Monday, July 30, 2012

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Key role for Bill Clinton at Democratic convention

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton will have a marquee role in this summer's Democratic National Convention, where he will make a forceful case for President Barack Obama's re-election and his economic vision for the country, several Obama campaign and Democratic party officials said Sunday.
The move gives the Obama campaign an opportunity to take advantage of the former president's immense popularity and remind voters that a Democrat was in the White House the last time the American economy was thriving.
Obama personally asked Clinton to speak at the convention and place Obama's name in nomination, and Clinton enthusiastically accepted, officials said. Clinton speaks regularly to Obama and to campaign officials about strategy.
Clinton's prominent role at the convention will also allow Democrats to embrace party unity in a way that is impossible for Republican rival Mitt Romney.
George W. Bush, the last Republican to hold the White House, remains politically toxic in some circles. While Bush has endorsed Romney, he is not involved in his campaign and has said he does not plan to attend the GOP convention.
Clinton will speak in prime-time at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 5, the night before Obama formally accepts the party nomination. While the number two on the ticket often speaks that night, the Obama campaign has instead decided that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will speak on the same night.
Biden will speak before Obama on Sept. 6, in front of tens of thousands of people expected to fill an outdoor stadium in Charlotte, and millions more on television.
The vice president's speech will focus on outlining many of the challenges the White House has faced over the past four years and the decisions Obama made to address them, officials said.
"To us it's about deploying our assets in the most effective way," Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said. "To have President Clinton on Wednesday night laying out the choice facing voters, and then having Vice President Biden speak right before the president in prime time on Thursday, giving a testimony to the decisions the president has made, the character of his leadership and the battle to rebuild the middle class that's so central to our message."
Clinton's role at the convention was to be formally announced Monday. It was first reported by The New York Times.
Clinton spoke at the 2008 convention, part of a healing process for the Democratic party following the heated primary battle between Obama and the former president's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Since then, the ties between Obama and Bill Clinton have strengthened significantly. Obama has called on the former president for advice several times during his term and the two have appeared together this year at campaign fundraisers for Obama's re-election bid.
Associated Press writer Beth Fouhy in New York contributed to this report.

Swimming showdown looms, weather, transport fine

LONDON (Reuters) - Swimming's biggest names slug it out in the men's 200 metre freestyle on Monday as the weather stayed cool but sunny and London's transport system defied predictions of gridlock on the first regular working day of the Olympic Games.
London's transport bosses expect an extra three million journeys per day on top of the usual 12 million during the Games, an Olympian test for an underground train network that first opened in 1863 during the reign of Queen Victoria.
But on the first morning rush hour since the Games opened on Friday night, commuters said buses, trains and the metro were working surprisingly smoothly with a few hiccups, and roads were generally clear.
"It's nothing like they warned it would be," said Letizia, an Italian living in London, at London Bridge station. "They said we'd have to queue thirty minutes just to get on the Tube but I ended up getting to work an hour early."
The city has implemented Olympic-only traffic lanes for the exclusive use of athletes and officials and set traffic lights to stay red for longer.
At Olympic venues, a scandal over empty seats showed no immediate signs of abating. Sports fans all over Britain who tried and failed to get tickets to the Games have been angered by television footage of empty seats at some of the hottest events, including tennis, swimming and gymnastics.
Organising committee chairman Sebastian Coe said the missing spectators were mostly officials from sports federations, other Games officials or their families and friends.
Ticketing confusion also led to the opposite problem - overcrowding - in at least one instance on Monday. Dozens of angry ticketholders trying to get into the men's 10m air rifle competition at Royal Artillery Barracks were turned away because the venue was too full.
A venue manager said the problem was that ticketholders did not understand that their "general admission" tickets meant that seats would be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Later on Monday American Ryan Lochte, Sun Yang of China and France's Yannick Agnel were due to chase a second London gold in one of the most anticipated races in the pool, the 200 freestyle.
Lochte won gold in the 400 individual medley, trouncing his compatriot Michael Phelps, Sun triumphed in the 400 freestyle and Agnel beat Lochte to clinch a shock gold for France with a devastating surge on the last length of Sunday's 4x100 relay.
Monday's race also includes world record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany and South Korea's Park Tae-hwan, a line-up that could decide bragging rights over who is the best male swimmer at the Games.
Also up for grabs are the men's 100 backstroke, where Matt Grevers of the U.S. qualified fastest, the women's 100 backstroke where Australia's Emily Seebohm almost broke the world record in qualifying, and the women's 100 breaststroke in which 15-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte leads the field.
On Sunday, South Africa's Cameron Van der Burgh and American Dana Vollmer set world records in the men's 100 breaststroke and women's 100 butterfly respectively, both erasing times set in 2009 before buoyancy-boosting polyurethane bodysuits were banned.
Van der Burgh became the first South African male to win individual Olympic swimming gold.
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, trying to become the first male swimmer to win gold in the same event at three successive Olympics, could only finish fifth.
There was a further pool gold for France when top-ranked Camille Muffat won the women's 400 freestyle.
Phelps's silver in the relay was his first in these Games, which along with his 14 previous golds and two bronzes left him one shy of the all-time record of 18 medals held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
The weather early on Monday was cool with only a 20 percent chance of rain - happy odds for Britons who have suffered one of their worst summers in years, including the wettest June in a century.
British cyclist Lizzie Armitstead maintained that it was the rainstorms on Sunday afternoon that helped her land the host nation's first medal of the games, a silver.
"What a ride by Lizzie, she was doing a rain dance this morning, praying for rain. You think I'm kidding - she really was," Team GB performance director David Brailsford told reporters.
The race was won by favourite Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, who was desperate for road gold after finishing second in the last five road race world championships.
Overall, China took a commanding early lead in the rankings with 12 medals, six of them gold, ahead of the United States on 11 medals including three golds.
China's Guo Wenjun retained her Olympic title in the 10 metre air pistol shooting on Sunday while compatriots Wu Minxia and He Zi took their expected easy gold in the women's synchronised three-metre springboard diving.
The Chinese team can expect to add another gold by Yuan Cao and Yanquan Zhang in the 10-metre synchronised platform diving on Monday and the squad will also try to challenge the American favourites for the men's gymnastics team gold.
The latest U.S. basketball "Dream Team", this time featuring LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, began their title defence with a slick 98-71 defeat of France, drawing 'oohs' from the crowd with no-look assists, thunderous dunks and sublime handling.
South Korea's women extended their domination of Olympic archery by winning a seventh straight team gold although they needed a near-perfect nine from their last arrow to overcome China who took their third successive silver.
But there was nothing close to perfection from U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber, the world champion who fled from reporters as her dreams of landing the all-round Olympic crown were shattered.
A scrappy floor routine and a far-below-par balance beam display meant it was her team mates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman who qualified instead for the individual final.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Update on Castro's European Hostages

Sunday, July 29, 2012
Here's the latest on Angel Carromero and Aron Modig, the Spanish and Swedish survivors of the car crash that claimed the life of Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya:

- Carromero has been transferred to the Department of Technical Investigation of the nefarious Ministry of the Interior in Havana, where he remains detained.

- Spanish diplomats have been prohibited from seeing Carromero since Monday of last week -- the day after the accident.

- The Swedish government has publicly stated that Modig's continued detention in Havana is unjustified.

Meanwhile, Paya's widow has rejected the Castro regime's "official" report, which blamed the accident on driver error and stated:

"Until I'm able to speak with Angel and Aron, the last two people who saw my husband alive, have access to the expert reports and have the advice of people independent of the Cuban government, I can't have an idea of what really happened that day."

On U.S. Policy

"US assistance and trade policy can help democracies in Latin America to provide an answer to populist dictators. At the same time, we must speak out for dissidents – from Cuba to Venezuela to Nicaragua."

-- Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, Financial Times, 7/26/12

"With Romney there would be a more sensible policy that foments and supports democratic countries and market economies, and a firmer and more significant opposition against Chavez and Castro."

-- Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor, EFE, 7/27/12

Statements on Odebrecht Walkout

U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) released the following statement after walking out on the opening of Miami International Airport’s new Metrorail station:

American aid worker Alan Gross is being held hostage, numerous pro-democracy activists have been murdered, and it is just days after the violent death of Oswaldo Payá. I will not sit idly listening to the representative of the company that profits from Castro’s blood money.”

