Friday, August 24, 2012

Update News...

There was a shooting in front of the Empire State Building around 9 am. We heard it from the M34 bus at 5th Ave. http://t.co/Yfh8CxBy

Israeli prime minister says Iran is accelerating pursuit of nuclear weapons, ignoring international demands - @Reuters

Report: Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker weighing run for governor in 2013, Democratic sources say - @PolitickerNJ

Tropical Storm Isaac gaining strength; center expected to move near or over Hispaniola today - @NHC_Atlantic

Germany wants Greece to remain in the eurozone, Chancellor Angela Merkel says - @AP

UCI says it will wait for US Anti-Doping Agency explanation before commenting on Lance Armstrong - @AP

Update: 18 suspected militants killed as US missiles slammed into 3 compounds in Pakistan close to the Afghan border - @AP

French defense minister says idea of setting up a partial no-fly zone over Syria is worth consideration - @France24

19 people shot during overnight violence in Chicago, 8 in one incident - @ABC7Chicago

BreakingNews: At least 80, including 20 children, have been killed by Syrian regime forces today...@AlArabiya_Eng

UK Press Complaints Commission receives 60 complaints about Sun's use of Prince Harry photos, but no formal complaint from Palace - @BBCNews

Sunni sheikh killed in new north Lebanon clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian factions - @AFP

Joyce remains a weak tropical depression with maximum sustained winds of 35mph - @NHC_Atlantic

Turkey says more than 3,500 Syrians have crossed into Turkey in past 24 hours, bringing total number to more than 78,000 - @Reuters

More: Deteriorating security situation in Lebanon hampering work of UN refugee agency, slows pace of registration in Tripoli - @Reuters

RBSP launch has scrubbed for this morning's launch. tune in tomorrow at 4:06 am EDT. http://t.co/5MKVgx2u

                   

Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin Don't Like The Republican Medicare Plan

Voters in three swing states are down on the Republican plans for Medicare, but the race remains tight in a nationwide poll today. Also, Obama's maintaining something of a lead in Ohio and an even bigger one in Pennsylvania. Here's our guide to today's polls and why they matter.
RELATED: Romney Shows Forward Momentum in Three Swing States

Findings: A majority of voters in three swing states — hovering around 60 percent in each — want Medicare to remain as it is rather than change it "to a system in which the government would provide seniors with a fixed amount of money toward purchasing private health insurance or Medicare insurance" as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are proposing, according to a new poll. The Romney-Ryan option attracts less than a third of voters.
Pollster: Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,241 Florida voters, 1,253 Ohio voters, and 1,190 Wisconsin August 15 through 21 voters with a margin of error of +/-2.8 percent in all.
Why it matters: As The New York Times' Michael Cooper and Dalia Sussman note, Medicare got its status as a big campaign topic following the addition of Ryan to the ticket, the man "who is perhaps best known for proposing a budget plan, supported by Mr. Romney, to overhaul Medicare to rein in its costs." These results show that regardless of whether Ryan is helping the ticket, voters in swing states are not happy with his plans for Medicare. The Hill's Daniel Strauss puts it simply: "poll suggests Romney could be hurt on Medicare because of his selection of Ryan as his running mate." 
RELATED: Obama Up in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania

Caveat: It's unclear what this exactly does. The poll shows Obama's lead has narrowed in Florida and Wisconsin, and remained the same in Ohio. Also, as The Huffington Post's Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy note, the question about how voters would like to see Medicare "did not mention that Romney and Ryan support this change." Finally, nearly 50 percent of voters in each state said they would support "minor reductions" to Medicare spending to help reduce the federal deficit.
RELATED: A Guide to 2012's Swing States


Findings: Obama leads 48 percent to 45 percent among registered voters in a new national poll.
Pollster: USC Annenberg/Los Angeles Times
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,009 registered voters — 954 of whom were considered likely voters — conducted August 13 through 19 with a margin of error of +/-3.1 percentage points for registered voters and +/-3.2 for likely.
Why it matters: These numbers reflect something similar to what we noted in our Poll Watch yesterday. The Los Angeles Times' David Lauter writes that the results "speak to the remarkable stability of the presidential race, in which Obama has held a small lead in most polls since April."
Caveat: Obama's lead is even tighter among those deemed likely to vote: 48 percent to 46 percent.
RELATED: Bain Attacks Are Working in Swing States


