Archive for the ‘World’ Category
Amid the chorus of international condemnation for Bashar Al-Assad, Russia’s disapproval has been decidedly tepid. (more…)
UN and Democratic Republic of Congo troops are reinforcing a key city in the east of the country to guard against attack by rebels who have seized ground in recent days.
DR Congo authorities and the United Nations fear that the M23 movement, which took one town on the Uganda border last week and forced 600 government troops to flee, may target the provincial capital of Goma, UN officials said.
“It would be disastrous if Goma was taken,” said a UN official who gave details of the reinforcements on Tuesday.
The UN Security Council is to discuss the new strife on Tuesday while international leaders will use an African Union summit in Addis Ababa this week to try to defuse tensions between DR Congo and Rwanda over the fighting.
M23, a group of mutineers led by accused war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, has already briefly taken other towns near its new stronghold in Bunagana.
The DR Congo government is moving a US-trained battalion from the north of the country to eastern Goma, the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The battalion, previously used in the hunt for Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters, will join about 7,000 troops already in Nord Kivu province, of which Goma is the capital.
The UN mission in DR Congo, known by the acronym MONUSCO, is moving Ghanaian troops and Guatemalan, Jordanian and Egyptian special forces from its 18,000-strong peacekeeping force to the city, said the UN official.
MONUSCO’s deputy forces commander, General Adrian Foster of Britain, has moved to Goma to run the UN operation, as UN troops will help with planning, logistics, fuel, transport and other support.
They have already gone into battle to protect civilians, and one Indian peacekeeper was killed last Friday.
“This is all to ensure that we can strengthen our support to ensure that Goma does not fall and also to provide wider protection of civilians in the area affected by the M23,” said the UN official.
M23 broke away from the government army in April complaining about conditions. In the past two weeks its numbers have grown from about 1,000 to 2,000 fighters.
The International Criminal Court handed down a 14-year jail term to Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga in its first-ever sentence, after Lubanga’s conviction for using child soldiers in a brutal conflict in the central African country.
“Taking into account all the factors… the court sentences Mr Lubanga to 14 years in prison,” presiding Judge Adrian Fulford told The Hague-based court, set up in 2002, on Tuesday.
Lubanga, who has been detained in The Hague since March 2006, will however effectively only spend eight years in prison. Fulford said the court had taken into account the time Lubanga has already spent behind bars.
Lubanga, 51, was convicted in March of war crimes, specifically for using child soldiers in his rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-03. Criticised for its slow progress, Lubanga’s sentence marks the ICC’s first since it started work a decade ago.
Alpha Sesay, the legal officer for International Justice at the Open Society Justice Initiative, a foundation that promotes human rights and accountability for international crimes spoke to Al Jazeera.
He said that the judge considered a range of issues, but they also considered mitigating circumstances, as Lubanga had cooperated with the proceedings.
“So the prosecution did not get what they asked for,” said Sesay. “There was dissenting opinion though with one of the judges saying that the sentence disregards the arms so far during the conflict in the Ituri region.”
The Hague-based court’s former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who has since handed over this position to Gambia’s Fatou Bensouda, earlier this month called for a 30-year sentence against Lubanga, saying his crimes were “of the most serious concern for the international community”.
“These children were told to kill and rape. That was the education [Lubanga] gave these children,” said Moreno-Ocampo.
During the trial, prosecutors told how young girls served as sex-slaves, while boys were trained to fight.
Lubanga was found guilty of abducting children as young as 11 and forcing them to fight and commit atrocities in the DRC’s northeastern gold-rich Ituri region. NGOs site some 60,000 people killed in the war since 1999.
Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Goma in the DRC said that Lubanga was a Hema and was seen by the Hema as a protector of their community, but it was “not necessarily a war over ethnicity, this was a conflict over the vast gold reserves in the Ituri region, from which a lot of people suffered.”
“Certainly people particularly the Ituri region recognise that this is the very first time that we have ever seen anybody held to account because of the crimes committed in Eastern Congo.”
At the time of Lubanga’s conviction in March, Moreno-Ocampo said he would be ready to accept a lesser sentence of 20 years should Lubanga “sincerely apologise” and actively engage in helping “to prevent further crimes”.
He pleaded not guilty and has maintained his innocence, adding at a June 13 hearing to discuss his sentence that the court’s decision to find him guilty of war crimes hit him “like a bullet in the face”.
“I am being presented as a warlord… but I never accepted or tolerated such enlistments taking place”.
Lubanga, who has been detained in The Hague since 2006 is the founder of the Union of Congolese Patriots and commander of its military wing – the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo.
If one were living in a romantic, old seaside village in Lebanon; tending to gardening and the simpler life; without TV; without newspaper; without internet news stories about the world; then Lebanon would seem a pretty calm place to live. (more…)
Tripoli, Libya – Libyans are voting in the country’s first free national elections in over four decades amid violence by federalist protesters who disrupted the vote in several districts.
Polls opened at 8am local time on Saturday and will close at 8pm (1800 GMT) as the interim government, represented by the National Transitional Council (NTC), declared election day and Sunday national public holidays for voters to exercise their civic duty.
Acts of sabotage, mostly in the east of the country, prevented 101 polling stations from opening on Saturday, the electoral commission’s chairman said.
“Ninety-four percent of polling stations opened,” Nuri al-Abbar told reporters in Tripoli, with voting underway in 1,453 out of 1,554 centres.
“Some of the polling stations were not opened. Because of security reasons, logistical materials haven’t reached them,” he said.
On Friday, a helicopter carrying election material from Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi was shot at in mid-flight, fatally wounding a member of Libya’s High National Election Committee (HNEC) logistics team onboard.
The 2.8 million registered voters will elect a 200-seat General National Conference (GNC) that will replace the unelected interim government that has ruled the country after the revolution against Libya’s ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.
At a press conference on Saturday night, Ian Martin, UN special envoy to Libya, said that he did not think the minor clashes and glitches weren’t enough to damage the credibility of the poll.
“I think we can see already that the problems are in a small enough proportion of the polling centres, that it is not going to undermine the overall credibility of the election,” said Martin.
The 3,700 candidates – 2,500 of whom are independent, the rest belongs to political parties – had until Thursday evening to reach out to voters, as the HNEC declared Friday a “cool-off day” ahead of the vote.
On Friday, many Libyans in Tripoli had been undecided about which candidates to support. Some told Al Jazeera they would use the weekend’s family gatherings to make a final decision.
|In-depth coverage during the vote for General National Congress|
“I have it down to two political parties. I will either vote for Hizb al Watan [National Party] or the Tahalof al Qiwa Al Wataniya [Alliance of National Forces] of [former prime minister Mahmoud] Jibril,” Manal El Miladi, a 23-year-old medical student from Tripoli, told Al Jazeera.
Syrian forces bombarded towns in the northern province of Aleppo on Saturday, as the conflict spilled into neighbouring Lebanon and opposition representatives in France welcomed the defection of a general who was close to President Bashar al-Assad.
“Regime forces are attempting to regain control over [the Aleppo] region, where they suffered heavy casualties over the past months to rebels,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based activist group, said. The group claimed 19 people had died across the country.
In Lebanon, rocket fire from Syria and gunbattles across the border left two women dead and nine people injured. A local official said clashes had broken out at dawn between the Syrian army and fighters on the Lebanese side of the border.
Syrian rebels and opposition politicians inside the country and abroad also continued to gather information about the defection of Brigadier General Manaf Tlas, a commander in the Republican Guard and close friend of Assad who reportedly fled the country last week.
In France, where Tlas was said to be headed, members of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition bloc which is based outside Syria, welcomed the defection.
Clinton’s remarks ‘totally unacceptable’
China and Russia separately rebuffed accusations by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, that they are hindering the resolution of the crisis in Syria.
Liu Weiman, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said Clinton’s comments, made at the “Friends of Syria” meeting in France on Friday, were “totally unacceptable”, adding that any attempt to “slander” his country was doomed to fail.
At the meeting, CIinton said the two countries should “pay a price” for helping Bashar al-Assad keep power in Damascus, remarks that were among Washington’s toughest yet in 16 months of revolt in Syria.
Liu said China’s efforts at resolving the crisis had won international support.
“On the Syria problem, China’s fair and constructive stance and its contributions toward diplomatic efforts have attained the wide understanding and support of relevant parties in the international community,” he said in a statement on the ministry’s website.
“Any words and deeds that slander China and sow discord between China and other countries will be in vain.”
Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, “categorically” rejected “the formulation that Russia supports Assad’s regime in the situation that has developed in Syria”.
Clinton said at the meeting the only way matters would change “is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price because they are holding up progress, blockading it”.
As a divided Libya heads toward a historic vote, an Islamic “frame of reference” unites the country’s political neophytes.
BY MARY FITZGERALD | JULY 6, 2012
BENGHAZI, Libya – On a recent evening in Benghazi, as the sun dipped low over the Mediterranean, a stout, bespectacled man in a suit stepped, to wild applause, onto a stage erected on the city’s Kish Square. The man was Mohammed Sawan, a long-standing member of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, who is from Misrata, and who, after spending years in Muammar al-Qaddafi’s jails, is now leader of its affiliated Justice and Construction Party (JCP). JCP is fielding the largest number of candidates in Libya’s national assembly elections to be held on July 7. “Our revolution started from here,” Sawan began, going on to pay tribute to the martyrs of Benghazi.
Is France’s embittered former president trying to hide from prosecution or quietly laying the groundwork for a big comeback?
BY ERIC PAPE | JULY 6, 2012
PARIS – When Nicolas Sarkozy was battling his way toward the presidency in 2007, he often seemed like the Energizer Bunny of French politics: frenetic, relentless, and troublingly ubiquitous. Like that deranged, effervescent, pink rabbit, he broke through barriers and intruded into the darnedest places.
Long before he took office in the Élysée Palace, he had manufactured an image based on tough talk and hard-charging actions that could fill kiosks full of newsweekly covers and thus inspire the relentless dedication of legions of newspaper correspondents. (When he was a government minister under President Jacques Chirac, he would actually brag about his impact on magazine sales and television ratings.) The Sarko Show devolved into a national soap opera: His wife was his chief of staff, then left him for another man, but came back in time for his election to the presidency. Soon after, he gave France its first presidential divorce, speed-wooed former supermodel Carla Bruni, and provided the country with a rare presidential wedding and, better yet, its first presidential birth. In the end, it was hard to tell whether they were France’s Camelot, with Bruni as Jackie Kennedy, or its political Brangelina. Sarkozy’s jumpy voice seemed to play in a loop for years, accompanying people’s café and croissants over the morning radio, or barging in on family dinners during prime-time news broadcasts.
The country was so overwhelmed by his omnipresence (the media actually dubbed him the “omni-president”) that it began to suffer from what might be called Sarkozia — a mental disorder defined by the fraught disorientation of spending so much time around a politician who relishes destabilizing others.
And then, in little more than the time that it took for the electorate to reject him in May, Sarkozy was gone. The man who drove the French media insane for much of the last decade has tried to disappear like Houdini.
An apology by Secretary of State Clinton ended the months’ long impasse between the U.S. in Pakistan over an air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers (more…)
Wikileaks is at it again, this time releasing more than 2 million “embarrassing” emails from Syrian government and business officials.
The emails, which date from August 2006 to March 2012, are coming to light as Syria remains embroiled in 16-month violent rebellion.
“The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents. It helps us not merely to criticize one group or another, but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts. It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it,” Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement on the group’s website.
Earlier this week, Egypt’s military “transferred power to the military,” as the Masry Al-Youm newspaper put it. (more…)
Egypt has plunged deeper into political uncertainty as both presidential candidates claim victory following a runoff election and the country’s ruling generals move to further assert their power.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) repeated on Monday its pledge to hand over authority to a civilian government by the end of the month.
Mohammed al-Assar, one of the generals, said during a lengthy press conference in Cairo that there would be a “grand ceremony” to mark the transition.
“We’ll never tire or be bored from assuring everyone that we will hand over power before the end of June,” he said.
Yet the council has moved in the last 24 hours to sharply curtail the powers of the incoming president. SCAF will retain authority over the budget and the legislative process until a new parliament is elected, according to a decree issued on Sunday night.
The decree even limits the new president’s powers as commander-in-chief, stating that he can only declare war “with the approval of the military council.”
Sameh Ashour, the head of SCAF’s advisory council, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the incoming president would likely have a short term, and would be replaced after a new constitution was drafted.
“The upcoming president will occupy the office for a short period of time, whether or not he agrees,” Ashour said. “His office term will be short despite the huge efforts exerted in the election campaigns.”
Both sides claim victory
It still was not clear, nearly 24 hours after polls closed, who that next president will be.
Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, claimed victory in the early hours of Monday morning.
The Brotherhood’s unofficial tally had Morsi leading with about 12.7 million votes, or 52.5 per cent of the total. Several other counts from media organisations, including Al Jazeera, also showed Morsi with a narrow lead.
Greece’s victorious conservative leader sought a new coalition government after elections, pledging on Monday to soften the debt-laden country’s punishing austerity programe despite opposition from Germany.
