union’s “main role in the coming days and weeks.”

The European Union initiative said the cessation of fighting “should allow lasting and normal opening of all border crossings” to Gaza, a fundamental Hamas demand for any renewal of the six-month truce that expired on Dec. 19. But the European initiative suggests that the crossings should be operated by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with European monitors, a provision that Hamas is likely to reject.

Taghreed El-Khodary contributed reporting from Gaza; Rina Castelnuovo from Ashdod, Israel; and Alison Smale from Paris.

December 31, 2008

Israel Considers a 48-Hour Cease-Fire

JERUSALEM — With their punishing air attacks on Gaza heading into a fifth day, their gunboats gathering near the port and ground forces poised for imminent action, Israeli officials said on Tuesday they were mulling a French proposal for a 48-hour ceasefire that would require Hamas to stop its rocket fire and would allow humanitarian relief to reach the besieged coastal strip.

The idea was in a very early stage, the result of a conversation between French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But aides to Mr. Barak said he was interested in exploring it and would do so with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the rest of the cabinet in the coming day.

“The leading option right now is still a ground invasion but the target of this operation is an improved ceasefire and if that can come without the invasion, fine,” a close aide to Mr. Barak said, requesting anonymity since he was not his authorized spokesman. “But of course Hamas has to agree and there has to be a mechanism to make it work.”

As the death toll among Palestinians in Gaza rose, the United States was also increasing pressure on Israel to call a cease-fire, and was enlisting Arab countries to press Hamas to do the same, in intensive diplomacy being led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the White House. The goal, said a State Department spokesman, Gordon Duguid, is a “reliable cease-fire, one that is durable and sustainable.”But despite the new attempts at reaching a diplomatic solution, most of the talk in Israel on Tuesday was of an ongoing and expanding Israeli military operation. Warplanes attacked smuggler tunnels in southern Gaza and destroyed the home of a top militant leader.

Mr. Olmert told President Shimon Peres that the air strikes were the first of several planned phases, according to spokesmen for both officials, although it was also clear that the number of targets available from the air was declining, making the likelihood of a ground offensive greater.

In Gaza, Hamas militants issued a tape-recorded statement vowing revenge for the more than 370 Palestinians killed so far in Israel’s operations since Saturday, including more than 70 civilians, and warning that a ground invasion would prove painful for Israel. Two sisters, aged 4 and 11, were killed in a strike in the north as concern was growing around the world that the assault was taking a terrible toll on ordinary people.

“It would be easier to dry the sea of Gaza than to defeat the resistance and uproot Hamas which is in every house of Gaza,” the statement, from the military wing of Hamas, said. It was played on Hamas’s television station that had been shut down by an Israeli missile but went back into action by broadcasting from a mobile van. The statement added that if there was a ground invasion, “the children of Gaza will be collecting the body parts of your soldiers and the ruins of tanks.”

Hamas continued to fire longer-range rockets at Israel, shooting deep into the city of Ashdod for a second day as well as even further north into the town of Kiryat Malachi. There were no reports of serious injuries and the number of rockets was down to about a dozen, a day after three Israelis were killed when 70 rockets and mortars were fired.

Israeli warplanes, returning repeatedly to the same section of Gaza City overnight, pummeled the main government complex with some 17 missiles, locals said. The building had been evacuated since the start of the operation on Saturday which also hit nearly all the ruling group’s security complexes, its university and other symbols of its sovereignty and power.

The Nakhala family who live in a building next to the compound were inspecting the damage on Tuesday morning and recounting the utter fear and panic they felt as the 17 missiles hit.

“We have no shelters in Gaza,” lamented the father, Osama Nakhala. “Where shall we go? I also have to worry about my mother who is 80 years old and paralyzed.”

Gaza City was entirely without electricity for the first time, the result of an air attack that hit the system’s infrastructure. Repairmen said they were afraid to work because of the possibility of more raids.

The few open bakeries and grocery stores had lines outside them as people tried to stock up. But essentials, like diapers, baby food, bread, potatoes and fresh vegetables, were in short supply and as a result costlier than normal.

Israel sent in about 100 trucks with emergency food and medicine, the military reported.

At the Hassouna Bakery, about 100 men and 50 women waited in separate lines. Amal Altayan was telling others on the line that she kept her cell phone in her pocket so that if an Israeli missile destroyed her house she would be able to phone for help. The other women yelled at her, saying if a missile hit her house, she would be helpless. Showing familiarity with the kind of information one needs to survive in Gaza these days, Ms. Altayan replied, “It depends. If it is an F-16 I will turn into biscuits but if it is an Apache I may have a chance.”

Ethan Bronner reported from Jerusalem, and Taghreed El-Khodary from Gaza. Mark Landler reported from Washington.

December 17, 2008

Bush Prepares Crisis Briefings to Aid Obama

By PETER BAKER

NY Times

WASHINGTON — The White House has prepared more than a dozen contingency plans to help guide President-elect Barack Obama if an international crisis erupts in the opening days of his administration, part of an elaborate operation devised to smooth the first transition of power since Sept. 11, 2001.

The memorandums envision a variety of volatile possibilities, like a North Korean nuclear explosion, a cyberattack on American computer systems, a terrorist strike on United States facilities overseas or a fresh outbreak of instability in the Middle East, according to people briefed on them. Each then outlines options for Mr. Obama to consider.

The contingency planning goes beyond what other administrations have done, with President Bush and Mr. Obama vowing to work in tandem to ensure a more efficient transition in a time of war and terrorist threat. The commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, noting problems during the handover from President Bill Clinton to Mr. Bush, called for a better process “since a catastrophic attack could occur with little or no notice,” as its report put it.

“This is very unusual,” said Roger Cressey, a former Clinton White House counterterrorism official who was held over under Mr. Bush. “We certainly did not do that. When the transition happened from Clinton to Bush, remember it was a totally different world. You had some documents given that gave them a flavor of where things were at. But now you’ve got two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a hot war against Al Qaeda.”

In addition to the White House contingency memorandums, the Department of Homeland Security said it had given crisis training to nearly 100 career officials who may fill in while Mr. Obama’s appointees await Senate confirmation. Starting before the election, those career workers have conducted exercises alongside departing political appointees to test their responses.

The administration has invited members of the Obama agency review teams to observe some of those so-called tabletop exercises between now and the inauguration, on Jan. 20. The Bush team has also invited Obama transition officials to attend a “national level exercise” set for Jan. 12 and 13 that may play out what would happen if the top leadership of the nation were wiped out in a single stroke, officials said.

At the same time, senior counterterrorism officials plan to hold personal briefings for their counterparts on the biggest threats they see. And the White House has drafted as many as three dozen other long-term policy memorandums outlining various pressing issues that will confront the new team and how Mr. Bush’s aides see the status of each of these issues as his presidency comes to a close.

The White House said the flurry of briefings and memorandums was meant to be helpful to the incoming administration, not an attempt to dictate to it, and members of the Obama team said they were taking it in that light.

“It’s a good-faith effort to provide potential information on some hot spots and some ideas about what they can do,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman. “We just want to provide them, especially in the first few weeks, the basis for which they can have some information to make their decisions.”

The contingency plans, he said, provide the new president a variety of possible responses to certain situations rather than a specific course of action. “It’s a menu of contingencies and potential options,” he said. “It’s not exhaustive, and it’s not exclusive, and it’s not prescriptive, as if to say, ‘These are the only things you can do.’ ”

Mr. Bush said Tuesday that a top priority in his final days in office is to help Mr. Obama get ready to govern. “We care about him,” he said in an interview with CNN. “We want him to be successful, and we want the transition to work.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Obama’s office said she had no comment. But other Democrats working with the transition said they appreciated the Bush team’s efforts. “This doesn’t absolve the Bush administration of some of their judgments they’ve made over the years, but this is the right thing to do,” said a Democrat close to the transition who did not want to be named to avoid alienating the team. “This is when enlightened self-interest works.”

Mr. Cressey, who has been a critic of Mr. Bush’s national security policy, said: “I give them a lot of points for doing this. There could be zero down time for the new team coming in.”

The attention to national security in this postelection interim period stems in part from the recognition that terrorists have struck during moments of flux in national leadership before. Al Qaeda’s first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 came weeks after Mr. Clinton was sworn in. A series of bombings on a Madrid commuter train system in 2004 came three days before national elections. And an attack on a Glasgow airport in 2007 came days after Prime Minister Gordon Brown took office in Britain.

Here in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security declared the fall election and transition a period of heightened alert because of the concern. Under the authority granted by intelligence legislation Mr. Bush signed in 2004, the government has processed security clearances for Obama transition officials earlier than ever before and Mr. Obama has named his top nominees faster than any other modern president-elect.

Beyond terrorism, Mr. Obama could face an early unexpected international test on any number of fronts, as his running mate, Joseph R. Biden Jr., predicted on the campaign trail. During the transition between the administrations of the first President Bush and Mr. Clinton, a humanitarian crisis in Somalia prompted Mr. Bush to send United States troops to intervene.

While Mr. Obama’s national security résumé is relatively thin, many members of his national security team come with deep experience. He is keeping Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and has tapped Gen. James L. Jones, a retired NATO supreme commander, as national security adviser.

Yet returning Clinton veterans have not been in government since Sept. 11. There was no Department of Homeland Security then, no director of national intelligence. The world has changed, and so have the structures to cope with it.

And there are things that cannot be put in a briefing or memorandum. James Jay Carafano, a national security expert at the Heritage Foundation, said much of the apparatus of government would know what to do in the event of a crisis. The real test for Mr. Obama will be projecting leadership.

“For a president thinking about crisis management,” Mr. Carafano said, “the most important thing is not decision making, it’s public relations.”

Mumbai terror attacks: Nightmare in the lap of luxury

The terrorist rampage that gripped the world for three days began in silence as eight killers stepped from a boat on to a dark city beach. Now India demands to know who they were, where they came from … and most of all, why the security forces failed to prevent them

Soldier prevents people from approaching the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on November 29, 2008

Soldier prevents people from approaching the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on November 29, 2008. Photograph: Pedro Ugarte/AFP

From the moment a small boat nudged the shore of Mumbai’s Fisherman’s Colony on Wednesday evening and decanted eight young men clad in orange anoraks, the plan was simple: kill and keep killing to the very last breath.

The little group paused to shed their waterproof jackets, revealing jeans and T-shirts. Picking up their bulging rucksacks from the black inflatable, they turned silently and set off towards the heart of India‘s financial capital.

The beach was virtually empty, most of the residents of the area having retreated indoors to watch the final stages of the one-day cricket match between India and England. India won, but it was the last piece of good news the country would have until yesterday morning when Mumbai was finally freed from the grip of an audacious terrorist outrage that claimed the lives of at least 195 people.

For 62 hours, the gunmen roamed freely around some of the city’s most prestigious hotels, killing at random, holding Mumbai and the wider world in horrified thrall.

Despite the lure of the cricket, one man had ventured out onto the beach on Wednesday evening. Bharat Tamore, an assistant supervisor at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, was gazing out to sea when he spotted the dinghy drifting noiselessly towards the beach.

It was 9.15pm and by the light of the moon Tahore watched the men jump off. They were young, no more than 25, thin and good-looking, ‘like Bollywood stars,’ he recalled later, although their faces wore a grim, determined look. On their backs were blue rucksacks, and in their hands red carry-bags heavy enough to cause one of the smaller men to stumble. They were students, they said, when he asked what they were doing: ‘They told me that they were tense and that they didn’t need any more tension.’

The young men slipped away into the night in the direction of the Taj Mahal Palace and the ornate splendour of the Gateway of India.

But they were not the only ones on the move. Across the southern tip of the city, others were also collecting weapons and heading out to get the carnage under way. How many there were, no one seems quite sure: as many as 40, some sources suggested.

The key questions are what they intended to achieve in their murderous rampage, their identities, and who sent them to Mumbai. Answers are likely to come in the first instance from one of those who clambered out of the inflatable on Wednesday night – 21-year-old Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amin Kasab – the only terrorist known to have been captured alive by Indian security forces. As details of his interrogation were disclosed yesterday in the Indian media, the first proper understanding of what happened in three days of bloodshed began to emerge out of the contradictory details – building a case that pointed ever more strongly towards Pakistan. It is not just the Indian media who are saying out loud what many suspected, but also state officials. What they had only hinted at in the beginning – with Kasab’s interrogation – was yesterday stated more boldly. ‘[The] investigation carried out so far has revealed the hand of Pakistan-based groups in the Mumbai attack,’ said Sri Prakash Jaiswal, India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs.

As Kasab left the docks, it was in the company of a man the police say has been identified as Ismail Khan, the terrorists splitting into pairs of small kill teams.

The journey that followed across Mumbai – described in the Indian press – took the two men first by taxi to the CST railway station, where Kasab was chillingly photographed as he paused, amid the gunfire and grenades that killed as many as 50 people, in grey combat trousers, a dark blue T-shirt and wearing a rucksack with spare ammunition on one shoulder.

From the railway station Khan and Kasab moved on to the Cama and GT hospitals, firing as they went. According to the same sources, it was during their progress through Mumbai that the pair shot dead the Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare and another senior officer. Their killing spree was only halted when Khan was shot down in the Girgaum Chowpatty locality of south Mumbai, and when Kasab surrendered.

Now Kasab is talking, and what he has to say is likely to define the future relations of two nuclear-armed rivals – India and Pakistan. Yesterday a Pakistani official said it would divert troops to its border with India and away from fighting militants on the Afghan frontier, if tensions erupt in the wake of the attacks on Mumbai. That the tensions will increase in the coming days seems likely.

Already, if the accounts of his questioning are to be believed, Kasab has revealed that, like him, most of his fellow attackers hailed from Pakistan – although that has yet to be confirmed. He revealed that the group had been planning the attack for months. Some are thought to have taken jobs in the targeted hotels, others had checked in as guests a few days earlier, using their rooms to stockpile weapons. Kasab – from Faridkot in Pakistan – and eight others had visited Mumbai a few months earlier, posing as students and taking a room in the Colaba market area, which they used as a safe-house to store the supplies they would need for the attacks. According to police, Kasab told them that the main planner arrived in Mumbai a month ago to film potential targets to help train the gunmen. Once he was satisfied that they were ready, the boat team members were each issued with an AK-47 rifle, a pistol, 350 bullets and eight hand-grenades.

A recovered GPS device suggested they set out from the Pakistani port of Karachi in a larger boat – though such is the friction between the two countries that such reports have to be treated with caution – before overpowering the crew of another vessel and sailing to within four nautical miles of Mumbai. There, they transferred to speedboats and made for the shore. So began a night of terror.