Findings: A poll out of Ohio finds Obama leading 49 percent to Romney's 46 percent — within the poll's margin of error.
Pollster: Ohio Poll/University of Cincinnati
Methodology: Telephone interviews of 847 likely voters in Ohio between August 16 and 21 with a margin of error of +/-3.4 percent.
Why it matters: This poll comes as the Quinnipiac poll gives Obama a comfier six point lead in the state among likely voters, and the Los Angeles Times' Joseph Tanfani points out that voters there "have been hit with an onslaught of campaign ads and candidate rallies for months." That said, as Aaron Blake notes in The Washington Post,  a bunch of swing state polls have been moving toward Romney, and a poll last week in the state "was the first since May to show Romney leading."
Caveat: According to the Cincinnati poll: 17 percent of voters say they may change their mind before the election or are undecided.
RELATED: Romney Weakened Against Obama

The Spice Man Cometh To Cuba, A Hot Land Of Bland Food & More...


 
Cuba has tight advertising restrictions, so Cedric Fernando uses his British-made 1955 MG convertible to spread the word about his Indian restaurant, Bollywood, in Havana.
 Nick Miroff/NPR
  Cuba has tight advertising restrictions, so Cedric Fernando uses his British-made 1955 MG convertible to spread the word about his Indian restaurant, Bollywood, in Havana.
Cuba has hot weather, hot music, hot politics and hot Cubans. So why is the food so bland?
Tourists who have visited the island, particularly Cuba's state-run restaurants, know that Cuban chefs are deeply fond of frying their ingredients, but the range of seasonings tends to span from salt to garlic, with not much else in between.
Enter the Spice Man. He is Cedric Fernando, co-proprietor of the first and only Indian restaurant in Cuba, called Bollywood. And he's definitely turning up the heat in the kitchen.
  Fernando has experience on islands with a somewhat insipid culinary tradition. He was born in London. But his parents are from Sri Lanka, and he grew up in a household of hot curry and South Asian spices.
Fernando met his Cuban wife, Ojacy Curbello, on a trip to Havana 16 years ago. The couple has lived mostly in London since then, visiting Curbello's family back in Cuba several times a year. They ran an Indian restaurant in Uruguay for a time too, but Fernando said the Southern Hemisphere's tourist season was too short, and he was looking for a good business opening in Havana, where good restaurants are hard to find.
When Cuban President Raul Castro began expanding opportunities for small-scale entrepreneurs, Fernando and his wife took something that had been a frequent dinner-table conversation of theirs — "why doesn't Cuba have any good spicy restaurants?" — and turned it into a business: Bollywood.
They opened the restaurant in December, converting the ground floor of their 1950s home in Havana's Nuevo Vedado district. Like many of Cuba's other home-based private restaurants that have opened in recent years, it's a small place, with capacity for about 25 chairs. But Fernando and Curbello are already working on an expansion to double that, since the place is often jammed on weekends.
"You won't make millions here, and you have to work really hard to make a small amount of money," Fernando said. "But it's fun at the same time. We have a lot of friends we can entertain."
Since advertising is limited, he promotes the restaurant on the side of his 1955 MG convertible. But he's optimistic that business opportunities here will continue to grow, as they have in countries like China and Vietnam.
"In Cuba," he said, "things are slowly turning, I think."
Fernando has a real estate business back in London, so making money in Havana was never the main goal. Rather, it's a way to fill a void in the country's spice cabinet, bringing flavors that are almost totally unknown on the island (Fernando hauls his curry from London).
Fernando keeps the Bollywood menu short. It's got dishes he says his Cuban chefs can really master, like Chicken Tikka Masala, Bollywood Prawns and Lamb Rogan Josh. The food, he insists, "is totally authentic."
Most of Bollywood's patrons are tourists or foreigners living in Havana, and the restaurant has been a hit with embassy workers stationed in Havana from Europe and Asia. But Fernando says about a quarter of his clients are Cuban, many trying Indian food for the first time.
Fernando's success notwithstanding, it's not as if foreign entrepreneurs can simply swoop in and set up Thai restaurants or burrito shops.
"The openings are for Cubans, not foreigners," said Fernando, emphasizing that under Cuban law, he's can't technically be Bollywood's owner. "Unless one is married to a Cuban and you have some experience in owning a restaurant, it's not going to be forthcoming," he said.


                                      

More on the Paya crash


Here’s some more information and allegations about the July 22 car crash that killed Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero; for more, plow through this set of posts.

Europa Press reports that Swedish activist Jens Aron Modig, fully back in the swing of things in Stockholm, sent an e-mail to the family of Oswaldo Paya on August 17 to express his condolences.  His recollections of the accident were “fragmentary,” he said.  It came three days after Paya’s daughter tweeted: “‘I don’t know, I don’t remember’ is all Modig can say about the death of my father and Harold.  For how long?”

El Mundo (but no other Spanish media) reports that Partido Popular activist Angel Carromero will go on trial August 31 in Bayamo.

Paya’s widow Ofelia Acevedo continues to reject the Cuban government’s account of the crash, advancing her own version and calling for an independent investigation.  In recent interviews with Europa Press and Madrid’s ABC newspaper she has said that:

·         Carromero was not speeding at the time of the accident and he should be freed and returned to Spain;

·         she will not attend the trial, “not even to testify on Carromero’s behalf,” as the Europa Press reporter puts it, presuming that the decision to testify would be hers;

·         information from witnesses tells her that a red Lada was traveling parallel to Paya’s car, and the family is “convinced there was a pursuit [by another car]”

·         her “information and evidence” comes from multiple sources around the crash scene and at the hospital;

·         she cannot reveal the witnesses’ names for fear of reprisal;

·         she has no way to present her information officially to the court; and

·         a text message from one of the Europeans “to his colleagues” [in Europe, presumably] said that their car was being followed and was “rammed several times.”

Acevedo also says that reports about the revocation of his drivers license are “news media manipulation,” and “one would have to see” if Carromero had a record of speeding in Spain.  In fact, there was no manipulation.   Spanish newspapers reported what was in public records: a May 18, 2012 published announcement that Carromero’s license was to be revoked, and municipal records of speeding and other violations.

At this point, is anyone out there getting the feeling that this event will never be fully clarified to everyone’s satisfaction? 

Havana is hardly likely to allow an independent investigation, least of all under pressure, of a case that in its view boils down to a driver error that killed two Cuban citizens.  The Cuban government has the opportunity to disclose lots of information at trial and after trial, although that would not satisfy those who view it as illegitimate, right down to the provincial police traffic division.

Meanwhile the Paya family and Oswaldo Paya’s colleagues in Spain are presenting dramatic allegations backed by almost none of the information and evidence they claim to have.  If their priority is to protect witnesses or wait for an independent international investigation to occur, that’s their business.  But the result is that their case is thin and hard to judge.  It’s natural to question why, if they believe Carromero is bring framed and want to prevent it, they don’t give a full written presentation of their case to Cuban prosecutors and to the public.  It’s also hard to envision a core event in their case taking place: a briefing by police, who are Interior Ministry officers, in a public or non-secure location in the Bayamo hospital on the day of the crash where Paya’s friends could listen in (and supposedly hear witnesses’ statements about the red Lada, etc.)  Whatever its other virtues, Cuba’s Interior Ministry is not known for casual sharing of information.    

August 23, 2012

August 21, 2012

Lady In White: 'Keep your eyes on Cuba, because the oppression is escalating'

If you don't believe what I write about the ugly truths of the Castro dictatorship, about how it targets its most valiant opponents with some of its harshest cruelties then maybe you will believe Eleiny Villamonte Cardozo.
Pedazos de la Isla has her story, in her own words:
21 year old Lady in White Eleiny Villamonte Cardozo was one of the women present at the home of Glisedis Pina Gonzalez in Holguin this past Saturday 18th of August and one of the ones who was beaten and arrested when the political police raided the house, where the women were participating in their monthly encounter. She was released on the night of Monday, August 20th. Villamonte Cardozo offered this blog a testimony of what she lived through:
“On this past Saturday, the 18th, we were in the monthly meeting we Ladies in White carry out each 18th day of the month. We were already finishing the event. In fact, we were getting ready to leave to our homes when we took a look outside and we saw the mobs in front of the house. We saw the women of the mobs shouting horrible insults at us- they were words which women should not say.
We sat down inside the house and said ‘let’s just wait until everything passes’. But things did not stop there. They were not calm with just that, seeing as we were ignoring them. They started to shout louder at us, and two women approached the house and put up two signs in front- one which said ‘Long Live Fidel’ and the other ‘Long Live Raul’, and they left. Later, a State Security agent approached the house and ordered to see the owner of the home, Glisedis, and gave her a physical blow on her shoulder, telling her to calm her mobs down because the communist mobs are stronger than ‘dissident mobs’.
That agent left and the mobs continued to shout at us. But they were not calm with just that, so they started to throw rocks at us and fire water at us from a fire-hose to try and drown us. They told us “dirty-feet”, “dirty women”, and many other nasty things. As they threw rocks at us they hit the grandson of Ana Mara Aguilera Paneque who is only 4 years old, they hit him on his little stomach and knee. Berta Guerrero was hit on the foot with a rock. Another rock hit Romelia on her breast. It wasn’t one or two rocks, their were hundreds of rocks being thrown at us to try and kill us. And they continued firing water at us and shouted “clean your feet, dirty women” and other things like that.
Afterward, another State Security agent approached and said that he was going to get a search warrant to search the house. He left, but the mobs remained, screaming at us, and we remained calm inside the house. Another official, with a brown uniform with two stars on it, arrived. I don’t know his name, but he is a lieutenant colonel. He ordered to see the owner of the house because he was going to carry out a search. But the owner was in the bathroom at that moment, and the agent was so impatient that he barged in, grabbed Berta Guerrero (who was carrying her daughter) and nearly knocked her down, but Berta managed to get away from his grip. That’s when numerous men ran in and began to hit us, and they even took one underage girl (the daughter of Romelia). They were hitting us, and with these physical blows they took us out of the house.
They applied a headlock on me and took me out to the street. When I was on the street, they pushed me towards the mob of women who started to scratch me everywhere, they hit me all over, and they pulled my hair. In fact, I’m still scratched up on my chest and my arm. All the women came up to me to hit me. After they had beaten me, one guard said ‘you can’t hit her’, but she said this after they had beaten me up, after they had pulled my hair, after all the punches. It was very violent.
They shoved me into a police vehicle. Then, the vehicle would accelerate and suddenly brake so that I would go forward and hit my head against the glass dividing the seats. They took us to the Instructional Penal Unit, where they told me that I would be processed without a trial and that I’d go straight to prison for ‘public disorder’, to which I responded that I had neither carried out a public disorder nor a crime to be there like a criminal. My choice was to not eat any food that they gave me as a safety measure for my life, because I feared that they would poison me, kill me or slip pills into my food. I didn’t eat until today, and I felt very weak. They were very aggressive with us.
I was kept alone in the cell. But I know that Rosa Maria Naranjo Nieves (Lady in White) had been with very high blood pressure since Saturday that wouldn’t go down. Berta Guerrero had very low blood pressure. As a form of torture, they put a fan in front of us with a loud noise to try and torment us, as well as a constant leak in the cell. It was done in order to psychologically affect us but they did not achieve it.
On Saturday, I only drank some water they gave us which was boiled and very hot.
They went to the house that day with the mission to hit us. They broke one of Danay Mendiola’s elbows. They hit us all. They forcibly took us out of the house, everything happened so fast. Everyone saw how they treated us with such cruelty, with the intention to kill us if it was necessary.
I want to tell the world to keep a close watch over Cuba, because everyday the regime is unleashing a stronger wave of aggression against us, and they are willing to kill us. The oppression against the Ladies in White is increasing each day. Every Sunday it’s the same war, and from what I have just witnessed they are willing to do anything to maintain themselves in power.
We are going to continue in this struggle. I am always going to be in this fight even if it means they’ll kill me.
But please, keep your eyes on Cuba, because the oppression is escalating”.
- Eleiny Villamonte Cardozo

Tropical Storm Isaac heads for Haiti, Dominican Republic

MIAMI (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Isaac headed towards the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Friday, rumbling slowly west across the Caribbean after unleashing heavy rain on parts of Puerto Rico.
In Haiti, Isaac was threatening thousands of people still living in tents after a devastating earthquake more than two years ago. The storm also posed a threat to Florida, where it could pass near the state's Gulf Coast on Monday as the U.S. Republican National Convention starts in Tampa.
Authorities have not ruled out the possibility of postponing or relocating the Republican convention if the storm takes direct aim at Tampa. But Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the convention was not his biggest concern, at least for now.
"People are spending a lot of time talking about that. I wish they'd be talking about making sure people in the (Florida) Keys are getting ready and that people in southwest Florida are getting ready," he told CNN.
The storm could also affect U.S. energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico, with analysts at Weather Insight, a Thomson Reuters company, giving it a 50 percent probability of moving into the heart of the oil and gas production region.
Isaac was forecast to remain a tropical storm after crossing the Dominican Republic and Haiti and then passing over Cuba into the Florida Straits. Many forecast models show it eventually advancing into the Gulf of Mexico, strengthening into a hurricane and possibly making landfall near Alabama, the Florida Panhandle, Louisiana or Mississippi on Tuesday.
"Isaac will likely restrengthen when it moves over the Florida Straits and the eastern Gulf of Mexico," the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
But the center warned it was "important not to focus on the exact track because of forecast uncertainties and the fact that Isaac has a large area of tropical storm force winds."
It said Isaac was centered about 165 miles south of the Dominican Republic's capital, Santo Domingo, and about 230 miles southeast of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, as of Friday morning.
"Poorly organized Isaac jogs westward," it said in its latest advisory, putting its speed at 15 mph and forecasting a turn towards the west-northwest later in the day.
"The center of Isaac will move near or over Hispaniola today ... and move near or over southeastern Cuba on Saturday."
RISK OF HURRICANE
The storm had top sustained winds of 45 mph (75 km per hour) but the Miami-based hurricane center said Isaac could swell into a hurricane later on Friday as it nears Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but weaken as it moves over land.
Isaac was expected to dump between 8 and 12 inches of rain over parts of Hispaniola, with total accumulations up to 20 inches in some areas, the NHC said, posing a significant threat to Haiti, which is highly prone to flooding and mudslides because of its near-total deforestation.
"These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides," the center said in its advisory.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, still has about 350,000 people living in tents or makeshift shelters more than 2-1/2 years after a devastating earthquake that took more than a quarter of a million lives.
Red Cross workers toured crowded tent camps of Haitians left homeless by the 2010 quake to warn about Isaac. Text messages were sent out to tens of thousands of people urging them to stay away from rivers and evacuate tent camps in case the storm hits.
Authorities in the Dominican Republic began evacuating people living on the banks of rivers, streams and areas vulnerable to landslides in preparation for the approach of Isaac, whose effects were beginning to be felt with showers in the south of the country.
In the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico, officials also braced for flooding after Isaac passed south of the island.
NOT ENOUGH SHELTERS IN HAITI
Republican convention planners said they would continue to monitor the storm closely while staying in close contact with the National Weather Service, Governor Rick Scott, local emergency officials and the campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
"Any slight westward versus eastward deviation makes a huge difference for Florida," said Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist who heads the respected hurricane forecast team at Colorado State University.
Some forecast models predicted a final landfall in the Florida Panhandle, in the northwest corner of the state, and several showed the storm passing near Florida's Gulf Coast where Tampa is located.
Florida has not been hit by a major hurricane since 2005 and forecasts showed Isaac was not expected to strengthen beyond a weak Category 1, with top sustained wind speeds of about 80 mph.
In Haiti, Red Cross teams, equipped with shelter and sanitation kits, deployed to distribute emergency supplies, including cooking equipment, water chlorination kits, and plastic sheeting and wood for temporary shelters, said Florent Del Pinto, Haiti head of operations for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Some camp residents will likely move to government-designated shelters. "But there are not enough shelters for them all," said Del Pinto, adding that the shelters - schools, churches and other concrete buildings - could only handle about 50 percent of the camp residents.
In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne killed hundreds of people and flooded the port city of Gonaives with 7 feet of water in places, destroying roads and bridges and virtually cutting it off from the rest of the country.
Over the open Atlantic, Tropical Storm Joyce remained a weak tropical depression on Friday. It was expected to regain tropical storm strength on Monday while on a path that may take it close to Bermuda.
(Additional reporting by Josephine Mason in New York, Kevin Gray and David Adams in Miami, Manuel Jimenez in Santo Domingo; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Alessandra Rizzo)

