UN Security Council to Examine Russian Proposal on Syria - Voice of America

Written By Ivan Kolev on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 | 7:05 PM

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Experts from the 15 nations on the U.N. Security Council are scheduled to discuss a new draft resolution on the violence in Syria.

The meeting Tuesday will examine the proposed resolution Russia sent to the Security Council Monday, the third Moscow has presented in the past month.

Western diplomats said Monday the draft resolution is confusing and does not make clear whether Russia would accept tough language demanded by the West.

A military ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia insists that any Council action should target not only the Assad government, but also the opposition movement demanding an end to his 11-year autocratic rule.

Western powers have been pushing the Council for months to condemn the Syrian government's violent suppression of the 10-month uprising, but Russia and China have blocked such action.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Council Monday to take "serious" action against Syria, where he says casualties from the unrest have reached "unacceptable" levels.

Speaking during a visit to Abu Dhabi, Ban appealed to the Council to act in a "coherent" manner in resolving the Syrian crisis.

He also praised the Arab League for holding a dialogue with Assad and sending observers to Syria last month.  U.N. spokesman Eduardo del Buey told VOA Monday that a small group of U.N. rights experts will travel to Cairo to train the Arab League observers this week, at the request of the regional bloc.

Syrian opposition activists have criticized the observer mission, saying the Syrian government is deceiving it and using the monitors as a cover to intensify security operations against the opposition.

In another sign of growing domestic pressure on Assad, the prominent Syrian opposition group the Syrian National Council says it has reached an agreement to boost coordination with Syrian army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army.  In a statement Monday, the SNC says it will cooperate with the Syrian rebels on issues such as accommodating new defectors within the rebel army.

The Syrian government blames the uprising on armed terrorists.

The United Nations says violence linked to the uprising has killed more than 5,000 people.  Syria says "terrorists" have killed about 2,000 members of the security forces since the unrest began.

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Liberia's Sirleaf takes oath for second term, promises reconciliation - Christian Science Monitor

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf pledged to work harder toward achieving national reconciliation at her second inauguration ceremony today in Liberia, a nation that emerged from civil war nearly a decade ago.

The ceremony itself showed some progress toward that goal: The top leaders of the main opposition party, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), agreed to attend the inauguration after striking a deal with the ruling Unity Party over the weekend to recognize Ms. Sirleaf as president. The CDC had boycotted the second round of elections due to claims of electoral fraud.

While the show of unity augers well for Liberia's reconciliation efforts, challenges remain. Negotiations are still ongoing to determine what role the CDC may play in the upcoming government. And there is plenty of unhappiness with the opposition's decision to recognize Sirleaf among the rank and file, particularly unemployed youth and ex-combatants from the 14 years of civil war who feel they have not benefited from her government.

“The decision offers prospects for building political coexistence between the opposition and the Unity Party,” says Dan Sayree, director of the Liberian Institute for Democracy in Monrovia. “It offers hope for Liberian democracy and political stability.”

But he added that Sirleaf needed to address some of the concerns of CDC supporters many of who feel they haven’t benefited from the nation’s development.

“Her focus on youth and whether this will take the form of legislation that can be handed on between governments or whether it will be a means for recruiting young people into the party remains to be seen,” Sayree says.

Sirleaf’s inaugural message was directed at the youth in particular, many of whom rioted in the streets of Monrovia last month to express their anger at the government's late payment of casual workers' wages.

“The youth of Liberia are our future and they sent us a message,” said Sirleaf. “They are impatient, they are eager to be rid the years of conflict and deprivation, they are anxious to know that their homeland offers a ground for hope. Let me say to them, we heard that message. It is our solemn obligation to ensure that their hope will not be in vain.”

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and numerous presidents of West African states attended the ceremony in the capital of Monrovia. They were joined by the CDC chief Winston Tubman, a Harvard-educated lawyer, and his No. 2, soccer legend George Weah.

When asked why the party leadership had decided to attend the event Mr. Tubman said the party leadership was there to demonstrate its commitment to reconciliation and political unity.

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Oversight of Cruise Lines at Issue As Italian Rescue Efforts Resume - New York Times



Gregorio Borgia/Associated PressOil removal ships worked Monday night off the coast of Tuscany to keep the Costa Concordia from leaking fuel into a marine wildlife sanctuary.

PARIS — As the world was transfixed by the Titanic-like imagery of the partly submerged Costa Concordia, and frantic efforts to save the fuel-laden vessel resumed on Tuesday off the Tuscan coast, questions swirled about the enormous cruise line industry, which operates without much regulation.



Gianni Onorato, the general director of Costa Cruises, covered his face during a news conference in Genoa, Italy, on Monday.



 

The ship’s detained captain, Francesco Schettino, was accused Monday by his bosses of deviating from a fixed, computerized course to show off his beautiful $450 million boat, carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew members, to the people of Giglio Island on a still Friday night, crashing it on a reef. News reports on Tuesday said a judge would decide whether the skipper should be formally arrested.

At dawn on Tuesday, rescuers intensified their efforts to find survivors, using small charges of explosives to blast a way through the hull to reach submerged cabins and corridors while salvage experts were set to explain how they planned to prevent the liner’s half-million gallons of fuel from spilling into the pristine, wintry waters — a marine wildlife sanctuary — just off Giglio’s port.

Rescue efforts were suspended briefly on Monday after the vessel settled on its rocky resting place, sinking further into the water. As the operation resumed Tuesday, reporters heard the sound of four controlled explosions blasting into the hull.

Sergeant Antonino Ruggero, an Italian Navy diver, told reporters on Tuesday that the explosions had created holes measuring around four feet wide, designed to accelerate rescue efforts and “create passages in the points where, based on our own evaluations, it looked like it was easier to find people, and from where it is easier for rescuers to get in and possibly leave the ship in a rush, if it moves again.”

Luca Cari, a spokesman for the fire fighters spearheading the operation, said there was still a “glimmer of hope” that survivors could be found, while Coast Guard spokesman Filippo Marini said rescuers were hoping that some of those listed as missing had left the ship without notifying the authorities.

More than 72 hours after the accident killed at least six people, confusion still reigned over how many were missing. Italy’s coast guard abruptly raised the total to 29 late Monday after having said 16, including 2 Americans, remained unaccounted for. Authorities denied reports that a seventh body had been found.

Officials said on Tuesday that the yally of people missing was made up of 14 Germans, 6Italians, 4 French passengers and two Americans, in addition to crewcrew members from Peru, India, and Hungary.

As shares in the ship’s parent company — Carnival Corporation of Miami, the world’s biggest cruise line operator — slid by nearly a fifth on Monday and the owners and insurers tried to add up the cost of the disaster, there were more troubling issues raised about how the cruise industry is supervised and controlled.

Those issues included how much safety information and training are required for the crew and passengers, and how much discretion a captain has to alter routes, especially in an age when electronic radar, charts, GPS and other guidance systems are supposed to keep these large, sleek ships on course.

“There are legitimate questions as these vessels have substantially evolved in recent years,” said Helen Kearns, a spokeswoman for Siim Kallas, the European Union transportation commissioner. “The boats have gotten a lot bigger, as it’s economically advantageous to have more passengers,” she said. “But the way these vessels have grown in size does mean finding the right balance to make sure regulations are stringent enough to ensure there are procedures like safe evacuations.”

While airline pilots are directed and guided by controllers on the ground, sea captains are considered to be in complete control. “It’s not like the aircraft industry, where you file a flight plan,” said Peter Wild, a cruise industry consultant at G. P. Wild (International) Limited, a consultancy outside London.

Rather, at most cruise lines, company directors determine the routes, which are then transmitted to the captain and a navigating officer, who scrutinize the charted course but are meant to follow it.

Steven Erlanger reported from Paris and Gaia Pianigiani from Giglio, Italy. David Jolly, Scott Sayare and Maia de la Baume contributed reporting from Paris; James Kanter from Brussels; Alan Cowell and Julia Werdigier from London; and Henry Fountain, Peter Lattman and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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Israel: Nuclear Iran could deter military action - The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — A senior Israeli military official says a nuclear Iran could make it tougher for Israel to act against enemies closer to home.

Military planning division chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel says a nuclear-armed Tehran could constrain Israel from striking Iranian-backed Islamists groups in Lebanon and Gaza — Hezbollah and Hamas respectively.

Eshel said Tuesday that if Israel is "forced to do things in Gaza or in Lebanon, under the Iranian nuclear umbrella it might be different."

Israel worries that a nuclear-armed Iran could threaten its survival and has hinted it could strike Iran militarily if international sanctions do not halt Tehran's nuclear program.

Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes, such as energy and the production of medical isotopes.

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Beirut rescue operation at collapsed building ends - BBC News

Workers remove rubble at the site of a collapsed building in Beirut, Lebanon, on 16 January 2012

Tenants of the "run-down" building had reportedly been urged to move out, before the collapse happened The rescue operation at a collapsed building in the Lebanese capital Beirut has been called off after the authorities ruled out the possibility of finding more survivors.

The five-floor building in the Ashrafiyeh district of Beirut suddenly collapsed on Sunday evening killing 27 people.

Eleven Lebanese and 16 foreign workers were killed.

The victims came from Sudan, the Philippines, Egypt and Jordan.

It is not yet known what caused the sudden collapse, but there is speculation that cracks in the building made worse by heavy rain may have been the cause.

'Danger ahead'

Lebanese rescue workers remove a body from the site of a collapsed building in Beirut, Lebanon, on 16 January 2012

12 people were injured in the collapse, none of them seriously

There are growing calls for the government to carry out surveys of similar buildings across the country, as officials warn that many more are at risk of collapse.

The head of parliament's public works committee, MP Mohammed Qabbani, said that as many as 20,000 buildings could face a similar fate.

Red Cross official Georges Kettaneh confirmed 12 people had been injured, although none of them seriously.

One witness told a local television channel that "it was like an earthquake" when the block collapsed.

A resident who escaped with her mother said the building was extremely run-down and the owner had recently warned tenants to move out, AFP reported.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman visited the site on Sunday evening, as did Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.

Mr Charbel told reporters the building's owner was being questioned by the authorities.

He added it was essential to carry out a survey of similar buildings across the country, many of which were built illegally or had several floors added without proper permits.

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Zardari gets in talking mode with military to defuse tensions - Hindustan Times

Even as temperatures have soared in Islamabad over the Gilani-Kayani face-off, the presidency and the Pakistani military are engaged in parleys aimed at defusing the tensions between the two sides over memo scandal.

Away from the storm generated by the Supreme Court's contempt

notice issued to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani yesterday for failing to reopen high-profile graft cases, talks continued between the government and the military establishment for defusing the situation.

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairperson Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne met President Asif Ali Zardari at the presidency yesterday for a follow-up meeting to talks held between the President and army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani over the weekend, the Dawn newspaper quoted a source as saying.

A brief statement issued by the presidency said Zardari and Wynne discussed professional matters pertaining to the armed forces.

However, sources told the Dawn that the two leaders focussed on finding a way out of the ongoing impasse.

Though there was no certainty about how the civil-military talks were progressing, there were "hints that some progress is being made", the report said.

An unnamed army official told the Dawn that Kayani had made no demand during his meeting with Zardari that the Prime Minister should retract comments about the army chief acting unconstitutionally in his handling of the memo issue.

The official said the meeting between the army chief and the President was held "for lowering temperatures rather than raising it".

The presidency too has denied media report that Kayani had asked Zardari to tell the Prime Minister to explain or retract his comments about the army and intelligence chiefs acting in an "unconstitutional and illegal" manner while filing affidavits on the memo issue in the Supreme Court.

Some observers following the civil-military dialogue were worried that legal developments could unsettle the easing of tensions between the two sides.

Some quarters have suggested that the military was the force behind the legal battles in the Supreme Court over the reopening of graft cases and the memo scandal that can potentially cause the government's downfall.

While speaking in the National Assembly or lower house of parliament last night after the House passed a pro-democracy resolution, Gilani said the military and judiciary must protect democracy instead of making efforts to "pack up" or derail the democratic system.

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Yemen unrest 'may delay presidential election' - BBC News

Protesters in Saleh demand Ali Abdullah Saleh face prosecution for the deaths of protesters (16 January 2012)

Activists and opposition groups are keen to see a quick transfer of power after months of unrest Yemen's foreign minister has warned that the presidential election due next month may have to be postponed.

Abu Bakr al-Qirbi told al-Arabiya TV that if several security problems were not resolved, it would be difficult to hold the vote on 21 February.

The poll is part of a deal brokered by Gulf states to end a year of political turmoil that has left hundreds dead.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh handed over power to his deputy in November in return for immunity from prosecution.

Security forces controlled by the president and his family, as well as armed loyalists, have been accused of killing anti-government protesters.

Islamist advance

Mr Qirbi's comments to al-Arabiya on Tuesday were the first suggestion by a member of the national unity government appointed last month that the presidential election might be delayed.

Map of Yemen

"I am among those who hope that the issue will take place in the planned manner," he said.

"But unfortunately, there are a couple of events relating to security, and if they are not solved... it will be difficult to run the elections on 21 February."

Mr Qirbi said the government required the co-operation of all political parties, including the former ruling General People's Congress.

He did not list the security issues, but in addition to ongoing clashes between demonstrators demanding the president face prosecution and Saleh loyalists, government forces have been battling separatists in the south, Houthi rebels from the Zaydi Shia community in the north, and Islamist militants allied to al-Qaeda.

On Sunday, as many as 1,000 militants believed to be loyal to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula seized the town of Radaa in al-Baida province, about 170km (105 miles) south-east of the capital Sanaa.

Islamists began taking control of parts of the neighbouring southern province of Abyan last year, including the town of Jaar in April and the provincial capital, Zinjibar, in May. Security forces have tried unsuccessfully to push them out and suffered heavy losses.

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Germany's Schulz Voted EU Parliament Head Over Two U.K. Rivals - Bloomberg

The European Parliament chose Martin Schulz of Germany as its president over two U.K. candidates, highlighting Britain’s struggle for political clout on the continent.

Schulz, the Socialists’ floor leader in the European Union assembly, succeeds Polish Christian Democrat Jerzy Buzek for the second half of a five-year term. This reflects a power-sharing accord between the Christian Democrats, the 27-nation Parliament’s largest faction from which U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron removed his Conservative Party, and the Socialists, the second-biggest group.

The 56-year-old Schulz defeated Nirj Deva, a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists faction that is now home to Cameron’s Tories in the Strasbourg, France-based legislature, and Diana Wallis, who belongs to the Liberals, the assembly’s third-biggest group. Schulz won 387 of the 670 valid votes cast today.

Cameron’s decision to split from Europe’s Christian Democrats because he objects to their push for deeper EU political integration has left him outside an alliance that includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

In early December, euro-area leaders decided to draft a new European treaty on budget discipline without the U.K. because Cameron refused to support an EU-wide initiative in the absence of guarantees of a British veto right over future financial regulations. Merkel and Sarkozy opposed that demand.

The 754-seat Parliament decides on EU laws along with national governments and acts as a check on the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, which proposes legislation.

Among the busiest areas of new EU laws are financial services, leaving the U.K. struggling to protect the City of London from proposals ranging from curbs on short selling to a financial-transaction tax.

Schulz’s Socialists have championed more regulation of banks to prevent another financial crisis. His election as EU Parliament president moves him into a largely ceremonial role from previous positions in which he has had a reputation for being confrontational.

Schulz made headlines in 2003 as the target of a Nazi slur by Silvio Berlusconi, then Italy’s prime minister. In a Strasbourg debate on Italy’s six-month EU presidency, Schulz accused Berlusconi of undemocratic leanings and of meddling with Italy’s justice system. Berlusconi responded by mocking Schulz as possessing the attributes of a concentration camp guard, sparking an uproar in the Parliament chamber and across Europe. Berlusconi said the insult was meant as a joke and never apologized.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Stearns in Strasbourg, France at jstearns2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net


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Public 'should buy Queen a yacht' - Herald Sun

BRITAIN-ROYALS-QUEEN-NEWMARKET

Idea floated, then sunk: Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is said to be very fond of the Royal Yacht Britannia, leading to a suggestion that taxpayers should buy her a new one. Source: AFP

BRITAIN'S government has torpedoed suggestions by a minister that taxpayers could pay for a new royal yacht to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee.

Education Minister Michael Gove made the proposal in a letter to Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt, saying the Queen's "highly significant contribution" to Britain and the Commonwealth deserved a "lasting legacy".

But a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron ruled out the suggestion.

"On the issue of a royal yacht, clearly when it comes to the issue of public money, I don't think this would be an appropriate use of public money, given the state of the nation's finances," the spokesman told reporters.

"In the first instance, the entire question of whether or not there should be a new royal yacht is a question for the palace not the government."

The main opposition Labour party said Mr Gove was "out of touch" to think such expenditure was appropriate when school budgets were being cut as part of austerity measures brought in by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government.

