Friday, April 27, 2007

China Introduces Landmark Property Law

ABC News

China Introduces Landmark Property Law
Chinese Lawmakers Formally Introduces a Hotly Debated Law to Protect Private Property
The Associated Press

BEIJING - Chinese lawmakers formally introduced a hotly debated law to protect private property Thursday, saying that personal wealth in an increasingly prosperous China requires legal safeguards.
The proposed law marks one of the most explicit attempts to legally protect personal wealth by a government that only a generation ago preached communist egalitarianism and that still routinely intervenes in private lives.
Introducing the bill to the national legislature, Vice Chairman Wang Zhaoguo, a member of the Communist Party's powerful Politburo, said the country's economic and social changes made the law necessary.
"As the reform and opening up of the economy develop, people's living standards have improved in general and they urgently require effective protection of their own lawful property accumulated through hard work," Wang said in a speech to 2,835 deputies of the National People's Congress gathered in the massive Great Hall of the People.
Though the measure is certain to pass the party-dominated congress when its annual session ends March 16, enforcement is likely to run into interference and the notion of private property in a communist-run country remains severely contested.
Ill-defined property rights have allowed local officials to seize businesses, houses and farmland for lucrative real-estate and commercial deals, stunting the growth of private enterprise and angering ordinary Chinese with inadequate compensation.
"When you're at the bottom of society, no one protects your interests," said Zhang Guozhen, a farmer and small businessman from Lingshou Town, 115 miles south of Beijing, who sneaked into the capital this week to protest the seizure of his cement plant 10 years ago.
Ever since, he said, he has campaigned for redress without result, surviving on odd jobs in a nearby city after selling his house two years ago.
Drafts of the property law have been divisively argued for years by liberal reformers who called for sweeping private property protections and conservative communists who want to protect state power.
Joining the campaign for better rights are a growing class of entrepreneurial Chinese whose businesses and investments the communist government increasingly relies on to generate jobs and tax revenues.
A property law was first discussed 14 years ago, legislative Vice Chairman Wang said. In a sign of how much has changed, the Chinese economy has grown six times since then to $2.7 trillion last year, the world's fourth largest. Average incomes for urban Chinese have increased five times, to $1,500.
The 40-page law with 247 articles strikes a balance between state and private interests, laying out definitions of both and also clearly defining private wealth including income, houses, investments and other personal assets.
At the same time, the bill repeatedly attaches the modifier "lawful" to property a nod to criticisms by conservatives that the law would accelerate a decade-long campaign to privatize state businesses that they say has enriched officials and entrepreneurs at the expense of workers and farmers.
"Entrepreneurs like me very much support this draft," said Sun Yuqing, a delegate and a manager of a state-run oil refinery in northeast Heilongjiang province. "People at the grassroots farmers and workers they all hope their interests can be safeguarded."
While approval is not in question, the margin of support is. Delegates to the normally docile legislature have in the past displayed their displeasure with the leadership with sometimes a fifth of deputies abstaining or casting 'no' votes.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

Saudis Arrest 172 Militants, Including Some Trained As Pilots for Attacks in Oil Plot

ABC News
Saudis Arrest 172 Militants in Oil Plot

The Associated Press

This image made from footage broadcast by the Saudi state TV channel Al-Ekhbariah, Friday, April 27, 2007, is said by them to show weapons recovered during police operations. The weapons shown on television included AK-47 rifles and other rifles, brickettes of plastic explosives, AK-47 magazines, and handguns. Saudi police have arrested 172 Islamic militants, some of whom were being trained abroad as pilots so they could fly aircraft in attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil fields, the Interior Ministry said Friday. The ministry issued a statement saying the detainees were planning to carry out suicide attacks against "public figures, oil facilities, refineries ... and military zones" - some of which were outside the kingdom. (AP Photo/Al-Ekhbariah)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Police arrested 172 Islamic militants, some of whom had trained abroad as pilots so they could fly aircraft in attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil fields, the Interior Ministry said Friday. A spokesman said all that remained in the plot "was to set the zero hour."

The ministry issued a statement saying the detainees were planning to carry out suicide atttacks against "public figures, oil facilities, refineries ... and military zones" some of which were outside the kingdom

"They had reached an advance stage of readiness and what remained only was to set the zero hour for their attacks," Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Mansour al-Turki told the Associated Press in a phone call. "They had the personnel, the money, the arms. Almost all the elements for terror attacks were complete except for setting the zero hour for the attacks."

The militants were detained in separate waves, he said, with one group confessing and leading security officials to the next group, as well as weapons' caches.

The ministry did not say the militants would fly aircraft into oil refineries, as the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers flew planes into buildings in New York and Washington, but its statement said some detainees had been "sent to other countries to study flying in preparation for using them to carry out terrorist attacks inside the kingdom."

The militants also planned to storm Saudi prisons to free the inmates, the statement said. More than $5.3 million was seized in the operation, one of the largest sweeps against terror cells in the kingdoms.

