Wednesday, November 30, 2011

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Leader of US church group seeks meeting with American imprisoned in Cuba, Alan Gross
Cleric: American jailed in Cuba in good spirits
Russia to help Cuba with production of rifle ammunition
Pilgrimage to see pope in Cuba considered
Bars in focus: Cuba Libre Nights
Russia Arms Cuba Amid Rising Tension With U.S.
Russia and Cuba to strengthen military cooperation
U.S. religious leader visits ELAM Lima, OH News Weather SportsCleric: American jailed in Cuba in good spirits
Website publishes personal details of top Cuban officials
Artist besotted by Bali
 Celebra con golpes Niurka Marcos


Britain orders Iran's diplomats to leave UK

LONDON (AP) — Britain ordered all Iranian diplomats out of the U.K. within 48 hours and shuttered its ransacked embassy in Tehran on Wednesday, in a significant escalation of tensions between Iran and the West.
The ouster of the entire Iranian diplomatic corps deepens Iran's international isolation amid growing suspicions over its nuclear program. At least four other European countries also moved to reduce diplomatic contacts with Iran.
The British measures were announced by Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said Britain had withdrawn its entire diplomatic staff after angry mobs stormed the British Embassy compound and a diplomatic residence in Tehran, hauling down Union Jack flags, torching a vehicle and tossing looted documents through windows.
The hours-long assault Tuesday was reminiscent of the chaotic seizure of the U.S. Embassy in 1979. Protesters replaced the British flag with a banner in the name of a 7th-century Shiite saint, Imam Hussein, and one looter showed off a picture of Queen Elizabeth II apparently taken off a wall.
"The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful," Hague told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
The diplomatic fallout from the attack quickly spread to other Western countries with embassies in Iran. Norway announced it was temporarily closing its embassy as a precaution, and Germany, France and the Netherlands all recalled their ambassadors for consultations. Italy said it was considering such a recall.
Iran currently has 18 diplomats in Britain. About 24 British Embassy staff and dependents were based in Tehran.
The White House condemned the attacks and spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. backed Britain's ejection of Iranian diplomats.
European Union foreign ministers were to meet Thursday to consider possible new sanctions against Tehran.
France's budget minister, Valerie Pecresse, said the EU should consider a total embargo on Iranian oil or a freeze on Iranian central bank holdings. British officials said the U.K. would likely support new measures against Iran's energy sector.
Hague claimed those involved in Tuesday's attack were members of a student group allied with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's paramilitary Basij organization, which recruits heavily on university campuses.
"We should be clear from the outset that this is an organization controlled by elements of the Iranian regime," he said.
Hague told Parliament the private quarters of staff and Britain's ambassador were trashed in the attack and that diplomats' personal possessions were stolen.
"This is a breach of international responsibilities of which any nation should be ashamed," he said.
Some were alarmed by Hague's tough tone. David Miliband, Britain's former foreign secretary, said he hoped the robust words would not become "part of the very unwelcome drumbeat of war."
Iran's government has publicly expressed regret about the "unacceptable behavior" of the protesters, whose attacks began after anti-British demonstrations apparently authorized by authorities.
However, regime hard-liners have spoken out in support of the protesters, reflecting the deepening power struggle over which direction Iran might take in the future.
Mohammad Mohammadian, a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the attackers, saying they had targeted the "epicenter of sedition."
Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said the "wrath of (the protesters) resulted from several decades of domination-seeking behavior of Britain."
The expulsion of Iran's diplomats and the withdrawal of Britain's officials from Tehran intensifies a rift that had deepened dramatically in the past week after Britain joined the United States and European Union in imposing new economic sanctions on Iran. The punitive measures followed a U.N. report offering new evidence suggesting Iran may be developing nuclear weapons.
On Sunday, Iran's parliament approved a bill to downgrade relations with Britain in retaliation.
The U.S. and many allies fear that Iran's nuclear program could eventually lead to nuclear weapons. Tehran insists it only seeks reactors for energy and fuel, but will not give up the technology to make its own nuclear fuel.
Tensions between Iran and the West were heightened in October when U.S. officials accused agents linked to Iran's Quds Force — an elite wing of the powerful Revolutionary Guard — of a role in an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.
Britain previously ordered Iran to remove its diplomats in 1989, when the two nations broke off ties over a fatwa, or religious edict, ordering Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie because his novel "The Satanic Verses" allegedly insulted Islam.
Iran's tensions with Britain date back to the 19th century, when the Persian monarchy gave huge industrial concessions to London, which later included significant control over Iran's oil industry. In 1953, Britain and the U.S. helped organize a coup that overthrew a nationalist prime minister and restored the pro-Western shah to power.
More recently, Iran was angered by Britain's decision to honor Rushdie with a knighthood in 2007, and over its involvement in Western scrutiny of Iran's nuclear program.
In March 2007, Iran detained 15 British sailors and marines for allegedly entering the country's territorial waters in the Gulf — a claim Britain denies. The 15 were released after nearly two weeks in captivity.
Associated Press writers Brian Murphy in Dubai, Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Juergen Baetz in Frankfurt, Jamey Keaten in Paris and Frances D'Emilio in Rome, contributed to this report.