Even as Kasab and Khan were attacking the CST station, another pair of gunmen hit the the Leopold Café, a popular haunt for backpackers. Witnesses described how the gunmen took weapons out of backpacks and hurled grenades, killing at least one person. More gunmen moved through the area in a hijacked police vehicle, firing indiscriminately.

At Nariman House, the attackers went for a Jewish centre run by Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, and his wife Rivka. The couple’s son Moshe, two, was rescued by his nanny. They were the only survivors.

But the images of horror that will forever be associated with one of India’s darkest days were reserved for elsewhere – the imposing Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace hotels, frequented by Western business travellers and well-heeled Indians. Here it was the restaurants that took the brunt of the initial assault, but the terrorists quickly fanned out to round up more hostages. At the Taj, the first shots were fired near the swimming pool before the gunmen swarmed into the hotel.

It was in the Taj that a sinister new element to the attack emerged. Survivors said the gunmen were particularly interested in British and American guests, singling them out as targets and ignoring other nationalities. Guests scattered in panic as the carnage continued. ‘There were people getting shot in the corridor. There was someone dead outside the bathroom,’ said 28-year-old Australian former Neighbours actress Brooke Satchwell.

Bharat Tamore had reached the hotel only a few minutes earlier. Changing into his uniform ready for the night shift, he heard gunshots coming from the fashionable Shamiana restaurant above. ‘I stepped out and saw staff and guests running. It was then I remembered those eight boys,’ he said.

Paralysed by fear, he crouched with staff in the kitchen, listening to the crump of explosions and crackle of machine-gun fire until 4am, when they made a dash for freedom.

At the Oberoi, Madhu Kumar, 58, had sat down to a meal with her husband Ashok, 65, and two friends. Panic spread through the room as a gunman burst in, herding them up the stairs. ‘He had a scarf like a bandana and a scarf on his mouth and he was carrying a machine gun,’ she said. ‘There was a stampede. We had heard a commotion and a lot of loud firing. Everybody got panicky. I saw a girl with a bleeding arm. She had been shot.’

She noticed that the gunman was quite fair-skinned and spoke in English – he was a Kashmiri, perhaps, she said. As they moved up the stairs, she heard a gunshot behind her. ‘This man was shot by a terrorist behind us. The terrorist said “wait”, and I heard the shot and he fell. They were just shooting people at random.’

Caught on the hop and hopelessly outgunned, police struggled to cope. The first team to respond consisted of just eight members of the Mumbai force, each armed with a revolver. It took until 2am for the first military personnel to arrive, a group of 40 Marine commandos summoned from their beds to go to the Taj. Even then, no one was able to give them any information about the layout of the hotel. They did not know the strength of their opponents or what weapons they possessed. Entering the hotel, they found about 15 bodies, but before they could do anything else the terrorists opened fire and hurled grenades. By the time the firing stopped, the gunmen had slipped away into the maze of corridors and passageways in the old building.

Now in the aftermath that has left almost 200 dead – perhaps more in the final counting – it is not simply the question of who sent Kasab and his fellow gunmen to Mumbai that is exercising a shocked India. After three days of combat in which a handful of highly trained and motivated gunmen held off against massively superior Indian forces before being at last overwhelmed, what India wants to know is how its security forces could have been caught so flat-footed yet again, when they should have been at the highest state of vigilance after a series of murderous attacks around the country this year.

How, too, some asked, had they failed so dramatically to bring the situation under control during the best part of three days?

Sitting in a side street listening to the sound of loud blasts and gunfire emanating from Nariman House, Rakash Bhaud, the local leader of the far-right Hindu party Shiv Sena, blamed the central government for the failures that, he said, had left them at the mercy of Pakistan-backed terrorists.

‘There is a deep anger here against the government for not providing security for the common people,’ he said. ‘The extremists have taken advantage of this. We don’t have the security to fight against this.’

If the attackers’ intention was to stir up tensions between India and Pakistan – and by extension, Hindu and Muslim – they most certainly succeeded. Anti-Pakistan slogans were being chanted freely by the crowds who gathered to watch the storming of Nariman House.

As the firing died away yesterday morning, the work of getting the city back on its feet began. In the restaurant at the Oberoi hotel, staff were starting to sweep the broken glass away from the tables on which meals abandoned by the fleeing guests still lay. But it may take a lot longer to sweep away the memories of the events of last week and the old enmities it has stirred up.

For now, however, it is a moment for India to come to terms with what has happened. ‘I had arranged to meet a friend in the Oberoi Trident lobby on Wednesday night,’ said Malani Agarwal, 31, a radio presenter on Mumbai Radio. ‘He said he was coming late, so I went upstairs to a lounge bar called the Dragon Fly which is a few doors away. Then we saw a lot of “fireworks” in the lobby. Ten minutes later we felt a tremor. That was the first grenade, then another one. People started getting texts about a gang war at Leopold’s Café and then the Oberoi. The Dragon Café has bulletproof glass and you could see bullets lodged in the windows. That was really scary. We put the television onto the news and saw the Taj burning. The army coming. We all just felt numb. Too scared to move really. It was the worst night of my life. This will be a wake-up call.’

• Additional reporting: Randeep Ramesh

Obama Unveils Team to Tackle ‘Historic’ Crisis

Sally Ryan for The New York Times

“There are no shortcuts or quick fixes to this crisis,” Barack Obama said as he presented his economic team in Chicago on Monday.

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Published: November 24, 2008

CHICAGO — With the financial crisis looming as a priority of his term, President-elect Barack Obama sought to put his imprint on efforts to stem the turmoil as he introduced his economic team on Monday, nominating Timothy F. Geithner as Treasury secretary and Lawrence H. Summers to head the White House Economic Council.

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By naming a team deeply experienced in dealing with financial crises — Mr. Geithner was heavily involved over the weekend in the efforts to stabilize Citigroup — Mr. Obama underscored his determination to assure Americans and foreign investors that he would aggressively step into a leadership vacuum in Washington during the transition.

Moreover, by pledging that his economic team would begin work “today” on recommendations to help middle-class families as well as the financial markets, the president-elect sought to convey an impression of continuity and coordination, so that his administration can “hit the ground running.”

The president-elect also announced that he had chosen Christina D. Romer to head his Council of Economic Advisers and Melody Barnes as director of his White House Domestic Policy Council. Ms. Romer is an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, while Ms. Barnes is a longtime aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

The recent economic news, capped by the Citigroup effort, “has made it even more clear that we are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference. He listed the drop in new home purchases, the surge in unemployment claims to an 18-year high and the likelihood of up to a million further job losses in the coming year.

“While we can’t underestimate the challenges we face,” he said, “we also can’t underestimate our capacity to overcome them to summon that spirit of determination and optimism that has always defined us, and move forward in a new direction to create new jobs, reform our financial system and fuel long-term economic growth.”

Responding to questions, Mr. Obama said that the struggling automobile industry could not be allowed “simply to vanish,” but that the companies should not get “a blank check” from taxpayers. And he said he was surprised that the auto companies’ chief executives were not better prepared with specific recovery proposals in their appearances last week on Capitol Hill. He also all but promised that the tax cuts pushed through Congress by President Bush would be repealed, or at least not renewed when they are scheduled to expire in 2010.

In an effort to inject confidence into the quavering financial markets, Mr. Obama made certain that his first formal cabinet announcement dealt with the economy, not, as is often the case, with national security or diplomacy.