"Certainly anytime the Saudis or anyone else takes action against those involed in terrorism it's a good thing. It's something that makes the world safer and makes America safer," Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said in Washington.

The Saudi statement said some of the military targets were outside the kingdom. Al-Turki said the arrests occurred "at various and successive times" but did not elaborate.

The Saudi state TV channel Al-Ekhbariah broadcast footage of large weapons cache discovered buried in the desert. The arms included bricks of plastic explosives, ammunition cartridges, handguns and rifles wrapped in plastic sheeting.

The ministry referred to the militants only as a "deviant group" the Saudi term for Islamic terrorist.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Mansour al-Turki told the privately owned Al-Arabiya TV channel that the militants included non-Saudis.

Al-Ekhbariah showed investigators breaking tiled floors with hammers to uncover pipes that contained weapons. In one scene, an official upends a plastic pipe and bullets and little packets of plastic explosives spill out.

The channel also showed investigators digging up plastic sacks in the desert.

The al-Qaida terror group, whose leader Osama bin Laden is a Saudi, has called for attacks on the kingdom's oil facilities as a means of crippling both the kingdom's economy and the hurting the West, which he accuses of paying too little for Arab oil.

Saudi Arabia, Iraq's neighbor to the south, is predominantly Sunni. It was also the home to 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers.

With over 260 billion barrels of proven reserves a quarter of the world's total Saudi Arabia's oil industry has already been a target of Islamic extremists. In Dec. 2004, bin Laden, a Saudi exile, for the first time called on militants to attack oil targets in the Gulf to stop the flow of oil to the West.

In May 2004, attackers stormed the offices of a Houston-based oil company in the western Saudi oil hub of Yanbu. The fighting killed six Westerners, a Saudi and several militants. Several weeks later, al-Qaida-linked gunmen attacked oil company compounds in Khobar, on the eastern coast, and took hostages in a siege that killed 22 people, 19 of them foreigners.

In the most recent attack, in February 2006, security guards opened fire on two explosives-laden vehicles that were trying to enter the Abqaiq oil complex, the world's largest oil processing facility, in eastern Saudi Arabia. The vehicles exploded without damaging the facility.

The kingdom also devotes significant resources to defend its oil industry against these threats. The government planned to spend $2 billion of its $12 billion defense budget last year to protect the country's oil sector, Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi petroleum adviser with close ties to the government has said. Officials have also started discussing the creation of special oil-sector troops and an intelligence agency focusing on threats to the energy industry.

Previous reports have said the country keeps round-the-clock helicopter and F-15 fighter patrols over its export terminals, with as many as 30,000 troops protecting the oil infrastructure.

Associated Press writer Donna Abu Nasr contributed to this report from Beirut, Lebanon.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

Engineer Accused of Taking Codes to Iran

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Engineer Accused of Taking Codes to Iran
Ex-Nuclear Power Plant Engineer Accused of Illegally Taking Software to Iran
The Associated Press

PHOENIX - A former engineer at the nation's largest nuclear power plant has been charged with taking computer access codes and software to Iran and using it to download details of plant control rooms and reactors, authorities said.

The FBI said there's no indication the plant employee had any terrorist connections.

Mohammad Alavi, who worked at the triple-reactor Palo Verde power plant west of Phoenix, was arrested April 9 at Los Angeles International Airport when he arrived on a flight from Iran, authorities said.

Alavi, 49, is a U.S. citizen and denies any wrongdoing, said his attorney, Milagros Cisneros of the Federal Defender's Office in Phoenix.

He is charged with a single count of violating a trade embargo that prohibits Americans from exporting goods and services to Iran. If convicted, he would face up to 21 months in prison.

According to court records, the software is used only for training plant employees, but allowed users access to details on the Palo Verde control rooms and the plant layout. In October, authorities alleged, the software was used to download training materials from Tehran, using a Palo Verde user identification.

The FBI said there was no evidence to suggest the software access was linked to the Iranian government, which has clashed with the West over attempts to develop its own nuclear program.

"The investigation has not led us to believe this information was taken for the purpose of being used by a foreign government or terrorists to attack us," said Deborah McCarley, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Phoenix.

Officials of Arizona Public Service Co., the Phoenix-based utility company that operates the Palo Verde Nuclear Generation Station, said the software does not pose a security risk because it doesn't control any of the nuclear plant's operating systems.

However, the utility said it has changed software security procedures since Alavi quit in August after working there for 16 years.

"The health and safety of the public was never compromised and there was no threat to the security of Palo Verde," APS spokesman Jim McDonald said Saturday.

A federal judge in Phoenix denied him bail at a hearing on Friday, saying Alavi had more ties to Iran than the United States and could easily flee. Alavi, who was born in Tehran, has family, a house and a job lined up in Iran, Judge Neil Wake said.

Palo Verde has been plagued by outages and equipment problems for the past several years.

The plant, located about 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix, supplies electricity to some 4 million customers in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures