Friday, March 25, 2011

Qatar becomes 1st Arab country to fly over Libya

An armed men stands among Libyan men attending Friday prayers in the main square in Benghazi, eastern Libya, Friday, March 25, 2011. The city saw many AP – An armed men stands among Libyan men attending Friday prayers in the main square in Benghazi, eastern …

TRIPOLI, Libya – Tiny Qatar became the first Arab country to fly combat missions over Libya on Friday after NATO agreed to take command of the no-fly zone part of air operations against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
French and British jets struck Libyan military targets around a besieged eastern city, as talks in the Ethiopian capital to find a way out of the crisis produced a statement from the Libyan government delegation saying his country was ready to talk with rebels and accept political reform, possibly including elections.
The Qatari fighter jet flew its first sortie alongside a French jet on Friday and the United Arab Emirates pledged 12 warplanes to the effort to thwart Moammar Gadhafi. The international effort has no other countries from the Arab League, a 22-member group that was among the driving forces behind the U.N. Security Council decision to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.
"Qatar has been a great ally from Day One," said Mustafa Gheriani, spokesman for opposition Benghazi city council. "It's an Arab country to be proud of."
The United States has provided millions of dollars in equipment to many of the league's countries, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Qatar has close ties to the U.S. military, a reputation for international mediation, and hosts the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera network.
"Having our first Arab nation join and start flying with us emphasizes that the world wants the innocent Libyan people protected from the atrocities perpetrated by pro-regime forces," U.S. Air Forces Africa Commander Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward said.
The international coalition confronting Gadhafi agreed to put NATO in charge of enforcing the no-fly zone, with Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard at the helm, and hammered out a unified command structure.
Despite the leadership confusion, Britain's senior military spokesman, said the mission was succeeding.
"We have not been able to stop all Col. Gadhafi's attacks, and we would never pretend that we could," Maj. Gen. John Lorimer told reporters in London Friday. But, he said, "They are losing aircraft, tanks, guns that they cannot replace. His ability to use these weapons against his own people is diminished daily."
NATO also heads the ship blockade, but British officials on Friday have refused to say whether NATO ships would patrol the rebel-held coastal areas in the east. A slide shown to journalists Friday seemed to underline the ambiguity of the naval arms embargo.
"The entire coast will need to be monitored," said Capt. Karl Evans, who briefed reporters at the Ministry of Defense in London. Bbehind him, a map of Libya visualizing the NATO blockade showed only the 600 miles (965 kilometers) of Gadhafi-controlled coastline highlighted in red, with the rebel-held east seemingly left out.
When pressed, senior military spokesman Lorimer intervened, saying that "we don't have those kinds of details here."
British and French warplanes hit near the town of Ajdabiya, destroying an artillery battery and armored vehicles. Ajdabiya and the western city of Misrata, in particular, have suffered because the rebels lack the heavy weapons to lift Gadhafi's siege.
Rida al-Montasser, an activist from Misrata, said Gadhafi forces fired mortars and RPGs from rooftops along a main street, hitting a market and a residential building. He said that rebels are trying to chase the snipers from rooftops, rounded up some 30 of the snipers so far and still searching for more.
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a top African Union official called for a transition period in Libya that would lead to democratic elections, a rare rebuke from African leaders who appear to be pushing for political reforms that could lead Gadhafi's ouster.
African Union commission chairman Jean Ping said in an opening speech that the AU favors an inclusive transitional period that would lead to democratic elections.
"We are convinced, at the African Union level, that there is a sufficient basis for reaching a consensus and making a valuable contribution to finding a lasting solution in Libya," he said.
The statement calling for a transition toward elections is the strongest Libya-related statement to come out of the AU since the Libya crisis began, and could be seen as a strong rebuke to a leader who has long been well regarded by the continental body.
Gheriani, the opposition spokesman, said he has heard nothing about the meeting.
Libyan negotiator Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi blamed the the violence in Libya on "extremists" and foreign intervention but said the government was willing to consider talks. Rebels, who were not at the Ethiopia meeting, say they will not negotiate with Gadhafi.
We are ready to discuss what the Libyan people want," he said. "What kind of reform do they want? If it is elections we are willing to discuss about the details. We are willing to negotiate with anyone. These are our people. There is no division between the Libyan people; there is a division between extremists and the Libyan people."
Associated Press writers Ryan Lucas in Benghazi, Libya; Pauline Jelinek in Washington; and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.


