Saturday, February 11, 2012

Syria forces shell Homs as Russia to oppose U.N. resolution

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian forces bombarded districts of Homs city on Saturday in a campaign to crush a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, whose ally Russia said it would not support an Arab peace plan circulating at the United Nations.
Activists said seven people were killed in the latest attacks in a week-long government siege of Homs, which has been at the heart of the uprising which broke out 11 months ago.
Mohammed Hassan, an opposition campaigner in the western city, told Reuters by telephone that a 55-year-old woman was among those killed by shellfire on the Bab Amro district.
The bloodshed followed Friday's violence, when bombings targeting security bases killed at least 28 people in Aleppo and rebel fighters battled troops in a Damascus suburb after dark.
Assad has ignored repeated international appeals, the latest from the European Union, to halt his crackdown.
"I condemn in the strongest terms these acts perpetrated by the Syrian regime against its own civilians," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.
However, the world is deeply divided over how to end the conflict. A week ago, Russia and China vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution sponsored by Western and Arab states that backed an Arab League call for Assad to step down.
With Syria in worsening turmoil, Saudi Arabia has circulated a new draft for the General Assembly similar to the earlier one.
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Saturday Moscow could not support a move at the U.N. General Assembly resting on "the same unbalanced draft resolution text."
The diplomatic dispute brings no relief to Homs, where the government offensive on mostly Sunni Muslim rebel-held areas has killed at least 300 people in the past week, activists say.
Food and medical supplies are running low in blockaded areas and many people are trapped in their houses.
Accounts could not be independently confirmed as Syria restricts access by most foreign journalists.
Youtube footage provided by activists showed a doctor at a field hospital next to the body of the woman. "Shrapnel hit her in the head and completely drained her brain matter," he says.
The 46-year-old Assad belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated the majority Sunni country since his late father took control in a 1970 coup.
Security forces have also made house-to-house raids in Homs in the last two days. The bodies of three people shot by snipers were pulled from the streets on Saturday, activists said.
YouTube footage from Friday showed two tanks said to be on the edge of Bab Amro, one firing its main gun across a highway.
"The indiscriminate shelling is killing mostly civilians," Fawaz Tello, of the opposition Syrian National Council, told Reuters, arguing that Assad wanted to avoid pushing his troops into street fighting and was banking on the bombardment to force rebel fighters to withdraw.
In Damascus, gunmen shot dead a senior Syrian military doctor outside his home in northern Damascus on Saturday, the state news agency SANA said.
It blamed "an armed terrorist group" for killing Brigadier-General Issa al-Khouli, who it described as a doctor and hospital director. He was the most senior official to be reported killed in Damascus.
That killing followed a four-hour clash in the capital on Friday night pitting Free Syrian Army rebels against troops backed by armored vehicles who had entered al-Qaboun neighborhood, activists said. ID:nL5E8DACME]
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 soldiers were killed in an ambush by army defectors using roadside bombs and hand grenades on Friday in the rebellious Idlib region.
The British-based Observatory also reported three people killed in bombardments of the opposition stronghold of Zabadani.
In Douma, south of Damascus, an officer and eight soldiers defected along with a tank after clashes between army deserters and security forces, it said.
Opposition to Assad has evolved from pro-democracy street protests to armed insurrection over the past 11 months and world powers fear a slide into civil war with knock-on effects for Syria's neighbours - Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon.
Gulf Arab states, the United States, Europe and Turkey hope diplomacy can force Assad out and have ruled out military action of the kind that helped oust Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year.
Assad can count on the support of Russia, Syria's main arms supplier and an ally stretching back to the Soviet era, as well as Iran. Moscow, which is keen to counter U.S. influence in the Middle East, insists foreign powers should not interfere.
The U.N. assembly is due to discuss Syria on Monday and vote
later in the week on the draft resolution, which "fully supports" an Arab League plan floated last month.
The Arab League will meet in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the idea of a joint Arab-U.N. monitoring mission for Syria.
Ayham Kamel, a Eurasia Group analyst, said the Russian and Chinese vetoes showed that change in Syria was not imminent. As rebel forces lacked structure and a unified command, Assad would keep the military edge but find it hard to crush the revolt.
"In the next few months, Syria will transition from civil conflict into civil war. Assad's power and control over the country will diminish and civilian casualties on both sides are expected to rise," Kamel said.
Highlighting the danger of the conflict spilling over borders, supporters and opponents of Assad fought in the streets of Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli on Saturday, a security source said. Two people were killed and eight wounded, some of them soldiers who had been deployed to halt the fighting.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations and Gleb Bryanski in Moscow; Writing by Angus MacSwan in Beirut; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Cuba embargo turns 50: is this what JFK intended?