A brief relief rally on international financial markets after Sunday’s Greek vote quickly fizzled out as it became clear that Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy had failed to win a convincing popular mandate to implement the deep spending cuts and tax increases demanded by the European Union and the IMF.
Radical left-wing bloc Syriza and a host of smaller parties opposed to the punishing conditions attached to the $164.12 bn bailout won around half the votes cast, though fewer seats because the electoral system rewards the
first placed party disproportionately.
Samaras received a mandate to form a coalition government from the president on Monday, and said the country would meet its bailout commitments.
But he added: “We will simultaneously have to make some necessary amendments to the bailout agreement, in order to relieve the people of crippling unemployment and huge hardships.”
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons reported from Athens, where he compared the atmosphere to that of a “tinderbox”, and that any new government would have to contend with deep-seated political and demographic divisions.
“The real worry is that if there’s a weak government, Syriza is going to weigh in and bring it down,” he said.
He said that a government would likely be formed and that there was unlikely to be a repeat of the standoff that followed the May elections.
Recently, I’ve been reading Stephen Coll’s insightful and terrifying book Ghost Wars, about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the creation of Al Qaeda (more…)
For more than a year, and particularly in recent months, the “Syrian crisis” has dominated Middle East news. (more…)
Egypt’s general prosecutor will be appealing against the sentences handed down in the trials of several police officials who served under Hosni Mubarak, state media and sources say.
Mubarak, the former president who was ousted by a popular uprising last year, and his former interior minister were sentenced to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of more than 800 people during a police crackdown on the protests.
Gamal and Alaa, the former leader’s sons, however, were acquitted on corruption charges, as were six police commanders on charges related to the killing of protesters. Mubarak was also acquitted on corruption charges.
“The state prosecutor has ordered the start of the appeals procedure,” a source in his office told the AFP news agency.
The Nile News channel also carried the prosecutor’s decision in a short screen caption, but did not provide further details.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, confirmed that travel bans on the six officials, in place since the trial first began last February, have been renewed.
Protests across country
The verdicts sparked protests across the country, with several thousand angry demonstrators gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Alexandria, Suez and other cities.
Tahrir Square finally fell quiet after a night of protests, but crowds were expected to return later to express frustration amid fears for Egypt’s stalling revolution.
A few hundred protesters continued to demonstrate on Sunday, after up to 10,000 people had converged on the birthplace of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak’s regime the night before.
Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said most of the protesters started clearing out shortly after midnight.
“There are more protests and demonstrations planned for Sunday, starting around sunset when the weather gets a bit cooler,” said Tadros.
It’s a scenario familiar from thousands of science fiction movies: a glitch in a highly destructive secret weapon causes it to turn on its creators and destroy them. (more…)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that the country is engaged in a “real war” with outside forces and defended political reforms implemented by his government in an address to the parliament in Damascus.
Speaking on Sunday for the first time since last month’s parliamentary elections , Assad said that he would not be lenient on those he blamed for violence in the country.
“We have to fight terrorism for the country to heal,” Assad said. “We will not be lenient. We will be forgiving only for those who renounce terrorism.”
Assad’s remarks defied mounting international condemnation of his regime’s crackdown on the opposition. He blamed the crisis on outside forces and said the country was passing through its most critical stage since the end of colonialism.
“The masks have fallen and the international role in the Syrian events is now obvious,” Assad said, adding that the elections had been the perfect response “to the criminal killers and those who finance them”.
Assad admitted the country’s unrest had taken a “bloody toll” and exhausted assets, but said outside forces were responsible.
“Terrorism has undermined us all,” he said. “It is a real war waged from outside and dealing with a war is different to dealing with the grievances of Syrian citizens.”
He added that there would be “no dialogue” with opposition factions “seeking foreign intervention”.
In the speech, Assad blamed terrorists for the recent massacre in the Syrian town of Houla, which opposition activists said was committed by pro-government forces.
|Survivor describes Syria’s Houla massacre|
At least 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, were slaughtered in killings that began on May 25 and continued the next day, triggering international outrage.
Lebanon has deployed troops to the northern city of Tripoli after at least 12 people were killed in fierce clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, local medics and security sources said.
Residents said relative peace had returned to the city since the soldiers deployed at around 7am local time (04:00 GMT) on Sunday, after gunmen exchanged heavy fire and rocket propelled grenades.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Tripoli, said an “uneasy calm” had set in after the fighting.
“The Lebanese army has been deployed, but if you talk to anyone, they will say this is just a temporary truce,” Khodr said on Sunday.
“The clashes really have become more and more frequent over the last few months. This conflict really is far from over,” our correspondent added.
The latest clashes began after midnight on Friday and continued throughout Saturday until the army deployment.
Residents of the neighbouring districts have clashed repeatedly in recent weeks, but Saturday’s death toll is the highest in a single day in Tripoli, raising fears that Syria’s unrest was spilling over into its smaller neighbour.
Among the dead were a woman and her son, killed by a rocket in the Bab al-Tabanneh district, a mostly Sunni Muslim community which supports Syria’s opposition, a security official said.
At least five were wounded in Jabal Mohsen, an area mainly populated by Alawites who support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The trial continues of Anders Breivik, the mass murderer who embarked on a killing spree on the 22nd of July, 2011. (more…)
AP Photo/Ronald Zak
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s defense minister voiced skepticism on Tuesday over an agreement by Iran to open up its nuclear facilities to U.N. inspectors, saying the Iranians are trying to create a “deception of progress” to save off international pressure.
The cool reception from Defense Minister Ehud Barak signaled that Israel will not ease up pressure on the international community to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Israel has repeatedly hinted it is ready to use force if it concludes international diplomacy has failed to stop the Iranians.
Barak spoke shortly after the U.N.’s nuclear chief announced he had reached a preliminary deal to allow his inspectors to restart a long-stalled probe into suspicions that Iran is secretly developing nuclear arms. The announcement came a day before Iran and six world powers were to meet in Baghdad for another round of negotiations.
“It looks like the Iranians are trying to reach a technical agreement that will create a deception of progress in talks in order to reduce the pressure ahead of talks tomorrow in Baghdad and postpone harshening of sanctions,” Barak said during a discussion at the Defense Ministry, according to a statement from his office.
“Israel believes that a clear bar should be set for Iran that won’t leave room for any window or crack for Iran to proceed toward military nuclear capability,” Barak said. “It’s forbidden to make any concessions to Iran. World powers demands must be clear and unequivocal.”
Barak held out the possibility that Iran be allowed to keep a “symbolic amount” of low-enriched uranium for medical or research purposes, but only if it is under “strict” international supervision.
Israel wants Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium – a key step toward building a nuclear bomb – and agree to ship most of its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country and open its nuclear facilities to inspection.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Veteran U.S. diplomat Ryan Crocker will be leaving his post as ambassador to Afghanistan this summer, an embassy spokesman said Tuesday.
Crocker, 62, came out of retirement last July to take over the post after a request from President Barack Obama. Crocker was widely known for his role as U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009.
It is unclear why he is leaving the post a year ahead of schedule or who will replace him. The most likely candidate would be James Cunningham, one of four other ambassadors serving under Crocker in Kabul.
There have been persistent rumors that Crocker wanted to leave for personal reasons. The U.S. Embassy last denied such a rumor two weeks ago.
“Ambassador Crocker has confirmed, with regret, that he will be leaving Kabul this summer,” acting embassy spokesman Mark Thornburg said.
The eurozone financial crisis could threaten the global economy, according to Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation.
The 17-nation eurozone will see its economies shrink by 0.1 per cent, before rebounding to 0.9 per cent next year, the Paris-based organisation said in its latest report released on Tuesday.
Pier Carlo Padoan, the OECD chief economist, said “the crisis in the euro area has become more serious recently, and it remains the most important source of risk to the global economy”.
Padoan told Al Jazeera: “There is a risk of serious recession which could be sparked off by events like Greece, if that happens it could affect the global economy”.
Growth across the organisation’s 34 members, generally the wealthiest in the world, would ease this year to 1.6 per cent from 1.8 per cent in 2011 and then reach 2.2 per cent in 2013, the report said.
The OECD revised its forecast for US economic growth this year to 2.4 per cent from 2.0 per cent, and sees 2.6 per cent growth in 2013.
It forecast eurozone unemployment to rise to 10.8 per cent this year and 11.1 per cent next year.
Recession, “rising unemployment and social pain may spark political contagion and adverse market reaction” with countries outside the eurozone also at risk of being hit, he said.
While the eurozone gained some breathing space at the beginning of the year from the European Central Bank pumping over a trillion euros into banks, tensions have soared in recent weeks after inconclusive elections raised the spectre of a Greek exit from the euro.
“The risk is increasing of a vicious circle, involving high and rising sovereign indebtedness, weak banking systems, excessive fiscal consolidation and lower growth,” OECD’s Padoan said.
This comes as EU leaders meet in Brussels on Wednesday to contemplate measures to boost growth.
A planned military parade to mark Yemen’s National Day is set to go ahead in Yemen, despite a suicide attack during rehearsals for the celebration that left nearly 100 people dead.
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in the centre of the Yemeni capital on Monday, saying that it was revenge for increased US drone strikes.
Al Jazeera’s Jane Ferguson, reporting from Sanaa, says that Tuesday’s march will be largely scaled down and held in a “secret” location.
“This was supposed to be a national celebration, with the public and international diplomats there, but will now be a shadow of what it was meant to be,” Ferguson said.
Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is scheduled to still attend the parade, said after the attack that he will fight “terrorism regardless of the sacrifices”.
Officials said a bomber dressed in military uniform targeted soldiers rehearsing for a parade in Sanaa to mark National Day.
Yemen’s defence minister and chief of staff were both present at the event, but neither man was hurt.
The huge explosion left scenes of carnage at Sabaeen Square, with bloodied victims strewn across the 10-lane road where the rehearsal was held on Monday morning not far from the presidential palace.
“We had just finished the parade. We were saluting our commander when a huge explosion went off,” said Amr Habib, a soldier.
“It was a gruesome attack. Many soldiers were killed and others had their arms and legs blown off.”
The great kingdom that lies along the banks of the river Niger is Nigeria. A woman controls the wealth of this natural resource rich nation. (more…)
BEIJING (AP) — A cloud hung over annual talks between the United States and China on Thursday as a blind Chinese dissident who took refuge in the U.S. Embassy appealed to Washington for more help, saying from his hospital room in Beijing that he now fears for his family’s safety unless they are all spirited abroad.
China already demanded an apology from the U.S. even before Chen Guangcheng balked at a deal in which he would remain in his homeland. Now that he wants to leave, the case could overshadow talks in which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are to discuss foreign policy and economic issues with their Chinese counterparts.
After six days holed up in the U.S. Embassy, as senior officials in Beijing and Washington tussled over his fate, Chen left the compound’s protective confines Wednesday for a nearby hospital for treatment of a leg injury suffered in his escape. A shaken Chen told The Associated Press from his hospital room that Chinese authorities had warned he would lose his opportunity to be reunited with his family if he stayed longer in the embassy.
U.S. officials verified that account. But they adamantly denied his contention that one American diplomat had warned him of a threat from the Chinese that his wife would be beaten to death if he did not get out of the embassy.
“I think we’d like to rest in a place outside of China,” Chen told the AP, appealing again for help from Washington. “Help my family and me leave safely.”
Only hours earlier, U.S. officials said they had extracted from the Chinese government a promise that Chen would join his family and be allowed to start a new life in a university town in China, safe from the rural authorities who had abusively held him in prison and house arrest for nearly seven years.
Clinton spoke to Chen on the phone when he left the embassy and, in a statement, welcomed the resettlement agreement as one that “reflected his choices and our values.”
But the murky circumstances of Chen’s departure from the embassy, and his sudden appeal to leave China after declaring he wanted to stay, again threatened to overshadow talks that were to focus on the global economic crisis and hotspots such as North Korea, Iran, Syria and Sudan.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry signaled its unhappiness with the entire affair, demanding that the U.S. apologize for giving Chen sanctuary at the embassy.
“What the U.S. side should do now is neither to continue misleading the public and making every excuse to shift responsibility and conceal its wrongdoing, nor to interfere in the domestic affairs of China,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said late Wednesday in a statement that was a response to comments from Clinton praising the deal on Chen.
Chen, 40, became an international human rights figure and inspiration to many ordinary Chinese after running afoul of local government officials for exposing forced abortions carried out as part of China’s one-child policy. He served four years in prison on what supporters said were fabricated charges, then was kept under house arrest with his wife, daughter and mother, with the adults often being roughed up by officials and his daughter searched and harassed.
Blinded by childhood fever but intimately familiar with the terrain of his village, Chen slipped from his guarded farmhouse in eastern China’s Shandong province at night on April 22. He made his way through fields and forest, along roads and across a narrow river to meet the first of several supporters who helped bring him to Beijing and the embassy. It took three days for his guards to realize he was gone.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner disputed Chen’s claim that he was left alone by the Americans at the hospital.
“There were U.S. officials in the building,” the spokesman told reporters. “I believe some of his medical team was in fact with him at the hospital.” He said U.S. officials would continue visiting Chen while he was there.
Chen’s supporters in the U.S. called on Clinton to meet him directly, and one of them, Republican Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, said it appeared the resettlement agreement “seems to have been done under significant duress.”
“If ever there was a test of the U.S. commitment to human rights, it should have been at that moment, potentially sending him back to a very real threat,” he said.
But no one appeared to know precisely what to make of Chen’s change of heart. He had welcomed a deal that let him stay in China and work for change, telling his lawyer Li Jinsong on the way to the hospital, “I’m free, I’ve received clear assurances,” according to Li.
Toner said three U.S. officials heard Chen tell Clinton in broken English on the phone that he wanted to kiss her in gratitude. Chen told the AP that he actually told Clinton, “I want to see you now.”
Nor is it clear how the U.S. could be party to an agreement on Chen’s safety inside China when it has no power to enforce the conditions of his life there.
AP Photo/Thibault Camus
PARIS (AP) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy failed to deliver a knockout blow against leftist front-runner Francois Hollande in their only head-to-head debate in France’s presidential campaign, the last major hurdle just four days before Sunday’s election finale.
Hollande – an understated man whom many expected to wither under Sarkozy’s sharp attacks – stood his ground, surprising some observers and even himself. But Wednesday’s much-awaited TV debate produced no outright winner, and appears unlikely to shake up the campaign.
The debate had shaped up as Sarkozy’s last stand and last chance to draw blood against Hollande, and it quickly turned into a verbal slugfest that broke little new ground on substance but exposed big differences in style.
Sarkozy, an America-friendly conservative who has linked up with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to try to revive Europe’s finances and economic prospects, came out slugging and sought to cast himself as the best man to keep France both decisive and competitive.
The incumbent president assailed Hollande’s plans to raise taxes and boost spending – repeatedly accusing him of lying.
“The job of president isn’t a normal job and the situation we’re in isn’t normal,” snapped Sarkozy, riffing off of the Socialist Hollande’s promise to bring a “normal” presidency compared to the incumbent’s high-energy tenure. “Your normalcy isn’t up to the stakes.”
But for Hollande, the stakes boiled down to depicting presidential demeanor, and showing that he could hold his own against Sarkozy – a longtime political nemesis whom he has faced in TV debates dating to the 1990s.
“Hollande held up well,” political scientist and former pollster Stephane Rozes told France-3 TV, adding that he doesn’t think the debate will “shake things up” ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Hollande said on France-3 television afterward that he showed voters “what I was capable of.” But he acknowledged, “I don’t think this is a debate … that could bring out new voters.”
The campaign has largely focused on domestic issues such as the weak economy, immigration, and integration of French Muslims. Yet the outcome is considered crucial to the rest of Europe as well because France is a major economic engine at a time when the eurozone is trying to climb out of a debt crisis.
Sarkozy says France needs to do more to cut spending and high state debt, while Hollande backs government-funded stimulus programs. Both have pushed for similar approaches for the rest of the continent, too.
The two debaters quibbled over statistics; they scoffed sarcastically or spoke over each other, pointed fingers and raised their voices. Their debates came across at times as wonkish, esoteric or nitpicky.
“It’s a lie! It’s a lie!” Sarkozy insisted in one heated exchange on economic policies. The Socialist contender, meanwhile, forcefully denied some of Sarkozy’s claims about his intentions, insisting, “I never said that.”
Hollande accused Sarkozy of appointing cronies to government posts, and the president shot back, calling his rival “a little slanderer” and noting he had named some ministers from the political left in his first Cabinet.
A high point came as Hollande teed off on a presenter’s question about what kind of president he’d be. He tipped back in his chair, folded his arms, and launched into a litany of points starting with the phrase: “As president of the Republic, I …” on issues like the independence of judges, his plan to defer much policy-making to the prime minister or energy policy.
“You’ve just gave us a nice speech – we got teary-eyed,” retorted Sarkozy, trying to break down some of Hollande’s points. “Your bit about independence of judges is a joke.”
Hollande repeatedly using one of his campaign catchwords: like “unity” and “change” to stress the contrast between him and the divisive Sarkozy. Pollsters say the incumbent turned off a lot of voters early in his five-year term with his brash personal style. A stagnant economy made those troubles worse.
Sarkozy said he’s being unfairly blamed for France’s economic problems after years of crisis, and insisted he’s not “the only guilty one.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy locked horns with his Socialist rival Francois Hollande in a testy television duel that was billed as Sarkozy’s last chance to save his re-election bid on Sunday.
Sarkozy went into the gruelling 2.5-hour television debate on Wednesday evening as the rank outsider.
Polls show Hollande, who led the first round of the election on April 22, winning Sunday’s runoff with between 53-54 per cent of the vote.
The air crackled with tension as the two men, both dressed in black suits and black ties, squared off across a table.
Sarkozy and Hollande clashed repeatedly in their only televised debate as the president said he wanted the prime-time debate to be a “moment of truth”.
In the early part of the debate, Hollande said he aimed to be “the president of justice”, “the president of revival” and “the president of unity”.
He said Sarkozy, in office for the last five years, had divided the French people for too long and was using the global economic crisis as an excuse for broken promises.
“With you it’s very simple: it’s never your fault,” Hollande said.
Sarkozy repeatedly accused his opponent of lying about economic figures and reeled off reams of statistics in an attempt to unbalance his rival.
“Mr Hollande. When you lie so shamelessly, do I have to accept it?” he asked when his opponent said the president was always happy with his record.
“It’s a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a lie,” Sarkozy said.
“The example I want to follow is Germany and not Spain or Greece,” the president said, declaring that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had saved Greece from an economic wipeout and avoided the collapse of the euro currency.
“Europe has got over it,” Sarkozy said of the crisis.
Hollande shot back: “Europe has not got over it. Europe is today facing a possible resurgence of the crisis with generalised austerity, and that’s what I don’t want.”
He said people around Europe were watching the French election in hope that it would change the continent’s direction towards growth.
The duel was carried live on channels that reach roughly half France’s 44.5 million voters. The streets of Paris were unusually deserted with many people staying home to watch.
Sarkozy needed to win a decisive victory in the debate to have any chance of catching up in the last four days but neither candidate landed a knockout blow.
Twenty TV cameras scrutinised the two rivals from every angle as they sat 2.5 metres apart across a table, twin digital clocks ticking to ensure each had equal speaking time.
The body of the 54th woman to be killed by a man (boyfriend, friend, relative) in Italy has been found after having been missing for two days. (more…)
On Wednesday morning, the bodies of the four people killed in the shootings at a Jewish School in Toulouse, France, arrived in Jerusalem for burial, and the nation came together as one family in grief. (more…)
Viewpoint from a Syrian in Lebanon whose family is still in Holms
On March 23, 2012, a Syrian man named Hussein was walking by the Sea Port in Lebanon with a sad look on his face. His heart was somewhere else. (more…)
|UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan calls for a ceasefire and for political dialogue to take place [AFP]|
The United Nations Security Council has adopted a statement backing joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s plan for ending the violence in Syria, as a government crackdown on opposition strongholds has continued.
Mark Lyall Grant, the UK’s ambassador to the UN and the current president of the council, read out the statement during a UNSC session on Wednesday.
The statement expressed the council’s “full support” for Annan’s efforts, and called upon both the government and the opposition “to work in good faith with the envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis” and to fully implement his six-point proposal.
The statement threatened “further steps” if the government failed to comply with the proposal.
The plan calls for a ceasefire to be established, as well as for both sides to engage in political dialogue and to allow humanitarian aid agencies access to areas where citizens have been caught up in an increasingly militarised conflict.
The statement specifically calls for a “daily two hour humanitarian pause” in hostilities to be established by both sides to allow agencies to provide humanitarian assistance.
It also calls for those detained during a government crackdown on protests to be released, and for restrictions on the freedom of movement of foreign journalists to be removed.
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Soldiers on Wednesday stormed the state TV and radio station in Mali, as fears of a possible coup gripped the country in the wake of a military mutiny which spread from a garrison in the capital to one thousands of miles away.
The sound of heavy weapons rang out and trucks carrying soldiers were seen fanning out around the building housing the state broadcaster. Television screens went black across the landlocked nation for roughly 7 hours, coming back a little before midnight to announce that a government statement would soon be issued.
Throughout Africa, coups usually begin with the seizing of national television, and the population was on edge. The presidential palace rushed to deny that a coup was in progress, issuing a Tweet, saying: “There is no coup in Mali. There’s just a mutiny.”
The mutiny began Wednesday morning at a military camp in the capital, during a visit by Defense Minister Gen. Sadio Gassama. In his speech to the troops, the minister failed to address the grievances of the rank-and-file soldiers, who are angry over what they say is the government’s mismanagement of a rebellion in the north of the country by Tuareg separatists. The rebellion has claimed the lives of numerous soldiers, and those sent to fight are not given sufficient supplies, including arms and food.
Recruits started firing into the air, according to a soldier who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press. By afternoon, soldiers had surrounded the state television station in central Bamako, and by evening, troops had started rioting at a military garrison located in the northern town of Gao.
A freelance journalist from Sweden who was driving to her hotel near the TV station at around 4 p.m. local time, said that trucks full of soldiers surrounded the building.
ROSEAU, Dominica (AP) — Two California men on a gay cruise of the Caribbean were arrested Wednesday in Dominica, where sex between two men is illegal.
Police Constable John George said police boarded the cruise ship and arrested the two men on suspicion of indecent exposure and “buggery,” a term equivalent to sodomy on the island. He identified the men as John Robert Hart, 41, and Dennis Jay Mayer, 43, but did not provide their hometowns.
George said the men were seen having sex on the Celebrity Summit cruise ship by someone on the dock.
The two were later charged with indecent exposure and are scheduled to appear before a magistrate Thursday morning. If found guilty, they could be fined $370 each and face up to six months in jail.
The ship carrying about 2,000 passengers departed Puerto Rico on Saturday and arrived in Dominica on Wednesday. It departed for St. Barts without the men, who are being held in a cell at police headquarters in the capital of Roseau.
The cruise was organized by Atlantis Events, a Southern California company that specializes in gay travel.
President Rich Campbell, who is aboard the cruise, said in a phone interview earlier that he thought the two men would be released. He later said in an email that the company has organized many trips to Dominica and would “happily return.”
“Many countries and municipalities that gay men visit and live in have antiquated laws on their books,” he said. “These statutes don’t pose a concern to us in planning a tourist visit.”
|Opposition fighters fled the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor in the face of a fierce army assault [AFP]|
Syrian government forces have launched military assaults in different parts of the country, activists say, as key ally Russia has said that Damascus is making “a lot of mistakes” in handling the unrest sweeping the country.
The body of Pope Shenouda III has been buried at a desert monastery following a day of funeral ceremonies for the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Church, who died on Saturday at the age of 88.
Thousands of Coptic Christians earlier on Tuesday paid their final respects to the pope at a funeral service at St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo.
Shenouda was then flown by military plane for interment at Wadi al-Natroun, a fourth-century monastery located in Beheira province in the northwest Nile Delta.
Chaotic scenes preceded the burial as thousands of people swarmed around the convoy carrying Shenouda’s body, forcing the vehicle to a halt and overwhelming lines of police who tried in vain to push the crowds back.
In Cairo, clerics, dignitaries and religious leaders looked on as black-clad priests and monks recited prayers and dispensed incense smoke. Shenouda’s body lay in a white casket in the elaborate regalia he traditionally wore to oversee services, complete with an ornate golden crown.
Tens of thousands more who could not get in followed the mass outside the cathedral, carrying portraits of Shenouda and crosses. Many wept, wiping tears off their faces as the melancholic tunes of the hymns reached them through loudspeakers.
Flags were flown at half mast and an “unprecedented” security plan was put in place as crowds mourned the man who had led the Coptic church for four decades.
A wave of car bombings and roadside blasts across several cities in Iraq have killed at least 46 people and wounded more than 180 people, police and hospital sources say.
The attacks on Tuesday came just days before Baghdad is due to host an Arab League summit, the first meeting of the 22-nation body to be held in the Iraqi capital since Saddam Hussain’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
One of the deadliest attacks targeted the city of Karbala, where at least 13 people were killed, including five Iranian pilgrims, according to Hussein Shadhan al-Aboudi, a local provincial council member.
|Follow in-depth coverage of the nation in flux|
In the northern city of Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded near a police headquarters, killing 13 and wounding 30.
“We have also received parts of bodies, but we do not know who they belong to,” said Mohammed Abdullah, a doctor at Kirkuk hospital.
While a bomb in a parked car detonated inside the garage of Kirkuk police department, another bomb went off in the same street.
Sources told Al Jazeera there had also been a suicide car bombing in the Allawi district of central Baghdad, killing three people. A group affiliated to al-Qaeda said it had targeted an office that will oversee security when the Iraqi capital hosts the Arab League summit next week.
“Death is approaching you, when you least expect it,” the Islamic State of Iraq said in a statement.
|Pupils across the country filled the courtyards of their schools to pay their respects to the victims of the attack [AFP]|
Schools across France have held a minute of silence to remember the four victims at a Jewish school in Toulouse killed by a gunman in what investigators suspect may be the latest in a spate of racially motivated killings.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy led the mourning at a central Paris school before addressing the small group of children in its courtyard on Tuesday.