AP/Muzaffar Salman

Violence erupts around Syria, protesters shot

    Syrian supporters of President Bashar Assad, carry his picture during a rally  after Friday prayers outside the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, Fri AP – Syrian supporters of President Bashar Assad, carry his picture during a rally after Friday prayers outside …

    DAMASCUS, Syria – Violence erupted around Syria on Friday as troops opened fire on protesters in several cities and pro- and anti-government crowds clashed on the tense streets of the capital in the most widespread unrest in years, witnesses said.
    Soldiers shot at demonstrators in the restive southern city of Daraa after crowds set fire to a bronze statue of the country's late president, Hafez Assad, a resident told The Associated Press. He said he heard heavy gunfire in the city center and later saw two bodies and many wounded people being brought to Daraa's main hospital.
    He said thousands of enraged protesters snatched some weapons from a far smaller number of troops and chased them out of the Roman-era old city, taking back control of the al-Omari mosque, which has been the epicenter of eight days of protests in Dara.
    Two other residents confirmed to The Associated Press by telephone that protests had retaken the mosque and surrounding area.
    The violence erupted after tens of thousands of Syrians took to the streets across the country after Friday prayers, shouting calls for greater freedoms in support of a more than week-long uprising in Daraa, according to witnesses, activists and footage posted online.
    The demonstrations and ensuing crackdown were a major escalation of the showdown between President Bashar Assad's regime and the crowds in Daraa who — inspired by pro-democracy unrest elsewhere in the Arab world — began protesting conditions in the drought-stricken south last week in demonstrations that have now spread around the country.
    After dark, troops opened fire on protesters in Maadamiyeh, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, a witness told the AP. An activist in contact with people there said three had been killed.
    Another activist told the AP that witnesses in the National Hospital in the coastal city of Latakia had reported seeing four people shot dead. Another was reported slain in the central city of Homs, he said.
    None of the accounts could be immediately be independently confirmed in Syria, which maintains tight restrictions on the press.
    In Damascus, people shouting in support of the Daraa protesters clashed with regime supporters outside the historic Umayyad mosque, hitting each other with leather belts.
    An activist in Damascus in touch with eyewitnesses in the southern village of Sanamein said troops there opened fire on demonstrators trying to march to Daraa, a short distance away. He said there had been witness reports of fatalities, some claiming as many as 20 slain, but those could not be independently confirmed.
    A video posted on Facebook by Syrian pro-democracy activists showed what it said were five dead young men lying on stretchers as men weeped around them. The voice of a woman can be heard saying "down with Bashar Assad."
    The White House urged Syria's government to cease attacks on protesters and Turkey said its neighbor should quickly enact reforms to meet legitimate demands.
    An unidentified Syrian official asserted that an armed group attacked the army headquarters in Sanamein and tried to storm it, leading to a clash with guards.
    The official told the state-run news agency SANA said security forces would pursue what it described as armed people who are terrorizing citizens and trying to destabilize the country.
    Much of Damascus was tense, with convoys of young people roaming the streets in their cars, honking incessantly and waving out pictures of Bashar Assad and Syrian flags. The convoys briefly blocked streets in some areas.
    About 200 people demonstrated after the Friday prayers at the Thawra Bridge, near the central Marjeh Square, chanting "our souls, our blood we sacrifice for you Daraa!" and "freedom! freedom!" They were chased by security forces who beat them some of them with batons and detained others, an activist said on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
    Thousands flooded Daraa's central Assad Square before the shooting broke out, many from nearby villages, chanting "Freedom! Freedom!" and waving Syrian flags and olive branches, a resident told The Associated Press by telephone.
    Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, he claimed that more than 50,000 people were shouting slogans decrying presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban, who promised Thursday that the government would consider a series of reforms in response to a week of unrest in Daraa.
    A human rights activist, quoting witnesses, said thousands of people gathered in the town of Douma outside the capital, Damascus, pledging support for the people of Daraa. The activists asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
    Security forces dispersed the crowd by chasing them away, beating some with batons and detaining others, an activist said, asking that his name not be published for fear of reprisals by the government.
    In the city of Aleppo, hundreds of worshippers came out of mosques shouting "with our lives, our souls, we sacrifice for you Bashar" and "Only God, Syria and Bashar!"
    Residents in Homs said hundreds of people demonstrated in support of Daraa and demanded reforms.
    The activist said that in Latakia, more than 1,000 people marched in the streets after Friday prayers. In the northern city of Raqqa, scores marched and several people were detained, he said.
    And in the western city of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon, several people were detained after protesting, he said.
    Journalists who tried to enter Daraa's Old City — where most of the violence took place — were escorted out of town Friday by two security vehicles.
    "As you can see, everything is back to normal and it is over," an army major, standing in front of the ruling Baath party head office in Daraa, told journalists before they were led out of the city.
    Security forces appeared to be trying to reduce tension in Daraa by dismantling checkpoints and ensuring there was no visible army presence on the streets for the first time since last Friday, when the protests began.
    Rattled by the unrest, the Syrian government Thursday pledged to consider lifting some of the Mideast's most repressive laws in an attempt to stop the weeklong uprising from spreading and threatening its nearly 50-year rule.
    But the promises were immediately rejected by many activists who called for demonstrations around the country on Friday in response to a crackdown that protesters say killed dozens of anti-government marchers in Daraa.
    "We will not forget the martyrs of Daraa," a resident told The Associated Press by telephone. "If they think this will silence us they are wrong."
    Assad, a close ally of Iran and its regional proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, has promised increased freedoms for discontented citizens and increased pay and benefits for state workers — a familiar package of incentives offered by other nervous Arab regimes in recent weeks.
    Shaaban, the presidential adviser, also said the Baath party would study ending a state of emergency that it put in place after taking power in 1963.
    The emergency laws, which have been a feature of many Arab countries, allow people to be arrested without warrants and imprisoned without trial. Human rights groups say violations of other basic liberties are rife in Syria, with torture and abuse common in police stations, detention centers and prisons, and dissenters regularly imprisoned for years without due process.
    The death toll from the weeklong crackdown was unclear and could not be independently confirmed, although activists say it was in the dozens before Friday and could have been as high as 100. Shaaban said 34 people had been killed in the conflict.
    Mroue reported from Beirut, Lebanon. Michael Weissenstein in Cairo contributed.

