Thursday, June 14, 2012

LPP News Update...

AG Holder proposes meeting by Monday with Issa

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder is proposing to meet with Rep. Darrell Issa by Monday to settle a dispute over Justice Department documents the congressman is demanding on a flawed gun-smuggling probe.
Holder said Thursday the department is prepared to turn over documents detailing how Justice Department officials came to the realization that federal agents in Arizona had used a controversial investigative tactic that resulted in hundreds of illicitly purchased guns winding up in Mexico, many of them at crime scenes. Two of the weapons were recovered at the scene of the slaying of a U.S. border agent, Brian Terry.
In a letter to Issa, the attorney general said the information he is prepared to provide will fully address concerns of the congressman and House Republican leaders. Issa, R-Calif., has scheduled a committee vote for next Wednesday on a contempt citation against Holder for failing to turn over relevant documents on the operation and its aftermath.
Along with the documents, the attorney general said the department is prepared to provide a briefing "explaining how the department's understanding of the facts of Fast and Furious evolved."
When problems with Operation Fast and Furious came to light in early 2011, the Justice Department denied to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that agents in the operation had relied on gun-walking — letting illicitly purchased guns be transported instead of intercepted in an effort to track them to major arms-traffickers. The tactic has long been barred by Justice Department policy, although Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents in Arizona experimented with it during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
Holder said that over a period of months in 2011, the Justice Department backed off its initial denials as documents to be provided to Issa's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were collected and reviewed and as witness testimony before the committee was evaluated.
"Evidence came to light that was inconsistent with the initial denials provided to department personnel," Holder's letter stated.

yrian town deserted, burnt after clashes

HAFFEH, Syria (Reuters) - The Syrian town of Haffeh was smoldering and nearly deserted on Thursday after days of clashes between government forces and rebels, while activists reported more army assaults on pro-opposition areas across the country.
United Nations monitors had been trying to enter the town after several days of fighting but were forced to turn back on Tuesday when a crowd attacked them.
They finally gained access on Thursday to find state buildings burnt down, shops abandoned and a body lying in the street. Smoke rose from destroyed buildings and burnt-out cars littered the roads. There were signs of heavy bombardment.
Only a handful of residents could be seen and one man said 26,000 people had fled.
Rebels pulled out of the town this week saying the thousands of remaining citizens risked being killed in cold blood, a warning echoed by the United States.
Violence has surged in recent weeks after rebels abandoned a ceasefire negotiated by international envoy Kofi Annan in his efforts to ease the conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and the movement fighting to end his family's four decade rule.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists across the country, said 44 people were killed on Thursday. Most were civilians and rebels but there were also three security personnel among the dead, it added.
Assad's forces have used troops, tanks and helicopters to hit rebel-controlled suburbs near the capital Damascus, parts of eastern Deir al-Zor province and villages in the northern and western parts of Aleppo province, near the Turkish border.
In Douma, about 15 km (10 miles) from Damascus, activists said tanks had entered the city outskirts and government forces were battling rebel fighters. At least two people were killed and 15 wounded, they added.
"It is a war today," said an activist who called himself Ziad, speaking on Skype over the thump of shelling and the rattle of machinegun fire. "There are 10 tanks on the outskirts, but the rebels have destroyed one of them."
The uprising against Assad's rule began as a peaceful pro-democracy movement in March 2011 but in the face of a crackdown by his forces has turned into an armed insurgency.
"There has been a dangerous escalation of armed violence across Syria," said Sausan Ghosheh, spokeswoman for the U.N. monitors observing the now-collapsed ceasefire.
"They (residents) want the violence to stop and so do we, but the U.N. Supervision Mission cannot impose a ceasefire. The path of non-violence is a choice for the welfare of all Syrians."
The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed by government forces, while Syria says at least 2,600 members of the military and security forces have been killed by what it calls foreign-backed "Islamist terrorists".
State news channel Syria TV said security forces had arrested a man who was part of Jabhat al-Nusra, a little known militant group that has claimed several suicide bombings in Syria. It said the man was planning to blow himself up at a mosque on Friday.
World powers are divided over the next move.
Russia and China, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power, have blocked efforts by Western powers to condemn Assad or call for his removal.
Diplomats said world powers were working towards holding a crisis meeting on Syria in Geneva on June 30 to try to get the Annan plan back on track.
Annan, who represents the United Nations and the Arab League, has called for a Contact Group to be convened as soon as possible, but the United States is opposed to the involvement of Iran, Syria's main ally in the region.
Two diplomats told Reuters they were hoping to have a meeting on the 30th, but a third said Iran's participation was still a sticking point.
Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the envoy was having urgent meetings to reach consensus on the shape and formula for the meeting. If one was held, it would aim to "give teeth" to the Annan plan, not to create a new one, he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday Washington had information Russia was supplying Syria with helicopters, which have been used in government assaults on towns and cities.
Syria's ambassador to Moscow told Reuters on Thursday that Russia was "not delivering any helicopters to Syria".
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Chris Buckley in Beijing, Nastassia Astrasheuskaya and Thomas Grove in Moscow, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Cuba's cardinal under fire for comments