The Queen was extremely fond of the Royal Yacht Britannia and was seen to shed a tear when it was decommissioned in 1997.

The ship is now permanently moored as a visitor attraction in the Scottish capital Edinburgh. Earlier this month it started to list after taking on some water, which was later pumped out.

A new yacht is likely to cost around 60 million pounds ($89 million).

But, in his letter, obtained by The Guardian, Mr Gove wrote: "In spite, and perhaps because of the austere times, the celebration should go beyond those of previous jubilees and mark the greater achievement that the diamond anniversary represents."

He writes that the Queen's "highly significant contribution" to Britain and the Commonwealth should be recognised.

"Events such as proms and the party at the palace organised for the diamond jubilee, and street parties, although excellent, are transient," he writes.

"It would be appropriate to do something that will mark the significance of this occasion with fitting ceremony.

"My suggestion would be a gift from the nation to her majesty; thinking about... (the) excellent suggestion of a royal yacht, and something tangible to commemorate this momentous occasion."

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Pakistan courts step into the fray - Asia Times Online

ISLAMABAD - The Pakistan Supreme Court's decision to begin contempt proceedings against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani over his failure to reopen corruption investigations into President Asif Ali Zardari, appears to be in step with attempts by the all-powerful and equally aggressive military and intelligence establishment to drive out the Pakistan People's Party (PPP)-led government.

By demanding that Gilani explain himself later this week, Pakistan's highest court on Monday night fanned the turmoil

gripping Pakistan, even as the danger of a blatant military coup has faded following a one-on-one meeting between Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Kiani.

Gilani, who could be forced from office if convicted, faces the combined might of an increasingly sure-footed judiciary and a defiant military leadership that keeps trying to assert power over a civilian government that faces Senate elections in March and which the PPP is expected to win.

During a compelling performance before parliament on Monday night, Gilani said he would appear before the court. "We have always respected the courts. The court has called me and in respect to the court, I will go on January 19 and appear." in a televised speech, Gilani said, "The army and the judiciary, they both have to protect democracy in Pakistan. They can't remove democracy. They can't pack up the system."

There are clear indications to suggest that the military establishment is trying to dislodge the Zardari government with the help of the Supreme Court, whose defiant Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has an obvious soft spot for opposition leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as a prime minister-in-waiting and owes his current position to Sharif, whose 2009 anti-government march had played a key role in his restoration after he had been sacked by the administration of Pervez Musharraf.

The court has demanded the government ask Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against the president that date back to the 1990s. The government has refused to write a letter to the Swiss to reopen investigations into allegations of Swiss bank accounts held by Zardari, maintaining that he enjoys presidential immunity.

Taking strong exception to the government's reluctance, the January 16 apex court order said that tough action could be taken against those responsible - irrespective of their office or official authority - for not implementing a 12-page order last week that read like a damning indictment of the government in defying the Supreme Court's verdict in various cases, especially one relating to the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).

The NRO was a controversial presidential ordinance issued by Musharraf in October 2007 to grant general amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder and terrorism between January 1, 1986, and October 12, 1999. That was the time between two states of martial law in Pakistan and the NRO was aimed at promoting national reconciliation and removing vestiges of political vendetta and victimization.

The court order lays out six options before the government, including one in which the president, prime minister and the law minister could all be disqualified from holding public office if they persist in refusing to implement the NRO verdict, which required among other things that the federal government write to a court in Switzerland and reopen cases of alleged corruption against Zardari.

The order noted that the president and the prime minister seemed to be loyal not to the state but to a political party. While Zardari and the government have indicated that the president is provided immunity under the constitution, Chaudhry has responded that the president must make that claim before the apex court.

The charge-sheeting of Zardari and Gilani, warning them against a possible disqualification if they do not implement the apex court's orders for reopening corruption cases, amounts to a judicial coup against the government at a time when the powerful military establishment and frail civilian leadership stand eyeball-to-eyeball in the Supreme Court, which is hearing the infamous "Memogate" scandal despite objections raised by the government that the apex court should not have taken up the case when parliament was already investigating the matter.

Memogate revolves around an alleged memorandum addressed to former US army chief Admiral Michael Mullen and seeking Washington's help to ward off a possible military coup in the wake of the May 2 killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a covert US Navy Seals raid inside Pakistan.

American-Pakistani businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleged that the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani had asked him to deliver the confidential memo, seeking US assistance against the aggressive designs of the Pakistan army. Mansoor further claimed that the memo was drafted by Haqqani at the behest of Zardari and delivered to Mullen through former US national security adviser, General James Jones, after the raid that killed Bin Laden.

Kiani took up the issue with Zardari, asking him to summon Haqqani back to Pakistan and initiate an inquiry against him. Haqqani finally resigned following a November 22 meeting of the civil-military top brass that included the president, the prime minister and army chief, as well as Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) head Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Haqqani himself. The government subsequently referred Memogate to the Parliamentary Committee of the National Assembly on National Security for a thorough inquiry.

The committee was created by Gilani after the approval of a resolution in the joint session of the two houses of the parliament and with the consent of all the ruling and opposition parties. Before the committee formally opened, Sharif approached the Supreme Court, alleging that the memo was approved by the country's top political leadership and the court should conduct an inquiry to fix responsibility.

In an unusual move, Sharif himself presented his case by reading out the entire petition in the apex court, seeking action under Article 6 of the constitution against key government personalities, in case the issuance of the memo was established. A nine-judge larger bench headed by Chaudhry subsequently ordered (on December 1 and without much deliberation) the setting up of a judicial commission to investigate the authenticity of the memo.

The court orders in the NRO case were issued after Gilani last week told a Chinese newspaper, the People's Daily Online, that the army chief and ISI chief had not been given approval by the competent authorities before submitting their responses with the Supreme Court in the Memogate case and they seemed to have acted unconstitutionally. The responses were submitted with the apex court through Defense Secretary Lieutenant General (retired) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, who stated that the government had no operational control over the armed forces or the ISI.

It was under the NRO that two twice-elected former prime ministers - Benazir Bhutto and Sharif, who had been living in exile - returned to Pakistan to take part in the 2008 general elections that the Musharraf-backed Muslim League eventually lost. But after the installation of the coalition government led by the PPP, the NRO was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on December 16, 2009.

This threw the country into a political crisis as the government was compelled to reopen hundreds of corruption cases that had been withdrawn - and the refusal of the government to reopen investigations into the president, maintaining he has presidential immunity under Article 248 of the constitution.

Well-placed Law Ministry officials in Islamabad are amazed at the court's decision to also issue notice to the president on Sharif's petition as they point out that under Article 248(2) of the constitution, no criminal proceedings whatsoever can be instituted against the president during his five-year term of office.

They point out that the only action that could be taken against the president is under Article 47 of the constitution that provides for impeachment. But the president could only be impeached by parliament in order to pave way for initiating criminal proceedings against him.

The chief justice has already asked the Pakistani attorney-general to submit the president's reply on the Memogate scandal or the court would be bound to believe that he had confessed to his alleged involvement in the case.

What kicked up a storm was the complete difference of views between the government's response filed with the court and those of the army and the ISI chiefs. While Kiani and Pasha not only acknowledged the existence of the memo and described it a threat to national security, the government maintained that Sharif's petition, seeking court intervention in a case that had already been referred to a parliamentary committee, should simply have been dismissed.

The media wing of the Pakistani military - the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) - subsequently issued a stern press release while taking notice of Gilani's remarks against the army and the ISI chiefs. "There can be no allegation more serious than what the honorable prime minister has leveled. This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country," said the ISPR press release while literally threatening the prime minister.

That the ISPR statement infuriated the prime minister was evident in the immediate sacking of the defense secretary for gross misconduct and acting illegally by filing the responses of the army and ISI chiefs to the apex court without getting clearance from the Defense Ministry. Lodhi was considered close to Kiani, being the most senior bureaucrat responsible for military affairs, a post usually seen as the military's main advocate in the civilian bureaucracy.

It was against the backdrop of these developments that Kiani finally met Zardari on January 14 after an unusual gap of two months and reportedly expressed displeasure over remarks by Gilani over the memo petition in the apex court. According to Reuters, "The army chief complained to the president about the prime minister's statements, and said they needed to be either clarified or withdrawn." Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar denied media reports on the contents of the meeting.

