Wednesday, December 14, 2011

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Exclusive: Cuba targets military firm in ... 

Cuba shows US its response plans in case of oil spill 

 U.S. Should Drop Cuba Embargo For Oil Exploration

Cuba’s Ladies in White dissidents honor late leader on Human Rights Day, amid counterprotest
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President Mills Arrives In Cuba
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Cuba-Caricom Summit Held
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Cuba elected Vice President of Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference
Cuban officials' bar in Washington toasts 'Papa'
Cuba dissidents say 200 detained up to U.N. rights day

Syria death toll hits 5,000 as insurgency spreads

AMMAN (Reuters) - Security forces shot dead 17 people in Syria on Tuesday and rebels killed seven police in an ambush, activists said, after the U.N. human rights chief put the death toll from nine months of protest against President Bashar al-Assad at 5,000.
The bloodshed in the northern province of Idlib, which borders Turkey, highlighted the accelerating violence in Syria where an insurgency has begun to overshadow what started as peaceful street protests against Assad's 11-year rule.
The United Nations' Navi Pillay said the death toll was 1,000 higher than an estimate she released 10 days earlier. It includes civilians, army defectors and those executed for refusing to shoot civilians, but not soldiers or security personnel killed by opposition forces, she said.
The Syrian government has said more than 1,100 members of the army, police and security services have been killed and state media reported 17 military funerals on Tuesday for victims of "terrorist armed groups."
Pillay said Syria's actions could constitute crimes against humanity, issuing a fresh call for the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
"It was the most horrifying briefing that we've had in the Security Council over the last two years," British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said after the session, which was arranged despite opposition from Russia, China and Brazil.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said:
"The situation is totally unacceptable. The brutal repression of civilians must stop. Assad must listen to his people, to his neighbors, to the Arab partners, to Europe, to the world. We all have the same message: he should stop the violence against his own people and let the transition begin."
The sharp rise in the death toll is bound to lend weight to those arguing for increased international intervention to stop the bloodshed in Syria which some fear is increasingly drifting towards civil war.
Assad, 46, whose minority Alawite family has held power over majority Sunni Muslim Syria for four decades, faces the most serious challenge to his rule from the turmoil which erupted in the southern city of Deraa on March 18.
A violent security crackdown failed to halt the unrest -- inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya -- which turned bloodier in the last few months as defecting soldiers join armed civilians in fighting back in some areas.
Mutineers from Syria's regular army have banded together to set up the Free Syrian Army. Its gunmen have been active in the city of Homs to try to counter pro-Assad snipers who residents say attempt to intimidate the population into submission.
In the latest violence around dawn on Tuesday, security forces shot dead 17 people in the northern protest hotbed of Idlib, including nine killed in one incident shortly after dawn, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Activists in the province told Reuters that the nine people were killed when inhabitants of the town of Kfar Yahmour came under fire after they burned tires to block a convoy carrying security forces and pro-Assad militia members.
Two more were shot dead and 19 were wounded when security forces opened fire to try to break up a funeral procession, which now often become impromptu protests.
The Observatory said army deserters attacked a convoy carrying security forces, killing at least seven people. There was no immediate report from state media of the attack, but the SANA news agency said security forces killed several members of an "armed terrorist group" in Idlib.
SANA also said border guards foiled an attempt by "an armed terrorist group" to cross into Syria from Turkey on Monday, the second such reported incident in a week. It said they shot dead two of the 15-strong group.
Syria has barred most independent journalists, making it hard to assess conflicting accounts of events there.
According to briefing notes seen by Reuters in New York, Pillay said that "independent, credible and corroborated accounts demonstrate that ... abuses have taken place as part of a widespread and systematic attack on civilians."
More than 14,000 people were reportedly in detention, at least 12,400 had sought refuge in neighboring countries and tens of thousands had been internally displaced, she said, also citing "alarming reports" of moves against the city of Homs.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he too was troubled by Pillay's report, but said outside intervention could lead to civil war and a far higher death toll.
He repeated accusations that Western countries had gone into "regime-change mode," adding, "the tragedy is that if things were allowed to degenerate and to go in the direction of further provocation, of fanning further confrontation, then maybe (there would be) hundreds of thousands dead."
Russia joined China to block Western efforts to pass a resolution against Syria in the U.N. Security Council.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "We think it's high time for the U.N. to act. We thought it was when (Russia) vetoed, and we think it is all the more necessary now.
"It's very hard for us to understand why any country on the Security Council wouldn't want to support the call of the Syrian opposition, the call of the Arab League, the call of all of us for independent monitors, and for the return of the free press."
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in Paris: "Now that the number of 5,000 victims has been surpassed, the question is how many deaths will there have to be before some (U.N.) Security Council members will open their eyes to see the situation."
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said Pillay should never have appeared before the council for a session that was part of a "huge conspiracy concocted against Syria from the beginning."
Syria held municipal elections on Monday, portrayed by Assad's government as part of a process leading to a parliamentary election next year and constitutional reform. But critics say local elections have little meaning in a country where power is highly centralized.
Assad has said reforms cannot be rushed in Baathist-ruled Syria, which is a close ally of Iran, a key player in nearby Lebanon and supporter of militant anti-Israel groups.
(Additional reporting by Erika Solomon and Dominic Evans in Beirut, Leigh Thomas in Paris, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Paul Eckert in Washington; editing by Peter Millership and Mark Trevelyan)