Getting to Cuba


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Support Cuba’s dissidents, commissioners

Among Cubans and Cuban Americans, a number of foreign companies have earned a place in the “hall of infamy” for their outright complicity with the Castro dictatorship. These include Spain’s Sol-Melia hotel chain and Canada’s Sherritt mining company for profiting from long years of the Castros’ apartheid brand of tourism and exploitation of Cuba’s natural resources.
However, Brazil’s Odebrecht construction conglomerate is now placing itself in a reprehensible class of its own. Foreign companies that seek to do business in Cuba generally recognize they must choose either to profit from the monopoly of the Castro dictatorship or from Cuban Americans in Florida’s free market.
In the 1990s, Sol-Melia and Sherritt shamefully chose the Castro dictatorship, giving up opportunities in Florida. Odebrecht feels it is duly entitled to both.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff traveled to Cuba last week to promote the company’s business arrangements with the Castros’ dictatorship. These include enlarging the Port of Mariel, which Raúl Castro considers the single most important project to ensure the economic survival of his regime, and a new 10-year agreement to revitalize the island’s moribund sugar industry. During her trip, Rousseff made a point of shunning Cuban dissidents and even refused opportunities to criticize the Castros’ human-rights record.
Meanwhile, a couple hundred miles to the north, for more than a decade Odebrecht has been seducing Miami-Dade County commissioners, taking in more than $4.8 billion in taxpayer dollars — much of it from Cuban-American victims of its business partners in Havana.
The company has been awarded contracts on projects ranging from the seemingly interminable reconstruction of Miami International Airport, to building the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Art and a no-bid contract to build Florida International University’s stadium — complete with an Odebrecht skybox.
Its seduction has been so effective that Miami-Dade County commissioners jumped through legal hoops last year to give Odebrecht a $57 million contract to strengthen the cargo wharves of the Port of Miami. Commissioners sought to justify the contract by asserting Odebrecht was the lowest bidder. But it wasn’t.
The lowest bidder was actually a U.S. company — American Bridge Company. It didn’t get the contract because of a “local preference” that favored Odebrecht despite the extra expense. How could that be?
Only in Miami-Dade County can a Brazilian company be given preferential treatment (at extra cost to taxpayers) over a U.S. company. It was an award that fuels suspicion and feeds nasty stereotypes. This charade has gone on long enough.
Rousseff, in support of Odebrecht, didn’t hesitate to shun Cuban dissidents seeking political and economic reform. The time has come for Miami-Dade County commissioners — a majority are Cuban-American — to shun Odebrecht in support of those dissidents. As they do so they may find they’re also helping U.S. companies.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, director, U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, Washington, D.C.

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Copies of The Sun newspaper are seen for sale at a newsstand in London
Copies of The Sun newspaper are seen for sale at a newsstand in London February 11, 2012. British police on Saturday arrested five senior members of staff at News Corporation's flagship newspaper The Sun, the company said, as part of investigations into alleged payments to police by journalists for information. REUTERS/Olivia Harris (BRITAIN - Tags: SOCIETY CRIME LAW MEDIA)

