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Canadian commander ends Afghan role with warning and optimism

SENJARAY, Afghanistan — Western patience with Afghanistan’s political class was wearing so dangerously thin that coalition forces might quit the country if the situation regarding governance and corruption did not soon change radically for the better.

That was Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance’s stark warning to leaders in Panjwaii and Zhari districts during one of his last battlefield tours before the end of his 10-month command, which is only days away.

“The international community is going to demand honesty, integrity and good performance from all levels of government or we won’t stay,” Canada’s top commander in Afghanistan said at one of several meetings he held last week in two of the notoriously volatile districts west of Kandahar City.

“We have lost too many soldiers and spent too much of our people’s money to stay if there is not honest co-operation.

“Our public accepts us here and is deciding right now whether we will stay. Canadians, Americans, the British — everyone is wondering whether it is worth it to stay.”

Brig.-Gen. Vance’s words were little different than those delivered to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government recently by senior U.S. political leaders and by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

However, his message had a special resonance in Panjwaii and Zhari, where more than 100 Canadians have been killed since 2006.

By moonlight at the end of what was an 18-hour day, as his convoy waited for Canadian sappers to defuse a landmine on the road between the Taliban hotbed of Senjaray and Kandahar City, Brig.-Gen. Vance discussed what he had told the leaders and where he thinks Canada’s war in southern Afghanistan is at.

“I am not frustrated at all. But it is a challenge,” the 45-year-old infantryman said in the first interview he has given to mark the end of his tenure at the helm of Task Force Afghanistan.

“I think we have achieved everything, tactically, that we set out to. I feel that the coalition is going to achieve great things. More Afghans are going to be safe and the country is going to begin to recover.”

However, Brig.-Gen. Vance was deeply worried that if the military successes were not matched on the political side, a great opportunity to defeat the Taliban would be lost.

“What I am hoping for is a political environment where there is the courage to govern correctly and to take responsibility for the insurgency,” he said as he sat in full battle regalia on a rock-strewn stoop. “I was hoping that postelection there would be a real surge of political renewal, but that is still a question mark.”

Canada’s fifth general to command in Kandahar, Brig.-Gen. Vance has earned a reputation as a warrior, tactician and strategist. The “model village” program that was developed on his watch has become the NATO template, earning the public admiration of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who oversees the Afghan war for the alliance.

When a colonel in Kabul familiar with NATO operations across the South was asked what would be the best thing that Canada could do to make its mission in Kandahar a success his succinct answer was: “Just leave Jon Vance there for two more years.”

Told of this high praise, Brig.-Gen. Vance replied: “Others before me did not have the factors in place that would have allowed them to execute this.” He was referring to the arrival in Kandahar of a U.S. army battalion last summer and of three more U.S. battalions this summer, which allowed Canada to reduce its area of operations by about 60%.

The result of the influx has been that where for three years Canada’s 1,200 combat troops were like Hans Brinker’s Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, holding the Taliban back across an area the size of New Brunswick, since this summer they have been able to focus all their efforts just to the west and southwest of Kandahar City, which remains the prize that the Taliban wants more than anything else.

Starting with Deh-e-Bagh, followed by three other communities in Dand District, the Canadians have for the first time seized an area and made it safe enough for economic development to start while helping the Afghan government open schools and clinics. As of this weekend, nearly 1,000 Afghans were working where nobody had a job a few months ago.

“There are now the broad strokes of a counter-insurgency operation,” Vance said. “We protect the population and hit the enemy when we must. Sustainable development was always our intention. We just happened to be privileged to be on the ground when this all came together.”

But Brig.-Gen. Vance’s tour has not all been about young Canadians singing Kumbaya with Afghan villagers. Canada’s battle group has undertaken more than twice as many combat operations than previous rotations and the 200 troops it has advising the Afghan army have been in numerous firefights.

While 24 Canadians have died during Brig.-Gen. Vance’s command, there has always been a great reluctance here to talk about enemy body counts. However, when asked directly if it was true that his troops had killed more than 1,000 insurgents in the past few months, Brig.-Gen. Vance quietly confirmed that “that’s about right.”