UK expels Iran diplomats after embassy attack

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Britain shut Iran's embassy in London and expelled all its staff on Wednesday, saying the storming of the British mission in Tehran could not have taken place without consent from Iranian authorities.
Foreign Secretary William Hague also said the British Embassy in Tehran had been closed and all staff evacuated following the attack on Tuesday by a crowd that ransacked offices and burned British flags in a protest over sanctions imposed by Britain on Tehran.
Iran warned that Britain's closure of the Iranian embassy in London would lead to further retaliation.
Tuesday's incident was the most violent so far as relations between the two countries steadily deteriorate due to Iran's wider dispute with the West over its nuclear program.
Analysts say it also appeared to reflect factionalism within Iran's ruling establishment, a unique hybrid of clerical and secular authority, and efforts by hardliners to undermine President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
On top of its ban on British financial institutions dealing with Iran and its central bank last week, Britain has called for further measures and a diplomatic source said London would now support a ban on oil imports from the Islamic Republic.
Hague said Iranian ambassadors across the European Union had been summoned to receive strong protests over the incident. But Britain stopped short of severing ties with Iran completely.
"The Iranian charge (d'affaires) in London is being informed now that we require the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London and that all Iranian diplomatic staff must leave the United Kingdom within the next 48 hours," Hague told parliament.
"We have now closed the British embassy in Tehran. We have decided to evacuate all our staff and as of the last few minutes, the last of our UK-based staff have now left Iran."
France, Germany and the Netherlands said they were recalling their ambassadors for consultations. Germany said it would offer to take over consular duties on behalf of Britain in Tehran.
It was the worst crisis between Britain and Iran since full diplomatic relations were restored in 1999, 10 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's fatwa that author Salman Rushdie could be killed for writing "The Satanic Verses."
Hague said it was "fanciful" to think Iranian authorities could not protect the British embassy, or that the assault could have taken place without "some degree of regime consent."
"This does not amount to the severing of diplomatic relations in their entirety. It is action that reduces our relations with Iran to the lowest level consistent with the maintenance of diplomatic relations," he added.
Mindful of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, when radical students held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days, Britain waited until all its two dozen diplomatic staff and dependents had left the country to announce its move.
Iran's state TV quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as calling London's closure of the Iranian embassy "hasty." "Naturally the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran would take further appropriate action regarding the issue," a news reporter said.
Negotiations on Iran's nuclear program were now "dead," said Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at St Andrews University in Scotland.
"What you are moving into is a period of containment and quarantine. I don't think we are into a military confrontation, but we are into a period of containment and they (the West) are going to try and tighten the noose."
The attack also exposes widening rifts within Iran's ruling elite. It appeared to be part of a move by the conservatives who dominate parliament to force Ahmadinejad to heed their demand to expel the British ambassador.
Ahmadinejad and his ministers have shown no willingness to compromise on their refusal to halt Iran's nuclear work but have sought to keep talks open to limit what sanctions are imposed.
The West believes the program is aimed at building a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran strongly denies.
"This incident was planned by elements who are not opposed per se to negotiations but want to stop them merely because of their own petty political struggles," said Trita Parsi, a U.S.-based expert on Western-Iranian relations.
"The push to get the UK ambassador out came from parliament which is headed by Ali Larijani," Parsi said. "When Larijani was chief nuclear negotiator Ahmadinejad carried out a similar campaign against negotiations."
Ahmadinejad was once seen as a protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But he has faced challenges this year from hardliners who fear his faction threatens the role of the Islamic clergy in the political system that emerged after Iran's 1979 revolution: a parliamentary one, with a directly elected president overseen by a powerful cleric.
Khamenei's recent comment that the directly elected presidency could be replaced with one elected by parliament has been welcomed by those who want to clip Ahmadinejad's wings.
Conservative newspapers trumpeted the embassy seizure.
The daily Vatan-e Emrouz declared: "Fox's den seized," referring to Britain's nickname "the old fox" which reflects a widely-held view in Iran that London still wields great power behind the scenes in Iranian and international affairs.
While Iranian police at first did not stop the protesters storming the embassy gates, they later fired tear gas to disperse them and freed six Britons held by demonstrators.
Iran's Foreign Ministry expressed its regret for the "unacceptable behavior of few demonstrators."
The protesters hit back, saying they had been "seeking to answer to the plots and malevolence of this old fox" and the Foreign Ministry should not sacrifice "the goals of the nation for diplomatic and political relations."
"We expected the police to be on the side of the students instead of confronting them," said a statement by a group calling itself the Islamic community of Tehran universities.
Britain imposed sanctions on the Iran central bank last week after a report by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency suggested Iran may have worked on developing a nuclear arsenal.
Iran, the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, says it only wants nuclear technology to generate electricity.
Britain has not backed a ban on Iranian oil imports, but that could now change, the diplomatic source told Reuters, and London will likely back a call by France to do just that and impose "sanctions on a scale that would paralyze the regime."
The United States, which cut diplomatic relations with Iran after its embassy was stormed in 1979, has not bought Iranian oil since the 1990s, but has not taken any measures against Iran's central bank. That would cripple Iran's economy as it would not be able to process payments for its vital oil exports.
(Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran, Adrian Croft and Tim Castle in London and Parisa Hafezi in Istanbul; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Packing and patrolling, U.S. troops roll out of Iraq

