Archive for September, 2012


September 22, 2012

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Residents of Libya’s second-largest city warned on Saturday of a “revolution” to get rid of armed militias and Islamic extremists after protests spurred in part by the killing of the U.S. ambassador left four dead in an unprecedented eruption of public frustration.

In a sign of how weak the country’s post-Moammar Gadhafi leadership remains, authorities tried to stem popular anger, pleading that some of the militias are needed to keep the country safe since the police and army are incapable of doing so.

A mass protest Friday against militias against the compounds of several armed groups in Benghazi lasted into early Saturday, as thousands stormed the headquarters of Ansar al-Shariah, an Islamic extremist group suspected in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate.

They drove out the Ansar gunmen and set fire to cars in the compound — once a major base for Gadhafi’s feared security forces — and then moved onto the base of a second Islamist militia, the Rafallah Sahati Brigade. Brigade fighters opened fire to keep the protesters at bay.

The state news agency said four protesters were killed and 70 injured in the overnight violence. There were no new protests on Saturday, but the city of 1 million in eastern Libya was brimming with anger, rumors and conspiracy theories.

The bodies of six soldiers were found in the morning dumped on the outskirts of the city, shot through the forehead and their hands cuffed, state TV reported. An army colonel was reported missing, feared kidnapped.

Some militiamen bitterly accused Gadhafi loyalists of fueling the protests. Some media reports accused militiamen of taking revenge on Gadhafi-era veterans in the military, while military spokesman Ali al-Shakhli blamed Gadhafi loyalists.

Backers of the ousted regime continue to hold sway in some parts of the country, particularly the western city of Bani Walid and parts of the deep south. Gadhafi loyalists near the southern town of Barek al-Shati have been clashing with a pro-government militia for several days, killing nearly 20, and abducted 30 militiamen from a bus, according to Essam al-Katous, a senior security official.

Since Gadhafi’s ouster and death around a year ago, a series of interim leaders have struggled to build the state from scratch and bring order to a country that was eviscerated under his 42-year regime, with security forces and the military intentionally kept weak and government institutions hollowed of authority.

The militias, which arose as people took up arms to fight Gadhafi during last year’s eight-month civil war, bristle with heavy weapons, pay little attention to national authorities and are accused by some of acting like gangs, carrying out killings. Islamist militias often push their demands for enforcement of strict Shariah law.

Yet, authorities need them. The Rafallah Sahati Brigade kept security in Benghazi during national elections this year. Its compound, once a Gadhafi residence, contains a prison and protects a large collection of seized weapons. Ansar al-Shariah guards Benghazi’s main Jalaa Hospital, putting a stop to frequent attacks against it by gunmen.

On Saturday morning, armed Rafallah Sahati militiamen — weary from the clashes the night before — guarded the entrance to their compound, standing next to charred cars. The fighters, some in military uniforms, others dressed in Afghan Mujahedeen-style outfits, were indignant.

“Those you call protesters are looters and thieves,” said Nour Eddin al-Haddad, a young man with an automatic rifle slung on his back. “We fought for the revolution. We are the real revolutionaries.” The government has brought some militias nominally under the authority of the military or Interior Ministry, but even those retain separate commanders and often are only superficially subordinate to the state. In an attempt to assuage public anger and show renegades are being brought under control, some of those “legitimate” militiamen were installed at some militia compounds around Benghazi on Saturday.

By Saturday afternoon, the Rafallah Sahati Brigade headquarters was being guarded by members of another “legitimate” militia from the western city of Zawiya. Activists and protesters, however, say the militias must disband and their fighters individually be integrated into the army and security forces.

Protesters said in a statement they would return to the streets on Friday if they still see militias operating. If the government doesn’t act, “there will be a second revolution and the spark will be Benghazi,” lawyer Ibrahim al-Aribi. “We want stability and rule of law so we can start building the state, but the Tripoli government appears to have not yet quite understood people’s demands.”

Farag Akwash, a 22-year-old protester wounded in the arm during the night’s clashes, insisted, “We don’t want to see militias in the city anymore. We only want to see army and police.” The Sept. 11 attack against the U.S. Consulate that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans galvanized public anger against the militias. Some 30,000 people marched through Benghazi on Friday to the gates of the Ansar al-Shariah compound, demanding the groups disband. The storming of the compound came hours later after the march ended. Protesters also stormed into the Jalaa Hospital, driving out Ansar fighters there.

The unrest comes at a time when the power vacuum in Libya continues. The first post-Gadhafi national elections in May chose a national assembly that is serving as a parliament and that chose the new president, Mohammed el-Megaref, and a prime minister, Mustafa Abushagur. But Abushagur, believed to have struck an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, has yet to form a cabinet. Members of the assembly are pressing him to replace the interior and defense ministers in charge of security forces and the military.