But the Taliban have proven extremely resilient, bouncing back sometimes within hours in the exact spot where they have suffered severe losses. Nevertheless, Brig.-Gen. Vance was optimistic about the future.

“There are still many years before Afghanistan can stand up on its own, but it is achievable,” he said. “Not everything needs to be done in the next year and a half but we need to demonstrate clear and decisive progress in the districts and this must be connected to progress at the provincial and national levels.

“We are going to get to the zenith of the tactical effect in 12 to 18 months. But if we have tactical success absent a healthy governing environment, it will be much harder for Afghanistan to rally. It is important that leaders at all levels here are seized by this matter. Our tolerance to act here if we are without a solid, altruistic partner, would be in jeopardy.”

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Canadians could face eye scans at border

Washington is turning to the next item on its security agenda: eye scans.

With the last of about 600 northern border radiation detectors having been installed at Trout River, N.Y., on the Quebec border, completing a continent-wide shield aimed at repelling the smuggling of nuclear bombs, dirty bombs and other malicious nuclear materials from Canada, every car, truck and passenger entering the United States by land from Canada is searched for nuclear weapons.

Now, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proposes to spend billions of dollars collecting fingerprints and eye scans from all foreign travellers at U.S. airports as they leave the country.

Already, the United States demands biometric data, typically fingerprints and digital photos, from arriving air and sea travellers with visas. The chief aim is to try to ensure the person matches the individual who was given the visa overseas. Canadians and Mexicans are currently exempt.

Supporters of the proposed biometric exit check argue it will, among other things, enable officials to check a person’s biometrics against a watch list of known and suspected terrorists, criminals and immigration violators.

Story continues below

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Opponents, however, question the logic and expense of looking for terrorists leaving the country. The Washington Post, which reported the story yesterday, said the program would not operate “for now” at U.S. land borders.

Most experts believe there is a low probability that terrorists could muster the technical sophistication and complex planning needed to pull off a nuclear strike on U.S. soil, yet Osama bin Laden has made it clear that is al-Qaeda’s plan.

Even a small chance of that happening is one of the great worries of U.S. leaders and many security officials, magnified by the political strife in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where al-Qaeda’s core command has taken sanctuary.

Preventing terrorists from detonating a nuclear weapon in a major U.S. city is therefore a key national security priority, with more than US$3-billion spent since 2002 on nuclear monitors alone at Canadian and Mexican land border crossings and U.S. seaports.

Janet Napolitano, the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, hails the completion of the Canadian component of the border radiation detectors, two months ahead of schedule, as a “major security milestone.

“This technology enhances our capability to guard against terrorism and criminal threats while expediting border crossings for lawful trade and travel,” she said in a statement.

However, the effectiveness of the U.S. radiation monitors is debatable.

The “non-intrusive” monitors are erected alongside the car-lane approaches to customs’ booth inspections, with larger monitors for transport trucks stationed in cargo inspection areas. Each detects certain types of energy within a limited area but not the exact radioactive source.

For that, a suspect vehicle is sent for a secondary inspection that includes a scan with a hand-held detection device to identify the source and whether it constitutes a threat. Benign emissions from lingering medical isotopes in people’s bodies, scrap metal, natural sources of radiation and even Kitty Litter trigger frequent false alarms.

Reducing them and the accompanying border-crossing delays with the current polyvinyl toluene (PVT) monitors would mean re-calibrating their detection threshold, or sensitivity. But uranium-235, which in a concentrated, highly enriched form becomes weapons-grade uranium, is already weak radioactively, and reducing the monitors’ threshold would make detection more difficult.

What’s more, PVT monitors can only detect unshielded or lightly shielded sources, which seems unrealistic, considering the sophisticated smuggling tactics determined nuclear terrorists would likely employ.

The United States is instead debating the cost-effectiveness of replacing PVT technology with “advanced spectroscopic portals” or ASP, a new type of portal monitor designed to both detect radiation and identify the source.

The U.S. Government Accounting Office reports that ASP monitors use more sophisticated software, and have a more extensive library of radiation signatures that may provide more consistent and rapid screening and may increase the likelihood of correct identification. But they’re also almost three times more expensive than PVT monitors.

In the meantime, the United States says the PVT monitors are now scanning 100% of all vehicle traffic entering from Canada and Mexico, plus all mail and courier packages from Mexico and a further 98% of all arriving seaborne container cargo.

NATO, Afghans claim to kill 130 Taliban in Kunduz

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan – NATO and Afghan officials claimed on Monday their forces had killed at least 130 Taliban fighters in a major operation over the past week in an area of Afghanistan’s north where militant activity has surged.

A combined force of 700 Afghan troops and 50 NATO soldiers cleared villages of fighters, killing more than 130 insurgents including eight Taliban commanders during a five-day operation, NATO spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician said.

Kunduz province governor Mohammad Omar told Reuters the combined force had killed 133 fighters during the operation, which took place in and around Kunduz’s Char Dara district.

However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said only five fighters had died, and called the death toll given by NATO and Afghan officials "propaganda."

The NATO-led force deployed air strikes against armed insurgents but believed no civilians were among those killed, Vician said. No NATO or Afghan troops were killed, he added.

Kunduz province is mainly patrolled by the NATO force’s German contingent, which has failed to prevent Taliban fighters from taking control of many rural villages in recent months.

Its Char Dara district was the site of the deadliest incident involving German troops since World War Two. In early September, a German officer ordered a U.S. air strike that the Afghan government says killed 30 civilians as well as 69 fighters.

Germany acknowledged this week for the first time that civilians were killed in that strike and not all procedures were followed correctly, but says an air strike was nonetheless needed to prevent a suicide attack by fighters in stolen fuel trucks.

That incident also drew attention to the rapid spread of Taliban control in Kunduz, one of the provinces where NATO says insurgents have made gains this year, spreading out of southern and eastern bases into once-quiet northern and western areas.

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U.S. completes border system to monitor cars for nukes

OTTAWA – Every car, truck and passenger entering the United States by land from Canada is now searched for nuclear weapons.

The last of about 600 northern border radiation detectors has been installed at Trout River, N.Y., on the Quebec border, completing a continentwide shield aimed at repelling the smuggling of nuclear bombs, dirty bombs and other malicious nuclear materials from Canada.

Most experts believe there is a low probability that terrorists could muster the technical sophistication and complex planning needed to pull off a strike on U.S. soil, yet Osama bin Laden has made it clear that al-Qaida wants to nuke the U.S.

Even a small chance of that happening is one of the great worries of U.S. leaders and many security officials, magnified by the political strife in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where al-Qaida’s core command has taken sanctuary.

Preventing terrorists from detonating a nuclear weapon in a major U.S. city is therefore a key national security priority, with more than $3 billion US spent since 2002 on nuclear monitors alone at Canadian and Mexican land border crossings and U.S. seaports.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano hails the completion of the Canadian component, two months ahead of schedule, as a “major security milestone.

“This technology enhances our capability to guard against terrorism and criminal threats while expediting border crossings for lawful trade and travel,” she said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the effectiveness of the U.S. radiation monitors is debatable.

The “non-intrusive” monitors are erected alongside the car lane approaches to customs’ booth inspections, with larger monitors for transport trucks stationed in cargo inspection areas. Each detects certain types of energy within a limited area but not the exact radioactive source.

For that, a suspect vehicle is sent for a secondary inspection that includes a scan with a hand-held detection device to identify the source and whether it constitutes a threat. Benign emissions from lingering medical isotopes in people’s bodies, scrap metal, natural sources of radiation and even Kitty Litter trigger frequent false alarms.

Reducing them and the accompanying border-crossing delays with the current polyvinyl toluene (PVT) monitors would mean re-calibrating their detection threshold, or sensitivity. But uranium-235, which in a concentrated, highly enriched form becomes weapons-grade uranium, is already weak radioactively, and reducing the monitors’ threshold would make detection more difficult.