Iran to announce nuclear progress: Ahmadinejad

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that the Islamic Republic, targeted by tougher Western sanctions, would soon announce advances in its nuclear program.
He was speaking on the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah. Tens of thousands of Iranians joined state-organized rallies to mark the occasion.
"In the coming days the world will witness Iran's announcement of its very important and very major nuclear achievements," Ahmadinejad told a crowd at Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square in a speech relayed live on state television.
Demonstrators carrying Iranian flags and pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei chanted "Death to Israel" and "Death to America." Ismail Haniya, who heads the Islamist Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, also attended the ceremony.
Ahmadinejad gave no details of how Iran's nuclear work, which Tehran says has only peaceful purposes, has progressed.
The United States and Israel, a country which Iran does not recognize, have not ruled out military action if sanctions fail.
Iran has warned of a "painful" answer, saying it would hit Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf as well as block the vital Gulf oil shipping route through the Strait of Hormuz.
"If attacked by the Zionist regime (Israel), we will turn it to dust," said a Revolutionary Guards commander, Mohammad Shirdel, semi-official Fars news agency reported Saturday.
"Thousands of our missiles will target Israel and the 40 bases of America in the region," he added.
The nuclear dispute has fuelled tension as the West tightens sanctions. The European Union has agreed to ban Iranian oil imports by July and to freeze the assets of Iran's central bank.
Its measures reinforce those imposed by the United States as the West tries to force Tehran to return to talks before it produces enough nuclear material for an atomic bomb.
Neither side has shown much appetite for compromise. Iran says it will fight EU sanctions with counter-measures and its parliament plans legislation to ban oil exports to the EU.
Iranian officials brush off the impact of sanctions, while also proclaiming that Iranians will endure any hardship in support of their country's right to nuclear technology.
"I am saying openly that if you (the West) continue to use the language of force and threat, our nation will never succumb to your pressure," Ahmadinejad said.
Industry analysts say sanctions are hitting Iran's vital oil sector and say falls in crude output and exports will speed up.
Global oil flows are realigning even though the EU ban on imports from Iran only takes effect in July, the International Energy Agency said in its monthly Oil Market Report Friday.
Asia's two giants, China and India, want to head off new sanctions on Iran. China, Iran's biggest trade partner, is one of six major powers involved in nuclear talks with Tehran.
Ahmadinejad, echoing Iran's official stance, said fresh nuclear talks would be welcome. The last round collapsed a year ago over Iran's refusal to halt its uranium enrichment work.
"They say we want to negotiate. That is fine with us, we have been always ready to hold talks in the framework of justice and mutual respect," Ahmadinejad said. "The Iranian nation will not withdraw even one iota from its path."
Western nations say talking is pointless unless uranium enrichment is on the table, something Iran refuses to discuss.
Iran's economy is around 60 percent reliant on oil. The country is heavily dependent on food imports, buying 45 percent of its rice and most of its animal feed abroad.
Sanctions-linked trade snags risk fuelling already high inflation, which Iranian critics blame on Ahmadinejad's economic policies. The official inflation rate exceeds 20 percent.
But Ahmadinejad said the economy was "flourishing," reeling off figures to back his contention. Critics have in the past accused the government of falsifying economic statistics.
"We have saved over $30 billion for rainy days," he said. "Iran's non-oil exports will reach over $43 billion by March ... Iran's imports in the past 10 months dropped five percent."
Following reforms under which the government phased out hefty subsidies on staples like food and fuel since 2010, Ahmadinejad said billions were saved by not importing petrol.
"We were importers of fuel but ... now we are among main exporters of fuel and oil products," he said.
Fresh U.S. and EU financial sanctions are snarling Iranian payments for staple food and other imports, causing hardship for its 74 million people weeks before a parliamentary election.
The election will be Iran's first since a disputed presidential vote in 2009, which the opposition says was rigged to secure Ahmadinejad's re-election. That sparked eight months of street protests which the government forcibly suppressed.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

24/7 FrontLine Results - LPPNEWS

NYSE stocks posting largest volume increases

NEW YORK (AP) — A look at the 10 biggest volume gainers on New York Stock Exchange at the close of trading:
Aaron's Inc. : Approximately 2,603,500 shares changed hands, a 444.5 percent increase over its 65-day average volume. The shares fell $.79 or 2.7 percent to $27.96.
Cobalt International Energy Inc. : Approximately 17,510,100 shares changed hands, a 1,042.3 percent increase over its 65-day average volume. The shares rose $7.78 or 32.6 percent to $31.68.
Gardner Denver Inc. : Approximately 3,751,500 shares changed hands, a 461.5 percent increase over its 65-day average volume. The shares fell $7.18 or 9.0 percent to $72.70.
Helios High Yield : Approximately 155,900 shares changed hands, a 544.0 percent increase over its 65-day average volume. The shares rose $.05 or .5 percent to $10.60.
KV Pharmaceutical Co. class B : Approximately 44,600 shares changed hands, a 521.3 percent increase over its 65-day average volume. The shares fell $1.00 or 38.0 percent to $1.63.
KV Pharmaceutical Co. class A : Approximately 5,054,400 shares changed hands, a 529.4 percent increase over its 65-day average volume. The shares fell $.99 or 37.9 percent to $1.62.
Kosmos Energy Ltd. : Approximately 1,567,300 shares changed hands, a 440.3 percent increase over its 65-day average volume. The shares rose $.48 or 3.4 percent to $14.51.
LinkedIn Corp. : Approximately 12,807,500 shares changed hands, a 597.7 percent increase over its 65-day average volume. The shares rose $13.57 or 17.8 percent to $89.96.
Pacific Drilling S.A. : Approximately 2,347,400 shares changed hands, a 772.9 percent increase over its 65-day average volume. The shares rose $.41 or 3.8 percent to $11.06.
XL Group PLC : Approximately 20,113,900 shares changed hands, a 511.5 percent increase over its 65-day average volume. The shares fell $1.74 or 8.3 percent to $19.27.

Saadi Gaddafi warns of uprising in Libya: TV

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's son Saadi warned on Friday of an imminent uprising in Libya, saying he was in regular contact with people in the country who were unhappy with the authorities put in place after the ousting and killing of his father.
Speaking to Al-Arabiya television by phone - the first time he has spoken publicly in months - Saadi said he wanted to return to Libya "at any minute" after escaping across the border to Niger when National Transitional Council forces captured the capital Tripoli in August.
He said he was in contact from Niger with the army, the militias, the NTC and other members of the Gaddafi family. It was impossible to verify where he was calling from as the station showed only an old still picture of Saadi as a backdrop to his words.
"First of all, it is not going to be an uprising limited to some areas. It will cover all the regions of the Jamahiriya and this uprising does exist and I am following and witnessing this as it grows bigger by the day," he said, referring to Libya.
"There will be a great uprising in the south, in the east, in the centre and in the west. All the regions of Libya will witness this new popular uprising."
A transitional government appointed in November is leading the country to elections in June but is struggling to restore services and impose order on myriad armed groups.
These groups fought hard in the campaign to topple Gaddafi but still refuse to hand in their weapons.
The government lost control of the former Gaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid last month after local people staged an armed revolt, posing the gravest challenge yet to the NTC's authority.
However elders in the desert city dismissed accusations they wanted to restore the late dictator's family to power or had any ambitions beyond their local area.
Saadi told Al-Arabiya: "The Libyan people should revolt against these militias and against this deteriorating situation. The NTC is not a legitimate body ... and is not in control of the militias," he added. "We call on all to be ready for the coming uprising."
"We have to exert pressure to change this situation and to remove this evil doing that exists in Libya. We do not know any such thing as elections. We are a Muslim nation," he said.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment. Mohammed al-Alagy, former interim justice minister and who now heads the human rights council, told Al-Arabiya Saadi's comments were "an attempt to drive a wedge between the Libyan people."
Saadi, a businessman and former professional footballer, said he was in contact with people in Libya. Interpol last year issued a "red notice" requesting member states to arrest Saadi with a view to extradition if they find him in their territory.
"I have daily communications with Libya from Niger and these contacts are not just to start the uprising but also to follow up the status of our tribes, our relatives and the people," he said.
"The situation of the people is deteriorating. I am in contact with the militias, the tribes, the NTC and the national army. I can confirm that more than 70 percent of those who are in Libya now whether they support the February 17th (revolution) or not, all are not satisfied with the situation and are ready to cooperate to change this situation."
Libya is preparing for the first anniversary of the start of the February 17 uprising which began in the eastern city of Benghazi. Libyan armed forces chief Yousef al-Mangoush this week said there were concerns for potential sabotage of the anniversary by Gaddafi loyalists.
"A large number of February 17th members do regret this and we are now in full cooperation with the February 17th and our supporters to change this deteriorating situation," Saadi said. "As for my return, yes I must return to Libya and this will happen at any minute. If I do return I will prevent any revenge."
Saadi said he was also in contact with his family members. Gaddafi's wife Safiya, his daughter Aisha and his sons Mohammed and Hannibal fled to Algeria in August. Saadi's brother Saif al-Islam was captured in the Sahara desert in November and is now being held in the town of Zintan.
"I am in contact with my family inside and outside Libya and in the neighboring countries and in Europe," Saadi said.
"I call on all the elders, the youth, the militias and the tribes to come and to sit with each other and to negotiate with each other and to come up with a true reconciliation."
Mexican authorities said in December they had uncovered and stopped an international plot to smuggle Saadi into the country using fake names and false papers.
(Reporting by Ali Shuaib and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alison Williams)

Bombings hit Syria, Saudis push for peace at U.N.