El-Megaref called on protesters to leave alone militias that are “under state legitimacy, and go home.” Omar Humidan, assembly spokesman, acknowledged that militias “have wrong practices … serve their own agenda and have their own ideology.” But he warned that “striking these militias and demanding they disband immediately will have grave consequences.”

“The state has a weak army and no way it can fill any vacuum resulting in eviction of these militias,” he said. “The state must be given time.” Aside from Rafallah Sahati, there are two other major militias in Benghazi that authorities rely on. One is called Libya Shield, led by Wassam Bin Hamaad, an Islamist who has resolved tribal disputes. Another is the Feb. 17 Brigade, led by Fawzi Abu Kataf, who is seen as connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. The militia is believed to be the closest to the state authorities and has helped secure borders.

Fathi Fadhali, a prominent Islamist thinker in Benghazi, said the description of some militias as “legitimate” just contradicts common sense. “How can you be a militia and legitimate at the same time?” he said. “How do you leave a group of extremists taking charge of security?”

“The state must interfere as soon as possible — even, excuse me to say it, by using force — before everything collapses. I am extremely worried.”

September 21, 2012

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish court on Friday convicted 326 military officers, including the former air force and navy chiefs, of plotting to overthrow the nation’s Islamic-based government in 2003, in a case that has helped curtail the military’s hold on politics.

A panel of three judges at the court on Istanbul’s outskirts initially sentenced former air force chief Ibrahim Firtina, former navy chief Ozden Ornek and former army commander Cetin Dogan to life imprisonment but later reduced the sentence to a 20-year jail term because the plot had been unsuccessful, state-run TRT television reported. The three were accused of masterminding the plot.

The court also convicted 323 other active or retired officers, including a former general elected to Parliament a year ago— of involvement in the conspiracy, sentencing some to as much as 18 years in prison. Thirty-six were acquitted, while the case against three other defendants was postponed.

The officers were all expected to appeal the verdicts. The trial of the high-ranking officers — inconceivable in Turkey a decade ago — has helped significantly to tip the balance of power in the country in favor of civilian authorities.

Turkey’s generals have staged three coups since the 1960s and forced an Islamist government to quit in 1997. But the current government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has grown ever more confident with each of its three electoral successes since 2002, and has been limiting the powers of the armed forces which have long seen themselves as the guardians of Turkey’s secular traditions.

Erdogan’s government has hailed the trial, which began in December 2010, and other similar ones as a break with a tradition of impunity and a move toward greater democracy. However, the officers’ case — dubbed “Sledgehammer” after the alleged conspiracy — has been marred by the suspects’ long confinement without a verdict and some judicial flaws, including allegations of fabricated evidence. The government’s secular critics have denounced the coup plot trials as a ploy to intimidate opponents.

Some defense lawyers have refused to appear in court for the past five months, saying the authenticity of some of the evidence was not investigated. Erdogan said he hoped Friday’s verdict was a “just” one but refused to comment further, saying he had not seen the reasoning behind the verdicts and the proceedings against the military officers were not over yet.

“We have to see the appeals phase,” Erdogan said. “The final dot has not been placed yet. The process is continuing.” Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim said: “We all hope that no anti-democratic initiative ever occurs in our country again.”

Prosecutors accused the 365 defendants in the trial of plotting to depose Erdogan by triggering turmoil in the country that would have paved the way for a military takeover. They claimed the plotters, taking part in an army seminar in 2003, drew up plans for a coup which included bombings of mosques, the downing of a Turkish fighter plane and other acts of violence that would have allowed the military to intervene on the pretext of restoring order.

The military has said officers taking part in the seminar discussed a fictitious scenario involving internal conflict, but that there were no plans for a military coup. Protests broke out soon after Friday’s verdicts were announced, Hurriyet newspaper reported, with some of the officers’ supporters booing the decision inside the courthouse and others waving Turkish flags and shouting “Turkey is secular and will remain secular” outside.

Celal Ulgen, the lawyer defending Dogan — accused of being the main ringleader — called the court’s decision unjust and unlawful. “Their rights to defend themselves were violated,” Ulgen told NTV television. “There is no independent judiciary.”

Dogan said in his final defense statement Thursday that the trial was a political one designed to undermine the military. “It is a case assembled to make soldiers, be they active-duty or retired soldiers, pay the penance for their loyalty to the republic and its (secular) principles,” he said.

More than 400 other people — including journalists, academics, politicians and soldiers — are also on trial on charges of involvement in a conspiracy by an alleged gang of secular nationalists called “Ergenekon.”

The former head of the Turkish armed forces, Gen. Ilker Basbug, and other military officers are, meanwhile, awaiting trial in a separate case. Two elderly leaders of Turkey’s 1980 military coup, Kenan Evren and Tahsin Sahinkaya, are being prosecuted for the military takeover that saw many cases of torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killings.

September 21, 2012

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s “Day of Love for the Prophet” turned into a deadly day of gunfire, tear gas and arson.

Thousands angered by an anti-Muslim film ignored pleas for peaceful rallies and rampaged in several Pakistani cities Friday in battles with police that killed 19 people and touched off criticism of a government decision to declare a national holiday to proclaim devotion for the Prophet Muhammad.

The film, which was produced in the United States and denigrates the prophet, has outraged many in the Muslim world in the 10 days since it attracted attention on the Internet, and there were new, mostly peaceful protest marches in a half-dozen countries from Asia to the Middle East.

But it is Pakistan that has seen the most sustained violence, driven by a deep well of anti-American sentiment and a strong cadre of hard-line Islamists who benefit from stoking anger at the U.S. At 49 people — including the U.S. ambassador to Libya — have died in violence linked to the film around the world.

Analysts accused the Pakistani government of pandering to these extremists by declaring Friday to be an official holiday — calling it a “Day of Love for the Prophet.” Officials urged peaceful protests, but critics said the move helped unleash the worst violence yet caused by the film, titled “Innocence of Muslims.”

In addition to those killed, nearly 200 others were injured as mobs threw stones and set fire to cars and movie theaters, and battled with police who responded with tear gas and gunfire. “The people were just waiting for a trigger,” said Imtiaz Gul, director of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies.

In an attempt to tamp down the anger, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad purchased spots on Pakistani TV on Thursday that featured denunciations of the video by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. But their comments, which were subtitled in Urdu, the main Pakistani language, apparently did little to moderate the outrage that filled the country’s streets.

Police fired tear gas and live ammunition to push back the tens of thousands of protesters they faced in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, and the major cities of Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. They were successful in preventing the protesters from reaching U.S. diplomatic offices in the cities, even though the demonstrators streamed over shipping containers set up on major roads to block their path.

The demonstrators, who were led by hard-line Islamist groups, hurled rocks at the police and set fire to their vehicles. They also ransacked and burned banks, shops, cinemas and Western fast-food restaurants such as KFC and Pizza Hut.

Clinton thanked the Pakistani government for protecting the U.S. missions in the country and lamented the deaths in the protests. “The violence we have seen cannot be tolerated,” she said, speaking alongside Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in Washington. “There is no justification for violence.”

Khar thanked Obama and Clinton for speaking out against the video, saying it sent “a strong message, and that message should go a long way to ending the violence on many streets on the world.” The deadliest violence occurred in the southern port city of Karachi, where 14 people were killed, said hospital officials. More than 80 people were injured, said the top government official in the city, Roshan Ali Shaikh. At least three of the dead were policemen, one who died when hundreds of protesters attacked a police station.

“We are all ready to die for Prophet Muhammad,” said Karachi protester Mohammad Arshad. “We want to show the world that Muslims are one and united on the issue.” Five people were killed and 60 wounded in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said police official Bashir Khan.

One of the dead was identified as Mohammad Amir, a driver for a Pakistani TV station who was killed when police fired at protesters torching a cinema and hit his vehicle, said Kashif Mahmood, a reporter for ARY TV who also was in the car. The TV channel showed doctors at a hospital trying unsuccessfully to save Amir’s life.

At least 45 people, including 28 protesters and 17 policemen were wounded in clashes in Islamabad, where police fought with more than 10,000 demonstrators in front of a five-star hotel near the diplomatic enclave where the U.S. Embassy and other foreign missions are located. A military helicopter buzzed overhead as the sound of tear gas being fired echoed across the city.

In northwestern Pakistan, demonstrators burned the Sarhadi Lutheran Church in the city of Mardan, but no one was injured, said senior police officer Salim Khan The government temporarily blocked cellphone service in 15 major cities to prevent militants from using phones to detonate bombs during the protests, said an Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Blocking cellphones also had the benefit of making it harder for people to organize protests.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf urged the international community to pass laws to prevent people from insulting the prophet, and the Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires in Islamabad, Richard Hoagland, over the film.

“If denying the Holocaust is a crime, then is it not fair and legitimate for a Muslim to demand that denigrating and demeaning Islam’s holiest personality is no less than a crime?” Ashraf said in a speech to religious scholars and international diplomats in Islamabad.

Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany, but not in the U.S. U.S. officials have tried to explain to the Muslim world how they strongly disagree with the anti-Islam film but have no ability to block it because of free speech guarantees.

Khar, the foreign minister, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that declaring a national holiday for Friday would motivate the peaceful majority to demonstrate their love for the prophet and not allow extremists to turn it into a show of anti-American anger.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik defended the decision, saying the holiday made it easier for police to tackle protesters in Islamabad because the city was empty of people who normally commute there to go to work or school.

But Riffat Hussain, a professor at the Islamabad-based National Defense University, said the government mismanaged the situation by calling for people to demonstrate and not providing a venue to do so peacefully, such as a rally with religious and political leaders.

“The government thought that they were guiding the public sentiment,” Hussain said. “In doing that they lost control.” Elsewhere on Friday, about 3,000 protesters in the southern Iraq city of Basra condemned the film and caricatures of the prophet that were published in a French satirical weekly. They burned Israeli and U.S. flags and raised a banner that read: “We condemn the offenses made against the prophet.”

U.S. flags and effigies of Obama were burned by about 2,000 people in a protest following Friday prayers in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. They demanded that the United States ban the film. In Bangladesh, more than 2,000 people marched in the capital, Dhaka, and burned a makeshift coffin draped in an American flag with an effigy of Obama. Small and mostly orderly protests were also held in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Tens of thousands of supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement held a raucous protest in the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek. Later, a few thousand supporters of a hard-line Sunni cleric gathered in the capital, Beirut. Both demonstrations directed outrage at the U.S. and Israel over what they believed was a grave insult to Muhammad.

Police clamped a daylong curfew in parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar and chased away protesters opposing the anti-Islam film. Authorities in the region also temporarily blocked cellphone and Internet services to prevent viewing the film clips.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at the West over the film and the caricatures in the French weekly, Charlie Hebdo. “In return for (allowing) the ugliest insults to the divine messenger, they — the West — raise the slogan of respect for freedom of speech,” Ahmadinejad said at a speech in Tehran. He said this explanation was “clearly a deception.”

In Germany, the Interior Ministry said it was postponing a poster campaign aimed at countering radical Islam among young people due to tensions caused by the online video.

Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad; Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan; Zaheer Babar in Lahore, Pakistan; Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan; Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India; Zeina Karam in Baalbek, Lebanon; and Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.

September 22, 2012

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Hundreds of protesters angry over last week’s killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya stormed the compound of the Islamic extremist militia suspected in the attack, evicting militiamen and setting fire to their building Friday.

In an unprecedented show of public anger at Libya’s rampant militias, the crowd overwhelmed the compound of the Ansar al-Shariah Brigade in the center of the eastern city of Benghazi. Ansar al-Shariah fighters initially fired in the air to disperse the crowd, but eventually abandoned the site with their weapons and vehicles after it was overrun by waves of protesters shouting “No to militias.”

No deaths were reported in the incident, which came after tens of thousands marched in Benghazi against armed militias. One vehicle was also burned at the compound. For many Libyans, the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was the last straw in one of the biggest problems Libya has faced since the ouster and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi around a year ago — the multiple mini-armies that with their arsenals of machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades are stronger than the regular armed forces and police.”I don’t want to see armed men wearing Afghani-style clothes stopping me in the street to give me orders, I only want to see people in uniform,” said Omar Mohammed, a university student who took part in the takeover of the site, which protesters said was done in support of the army and police.

The militias, a legacy of the rag-tag popular forces that fought Gadhafi’s regime, tout themselves as protectors of Libya’s revolution, providing security where police cannot. But many say they act like gangs, detaining and intimidating rivals and carrying out killings.

Militias made up of Islamic radicals like Ansar al-Shariah are notorious for attacks on Muslims who don’t abide by their hardline ideology. Officials and witnesses say fighters from Ansar al-Shariah led the attack on the U.S. consulate, which killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

After taking over the Ansar compound, protesters then drove to attack the Benghazi headquarters of another Islamist militia, Rafallah Sahati. The militiamen opened fire on the protesters, who were largely unarmed. At least 20 were wounded, and there were unconfirmed witness reports of three protesters killed.

Earlier in the day, some 30,000 people filled a broad boulevard as they marched along a lake in central Benghazi on Friday to the gates of the headquarters of Ansar al-Shariah. “No, no, to militias,” the crowd chanted, filling a broad boulevard. They carried banners and signs demanding that militias disband and that the government build up police to take their place in keeping security. “Benghazi is in a trap,” signs read. “Where is the army, where is the police?”