What’s more, PVT monitors can only detect unshielded or lightly shielded sources, which seems unrealistic, considering the sophisticated smuggling tactics determined nuclear terrorists would likely employ.

The U.S. is instead debating the cost-effectiveness of replacing PVT technology with “advanced spectroscopic portals” or ASP, a new type of portal monitor designed to both detect radiation and identify the source.

The U.S. Government Accounting Office reports that ASP monitors use more sophisticated software, and have a more extensive library of radiation signatures that may provide more consistent and rapid screening and may increase the likelihood of correct identification. But they’re also almost three times more expensive than PVT monitors.

In the meantime, the U.S. says the PVT monitors are now scanning 100 per cent of all vehicle traffic entering from Canada and Mexico, plus all mail and courier packages from Mexico and a further 98 per cent of all arriving seaborne container cargo.

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Canada should have abandoned seasonal flu shot to focus on H1N1: critics

With H1N1 now accounting for virtually all the flu being diagnosed in Canada, critics say Canada was wrong not to have halted production of the regular seasonal flu shots and switched production to H1N1 vaccine sooner.

"I believe that if they had made the bold and courageous decision to follow the evidence, and abandon the seasonal flu vaccine, that we could have had our H1N1 vaccine about six weeks earlier," says Dr. Richard Schabas, Ontario’s former chief medical officer of health.

"The consequence of that is that we’ve got lots of seasonal flu vaccine, but no seasonal flu, and not enough H1N1 vaccine, and lots of H1N1," Schabas said. "It’s backwards."

For the week ending Oct. 31, a total of 7,970 specimens tested positive for influenza. Overall, 99.7 per cent were pandemic H1N1. Infections and hospitalizations have been increasing, and most provinces and territories have delayed all or parts of their regular seasonal influenza programs until after the H1N1 vaccination campaign is complete.

Schabas said there were early signals H1N1 would be the dominant strain this flu season. A phenomenon known as "strain replacement," where the new virus replaces old ones that had been circulating, is a classic characteristic of a pandemic virus.

"That’s what happened in 1918, it’s what happened in 1957 and it’s what happened in 1968," says Schabas, now medical officer of health for Ontario’s Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit.

In the Southern Hemisphere, where the flu season runs from April to September, H1N1 began to be prevalent in May, and then increasingly became the predominant strain.

"There was strong reason to believe that there would be strain replacement, that we would not see significant levels of seasonal flu activity this year," Schabas said. He said enough seasonal flu vaccine could have been produced to offer immunization to people over 65, and those with chronic diseases who are at high risk of flu complications, before shifting production to targeting H1N1.

"The best time to immunize is before the outbreak starts. We’re not going to actually be able to even offer the vaccine to healthy people until the outbreaks are largely over, at least in many parts of the country," Schabas said.

"That, to my mind, makes it inappropriate to be immunizing healthy people, at least in those parts of Canada where the outbreaks are already past the peaks," he said.

"By the time we’re able to offer it in Ontario, this outbreak will be past its peak in Ontario."

Canada’s top doctor said that when the decision was made in July to keep producing seasonal flu shots, some countries in the Southern Hemisphere were seeing as much seasonal influenza as H1N1.

"Once you stop the seasonal flu production, it is done," Dr. David Butler-Jones said at a recent media briefing.

"It meant . . . a short delay, in the H1N1 production, but it also means that we have, and will have seasonal flu vaccine for all those who need and want it as well.

"You would not want to be in a situation where, if we’d stopped it, we’d run out so we can’t actually immunize against seasonal flu, and we have people seriously ill and dying from seasonal flu."

Earl Brown, a University of Ottawa virologist, said it was not clear in the summer whether H1N1 would come back hard. As well, there were early problems with the seed strains used to grow the virus to produce the H1N1 vaccine.

"The first ones were bad and the next ones weren’t much better, and they had to work at it to get something that was even acceptable," said Brown, executive director of the Emerging Pathogens Research Centre at the University of Ottawa.

"Even if they said, ‘Let’s stop now and go,’ they weren’t ready to go. If they had stopped annual flu production, they would have been sitting there on their hands, with idle factories without any seasonal flu (vaccine)."