Taking stock of the current impasse among different state institutions, the Daily Times stated in its January 16 editorial:
That parliament is supreme as per our constitution and the question of civil-military imbalance needs to be addressed is something no democracy-loving citizen would deny. At the same time, it is no secret that the military is the most powerful institution in the country. This government has tried its best to appease the military in many ways, especially post-Abbottabad Osama raid when even the opposition was railing against the military. Democracy returned to Pakistan after nine years of military rule in 2008. Ever since, moves have been afoot to destabilize the democratically elected government by hook or by crook. From spreading negative information in the media about the government to judicial activism, no stone remained unturned in ousting this government.

So far, the government is sitting tight. Taking on two of the most powerful institutions - the army and the judiciary - takes some guts, which is what the government is trying to do these days. It is good to see the government taking parliament on board in favor of democracy through a resolution to this effect. What remains to be seen is whether this pledge will translate into anything meaningful given that the knives are out against the government, be it in the opposition circles or within the state institutions. Whatever the outcome, the most affected would be the people of Pakistan.

Having directly and indirectly managed the country's affairs and tasted political power for more than half the period of its post-independence 60-year life, the army has ceased to be apolitical. It is now taking a watching brief as the courts take on the government.

Amir Mir is a senior Pakistani journalist and the author of several books on the subject of militant Islam and terrorism, the latest being The Bhutto murder trail: From Waziristan to GHQ.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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Divers explode holes in ship after missing raised to 29 in Italian cruise disaster



Italian naval divers have set off explosives to create four small openings in the hull of a cruise ship that grounded near a Tuscan island to speed the search for 29 missing passengers and crew.

Navy spokesman Alessandro Busonero told Sky TV 24 the micro-charges set early Tuesday created four openings to allow divers "to enter easily for the search." The holes were made both above and below the water level.

Television footage showed the holes to be less than 6 feet in diameter.

Busonero said the rescuers were racing against time. The cruise liner tragedy has turned into a potential environmental crisis, as rough seas battering the stricken ship raised fears that fuel might leak into pristine waters.

On Monday, the ship's owner accused the jailed captain of causing the wreck that left at least six dead and 29 missing, saying he made an "unapproved, unauthorized maneuver" to divert the vessel from its programmed course.

Earlier, authorities had said 16 people were missing. But an Italian Coast Guard official, Marco Brusco, said late Monday that 25 passengers and four crew members were unaccounted for three days after the Costa Concordia struck a reef and capsized off the coast of the tiny island of Giglio.

He didn't explain the jump, but indicated 10 of the missing are Germans. Two Americans are also among the missing.

Brusco said there was still "a glimmer of hope" there could be survivors on parts of the vast cruise liner that have yet to be searched. The last survivor, a crewman who had broken his leg, was rescued on Sunday.

Waters that had remained calm for the first days of the rescue turned choppy Monday, shifting the wreckage and raising fears that any further movement could cause some of the 500,000 gallons of fuel on board to leak into the waters off Giglio, which are popular with scuba divers and form part of the protected Tuscan archipelago. Rescue operations were suspended for several hours because of the rough seas.

Italy's environmental minister raised the alarm about a potential environmental catastrophe. "At the moment there haven't been any fuel leaks, but we have to intervene quickly," the minister, Corrado Clini, told RAI state radio.

Even before the accident there had been mounting calls from environmentalists to restrict passage of large ships in the area.

The ship's operator, Costa Crociere SpA, has enlisted one of the world's leading salvagers, Smit of Rotterdam, Netherlands, to handle the removal of the 1,000-foot cruise liner and extract the fuel safely. Smit has a long track record of dealing with wrecks and leaks, including refloating grounded bulk carriers and securing drilling platforms in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Meanwhile, the Italian cruise operator said Capt. Francesco Schettino intentionally strayed from the ship's authorized course into waters too close to the perilous reef, causing it to crash late Friday and capsize.

The navigational version of a "fly by" was apparently made as a favor to the chief waiter who is from Giglio and whose parents live on the island, local media reported.

A judge on Tuesday is to decide whether Schettino should remain jailed.

"We are struck by the unscrupulousness of the reckless maneuver that the commander of the Costa Concordia made near the island of Giglio," prosecutor Francesco Verusio told reporters. "It was inexcusable."

The head of the U.N. agency on maritime safety said lessons must be learned from the Concordia disaster 100 years after the Titanic rammed into an iceberg, leading to the first international convention on sea safety.

"We should seriously consider the lessons to be learned and, if necessary, re-examine the regulations on the safety of large passenger ships in the light of the findings of the casualty investigation," said Koji Sekimizu, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization.

Miami-based Carnival Corp., which owns the Italian operator, estimated that preliminary losses from having the Concordia out of operation at least through 2012 would be between $85 million and $95 million, though it said there would be other costs as well. The company's share price slumped more than 16 percent Monday.

Two of the missing are Americans, identified by their family as Jerry Heil, 69, and his wife Barbara, 70, from White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Costa Crociere chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said the company would provide Schettino with legal assistance, but he disassociated Costa from his behavior, saying it broke all rules and regulations.

"Capt. Schettino took an initiative of his own will which is contrary to our written rules of conduct," Foschi said in his first public comments since the grounding.

At a news conference in Genoa, the company's home base, Foschi said that Costa ships' routes are programmed into their navigational systems, and alarms go off when they deviate. Those alarms are disabled if the ship's course is manually altered, he said.

"This route was put in correctly upon departure from Civitavecchia," Foschi said, referring to the port outside Rome. "The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a maneuver by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorized and unknown to Costa."

Foschi said only once before had the company approved a "fly by" of this sort off Giglio -- last year on the night of Aug. 9-10. In that case, the port and company had approved it.

Residents, however, said such displays have occurred several times in the past, though always in the summer when the island is full of tourists.

Foschi didn't respond directly to prosecutors' and passengers' accusations that Schettino abandoned ship before all passengers had been evacuated, but he suggested his conduct wasn't as bad in the hours of the evacuation as has been portrayed. He didn't elaborate.

The Italian coast guard says Schettino defied their entreaties for him to return to his ship as the chaotic evacuation of the more than 4,200 people aboard was in full progress. After the ship's tilt put many life rafts out of service, helicopters had to pluck to safety dozens of people remaining aboard, hours after Schettino was seen leaving the vessel.

The captain has insisted in an interview before his jailing that he stayed with the vessel to the end.

Foschi defended the conduct of the crew, while acknowledging that passengers had described a chaotic evacuation where crew members consistently downplayed the seriousness of the situation as the ship lurched to the side.

"All our crew members behaved like heroes. All of them," he said.

He noted that 4,200 people managed to evacuate a listing ship at night within two hours. In addition, the ship's evacuation procedures had been reviewed last November by an outside firm and port authorities and no faults were found, he said.

Once on land, the survivors complained that Costa was stingy with assistance.

Blake Miller, who was on the ship to celebrate his partner's 50th birthday, said Costa representatives rebuffed his efforts to get reimbursement so he could buy a change of clothing.

"The Costa representative at our hotel told me, 'You might want to get a lawyer when you get back to the States,"' Miller told The Associated Press from his hotel in Rome, where he was staying at his own expense.

Only passengers who had paid for special insurance to cover lost belongings would receive compensation to buy replacements, he said they were told.

Costa Crociere didn't immediately respond to a phone message or an emailed request for a response.

Miller, of Austin, Texas, said survivors were taken to a hotel near Rome's airport and told Costa would pay for a single night's stay and their plane fare home only "if we pack up and leave the country" Sunday morning.

Miller, who is director of business travel for Intercontinental Hotels, said Costa representatives spoke to passengers about potential refunds or free cruise vouchers. But in addition to the cost of the cruise, he said he had paid hundreds of dollars for excursions during port calls and other expenses.

Foschi, the Costa CEO, said he was certain "we'll be able to find a material solution that will make them happy."

Class action suits are rare in Italy, but Italian consumer advocacy organization Codacons said more than 70 passengers had indicated that they wanted to join a class-action approach to winning compensation from Costa.

"Our aim is to make every passenger obtain an indemnity of at least euro10,000 (more than $12,500) for the material damage suffered and for moral damage, such as the terror suffered, ruined vacations and the grave risks that they ran," said Codacons president Carlo Rienzi.

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Twelve killed in Syria despite peace plan monitors - National Post

REUTERS/Amateur video via Reuters TV

A member of the Free Syria Army with an assault rifle stands guard during a patrol in the western border town of Zabadani in this undated still image taken from amateur video obtained by Reuters January 16, 2012.

By Alistair Lyon

BEIRUT – Twelve people were killed on Monday in Syria, where a peace plan monitored by Arab observers has failed to douse a 10-month-old struggle between President Bashar al-Assad and his foes.



National Post Graphics

Click to see interactive map of Syria showing the locations of major events.