Other signs mourned the killing of Stevens, reading, “The ambassador was Libya’s friend” and “Libya lost a friend.” Military helicopters and fighter jets flew overhead, and police mingled in the crowd, buoyed by the support of the protesters.

The march was the biggest seen in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and home to 1 million people, since the fall of Gadhafi in August 2011. The public backlash comes in part in frustration with the interim government, which has been unable to rein in the armed factions. Many say that officials’ attempts to co-opt fighters by paying them have only fueled the growth of militias without bringing them under state control or integrating them into the regular forces.

Residents of another main eastern city, Darna, have also begun to stand up against Ansar al-Shariah and other militias. The anti-militia fervor in Darna is notable because the city, in the mountains along the Mediterranean coast north of Benghazi, has long had a reputation as a stronghold for Islamic extremists. During the Gadhafi era, it was the hotbed of a deadly Islamist insurgency against his regime. A significant number of the Libyan jihadists who travelled to Afghanistan and Iraq during recent wars came from Darna. During the revolt against him last year, Gadhafi’s regime warned that Darna would declare itself an Islamic Emirate and ally itself with al-Qaida.

But now, the residents are lashing out against Ansar al-Shariah, the main Islamic extremist group in the city. “The killing of the ambassador blew up the situation. It was disastrous,” said Ayoub al-Shedwi, a young bearded Muslim preacher in Darna who says he has received multiple death threats because has spoken out against militias on a radio show he hosts. “We felt that the revolution is going in vain.”

Leaders of tribes, which are the strongest social force in eastern Libya, have come forward to demand that the militias disband. Tribal leaders in Benghazi and Darna announced this week that members of their tribes who are militiamen will no longer have their protection in the face of anti-militia protests. That means the tribe will not avenge them if they are killed.

Activists and residents have held a sit-in for the past eight days outside Darna’s Sahaba Mosque, calling on tribes to put an end to the “state of terrorism” created by the militias. Militiamen have been blamed for a range of violence in Darna. On the same day Stevens killed in Benghazi, a number of elderly Catholic nuns and a priest who have lived in Darna for decades providing free medical services, were attacked, reportedly beaten or stabbed. There have been 32 killings over the past few months, including the city security chief and assassinations of former officers from Gadhafi’s military.

Darna’s residents are conservative, but they largely don’t fit the city’s reputation as extremists. Women wear headscarves, but not the more conservative black garb and veil that covers the entire body and face. In the ancient city’s narrow alleys, shops display sleeveless women dresses and the young men racing by in cars blare Western songs.

And many are impatient with Ansar al-Shariah’s talk of imposing its strict version of Islamic law. The group’s name means “Supporters of Shariah Law.” “We are not infidels for God sake. We have no bars, no discos, we are not practicing vice in the street,” said Wassam ben Madin, a leading activist in the city who lost his right eye in clashes with security forces on the first day of the uprising against Gadhafi. “This is not the time for talk about Shariah. Have a state first then talk to me about Shariah.”

“If they are the ‘supporters of Shariah’ then who are we?” he said. “We don’t want the flag of al-Qaida raised over heads,” he added, referring to Ansar al-Shariah’s black banner. One elder resident at the Sahaba Mosque sit-in, Ramadan Youssef, said, “We will talk to them peacefully. We will tell them you are from us and you fought for us” during the civil war against Gadahfi. But “if you say no (to integrating into the) police and army, we will storm your place. It’s over.”

Officials in the interim government and security forces say they are not strong enough to crack down on the militias. The armed factions have refused government calls for them to join the regular army and police.

So the government has created a “High Security Committee” aimed at grouping the armed factions as a first step to integration. Authorities pay fighters a salary of as much as 1,000 dinars, around $900, to join — compared to the average police monthly salary of around $200. However, the militias that join still do not abide by government authority, and critics say the lure of salaries has only prompted more militias to form.

Officials and former rebel commanders estimate the number of rebels that actually fought in the 8-month civil war against Gadhafi at around 30,000. But those now listed on the High Security Committee payroll have reached several hundred thousand.

“All these militia and entities are fake ones but it is mushrooming,” said Khaled Hadar, a Benghazi-based lawyer. “The government is only making temporarily solutions, but you are creating a disaster.”

September 19, 2012

AKCAKALE, Turkey (AP) — Syrian rebels have seized control of a border crossing on the frontier with Turkey and pulled down the Syrian flag.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene Wednesday says Syrians on the Turkish side of the border are celebrating and yelling, “I am a free Syrian!” People are moving freely across the border, crawling under barbed wire.