In announcing the nominations of Mr. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, and Mr. Summers, a Harvard economist, Mr. Obama sent a signal that he was set to pursue aggressive, yet centrist policies, in devising moves to help jump-start the economy. He stretched his economic announcement into a two-day affair, planning another news conference on Tuesday to present the rest of his team.

The televised news conference, which came shortly after President Bush made brief remarks at the Treasury Department with Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., created a stark image of the transfer of power that is under way in Washington. Mr. Obama and his new team arrived in a room of dozens of reporters, while Mr. Bush stood nearly alone on the steps of the Treasury Department.

“This is a tough situation for America,” Mr. Bush said, adding that he had spoken to Mr. Paulson by phone Sunday while returning from an economic summit meeting in Peru. He said that he would keep Mr. Obama and his team informed of any major decisions, and added that Mr. Paulson was working in “close cooperation” with the Obama team.

Mr. Bush spoke to Mr. Obama on Monday about the rescue plan for Citigroup. Mr. Obama said he had also spoken Monday to Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

“The truth is, we do not have a minute to waste,” Mr. Obama said. “These extraordinary stresses on our financial system require extraordinary policy responses.”

But he also sought to emphasize the sort of continuity that the markets can find comforting, vowing to “honor the public commitments made by the current administration.” He said his economic team would consult regularly with Congress and the current administration during the transition. Earlier in the day he spoke to President Bush about Citigroup.

Mr. Geithner worked through the weekend on the plan to stabilize Citigroup. Earlier, he was deeply involved in the bailout of American International Group. So he is intimately familiar with the developing crisis — and the controversial efforts so far to stanch it.

Mr. Obama has said repeatedly that there is “only one president at a time,” but the markets’ apparent concerns at the specter of a do-nothing transition — with neither President Bush nor Mr. Obama seeming to aggressively steer recovery efforts — has forced him into a more active role.

The Dow Jones industrial average soared Friday by nearly 500 points on word of the Geithner appointment and markets were up again by more than 200 points at midday Monday.

David Stout and Brian Knowlton in Washington contributed reporting.

November 21, 2008, 2:35 pm Updated: 5:30 pm –>

Clinton Is Said to Opt for Secretary of State Position

Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigning in Florida in October (Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times)

Hillary Rodham Clinton has decided to give up her Senate seat and accept the position of secretary of state, making her the public face around the world for the administration of the man who beat her for the Democratic presidential nomination, two confidants said Friday.

The New Team

Mrs. Clinton came to her decision after additional discussion with President-elect Barack Obama about the nature of her role and his plans for foreign policy, said one of the confidants, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the situation. Mr. Obama’s office told reporters Thursday that the nomination is “on track” but Clinton associates only confirmed Friday afternoon that she has decided.

“She’s ready,” said the confidant. Mrs. Clinton was reassured after talking again with Mr. Obama because their first meeting in Chicago last week “was so general,” the confidant said. The purpose of the follow-up talk, he added, was not to extract particular concessions but “just getting comfortable” with the idea of working together.

A second Clinton associate confirmed that her camp believes they have a done deal. Senior Obama advisers said Friday morning that the offer had not been formally accepted and no announcement will be made until after Thanksgiving. But they said they were convinced that the nascent alliance was now ready to be sealed.

Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Philippe Reines, issued a statement Friday afternoon cautioning that the nomination is not final. “We’re still in discussions, which are very much on track,” he said. “Any reports beyond that are premature.”

The apparent accord between perhaps the two leading figures in the Democratic Party climaxed a week-long drama that riveted the nation’s capital. Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton fought the most competitive Democratic nomination battle in modern times, one that polarized their party for months and left bitterness in both camps. But in asking Mrs. Clinton to join his Cabinet, Mr. Obama signaled that he wants to turn a rival into a partner and she concluded that she could have the most influence by saying yes.

The decision followed days of intense vetting and negotiations intended to clear any potential obstacles to her taking the job due to her husband’s global business and philanthropic activities. Lawyers for Mr. Obama and former President Bill Clinton combed through his finances and crafted a set of guidelines for his future activities intended to avoid any appearances of conflict of interest should she take the job.

People close to the vetting said Mr. Clinton turned over the names of 208,000 donors to his foundation and library and agreed to all of the conditions requested by Mr. Obama’s transition team, including restrictions on his future paid speeches and role at his international foundation.

As secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton will have a powerful platform to travel the world and help repair relations with other countries strained after eight years of President Bush’s policies. But at the same time, she will now have to subordinate her own agenda and ambitions to Mr. Obama’s and sacrifice the independence that comes with a Senate seat and the 18 million votes she collected during their arduous primary battle.

Driving Mrs. Clinton’s deliberations in part, friends said, was a sense of disenchantment with the Senate, where despite her stature she remained low in the ranks of seniority that governs the body. She was particularly upset, they said, at the reception she felt she received when she returned from the campaign trail and sought a more significant leadership role in the expanding Democratic majority.

“Her experience in the Senate with some of her colleagues has not been the easiest time for her,” said one longtime friend. “She’s still a very junior senator. She doesn’t have a committee. And she’s had some disappointing times with her colleagues.”

In particular, the friend said, Mrs. Clinton was upset when the Senate Democratic leadership rejected the possibility of her heading a special task force with a staff and a mandate to develop legislation expanding health care coverage. The idea of giving her an existing leadership post was also dismissed because the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, did not want to force out any senators currently holding those jobs.

But Mr. Reid wants to come up with some sort of leadership position to recognize Mrs. Clinton’s standing and aides said he was confident he could arrive at something with sufficient muscle to appeal to her. He told a closed-door meeting of the Senate Democratic caucus on Tuesday that he was looking for a way to create a new leadership role for her, two people in the room said.

Mrs. Clinton would bring a distinctive background to the State Department. As first lady, she traveled the world for eight years, visiting more than 80 countries, not only meeting with foreign leaders but also villages, clinics and other remote areas that rarely get on a president’s itinerary. Mr. Obama during the primaries belittled that experience as little more than having tea and pointed to schedules showing many ceremonial events on those trips.

But more than any first lady before her, Mrs. Clinton dived deep into particular policy issues in the international arena, from women’s rights to microlending to alleviate poverty. As a senator for the last eight years, she served on the Armed Services Committee and continued her interest in foreign affairs.

She and Mr. Obama agree on the broad outlines of a new foreign policy for the post-Bush era, but they disagreed sharply in several key areas, particularly over how to deal with Iran and Pakistan. She characterized Mr. Obama as naïve in his view of those two countries, while he criticized her judgment for going along with Mr. Bush on the war in Iraq at first.

Democrats Let Lieberman Keep Senate Chairmanship

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, seen on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, described the decision as one of “reconciliation and not retribution.”

Published: November 18, 2008

WASHINGTON — Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent from Connecticut, was allowed to keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday despite his support for Senator John McCain in the presidential campaign.

Democratic senators voted instead to oust Mr. Lieberman from the Environment and Public Works Committee, where he had been chairman of a subcommittee. That penalty was a slap on the wrist compared with the prospect of losing the homeland security leadership post.

“He’s part of this caucus,” the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said after the Democratic caucus voted behind closed doors in the old Senate chamber off the Capitol Rotunda. “We are not looking back. We are looking forward.”