“These children were three, six and eight years old. The murderer hounded a little girl. It’s a serious matter. So serious that the whole republic is concerned. Your teachers, your families and you,” Sarkozy said.
In Toulouse, families and friends wept as the bodies of the three children and a rabbi began their journey from the Jewish school to their burial in Israel. The three children were Franco-Israeli citizens.
Two black hearses carried the bodies out of Ozar Hatorah school and left for a nearby airport where they were to be flown on a military plane to Paris and then by commercial flight to Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
Relatives and friends had gathered at the school in the southwestern city for the departure of the bodies of 30-year-old Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh and Gabriel, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego.
French police on Monday started a huge manhunt after the shooting and the region was put on its highest level of security alert.
Kony 2012 is, to me, the latest patronising hype of the Good Western Society for the poor Africans, who are not as developed as us. (more…)
The website Wikileaks, made claim this week, that the Iranian nuclear infrastructure has already been destroyed, in an attack orchestrated by Israeli and Kurdish fighters several months ago. (more…)
A series of powerful storms and tornadoes have killed at least 20 people in the US states of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, officials say.
Local police confirmed that 13 people died as tornadoes swept across three counties in Indiana.
Five others died in Kentucky, with two fatalities in Ohio. Earlier, tornadoes hit Alabama, causing widespread damage.
“We are no match for Mother Nature at her worst,” said Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.
He is due to vist affected areas on Saturday.
The storms – stretched across a vast part of the US Midwest – came days after another system killed 13 people.
The first deaths on Friday were reported in Indiana, where the small town of Henryville was badly damaged.
Reports of extreme damage included a roof torn off a high school.
An official from Clark County sheriff’s department described the nearby town of Marysville, Indiana – located close to Henryville – as “completely gone”.
Jenn Helvering, 24, told the BBC she saw a storm cell cross the highway as she drove towards Henryville. She then came across wreckage, including an overturned tractor-trailer, alongside the road near the town.
Ms Helvering, who posted a series of images online said she saw “what seemed to be a funnel”, when driving between two storm cells.
“The weather was terrible. I suddenly saw a tornado coming towards me, I could see it swirling, then I saw one behind me. I was stuck in between two tornadoes – my dad directed me while I was driving between the two tornadoes. It was truly terrifying.”
In Salem, Indiana, a toddler was found injured in a field after tornadoes passed through, reports said before being take to a children’s hospital, where she was later identified.
A family of four were found dead in Washington County, Indiana, Sheriff Claude Combs told the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Meanwhile, in Henryville, authorities found a man dead inside his vehicle. It was the first confirmed death in Clark County.
“We’ve got total devastation in the north-central part of the county [and] widespread damage from the west to the east,” Clark County Sheriff Clark Adam told CNN.
Neighbouring Marysville was totally destroyed.
“Marysville is completely gone,” said Chuck Adams of Clark County Sheriff’s Department.
As Friday’s storms grew in intensity, the National Weather Service issued severe tornado warnings for a host of states.
A group representing plaintiffs suing BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill has reached a settlement with the company, a US judge says.
A trial, due to begin on Monday, will now be delayed – for a second time – as a result of the deal, Judge Carl Barbier said.
The settlement will “likely result in a realignment of the parties,” he said.
The rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, killing 11 workers and leaking four million barrels of oil.
The trial is now being adjourned “in order to allow the parties to reassess their respective positions,” Judge Barbier said.
There has been no confirmation of any agreement from either BP or representatives of the plaintiffs.
The trial was due to resolve claims for damages and civil penalties arising from the spill. BP and its partners face the threat of tens of billions of dollars in fines and penalties if found grossly negligent in the case.
BEIRUT/UNITED NATIONS |
(Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had received “grisly reports” that Syrian government forces were arbitrarily executing, imprisoning and torturing people in the battle-scarred city of Homs after rebel fighters had fled.
Ban’s comments came as a wounded British photographer, who escaped Homs earlier this week, said he had witnessed Syrian troops carrying out a massacre in the city’s Baba Amro district, which had become a symbol of a year-long uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Opposition activists told Reuters Syrian troops, who had bombarded the district for weeks, had started hunting down and killing insurgents who had stayed to cover a rebel retreat on Thursday.
The rebel withdrawal was seen as a major setback for the armed revolt, that began with largely peaceful protests inspired by the “Arab Spring,” but escalated after a bloody government crackdown.
“A major assault on Homs took place yesterday,” Ban told the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Friday. “Civilian losses have clearly been heavy. We continue to received grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture.”
In some of his toughest criticism of Damascus to date, Ban added that “this atrocious assault is all the more appalling for having been waged by the government itself, systematically attacking its own people.”
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, said Ban’s remarks included “extremely virulent rhetoric which confines itself to slandering a government based on reports, opinions or hearsay.”
“The secretary-general is not duly informed,” he said, reiterating that the Syrian opposition consisted of “armed terrorist groups.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross said an aid convoy had reached Baba Amro, but was not allowed to enter.
“It is unacceptable that people who have been in need of emergency assistance for weeks have still not received any help,” ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement.
“We are staying in Homs tonight in the hope of entering Baba Amro in the very near future.”
One activist in Homs told Reuters: “The Syrian army was holding the convoy up because they want to clean up after what they have done in Baba Amro.” As with other activist reports from Homs, this could not be independently confirmed.
“All men who remained in the neighborhood aged between 14 and 50 were arrested. We fear they will be massacred. Where is the world?” said one activist.
“The massacres are continuing. They are torturing them and killing (detainees) one by one. They are executing them in batches,” another activist, who left Baba Amro on Friday, told Reuters via Skype.
(Reuters) – Iranians wrapped up a parliamentary election likely to reinforce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s power over rival hardliners led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iranian leaders were looking for a high turnout at Friday’s poll to ease a crisis of legitimacy caused by Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009, when widespread accusations of fraud plunged the Islamic Republic into the worst unrest of its 33-year history.
Iran also faces economic turmoil compounded by Western sanctions over a nuclear program that has prompted threats of military action by Israel, whose leader meets U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House on Monday.
The vote in Iran is only a limited test of political opinion since leading reformist groups stayed out of what became a contest between the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad camps.
“Whenever there has been more enmity towards Iran, the importance of the elections has been greater,” Khamenei, 72, said after casting his vote before television cameras.
“The arrogant powers are bullying us to maintain their prestige. A high turnout will be better for our nation … and for preserving security.”
His hopes for wide participation received a boost when Iranian authorities had to delay the end of voting by five hours to let more people cast their ballot, closing polling stations at 11 p.m. (1930 GMT) on Friday.
Ballots are counted manually and Iranians may have to wait three days for full results.
The vote will have scant impact on Iran’s foreign or nuclear policies, in which Khamenei already has the final say, but could strengthen the Supreme Leader’s hand before the presidential vote next year. Ahmadinejad, 56, cannot run for a third term.
Iranians may be preoccupied with sharply rising prices and jobs, but it is Iran’s supposed nuclear ambitions that worry the outside world. Western sanctions over the nuclear program have hit imports, driving prices up and squeezing ordinary Iranians.
Just days away from the talks between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their aides were scrambling to bridge differences over what Washington fears could be a premature Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
The Syrian authorities have committed clear and widespread crimes against the country’s civilian population, the UN secretary general has said.
In an address to the General Assembly, Ban Ki-moon said the international community had failed in its duty, and inaction had encouraged Syria’s leaders in their repression of civilians.
But he said further militarisation of the opposition was not the answer.
He spoke as the Red Cross waited to get access to a bombed-out part of Homs.
The ICRC said it had been refused permission to deliver aid to the Baba Amr district, which has suffered heavy bombardment by government forces in recent weeks, despite getting the go-ahead from the authorities on Friday morning.
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said the hold-up was “unacceptable”.
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said on Thursday it was leaving the district in a “tactical withdrawal”.
On Friday the UN human rights office said it had received reports of a “particularly grisly set of summary executions” of 17 people in Homs.
Meanwhile Paul Conroy, a Sunday Times photographer who fled Syria after being wounded in Homs, told the BBC that what was happening in Baba Amr was “systematic slaughter”.
Two French journalists caught up in the shelling and smuggled out of Homs into Lebanon have been flown back to a military airport outside Paris.
Edith Bouvier and William Daniels were met on arrival by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Ms Bouvier was badly injured in the bombardment of a makeshift media centre last week, in which two other journalists were killed.
She was stretchered off the plane and is set to undergo surgery on Friday evening for multiple leg fractures.
The bodies of the two dead journalists, Marie Colvin of Britain’s Sunday Times and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, have arrived in Damascus and are expected to be returned home.
Mr Ban said it was time for the international community to speak with one voice.
“Continued division emboldens the Syrian authorities in their violent path,” he said.
(Reuters) – Syrian authorities on Friday handed over the bodies of two journalists killed on February 22, American Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, to the ICRC, which is taking them by ambulance from Homs to Damascus, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
“We have the bodies of 2 journalists, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. They are being taken by ambulance of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, accompanied by the ICRC, and are heading to Damascus,” chief ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad told Reuters in Geneva.
“They were handed over in Homs by the Syrian authorities.”
|Rick Santorum has emerged as the standard bearer for many socially conservative Republicans [Reuters]|
Mitt Romney has scored a double victory in the latest US presidential Republican primaries, but only after a tight race with main rival Rick Santorum in Michigan.
Romney’s narrow in his native Michigan, however, will do little to dispel the doubts about his ability to rally the party’s conservative base and take the US presidency from incumbent Barack Obama.
“Wow! What a night,” an obviously relieved Romney told cheering supporters at his state campaign headquarters in Novi, Michigan late on Tuesday night. “We didn’t win by a lot but we won by enough and that’s all that counts.”
Santorum, who is still riding high on momentum gained from primary wins in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado on February 7, also highlighted the closeness of the race.
“A month ago they didn’t know who we are but they do now,” Santorum told supporters after the results were announced. “We came into the backyard of one of my opponents in a race that everyone said, well, just ignore it, you have really no chance here,” Santorum said.
With 87 percent of Michigan’s precincts reporting, Romney had 41 per cent to Santorum’s 38 per cent. Ron Paul, the Texas congressman, was in third place with 12 per cent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was bringing up the rear with seven per cent.
Comfortable Arizona win
|Lead judge Mohammed Shoukry said Tuesday that “the court felt uneasiness” in handling the case [AFP]|
All three judges in Egypt’s trial of 43 NGO workers have pulled out of the case, according to a court official.
The defendants, including 16 US citizens, are charged with using illegal foreign funds to foment unrest that has roiled Egypt over the past year.
The non-governmental organisations flatly deny the charges, and US officials have hinted foreign aid to Egypt could be in jeopardy because of the case.
Mohammed Shoukry, the lead judge in the case, said on Tuesday that “the court felt uneasiness” in handling the case, according to a court official. He did not elaborate.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said new judges would be assigned to the case.
The trial has so far only made it as far as its opening session, and would need to be restarted with a new panel of judges.
Combined with indications that the two countries are trying to find an acceptable resolution to the crisis, there is speculation that the case could be dropped.
|The trial was expected to reconvene on April 26
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, told two senate panels on Tuesday that the US and Egypt, which has long been considered a close ally of Washington, were “in very intensive discussions about finding a solution”.
“We’ve had a lot of very tough conversations,” she said. “We’re moving toward a resolution.”
“It’s important that they know that we are continuing to push them,” Clinton said.
May Chidiac, a courageous Maronite Christian Lebanese Journalist, literally lost an arm and a leg in an assassination attempt (more…)
The delicate balance between the ultra-religious, national-religious, and secular Israelis has always been wrought, (more…)
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The captain and the navigating officer of a cargo ship that ran aground on a New Zealand reef last year pleaded guilty Wednesday to mishandling the vessel and altering ship documents.
The men, both Filipino, were responsible for the sailing path of the vessel Rena on Oct. 5 when it ran aground on the well-charted Astrolabe reef near the port of Tauranga. In the days after the crash, the ship spilled about 400 tons of fuel oil, fouling pristine beaches and killing thousands of seabirds in what has been labeled New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster.
In a Tauranga court Wednesday, both men pleaded guilty to operating a ship in a dangerous manner and trying to pervert the course of justice by changing the ship’s documents after the crash. The captain also pleaded guilty to discharging harmful substances from the ship.
The perverting the course of justice offense is the most serious, carrying a maximum prison sentence of seven years.
The 774-foot (236-meter) Liberia-flagged vessel split in two in January after foundering on the reef for three months. Both halves remain perched on the reef, with the stern section largely submerged. Salvage crews, who removed more than 1,000 tons of oil from the ship after the crash, are continuing the painstaking task of removing shipping containers.
New Zealand’s government this month estimated the costs of the cleanup at 130 million New Zealand dollars ($108 million). Most of the costs have been met by insurers, although taxpayers have paid for some costs. The ship is owned by Greek-based Costamare and was chartered by the Swiss-based Mediterranean Shipping Company.
|Al Jazeera Exclusive: Syrian troops accused of targeting children|
There needs to be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Syria, the UN human rights chief has declared, saying the situation has deteriorated rapidly as the Syrian government steps up its onslaught against the opposition.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said during Tuesday’s debate at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, that the world has to take action to prevent Syrian security forces from continuing their bombardments and other attacks against civilians, which she said had resulted in “countless atrocities”.