Seasonal flu epidemics typically last six to eight weeks, starting in December or January. The second wave of H1N1 appears to have begun about two weeks ago. But experts caution there isn’t a pattern that is strong enough to predict where we are with H1N1.

The World Health Organization reported Friday that "intense and persistent" flu spread continues to be reported in North America, without evidence of a peak in activity. According to WHO, the proportion of doctors visits due to flu-like illness has exceeded levels seen over the past six flu seasons.

Typically flu infects about 10 per cent of the population each year. In the 1918 influenza pandemic, half the North American population was infected.

"We don’t know how many people have been infected, or how this thing is going to go," Brown says.

But Brown cautions hysteria can drive people to the doctor when they don’t need to go. "You have to be careful in reading the things you normally use as signifiers, because sometimes they’re skewed because of behaviour changes.

"The things you can’t fake are the hospitalizations and the ICU (admissions). You can’t fake an ICU. You’re either on death’s door or not. Looking at those numbers; they’re not at the summer levels yet."

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Remembrance Day silence should be mandatory: Poll

OTTAWA – A majority of Canadians believe observing two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day should be mandatory rather than voluntary, suggests a new poll released to Canwest News Service.

Seven in 10 Canadians who responded to the survey agreed that governments at all levels should enact a law to make everyone stop and observe two minutes of silence on Nov. 11, according to the Ipsos-Reid poll.

The poll surveyed 1,032 people between Nov. 3 and 5, on behalf of the Historica-Dominion Institute.

A further 57 per cent of respondents said all public transit and cars, wherever possible, should stop for two minutes at 11 a.m. on Remembrance Day, which falls Wednesday, to honour this country’s fallen soldiers.

The support for mandatory silence may have more to do with Canadians’ passion to keep a tradition alive than actually wanting it legally enshrined, said Marc Chalifoux, spokesman for the Historica-Dominion Institute.

“There is a growing awareness among Canadians about the importance of remembering those who have served and died under our flag and those who are currently serving in very dangerous places,” he said.

The escalating number of Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan may be a significant reason for the current desire to observe Remembrance Day, he said. Sapper Steven Marshall’s death in Afghanistan on Oct. 30 brought the total number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 133, since their mission began in 2002.

“I think the tragic loss of life in Afghanistan is part of it, but also there’s an awareness that there are men and women out there who are choosing to serve their country and making the ultimate sacrifice,” Chalifoux said.

Legally enforcing a moment of remembrance didn’t quite sit right with one organization that represents Canada’s veterans.

“We don’t need to legislate this,” said Don Leonardo, 48, a spokesman for Veterans of Canada, who comes from a family of three generations of Canadians who fought in wars. Leonardo served as a peacekeeper in former Yugoslavia, while his grandfather and father served in both world wars.

“We need to remember our soldiers have fought for freedoms – freedom of the press, freedom to enjoy the Olympics or the freedom to protest them, and the freedom to observe two minutes of silence.”

Overall, 85 per cent of Canadians said they will observe the tradition. Quebec had the lowest response, with two thirds of Quebecers saying they will stop for two minutes to honour soldiers who have fought for Canada.

Fifty per cent of Quebecers believe that two minutes of silence should be made mandatory for individuals, schools and workplaces, compared to 71 per cent Canadians overall who think so, the poll results suggested.

The survey has an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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Nokia to replace 14M phone chargers

HELSINKI – Nokia Oyj is replacing 14 million cellphone chargers which it says could give users an electric shock.

The world’s biggest mobile phone maker said its Chinese supplier BYD would cover the costs of recalling the chargers, for which handset makers normally pay around $1.

Shares in Nokia were 2.3 per cent firmer at 9.04 euros by 1230 GMT and analysts said the impact on Nokia’s brand would be limited.

"The plastic covers of the affected chargers could come loose and separate, exposing the charger’s internal components and potentially posing an electrical shock hazard if certain internal components are touched while the charger is plugged into a live socket," the Finnish firm said.