Mr. Lieberman, who had angered many Democrats by campaigning for his longtime friend Mr. McCain and sharply criticizing Mr. Obama, emerged from the private session looking pleased. He called the result “fair and forward-looking” and one of “reconciliation and not retribution.”

And in the way of an apology, he said: “Some of the statements, some of the things that people have said I said about Senator Obama, are simply not true. There are other statements that I made that I wish I had made more clearly, and there are some that I made that I wish I had not made at all. And obviously in the heat of campaigns, that happens to all of us, but I regret that and now it’s time to move on.”

Mr. Lieberman said he was looking forward to working with President-elect Barack Obama “to keep the American people secure at home” as well as abroad.

The vote on a resolution letting him keep the homeland security post, while expressing disapproval of his comments on Mr. Obama, was 42 to 13, with newly elected Democratic senators as well as incumbents taking part.

While the resolution adopted by the Democratic caucus called for “a spirit of reconciliation” and deplored the “extreme partisan environment” created, in Democrats’ eyes, by President Bush, the debate was driven by a blend of personal feelings and political calculation.

Democrats have had a 51-to-49 advantage in the Senate because Mr. Lieberman and another independent, Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, caucus with them. But Democrats picked up at least six seats in the elections, with three contests are still undecided. If the Democrats triumph in all three, they will have the 60-to-40 majority needed to defeat debate-stalling filibusters — provided that Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Sanders continue to caucus with them.

“I think we did what was appropriate,” Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts said.

Before the meeting, Mr. Lieberman said he was optimistic. “I’m going into a roomful of friends,” he told The Associated Press

Actually, Mr. Lieberman has been a source of consternation to Democrats since 2006, when he lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, a businessman from Greenwich. But instead of retiring quietly, Mr. Lieberman won a fourth term as an independent. Since then, he has sided with Democrats on most issues, with the notable exception of the war in Iraq, which he has supported.

Until Tuesday, Senator Reid had been cautious and chilly when discussing Mr. Lieberman. “I’m going to play this by ear and see how it develops,” he told The A.P.

Many Democrats were infuriated that Mr. Lieberman, Vice President Al Gore’s running mate on the 2000 Democratic presidential ticket, ardently supported Senator McCain of Arizona. Mr. Lieberman actively campaigned against Mr. Obama, and harshly criticized him in his speech at the Republican convention.

But Mr. Obama signaled that he did not want Mr. Lieberman thrown out of the Democratic caucus, since expelling the senator could prompt him to align himself with the Republicans. Mr. Lieberman had also signaled that losing the chairmanship of the homeland security panel would be unacceptable to him.

Next month, the Connecticut Democratic Party is to consider a resolution to censure Mr. Lieberman and to call on him to change his party affiliation.

On the other hand, some Connecticut Democrats are known to be ambivalent about Mr. Lieberman: still angry over his support of Mr. McCain but also aware that, as a senior senator aligned with the Democratic caucus, he has considerable leverage to protect the state’s interests. Connecticut’s senior senator, Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat, was believed to be reluctant to deprive Mr. Lieberman of all his committee posts.

Mr. Sanders was not in a forgiving mood on Tuesday, declaring that letting Mr. Lieberman keep his leadership post was “a slap in the face of millions of Americans who worked tirelessly for Barack Obama and who want to see real change in our country.”

On the other side of the aisle, Senate Republicans deferred action on any move to expel Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska because of his recent conviction on felony charges that he failed to report numerous gifts. The Republicans prefer to wait for the result of the election, in which Mr. Stevens currently trails his Democratic opponent, Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage, with some absentee ballots still to be counted.

The Republicans’ action, or non-action, came on Mr. Stevens’s 85th birthday.

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.

Congress examines $700 billion rescue program

WASHINGTON, 13 Nov. – While the Bush administration shifts course on its $700 billion rescue plan, Congress is examining whether even bigger changes should be made in the program in light of the deteriorating economy and soaring mortgage foreclosures.

The debate may not be resolved until President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20 and pursues policies for administering the rescue program that are likely to be more closely aligned with his Democratic allies in Congress.

In anticipation of the change of administrations, Democrats were holding hearings in both the House and Senate on Thursday examining various aspects of the most serious financial crisis to hit the country in 70 years.

The House Oversight Committee was examining the role that hedge funds may have played in recent market turbulence. Among those scheduled to testify was billionaire investor George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management.

Meanwhile, the Senate Banking Committee will hear from executives of a number of financial institutions including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo on the issue of how the government’s $700 billion rescue effort is operating and particularly whether the government should be requiring more commitments on the use of the money to address rising mortgage foreclosure problems.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced Wednesday that the administration had decided to scrap what had originally been the centerpiece of the program — a proposal to buy troubled assets to get them off the books of banks as a way of promoting increased lending.

Instead, Paulson said the administration will proceed with an alternative plan to spend $250 billion to buy stock in the banks as a way of bolstering their financial situation and accomplishing the same goal — getting the institutions to return to more normal lending.

However, critics contend the administration should be imposing more restrictions on the stock purchases as a way of insuring that the banks will use the government resources to increase lending rather than just hoarding the cash or using it to acquire other banks or boost dividends for stockholders.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said even with the changes in the rescue plan he was still disappointed in the administration’s unwillingness to issue strict guidelines to ensure that participating firms use the funds to increase lending.

“In these difficult times, fear is still overwhelming confidence,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday.

More reports detailing the difficulties facing the economy were expected on Thursday with the Labor Department releasing its latest look at weekly applications for unemployment benefits, the Commerce Department reporting on the trade gap for September and the government reporting on the budget deficit for October.

The level of jobless claims was expected to remain at levels indicating the labor market is under severe strains, reflecting what many economists fear could be a deep and prolonged recession.

The government reported last Friday that the unemployment rate soared to a 14-year high of 6.5 percent in October as businesses cut another 240,000 jobs.

The trade deficit was expected to show some improvement, declining to $57 billion in September, compared to $59.1 billion in August, reflecting a big drop in the price of imported oil and a weakening economy, which is dampening demand for other imports.

The budget deficit, however, was expected to show a big increase in October, the first month of the new budget year, rising to $101.5 billion, compared to $57 billion in October 2007. The soaring costs of the bank rescue and the weak economy are expected to put the country on track to run up a record deficit for the current budget year of between $700 billion and $1 trillion, a staggering sum for a single year.

Despite its new flexibility, the administration said Wednesday it remains opposed to using the rescue fund to bail out the ailing auto industry or to provide guarantees for home loans, an idea that supporters contend offers the greatest hope for helping legions of Americans who are facing foreclosure.

Congressional Democrats felt otherwise on autos, and strongly. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were pressing for quick passage of a major package for carmakers during a postelection session that begins next Tuesday, and one key House Democrat was putting together legislation that would send $25 billion in emergency loans to the beleaguered industry in exchange for a government ownership stake in the Big Three car companies.

Paulson told reporters Wednesday that the administration was exploring the possibility of setting up a program in conjunction with the Federal Reserve that would provide support for the $1 trillion market in securities that fund such vital consumer products as credit cards, auto loans and students loans. About 40 percent of consumer credit is supplied through the sale of these securities that are backed by payments consumers make on their credit cards and other loans.

The administration has already spoken for all but $60 billion of the initial $350 billion supplied by Congress, including the $250 billion for direct stock purchases from banks and $40 billion for a new loan supplied on Monday to help stabilize troubled insurance giant American International Group.