She also urged Syria to end all fighting, allow international monitors to enter the country and give unhindered access for aid agencies to enter Homs and other besieged cities.
The appeal prompted a bitter response from Syria’s ambassador to the UN offices in Geneva, who accused the 47-nation HRC of promoting terrorism in his country.
Before storming out of the room, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, said the urgent meeting would only prolong the crisis in Syria.
“We declare our withdrawal from this sterile discussion,” he said. “The call for holding the session is part of a pre-established plan. It is aimed at attacking the Syrian state and its institutions under the pretext of humanitarian needs.”
Eileen Donahoe, the US ambassador to the HRC, said: “Anyone who heard the Syrian ambassador should be aware that his comments were borderline out of touch with reality.”
On the other hand, Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, told the meeting “it is important that the Syrian government co-operates with the ICRC” on the proposed humanitarian ceasefire.
|Hamoui told the assembly the debate was
‘fuelling the flames of terrorism’ [Reuters]
Pillay’s remarks followed the evacuation of British photographer Paul Conroy, wounded in Syrian army attacks on Homs, to neighbouring Lebanon.
Conroy, a photographer for the British confirmed safe in Lebanon but the whereabouts of the injured French reporter Edith Bouvier’s remained unknown.
Also on Tuesday, the UN said “well over 7,500 people” had been killed in Syria due to the government’s 11-month crackdown on protesters, raising its previous estimated death toll by more than 2,000.
PARIS (AP) — Interpol said Tuesday that 25 suspected members of the loose-knit Anonymous hacker movement have been arrested in a sweep across Europe and South America.
The international police agency said in a statement that the arrests in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Spain were carried out by national law enforcement officers working under the support of Interpol’s Latin American Working Group of Experts on Information Technology Crime.
The suspects, aged between 17 and 40, are suspected of planning coordinated cyberattacks against institutions including Colombia’s defense ministry and presidential websites, Chile’s Endesa electricity company and national library, as well as other targets.
The arrests followed an ongoing investigation begun in mid-February which also led to the seizure of 250 items of IT equipment and mobile phones in searches of 40 premises in 15 cities, Interpol said.
In Chile’s capital, Subprefect Jamie Jara said at a news conference that authorities arrested five Chileans and a Colombian. Two of the Chileans are 17-year-old minors.
The case was being handled by prosecutor Marcos Mercado, who specializes in computer crime. He said the suspects were charged with altering websites, including that of Chile’s National Library, and engaging in denial-of-service attacks on websites of the electricity companies Endesa and Hidroaysen. The charges carry a penalty of 541 days to five years in prison, he said.
Jara said the arrests resulted from a recently begun investigation and officials do not yet know if those arrested are tied to any “illicit group.”
“For now, we have not established that they have had any special communications among themselves,” he said.
Jara said authorities were continuing to investigate other avenues, but gave no details.
Earlier on Tuesday, police in Spain announced the arrest of four suspected Anonymous hackers in connection with attacks on Spanish political party websites. These four were among the 25 announced by Interpol.
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Voters booed Senegal’s president so loudly when he went to cast his ballot Sunday that his bodyguards whisked him away, another sign of how much his popularity has dipped ahead of an election that has sparked weeks of riots.
This normally unflappable republic on Africa’s western coast has been rocked by back-to-back protests following President Abdoulaye Wade’s decision to seek a third term.
In choosing to run again, the 85-year-old leader is violating the term limits he himself introduced into the constitution, threatening Senegal’s reputation as one of the most mature democracies in Africa.
Wade argues that those restrictions should not apply to him since he was elected before they went into effect, and has predicted that he will win Sunday’s poll with a crushing majority.
But in a scene that longtime country watchers say they have never witnessed before in Senegal – where respect for the elderly is deeply ingrained – Wade was jeered and insulted when he arrived to vote. He didn’t give his customary press conference, as his security quickly got him to safety.
“I feel sad because our democracy doesn’t deserve this,” said the president’s daughter Syndiely Wade, who stayed back in the polling station in the neighborhood of Point E to talk to reporters. “My father doesn’t deserve this.”
The deadly riots began last month when the country’s highest court ruled that the term limits in the new constitution did not apply to Wade, paving the way for him to run again. The country’s opposition has vowed to render the country ungovernable should he win.
Moussa Signate, a security guard, sat against the cement wall of an elementary school that had been transformed into a polling station downtown, watching others line up to vote. Lines snaked outside the doors of the classrooms, but Signate said he was so discouraged that he was considering not voting at all.
“I’m thinking about the future of my country,” said the 47-year-old. “People have had enough. If you earn, like me, 80,000 francs ($160) a month, and a bag of rice costs 25,000 ($50), how are you supposed to live? We’re a peaceful people, but you can’t push us and expect nothing. If Wade wins, it will be chaos.”
Voting throughout the capital got off to an orderly start and turnout appeared to be high, said Thijs Berman, head of the European Union observation mission. However, in the southern region of Casamance that has been plagued for years by a low-level rebellion, rebels attacked two convoys carrying voting materials, according to military spokesman Saliou Ngom.
In a volatile part of the world, Senegal has long been seen as the exception.
Mauritania located to the north held its first democratic election in 2007, only for the president to be overthrown in a coup a year later. To the south, Guinea-Bissau’s president was assassinated two years ago. And further south in Ivory Coast, mass graves are still being unearthed containing the victims of last year’s postelection violence.
“For many years we all wrote and spoke about Senegal as being different,” said Africa expert Chris Fomunyoh at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington. “Senegal has been viewed as the anchor in the sub-region. And today, the metal on that anchor is melting before our very eyes.”
First elected 12 years ago, Wade was once hailed as a hope for Africa. He spent 25 years as the opposition leader of this nation of more than 12 million, fighting the excesses of the former socialist regime which ruled Senegal from 1960 until 2000 when he was first elected.
Growing unrest is being fueled by a sense that the country’s institutions are being violated, starting with the constitution. The anger is combined with the fact that one in two people in Senegal still live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
An Afghan police intelligence officer has been named as the chief suspect in Saturday’s shooting of two ISAF military advisers in Kabul’s interior ministry.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the Afghan ministry of interior named 25-year-old Abdul Saboor as a suspect in the killings of two high-ranking American advisers at close range.
“An employee has been identified as a suspect and he has now fled. The interior ministry is trying to arrest the suspected individual,” it said in a statement.
|AFGHAN PROTESTS LIVE BLOG|
Also on Sunday, seven US military trainers were wounded when protesters in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan threw a grenade at a forward operating base, provincial police chief Samihullah Qatra said.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed there had been an explosion outside one of its bases, but declined to comment on casualties.
Police sources told Al Jazeera that two Afghans were killed, six others injured and one police officer was injured in the small arms fire that followed the grenade blast.
According to Afghan media sources, Saboor, the intelligence officer, was also known as Salangi, and was given a pistol as recently as last week after being cleared by the operation directorate of the interior ministry.
Official sources said Salangi had signed into the high security ministry on both Saturday morning and afternoon.
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Tens of thousands of Turks, vawing Azeri flags, rallied Sunday to mark the anniversary of a notorious attack that Azerbaijanis say killed hundreds of people during the 6-year war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.
Turkey’s Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin made an impassioned nationalist speech at the rally in Istanbul, estimated at between 20,000 and 50,000 participants, which underlined the deep tensions with neighboring Armenia, even though fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh ended in 1994.
Ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia drove Azerbaijani troops out of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s during the war that killed some 30,000 people and sent 1 million fleeing from their homes. A cease-fire was reached in 1994, but the final status of the enclave, whose self-proclaimed sovereignty is not recognized internationally, is unresolved. The dispute continues to damage both nations’ economies and the threat of renewed war hangs over the region.
The protesters, including members of labor unions and nationalist groups, filled Istanbul’s Taksim square Sunday to denounce Armenia and express solidarity with close Muslim ally Azerbaijan. Thousands of Turks also staged similar protests in Ankara and several other cities across Turkey.
Azerbaijani authorities say 613 Azerbaijanis were killed when Armenian troops rushed into the village of Khodzhaly on Feb. 26, 1992. The attack appalled Azerbaijanis and contributed to the resignation two weeks later of President Ayaz Mutalibov, whom the opposition said had not acted decisively against the Armenians. The attack is observed every year with rallies and speeches in Baku.
Armenian forces do not deny the attack, but say the death toll is exaggerated. Turkey and Azerbaijan has called for world recognition of the killings as a crime against “humanity.”
“Murderers, cowards spilled the blood of 613 people in Khodzhaly, including innocent women and children,” Sahin said in an address to the protesters in Istanbul. “This bloodshed will not remain unpunished.”
Some protesters in Istanbul shouted “Nagorno-Karabakh will be a grave for Armenians.”
Turkey and Armenia have been locked in a bitter dispute for decades over the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Efforts to normalize relations have been dealt a setback by the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
A 2009 agreement between Turkey and Armenia, meant to open the way to diplomatic ties and the reopening of their border, foundered over Turkey’s demand that Armenian troops withdraw from the Armenian-occupied enclave Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to protest Armenia’s war with Azerbajian.
Hopes for Western-backed rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia now seem ever more distant ahead of 2015 – the 100th anniversary of the Armenian killings.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, which they call the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey disputes this, saying the death toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
AP Photo/Amr Nabil
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt went forward with a trial Sunday that has plunged relations with the U.S. into the deepest crisis in decades, prosecuting 16 Americans and 27 other employees of pro-democracy groups on charges they used foreign funds to foment unrest.
Behind the scenes, U.S. and Egyptian officials were said to be in intense discussions in an attempt to resolve the case. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has raised the matter twice in person with Egypt’s foreign minister – once in London and once in Tunisia – in recent days, according to a senior U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity due to the delicacy of the discussions.
Speaking to reporters in Morocco on Sunday, Clinton said American officials are evaluating the latest developments, adding that it’s “a fluid situation and there are a lot of moving parts.”
Sunday’s opening session in Cairo quickly descended into chaos as lawyers and journalists crammed into a small courtroom. After a brief hearing, presiding judge Mahmoud Mohammed Shoukry, who had to step out of the session at one point because of the crush of frantic lawyers and observers, adjourned the proceedings until April 26. The time will allow defense attorneys to familiarize themselves with the case and the details of behind the charges.
The investigation into the four U.S.-based nonprofits, which began in December with a raid by Egyptian security forces on the groups’ offices, has put a severe strain on Washington’s relationship with Egypt – one of its most pivotal in the Middle East. U.S. officials have threatened to cut off a $1.5 billion annual aid package if the dispute is not resolved.
President Barack Obama has urged Egypt’s military rulers to drop the investigation, and high-level officials, including Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey and Republican Sen. John McCain, have flown in to Cairo to seek a solution.
However, the U.S. cannot be seen as pushing too hard against Egypt’s ruling military council, which is viewed as the best hope for a stable transition for a nation that is not just a regional heavyweight, but also the most populous in the Arab world and a lynchpin in Washington’s Middle East policy.
There are 43 defendants in the case – 16 Americans, 16 Egyptians, as well as Germans, Palestinians, Serbs and Jordanians.
At least thirteen of the Egyptians appeared in court for Saturday’s hearing, standing in a metal cage, as is customary in Egyptian trials.
AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A strike by Rio police a week ahead of Carnival celebrations is drawing attention to a deeply troubled force in which low wages help fuel corruption, extortion and lethal violence, experts said Friday.
Recent efforts by Rio de Janeiro state to increase wages and change police culture will help root out some of these long-standing problems, but the change won’t happen suddenly, said Guaracy Mingardi, a crime and public safety expert and researcher at Brazil’s top think tank Fundacao Getulio Vargas.
And this is worrying because part of Brazil’s successful pitch to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 relied on its ability to keep the peace during the events.
“Authorities are now more concerned with the short-term problem of the effects the strike may have on Carnival and are not paying attention to the longer term problem these strikes could represent for the World Cup and Olympics,” said Mingardi.
At the heart of the recent unrest among Brazil’s police forces are low salaries. Rio’s security forces decided to walk out on Friday to demand a pay raise, not content with a last-minute legislative approval of a 39 percent hike staggered over this year and the next.
“The main thing wrong with police forces in Rio, Bahia, and in the rest of the country is the poor wages paid,” said Mingardi. “This is the driving force of the strikes and of the problems affecting the forces.”
The former president of the Maldives has demanded new elections and called for mass street protests if the new government does not relent, raising the prospect of a protracted political crisis on the Indian Ocean islands.
Mohamed Nasheed, who says his resignation earlier in the week was forced by a coup, remained free on Friday despite an arrest warrant against him as diplomats, including a UN envoy, worked to forestall renewed violence.
He demanded his successor and former vice president, Mohamed Waheed, step down and hand power to the speaker of the parliament for two months, until a new presidential poll can be called.