There were fierce clashes Tuesday as rebels and regime forces fought for control of the Tal Abyad crossing. Syria’s rebels control several other border crossings into Turkey but it is believed to be the first time they have tried to take the border area in the northern province of Raqqa.

Taking control of border crossings helps the opposition ferry supplies into Syria and carve out an area of control.

September 19, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Fierce clashes broke out Tuesday between Syrian rebels and regime forces battling for control of a border crossing on the frontier with Turkey, and Turkish authorities told residents to evacuate the area.

The violence along the border with Turkey, which is a strong supporter of the rebels trying to oust President Bashar Assad, underlines the regional danger as the Syrian civil war increasingly draws in neighboring countries.

On the diplomatic front, a spokesman for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said the Egyptian leader told Iran’s foreign minister in a meeting Tuesday in Cairo that relations between the two countries were being hindered by Tehran’s support for Syria’s regime.

Spokesman Yasser Ali said Morsi told the Iranian minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, that as president he cannot ignore the fact that public opinion in Egypt is overwhelmingly against the Syrian regime, which he said “uses harsh language and violence against people.”

The two were meeting as part of a Morsi-sponsored Syria peace initiative dubbed the “Islamic Quartet,” bringing together Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — all supporters of the Syrian rebellion — with Iran.

Salehi, whose country is a crucial ally to the Assad regime, is traveling to Syria on Wednesday, where he will meet with Assad and other Syrian officials. Iran has provided strong backing to the Syrian leadership since the uprising began in March 2011.

The Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, said Tuesday that government forces and rebels were engaged “in very fierce” battles near the border crossing of Tal Abyad.

One woman was hit by a stray bullet and hospitalized in the Turkish border town of Akcakale. The Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency said six Syrians were injured in the clashes and brought across the border for treatment. Akcakale authorities told residents living close to the frontier to evacuate the area.

Turkish state TV TRT also said some rebels fled to Akcakale to escape attacks. Syrian opposition groups confirmed the fighting but had no immediate word on whether rebels succeeded in gaining control of the crossing. It is believed to be the first time Syrian rebels have tried to seize the border area in the northern Raqqa province, most of which is controlled by Assad’s forces. Rebels control several other border crossings into Turkey.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials reopened the western Qaim border crossing with Syria to a limited number of Syrian women and children fleeing the escalating civil war. The mayor of Qaim, Farhan Fitkhan Farhan said that 100 Syrian refugees entered Iraq through the border crossing Tuesday and more would be let in on daily basis. But he said only women and children would be allowed, while young men would be denied entry for security reasons.

The crossing was closed last month following of fierce fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels on the Syrian side of the borders. In Jordan, Syrian refugees at a Jordanian camp pelted the U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s convoy with stones during a protest over the international community’s failure to stop the bloodshed.

Brahimi, who visited another camp in Turkey the same day, has himself called his task “nearly impossible.” But some in Jordan’s Zaatari camp shouted slogans implying that his initiative, which involves meetings with Assad, only legitimizes the Damascus regime.

“Leave our camp. By seeing Bashar, you’ve extended his life,” some 200 refugees chanted. Teenagers threw rocks at the vehicles of officials as they departed, according to an Associated Press reporter at the camp. U.N. refugee agency spokesman Ali Bebe confirmed the protest but said he did not see stones thrown.

Jordan hosts more than 200,000 displaced Syrians — the largest number in the region. The 31,000 residents of the Zaatari camp have frequently protested against conditions in their settlement, located on a plain in the northern desert. Jordan says the huge influx of Syrians has put pressure on its infrastructure and social services.

Brahimi also toured a camp in the Turkish border province of Hatay. Dozens of Syrian refugees demonstrated outside the camp, waving a rebel flag and denouncing Assad. Some 83,000 refugees have found shelter in 12 camps along the Turkish border with Syria.

Brahimi said it appeared refugees were being treated well in Turkey and that he hoped for an end to the violence. “We hope that their country finds peace again and they can return to their country as early as possible,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Brahimi on Tuesday and will meet him this weekend after he arrives in New York, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Tuesday. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig, the current Security Council president, said Brahimi would meet informally with members on Monday.

Also Tuesday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry brushed off Syrian accusations that it was allowing thousands of Muslim extremists to cross into its territory. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal told reporters that Turkey may not even respond to letters Syria sent to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon accusing Turkey of allowing thousands of terrorists access to the country.

“Instead of leveling complaints and making false accusations against various countries, including ours, Syria should look at the situation inside the country and take the necessary steps to correct the situation,” Unal said.

Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Umut Colak in Hatay, Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad and Dale Gavlak in Amman contributed to this report.

September 17, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has asked for official clarifications from Iran over statements by a senior commander that they have military advisers in Lebanon.