And House Foreign Affairs Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL):

"I'm hopeful that under Mayor Gimenez's leadership, the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars will not further flow into the pockets of a company that refuses to sever its economic ties with the blood soaked Castro regime. Along with my Congressional colleagues, I walked out in protest of the company's business dealings with a tyrannical dictator. Using taxpayers' money to pay companies that deal with Castro's dictatorship means that Americans are being forced to fund unethical behavior against their will."

US, Amnesty International criticise Cuba

Thursday, July 26, 2012 » 02:15pm

Cuba was criticized by the U.S. government and Amnesty International on Wednesday over the brief detention of dozens of dissidents after they attended a prominent opposition leader's funeral.
A few hundred people had gathered at a Havana church the previous day to pay respects to Oswaldo Paya, who died Sunday in a car crash, when a scrum broke out outside between dissidents yelling 'freedom!' and state security agents.
Police herded more than 40 people onto buses, according to noted dissident hunger-striker Guillermo Farinas. They were taken to police stations and released within hours.
Cuba, which considers members of the island's small dissident community to be 'counterrevolutionaries' bent on undermining the government, has cleared its prisons of internationally recognized prisoners of conscience in recent years. Dissidents say authorities have since turned to brief detentions such as those seen Tuesday.
The short-term arrests 'aim to produce physical and psychological wear and tear among the opposition,' said Farinas, who like Paya is a past winner of the European Union's Sakharov human rights prize.
Dissidents accused police of rough treatment, but there were no reports of any serious injuries.
The White House said in a Wednesday statement that the detentions 'provide a stark demonstration of the climate of repression in Cuba.'
'We look forward to the day when the Cuban people can live in the free society Oswaldo Paya worked so hard to bring about throughout his lifetime,' it read.
Human rights group Amnesty International also criticized the arrests.
'Tuesday's events follow the pattern of short-term detentions and imprisonments we've seen the Cuban authorities carry out time and again as a form of intimidation against dissidents and human rights activists,' said Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty's Cuba researcher.
There was no word of the detentions in Cuban state media, which rarely mention dissidents except to accuse them of being paid stooges of the U.S. government. Island newspapers have reported Paya's death, but without mentioning his opposition activities.
A rental car carrying Paya, another Cuban dissident, and two Europeans crashed Sunday in the eastern province of Granma, killing Paya and the other Cuban.
State media said the accident happened when the driver of the vehicle lost control and hit a tree.
A member of the Spanish conservative ruling party's youth wing was apparently behind the wheel. Both he and a Swede belonging to a political youth organization suffered minor injuries. They made statements to police and were being assisted by officials from their respective embassies, but have not spoken to the news media.
There have been some conflicting accounts of the crash including speculation it could have been intentional, and dissidents demanded a transparent investigation.
'We will clear up and seek justice for the violent death of my father,' daughter Rosa Maria Paya said Tuesday at the church.
Paya, 60, was a leading government opponent who in the late 1990s and early 2000s headed up the Varela Project, which gathered thousands of signatures calling for political and economic change.

Cuba dissident's widow rejects death report

The widow of leading Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya has rejected a government report that blamed the car crash that killed her husband on the driver, saying she had been denied access to information.
Ofelia Acevedo criticized officials for not allowing her to talk to the survivors, Spanish driver Angel Carromero and Swedish political activist Jens Aron Modig, who have been kept in custody since the July 22 incident.
"I reject this report because it is the official report of the government of Cuba and because I have not had access to this information that they say they have," she told AFP. "I have no reason at all to believe this version of events."
The government insists Paya, 60, a leading opponent of the one-party rule of the Cuban Communist Party, was killed when Carromero lost control and the rental car struck a tree.
In a lengthy report Friday, the interior ministry said the Spanish political activist lost control of the vehicle when he abruptly hit the brakes on the slippery surface of an unpaved section of road while speeding.
Paya's family, however, has said it has information that the rental car was forced off the road by another vehicle.
Acevedo said she had not yet been able to talk to Carromero or Modig, both of whom have been kept in custody since they were discharged from hospital after being treated for injuries sustained during the crash.
"They were the last people who saw my husband alive and they have to know a lot more than I do so far," she told AFP.
Acevedo said she did not believe the government's account of what Carromero said about the accident.
"He has not had access to the communications media, outside the presence of state security, which has had him sequestered since he came out of the hospital," she told AFP.
Paya's widow said she had asked the ambassadors of Spain and Sweden to arrange for her to speak to Carromero and Modig, but "not even they have been able to speak with them without the presence of state security."
Carromero, who is being held by police in a southeastern town close to where the crash occurred, faces charges of traffic violations resulting in death, which can carry up to 10 years in prison under Cuba's penal code.
In Madrid, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo confirmed that Carromero was still being held in Cuba and said he could possibly be charged on Monday or Tuesday once the investigation was over.
"If he were to be charged, we would like him to be staying in our embassy," the minister said, adding that the most important thing was to bring the 27-year-old Spanish national home.
Also killed in the crash with Paya was a fellow Cuban dissident, 31-year-old Harold Cepero Escalante.
Paya, a fervent Catholic, is best known for presenting the Cuban parliament in 2002 with a petition signed by 11,000 people demanding political change in Cuba.
Known as the "Varela Project," the initiative was instrumental in opening debate in Cuba on the direction of a communist regime dominated for more than half a century by Fidel Castro and his brother Raul.
Paya was the 2002 recipient of the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov prize, which is awarded for defending human rights and freedom of thought.
His death was keenly felt among Cuba's dissident community, and authorities have been quick to respond to any sign of protests.
About 50 people were arrested on Tuesday after they emerged from Paya's funeral in Havana shouting anti-government slogans. Most were later released without charge, activists said.
In an impassioned statement delivered at his funeral, Paya's 23-year-old daughter Rosa Maria said her skepticism of the government version was based on "repeated threats against the life of my father and our family."
The United States on Wednesday urged communist Cuba to launch a thorough, transparent probe into the circumstances of the accident and condemned the arrest of the dissidents at Paya's funeral.
Swedish foreign ministry spokesman Anders Jorle said there was no reason that 27-year-old Modig, who is being held in an immigration detention center in Havana, should not be allowed to go home.
Both Modig and Carromero were in Cuba on tourist visas.

NASA rover closing in on Mars to hunt for life clues

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA's Mars rover was on its final approach to the red planet on Sunday, heading toward a mountain that may hold clues about whether life has ever existed on Mars, officials said.
The rover, also known as Curiosity, has been careening toward Mars since its launch in November. The nuclear-powered rover the size of a compact car is expected to end its 352-million-mile (567-million-km) journey on August 6 at 1:31 a.m. EDT.
The landing zone is a 12-mile-by-4-mile (20-km-by-7-km) area inside an ancient impact basin known as Gale Crater, located near the planet's equator. The crater, one of the lowest places on Mars, has a 3-mile-high (5-km-high) mountain of what appears to be layers of sediment.
Scientists suspect the crater may have once been the floor of a lake.
If so, they believe that sediments likely filled the crater, but were carried away over time, leaving only the central mound.
Readying to travel the last stretch to its landing site, Curiosity fired its steering thrusters for six seconds early Sunday, tweaking its flight path by 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) per second.
"I will not be surprised if this was our last trajectory correction maneuver," chief navigator Tomas Martin-Mur, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.
Curiosity is expected to hit the top of the Martian atmosphere at 1:24 a.m. EDT on August 6. If all goes as planned, seven minutes later the rover will be standing on its six wheels on the dry, dusty surface of Mars.
Landing is by no means guaranteed. To transport the one-ton rover and position it near the mound, engineers devised a complicated system that includes a 52-foot (16-metre) diameter supersonic parachute, a rocket-powered aerial platform and a so-called "sky crane" designed to lower the rover on a tether to the ground.
NASA last week successfully repositioned its Mars-orbiting Odyssey spacecraft so that it would be able to monitor Curiosity's descent and landing and radio the information back to ground controllers in as close to real time as possible.
Earth and Mars are so far apart that radio signals, which travel at the speed of light, take 13.8 minutes for a one-way journey.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Mohammad Zargham)