Three models of charger – AC-3E, AC-3U and AC-4U – made between April and October this year would be affected. Nokia urged users to seek a free replacement (杭州桑拿按摩论坛chargerexchange.nokia杭州夜网/).

BYD Co Ltd’s battery-making arm BYD Electronic said it expects no material impact on its financial and operating conditions or its business prospects.

BYD has become an increasingly important supplier to Nokia over the last few years, helped by its wide offering – from components to manufacturing services.

"We are not aware of any incidents or injuries relating to these three (models of) chargers," said Nokia spokesman Doug Dawson.

The defective chargers were not sold in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Chile, China and New Zealand.

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Hurricane Ida weakens on path to U.S. Gulf Coast

HOUSTON – Hurricane Ida weakened to a Category 1 hurricane on Monday as it headed toward oil and gas facilities in the central Gulf of Mexico after killing 124 people in El Salvador following floods and mudslides.

Ida’s top sustained winds fell to 90 miles per hour and was expected to weaken further in the next 24 hours, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. But Ida was still expected to be a hurricane as it approached the U.S. Gulf Coast on Monday night or early on Tuesday, bringing heavy rains.

Ida was forecast to hit somewhere between Louisiana and Florida.

U.S. oil companies were shutting production and evacuating workers from the Gulf in the face of Ida.

Oil rose more than $1 to above $78 a barrel on Monday on fears the hurricane would cut U.S. oil and gas supplies.

Several large producers shut down some oil and gas production as a precautionary measure.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the only terminal in the United States capable of handling the largest tankers, stopped unloading ships due to stormy seas.

A quarter of U.S. oil and 15 percent of its natural gas are produced from fields in the Gulf and the coast is home to 40 percent of the nation’s refining capacity.

In El Salvador, rivers burst their banks and hillsides collapsed under relentless rains triggered by Ida’s passage, cutting off parts of the mountainous interior from the rest of the country.

El Salvador’s government said 124 people were killed as mudslides and floods swept away rudimentary houses.

The bulk of the Central American country’s coffee is grown in areas far from the worst affects of the flooding but the national coffee association had no estimate of potential damage to the harvest.

LOUISIANA STATE OF EMERGENCY

The Miami-based hurricane center set a hurricane warning from Pascagoula, Mississippi, to Indian Pass, Florida, meaning hurricane conditions could be expected in the area within 24 hours.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, including the city of New Orleans, which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Sunday, allowing the government to mobilize troops and rescue workers.

If Ida makes landfall in Louisiana, it would be the first storm to strike the state since Hurricane Gustav came ashore in September 2008.

At 4 a.m. EST, the center of Ida was about 285 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and 375 miles south of Pensacola, Florida. Ida was expected to turn toward the north and move faster toward the Gulf Coast before veering off to the northeast on Tuesday.

Ida swept past the Mexican resort of Cancun on Sunday, doing little damage to the city.

Ida first became a hurricane on Thursday off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, where heavy rains forced more than 5,000 people into shelters.

The country’s coffee crop was not directly affected by the storm, according to the local coffee council.

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Leaders hail Berlin Wall fall, vow to topple new barriers

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders hailed the human courage that toppled the Berlin Wall, saying the historic events of 20 years ago showed the world could tackle new challenges, from poverty to climate change.

Ms. Merkel and fellow leaders from Britain, France and Russia spoke to tens of thousands gathered at the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the anniversary of the collapse of the Wall, which ended the Cold War and paved the way for German reunification.

"Together we brought down the Iron Curtain and I am convinced this can give us the strength for the 21st century," said Ms. Merkel, who grew up behind the Wall herself in communist East Germany.

"Our good fortune obliges us to take on the challenges of our time," she added, mentioning security, economic well-being and protection of the environment as key tasks confronting the world.

The spirit of celebration was dampened somewhat on Monday by a steady downpour, which forced spectators gathered around the illuminated Brandenburg Gate to cover themselves with plastic rain coats and umbrellas.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the fall of the Wall was a liberation, but also a call to nations to "fight against repression, to fight against the walls that still exist in our world and which still divide cities, regions and nations."

His Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev said the confrontation of the Cold War was in the past and urged the building of a "new, better world" and a common battle against economic crisis, crime, terrorism and poverty.

After the leaders spoke, they watched the symbolic toppling of a chain of giant brightly coloured dominoes set up along a 1.5-kilometre stretch where the Wall once stood and where Berliners from East and West celebrated on Nov. 9, 1989.

Backed by the Soviet Union, the East German government began erecting its "anti-fascist protection barrier" in the early hours of Aug. 13, 1961, to end a mass flight of its citizens into capitalist West Berlin.

Initially a makeshift fence of barbed wire, it was gradually built up into an imposing 156-kilometre barrier that encircled the three western sectors of the city and was patrolled by guards who were ordered to shoot anyone who tried to escape.

According to a study published this year, at least 136 people were killed at the Berlin Wall between 1961 and 1989 while trying to flee.

But not a single shot was fired when the Wall fell and the night turned into a giant city-wide party with easterners roaming the streets of West Berlin in disbelief and residents from both sides of the Wall embracing each other impulsively.

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Full Smitherman statement

Yesterday I advised Premier McGuinty of my decision to resign from his Cabinet.

This was an important step for me as I begin to make the transition to being a candidate for mayor of Toronto. While I will no longer serve in the

Cabinet, I will continue to serve as the MPP for Toronto Centre in the Ontario legislature for the time being.

I have appreciated the opportunity to work with a premier, and with a government, that has delivered real and positive change for the people of Ontario. It has been an honour to work alongside Premier Dalton McGuinty, a leader who continues to lead the province with distinction.

I am also proud of my own role in delivering on significant parts of the government’s agenda and leaving a lasting legacy. It is now time for me

to turn my attention elsewhere. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have been considering entering the race for Mayor of Toronto.

I am a son of this city. It is where I was born, where I was raised. It’s a city that has been a source of great pride and a place where I’ve devoted

a great deal of my energy trying to help build a stronger community. Toronto has had an amazing history, of which we should all be proud. I

believe it can have an even brighter future.

However, one decade into the 21st century, this city is facing tremendous challenges, challenges that threaten to limit our great potential. Toronto is in desperate need of strong leadership if it is to address these challenges and build an even stronger city.

I believe that I can deliver the leadership that Toronto needs. I have the experience, the energy, the passion and record of accomplishment to lead

this city in a new direction with confidence.

I’ve never been one to simply tinker with the edges when what’s required is bold action. During my time in the McGuinty Cabinet, I have tackled

some of the government’s most challenging files and have demonstrated the ability to lead major transformation. As Ontario’s health minister, I led

major change initiatives that resulted in lower wait times, more nurses, improved community health care, and provided more Ontarians with

access to a family doctor.

While I am proud of these accomplishments, I am even more proud of the changes I made to introduce accountability and sustainability into healthcare, particularly in addressing the significant cost pressures faced by hospitals.

Similarly, as energy and infrastructure minister, I led some of the government’s most critical environmental and economic initiatives. The Green Energy Act, which is the first of its kind in North America, holds the promise for real environmental and economic transformation that will make our air cleaner, contribute to the solutions to climate change, and create new jobs and economic growth for Ontarians.

Recently, I was privileged to celebrate 30 years of political activism surrounded by friends, family and political supporters. It reminded me of how many people have been there to have helped me in life’s journey and I am truly touched by the support that they have offered me over the years.

This is particularly true of those closest to me, particularly my family and my husband, Christopher. It has been an honour to have been able to work on behalf of the people Ontario. Today, however, I am looking to turn my focus exclusively on the needs of the City of Toronto as I prepare to enter the race for mayor. I hope to soon have the honour of serving the people of Toronto in that capacity, as their mayor.

In closing, I want to thank my friend and leader, Premier Dalton McGuinty for the opportunity to have been part of his government. I also want to thank the people of Toronto Centre who, in three successive elections, have shown their confidence in me to serve as their representative in the Ontario legislature.

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