    US hails Cuba releases, but rights still 'poor'

    AFP/File – Ladies in White members hold pictures of late dissident Orlando Zapata while shouting anti-governmental …
    WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States said Friday that human rights conditions under Cuba's communist regime remain "poor" despite Havana's recent release of the last members of a group of dissidents detained eight years ago.
    "We welcome the release of the last of the 75 peaceful Cuban activists who were unjustly arrested for exercising their universal rights and fundamental freedoms during the 2003 'Black Spring' crackdown," Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement.
    The release marked "a step in the right direction," he said.
    "However, human rights conditions in Cuba remain poor. The Cuban government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly," said Toner, adding that Washington urges Havana to "release all remaining political prisoners."
    He also pressed Cuba to allow the United Nations and Red Cross access to the country's jails, "so that a fuller accounting of remaining political prisoners can be possible."
    On Wednesday the government released Felix Navarro and Jose Ferrer, the last from the 2003 group.
    But Cuba's opposition movement stresses that the prisons are not empty of dissidents, with one activist noting on Wednesday that there are some 60 people currently held on political charges.
    Last July, the Catholic Church struck a deal with the state to have the 2003 group's remaining 52 imprisoned dissidents freed and allowed to go into exile in Spain, in the biggest prisoner release since President Raul Castro formally took power in 2008.
    But only 40 agreed to leave Cuba, and the remaining dozen insisted on staying, leading in some cases to months-long delays in their release.
    Toner said US President Barack Obama has focused "on increased engagement with the Cuban people in an effort to promote democratic ideals and improve human rights conditions on the island."
    On Monday in a speech in Chile, Obama urged Cuban authorities to "take meaningful actions" to improve the rights of Cubans.
    Ties between Washington and Havana, which have had no formal relations for more than 50 years, thawed slightly when Obama took office.
    But Washington was incensed when in December 2009 Cuba arrested an American contractor, Alan Gross, for delivering communications equipment on the island.
    On March 12 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity" of Cuba.

    Today Picture...