November 10, 2008, 3:07 pm   NYTimes.com <!– — Updated: 4:27 pm –>

Dean Steps Down as D.N.C. Chair

Howard Dean will not seek a second term as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, ending a tenure marked by an aggressive attempt to reshape the mission of the committee – and to court support by the so-called Netroots – but also marked by frequent quarrels with Democratic leaders over his abilities and the direction he was taking the party.

Mr. Dean’s decision not to seek a second-term was expected after the victory of a Democrat, Barack Obama, in the presidential election last week. New presidents typically install their own leaders of their political party.

Beyond that, Mr. Dean’s advisers said he had little interest in being party chairman with a Democratic president in the White House, if only because, historically, the power and visibility of a party chairman is substantially diminished in such circumstances, when much of the political power goes to the White House political director.

Mr. Dean’s name is circulating in Washington circles as a possible member of Mr. Obama’s cabinet, potentially as secretary of Health and Human Services. He is, by profession, a medical doctor, and as governor of Vermont, his tenure was marked an aggressive effort to expand the state’s health care coverage.

Mr. Dean was a unusual chairman, defeating a slate of more established candidates, in no small part because of the broad support he enjoyed among the Netroots. Mr. Dean was a pioneer in appealing to this emerging constituency and the legacy of his otherwise unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign was his use of the Internet to organize and raise money; it provided a template upon which Mr. Obama built.

As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Dean pressed the party to expand its efforts and set up offices in all 50 states, arguing that the party was making a mistake in effectively ceding states to the Republican Party. That position led him into some famously pointed clashes with Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who at the time headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign, and who was angry that Mr. Dean was not sending money he had raised to help in Democratic efforts to take back Congress.

Mr. Emanuel was appointed by Mr. Obama last week as the White House chief of staff.

Mr. Dean also came under fire in this election cycle because the party lagged far behind the Republican National Committee in its effort to raise money to spend on the presidential campaign.

The legacy of the Democratic National Committee itself is hardly clear going forward. Mr. Obama effectively subsumed all the responsibilities in his campaign: fund-raising, voter turn-out and opposition research.

November 7, 2008, 2:40 pm
Byrd Gives Up Key Chairman’s Post
By David M. Herszenhorn
NYTimes.com

Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, and the most senior member of the Senate, agreed on Friday to relinquish his chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, as Democrats and President-elect Barack Obama prepare to grapple with the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Mr. Byrd, who turns 91 later this month, is a revered figure in the Senate. But his Democratic colleagues increasingly feared that he was no longer up to the task of running the Senate’s most powerful committee on a daily basis.

Convincing him to step aside, however, was an extraordinarily delicate task and any attempt to forcibly remove him, which would have required a vote by the Democratic caucus, could very well have failed.

But in a statement released Friday afternoon, Mr. Byrd said that the time had come for new leadership, and that he would turn over the reins of the Appropriations Committee to Senator Daniel K Inouye of Hawaii, who is next in line, and who turned 84 in September.

“I have been privileged to be a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee for 50 years and to have chaired the Committee for ten years, during a time of enormous change in our great country, both culturally and politically,” Mr. Byrd said in his statement, in which he also praised the election of Mr. Obama.

“A new day has dawned in Washington, and that is a good thing,” he said. “For my part, I believe that it is time for a new day at the top of the Senate Appropriations Committee. I will step away from the Chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee effective January 6, 2009.”

Mr. Byrd who is serving his ninth term in the Senate, gets around the Capitol in a wheelchair but he continues to be a formidable force and one of the most eloquent voices in the chamber. He often delivered impassioned speeches that hearken to an earlier era when rhetorical flourishes were a matter of deep pride and when senators spent far more time listening to each other in person rather than monitoring the floor proceedings from their office by watching C-Span.

He is one of the few lawmakers who still enjoys engaging in soliloquies with other lawmakers and who will shout out encouraging words when he agrees with someone else’s remarks.

In one of the funniest interactions in the Senate over the previous year, Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, shouted out a call for order in the Senate. And Mr. Byrd, parked at his desk in his wheelchair and without looking up, shouted out: “Who said that?”

“I did,” replied Mr. Bunning, who before entering politics was a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies.

“Who are you?” Mr. Byrd demanded, then barely waiting for a reply said, “Oh, you. You are great baseball man,” The comment incenseed Mr. Bunning who shouted out: “I have the same rights as you. I am a senator.”

“Yeah, man,” Mr. Byrd shot back, drawing out his words slowly in a mocking tone. “You are a Senator. Yes. You. Are.”

Democrats make strong gains in Congress

By Demetri Sevastopulo and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington

Published: November 5 2008 01:41 | Last updated: November 5 2008 07:41

Democrats scored major congressional victories on Tuesday evening on the back of the historic election of Barack Obama as president, placing the party in a powerful position to set the agenda on Capitol Hill.

With at least five new Senate seats, Democrats were also poised significantly to expand their 235-199 majority in the House of Representatives.

”Tonight, the American people have called for a new direction,” said Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House. “They have called for a new America…we must take a deliberate, steady course for America, that is exactly what Senator Obama is prepared to do.”

With the national mood shifting in the favour of Democrats this year, the party had held out the possibility of reaching a super-majority of 60 seats that can block debate, but that possibility appeared unlikely after several Republicans in tough races held their seats. Senate races in Oregon, Minnesota and Alaska remained close.

”We have already picked up five more seats in the US Senate and there are more to come,” declared New York senator Chuck Schumer. ”The days of obstruction are over.”

Democrats currently have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, including two independents who generally vote with their caucus. Of the 100 Senate seats, 35 were up for election, including 23 held by Republicans and 11 by Democrats.

In Virginia, Mark Warner, the former Democratic governor, gave the Democrats their first new Senate seat of the evening, defeating Jim Gilmore, another former Republican governor, in a race that epitomised the transformation of Virginia from a deeply “red” Republican state to a new Democratic enclave.

Mr Obama won Virginia, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate took the state since 1964, on his path to winning the White House. In 2006, Jim Webb, a former Reagan-era Navy secretary, beat George Allen, the Republican incumbent, for the other Senate seat.

In North Carolina, another traditionally Republican state, Democratic challenger Kay Hagan beat Elizabeth Dole, the Republican incumbent and wife of Bob Dole, former Republican Senate majority leader. In New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic challenger, avenged her 2002 loss to John Sununu by ousting the moderate one-term Republican senator.

Democrats also secured key victories in New Mexico and Colorado. In New Mexico, Tom Udall, a current House member, beat Steve Pearce in the race to replace Republican Pete Domenici. Meanwhile, his cousin, Mark Udall, won the former Republican Senate seat in Colorado, which like Virginia has now turned Democratic.

In one of the few disappointing results for the Democrats, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader from Kentucky, survived a strong challenge from Bruce Lunsford, the Democratic challenger. Democrats had hoped to unseat Mr McConnell, replicating the Republicans’ success in ousting Tom Daschle, then Senate majority leader, in South Dakota in 2004.

The Republicans also won a reprieve in Georgia where Saxby Chambliss appeared to fend off a challenge from Democrat challenger Jim Martin. Mr Chambliss had a comfortable double-digit lead over Mr Martin for months before the recent financial market turmoil took its toll on his campaign and he was forced to defend an unpopular vote in favour of the $700bn bailout of Wall Street.