A statement released by Suleiman’s office says the president made his comments Monday while receiving Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi. The top commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said Sunday that his force has high-level advisers in Lebanon and Syria. Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari’s comments marked the clearest indication of Iran’s direct assistance to its main Arab allies, Damascus and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

He told reporters that the Guard’s Quds force have been in Syria and Lebanon as advisers for a long time, but was not more specific. The statement said Ambassador Roknabadi denied there were advisers in Lebanon.

September 16, 2012

ANTAKYA, Turkey (AP) — Already host to 80,000 Syrians in refugee camps, Turkey is now seeking to relocate some of the tens of thousands of others living outside the shelters to relieve pressure on local communities and better handle security in its tense border area.

Many Syrians who have fled violence in their country are living near the border but outside the dozen camps, either staying with relatives or renting apartments, a large number of them in Antakya, the largest city in Turkey’s southeast Hatay province. The influx since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began 18 months ago has strained municipal resources and tested the ability of the Turkish government to monitor cross-border traffic amid concerns about sectarian tension and militant activity in the region.

Turkish authorities, who support the Syrian opposition in its war with Assad’s regime, now want the refugees living outside the camps to either enter them or move to other provinces. Up to 40,000 Syrians are living in Turkey outside the shelters, according to some estimates, while the U.N. refugee agency puts the number at up to 60,000. Hundreds of thousands of other Syrians have also fled to neighboring countries, including Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.

“A few days ago, the police came and told us we had a week to leave Antakya. They gave us the names of three or four places we could go,” said 35-year-old Syrian refugee, Mahmoud Mohammed. He, his wife, their 2-year-old son and his brother’s family are living in a two-room apartment for $150 (€116) a month.

Samar Mohammed, Mahmoud’s wife, said they had tried to live in a refugee camp but found the conditions difficult. “My son has bronchitis and suffers from complications. He needs special food and a clean environment,” she said. “Our needs weren’t met in the camp and his condition got worse. We’ve been living in this apartment for two months and it would be very hard to go back to the camps.”

Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, a special envoy for the U.N. refugee agency, visited camps near the Syrian border this past week and thanked Turkey for welcoming and providing for Syrians who had fled their homes, while urging donor countries to do more to help. Turkey has pressed in vain for the United Nations to set up “safe zones” inside Syria where civilians can shelter, but divisions within the international community and the security risks of such a project preclude any move to implement it for now.

Antakya’s mayor, Lutfu Savas, said there are sectarian tensions along the Syrian-Turkish border, and security concerns and potential discord were the main reasons for plans to relocate refugees who are outside the camps. Many Turks in Hatay province belong to a minority sect that is linked to the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that dominates the Syrian regime and is fighting an insurgency comprised largely of Sunni Muslims. Turkey is concerned that the sectarian tone of the conflict could exacerbate tension in its own communities.

“In the interest of maintaining order and protecting everyone here, our government wants our (Syrian) brethren to move and live somewhere else,” Savas said. “First and foremost, they’re being asked to move into the refugee camps. But if they have the means and if they entered (Turkey) using their passports, they’re being asked to move out of Hatay. I think it’s a valid argument.”

A Turkish government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy, said Turkey was doing everything it can to help Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey. “Every country has the right to regulate or arrange the accommodation or duration of the stay of foreigners, including Syrians,” the official said.

Sali Al-Bounni, a Syrian teacher and assistant principal at a school in Antakya that taught 800 Syrian children, said it was recently closed because of the government’s decision to move refugees out of Hatay province.

“The day we closed the school, everyone — students, teachers — was crying,” he said. “Now the families are calling us and asking where we’ll be relocating because they want to move to where the school will be. But we have no idea where to go.”

Chris Torchia reported from Istanbul.

Jakarta (AFP)
Sept 29, 2011

The United States forgave almost $30 million in Indonesian debt Thursday, diverting the funds to tropical forest conservation on Borneo.

The debt-for-nature swap is authorized under the US Tropical Forest Conservation Act, aimed at mitigating climate change by reducing deforestation which releases greenhouse gases.

“We are all aware that Indonesia’s forests are facing tremendous pressure domestically and globally, due both to economic growth here and an economic crisis abroad,” said US embassy acting deputy chief of mission James Carouso.

Swathes of carbon-dense peatland in Kalimantan, Indonesia’s part of Borneo Island, have been destroyed to make way for lucrative palm oil and pulp and paper plantations.

Burning the peatland, a traditional land-clearing method, releases enormous amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and creates haze that travels to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.

Indonesia already receives forest conservation funds from Norway, Australia and Britain, as well as multilateral funds.