Arab foreign ministers meet on Sunday to discuss the future of the mission sent last month to check if Syria was abiding by the accord it accepted on November 2. The mission ends on Thursday but the monitors may extend their stay to January 22.

The Arab plan required Syria to halt the bloodshed, withdraw the military from cities, free detainees and hold a dialogue.

Hundreds of people have been reported killed in Syria even since the monitors deployed on December 26 as pro-Assad forces try to crush peaceful protests and armed resistance to his rule.

Random gunfire by pro-Assad militiamen killed five people, including a woman, and wounded nine in the restive city of Homs, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A sniper later shot dead a 16-year-old girl there, it added.

It said five soldiers were killed when they tried to change sides during a clash with rebels in the northwestern province of Idlib, adding that 15 soldiers had succeeded in defecting.

The state news agency SANA said an “armed terrorist group” had shot dead Brigadier-General Mohammed Abdul-Hamid al-Awad and wounded his driver in the countryside near Damascus.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated a call for Assad to “stop killing, and listen to his people.”

During a visit to Abu Dhabi, he said: “I hope the U.N. Security Council handles Syria in a coherent manner and with a sense of gravity,” but did not recommend any specific action.

“The casualties have reached such an unacceptable stage we cannot let the situation continue this way,” Ban said.

The harsh response to the uprising by Assad’s security forces has killed more than 5,000 people, by a U.N. count. The Syrian authorities say 2,000 members of the security forces have also been killed. The deaths of 32 civilians and soldiers were reported on Sunday.

The head of the Arab monitoring mission is due to report to an Arab League committee on Thursday before Arab foreign ministers gather on Sunday to consider their next step on Syria.

Adnan Khodeir, head of the monitoring mission’s operations room, said the observers might stay in Syria until January 22 while waiting for the outcome of the foreign ministers’ meeting. Their mission officially ends on Thursday.

Qatar, which heads the committee, has suggested Arab troops step in, an idea that is anathema to Damascus and which Arab nations such as Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria are likely to oppose.

The League could refer Syria to the Security Council if it concludes that its own peace effort has failed.

RUSSIA, CHINA OPPOSE ACTION

The council has been paralyzed so far because Russia and China oppose any resolution that could lead to U.N. sanctions or Western military action against Syria.

There is little Western appetite for any Libya-style intervention. The United States, the European Union, Turkey and the Arab League have announced economic sanctions against Syria.

On Sunday Assad proclaimed the latest of several amnesties for “crimes” committed during the uprising. Some prisoners were released the same day and more on Monday, activists said.

Mohamed Saleh, an activist in Homs, said about 185 people had been freed there, though some had been freed on bail and would still face trial. Many more were expected to be released.

Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory, also said some activists had only been freed on bail. Many more were still held because the authorities had brought new, more serious charges against them that were not covered by the amnesty.

Kinan al-Shami, of the Syrian Revolution Coordination Union, said hundreds of detainees appeared to have been released, but they represented only a fraction of at least 40,000 people he said had been jailed without charge since March, many of whom have been held in secret police buildings or makeshift prisons.

The movement to end more than four decades of Assad family rule began with largely peaceful demonstrations, but after months of violence by the security forces, army deserters and insurgents started to fight back, prompting fears of civil war.

Assad, who retains the support of core military units, is backed by his own Alawite minority as well as some minority Christians and some majority Sunni Muslims who fear chaos, civil war and the rise of Islamist militancy if he is toppled.

The northern commercial city of Aleppo, like central parts of the capital Damascus, has mostly escaped the turmoil, but security forces stormed Aleppo University campus overnight in pursuit of students who staged an anti-Assad protest on Friday.

Activists said dozens of students were beaten in the raid, in which students belonging to a pro-Assad militia took part.

Aleppo residents say that big Sunni merchants in the city still support Assad and that the authorities have recruited Sunni tribesmen from the countryside to patrol the streets.

The president, 46, who appeared in public twice in as many days last week, is eager to show that his people love him.

SANA, the state news agency, reported on Sunday that a 10 km (six mile) long letter, which it billed as the world’s longest, was being written and signed by Syrians across the country as a “message of loyalty to the homeland and its leader.”

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Iraqi policemen killed at checkpoint in Anbar - BBC News

BBC map

Five policemen have been killed in an attack on a checkpoint in Iraq, close to the Jordanian and Syrian borders.

Gunmen in the western province of Anbar targeted policemen who were guarding a highway that links Iraq to Jordan just after midnight on Tuesday.

One report said an attacker was killed in the ensuing clash.

The attack, in the town of Rutba, came two days after gunmen stormed a government compound killing seven in the provincial capital of Ramadi.

Violence in Iraq has been steadily on the rise in the past few months. Security forces have been one of the main targets of recent attacks, in addition to Shia religious processions.

There has also been a marked deterioration in Iraq's fragile political process since the withdrawal of US forces from the country at the end of last year.

An arrest warrant was issued for Vice-president Tariq Hashemi, the country's most prominent Sunni politician, on terrorism charges. He fled to the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq, and denied the accusations against him.

But the warrant triggered a political crisis, as the biggest bloc in parliament accused Prime Minister Nuri Maliki of using the law to consolidate his grip on power.

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Iran's 'morality police' cracks down on Barbie

Little girls in America may look forward to their first Barbie doll, but in the eyes of Iranian authorities, they might as well be devil dolls.

The Islamic nation's morality police is cracking down on Mattel's popular toy, shopkeepers in Iran said Monday, the latest in an ongoing effort to rid the country of Western influence and anything that might go against strict Muslim teaching.

"About three weeks ago, they came to our shop asking us to remove all the Barbies," a toy shop owner in northern Tehran told Reuters, which noted that this isn't the first time the doll has been a target. The country's rulers declared Barbie "un-Islamic" in 1996, though stores continued to sell the doll.

The increased scrutiny of a classic American export comes amid escalating tension between the U.S. and Iran over Iran's nuclear program and its threat to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz if provoked.

But Iran's morality police has been pestering Iranians for some time now. Last year, authorities tried to stop an outbreak of water-gun fights, carried out by young people who dared to have fun.

“This is a warning to young people that we will not accept these types of organized activities and unacceptable behavior anywhere in our country,” the head of Tehran's morality police, Ahmad Roozbehani, said at the time.

About 70 percent of Iran’s 70 million population is under 35, and it is common for young people in Iran to be questioned for their clothing, hairstyles and even choice in music.

Earlier last year, the morality police reportedly deployed to the streets of Tehran to crack down on men wearing necklaces and women for wearing loose-fitting head scarves, tightened overcoats and shortened pants that show skin.

But making an example of Barbie doesn't make the doll any less popular.

"My daughter prefers Barbies," a 38-year-old mother named Farnaz told Reuters. She said her daughter thinks the other dolls on sale "are ugly and fat."

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Put Iran War March on Trial - Daily Beast

We’re doing this terrible thing all over again. As before, we’re letting a bunch of ignorant, sloppy-thinking politicians and politicized foreign-policy experts draw “red line” ultimatums. As before, we’re letting them quick-march us off to war. This time their target is Iran. And heaven knows Iran’s leaders are bad guys capable of doing dangerous things. But if we’ve learned anything, anything at all, from plunging into war in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, it is this: we must have a public scrubbing of fighting rhetoric before, not after, the war begins.

Sure, there are risks in acting so sensibly. It does signal hesitation, even weakness, to the adversary. But to me, the far greater risk lies in not hesitating. The real risk is not fully, thoroughly, and publicly laying bare the case for war. In every major war of the last decades, the public assumed the government and the experts knew what they were talking about and proposing to do. But after a year or so, that faith collapsed. Except for those who would bless the sound of the cannon wherever it led, everyone soon realized the terrible truth: that government leaders had little or no idea what they were doing, what the invaded country was really like, and what could and could not be accomplished at what cost. By then, it was too late. Once our truly precious troops had been sacrificed and our prestige had been cast upon the waters, patriotism and politics overwhelmed reason.

For our own sake, don’t let this happen again. Let’s have carefully planned and extended public hearings on the pros and cons of war with Iran. Let those hearings be conducted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or a special public commission established by President Obama. Let’s do the job painstakingly and systematically, especially because Election Day beckons with its talons of stupidity and rashness. Yes, yes, I realize full well that a public pretrial is far from a perfect or even a good solution. But I cannot think of another way to slow down our familiar passive march toward war, and compel its drum majors to parade their plans on why the war must be fought and how it can be won. Hearings will surely confuse a lot of people, but at least give them their democratic chance to judge.

Nic6045470

Iranian navy fires a Mehrab missile during the "Velayat-90" naval wargames in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran on January 1, 2012. Iran defiantly announced that it had tested a new missile and made an advance in its nuclear programme after the United States unleashed extra sanctions that sent its currency to a record low., Ebrahim Noroozi / Getty Images

To step back, there are two issues likely to spark fighting with Iran: Tehran’s threat to block an internationally recognized waterway at the Strait of Hormuz, and its relentless moves toward acquiring nuclear weapons.

On the surface, the strait question is open and shut. If Tehran violates a fundamental principle of international law and closes an international waterway, that waterway must be reopened by whatever force necessary. My gut reaction is right there. But then the questions arise: Why does this burden fall almost entirely on the United States? What of the other states that buy and sell the Gulf oil that moves through the strait? How long will it take, and at what cost, to reopen the strait and keep it open? Is it necessary to attack shore targets to accomplish the job? How far ashore? And what of economic destruction and, above all, civilian casualties? Is such a military action likely to convince the Iranians that they must acquire nuclear weapons, or would it dissuade them? Would a U.S.-led naval action in the strait make it more likely that Israel would use this as cover to launch a full-scale attack against Iranian nuclear facilities? And would this broader action trigger Iranian retaliation against both Israel and the United States? There are no hard and fast answers to most of these queries. And yes, some military plans would be aired partially to Tehran’s advantage. Nevertheless, their being raised and addressed gives Americans a much clearer sense of what they’re getting into—and, more, compels Congress and the executive branch to think much harder about their intended actions. Often, administrations don’t answer the toughest questions themselves until they have to, until it’s too late.
I realize full well that a public pretrial is far from a perfect or even a good solution. But I cannot think of another way to slow down our familiar passive march toward war.

The red lines being drawn against Iran’s growing capability to construct nuclear weapons are even more tortured and dangerous. These lines are all to the effect that if Tehran continues to move toward a nuclear-weapons capability, President Obama will attack and take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. I won’t bore you with the exact formulations, which are not intended to be exact. The administration doesn’t want to be exact and thus to tie its own hands. Nor could administration officials formulate exact words, because they can’t yet agree upon them.

The bottom line is that the administration is firming up its threats without absolutely committing itself to any particular action beyond ratcheting up rhetorical pressures and economic sanctions. Obama has been mostly careful to avoid pronouncements recently and has put that burden at a little distance from himself—onto the worthy shoulders of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Panetta’s now famous “red lines” have been a bit pinkish, for good reason, leaving some things to Tehran’s imagination. Or perhaps his intention is just to say enough to keep Israel from pulling its own unilateral trigger.

It doesn’t take a genius to see what lies ahead in our nation’s election year. Most Republican presidential candidates are saying that Iran will never get close to nukes if they’re in the White House. The candidates are outdoing one another in outrageous commitments to sound tough. Recently, Mitt Romney put it like this: “If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon … If you’d like me as the next president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” And though we all know how careful Obama is, the dynamics of campaigns are bound to push him toward incaution to fend off charges of “weakness.” This is what happens to presidents in most elections.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee or some public commission has to pose the tough questions here: Do we really know enough to hit and destroy the key underground targets? If not, why go ahead? How long will it take for Tehran to rebuild the facilities and make them less vulnerable? What’s the potential for collateral damage on oil prices and lives? If Washington doesn’t use force, will Israel go it alone, and will Tehran regard this as a quasi-American attack anyway? If Iran actually acquired nukes, why wouldn’t prospects of an overwhelming Israeli or American attack in a crisis deter it? Iranian leaders haven’t acted like crazy Hitlers. They’ve been pretty cautious, forever issuing threats and making trouble behind the scenes, which suggests they’re deterrable. Would war on Iran trigger worldwide terrorist attacks? Is it in the overall interests of the United States, given our worldwide security needs and economic weaknesses, to enter another war? And don’t fool yourselves, this would be war.

As is our tragic pattern, almost all these tough questions are unasked and unhonored. All one hears is the familiar boasts and threats. They are rarely probed by our media stars.

Senator J. William Fulbright’s brilliant hearings on Vietnam and the James Baker/Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group both came far too late to save us. But there’s still time now for a full-scale, nonpartisan, and systematic examination of policy. Don’t let the usual hawks stop us with the argument that we’d be giving away too much information and signaling weakness to the enemy. What we’d truly be giving away if we heeded these hawks is not our military plans, but our constitutional and democratic rights to freely and openly debate whether our sons and daughters once again must fight and die.

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Search at collapsed building site called off, 27 dead - The Daily Star

BEIRUT: The death toll from Sunday’s building collapse in Beirut stands at 27 and search operations have ended, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Tuesday.

"This morning, we called off the rescue operation and rescue vehicles have been pulled out,” Charbel told the Kataeb-run Voice of Lebanon.

He said the deaths included 11 Lebanese and 16 foreigners.

Charbel said five Lebanese and seven foreigners were among the 12 tenants who were pulled out alive from the rubble.

The seven-story building collapsed at about 5 p.m. Sunday in the Fassouh neighborhood of Ashrafieh.

Charbel said that no more people were believed to be missing under the rubble. Reports that a number of foreigners were missing turned out to be inaccurate.

The building had been home to more than 20 Sudanese, as well as people from the Philippines, Egypt and Jordan.

While they had not anticipated such a sudden collapse, neighbors and residents of the building who had not been inside said Monday there had been warning signs of structural problems weeks earlier.

According to several accounts, a loud noise had been heard behind the building on New Year’s Eve, prompting the owner to place metal support poles on both sides of the building.

Residents said it had been too difficult for them to move elsewhere and blamed the owner, Michel Saadeh, for not taking the appropriate measures to address the issue.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati established a committee Monday to investigate the cause of the collapse as Beirut Prosecutor George Karam launched a probe into the incident.

Judicial sources told The Daily Star Tuesday that residents who survived the collapse due to their presence outside the building were being investigated, in order to determine whether Saadeh had informed them of the risks the building faced.

The sources also said that Judge Raja Abi Nader has been tasked with inspecting buildings adjacent to one that was leveled for safety reasons.

A funeral procession will be held Tuesday for the Lebanese victims as Ashrafieh observes a day of mourning.

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Kim Jong Il's other son expects North Korean regime to fail, journalist says - CNN International

Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son, is the half-brother of Kim Jong Un, the new leader of North KoreaKim Jong Nam is the most public of Kim Jong Il's sonsHe painted a picture of a father who was strict but was often warm-hearted, journalist says

Tokyo (CNN) -- They share the same rotund facial features, similar expressions and gait. But the two sons of Kim Jong Il have never met, and based on a new book being published in Japan this week, there appears to be little fraternal allegiance, at least from the eldest son's side.

Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son, is the half-brother of Kim Jong Un, the new leader of North Korea. Kim Jong Nam believes his youngest brother will fail as the "supreme leader" of the reclusive state, according to the book's author, Yoji Gomi.

"He's not comfortable that his younger brother is succeeding the power of Kim Jong Il," says Gomi, the author of "My Father, Kim Jong Il, and Me," which will hit bookshelves in Tokyo on Wednesday. "He (Kim Jong Nam) sees his brother failing. He thinks he (Kim Jong Un) has a lack of experience, he's too young, and he didn't have enough time to be groomed. Those three reasons are why he thinks he'll fail."

Kim Jong Nam is the most public of Kim Jong Il's sons, known primarily for his blunders and semi-exile from North Korea. An overweight and careless playboy, Kim Jong Nam enraged his father more than a decade ago when he was arrested slipping into Japan with forged documents -- simply to visit Disneyland. Kim Jong Nam lives in China and Macau and has occasionally popped up in the Japanese news media.

It was during one of those appearances in front of Japanese reporters -- in Beijing, during 2004 -- that Gomi, a reporter for the Tokyo Shimbun, first met Kim Jong Nam. They exchanged email addresses and began an occasional correspondence. In the past few years, Gomi said they had begun to write more, exchanging 150 emails. Last year, Kim Jong Nam agreed to meet with Gomi in Macau and Beijing for interviews.

What surprised Gomi the most, he said, is that the eldest of Kim Jong Il's sons was very smart and knowledgeable about the world -- and open-minded, especially about economic reforms.

"He spoke out against his father's 'military first' policy," says Gomi, countering widely held notions that the Disneyland debacle caused Kim Jong Nam to fall out of favor with his father. "He wants North Korea to embrace economic reform and open its doors."

Kim Jong Nam painted a picture of a father who was strict but was often warm-hearted to his eldest son, Gomi said, especially on special occasions. "Kim Jong Il called his son on his birthday," Gomi said.