Egypt Islamists try to hold lead in second round vote

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's rival Islamist groups sought more gains in the second round of a parliamentary election on Wednesday, with liberals also fighting for a voice in an army-led transition that began with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt's first free election in six decades is unfolding in three stages until January. Even then, the generals who stepped in when an uprising toppled Mubarak in February will not hand power to civilians until after a presidential vote in mid-2012.
The pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood, its hardline Salafi rivals and a moderate faction won about two thirds of party-list votes in the first round. But the Brotherhood has signaled it wants a broad coalition, not a narrow Islamist front, in an assembly whose main task is to choose a body to draft a new constitution.
"This is the first time our vote counts," said Fatma Sayed, a government employee voting in Suez east of Cairo, recalling the routinely rigged elections of the 30-year Mubarak era. "We want to retain our rights."
The military will still appoint the government, but the next parliament will have legislative powers. It will also pick a 100-strong assembly to write a constitution that will define Egypt's political framework after decades of autocratic rule.
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The constitution is already the focus of a tussle between Egypt's newly-assertive political class and the ruling generals, and may also become a battleground for Islamists and liberals.
The army-backed cabinet sparked violent protests that killed 42 people last month after it sought to insert articles to shield the military from any future civilian oversight.
That fuelled suspicions that the army wants to cling to power even after the presidential poll now expected in June.
Voting was peaceful in the first round although there was a host of electoral violations, such as parties campaigning outside polling stations or the late arrival of ballots. One district will hold a re-run after ballots were damaged or lost.
The committee supervising the poll noted irregularities in the first round but said they were not serious enough to undermine the result and would be addressed in future rounds.
Troops outside a polling station in Suez tore down posters of candidates and parties on Wednesday. The Interior Ministry said the late arrival of supervising judges delayed the opening of 39 of the thousands of polling booths across the country.
A party list led by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) came top in the first round, with strict Salafi Islamists surprise runners up. Liberals were pushed into third place and are trying to close ranks to fight back.
"I think the major trend will continue (in the second round) with some minor changes. The FJP will be first, but I think the percentage will be reduced relative to the first round," said Hassan Abou Taleb, political analyst at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
He said some voters, concerned by the rise of Islamists who they fear could introduce religious strictures on society, might boost liberals, but he did not expect a significant swing.
The Egyptian Bloc alliance, which includes liberal parties founded just months ago in the wake of Mubarak's downfall, and the decades-old liberal Wafd party together secured about 20 percent of the votes for party lists in the first round.
Liberal politicians say they are trying to coordinate more effectively this time to avoid splitting their vote and revitalize campaigns with more active street canvassing.
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie has sought to reassure voters, saying his group wants to work in a broad coalition and does not want a showdown with the army.
"We will not rule Egypt alone. Parliament will include all the colors of the rainbow that must agree on one direction, one goal," he told a private television channel this month.
Some analysts say the Brotherhood might prefer to find non-Islamist allies in parliament, rather than lining up with the main Salafi al-Nour Party, in a bid to build a position in mainstream politics and avoid alienating chunks of society.
"There is a big difference between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a real competition from an ideological perspective and also from their political experience," said Ahram's Abou Taleb.
Unlike the well-established Brotherhood, the Salafis had long spurned politics and are new faces on the political scene. Analysts say they have used long-established television satellite channels and mosques they control to make an impact.
Under Egypt's new electoral system, two thirds of parliament's 498 elected seats go to party lists and the rest go to individuals. The race is split into three phases, and each phase has a run-off vote for the individual seats.
Voting for each stage is held on two days. This time voting is on Wednesday and Thursday in parts of Cairo not covered last time round, Ismailiya and Suez to the east of the capital, Aswan and Sohag to the south, and Nile Delta regions in the north.
Official results are not expected until Saturday or Sunday as results are collated from outlying areas. But, as in the first round, parties are likely to indicate their performance sooner as they have representatives watching counting.
(Writing by Edmund Blair; editing by Alistair Lyon)