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Despite Pledges, Russia Shows No Signs of Pullout From Georgia

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Publication: The New York Times
Reporters: Andrew E. Kramer, Clifford J. Levy, C .J. Chivers, Steven Lee Myers, and Thom Shanker
August 19, 2008

Gori, Georgia

Russia claimed that it had begun withdrawing its troops from Georgia on Monday, but there was little evidence of it on the ground: Russian soldiers continued digging in to positions along the highway approaching the capital, Tbilisi, showing no sign of pulling back from the severest confrontation between Russia and the West since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Along one major road, four Russian armored personnel carriers rattled a few miles closer to the capital, then plowed through parked police cars blocking the way as Georgian police officers stood by in helpless dismay.

Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, said his nation’s forces would begin a withdrawal on Monday to comply with a six-point peace accord signed by both sides over the weekend. Mr. Medvedev did not specify the pace or scope of the withdrawal, saying only that troops would withdraw to South Ossetia and a so-called security zone on its periphery.

In Moscow on Monday, Russia’s state news agency, the Russian Information Agency, reported that one of its correspondents saw small convoys of 5 to 10 tanks moving north through the Roki tunnel toward Russia through the day.

But in Washington, Defense Department and military officials said there was no evidence of Russian forces’ complying with pledges to pull back.

“We have not seen any significant Russian movement out of Georgia today,” said one senior Pentagon official.

On the ground in Georgia, about 25 miles outside the capital along the main highway, the four Russian armored personnel carriers passed the Russian checkpoint at Igoeti and headed in the other direction, toward Tbilisi. Soldiers were piled on top, cradling Kalashnikov rifles.

As they drove by, one old man, Koba Gurnashvili, stepped into the road and yelled at them, “Where do you think you’re going!” One of the soldiers yelled back, “To Tbilisi.”

But they did not, instead turning up a side road leading to a village near the border with South Ossetia. They stopped at an intersection blocked by Georgian police cars.

The Russian commander climbed off his tank and began arguing with the Georgian police officers. He said he had orders to move up the road; a Georgian officer said he had orders to remain on the road, and asked to call his superiors for guidance. The Russian said, “You have three minutes to move your cars.”

The two argued for a few minutes more. Then the police officers stepped away from their cars, stone-faced, with their keys. The tank smashed aside the cars and kept going.

At the entrance to the central city of Gori, which has been in Russian hands for days, Russian soldiers sat on armored personnel carriers, smoking or napping in the heat of the afternoon.

Soldiers held the main bridge and the military base, and were running checkpoints on the roads. Convoys were shuttling to Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Some soldiers, grubby after days in the field, were swimming naked in rivers.

“They are not moving,” said Temuri Yakobashvili, Georgia’s reintegration minister. He said an attempt at a prisoner exchange on Monday fell through because Georgian officials suspected that Russia was not providing a complete list of prisoners. The Russian military said that the Georgians had introduced unspecified political demands in the prisoner exchange negotiation.

In Crawford, Tex., where President Bush is vacationing, a White House spokesman said that the United States was closely watching whether Russia honored its agreement to withdraw. The spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said it was too soon to say whether the Russians were in compliance.

But he said that any military equipment or forces sent into the region during the fighting needed to be withdrawn under the cease-fire agreement.

“If it rolled in after Aug. 6, it needs to roll out,” Mr. Johndroe told reporters, referring to the day before the conflict started.

Mr. Medvedev on Monday cautioned that any force used against these soldiers would provoke a response.

“Obviously, if anyone thinks he can kill our citizens, our soldiers and officers who are serving as peacekeepers, and go unpunished, we will never allow this,” Mr. Medvedev said. “Anyone who tries this will receive a devastating response. For this, we have all the means — economic and political and military. If anyone had illusions about this some time ago, then they must part with those illusions now.”

He added: “We do not want to aggravate the situation, but we want to be respected, and our government to be respected, and our people to be respected, and our values.”

France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the deal, has clarified that it does not allow Russia to block the main highway, or for Russian soldiers to occupy the strategically important central city of Gori, astride the east-west highway; nonetheless, tanks were on the highway on Monday.

On a visit to Tbilisi on Sunday, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, reiterated this position and said Russian forces should pull back immediately. She cautioned that foreign ministers from NATO countries would be watching the withdrawal on Tuesday at an emergency meeting in Brussels.

The cease-fire accord agreed to by both sides allows Russia to conduct vaguely defined “security operations” outside the separatist regions where the conflict began, a point the Russians have cited as a justification for occupying a large swath of Georgian territory.