HAVANA (AP) — For months, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega has been under fire: called a lackey and political ally of Raul Castro's communist government, asked to resign over his treatment of protesters and ridiculed in Miami as a snobby elitist.
Now, Cuba's Roman Catholic Church is fighting back.
Church officials on the island have launched a full-throated defense of their leader, and Catholic publications have harshly denounced his critics. Analysts say the increasingly virulent back-and-forth is extremely unusual on an island where the church has traditionally preferred to exercise influence quietly, behind the scenes.
And it comes at a time when the cardinal could have reasonably expected to be taking a victory lap; he has just organized a high-profile visit by Pope Benedict XVI and is likely nearing the end of his tenure. As is customary, Ortega handed his resignation to the pope when he turned 75 last year, but Benedict has not yet accepted it.
"What surprises me this time is not that there are attacks, because there have always been attacks," said Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban-American businessman and one-time hardline anti-Castro militant who has become a voice for reconciliation between Miami and Havana. "It's the voracity of the attacks, their forcefulness."
Ortega's troubles began shortly before Benedict's March 26-28 visit, and many believe they are a direct result of concessions the cardinal made to ensure its success.
Some say he held back criticism of the government in the months preceding the trip, and looked the other way as some dissidents were rounded up. Then, days before Benedict arrived, Ortega had police called in to break up a sit-in at a Havana church by a group of protesters who were demanding a papal audience and political change on the island.
In a speech at Harvard University in April, Ortega defended the eviction and described the protesters as "former delinquents" with "no culture." He also insisted that he had acted properly in helping negotiate the release of dozens of political prisoners in 2009 and 2010.
Most of the freed prisoners accepted exile in Spain, and some have since criticized Ortega for not doing enough to fight for their right to remain in their homeland. Ortega told the audience at Harvard's Rockefeller Center of Latin American Studies that the prisoners' own families had requested exile, a version the family members deny.
The blowback to Ortega's speech was immediate, and sharper than any the cardinal has faced during a long career atop the island's Catholic hierarchy.
"Ortega's attitude only demonstrates his political complicity with the government," the director of U.S.-funded Radio and TV Marti Carlos Garcia-Perez wrote in an editorial in April. "This is a lackey's attitude."
Exile blogs in South Florida began calling for Ortega's resignation. One political cartoon that appeared in Miami's El Nuevo Herald showed the cardinal and a military-clad Castro singing a love song together. Another depicted a snobby priest telling a worshipper that Ortega required proof of his cultural worthiness before he would be allowed to attend Mass.
In response, Church publications have put out a series of articles and editorials lauding Ortega as a brave advocate for Cuba's dissidents, and one of the few people on the island with the courage to speak his mind directly to Castro.
Supporters say Ortega has prodded Castro in face-to-face meetings to open the country to more private enterprise, and has allowed Catholic magazines to publish essays on the need for more reform that would never have been allowed in the state-run press.
In a letter emailed to foreign journalists on Monday, a council of Catholic community groups in Havana called Ortega a patriot who is motivated by love for Cuba and the church to bring about dialogue. Cuban bishops issued an earlier statement saying they saw in the recent criticism a plan to destroy Ortega's reputation and harm the church.
By far the strongest defense has come from Orlando Marquez, a top church spokesman who published a battle cry against his boss's critics last month.
"Those who repudiate dialogue will never cease to open fire because that is their mission," Marquez wrote in Palabra Nueva, the Catholic magazine he puts out. "They want to blow up any effort at understanding."
Those sentiments — if not the belligerent phrasing — have been echoed by many of Ortega's allies, including Saladrigas and Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who has long pushed his flock toward greater dialogue with their homeland.
"To suggest that somehow he is a lackey of the regime is ludicrous," Wenski told The Associated Press. "Some of the cardinal's harshest critics here are looking for a scenario that is easy to advocate outside of Cuba. They are thinking that there is some way to bring down the Cuban regime overnight."
Still, the cardinal's problems are not limited to Miami. Several prominent dissidents have been critical in recent weeks. Guillermo Farinas, a hunger striker and winner of Europe's 2010 Sakharov prize, has called the cardinal a sellout. Martha Beatriz Roque, a former political prisoner, accused him of bowing his head before the government.
Ortega met for more than three hours on June 7 with members of the island's best known opposition group, the Ladies in White, in an effort to clear the air. Ladies leader Bertha Soler said that she was satisfied with the meeting and that the cardinal "was very receptive."
But she made clear that she would keep pressure on the cardinal to advocate on her group's behalf, saying: "Our main objective here is for the Cardinal to know that we are women who get thrown in jail and suffer repression."
Enrique Lopez Oliva, a professor of religious history at the University of Havana who has known Ortega for many years, said the church's defensiveness is a symptom of the difficult role in which it finds itself in a country with no traditional opposition parties or independent institutions.
"The cardinal has insisted the church is not a political party, but in Cuba there are no political alternatives, so like it or not, that is the role the church has assumed," he said. "To me, it is a political defense of an institution that is preparing to have a role, as far as it is able, in a post-Castro era. They must be very careful with each step."
Associated Press reporters Andrea Rodriguez in Havana and Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami contributed to this report.
Follow Paul Haven on Twitter: