Monday, July 9, 2012

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Chavez: Rival trying to destabilize Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez and his allies accused opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles on Sunday of trying to provoke violence by campaigning in areas that have been bastions of support for the incumbent leader.
Chavez accused Capriles of trying to spur violence as part of a broader plan aimed at creating widespread political upheaval ahead of Venezuela's looming Oct. 7 presidential election.
"They are going to try to destabilize the country. I've been saying it and everybody should be alert," said Chavez, speaking to soldiers during a ceremony to promote military officers.
The socialist leader spoke after a scuffle Saturday involving stone-throwing Chavistas and opposition sympathizers who joined Capriles as he led a march in the poor Caracas district of La Vega. Police forced him to turn back without completing the march.
"Yesterday, for example, a very lamentable incident occurred. But it's evidence of this plan," Chavez said, speaking in front of hundreds of uniformed soldiers at Venezuela's largest military fort. "We must neutralize the destabilization plans."
Pro-Chavez lawmaker Juan Carlos Aleman echoed the president's accusations.
Capriles demonstrated "an irresponsible attitude by staging an event in a neighborhood that backs President Chavez," said Aleman.
Capriles called for calm and attempted to avoid any violence amid the tussle, which police broke up before violence escalated. No major injuries were reported.
"I'm not walking Venezuela's streets to fight with anybody," Capriles said. It was not the candidate's first foray into a Chavez bastion.
So far, campaigning ahead of an Oct. 7 presidential vote has mostly been peaceful, but observers warn the deep political polarization and rising tensions between allies and adversaries of Chavez could boil over, making for a potentially violent campaign.
"There is a risk that minor clashes between supporters of both camps could escalate and threaten social peace. The distrust is profound, and arms are plentiful," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. "It is likely that cooler heads will prevail and the violence will be kept in check, but that is far from assured."
Capriles is seeking to shore up support from working-class and poor Venezuelans, which make up most of the country's 19 million voters.
Chavez denied that he's attempting to undermine Capriles' efforts to make inroads in poverty-stricken barrios.
"There has never been so much freedom in this country to exercise politics," he said.
Chavez, a former paratroop commander, noted that he has barely begun campaigning because he's still recovering from cancer treatment and attending day-to-day duties as president, but he expressed optimism that he'd defeat Capriles at the polls.
Over the past 13 months, Chavez has undergone two surgeries that removed tumors from his pelvic region, most recently in February. Chavez he has not disclosed key details about his illness including the type of cancer he's fighting or the precise location of the tumors.
Following his cancer treatments, Chavez has appeared in public less frequently, preferring to address Venezuelans during marathon speeches broadcast on television and radio.
"I'm sure we are going to win the election. Of course, we have to work hard," he said.
Capriles' campaign manager, Armando Briquet, called on the National Electoral Council to send representatives to the area.
Election officials have not yet responded to the request.

Syria's Assad rejects comparison with Egypt, Libya

BERLIN (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview broadcast Sunday that he is not afraid of meeting the same fate as the deposed and disgraced leaders of Libya and Egypt, saying he has nothing in common with them.
In one of his rare interviews with Western media since the deadly uprising in Syria erupted last year, Assad brushed off a question about whether he feared for his family, including his wife and three children.
"It's a completely different situation," he told German broadcaster ARD. "What's happening in Egypt is different from what is happening in Syria ... You cannot compare," he said.
He also rejected any comparisons with Libya, where rebels helped by NATO air strikes toppled the regime. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed while fleeing advancing opposition fighters.
"Describing what happened to al Gadhafi, this is savage, this is crime," he said in the interview which was conducted in English.
The 16 months of upheaval in Syria, spurred by the Arab Spring's pro-democracy movements across the Middle East, have left well over 14,000 people dead, according to activists. They accuse the autocratic ruler of crushing legitimate protests seeking reforms by waging a war against his own people.
But in the interview, the 46-year-old Assad who has ruled Syria since taking over from his father in 2000, accused the U.S. of fueling the uprising, saying that Washington ultimately bears responsibility for the deaths of innocent civilians in the Middle Eastern nation.
The U.S. is partnering with those "terrorists ... with weapons, money or public and political support at the United Nations," Assad said. "They offer the umbrella and political support to those gangs to ... destabilize Syria."
Assad rejected responsibility of his security forces for the violence, claiming that "supporters of the government, the victims from the security and the army" far outnumber those among civilians.
Instead, he told ARD that an opposition made up of terrorists, gangs, "a mixture, an amalgam of Al Qaida (and) other extremists" is responsible for the violence.
When asked directly about the killing of more than 100 civilians in the Syrian village of Houla in May, he blamed it on gangs who "came in hundreds from outside the city."
The massacre caused an international outcry, and U.N. investigators have since concluded that Syrian government troops could be behind the killings.
Assad said a "majority of the people ask for reforms, political reforms (but) not freedom." He stressed that he still had the overall support of Syria's people, firmly ruling out stepping down.
"The president shouldn't run away from challenge and we have a national challenge now in Syria," he said.
While he said he was ready for political dialogue with the opposition, Assad left no doubt that he would fight those his government perceives as terrorists.
"But as long as you have terrorism and as long as the dialogue didn't work, you have to fight the terrorism. You cannot keep just making dialogue while they are killing your people and your army," he said.
The main obstacles to a peaceful solution to the conflict are the nations supporting the opposition, namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar who send armaments, Turkey which helps with logistics and smuggling across the border and, finally, U.S. political support, he said.
The interview, the third Assad has given to a Western news organization since last year, was conducted Thursday in a government guest house in Damascus and recorded by Syria's state television, according to ARD.
The interview for ARD's foreign policy program Weltspiegel was conducted by Juergen Todenhoefer, a former media executive and lawmaker for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party. He has published a number of books and essays on Islam, the war against terror in the years since the Sept. 11 attacks, and on Iraq and Afghanistan.
When Todenhoefer asked Assad how Syria would react to a military intervention, the Syrian leader vowed to stand up to the attackers.
"Whether you're prepared or not, you've got to defend your country, but you have to be prepared," he said.
In a show of force, Syria began large-scale military exercises Sunday to simulate defending the country against outside "aggression."
Some in Syria's fractured opposition have appealed to the West for foreign forces to step in to stop the bloodshed, but Western nations are reluctant to intervene in Syria in part because unlike the military intervention that helped bring down Gadhafi in Libya, the Syrian conflict has the potential to quickly escalate.
Damascus has a web of allegiances to powerful forces including Shiite powerhouse Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah and there are concerns that a military campaign could pull them into a wider conflagration.
Damascus' staunchest ally, Iran, meanwhile, warned Sunday of a "catastrophe" in the region if no political solution to the Syrian conflict is found.
And Syria's other main partner, Russia, has over the past months prevented the U.N. Security Council from adopting tougher measures.
U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan, who is the architect of an international plan to end the crisis, acknowledged in an interview published Saturday that the international community's efforts to find a political solution to the escalating violence in Syria have failed. Annan arrived in the Syrian capital Sunday for talks with Assad, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
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Juergen Baetz can be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jbaetz

Six U.S. Troops Killed in Eastern Afghanistan Blast

Six American troops were killed in a roadside blast today in eastern Afghanistan, a U.S. official told ABC News. Details about the deadly incident remain vague.
Earlier today, a press release by NATO's International Security Assistance Force said six ISAF servicemembers "died following an improvised explosive device attack in eastern Afghanistan today."
The nationalities of the victims were not identified because "it is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities," the statement said.
A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News that the six killed in today's attack were Americans, but did not have specific details about the incident.
Roadside bombings have been the main cause of casualties for U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan, but Afghan civilians have also suffered at the hands of IEDs.
Two roadside bombs went off earlier today in Kandahar Province, killing at least 14 civilians, including women and children.
Most of the roadside bombs used in Afghanistan are made with the fertilizer ammonium nitrate. Efforts to reduce the smuggling of that fertilizer from Pakistan have proven mixed.
Top military leaders have said that eastern Afghanistan will be the focus of security efforts over the next two years as NATO troops prepare to leave by the end of 2014.
Most of the NATO troops operating in eastern Afghanistan are American.
By the middle of next year, Afghan Security Forces will be in the lead for security throughout Afghanistan, with U.S. troops in a combat support role.