Saturday, June 2, 2012

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NATO: 4 aid workers rescued from Afghan insurgents

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Two female foreign aid workers and their two Afghan colleagues were rescued in a pre-dawn raid Saturday after being held by militants for 11 days in a cave in northern Afghanistan, the U.S.-led military coalition said.
The women — Helen Johnston and Moragwe Oirere — and the two Afghans were kidnapped on May 22 in Badakhshan province. The four work for Medair, a humanitarian non-governmental organization based near Lausanne, Switzerland.
U.S. Gen. John Allen, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that coalition forces conducted the rescue mission with the support of the Afghan Ministry of Interior. Afghan officials said seven militants were killed during the operation, which was launched around 1 a.m. Saturday.
Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a coalition spokesman, said a helicopter rescue team reached the scene before dawn and confirmed that the hostages were there.
"The kidnappers were armed with heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s," Cummings said. "They were kidnapped by an armed terrorist group with ties to the Taliban."
The aid workers appeared to be in good health, but they will be evaluated before being reunited with their families, he said.
Shams ul-Rahman, the deputy governor of Badakhshan province, said the hostages were being held in Gulati, a village in Shahri Buzurg district. It is a mountainous and forested area near the Tajikistan border in extreme northern Afghanistan about 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the district center.
"Mostly smugglers are based in those areas, but of course the smugglers have the support of the Taliban," Rahman said.
He said Afghan elders in the area had worked to seek the release of the aid workers.
"A group of elders was about to go to the village and start negotiations," Rahman said. "Based on intelligence reports that Afghan forces received, a successful operation was conducted that resulted in the release of the hostages and the killing of the kidnappers."
Elsewhere, four Afghan policemen were killed in two explosions Friday evening and Saturday morning in southern Afghanistan.
Both attacks involved bombs hidden in motorcycles that exploded as police vehicles were passing by in Tarin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province, said Gulab Khan, the director of the criminal investigation department in the province. Each attack killed two policemen. Two other policemen were wounded in Saturday's blast, he said.
Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Repsol gives up on Cuba

Cuba Seeks to Diversify Exports to Boost Economy

Cuban names: Please call me... Canned Meat

Cuba and America: Beyond Cold War Vendettas 

 Repsol's Decision Smokes Out Cuba's Oil Ambitions 

Belarus and Cuba discussed the Soviet perspective

U.N. report blasts Cuba over human rights abuses

Clinton declines comment on China espionage case

OSLO (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to comment on Friday on the arrest of a Chinese state security official suspected of spying for the United States, saying only that the two countries continued to cooperate on many issues.
The official, an aide to a vice minister in China's security ministry, was detained early this year and accused of passing information to the United States for several years on China's overseas espionage activities, three sources earlier told Reuters.
Sources said both countries had kept the case quiet for several months to prevent a fresh crisis in relations.
"I am not going to comment on the report you just cited," Clinton told a reporter at a news conference.
Asked if there were any issues that had arisen in recent months that would prevent the United States and China from cooperating on matters of mutual interest, she replied: "The answer is no."
"We have a very important, comprehensive relationship with China that is inclusive of a very broad range of important concerns. We cooperate on many areas ... That doesn't mean we agree on every issue, because we certainly do not," she added.
Clinton said the two countries' relationship had hit problems from time to time, but it was in their mutual interest to maintain the link.
"The goal for our relationship with China is to ensure that we defy history," Clinton said. "It has never happened that an established, preeminent power, and a rising power, have been able to find a way to not only coexist but cooperate ... We intend to make history with our relationship with China."
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Egypt's Mubarak sentenced to life in prison

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's ex-President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison Saturday for his role in the killing of protesters during last year's revolution that forced him from power, a verdict that caps a stunning fall from grace for a man who ruled the country as his personal fiefdom for nearly three decades.
The 84-year-old Mubarak, the first Arab leader to be tried in his own country, was ferried by helicopter away from the police academy where the trial was held to the Torah prison in Cairo where his sons and members of his regime have been either serving prison sentences or held pending trials over a variety of corruption charges.
Mubarak ruled with unchecked power for 29 years — an era stained by allegations of widespread corruption, police abuses and a strong grip on power by the ruling party.
The harsh sentence against Mubarak, which can be appealed, appeared aimed at defusing tensions ahead of a divisive runoff presidential race that pits Mubarak's last prime minister against the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate.
Mubarak, wearing sunglasses and lying in a gurney, remained silent inside the defendants' cage, surrounded by his once-powerful sons who appeared nervous and had dark circles under their eyes. His elder son Alaa whispered verses from the Quran.
Lawyers representing families of the slain protesters expressed dismay at the ruling after the judge described the case against Mubarak as weak, lacking material evidence or recordings. They feared that the acquittal of six Interior Ministry officials would be used in the appeal to overturn the ruling.
"This ruling is politicized and will be overturned on appeal," said Hisham Naguib, a lawyer representing families of 23 slain protesters and 36 who were wounded as Egyptian security forces cracked down on mass protests that began by calling for reform but escalated to demand Mubarak step down. He did so on Feb. 11, 2011, ceding power to a military council that itself quickly came under criticism for moving too slowly to transition to civilian rule.
Judge Ahmed Rifaat delivered a strongly worded statement before handing down the sentences. Mubarak, who wore sunglasses and a light brown jacket over his clothes, and his co-defendants were in an iron cage.
Rifaat described Mubarak's era as "30 years of darkness" and "a darkened nightmare" that ended only when Egyptians rose up to demand change.
"They peacefully demanded democracy from rulers who held tight grip on power," the judge said.
Rifaat, who was presiding over his last court session before he retires, said Mubarak and el-Adly did not act to stop the killings during 18-day days of mass protests that were met by a deadly crackdown of security forces on unarmed demonstrators. More than 850 protesters were killed, most shot to death, in Cairo and other major cities.
Mubarak and his two sons — Gamal and Alaa — were acquitted on corruption charges, but the sons still faced a separate trial on charges of insider trading. Ex-interior minister Habib el-Adly also was sentenced to life for the protester killings. Six other security officials were acquitted.
As the news of the sentence initially came through to hundreds of protesters and relatives of victims outside the court compound, jubilation erupted with dozens of anti-Mubarak protesters jumping up and down and waving Egyptian flags and their fists in the air.
Scuffles then between Mubarak supporters and opponents broke out inside and outside the courtroom after the verdict was read, reflecting the deep polarization of the country after more than a year of turmoil. Helmeted riot police also clashed with protesters.
"The people want to cleanse the judiciary," lawyers chanted inside the courtroom after the verdict. Some raised banners that read, "God's verdict is execution."
Rock throwing and fist fights left at least 20 people injured, and a police official said that four people were arrested. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Thousands of riot police and policemen riding horses had cordoned off the building to prevent protesters and relatives of those slain during the uprising from getting too close. Hundreds stood outside, waving Egyptian flags and chanting slogans demanding "retribution." Some spread Mubarak's picture on the asphalt and walked over it.
Mubarak's verdict came just days after presidential elections have been boiled down to a June 16-17 contest between Mubarak's last prime minister, one-time protege Ahmed Shafiq, and Mubarak's top foe, a Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi.
Associated Press writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report.