Kim Jong Nam says the half-brothers were kept apart, following an ancient history of raising potential successors separately.

He says his father refused to discuss the succession of power for many years because it signaled his own death, according to Gomi -- only after his illness accelerated did the succession begin.

Both sons were educated in Switzerland, leaving Kim Jong Nam convinced that his country needed to embrace economic reforms. Kim Jong Nam believes his brother won't have the power to push through reforms, Gomi said.

"He's afraid the youngest son has no idea, no vision about economic reform," he said.

Professor Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University says Kim Jong Nam has been fairly public in the past, keeping his distance from the regime's inner circle. Lankov says he believes the latest comments are the reaction of a normal, intelligent human being who has a good understanding of the situation in North Korea.

"I would say maybe this smart, overweight playboy from Macau has the highest chances of physical survival of all the Kim Jong Il children," says Lankov.

"In the long run, the history of the North Korean state is going to end badly. We might see a coup, a revolution, a conspiracy, because in the very long run the system is not sustainable," Lankov said. "He (Kim Jong Nam) is away, he is secure. It is quite possible that many of his siblings will die a violent death sooner or later, and he is likely to live until an old age, writing memoirs, explaining to everybody how misunderstood his family was."


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Top North Korean official says Kim Jong Un ready to lead

PYONGYANG, North Korea –  A senior North Korean party official dismissed concerns about Kim Jong Un's readiness to lead, saying he spent years working closely with his late father and helped him make key policy decisions on the economy as well as military affairs.

In the first high-level interview with foreign journalists since Kim Jong Il's Dec. 17 death, Politburo member and Kim family confidante Yang Hyong Sop told The Associated Press that North Koreans were in good hands with their young new leader. He emphasized an unbroken continuity from father to son that suggests a continuation of Kim Jong Il's key policies.

"We suffered the greatest loss in the history of our nation as a result of the sudden, unexpected and tragic loss of the Great Leader Kim Jong Il," he said in the interview Monday at Mansudae Assembly Hall, seat of the North Korean legislative body.

"But still, we are not worried a bit," he added, "because we know that we are being led by Comrade Kim Jong Un, who is fully prepared to carry on the heritage created by the Great Gen. Kim Jong Il."

Daily life in this cold, somber capital has begun to return to normal one month after Kim's death, reportedly from a heart attack while riding on his private train.

The white mourning bouquets and massive portraits of the departed leader have been cleared from Pyongyang's main buildings and monuments. People are busy getting back to daily life, with children whizzing down icy slopes on wooden sleds and workers running to catch morning buses and trams as the Kim Jong Un ode "Footsteps" blares over loudspeakers.

Vast Kim Il Sung Square, where a sea of mourners converged after Kim's death, was ghostly quiet except for a few people who scurried quickly across the frigid plaza.

In recent weeks, as North Koreans filled the capital's streets with their emotive mourning and the government staged elaborate funeral proceedings, party and military officials moved quickly to install Kim's son as "supreme leader" of the people, party and military.

Kim Jong Un had been kept out of the public eye for most of his life before suddenly emerging as his father's heir only in September 2010. Though still in his 20s, he was quickly promoted to four-star general and named a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea.

But the new ruler's youth and quick ascension to power have raised questions in foreign capitals about how ready he is to inherit rule over this nation of 24 million with a nuclear program as well chronic trouble feeding all its people.

Yang said he had no concerns about Kim's ability to lead.

"The Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un had long assisted the Great General Kim Jong Il," he told AP. "It's not a secret that he has helped the great general in many different aspects -- not only in military affairs but also the economy and other areas as well."

A soft-spoken octogenarian who is vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and a standing member of the powerful Political Bureau of the party's Central Committee, Yang has long-standing ties with the Kim family that stretch back to his close alliance with the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung.

During a 2010 interview with Associated Press Television News in Pyongyang, he provided the first confirmation by a government official that Kim Jong Un would eventually become the nation's next leader.

"He knows what the exact intention of the Great Gen. Kim Jong Il was," he said Monday.

His comments this week indicated there would be little change to major policies laid out by Kim Jong Un's father in the three years before his death. Yang said the new leader was focused on a "knowledge-based" economy and looking at economic reforms enacted by other nations, including China.

The North has increasingly looked to China for guidance on how to revitalize its moribund economy, particularly as South Korea, Japan and other nations have frozen trade and aid to the North amid concerns about its nuclear ambitions.

Little is known about Kim Jong Un's background and experience, though North Koreans have been told he studied at Kim Il Sung Military University and was involved in military operations such as the November 2010 artillery attack on a South Korean island that killed four South Koreans.

Earlier this month, North Korea's state-run broadcaster aired a documentary about the new leader that began filling in some blanks prior to his public debut.

The footage shows him observing the April 2009 launch of a long-range rocket and quotes him threatening to wage war against any nation attempting to intercept the rocket, which North Korea claimed was carrying a communications satellite but the United States, South Korea and Japan say was really a test of its long-range missile technology.

It was the first indication of his involvement in that controversial launch.

Yet even if Kim Jong Un was playing a prominent behind-the-scenes role prior to 2010, his training period would have been much shorter than that of his Kim Jong Il, who spent 20 years working under his own father, Kim Il Sung.

After his father's death, Kim Jong Il observed a three-year mourning period before formally assuming leadership.

"Kim Jong Il had the benefit of time. He had 20 years to grow a cult of personality around him," said Cheong Seong-chang, an expert on North Korean affairs at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. "Kim Jong Un had only two to three years at the most ... so authorities are now hurrying their propaganda efforts."

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Liberia's Sirleaf takes oath for second term, promises reconciliation – Christian Science Monitor

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Israel: Nuclear Iran could deter military action – The Associated Press

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Zardari gets in talking mode with military to defuse tensions – Hindustan Times

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Yemen unrest 'may delay presidential election' – BBC News

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Public 'should buy Queen a yacht' – Herald Sun

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Public 'should buy Queen a yacht' – Herald Sun

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Germany's Schulz Voted EU Parliament Head Over Two U.K. Rivals – Bloomberg

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Pakistan courts step into the fray – Asia Times Online

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Iraqi policemen killed at checkpoint in Anbar – BBC News

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Twelve killed in Syria despite peace plan monitors – National Post

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Iraqi policemen killed at checkpoint in Anbar – BBC News

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Kim Jong Il's other son expects North Korean regime to fail, journalist says – CNN International

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Iraq Accuses Turkey of Meddling – Wall Street Journal

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At least 25 people died when a five-storey building collapsed in the Lebanese … – BBC News

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Iraq Accuses Turkey of Meddling - Wall Street Journal

Iraq summoned Turkey's ambassador on Monday to protest Ankara's alleged meddling in Iraqi politics, the latest sign of how the Arab Spring and a waning U.S. presence have left Sunni Turkey in growing competition with its Shiite neighbors.

Iraq's government was angered by recent warnings from Turkish leaders that Sunni-Shiite tensions in Iraq could engulf the entire Islamic world, as well as by Turkey's support for a Sunni rival to Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

"Turkey interferes by backing certain political figures and blocs" in Iraq, Mr. Maliki said in an interview last month. "I believe Turkey is unqualified to intervene in the region's flash points."

In a weekend interview with Arabic language Al-Hurra TV station, Mr. Maliki went further. "Unfortunately Turkey is playing a role that could lead to a catastrophe or civil war in the region," he said.

Iraqi officials were particularly angered by public Turkish comments on the case of Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni vice president. Mr. Hashemi took refuge in Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq late last year, after the government accused him of leading death squads against Shiites.

But analysts say the rapid deterioration of relations between Ankara and Baghdad also reflects the wider conflicting interests of Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran in the wake of the U.S. drawdown from Iraq and of the Arab Spring, now lapping at the borders of both Iraq and Turkey, in Syria.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned on the eve of a visit to Tehran earlier this month against the risk of a "Cold War" developing between Shiites and Sunnis across the Middle East.

"Tension is now rising between Turkey and Iran and it will be increasingly difficult to manage as it's being aggravated by sectarian tensions. These problems are likely to be long-term; I don't see an easy solution," said Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Baghdad's concerns also have been fueled lately by fears that Syria's uprising is developing into a Sunni insurgency that Mr. Maliki has said could spread "like a house on fire," into Iraq. A fresh wave of violence has killed more than 200 Iraqis since the end of the U.S. military mission on Dec. 18.

Unlike Iraq, which is majority Shiite, Syria is about 75% Sunni, but it is governed mainly by a minority of Alawites, a Shiite sect. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad's Tehran-backed regime has expressed deep anger and distrust of Ankara due to its decision to provide safe haven to mainly Sunni Syrian rebels.