At the checkpoint nearest Tbilisi, about 25 miles away, Russian soldiers were carrying round river rocks and stacking them in tires to form a barricade across the road. One soldier, shirtless in the heat, took a break and crouched near a pond, splashing the back of his neck with water.

On the Tbilisi-Gori highway, Russian soldiers showed no signs of pulling back. They lounged on their tanks, slept in the shade of trees beside the road or were apparently busy improving their fighting positions.

Outside the village of Natsreti, soldiers used a small, white front loader to pile dirt beside the road in front of a tank; the gun poked just over the top, aimed at the road. Beside the road, soldiers sat in the shade under the awnings of bus stops, eating rations.

The road between Tbilisi and Gori runs 45 miles along the southern rim of an agricultural valley, framed by ridges of the Caucasus Mountains, with many small villages dotting the plain. Along the road were patches of fields and trees immolated by fire started in the fighting.

Outside one village, a number of Russian tanks and trucks were parked in a field on Monday. Through binoculars, more tanks were visible out on the plain, parked behind tree lines and below the crests of small hills.

At their checkpoints, the Russian soldiers cast aside green plastic bags of military rations, including pouches of sugar, applesauce and tea bags all marked with a small red star. From the checkpoint at the entrance to Gori, explosions could be heard reverberating through the city from time to time; their origin was unclear.

Through the day, armored personnel carriers and fuel trucks rolled both ways along the highway, toward Tbilisi and back again, with no apparent purpose.

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stressed the need for more international monitors. The organization has proposed increasing the number of monitors up to 100 as soon as possible. Efforts to finalize the arrangements for such a deployment are under way in Vienna.


Written by thewatchmendailynews

August 19, 2008 at 5:52 am

Posted in Russia-Goergia War

Obama veep announcement expected in coming days

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Publication: The Associated Press
August 18, 2008, 22:27 EDT

Barack Obama will publicly disclose his vice presidential choice in the coming days, though the Democrat is keeping most aides who are preparing for the announcement in the dark and giving away nothing to voters as he campaigns.

The Illinois senator has staffers in place to aid the No. 2 and his or her spouse, including more than a dozen seasoned operatives who have set up shop in a section of the campaign’s Chicago headquarters. They are running through various logistical scenarios involved in taking over the relatively normal life of a person they do not know and thrusting them into the unrelenting glare of a presidential campaign.

Obama was believed to have narrowed his list to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. While it seemed increasingly unlikely that he would choose his vanquished rival, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, some Democrats speculated Monday that he could pull a surprise and pick her.

Former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, a close Obama adviser, said Monday he had given the campaign personal information needed to examine the background of potential vice presidential nominees but was confident he wouldn’t be selected.

”I did give … documents a long time ago, but these matters have been resolved for a long time now as far as I’m concerned,” Daschle told The Associated Press in an interview.

Only Obama, his wife, Michelle, a handful of his most senior advisers and his two-member search committee know for certain who was on the initial list, who made the cuts, whose backgrounds were researched, whose names were floated to divert the media — and who Obama ultimately will choose.

He planned to campaign in Florida on Tuesday, and on Wednesday ride a bus through North Carolina and Virginia, where he was appearing with former Gov. Mark Warner, also mentioned as a possible contender for the No. 2 spot. After that, Obama’s schedule is wide open, leaving the end of the week as a more likely time to make the announcement before the Democratic National Convention begins next Monday in Denver.

Campaign manager David Plouffe e-mailed supporters last week telling them they would receive first word of Obama’s decision through a mass text message, but otherwise the team has revealed little about what to expect. Historically, presidential tickets then tour battleground states to maximize media exposure, and Obama is expected to do the same.

For his part, Republican rival John McCain is seriously considering naming his running mate between the end of the Democratic convention Aug. 28 and the Sept. 1 start of the GOP convention in hopes of stunting any uptick in polls for Obama. McCain has at least three large rallies planned in top battlegrounds — Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan — before the Republican gathering in St. Paul, Minn.

His top contenders are said to include Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Less traditional choices include former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, an abortion-rights supporter, and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential pick in 2000 who now is an independent.

Since Obama clinched the nomination in early June, speculation has swirled about the prospective No. 2s.

Names mentioned have included Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a national security expert who traveled with Obama to Iraq and Afghanistan; former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, another foreign policy authority; and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a prominent Hispanic with vast international experience.

While Obama’s search committee reviewed its list of potential candidates during the past several weeks, the campaign was busy building the vice presidential staff operation that includes chief of staff Patti Solis Doyle, who was Clinton’s campaign manager, and spokesman David Wade, who was 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry’s traveling press secretary. Rick Siger, advance director for Kaine’s campaign, came on to oversee the travels of the eventual pick, increasing buzz that his former boss could be the likely choice.

The drama of Obama’s impending announcement drew dozens of new reporters to travel with his campaign Monday. They listened in vain for clues as Obama held a subdued meeting with several dozen women in New Mexico on the topic of wage discrimination, sticking to his word that he wouldn’t say anything about the decision until his announcement.

Obama was more animated Monday afternoon at a raucous town hall meeting, where Richardson introduced him. He praised Richardson as one of the nation’s best governors, but otherwise gave no hint of the governor’s future status.

Even as they were kept out of the loop on the decision, Obama’s staff debated who would make the right choice. Many said if the candidate asked them, they would suggest Biden because of his foreign policy experience and strong debate skills; Sebelius because she’s a respected Washington outsider who has won a Republican state; or Bayh because he can appeal to Democrats uneasy about Obama and could help him win Indiana.

Each candidate could pose problems, too. An Obama-Sebelius ticket would be especially light on international experience. Bayh supported the Iraq war; Obama did not and has said that is a leading indicator of judgment.

Republicans are already envisioning their response to a Biden pick — Obama is so inexperienced that he had to pick someone with a 26-year record in Senate. Biden has spent a longer time on Capitol Hill than McCain, they point out, which doesn’t exactly represent the kind of change Obama says is needed in Washington.

Biden was far from the speculation Monday; he traveled over the weekend to Georgia to meet with President Mikhail Saakashvili and discuss the country’s military clash with Russia.

Other potential vice presidential prospects also seemed to be going about business as usual. Sebelius was traveling to Michigan on Tuesday to help boost Obama’s support among women there, while Kaine helped unveil a bust of explorer Meriwether Lewis in Virginia’s old House chamber on Monday.


Associated Press writers Beth Fouhy in Albuquerque, N.M., Liz Sidoti and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington, and Bob Lewis in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.


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Written by thewatchmendailynews

August 19, 2008 at 5:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Amid promise of peace, Georgians live in terror

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Written by Luke Harding for the Guardian, August 14, 2008

The first armoured personnel carrier nudged past the top of the hill. It paused as if getting its bearings, and then set off towards Tbilisi. Behind it, an endless column of Russian military vehicles appeared on a shimmering horizon – trucks, tankers, and a beaten-up Nissan.

The Russian army was on the move. What wasn’t clear was where it was going. For the next hour the column continued its sedate progress, past yellow fields and a hazy mountain valley, from Gori towards the Georgian capital,Tbilisi.

Thirty miles from the city, it stopped. A Russian soldier hopped out of his vehicle and began directing traffic. “We’ve been told to stay there,” he explained, pointing down a rough dirt track towards the rustic hamlet of Orjosari, just over a mile away.

The soldier said Russia didn’t intend to keep going down the main highway connecting Tbilisi to Gori, and the east and west of the country. “The only reason we’ve come here is because of a provokazia by Mikheil Saakashvili,” he said, accusing Georgia’s president of wrongdoing.

In theory the conflict between Russia and Georgia is now over, as European negotiators led by France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, hammer out a peace deal. In reality, Russia’s mighty war machine was trundling insouciantly through Georgia.

Several Russian trucks overshot and missed their turning. One broke down. A soldier got the wheezing vehicle going again. Where was he from? “Chechnya. We’ve come here to help,” he said.

For the terrified residents of Gori and surrounding villages, it didn’t seem like help. Yesterday morning, as the Russian tanks advanced from their base in South Ossetia they passed through Georgian controlled-villages, telling residents to hang out white flags or be shot.

Behind them, according to people fleeing those villages, came a militia army of Chechen and Ossetian volunteers who had joined up with the regular Russian army. The volunteers embarked on an orgy of looting, burning, murdering and rape, witnesses claimed, adding that the irregulars had carried off young girls and men.

“They killed my neighbour’s 15-year-old son. Everyone was fleeing in panic,” Larisa Lazarashvili, 45, said. “The Russian tanks arrived at our village at 11.20am. We ran away. We left everything – our cattle, our house, and our possessions.”

Achiko Khitarishvili, 39, from Berbuki, added: “They were killing, burning and stealing. My village isn’t in a conflict zone. It’s pure Georgia.”

These claims of Russian atrocities were impossible to verify. But the mood of panic was real enough – with villagers fleeing towards Tbilisi by all means possible. One family of eight piled into a tiny white Lada; others fled on tractors.

For much of the day the Russian troops in Gori were busying destroying Georgia’s military infrastructure. Smoke poured from the military supply camp in the village of Uplistsikhe.

Those who fled expressed a feeling of betrayal. They said Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, had duped them. “I believed him when he said there was peace. That’s why we stayed in our homes. But it isn’t true,” Lamzika Tushmali, 62, said. She added: “There is no ceasefire.”

At the end of the Russian column, a group of volunteers arrived in a shabby mini-van flying a Russian flag. One of them had his face covered with a balaclava; all were heavily armed; their mood was exuberant. What were they doing? “We’ve come for a holiday,” one said.

For most of the day there was no sign of the Georgian army. After five days of ferocious bombardment by Russian warplanes, it appears not to exist. With rumours swirling of an imminent Russian attack on Tbilisi, however, Georgia mustered a platoon of 50 soldiers, who took up positions 10 miles down the road from where the Russians appeared to have parked up for the night.

On Georgian radio, meanwhile, military experts were discussing the possibility of a new partisan war against the Russians – suggesting that the government’s failure meant that it was time for ordinary Georgians to take the initiative.

It’s an idea that may take root. “I spent two years in the Soviet army. If there is a partisan army I’ll be in the first row,” Koba Chkhirodze, 41, said yesterday.

Written by thewatchmendailynews

August 14, 2008 at 4:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Russia rejects west’s call to recognise Georgian sovereignty

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Written by Ian Traynor for the Guardian, August 13, 19:07 BST

The US and the Europe today demanded that any settlement of the conflict in Georgia had to be based on recognition of the small Black Sea country’s territorial integrity. But after overrunning Georgia in five days with troops, tanks, and bombers, Russia rejected the terms.

The EU unveiled a blueprint for ending the bloodshed in Georgia following several days of French-led shuttle diplomacy between Moscow and Tbilisi that resulted in a six-point plan underpinning a fragile ceasefire.

George Bush warned the Kremlin that it had to “keep its word and act to end this crisis.”

But Russia refused to accept those terms, declined to acknowledge Georgian sovereignty over all of its recognised territory, and refused to have any reference to it in the six-point peace plan mediated by the French and agreed by both Moscow and Tbilisi.

European states agreed to dispatch scores of ceasefire monitors to Georgia as quickly as possible in the hope of securing the truce announced on yesterday. They may also lead an international peacekeeping mission to Georgia if the Georgians and Russians agree and a UN mandate is obtained, senior European officials said.

The Russians and the Georgians agreed to “international discussions” on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but the Russians kept their options open on the two pro-Russian breakaway provinces.

An EU statement said any peace settlement had to be based on Georgia’s recognised territorial integrity. Speaking at the White House, Bush said: “The United States of America stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia. We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.”

But Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s deputy prime minister and former defence minister, repeatedly refused to recognize Georgian control over its territory.

“We recognise the sovereignty and independence of Georgia … But territorial integrity, it’s just another matter,” he told BBC’s Hardtalk. “South Ossetia and Abkhazia never were part of Georgia as an independent country.”

The foreign ministers of the 27 EU countries interrupted their holidays for an emergency session on the Caucasus crisis today in Brussels. France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, just back from the conflict zone, admitted that the deal he and President Nicolas Sarkozy mediated was “partially unsatisfactory”, but that the priority was to obtain a durable ceasefire before embarking on more substantive political negotiations.

The points agreed by Moscow and Tbilisi proscribe the use of force, pledge a ceasefire and guarantee access for humanitarian aid. But the political and military aspects of the agreement are problematic and the deal could yet unravel.

At Russian insistence, Georgian forces have to return to bases while Russian “peacekeepers” in the contested northern province of South Ossetia are allowed to stage security patrols “and additional security measures” until an “international mechanism” is agreed.

“That gives the Russians undefined security rights in undefined territory in Georgia. That’s an invitation to further problems,” the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, told the Guardian.

The Russians, whose invasion of Georgia at the weekend has shocked the west and which today stirred more detailed talk of specific sanctions against Russia, agreed to “international negotiations on the modalities of security and stability” in South Ossetia and Abkhazia after having initially demanded talks on the status of the two provinces.

Both regions have been beyond the Georgian government’s control since the early 90s and the small ethnic wars that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia launched an abortive and disastrous bid to retake control of South Ossetia last week only to see his country invaded by the Russians and his military crushed.

Prospective western reprisals against Moscow came into clearer focus today, with the Americans calling a special session of Nato foreign ministers which could decide to suspend Russia’s formal consultative link with the western alliance while David Milliband, the foreign secretary, suggested Russia could be expelled from the G8 and that the EU could halt negotiations just started on a far-reaching strategic partnership pact between Russia and Europe.

“The Russians have been in breach of international law. There will be consequences of some sort,” said Bildt.

But any such moves will trigger resistance in a divided EU. Brussels’ attempts to play the key mediating role also limit its scope for taking sides.

“We don’t have time now to get into long discussions on blame,” said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister.

“We shouldn’t make any moral judgments on this war. Stopping the war, that’s what we’re interested in,” said Kouchner. “Don’t ask us who’s good and who’s bad here.”

Saakashvili accused the west – the Americans, Nato, and the EU – of disunity on the crisis and of consistently underestimating the Russian threat.

“The response has not been adequate. It looks like appeasement to me. We need real action, not just words.”

Written by thewatchmendailynews

August 14, 2008 at 4:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Congressman Demands Investigation Of Army Recruitment Threats

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Courtesy of
Written by Steve Watson
August 8, 2008


Sgts lied and threatened students with arrest if they did not enlist

Houston congressman Gene Green has demanded that the House Armed Services Committee hold hearings after it was revealed that an army recruiter has been lying to and threatening high school students to get them to enlist.

KHOU 11 News in Houston broke the story last week, revealing that students who signed up to a non-binding military “delayed entry program” were told by recruiter, Sgt. Glenn Marquette that they were bound under federal law to stick to the agreement and could be arrested and jailed as deserters if they did not follow through and enlist.

The network also revealed that the situation was an ongoing saga with the same tactics having been exposed three years ago. Rather than being discharged or demoted, the officer involved in the earlier incident, a Sgt.Thomas Kelt, was promoted to be a station commander, responsible for training and supervising other recruiters.

Douglas Smith, a spokesman for U.S. Army recruiting headquarters defended the action by telling Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! “Just because someone has done something wrong, doesn’t mean that they get the death penalty.” He refused to elaborate on what if any punishment Kelt had received.

Congressman Green has since sent a letter to the Pentagon demanding to know “Why more was not done,” and “What steps the Army will take to ensure this will not happen again.”

Referring to news that recruiter wrongdoing citations have nearly doubled over the past several years, Green replied:

“That’s not what our country’s about… There’s a problem with the system in the Army, and we can blame the sergeant or the corporal at the Greenspoint facility, but it sounds like they’re also hearing it from nationally.”

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Written by thewatchmendailynews

August 8, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Police have foiled 15 terror plots in Britain since the 7/7 London bombings

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Courtesy of the Daily Mail, April 22, 2008

Fifteen planned terrorist attacks in Britain have been foiled since the 2005 London bombings, Met chiefs said today.

The revelation came as Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair warned that the country was being threatened by dangerous extremists who were emerging from “left field” to attempt terrorist attacks.

Sir Ian added that some suspects were moving “very fast” to carry out their plots, forcing police to make pre-emptive arrests to protect the public.

The warning came as Sir Ian and the Met’s most senior anti-terrorism officer, Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, told a parliamentary committee scrutinising the Government’s counter-terrorism Bill that they backed an extension of the pre-charge detention limit.

The Met Commissioner said he feared that the current 28-day limit, which the Government wants to extend to 42 days, would soon prove insufficient because of the growing complexities, scale and international scope of plots that police and the security service were detecting.

Sir Ian rejected suggestions from some MPs that suspects could be detained on lesser charges instead and warned that in many cases police were forced to act on the basis of intelligence when virtually no evidence that would be admissible in court existed.

He said this meant that prolonged investigations were needed to gather material to bring prosecutions and that it was a “pragmatic inference” that pre-charge detentions longer than 28 days would soon be required.

“Part of the problem that we have is the way in which individuals and groups go from what appears to be facilitating into active attack planning very fast. There are people who are emerging from left field about whom we know very little and about whom we become very concerned.”

In his evidence, Mr Quick, who is also the Association of Chief Police Officers’ spokesman on terrorism, said about 15 terrorist plots had been thwarted since the 7 July London bombings of 2005.

He added that some of these included “very recent” plots that had been disrupted by police using “very sophisticated” methods.

The Met Commissioner said that while the Crown Prosecution Service had suggested an extension to the current limit was unnecessary, the police were the “professionals” in charge of gathering evidence and took the view that a longer detention period was needed.

“There have been a number of cases where the level of threat that we perceive means we make an arrest when we have almost no evidential material at all,” he said.

Sir Ian added that the complexity and extensive use of information technology by extremists meant longer pre-charge limits could be necessary to enable experts to complete investigations.

Written by thewatchmendailynews

April 22, 2008 at 5:34 pm

Supermarkets ‘should spy on migrants’

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Written By Christopher Hope, for the Telegraph, April 22, 2008

The Government wants councils to spy on supermarkets shoppers to find out where eastern Europeans are settling in Britain.

The proposal, which is sure to alarm civil liberties campaigners, comes amid concern about the strain being put on public services like schools and GP surgeries from immigration, because the Government does not know where migrants are going to live when they arrive in the UK.

Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary told MPs today: “The Local Government Association has recently suggested that we look at footfall in supermarkets.

“They reckon Tesco has pretty good accurate information about the people who use their stores.

“I welcome that kind of imaginative thinking if it can help us to get a better and more accurate view at the local level of what the impact [of migration] is.”

The LGA said that it was holding talks with major supermarkets over the coming months. Tesco was key to the plans because the company has a shop in every post code area in Britain, apart from Harrogate.

Sir Simon Milton, chairman of the LGA, added: “Everyone needs to eat and with the vast majority of people buying the food from supermarkets, understanding how many people visit shops may help ministers to get a better understanding of the number of people in a local area.

“Retailers are extremely professional in ensuring that they have accurate data on the number of people that are shopping, or being shopped for in their stores.

“One proposal being examined is to look at ways of working with the retail to sector to share or learn from them better techniques for collecting the information we need to help taxpayers and local people.”

The LGA insisted that any data which was passed onto the Government would be “anonymised” to ensure that officials cannot spy on people’s shopping habits.

Miss Blears also said she was supportive of LGA plans to vet GP registers, National Insurance numbers and school censuses to provide better figures on where people are settling.

She told MPs that legislation could be considered if negotiations with firms benefiting from overseas labour failed to reach agreement on voluntary contributions.

Language skills have been made a central plank of the Government’s immigration policy, with anyone intending to stay more than a short time now expected to learn.

Miss Blears told a Communities and Local Government Committee hearing on cohesion and migration: “I feel quite strongly that employers should be taking a significantly bigger role in helping to fund some of the essential English language classes.”

Miss Blears also disclosed that eastern European immigrants now make up around a quarter of one English town’s population.

Boston in Lincolnshire has seen a dramatic influx of foreign workers from new members of the European Union such as Poland and the Czech Republic.

Miss Blears told MPs investigating community cohesion that they now made up about 25 per cent of the town’s estimated 70,000 residents. She said representatives of the town had been among those at a recent meeting to discuss the impact and how to deal with the consequences.

“If you talk to Boston, in fact now something like 25 per cent of their population is from Eastern European countries and they’ve said it is fundamental to their economy: they absolutely need those people for the skills but equally there is a big impact.

“It is difficult to get a national evaluation of that impact; I think what’s really important is to drill down into those communities, look where the impact is and then make sure Government and local government are well prepared to be able to support those communities in coping with that pace of change.”

A spokesman from the human rights group Liberty said: “Does the LGA really believe that they can determine where Eastern European migrants have settled based on supermarket purchases of vodka?

“Surely a more sensible action would be to simply ask arriving migrants where they are planning to live.”

Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: “If people give personal information to private companies there must be absolutely no compulsion to hand over this information to the Government.

“The Government need to sort out the shambles of its immigration policy but taking private information in this manner is not the way to it.”

Guy Herbert, general secretary of the No2ID campaign, said: “Using commercially available statistics on the population as a whole would make a lot more sense than the individualised intrusiveness of censuses and population registers.

“But no way should government be permitted either to ‘share’ ClubCard data, or collate school and medical roles to pinpoint individuals.

“It seems we have a Government whose first impulse if it has a policy problem is to spy on people: that’s what ‘drill down into those communities’ means. That’s an entirely different bill of goods.”

Written by thewatchmendailynews

April 22, 2008 at 5:25 pm