Susan Collins, a moderate Republican who months ago looked vulnerable in Maine against Thomas Allen, her Democrat opponent, also regained her seat. In Mississippi, Roger Wicker, the Republican, defeated Ronnie Musgrove, the former Democratic governor, to take the seat vacated by Trent Lott, the former Senate majority leader.

Democrats are still hoping to take a new Senate seat in Alaska, where Ted Stevens, the Republican incumbent, was recently convicted of corruption.

In the House of Representatives, all 435 seats are open for election. Democrats have gained at least 11 additional seats with votes in 27 races still being counted.

Chris Shays, the Connecticut lawmaker and last remaining Republican House member in New England, conceded defeat, as the Democrats solidified its position in the Northeast of the country.

“The last Republican in New England has fallen,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, announced before cheering crowds.

Mr Shays was defeated by Democratic newcomer Jim Himes, a former Goldman Sachs executive, ending decades of Republican rule in the affluent Fairfield county. Democratic officials and supporters gathered at the Hyatt hotel near the US Capitol were jubilant as Ms Wasserman Schultz rattled off a list of Democratic wins in the House and Senate.

As Democrats notched up victories in the slipstream of Mr Obama, Tom DeLay, the former Republican House majority leader, declared that Ms Pelosi would become the “most powerful speaker in a generation”.

Obama elected US president

By Edward Luce in Chicago, Andrew Ward in Phoenix and Harvey Morris and Daniel Dombey in Washington

Published: November 4 2008 15:35 | Last updated: November 5 2008 06:37

Barack Obama was elected president of the US on Tuesday night and declared a “new dawn of American leadership”, but warned the country of sacrifices and difficulties in the years ahead.

On a night when Congressional Democrats increased their majority, Mr Obama scored a crushing victory over John McCain, his Republican rival, becoming the first Democrat since Lyndon Johnson to win the White House with significantly more than 50 per cent of the vote.

In doing so, he added a clutch of former Republican-held states, including Florida, Ohio, New Mexico and Iowa, and easily defended the Democratic state of Pennsylvania against a Republican onslaught.

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America,” he told his supporters at crowded celebrations in Chicago. “Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.”

Striking a cautionary note, he added: “This victory alone is not the change we seek… It can’t happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice… And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores… a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.” In an ambitious speech, he also echoed Lincoln and Martin Luther King and reprised his campaign call: “Yes we can.”

Earlier, Mr McCain had conceded the election to the new president-elect in a speech full of grace in his home state in Arizona. “Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country,” he said. “I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face… I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.”

Mr Obama was also congratulated by President George W. Bush, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, and other world leaders.The news also cheered equity markets in Asia, which rallied. In Hong Kong stocks initially rose by 6 per cent.

“Mr President-elect, congratulations to you,” Mr Bush told Mr Obama in a telephone call. “I promise to make this a smooth transition,” he said, inviting the future president and his family to visit the White House at their earliest convenience.

Little known when he launched his Democratic candidacy 22 months ago and still barely four years out of the Illinois state senate, the 47-year-old first-term US senator harnessed the support of African American and Hispanic voters, youth, those threatened by recession and people more generally unhappy with eight years of the Bush administration to score an overwhelming victory.

Within hours of the close of polls, Mr McCain’s hopes of stemming the Democratic tide foundered in the face of projections that a block of states had abandoned the Republican cause.

By early Wednesday Mr Obama was projected to win at least 338 electoral votes, well beyond the required 270.

The giant rally in Chicago’s Grant Park started the celebrations hours before returns from Pennsylvania showed Mr McCain would not secure the Democratic prize he targeted.

Obama aides said the senator had no plans for Wednesday – no announcements, no cabinet, no nominations.

By the close of polls, election-watchers estimated as many as 135m of the 188m registered had cast their ballots. That would represent the largest percentage turnout in a US presidential election for 100 years.

Late on Tuesday night Mr Obama e-mailed a thank-you note to his supporters. “We just made history,” he said. “All of this happened because of you.”

Democrats make strong gains in Congress

By Demetri Sevastopulo and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington

Published: November 5 2008 01:41 | Last updated: November 5 2008 07:41

Democrats scored major congressional victories on Tuesday evening on the back of the historic election of Barack Obama as president, placing the party in a powerful position to set the agenda on Capitol Hill.

With at least five new Senate seats, Democrats were also poised significantly to expand their 235-199 majority in the House of Representatives.

”Tonight, the American people have called for a new direction,” said Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House. “They have called for a new America…we must take a deliberate, steady course for America, that is exactly what Senator Obama is prepared to do.”

With the national mood shifting in the favour of Democrats this year, the party had held out the possibility of reaching a super-majority of 60 seats that can block debate, but that possibility appeared unlikely after several Republicans in tough races held their seats. Senate races in Oregon, Minnesota and Alaska remained close.

”We have already picked up five more seats in the US Senate and there are more to come,” declared New York senator Chuck Schumer. ”The days of obstruction are over.”

Democrats currently have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, including two independents who generally vote with their caucus. Of the 100 Senate seats, 35 were up for election, including 23 held by Republicans and 11 by Democrats.

In Virginia, Mark Warner, the former Democratic governor, gave the Democrats their first new Senate seat of the evening, defeating Jim Gilmore, another former Republican governor, in a race that epitomised the transformation of Virginia from a deeply “red” Republican state to a new Democratic enclave.

Mr Obama won Virginia, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate took the state since 1964, on his path to winning the White House. In 2006, Jim Webb, a former Reagan-era Navy secretary, beat George Allen, the Republican incumbent, for the other Senate seat.

In North Carolina, another traditionally Republican state, Democratic challenger Kay Hagan beat Elizabeth Dole, the Republican incumbent and wife of Bob Dole, former Republican Senate majority leader. In New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic challenger, avenged her 2002 loss to John Sununu by ousting the moderate one-term Republican senator.

Democrats also secured key victories in New Mexico and Colorado. In New Mexico, Tom Udall, a current House member, beat Steve Pearce in the race to replace Republican Pete Domenici. Meanwhile, his cousin, Mark Udall, won the former Republican Senate seat in Colorado, which like Virginia has now turned Democratic.

In one of the few disappointing results for the Democrats, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader from Kentucky, survived a strong challenge from Bruce Lunsford, the Democratic challenger. Democrats had hoped to unseat Mr McConnell, replicating the Republicans’ success in ousting Tom Daschle, then Senate majority leader, in South Dakota in 2004.

The Republicans also won a reprieve in Georgia where Saxby Chambliss appeared to fend off a challenge from Democrat challenger Jim Martin. Mr Chambliss had a comfortable double-digit lead over Mr Martin for months before the recent financial market turmoil took its toll on his campaign and he was forced to defend an unpopular vote in favour of the $700bn bailout of Wall Street.

Susan Collins, a moderate Republican who months ago looked vulnerable in Maine against Thomas Allen, her Democrat opponent, also regained her seat. In Mississippi, Roger Wicker, the Republican, defeated Ronnie Musgrove, the former Democratic governor, to take the seat vacated by Trent Lott, the former Senate majority leader.

Democrats are still hoping to take a new Senate seat in Alaska, where Ted Stevens, the Republican incumbent, was recently convicted of corruption.

In the House of Representatives, all 435 seats are open for election. Democrats have gained at least 11 additional seats with votes in 27 races still being counted.

Chris Shays, the Connecticut lawmaker and last remaining Republican House member in New England, conceded defeat, as the Democrats solidified its position in the Northeast of the country.

“The last Republican in New England has fallen,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, announced before cheering crowds.

Mr Shays was defeated by Democratic newcomer Jim Himes, a former Goldman Sachs executive, ending decades of Republican rule in the affluent Fairfield county. Democratic officials and supporters gathered at the Hyatt hotel near the US Capitol were jubilant as Ms Wasserman Schultz rattled off a list of Democratic wins in the House and Senate.

As Democrats notched up victories in the slipstream of Mr Obama, Tom DeLay, the former Republican House majority leader, declared that Ms Pelosi would become the “most powerful speaker in a generation”.

Inspiration, Organization Carry Obama To Resounding Victory

Barack Obama, whose swift rise in national politics and inspirational speaking style has drawn comparisons to Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy, won a decisive victory Tuesday over Republican John McCain and will become the 44th president of the United States.

Obama, 47, is the first African American to be elected president, a triumph over a national legacy of slavery and race discrimination that guarantees him a unique place in history and is expected to be received with jubilation around the world.

But it is not by race alone that Obama’s unlikely but steady journey to the White House will be remembered.

Steely, telegenic, possessed of an organizational brilliance for grass-roots politics, Obama has been hitting for over a year on every cylinder required of a politician. In the same manner that he out-organized the vaunted forces of Hillary Clinton in the primary contests earlier in the year, Obama pursued an “all-state” strategy against McCain that included raising more than $650 million in campaign funds, enlisting tens of thousands of volunteers and promoting himself via the Internet in ways that even his GOP critics have said will revolutionize American politics.

That combination alone might have made him unstoppable, but Obama was also the beneficiary of a mistake-prone McCain campaign. Even fellow Republicans lamented that McCain spent most of the summer leisurely holding back until the September National Republican Convention was over. The Arizona senator’s efforts were further hurt by his inability to come up with a convincing message on the country’s economic troubles. National polls also showed that McCain was ultimately damaged by his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a running mate, which prompted many GOP defections, especially among conservative columnists usually loyal to the party.

The electoral equation going into election night was starkly simple. To win the presidency, Obama had to “flip” two or three critical battleground states like Ohio and Florida that voted for George Bush in 2000 and 2004. McCain had to hold most of those red states and also flip traditionally Democratic Pennsylvania, where either he or Palin spent 10 of the last 15 days of the campaign.

As the first results began to trickle in Tuesday night, it appeared the candidates might spend until midnight locked in a brutal, inch-by-inch crawl across the electoral map. Obama won New England, New York and Michigan; McCain picked up Kentucky, West Virginia and Georgia. The tough battlegrounds of Virginia, Florida and Indiana were too close to call.

Then Pennsylvania went, once again, with the Democrat. At 9:20 p.m., Obama accomplished something McCain could not: He flipped a state that had traditionally belonged to the other party by capturing Ohio. No GOP candidate has won the presidency without winning Ohio. Suddenly, the pieces began falling into place for Obama. As the night wore on, Obama continued to roll through states that Bush had won in 2004: Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado and the big catches of Virginia and Florida.

At 11 p.m., the major networks and cable outlets declared Obama the winner after he amassed the numerically necessary 270 electoral votes.

In his concession speech at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, McCain said he admired and commended Obama for “inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans.”

A Journey Begins

Obama’s journey to the White House from a modest, multiracial upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia will doubtless become the subject of a new American myth. But his story is America’s journey, too. Obama arrived on the political scene when the country was war-weary, its middle class was feeling economically pinched, and conservatives and moderates were bitterly divided over social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Many of them found Obama almost ideally pre-packaged to answer their yearning for new leadership.

In summer 2007, when it was by no means clear that Obama could seize the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, Pew Research Center pollster Andrew Kohut told the Washington Post that his surveys showed that the name “Barack Obama” evoked the words “young,” “new,” “charismatic” and “smart” to the American electorate.

American voters are “looking for political change,” Kohut told the Post. “And [Obama] certainly personifies change.”

Obama’s achieving the presidency at age 47 is no accident. A polite but fierce ambition, combined with what even his critics call an extraordinary ability to mediate between warring social factions, characterized his career from the start. After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, Obama drove west in a dilapidated Honda to spend four years as a community organizer in Chicago’s South Side, which had been devastated by the shuttering of steel mills and factories and seethed with racial tension. Obama later said that during this period he relentlessly schooled himself in listening skills, especially toward those with opposing views.

Those listening skills proved indispensable a few years later, after Obama entered Harvard Law School, performed brilliantly as a student and won the coveted post of editor of the Harvard Law Review. He was the first African American to become law review editor and was appointed, in part, because of support from white conservative students, who respected his mediation skills.

After Harvard, Obama returned to Chicago, and his first chance to run for office arrived in 1996, when he declared for the seat of a state senator running for Congress. By 2004, at 43, Obama was running for an open U.S. Senate seat, and his ability to draw “crossover” white suburban votes and his inspirational speaking style had brought him national attention as a rising star in Democratic politics.

In July that year, Obama’s keynote speech on the second night of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, a plea for unity and opportunity that he titled “The Audacity of Hope,” electrified a national television audience and instantly drew comparisons to Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy.

His Campaign Strategy

Obama’s decision to run for the presidency — he declared on a frigid February morning in 2007 — was never really in doubt after that, and he led a campaign that many analysts say will be studied as organizationally brilliant.

Instead of segmenting the country and competing in primary battles only in states where he stood the best chance — the traditional primary strategy — Obama decided on an “all states” campaign in 2007 and 2008, hiring paid staffers and recruiting an army of volunteers in virtually every state. This allowed him to amass delegates in such caucus states as Iowa, Texas and Wyoming, giving him an early edge against the vaunted machine of Clinton, his strongest rival.

Through a combination of traditional fund-raising parties and soliciting donations over the Internet, Obama raised staggering, record amounts of campaign cash — $55 million in February ’08, $66 million in August, then a whopping $150 million in September. This fund-raising prowess allowed him to make the controversial decision to forego public financing and outspend McCain in advertising, sometimes by a ratio of 4-to-1 in individual states.

Meanwhile, he was drawing record crowds across the country. The conventional wisdom that had Clinton locking up the nomination fell away in Connecticut on a raw February day in Hartford, on the eve of Super Tuesday. Obama stepped onto the stage at the XL Center just after 6 p.m. and spent the next 48 minutes outlining his vision for America. The standing- room-only crowd of 17,000 — suburbanites and urbanites, grandmothers and Obama girls — whooped and cheered with a fervor that recalled a massive religious revival, or an arena rock concert.

Almost from the day he declared for the presidency, Obama was dogged by charges that he had been sworn into the U.S. Senate with a copy of the Quran under his hand, and conservative bloggers and later the McCain campaign questioned Obama’s remote ties to several radical members of the Chicago community.

But Obama enduringly proved to be unflappable, patiently explaining his associations and background, delivering a major address on race and breaking with his controversial minister.

But perhaps Obama’s most enduring legacy will be his shattering of racial expectations. In 1903, the black intellectual and NAACP founder W.E.B. DuBois said, “The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” But, even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, there have been only three African American U.S. senators, and the presidency eluded black politicians. Obama’s insistence on placing race in the background — he described himself as a “presidential candidate who happens to be African American” — broadened his appeal to white voters.

News information specialist Cristina Bachetti contributed to this story. Material from the Associated Press is included.

On the web

See the latest unofficial election results from Connecticut and across the nation, courant.com/vote08.

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