AMMAN (Reuters) - Violence flared across Syria, including bomb attacks that killed at least 28 people in Aleppo, while at the United Nations diplomats said a new effort was afoot to gain backing for an Arab peace plan to end 11 months of bloodshed in the country.
The two Aleppo bombings on Friday were the worst attack to hit the country's commercial hub during the revolt against the 42-year dynastic rule by the family of President Bashar al-Assad.
Mangled bodies and severed limbs lay on the pavement outside the military and security service buildings that were targeted - as shown in live footage on Syrian television, which has consistently portrayed the revolt against President Assad as the work of foreign-backed "terrorists".
No one claimed responsibility for the Aleppo bombings but they took place as Assad's forces grow more ferocious in operations to crush the uprising. Some opposition figures accused the government of manipulating events to discredit them.
Friday saw more unrest across the country, with activists reporting that security forces opened fire in Latakia, in the town of Dael in Deraa province, and elsewhere to break up demonstrations taking place after weekly Muslim prayers.
In Damascus, members of the Free Syrian Army fought for four hours with troops backed by armored vehicles who had entered al-Qaboun neighborhood in the north of the capital during a protest one mile from the main Abbaside Square, activists said.
The rebels said they had sustained several casualties but it was not known if any had died of their wounds.
In the western city of Homs, where a week of bombardments has killed dozens of civilians and drawn condemnation from world leaders, four people were killed in the opposition-held neighborhoods of Baba Amro and Bab Sebaa, the activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Troops also opened fire as worshippers left a mosque in Homs after Friday prayers.
Activists in Homs said shelling started up again in the morning and they feared a big push was imminent to storm residential areas of the city that has come to symbolize the plight of those opposing the Assad government.
"The carnage in Homs continues and the martyrdom of the Syrian people continues," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said. "Not only are we seeing an army that is massacring its own people, but for the Syrian army hospitals and doctors have become systematic targets for repression."
At the United Nations, Saudi Arabia circulated a draft resolution backing an Arab peace plan for Syria among members of the U.N. General Assembly on Friday after a similar text was vetoed in the Security Council last week by Russia and China, diplomats said.
The new draft appeared as two advisers to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon repeated a warning that Syrian government attacks on civilians could amount to crimes against humanity.
Like the failed council resolution, the assembly draft "fully supports" the Arab League plan floated last month, which among other things calls for President Assad to step aside.
Russia and China cast their vetoes in the council last Saturday saying the draft there was unbalanced and failed to blame Syria's opposition, along with the government, for violence that has killed over 5,000 people, according to U.N. figures.
There are no vetoes in the General Assembly. The 193-nation body's resolutions have no legal force, unlike those of the Security Council, but were the Syria text to pass it would add to pressure on Assad and his government.
The assembly is due to discuss Syria on Monday, when it will be addressed by U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay. Diplomats said the resolution was not expected to be voted on then, but that there could be a vote later next week.
The assembly draft, seen by Reuters, broadly follows the one voted down in the council. While calling for an end to violence by all sides, it lays blame primarily on the Syrian authorities, whom it strongly condemns for "continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms."
The draft urges accountability for those guilty of human rights violations, but makes no specific mention of the International Criminal Court, to which Pillay has said Syrian officials should be sent. Only the Security Council can refer Syria to the court - an unlikely move given its divisions.
In one addition to the council text, the assembly draft invites Secretary-General Ban to appoint a special envoy for Syria - a proposal that Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby put to the U.N. chief earlier this week.
In a statement, Francis Deng, Ban's adviser on prevention of genocide, and Edward Luck, his adviser on the responsibility to protect, said they were alarmed by Syrian security forces' "indiscriminate fire" on densely populated areas of the city of Homs.
Reiterating a warning from last July, they said such attacks could constitute crimes against humanity under international law. "The presence of armed elements among the population does not render attacks against civilians legal," they said.
(Additional reporting By Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; Editing by Michael Roddy)