Before Nasheed resigned his presidency, the next election had been scheduled for October 2013.
“Fresh elections are our bottom line and we are not relying on the international community for that, we are relying on the people of the Maldives,” Nasheed told reporters. “The medicine here is on the streets, in strength.”
But in an interview on Friday, Waheed told Al Jazeera that Nasheed’s approach could become dangerous.
“I cannot protect him if he continues to do this kind of thing,” Waheed told Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao. The new president also said that Nasheed had been acting “autocratic in so many ways”.
A warrant was issued on Thursday for Nasheed’s arrest, but the warrant’s charges were not made public, and the former president told reporters from his home on Thursday that he expected to be in jail by Friday.
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Israelis are feeling that they finally have support when it comes to Iran, as sanctions introduced by the European Union this week include a ban on oil imports from the country. (more…)
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has challenged Boko Haram to identify themselves and state clearly their demands as a basis for talks.
“If they clearly identify themselves now and say this is the reason why we are resisting, this is the reason why we are confronting government or this is the reason why we destroy some innocent people and their properties … then there will be a basis for dialogue,” said Jonathan on Thursday.
“We will dialogue, let us know your problems and we will solve your problem but if they don’t identify themselves, who will you dialogue with?”
In an interview with Reuters at the presidential villa in the capital Abuja, Jonathan said there was no doubt that Boko Haram had links with other jihadist groups outside Nigeria.
The group killed more than 500 people last year and more than 250 in the first weeks of 2012 in gun and bomb attacks in Africa’s top oil producer, Human Rights Watch said this week.
Boko Haram threats
|Suspected Boko Haram leader issues new threats in a message posted on YouTube [AFP]|
Meanwhile, in a message posted on YouTube the purported leader of the group issued new threats while also saying last week’s attacks in Kano were over the torture of its members.
|Syrians urge Russia to stop its vetoes of UN proposals for action against the Syrian government’s crackdown [Reuters]|
The Arab League chief has reportedly said that a peace plan that aims to end Syria’s political crisis will be submitted to the United Nations Security Council early next week.
Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, told reporters in Cairo on Thursday that the meeting with UN officials will be held on Monday in New York.
The plan calls for President Bashar al-Assad to hand power to his deputy and clear the way for a unity government within two months.
Elaraby and Sheikh Hamad bin Jasem Al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister who heads the league’s Syria committee, would depart for New York on Saturday.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said endorsement from the UN would “embolden” activists inside Syria.
“[The Arab League] is hoping that there will be a vote later in the week.”
She also said that Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, wants dialogue, a peaceful resolution to Syria’s crisis and is opposed to any military intervention, such as that which occurred in Libya.
Assad and his government have fiercely rejected the Arab League proposal, accusing the league of being part of a “conspiracy” against Syria.
The Arab League has been pushing for a UN Security Council resolution to end the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on protesters, which has killed thousands of people since demonstrations calling for reform began in March.
Al Thani told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that elevating the Syria issue to the UN was “the only option”.
Elaraby’s latest announcement on Syria came after Gulf Arab observers, deployed to Syria as part of a previous Arab League initiative, began to pull out of Syria on Wednesday after their governments said they were “certain the bloodshed and killing of innocents would continue”.
“The departure of the GCC [Gulf Co-operation Council] countries will not have an impact on the mission’s work. We are all professionals here and we can do the job,” said Al Thani.
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GIGLIO, Italy |
(Reuters) – Divers searching a capsized Italian cruiseliner were hoping for calm seas on Thursday after the ship shifted precariously on a rocky ledge, delaying plans to remove oil from the vessel to prevent a possible environmental disaster.
Five days after the Costa Concordia struck a rock and capsized off the picturesque Tuscan island of Giglio, hopes of finding anyone alive have faded and salvage experts are preparing to pump 2,300 tons of fuel from the hulk.
Weather conditions, which have been largely good since the 114,500 ton vessel ran aground, are forecast to worsen over coming days, making the ship even more unstable and complicating the search for survivors and bodies.
Eleven people are confirmed dead and 22 are still missing from more than 4,200 passengers and crew who were onboard when the Concordia foundered on Friday evening, two hours into a week-long cruise of the western Mediterranean.
The search was suspended all day on Wednesday after the ship slipped by some 1.5 meters, the second such suspension since rescue attempts began. As darkness fell, a spokesman said the Concordia had stabilized but it was unclear if the search would resume before daylight on Thursday.
Environment Minister Corrado Clini told parliament there was a risk that with sea conditions expected to worsen, the ship could slip down 50 to 90 meters from the reef it is resting on, further damaging the vessel and creating a major hazard to the environment in one of Europe’s largest natural marine parks.
|The Keystone XL pipeline was supposed to transport crude oil from Alberta in Canada to Texas in the US [Reuters]|
US President Barack Obama has rejected the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, saying he could not vouch for its safety by a deadline despite intense election-year pressure.
The rival Republican Party had forced Obama to make a decision on whether to approve the 2,700 km route through the Great Plains to Texas, forcing him to choose between environmentalists and industry.
The Obama administration said on Wednesday that company TransCanada could resubmit the Keystone XL project but that officials were not able to assess its plan by a February 21 deadline put into law by Republicans in Congress.
TransCanada has said that it would re-apply.
“This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people,” Obama said in a statement.
“I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil,” said Obama, who initially hoped to make a decision after the November election.
The pipeline has turned into a major issue in US politics, with environmentalists waging months of street protests against it and the oil industry funding an advertising blitz saying the project would immediately create shovel-ready jobs amid a weak economy.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed “profound disappointment” to Obama over the rejection, telling him in a telephone call that he had hoped this project “would continue given the significant contribution it would make to jobs and economic growth” in both countries.
(Reuters) – Britain called on Wednesday for harsher sanctions on Syria, where an Arab monitoring mission has failed to halt bloodshed in a 10-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
But Russia underlined divisions at the United Nations, saying it would work with China to prevent the Security Council from approving any military intervention in Syria.
Damascus may let the monitors stay on after their mandate expires on Thursday, but Assad’s foes say the Arab League peace effort has failed and the U.N. Security Council should step in.
Arab foreign ministers, due to consider their next step at the weekend, are split over how to handle Syria, as is the U.N. Security Council, which has failed to adopt any position.
British Prime Minister David Cameron accused Iran and Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah movement of helping to prop up Assad, whom he described as “a wretched tyrant”.
“Britain needs to lead the way in making sure we tighten the sanctions, the travel bans, the asset freezes, on Syria,” Cameron told parliament in London.
European Union governments are expected on Monday to expand the list of people and Syrian companies and institutions targeted by EU sanctions, diplomats said in Brussels.
An EU diplomat said 22 extra people would be affected by asset freezes and travel bans. EU companies would also be prohibited from doing business with about eight additional companies or institutions. Current EU sanctions target 30 entities and 86 Syrians.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the West against contemplating any kind of foreign intervention to end Assad’s 10-month crackdown, which the United Nations says has killed more than 5,000 civilians.
“We will insist – and we have an understanding with our Chinese colleagues that this is our common position – that these fundamental points be retained in any decision that may be taken by the U.N. Security Council,” he told a news conference.
“If somebody intends to use force … it will be on their conscience. They will not receive any authority from the Security Council,” said Lavrov, who also emphasized that Moscow and Beijing oppose any sanctions against Syria.
Russia joined China in October to veto a Western-backed resolution against Assad’s government, saying the domestic opposition shared blame for the violence and that it would have opened the door for military action like NATO’s Libya operation.
Moscow submitted its own draft resolution last month and proposed a new version this week.
Syria is a leading buyer of Russian arms, and a Russian-operated ship carrying what a Cypriot official said was bullets arrived in Syria last week from St. Petersburg after being held up in Cyprus.
In what is quickly becoming a trend of protests throughout Israel (beginning with the tent protests which started in Tel Aviv last summer, and including the current gender equality campaign) another voice is now calling for attention. (more…)
AP Photo/Christian Palma
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mounds of debris piled up at illegal dumping sites around the city in recent weeks as the metropolis grappled with an avalanche of refuse after closing one of the world’s largest landfills.
Garbage trucks queued up for more than six hours to dump loads at transfer stations, while overstuffed bags and other trash piled up even on the toniest streets over the holidays, when dumps in surrounding Mexico state refused to take the city’s trash.
This week, city officials were caught in a front-page photograph dumping tons of trash at the same landfill they claimed to have closed in December, promising a better, greener waste management system for the city of 8.8 million.
“We’re seeing a confusion obviously now in the handling of garbage,” said Pierre Terras, who coordinates the toxins campaign for Greenpeace Mexico. “You can see it in the streets.”
Like other mega-cities around the world, Mexico City is struggling to move from the informal garbage collection systems of the past to modern waste management designed to drastically cut the volume of material that ends up in landfills.
Mexico City officials count some 1,000 illegal dumping sites in a metropolis that generates more than 12,000 tons of trash a day. That includes some trash that is trucked in from neighboring towns in this sprawling metro area of more than 21 million – one of the world’s largest.
The Latin American capitals of Bogota and Buenos Aires, which face similar problems, have committed to Zero Trash, a campaign supported by environmental groups to manufacture reusable goods and materials, recycle and ideally cut the amount of unusable trash to zero. Greenpeace is pushing such a plan for Mexico City.
Everyone agreed that the Bordo Poniente landfill had to close as scheduled on Dec. 31, a move that could mean a drop in greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Built on a dry lake bed partly to handle the rubble from the devastating 1985 earthquake, it had taken in more than 76 million tons of garbage.
Critics say the city was unprepared, and it wasn’t clear why there wasn’t a solid alternative waste system in place after earlier plans to build four new garbage processing plants were abandoned.
Meanwhile an interim plan to take refuse to smaller dumps outside the city fell apart almost immediately.
Last week residents of Ixtapaluca in Mexico state blocked a federal highway to prevent Mexico City garbage trucks from unloading at a dump in their neighborhood, while other communities staged similar revolts.
Mexico City has required its residents to separate trash since 2003, but without enforcement or the necessary recycling equipment. Despite public service campaigns, there is no culture for recycling.
Residents still rely on an old collection system in which trucks roam the streets daily, with a garbage man ringing a bell to alert neighbors who come running with their trash cans and bags.
The small amount of recycling is done at the trucks, as garbage workers open bags to separate out glass, plastic and cardboard.
Dumping on the street brings heavy fines. But trash routinely piles up on Mexico City street corners under the cover of night from households where people can’t wait around during the day for the trash bell.
AP Photo/Justin M. Boling
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. military is testing a revolutionary new drone for its arsenal, a pilotless helicopter intended to fly cargo missions to remote outposts where frequent roadside bombs threaten access by road convoys.
Surveillance drones for monitoring enemy activity and armed versions for launching airstrikes have become a trademark of America’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. But this is the first time a chopper version designed for transport has ben used operationally.
Two unmanned models of the Kaman K-MAX helicopters and a team of 16 company technicians and 8 Marines are conducting a 6-month evaluation program for the new craft at Camp Dwyer, a Marine Corps airfield in the Garmsir district of southern Helmand Province.
The craft have flown 20 transport missions since the inaugural flight on Dec. 17, said Maj. Kyle O’Connor, the officer in charge of the detachment. They have delivered nearly 18 tons of cargo, mainly thousands of Meals Ready to Eat and spare parts needed at the forward operating bases.
“Afghanistan is a highly mined country and the possibility of improvised explosive devices is always a problem moving cargo overland in a convoy,” O’Connor said.
“Every load that we can take off of a ground convoy reduces the danger and risk that our Marines, soldiers, and sailors are faced with,” he said. “With an unmanned helicopter, even the aircrew is taken out of harm’s way.”
The Marines from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 lead the missions and deliver the cargo into combat drop zones, while contractors operate and maintain the two aircraft.
The craft’s onboard computer uploads the mission plans, enabling them to fly on autopilot. But an operator at base control monitors progress and can step in and override the autopilot for manual operation if any problems occur, or if the drone must be redirected in mid-flight.
The K-MAX is the latest in a series of Kaman synchronized twin-rotor helicopters dating from the 1950s. The unusual arrangement, with two side-by-side pylons on the helicopter’s roof supporting counter-rotating blades, results in exceptional stability while hovering and allows pinpoint cargo delivery.
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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A middle-aged man with a history of mental illness set himself on fire Saturday in northern Tunisia, two days after a similar case in the south.
Hedia Khemiri of Bougatfa hospital says 50-year-old Daoud Bouhli poured gasoline over himself and then ignited it in front of Bizerte town hall in the country’s north.
Self-immolation has enormous resonance in the country that last year overthrew its long ruling dictator in an uprising sparked by fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi setting himself on fire after being harassed by police.
His actions set in motion a number of similar incidents across North Africa and self-immolation became a symbolic protest for people who had lost all hope, and were usually unemployed.
A year after the uprising, Tunisia has elected a new government but still suffers from serious unemployment and a flagging economy as tourists stay away and labor unrest strikes industries.
On Thursday, Ammar Gharsalli, a 45-year-old father of three, set himself on fire in front of the town hall in Gafsa – a center for phosphate mining in southern Tunisia.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s government on Saturday welcomed the U.S. Navy’s rescue of 13 Iranian fishermen held by pirates, calling it a positive humanitarian gesture.