CAMP ECHO, Iraq (Reuters) - Camp Echo's dusty motorpools are empty, its private contract caterers have long gone home and murals depicting the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York's twin towers have been painted over.
One of the last seven U.S. military bases in Iraq, Echo is in rapid handover to Iraqi hands as American soldiers there pack up and complete their final task - protecting the last few departing troops heading home south across the Kuwaiti border.
Nearly nine years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, the U.S. mission in Iraq is fast winding down with only 13,000 troops left in the country. Hundreds are departing each day until the end of 2011.
Hundreds of convoys of military vehicles and civilian trucks have gone south into Kuwait since President Barack Obama last month said troops would leave as scheduled, effectively ending the large-scale U.S. military presence on Iraqi soil.
"It's time. The president and everyone is saying it's time. We did as much as we can," U.S. Army Sergeant Fred Fox said at Echo in Diwaniya, 150 km (95 miles) south of Baghdad.
"It's time for us to go home and let them take care of their own," he said.
Soldiers left on Camp Echo, like other bases in Iraq, are still patrolling to protect themselves, the highway south and the base even as they pack up and hand over equipment from vehicles to air conditioners to the Iraqi armed forces.
On Echo, rows of white SUVs, construction vehicles and jeeps sit parked waiting for Iraqi officials to check U.S. inventories. U.S. troops are leaving behind anything not cost-effective to ship elsewhere, like concrete blast walls.
Nearby, sand-colored MRAP armored vehicles warm their engines before trundling out on patrol to secure Highway One.
Violence in Iraq has dropped sharply since the sectarian conflict in 2006-2007, when suicide bombers claimed hundreds of victims each day and inter-communal killing between Sunnis and Shi'ites ravaged Baghdad and other cities.
Attacks and bombings still happen almost daily. Iraqi forces are battling a Sunni Islamist insurgency and rival Shi'ite militias backed by Iran.
At the height of the war, Iraq had more than 100 attacks a day. Nearly 4,500 U.S. troops died in eight and a half years and at least 60,000 Iraqis were killed in the violence. In 2006 alone, 17,800 Iraqis were killed, government statistics say.
Attacks on U.S. forces are far less common now, though officials have warned insurgents may try to pick up their assaults in the last days of the American withdrawal.
U.S. forces at Camp Echo still face one or two attacks a week, usually roadside explosives. The base was last mortared a few months ago.
Patrols from Echo head out daily scouring highways or nearby fields for suspicious piles of trash, dead animals on roadsides - clearing anything that could be used to hide explosives targeting convoys.
"We know they can't destroy us, but they do want to try to show they are the ones who forced the Americans out," Captain Mark Barnes, an army intelligence officer.
Before Obama's announcement, U.S. officials had held months of talks with Iraq's government over the possibility of keeping a small contingent of several thousand American troops in Iraq as trainers to help local armed forces.
But Iraq's multi-sectarian leadership lacked the political capital to push through any agreement that would have granted legal immunity to remaining U.S. troops, effectively blocking a new accord on troops staying for the moment.
Civilian trainers will remain in Iraq to help teach Iraqi forces how to use the new U.S.-made hardware they have purchased, from F-16 fighters to Abrams tanks. Around 200 U.S. military personnel will be attached to the U.S. embassy.
"This tour is all about bringing our soldiers home, getting them out of Iraq and turning over to Iraqi forces," said Sergeant Derrick Grabener. "We have to keep the mindset that we are still here until we cross over the border."
Camp Echo is down to the basics. Private mess hall caterers have been replaced by army cooks and soldiers now run their gym. Photographs of U.S. troops have been taken off the base's office walls.
A mural painted in honour of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, which helped propel the United States into its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been painted over to stop images being defaced once the Americans leave.
"We are basically getting light on the ground. Every soldier is consolidating down to one duffle bag," Staff Sgt. William Cannon said. "We are pretty much ready to go when they give us the word."
(Editing by Andrew Roche)