Monday, January 23, 2012

Syria: Bolstered by Iran and Russia, Assad Remains Defiant...PipelineNews...LPPNEWS 24/7

January 23, 2012
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s defiant rejection today of a new Arab League peace plan indicates he remains firmly entrenched and has no intention of negotiating an end to the violence or stepping down as president. Assad is being encouraged by Russian and Iranian efforts to help Syria evade U.S. and EU sanctions.
Syria: Bolstered by Iran and Russia, Assad Remains Defiant
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal at an Arab League foreign ministers meeting to discuss the situation in Syria on January 22, 2012. The Saudi Foreign Minister rejected an Arab League decision to extend its observer mission in Syria and said Saudi Arabia will withdraw its personnel from the mission because Syrian President Assad has broken his promises to the League. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Report: Russia to deliver combat jets to Syria

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia has signed a contract to sell combat jets to Syria, a newspaper reported Monday, in apparent support for President Bashar Assad and open defiance of international condemnation of his regime's bloody crackdown.
The respected business daily Kommersant, citing an unidentified source close to Russia's Rosoboronexport state arms trader, said the $550-million deal envisions the delivery of 36 Yak-130 aircraft. A spokesman for Rosoboronexport refused to comment on the report.
If confirmed, the deal would cement Russian opposition to international efforts to put pressure on Assad's regime over its attempts to snuff out the country's uprising. The U.N. says more than 5,400 people have died over 10 months. The report of the sale comes the same day that Human Rights Watch called Russia's backing of the Syrian regime "immoral."
The Yak-130 is a twin-engined combat trainer jet that can also be used to attack ground targets. The Russian air force has recently placed an order for 55 such jets.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that Moscow doesn't consider it necessary to offer an explanation or excuses over suspicions that a Russian ship had delivered munitions to Syria despite an EU arms embargo.
Russia was acting in full respect of international law and wouldn't be guided by unilateral sanctions imposed by other nations, he said.
Lavrov also accused the West of turning a blind eye to attacks by opposition militants and supplies of weapons to the Syrian opposition from abroad and warned that Russia will block any attempt by the West to secure United Nations support for the use of force against Syria.
Russia has been a strong ally of Syria since Soviet times when the country was led by the president's father Hafez Assad. It has supplied Syria with aircraft, missiles, tanks and other modern weapons.
Igor Korotchenko, head of the Center of Analysis of the Global Arms trade, an independent think-tank, said the jet deal apparently reflected Moscow's belief that Assad would stay at the helm.
"With this contract, Russia is expressing confidence that President Assad would manage to retain control of the situation, because such deals aren't signed with a government whose hold on power raises doubts," Korotchenko was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying. "It's another gesture by Moscow underlining its confidence that Damascus will remain its strategic partner and ally in the Middle East."
Another Moscow-based military analyst, Ruslan Pukhov, said, however, that Russia might be too optimistic about Assad's prospects.
"This contract carries a very high degree of risk," Pukhov told Kommersant. "Assad's regime may fall and that would lead to financial losses for Russia and also hurt its image."
Human Rights Watch warned Russia that by supporting Assad it is repeating the mistakes of some Western governments during the Arab Spring, saying they were too slow to recognize the popular desire for democratic change in places like Egypt and Bahrain.
"Armed elements shooting at government soldiers is materially different from government representatives shooting deliberately at unarmend civilians," Carroll Bogert, the group's deputy executive director, said at a news conference in Moscow that followed the release of HRW's annual report.
She added that the overwhelming number of victims in Syria is on the side of the demonstrators.
"The continued support of this regime is immoral and not permissible," Bogert said. "The West has already made serious mistakes with the support of Arab regimes. Russia's repetition of those mistakes will lead to tragic consequences."
Sofia Javed in Moscow contributed to this report.

ICC accepts Gaddafi son to be tried in Libya: minister

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court accepts that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi will be tried in Libya rather than at the Hague-based court, Libyan Justice Minister Ali Khalifa Ashur said Monday.
"Libya applied Friday to the ICC for Saif to be tried in a Libyan court. The ICC accepted," he told Reuters.
An investigation into the son of the overthrown Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had yet to finish but his trial date would be announced when it had been completed, Ashur added.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam after prosecutors accused him and others of involvement in the killing of protesters during the revolt that eventually toppled his father in August.
(Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Writing by David Stamp)

War crimes court to try Kenya's Ruto, Kenyatta

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Kenya's presidential contenders Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, and two other men must stand trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity during post-election violence in 2008, a judge ruled on Monday.
The decision by the Hague-based court - whose proceedings have been closely followed in Kenya - is likely to have far-reaching political consequences for the biggest economy in east Africa.
Both Kenyatta, who is Kenya's finance minister and son of the country's founding president, and Ruto, a former higher education minister, want to run for president in an election expected next year. The ICC's decision that they must face trial is likely to interfere with those plans.
Ruto immediately said he would run for president despite the ruling.
"This is to confirm I am firmly in the race. Let us meet at the ballot," Ruto told a news conference in Nairobi.
Kenyan media reported that Ruto would appeal the ruling.
The ruling could also lead to protests, possibly riots, in Kenya if people feel the court's decision was unfair, and may backfire on another presidential contender, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is accused by Kenyatta's and Ruto's supporters of trying to exploit the criminal charges for his own political gain.
The court ruled that there was sufficient evidence to try four out of the six politicians and officials suspected of orchestrating violence in the wake of the disputed 2007 elections that killed at least 1,200 people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Kenyan radio presenter Joshua arap Sang and Kenyan civil service head Francis Muthaura must also stand trial, the judge ruled. But she said there was insufficient evidence to confirm charges against Henry Kosgey, the former industrialization minister and Mohammed Hussein Ali, former police commissioner.
"The chamber found that the prosecutor has established substantial grounds to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder, deportation or forcible transfer and persecution were committed," presiding ICC judge Ekaterina Trendafilova said about the charges against Ruto and Sang.
"These crimes resulted in the death in the deaths of hundreds and displacement of thousands of civilians," she added.
(Additional reporting by Gilbert Kreijger and George Obulutsa; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Cuba's Ladies in White call dissident death "murder"

HAVANA (Reuters) - The opposition group "Ladies in White" accused the Cuban government on Sunday of "murdering" by neglect a 31-year-old dissident who died last week following a hunger strike in prison.
Ladies in White leader Berta Soler said Wilman Villar Mendoza died because the government did not respect his rights and that he was only the latest such victim to die for the same reason.
"Today is a day that the people of Cuba, like Ladies in White and the internal opposition, are in mourning. We are in mourning because we have lost a young man who gave his life for the freedom of the Cuban people," said Soler, speaking in a tree-shaded Havana park after the group's weekly silent march demanding the release of political prisoners.
"He was a dignified man, a man who really should not have
died, but ... the government killed him. It's one more murder in the Cuban government's account," she said to about 40 other white-clad women.
The Ladies in White are Cuba's leading dissident group and have been marching every Sunday in Havana since a 2003 government crackdown on political opponents.
"Why do we say murdered? This young man was only asking that they review his case, which the government did not listen to," she said.
Villar died on Thursday in a hospital in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba after contracting pneumonia during a hunger strike in prison, dissidents said.
He launched his hunger strike shortly after he was arrested in November, put on trial and sentenced to four years in prison for crimes including disobedience, resistance and crimes against the state.
He was put in solitary confinement under difficult conditions which, combined with his lack of nourishment caused the health problems that led to his death, human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said.
Government opponents said Villar had joined an opposition group called the Cuban Patriotic Union last summer and been an active dissident ever since.
But the Cuban government said Villar was not a dissident and
had received the best medical care possible in an attempt to
save his life.
It said his legal problems arose not from political activities, but from a violent family dispute.
Soler equated Villar's death to that of another imprisoned dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February 2010 after an 85-day hunger strike.
"They let him die, the same as Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Orlando Zapata was another victim of the government, which let him die only because they didn't respect his rights," she said.
Cuba drew international condemnation for Zapata's death and has been criticized for Villar's demise by several countries including the United States.
"Villar's senseless death highlights the ongoing repression of the Cuban people and the plight faced by brave individuals standing up for the universal rights of all Cubans," a White House spokesman said on Friday.
Cuba issued a sharply worded response saying, "It is the United States government that practices torture and extra-judicial executions in the countries that it attacks and
that which uses police brutality against its own people."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)