U.S. officials announced Friday that the fishermen had been rescued by a U.S. Navy destroyer on Thursday, more than 40 days after their boat was commandeered by suspected Somali pirates in the northern Arabian Sea. The rescue came just days after Tehran warned the U.S. to keep the same group of warships out of the Persian Gulf in a reflection of Iran’s fear that American warships could try to enforce an embargo against Iranian oil exports.
“The rescue of Iranian sailors by American forces is considered a humanitarian gesture and we welcome this behavior,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by state TV’s Al-Alam Arabic channel.
Iran’s hard-line Fars news agency had a different take, calling the rescue operation a Hollywood dramatization of a routine event.
The Fars report noted that attacks by Somali pirates in the region are common and said that Iran’s navy has itself freed many mariners held by pirates in recent years without seeking to highly publicize it.
Amid escalating tension with Iran over its nuclear program, the Obama administration reveled in delivering Friday’s announcement and highlighted the fact that the rescuing ships were the same ones Iran’s army chief had just said were no longer welcome in the Persian Gulf.
“Basically, rescuing trading and fishing boats from the hands of pirates in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden is considered a completely normal issue,” Fars said. “A U.S. helicopter filming the rescue operation from the first minute makes it look like a Hollywood drama with specific locations and actors. It shows the Americans tried to publicize it through the media and present the American warship as a savior.”
The semiofficial Fars news agency is considered close to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard military force.
Fars reported in April that Iranian naval commandos had driven off pirates attempting to hijack a supertanker off Pakistan’s southwestern coast.
“Iran’s navy has rescued various foreign ships from the hands of pirates … but never publicized that,” it said.
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Tens of thousands of villagers in South Sudan are hiding in the bush, waiting for United Nations and government troops to stop a tribal conflict, which officials fear may have left scores of people dead over the weekend.
Armed youths from the Lou Nuer tribe marched on the remote town of Pibor in Jonglei state, home to the rival Murle people, who they blame for cattle raiding.
On Tuesday morning, the government claimed that the South Sudanese army was in “full control” of Pibor, and that Lou Nuer tribesmen were vacating it.
“Pibor is under the full control of the government, and the Lou Nuer have been ordered to return to their homes, and they are starting to do so,” Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the country’s information minister, said.
Thatched huts have been burned and, according to Parthesarathy Rajendran, the head of Doctors without Borders (known by its French name Medicines sans Frontieres, or MSF) in South Sudan, thousands have been displaced, including his own staff.
“Many of our staff are in the bush and we also heard an MSF clinic has been damaged and looted,” he told Al Jazeera.
“MSF is the only medical health care in the whole region, and the population is very vulnerable for all kinds of medical issues. So we are very concerned about those fleeing into the bush. They don’t have access to water, medical care or food.”
The government and the UN, which has said the violence could lead to a “major tragedy”, were strengthening their forces in the area.
“We are worried about their conditions. They are without water, shelter and food. They are hiding in the bush. I think it
is between 20,000 and 50,000. This is an estimate only,” Lise Gande, UN humanitarian co-ordinator for South Sudan, told the Reuters news agency.
Grande said on Sunday that the number of government forces heading to Pibor was estimated at 3,000 troops and 800 police.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from a village belonging to the Murle tribe, said the situation was tense, with deserted streets.
“All you see is soldiers and guns, lots and lots of guns,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a normal place. The UN here is trying by all means to reassure the few that are left that it’s safe to return.”
She reported there was particular concern for those who had fled the violence and were currently in the bush. “They have no food and no water, and the longer they stay out there the concern is that they could start dying,” she said.
|Haru Mutasa reports from Pibor town|
Reverend Mark Akec Cien, head of the Sudan Council of Churches, an umbrella organisation with members across the area, said they had reports of many killed and wounded in the clashes.
|Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal reports from Mahalla|
Egyptians have flocked to the polls for the third round of the country’s parliamentary election, the first election since the uprising that unseated Hosni Mubarak from the presidency in February last year.
Queues began to form around schools that had been turned into polling stations at 8am local time (06:00 GMT) on Tuesday. Al Jazeera’s correspondents in El-Arish and Shubra El-Khaima reported good voter turnouts.
The final round takes place over two days in the Nile Delta provinces of Qaliubiya, Gharbiya and Daqahliya; the New Valley province; the southern governorates of Minya and Qena; the border province of Matruh; and in North and South Sinai.
The run-up to this round of polls has been overshadowed by the deaths of 17 people last month in clashes between the army and protesters demanding the ruling military step aside immediately.
But the military generals have insisted the election process will not be derailed by violence.
Islamist groups came late to the uprising but have so far won the biggest share of seats in the previous rounds of the first free and fair elections in six decades.
Israel has long expressed concern over Iran’s ongoing nuclear enrichment program, and the failure of other nations to intervene. (more…)
|The war games aim to display Iran’s military capabilities amid increasing pressure over its atomic programme [Reuters]|
Iran has successfully produced and tested fuel rods for use in its nuclear power plants, state television reported.
The rods were made with uranium ore deposits mined in Iran and have been inserted into the core of Tehran’s research nuclear reactor, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation said on Sunday.
Nuclear fuel rods contain small pellets of fuel, usually low-enriched uranium, patterned to give out heat produced by nuclear reaction without melting down.
Iran said last month that it planned to insert domestically produced uranium fuel into the Tehran research reactor, which produces isotopes for medical purposes and currently runs on a nearly depleted stock of nuclear plates bought from Argentina in 1993.
“This great achievement will perplex the West, because the Western countries had counted on a possible failure of Iran to produce nuclear fuel plates,” the newspaper said.
The Tehran reactor requires uranium enriched to 20 per cent, a far higher level than that needed for Iran’s Russian-built nuclear power plant in Bushehr, on the Gulf coast, which uses Russian fuel that is returned when spent.
The atomic energy organisation did not specify the level of enrichment of the trial fuel rod but Iran’s programme to enrich uranium to the higher level has been at the centre of growing Western concerns about the goals of its nuclear programme.
John Large, an independent nuclear consultant, told Al Jazeera the reported developments would mean that Iran “can now produce key radioactive elements” and has moved “steps forward on the nuclear path”.
An advisory body to the Arab League has called for the immediate withdrawal of the group’s observer mission in Syria, saying its monitors are inadvertently helping the government cover up continued violence.
The Arab Parliament, an 88-member advisory committee of delegates from each of the League’s member states, said on Sunday that the violence in Syria was continuing to claim victims despite the presence of Arab League monitors.
The monitors are on a month-long mission to ensure the government of President Bashar al-Assad complies with the terms of the League’s plan to end the crackdown on dissent.
But the parliament called on the League’s Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby to convene a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to adopt a resolution to withdraw the mission immediately.
“For this to happen in the presence of Arab monitors has roused the anger of Arab people and negates the purpose of sending a fact-finding mission,” Ali al-Salem al-Dekbas, the Arab Parliament’s chairman said.
“This is giving the Syrian regime an Arab cover for continuing its inhumane actions under the eyes and ears of the Arab League,” he said.
The Arab Parliament was the first body to recommend freezing Syria’s membership in the organisation in response to Assad’s crackdown.
An Arab League official, commenting on the parliament’s statement, told the Reuters news agency that it was too early to judge the mission’s success, saying it was scheduled to remain in Syria for a month and that more monitors were on their way.
In yet another sign of cracks among the observer mission, disputes emerged on Sunday over the reported appearance of government snipers across Syria.
Activists have accused the government of posting snipers on rooftops as part of their brutal crackdown on dissent, in which government forces have also been accused of firing tear gas, stun grenades and on Friday “nail bombs”.
In a video released by activists, a man wearing an orange vest with the Arab League logo said in Deraa: “There are snipers; we have seen them with our own eyes.”
“We ask the authorities to remove them immediately; if they don’t remove them within 24 hours there will be other measures,” the unnamed speaker in the video, which was dated Friday, told a crowd of people.
But veteran Sudanese military intelligence officer General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, who is heading the observer mission, said the official seen in the video was making a hypothetical remark.
“This man said that if he saw – by his own eyes – those snipers he will report immediately,” Dabi told the BBC’s Newshour programme. “But he didn’t see (snipers).”
Divisions within opposition
Amid the controversy, divisions within Syria’s opposition hoping to topple Assad hampered efforts towards a transitional plan for a new Syria.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), the leading opposition group in exile, on Sunday quashed reports that it signed a deal with the National Co-ordination Committee (NCC), a group whose majority is inside Syria and which had disagreed with the SNC’s earlier calls for foreign intervention.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Holocaust survivors and political leaders expressed outrage Sunday over a Jerusalem demonstration in which ultra-Orthodox Jews donned Star of David patches and uniforms similar to those the Nazis forced Jews to wear during World War II.
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered Saturday night to protest what they say is a nationwide campaign directed against their lifestyle. The practices, which call for strict separation of the sexes, are rejected by mainstream Israelis as religious coercion.
Ultra-Orthodox extremists have been under fire for their attempts to ban mixing of the sexes on buses, sidewalks and other public spaces. In one city, extremists have jeered and spit at girls walking to school, saying they are dressed immodestly. These practices, albeit by a fringe sect, have unleashed a backlash against the ultra-Orthodox in general.
At Saturday’s protest, children with traditional sidelocks wore the striped black-and-white uniforms associated with Nazi concentration camps. One child’s hands were raised in surrender – mimicking an iconic photo of a terrified Jewish boy in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial called the use of Nazi imagery “disgraceful,” and several other survivors’ groups and politicians condemned the acts.
Six million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. About 200,000 aging survivors of the Holocaust live in Israel.
It has been 3 Years since Operation Cast Lead, a 3 week offensive in Gaza which began in late 2008 and ended in January of 2009. (more…)
Banking is inarguably the most prominent component of a country’s economic construct. (more…)
|Local officials said the victims may have been mistaken for Kurdistan Workers’ Party fighters [AFP]|
A Turkish air raid that killed at least 35 people in a Kurdish-dominated village in the country’s southeast mistakenly hit a group of smugglers rather than separatist fighters as was intended, the ruling party says.
Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party, said that those killed in the strike on Thursday “were not terrorists” and that officials are now investigating possible intelligence failures which led to the incident.
He expressed regret for the deaths and suggested that the government could compensate the victims.
“If it turns out to have been a mistake, a blunder, rest assured that this will not be covered up,” he told reporters, adding that it could have been an “operational accident” by the Turkish military.
The air strike prompted a protest by about 2,000 ethnic Kurds in Istanbul, which was broken by police using tear gas and water cannon. Several hundred of the protesters had thrown stones at the police and smashed vehicles during the demonstration in the city’s main Taksim square.
Ertugrul Kurkcu, a member of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) told Al Jazeera that the air strike was an “inhuman” and “unacceptable” act, and that it was “part of the government’s crackdown project on the Kurdish movement”.
“What I saw today in the heart of Taksim [square] was a great rage and great hatred not only against the government but also against the society as a whole. These kind of attacks … make it almost impossible to bring together the people of different ethnic origins, particularly the Kurds,” he said.
Strike killed ‘smugglers’
Local security officials said earlier on Thursday that they had found the bodies of the victims at Ortasu village in Sirnak province.
Ertan Eris, a local councillor belonging to the BPD, said that the victims were smuggling gas and sugar into Turkey from northern Iraq and may have been mistaken for Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters.
Celik also suggested that the victims had been involved in smuggling.
|The strike took place near the country’s border
with the Kurdistan area of Iraq
A crisis centre was set up in the area following the strikes, and prosecutors and security officers have been deployed, the Sirnak provincial government said in a statement.
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish warplanes aiming for suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in Iraq instead killed 35 civilians – most of whom are believed to be cigarette smugglers, a senior official said Thursday.
It was one of the largest one-day civilian death tolls incurred during Turkey’s 27-year-old drive against militant Kurds seeking autonomy in the country’s southeast. It also is the latest instance of violence to undermine the Turkish government’s efforts to grant cultural and other rights to aggrieved Kurds.
Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party, said authorities were still trying to identify the dead, but that most were youngsters from an extended family in the mostly Kurdish-populated area that borders Iraq.
“According to the initial information, these people were not terrorists but were engaged in smuggling,” Celik said. All of the victims were under the age 30 and some were the sons of village guards who have aided Turkish troops in their fight against rebels, he said.
Celik suggested Turkey was ready to compensate the victims. “If there was a mistake, if there was a fault, this will not be covered up, and whatever is necessary will be done,” he said.
Earlier, the Turkish military confirmed the Wednesday night raids, saying its jets struck an area of northern Iraq frequently used by rebels to enter Turkey after drones detected a group approaching the often unmarked mountainous border.
Border troops had been placed on alert following intelligence indicating that Kurdish rebels were preparing attacks in retaliation for a series of recent military assaults on the guerrillas, the military said.
Arab League monitors overseeing compliance with a peace plan for Syria have been visiting the capital, Damascus, and other cities but killings show no sign of abating.
Activists say at least 29 people were killed by security forces on Thursday, mostly in areas where monitors are visiting, including a Damascus suburb.