Turkey says its actions are purely humanitarian, made in the face of the Syrian government's brutal crackdown against protesters. It also denies any effort to meddle in Iraqi politics.

Turkish analysts say that for all its neo-Ottoman pretensions, Ankara is a reluctant hard-power player in the region. Only a year ago, Mr. Assad was exhibit A in Turkey's "zero-problems-with-neighbors" foreign policy. That approach boosted relations and trade with neighboring Muslim regimes, while downgrading relations with former ally Israel.

The Arab Spring, however, upended that policy as allies such as former Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi were pushed aside and Shiite-Sunni tensions rose across the region. In a crucial change, Turkey agreed last fall to host a North Atlantic Treaty Organization missile-defense system, which was designed by the U.S. to contain Iran.

Turkish and U.S. diplomats say they now cannot remember a time when cooperation between Ankara and Washington was closer, after a period of significant strain in 2009-2010.

"When Prime Minister Erdogan came to Washington in 2009, he sounded almost like the ambassador from Iran. Now he sounds quite different…After a period of suspicion, Turkey and the United States have come closer together," said Stephen Kinzer, a visiting professor of international relations at Boston University.

Turkish officials insist that relations with Tehran remain strong. Turkey buys around 30% of its oil from Iran and is the second-largest consumer of Iranian gas, after Russia. Official data shows that Turkey's bilateral trade volume with Iraq in 2011 jumped by nearly 50% on the year to $11 billion, with much of the increase coming in the Shiite-dominated areas around Baghdad and in the South.

In an interview inside Iraqi Kurdistan, Mr. Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni vice president said that while his political bloc had received advice from Turkey and others, it was no tool for outside powers. "I am not part of the Turkish geopolitical project," said Mr. Hashemi. He criticized Mr. Maliki's "conspiratorial" mind and said that his frequent visits to Turkey last year were mostly private.

Still there is little disguising the building tensions between Ankara and its Shiite neighbors, including Tehran.

In December, Ankara sought an explanation from Tehran after Hussain Ibrahimi, chief of the Iranian parliament's national-security committee, told an Iranian newspaper that if Iran were to be attacked, its first retaliatory strike would be against the NATO missile defense radar in eastern Turkey.

Earlier, in October, a key aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini told Iran's Mehr news agency that Turkey should radically rethink its policies on Syria, the NATO missile shield and promoting secularism in the Arab world. Otherwise, Ankara would face trouble from its own people and neighbors, he said.


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Major US-Israel Military Exercises Delayed - New York Times

The move appears intended to avoid further escalating tensions with Iran, which is under intense international diplomatic and economic pressure to curb its nuclear program out of fears it is seeking to make a nuclear bomb. Iran itself recently held 10 days of naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, and Israel has kept open the possibility of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

At the same time, the United States is leading an effort to increase sanctions on Iran, and an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated in Tehran, the fourth such attack reported in two years. Iran blames the United States and Israel for the killings.

Speaking Monday on Israel Radio, Mr. Lieberman cited “diplomatic and regional reasons, the tensions and instability” as factors in delaying the exercise. The Israeli military said in a statement that the joint exercise, Austere Challenge 12, would take place during the second half of 2012.

The exercises, involving thousands of American and Israeli soldiers, were designed to test various Israeli and American air defense systems against missiles and rockets from a range that would include Iran, The Associated Press reported.

The American defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, said last month that the drill exemplified unprecedented levels of defense cooperation between the two countries, and was meant to back up Washington’s “unshakable” commitment to Israel’s security, The A.P. said.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Israel and the United States took the decision to delay the exercise jointly “because it was not the right time.” He did not elaborate.

Israeli officials have saluted the effectiveness of existing sanctions against Iran, while also urging more, specifically on Iran’s Central Bank and its petro-chemical sector.

In an interview published Saturday in The Weekend Australian, Mr. Netanyahu said he was seeing Iran “wobble” for the first time. “If these sanctions are coupled with a clear statement by the international community, led by the U.S., to act militarily to stop Iran if sanctions fail,” he said, “Iran may consider not going through the pain.”

On Sunday, Moshe Yaalon, a vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, described the Obama administration’s failure to add more sanctions as “a disappointment so far.”

“The administration is hesitating because of fears of rising oil prices this year, apparently out of election year considerations,” he told Israel Radio.

On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu told a closed meeting of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that sanctions on Iran had to be beefed up and implemented expeditiously and aggressively, according to a participant in the meeting.


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Romania protests: PM Emil Boc calls for dialogue - BBC News

A protester throws stones at police in Bucharest. Photo: 15 January 2012

Main clashes took place near Bucharest's University Square Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc has called for dialogue and an end to violence after four days of protests against austerity cuts.

Dozens of people were hurt on Sunday, as demonstrators and riot police clashed for a second day running in the capital Bucharest.

The rallies began in support of an official who quit in protest against health care reforms.

But they have grown into a broader hostility towards government policies.

The alliance of opposition parties has called for early elections.

Unlikely catalyst

More than 1,000 demonstrators rallied in University Square in the centre of Bucharest on Sunday, the scene of violence the night before.

Demonstrators threw stones at riot police, who again responded by firing tear gas.

A number of people were arrested, with officials saying that most of the trouble makers were young football fans.

Peaceful protests were reported in a number of towns and cities across the country on Sunday, including Cluj, Timisoara, Brasov and Arad, as demonstrators called for the resignation of the government and of President Traian Basescu.

Dozens of demonstrators were also said to have gathered in the centre of the capital on Monday.

Raed Arafat. Photo: 2011

Raed Arafat resigned as deputy health minister last Tuesday

The government called an emergency meeting after Sunday night's clashes.

Speaking on Monday, Prime Minister Emil Boc expressed sympathy with those struggling under austerity measures.

"The crisis has been harsher than we imagined," he said, but added that the violence "cannot be tolerated".

The protests follow cuts to salaries, benefits and higher taxes but the unlikely catalyst was the resignation of popular health official Raed Arafat.

The Palestinian-born doctor came to Romania in the 1980s, and is a well-known and much-liked figure, due to the practical changes he made to improve the emergency services, the BBC's Nick Thorpe reports.

Dr Arafat stepped down as Health Ministry undersecretary last Tuesday, after a series of public attacks on him by President Traian Basescu, our correspondent adds.

Dr Arafat opposed government measures to partially privatise Romania's shaky health care system.

President Basescu later announced that he was scrapping the unpopular reform, but that has failed to soothe the demonstrators' anger, our correspondent says.

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At least 25 people died when a five-storey building collapsed in the Lebanese ... - BBC News

Workers remove rubble at the site of a collapsed building in Beirut, Lebanon, on 16 January 2012

Tenants of the "run-down" building had reportedly been urged to move out, before the collapse happened At least 25 people died when a five-storey building collapsed in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

Rescuers are continuing their search of the site in the Ashrafiyeh district for a further 16 people believed to be buried beneath the rubble.

At least 12 people were injured when the building - said to house around 50 people - came down unexpectedly on Sunday evening.

Most of the dead were foreign workers living in Lebanon, officials said.

The victims included eight Sudanese, two Filipinos, two Egyptians and two Jordanians, AP quoted unnamed security officials as saying.

It is not yet known what caused the sudden collapse.

Local reports are speculating that cracks in the building made worse by heavy rain may have been the cause, or that the building could have been damaged by the impact of construction at several nearby sites.

'Extremely run-down'

Rescuers were using cranes, bulldozers and their bare hands to continue their search of the rubble on Monday.

Lebanese rescue workers remove a body from the site of a collapsed building in Beirut, Lebanon, on 16 January 2012

Hopes are fading that any more survivors will be found in the collapsed building

But hopes of finding anyone else alive were fading.

Among the bodies were those of Tanios Farhat, 73, and his three sons, who appeared to have become trapped under the rubble as they tried to save their father, AP reports.

Red Cross official Georges Kettaneh confirmed 12 people had been injured, although none of them seriously.

Mr Khattar said the building had housed some 50 people.

At least eight people had escaped as the building came down, he added.

One witness told a local television channel that "it was like an earthquake" when the block collapsed.

A resident who escaped with her mother said the building was extremely run-down and the owner had recently warned tenants to move out, AFP reported.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman visited the site on Sunday evening, as did Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.

Mr Charbel told reporters the building's owner was being questioned by the authorities.

He added it was essential to carry out a survey of similar buildings across the country, many of which were built illegally or had several floors added without proper permits.

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