Cuba rejects international criticism of dissident's death

Liberalizations stand Cuba at the crossroads: Karen Farkas

Little progress in Cuba on human rights: HRW

Russia and Cuba seal new partnership at Kremlin

WSU group to go to Cuba

 Alan Gross imprisonment a result of misguided US rhetoric?

Sick vacationers continue to land from Cuba

 Cuba slams Spain and US over death of prisoner

Huge Oil Rig Ready To Drill Off Cuba

Italy: Officials mulling removal of fuel from ship

GIGLIO, Italy (AP) — Italian officials were clearing hurdles Monday to begin pumping some half a million gallons of fuel from the capsized Costa Concordia that threaten an environmental catastrophe, as divers continued the search for 19 people known missing.
Civil protection officials are weighing whether to halt the search so the pumping of the fuel could begin, as islanders grew increasingly concerned about the possibility that the double-bottomed tanks holding some 2,200 metric tons of heavy fuel could leak.
The pristine sea around Giglio, where the ship with 4,200 people aboard rammed a reef and sliced open its hull on Jan. 13 before turning over on its side, is a prized fishing area and part of a protected area for whales and dolphins.
"They should start the oil drainage operations on the ship. At this point those who died will not come back to life. Even if they pull them out later, unfortunately it won't make a difference," resident Andrea Ginanneschi told The Associated Press.
The national civil protection official in charge of the rescue effort met with technical experts Monday morning to determine if operations to pump the fuel could begin alongside with the ongoing search, or if it would present dangers to the divers. Franco Gabrielli was to meet later with prosecutors to discuss the implications of halting the search.
Dutch salvage company Smit has been ready for a week to begin pumping fuel from the tanks, awaiting only the go ahead.
However, operations on board have been periodically stopped as the Concordia shifts on its precarious perch. A few meters (yards) from the wreck, the sea bottom drops off suddenly, by some 20-30 meters (65-100 feet), and if the Concordia should abruptly roll off its ledge, rescuers could be trapped inside.
Smit said on Monday that Italian authorities have indicated it can begin the removal once a second absorbent boom is in place around the ship and following the arrival of an oil removal vessel, expected later Monday. The booms are used "to reduce the possibility of polluting shorelines and to help make recovery easier," the company said on its website.
"Based on the current insights, it is understood that the Italian marine authorities will permit oil removal activities to commence once these precautionary measures have been put in place," Smit said in a statement.
The search for missing crew and passengers has been continuing around the clock, conditions permitting, with divers focusing on areas where the missing were last seen, places were they might have gathered for evacuation and individual cabins.
Divers on Sunday pulled a woman's body from the ship, raising to 13 the number of people pulled out dead from the ship, and 19 other people are still listed as missing. Officials, however, acknowledged over the weekend that there may have been unregistered passengers on board, which could raise the number of potential victims.
Already, some diesel and lubricants have leaked into the water near the ship, probably from machinery on board. Officials have characterized the contamination as superficial.
Besides the heavier fuel, there also are 185 metric tons of diesel and lubricants on board — some dispersed in machinery and lifeboats, and not in 17 double-bottomed tanks that hold most of the fuel — in addition to chemicals including cleaning products and chlorine.
Barry reported from Milan.