    US hails Cuba releases, but rights still poor

    Ladies in White members hold pictures

    Ladies in White members hold pictures of late dissident Orlando Zapata while shouting anti-governmental slogans in Havana in February 2011. The United States said Friday that human rights conditions under Cuba's communist regime remain "poor" despite Havana's recent release of the last of a group of dissidents detained eight years ago.… Read more »
    (AFP/File/Adalberto Roque)

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    A Slow Burn Becomes a Raging Fire

    Disdain for U.S. Policies May Have Led to Alleged Spying for Cuba

    Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn, allegedly told an undercover FBI agent that their hope was to take their yacht to Cuba, "to sail home."
    Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn, allegedly told an undercover FBI agent that their hope was to take their yacht to Cuba, "to sail home." (By Daniel De Vise -- The Washington Post)

    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Sunday, June 7, 2009

    He was a courtly State Department intelligence analyst from a prominent family who loved to sail and peruse the London Review of Books. Occasionally, he would voice frustration with U.S. policies, but to his liberal neighbors in Northwest D.C. it was nothing out of the ordinary. "We were all appalled by the Bush years," one said.
    What Walter Kendall Myers kept hidden, according to documents unsealed in court Friday, was a deep and long-standing anger toward his country, an anger that allegedly made him willing to spy for Cuba for three decades.
    "I have become so bitter these past few months. Watching the evening news is a radicalizing experience," he wrote in his diary in 1978, referring to what he described as greedy U.S. oil companies, inadequate health care and "the utter complacency of the oppressed" in America. On a trip to Cuba, federal law enforcement officials said in legal filings, Myers found a new inspiration: the communist revolution.
    Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn, 71, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of conspiracy, being agents of a foreign government and wire fraud. Their arrest left friends and former colleagues slack-jawed, unable to square the man depicted in the indictment with the witty intellectual with a prep-school background they knew. The Myerses never talked about Cuba or gave any hint of subversive activities, acquaintances said.
    "Anyone who knows him finds it baffling and finds this completely out of character," said David P. Calleo, director of European studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, a friend of Myers for nearly 40 years. "He has this amazing intellectual curiosity. He is open to all kinds of ideas."
    Larry MacDonald, who lives at the marina in Anne Arundel County where the Myerses docked their 38-foot sloop, said the couple were admired for their intelligence and graciousness: "When I heard they were arrested, I felt like they had arrested Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny."
    Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said in an article published yesterday on the CubaDebate Web site that, if news reports about the Myerses were true, "I can't help but admire their disinterested and courageous conduct on behalf of Cuba."
    The State Department and intelligence community are investigating how much damage the alleged spying may have done. Myers had worked as a European political expert for more than 20 years at the State Department, and had been associated with its Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1988 until his retirement in 2007.
    James Cason, who headed the U.S. interests section in Cuba from 2002 to 2005, said the case is serious because Myers had one of the highest clearances. "If you can get someone into the intelligence bureau, you can have access to everyone's intelligence, not only ours but of allies. The question is, what did they [Cuba] do with it?" he said. "Did it stay with them, or was it given to other countries, as well?"
    But an official who previously worked in the bureau said the case is probably not as damaging as that of Aldrich Ames, the CIA counterintelligence chief who passed along extensive information about U.S. intelligence operations to Russia. Myers would not have had access to the names of U.S. spies in Cuba, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

    Falling in Love With Cuba

    Myers, who goes by Kendall, grew up in Washington, the eldest of five children. His father, Walter, was a renowned heart surgeon; his mother, Carol, was the daughter of Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the longtime former president of the National Geographic Society, and was the granddaughter of inventor Alexander Graham Bell.
    Myers went to prep school at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania and graduated from Brown University. He went on to get a doctorate in European history from the Johns Hopkins SAIS.
    He got a taste of spying while serving in the U.S. Army from 1959 through 1962, according to friends. Fluent in Czech, he was stationed in Germany, where he monitored broadcasts from what was then known as Czechoslovakia, which was under communist rule. He went on to teach at the SAIS and in 1977 became a contract instructor at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute.
    During those years, his life was rocked by tragedy and difficulties, friends said. Late one November night in 1975, Myers was driving a car that slammed into a 16-year-old girl in Northwest Washington, near his childhood home, killing her. Myers felt terrible about the crash, friends said. His marriage to his first wife, Maureen Walsh, ended in divorce in 1977. They have a son and daughter, Myers's only children.
    In 1978, Myers visited Cuba for two weeks, authorities said. He told his supervisors that he had been invited there for an academic trip by the country's United Nations mission. But his guide while on the island was a Cuban intelligence officer, authorities said.
    The son of privilege fell in love with the communist revolution, according to diary entries released in court.
    "Everything I hear about Fidel suggests that he is a brilliant and charismatic leader," Myers wrote, according to the documents.
    The diary entries record his impressions of a visit to a museum, where Myers learned about "the historic interventions of the U.S. into Cuban affairs, including the systematic and regular murdering of revolutionary leaders." It "left me with a lump in my throat," he wrote.
    The following year, Myers moved to South Dakota, apparently to teach, friends said. He lived with a woman who would soon become his second wife, Gwendolyn Trebilcock, a legislative aide for then-Sen. John Abourezk (D) in her home town of Aberdeen.
    Abourezk said in an interview yesterday that he liked both of them. "She is a very good woman," he said. "And I always thought he was a decent human being."
    An official from the Cuban mission visited the couple in South Dakota and recruited them, officials say. He asked Myers to join the State Department or the CIA, authorities said. Gwendolyn Myers would later tell an undercover FBI agent, posing as a Cuban operative, that her husband chose State because he was not "a very good liar." The CIA required regular polygraph tests, Myers said.
    Worries About Being Caught

    In the succeeding years, as the couple were allegedly passing information to the Cubans, they never indicated any interest in the island, according to friends and colleagues -- even at long dinner parties in which guests discussed world affairs.
    "I never heard him say anything about Latin America at all -- ever, ever," said a retired Foreign Service officer who worked with Myers and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
    It was not clear whether the Myerses ever learned Spanish.
    The couple told the FBI agent during a series of meetings two months ago that they were worried about being caught. They allegedly used code IDs: Kendall Myers was "202," while his wife, who went to work for a bank, was "123."
    "We have been very cautious, careful with our moves and, uh, trying to be alert to any surveillance," Kendall Myers told the agent, according to court papers.
    They thought going to New York to meet Cuban agents was "dangerous," apparently because of U.S. monitoring of the country's U.N. mission. Instead, they allegedly met their handlers in third countries, including Brazil, Ecuador, Jamaica and Italy. In 1995, they flew to Mexico and then used fake identification to fly to Cuba, where they met Castro, they told the agent.
    Myers and his wife told the agent they passed along information over a shortwave radio given to them by the Cuban government, and by exchanging shopping carts with handlers in grocery stores, the documents said. But Gwendolyn Myers told the agent they had stopped using that tactic -- it had become too risky with so many security cameras in stores. In recent years, they used encrypted e-mails sent from Internet cafes, they told the agent.
    In November 2006, Kendall Myers's frustration with U.S. policy boiled over. In what he apparently thought was an off-the-record gathering at Johns Hopkins, he assailed the Bush administration's treatment of one of its closest allies, Britain.
    "We typically ignore them and take no notice. . . . It's a sad business," Myers told the audience. The British press reported it.
    Living under such secrecy had taken a toll, the Myerses allegedly told the agent.
    Kendall Myers had been worried for some time that his name was on a list of suspect employees. In fact, it wasn't until 2006 that the FBI approached the State Department with word of a suspected spy. By the time Myers retired, authorities had strong suspicions.
    The couple had found an outlet from stress in recent years. They would drive to a marina in the Anne Arundel County town of Galesville on weekends and set out on their yacht. Two years ago, they traded up to a boat with teak decks, according to Nancy Bray, general manager of Hartge Yacht Harbor.
    "Every weekend and holiday, they were off sailing," said Jacqui Gallagher, a neighbor of the Myerses'. The couple worked out frequently so they would be strong enough to manage their boat, she said.
    Despite what the couple described as their paranoia about detection, court documents reveal that they readily opened up to an FBI undercover agent who approached Kendall Myers on Massachusetts Avenue NW in April. The agent told Myers that a Cuban intelligence agent had sent him. They went on to meet another three times, along with Myers's wife.
    The couple told the agent they eventually wanted to sail to Cuba, according to the court documents.
    "Our idea," said Kendall Myers, "is to sail home."
    Staff writers Daniel de Vise and Michael Birnbaum, research editor Alice Crites and staff researchers Magda Jean-Louis, Meg Smith and Julie Tate contributed to this