Syrian forces strike Aleppo as West pressures Assad

Syrian forces blitzed areas in and around the northern city of Aleppo on Friday, activists said, as Western powers sought to tighten the screws on embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
France said it backed a partial no-fly zone over Syria, where the regime is intensifying its attacks from the air as it battles to stamp out rebel strongholds in Aleppo and pockets of resistance in the capital Damascus.
New envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was due to meet UN chief Ban Ki-moon later Friday on the 17-month conflict that has escalated from a peaceful uprising against Assad's rule into an increasing bloody civil war.
France and Germany said they are pushing for UN Security Council action on the humanitarian crisis as the number of refugees soars above 200,000, while over 2.5 million are in need of aid inside the country, according to the UN.
The West has ramped up the pressure as the fighting grinds bloodily on into its 18th month, with the United States and Britain warning Damascus of possible action if it resorts to its chemical weapons arsenal.
Syria's staunchest ally Iran meanwhile said it will submit a proposal for ending the conflict at a Non-Aligned Movement summit next week, saying it included "all parties" but gave no further details.
Activists reported heavy shelling by Syrian forces on several districts of Aleppo, scene of the fiercest fighting since the conflict first entangled the commercial and manufacturing hub a month ago.
Several houses were destroyed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, also reporting a bombardment on the town of Aazaz to the north.
At least 50 unidentified bodies were also found shot dead in the last 24 hours, notably in Aleppo and Damascus, it said, amid proliferating reports of summary executions.
Rebels said they were digging in for a war of attrition in Aleppo, where the regime had warned last month of "the mother of all battles" for the city.
"We don't have enough weapons, they (the Syrian army) don't have enough men," said Abu Haidar, a rebel fighter in the southwestern Saif al-Dawla district.
Both the government and opposition forces say attacks on Aleppo province are aimed at cutting arms supply routes to the rebels in Syria's second city, once a thriving metropolis of 2.7 million people but now largely in ruins.
Rebels claimed earlier this week to control 60 percent of Aleppo but the regime has dismissed the claims and said Thursday the army had recaptured three Christian neighbourhoods, where residents are largely pro-Assad.
Amnesty International warned Thursday that civilians were facing "horrific" violence in Aleppo as the regime waged indiscriminate attacks.
A UN panel earlier this month said the regime was guilty of crimes against humanity during the conflict, while also holding the rebels to task for committing war crimes, although to a lesser extent.
Regime forces also pounded several areas of the largely rebel-held province of Idlib in the northwest, the Observatory said, while fierce fighting erupted between rebels and troops in the central province of Hama.
Government troops have also waged ferocious onslaughts on the southern outskirts of Damascus over the past two days in what activists said was a renewed bid to crush the insurgency in the capital "once and for all".
n Friday, activists reported that troops had stormed and shelled several areas including the town of Daraya which lies to the south of Damascus.
"Fear is everywhere," said a Damascus resident and anti-regime activist who gave her name as Samara.
A total of 149 people were killed on Thursday alone, including 14 children, the Observatory said.
Around 24,500 people have been killed since the uprising erupted in March last year -- with August already the bloodiest month, according to Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
The UN puts the death toll at more than 17,000.
The Local Coordination Committees, a large activist network, said meanwhile that prominent Syrian film producer Orwa Nyrabia had disappeared and was feared arrested, but its report could not be confirmed independently.
Amid a flurry of diplomatic moves on the crisis, France said it would consider backing a partial no-fly zone, a proposal being studied by Washington, although US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday it was "not on the frontburner right now."
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian however warned that shutting all of Syria's air space would mean "going to war" and would require a willing international coalition that has not yet materialised.
Ahead of the Brahimi-Ban meeting, Syria's deputy foreign minister Faisal Muqdad said Damascus was ready to work with the new envoy and voiced hope he could pave the way for "national dialogue."
Another minister said this week the regime was "ready to discuss" Assad's departure as part of any negotiated solution but the West is insisting the man who has ruled Syria with an iron fist for 12 years must go now.
The Security Council has so far failed to agree how to tackle the crisis because of divisions between the West and Syria's traditional allies in Bejing and Moscow, and last weekend wrapped up its troubled observer mission.
Neighbouring Lebanon was rattled again Friday by new fighting between rival pro-and anti-Damascus communities in the northern port city of Tripoli, with 13 people killed since Monday, adding to fears of a spillover of the Syria conflict.