In a $1 billion deal with Norway, Jakarta in May implemented a two-year ban on new logging permits for peatland and primary forest.

Deforestation is estimated to account for almost 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In Indonesia it is said to produce more carbon emissions than all the cars, buses, trains and planes in the United States, making it the world’s third-biggest emitter, according to UN figures.

The swap is supported by the WWF and the Nature Conservancy, which will monitor disbursement of the funds to approved projects proposed by communities.

“The government will deposit $28.5 million dollars into a fund and will slowly disburse the money for individual projects. It is intended to benefit civil society,” said WWF Indonesia’s Budi Wardhana, who oversees the organization’s economic instruments.

Indonesia has a history of debt swaps in other areas, such as education and health.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/US_Indonesia_sign_30m_debt-for-nature_swap_999.html.

Written by Adam Nicky
Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Experts don’t see alternative fuel resources in the near future

AMMAN- King Abdullah II of Jordan has stepped in to stop the government from imposing an increase on gasoline prices, a move apparently aimed at easing growing public discontent over the government’s economic policy.

The king, who wields absolute power in accordance with the constitution, reacted one day after a 10 percent rise in fuel prices had been announced as part of a series of measures intended to trim the budget deficit and generate badly needed funds. The royal decree by the monarch, known for his pro-Western outlook, seemingly did the trick, absorbing at least some of the anger at the government’s fiscal policies visibly spreading among the poor and, according to some observers, even threatening the country’s stability.

When the price increase was announced, the government had explained the move as necessary to mitigate the impact on the budget. Following the cancellation of the fuel price hike, the king did not say what, if any, measures would be taken to compensate the treasury for the loss of funding the gas hike would have provided.

The move by Abdullah on Sunday came only hours after dozens of angry Members of Parliament vilified conservative Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh for raising fuel prices without consulting legislators. A motion of no confidence calling for Tarawneh’s dismissal was rejected on constitutional grounds.

Upon word of the intended increase in the cost of gas, economists had accused the government of turning a blind eye to the concerns of the country’s industrial sector which feared it would be harmed by a continued increase in production costs. Abdel Razaq Tabour, a member of the Zarqa Chamber of Industry, said the government took the decision without consulting the business sector and expressed concern over the future of laborers in the industrial sector.

“Industries have been suffering for the past years due to limited markets and high competition. With this frequent change in fuel prices, I am not sure how long we can continue,” Tabour told The Media Line. He said thousands of workers could lose their jobs and warned about growing social unrest in poverty stricken areas where unemployment is believed to be more than 15 per cent. Earlier Sunday, the streets of west Amman turned yellow after hundreds of taxi drivers staged a strike in busy parts of the capital to protest against the fuel increase.

“They are robbing us in broad daylight,” shouted one cab taxi driver referring to government reliance on taxation as a response to the shortage of cash. “Tomorrow, the prime minister will be fired after he puts in place the new increase. They are playing musical chairs games with us. One prime minister comes to increase prices, and another replaces him to absorb anger of the public,” said Zaidoun Abul Haq, an activist from the taxi drivers union.

Jordan is one of the poorest countries in the region in terms of oil and energy resources, with most of its needs imported from neighboring countries. Saudi Arabia supplies most of the country’s fuel needs at a comparably lower price – with discounts as large as 20% according to economists — compared to the international market, while Egypt pumps gas from the Sinai desert.

Officials have been concerned that the cash-strapped kingdom of Jordan remains hostage to its political relationships with its larger neighbors, preventing it from finding energy from local resources while the government is accused of overpricing necessities such as fuel.

But despite the kingdom’s discounted gas prices, experts and economists still accuse the government of overcharging citizens when compared to what other nations pay. A senior official from Royal Jordanian Airlines says the company buys airplane fuel in more than 60 cities around the world, and of those, prices in Jordan rank highest. Speaking to The Media Line on the condition of anonymity, the source said he expects the national flag-carrier will continue to suffer in a highly competitive market. Just recently, the company was forced to shut down some of its operations to Europe and Asia due to its mounting losses.

The kingdom is currently looking into alternatives to conventional fuel for generating electricity, including atomic energy and extracting shale oil extraction. A multi-billion dollar project to build the first nuclear facility is under discussion, but the ambitious program has not yet been approved and under any circumstances is not expected to be functional for many years.

Efforts to tap into vast reserves of shale oil, however, began earlier this year, but experts believe it will produce enough to satisfy the country’s rising demands any time soon.

In the meantime, experts say the government will be struggling to meet the strict conditions of the International Monitory Fund to keep its books balanced as it looks toward borrowing more money in order to solve its urgent financial needs.

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