The activists have called for massive street protests on Friday.
The UN says more than 5,000 civilians have died in 10 months of unrest.
The Arab League peace plan calls for a complete halt to the violence, the withdrawal of all armed forces and the release of all detainees.
However, after two days of monitoring, more questions were being asked about the head of the Arab League mission, Sudan’s Gen Mustafa al-Dabi, who Amnesty International said was responsible for “torture” and “disappearances” in 1990s Sudan.
‘Only God can help us’
After starting in the flashpoint city of Homs on Tuesday, the Arab League monitors have moved to Idlib in the north, Deraa in the south, and Damascus.
Activists have reported violence and killings in all those areas.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least three people were killed when security forces opened fire outside a mosque in Douma, a suburb of the capital.
Monitors were arriving at the city hall there when security forces fired on “tens of thousands” of protesters outside the Grand Mosque, the UK-based group said.
It reported more deaths in other suburbs of the capital, Aarbin and Kiswah, as well as in Idlib and the central city of Hama.
Casualty figures and other information are hard to verify as most foreign media are barred from Syria.
The BBC’s Jim Muir, in neighbouring Lebanon, says that far from diminishing the violence, it seems the presence of the observers may actually be causing it to increase, because of the large number of people they are attracting who are desperate to vent their grievances.
One activist in Hama told Reuters: “People really hope to get to reach them. We do not have much access to the team. The people stopped believing anything or anyone now. Only God can help us now.”
Our correspondent says virtually none of the peace plan’s objectives have yet been met, although Syria on Wednesday did release 755 of the 14,000 people the UN says have been detained during the uprising.
Activists have been using social media to call for massive protests on Friday – the traditional day of demonstration.
Arab League observers in Syria are preparing to visit more cities that have been at the heart of the anti-government uprising, amid accusations by opposition activists that the mission is not doing enough to stop the violence in the country.
Monitors were working in the Damascus suburbs, Syrian state television reported, as activists said that 24 people were killed across the country on Thursday.
The observers were also due to go on to the city of Deraa, the cradle of the uprising, as well as Hama, which have experienced massive protests followed by a brutal crackdown, and Idlib, which witnessed clashes between army forces and military deserters.
The Arab League mission got off to a controversial start when its leader, Mustafa al-Dabi, said he had seen “nothing frightening” on his first trip to Homs on Tuesday, the deadliest city in uprising.
During their second visit to the central city on Wednesday, the monitors faced angry crowds, gunfire and explosions, as fresh violence flared just a few miles away from where they were gathering accounts about the government’s crackdown on dissent.
One of the monitors who spoke to Al Jazeera from Syria on the condition of anonymity said the situation in Homs is “very dangerous” and that it is under constant shelling.
He said that some areas are under the control of the so-called Free Syrian Army, a group of soldiers who defected from the regular army to side with pro-democracy protesters.
Against this backdrop of violence, some activists called the Arab League mission a farce and accused the government of President Bashar al-Assad of trying to bide time and avoid more international condemnation.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Hadi Abdullah, an activist in Homs, said that the mission experienced first hand the crackdown on protests, but he is suspicious it will report what it saw or act upon it.
“The observers saw a lot of violence in the city. They saw how security forces shoot at protests. They also saw the bodies of dead people,” he said.
“The monitors also saw destruction in the city. One of the observers asked residents of Baba Amr neighbourhood ‘how can you live in this place.”
Another activist, Aram al-Dumi, from Douma, told Al Jazeera that there is a lack of coordination between activist and the observers.
“The delegation is relying solely on street signs when visiting the cities, they should rely on satellite images in order to locate the areas.
“There has been reports of security forces changing the street signs, this has been the case in Douma, today we went to the grand Mosque square after a funeral procession to demonstrate and greet the observers but the army fired at us.”
|Observers plan to visit protests hubs in the country|
In Baba Amr, residents refused to allow observers in because they were accompanied by an army officer, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The standoff only ended when the officer withdrew.
“We want to fully co-operate with the mission,” Abdullah, the activist, said. “But we believe the officer that was accompanying the mission was responsible for massacres in the city.”
Activists also charged that the army had pulled back heavy armour from Baba Amr in advance of the monitors’ visit, accusing the government of deception.
Al-Dabi, the mission head accused by activists of undermining the situation in Homs, has said the 20 observers will remain in Homs “for a long time”.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has called for a “united response” to the eurozone debt crisis, as he announced plans to get Italy out of recession.
He added that despite the two recent successful Italian bond auctions, he did not think that the phase of financial turbulence had finished.
On Thursday the government raised about 7bn euros ($8.96bn; £5.86bn) of debt.
Interest rates on Italian 10-year bonds remained high at 6.98%, a barely sustainable level.
Mr Monti, speaking at the prime minister’s traditional end-of-year press conference, stressed that problems for Italy on the markets were linked to wider difficulties on the European level which required a “united, joint and convincing response” that could also boost growth.
He said his new government was working intensively on preparing a package of measures to get the Italian economy moving again. He will present details of his economic plan to EU leaders on 23 January.
The plan would focus on boosting competition and liberalising the Italian jobs market, Mr Monti said.
He said Italy had been sliding towards a debt crisis like the one seen in Greece, but had “dug in its heels” at the precipice and did not fall.
“We’re not very close to Greece’s situation,” he said. “We were heading south-east [toward Greece] and we put on the brakes.”
He added that until the government took action, “there were many vultures circling in the skies of the European and international markets”.
Italy is the eurozone’s third largest economy, but investors worry about its mix of low growth, high debt and spiralling borrowing costs.
It is feared the country might need a bailout like fellow eurozone members Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, has called on authorities in the autonomous Kurdish region to hand over Tariq al-Hashimi, the country’s vice president who is wanted on allegations of running a death squad.
“We call for the government of the Kurdistan region to take its responsibility and hand over Hashimi to the justice system,” Maliki told a news conference in Baghdad on Wednesday. “We do not accept any interference in Iraqi justice.”
Maliki also rejected Hashimi’s calls for Arab League representatives to monitor the investigation and any questioning, telling reporters, “This is a criminal case, and there is no need for the Arab League and the world to have a role in this”.
|Follow in-depth coverage of the nation in flux|
Officials issued the warrant for Hashimi’s arrest on Monday, after earlier banning him from leaving the country. The accusations date back to the height of the war in 2006 and 2007, when neighbours turned on neighbours and whole sections of Baghdad were divided along sectarian lines.
Hashimi has rejected the charges against him, while the US has urged calm in a row that has raised questions about the stability of the country and reignited sectarian tensions just days after the final withdrawal of US troops.
Joe Biden, the US vice president, who visited Iraq earlier this month ahead of the pullout, said the US was monitoring conditions in Iraq closely and remained committed to a long-term strategic partnership.
“The vice president also stressed the urgent need for the prime minister and the leaders of the other major blocs to meet and work through their differences together,” the White House said in a statement.
The latest intrigue has raised suspicions that Maliki, a Shia, ordered the arrest of the vice president as part of a campaign to consolidate his hold on power.
Northern safe haven
Kurdish leaders have been trying to work out a solution, sheltering Hashimi from arrest in their semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq.
It is unlikely they will agree to hand over the vice president, said Al Jazeera’s Omar al-Saleh, reporting from the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
“Kurdish officials in the region said that they will never hand the vice president back to Baghdad because, as things stand now, he is a suspect and he’s not convicted of any crime. And he came in his capacity as vice president of this country, so he is a guest in other words,” our correspondent said.
AP Photo/Michel Euler
PARIS (AP) — Emmanuelle Maria’s breasts were burning and globules of silicone gel were protruding into her armpits. Her implants had ruptured. Yet her doctors, she says, told her nothing was wrong.
Now she and a group of leading plastic surgeons want the French government to tell 30,000 women to get their implants removed – at the state’s expense.
Prompted by the calls, French health authorities are considering an unprecedented move: recommending that all women with the now-banned breast implants undergo surgery to remove them. Investigators say the implants were made with cheap industrial silicone whose medical dangers remain unclear.
Governments around Europe are awaiting France’s decision Friday. Tens of thousands more women in Britain, Italy, Spain and other European nations are walking around with the same implants, made by the now-defunct French company Poly Implant Prothese, or PIP.
The main concern in France is the risk of rupture, as well as uncertainty over what risks the suspected industrial silicone gel could pose when it leaks inside the body. Of the more than 30,000 women who have the implants, more than 1,000 have suffered ruptures, according to the French health safety agency AFSSAPS.
Eight cases of cancer among women with the implants, including one who died in November, have heightened pressure on the government to act, and Friday’s decision will depend partly on guidance from the French National Cancer Institute.
The implants in question were not sold in the United States, where concerns about silicone gel implants overall led to a 14-year ban on their use. Silicone implants were brought back on the market in 2006 after research ruled out cancer, lupus and some other concerns.
All implants – not just this brand – have a risk of rupture. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends regular MRI checks for ruptures and French health officials also recommend regular screening.
PIP implants were taken off the market last year after French authorities discovered the company misreported the type of silicone used.
British health officials say they see no reason so far to have the French-made implants systematically removed, and have said there is not enough evidence of a link between silicone implants and cancer. Italy’s Health Ministry is holding a meeting Thursday to discuss the French-made implants.
In an era when freedom of the media has become a hot button issue in many nations around the world and in particular, in the Middle East, Israel is fighting an apparently different and more internal battle. (more…)
Syria’s main opposition coalition has called for emergency meetings of the UN Security Council and the Arab League to discuss the intensifying violence in the north-west of the country.
The Syrian National Council, which is based outside Syria, says about 250 people have been killed since Monday.
A human rights group has accused the Syrian authorities of carrying out an “organised massacre” in Idlib province.
Arab League monitors are due in Syria on Thursday under a peace initiative.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “extremely concerned about the escalating crisis and the mounting death toll in Syria”, his spokesman said.
He urged the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give its “full co-operation” to the Arab League plan.
Washington said it was “deeply disturbed” by the reports of escalating violence.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Assad regime had “flagrantly violated” its earlier pledges to end violence.
‘Protected zone’ plea
The latest wave of violence is taking place in the Jabal al-Zawiya area, not far from the border with Turkey.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, said that on Tuesday security forces killed more than 110 people, most of them army defectors, around the village of Kansafra.
The previous day, up to 70 defectors were shot dead when they attempted to flee a nearby base, it added.
The Observatory also said that on Wednesday, at least 22 people – six army deserters, a civilian and 15 members of government forces – were killed in clashes in the southern Deraa province.
Another activist organisation, the Local Co-ordination Committees, said 15 people had been killed so far on Wednesday, in Hama, Idlib, Homs and Deraa.
Journalists are not allowed to report freely in Syria so details are hard to verify.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), which is the main opposition umbrella group, said on Wednesday that it wanted the UN Security Council to declare a “protected zone” in the areas under attack by the army.
It also urged both the Security Council and the Arab League to act to protect people in those areas.
France, which is a permanent member of the Security Council, has backed the call for action.
“There was a massacre of an unprecedented scale in Syria on Tuesday,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.
“It is urgent that the UN Security Council issues a firm resolution that calls for an end to the repression.”
The fighting involves armed opposition groups, made up largely of army defectors, who have been taking on the Syrian security forces.
Reports from Idlib province suggest that army reinforcements are arriving and that clashes are continuing, with the number of casualties rising.
The BBC’s Jim Muir, who is monitoring events from neighbouring Lebanon, says it may be no coincidence that the surge in violence comes ahead of the arrival of Arab League monitors.
He says the Syrian authorities might be “clearing up unfinished business” ahead of the arrival of the monitors, with reports suggesting the security services are acting against army deserters and civilians trapped in a valley.
|The late Kim Jong-il, left, has been grooming his son Kim Jong-un, right, as his heir since 2009 [EPA]|
China has thrown its diplomatic weight behind North Korea in the aftermath of Kim Jong-il’s death by telling Russia and Japan that peace and stability in the Korean peninsula is in the interests of all parties in the region.
Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister, spoke with his Russian and Japanese counterparts on Wednesday to discuss the situation in North Korea amid international concern over the possible consequences of Kim’s death for the peninsula’s fragile balance of power.
Yang told Koichiro Gemba, his Japanese counterpart, that “preserving the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula is in the common interests of all sides,” according to a report by China’s Xinhua news agency.
“China is willing to work with Japan to continue making efforts to together protect the peace and stability of the peninsula and the region,” Yang said.
Yang has already made similar overtures in phone calls to Kim Sung-hwan, South Korea’s foreign minister, and to Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state.
Beijing’s comments underscore its desire to avoid uncertainty over North Korea after the death of Kim, whose successor-son, Kim Jong-un, is an untested and largely unknown leader in his late twenties.
Largely ostracised by the West over its nuclear programme, China is North Korea’s only major economic and diplomatic supporter
Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan reporting from Beijing, the Chinese capital, said: “China is concerned that the succession plan in North Korea goes smoothly, there is a strong show of support from the Chinese leadership to support North Korea.”
The situation in North Korea is also likely to be discussed when Yoshihiko Noda, the Japanese prime minister, visits Beijing over the weekend.